My apologies for being slack in updating the blog with new stories. After a pretty intense time building the house, which you can read about HERE, I felt like being a little introverted and spend time both settling into our new home and enjoying not doing much including the blog. We also have three lots of friends visiting us over six weeks, which fills in the days.
Excuses over I plan to get back to writing again so don’t go away.
Some of the following post has been almost ready to publish for a while so covers some events that happened a little time ago. I was worried that I would run out of the small stories of Isaan but they seem to keep popping up. In fact I have ended up with so many that I will have to keep some back for Small Stories 6. I enjoy writing this series because it makes me keep an eye out for interesting things to write about. I might sleep-walk through my days here otherwise.
Continue to form part of the diet for some families here. I am sure they are delicious but I have to say that my mind prevents me from exploring this dinner option and my Thai family don’t either. Insects are off my agenda too.
We aren’t totally isolated here in our bit of Isaan. There are many other farang around but they tend to be spread out. I will see one occasionally when in our local area and have made contact with a few of them.
We had an invitation to visit an English guy and his Thai wife living about 150 km from us between Udon Thani and Khon Kaen. We had met online through coolthaihouse.com a farang building forum. For me it was an opportunity to practise my English as well as see another part of Isaan!
The lunch started off with four of us but it is almost impossible not to share food more widely in Isaan so it ended up being a far larger event.
Jerome and Nui are still to build their house on a large piece of land they own but they have started with this great sala built over water.
Even smaller things
Smaller 1 – If you have been reading my other Isaan – the Small Stories posts you will know of my interest in the Thai language even though I am useless in speaking it. I enjoy picking up some of the ways Thai uses descriptive combinations to name everyday items rather than create new words, which we English speakers are so good at.
Two more nice examples are the inclusion of “Nam” or water to form words. Nam phung is water of bee or honey and nam taan is water of sugar cane or sugar.
Smaller 2 – If you pour a drink for a Thai person and they throw it out you have discovered the ghost drink! There are two ways to pour a drink in Thailand. Pour with your wrist turning inwards towards your body, as you would normally do, and that’s for people.
Pour with a reverse twist of the wrist, that is backhanded away from the body, and that is how you’d give a drink to a spirit, or ghost as Gaun calls them. If making an offering to a San Phra Phum for example, a spirit house which you can read about HERE, you might see the latter method being used. Some Thais won’t accept a drink that’s been poured for a ghost in case they upset any resident spirits.
Smaller 3 – One of the early morning loudspeaker announcement made by the head of our Moo Baan was an offer for free anti-mosquito devices for anyone who wanted them. What were they? Fish. Many houses here still have large concrete troughs inside to hold water for cooking and washing. The Moo Baan water supply is so slow that it is impossible to use as an on demand water source. The risks of standing water and mosquitoes is overcome by popping a couple of small fish into the troughs to eat any lavi. A useful fishy snack too once they grow a bit! Five people had been assigned to go around houses and look for any possible mosquito habitats and they were offering the fish for anyone who needed a top-up. Beats the chemical solution.
What do you get for 8 million?
Well in Isaan you get yourself quite a house. Baht of course 🙂
My builder, Ming, was offered this job but he had other obligations at the time and couldn’t take it on.
The place is being build for Thai on land he has reclaimed from rice paddies. Much of developed Thailand is effectively built on islands rising out of the flat lands surrounding it. The first thing one does when building is to dig up soil from somewhere else and raise your land. We did it for our land and you can read about it HERE. Each plot of land is raised and joined to the next and eventually you have whole villages and towns sitting above the natural level of the land.
And just one irrelevant photo:
Back to subject. I wanted to have a look inside this house and left to my own devices probably never would. However Gaun had no such restrictions in her mind. She just headed in shouted out to the workers and we were in. The place isn’t to my taste but it is nice to see a bit more creativity and effort going into a house than normal, except mine of course 🙂
Thai Colour Schemes
The Thais have a love affair with bright and clashing colour schemes for their houses both inside and out. They are a bit puzzled with the choice of very neutral colours we have selected for our house. A couple of them have cautiously approved. I guess you go with what you know best if you don’t see an alternative.
Gaun had the urge for a snail soup, as you do, so a trip out to the farm was on the agenda. Snails are popular here along with most everything else that either moves or grows. If you have a pond it is likely that at the bottom you will find a snail feast.
The snails are placed in rainwater for a day to clean them out and then boiled and served in a liquid broth heavily laced with chillies – hard to believe chillies are involved I know! I find them rather chewy and tasteless, minus the chillies of course, but there are none left at the end of dinner.
Udon Thani, our closest city and the fourth largest in Thailand, has a prison shop selling mostly wooden items. It provides a way that inmates can earn some money, or that’s what’s supposed to happen anyway. At the time I was looking for furniture for the new house and combined calling in with a visit to Thai Immigration, which is behind the police station almost across the road.
