More small stories based on my everyday life in a Isaan rural village:
A bike ride out to the family farm recently resulted in a few photos I thought I would share as they give more little insights to life here in Isaan. Each one has a story.
This is going to be a noodle shop (takeaway!) They brought in soil to raise the level for this structure, which will put the ground level of the main house underwater come the rains (It poured the other day and yes a new pond was formed in the village). Do you like the satellite dish. Got to get your priorities right.
Some of the old crafts are still practiced in the moo ban although they will die out in time. You can still get hand woven silk here with silk worms raised at home and fed on mulberry leaves. Note the rainwater jar in the background. Every house has a few.
It can be taken off the plough and then put into a farm truck or used to pump water. This guy is usually a taxi driver in Bangkok and only comes home to family a few times a year.
The lady on the left is one of the princesses who is much admired by many Thais. She is a tireless worker for her country whatever you might think of royalty.
She told Gaun that she wanted to talk to the farang and wished she could speak English. One of the other yai asked Gaun if she could find her a farang that wanted an old Thai lady 🙂 If you feel you fit this category please get in contact. The elderly are respected here and have important social and family status. Good news for me 🙂
I have just realised that this is my second push for SangSom in this and the last post. You will either think I have shares in the company or am a typical farang drunk or both and I am not confirming or denying either 🙂
Happy Birthday Gaun
Birthdays aren’t a big thing in Thailand. Gaun doesn’t even know when her family’s birthdays are. I only found out Yuan’s birthday, Gaun’s younger sister and best friend, when I was copying her ID card one day. Since I turned up with my odd farang customs they are taking more interest. Yuan forgot her husband’s birthday this year but when I arrived with gifts she threw a party the next evening.
We were up early on the morning to give food to the monks. Gaun does it regularly but I less so as it is at 6 am! There are two local temples supported by the village. One is the big one in the moo ban itself, which is a traditional Thai wat and the other a Pha wat (pha = forest), which is a more pure line of Buddhism practice (A few photos later in this post). This temple is just being built maybe 3 kms outside the village. The monk from this one walks in every morning, collects his food and walks back.
Feeding monks is a part of normal morning ritual here. You will see many houses set up with food from about 6 am and people waiting for the monks to come around. No food and the monks don’t eat. The monks have two meals a day – a breakfast and then one late morning. They can only take liquids after noon.
Interestingly because there are two temples people set up on the left side of the road for the forest wat donations and the right hand side for the local temple. Monks from a pha wat won’t give a formal blessing, the one’s from the traditional temples will. Only two monks today, one from each.
If in Thailand, although easier with a Thai speaker, do ask a monk for a blessing if you visit a wat. They are usually around and happy to do it. It allows you to touch the culture and gain some Buddhist merit points as a bonus!
A Traditional Isaan Village House
A typical Isaan home compound. The house is on the right. Buffalo would have been kept underneath in their day. Gaun can remember riding buffalo out to the farm when she was a child after school, when they provided all the “tractor” power. Many of these spaces have now been enclosed and upstairs isn’t used much. Timber construction and very basic.
The hut on the left is for rice storage. Many Isaan rural houses have them and they are stocked with a year’s supply. What is left over at the end is sold and the new crop added for those with access to a rice farm and who have had a crop during this drought.
The wood is probably for cooking. A lot of charcoal also still used here (see further on in this post). A packed clay ground – deadly slippery in the wet and sticks to everything like chewing gum.
Time with the Monks
We dropped my stepdaughter Peng off to the Si Bun Ruang temple recently to join a three day Buddhist retreat with other classmates before school started the following week after the long Songkran (Thai New Year) holidays. BTW Thai kids only get two formal holiday breaks a year in April (around six weeks) and October (two weeks).
It shows how important the Buddhist connection still is, although I suspect it is breaking down with young people along with many of the other traditional cultural beliefs in Thailand as elsewhere.
Despite the incredibly early hour I was awake enough to take a few snaps that I thought I would share.
Now I never even think about taking my shoes off and on the very occasional times I go inside with shoes it feels really strange. Don’t bring lace-up shoes to Thailand. They will drive you crazy!
An Awesome Burger in Isaan
90% of Facebook contributions, which is where this story originated, seem to be photos of food so I thought I would do my bit – but with a small story attached.
Thai takeaway as an end of week treat back in Australia was wonderful but I have to confess that on an everyday basis it is not my favourite style of food. I tend to be more mediterranean biased given a choice. A good lamb roast and veggies goes down well too. I cope with this in Thailand by eating about 50/50 Thai/western food.
