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Lots to enjoy in Edition 15 of my small Isaan stories including mangos (again), useful Tips and Tricks for the newly arrived, a garden update, an update on the build of a small Thai house, a funeral ceremony, a return to Noi’s Kitchen, a house blessing and as always a few extras at no additional cost!

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 I am on a mission to catch up so although the timeline is a bit out of date the material is still relevant sharing what life looks like here.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 to late April to early May 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.

28 April 2018 – Mangos

Any guesses as to what these might be? A continuation of our joint voyage discovering the wide range of mango varieties.

Once again based on my western supermarket knowledge I never would have picked these as mangos.

Vast numbers growing on one of the many mango trees we inherited with the new block of land we bought last year.

But only very small and green. They won’t turn yellow.

Such a tropical photo. “This is my wife modelling mangos”

Yellow inside. A large seed that takes up most of the space.

That slice on the far right is a seed. Nice though. They have a sweet and sour taste. A lot like a western mango with a squeeze lime juice over it. Gaun tells me that old people like this variety, so ours are being delivered to mama!

28 April – A Tropical Garden Update

And my final contribution as I am spending too much time on the computer even though it is a grey and slightly damp day. Only for tropical garden enthusiasts. Thank God for digital cameras. I started off with a couple of photos in mind and look where that got me. We are just about to hit the four month anniversary of a bare earth start. I haven’t added words to most of these photos because they are only intended to give you a feel for the changes that have happened in such a short time.

A reminder, for me as much as anyone else, of what we started with in December 2017.

Lemongrass being used as a display (as well as in the occasional dish).

These big leafed plants will grow to pergola height and beyond enclosing this seating area in lush green “walls”. These are Bird of Paradise palms and have vivid long lasting yellow or orange flowers…..see next two photos.

29 April 2018 – More Mangos

Continuing the mango theme Gaun took some of the small mangos I photographed yesterday to a village elder (remember I told you that it’s the old people, myself excluded, that enjoy these) and in return received three huge “farang” style fruit. My dear mum absolutely loved mangos and I just wish she were here to share them.

29 April – Tropical Rain

In designing a house for the tropicals we can often get caught up in thinking of large outdoor undercover areas to provide a shaded protection from the heat.

However, come the wet season, which seems to have arrived early this year, these covered spaces are equally useful to enjoy being outside but preferably dry!. Because the air temperature is still very comfortable (28 degrees as I type) when rain arrives, it is a real pleasure to be able to sit and be surrounded by the noise and freshness of rain especially after a period of high heat. To be stuck inside just because it is raining is to miss out on a whole season of milder temperatures and characterful enjoyment.

30 April 2018 – Tips and Tricks – Ants and More

This post is mostly for expats living here but others may find it interesting as an insight to life in the tropics. The two things I find you have to keep on top of all the time are ants and weeds (if you are garden orientated).

Ants are everywhere both inside and outside no matter how well you construct your house. If you have a well sealed home you will probably only encounter the tiny sugar ants, which enjoy sweet things obviously but also go for water, so a mug left on a draining board may have a few inside. The internet recommends baking soda (readily available in Tesco Lotus) mixed with sugar to attract and eventually kill (they explode). I find that a plate with a little bit of honey on works very well and then you drown them. Just keep on keeping on until they stop coming. It is a never ending process. Don’t wait – as soon as you see a few take measures otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed.

If you do go down a chemical route then get the spray Chaindrite. About 80 baht a can in Tesco Lotus. It has a thin nozzle attachment which is really useful for getting into the cracks these ants come from. It is also very effective.

Outside there’s a whole range of ants from the large orange ones you see mostly on mango and longan trees. They bite but don’t infect (with me anyway). The most deadly are the tiny red fire ants, which both bite hard (amazing considering their size) and that can become scratchy and infected. I have a zero tolerance on ants although I tend to leave the mango orange ones alone as Yuan harvest their egg nests (covered previously) to sell at the markets. Once I see a nest on the ground (only the red and black – you can pick them by the soil they bring to the surface so you get a sort of bare earth area) I use the mix you see in the photo and that seems to do the job. Get them early.

