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Another mix of stories covering activities the last couple of weeks. A medical scare with Gaun’s mama, my rant on why be an Aussie citizen, an evening at a forest wat, out and about with friends, a guessing competition (with no prizes) for a colourful local school event, a return to one of my favourite wats in the area, cacti and yet more cacti and breakfast on the move. As always a broad mix of small stories reflecting the varied life we lead.

Introduction – Skip if you are a regular reader

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 in the northeast (Isaan) out this way looks like.

None of my stories is 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.

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.

P.S. I will add some of my older posts from April 2018 onwards soon, which although more out of date still have relevance to observing life here for those with an interest.

26 Aug 2018 – Worried About Mama

The family unit is such a central element to life here in rural Isaan that I thought I would give you a little insight of this.

Gaun’s mama had a medical situation late yesterday and it was heartwarming to see the breadth of family support that swung into action as a result.

Older photos. Mama and Peng.

Normally mama sleeps alone but last night Paed, one of Gaun’s older sisters, moved in and also my stepdaughter Peng went from our house to spend the night. Paed needed to start work at the farm by 4:00 am so Gaun took over until later in the morning when she handed over to a sister-in-law. Yuan and Lud took the next shift after delivering vegetables to the market and have now taken mama to see a monk in a neighbouring village organised by Noi, the eldest sister (not all medical situations are seen as physical). Neighbours have been popping in all day to make sure mama is OK.

It’s not to say that we have lost this sort of caring in western society, although I doubt it is generally as strong as here, but our families are spread over such an area that an immediate response like this mostly can’t happen.

Yuan and Lud are going to be taking mama out to the farm every day for a while so that they can keep an eye on her and I guarantee all the local farmers will be calling in to make sure she has company.

28 Aug 2018 – Mama in Hospital

I am sorry to report that she has suffered a stroke and is in hospital recovering. We took her to the hospital at Si Bun Ruang yesterday evening and she was quickly transferred to the big hospital at Nong Bua Lamphu for tests using equipment the small place didn’t have. Tests completed at midnight they brought her back to SBR early this morning.

Si Bun Ruang has a fleet of modern ambulances, which are mainly used to transfer people to Nong Bua Lamphu and bring them back. I often see ambulances travelling relatively slowly with their lights flashing and no siren. These are the transfer trips. They even stop at traffic lights!

It is early days for assessing what the longer term effects are but she has trouble talking, can’t walk ATM but Peng reports that she was smiling this evening. Family and friends have been terrific with shifts of people making sure she is never alone. Family have been arriving from as far away as Bangkok and villagers and neighbours have been calling in to see her all day.

A modern, clean set-up inside.

We haven’t had power all day otherwise I would have reported this earlier. I won’t make this private situation a public affair but I will let you know how things are going from time to time. She’s a lovely lady, a quiet presence in my Isaan family, and I am hoping for the best possible outcome so that she can get back to her main job of cooking sticky rice for the family every morning at 4:00 am

Mama being loaded up. Yuan and a cousin went with her with Lud following later in the pick up.

30 Aug 2018 – Is There a Benefit of Being an Australian Citizen?

The benefit of being an Australian citizen is hard to define once one leaves the country. As a non-resident I am taxed at the same high rate as a non-citizen, my medical access is restricted, I have to return to live in Australia for two years to lock in my aged pension after it is paid and that’s unlikely due to asset and income tests.

Added to this list on non-benefits I can add that fact that if I want to get a document witnessed at the embassy in Bangkok I now have to make an appointment, even though every time I have been there I was the only person attending. I get to pay 1,700 baht only by credit/debit card (previously cash was OK) for the privilege.

Citizenship of any country should bring with it a suite of benefits and governments should be asking what more can they do to add value to being a citizen for the people who help make countries what they are.

That’s my rant for the year. For Aussies reading please note that you DO now need to make an appointment to have documents witnessed – say a stat dec for income for an annual retirement visa extension. Link here:

A couple of comments from my Facebook page:

 I couldn’t believe how much it was myself Tony when I had to get my Non O visa income declaration signed. Especially when I worked for nearly 40 years in a public servant role as a Police Officer and in that time signed thousands of Stat Decs and witnessed signatures for Australian citizens FOR FREE!

 If my wife and I bought land in Thailand, the land would only legally belong to my wife under Thai law. However the Australian law says it would be included in an assets test as my wife would own the land legally by Thai law. If we built a house on the land and rented it out, the income would also be counted along with my pension (future) income. If we decide to rent out our home in Australia and live in Thailand, the rent income would also be included in my pension income. So…when I reach retirement age I will have paid taxes for 52 years. So what exactly are the benefits of doing so? Seeing the sunrise on the way home after many a 12 hour shift. Paying the family home off, even when the interest rates were 18%, that was fun. Plus the fuzzy feeling of helping the dole bludgers. I’ll have to stop here my typing finger has arthritis!

