A post that covers a three weeks of small happenings in August/September 2016.
13 Aug 2016 – A Farm Blessing
Another mixed day of events. We headed out to the farm for a morning coffee and then I dropped into the little wat for some alone time while Gaun did some gardening.
We then headed to the monk blessing of a farm owned by one of the senior village elders, a lady who acted as my surrogate mother at my wedding with Gaun back in 2014. Lunch followed of course in huge quantities plus some beer even though we’re in Buddhist Lent.
We then dropped in to see an American farang and his lovely Thai wife Pepsi in the next village to check out their garden plus some extensions they are having done.
This is the impressive figure of the abbot of the main temple for the town of Si Bun Ruang.
The new farmhouse structure on the left with nine monks (lucky number) and some of the villagers attending.
The senior monks at the front and the lesser ones at the back. There’s a hierarchy like any other organisation.
This is the yai who seems to own half the village giving a donation to the monks. It’s her farm, one of many, that is being blessed today. She is a very devoted Buddhist and walks every day to the local temple to give food to the monks.
One stray farang makes an offering. The guy in white to the left of me is the “spiritman” who officiated the blessing of our house build and the ceremony which cleared us with the spirits to move in. Both essential parts of the Thai building process.
My Thai mama.
And boy can those monks eat. Last meal of the day as no solid food is taken after noon.
What a gorgeous collection of colours. Dessert.
Masses of food for everyone else just appears.
Yuan was one of the many people called in to help with the preparation. Give a Thai person a couple of woks a few ingredients and they’ll give you a meal for 100, which is what happened here. I am always amazed at the efficiency of food preparation here. What goes around comes around. If Yuan helps out with the cooking here then she can call on the group to do the same for any occasion she holds.
The clean up was just as efficiently handled. Rinsed on the right, dishwashing liquid next, another rinse and then a final wash in the green tub. All of this crockery will have been borrowed from the local temple.
This is the spiritman heading home with a little bag of leftovers.
I gave the main monk a 200 baht donation and he directed it to the spiritman as he made a contribution to the blessing ceremony. There is an aspect of community aged support here both financial and otherwise that we can’t match. Few people die lonely in an Isaan village. We next drove over to the moo ban of Mike and Pepsi, which is about 20 minutes from us heading towards Nong Bua Lamphu.
This is just a glimpse of a small part of the garden created by Mike and Pepsi plus family.
It is what I would call a cottage garden with things thrown together to sort themselves out. It is less formal than Gaun’s garden but equally enjoyable.
Another view. The same way as our garden this is only around one year old and is another example of how quickly things establish here.
15 Aug 2016 – Being Lazy
This has been on my house optional extras list for some time and this month the investment was made. Gaun has now been officially retired as my gate opener.
As with many electrical items in Thailand the mechanism itself is probably the same cost or more than in Australia. However the full installation cost just A$80.00. This includes a switch just inside the front door as the team that did much of the work on our house thoughtfully provided the underground wiring ages ago when they built the front wall.
I now truly look like an old retired farang in Thailand and loving it!
16 Aug 2016 – Mushrooms and more
Another varied morning of little things that might be of interest. Mushrooms at the farm, a wild animal release, breakfast and a photo shoot.
Happy days when we arrived at the farm this morning as Yuan and Lud had scored a good collection of mushrooms overnight.
We have had some rain and it is a little cooler so the hunt is on every night. The treed areas of Isaan are alive with miners’ helmet lights come the night/early morning.
What a beautiful collection. Yuan has sold this lot to someone at the local markets at 50 baht a tub (A$2.00). Banana leaf baskets made on the farm.
Amazing colours. One presumes that after a lifetime of collecting everyone knows the good ones from the bad.
Mushrooms collected and off to the market. The trays will be sold for 100 baht by this lady, a 100% markup.
Yuan and Lud were busy building this homemade trellis yesterday in the rain. It’s a pretty impressive end result. All the bamboo was cut on the farm so free materials if you have the time.
That front field I have photographed before is now finished and planted up. There is now a huge crop of herbs and vegetables in the pipeline for sale over the next few weeks.
Not only mushrooms were found last night but this guy too. BTW I am loving this new camera lense. From macro to zoom 18 – 250mm it is pretty impressive and so convenient.
Yuan and Lud had kept him so I could do the honours of releasing him/her into their pond. Good Buddhist merit points.
Off he/she goes.
