I am going to be including the following standard introduction to these posts for those people who come across them for the first time as it gives some background as to why they read the way they do. For regular readers (a huge thank you to you all) you can skip this bit and get stuck into the new happenings. Well actually they are a bit of a catch-up so not that new but as of this week with three months off doing anything physical after some minor surgery they will become newer the more bored I get with being inside 🙂

Introduction

My posts “Living in Isaan” are a series of  small stories I have recorded that make up my everyday life in a small rural village in the north east of Thailand, a region called Isaan/Isan/Esan. You will find many expats writing blogs about life in the coastal centres and places like Chiang Mai but fewer make the effort to record what living out this way looks like.

None of my stories are spectacular and will never be found on the search results of tourists looking for adventure. However, most of the readers who follow this blog, and there are some who have become “virtual ” friends over the years, are people who have a much more committed and personal connection to Thailand and have moved well beyond elephant riding, zip-lining and bar hopping. For them these little insights help maintain that connection to village life, if they are living elsewhere, and for those who are newer to the scene maybe help with understanding what a life in rural Thailand might look like if that ever happens for them.

I used to call these updates of life in Thailand “Isaan – the Small Stories”. I felt it was time for a change in name although the scope of content is the same. This edition covers only part of September 2017. These stories are extracted from my Facebook page, which I use as a mini-blog to give me an everyday outlet for my enjoyment of words, photography and of course the wonderful lifestyle I am privileged to enjoy. They are very day by day accounts as a result. I hope you enjoy them.

14 Oct 2017 – More Lent Celebrations

This post covers a very busy time for Buddhist celebrations to commemorate the end of Lent, a three month period where monks are supposed to commit to one temple and focus on their reflection and study. As such I have a couple of entries covering the same topic but each one has its own flavour so I hope I don’t lose your interest. The first of them is this one:

An early start to the day to catch the end of Buddhist Lent celebrations at a Pha/Pa (forest) wat in Gaun’s eldest sister’s village – Moo Ban Nong Kao.

As always it was a delight to be welcomed so warmly by the locals “Tony – kin khao” (eat rice) and to be involved in their festival. The monks are given food first and then what’s left over is shared by the villagers. Good humour, laughter and whole families involved across several generations. Everything we have mostly lost with our sophisticated western society. Nice to see a couple of my favourite monks from two of our local temples.

The villagers line up around the Buddha hall ready to give non-cooked food to the 50 monks involved. Gaun on the far left with our contributions in that silver bowl.

Only one farang as is usual at these events – just the way I like it.

Once the monks have been fed everyone else digs into the massive amount of free food and drinks available. Villagers provide this to gain Buddhist merit points.

Topping up on my coffee consumption. 3 in 1 kindly provided by this lady.

As you can see no one leaves hungry.

I must have hit the Buddhist merit point jackpot to end up with this lady.

This is Dit. He is the head monk at a wat just down the road from the family farm 10 minutes from home.

The monks circulate with their bowls to collect donations from the villagers.

This is the senior abbot at this event, a lovely, friendly monk called Phu Yao. He is based at a wat we often visit call Pha Silawa in Moo Ban Din Sai On, 15 minutes from home.

Once the bowls are filled the contents are tipped into these larger containers for sorting and distribution later.

No age limit to this celebration. How pleasing to see everyone from the youngest kids to yai (grandmothers) mixed in at an event like this.

Inside the cooked food has been lined up to offer to the monks once they finish the circuit outside. An unbelievable quantity if you haven’t been to one of these events before.

The serious job of selecting breakfast. Everything in the previous photo is passed in front of the monks using these little wheeled trays and they select whatever they want. Senior monks get first choice down to the most junior last.

Senior monks at the front and the more junior ones on the right. This is the first time I have seen this beautiful hall being used for a celebration. You can see why they build them big!

Food being selected and placed in those black bowls.

The Thai wai – a sign of welcome and respect to others. 

It is more often used in formal occasions so don’t get too carried away with it on an everyday basis. There are three social usage levels of the wai – fingers under chin for a leser status person or youngsters (you don’t wai young kids), the second is this example at nose level for equal or higher status people and the final is hands in front of nose for monks or if you want to impress the boss.

