Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Back in Bangkok

Hello everyone. I'm overdue for some posting and will hopefully have the internet access and tools to post the last five days but thought I'd at least catch everyone up to where I am and what's going on.

I left Melbourne yesterday (the 26th) and am now back in Bangkok until my departure back to the States. I arrived without much trouble to Big john's Backpacker's somethingorother (Hostel?). I was so happy (read: tired) to arrive I unpacked, bought some water at the 24h eatery and bar on the first floor and got ready for bed. Then the partying began. My room was on the mezzanine which looked out over the pool tables, beer drinkers and was adjacent to the speakers playing loud Western bar music. I ear-plugged, tossed, turned, and finally asked them to at least turn down the music. they did and i managed a couple hours of sleep... until more people came in off the street and the party really started. At this point i decided I would try and ask if there was another room I could have. My room is now situated up five flights of stairs (the Bangkok heat and humidity increasing markedly which each flight), out onto the roof, and behind a slated door. But the AC in the room works well, the only noises up there are traffic and the hum of the AC units (which is much more peaceful than techno-remix-Cher, AC/DC and Smashmouth) and it has an amazing view. It was hell moving everything up, sweating like a heffer, at 4 AM, but I slept well in the AC'ed room, curled peacefully (finally) in my sagging mattress for another restful few hours.

Today I am enjoying the r's: rest, relaxation, reading. I will hopefully explore the city a little tonight. The best part of being here in this frathouse-like establishment is that I may having willing accomplices to share cab fares and brave the markets. But I have learned an important lesson, I am getting too hold for hostels.

More later I hope. Worse case, I can post from the airport prior to my departure. I've been asked to keep blogging when I get back to the US, but blogging about the mundane never seems as appealing... but with The Match approaching and a possible move maybe things won't be mundane for some time after all.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Reunion in Melbourne

Sorry for the delay everyone! We’ve been so busy I haven’t had the time to go online much at all – just enough time to read a couple emails now and then but that’s about it. The daily routine has been (for the most part): wake up, suck down some coffee, eat Vita Brits breakfast cereal, off to Ali’s, coffee in the city, then exploring one thing or another, getting home pretty late that night (or the next morning). Overall it's been awesome pending times with Sal, Lisa and Ali, it's hard to believe we've been friends for 10 years now!

Australia has been awesome so far. We’ve done so much. We started the fun immediately after my arrival. The flight was pretty decent. Getting on the plane was interesting as apparently I needed a visa after all – though my Aussie friends assure me I didn’t need a visa for such a short stay, they wouldn’t let me check in without one. Luckily I was able to rush over to a nearby internet station get an internet card (I didn’t have time to see if my laptop worked with their wireless!) and bought myself an electronic visa. I made it back to check in within 20 minutes and was able to make it to Australia. Moral: technology is not always evil.

The flight was a bit late but the ride was relatively smooth. I slept a bit and watched the free TV shows, one on dinosaurs and an episode of the Simpson’s. It was interesting being with all these people speaking English after so long of not understanding what anyone is saying around me. The flight was cold and blankets were $9 sol I just curled up a bit. Food was even more expensive but I ate some cheap fried chicken at the Bangkok airport during my 4-hour layover (it was disgusting but filling). I also conversed in bad French with some other tourists during the layover, reminding me that my French grammar has become atrocious.

Day 1: After a quick shower at Lisa’s we head to a park where there are all these beautiful wild birds. They land on you and eat out of your hands. There are Cockatoos and these red and pink and green birds everywhere (Rosellas and Galahs, I’m told). The cockatoos left big gouges from their claws on our forearms but it was worth it. Lisa got really nailed when two huge Cockatoos landed on the same arm and is still sporting a pretty impressive bruise. I really enjoyed the experience – jet lagged as I might have been.

That night we went to Wendy and Henk’s house (Lisa’s parents) for a big lamb roast dinner. It was delicious with roasted pumpkin and sweet potato and a fabulous chocolate pudding for dessert (think molten chocolate cake, Americans). With bellies full we head on to pass out at Lisa’s.