3 Sept 2018 – Mama Back Home

Good news with Gaun’s mama. She has been back at home for a few days since her time in hospital and the last four days has been able to take short walks. When she first came home she wasn’t able to walk or talk and had little strength in her right arm. Now she is positively chatty, which for mama is about three words in a row (sometimes) and is much improved. A way to go but my fear that she might be permanently incapacitated or have a long recovery looks to be unfounded (phew).

The lady on the right is a neighbour. Her daughter, who is working in Bangkok, phoned to ask about mama. I think this is the first time mama has used a phone much to the amusement of all concerned. Yuan on the left.

All the family are very relieved and have rallied around, as you’d expect, and friends and villagers have been a constant flow through the hospital and now home, where she is based. Lovely to see. This afternoon we took mama for a test walk for photos 

On the move closely watched by Yuan and Gaun.

Spot Duk Dik, the world’s scruffiest dog, who is also keeping an eye on mama. The young girl is the granddaughter of the neighbour in the previous photo. She is the daughter of the lady who phoned mama from Bangkok, and is being raised by her grandma as are so many Isaan kids with parents working elsewhere.

The three local daughters do a rotating shift to look after her. Yuan (Gaun’s younger sister) sleeps at the farm so she can pick vegetables at 3:00 am to take to the market early. Peng is sleeping at mama’s house as we kicked her out of home for some friends we have staying (sorry Peng) and Gaun’s older sister Paed sleeps with her to look after mama. At 4:00 am Paed goes to the farm for harvesting and Gaun walks over from our home to take over.

Yuan and mama.

Yuan returns from the markets about 7:00 am and is the main day-shift supervisor with lots of help from others. As an example Gaun’s uncle who’s in his late 70’s and lives in a village a few km away bicycles over many mornings to spend time with mama.

4 Sept 2018 – An Evening at a Wat

We dropped into the one of our local forest temples, Wat Pa Silawa, last evening with friends who are staying with us to join the chanting session with monks and villagers. Always a big welcome (I got the sweets) and a great opportunity to be part of a community event.

Young kids are called up by the head monk to get sweets and drinks. I got sweets so maybe I look younger than I am 🙂

More sweets being handed out.

This is the abbot Phor Yow (phonetic spelling only). Phor is a senior monk in Thai I believe. In front of him is one of those realistic wax statues of his predecessor.

The kids lined the front. The monks can do the entire one hour chant without books.

5 Sept 2018 – On the Road with Friends

We have had friends from Canberra staying with us for a few days and this gave us the opportunity to share our love of local Isaan sights and happenings, which is always a pleasure. Thank you Bob Sekhon and Jasbeer Sekhon for including us on your overseas holiday travels. A few photos covering few aspects from a couple of our trips.

Lunch at the farm then had us driving the very short distance to the small forest wat being built 1 km away. This is a new monk’s accommodation on the right and his walking meditation path all being constructed by local volunteers.

Inside the monk’s hut. That’s a mosquito net hanging from the roof.

These forest wat monks don’t just watch other people work, they get in and get involved. This monk is working on the roof to the new Buddha hall. You wouldn’t get me up there. Bare feet of course.

Another view of that monk working. This will end up a lovely small timber temple building.

The vivid colours of new rice paddies.

Typical Isaan rural scenery this time of year.

Many years of service still in this one.

The next day had us heading out for a drive in the country to Noi’s Kitchen 30 minutes from us. Reed mats are all the go this time of year. Gaun spotted some in one of the villages we drove through. The reeds being dried here.

Beautiful colours. All done by hand.

The loom that’s used to make the mats. You can see that she is sitting over a partly finished new mat.

Gaun and a completed one.

Across the road from the lady making mats. What a brilliant rural scene. The sticks on the pickup are reeds that are used to make sticky rice baskets. You can get two types in Isaan. The baskets that are made from bamboo or these, which are harder and twice the cost. See next photo below.

These two sticky rice baskets on the right are made from these reeds rather than bamboo and both were gifts from Thai friends.

Chillies drying.

Jasbeer and Bob with Greg from Noi’s Kitchen Gaun as well of course.

Greg Ledder It was lovely to Meet Bob & Jasbeer Tony – Thank you for bringing them to see us. What a really lovely couple – I hope we get to meet them again some day! 

Happy days.

5 Sept 2018 – Guess What

I will post a few photos from this morning and you can try and work out what heading I would have given them based on the actual celebration. I will give the answer with the last photo. Where else can you start the day like this? I won’t add words but just let you enjoy the captured moments of this terrific event.

Decent rain last night as you can tell.

A clue but not a good one.