Weeds are another constant. Everything grows remarkably quickly here and weeds are no exception. Someone once said that weeds are plants just in the wrong place and there seem to be many wrong places in our garden. Our new 1,000 sq mtr block of land was pure weeds when we bought it, as you can see from an old photo in a recent post and it has been a challenge to bring it under control. We (Gaun) have done that by massed plantings of ground cover, which is really effective, a daily weed hunt, lots of rice husk mulch and a little bit of chemical help. Once again you need to take a zero policy on weeds. Even if you see a small one get it out because in a couple of days it will have taken over the world. Gaun and I do a daily 30 minute sweep through the garden first thing in the morning and we have all of the beds clear.

The weed killer I use very sparingly and mostly on larger areas as a first strike before getting in and doing the hard work clearing and then lots of rice mulch. If you hate gardening all of this is a chore but if you enjoy it then it is just part of achieving the results you see in the photos I publish.

Weed killer on the left. 450 baht for this litre bottle. Not easy to find (in Si Bun Ruang anyway). The normal farm shops don’t seem to stock it. We get ours from the guy who also operates the local radio station! Concentrated so it lasts. Ant killer on the right. 50 baht a box. Mix with water also. Widely stocked.

Weeds? Definitely in the wrong place in the middle of a path but this is ginger sprouting so no weed killer here! I think we will move them. Root based plants such as galangal and ginger will be sprouting as we head into the wet season.

For ant bites use one of the many menthol/peppermint based salves. Effective and cheap. Don’t rub your eyes after 🙂

Massed planting plus a lots of pots. The occasional weed will still poke through but their root system is very weak so they are easy to extract.

The cover at the front is all cuttings. These plants are impossible to kill. Pick off extra growth after a few weeks and stick them in the ground and they are off growing in two days unless it is very hot. Only buy a small initial batch and then you are set for life.

Three weeds in the last couple of weeks from this bed.

Lemon grass is a super cheap (these are all free cuttings), easy to grow and a great ground cover. Steven James not $2.00 for a couple of stalks as they are in Australia as you well know.

I love these. There is a dark crimson variety as well that we are expanding thanks to donations by Michael Cromer

A photo just because I could. Gaun’s concrete mushrooms help keep weeds down too 🙂

30 April 2018 – Tips and Tricks – Cleaning Windows

If you have heavy duty window and door frames as I do then keeping the base channels clean is another Thailand challenge. A vacuum cleaner is one option but this alternative is cheap, easy, quicker and equally effective.

This is what you don’t read about in the Thailand tourist brochures! 

We get periods when thousands of flying ants hatch in the evening and swarm around lights dropping their wings leaving a mess like this. For houses that don’t have insect screens (most Thai houses) where this lot could get inside this is not my idea of how life should be lived. We are well sealed with good quality windows and insect screens but it’s not a good look on the outside.

Buy a small paintbrush and fold a piece of paper like this.

Fit paper into channel and brush the dirt onto it.

Give it a wipedown with a damp cloth and you’re good to go until the next attack. Leaving ants aside I find these channels get dirty regularly just with dust, other insects and general dirt and require a regular clean.

30 April 2018 – Tips and Tricks – Aircon Filters

I do actually have a life outside of writing stuff for Facebook and the blog. I know it seems that I might not and all a bit sad but not true  Anyway – the final tip for today:

The air quality here is woeful I suspect. There seems to be high levels of dust in the air and of course the sugar/crop burning season Dec – Apr each year, which puts us into a smoky haze, doesn’t help.

I have a high quality, double skinned, insulated house with decent windows some of them double glazed, which is mostly kept closed to keep the heat out and yet after a week everything is covered in dust. I was especially concerned about the quality of air in the bedroom, where we run an aircon most nights resulting in a higher quantity of dust than elsewhere, where we mostly don’t use the aircon.

The filters in the aircon, an expensive Mitsubishi Electric Inverter, looked pretty useless and although they picked up some dust plenty was obviously getting through. A friend recommended a filter material, which you cut and place over the manufacturer’s filter, and today was it’s first change. What a difference. In the photos all that dust collected is AFTER the “filtering” by the aircon!