Day 2: The following day was Sunday and we stopped at Chinese New Year festivals across the city – by the Yarra River and in China Town. I had a delicious skinny hot cocoa - despite the heat - and shared the foam with Sal’s kids. We walked the river and took pictures by an iconic Melbourne bridge and then walked the city for 7 hours (also took a ride on the old trolly which was crowded and sticky full of schoolkids, pictured)! It was great fun and there’s a store I loved out here called Dangerfield’s with overpriced punky clothes (kind of Urban Outfitteresque but MUCH cooler since it’s in Australia of course). We went down a very hip alley with coffee shops spilling into the walking parts and people of all shapes, sizes, and Mohawk color.

For dinner, exhausted, Sal her kids (James and Adelaide) and I ate at Lisa’s. Then after putting the kids to bed we inhaled a huge block of Cadbury chocolate and promptly stayed up past midnight looking at picture on our computers and talking about mutual friends.

Day3: The following day was Sunday. The original plan was to ride the great ocean road however due to the heat we went to Woodend instead. After saying goodbye to Sal we hit the road for the country. Woodend is the small town where Ali grew up. We got to visit his old school, a Victorian building at top of a hill among gum and eucalyptus trees. Ali told stories of bush fires for as fire as the eye could see and how one time his school was evacuated down the hill during a fire and how the asphalt was melting into their shoes on the way we saw a few landmarks of the area. A giant cross memorial on the top of a hill and an old volcano called Hanging Rock that inspired a story, Picnic at Hanging Rock, that was ultimately made into a movie of the same name.

Then Dinner (on the barbie) at Ali’s parents house, Roger and Heather’s, to celebrate the Chinese New Year. We had a HUGE spread of yummy food and gorged ourselves again nearly to bursting. Then we had ice cream and cake for the New Year and Ali’s birthday. I would love to wax poetic about Woodend, and probably could, but am so far behind in blogging I’ll probably let the pictures tell the story. I do have to say, though, that the stories of all the deadly snakes and close encounters and such spooked me. It’s true that Australia has like 8/10 of the world’s deadliest snakes (and something similar for spiders).

Day 4: Monday we went about the town – I saw some of the districts including Fitzroy, which is very funky and fun and original. Also very gay-friendly and diverse all around. We wrapped the evening watching Pan’s Labyrinth, which I wanted to see so badly, but had limited release in the States and never was shown in Michigan.

This is just a bit of what I’ve done. It’s really been rather busy and lots of fun. Today we’ve also been around to beaches and piers and back to another part of Fitzroy, which was equally as funky and fun. Every day we’ve hit up a different coffee shop. Some famous for good Italian espresso, some remarkable for their unique décor, and some not very impressive visually but absolutely delicious.

This weekend we plan to drive the Great Ocean Road – the 101 of Australia. I’m looking forward to it and will remember to wear my swimsuit (aka bathers or togs) so I can go and fight off the Sharks.

If I get time I’ll most more on Day 5: the 20th, Ali’s fabulous birthday extravaganza! And the Great Ocean Road as well of course….


Thursday, February 15, 2007

From ladies to ladyboys

Feb 14: Happy V-Day everyone. Usually I’m grumpy on Valentine’s Day, but not this year! This year I had a great time. Tanya and I went to a women’s only Ladies Lunch Brunch. It was all ex-pats, German, Irish, English, Australian, American, etc and almost all women aged late 50s to 70s. They seemed to be a well-educated pretty liberal bunch and the food was incredible.

The event was held at a small bistro off the beaten path, known pretty much only by word of mouth. It is run by an Australian woman, Audrey, who has a staff of Thai women who help her cook her meals. Each month she has a big themed brunch and every so often a special event like this one. Each event requires reservations. Tanya made them for us last week. It seems most of the ladies know each other rather well. Most have come to Chiang Mai to retire – one woman, Carol, a Smithie (class of 58 I think) comes for four months of the year to write books about art. It was really a pleasant lunch, the atmosphere was beautiful (Audrey suggested everyone wear red or pink for Valentine's Day), the company stimulating, and the food and drink were spectacular. The cool orange beverage pictured was some sort of tropical juiced fruit (guava? Papaya?) with apples, melon balls and mint floating within. The lunch consisted of a huge buffet with several lasagnas, salads, potato, pumpkin, veggies and other yummy delights. Dessert, which everyone was too stuffed to eat but ate anyway, was a very light cheesecake on a very dense buttery almond crust and an angel cake with strawberry and crème filling. To die for. I ate until I thought I was going to explode.

