Last days in Ban Nong Pai

The last days have become a bit of a blur. There are activities to experience interspersed with protracted periods of absolutely nothing. I don’t know how the locals do it.

One of the major events of the week was a three day eating and drinking fest at the mayors house. His son is in the process of becoming a Monk and he was also honoring the passing of his other son some four years ago.

Of course as it goes here, any excuse for a free feed and a drink. Marquees were setup along with the mandatory sound equipment of course. This is where it pays to be the mayor of course as now the street was going to be impassable for the next three days. Not that anyone minded. If one happened upon the scene and determined they couldn’t get through they simply stopped and had a drink instead.

The last night was basically the coup de gras, as now the remaining intersection was taken up with a huge stage making ready for some live entertainment. The locals refer to this extravaganza as Lum Sing. Given that Isan has somewhat of a culture all of its own along with a strong dialect they have a stage show to show off these facets. Singers, dancers and of course the bamboo instrument (Can) players were in fine form.

Yours truly arrived and was given a VIP spot along with an ice bucket full of ice and a bottle of beer. Having performed live music myself and having a background in sound engineering I soon concluded that the sound dude for this show was deaf. Just like Beethoven used to lay his head on the piano to feel the vibrations, this guy used the kick drum as his cue. Every time the drummer hit the pedal on his kick drum the woofers of the sound system threatened to launch themselves into the crowd. I could actually feel the air pressure waves passing me each time. (Must bring ear protection next time). The locals didn’t seem to mind or notice. Then I remembered, they’re all deaf as well. My brother in law cuts floor tiles with an angle grinder without ear protection.

So given that we had put in a solid two hours listening to the diverse range of music I asked a very naive question, “When does the show finish?” This was around twelve o’clock and I was told that it would continue to at least three. So with that they gave me another bottle of beer. (warm of course). How do you ask for more ice in Isan?……

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Lampao Dam – Songkran

Why do so many people here have pick-ups? Rot-gra-bah in Thia. The answer to the question soon becomes apparent during Songkran. Todays journey would have us make our way to Lampao Dam near Kalasin proper.

The vehicle of choice had been out fitted with a 150ltr tub filled with water. Small bowls and buckets were soon found and they too made their way to the back of the vehicle. The younger kids all clambered into the back with me included of course and we were off. Yes, I remembered my waterproof camera.

Lampao Dam is some 35Km from Ban Nong Pai and most of it can be travelled by way of the major roads at 80 Kph. However, what’s the fun in that? Better to take the back streets through the villages and see the locals throw water at the pick-ups. Note to self: Bring wetsuit next time.

It wasn’t long before all the water in our tub had been gleefully flung at passing motor bikes, other pick-ups, pedestrians and innocent bystanders. Now what? We’re out of water. Well, Thai ingenuity kicks in (or is it the ability to make a buck?) and we stopped off at a canal. There some guy had set himself up with a pump and for ten baht you can have your tub refilled.

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Off we went again. By now I was soaked through and through and had a generous lather of talc on my face. The latter being additional bonus relative to the passing on of good luck. The people at the side of the road will flag down the passing vehicles and touch each of the passengers faces with talc laden hand. This can of course get very messy given that everyone is wet. Farangs get priority I found.

It was great to see though that all of the antics are very light hearted. Nobody gets narky. How could you? If you complained you’d simply get another well deserved dousing.

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We did eventually arrive at the dam. Or as I dubbed it, “Kalasin Motor Show”. With the emphasis on pick-ups. It was here that I rediscovered another interesting Thai trait. They don’t use swimwear. No, I don’t mean that they’re into nude bathing. In fact truth be known, they’re the prudiest lot out. I mean they simply swim in their clothes. You might say, but they were wet already from the trip getting there. Well I’ve seen the same thing on beaches in Phuket. No real call for a swimwear outlet here I’m afraid. Swimming lessons wouldn’t go astray though. Although that would put the inflated inner tube hire dude out of business.

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And more Songkran

The destination of the day’s street parade was the local temple (Wat) and this was to be the venue for the evenings festivities as well.

When we arrived that evening we came upon a circular arrangement of chairs in front of a stage. By now I have concluded that the locals could all definitely use a hearing test as the parade’s amplification gear had been supplemented with even more gear. They obviously think that “stereo” means two of everything. The music had needless to say, an overwhelming presence.

The theme for the evening was some of community dance affair. The idea being that a financial contributor facilitates the ability for others to dance. The money is of course all put to good use I’m sure. Maybe the proceeds of this evenings event were going to be utilized to bolster the ever waining water supply.

Your’s truly was duped into (I mean selected for) making the first major contribution. It was an all in extravaganza with anyone and everyone displaying their cultural dance heritage and prowess. Others were on stage banging and clanging away (almost in time) along with the music.

