Friday, December 25, 2015

Harvest Season Ceremonies

Even while our three week long harvest was in progress, there were Buddhist ceremonies to attend. These included Boon Katin, the Chedi Posts ceremony, and Loy Kratung.

Boon Katin – I’ve already written about. In some ways, it is celebrated to an even greater degree than Ohpensa. It is the traditional time to give monks new fabric for robes, cushions and personal care items. Equally important, it is a time when monks from different wats visit each other. So, many temples’ Boon Katin falls on a different day.

The Chedi Posts Ceremony was like a bigger, grander version of the posts ceremony we had at Bann Nah, in summer of 2014. Blessings on the building of the structure were made, along with donations – monetary and symbolic. We gave a modest donation of baht and spread dirt from our two homes and farms onto the chedi pad. A little bit of sand and gravel from Bann Nah, along with brass “paper” with our names and those of all our immediate family members here and in the USA, were mixed in with the concrete of the center post.

Loy Kratung (Loi Krathong) is celebrated on the night of November’s full moon. People influenced by Tai Culture launch floating baskets on rivers, canals or ponds, making wishes in the process. The festival may originate from an ancient ritual paying respect to the water spirits.

This year, Thip and I were the first to float our lighted, incense-burning banana leaf boats along the surface of the chedi pool, between Bann Nah and the chedi site. I believe we are the first ones ever to do so, as the pool was too new, last year. Sawt, Nui and Thip’s neighbor friend Mai shortly followed suit. It was beautiful out there under the full moon, reflected in the chedi pool!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Giao Khao, 2015 - 4

Conveniently, the thresher is designed to let the grain filter down to a port where a bag can be attached. So, as the machine separates the grain from the stalks, family members – two men to a bag – are busy collecting the grain in fiberglass bags, hauling them to a central location and tied closed.

After the meal with the threshing crew and they have departed with 10% of the take, the bags of un-milled rice are then loaded into pick-up trucks to be taken to different family storage areas. Sawt – Thip’s brother who is in charge of the annual rice growing operations at both of our farms – decides who gets how much. I presume most family members get an equivalent of what they’ve put into the months-long effort.

However, the opportunities to use the yield for personal advantage are great and I think this is one reason why Sawt is deferred to throughout the year by members throughout the community. I’m not sure how much of the rice distribution is subject to graft, but putting it somewhere between 10-25% is probably a realistic estimate.

Of course, no one pays any attention to things like this except for Sawt and me. I’m sure he doesn’t think I suspect anything. And, as far as I’m concerned, it is what it is. I’m just thankful that approximately 30 family members have rice to eat, every day, all year long, due to this successful operation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Giao Khao, 2015 - 3

During the time of the rice cutting, the rice on stalks cut to about two feet lengths are left in the dry paddies, organized neatly to dry. After a couple of days, these are bundled up in small bunches and tied-up with wet bamboo strips that, when dry, make for a very effective tie. The material is important, as when the bunches are thrown into a thresher, the machine treats the bamboo the same way it handles the stalks – cutting it up and throwing it out without “string” gumming up the works.

After the rice has been dried (not too much, though, otherwise the grain will fall off the stalks onto the ground) and bundled and tied, the bundles are collected by mechanical buffalo with a cart attached and brought to a central pile.

A thresher and crew are then called in. The thresher is most often connected to a tractor that actually provides the power to the thresher. There are also threshers that are self-contained vehicles, but these are more expensive and can only be used seasonally, whereas a tractor can be used most every day, with the actual thresher mechanism standing by for when needed.

The crew of at least four guys looks after both machines and take turns being the primary feeder of the thresher. Once the machine is warmed up and ready to go, family and friends then throw bundles of rice from the pile to the primary feeder, who is usually on top of the pile of rice and stalks.

Video I shot in 2013 of the process, at our smaller farm:

Rice Harvest at 8.5 Rai from Malcolm Gault-Williams on Vimeo.

Of course, there are containers of ice, glasses and bottles of soda, beer, water and M150 to keep everyone in a good mood. These are touched upon only lightly during the actual work, including breaks.

