I am going to be including the following standard introduction to these posts for those people who come across them for the first time as it gives some background as to why they read the way they do. For regular readers (a huge thank you to you all) you can skip this bit and get stuck into the new happenings. Well actually they are a bit of a catch-up so not that new but as of this week with three months off doing anything physical after some minor surgery they will become newer the more bored I get with being inside
My posts “Living in Isaan” 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. 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 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 mid-December 2017. 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.
9 Dec 2017 – Family Photos
I thought we’d capture some photos of the family getting vegetables ready for the markets this morning so took the motorbike out to the farm a bit after 8:00 am (early for me!). Needless to say, Yuan and Lud had completed six hours of work by then and the ute was fully loaded. Not to worry because they offered to unload some baskets so that their odd farang family member could get the photos he wanted Mind you Thais never refuse a photo opportunity so it wasn’t all selfish on my part.
The onions have a little way to go but the dill was being harvested this morning (actually “live” while I was there!). Yuan, you recognise and the other two are Tham and Paed who run the other half of the farm. Paed is one of Gaun’s older sisters and Tham her hubby.
The family always think it funny because I say to Gaun that they have definitely killed the trees this time. However a few months later out comes new growth and in six month’s time, we’ll be sitting under them in the shade! Lud is actually laughing in this photo because Gaun had just reminded them of my comment on dead trees.
They are carrying the leaves that had been cut from the broccoli and cauliflowers and this ends up feeding the fish in the pond.It’s 9:00 am and they’ve been on the go since 2:00 am. Yuan is wholesaling many of these vegetables but will also be sitting on a stall at the markets all day selling some as well to make extra money. These are not lazy Isaan farmers.
This is a first-year crop of land that was cleared of trees recently. I only add the photo because since the sugar was planted we have only had one brief downpour of rain and that was weeks ago. What other crops would flourish in a no water situation especially when getting established. You can understand the attraction of planting such a water-wise crop in a part of the country that has six months of almost absolute dry each year.
Once again I am amazed because she literally just roughly cuts branches off the adult tree with a machete, chops them into bits and then sticks them in the ground. No way I say! But give them a bit a water and a few weeks later new growth appears as you can see here. I don’t know the shrub’s name but they produce the small white flower buds that are used for those garlands you see everywhere especially involved with temple offerings – see next photo.
That disk on the wall is actually a clock. It is broken, which is good because I have set the time at 6:05 (p.m. of course) so it’s always just the right time to have a drink 🙂
11 Dec 2017 – A Mix
The big excitement of the day was the refurbishment of our garden sala (hut) but I will keep you in suspense until the next post for that. Here are a few other photos taken over the last couple of days that may or may not interest.
They are delivered in bulk every week to stall holders who split them into these small bunches, which are mainly used for temple offerings. The concept of using flowers for decoration is a foreign one in Isaan. Why spend money on something you can’t eat?
These will bite you and you need to keep an eye out for them if brushing through tree branches especially if they are mangos. The bites don’t inflame though unlike say fire ants who pack a punch for their size and can cause a tickly red patch to come up (on farang only of course), which lasts for ages.
11 Dec 2017 – Wat Pa Sila(wa)
We spent the evening at our local temple Wat Pa Sila(wa) for a session of chanting and meditation which ends up about 2 1/2 hours long. The meditation part was held under the stars (if you could see them this overcast evening) and the monks set up a small insect proof tent for me, which was funny. I wish I could have got a photo of that!
The wat is situated in a heavily treed setting, which makes it very peaceful and the abbot is delightful. We used to go regularly and have had a break so it was a pleasure to return and see many familiar faces. Something like this isn’t for everyone but if you have a curiosity then the forest wats (the ones with Pa in their names) are pretty organised in offering regular sessions and they are open to anyone. Give it a go.
Wat Pa Sila(wa) is here on Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/A62U84VqNtj
The Thais get a phonetic translation but it’s in Thai script of course so not too useful for me. Early on in our visits the abbot phoned around and found an English phonetic version for me, which I have used ever since. I still struggle but I did with Sanskrit too back in the day.
12 Dec 2017 – Sala Upgrade
Our sala (bamboo garden shelter) was the first purchase we made on Day 1 of moving to Isaan on 1 December 2014. Three years later it was in need of a new roof and some extra reinforcing in the floor. All done in the day.
