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:

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Lao Trip 17.3 - Mess & Miss

Last night, I had tried my best to watch what I was eating and also not eat too much. Even so, overnight I had the worst case of loose bowels I have ever had -- not counting the food poisoning episode I had down in the Thousand Islands area. I tried to clean it up, but I still needed the morning room cleaning crew go over it thoroughly to make the room good and fresh again.

Ever since retiring in the Thai countryside, I've had to watch my shit for lack of a better description. It's always been a delicate balance and usually I’m running more liquid than firm, like it used to be in The States. It may be that I'm not eating enough rice. As far as meat is concerned, most Thais and Lao do not cook pork long enough and adequate hygiene is often lacking. It used to be that when I lived in the United States, I usually wouldn’t have to worry about my farts, except for the smell and politeness. In Thailand and traveling in Southeast Asia, I always need to be careful to make sure what's going to come out is gas and not liquid.

I bring this up because it is a issue those Falangs of us in Southeast Asia don’t talk about in public because -- you know -- who wants to hear about that stuff? But it's important to know if you're thinking of moving or even just visiting here. You really need to make sure you have plenty of roughage in your diet and that the meat is well cooked. Not much you can do about vegetables or fruit. These are often grown with hefty amounts of chemical fertilizers. Your best bet is to shop for your food at local Farmers Markets where you are much more likely to get them organic.

On my way to brunch at Khem Kong, I noticed an off-roader and some off road motorcycles at Seng Chalerm. This guest house remains a favorite stopping point for off-road motorcyclists both going north and going south.

In the restaurant, I didn’t get what I ordered. The owners daughter or daughter-in-law either didn't get it right or they were out of ingredients for my favorite #23: Stir fry basil and beef. What I got was still good.

I hit the Pak Lai market, as I usually do, but everything was just too expensive and either made in Thailand or China. In Thailand, I can get the same things for almost half the price.

I went back to my guest house for a nap and shower and to check up on the cleaning job. I also prepped for my rendezvous with Duangtar and D’Dao and whomever else they were going to bring along. It turns out, though, that there was a last-minute change in plans. They had a meeting to attend at Palisard and could not meet me that afternoon.

I saw Naphaphone on Facebook, so I sent her a message to see if we could meet, but she was working. It could have been a good excuse not to see me, but it’s probably true. That was OK, because I was a little scared to see her again. Next visit back to PL2, I will give it another try.

I went down to Khoun Ten, anyway, in case Duangtar and crew still might show. I had french fries again and a couple of sets of Beer Lao. It’s always a little sad to reach that point where you have to start tracing your steps back or going to the next spot that will take you home, but I was now at that point. Nonetheless, an afternoon at Khoun Ten was still a great way to end my little vacation.

Still popular on the karaoke jukebox at Khoun Ten: “Pai Jai” by Mai Charoenpura, from 2014. A favorite of mine:

Very hot on the karaoke jukeboxes and radios in Lao and Thailand is Mike Piromphon’s hit “Change Your Mind”... like this one a lot, too.

On my way back to Anusone, I stopped at Ram Khem Kong one more time, for a final beer. Checking the Internet, I had the place to myself as darkness fell.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Lao Trip 17.2b - Night Out

Drinking Beer Lao and trading laughs with Savath and Lav Su Sai in Savath's house, I thought back on last year when Savath had Sone translate our conversations for each of us. We even got to look at some land Savath had for sale. I liked Sone and wished I could have seen her this trip. When I met her last year, she was still single, in her late twenties, and still searching for a man. I hope she has found him.

Of course, the most memorable time at the Savath's was the first time I met him. It was my first time traveling in Lao by myself. I was looking around the Pak Lai market for anything I could use and buy. I came across some women preparing an after work party in front of their market stall and was invited to participate. I did my best to say "no" but one woman was so persistent that eventually I said yes.

