Day 11: Homestay slow roll


Mr Sophon takes a photo of the CB500X at Bangson Natural Home. Photo: Isaac Stone Simoenlli

Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.

A STURDY pergola arches across the entrance of Bangson Natural Home. Large, oblong winter melons and gourdes hang from the roof, light green ornaments – the arch itself would be fitting for some fairy tale or Celtic ceremony.

I spotted the small wooden sign on the main for the homestay yesterday, and promised the man in charge, Somphon, that I'd stay tonight.

At the end of the green-webbed corridor, the gate is open, so I take off my riding boots and walk in. There's a large, wooden communal space overhanging the canal. Along the edges of one of the platforms are benches. The kitchen space is directly on my left, nobody is around. But the rice cooker is on, someone will be back shortly.

Somphon's private home, with ornate wood railing, is just past the kitchen area. At the heart of the little complex is a gnarly mangrove tree with its supporting stilt roots jutting from the trunk and branches down a couple meters into the muddy water below. A few potted orchids hang in the tree, though only one is in full bloom.

Eventually, someone in the little community of half a dozen stilt houses spots me as he wanders by. He calls out for Somphon, who shows me where the coffee, powdered creamer, tea and water are kept.

Somphon is a pleasant, well-weathered, man, but the kind of person who's face quickly blends into the crowded cortex of a person's mind. Even now, having looked at him just moments ago, I can't recall a single distinguishing feature.

He moves around the wooden platforms like a man missing his wife. While in the kitchen area, he knows were the essentials are kept and seems resigned to take care of the basics, but with the sort of movements that shows only a recent, unenthusiastic familiarity.

I switch out of my riding pants, and pile my stuff near a thick, heavy wooden table with matching wooden benches.

Life at the fish farm was even slower than I anticipated. It would probably take the better part of a week for me to adjust. But the dice are rolling in my fists, as well as in my head. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

A freshly stained wooden ramp leads to a large platform floating on the water. It looks perfect for a small Indiana hoedown, something to do with that much floor space unobstructed by furniture. On either side of the platform is Somphon's livelihood, or at least that's my assumption. Loosely attached to the roofed platform are wooden two-by-two grids.

The framework is driftwood boards and long, straight branches the thickness of a man's wrist. In each square created by the frames are blue nets keeping a stock of freshwater White Tilapia. The makeshift structure is strapped to big blue plastic barrels, keeping the entire thing afloat.

In total, there are about 80 blue nets, between the six or so stilt houses, keeping the fish from escaping.

A neighbor comes over with a bucket of freshly chopped bait fish. The men lift handfuls of the bloody mess out of the bucket and gently throw it into one of the fish pins.

The water explodes with thrashing fish, settles for a moment and then blows back up as another handful of grub hits the canals surface.

A few times Somphon attempts to tell me something, but my Thai is so rubbish that we both end in general agreement, though to what, I don't know. At this point, I'm mostly relying on my ability to make sounds of agreement and understanding – it will be interesting how far they get me with rebels in Myanmar. It's not too hard to imagine:

“We are going to take your motorcycle and drone. We are gong to give you rice, because we are nice,” a rebel says in a local dialect. I grunt with an agreeing smile, nodding enthusiastically at the rice.

Back in the reality of Thailand, things mellow out and I prepare to fall into a more pastoral pace of life. I'm hoping Somphon will go fishing, or do something that I can join him in, maybe help build fish cages or repair nets.

He doesn't.

I roll the die: 1) shutdown the phone until this evening 2) Go see what the local guys are up to 3) Chill 4) Just sit for an hour watching the world, unless host dictates otherwise.

It's a two.

Perfect choice. However, there doesn't seem to be much happening. I wonder down the street to where I think people are, just the next stilt house over. Though the wooden gate is open, I can't see anyone. It seems far too intrusive to simply barge into the person's house. I wonder back to the homestay, finding a man planting marigolds on the way.

He's a funny looking older man with a winter hat on and thick glasses. I kneel down next to him and inquire about what he's planting. He shows me the package with a picture of the marigolds on the front.

Marigolds are one of several types of flowers commonly used for flower garlands in Thailand, which seem to be part of nearly every religious ceremony I've witnessed in the country. However, I doubt that the man plans on plucking and string these up once they bloom.

I smile and crouch down next to him, touch the fairly dry, loose soil and watch him plant the little seeds. His English is better than Somphon's. It turns out that he's in his 60s with an unmarried 33-year-old daughter. At some point he was working in Saudi Arabia.

“In America 40 is old,” he says.

“No, no, I disagree. 50, maybe,” I counter.

“When you're old,” he says. He holds out his little finger like a dysfunctional penis and laughs.

He's finishes planting a few more seeds. I wander back to the communal area.

It's a bit rash and overconfident to attempt to have the drone take off from the roofed platform on the canal. However, I'm a bit rash and overly-confident.

Gently, I ease the aircraft out past the wooden pillars into the open air. After a short flight, I bring my baby bat back.

It nervously twitches in the air, adjusting to a light breeze as I ease it toward the platform. It waivers, inching forward toward safety. Once inside, only a foot off the ground, it feels like we are nearly out of danger when I over correct.

A blade catches a on a pile of chairs and the sickening thwack, thwack, thwack the little fliers flips and crashes into the floor. I quickly hit the kill switch.

