Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tam Nah, 2016

This year’s rice transplanting (tam nah) seemed to be the best of all I’ve had experience with. I’ve been part of about seven, now, and each year my participation levels vary, so it’s a little difficult to be entirely objective. I’m left with the impression, though, that it’s been the best since I retired here, including 2009.

By “best” I mean that it was well executed, it didn’t “drag on forever” and everyone remained upbeat throughout. A key reason for this was that -- like last year -- Sawt’s wife Nui’s family from Chaiyaphum joined us. We had more people working both farms (one after another), which made the entire job go quicker. Few outside helpers were hired, as most everyone was related in one way or another. I like that.

The way tam nah goes is this:

All rice paddies except for the seedling paddies are churned-up and leveled with the use of a mechanical buffalo and water (the seed paddies already had this done to them earlier in the season, at the time of gam kha). The seedlings are then transported to the freshly prepared paddies. Small bunches of seedlings are then pressed into the mud, by hand, keeping uniform distance. Of course, by the time the transplanters are bending over in the rice paddies, the paddy embankments have been mowed with a grass cutter (tatya) for their safety from possible snakes.

From the beginning to the end of tam nah at each farm, the family basically moves in, working, eating and resting at the farm; some even sleeping overnight.

Now that I think of it, the expanded kitchen and bathroom at 9 rai no doubt contributed to the success of the work there, too.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Bann Nah 37 - Tred

A number of features of our new farm house did not originate with me; like the lancah noi (little roof; Lungpaw’s suggestion); the build out of supplemental structures on the south side (Thip’s idea. I had wanted them on the larger section of the pad to the north, away from the best views); and the tongue and groove porch flooring (Thip)... Our stairs can also be added to this list.

I had had a very unassuming, fully functional and inexpensive stairs designed, originally. But, my wife didn’t like it and wanted to get our head monk’s thoughts on a design. Well, of course, when he came up with something completely different, more expensive and totally outside the symmetry I was trying to create, I wasn’t thrilled. But, I was stuck with it because you don’t ask a monk for their thoughts and ideas on something and then not follow through. Besides, Thip would never go counter to Lungpaw’s advice.

Now that the tred (steps) are in and the stairs are nearly completed, I must bow to Lungpaw Boon Long’s design. It is beautiful and welcoming. Sure, it’s not as cheap or as well protected from the rains as mine would have been, but the beauty and strength of it is impressive.

Through this very long period of Lott and Naht’s building the stairs -- and constantly conferring with Lungpaw in the process -- I’ve learned something very important about stairs. If you’re going to have them at all, they need to be inviting. You have to build them in such a way to cause people to want to climb them, not take them on as a chore. In a way, stairs are portals. They need to be attractive enough so that people will jump through them.

The stairs are not done yet. The other railing needs to go in and the rail posts -- technically called “balluster” -- need to firm up the rails. None of this work is likely to happen any time soon, as it is now rice season and everyone’s out working their farms. Sam Lott is working his family’s land and while he is away, Sam Naht is back to working in the temple.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Outdoor Kitchen

While I was away on my 14th trip to Lao, my wife and I were in occasional communication whenever I had Internet access. She kept talking about a “new project” she had in motion, but wouldn’t get into specifics for fear of my displeasure.

“I promise I won’t get mad, sweetheart,” I kept telling her.

She still kept her secret.

I was pretty sure what it was about, but played along. After all, I’d find out soon enough when I got home.

Sure enough, when I returned I found a much larger outdoor kitchen in process of construction out at our 9 rai rice farm. Like she had done when I was away on my 11th trip to Lao -- this time last year -- Thip had hired her brothers to build an outdoor kitchen big enough to accommodate all immediate family members for when they worked on the farm as a group. It was also big enough to incorporate an outdoor bathroom.

I wasn’t mad or even disappointed. Sure, there goes a large part of the view to the south, from ground level, but Thip had made sure to keep the roof low enough as to not block out the view from Bann Nah’s porch. I appreciated that my wife had finally recognized that we now needed to wrap up phase 1 of building Bann Nah, take a break from new construction, and use whatever we had left over to fill our needs for the immediate future.

