They are almost everywhere in Southeast Asia. Western tourists and ex-pats complain much about the noise harassment; local people rather feel it were kind of 'natural'.
Image by Asienreisender, Chiang Khong, 2012
Verymost rural neighbourhoods in Thailand are densely equipped with them, often in short distances of 50m to 100m. They are implemented by the local authorities and play everyday in the morning around 8 a.m. and 6 p.m the national anthem. But not only that. Often hours before, particularly on holidays, they are started and blair out pop-music or other music of all kind, advertisements, radio-talks or announcements of the community chief or a police officer. The volume varies between loud and full-scale. It's a daily brainwash for the people and claims the hegemony of the authorities over the human material. It's 'the masters voice'.
The most popular contemporary Cambodian music instrument is doubtlessly the loudspeaker. When travelling in Cambodia, every few kilometers there is any din blaired out by them. Image by Asienreisender, in the Mekong Delta around Angkor Borei, 4/2014
Another Khmer contribution to the sound level. The title speaks for itself. Image by Asienreisender, 8/2014
After cutting a sugar palm tree, the logger cut the wood into boards with a Stihl chainsaw. It's all done outside on a rice field. It took him half a day. The din was terrible, defenitely above a tolerable level for the health. Nevertheless, the lumberjack and the two bystanders didn't use earplugs for protection. Getting a hearing damage is probable. Image by Asienreisender, Kampot, 1/2015
Another source of noise: A policeman with a whistle. Whistling can be very unnerving over a time for neighbours who are exposed to it. The "Quiet Bangkok Group" suggested visual signs instead of whistles and the Thai police tried it already successfully. Images by Asienreisender, 3/2005 in Nakon Si Tammarat, south Thailand
As Louder, as Better!
A Hell of a Din...
Among all the pollutants we are exposed to, noise pollution is certainly the most nerve-wrecking. Here a party, there a marriage, a funeral, a disco, karaoke, temple festival, a mosque, private house music, a fair, a building site, a water pump, dog's barking and howling at night, traffic, TV, radio, advertisements, a workshop, a lawnmower, a truck's engine running while the driver is anywhere around... everyday over hours, day for day, week for week, month for month - it never stops here. The people of Southeast Asia don't know any limits when it comes to noise pollution.
There is no privacy for the people here, they are not individualized. All is a common matter, and basically family affairs. On the other hand there is no respect for public space or public concern. As much as they use the sidewalks in front of their houses for whatever they want, an extension of their homes or as a metal workshop, so much they make a hell of a noise, pesting squaremiles with it, just for - well, for what? Just so...?
What makes these miserable people so relentlessly noisy? Well, primitive people are noisy. That's an observation many Westerners documented already centuries ago. Friedrich Gerstaecker describes an evening in a Javanese village, when he couldn't stand the partying in the place where he had an overnight, but had to pack his belongings and to escape to the village's edge to find some rest there. Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn depicts a village in which he came after days of hiking through Java and where he actually planned to rest for a few days. He left it early instead, for the locals had a three-days festival and the party noise was not to stand (Licht- und Schattenbilder aus dem Innern Java's).
What was a nuisance in the 19th century or former times generally, is a monstrous pest in our days. Nowadays everybody can produce a hell of a noise with just a flasdisk and an integrated loudspeaker. Hours over hours over hours until deep into the night all kind of crap is blasted out now. Sometimes it starts already early in the morning, when the muezzin cries out his message (not seldom also mp3 based), Buddhists produce radio music, advertisements and long-lasting announcements via loudspeakers or the national anthem is played, accompanied by radio broadcasting. Or a neighbour can't sleep and starts playing his favourit techno music, high volume, basses turned on maximum.
A great deal of the population is dull and literally retarded. They suffer inner emptiness. They don't find any meaning in their lifes. They have no sense for what is good in life, no taste, have no values nor virtues. They suffer a very low IQ and have no morals. They can not love anything and they are not lovable. They are irresponsible and give a damn for the sake of others. Nobody ever cared for them, why should they care? Most people never ever read a book in their live, not even the lousy newspapers they have here. They watch TV of the lowest kind, not interested in anything of substance. The highest imaginable art for them is business, or better fraud. Cheating ranks high. Cheating and taking advantage of each other is common in families and among acquaintances. Gambling for money is a main passion. They live miserable lifes without any perspective. Lacked reason is replaced by superstition.
