Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lao Trip 8.1a - To Nong Khai

I was fast coming up on my three-month travel permit expiration, so given that we were in construction mode and I needed to keep close tabs on what was happening, I decided to go to Vientiane, the capital of Lao (Laos), this time around. Being right across the Mekong from Thailand, Vientiane would allow me easy cellphone contact. I wouldn’t have to switch sim cards and calls wouldn’t be expensive. If I needed to rush back to the construction project, it was only a day’s ride away.

I had had it in the back of my mind to re-visit Vientiane. I wanted to make another assessment of it. I’ve found that living in Southeast Asia, my initial impressions are not always accurate. So, after dissing Vientiane in 2012, when I briefly visited the city river front that first with Thip, I wanted to give the place another chance.

This 8th trip to Lao was notable not only for a few days in Vientiane, but also for time spent in Nong Khai, Thailand, and two significant mistakes I made – one small, one big.

The trip started off as they usually do. After I took care of the monks, I drove my tuk-tuk toward the highway, parking it at Thip’s sister’s property. From there I continued walking to Highway 210, turning down an offer for a ride from a villager who would have driven me out of his way, for all the ten kilometers to the bus station, if I would have let him.

Instead, I took the Line 1 sawngtheaw to the bawkasaw and from there hopped on a bus to Udon Thani, the next province over.

At the Udon Thani bus station, I discovered that I could not take a direct bus to Vientiane. I would have to take a bus to Nong Khai, then get the “Frienship Bus” from there.

OK, a small mistake that set me back a half day; baw peng yawng (no problem).

On the riverfront, near Wat Hai Sok, in Nong Khai

Commercial shipping at Nong Khai (Lao in background)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bann Nah 9 - Foundation and Beams

After all the power line electrical work was done and after the post-raising ceremony, Lott and Naht set to setting the nine cement posts and bonding them to the column footers. Once this was done, they prepared the main horizontal floor beams at our village home. When they were done, we had the nine vertical concrete posts placed three meters apart and nine horizontal floor beams bolted to the posts.

Shots of the cement foundation posts being set:

Shots of the main floor beams installed:

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bann Nah 8 - Power Lines

Just before the foundation posts ceremony, Sawt and his boys completed Phase 2 of the power lines project. That is, we had the rest of the power line posts installed, lines strung and power installed all the way to the pad, in the middle of our rice fields.

Here’s the video showing some of the previous Phase 1:

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

The following Phase 2 video shows Day 1, when the posts were put in and a late afternoon rain ran the linemen off. Day 2 shows Sawt and his wife Nui wiring the remainder of the power line run; installing the street light and light sensor. The video ends with an arrival by Thip – in “temple uniform” – fresh from the wat:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Bann Nah 7 - Posts Ceremony

A little like a barn raising, the Thai-Lao Buddhist ceremony for raising posts on a new home is not only practical, but is also shrouded with religious ceremony. It’s a chance to wish the future occupants well in the home that will be built. Since you already have a bunch of guys present to do the heavy lifting, it’s also a perfect time to eat and celebrate.

Here’s some video I shot, showing some chanting, placement of post and attachment of good luck symbols (fish trap for never going hungry; part of an old loom for always being clothed; sugar cane, banana leaf, coconut, flowers, bag full of money, etc.):

2014-08_p-ceremony from Malcolm Gault-Williams on Vimeo.

Once the monks and most of the invitees had left, core family and friends cracked open some Leo’s.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bann Nah 6 - Column Footers

Out at our larger rice farm, once the pad was completed (November 2013), we let it sit. Normally, you don’t want to build on a newly dumped dirt pad unless it has time to settle. In Thailand, that usually means at least one full rainy season and then some. When we were ready to move ahead, this past summer – only eight months after the pad’s creation – it was still somewhat soft. Our head monk Lungpaw Boon Long suggested we sink column footers from the top of the pad to the bottom and that’s what we did.

Lott and Naht dug vertical tunnels from the top of the pad to where the top of the rice field used to be, below; about six feet. Then, they wired-up rebar cages and sunk these into the holes. In the holes, they then dumped cement and gravel to create custom column footers nearly the depth of the pad.

Here’s some video I shot showing some of the fabrication of the rebar cages, their preparation for transport, concrete and gravel mixing at the construction site, placement of the cages in prior-dug vertical tunnels and late afternoon rain clouds moving in:

2014-08_cfooters from Malcolm Gault-Williams on Vimeo.

On top of the column footers, the cement posts that would end-up supporting the house above ground were placed (viewable at: Again using rebar, Lott and Naht wrapped the posts to the column footers and cemented over the area to effectively bond the posts to the column footers.

But, I’m getting a little ahead of myself, here. Before the cement posts could be set ontop of the cement column footers, there had to be a ceremony…

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tuk-Tuk Driver

In August of 2014, I was given the role of tuk-tuk driver for transporting monks from our forest temple to and from the village, in the mornings, so that they can binta baht (do their alms round).

My samlor aka tuk-tuk.