After stuffing ourselves to oblivion and talking for a while under the pink umbrellas we went to an ancient temple nearby. This temple was built in the 13th century and modified for a few centuries thereafter. It’s mostly underground, like catacombs, with nooks in which to worship. There is a large Chedi – a tower of sorts – on a courtyard top of this gorgeous staircase (a Naga staircase – Naga being the mythical creatures on the staircase) and after climbing up to it I found an old beautiful bell and a young monk talking with two young women with a temple dog laying at his feet. It was incredibly peaceful, ancient, and we lingered on temple grounds for a while, taking pictures, enjoying the fishpond (which was more like a lake than a pond) and nearby buildings like a library, bookstore and got to peek at the monk’s laundry hanging to dry.I took cool pictures but can't post them all here - stay tuned for my snapfish albums, coming soon!

Still incredibly full, we waddled to a nearby massage place where we got Thai foot massages for 99 bht (less than $3) and rested and digested before piling onto another songtaew and heading back home.

In the evening we head to Night Bazaar with Aum and Gig. Out purpose of going was to see a drag competition but we marched through the numerous stalls and vendor areas to get there. It was tourist headquarters. I hadn’t realized how much I’d been avoiding tourists so far until last night. They were everywhere. And the vendor would harass me as I walked by. It was pretty claustrophobic as there was barely enough room to pass by single file and I realized how much mass numbers of tourists makes me uncomfortable. After an endless march past accosted farang, listening to tourists try to bargain in their own language, we arrived at the site for the show. It was held under a massive rock-climbing wall in a courtyard surround by farang bars playing American music and filled with trans Thai (ladyboys) being pawed by old white men. We stayed long enough to see a fabulously lip-synced version of Whitney’s “Greatest Love” and a Dreamgirls song, both performed as opening acts for the “Drag Fashion Show”. And then we left, walking past red neon lit contestants, young boys some of them, in drag all wearing similar little tanks and shorts and numbers and some also getting attention from much older farang.

Feb 15: Today I leave for Australia. I fly first to Bangkok then after a layover there, I fly nonstop to Melbourne! I’m looking forward to the next leg of my travels and am so excited to see my Aussie friends again!


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Camping & The Joy of Elephants

Feb 10-11: Camping is always a mixed bag. Personally I love it, but sleep and personal hygiene have to be sacrificed. Same was true with this trip – except for personal hygiene. The camping facilities were awesome and we camped right by hot springs so it felt more like a luxury spa than a camping trip sometimes. They even had full body Thai massage at camping headquarters. But I’m getting ahead of myself...

Gig and Aum picked up Tanya, Chris and I at 10 AM sharp. Their truck was laden with camping supplies. On our way out of town we drove through another market. Handicraft Village, it was called. Then we hit the mountain range where our campsite was and drove, and drove and drove. We drove up the mountain and again back down, driving through rivers, cowherds and various other obstacles. The road was torturous (by this, I mean twisted as all hell). It reminded me of winding up the mountains in Switzerland. Except this road was thankfully two lanes and mostly well paved. At one point Tanya had to close her eyes because, ahead of us, we could see the road slanting down the mountain at an impossibly steep angle! But, never fear, Gig and his trusty Suzuki (pictured) took good care of us. As we drove through the mountains Tanya and Gig pointed out that there were tigers here. I was quickly assured that the Tigers did not venture to the campgrounds because they like the higher altitudes.

On the way up the mountain we stopped at a mountain village for coffee and snacks. Also, we heard about these cherry blossoms and flowering trees on the drive. Unfortunately, it looked like the blossoms had all peaked and, while there were some flowers on trees, it was hardly the spray of color the park’s brochure made it out to be.

