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).

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bann Nah 43 - The Last Day

Suddenly, it was the last day of the Phase 1 construction at our 9 rai rice farm.

The whole Bann Nah project was just shy of three years in-process, but the Phase 1 portion had taken two years and three months to complete. It basically amounted to building Bann Nah -- our farm house out in the middle of the farm. I think of Phase 1 as the wood portion, although it also involved rebar, cement, aluminum and imitation wood.

Later phases will involve wiring Bann Nah, high pressurizing the plumbing, enclosing the downstairs and building an adjacent 3-room addition in back that will house upstairs and downstairs bathrooms, a guest room and a small porch.

There was no construction on the last day of Phase 1. Instead, it was a day of movement where tools, scaffolding and tables were returned to the wat and left over wood taken back to our village home where we have a roof to protect it. Afterward, we would party in celebration of the completion.

As he had all along, Sam Lott -- aka “Kubota Man!” -- provided the brawn, as well as his mechanical buffalo and cart for the transport. He and Sam Naht returned the things we had been using for over two years to the temple, then all three of us moved the wood. We were done with everything in about three hours.

Returning stuff for storage at our village house:

“Kubota Man” was a joke Naht and I shared about Lott. The premise is that while Gotham City man have its Batman, Northeastern Thailand has Kubota Man. Kubota is the brand name for the most popular mechanical buffalo, which itself is a kind of mini-tractor, and Lott was its best driver.

Thips’s brothers and their wives helped my wife organize and prepare the food -- mostly seafood, a delicacy here in the Isaan. I sprung for a box of Beer Chang (12 620 ml bottles) and Thip’s brothers Sawt and Pawt even contributed a half dozen more.

During the course fo the mid-to-late afternoon and then early evening, there arrived some other visitors, but not many and it was all pretty low-key.

I found myself in surprisingly good mood. I hadn’t thought about it ahead of time -- how would I feel when it was all done? But, when it was, I was ecstatic. I even danced around a couple of times, which is something that I very rarely do at 67 years-of-age.

All tolled, the house cost us 824,000 baht or about $23,222 USD. Labor was around 182,400 baht or about $5,140 USD. Miraculously, even though the site was often without a human presence, not one thing was stolen in the two years and three months of construction.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Bann Nah 42 - Staining & Unsung Heroes

The last things Sam Lott and Sam Naht did for Phase 1 of the Bann Nah project was to construct and put in the porch gate, and also completely spray stain all wood. This took a couple of days. Then, the house would sit for a week -- maybe two -- while the stain thoroughly hardened.

In writing about Bann Nah over the course of its construction, I have proudly pointed to all the natural hard wood we used -- much of it coming from our own properties. I’ve also mentioned about how there are more screws in the building than nails due to the hardness of the wood. By so doing, I have forgotten about one of the unsung “heroes” of Bann Nah: our air compressor. Using it, Lott and Naht were able to quickly and efficiently use a nail gun to button down many areas where only a thin, small nail is most effective. These areas included the teak walls and ceilings and our flooring. Also, the compressor made staining large areas a relatively quick job. It even came in handy when tire pressure of motorcycles, tuk-tuks or mechanical buffaloes got low.

Speaking of motorcycles -- motosai’s -- these also we took for granted but without which we couldn’t have done what we did.

Lott's and Naht's motosai

Utilities like water and power also deserve a mention, neither of which we couldn’t have done without.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Bann Nah 41 - Stories

With completion only a few days away, I couldn’t help but think back on some of the things that have happened at our farm house during the two years and three months of its construction.

With any project, there are always stories that will make you sad, mad and glad.

Mad stories at Bann Nah can be ruled out. There haven’t been any instances of raised, angry voices, demonstrations of displeasure or hostility to anyone. I should know, because if there had been such a thing, I would have been the likely culprit.

Thai/Lao people are not confrontational. As a Westerner, any inclination I might have had to be such has been kept in check by my grasp of the concept of “face” and a strong desire to have our country home be a place of only good karma.

Sad times would occur semi-regularly, though, especially at times when our workers lost heavily on the Thai Lottery, Muay Thai gambling or “chicken boxing.” Other more meaningful sadness would occur at the death of a family member or the passing of a friend, neighbor or revered monk.

The most enjoyable times were after work, drinking Leo and later Chang beer. We started with Leo, but the guys later on let me buy Chang cuz they knew I preferred it. As time went on, I realized they liked to eat bar-b-que as much as drink, so BBQ was added to the mix during the last half year.