After the threshing has been completed, everyone eats and drinks – usually on a tarp so that many people can be accommodated. More beer magically materializes (along with a small number of bottles of lao khao [rice whiskey]) as everyone celebrates the end of the rice harvest for that particular farm. This year, our harvest at Gao Rai (9 rai; approximately 3.5 acres) and 8.5 Rai was the best it’s ever been – in part due to the water well we had drilled at 9 Rai during the summer, which gave us more control over water availability, and a water pump at 8.5 Rai. Since rainfall was low and late, this Monsoon Season, many Thai farmers did not fare as well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Giao Khao, 2015 - 2

Following the beginning of the Monsoon Season, rice land is tilled and prepared. After about a month’s worth of regular rainfall, seed beds are prepared and seeded.(Gam Kha). If a farmer knows he doesn’t have the labor to successfully work the season, he might just throw out rice seed in the paddies, hoping for a decent crop.

The more efficient way to seed is to prepare seed beds – usually a paddy or more, where the rice will sprout thickly for about a month. After the rice stalks are strong enough, they are transplanted throughout the rest of the paddies. This is the time of Tam Nah.

During the time the rice grows, fertilizer is applied and paddies are kept wet. If the paddies get too dry, weeds pop up in abundance and the grain grows thinly. So, it’s good for the rice and good to keep the weeds down by keeping a layer of standing water in the rice paddies. Weeds that sprout up are pulled out whenever possible.

After four months, it’s time to cut the rice. This is usually done by hand, with a short handled scythe. Workers suit up in long pants, rubber boots (if they have them; socks and sandals are not uncommon), long sleeve shirts, head gear and often face and neck gear, along with cloth gloves that everyone uses. Cutters work in this attire in the hot sun.

My wife's brothers Awt and Pawt at 8.5 Rai.

For those farmers who do not have the labor force (family members or hired hands), there is an out for them by hiring a combine. The big draw back using a combine instead of the less-advanced thresher is that after going through a combine harvester, rice requires separately drying before permanent bagging. This can be time-consuming and takes longer; subjecting the grain to a greater possibility of rainfall.

This was my first year spending any considerable time out in the fields during giao khao (rice cutting). I got to understand the whole process, including details like how to use a scythe correctly without gorging myself. By the end of day, however, I’d feel it in my back – from bending over, but also from back twisting.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Giao Khao, 2015 - 1

The Isaan rice growing season is more or less in sync with the East Asian Monsoon Season, when it rains frequently and substantially, June through September. The rice season begins in July and stretches on until the end of November. Once the Monsoons get going, the ground is soft enough to till, flatten, sow and then transplant. Importantly, there is a steady supply of water to grow the grain at the beginning and through most of its growing stages. Towards the end, when the Monsoons drop off, the drier conditions help dry out the rice paddies which is important, too, otherwise the rice stalks flatten out, lay on the ground and if that goes on for too long, the rice can rott.

(Views from our front yard, at our village home, just prior to cutting, late November 2015)

I didn’t really understand all this until this year, as I have been more active in the entire process, from the beginning of the rice growing season to the end. It has been good for me and also good for family. Although I’m viewed as the Isaan equivalent of a “gentleman farmer” (gonna hafta put that in my resume!), my wife’s family likes to see me out in the fields. It’s kind of a morale thing, although at age 67, I can’t do much of it for very long.

I’m not the only elder person working the fields, either. It is a great tragedy that the newer generations of Thai young adults and kids do not help out in their family’s farms. Those that do are exceptions. Usually, the way it goes is if a kid is in school, s/he is exempt from farmwork, by their parents, in the hopes they will do better in school/college. This includes kids and young adults who attend formal education close enough to home and the farms to be able to do both. For the young adults who have moved out of their family’s home and begun young families of their own – not counting those who have moved too far away to help – their excuse is that they have a job and young kids and don’t have the time.

Bottom Line: It’s now rare to see anyone under the age of 30 working in the Isaan countryside.

(View from Bann Nah, prior to the rice fully maturing, October 2015; compare the green color in this photograph with the golden brown color of the rice a month later, in the pictures above)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bann Nah 22 - Stairs Pad

We had had a more extensive after-work party than usual, following the installation of the porch ceiling. Then, again, we had another good one when the stairs pad was completed.

