Known as “baby wind” [mills], the LukLom competition adjacent to Trang, was full blown when we visited this last week. Located along the rice field roads just before the wind funnels down into a Venturi created by two towering karsts, the Lukloms color and fill the skies with their palm tails, ribbons, dangling cones and spinning cups. Since last year’s competition they’ve constructed an elephant-flanked head-gate to the Khao Chang Hai Cave (a place we’ve visited numerous times with it’s legend of the lost elephant) which is part of the northern-most limestone karst rising out of the rice fields. I asked a couple I’d met if they could give me a reference and their answers should be quoted verbatim, so I’ve included it below.
These baby wind mills are a relic of ancient times when these colorful and noisy contraptions were placed in the middle of the rice fields to ward off birds who fancy eating the newly planted rice shoots. Perhaps there aren’t as many avian marauders or the current technology of putting those errant flapping plastic grocery bags on posts in the newly planted paddies works just as effectively at half/no cost or labor. Now you only see the authentic crop saviors at the end of the harvesting seasons during the height of the Spring winds high along the roadside to be judged for their individual sounds, motion and frightfulness.
There is a never-ending opportunity to pose in front of one of the local attractions. The Andaman Gateway is an elaborate rest stop half-way between the two coasts along the narrow peninsula between Trang and Phattalung. The pass over the mountains is only 750′ with a easterly ascent of about 5 kilometers, but it offers a challenge to cyclists and over-loaded trucks, who jockey for positions all the way to the summit. (In case you’ve not figured it out from the photo: Thais used elephants pulling giant stone rollers to compact those original roads – we saw a live demonstration of an elephant pulling a massive stone roller at an agricultural exposition last year.)
This attraction has been under construction for several years and recently opened in our absence over the North American summer. We watched them last year erecting wire mesh elephant forms and then in following weeks painstakingly placing cement to give the forms a solid shape as we cycled past.
They’ve done a remarkable job on this 10-acre hollow along the highway and we look forward to coming back and reading the history of how and when the original road was built. (It was raining when we stopped.) However, according to our host, the ancient King ordered the road built for trade between the coasts since the two rice growing seasons are opposite each other. The 10 3’x 6′ bronze shields should give us the full story since they’ve taken the trouble to cast the history in English as well as Thai.
Our outing this week was accompanying TigerSong’s son to his embarkation station in Songkla, where he is picked up by an oil rig helicopter and transported to one of the rigs in the northern Gulf of Thailand. He is a new materials engineer supervising cement blow-out caps for the daily underwater drilling operations.
The contrasting cultural experience was visiting Hat Yai’s Central Shopping Mall, a dizzying 6-floor mega-mall with a central interior courtyard, escalators, international brand-name shops (we seldom see – even in the States) along with it’s indoor ice rink, I-Max theater and convention center. Hat Yai is 3 hours over the central mountain range from Trang, on the East coast with 800,000 Thais in it’s metro area. Quite a revelation for us as we’ve been in southern Thailand for 5 years now and never knew such a large city loomed over the mountain and south toward Malaysia. We like our side with it’s urban population of 56,000 and hardly any tourists.
Fortunately on the way home, TigerSong took us up the coast an hour where we visited a newly constructed market at Thale Noi, where they channelled off a lagoon of the famous water lilly lake and built a perimeter of rambling elevated walkways of traditional Thai merchants selling traditional foods and handicrafts. The stormy day didn’t offer many wonderful photographic opportunities.
Almost forgot to include a photo of the swimming herd of water buffalo we saw crossing the channel between their wetland habitat and the Thale Noi lake. I’m eager to show anyone the video of them swimming and then rising up on a submerged bank.
Long day, but we’ve now seen new territory and some more of Thailand’s changing times.
Luk loms from Jum and Ken’s knowledge: A better translation may be “child of the wind” or “son of the wind”. Originally they were a type of “pest control” to keep birds and insects out of the rice fields around harvest time. Over time people began to try to out do each other and build the best luk lom and it became kind of a competition. Although no longer used for pest control, they tradition has remained and become what it is today, a local festival. According to Jum, this was once widely done throughout the south, but had slowly died out, along with knowledge of its origins. But, again thanks to Jum and her curiosity for such cultural things, I can tell you what I learned when we first moved here.
Like many other things in SE Asian Buddhist cultures it traces its roots back to the Hindu Brahman traditions and the Vedas. It is based on a legend where Vayu, the Hindi god of the wind, was busy with preparing for harvesting his rice crops and taking care of his other “divine” duties. Vayu had to leave for some reason (I cannot recall why, some sort of “divine mission”) and told his son to watch the rice crops and keep the birds from stealing it until he could return to harvest the rice. His son, who did not want to kill the birds (after all they were only trying to eat), realized he could not protect all of the fields at once and that if he used his power to control the wind to blow the birds from the fields that he would also destroy the crops. Being rather inventive, he designed the bamboo windmill which in Thai is known as “luk lom” to make noises and movements that would scare the birds (and insects / locusts) away from the fields. He could then place the windmills around the rice fields and use the ability to control the wind (he was the son of the wind god, after all) to blow the windmills, which would spin and make the “singing noise” from the hollow bamboo flutes on the ends of the blades, and the motion and noise would keep the rice field safe.
When Vayu returned he was very impressed and showed his son’s handy work to the other Vedas (? guardians?) who were also impressed and told him to share this with the humans so that they could also protect their crops from the birds. And thus the origin of the tradition.
Apparently, the origin myth associated with the luk lom is no longer as well known as it once was, just like building them. Another casualty of modernization and loss of cultural heritage due to the loss of knowledge and traditions no longer being transferred from generation to generation as people now keep their heads stuck in their smartphones rather than engaging in such personal interactions.