Tuesday, February 18, 2014

a trip to the past. Part 2

After a quick stop at the hotel to freshen up we were back in the tuk tuks headed in the other direction through town and countryside to a small lake for a relaxing dinner and a view of the sunset. It was great to get to see so much of the area. It’s very similar to Thailand but still felt like a whole different place somehow.

We’d decided to head back to the border early rather than pay for another night at the hotel and have to get up super early again. Our tuk tuk driver arranged for a taxi to take us that night. We made it just as they were getting ready to close and were cheered by all the workers as we slipped in just in time. The process was much quicker at 10:00 at night, aside from a little confusion as to why we had two re-entry stamps in our passports (we’d gotten one for this trip and one for a trip to Malaysia in a couple of weeks) we were stamped and processed and quickly sent on our way. Hoping to find a bus we were instead greeted by taxi drivers who told us all the buses were gone for the night. We’d anticipated maybe hanging out in the casinos there in the no-mans-land between the two countries, or taking a taxi to Bangkok and then finding a bus there but we ended up convincing one of the drivers to take us the full 500+km back to Udon for a little more than we would have paid for all the buses. The promise of a direct trip was too much to hope for but somehow it all worked out. So instead of getting home late Sunday night after another 12 hours and multiple bus rides we pulled up about 5 am Sunday morning after just 6 hours. It would have been perfect if I’d been able to get a bit of sleep on the drive, but as it was I crawled into bed and slept until 11 and had the whole day to myself instead of sharing it with strangers on a bus. We couldn’t have planned it much better if we’d tried!

It was a quick weekend, that felt long because of the hours we kept and all the travel that we did. It made me realize just how old I am. I don’t bounce back from that as easily as I would have in my 20s. *sigh* it had to happen sometime I suppose.

Monday, February 17, 2014

a trip to the past.

One of the first non-European/western sites I remember being aware of was Angkor Wat. I don’t know where I first saw or heard of it but I’m sure it must have been because of a perusal through a National Geographic magazine or something. But for some reason it’s always sort of held my imagination and was one of the few places in Asia that I’ve always wanted to visit. When I first made a bucket list back in high school it had a place on there and one of the reasons I decided to come to Thailand was because of its proximity to this wonder of the world. And this weekend I had a chance to finally see it in person.

Since we’re all trying to save money we voted to do it the cheap way and take the bus. Thursday afternoon we took a 5 hour bus ride to Kurat only to find out we’d missed the last bus of the day going to the country border. So we found a hotel, got some dinner and then hit the hay so we could get up at 4 to catch the first bus out in the morning. That journey was another 5 hours to get us to the Cambodian/Thai border. There we were met with long lines, lots of waiting and more than a little disorganization (ah, Thailand.) Several hours later we made it through and found a taxi to take us two more hours through the countryside to the city of Siem Reap.

It was a little disconcerting to be driving on the right side of the road again. But the laws in Cambodia are just as hazy as the ones in Thailand. Basically if you’ve got your blinker on or honk first you can drive wherever you want. After a while I tried to stop looking (which is hard when you’re in the front seat) as we weaved in and out of all the traffic, some moving at the speed of light, some at a snail’s pace, and dodged tuk tuks, bikes, dogs, kids and potholes the size of sofas. Miraculously we made it to the city and found a hotel that could accommodate all five of us in one room and then spent the evening wandering the market area.

We had a delicious meal of Indian food followed by some ice cream and shopping and people watching (one girl even ran into someone that she knew from home…small world!) Jen talked us all into getting a fish pedicure against everyone’s better judgment. You stick your bare feet in a tank and the fish all swarm and nibble at your feet eating the dead skin. It’s as gross as it sounds. We all squealed and laughed the entire time while making faces and pretending we were enjoying it but mostly it was disturbing and freaky. I have a hard time swimming in lakes because I’m afraid of the fish and what they will do to my feet (for some reason I don’t have this fear in the ocean where there are sharks and jellyfish and other things that could kill me…there is no logic) and here I was paying for the privilege of watching it happen! Granted I only paid a dollar and my feet looked pretty good afterwards, but still!

