Friday, October 17, 2014

Bann Nah 3

When we realized a way we could donate and sell more of our laregest farm to our temple, so that the chedi really could be built and that what we had already donated wouldn’t just end up being a parking lot, we hired friends to dismantle Love Shack II and move the wood over to the new location where we intended to rebuild it.

Here’s video I shot of the take-down of the shack, moving of the wood, and build up of the new pad in the middle of what was left of our land – the former “17 Rai,” now “Gao Rai” (9 Rai):

17 to 9 from Malcolm Gault-Williams on Vimeo.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bann Nah 2

There is actually somewhat of a history surrounding structures on our larger rice farm.

(on the pad for "Ban Nah," July 2014; my wife Thiphawan and motosai in last frame)

 What I call “Love Shack I” went in right after we bought the land in 2003. Thip’s father Nah – Khun Paw – and a good friend of the family, Pahwet, built it. They situated it near the uppermost part of the upper land (as opposed to the lower land, where the rice paddies are). It was a long stone’s throw from the road and just across from our temple.

It was a typical Thai farm shack, meant to provide a resting place for family, friends and workers when farming or hanging out. You see them all over the rice fields of Southeast Asia; little more than just shacks, in most cases.

Not long afterwards, Thip’s brother Sawt had built a small one-room cement and tile roof bungalow with a separate restroom next to it. Both structures were close to the shack. Sawt likes to stay out on the farms, outside the village, enjoying the benefits of privacy. Yet, as far as I can tell, very little living was spent in the bungalow that ened-up as mostly just a storage unit. I know, because I once cleaned it out, thinking that I could convert it into a personal writer’s retreat.

Instead, Sawt and his wife Nui took over occupancy of the structure on our smaller rice farm (8.5 rai), which we purchased several years after we bought the first farm. So, Love Shack I and Sawt’s bungalow both ended-up used pretty much only during the rice growing season.

A little less than ten years later, when I retired in the village and we decided to donate some of 17 Rai to our temple for the building of a chedi, I had “Love Shack II” constructed toward the bottom of the upper land, just inside our new boundary lines.

 Family complained that there were no walls. There had been two in the first shack, providing a corner of privacy and shelter from wind blown rain. I figured that if they had a problem with wind blown rain, they could use tarps. I didn’t count on Sawt being drunk one night, getting up to go pee and stepping off the platform and dropping several feet to the ground. Nothing was broken, but of course I was blamed. Actually, I had Love Shack II constructed without walls on purpose because I had found evidence of sexual activity from visitors in the first shack. That’s actually why I began calling the shacks “love.” I did not want to continue to provide a place for clandestine rendezvous. It was bad for my karma.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bann Nah 1

In July 2014, after tam nah was completed on both of our rice farms, and Khaopensa (“Buddhist Lent” – 3 months long) had begun, we set about to construct our bann nah (farm house). It was initially intended to be just an open air bungalow to protect ourselves, family and workers from sun and inclement weather; a successor, if you will, to “Love Shack I” and “Love Shack II.” Who knows? Maybe I could finally get my writer’s retreat…

(my basic writing set-up; beer off-camera)

Everyone wanted something more substantial – my wife, our local family, villagers and even our head monk, Lungpu Boon Long.

My thinking had been: Well, we’ll just erect another shack a little bit better than the last one, then – much later – build a small house for Thip and I, that family could partially share.

But, succumbing to the pressure, working out the budget for it, realizing that labor and materials would never be cheaper, and knowing that I’d really like it out there if I could get a building that fit my lifestyle (as opposed to, say, the family’s), I shifted course and agreed with Thip to build a one-room, one-porch elevated farm house on the former 17 Rai, now down to 9.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Tam Nah 2

While Thip and I don’t get out there for the hard work in the rice paddies (exposure to the sun and repetitious bending), we contribute in other ways the family cannot; namely by providing the land and financial assistance for things like fertilizer, pumps, electricity, buildings to shade workers, machinery, repairs, threshing, food, beer. We don’t pay for it all, but ours is by far the largest monetary contribution to the family enterprise.

The only thing that we don’t pay for is hired help. Thip’s brother Sawt, who organizes the seasonal planting and harvesting, sometimes hires non-family members and friends to help out at peak periods. If that’s how he wants to manage it, “up to him” is how we put it here in the Land of Smiles (LoS).

As far as I am concerned, there are enough able bodied family members, who get a portion of the crop, to help bring it in; some of these are conspicuous only in their absence.

Sadly, these are mostly the younger members of the family who are in far better physical condition than those of us who are older. This problem of “missing youth” on farms is not limited to our family alone, but is – I believe – a nation-wide issue that has occurred in other countries, too. When thinking about the ramifications of this for Thailand’s future as a major rice exporter, however, it’s hard to see small family farms lasting very long.

("What, you sayin' I don't work around here, dude?")

(Front gate area of our home in the village; boots are necessary even on dry days if you're in fields highly overgrown; it's all about the possibility of coming across a snake or two...)

