Saturday, May 26, 2012

Our Home is Alive!

I am prompted to write about the many creatures I live with. One morning, I found a black scorpion nearly the size of my outstretched hand bathing in our toilet. Now, if it had been a Western toilet, it would have most assuredly drowned, but in our squat toilet, it looked like it was just getting out of the heat. It’s possible it just slipped in. I don’t know.

Thip’s warned me that now that the rainy season is gearing up, I need to keep a closer eye on the floor. Apparently, scorpions are not the only creatures to craw, walk, hop or slither in. Come to think of it, I’ve had to remove more than one gray toad from the bathroom already, even in the hot season.

Ah, scorpions, toads – they’re small in number compared to the main occupants of our home. I’ve been thinking of renaming the place “The Gecko Hotel” because there are at least a hundred of them that reside here, including the larger geckos called tokays. My wife tells me they can fetch up to $400 USD (U.S. dollars) for their supposed medicinal properties. They all keep to themselves and actually help with bug control.

The tokays can be quite loud. I heard them long before I saw one. Typical sounds are:

“Choke dee, choke dee…” or:

“F—k you, f—k you… ahhhh.”

Then there are the rice field rats. They are drawn to the bags of rice we store inside the house, the attractive spots to set-up homes in the eaves of our tin roof, and ease of access in and out of the building. I have begun to wage war on these noo because it’s not healthy to have them around and sometimes they even wake me up at night. To be honest, I used to sleep with the light on because of them. Lately, I have been winning the war and now seldom see or hear them.

Additional occupants of our home property include lizards that can average a foot in length. They, too, are not that pretty except the rib areas under the front legs. These can be very colorful and range from patterned orange and black to air-brush-like fluorescent lime green. These guys stay outside for the most part and they can really run!

There are several types of ants on the property, including a type of “fire” ant that you don’t want to be standing on their hills. The biggest ant problem we have with ants is a variety of black ant that periodically looks to make a home in clothing or bedding that hasn’t been worn recently. We hang as much of our clothes and fabric as we can. Lesser used things I am bagging up in large plastic bags.

Other occupants of the property include several species of birds, including the neighbors’ chickens, usually leading a troop of chicks along to where the pickings are easy.

Then there are the several village dogs who I guess grew up here and when Thip bought the house (with her own money), the dogs came with it. For the first several months, I put up with the situation largely because they were good companions for our puppy Imbune. But, they kept making a mess in the bathroom and even chasing motorcyclists. So, now I don’t let them come in the house; chase them away when they act out of line; and no longer feed them. They eventually come back a day or two later and hang for a while, then go off to other areas where they can find food. They run alongside us when we ride our bikes to the temple in the morning for jahn hahn. At the wat there’s always plenty of food.

And, of course, there’s Imbune (translation: lots of good karma):

An update on the animal situation in and around our home, a year later, can be found at: "Home Alive" Revisited.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

96-Degrees... in the Shade

Now that the really hot season (March-May) is receding and rain squalls are making their appearance in preparation for East Asian Monsoon Season, please congratulate me on successfully enduring days when sometimes the temperature was as much as 110-degrees F in the sun and 96-degrees in the shade day after day.

A view from our Home, late afternoon.

Even Ajan Boon Long gave me props in front of everyone in the temple, recognizing that I came from a relatively cool climate to the Isaan during its hottest months of the year. Latitude-wise, it was a shift from 34-degrees to 17-degrees from the equator. I responded (with Thip translating), that the heat and humidity weren’t big problems for me (after all, I lived in South Texas for a number of years). I was more worried about the mosquitoes to come during the rainy season. I should have added that it was easy for me because I didn’t have to work out in the sun, unlike a lot of Khon Thai – especially the males.

Ice helped a lot; beer did, too (when it started to cool), but I wasn’t going to mention this to our Kammatan head monk.

It really came down to being a management issue. Man, did I move s-l-o-w-l-y during the head of the day! I hope my war against the nyoong (mosquitoes) will also just come down to a management issue.

During those hot days, I’d often think of this song I used to play at KTYD, in Santa Barbara:

96 degrees in the shade:

Saturday, May 19, 2012


More than the heat of the day, the injuries from Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary or not knowing the language, the most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with is the tendency to make mistakes. Most of them have been culturally and in matters of etiquette, but more than once I have had to catch myself on the brink of serious financial mistakes. After all, I am retired with a small pension and a little Social Security money. I have to watch my baht closer than most Westerners who retire to Thailand.