Yes, I am sure you got it in one. This was the opening ceremony for Peng’s school three day sports carnival. School was never like this when I went and if it was I might have been more interested 🙂

5 Sept 2018 – Return to Wat Pa See Vichi

Today, leaving the sports day we called into see friends who have a shop in Si Bun Ruang. There we met not only Doug Acker and his partner Pu but also Michael Cromer and partner Pepsi. Always a pleasure to see them.

While us guys were having a peaceful cuppa in a cafe the ladies ganged up and decided they wanted to visit a timber temple in Nong Bua Lamphu, a 30 minute drive, I had discovered thanks to a recommendation from Greg Ledderfrom Noi’s Kitchen. Peng had joined us for the day so we headed off in a three pickup convoy.

I have written and photographed this temple, which is called Wat Pa See Vichi/Wichi, before but each time I visit I can’t help but take a few more. Our friends were very impressed, which only emphasises why this wat should be on everyone’s list as a ‘must do’ if spending time in this part of Isaan.

Any guesses on this load? We thought chairs from a distance.

Wheelbarrows 🙂

An outstanding structure. This is the Buddha hall, used for large public meetings.

Gaun and Peng.

A happy Peng who has three days off school work supporting her yellow sports team.

Ancient timber holding up the floor.

Doug Acker wanted to take a chainsaw to some of this timber for a few home based projects but I think he was joking 🙂

Inside the Buddha Hall. Just so beautiful.

Greg Ledder This place never fails to impress Tony – simply amazing! 

Gong three times for good luck.

The ladies of the group.

Peng making a donation.

Simple but stunning.

Enjoying the space,

Spot the monk. He’s not meditating but has just made himself a coffee!

Wednesday must be wash day 🙂

Someone asked the purpose of these rubber rings at the dish washing station in a previous post I published. All will be revealed in the next photo.

These are the monks begging bowls they carry around early mornings to get food donations. When they need to be cleaned they sit on those rubber rings so they don’t slide around! Mystery solved and you like me become even more of a Thailand expert.

I run out of words to describe how great this wat is. This is yet another impressive building used as timber storage amd monk accommodation.

Paths wander through the trees.

I have no idea who these people are.

Oh yes, I remember now.

This is actually a waterway that looks like it is covered with grass. Floating plants have taken over since the last time we were here.

A monk has accommodation at one end of this structure over the water and there’s another on a lower level. They will use this platform for walking meditations, which is not a bad situation for quiet contemplation.

5 Sept 2018 – Buddhist cacti!

The other attraction for this wat is the extensive cactus nursery they have on the right hand side of the main building. Cultivating the cactus provides the monks with work outside their Buddhist activities and also raises cash for further development of the temple.

I have never taken an interest in cactus before thinking they were pretty boring, or the ones I had seen in cowboy movies were anyway Goodness what an incredible variety and what’s on display here is only a small example I am sure.

The number of new entries for this one day is an indication of just how varied and interesting life is here for this Aussie guy, who some time ago thought life didn’t have too much to offer. Thank you Isaan.

Cacti hunters – Gaun, Peng, Pepsi and Pu

You will get an idea of the range of shapes and colours in the following photos.

This is a serious operation.

I never knew cacti flowered like this. Live and learn.

Pu wanted to buy some for her shop in Si Bun Ruang and was selecting a trayful. A couple of the monks helping out.

Mike and me doing man talk while Gaun snuck off with my camera and took this photo. Peng and Pepsi.

Pu and Doug Acker

Needless to say Gaun couldn’t help herself and we have added to our home plant collection. 10 baht each or $0.40. At the other end of the price range there were a few very small in size varieties that were selling for 1,200 baht ($50.00).

The whole group.

This is some of the selection Pu and Doug ended up with. Be quick as they will sell fast 🙂

6 Sept 2018 – A Passing Breakfast

I have said before that wait long enough and everything passes the front gate. Today it was Gaun’s breakfast. A small pickup with a loudspeaker was advertising green sticky rice, which is actually quite tasty. 40 baht and Gaun has enough to dip into all day! A lovely husband and wife team.

It is always so pleasing to see little entrepreneurship happening. In Australia you’d never do something like this because of the regulations and costs. Here – have pickup and loud speaker and you can sell anything you want 

It is a credit to the manufacturers that vehicles like this continue to operate well beyond their use-by date, usually with zero maintenance!

It is a credit to the manufacturers that vehicles like this continue to operate well beyond their use-by date, usually with zero maintenance!

Onto the next customer.

Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment if you have enjoyed this post.; It is the only payment I ask for 🙂 My thanks to Mike, Chris, Geoff, Richard, Glyn, Jenny and Hans for taking the time to leave a comment on my last post ‘Two Wats and a Pink ID Card’ HERE. You know who you are and they were much appreciated.