Travelling Light

Ton Kloi, Ranong, Thailand: Doing Good Things And Making New Friends (Oct 16-25, 2014)

The day we built the vegetable garden, Boi (the monkey) escaped. He danced around near us, chattering and waving his arms, until Saandi started chasing him – then he took off at full speed around to the front of the house and in the open front door!

Saandi eventually cornered him under the kitchen table, and carried him out in disgrace.

We have begun a campaign of bringing Boi tasty treats (healthy ones, fruit and leaves) every day or two, and it is yielding results. Instead of retreating to the far end of his tether and shrieking at us when we approach, he now does backwards somersaults (if he is on the ground), or shows us his penis (if he is up his climbing tree). Yes, really. This is progress.

Jenny’s immune system is still hyper-reactive to mosquitoes, but the enormous blister is healing well.

Human beings are funny things – Jenny is more vigilant about using mosquito repellant now, because bites are immediately ferociously itchy, but she really should have been hypervigilant about it ever since she had dengue fever, because it is reportedly much worse the second time you have it.

The rules of draughts are reassuringly the same in Thailand as they are in the West, but Na taught Jenny two other games that had different rules. One involved doing lots of the Thai version of “Scissors, Paper, Rock”, which is “Water, Bird, Gun (Nam, Nok, Boom)”. Whoever won got to take their last piece and move it to the front, which meant that if you won six times in a row you could eat the last piece of your competitor’s tail.

After half an hour, only one piece had been eaten, and Jenny called off the game, because at that rate it would go on until midnight!

Habsoh’s English lessons are going well, and now that Tom is here, he is also helping. Na has taken to hanging around the English lessons and copying down the notes. We were told that she has learning difficulties and is working at a Grade 2 level when she is actually in Grade 4, but she is picking up some English phrases.

Maybe she is just more interested in something with an obvious real-world application than she is in the school books.

We had an amphibian visitor in the middle of the night – where are the mighty feline hunters when you need them?

Jenny took a photo of it and left it alone, and in the morning it was gone. Somewhere. We haven’t seen it since.

After a day of using the WiFi at the 7-11 coffee shop, we came home to find that the vege garden had a fence. The next morning, we helped to plant out the seeds. The first bed has beans (tropical beans that grow pods 12 inches long!), the second has cucumbers (small hybrid ones less than 10cm in length, but they apparently can be harvested 30 days after planting – 30 DAYS!!), and the third has choy sum (a Chinese vegetable a bit like baby spinach).

We are still struggling with the management of our time. We aspire to doing yoga, meditation, langugage learning, writing (for Jenny), learning harmonica (for Tom) and relationship time every day, but somehow, even though we have no outside demands on our time, we are still very patchy with fitting these things in.

If we could persuade Habsoh to cook breakfast a couple of hours later, maybe …

When we do get upstairs for a yoga session, Si Nuan is happy to help out. And both cats appreciate the folded yoga mats.

Tom has, through sheer bloody-minded determination, forged a solution to get us WiFi in the house. It’s slow, and it often drops out, but it means we can get on Facebook and share funny cat pictures, which is, of course, a life essential.

Na found this beetle in the house one night, and Tom (who is getting right into the whole big-brother-favourite-uncle role) tried to gross her out by putting it on his face.

Dont worry, it only looks nasty. They don’t bite, but it did make a hissing noise when it got angry.

Once the vege patch was planted, Habsoh and Saandi started going each day to their palm plantation, a kilometre away. The palm trees are small, and during the wet season other plants grow wild all over them. Saandi was spending hours each day wielding a hand-held slasher (like a whippersnipper with a metal blade instead of a string), while Habsoh unwound clinging vines from the baby trees, cleared the area around their bases, and fed them some crystalline tree food.

Saandi has a sore back after two days, so Tom gave him some RoTai treatment, which seemed to help.

We discovered that they had 18 rai (measure of area, about 7 acres or just under 3 hectares) of palm plantation, and they were going to be at this for many more days. We asked if we could help them. At first, they said there would be too many mosquitoes for Jenny, and the work was too hard, but after we had asked several days in a row, they finally agreed to take us with them one day.