We arrived at the campsite after hours of winding around the mountains. Tanya and Aum leaned across me and I hid behind a baseball hat so I wouldn’t have to pay the exorbitant fee for farang. Farang (pronounced fah-lahng) is Thai for foreigner. The fees for national parks are about 60 bht for Thai (or Thai-appearing, like Chris apparently) and 400 bht for farang, 200 with student ID (which I thankfully had in our previous day’s trip to Doi Inthanon). At campsite headquarters we hiked a long trail along a rushing stream to a 6-tiered waterfall. On the way to the trail we passed an enormous tree covered in undulating beehives (click on that picture)!

The trail was very peaceful and well maintained and after a while we arrived at the first set of stairs to climb the waterfall. The walkway was wood and cement and the cement was made too look like trees, snakes, lizards and natural things. There were kids playing in the stream (where it was lass rapid-y and more babbling). Each tier of waterfall had a different characteristic. One had caves, another was a tall cascade, another was short but very powerful with fallen trees, and so on. It was quite a long walk and the path was lined with bamboo trees and other exotic looking flora.

After our long hike the guys bought eggs from a vendor in these baskets to boil in the hot springs to eat while the ladies (me included) got massages. After the massages the tent was miraculously put up and the eggs were eaten. We went back to camp and started cooking dinner.

Dinner was fried chicken and ramen noodle made by Aum. I think there was even more but I was really full after just the ramen so couldn’t eat much. After that we sat around listening to Gig’s oldies (Chubby Checkers and the like) for a bit and then went to bathe in the hot springs. The hot springs were pumped into these giant bathhouses that we rented for 20 bht a person (that’s less than $0.75). We set my camera up on timer and got a picture of us.

After we went back to camp we pretty much went to bed I think we listened to some Che Guevara and then Thai folk music first). The night was long and the ground was very hard (I didn’t bring my mat so it was Liz v. rocks for the night) and I spent most of the night watching the shadow of the campground cat play against the tent (very friendly kitty) and listening to the unreal sounds around me. There were these singing frogs that would start and stop in fits and the constant sound of a stream gurgling. It was the kind of mixture of sound that people use to create sound machines, except it was real.

In the morning Aum made rice porridge with pork and eggs and we set off, back toward Chiang Mai, passing expansive rice fields along the way.

On the way home we stopped in Lampang, a city with an elephant camp and training school. Elephant camps are where they train elephants for labor, tricks, and such. The one we went to has a huge elephant hospital, training grounds, an elephant conservation area, museums, and uses elephant dung to make fertilizer, paper and some sort of usable gas product. It was very elephant-friendly (however most elephants did wear a chain on one ankle for when they needed to be kept in open stalls).

This camp, called Mahout and Thai Elephant Education College also accepts all people to train as mahout, elephant handlers, and there were even some Americans at the school while we were there – they have full packages where you get lodging, adventures in the forest/jungle and get to train elephants. There was even this little American boy who was handling one of the elephants in the show we saw.

We were at the camp for nearly three hours, soaking in the incredibly hot sun, eating lunch, and basically just milling around. Tanya brought a Step 2 study guide and actually studied during some of the time. I milled around and watched people take elephant rides and assigned personalities to some of the elephants that seemed to be just milling around like we were. Then it was time for the elephant bath. Busloads of tourists (Thai and farang) were dumped off and bunches of elephants and mahout started heading into the water. Some came by to saw hi to the audience first. The bathing was really fun to watch. Some elephants just loved the water and would dive in head first, just their big butts in the air. Others would roll from side to side. One kept trumpeting. The mahout would scrub them and somehow manage to stay on top of an elephant part to keep out of the water.

After their bath the elephants performed in the Elephant Show. For this we paid a small fee and we got to watch demonstrations of what the elephants are trained to do. I’ll skip most of the details but basically elephants are trained to move logs in a billion different ways: carrying, pushing, kicking, sliding, dragging, etc. There were also tricks demonstrated. Two elephants painted pictures and a bunch of others played musical instruments and did other tricks.

