Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bann Nah 22 - Gotta Watch These Guys!

I grew up in New England and the North Shore of Long Island, New York. Nearly every wooden surface was painted. Only exceptions were the school’s gymnasium floor and our elementary school desks which, when I got to junior and senior high, were replaced with metal.

The first new church my father helped design and oversaw the building of had a lot of stained wood in it and I think this is my first memory of how beautiful wood gain is and what a shame it is to point over it, most of the time.

As I grew older and was exposed to many more and different buildings, my appreciation for stained wood only grew. So, it is only logical that given the chance to design my own home, I lay strong emphasis on being able to view natural wood grain. At Bann Nah, there is not a painted surface on the building except for the smartboard under the eaves.

It does not come easily, however. I have stained most every surface at our country home, so far. The ceiling and inside wall teak alone have taken months to do – you know, not an 8-hour/day job, but several hours most days.

The time it has taken me to stain could have been cut in half, but my wife talked me into a gloss coat when I would have preferred a flat – or matte – coat. She wanted glossy because all Thais feel that if something is shiny, it looks new.

In my mind, a non-glossy coat for inside teak walls and ceiling is better because the surface shine (actually, the lack thereof) looks uniform. To get a uniform shine with a glossy coat, where some sections of the wood soak the stain in differently, requires you to brush the stain in twice, in two separate sessions; sometimes more.

The Thai tendency to highly value “shiny” got me one day at Bann Nah.

Our workers had completed putting up the outside imitation wood planks and, I guess, were excited about that. I had visited the job site in the morning, just as they were finishing up. It was looking good! When I returned in the late afternoon, Lott and Naht proudly pointed to their finished, “shiny” job. They had polyurethaned the imitation wood to make it look more “new.”

I looked sideways at them and, while Thip translated, I asked if they’d ever done this before?

Oh, sure, many hi-so homes in Bangkok that they had worked on (and probably never saw again).

I told them that the polyurethane was made as a protectorant for wood, not fiber cement (which is what the Shera wood planks mostly consist of).

They assured me that this way, the “new” look of the Shera would last longer and protect it from the sun.

What if it starts peeling? I asked them.

Oh, it won’t peel, they said.

I immediately thought about Bann Nah’s wooden posts; how they had been polyurethaned before they had had a chance to dry and already the polyurethane was peeling off; and that’s with a protectorant designed to work for wood.

OK, I said with a laugh. If it starts peeling, I know where you guys live.

Oh, it won’t peel, they assured me again.

Thankfully, our workers had applied the polyurethane on the eastside of the building, facing the klong, which is the least visible side of the structure.

(east wall on right)

Later, I reminded myself that this is yet another example of why I couldn’t leave, this year, for my trip back to the USA to visit family:

You gotta watch these guys!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bann Nah 21 - Outside Walls

Shera imitation wood planks are fibre cement composites of natural fibres, bonded in a silicate structure. The sidings are autoclaved wood-grain.

I discovered – quite by chance – that there are packs of the autoclaved wood-grain patterns that, if you have all the packs in your color/style, you can apply so that the simulated grain seems to transition from one plank to another, without a break in the design. I don’t think most builders in the Isaan know this. I tried to find special markings for each wrapped pack of planks, designating them, but could not find anything. Of course, I can’t read Thai, so that is probably why. But, I was looking for numbers more than anything, which would have been the easiest way to designate one type of pack from another.

The only reason I found out about this was because, after I explicity showed our workers how it was not good to put the same packet design next to each other, or ontop or below each other (because it would be too repetitive), they inadvertently put two planks close together that were from two different packs, which which were designed to go with each other perfectly.

The standard application, of course, was to apply the pieces randomly and this is how our workers did it.

Eastside completely finished, 'cept for the windows

If I had had the time and inclination and it was that important to me, I would have sat with them for the two weeks they took to put up the outside walls, but random was OK for me and easiest for them.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Bann Nah 20 - Imitation Wood

As far as materials and over-all look of Bann Nah, we have tried to use natural wood (stained, not painted) wherever possible and practical – some of it we’ve even harvested from our other properties.

Exceptions, in chronological order, have been the cement and rebar column footers and posts; the main aluminium roof and lancah noi; smartboard under the eaves; and, lastly, Shera imitation wood exterior walls.

After I returned from my tenth trip to Lao, the push was on to get the exterior walls put up – all of which were drilled and screwed-in, not nailed.

We opted for imitation wood exterior walls for three reasons: price, imperviance to termites and appearance. We had had decent results with the imitation wood put in when we had a new roof put in, in our village home, back in the rainy season of 2013. As with most building supplies, there are grades of quality and cost. We had gone with a brown wood texture pattern imitation wood that was a little more expensive, but also looked a lot like real wood – especially from a distance.