Sam Lott and Thip's brother Pawt

The day we drilled for water on the pad was a high point, as well as rice plantings (gam kha), transplanting (tam nah) and harvests (giao khao). The posts ceremony had kicked the whole construction project into high gear, but bringing in the power lines was memorable, too.

Quiet times with just Thip and I slung in the hammocks underneath the house were the most peaceful. We’d time these moments for when we knew no-one else would be around.

Here's Thip riding in and out of Bann Nah; a very common sight.

The most dramatic time at Bann Nah was unquestionably the time when that big storm blew in, in early summer 2015, when Sam Naht and I were there. I was upstairs hugging a corner in 40-degree wind and rain, wondering what I should hold on to if the building began to fall. Meanwhile, Naht was downstairs hugging one of the cement support posts in a not-very-successful attempt to shield himself from the howling wind and rain. We laugh about that one to this day.

Sam Naht

The most beautiful times have been during the nights of Ohpensa, when sky lanterns fill the full-moon lit night skies.

I’ve seen one full moon eclipse out there, so far!

Without question, though, the happiest moment in the two years and three months was the time Sam Lott and Sam Naht hit it big in the lottery. We heard the numbers as they were announced over the radio. Subsequently, you could hear their shouts of joy all the way to the temple, I’m sure. They both made about $600 USD that day.

In my mind, I can still see their lit-up faces...

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bann Nah 40 - Concrete Pad

While Lott and Naht were finishing up on the wooden structure (Phase 1), we had them do one Phase 2 task before they would leave us for a while -- maybe a long while. We had them put in the concrete floor downstairs.

Whenever family or friends in The States ask us why we built Bann Nah so high off the ground -- and “is it because of flooding?” -- we have an opportunity to explain a little about our Phase 2 plans of enclosing the downstairs eventually. I always like to throw in the part that it is traditional to build on stilts in Southeast Asia.

The reality, though, is that these days most SE Asian housing is now built from the ground up -- almost always using a concrete pad. In the very distant times, bamboo construction of living quarters demanded structures being built above ground (probably not much more than two or three feet) to ensure that the bamboo stayed mostly dry. Elevating the structures also protected occupants from things crawling or slithering on the ground.

As time went on and wood and nails replaced bamboo in home construction, homes were still elevated for the same reason when it came to other ground creatures, but now it incorporated a little greater height so that people could have a living space underneath the house in daytimes -- to block from rain and sun.

Thip's Family Home, 1999

When I first met my wife, this was the state of her family home. They even had chickens and ducks living underneath the house, which I didn’t think was sanitary or a good idea, but then again it wasn’t my house.

Thip's Family Home, 2001

After Thip and I married, we had the family house elevated further so that the entire house could be built out, underneath. This involved jacking the whole house up, putting in support posts and beams, concrete block walls and a concrete floor which was tiled over. Many Thai houses have had this done to them. Chances are, when you see a Thai or SE Asian house that is wood on the second floor but concrete on the first, that structure is that way due to evolutionary change, not by initial design.

Thip's Family Home, 2002

Friday, September 9, 2016

Bann Nah 39 - Trim and Stain

As our three year-long “farm house”project was slowly drawing to a close, I started getting sad thoughts about how much I’d miss not having our workers Sam Lott and Sam Naht around. The feelings/thoughts reminded me of when I used to lifeguard in the summers of long ago. You knew summer would come to an end and you knew you wished it would last forever.

This was an unnecessary sadness, I had to remind myself. To be sure, there will be continued construction at Bann Nah and Lott and Naht will most likely be the ones to get the work done. Not only that, but soon they’ll be working daily at our Kamattan temple just five minutes away. I will be very surprised if they do not become semi-regular after-work visitors at Bann Nah. During those days-to-come, I imagine we’ll do the same as we do now: crack open some bottles of beer Chang, eat, talk and listen to Thai Luktung. The song that was most often played this past year (2015-2016) was “Sai Wa Si Bor Thim Gan” ( ไสว่าสิบ่ถิ่มกัน ):

As I understand the song, it basically says: you promised to be with me forever. For months, I looked trying to find this song thinking it was entitled “Sai Woosy.”

Anyway, the number of things left to do in this wrap-up of Phase One of the Bann Nah Project I could now count on one hand, as Lott and Naht finished up the trim work and began the final staining. It’s amazing how much trim makes in beautifying a building!