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 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.

We spent a day at the farm today to watch (me – 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.

Gaun and Game offloading. The blue netting is there to capture all the rice that falls off the stalks. Nothing goes to waste.

Rice ready to be threshed tomorrow in the foreground and lots of vegetables behind.

This photo was taken on the 4th of Nov showing Yuan and Lud working on preparing the soil for planting.

And this is the same area today!

Ten days ago……..

…….and today. Cauliflower and broccoli all looking great.

The final beds planted up for this year. Seeds are protected by this black netting until they start sprouting.

Once money from the sugar crop (in the background) comes in early next year Yuan and Lud are paying to extend the pond on the right into this open area up to the mound on the left. It will be a plus for my boat because I will double my voyage area 🙂 but they also intend to use it for growing fish to sell. A win win.

Gaun’s older sister and hubbie Paed and Tham on the other half of the farm. Chinese cabbage and broccoli.

Gaun helping herself to morning glory also known as water spinach, river spinach, Chinese spinach and Chinese watercress. That’s Paed and Tham’s farmhouse in the background.

Celery in the foreground and cauliflower behind that. Celery here is not the thick stalk version we have in Australia for salads but the very thin type used in stir fry.

The driveways gets more colourful by the day.

I love the mix of flowers and vegetables. Best of both worlds.

A happy Gaun. Long beans, morning glory and pappaya all just harvested from Paed’s farm.

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!

A portable version of the fishing nets you’ll see all over Isaan. Lud and Game here.

This pond was made as a result of digging soil to build up the land where our house now stands in the village. Yuan and Lud are extending their current larger pond and the soil excavated from that will be used to fill in this pond, which will then become an area for growing vegetables.

The cooking pot attached to Lud with string is being used as a container for snails taken from the bottom of the pond:-) Very chewy and tasteless in my limited experience but loved by locals – a heavy dose of chilli (of course) to add flavour.

Gaun also on the hunt for snails.

Yuan meanwhile is cutting the rice stalks leftover from the harvest (a big downpour of rain overnight has held up the threshing operation for a couple of days).

These are then used as mulch on the vegetables as shown here. Nothing goes to waste. The twin bamboo posts you see here are to allow the hose to easily go down each row without disturbing the plants when they hand water the vegetables each day.

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.

Free delivery from farm to rice hut. 50 bags this year, down from the 70 bags they got last year.

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.

Gaun supervising.

The transfer point. The rice is emptied out from these bags . It still has its husk on and this is only removed when the rice is to be used.

Hard at work as always. Gaz are you seeing this? A lick of paint and I can ship it over for your farm.

In Australia I would have photos posing with BMWs and Porsches. How life has changed 🙂

Good for another 50 years.

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.

A beautiful sight for us farang farmers! I have spent so much time watching this being planted, watered and harvested 🙂 Exhausting. Rice for another year!

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 more yellow coloured sticky rice on the left and white steamed rice on the right.

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.

The Mad Max threshing machine (thanks for the image Guy Lawrance) ready to go. Rice sheaves fed in on the right, the separated rice bagged at the back and the stalks blasted out to pile up on the left.

But first a few drinks, beer, lao khao (rice whisky), soft drinks and water. I stuck with beer!

The important part of the process – rice into bag.

Yuan’s son Game (Gaun’s younger sister) and Tham, one of my brother-in-laws. It’s his farm and Gaun’s older sister Paed that’s having the rice processed today. Game is on holiday for a month from his conscription service with the Thai army.

Yellow – so it is sticky rice. Both farms ended up with a combined 137 bags of sticky rice and 7 of steamed (for that picky non-Isaan farang eater). Each bag weighs around 30 kilos.

Paed battling an increasingly high mountain of future vegetable mulch.

Gaun looks on. The three bags to the back of her will be stored and used to seed the rice paddies next June. And so the cycle continues.

All show and no go. It reminds me of my days in the Australian government service but a lot happier 🙂

Nine people in the team. Three passing rice to the machine, two setting it up to be run through the thresher, one guy feeding the thresher, two bagging and one stacking on the truck. All done in less than an hour.

Now you can see why they have the blue netting down. All the rice that has fallen is collected processed. Nothing goes to waste.

Rice straw.

My steamed rice – identified by the blue ties. The rest has the bamboo ties I wrote about earlier that are also being used on the sheaves. The bamboo means that the rice bundles can be processed as is without having to first removed the ties, which would need to be done if they were artificial.

A slight technical problem had the hood up on the thresher and high tech repairs with a large iron bar got it going again.

The team is paid in rice and you can see what they have collected as a result of the two jobs so far today. They get two bags for every 50 bags processed. The guy underneath is disconnecting the shaft to the thresher and attaching it back to the wheels again.

Off to unload the rice into the family’s storage hut back at the home compound. The bags belong to the operator and the rice is stored in bulk. Bags are sold for 10 baht each in case you wanted some!

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.

Fresh vegetables off to the local markets. Celery with Yuan and Gaun has bok choy (I think).

Picked before sunrise this morning. That basket of produce back left will earn Yuan 300 baht or A$12.00. I look at the hard work to prepare soil, plant, water and harvest for the returns they get and it seems woeful.

This was a rice paddy two days ago but it is now being converted into a vegetable plot already. You can see that they have cut the rice stalks post-harvest and laid them around the edges, which will be used to mulch the new vegetables once planted.

I can never resist this type of photo., It is such a vibrant statement of new growth and beauty.

