Isan Village Living

Edition 20

 

This is a way overdue catchup with some stories from last year extracted from my Facebook page. I have not included stories that were only relevant to the time they were written but you may find some items here where updated posts have been made in the meantime, but I don’t think that’s a problem. Enjoy.

Building in Thailand eBook

When my wife and I bought some land in Isaan, which is a region in the north east of Thailand, and then started to build our house I started to record the daily events of construction life. For twenty six weeks I wrote a weekly blog update about all the aspects of the build and included as much detail as possible for others who might be thinking of going down the same path. I was surprised by the number of readers I attracted as a result of writing on this subject, many of whom followed the entire build from beginning to end. 

Based on this continued interest I thought I would revisit my original words and bring them all together under the one heading in the form of an eBook. Included in this process has been some extensive updating and expansion of many of the original posts and the addition of the many COMMENTS, which are designed to expand your knowledge and save you time or money or both!

Read more HERE and find out how to obtain the eBook.

I am loving your book – just on my second read at the moment, to make sure that I didn’t miss anything first time around (which actually it turns out I did!).  

Just a note of thanks at this point ……. I am a fairly methodical sort of bloke, but there are many issues which your book highlights which I just wouldn’t have thought about – or if I had, I may well have assumed they were “standard” building practice [U-bends, drain positioning, barge-board alignment] – if it hadn’t been for your excellent descriptions!!  I will probably still “miss” something – that’s the nature of building/design – but thanks to you, it shouldn’t be anything too mission-critical.

The income from my eBook pays for the upkeep of this blog, which is otherwise commercially free unlike so many others.

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, which for the many westerners with connection via their Thai partner to Esan is not very helpful. There are some excellent Facebook resources as well as blogs I am sure that focus on Esan life in the bigger centres and focus more on answering questions and exchanging tops and tricks, but not so many writing as regularly as I do on what village life actually looks like from the inside.

None of my stories are 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.

This edition covers a period in August and early September 2108. These stories are extracted from my Facebook page HERE, 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.

I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts – not the 1950 Merv Griffin song, which you can find here https://bit.ly/1waNHTY, but a real treeful of them.

Think fresh coconuts, a cheap, yummy Thai rum called SangSom and what might you get? Malibu! A bottle of SangSom costs 270 baht v’s Malibu at 800 baht so it’s worth a try. You can find a DIY Malibu recipe here: https://bit.ly/2KJiccH

I will get a batch brewing and report back although my typing may be slurred 

A massive crop as with most other things growing in the garden.

They look huge but by the time you get to the core it is quite small in comparison to the original.

TIPS & TRICKS: You will find a lot of this on Facebook (s**t that is) but not in its raw state  Everything you didn’t want to know about septic systems in this post. Most will ignore but for those of you planning to build here print this post.

One of the challenges when specifying a house relying on a septic system (and in rural Thailand that’s 100%) is what size should I buy? There’s a lot of discussion in the building forums about the options available and installation but not much in the way of guidance on sizes. I am here to help!

Your standard Thai rural house has a septic made from round concrete rings stacked on top on each other – two or three rings high. Because most use squat toilets not much water is involved, no paper is flushed and so they don’t require pumping out too often. Every day in the moo ban trucks will come around and you can tell they are septic tank cleaners because they beep their horn twice! Every service or sales person passing the front gates has their signature ‘advertising’.

Farang of course tend to have western flushing toilets with paper, or this farang does anyway, and the storage capacity needs to be larger as a result. I know some expats go with the ring arrangement because at a cost of 140 baht a ring it is a cheap option. Each to their own. I went with a proper heavy duty sealed plastic septic system as I wanted my house to be high western quality and the extra cost was no big deal.

Today we had our septic pumped out for the first time, which allows me to give you some idea of capacity. We bought a 1,600 litre system and we moved in at the end of March 2015. So three people plus a few visitors for three and a bit years. That equals septic storage usage of around 180 litres per person per year. You heard it here first 

P.S. The cost for pumping a full septic tank – 500 baht or $22.00. Not bad for three years is it?

These are the concrete rings often used for septic storage here. These are one of our soaker tanks (NOT septic) this one exclusively for the kitchen waste. We have another for bathroom gray water.

