Monday, September 26, 2016

Bann Nah 41 - Stories

With completion only a few days away, I couldn’t help but think back on some of the things that have happened at our farm house during the two years and three months of its construction.

With any project, there are always stories that will make you sad, mad and glad.

Mad stories at Bann Nah can be ruled out. There haven’t been any instances of raised, angry voices, demonstrations of displeasure or hostility to anyone. I should know, because if there had been such a thing, I would have been the likely culprit.

Thai/Lao people are not confrontational. As a Westerner, any inclination I might have had to be such has been kept in check by my grasp of the concept of “face” and a strong desire to have our country home be a place of only good karma.

Sad times would occur semi-regularly, though, especially at times when our workers lost heavily on the Thai Lottery, Muay Thai gambling or “chicken boxing.” Other more meaningful sadness would occur at the death of a family member or the passing of a friend, neighbor or revered monk.

The most enjoyable times were after work, drinking Leo and later Chang beer. We started with Leo, but the guys later on let me buy Chang cuz they knew I preferred it. As time went on, I realized they liked to eat bar-b-que as much as drink, so BBQ was added to the mix during the last half year.

Sam Lott and Thip's brother Pawt

The day we drilled for water on the pad was a high point, as well as rice plantings (gam kha), transplanting (tam nah) and harvests (giao khao). The posts ceremony had kicked the whole construction project into high gear, but bringing in the power lines was memorable, too.

Quiet times with just Thip and I slung in the hammocks underneath the house were the most peaceful. We’d time these moments for when we knew no-one else would be around.

Here's Thip riding in and out of Bann Nah; a very common sight.

The most dramatic time at Bann Nah was unquestionably the time when that big storm blew in, in early summer 2015, when Sam Naht and I were there. I was upstairs hugging a corner in 40-degree wind and rain, wondering what I should hold on to if the building began to fall. Meanwhile, Naht was downstairs hugging one of the cement support posts in a not-very-successful attempt to shield himself from the howling wind and rain. We laugh about that one to this day.

Sam Naht

The most beautiful times have been during the nights of Ohpensa, when sky lanterns fill the full-moon lit night skies.

I’ve seen one full moon eclipse out there, so far!

Without question, though, the happiest moment in the two years and three months was the time Sam Lott and Sam Naht hit it big in the lottery. We heard the numbers as they were announced over the radio. Subsequently, you could hear their shouts of joy all the way to the temple, I’m sure. They both made about $600 USD that day.

In my mind, I can still see their lit-up faces...

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bann Nah 40 - Concrete Pad

While Lott and Naht were finishing up on the wooden structure (Phase 1), we had them do one Phase 2 task before they would leave us for a while -- maybe a long while. We had them put in the concrete floor downstairs.

Whenever family or friends in The States ask us why we built Bann Nah so high off the ground -- and “is it because of flooding?” -- we have an opportunity to explain a little about our Phase 2 plans of enclosing the downstairs eventually. I always like to throw in the part that it is traditional to build on stilts in Southeast Asia.

The reality, though, is that these days most SE Asian housing is now built from the ground up -- almost always using a concrete pad. In the very distant times, bamboo construction of living quarters demanded structures being built above ground (probably not much more than two or three feet) to ensure that the bamboo stayed mostly dry. Elevating the structures also protected occupants from things crawling or slithering on the ground.

As time went on and wood and nails replaced bamboo in home construction, homes were still elevated for the same reason when it came to other ground creatures, but now it incorporated a little greater height so that people could have a living space underneath the house in daytimes -- to block from rain and sun.

Thip's Family Home, 1999

When I first met my wife, this was the state of her family home. They even had chickens and ducks living underneath the house, which I didn’t think was sanitary or a good idea, but then again it wasn’t my house.

Thip's Family Home, 2001

After Thip and I married, we had the family house elevated further so that the entire house could be built out, underneath. This involved jacking the whole house up, putting in support posts and beams, concrete block walls and a concrete floor which was tiled over. Many Thai houses have had this done to them. Chances are, when you see a Thai or SE Asian house that is wood on the second floor but concrete on the first, that structure is that way due to evolutionary change, not by initial design.

