Showing posts with label House Building. Show all posts
Showing posts with label House Building. Show all posts

Five Years Later ...

It has been five years since we moved into this house, which in the goodness of time became our beloved home.  I have heard some argue that a house is little more than a shelter but for me it is so much more.  While comfort and convenience do come into play, they are but practical things that do not touch the deeper reaches of ones soul.  It is not so much the modern conveniences that are incorporated in the house, or even the size or the shape that are of importance to me.  It is more about how I relate to the space, both indoors and out, and how it all makes me feel.  Of course I can’t speak for others, but I believe our physical surroundings play a major role in our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  Surely living in concrete or wooden boxes, commuting in metal boxes and working in cubicles exacts a heavy price on the human spirit.

After rereading what I have written in the past about adjusting to life in Chiang Rai, and the phases one goes through, I found most of it still holds true five years on.  It is still a work in progress, ever evolving and changing as I believe life is meant to be.  Some activities have been tried and discarded, not likely to be revisited.  Some friendships have foundered as our paths have diverged.  As I continue to meet more people, and the circle of people I interact with in casual social settings grows, inversely I seem to be retreating from involvement with the more taxing sorts of relationships.

So many people live such messy lives and I don’t wish to be put in a position of cleaning up their messes.  Much of my tolerance of other’s lifestyles and choices is predicated on them not messing up mine.  While I am not inclined to force others to do things my way, I do equally resist modifying how I live to suit others.  I have often been too accommodating in the early stages of new relationships, leading to difficulties down the road when I start to draw lines, differentiating things I will and will not do to maintain a relationship.

With physical proximity not playing a part, due to my chosen place of abode, it does not feel compelling nor practical to limit my friendships to those who live in Chiang Rai.  The demographics of the local expat community, spur me on even further to cast a wider net in pursuit of likeminded individuals or people I find innately more interesting.  This blog has played a major role in connecting me to the kind of people I enjoy corresponding with, and when circumstances allow, meeting when they visit the area.

Sometimes I serve a passing role in the lives of those who dream of living in Thailand and enjoy reading about others who have already done it.  I play my part and then, at the appropriate time, fade into the sunset.  There are still others who from time to time drop me a line to let me know how they are doing.  Not much need to ask about my life, as much of it finds its way into the prose and imagery of this blog.  I choose to share part of my life in this more public format but I understand there is much that is better confined to emails or phone calls and I also relish those opportunities to interact on a more personal level.

For me it is perhaps a bonus that we don’t live next door to each other and do not feel the need to interact or correspond daily.  I have never been good with routines or a regimented lifestyle.  Give me freedom and spontaneity any day, over monotony and repetition, fixed to the relentless ticking of a clock.

As expected this has turned out to be my wife’s year, as opposed to mine.  Most things have revolved around her university schedule, weekend classes and midweek homework.  Her levels of independence and self confidence have grown over the year, as she has learned to drive on own and do her homework with no assistance from me.  Her first term’s, 4 A’s and a B+, were entirely hers and reflect her own accomplishments.  She has taken her role as class leader seriously and developed socially as well as personally, to a noticeable degree.

For many years the core of our relationship was companionship and our enjoyment of spending time together.  Being older and more experienced I, more often than not, took the lead in sharing my world with her as we spent time traveling, working out in health clubs and partaking of Western food, music, television and movies.  Having lived in Thailand nearly as long as she has, we do not fall into the typical pattern of Thai-Farang relationships where the husband doesn’t speak Thai and is so often dependent on the wife as translator and guide.

I guess I hadn’t realized how much control I exerted over our relationship, until my wife started taking more control over her own life.  This whole process has been eyeopening and educational, for me as well as her.  I am not always comfortable with this evolutionary process but I understand it needs to happen.  I am considerably older than her and the chances are she will find it necessary to make do without me at some point.

Though her schooling has contributed to us spending more time doing things separately, the dogs and the house are probably more responsible in their own way.  With less of it, I relish even more the time we are able to spend together.  Hopefully we will find time to travel together, one of my favorite things, during her next school break.

This morning, in addition to the heavy fog, there was a distinct chill in the air.  This is our first, and somewhat late to arrive, wintery morning of the year.  I am sitting in the car, under a tree, waiting for my wife with the windows down, something I don’t often do.  From time to time a tiny leaf drifts in through the window, as I write to the sound of the birds in the trees and the occasional footsteps and murmuring of students walking to and from class.  There is something about a university campus that is both calming and stimulating at the same time.  Wrap it all up in a cool winter morning in Northern Thailand and I am quite enjoying waiting for my wife today.

It has been a very long time since we enjoyed Sunday Brunch at the Meridien but with her class ending early today, we will be able to enjoy one of our favorite dining experiences later this morning.  Apparently class is over and she is on her way so I had best sign off and focus my attention on her.

Building a House, Building a Life ...

While considering what to write about today, it occurred to me that it might be time to revisit the house and how I came to be where I am.  Though not a new topic, it is something I have not spoken to for sometime and could perhaps benefit from a rewrite of sorts, based on where I am today but with some historical perspective thrown in.

My parents grew up in rural areas, pretty much in the center of the country, in an area called the Midwest.  Large two story homes with attics and basements were the norm back then.  Though I visited my grandparents in those lovely homes in my youth, I was raised in single story dwellings located in the idyllic suburbs of university towns.  My parents did not take up condo living until after I moved to Thailand and even then moved into a place large enough to maintain separate rooms for their two sons in case they ever needed to return home.  Thinking back, that room with my stuff in it did a lot in the way of freeing me to explore the world unencumbered.

Bangkok was my first experience with a big city, though back then there were only three buildings that could be remotely considered high-rise.  I experimented with living in various types of dwellings during my years in Bangkok but the vast majority of time was spent in studio apartments and eventually in my own condo unit for the final ten years.  Young and enamored with Thailand, eager to experience as much as I could, I spent very little time at home and basically used my apartment as a bedroom and changing area while spending most of my time exploring, often staying out all night.

In later years the central location of our condo meant my young wife and I could walk or take the Skytrain most places we cared to go.  It left us free to travel, often turning the key and going away for six months at a time.  That travel phase lasted for roughly eight years.  Over time the combination of travel and condo living began to take its toll, I guess.  We began looking for alternatives in both my home country and here in Thailand.  All with an eye to living a more settled life surrounded by things we loved.

Though we had early on discarded any notion of living in her home village, over time it started to look more promising and eventually got a vote of approval from both of us.  Having lived so many years in Bangkok, I dreamed of something as far from city living as I could find, while still providing necessary creature comforts.  Over the eight years or so that we had been visiting the village, I had time to explore as much of the surrounding area as one could on foot.  That helped in our search for the right piece of land to build on.

The external look of our house could be considered happenstance as all attention was on floor plan, orientation and views.  As for outward appearance I guess one important desire was for the back of the house, facing the road and traffic, to be as inconspicuous as possible.  With a five rai plot of land to work with, space was not an issue and we were free to spread out as much as we liked and have continued to add other structures over the years. 

Somehow a single story building with a high ceiling seems more spacious to me.  Though I sometimes find two story homes quite attractive, I couldn’t see myself living in one.  With an open floor plan one can both see and feel the space around you because everything is on that one level.  Add big picture windows and sliding doors to draw your eye to the fields and mountains that surround the house and the result, at least in my case, fills me with a calm serenity that keeps me balanced.  Indoors or out I gaze upon the same ever changing view throughout the year.

