A burst of hotter weather after two months of perfect mildness has me sitting in front of the computer in a burst of blog related activity. I have decided to return my main energies to the blog after dabbling in Facebook, not just my own page but adding entries to several general Thai related groups, which I have since unsubscribed from. What a wilderness of useful information about living in Thailand that was.

I started to write more on this topic here to vent my frustrations but they are my personal views and obviously Facebook’s more general forums fills a need for many – just not me. P.S. I think the specialised forums are helpful so I am not rubbishing the entire Facebook resource. I won’t waste more online space on this topic and instead share some more stories about village life in rural Thailand.

4 Dec 2016 – Guttering Thai style and a lot more

A busy morning today in a relaxed sort of way, which sums up my life really.

I had ordered some guttering for the front of the carport and as the guy finished his rice harvest yesterday he was now free to come over. The rice harvest takes priority over everything in Isaan life this time of year. It’s funny. When people meet statistics on the rice production for this year are exchanged almost in the first sentence. “Good morning. 100 bags of rice this year”, “Hi, yes we got 80”. 🙂

I thought I could get away with not installing the guttering as we are heading into 6 months of almost total drought but the condensation on the metal carport roof with the cool nights means water dripping on my precious new pebblecrete driveway in the morning! No stains are allowed on this masterpiece of concreting.

A motorbike ride to visit a friend who has recently moved into a new house on the edge of our moo ban. Coffee at the family farm and a couple of minor topics made this an interesting few hours.

The husband and wife guttering team in action.

I took this photo because their pick-up in the wet season is fitted out with guttering. They travel around the small villages advertising using a small speaker attached to the top of the truck. I have got pretty good at recognising what’s being sold as various pick-ups pass through. As we are now in the dry season they have swapped to selling knives and farm equipment. Many people make a living by mixing what they do according to the time of the year. Next month this couple could be in the fields harvest sugar!

A 30% markup. If you remember from my previous post we bought knives from the Si Bun Ruang monthly markets a couple of days ago.

The wife cuts and does the soldering while he does the roof work. A smoothly operating team. The gutter and down-pipes are all constructed by hand not prefabricated.

The soldering iron is heated in that metal cup on top of the gas bottle. No electric cords required.

Our gutters up we got on the bike and headed five minutes outside the village to see a lady who had called into the farm the previous day to get some flower seeds to plant at her new house.

She is one of a growing group of locals who are using Gaun’s gardening as inspiration to colour their lives with flowers as well as planting stuff to eat. This lady has done the opposite of many Thai women. She has finished a long term relationship with a farang and has now married a Thai man. She sold a house in the village to an Australian who has yet to move in, plus some land she had in Pattaya and bought this farming land and built a small but decent house on it.

First thing is to establish the garden, which in Isaan means a vegetable garden. Self sufficiency plus a bit left over to sell.

This lake is on the farm next to the house. It is owned by a neighbour opposite Gaun’s family home. The photo only shows less than half the size.

In my eyes it is a great piece of attractive water but in Isaan eyes it raised questions of the man who built it back in the day. “Why are you wasting all that land”, he was asked “You could be growing rice”. It is a good analogy for why just about everything is done here. It is all about practicality and very little to do with how things look or can be enjoyed outside of the need to make money. I live comfortably on a super pension so it is easy for me and people like me to complain. The reality is that there is more money NOW in cutting down a tree rather than planting one. Unfortunate but that’s how it is like it or not.

We called into the farm on the way home for a coffee. Here am I giving a helping hand to weed new lettuce (not). I am sure Yuan and Lud appreciated the three weeds I removed.

A little bit still to do.

More farming insights here.

The lettuce is growing from seed that is scattered on the ground. It means that there’s a lot of clumping once the plants start growing.

Yuan and Lud are working down the rows today both weeding and also pulling out all the lettuce that are too close together otherwise they won’t grow into marketable plants. It seems like a waste of resources to a non-farmer and I am going to research if there’s a better way. Of course you can grow from seed in beds and then replant the seedlings but this is also time consuming. Less waste though.

Many of these seedlings will just be pulled up and discarded.

This is a bed they have already processed. You can see how the lettuce has been well separated so that each plant has growing space.

More trivia knowledge for the Thai enthusiasts. For those living here these tips will make you look like a real local expert when you have overseas friends drop in for a visit.