But, these progressions marked an “end of an era,” in a way. With the growing demands on Sam Lott’s and Sam Naht’s time – to work at the temple and also help build the chedi – I knew we would now see them hardly at all, at Bann Nah. After all, it was this time last year that we had a three-month work stoppage due to Ohpensa, Boon Katin, Thung Yai trips and Giao Khao. And last year, the chedi wasn’t even in its building phase, yet.

You know that feeling you get when you watch someone leave you and you wonder when will you see them again – knowing, deep down, that it could be a very long time? Like, when you see someone off at the airport?

I had that distinct feeling as Lott and Naht drove off on their motorcycles, down Bann Nah’s long dirt road…

(our road on the right; chedi site in the distance; rice paddies in the foreground)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bann Nah 32 - Porch Ceiling

In October 2015, the Bann Nah porch teak ceiling was cut and nail-gunned in. I again was staining up to the every end, and sanding, as well. We had run short of the “grade A” slats and I had to work on the “grade B” stuff – slats I had originally rejected – to bring them up to useable quality. It’s amazing what one can do with a belt sander!

Sam Lott and Sam Naht (“Sam” being a title of respect, much like “mister” is in English) did a good job matching up the slats and even got creative in spots.

The porch ceiling now looks so good, that roof sections like the porch’s west side roof and stairs roof – both without ceilings – look notably plain. I’m now thinking that somewhere down the line – maybe in a year or two – we might put mini-ceilings on these, too.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Bann Nah 31 - Porch Small Roof

Continuing to address the rain damage issue to the porch – even though the East Asian Monsoon Season was just about over – our workers Sam Lott and Sam Naht put together the lancah noi (little roof) on the west end of the porch.

This was part of The Plan, but a design deficiency that only I am full aware of. Back when Lungpaw Boon Long suggested we put a lancah noi on top the main roof for aesthetics, I should have changed the plans for the porch roof to be an A-frame – essentially establishing a 3-roof effect. It would have been more expensive, but look lots nicer. As it is, the west side roof (along with the stairs roof), now help create a look to Bann Nah of being a little like an open box with the flaps hanging to the side. Oh well, it’s done and, as I say, I’m probably the only one fully aware of it or who cares.

As with the rest of the building, the little roof on the west side of the porch was built with quality by Lott and Naht, who made sure not to have it too low so we will maintain a good  view of the chedi, once it is built.

(Thip, Naht and Lott taking a break at the outside kitchen)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Change of Season

Fog in the early morning and moisture dripping off the village home’s tin roof heralds in the arrival of the Fall/Harvest Season (October-November). This season is marked by the Thai Buddhist observances of Boon Khao Sah, Oh Pensa and Boon Katin. These are followed by the rice harvest (Giao Khao).

Boon Khao Sah is the Buddhist observance of what could be called “spirits of the dead.” At this time, all those who have gone before are remembered and prayers made on their behalf. My wife Thip had me write down everyone in my family, friends and influential people in my life who are no longer alive. At age 67, I came up with a list of about 150 people. This list was later burned at our temple.

Oh Pensa (or Ohpensa) marks the end of the three-month-long “Buddhist Lent” (Vassa) and is a major Buddhist observance, with ceremonies in the morning, evening (notable for walking around the wat three times, with burning candles) and morning of the next day. I used to make all three, but now attend just on the first morning. Since Oh Pensa falls on the October full moon, I like to go to Bann Nah and watch the full moon rise. Due to the air cooling, the night time skies are much clearer than they are during the Monsoon Season. An added bonus is that surrounding temples in the area let off “sky lanterns,” so it’s quite a show out there on this particular night of the year: the rising moon with sky lanterns drifting across the night sky.

(Karen letting off Sky Lanterns during their 2013 Harvest Festival, at Washuku)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lao Girlfriends

Disclaimer: I am far from an authority on this subject, but judging by the popularity of this blog’s posts relating to Lao girls and women, I will address the subject of Lao GF’s as best I can:

Actually, there’s really no such thing as a “Lao girlfriend” for a Western guy; at least in the way that Falang understand the term. You either know girls through guys or families, or you have a relationship that is more serious and formalized – either a wife or a mia noi. Both are financial arrangements and even if they don’t have a ceremony or paper to back it up, they will consider themselves your wife.