Bright and early the next morning (well, not so bright at that point, just early—four am should not actually exist!) we met our tuk tuk driver in front of the hotel and rode about 20 minutes in the dark to the historic park. There, with hundreds of others, we waited in the dark in anticipation of the sunrise. It was sort of a cool way to do it as the anticipation of what we would see built as we got closer but could still only make out the barest of outlines and silhouettes against the sky. It gradually lightened and lightened and then the sun rose behind the temple, a glowing orange sphere peeking through the towers and reflected in the lotus pool below.

After the sun was up we ate some of the best pancakes ever for breakfast, served to us by Tiger Woods! Each shop owner would come and solicit you while you were standing there in the crowds and had his shop named after a famous personality to make it easier to be found since the shops were all identical and situated right next to each other in a row. Some of the others were Madonna, Bill Clinton and Mickey Mouse.

After breakfast we ventured into the temple itself to wander around the grounds, up into the towers and marvel at the beauty, mystery and history found there. It was incredible to be in a place so old and revered, somewhere I’d wanted to see for such a long time and to be there with great friends. It’s up there with Stonehenge, Rome, Greece and Egypt as one of the most incredible and ancient things I’ve seen.

Originally a Hindu temple it reverted to a Buddhist one after one of the many governmental overthrows. The area is actually about 400 square km, sort of a complex or city really, the ruins of various Khmer capitals spanning the 9th to 15th centuries.  I hadn’t realized there were so many other ruins and temples nearby but we had our tuk tuk drivers for the day so they shuttled us around to a couple of the other areas including Ta Prohm where Tomb Raider was filmed (another movie I have to go home and watch now so I can say “Hey, I’ve been there!”) and Bayon Temple known for its giant heads. I think Ta Prohm was actually my favorite. It was surrounded by trees so you felt like you were in the middle of a jungle and I honestly expected Indiana Jones to come running around a corner being chased by Nazis. It was easy to imagine yourself stepping into the movie. Sometimes, too, I had the feeling I was on a Disneyland ride that was on steroids. It was so great!

We climbed and explored and channeled our inner adventurers until early afternoon. We also had a pretty fabulous lunch, fed some road-side monkeys, and basked in the scenery from the backs of our tuk tuks.

fish pedicures
exchange rates sometimes make you feel like a millionaire
sunrise at Angkor Wat

Ta Phrom

Bayon Temple

feeding the monkeys
More tomorrow!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

a school sleepover.

All the kids here in Thailand starting in first grade are mandatorily involved in scouts. Every Thursday up through high school they wear their uniforms and do all sorts of scouty things. Last weekend all of the teachers were enlisted to help out with scout camp at the elementary school. Like everything else in the country it was more than a little unorganized and more than a little over the top. But it was also really fun.

We all met at the school at about 7 Saturday morning and divided into groups to venture out into the jungle (ie the fields and trees surrounding the school) to play games. Each class took turns rotating through our wilderness adventure games and fighting off the heat and the bugs for a couple of hours before snack time and a crowded van ride back to the school grounds. Next was lunch and some more games like a balance beam, a log roll, an army crawl with water and face painting at the end and an intense obstacle course where the kids climbed over a wall, ziplined over a river, slid down a muddy bank back into said river and then crossed over the river again on a tightrope of sorts before making their way back over the wall. They were all tired, wet, and filthy muddy by the time they were done. And they loved it!

After some showers and much-needed clean up everyone gathered back in the cafeteria to make dinner. The teachers supervised but the kids did a lot of the grunt work cutting veggies, cooking eggs and meat, and getting everything all ready for our massive meal. Clean up took a bit of work and then we had performances, singing and skits around the campfire followed by a run through a crazy maze of cardboard boxes before settling into bed.

The kids bedded down on the mats used for naptime but the teachers were stuck with the tile floor which meant I ended up getting about half an hour of sleep that night and the 7am wake-up call Sunday morning came way too early. Some of the more coherent risers joined in group aerobics before breakfast and then we had to clean everything up and get ready for parent pick-up. All told it was only a little over 24 hours and felt like three days. But the kids all had a blast and it was fun to interact with everyone in a more casual setting. You get to know people on a different level when you see them covered in mud and sleep deprived!

Just one more great set of memories to take with me back to ‘real life’ in a couple of months.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

good book.

Another of the series I found on my borrowed Nook and have been working my way through is the Mary Russell books by Laurie R. King.

Russell is a brilliant 15-year old American living in Sussex after the death of her family in a brutal car accident. There she meets the retired Sherlock Holmes. He sees her potential and recognizes a kindred spirit and begins to train her in his detective methods. Eventually they become partners and she brings him out of retirement and solidifies their friendship.

The series starts with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice set in 1915 and goes on through subsequent volumes, the most recent published in 2012 set in the mid-1920s. The time period is well-researched and comes alive and the character’s friendship is fun to watch as it grows and shifts.

That said, I read the first book a couple of years ago and didn’t fall in love with it. I thought the premise was fun but I felt like there was a lot going on. Several story lines were squashed together and years and years pass and I just sort of lost focus. But someone encouraged me to give it another shot and since they all happen to be on the Nook away I went!

There’s a lot of women’s lib themes (though it fits the time period, the fight for the vote and such) and religious themes (King is a theologian herself and she’s written Russell as Jewish and also a theologian who graduates from Oxford, so that also fits) in each story but sometimes I just want a little more variety. I’m only up to the sixth volume so maybe things will evolve as the time period does but so far, not so much.

That sounds like an overall negative review, and honestly it’s not. I enjoy the books I’m just not racing through them and clamoring to get to the next one. They’re fun mysteries and definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and honestly, who isn’t these days?  (Personally I enjoy the BBC series, Sherlock though I've only seen the first season. And I really like the series Elementary which I've been able to stream and keep current on all the way around the world.  What's your favorite incarnation?)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

a random cultural gap.

The Thai’s have interesting levels of modesty. In the few swimming experiences I’ve had they all wear shorts and shirts. When working out they rarely go sleeveless or wear short shorts. And even tourists aren’t allowed into a Buddhist temple if they aren’t covered properly. Yet, like most other places in Asia (I’m basing this on the more authentic Asian experiences I’ve had in the US so maybe I’m off) they are also very free and open with their naked bodies. At local baths and spas and things there are no clothes worn at all.

At school after lunch the kids have nap time. They come back upstairs from the lunchroom, have a drink of milk and then strip down to their nothingness to brush their teeth and wash up before putting on pajamas and lying down. This in itself wouldn’t be all too terrible except that they’re four. Therefore they run around wrestling, touching themselves (and each other…and then me!), hugging me, engaging in ‘sword fights’ and the like before they eventually get their clothes on.

Not being warned of this in advance and coming upstairs after the process was well underway that first day I was greeted by dozens of naked babies running everywhere. It was quite the sight! Just another day in Thailand. Mai pen lai. :)

And just one more thing, in a list of so many that seemed strange at the beginning of my time here that I've gotten used to since then. 

(and in an effort to not promote child pornography I will show you this random picture of a Thai orchid instead of naked children at nap time!)

Friday, February 7, 2014

making a list.

It’s hard to believe that I passed the half-way point here a few weeks ago. Time is flying faster than I could have imagined. I’m trying not to spend too much time focusing on all of the things I’m going to have to do when I get home (ie, look for a real job) but enjoy the time that’s left here. Of course, I’ve got a few things that I really miss that I can’t wait to have access to again.  But there are a few things here that I’ll miss just as much. Curious?