It should be reiterated that until I was in my fifties I had never considered this kind of life in this kind of location.  I sometimes feel the young, or at least young at heart, come to Thailand in search of adventure and new experiences just to burden themselves with the same encumbrances which drove them to despair back home.  For others it could be the loneliness of old age trumps all other emotions, leading us down familiar paths rather than exploring completely new ones.  In a foreign country maybe it is just easier to latch onto a woman to be your guide, translator and companion while also relieving you of your burden of loneliness. 

When I encounter people especially those younger than myself, who lust for the life I live, my first bit of advice is to slow down and take some time before taking actions that may be difficult to recover from.  Make sure you are really ready.  I wasn’t ready for marriage until I was forty five and was in my early fifties before I moved to Chiang Rai to build this house.  I can’t imagine I could have been happy here during my thirties or forties.  Even with all the years of living in Thailand, planning and forethought that went into this choice, there was no certainty as to how things would turnout.  Even now the story continues to unfold and though it still feels like the right choice at the moment, there is no way of knowing what lies ahead.

I knew I was putting limits on my freedom when we moved to this life in the village but I was perhaps unprepared for how restrictive pets and possessions could be.  I was primarily focused on acquiring the things I had lived without for so many years in Bangkok, things from my long lost childhood.  What was that line...something about being careful what you wish for?  Though we both love the comfort and beauty of our surroundings there are times when we wax lyrical about bygone days when we could just turn the key and travel for as long as we wished or enjoy luxurious health clubs and fine dining in the big city.

While there is still a small voice telling me I should be traveling more or attacking that bucket list with more gusto, there is a bigger part of me that finds the expense, discomfort and inconvenience of travel these days a real turnoff.  I am so comfortable where I am, it would seem my focus in life has shifted dramatically without my really noticing.  I was never very domestic before and viewed life as a pursuit of adventure and experience limited only by what I could afford.

I sometimes wonder if my wife, house, dogs and possessions have altered me somehow at the core or if perhaps they have just released something that was dwelling deep inside all along but was held at bay by past circumstances.  Maybe I am just getting old and this is the normal way of things.  Having followed a path far different from my peers, I’m not at all sure I know what normal is or whether that might be where I am heading.  For now I ponder these questions and others from the comfort of my house in the field, built at a time in my life when it felt right.

Responsible Water Use ...

Finally got the sprinkler system finished.  It was more work than anyone anticipated but now we can soak the bulk of our garden in half and hour with water from our own pond.  Before we did most of the watering by hand, used the village supply and had by far the largest water bill each month.  It was cheaper than installing this system but we didn’t feel right about using what might turn out to be a limited resource sometime in the future.  There are still areas that must be hand watered but it is much more manageable now and we feel more responsible.

Our ground is hard as concrete during the dry season and digging a trench the length of the yard, all the way to the pond, was hard work with the first two young workers quitting after two days.  The guy who did the electrical, pipe and sprinkler work was amazing.  He didn’t stop for lunch and fabricated metal parts at home well into the night. 

With his background being primarily electrical all that work was impeccable.  He even tapped into our three phase system and added an exterior box near the kitchen that will make future connections much easier.  The electric pump and separate control box is located on the sala over the pond, is grounded and has a safety cutoff if the intake gets clogged.

With such a large area to cover and the ground being so hard we went for relatively straight lines and a minimalist approach with two different sized industrial strength sprinklers.  I’m now considering ways to beautify these protuberances though I don’t really mind the way they look.  You might notice that a light rain this morning helped to clear the air and dampen the ground, while Cookie assisted in producing these photos.

Buying Land ...

Through an email exchange I was asked about the purchase of our land and whether it was done in my wife’s name.  Subsequently, after starting to read this blog in its book form, the answer was found and I was asked to disregard the question.  Fortunately or unfortunately your choice, I had already penned the following and thought I would post it anyway.  Not everyone is so diligent about digging through the entirety of my work and an update on a topic from time to time is not unwarranted in my opinion.

My perfunctory answer to such questions of ownership is simply that my wife owns everything in Thailand.  It saves a lot of trouble if anything were to happen to me.  If I were a man of few words, that answer would no doubt suffice.  Since I have never been accused of being such a man, and since I have an opinion on such things, let me expand.

On a very general level, women’s rights and land ownership for Thai women married to foreigners has come a long way.  Not saying it is perfect but it has improved over the years.  For the specifics of Thai law I would suggest that Google is your friend.  In our case I simply had to accompany my wife to the land office and sign a form stating I had no claim to the land and we were good to go.  At a later date and at my wife’s urging, we went in to get a usufruct and have my name added to the Chanote or land title papers.  This was her idea to protect me from her family if anything were to happen to her.  Again looking up usufruct is probably more useful than my paraphrasing here.

I suppose these questions come up because we have all been exposed to the horror stories of the hapless farang male being liberated from his funds and then sent packing by an insatiable horde of in-laws.  I am in no way disputing the veracity of such stories.  I am simply suggesting there might be more to the story.

Some women succumb to social pressure and try to get as much as they can from their farang partner, to help combat the stigma of marrying outside of their own race.  Don’t forget that in a traditional rural environment, the gossip mill can be a powerful and destructive force.  If you marry a man who is no better off than some poor farmer from the village, then what is the point, in their view.  Foreigners are just too much trouble if there is no compensation for the sacrifice, such as substantial financial reward, real or wished for.  If you are already burdened by the stigma of failed relationships and perhaps fatherless children to raise, then it is not much of a leap to marry for money, the second or third time around.

There are indeed parents who will tell their daughters to get what they can from a man while the getting is good, and the man is still thinking with the wrong part of his anatomy.  Asking a man for land, a house or some other financial contribution could also be seen as a test of both his intentions and his solvency, even from a trustworthy partner who sees a man as something other than an ATM.  Unlike the West where divorce can be devastatingly expensive, in Asia the man can often simply walk away.  You can think of any contribution made to your partner as a no-fault or prepaid divorce where you know in advance exactly what your exposure is.

In the case of a land purchase there is often an undercurrent that a farang might not be aware of.  Most Thais where I live would almost immediately take the land title to the bank and use it as collateral for a loan.  That can make placing the land in the name of a family member problematic.  No telling how that money will be spent so in the end you might be asked to repurchase the same land from the bank or risk a complete write-off.  People have learned that getting oneself into debt, and then begging someone to save you, is much easier than asking for money outright and having to explain why you want it.

I love my wife and like other men of my ilk, would not like to think of her being left destitute upon my demise.  Some other men seem to have no greater ambition than to find the cheapest form of domestic care and carnal satisfaction they can.  Barefoot, wrapped in a sarong, pregnant and in the kitchen or garden, if you don’t mind.  Heaven forbid they wear any makeup or go to a beauty parlor.  They boast about how little money they spend on their wives or that they spend nothing at all and everything is in their name, not their wife’s name.  I find that sad.

My advice is always something along the lines of, if you don’t trust your partner and don’t feel they have your best interests at heart, then you are probably with the wrong person and should not throw good money after bad.  If a refusal or postponement of major cash contributions is considered grounds for ending a relationship then let it end and consider yourself lucky.  This is especially true if you are still in the first year of so of a relationship with someone you really don’t know that well.