Breakfast happening. Bamboo shoots, which are much enjoyed.
Corn appeared from the other half of the farm. Now remember this photo of Gaun and then click to the next one.
On our return home Gaun was keen for some reason to do a photoshoot based on a lovely dress I had bought her in Ubud, Bali. She scrubs up well for a farm girl.
And I had to do my bit by becoming a public servant again but only briefly thank god.
The suit and shirt were handmade in Phuket the best fitting clothes I ever had. I left my job shortly after never to return! My suits and ties now make an occasional appearance at wedding and funerals.
It’s OK. She has changed and is back into the garden as I type. An adaptable lady.
18 Aug 2016 – Pak/Bok Choy
A few posts ago I showed you some of the vegetables growing on the farm and told you that I had no idea what the crop in the first photo was. And the answer is Pak/Bok Choy. I can sleep again.
The originally unknown vegetable.
Photo taken yesterday morning. Pak Choy, mushrooms and coriander being collected from the farm for sale at the local Si Bun Ruang markets.
Yes this is Pak Choy. Picked in the morning and on your plate the same day.
Yuan is very happy, not only with the mushrooms that are growing at the moment but coriander is getting 150 baht a kilo at the markets (200 baht in Udon city). A couple of weeks ago the price was 80 baht.
She sold 10 kilos this morning and had a big smile for us when we arrived for coffee. If you think that manual workers get around 300 – 500 a day making 1,500 baht is a nice earner.
20 Aug 2016 – Parent Teacher Day
My stepdaughter Peng had her parent teacher day today so we dressed up to look as if we hadn’t come straight from the farm and made our way to the centre of Si Bun Ruang for the event.
For a non-Thai speaking person it was several hours of boredom. Give a Thai person a microphone and an audience and the next thing you know it’s dinner time. Gaun, who hates anything to do with school, told me we should have started our trip to Nan, a city in the north of Thailand, today instead of tomorrow and then Yuan would have had to bring Peng! Next time I might just arrange it that way!
This is Peng’s classroom block. It is all very utilitarian but with 3,000 students in the school (goodness knows where they all come from because SI Bun Ruang is very small) it all needs to be hard wearing.
More classrooms looking the other way.
The main hall where all the speeches were given. Bring a book. Interestingly 95% of the attendees were women. Is education seen as a non-manly thing in Thailand?
After the formal presentations we then went to Peng’s classroom for a briefing by her teachers.
The teachers and students.
Peng’s desk up the front. It has been a while since I sat in one of these school desks. Education and I didn’t get on most of the time.
The same with Gaun. She left school at 12 and went to Udon Thani to work in a supermarket owned by a Chinese family. It was a job she had for 14 years before getting married. Her teachers were pleased to see her go as she was a bit “playful” in class and “Suban Vansutha” was a cry often heard in the corridors I believe. “Gaun” is her nickname and Suban her real one.
The teachers revving the parents up to minimise their child’s access to TV and internet and maximise study so they had a chance at university. A universal teacher’s’ prayer. Note the water and snacks for every desk.
Some of Peng’s classmates. Thai students are always immaculately turned out.
Peng’s report card. 100% for everything except a couple of topics where she bombed out only getting in the 90’s. University is hers if she wants it and I can afford it!
A different topic in case you were wondering. I just spotted this impressive spider and web as we arrived back home. A work of art.
And this magnificent small orchid is in full bloom, the only one that is in the garden.
20 Aug 2016 – Back to the Farm
Arriving back home after parent teacher day Gaun decided she was heading straight out to the farm to plant up the rest of the frontage road to the farm, a project she started yesterday. I took the camera out because there’s always a couple of shots asking to be taken especially in the soft evening light.
We are driving to the city of Nan tomorrow, a eight hour trip into the hills close to the border with Laos in the far north of Thailand.
Peng wanted to make us a good luck flower lei for the car so she joined Gaun at the farm to pick the small white flowers that are growing on bushes there.
Despite almost no rain the rice is looking very healthy. Yuan and Lud are flooding the fields with bore water, a more expensive exercise as they have to pay for diesel for the pump.
I just loved the light in this photo. Toilet and shower on the right. The diesel that powers the farm’s main watering system in the middle and behind it the pond they pump from.
Yuan hand watering Bok Choy. The new lettuce is coming along nicely.
Gaun’s latest project has been to plant up from the power pole on the left to where you see her in the far distance.