Thip's Family Home, 2002

Friday, September 9, 2016

Bann Nah 39 - Trim and Stain

As our three year-long “farm house”project was slowly drawing to a close, I started getting sad thoughts about how much I’d miss not having our workers Sam Lott and Sam Naht around. The feelings/thoughts reminded me of when I used to lifeguard in the summers of long ago. You knew summer would come to an end and you knew you wished it would last forever.

This was an unnecessary sadness, I had to remind myself. To be sure, there will be continued construction at Bann Nah and Lott and Naht will most likely be the ones to get the work done. Not only that, but soon they’ll be working daily at our Kamattan temple just five minutes away. I will be very surprised if they do not become semi-regular after-work visitors at Bann Nah. During those days-to-come, I imagine we’ll do the same as we do now: crack open some bottles of beer Chang, eat, talk and listen to Thai Luktung. The song that was most often played this past year (2015-2016) was “Sai Wa Si Bor Thim Gan” ( ไสว่าสิบ่ถิ่มกัน ):

As I understand the song, it basically says: you promised to be with me forever. For months, I looked trying to find this song thinking it was entitled “Sai Woosy.”

Anyway, the number of things left to do in this wrap-up of Phase One of the Bann Nah Project I could now count on one hand, as Lott and Naht finished up the trim work and began the final staining. It’s amazing how much trim makes in beautifying a building!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Bann Nah 38 - Stairs Completed

Counting our donation of nearly half of our original 17 rai of farmland to our temple for the building of the chedi (stuppa); then moving out to the remaining 9 rai and putting a dirt pad down, the Bann Nah project has been nearly three years in the making. Whenever it is referenced, however, most people consider it’s only been two years underway because that’s when construction of the house began.

Well, the stairs alone have taken a year to complete. Of course, our workers worked on other things in tandem with the stairs and also took a good number of lengthy breaks to do other things like tend to their harvests, work in and for the temple, etc. Even so, the stairs have taken a long time to get done. I’ve posted a little bit of the progression first starting with stairs pad; the stairs roof; stringer and tred; and finalizing the tred.

(Thip is ecstatic)

Please don’t think I’m complaining. As I’ve explained before, the stairs have turned out far better than I ever imagined they would. Moreover, they have become a major stylistic element to the whole mix; a dominant, beautiful element for sure.

And even though they are not completely done, they are basically finished except for the bottom concrete step and some final finishing with wood preservative, filler, sanding and stain.

The stairs are made up of about four different types of wood, most notably teak (mai sak), mai deng and pra doo -- all hard woods. Here are some details on the woods used the most:

Tree Latin Name: Tectona grandis
Local Lao/Thai name: Mai Sak
Trade name: Teak

Particularly valued for its durability, abundance of oil, and water resistance. It is used for boat building, exterior construction, interior walls and ceilings of cabins and temples, veneer, furniture, carving, turnings, and usually small wood projects.

Tree Latin Name: Xylia xylocarpa
Thai name: mai daeng
Trade Name: Pyinkado

Even though a direct translation would work out as 'red wood' it isn't, neither is it rosewood. Pyinkado is actually the Burmese trade name but it covers all wood in Lao and Thai. It is a VERY durable and tough wood which has twice the hardness of teak. Used for railway sleepers, piers and other sub-aqua purposes (15 years life untreated) also excellent flooring. With these properties it is also very heavy when green over 1000kg per Cu meter and also hard to work. It has a very decorative pink-red in color when newly cut, but deepens with age.

Tree Latin Name: Pterocarpus indicus
Thai name: mai doo
Trade Name: Narra

A beauty wood used mainly for furniture, windows and doors but also used for instruments. An open grain with distinctive scent when working -- relatively hard and termite resistant; red-orange in color, with the grain close to the exterior being blond.