Things I Miss From Home (besides the people, of course!)
  • Carpet
  • Watching TV without subtitles and with more than four channels
  • Understanding announcements, eavesdropping on conversations and being able to read signs 
  • Central air/heating
  • Winter/seasons
  • Having a kitchen
    • sandwiches, toast, bread
    • fresh-from-the-oven cookies
    • real butter
    • Mexican food...this list is only the beginning!
  • Having more than 8 outfits to choose from
  • Crafting/creating/scrapbooking
  • Singing at the top of my lungs (I love singing along with the radio in my car, you just can't quite pull that off on a motor bike)
    • my car
  • Real, live books!
Things I’ll Miss About Thailand
  • My motorbike and the lax safety laws
  • Going barefoot
  • Always knowing what the weather will be
  • Always knowing what to wear
  • Paying less than $2 for a full meal, $150 for rent, and $3 for a tank of gas
  • All the street markets, awesome food and exotic fruits
  • My park
  • The ready smiles and friendliness of the people
Things I WON’T Miss
  • All the bugs and critters that find their way into my house.  Current pest?...Ants!
  • Constant bare, filthy feet and the lack of available pedicures
  • The lax safety laws
  • Many of the smells
  • Not being able to recycle
  • Squatty potties
  • Not being able to understand announcements or eavesdrop on conversations
  • Unidentifiable meat products
  • Not being able to read signs, newspapers or most of the things around me
  • Everything, from the music at school to announcements and all in between, being done at the highest decibel level possible
  • Morning Announcer Guy
Yes, I realize that there’s a lot of overlap/repeats of the same things falling in different categories. But isn’t that how life is? The things that drive you crazy are the same things you miss when they stop; the things that give life its flavor and keep it from being complete drudgery at times or give you the consistency and stability when everything else is chaotic.  What are the little bits of your day that make you nuts? And what are the bits you can't live without?

I'll miss the butterflies...but not the moths!!!
just a few of the great street market wares-mangosteen fruits
more market goodies

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

road trip.

Because I’m in a decent sized city and I don’t leave it very often, I sometimes forget that there are some natural beauties to see in the countryside. Just a couple of weeks ago the other teachers and I took a little road trip about an hour northwest to see one such place.

Phu Phrabat Historical Park is dry and barren compared to the green jungle-like regions surrounding it that are more typical of Thailand. The area reminded me a little of southern Utah though these rock formations aren’t quite as vast or stunning as the ones back home. But they’ve been used by various groups of people throughout the area’s history for temples and homes and other things and you can still see the remnants of those uses today; including prehistoric cave paintings, ruined buildings, and old Buddha statues.

We spent a good couple of hours wandering among the rocks and along the trails and at times it almost felt like being at home in the mountains or the canyons. And the weather was beautiful. It had been unseasonably cold for the past month or so (and while I know many of you are still dealing with polar vortexes and the like and this in no way compares, when you come prepared for 80 degrees and you’re stuck with a consistent 60 degrees—no jackets, no heaters, very few socks and no way to ever warm up—well, that starts to feel really cold after a while!) But this particular Sunday the sun came out and finally brought the warm with it, making it a balmy and perfect afternoon for our long motorbike ride, picnic lunch and some light hikes.

Monday, February 3, 2014

a celebration.

Yep, another celebration. They really like to party here!

There’s a rather large contingent of Chinese here in Thailand (about 15% of the population) and lunar new year is a big deal. Actually, I think lunar new year is the more pc term we’ve had to adopt in the US but here it’s not necessary to differentiate, they just call it Chinese New Year. The Thais celebrate their own new year in April, Songkran, their biggest festival, and one that I’m going to miss by a couple of weeks,
darnit! But, never ones to pass on a celebration, the whole city turned out for the Chinese New Year festivities that stretched over these past couple of weekends. There was a huge streetmarket, of course, with tons of food and stalls for shopping. There were fireworks and dances, booths for painting and crafts, places to give offerings to the monks and places to take photos just to name a few.

And it's never a bad idea to start fresh. So, if you've messed up on your other new year's resolutions already (who me?!) here's your chance to try again!