Be sure to follow the links (colored text) for more detailed information.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bann Nah 22 - Stairs Pad

We had had a more extensive after-work party than usual, following the installation of the porch ceiling. Then, again, we had another good one when the stairs pad was completed.

But, these progressions marked an “end of an era,” in a way. With the growing demands on Sam Lott’s and Sam Naht’s time – to work at the temple and also help build the chedi – I knew we would now see them hardly at all, at Bann Nah. After all, it was this time last year that we had a three-month work stoppage due to Ohpensa, Boon Katin, Thung Yai trips and Giao Khao. And last year, the chedi wasn’t even in its building phase, yet.

You know that feeling you get when you watch someone leave you and you wonder when will you see them again – knowing, deep down, that it could be a very long time? Like, when you see someone off at the airport?

I had that distinct feeling as Lott and Naht drove off on their motorcycles, down Bann Nah’s long dirt road…

(our road on the right; chedi site in the distance; rice paddies in the foreground)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bann Nah 32 - Porch Ceiling

In October 2015, the Bann Nah porch teak ceiling was cut and nail-gunned in. I again was staining up to the every end, and sanding, as well. We had run short of the “grade A” slats and I had to work on the “grade B” stuff – slats I had originally rejected – to bring them up to useable quality. It’s amazing what one can do with a belt sander!

Sam Lott and Sam Naht (“Sam” being a title of respect, much like “mister” is in English) did a good job matching up the slats and even got creative in spots.

The porch ceiling now looks so good, that roof sections like the porch’s west side roof and stairs roof – both without ceilings – look notably plain. I’m now thinking that somewhere down the line – maybe in a year or two – we might put mini-ceilings on these, too.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Bann Nah 31 - Porch Small Roof

Continuing to address the rain damage issue to the porch – even though the East Asian Monsoon Season was just about over – our workers Sam Lott and Sam Naht put together the lancah noi (little roof) on the west end of the porch.

This was part of The Plan, but a design deficiency that only I am full aware of. Back when Lungpaw Boon Long suggested we put a lancah noi on top the main roof for aesthetics, I should have changed the plans for the porch roof to be an A-frame – essentially establishing a 3-roof effect. It would have been more expensive, but look lots nicer. As it is, the west side roof (along with the stairs roof), now help create a look to Bann Nah of being a little like an open box with the flaps hanging to the side. Oh well, it’s done and, as I say, I’m probably the only one fully aware of it or who cares.

As with the rest of the building, the little roof on the west side of the porch was built with quality by Lott and Naht, who made sure not to have it too low so we will maintain a good  view of the chedi, once it is built.

(Thip, Naht and Lott taking a break at the outside kitchen)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Change of Season

Fog in the early morning and moisture dripping off the village home’s tin roof heralds in the arrival of the Fall/Harvest Season (October-November). This season is marked by the Thai Buddhist observances of Boon Khao Sah, Oh Pensa and Boon Katin. These are followed by the rice harvest (Giao Khao).

Boon Khao Sah is the Buddhist observance of what could be called “spirits of the dead.” At this time, all those who have gone before are remembered and prayers made on their behalf. My wife Thip had me write down everyone in my family, friends and influential people in my life who are no longer alive. At age 67, I came up with a list of about 150 people. This list was later burned at our temple.

Oh Pensa (or Ohpensa) marks the end of the three-month-long “Buddhist Lent” (Vassa) and is a major Buddhist observance, with ceremonies in the morning, evening (notable for walking around the wat three times, with burning candles) and morning of the next day. I used to make all three, but now attend just on the first morning. Since Oh Pensa falls on the October full moon, I like to go to Bann Nah and watch the full moon rise. Due to the air cooling, the night time skies are much clearer than they are during the Monsoon Season. An added bonus is that surrounding temples in the area let off “sky lanterns,” so it’s quite a show out there on this particular night of the year: the rising moon with sky lanterns drifting across the night sky.

(Karen letting off Sky Lanterns during their 2013 Harvest Festival, at Washuku)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lao Girlfriends

Disclaimer: I am far from an authority on this subject, but judging by the popularity of this blog’s posts relating to Lao girls and women, I will address the subject of Lao GF’s as best I can:

Actually, there’s really no such thing as a “Lao girlfriend” for a Western guy; at least in the way that Falang understand the term. You either know girls through guys or families, or you have a relationship that is more serious and formalized – either a wife or a mia noi. Both are financial arrangements and even if they don’t have a ceremony or paper to back it up, they will consider themselves your wife.

It’s not hard to find a young, beautiful Lao girl. The hard thing is not to.

By that, I mean, unless you either have a lot of money (for a minor or major wife and usually both) or you are just absolutely committed to having a Lao wife, it’s best to keep a distance; you can get close, but do not touch. A beautiful young girl will make an older man’s head spin; believe me; been there.

