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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Lao Trip 12.2 - Vientiane

On my third day of the trip, I crossed the Thai-Lao border at Nong Khai and went on to the Lao capitol of Vientiane, which is the usual destination for most people crossing from Thailand along this first “Friendship Bridge,”

I didn’t plan to stay long in Vientiane or Lao, this time around, as I was short on cash. Our new ATM card hadn’t arrived from the Unites States, yet, so I had had to leave our village with whatever kip and baht I had loose around.

I checked into the Mixay Guesthouse this time, as it was a budget/backpacker place across the street from the usual place I stay – the Duang Deuane. The Mixay is about half the price, but the next time I stay in Vientiane, I’ll most likely go back to the Duang Deuane. It’s just a better value and in case I want to stay in my room, the rooms are nice enough to do that – some with very good views. The Mixay rooms are really just for sleeping.

Once laundry was done and I had showered and changed clothes, I walked out to the outdoors eatery a block away, adjacent to the big tree opposite the Belgian Beer place and the nightclub. The owner recognized me immediately and invited me to her table. Even so, she was not as friendly as before. That could be because I had been polite but politely distant when she introduced me to her woman friend. I had gotten the impression she was trying to set us up; maybe, maybe not.

I had a 640 ml bottle of Beer Lao, with ice, then moved on down Th Fa Ngoum, heading westerly. I stopped in at the Borr Pen Yang, but the sole guy guarding the place was sleeping. Not wanting to disturb him, I went back down the stairs and continued my westerly walk.

Passing the Samyek Pakpasack, I remembered my enjoyable time here, early this year, listening to live music and meeting the two guys that worked at KP Lao.

Continuing down Th Fa Ngoum, that runs along The Mekong, at a distance, I passed the Sunset Bar and then where the pavement ends. Being a person who likes floating restaurants, I was sure there had to be one somewhere down the road, a little further outside the city’s epicenter.

I was right. Just as my feet were beginning to ache a little and the afternoon sun was bearing down on me a little too much, I came across Heua Pae…

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lao Trip 12.1 - Two Days in Nong Khai

It’s cheaper here in Thailand than in Lao. So, I stayed in the Thai port city of Nong Khai for two days before crossing over to Lao on my visa renewal trip to save a little bit of baht/kip. I make trips outside Thailand every 90 days, as a condition of my Thai visa.

Why is it cheaper? Well, in large part the stuff you buy in Lao is mostly imported from Thailand. Also, fuel prices are higher, so it’s more costly to move around in Lao than in Thailand.

The two days in Nong Khai were leisurely and mostly consisted of beer drinking and eating on three different floating restaurants; shopping at Nong Khai’s famous Tha Sadet market; and keeping in touch with my various Internet projects (my writings, gaming clan, communications with family and friends, and a few blogs I maintain). I even had a chance to visit the Smile Bar once again, which I had first visited this time, last year; when I met Doi (doo-ee), a nice bargirl in her late twenties.

The curious thing about this Nong Khai trip was my being pursued by two different freelancers – one on bicycle. I talked with them, shared some beer with the bicyclist. I was polite and friendly, but not overly; I kept a distance. They weren’t “my type” and “had too much mileage” on them, I believe is the expression. Besides, I’m too paranoid of catching something I don’t want, to get involved with sexually active women. And, then there is my wife at home to think about. Yep, some friendly conversation is good enough for me.

I tried to connect with Pu – a normal girl I also met this time last year – but I mixed-up the rendezvous details and we ended up missing each other.

There was no standout moment to the two days in Nong Khai, but some minor moments: listening and watching a singer perform live acoustic music (including lots of Pongsit); watching the sun go down behind the clouds over the Mekong; observing the commercial activity at the port and patrons and staff at the Smile Bar.

Sadly, the guest house I usually patronize (Siri Guesthouse) upped their room rentals from 300 baht/night ($9 USD) to 500 ($15). Not quite sure if that was because there were boat races planned for that weekend, but I’ll probably be looking for different digs next time I’m out this way.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Bann Nah 30 - Windows!

I’ve never seen so many people so happy about so much rain. I have to admit, so was I. Our Thai/Lao family’s bounty of rice for the year depended on it, so everyone wanted the rain to fall.