Did you know that pappaya trees come in a male and female form? Well you do now. The ones with heaps of fruit on are the female not surprisingly and their flowers are formed close to the trunk like these ones.

And this is the male version being literally a well hung version of the female 🙂 The flowers form on long stems away from the truck. These trees may have a few fruit or none at all.

And I am sort of sorry for repeating scenes from the farm but the combination of flowers and healthy market vegetables in the morning sunlight is irresistible. These crops will be harvested soon and idyllic scenes like this will change as vegetables are swapped for cash. Less photogenic.

When we arrived home it was to meet some of Peng’s schoolmates who are over again this weekend to work on an Asthma project as a team.

No homework furniture required.

I have to say that for a bunch of 16 year olds I do wonder at the education system that has them cutting and pasting stuff on a display board. The end result, based on previous experience, is a work or art but as an in depth learning method I think it is a little lacking.

This photo is fresh off the press. See what I mean about the end result?

Lovely for primary school. High school……….???

Gaun’s mama, whose mission in life is to ensure that everyone in the family has food, turned up with newly steamed sticky rice and banana parcels wrapped in banana leaves for Peng and friends. Yummy. This is using the new crop of sticky rice too from the family farm.

No sugar added so just the sweetness of the banana.

Mama heads home. She doesn’t visit often but when she does she takes a sweep through the garden to check on what’s growing.

I am not sure what my retired life would have looked like in the suburbs of Australia’s national capital but I am pretty sure it wouldn’t have the variety of my days here and that tonyincanberra.com would be a pretty compact blog 🙂

Today was the first of many leading up the biggie – the New Year week, when some of the crops that have been so intensively cared for on the family farm were harvested and taken to the local market. Finally it was payday.

The other “farmhouse” on the second half of the farm. I just love these greens of fresh vegetables. There’s something very basic about the enjoyment of farming especially when you just have to watch others work 🙂

The produce ready to go to market.

This morning’s crop ready to go to market. We are moving into the cool season here in the north so crops like cauliflower and broccoli make an appearance.

A cows are let loose in the harvested paddy fields. This photo taken just outside our village on the way into town.

The business end of farming. Yuan bulk selling to another vendor. Cauliflower at 50 baht a kilo.

Setting up the stall. The family rent two spaces on this bench for 1,500 (A$60.00) baht a month.

Gaun helping out although everything went so quickly there wasn’t much left to put on the stall. How do Thais sit so comfortably on their heels like that?

I have to say that I was quite moved by the enthusiasm shown by customers to grab Yuan and Lud’s produce even before it was unpacked and it was almost a sell-out in the first 15 minutes. Yuan has a reputation for the quality of her produce and she never has to spend too long waiting to sell vegetables on the stall as other vendors do. What better tribute to their farming skills and hard work.

Negotiation. A rush of customers even before much was unpacked. This is in a food market that is packed with other stalls selling vegetables. Go Yuan.

Some vegetables sold to the lady running a little stall behind Yuan’s. Gaun laughing because the lady scored big time with a bonus small cauliflower for free. Commerce in action.

Many of you will have been in the Thai fresh food markets so nothing new here. Just for the farang food eaters reading it should be noted that even in the depths of Isaan you can get things like potatoes, carrots, onions and snow peas for your Sunday lamb roast 🙂

And a final photo just because I was captured by the colours. Orchid flowers and lotus buds for sale. Most of these flowers will end up at the temple not people’s homes.

BTW there will be a fresh cauliflower and broccoli white cheese sauce dish on this farang’s dinner plate this evening with apologies to all the Thai foodies out there.

6 Dec 2016 – Dessert up a Tree

Have you run out of sweet pappaya? What you do is go to the family farm, get Lud to climb the pappaya tree and shortly after dessert is served.

Now there’s a look of determination.

Goal reached.

On its way down.

An action shot at the halfway point.

And deftly caught by Gaun. One of my brother-in-laws Tham on the left.

9 Dec 2016 – The Garden Before and After

I have been looking at some before and after photos of the beautiful garden that now surrounds our house and thought I would share a compilation here.

Sawadee (welcome).

We moved into the house late March 2015 and since then Gaun has worked tirelessly to turn a builder’s yard into something I think is pretty special.

I don’t add this entry as a “look at me” post but to show you what is possible to achieve in 20 months much of which in our case was during a drought and we had literally almost NO rain. I especially wanted to provide some inspiration to those of you who are thinking of or are in the process of building somewhere in Thailand. That disaster area that is potentially your garden once the construction team leaves can so quickly and cheaply be turned into a cool lush green haven (and heaven) if you give it some focus.