The downside to living in a small Thai town as we do is that for obvious reasons all the eating places cater for the Isaan diet. There are so few of us in the area that the business to support a farang or mixed Thai/farang restaurant just isn’t there yet.
The next town to us 30 minutes drive away called Nong Bua Lamphu (Nong = lake, Bua = lotus, Lamphu = long hill – so a town with a lotus lake next to a hill) we are lucky to have a few western choices for when the munchies hit. There is an Italian pizza place run by two Italians, a sports bar owned by a New Zealander and a small pizza shop established by an Aussie called Chris.
I have only discovered this place recently and it has become my lunch stop for a top burger. The location is typical streetside but the food is fresh and tasty. The beetroot is homemade by a local guy. It isn’t a vegetable you see in the local markets. Bread baked on the premises, Aussie beef, local veggies, pineapple, egg and of course the beetroot served with a cold beer makes for a good combination.
Update 4 Mar 2017: Eat Me has closed as have both the alternative farang bar/eating places in Nong Bua Lamphu.
Wat Tham Sang Tham
This wat pops up in these posts regularly so I won’t spend too much time on this entry. The arrival of a friend from Canberra for a few days prompted a return to one of my favourite local temples Wat Tham Sang Tham. A massive construction built halfway up a cliff it is only partly finished but even so is an impressive sight.
Great views from the top, which makes the climb worthwhile. Difficult to find as it is literally in the middle of nowhere and well off the tourist route. If you want more details and lots of photos go HERE.
Bun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival)
We have been busy following the small Bun Bang Fai festivals being held by the villages in our area. Bun Bang Fai is a festival of music, dancing and the launching of rockets all designed to encourage new rainfall at the beginning of the rice planting season. Held in May/June the celebrations are normally split over two days with a procession and dancing one day and then the launch of the rockets and more music the second.
This will be my last post on the subject (although I will write a post on the rockets next month) as we have covered it before. However the procession for two of the moo bans (villages) on the South side of Si Bun Ruang are always worth a visit as the locals put in an effort to present their dancing groups. The street party of a moo ban across the road from us is also great fun.
In mid-June all the villages combine under their Amphur (town) and put on a big main street procession. Si Bun Ruang town is made up of 12 moo bans so it is a big affair lasting several hours.
Hard to tell sometimes. Ladyboys are often the artistic power behind events like this. You will see them leading the dancing and they most likely will have been central to makeup and the costumes too.
We called in briefly to Gaun’s eldest sister’s moo ban to join in their very small celebration mainly because we had an Aussie friend visiting and wanted him to experience this very local tradition.
The formal dance troupe, in this case a group of young schoolgirls, started off performing for the spirits at the san phra phum or spirit house area on the edge of a small lake before a short walk through the village and joining up with the less formal and more inebriated section of the party.
Although hardly spectacular I get so much enjoyment from observing and joining in with these local festivals. These are not people dressing up and doing stuff just for the tourist buses as you find in the more popular destinations. These are everyday Isaan people enjoying the day and just being themselves.
Aussie Muscle Car
I see this car quite often as it seems to do a regular run between our home town of Si Bun Ruang and the next place 30 km up the road called Nong Bua Lamphu. I missed the opportunity to talk (well getting Gaun to talk) to the owner this time to see if he knew how a 1972? Aussie XA Ford Fairmont ended up in the wilds of Isaan. Maybe next time.
Photos from the Farm
A few miscellaneous recent photos from the farm with stories attached.
If you apply what looks like a brake level on the handle it disengages the traction to that wheel. The other wheel still has power so the whole thing turns. Once you are back in the right direction you release the handle and both wheels engage. Still hot heavy work but better than buffalo.
There is always a bucket like this one around usually with iced water inside and a single metal cup shared by everyone. You will note that both Yuan and Gaun are well covered up, another thing we farang doesn’t do well. How Thais work in the heat with balaclavas is beyond me. Most Isaan farm workers look like potential bank robbers.
The farm is currently growing spring onions, coriander, dill and lettuce. The planting of rice will start in the next couple of weeks.
Moo Ban Exam
We joined in part of a big event to decide if the moo ban (our village) had done enough to win the beautiful village of Si Bun Ruang competition (Gaun calls it an “exam”). Everyone has been working so hard that if effort was the criteria they should take the prize.
We joined in the official party arriving late for a lot of boring speeches, which Thais are very good at, and moving quickly into an inspection of some of the activities happening in the moo ban, all of which counted pointwise to the end result.