The next power pole was reached this evening. The flowers are the same as those on the far left and when they are blooming during the day they are a soft blue and pink. All cuttings taken from our garden.
Hard at work. She never stops.
A Trip to Nan
On my timeline at this stage we headed off for a five day trip to the northern city of Nan and exploring the tourist-free backroads of Thailand. You can find the posts I wrote about the first two days of this trip HERE and HERE. More to follow.
26 Aug 2016 – Return from Nan
A return home had us out to the farm this morning to catch up with Yuan and Lud who had been looking after the house and garden while we were on holiday. What’s heading to the market late August?
That crop in the background was just out of the ground when we left but is now really making progress. It will be ploughed back into the soil to improve nitrogen levels once it is fully grown.
Galangal. A very hot tasting root vegetable. Gaun eats it raw – I don’t eat it at all 🙂
Freshly picked lettuce.
Chillis of course.
These little packages were being made with coriander, spring onions and the leaves from a kaffir lime tree called makrut here. 10 baht each of $0.40 and good for a soup base.
What beautiful freshness.
Yuan working away. She’s got a stall at the local Friday markets selling these packs as I type.
Is Gaun pleased to be back in her work clothes? Maybe!
The four Jasmine shrubs we bought in Phu Ruea, covered in a previous post, were in the ground at the farm ten minutes after we arrived
Across the road a couple of the locals and two monks were about to cut up this tree for a new sala being built at the temple down the road from the farm.
The head monk is called Dit, a lovely guy, and the other monk is a new one I haven’t see before.
Dit and helper.
26 Aug 2016 – Silk Worms
We called round to Gaun’s mama’s house this morning to drop off some pumpkins we had bought for the family on the way back from Nan. A lady was there, a relation of the family, collecting mulberry leaves because she had run out of them to feed her silk worms! Well that’s an event to be followed up isn’t it.
She lives in the next village from us and we called over there after morning coffee at the farm. All of this is pre-breakfast, which shows how dedicated I am to producing interesting posts. The photos tell the story.
What started this all off – mulberry leaves.
A full crop of silk worms before the cocoon stage.
Starting to turn yellow which is when they weave the silk cocoon.
Well fed silk worms.
At least they’ve had breakfast. The process is deadly on the worms because once the cocoons are woven they are boiled, killing the worms who have done all the hard work. Needless to say the worms are a delicacy here on the dinner plate.
Once they start to make the cocoon they are positioned around this basket. The cocoons will look like the old ones shown here. This will happen in one week’s time and the lady will phone us so I can photo the next stage.
The cocoon up close.
And the finished article. Selling for 2,200 baht a kilo or A$88.00. Once hand woven the silk cloth will fetch 2,000 baht a metre.
A crop of peanuts were being dried. We were given a bag in true Isaan hospitality.
This is cotton not silk. This cloth sells for 600 – 700 baht a metre.
Gaun spotted these plants.
And next thing we had a bag of them. They have been planted under the coconut tree in our garden this afternoon.
And by coincidence this is Gaun with her rechargeable hedge trimmer (always in use because we have nearly 200 metres of hedging) trimming a bougainvillea plant which is in front of our mulberry tree.
31 Aug 2016 – An addition to the Family
A recent visit to Makro supermarket provided an addition to the family in the form of a benchtop oven. Crispy coconut biscuits was the tester recipe, something I haven’t had for years since leaving Australia. This had us in Tesco Lotus looking for desiccated coconut. Do you think it could be found? No. Mysterious.
The mystery was solved when we called into the local market coconut shop where they squeeze fresh coconut milk. The desiccated pulp is seen as a useless by-product and fed to the fish or thrown out! I got enough for the next decade’s coconut cookies for nix.
Day two had me cooking up a roast shoulder of NZ lamb, roast potatoes, onions and carrots with mint gravy and broccoli. Not bad either.
My new farang baby.
Free desiccated coconut.
Hard at work in the kitchen as I alway am (not really).
Peng helping out the chef.
A late afternoon with the table set for a farang meal and bubbly.
Peng trying bubbly. Thank goodness she didn’t like it. Gaun and I were happy to finish the bottle. Her time will come.
31 Aug 2016 – Breakfast at the Farm
I am currently in the final stages of editing a book my mother wrote before she died nearly nine years ago. I am getting it ready to publish as an eBook. Today the proofreading department moved to the farm for a working breakfast.
The editor in his office. Big windows and nice rural views.
