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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bann Nah 16 - Structural Strength

Slowly, after the calendar New Year had begun, our workers Lott and Naht returned to the Bann Nah worksite after a three month work stoppage.

They had their reasons, most of which were legit. These included: 1) being called back to the wat (temple) in preparations for the end of “Buddhist Lent” (Khaopensa) and Boon Katin; 2) the rice harvest season (Giao Khao); 3) miscellaneous family projects and; 4) end of year/beginning of new year celebrations.

Even so, they could have come back for short bursts of time – especially in December. But, I feel Thip and I were partly to blame. By the time of the work stoppage – and, at that time we had no idea it would go on for three months – we had already paid our workers in the range of 75% of the labor cost agreed upon (to that point) and the project was only 40% completed – at best. So the incentive really wasn’t there. It was probably Lunpaw’s instruction and encouragement – more than anything – that actually got them back working for us again.

While Lott and Naht were away, I had taken note of how simple but effective the structural strength of the building is.

As you may recall, we started out with the construction and sinking into the building pad nine column footers of cement, gravel and rebar to a depth of about five feet.

This was followed up by fusing the column footers to the nine above-ground cement posts that the structure sits upon.

After that, the bolting in of the main floor beams not only laid the base for the floor, but also provided a way to bolt the building support posts to the base.

Lastly, bolting the roof supports onto the building support beams, screwing the aluminium roof onto the support beams, and X-bracing in the attic made for one solid Bann Nah.

We call it “Bann Nah” (farm house), but is will really end up being more like a cabin on stilts.

Monday, April 13, 2015

2014 - Rescue Party

The other story I promised to tell you about, which took place soon after the new year of 2014 had begun, was a tale I call “Rescue Party.”

It started out innocently enough. My wife Thiphawan (Thip) was away visiting another temple and I had been tasked with taking our empty cooking gas bottle (LPG) to the gas station that has the facilities to recharge it. Let me add that this gas station was operating their service on the sly, so you could only go there after 7pm, in the dark.

I had made this run in my tuk-tuk (samlor; aka “skylab”) a half dozen times, so baw penh yong (no problem). Except this time, upon arrival, I was notified that the gas station no longer sells LPG. My guess is they got shutdown by the authorities. OK, so I headed out to other gas stations in the area that I thought had LPG. None that I stopped at had the facilities or were selling and at one point, near the Falang bar in Nong Bua, I decided to drop in for a beer before returning home.

This was risky for two reasons. For one thing, the Germans who operated the bar rented from my wife’s most influential aunt (Hatsadi). Not only Thip, but the rest of our family knew of the many stories surrounding this bar; how the Falangs get in fights with each other, drink all the time, have girls around and…

… well, that was the second thing. There were bar girls here and Thip was deathly afraid that I would fall into one of their clutches.

So, I was taking my life in my hands visiting this “den of iniquity,” but I didn’t care too much. I’d only been in the place one or two times previously and was curious to see how other Westerners lived. Besides, I needed a beer from all that running around looking for cooking gas.

No bar girls came over to my table and I enjoyed my Beer Chang. I think all the half dozen girls had other guys on the line. After a while, though, the bar owner (Kraus) came over and I reintroduced myself to him. Before too long, learning of my problem, Kraus led me to a vendor at the night market in Nong Bua – just up the road – who had LPG gas stuck under a bamboo bed. I exchanged my tank for a recharged one and I was back in business. Dropping Kraus off at the “Sanook Bar,” I decided to stay, thank him, and have another beer.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Thip had returned home and found me missing. She knew I had gone to get cooking gas but should have returned long ago. So, she put out an “all-points bulletin” for my apprehension. At the heighth of the operation, there were probably half a dozen family members out looking for me.

My tuk-tuk was spotted outside the Sanook Bar by a female member of the family. Because it would have been improper for her to go into the outdoor bar, a male member of the family was instructed to retrieve me.

Pawt is my favorite of Thip’s brothers. He’s a friendly guy and everyone gets along with him. Well, all of a sudden, he was sitting beside me at the Falang bar. I ordered a beer for him and a refill for me, then we left.

(Pawt and his daughter Gay; Imbune lower left)

(Gay's daughter sleeping, thanks to an "Isaan Air-Conditioner" - styrofoam ice chest with a holdecut in the lid for an external fan to blow in and PVC pipe cut into the sides for air vents coming out; inside is filled with ice)

But, we didn’t go home. Pawt lead me to a Thai bar a short distance away. You could hardly spot it as a bar, but, yes, there were bar girls here, too; not sure if they were “full service,” like at the Falang bar. But, it was nice to have one sitting by my side, pouring my beer. Pawt was well known here and when we finally left, my last words to my new friends there was “Mu un” (tomorrow). Well, I haven’t seen them since; not that I didn’t want to, but mostly because word gets around…

It was rough going, getting back. By this time, I was in no shape to be driving anything, including a samlor, followed by Pawt in his motosai. Thip was relieved to have me home and stories were told, all except any mention of the second bar…

Thursday, April 9, 2015

New Year 2014 & 2015

Last year (beginning 2014), I had promised you that I’d tell you two interesting, somewhat embarrassing stories from the time of New Year’s.

