AND yet more everyday stories. It is like you are already living a life in Isaan.

These stories fit chronologically in-between Small Stories 11 and 12. Sorry for the mix up in timing.

Third Time Lucky

I have watched these fields on the edge of the moo ban being ploughed and prepared for rice the last two years. The farmer is totally reliant on the monsoon rains to get a crop and so far I have seen her grown nothing other than weeds. We are supposed to get rains this year so maybe her persistence will pay a dividend. The second photo is the “river” which would feed those fields if we had any rain.

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This photo take early June gives me hope that the farmer in the photos above will be getting a harvest this year die to rains.

This photo take early June gives me hope that the farmer in the photos above will be getting a harvest this year due to the rains we have been getting. New rice shoot growing from non-irrigated land.

Farm Extensions

The family have been working on an extension to the “farmhouse” to create a new cooking space, which is being dedicated to my brother for some reason and their desire to provide him with somewhere to cook fish! We stocked the family pond with 600 fish last year so there will be no shortage of fish but as I am buying the food to feed them I am not sure why my brother is seen as central to this kitchen expansion 🙂

In true Isaan rural fashion all the materials are sourced from whatever is at hand rather than relying on a visit to the Thai Bunnings equivalent (Global House or Thai Watsadu). Tree trunks from a next door farm, bamboo and eucalyptus from the family farm and ancient roofing donated by Gaun’s sister number 2 (Yurt).

A group effort to put the structure up involving Gaun’s younger sister Yuan, her husband Lud and a couple of Gaun’s nephews and two friends. The end result fits right into the landscape and “rustic” would be the best architectural description of the style.

Total cost – nix other than a bottle of lao kao (Thai rice whisky – deadly) and red bull to keep the workers going.

Columns and roofing framework in place. Sheeting going on.

Columns and roofing framework in place. Sheeting going on.

I wouldn't trust an Aussie builder on that roof but a couple of light Thais is no problem.

I wouldn’t trust an Aussie builder on that roof but a couple of light Thais is no problem.

A ceiling full of character.

A ceiling full of character.

Yuan and Gaun covering over the holes in the sheeting with sticky silver foil.

Yuan and Gaun covering over the holes in the sheeting with sticky silver foil.

Lud adding more foil to the holes. Long beans being grown in the background. That "kitchen" on the right will produce a meal for 20 people in the rice growing season.

Lud adding more foil to the holes. Long beans being grown in the background. That “kitchen” on the right will produce a meal for 20 people in the rice growing season.

The new area will have wonderful views over what will be new vivid green paddy fields once they are planted up in the next couple of months.

The new area will have wonderful views over what will be new vivid green paddy fields once they are planted up in the next couple of months.

This is what keeps Isaan running - lao kao whisky and red bull. A lethal combination.

This is what keeps Isaan running – lao kao whisky and red bull. A lethal combination.

The Village “Exam” – early days

I wrote recently about the community effort happening in the moo ban (village) to get it ready to be judged in a “tidy village” competition. This is some sort of competition and there’s a financial reward involved. Our “mayor” has been stirring everyone up and the community has been doing its best with almost no money to smarten the place up.

It amuses me that the local temple was able to raise 800,000 THB (A$32,000) from a very small base of people over Songkran (Thai New Year) but nothing is available for village presentation. There’s no Buddhist merit in donating to the community of course while money give to the temple ensures good things happen to you this life or the next!

I thought I would share some of the initiatives and will report back on how we did in the competition.

Fresh paint for the moo ban name - Ban Chomphutong in case your Thai is as good as mine.

Fresh paint for the moo ban name – Ban Chomphutong in case your Thai is as good as mine.

A new sala (hut) is being built by volunteer labour overlooking the village pond. I presume this never gets full otherwise the sala will be for the use of divers only come the wet season. As this piece of water is totally unattractive I have no idea who is ever going to use it but as Thais have very little appreciation of their surroundings it might be a hit.

