habitat thailand: day one

Tonight I went to see some sort of celebration. It was no big production, and it wasn’t all that interesting, but the vibe was good.

Some people in a village 30 minutes south of here set up a small stage by a big blue boat that washed into their village during the tsunami. A band was playing. People were selling silk flowers, woven handbags and other crafts. A group of women had set up a booth offering free foot massages. All of it was to raise money to rebuild the waterfont there, and also to support the burmese community. Legal and illegal aliens from Myanmar who make up a significant percentage of the population in this part of Thailand, and who perform most of the construction and labor jobs around here.

They’re leaving the boat there, in the middle of their town, as a tourist attraction. Makes sense. It would cost money to take it away, but if they work it right, people will pay to see it, buy postcards of it, etc. They’ve nicknamed it the ‘blue angel’ because as it drifted through the village, it didn’t hurt anyone or damage a single house. In fact, a number of people were able to cling to it for support and buoyancy before it finally came to rest.

An orange boat down the road, on the other hand, has been dubbed “the demon” because of the death and destruction it left in its wake.

The angel and the demon. Blue and orange – opposite colors on the color wheel.

Today I learned to lay cinderblock. Something I’d never done before. All fourteen of us worked on one house. A few of the villagers helped too. They don’t speak any English, but we have a translater whom we keep plenty busy. In any case, the language of smiles and hard work is enough to get us through most interchanges. We dug holes together, hauled blocks, mixed concrete.

There are two guys in our group named Hal. Hal Schmitz and Hal Taylor. Both white-haired retirees. Hal the greater and Hal the lesser as they like to say. Hal the greater because he’s the team leader. Hal the lesser because he’s not. I like to think of them as Hal the serious and Hal the funny. Hal the funny is a rocket scientist. He actually worked on the Apollo project that sent men to the moon. Now he runs his own consulting business, working with firms – mostly in Russia – that mine titanium for aviation and aerospace applications. Hal’s got plenty of opinions and likes to talk about himself a lot, but in an amiable way that somehow doesn’t offend or annoy.

Hal the serious is a war veteran. Not exactly sure which war, but I’m thinking Korean. He’s the right age. He’s responsible for us, and the success of this project, so it makes sense that he’s a little more serious than the rest of us. But he’s starting to loosen up a little.