Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bann Nah 5 - Power Lines

We were fortunate to hire two workers from our local temple, one of whom I was already friends with (Samlot). With the endorsement of our head monk Lungpaw Boon Long, Lot and Naht were tasked to do us good and quality work; with this stated expectation from Boon Long and other monks to Lot and Naht, thereby assuring that Thip and I would not have the same kind of problems we’ve had on all our previous construction projects:
  • bathroom: actually, a pretty good job, although I had to take over some of the caulking; 
  • kitchen: drain and drain pipes poorly installed; 
  • village home rewiring: a good job, but wire trays are connected by masking tape, when the trays themselves should have just been pvc pipe; 
  • closet/laundry room: washing machine water outflow not connected to exterior pipe, partly my fault;
  • village home ground floor roof: now beginning to sag on one side, because they didn’t cement the concrete posts into the ground, roof is damaged from workers walking on it between the rafters, and not enough screws to hold it down;
  • front patio: no complaints
  • overall with all the work we’ve had done, it’s the trim work, painting and staining that are most often the most poorly done portion of the work.

 To say that I’ve been disappointed with the quality of most all the work we’ve had done for us over the past 2.5 years would be an understatement. It’s not that Isaan workers can’t do a good job. It’s just that they don’t care.

A perfect example is Thip’s brother Sawt. Since he’s a high voltage lineman (in addition to being a seasonal rice farmer), we hired him and his crew to extend the power lines from the public road down to our pad. The work took shape in two phases. When it was all done, one of the cement posts was considerably at an angle (not perpendicular); there was no cut-off switch for the street light installed on the pad; and the street light itself was loose. When I offered to pay Sawt some more to fix these things that I had already paid him to do, his response was something like: ‘it’s good enough as it is.”

You know, like it was his call to make.

2014-07_electrical from Malcolm Gault-Williams on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bann Nah 4 - The Plan

As I previously mentioned, the initial plan was to just take down “Love Shack II” and put it back up again on the new pad once the pad had solidified. When the love shack wood was inadvertently burned by one of our neighbor’s sons while clearing his own rice paddies (the fire jumped paddies), we received the father’s shack as settlement (Tah Mai – now Lungtah Mai – had since gone into the monkhood). Then, the plan became: take down and reconstruct Lungtah Mai’s shack (a shack with walls) on the pad.

{Looking from the north, at the bend in our road, as it goes to the pad)

This second plan didn’t last long, as various pressures were put on me to expand the scope of the project still further. For my part, I realized I’m not getting any younger and that if my wife and I are going to enjoy it out there – as our head monk assured us we would – I might as well act sooner than later to put in a structure we can live in year’round and that fits our lifestyle. Consider it a kind of “country home,” not quite a “vacation home.”

(At the turn in our dirt road [same spot as previous picture was taken from], looking westwards toward the main road and temple. You can even see Lungtah Mai's shack/bungalow with red roof off to the left)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bann Nah 3 - Shack Dismantling

When we realized a way we could donate and sell more of our laregest farm to our temple, so that the chedi really could be built and that what we had already donated wouldn’t just end up being a parking lot, we hired friends to dismantle Love Shack II and move the wood over to the new location where we intended to rebuild it.

Here’s video I shot of the take-down of the shack, moving of the wood, and build up of the new pad in the middle of what was left of our land – the former “17 Rai,” now “Gao Rai” (9 Rai):

17 to 9 from Malcolm Gault-Williams on Vimeo.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bann Nah 2 - Some History

There is actually somewhat of a history surrounding structures on our larger rice farm.

(on the pad for "Ban Nah," July 2014; my wife Thiphawan and motosai in last frame)

 What I call “Love Shack I” went in right after we bought the land in 2003. Thip’s father Nah – Khun Paw – and a good friend of the family, Pahwet, built it. They situated it near the uppermost part of the upper land (as opposed to the lower land, where the rice paddies are). It was a long stone’s throw from the road and just across from our temple.

It was a typical Thai farm shack, meant to provide a resting place for family, friends and workers when farming or hanging out. You see them all over the rice fields of Southeast Asia; little more than just shacks, in most cases.

Not long afterwards, Thip’s brother Sawt had built a small one-room cement and tile roof bungalow with a separate restroom next to it. Both structures were close to the shack. Sawt likes to stay out on the farms, outside the village, enjoying the benefits of privacy. Yet, as far as I can tell, very little living was spent in the bungalow that ened-up as mostly just a storage unit. I know, because I once cleaned it out, thinking that I could convert it into a personal writer’s retreat.

Instead, Sawt and his wife Nui took over occupancy of the structure on our smaller rice farm (8.5 rai), which we purchased several years after we bought the first farm. So, Love Shack I and Sawt’s bungalow both ended-up used pretty much only during the rice growing season.

