Saturday, January 21, 2017

Favorite Songs of 2016

By “2016,” I mean these are the songs that were in “heavy rotation” on my smart phone in 2016. Except for two, all of them were released in earlier years:, 2016 - ไสว่าสิบ่ถิ่มกัน - non-story, original song

"Sai Wa Si Bor Thim Gan" (ไสว่าสิบ่ถิ่มกัน) -- what I call "Sai Woosy" -- was played throughout Thailand and Lao in 2016. I even heard it in Cambodia in December. As Long As The Last Breath, start at 00:35

This one is one of my wife's favorites. It is a sad song and a bit depressing, but I think it's healthy to remind ourselves that we will not be in this life forever; that our bodies break down even if we are fortunate enough to live into old age in relative good health. Carabao’s tribute CD to The King, 2016

A good song with a really cute video. Still very popular in Thailand and Lao.

A few other songs I listened to a lot this year, from my days back in the USA:

"Dragon Fly" by Fleetwood Mac, circa 1972, rediscovered 2016

"Look To Your Soul," Johnny Rivers, 1967

"At The End of a Rainbow," Earl Grant, 1959

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Rice Harvest, 2016

Returning home from my 15th trip to Lao, I arrived in time to continue helping with the family rice harvest and just in time to help thresh the khao nio (sticky rice) at 9 rai.

Threasher kicking up rice stalks, dust and dirt at 9 rai; 
more dirt than normal due to recent flooding.

I got in there, but as usual, was not dressed for the occasion. That’s OK, my greatest value to family at harvest time -- as it is most all the year -- is as major supplier of liquid refreshments, food and cash.

Next morning.

The recent flooding negatively affected our yield at 9 rai. We brought in 15 50kg bags less than the year before because of it. However, we did so well at our 8.5 rai farm -- where there hadn’t been flooding -- that we brought in 30 bags more than the year before. So, the net gain meant we were ahead by 15 bags this year, counting the yield at both farms.

Thip's brother Pawt giving the thumbs up at 8.5 rai.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Lao Trip 15.4 - A Day at Khoun Ten

As far as I’m concerned, the center of PL2 is Khoun Ten. So many great times have taken place here and I visit it often in my dreams. It is definitely my most preferred place to hang out. So, the last day in Lao, on this trip, I spent just hanging out at the new Vardsanar.

Beforehand, I stopped in and thanked Savath for a fine day, yesterday. He had one of his sons fetch me my traditional plastic bottle of Lao Khao and I said goodbye: pope gahn mai (see you later).

At the market, I bought a small travel bag and some food, then made my way to the Mekong.

I was absolutely the first person to walk aboard Khoun Ten. The night guard stirred a bit and later other family members started to filter in.

Soon, the young boys of the family and their friends started swimming and messing around in the water. I was happy to see this and fondly remembered when I had joined in with them two years ago. It had been hot that day and even though it wasn’t really what a patron of the restaurant/bar would do, there’s a lot I can get away with by being a Westerner. It helped that my nylon shorts can also double as swim trunks. So, I cooled down, had some fun with the kids and also attracted Nuey’s attention. That day was my best day so far on this floater; possibly my best day of my five years retirement in Southeast Asia.

I was surprised that Khoun Ten was so quiet on this Sunday afternoon; only less than a dozen of us all afternoon. But, I’m not complaining. It’s exactly what I wanted.

I had hoped to link-up with Sone. She had said that she would cook me up a meal at her place and I could meet her father, just back from the Lao capitol (Vientiane), and who is the same age as me. But, her contact information didn’t work for me, which is another lesson learned: never have anyone else put in your contact info for you on your phone and if they do (or you do), always verify that it works while they’re still in your presence.

I left Khoun Ten after the sun had set, closing the book on my 15th sojourn to Lao.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Lao Trip 15.3 - A Day With Savath

I had promised my friend Savath that I would visit him -- as I do most every time I am in and around Pak Lai. It was my good fortune to meet him early on in my trips to Lao. We have remained friends for about four years, now.

Savath is a hardware salesman and the Beer Lao distributor for Pak Lai. He also distributes Lao Khao (rice whiskey). He is a big man in this town. You wouldn’t know it because of his posture, but he is given great respect everywhere in these parts and everyone seems to know him or know of him.

Unlike times before, I was able to pin-point my arrival ti his hardware store adjacent to the market and attached to his home. Usually, I would just show up. Now -- thanks to smart phones and social networking-- he knew within the half hour of when I would arrive. And he was ready for me!

Turns out he had land for sale and his sons’ English teacher ready to help with translation.

I was somewhat embarrassed when Sone (sown; sewn) mentioned to me that we had met several years before, at Heuan Phair. I kinda remembered her and if she is who I remember, I even gave her a follow-up call the next day that didn’t go anywhere. You don’t forget a Lao English teacher and when you meet one, you want to try to stay in contact. If she was who I remembered, that was good. If she wasn’t who I remember, it would be further embarrassment to mention it. So, I had to drop that avenue of conversation.