Renting in Thailand is often a more rational and affordable route to take.  Unfortunately in the eyes of the locals it provides no future security.  Purchasing land as an investment sounds nice but often doesn’t work out.  I have friends who have done well with condos in big cities or large land tracts in rural or boarder areas but you need to know what you are doing and have some luck.  Remember you are up against speculators from all over Asia as well as Thais.  Some ten thousand rai of land on the East side of our village was swallowed up by a major beer company as an example.  How are you going to compete with that?

In summary, if you want to buy land, do your research and do it locally as the application of laws can vary by region.  Go to the land department and check with the banks to see what they have for sale and perhaps consult a good lawyer if you can find one and are the litigious sort.  Word of mouth and family connections are great but have to be viewed with a health dose of skepticism.

Next question please.

A Look Inside...

I believe Hobby has called it my ‘coming out’, but I prefer to see it as the personalization of my blog.  Since some of you have expressed interest in us as individuals as well as the overall content of the blog, I have started inserting us into the content from time to time as you may have noticed.

Following in that trend and realizing that I have yet to let you inside our home, I have selected a few shots from a party we had last year.  An empty house shot comes off as clinical and lacks the warmth of a home.  So here are a couple of indoor shots, before and during the festivities.  The outdoor shot is on the veranda off the main living area.

Nothing fancy or pretentious, just a relaxed open space in which to live and enjoy our views.

Our Thai House In The Field ...

For those of you who are still interested in the house, here is an update from yesterday.  Our bougainvillea, planted as a boarder along the length of the front yard, are really in full bloom this time of year.  Along with the ones we planted on the back side of the house, there is an explosion of color in this otherwise dreary time of the year.

We have lived in the house for more than three years now and things are holding up well.  We did replace the wooden railings with steel and did a little touchup painting but apart from that, things are good.  I’m very happy living here and we have had no complaints from our guests.  The wife does complain that it is too much to keep clean but she still manages to keep it immaculate.

You may notice that facing north as we are, with a slight eastward orientation, the front of the house escapes the ravages of direct sunlight most of the year.
Front of the house, not visible from the road.
A different angle.

Reminders ...

Just the other day I was reminded of something.  One of the village girls, with her Bangkok boyfriend, is in the process of building a new house, much as we did last year.  Watching a well-to-do, big city Thai, doing what we did is an interesting study.  He is able to call on family, friends, and long established business and social connections, unlike most foreigners.  The ability to network, local style, is a definite advantage.  In the village, people often use the same networking technique but with a much different outcome.  They are limited to a much smaller and less sophisticated pool of contacts.  I will be interested to see how his results vary from mine, if at all

We have met on several occasions.  First time was up at the dam.  I had walked there and they had driven.  Even then the flow of our conversation was distinctly, non-village.  During our most recent encounter, in his front yard, conversation again flowed easily.  Of course there was the talk of house construction which eventually diverged into motorcycles as I was trying out our new scooter.  He has friends in the BMW camp and I have a friend in the Harley camp.  We also talked dogs, as he was given two beautiful Golden Retriever puppies, by a friend in Bangkok, and moved them here.  After they get there shots we may arrange a play date for our dogs, as we have done with the manager of the rubber-wood plantation and his GR puppy. 

Apparently, I am rambling and have yet to get to the point of this writing.  I was reminded by all this, of the vast spectrum, of Thai society and social class.  I have observed that far too often, foreigners, enter into their relationship with Thailand through a very narrow door and remain confined to a very small room.  Obviously it is impractical for the majority of individuals to do as I have done.  To spend twenty plus years developing their own unique relationship with Thailand.  To have a distinct, individual identity separate from any connection to one particular Thai family.  Only then settling down with a partner into a much more balanced relationship.

Whether associating with the dregs of Thai society or the educated and well-heeled elite, marrying into a Thai family with no language or cultural background makes things more difficult than they need be.  It seem, also, to lead to a lot of negative stereotyping and generalizing, about “Thais”, by foreigners.  Often but not always, foreigners are exposed to the poorest, least educated and least sophisticated of Thai society.  You stand little chance of being introduced to a broad spectrum of social classes by a Thai partner.  Even if, they are working or middle class, Bangkok Thais.  Class consciousness remains strong and there is an understandable reluctance to venture outside of the group they identify with and are accepted by.

As lovely as my wife is, she could never have introduced me to the people I have introduce her to.  As an unfettered young foreigner I was able to cross all social lines, in time.  Then, by virtue of my own standing in Thai society and long-term relationships, my wife has been able to slip the bonds of her village upbringing.  To mingle with and befriend those with whom there would have been a mutual reluctance.  Remembering those early encounters still brings a smile to my face.  Me pointing out someone of note as we dined in a restaurant.  Her being embarrassed and admonishing me not to bother, people like that.  Followed by those individuals seeing me and coming over to our table to say hello.  It happened on overseas flights, in hotel lobbies, restaurants and health clubs until she got quite used to it. 

The point being, that with a broader exposure to all things Thai and less emphasis on one limited group, I can’t help but believe there would be fewer of the shockingly narrow minded bloggers and forum junkies generalizing and complaining about Thailand and Thai people.  To me, those rants say more about the raconteur than the people they scandalize and denigrate.  It is unfair and disingenuous to make sweeping generalizations with little if any knowledge.  Perhaps it is just one of those, more unpleasant aspects, of human nature.  That we so enjoy making fun of those who are different or that we do not understand, is sad.  Technologically we move forward in leaps and bounds but as human beings we seem to have stopped our evolutionary development.

Back to the Beginning (recurrent cycles) ...

The House in the Field, began with the digging of a very big hole.  Roughly one rai in measure and rectangular in outline.  Excavation to a depth of five meters, produced enough earth to raise the adjacent two rai, to a flood protective height of two meters.  With enough leftover earth, for the foundation of a road, from soi to house.  At that time, the house plans were no more than disconnected images and concepts, in my dear wife’s unfathomable mind.  We did have a vague idea, however, that a Sala over the pond, at some point, might be nice. 

With a dry hole and digging equipment on hand, two concrete poles were placed at a guesstimated distance from what we assumed would be our shoreline.  In hindsight a proper foundation should have been put in place as well, but we were still quite green when it came to construction techniques.

The pond came to life during the first rainy season.  It began slowly at first with the rain, followed closely by the release of water from the dam.  Those concrete pilings seem quite out of place standing sentinel over the otherwise featureless surface of the pond.  They seemed to serve little purpose other than as a perch for the occasional bird, looking to poach a fish from the water’s surface.
Two years on and still standing straight and true, a once vague idea is becoming a reality.  Our contractor has found a way to integrate these once lonely uprights into the design of our pavilion.  Concrete foundation, floor and four pillars now seem to float on the surface of the pond.  Today the welders are busily fabricating a structure that will become a roof, over our deck, over our pond.  Of course there will be a few days a year when the deck will disappear below the surface of the water only to reemerge as if born anew.  The recently stocked fish are already accustomed to the new structure and enjoy swimming in and out of the shadows.  Being out over the pond provides a better perspective for viewing the fish as they swarm to the food pellets on the surface of the pond at sunset.

