I keep trying to get up to date with these little insights to everyday life in rural Isaan but never seem to make it. Here are a few more events and observations that will never make it to Trip Advisor but are all the more real because of that! Enjoy.

26 Nov 2016 – That time of the year

This time of year is to be celebrated with lots of these magnificent sweet papaya fruit. Pop one in the fridge to cool and dig in whenever the urge hits. This one picked on the family farm yesterday.

Not to be confused with the pappaya that are chopped up for papaya salad, that supremely Isaan dish, which is definitely an acquired taste (politely put – sorry Sam)

26 Nov 2016 – A Kitchen Update

With the installation of some spice racks today, which is a real giveaway that a farang is in residence, our kitchen is finally pretty well complete in all the minor details.

Having thought that this aspect of the house was a bit of a showpiece when I designed it the kitchen has turned into a real workspace. Gaun, who I thought might use the Thai kitchen outside most of the time quickly adapted and now cooks inside 95% of the time.

I would still recommend you incorporate an outside kitchen into your Thai house plans. There are some things Thais cook that are best done outside 🙂 You may also find that your Thai partner won’t change their ways and an amazing variety of dishes appear from the charcoal cooker. Best not in the house though.

I have turned our external Thai kitchen into a farang/Thai cooperation with the inclusion of an Aussie BBQ and a small electric oven for baking. If your budget supports the whole Smeg/Bosch internal oven thing then go for it. If you just want something that does the job then this little one from Macro at A$140.00 does a perfect roast and anything else that keeps you sane!

28 Nov 2016 – A Mixture

Another mix of nothing too monumental but I hope interesting.

Work has started on the house replacing the wooden one I have mentioned a couple of times on my timeline. Gaun was hunting replacement plants for a couple of pots we have in the pond, the family’s new rice is being milled to remove the husks so that it can be used and a few other small moments captured.

You might remember this photo from when the house was there. An Isaan tuk tuk on the left, totally different from those in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. The local noodle shop on the far left.

A fish trap at the top of the rebar column.

One of the standard blessing essentials. You can’t start to build a house here until the spirits have been informed. You also can’t move in until another blessing ceremony is conducted.

My blessing ceremony fishing trap is now a lamp shade in the garden sala.

A spinning reel on the other column.

Peng has three friends over for a homework session and their reward was a lunch of noodles. Better than the average noodle house tables there. The timber was supplied by the owners and they were built for 2,000 baht each (A$80.00).

On the motorbike to the farm. Gaun is after those large leafed plants. Off with the boots and in she goes.

The ones she got here were too large for us so they were transferred to the second pond on the family farm. I have a close connection to this pond as it was created by moving soil from the farm to raise our land level back in November 2013 twelve months before we started to build.

A photo from 2013 as I watch more soil taken from that newly created pond being added to our land to raise it one metre.

Our land as we bought it. That palm tree in the background is the same one you see in my garden photos.

Good stuff that soil. The palm tree from the other side more recently.

Back to yesterday and this is a neighbour’s pond, the fourth one Gaun has been in 🙂 and these plants were just right sized for us.

Needless to say Isaan people think the flower seeds are yummy. They are mushed up with larb fish or boiled with noodle soup. Gaun describes the taste as “spinach”, which I think means “bitter” in our terms. Sweet, sour, hot and spinach are the main tastes that can be applied to Isaan food, which is NOTHING like Thai food in most cases).

Early evening light on the main family pond. I bet you can’t wait to see my barrel boat launched on this impressive waterway. Stories to follow.

Today rice was being extracted from the family rice storage to be milled.

Lud is the bank (rice?) robber in this case. It reminded me of a story on national Thai TV news of someone who had the rice they were drying on the side of the road stolen!!!! Not much in the way of big news on Thai TV and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Sticky rice inside the hut.

Transferred to bags.

The milling machine wasn’t working so the family rice was marked and left along with others to be processed sometime.

The rice husks are resold as mulch for 5 baht a bag. The doctor across the road from us also has a milling machine but as he sells his husks for 10 baht a bag (a complete rip-off) the family are boycotting him this year!

Another high tech example. The milling machine. It is basically a big shaker that rubs the husk off the rice.

Other unhusked rice waiting for the guy to get out of his hammock and start working.

I have told you that you can just wait and everything you will ever need will pass you by. Well here’s another example but more associated with the end product of the eating process!

These septic trucks make their rounds of the moo bans (villages) every day. Two beeps on the horn lets you know it’s the septic. The pancake man uses a “clown” type horn (totally different sound) while the Nestle and Walls ice cream men have different theme songs playing. You know that things have reached a crisis in Isaan retirement when you start humming the Walls theme song (it has happened but my medication has kicked in now).

Back to the unpleasant stuff – most Thai house have small concrete septic tanks and they need pumping out regularly. A$10.00 and you’re good to go – literally.