A new sala (hut) is being built by volunteer labour overlooking the village pond.

I presume this pond never gets full otherwise the sala will be for the use of divers only come the wet season. As this piece of water is totally unattractive I have no idea who is ever going to use it but as Thais have very little appreciation of their surroundings it might be a hit.

These bamboo fences have been added to most houses by order of the mayor. This is a fairly typical village house. It would have been open underneath at one time and used for housing animals, often buffalo who provided farm power. When tractors replace buffalo the lower areas were filled in and turned into living areas. Upstairs is often never used day to day now. Note the spirit house (San Phra... See more

These bamboo fences have been added to most houses by order of the mayor.

Also note the tasteful colour scheme of the house at the back right. The pink, green and a blue roof is an ideal Thai combination. Note the spirit house (San Phra Phum) on the left. These are provided to encourage spirits to live there rather than the “people” house. It is why Thais leave food and drink at spirit houses to encourage them not to wander! You can read about a spirit house blessing HERE

Taken from our front garden looking down the soi (street). These small concrete pipes you can see on the side of the road have been placed at regular intervals in the village and will be planted up. Gaun's efforts to plant up every piece of ground on our land can be seen in the foreground. A slight contrast to our neighbours. Mind you we have water and they don't.

Taken from our front garden looking down the soi (street).

These small concrete pipes you can see on the side of the road have been placed at regular intervals in the village and will be planted up.
Gaun’s efforts to plant up every piece of ground on our land can be seen in the foreground. A slight contrast to our neighbours. Mind you we have water and they don’t.

Another view of our soi. People have been encouraged to plant up their roadside - lemon grass is a popular choice as you can see on the right. That big tree on the left is a mango. The small wooden hut is for rice storage and most local houses have them on their land. A reflection of the ongoing rural nature of this community.

Another view of our soi. People have been encouraged to plant up their roadside – lemongrass is a popular choice as you can see on the right.

Lemongrass not only greens up the verges but you can harvest it and get 10 baht a kilo (A$0.40) at the local markets. That big tree on the left is a mango. The small wooden hut is for rice storage and most local houses have them on their land. A reflection of the ongoing rural nature of this community.

Off topic but...........this "car" might have a few problems passing rego in Australia and anywhere else but it is a useful workhorse here. That engine is a multi-purpose diesel, which you can also use to pump water from your pond or bore (well) or plough your field. You can pick one up for not much more than 20,000 THB - under A$1,000.

Off topic but………..this “car” might have a few problems passing rego in Australia and anywhere else but it is a useful workhorse here.

The following photos illustrate two more aspects of local life revolving around this project. Firstly all that new planting of lemongrass, which has taken a lot of the day in 40 degree temperatures, is being done by a neighbour of the lady who owns that land who has a mental condition and can’t do it herself. She’s not even there at the moment so someone steps in to help out as needed.

Lemongrass and a tidy-up all done by that lady in the background.

Lemongrass and a tidy-up all done by that lady in the background.

In the other photos Gaun has joined in and the work has moved to our next door neighbour’s place as she’s currently in Bangkok. Everyone knows everyone else in the village and that can always be both a plus and minus but in this case being a good neighbour kicks in and the job gets done.

Gaun and the lady in the previous photo working on the land next to ours. Plenty of spectators.

Gaun and the lady in the previous photo working on the land next to ours. Plenty of spectators.

Secondly don’t you love seeing so many kids out and about without any adults supervising. They will turn up at their homes when they get hungry (“kin khaw” is the equivalent of “food time” in English and it literally means to “eat rice” a reflection of how central rice is to the diet here) and surprisingly I doubt any of them will come to any harm. It’s not a sight you’ll see much on our streets in Australia and if it was you’d probably have mums and dads sick with worry!

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Brothers in arms and brothers too.