Most everything in the expanded kitchen was built with wood and roofing we already had from Lungtah Mai’s old shack. Paying family to do the work was cheaper than hiring out and it benefited them, too, not only the pay but the long-term usage during rice seasons: shelter from the sun and rain, and plenty of room to prepare food and eat.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Lao Trip 14.11 - Reflections

The day of my departure from Lao, Mr. Loi drove me one last time to the Savannakhet bawkawsaw -- kiu lott, in Lao. I got another chicken sandwich baguette and can of Savan Beer at the same place where I’d met crazy Jan Dee Buapon a week before, then boarded the International Bus for the cross-river border run and drop-off at the Mukdahan, Thailand, bus station.

It’s always a long, full-day bus trip back home from Mukdahan -- made even longer this time by my getting the west/north route bus to Nong Bua Lamphu, from Khon Kaen, instead of the normal northern one. But, the very full day gave me plenty of time to doze off and think back on the eleven day trip -- my longest in Lao, to date.

Despite getting “traveller’s diarrhea” in Don Khon and becoming somewhat demoralized by it, I was able to regain my strength and positive attitude, and enjoy the rest of my time in Lao. So, I had turned the situation around.

The changes at Savan Khaim Khong had been a disappointment, but that just reminded me that things are constantly in flux and change over time. More important was the question: has the place changed or is it me? If it’s both, to what degree?

I was also a little disappointed that there had not been any “standout moments” as there are sometimes on these trips. Well, you can’t just order up a special time and have it delivered to you. It is one of those things that just happens -- or not.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Lao Trip 14.10 - Visa Out

On the day I was to receive my one-year, multiple entry Thai visa, I first went back to the outdoor market Konsing had directed me to the day before. Konsing is, I think, Japanese or part Nippon. I had stopped in, yesterday, to say hello. We had met two years before, when he and his wife invited me into their home/shop one night when I was prowling around. His English is very good and he enjoyed using it both then and yesterday.

I generally do not eat in restaurants, but pick my food “off the street.” It is much cheaper that way, more native and often better. At the small outdoor market, I bought ping gai, mak nut (pineapple) and a french roll (baguette) which made for two meals for less than the price of the french fries I had ordered at Lao Derm Savan, yesterday.

Back at Nongsoda, I ate and got caught up on my writings and Internet communications. Thip was happy to know I’d be returning home a day earlier than expected.

Mr. Loi was early for my pick-up, as I thought he might be. He explained that he was in the neighborhood and figured it would be easiest to pick me up now. That was OK by me, as I was ready and prepared to go. Off we went on some of his errands about the city. I enjoyed seeing more of the riverfront to the south, as riding it in a tuk-tuk made it easy to check out, but walking it would have been some work in the heat.

It was another sunny, bright Lao day, but cool enough while we were on the move. Typically at this time of year, even solidly sunny days turn gray toward the late afternoons when squalls move in to drop some rain, and then it would cool off.

Mr. Loi transported a number of us to the Thai consulate and while we waited for the afternoon gate to open, I had a chance to hang a little bit with Jinta, who mostly kept on the move, working for the visa services company. When some other girls bound for Thailand joined the group sitting around, I became somewhat a topic of conversation. Later, when Mr. Loi and I dropped them off at the Savan border crossing, they had become very friendly and even seemed sorry I would not be going to Thailand today.

I waved goodbye to Jinta as her father and I drove by in his souped-up tuk-tuk. It was a very strong machine. At times, Mr. Loi would drive it very fast -- sometimes in what looked like dangerous situations, but ones he’s probably made hundreds of times. He even had a custom foot-pedal accelerator mounted to his front right foot grill. I should have gotten a shot of that; very creative and it freed up his right hand for more focused navigation.