The blades aren't chipped, just scuffed.

A YouTube video – thank you YouTube – explains how to use the propeller wrench to remove the blades, which became insanely tight as they attempted to dig into the wooden floor, like the air above.

Though I resigned myself to the pastoral flow, it's clear that lunch isn't a thing, or if it is, I had missed it. Even so, I hope that we'll be scooping one of the big fish up and out of the nets and frying it up with dinner.

The little open-aired restaurant down the road stood at the mouth of Bang Son Canal, past a long line of brightly colored fishing boats. Red and orange with green and blue trim, the 20 foot boats looked like Thai trawlers that were hit with a shrink ray; there was something charmingly small about the crafts.

Given the enormous collection of light bulbs dangling from the boat's lines, they were most likely local squid boats.

The restaurant is mostly empty, a table of employees attentively watches the women on the flat screen television draw numbers for the lottery. A fat, unattractive woman bursts into a cheer. They are all ecstatic over the two digit drawl – she had 500 baht on the number 24. They simmer down and wait for the grand prize numbers to be pulled.

I don't have any numbers to watch, so I go back to munching the plate full of hand-length, deep fried whole fish the die ordered for me.

I ordered a helping of some kind of veggies, which I've never quiet figured out what it's called in English. When I ask, I've always been told “local leaves with egg”. Given that this part of Thailand is painted with jungle, there are lots of local leaves, so the description has never been terribly useful.

I dip one of the little fish, tail first, into some orange chili sauce and start munching on it, chewing extra carefully through the bones and dorsal fin. I get to the head and ponder it. It, unlike the fish back at the homestay does very little pondering.

Before lunch, I had walked out onto the weather-worn wood between the fish pins to examine the fish. They grouped up below me, deep in the pin at first, subtly rising – 50 little mouths accompanied by 100 eyes, pale mint-green eyes, filmy as if blind, yet looking directly at me as they drifted up toward the surface. Any sudden movement would send them the entire school into a diving frenzy.

The little fella in my hand though, he wasn't going anywhere. I put the head aside.

Three fish in and I can't help but feel like I'm supposed to eat the heads. I roll the die, it says ask.

The woman who brought me the food at first says I can eat it, then says I better not. At least I think that's what she's saying. At the end of the conversation, not eating the head seems to be the general conclusion.

I arrive back at the homestay and Somphon is asleep in a lounger in the middle of the communal area. He wakes as I enter.

I offer him some of the fish that I brought back from the restaurant, but he's not interested. Given that he's a fish farmer, perhaps it wasn't the best offer to make. But, what cocaine dealer won't take a free bump from a new acquaintance?

He shows me where the rice is, where the eggs are and where the cooking oil is. I'm not really sure why, as I've clearly just returned from lunch. I smile and nod.

I sit down.

My plan had to be just to sit quietly at the homestay, allowing people to become accustomed to my presence, as if I was luring wild animals, or at least cautious ones, out into the open. I'm not sure why it had seems like the best plan. However, there are no clear alternatives.

Eventually, Somphon says he's going to town to order fried rice and offers to pick me up some. I agree.

So much for the fresh fish of my dreams.

Outside of a single, elderly woman who visited the communal area earlier today, there has been total lack of women. A few men pop in and out, and once school is out there is a boy in his early teens who is around, perhaps Somphon's grandson, but that's it.

In general though, I have the place entirely to myself. Everyone seems to be skirting around the edges.

Somphon fries up a couple eggs, which he serves on a platter next to the fried rice and squid bought from in town. He then disappears.

I eat alone.

It turns out there is actually a very nice room for me attached to the communal area. The AC has been blasting for I don't know how long. I wonder at what point I'll reflect on all this luxury with real sense of desire.

A storm rips across the region bringing a torrential downpour that lasts about 30 minutes. Somphon is out mopping up the floor, checking for damage and then sweeping.

I leave my room several times to find him sweeping the wooden floors; he seems to be continuously sweeping.

He goes down to the floating platform and turns on the lights. I watch from the doorway of my room, hopeful that something is about to happen. However, he's just checking to make sure nothing blew away in the storm.

In bed by 9pm, I can't seem to sleep. My mind seems to have freshly awoken. I put on Adventure Rider Radio, and bask in the compliments about my bike revealed in the episode: Rally Raid's Honda CB500X Mid Weight Adventure Motorcycle.

It's like hearing an anchorman rattle out news about your child, well after news has gotten through the crime section for the hour.

“Competent... Super surprised and impressed with this bike as a stock bike... Honda has the reputation for bikes that just keep going... overbuilt... it's a fun bike, versatile and capable even as a stock machine...” they say.

The show of course is selling the Rally Raid kit upgraded, which among many other things swaps out the aluminum-cast wheels and budget suspension system, making the bike truly capable of handling some very serious off-road adventure riding scenarios. In fact, the kit is so popular, the small UK manufacturing company behind it, Rally Raid, can't keep up with production. Even if I was aware of the kit before the trip, I wasn't in a position to spend an additional 3,000 dollars for the upgrade.

Nonetheless, I'm simply glowing from the compliments given to the stock machine – and learning a great deal about it that I was clueless about: twin-cylinder, steel frame? You don't say...

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