After the show we bought some sugar cane to feed the elephants and got to pet them and give them lots of attention. I came across the young elephant and the little American boy mahout and heard another American on an elephant ask him “isn’t this the most amazing thing in the world?” and the boy just shrugged. Then the girl said back, “I see that look on your face! You love this!” As they were sitting on their elephant’s necks and letting them eat sugar can from the audience’s hands. Can I say jealous? For those interested, they have 4, 6 and10-day long programs that include lodging and all this education (you even learn to make elephant medicine and how to treat them in the hospital). It appears to be just a few hundred dollars a person. Definitely something I’d love to do in the future if I have the time and money! I kept the brochure just in case.

Overall, it ended up being a long day – hot sun, long, bouncy car trip (again at unknown and ungodly speeds) and when we got home we barely had the energy for dinner. Then I found out that it was my last chance to check out this weekend-long event in Chiang Mai where they close off the Old City at night and fill it with vendors. It’s called Walking Street and it’s like Ann Arbor Art Fair on methamphetamines.

We went, I spent more money, and came back and collapsed. I didn’t want to take many pictures there: first off, it was dark out, and secondly, it he streets where packed and I didn’t want to keep going in and out of my bag for fear of pick-pocketers, but I did manage to capture a shot of a ton of people getting traditional Thai foot massages on a street corner. Aum thankfully has friends in high places (security guard tat the red cross) and we managed parking in their lot (parking is impossible near the Old City during this event). I slept incredibly well and was incredibly grateful for Tanya and Chris’ short, little, sticky couch!


Monday, February 12, 2007

Doi Inthanon

Wow – so much in the last few days. I took a million pics too. I’m trying to upload them to Snapfish so I can share. I’ll start with the day-trip to the mountain:

Friday, Feb 9: We went to this national park in this nearby mountain, Doi Inthanon, the tallest mountain in Thailand. On the way out of town we stopped at a large market, Ban Tawai, and perused mostly handmade goods and folk art. It is supposedly one of the biggest markets in Thailand (3.5 km of stalls) according to Gig, our tourguide. Side note: Gig works with the cotton industry. He supports fair trade, naturally dyed cotton goods and seems to know someone at every market we go to. He also knows a lot about Thailand’s countryside and has a truck with four-wheel drive. Gig loves Che Guevara and his English is minimal at best, sometimes with a very funny spin. Example: the word, “beautiful” for Gig is “Boo-tee-fun”. Gig and his girlfriend, Aum, have been awesome.

On our way up the mountain we got to see some traditional mountainside Thai houses on stilts. The park itself featured waterfalls and trails, and at the top is a temple for the King and Queen of Thailand. I haven’t talked yet about the monarchy. They are well loved. For those of you confused about the coup (I was until I got here) the Prime Minister was overthrown by the military. The PM seems to have been a guy no one liked very much and was rather power hungry. The King would publicly put him in his place in speeches. Ultimately, the PM was overthrown but the King still reigns. I also think I read somewhere that this monarchy is the oldest remaining in the world. Everyone loves the King. They wear bracelets (not unlike the Armstrong “live strong” bracelets) that say on them “I love the King” and yellow t-shirts with the king’s crest on them. The T-shirt is routinely worn on Mondays (the day of the week the King was born) but can be seen on people pretty much anytime. Chris was wearing one in the picture from my first entry – when he’s holding his socks up. In here is a pic of the King and Queen’s photos between the entrances to their two temples.

So, back to the trip, near the top of the mountain are these beautiful temples (and, um, a military base, but that’s less exciting). The King’s temple has a sitting Buddha and all these carvings around it. The Queen’s has a standing Buddha and a gorgeous mosaic. The view from each was spectacular and each had an impressive garden with a multitude of flowering plants – including daisy trees like the one I have at home, but obviously happier.

At the very top of the mountain are a hiking trail, stream, and memorial to someone -- can’t remember who this someone was, but the memorial was very pretty. I think this person was also struck by lightening (there was a memorial at Three Kings for another big figure who was struck by lightening). We got some lunch – I had a Thai Omelet – and relaxed a bit near one of the King’s agricultural projects. There was also a huge waterfall cascading down a mountain in the distance. Trees were in bloom everywhere and even the stray dogs seemed fat and happy up there.

