NOTE: For some reason this edition seems to be a repeat of Issue 12. Sorry about that. Please go to Issue 15 HERE.
These are some more small everyday stories resulting from wandering around locally with a camera always close to hand. Nothing that rates highly on the tourist scale of interest but hopefully these posts continue to give you an insight into what life can look like for a farang living in this part of Thailand. These are a compilation of posts I publish on my Facebook page and cover a period from early May 2016 starting with the oldest and moving on:
May 12 – Happy Birthday Gaun
Birthdays aren’t a big thing in Thailand. Gaun doesn’t even know when her family’s birthdays are. I only found out Yuan’s birthday, Gaun’s younger sister and best friend, when I was copying her ID card one day. Since I turned up with my odd farang customs they are taking more interest. Yuan forgot her husband’s birthday this year but when I arrived with gifts she threw a party the next evening.
We were up early on this morning to give food to the monks for Gaun’s birthday. Gaun does it regularly but I less so as it is at 6:00 am! There are two local temples supported by the village. One is the big one in the moo ban itself, which is a traditional Thai wat and the other a Pha wat (pha = forest), which is a more pure line of Buddhism practice. This temple is just being built maybe 3 kms outside the village. The monk from this one walks in every morning, collects his food and walks back.
Feeding monks is a part of normal morning ritual here. You will see many houses set up with food early and people waiting for the monks to come around. No food and the monks don’t eat. The monks have two meals a day – a breakfast and then one late morning. They can only take liquids after noon.
Interestingly because there are two temples people set up on the left side of the road for the forest wat donations and the right hand side for the local temple. Monks from a pha wat won’t give a formal blessing, the one’s from the traditional temples will. Only two monks today, one from each.
If in Thailand, although easier with a Thai speaker, do ask a monk for a blessing if you visit a wat. They are usually around and happy to do it. It allows you to engage with the culture and gain some Buddhist merit points as a bonus!
In the evening the local family came over to our place for dinner. Beef is a luxury here so you will only see it on the table (or floor) for special occasions like a wedding. I get Aussie mince from Udon Thani so it was an incentive for everyone to come over. Not much left at the end. A few beers provided as well.
May 14 – A bike ride to the family farm
The farm is only a 10 minute bike ride for me from our home (less for anyone even semi-fit – Ian G I am thinking of you here). On this evening I took the camera along and as always there were a few little scene to capture.
They brought in soil to raise the level for this structure, which will put the ground level of the main house underwater come the rains. Do you like the satellite dish. Got to get your priorities right.
Some of the old crafts are still practiced in the moo ban although they will die out in time. You can still get hand woven silk here with silk worms raised at home and fed on mulberry leaves. Note the rainwater jar in the background. Most houses have a few.
It can be taken off the plough and then put into a farm truck or used to pump water. This guy is usually a taxi driver in Bangkok and only comes home to family a few times a year.
I think it is supposed to be a storage shed for some community farms that sit behind it but no one asked them if they had anything to store! They obviously don’t.
The farms are part of the royal family’s commitment to self-sustainability, and the concept came as a result of the Asian financial crisis, which hit Thailand very hard.
The lady on the left is one of the princesses who is much admired by many Thais. She is a tireless worker for her country whatever you might think of royalty.
She told Gaun that she wanted to talk to the farang and wished she could speak English. One of the other yai asked Gaun if she could find her a farang that wanted an old Thai lady 🙂 The elderly are respected here and have important social and family status. Good news for me 🙂
Gaun asked him for a kilo of limes as we were running low. He jumped on his motorbike and returned ten minutes with a bag of them just picked. $2.00 for the kilo.
May 14 – Peng’s Buddhist Retreat
We dropped my stepdaughter Peng off to the Si Bun Ruang temple yesterday to join a three day Buddhist retreat with other classmates before school starts on Monday after the long Songkran (Thai New Year) holidays. BTW Thai kids only get two formal holiday breaks a year in April (around six weeks) and October (two weeks).
It shows how important the Buddhist connection still is, although I suspect it is breaking down with young people along with many of the other traditional cultural beliefs in Thailand as elsewhere.
Despite the incredibly early hour I was awake enough to take a few snaps that I thought I would share.
We were always going to start a no shoes in house policy in Canberra but it never happened. Now I never even think about taking my shoes off and on the very occasional times I go inside with shoes it feels really strange. Don’t bring lace-up shoes to Thailand. They will drive you crazy!
May 20 – An Isaan Burger
Thai takeaway as an end of week treat back in Australia was wonderful but I have to confess that on an everyday basis it is not my favourite style of food. I tend to be more mediterranean biased given a choice. A good lamb roast and veggies goes down well too. I cope with this in Thailand by eating about 50/50 Thai/western food.
The downside to living in a small Thai town as we do is that for obvious reasons all the eating places cater for the Isaan diet. There are so few of us in the area that the business to support a farang or mixed Thai/farang restaurant just isn’t there yet.