Of course I was not going to get off as lightly as only making a donation. No, no, and after a lot of coaxing and a shot of VSOP offered up by local wearing a pith helmet, I entered the circle. The music began to play after I was introduced in English by the local teacher (why English when no one would be able to understand it) and before I knew it I was surrounded by Thai women. Not one of them under sixty five I might add. It was about now that all of those Discovery Channel shows started playing in my head. You know, those that deal with cultural courting rituals of sorts? It was then that I remembered that it’s OK for Thai men to be cradle snatchers and it’s frowned upon for Thai women to be cougars. Phew…..

Songkran Continued

There is another tradition during the festive days of Songkran that only becomes apparent when you know what you’re looking for. It’s a game called Hi-Lo.

Hi-Lo is a dice game comprising a mat with numbers on it and a small bowl that holds three dice. A bamboo cover is placed over the bowl to conceal the dice. There are usually two people that run the game, a dice man and a banker. The dice man gives the bowl a shake and the participants then place bets according to the possible combinations indicated on the mat. Once all bets have been placed the bamboo cover is removed to reveal the dice. The banker then takes care of distributing the winnings accordingly.

It should be pointed out that gambling is illegal throughout Thailand and the locals here take that very seriously. They therefor ensure the police won’t find them when the game is being played.

As much as it would appear that each of the players has a fist full of cash they mostly only bet with twenty baht notes. In Aussie terms that’s about sixty cents.

Even though the stakes don’t appear to be very high everyone is very dedicated to the game. Starting mid morning and usually finishing well after midnight.

Having been a spectator for a couple of hours, and of course financing my wife’s want to play, it soon became apparent who makes most of the money. The facilitators of the game are the most gracious of hosts and will buy in food of all sorts and even handout the odd bit of Loa Whiskey to the guys. This is of course ensures that the participants (suckers) don’t develop a desire to go home. It should be noted though that no other alcohol is provided or consumed.

The first night my wife was up by eight hundred baht. ($25) This was very quickly given back on the following night and she ended up being in debt to me to tune of six hundred baht.

For the locals it is just bit of fun and they can get a small amount of cash as well. There were no police interventions and for all I know there might have been a local cop amongst the players.

Songkran – Ban Nong Pai

Written about a lot would definitely be an understatement when it comes to the Thai festival, Songkran. It’s celebrated throughout the land and can vary in number of days depending on city or province. In the case of Ban Nong Pai – Isan Province, Songkran officially lasts three days.

Anyone that has been to one of the tourist centers during Songkran will tell you that it is one big water fight. In the tourist centers it is. The experience to be had in one of the villages of say Kalasin is definitely different and much more of a cultural awakening as well.

Day one I was awakened with a, “Johno come and have a look and bring your camera”. I should mention that I have had the privilege of attending one of the tourist centre Songkran festivals and had suitably equipped my self for the occasion. I had my underwater housing for my camera with me.

Just up the street from our house seats had been put out and the local elders had been requested to take a seat. The younger set then go past one by one and pour a bit of water on each of the elders and wishing them good luck as they go. Water is laced with some scent at times or small flowers can accompany the small sprinkle of water. Of course though with the official showing of respect out of the way what is one to do with the surplus water? Everyone else cops a serve of course.

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The morning proceeds from there with a visit to the local temple. Blessings are received and donations are made. The jury is still out on which one of these matters most to the locals. Preparations are then made for the upcoming street parade. The latter probably having originated from a time when Songkran was all about paying homage to Budha and as a means of strengthening community spirit. The street parade I witnessed was that with just an added touch more.

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The lack of town water did nothing to dampen the spirit, (pardon the pun) it was on for young and old. Monks led the parade, the locals followed and bringing up the rear was a pickup loaded to the brim with sound reinforcement equipment. The latter blaring out the local Isan hit of the moment. At about 119 decibels I might add.

As the parade makes it’s way through the village streets water is dispersed in every way possible. Those not taking part in the parade await the arrival of same outside their abode. There they have tubs of water on hand and at times the water may contain ice as well. Given the heat of the day the water can be quite refreshing. However, laden with ice the water will still have a chilling effect.

What was great to watch was the fact that young and old take part. One particular boy had taken a liking to the farang taking part and decided to make it his mission to keep me suitably wet for the duration of the parade. He was dubbed bucket boy.

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It should be mentioned at this time that there is the odd occasion during the parade where alcohol is consumed. I noticed bottles of whiskey and soda being poured into water buckets filled with ice and then being handed around freely. I guess one could say it brings about a community spirit. (Sorry)

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As a sidebar I would like to add that as a farang, my taking part in the parade was met with only welcoming gestures. After all, they’re all throwing water around. How hard can it be? However, I did get the opportunity to get my own back at times as well.

To be continued…….

