26 Thaikarl Songkran Pt 2 and workaday


Songkran Part Two

The rest of the Songkran day was entertaining.  All the parade cars and trucks rounded up at a playing field in town.  They paraded the Beauty contestants on stage, speeches were made, awards for parade cars and such were made, food was passed out, each village presented a singer and dancers on stage, and of course, over by the Buddha there was lots of water being thrown.  Of course I had little clue what was being said on stage.  Tok would fill me in occasionally, but it was pretty easy to follow.  Tok and I bailed out earlier in the evening.  I wanted to get back home.  Tok and I went for a walk later on that night.   Out in the tobacco fields, under the full moon, I had a written request, but she had to remove it from the earth first.  It was quite quite, pleasant.

My 30 visa-on-entry was expiring on the 26th.  That meant I had to get it renewed.  We had talked to a woman who is Thai, but is married and lives in Texas now.  She said just go up to Loei, she had hers renewed easy.  Okay.  Well, Loei is a town, and also I later found out, a province.  Tok said we could borrow Jamlongs motorbike and ride up there.  Jamlongs motorbike is a 125cc, has more power for a road trip.  So we went to the shop in the morning.  They had the bike out getting new tires, and Jamlong said we could just take her truck.  Okay, good.  I think.  Later it turned out to be a very fortunate thing.  Oh joy, now I get to drive a car on the left.  It is different.  Years of always keeping your body to the left side of the lane makes you unconsciously drift to that side.  I had to force myself to the right side.  The shifter was on the left, which took some getting used to, using my left hand to change gears.  And the blinker was on the right, so I kept turning on the windshield wipers where I wanted to signal.  Loei is about 2 hours away, and it turns out the city is up over the mountains.   Very lovely out there.  When we got to town, we went to the police station to ask where the immigration place was.  They told us we should go to the station at Chaing Kran, another 100 km to the north.  Now I'm glad we are not on the motorcycle.  We get to this little town, find the immigration office, and learn that they can only give a 15 day extension.  Not enough.  The Mekong River ran down below.  The station was there for people making the boat crossings back and forth into Laos on the other side of the river.  We could take the 15 days, go back home, or drive 200 km further to the international border.  Yow.  I was already tired of driving, so I handed the keys to Tok and we headed east.  The road wound back and forth following the course of the river.  Very scenic, passing thru lots of little villages, and getting behind slow farm vehicles.  I tried to nap, but there was always something interesting to wake me up for.  Along the last section of road, there were topiary animals.  Elephants, cows, horses, dinosaurs, giraffe, people.  I wonder who maintains them.  We didn't get to the border until after 6pm, almost dark.  Now I was very glad we were not on the motorbike! What a rigmarole.  We parked the car, had to go thru exiting Thailand, getting stamped out, and then take a little shuttle bus across the river on the "Friendship Bridge" to the Laos side.  There, they wanted 30 dollars American for a visa.  I didn't have any dollars with me – didn't expect to be here.  They charged me 1550 baht, which is 41 dollars.  Got screwed on the exchange there, but not much to do about it.  If you pay in USD, it's 30 of them.  If you pay in Baht it's 1550 of them.  Filled out an entry/departure card, got all the right stamps, paid another 10 baht (25 cents US) "entry fee".  We were in Laos.  Tok just walked thru all the gates with me.  Didn't show any paper work, just told them she was doing the turnaround with me, I think.

We walked around to the OTHER side of the building, where I went thru the drill of departure, more stamping of paper, another entry fee, and we were out of Laos officially.  Took the shuttle bus back over the bridge, went thru the Thai immigration and passport lanes, got more stamps, and I'm good for 30 more days.  By now it had started raining again.  So it's dark, the visibility out of Jamlongs truck sucks in the dark and wet, and we are a long way from home.  I bought a proper roadmap at the gas station, and saw there was a nice fat red-line road going south, then another fat red-line road going west back to Lom Sak.  I did not want to drive on two lane twisty secondary and tertiary roads in the dark and rain all the way back.  Now I was very very glad we were not on the motorbike.