13 Dec 2017 – Yet More Vegetables – Sorry
I don’t know how this ends up being a daily post of small village events. You’d think that the topics would run out but if you keep your eyes open and a camera handy it is surprising the things that one sees. I know there are some people reading who have a close connection to Thailand but are living elsewhere so I hope these snapshots into life are a reminder of why you will be making your home here at some stage. WARNING – this post does have a couple of vegetable photos but I promise that these are coming to an end. There’s only so many veggies one can take in a day!
We have friends arriving in a couple of weeks staying for a few days and they don’t mind a G&T or three but I don’t think the lemons will be ready 🙁 A very small lemon mousse maybe next year.
In the typical honesty, I now expect of my family she said that she wouldn’t feel comfortable driving one so no thank you. She mentioned this to someone at the markets who was amazed that she didn’t take something offered for free to which Paed said: “why when I don’t need it”! A refreshing outlook for sure.
Yuan and Paed sit here until all the stock is sold, which is usually after the evening rush. They both wholesale as well so this is to maximise income during a time they have bulk vegetables to sell. Yuan, Puk (Paed’s daughter) Paed and Gaun of course.
Farang items like potatoes and carrots may well come from China or Vietnam, and even some of the more standard supplies are brought in from bulk wholesalers in Udon Thani. They are probably reasonably fresh but certainly not picked today like Yuan’s.
Yuan was telling Gaun that there is a stallholder who buys from Udon and a little bit from Yuan and then puts Yuan’s veggies on top of the Udon vegetables to get people in and then gives them the older stock!!!! Grrrr but what a treat to be involved in all this insider information.
This is a stock image. They are actually an offshoot of a banana tree, not a palm. There is no way we would have the room on our existing land but with the new space……………100 baht or $4.00 each. Quick growers, they will be a beautiful display in a couple of years.
16 Dec 2017 – A Rice Storage Hut
I’m on the hunt for a good quality rice storage hut to convert into a woodworking studio, which will sit in one corner of our new land. For those of you who regularly follow this blog, you might remember my brief enthusiasm for buying one of the old timber houses that are regularly sold in the village because people want to upgrade to concrete ugliness. Reality caught up with me on that thought as renovating one of these places is beyond my physical capacity these days and having just bought more land, beyond my budget too.
However, if I can find a decently sized rice hut to relocate to our land I could cope with the cost and the effort required to make it into something special.
I have always enjoyed timber and have a late-in-life urge to do some simple creations such as tables, benches and picture frames using the cheap local wood that’s around if you have the right connections. I would also enjoy turning a very basic hut into something a bit unique.
We started on this project this evening looking at one hut that’s for sale, which wasn’t suitable and then got referred to several others in the village. With people moving from farm production to office and shop jobs these family rice storage huts are often empty and available for a few thousand baht.
Originally they were all timber but these days most now have concrete supports. I would have mine a lot closer to the ground. At the end of every rice harvest (November), you will see rice being delivered to be stored in these huts by those villagers that still farm paddies.
The dog was trying to be a aggressive but when the lady came over to “rescue us” it rolled over on its back with paws in the air so I don’t think we were in too much danger.
The lady who owned this house and land has mental problems and is now living with her daughter and one of her sons has just bought her out. He isn’t a farmer so I am hoping the hut is excess to needs and can be moved thirty meters to the right! I will report back.
18 Dec 2017 – More Small Everyday Stories
For the last three years, this has been made from part of a wooden shipping case that brought out my things from Australia. Some reinforcing and tiles have turned it into something easier to keep clean. Here I am grouting this morning well wrapped up in a very cool wind.
19 Dec 2017 – Freezing in Thailand 🙂
For those of you living in the north of Thailand, this brief post will be no surprise. The cool weather has finally arrived and by normal tropical Thai standards, it is pretty cool.
For me, the climate benefits of living in the north compared with the coastal areas further south are that we do get a real change in seasons and not just hot and wet and hot and dry like many report. I enjoy the contrast. We also get a lot less humidity in the hot season, which for me is a total blessing. I can cope with heat but not humidity.
The attached photo shows the benefit of having a highly insulated house. You not only get a 10 degree lower indoor temperature with no air con in the heat but also a 10 degree plus benefit (obviously with no heating) in the cool. For most Thais (and many farang) who live in what I call “air temperature” houses where inside is the same as outside, wrap up well. Just out of interest (or not) the house heats to 24 during the day while yesterday hit around 26 outside. It got down to 10 degrees last night so air temperature dropped 16 degrees and the house lost 2 degrees.