There are women and girls who will have sex with you on an informal basis. These are most always freelancers who you can find and often find you. You’ll need to have a room where it will be fun for both of you to enjoy and plenty of cash on hand. Just keep in mind Lao Family Law:

"Relationship with Lao citizens: Lao law prohibits sexual contact between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law. Any foreigner who enters into a sexual relationship with a Lao national risks being interrogated, detained, arrested, or fined. Lao police have confiscated passports and imposed fines of up to $5,000 on foreigners who enter into unapproved sexual relationships. The Lao party to the relationship may be jailed without trial. Foreigners are not permitted to invite Lao nationals of the opposite sex to their hotel rooms; police may raid hotel rooms without notice or consent."

Some interesting comments I’ve read concerning this law are as follows:

“It isn't enforced so much nowadays. Back when Vientiane was a large village rather than a city it was risky to be in the same house in the evening. Nowadays it's a bit different as the city has grown, along with foreign investment, meaning a lot more foreigners here."
"Around 8 years ago I was caught with a Lao girlfriend staying at my place, fined 500USD (after much negotiation) and held for a few hours in a cell. The stories of being deported etc... are mainly old barstool fairytales.”
 “The law is still in place… and you still hear of occasional arrests, but it's not as risky as it used to be.... unfortunately.” 
 According to a foreigner friend residing in Vientiane, his gf arrives at midnight and leaves before 6 am.”

I’ve also read that if you’re on the bad side of the police or military, they are apt to watch you, to catch you violating this law. Also, it’s not just a city thing. There are guys up-country who make sure to stay on good terms with the local Pooyai Bann (village headman) for fear he may want to make some kick-back money at your expense. Always stay on good terms with your guesthouse manager/owner and all authorities.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lao Trip 12.5 - Borr Pen Yang

How many times have I climbed these stairs? I think this was my fifth time going up.

Although it lasted all of about 10 seconds, I’ll never forget one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen in my life, coming down these stairs as I was coming up on my first trip here. For all the good it did me, I still found myself “Looking Back.”

They spell their bar “Borr Pen Yang” (alternatively, “Bor Pen Yang”), but I use this expression a lot, back in The Isaan, and pronounce it: bor pen yong. The differences in spelling could be due to local accent or transliteration. It means: no problem.

I had been turned on to the Borr Pen Yang by a Falang forum poster. I had written a simple question, like where do the freelancers (girls/women for hire; not associated with a particular place of business) hang out in Vientiane? Oh, man, did I get a bunch of attack replies insinuating I was a sex tourist or “sexpat” and why would I want to ruin Lao like Thailand? Hey, I’m just asking a question. Chill.

Gettin' some rest at 9 Rai/Bann Nah before going out and rustling me up some babes.

I’ve come to discover – upon personal inspection before the night life gets under way, here – that this bar has draft Beer Lao and great views of the Mekong and west end of the Riverside Vendors.

The previous times I’ve visited the Borr Pen Yang were all during the afternoon, well before the bar’s prime time. In part, that was on purpose because – at age 66 soon to be 67 – I’m no longer a night person. With some notable exceptions for rather short periods of time, I haven’t been much of a bar goer, either.

So, here I was operating somewhat out of my comfort zone: I was moving around at night in a foreign country – in a city, no less; going to a bar and; looking to check out the freelancers.

The Borr Pen Yang is totally different in the night time than in the day. What a Meat Market! I quickly realized that just about everyone (approximately 100 Lao and Falang) in the packed bar was looking to get hooked up.

It did not take long for a woman in her late 20s to come join me at my small table at the top of the stairs. I bought her a beer and although I admired her thinness, command of English and friendliness, I had to let her know that my guesthouse does not permit non-registered guests inside. Actually, I found this a good excuse (and true), because the longer I was in Borr Pen Yang, the more stunning girls kept walking past us. I mean, really, really beautiful girls and women all made and dressed up for the occasion.

I found myself wishing I could just be in a darkened corner by myself, to admire the beauties. Instead, I was being politely hustled and it took some time to extract myself. Next time I’m here, at night, I think I’ll find that corner over by the pool table…

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lao Trip 12.4 - Samyek Pakpasack

Moving off from the Sunset Bar, along Th Fa Ngoum, going easterly, I stopped at a riverside vendor for another beer and bar-b-que, rice and veggies. Here, I enjoyed the fading light of the late afternoon, watching the movement of people and boats along The Mekong.

Just before sundown, I walked further east, back toward Vientiane’s riverside epicenter, and stopped in at Samyek Pakpasack. I couldn’t resist. They again had live acoustic music going on and I remembered how I had enjoyed it here, last time.

At one point, I toasted – from a distance – one of the older employees who had sat in on a couple of songs that reminded me of Loso and Pongsit. He came over to my table in a rush and this is when I met Mr. Tank, who turned out to be the owner or nominal manager or both. I bought us a Beer Lao and, using my smart phone, showed him pictures of my wife and new home being built. This was helpful as it gave him an idea of what kind of guy I was and also gave us something to do, as he was limited in his English and me in my Lao.

When I decided to leave, Mr. Tank insisted on driving me back to my guesthouse. I initially thanked him but indicated that I would walk, but he would have none of it. So, I rode back to the Mixay on the back of Mr. Tank’s motosai

As the night was still young and prospects of just hanging out in my dreary Mixay room didn’t really appeal to me, I decided to go visit the Borr Pen Yang during its prime time. The two or three times I had been there were always in the afternoon and I knew that this bar was geared for the night time…