The thick red-line roads turned out to be the two/three lane divided highways.  I was able to maintain 100 kph plus (60 mph) most of the time.  But it was high alert driving.  The rain was intermittent, heavy at times; some people went really fast, the trucks really slow.  Which lane is the "fast lane" anyway? What was a real drag was when the slow truck was trying to pass the even slower trucks, which meant you were sucking diesel fumes and spray and losing ground.  And of course have to watch for the motorbikes, and people going the wrong way.  Other than that, it was a good drive.  The road narrowed to two lanes going west over the mountains, but it was two good lanes, with good markings on curves and even reflectors marking roadsides.  Didn't arrive home until 2am.  We were on the road for 14 hours, traveled 800km (500 miles); cost me 2300 baht for diesel for the car (62 dollars) ouch! Plus all the afore mentioned fees.  That was an expensive adventure.  But necessary.  I was kicking myself for not bringing my stash of American dollars and a few other things.  But we were only going a few hundred km away too get a stamp at an office.  But i didn't get the full information, and Tok didn't know what the drill is.  Next time I do not leave Lom Sak without dollars and I'll take the bus.  Longer time on the bus, probably and overnight trip, but much cheaper for bus tickets, probably 600 baht and I can sleep and read and look out the window.  Such is life.

I haven't been online much, as you can tell.  I'm doing a lot of things around the house, and I want to get them finished before I have to leave.  There is a four step concrete landing at the bottom of the wooden stairs to the second floor.  Nothing is square, lengths and widths are all different.  We formed and evened the depth of the stairs somewhat, and had the first go at tiles.  What a disaster.  Came out with a huge dip in the middle, was a hassle to work with the concrete mortar.  I didn't like it so I popped all the tiles backup and decided to start over.  Tok asked a few questions at the store, they said to use an inch of mortar at least.  We were trying to use like a ¼ inch.  This time I laid out level lines, and floated the tiles on over an inch of mortar.  Made all the difference.  The mortar is workable at that thickness, and I had plenty of slack to take out the big dip in the existing surface of the landing.  Used a level on all tiles this time also.  Looks much much better! But we ran out of cement and sand, only got 13 big tiles laid.  Much more to do, figuring out the stairs will be interesting.

So after the trip to the building supply store, I switch gears and knocked a big chunk of interior wall out.  More like chiseled and broke it.  There was a half room wall on the lower level.  Tok and I both had the idea the same day about removing or knocking out the wall.  I wanted to make a big mess and noise and dust and hammer things.  The noise of the banging brought all the neighbors over to watch and comment.  There were people and kids hanging in all the windows and doors, helpfully observing and making comments on what the crazy farang is doing now.  After covering the floor with broken bits of concrete block, I was disinclined to have to carry all the debris outside, so I told the two boys in the window "sip baht" to take it out of the house (10 baht, 25 cents) they giggled and I heard "yee baht" (20 baht, 50 cents) and I gave them a thumbs up.  By golly, they carted all the busted cinder block outside, spread the small stuff on the muddy path next to the house and raked and smoothed it out.  Rock on! [oh the pun] Paid them.

I have a long list of things to do here.  One more big job is to move 8 concrete poles to the other side of the house to make a floor, extend the tin roof one sheet length, to make storage for the rice.  The concrete poles are left over from a house.  They are sitting in to the north of Toks house, very much in the way.  Tok didn't' think I could move them, so I used ancient technology.  Rollers and rope.  I cut up a length of three inch PVC water pipe into 20 inches pieces.  It took a big effort to get the crew to understand the principles, but 1 man, 1 women, an elder and a 13 year old girl got one of the poles moved around to the other side of the house.  Proved the concept.  Try to instruct in English didn't work well, no matter how many times I repeated myself.  Showing them got across the point, but not the principal: put the rollers from the back *in front of the pole, not underneath it* They got the point- rollers go under the pole, but not the principle: rollers from the back, when placed at the nose of the pole will get run under the pole as I pull on the thing with a rope.

And there's the new farang style toilet (sit down) to install – easier for mama to use.  I asked the store for a mounting flange for the toilet.  Don't have them.  They just put a piece of PVC pipe under the outlet of the trap.  No wax seals, rubber grommets, etc.  Guess I'll figure that one out like the stairs.  The toilet doesn't have a water tank – they don't have running water here, so you flush it with the bowl from the big tank.  But I'll have to build a platform to get PVC drain pipe underneath the toilet, and tie that into the existing pipe that goes to the septic tank.  They don't always bother to bury drain pipes.  They are run on the ground.  Never freezes here, so it's not a problem.   Sure makes it easier to maintain and change when all the piping is on the ground instead of in it.