There’s new money coming into Si Bun Ruang and lots of building activity as people upgrade from wooden to more modern designs or just build on vacant land. This decent sized place is being built close to our home. The big question is will it be painted in neutral colours or a tasteful mix of lime green, purple and pink? I will report back.

And to follow up with the pond photos here is the early result of Gaun’s paddling.

Pretty little flowers if not eaten before they bloom.

Increasingly tropical including two concrete turtles (we have three real ones too!).

You can tell we are in the cooler season when the dogs get winter gear.

29 Nov 2016 – Pottering Around

Retirement gives you the time and Thailand gives you the budget to take on small projects like this one. I wanted something to add a little interest to the top of the front wall and these pots bought for A$8.00 each at the local nursery fitted the bill.

From terracotta to the house theme colour.

Glued into place at the small entrance to the garden. I would like to make it clear that all that paint on my clothes is the result of MANY projects, not just this one, although for some reason I tend to end up with as much paint on me as whatever I am painting.

And two at the main gates.

Nice (well I like them and that’s all that counts). Spot the boxing kangaroo, my only display of nationalism (thanks to Pippa and Andrew).

The yellow flag is for the king being the colour for Monday, the day of his birth. Luckily the new king to be (to be announced on 1 December) was also born on a Monday so the colour will stay the same.

As I was taking the photos Paed, Gaun’s older sister, passes heading to the markets with some produce to sell.

29 Nov 2016 – Back to the Farm

I am adding this post really as a tribute to Yuan and Lud (my brother and sister-in-laws) more than anything else. I am amazed at the work they have put into hand planting and watering almost every available space to vegetables over the last few weeks on top of organising the rice harvest.

Cauliflowers mostly with broccoli to the far right.

This is the first time I have seen the entire farm’s vegetable land planted up. My year one in Isaan Yuan was very sick and the second year we had drought.

Coriander.

Spring onions and garlic to the far left. New planting in the far distance under shade cloth. Lettuce mostly. Lud hand watering this morning. Can you imagine starting and finishing each day knowing you have to hand water all of this!

The photos don’t do justice to the expanse of planting that has happened but maybe give you a taste of the energy and commitment involved. Yuan and Lud are up at 3 am using miner’s lamps strapped to their heads for lighting and work until dark (6 pm these winter evenings).

Bok choy? I will have to check.

Looking towards the road. The farmhouse is on the left in those trees.

From the very back looking across the full extent of their vegetables. The cane in the far distance is family sugar.

I wanted to capture these images because soon the crops will be harvested and these lush scenes will change.

Wide angle lens.

Lud is a speck in the distance to give you an idea of the area. The soil is turned over using the small tractor but all the raised rows are largely built by hand using mattocks. Remember that the first two photos in this set showing cauliflower/broccoli/coriander aren’t included in this view and there’s another large area of coriander under shade cloth across the road as well.

Gaun took this photo of Yuan yesterday early morning. The headscarf is to keep her warm not for sun protection as is usually the case. Mornings are starting to get cool here now and will get a lot cooler as we head into December. Overnight temperatures will get into single figures Dec/Jan.

Mixed in with the lush greens of new vegetables are the splashes of colour thanks to Gaun’s passion for planting flowers. It is something you will rarely see in a farming environment in Isaan.

It only emphasises what a privileged lifestyle we farang have sitting around with our super pensions requiring no effort to support a comfortable living. Very humbling really.

I only took this photo to show you the sad state of one of the handmade umbrellas we bought in Chiang Mai.

Previously in the outdoor dining area at our house it ended up becoming very dirty, a statement of the rural environment here, which is very dusty. I should have sealed it. Oh well. it is being useful at the farm now.

We flew Peng down to Chiang Mai, her first flight, to show her around before we moved permanently to Isaan. If in CM the umbrella village is worth a look and you can find my blog post on it HERE.

Just for the record Gaun’s younger sister Yuan is also her best friend so all my posts tend to focus on her part of the farm because that’s where we spend most of our “rural” time. The other half of the farm worked by Gaun’s older sister Paed and husband Tham is equally productive but less visited.

No trip to the hardware store required. Two bamboo stakes in the ground and you have a boot holder. Designed to get them dry after washing inside and out.

I just love the views from the farmhouse across this sort of scenery. There’s something really basic about even just observing the growing of crops in this sort of environment.

For Yuan and Lud this meal at about 10 am is lunch as they have been up so long. Breakfast for me!

And this is part of Paed and Tham’s farm where they are also hard at work planting up for the cool season.

1 Dec 2016 – Home Repairs and Monks at Work

I keep saying that the construction work is over at our place and then something else pops up that needs doing.

When we were in Khon Kaen recently while Peng was in hospital we had a phone call. A neighbour passing our home on her motorbike noticed that after heavy rain the timber pergola over our our driveway had collapsed. She phoned Yuan who then phoned Gaun. The family swung into action and propped up the whole structure while we were away using door frames from what will be Yuan and Lud’s house at some stage when they finish building it.