These days the pond is not always a reflective surface, mirroring the evening sky.  The magical cloud formations and sunset pallet of colors are often distorted and disturbed on the surface of the pond.  Somedays it is the delicate circles emanating from points where fish raise up to break the glassy surface that separates water from sky.  Often it is a more violent disruption, brought forth by our furry little friend, Cookie.  She launches herself from pond’s edge, in an apparent attempt to fly across the surface.  Only to be thwarted by gravity as she breaks the surface of the pond, with a tremendous resonance and displacement of water.  The frightened fish seem to jump in synchronicity yet I doubt their emotion mirrors the unbridled joy felt by Cookie as she briefly slips below the surface of the pond.

This should be our last project of the year but one can never be certain.  It seems fitting, however, that the act of construction should end where it all began.  A symbol of the recurrent and cyclical nature of existence.

“Island home”... Design thoughts...

I would like to know what it is like living at your "Island home"
Is it hot in the rice patty? Does the design of your home have any specific qualities that make it a more livable home than a traditional style or built home?

While discussion of the design aspects of our house is pretty clear cut, the addition of a comparison to “traditional style or built home” makes things more difficult. By traditional does one means, those vary rare and stylish old style Thai homes one finds adorning the pages of architectural digests? Perhaps one means the typical village home, built as cheaply as possible, with all the resulting problems. One easy comparison is that we built more than 100 meters away from the nearest structure, while most villagers live within a few feet of neighbors on all sides and right next to a road or lane.

As for “what it is like living at” our “Island home”, it is amazing, but of course we are biased. If the temperature reaches the 40s, with no wind or a hot wind, then there is nothing for it but to turn on the air conditioner, in my little room I call my home theater, and enjoy the world of technology. Fortunately, the vast majority of the time, there is a breeze and the main living area is quite comfortable. A breeze, blowing over the rice fields, seems to have a cooling effect, rather than making things hotter.

Our general orientation is toward the North. That is where are best views are to be had. There is a mountain range to the East, that runs roughly North-South and closer hills to the Northwest, with more mountains beyond. It is my belief, those mountains influence a general North-South wind flow pattern through our valley. If there is any breeze at all, we get it. With an excess of oversized windows and an open floor plan things are usually very comfortable with no more than a fan. The main living area, which includes kitchen, dining and living room, with no dividers, is roughly 16X6 meters with a lofted ceiling that extends up to 7 meters. The overall effect, is one of exaggerated space, views and comfort.

Interestingly, we lay at roughly the same latitude as Hawaii, though our climates are very different. The path of the sun, however, is the same. Passing only a few degrees north of us, we are never bothered by too much sun coming in our front windows. We included most western conveniences and there is very little waisted or unusable space. Our recent visitors had the following comment after returning to their home, “You have a lovely home that was better than staying in a top notch hotel!”

Now in the real world, things are kept in balance and there are always elements of light and dark, good and bad. On the flip side, our house is more vulnerable to natures whims. When storms threaten, there is nothing to block the full force of the wind and rain. We live in bug central, requiring that screens, and often windows, are closed against the evening onslaught. While we can see everything around us, everything and everyone can see us too, if we are outside. It is a little hard to maintain a low profile living on our “island” or as we call our house, “Baan Klang Thoong”.

Pictures Not Words ...

They say a picture is worth ... well, something anyway.

Writing at the House ...

We are presently blessed with power and some furniture, making it possible to write in relative comfort while also being able to oversee the finishing touches to the house. The kitchen counter top has been a major stumbling block as well as some of the bathroom and kitchen plumbing. I’m not an expert so usually rely on the word of the contractor or subcontractor about their ability to do something. Sometimes it becomes quite clear, after the fact, that they have done it wrong.

It is not all that difficult to look at something and see how it is supposed to work based on the design. The problem is, that it does appear to be difficult for the workers sometimes and by the time I catch it things have probably gone too far. Then the question is how significant is the mistake and what can be done about it, if anything. Sometimes you have to rip it out and do it again, as with the kitchen counter. That entails reordering materials and waiting for delivery while delaying all other work that depends on that being done first. Other things you just do the best you can and live with the results.

While everyone else is sitting around pointing fingers of blame or making excuses I trying desperately to get people thinking about what can be done and how to fix it. We all have our little pet peeves and the blame game is one of mine. People waist valuable time going into the minutia of who did what and who said what to whom and how nothing is their fault because someone else did this or that. Alternatively they simply tell you what can’t be done with no interest in exploring the alternatives. I just want them to shut up and deal with the here and now. After you have fixed the problem, you can take all the time you want figuring out what went wrong and how to avoid the same mistake in the future.

I’m beginning to compare the house to a beautiful woman, who may not possess a single remarkable or perfect feature, but while beholding the entirety of her being, you cannot help but be struck by her presence and beauty. My wife worries, this thing or that thing, isn’t quite perfect. I figure no amount of worry will change it and prefer to look at the bigger, overall picture. In the eye of this beholder, that picture is indeed worthy of a long lingering gaze.

We put on a small party for the workers in conjunction with the contractor and his wife. There were various outside contractors and workers on the job that day as well who were able to partake of the food and drink after they finished their respective tasks. The curtain lady brought her little boy, who attempted to walk or climb on everything in the house.

Watching him try his best to destroy all that lay before him, brought nightmares to mind of the traditional Thai housewarming party. If one little boy and twenty or thirty drunk workers could do this much damage, then what in the world would happen to our beautiful home with a few hundred drunk villagers and all their children and dogs? The thought of all the subsequent repairs that will be needed in the aftermath, as well as all the expense and preparation beforehand, makes me desperate to find a way out of this obligation to throw a party.

I have suggested that my wife could explain, that her husband’s custom is to wait three years before such celebrations. My tone was that of jest but in my heart I was deadly serious. Why would anyone, in their right mind, open up their immaculate home to the marauding hordes to trample and destroy? Anything clean or pretty seems to present an irresistible challenge to break or soil and make it look like something familiar.

Perhaps I could resort to the Thai technique of saying that the party will happen soon (a blatant lie) and then continue postponing it until people get bored and move on to something else. In the process, I would be avoiding any direct confrontation. If it works for them, maybe just maybe it could work for me too.

Marriage ...

My head is spinning with all that is going on at the house these days, and I don’t do half of what my wife does. They have gotten a second wind as they approach the finishing line and everything is going on at the same time, in a whirlwind of activity. That pretty much means all day, everyday on site to keep track of it all. I should be writing something interesting about the work but it is all a bit much and I need the distraction of writing about something else.

I will say, however, that I am most impressed with our electrician. The Energizer Bunny incarnate. His “can-do” attitude and relentless work pace is a wonder to watch. Like many of the guys he is young and a little scary looking at first glance. He is very interesting though and completely unfazed by any request. He installs down lights six meters up on a flimsy bamboo scaffold. He shimmies up power poles and installs street lights, like there is nothing to it. What can I say, except I am in awe? Enough already lets move on.

Marriage looks promising as a subject to ponder and distract me from my house building overload. Marriage seems like a simple enough word. An easily understood concept until you look at it closer. In the news different factions fight over the definition and meaning. Statistics say most marriages fail or end in divorce. That is all within the boundaries of a single country. Now throw into the mix different countries, cultures, customs, beliefs and religions, and things begin to get more interesting. At this point you are no doubt beginning to expect a rant supporting one view or a detailed discussion of the merits and faults of the differing options. Sorry, I think I’ll just tell you our story instead.

