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 🙂
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 in 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 events in November and day one of December 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.
15 Nov 2017 – At the Farm
We spent a day at the farm today to watch (I was the one observing – Gaun was working) the rice being collected from the fields and stacked ready for processing tomorrow. As soon as that was finished everyone was back to preparing soil for more vegetable plants. As always I am so impressed by how quickly things grow here. A bumper crop of everything likely for New Year.
As soon as that was finished everyone was back to preparing soil for more vegetable plants. As always I am so impressed by how quickly things grow here. A bumper crop of everything likely for New Year.
Vegetables being grown: Cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy, celery, mint, tomatoes, morning glory, long beans, spring onions, garlic, coriander, dill, lettuce, pappaya, Chinese cabbage and I have probably missed something.
17 Nov 2017 – What’s for Dinner?
A break in farming this morning for a spot of fishing Isaan-style. Gaun, Game (Yuan and Lud’s son) and Lud all in the water. You’ll never guess what’s for dinner!
18 Nov 2017 – Rice from Farm to Home
The rice on Yuan’s farm was bagged today but we missed it as we were having coffee at home with friends. I will make sure I will be there for the next batch being processed on the other half of the farm.
The new rice was transported to the storage hut at the family compound ready for another year’s eating. This is all sticky rice. Steamed rice is being grown on the other part of the farm and there will be a swap at some stage. Payment for the threshing is usually in the form of rice. I am never sure who actually pays tax in Thailand.
Yuan tells me (via Gaun) that the plants were more widely spaced, which resulted in a smaller crop. Everyone happy though and plenty of Lao Khao (Isaan “whiskey”) being consumed for breakfast.
21 Nov 2017 – Rice Threshing
The other half of the farm had its rice bagged today and as always there were lots of photos to take, even though this was my fourth season and I am becoming an old hand at many of these annual events.
Note that the rice sheaves are tied with bamboo “string” (top left). People actually sit with a knife and slit the bamboo to make these. They sell for 15 baht (A$0.60) for bundles of 100. They need to be soaked in water to make them flexible when they’re actually used.
The husks are left on and only removed to reveal the pure white rice you’d expect when it is needed. The husks are sold by the people who process the rice at 5 baht (A$0.20) for a sackful. It is used as mulch.
22 Nov 2017 – More Farm Stuff
I know I am farm obsessed but the reality is that it forms a big part of my new(ish) life in Thailand and I couldn’t imagine it being otherwise. I know that some others reading this have the same attachment as a result of ending up in the sticks (like it or not!).
For city folk I hope the insights of farming life in Isaan gives you a glimpse into the real Thailand, which has little to do with beaches, elephant rides and zip-lining.
It always amazes me that this has been their home for well over 20 years. I have made some more recent improvements but the basic functionality of the place hasn’t changed much.
Although it all looks a bit random there is in fact everything they need here. It is immaculately maintained, which is so unusual for an Isaan farm, which are often pretty ordinary.
In this photo there is a visitor’s bench on the right, a food preparation benchtop, “formal” dining area at the back (for farang knees) and informal dining plus bedroom on the left.
Yuan’s private garden (separate from Gaun’s work) is in the foreground. For the farming technical do you see the small red “thing” on top of a raised concrete lid just to the right of the plastic bin on the far left? That’s the main bore/well for the farm and it is powered by the diesel engine you can see just to the right of it in the background (that’s a headlight in case you attached it to farm equipment). Water from here is used to fill the main pond and a second engine pumps water to hoses all over the farm to hand water vegetables or flood rice paddies.
Can you spot the miner’s lights hanging up centre photo? Yuan and Lud start work at 2:00 am many mornings when it is cooler and they use these lights to see what they are doing!
A new addition is that cupboard on the left that was originally bought for our kitchen when we rented in Chiang Mai. The dirt floor has been more recently concreted. I am planning to have it tiled early next year and a new roof before the next rainy season.
We increase the mortgage to build a flash new kitchen and get stressed about the repayments.Here they just use part of one of my shipping cases used to bring stuff from Australia and add a few accessories! I think the table legs have a special character. A knife block on the far right using the gap between two pieces of timber. Glasses, mugs and plates/bowls all in their own separate containers. All the essential cooking ingredients on the left – fish sauce, fish dead longtime (fermented fish and boy is it strong), MSG, garlic, oyster sauce, sugar and salt. A cutlery basket hanging up and chopping board on the far left. The benchtop will be tiled before Christmas.
23 Nov 2017 – Mixed
Only one farm vegetable related photo today you’ll be pleased to hear and that’s for a particular reason. A couple of other observations to give variety.
I planted some last year but got the season wrong and it didn’t take. This year I have just handed it all over to the experts and will sit back (as usual) and see what the outcome is.
I think this is a copperhead racer (wrong) but have the photos in with experts and will report back. If it is this, like most snakes you’ll see in Thailand, is harmless unless you’re a frog or lizard! He was left alone to enjoy a beautiful sunny and mild day in Isaan as I will.
P.S. The experts tell me: Red-Necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus) – rear fanged so most bites are without medical consequences, however a few people have had very bad reactions, but only after repeated and prolonged bites (the snakes were pets).
