Many of my friends look at me with cocked eyes—that ‘Is he out of his mind?’ look—when I tell them I’m building what could be my final nest so close to a river in a land known for flooding and that I would attempt the project at the beginning of the rainy season. They’re perfectly right to do so, but on the other hand there are some advantages, both esthetic and practical. Esthetically, it’s a lovely location, at least for me, and I think, in part, because the large trees that canopy up and out over the river with the vast fields beyond are reminiscent of my childhood on the coast of Georgia with those grand live Oaks bowing to the salt marshes of the Atlantic ocean. Here’s a few photographs of the progress.
And having begun building the place in the rains, with occasional flooding, has given me a good bit of insight as to what I should do and should not do. As of this posting, this is the most severe flooding in at least thirty years and it is surprising to see how many people have built without retaining or remembering the traditional building designs of their predecessors who built houses from teak and always far off the ground not only to accommodate occasional flooding but also for keeping the interior dwelling cooler.
Today teak is scarce and prohibitively expensive so my simple temple is constructed of concrete, steel and tile for the roof. It’s material with which the local builders/ workers are most efficient at constructing, and in my case, I’ve set the place on rather tall concrete stilts and, yes, I will invest in a small boat.
The workers are all legally documented Thai Yai, a Burmese ethnic group, and all speak fluent Thai. Dtao, ‘the boss’ and the rest of the crew are quite proficient at doing all parts of the construction. However I’ll do the final interior finish work along with Lek’s assistance.
They erected, on site, a temporary bivouac of bamboo and grass to live in during the 5-6 months of construction. In the early stages, certain Buddhist rituals were attended to bring a successful adventure and good merit for the owner… This temporary ‘Spirit House’ currently embraced by the river will stand in for the permanent one to come later. And I was recently told that the long lasting one must reside in this same location, never mind that I had planned on this spot being within a future extension of my studio.
All the crew, along with my adopted Akha family, Lek, Paan, Gam and Wei, spends most days here. As is the custom, everyone becomes one large family and meals are made with great care and from as much food source as is naturally available. On the land they find numerous green plants quite edible and certainly there is fish from the river. Currently we’re in Cicada season, which are not related at all to locusts, as some think, but to spittlebugs and leafhoppers. These incredibly edible creatures are perhaps the world’s noisiest insects. In the evenings, the young men take small flashlights and locate the burrows where the cicadas also bivouac, dig them out and then fry them up. Aroi aroi (delicious, delicious) they tell me. I’ve yet to try one but I’ve had the local ‘rot duan’ which are small white grubs that inhabit the interior of bamboo stalks. These too are often fried, and in both taste and appearance, not unlike a small French fry.
The floods have rather damaged the bamboo bivouac and more storms are predicted. It appears that ‘project Panomland’ is going to be delayed a bit more.
Working so close with Dtao and crew, everything having to be translated through Lek, can be frustrating. But it keeps everything wonderfully organic in the shaping of things. And to be close to the source of so much of the material, where it comes from, how it’s made and used and to witness the various methods of construction, which often seem very primitive by modern Western standards yet produce perfectly good results, all of these ingredients of building ones home keep it, for me, well within the realm of art-making; I find that delightfully satisfying.
The floods have dictated a break. I’ll post this and send an update in a few months.
Many good blessings to all