Recommended. I think the cost was about 500 baht for 15 metres and if you have a local Home Pro then that would be your best chance of finding it.

The blue standard filters have trapped practically nothing. The white roll is the unused material and the other the ones out of the aircon after a couple of months!

Yuk. A worthwhile investment in my opinion. Better than breathing that in all night!

30 April 2018 – A Small House

My only excuse for this excess of posts is that it is a pretty gray day with early rain (pouring as I type) and I am procrastinating on my main task ATM, which is writing another book on a non-Thai subject. I promise this is the last contribution for today and not one tip or trick is included!

A quick trip out to the farm today to check on progress being made by Jun, Gaun’s older brother, and team on building his house and a few photos happened as a result. The rendering (called “sharp” in Thai – oops, was that a tip?) is well underway, mostly on the inside as we have had lots of rain.

Jun is planning a house blessing ceremony (a house can not be lived in until this is done – oh no, Tip 2) for this Thursday so he has employed two extra people to help out plus his daughter is back from cutting sugar, so he has a full team.

Rough cost so far: 78,000 baht for the columns, roof frame and roof steel including labour, 43,000 baht for blocks, rebar, concrete, sand and gravel (for walls and render) and around 7,000 baht for 4 cubic metres of slab concrete delivered. I can’t help myself – this is Tip 3 and 4.

Thai concrete comes in three quality levels, depending on how much concrete is added. The best and the one we used on our place costs around 1,800 baht a cubic metre and is rated for driveways (we used 26 cubic metres of it for our home). If you are ordering locally you can actually go along to the shop and watch your concrete mix being put together to ensure that the correct amount of extra concrete is being added (if you have paid for it!)

Mum and daughters. With a single layer of concrete blocks the supporting columns are always exposed inside.

Most of the inside is rendered.

There will be walls and doors on those two small bedrooms, but Jun is focussing on getting it to lock-up rather than internal detailing. There will be a ceiling so the gap between wall and roof won’t show. On the outside that gap will be enclosed using concrete board under the eaves (soffit). No insulation, which is very typical here. Even just some silver foil under the steel roofing would reduce the temperature by five degrees. 500/600 baht for 20 sq metres so not a huge expense (by farang standards anyway)

No real point to this photo except it was a totally rural “picture” framed by one of the window spaces. That’s Paed and Tham’s farmhouse (Guan’s older sister and husband). Although they have a house in the village this is where they mostly live and sleep.

I loved this one. The two young girls who spend all their time here are sharing a movie on a mobile phone.

And finally the two fighting cocks Jun brought on holidays go wherever the family are. They get bathed and combed regularly – who would have thought!

2 May 2018 – A Funeral

I wrote about the street party happening in our village over Songkran where they moved the music truck so as not to disturb a very sick lady across the road from Gaun’s family home.

Sadly she died three days ago and we attended the cremation ceremony for her yesterday. She was 90 years old and obviously well connected because there were over 200 people who attended and her wake party is being held over five or six days instead of the more usual three.

This is Gaun’s mama’s driveway.

The wake is being held across the road. Hundreds being fed. Because she was a neighbour the whole family have been involved helping out cooking and serving people. An Isaan funeral runs like a well oiled machine. In literally no time tents go up, chairs, tables, music and cooking equipment arrives. People turn up to prepare meals for several hundred people. Monks turn up for daily chanting, people collect and record donations, flowers, decorations and a whole bunch of other stuff just seems to be done without fuss. For example sitting at the cremation ceremony cold water and orange juice appeared handed out by a team of folk.

People mostly in black, the same as anywhere, but livened by the umbrellas. Lots of chat and laughter. Thais don’t show sadness as readily as we do so it is always a bit hard to know what’s going on underneath the surface.

The coffin and some of the group, family especially, did a three times circuit (anti-clockwise) around the crematorium led by this monk, who travelled quite a distance to lead the ceremony at the lady’s request.

He used to be the abbot at our village wat but has since moved on to another temple in Sakon Nakhon. The white twine is attached to the coffin and remains with the monks until the final chanting is completed.

