Another post on spending time in Isaan, rural Thailand, a topic I have covered before but with some new angles.
The timing for our trip here was based around an appointment Peng, Gaun’s daughter, had to see her doctor for a six monthly check-up. I wanted to be part of that because I still didn’t have a medical name I could put to her condition, which has resulted in her reduced mobility, a subject I have discussed on this blog previously.
I also wanted to do some more preparation for us moving into the family house in November and get my house plans drawn up at the local Tessa Ban, or planning department.
Finally Peng hasn’t had the chance to ride her bike as Yuan, Gaun’s younger sister who would normally take on the teaching role, has been sick and when not sick she has been flat out planting rice. The background to Peng’s motorbike can be found HERE.
I left Chiang Mai for the trip here a little reserved on enthusiasm. I had done a lot of driving in the North the previous weekend, stories HERE and HERE, and another big trip wasn’t high on my list of things to do. However Gaun makes it all so easy. I just tell her when we are going and day before everything is packed including all my clothes and breakfast things waiting to load up. She is organised in a way I will never be. I just get to drive. Once we got going it is never as bad as it feels beforehand.
We had a very wet trip for much of the way, which keeps the police checkpoints empty except for the plastic ones saluting you as you go by. For some reason I blanked on a turn I should have taken and we saw some new parts of Thailand. I realised after a little while and we only added about 40 minutes onto the trip. I never worry too much about things like that. Who knows what may have happened if I had made the turn and been “on time”.
We booked into the resort we always stay at and then headed off to home and got the usual warm family welcome, which always makes the trip worthwhile.
Yuan has been sick a couple of times recently and they have kept her in the local hospital feeding her a saline drip. I suspect it is “just” overwork. She has been out of action on the farm until yesterday when she did hop into the fields to do a bit of work. Her bustling energy and huge smile have been a little muted this time. Gaun has been helping out as rice planting is in full swing and everyone is working flat out.
On Monday we did the trip to the hospital in Khon Kaen, about an hour away further South. We took my brother-in-law’s ute because I was thinking of buying a couple of single mattresses there for our bedroom as part of the trip. We can’t get a full sized anything up the steep stairs and through a low door at the top. Not designed for farang or for king sized mattresses.
The road to Khon Kaen is woeful in parts due to the huge sugar trucks loaded up in season tearing it to pieces. Parts of the dual highway are like being on a boat on a rough day, a roller-coaster effect, and Lud’s ute being a little ancient didn’t cope too well.
Finding a park anywhere near the hospital was a challenge and when we got inside I understood why. I had never seen so many people milling round in a hospital. Huge crowds in every section. You could spend days there but I guess it must all come together somehow. The rehabilitation area was packed too. Yuan, who normally does this trip alone with Peng, has never seen it so busy. The end result was it took us five hours in total to have a 20 minute appointment. I didn’t even get to see the main doctor after all of that. Still I got what I wanted, which although very simple when compared to the effort, gave me a diagnosis and some sort of action plan.
Peng has cerebral palsy, and looking at the list of possible symptoms she is a lucky girl to be affected the way she is. There were many kids in wheelchairs waiting to see the doctor and mental problems are common too. There is nothing wrong with Peng’s mental ability as she is exceptionally bright and she can get around although in a more limited way than normal. It is “nice” to have a name to her condition anyway.
I might try and organise a private consultation when Peng visits Chiang Mai in October just to double check in a more relaxed environment that there is nothing on the surgical front we can do. She will never be 100% but there is no doubt that she has improved since having the weekly massage we organised. I hope we can add strength to her legs with physiotherapy and maybe a treadmill.
The motorbike training has started with Gaun in charge. Of course Peng has had no experience of being on the road or riding. We all start off on bikes and get used to turning and looking out for traffic etc, something Peng has never experienced.
I have video and will upload it when I get a decent internet connection. BTW I am typing this at the family farm thanks to mobile WiFi, while everyone else is off doing real work planting rice.
On the house front the family introduced me to a local builder, who I think would do a good job if I can afford him. I would employ him on a fixed labour price, which would allow us the freedom to choose and buy all the materials based on his advice. I am a little worried that I won’t be able to afford the house I have designed, but we will go ahead with getting it drawn up and costed and see where we go from there.
I completed the design on Wednesday and yesterday we visited the Si Bun Ruang Tessa Ban, planning people, and found a guy who will draw it up for us for around 3,000 THB or $100.00 for a full set of plans! Getting approval isn’t a problem as the guy who draws it probably approves it!
We have almost completed civilizing mama’s house for farang occupation! The hot shower happened last year, the western toilet went in last time, see blog update HERE, and now we have added a water-tank to feed a new electric pump to pressurise the system and give me a decent shower! It was all fitted last night by two guys who installed the power and connected all the water pipes for 500 THB or $18.00.