One of the women who I had said "no" to actually seemed offended and asked why I had said "yes" to the one woman but "no" to the rest of them. I had to explain it was just that the other woman would not take "no" for an acceptable answer.

Looking back on it now, I am so happy that I eventually said "yes." Not only would I have missed out on a fun time, but I probably would have never gotten to meet Savath.

It was a time when I was still trying to find a comfortable mode of movement for myself, traveling in foreign countries. It was just about the time that I realized I needed to find a New Way to operate. Being stand-offish or reserved like Westerners generally are... just wasn't going to cut it.

One of the women of the group was very attractive, petite and spoke and understood English pretty well. Tukta had a government job and was just helping one of her friends that day. She made communication very easy. I hope, someday, I get to see her again.

Anyway, the party moved over to Savath's house and that's when I met him, in 2012. Five years later, we can't speak each other's languages very well, but between his little English, my little Lao, and the assist from interpreters, we understand each other pretty well. Also, I supplement my visits with messages and photos sent to Savath on Line, in both English and machine-translated Lao.

At any rate, Savath, Lav Su Sai and I set out for a night of bar hopping. They apologized to me a little bit because they knew I would have prefered Khoun Ten, but their preference was for the newer floating restaurant, Houane PairKok PairKham. When we got there Savath and Lav Su Sai were well-known to the woman owner/operator and given VIP treatment. It's like most everywhere else where you don't know anyone: it's hard to fit in. When you know someone high up, you're treated very well.

We had dinner and I don't know what the heck I ate. I know I was careful with volume, not trying to eat too much, being in unknown culinary territory. As day turned into night and more beer was drunk, I started to get drunk. It's good to be with friends when you feel yourself losing it.

Before I was too far gone, however, the owner/operator introduced us to her newest waitress Naphaphone. I indicated Lav Su Sai that I'd like to be friends with her or at least have her telephone number. She didn't have Line, but she was on Facebook, so I had her friend me on Facebook, which she seemed happy to do. I had her do it because, at this point, I didn't trust my abilities to set-up the communication connection without making a mistake.

Savath, Lav Su Sai and I moved over to Heuan Phair, next door, where we met some other girls and drank with them. But, by this time I was pretty wasted, so we called it a night.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Lao Trip 17.2a - French Fries

Leaving Anusone guest house the next morning, I went up the street and had a Beer Lao at "Banna," the restaurant that overlooks the Mekong, which is part of Seng Chalerm guest house, where I used to stay when I visited here in my early years. I would have liked to have had breakfast, but the menu is all in the Lao language and doesn't have any pictures. I knew how to order a beer and ice, though, and that's what I did.

The two women who had been around for years recognized me and greeted me warmly. Since I had an Internet connection here, I got caught up on my communications and worldwide news.

After one bottle, I walked to the market and ran into the owner of Khoun Ten. She seemed genuinely excited to see me, urging me to go on down to the restaurant and she'd be back soon.

The place wasn't open yet and there was no one around. Often, I'm the first one here because I don't like to stay up late. Moving around in the daytime, I can see things better. Plus, it's just safer in a number of ways.

I was relieved to see Khoun Ten still operating and under it's old name. They had gone for a name change awhile back, but I don't think it caught on. After a few other people showed up, I was also happy to see the floating restaurant/bar/karaoke spot still had its special vibe.

When the owner came back, she showed me a potato and suggested she fix it for me. I said "french fries" and she knew we were talking about the same thing. Although they seemed to take forever, the fries were good and went well with the Beer Lao.

Nothing much happened that early afternoon, but I enjoyed being back in my sweet spot. I really like being along the Mekong, at river level, looking out and not having to see buildings. Thoughts here often drift to some of the memorable moments that have taken place at Khoun Ten in just a period of five years: the late afternoon the rainstorm blew in (2012); the night one of the owner's daughters had to help me up the rainy banks to the cement stairs (2013); the afternoon I met Nuey and swam with the boys in The Kong (2014); the afternoon I met Duangtar, D'Dao, Somneuk and K'Kong (2015); times watching cargo boats motor by; many karaoke songs sung by boys and girls... Few adults venture here.