Sone is a good woman who hasn’t met the right guy, yet. Her market position was slipping, though, as she is -- I guess -- is in her late 20s; never married, which is a bit unusual in Southeast Asia. I advised her to keep her eyes open, don’t shut them. Her man will come along.

I kinda think Savath thought I might be that guy, because if he were to sell land to “me,” I would have to have a Lao wife and she would actually be the owner; same way it is in Thailand. All the land Thip and I have in the Isaan is really owned by her.

After Sone had to leave and after Savath had his guys close shop, he drove me over to his Mekong river property in Ban Nah Sak, south of Pak Lai, just a little south of the ferry crossing and new bridge going in.

Fantastic location, really. About four hectares (1 hectare = 6.25 rai; 2.47 acres or 10,000 square meters). There was no way I could afford it -- even if I had a Lao wife. But, I wasn’t going to tell Savath that. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I’m pretty sure, though, that he figured if I couldn’t couldn’t or didn’t want to buy, then maybe I had family or friends who would and could. He mentioned the equivalent of that, several times.

Savath has multiple properties he wanted to sell -- not only in Ban Nah Sak, but also across the river in Ban Khokkaodo. I asked only about riverside land because if there was any possible way I could pull it off, I’d only be interested in the view.

Anyway, after viewing the riverside property that he had actually used for warehousing, we made our way back to the guest house -- a distance of about ten kilometers. We started in the late afternoon and didn’t arrive until late evening. We stopped multiple places. Every time I thought we were almost there, Savath would park his new truck at yet another watering hole.

One of the places we stopped was Par Sai -- the restaurant overlooking the port, where I had eaten coconut just the day before. It was good the owners saw me with Savath. I’m pretty sure they will remember me next time.

Another place we stopped was Sabaidee, where I had met that first group of dirt bikers what seemed like ages ago. Here, things got crazy. We ate and drank and Savath disappeared for a time. I joined the hostess in a karaoke rendition of “Sai Woosy.” It was all great fun.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Lao Trip 15.2b - Xaysana's Students

I never really know what’s coming next. This is another reason why I love vacationing in Lao so much.

When I had arrived in PL2, I messaged Dao that I was here. She is my contact to teacher Duangtar; herself a former student of his who had just graduated from Palisard Business Administration College in Pak Lai. She had married Luy shortly afterwards and now had an administration job somewhere in the town; possibly at the school.

Dao was the girl who, two years ago, had spotted me looking a little down at Heuan Phair and had called in Duangtar, as his English is good. That’s when I first met them and their friends K’Kong and Samneuk. It was a time when I was finally reconciling myself to probably never seeing Nuey again. That was the reason for my long face that afternoon.

Anyway, I wasn’t surprised when she messaged me today, asking what I was doing. Through her, I was hoping to link up with Duangtar again. She told me she was drinking beer with friends at Thavekhoun Restaurant in Houaysaykhum village about 15 minutes away. So, I hung out in the shade of the river road and waited for a tuk-tuk to come by.

Another reason I love traveling in Thailand and Lao is that local people will look after you -- like I had those French off roaders. The owner of Khem Khong and Sayadeth noticed me and asked if I needed a samlor. I replied that I did, thanking her. A neighbor I’ve ridden with before came and picked me up shortly thereafter, taking me straight to where I needed to go.

Thavekhoun is just a private home with some raised and roofed platforms in the backyard; a very local scene.

Dao had left, but teacher Xaysana was there with some of his students who were graduating from Palisard. I saw Samneuk again and greeted him. Xaysana invited me into their group; a little surprised to see me, I think.

We all had fun mixing Lao and English. The girls were especially interested in my wife, our ages, children and what color skin does my wife have? I said same as Xaysana’s and they all laughed, as he is much darker than Lao in Xaiyabuli (aka Sainyabuli) Province.

Lao girls and women -- like Asian women generally -- value white skin highly. Most who can afford it apply whitening creme to their skin daily. When out in the sun for any length of time -- including riding a motorsai -- they will either use an umbrella or wear a hat or cap. Actually, baseball caps are getting more and more popular because of this reason. Although it looks cute and picturesque, riding a motorcycle with one hand on the accelerator and the other hand holding a small umbrella is a lot more work. Whenever I see girls riding this way, it always reminds me of how, as lifeguards back in the USA, we worshiped the sun and proudly displayed our deep tans.

One of the girls -- Tae -- has eyes that light up. Young people have clearer eyes than those of us who are older, but some have a brightness -- a twinkle -- that is beyond the norm. Tae has it and it is beautiful to watch. She caught me watching her more than once.

Tae's the one with the baseball cap.

Just before sundown, we broke up. The girls would not let me pay for any of the beer. I got a ride with the main group of them and told Xaysana I’d see him again. Later, I ate dinner at Khem Khong and then had a beer over at Banna; first with the French guys before they left for dinner and then by myself.

