Heaps of new small stories have been added to my list for this post since the last one I wrote HERE, so get a coffee or beer and settle in for a very mixed bag of little events. The first couple of topics are more family personal so you can skip these if you are after more general insights into Isaan life. I included them because the events they describe form part of my life here, which is the main theme for this blog.
I wrote about my second marriage to Gaun HERE and decided we couldn’t pass up an opportunity for an Isaan buffet party, the first in our new home. The event also coincided with a friend of ours from Chiang Mai visiting for a few days. For those of you who haven’t yet experienced a buffet it usually come in two forms. You can eat at one of the many buffet places that are scattered around, which in Si Bun Ruang are super basic, or get takeaway and set yourself up at home, which is what we did.
An Isaan buffet is made up of a selection of meats, most of which I struggle to identify when eating at the buffet shop, cooked over charcoal on a tin bowl with a raised area in the middle allowing the juices to run into the trough that runs around the outside filled with broth.
Unlike BBQ cooking where I paid 17,000 THB for an Aussie closed lid BBQ your buffet investment is a little more modest. Firstly you’ll need to buy a couple of charcoal burners and the tin cooling plates:
Next a visit to the markets and the buffet restaurant will give you all the ingredients you need. Stock up with grog, play some loud Isaan music and you’ve got yourself a party.
The moo ban (village) enforces a 11 pm curfew on loud music, except for days like New Year, and as many of the family had to be up early morning to harvest vegetables it didn’t end up being a late night. Quality rather than quantity except for the consumption of alcohol which cleared me out! A great way to celebrate my marriage to a special lady.
Christmas and Birthdays
The end of the year is a busy time socially. Not only do we have Christmas Day but my birthday is on Boxing Day and Lud, one of my brother-in-laws, has his on 1 January. Thailand does recognise Christmas in a mild sort of way, which is my preference after the commercialisation of the day in the west. You can usually find trees, lights, wrapping paper and decorations in places like Tesco Lotus, Big C and other major supermarkets. A smaller choice in decorations and tinsel can be found in the local markets. My tree is a Thai original via China while most of the decorations came from Australia when I shipped my stuff over.
Last year we were in the process of building the house while living in the family home and the tree was set up on the edge of the road much to the delight of the local kids.
The tree was moved for the Christmas day and the community area of the family compound decorated in a moment of farang enthusiasm as you can see below:
This year was different in that Christmas moved to No 182, Moo 5 (our lovely new house) and took over our newly extended outdoor living area. We were joined by a few extra friends as Peng emptied her soft toy cupboard in the family home and the contents arrived via pick-up.
The day after Christmas was my 60th birthday and as usual after a big meal and a few too many drinks the night before doing the same again the next day has less attraction than if my parents had timed the occasion for later in the year! Still Gaun was on the job and I got a cake and the family, who normally ignore birthdays, all joined in with gifts.
I was able to return the favour and buy Lud a cake and bottle of Sang Som for his birthday, which was on the 1st of January. It was the first time his birthday had been acknowledged as far as I know. Yuan, his wife (who had forgotten his actual birthday) got into the mood and organised a buffet for him the next night.
It was at this get together that Gaun was able to persuade her elder sister Paed and her family to be photographed together – a first for them. She used a subtle approach and told them that if they didn’t do it now and one of them died they wouldn’t have the opportunity again! It seemed to do the trick as you can see below:
Ban Chiang World Heritage Site
OK. Enough partying and back to the serious stuff. Jenny our friend from Chiang Mai wanted to visit Ban Chiang, a place that had been on my list too, and as it was in the general direction of Udon airport we called in to see it before dropping Jenny off for her flight back to Chiang Mai. The site is about an hour’s drive from Udon on highway 22.
The reason for visiting is far better summed up by UNESCO as part of its world heritage listing than anything I could tell you:
The Ban Chiang Archaeological Site is a prehistoric human habitation and burial site. It is considered by scholars to be the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in Southeast Asia, marking the beginning and showing the development of the wet-rice culture typical of the region. The site has been dated by scientific chronometric means (C-14 and thermo luminescence) which have established that the site was continuously occupied from 1495BC until c. 900BC., making it the earliest scientifically-dated prehistoric farming and habitation site in Southeast Asia known at the time of inscription onto the World Heritage List.
