11/01/2010 Municipal works project.

11/01/2010 Municipal works project.

Today I was invited to take part in a municipal project. There is a dam across the road from the village and it is the main source of town water. A pumping system exists that pumps the water from the dam and then through a filtration system into a storage facility and from there it gets pumped into a water tower.

The issue that needed to be addressed was the fact that the dam’s water level had dropped due to a lack of rain and the main feed pipes to the pumps were now too close to shore. The obvious solution was to extend the pipes so that the inlets could be in deeper water. The willingness for the locals to volunteer was heartening to say the least. Then I discovered the main motive for their charity. Free food and drinks.

The work was proceeding as planned – assuming of course that there was one. Some pilings were fashioned from wood and taken out into the water. Then it was all aboard the cross spars that had been temporarily attached so the the pilings could be driven into the dam bottom.

While this was happening someone had the sense to remember that lunch would be required and with that shot home and fetched some fishing nets. So whilst the pilings were being driven into the muddy dam bottom we also has a couple of guys in the water casting nets to catch fish. A fire was started and fish were soon being BBQ’d.

Given the need for food more drinks were also required and soon the scene was more reminiscent of a Sunday BBQ then a public works project. However with the sun slowly starting to set some thought was given to finishing the required work and at least one of the pipes was extended.

I trust the second pipe will have been completed with equal gusto….

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09/01/2011 The market.

09/01/2011 The market.

Not to put a too finer point to it, I loath shopping at the best of times. Shlepping through a fully air-conditioned shopping centre is not my idea of fun. So imagine how much overcome with joy I was when we ended up in a market in Chiang Yun. The latter being about 25km back to Khon Kaen.

Hot and noisy is all you can basically say. All the different vendors appear to have sourced their wares from the same suppliers. T shirts, jeans shoes and thongs, torches calculators etc. Once you’ve seen a quarter of the market it all starts looking the same. So my anti shopping logic kicks in and asks, “why continue punishing yourself like this?” I’m answered with a, “only five minutes more”.

Five minutes in Thailand can be very flexible and can be interchanged with the word soon. The latter being used for anything from five minutes to twelve hours. Cleverly designed not to disappoint. “When is the bus coming?” “Soon” don’t be surprised if it doesn’t turn up for at least an hour. By using the word soon no one can be held responsible. Very clever.

Anyway, we emerged from the market forty five minutes after I asked if we were finished. There was one very compelling stall however and if nothing else, demonstrated by how much we get ripped off by the two dollar shops. Everything from bottle openers to dish racks and plastic bowls and plates. All for only 10bt each.

No more shopping for me on this trip…..

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08/01/2011 Kitchen renovation.

08/01/2011 Kitchen renovation.

When I say that living in a Village like Nong Pai is basic you’re probably thinking, “what, you can’t get by without a big screen TV for two weeks?” Basic only begins to describe the lack of what we come to regard as not creature comforts but just as normal living necessities. You only start to appreciate how much we take for granted until you come to a place like Nong Pai.

Take the kitchen for instance. When I say kitchen I mean the area out the back of the house adjacent to the laundry/bathroom/toilet. It’s a sizable area with an area set aside for cooking. Cooking takes place using two concrete lined buckets that are normally fueled with charcoal. These buckets are elevated off the floor using a plank on two blocks of wood.

Preparation of food is straight forward. Ingredients are chopped up on chopping logs on the floor. The mortar and pestle also feature a lot in food preparation and is also used on the floor. There is a basic aluminium storage cabinet and that’s it. There is a fridge as well and that’s in the house proper. I must state at this point that though the facilities are lacking that this in no way impacts on the quality of food they turn out. Everything is just like what you’d pay for in a restaurant. (BBQ’d rat aside of course)

Now given that I work in the kitchen renovation industry it was only natural that I put my talents to good use and come up with some compelling improvements for this somewhat lacking kitchen. No kitchen design software, no CNC machinery, what was a guy to do?

Having discussed the basic requirements with Nuch I contracted Mang as my local procurement manager. I drew up the basics of what I was intending to achieve and the tools that would be required to complete the job. After that there was a lot of Isan banter and finally after 30 minutes we were off.

Mang and his wife live two doors up from us so it wasn’t far to go. Mang disappeared for what seemed to be longer than what I thought would be required if one knew confidently where everything was. Not to disappoint he soon came out with the necessary tools and had also managed to find some basic materials. Mang as it turns out, is a bit of a hoarder and in this case it had paid off.

