Farewell to Nam Kaeng

The Nam Kaeng (Thai: “Ice”)

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.

We’d never really noticed a cat with orange eyes before!

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.

We laughed at this for hours, and she never stopped with the stink eye.

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!

Ping pong anywhere


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!

Boba Fett Birthing Station

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.

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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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Catching Giant Snakeheads with an Excavator

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:

A lot of heavy machinery we see up here in Northeast Thailand is imported used from Japan. This model was produced from 1996, so it's not really that old.
A lot of heavy machinery in Northeast Thailand is imported used from Japan. This model was produced from 1996, so it’s not really that old.

 

For a brief second, I saw the archway I've always wanted in front of my home.
For a brief second, I saw the archway I’ve always wanted in front of my home.

 

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:

BEFORE:

September 23, 2013
September 23, 2013

AFTER:

February 5, 2014
February 5, 2014

 

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.

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It occurs to me that my go-to book on local fish species backs up the stories I’ve heard about this fish perfectly:

Ophicephalus micropeltes
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.

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.

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.