Thais have a similar tradition of New Year’s celebrations as most of the rest of the world. That is, the big thing is to wait until the clock turns from the old year to the new. Leading up to this, they all gather together and party – usually out at the family farm and if they don’t have one, they party at home.

(8 Rai - "Suphannaphoowong City")

Our family has their New Year’s party out at 8 Rai, the land Khun Paw (my wife’s father) has kept for many years and just recently divided among most of his children and a grand daughter (Thip’s daughter Kulthida, aka “Ray”). It is adjacent to Thip’s and my 8.5 rai where sometimes the party is also held. No matter the locations, loud speakers, amp and computer are brought in by other members of the extended family, food is prepared – almost constantly – and beer and blended whiskey is drunk; sometimes also rice whiskey.

(our house at 8.5 rai, where Sawt and Nui stay)

Well, there’s no keeping up with my wife’s brothers when it comes to drinking and last year I thought I could.

It ended with me missing “The Countdown”, passing out and peeing in my pants.

So, this year I promised everyone not to pee in my pants again. More than that, though, I limited my participation in the family party to the daytime. By the time of this year’s “Countdown” I was fast asleep, at our village home. Thip opted for ceremonies at the temple as the rest of the family partied on into the morning.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

THE ISAAN: 2012-2013

Closing out my writings on my daily life and travels in 2014 (Buddhist year 2557), I've put together an eBook on my first year in our Thai-Lao village, 2012-2013. It is a free download. Just click the icon below:

This Portable Document Format (PDF) eBook is notable in several respects:
  • This “ebook” is completely portable on electronic devices, in a format compatible for reading on any ebook reader. Unlike the content on the website, the content in the ebook is not dependent on a connection to the Internet. You can even take it anywhere, any time on your mobile device.
  • The 71 pages (1.13 MB) contain text, images, and internal and external hyperlinks. The internal links function on their own and are particularly helpful when selecting posts in the Contents or following Footnotes to source references. To use the ebook’s external links, yes, you’ll need to be connected to the Internet.
  • Because the ebook is basically an electronic file, it can be easily shared with friends and family. I have not set any restrictions on its replication as long as normal copyright rules are respected.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Favorite Songs 2014

Here are my most favorite tunes from 2014. Some are not strictly from this past year, but came up on the radar this year:

Images of times at Khoun Ten and Heun Phair… Pee Sederd: https://youtu.be/WlY25SbEHFo

March: When I went for my visa at Savannakhet and finding another great hangout: Savan Khaim Kong… Pongsit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gbkk45nZlcY

July: Nuey and my “song”… Take Me To Your Heart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GKn3GGCbh_0

A song that I heard over the Internet that has just stuck with me this whole year through:
Darryl Hall and Band, with Joe Walsh: Wrong Side of History: https://youtu.be/w5rL3gK2n0E

End of year: The man who inspired me to get into radio, back in the 1960s, took his life. Lee “Baby” Simms had become a good friend by the new millennium. In our last correspondence together, Lee turned me on to this tune that he really, REALLY liked:

Nesian N.I.N.E. – Honey Do: https://youtu.be/I9WUri6Z83U

My passport for most of 2014:

Monday, March 30, 2015

Das Visits!

After my ninth trip to Lao, it was time to get ready for the visit from my oldest son Das and his wife Jonnie, who both live and work in California.

It was mid-December and getting cold, which meant that comforters over the beds were mandatory and sweatshirts and jackets deployed in the day and night times.

In several email messages, I sent them some suggestions on what to bring and be prepared for. In the first email message I wrote:

  • The weather when you arrive will be much like it is in Carpinteria and Santa Barbara in August/September.
  • Bring a light jacket, that's about it for cold weather gear. If you need more, you can always buy here; stuff's pretty cheap.
  • Pack as lightly as you can, so you can bring stuff back with you.
  • Sneakers will be your best footwear. I do not advise wearing sandals both because of the lack of traction (many slippery surfaces here, when you least expect them) but also as bumpers to protect your feet when you bump up against stuff.
  • Caps are a good idea, to protect from the sun.
  • Mosquito repellent is a must and should contain at least 13% DEET. I use a lotion every evening and no adverse skin effects; I shower before going to bed.
  • If you are not in an air-conditioned room when you go to bed, make sure you have a mosquito net over your bed.
  • Bandaids are also a must. Whenever you get a bruise, clean it thoroughly, let dry, and then put a band-aid over it. Take the band-aid off when you go to bed; put a new one on in the morning after a shower, if necessary.
  • Buy a Lonely Planet travel guide. I believe they have one especially for the southern Thai Islands. This will be better for you than buying one for Thailand, as the islands are quite a bit different environment than the rest of the country. It's a good investment and will provide stoke reading for you on the plane if not also before, as well as help guide you when you're here.
  • You'll have problems buying vegetarian dishes, believe it or not. We'll come up with some phrases for you to use to request non-meat dishes.
  • I haven't had problems buying fruit from unknown vendors.
  • You will most likely get diarrhea at some point if not all the way thru your trip, off and on. Don't worry about it.
  • Pay increased attention to staying hydrated.

In a second email message I wrote:

  • it's the coldest time of year, but you will be fine with packing sweat pants and sweat shirt with hood.
  • jonnie, a scarf always comes in handy.
  • don't travel at night, unless you can't help it or you're with a large number of people.
  • justice and equality do not carry much weight here. if you feel you're not treated fairly or ripped off, just keep it to yourselves and realize things are cheap here, anyway, and you're on vacation.
  • do not get angry. Thai's don't know how to handle it and it won't get you anywhere.
  • there is random stopping of foreigners and taking pee tests going on in Bangkok. if stopped, comply and be polite and friendly.
  • we have wifi, so bring your smartphones and laptop.
  • bring sunglasses with cases.
  • on the flight over, make sure you're in comfortable clothes. it is a very long two flights.

I finished with a third email:

  • I changed my mind about sandals. Bring a good pair. You'll be able to wear them comfortably in the countryside and on the beaches.
  • Sneakers are still best for you moving through areas of high population.
  • When you're in populated areas, keep your eyes on the walking surface ahead of you. You'd be amazed how poor the sidewalks are, here, and downright dangerous.
  • Pack your sweats (pants and shirt) on top of everything in your suitcase. You'll need to change into these when we pick you up at the Udon Thani airport. It'll be a little bit of a cold ride back to the village.

Thip and I knew that Das and Jonnie would be spending the bulk of their time in Thailand Down South, with a little bit of Bangkok thrown in, so we focused on having them experience what the Thai Countryside lifestyle is all about.

(playing "Set")

First days, we ate and partied with our Thai-Lao family, both at our village home and out at Bann Nah, the site of our new home under construction in the middle of our larger of two rice farms.

A visit to our temple and meeting Lungpaw took place about mid-way through the five days we had together.

We wrapped-up their stay with a trip to the Mekong at Khaeng Khut Khu and a visit to the cave Buddha at Erawan.

It was great to see my oldest son and his wife, again. Das and I have been very close for most all our lives. My retirement on the other side of the planet has caused a bit of an unavoidable drift. So, to see him again, here in my new life in The Isaan was super special.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lao Trip 9.4

I decided to leave Lao a little earlier than planned. I was anxious to get back to the Bann Nah project. There’s so much more you can do at home. When you’re travelling, you see a lot and meet different people, but I’m a task-oriented person. I like to get stuff done, not just look around.

So, I had my favorite tuk-tuk driver Lou take me to Pak Lai’s southern bus station around 9am. En route, he told me when I come back, he’ll take me out of town to “see beautiful girl,” which I interpret as there being some bars with bar girls outside Pak Lai.

On the ride south to Ken Thao, I counted myself fortunate not to have run into Nuey. Had she even come to Pak Lai to meet me? Probably not and probably I’ll never know.

At Heun Phair, yesterday, before I met Duangtar and his students, I got a great shot of a long tail family motoring by. After that, and after Duangtar and his students had left, and after I shot footage of the moon rise, I called Nuey one more time, when “our song” was playing on the karaoke machine. I just let the song play for about 20 seconds, then rang off.

Will I ever see her again? Probably not. Will I ever hear from her again? There’s always that possibility. Will I initiate contact again? Doubtful. If she knew a little English, it would still be pretty hopeless, but there’d be a better chance of becoming friends because we could communicate without third person interference.

At the border, I stopped in at the Lao-side market, bought Thip some T-shirts, had a Beer Lao dark, then bought a case of it, arranging transport across the border. I did not realize it at the time, but they actually smuggled it across for me, taking the bottles out of the box, distributing them in covered bags, and the box broken down. Hey, I could get fined for that! Oops, and they could go to jail! Probably me, too.

The sawngtheaw ride from Tha Li to Loei and the bus ride from Muang Loei to Nong Bua Lamphu both seem to get shorter and shorter each time I take them.