Hi-so in Sarakham – New Sermthai Complex, Maha Sarakham

Lunch @ Oishi Ramen
Lunch @ Oishi Ramen
New SF Cinema has 5 or 6 theaters, 2 in SONY 3D
Some famous Thai TV dude
Some famous Thai TV dude

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Three years ago, when we moved into this house, many people doubted my choice of location. I simply told them that it would be a few years until this became the new center of Maha Sarakham. Our house was one of the first up around here and, back then, was surrounded by nothing. Now there are hundreds of houses that have sprung up all around us, a new Big C supercenter, dozens of new stores and restaurants, and as of today, a huge new shopping mall.

The oldest shopping center/minimall in Mahasarakham is Sermthai plaza, located next to the canal in the old downtown district – this year is its 55th year of operation. It was built by a very wealthy family who were some of the original settlers here, when it was literally a jungle. I knew when we bought this house that the land originally belonged to this family. It made sense that if they were going to invest in big projects, the area around our house was the logical place to do it. Sure, some swampy land had to be filled in, but landfill is cheap for rich people who can shuffle dirt from worthless pieces of land to valuable ones. So I stand vindicated today, because they have just opened the largest mall in a 60 kilometer radius just across the street from the back entrance to my neighborhood – a five or ten minute walk. Hopefully, this further increases the land value of this area. Thank you, rich people, for sharing the wealth with us peasants – and thank you for making a decent ramen shop ten minutes from my house.

Walking around the new Sermthai Complex on opening day, two things really stand out:

Maha Sarakham really is the definition of a university town. I have heard there are ten thousand teachers at the various schools and universities here, and I’m guessing the number of students may be ten times that. Many businesses really attract a crowd by offering student memberships and discounts, and many businesses just close during long holiday periods – two whole months during the summer break – because the population of the city is seemingly cut by half as students go back home. For certain businesses that depend on students for income, the long breaks simply are not sustainable. Dormitory room rates near the universities discount their rates by half during these periods. So this new mall will hopefully be a great place to visit during the long school breaks.

Also, people watching at the new Sermthai today was just a study in contrast – I’ve never seen so many low-so people in such a hi-so place (I count myself as an honorary low-so person); like Beverly Hillbillies on some grand scale, set in SE Asia. Awesome.

Black and pink in a sea of green

A family clay project that ended in Mina smashing everything together.

The green sea is an army tarp I throw over my beautifully finished hardwood table outside so it doesn’t get destroyed by the sun and rain.

In the tank: Notopterus Notopterus, Oxyeleotris Marmoratus, and Hypostomus Plecostomus

Max and Mina have interesting fish in their aquarium (a real one, not the ghettoquarium) – besides Pleco, the armored catfish from South America (algae eater Hypostomus plecostomus), who came with the tank from my in-laws, I decided to only stock native fish.

The first inhabitants were 5 marbled sand gobies (Oxyeleotris marmoratus) that the nanny brought from her bi-annual fish pond draining. These are actually one of the most farmed fish in SE Asia and are good eating, but I requested them specifically because I’ve seen how hardy they are – before we had an aquarium, the nanny brought a goby (local name: pla boo) that escaped from its bucket and lay on our tile floor overnight and survived. I now know that was possible because the marble goby oxyeleotris marmoratus activates hepatic glutamine synthetase and detoxifies ammonia to glutamine during air exposure (thank you internet and Singaporean fish nerds)

The second inhabitant was a bronze featherback (Notopterus notopterus) that the nanny’s husband caught in the pond across the street from our house, perhaps nine inches long. Watching a featherback swim, with its long underfin undulating, is like watching a dinosaur – almost scary on a primal level.

Unfortunately, this fish was kind of an asshole and would constantly try and start shit with the other fish in the tank. The thing is, it’s mouth is small and doesn’t have teeth, so it can’t really do any damage, it would just hone in on one of the other fish and peck at it for a while. Pleco, in particular, hated this guy. They would have these long, drawn-out fights with no conclusion because neither had the right kind of mouth to do damage with – I just recently read that Plecos can attach themselves to larger fish, but it never happened with mine AFAIK. In the end, I decided to give the other fish a break and threw the featherback back into the pond after snapping some photos.

Angry chick

Earlier this month Max and I found this angry little bird waiting for us in the driveway when we came back home from school. It didn’t seem to be injured, just juvenile and not really able to fly very well. It was a really hot day, so we put him in the shade of the porch and very carefully gave him a bowl of water (his beak looked very sharp and he was pecking at everything). I kept a lookout for his mum out toward the pond in front of our house, but she never appeared.

I went inside to work on the computer, and when I checked on the bird a couple hours later, he was gone.

Flooding in Sarakham

Today we were hit by a sudden storm that dumped a whole lot of water on us, very quickly. This year’s weather has been very wet and relatively cool for Thailand, and it’s been raining almost every day.

I’ve been very busy for a while now, and everybody in this house started getting sick from last week. First it was Mina, then mommy, and now Max – but daddy is too busy to get sick. Taking care of three sickies is demanding, you know. So I didn’t even notice that the street in front of our house was flooding after about an hour of heavy rain. Nam did, though. I rushed out to make sure the storm drains were clear. They were, but they were running slower than usual. They empty into the pond in front of our house, and it was very high, the highest I’ve ever seen it. Hmmm.

For the time being though, the water in the pond and in the street wasn’t high enough to worry about, so I went to survey the damage behind our neighborhood, which always floods during heavy rains. A truck plowing through the water sent a small fish flying in its wake, and it ended up gasping for air on a non-flooded part of the street. I rescued it and took it back to Max and Mina as part of my One Day Pet Plan. This time it also turned out to be a snakeskin gourami. Shades of Bitty. I returned to my damage survey thinking that there were probably much larger fish in the flood water, and in fact ended up slowly chasing one up the street. A lady saw me and asked what I was doing; I told her I was chasing a snake. She disappeared. By the time I reached the rearmost houses in our tract, I was wading in knee deep water, and some of the houses had very nearly escaped being flooded. The raised driveways are all that saved the houses not built on a high foundation (our house is built on a meter-high foundation laid on a raised plot so there is no real danger of floodwater reaching inside – but it might damage our vehicles if it got really bad). Satisfied that none of our neighbors had been washed away, I returned home to resume cooking dinner (Hainan Chicken ala Kris).

An hour later or so, I needed some Chinese parsley and feverish Max needed some cooling pads, so I got on my bike and got as far as the back exit of my tract, the one that connects to another neighborhood and eventually exits out onto a highway. It was totally flooded out, which was a surprise since the rain had stopped almost two hours before, and the sun was now beating down on us like nothing had happened. There were cars and motorcycles stalled out and abandoned in the deepest parts, and pickups with pumps were trying to help drain the newly-formed lake. The storm drains were just full.

Remembering some elderly teachers we know back there, I decided to try and check on them. I went home to get the car and tell Nam where I was going, then got on the bypass and drove around to the other side of the flooded area. I drove down a side street as close as I could get, then started running into flooded out cars. The flooding in this neighborhood was quite bad. It reminded me of the damage I’d seen years ago after a big typhoon on Awajishima.

I helped an old lady push her scooter to high ground after the engine flooded. I almost got bit by a stranded dog I tried to help, and gave up. I got to the teachers’ house and found them OK. The water had just barely come up to door level, then receded, but their son had parked their new SUV on the street. It started and they moved it in the driveway, but the floorboards were soaked with dirty water. They were angry, but didn’t need any help. I waded back to my car and took some photos with my phone.

The bike and scooters in the foreground were being used as a warning not to go any further - which many people did anyway. The gold SUV is parked in front of a large roundabout; this side was much shallower than the other side (the side our neighborhood is on), where I saw two guys riding a scooter that plowed on faithfully until it reached their hips, stalled, and dumped them both off into a whirlpool of debris.
This truck had been flooded; I looked inside.
This street had the deepest continuous stretch of water.
All of these photos were taken a couple hours after the rain stopped; the water must have gotten inside some of the houses in this neighborhood.

Snakehead in the Gutter

Last time it was a pla salid (Snakeskin Gourami).

No pics, but today we found a dead pla chon (common snakehead) in the pool of water that forms on the street to the side of our front yard. It was about 10 inches long, a great size to eat. In fact, I’m pretty sure it must have walked up from the pond (forty feet away) and died sometime yesterday during/after it rained, because it was in a place workers walk by all day and if it had been alive, they surely would have taken it home to eat. A snakehead makes a wonderful meal. A ten inch one could feed a couple averagely-hungry people (with rice, of course).

Max and Mina insisted I touch it and see if it was still alive (it was in water covering the lower half of its body, and still looked moist), so I prodded it with my foot and immediately saw that it was baked hard. I picked it up with thumb and forefinger, and red-speckled slime oozed from its mouth. Max told me to throw it in the pond, so I did.

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We just got home from taking the stitches out of my head from the (3) wart excision last week, and after parking, saw that the pond was lit up by hundreds of fireflies. Almost all of them were green, but perhaps one percent were red or orange.

Yesterday, there were several groups of native ducks (small and unidentifiable – they hide in the reeds when not in flight) flying in to roost at dusk.

I love living in front of a pond.

Landscaping Our House – Before and After

We are on summer break and not lacking for things to do, but decided that it was time to put some effort into redoing our front yard.

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

We have since learned a few things regarding landscaping rocks:

  1. Rocks are low-maintenance when done right
  2. Rocks are expensive
  3. Babies inexplicably like throwing rocks at nearby cars

Of course, the muppets we got to do the work decided to use plastic netting instead of plastic sheets (stating that only a few weeds could possibly grow though thick cover and could be controlled in other ways), so a couple weeks later, there are already thick beds of weeds growing out of control. I will probably have to do it right myself (big surprise), and eventually found out that the magic “other ways” alluded to above was spraying Roundup (on rocks my babies play with every day? I think not.).

Note: Row of sansevieria (aka mother-in-law’s tongue, devil’s tongue, jinn’s tongue, Bow String Hemp, snake plant) inspired by a relative from Kyushu

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Our New Thai House entries:
Our New Thai House Part 1 – Picking a Plot
Our New Thai House Part 2 – Foundations
Our New Thai House Part 3 – Groundwork
Our New Thai House Part 4 – Roof and Walls
Our New Thai House Part 5 – The Blessing Way
Landscaping Our House – Before and After