Where the rubber meet the road- Rubber Trees of Thailand

Sap being gathered

The rubber has to dry for up to a year

My newest motorcycle-- died in floods of 2011

A few years ago I made a trek on my motorcycle. At the time I had a ‘big’ bike. A 850 TDM Yamaha. Over here that is a big bike. The Thais called it a buffalo because of its size and look.

I travel to the eastern part of Thailand where the borders of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand meet. It’s rural and a poor area but as always the people are wonderful and happy. I stopped at a small village and asked if there was a place to stay for the night and a pretty young woman offered her family’s house as a stopover. I wasn’t sure what to think but her house was close so I went for a look. I was relieved to find her sister, husband, three kids and father also lived there and they all insisted I stay for as long as I like. Of course the kids took to me right away.

These nice people opened their house to me, fed and entertained me. They made their living extracting rubber, latex, from their grove of trees. I was excited because I wanted to see what rubber trees really looked like. I picture the thick leaf, bulbous trunk trees just waiting to pour out their essence to a passerby. Guess what? I was wrong again.

We walked at least a mile to their land and as we walked I looked at all the maple looking trees grown in orderly rows along the way. I wonder what they used these trees for and even asked the young husband. He gave me a very odd look and simply said, “Yang”. Thai is a tonal language where every word can have up to 5 meanings by the way it is said. ‘Yang’ to me meant ‘no’ or the rubber tires on a vehicles. It also means rubber from trees—who knew. I figured this out when we arrived at his grove. The trees do look like maple trees and each had a small cup attached to it and a number of very neat cuttings in the bark. The sap from the trees is pure white and sticky. The man asked if I would like to help and of course I agreed. We then turned around and went back to the house—I didn’t understand.

At around 10:30 pm he handed me a flash light with a head strap and said it was time. We went to the grove of around 1000 trees and with a special half-mooned shaped blade he started making very neat cuts at the bottom of the area that had other strips cut. He watched as I made a few cuts and then took the knife away. He said I was cutting too deep and it would harm the tree. I held the light after that. After an hour and a half he had completed his task and we headed home. I thought, “This isn’t so hard.”

Well at around 3:00 am he woke me and handed me the light—I knew there was more to it than making a simple cut. At the grove we emptied every little cup into a large can until it was full and then he allowed me to carry that big can all the way back. I was asleep in moments after my head hit the mat.

At 6:00am I was up and helping him pour the liquid into rectangle containers and adding an acid to the mix. I asked, “Are we through yet?” He just smiled.

I went off to enjoy the family and kids. It was like show and tell as they took me to each house in the village to introduce their guest to everyone. I was a star! Then around 3:oo pm the young man said it was time to finish—do what?

The sap had congealed to a thick sheet and had to be handled carefully. He had a thing that looked like the rollers of a very old washing machine- but much bigger. I got to provide the power to turn the rollers and we flattened out the sheets to about ½ inch thick. We made 20 18×24 sheets and then we hung them to dry. It takes almost a year to dry completely and be ready to sale.

He went through this process every other day for two months and then let the trees rest for a month. It takes five or six years for the trees to mature and then they produce for thirty more years.

I stayed for a week but only helped that one night. The village had parties- not on my account- and everyone visited everyone else. These were happy people and they took me in as one of their own.

The next time you put on rubber gloves, see a car rolling down the road, wear a rain coat or see anything made of rubber you might think of these hard working people who get very little for all their effort. I know I do.

I hope you enjoyed this small tale of a writer living in Thailand.  Thank you for reading and I hope you’ll comment!

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Riding the Rollercoaster Flood in Thailand

It's no fun living in water.

Croc moving in.

Flowering Pip tree outside my house- just a bit of beauty

This whining, complaining or whatever you’d like to call it to others is something new for me. I read a lot of very good blogs where the writer pores out their feelings and bad experiences and I admire them for it, but it’s not something I do well.

I’m tired of this flood and it’s beginning to get to me and I’m safe in the mountains. I really shouldn’t worry about possessions and I do try to put it in the back of my mind. Of course my wife is worried as well. Our house in Pathum Thani had survived so far. It’s right in the middle of some of the heavy flooding. Places like Klongs 1 through 8, Rangsit, Klong Luang and Lam Luk Ka are in the news every day and night.

We were there a day before the dike broke for Klong 5 and there were constant sirens and loudspeakers warning of what was coming. After a week of this we left to go back to the farm. My wife had our little house built 15 years ago and we’ve never had a problem with flooding. We’ve lived in it for the past 8 years.

We went to the farm and the waters came. We couldn’t get in touch with anyone and we were told all the roads were closed into the area. Now, I can take water damage, clean up an all the other things that go with flooding. But the ups and downs of hope and despair aren’t as easy. When our area becomes the track they play on TV between shows I start the worry over and over again. Mostly about our neighbors.

A few days ago my wife’s cousin made a trip to see our house. She lives a few miles away and the waters hadn’t reached her house. We learned that the small area where our house is was still out of the water. We were excited. Then two days ago she called and said her house was now flooded. We worried. Today my wife finally was able to get through to our next door neighbor. Water filled our street but it was not getting in our house. We had added dirt and footings to raise it 3 feet above the ground level when it was built. All but 1 house on our street was built that way. We were happy.

Last night the government put in emergency control of our area for the next two days. There was a new release of water from the north and no one is allowed into our area. We worry.

In Thailand the water gates to dams, canals and other flood control methods are controlled be the local government and the PM can only ask them not to release water or let it in. The local areas try to insure there will be enough water for planting and people during the dry season. Now, it seems, they hold the water until it gets too high and then release it all at once with no regard or pattern. There really needs to be federal control in these situations.

Thailand is also the largest breeder of crocodiles in the world and you guessed it—many of these farms have flooded and the crocs have escaped just to add to the fun. So now the giant lizards around our house may have some company.

Enough about my petty woes. Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering and it’s not going to stop for at least 6 more weeks. I really hurt for those people. The dry season has arrived here at the farm but it’s still raining in Bangkok. Please pray for the people of Southeast Asia. This is my last flood report—unless something really bad happens, lol—until we are able to return to our house. Next week you’ll read about the Writer who stayed with rubber tree farmers. Thank you for reading.

I’d like to add that most of the pictures I put up were not taken by me. Every time I was in the rushing waters my camera was either at home or I was concentrating on staying alive.

Update to Floods in Thailand

Flooding in Thailand

My wife and I spent a week in Pathum Thani at the north edge of Bangkok and directly in the path of flood waters coming from the north. We wanted to move important things to the second floor and get our little house as ready as we could. I really believed we wouldn’t have problem because of the location we live in the town of Klong Luang, which translated to Government Canals.

There are a series of 15 or more klongs, canals, 1 kilometer apart and very long. For years they have controlled the water level in the area against flooding and supply water during the dry season for the area rice fields. There is still a lot of rice grown here but homes and industry are moving in as well.

North of us some villagers tore down a dike wall in hopes of gaining some relief from the floods. What they did was allow the waters to decimate a hi-tech industrial area taking many jobs away from other Thai people and their situation did not change. It also sent water into our area. Each day we listened to the sirens and loudspeakers telling us to prepare sandbags and be ready to leave.

Parts of our town are underwater now and it’s so sad to see the people suffering and there is really no way to help except to give food and supplies. One area, Thalad Tai, is a major distribution market for produce farmers to bring their products into the city. We went through the market and water was up to the floorboards of my truck but people still came because they need to get the produce to small shops.

We had two days of sunshine and it was so nice to feel the heat and brightness of the sun, but the water kept rising. Out street seemed to be safe at that time. Most of the flooding was closer to the main north-south highway. It often floods in that area and the people are used to a few days of water, but the waters came in and covered areas that never saw flooding and the water is still rising.

The stress was getting to my wife- and me- so I decided we would go back to our farm in Pak Chong. Long stretches of main roads were closed so we had to take an alternate route. One we use often just of the scenery was like traveling across a vast lake with houses out in the middle. Trucks and busses packed the road because all other routes north are blocked.

We continued on to Khow Yai to cross over the mountains. Khow Yai is a national park that I have written about before. The attendant let us pass through without paying the normal fee. That was a first for me—they remembered us. The road up the mountain was like driving through a living tunnel of greenery. Lush giant ferns, Teak trees and vines made it a beautiful trip. Clouds encompassed the mountains making the feel of being in a tunnel even more dramatic. We saw only a few cars and a few animals for our 60 kilometer trip across the mountains.

We arrived at the farm and found everything in order. There was such a great relief not to hear the loudspeakers and to see all the worried people rushing about. The water is still rising and the government has opened a number of large shelters for all the people affected by this disaster.  

Now we hear that the highest waters will reach Bangkok within the next few days. The government has directed over 1000 large boats near the mouth of the main river to run their engines in an effort to speed the water into the gulf.

The really terrible news is this isn’t only a problem in Thailand but all of Southeast Asia is being effected. Several countries won’t allow much information to come out but the people are suffering terribly.

I hope you will add this entire area to your prayers and good thoughts. The Thai’s have lost their smiles in many parts of the country but I know they will return.

One positive note: All the political bickering has been put aside and everyone is pulling together. That is refreshing!

Flooding in Thailand

I was going to post a nice story about the rubber trees in Thailand , but instead I will tell you about what’s happening right now.

This is the rainy season in Thailand and it is normal for some low lying areas to flood for a few days. This year the rain won’t stop. I’ve never seen so many overcast days here. We only see the sun perhaps twice a week and then not for long. Most unusual. The rains normally come in the late afternoon or evening for a few hours and then it’s clear until they return. This year it just doesn’t seem to stop.

We have a little farm on the central plateau and don’t have to worry about floods except for the very intense rains. We also have a small two story house in Pathum Thani—near Bangkok. There are a series of klongs- canals- that protect a large area area, but this year there’s just too much rain all over the country and it’s heading for Bangkok via the Chao Phraya river- the main river of Thailand. Many areas of Bangkok are already flooded and it’s only going to get worse.

My wife and I have been caught in these floods on several occasions and it was scary to drive through water several feet deep and not knowing if there is a hole in the road. I always follow someone else but crossing small rivers that are higher than the bridge is unnerving.  All in all we are doing well and safe.

The really bad part is that there are areas where people are living in their houses that have been in deep water for three months. I feel so sorry for these people. Thai’s normally take on any situation with a smile but this year I have seen people crying for lack of knowing what to do—even government officials. Seeing a Thai cry is very unusual and it tears at my heart. They will come through this and be laughing when it’s over.

Another worrisome part is that in the Bangkok area we have been to a number of food outlets and there is no bottled water except for the small 1/2 liter bottles. Only the very poor drink water that doesn’t come from a bottle. I suspect people are hoarding it and the supplies will soon be there. We have a well at out farm so we will have drinking water and will make it available if needed. 

The US has helped with relief by giving 3 million baht– $10,000. Not much help at all. China has given and offered large amounts of money and aid.

I wish I had some pictures to add to this post and will later on but I must tell you when I’m in 2 or three feet of fast moving water rushing across a road, my camera is the last thing I’m thinking of, lol. And it’s not just crossing a short span. There is water for long distances. Looks like driving on a lake or the ocean in some places.

I do pray everyday for these hard hit wonderful people and I hope you will add your prayers also.

For my friends and reader I want you to know that my wife and I are quiet safe. I am ready for the dry season!

Phuket and a Writer’s Life

Phuket sunset

Orchids I grow

Writers all over the world have many ways and places they prefer to sit and do their work.

For me it’s early in the morning, usually just as dawn creeps in to touch the new day. I sit in my little room with a small window and no distractions except my mind. I like to watch the world come alive with the growing light and as I write I am surprised at the passing of time. I’m in my world—the one I am building with my mind and fingertips.

I will sometimes feel the need for a break and think back to the beautiful places I have been. The ocean always relaxes me even when I think of the storms I’ve been through. But I find myself thinking more and more of the land where I live. Small mountains thrust up from the earth thousands of years ago still hold their rugged beauty but trees and flowers will not be denied in the land of rain and heat.

Oceans of the clearest blue and green with shelves of coral and their host of fish are all around the coast. Phuket, located in the south juts out into the Andaman Sea is a place tourist and Thai’s love to go. Phuket is not just one small village but there are beaches of every kind along its coast. I have seen the most spectacular sunsets in Phuket. They light up the evening sky as if a wizard releases golden fire from his staff. Breathtaking!

I have been there to see the wonders of the water and the lush chocolate- drop hills. Some of the towns are a single mans’ dream, filled with golden-skinned beauties with their laughter and smiles and easy ways.

Being married, I could only walk the streets at night a few times just to think of my youth.

Other beaches attract families and you can meet people from all over the world at their best. The Thai people have a way of bring out the best in everyone. They are famous for their smiles and helpfulness. It really is true that they are among the happiest people I’ve ever met.

I picture scenes of Thailand for a few minutes and find my mind relaxed and ready to continue. Then it’s back to my world of my tiny room with the small window and the story I am creating. I sometimes write for hours with short breaks to rest my mind. If I am editing then my room feels more like a prison or corporate cubicle, but the edit must be done—not for me but for the reader. When I think of them (the readers) then the editing becomes easier and my world expanse again. The world I am working on takes on a new life. If not for readers where would I be? I do owe it to them to give them the best I can do. I’m one of them.

I love to read and see the worlds of other writers and I take special care to see if they have taken the time to make their works with the reader in mind.

I hope you are enjoying my short tales of Thailand and a bit about what I do. I always love to hear the thoughts of others and it makes my day to read the comments from you. So tell me whatever you wish. I will listen.

Flowering Thailand

Orchids are everywhere

The first photo is at the airport just before our son headed for the States. All the flowers are orchids. The second is a tree near our house. The third is one of my orchids and the fourth is Julee in a hedge of white Christmas– that’s the Thai name– at our little farm. She’s holding a flower that last for months after it is cut. Look like it’s made of plastic, but beautiful. The last is an Angel’s trumpet tree outside my front patio.

I’ve been away for a few weeks and I apologize for that. Have a number of excuses: Rains, flooding, son’s visit, bad internet… Oh, and preparing a new book to be published soon.

I’m once again at the farm and doing farm things in my spare time, but sometimes I just sit by our pond and look at the flowers. Just about everything that grows in Thailand makes beautiful flowers. What surprised me the most is many of the flowers are eatable. My wife asked me once when she was new to the States, “Why are there so many trees but you can’t eat them?” I thought it a strange question until I moved here.

When trees along the roadways are flowering it looks like a market place as everyone stops to pick a large bag of flowers to take home to eat. I’m not talking about the myriad of fruit trees, but the ordinary trees. They come is every color too.

I must say I’m not a big eater of trees. Most flowers have a bitter taste and the Thai’s love them. My wife always tells me they are good for the heart and I tell her I don’t eat medicine as a regular part of my meal. I do my part by helping to collect the flowers but in truth I would rather sit and admire them.

I grow orchids and here it is so easy. I’ve tried a few times in the States only to watch them die because I couldn’t figure out what to do and when. In Thailand I buy these beauties and just hang them from a limb of a mango tree that grows outside my front door. I even give them food once in a while—whenever I want—and they grow and flower and ease my mind as I look upon them.

Orchids fascinate me because they thrive on the rain and air and very little else. And their flowers last for weeks. Some I have even have a fragrance—most don’t. Orchids grow in the forest high in the trees and there are a number of orchid farms that ship these wonderful flowers all over the world. Almost every home has several orchids hanging on the porch.

I think I became interested in orchids when I learned, as a child, that vanilla beans come from orchids. I haven’t found any of that variety yet but I’m still looking.

If you love flowers of every shape, size and color then Thailand is a place you will enjoy visiting. Lush gardens or just driving down the road is a source of beauty everywhere I’ve visited here.

I hope you enjoy my little stories and I will try to give you one at least once a week.