Wednesday, January 29, 2014

17 to 9

After the rice harvest season, November 2013 was mostly spent dealing with our donation and sale of almost half of our largest rice farm, “17 Rai,” to our local temple. You may remember when I wrote about our initial donation, last year. Well, just before we had the land surveyed, due to a combination of things, it came about that we are now donating twice as much land (4 rai instead of 2) and selling an additional 4 rai so there is enough space to build the chedi (stupa). By selling a portion, we will have enough baht to pay for the changes to our remaining 9 rai (soil for the pad in the middle, soil for the road to the pad, electricity to the pad, drilling a new water well, buying and planting of lemon grass to retard soil erosion from the edge of the pad, etc.).

There was no way our head monk Lungpaw Boon Long was going to be able to build a chedi in his father’s honor on just 2 rai. In fact, he had started to build a pad for it inside the temple grounds, just opposite the road from our land, and I assumed the donated 2 rai would end up a parking lot for it and large events.

But, as I say, due to a combination of factors, we were finally able to help Boon Long toward his dream of the chedi in the original location, do a good thing for our local villagers, and increase our tamboon (merit making) by both donating and selling almost half the farm. Our neighbor Tha-my has also donated a couple of rai.

All of the upper land (there went my “writer’s retreat” and “Love Shack II” the precursor to the original“Love Shack”) is being built out and leveled to make way for the structure. Thel lower donated/sold rice land has mostly been dug for land to expand the pad for the chedi grounds and some additional that we bought to build our new pad and road to the middle of our remaining 9 rai.

Here's video footage (approximately 13 minutes in length) I shot during much of the process between the donation and sale to getting our new pad ready, out in the middle of the remaining 9 rai. Highlights include an artist's drawing of the chedi to be built, views from within the temple grounds, the old and new pads for the stupa, dismantling of Love Shack II and relocating the wood out near our new pad, the digging of the new temple pool, and build-up of our new pad and connecting road to it:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Rice Harvest

After I returned to the village from my first trip to Cambodia, it was rice harvest (giao khio) season and so I got busy helping with three separate harvests; one on our larger sticky rice farm (17 rai), one on our smaller sticky rice/jasmine farm (8.5 rai) and a little bit from Thip’s father’s 8 rai.

Not that I’m all that helpful. I mostly provide some brush cutting prior to harvest; then at harvest, another set of hands when it comes time to throw the rice stalks laden with rice into the threasher. Later, my most important function is to help pay for food and the boxes of beer in the celebrations afterwards. I may not do much work, but Thip and I provide most all the rice land and I provide much of the beer, so I’m always welcomed around.

October was mostly filled with our rice harvesting, the smaller farms done by manual reaping and mechanized threasher and larger farm done with a combine. What is finally bagged-up is rice still in the “crab” (bran) and is divided-up amongst five households for family use throughout the year. Some of it is sold or bartered or donated to the temple as time goes on, but most of it is saved for family consumption. Thai-Lao people eat rice with almost every meal.

Here’s a four-minute video showing the harvest on our main farm:

Here’s a five-minute video showing the threashing and bagging done at “8.5 Rai” and the family’s 8 rai:

Both videos are also viewable in the right side panel under “My Fave SE Asia Vimeo Vids” for a while.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cambodia Trip 1.7b

As I traveled in the cramped minibus through Banteay Meanchey province, I could see the vastness of the flooding that had characterized my trip since reaching Surin a week before. As I looked out upon what first appreared like huge lakes, I realized there were rice stalks under this water, trying to breathe.

Poipet was pretty much as I expected it; populated and nondescript. After I got out of the minivan, I called Thip one last time using the Cambodian sim card one last time.

Queues getting out of Cambodia were predictably long, but checking into Thailand was a breeze. I suppose that was because the majority of noontime border crossers had already preceeded me in a rush and the bow wave had passed.

I stamped into Thailand on another 90-day travel pass and, well away from where most people were lining up for transportation to places like Bangkok and Pattaya, I got a tuk-tuk driver down the street to give me a ride to the Aranyaprathet bus station. I was back in Thailand!

I waited an hour or so for the bus to Khorat (Nakon Ratchasima). In Khorat, I switched buses to Khon Kaen. En route, night set in and by the time I got to Khon Kaen (the big provincial center just south of my province of Non Bua Lamphu), there wasn’t another bus scheduled for Nong Bua until dawn.

BTW, on the Khorat to Khon Kaen bus, toward the end, quite a few college girls got on the bus en route to school, from their various family villages. There must have been a holiday or school break, as they all seemed about the same age and the same college girl look. One girl was one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen.

Soon after arriving at the Khon Kaen bawkashaw, local taxi drivers tried to get me to employ them for a special one-person ride to Nong Bua. They began the bidding at 1200 THB (around $38 USD) and forty-five minutes later hit their bottom bid of 500 baht. The regular bus would cost me as much as 90 THB, so I passed on the taxi and the drivers could not believe it. I guess they were used to Falang paying extra to where they wanted to go as quickly as they could get there. To be frank, part of the issue with me was safety. That’s a long road between Khon Kaen and Nong Bua and I didn’t know any of these taxi drivers, though they all knew each other and seemed like good guys. Thip later confirmed that I had done the right thing by declining their offers.

I stretched out on the bus station’s wooden benches. Again, the taxi drivers couldn’t believe this crazy Falang; sleeping in the bawkawsaw just like a Khon Thai!

I was lucky, actually, because I have yet to see another bus station in Southeast Asia with such a good seating arrangement where you can stretch out and catch a nap.