Relaxing Thai-style

I came across this photo recently and thought I would share it because it says a lot about Thai lifestyles. This is Gaun and Peng relaxing in Peng’s bedroom in the family home.

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  1. Traditional houses rarely have air con so the coolest place to be is on the concrete floor. It is why Thais can sleep anywhere in any situation. No Sealy Posturepedic mattresses required. If you have every visited here you will know that Thai hotels try to replicate the concrete floor with their mattresses!
  2. Thai homes are also where the motorbike is often stored. You will find them either in the lounge room or in this case the bedroom.
  3. Subtle tiling is a mystery to Thais. This is actually quite restrained compared to the norm. Vivid and preferably clashing colours are the go in home decoration inside and out.
  4. Peng shares this room with Gaun’s mama. Thais are far more communal in their living arrangements than us. I can’t see many western teenage kids being happy to share a bedroom with their grandmother.
  5. Gaun is reading a learn to speak English book. She made it a priority when we first got together and has been working on it ever since. Her conversational skills are pretty good these days and she is far more confident in talking to any farang visitors that pop in to see us.

Geckos

You get two types of geckos in Thailand. There are the small almost clear ones that make an appearance in the evenings especially around any lights you may have on. If they get distressed they drop their tails, which continue to flap around to distract any prey allowing the gecko to make an escape.

The second ones are the heavy duty geckos like this one, which grow into decent sized lizards – bigger than this one. The first geckos you just flick away with a broom. These ones you ask their permission to enter the garden 🙂

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If visiting Thailand you will get to know the two different calls they make at night. Needless to say the big one has a voice to match its size compared to the small ones and its call even sounds like “gecko”.

Sunshine in Isaan – early May 2016

I have posted photos of the garden before so the subject isn’t new. however the bright light is! I looked it up on Google and I believe it is called sunlight. After literally months of smoke haze the skies have finally mostly cleared and we can see clouds and even the sun itself. Everything now has colour again after a long period of washed out greyness.

The daytime temperatures continued to sit at 40 degrees in the hottest summer for 26 years  when I originally posted this entry on Facebook (this was April through to mid-May). We are now getting temperatures in the low to mid 30’s, which is far more comfortable (June 2016). I have updated the original photos to show the effect of soft evening light today on the garden.

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A Mini-Monk

This small monk used to stand in my garden courtyard in Canberra. He has since returned to his home country, got an Isaan cowboy hat and joins us for an evening beer in our outside living area. He looks very happy to be back.

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The Final Drink

This photo is nothing but the story behind it is an interesting glimpse into village life.

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A guy living a few houses down from us aged in his early 40’s was found dead sitting in front of his house a few days back. People thought he was sleeping after a few drinks and it was only when someone went to wake him up they realised what had happened.

The news travelled around the village in no time and I heard from Gaun who had got the story from her sister. The crowd had gathered 30 minutes after, which is what you can see happening in the photo taken from our house. I refuse to be a modern media junkie and therefore didn’t walk up to get a photo of the scene.

What is interesting is the family had no money to pay for the funeral arrangements. The guy’s wife runs a stall at the local Si Bun Ruang markets so the other stallholders donated food and money. The village also provided money for the “wake” and everyone contributed time and effort to make sure he was given the proper farewell.

A funeral will normally last anything between three days to a week. In this case it was all over in two because of the financial situation. Soft drink only at the party! He was cremated the day after he died and the official celebration, that I have written about before on Facebook, took place the next day.

The event was an example of the social obligations that automatically happen in a small community where everyone helps out when needed, something we seem to have lost in the west.

More turtles

We couldn’t resist these beautiful small red eared slider turtles (thank you Google for the name) at our local fish shop. Where the normal small ones cost 20 THB these were a whopping 99 THB (A$4.00)! I read they live for 50 years so I hope my stepdaughter likes turtles.

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New Clothes

A story more for the ladies than guys.

A visit to the local computer shop for some software updates (done while you wait) had us with a time to look at some streetside stalls that had set up for the day just outside the store. Mixed in with the food (there’s ALWAYS food) was an great little stall selling Thai sarong cloth woven in Khon Kaen, which is a city about 1 1/2 hour’s drive from us. At A$10.00 each they didn’t exactly break the bank.

On the way home we called into a lady Gaun knows who does sarong making from home just around the corner from our place. Two lengths of cloth were left to have made up and several outfits tested in a mini-fashion show.

We are heading to Bali at the end of June and Gaun wants to take some Thai outfits with her, although I am sure we will bring some Balinese clothing back as well.

I think they are very stylish.

I think they are very stylish.

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This is some more cloth Gaun bought recently.

This is some more cloth Gaun bought recently.

A borrowed Thai top bought at the local Friday markets for $10.00.

A borrowed Thai top bought at the local Friday markets for $10.00.

Another top bought locally. This one $40.00.

Another top bought locally. This one $40.00.

Just to show the detail, which is why it is a lot more expensive.

Just to show the detail, which is why it is a lot more expensive.

A Late Lake Lunch

On the way back from Udon, a large city an hour’s drive from us, we stopped off for an early dinner at a local lakeside eating place in Nong Bua Lamphu.

The lake is surrounded by small salas (bamboo huts) in the water and it is unusual in that the kitchen is in the middle of the lake and the waitress comes to you via boat to take the order and deliver the meal.

The pond is full of lotus, which will be a sight come the cool season Nov - Jan/Feb.

The pond is full of lotus, which will be a sight come the cool season Nov – Jan/Feb.

The kitchen.

The kitchen.

Order taken.

Order taken.

Yuan, Lud and me.

Yuan, Lud and me.

The meal. The dish on the left is a pappaya salad, also as mentioned in the last post.

The meal. The dish on the left is a pappaya salad, also as mentioned in the last post.

It is a pleasant way to chill out for an hour or two eating and drinking.

Udon Wholesale Markets

I had to make a trip into Udon Thani last month, the nearest largest city to us, to complete the extension of my visa allowing me to remain in Thailand for another year. My brother and sister in law Yaun and Lud came along because they wanted to visit the Udon wholesale markets to buy some onions for planting on the farm they have here in Si Bun Ruang.

It is the first time I have been to these markets, which are more geared to supplying local traders with bulk items than everyday shopping. I thought I would share a few photos to give you an idea of what the markets looked like as this is another non-touristy side of Thailand, which tends to be the main theme of my blog in its current evolution.

The markets cover a large area comprising a number of sheds specialising in different groups of products – fruits, vegetables, chillies/onions/garlic etc. Well worth a look if you want to get away from the endless choice of temples and are in Udon (unlikely I know). Next to Makro!

You will see many of the photos have prices in Thai baht. For Australian readers to convert to A$ multiply by 4 and divide by 100 (or add two decimal points). 100 THB = A$4.00 roughly.

Those wonderful rich reds of Thai chillies. Peanuts at the back. 70 THB a kilo.

Those wonderful rich reds of Thai chillies. Peanuts at the back. 70 THB a kilo.

Limes without seeds for 70 THB a kilo. A bit expensive - I pay 50 THB a kilo buying direct from a local grower. Mojito cocktails anyone?

Limes without seeds for 70 THB a kilo. A bit expensive – I pay 50 THB a kilo buying direct from a local grower. Mojito cocktails anyone?

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Bags of limes for A$22.00.

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You see these overladen pick-ups everywhere in Thailand. They look like one good puff of wind would tip them but I have never seen one turned (unlike the sugar trucks which are always falling over).

You see these overladen pick-ups everywhere in Thailand. They look like one good puff of wind would tip them but I have never seen one turned (unlike the sugar trucks which are always falling over).

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3 kilos for A$0.80. It’s hard to find full sized tomatoes here and they are usually just as hard as back in Australia. The small tomatoes are used to add flavour and colour to dishes like pappaya salad, a hugely hot Isaan speciality served at almost every meal. The tomatoes aren’t eaten.

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Hands of bananas at $0.40 each.

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The kilos show on the labels – 2.5, 4 and 4. Oil and lemon juice at the back. Prices per pack. Garlic to the left.

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Garlic anyone? Thai garlic is less intense than the version I am used to. Double up to get the flavour.

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Small onions at A$2.00 a kilo. Yuan bought these to plant on the farm.

And here are those spring onions sprouting on the farm in late May.

And here are those spring onions sprouting on the farm in the foreground late May.

The Isaan tuk tuk. A very different animal to the one's you'll see in Chiang Mai or Bangkok.

The Isaan tuk tuk. A very different animal to the one’s you’ll see in Chiang Mai or Bangkok.

Gaun’s Scooter

An example of how cheap it CAN be living in Thailand. Unlike buying wine, which is three times the cost it is in Australia 🙁 some living expenses are a lot cheaper and helps make retirement income go further.

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Gaun’s motorbike, well technically a scooter, registration was up for renewal today. We called down to the office in Si Bun Ruang and paid 510 THB for 12 months being around A$20.00. I have never had a bike in Australia so can’t compare but am pretty confident it would be a little more there.

The other amazing thing is that this is the same cost as last year!!! When did you last pay a government related expense that hadn’t risen since the last time? Never is my guess.

The registration for my Mazda 2 car was 1,800 THB or A$72.00 and compulsory third party 650 THB or A$26.00! From memory last time I paid for car rego back home it was getting towards $1,000 and that was three years ago.

If you are interested in comparing the cost of living have a look at this post on my blog HERE.

One More Monk

We were invited to take part in the initiation ceremony for a new monk mid-April, the son of a friend of Gaun’s in the village. Many Thai men will become a monk for a short period of time as part of the process of being recognised as an adult. In true Isaan style this is a time to throw a party and invite family, friends and the local community to participate.

People arrive with gifts of small pillows, rice and money all of which ends up at the temple. The money donated is recorded in a book and the total announced at the end of the day. Having made your donation you can then stay as long as you like and are presented with endless food and drink. The cost to the family is considerable and I have heard of people borrowing money to finance this event.

We only intended to make a quick visit as it was already 40 degrees at 10.00 am but were persuaded to stay on as bottles of Chang beers and ice kept arriving.

The ceremony continues this afternoon when the monk to be will be paraded around the moo ban in the back of a pick-up accompanied by a music truck and the party goers will dance their way to the temple to hand him over to the “real” monks – see below.

Our involvement in events like this has always justified my decision to live in a small Isaan community rather than the more anonymous farang retirement locations like Chiang Mai and the coastal areas of Phuket and Pattaya. Each to their own but this works for me.

These guys show up at every village event and count and record the money donated. I am always noted as Tony Vansutha, a mix of my and Gaun's family names.

These guys show up at every village event and count and record the money donated. I am always noted as Tony Vansutha, a mix of my and Gaun’s family names.

The son going through part of the initiation ceremony, which is led by a non-monk. His head was shaved this morning by family members.

The son going through part of the initiation ceremony, which is led by a non-monk. His head was shaved that morning by family members.

My sister-in-law Yuan keeping the glasses topped up. I have never drunk so much beer so early in the day as I have since moving here.

My sister-in-law Yuan keeping the glasses topped up. I have never drunk so much beer so early in the day as I have since moving here.

An Isaan breakfast. At one stage this lot appeared and there were only three of us at the table!

An Isaan breakfast. At one stage this lot appeared and there were only three of us at the table!

As always the heros are the volunteer cooks who feed literally hundreds of people using the most basic of equipment. No fancy kitchen or air con. All done with immense good humor. It is an endless cycle of paybacks. The people who help out here will get the same assistance when they need it for a wedding, monk initiation or funeral sometime in the future.

