Isan Village Life

August 2019

 

I would like to post big topics that attract hundreds of readers to the blog. The tourist sites of Thailand for example, the best beaches or exciting new eating places. The reality is that my stories are all based around my everyday events and none of the more glamorous aspects to life in Thailand seem to make an appearance. Oh well, these small happenings still have their own character – enjoy. 

My ego has been given a boost today as Gaun has trimmed the hedge she planted for me at the farm. When I die this is by far a better memorial than the concrete alternatives.

There are few places I enjoy more than a morning coffee on the family farm. It’s why I have no great incentive to travel. What resort can match this and it’s free! No TM30 required either after a visit  If you don’t know what a TM30 joke is and are an expat or even a visitor here you should read my post on the topic HERE.

Isan Grace our floating sala.

Gaun has been upgrading the landscaping in the background, which I will cover on my ‘Thailand Tropical Garden’ page shortly. I am in work clothes if you were thinking that my standards are slipping.

Or another option on this newly Gaun created bench overlooking her farm garden.

The master gardener herself. Everything you see was planted Jan/Feb this year.

It is rare to see Gaun sitting. Worth a photo in itself. 

I came across this photo on Peng’s (my stepdaughter) FB timeline, which I really like. Many of you are her friends so will have seen the original already. I have heavily edited it in Lightroom to make it almost stylistic and although it is only a camera photo I think it has caught a lovely moment. Such a sweet girl.

Feeding spirits continued today with offerings to ancestors being made at temples across Thailand. The family were up early to pay their respects at the moo ban wat.

The lady on the far right lost her husband in a terrible accident recently so had a particular connection to the day. From left to right, a neighbour, Bear, Yuan and Gaun of course.

The recent rains have encouraged growth and this line of plants alongside the pond are looking healthy.

Yuan hasn’t been well the last ten days and in a typical Isan holistic approach she made a doctor’s appointment and then today we fed the spirits (Gaun calls them ghosts) at the farm in case they were upset….read on.

It was suggested that there might be two reasons the farm spirits were upset and making Yuan sick. The first was the work around splitting up the farm between the children. It turns out no one informed the spirits this was happening! The other possibility was that Yuan and Lud’s son Game had built a small sala (hut) on the farm and no advance notice was given of this event either. Here the family heads off to a San Phra Phum, a spirit house, set in the trees on Gaun’s land for a ceremony and to feed the spirits (of course).

This San Phra Phum is the one for the whole farm. The lady at the back is called Bun, and she is leading the ceremony.

Yuan and Lud.

Pouring some Lao Khao (Isan ‘whisky’) onto the ground for the ghosts. You will often see this happen in everyday life when a new bottle is opened not just on an occasion like this.

Food, rice, cigarettes, chewing tobacco (for the lady spirits) and drink. That ladder was built for the occasion to help the spirits get to the offerings! Lovely. There’s a whole chicken there, which the young boy who’s called Phum (named after the province Chaiyaphum), was pretty upset about going to waste as he hadn’t had breakfast 🙂

With the farm spirits advised and fed it was time to tell them about Game’s new structure, which is at the end of this path next to the motorbike.

Another batch of food and offerings made.

Bun and Yuan asking the spirits to accept the new sala and offerings. Particular spirits can be called in by name. The idea is that even if they’re not around other spirits can pass on the message that food is waiting.

A lot of effort has gone into this ceremony. Soup, main course and dessert.

And finally larb, a minced meat made from beef in this case prepared especially for Yuan’s father, who evidently enjoyed it, plus sour chicken and bamboo. A separate offering to him. He died when Yuan was 3 years old.

Papa’s meal being presented.

Some readers may think this is all silly superstition however, I love the connection between Isan people and their spirits, usually ancestors, which I think may reflect their Chinese origins. Who of us hasn’t offered flowers to a grave site, a candle for a deceased relative on an anniversary or a prayer to some invisible ‘spirit’ in whatever faith we follow? No different here and I hope that it is reflected in good health for one of the nicest people you will ever meet – Yuan.