 But somewhere in here we're going to take another trip into the mountains.  There's a great place called "coffee hill" on the road up.  They make espresso, and  there are a couple of salas (open huts) perched on the edge of the hill, with a super vista of the valley and mountains.  Jamlong is always to rushed to stop there, so I want to go back on our own.

Finally had to book a ticket back to the USA.  Big Sigh.  I'm not looking forward to the reverse culture-shock, which is always way worse than coming here or any other place I've traveled to.  But, I have excellent motivation to pass thru it, and use it to my advantage.




i am in thailand at the moment. to be added or deleted from my travelogue, send request to this address. view previous posts at:  http://thaikarl.blogspot.com/


25 ThaiKarl water in the face songkran part 1



I know it has been a while since you have heard from me.  Mostly due to the Songkran holiday.  The street where the internet shop is was a designated water zone, and I couldn't get near the shop without getting soaked.


The Buddhist holy days are aligned with the lunar calendar.  The days to go to temple (like going to church) are marked on the calendars aligned with the phases of the moon.  This recent full moon, the 13 of April was the Thai calendar new year.  It's a holiday festival called Songkran.  Everybody geared up for it.  One of the ways to celebrate it is to douse people with water.  I understand that in the old days, it was just a few drops you would flick on people.  Now its open season, and gone gonzo.  Kids drive around with pickup trucks and pumps and hose people with water.  Pump squirt guns are the rage, or just a good ole bucket of water tossed at motorbikes and cars.  "gangs" of people stand by the road with barrels of water, and as you drive past they throw water at you.  They are trying to discourage some of the wilder overkill.  There are a lot of accidents – some from getting dumped with water, but most from drinking and driving.  They scored the holiday death toll in the newspaper.  5,533 accidents, 441 deaths.  The paper said if you throw water on someone, causing an accident that results in a fatality, you could be charged with murder.  And not only can you be charged for driving drunk, if you are sober and your passengers are drunk you can be arrested.


On the 12th, Wednesday, we went to a school up the road.  They were having the village Songkran celebration day there.  Beauty contest, games, music, and of course, lots of water.  Tok went to work at midnight and worked all night making up and dressing the girls for the beauty contest.  There was a parade of pickup trucks, each carrying a contestant on a high chair in the back.  The trucks are decorated with banners and cloths.  They played a few games we in the west know: musical chairs, gunny sack races, blindfold kick the can, and one I had never seen.  The men the tied a string to a cucumber, and tied the string around their waists.  The idea was to swing the cucumber back and forth between their legs, using their hips, and bat a orange across the field to the finish line.  That was pretty funny to see.  The puns- 'well hung', 'swinging…' etc are rampant.


The best part of the day was the honoring of the old people.  They set up rows of chairs under the awning.  Each row had chairs facing each other, and all the old people sat in the rows.  A group of people went down the rows and gave each elder a scarf or shirt.  Then all the people went down the rows and poured a little water on the cupped hands of the elders, sometimes a little water was poured down their backs.  They gave them flower petals, and touched their faces with perfumed paste.  Quite touching.  Old people are generally honored and respected in Thailand.  Quite an interesting day.


The next day the 13th, was the actual songkran day.  Tok went to work at 4am to do hair and makeup for beauty contestants.  I took the Song Teaw (which means "two rows" – it's a pickup truck with two rows of seats in the back, and a roof.  They are the local buses that go back and forth between towns.) into town to meet Tok.  She took me into Lom Sak.  The soi where the Internet shop is was a kind of designated water zone.  The street was lined with people with barrels of water and buckets.  As you rode down the street you were doused with water.  Sometimes just a few drops, most of the time a small bucketful.  Great fun! Quite warm that day, so getting soaked didn't matter – Though the people who had iced the water before they threw it cause a few breath-taking moments.


After a tour of Lom Sak getting wet, we parked the bike next to the big road to watch the parade.  Trucks carrying the beauty contestants and their krews rolled down the road slowly down the road, people smiling and waving.  Between each truck was a crazy band called a [insert name of bands here] . they typically have a bass guitar, kick drummer(s), a marching band drum rack, and a guy playing a cool instrument called a "Pin".  The Pin is a three string guitar like instrument.  Some players have double-necked versions.  Everything is run into a stack of battery powered amplifiers and effects, on a rolling cart with a nest of speakers on top.  The music they play is fast, rhythmic and furious.  I really like the sound… when it's not too loud.  I've inquired into obtaining one of the Pin instruments, and it seems that you can only get them custom made.  They don't sell ready-made ones in the shops.

