Several Thai corporations and companies decided that a picture of Thai rural life would provide an interesting setting for their garden display. In combination they provided the visitor with a rare opportunity to see some aspects of rural life up close. Apart from seeing the obvious houses, ponds, out-buildings, and rice houses, we learned about the way the household and village operated. It was very interesting.
We were told how certain basic rural social patterns are still seen in modern Thai rural society. United States anthropologist Jack M. Potter was quoted, "The spatially defined rural village, which receives the allegiance of its members, furnishes an important part of their social identity, manages its own affairs and communal property, and has its own temple and school, is present in all parts of Thailand as an ideal cultural model, although in many cases the actual form of community life only approximates it."
The temple (wat) remains the center of the rural community in many respects, although some of its functions, e.g., as an educational center, have been lost, and it is increasingly difficult to retain monks. Most rural communities built and maintain a wat because the Thais consider it necessary for a civilized social existence. The wat includes the special quarters and facilities reserved for monks, a building for public worship and religious ceremony, and a community meeting place. Abbots and senior monks often enjoy considerable prestige. In times of personal crisis, people often seek their advice.
Within the village, the basic organizational unit is the family, which changes its character over time. A nuclear family becomes, in time, a larger unit, but the death of the older generation once again leaves a nuclear family. Typically, a man in the rural areas goes to live with the parents of the woman he marries. Such residences are temporary except in the case of the youngest daughter. She and her husband (and their unmarried children) remain with her parents, taking care of them in their old age and inheriting the house when they die.
We saw how a rural family cooks under the house, how they can spin and weave silk cloth, how handicrafts are still important and how three generations interact smoothly and to the benefit of all. It all sounds too good to be true but we were assured that many Thais still live like this in a situation that we envy. It was one of the best social lessons I have ever had.