This is the abbot of this wat. One of those wonderful characterful faces that can be captured with a decent telephoto lens.

This is the abbot of a small wat close to Nong Bua Lamphu. I wrote about a day out we had with some monks visiting various temples, his being one of them. That post is HERE.

Kin Khao – a literal translation means to eat rice but refers to any statement about having a meal. Monks don’t eat after noon so they get their money’s worth when they can.

Driving home from the wat the sun came out briefly so I grabbed the opportunity. This road leads from the moo ban (village) to the wat.

If you read my post yesterday I had a photo of rice being harvested early and said that it would need to be dried before storing as we are still in the wet season. This photo backs up my comment.

I am biased but I love this photo. So Thai rural.

15 Oct 2017 – A Change of Seasons

Having spent all my life in an urban environment the change of seasons only affected me by whether I wore a jacket and tie to work or not and when the electric blankets went on and came off the beds! Here I have a greater appreciation of the “real” changes as they impact the local farming community.

We are heading into the cool, dry season in the north of Thailand and that means shortly the harvesting the rice then the sugar cane and on the market garden side of things crops like broccoli and cauliflower are being planted in the fields.

Today we also made a contribution of flowers to the forest wat a kilometre down the road from the family farm, which you can see on Google Maps here: https://goo.gl/maps/wfCVxfu21Wx

Cauliflower grown from seed and then replanted into the fields.

The rice is forming in the paddies. Yuan and Lud’s harvest is scheduled for 10 November.

Family rice and sugar. The farm ends at the trees on the horizon. Note how the grassed paddy banks are kept cut, which is a reflection of the care this Isaan family take of their farm.

The big push starts to plant up the fields for cool season crops leading up to New Year (a huge demand period in Isaan). 

Broccoli and cauliflowers under shade cloth in the background. It has been a challenge to get the fields ready because of the constant rain. The little tractor gets bogged if this clay soil gets too wet.

Four large bundles of flower cuttings to be taken to the wat thanks to Gaun’s farm garden. It was a two motorbike task!

Villagers were coming out this morning to plant after they heard we had delivered these flowers. The temple is having their end of Buddhist Lent party on 28 October so there is a lot of work happening to get ready.

Even the monk’s accommodation have been landscaped with flowers and shrubs, many of which have been donated by Gaun.

The current small Buddha hall. Dit, the abbot who you saw in the previous entry, loves flowers so there is hope this will turn into a pretty wat once the building work is finished.

A concrete floor has just been poured to one of the main buildings under construction.

This has the potential to be a small but impressive timber building. Dit’s inspiration has come from the impressive timber wats we have in the region, a couple of which I covered in a post HERE

A mess at the moment because it has only recently been excavated but this “moat” will form a feature across the back of the temple and down one side. Do you see the thin line of green on top of the soil wall heading into the distance? All of those are cuttings donated by Gaun and will form a hedge in time.

16 Oct 2017 – More donations

More flower cuttings from the farm delivered to Wat Pa Suan An today. Three monks plus some villagers were busy working on both the main timber building and the toilet block getting them as complete as possible (especially the toilet block!) for the big celebration on the 28th.

Gaun’s flower cuttings from yesterday have already been planted along the edge of the “moat” heading into the distance.

The yai (grandmother) who is doing most of the planting. Here she is sorting through another delivery made by Gaun this morning. This photo is taken from inside that “moat” wall.

Huge timbers being prepared for the new building seen here in the distance.

Three monks hard at work while two villagers looked on. It’s not just sitting around eating and meditating being a monk.

A mortise (hole) being chiselled into the timber to hold a supporting beam.

This is Dit, the head monk, demonstrating how it’s done to another monk. This is the piece of timber that will be winched into place slotting into the mortise shown in the previous photo.

Just to give you an idea of the height involved. The monks were clambering all over this structure in their thongs (flip flops) and long robes.

Another beautiful piece of hardwood waiting for the final treatment before being added to the building. Dit in the background.

This building will be standing for some time to come with timbers like this one.