Any guesses? It is actually government land and this area has been split up into small plots, which are available to local villagers who, for whatever reason, don’t have access to land of their own. It gives them the opportunity to grow some vegetables either to sell or for the dinner table. It is a demonstration of the previous king’s enthusiasm to make people more self sufficient. Each plot has its own water metre, so they do have to pay for usage, however the rates are very low.
23 Nov 2017 – Adding to Google Maps
Adding new places to Google Maps required patience (although can you imagine the workload their end) but you do eventually get a result. I posted a previously unknown wat called Pa Nong Ko (new to Google Maps anyway) on 14 September and it was approved yesterday. I have since added my review and photos. It is a brilliant temple of the timber style and hidden away in local countryside, so you get an added sense of adventure and achievement when you find it.
27 Nov 2017 – Another Mix
A mix of small stories comes with this collection of photos.
The diesel engine on the left pumps water from the pond and feeds two hoses used by Yuan and Lud. You can see Yuan in the background. When the pond level drops water is pumped from the big farm bore/well and tops up the pond.
That’s family sugar in the background. Prices are going to be very low this year, 500 – 600 baht a ton (that’s the harvested at farm price). Last year they got 800 baht and in previous years it peaked at 1,200 baht. Rice is also low this year – 8.5 baht a kilo for sticky rice and 12.5 baht for steamed. It’s very difficult to make a reasonable living from the land and any farang thinking they can retire here and grow stuff to supplement their income in a significant way – well good luck with that.
Drippers would be more efficient but you’d need a number of raised water storage tanks to gravity feed the system. The big diesel engines used to supply the hoses wouldn’t work for low pressure drippers. Extensive piping and then the actual dripper lines would also need to be in place – an expensive exercise and only in full use this time of year. When I win the lottery…………………….
28 Nov 2017 – My Thai Family
I am constantly blessed by the level of honesty and care I get from my Thai family. As I have written before the families of Thais with western partners often get a bad rap (sometimes for totally legitimate reasons I hasten to add) for their attitude that all us farang are just looking for ways to share the immense wealth we have lying around!
Here are four personal examples of the alternative attitude from one of those many wonderful Thai families out there who think we are normal cash-limited people. This more enlightened attitude is less likely to be reported on the farang Thai forums.
- I wanted to buy some hardwood from a neighbour. She wasn’t home when we selected the timber and couldn’t give me a price over the phone. That evening, unasked, Yuan and Lud went over to see her, not to push the price up and get a cut, but to make sure I got an Isaan price. 100 baht (A$4.00) for a 3 metre piece of seasoned hardwood to make picture frames was the result – no different than if Yuan and Lud were buying for themselves.
- Last night we were having some drinks on the farm late afternoon with Yuan, Lud and a niece and nephew of Gaun. After a few bottles it was suggested we move on to have an Isaan buffet in town. Yuan wanted everyone to pay for themselves before I said I was happy to cover the bill. OK says Yuan but we’ve already had a few beers so we won’t order more at the buffet! BTW at the end of the buffet Yuan handed over 500 baht for their contribution, which I wouldn’t take. P.S. We picked Peng up on the way through – she would have killed me otherwise
- Today we finalised the purchase of the land next to ours, which required a confirmation of price and arrangements for paying. Yuan and Lud came along just to make sure it all went smoothly as the vendor is a next door neighbour and friend. All done.
- It’s my birthday on the 26th December and unknown to me, until now, Yuan and Gaun are organising a birthday party, which will not only include all the family who will be here for New Year but also some other village friends and a few of the local elders. This event is being paid for by Yuan and Gaun, the latter who is using money she has from last year’s sugar crop not mine.
Families in any situation are a luck of the draw – some work and others less so. Thai families are no different. Thank you Goddess Luck for mine
This is as passionate you will see a Thai couple get in public. Yuan’s birthday.
28 Nov 2017 – Photos from around the Village
Whenever I don’t take a camera with me I always regret it. This wasn’t one of those occasions. For the big holiday snaps forget it but for glimpses into everyday life – priceless.
However he ended up with friends so his money wasn’t called on. Today he made up for it “because otherwise Peng will be angry with me” and a small buffet was happening at the family home. Peng had just got back from school but anytime is eating time in Thailand. The other guy is another cousin of Peng’s called Tom, the son of Paed and Tham, who run the other half of the family farm. He recently came back from Bangkok for the funeral of a friend and is returning this evening.
That’s our street in the background. We are where that block of green sticks out about halfway down on the left. That’s our entrance hedge.
1 December 2017 – Udon Thani Chinese Festival
We spent today in Udon Thani, a decent sized city to the east of us, to enjoy a Chinese festival that happens on the 1st and also some excellent markets that run for 12 days as part of this celebration. Lots of great photos so I will post a couple of further entries later but in the meantime here are a two small moments that caught my attention neither of which are directly related to anything Chinese!
So I will leave you while I enjoy my coffee. 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! There is a security question to answer before you can leave a comment. Don’t be put off. You wouldn’t believe some of the automated rubbish that gets onto blogs if you don’t filter them with something like this.