Gig then took us down hundreds of stone steps, winding down the side of the mountain, at the bottom was Mae Klang waterfall (pictured at the start of this blog with Tanya and here with Gig). It was pretty spectacular. There was also a parking lot down there (there apparently didn’t used to be) so Gig volunteered to walk back up the hundreds of steps and move the car for us. I am still sore from just the descent and we were all really grateful we didn’t have to hike back up (especially since we were in for a lot of stairs for more waterfalls the next day).

Sunset on the drive back was boo-tee-fun, as Gig said. Huge glowing red ball descending into mist. We tried to capture it on film but it just wasn’t working (the sun always came out yellow, not the bright red we all saw). I was sleepy and managed a few minutes of shut-eye in the windy Suzuki as Gig careened down the expressway at some unknown but certainly very high speed (his speedometer is broken).

For dinner we met up with some of Aum’s co-workers from the hospital (Tanya knows them all from work) at a place called “meme”. We enjoyed live music from a young guy on guitar and yummy food of course. Tanya and I were pretty zoned from our long day in nature but the food was good, garlic-heavy and the company was nice (see picture). There was also an elephant that stopped by the place and played the harmonica for us and danced. I was surprised how well he played and it seemed to go with the guitarist’s music, but maybe I was just imagining that in my post mountain adventure grogginess.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Simon Cabaret

Feb 8: Drag show was fab. Simon Cabaret is across Thailand. There’s one in Phuket (pronounced Poo-kay) and Bangkok, Chiang Mai, etc. Technically it’s not a drag show since most the performers are post-operative transsexuals. There are no female-born-women in the show at all. Regardless of terminology it had all the kitsch, costuming and frenetic lighting of an Ethel Mermen meets Carmen Miranda and Laugh-In extravaganza. I took a few pictures but obviously it’s hard to take pictures of a staged show from the audience. Basically the ladies lip sync and perform these huge dance numbers in elaborate costumes, sometimes with fire batons twirling, sometimes descending down long staircases – very 1950s MGM.

They sang Chinese, Thai and English songs. “I Will Survive” was featured in version I never heard, kind of a mix between Thai traditional singing and disco. After the show I got a little scammed by one of the ladies. She basically took 70 baht from me as an unintended tip. That’s about $2 so I really didn’t feel all that robbed! I worry that these women are exploited behind the scenes (some of them looked pretty happy though) so I think they deserve all the tips they can get – hopefully they don’t have to report it all to the boss.

During the day Tanya and Chris and I went to the mall across the street and took our picture in a picture booth to make stickers. A very popular thing all over Asia. Here’s a photo of the stickers! After that we saw a Thai movie called Final Score, a documentary following a group of boys taking their entrance exams for postsecondary school. It was really good and amazing all the stress that these kids endure for a test that tells them what they can do with their lives. If it’s ever available in the US I highly recommend it.

Overall the day was relatively low-key. Lunch was Japanese and dinner was Vietnamese soup while we listened to an old Thai hippie play folk music on guitar with harmonica.

Today (Feb 9) we are going to a mountain and National Park for a day trip with Aum and Gig.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Warorot market, spirits and fortunes

Feb 7: Also an eventful day! Started out lazy but by early afternoon we were with Gig and Aum at this great place for lunch – we had like six plates of various food we shared. One was a fried fish roll of some sort, spring roll, a mix of things to roll up and eat (pictured), rolled up yummy mystery stuff with fried garlic (pictured also), beetle leaf (pork wrapped with rice in a black leaf) and a spicy cold salad mix. It was a huge feast and only cost us like $1 or $2 a person.

