Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dancing Through the Turquoise

On Sunday, I visited Magical Crystal Island again. I've been spending a lot of time at the beach on the mainland, and was very impressed with how clear and turquoise and beautiful the water is on Ko Samet. It's always a great moment when I see this as we pull out:

And this when we approach the island:

Autumn and I just lay on the beach, swam in the water, and ate tasty food. It was a fantastic day; the island will do that. We had grand aspirations of renting an ATV and exploring the southern part of the island, but got too late a start to make it worthwhile. There's nothing wrong with laying on the beach in Thailand, though.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Oh here come the gods!

There is a Dunkin Donuts right inside the door to the TESCO here. I guess sometimes the girls there say "Sawatdee ka" to people as they walk in, but they said it to me in a way that seemed to recognize that I frequently stop there on my way out. I did have a bit of a donut problem for awhile (always the chewy, chewy mochi rings) and actually after realizing how ridiculous my donut obsession was I don't find reasons to visit TESCO quite as often.

On Saturday I went with Autumn to buy a Christmas Cheer donut for someone else (I did get a donut hole for myself...) and I saw this. It's pretty much the best donut flavor in the world, and I know this without having tried it. It might also explain the red Fanta thing.


(Today's song line/blog title comes from this ridiculously bad song by Madonna... featuring Otto Von Wernherr.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Throw your arms around the world


In preparation for Christmas Eve at Siam School, the boss asked Autumn and I to come up with some games for the children. Collecting party games is kind of an obsession so my enthusiasm made up for Autumn's lack thereof. We borrowed dresses from each other and got all pretty before we realized that we would also be in charge of keeping the children entertained/busy/away from the adults at the actual party. Oh, the children.

In gratitude to Oliver and his bar, the services of which were greatly appreciated after that party was over, we helped our lovely Annie cover the bar in tinsel garlands on Christmas morning. Afternoon, really.


Christmas in Ban Phe is not a big affair, and the three of us we were the only people at the Tawan Inn when we arrived for their fancy, delicious actual-Christmas-dinner. Oh, and I can recommend Zombieland. Happy Christmas, everybody!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Want a Fanta?

One reason Soi Suan Son may be haunted is that most of the buildings do not have spirit houses. Without a spirit house, spirits are left to roam around causing mischief. Siam School used to have a spirit house, but the owners are Mormon and took it away. Spirit houses must be built by special spirt house artisans, or spirits just won't live there. I'm not sure of the circumstances under which a spirit house would need to be replaced, but it does happen. Old spirit houses can't just be tossed out; they are usually left near a sacred tree.

This is part of a spirit house cemetery near the Tesco Lotus grocery store.



Of course the Tesco has an elaborate, active spirit house with plenty of water and incense and the occasional sandwich for the spirits.

More transient businesses, though, like the stalls at the market, can't very well build spirit houses. Instead they place an offering of red Fanta with a straw in it on the corner of their table. Overwhelmingly, the spirits at restaurants and food stalls prefer red Fanta. Oui, a fellow who works at Christie's, says that they would never leave an offering of Coke, but only red or green Fanta. I'm not sure if it's because the spirits don't like caffeine, or that they like pretty colors. He seemed to think these were silly questions.

But when I do drink red Fanta now, I kind of like to know that it's the beverage of choice for the spirits.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sweet Home

I live on Soi Suan Son. I try very hard not to say "Swan Song." Both sides of the street are lined with these glorious buildings. Each one begins at the bottom with a garage. Some people use them as garages, at least one is completely full of coconut shells, and some have been converted to restaurants and karaoke bars.


At my school (which is a triple-wide) the bottom floor is lobby, classrooms, kitchen and office. The second floor is classrooms, and the third and fourth are rooms for employees and students.


I live on the fourth floor. Each step is, of course, a slightly (or drastically, depending) different height than the step below it. They're wonderful buildings and most of them are empty. People say that the entire street is haunted, and you'll notice that there are no spirit houses visible on the street. I share my room with a few geckos but haven't encountered any spirits yet.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ridin' dirty

I didn't suffer a lot of culture shock in Thailand, which is strange because everything is very different here from what I was used to in the States. I think that the odor that offended me so much when I got off the plane was the smell of "mai pen rai," and it quickly absorbed into my skin and made me incredibly laid-back. My American friends would be surprised at how laid back I am here, and my Thailand friends would probably be surprised about the things that bothered me back home. If you come to visit, you'll quickly get used to these things.

