Arriving in Nong Khai, Thailand

So I arrived in Thailand around the middle of March, 2010. I spent several days each in Bangkok and Hua Hin, which is about three hours — by bus at highway speeds — south and a little west of Bangkok, on the northwestern shore of the Gulf of Thailand.

I took a grand total of two pictures during that time.

I know what you are thinking, but there are two reasons behind my lack of photographs. One, I was busy doing touristy things and whatnot, and I didn’t think the world needed yet another shot of a reclining Buddha or a wat. Two, when I do have a camera in tow, I tend to always think in terms of making art, as opposed to snapshots (see no. one), selfies and the like, as I’ve observed many times before.

This not say that I’m any great shakes when it comes to photography, however. But Bangkok and Hua Hin are nothing if not touristy. So …

Thai hair gel in Bangkok 2010-03-14 … It took me a moment to figure out that Hard Freeze Hair Wax was actually just hair gel. Find any one over the age of eighteen without product in their hair of some kind in and around Bangkok on a Saturday night. It’s impossible. Time was I had product in my hair too, but that was twenty-some years ago — and likely Elmer’s Glue.

Ronald greets you with a wai in Hua Hin 2010-03-25Even Ronald McDonald offers a you a wai when in Hua Hin — a traditional greeting common throughout Thailand. There must be a million of these on the Internet, but this is the first I heard of it. And that cone of ice cream is nine baht — about a quarter in U.S. dollars.

Now onto Nong Khai. It is the difference between night and day, in many significant ways, between Bangkok, situated on the Gulf, and Nong Khai, Thailand some 389 miles to the northeast. On the one hand it’s urban vs. rural, but it’s much more than that. Nong Khai is a center of Isaan culture, which differs considerably from the culture of Bangkok and surrounding environs, which is what most people think of when they think of Thailand.

Looking east along the Mekong River at Sadet Market in Nong Khai.
Looking east along the Mekong River at Sadet Market in Nong Khai.
Looking west along the Mekong River at Sadet Market.
Looking west along the Mekong River at Sadet Market.

Look at this picture full size and squint; you can just make out the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge in the hazy distance. Across the river and a short tuk-tuk ride away — about 15 miles upriver from the bridge — is Vientiane, capitol of Laos.

Some pigeons in the park outside Sadet Market.
Some pigeons in the park outside Sadet Market.

Notice the naga designs incorporated into the fence in the above picture? I didn’t either, at first, having just arrived in town near the end of March. But soon I realized naga, or giant serpent-like beings, are everywhere in Nong Khai. Said to be the mythical guardians of the Mekong, not to mention every temple and shrine in the area, a six-story, a seven-headed naga stands guard over Sala Keoku.

The next few shots are of Isara Foundation and its volunteers in action at an English camp. On the left one of the adults you see in first picture is Kirk Gillock, Isara’s founder. Isara operated for more that ten years, running a free English language and computer center in Nong Khai, amongst other community service efforts. One of the best things about volunteering for Isara? It was indeed free to volunteer.kids and volunteers at Isara Foundationkids and volunteers at Isara Foundationkids and volunteers at Isara FoundationThe next batch of snapshots are of the kids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundation, who had come for the afternoon to visit and play with said kids, me included. This was April 10, 2010.kids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundationkids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundationkids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundationkids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundationkids at Sarnelli House kids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundationkids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara FoundationThis last batch, taken in mid-April, were taken at Ming’s parents’ house. Ming was Kirk’s girlfriend at the time; her parents were watching a little boy — why, I’m afraid I forget — and the current Isara crew came to celebrate his birthday. In the second photo Ming is to the boy’s left; the other two children I believe belong to Ming’s sister.Kirk ans a little Thai friend Isara crew and friends celebrate a birthday. Isara crew and friends celebrate a birthday. Isara crew and friends celebrate a birthday. Isara crew and friends celebrate a birthday. Isara crew and friends celebrate a birthday. A Thai family at home.Notice there is no carpet? That’s a Western concept; a typical Thai household doesn’t have one, nor do the Vietnamese and I would guess that is typical throughout Southeast Asia at least (given how warm it is year ’round in most places). Carpets equal dirt magnets, as more than one Thai person pointed out to me. Too true, that.

Finally, here is a banana tree growing on the farm that Ming’s parents own; I had never seen one of course and was duly fascinated.banana tree Nong Khai, Thailand banana tree Nong Khai, Thailand Hard to believe that six months before then, in 2009, I was out of a job with no immediate prospects while my eldest brother and my sister argued incessantly over Dad’s estate, he having died at the end of 2008. Me, I argued incessantly with both of them — at first — that this was indeed pointless, as Dad had already spelled it out in stone, essentially, that everything was to be divided four ways between us kids; Mom, of course, died at the end of 2001.

Furthermore, Dad had told us — well, me at least; I won’t speak for the others — that he wanted us to all get along in the aftermath of his death. He bought it up several times in the year before he died, even though at age 81 his health was stable, as far as anyone knew.

So, with both Mom and Dad gone, no job and no immediate career prospects, at age 41 I packed up, sold out and headed for Viet Nam with no immediate plans to return. Why and how Viet Nam is a story for some other time and some other batch of photos, however.

I started this because, having just found out about Isara having closed its doors last month (which actually happened back in July of 2014 no less), I realized there was little on this site to¬† document my time there. It was only a month, but I consider it a pivotal moment among my more that four years abroad; out of all the places I spent time in between Viet Nam and Thailand, it is the place I remember most fondly — and not with the rose-colored glasses with which I began my teaching career, but the clarity of hindsight. Isara was a big part of that.

More to come. …

Postscript: Sorry, but I’m shit with names, and I’ve forgotten the names of all the volunteers in the pictures. Mai pen rai. Also, these were taken with a Nokia 5800, itself already a couple years old in 2010; they are a bit craptacular, I’m afraid. I do have some shots taken with my old Canon Rebel to come.

Furthermore, some of these pictures have appeared before …