I have heaps of photos that just won’t fit on a small Small Stories entry so I will motivate myself to write a new post on the blog. If you want the full story go there shortly. Otherwise here is a small selection to give you a glimpse into the day. Great fun.
That’s a “don’t mess with me” sort of look isn’t it. She doesn’t really do this for a living in case you were about to get onto the Thai child protection agency, just weekends 🙂
Thais are such a photogenic bunch that it is hard not to go out for an afternoon and capture some great shots. Both adults and older kids are always open to a photo being taken so never be shy in asking if you visit Thailand. Thais spend half their lives taking selfies and the other half photos of friends. Younger kids can be a bit overwhelmed by a farang but mum will often step in to help. Here are a few from today.
Thais are pretty good about recycling, not because they are necessarily ecologically aware, but there’s money in it. Even in a small town like ours there are several recycling centres buying from locals and repackaging to sell to bigger operations. There’s enough money in it to have people come through the village and sort through your recycling, weigh it and buy any glass, metal, aluminium or cardboard/paper.
We normally give our recycling to Lud, my brother-in-law and he on-sells. This day however the bins were full and the truck passed our front gates so Gaun flagged them down.
I was hopeful of getting maybe a free beer from the proceeds. Unfortunately, much to Gaun’s amusement, we only got 10 baht ($0.40), which left me 50 baht short. Enough for an ice cream through! At 3 kilos of glass for 1 baht ($0.04) you can see my problem. BTW take the glass directly to the centre and cut out the middleman and you’ll get 3 baht for 1 kilo. Yet another post-retirement income stream idea.
My day started earlier than normal this morning as the family pick-up wouldn’t start and Yuan phoned Gaun to see if I would help take the day’s crop of coriander to the local markets, which I was happy to do. By the time we got to the farm the pick-up with new battery had arrived and my farming skills were no longer needed. Good timing though because there were a couple of other things happening I thought I would share.
Charcoal is still widely used for cooking in Isaan even though bottled gas is easily obtainable and not expensive by my standards anyway. A 16.3 kilo bottle exchange costs 350 THB or $14.00. A smoke haze covers the village in the morning and evenings some days as a result of the charcoal habit.
Just up the road from the farm a charcoal trench had been opened and the results were being piled into bags that sell for 160 THB each. It pains me to see hardwood being used in this way instead of something more creative. Low incomes mean that the destruction of resources like hardwood trees to provide short term cash crops like this is an everyday event. More explanation as you click through the photos.
Roadworks to the Wat
The other thing happening this morning was that the road to a small local temple was being improved and as always there’s a story here.
Maybe four kms outside the village a new wat or temple has been started by a monk friend of Gaun called Dit. His mother gave him a piece of the family farm and part of this is now being developed as a wat under the Pha or forest tradition, which is described as “The Thai Forest tradition is the branch of Theravada Buddhism in Thailand that most strictly holds the original monastic rules of discipline laid down by the Buddha” (more information here http://www.wbd.org.au/about-wbd/forest-tradition/).
In order for the monks to get their daily food they have to walk barefoot into the village each morning arriving about 6.30 am. With the rainy season approaching some of the villagers were worried about the state of the small rural track that the monks use to get to the moo ban.
The monks can’t specifically ask for anything so it is up the the locals to totally support them not just in food but in any other way to help them maintain their spiritual path. This included an idea to contribute money to improve the temple road and make the monk’s’ life easier in the wet.
I was told about this project a couple of days ago and have been waiting for the work to start as I offered five truckloads of soil (200 baht or $8.00 a load) as part of my contribution to local life.
Today the soil donated by a local farmer was being transported to the road and being spread by a tractor included in the soil cost. It is another example of the way community pulls together here and doesn’t just expect government to do it all for them. In Thailand’s case they would be waiting forever.
Looking through the window you can just make out a shape which is a small tent. You will often see these igloo type structures for sale along the side of the road here. They are used usually undercover to keep the mosquitoes out rather than for protection from the elements. The path on the left is another sign this is a forest wat (apart from the trees!). The monk will use this for a walking meditation.
I thought this post would connect with Isaan – the Small Stories 11 HERE but there is a gap between the two, which means I will probably add more happenings to yet another Small Stories post shortly as I am on a roll. They will be sequentially in-between 11 and 12 just to confuse you.
I think that’s enough for this batch of stories. Don’t be afraid to leave a comment. Most people don’t but it is always nice to get one.
Thanks for reading.