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:

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.