The eating out philosophy here is very different. You are asked your order almost immediately after arriving. Sometimes you even order before you sit down. Those with difficulty making decisions would find Thai dinning very difficult. Also, there is bottled water at every table with a bucket of ice and they charge by how many bottles you open (everyone here drinks bottled water). When you eat you eat with a spoon in your dominant hand and may use a fork to help shovel food into the spoon. Eating with one utensil, and especially just a fork, is bizarre. Finger food you pick up with your right hand (supposedly – but I haven’t really paid attention). Almost everything has fish or pork in it but vegetarian fare isn’t too hard to find if you look.

After lunch the five of us went to this market I read about in my tour book. It’s several stories high and right by the river. It was crazy busy but Aum and Gig knew their way around pretty well. The inside portion smelled like a combination of livestock and food (a bit overwhelming) and had beautiful wrapped candies and bags of mysterious colorful things. The upper floors on the inside were mostly fabrics, clothing, shoes and other necessities like bags and socks.

The outside also had clothes and food and such, more mixed. There were also a lot of trinkets and handmade things like purses and bags. We walked by women making traditional Northern Thai embroidered bags and live fish flopping on market stands. I bought a couple of t-shirts (I only brought two with me) and a pink silk tie. Tanya bought these elephant pajamas and Chris got a broom. After several hours at market, digesting the foods, we went to the mall across from Tanya and Chris’ apartment and had yummy Swensen’s ice cream.

That evening we went out to this pasta place for dinner and passed a number of spirit houses along the way. I love the spirit houses – they are these little houses on stands that are supposed to provide housing for spirits so they don’t come into your house. They are usually very decorated and have incense and flowers and some even have little miniature people inside – kind of like a dollhouse. I took a few pictures of them - each one is so different. I hope the spirits don’t mind. Here's one right next to where I'm staying.

We had intended to go to a drag show but Tanya was really tired so we will probably go tonight. I also keep forgetting to tell about the fortune I received in Wat Phra Singh. Tanya described the fortune telling, or ‘siam sii’, on her blog: “Originally derived from a Chinese practice, it entails shaking an open can of sticks with different numbers on them until one falls out. Once a stick falls out, you go to a shelf where you find your number and take the fortune corresponding to that number.” You can see Tanya’s blog here: http://chiangmaichic.blogspot.com. My fortune was the following. Tanya insists it is very good and promising for residency! However falling out of the sky seems a bit daunting.

(also, don't forget you can click on a picture to get a closer look)


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

food, wats, more food, and baby elephant

Chiang Mai, “The Rose of the North”, Thailand’s second largest city. Built in 1296 when a king, thanks to some good omens and the advice of his astrologer and 2 other kings, determined this a good site for a city.

Feb 5: After Chris picked up Tanya we went out and ate “suki” at a chain place called MK. Basically its fish, tofu, seaweed and other things mixed in boiling water with veggies and some noodles. Kind of a soup buffet. At left is a pic of the yummy soupy lunch. We walked around a little bit and then went home and watched This Film is Not Yet Rated (great movie). We ate dinner at Mike’s (an American ex-pat who opened a burger joint) and hung out in cool café while Chris had a cookies and cream milkshake and kicked my butt royally in Othello (mom would be ashamed).

Feb 6: An exhausting and eventful day. I made breakfast for Tanya and Chris with some of the groceries I bought the day before. Chris had a test in the morning and needed something hardy to eat. Tanya and I hung out for a bit in the apartment and when Chris came back (after passing his test) we went out to downtown Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is an old city. The oldest part of it is enclosed in an ancient wall. We went to look at some bookstores (where I bought a cool Thai book called Jasmine Nights, the Catcher in the Rye of Thailand). We followed my tour book to look at some sites, including Three Kings Monument (see above story of how Chiang Mai was founded), and quite a few wats (or Buddhist temples). There are over 300 wats in Chiang Mai, one at every turn. The most famous which is Wat Phra Singh – an enormous one with multiple buildings and a very large school for monks. Each wat seems to house a school for monks. The monks are everywhere, of all ages, from elementary school age to senior citizen all dressed in bright saffron (the occasional monk in more muted colors).

Tanya, Chris and I also, in the middle of our long adventure in Chiang Mai got a Thai massage across from the women’s prison. The prisoners are taught a trade in prison: embroidery, massage, cooking desserts, other such things and this way they can have jobs when they leave. The prisoners were very nice and the massage was amazing (feet, legs, arms, shoulders and neck) – cost about $3!