A little less than ten years later, when I retired in the village and we decided to donate some of 17 Rai to our temple for the building of a chedi, I had “Love Shack II” constructed toward the bottom of the upper land, just inside our new boundary lines.

Family complained that there were no walls. There had been two in the first shack, providing a corner of privacy and shelter from wind blown rain. I figured that if they had a problem with wind blown rain, they could use tarps. I didn’t count on Sawt being drunk one night, getting up to go pee and stepping off the platform and dropping several feet to the ground. Nothing was broken, but of course I was blamed. Actually, I had Love Shack II constructed without walls on purpose because I had found evidence of sexual activity from visitors in the first shack. That’s actually why I began calling the shacks “love.” I did not want to continue to provide a place for clandestine rendezvous. It was bad for my karma.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bann Nah 1 - The Pad

In July 2014, after tam nah was completed on both of our rice farms, and Khaopensa (“Buddhist Lent” – 3 months long) had begun, we set about to construct our bann nah (farm house). It was initially intended to be just an open air bungalow to protect ourselves, family and workers from sun and inclement weather; a successor, if you will, to “Love Shack I” and “Love Shack II.” Who knows? Maybe I could finally get my writer’s retreat…

(my basic writing set-up; beer off-camera)

Everyone wanted something more substantial – my wife, our local family, villagers and even our head monk, Lungpu Boon Long.

My thinking had been: Well, we’ll just erect another shack a little bit better than the last one, then – much later – build a small house for Thip and I, that family could partially share.

But, succumbing to the pressure, working out the budget for it, realizing that labor and materials would never be cheaper, and knowing that I’d really like it out there if I could get a building that fit my lifestyle (as opposed to, say, the family’s), I shifted course and agreed with Thip to build a one-room, one-porch elevated farm house on the former 17 Rai, now down to 9.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Tam Nah 2

While Thip and I don’t get out there for the hard work in the rice paddies (exposure to the sun and repetitious bending), we contribute in other ways the family cannot; namely by providing the land and financial assistance for things like fertilizer, pumps, electricity, buildings to shade workers, machinery, repairs, threshing, food, beer. We don’t pay for it all, but ours is by far the largest monetary contribution to the family enterprise.

The only thing that we don’t pay for is hired help. Thip’s brother Sawt, who organizes the seasonal planting and harvesting, sometimes hires non-family members and friends to help out at peak periods. If that’s how he wants to manage it, “up to him” is how we put it here in the Land of Smiles (LoS).

As far as I am concerned, there are enough able bodied family members, who get a portion of the crop, to help bring it in; some of these are conspicuous only in their absence.

Sadly, these are mostly the younger members of the family who are in far better physical condition than those of us who are older. This problem of “missing youth” on farms is not limited to our family alone, but is – I believe – a nation-wide issue that has occurred in other countries, too. When thinking about the ramifications of this for Thailand’s future as a major rice exporter, however, it’s hard to see small family farms lasting very long.

("What, you sayin' I don't work around here, dude?")

(Front gate area of our home in the village; boots are necessary even on dry days if you're in fields highly overgrown; it's all about the possibility of coming across a snake or two...)

Here’s a video showing how we pump water from the family farm, next door, to irrigate the rice paddies on our 8.5 rai farm. Cameo’s by Thip’s father Nah and some other family members towards the end:

2014-06_8.5rai from Malcolm Gault-Williams on Vimeo.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tam Nah 1

Not long after returning from my seventh trip to Lao, it was the time of tam nah – rice transplanting.

Our Thai family (Thai-Lao, really) has been planting, growing and harvesting khao nio (sticky rice) and jasmine rice on our two farms ever since we bought them circa 2002. In fact, that’s the reason we bought the land. Both were purchased pretty cheaply from owners who were in a rush to pay off loans before default and losing everything altogether.

The sellers’ misfortune became our family’s fortune, as it immediately turned our family from share croppers to virtual owners. Thip and I have been happy about the way it’s turned out; pretty much how we wanted it: to have our Thai-Lao family (approximately 12-15 family members) self-sufficient in rice.

After the paddies are tilled and prepared for planting, one or two paddies are designated as nursery beds and thickly sown with rice. This is what I referred to just before I left for my 7th trip to Lao.

After about a month, the rice seedlings are ready for transplanting to the main paddies. I’ve previously shot some video showing this, at our larger farm, in 2009:

I’m not much for this kind of back-breaking work; not only due to my age (65), but because I literally broke my back about ten years ago. I get out into the rice paddies to show my support and do a little work, but it’s mostly symbolic. My contribution mostly comes from making the land available and paying for stuff that’s needed.