Love Living in Isan

1 April 2019

Because I never planned to retire when I came to Thailand I didn’t have a vision of what that lifestyle would look like. I suspect that had I had more time to think about that vision it wouldn’t look like it what I now experience each day. If someone had asked me what living in Thailand might involve I think in my mind it would have included beaches, elephants and more cocktails 🙂 These stories prove that life has turned out slightly differently from that vision, but I have to say that I wouldn’t exchange that daydream for my reality. I hope that the following insights will take you out of your everyday and transport you free of charge to a small rural village in Isan to join me as I record family events and anything else that captures my attention. 

It’s not just the photo

One of the unexpected discoveries since coming to Thailand has been the development of my interest in photography as a hobby. Obviously moving to a new country sparks a desire to record the new sights one sees every day and the growth of the blog required a regular flow of images to share with the accompanying stories. It has only been in the last couple of years that I have becoming more focussed on the quality of the photos themselves, after being put in touch with Adobe Lightroom, a decent photo editing software package, by Steve Coupland a Facebook friend. 

All the photos I now share have been through this editing process, not to make them distant or removed from the original image but to bring out the life and energy of each scene. For photographers out there I use a Nikon D5100 camera and usually a Sigma 18 – 250mm lens. I take the photographs in RAW format, so that the maximum freedom in editing is available. RAW stops any pre-processing by the camera software and captures ALL available data so that the photographer has the widest choice of options when it comes to editing. The downside is that the photos themselves, because the camera hasn’t done any processing, look rubbish and if you don’t then edit they are often unusable. Also RAW files are huge datawise compared to say a JPEG file and eat through your memory card space.

A good example of the transformation that can be achieved editing a RAW photo is the one on the left. Hover over it to see the original vs the edited version. Lightroom can even do minor retouching, such as removing those electrical wires from the original photo. Nothing like Photoshop but it isn’t intended to be.

BTW if you want to see some of the very best Isan photos out there, especially landscapes, please have a look at Steve’s Facebook page HERE. Very high quality and a great mix of scenes. An inspiration to happy snappers like me.

 

Moving House

No, we aren’t and no I don’t mean packing up and relocating to another home. I literally mean moving house! For some reason the owner of a traditional timber house on the land next to ours decided that he needed to move his house a few metres to the left 🙂 This would obviously cause a few problems in our western context as our houses are usually pretty attached to the ground! But if we did have a timber ‘cottage’ such as this one we’d automatically be on the phone to order a large crane, wait several weeks to recieve the correct planning permits, get the permission of our neighbours and close the street. Here all you have to do is employ a gang of house moving guys and watch as they roll your house to wherever you want it.

This traditional timber house has 12 columns. They are mostly concrete but in the centre row there are some of the original hardwood timber supports. The first job for the crew was to move the house and then replace the existing supports with the new concrete columns you can see on the right.

The timber supports have rotted where they have been in the ground because this house must be at least 40 years old. Here the winches have already been in action and the house, still connected to the columns, has been raised out of the ground. No original concrete footings. The columns were just stuck in holes and the soil put back. 

When first built these rural village house were built on piers maybe because of the threat of flooding but mostly because the buffalo were kept underneath. These days many of these lower areas have been walled in and form the main living areas. Upstairs is probably mostly empty or used for storage.

When the house was raised these hardwood planks were placed under each column with small steel rollers underneath and then the house was lowered back down.

Like moving blocks to the pyramids! The upper timber in these central columns was in good condition so when they replaced the other ones they cut out the rotted wood and added a base of concrete.

One end of the winch was attached to their truck and the other to the column and manpower used to VERY slowly roll the house into position. There’s one more winch at the other end on the left so it’s just the two guys providing the power to sliding the house over.

It only took one day’s work, the house was moved and all the columns replaced. Not bad.

Extra soil was delivered today to build up around the edges. I will report on whether they enclose the underneath. 

I enlarged the photo above to show the combined timber/concrete pier. Good for another 40 years.

Peng’s Last Day of School

My stepdaughter Peng had her last official day at school on the 28th, where the 200 or so students graduating received their leaving certificates from the school principal. For some ex-students the reality of life will hit and the job hunt will be on like in any society. Peng and others are now waiting for university offers to come back after sitting numerous entry exams. She should hear the results mid this month. She has already received an offer from Loei university but wants to go to Khon Kaen so the pressure is on.

In uniform one last time.

I will have to ask Peng the significance of the difference between blue and red folders.

Peng front row, fourth from the left.

The vital piece of paper.

With a friend.

Birthday Girl

Because this is a blog about everyday events I try to share whatever turns up and you can pick and choose the type of things that interest you. We had lunch yesterday with Tim. a friend from the blog, and Peng came along as she is no longer at school. Tim mentioned it was funny to meet Peng for real because he felt he knew her via the blog, even though this was only the second time he had seen her! The day after graduation was Peng’s birthday so I had better include it. 

Peng is not an early riser (we are twins in that aspect) so you know it is a special day when she makes an appearance to feed the monks as they make their rounds of the village each morning. It ended up that only one of the two temples fielded monks and that was a single guy I haven’t seen before. He spoke excellent English so I will have to find out what that’s all about.

Gaun’s family never acknowledged birthdays before I came along. Gaun didn’t even know Yuan’s birthday, her best mate, let alone the rest of them. Other people must be more ‘farang’ in their thinking because it is actually easy to buy birthday cakes in Si Bun Ruang.

200 – 300 baht and they will put whatever message you want on top. The cakes are more show than go and super sweet, but Thais love them and that’s the point.