Gaun in typical fashion had everything organised. Toaster, cooking supplies, crockery and cutlery, butter and bacon on ice in that red bucket, coffee and water. Spot “My Dog” who joined us. With the laptop we had an Isaan load on the motorbike.
Eggs and bacon about to fried over a charcoal stove.
All served at the editorial desk.
Yuna is getting a new field ready for planting across the road from the rest of the farm. All done by hand. Four of these rows were ready by the time I left late morning.
New crops on their way.
31 Aug 2016 – An Addition to the Village
I wrote a post a number of weeks ago about a neighbour of ours who became pregnant at fourteen and married another fourteen year old who stepped up to take on the role of husband and father as the real father wasn’t a suitable character. The full post can be read HERE.
Today Gaun was able to get some photos of mum and a very bouncing baby son. How delightful to be able to share a happy outcome to a far from ideal original situation. They don’t look too traumatised by their experience do they?
A rather rotund Touy at the wedding we were invited to in January 2015.
The little fella is called Phum, which is taken from the name of her husband’s province, Chaiyaphum, west of Khon Kaen. Funnily we are visiting Chaiyaphum this weekend to take part in the house blessing ceremony of an English guy Terry and his wife Ning, who are blog readers.
1 Sep 2016 – A Village Festival
Early this morning was one of those little village events that if I didn’t have a Thai partner I would have missed. Twice a year the moo ban gets together at the local wat for a ceremony that involves chanting, feeding the monks and offering food to the spirits of deceased family members. As I don’t think Buddhism has spirits in its philosophy this must be one of those Thai mixes and an example of the influence maybe of the Chinese side of their history, which has a strong link to ancestors.
Whatever the background it is a lovely way to connect to departed family and so Thai in that food is involved. The central nature of eating is obviously important both when you are alive or dead.
Everyone gets dressed up for the event. Spot the odd one out. That’s right the lady in the yellow shirt!
Yuan in her finest with the family offerings.
Youngsters everywhere have mixed priorities. During the chanting the girl in the front had her hands clasped and was playing solitaire, which is a perfect combination of the spiritual and the worldly.
I know the monks haven’t eaten since noon the previous day but the amount of food that turns up is amazing. The food is brought out and then there’s a whole new range of chanting that goes on, which must be really hard on hungry monks. You can see but not touch!
A line of people delivering food from the backroom to the monks.
Endless. These are packets for later use.
You will see many monks, and others, with tattoos that are Buddhist based rather than the ones on offer at Pattaya and Patong.
Gaun and Yuan opening their food parcels for their family.
This is Paed, Gaun’s older sister who runs the other half of the farm with her husband Tham. She is lighting a cigarette. I guess if you are a spirit health problems aren’t high on your list of worries.
Gaun doing the same.
There is also chewing tobacco in the packets for female family members. Yuan is pouring blessed water over the offerings. Gaun tells me that they have to call out the names of the family members otherwise they can come but not eat.
Tobacco is incredibly cheap here. A packet of roll your own is under a dollar. Surprisingly not that many Thais smoke and most public places are smoke free, something some our our European friends could learn from.
The food parcel.
A lot of effort has gone into making these offerings good quality and varied. After all the ghosts only get a meal twice a year so it better be a good one. This ceremony only provides food at the temple. In the second offering of the year food is taken out to the farms and left there to pick up on any spirits that aren’t urban based 🙂
Gaun had made a promise that she would offer a garland of flowers to the car if we had an uneventful drive during our recent five day trip to Nan and the north of Thailand. Yesterday she picked flowers at the farm and made the leis. Today the offering was made.
A post-ceremony cuppa made with fresh beans couriered in from Chiang Mai. It is a neverending struggle to keep up standards here.
Farmgirl one moment and model the next. I am still not sure how I suddenly became so lucky.
4 Sept 2016 – Silkworms Stage 2
For those of you following the rather sad lifecycle of a silkworm in Isaan here is the latest edition.
When we last visited the lady growing the worms in the village next to ours, which I reported on in a previous post, she promised to phone when they had reached the next stage. This she did on Saturday when we were due to head south for a three hour drive to a housewarming ceremony.
The moment had to be captured however so we headed over before our trip.
The worms had produced their cocoons, which Wikipedia tells me is made up of 300 – 900 metres of silk thread. Most are yellow but some are white. I don’t know why the difference.
Previously the worms had been transferred to these trays pre-cocoon after we last visited.
