Before I get into the details of “The horror. . . ,” final episode, I’d like to give you all an update on the progress. I like to start things off with a bit of optimism. In an earlier post I wrote about how I’d changed locations on my site for my system to be set up. In that post there is a photo of “ground breaking.” That was the positive result from an otherwise horrible situation. I’ve since gone back to the land to give instructions for further work. In fact, I drove 24 hours to the site and back from Vientiane to spend a couple of hours explaining things.
Billy seems to want to take charge of this next phase of construction, with the relative who built the tank acting as his assistant. The instructions I gave were to render the fish tank inside and out. I even provided them with the liquid additive which makes mortar waterproof, so there would be no confusion. Then I want them to put in the 6 wooden posts (rough sawed 5cm X 12cm lumber) and a concrete footer of sorts around the whole thing where there will later be a low (35cm) brick wall. I will be truly impressed if all the posts are exactly 3.4m high from the bottom of the footer and in a straight line.
But, back on June 26, nearly a month ago, all optimism had slipped from my mind. While elated about having had my truck rescued from the grasp of the land that time forgot, I was firmly engaged in a spell of pessimism that must have lasted at least 3 hours. I’m not the pessimistic type of guy.
Back at the guest house, I cleaned up a bit and then headed across the street for some nourishment. After a harrowing experience, a cold Beer Lao does wonders for you. A tremendous amount of mention had been made about the difficulty (I think the work “insanity” was also used) of doing a building project such as mine in the rainy season. But I was depending on that rain to fill my fish and hydroponic grow tanks. The truly dry season is only about 2 months long and it was about 5 months away. Even if small, I’d need to generate some income by then. I was getting my summer bonus soon, and I had very little faith that I’d be able to hold on to it for long. I mean, what would I do the whole time while I waited? Waiting was the horrible prospect, but not quite as horrible as going down to that second tier on my land, again. But if I put my money into improving that access slope, I wouldn’t have enough to get the project going. Meanwhile, my company in Japan was warning us that we shouldn’t expect much of a bonus this year as business has been unusually bad. I was facing a perfect storm.
Then I remembered something that Billy, my landlord had said. Something along the lines of, “When you get the resort built down by the waterfall and have hundreds of guests coming to stay, they can park on the first tier where there’s better access and just walk down that evil slope.” The slope was evil because he didn’t fill in with dirt around the sides as I’d instructed. I’d also instructed him to use a broom with stiff bristles to roughen up the surface of the concrete before it set. Of course, the later was done in improvised pantomime.
The upper tier! Of course! Why not!? The next morning I did some measuring and it was decided. It made a lot more sense to build my greenhouse(s) there, but such realizations have to take the long and winding route. So, that same day, we ripped out some coffee trees and I let them get started with the fish tank. I went to Pakse to get bags of cement, some steel for reinforcing, and some money (there are only 2 ATM machines in Paksong; one is always broken, and the other isn’t completely up and running yet).
But the “horror” hadn’t abated completely. We’d decided to order a 6-wheeler with a load of gravel and sand to arrive the next morning. The driver, coming from Pakse, was concerned about the rain. He’d delivered a load of dirt to me before, so he knew even the upper tier road isn’t that great. It just happens to be flat. It wasn’t raining when we called him, and it wasn’t raining the next morning when when he called from Pakse to confirm the order, so we never lied to him, we just neglected to tell him that the rain had only briefly ceased its relentless deluge during the last 18 hours. And, man, he had crappy tires. So, as you would expect, he got stuck, just before making it to our property line (where the observers are). I pretty much stood back and watched the show. It would be senseless to help by pushing. An item I’ll have to add to my list of handy items to have around is a 4WD Chinese 10-wheeler (in the background). Finally, the driver had to drop half of his load, the gravel, where he got stuck. It’s only about 45m from the construction site. He managed to get the sand to the site, and he managed to get back out to the main road. I don’t think he’ll ever deliver to us again.
We still needed bricks, so with a vague sense of the direction in which we were supposed to go, off we went. It turns out that we went to the wrong brick factory, but that’s OK. This one was a Vietnamese business. It’s the first brick factory I’ve ever seen, so I can’t compare it to anything else, but except for the conveyor belt on which the bricks were carried to my truck, it seemed awfully primitive. I must admit, though, those fires made me want to bake some bread in my own wood-fired, traditional oven.
I had absolutely no intention of carrying this load in to the site. That 6-wheeler had turned the road into a sloppy mess in a few places. I thought I’d just leave them at Billy’s little house which is just off the main road. They could figure out their own way to get them to the site. But this wasn’t to be. I couldn’t blame them, but I refused to drive. I handed the key to the guy doing the fish tank, an experienced Hyundai driver. He actually made it through the worst of the mess, only to get hung up, with a vengeance, on a tree stump which was hitherto not a problem. But the 6-wheeler going on either side of it had made it stick up well above the miniscule clearance of a Hyundai. His stop was abrupt, to say the least. I don’t know which bit it was caught on. I can’t even identify half of the things under a motor vehicle. But it was caught on one bit, only to be caught on another bit later. He hacked at the stump with a machete– not an easy thing to do when you are laying in mud under a truck. Then there was a prolonged period of jacking and shoveling bits of gravel whenever and wherever it seemed helpful. And pushing. . . Repeat. Yeah, I was thoroughly fed up with this, but we got it unloaded. I had him drive the truck back out to the main road for me.
It was getting dark when I pulled onto the main road for the 5km trip to the guest house, dinner, and some beer. But the “horror” refused to give up. I noticed a clacking, clattering kind of sound coming from somewhere. It either happened only at low rpm, or I just couldn’t hear it at higher rpm. But it didn’t happen when idling, only when moving. The next day I drove 12 strait hours with it acting like that. People would turn their heads when I slowed down through a village. It never got worse, but it never got better, either. I couldn’t afford to stop at a dodgy garage. . . When I took it to Hyundai, I had the truck washed first; the idea was to play innocent and have it fixed under warranty, as if I hadn’t even gone over a bump. They raised the truck up and removed two big, very mangled brackets that were obviously meant to serve a purpose other than plowing roads and knocking down assorted debris. So much for the warranty, I thought. So, I need new ones, I asked. No, no, no. They pounded them back into shape, reattached them, and even changed one tire with a mildly mangled inner rim (it’s now my spare). And they didn’t charge me. I think it’s because they couldn’t. Hyundai has been painfully slow to get my truck registration papers sorted. It had no plates, but was obviously new, so they just fixed it.