We followed the same approach with our country home, picking a higher grade of Shera imitation wood; this time choosing more of a walnut color that is seldom seen in these parts – probably because it doesn’t look “new”. It flows well with the building posts and other woods used in the construction of our “cabin on stilts”; maintaining a certain look I have wanted to maintain – that is, an overall “light” natural color to the structure.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Lao Trip 10.5 - Another Visa

I was still reeling from the excitement of the night before, as I ventured forth on this fifth day in Lao. I had already covered so many kilometers and done so much!

Paying for a final night at Nongsoda, the attendant gave me an outside room with queen size bed for the same prices as my previous place back in the dungeons. It was a much better room, but I think that the next time I’m in Savan, I’ll be renting a room from that other place I checked out yesterday. I guess you could say that my standards are rising, but I’d say it’s mostly just to cover all contingencies.

I got on the internet, completed tasks there and also got in touch with Thip to find out how Bann Nah was going. We had to spring for an air compressor and nail gun, but that was about the most exciting thing going on there.

Making my way back to the Savan Khaim Khong, I made sure my bill from the night before was all paid (which it was) and then made it over to the riverside vendors for an early lunch and a Beer Lao.

Beggars came came by – one amazingly attractive young one (had her parents put her up to this, or?). Times like this are always a little awkward when I don’t have small change, so I gotta do a better job about that, going forward.

I met Bas, a local school teacher, and we are now friends on Facebook – the popular social media platform of these days. We talked about English language construction and then he offered to take me to the consulate to pick up my visa. I took him up on his kind offer.

At the new Thai Consulate in Savannakhet, I received my new one-year Thai visa, then rode back to the riverside. Actually, I got in a tuk-tuk with a group of Westerners who were going to the bridge crossing and the samlor driver hadn’t understood where I said I wanted to go; just assumed we were all together. So, he drove me back to Nongsoda after dropping the Falang off at the Friendship Bridge. I think the Westerners were a bit surprised I seemed so non-plussed about the detour and the time the ride had caused me. My attitude is: I’m retired and on vacation. There’s no rush.

I ate again at the riverside vendors, always trying to patronize a different one. Here I stayed for a couple of hours, admiring the Mekong and having a couple of Beer Lao’s. Then, I went back to Savan Khaim Khong as they were starting up for the evening. I knew I had no hope of repeating my success of the previous evening, so I just basked in the memory of Jittzy and her friends, enjoyed the karaoke, and slowly drank two more Beer Lao’s.

Calling it an early night, I retired to the Nongsoda. Next day, I stamped out of Lao as early as I could, entered Thailand with my new one-year visa, and rode the long bus ride home, making it before sundown.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Lao Trip 10.4b - Jittzy and Friends

Towards sundown, I checked out the area near where I had met Eric and then re-met him again, in search of barbeque. But, the street shops were mostly all pho, so I decided to try the Lao Derm Savan, which is a bit upscale for me, but on the river, which I always like.

Most of the supporting structure was formerly the vehicle ferry between Savan and Mukdahan, Thailand (directly across The Kong). This was before the Friendship Bridge made it obsolete in 2006. It’s the biggest floating restaurant I’ve ever been on and quite beautiful; most all natural materials; wood and bamboo. The grass thatch is massive and must have cost a small fortune all on its own.

Here I ate a small chicken dish prepared in the traditional Lao way and had two Beer Lao’s; befriended by the manager who made sure I was well attended to.

On the way back toward my guesthouse, I wondered whether I should check into the Savan Khaim Khong? What about that lost mojo? Despite my tentativenesss, the music drew me in and I set up at a better location than yesterday; a spot closer to the large screen so I could watch the videos better. I was still on the edge of the groups of tables, so I also had a good view of most all of them. This is important in a karaoke bar, because you want to see who’s singing. Sometimes, when someone does a good rendition or even is enthusiastically trying, you might want to lightly clap at the end of the performance and/or raise a glass. To do these things, you really need to know where to direct your recognitions.

After a while, I was drawn to a group of girls, two tables over who were having such a great time. The most beautiful among them occasionally caught my eye and we would smile to each other or raise a glass in the Lao equivalent of “cheers!” She was far too beautiful and young for me, so I didn’t think too much of it at first.


Later on, though, I fell in with these girls who were all quite different from one another and all in their early 20s. After a while, they invited me to go with them to another bar where there was live music. We went and had a great time, Jittzy being my companion and I helping fund the operation.

(popular at Savan Khaim Khong, March 2015)

As I wrote earlier, it was another one of those great moments in Lao. At age 66, it was so refreshing to be in with a group of Lao girls – Lao sao – more than 40 years younger than me. What they were doing with an old guy like me? The cynic would probably say they just wanted me to help them defray their party costs, but, I remember what my hero Woody Brown once told me about age differences: “If they don’t mind, I don’t mind!”