The next town to us 30 minutes drive away called Nong Bua Lamphu (Nong = lake, Bua = lotus, Lamphu = long hill – so a town with a lotus lake next to a hill) we are lucky to have a few western choices for when the munchies hit. There is an Italian pizza place run by two Italians, a sports bar owned by a New Zealander and a small pizza shop established by an Aussie called Chris.
I have only discovered this place recently and it has become my lunch stop for a top burger. The location is typical streetside but the food is fresh and tasty. The beetroot is homemade by a local guy. It isn’t a vegetable you see in the local markets. Bread baked on the premises, Aussie beef, local veggies, pineapple, egg and of course the beetroot served with a cold beer makes for a good combination.
May 20 – Bun Bang Fai
We are in the season of Bun Bang Fai which is an Isaan rocket festival held in May/June. Normally split over two days with a procession and dancing one day and then the launch of the rockets and more music the second.
We called in briefly to Gaun’s eldest sister’s moo ban to join in their very small celebration mainly because we had an Aussie friend visiting and wanted him to experience this very local tradition.
The formal dance troupe, in this case a group of young schoolgirls, started off performing for the spirits at the san phra phum or spirit house area on the edge of a small lake before a short walk through the village and joining up with the less formal and more inebriated section of the party.
Although hardly spectacular I get so much enjoyment from observing and joining in with these local festivals. These are not people dressing up and doing stuff just for the tourist buses as you find in the more popular destinations. These are everyday Isaan people enjoying the day and just being themselves.
Note the iced water bucket left out for the dancers. These are always provided by households for any festival and quite often the water gets thrown over people rather than consumed!
One of them lives in our moo ban and I included a photo of her in a previous post. In this photo you have the one dead centre and a larger version on the left.
May 22 – Wat Tham Sang Tham
The arrival of a friend from Canberra for a few days prompted a return to one of my favourite local temples Wat Tham Sang Tham. A massive construction built halfway up a cliff it is only partly finished but even so is an impressive sight.
Great views from the top, which makes the climb worthwhile. Difficult to find as it is literally in the middle of nowhere and well off the tourist route. If you want more details and lots of photos go here: http://tonyinthailand.com/wat-tham-sang-tham/
May 22 – More Bun Bang Fai
We have been busy following the small Bun Bang Fai festivals being held by the villages in our area all designed to encourage new rainfall at the beginning of the rice planting season.
This will be my last post on the subject (although I will write a post on the rockets next post) as we have covered it before. However the procession for two of the moo bans (villages) on the South side of Si Bun Ruang are always worth a visit as the locals put in an effort to present their dancing groups. The street party of a moo ban across the road from us is also great fun.
In mid-June all the villages combine under their Amphur (town) and put on a big main street procession. Si Bun Ruang town is made up of 12 moo bans so it is a big affair lasting several hours.
Ladyboys are often the artistic power behind events like this. You will see them leading the dancing and they most likely will have been central to makeup and the costumes too.
May 23 – Old Aussie Muscle car
I see this car quite often as it seems to do a regular run between our home town of Si Bun Ruang and the next place 30 km up the road called Nong Bua Lamphu. I missed the opportunity to talk (well getting Gaun to talk) to the owner this time to see if he knew how a 1972? Aussie XA Ford Fairmont ended up in the wilds of Isaan. Maybe next time.
May 23 – A few miscellaneous photos from the farm today with stories attached:
Here being used by my brother-in-law Tham to plough the field for new plantings. If you apply what looks like a brake level on the handle it disengages the traction to that wheel. The other wheel still has power so the whole thing turns. Once you are back in the right direction you release the handle and both wheels engage. Still hot heavy work but better than buffalo.
There is always a bucket like this one around usually with iced water inside and a single metal cup shared by everyone. You will note that both Yuan and Gaun are well covered up, another thing we farang doesn’t do well. How Thais work in the heat with balaclavas is beyond me. Most Isaan farm workers look like potential bank robbers.
The family farm has a large bore/well so there isn’t a shortage of available water. The cost of diesel to provide the water is an extra cost over what comes naturally from the sky. The farm is currently growing spring onions, coriander, dill and lettuce. The planting of rice will start in the next couple of weeks.
These photos may not look much but they represent a unique event happening in Isaan. My dear in-laws Yuan and Lud have been getting so many farang visitors they have decided to beautify their farm by planting flowering plants along the driveway to the farmhouse.
Now this may not seem much but to get any Isaan person, especially a farmer, to expend energy doing something that is for show and not for eating is a world first.
A full day was spent clearing the area and getting the plants in. Perfect timing as the rains have started in a minor way and it is relatively cooler (36 instead of 42). These bougainvilleas (3 for $4.00) will be bursting with colour in no time. They will stop local traffic as the villagers have never seen anything like it. Many will think Yuan and Lud are crazy but they will enjoy the flowers anyway.
Gaun also paints her nails at night, as you can see from this photo, and I have no idea why because by mid-morning they are almost gone! No sitting around for my lady – unlike me!!!!
Lots more stories to come so stay in touch.
Thanks for reading.