How To Maintain Your Palm Plantation


1. Wait for the rainy season to stop.


2. Hire a slasher.


3. Slash the head-high green stuff until you find a palm tree.


4. Slash everything around the palm tree for a two-metre radius.


5. Use a machete to remove clinging vines and clear the soil at the base of the palm tree.


6. Fertilise the palm tree.


7. Repeat 150 times.


8. Wait 11 months and repeat again from #1.


We found a tortoise under a rotten tree trunk, and Tom grabbed the photo opportunity before releasing it into the underbrush. There really shouldn’t be underbrush in a palm plantation, but for now we are only clearing along each row of trees, not all the way between them.

After five hours, we were tired, but not ridiculously sore. There is a lot more land to be cleared, though.

This work was easier when Saandi and Habsoh had two sons around to help with the hard work, but now the sons are in Koh Samui – Mahammad is working there, and Harim is helping Ba (Mahammad’s wife) with the three children under four, so it is just Habsoh and Saandi to work the plantation.

Apparently, Harim is not well, though – it sounds like he is very homesick, rather than having a disease – so he is coming back home soon for a visit for some undetermined length of time. Maybe he will be able to help out with the palm trees for a few days.

To Tom’s great delight, Habsoh made som tum (papaya salad). It is Tom’s favourite Thai food ever. On Koh Lipe, he had it for breakfast every day. The Thai locals thought he was ting tong (crazy), because som tum is not a breakfast food as far as the Thai are concerned.

Pet has discovered that if someone is in the hammock, you can leap into their lap as though they were on a chair. Jenny was in the hammock one day, with Pet curled up against her side, and she needed to go and get something, so she slid out of the hammock without disturbing Pet too much.

A cat in a hammock is a bit like a tortoise on a fence post – you know it didn’t get there by itself, and you’re not sure what it’s going to do up there, but nobody seems to care enough to get it down. Pet was unconcerned, and simply had a bit of a wash while he waited for rescue.

Yesterday morning, we went to visit Tom’s new friend, Pradit, who lives near the tiny local store, within walking distance, and who speaks quite good English. When we came back, Habsoh and Saandi had already left for the palm plantation, and Na was taking advantage of their absence to binge on daytime TV (it is shool holidays).

A couple of hours later, they were back. The slasher blade had broken, and a piece had sliced Saandi’s shin as it flew past. It had been a fortunate angle – it could have been a much worse injury. Saandi washed it, Habsoh bandaged it, and they decided that since they couldn’t do any more work today, and they had to go and get a replacement blade, we may as well have a picnic on the beach.

We collected Habsoh’s mother, who had made a bunch of sticky rice parcels wrapped in banana leaves, bought some condensed milk at a small store along the way, and headed to Pra Pat Beach. How do you open a tin of condensed milk at the beach, I hear you ask. With a bloody great big knife, of course. All Thai landholders have one in their back pocket. Can opener, shman opener …

Tom had a swim, Habsoh’s mother gathered shellfish for her dinner, and Na found some pretty shells. We all ate sticky rice dipped in condensed milk, and a great time was had by all.

When we got home, Saandi’s wound was still bleeding, so he went to the nearby hospital and got a stitch. Just one. The deep part of the wound wasn’t very big.

The next day was a rest day – nobody did much at all. We are not sure if this was because of Saandi’s injury, or because it was Friday, which is the weekend in Islamic countries because you are supposed to go to the mosque at noon – not that Saandi or Habsoh ever do that. We spent the day waiting for the slow WiFi at the house to do things, and Jenny wrote most of the orientation guide for volunteers coming to Ton Kloi.

We also downloaded the sheet music for the Thai national anthem, and Jenny translated it into harmonica notation so Tom can learn to play it.

Video of that will be uploaded once he masters it …

For more photos of our doings in Ton Kloi, check the album.

And for cat lovers, the album Helpful Pet Is Helping.