If you want more information there’s plenty of it HERE.
The day we decided to visit there was good news and bad news. The good news was that we were the only foreigners there I think because Udon Thani was hosting a large Chinese festival and everyone was there. Even some of the shops were shut and the Thais had taken the day off. The bad news was that the museum was closed due to a power failure.
Luckily they opened it up for us and didn’t charge an entry fee (normally 150 THB). We even got an official welcome from the local police.
I thought that Ban Chiang was definitely worth a visit even though I’m not into archaeology. The museum is small but they have made a real effort in presentation and there’s enough of interest even for a casual tourist like myself. The ban (village) is well maintained and the shops offer enough to tempt you to open the wallet and the prices are very reasonable for a tourist location. They have some great mini pots for a few dollars, which would make good returning from holiday presents for family and friends back home.
Udon Thani Chinese Festival
Having dropped Jenny off at Udon airport we headed into town to look at the huge night markets that are set up for nearly two weeks starting with the Chinese festival 1 December this year). The markets themselves, although expansive, offered nothing much different from any other market in Thailand. There is often very little of the ‘local’ flavour to these places, just a lot of imported mass produced items. I have covered markets in several posts previous from Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and locally so I won’t say much more here. Just a few photos that captured my attention:
At the centre of the markets there was a ceremony happening continuing on from the day’s activities. Thais do love a chat given a microphone so we moved on pretty smartly. They love karaoke too and the microphone that came with my new sound system has been confiscated and locked away 🙂
A small funfair was attached to the markets. Considering the Thai’s dislike of maintenance I would think twice about getting on anything that either takes you in the air or spins quickly 🙂
New Year on the Farm
There are two main celebrations each year when half the population of Thailand seems to take to the road or air to return home and they are our New Year and the Thai New Year called Songkran that I wrote about HERE. With so many Isaan people working outside the region the local population must at least double when they all arrive back to party with family and friends. For market gardeners like my Thai family contributing to the feeding of this influx means that they are flat out from early morning, and we’re talking 1.00 am here, to sundown harvesting crops, getting them ready for the markets and delivering them to stallholders who have pre-ordered.
The biggest day was 31 December of course and the whole family plus one farang were on the farm helping out.
The lettuce is picked, washed and then about five plants are wrapped with an elastic band and sold for 10 THB or A$0.40. It’s a huge effort to put together a load like this.
A Si Bun Ruang Concert
Several times a year the signs will go out alongside the road to advertise that a local business is sponsoring a visit to Si Bun Ruang by one of the latest Thai singing sensations. In November it was Honda’s turn and the stage went up in the grounds of the Amphur or town council and you could just turn up and join in.
If you want a taste of the music this lady pumps out then click below:
A few REALLY small stories
Gaun was watering and this small snake slithered in between her feet. It was enough to startle her into killing it. I believe a bite would make you sick but it’s not a killer.
There are snakes around, which as an ex-Aussie doesn’t worry me too much, although we do go up to King Cobras and any snake that can look at you face to face is one to avoid in my opinion. I haven’t seen a large snake alive here yet but a have met a couple in the cooking pot! Updated 4 Mar 2017: This snake has since been identified as a Common Keelback (Xenochrophis flavipunctatus), completely harmless.
2. Leaf litter:
3. The local Noodle shop
The best A$1.00 meal around is a pork and chicken noodle soup from the local streetside shop.
I have told you before that if you wait long enough in Isaan whatever you desire will pass the front gate. Today it was the turn of the mobile pancake man. 10 THB for a large pancake with a choice of fillings. I had strawberry, blueberry with a chocolate drizzle. Very tasty if totally unhealthy (although it did have fruit!)
5. Mama and the Ghosts
When we had the house blessing ceremony to allow us to move into our new home, which you can read about HERE, Gaun’s mama told the spirits (Gaun calls them ghosts) that she would come and feed them from time to time. Well early in the morning recently she turned up with food and as I was still asleep Gaun took photos of the event.
It is a reminder for us farang of how important and close the Thai connection is with spirits. Don’t discount this if with a Thai partner. They are a very superstitious bunch. Read about feeding deceased relatives, a lovely ceremony HERE.