The coffin. Inside this ornate “fridge” container is a simple timber box. Because the body waits for people to arrive before cremation, which can be a few days, most temple have access to these portable holding coffins. They have a cooling compressor, which just plugs into the wall.

About half the people who turned up.

This is the family dog and although he might have followed family members down in the procession I prefer to think he came to say goodbye to his mistress! The coffin is just behind him.

Gaun and Yuan pouring coconut water onto her face as a ritual cleansing ceremony.

She was a friend of Gaun’s mama who attended, which she normally never does for these sort of community events.

The simple coffin on the platform. The packages on top are things that she might need in the next life, toiletries, bedding etc. These are donated to the monks not burnt.

The Thai lottery is drawn on the 1st and 16th of each month.

The funeral was held on the 1st but because it was a government holiday the draw was postponed until today. Any occasion is acceptable to try and sell a ticket including a funeral so it seems. Yuan picked numbers from the number plate of the car carrying the coffin (after the funeral!) and I have just heard she won 5,000 baht today 🙂 Funny.

Envelopes containing 20 baht were handed out to selected family and friends to donate to the monks and thereby gain Buddhist merit. 90 envelopes were given away, one for each year of her life.

You can see the envelopes in front of the monks. Seriority always left to right as you look at a row of monks. The third is the current abbot of our village wat. The second is the abbot from Askhon. You can tell he is based at a forest wat (one with Pha/Pa in its name) because of the earthy coloured robes.

And the visiting abbot giving a final blessing.

And to finish off the ceremony big bang fireworks are set off in a batch of three. If you hear three thunder cracks in Isaan you know a funeral is happening somewhere. Small paper “flowers” had been made for everyone and these were placed inside the coffin.

And to finish off the ceremony big bang fireworks are set off in a batch of three. If you hear three thunder cracks in Isaan you know a funeral is happening somewhere. Small paper “flowers” had been made for everyone and these were placed inside the coffin.

2 May 2018 _ Back to Noi’s Kitchen

Busy times  A funeral yesterday and a then today lunch with a bunch of farang and live music at Noi’s Kitchen. We are off to Udon Thani tomorrow for a brief visit with Immigration followed by shopping and lunch with friends. On the way home we are calling into a house construction happening for some Aussie friends using some of the gang that built our place with dinner after. Jun’s house warming blessing on Friday (Guan’s older brother) completes a mixed week of small happenings.

A full house for Greg and Noi. A pleasant lunch with six farang and their partners who live locally and get together regularly.

Just like an Aussie BBQ the males and females split into two groups!

Greg gave us a musical show and I can recommend that along with Noi’s food. Greg is an American country music fan and even though I’m not it was an entertaining and professional gig. Thanks for the invite mate.

I stopped on the way back to photograph these Isaan houseboats. These are sometimes lived on and used for fishing using large nets attached to those long bamboo poles. They are raised and lowered by a pulley (you can see one in doorway of the boat on the right) – leg power.

From a blog post ages ago. The old guy using his legs to turn the winch.

Raising the net.

Gaun’s older brother Orr, is a fisherman and had one but sold it. They sit on bamboo poles that have had the ends sealed so that they float. Some have TVs battery powered. You will sometimes see small gardens on those being used as homes.

Huge trees in comparison to the houseboat on the left, which isn’t super small.

4 May 2018 – Another House Blessing

The family put on a house blessing ceremony for Gaun’s older brother Jun this afternoon. When building a new house you can’t move in or even just sleep there until this ceremony has been completed. It was a very small event as Jun doesn’t have much money, mostly for family and a few close neighbours/friends.

The ceremony itself didn’t take too long and then everyone got involved in the more enjoyable part – eating and drinking.

I was lucky to get a few great face photos, which I have added to my favourites collection. I always feel so privileged to be involved with all of these family occasions as one of their own. This is a house well blessed.

It was nice to see the family get dressed up for the occasion including these two young ladies you have met before on this blog.

Photos taken by Gaun as they get a bit overwhelmed by the farang!

The ceremony is basically to advise any spirits in the area that people will be moving in and requesting the spirits not to move in with them! It is a courtesy as Thais take their ghosts (as Gaun calls them) very seriously. Here everyone carries various bedding and ceremonial items three times around the house.

