@ our back porch railing around 8 months ago. He was warming up before the hunt:
The biggest COVID wave so far spread through Maha Sarakham from a couple months ago, so my university postponed the new term until this week. I’m teaching four Public Speaking classes per week online. This is what a typical class looks like, with about 2/3 the students:
I tell them they only have to turn on the camera when they speak because some of them are on weak connections or are connecting through mobile data plans, and it might save them money as well as improving performance. Thailand has good connectivity, though, and a lot of businesses share free wifi, so I use the first week to pinpoint who has internet problems and suggest they find a better hotspot or solution.
There are a lot of problems teaching online at a Thai university. The biggest problem is net connectivity and speed. The second biggest problem is that the university staff and teachers are horrible at teaching and doing their jobs. Doing it online just compounds the issues.
One of my current side hustles is teaching teachers how to teach online and helping them get set up at home. Some of these teachers are still doing grades by hand (even when teaching online with every grading management tool available), so you can imagine that the transition is rough. The IT staff are so bad at their jobs, they can’t keep our website up for everyone to register for classes or make class changes, haven’t figured out how to install a security certificate in the ~20 years they’ve had the domain, and can’t even issue student ID numbers or email for freshmen before the term starts (which are necessary to register for classes and to attend online classes). There are also problems on the student side, but now, well into the second year of online classes and lockdowns, most have figured out how to at least attend their teachers’ pathetic online lectures, and that online classes are actually a good way to try and get their parents to pay for an iPad (definitely not required).
Nam and I love teaching online, though. Before we started, I had already set up a Twitch streaming system for Mina with condenser mic and various cameras, so we adapted that and added to it over time. This is what my setup looks like now.
On the vaccine front, I went in to get a Astra Zeneca jab at the vaccination center set up at my university a few weeks ago, and was told at the last stage (there were 3 stages to navigate), “no foreigners!” So, fuck them and their jelly vaccine shots, I guess (a bad batch of vaccines in Thailand was recently found to have turned into gel). Nam and I have paid a private hospital the full price for 2 Moderna jabs each – 3,400 baht/person. No telling when the government will get off its ass and actually get these vaccines delivered, but we are told, “as early as October.” Looks like all of my classes this term will be online!
Cats come and go at this house, but Nam Kaeng was special because she was so sassy and a patchwork quilt kind of mean girl. The first time she ran up to me, I thought she was rabid because she was so familiar and insistent on getting scratched on the head. It turns out she was just claiming her new servant.
It turns out she came from a neighbor’s house and just decided to live here with our other cats, much to the consternation of her owners. I took her back to their house several times, and they kept her in a cage, but she managed to escape and come back every time. One time, she came back with a lion cut.
So as it turns out, this murderous heat wave was probably just too much for her. She died in our driveway on the first day of Songkran, and we didn’t find her until two days later… So sad!
Goodbye, Nam Kaeng!
So this happened lol.
We were looking for a used table. They cost about 3,500 to 4,000 baht for a decent one. Delivery would be around 1,000 baht since there were none for sale around here.
Went shopping at our neighborhood shopping mall yesterday and found this one (Dragonfly 20mm) on sale with a set of paddles for 4,750 baht.
Well, it looks like I’m going to have to buy this boy a ping pong table (table tennis table?). Luckily, it looks like used ones go for 1/3 the price of a new one here…. but they’re mostly down in Bangkok. Wonder how much shipping will cost.
Fact: There is no space at our house for all of our stuff.
Also: Mina and Max will eventually need their own rooms, which we did not plan for when designing this house (when we didn’t yet have kids). In retrospect: Duh!
So my wife left for Japan for two weeks yesterday, and shit got immediately real. On top of single parenting, working, and doing homework for Masters class, I was somewhat unhappy to find that a feral cat had given birth behind our outside AC unit.
It looked like a litter of 3, but I’ve now confirmed 4. I guess the only thing that made me really happy about this (besides inherent kitty cuteness, which does not work on me so much right now because cuteness implies children, and I have my own brood to take care of right now, thank you) was that mommy cat moved them into a box of old stuff, and they slept in a Boba Fett mask last night.
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In the past couple of years, the pond in front of our house got seriously overgrown on the banks (as well as on the surface) with reeds, vines, and other opportunistic vegetation. Yesterday, the banks were cleaned up with a Caterpillar 313b excavator:
The road hasn’t been cleaned up yet, and I’m not sure that it actually will be (since the predominant way of thinking is that it will get washed away by the rain – even if rainy season is half a year away!), and the weeds need to be pulled off the surface of the pond, but it’s good start. Here are some before-and-after pics:
Enthralled by the rumble of heavy machinery, I took some video of the big, beat up machines working:
When the dumper took off to unload nearby, I noticed that the excavator was scooping mud from the pond. The operator got and out and started rooting around the bucket… He was fishing!
A bit slow with the camera, I didn’t take video of him grabbing a freshwater eel or the fat, brutish snakeheads from the bucket, but I did get a good shot of what was left:
I have no idea what kind of snake it was.
After the work was done and the machines had retired for the day, I found a slightly smaller specimen of the snakeheads (this species is actually called the Giant Snakehead) I had seen earlier, wiggling around on the road. I saved it to show the kids when they got home:
While the cat operator was saving his catch to eat (we went so far as to ask how he would cook them: “spicy stir fry!”), we were not. I originally thought I would give our snakehead to a random worker on the street for dinner – this is a prized eating fish, I just refuse to eat from what I know is a polluted water source – Max got really upset about it. He asked of we could keep it, and I told him he had to choose between keeping our current fish, an antisocial plecostomus and a juvenile gourami, or just the snakehead (since the snakehead will kill, but necessarily eat, any other fish in the tank). The one(s) we didn’t keep would have to be thrown back to the pond. He chose the snakehead, but I talked him out of it by basically explaining that snakeheads, this species in particular, are vicious little assholes, and that I’d need to feed it other poor little fishies on a regular basis. The snakehead ended up being thrown back from whence it came, simultaneously dooming other little denizens of the pond and making merit for us by returning an animal back to nature.
It occurs to me that my go-to book on local fish species backs up the stories I’ve heard about this fish perfectly:
Laotian: PA DO
Thai: Pla Chado
Cambodian: Trey Chhdor (diep for small ones)
Vietnamese: Ca Bong
Others: Toman (Indonesia and Malay)
NOTES: Maximum length about 1 metre, usual length 30 to 70 cm.
This fish has an unpleasant character. According to Hellei it attacks isolated Khmer fishermen. Worse, it is one of the few fish which devour their own young, at least in certain circumstances. Maxwell explains that the parents protect their offspring to begin with but then, when the little ones are big enough to fend for themselves, drive them from the nest. It is those which are too obstinateto leave which are eaten. The Malays have a saying: “Bagai toman makan anak”. This means “like the Toman fish which eats its own young”; the phrase is applied to persons in high places who misuse their powers, oppressing those whom they should protect.
CUISINE: Some say this is not quite as good as the preceding species (pla chon); but it is still of high quality. The firmness of the flesh makes all the snakeheads suitable for fish salads and cold fish dishes.
– Fish and Fish Dishes of Laos by Alan Davidson
The only thing I can add to this is that the latin name for this fish species seems to have changed more than once. It seems that the currently accepted name for it is Channa micropeltes, the Giant Snakehead.
Oh, my Gac! Or should I say, fuck cow?
The tree I planted a handful of gac vines under, in a pot, allowed just one enough shade to survive a full year. I’ve only spotted one fruit so far, but I’m looking forward to see if it will fully ripen.
We’ve been having a lot of funky weather like this recently:
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.
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.
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.
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.
You would think that it would be hard to get hurt on such a small slide. You would be wrong (blooper reel to follow).