 END OF PART ONE - Part two next time

They don't have the same "probable cause" hindrance here, so they set up checkpoints and check every driver for alcohol.  Somkid got busted 50 meters away from the shop tonight.  Tok and I were behind on the motorcycle and were waved thru, but Somkid was being escorted hand on shoulder by a uniform to the police tent.  Jamlong was climbing into the drivers seat as we passed, as mama and Tury were in the truck being taken back home.  Heard later that Somkid was charged with DUI, has to spend the night in jail and pay some 250 USD in fines.  Not sure what else is involved in that.  Bummer.  It's Jamlongs birthday today, and we went to the night market shopping, then to Jamlongs for dinner.  I got Jamlong these cool replacement windshield washer squirters, that light up with blue LED lights (away from the driver).  There was tons of food of course, and a couple of my favorite kids, Namfun and Mak were at the shop.  All people I like.  Wuan of course wasn't there, having got killed when we were in Cambodia, but they gave me a photo of him that I asked for.  Somehow he wasn't in any photos I've taken.  Usually saw him at night, and don't like to use the flash on the camera.  I'm hoping some of the early video I shot has him on the footage.  If not, oh well.

i am in thailand at the moment. to be added or deleted from my travelogue, send request to this address. view previous posts at:  http://thaikarl.blogspot.com/


24 Thaikarl working holiday in lom sak...


Languid days here in Ban Don Khwang (Toks village).  Nice and hot, light breezes, occasional warm rain.  I've been busy, in a laid back way.  Installing electrical fixtures, lights, switches and wires.  Just try to find a pull-chain-switch here.  They have never heard of such a thing.  But my guys at the electrical shop across from the internet cafĂ© came thru for me. Now you can turn on the new upstairs light by pulling the string from downstairs, or upstairs.  Quite a novelty.  The local kids all had to come in and try it out.  With comments of he Thai equivalents of "Wow!"  I also installed a hand rail next to the toilet.  Mamma is 74 years old, quite "spry" as they say, but I was concerned about her climbing up the step.  And getting down.  It is helpful for me also I found.  White men can't squat.  Not flatfooted like the rest  of the world anyway.  Easier to keep my balance when I have a handrail to hold onto.  (have to thank my dad for this thing about hand-rails.  He's an advocate for them.  I installed many in his house)  Next big job is to tile the concrete portion of the stairs to the second floor.  Never laid tile before.  So I'll be figuring it out on the fly.  Of course, they don't have Quikcrete here, so I'll have to crash course in cement.  They don't use a mastic to glue down the tiles.  When I've seen them laying tiles, they use a thin Portland cement mix.  Hmmm.  The tricky thing is that the stairs were built by drunks… nothing is square, the rise and run of each step is different, and one stair is wider on the left side than on the right.  So I'm going to have to reform the stairs with some new concrete, and tile over that.  Should be fun.  Then there's the storage house for the rice, and a new toilet, and windows to replace the corrugated tin nailed over the openings, and a plant stand for outside of the kitchen so you can look at flowers rather then the neighbors rusty tin fence, and… and… and…

Not that I'm killing myself with projects.  Took me 8 hours to install two switches, and outlet and wire up a new lamp fixture upstairs. I would do a little wiring, have a smoke, read some paper, more wiring, extract the junk from the pond with a long bamboo pole, a little wiring, eat some rice, etc…  every time I had to go looking for a tool or screws I'd see something else that would grab my attention and I'd do that.

Not that there isn't any play.  Few days ago, Jamlong and Somkid came round and took us all up to the mountains.  We visited a war memorial on the top of a mountain (you could paraglide off there!), went down the hill to visit a huge chedi (Buddhist shrine thing), and of course, stopped to eat food numerous times.  Jamlong won 10,000 baht in the lottery.  A girlfriend of hers had some dream that prompted Jamlong to buy the winning ticket, so she took the girl and all of us out to dinner.  The place we ate at was quite interesting.  They bring a clay jar with hot charcoal burning in the bottom and set it in a hole in the middle of the table.  Over that they put a domed cook pan- kind of like an upside down wok with a edge around it.  They bring you plates of raw pork, liver, beef, kidney, glass noodles, veggies, and other mystery foods.  You put the strips of meat on the hot cook dome, and cook it yourself right there.  The juices run down the dome into the broth around the outside of the pan, making a soup to cook the noodles and veggies in.  yum times 27!

