In 2015 my wife Fanfan and I moved to live in the small rural village of ‘Broken Road’ in Thailand’s rural northeast region, known for its seemingly endless landscapes of rice fields after rice fields. The village is found soon after the larger town of Nang Rong towards the city of Buriram, by taking a right at ‘Baan Khanom’ or ‘Snack House’ as it translates in English, as landmarks are otherwise few and far between in these parts of the world. So Broken Road has always reminded me of ‘The Shire’ as a fruitful place cut off from the modern world, where lots of small people live, and at five-foot-ten I’m almost certain to be the tallest person in the village.
We are otherwise located in the northeast region of Thailand, better known as ‘Isaan’, which is often misunderstood as being the ‘Poor Part of Thailand’ as I otherwise find the opposite when it comes to quality of life. And I think ‘low-income’ would be the better term, given people here live rich lives with the low cost of living, and ability to live off the land. And our family compound is no different, where almost everything we eat through the week is sourced from the family’s gardens and farms, and even the streets out front are lined with lemongrass and kaffir lime trees, so the smells of citrus breeze through the village every time they’re trimmed. We do live in somewhat of a foodie’s paradise, and of course I make the most of this throughout the year. The reason for this move however is more bitter-sweet where Fanfan’s Granny Yai took ill and we volunteered to help the family, as traditionally Thai people don’t just dump their old folk into the nearest nursing home. So we volunteered to leave our previous lives behind in big city Bangkok to refurbish Fanfan’s old childhood home, and we inevitably moved there for the coming year. And ‘A Potato in a Rice Field’ follows from this time, where images snippets of daily life chronicle my integration into the close-knit family circle, the local temple, and the wider village community. And it’s basically just me bumbling through awkward social and cultural etiquette. Our experiences do feel somewhat anthropological in parts, given our unique position in a rustic rural setting, and through the year I find myself involved in intimate ceremonies, from wearing puffy shorts as a ‘Bridesmaid’ at a wedding, to the more sombre tones of family funerals. And experiences also centre around local Buddhist traditions, where at one point I was almost convinced to become a monk, and to join a mass monk ordination at the local temple. However I am not just plopped into these situations as the token tourist, where I am pretty much bound to these roles as a family member and the only able male of the near family, given grandpa Ta is now in his seventies. But I will otherwise always be a novelty in the wider community, given I am the only foreigner found within many miles. Meanwhile I must juggle with the complications of life in foreign lands, such as visa issues, passport problems, and my unlikely profession as a location independent travel blogger. Which inevitably take us to various nearby borders, as well as further-flung Asian destinations like the karst landscapes of southern China, ‘extreme sightseeing’ through sakuras and snow in Japan, and we’re even caught in one of the world’s most intense typhoons in Taiwan. But I'm not really one to count countries like some glorified stamp collection, as I would forever return to Japan or China before ever considering a visit to Chad. No offence Chad. As my fascination with travel will always be in the traditions and cultures of Asia, and I include behind the scenes scribblings from various destinations, which can easily be dipped into or ignored through the 112 chapters (129 images) of the book. As otherwise the sole focus is on life in the rice fields, as it follows the seasons, festivals and events celebrated throughout the year in this somewhat old-world setting of rural Isaan.