Essays & Short StoriesThailand

Why coconuts are a health hazard?

Phuket - Thailand Diaries

When I try to put my life into perspective I am always cognisant of the many strange experiences I have had, some fortunate and others not so. One such experience occurred on a visit to one of the many outdoor temporary markets which are to be found all over Thailand and indeed most countries of the East. I made a suggestion, or more likely a throw-away remark, that ‘air raid sirens’ should be installed there. On the face of it, I am sure you will think it to be a strange request, as Thailand has never been at war with any country capable of launching an air raid. But, if you permit me to continue, or read further, you may reconsider.

The markets in Thailand, of which there are a considerable number, indeed, vary from large permanent structures, through various stages, to random temporary arrangements. The main purpose of these markets is to supply the people with clothing, bric-a-brac, fresh produce and freshly cooked food every day. Most markets display some clothing and some are set up specifically for that purpose, but food is the main attraction. Vegetables and fruit are brought in every morning early together with fresh fish, meat and poultry. Traders rise early around four am to cook a wide variety of basic meals and Thai delicacies. The overall quality of the offerings is good and prices of vegetables and fruit will depend on the market location and how far the produce has had to travel. In the particular market I am referring to much of the fresh produce is grown in the province of Phangna, just north of Phuket, across the Sarasin bridge.

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The ghostly island backdrop in Chalong Bay frames coconut trees in a storm

By now, I am sure you are wondering what all this has got to do with air raid warnings. I do understand, but please humour me for a moment and all will be revealed.

The random temporary markets are usually set up on plots of undeveloped land and are often there for a lot longer than originally intended. Rough wooden tables are knocked up which remain in place permanently whilst the market is operating. Tarpaulins, which are realistic for the shorter Thais and too low for most Westerners, are erected as protection against the sun and rain and that is all. Few markets bother about conditions underfoot which can range from navigable to virtually impassable when a tropical storm hits, as it does frequently in the monsoon season. This inconvenience can be overcome and neither threatens life or limb. However, the particular market in question is situated on a defunct coconut plantation which still has a dozen or so live trees on it.

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Beautiful evening on Kata Beach, Phuket

Coconut trees are benign chaps when they are in the lengthy process of growing but their character changes dramatically when the growing stage is over. Mature trees can grow to over thirty metres in height. When the trees decide to abandon their fruit, which can weigh up to 4kgs it embarks on, what is often, a twenty metre descent to the ground below. The force when the coconut lands is therefore considerable. If the trees gang up and pool their resources, which they sometimes do, usually in the middle of a tropical storm, they metamorphose their fruit into weapons of mass destruction. If the British bomber command during World War Two had realised this they could have saved the Allied Governments a lot of money.

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A sign on a beach on Malaysia’s Perhentian islands. Pic: Joanne Lane,

During my shopping spree it started to rain heavily. Many shoppers took shelter from the storm under the tarpaulins and then the reign (or should I say rain?) of terror began. At roughly two second intervals, what many may have thought to be meteorites ripped through the tarpaulins, smashing many of the tables to smithereens and scattering produce everywhere. Mercifully no-one was injured, let alone killed, but several holiday makers lost their suntans in an instant. Tourists may be excused for not wandering around looking skywards but it is inconceivable that the traders are unaware of the impending danger. Coconuts are believed to be extremely beneficial to health but they also kill and injure people and animals regularly. I would strongly advise anyone who visits one of these markets to carry out a thorough coconut investigation first, check for air raid sirens and wear a crash helmet if you are unsure.

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