Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Roof

We now have a lan kah mai (roof new) on the first story section of our home. Unfortunately we had to have the work done during the rainy season, as I feared the original roof just wouldn't make it, plus it was already leaking in several spots -- not just little leaks, either.

Here's a view of the early work. This is the backside of the building, facing south, showing the lower and upper sections of our home. Notice outdoor kitchen left of center:

Thip getting excited upstairs, next to south-facing windows:

Original roof support structures and corrugated tin (one of the better sections) we had replaced with steel struts and "aluminium":

We decided to not only have the lower section re-roofed, but also have the new roof extend further out on the sides and over the outdoor kitchen area. Note my tuk-tuk extreme left:

How the backside of the house looks today. Note clothes hanging under roof due to rain:

Our plans are to finish the upper section walls similar to how we had the upper south side wall done. don't look too close, it's actually imitation wood... Here's one more shot from further back on the property:

Monday, September 16, 2013


I guess you could say our evenings begin in the afternoon, around 4:00 p.m. when I shower (ab nam) and eat dinner. We eat dinner early to give our bodies time to digest the food, as we go to bed early, compared to most people.

[ The view from our front yard (just before rice season), panning left to right; final pic showing a close-up of the village temple gate purchased with funds collected during Boon Pakwet, last year: ]

On rare occasions, we’ll have visitors in the late afternoon – usually family members – but it’s pretty rare. Some come to avail themselves of my LAN (local area network – which also provides a “Wi-Fi Hotspot”); some come to drink beer. Thip’s sister will come over maybe once a month bringing their mother in a wheelchair. Khun Mae is now in full dementia, but otherwise in good health. Sometimes, Thip might have a village meeting to attend, but…

Most of the time, Thip and I are preparing for bed at a time when most other villagers are either still shopping for food or preparing the evening’s meal. The usual after dinner activity for most villagers is watching television, which many do even as late as 10 p.m.

In contrast, unless we have planned to watch a movie, Thip is usually in bed by 7 p.m. (if not sooner) and I will follow after I read or write a little bit, have a beer or two, reflect on the day, watch the sun go down and take a final shower. Although it is not a regular thing, this is a good time to do any required first aid. Although I have been trained in first aid by the American Red Cross, I’ve discovered that I need to be more exacting and attentive to any cuts or bruises and, if I have any in place, change band-aids often. It’s the moisture combined with the heat.

When I get in under the mosquito netting surrounding our bed, I’ll use the mosquito bat to clear out the inside of noong and then use a small soft cloth to dry between my toes (the moisture thing, again). This has proven to be very necessary, as is using q-tips every day to prevent too much moisture trapped in small corners of my ears (back in the 1980s, I had to have my ear canals physically enlarged, due to “Surfer’s Ear”). Finally, I’ll say my prayers, bowing three times in the Buddhist way, and make sure the fan is on low. This will run most of the night, keeping us The Kool People we hopefully will always be.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Afternoons Revisited

During the Monsoon Season (May-September), I can stay on the computer all the way up to noon; sometimes 1 p.m. when the day’s heat makes it unsafe to use the computer safely – even with an external fan at full blast. If it’s raining, I could go all day if I had the creative energy, which I don’t, so I hardly ever go all afternoon, even if conditions are favorable. All this added up means that I’m putting in about 6 hours/week gaming, 6 hours/week on communication and news gathering; and 12 hours/week writing.

Good to get off my ass, though, so I’ll get to physical work directly after I leave my “office” – a mosquito net enclosing boards stacked on top of beer boxes for a desk, computer, printer, router, PS3 gaming console and 42-inch flat screen monitor, a fan for the PS3 and a fan for the computer (and me); and a plastic chair with solid back with pillows to prop me up. Doesn’t sound or look like much, but it’s probably the best workstation in the village.

Shot from outside the net: computer/desk to the left of the chair, flatscreen to the right.

My daily exercise consists of manual labor in many different forms: from caring for plants, planting, digging ditches, moving ground, moving wood, cutting trees and bamboo, burning, fixing things and mostly brush cutting – not only at our home, but at our farms, as well (two rice farms, one sugar cane).

Yes, I still work in the heat of the day, but there’s no other time that works for me unless I give up my computer time; wouldn’t want to do that; even had to limit my participation in jahn hahn partly because it was taking away from my writing, gaming and staying in touch with the world outside our village.

Occasionally in the afternoons, Thip and I will visit her brother Pawt and wife and order food and beer at their outdoor restaurant.

Less frequently, I’ll take Thip’s motosai out into the back country roads; preferring the dirt and sometimes asphalt to the concrete of the highways mostly for safety’s sake.

Usually, I’ll do stuff around the house and on our acreage. I haven’t been hanging out at my “Writer’s Retreat” (aka “Bann Mon-Kom”) as much as I thought I would, partly because Thip repeatedly warns me that it’s not completely safe out there. The neighbor living on the land next to our biggest farm recently got robbed in broad daylight and there have been equipment and material thefts at our biggest farm before.

Whatever I’m doing in the afternoon, I usually shut down by around 4:00 p.m., shower up (ab nam), washing my hair with coconut shampoo, and have an early dinner.

To see how this year’s afternoons have changed and yet stayed closely the same, visit:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Mornings Revisited

Wow, another great trip to Lao completed with only memories left over! Now it’s time to settle back in, at home (ban how).

As I wrote in 2012, there is no average day here in the Thai countryside; at least for me. Yet, some things can be averaged out and written as part of a general pattern:

A year and a half later, I still get up late (about 5:30 a.m.). Pahwet marching his cows off to pasture, with their bells a’ringing, usually lets me know that if I don’t get up now, I won’t have enough time to sai baht (when a lay person performs tak baht – morning merit making).

