Category Archives: day to day

Cutting board anyone?

All around Thailand you will see sales people peddling various wares. Usually it is only one particular item. The broom man with his cart of brooms, the bucket man with his cart of buckets etc but up until yesterday I had never seen the chopping block man until he decided to take a break out the front of the shop.

chopping block

Fire in down town Ubon!

Sounds dramatic doesn’t it? It wasn’t.

Two days ago my mate Clint and I were having breakfast of Khao Mung Gai on Phichit Rang San road when we heard a lot of fire trucks racing past near by.
On the way back to Peppers we could see something happening up around Robinsons. I was too busy to go and look but Clint went for a walk with the camera while I stayed back at the shop.
It would appear that a small shop selling food a few doors north of Robinson had half caught fire. It can’t have been too bad as when we drove past about 6 hours later it appeared as he was back in business.
Now that I own a food outlet of my own it was reassuring to see such a response from the fire brigade and that it was contained so quickly.

A big turn out.

A big turn out.

The shop that caught fire. It was contained to the inside.

The shop that caught fire. It was contained to the inside.

Police directing traffic around the scene.

Police directing traffic around the scene.

The last few days have once again been really busy.
12 hours a day getting the shop ready and then another few hours doing my other work. Add trying to spend as much time as possible with the kids = not much time left for anything else. However we aren’t complaining as it is a lot of fun what we are doing. I am enjoying working alongside Seerung as well as Ben and Nong.
Yesterday we had all our staff start work so the last few days have been training them on new recipes and seeing exactly where their skill levels are. We have Mee and her son Urn. The used to work in the shop a while ago. Mee does most of the cakes and biscuits while Urn helps out his Mum as well as doing dishes etc. He will also be using his motorbike to do all the market runs for fresh food every day.
Jack is our baker and will do all our bread and pies. He can also bake cakes when we need him to. He has loads of experience and I am enjoying seeing what is already coming fresh out of the oven.
Dtom is our chef and will be handling the cooking of both the breakfast and lunch menu under the initial supervision of Ben.
Today the signs went up and although we still have a double sided A4 list of things that need to be done we are all confident of opening in just a few days time.

Breakfast in Ubon

This is becoming a bad habit. Going a full week without posting a single time. As per usual though I always have a good excuse!
When I last wrote I said that we had made the move to Ubon as our lives had taken another interesting twist.
About three months ago I was complaining to Seerung about the complete lack of breakfast options in Ubon. I asked around and was told of a place called Tony’s Bakery and Cafe. We paid it a visit and were delighted to find a nicely presented shop that was open early. Imagine our disappointment when they told us they they breakfast was not available that day. We were later to find out the any kind of food was a little hit and miss at the best of times. The business was in decline after what it seemed to be a decent couple of years since they had opened. Due to the husband recently moving to Malaysia for work the wife had slowly lost interest and it showed. They were mainly focussing their time and effort on the bakery side of things as they had a fully equipped bakery and were turning out pies, cakes, deserts etc.
That night back at the hotel I made a mention on the Thai Visa forum that they had stopped doing Breakfasts. I got a reply from the man I bought my car from saying that it was for sale and sent me the link to the advert that was online. The mind instantly started kicking into over drive and we paid it another visit and took some photos and got some more details.
Instantly we thought of Ben and Nong, a couple who we had become friends with in NZ who had recently moved to Thailand to live. Nong was at the time under going bakery training and Ben is a trained Barista amongst other things. I was not interested in going into a small business such as this one on my own so contact was made and photos sent. Ben came up and had a look and so the long process of research and then negotiations began culminating in our offer being accepted about three weeks ago.
I want to try and stay positive so will refrain from talking about a few things apart from saying that what was a walk in walk out sale turned into us having to shut the shop down 10 days ago and effectively start from new.
Therefore since I last posted we have been busy doing a innumerable amount of things including:

Re painting the entire inside of the shop.
Re naming the business.
Making what was an absolutely filthy kitchen sparkling clean.
Making a menu.
Organising the design and then printing of lighted large sign for the roof, business cards, a menu board, signage for the front and banners.
Pricing and sourcing all ingredients.
Organising power, water, internet etc.
Interviews for a baker, chef and waitress.
Fixing doors, toilets, lights etc
Redesigning the floor layout.

This is a fraction of what we have been doing and thank fully Ben is more of a handyman then I will ever be and he is doing a great job getting everything working.

So we are now known as Peppers Bakery and Cafe and we will be open for business hopefully within the week! When it is all up and running I will obviously post photos, the menu etc etc of the new place. It is all very exciting and I hope that any local readers will come along and check it out soon. This has always been Seerungs dream and she is really looking forward to it opening. Once it is open I will take a back seat and concentrate on my other businesses and more importantly being a house dad once again.

