MontanaRon

Just another ordinary English teacher eclectic expat blog about nothing in particular.

Month: July 2015

Plowing and Planting

The rains have finally arrived, and Mother Nature has been making up for them being late in coming. We’ve had more than a few downpours lately, including a 24-hour steady, soaking rain. The Mekong has risen swiftly, but is in no danger of flooding in our area, yet, but warnings have been issued for low-lying areas in other provinces. Of course, the rice farmers are happy that they can plant their crops now with the drought of June and early July broken.

Here at the New Place, the neighbors put in their rice this past Saturday, plowing the fields and doing the back-breaking labor of planting the new rice stalks in the ground. Here are a few photos I took of the process.

Plowing a rice field

Our neighbor is using a motorized, hand-pushed plow, common in Laos, to prepare the rice field. They inundated the field before plowing, and then went over it at least a dozen times with the plow. The field takes on the consistency of a thick soup before the planting begins. Quite muddy, hard labor, obviously.

Plowing a rice field

Under threatening skies, our farmer neighbor continues to plow. Later, there was a heavy rainfall while the others were planting the rice.

Planting rice

After the plowing, these women plant the first of the fields, a back-breaking task, it appears. This is real stoop labor. They were able to get this field in before the rain began.

Planting rice

Later, the ladies had more help from the entire extended family. With this many people, the work gets finished much more quickly.

Clouds and Rainbows

We’ve had some terrifying-looking clouds lately that promised to deliver more heavy rain and strong winds. Some of them brought the rain, but not much wind, and some of them fizzled out completely, merely passing overhead on their way into Thailand or elsewhere. One bright side to the storms is that there are often rainbows associated with their passing. We had a beautiful ‘bow the other day about an hour or so before sunset.

Rainbow

A beautiful rainbow visited the skies after a heavy downpour earlier. The only way I could have gotten a view of the whole thing was to walk to the left, which was a muddy quagmire.

Rainbow and clouds

This is the same rainbow, captured with a wider view. It disappeared just a few minutes later as the sun went behind a bank of clouds.

Here are a few of the storm clouds that have threatened us the past few days. Though many people might think that the rainy season is nothing but dull, grey overcast skies for days or weeks on end, it’s really not like that. We get hours, if not days, of bright sunshine, and some of the storm clouds are amazing. Beautiful sunrises, sunsets and rainbows punctuate the season. Sooner or later everyone will be looking forward to the end of the rains, but we still have a few months to go before that happens. For now, the rain is welcome.

Dark storm cloud

This looked as if it could spawn a tornado or two. I don’t know if Laos is subject to twisters, but this one didn’t lead to one. It passed to the east of us of us, heading toward Thailand.

Storm cloud

This one was coming right at us and I thought we were in for heavy rain and strong winds. Luckily, it completely fizzled out as it reached us, becoming nothing but wispy clouds.

Sunset

This was a fleeting moment in an otherwise dull sunset. The cloud looks like it could do some damage, but it wasn’t coming our way. The strange-looking objects at the bottom are supports for the roof of a house that was being built, but it looks like the construction has been abandoned for now.

Yes, the Monsoon Rains Are Here

In answer to my previous post, yes, the rains have arrived. We had another inch and a half or so on Saturday night/Sunday morning. The banana grove fields around the house, previously merely muddy, now look like a quagmire. I noticed one farmer a couple of fields over plowing with his tractor; it must have been quite a mess to finish up.

There’s more rain in the forecast for the rest of the week, through Saturday and, likely, beyond. I finally broke down and bought a rain poncho to try to stay dry on those motorbike rides through drenching downpours. I don’t remember exactly how many times I got soaked last year, but I’d estimate at least six or seven. Not much fun. I haven’t had to use the poncho yet, but I’m sure it’ll see its share of rain before the dry season returns. Bring it on!

No, wait, don’t bring it on. I hate riding in the rain. It’s quite dangerous, especially since I have to take my glasses off to see (go figure). Night riding is especially horrible. I can’t think of anything more terrifying, to me anyway, than riding at night through a heavy downpour. There are places where I can pull off the road and get under some shelter, but there are other areas where there is nothing to do but to keep going. This year, if I have to ride through any of these severe rainfalls, I think I’ll just find a cheap guesthouse and stay the night. Better safe than sorry. More later.