Deprivation plays a central role in it's explanation, but it's not only the material poverty what explains the misery. When people grow wealthy, what not seldom happens in booming Southeast Asia, they still remain dull. Deprivation is not simply material. Generation long deprivation is conserved in their heads and outlives wealth. Once wealthy, they want ever more and more. The dullness, the inner emptiness, the absense of anything what makes humans human, what creates a life what can be called somehow fullfilled, is replaced by superficial fun. Booze and din are a central part of that. The seemingly happy people with their superficial friendliness and smiles cover a black hole behind the facade. Happy looking people are not necessarily happy. They have little control over their lives, they are uncertain and know extremely little about the world they live in. They suffer oppression, structural and open violence, physical threats, fraud, humiliations, and can do little about it. That's scaring. Are they aware of that? Here and there it's certainly dawning, but it's not a nice feeling, though. But they can beat it down. Being noisy makes feeling powerfull. One can forget. At least for a short time. And then one can repeat it... and again and again and again repeat it. Don't think, feel...!
Noise as Pollution
Modern, contemporary life get's more and more noisy. Was it in the
past the noise of machinery in fabric halls which harmed workers, it
became more and more widespread due to the automobilization and
increasing traffic. Tools for private households like lawn mowers, power saws
and other equipment make neighbourhoods noisy. It's accompanied by the products of the
entertainment industries who supply masses of people with music
equipment and loudspeakers, huge ones as well as smaller and smallest
ones as mobile phones. Noise is practically everywhere, and it's getting
more and more. Noise pollution has future.
Noises are of course not always pollution. Noises from our
surroundings are crucial for our orientation, they give us information. And the ear is not
only an organ for receiving noises. It has key functions for the brain
and other organs. It's necessary for our physical balance, for example. Particularly are noises used as means of
communication, as talking, using language.
As a general approach to the problem, noise pollution starts when the natural reception of noises is
disturbed by artificial noises from technical devices. Of course it's
not all that easy, but generally spoken. Is the music of Johann
Sebastian Bach or Ludwig van Beethoven noise pollution? Well, it could
be, depends on the context. Music is very suggestive, influencing
emotions and thoughts. That makes music powerful on one hand, but very
annoying on the other hand, when it disturbes one from concentration on
something else, or from contemplation or relexation. The impact of music one does not want to hear can easlily turn out as a mental poison.
Noise Pollution as a Threat to Health and Well Being
The impact of noise pollution on humans (and animals) is still
widely underestimated and / or seen as the price we have to pay for the
development of our modern society. But there are serious concerns. The
World Health Organization's (WHO) Guidelines on Community Noise listed up a
number of noise-induced illnesses (1999). Among them are sleep
deprivation and disruption, memory deficits, stress, high blood
pressure, dizziness, cardiovascular diseases, ringing ear,
frustrations, accidents, negative social behaviour, restlessness,
moodiness, a tendency for higher aggressiveness and hearing impairment.
Children become aggressive and shout to each other. Communication is
interrupted or impossible, a society of aggressive and disturbed people
grows up. Some people even become suicidal.
So, being repeatedly or longer exposed to loud noises leads to
numerous diseases. One can not get used to noise pollution. The World
Health Organization called noise pollution in spring 2011 as the
second biggest health threat in the world.
I think it's not exaggerated to say that the massive noise pollution in Southeast Asia costs the upgrowing children and youngsters ten to fifteen IQ-points in their development.
The Situation in Thailand
So far I know there is no comprehensive study concerning
noise-related health problems in Thailand. The WHO gave out a survey in
2001, which numbers the Bangkok population living around side roads by
21.4% suffering from "sensory neural hearing loss".
Another survey from 1990 found 13.6% of the Thai population suffering forms of hearing disability; 3.94% of the students and
pupils in Bangkok and 6.08% of them in the whole country.