During the one-month period it rained every day, a portion of the Bann Nah porch floor buckled – just as I had predicted it would. As I mentioned in the previous post, I wasn’t happy with our workers’ failure to address the on-going rain damage. But, we left them free to organize their work, so we bore some of the responsibility, too.

On top of this, I should have never let myself be talked into a tongue and groove porch floor. But, my wife had wanted it and our workers had assured me it would be fine and look better. My feeling now is that – maybe not this year, but possibly in 2016 or 2017, I will need to have the tongues and grooves of the porch floor sawed out, so that we don’t have an on-going problem with the floor boards every Monsoon Season. After all, this was a very dry rainy season. Again, I take responsibility for the buckling, as I should have stuck to the original design.

To forestall the same kind of damage happening to the inside room floor, Lott and Naht finally installed our windows: three standard sliders and 3 small.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Bann Nah 29 - Stairs Roof

The Monsoon rains finally kicked-in from mid-July to about mid-August. It was, by far, a late start to the rice growing season and of very short duration. Usually, you can count on rain for the rice crops for a solid four-to-five months (May-September).

During the time the rains fell every day, we continued to suffer significant rain damage both inside the rooms at Bann Nah and on the porch, especially. Rather than address the problem of rain water continuing to soak into the tongue and grooves of the upstairs floor boards, our workers proceeded to build the cement support posts for the stairs and then put in the roof for the stairs-to-be. I did my best to Keep My Kool, but I wasn’t happy about this seemingly illogical progression to the building.

Only thing I can think of is that Lott and Naht wanted something dramatically visible for Lungpaw to see, when viewed from the temple or chedi site, so that he felt confident progress was being made. After all, when our workers weren’t working for us or themselves, they were employed regularly at the temple. Lungpaw had recommended them and we had donated and sold land cheap for the chedi, so there were stakes to consider.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Gam Kha

During July 2015, Thip’s brother Sawt organized the nursery beds for this year’s rice crop at 9 Rai, 8.5 Rai, and a rai or two at the family farm. He’s been the lead farmer in this ever since Thip and I bought 9 Rai (originally 17 Rai) and 8.5 Rai for my wife’s family to rice farm on, about 15 years ago.

This was also about the time Thip’s father – Khun Paw – retired from rice farming. The way I hear it, he was more or less instructed by family not to work on the farms, anymore, for his health. Looking back, I also think that once Sawt had the additional 25.5 rai to work, he did not want the far more experienced Khun Paw looking over his shoulder all the time and, of course, being critical.

The process for preparing the nursery beds – actually, just a single rice paddy at each farm – goes like this:

At some point after Boon Pakwet, the rice fields are tilled – usually by tractor, but if this cannot be afforded, then it’s done by mechanical buffalo, which takes far longer and is a workout. Back in Khun Paw’s prime, it was done with a buffalo and a single or double edge plow!

Mechanical Buffalo: https://youtu.be/w8fLDpfbVxQ

My nephew Tah driving his mother Jom from Bann Nah, in the family mechanical buffalo (Kubota). Note the tires which are used only for road travel and are easily taken off; the tractor wheels are sitting on top of the cart bed, next to Jom; the jack used for switching out the rubber wheels with the metal tread wheels sit inside the metal wheels in this video; discs used for plowing are immediately adjacent to Jom; family transplanting rice in the background; shot of the chedi site towards the very end.

The paddies then sit for a while; a month or two, until the East Asian Monsoon Season begins. When the rains start to fall with some regularity, the fields are churned over with a mechanical buffalo and then – again using a Kubota (brand name for popular mechanical buffalo here in The Isaan) – the pads of mud are smoothed over by running heavy boards over the surface. Once this is done, the paddies are ready for the rice seed to be thrown out (gam kha).

As mentioned, a single paddy at each farm is selected as a seed bed. From here, when the rice is about a month old, it is transplanted throughout the rest of the farm, by hand.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Bann Nah 28 - Well Drilled 3

After the government workers finished drilling our new water well, it was time to complete the paperwork and make payment. Thip did the former and I did the later. Cost for the well was 11,500 baht.

