Saturday, November 26, 2016


Just before the rice harvest (giao khao - cut rice), a bit of bad luck hit the Nong Bua Lamphu region. A day and night’s-long heavy downpour resulted in rice fields throughout the area being flooded and under water for as long as two days later.

Thip's brother Sawt; chedi in background.

Old Timers say that the area’s rice fields hadn’t flooded like this in thirty years. When I first saw it, I thought it was a disaster or a tragedy in the making, but most everyone took it in stride and no one seemed to be too upset about it. Kids, of course, loved it.

Everywhere there was a klong (water canal, routed former stream), the klong and a wide area on either side of them became flowing broad expanses of water that knocked down rice stalks and put rice grain under water. Even in areas where there was no movement of water laterally, the immense amount of rain and some wind associated with it, further knocked down rice stalks, laying them down into the paddies. This typically happens. Some years it is only a little. Some years -- like 2016 -- it was a lot.

The rice can survive being under water for a while, as long as it is not more than a couple of days and then has a chance to quickly dry out. Luckily, this is what happened to our crop and to most others. There was damage to the rice fields, but nothing we couldn’t quickly come back from.

Aside from the laying down of the rice stalks -- which makes it much harder on the back to lift and cut rather than just cut -- the worst resultant problem we had to deal with was our washed-out road leading into our larger farm. For a couple of days, while the harvest was beginning, we couldn’t drive all the way in to Bann Nah. Before I had to leave for Lao (Laos), Thip and I made sure it was smoothed out so that family could get in and out easily and when it was time to thresh the harvest, the thresher could do the same.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Boon Katin, 2016

Boon Katin or boun katin follows each year’s end of Buddhist Lent (Vassa), shortly after Ohpensa (aka Wan Ok Phansa). Ceremonially, it is the time when new robes are offered to local or favored monks, but more importantly is a time of general gift giving to monks and temples. It is our wat’s major time of fund-raising and an opportunity for people to increase their karma and boon by giving.

My wife’s father Khun Paw had let it be known, this year, that he intended to make a very big donation to the temple, with ceremonies and socializing at the family house as well as at the wat. Everyone in the family was involved with this, which included having monks give a special ceremony at the family house and feeding nearly 300 family and friends before and afterwards. As my wife (and I) was one of the major funders of the Khun Paw’s Boon Katin ceremony/party, Thip stipulated that there would be no drinking of alcohol. This would have driven the cost up astronomically.

Boon Katin, in many ways, is a bigger observance in our village and at our local temples than even Khaopensa or Ohpensa. It is celebrated in slightly different ways throughout Thailand and Laos. By the end of the several days-long ceremonies, our temple had raised well over $30,000 USD and Khun Paw had donated around a tenth of that amount. I was happy for him, but a little uneasy about it. I knew he no longer had anymore extra money. This means that if family members needed cash for something unexpected or unplanned for, they will now go to my wife for help.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Two Homes

After we moved into our farm house, our daily routines were split even more between our 9 rai rice farm and our village house; sometimes sleeping out at the farm, sometimes in the village. It all depended on the weather and what we were doing that day and planned to do the day after.

Our Village House

Bann Nah on 9 rai

A bit of a different approach than most people thought we would take. During the construction of Bann Nah, there was often the question family and villagers would ask us: “Where will you live?” The assumption was always that we would live in one house or the other. Thip and I decided to take a more organic approach to the transition -- see what happens.

So, now we live in and out of both houses. I don’t see that changing for a while; at least until we wire up Bann Nah.

The transition period was very busy and somewhat tumultuous. There were the deaths of Thailand’s King and my sons’ grandfather on their mother’s side. There was also our birthdays and the major Buddhist ceremony days of Ohpensa and Boon Katin.

As I knew it would be, I found I liked it more out on the farm than in the village. Yet, I still had responsibilities at our village house and also at our rental property; mostly in the form of tree trimming and brush and grass cutting.

Our Rental Property -- Ban Sao (3 units)
Thip's brother Sawt and crew were moving power lines on this day

I also cut weeds at 9 rai, leaving 8.5 rai to be taken care of by Thip’s brothers who help with the grass cutting at 9 rai also, especially in the early part of the rice growing season.

Cutting weeds on the farm is essential and the timing of it can be critical. You want to cut the weeds before they are mature enough to have their seeds go airborne. The less weed seeds that get into the rice paddies, the less weeds you have to pull the following year. I’ve gotten better about timing it right, but it’s taken a couple of seasons to get it down.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Move In Morning

Thip and I went to our head monk, Lungpaw Boon Long, to ask him when would be favorable to have our house warming ceremony. He did not have a date for us, but he said we could move in the next day. We had thought we’d have to have the ceremony first, before we could move in.