We ended up getting the mattresses from Nong Bua Lamphu, the local town down the road, not Khon Kaen as I was buggered after the hospital trip. Thai Wasadu is the Bunnings equivalent and when we went there to get the pump they had mattresses for sale. Delivered free. Lud, my brother-in-law nearly had a heart attack when he heard what I spent, 5,000 THB or $170.00 each. “For farang not Isaan” was his comment. The cheaper Thai-style mattress replicate the concrete floor they use in hot weather and I have no idea why they bother. These mattresses actually have some give. They will end up being used in Peng’s/guest bedroom so if anybody reading this ever comes for a visit you will appreciate my efforts on your behalf!
Isaan is very different from last time we visited. The new rice gives a green coverage everywhere one looks and that slightly tired dry Australian look has passed.
The roads have a layer of mud on them as farm equipment and cars transfers soil from one to the other. Washing the car here would be a total waste of time. The drive here was much improved too as the rubber trees are in leaf and everything is looking Spring-like.
The trip here has brought home the fact that time is running out on one stage of my life in Thailand and a new one is opening up. My life in Chiang Mai is very settled and easy in a drifting sort of way. Coming here will be so different and I will have to be fully engaged in a project and not just sitting around or sightseeing. I still think that with a comfortable base here, which will be “ours”, that I can create a life that keeps me occupied and happy. Time will tell.
What will be different and I think so enjoyable is the engagement with local people. My sister who is a psychologist wrote to me recently about her current work interests and I quote:
My continuing passion in terms of work is neurobiology and at the moment I’m researching the neurobiology of attachment and human relationships. So interesting that in terms of the Western World researchers are thinking that our increasing rates of mental illness is in part due to the paucity of our relationships. About a third of people in the USA live in single person households and we’ve lost our tribes and community connections.
I was typing a reply to her one evening at the family home as one neighbour popped in to drop off some fruit, another was visiting with her dog and the neighbour across the road came over to watch the couple of guys I had installing a water tank and pump for the family home. As I continued to type another neighbour turned up and one small child.
The sound of chat, usually around the preparation and sharing of food, is part of the rural culture here. Sterile Australian suburbs are a far cry from a small Isaan village. No one dies alone here. I suggested to my sister that she should come on over and undertake a study in Si Bun Ruang, Isaan! Leave it until next year and we could provide accommodation.
I saw my surrogate mama, the old lady who acted for my mother at our wedding, blog story HERE, out walking in the morning and calling into her place involved a hugely warm welcome and a bit of a sit-down for a chat, Gaun chatting not me obviously! and to inspect the crop of small fish they were processing to turn into a fish sauce, the literal translation of which is “fish dead long time” or FDLT as I call it. This is a concoction that should be classified as a weapon of mass destruction and used as an alternative to treating penicillin resistant infections and to combat super bugs in the medical system. The smell would also fix overcrowding in hospitals as patients evacuated to clean air.
Visiting the farm today coincided with lunchtime and the workers and family who are planting rice all gathered to share lunch. This involved heaps of chat, gossip and laughter. Loneliness for farang in rural Thailand may be a problem but only if you don’t get along with your partner’s family or if you choose to exclude yourself from local life.
Thanks to Gaun’s translation I now know about the English guy who lives in the village and doesn’t like to shower too often and the Thai wife of another farang who is serving four years in the local nick for beating up her husband when he took on a new lady! Apart from Gaun’s sharings I don’t understand what’s being said but just the flow of voices and good humour makes me feel included.
You saw the photo of the farmhouse with its kitchen comprising of one gas ring and a wood fire. Well from this appeared as if by magic this spread for lunch, which included a freshly picked last night mushroom dish, noodles, sticky rice, a chicken soup, pappaya salad with FDLT! and fierce looking chilli and vegetable dish that I didn’t try and three types of fruit:
For me Isaan is many things. It is a connection with a wonderful Thai family, with Gaun’s daughter Peng and in the future a new home, but also it awakens something more basic in my nature, a closer connection to land, food and people, which really resonates with me. I think it is something we have lost along the way as a modern and urban society and that’s maybe what brings a few lost farang out to somewhere like Si Bun Ruang in the heart of Isaan.
I will finish by sharing that while watching the rice planting yesterday I managed to topple very gracefully backwards into the muddy rice paddy as I sat down on what I thought was solid ground. It was a closer connection to the land than I had ever planned but maybe it represented a type of Isaan farming baptism. Huge amusement for the locals and my dear wife. Unfortunately no photos captured the moment and even if they had you wouldn’t be seeing them.
Very exciting for me anyway – this is what I have wanted to see for Peng and her new mobility. Mama has just given her some money and Peng went to the local shops on her motorbike to buy some washing up detergent! Peng is now like everyone else and roped into doing chores! It is SO GOOD to see her first independent outing being just like other Thai kids. I am stoked.
Thanks for reading.