Last weekend’s fencing foray was not so productive however I am happy to announce this weekend’s trip went much better . With strict instructions that this weekend was wife and dog only ( John – you owe me a case of Zorok mate ), I started the planning early in the week. Shovels,string-lines, machetes, markers,gloves,levels, spray paint etc were all packed into the tool box and on Thursday arvo after work a quick phone call was placed to Bryan and I made a late run down to his steel factory in Takmeo. My strategy was to ram-earth the posts a la Australian style ( no cement required !) so I had bought a Khmer crowbar( basically a 6ft length of 1″ reo ) that had a chisel point on one end and a needle point on the other . In 5 minutes flat Bryan’s boys had sheered off the needle point and welded on a big ramming head. Perfect. An almost-Australian fencing bar ! I flipped them a few beers in payment and was on my way.
After an easy drive down,I took Leakhana straight to Vanna Bungalows and then Karma and I drove out to our land to mark out the fence post positions and start on the holes. On arrival Juntha came over and gave me a hand to mark out and I was happy to see that the $5 we had paid to have the eastern boundary cleared of undergrowth during the week had paid off with a clear line of sight now available. With the pegs in I grabbed my new shovel and started on the 800mm holes. Back home on our farm we have a fair bit of rock and shale in the ground so sometimes the holes were a real bitch to dog requiring much crowbar chiseling. Not so here in Kep. The land is like cheese and with very soft loamy dirt coming out of the hole I was able to dig with shovel alone in about 15 minutes flat. This started some alarm bells ringing as ramming soft earth is a) no fun and b) sometimes does not yield the required result of a super firm post. I dug another hole whilst Juntha looked on ( ” why are your holes so deep ??”) and it then started absolutely pissing down. Damn. Not good.
I managed to cover the holes and then spent the next hour walking around barefoot in the pouring rain with a few cold beers purveying the land. We made a phone call during the week saying we would actually bemore interested in buying an extra 20m length ( not 15m as originally offered ) and would pay extra accordingly. They agreed and Juntha has marked out the extra 500m behind our block as we requested. As I stood on what could be our new back boundary looking towards the road I could not but think how small our existing block looked all of a sudden ! The new addition is a big enough plot for house and garden alone leaving another 900m2 for pool and livestock. I pretty much made my mind up then and there. I want it. Hang the expense. I am still super-worried about the weather and the reality of ramming the concrete poles but I can worry about it the next day.So I motor back in to Kep completely sodden and after a hot shower Leakhana and I head to the crab shacks for some Crab Amok ( coconut curry ! ) and that night with Karma passed out at my feet we play some poker and drink some beer and my wife fleece me of $20.I tell her she can pay for the bungalow. Whilst we play cards we discuss buying the land and I tell her that if we buy the land then a trip to Australia gets a bit further away and she rightly puts me in my place by saying “when were we planning on going anyway ?”. Leakhana and I share exactly the same vision with regards to the land and we decide that we must seize the opportunity to expand while it is offered.
The next day we are back out at the land and Leakhana and I again walk around it. She agrees that the original block now looks very small so we decide to initiate proceedings. Juntha shows up resplendent in his Police Uniform complete with shoes bufffed to perfection ( the first time I have ever seen him in it ) and he is very happy to have my photograph him. We then head over to the neighbor’s house and are met by the owner ( our neighbors mother ) and her son who is a tattooed slovenly looking freshy boy who is lounging around in a hammock. We tell her we will buy the land but we cannot come back for at least a month as I have commitments on every weekend moving forward. Her freshy boy son snorts and says ” we will give you two weeks or you lose the deposit” to which I politely turn to his mother ( whilst turning my back on her son ) and in fluent khmer tell her ” I believe you are the owner of this land. Our offer is a deposit now with a 4 week settlement period. I apologise but I am in Thailand on business all next week, my best friend is coming the following weekend and we simply cannot get back down here. If that is not good for you then we cannot buy the land. Thankyou”. The mother nods in agreement with a smile and freshy boy fuckhead behind me snorts again. Clearly he is in a hurry to buy his new motorbike. Turns out the mother has actually given him the land and he has waited all of a week to sell it. Dipshit. I am sorely tempted to also make a condition of the sale that the freshy fart sack come and help me drop the concrete posts in.
Paperwork all done and we are still now waiting for our posts to arrive. We said 10am…it is now 12pm. I am still pondering the whole rammed earth installation whilst I dig another 4 holes and then all of a sudden a truck turns up with 10 beautiful custom posts, 3 workers and several bags of cement ,sand and blue metal gravel. My whole rammed earth strategy goes out the window as cement is suddenly mixed up on the road and the boys get busy. I am actually pretty relieved as it would have been a long weekend of ramming and I watch with interest as the first one is done . The boys basically extend my hole to 1m ( great ), insert a bed of blue metal gravel ( BMG ) 20cm thick ( perfect ) and then dump a bunch of wet cement in ( hmmmm) add some more BMG and are about to back fill when I say ” WHOAH there fellas – ram it ! “. I give them a demonstration of how to use the ramming end of the bar and they are amazed as the surrounding mix sinks about 40 cm with some elbow grease. I also get them using the spirit level but quickly figure out that the posts are not uniform so decide on using the eye as well. We also decide we need some larger rocks to throw into the mix so Leakhana and I bolt to the local quarry and buy 1m2 ( a “kip” ) of larger BMG chunks which are loaded straight into the back of the Ford.