There are flies on your food. It's okay, there were probably flies on your food in the kitchen too. All of the restaurants in Ban Phe and most of the ones in other parts of Thailand are open-air, and big juicy flies will land on your food. The food is so delicious, you can't blame them. They won't eat much.

Your feet are disgustingly dirty. I only wear flip-flops nowadays, as I have to take my shoes off where I live and work. The dust and the sand and the pollution take their toll and every morning it takes about 30 minutes for my feet to become disgusting mudballs as the dirt mingles with sweat.

On that note, when you go outside you sweat. You can forget wearing makeup unless you spend your day inside. After just standing outside for a few minutes, drops of sweat start gliding down my forehead and my legs.

There are mangy dogs everywhere. In Bangkok, there's at least one every block. In Ban Phe, there are probably four on each block. Many of them have skin diseases, some have really pathetic disabilities, and some chase you at night. I'm always ready to use my purse as a weapon.

There is no evidence of traffic laws. It's fine to cram four or more people including infants on a motorbike with no helmets. Those lines on the road? I think they're there for decoration. And I've never seen a speed limit sign. People drive on the left side of the road, usually.

People laugh at you. Thai people will have conversations in front of you where you only recognize the word "falang" before they erupt in laughter. Sometimes a Thai person will ask you to repeat what you just said and then laugh at you. Sometimes they'll volunteer to tell you that you're fat or you have big feet, or they'll poke your love handles... and then laugh at you.

None of these things bother me, which is surprising considering how antsy I got about cleanliness and stuff in the States.

And as much as they don't bother me, I don't think you'd like to see a picture of a mangy dog or my dirty feet, so here is the largest garden snail I have ever seen in my life, next to a size 42 (women's 10 US) flip flop.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Head out on the highway

On Thursday some of my coworkers hired a taxi to Rayong to go shopping after work. I didn't need anything, but it was a trip out of Ban Phe and there was talk of tasty pizza! The first thrill of the evening was that the taxi was a pickup truck, which means that I got to sit in the back of a pickup truck all the way to Rayong! Annie and Jeremy were back there too, and I tried to get us all to sing Christmas carols or something, but as with any attempted sing-along, we quickly found that everyone only knows a verse here and there. It was tragic.

The mall wasn't so dissatisfying as before, since I wasn't trying to find clothes or anything, but I did discover that the grocery store there (Tops, an exciting change from our local TESCO,) had Pepperidge Farm cookies! Now they didn't have milanos or chessmen or brussels, but they did have the big crunchy chocolate chip cookies (Sausalito!) and other Western goodies.

And there was pizza! Pizza Company is a lot like any of the pizza chains you find in the states, but real cheese melted on bread is quite a draw on its own. I had a shrimp cocktail pizza which had shrimp, pineapple, mushrooms and tomato. It was tasty and it provided lunch the following day.

Saturday was fairly slow. I attempted to ride a bicycle, an endeavor which the security guard found amusing. I am very grateful to Autumn for her patience, and though I have no pictures of my floundering, the next morning I did have this to show for it:


So we rented a motorbike, and got to use the shiny new gas station at the bottom of the block!


That's not red Fanta; it's gasoline. A mistake I hope to make only once.

We went to a beach and laid around and swam, and came back to town and were windsurf groupies. It was a good day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rock and roll, part 2

When last we left our heroine, she was recalling those blissful days of her youth... It was sunset on October 29th, 2009, to be specific, and she was watching the sunset from the top of Ta Keo.


She looks a little disgruntled, doesn't she? Maybe it's that the third person is messing with her perception of personhood.

Our third full day (October 30th) began at 4 o'clock in the morning when we awoke to start the day with sunrise at Angkor Wat.
It was worth it.

