Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I thought I'd post once more before our phone line is disconnected.

The picture below shows a new fruit we tried recently, called Snake fruit. The reason for the name escapes me, but it's probably because of the fruits' skin texture, which is sort of prickly, that I suppose could pass as feeling like a snakeskin.

Once the prickly outer skin is peeled off, the fruit meat inside is arranged in a cluster of two or three oblong pieces, depending on the individual size of the fruit. The fruit tastes comparable to Smarties® candy, or RedBull® energy drink, with a tart-sweet tang. Mam's eyes were bigger than her stomach when she selected a bunch from the vendor, as she wasn't crazy about the fruit, but the two of us did manage to get through a dozen of them.

Read about Snake Fruit HERE.

Although our cottage isn't quite as rustic as the picture above, it's not far from it. Our new landlords are remodeling the cottage as I blog, and it seems we're going to have a very nice, quiet and serene place to live in very soon.

Mam and I have been packing our orchids, varied plants, and flowers, along with some very crude garden tools, into our backpacks and hiking up to our cottage every day to work on the outside grounds. I've managed to almost completely cover the tree trunk outside our bedroom with the orchids I've been growing, fastening them to the tree with shredded coconut husk. I watched a Thai gardening program on T.V. and learned about this handy little orchid growing trick, which sure does work well.

Our orchids are flourishing and blooming to beat the band in the humid environment around the cottage and nearby fruit trees, and will be so beautiful once they start to really take hold. I've been experimenting with growing orchids for well over two years now, and finally have perfected a system that seems to work pretty well. My hope is to expand my collection ten fold, so I have many beautiful specimens to admire and enjoy.

Mam has been clearing brush around the cottage, swearing that she'll never return if she sees a snake. So I'm hoping she's only joking since the change of her seeing a snake is pretty darn high.

Mam saw another Atlas moth on Saturday, when we were returning from our visit to the cottage. She's got an eye for that sort of thing, while my eyes are only getting worse in my old age. There are too many weird and interesting flora and fauna to list here, that we see during our walks, but I have begun assembling a folder on the various bugs, birds, reptiles, and animals we spot, to keep track of what we've spotted and put an official name to all of them, which I'll put up as a link on this blogsite at a later date.

Since our sampling of snake fruit, we've come across another three or four odd varieties of fruit during our walks that neither of us has ever seen before. So this has become another challenging project of mine, to catalog the various names of fruits we encounter, and save them to another folder on my computer to post at a later date. Not an easy task, by any means I must say.

Often we have to ask some of the local villagers what the name of the fruit is and often the name cannot be translated into English, or the villager only knows the name of the fruit in a Southern Thai dialect, which cannot be translated into conventional Thai or English. Difficult yes, but certainly not an impossible task by any means.

My vacation is pretty much over now. Only four more days left before I have to return to the classroom. Mam and I visited the school today and did some work on the classroom itself, cleaning here and there and readying some materials for the new school term. Many of the students were out and about, shouting to us, "Teacher Jeeem! Hallo Jeeem! Khrue Mam! Hallo Mam!" which was a good feeling, as I've missed the kids.

Our rainy season seems to have never stopped here in the South of Thailand. Almost every afternoon we have been deluged with thunderstorms, often severe, leaving our rivers bulging at the seams. The dry season was all but absent this year, replaced by torrential rains and sudden storms. Now we're back to our usual monsoon season and the water table remains at a level much higher than normal.

Floods are certain to be a problem this year.

Mam and I will be moving out of this house by the 31st of this month. We've got a lot of things to do to get situated in our new home, such as putting in a new phone line and getting the mail delivered to the right address, so you probably won't hear from us for a while.

Don't despair; we'll eventually be back like an annoying pimple.

Meanwhile, live good lives and stay happy...

-Jeeem & Mam-

Sunday, April 30, 2006

We've finally found a new place to live.

About a month and a half ago, during our daily walks up to the North Klong Tong Cemetery and Priest Meditation Residence Temple, I spotted a secluded cottage tucked well off the road in the midst of a fruit tree plantation, and decided to check it out.

"This would be a wonderful place to live," I commented to Mam, but at the time she was far from agreeable, pointing out all the defects of the place, which had obviously been uninhabited for several months if not years. She did agree, however, that the silence and solitude was definitely a plus compared to where we are presently living.