Move-in day was perfect timing, as it was the day after Ohpensa. As we opened up the house and put some things away, the sun was rising in the east and the full moon setting in the west.

Thip’s friend Mai was there to help us and took some pictures:

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Ohpensa, 2016

Thai King Bumibol Adulyadej died just before this year’s Ohpensa (aka Wan Ok Phansa), the end of the three month Buddhist Lent (Vassa) which had begun with Khaopensa, back in July.

Ohpensa takes place every October on the day of the full moon. I remember it most for the night ceremony where everyone walks around the temple three times, with lit candles, incense and flowers. As I mentioned last year, I used to attend this observance, but now just limit myself to the morning ceremony. I prefer to be out at Bann Nah that night, to enjoy the full moon and the sky lanterns that are lit throughout the evening and fill the night time sky all around. These symbolize the granting of our wishes going skyward and also symbolize a release of negative karma.

My most memorable Ohpensa had been in 2014. That one came complete with a full lunar eclipse.

This year’s Ohpensa seemed somewhat subdued, possibly due to the King’s passing. Of course, prayers were made for him this day, along with the usual, but I haven’t seen any of the emotional grief and sadness here in the Thai countryside, like could clearly be seen on TV images broadcast from Bangkok.

Then again, I don’t “get out” much. The most interaction I have with people is at the temple, with Thip’s family and people who visit us, which -- right now -- is a fair amount. People want to see the new house. When they get out to our 9 rai rice farm, they also find they really like it out there -- who else has a panoramic view like we have? -- so, they come back.

Kamattan chedi/stuppa being built on land we donated to the temple

Also, I’m more welcoming than I used to be. When I first moved to the Isaan in 2012, I kept our Thai family and potential friends at a distance. I did it knowingly and unknowingly. It is natural for Westerners to be a bit “stand-offish”. Thais are more social and I had to adjust to that -- one of the many things I had to change about myself as I “learned a new way.”

Part of it was practical, though. I had to put the stops on the amount of money we were giving to my wife’s family on a regular basis. As I explained it to her -- in part so that she wouldn’t feel so bad about it -- neither one of us was working at a paying job anymore. Now that we are living here on one fixed retirement income, it was impossible to support them to the degree we once had. Also, they are doing much better financially than they used to; in part due to our help, but probably more so to the improved Thai and Isaan economies.

Well, now I’m friendlier, more out-going, more open to family problems (which always have something to do with money)... and practice my Thai/Lao smile everyday. This contributes to our village and country homes being places of fresh and good karma.

Friends visiting

Monday, October 24, 2016

Rainy Season Ending

The death of the King of Thailand and end of construction at Bann Nah coincided with the winding down of the rainy season.

A week or so after the party celebrating the end of Phase 1 of the Bann Nah project, Thip and I were over at the family farm, celebrating the birthday of her oldest brother Awt. Rolling thunder was going off in the far distance. It’s the sound of lightning that occurs between clouds and generally does not strike the earth. Thip’s brother Sawt, the lineman supervisor, commented that the Monsoon Season was saying goodbye, as it prepared to move to The South before ceasing altogether.

During my first half decade retired in the Isaan, I’ve tried to learn how to read the weather. I did not learn meteorology very well in school and feel not enough time was spent on the subject, both by me and the school system. Throughout my life, I’ve just taken it for granted and not thought much about it until now. I think I’ve learned a bit and am aided by my capabilities with technology, which is rarely used by farmers here -- if you discount radio. Weather plays such a huge role in the life of a farmer -- which I am, I guess, in the gentlemanly way.

One of the major things I’ve discovered about the East Asian Monsoon Season as it relates to Northeastern Thailand is that when it starts, rain storms come primarily from the west (Adaman Sea). Toward the end of the rainy season, rain storms come mostly the east (generated in the South China Sea).

The early part of the Thai/Lao Rainy Season is marked by dramatic thunder storms, sometimes just squalls, and sometimes whole days when it will do nothing but rain. The later part of the rainy season here is marked by sporadic rain storms that keep it wet enough to keep you from burning brush, but dry enough to think the season may have passed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The King is Dead

Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej, King Rama IX, recently passed away just short of his 90th birthday. Throughout the land, there is real grief over the loss to Thailand. King Bhumibol was widely loved and did many good things for his country in the 70 years of his reign.

After Bhumibol’s funeral, he will be succeeded by his son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, as King Rama X.

Black and white are worn throughout the country, as a sign of respect, and festivals are put on-hold for 30 days (with the exception of Buddhist holidays and religious ceremonies).