I was a successful bachelor of 43 and fully expecting to continue on that path in perpetuity. I have always preferred the company of women to that of men and never used deceit or subterfuge in my dealings with the fairer sex. So when we met I was not inclined to give false hope. Pretty early on I made it clear that I liked my single life and marriage and children were not in my plan. To my surprise she said she was fine with that. I guess we both had low expectations of long term relationships.

That physical and chemical state that clouds the early stages of a relationship and bathes one in euphoria began to clear with time. What became clearer as the fog lifted was that we had grown very close. There was trust, commitment, loyalty, compatibility, companionship and an easy way of navigating the little things that often trip people up in close proximity. Equally important I was allowed to be me and not constantly prodded and primped to become someone else.

I had always been somewhat guarded and prepared for the worst in relationships but found myself opening up to the possibility of something long term. There were no grand gestures or Hollywood moments, down on one knee with a full orchestra playing. We simply began discussing the pros and cons of the various options.

She had shared so much of her life and roots with me and I for the first time was considering sharing more of my life and roots with her. That meant traveling abroad so she could meet my people and see where I came from, something I had never before considered with a Thai girl. In our situation marriage was pretty much the only option available to allow the lifestyle we envisioned.

We discussed the merits of a Bangkok wedding over a Village wedding and what each would entail in great detail. In the end we decided on neither. On my birthday we went down to the local registrar, but found to our dismay, that we didn’t have our paperwork in order and were told to come back another day. It took us a while to sort things out but ten days later we were back and signed on the dotted line. Due to peculiarities in Thai law, many upper class Thais, will go for the big wedding but never register their marriage as it would make doing business more difficult for the wife. In our case the wedding was seen as unnecessary and wasteful while registration provided greater benefits for both.

For the longest time afterward people either didn’t know we were married or simply refused to believe it. After all we had not followed the appropriate and socially approved procedure. We hadn’t even consulted our families. I mean it was the two of us getting married and it really didn’t concern anyone else. We made a concerted effort not to change our lifestyle in the slightest and that may have contributed to people’s confusion. My wife revels in telling people that she had to wait six years before I bought her a wedding ring. I don’t know another woman that would admit such a thing let alone talk about it openly.

We did travel however and spent around half our time in my country. That was after the year it took us to get the visa thing all sorted out for her. Now I had expected a change in attitude toward my wife but not toward me. I found that I had undergone and instant image makeover without being aware of it. Single guys get a bad rap in Thailand, though mostly deserved I must admit. I found many benefits to being married and became a softer gentler version of me. She tapped into a part of me that had been carefully safeguarded, allowing me to open up and embrace a more emotional and caring existence.

We still don’t have children and won’t. That continues to be something that other people have difficulty with. It bothers them that someone can understand and have control over their biological and genetically imprinted urges. I never fluctuate on this issue but the wife does from time to time. Not in any serious way but she does tease that the hormones play with her mind on occasion. Add to that nearly every friend she has, is either pregnant or has had a kid in the last two years.

I understand there needs to be an outlet for all this, so have supported her taking on the role of mother figure for her niece. Since the niece lives with grandmother and her mother comes home when she can there is no shortage of mothers and the work load is not a great burden. So my wife gets what she needs, the niece benefits and I get off easy. Ain’t life wonderful when you know how to play the game. Ten years on, we are dancing to a melody that only we can hear and enjoying every step and note.

Control or Chaos ...

The house has been my pedagogue of late. Lessons have been taught and learned. Chaos is no longer the enemy. Workers and village people are regarded more kindly. I have been touched with a more benevolent air. With a project like this, in a place like this, one could choose to become an obnoxious braggart and social bore but would risk repercussions down the road. In the village, it is far more advisable to be soft-spoken and elusive, yet welcoming and unaffected. We are gracious to our neighbors, treat our workers well and make sure observations of flaws are directed to the contractor, for him to deal with directly.

My wife and I put forth a united front, and in public, I always yield to her. It is best to speak with one voice. In private we discuss things in greater depth and often change our minds on things as the project unfolds and we see how things are working out. What she says in public reflects our joint view, though my contribution is not always clear or on display. My ability to envision interior designs, materials and colors are no match for the wife’s. I bring other talents to the table.

With so many aspects of the house being fleshed out simultaneously there is a very real sense of chaos these days. One wonders how it will ever be brought together into a unified whole. I am confident, however, that through the chaos, we will together, be able to find solutions and compromises that will result in a home that is a true pleasure to live in. This is all so new to me and removed from what life was like for me as a single man.

It is helpful to remember that when my adventures began I was not yet twenty-one and there were no cellphones or internet. In the years before marriage, my life was lived in pursuit of total freedom, control and what I call life experiences. I didn’t want to read about things. I wanted to live them.

On many an occasion I recanted a story to my older brother and received his inevitable rejoinder, “Oh, so-and-so wrote a book about that. You really ought to read it.” To which, the gist of my retort was, that I had already lived it, and experienced it myself, and had little interest in reading someone else’s account. I suppose I could be a bit more charitable in my replies but, brothers will be brothers, and I have little tolerance for normal social niceties, at times. I prefer probing questions and thoughtful discussion of a complicated topic. Fortunately for most, I don’t pontificate all that often.

My wife is very adept at explaining me to others, who find my gauche silence in social settings and lack of social graces on occasions, daunting. She explains that I’m just not good with groups but you can ask me anything and I will attempt an answer. The main caveat being that if you don’t really want to know, then don’t ask, for the answer could be rather longwinded. I love it that my wife knows me so well and seems to love me anyway.

Life has been altered measurably by marriage. It should be evident by now that “marriage” for us is not what most people think of when they hear the word. That is potentially another blog entry, however. Life experiences are still on the menu but are now shared, not solitary. Control is no longer the keyword. Life nowadays is more about the artful management of chaos.

When you are a solitary individual you can control virtually everything. The more people in your life the more chaotic it gets. I am clearly happier and more content these days but feel I have lost the edge I once had. I don’t feel that I have the same mastery of my life. Then again I have learned to surrender, some of myself, to the capable care of my loving wife.

Having been so self-reliant for so long it was no easy task for me to relinquish total control. I am taken aback by the eagerness of some people to surrender control in their lives to various individuals, organizations and beliefs. People online readily advertise their inability to solve problems by asking for help when a few minutes of thought or a, quick google, would make the answer clear and reinforce a sense of self-reliance.

Asking for help is something I have always been averse to. For me it would imply a weakness and vulnerability that I would not feel comfortable showing. That was then and this is now. Where once there was little room for error, I am now part of a team and somebody special always has my back. A nice feeling to be sure, but it leads one to become a bit careless and lazy I think.

It suits both my Machiavellian and private nature to have a wife who’s social manor is highly refined, yet completely natural and applicable to most social settings. Previously it worked to my benefit to allow people to see in me in whatever guise they desired. I did not feel compelled to correct their misconceptions as long as they worked in my favor. Today I find there is more freedom of action, expression and thought, with my lovely wife there to make excuses for me.

I am sometimes asked if I miss my old life or have any regrets about where I am now or where I might be heading. I’m definitely not thrilled with the physical limitations brought on by age. I am happy with who and where I am, though. Past experiences are only of interest as molders of my present day self. There is no sense of nostalgia or regret. It is more of an introspection and evaluation of key events and stages in life. I endeavor to enjoy the journey and live in the moment being thankful for all that I have...