During our walks over the past two months, we've spoken to many villagers along the way, some who were curious about us, and some who were just friendly, getting to know many of them well. We never failed to mention that we were looking for a place to live, and that finally paid off.

Last week we were beckoned by one of the local villagers who saw us while we were walking past his house. The man began talking in a very animated way to Mam, telling her that he knew of a gentleman who was willing to rent out his house and would like to take us to him if we were still interested.

Although I didn't understand most of what was said, I gathered from his gestures and gesticulations that he was talking about the cottage I like.

"Is he talking about the cottage on the temple road?" I asked Mam.


"Does he know the owner?"


"Does the owner want to rent the place out?"


It's a burden having a companion who is so verbose, but I suppose I'll survive....

Eventually we met the owner and in short order we were heading for the cottage, riding in the back of his pickup truck.

Mam and I spent a good part of the morning looking the place over and I fully fell in love with the house. It is definitely what I would call a "fixer upper," but I've always been the type that loved places like this and my excitement level could barely be contained. Not to mention the fact that we'd have about six rai of land (about 2.3 acres) to explore and would be able to plant a vegetable garden and have our own flower garden, for a fraction of what we're paying now.

So, we're moving out the 31st of May and I'll be offline for some time as I'll have to have this phone line shut off and it may be a while before I get a phone line installed at our new home.

See you then!


Although a trip to a restaurant is considered extravagant for us lately, we do manage to shop around for inexpensive restaurants in our immediate village and eat out at least twice monthly now.

Recently we discovered a new restaurant in the village that has decent prices and a pleasant atmosphere, so we got all dolled up one evening and went to check the place out.

The menu was huge, and took us several minutes to peruse all the offerings, which were pretty diverse. Mam settled on a big, hearty bowl of seafood Tom Yam, and I decided to splurge a bit and delve into some "Weird" food, since I hadn't eaten anything questionable in quite a long time.

I chose the Wild Boar plate, and Mam told the waiter to water down the spices a bit.

"Is Wild Boar typically spicy?" I inquired.

"Oww! Pet Mak! Very, very spicy," Mam exclaimed.

"Okay, thanks for telling him to make it edible," I said.

Mam's bowl of Tom Yum arrived first, and the bowl was huge, big enough that both of us could share, since Mam could have never finished it herself. The prawns were massive, and the dish was laden with vegetables, curry, lemon grass, large chunks of tasty fish, baby squid, octopus, and other tasty treats.

Then my Wild Boar arrived.

The plate was about twelve inches in diameter and heaped with chunks of Wild Boar and something that looked suspiciously like fresh green - black pepper sprigs. There were some veggies in there too, and the whole dish was swimming in a rich looking, dark brown sauce.

The dish smelled good, albeit spicy, with just a hint of mint. So I dug in and promptly discovered that telltale numbness of the tongue and mouth, which spoke of something so ungodly hot and spicy as to be practically inedible. The last time I had eaten something so damn hot, was in Beijing, China at a Mongolian Hotpot restaurant.

I was good. I didn't complain...much, and I never made an attempt to have them take the dish back. I suffered through the whole thing, my mouth tissues protesting, my nose running, eyes watering and sweat beading up on my forehead.

The boar was good, actually. It had a semi-sweet taste to it, but most of the flavor was lost in the incendiary quality of the recipe. There were many tiny little bones, which were a bit of a hassle, but really not that bad. Mam assured me she knew where to purchase boar at the market and could fix me a dish of it at home if I wanted, sans heat.

"If that dish was the 'watered down' version, I can't imagine what the usual plate would be like," I pondered.

What a spice wimp I am.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Thanks to all of you who have recently written wondering how Mam and I are doing and expressing concern over not hearing from me for so long. We are both doing very well, even though we had to cancel our plans of returning to Chum Phae this month because of insufficient funds.

Mam has been crocheting some very intricate, white Buddhist prayer shawls, two of which she sent to her mother in Chum Phae. Those two prayer shawls generated orders from others, so Mam has been busy crocheting every moment she has free time.

Mam and I both enjoy nature. Bird watching, butterflies, plants, flowers and insects all peak our interest, so we decided once again to set out for our daily morning walks like we did while in Chum Phae last October. To date, we've been walking about eight kilometers every morning, sometimes more, sometimes less. Our usual walk is about 8 kilometers (just a hair short of 5 miles) and takes us from our home on Soi 3, south about three city blocks, then east on a major road that runs east-west, for about 3.5 kilometers, and eventually north on a quiet road which leads to the Klong Tong cemetery and priest meditation residence temple.