We were both a little sad to go our separate ways, but Mr. Loi made sure I had his cell phone number and he, mine. It took a little figuring out, as it usually does, since there are country codes to take into account; regional area codes and mobile numbers that you usually have to drop the leading “0” from in order to come up with a dialable number.

After freshening up a bit, I went back down to the Lao Derm Savan to hang out again; floating on The Khong. It was a very leisurely late afternoon -- once again with almost no patrons; this restaurant mostly geared for the night-time crowd.

After watching the sun set, I stopped in at the Savan Khaim Khong and then the Korean BBQ place, neither of which had appealed to me, this trip, compared to the old ferry.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Lao Trip 14.9 - Visa In

Today was the keystone to the entire trip. I would apply for my one-year Thai visa and hopefully get it tomorrow.

The tuk-tuk driver I had arranged to pick me did not arrive by the appointed time, so I went out on the street and flagged down the first one to come by. Mr. Loi was very friendly and had another passenger and market goods with him. I sat in front, just to the right of Mr. Loi. I was a little concerned at first because we went into town and made several stops; dropped off the older woman with goods and made some pick ups. He seemed to know what he was doing, so I just rolled with it.

At one stop, Mr. Loi commented on a woman shopping at the small outdoor market we had stopped at; that she was sway (beautiful) and gave me a head nod as if to say ‘agree?” She was well dressed in Lao traditional sinh and blouse and in her 30’s. I nodded to him, but she wasn’t my type and I think Mr. Loi probably appreciated her clothes more than anything.

Mr. Loi knew right where to go and knew the timing of things far better than me. I didn’t even recognize the Thai consulate at first because there was no one lined up or even congregated near the front gate. We were way early. I had thought the consulate opened at 8; no, 9 a.m.

There was a plain but attractive young girl working at the visa services shop across the street where we hung out. At one point, as a follow-up on Mr. Loi’s comment about the woman at the market, I was going to comment to him about how the young girl working here was sway. Good thing I didn’t. The timing would not have been good. She turned out to be Mr. Loi’s look sao (daughter).

After a while, when I saw the line forming, I got in it, scoring some rare shade in the line. After the gate opened, I submitted my paperwork and there were no problems. I’m always a little afraid that I’ll forget something. It’s a good thing I use checklists regularly and effectively.

Before going back into the city and while Mr. Loi was waiting for two more riders, I struck up a conversation with his daughter. She didn’t know English but I now know enough Lao to struggle by with simple questions, answers and a limited number of phrases. Jinta was very nice; very genuine; not much more than 17 from what I could see. It was at this point that I found out she was Mr. Loi’s daughter.

On the drive back to the riverfront area, I now mentioned to Mr. Loi that I knew Jinta was his look sao and that she is sway. Receiving no reply, I added “gap jai dee” (and good heart). To this he readily agreed, and after he let off his other passengers, he asked me if I thought Jinta sway. I agreed enthusiastically, adding “gap jai dee.” He looked sideways at me and we both laughed.

That afternoon, I treated myself to some higher priced Beer Lao and french fries at Lao Derm Savan -- the restaurant that sits on the old ferry that used to connect Savannakhet with Mukdahan, before Friendship Bridge 2 was built in 2006. It was nice and cool being right on the water, despite it being the hottest part of the day.

Afterwards, I took a shower and nap at Nongsoda guesthouse, which I had switched to because it’s a bit cheaper than Intha. I’ll stay here if I can get a room up front, but won’t if forced to the dungeons.

After sundown which I always watch whenever possible, I stopped in at Savan Khaim Khong and the new Korean bar-b-que place. I think my days at Savan Khaim Khong are ended, however. I liked the old joint far more, when Pongsit was frequently played and because it was smaller, you could get to know people more easily. Of course, last year here at the new joint I just lucked out with Jittzy and her friends. That kind of thing is not gonna come around again no matter how many times I drink beer here and watch Thai and Lao music videos.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Lao Trip 14.8 - Back to Savan

Weatherwise, this was a good time for a long trip to Southern Lao. The Monsoons hadn’t started -- although there was a rainfall in Pakse when I was here last week and then, again, overnight at Champasak, but neither one what I could consider Monsoon-status. In fact, based on the low levels of our local klongs in the Isaan, I agree with the Thai government prediction that this rainy season will again be drier than normal.