Back to the Beginning...

At least one reader has found me remiss in my role as the promulgator of these pages. He feels that I have not been forthcoming about how one goes about building a house in the middle of a rice field. Now I thought I had covered that on April 2 with “Preparing for the worst.” I understand that from the readers viewpoint it is easier to ask me to repeat myself than to forage through my earlier entries. Maybe this time I can do a better job of summing up the Beginning.

First we spent a couple of years searching for a location that fit all social, visual, romantic, environmental and practical requirements. Those of course will vary greatly from individual to individual. Lets just say we weighed everything (and I mean everything) very carefully. That included views, sun direction, wind patterns and privacy among other things.

We ended up on the fringes of my wife’s home village were we bought 5 Rai of land in my wife’s name since, I can’t own land in Thailand. Made sure all requisite paperwork was in order before signing on the dotted line. Took some time to visualize, what would go where, before finding a guy with back-hoes and dump-trucks to dig a BIG hole.

We went for a 1 Rai pond at 5 meters deep. What came out of that hole was spread 2 meters high over 2 Rai of the property and a road connecting us to the soi. We left it for most of a year to see what havoc the rains would reap. The erosion was about what we expected and we determined the need for additional topsoil and a reinforcing barrier to keep the dirt in place.

While the land settled, we were in Hawaii for 6 months and my wife worked on the design of the floor plan. Later, on our return to Thailand, we found an architect to help us flesh out the rest of the design and determine the structural specifications for what we had conjured up. Finding the contractor was as difficult as finding the architect but we got lucky with both.

After making sure that we were well above the flood line, a total of 32 pilings of 8 meter lengths were put in place to support a massive foundation designed to elevate us an addition meter above the surface of our land. Since then the process has been pretty normal for work in Thailand.

Where locals always ask how much, the Farangs often ask about a completion date and I respond, “Whenever it is finished.” We would rather have it done well than forced into a tight timeframe. We are living within a 5 minute walk of the house while it is being built and we are on site everyday except for our recent trips to Chiang Mai and Bangkok. The last trip to Bangkok was too long, and mistakes were made while we were gone, but they have all been rectified to date.

We chose a location that made connecting to the water mains and the power grid relatively easy. Only needed to cover the length of our 80 meter road and the distance on either end to make a connection. We set a budget for the house but with the knowledge there would be significant overruns. The quoted price of the house is misleading as one needs to consider land purchase, development and landscaping, interior decoration and furnishings. I also budgeted in the cost of the truck as we would need transportation which had been unnecessary while living in Bangkok the last 8 years.

I’d say that sums things up except for the most important element. I would never have been able to pull this off without first being in a long-term relationship with a truly remarkable young woman that I admire and trust and an even longer relationship with Thailand. We have allowed no input from family members and have relied entirely on our own counsel and the advice of professionals.

I have used a great deal of my own local knowledge and self knowledge in this process. If things end up badly, I have no one but myself to blame. If things go well, I plan to give full credit to my wonderful and loving wife for all she has done to design and supervise this project.

Change is a good thing...

It wasn’t a hard rain but it persisted throughout the night and well into the morning. Our workers are transported in the back of a pickup truck from a neighboring village, so when it is raining they take the day off. That left only the live-in couple, patiently and methodically laying those large Granito tiles in the living room. I loaded up my new camping chair, my camera, water and my Nano and spent the day sitting in the living room enjoying the views and watching the artisans at work. As soothing melodies wafted over me through my earbuds, I found myself thinking back on how we had gotten to this stage in the process.

There have been many changes along the way. The first major change took place only after the prefab concrete slabs were laid on our massive foundation. It was our first chance to walk through the physical space of the house. It was immediately apparent, to both of us, that the combination of the kitchen and living room area made for a remarkable space. It didn’t take long to realize the planned wall between them had to go. We had been thinking security in the design phase and wanted to separate the kitchen, one bedroom and a bathroom from the rest of the house. The idea being that someone could stay in that end of the house when we were out of town. Easy choice, out with the wall.

Some modifications took more thought and planning. The roof span looked a little scary so we put in additional support and then realized the planned ceiling material was still way too heavy. I mean it was 3 times as heave as the standard ceiling material. A little back and forth between the architect and the contractor and us, led to a change in materials. That left us with a pile of wood panelling with no planned use. We arrived at the idea of using it to panel the upper reaches of the living room walls. 

With nearly seven meters of height to work with we were able to create an unexpected but wonderful effect in our main living space. I also came up with the idea of a lighting box that will run the entire length of the room and divide the upper and lower sections. The clear view windows at the top of the wall were changed to glass blocks. Being on the South side they still provide diffused light to the room while being stronger and better insulating. The views out the living room and bedroom windows are good enough that I doubt we would have been looking up at a skylight very much anyway.

Change is often affected by circumstances beyond our control or simple mistakes made in planning or execution. Do you give up, completely redo it or find a way to make what you have work? We have no hard and fast rules but always seem to know what to do when change presents itself. It is all very much like the art of living. You dream, you plan, you prepare, you act. Some things go well somethings don’t. Opportunities present themselves and we make choices. Some good, some bad.

Some people are whiners and others are blamers. Others live and learn, grow and prosper, making the best of their options in life. No, life isn’t fair. People are not afforded equal portions of looks, intelligence, potential, money or opportunity. A good long look in the mirror, might help to establish a base point from which to develop realistic expectations. From what I have seen that is just too  harsh and rational for most people to deal with. We prefer to think that we can be or do anything in life, when in truth, reality is far more limiting.

As for the house, there have been far too many changes to count. Sure I would like to take more credit for how things are turning out. The main credit due, however, is our ability to deal with change. Many of the best aspects of the house were not planned per say. We adapted to the materials available and the circumstances that presented. So from my perspective change in a good thing...

Driving In Thailand

Early on I used public transport of every kind. I was very young and it gave me a better view of how “city” Thais lived. They didn’t have motorcycle taxis back then, but you could still hang on the outside of a bus, if you were in need of an adrenaline rush. When the bus was full all you needed was enough space for a foot on the bottom step and a hand hold on the railing. At each stop you could put one foot on the ground but not two as that would put you in danger of losing your spot. Over the years several people got scraped off the sides of busses and the authorities decided it didn’t look good.

Eventually I got a car and mastered the Bangkok demolition derby. After years of driving I moved to a more central location so I could live without a car again. Living near the Skytrain made it easy to get around. I was quite happy living without a vehicle for the last several years but all that changed when we started our house project. In Bangkok it is actually easier without a car but up here it is very difficult to exist without transportation. Driving in Thailand is not for the faint of heart, no matter where you live. Driving upcountry is, however, much different from Bangkok.

The country roads are often in need of repair so you must watch out for potholes. You also share the road with motorcycles, bicycles, various farm equipment and animals, dogs, children and old people. People build right next to the road, so often use the road directly in front of their houses, as an extension of their living area. Village dogs will glare at you incredulously as you attempt to drive through their space and are slow to move out of the way.

Local drivers seem to have learned their driving skills by watching Hollywood chase scenes on TV. It is not uncommon to approach a corner to find the guy coming from the other direction has preempted your lane in his attempt to maintain a proper racing line through the apex of the turn. Passing, it appears, is best done on blind turns or hills with double yellow lines. The rule seems to be that the passer has the right of way and all others must pull off to the side of the road to let him continue in any lane he chooses.