Now, having come from an industry that thrives on mass production and simplifying tasks it was somewhat interesting to see Mang go about the tasks at hand. Drill a hole, swap to screwdriver bit, screw the screw into the hole, swap back to drill bit etc etc. There had to be a better way. With that I gestured to him to give me a go. Let’s drill all the holes first then screw all of the screws. The penny dropped.

We were soon working together as one well oiled machine. Sensational. All we had to do now is cut up some board and using safety gear, Thai work boots and nothing else, we did so.

With the job complete all that was left to do was the installation. That was straight forward and afterwards we sat back with a beer and admired our technological marvel. What had we constructed you may well ask?

A table 🙂 Now all that’s left to do is teach everyone how to use it 🙂

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07/01/2011 Bird hunt.

07/01/2011 Bird hunt.

This day started really well I’d slept well without interruption and was looking forward to bacon & eggs with coffee with real milk and orange juice…… And then the roosters started. Time to wake up. I mean get up.

The day was pretty much uneventful as can happen here. Everyone goes off to work and Nuch’s sister normally falls asleep looking after her daughters little boy.

It had been decided that the evening meal would consist of mookata. Mookata for those who don’t know, involves putting an aluminum dome with slots in it on top of a concrete lined bucket. (the bucket is filled with glowing charcoal) The dome has a little gutter around it. So you put slices of meat and other bits on the dome and noodles and soup stock in the gutter part. Then with the mandatory acoutraments like chile and the like you’re ready to spend the next hour eating. Depending on the soup stock you use the soup can be sensational.

Before we settled down for dinner however and with the sun about to set I was met with yet again an indication of local Isan ingenuity. Brought about by the sun going down and the birds finding there local sleeping spot my brother in law Mang showed up with an air rifle. Now when I say air rifle you’re probably thinking a well engineered rifle not unlike you’ve used or seen at a circus duck shoot or the like. Nothing of the sort.

This particular contraption with the only thing giving you an idea that it was a gun being the long barrel, was somewhat unique. An air chamber linked to a breach provided the means for firing a 4mm diameter lead ball. How do you charge the gun? Well that’s easy, with a bicycle pump of course. Yep, hanging off the bottom of the barrel and mounted in front of the stock was an every day garden variety bicycle pump. Sensational.

Now what do you hunt with an air rifle? Well, birds of course and I must stress that everything is fair game around here and the hunting is not just for sport. Well almost, Mang would like nothing more than to stock the local canal with crocs I think. In fact he’s like the Thai version of the Ausy character Mick Dundee.

Now I know why I only hear chickens in the morning 🙂

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06/01/2011 Chainsaw massacre

06/01/2011 Chainsaw massacre

Another sensational sleep and we’re off to make charcoal. Yep, no rest for the wicked. Down the street we go to the designated spot for the what I thought was going to be a blazing Bon fire. A pit had already been dug and now it was just up to me to stack firewood in it. What did surprise me is once the firewood had been stacked and the fire started, rice seed was liberally thrown on top. This apparently brings about a very slow burning process and of course a lot of smoke. The greenies would have a field day here. 🙂 With this job out of the way I was curious about a new sound emanating from the direction of Bai’s house.

Upon arriving I found a rather tallish local wielding an equally large chainsaw. He was in the process of squaring up a round log. An OH&S note here. This man was not wearing any safety gear what so ever. What he was wearing were the Thai safety boots however. Yep, thongs. After all you never know what you could be standing in. A quick count of his fingers and toes led me to conclude that this guy was definitely proficient at carrying out the task at hand. I might add that the chainsaw had no safety features either. Apparently you stop by running it out of fuel. Or so it seemed.

With some gesticulating and some Thai words thrown in I concluded that Bai was wanting to construct a door of sorts. Given such a task I would normally draw something up and calculate the timber and hardware required and go off and buy said items. Now why do that when you can spend half the day basking in the glorious eardrum splitting decibels of this chainsaw with the operator running the gauntlet with every given saw stroke. Not even a call form a friend stating he had been cut by some sort of machine at his work was going to put this man off his game.

Credit where credit is due, this man definitely could work a chainsaw. After squaring the log he proceeded to cut six equal thickness planks from the log. Upon inspection they were all straight and only required a bit of finishing to be fit for purpose. This is where Bai took over.