The actual silkworm. Yummie after being cooked I am told.
And the cocoons ready to be processed.
The worms are boiled in that pot, which kills them of course, and their silk is extracted in a continuous thread from the cocoon, across to that spindle you can see on the lady’s left. You can see why silk cloth is relatively expensive here with all this work even before the dyeing and weaving stages.
The raw silk – 2,200 baht (A$88.00) a kilo.
At the back of the undercover area were a couple of these lovely wooden cart wheels from a previous buffalo powered era. They are still borrowed by locals for various ceremonies like Bun Bang Fai, that I have covered previously.
4 Sept – A Isaan Housewarming
We had been invited to the Buddhist housewarming ceremony of Terry and Ning this weekend in Chaiyaphum province a three hour drive south from us.
Terry is a reader of my blog and they had visited us last year to discuss the building process and check out our house. At that time Terry had just retired from a London property development job to buy a couple of farms in Isaan and is now growing high quality mangos with his lovely wife Ning.
As always the drive to the destination was interesting and once we arrived we joined in the ceremony with nine monks (lucky number), which was split between one event on the Saturday evening and the main blessing early on the Sunday morning.
I find it so interesting meeting and talking to farang who are making their new lives in Thailand in all sorts of different situations. Terry has gone from driving a desk in central London to driving a tractor in the backwaters of Isaan. I have to say he and Ning are making a great job of it and it was a pleasure to see the results of their hard work.
Driving down a country road and you meet a large Buddha. It’s an invitation for some time-out.
The wat was called Temple of the Large Turtle and this guy was evidently over 100 years old. Coins had been placed in his shell for good luck.
You are never too young to feed tao (turtles).
Cucumber in this case bought with a small donation. It was funny because that morning I had released a turtle into Yuan and Lud’s farm pond that they had found on the road. Our home in the village is called Turtle House.
This yai (grandmother) nun was overseeing the turtle enclosure.
Corn ready to be loaded up. This lot destined to be processed into corn powder.
New rice against a backdrop of hills in the distance. Sugar cane on the right.
The GPS coordinates brought us right to the front gate of the farm.
This is an interim step in the farm’s development.
Terry and Ning have a two bedroom place on the left. A newly constructed area on the right provides for farm storage and a one bedroom/kitchen accommodation for Ning’s parents. As always the marques, chairs and cooking/eating equipment for the ceremony is provided by a mix of the local village and the temple.
Terry will eventually build his dream house on the right. A two story place to take advantage of the views from the master bedroom on the top floor.
A well earned beer at the end of the drive. I was feeling quite regal in that chair.
The whole process of cooking and serving for an event like this happens organically. People turn up and the work gets done with lots of chat, humour and laughter. A meal for many is produced on a few wood burning stoves without effort.
Fish ready to go on the tables. The monks missed out on this dish.
Dessert for the monks.
Someone has a sweet tooth.
The guy on the left is the abbot of the turtle temple I showed you earlier in this post. It is about 30 km down the road so quite a trip with most of the nine monks in the back of an old pick-up. The abbot is unusually young to be running a temple.
Plenty of food as always. This is Sunday morning and the monks must be hanging out to get stuck in since they haven’t eaten since noon the previous day.
Everyone makes a donation of sticky rice to each monk including a visiting farang.
This is Ning, Terry’s wife. She is a keen supporter of Buddhism and the driving force behind this blessing ceremony. She is also a super hard worker on the farm hoping to make it a success with well over 1,000 mango trees planted so far.
The view leading up to the farm. A much hillier surround than in our area, which is mostly pretty flat.
Looking to the back of the farm.
There’s a decent sized river as the land drops away before that line of trees. These mangos on the right are called Nam Dok Mai, which is described as:
“Nam Dok Mai which is referred to as the Golden Mango because of its golden yellow color. It has a fibreless texture and sweet, juicy and aromatic flavor. It is mostly grown in Thailand in the month of June and July and is in fact the most eaten mango there. Because of the exceptional eating quality and its visual aspect it is able to secure its position in the top varieties of mangoes and is also one among the best known mangoes which are grown in deserts.”
In Terry and Ning’s area there are many growers that supply buyers in Bangkok who buy the entire crop, pack the mangos and ship mostly to Korea and Japan. China is now becoming a big consumer of more luxury produce like this too. Terry and Ning are hoping to get onboard this process.
A big thank you to Terry and Ning for your hospitality and an equally big thank you for reading.