Not long ago, my son Senyo asked me what I most liked about living in the Isaan. I should have said “the people,” but instead I gave him a look into my mind. So, I explained how I’m enjoying living in the present. In part because of the danger of making mistakes small and large, I’m constantly engaged in the present and the future, trying to figure out the best way to go forward.

Back in Santa Barbara, I was getting lazy in my mind. Too much of my time was spent thinking of the past – mostly good, some bad. The present and future were taking back seats in a “living in the past” mind-set. To some degree, I couldn’t help it. After living, on-and-off in the Santa Barbara/Ojai area for 40 years, it seemed as every corner held a memory and a long inter-connected story behind those corners.

Yes, I’m still lazy and I still think of things in the past, but the allocation of mind time between past, present and future is no longer weighed so heavily in favor of the past. It seems to me now to be weighed solidly in the present. I like that.

It all reminds me of a book I once read, in 1971, that became very influential in my life:

Ram Dass’s BE HERE NOW

Monday, May 14, 2012

Boon Pakwet

The Boon Pakwet festival was fun. Imagine if your town could throw a party once every year and the surrounding towns paid for it. Not only that, but because the cost of the party is off-set by village volunteers, a huge pot-luck and village donations, too (every house had to come up with 300 THB, about ten U.S. dollars [USD]) the larger left over is used for a village improvement project that the elders decide upon for that year. Well, aside from the additional ceremony to pray for a fruitful rice growing season this year, that is what Boon Pakwet is all about: our village’s annual party funded by other villages.

Of course, when the other villages have their annual party, we participate by bringing in our village money trees just like they did with ours.

The “money tree” is the main form of currency transfer. Village representatives come into the village party, go to the receiving village’s elders and headman, and present their village’s contribution to the party. Thai currency bills are stuck in between thin strips of bamboo that are themselves stuck into a “tree.” The tree could be a banana stalk stuck in a bucket of rice; a woven stalk with legs; a miniature wooden tree likewise with legs and looking like it’s used multiple times for such a purpose. The tree is carried with some ceremony into the center of the party, along with dancing around the village elders and headman three times.

I was honored when asked to be part of the village elders receiving other village representatives and help count the money after they had gone to join the party. So, I was able to hang out with all the high-up guys in our village and get to know them better.

Meanwhile, around us on the village’s temple grounds, a block-wide party was in full gear, with a karaoke stage and amplifier blasting to the rest of the village. In another corner, another amplified area featured more singing and dancing. Free food was everywhere, as well as drinks, including alcohol. This would not have been proper in our Forest Temple, but it was OK in the village temple, as long as it was for a good cause.

Later, long after the party weekend was behind us and the bills paid, the extra money is now being used to build a new gateway for the village temple; worth approximately $5,000 USD.

Here are some images from the two day affair. While it might appear that some things were staged, I assure you everything was spontaneous. That's just how my village friends and family are...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fishing The Klong

Well, the drop-ins by family, friends and neighbors always delay – if not change – the directions a day might otherwise take, but village life is a very social life. I am fortunate that our villagers somehow know I like my privacy, so visits are not out-of-control. It could be the language barrier, for when one of my brothers-in-law is over and we’re sitting around in the front of the house, people start dropping in pretty much non-stop.

When I first got here, visits were just out-of-control. When Thip wasn’t around, I had to move towards the back of the property, further away from the road, in order to take myself out of the front line; the “front line” being the front of the house that borders the busiest road in the village.

The most notorious drop-in, thus far, was when I was hijacked to “go fishing.” Following my brother-in-law Pawt, I bicycled about a mile away from our house to an area of the klong the guys have netted up to catch fish. By klong, I mean basically a water canal that was once a stream and in this area is deeper than most. Really, it was very close to our 17 rai property. The same klong backsides the end of our 17 rai.

And by “guys” I mean the fun adults, ranging in age from 20 to 40 with a few exceptions of older guys like me and an occasional kid. As has been my historic pattern, I’m once again hanging out with younger guys.

I especially liked when Yah cut me out an Isaan "glass" and gave me some local fruit juice -- on ice!