Needless to say there was plenty of food left over and no one living will go home hungry 

Coming back from shopping in Si Bun Ruang this morning we passed a wall being built using concrete poured into formwork, rather than what is more often used which is concrete blocks laid between columns and then rendered/plastered. I have been wanting to knock down the wall at the front of our new tropical garden land and replace it with something more in line with what we already have on our original land. At 3,000 baht for 2.5 metres it looks like a reasonable option. We have 20 metres to cover.

I either haven’t noticed or haven’t seen this technique being used to build a wall here before. The 2.5 mtr sections can be poured in two batches and no rendering/plastering is required. A quicker process I would think than the normal block walls. As long as the supporting columns were dug in and concreted to a high standard I don’t see any problems with this method. Comments????

Painted up with some lights on it would be just fine.

Our existing wall on the right and the new land with its current unsightly wall and temporary fencing on the left. I want a solid wall this time so although it won’t match the existing I don’t think that’s a problem.

We haven’t built a new wall so far, partly because of finances but partly because we were using this entrance to have gravel, sand and bricks delivered while we developed the tropical garden area. That activity has mostly finished now. You can see why we want a new one!

A typical Thai wall. Many of them lean like this after a few years because they are built for show with no thought for the long term. This one will eventually fall over. Well past its use-by date!

The lady who runs the wall business for any locals interested.

Gaun started on this feature late last week but has since expanded on her concept sometime early this morning between delivering her mama to the farm at 5:00 am and me getting up at 8:00! The plantings are based on a tree trunk that’s been waiting for its moment of fame for a few months now. Everything you see is taken from cuttings.

What was a bare patch of weeds has been turned into this in a couple of days.

Gaun’s creativity and constant hard work still amazes me after over six years of living with her.

Now I would have just had the pot upright with a plant in the top but Gaun has made this look like a plant ‘waterfall’. These green glazed pots are old ‘fish dead long time’ (an Isan fermented fish sauce) containers and because plastic has taken over you can pick them up for free. Almost every house has a few lying around unused. Ask and you will receive 🙂

More additions being added later (it must be later because I am awake) this morning taken from farm cuttings.

And the view looking the other way. More work to be done to fill in the back of this area.

You are probably bored of reading this….but there aren’t too many farm in Isan that look like this. I am blessed to be able to enjoy Gaun’s green fingers every day. BTW I laid the paths.

The farm washing vegetable area with accessories!

The next challenge is to build proper steps here. Watch this space.

The adjacent garden area at the farm.

I am not going to make this an daily update but enough new progress was made on the new farm garden feature this morning to justify a follow-on from yesterday’s post. More plants, rocks, gravel and water feature have been added and the area looks almost complete.

At a total cost of well under 1,000 baht (A$44.00) it shows that you don’t need a lot of money to create something unique and interesting.

From bare earth to this is a few days.

COPPERLEAF:

A terrific plant to put anywhere in the garden. We had a bed of them next to the Isan fishing boat but they got too high and Gaun has cut them back to the ground. Normally I would be worried about such drastic action but they are happily sprouting ten days later. The cuttings have gone to the farm, where they look dead but probably aren’t.

That bed on the left has almost been taken back to bare earth. It will be fine and the copperleaf will be filling in the space in a few weeks

Ten days after pruning the bare shoots are sprouting new leaves.That bed on the left has almost been taken back to bare earth. It will be fine and the copperleaf will be filling in the space in a few weeks

Almost impossible to kill.

And the cuttings have just been stuck in the ground next to the entrance at the farm, shown here on the far right. Some won’t make it but most will.

Looks hopeless doesn’t it. As long as they get water they will be just fine.

Copperleaf are great because you can determine what size you want them to grow. This is one between those two dragon tongue plants at the back against the wall. Mostly green leafed because this is a shady area. They turn copper if in the sun. They will grow well in either condition.