We were so tired and went home and vegged until dinner. For dinner some of Tanya’s friends, Gig (a guy who works for free trade cotton) and his girlfriend, Aum (a nurse), drove us to this secret amazing restaurant that’s in this woman’s house. I took a picture of the food. Then we went to this market-type place that had desserts including buttered toast you dip in chocolate (a Thai dessert I am very fond of). While we were eating dessert some people came around with a baby elephant charging people about 50 cents to feed it. We felt bad for the elephant so didn’t support the people dragging the poor baby around the city. But it was cute. About the height of a small pony and the width of a Honda CRV. By then I was completely exhausted and collapsed when we got home. Overall a productive day. Took lots of pics but thought I’d just put in a few.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Welcome to Chiang Mai

(February 2, 2007:) I am writing my first entry here on the flight from DTW to San Francisco. Making this flight was an ordeal as there was a head-on collision on the freeway closing all lanes on the way over here. We pulled an illegal move after sitting in traffic for about 30 minutes and drove across the freeway median, which thankfully was frozen enough to keep us from getting stuck in the ditch!

I gave my dad a very quick hug and literally ran to my flight. Stopped once for a potty break and once for a sip of H2O but kept trucking and made it to my gate just in time to sneak in with the last of those boarding. I even had room for my bag in the overhead!

So now cozy in my brand new red hoodie (Thanks Julie!) and I’m munching on my wheat thins, banana and almonds (still trying to keep with the healthy eating habits) and getting a little bored. I did the crossword in the in-flight magazine in 40 minutes. I almost was done before take-off but I got mislead when I wrote “snarls” for “sneers” and it took me a while to figure that out (I was almost at the point of making up words to fit).

Ugh. Bored. Kinda sleepy but want to save up my sleepiness for the flight to Taiwan. I think I’ll watch the rest of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (very interesting movie, by the way, with lots of history).

Many hours later….

On the flight to Thailand. I’ve had to pee three times in the first 5 hours. I feel bad (been apologizing profusely) and now I feel worse since the guy next to me just yelled at me. He’s American and very rude and asked me, sarcastically, if I have ever flown before and why on earth would I request a window seat if I was going to go to the bathroom all the time. I’m mad because I just want to sleep! Now I still have 8 hours to go and I’m trapped in here, in my seat, and I know I will have to go again. Another reason flying is a pain. I can’t sleep if I’m not at the window and I can’t pee if I am. Do I try and hold it for a number of hours now?


Well, the guy I was sitting with apologized for being an ass. “Grumpy” was his word for it (an underestimate I think). Regardless, I talked to the sweetheart of a flight attendant and he set me up with an aisle seat a few rows up (next to a screaming child who, for some reason, didn’t bother me much at all – not like the “grumpy” guy anyway).

The rest of the flight was fine. Long. Three movies, two horrible (Stormbreaker and one called Mistress of Spices or something?) and one was just mediocre to bad (Russell Crowe in some romantic comedy).

Interesting enough, I ended up with a bit of the runs so it was good to have quick access to the toilets. They resolved into the flight so I’m blaming the Gordo’s Quesadilla. Yet another reason I’m not meant for Mexican food.

I had several hours to kill in Taiwan. I had overpriced coffee and at the PB&J Missy made for me. Ran into Grumpy Guy getting on the same flight to Bangkok. I asked him if the rest of his flight went more smoothly (since I moved) and he said he slept the whole thing. He apologized again and we had a very civilized chat boarding our flight. He thought I was Australian which I thought was funny (apparently it was because I called the US “the States”.)

February 4th: Layover in Bangkok for three or four hours, one-hour flight to Chiang Mai, 10 minute ride on the back of Chris’ motorbike and I finally made it. Went to bed at 8:30 PM and up at 7 AM and am ready for the day!

Photos are: view from Tanya and Chris’ window and Chris getting ready to pick Tanya up at work this afternoon. We’re going to get yummy Thai lunch when they get back.