Our plastic septic tank buried in place underneath that concrete ring.

The same view today. For those of you who know my wife Gaun through my posts can you tell where the septic is???? All of this growth has happened in three and a bit years.

Another clue.

That’s Gaun. The concrete lid access to the tank is under all those plants.

We called into our local village temple to see a friend of others who won the tender to do some sub-contracting work there. He wasn’t on-site today but I took a few photos of some other people working on the more detailed aspects of building this new Buddha hall. Keep in mind this wat is being funded by donations from local people and our village is very small. I believe the money has finally come through to finish it but we’ll wait and see.

It’s the large building being constructed in the background. It’s not my preferred style and I wonder at the scale of it considering the use it will get but that’s not for me to say.

The detailed work is happening at this stage adding hand carved moldings to the facia. You can see the design has been drawn onto the bare concrete and I show you the template in a later photo. Eucalyptus mostly being used for scaffolding rather than bamboo in this case. All cleared by occupational safety and health.

This is the lead contractor and he is making each of the moldings individually using concrete and a small knife. Those toes have never been in the confines of a business shoe 

Surely these must be precast and not handmade individually like in the previous photo?

The template for the molding wall design is cut from that thin plastic board you buy in craft shops. They trace around them to get the design on the wall.

A huge space. The village gets together at the temple in large numbers about five times a year. Other than that this hall will mostly not be used once completed. This will replace a number of smaller venues in the temple complex, including what used to be the primary school, which still has the school bell outside the front door.

This lady was on painting duty.

These guys were putting up molding. They are pre painted and then touched up once installed.

The initial work being done here. Today was a holiday for the Queen’s birthday so lady’s daughter was keeping herself amused like every other Thai person with not enough to do.

Meanwhile a couple of the monks were in the process of launching this hot air balloon. Who knows why!

And managed to set it alight, much to their amusement.

Not a great moment in Thai aeronautical history.

This is the existing main building on the wat grounds. It is the Ubosot or monk ordination hall. Not for public use. Money goes into building new structures while the existing ones fall into disrepair. No sooner the new hall is opened the push will be on to build something else.

One of the unexpected benefits of writing a blog on living in Isaan is the number of people I get to meet. Some remain ‘virtual’ but others drop in to see us either for a once only visit, and we’ve had about eighty of those, or regularly when they are in the area. I also find some local connections that I wouldn’t have otherwise and that’s a pleasure too.

Today was a good example with Greg and Noi from Noi’s Kitchen calling with friends of theirs to see the garden and farm as well as a return visit by Tim Fuller and his partner Aree. Thank you all for spending time here and we would love to see you back at some stage.

Never lonely in rural Isaan with great company like this.

We called into the local temple to see our friend Chung (builder) Noy who is working there pebblecreting the entire floor, an eight month job! Noy is the guy who did the pebblecreting at our home. Most of his work is for temples as that’s where the demand is and they have the money to fund it. Noy is just the nicest bloke you’d ever meet. He’s the one who organised our boat transport.

A few other photos as always.

Every day at 11:00 am this large drum (known as a Klong Pane) is sounded to let everyone know it is lunchtime for the monks. Villagers will bring food separate from the early morning rounds so that the monks get a hot meal. The monks don’t eat after noon.

This is Tea, a friend and neighbour. I wrote about his ordination ceremony, which happened just before Buddhist Lent, which you can read about HERE:

Tea in a non-monk role. He’a a large character as you might tell from this photo. Regulars will remember the hot air ‘balloon’ that went up in flames at this wat. That was Tea in action!

Inside the Buddha hall Chung Noy is well underway settling out the frame into which the pebblecrete will be poured. The extra height is so that a proper level can be achieved across the whole area. For anyone who has built here you will know that the initial concrete slab pour is rough as guts as far as levels go and the this is then corrected when the tiling goes down.

This is Noy working on our driveway. You can see the same framework being used but on a smaller scale. Here Noy is setting out the patterns, which are filled with different coloured pebblecrete. The centre of the wat hall will have a huge star design like this.

This is the raised platform on which the Buddha statues will be placed. Obviously a more complex range of patterns planned here.

It’s a slow and backbreaking job.