A list of available wood types in Thailand, with their Thai, trade and Latin names:

Mai sisiet nua = Akazie (Acacia catechu)
Mai makha = Monkey Pod Tree (Afzelia xylocarpa)
Gaang luang = Coffin Wood (Albizia chinensis)
Mai krabak yai = Krabak (Anisoptera costata)
Mai saake = Brotfrucht (Artocarpus communis)
Mai kanun = Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus)
Mai ngiu = Flamboyant / Flame of the Forest (Bombax ceiba)
Mai chayapruek = Laburnum (Cassia fistula)
Mai ma prao = Kokos (Cocos nucifera)
Mai daang = Rosenholz (Dalbergia parviflora)
Mai ma klua = Ebenholz (Diospyros mollis)
Mai yang = Yang / Gardschan Balsam (Dipterocarpus)
Mai yukalip = Eukalyptus (Eucalyptus sp)
Mai ni krot = Banyan / Feigenbaum (Ficus bengalensis)
Mai dton bo = Bodhibaum / Feige (Ficus religiosa)
Mai para = Gummibaum / Rubber wood (Hevea brasiliensis)
Mai takhien = Takhien (Hopea odorata)
Mai tong bung = Kempas (Koompassia)
Mai ma muang = Mango (Mangifera caloneura)
Mai champa = Magnolie (Michelia champaca)
Mai dton son = Pinie (Pinus kesiya, merkusii)
Mai pradu = Nara Wood (Pterocarpus indicus)
Mai ching chun = Siamese Rosewood (Pterocarpus macrocarpus)
Mai gong gang = Mangrove (Rhizophora mucronata)
Mai cham churee - Chamchuree (Samanea samana)
Mai daang = Burmesischer Sal Baum (Shorea obtusa)
Mai rang = Thai Sal Baum (Shorea siamensis)
Mai gong gang = Mangrove (Sonneratia sp)
Mai makam = Tamarind (Tamarindus indica)
Mai sak = Teak (Tectona grandis)
Mai daeng = Ironwood (Xylia xylocarpa)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

School in Thailand, 1970s

From my wife’s writings about her grade school in Thailand:

School in Thailand by Thiphawan Suphannaphoowong Gault-Williams

When I was seven years old I went to an elementary school named Navangvean. It was in the countryside in northeast Thailand.

First of all, I had to walk to school. I walked to school with my brother and some of my friends in my village. One reason I walked is because my parents could not afford to buy a bike for everyone. In my family I had five brothers and one sister. That's why my parents did not have enough money to buy a bicycle for everyone. I had to walk about thirty minutes one way, or sometimes it took longer if we played a game. It was fun for me because I always laughed and ran away when we played a game. Sometimes it was raining. We would use a banana leaf to cover ourselves up.

The class was small because there were only twenty or twenty-five students [in the entire school]. I had different teachers each year. My favorite teacher was my first grade teacher. His name was Thi. He always made students laugh. For example, when he came into class he always asked us, "Do you want to have chicken soup?" We always said, "Yes". Then he said, "I will kill a chicken now." The way he [pretended to] kill the chicken was to turn around his hands on the chicken's neck. He turned his hands in a circle. He said, "The chicken is dead now." A little while later he took his hands away from the chicken's neck and made a chicken noise, “Eeg eeg eeg." We were laughing all class.

(image of Thip’s classroom taken three decades later)

I had to take lunch to school. My mom always prepared my lunch pack for me. I always looked forward to my lunchtime because I enjoyed my lunch and shared with my friends. We took lunch outdoors and then after lunch we played a game. I usually ran and laughed. For example, the game we played was to run to touch another person. I had to run away to not be touched because if someone touched me then I would have to run to touch another person. I ran very slowly and it took me a long time to get one of them.

My parents had to buy books for me. My favorite subject was reading. The book I liked was a story about children who liked to help and share. For example, Manee, Mana, and Peti were my favorite children in the story. They were friends and tried to help friends at school, or help family at home. They were always looking to help people. First of all, when they were at school if they saw some friends get hurt or fight each other, they always told the teacher to help out. When they came home from school they helped their grandfather water the plants. When they had some candy or fruit they always shared with their friends.

