Rather him than me ….

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The wet season has really arrived with the recent heavy falls of rain after a bit of a false start a month or so ago. Some farmers planted out their rice crop after those early falls, only to see their crops falter without followup rain. Others, like this fellow, waited a bit longer ….now they have to hope that the rainy season is not too short for their crops to reach maturity.

This is the old, traditional method of growing the young rice densely in a nursery paddy, which can be kept well watered, then transplanting them out into the main paddies when the rains arrive. Around here most of the farmers who planted early used the more modern method of seeding and growing in the one field … more economical with the seed, also quicker and less labour intensive, but riskier with the weather as they found out this year.

How many thousands of rice stalks will this guy transplant ? rather him than me …..

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Lotus fields, Ubon Ratchathani

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Life and death on the lounge room floor

Came home yesterday evening to find this just inside the front door.

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The snake (a Golden Tree Snake?) is only about as thick as a finger but had swallowed this small lizard whole. The lizard was not dead though, it looks as if it bit or scratched it’s way out of the snake’s belly before dying. When I came home the snake was nearly dead, with the lizard’s tail still inside it. It could n’t get away when I scooped it up with a (long handled !) dustpan and threw them both out onto the road ….just in front of a car !
Lose-lose for them, win-win for us ….one less snake and no geckos around that night !
I should n’t have told the missus though, she was paranoid all night ! It did n’t especially worry me though, after all I spent a lot of time in the “Great Outdoors” of a country that reputedly has 21 of the world’s 25 most venomous snakes and I knew that this snake is only dangerous to geckos and other small lizards, although this time ‘it bit off more than it could chew”, if you’ll forgive the atrocious pun 🙂

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Bun Bang Fai ….the “Rocket Festival”

Around North Eastern Thailand at this time of the year many towns and villages hold their annual Bun Bang Fai festival, often called the “Rocket Festival” in English although it is more than just big boys playing with (explosive and dangerous) big toys !

My new home in rural Ubon Ratchathani held it’s festival last weekend, with music and dancing along the main street on day 1, followed the next day by the rockets and a morlam show just outside of town. The festival is one of the highlights of the year, and is traditionally the last chance for many people to party before the hard work of the rice season really gets under way.

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Each of the muu baan (sub-districts) enter their own team, as well as teams from the schools :BF-29

(click for larger version)

Although not quite as ribald as some of the things I saw at the Phi Ta Korn (Ghost Festival) I saw at Dan Sai at few years ago some of the non dancing participants were a bit “naughty” :

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They are fertility symbols, hoping to bring a good crop this rice growing season.

On day 2 there was a morlam show, with the usual food and alcohol stalls, in one area while “safely” on the other side of a large pond was the launch area for the rockets. The music was OK, but even by early afternoon there were too many drunks around for it to be really enjoyable. Too many of them wanted to come and glad-hand the very visible farang outsider !

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The missus was not really feeling comfortable so we went for a quick look at the rockets on the other side of the pond. The rockets come in various sizes, called  from muen (“10,000”) to lan (“1,000,000”), and also Catherine wheel ones that spin around. At our festival it was only the small meun sized rockets, but at the bigger and more famous festivals such as Yasothon’s they would have many of the Lan sized rockets, 9 metres long fuelled by 120kg of highly explosive powder.

If anybody wants to read up more on the big rockets then hop over to TonyinThailand where he has details on how they are made.

The smaller rockets here were all hand made I think, certainly they were being fuelled up on site :

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Booze, karaoke, and highly explosive fuel …what could go wrong ?

Basically they are a PVC tube filled with black powder fuel, inside another metal tube with sand in between the two tubes, with a bamboo tail tied on for a bit of stability.

There was a proper, but now disused metal launch tower for the big rockets, nowadays for the smaller rockets they just lash some bamboo together and prop it up against a tree:

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NASA, eat your heart out.

Finally everything is ready and the launch pad is cleared to a safe distance of ….oh, about 20 meters will do ….

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Points are awarded for height, flight duration, and the smoke trail, naturally there will be people gambling on the results ! Of course, what goes up has to come down…… Sometimes they are fitted with a parachute, but most just fall wherever they will. Probably not a good idea to live down range ? They can reach a height of several kilometers, so one falling through the roof of your house would be a nuisance… 😦

A short video here 

And a few more pics :

 

 

A postscript : at one of the rocket festivals held further north this year, one of the rockets ignited prematurely and went flying through the crowd, killing at least one person and injuring others.

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Goodbye Bangkok ….hello Issaan

Yes I know that I have been lazy with this blog (again) and that it has been a while since I wrote anything here. That was partly because I had nothing to write about, contrary to what some people think life as an expat in the exotic orient is not full of wonderful experiences every day. Many days are the same as they are worldwide …go shopping at the supermarket, stay home and do the housework, chill out on the sofa watching TV ….

The most “exciting” thing I’ve done since my last update was the annual trek out to Immigration, wearing long trousers, a collared shirt and good shoes for the one day of the year that I have to, to get approval for another years extension of stay stamped into my passport.

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The other reason was our move from Bangkok to my girlfriend’s home town in rural Ubon Ratchathani province ! Which is actually why I have been silent for the last month or so, what with packing stuff up and being offline for the last week before moving out …Cheap Charlie me was reluctant to pay a month’s internet bill for one week’s usage 🙂

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The girlfriend was worried it would not fit in the truck…plenty of room left !

And then the house where we are staying, belonging to one of her family, has been empty for some time so we had about a week’s worth of cleaning to do before bothering about such luxuries as internet access here.

The actual move was painless, all our stuff was packed into boxes and suitcases well in advance, the pickup driver arrived early for the overnight delivery to Ubon (7000baht door to door) while we stayed at a hotel for the night and flew up the next morning. Picked up at the Ubon airport by one of the sisters, we arrived to find that one of her other sisters had opened the house for the driver and our boxes and cases were neatly stacked away 🙂

The house is, shall we say, rather “Thai” ….gaudy tiles on the floor, a semi enclosed basic kitchen, squat toilet, and thai-style bathroom with a big tub of cold water for washing ! Actually the water is not really that cold, with the ambient temperature at least mid twenties that’s as cold as the water gets and in this hot weather cold water feels pretty good ! We will be building our own home eventually, I can live with this place for a while …. I’ve stayed in worse places when working in outback Oz !

It is lacking in storage so we had to make a trip into Ubon city to buy some shelving racks and other odds and ends at Dohome, a large DIY/hardware store. I’ve seen some big Bunnings hardware stores in Australia but this was easily at least 3 times larger. You would have to take a packed lunch to see it all ! In the same trip we went into the Ubon immigration office to do the formalities about changing address, something that is supposed to be done within 24 hours but what they don’t know won’t hurt them… I have to give a big thumbs up to the staff there, a lot friendlier than the sourpusses at Chaeng Wattana in Bangkok.

When we got around to internet access we went with True’s 899 baht package offering 200/100Mbps internet plus a basic cable TV package, mainly all the usual Thai free to air channels plus some Thai language specials and a smattering of English language channels, mainly 24 hour news. I was mildly excited to see it included Australia Plus until I checked it’s program guide and saw it too was mainly news and current affairs nowadays with a dose of Home and Away thrown in …. no thanks. The True girl did try and get us to upgrade to their 1999฿ Platinum package with lots of foreign English Language shows but no thanks, I can …ahem … obtain as many movies and tv series online as I have time to watch.

I was n’t really expecting to get the advertised speeds, but I am rather happy that we are getting around 75/50Mbps here in the rural countryside (which is about twice as fast as 3BB were giving us in Bangkok) plus the cable tv, for less than we were paying in Bangkok for internet alone.

So what’s the area like ? We are living on the edge of town, so we are woken by the roosters crowing and the tractors plowing the rice paddies ready for the planting soon but that’s better than the sound of young kids racing their motorbikes down our Bangkok soi. The town is about 30 kms north of Ubon Ratchathani city, so not too far from the big smoke . It’s the center of the district administrative area so has all the local government offices, a high school, a small hospital, a medium sized Tesco Express supermarket plus the usual market in town. Oh, and three 7/11s ! One in each of the big gas stations at each end of town, plus a third in the middle of town. 7/11s are a benchmark of progress, aren’t they ? maybe not…….

While I enjoyed living in Bangkok for nearly 5 years I was getting bored with it lately, and if you have read some of my epic road trip around Australia you will know that I am not a big city fellow normally so I think that I will enjoy living here, especially once we get our house built. Exactly when that will be is up in the air, and largely dependent on the AU$/Th฿ exchange rate which is not looking too good at the moment 😦

Anyway, that almost brings me up to date. This weekend just gone was the town’s Bun Bang Fai, or Rocket Festival. Not as big as some of the other ones, like Yasothon’s famous festival, but still a highlight of the local year. I have plenty of photos to share of that but not right now, this post is long enough already. Coming soon though. Promise !

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Sak Yant

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muay thai fighter sports a full back sak yant, or magical tattoo, as he goes through his pre-bout wai kruu. He is also wearing the mongkon headband and the pa-prajiet armband to bring him luck in the ring.

Traditionally sak yants were done by monks believed to have special powers, which were passed on to the wearer of the sak yant. Nowadays you can find them being done in any tattoo shop catering for tourists, but don’t expect those to have magical powers to protect you from life’s dangers !

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