I use the word “given” very loosely. It was more like the job defaulted to me. The assistant village headman needed the time to work on his farm and village affairs. He had taken over for Tah Nah. Tah Nah is getting old (same age as me, actually) and no longer has the energy to transport monks to two villages each morning. So, I took over for Paison, the village’s second-in-command. Now, Tah Nah does Bann Noi Pakwet (aka Sawan Pattani) and I do Bann Noen Soong Pleui (our village); basically, the job was delegated to me by Paison using a kind of slight-of-hand.

At first, I thought it was temporary and went into it in good spirits. But, as time went on and Paison no longer was working on his farm in the mornings, but I was still chauffering, I realized this is a permanent job – as permanent as permanent gets, anyway.

When I grokked the situation I was in, I grew a little resentful because I see many other men in the village with samlors better than mine. Some guys have cars and others own trucks who have the time and could transport the monks in and out of the village in style.

But, the general reasoning went that since I am retired, I am the perfect candidate. Everyone is so busy… as if I’m not.

Fact is, Morning times are very valuable to me because it’s the best time of the day to put in a chunk of time on the computer, writing, gaming and staying in communication with family and friends outside and inside of Thailand.

But, my wife keeps insisting this is good for my karma and the family’s karma. By being samlor driver for the monks every morning, I can boon (do a good thing) every day and serve both temple and village.

I eventually saw the wisdom in what my wife kept saying and so now I’ve been trying to adjust my thinking and feeling about this. I’m happy to do it. It’s just that I don’t want to have to do it, if you know what I mean.

My tuk-tuk and Thip's motosai, side-by-side, at the building site.

I’m probably not the only Falang to transport monks for their alms rounds, but I may be the only one in Thailand who does so with a tuk-tuk. The more I chauffer usually 3-4 monks in and out of the village each morning, the more comfortable I get in my new role. Of course, it is somewhat of an honor and my personal prestige in the village is greater as a result, but this is a work in process. We’ll see where it goes…

Monday, November 3, 2014

Home Alive 3

And now, it’s time for “Home Alive 3” !!!

No, it’s not the latest Hollywood blockbuster sequel, but a break from all the construction posts so you don’t get bored.

I thought an annual update on the state of our relationships with the creatures around us – the non-human kind, that is – has been overdue.

Back yard, looking up.

Our home in the village still notably features the presence of a half dozen gap gays (tokays) of different ages. They are somewhat reclusive, but on any given night, you can easily spot the big one and usually one other; probably his mate. Occasionally, they make their signature call and these can be heard not only in the house, but from the neighbor’s roof and the big strand of bamboo that overhangs from Gam Gnan’s property.

Backyard looking south.

Nyoong (mosquitoes) will always be a problem for me, but at least I have incorporated strategies to deal with them effectively.

Rats and scorpions are pretty much history; at least in the house. A couple of times a year I might have to trap one or two rats (where there’s one, there’s always two and if there’s two, it’s likely there’s some babies around, as well); nothing like the nightmare that greeted me when I first retired here in 2012.

We had some “city slickers” visit us a while back; a friend we knew back in Santa Barbara and her sister, both of whom live in Bangkok. They were a bit repulsed by the slimey-looking lizards that roam around outside but also get into the house, sometimes. We take them for granted. Like the tokays, their biggest downside is their poop. You can’t smell it unless you get close to it, but it does stink.

A big surprise continues to be what I call the “fast runners.” They are thin, dry skinned lizards who, Thip tells me of the ones that climb, are related to the iguana. These do not come indoors, but have proliferated around our one acre ever since I put a ban on their being hunted on our property and the installation of a chain link fence in the back to halt cross-property pedestrian traffic.

Another big surprise continues to be the birds. Each year, we have more and more of them and different kinds, too. It’s probably the fruit trees that attract them, but it may also be that we have a large parcel and don’t hassle them. The longer they stay, the more they get used to us and, consequently, the closer they come.

Besides the mosquitoes, the one creature that has been the biggest problem when I look back over these past 2.5 years has to be the soi dogs (street dogs). Most every Isaan dog is either a farm dog or a street dog or combination of the two. They are loyal to their owners to a certain extent and there is some love there. But many are just left to fend for themselves, so they go and do whatever. Especially problematic are soi dogs who like to nip at the legs of motorcycle riders. Our dog Imbune became one of these and we had to commit him to tht family farm where he often stays on a chain to keep him away from the traffic of the village.

Another problem dog has been Heng Heng, who “came with the house.” As he grew out of being a cute little puppy into somewhat of an ugly, scraggly soi dog, his owners basically abandoned him. Since he grew up at our house and property before we bought it, this is where he gravitates to most of the time. Also, he loves Thip; I can understand that!

I’ve gone back and forth with him so many times I’ve lost count. He’s a good dog in some ways, but causes me extra work by digging holes, spreading fleas and sometimes going after motorcyclists. I just tolerate him, now, and occasionally feed him scraps that would otherwise be thrown out.

I would run him off and never feed him a single scrap if it weren’t for the fact that I’m working on opening my heart more. I can’t help but think of myself as a kid when I think about Heng’s situation. For a good portion of my childhood, I could be considered to have been a “street kid.” Not that I hung around the streets, but I bicycled through all of them in my small town and hung out in the woods and beaches most of the time by myself. This ended when I was taken in by another family (Gault) on request of my dying mother (Williams). So, I know about estrangement and despite Heng Heng being a pain in the ass and causing me extra work, my heart goes out to him.