Other studies come up with numbers between 20% and 70% of the Thai population suffering from hearing disorders.
Prof. emeritus Suchitra Prasansuk, the director of the 'Bangkok
Otological Centre' and president of 'Hearing International' spoke about
her experience that among politicians there is a general lack of
understanding and commitment to the problem of noise pollution:
phenomenon is quite common among those in the corridors of power, even
though they may have good working ears. They keep talking, but not
listening to others. Or they do not really understand the issue, but
act as if they do.
Here, in Thailand, we tend to address things in a rather superficial
manner, and from the tail end of the problem. We only take up trendy
issues. We do not follow problems seriously and continuously.
Certainly also many Thai People are suffering under noise pollution,
but, first they may not really be aware of the problem, and second,
they wouldn't approach another person with a request to modify their
behaviour. They find that impolite. It can cause conflict and 'loss of face'.
Other Thai People obviously think 'as louder as better' it is. They
set the volume of their devices generally at maximum, as well as the
basses. That makes the experience an earthshaking event. It's also an indication for that they lost their powers of hearing. Affected is mostly the reception of high frequencies. The phenomenon is also called the 'party effect'.
An All-Day Approach
Noise pollution is nowadays more severe and widespread than ever
before. And it certainly will increase in magnitude and severity due to
ongoing urbanisation, population growth and the promotion and distribution of entertainment equipment.
We are all the time surrounded by constant artificial noises in the
streets, shopping centres, buses, schools, even inside our own homes. Take the non-stop bombardement of commercials as an example alone.
However, among the masses of the people
there is surprisingly little or no conscience concerning the din. It's not considered
as an pollutant, as a source of disturbance, annoyance or unwanted sound. The People of Southeast Asia are astonishingly blunt concerning this problem.
Wherever I travel and stay, it's practically always noisy. On the streets anyway, but also in almost any place where I stay it's difficult to find a rest and to recover without being harassed by din. There is either 'just' a building site in the place, or there is a building site next door, or at least they make up a new building site after a few days, or they have a party, or the party is next door, or there are loudspeakers around, neighbour's air conditioner is rattling, a noisy temple or, worst of all, a mosque or karaoke bar is in the quarter. That I avoid to stay next to busy roads does not need to be mentioned, but still there are everywhere vehicles around, and they are always noisy. Silence is as precious as rare nowadays. It's practically impossible to escape the pest.
And it's not only traffic, machines, entertainment devices and
advertisements who are the source of all these noises. In the buildings of Southeast Asian countries are TV sets everywhere, even in the banks, the
immigration offices, the police stations. Most powerful loudspeakers
regularly blare out 'official' announcements and anthems, combined with longer
playing of pop music, radio and advertisements. Religious institutions
are most ambitious to dominate neighbourhoods with their noises -
whatever it in detail is. Mosques are among the most
noisy institutions, blaring out prayers five times every day
and night. Not seldom they simply run
tapes or mp3-files - it's not even a real person anymore crying out 'Allah's message'. I have
heared whole services blared out from mosques - and they take 'their' time (Masjid Raya, Medan). Hours sometimes. In the meantime there was no conversation
in the wider surrounding of the mosque possible. You maybe don't want
to sleep too long next morning? Don't worry, they make you standing
upright in your bed at 5 am.
As same annoying Buddhist temples can be. There are regular and
irregular festivals at temple areas. That concerns mostly Thai temples. They are coming with a maximum of
possible noises, including disco music, life-music, the permanent
announcements which neighbour exactly donated how much money, boxing
shows, half-naked girls dancing to pop music, stalls selling a lot of useless crap and many more rather more
than less noisy performances. It's merely a fair. That can go so for a week,
18 hours per day. Sometimes 'Buddhists' justify it with the common
phrase: "That's our culture. Foreigners do not understand it." Well, I
see these things quite simple. For me it's just ordinary business. In
other words: No culture at all.
Bhikkhu Nyanatusita, a Western Buddhist, gives the hint
that loudspeaker sounds are used as a form of torture (see below). Under the sound
of loud pop music for hours and days captives are forced to give up their
will and intentions. That plays certainly in the hands of religious leaders. Noise pollution is brainwashing.