Later in the day we visited Banteay Samre

And Preah Khan, which is still in ruins in some places, and has a more tranquil and undiscovered feel to it than even Ta Prohm.




If I'm being one of those people who doesn't want to claim a famous one like Angkor Wat, the Bayon or Ta Prohm, then I think Preah Khan was my favorite. It's got trees growing over it, and it's still crumbled in places, but the most intriguing thing for me was this structure:

It's also one of the quietest temples we had to chance to visit.

We posed for an album cover, just in case.

And then I didn't pose at all before our final sunset at Pre Rup.

Before I knew it, our three day passes were all used up. We entertained ourselves for a few more days in Cambodia before returning for our previously documented trip through northern Thailand. The more I think about Cambodia, though, the more magical I feel it was. If any of you stateside folks come to visit me here, I absolutely insist that we make a jaunt over there. Thailand is a wonderful, rich place, but Angkor is a dream.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

We are the pirates of the temples...

It strikes me that after promising to talk about the highlight of my life that was my visit to Angkor in Cambodia, I neglected to post about it. This is the first of two blog entries about my adventures at Angkor Wat--I want to post too many pictures for one entry! All of the pictures in this post are courtesy of the incomparable Lionelle Drabble, who is an excellent travel companion and a fabulous photographer who just started work at a school in Bangkok. You may read of her adventures here.

Angkor Wat is the most famous temple at ancient Angkor. It was part of a vast city of temples and now-forgotten wooden structures that thrived from about 800 to 1300. We bought three-day passes and climbed on temples all day, but still visited less than half of what there is to see. We arrived at Angkor Wat in time to watch the sunset on October 27th. Sunsets became an obsession, as we would seek out the tallest temple we hadn't yet visited each evening and sit and listen to music and watch the sunset. The morning of the 28th we set out to explore Angkor Wat again, in pretty dresses this time because we knew we had a lovely photographer.

That's Jamie, Elle and me.


The next on our must-see list was Ta Prohm. We explored for awhile in the heat of the day, cherishing the shade until a welcome end-of-monsoon downpour surprised us.


Here is Jamie looking lovely in the rain. She's teaching in Trat now and writing about it here.

We went to Phnom Bakheng for the second sunset. This is the most popular sunset venue, and the temple is set atop a hill.

On the second full day of temple climbing, we visited Angkor Thom which is a walled city. This is the city gate.


Those faces are familiar--they decorate the other most famous temple which is located in Angkor Thom, the Bayon:


I love that the Bayon looks like a mountain of rubble from a distance, and it isn't until you're in it that you can really admire the enigmatic Buddha faces in every direction.


The same day, we visited the Elephant Terrace and the Royal Palace and Phimeanakas beyond it.


We watched the third sunset from the top of Ta Keo.


I don't know if the pictures demonstrate the steepness of the climb.


But this one should:

Many of these temples have steep steps like this, which require a person to descend them sideways. Ta Keo offered up another glorious sunset, and glorious sunsets are a great way to end these entries.

I will post again tomorrow with more pictures from the rest of my temple-hopping.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

She's wondering what clothes to wear

When packing for Thailand, I filled my limited space with modest teacher clothes and didn't bring any tee shirts. I knew that they would be abundant and cheap, especially in tourist areas, and I have purchased a number of amazing tee shirts in my time here. Apart from jeans, though, I don't have anything to wear them with.

Yes, I am really starting a blog entry by writing about clothes.

Well when Ban Phe turned into a market last week (that was the highlight of my life, okay?) there was a stall that popped up with some very cute knee-length skirts. They were all very pretty, and very appropriate to wear with tee shirts. I poked my head in and started thumbing through the pretty polka dots and flowers and pin stripes, and the woman sitting in the stall politely directed me to the "big girl" section (a rack of XL skirts in the back.) Yes, I am plus-sized in Thailand. I'm okay with that. I was originally drawn to a muted plum-and-mustard design, but distracted by a bright shiny purple one. The salesgirl urged me to choose the shiny purple one, possibly because big girls in shiny purple skirts are hilarious. I tried not to let it damage my self-esteem, and I went with her recommendation.