Monsoon Rains–Are They Finally Here?

Finally, the monsoon rains seem to have arrived. The first one blew in last night around 10 o’clock. Accompanied by heavy lightning, the storm came with a stiff wind that blew the drenching rain horizontally into the house and through the window shutters and under the front door. Water flowed into the living room, so we had to put down old rags and dirty clothes to block the flow and drip of water. Eventually, the wind diminished, the rain became more vertical and the front room returned to normal. I was relieved that there were no leaks from the ceiling. The downpour brought us about an inch-and-a-half of rain.

As I watched the storm blow in, my first thought was of what happened in my room at the Yankee baseball academy in the Dominican Republic during a hurricane, when wind-driven rain swept under the door. I was afraid it could happen in the New Place, so I was watching for it. Hopefully, this won’t occur while we’re away from the house. If the possibility arises, we’ll have to be aware of it and remove all essential items from the floor.

Despite the leak, the rain was very welcome, and I’m sure the dry-land rice growers are ecstatic. The Laos weather forecasters are saying that the rains will be quite heavy for the rest of the month and into August and beyond. Hopefully, the Mekong will stay friendly and keep within its banks, not wandering into our front room (and the rest of the house).

A Laos 4th of July

Nai’s sister, Nui, sells a little food at the Old Place, usually grilled slabs of squid, Lao meatballs and hot dogs. Now, hot dogs in Laos are not like hot dogs in the U.S. They’re smaller and not that tasty. If you go to a Laos restaurant and order breakfast, you’ll see bacon, ham and sausage on the menu. The bacon’s OK, but the “ham” is that processed crap that’s not really ham, and the “sausage” is merely a hot dog. I can’t stand the hot dogs here (or in the ‘States, for that matter), but Nui has been selling a variation of the standard ‘dog. It’s more like a sausage, and a few herbs and spices are mixed in.

So, for the 4th, we invited a few friends over for Beer Lao, squid, papaya salad and hot dogs. I’d had to work that morning, and afterwards I browsed a few of the local western markets, looking for hot dog buns, relish and, maybe, chili.

The markets had the buns, but I’d eaten these particular ones before, and they’re more like a sweet pastry, so I substituted hamburger buns. I couldn’t find any relish or chili, though I’d seen them before, so I settled for plain old mustard and ketchup.

Back at the New Place, then, for the 4th. The only fireworks that would have been set off in Vientiane were probably at the American ambassador’s residence, wherever that’s located. (There’s usually an evening of entertainment, food and fireworks at American ambassadors’ residences around the world on the 4th.) We had a good time, me eating the “All-American hot dog,” wrapped by half a hamburger bun, and everyone else eating Laos food. (I wonder if grilled squid would go over well in baseball parks in Missoula or Great Falls? Whaddya think, readers?)

The weather was very much in keeping with July 4th, very hot and clear, but a nice breeze and our shaded front porch made for a relaxing day. It was fun for all, but I do miss celebrating the holiday in the ‘States. I’ll go back, sometime, and do it again.

Laos hot dogs

A plate of Laos hot dogs, ready to go on a bun. I think I ate most of these, but a few of the kids present polished off a few also.

Laos hot dog

Laos hot dog on a hamburger bun, which I folded over to create some semblance of an American hot dog experience. Too bad I didn’t have any relish, chili or onions. The dog was actually a bit large for the bun, so on seconds, thirds (and fourths?), I cut the hot dog in half lengthwise so it fit better. They were pretty tasty, though they would have tasted even better if I’d been at a ballpark.

July 4th friends

Here are a few of our friends who came over. A total of about seven adults and three children showed up, about the right size. I told Nai beforehand that I didn’t want to have a big Independence Day party.

Stunning Disappointment . . . and Revelation

The Disappointment

On Thursday, June 25th, following an early morning workshop and lunch at one of the local Italian restaurants, I ‘biked back to The Farm, looking forward to our short mid-term break, despite an oddity of earlier in the day. As I was leaving for Vientiane that morning, a painter’s truck pulled up. I asked Nai what was going on, and he said he wanted to paint part of the house. This was news to me, and I told him I wasn’t going to pay for it. He said that it was free, but he couldn’t tell me why. Very strange, I thought.