A larger version. We have left this one to grow to about three metres. Copper coloured because it is in the open. Quite a thick screening plant if planted in bulk like here.

Another small version in a pot. It gets a little sunlight so the leaves are a mixed colour.

Two metres high here. Vigorous growers so you are constantly cutting them back.

And the final example on the left. Cheap to buy at garden centres and then take cuttings and you’ll never buy again.

 

Thanks for reading.

Tony

14 Comments

  1. Greg Carroll

    After being so dry only a month ago it looks like the best rainy season for a long time Tony. To the point where many regions have had too much rain.
    The garden looks wonderful as a result, and no doubt the farm is going better than anticipated when looking at the outlook in June.
    You next ebook has to be How to Create a Tropical Paradise.
    Here in Brisvegas it’s drier than ever – we’ve not had decent rain for months and the bushfires have come early. But still, only 68 weeks to go 🙂
    Cheers…Greg

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      It has been better than I have experienced before but for us around the Si Bun Ruang area, well short of what was needed. Firstly the rain arrived late, so many crops were badly affected. The family could have planted rice using bore water if they knew that the rains would come later, but as it is they only have two paddies planted up and will have to buy. Secondly although we have had a couple of decent downpours it hasn’t been what I would call a traditional wet season (although traditional may no longer exist). Further south has had all the flooding, which while terrible in the short term at least sets them up for the long dry period. Locally ponds that should be full are empty.

      I have heard of your own drought and early bushfires, which must be a worry for the coming summer.

      Thanks for the feedback Greg.

      Reply
  2. Hans Ruediger

    Hey Tony, may I encourage you to adopt Jim Busby’s suggestions on the proposed garden wall? To further ensure proper support for the wall, I recommend setting the concrete posts into poured and re-bar strengthened concrete footings, approximately one meter square by roughly 20 cm thick, about one meter below ground level.
    Continuous re-bar, connecting footings and posts, will ensure a solid ‘mechanical’ connections between footings and concrete.
    Obviously, all this will require quite a bit more work (additional excavation and concrete) per post , but doing so will go a long way towards preventing future ‘leaning’ of the wall.

    Good luck and Thanks for another super post and pictures.

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      Much appreciated Hans. Great to know you are still one of my loyal band of readers. Yes, I will ensure the wall is properly constructed so that it stays vertical for my lifetime at least 🙂 I am hoping you use the same team that built a lot of my house, if they are competitive on price. They know my standards and will build it right. My original front wall had a second set of footings set back from each column and re-bar joined the two, which give a very solid support.

      I will be reporting on progress if it happens.

      Thanks Hans.

      Reply
  3. Jon

    Hi Tony, love your work as always. Such a contract to South East Queensland at current, drought and fires this year.

    Not sure you have been to the bank for some time or your optimism continues. 1000 baht costs me $48 @ current, a far cry from the $35 only a few years ago.

    Hello to all and keep well.

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      Thanks so much Jon. I hear you are having a bad time of it. The opposite to hear where many areas are recovering from flooding. We missed out as usual, not that I want flooding, but more rain than we’ve had so far would be nice to take us into the dry season.

      The high baht is a disaster for many expats especially those who had borderline income levels for visa requirements. I don’t have that problem but I have stopped bringing money over in the hope that the exchange rate improves sometime this/next year. The everyday is OK but I now really ask myself if I need to spend money on something outside the norm. There’s no spare cash around that’s for sure.

      Cheers Jon.

      Reply
  4. Adrian W Martin

    Marvellous gardening and the quality of your photos is always so good Tony.

    Here on the Gold Coast, the standard front garden appears to be a 2-metre strip of lawn which needs mowing if it should ever rain!

    Keep up the good work mate! Adrian

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      Thank you as always Adrian. I enjoy a garden but if I didn’t have Gaun it would involve a lot more grass. Constant hard work to keep a fast growing tropical garden in line.