The ceremony is conducted by a spiritman, here leading the procession. My brother-in-law Tham carrying the umbrella.

And inside this is the lady I call my Thai mother, a village elder who is asked to be part of just about everything that goes on.

This is the first time my “mama” has taken this role as it used to be done by the village elder who died recently whose funeral was covered earlier this week. That’s why she is reading her “script”.

The spiritman and the lady inside go back and forth through a written routine with the “outsiders” asking for permission to enter. The lady on the left of the spiritman is Jun’s wife. Spot Peng.

Everyone waiting to get the clearance to walk inside. Jun is the guy just to the right of the spiritman.

Once entry is gained all the bedding is placed in one of the bedrooms. It has to stay there for at least three days. The house is supposed to have someone sleeping in it for the three days too. I think Jun and family will move in even though it isn’t finished.

The spiritman was tucked up in bed in a mock sleepover by Jun.

One spiritman! After a couple of minutes people started to imitate roosters crowing to wake the spiritman up! Food was calling.

I love the light and what a characterful face.

Good luck wrist string for all the family.

Jun is a rather intense guy but has a good heart,as you’d expect from Guan’s family. A hard worker making the best of a life without too many luxuries. I am so pleased he is able to create his own place on the farm, which will become their base once they move back from working in the south.

Gaun’s mama who always has a solid sort of presence and a face that is well lived.

Dressed up for the event including one of the many pure silk sarongs she has made from silk produced by her own worms, coloured and woven herself.

And a flashback to 15 March 2015 when we had our blessing ceremony. We moved into the house on 25 March. That sarong Gaun is wearing is another of mama’s silk creations given by her to Gaun.

Here we wait while our negotiated permission for entry is conducted.

And here this is the lady who used to take on the “inside” role whose cremation we went to this week.

6 May 2018 – A Mix of Photos

A mix of photos with small stories attached dedicated to Colin Schofield who phoned me from Austalia today to say how much he enjoys these almost daily updates. Thank you Colin.

This one doesn’t look much but it shows one of the packing cases that brought my stuff out from Australia being moved from mama’s house, where it has been based for three years, to Jun’s new house being constructed on the farm. The reason? He can’t afford windows and doors so to make it secure some Aussie timber is required to literally fill the gaps!

A mix of my packing case and windows borrowed from Yuan’s future build. The temporary flooring is a thin vinyl to cover up the concrete. Tiling is also a thing that will happen once money becomes available. Gaun’s family are all very money conscious and none of them have borrowed to construct their houses. As money becomes available the next stage happens.

Now that’s what I call a snail. It’s not just the plants that grow big here.

Today I was getting lighting installed to showcase the central part of the new garden at night. As with anywhere in world there were more people watching the work than actually working! Yuan, Peng and Gaun plus Lud in the background.

This is Nop. He’s one of those wonderful people who can put their hand to just about anything.

He has fixed pump for us, the washing machine and now is installing the lighting. He has a job with the local council during the week. This is just to fill in time and earn some extra money on weekends. He also owns the farm where we get all our beautiful limes.

Early evening we called out to the farm where Yuan, Lud and their son Game were building a platform into what will be the lake once it fills. This will be used to wash vegetables once they get back into the full market garden production later this year.

Sunset. Recent rains have started to fill the lake, but there’s a LONG way to go.

The completed timber steps and the new platform made from aged hardwood. Such a waste of beautiful timber but it is from supplies on hand so free. Once this is landscaped and the pond is full it will be pretty nice. Hardwood is often stored in ponds because it keeps it from termite attacks.

Gaun collecting long beans for her dinner. This is the only crop being produced on the farm ATM and it is winding down after weeks of production.

And returning home from the farm after a couple of beers on the beached raft, I was able to turn on the new lights for the first time. Not bad.

The comments from regulars give me the incentive to keep on keeping on (thank you ) They are so much enjoyed at this end of the typewriter! As always I am amazed at the number of opportunities that pop up to share photos and their associated stories. Edition 16 will be out shortly.