19 May 2012

Misc pictures and stories

Fun with tuk-tuks
Tuk-tuking in Bangkok traffic.

Our tuk-tuk went between these buses.

One tuk-tuk was towing another

Grand Palace fashion police
No bare shoulders, knees or midriffs; nothing see-through, nothing ripped or skin-tight.

If you fail inspection, you have to either leave or rent a sarong (women) or pants (men).

Street food
Pick your ingredients and they cook it for you.

This was mostly dried fish and seafood.

Fruit vendor cutting up guava for me

Peanuts and corn

Orchid farming
Orchids are cross-pollinated to create the mix desired. (right to left) The resulting seeds are placed inside a glass bottle with agar and sealed. After a year the bottle is broken open and the seedlings are transplanted into charcoal where they grow for a couple years until they bloom the first time.

Red Bull
Red Bull originated in Thailand and was an import to the US. According to some of the kids in the group, the Thai version packs a much bigger punch than the US version.

Gas prices
Wherever I go, I get a picture of gas prices to compare with prices at home. When I left, I was paying about $3.60/gal for ethanol blend. This sign is in baht/liter. I think the top one is diesel because the bottom 3 have what look like octane numbers. Figure 30 baht/dollar and 3.785 liter/gal. That makes the diesel $4.05/gal and the rest $4.86, $5.08, and $5.51 per gal, respectively.

18 May 2012

Fun with English

On the way to the elephant park we passed an upscale housing development; not quite a gated community. In big gold letters the development was proudly declared "Richy Rich Land".

On the back window of a car I saw "Be my princes, and I'll be your toad." (and, yes, princess was spelled with one 's') Maybe he was headed to the Princess Sexy Bra Shop, which we saw on the way back from cooking school.

The mahout on one of the elephants kept saying "Oh my God," "baby," and "so beautiful." Sometimes individually, sometimes all strung together. Then he would laugh

Another mahout, whenever one of the girls on his elephant said "Oh my God" would say "Oh my Buddha" so the kids have started saying 'OMB' instead of 'OMG' or 'oh my Buddha' instead of 'oh my God.'

A sign outside a wat: "Take of yourshoes please."

On the village day, we had 2 song teo drivers. One of them had on a shirt that said "Red Whole Heart." I was riding shotgun with the other driver who spoke a little English and I asked him what that meant. He said, "He is red shirt. Red shirt, red heart, all red." Which didn't really clarify things for me. Eventually, I understood that there were protests all over the country a few years ago, the Red Shirts protesting against the prime minister. The slogan 'Red Whole Heart' was declaring his support for the protesters and/or participation in the protests.

I saw a sign for condos, "3 Bedroom, 2 Parkings, 1 Massy Living Room."

At the organic tea shop where I bought tea, they had these little terra cotta type figurines of chubby, naked little boys. They were called Pee Pee Boys because if you soaked them in cold water then poured hot water over them, they would shoot a tiny stream from the appropriate location. The documentation included with them was helpfully titled, 'How to have fun with pee pee boy.'

In a restroom stall: "Do not put soiled in toilet." We discussed the meaning of this and we think it means 'Don't put used toilet paper in the toilet.'

On one of the koala signs at the zoo, a sign was talking about how the just-born joeys find their way to the pouch and attatch to "one of two treats.' That works... On another sign it was spelled "teets."

There was a coffee shop near one of the ruin sites called "Coffee Fresh & Antique."

On the way to Cha-am, there was a big shopping center that said "Amused Shopping Experience."

At a travel plaza where we stopped for a break, there was a Daddy Dough doughnut shop.

Near the beach, I saw a sign advertising live music by a group called "Calories Blah Blah." I know band names are often unique and a bit odd but 'blah blah' makes it sound like they didn't really try. And 'calories'??

License plates on cars consist of two letters (Thai) and four numbers (Western). With 40 consonants and 20 vowels, that's a lot of possible combinations. Lots of signs will have the same kind of mix...Thai letters with western numbers for prices or times. I asked Lora why they don't use Thai numbers. She didn't know.

15 May 2012

Back to Bangkok

We had until noon to check out so everyone spent their last hours at the beach however they wanted. Virginia stopped by my room to tell me they were going to the beach. I told her I'd be along in a bit.

As I was leaving the hotel for the beach, I met everyone coming back. It was too hot out there, they said, they were heading for the hotel pool.

