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

Back Home Again, No Time Again

It’s still quite cool during the days in Maha Sarakham and actually cold at night. Last year we only had a week or two of this weather, so it’s been great to have it continue for almost two whole months.

These past two months, I’ve been all over on family trips to Phimai, Chiang Mai, and Surin, and for work to Nam Nao, Saraburi, Trat, and Koh Chang. Next weekend I’m taking my Master’s class to Wang Nam Keaw for a weekend survey. Then hopefully, I can take a break from too much traveling for a while. The babies miss me when I’m gone (or so I like to think), and I miss them too.

The photos above were taken with my Galaxy 5 phone on one of our neighborhood walks – the open areas in our development are fast disappearing, so we are getting in as many dirt road rambles with the babies as we can.

Mosquitoes Eating Fruit (Part 1 – Jackfruit)

In or new Thai house, we’ve noticed mosquitoes sucking moisture out of sponges around the sink area, or from damp towels or rags. I suppose this is normal behavior, but we never really noticed it until we lived in this house. The past year, we’ve started to notice them sucking on various fruits we leave out on the counters. I’ve decided to start recording these images because I feel there’s a greatly underestimated demand for knowing what mosquitoes that aren’t sucking blood are sucking.
In this case, it was jackfruit.
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Click to see the entire Mosquitoes Eating Fruit Series.

Our New Thai House Part 5 – The Blessing Way

The end of 2007 coincided with the milestone of 98% or so of the basic house being completed, so we decided to move in on New Years Day. We invited some monks for a blessing ceremony and they did us up well.
It was the first time we were living in a new house. This coupled with the fact that we were one of the very first houses up in the neighborhood and hence kind of solitary made for a strange but very relaxing time coming home after work every day. I mean, in front of the house was our pond and around us was future house plots and rice fields. It was very cool. We bought some golden lions to protect our house, and they have worked out very well.
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This isn’t necessarily the end of the Our New Thai House series, but it marks the end of the first chapter.
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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

Home Alone with Max

The nanny took the day off today and mommy had a meeting from the afternoon, so MAx and daddy stayed home and played all day. The highlight if the day was letting Max eat yogurt by himself on the front porch and then hosing it off afterward.
It’s been rainy recently but in between storms the sky can be quite dramatic. Here’s a couple shots from not too long ago:
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Our New Thai House Part 4 – Roof and Walls

The Our New Thai House series must be finished before the subject becomes Our Old Thai House!
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By the end of this period in September/October of 2007, the house was 90% completed.
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In some of the photos above you can see a transformer box on the power pole to the right of the house. It took me considerable effort to get it moved from there, but it was of course worth it. Most Thais think its a non-issue, but after I campaigned to get it away from my house, nobody wanted it in front of theirs, either. We kept bothering and trying to bribe the power company to get it moved, to no avail. The man in charge at the power company claimed, out loud, to be incorruptible. This was relayed to me second hand, as foreigners should generally stay away from such negotiations. The intermediary reporting this back to me and the housing developer was sure we had hit a wall. I, however, am a skilled listener.
When a government official in the third world says they can’t be bribed, it can mean a few things: It can mean they are newly elected to office and don’t know how things work. It can mean they are currently under investigation. It can mean whatever you want to bribe them for isn’t possible/available at that specific point in time. Or it can mean your initial offer was too low. What it absolutely does not mean is that the official cannot be bribed under any circumstance.
So we made a better offer. The price to get a transformer moved just down the street in rural Thailand, all-inclusive? 50,000 Baht (approx. $1,500 US). We split the cost down the middle with the developer.
It was worth every satang.

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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

Our New Thai House Part 3 – Groundwork

Timeline: End of July to mid-August 2007
The foundations have been set to floor level (one meter off the ground) and are being extended to roof level.
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In this photo, our site is located at the four columns wrapped in wooden supports visible between the man in the blue shirt at the approximate middle of the photo and the first power pole to his right.
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The beginnings of our house. Notice the use of eucalyptus as framework; this is standard building practice all throughout Thailand for all types of buildings. In other Asian countries, they tend to use more bamboo but there’s not so much of that here.
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A couple weeks later, the eucalyptus framework has been replaced with cinder blocks, the stairs and pavilion have been added, and all foundations have been extended to roof level.
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Ski mask welding in stifling weather, against a beautiful sunset sky. Most of these guys don’t bother with eye protection for arc welding. This guy sure didn’t.

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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

View from our stoop

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In an effort to destroy the cattails, because her son is allergic to the snowy fluff it produces this time of year, the development manager instructed her minions to burn them. On a windy day. With gasoline.
Fucking oops.
Nam says that once they realized the fire was out of control and blowing towards said manager’s newly-erected wooden houses (as in, houses she built to live in herself) they called out all the workers in shouting distance to form a bucket brigade. That had no buckets.
Oops again.
Luckily, the fire eventually burnt out when the wind died down. I just I wish I could’ve been here to see it too, so I could educate the natives about a few things. Like how cattails were used by Native Americans for kindling (so maybe they should use less gasoline or something). Or by people around the world for food as well as down for stuffing. Or how cattails are being used in pilot “carbon capture” farming schemes. Then again, I probably would have just stood there laughing wickedly as the world burned just across my pond and attacked the intelligent beings who started it.
Luckily, the red-tailed pheasant-like birds seem to have returned and don’t seem to mind roosting in their newly-roasted environment. I need to get a photo of one someday I suppose…

Our New Thai House Part 2 – Foundations

When setting the first foundation of a Thai house, it is a common practice to hire a Brahman priest and hold a blessing ceremony. Enter Ajarn Chachawan (Ajarn is an honorific title equivalent to sensei in Japanese and pretty much nothing in English), pictured on the left in the photo below. He was also the announcer/master of ceremonies who did the morning ceremony for our wedding two years ago. He will also be supervising the installation of an animistic “spirit house” on our property this month or next. Truth be told, he’s pretty much our go-to guy for all our Brahman needs.
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Clockwise from Ajarn Chachawan: Mother-in-law, yours truly, worker, Nam, worker in red shirt, worker in OSHA-approved safety flip flops (standard worker footwear here; they even weld and walk on roof support beams in them).
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The shot below was taken from the rear of our property (marked with wooden border) toward the pond and front of the (then future) house.
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You can see the two foundations we just planted held in place with tripodal wooden supports. Tied to those foundations with holy-ish string are items of various significance such as banana tree branches and a woven reed fish trap with coins (Thai Baht) in it (we were warned not to put a lot of money in the trap since it would be stolen in the night. And of course it was.). In the holes for the foundations, under the two-piece (tower in basket) wrought iron assembly, we also placed items of various significance which we purchased/gathered a day earlier. This included a specific kind of unhusked “new” rice (that I popped over the stove like popcorn), leaves of a religiously significant species of tree (from a nice old lady’s yard – she also gave us seeds to plant our own trees with, but we lost them), special gold/silver/bronze painted bricks and cedarlike stakes that we purchased at a Buddhist goods store, plus a few other things that escape my memory (at one point I had the list we used for shopping but I lost this as well).

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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

Our New Thai House Part 1 – Picking a Plot

I’ve put off posting proper photos of our new house since we decided to build it, that is, for the better part of a year. What can I say? We were busy getting it finished (this is a home builder’s joke – a new house is never finished).
Getting this house built took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears… We really honed our powers of persuasion, pleading, and cajoling. I learned how to effectively threaten someone in Thai, and Nam learned that being visibly pregnant is a great way to have people do things for you. We both learned that government officials in charge of the positioning of power transformers, who knock away a hand offering an envelope and loudly claim to be unbribable, are merely asking for more money. Life lessons, these.
If I had tried to blog about all the problems we ran into during construction of this house, all of you would have stayed away for the duration, believe me. There was simply too much to bitch about, so I ended up breaking a lot of scrap wood and taking it out on random tailgaters instead. Life is sometimes too crappy to effectively document, anyway.
I have so many photos for this particular subject, I’ve decided to break it up into several posts, which should be generally chronological. I hope you can enjoy reading this series as much as I will writing it.

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Coming to Thailand in October of 2006 to live in a house I helped pay for in advance ended up not working out real well. This was due to a certain insufferable alcoholic-in-law who treated himself to our house before I moved here from Japan. My wife and I therefore decided to move out as soon as possible.
We searched for houses and apartments alike, debating whether to rent or buy. We searched all over Mahasarakham, which is a large area, and sometimes, for comparison, we would even look in neighboring towns. Our search took us all up and down the banks of the Chi river, since I wanted to live close to the water (a sort of compensation for living in dry country). To make a long story a bit shorter, we could find no suitable houses and no suitable land on which to build a new house.
In mid-2007, I revisited a new neighborhood just starting to be built between my university and Nam’s. One of the lots was situated right in front of a natural pond (with some reinforced banks). We fell in love with the sky and decided to build a house there.
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END OF PART 1

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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

Promenade

Earth, sky, sea, and rain
Is she coming back again?
Men of straw sneak a whore
Words that build or destroy
Dirt, dry, bone, sand, and stone
Barbed-wire fence cut me down
I’d like to be around
In a spiral staircase
To the higher ground
And I, like a firework, explode
Roman candle lightning lights up the sky
In the cracked streets trampled under foot
Sidestep…sidewalk
I see you stare…into space
Have I got closer now?
Behind the face
Oh…tell me…
Charity dance with me
Turn me around tonight
Up though a spiral staircase
To the higher ground
Slide show, sea side town
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Above is a partial view from the front of our new house. The view was a major reason why I wanted to build a house here in the first place. If you look closely, you can see the top of my university’s administration building (it’s a kilo or two away in a straight line, unfortunately, there is no road running straight there):
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Since you can see that building from my house, the reverse is also true, of course, and when this house was being built, I used to take my camera and a zoom lens up to the roof in between or after the Master’s classes I taught there. I would take photos of the workers dumping trash in the pond or peeing in my backyard and go confront the foreman with it later, saving the photographic evidence for when he swore in front of the developers that nobody would dare do such things (yeah, I’m pretty much the client from hell).
That roof was also my bug-out area when I needed a smoke or wanted somewhere to relax for a few minutes. The door to the roof was always open and it was often the coolest part of the building with constant breezes, even on the hottest days. You could look over the waist-high wall surrounding the perimeter of the roof onto the parking lot, which was green with all the old trees that make my university so nice to walk around, and the people and cars looked like miniature toys scattered across the floor… The nicest part about going up to the roof was that you were pretty much guaranteed your privacy. I went up there at least a couple times a week for six months, and saw maybe four other people in that time.
It’s funny what kind of thoughts go through your head when you’re looking at people you may or may not know from 16 stories up. I know what I always think of. But there’s a big difference between wondering what it would be like and actually stepping off…
Yesterday, one of our seniors jumped off the roof of the administration building and died. What this boy was thinking, I have no idea. The chances are, I don’t even know who he is.
But it still makes me sad thinking about it.