As always the heros are the volunteer cooks who feed literally hundreds of people using the most basic of equipment.

No fancy kitchen or air con. All done with immense good humor. It is an endless cycle of paybacks. The people who help out here will get the same assistance when they need it for a wedding, monk initiation or funeral sometime in the future.

The second half of the new monk initiation had us on the move doing a circuit of the village ending up at the wat (temple). Despite the 42 degrees we were kept cool by a drinks supply pickup, handing out ice, water and beer, and the last of the Songkran water fights. I am here to tell you that there is nothing colder in the world than iced water poured down your back when the temperatures are over 40.

The music system completely overwhelmed its transport, but it wouldn’t be Isaan if it didn’t. Complete with its own diesel generator. The procession was followed by an ambulance, the first time I have seen this so it was probably just a friend of the family joining in rather than for any possible medical emergency.

The monk to be was walked three times around the temple and then delivered inside. As it will be nothing but 4:00 am chanting and no food after midday from now on I guess the party will be a reminder of what he will be missing out on for however long he stays there.

The future monk on his rounds.

The future monk on his rounds.

Just to give you an idea of the size of the sound system. Mind you Gaun is only small. See the ambulance following behind the speakers.

Just to give you an idea of the size of the sound system. Mind you Gaun is only small. See the ambulance following behind the speakers.

You need the power because of the size of the music system and the volume at which they play it.

You need the power because of the size of the music system and the volume at which they play it.

This is a ladyboy although you might not guess. She spent a lot of the time checking her makeup either using a small mirror she had in her back pocket or in the windows of the music truck - which is always a giveaway to a ladyboy among others! Much more vain than most women. I haven't seen her before so she is probably returning from Bangkok, Phuket or Pattaya to be with her family for Songkran. Pretty well accepted in this society and so she should be - where's the harm?

This is a ladyboy although you might not guess.

She spent a lot of the time checking her makeup either using a small mirror she had in her back pocket or in the windows of the music truck – which is always a giveaway to a ladyboy among others! Much more vain than most women.

I haven’t seen her before so she is probably returning from Bangkok, Phuket or Pattaya to be with her family for Songkran. Pretty well accepted in this society and so she should be – where’s the harm?

The refreshment truck complete with lazy kids :-)

The refreshment truck complete with lazy kids 🙂

The last of the water fights. Everyone is heading back to work this weekend and life will return to normal until 13 - 15 May when we have the Bun Bang Fai festival complete with big formal processions, heaps of village parties and large rockets being fired off.

The last of the water fights. Everyone is heading back to work this weekend and life will return to normal until 13 – 15 May when we have the Bun Bang Fai festival complete with big formal processions, heaps of village parties and large rockets being fired off.

This lady's job was to lift the wires out of the way of the music system. It was tall enough to create its own weather system at the top.

This lady’s job was to lift the wires out of the way of the music system. It was tall enough to create its own weather system at the top.

The procession enters the wat.

The procession enters the wat.

Three times around the temple with sweets and small coins being thrown much to the excitement of children and adults alike.

Three times around the temple with sweets and small coins being thrown much to the excitement of children and adults alike.

The end is near. Inside he will be formally made a monk and come out in orange robes.

The end is near. Inside he will be formally made a monk and come out in orange robes.

Isaan Housing

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A typical Isaan village house compound you will see when travelling around the area. The main house is on the right. Buffalo would have been kept underneath in their day. Many of these spaces have now been enclosed and upstairs isn’t used much. Timber construction and very basic.

The hut on the left is for rice storage. Many Isaan rural houses have them and they are stocked with a year’s supply. What is left over at the end is sold and the new crop added for those with access to a rice farm and who have had a crop during this drought.

The wood is probably for cooking. A lot of charcoal also still used here. Packed clay ground – deadly slippery in the wet and sticks to everything like chewing gum

That’s enough for this edition.

Thanks for reading.