The woman who runs the restaurant -- I’ve known her for a couple of years. Last time I was in town, we even drank together with a group of her middle age women friends. Now, she had a younger friend join her and when her friend wasn’t looking, made gestures to me that I should sleep with her. Her friend was attractive; maybe late 20s. I declined with a smile, thanking her for thinking of me.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Lao Trip 15.2a - Dirt Bikers

Last night at the Khem Kong restaurant, I had a very tasty meal of pad ka pao kauai (fried beef and basil) with jasmine rice and a bottle of Beer Lao with ice. The food was really excellent. I remarked on more than one occasion to the owner that it was “sap lai” (very delicious). She responded as any proud owner would do that everything they offer is superb. Well, I doubt that only because I’m always suspicious of “everything.” For sure, I’ve only tasted a very small fraction of the menu, so I really couldn’t verify. No matter the place, I am always careful of what I eat and usually stick with bar-b-que of some sort.

In the morning I was able to call Thip around the time we usually wake up when we’re sleeping in the village (4:30-5am). Then, after that, my Lao cellphone data sim crapped out on me -- or so I thought. I later found out that I had just run out of minutes was all. Anyway, the guest house wifi was reachable on the bottom floor, so I had coffee down there and got done with my Internet stuff (writings, communication, world news).

After the fog lifted, I went to the BCEL in Pak Lai, got kip and then relocated to that restaurant that overlooks both the port and the newish floating restaurant.

They have really prospered since the time I first began visiting about five years ago. They are mostly geared to big groups and tour buses, with an ample parking lot and lots of bathroom urinals. The inside has also been upgraded and is still a scenic spot to hang.

Here I did some writing, drank some beer and ate/drank a coconut. I had noticed the large size of coconuts (mak pow) in a basket by the kitchen and had commented on them. The proprietor asked me if I’d like one. I nodded right away with a smile, asking her to include the “meat.” When drinking coconut juice straight from the nut, I always request the inside coconut, too. It makes for a meal, if there’s enough, and doesn’t cost you any more.

When I left the restaurant and began to pass the port area, I noticed a few Falang dirt bikers (aka “off roaders”) lounging around and struck up conversation with them. They were French who knew English. I was able to recommend a good guest house for them (the former Seng Chalerm, now renamed Banna) and shared some intel with them on the area.

(Banna on the right; Khem Khong just beyond it)

It was a group like this that first taught me how to make the most of it in Lao. It was my first trip to Lao on my own. They had shown me not only respect, but how they engaged with the locals. There was a birthday party in progress and they took part as honored guests even though they didn’t know anyone and couldn’t speak the language. After they left, I was recruited to fill in and... I’ve been the “roll with it” kinda guy ever since.

The Frenchmen invited me to drink with them, but I declined. A little later, some young Lao guys did the same and I accepted. What was the difference? I have some ideas, but it really only comes down to what you are feeling at the moment. As you “roll,” you also trust your instincts.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Lao Trip 15.1c - PL2

The southbound Pak Lai bus station changed locations; not sure why. But, I was glad to see my friend Lu the tuk-tuk (samlor) driver had easily made the transition. I told him I was going to PL2 and he set me up with one of his drivers. My guess is he’s trying to build a fleet, which is smart because there’s also a northbound bus station (of sorts). He can’t be in two places at once.

PL2 is my somewhat “secret spot.” It’s within the Pak Lai zone of influence, but is its own thing and, in fact, unique. I haven’t run across another place quite like it in Lao or anywhere. I am fortunate that I found it with a little bit of research and reasoning early in my retirement in Thailand. With only around ten trips to PL2 to date, I already have a bunch of neat stories of what’s happened to me there. Significantly, I’ve also established friendships and am remembered by some.

After checking into my favored guest house and getting my favorite room (sunny room, Mekong river side), I did some laundry, showered and headed straight for Koun Ten. This floating restaurant/bar/karaoke spot has been the scene of some of my best times in the past five years.

I arrived shortly before the light faded and stayed through sundown. There was only one or two other tables occupied. The owner remembered me and I believe her husband had hailed me from his moving motosai while I had been en route. It had been two years since I had seen them both or even stepped foot on the floater. This is because, back in early 2015, the barge had been hit by a local tornado and most of the roof torn away. It had taken them a while to rebuild. When they reopened, they had a grand party (I had missed that) and renamed the restaurant to Vardsanar (koungtent).

Nothing much happened while I drank my two bottles of Beer Lao with ice. I shot some nice pictures and video and had fun remembering all the times I’d been here before and what had happened.

Afterwards, on the walk back to the guest house, I stopped in at Heuan Phair. Nobody was around except for the gay guy. I’ve often wondered how this family stays in business. The owner’s daughter was in and out. I had visited here a year ago, but this time I almost didn’t recognize her. She’s growing up fast!