When I got back to the house that afternoon, I was shocked to see that everything had been removed from the house and that a gang of painters was painting the outside a shade of lime-green and repainting the inside beige. A few carpenters were constructing something upstairs. What the hell was going on? I was quite angry, because I could see that I wouldn’t be able to sleep here tonight. The family members saw how angry I was and a few came up to me and said “Sorry.” Sorry for what? Nai was nowhere around.

One of them handed me a note written in English. It more or less stated that this was no longer Nai’s house, that it was now owned by the painter. It seems that Nai had borrowed around $6,500 from the guy when Nai’s mother was ill and dying about three years ago. He had been doing everything he could to keep her alive. Very admirable, but for reasons I won’t get into here, he hadn’t even been trying to pay back the money.

What ticked me off the most was that he didn’t tell me what was going on. If he had come to me, we could have possibly worked something out with the painter or whatever he is. I do know that he’s one of the son’s of the aging lady that Nai bought the house from, and I heard that, at the time, he was dead-set on her not selling it. Since then he’s been lusting at getting the house back, so he probably wouldn’t have come to any kind of agreement anyway. My disappointment in Nai, however, was profound.

Well, I stormed back into Vientiane, vowing to break off my friendship with Nai. I stayed at a cheap guesthouse and fumed. The next day, Nai finally worked up the courage to call me and apologize. I think he was very ashamed and embarrassed. I had calmed down somewhat and we arranged to meet at The Farm the next day. I felt sorry for him more than anything, though I was still angry.

He told me of a couple of vacated houses that belonged to some of his cousins. They were being rented out for, get this, about $37 a month. I supposed they were in terrible condition. We looked at the first one and it was little more than a concrete bunker in shabby condition and located in a rundown area of the village.

The Revelation

Before we even looked at the second house, I was preparing myself to rent a place in Vientiane, which would be rather nice for me. You can get a decent place for a couple hundred bucks a month and there would be no commuting back and forth.

We went to the second place, and, while not perfect, it’s the place I would have said earlier, on first arriving last year, “This is it!”

It’s much smaller than Nai’s old house, but it’s in much better condition. It’s only about a 10-minute walk from the other place, and it’s in a beautiful location. The old house is surrounded by other houses and buildings, which made me feel claustrophobic at times. In addition, any cooling breeze was drastically reduced by the buildings. The new place has one house next door and fields on all other sides. We’re surrounded on three sides by banana groves (now only stalks, waiting for the rain to help with their regrowth), with several cornfields and vegetable patches further out. So, I have much better views here, there always seems to be a nice breeze during the day, and it’s much, much quieter. The floors are tiled, unlike the bare concrete of the old place. It also has a nice front porch that’s shaded by a large tree in the afternoon. It’s really quite lovely.

One drawback is that it has an Asian style squat toilet, something I’ll have to get used to using, hopefully without any unseemly accidents, if you know what I mean.

All in all, I really like the place, and I’m quite happy to have found it, despite the circumstances leading up to the change. Although I’m still disappointed with Nai, our friendship endures.

New house looking south

This is a view of the front porch, looking toward the south. There’s a nice-sized living area, a bedroom, a small back storage room, a toilet and an outdoor cooking area. The small storage room could be converted to a cooking area.

Here's another view of the new house, looking toward the south-west. The front porch is in the shade cast by a large tree just outside the view. All the rooms have several shutters to allow the usually good breeze to circulate throughout the house, though it's still hot at night.

Here’s another view of the new house, looking toward the south-west. The front porch is in the shade cast by a large tree just outside the view. All the rooms have several shutters to allow the usually good breeze to circulate throughout the house, though it’s still hot at night.

This is a view from the front porch looking west toward a temple on the dirt road that runs through the village. This place is about three times as far from the road as Nai's old house, which helps to make it a much quieter location.

This is a view from the front porch looking west toward a temple on the dirt road that runs through the village. This place is about three times as far from the road as Nai’s old house, which helps to make it a much quieter location.

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