Monday, January 30, 2017

New Year's Eve 2016

New year celebrations in Northeastern Thailand center around New Year’s Eve, as it does most everywhere on the planet. The apex of New Year’s Eve is, of course, “the countdown” to the new year. This is probably adopted from Western culture, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Usually, the guys organize a party for the last day of the year, with the high point being the count down, but by no means the end of it. In fact, celebrations could go on for a number of days, but usually only one. Not all parties are just on New Year’s Eve, either. During the last week of the old year and the first week of the new, there are scattered celebrations across family, friends and even business lines. What this means is that at any given time during this two week period, there’s usually a party going on somewhere.

The women will either be a part of it or not, depending on whether the party is a family gathering or just a guys’ thing. Even if it’s mainly for the guys, the women will prepare the food and come and go throughout. However, they tend to celebrate with each other, usually at family homes. If alcohol is present, it is in very low quantity and strength. Also, country women never smoke.

Thip’s brothers broke with their tradition this year by not having a party because -- well, they’re broke. I didn’t find out about it until the next day. I had already determined to stay away from the large amount of alcohol usually consumed. Instead, I attended my wife’s New Year’s Eve party out at our farm house. She and a few of her closest friends got together for food and a little bit of what Thip calls “Sprinker” (sparkling wine in 8 oz. bottles). They followed this with the bringing-in-the-new-year ceremony at our Kamattan temple -- within view of the farm house, a little less than a quarter mile away.

Candles lit on the ground floor of Bann Nah; outdoor kitchen in background right.

When I saw Thip’s brothers Sawt and Pawt the next day, I asked how their party had gone.

“Pee Mai mai” (no new year) was their reply. I asked why not?

“No money,” they said with sad faces and more words to Thip in Thai.

Later, I asked my wife what they had said.

“They barbecued some chickens for you yesterday, but you not come.”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Favorite Songs of 2016

By “2016,” I mean these are the songs that were in “heavy rotation” on my smart phone in 2016. Except for two, all of them were released in earlier years:, 2016 - ไสว่าสิบ่ถิ่มกัน - non-story, original song

"Sai Wa Si Bor Thim Gan" (ไสว่าสิบ่ถิ่มกัน) -- what I call "Sai Woosy" -- was played throughout Thailand and Lao in 2016. I even heard it in Cambodia in December. As Long As The Last Breath, start at 00:35

This one is one of my wife's favorites. It is a sad song and a bit depressing, but I think it's healthy to remind ourselves that we will not be in this life forever; that our bodies break down even if we are fortunate enough to live into old age in relative good health. Carabao’s tribute CD to The King, 2016

A good song with a really cute video. Still very popular in Thailand and Lao.

A few other songs I listened to a lot this year, from my days back in the USA:

"Dragon Fly" by Fleetwood Mac, circa 1972, rediscovered 2016

"Look To Your Soul," Johnny Rivers, 1967

"At The End of a Rainbow," Earl Grant, 1959

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Rice Harvest, 2016

Returning home from my 15th trip to Lao, I arrived in time to continue helping with the family rice harvest and just in time to help thresh the khao nio (sticky rice) at 9 rai.

Threasher kicking up rice stalks, dust and dirt at 9 rai; 
more dirt than normal due to recent flooding.

I got in there, but as usual, was not dressed for the occasion. That’s OK, my greatest value to family at harvest time -- as it is most all the year -- is as major supplier of liquid refreshments, food and cash.

Next morning.

The recent flooding negatively affected our yield at 9 rai. We brought in 15 50kg bags less than the year before because of it. However, we did so well at our 8.5 rai farm -- where there hadn’t been flooding -- that we brought in 30 bags more than the year before. So, the net gain meant we were ahead by 15 bags this year, counting the yield at both farms.

Thip's brother Pawt giving the thumbs up at 8.5 rai.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Lao Trip 15.4 - A Day at Khoun Ten

As far as I’m concerned, the center of PL2 is Khoun Ten. So many great times have taken place here and I visit it often in my dreams. It is definitely my most preferred place to hang out. So, the last day in Lao, on this trip, I spent just hanging out at the new Vardsanar.

Beforehand, I stopped in and thanked Savath for a fine day, yesterday. He had one of his sons fetch me my traditional plastic bottle of Lao Khao and I said goodbye: pope gahn mai (see you later).

At the market, I bought a small travel bag and some food, then made my way to the Mekong.

