Saturday, July 31, 2010

Computer Problems, 2

Renewed apologies to anyone who checks in here regularly. The computer problems continue and I am still unable to access my storehouse of photos and notes, so there isn't much to post.

Yesterday the person closest to me in this life shared the rare opinion that the whole thing was worthless fluff anyway, so all told I'm just not feeling too inspired to write ANYthing. Go figure.

I hope your day - wherever you are - is better.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Computer Problems

Missed the post yesterday and more than likely will today, also.

Computer problems with my regular PC that are far beyond my knowledge.

Back tomorrow, with luck.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Sky Bar At Le Bua, Bangkok

Near the Chao Phraya river on Silom Road, perched high atop the Le Bua State Tower hotel sits the Sky Bar - and if you go for views, it's worth a visit. It's below the "V" in the photo above. The hotel refers to it as part of "The Dome", something you can't help but notice if you're in the area in the daytime; gold and gleaming high above the skyline along the riverside.

The effect while standing at the bar itself is much like that of swimming in an infinity pool: as you stand next to it you feel as though you're peering over the edge of the world, with nothing but a four-foot high glass divider between you and the street - 63 floors below. Granted, the outdoor revolving viewing platform of the Baiyoke Tower is higher by (I believe) about 15 floors, but there's a barrier there that eliminates the thrill of the Sky Bar.

As you can see if you click on and enlarge the header image today, the glass wall and brass handrail seem to actually stick out further than the edge of the building's wall below you. I'm NOT a fan of heights, but it's a compelling sight.

The walkway between the bar and the barrier was more than generously full the evening friends and I visited, and as drinks were very expensive (I'm remembering $10USD for a Diet Coke) we looked around for a while, took some photos and then went out for dinner elsewhere. There is a dress code - no flip-flop sandals, no shorts, no tee shirts, and they'll inform you of that if you try to just waltz through and into the elevator, trust me on this - but it's still worth a visit. There's no charge to just go up and look.

I took the two exterior photos from my room window out the back of the Om Yim Lodge. I'll post my pictures of the bar area when I do the post on the hotel itself.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

7-Elevens In Thailand: 5,400 And Counting...

The first day I was showing a “newbie” around Bangkok he commented that we never seemed to go more than three blocks without seeing a 7-Eleven store. I had to agree, but pointed out how that applies more to tourists who tend to stay in more “Westernized” areas, along with plenty of other Western chain names. Nevertheless, their retail presence is so conspicuous you could almost say it was invasive, somewhat like the water hyacinth that’s choking the Chao Phraya and other waterways.

The main corporate offices for the monster that is 7-Eleven are located in Dallas, Texas in the good ol’ USA. They claim a total of 6,000 in there and (quoting their web site) “7-Eleven licensees and affiliates operate more than 29,700 7-Eleven and other convenience stores in countries including Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, Australia, Philippines, Indonesia, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.”

According to the same corporate site there are just over 5,400 locations in Thailand, all under the corporate umbrella of the Charoen Pokphand Group. Approximately half of those sites (which would be about 2,700) are in Bangkok, which means currently there are more 7-Elevens in Bangkok than there are in all of China (1,680), but the way China’s retail demands are mutating I’d say check that figure again in about six months.

The first Thailand shop opened in 1989 on Silom Road - a location many would find familiar territory. That first location underwent an upgrade and re-opening at the beginning of this year to allow a wider range of prepared and quick foods, something that has become a major part of their business. Somewhere I have an article about that, and I'll find it one of these days.

For many Western tourists the familiarity of the green, red and orange logo is a touchstone with reality, a reminder that although the insides are “same same, but different” it gives one a hand hold in what can be an otherwise rather foreign neighborhood. Personally I relish that difference and stop into a 7-Eleven frequently, if for nothing more than a replacement bottle of water.

Just as in the US there are a number of other convenience store chains - Family Mart being the first to come to mind - but none have the numbers that 7-Eleven does.

I’m also tagging today’s story with the “Same same, but different” label, because although it’s familiar territory there are plenty of differences in evidence. For a start, there aren’t many 7-Elevens here in the US with a rack of condoms by the register (although it’d be a good idea, in my opinion) and the cigarettes are hidden away behind a metal door - most of the time. The liquor is behind the counter, perhaps to discourage pilferage.

Many of the items are familiar, but there are enough differences to make browsing interesting. You can buy bread, but because it doesn’t keep as well in the climate you purchase it in what would be a half loaf here. There are pre-made sandwiches in the deli case, but also on the shelf with the breadstuff, and some of that is unusual, too: buns filled with taro and red bean paste, for example.

Lays has finagled their way into a lot of shelf space, usually, and you can buy regular and BBQ potato chips but you can also get nori (seaweed) flavored ones, too. Being a more lactose-intolerant group of people there you don’t find the variety of dairy products you’d expect at home, but there’s a good selection of soy- and rice-based alternatives.

Candies are much the same – many familiar brands (Snickers, MandMs, Mentos, even Toblerone and Fererro Rocher candies) as well as other Asian brands. There are some we saw back in earlier “Same same, but different” posts here and here.

We’ll re-visit this 7- Eleven topic again, but this gives you an overview.

Monday, July 26, 2010

On The Road again...

Today is a travel day for me. I'll be back with a proper post tomorrow.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ongoing Parking Lesson

[The photo today isn't of a quality I'd prefer, but I use a reasonably simple camera - and I didn't feel like crossing Second Road at 01:00 in the morning. I also cropped it some to show the detail.]

Fortunately other than my audio witnessing of an accident - if you could even call it witnessing - I've only seen the aftermath of road mishaps, and thankfully very few of those. That's surprising, since I'm not at all sure many Thai have a grip on the concept of why those lines are painted on the pavement. If nothing else, it indicates a level of awareness while driving - or extreme luck, one or the other. I'll get back to you when I have a better idea. But as for the picture above:

One night along Second Road in Pattaya shortly past 1:00am a woman had parallel parked after laboriously maneuvering her car into the open space along the curb by doing what my Singaporean friend calls "Chinese Aerobics" (that's 20 minutes of parallel parking) and had evidently thought her car was going to wait for her while she got out of it, for whatever reason - even though she hadn't shut off the engine or gotten it past "reverse" into "park".

It didn't.

No sooner had she opened the door and put a foot out, it began to creep backwards. Because of the angle she'd left the wheels in it first backed up to the curb, and then climbed over it. The few folks in its path jumped out of the way and the car continued to back up until the front wheels prevented it from hitting the roll-down door of The Munch Shack.

The good news is the woman was quick enough to get her legs out of the way before they were caught and broken between door and curb, although she was shrieking enough to attract quite a bit of attention from people nearby; one young man being kind enough to lean in and shut the engine off for her as she took in the reality of her situation with a combination of anguish and shock.

I'm still wondering what the one farang to the left in the photo is doing. Is he looking for his pack of cigarettes or doing an impromptu breast self-examination? Guesses are welcome in the comments section below.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sleeping, Part 6

The man above has better balance than I do. Many people do, I suppose - especially when I'm sleeping. Just two nights ago I was at the edge of the bed, managed to roll the wrong way and ended up on the floor. Sleeping on a picnic table bench would be beyond my willing range of risk, though.

On a transfer ride between Bangkok and Pattaya my driver pulled over into that strip of commercial trash along the highway for a bathroom and snack break and I walked past this guy out in front of the public restroom there. He was so firmly ZZZZed out that even a barking dog walking past him couldn't raise a twitch.

And as long as we've brought a dog into it, why not give Man's Best Friend their due, too? This one was catching a nap on the Northern Pattaya beach one morning while his owner was setting up umbrellas and chairs for the day. Ah, the simple life.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Panorama Photos 2

(As usual, click on the images to enlarge them to full size)

A reader left a comment on yesterday's post expressing a hope we'd see something at some point about Lopburi and the monkeys that run loose there, so for dimi here's a little preview: a panorama of the ancient Phra Prang Sam Yot temple in the early morning sun. I don't think you can actually see any of the monkeys in these three shots (stitched into one image) because they were all on the opposite side and across the street behind me, pestering the people who were at the active wat, making morning merit. There are a couple of birds flying through the center of it, if those count.

As the second panorama today here's one taken across the farmlands in Isaan across the back yard of a family I know there.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bangkok Traffic Advisory Signs

There are any number of things - addition to the mai pen rai attitude - that the US and other countries could learn from Thailand.

One thing I believe we'd be wise to borrow from them is their system of lit traffic signs, such as those used in Bangkok. Not only are there "countdown" lights at some intersections, telling you how many more seconds until the light ahead of you will change - giving you something to do while stuck waiting in a taxi - but there are LED-lit signs such as the one above posted on overpasses and up above the roadways as advisories.

Of course, you have to have to read Thai (I can not), and have some idea of where you are and where you're going, but a local can avoid adding an additional half hour or so to their ride by paying attention to the warnings and taking an alternate route when they see the street they'd intended to turn onto is lit red. I think they're a great idea.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sunrise, Sunset - Part 6

It's been about six weeks since we've done a set of sunset photos, so here are a few. The header photo of the chedi was taken atop the hills at the Rama IV palace near Phetchaburi. There will be future posts about my day there hiking around, while keeping a watchful eye out for the monkeys running loose around the grounds.

The beach below the Asia Pattaya and the Cabbages and Condoms resort is a great place for photos. The sunset above was shortly before my friend and I had dinner at a table above the surf. More about that place another time, too.

From my room at PJ's Place in Chiang Mai I saw a number of colorful sunsets while resting after a day trip.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Then And Now: The Great Wheel

While going through some old family photos I happened on one of those studio photos with the image glued onto a stiff cardboard backing that served as a frame. This particular picture was of a turn of the last century attraction in London - the Great Wheel - and bore the original signature of Walter B. Bassett, who bought the European rights for the design from James Graydon, constructor of the original wheel - which was built in the US for the 1893 Chicago Exposition. Our photo (above) was taken circa 1905. Work on this wheel began in 1894, it opened to the public in 1895 and was torn down in 1906 or 1907.

Fast forward 100 years from the date on that photo (give or take a couple of years) to my first morning on one particular trip to Thailand, where I'd arrived from the airport at the Pinnacle Hotel in the middle of the night. On my way to breakfast a handful of hours later I'd walked to the windows at the end of the hall to see the view and was surprised to see a slightly smaller modern version of this mechanical giant sitting next to Lumpini Park, a few blocks away. What made it all the more surprising was that I'd just found the old photo a few weeks before seeing the wheel in Bangkok.

Not being a fan of heights I didn't explore the attraction any further, but was tickled to see a "now" for the "then" photo, safely tucked away in a box back home.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Night Photos, Part 4: Familiar River Sights

A portion of the Grand Palace as visible from the Chao Phraya river

Well, here's a first for Bao-Bao's Blog: a guest photographer. My best friend finally agreed to venture off of the North American continent and accompany me on one of my trips to Thailand. I guess he'd fallen for the "I know my way around - what could possibly happen?" routine, the fool! Anyway, he had a great time (as I knew he would) and it was fun to re-visit some familiar spots to see them with him.

We took a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya river one night and he got a few nice photos along the way. I say "a few" because these three were all I could salvage from the 30 or so he took, the rest all fell victim to a case of the incurable blurs. From experience I can assure you simple digital cameras like we use require a lot more stability for the exposures needed than a moving vessel on the water can provide.

Nevertheless, these three are worth featuring today, so here they are - with his permission.

Wat Arun, the temple of dawn

One of the bridges over the river (the King Rama VIII, I believe)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Morning Riverboat Commuting In Bangkok

I've stayed a few times at the Asia Hotel on Thanon Phaya Thai in the Ratchathewi area, not because it's an especially nice or reasonably priced place, but since it's attached to the Ratchathewi BTS station it was handy getting to the places I'd wanted to see at the time. We'll address the pluses and minuses of the hotel itself another time, but the areas within walking distance alone make it a nice starting point for the day. Some of my fondest memories of early morning walks have begun and ended at the Asia.

One nearby point of interest - if you're a people watcher like I am - is the Saphan Hua Chang Pier area, about five minutes from the hotel and just below where Phaya Thai humps over the klong (canal) below on its way to the big shopping malls. I think mornings are best, primarily because it's not anywhere near as hot and humid as afternoons, but either commute window is fun to observe.

You can watch from the sidewalk at the street side above or go down the stairs on either side of the canal to see things at an everyday level. There are multiple food carts and stands with any number of fragrant, delicious aromas drifting past you, the coffee carts, the small sit-down eateries - many with only a half-dozen plastic chairs, news stands - and, of course, the hundreds of Thai themselves, scurrying along to work, school or wherever.

The klong riverboats are a show unto themselves; an efficient and quick way to get from point A to point B for a mere pittance. My friend who writes the fine blog Rice Queen Diary did a post a little over a month ago (here) showing how you could catch a riverboat at this very stop and take it to Wat Saket, a temple I've sadly missed - so far. Next trip, for sure.

I'll post some pictures of this station described above soon, but here today are two clips from December 2008 showing the riverboats stopping at this pier. The one at the top is a longer one, showing the active jockeying they do during a morning rush hour, and the one below from dock lever, giving you an idea of how fleet of foot you need to be if you intend to stay out of the - let's just say fragrant - klong itself while hopping on or off the boats.

At some point I'll tell the story of how I ended up halfway between those two points while visiting near the Grand Palace one day. I still have the scar on my shin to back the story up, but I'll spare you that.

New Series: Flowers

Because it's wrapped securely in the arms of a warm tropical climate, Thailand features a cornucopia of flora (and fauna) completely foreign to many of us who come from cooler lands - especially those familiar with regular frost and snow.

Some of the examples you'll see as the series goes along could easily be candidates for "Same same, but different" because you might see them back home, but probably in a greenhouse or on a sunny window ledge, trying to survive in our standard "comfort controlled" atmosphere. It sometimes irritates the hell out of me to be walking along in Thailand and see a plant I've struggled to keep alive in a pot or flowerbed at home, thriving with great vigor as a weed-like ground cover there!

I have an uncle and aunt in Minnesota who consistently manage to raise healthy orchids - but they lovingly coddle, feed and preen them, keeping them under fluorescent lights. I often think of them when I see similar varieties blooming in the wild in Thailand on the side of a tree, or hanging outside in pots by the dozen in any number of homes or outdoor markets. Of course (as balance) my friend in Bangkok who dotes on his garden would have no luck whatsoever getting lilac to bloom like the stands of them in Minnesota, either - full, fragrant and ten feet tall - so I suppose fair's fair.

As I mentioned in my first post back in March I'm not an expert on Thailand (by a country mile) so I don't know the names of most of the plants and flowers you'll see here, but if for some reason I do, I'll share the information.

Otherwise just walk along with me and enjoy the specimens, if you will.

(Today's pictures - other than the hanging pots of orchids taken at JJ market in Bangkok - they were all taken in Udonthani, in Northern Isaan.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pum Pooey Farang!

Many Thai I've met have a playful nature about them; an innocence that would probably get your face smacked here in the West, but it's endearing, nevertheless. Let me share an example:

More often than not I've seen "fat" transliterated from Thai as pum pooey. Carrying my share of "middle aged spread" I don't quite fit the bill as fat, but with a little effort I could probably get there in a few months if I really put my mind to it.

That said, I was walking through the lobby of my serviced apartment building after a sunset walk on the beach (the photo above is from that walk) and waiting for the elevator up to my room when a woman from housekeeping came hurrying over just as the doors opened. We both got in; me looking at the cafe signs that had just been changed that day, and she at my aloha shirt, tented over my camera bag/ fanny pack, right at belt-buckle level.

"Pum pooey!" she laughed, pointing at my belly. Trying to save a shred of dignity in the face of her obvious but innocent mirth I replied "Hey, it's not ALL fat!" while tucking my shirt back toward my actual stomach in an attempt to show her I wasn't quite as huge as she'd implied. It didn't tuck back as far as I'd hoped.

Then in a move that surprised me in its familiarity she actually reached out and placed the palm of her hand on my stomach. "Have baby!" she laughed again, this time following it up with prolonged giggles she covered with her hand. The surprise of it made me laugh, too, and I I'd begun to reply "Well, the odds of that are pretty slim," just as the elevator doors opened at the third floor. "Bye bye!" she giggled again, shuffling quickly off of the elevator and down the hall.

I laughed too, but I checked my midsection in the mirrored wall as the doors closed and the elevator took me the rest of the way up my floor. "Pum pooey!" I snorted. Humph!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Putting Gold On The Back Of The Buddha"

Along with flowers, incense and candles you'll invariably see gold leaf sold at temples and sacred shrines of all sorts throughout Thailand. Pounded by hand into extremely thin sheets, it's then cut into small squares about 1/2 inch square and placed inside a folded piece of paper - such as the ones below.

Faithful visitors can then make a donation, receive a packet or two and place the piece of leaf onto a sacred image of one type or another as a way of making merit, or making a wish.
That's a gross over-simplification, but it gives you a point of reference for the story behind today's post title.

It's a safe bet you know someone who makes sure everyone around them knows about it whenever they do a good deed, as though publicizing it will gain them further "good karma" points. It's an equally safe bet that you know someone who does their best to avoid the limelight when making a donation, helping someone in need or being of service, too. These are both universal traits, although I personally believe one is more worthy of striving for than the other!

Many phrases and sayings are also universal, regardless of language and culture, such as the one here today: putting gold on the back of the Buddha, which in Thai would be transliterated somewhat like bpit torng lang pra - meaning doing good deeds without seeking attention.

What does all of this have to do with gold leaf? When making merit quite a number of Thai will purposely apply the small gold square on the reverse side of the object. In the case of a larger statue, such as the one at Wat Bangkung (in the top photo ) there are stairs that allow worshipers to not only climb up to the sides of the Buddha image, but there's a narrow aisle that goes behind the statue and back down the other side.

As a testament to the goodness of Thai human nature I witnessed a sizable section on the back that was covered with squares of gold leaf. It made a meaningful experience even more meaningful.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Panorama Photos

Some years back there was a craze of sorts in the US for people using 35mm film to take what were known as panoramic photos. Of course the idea wasn't anything new, but the mass-marketing of the technology via disposable and inexpensive reusable cameras made it affordable for most people. I'd guess many of you have a photofinishing envelope or three sitting around someplace, although they were of such an odd size they rarely fit into standard photo boxes or albums.

The cameras exposed about a third of the 35mm film frame horizontally and the "smaller" negative sometimes made for a disappointing, grainy photo by the time it was blown up to a 3x9 or 4x10 print; rather like the old 110-sized film so popular for pocket cameras in the 1970s.

With the advent of digital photography you can find cameras with a "panorama" setting, but I don't own one. I rely on software to stitch the images I've carefully taken - and sometimes I can actually make it work!

The image at the top today was actually four photos, taken one afternoon near sunset in Lumpini Park in Bangkok - a place we'll undoubtedly cover again. The ones stitched below were taken at breakfast in Sattahip, South of Pattaya one morning at breakfast.

As most of you know: with ALL of the images here on the blog you'll need to click on the image to enlarge it. Some systems will allow you to click on the opened image again to bring it to full size. Right clicking the image and opening it in a new tab saves you having to remember to click the "back" button to return, but whichever works for you is fine with me. Just remember to come back!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thai Smiles, Part 12: Dunking Your Friends

This group of photos dovetails so well with yesterday's it probably could have been saved and included in the "At The Shore" series, but it's certainly (A) full of smiles and (B) it contains one of my all-time favorite images from Thailand and I thought I'd like to share a little more about the story behind it - so here it is:

I was walking along central Pattaya beach late one afternoon, passing time and waiting to see what luck I'd have photographing the sunset when I heard shrieking and laughter coming from a knot of young adolescents a ways out into the water. Their carefree exuberance and energy was so refreshingly entertaining I stopped to sit on the walkway stairs and watch as they played, ganging up on themselves one after the other and dunking each victim in turn until they yelled "uncle!" or whatever it is they say in Thai to beg for mercy from such teasing.

The girl in the black T-shirt was getting the worst of it when I finally decided to try testing the limits of the zoom lens and see what I could capture shooting into the somewhat harsh late-afternoon sunlight. The younger boy in the group didn't swim well enough to be able to participate as well as the others and was shown mercy while the older one led most of the attacks - as boys that age are prone to do. He was beside himself with laughter each time someone was dunked, resurfacing with a sputter.

After one attack he laughed so hard he choked himself - to the great amusement of the others - but that only tickled him all the more, and he let loose with the laugh I was lucky enough to catch below.

If I'm ever having a discouraging day, this picture can usually remind me of that afternoon and the innocent fun they were sharing with such abandon - and make me smile.

Monday, July 12, 2010

New Series: At The Shore

There's something undeniably captivating about the shoreline at the beach. Maybe it's the rhythmic pulse of the surf, perhaps it's the lulling sound of the waves, or the relaxed feeling we get merely by being in the relaxed setting and away from the routine stress and obligations of daily living - who knows? I'll think more about it the next time I'm woolgathering in my beach chair and get back to you.

Some are staunch believers in the power of the air itself: charged by the water with negative ions, rather like you'd find near tumbling surf or a waterfall; helping raise your serotonin levels and give a feeling of peace and euphoria. I suspect there's something to that, myself. There was a craze some decades ago to buy negative ion generators in foo-foo electronics stores such as Sharper Image and Brookstone, but personally I'd rather sit near the surf or stand beside the waterfall.

Although the Thai are just as fond of being at the beach as people in most warmer climates (and that can mean ocean, lake or reservoir shore) they are far more reluctant to do any tanning. As in many other countries and cultures - especially Asian - they feel lighter skin is more desirable, so you're far less likely to see a Thai doing an impression of a "shrimp on the barbie" than you are a farang. Sunblock and tanning oils aren't something you see by the rack full in stores there (it's an expense many wouldn't or couldn't afford, anyway) but people more covered up in the surf or along the shoreline is a common sight.

I've read on a forum about a farang who'd gotten what he thought was a nice, deep tan while off on a break from his Thai partner, only to be told by them when he returned "Now you black! I shame [to be seen with] you now!" However, children are children all over the world, and while parents may chase them down to get them to cover up, it's an ongoing challenge. Caution (like prejudice) isn't inherited - it has to be taught.

Today's pictures were taken on morning and afternoon walks along the beach, where I (slathered generously in SPF-50) spend as many mornings as possible - the earlier the better. By late morning when the beach chairs are filling up, I'm ready to move back indoors for a bit.

Odds are certain you'll see a number of additions to these photos in further posts as we go along.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup Final: Do Not Disturb

Taking the day off to watch the final game
and catch up on some things here.
Back tomorrow!

Post Script on 7/12: Congratulations to Spain - What an exciting final few minutes!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Out In The Rice Paddies

Rice is truly the staff of life in Thailand, and has been for over 4,500 years. It not only provides the staple food for the Thai people, it shapes the structure for much of the kingdom’s working life and life style.

Rice is planted on over 55% of the country’s arable land, and involves over half the working population in Thailand in its production; producing not only enough for the Thai themselves but allowing them to keep a firm grip on the title as highest rice exporters to the rest of the world: somewhere around 6.5 million tons of processed (hulled write) rice per year, by the latest figures I can find.

Flying over Thailand during the growing season gives one a view that can take your breath away: a patchwork quilt of paddies in varying tints of green, stretching as far as the eye can see.

These photos were taken in the Northeast (Isaan) region, which is home to half of the country’s rice land. Although over a third of the country’s total land mass is located here weather, soil erosion and the lower availability of water for irrigation make it difficult for farmers, and overall farms are smaller. Areas such as the North and Central plains tend to have larger farms.

Nevertheless it is farm land, inhabited by farming families that have worked it for countless generations. It is their past, and many times their future. “It what we do,” my friend told me with a soft tone of resignation as we walked along the banks dividing the checkerboard squares of paddy space one afternoon, watching his uncle work. “Maybe I will work here until I die.” I tended to doubt that, coming from a young man who had already had a taste of the world past his small village and who had taken loans out to become the first of his family to get a degree.

Uncle Sek was standing in his knee-high rubber boots in the rich, muddy seedling paddy next to us, and waved a greeting to his nephew and the Big Pink Stranger who walked unsteadily along the mini-levees. He was amused at my lack of balance as I (being a good Westerner) tried not to ruin the two week old shoes I’d thoughtlessly worn to visit the family farm that day by sliding into the muck. “Step in my feet,” said my friend, pointing to his footprints – and I did, gratefully, trusting his experience from walking similar paths all of his life.

Before we’d arrived – perhaps earlier the same day, perhaps the previous day – Sek had pulled the seedlings from the mud and bundled them neatly into handfuls, wrapping a length of scrap stalk around them, securing them into a bundle, then placing them root down back into the water.

Sek had the blade of a field knife taped cutting edge up to a bamboo stake in the mud near him and was now picking up each waiting bundle and smoothly slicing the tops off of them with quick downward strokes against the blade’s razor-sharp edge. Countless repetition made the action appear effortless, but I knew better; this was tough, back-breaking work. One only has to observe the older men and women in the village to see what a lifetime of it can do to a body.

The water buffalo wandered aimlessly nearby, looking up occasionally at the stranger if he got a little too close, making them walk a little ways away. Their hardest work – double-plowing and smoothing the paddies before the flooding and seeding – had been finished months before. A neighbor led his buffalo past where we were standing, taking him to a different grazing area off around the corner where we’d see him later that afternoon on a walk to the reservoir.

My friend describes the paddy area beside the family home as “small”, but they also farm another larger batch of paddies off in another area not far away. Their annual profit from the rice sales comes to a humble total of $250 to $300 USD, but it provides enough rice for the members of his extended who share time and labor to tend it to survive on… and that’s what it’s all about, anyway.