On a personal nature we are still living in the hotel and looking for a house to rent. It is proving to be a lot harder then we first thought. I really do hope it wont be too much longer before we find a place as it isn’t fair on the kids being cooped up in such a small place after living in the village. Oh I almost forgot. We took Sunday off so on Saturday evening we drove into a great wet season storm en route to the village for a 36 hour stay. On board we had Ben, a travel writer from the Sydney Morning Herald who wanted to check out some real Thai life. He had a great time he said wandering around the village, doing some jobs in town with me and attending the final day of a temple party in the next village. We drove back to Ubon first thing Monday morning so that we could be at the shop by 8am. I caught up with Ben for Lunch and again for dinner before dropping him off at the airport the following morning as he continued his travels.
I have so many photos that I should be posting but time is so limited at the moment that once again they are going to have to wait for a day or two as I haven’t even downloaded them let alone sort and upload them as well.
Busy but exciting times ahead, please stay tuned…..

Lak Sao, Laos revisited

I had previously talked about Lak Sao here.

I thought I would have another go and trying to explain this interesting border town. I didn’t bring my camera with me on this trip so am going to attempt the impossible (for me) by just using words. I guess I can only write what I have seen over the last three trips of which I have spent almost a month here in total. There are a few pics on the link I mentioned above.

Every day feels like ground hog day. I wake at the same time, go to work where I remain until dark. Work is a small rented house on the grounds of an unfinished hotel building site. It looks like the money for the hotel dried up years ago. I supervise on average about 15 workers with whom I hardly speak their language.

When I get back to the hotel I shower and go to the same restaurant for dinner before retiring early with a book. I can’t read as much as I would like to because I only have a few books that have to last my time here so I ration my reading time.

However occasionally I get to see a little bit of Lak Sao apart from what I just mentioned. Every now and then the monotony is broken by the need to drive someone to the market for a spare part for the chain saw or some more bags. Driving I must admit is rather exciting due to the fact that they drive on the right hand side (sometimes) something which before now I had never had the experience of trying. Apart from slamming my hand into the side of the door with my left hand trying to find the gears or climbing into the passenger side much to the amusement of my passengers I have been doing pretty good! A couple of times I have also made the 4km walk back to the hotel and again to work the next morning for some exercise and something different.

Lak I believe means marker in Laos and Sao means 20, therefore Lak Sao is the 20 mile (32km) marker from the Vietnamese border. It is the first town inside Laos for the hundreds of trucks a day carting in and out all sorts of stuff. As my work place is right on this main highway I get to see plenty of interesting trucks go past every day. They all need to stop just a few hundred metres down the road where the government import/export office is located. Sometimes there can be 30 or more trucks parked up there half blocking the road due to some paperwork not being in order awaiting for a little extra tea money to be paid to let the load continue.

A friend of mine takes a keen interest in what goes past on his visits here and he has pointed out certain trucks going past full of endangered animals. The other day he explained to me about a law brought in by the Laos government banning the export of full sized trees to Vietnam. They would cut the trees down and load them straight on a truck to go across the border and be cut into smaller pieces over there. The government decided that Laos people should be doing this work and that all wood must be processed locally before export. My friend was explaining this to me as 15 trucks loaded with some of the largest trees you have even seen slowly rumbled past, the truck engines struggling with their heavy load. As he explained to me, rules mean nothing when tea money is involved.

The people here are a mixed bunch. There is a huge contingent of Vietnamese workers. They are noticeable by their hats and for the fact that they seem to be the only people who walk around trying to sell all sorts of things but mainly fruit. They are very pushy and basically are a real pest. They sometimes will not take no for an answer. I have been sitting in the car once with the window half open when this woman tried to sell me some oranges. I said no about three times before ignoring her. This didn’t stop her putting the oranges in a bag and trying to hand them to me, when I didn’t take then she put them on the dash and then asked for her money. I should have just wound the window up I guess.

Most of the Laos people are shyer then their Thai neighbours around foreigners. The younger girls giggle when I walk past and sometimes the younger blokes will try their English skills which always consists of nothing more then, hello, what’s your name and see you tomorrow.

I am yet to see a beggar here although yesterday I saw a man who had obviously not showered since the last thunder storm who on all fours was trying to cross the road being missed by just inches from cars speeding past without even slowing down.

There is a foot path for about 200 metres near the main intersection that has has holes big enough to swallow up two of me!

The dust, oh the dust. Dust is everywhere and gets into everything. I don’t request a room with a balcony anymore as you never use it due to the what appears to be inches of dust on top of the balcony rail, floor and chair. Once I saw a plastic bag blow down the main street amongst a dust storm and it reminded me of tumble weed in an old western movies showing a one horse town, it still makes me laugh when I think of it. This isn’t a one horse town however and at a guess there must be at least 10,000 people living here.