As stated earlier there is no thought given to safety gear here. Bai went and got an electric hand planer to finish the planks. By all appearances this planer had been manufactured when Makita first commenced business some thirty years ago. Without ear and eye protection Bai proceeded to finish each of the planks. I had to leave him to it as my ears were threatening to shutdown.

With the sounds of the planer stopped I returned to the scene to assist with the construction of the door. Under the heading of not quite right (NQR) we proceeded to assemble the door. The first hurdle we hit of course was a lack of nails. With that Bai’s wife went off and bought some more.

We soon had the planking firmly attached to the door frame. Everything seemed to be going according to plan and with that I asked Bai where the door was going to be used and he said it was for the rice storage shed. However, we wouldn’t be hanging the door today due to the fact that he had no hinges. Hmmmm……. Where did the nails come from?

Only one thing left to do then. Whiskey see sip anyone?

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05/01/2011 The pram

05/01/2011 The pram

This morning started somewhat slowly (as do most mornings). Speaking of which, every morning normally starts with the roosters bellowing at the top of their lungs. It appears that the one across the street from us is the ring leader. I’ve already mentioned that if we were to use him for our next BBQ night I’ll be able to sleep peacefully. 🙂

Once the roosters have got your attention they lull you in to believing that that is it. No, next you get an auditory attack from the village speaker system. The same inane song every morning prefaces a speech from the village mayor. I have no idea what he rattles on about and the locals don’t appear to be listening. Maybe he’s just saying, “hey guys don’t pay any attention to me, I just want to yank the farlang’s chain.” I wonder if there are announcements when I’m not here. Sort of like the falling tree in the forest theory.

I remember a few years back in Ho Chi Minh City they had a similar system and our tour guide told us about it…..

Good morning (imagine Vietnamese accent) my name Missa Bihn but you call me Missa Bean. You hear speaker in street and you wonder what speaker say. Speaker say Missa Bean, you help Vietnam if you only have one child. Go to hospital get free condom. Only one probrem speaker come on 7 o’crock in the morning and Missa Bean go to bed 9 o’crock at night…….

Now that time is marching on (06:00) we have to prepare the kao-niao (glutenous rice or sticky rice). We then gather up some reed mats and head to the main street. The reed mats are placed on the side of the road and then we sit and wait for the Monk procession to come past. The custom being that the Monks receive food from the locals in return for which they receive a blessing from the Monks.

Belief systems can be a wonderful thing and this one seems to work. For Nong Pai it seems anyway. I only have one issue with it, the handing out of the rice. You see the rice is prepared only moments before the monks arrive and placed into smallish reed woven carry containers. Once the Monks arrive the rice is still hot and handing a fistful of it to each Monk soon causes you to wince more than once. Again I think it’s all a ploy to once again bring some levity to an other wise serious moment at the expense of the farlang.

The rest of the morning passed as normal, eat & sleep. Yeh, the locals have it figured. Why try and sleep at night when you’ve got all day to do it.

The afternoon saw us taking a trip to the main city in the area called Kalasin. An interesting point to mention is that when you ask an Isan Thai where they come from a lot of them will respond with, “Kalasin”. This is the point, this particular trip to Kalasin was my wife’s second in her entire life. Wouldn’t know her way around there if you paid her.

This particular trip had a purpose as our Nieces’ son required a pram. It had been planned to wait for Nuch and I to arrive before purchasing said item so we could all agree on the colour and features etc. Yeh right. A suitable pram was found in Kalasin and my insistence on paying for it was met, I have to say, with some resistance. Although that soon wained and the new pram was graciously accepted. Diw does look pretty good in it I have to say.

Hmmmm maybe I have a heart after all……. 🙂

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To IPad or not IPad?

To IPad or not IPad?

Before I start my discourse on the IPad I should begin by saying that I have somewhat of a background in computing as such. I started with a handheld pc of sorts with 4 kilobytes of ram. From there I progressed to a Commodore Vic 20, Amiga 500 and then finally a, dare I say IBM Compatible PC.

Software wise I started with version 1d of Excel, Winword and Corel Draw. So here I am somewhat older and I dare say probably a bit more cynical as well, using this much touted about IPad.

I purchased this device with a view to using it on my next trip overseas. Now this is where my cynicism kicks in. How would someone without any background knowledge of this device know that when you do get the internet happening overseas that the browser is not flash compatible and that my Thai learning website would be devoid of content?