What follows is a long 5 hours in the blazing sun. Prep the hole. Insert the BMG bed, lift the post in ( all hands on ! ), mix the cement, insert the cement and rocks, ram, more rocks and cement, ram, check level….repeat repeat repeat. Leakhana is telling me to slip slop slap and wear my hat and I am sweating like a bastard and watching the workers like a hawk. Two of them are hardworking no nonsense youngsters and one is a lazy bugger who I correctly guess is the son of the business owner who made the posts. He should really go and join Freshy Fart-head over in the hammock he is that useless and much to the other boys enjoyment, I target him for the shitty jobs.
As the day wears on so does the attention span and dedication of the boys. I have to watch extra hard as they start taking the odd shortcuts but they have not eaten lunch ( nor have I ! ) and there is no drinking water out there so I can hardly blame them. Next time I will lay it on for them but I cannot be held accountable for this weekend’s catering requirements. I of course have cold beer but that is reserved for Project Managers only. With two posts to go they announce ” we will come back tomorrow and finish…” and I know this means that if I pay them today they will get drunk tonight and will never return. I tell them they can come back tomorrow but they do not get paid until they finish the job and surprise surprise they decide to finish the job. We are a little short on BMG so the last few posts will need some work the following day but all in all….we have worked our rings off and the job is done. I have 4th degree sunburn on top of last weekends sunburn and I am dehydrated and hungry as hell and my body is going in to meltdown but the posts are straight, strong and Buddha has smiled with the weather. We wash the tools in a creek, load up and fall into the truck for the trip back in to Kampot. On the way I stop to by the boys some cold beers and the hardest working one of the lot further endears himself to me by asking for a Fanta only. He does not drink . Leakhana tells me this chap ( pictured below with ten fingers up ) did all the fencing up on the Vietnam/ Cambodia border and he ( and his mate also in the truck ) are now well and truly on my short list of guys I would hire for further or even full time work in the future.
On arrival in Kampot we hit the ATM to get some money to pay for the fenceposts and the labour and we finally drop the boys off at the yard. I ask them how much knowing full well that $3-$5 is plenty for a full days work and they have only done 5 hours BUT it has been hard yakka. The lazy guy laughs and says “up to you “. I feel like saying ” OK…you get $2….they get $10 ” but I give them all 30,000riel which is about $7. Big smiles all round and off they go to the nearest beer garden. The cost ?;
10 x 2.6m 200mmx200mm steel reinforced posts @ $20 each ; $200
3 x Cement @ $5 each ; $15
Sand and BMG ; $15
Total inc labour ; $251.
Not bad at all.
Leakhana and I grab a hotel room and I am really in a very bad way. Sunburn and exhaustion has caught up with me and I am laid out on the bed in the fetal position. With all the strength we can muster we head to Bokor Mt Lodge for a fabulous pizza dinner and some lime juices. Leakhana has been a bloody trooper. Hanging out in the shade all day while we worked and she is pregnant remember ! We hit the hay at 7.30pm and I am I out like a light within seconds, as is Leakhana, as is karma.
Yesterday we wake up around 7am after a huge sleep and I am starving again so we check out of the hotel and head straight for a little Khmer cafe where we consume a huge plate or fried rice and a few coffees. We then head back to the concrete yard to pick up a few extra bags of BMG as I have to finishing the posts off and who should be doing all the shoveling and loading but Fanta Man . He gets an extra $1 for his trouble. We head out to the land and on the way I finally take some photos of one of the Sangkat Office buildings I have long admired as a potential housing idea. These are everywhere in Cambodia and with their crimson exterior and ornate roofs, they are stunning. They are simply two rooms ( 4 in total ) either side of a huge open space in the middle. I also decide it is high time we introduced ourselves to the Australian owners of Kep Farm, a 3ha enterprise about 400m down the road from us. We are met by Andrew and his wife and they give us a tour of their lovely patch of land. They teach the local kids English for free and are setting up a Horticultural training college. I completely freak out when I see Andrew’s old red Massey Ferguson tractor as it is EXACTLY the same as the one we had back on our farm in Australia for many many years. they are very nice people and I can definitely see us having a few cold beers in the future. An engineer,Andrew kindly offered to check on anything I might need locally and I offered to check out any diesel generators he might be interested in buying in Phnom Penh.
After the visit to Kep farm it was back to the block to finish off the posts which have set very nicely overnight. As I donned the gloves and picked up the crowbar and started ramming BMG, my blistered hands screamed “NO NO” but it was soon over and with a cold bottle of water I could sit back under a tree with my wife and reflect upon the weekends achievements. After initially thinking we would have yet another false start due to bad weather, we now have ten bomb proof kick arse posts in that clearly mark our patch. We have extended our land and now have a wonderful block with killer potential. As I worked over the weekend all the memories of working our own land with my father and brother came flooding back to me. All those years and years of fencing and clearing and being out in the paddocks in the heat and dirt and having billy tea and corned beef sandwiches brought over by my mother. As I looked at my wife in her straw hat wandering around our block I think she looked just like my mum all those years ago ! Having been at the bottom off the family food chain on Xanadu ( the family farm ) and then watching my brother Adam work on his farm Shrdlu, I just feel very happy and proud to be finally doing something of my own with my own family. Ok…it is not even a hectare but it is raw land, it is ours and we can do what we want with it. Next up will be a hard title and then we will start saving some money for a nice wall. Once that is in we can start planting the block heavily and then a weekender shack.
On arrival back in Phnom Penh we unpacked all the tools and whilst my little munchkin went to work on washing the truck, I had a cold beer. Mum rubbed some soothing lotion in to my skin and we then headed over to Trevor’s for a drink as he had the monks in to bless his house.