We had some problems with obstructions in the well on the following day and needed to call the guys back. We were fortunate that they hadn’t left the area; had other jobs around to do. They came back, cleaned out the well and even drilled a few more meters down into the aquifer. They wouldn’t take payment, but accepted a 1,500 baht gratuity that probably covered their beer for a couple of nights.

During those subsequent days, we had Lott and Naht build a concrete/rebar pad for the well and finish up the PVC work. By the time everything was done, we had spent an extra 6,000 baht on PVC, cement, rebar and labor. The pump – we already had it from when 9 rai was 17 rai. So, total cost for all well-related expenses -- including food for the drillers and ourselves that first day –  totaled about 20,000 baht (about $600 USD).

On the first day, after the drillers left, everyone was in great spirits. The well would mean running water for our “farm house” and another source of water for rice field irrigation.

So, we proceeded to have a mini-party for the rest of the afternoon, hanging out in the outdoor kitchen area. Women prepared and bought more food and I bought the beer. It was a family affair, but Thip’s family is large and extended, so we had no shortage of visitors – usually for short periods, but some for the duration. Most of the guys drank Leo beer, but a couple (as previously noted) went for the stronger stuff (lao khao).

A rain squall came in, but didn’t shutdown the festivities. Actually, it was a pretty low key affair and reminded me a lot of just a larger version of an after-work Bann Nah relaxer. The usual protocols for beer drinking were observed, along with eating a diverse number of different Isaan dishes. Of these, I partake a little, to be polite, relying on my wife to pick the foods she knows I like and/or can handle (i.e. lean, well-cooked meat; no MSG; no sugar; low salt; nothing exotic, etc.).

Once the squall had passed and the sun set, it was time to leave. I usually make it a point to be the last to leave Bann Nah, so I can take a final look around in case things are forgotten (like tools left out or trash down low where dogs might get to it).

Several days later, everything was completed and we now have running water at Bann Nah.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bann Nah 27 - Well Drilled 2

When you stop to think about it, civilization as we know it would be difficult to achieve if the planet was not endowed with aquifers throughout its subsurface. Certainly, the Earth’s population levels would be much lower if everyone had only drinkable surface water and rains to depend on.

I found the well drilling process interesting and was impressed with the simplicity of the machinery/tools involved and the dedication of the drillers. As with most things, there’s more to the process than you might imagine.

After greetings and verification that they were where they were supposed to be, an inspection was made on the proposed well site. I had not considered the overhead electrical lines, so it was suggested that the spot I had wanted be moved over a little further from the high voltage lines. Made sense to me!

Some of the drilling crew set about placing the drilling truck, leveling it, and then securing metal pads to the ground to take pressure off the wheels. The huge air compressor was likewise positioned close-by.

Meanwhile, the head guy made an offering to the spirits of the land, with candles, incense and a bottle of lao khao (rice whiskey). This bottle, incidentally, mysteriously disappeared about the time Thip’s brother Sawt and his cousin Peh joined us for the post-drilling party.

There are two main components to the drilling rig: the truck, itself, and the portable high-pressure air-injector. From the truck, a drill head with holes for air to be blown out from the injector is attached to an increasing number of drill rods until the aquifer is reached.

If a rock or hard spot is reached, at some point along the line, the drill head is brought back up and a special rock-cutting drill head inserted. This special head is then brought down to the level of the drilling and when successfully through, brought back up and the original head put back on. In order to do this, each section of drill rods need to be unscrewed and then re-screwed and again unscrewed and re-screwed. This takes time and patience.

Mud starts to come up before the aquifer is reached. We hit our aquifer at about 40 meters (approximately 131 feet down). Once the aquifer is reached, the drill goes down slightly lower to make a clean hole into it. It’s exciting when water starts to be blown out by the air compressor.

Once the hole into the aquifer is verified as a clean tap, the head and rods are brought back up to the surface, one-by-one. After they are up, PVC pipe is inserted down to a level of about 3 meters, from ground. Once in place, our own smaller circumfrance PVC pipe is lowered down, one section screwed onto another, with the head being grated to prevent large pieces of anything from being pumped up to the surface. The pipes go down to the same level as the drilling, with a tubular, internal electric pump not far from the end of the piping. This is the device that actually pumps water to the surface.

(Thip's looking pretty happy about all of this...)