I know that many aren’t garden inclined and that’s just fine. However for others stick a couple of these before and after photos on the wall of your garden shed and it might give you that little bit of extra incentive.

Shortly after we moved in.

Two months later – hard to believe.

wanted a watery entrance to the house and built a small koi pond at the front of our outdoor living area. That saphan (bridge) leads to the front door.

And 20 months later.

Garden lighting makes this an equally attractive place to be in the evenings. With weather like we have why wouldn’t you want to be outside?

Before.

And now.

The same side looking the other way. Note the ugly water tank at the back.

And today. Gaun has built a trellis from bamboo she cut on the farm and trained bougainvillea to hide the water tanks (now two) at the back.

The other side of the house. A bit bare.

It has now improved.

The back of the house.

Every bit of space is now filled with plants.

Photo taken in April 2015.

And a few days ago.

Before.

What can I say?

Before obviously.

And that same area to the left of the sala today.

Before we moved in we covered everything with gravel. This is clay soil and deadly once it gets wet, not that it did because we had almost no rain.

Most of the gravel has now been upgraded like our entry.

This is only a half rai (800 sq metre) block of land but if you do a bit of planning you can create small areas that have different characters.

A winding path and dappled light contrasts to the open lawn area in front of the house.
that have different characters.

Views broken by greenery make it seem bigger and add interest.

We have so many butterflies and birds (plus all the bad things too!) that drop in to enjoy the garden, the latter nesting in many of our trees. I think we have more flowering plants than the rest of the village put together.

If you have a decent garden then make sure your house is a tropical design and connects and flows into it. I spend more time here than the internal living area!

Little items of interest.

Finally I give all credit to Gaun for these photos. There is nothing you see that she hasn’t planted herself. Many of the smaller plants are cuttings or grown from seeds she collected when we lived in Chiang Mai and Rai. Half the truck we hired to move us from our rented place in Chiang Mai here was filled with Gaun’s portable garden. In Australian speak “good on ya Gaun”.

And finally.

I had this print hanging in my house in Australia. When I unpacked it here I thought that it still worked as limes, margaritas and red hot chillies are all very much part of my new life here. I’ll drink to that. Cheers.

11 Dec 2016 – Christmas is not Forgotten

Christmas has arrived at 182, Moo 5, Chomphutong – yay. A brief break from boat building to get the tree up and Peng’s huge toy collection moved over from the family home. They enjoy their time with us as it gives a break from looking at the inside of a cupboard for the rest of the year. I can feel a bottle of bubbly coming on to celebrate this evening.

Do Thai’s love cuddly toys? More research needed…..or not!

What a good looking Santa’s helper.

Peng working up the energy to decorate the tree. Gaun mixed in with animals.

At last action.

But in a very slow way with Peng. “Dreamy” would cover the progress – funny because that is the total opposite to Gaun.

No Gaun. Not in the Christmas spirit – or not until later in the evening maybe!

And Gaun’s small collection is added including My Dog, for regular readers.

Spot the real person. The teddy bear in the check green overalls at the bottom front was given to me just after I was born so it is now an antique like its owner.

Very cute.

No other Christmas present needed.

And the scene at night. Very Christmas.

12 Dec – Christmas

A lot of the events I wrote about the next couple of weeks related to the boat I was building on the family farm’s pond. It was a larger project than I thought, aren’t they all, and took up most of my time. You can read about the whole project from beginning to end HERE. The end result looks like this:

The boat tied up at the dock!

 

One of my favourite spots now.

23 Dec 2016 – More Building

There’s a lot of building happening around our village and there are three projects in particular I am following. For those of you who read my posts you will recognise how these photos update events that I have reported on previously.

This was a traditional Isaan timber house that was sold to be relocated to a farm next to the family’s farm for 55,000 baht (A$2,200).

I thought the new owner would just rebuild the previous plan but not so. This is what it will now look like. A single room 4 x 3 metres and outside verandas.

These guys are doing the build. The timbers are planed back to remove ageing and because these are 40 year old hardwoods they are coming up beautifully.

Old refurbished timber cut into Eucalyptus tree trunks, which are replacing the original concrete piers, if you refer back to photo one.

Taking shape.