Here’s a video showing how we pump water from the family farm, next door, to irrigate the rice paddies on our 8.5 rai farm. Cameo’s by Thip’s father Nah and some other family members towards the end:

2014-06_8.5rai from Malcolm Gault-Williams on Vimeo.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tam Nah 1

Not long after returning from my seventh trip to Lao, it was the time of tam nah – rice transplanting.

Our Thai family (Thai-Lao, really) has been planting, growing and harvesting khao nio (sticky rice) and jasmine rice on our two farms ever since we bought them circa 2002. In fact, that’s the reason we bought the land. Both were purchased pretty cheaply from owners who were in a rush to pay off loans before default and losing everything altogether.

The sellers’ misfortune became our family’s fortune, as it immediately turned our family from share croppers to virtual owners. Thip and I have been happy about the way it’s turned out; pretty much how we wanted it: to have our Thai-Lao family (approximately 12-15 family members) self-sufficient in rice.

After the paddies are tilled and prepared for planting, one or two paddies are designated as nursery beds and thickly sown with rice. This is what I referred to just before I left for my 7th trip to Lao.

After about a month, the rice seedlings are ready for transplanting to the main paddies. I’ve previously shot some video showing this, at our larger farm, in 2009:

I’m not much for this kind of back-breaking work; not only due to my age (65), but because I literally broke my back about ten years ago. I get out into the rice paddies to show my support and do a little work, but it’s mostly symbolic. My contribution mostly comes from making the land available and paying for stuff that’s needed.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lao Trip 7.3 - Nuey

My third and last day in PL2 was great. It had all the right elements: swimming in the Khong, hanging out at Khoun Ten, and meeting a beautiful Lao girl.

I was also called upon to do karaoke. There is one Sek Loso song I can sing to (Som Sarn), if I have the transliteration, but everyone expected me to do an English language song, so I sang the most popular English language song playing on the Khoun Ten karaoke rotation:


Now, whenever I hear this song, I think back on that day when I met Nuey...

"Take Me To Your Heart"
sung by Michael Learns to Rock

Hiding from the rain and snow
Trying to forget but I won't let go
Looking at a crowded street
Listening to my own heart beat.

So many people all around the world
Tell me where do I find someone like you girl

Take me to your heart, take me to your soul
Give me your hand before I'm old
Show me what love is - haven't got a clue
Show me that wonders can be true.

They say nothing lasts forever
We're only here today
Love is now or never
Bring me far away.

Take me to your heart, take me to your soul
Give me your hand and hold me
Show me what love is - be my guiding star.
It's easy. Take me to your heart.

Standing on a mountain high
Looking at the moon through a clear blue sky
I should go and see some friends
But they don't really comprehend.

Don't need too much talking without saying anything
All I need is someone who makes me wanna sing.

Take me to your heart, take me to your soul
Give me your hand before I'm old
Show me what love is - haven't got a clue
Show me that wonders can be true.

They say nothing lasts forever
We're only here today
Love is now or never
Bring me far away.

Take me to your heart, take me to your soul
Give me your hand and hold me
Show me what love is - be my guiding star.
It's easy. Take me to your heart.

Take me to your heart, take me to your soul
Give me your hand and hold me
Show me what love is - be my guiding star.
It's easy. Take me to your heart.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lao Trip 7.2

Like Lao Trip #5, this one was not intended to be very long. I just wanted to hang out in PL2 for a while cuz I feel welcome there. Also, I wanted to do a “sanity check’ on my internal comparisons with West Central Lao, which on Lao Trip #6, I found to be not as friendly as Western Lao.

I slept unusually late, did my laundry, took a shower, had a little coffee and watched some Lao TV; making journal notes for later expansion of which this writing you’re reading now is a result.

Right after noon, I hit the ATM machine over in Pak Lai and strolled through the clothing market there. Most all the stuff is imported from Thailand and thus a little bit more expensive than it would be in my host country. I bought a new backpack and some small notepads. My old backpack was only two years old, but already the plastic strap holders were busted and at critical points, the fabric was unraveling. I haven’t seen a well-built backpack in Southeast Asia yet.

Using my Lao sim card, I called Thip, checking to make sure all was alright back home. Then, I bought some BBQ chicken on bamboo stick, nok (a favorite fruit of mine) and some sweet bread. I ate my makeshift lunch on a small shaded bench on the way to Khoun Ten.

Arriving at the beer bar, I was quickly befriended by Pem, who is a Lao guy of 21 who wanted to improve his English. As the demographics of the floating restaurant/beer bar/karaoke spot tilted towards males (like yesterday) I was happy to have someone to talk with and maybe pick-up some more Lao language, myself. If there had been a lot of girls around that I could’ve talked with, it would have been a different story. I wouldn’t have wanted Pem to monopolize my time at the expense of meeting some girls is what I’m basically trying to say.

(looking down The Mekong)

After four bottles, which I of course shared, I moved on to Heun Phair. Again, the place was virtually empty and I had the place to myself, just like yesterday. I didn’t mind. I was well received and the views were, as always, spectacular.

I ended the day much earlier than yesterday in what seemed a bit like a carbon copy of the later part of the previous day. At Khem Kong I had a small dinner of spicy beef, rice and another Beer Lao. Say Khong is the other main restaurant in the village, but I did not patronize it this trip.