Monday, September 26, 2016

Bann Nah 41 - Stories

With completion only a few days away, I couldn’t help but think back on some of the things that have happened at our farm house during the two years and three months of its construction.

With any project, there are always stories that will make you sad, mad and glad.

Mad stories at Bann Nah can be ruled out. There haven’t been any instances of raised, angry voices, demonstrations of displeasure or hostility to anyone. I should know, because if there had been such a thing, I would have been the likely culprit.

Thai/Lao people are not confrontational. As a Westerner, any inclination I might have had to be such has been kept in check by my grasp of the concept of “face” and a strong desire to have our country home be a place of only good karma.

Sad times would occur semi-regularly, though, especially at times when our workers lost heavily on the Thai Lottery, Muay Thai gambling or “chicken boxing.” Other more meaningful sadness would occur at the death of a family member or the passing of a friend, neighbor or revered monk.

The most enjoyable times were after work, drinking Leo and later Chang beer. We started with Leo, but the guys later on let me buy Chang cuz they knew I preferred it. As time went on, I realized they liked to eat bar-b-que as much as drink, so BBQ was added to the mix during the last half year.

Sam Lott and Thip's brother Pawt

The day we drilled for water on the pad was a high point, as well as rice plantings (gam kha), transplanting (tam nah) and harvests (giao khao). The posts ceremony had kicked the whole construction project into high gear, but bringing in the power lines was memorable, too.

Quiet times with just Thip and I slung in the hammocks underneath the house were the most peaceful. We’d time these moments for when we knew no-one else would be around.

Here's Thip riding in and out of Bann Nah; a very common sight.

The most dramatic time at Bann Nah was unquestionably the time when that big storm blew in, in early summer 2015, when Sam Naht and I were there. I was upstairs hugging a corner in 40-degree wind and rain, wondering what I should hold on to if the building began to fall. Meanwhile, Naht was downstairs hugging one of the cement support posts in a not-very-successful attempt to shield himself from the howling wind and rain. We laugh about that one to this day.

Sam Naht

The most beautiful times have been during the nights of Ohpensa, when sky lanterns fill the full-moon lit night skies.

I’ve seen one full moon eclipse out there, so far!

Without question, though, the happiest moment in the two years and three months was the time Sam Lott and Sam Naht hit it big in the lottery. We heard the numbers as they were announced over the radio. Subsequently, you could hear their shouts of joy all the way to the temple, I’m sure. They both made about $600 USD that day.

In my mind, I can still see their lit-up faces...

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bann Nah 40 - Concrete Pad

While Lott and Naht were finishing up on the wooden structure (Phase 1), we had them do one Phase 2 task before they would leave us for a while -- maybe a long while. We had them put in the concrete floor downstairs.

Whenever family or friends in The States ask us why we built Bann Nah so high off the ground -- and “is it because of flooding?” -- we have an opportunity to explain a little about our Phase 2 plans of enclosing the downstairs eventually. I always like to throw in the part that it is traditional to build on stilts in Southeast Asia.

The reality, though, is that these days most SE Asian housing is now built from the ground up -- almost always using a concrete pad. In the very distant times, bamboo construction of living quarters demanded structures being built above ground (probably not much more than two or three feet) to ensure that the bamboo stayed mostly dry. Elevating the structures also protected occupants from things crawling or slithering on the ground.

As time went on and wood and nails replaced bamboo in home construction, homes were still elevated for the same reason when it came to other ground creatures, but now it incorporated a little greater height so that people could have a living space underneath the house in daytimes -- to block from rain and sun.

Thip's Family Home, 1999

When I first met my wife, this was the state of her family home. They even had chickens and ducks living underneath the house, which I didn’t think was sanitary or a good idea, but then again it wasn’t my house.

Thip's Family Home, 2001

After Thip and I married, we had the family house elevated further so that the entire house could be built out, underneath. This involved jacking the whole house up, putting in support posts and beams, concrete block walls and a concrete floor which was tiled over. Many Thai houses have had this done to them. Chances are, when you see a Thai or SE Asian house that is wood on the second floor but concrete on the first, that structure is that way due to evolutionary change, not by initial design.

Thip's Family Home, 2002

Friday, September 9, 2016

Bann Nah 39 - Trim and Stain

As our three year-long “farm house”project was slowly drawing to a close, I started getting sad thoughts about how much I’d miss not having our workers Sam Lott and Sam Naht around. The feelings/thoughts reminded me of when I used to lifeguard in the summers of long ago. You knew summer would come to an end and you knew you wished it would last forever.

This was an unnecessary sadness, I had to remind myself. To be sure, there will be continued construction at Bann Nah and Lott and Naht will most likely be the ones to get the work done. Not only that, but soon they’ll be working daily at our Kamattan temple just five minutes away. I will be very surprised if they do not become semi-regular after-work visitors at Bann Nah. During those days-to-come, I imagine we’ll do the same as we do now: crack open some bottles of beer Chang, eat, talk and listen to Thai Luktung. The song that was most often played this past year (2015-2016) was “Sai Wa Si Bor Thim Gan” ( ไสว่าสิบ่ถิ่มกัน ):

As I understand the song, it basically says: you promised to be with me forever. For months, I looked trying to find this song thinking it was entitled “Sai Woosy.”