Meanwhile Gaun had filled these pots with farm soil and taken cuttings of these palms.

And they were transported (thanks to having a pick-up) back home where they have fitted into a space we had next to the sala at the front entrance. Perfect.

I thought I would show you around Yuan and Lud’s farmhouse.

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.

I arranged for this to be built. Before they had no running water and washed up was done using plastic pots on the ground.
We now have a storage tank, a pressure pump feeding this double sink, a hand basin, a western toilet and a garden tap.

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.

The lounge room. It’s all you need and at about 100 baht each these hammocks aren’t too draining on the budget.

The bedroom upstairs. Mattress on the floor and a mosquito net. That’s the informal dining room on the right. Lay out a couple of mats and I have seen a dozen people eating here.

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!

Two wood/charcoal fired stoves plus a gas cooktop. For events like harvesting rice I have seen half a dozen lunch dishes come from this arrangement to feed 20 people.

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 wouldn’t like to live like this but it is perfectly organised and useable.

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.

Yuan getting garlic ready to plant later today. The point of interest is that she has in her hands garlic from Australia that is bigger and I hope more tasty than the Thai 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.

A beautiful coloured snake seen at the farm this morning.

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).

If you want to learn more about Thai snakes there is an excellent Facebook group HERE. They will help identify snakes from all over Thailand and the David, the main guy, has a king cobra as a pet!

This water tank and solar panels (to power a bore/well pump) arrangement has been in place for six months or more on the way to the family farm. It was only last week that the land beside it was fully cleared and ploughed.

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.

Here you can see the plots marked out with sticks and plastic bags.

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.

On Google Maps it is HERE: and it is one of my favourite wats of Isaan, and you can read about them all HERE

This temple is just outside the moo ban (village) of Gaun’s eldest sister.

27 Nov 2017 – Another Mix

A mix of small stories comes with this collection of photos.

Slightly shellshocked by the experience but better here than sitting on our house wall or fried and on someone’s lunch menu.

Settling in.

No purpose at all to the next three photos. They are just shots I liked of cooking implements hanging in the farm kitchen.

There’s some history in these woks.

A basket that is mostly used to collect mushrooms in season.

Gaun’s landscaping outside the farm toilet! See the washbasin and the soap container?

The road leading into the local wat. Gaun’s flower contribution to the landscaping has taken despite probably zero care and will provide a colourful entry in time.

Big Isaan skies as the rice is harvested at a farm next to the wat.

Slow progress being made on the timber wat down the road from the farm. The end of Buddhist lent ceremony I posted a few weeks ago raised 700,000 baht (A$28,000) so we can expect construction to continue.

A play of roofs adds interest.

Hand watering the vegetables on the farm is a two person 2 1/2 hour job every afternoon starting about 3:00 pm. It traps farmers like Yuan and Lud as they are stuck having to do this chore everyday.

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.

This is Tham, a brother-in-law, on the second farm also on the late afternoon watering job.

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.

The colours of the bougainvillea represent everything tropical to me. Amazingly vivid.

Gaun helping Yuan. The hoses are long and very heavy when filled with water. You can see that Yuan has the hose hooked over her shoulder to pull it along. Gaun is helping to move the hose to each row that’s being watered.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 
  3. 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.
  4. 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 

On a local tuk tuk.

Gaun and her best friend younger sister Yuan. Taken when they were working to clear the land we had bought in the village in 2013.

Gaun and Yuan.

This is as passionate you will see a Thai couple get in public. Yuan’s birthday.

Yuan not Gaun. Our first Christmas in Isaan just after we moved into mama’s house to start the five month building process on our land.

I took Yuan and Lud for their first plane trip and we went to Chiang Mai/Rai for a few days. This photo was taken at the beautiful Doi Tung Royal Palace gardens outside Chiang Rai and you can read about it HERE.

Fish anyone?

Left to right: Lud, the guy we are buying the land next door from, a friend, Yuan, Paed – Gaun’s older sister, and Gaun.

Lud in a thoughtful moment.

At Phu Foi Lum outside Udon Thani HERE

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.

Last night Game, Yuan’s son in red, offered to pay for Peng’s Isaan buffet I took some of the family to last night.

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.

This is Gaun’s mama making steamed rice for the family’s evening meal on the wood fired stove you can see in the background. Raising seven kids alone after her husband died when Gaun was five in the days of buffalo powered ploughing and no running water or electricity gives me enormous respect for her. The family tease her but she’s much loved.

Just next to mama’s house the daughter of the people we are buying land from had set up a stall to sell fried chicken feet. This was day one and it was a huge hit with hungry kids back from school.

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.

Bikes are still the main transport for young kids – not mum or dad’s car like in our society. Quite a parking lot here because feet demand had outstripped supply! I think she has found a niche market.

The word is out and more kids here heading for ground zero – chicken feet with 11 secret herbs and spices. Two girls on the front bike.

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!

A beauty contest was happening and I felt that it was my duty to record this Isaan cultural event in detail 🙂

Remind me again of the benefits of retirement in Thailand. Behind the winner’s trolley were two others filled like this.

I needed a coffee to recover for all that culture and came across this fabulous mobile coffee stall.

Precise panel fit.

How’s that! What a brilliant set-up. Full of character.

He produced a decent cuppa too. Behind that Coca Cola engraving to the left is a drawer with a tap for a handle.

A happy farang. More orchids for the garden in those bags so a happy Gaun too.

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.