And once again referring back to photo one this is the replacement new home being constructed by the same team that built our place. Quite a change from the wooden structure.

The old guy is Ming, the builder I employed to construct our house. He has “retired” from leading projects and now just works under the head contractor who did much of the work on our place.

This is a village house fire I reported on a while back. The timber house look good but with often woeful electrical wiring they burn super quickly.

This is a village house fire I reported on a while back. The timber house look good but with often woeful electrical wiring they burn super quickly.

Insulation is a complete mystery to most Thai and a lot of farang constructions too. I have proved a 5 degree drop in under roof temperatures just by putting in some really cheap foil insulation under the aluminium but it is a science beyond most. So frustrating.

25 Dec 2016 – Christmas

Waiting for me when I got up this morning. Gaun had snuck out yesterday and bought these beautiful orchids. What a lovely way to start the day especially when followed by freshly made coffee! Happy Christmas everyone.

It doesn’t get more tropical than that!

Extra colour added to the Christmas scene outside.

A quiet Christmas day but ongoing work to get ready for the joint Christmas/birthday party (mine) tomorrow when the family are coming over for a meal.

Gaun and Peng headed off on the motorbike to the local markets this morning to stock up on more decorations and some string-in-a-can in vivid colours. Balloons are being being blown up as I type this evening helped along with some bubbly – cheap and sweet just the way I like my…..oops better not finish that one 🙂

The photo session started off calmly.

But then the string-in-a-can made an appearance and it wasn’t all just for the tree! Gee that stuff travels some distance!

Flying string-no-longer-in-a-can!

Using an hand pump brought out from Australia. Funny life.

Don Perignon is ain’t but then most Thais wouldn’t like it. This version goes down a treat.

Happy Christmas.

We aren’t doing formal presents basically because I think most people have everything they need although I still need a new Nissan NP300 pick-up! However Gaun wanted some work boots so they are being wrapped for the tree 🙂 Here she is modelling them. Now that’s my girl. Steel capped boots have never looked better.

26 Dec 2016 – My Birthday

My birthday party happened last night and it was such an enjoyable event shared with some of my Isaan family. I even got presents, which as birthdays aren’t celebrated here or presents given was so thoughtful. A number of the gifts reflected the family’s view of my increasing age and I will tell you why as you follow the photos.

As always a big thank you to Gaun who worked tirelessly the whole day to pull everything together in her own uniquely efficient way.

My present from Gaun was this display of roses. I will be suggesting that this Bali shirt become the standard issue camouflage for the Thai army.

Everything set up for the evening celebrations. We just need guests.

Pork being BBQ’ed by Lud watched by the world’s scruffiest dog, the family’s mutt Dook Dik.

The birthday cake is handed over. I have photoshopped out the candles showing my age 🙂

How they make these cakes with zero calories is beyond me!

Lovely.

Any major celebration involves the people attending tying a white string onto your wrist for good luck. Here Peng is making her contribution.

You would normally have both hands together in front of your face in the Thai wai or sign of welcome and respect. In this situation one hand is perfectly acceptable.

The first of my presents this one from Yuan.

You will see these packs everywhere in Thailand. They are a small bottle of chicken broth, which you drink cold for good health. The family obviously thinks I need all the help healthwise I can get.

Peng told me my present was a surprise and if you follow the photos you will see the reactions. Unfortunately it wasn’t a case of Hong Thong.

Just what this family needs – another stuffed animal 🙂

Peng has been making fun with our ages in that I am 61 (bugger it slipped out) and she is 16. We are sort of the same age only reversed! I get a 16 year old’s teddy bear.

But wait – there’s more. As you can tell I am trying to work out what this box is (all writing in Thai).

Yes that was a surprise – not viagra but a lifetime supply of antacid for my aging stomach. Didn’t spot that one coming!

And from Gaun’s niece Puk, who was working at 7/11 so couldn’t make it to the dinner, 12 small packets of calcium milk for my bones. By the time I consume my presents I will be the healthiest farang in Isaan.

I am happy to report that to balance things up Lud gave me a bottle of Aussie red wine (good for cholesterol I am sure) and my other in-laws Tham and Paed a pack of small Pepsi for my regular intake of Sang Som rum mixers.

I am one of the lucky farang who have just the most delightful Thai family who welcomed me from day 1 and provide such support and friendship. It is a large aspect to my ability to “survive” in such a different environment to what I am used to. Thank you all.

Thanks for reading.