Saturday, April 28, 2012

Average Day?

Although I’ve written of our average day in the village, there really is rarely an average day. By that, I mean, you’d think that living in a Thai-Lao village would be boring and sleepy; that every day would be pretty much the same thing, but that has not been my experience. In fact, every day I need to be ready and flexible for The Unexpecteds.

Let me break for a sec to say one thing about my usage of the term “Thai-Lao”. Our villagers would actually take some offense at being classified as such, as they consider themselves 100% Thai People (Kon Thai) and any inference that might be interpreted as their being less than 100% would be – if not a slight, certainly bad manners. All the people in the Isaan I have met are very patriotic and pledge their allegiance to their country and especially to their King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose picture is displayed in every home and business throughout the land.

That said, I still feel the term “Thai-Lao” best describes the people of the Isaan, given their language and cultural duality.

So, what kinds of things might come up to change Thip’s and my average day in our Thai-Lao village? Here’s a short list from my first month:

… Some explanations to follow…

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Afternoon/Evening, 2012

My daily routines change over time. When I first retired into the Isaan, in 2012, my late afternoon and evening looked like this:

Late afternoon is Beer Chang time. If I have company, I’ll crack open some Leo, which is locally preferred over Chang, although I like Chang the best of all Thai beers I’ve tried thus far. It’s like a 5.5% alcohol Heinekin.

Upon my request, Thip feeds me early and so we have dinner together around 5 or 6pm at the latest. My faves are BBQ chicken, dried squid, khao nio, cucumber, shrimp and noodle soup (if a cooler than normal day).

There are far more exotic fare that the Thai’s eat, but I go very carefully thru their menu, testing everything before committing. That is, if Thip gives me the green light. She knows what I like and what, as a Westerner, my body is likely to handle without adverse after effects. Even so, I’m stuck pretty much on what I like and except for the occasional new fruit I’ve never tasted before, I haven’t changed my line-up of favorite foods.

After hanging out together, Thip leaves for the family house to care for her mom overnight. If I haven’t visited that day, I might go over for a short time.

Toward dusk is the best time to water the garden, coconut, mango, jack fruit and palm trees. Remember what I wrote about water management? Well, I’m back in that Stone House Farm mode once again.

On a clear day, the Isaan sun glows a fiery red due to the massive amount of burning that goes on. It makes for a pretty sight, but I’m looking forward to the time when I have our land cleaned up pretty much and can then mulch and compost more than I burn, and cut bamboo into useable things like fencing.

After watching that red sun go down over the rice paddies, with the air cooling a bit, I might get back on the Internet. This is not as often as I would like, as I’ve found my energy levels drop around early afternoon – partly because of the heat, partly because I’m just getting old.

Going to bed, I sleep upstairs most often by myself, next to “the office”, under mosquito netting and on mats made by Khun Mae many years ago. They are filled with an organic cotton-like fiber, packed inside sewn decorative cotton covers. I’ll leave my cell phone on in anticipation of Thip’s morning call or emergencies (none so far, thank Buddha!). But, as you know, by 6am, I’m already on the move… and sweating!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Morning/Afternoon, 2012

Riding our bikes home, in 2012, after jahn hahn, Thip and I might stop at our biggest property (almost seven acres) that is just across the road that fronts the temple. “17 Rai” is one-third upper land and two-thirds rice paddies. It is a very peaceful place to be and we might hang out together or individually just to have some private time to think. Or not.

Other times and depending on the weather, I might hurry home so I can get on the Internet before temperatures prohibit reasonable use of my laptop without overheating.

My “office” is on the wooden slat floor, upstairs, under mosquito netting. I have an Internet connection that is basically a cell phone link to the closest TOT (Telecommunications of Thailand) hub. My Vostro 1510 is on a mat, with an external fan blowing on it in addition to its internal fan. I have a surge protector on the 220 volt line to my 220 to 110 volt adapter and then another surge protector leading to the laptop from the voltage adapter. I leave a temperature gauge out so that I can monitor the room Celsius and Fahrenheit readings. I will periodically feel the laptop body, also, to gauge the temperature inside the computer.

Past around 85-degrees F, I will shutdown my operation. So, generally, I have – at most – two hours to get what I need done. This will include catching up on email correspondence, an occasional sale of my surfing history booklets, monitoring my finances, checking and changing my stock portfolio, an occasional Internet phone call and an even rarer video call. I still remember how fun it was to video call Senyo and Diana a couple of weeks after arriving in the village. It was almost like they were next door!