      Cheers.

      Tony

      Reply
  5. Jenny

    I can’t imagine, if I lived in a spot like this, I’d ever want to travel either. Gaun must truly be a master gardener and between the both of you. you have created a little slice of paradise.

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      It has worked out well as I can’t afford to travel either. I have a slight urge to visit my sister in Italy, but what once would have been the expenditure of spare income would now be coming out of living expenses or capital. Maybe next year.

      As you say there’s very little incentive to leave. Between here and the farm I have an environment that suits me just fine and is impossible to replicate on my budget.

      Reply
  6. Jim Busby

    Remember Tony, Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder. It’s not about the supposed grandeur of a particular Wat, or the Beaches of Thailand, but about what you see as compelling and enjoyable. No, you are not going to attract throngs of blog followers, but the one’s you do, greatly appreciate the insight you bring us of this rural lifestyle. I like that you take the time to explain in detail the mysteries of everyday rural Thailand traditions. I’m sure as you stated looking at our own culture’s traditions vs another’s there really isn’t a big difference, except in the execution. In Mexico they celebrate “The Day of the Dead” to honor past family members in a very similar way. I’m glad to see with a little reassurance from spirit leaders, and appeasing the spirits with great looking food and drink, everything will get back to normal at Vansutha Farms. I agree with Phum that food looks too good just give it to spirits.
    As for that poured form wall, it would work if supported properly with deep set posts every second form for support. I might also increase the thickness of the rebar for better structural support as well. The wall in the photo looks destined to end up like the one at your house leaning as heavy rains cause it to shift. Maybe a wider poured footing with vertical rebar sticking up, and then pour the wall on top would work.
    The master gardener continues to amaze me with her creativity and enthusiasm. The grasshoppers or some other insect, seem to find the Copperleaf a tasty morsel. Whatever is eating them, seems to prefer the shade over sun.
    There you go again saying you don’t have anything to write about, and you give us another wonderful story with insightful background information that we wouldn’t find in another blog. Take your time and when inspiration hits, or a great festival, then write a story that we can all share.

    Thanks again,
    Jim

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      Thank you for the encouragement Jim. I would miss not getting comments like yours and others so I will try to keep finding stories that keep the loyal readers engaged. Yuan seems to be back in form, sleeping and feeling a lot better in herself. Those papers I raised in my email to you arrived yesterday and uncle and mama have signed them today, which is encouraging.

      Getting walls built to last is a challenge here. They are like the electricity poles, which are just stuck into a hole with no concrete at all. Needless to say they start to lean very quickly, especially if loaded with many broadband cables like you will have seen in photos. Thais take the same approach to walls I am sure. My current front wall had separate footings dug behind the columns with steel connecting the two to provide extra vertical assistance! I am holding off spending the money on the wall at this time of low exchange rates. It can wait and I can always prop up the old one 🙂

      Yes, the bugs are as enthusiastic as everything else over here. I did get a spray for the roses, which seemed to help but basically I am happy to share as long as they don’t get too greedy.

      One more story published today motivated by Jim, in case you haven’t spotted it yet, which follows on from The Day of the Dead theme you mention.

      We are off to Udon Thani tomorrow with Yuan and Lud. A family holiday, which I always enjoy. I am picking up some food supplies, Yuan is buying seeds and spring onion bulbs, we will call in to see sister number 2 (Yurt) to collect a pick-up load of things she always buys the family and then onto friends for a pork roast lunch! I try to keep up with the pace but it’s not easy.

      Thanks Jim. Chat soon.

      Tony

      Reply
  7. Shaughan

    Hey Tony,

    Looking great. Certainly a lot of work and creativity to get to where the farm is at. Good stuff.

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      Cheers Shaughan. Between Yuan and Lud on the farm side and Gaun heading up a farm garden team of one, they have created a beautiful and productive space.

      Thanks on their behalf.

      Tony

      Reply

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