Sunday, April 15, 2018

Christmas Comes to Bann Nah

I know it’s Winter in the Isaan when Thip and I have to sleep under the covers at night. Showering in the morning calls for hot water. Throughout the rest of the day, long pants and a shirt often replace the shorts and no-shirt that is my usual attire.


This Winter, Thip took a trip around Thailand with her best friend Tana from the United States. That left me alone for nearly a month. It took some getting used to, but we were in communication almost every day thanks to our “smart” phones.



Before Thip left, we decorated our home in the Christmas spirit, even though neither of us are Christian.

That’s Christmas, pronounced krit-mut.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Fall Season 2017

After the annual rice harvest, the other big events of the Fall Season are Boon Katin and Loy Kratung. Both of these Buddhist observances I only put light attendance at, this year.


The thing that I enjoy most about the Fall Season is the clear night-time skies. Due to high humidity through most of the year, it's not easy to star gaze until Fall and Winter. Winter, it often gets too cold to hang outside at night, so Fall is really the time to just sit out under the skies and get in tune with some of the movements of the Earth and the bodies outside our Planet.

And, now with the addition of phone apps, knowledge of what we're seeing is much easier to learn than ever before.



Thip's and my routine of shuttling between our village home (ban hao) and our farm home (ban nah) -- that we had begun last year with the completion of Bann Nah -- continued on for its second year, but has changed a lot.

Thip no longer spends much time at our village home, although I'm there every morning, taking advantage of our fiber optic cable and an Internet service level that's 95% faster than anything else in Thailand. In the afternoon, I do the grounds maintenance there, at our rental property (ban sao) and out on our 9 rai farm. So far, I've left our 8.5 rai farm for Thip's brothers to look after.

Neither Thip nor I sleep at the village house anymore, really. Well, I will occasionally, depending on what Thip's doing. If she is away overnight to another temple or on vacation, I'll break up my sleeping pattern just to make sure both our homes have a perceived presence at night. In the 6 years I've been retired here in the Thai countryside, we haven't had any break-in's, but that's not to say there won't be at some point.




By the late afternoon, I'm back at Bann Nah, where Thip is, most of the time. She's really gotten into planting fruit trees, orchids and flowers which has beautified the place tremendously. If she's not on the farm, she's shopping at the local farmers market or Nong Bua Lamphu city. Or, she's doing something in service for the temple.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Harvest 2017 - Farm #2

Once the harvest is completed at one farm, it's on to the second -- but not the last. There are usually others, as family members help relatives and friends on their farms, just as they had with ours.

Malcolm with Gop T-Shirt as mask

With our 9 Rai Farm done, a couple of days later the action moved over to our 8.5 Rai Farm and the one rai family farm next to it.



Even Khun Mae -- mother to all the immediate Thai family -- was there.

When all rice had been bagged up, we all took a little break for some soda, beer, lao khao and food. After this, all the guys moved on to Yah's farm to help him, his family and friends bring that one in:

Yah and thresher crew boss.

There was probably a little party after this one, but I wasn't invited and didn't stay long enough after the threshing to be. Yah is a friend, looked after me on my first Thung Yai trip, and is a good guy who always seems to be struggling financially. He's a relative, too.


Monday, March 5, 2018

Harvest 2017 - Bagging & Party

While threshing khao nio (glutenous rice), bagging is begun. This is basically phase four of five phases to our annual rice harvest (giao khao).

It might seem a bit backward to use a thresher (just separates the already-dried rice in its kernal from the stalks) instead of a combine (rakes up the rice stalks, separates the rice and bags it), but it is actually more efficient for us. For one thing, there's a lot of spillage using a combine -- more so than handling it by hand. The other thing is that even though it gets bagged by the combine, the rice still needs to be taken out of the bags and dried, as the combine needs to collect the rice on the stalks before it completely dries out.


Threshing does not take long and often becomes an event shared with not only family, but friends as well. Everyone helps out.


The bags are taken from the thresher and lined up for sealing and counting.

After everyone's had a little rest complete with ice, soda, beer and lao khao (depending on your preferences), the tresher crew gets their percentage and the bulk of the bags are loaded onto various transports including trucks and Kubota-driven carts.


The bags are then transported for storage at the family house and other family member storage areas.

After phase 5 (transport and storage) has been completed, it's time to eat, drink and party!



Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Harvest 2017 - Threshing

With three of the five steps in our yearly rice harvest cycle completed (cutting the rice from all but the top of the stalks; drying and tying small bundles of upper rice stalks; and transporting the bundles to one central pile, stacked), it was now time to don my rice harvesting attire: long pants, socks, sneakers, long sleeve shirt, hat, gloves and a t-shirt as mask.


Silly Falang that I am, I used to take part in the threshing at our farms with only shorts, sneakers, socks, and gloves on. Not only did this expose me overly much to the sun, but it also opened my skin up to a good deal of itching and my respiratory system susceptible to particulate matter. I learned, after too many years of this, to dress up like Kon Thai (Thai people).

While the bundled rice on rice stalks had lain on the ground at our 9 rai rice farm, Thip and I acted as security for the potential harvest. It is not unheard of to have bandits raid unattended fields, once bundling has taken place or especially when piles are made and there’s no one around.

As more and more family from even distant areas gathered at the farm for the final push, there was a fair amount of food preparation and clean-up performed as crews piled all the rice bundles in a stack in preparation for the thresher. I estimated the bundles to be over 1,000, but that’s just a guess (took two people all day, several days before, to bundle them all).


Thresher and crew are hired and they get a percentage of the take (10%). Family and friends assist, doing as much and more than the thresher crew.


After it’s done, there’s a beer and lao khao (rice whiskey) break, right there in the field next to the thresher and the bagged rice.




Friday, February 2, 2018

Harvest 2017 - Gathering Bundles

After my 17th trip to Lao and after Loy Kratong observances immediately upon my return, it was time to harvest the rice on our farms.


Thip out cutting rice stalks on 9 Rai.


There are five basic phases to each year’s harvest on each farm, which all together take up from one week to two:
  1. Cutting the rice from all but the top of the stalks
  2. Drying and tying small bundles of upper rice stalks
  3. Transporting the bundles to one central pile, stacked
  4. Threshing and bagging
  5. Transport and storage





This year, Thip’s brother Sawt (who organizes the yearly planting and harvesting on both farms) learned that with bigger crews, things not only go quicker but also cheaper.

For instance, 20 people can cut rice on 9 or 8.5 rai in one day. Compare this to five people working 5-6 days (getting slower and slower due to tiredness). Money is saved on days paid and most especially on cost of food provided.

Another thing Sawt has learned is that if you plant and harvest early, there are more people available to hire. When most people are planting or harvesting, crews demand a higher price and there’s less people around to employ.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Lao Trip 17.4 - Retrospective

Checking out of the Anusone, the old lady who either managed or owned the place was bad mouthing me to another Lao guy who was also checking out. She thought I didn’t know the language, so freely spoke her mind about the mess I had made, yesterday. I couldn’t blame her. It was a mess. But, I paid extra for its clean-up, so that shut her up -- at least while I was still around. I apologized, paid up and left.

On the way back home, I thought about the trip, appreciating the time that Savath and Lav Su Sai had spent with me and the bills they picked up.



I was glad to have met Naphaphone and hoped I’d see her again.


I was sorry to have missed Duangtar and D’Dao, but knew that someday we would meet again -- barring any difficulty with my health, which so far is good.

As always, I especially appreciated the quiet moments I had at Khoun Ten: