Introduction – Skip if you are a regular reader
I have got SO behind in these posts I call “Living in Isaan”, which are a series of small stories I have recorded that make up my everyday life in a small rural village in the northeast of Thailand, a region called Isaan/Isan/Esan. It has been a busy year establishing a new tropical garden, writing a book and filling in time with far more than I ever thought would happen day to day as a result of retiring to “boring” Isaan. I am on a mission to catch up so although the timeline is a bit out of date the material is still relevant sharing what life looks like here. I will now give you my standard introduction for these posts, so skip if you are a regular and head straight to the stories:
You will find many expats writing blogs about life in the coastal centres and places like Chiang Mai but fewer make the effort to record what living in the northeast (Isaan) out this way looks like.
None of my stories is 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.
I used to call these updates of life in Thailand “Isaan – the Small Stories”. I felt it was time for a change in name although the scope of content is the same. This edition covers early March 2018. These stories are extracted from my Facebook page, 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.
1 March 2018 – Si Bun Ruang Festival
You can only get bored in Isaan if you never leave your home. There is often something happening if you know where to look, I absolutely love these formal Isaan dancers whenever they make an appearance. Beautiful costumes and they dance with such grace. A great way to start the day.
Over 500 dancers made their way to the main shrine in Si Bun Ruang, just before you get to the hospital, for a ceremony that happens every year. Always a pleasure to see these beautiful costumes and ladies. An incredible collective effort to put on this show.
After the formal dancing this morning a lum music group started up (in this format usually a single guitar and lots of percussion) and there’s nothing Isaan people like more than an ad hoc dance session. Great fun to watch and the crowd love it when a farang joins in so feel free.
If you want to watch a larger lum group playing go to my video HERE:
This is an annual celebration held at the central town shrine for King Naresuan, an ancient Thai king held in great regard. All the villages that make up the town of Si Bun Ruang send along dance groups and it is an impressive display. I love the dancing and costumes but end up taking most photos of the local folk individually or in small groups just because I enjoy the endless variety of faces and situations.
In one of those interesting background things happening, which we farangs would normally miss, what do you think these people are doing inspecting the food in the photo above? Looking for lottery numbers of course. Duh. Today is the first of the month and the national lottery is drawn today and on the 16th. Thais look for subtle clues to lottery numbers in just about everything. Someone had spotted a 13 in the incense smoke and Gaun was passing that onto Yuan, who makes a modest investment each draw. I just love this stuff
1 Match 2018 – Ants, Ants and More Ants
This is a longer video but I think it is fun to watch. It shows Yuan and Lud harvesting ant eggs for sale in Friday’s local markets for a big payoff. I particularly like the bit where Lud gets up the ladder to collect by hand! These red ants give a decent bite, although they don’t cause an itch like the small red fire ants. Great motivation Lud.
Following on from the video about the red ant egg hunt these are a few photos to add more to this very rural Isaan story.
3 March – A House Warming
We’ve had a busy social time the last couple of days. We met up with an American living in Nong Bua Lamphu for a coffee yesterday, a connection made via my blog. It is always a pleasure to meet “good quality” farang who have settled into life here and enjoy the Thainess of it all. Many don’t. We look forward to getting to know him better on his return from an annual six-month escape from the heat of Thailand.
These are always pretty light-hearted events where the ceremony itself rates equally with the food provided at the end! This one was a bit unusual in that a “spirit-man” undertook the initial blessing, to get the “ghosts”, as Gaun calls them, onside for the people about to take up residence. This was followed by eight monks who came in to do a Buddhist blessing. This is a well-blessed house.
Today we headed to Udon Thani for a brief hospital visit, and dropped in to see Yurt, Gaun’s older sister, to exchange vegetables from the farm for lots of food and things she has picked up on sale for the family! I didn’t miss out. She had lots of Iceberg lettuce for me, which you can’t buy in our town, and a bag of pork mince ready to go for a dish I enjoy. Onto a birthday party BBQ for a friend of ours before a late return home.
4 March 2018 – Sugar Harvest
With no social events planned for the day, we headed out to the farm to inspect the sugar harvest, which is now underway. I had hoped to catch the burning of cane at night, which is brief but spectacular, but we all missed it as the contractor is working separately from Yuan and Lud and didn’t tell anyone when he was doing it
They are harvesting in stages so there’s another burn planned for this afternoon and Yuan will phone me (Gaun) when it is about to happen. I hope it is after dark. TBA
As always I am totally undisciplined when I have the camera in hand so there are a few extra non-sugar photos as well.
It’s in the mid-30’s today heading tp 39 later in the week and to spend all day cutting cane is not something high on my list of wanted jobs. Many women undertake this job. As I point out to any expat – never mess with an Isaan lady. She’s probably stronger than you and cutting stalks with a machete is second nature for them 🙂 Normally contract workers get 3 baht (or that’s what it was last year) for ten canes cut and bundled. These guys must be working for a daily rate (normally 300 baht or $12.00) as the canes aren’t being individually bundled.
Low prices this year as there is an oversupply and maybe less demand. Yuan is getting 600 baht ($24.00) per ton. The price at a weigh station, where the contractor will sell the crop, is between 800 -900 baht a ton. So the contractor gets 200 – 300 baht a ton for burning, cutting and delivering. The money Yuan gets from this year’s crop will fund extending the farm pond, doubling it in size, and adding a porch area to the house they are building at the family compound in the village.
Gaun noticed that the spirits didn’t have any water so Yuan was sent off to fill the bottle up. If you have a spirit house you have to feed and water the occupants otherwise they get upset and you don’t want that! More HERE and a story I wrote when in Chiang Mai about a spirit house blessing HERE.
5 March – A Small Local Forest Wat – update
I hadn’t been to the small wat being built down the road from the farm for a while so I thought I’d drop in this morning before coffee. Although it is still largely a building site there are signs that one day this will become an attractive temple. The head monk, Dit, is unusual in that he appreciates landscaping and that shows through in the following photos. You can find the temple on Google Maps HERE.
All these flowers stretching into the distance were originally donated by Gaun. Dit has a couple of yai (grandmothers) who have made it their life work to expand and maintain the gardens and it shows.
I thought they were going to leave the hall at ground level but since my last visit those concrete supports have been poured around the uprights and you can see some horizontal timbers that will form a floor quite a distance up from the ground. I am never sure how planned these constructions are as the work is mainly done by volunteers and the monks themselves.
I wonder if having built such a tall structure they found that the uprights required more support than just being in the ground and the additional concrete “footings” were added forcing the floor to be a raised one.
Being an ex-office worker my first thought was how they got the circular concrete supports around the existing timber uprights! Duh. They weren’t pre-made but a poured on-site using semi-circular steel moulds.
6 Mar 2018 – Sugar Cane Burn
Some of the sugar cane was fired late yesterday afternoon. It was less spectacular in daylight so I haven’t taken many photos. I have covered this topic before anyway.
Today it was cut and loaded. We are expecting rain over the next three days, which will slow things down as obviously the contractor can’t burn the cane and also they can’t get machinery into the land. Fish on the menu for dinner tonight caught in the farm pond this afternoon.
7 Mar 2018 – Tips & Tricks
Come a bored moment I will write a blog post on some of the small tips I have noted as well as the do’s and don’ts I’ve picked up since I moved here, which is getting on to be almost five years ago. The internet has a lot of similar posts but they often tend to be for tourists rather than permanent residents who live a “deeper” life.
For example, the photo I have included shows two cooking-related tips. Firstly add toothpicks to your salt shaker to stop the humidity clogging it up. Better than rice as toothpicks are less likely to fall out into whatever you are using the shaker for. I’ve had mine in there for months and never had to change them.
Secondly do try making a jam/chutney from tamarind and sugar, which is what’s in that jar. Gaun’s mama made this batch and when I tried it I asked for a jar-full. It is a sour/sweet combination and I think delicious. As a plus tamarind is supposed to have a lot of health benefits, which might balance up all that sugar Read about them HERE.
BTW the greenery I have included are Chinese celery (don’t bother looking for the thick stalk farang celery here), basil and eggplant, all picked at the farm this morning.
9 Mar 2018 – Sugar Harvesting the Easy Way
I could hear this constant drone of machinery in the far distance and being an Isaan farmer these days I wondered if it was one of the big sugar harvesters in action. I have seen them stationery but never working. We jumped in the truck and headed to the outskirts of the village where we were lucky enough to catch a mechanised harvest in progress.
Over time I am sure this will become the norm as cutting sugar by hand will become more difficult due to the ageing of farm workers. However, there will have to be changes because sugar is currently planted in small ex-paddy fields so you just don’t get the long clear runs that best takes advantage of the efficiency of machines.
Like everywhere as farming families die out land will be amalgamated and the sight of people with machetes cutting sugar cane at $0.12 for a bundle of ten will be long gone and something more raw and personal lost.
I passed you’ll be surprised to hear but the locals enjoyed it. This quantity of eggs if sold would fetch around $10.00, so quite a treat. Yuan and Peng are selling eggs at the Si Bun Ruang Friday markets as I type, some of which were donated by our garden yesterday, and they will make 1,000 baht from them. Where a worker’s wage is 300 baht a day this represents quite a windfall.
10 Mar 2018 – Phuket
I don’t normally repost old stories but watching Yuan and Lud enjoy the sea for the first time in their lives one year ago was such a buzz it is a memory worth sharing.
10 Mar 2018 – Moving Isaan Grace
A big day today for Isaan Grace, our floating sala (hut) on the farm pond. With Yaun’s money from the sugar harvest on its way (180 tons so far and more to come) this year’s project of doubling the size of the farm pond is about to get underway. Not only is the pond to be expanded but the old one is to be emptied and deepened, which meant that Isaan Grace had to move into dry-dock.