Although there was nothing there that suited my tastes it might be worthwhile dropping in occasionally to check out new additions.
Yes, there are vineyards in our area of Thailand, which is unexpected. Unfortunately I can’t report first hand and from the general reviews such as this one HERE I doubt that I will be 🙂
A friend of ours did call into one vineyard in the hills of Loei on the same road we used to drive between Isaan and Chiang Mai. He very kindly bought a bottle of their output for us to try. It was only after a taste test that I began to wonder about the strength of our friendship. I try not to rubbish anyone in this blog but the only talent on offer from this winery is the ability to ruin perfectly good grapes by turning it into a wine that tastes so unbelievably awful! Not easy.
A Reality Check
I have realised that my Thai friendly blog may be encouraging too many farang to consider moving here 🙂 The next couple of stories are designed to discourage further farang imports who will just clutter up the
wonderful challenging lifestyle we enjoy endure.
Living in a small Isaan town there is a constant reminder that this is a economy driven by demands that has very little to do with the preservation of beauty in the natural environment. Small blue lizards are collected along with anything else available by small boys on bikes and sold by the sack load for dinner.
At the end of the street there was a lovely eucalyptus tree that was a little connection with my ex-home in Australia.
It’s day came recently with the sound of chainsaws and a large gap appeared in the street landscape.
A row of trees like this, which provides interest to this little road into our village will be chopped when money is needed.
I do understand the financial demands that require rural folk to make use of all resources available. I have a remarkably privileged life with an income that has no relationship to anything I do and it is easy for me to whinge about the daily destruction of the landscape and its natural inhabitants. However it is a reality that needs to be understood and accepted if making a home here. The environmental constraints that will probably apply to life wherever home is for you, if not Thailand, probably won’t come into play here.
Another little reality check is that this is a tropical climate….duh and as a result there are an immense number of various bugs, crawlies and slithery things enjoying the warmth along with you. Any evening meal needs to be pre-checked to ensure the flying ants aren’t dive bombing. The lights attract them and they then shed their wings and go into a little mating dance, which is great for them but not so good if they end up in your beer or dinner. Free extra nutrition for the locals of course but I haven’t reached that stage yet! Don’t leave lights on if going out for the evening. You will have to shovel your way inside through piles of discarded wings. This is a seasonal thing and not regular so don’t get too discouraged.
Ants are a constant battle. They are determined to take over the universe and have moments of making my house the first battle ground. Baygon is your friend. Bugger the environment in this situation. I got bitten by several minute red ants when moving a flower pot and had itchy red welts for a week after. Gaun of course has no reaction to anything. If I live here long enough……….
Larger and slightly more intimidating are things like snakes and scorpions both of which are around. Coming from Australia, where the entire animal and insect population seems to be out to get you, I am less worried than maybe some of our European cousins. Keep an eye out when walking and hope not to meet a king cobra who is less likely to move and will happily meet you eye to eye. We have killed two small snakes in our fish pond and found a drowned scorpion.
How to shorten your lifespan
Lao Khao, or Thai white “whisky” is widely drunk here. At A$4.00 for a large bottle you can see why. A couple of the team that built my house finished up the day with normal sized drinking glasses of this stuff while the rest of us were enjoying a beer.
I have tried it and after a couple of shots the inexperienced fall over and start speaking Thai spontaneously.
The secret to making this rocket fuel almost drinkable is to buy these small packets of Chinese herbs – well maybe not herbs but definitely Chinese!
God knows what is in them, probably ground elephant tusks and panda teeth, but a packet added to the whisky not only turns the drink a pretty red but smooths it down to an almost drinkable substance. You still fall over after two shots but the journey to that stage is less traumatic.
I have put two bottles “down” as one would with wine because it is supposed to improve with age. Can’t get worse. I try it on my visitors and haven’t had anyone return yet.
Rag and Bone Man.
I have read about the carts that used to be part of the English scene, well before my time of course, collecting things that could be sold. Thailand has the same arrangement although mainly based around recycling. Where in Australia we have an annual rubbish collection day to clean up our highways and public places Thailand does it as a result of the low wages. You see people wheeling carts along the roads picking up anything that can be sold to the recycling centres. It took me some time to be more comfortable in just leaving a plastic bottle at the side of the road if walking through the village for example. Five minutes later and it was gone. Money for someone.
We also have a regular collection guy who passes through. He weighs and then buys your recycle material and then on-sells to the local centre. The cardboard in the photo below is sitting on scales! A lot of effort for a small return I am thinking. Maybe he has a few trees that he can sell.
A Thai workhorse
For those of you who have visited the country will know that the motorbikes with little sidecars are central to travel and business here. Called a saaling, or that’s the phonetic pronunciation anyway, they do everything from move building materials to carrying the entire family including granny and the three uncles.
The tiler who worked on our house had one and the thing was attached to the bike by rebar, normally used for concrete reinforcement.
Just a couple of photos
Thanks for reading.