Let’s go back to the day of purchase. Upon opening the box one finds the device and a power adaptor. The latter having a cable that allows it to connect to a computer. An instruction card printed using a 4point font, is about the only other peripheral in the box.

Having dutifully allowed the iPad to charge I switch the unit on. Imagine my surprise when all that appears is an Apple logo of sorts with a cable hanging off it. Now I’m quite intuitive when it comes to this sort of gear but why not, given the brevity of content on the instruction card, was that said content not presented on the screen? This would certainly be a bonus for the novice.

This is where a gripe has to be brought up of course and the cleverness of Apple’s marketing as well. Basically unless you accept to install Itunes on you computer all you have in an iPad is an expensive paper weight. So having installed iTunes on my net book I then connected the iPad. Credit where credit is due (more on credit in a moment) the synchronization process was seamless. It dutifully copied my photos and mp3 files across and they were readily accessible through the relative short cuts.

In the process of installing iTunes I did have to enter a valid credit card number etc. This is the last time you have to do this by the way until the card expires. This is also the beauty of Apples marketing. You see, once the details have been entered the IPad basically becomes a virtual money funnel. A black hole for hard earned cash if you will. The user of the iPad can gleefully download any number of (apps) or music albums, videos etc. All that is required is a password. Sensational.

Do you need to download anything? No. Not if you don’t want a calculator, useful word processor and spreadsheet etc. In my case I needed both and installed (purchased) Quick Office. I also installed a remote desk top utility so I could monitor my work’s server while away. Add a couple of dictionaries, a PDF reader and some city maps and I was set. Total investment about $100.

So how am I going with it? The weight of the unit or lack of it, is simply sensational and it easily slips into my day pack. Dedicated GPS would have been a bonus and would have been a big help getting lost in Bangkok. The keyboard has no delete key and no cursor keys so I can’t use it to edit my blog through wordpress. That said though, it was very easy to install a Thai keyboard and to switch to it is only a key stroke away.

To further cater for my needs I would need some additional accessories. Firstly a micro sim. Trying to find one in Bangkok was a bit of a challenge at first until I realized that they create a micro sim by using a biscuit cutter type of device to cut down a full sized sim card. I also needed a means of offloading content from my camera so I purchased the camera adaptor kit. The latter only supporting SD cards is a pain as my still camera uses an other form factor card. They could have supplied a universal card reader. I also needed a cover to protect the unit whilst in transit. Total investment for both was $80.

By the way the iPad also has Bluetooth so I thought I would be able to send images to the iPad from my “no name brand” mobile. “No way” says Mr Jobs. The iPad Bluetooth is only compatible with designated Apple products. Also the USB adaptor that comes with the camera kit will not read memory sticks. Why?

On with my trip. Now having Internet of sorts (not the iPad’s doing – access is intermittent at best) I was able to access the Internet. The browser that comes pre-installed on the iPad is referred to as Safari. What an apt name. Browsing on this reminds me of the early days of compuserve. As mentioned earlier and widely publicized in magazines and on the net, Apple platforms do not support Flash. That aside the browser also turns the Hotmail website into a mish-mash. The built-in mail client will allow you to synchronize Hotmail but doesn’t give you access to your online contacts etc.

A positive aspect of the iPad is that allows you to install a Dropbox client. Dropbox being an on-line storage facility. So with that said I can edit files (provided I’ve got web access) and they will synchronize seamlessly. I also see this as an application that I can use commercially to keep all my representatives up to date.

The iPad has also helped me through some of the more boring aspects of my trip and I am now pretty adapt at playing Patience and Backgammon :). The battery life is also more than adequate for my daily needs. Nearly forgot to mention. Purchased some earphones and must say they sound very good. ($100)

So where does that leave me and the IPad. Waiting firstly for the whole flash and html5 to be sorted out. Then an improved keyboard. A wordpress utility with wysiwyg editor would also be great. By the way, I am currently using the pre-installed notepad and then emailing the content to wordpress.

The thing to remember about the iPad is that it was not intended to be a computer. However, I personally believe that any hardened notebook user will not identify with that immediately or ever and push for a tablet device with all of the negatives addressed.

So there you have it…….

PS: The afore mentioned is my opinion only and should not be used to determine the iPad’s fitness for your purpose. It was simply a way for me to spend an hour or so whilst amongst the chickens, cows and rice fields. 🙂

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