Chung Noy. One of my favourite Isaan people. — with น้อย น้อย.

Have mat can eat, sleep or just watch what’s going on. Gaun of course here who is the most patient person as I wander around wherever we go taking photos.

For those of you who don’t know what pebblecrete is it ends up looking like this. Our driveway again.

Pebblecrete turns boring concrete into something interesting. a 40,000 baht job here where the wat is 500,000.

The painting touch up continues from my previous post on this wat.

Sifting sand the Thai way.

These stones are mixed with concrete to fill in those frames and create the patterns. Colour is added to match the overall design.

This is only part of the final quantity that will be used.

Mixed stones, which I presume won’t be coloured. Needless to say I will report back on progress over time.

The work on the hand made moulding continues.

Here’s a sneak preview of the finished Buddha hall one year later. You can read about this story HERE

We had a medical morning and I thought I would share the basics as once again these little events give non-locals an insight into living an everyday life here.

Guan’s older sister Paed, who runs the other half of the family farm, had drastically lost weight and went to a local doctor who told her there was nothing wrong. By the time she looked like a skeleton she went to another doctor based Nong Bua Lamphu, a 30 minute drive from us, with a good reputation. She was diagnosed with a thyroid problem, is now on medication and is well on the way to regaining her weight. Every month she has a check-up and gets more medication and that was due today. I have had a cough that hangs around so thought I would give this doctor a go.

There are medical clinics everywhere but the first thing you need to realise is that most of these are run by doctors outside their ‘day’ job of working in a government hospital. That means the vast majority of clinics are only open for a couple of hours early morning and evening. If you get sick during the day good luck with that. Head straight to a hospital because that’s where all the doctors are based.

This clinic in Nong Bua Lamphu was unusual in that the doctor and his wife had opening hours of 07:30 – 13:00 and 17:00 – 19:00.

The second thing you should note is that there are no appointments. Nothing in Thailand seems to have an appointment in fact. Want your car serviced – just turn up! If you want your body serviced the same situation. You need to get there early and get a number and then wait and wait. Take a book, do some shopping, get a massage! We got there at just after 07:30 and I saw the doctor at about 10:00. Our regular Khon Kaen hospital visits with Peng, my stepdaughter, are never less than four hours and often a full day.

Thirdly, in the public system medical treatment can be a pretty public experience. Hospitals have mobile beds lying around with patients waiting for action and clinics can have you waiting in line seated inside the doctor’s room, where you can hear and see everything happening with the people ahead of you. Obviously more personal consultations are private (I assume) but I can’t vouch for that as my prostate is just fine. I think I got a bit of a farang courtesy because they didn’t line anyone up behind me so I had the room to myself, although the door was open.

Fourthly most doctors have some English speaking ability. It may be a bit rusty and limited in some cases but it is bound to be better than my Thai.

Fifthly your medication will be a bit hit and miss if you’re a ‘must read the label’ type of person. Some pills will come in their commercial wrapper while others are dished out of a plastic bottle and could be anything. They are all placed in little plastic bags with ‘tick a box’ instructions all in Thai!

Finally, the public medical system is absurdly cheap by western standards. I had a consultation with the doctor and received five packets of pills for an overall cost of $14.00 (360 baht).

For locals I have included details of this clinic called Amnat Nitman. The Google Maps entry can be found here https://goo.gl/QuZUt3. The male doctor I saw spoke excellent English and seemed to take an interest. I just hope that his diagnosis and treatment works.

The clinic is on a side road to the 210 highway next to the lake.

Open fronted waiting room. An Isaan tuk tuk unique to the region on the right.

We had a very social time the day before with Australian friends and so Gaun was feeling a little slow this morning. Spicy sausages from a mobile stall that had set up in front of the clinic was the go to help clear the head!

My pill collection interpreted thanks to Gaun.

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.

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.

Older photos. Mama and Peng.

PLEASE NOTE: This situation happened a year ago and mama is now fully recovered.

I am sorry to report that Gaun’s mama 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.

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.

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 

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!

A modern, clean set-up inside.

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

There is some debate about the usefulness of the Thai pink ID card, which is the expat equivalent of the blue ID cards all Thais carry around, but I feel more is better. Buy a large electrical item and you have to produce a Thai ID card. Odd.