It’s not hard to find a young, beautiful Lao girl. The hard thing is not to.

By that, I mean, unless you either have a lot of money (for a minor or major wife and usually both) or you are just absolutely committed to having a Lao wife, it’s best to keep a distance; you can get close, but do not touch. A beautiful young girl will make an older man’s head spin; believe me; been there.

There are women and girls who will have sex with you on an informal basis. These are most always freelancers who you can find and often find you. You’ll need to have a room where it will be fun for both of you to enjoy and plenty of cash on hand. Just keep in mind Lao Family Law:
"Relationship with Lao citizens: Lao law prohibits sexual contact between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law. Any foreigner who enters into a sexual relationship with a Lao national risks being interrogated, detained, arrested, or fined. Lao police have confiscated passports and imposed fines of up to $5,000 on foreigners who enter into unapproved sexual relationships. The Lao party to the relationship may be jailed without trial. Foreigners are not permitted to invite Lao nationals of the opposite sex to their hotel rooms; police may raid hotel rooms without notice or consent."
Some interesting comments I’ve read concerning this law are as follows:
“It isn't enforced so much nowadays. Back when Vientiane was a large village rather than a city it was risky to be in the same house in the evening. Nowadays it's a bit different as the city has grown, along with foreign investment, meaning a lot more foreigners here."
"Around 8 years ago I was caught with a Lao girlfriend staying at my place, fined 500USD (after much negotiation) and held for a few hours in a cell. The stories of being deported etc... are mainly old barstool fairytales.”
 “The law is still in place… and you still hear of occasional arrests, but it's not as risky as it used to be.... unfortunately.” 
 According to a foreigner friend residing in Vientiane, his gf arrives at midnight and leaves before 6 am.”
I’ve also read that if you’re on the bad side of the police or military, they are apt to watch you, to catch you violating this law. Also, it’s not just a city thing. There are guys up-country who make sure to stay on good terms with the local Pooyai Bann (village headman) for fear he may want to make some kick-back money at your expense. No matter what you're doing or not, always stay on good terms with your guesthouse manager/owner and all authorities.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lao Trip 12.5 - Borr Pen Yang

How many times have I climbed these stairs? I think this was my fifth time going up.

Although it lasted all of about 10 seconds, I’ll never forget one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen in my life, coming down these stairs as I was coming up on my first trip here. For all the good it did me, I still found myself “Looking Back.”

They spell their bar “Borr Pen Yang” (alternatively, “Bor Pen Yang”), but I use this expression a lot, back in The Isaan, and pronounce it: bor pen yong. The differences in spelling could be due to local accent or transliteration. It means: no problem.

I had been turned on to the Borr Pen Yang by a Falang forum poster. I had written a simple question, like where do the freelancers (girls/women for hire; not associated with a particular place of business) hang out in Vientiane? Oh, man, did I get a bunch of attack replies insinuating I was a sex tourist or “sexpat” and why would I want to ruin Lao like Thailand? Hey, I’m just asking a question. Chill.

Gettin' some rest at 9 Rai/Bann Nah before going out and rustling me up some babes.

I’ve come to discover – upon personal inspection before the night life gets under way, here – that this bar has draft Beer Lao and great views of the Mekong and west end of the Riverside Vendors.

The previous times I’ve visited the Borr Pen Yang were all during the afternoon, well before the bar’s prime time. In part, that was on purpose because – at age 66 soon to be 67 – I’m no longer a night person. With some notable exceptions for rather short periods of time, I haven’t been much of a bar goer, either.

So, here I was operating somewhat out of my comfort zone: I was moving around at night in a foreign country – in a city, no less; going to a bar and; looking to check out the freelancers.

The Borr Pen Yang is totally different in the night time than in the day. What a Meat Market! I quickly realized that just about everyone (approximately 100 Lao and Falang) in the packed bar was looking to get hooked up.

It did not take long for a woman in her late 20s to come join me at my small table at the top of the stairs. I bought her a beer and although I admired her thinness, command of English and friendliness, I had to let her know that my guesthouse does not permit non-registered guests inside. Actually, I found this a good excuse (and true), because the longer I was in Borr Pen Yang, the more stunning girls kept walking past us. I mean, really, really beautiful girls and women all made and dressed up for the occasion.