Keeping all this in mind, we decided to take the new truck on a shopping trip to Chiang Mai. It took us a little more than three and a half hours and a great deal of agility to get there. We were looking for light fixtures for the house and by the time we were finished the back seat was full, from floor to ceiling, and the back of the truck was overflowing. I had never driven a full truck before and found it a little unnerving, not being able to see out the rearview mirror.

The heaviest item was the 55 meters of underground cable required for our 3 phase electrical system. The last item to be squeezed in was the TV that we received as a free bonus for spending so much money that day. One reason for the expense was that we ordered a couple of beds for future delivery. We have no place for them right now. They were the same kind we sleep on in Bangkok and were unavailable in Chiang Rai. My wife’s relatives seem to be able to sleep anywhere and under any conditions. The same can’t be said of us, however. Alas we are spoiled and need our comfort.

The plan had been to spend a couple of nights in Chiang Mai and enjoy each others company but by the middle of the second day there was no more space in the truck and we were afraid to park it anyplace overnight. We did manage to stop by and visit a friend for a couple of hours before driving home the second evening but ended up not doing any sightseeing or relaxing. Next time we will have to remember to do things differently.

We have tried to go on some sightseeing drives closer to home but have found that some of those great signs for waterfalls and cultural sights are nothing but a dead end. Things either didn’t workout or haven’t been completed yet. We did win on one drive, however. From our village one can see a road going almost straight up our nearby mountain range. My wife has looked at those mountains all her life and never been to the top before.

The road is extremely steep but as we reached the ridge line at the top, a mere 20 kilometers from home, it felt like entering another world. The views were spectacular in both directions, back down into our valley and across the next valley toward another mountain range famous as the home of Phu Chi Fa. The hill tribe village located at the top didn’t feel very Thai at all. My wife observed that it felt very much like some of our overseas travels, like a foreign country.

In-spite of everything I much prefer driving upcountry to driving in Bangkok. It takes 50 minutes or so to get to town up here but it can take you that long to travel a couple of blocks in Bangkok. There are trees, mountains and rivers everywhere and it is so green this time of year. The views are great and the pace of life is much more to my liking. In a few more months our living environment will improve too, as the house edges nearer to completion.

THANKS and Floods...

It was really nice to hear from some of you. So first of all I want to say THANKS. I seem to get a different level of response depending on where the blog is published and I find the whys for that interesting to contemplate.

Sometimes I think I should change the concept to “How it feels to build a house in a Northern Thai Village.” Most guys seem to be into numbers and specs. That is just how their minds work. They want to know how “big” your dump-truck is, how many cubic meters of this, how many square meters of that, the gauge of the window glass or re-bar, the cost specs, and where to buy what. Some of you have accepted that this is not an instruction manual that I am presenting here. It is more of a window into life in general, away from the bars and nightlife of Thailand, and specifically into my life which is unique in itself.

No two people will ever have the exact same life experience here in Thailand, though you can gain insights by looking at others lives. There are just too many variables at work to follow in somebody else's footsteps. For me an important factor was coming here at such a young age. The opportunities afforded to someone in their twenties are different from those available to someone who discovers Thailand in their fifties or sixties, for example. That is just common sense, but something people often overlook.

Who you are, as a person, will elicit very different responses from the local population as well as where you end up living. Regional differences can be great but even different areas of the same town or city can vary in their livability and the way you will be treated by those around you. Again this is all common sense stuff, that is sometimes overlooked, when in the blush of newness and infatuation, with a new place and culture.

I suppose I should say something about the house at this point. Night before last it started raining around 7 or 8 p.m.. No, that is too tame. The heavens opened in a torrential downpour to the accompaniment of a dramatic light-show. The din of thunder resonated along the mountain range for what seemed like minutes at a time. After the initial thunder storm there was a bit of calm before a more persistent rain settled in for an all night session. If you have ever spent a night in a village house you will understand why we got little sleep that night. You can hear every drop of rain on the roof. The sound is then amplified as the water cascades off the roof to the ground outside your window. This is in addition to the normal sounds of dogs, chickens, frogs and insects, some of which can be quite deafening. Of course we won’t have that problem with the new house but that is still a few months off.

In the morning the whole village awoke to an amazing sight. Where there had been lush green rice-fields there was now nothing but water. We seemed to be living in a lake. I got to try out my new knee-high rubber boots on the trek over to the house site. My wife’s boots were not as high as mine and filled with water on the way over. We visited with many neighbors standing out in the flooded sois of the village. In typical village form many of them were already out with their nets trying to catch fish. Sure they were worried about the survival of their rice crop, but no use passing up a good opportunity to go fishing in your own back yard.

The highway stayed above flood level and our little road and house are higher than the highway, so we were OK. Might want to add a little more height to our road and put a better surface on it at some later date. A truck delivering ceiling material had to drive around to one of the other sois to gain access to our road, but that worked just fine.

We checked on the tilers (husband and wife team) who are living in the house as they do their tile work. They had not gotten wet at all. They quite like living in our house. Especially during the full moon, when they say it is absolutely beautiful at night, surrounded by the fields and mountains in the distance. Noticed that our pond had become part of a much bigger lake and there was little sign of where the boarders might be. If we actually want to raise fish then we will have to do something more about defining the boundaries of the pond.

Afterwards we sloshed around the village visiting people who had it much worse than us. One family is visiting for a few weeks from Hong Kong and their house and their neighbor’s had about a foot or more of water inside their houses. As my wife sat with several other women, in plastic chairs on their flooded front stoop, I waded off to take pictures of what is usually a road. On this occasion one side had turned into a waterfall as the water rushed across the road and cascaded down the other side. I hope they didn’t take offense to my jesting about them living next to a waterfall and how lucky they were. People around here seem to handle this stuff pretty well, considering they don’t have a lot to begin with.

Today things are pretty much back to normal. A little cleaning up was necessary, but then again not too much time was spent on that, as you can expect of bumper crop of mushrooms, off in the jungle, after a good rain...

Back with a whole new story about...

I have been away for a while if you haven’t noticed. Not really away, just trying something new. The house is moving along so there really isn’t much to report. Weather has caused a few delays (while making things cooler and eliminating the need to water the grass) but the roof is starting to take shape and people are beginning to see what it will look like.

Now the question is not “what will it look like?’ but “why does it look like that?”. I’m enjoying this way too much. People here are very simple, conservative, traditional and not prone to trying anything new. I know I should be more sympathetic but, well, it is just down right fun to watch all the angst over our little project. You never know how things will turn out when you start something like this but the wife and I are very happy with what is unfolding. All in all, the lack of drama makes for a boring story though.

Back to where I have been lately. I have posted this blog in a few different places to get a little more exposure and to see if I could elicit a few more comments. Sadly people don’t comment much on blogs, at least not mine, and without feedback one doesn’t know what is of interest and what is not. One of my posting sites has various forums so I decided to see what that was all about.

After creating an identity I threw out a few postings to see what would happen. I tried positive and not so positive threads and found, as expected, that you rack-up bigger numbers with the negative controversial stuff. It didn’t take long to see the appeal. It is almost like I imagine a chat-room to be, having never been to one. You throw out some bait and wait to see if anyone bites. Then you pump it a bit to keep it going. 