At dawn, I got the bus to Nong Bua, then grabbed a sawngthaew and called Thip. She was waiting for me where our village road accesses Highway 210, and then drove me home on her motosai.

Another great trip had ended.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cambodia Trip 1.7a

My last day in Siem Reap and Cambodia, Bunleng and I went out for breakfast in Psar Chaa.

While we ate and drank coffee, we talked a little bit about the contemporary Cambodian political scene and education in the country. I was not surprised to learn that Cambodian children are not taught about the DK Period in school, nor are they taught about it by their parents, which could be a traumatic retelling in itself. Instead, young people in Cambodia learn of their country’s most recent past by watching YouTube videos, on line.

It was finally time to go and Bunleng dropped me off at the minivan office. We each said our “lia sun hai” (goodbye) and then my Cambodian friend was gone. We have since kept in touch and already have plans for my second trip.

Gotta admit, though, that Bunleng messed up at this point. He had arranged my travel from Siem Reap to the border at Poipet/Aranyaprathet in a minivan packed to the seams with mostly Falang. That wasn’t so bad, as it turned out, but when I found out I could have gotten on a much bigger local bus for one-third the price, I had to admit that I had made a mistake not handling my travel arrangements to the border, myself. One good thing about the minivan trip was that I got to listen in on two guys I guessed to be in their late twenties, who were much more travelled than me, talking about their experiences in “The Stans,” of which Afghanistan and Pakistan are most familiar to Americans, but there are three other Stans more remote.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cambodia Trip 1.6b

Despite my continual focus on Thai Buddhism and Kamattan Buddhism in particular, I’m not a big temple guy. I would not go so far to say that I have an attitude of “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” but I just don’t get excited about contemporary temples like my wife does.

Even last year, when we went with a group from our temple to visit some of the most spectacular chedi’s in the Mukhahan area of Eastern Isaan, I wasn’t exactly “Ho, Hum,” but it took a particularly stunning structure to get me going. I found that no matter the size, what impressed me most were some of the stupa’s of stone, or at least exterior stone. I liked these the most.

When it comes to Kamattan temples (Forest Monks), of course, the most impressive features are usually the wood craftsmanship and design – something somewhat foreign to every day Khon Thai construction, as I sadly found out during various construction projects in our home over the past two years.

So, when I was planning my first-ever Cambodia trip, I got all sorts of input about visiting the Angkor Temples from other Expats on Farang forums; everything from “don’t give it more than a morning’s worth of your time,” to encouragement to stay in Siem Reap at least a week.

I found that three days visiting the temples in and around Angkor Wat did me just fine and that it really is true that you just cannot visit the main Angkor temples in just a day. There’s just too much to see. By the time I was done, there were still many more temples I had not seen, especially further afield. They wait for me next year.

So, after I had my fill of temples this trip, Bunleng took me to go get some last-minute shopping items, like a minivan ticket for the next day, kroma (Cambodian scarf), a Cambodian flag and a trip to the ATM. 

While shopping in the Psar Chaa area with tuk-tuk, I spotted a rather mangy-looking dog running the streets as if he owned it. Bunleng told me that this dog – what I would term a “soi dog” (street dog) – comes into town in the late afternoon most every day when the weather is good, looking for its master who died several years ago. If you visit the Psar Chaa area of Siem Reap in the late afternoon, you will see this dog. He runs on many of the streets, major and minor.

As amazing to us as the Angkor temples are today, imagine what they must have looked like when they were initially built:

A digital recreation of Angkor Wat:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cambodia Trip 1.6a

Having a watch with an alarm is a big plus when travelling. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t travel with jewelry on, including watches. Well, a five dollar Casio digital on a black plastic band isn’t going to inspire any robberies, I’m sure.

On this last day of visiting the Angkor Temples, I called Thip and she’s doing really well; slept at our village temple last night.

After Bunleng picked me up, we went to go get my temples pass punched for the third and last time, then went straight for breakfast. The Angkor Reach was closed, as the owners were making merit at their family temple. So, we went next door and the food was actually better, although slightly more in price.

This is where I had my run-in with the older girl vendors who said that I had said I’d buy stuff from them and when I didn’t, one of them called me “a bad man… a very bad man.” I knew from other travelers’ stories that this kind of thing is not uncommon, so I let it go as best I could. I’d already bought a number of things from the younger girls that I didn’t really need but figured I’d find a use for, somehow (bamboo bracelets, postcards). I was almost tempted to buy another book, but when I got the “bad man” label, there was no going back.

After breakfast and the vendor problem, Bunleng took me to Preah Khan, last of the big-grounds Angkor Temples:

 Follow this link to some better pictures of Preah Khan.

 After Preah Khan, Bunleng told me the story about why most of the stone heads throughout the Angkor Temples had been decapitated. It turns out that during the time of the Khmer Rouge, the local DK commander had them cut-off and sold to buyers in Thailand to help fund his operations in the area.

Next, it was on to Neak PeanFollow this link to some pictures of Neak Pean.

We then went on to Ta Som. Follow this line to pics of Ta Som.

Followed by East Mebon. Here's a link to pics of East Mebon.

… and, lastly, Pre Rup. Follow this link to pictures of Pre Rup.

After Pre Rup, we broke for lunch at a restaurant that was close-by. It was a bit more upscale than the Angkor Reach and the exceptional taste of the food reflected it.

Even though Bunleng would have gladly taken me to more, by this time I was “Templed Out.” At the restaurant, I sat back with a full liter bottle of Angkor and mentally congratulated on a mission accomplished. Despite hundreds of opportunities, I had not slipped or stumbled in my footing while climbing sandstone steps, traversing sandstone passageways and generally hung in there during the three day grind.