You can see the door frames the family put in place to hold up the plants across the driveway.

I decided that maybe we should go for something more permanent so we called Noy, the guy who upgraded our driveway, and he organised for his brother-in-law, who has a welding machine, to come over yesterday and build a real long-lasting pergola out of concrete and steel in true Thai style.

All finished this evening and looking much better. A couple of other photo moments from today as well.

Chung Noy (builder Noy) surveys the job to be done yesterday.

Three workers, Noy, his brother-in-law plus one. Here you can see how low the plants have sunk as a result of the pergola crisis!

Four concrete columns in place and the steel framework starting to go in today with Gaun supervising.

Heavy duty. It’s not expensive to buy long lasting outcomes so why not? I should have done this originally.

A six metre steel beam for A$22.00. Much better than a eucalyptus frame, which was cheap but only lasted a year.

Now that structure will outlast me.

In true Noy style he swept everything at the end and washed the driveway down. This is a good Thai workman.

I just need to paint the columns tomorrow and it will be finished. Once the climbers have filled in this new space it will add to the welcoming entrance to the house. Total cost A$200.00 for materials and A$140.00 + 3 beers for labour – three people for two days.

I was invited for morning coffee to a friend’s house in Si Bun Ruang. Mark is a collector of older Isaan artifacts such as this buffalo farm wagon.

Marl has bought one of the old wooden houses to rebuild as a guesthouse on some land he is in the process of buying in the centre of Si Bun Ruang. It is currently sitting in the front yard of his rented house.

The place he and his wife are buying is at the back of this wat, which has this impressive chedi. Mark wanted to show me the house and land so we drove there this morning.

Being a monk doesn’t mean sitting around meditating all the time. Concreting is also a requirement to achieve enlightenment!

This structure is in the middle of not much as a testament to the oddity of Buddhist temples. The best way to get to Mark’s land is through this temple, which is why I have these images recorded.

4 Dec 2016 – Catch-up Stories

Three days of catch-up stories. The last couple here. As usual nothing more than glimpses into everyday life.

As an ignorant city guy I never knew pond fish like these eat leftover vegetables.

Rural living has expand my knowledge in all sorts of ways I never envisaged in my previous Australian life. This is where Yuan and Lud wash vegetables before they take them to market. They often have the pond fish nibbling their fingers (I met a farang recently who has piranha in his pond and the nibbling of fingers might take on a whole new meaning in his case) and trying to get to the vegetables. They are distracted by throwing discarded leaves into the water and then quickly washing the veggies.
More about the pond fish in later photos.

Sweet pappaya starting to turn. What a crop.

And I have a bowl of pappaya from this tree on my desk as I edit this post!!!!!

And the cauliflowers are starting to form. Cauliflower in a white cheese sauce coming up in a couple of weeks. Not on every Isaan family’s table but it works for me.

Si Bun Ruang has a major market every 2nd of the month based around the fresh food market in the centre of town.

These stallholders spend their life on the market trail throughout the region sometimes doing a morning market in one place before moving to a late afternoon market down the road. The gypsies of Isaan.

We were after a couple of kitchen knives.

Don’t bother spending heaps on German image knives. Just buy a Kiwi or Penguin brand (I kid you not) for A$2.40 and it will more than do the job. I never use my expensive shipped from Australia knives.

Farming cutting equipment at the other end of the table.

Most plant stalls stock things that people can eat. Photos of the end result help out. Flowering plants are available but they aren’t the focus.

Crazy hats are part of the cool season in Thailand. A$2.40 gets you one of these fashion statements. I can arrange shipping!

Haircut day as we were in the markets. I only share this photo because on the right you can see a couple of family members sitting down for lunch. Shops here are places of commerce, a social meeting place and often a home.

I am very happy to be getting a A$2.40 haircut. The last one I had in Canberra in 2014 cost me A$27.00.

Back to the topic of fish.

The other day we bought some netting and Gaun’s mama made this small version of the big fishing traps you will see being used on lakes and rivers (next photo). A single long pole has a crosspiece attached at the top. Bamboo lengths are slotted into the crosspiece and then attached to the four corners of the netting.

A somewhat larger version but the construction principle is the same.

The central crosspiece with the bamboo sticks slotted in.

We bought 600 of these 12 months ago for 1 baht each when they were tadpole sized. They are getting there. Richard and Sam if you are reading Gaun told me to let you know that this one was put back. Richard you would be proud (a family joke).

These are a different variety and have been in the pond longer. This one is getting to eating stage. I am advised by a reader that these are called “Tilapia, thai pla nin. They also come in a red variety, thai pla tap tim. Not to be confused with koi carp which have baubles”.

A comparison of the two types.

Back home Gaun wasn’t happy with the paintwork on our new pergola so while I painted the concrete posts she did the steel. Teamwork.

And finished matching the rest of the house.

Thanks for reading.