As is my usual pattern, I got up and going shortly after six. The day was clear and I easily caught a pedicab to the Savannakhet/Vientiane bus. At first, I thought I’d have to pay a lot more than the second class Savan-to-Pakse bus I’d taken last week, because this first class bus was outfitted with good air-conditioning, well-padded seats and even doilies on the head rests that actually looked like they were washed regularly. No, the price was about four beers, which I think the other one had been, too. This ride turned out to be my most comfortable ride of my 11-day trip.

Red blossoming hong nok yu trees dotted the green landscape, making the ride even more beautiful than it would have been. However, Lao -- like the rest of the world’s land mass and oceans -- is being covered over by plastic. Here in SE Asia, glass can also be added, though to a far less degree. Thai and Lao people are very pragmatic when it comes to plastic and glass. They just throw the stuff away or leave it where it falls and don’t worry about how long it is before it’s picked up -- if ever. This lack of awareness and care of “Mother Earth” upsets me, of course, as I struggle with it even in my own village and out on our farms. I don’t like seeing the stuff all about and am constantly picking up plastic and glass, but I am in a small minority when it comes to caring, here in this part of the world.

On the bus to Savan, I spent a lot of time noting different ways water tanks were elevated at various homes because that’s something we will need to tackle sooner or later at our country home. I reminded myself that I did the same thing, a couple of years back, when we were going to put in the roof on Bann Nah. I spent a lot of travel time observing lots of roofs.

Still leary of poorly cooked meat, I got a ping gai sandwich at the same Savannakhet bus station outdoor eatery I had got one the week before. Then, I took a tuk-tuk back to Intha Village Restaurant and Guesthouse where I’d stayed only last week.

I like Intha because it is self-contained with wooden balconies overlooking the Mekong. The down side of this is that you don’t get to meet anybody except for fellow travelers, if there are any about. The price is a little more expensive than my usual upper limit, but the saying “you pay for what you get” certainly rings true here and I’ll make the extra allowance just for the Mekong views.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Lao Trip 14.7 - Back to Pakse

Yes, it was a long night; never sleeping for long stretches and going to the bathroom about ten times. I woke up frequently in fear of soiling the bed. I slept with a folded towel under my butt, the fan on and a sheet over me -- sometimes not.

One more thing about severe cases of diarrhea: you basically want to stay well-hydrated, not eat, rest, and wait for the virus to work its way out. Then, gradually, introduce light foods; whatever looks good, in small amounts. Its shouldn't last for more than 2-3 days. If you're running a high fever and/or vomiting frequently, you must seek medical help.

As soon as I could, I got going and left Don Khon. My schedule would not really allow me another day and I wouldn’t feel much like doing anything, anyway. So, I hired a long tail pilot (and son) and then, in Ban Nakasang, took a sawngtheaw back to Pakse. It was cramped quarters in the passenger truck -- as is usually the case. This ride was all the more challenging by having to keep myself puckered up. My greatest fear was not being able to hold myself and consequently soil myself infront of a truckload of about twenty Khon Lao.

Connecting by tuk-tuk in Pakse, I made it to Sedon Guesthouse without any accidents. I picked Sedone this time because it’s right on the Si Don river, Pakse’s main tributary to The Mekong. I knew I’d have some time to kill -- unlike Sabaidy 2, last week, which was pretty much just a one night sleepover.

I must admit that getting sick on this trip really put a damper on it. I tried to stay positive, but feeling as I did, I just kinda wanted to be home. Travelling can be refreshing, but few trips are “great” and one is lucky if most trips are “good.” Some are “bad” and others can leave you with mixed feelings. I still had four days to go, so I told myself I’d stay positive and see if I couldn’t turn this thing around.