It's just that this is the only picture I took Friday night, and I can't post a blog entry without pictures, even if they are blurry faceless taken-in-the-mirror pictures! Friday was Stephanie's last night in Ban Phe, so we went out to Christie's and yes, I was dressed like a clown.


That's my previously linked horror tee shirt, shiny purple skirt and yellow-and-orange leg warmers. With flip-flops! Ha!

Everyone at Christie's is so ridiculously nice I can't stand it! The proprietress and some of the employees ended up closing shop early and taking us to Rayong (the big city in our province) to celebrate and wish Stephanie farewell. We danced to some great live music and I had a wonderful time. Stephanie is amazing and Ban Phe and I will miss her. I got woke up at 7:30 after about four hours of sleep to say goodbye over breakfast and caught a speedboat to Magical Crystal Island.

On the island, I met up with two tall, slim brunettes named Laura who took the TEFL class with me and now work in Isaan (that's the northeastern part of Thailand, for those of you who are not in Thailand.) It was great to see them and I am glad to hear that they are enjoying their jobs. Unfortunately I was a little too sleep deprived to do much other than lay on the beach and swim and lay on the beach some more, but that's island life for you. Saturday evening, we went back to the bar where there had been amazing live music the last time I spent the night on the island but the energy was tragic this time.

They started with soft poppy rocky songs that no one really *likes* but everyone kind of recognizes. Someone requested "anything by Eric Clapton" and that's where they made their tragic mistake. I would have recommended "After Midnight." It's upbeat and danceable. "Cocaine" could get plenty of audience participation, or even the fast version of "Layla." I think even "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" would have been acceptable.

Of course they played "Wonderful Tonight". And when that didn't get people dancing, they switched to Lady Gaga. And we left.

I spent the night in a rustic bungalow. There was no spider in the bathroom, because the bathroom was in a separate building. There is something absolutely magical about waking up under a functional, rather than decorative, mosquito net.


I love the diffused light, the closeness of nature, the sturdy and simple construction of a bungalow that doesn't pretend to be airtight. And maybe I can also fantasize for a little bit about being on safari somewhere, before I check out and stumble back down to the beach. It was a good, exhausting weekend.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Feeling near as faded as my jeans

The night of the king's birthday didn't hold just the excitement of parade, ceremony and abundant free food. After the ceremony, Autumn and I were invited to hang out with Bert's cool friends at the windsurf place. Now Bert's pretty much the coolest guy in Ban Phe, with his aloofness and his irony and his janky fabulous old Mercedes. Autumn and I were confident that if we did not end up covered in pig's blood, this was going to be an awesome time.

Bert's cool windsurfing friends are indeed pretty cool. His friend Ter, who I had met before a few times and whose name I hope I am not misspelling (*I was misspelling it but have now corrected it--Ter is pronounced like "Duh,") was playing guitar and some dozen or fifteen windsurfers and windsurfer groupies were singing and drinking and generally being awesome. I practiced my Thai a little. I regretted still not knowing the words to "Zombie," but did sing the first verse of a few songs in English. It was great.

As the evening went on, Autumn and I decided to go swimming-or-kayaking. Autumn wanted to go kayaking, but my thought process was that my jeans would get wet, so I would have to take them off and if I take off my jeans I might as well just go swimming. So that's what we did. We put our jeans on the rocks by the shore and went swimming in tee shirts and underfrillies. Bert and Ter, having witnessed our decision-making skills, dragged some kayaks into the water and we all went kayaking around Ban Phe harbor at night, with only the light from the moon and the piers and the festival. It was beautiful. And when Ter and I returned to the beach, I discovered that the tide had come in and my pants had been taken by the sea.

Oh how magical evenings can turn sour, even without pigs blood. My fairly nice Seiko watch was in the pocket of those cheap Old Navy jeans. I scoured the shoreline with some of the cool windsurf people but it became clear that my pants were at sea, and it remained unclear whether I would see them again. I was lent a pair of board shorts and lay shivering in a beachside hammock, contemplating my pathetic life for a bit before the other kayakers returned and we searched the shore again.