I found myself wishing I could just be in a darkened corner by myself, to admire the beauties. Instead, I was being politely hustled and it took some time to extract myself. Next time I’m here, at night, I think I’ll find that corner over by the pool table…

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lao Trip 12.4 - Samyek Pakpasack

Moving off from the Sunset Bar, along Th Fa Ngoum, going easterly, I stopped at a riverside vendor for another beer and bar-b-que, rice and veggies. Here, I enjoyed the fading light of the late afternoon, watching the movement of people and boats along The Mekong.

Just before sundown, I walked further east, back toward Vientiane’s riverside epicenter, and stopped in at Samyek Pakpasack. I couldn’t resist. They again had live acoustic music going on and I remembered how I had enjoyed it here, last time.

At one point, I toasted – from a distance – one of the older employees who had sat in on a couple of songs that reminded me of Loso and Pongsit. He came over to my table in a rush and this is when I met Mr. Tank, who turned out to be the owner or nominal manager or both. I bought us a Beer Lao and, using my smart phone, showed him pictures of my wife and new home being built. This was helpful as it gave him an idea of what kind of guy I was and also gave us something to do, as he was limited in his English and me in my Lao.

When I decided to leave, Mr. Tank insisted on driving me back to my guesthouse. I initially thanked him but indicated that I would walk, but he would have none of it. So, I rode back to the Mixay on the back of Mr. Tank’s motosai

As the night was still young and prospects of just hanging out in my dreary Mixay room didn’t really appeal to me, I decided to go visit the Borr Pen Yang during its prime time. The two or three times I had been there were always in the afternoon and I knew that this bar was geared for the night time… 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Lao Trip 12.3 - Heua Pae

As modest as it is, the Heua Pae is the Lao capitol’s staging area for the fast-growing jetski market. The floating restaurant – more a bar, really – has an adjacent section to it where owners can store their jetski’s, along with a seating area, small performance stage, and a flat boat (actually, two longtail boats strapped together with a unified deck ontop) that can go out on the river and be a platform for bar-b-que and beer.

As I’ve come to consider natural, I was the only Falang around. I was treated politely, but distantly – nothing like PL2 or even the Savan Khaim Khong. I ordered my usual 640 ml of Beer Lao, with ice, and sat back to watch the operation and listen to Carabao.

Similar to what was probably also happening back in Nong Khai, the Thai city of Sri Chiang Mai was in the midst of a full day of dragon boat races – the extremely long row boats that, in the distant past, had been reserved strictly for royalty.

To watch the races, it’s best to be on the banks of the river near where the rowers will be stroking. Here I was on the opposite side of The Mekong. I could see the boats, but the rowers were a bit harder. The nice thing about being at the distance I was, I could watch the boats from the beginning of the race to the very end; probably a kilometer or two.

The crew at Heua Pae readied their flatboat, then took it across The Kong to get a better view of the races and share some BBQ and beer with the jetski’ers who were out there riding around and watching, too. I doubt whether they could actually sell the BBQ and beer, it being more or less international waters, but because of the absence of law enforcement and who’s gonna know? They probably did some business along with the spectating. Enjoy it while you can, guys, because before you know it, navies from both countries will be out there – or, at very least – maritime police to tighten things up.

After my typical song kuat (two bottles) of Beer Lao, I left Heua Pae, having been there about two hours, enjoying the races and being out on the Mekong – even if it was only a glorified raft.

I made my way back towards the city’s riverfront epicenter, stopping in at the Sunset Bar along the way. My first impressions of this place were confirmed, this second time around. But, if you are a Westerner and planning to live in Vientiane for any length of time, I’d recommend getting to know the guys here. They look well established, are polite, and friendly with one another.