I hadn't planned to swim at the beach but I do like walking on the shore. However, the pool looked really good...I think I mentioned that it's cooler than the ocean and doesn't have jellyfish... so I got in. It did feel really good on my sunburned feet.

I paddled around for about an hour with the group then went to shower and finish packing.

We loaded up and hit the road around noon. Mostly, it was just a road trip. One interesting thing along the was was the salt farms.

These were small paddy-like areas that were filled with sea water brought in from ocean by canals and pumped into the paddies with windmills. The water evaporates leaving the sea salt behind. The salt is collected into piles and then sold.

Lora said it was a World Bank project to foster economic development. The bank would loan money to small farmers to get them started and they would repay the loan with the profits. Lora said there were also shrimp farms started this way, too, but they haven't been as profitable. There's a lot more involved in producing a living thing than letting water evaporate.

We got to our hotel, conveniently located about 5 minutes' drive from the airport. Since we have to be there at 6:30 tomorrow morning, that's a Very Good Thing. Most of the kids wanted to go to a mall about 40 minutes from the hotel. I passed.

I repackaged the drum box for Virginia since I'd be checking it. Lora, Virginia and I had supper at the hotel restaurant and I tried to stay up late to begin the big time adjustment back 12 hours that would start with our flght to Hong Kong.

Tomorrow is going to be a very, very long day...about 37 or so hours. But at the end of it, I'll be Home!!!

14 May 2012


May 14, 2012 is now a red letter day. It's red-letter status starts with Lora, Virginia, and I deciding to have an "adults' night out" for dinner. Some of the kids raved about the pizza at Cha Am Pizza the night before so we decided to try it.

I know...I said I wasn't going to eat any Western food on this trip. I rationalized by saying that it was Thai pizza...not the same as home pizza.

So, we found the place and decided on the number 10...chicken, red bell pepper, onion and pineapple. It had just a sprinkle of cheese on it (dairy products are definitely NOT Asian...) and a smear of tomato sauce with some interesting seasonings in it. The crust was phenomenal...it was 'thick' but very light and airy with a wonderful crispness to the bottom of it. Does that sound American???

But back to red-lettering... they basically had beer or water to drink and I was so heartily sick of drinking nothing but water for the last 2+ weeks that I ordered a Chang...a Thai lager beer. Not only did I order it, I drank it...all of it. Making this the first time in my life I'd ever drunk a beer.

I'd tasted beers before, but I'd never gotten past a sip or two because they always tasted like...well...beer.

I can't say I really enjoyed this beer and would like more of them...but it wasn't horrible. So May 14 is now my beeriversary.

I celebrated my first beer by stopping at the drink bug on the way back to the hotel. The drink bug is a hot pink VW van that's been converted to a moveable bar. The kids told us about last night. It pulls into town and parks on some street then opens the side counter/window and is open for business. They had all kinds of mixed and blended drinks and smoothies. You could stay there and drink it (glass glass) or take it away (plastic cup).

A margarita sounded like just the thing to take to my room and sip while knitting so I got one to go. (80 baht...about $2.50) It came in a plastic cup with a lid and straw and a little paper umbrella and was way tasty. MUCH better than the beer...

Beach Walking

We're staying at a hotel in Cha Am. It's fairly close to Bangkok as beaches go and it's not a particularly touristy beach. It's a beach that Thai people go to. When we arrived yesterday (Sunday) there were a lot of people here and very few white people other than our group.

Today, the beach was almost deserted. I've been a little freaked out by the jellyfish in the water so, while I've been in the water a couple of times, I haven't spent much time there.

I have, however, taken some long walks on the shore. Yesterday, Virginia and I walked 'right'...I think that's south. We mostly walked and talked about Life, the Universe, and Everything. We did see the most amazingly big jellyfish washed up on the beach. It was maybe 18 to 20 inches across. I REALLY wouldn't want to run into one of those swiming. I don't know jellyfish from marmalade so maybe these aren't "bad" jellyfish, but since I don't know, I don't want to risk it.

We also picked up some trash as we walked. I always like to do river clean ups on the rivers I paddle at home so it was nice to do a little beach clean up on the other side of the world.

Today, I walked the other direction, toward the jetty because I wanted to see what that white thing at the end of it was.

It was probably a good 15-20 minute walk to get there. That's when I discovered it was one of 2 jetties that paralleled each other and harbored fishing boats in the space betwen them.

I started to head down the jetty but the top of it was paved with asphalt and it was waaaay too hot for me to walk barefoot on. There was a raised concrete curb on one side, though, and while it was warm, it was bearable. So I walked the length of the jetty on the curb. It was wide enough that it wasn't too difficult but I really watched my step, especially where there was a steep, long drop on the water side.

I made it safely to the end and found that the big white thing was a sculpture of a couple of squid. Denmark has the mermaid a the mouth of the harbor; Cha Am has 2 giant squid.

The thing I got most excited about was a rag I saw on the rocks outside the cement curb ringing the squid. It may have been a shirt at one time. Or not. In any case it was just the thing for me. I ripped it in half and wrapped each half around a foot and tied the ends. Now I could walk back on the road instead of tight-roping it down the curb.

It got me some funny looks from the Thai people I met on the way back though. In one case, I met a man, woman and little girl walking. The man was in front and we smiled at each other (it's just what you do here...it's not called The Land of Smiles for nothing) and then he looked down at my feet in an amused way. The little girl just didn't seem to know what to make of me and was clinging to the woman's leg. I bent down a little and said, "Sawadee, kah." She gave me a brief wai and smile then retreated to the woman's leg again.

I made it back to the cooler, wet sand and took the helpful rags off my feet.

On the trip back, I saw a lot of cuttlefish 'bones'...some of then still partially surrounded by cuttlefish parts. I found a clean, fairly small one to bring home with me. I've heard they make good emery boards. Other than that the only thing I know about cuttlefish bones is that people who keep caged birds sometimes give them to the birds.

The tide was going out and leaving things on the sand...jellyfish, cuttlefish, dead fish. Although in one case I did find a live fish. It was a funny looking fish...it looked more like a giant tadpole, except with the head and gills of a fish. The body/tail part of it looked like the back end of a tadpole before it starts to grow limbs.

I picked it up and flung it back out to sea.

When I got back to where our gang was hanging out, I realized I'd sunburned the tops of my feet with my walk. Oops...

Lady Boys

We didn't see this so much outside of Bangkok but in Bangkok, Lady Boys are common. Basically, they are men who dress and live like women. The cabaret shows in Bangkok are a huge tourist attraction. Foreigners come to gawk or marvel but I didn't see a lot of Thais at the one show I went to.

I can't pretend I know much about it...I'm a farang passing through...but given some of the discussions going on at home about gay rights, I've been thinking about it.

On the train south, the porter in our car wasn't a full Lady Boy but certainly a wannabe. He was wearing some make up, had a wild, though short, funky hairdo and swishy mannerisms. He also took a real shine to one of the guys in our group and made his interest known. James said he was always hanging around, saying 'So handsome. So beautiful.' and touching him. To the point where he asked Lora how to say, "I'm not gay." in Thai. Lora gave him an appropriate phrase to use.

For the porter to be on the job in make up must mean it's at least somewhat accepted. I can't imagine too many places in the US where one could do that. I would hope that even in Thailand the unwanted attention and touching would be inappropriate.

11 May 2012


We arrived at Songdhammakalyani around 2:40. I've been putting off writing about this because I don't really know what to say about it. For roughly 48 hours we stayed at the monastery and did pretty much what the monks do. We went to morning chanting at 5:30am, evening chanting at 7:30 pm, participated in community time from 5 to 6 each day, ate vegetarian breakfast and lunch with them (monks don't eat after noon until the next morning but they made dinner for us), went on alms rounds with them, and slept in un-air-conditioned roms rooms on very hard mattresses.

Physically, it was demanding and very uncomfortable. But it's the way they live. There's a reason not everyone is a monk. And the no air conditioning thing is not different from how the general population lives.

And here, there is one fully ordained monk and several lower-level ordained monks (novices). What is truly unique about these monks is that they are female. The Venerable Mother is the first fully-ordained female Buddhist monk in Thailand. She's been interviewed by many magazines and broadcast media. She's been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. She's highly educated, lived in Canada for many years and has a delightful sense of humor.

She taught a number of classes for us on meditation, the history of Buddhism, and Women in Buddhism.

The first 24 hours were so miserably hot that I didn't sleep, wasn't hungry and felt kind of sick. After that, it either wasn't quite so hot or I'd sort of gotten used to it. Or, I was so exhausted it didn't matter. It was probably the closest we came to actually living the way the majority of Thais do in terms of hot conditions, small meals and carrying on.

Average Thais probably don't chant and meditate daily, though.

So what did I take away from the experience?

1 - monastic life is not for me. I can see where the focus and discipline would be appealing to some, and most of us could do with more of it in our lives, but not everyone is cut out to live it to that degree.

2 - chanting is cool. Since they were chanting in Thai, I mostly didn't know what they were saying although there were English translations of some of it. But just the sound of the 6 or 7 voices synchronized had a resonance that was appealing.

3 - walking meditation works better for me than seated meditation. I'm always more comfortable doing SOMEthing and walking meditation fills that desire. But perhaps that means I need to cultivate still meditation. I should meditate on that...

4 - I'm not sure I have an answer to the question(s) I had going into it.
--Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? It doesn't have a deity or deities the way most religions do. And the way the common person probably understands Buddhism, it probably is more life philosophy than religion. But the monks at the monastery certainly approach it in a way similar to Catholic monks in the US would.
--Can you be both Buddhist and Christian (or Muslim or Jewish...or agnostic?)? We got mixed results on this one. Ken, the retired Presbyterian missionary, said "Yes." The monks at the monastery said, "No. If you follow Buddhism fully, there is no room for anything else." Which is what I imagine most religious leaders would say, too, from the other side.

5 - as with Christianity in the US, the average person-on-the-street's idea of what his/her religion is like is somewhat different from the point of view of some who has decided to seriously study it and live it. In other words, your average person has a much more superficial understanding than a priest, minister or monk does.

6 - different from most Christianity followers, Buddhism is much more individual. Most Christian followers go to church, attend Sunday school, listen to sermons, and generally get some degree of organized education on Christianity. There is a value placed on the 'community of faith' and sharing that faith with others. Buddhism is more individual...at least in Thailand. If you are so moved, you seek out a teacher, study the teachings of the Buddha (contained in 45 volumes), and seek your own enlightenment. It's very personal andyou don't generally talk about it with others. The average person in Thailand gives offerings at the local temple and seeks merit but doesn't go much beyond that.

7 - There are so many similarities between stories of the Buddha and stories of Christ (who came along 500 years later), you have to wonder if the Christian stories were just Buddha 'repackaged' for another time and place...kind of the way Christianity, Judism, and Islam all have flood stories, Abraham stories, and Adam/Eve stories. There are differences, though...Christianity has God, hell and heaven. Buddhism has Buddha, suffering and rebirth. Wait...is that really different?

Long story short I know a little more about Buddhism without really knowing anything. So, I know that I don't know. Does that make me more enlightened...or less??

one of our community time projects...clearing brush and debris from this area

Another community time project...dredging mud from this canal to haul up front. One of the monks and two of our guys were in the water filling buckets with mud. They'd pass the buckets up to others who would put them on a cart and wheel them to the plant bed up front.

buckets of mud

mud ready to move.

final destination for the mud.

raking leaves

heading out for alms rounds with the monks

community members donate food to the monks

alms rounds

Our group with Oh and Oh.

Empty cart heading out for alms rounds
Sunday service

Oh and Oh...temporary monks. Their names are not the same but I don't know how to designate the intonations. One is mid tone, one is rising.

10 May 2012

Baifern Ant Story

The Baifern is a B&B kind of place. It's owned by a Thai woman and her Australian husband. Actually, the husband is not really an owner. Non-Thais can't own property in Thailand. It's a very charming, homey place. We have most of the rooms but there are some other guests here as well.

My room had several glass doors that opened onto a balcony which overlooked the front gardens and a ruins park across the street.

The bathroom was really a bath room. It had a toilet and sink, but the room itself was the shower stall. There was an on-demand water heating unit on the wall connected to the shower head next to it. It felt really weird to have water spraying uncontained in the bathroom but that's the way it was designed to work.

I showered when we got there after the train ride from Ayutthaya and hung my towel in the bathroom before we left to tour ruins.

It was so miserably hot and oppresively humid while were touring ruins that I took another shower before bed. I used the same towel as I had in the morning.

However, what I didn't realize was that in the meanwhile, the towel had become completely infested with these teeny, tiny ants that were almost translucent. Oh, and they bite like fire ants.

I figured this out when I started toweling off after my shower and my upper torso was suddenly on fire. I tossed the towel and got back into the shower to wash off the ants. I was not a happy camper for a while.

I discovered that they were in my suitcase, too. I pulled out a white jacket and could see lots of them. I really kind of freaked out then. I talked to Bernie about the best way to deal with them and he gave a spray can of some sort of insecticide.