Shopping

This morning would have us leave the peaceful setting of Lat Sawai around 07:00. Off to Bangkok proper. Bew had to get to work by eight and lucky for us it was a public holiday. The roads were reasonably clear and there was not a lot of need for Nuch’s back seat driving.

Bew dropped us at Victory Circle and we caught a cab to the hotel from there. I may have mentioned that there are a lot of Isan people working in Bangkok and our taxi driver was one of them. Well, after a ten minute cab ride I almost felt bad leaving him in the cab. Nuch just talked, talked, talked, talked, talked. There’s only one other person I know that actually invited the cabby to dinner. (That’s definitely another story)

Managing to pry Nuch out of the cab we settled into our hotel room.

Not long thereafter Nuch had determined that we should go shopping. So off we went to the local BTS Skytrain station. This elevated rail service is excellent by the way. As long as your destination is somewhere along the rail route I can highly recommend it. We had to travel to Siam station and then a quick jaunt along the skywalk.

Having studied a bit of Thai I can definitely say that the locals have a habit of (the only way to describe it) bastardizing their language. The letter R becomes L and vice versa. Some of the words in their language come from the western world. Elevator in Thai is Lift. Salad becomes Salaat and Cream is Cream. Some words don’t scrape through as cleanly as in TV. There is no “V” in the Thai language so TV become T Wee. As can be seen it doesn’t take long to get an understanding of how confusing it can get when a local, without a mastery of English and a degree in bastardized Thai translated into English tries to explain and or ask for the location of a department store.

So (he who hates shopping more than watching The Brady Bunch and skewering his cheeks with kebab skewers) went along for another joy filled afternoon of “shopping”. The shopping centre of choice was Central World. It’s the one with the metal detector at the front entrance. Although, we chose to go through the Skywalk entrance and thereby negating the afore mentioned metal detector. I love it. Other shopping centers have similar security protocols in place all as a result of some terrorist acts a few years back. I felt completely safe as a result.

Now comes the fun part. My beloved wanted to go to the department store (most assuredly located within the shopping complex) and failed to instantly determine where it may be located. She also has a habit of not immediately availing herself of local resources. So I asked her what the name of the department sore (sorry, store) might be and she replied, “Cen”. That’s how it sounded in my ears and with a quick double-take I concluded that it would either be Sen as in send or Cen as in central.

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We ascended from floor to floor and with every floor circumnavigated it soon became apparent that my wife (someone who keeps reminding me she lived in Bangkok some twenty years) had no idea where the elusive “Cen” may be located.

I suggested on more than one occasion that she ask for directions. The reply, still ringing my ears was, “Just a moment darling”. On the sixth floor she capitulated and asked one of the “security” personnel as to the whereabouts of “Cen”. Down we went. Six floors and a lot of walking later we found ourselves back in the Skywalk. Yes, back where we started. We meandered along and soon found ourselves back at the entrance (the one without the metal detector) and in we went again. This, we of course did a third time when finally my wife was forced to once again ask for directions. The tedium of this journey was broken up with some humor when I realized she had just asked the same guy for the same directions.

My wife’s perseverance was to be rewarded when finally we turned a corner and there, like an oasis in a desert, was the store she had been looking for. Was it Cen? No. Was it Sen? No.

It was Zen. What an apt name…..

Bangkok Motor Show

This morning got off to an early start. I can highly recommend the River Kwai Hotel. Very good and affordable. Buffet breakfast out of the way and off we went in search of the “Death Railway Museum”.

Actually this particular museum is not far from the bridge. There’s an old steam locomotive as one comes in with an old Mercedes Benz perched on top of it. The significance of it must have been compelling for someone and it certainly got a “what the” from me. I failed to see what the Merc had to do with the Burma railway though.

Having seen the bits and pieces that were gathered up after the railway project we were off once again.

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Next stop was a movie set of sorts used for a five part Thai epic. Not quite Universal Studios and interesting just the same. Tourists can opt to be ferried around by way of ox and cart. Some of the set elements are now up for sale and one lucky purchaser can pick up a teak house for a cool 15 million baht.

As we were making our way back to Bangkok Bew mentioned we could drop in to the Bangkok Motor Show. It would appear that she has a hankering to purchase a new car. I should mention that you don’t see too many vehicles on the roads older than the term of the loan used to procure them. The latter being able to be stretched to eight years. Once the loan is out of the way it’s time for a new car.
The motor-show was definitely a site to behold. The venue would put the Melbourne Exhibition centre to shame. Lovingly referred to by Melbournians as “Jeff’s Shed” and compared to the Bangkok Venue it is a very apt name.

The way the Thais present the vehicles is also quite an eye opener. Women are to be seen with just about every vehicle on display and will definitely ensure you focus on the new Ford Focus.

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