The place kind of reminded me of a latter version of what was described in the early days of Vientiane’s opening to The West, in the 1990s, in the book Another Quiet American, by Brett Dakin. If you are interested in Lao, visit it, travel through it, or live in the country, it is a book I recommend reading.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Lao Trip 12.2 - Vientiane

On my third day of the trip, I crossed the Thai-Lao border at Nong Khai and went on to the Lao capitol of Vientiane, which is the usual destination for most people crossing from Thailand along this first “Friendship Bridge,”

I didn’t plan to stay long in Vientiane or Lao, this time around, as I was short on cash. Our new ATM card hadn’t arrived from the Unites States, yet, so I had had to leave our village with whatever kip and baht I had loose around.

I checked into the Mixay Guesthouse this time, as it was a budget/backpacker place across the street from the usual place I stay – the Duang Deuane. The Mixay is about half the price, but the next time I stay in Vientiane, I’ll most likely go back to the Duang Deuane. It’s just a better value and in case I want to stay in my room, the rooms are nice enough to do that – some with very good views. The Mixay rooms are really just for sleeping.

Once laundry was done and I had showered and changed clothes, I walked out to the outdoors eatery a block away, adjacent to the big tree opposite the Belgian Beer place and the nightclub. The owner recognized me immediately and invited me to her table. Even so, she was not as friendly as before. That could be because I had been polite but politely distant when she introduced me to her woman friend. I had gotten the impression she was trying to set us up; maybe, maybe not.

I had a 640 ml bottle of Beer Lao, with ice, then moved on down Th Fa Ngoum, heading westerly. I stopped in at the Borr Pen Yang, but the sole guy guarding the place was sleeping. Not wanting to disturb him, I went back down the stairs and continued my westerly walk.

Passing the Samyek Pakpasack, I remembered my enjoyable time here, early this year, listening to live music and meeting the two guys that worked at KP Lao.

Continuing down Th Fa Ngoum, that runs along The Mekong, at a distance, I passed the Sunset Bar and then where the pavement ends. Being a person who likes floating restaurants, I was sure there had to be one somewhere down the road, a little further outside the city’s epicenter.

I was right. Just as my feet were beginning to ache a little and the afternoon sun was bearing down on me a little too much, I came across Heua Pae…

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lao Trip 12.1 - Two Days in Nong Khai

It’s cheaper here in Thailand than in Lao. So, I stayed in the Thai port city of Nong Khai for two days before crossing over to Lao on my visa renewal trip to save a little bit of baht/kip. I make trips outside Thailand every 90 days, as a condition of my Thai visa.

Why is it cheaper? Well, in large part the stuff you buy in Lao is mostly imported from Thailand. Also, fuel prices are higher, so it’s more costly to move around in Lao than in Thailand.

The two days in Nong Khai were leisurely and mostly consisted of beer drinking and eating on three different floating restaurants; shopping at Nong Khai’s famous Tha Sadet market; and keeping in touch with my various Internet projects (my writings, gaming clan, communications with family and friends, and a few blogs I maintain). I even had a chance to visit the Smile Bar once again, which I had first visited this time, last year; when I met Doi (doo-ee), a nice bargirl in her late twenties.

The curious thing about this Nong Khai trip was my being pursued by two different freelancers – one on bicycle. I talked with them, shared some beer with the bicyclist. I was polite and friendly, but not overly; I kept a distance. They weren’t “my type” and “had too much mileage” on them, I believe is the expression. Besides, I’m too paranoid of catching something I don’t want, to get involved with sexually active women. And, then there is my wife at home to think about. Yep, some friendly conversation is good enough for me.

I tried to connect with Pu – a normal girl I also met this time last year – but I mixed-up the rendezvous details and we ended up missing each other.

There was no standout moment to the two days in Nong Khai, but some minor moments: listening and watching a singer perform live acoustic music (including lots of Pongsit); watching the sun go down behind the clouds over the Mekong; observing the commercial activity at the port and patrons and staff at the Smile Bar.

Sadly, the guest house I usually patronize (Siri Guesthouse) upped their room rentals from 300 baht/night ($9 USD) to 500 ($15). Not quite sure if that was because there were boat races planned for that weekend, but I’ll probably be looking for different digs next time I’m out this way.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Bann Nah 30 - Windows!

I’ve never seen so many people so happy about so much rain. I have to admit, so was I. Our Thai/Lao family’s bounty of rice for the year depended on it, so everyone wanted the rain to fall.