Happy birthday patty lommis (april 9th) where are you this year????


* Thai-bit:  you drive on the left side of the road
* in Thailand. Unless of course you are going
* the *Wrong Way*, then you drive on the
* extreme right.

i am in thailand at the moment. to be added or deleted from my travelogue, send request to this address. view previous posts at:  http://thaikarl.blogspot.com/


23 home again, and the dead


I've been AFK for a few days.  Got a bit sick there, but I'm better now.  A story I'll relate another time.

We're back in Lom Sak – home.  Rained all day yesterday.  Not that  piddley cold rain we get  in seattle- genuine downpours, with intermittent breaks, then whoosh! Down it comes.  And it only cools off a bit.  Doesn't get cold and drive you into the house.   The ground gets all soft and squishy.  I took advantage of that to hack away at a stump I've been trying to dig out.  When the ground is dry, the  dirt is like crumbly stone, you get a quarter inch gain with one whack of a shovel.  After the rain yesterday, I could at least get the spade into the dirt to dig. 

The  rain also woke up the frogs.  They were doing their competing chirps and growls with vigor and persistence last night.  Tok brought me in a bucket that had been sitting outside that had maybe 20 frogs in it.  They had all jumped in. why I don't know, maybe for a party?  Oh. Now she's laughing at me… tells me "Sorry Nu, the frogs didn't jump in the bucket, my relatives went to the fields and caught them for mama to cook."  Ha Ha.  Gullible farang. 

I was dismayed to learn upon our return that Somkid's Dad died while we were away.  Somkid is the boyfriend of the shop owner where Tok works.  His dad was a likeable guy.  A bit annoying when he was drunk sometimes (which was like, everyday).  But he was a happy drunk.  He really liked me.  He was always talking to me, and of course I didn't understand anything.  But he was quick to offer me a seat, some food or drink.  He would come up and grab my arm and shake my hand over and over- which is a bit unusual, Thais aren't real big on public touching.  He crashed his motorbike on a sharp curve.  Probably had a few or more, dunno.

The father of one of Toks friends died this week also.  This afternoon we went to the "funeral".  I didn't know what would be going on, Tok said we were just going to her friends house, so I didn't bring my VDO camera.  Very interesting.  There were a hundred or so people at the house up the road in the village.  There were tables and chairs food and drink.  Monks were chanting inside the house.  The sound is piped out to a big stack of speakers outside, so you can hear, loudly.  After a while, they broke down the ornate displays around the casket fridge and took it all out to a flatbed truck.  They don't do embalming like we do in the west.  They leave the lid off the casket and put it in a big ornately decorated refrigerator.  The top of the cooler has a window so people and look in and see the body- if they like.  After the casket and all of its adornments were transferred to the truck, there was a procession to the temple nearby.  There were a gaggle of monks in orange robes that led the way, each holding on to a string that ran back to the truck, where the other end was goes inside the casket, tied to the lid.  Everybody followed behind the truck, which of course had enormous speakers tied to the roof and was playing music.

At the temple the procession went three times around the crematory building.  The building houses an oven with a tall square chimney into the sky.  They brought the casket and all its decorations to the top of the stairs and assembled them.  Then there was chanting by the monks.  They ran the string from the casket up over the trees and into the temple where the string was run across the rows of monks, so each held on to it.  Tok told me that they believe that the prayers go thru the string back to the body and the spirit of the dead.  Kind of a spiritual soup can and string telephone line I think.  The mans life story was told by his family over the speakers.  Everyone was sitting in the nearest shade, on red resin chairs.  The monks all had orange Fanta sodas and a bottle of water in front of them.  I asked tok if they only drink orange Fanta because it matches their robes.  She didn't think that was it.  Finally, everyone went up the stairs, women on one side, men on the other and left a joss (incense) stick on the casket, then descended down the center staircase and the ceremonies were complete.  I'm not sure when they burn the body.  Tok tells me that the family will return tomorrow to collect the ashes.  They keep the ashes at the house for 100 days, during which time the spirit of the dead person is believed to be still around.  After that, they have various ways to treat the ashes.  There are mausoleums, sometimes the family keeps the ashes, and sometimes they are buried.

Always something interesting, everyday.

BTW, replies and comments are well received and I do reply.


i am in thailand at the moment. to be added or deleted from my travelogue, send request to this address. view previous posts at:   http://thaikarl.blogspot.com/