Other bad noise pollutants are motorbikes, cars, trucks. Traffic is very much rising in Southeast Asia, and the Orientals, who avoid any meter to walk and drive instead a vehicle, have no understanding for the and no interest to avoid the environmental impact of this very destructive technology. Some people here drive on a motorbike for distances not more than 15m, visiting their direct neighbours. I frequently hear neighbours noisily starting a motorbike just to hear them coming back two minutes later. Everywhere is the omnipresent impact of engine sounds, and in many cases they are much louder than they could be under proper maintenance. Not only that nobody here cares for that, some of the chickenbrains even cut the exhaust pipes of their motorbikes to make the sound bigger.
Party activities are also notorious. Indochinese people are 'fun-loving' people, and their fun comes compellingly together with a great deal of noise pollution and booze. There is always a reason for a party, and when one party is over, closeby another party starts. They all are similar, boring, dirty, noisy.
For a further understanding why the people here are so dull and blunt have a look for an introduction of the People of Southeast Asia.
For me personally, as a subjective experience, Chiang Khong is kind of a noise capital of Southeast Asia. Or, in a wider view, the very north of Thailand, the old Lanna, extending into the whole of Laos, is the noisy center of noisy Southeast Asia. The temple parties come together with almost never-ending private parties all the time. Every party is as noisy as possible. They build up stages and bring eight 1.50m high loudspeakers to play trash. Another bad example is the annual fair at the Mekong River banks at the northern end of Chiang Khong. One week non-stop noise of highest intensity. Among the worst activities are also the karaoke discos in Houayxay, Laos, on the other side of the Mekong. Although there is a larger distance between the two places, the sound overcomes most powerful the big river, and the Laotians, as notorious drunkards, do not know any limits as well.
It's also so that the dry season, particularly the time from January to May / June, marks the time with the most frequent party activities. Masses of marriages happen, and notorious Songkran (the water festival, lasts up to two weeks) is celebrated. It's hard to recover in these countries, one can not even sleep when one needs to - the din lasts until deep into night and often starts at four or five in the morning again.
Buddhism and Sound Pollution
Interesting is the contrasting view of Buddhists from outside who encounter the
situation in Southeast Asia. Here is an elaborated statement of one
towards the problem: it's quoted so detailed because it's a really
reasonable considertation of the problem what I miss so much in
Western Buddhists who are visiting Buddhist
countries in Asia for the first time are surprised on how noisy the
environment is due to the blatant use of loudspeakers. They are even
more surprised when discovering that a lot, if not most, of the noise
is coming from Buddhist temples. Religious institutions of any kind,
all attempting to assert their importance over others, are known to be
noisy—a famous German statesman once remarked that church-bells
are the artillery of the Christian clergy. The Buddhist newcomers
though, having learned the original Buddhist teachings, expect Buddhist
monasteries to be very quiet places, but reality is often otherwise.
Buddhist village and city temples are among the worst sound-polluters
in the world. In Burma, loud chanting of the huge Abhidhamma text
called Patthāna is blared for hours and days from loudspeakers. In Sri Lanka very slow and long drawn “protective” (paritta)
chanting is sometimes chanted through loudspeakers for the whole night
until dawn. Many people in Sri Lanka don’t need to use an alarm
clock and are automatically forced to wake up at 5 am every day because
Buddhist “protective” chanting recordings are blared from
neighbourhood temple loudspeakers for an hour. The Uposatha or
observance days, when Buddhist laypeople come to the monasteries and
take the eight precepts, are often the noisiest days because of the
five-precept chanting and sermons blared over loudspeakers. Likewise in
Thailand and Cambodia Buddhist ceremonies (and any kind of ceremonies
and meetings) are not complete without loudspeakers.
It is not only foreign Buddhist visitors who are
suffering from the noise, Asian Buddhist meditators too are troubled.