Anyway, I wanted to register as a new patient at a local doctor’s clinic and the receptionist asked me for my passport, which I didn’t have. It ended up not being a problem but I thought that I may as well complete my package of doing everything a farang can do, except citizenship which is a bridge too far, by adding a pink card to my wallet.

The Si Bun Ruang amphur office, a local government centre that handles everything from land registration to marriage documents, is always super efficient and they proved to be the same this time. It took a little extra time because they almost never do them but 30 minutes later I had mine.

I followed the documentation requirements as detailed in the excellent Isaan lawyers website here https://bit.ly/2PeVz2o taking along copies of passport pages, my yellow house book and marriage certificate plus copies of Gaun’s ID card and blue house book. This office wasn’t too interested in the copies, in fact handing them back at the end, and instead took some scans of their own, but each amphur office works slightly differently so don’t take this as standard.

They took electronic scans of my thumbs and a (bad) photo and after the payment of 60 baht ($2.40) I had my ID card.

Thai bureaucracy often gets a bad write-upon forums but in my case I have always found them to be excellent as long as you do your research and turn up with the documents they need.

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

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: https://bit.ly/2wtsnxI

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).

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.

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 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.

Lovely to see. This afternoon we took mama for a test walk for photos 

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.

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.

Yuan and mama.

 

I will leave you on that happy note. Thanks for reading.

Tony

2 Comments

  1. Jim Busby

    Looking at the size of the new wat tells me there is at least one or two significant donors, because average farmers would not be able to fund such a project. And, a nice looking wat from your previous posts by the looks of it. That hot air balloon failure looks like one of Kim Jong Un’s missile launches. Back to what we discussed before, it looks like Thais think giving as much money to building a new religious structure will get them that much more merit, and a one-way ticket to eternal bliss. Sad, because you’d think the meek farmer has just as much merit even without the big pocket donations. Chung Noy is doing fine as a craftsman if you do the math on what you said he gets paid. 500k Baht for eight months translates into 750K Baht a year, if he finds another wat to work on. That’s double the salary of a typical worker in Bangkok, and probably 4-5x a worker in Isan! Gaun, “tied one on” the other evening as we say in the States, and just like any other country, there is always a next day’s cure waiting (spicy sausage, hmm, I’ll have to try it next time). Good not to see any of those funny blue pills in your mix, meaning you’re going to be ok.

    Take care,

    Jim

    P.S. I have you beat with your ID photo. My Passport photo makes me sick to look at it.

    Reply
    • Tony in Thailand

      There may be Jim. The villagers are constantly coughing up money for the temple and government money seems to get involved too. I make very modest contributions, no more than a local, because I am not a keen supporter of the Buddhist construction industry, even though I enjoy taking photos of the outcome. When I return in my next life as a soi dog I will realise that this attitude was the wrong one to take. The concept that wealth buys entrance to a better ‘heaven’ or rebirth is so unkind to the majority. If ‘God’ is so fixated on the admission price then he/she isn’t the sort of person I want to spend eternity around 🙂

      Chung Noy is in constant demand these days – all temple work. One finishes and he’s starting on another (according to his Facebook page). The costs are quite high with the stones, concrete etc and he did have a number of workers helping on our wat. Even so I sincerely hope he is making a decent income because he works so hard and is such a delightful guy. Do anything for you. My driveway cost me 380 baht a sq mtr but it is a less refined finish than the temple of course.

      Gaun doesn’t normally drink but when there’s a party on she has been known to enjoy herself. The spicy sausages sold by these street vendors are actually very nice. Not too hot. Some are made with a rice filling and some noodles.

      Yes, no blue pills (yet). I have been fighting a persistent cough for a lot of the time I have been here and this was yet another attempt to fix it. I have since been to a specialist in a Udon private hospital and got yet more pills (none blue). The solution that has mostly worked is to stay off anything sweet, spicy and all alcohol. So far so good.

      Yes, my passport photo was taken just before I came to Thailand and it looks exactly the way I was feeling at the time. A reminder of a period of my life best forgotten.

      Thanks for the three comments Jim.

      Reply

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