Most days, between 11 a.m. and around 3 p.m., it’s just too hot to do much of anything, at this time of year. Thip is usually over at the family house, helping to care for her mother, so I might go over there for a visit but not stay too long.

Oddly, my first month I spent burning bamboo and other organic trash on the property surrounding our house during the heat of the day. I was hot, anyway, so it didn’t make much difference. I just moved very, very slowly and drank lots of water.

Sometimes after Thip and I are back from the temple, we might hire a friend to take us into Nong Bua Lamphu (the closest town/city, only 6 kilometers away) to get needed supplies. Most always, we will travel in a tuk-tuk.

Thip's parents being driven by her brother Sawt's wife Nui, after jahn hahn

Monday, April 16, 2012

Jahn Hahn 2

After the jahn hahn prayer and chant are made, the villagers and guests withdraw, after more bows. It is actually considered impolite to be around when monks are eating; definitely impolite.

The leftover food the monks have not selected for themselves is then brought back to the temple kitchen area where a kind of Thai buffet is partaken of. This is a time for socializing, as several groups form, sitting on mats with food all around. Between 20 and 30 people regularly attend/participate in the daily jahn hahn at our temple, which – of the two local temples – ours is considered the forest temple as opposed to the village temple. This is because our temple follows the Forest Tradition in Thai Buddhism, as propagated by Ajan Mun and is a little distance away from the village; a ten minute bicycle ride.

After people have eaten, they drift off to begin clean-up or leave or go talk with the monks when they have finished eating. Some people take on regular duties and two or three of the stronger men are actually hired by the wat to do the hard labor required to maintain a complex of approximately 20 buildings and several trucks.

Lately, Thip’s been using this time for additional meditation in the hope that it will help her to attain nirvana in this lifetime. I have no such lofty hopes or aspirations for myself. I’ve messed this lifetime up plenty good enough to ensure that I’m a lost cause this time around, but maybe in the next life!

The role I’ve fallen into is to water the trees surrounding the main temple. I was prompted to take this on by a comment that Ajan Boon Long (our head monk and a direct cousin of Thip’s) made about this being the driest part of the year and that the plants need extra watering until the rainy season begins around May.

Watering grounds is something Guy Kelly taught Lanny Kaufer, me and others back in the “Stone House Farm” days of summer 1971, when I married my first wife Yanna. I didn’t know much about growing food, but I easily picked-up on water management. So, here in the Isaan, I’m putting that knowledge learned 41 years ago into play once again.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jahn Hahn 1

After tak baht, Thip and I prepare for jahn hahn. It is probably less than a 100 year old tradition, maybe only 50. It is when people come to the temple (wat), with food, in the morning, and feed the monks with some things other than just sticky rice (typical tak baht fare). We’re talking fruit, soups, meats, and packaged food and drinks from the store.

The food is considered sacred in a similar way to how wine and bread is taken as sacred in Christian churches. The mere fact that the monks considered eating the food, even if they don’t actually, gives it special power. This is my main meal of the day. After the temple ceremony, it’s like a Thai buffet, with the offerings different each day and thus somewhat unpredictable.

First, the food is brought before the monks who are all sitting cross-legged, in a row, with their personal food bowls in front of them. They are ranked from the viewer’s left-to-right, according to their time in the sangha. People sit at a distance, facing the monks who have their backs to the Buddha statues that generally sit in the same location where you would find a large cross in Christian churches. The food is mostly on trays that are slid along mats in front of the monks, each monk picking from the offered food what they feel they most want to eat. Some things they add to the food already in their bowl, some are just set aside (like the drinks and packaged items.

There is usually some give-and-take between the head monk and whomever he picks to talk with. As you can imagine, Thip was called upon quite a lot my first month in the village.

After the last monk is done with his selection, the rest of the food is carried off by a lay person and put to the back of the temple floor. When all items have been dealt with, the head monk will begin a prayer and this is followed by all the monks chanting. The prayer and chants take not more than ten minutes, sometimes only five.

Before the prayer and chant, each person will have bowed down on their hands and knees three sets of three; the first three for Buddha, the second three for the head monk and the last three for the sangha, the monkhood that follow the teachings of Buddha since the time of his life, over two thousand five hundred years ago.