There are many forest monasteries where the meditating monks are
regularly disturbed by loudspeaker noises from temples and houses
kilometres away. For example, the author of this article could hear at
the time of working on this article, early in the evening on a Saturday
at a hermitage on a hill in Kandy, a strange multi-religious melange of
the following loudspeaker sounds: Buddhist chanting from three temples,
Sinhala Christian folk music from a church (which had been going on
non-stop the whole day), and prayer calls from several mosques.
For anyone familiar with the original teachings of
the Buddha, the deliberate sound-pollution caused by Buddhists appears
to be in straight contradiction to the Buddha’s own example and
advice. There are many instances in the Buddhist scriptures that
indicate that Buddha and his disciples were lovers of quiet and peace,
and were commending it to others. For example, in several discourses it
is related that when ascetics of other sects saw the Buddha coming to
visit them, one of them would say: “Be quiet, Sirs! Don’t
make a sound! It is the ascetic Gotama who is coming. That venerable is
a lover of quietness (appasaddā, lit. “without sound,” can also be translated as “silence”),
one who praises quietness.” Similarly, when a disciple of the
Buddha, such as Ānanda or Anāthapindika, would come to visit ascetics,
one of them would say, “Be quiet… The venerables are
lovers of quietness, disciplined in quietness, praising
quietness.” The phrase “disciplined in quietness”
suggests that the Buddha trained his pupils in being quiet.
There are two training rules in the Buddhist
monk’s Code of Discipline, which state that a monk should be
quiet while going and sitting in inhabited areas. The origin story to
the rules is as follows: “The Buddha was living at
Sāvatthī… At that time the group of six bhikkhus was going among
the houses making a loud, great sound. People looked down upon it,
complained, became irritated: ‘How can the sons of the Sakyan go
among the houses making a loud, great sound?!’ [The Buddha came
to hear about it, called the monks, and said:] ‘Foolish men, how
can you go among the houses making a loud, great sound?! It will not
lead to faith in those who have no faith; it will not lead to the
increase [in numbers] of those who have faith’… [and he
laid down the training rule:] ‘I shall go quietly in inhabited
areas, this is a training to be done.’’’
In the Monuments to the Dhamma Discourse (MN 89),
King Pasenadi said that he was greatly impressed by the discipline of a
large assembly listening to the Buddha because there was not a single
sound to be heard other than the Buddha speaking. In the Dīgha Nikāya
(DN 25) the noisy members of other sects and the quiet, silent Buddha
are contrasted: “Different are these wanderers of other sects,
who, having assembled and come together, are noisy, making loud and
great sounds, and are engaging in various kinds of pointless talk such
as talk about kings …. And different is the Fortunate One who
uses remote dwellings in forests, woods, and groves, which are quiet,
free from loud voices, deserted, secluded from people, conducive to
In the Cātumā Sutta (MN 67), it is related that a
large group of monks headed by Sāriputta and Moggallāna came to visit
the Buddha. The monks, when arriving in the monastery, made some noise
while greeting resident monks and setting up their lodgings. Hearing
the noise, the Buddha asked his attendant Ānanda, “Who are these
loud and noisy people? They are like fishermen hawking fish.”
Then, after calling the visiting monks, the Buddha dismissed them and
told them to leave the monastery.
Why did the Buddha put so much emphasis on a quiet
and peaceful environment? The reason is simple: it is much easier to
concentrate and focus the mind in a quiet environment than in a noisy
one. Only a peaceful, quiet environment provides the right conditions
for concentration and contemplation. This is why, for example, in
libraries there are signboards forbidding library users to speak loudly
and to make noise. In the context of Buddhist meditation, anyone who
has tried to meditate knows how sounds draw away the mind from its
object of meditation. Experienced meditators say that when the mind
becomes quite calm, a sudden loud sound can be physically and mentally
quite shocking and painful. According to the Buddha, loud sound is a
major obstacle, a “thorn”, to the first deep and stable
stage of meditative calm, jhāna.
It is part of virtuous conduct to leave
one’s neighbours in quiet and peace. The noise one makes does not
stop at the walls of one’s house but can affect the whole
community. When one deliberately disturbs others and deprives them of
the opportunity to study, think, meditate, or rest, it can be
considered a harmful act and therefore unwholesome. The harmful effect
of loudspeaker sounds is exemplified by a modern way of torture: loud
pop music is blasted for hours and days from loudspeakers at suspects
and victims in order to break their will.
