Of all the ways I could choose to fill my spare time, I’ve managed to pick some incredibly tedious, punishing yard projects. It must be from my inherited Polish virtues, a strong back and a weak mind. I intend to fill my back yard with about a meter of soil, all of which must be carted in by hand, since the house is built too close to the lot lines on the sides for even a small truck to pass. It’s an eighth of an acre back there, multiplied by a meter, which equals an ungodly amount of wheelbarrowing. In part to reduce the final amount of fill needed, the back yard will have two terraces, an upper terrace at the elevation of the house that will run in an undulating curve across the back yard from fence to fence, and a second lower terrace that will be about a meter below that. In order to contain the upper terrace, I have to build two retaining walls. The one running from one side of the yard to the other will be a dry laid stone wall. The other runs along my southerly fence. Ideally, that would be a proper column and beam, with pilings under the columns and a poured concrete wall up to the level of the concrete apron. From there it would have a about a meter of brick topped with an iron fence. The funds for a wall of that kind are about five years off if I’m really lucky. So in the meantime, since the volume of soil I’m retaining on the side there on the side of the house is not huge, I figure five or six courses of brick on a sand footing out to hold for a few years. Strictly temporary. Of course, nothing is so permanent as that which is temporary, my old boss Joe used to say. But I’m ignoring that for now.
So I’ve started on my brick wall, and I’ll be darned if the thing isn’t profoundly warped already. By that I mean, warped in all three dimensions, up-down-left-right and back to front. There is not a level brick in the whole 50′ length. Maybe a Free Mason out there would be willing to teach a Slav Digger like me some of their guild’s hidden knowledge. I don’t need the heavy gnostic stuff (they got that from the Muslims anyway), just the secret of how to make a wall that doesn’t suck.
In between bouts with the wall, I’ve been digging out chunks of concrete construction debris that are shallowly buried throughout the yard. As always, the landscape was made to cover the colossal mess left by all the other trades. The area under the future upper terrace is not important since it will be buried deep but the lower terrace will just be 3-4″ above it’s current elevation. At least the debris can be recycled into the dry stone wall.
But all the digging and prying has taken a toll on my only shovel, a short handled spade. If that breaks, I don’t know what I’ll do. Good shovels are hard to find. Shovels here are usually flimsy things not made for real work, called sekop in Bahasa Malaysia. I was lucky to find mine for six ringgit in Satok. The towkay must have been dying to get rid of it, since it was the only one in the store. So what do the poor things do without a decent shovel, you might ask yourself. Well, the principal soil working instrument around here is the cangkul, pronounced changkul, a tool resembling a brutal, outsize hoe. The cangkul is used by swinging it out in front of the body with arms extended to about shoulder height and then bringing it down to the target.
I can’t stand them.
They’re too big and heavy for actual hoeing, difficult to aim, awkward to remove the loosened soil, and to pry with them you have to push away from your body after striking. Why is it that the cangkul is the preferred tool here instead of the shovel, when the shovel is clearly, clearly a more elegant, refined and suitable tool? I believe the answer lies in the foot, or more specifically, what is on the foot. The vast majority of people who dig for a living in the cangkul belt do so in chappels, flip-flops, slippers. I’m still surprised when I see workers clambering around a construction site wearing such things. (At best they wear Adidas payak, swamp adidas, a solid molded rubber shoe, the main manufacturer of which, here in Sarawak, has a swiped Adidas logo on it.) With footwear like that, you can’t stomp down on a shovel! The shovel requires the boot – the cangkul can be operated barefoot. If you have other opinions about the origin of the cangkul, or just want to defend it against my ethnocentric shovel-loving, you may leave a comment below.
The backyard saga continues in Don’t Be Fooled by the Rocks that I Got