Meanwhile back at the farm Yuan was spreading gypsum to help break up the clay soil (I think). Ready for cauliflower seedlings tomorrow. Lud fooling around in the back.

Gaun next to the same plants that now form part of the entrance to the wat. She is in the process of extending this display to include the road running next to the second family farm. All of this field will be planted up in the next week if it stays dry.

20 Oct 2017 – Photos of not much!

If I waited to post anything of great significance my timeline would be a blank. Today is an example of that.

We have been working on creating a modest entrance to the farm to complement the garden Gaun has developed. Today the main structure (a grandiose name for a few pieces of timber) was completed. Yuan and Lud did much of the work as they had a day off because it rained last night, which prevented them planting new crops as the clay soil is so difficult to shape when wet. A few other photos.

The entranceway as it started.

The colours really happening as we head into the cool season.

This is the sign being prepared. A beautiful piece of hardwood bought from a local for 300 baht (A$12.00). The words will be carved, painted white and then it will be stained in a clear matt varnish to allow the natural colours to show through.

The bougainvillea enjoys the cool and dry weather and is starting to make an appearance.

I am the proud father of four lemons….well the tree was sold to me as a lemon not a lime tree. This is the first crop so time will tell if I have been ripped off.

Heavy rain has caused some rice to fall over. It isn’t a major problem other than it makes it more difficult to harvest.

Yuan, Gaun and Lud getting the cross pieces into place.

Lud.

I have to admit that my contribution was mostly in the supervisory role. It’s not that I am lazy – although that’s a state I feel quite comfortable in 🙂 but my Thai family are horrified whenever I try to do anything. I must look very frail and elderly in their eyes.

Gaun had an urge for coconuts. Luckily the farm was well able to provide. If you have never seen fresh coconuts about 70% of it is cut away to get to the hard inner core. It is hard work with a machete to get the end reward.

21 Oct 2017 – A few more mixed photos

Yet a few more little things – none related to food or selfies. I knew that mosquito spraying happened in the moo ban (village) on a regular basis but this was the first time I had seen it in action. It must be reasonably effective because although we have a few mosquitos around especially early morning and at dusk, I had far more at my Canberra home in Australia during summer. A couple of other topics covered in photos.

Everything grows quickly and large in this tropical climate. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes……Now this fella would chop through a bit of foliage in a day.

Loading up with Agent Orange or DDT 🙂 A big event for the kids on a weekend.

Focussed concentration.

And we’re off. Simple face masks only for the guys spraying. Everything being recorded with photos by that lady maybe to prove public money being correctly spent.

Somewhere in there is the sprayer.

Everyone heads into the cloud. We went the opposite direction!

Our contribution to the yellow theme for the king’s cremation month.

An oasis of shade, colour and coolness. I couldn’t cope with Isaan without this home base of greenery. For those of you who followed the pebblecrete driveway installation it has just had its first birthday and is holding up well.

22 Oct 2017 – Finishing the day Isaan style

A late afternoon trip to the farm where Gaun was helping her younger sister Yuan and husband Lud get soil ready to plant broccoli. I kept on going and dropped in to see progress on the construction of the new temple and got some great photos. Drinks all round to finish off the day.

The rain has slowed progress in planting new crops so Gaun helped out this afternoon. This clay soil is either like chewing gum if wet or rock if too dry. Everything grows magnificently in it once established.

Yuan and Gaun. Some Thai wives forget their backgrounds once they marry a farang and his money. Not so much this lady.

Three mini-monks at Wat Pa Sup Anun seen through flowers planted for the king. The kids were keen to test their very limited English and even got “Good afternoon” right, which is unusual as “Good morning” normally covers the whole day.

More huge timbers added since I last visited. The monks and some villagers are working flat out to get as much finished as possible for their big celebration of 28 October. Did you spot the monk on the scaffold?

I was taken to be introduced to one of the several rabbits this temple has either hopping around or in cages waiting to be released. 

Rabbits are seen as good luck in Thailand and the “V” two finger sign often seen is representative of rabbit ears and nothing to do with the Churchill “V’ for victory English WW2 history (not surprisingly).