The feedback and gratification is much more instantaneous than a blog. It is also much more superficial and less personal. It was easy to bring out the worst in people but surprisingly there was a lot of good out there too. You just have to figure out how to get to it. There are also the people genuinely seeking information and help with a problem. You could say that I am an old dog that keeps trying to learn new tricks. 

Well, I went from a “newbie” to “member” to an “advanced member” in a little more than a week. Who knows maybe I will drop back in sometime when I get bored but for now I think I’ll go back to writing my blog. Maybe nobody will read it or comment but I think I get more out of writing it than I do playing in the forums.

The best part for me was getting people to open up and write something more personal than the typical wisecrack or one liner. Since the personal stories are of more interest to me I think I’ll try and lead by example and continue to share glimpses of my life in a journal form. A blog or journal also seems to better fit the laid back pace of life in a small Northern Thai Village.

Whole lot a shakin goin on...

Just as we sat intertwined on the sofa, deep in our thoughts and conversation, that unmistakable and unforgettable queasiness came over us as we looked at each-other and knew instantly that it was happening again in less than a year. The last time we felt this giddy lightheadedness was last year in Hawaii and we were kind of high at the time. It was much stronger then and because it was out first time, we weren’t instantly sure what was happening or what to do. It didn’t take long to get the idea, though. Don’t get me wrong we had read about it and seen it on National Geographic but had never really, been there, done that.

Maybe I had better start again. As my wife and I sat on the sofa the earth began to move...again. Only this time we were 60 km outside of Chiang Rai, not in Hawaii. It might not have been as strong as Hawaii but that could be due to our ground level location here and being on the 11th floor in Hawaii. The feeling was similar, however. You get instant motion-sickness. Where you're sitting turns into a waterbed, as you slosh around on what you thought was solid ground. Anything freestanding or hanging or balanced on a surface starts to sway or swing or fall.

My wife went straight for the TV to make sure it stayed where it belonged. It seemed to last a very long time and there seemed to be three or four attempts to start up again. In Hawaii we spent the rest of the day with no power, water or telephone. All we could do was sit in the dark and look out at all the other people on their balconies in Waikiki trying figure out what was going on and what to do. This time something happened to the local water supply and the whole village was without water until nearly noon today.

We have a Western style bathroom, so no extra water for a Thai style bath. There was one of those large earthen jars out back, however, so later last night we got naughty and went out in the yard, striped down, and gave each-other a bath. I “felt” like a teenager again, skinny dipping in our backyard pool. And I swear that my svelte little wife “looked” like a teenager standing there naked in the dark.

The water was cold as ice but this time of year that was quite refreshing. Actually, right after the earthquake we headed for the house site to check on the workers and make sure everything was OK. They had been pouring the crossbeams and quickly climbed down when the iron rods, still sticking out of the pillars, started to sway back and forth.

Under normal circumstances, other recent events could have rated separate entries of their own. Like the snake that decided to slither through the kitchen while my wife was doing the dishes. We don’t know enough about snakes to take a chance so we did the unthinkable. I wouldn’t think of hurting the one that likes to swim in our pond and poach the occasional minnow. But trying to takeover my wife’s kitchen was a big mistake.

There was the rocket launching that went on about five kilometers down the road. I’m sure they were too drunk to feel the earthquake. From the safety of the rice fields I saw what must have been the winner of the day. It left a tremendously long and brilliantly white trail across the deep blue sky and in the end disappeared into the top of a massive thunderhead miles away. I would never go to the actual event but it was an interesting distraction, from what I was doing at the time, from a safe distance and without all the noise.

There was the experience of taking the puppy for his first visit to the vet. There was the planting of the grass on the slopes and the subsequent daily watering until it started raining everyday and relieved me of that duty. Happily the grass seemed to take root before the first big rain and didn’t get washed away. So far so good, as it seems to be doing its job.

The pond filled to the brim overnight and the fish started jumping onto the grass. The wife’s mother wasn’t really happy with the thought that somebody else might steal some fish, so easily, so got to work and put this ugly little blue net around the pond. We will have to do something about that next year but right now there are more important tasks at hand.

All in all, it has been an eventful few days since my last entry and I don’t seem to be missing Bangkok at all.

Life and Death

Can you believe it there are still more weddings and funerals. Today they are back, however, and with a new sense of urgency. The contractor realizes that he has to get this phaze of the work done before everybody goes home to plant rice. The guys in the next phase of work are not farmers and lay floors all year long.

We actually met the main guy the other day when he came by to check out his next job with us. He and his wife work together and from what I have seen do very good work. Well, that kind of wraps up the work situation for today but did notice something when re-reading what I have written to-date.

I have made several very brief references to death and funerals. Actually death is a very big part of life when you live up here. Maybe it is just a peculiarity of my family but I was never exposed to death and funerals. I was of course told that my grandparents died but that was about it. Since living in Thailand and especially since getting married I have become much more familiar with death and how it fits into life.

Over the last three years my wife has lost all four grandparents, an aunt and her father. Several other relatives have been in the hospital from time to time. In particular the experience of my wife living in her father’s hospital room for his last days and caring for his needs was eye-opening and inspirational. One couldn’t exactly call him a “good” man as he had made her life very difficult over the years. Yet there she was cleaning up his messes and caring for him even when he didn’t know she was there.

In the final stages of liver cancer, doped up on morphine, he was not very aware of his surroundings, just his pain. As gruesome has the whole process seems, it does make a lot of sense. It provides ample time to adjust to the inevitable and for a sense of closure.

After caring for him and watching him suffer, he basically died in her arms around midnight and with in a couple of hours the family had taken his body home to bathe and prepare. He was kept in a chill-box for three days while all the relatives came to participate in the various rituals and ceremonies. All culminating with the cremation followed 100 days later with a merit making ceremony.

What looks like pure chaos is actually a well practiced dance. Perhaps that is due to the remarkable frequency of these events. There are so many people around and so many detailed preparations and so much noise that one has little or no time to sit around feeling sorry for oneself and it helps keep the family connections close, while easing the pain of loss.

Being around all this sparked a desire to spend more time with and gain a greater understanding of my own family. I guess I had always known what people in my family did, but didn’t know “why” they did it, so didn’t have a real understanding of who they were.

You see, understanding someone’s motivation is a major part of my knowing who someone is. Unfortunately, perhaps, I am talking about my parents, too. I don’t place a lot of value on the “resume” as it were. That just tells me what your job is or what you do for money. That is your professional life not your personal or family life. It doesn’t tell me who you are.

Don’t know for sure how much I was motivated by guilt, love or curiosity but I spent a lot of time with my parents over the last few years and still stay in daily contact over the phone. That is the best I can do from the North of Thailand. Perhaps I had some vision of sitting with them and gaining some insights into life or relationships during long meandering and philosophical discussions. You can guess how far I got with that. In the end I did get what I was looking for, just not the way I had hoped to get it.

As we age there is a thinning of the veneers that cloak what lies beneath. This allows for glimpses of those core emotions that sometimes drive us forward and sometimes hold us back. Anyway I now have a greater understanding of my family, however distant, and myself.

I have often asked myself how much of an effect living in Thailand has had on me. Am I who I am because of living here, for so long, or am I living here because of who I am? Still working on that one...