Before getting up, I’ll stretch those muscles that hurt – usually lower back, side waistline, buttocks and neck. Neck stretches help me with occasional tension headaches.

After I’ve opened the all-wood windows upstairs on the southside, downstairs I open the front double doors, turn out the front patio light and move Thip’s motosai outside, ready for her to ride to temple for jahn hahn.

The top of the big stand of neighbor's bamboo overhanging our back yard.

Some mornings, the village loudspeaker will be activated and our assistant village headman will relay important information like a call to a village meeting, events at the local temples, fundraising of various sorts, government assistance programs, health clinics, village clean-ups and more. Whenever money is collected, every person who has donated is mentioned, along with the amount they’ve given. This happens a lot.

Not long after coming downstairs, I’ll you-know-what, brushing my teeth at the same time. After getting off “the throne” and using a type of bidet (toilet with “bum gun”), I’ll pour cold water over my bod’ to really wake up! Even though we have electric hot water, and with the exception of wintertime, I still prefer this method because I have more water volume. The village water pressure combined with the electric water heater means a much slower flow.

My ab nam (shower) is followed with an electric razor shave. I’ve had about a half dozen Norelco razors in the last 25 years or so and I recommend them highly for those who prefer an electric razor shave over razor blades.

My selection of clothes has changed. When I first got to The Isaan, I would wear multi-patterned silk shirts, cargo shorts and sandals. My wife let me know, last year, that this typical expat attire made me look “old.” Now I wear synthetic fabric sports shirts and shorts that are very popular here in Thailand amongst males and females; from kids up to guys in their 30s. Thip tells me I now look “younger.” Judge for yourself. Here’s what a waist-high view looks like.

I never thought I would opt for synthetic fabric over natural, but I now prefer this attire. When the shirts get wet from sweat, they act as a cooling agent on the skin whenever there is air movement. It’s like wearing a mini, portable “swamp cooler.” Having a shirt on helps protect much of my upper body from mosquitoes, also. The shorts feel almost as if I don’t have anything on; no weight at all and the fabric is flexible.

One type of attire that is still with me, ever since my freeform radio days in the beginning 1970s, are denim shirts. At first I thought these would be impractical in Thailand, but as every USA country boy, farmer or rancher will attest, they are hardy and utilitarian. They get totally soaked with sweat after brush cutting, but protect me from the sun, debris and mosquitoes.

While I’ve been getting ready, Thip has steamed sticky rice (khao nio) and prepared it in small bamboo baskets. She usually has some goodie for the lead monk; bananas, mangoes, jackfruit, cookies – usually fruit from our land, as is the rice from our farms.

At some convenient point (we are on a deadline, at this point, getting ready for the monks to walk by on their binta baht), I’ll attend to water management chores of making sure there are plastic bottles with water in the freezer, the ice cube trays and drawer are full, and that there’s refrigerator water full enough for Thip’s cooking and our drinking.

Out of respect for the monks, I’ll also sweep the road in front of our house, time permitting.

We then sai baht while the monks binta baht. It’s all part of the tak baht custom that sees Buddhist monks walking through villages, towns and even cities, accepting food from people who not only show their support for the sangha, but also make merit by giving. In English, it is known as “alms giving” and to the monks as the “alms round.”

After tak baht, Thip prepares further food for the temple and jahn hahn, prepares my coffee and light breakfast that often times is dragon fruit or pineapple, sometimes eggs, and banana muffins. My coffee situation has been upgraded. Last year, I was content with the pre-packaged 3-in-1 instant coffee, creamer and sugar. Now, Thip has cut out the sugar by buying straight dark roast instant coffee and adding her own canned milk. The taste is stronger and I like eliminating some sugar in my diet. I have plans on further coffee upgrades, but for right now this is fine.

After taking care of me, Thip will head off to the temple for jahn hahn, while I only attend around once a week. From the temple, she’ll go on to the family house to help take care of her mother. The remainder of my morning is spent on the computer, catching up on communications, gaming and writing.

See how this has changed from last year: Mornings1, Mornings2

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lao Trip 4.8 - Xaiyabuli to Pak Lai

On Day 8 of my fourth trip to Lao, I left Xayabuli, in Sainyabuli province (I’m never gonna get the spellings straight and, apparently, either are they!) and took a sawng-thaew (pickup with a roof over two rows of benches in the back – sits about 10 people comfortably) to Pak Lai.

One of the neat things I’ve learned to do is pack along a couple of bags of individually wrapped Kopiko candies. These are small coffee flavored caramel candies. I haven’t had anyone turn these down, yet, and they make making friends on rolling transportation so much easier and a sure bet.

I love the ride between Xayabuli and Pak Lai (also spelled Pak Lay).

I’ve stayed in Pak Lai before and I like the town. But, my preferred spot to hang out in is PL2. So, as soon as I got to the northern Pak Lai “bus station.” I got on the tuk-tuk for PL2.

As happened last time, I had a great time in the town/village, again making new friends and seeing one or two people that I recognized from my trip there in fall 2012. Here’s an image one of the guys shot of some of my new friends and I:

 The next day, Day 9, I left for the Way Back Home, again riding a sawng-thaew, to the Nam Heuang border crossing. and travelling in the Loei area by sawng-thaew and then second-class bus to where our village road connects to the highway.

Before leaving the Khong, here is a video series produced by Living River Siam, in 2008, that is excellent about the Mekong River. Narration in Thai with English subtitles throughout: Part 1: