Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Me riding on the back of a moped taxi in Burma

motorbike taxis are a popular form of transport there in Burma, as in Thailand.

Grafitti in Burma

I really liked this. I wonder what it says?

(Note in this photograph there is a swastika - which is an ancient symbol for the sun which was hi-jacked by the Nazis. I also saw Thai people with swastika tattoos).

I have many more photos to post and things to write about my travels so I'll be updating this blog over the coming weeks. I also have to look for a job:-( Back to reality.
Military Coup in Bangkok - interviewed by BBC Radio
I'm back home in Derbyshire, England and found out that there was a coup in Bangkok yesterday when my parents came to pick me up at the airport. I was a little surprised - but it made sense because thai people I spoke with said that although they _love_ their king they couldn't stand the prime minister. I think for thai people it will be a blessing and I'm sure the military was acting on behalf of the people and not to further the ambitions of a power hungry officials looking for an oportunity to seize power. I found the news reports interesting on the BBC showing footage of the military officers/police bowing (which incidentally all thai news anchors do as a sign of respect and humility) and then apologising for the coup and any inconvenience it might have caused.

I can only imagine this sort of thing taking place in the US or the UK where the military are influenced bu public opinion and so disgruntled themselves that they rebel against their leaders and oust them!!! how cool would that be.

Also, the thai people are very matter of fact about things and do not tend to overact, loot or go too crazy and are very peaceful and rely heavily on the tourism industry so I doubt they (or the military) will do anything to jepordize this. They also tend to act for the collective good and less about the individual... it will be interesting to see if an election will be called or whether they will propose an interim leader and what the king's reponse will be. One thing is certain though is that the Thai people adore their king (more than any other country I've visited so far) and although not a terribly political figure himself - if he asks for peace then the Thai people will obey him including the military although I doubt very much he wants to establish himself as an absolute monarch. He is very western and highly educated and I think will act in the best interests of the people.

These are my 10 cents anyway.

This morning - my dad woke me up - I'm recovering from my jetlag and I hardly know what time or day it is and which country I am and said that BBC Radio Derby were looking to speak to people who had recently visited Thailand - so he said I should phone in. They called me back within about 20 minutes and I was on the air speaking live to the presenter who was nice and easy to talk to. I told him pretty much what I've written above.. and told people not to be overly worried that had friends and relatives over there and how the Thai people didn't like the prime minister but loved the king. I also told him that I felt things would continue relatively normally and how they wouldn't want to damage the tourism industry and that I felt no indication that a coup was going to happen other than the deep resentment felt on the part of the Thai people towards their political leader. I was interviewed for about 5 minutes and then the presenter thanked me and then another lady whose son was in Bangkok and was from Burton on Trent was interviewed.

I wish I had been there when the coup happened and got pictures of the tank and experienced it.... if only I had stayed a day or two later. Oh well!

Monday, September 18, 2006

at bangkok international airport - don mueng

after feeling down today i decided to treat myself to an ice-cream and then a foot massage. i was walking around the sula daeng area and down came a sudden down pour. i had already ate lunch at a lebanese restaurant near to the sky train entrance..the falafel i ate there was ok - but a bit small compared to one's i've had before.
when the rain happened i was waiting under a shop massage shop awning so i decided to give it a go. i turns out that all the massuese were men -i'm not sure why!
anyway, it lasted about an hour, was very professional and sometimes painful. my feet and lower legs were needed, slapped, pressed and bent into relaxation. sometimes it tickled a bit.. other times it actually hurt. i even got a free hand and arm massage. i had to ask them to avoid my tattoo (which is healing well) which is in the process of scabbing up. when i was told it would scab up - i thought it would be like a usual scab from dried blood.. but this one is from dried ink. i was worried my tattoo would just peel off but it seems to still be there underneath. i have to resist the strong urge to pick at it.

it was quite funny when the masseuse next me working on another lady looked at my tattoo and said 'sexy'. it really cracked me up!

the massage cost 250 baht and it was well worth it. so was the ice-cream i got from
baskin robbins - one scoop of baskin robbins and one scoop - cookies and cream.

i just me up with chris the guy i sat next to on the plane. it was a nice send off from bangkok. i went to meet him in the gaysorn district at a swanky hotel where he was taking part in an educational seminar. the porter's even carried my luggage up to the ballroom on the fourth floor. i wish there had been a ball.. it was a recruitment fair for business degree programs. we went to a restaurant opposite the hotel. they had a vegetarian menu. .. the food was pretty good and the service excellent and i had an interesting chat with chris who has lived in bangkok for 2.5 years and speaks quite good thai.

the taxi on the way here.. tried it on with the story about having to switch off the meter when he left the city of bangkok. i was firm though and told him he could let me out if he didn't leave the meter on. it cost 151 baht plus the 60 baht toll. he wanted to charge me 500 baht (no meter). i can't believe the cheek of the taxi drivers... if you are firm with them - they usually give in.

i packed the 'buddhas' i got at suan lum night bazaar, lumpini park in my check-in luggage. apparently the thai authorities don't like people taking buddha images out of the country to be used as ornaments (according to chris)..

i have to dash now or i will miss my flight.. i can't wait for the day when they have inflight (free) internet access.. not a moment too soon!
i'm back in bangkok after taking the 14 hour night train from chaing mai.. i am absolutely knackered and daunted at the thought of leaving thailand. i'm just not ready to... i am homesick yes - but i don't know where home is.. i'm not homesick for england exclusively, nor america or san francisco. i certainly don't look forward to moving to new york just yet.

i feel sad i didn't hear more from people back home whilst away especially the guy i was seeing for a year and a half prior to going away. you can be intimate with someone but still remain strangers. this to me is very strange.

i have a lot more photos to post of my trip and more to write- the internet connection here is too slow.. and i think i need to sleep more than anything else anyway.. and prepare myself for the 14 hour plane journey back to the uk tonight. i will pick up where i left off later.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Akha Hilltribe, The Monkey Cave, Mai Sai, Burma, The Golden Triangle and Chaing Saen

akha hilltribe lady - see how sweet she is!

i'm so tired.. but there is so much to blog about. today i went on a whirlwind tour of a hilltribe village, saw a cave of monkeys (sic), walked over the border into burma, saw the golden triangle, walked around some ancient 12th century lanna buddhist temple ruins and am now throughly knackered... i am so tired i am practically halluncinating.

i organized a one day tour with the place i'm staying here in chaing rai - the 'Boon Bun Dan guest house'. the chap that took me around in his car was the owner: mr. worasuck thacumfoo (what a great name!) he was nice enough but it turned out thatinspite of the fact one of his strong selling points for the tour was that there would be an english speaking guide - he didn't speak to me very much at all. it was still a good tour though.

mr. worasuck thacumfoo (my tour guide/driver)

he started out chatty but after the first hour i was pretty much left to my own devices. the only time mr. thacumfoo spoke was to tell me how long i had at each place (usually an hour) and to answer any questions i had. i did spend over 2 hours in burma though and walked over the border to find mr. thacumfoo patiently waiting for me in his car.

mr. thacumfoo's driving
worasuck thacumfoo had a peculiar way of driving - he would pump his foot on and off the pedal causing it to accelerate and decelerate constantly. perhaps he thought it might save gas? i think the opposite is actually true - travelling at a constant speed conserves gas. or perhaps he was tapping his foot, impatient to get to the next destination... something else he did was use his horn constantly to warn people that he was approaching or passing them. in thai law if some one is killed by a car it is always the person who survives fault even if that person wasn't paying attention.

our first stop was mai chen to visit the 'akha' hill tribe village. as soon as i stepped out of the car i was beseiged by children (many dressed in spiderman t-shirts and some dressed in traditional costumes) demanding money for photographs (and i hadn't even taken any yet!). they followed me around pestering until i relented and took a picture of them. even then they kept asking me for money and demanded that i give them some of the pineapple pieces that mr. thacumfoo had kindly bought for me at the pineapple stall at the side of the road just outside chiang rai. i noted mr. t's disapproval when i gave them some pineapple.

the akha village children

the old ladies in the village were really sweet. they were really little and wearing the traditional costumes. i noticed their teeth were all black and at first i thought they were made of wood but later when i was back in the car with mr. t - i asked him and he informed me that it was because they chewed medicinal plants inorder to protect their teeth from decaying and ever having to visit the dentist.

akha hilltribe lady chopping bamboo

i learned at the hilltribe museum ran by the a thai non profit the PDA in chaing rai that in most hilltribes the women do most of the work- including raising the children, tending to animals, farming and in this case constructing a bamboo fence.

i walked up and down the village, saw some traditional akha grass thatched houses with no windows and a bamboo platform in front of it.

traditional akha house made from grasses and bamboo - the regions natural resources.

the entire road through the village had handicraft stalls either side since tourism is the mainstay of their economy. i looked in a pig pen constructed from bamboo and their were some tiny piglets in the back which the mother pig stood protectively gaurding.

the pig

i saw roosters, hens and baby chickens walking around, a lady chopping bamboo with a huge hatchet and then it was time to go. to really understand their customs you would have to go to a really remote village somewhere and camp out for a long time until you became part of the furniture and could observe and decipher their culture. i have seen a lot of hill tribe people in the various bazaars and markets i've visited around thailand (bangkok, chaing mai and chaing rai) - all selling similar handicraft goods. i bought some embrodied baby carrying slings from a lady in chaing mai - they are very beautiful.

the monkey cave
next we jetted off the the money cave. i asked worasuck to stop on the way so that i could take some pictures of the lush, green rice fields and forest covered, misty mountains in the distance.. he kindly obliged. i also saw rice farmers tilling the soil by hand and picking rice with woven pointed hats.. it was all very picturesque.

farmers tilling the soil

so the monkey cave.. this was a bit of a misnomer.. since all the monkeys were hanging out near the bottom entrance and near the large pond hoping to take advantage of disgarded food from the visitors and the numerous food stalls in the car park. they were quite cute and little monkeys. there were quite a few baby monkeys scampering around - some were still attached to their mothers who watched protectively over them. mr. t pointed up the hill and said that he would see me back at the car in an hour. i looked up at the steps and started to climb them. there were over 200 of them and all green and moss covered and wet. thank goodness i wasn't wearing my pink slippers. speaking of which they have almost come to the end of their lifespan. at least their outdoor lifespan as they are beginning to fall apart around the edges. on the way up i passed some sweaty looking people coming down giving me sympathetic looks!

the steps up to the cave

the cave entrance

the view from the top

i made it to the top only to find out later from mr. t that the monkeys only go up to the cave at night. still it was good exercise and there was a really great lookout point of the surrounding countryside and villages.. you could see for miles. in the cave itself (which was really dark and damp) were really cool natural rock formations , a shrine to buddha and bats.. i was quite nervous at first to go inside because there were all these signs informing visitors to watch their children and that monkeys can be aggressive. my guidebook informed me that they are not dangerous but have been know to get up to mischief such as tugging an unsuspecting tourist's hair.

not wanting to keep mr. thacumfoo waiting i started my decent.. it was a slow process as i didn't want to slip and tumble down the concrete steps. i made it to the bottom and stopped to look in the pond where there were hundreds of large goldfish and catfish swimming in circles. there was also a fish stand where smaller fish could be purchased for releasing into the pond. a thai custom for good luck. i wondered if the big fish would eat the smaller fish?

the fish in the pond

I heard from mr.thacumfoo that catfish can grow gigantic - up to 3ft in length!

The border town of Mai Sai and Burma

After the monkey cave we steamed along to Mai Sai... in my guidebook it said that this town had the feeling of being something of lawless frontier. it's true that i didn't see many thai custom's official stopping people and searching them for drugs.. at least not the tribes people and locals - they tended to go for the richer looking tourists armed with plastic bags containing purchase from market over the border in tachilek. For lunch mr. t. dropped me off at a riverside restaurant where i had a great view of the so-called 'friendship bridge' which runs between thailand and burma (myanmar). i enjoyed sitting there just watching people coming and going across the border. the people crossing the border consisted of both farangs and thai/burmese locals. there were people carrying boxes of electronic goods (mostly going towards burma), many people carried umbrellas to protect themselves from the scorching sun, a few people carried children in slings, local people carried wicker baskets, sacks of rice and some carried 2 buckets balanced either end of a long pole which rested across their shoulders. with regards to transport - people rode bicycles, others drove mopeds but most people were on foot. people wore a variety of footwear - mostly sandals and flip flops althought there were the occasional high heels.

boxes piled high on a bicycle with thai and burmese letters

many moped taxi drivers waiting for customers at the border

the most northern point of thailand and the gateway to burma

the 'friendship bridge' between thailand and burma

You can see how close the 2 are and how short the border is.

after lunch (i had a thai style omlette) i went off to meet mr. t and he explained to me that i should get some thai baht changed into american dollars (since it would be cheaper to pay in $'s) and took me into a shop selling all kinds of trinkets. the lady in there gave me a really bad exchange rate and i wished i had gone to a bank earlier. i was a little disappointed that mr. t didn't try to negotiate a better rate for me. then he said i needed to make a copy of my passport (to give the burmese authorities) and pointed across the road to a store with a copy sign and told me he would wait near the custom's entrance.

when i got back he actually offered to come with me... but i politely declined as by this time i had got used to doing things on my own and felt that he would be more of a hindrance than a help since he would probably rush me and i wouldn't feel as free to explore... so i bid him farewell and joined the custom's line.

it took about 30 minutes to make it the 70 metre distance across the bridge. (most of the time spent in customs). leaving thailand was simple enough (they just tore out the white departure card and stamped my passport). going though the burmese side was slightly more tricky. it basically involved going into a small office with men in official green uniforms sitting behind a desk counting american dollars handed to them by tourists. i did question the ethics of handing these people money given the human rights issues with the military dictatorship in burma. but i reasoned that i had already supported george bush and tony blair through tax dollars and their tyrannical regime in the middle east. was this any worse? i'm not sure.

the burmese customs officers counting their dollars

anyway, i wasn't that friendly to them and got visibly annoyed because they refused to accept one of the ten $1 bills i had given them because the corner was ever so slightly torn! i had to pay the remainder in thai bhat. then i had to sit behind another desk officiated over by 3 women (also in green uniforms) who took my photograph and printed out the temporary vias (also green). then that was it - i was on my way....

immediately after exiting customs were alot of people sitting on the bridge begging for change and rickshaws laden with all manner of goods. i completed the walk across the bridge and passed under a blue gate with the words: "union of burma" written across it. i was immediately beseiged by burmese tour guides with large boards with photographs and tuk tuk drivers offering to show me around. i declined and headed off down a street towards the countryside...

a member of the burmese military and supporter of the oppressive regime

it was quite a long walk in the heat. on the way i passed different kinds of shops including a tailor who was sewing military uniforms on his foot-powered machine. he kindly let me take his picture.

photograph of the tailor sewing military uniforms

there were brightly painted trucks, children playing in the street wearing 'ultra-man t-shirts' and old men sitting on balconies overlooking the street. there was a little old lady croched down talking to herself and a man who looked worse for wear from some kind of illicit substance. the people in the shops and houses i passed were friendly and curious. as i got towards the end of the street i realised how hot and dizzy i felt so i hailed a moped taxi down and asked him to take me to the other end of the village. he handed me a helmet and off we went. i explained that i just wanted to look around. i'm not sure if he understood but he drove down a side street and dropped me off at a farmer's market.

the farmer's market

fruit seller

rice seller

child in sweetshop

the farmer's market was a joy to walk around. it sold all kinds of local produce from rice, fruits i've never seen before, clothes, household goods. the people were friendly and smiled alot.. i waved and smiled a lot too. as i walked down the street i noticed a temple roof poking up over the roof tops and decided to visit it.

the burmese vihara - mahamyatmuni, tachelek, burma
when i walked inside the grounds there were a few lay people walking around, others just cycling through. there were these 2 intoxicated men stumbling around and sat down under a tree. the temple itself was red/marroon in color and had many chofa's or 'sky tassels' and it the top had about 7 or 8 layers. the slate roof itself was layered. the inside of the temple had a beautiful teak floor and the main 'altar' had 4 buddhas in the middle of the room and was surrounded by ornately carved wood. the roof was held up by large stone pillars each one containing a different painted inscription. the burmese alphabet is very beautiful with many circular shaped letters.

there were a couple of young monks studying on the steps to the bot and they kindly let me take their picture.

young burmese monks studying

a monk later told me that the temple was only about 100 years old and was built on the site of an older temple which was significantly smaller. outside was a stupa and next to it was a bodhi tree from which i collected some leaves. bodhi trees are often planted in the grounds of monasteries because it was the original tree which buddha achieved enlightenment under. the monk i spoke to (who could speak very good english) and whose name was venerable pannananda, pointed to the original doors of the temple and a stack of wood that was being saved in a shed. the doors were huge and in the shape of a mandala constucted from mirror pieces.

the friendly burmese monk who spoke really good english

i asked the english speaking monk where he had learned english and he told me he had gone to study in sri lanka. i also asked him about the military dictatorship and about human rights abuses... he said he didn't know anything about it. he said now burma was very peaceful but also very poor and that the people had no money. i said that i thought communist philosophy where everyone was equal was a nice idea and quite buddhist - but in reality the people in power keep more of the resources for themselves.. and live better than the populace. but this is just speculation on my part... i asked him if under the government people could practice buddhism freely or were monks killed.. he said in the past there were problems but no anymore..
he told me there was no internet access in burma, but people could have mobile phones and he had one himself. i told him i had seen pictures of burma and from what i had seen so far it looked like a beautiful country. it is far less unspoiled than thailand.. there are no western influences since communism would not allow this. i would love to go to pagan to see the ruins.... and see more of it... he told me i should visit chiang tung which was his home town.

i explained to him that my tour guide was waiting for me across the border and that i had to go back. he told me i was welcome to visit again and he explained to me that i could take a bus to the border to a motorbike taxi. it wasn't far at all.. i was just tired... so i opted for a motorbike taxi.. i also liked riding them.. venerable pannananda helped me negotiate a price of 10 baht (they do accept thai baht in burma and also american dollars) and off i went... i felt a deep sense of regret to be leaving such a beautiful country and i hope to be able to return soon.

ethnically, the burmese at least near the border seemed to be a mixture of indian and asian looking. the guide book i had told me many of the stallholders in the tourist market were run by thai people.. (i didn't actually go to this market).

re-entry to thailand
this wasn't too difficult.. i just had to go to walk across the 'friendship bridge' and go to the burmese customs office labelled 'out'. on the burma side i was besieged by children asking for money. at the office - they took the green card and gave me my passport back. i forgot to mention earlier that they keep your passport at the office.. as a gaurantee that you leave! reunited with my passport i walked towards thailand (a mere 40 metres!) across the bridge and joined the queue. ahead of me were 3 israelis, sitting outside the office was a sikh man with a turban who looked at me and said 'very beautiful'!! i got to the customs window and handed them my passport only to realise that i had forgotten to complete the white landing card i last filled out on the plane flying into bangkok. i was directed back to the end of the queue.. i filled on out whilst in line... and the thai customs official smiled sympathathetcially at me as she stamped my passport. the thai customs inspectors i passed after passport control were dressed in camouflage uniforms and gave me a warm smile as i passed them.. no opium here mate!

back on thailand soil i felt like i was coming soon. i don't know why but it always feels somewhat emotional going between counties even if they are only separated by a small river only 40 metres wide.

the golden triangle
i was nervous about seeing thacumfoo again and thought that he might tell me off like my father used to when i was late. i said i was sorry and he just pointed calmly to the car and said 'let's go'. our next stop was the infamous golden triangle..
i asked mr. thacumfoo if he had ever smoked opium - he said that he had but a long time ago.. now in thailand it's illegal, he told me. he said that a lot of it was still grown in burma and is smuggled in along with amphetamines and heroin. opium processed to become heroin is smaller and easier to transport. out of all the thai people i surveyed about smoking opium - only thacumfoo and the burmese shopkeeper confessed to it.

we made it to the triangle half an hour later. it is the place where laos, burma and thailand meet.. looking out from the specially constructed vantage point, i could see thailand to my left, laos to my right and burma was the triangle in the middle. all the countries being separated by the mekong river. mr. t explained that it was possible to take a boat up the mekong river and into china and that it would take 2.5 days. this is definitely something i would love to do in the not so distant future. i saw some trade ships sailing up and down the river going to china according to mr. t.
one had a jcb digger on it and the others some containers. it was a huge river and brown in colour due to the monsoon rains.

at the golden triangle is a huge (70ft) golden buddha which mr. t told me was built to commerate the queen of thailand's birthday. there were children around dressed in hilltribe costume and asking for money for photographs. i actually didn't have any money with me at that point and my camera was full. i did however pat their hats with pom-poms on playfully.. !

chiang saen temple ruins
this was the last stop on the tour.. and was about 30 minutes drive from the triangle. i thought it would be a whole ruined town.. but it turned out to be a small compound of temple ruins built in the 12th century. the main shell of the temple had it's roof rebuilt and was still used as an active temple complete with a resident sangha. it had no walls and rugs on the floor. outside the temple was a beautiful old msos covered brick stupa or chedi and low walls denoting the floor plan of the former monks quarters. next door to the remains was the new monks quarters and a large ceremonial drum and some gongs which i longed to bang. the monk in the burmese temple had been kind enough to let me bang the drum there.

a temple dog barked at me.. and i bowed first to the monks and then jokingly at the dog who thought i was funny. i like the thai sense of humour. the thai people are very playful and love joking around.

after about 40 minutes, mr thacumfoo came and told me we had to go.. and that i could have had longer if i hadn't spent so long in myanmar. i said it was fine.. and off we went for the 1.5 hour trip back to chaing rai.

Friday, September 15, 2006

lumpini night bazaar, bangkok, thailand

out of all the bazaars i ended up visiting here - i liked this one the most. the quality of the stuff on sale was good and it had an outdoor entertainment area and also a ferris wheel i got to ride.

the 'roue de paris'

if i remember correctly, a go on the wheel costs about 100 baht and you get to go round 3 times. there are fantastic views of the bazaar and bangkok

me on the wheel

out of all the buddha images i've seen on sale to tourists these were my favorite ones and the lady working on the stall was super nice. i will return here when i go back to bangkok to take my flight and purchase one.

the people i ended up sharing a tuk-tuk home with. they were from Bali and there were 5 of us in one tuk-tuk including the driver. they were super-friendly and told me i should go and visit Bali - they were sight-seeing aswell and were staying at a hotel that was posher than mine in Khao San Rd.
Wat Bebchamabophit, Bangkok, Thailand.

This was the first wat i ever went to visit in Thailand.

the cloisters at the monastery had over 50 bronze buddhas. some were from burma, some reproductions others originals

the starving buddha - a symbol of how it is possible to subdue the mind.
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there are many leity who help out at the temple - this lady was carrying fish to release in the pond there. this is good luck in thai culture.

the roof of the temple with prayer flags in view

one of the temple cats

in temples (as in the streets) there are many stray cats and dogs. the animals the have taken 'refuge' in the temple see the monks as their masters who feed and take care of them.
the bug stalls and the monsoon 'flood' on khao san road

some people actually eat these. there were different kinds of bugs including larvae looking things, stick insects and i swear they even had fried roaches!

khao san road, bangkok

here are some photographs i took of the infamous backpacker's hangout. like my guidebook said though - the quality of accommodation 'leaves much to be desired'. it reminded me of camden town with the markets and the 'i'm so cool' vibe.

it was an interesting introduction to bangkok though .. and i enjoyed wading through the 6 inches of water in ks road after a sudden downpour.

this is my favorite picture because i love the balloons.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

tattoo - ahhhhh the pain, chaing mai, thailand

after a day spent looking at the largest mosquito collection in the world and then the forest monastery (more on this later) i went to get the tattoo i've been psyching myself up for... i liked the henna painting by the indian lady in dubai so much i decided to get it tattoed (part of it not the entire way up my arm) it took about an hour and it was _extremely_ painful..... it;s like being cut with a scalpel everytime they put the tattoo machine in your skin and drag it along with the ink.. they are literally cutting into the top layer... i want to get a little more done to it... bloody painful though... i can't believe i've done it many ways!! it's of leaves and flowers and swirly things.. it's pretty.. but i hope i don't live to regret it.. at least it's not something like micky mouse that i will grow out of!!!
when it's healed i can post a photograph of it... when he first started doing it - i don't think i was prepared for the type of pain - i thought it would feel like a needle entering your skin but instead it felt too much like cutting. i was almost sick at one point - i had just eaten not so long ago and i felt really, really nauseous and he gave me a plastic bag and some smelling salts and it seemed to do the trick.. so he continued.

they guy that did it had a small side shop off loh krol road in chaing mai - he was very professional and neat but not particularly creative in terms of design.. but i'm no expert or anything.. it was just my impression - i thought some of the shapes could have been better executed but that's just the perfectionist in me talking. it wasn't cheap either.. about $100 - i'm sure it wouldn't have cost much more in the states.. but oh well. i am pretty happy with it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

political awareness in thailand, anti-globalization

i was reading the bangkok post this morning and it has some really interesting articles. thai people from rural provinces are fighting the spread of the tesco/lotus supermarket chain. they are petitioning to tony blair to help. they say in the article that they are worried about the destructive effects on local communities because people in villages/small towns go to shops for social contact and conversation. having large chains would make the local shops go out of business and destroy their sense of community as well as their livelihoods. i am glad they are fighting it.

also after i arrived in bangkok on the second day i was taking a tuk tuk somewhere and rode past a demonstration of many women dressed in overalls with chains of bras strung together like banners. it was an anti-victoria secrets protest. hurrah!

since i've been here, apart from the ubquitous 7-11's, boots, starbucks, kfc and macdonalds there are very few chains. also these chain stores seem to be mostly restricted to bangkok - i have seen very few outside and they are certainly not on every street like in the UK or US.
my ailments

last night i just returned from a really nice meal at the garden city restaurant on lol kroa rd. when i had to run to the toilet. i had a really bad attack of 'bangkok belly'.. i just ate breakfast and my stomach is gurgling and pardon my explicitness but i now have the ali g dilemma of whether it is solid or something else.

i also have multiple bites. i'm not sure what's biting me as it's nothing i can see. there are no mosquitos in my room - there are insect meshes in my window and i actually haven't seen a single mosquito since i've been in thailand! on my right elbow and arm are these tiny, rough bumps that i can't even pick to remove. i don't know if it's a heat rash but i can't think how my elbow could have got so hot to get heat rash when it's nowhere else on my body. i only hope i don't have leprosy!
wat luan pang, chaing mai

i thought i should make the effort to go to a temple today and sit in on a service. everytime i do - i get so much out of it and i have resolved to become more focussed in my buddhist practice. i have no excuses either because every town/city in thailand has at least one wat or shrine. the major barrier to studying buddhism here is the language. very few thai monks speak english.

i am lucky enough to have a wat opposite where i'm staying - when i arrived yesterday morning at this guest house i saw several monks making their morning alms round. i have to try and get up early to donate food. but it's not easy for me to wake up at 5am.. also i have to buy food the night before and i haven't found any supermarkets here yet.

anyway back to the temple.. i went through the gates at about 5pm and i think the temple attendant, an old thai man with one tooth, seemed anxious to lock everything up. i tried to ask if i could attend the evening service. he thought i wanted to take pictures and said 'now closed'. i didn't leave right away but walked round the stupa and read the plaque about the temple. it was built in the 12th century! an elderly monk came over and wanted me to help him with the english pronunciation. the bell rang for the call to prayers.. so i asked again if i could go and so i was ushered into the gompa. there were only 4 monks in attendance and 2 stray dogs that came and lay down outside the doorway as if they were keeping gaurd. this service only lasted about an hour with a lot of chanting in pali - a couple of times (the monks all elderly apart from one who chanted in a very high pitched voice) they lost their place and had to ask their neighbour .. it was really very sweet. then followed a period of meditation. after the service - they asked me where i came from. the younger monk (23 years old) spoke slightly better english asked me questions like 'where was i staying', 'how long i was staying in chiang mai', 'whether that was a tattoo on my arm'. i tried to explain that i believed in buddhism - the elderly monk gave me the thumbs up sign. he smiled and laughed alot. i showed them the forest monastery tiger book which has some both thai and english in it and pointed out some of the paragraphs. they seemed happy!

by the time we had finished talking, the temple was well and truly locked and nobody seemed to have the key to let me out. i tried to make jokes about climbing the walls and pointed to the lizards running up and down the walls! they said 'don't worry..' and then came a torrential down pour of rain. we sheltered under the temple awning and the elderly monk disappeared and returned with a pointy hat on his head and an umbrella which he kindly gave me.

by this time a young boy appeared with a piece of string with loads of keys attached and said 'you.. come with me'.. i said goodbye and he let me out through the side gate.
chaing mai, northern thailand - the night bazaar
the sleeper train to chaing mai was really nice (apart from the austrailian girls) - everyone had their own compartments behind a curtain which was just big enough for a small bed with sheets and pillow cases. at first i couldn't sleep because it was a wobbly/noisy train and then this guy (westerner) was talking loudly on his cellphone opposite me for a long time - i actually pulled back my curtain and stared at him because i really couldn't sleep.. i stared out of the window for awhile and saw the skyline of the trees for miles and miles interspersed with the occasional field.

i am staying now at the traveller's inn - ending up here quite by chance because i had to get away from the austrailians at the 5 star guest house (complete misnomer).
today i slept and slept and slept some more until about 1pm - i'm sure i woke up because some tuk tuk driver was yelling up at the window - come on wake up it's afternoon now. perhaps it wasn't directed at me it just seemed that way because my curtains were closed.

i decided to go on a shopping spree today to buy presents for people back 'home' and souveniers for myself..i am sure i got ripped off numerous times - but in the end i just accept it! i'd better not say what i bought exactly in case they are reading this. i went to the infamous night bizarre. there were some really nice things and also a lot of tacky things - like fake hugo boss shirts and mass-produced looking stuff. i'm not sure how authentic the 'old' looking stuff is.. but it looked a lot nicer. i bought some tanka's (large hand painted buddhist images mounted on silk cloth) and some embroided material which i want to frame and hang on the wall... the material i bought is used as a sling to carry babies in by the 'mon' people. i also bought some old looking, hand-written buddhist text which the antique shop french owner told me is written in the 'lanna' - a thai dialect from the chiang mai region which is now extinct. it looks very beautiful even though i can't understand it. i have to google all these things to verify the authenticity of these statements :-)

i also bought an opium weight in the shape of an elephant which i think is probably a reproduction and the head of a burmese puppet with real human hair pigtails. it is quite pretty and one more thing which is really interesting - a carved phallic symbol used worship by women wishing to have a baby.. i think it is from thailand or it could be yao.. i am so confused but it was some really cool inscriptions on it - i have to go back to the shop and double check. it is sort of the equivalent of a lingum in india. i have a funny story to tell about lingums but may be i will tell it another time because i am tired...and i still have other posts to write. i am woefully behind in posting photographs....

Monday, September 11, 2006

the unfriendliness of the westerners in thailand

the following post might be due to the fact i'm cranky and emotional because i had to leave phitsanolok and take an 8 hour over night train to chiang mai but
i'm not looking forward to going back either to england or america... i have had a really nice experience here with the thai people - they are very warm and friendly - but not the westerners... some of them are quite cold. at least in india they tend to be friendlier and band together because india is perhaps a more hair-raising place. here the urban westerners behave much like they do at home - very snooty and self focussed, not very open at all and are in stark contrast to the thais. it's quite painful actually. i rode the train here and just arrived now in chiang mai and these 2 austrailian girls were so rude/unfriendly to me. i bumped into them first at the phitsanolok station, then we were in the same car on the train and then i bumped into them in the toilets when we arrived and at the hostel reservations desk in the station and each time time same attitude. i had flashbacks of when i was at school and other girls would whisper and laugh amongst themselves but not talk to you.... they make you feel like you are an outcast or freak or there's something wrong with you. they wouldn't even tell me the name of the guest house they were staying at when i asked them- can you believe it?? by sheer coincidence it turned out that we ended up going to the same guest house and when i got out of my tuk tuk - there's rolled up and i said hi and this one girl said nothing but turned to her friend and laughed! ... so i snapped.. and said 'there's no need to be so unfriendly'. they both just looked at me. so i took the tuk tuk to another guest house. i hope i never run into those two again.

it makes me dread going back to the west though - and all the petty bullshit and competitiveness and unfriendliness... . america, england or australia or bangkok - the travellers scene or the westernized-thais. they all suffer from the same disease.
(correction: i did meet some really nice people on the plane - the TM guy and the girl from near glastonbury with the kid whose father was thai and the english couple on the river taxi - oh and the new zealand dude in kanchanaburi) in india though i met nice people on trains.
wat yai and wat nang phaya, phitsanulok, thailand

i went back to visit wat yai again today. there was an old man busking outside the temple for money. i walked around the courtyard and saw many beautiful buddha statues.

the golden buddhas around the main gompa (temple). there must be around 50 in total..

i noticed people shaking incense inside a can which made a rattling sound in front of the huge golden buddha in the main gompa.

i asked the people at the shop where i could find phrasong kie and they told me he was sleeping. then they phoned him up! but i didn't want them to disturb him since monks have to get up at 5am every day for morning meditation. so i spoke briefly to him and said i didn't want to disturb the abbot if he was sleeping too. i was actually relieved not to have meet the abbot.. because i wasn't sure of the proper etiquette but it would have been nice to have received a blessing from him which may have brought me luck!

as i was walking around the cloisters looking at them who should appear but ajahn kie. we had a nice conversation about buddhism and world politics and feminism. he gave me a book called: 'being dharma - the essence of buddha's teachings' by ajahn chah. i have some of his books at home in bakewell - but not this one.

phrasong kie

a monk lighting the giant candles in front of the giant buddha before evening prayers

the monks chanting in pali at the evening service

i have to run and catch my train to chaing mai now.

a helpful station gaurd with 2 street dogs who had taken up residence at the station and had the duty of chasing away rats and stray cats

i also met 2 nice people at the exercise machines by the river - one lady was a statistics teacher and a school girl who was holding a book about mr. bean which is how we started talking. they both wanted to have their picture taken with me and we exchanged email addresses.
tinglish and other language difficulties

communicating in thailand has been a really interesting experience. there are only a few thais who speak it really well, some thais know a little, and then a lot know no english... but you still manage to get by. this morning i decided to try room service and i pressed the room service button on my phone and got through to the restaurant but after trying to explain i wanted to order fruit, toast and tea for a couple of minutes to 3 different people i think they gave up and the phone went dead. so i called reception where there was 1 english speaking woman. i told her what i wanted and she said she would place the order for me. 10 minutes later and there is a knock at the door and a young thai boy walks in with a plate of toast and tea. i explained that i wanted the continental breakfast and pointed to it one the menu and tried to explain that i wanted the fruit and juice aswell and some milk for the tea. after a couple of minutes i phoned the reception and asked the english speaking later to translate into thai. he nodded and pointed at the menu and then left. 5 minutes later another knock at the door and he returns with another plate of toast and some more tea. i tried to explain again that i really wanted to have some fruit and orange juice and pointed to the thai characters above it.

he gestured for me to write it down. so i wrote 'fruit' and 'orange juice' but i thought i would play it safe and also draw pictures so i drew a banana, apples and oranges. he nodded and said 'banana' i said yes. i even started to write the thai characters, guessing the word for fruit by judging the word position and length. 5 minutes later he returns with a plate of pineapple and some orange juice\. good enough for me.. i actually felt bad for all the trouble.. i just really wanted some fruit. i thanked him and paid the 88 baht on the bill and gave him a tip.
the kindness of the thai people

i am struck by how nice the thai people are. anytime i am lost they go out of their way to help me. in suphanburi i walked too far and missed the turning for the fancy hotel and i asked this thai man that was on a scooter for directions and he offered me a ride on the back. perhaps i was too trusting but he looked like a decent enough chap, so i climbed on board and he dropped me off right in front of it.

last night in phitsanulok - there was some "king pride" celebration by the river nan and there was a food stall selling these little round doughy balls. the lady, who couldn't speak any english, noticed me looking at them with curiosity. she offered me one - it was made out of dough, sweetcorn and coconut and really nice so i asked her for some more and how much. at first she didn't want to accept any money but i insisted.. so i ate a couple more and then gave some to a hungry looking dog. there are lots of sweet looking stray animals walking around the streets here - dogs and cats - but people do feed them especially the stall holders.

i was walking along buddha bucha road the other night on my way to the big temple - 'wat phra sri ratana mahathat' or wat yai for short and i slipped and fell over in the mud and a couple of joggers stopped instantly and helped me back up.

when i arrived at the temple - it was very busy with people outside playing football! and selling lottery tickets because the thais believe that after going to the temple you have attained great merit/luck so they buy lottery tickets!
the temple was beautiful... it is apparently one of the finest in thailand according to my guidebook! there were buddhas everywhere - outside in the courtyard with incense sticks and flowers offered to them, burning candles and a huge drum. the doors of the temple are made of gold as were the pillars and inside was the biggest golden buddha i've ever seen. people were prostrating themselves and bowing down and there were also statues of what looked like the king and queen to the left of the alter. (thai people love their king and queen). then at about 5pm a temple attendant came and laid down mats and prayer books in the middle and lay people were asked not to sit on them. then a gong sounded and the monks dressed in saffron robes came and sat down. i decided to stay for the whole service which was chanting in pali and several prostrations followed by a period of silent meditation. it was very special and sacred and i felt priviledged and happy to have been a part of it.

after the service i sat for awhile and a monk came over to me and started speaking in english. it turned out that this monk was from singapore and had only been ordained for 5 months. he said that he ended up there by accident following a mid-life crisis. he asked me if i was buddhist and which lineage. he invited me back today to meet the abbot of the monastery. i want to go but i am too shy to meet him. i never know what to say to such important people! but it is such a kind invitation. first i have to find something to eat and then start the longish walk there.
the bus journey going north from bangkok

phitsanulok and wat yai, thailand

i got to ride the disco-boogie bus again yesterday, after spending the night in the fancy hotel i went the bus terminal (walked) and waited for an hour to get on the so-called 'local bus'. this one even had a karaoke video playing and flashing coloured lights - but the lights only come on after dark. individual speakers ran the length of the bus and each one had a different manga character on it.

the disco-boogie bus i rode with the karaoke video

the manga characters on the bus' speakers

the first leg of the journey was about 3 hours to nakhon sawan. i went to grab a bit to eat (pad se euw) at a restaurant near the bus terminal and then came back to purchase my next bus ticket to pitsanulok.

photos of the 'disco boogie bus'
the inside of the D.B.B - when it's dark the disco lights go on.

during the stop over in nakhon sawon loads of buses came and went - many full of western tourists on their way to chaing mai from bangkok. i was glad i wasn't on one of those buses.

each bus in thailand comes with a ticket collector/host(ess) and one in particular stood out. she a tall transexual in what looked like an air stewardess uniform.. she was attracting quite alot of attention from the thai people. i thought she was cool and asked if i could take her picture.

the lady boy (name for transexual in thailand) bus hostess at the nagon sawon bus terminal. would it be man girl for an F to M?

nagon sawan bus terminal shops

after a long wait a double-decker air conditioned bus rolled up and it only took an hour to phitsanulok. on the way there i passed waterlogged fields growing rice from the recent monsoon rains and some huge roadkill. it looked almost like an ostrich or it could have been a dog, but it was past saving.

waterlogged rice fields i passed on my journey going north from bangkok