I'd be a failure as a Buddhist...I really wanted to kill the little buggers. (and did)


We arrived around 6 am and were met by Natalie and a double-decker bus. We checked into the Baifern Homestay, showered, changed and regrouped at 9 to See Stuff.

We first went to the Summer Palace, built by Rama IV (curent king is Rama IX). It's unusual in that it's built in European architectural style.

Then we saw several temples as well as some ancient ruins. The ruins made me a little sad. I had seen most of them when I was here in 2006 and remembered the ruins as standing amid beatiful green space.

However the massive flooding last October had all of Ayutthaya under water for 2 months. They were still cleaning up some parts and many of the ruin areas were off limits because they afraid some of prangs and chedis would collapse.

Still, you could get a feel for the age of the place...some of the ruins date back 700 years, to the time Thailand became a unified country. At the time, it was called Siam.

09 May 2012

Zoo & Train South

Today was half a free day and people could do what they wanted until it was time to board the train south to Ayutthaya.

Some wanted to go zip lining in the rain forest. Others of us went to the zoo. Some did laundry. I went with the zoo group.

We got a song teu off the street and were on our way.

Entrance to the zoo was 100 baht (about $3.00) and it was an additional 100 baht to get into the panda habitat. There was also a new aquarium that was supposed to be the longest in southeast Asia but we only had a couple hours and didn't have time to do everything.

It was a really nice, well-designed zoo. It looked like the animals had decent environments and yet you could get a good look at them, generally. A lot of them, you could feed and a number of us gave bananas to the elephants, long beans to the giraffes (they have the most amazingly long tongues...) and chunks of meat to the leopards. The elephants and giraffes, you just kind of put the food out there and they take it from you. The leopards get a chunk of meat on the end of a metal pole.

It was definitely not designed to be handicap accessible, though. The whole place was built on a mountain side and the paths and roads were very steep. Some of the steps were twice 'normal' height. By way of compensation, they did have people movers that would take you from exhibit to exhibit. Or you could rent little golf cart-like things. But Thailand in general is not an easy place to get around if you're not able-bodied.

We planned to meet back at the entrance to the zoo at 12:30 so we could be back to check out of our rooms by 1:00. There was a song teu waiting and we asked about a ride back to the hotel. He didn't know for sure where our hotel was and wanted 100 baht more than we'd paid to get there to get us back. We started to walk toward another song teu and he relented, said he'd take us for 200 instead of 300.

None of us had a card or brochure from the hotel so we didn't have the exact address but we told him it was near Payap University and across the street from the British embassy. Well, he apparently didn't know where the embassy was either and took us to a different Payap University campus than the one by our hotel. All in all, we were a little late for our 1:00 check out but someone (bless them!) had moved all our bags to the office.

I'd gotten really hot at the zoo and went to the ice cream store on the corner to cool off then to the 7-11 to get snacks and water for the train, then back to the ice cream store because I'd left my hat and sunglasses there. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at a little restaurant and picked up some chicken and rice, which I ate in the gazebo at the hotel. Then I joined the group in the office to wait for the minibuses to pick us up at 4:00 and take us to the train station for our 4:30 train.

My 4 the buses hadn't shown up. Lora had us move all our bags out to the street so that when they did get here, we'd be that much closer. By 4:10 they still hadn't shown up and Lora called to find out there was a misunderstanding and the buses thought they were picking us up at 4:30. They said they were on the way but we didn't know from where so Lora started flagging down song teu to try to get us there. She had one lined up that I got in with 5 others just as the scheduled buses arrived. Since we were already loaded up, we stayed on and the rest got in the buses.

There were 2 women on the song teu before we got on and Lora told the driver we needed to to straight to the train station. He dropped the 2 women off first. We were all checking our watches and got to the train station about 4:27. We rolled our bags as fast as we could and the train was rolling before we'd gotten all the way into the car, but we made it.

This train was configured a little differently from the last one. In this one, the seats sat 2 people and the aisle was agaist one window instead of down the middle. Also, the upper berths were permanent instead of folding down like murphy beds when you needed them.

Virginia, Lora and I were in one pod with an unused upper berth.

It was freezing on the train and Lora asked several times if they could make it warmer but was told they couldn't. We were getting creative with trying to block the vents, get blankets, and wearing extra clothes. I slept in long pants and my hoodie.

This time, we had most of the daylight at the beginning of the trip and looked out the window until it got dark. After that, it was just rolling train motion and trying to be warm and sleep until 6 am when we arrived at Ayutthaya.