Seeing the list above, I have to admit that within the past couple of years I have not had a real stand-out moment at Khoun Ten. This may reflect my becoming more boring; aging; moving away from meeting young girls; and my focus shifting to friends that I already know.

After a while I made my way up to the market for my rendezvous with my friend Savath. At first, I forgot that he had moved his hardware store over to his house across the street from the market. Little to know overhead there.

Savath and his store manager welcomed me into the shop where I sat down and traded some simple conversation. I could see that Savath was in the process of closing out his financial books for the day, so I kept to myself and just watched. During that time, Savath sent out for his traditional gift of an inconspicuous plastic water bottle filled with lao khao from the vats he has them distilled somewhere not far away. He is, after all, the Beer Lao distributor for Pak Lai.

After Savath had completed his paperwork and prepared the bank deposit for the take of the day, we moved over to his house for beers and snacks. I got to meet his wife again and the grandmother -- not sure if it's his mother or his wife's.

Savath's associate Lav Su Sai showed up and the three of us prepared for the night activities. Last year, Savath had his sons' school teacher Sone as his interpreter for our conversations. This year, those duties fell to Lav Su Sai.

Being in Savath's house drinking beer, joking around, looking at the many pictures on his wall, I remembered the times I had been here before...

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Lao Trip 17.1b - 1st Night in Town

On my way to look for a guest house, I was pulled into a party at the Saybaidee. Workers from the tourist boat we're losing no time getting wasted on Beer Lao and insisted I drink with them, which I was happy to do, even contributing some bottles, myself.

I re-met the manager who goes by the name of “Pinkie” on Line. She and I had done a karaoke rendition of “Sai Wa Si Bor Tim Kun” last year when I had visited the bar with Savath. In a way, this was a special place for me because this was where I first learned how to hang out with Lao people in a bar setting, back in 2012. A group of off-roaders had set the example and I followed their lead. I’ll always be thankful for that and appreciate their encouraging me to insert myself into the mix.

Here at the Saybaidee now, I broke away from the group when things started to get a little too wild. I moved to the back of the restaurant and got friendly with one of the girls working there. I was now getting a bit high and the girl at first looked like Tae. On closer look, she could have been her older sister. She was nice, but did not know any English.

Sayadeth guest house had become my go-to place when staying in Pak Lai, but this time I stopped in at the brand new Anusone guest house. I found out that for as little as the equivalent of two Beer Lao’s a day more, I could get a corner room on the third floor with a Mekong view. I treated myself.

After showering and an early dinner at Khemkong Restaurant, I made my way to PL2.

When I first arrived in Pak Lai, I had discovered the new floating restaurant -- Houane PairKok PairKham, originally moored in back of the bank -- had gone. Now, when I walked to Heuan Phair ThaPho, I found it moored right next door. I could not imagine how either floating bar/restaurant could make a profit in such close proximity to each other.

I had a beer Lao at Houane PairKok PairKham. While there, I noticed a Falang with a Lao sao and the manager/owner. The guy was in his upper twenties and sported some tatoos. I found out later he was involved with mining in the area.

Things that I had noticed about this bar before I was reminded of again. It was difficult to meet anybody. Everybody was into their own thing. So I went next door to Heuan Phair Tha Pho and had another Beer Lao. This floating bar/restaurant I had patronized many a time before and had had various memorable moments in. Tonight, I noticed that they are now set-up for live music. Maybe this is the way both floaters can coexist so close to each other: differentiation.

The owner and somewhat of a friend to me was not around. The guys running the karaoke music box I had never seen before. They played a bunch of English language songs over the sound system -- probably for my benefit, but I would have rather listened to Thai or Lao songs, to be honest.

Navigating my way through the barking soi dogs, I made it back to Anusone and collapsed.