The only beautiful thing in the town is the magnificent mountain range on the outskirts of town. Lak Sao is 500 metres above sea level and this range towers at least another 500 metres high. Unfortunately due to cloud but mainly smoke from burning off it is always hard to see.

According to my blog stats one of the most read posts on my site is when I talked about the bucket truck. Last night as I was walking home I came across one of the trucks pictured in that post. For some reason they were unloading them and I had a close up look at the cramped conditions these dogs had to stay in for days en route to the dinner plate in Vietnam. i counted 12 dogs in a cage no bigger then 1 metre wide by about 60 cm deep and 60 cm high. The noise those dogs made when they were literally dropped the 2 metres from the truck to the ground below was quite horrific.

Although the area is very poor, in one 100 metre stretch of road outside my hotel there is three shops selling motorbikes and 7 shops selling telephones.

Some of the old cars you occasionally see are a delight. Jeeps from world war two and some cars left over by the French look quite out of place in these surrounds.

There is a huge market near the centre round about that is a rabbit warren of dirt tracks making it all to easy to get lost when looking for something. Be prepared to bargain here and bargain hard. I won’t go in the market if I can help it and will send a Laos person because no matter how hard a bargain I try to drive I still fall way short of what a local can get.

I have a love hate relationship with this town. If you can look above the rusting metal roofs you can see God’s beauty but everywhere else is dust and poverty. Every now and then though a local person will break into a smile that would light up a room and say sabai dee (hello) which makes spending time here just a little more bearable.

The internet blues

Well here I am back in Laos. Sitting on the floor with my back against the wall watching the carvers weave their magic on our agarwood carvings. I have no idea when this post will actually get uploaded as I have the Loas internet blues! 4 days ago when I arrived in Vientiane I went to the Tigo phone company head office and they managed to get me connected through my mobile phone like I do in Thailand.
Unfortunately the signal in Lak Sao, 30 kms from the Vietnam border isn’t as strong as that in the capital and whilst being able to always connect the speed rotates between stopped and nearly stopped. I can occasionally send and receive emails (text only) and very very rarely open web sites.
I am back in Laos for part two of our harvest. This time I am hear by myself with someone coming to relieve me in a few weeks time. You can read all about what I am doing on my posts from back in November here and here.
I left Ubon a week ago and had a few days in Bangkok meeting with various agarwood dealers in soi 3. On Sunday I flew to Vientiane where I went straight from the airport to go and look at a plantation about an hour away. I stayed at the new Laos Paris Hotel and want to warn anyone reading not to go there. Over priced rubbish with an attitude.
The next morning after organising my internet we made the 6 hour drive to Lax Sao and then started work. I expect to be here for a while and internet permitting will make a few more posts although how interesting they will be I am not to sure as every day here feels like Ground hog day!
However I have just remembered that I have some photos uploaded from a little while ago that I wanted to share with you so hopefully I will be able to get onto that.
I also need to apologise for not blogging about my Father in Laws funeral but without pics it isn’t really worth it so I will need to do that when I get back to Thailand. It will be worth the wait though I assure you.

Totally devastated

A few days ago when I was in Australia during a phone call with Seerung she mentioned that her Dad wasn’t feeling well. Over the next few days I got updates that he had gone to Ubon to see a Dr after a local Dr said he had cancer. He travelled twice, both times to be sent home because they were too busy. Seerung was worried but not to much and we thought we would sort it out when we got back which was just four days away. The next day we found out he had been admitted to the local hospital. The day I flew into Auckland to pick up my girls we got word that he was fading fast. 12 hours later we heard that he had only hours to live.
I tried getting Seerung on an early flight (8 hours earlier) but it had just departed so we stuck with our orignal tickets to get home.
No sleep that night as Seerung was totally devestated that his health had deterioated so quickly. We had to be at Auckland airport at 3.30am for our flight to Brunei where we were due to connect to Bangkok. We called home before we left and heard the good news that he was still alive. Things were looking good until Brunei. We boarded our flight, taxied to the runway before the pilot announced a problem and that we would need to return to the terminal. Every minute that ticked by we knew that we were closer and closer to missing our final connection from bangkok to Ubon. 2.5 hours later we took off but it was too late for us to taxi it across bangkok to Don Muang airport for our flight.
As soon as we arrived in Bangkok Seerung called home and found out that he was still alive but that it wouldn’t be long. We looked at all options but nothing else was available so we resign ourselves to the fact that we would have to overnight in Bangkok and leave the next day.
Imagine Seerung’s devastation yesterday when at 1am we got the call that we had been dreading. He had died just four hours after we would have arrived home if it wasn’t for missing that flight. Thanks Royal Brunei Airlines.