Birthday cake time before we all head out for an Isan buffet in the evening. Left to right – Lud, Tom, a cousin, Yuan, the birthday girl, Gaun and Puk, another cousin. Singing ‘Happy Birthday’ here.

Yuan and Gaun. Peng sees them as almost joint mothers in the flexible way Thais relate to their families.

And that lovely ceremony where string is tied onto the wrist of someone celebrating a special event. Yuan here.

And Lud. Things got a bit emotional by the time Gaun and I did ours so I won’t share that.

My shout for an Isan buffet. All the food and ice cream you can eat! Body weight is doubled at these sessions.

A Photo Session

The next day after Peng’s birthday, the ladies decided that in the spirit of acknowledging a new beginning for Peng that a dress-up photo session was required. This is a group of photos maybe more for my enjoyment than others, but for regular readers who ‘know’ the people involved I think you can pick up on the enthusiasm and fun of the event. Thais do love photo sessions and shyness is not much in evidence. As always Gaun is unrecognisable from her usual gardening gear. She scrubs up pretty well 🙂 These brightly coloured shirts only come out at Songkran time, April each year, which is a huge celebration for Thai New Year. If you want one of these shirts buy them now because after Songkran they disappear until next year. Pay no more than 200 baht in Isan. I am sure a lot more in the tourist areas.

A Quick Visit to the Farm

The farm is so central to my life here that it is hard to share a week of activities and leave it out. As always for the virtual Isan farmers it will be of interest and for others move right along 🙂

Vast amounts of freshly picked basil being sorted and bundled by Yuan.

The tomatoes are just right for Isan people. A mix of colours.

Lud. Both Yuan and Lud have a real pride in what they do and the quality of their crops and I think this shows in Lud’s face.

Thai basil on the left and lemon (Isan) basil on the right. Other farmers pack what they pick without any further work (lazy says Gaun). 

Yuan on the other hand checks each stalk of basil and discards leaves she isn’t happy with before bundling. It is this sort of quality control that results in a lot of people who only buy from Yuan. She ALWAYS clears her stall at the markets while others have leftovers.

10 baht (A$0.40) for the bunch Gaun is holding.

A mix of photos with stories

I try to take my camera with me wherever I go and it is surprising how often I will see something that interests me. Here’s a selection from the last few days.

Stories you might not see unless I tell you. The boys in the front are hunting lizards. That piece of bamboo has a noose at the top that slips over the lizard’s neck. Some will be sold for eating (no I haven’t tried them) and others to be released. Peng bought a bagfull on her birthday and set them free at the farm to gain Buddhist merit. If you enlarge the photo on the blue bag the boy is holding you will see he has a couple of lizards already.

These ancient pick-ups work until they drop literally. There must be a ton of sugar on this version but rust and all it still gets the job done.

Any ideas? Edible?

Yummy with ice cream?

Maybe not. This is a kapok tree and inside these pods are seeds and also this white fiber, which is used to stuff most of the cushions and traditional pillows you see in Thailand. You can find an excellent blog post on the history and making of Thai pillows HERE.

A kapok seed pod sitting on top of a pillow, which is as hard as. If you are a tourist visiting you can buy just the covers, which make a great gift for friends on your return. Super cheap. Here they are brought with the kapok and taken to funerals, weddings and monk ordination ceremonies.

Papaya picked fresh from the garden this morning. What glorious tropical colours.

The downside of the incredible plant growth in Thailand is that a steady commitment is required to keep it all under control. This is just one day’s worth of cuttings from our garden heading out to the farm.

To be burnt I’m afraid. My apologies to any Chiang Mai readers who will hit the roof reading about more burning contributing to the worst air quality in the world a few times this season.

Yuan setting up for the Friday markets. Peng helping out and Gaun only there for the photo opportunity!

Si Bun Ruang has a modern dental clinic. No appointments required. A filling or clean will set you back 500 -600 baht (A$22.00 – 26.00). The main dentist has been trained up to orthodontic standards. 35,000 – 40,000 baht for the two year process.

After you get your teeth fixed you can celebrate with some beautiful sweet (555) fresh pineapples. These small ones are delicious. 25 baht a bag, 5 baht more than normal but worth it. I can splash out occasionally.

One of the side streets in Si Bun Ruang which takes you to the daily fresh food markets. This is its only tree a Dok Khun, Cassia Fistula or Golden Shower tree Wikipedia HERE.

One of the annoying oddities of Thailand is people’s ability to park motorbikes so close to one’s car that you can’t get out. If I had a bullbar (is that just an Aussie expression?) I would just run over it!

As you can see it’s not like there weren’t parking options 🙂 I could have just backed up but there was another one parked directly behind. We moved that one!

These flags are part of a sign that points to a wat located just past the farm. I replaced these over a year ago and it was time to do the job again. Making merit through flags not lizards (have you been reading carefully?)

Because this is such a dry part of Thailand most farmers only plant one crop of rice each year. If however, there is a good source of local water such as a large lake or river some people can get away with planting two crops. The first crop for the year is ready to be harvested now. Spot the people in the field? Not really they are scarecrows to stop the birds eating the rice!

The next planting will happen in June for another harvest in November. This is the timing for the family’s rice.

The guy across the road from us removed his roof to replace it. The hand of fate is the same here as anywhere and as soon as he did the rains hit and we have had several decent dumps since then.

Today his steel roofing went on and the forecast is for the rain to stop tomorrow 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this edition. Please leave a comment. It makes my day.