At the end, the things I did not like from school was homework because I had to finish it myself before I went to play and run with my friends. That was the rule from my parents. No matter if I had something else I wanted to do. I still had fun at school.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Village Life in the 1970s

Continuing the writings of my wife Thip, when she wrote about her family and growing up in the Isaan. She did this as part of a series of short essays for her ESL (English as a Second Language) classes in Santa Barbara, California, during the first decade of our marriage [2000-2009]:

(Photo of Thip at the time she is writing about, 1970s)

Village life by Thiphawan Suphannaphoowong Gault-Williams
The life in our village was very simple when I was young [in the 1970s and early 1980s]. Children didn't have any toys. We used to play with banana stems. We cut banana stems and made a shape like a horse. We rode banana horses around the village. It was very safe because our village didn't have any cars in those days.

Now things have changed in my village because children don't have to play with banana horses any more. Children play with toys or ride bicycles around the village. It is not safe like it was before because there are too many cars now.

Children used to go to school together. We walked to school. We played together, we shared food and ate together. Now things are different. Children go to different schools depending on how much their parents can afford to pay. They ride bikes to school or some kids' parents drive them.

People used to go to temple more. For example, when I was young I went to temple with my mom to give food to the monks. I would see around ten to fifteen people at the temple [every morning on non-special observance days]. But now it is different because I see around five to ten people at the temple.

People used to spend time together and eat together often. For example, the Pawet family had lunch with my family often and spent time together with us. Now things are different because people have to buy food. This is different because before people used to hunt. People have their own televisions but before they didn't have any TV. People have to work to pay bills but before they didn't have bills, except the bill for gas to light up at night. We didn't use to have electricity.

I miss my life when I was young a lot because I think it was so simple and people were not too busy like now.

(Our family friend Tah Long, in front of our village home, 
walking his buffalo while on his cell)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Khun Mae

Continuing my wife’s writings about her parents:

My Mother by Thiphawan Suphannaphoowong Gault-Williams

My mom was born in Udon Thani province, northeast Thailand. She is a hard worker and skinny. She is also helpful and a lovely mother.

My mom is a hard worker. For example, she was born in a farm family. She worked at a rice farm and grew rice one time a year. The way she worked was to stay outside in the sun or rain to work no matter what kind of weather, she still kept working from morning until around 5-6 p.m. to help my father. It took her around 3-4 weeks each time to finish planting. Also she had to take care of the farm for four months until the rice was golden ready to cut. She also grew vegetables and fruit for our family. She grew melons, cucumbers, long beans, cabbage, mangoes, bananas, and coconut on our land. That's why she is so skinny, because she is a hard worker. We always had good food.

She is very helpful. For example, she helped me to take care of my daughter from the time my daughter was born until she was fifteen years old. When I gave birth to my daughter I was twenty years old and I had to work to support my family. My mom had to take care of my daughter while I worked in Bangkok. It was far from my hometown. I would see my daughter only one time a year for one or two days each time. Everything depended on my mom to take care of my daughter for me.

My mom was a very lovely mother. For example, she cares about her kids.She took care of me, my sister, and my brothers. I think she loves everyone of us the same. Sometimes my brother and I did something wrong like not listen to her when she told us to not go away from the house, but we sometimes did go. When she came back from the farm she had to look around for us. She was worried about where we were. She still did not get mad at us.

Last year I saw my mom. She was old. She was seventy-five years old [now 81 and in full dementia] and not so healthy. She had high blood pressure and back pain. It is very painful for her. I hope she will be with my family until I can go back to Thailand and stay to take care of her back, the same as when she took care of me when I was young.

I love her so much.

(When Thip and I first met and I first met her parents, 1999)

[note from Malcolm: Thip did go back to look after her mother and that is how we came about to be here, now]