Firstly, a confession.
This world never ceases to surprise me and continually provides a check on my own stupidity and ignorance.
So here I am, half of the way to the capital of a nation famed for being a bastion of Buddhism. A land I have visited several times before, and once again my lack of knowledge slaps me in the face whilst shouting “Hello? Anybody home?”
Was I really so dumb not to know that this region of Thailand is dominated not by the teachings Buddhism, but those of Islam and that we had arrived slap, bang in the middle of Eid al-Adha, the “Feast of Sacrifice”?
I have long considered Geography in both its physical and human forms to be some of my strong points, yet my youthful take on the world saw it as demarcated in ways that at the time seemed absolutes.
These absolutes were soon to prove to be no more than post-war powerhouses built upon shifting political sands.
In my world-view of the time there were the old power blocks of East and West, training ever more powerful nuclear arsenals upon each other and divided by an iron curtain that for many years I assumed to be as tangible as the Berlin Wall.
Their football teams were weaker than ours and had strange names like “Lokomotive” or “Dynamo”; Things at the time I only associated with freight trains and cycling after dark.
All of their male athletes took drugs.
All of their female athletes were male.
Beyond the secretive lands of these communist powers lay the expansive and exotic lands of yellow people, brown people, black people and cannibals.
Much of these places were occupied by “lesser” peoples, some of whom I was told, had been saved from their savagery by the Christian church.
You see, for me, like many of my generation in South Wales, the world was built upon the word of God.
School meant morning assembly where unquestioned hymns of praise would be sung. It was a kind of daily, early doors brain-washing if you were a pupil in a Welsh primary school during the 1970’s and 80’s.
Even Sunday had school. This school was of a different kind (with vicars and bibles), but the songs were all too familiar.
My spawning knowledge base imagined that beneath the wealthy sophisticated lands of Christian Europe, there lay a thin swathe countries populated by Arabs.
From Morocco in the West of Africa to Pakistan in the East, these lands were dusty, sandy expanses where the men drilled oil and wore strange headwear whilst the ladies belly-danced in tents.
Simplistic, yes, but the point being that the extent of Islam’s influence was something that passed me by as a child brought up as I was on the orthodox doctrine of the Church in Wales.
Indeed it would take many years of reading, the collapse of Communism and an interest in contemporary Chinese imperialism for me to get any kind of understanding of Islams true extent.
When the mythical Iron curtain lifted, the lands I previously assumed to be Russian Orthodox, turned out to be a series of “stans”. Kurdi, Khazak, Tajik, Uzbek and Kyrgy all hinted at an influence far greater than I had hitherto understood.
Then I discovered that even further afield, Indonesia, Malaysia and large parts of India nailed their flag to the Allah mast, whilst in our own European backyard some of the Balkan states wanted to be recognised as independent nations on account of being predominantly muslim.
The Sub-Saharan lands of Africa were next.
Nigeria? Kenya anyone? I didn’t see that coming.
Then it was the turn of China and the suppressed western region of Xinjiang to get in on the act when a few years back the authorities deemed it necessary to nip any separatism in the bud by killing over 150 protestors.
Now finally, the Thai tourist hub of Krabi provides me with a beachfront full of colourful veils and headscarves.
I can accept the border region with Malaysia being influenced by its neighbour, but I’m hugely surprised that this far North the dress, the cooking and the attitude are so obviously Islamic.
What next, public Quran readings in Ho Ch Minh? A stoning of celebrity infidels outside a Phnom Penh mosque?
I’m even starting to suspect that Llanelli may have extremist tendencies.
Surely they can’t be called “Turks” for nothing?