During the one-month period it rained every day, a portion of the Bann Nah porch floor buckled – just as I had predicted it would. As I mentioned in the previous post, I wasn’t happy with our workers’ failure to address the on-going rain damage. But, we left them free to organize their work, so we bore some of the responsibility, too.

On top of this, I should have never let myself be talked into a tongue and groove porch floor. But, my wife had wanted it and our workers had assured me it would be fine and look better. My feeling now is that – maybe not this year, but possibly in 2016 or 2017, I will need to have the tongues and grooves of the porch floor sawed out, so that we don’t have an on-going problem with the floor boards every Monsoon Season. After all, this was a very dry rainy season. Again, I take responsibility for the buckling, as I should have stuck to the original design.

To forestall the same kind of damage happening to the inside room floor, Lott and Naht finally installed our windows: three standard sliders and 3 small.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Bann Nah 29 - Stairs Roof

The Monsoon rains finally kicked-in from mid-July to about mid-August. It was, by far, a late start to the rice growing season and of very short duration. Usually, you can count on rain for the rice crops for a solid four-to-five months (May-September).

During the time the rains fell every day, we continued to suffer significant rain damage both inside the rooms at Bann Nah and on the porch, especially. Rather than address the problem of rain water continuing to soak into the tongue and grooves of the upstairs floor boards, our workers proceeded to build the cement support posts for the stairs and then put in the roof for the stairs-to-be. I did my best to Keep My Kool, but I wasn’t happy about this seemingly illogical progression to the building.

Only thing I can think of is that Lott and Naht wanted something dramatically visible for Lungpaw to see, when viewed from the temple or chedi site, so that he felt confident progress was being made. After all, when our workers weren’t working for us or themselves, they were employed regularly at the temple. Lungpaw had recommended them and we had donated and sold land cheap for the chedi, so there were stakes to consider.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Gam Kha

During July 2015, Thip’s brother Sawt organized the nursery beds for this year’s rice crop at 9 Rai, 8.5 Rai, and a rai or two at the family farm. He’s been the lead farmer in this ever since Thip and I bought 9 Rai (originally 17 Rai) and 8.5 Rai for my wife’s family to rice farm on, about 15 years ago.

This was also about the time Thip’s father – Khun Paw – retired from rice farming. The way I hear it, he was more or less instructed by family not to work on the farms, anymore, for his health. Looking back, I also think that once Sawt had the additional 25.5 rai to work, he did not want the far more experienced Khun Paw looking over his shoulder all the time and, of course, being critical.

The process for preparing the nursery beds – actually, just a single rice paddy at each farm – goes like this:

At some point after Boon Pakwet, the rice fields are tilled – usually by tractor, but if this cannot be afforded, then it’s done by mechanical buffalo, which takes far longer and is a workout. Back in Khun Paw’s prime, it was done with a buffalo and a single or double edge plow!

Mechanical Buffalo:

My nephew Tah driving his mother Jom from Bann Nah, in the family mechanical buffalo (Kubota). Note the tires which are used only for road travel and are easily taken off; the tractor wheels are sitting on top of the cart bed, next to Jom; the jack used for switching out the rubber wheels with the metal tread wheels sit inside the metal wheels in this video; discs used for plowing are immediately adjacent to Jom; family transplanting rice in the background; shot of the chedi site towards the very end.

The paddies then sit for a while; a month or two, until the East Asian Monsoon Season begins. When the rains start to fall with some regularity, the fields are churned over with a mechanical buffalo and then – again using a Kubota (brand name for popular mechanical buffalo here in The Isaan) – the pads of mud are smoothed over by running heavy boards over the surface. Once this is done, the paddies are ready for the rice seed to be thrown out (gam kha).

As mentioned, a single paddy at each farm is selected as a seed bed. From here, when the rice is about a month old, it is transplanted throughout the rest of the farm, by hand.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Bann Nah 28 - Well Drilled 3

After the government workers finished drilling our new water well, it was time to complete the paperwork and make payment. Thip did the former and I did the later. Cost for the well was 11,500 baht.