Lo! What dark matter was this teasing Autumns feet with each wave? My jeans! And my watch! Still ticking! The bountiful ocean was feeling generous that night after teaching us a lesson in humility-and-leaving-our-pants-above-the-tide-line.

Autumn's pants would not wash ashore until the following day, but we made the shameful trek back to the windsurf place in the morning to retrieve my pants, at least, and to cheer for our new friends.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej turned 82 last Saturday, December 5th. Ban Phe turned into a huge festival and I got to walk in a parade!

All of the employees of my school turned up in pink polo shirts with the royal insignia. If I had known that this was an option


you can bet that I would have hastily created a sequined vest or something with a little pizazz. Pink polo shirts stretched along the vast length of Ban Phe's main drag as what must have been most of the population of Ban Phe marched 3km or so to the giant stage which had been constructed a few days before in anticipation of the king's birthday.

Watch them disappear into the horizon.

Once we arrived, there was a lengthy ceremony wherein each group who had marched in the parade sent up three representatives to give gifts to the king.

That's Neung, Bert and Ditt!

Then this happened

and there was tasty seafood for all. The festival lasted for six days, and there were concerts and talent shows on the big stage the following nights and a big market to go with the carnival. Ban Phe is finally back to normal now and I don't know how I'll be able to carry on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

We can do the innuendo, we can dance and sing.

Tim disappointed his parents by enrolling in clown college out of high school. After graduation, he was given a coveted spot as a new clown at Ringling Brothers despite having no additional talents like juggling or tightrope walking. Instead, because of his small size no one would have to alter the costumes.

He was finally fired after locking a midget in a trunk, which is always a story for another day.

Here is he in his full get-up:

Tim went back and forth between clowndom and radio, and is no longer very small. He is now an Old Radio Guy, and you know how they are. He answers the phone overnight here at TEFL International/Siam School and his hobbies include balloon animals, collecting seashells, cooking tasty lunches for his coworkers, and updating the alumni blog.

I just noticed this new entry about my job!

He's got a gift for spin, I tell you what.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

She hit the flo'

My apologies, folks. Aside from having a generally uninteresting life lately, and a cold for the last few days, I haven't been taking my camera with me when I go out (on mundane errands) and thus have absolutely nothing to blog about!

Evidence: the highlight of the last week, until tonight, was taking a trip to the pharmacy in town to get cold medicine. It was a highlight because it afforded me the chance to ride side-saddle on a motorbike taxi (I was wearing a pencil skirt for work.) I'm so reckless. The pharmacy here is wonderful. My medicine was 20 baht, about $.60. Then I took a songthaew back to my school (these pickup trucks with two covered benches in the bed act as our public transportation here.) As accomplished as I felt after running this important errand, I felt that I couldn't blog about it because I had no pictures. So I didn't. Ha.

Tonight was different. The king's birthday is on Saturday, and this is a huge holiday in Thailand. Everyone is supposed to wear pink king's shirts this year (don't worry; I bought mine on Monday) and walk in a parade. I'm not sure how it works if the whole town walks in the parade, but they invited all of my school's employees so it doesn't seem like they would turn anyone down.

Anyway, Ban Phe is busy with preparation for the celebration this weekend. The main drag along the beach is turning into a market, and a big stage and a carnival materialized along it. I had to investigate this with the other immersion teacher, and we first came across the rollercoaster which looked freshly assembled so we decided to try it out. It cost as much as my cold medicine, but it was worth it. I think that the extra (or not-yet-assembled) parts piled in the center of the rollercoaster really added to the thrill. There was also a carny baby asleep in a hammock suspended under the track.

And the reason I can post a blog tonight is that I used my phone to take this:

That is the crazy blacklight disco bumper car ride at the carnival. Bumpercars were fun. I crashed into many Thai children.

With luck, the king's day parade will be a much-photographed spectacle. If not, rest assured I will find something to blog about, now that I can just take pictures with my phone.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Work all night on a drink of rum.