P.S. As I got out from under my storage hot water fed rainshower this morning my thoughts went to local villagers many who still use the bucket out of the water trough shower. I mentioned that to Gaun who told me that Isaan people were “strong” not “thin”. I am definitely “thin” and am not about to change my ways while I can afford to pay the electricity!
19 Dec 2017 – More Land in Isaan
The following stories about buying the land next door are a duplicate of a single post I wrote on the subject HERE. If you want to follow the progress in date order then keep reading. If not then you can go to the main post.
Well one week later than planned, due to delays at the bank, a settlement on our new land happened today. I have dealt with Thai government bureaucracy on just about the full range of options for a westerner and have mostly found them to be pretty efficient as long as you do your research and bring the right paperwork. Today was no exception and the transfer of land to Gaun and my name took less than an hour. Stamp duty was 4,500 baht or A$180.00 so I can still eat (and drink!).
Westerners can never own land in Thailand (some Australians might feel that should apply to us too in regard to foreigners) so Gaun is the formal owner. I was expecting and was totally happy that she has the deeds in her name only but the land title people knew she was married and called me in to jointly sign all documents. The land has therefore been registered in both our names, which means that Gaun has to get my release if she ever wanted to sell.
I was a happy man not because of the land purchase but because I could FINALLY pop the plastic cork on the bottle of bubbly I had been saving for this occasion!
I live by a retirement philosophy that you can never have too many areas to just sit and contemplate life with a coffee or something stronger and this gives me yet another option. My mother passed on a saying she borrowed from someone else, which recommends we all “sit in the shade of a little less to do” and if you haven’t incorporated that into your retirement plans then maybe you should 🙂 I certainly have.
20 Dec 2017 – Starting Work on the New land
With the land next door now officially ours it was a priority today to upgrade the front fence to stop chickens, dogs and the occasional kid from wandering onto it from the road. I was originally thinking of getting a wall built straight away but have decided to wait for that and instead get all of the layout inside sorted first.
The main reason to upgrade the front fence is so that we can cut through the hedge on our existing land and get direct access to the new area without having to go out the front gate and back in the entrance next door. Stopping livestock from getting through our defences (now breached by opening up the hedge and barbed wire and chick proof fence) and into our current garden was a must.
I have also started to plan the new garden for those of you interested in that sort of thing.
That golden palm behind Gaun has to be relocated and the hedge and fence behind it removed. As always when renovating or upgrading gardens you take a perfectly decent area and destroy it before hopefully ending up with the desired result.
That palm is ready to move and the hedge has been removed as well as the fence. You can see why we needed to ensure animals couldn’t get onto the new land because they could just wander through this gap.
In a true relaxed Thai fashion that wire you might be able to see lying on the ground between the two posts is my fibre optic broadband cable!!!!
The entrance to the new space from our current garden, the area we have just opened up today, is that pink path coming in from the left halfway down the block. It will lead into a central paved pergola area from where several paths will radiate out into the rest of the garden. These won’t be straight as shown (the downside of working in Excel) but curvy and won’t necessarily be where shown on this plan. I will set them out with gravel first and we will live with them for a while to see if the location works before doing something more permanent.
The land will be split into four distinct areas each with its own character. (1) is my woodworking area with converted rice storage hut, (2) will be a grove of yellow flowering trees called Dok Khun (Golden Rain Tree) the national flower of Thailand representing Thai royalty (3) will be a massed bougainvillaea plantation and (4) palms and tropical plants.
The bits in between will be treed and the paths will wander through tropical ferns and palms. Shady, cool and lush is what I am after with surprise destinations at the end of each path.
A path from the existing outdoor living area will take you under trees into a covered pergola 3×3 metres to start and then opening into a 6×6 metre area. This whole pergola will have flowering climbers to give colour and shade. There will be a paved area underneath the larger space with table and chairs. The paving will be surrounded by low growing tropical plants of the type I have shown you in previous recent posts. The end of the pergola will be a 6-metre wide wall with two traditional Thai house timber windows set in to give glimpses through to the other side. A water feature will sit in front of the wall.
The concept is that when sitting in the living area outside our house (the view from the last photo in this set) you will look down this passageway of greenery and rather than it just merging into more plants at the end it will have a solid “stop” but still with hints of the continuing garden beyond. All to have nighttime lighting.
This section has priority and will be done once we get New Year partying out of the way and the builders return to work. I look forward to sharing progress.
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