We had some problems with obstructions in the well on the following day and needed to call the guys back. We were fortunate that they hadn’t left the area; had other jobs around to do. They came back, cleaned out the well and even drilled a few more meters down into the aquifer. They wouldn’t take payment, but accepted a 1,500 baht gratuity that probably covered their beer for a couple of nights.

During those subsequent days, we had Lott and Naht build a concrete/rebar pad for the well and finish up the PVC work. By the time everything was done, we had spent an extra 6,000 baht on PVC, cement, rebar and labor. The pump – we already had it from when 9 rai was 17 rai. So, total cost for all well-related expenses -- including food for the drillers and ourselves that first day –  totaled about 20,000 baht (about $600 USD).

On the first day, after the drillers left, everyone was in great spirits. The well would mean running water for our “farm house” and another source of water for rice field irrigation.

So, we proceeded to have a mini-party for the rest of the afternoon, hanging out in the outdoor kitchen area. Women prepared and bought more food and I bought the beer. It was a family affair, but Thip’s family is large and extended, so we had no shortage of visitors – usually for short periods, but some for the duration. Most of the guys drank Leo beer, but a couple (as previously noted) went for the stronger stuff (lao khao).

A rain squall came in, but didn’t shutdown the festivities. Actually, it was a pretty low key affair and reminded me a lot of just a larger version of an after-work Bann Nah relaxer. The usual protocols for beer drinking were observed, along with eating a diverse number of different Isaan dishes. Of these, I partake a little, to be polite, relying on my wife to pick the foods she knows I like and/or can handle (i.e. lean, well-cooked meat; no MSG; no sugar; low salt; nothing exotic, etc.).

Once the squall had passed and the sun set, it was time to leave. I usually make it a point to be the last to leave Bann Nah, so I can take a final look around in case things are forgotten (like tools left out or trash down low where dogs might get to it).

Several days later, everything was completed and we now have running water at Bann Nah.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bann Nah 27 - Well Drilled 2

When you stop to think about it, civilization as we know it would be difficult to achieve if the planet was not endowed with aquifers throughout its subsurface. Certainly, the Earth’s population levels would be much lower if everyone had only drinkable surface water and rains to depend on.

I found the well drilling process interesting and was impressed with the simplicity of the machinery/tools involved and the dedication of the drillers. As with most things, there’s more to the process than you might imagine.

After greetings and verification that they were where they were supposed to be, an inspection was made on the proposed well site. I had not considered the overhead electrical lines, so it was suggested that the spot I had wanted be moved over a little further from the high voltage lines. Made sense to me!

Some of the drilling crew set about placing the drilling truck, leveling it, and then securing metal pads to the ground to take pressure off the wheels. The huge air compressor was likewise positioned close-by.

Meanwhile, the head guy made an offering to the spirits of the land, with candles, incense and a bottle of lao khao (rice whiskey). This bottle, incidentally, mysteriously disappeared about the time Thip’s brother Sawt and his cousin Peh joined us for the post-drilling party.

There are two main components to the drilling rig: the truck, itself, and the portable high-pressure air-injector. From the truck, a drill head with holes for air to be blown out from the injector is attached to an increasing number of drill rods until the aquifer is reached.

If a rock or hard spot is reached, at some point along the line, the drill head is brought back up and a special rock-cutting drill head inserted. This special head is then brought down to the level of the drilling and when successfully through, brought back up and the original head put back on. In order to do this, each section of drill rods need to be unscrewed and then re-screwed and again unscrewed and re-screwed. This takes time and patience.

Mud starts to come up before the aquifer is reached. We hit our aquifer at about 40 meters (approximately 131 feet down). Once the aquifer is reached, the drill goes down slightly lower to make a clean hole into it. It’s exciting when water starts to be blown out by the air compressor.

Once the hole into the aquifer is verified as a clean tap, the head and rods are brought back up to the surface, one-by-one. After they are up, PVC pipe is inserted down to a level of about 3 meters, from ground. Once in place, our own smaller circumfrance PVC pipe is lowered down, one section screwed onto another, with the head being grated to prevent large pieces of anything from being pumped up to the surface. The pipes go down to the same level as the drilling, with a tubular, internal electric pump not far from the end of the piping. This is the device that actually pumps water to the surface.

(Thip's looking pretty happy about all of this...)