Of course, there are occasions when the use of
loudspeakers can be justified; for example when a monk gives a sermon
to a large crowd of people who otherwise would not be able to hear him.
But there is no need to turn the loudspeakers on louder than is
necessary to reach the whole crowd and to turn them outward from the
crowd so as to make the sound heard from miles away, as is often the
case now. The sermon should only be audible to those who are motivated
enough to come to the place where the speech is given.
The Buddha’s teachings emphasise compassion,
tolerance and non-violence. The Buddha, the peaceful sage, would
strongly disagree with anyone noisily blaring his teachings through
loudspeakers, disturbing the peace and quiet of many, including those
who try to practise his teachings in the way he most recommended, i.e.,
through meditation. Until recently, the Buddha’s teaching was
quietly spread by way of mouth and writing all over Asia; there was no
need for loudspeakers. The sound of sermons and chanting could not be
heard from kilometres away, but instead was confined to the place where
it belonged. There was no need to play loud “protective”
chanting recordings in order to protect Buddhism and assert its
importance over other religions. On the contrary, as is shown, in the
passages quoted above, members of other religions were impressed by the
Buddha and his followers because of their quiet demeanour.
The loudspeaker was only invented in the 20th
century and there is no indication that Buddhists' faith has been
strengthened because of its use. On the contrary, making loud sounds
seems antithetical to faith. It does not lead to inspiring faith in
those who have no faith and to the increase in those who have faith,
which are the reasons for the Buddha laying down disciplinary rules.
Noise Pollution Causes Stress for Tourists and Expatriates in Thailand
People who visit Thailand for only a week or two
usually question why the tourist areas and shopping malls are so
incredibly noisy. Blaring advertisements and music is everywhere and
the occasional tourists find this perplexing but quaint. Like all good
tourists they adjust. They know that the human ear can only take so
much abuse before permanent damage can occur. They cover their ears and
wear earplugs because it's common knowledge that prolonged exposure to
loud noise is no good for anyone. The tourists view that the adverts
and loud music blaring everywhere is just part of the Thai experience
however to the expat we recognize it as a threat to our long term
The Thai people obviously think that louder is
better. When sound systems are used in a mall they are normally set to
the highest volume possible. This reduces the chance that the target
shopper will miss the message. I don't have a clue what the message is
because the presenter is screaming so loud it gets lost in translation.
Being somewhat educated I know to flee the loudspeakers ASAP and move
away. Watch the Thais and you get a different perspective. It may have
something to do with that two digit IQ or just a lack of educational
knowledge but they will crowd around any presenter for anything. To
make matters worse they will scream at each other to communicate over
the presenter they were drawn to.
Construction noise rules are ignored like most
other laws in a developing country. Those laws apparently do not apply
to construction companies building office towers and condominium
buildings. The restriction of overnight construction is totally ignored
by developers. Evidently they were written for the common man not big
developers. Failing to read my condominium rule manual I had the
handyman drill two holes in some marble on a Sunday to hang a
butt-washer. Five minutes later security was at my door.
Ever been to a Thai bowling alley. For $3 or more
per game you will be assaulted by hip-hop music at warp 6. Helen Keller
would easily be able to hear the filthy mouthed rappers objectifying
and advocating violence against women just for the fun of it. On the
upside, the Thais don't have any idea what the foul language means,
they just know the words. If you're lucky the Thais will add to you
bowling experience by letting you do it all in almost complete darkness.
The quaint Thai lifestyle includes some Thai men
acting in some sort of security/traffic control capacity blowing those
whistles and often and as loud as they can. They love those whistles.
Other Thai men of questionable educational background and possibly
products of inter-family Saturday night love making practices are the
tuk-tuk and motorcycle drivers who open up their exhaust systems to
make them sound better. In a banana republic who do you call to
complain about these assaults on your quality of life? No one. Get used
to it or move on. The reality of urban Thai quaintness is noise, noise
on top of more noise.