On Monday I started work here in Ban Phe at the Siam English Training School. I'm one of two teachers (the other is a girl from the same TEFL class as me) doing the Immersion English program right now. The program involves 3 hours of English lessons in the morning and then an activity for a few hours in the evening, and it's geared toward people who come here for a few weeks at a time on holiday. The English lessons are English lessons, but the activities make the job fairly interesting.

Yesterday the lesson and activity were combined: I took my ward (right now there is only one immersion student, but this will change next week when there will be two) to Ko Samet (which I learned in preparing for my lesson is also called "Magical Crystal Island" as it shall henceforth be known on this blog) and we had our lesson there and then went swimming and lay in the sun. It's a hard life.

This afternoon's activity was a visit to the Monkey Temple. I was trepidatious on seeing this in the list of activities, and it was a surprise this morning that the temple would be the day's activity. I changed to my most monkey-proof outfit and pinned up my hair. I got to ride in a sweet 1957 Mercedes. As the car slowly chugged up the hill to the temple, I noticed that some of the forest had been cleared to widen the road. At the top of the hill, the temple awaited. This time, though, there were about 20 monks milling about, music playing from a boom box near the temple, and folks were actively working on renovations.

It's a beautiful building so I'm glad that it won't be abandoned anymore, but at the same time it makes me sad that it probably won't be overrun with monkeys for much longer. Eventually the monkeys came out of the forest and we handed them our bananas, but there were too many people inside the gate of the temple for them to venture in at all. It was a fairly benign excursion.



There were many more babies than I saw before, but no sign of the Baron. I think he's either planning a large-scale attack to coincide with the temple reopening, or scouting a better location for his Barony. Or both.


After shooing the monkey off of the Mercedes, we went to the night market where I bought the second best tee shirt I've ever seen.

ban phe 035

This is hard work, but somebody has to do it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

on the train to Bangkok

My last night in Pai, a Japanese artist called Harajuku Matisse made me beautiful.


I slept in a bamboo hut under a functional mosquito net, and awoke early for the rollercoaster of a bus ride back to Chiang Mai where I bid farewell to miss Elle, who stayed in Chiang Mai before a different adventure. It was a long weekend of travel, and I took a few seconds of video as my train approached Bangkok in the morning.

Hualamphang station greeted me, and didn't feel quite as underdressed as before. I'm comfortable in my dirty backpacker uniform.



The second-class night trains are like the one in Some Like it Hot with curtains and ladders. This train was not as luxurious as the one I took up to Chiang Mai, but I think that next time I'm going all out and bringing a maribou-trimmed dressing gown just like Marilyn.

When I arrived in Ban Phe I was tired and dirty and the skies were grey and melancholy. In the morning, my other travel companion Jamie left for a teaching job a few hours away. The cast of characters here is different, and the settings are a little different. Today I explored some of the places I had never been before (a park, the Rayong aquarium) and some that I had missed (I had some quality time with the ocean and ate street food for dinner at the evening market) and I think this place will be home, at least for awhile.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

...Pai, cool drink of water, such a sweet surprise

Pai is a quiet mountain town about 3 and a half swervy hours north of Chiang Mai. Tee shirts for sale in town boast of the 762 curves in the road from Chiang Mai. As I bumped along, higher and higher into the mountains, I started to notice pine trees!

Pai is a small town, but it is becoming popular with backpackers and the main drag in town turns into a bustling market every evening, selling bracelets and belly dancer pants and scarves. I did buy a pair of fisherman pants, after going back and forth about it over the last couple of weeks.

The best thing about Pai, besides the town's love for puns, is that the backpacker culture is easy to escape. On an adventure yesterday, my companions and I visited (and swam below) a waterfall where we saw only a couple of other visitors.


This is one of the glorious views at Pai Canyon.


It's great in any direction.

In the evening, we went back to civilization and had our portrait done by an artist.


After walking through the streets, trying not to buy anything (aside from my fisherman pants,) the three of us settled down for a bit to watch this great funky jazz cover band.


I am completely in love with the lead singer and her fabulous hair and husky voice, and satisfied to know that Oscar Bluth ended up as a sax player in a funky ladyboy band in Pai.

Tomorrow I'll take on those 762 curves once again and start my two-day journey back to Ban Phe.