I was absolutely the first person to walk aboard Khoun Ten. The night guard stirred a bit and later other family members started to filter in.

Soon, the young boys of the family and their friends started swimming and messing around in the water. I was happy to see this and fondly remembered when I had joined in with them two years ago. It had been hot that day and even though it wasn’t really what a patron of the restaurant/bar would do, there’s a lot I can get away with by being a Westerner. It helped that my nylon shorts can also double as swim trunks. So, I cooled down, had some fun with the kids and also attracted Nuey’s attention. That day was my best day so far on this floater; possibly my best day of my five years retirement in Southeast Asia.

I was surprised that Khoun Ten was so quiet on this Sunday afternoon; only less than a dozen of us all afternoon. But, I’m not complaining. It’s exactly what I wanted.

I had hoped to link-up with Sone. She had said that she would cook me up a meal at her place and I could meet her father, just back from the Lao capitol (Vientiane), and who is the same age as me. But, her contact information didn’t work for me, which is another lesson learned: never have anyone else put in your contact info for you on your phone and if they do (or you do), always verify that it works while they’re still in your presence.

I left Khoun Ten after the sun had set, closing the book on my 15th sojourn to Lao.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Lao Trip 15.3 - A Day With Savath

I had promised my friend Savath that I would visit him -- as I do most every time I am in and around Pak Lai. It was my good fortune to meet him early on in my trips to Lao. We have remained friends for about four years, now.

Savath is a hardware salesman and the Beer Lao distributor for Pak Lai. He also distributes Lao Khao (rice whiskey). He is a big man in this town. You wouldn’t know it because of his posture, but he is given great respect everywhere in these parts and everyone seems to know him or know of him.

Unlike times before, I was able to pin-point my arrival ti his hardware store adjacent to the market and attached to his home. Usually, I would just show up. Now -- thanks to smart phones and social networking-- he knew within the half hour of when I would arrive. And he was ready for me!

Turns out he had land for sale and his sons’ English teacher ready to help with translation.

I was somewhat embarrassed when Sone (sown; sewn) mentioned to me that we had met several years before, at Heuan Phair. I kinda remembered her and if she is who I remember, I even gave her a follow-up call the next day that didn’t go anywhere. You don’t forget a Lao English teacher and when you meet one, you want to try to stay in contact. If she was who I remembered, that was good. If she wasn’t who I remember, it would be further embarrassment to mention it. So, I had to drop that avenue of conversation.

Sone is a good woman who hasn’t met the right guy, yet. Her market position was slipping, though, as she is -- I guess -- is in her late 20s; never married, which is a bit unusual in Southeast Asia. I advised her to keep her eyes open, don’t shut them. Her man will come along.

I kinda think Savath thought I might be that guy, because if he were to sell land to “me,” I would have to have a Lao wife and she would actually be the owner; same way it is in Thailand. All the land Thip and I have in the Isaan is really owned by her.

After Sone had to leave and after Savath had his guys close shop, he drove me over to his Mekong river property in Ban Nah Sak, south of Pak Lai, just a little south of the ferry crossing and new bridge going in.

Fantastic location, really. About four hectares (1 hectare = 6.25 rai; 2.47 acres or 10,000 square meters). There was no way I could afford it -- even if I had a Lao wife. But, I wasn’t going to tell Savath that. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I’m pretty sure, though, that he figured if I couldn’t couldn’t or didn’t want to buy, then maybe I had family or friends who would and could. He mentioned the equivalent of that, several times.

Savath has multiple properties he wanted to sell -- not only in Ban Nah Sak, but also across the river in Ban Khokkaodo. I asked only about riverside land because if there was any possible way I could pull it off, I’d only be interested in the view.

Anyway, after viewing the riverside property that he had actually used for warehousing, we made our way back to the guest house -- a distance of about ten kilometers. We started in the late afternoon and didn’t arrive until late evening. We stopped multiple places. Every time I thought we were almost there, Savath would park his new truck at yet another watering hole.

One of the places we stopped was Par Sai -- the restaurant overlooking the port, where I had eaten coconut just the day before. It was good the owners saw me with Savath. I’m pretty sure they will remember me next time.

Another place we stopped was Sabaidee, where I had met that first group of dirt bikers what seemed like ages ago. Here, things got crazy. We ate and drank and Savath disappeared for a time. I joined the hostess in a karaoke rendition of “Sai Woosy.” It was all great fun.