The centre monk speaks decent English and is the son of one of the workers who built our house. These monkettes will probably be returning to school once the new term starts next week.

So much is missed unless you live here and take an interest.

This is the road that goes past the family farm to the temple I have just shown you. Those wires are taking power to the wat. They have been placed on temporary poles, to the slight frustration of farmers who now find it hard to get sugar harvesting equipment onto their land under the wires. However once the wat gets its official registration as a temple PEA (the Provincial Electricity Authority) will get funding from the government to install full concrete poles and move the wires, which will please the farmers. Funding will might also become available to improve the road although it has recently been upgraded. (Update Feb 2018 – these poles are now in place, which I will cover in a later post but the wires haven’t yet been moved).

Just out of interest (or not) farms get 300 baht free electricity each month. Yuan and Lud have never paid for power.

Gaun is continuing her garden expansion down the road and here has planted some trees as well as flowers. The makeshift seating has been made for Peng to use when she is exercising! 150 metres of flowers bordering this road have now been planted.

And today here is Peng making good use of that seat. Exactly as I told you – note her use of the rabbit ear sign 🙂

Local moo ban (village) kids heading home from a day at their farm. These are neighbours of Gaun’s family home.

This is Gaun’s elder brother’s house being built on his land, situated on the second half of the farm. What you see has cost 70,000 baht or A$2,800. He and family will return from Bangkok way for the big Songkran festival in April next year and do some more work.

Just cause I could.

All you need (if your knees are up to it) for a welcome end of day drink. If you have been to Thailand you will know that a dining suite is wherever you throw your mat on the ground!

23 Oct 2017 – Yet another end of Buddhist Lent festival

Another early morning start (for me if not others) for a “feed the monks” ceremony at one of my favourite wats, a forest temple called Wat Pa Sila:

https://goo.gl/maps/HdMh1YdaH8J2

Although the wat itself only has around seven monks in residence all the surrounding forest temples are invited so it ends up being a big event with 50 or more monks involved. I told Gaun that I wouldn’t take my camera because I have done so many of these festivals but habits are hard to break and I find there are always new angles on the same subject so enjoy.

You can usually pick a forest temple not just by the trees 🙂 but by the simple timber main hall most of them have. If there is a red, white and gold structure, as there is in this wat, it is most likely an ubosot or monk’s ordination hall, which is closed to the public.

This is the boss monk of this region. Very popular and gets around to all the events. We have been to his temple, which is about one hour’s drive from us.

A good turnout of monks. donations of food and drink made into the monks’ bowls, which are then tipped into the big basins carried by those guys at the back.

A telephoto moment.

I just love the broad range of ages involved at these ceremonies. This is Dit, the delightful abbot of our local forest temple, receiving food from a bunch of young kids. You can sort of feel a connection happening.

The abbot of this wat – Phu Yao, leading this line of monks. That’s the ubosot building in the background. Because I regularly meditate at this wat I have been invited to use the ubosot, which is so kind of them and a real privilege.

Just glorious colours.

A lovely photo of Dit. He is as friendly as he looks.

All the donations being sorted. Sticky rice in the big bowl at the front.

At the end the monks get their feet washed and dried before heading upstairs to the main hall for breakfast.

The senior monks at the front and the others on the right. The usual vast array of food on offer.

Underneath a large group of people were busy cooking free food for the hundreds of attendees. You won’t leave one of these ceremonies hungry or thirsty.

The building on the left is living quarters for nuns. This is a very pleasant location to have a meal – better than any restaurant I have seen in the area. Tablecloths too! I have NEVER seen tablecloths in Isaan from memory.

Orderly chaos as food and hungry Isaan people meet. See the lady in the middle who has spotted a farang taking her photo? I was the only one there.

Food, drink and Isaan can not be separated.

You can tell a Thai event is happening. Spot the farang shoes!

If you read last entry showing Gaun working on the farm it is hard to image this is the same lady. She is very versatile – boots and dirt one day and jewelry and makeup the next. .

 Thanks for reading and please take the time to leave a comment. I always enjoy the chance to hear from you and know there’s someone on the other end of these words!