Anyway, the number of things left to do in this wrap-up of Phase One of the Bann Nah Project I could now count on one hand, as Lott and Naht finished up the trim work and began the final staining. It’s amazing how much trim makes in beautifying a building!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Bann Nah 38 - Stairs Completed

Counting our donation of nearly half of our original 17 rai of farmland to our temple for the building of the chedi (stuppa); then moving out to the remaining 9 rai and putting a dirt pad down, the Bann Nah project has been nearly three years in the making. Whenever it is referenced, however, most people consider it’s only been two years underway because that’s when construction of the house began.

Well, the stairs alone have taken a year to complete. Of course, our workers worked on other things in tandem with the stairs and also took a good number of lengthy breaks to do other things like tend to their harvests, work in and for the temple, etc. Even so, the stairs have taken a long time to get done. I’ve posted a little bit of the progression first starting with stairs pad; the stairs roof; stringer and tred; and finalizing the tred.

(Thip is ecstatic)

Please don’t think I’m complaining. As I’ve explained before, the stairs have turned out far better than I ever imagined they would. Moreover, they have become a major stylistic element to the whole mix; a dominant, beautiful element for sure.

And even though they are not completely done, they are basically finished except for the bottom concrete step and some final finishing with wood preservative, filler, sanding and stain.

The stairs are made up of about four different types of wood, most notably teak (mai sak), mai deng and pra doo -- all hard woods. Here are some details on the woods used the most:

Tree Latin Name: Tectona grandis
Local Lao/Thai name: Mai Sak
Trade name: Teak

Particularly valued for its durability, abundance of oil, and water resistance. It is used for boat building, exterior construction, interior walls and ceilings of cabins and temples, veneer, furniture, carving, turnings, and usually small wood projects.

Tree Latin Name: Xylia xylocarpa
Thai name: mai daeng
Trade Name: Pyinkado

Even though a direct translation would work out as 'red wood' it isn't, neither is it rosewood. Pyinkado is actually the Burmese trade name but it covers all wood in Lao and Thai. It is a VERY durable and tough wood which has twice the hardness of teak. Used for railway sleepers, piers and other sub-aqua purposes (15 years life untreated) also excellent flooring. With these properties it is also very heavy when green over 1000kg per Cu meter and also hard to work. It has a very decorative pink-red in color when newly cut, but deepens with age.

Tree Latin Name: Pterocarpus indicus
Thai name: mai doo
Trade Name: Narra

A beauty wood used mainly for furniture, windows and doors but also used for instruments. An open grain with distinctive scent when working -- relatively hard and termite resistant; red-orange in color, with the grain close to the exterior being blond.

A list of available wood types in Thailand, with their Thai, trade and Latin names:

Mai sisiet nua = Akazie (Acacia catechu)
Mai makha = Monkey Pod Tree (Afzelia xylocarpa)
Gaang luang = Coffin Wood (Albizia chinensis)
Mai krabak yai = Krabak (Anisoptera costata)
Mai saake = Brotfrucht (Artocarpus communis)
Mai kanun = Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus)
Mai ngiu = Flamboyant / Flame of the Forest (Bombax ceiba)
Mai chayapruek = Laburnum (Cassia fistula)
Mai ma prao = Kokos (Cocos nucifera)
Mai daang = Rosenholz (Dalbergia parviflora)
Mai ma klua = Ebenholz (Diospyros mollis)
Mai yang = Yang / Gardschan Balsam (Dipterocarpus)
Mai yukalip = Eukalyptus (Eucalyptus sp)
Mai ni krot = Banyan / Feigenbaum (Ficus bengalensis)
Mai dton bo = Bodhibaum / Feige (Ficus religiosa)
Mai para = Gummibaum / Rubber wood (Hevea brasiliensis)
Mai takhien = Takhien (Hopea odorata)
Mai tong bung = Kempas (Koompassia)
Mai ma muang = Mango (Mangifera caloneura)
Mai champa = Magnolie (Michelia champaca)
Mai dton son = Pinie (Pinus kesiya, merkusii)
Mai pradu = Nara Wood (Pterocarpus indicus)
Mai ching chun = Siamese Rosewood (Pterocarpus macrocarpus)
Mai gong gang = Mangrove (Rhizophora mucronata)
Mai cham churee - Chamchuree (Samanea samana)
Mai daang = Burmesischer Sal Baum (Shorea obtusa)
Mai rang = Thai Sal Baum (Shorea siamensis)
Mai gong gang = Mangrove (Sonneratia sp)
Mai makam = Tamarind (Tamarindus indica)
Mai sak = Teak (Tectona grandis)
Mai daeng = Ironwood (Xylia xylocarpa)