6. An Aussie Icon
We had dinner in Udon Thani recently with an Aussie couple I had ‘met’ through the blog. They very kindly offered to bring over a boxing kangaroo flag to balance up the three Thai flags I have on the front wall of our home. I have never been particularly nationalistic but I think the unofficial flag of my home country suits my new home in Isaan. Thank you Pippa and Andrew.
7. Gardening Advice
Gaun is an enthusiastic gardener as anyone who has followed our house build or visited us can attest to.
It was funny the other day when she was flagged down by a local for some gardening tips based on the success of her efforts at our place.
Us westerners mostly have some idea about gardening but having seen this example it is no wonder the Thais don’t have much in the way of a garden attached to their homes. I will be interested to see how this one progresses after Gaun’s help.
8. Funeral stones
These brightly coloured concrete pillars you will see all over Thailand aren’t garden decoration but the equivalent of our grave headstones.
I believe they provide a resting place for the symbolic bones left over at the end of a Buddhist cremation as shown below and described in my post ‘An Isaan Funeral’ HERE
The cool season December – February is a great time weatherwise to visit Thailand as the temperatures are a lot more useable especially in the North. However our way the mass switch from rice to sugar crops as a result of the drought brings with it a lot of disadvantages. Come harvesting the sugar fields are fired before cutting leading to smoky gray skies and a shower of Isaan ‘rain’ black soot from the crops, which for someone with a white house is a real pain.
The small village roads and even the main ones get damaged by the large trucks with heavy loads carrying sugar from farm to factory. The endless number of trucks slows traffic flow and causes dangerous overtakes by impatient Thai drivers. If you want a demonstration of this watch the following video. As always if viewing on an iPad the play button doesn’t work. Tap to the far right of the video image.
I have obviously fitted into the Thai driving scene because you will note that despite the overtaking pickup being in my lane heading straight at me I make no comment or show much of a reaction at all! In Australia this would be a road rage incident complete with swear words and finger waving. Because we have a bike lane on most bigger roads here a two lane highway unofficially turns into three and you just move into the bike lane as long as it isn’t occupied with bikes! Just another day driving in Isaan.
Many of these trucks are ancient and I have seen several overturned due to topheavy loads. With 40 tons of sugarcane on board they are not something to be underneath when it goes over.
The small farmers can’t sell their cane directly to the large processing factories but use a shipping agent for transportation.
The prices for cane are quoted at either farm level, that is the agent provides transport to remove from the fields as you see above (this year a lousy 600 THB a ton) or if the farmer moves the cane to a central loading point (see below) the price increases to 800 THB a ton.
Yuan, Gaun’s younger sister, has just sold her first batch of sugar grown on the farm. The field that gave her a return of around 50,000 THB last year yielded 23,000 THB this year due to the drought and low sugar prices. She was not happy. With low rubber prices too I wonder how the farmers of Thailand are feeling about things at the moment.
Si Bun Ruang Sport’s Day
I have covered an Isaan sport’s day in all of its weird glory HERE so I won’t write it up again. However we went to the main sport’s day opening ceremony at Si Bun Ruang and I thought I would share a few of the best photos, just because they are reflective of the broad interpretation of ‘sport’ in the school calendar! Click on the first photo for a slideshow.
Wat Pha Ban Dit
One of the senior monks at the forest temple we sometimes visit has been given some land by his mother, who is splitting her farm between the three children. As a result you can see the start of one of Thailand’s newest wats/temples. We have named it Wat Pha (forest) Ban (house) Dit (the name of the monk) until told otherwise.
The wat is being built just down the road from the family farm and we know the monk so I will be keeping a close eye on how this place develops. No doubt in a few years time it will be all concrete, car parks and gaudy buildings but in the meantime it is a good example of how a basic temple gets started and its simplicity must be far closer to Buddha’s philosophy than most of the structures you see around Thailand (in my opinion).
I haven’t completed the list of things I had to share with you today but this post has got long enough. I will save the rest for Small Stories 11 and keep you in suspense.
The heading image was taken beside the main lake in Udon Thani. I stopped to photo the 2016 ducks at the same time as a small group of school kids. I thought they had got posing down to a fine art.
Thanks for reading.