The walk is peaceful once we get on the road to the cemetery and temple, the grade gradually increasing until we're up top a hill. We've been walking for approximately three weeks now, so most of the people along the way recognize us and stop to talk to us along the way.

On the road to the temple, after passing a large rubber tree plantation, we encounter several privately owned fruit tree farms. Most of the villagers on the hill raise durian, so we've been privy to witnessing the growth cycle of a durian fruit during our walks. If you haven't read my previous entries about durian fruit, the KING of all fruits, please click HERE to find out more about this wildly popular, yet terrible smelling fruit.

On top of the hill, besides durian farms, are farms growing mangosteen, rose apple, longan and pommello. The villagers we come across love to tell us about their fruits and boast about their crops. On the very top of the hill we come to a "T" intersection and turn right, again heading east. Along this road we find a huge sugar apple plantation and get to talk to the plantation owner, a curious man who is eager to find out why this "foreigner" and his Thai wife have wandered over his way.

Our daily walks cover familiar ground, but the surrounding flora and fauna, including insects, have become our main interest, and there is never a day that they are all the same. On a typical walk, while I focus on catching local lizards, Mam scours the forest canopy for interesting flowers, plants and insects. I affectionately call her the "bug lady" referring to her never-ending fascination with bugs.

Today Mam spotted this monstrosity:

At first she called it a butterfly until I eyed its antennae and identified it as a moth. I told her about my interest in the beautiful lunar moths back in the states, but added that I had never seen a moth so large before.

Upon arriving home, I did a Google search and found out that the moth in question was indeed one of the largest, if not the largest moth around. It's called the, "Giant Attacus Atlas Moth," and you can read about it by clicking HERE.

Later on during our walk, Mam spotted another Atlas Moth and this interesting bird:

It's the first blue bird I've seen in Thailand and once home we discovered that it is called, "The White Throated Kingfisher." For such a small bird, it has the largest beak I've ever seen, easily visible from over twenty feet away. You can read about the White Throated Kingfisher HERE.

On the last leg of our walk we typically stop at one of the local stores in our village to buy something to drink or eat. Today I had the munchies, so I purchased two breakfast patties, one of cooked bamboo and another of cooked taro, which were both delicious with hot sauce.

A few days ago after completing our walk, Mam quite literally became semi-famous among the villagers. The two of us had made a short detour to the local wet market to pick up some vegetables, and while returning home through the local temple we saw a bunch of local kids playing in a large Lilly pond near the temple.

Typical kids, playing in water,...or so I thought.

Before I had a chance to understand what was happening, Mam burst into action, jumping into the pond, sweeping up a small girl and holding her aloft, dripping with water. The little girl made a howling noise, sucking in air before she began coughing and sputtering water. It seems she had fallen into the water and was face down in the pond, not knowing how to swim, when Mam noticed her.

There were at least five other kids in the pond, two of them students of mine. Nobody had a clue as to what had just happened, but slowly things sunk in as Mam began chastising the older kids regarding watching their baby sister. Slowly the older girls began to look pretty sheepish.

After a strong coughing spell, the little girl was okay and safely in the arms of her bigger sister while Mam and I walked cautiously away. Only after it had all happened did Mam realize that her back and ankle were sore from the event. It seems she must have slipped while entering the pool and landed on the small of her back in the concrete pool while saving the little girl from drowning.

A little sore and a bit nervous, Mam reflected upon the event and decided the soreness was a small price to pay for what had happened. Without a doubt, the child would have drowned, totally unnoticed, had Mam and I not wandered by the pond. Needless to say I was very proud of her intuition and efforts, as I'm sure many in the village are also.

Since all these interesting happenings, we've continued our walks every morning and have added to our list, the Golden Orb Spider, which is a huge spider that is frequently seen around southern Thailand.

Mam has visited the temple on top of the hill many times, paying her tributes while I wander around and take in the beauty of all the foliage and flowers. Mam and I both are "seed stealers" in that we tend to scour plants we like, looking for seeds that we can "steal" in order to plant them in our own garden.

That's about it, as far as what we've been up to lately. The two of us are very actively looking for another house to rent, since our neighborhood seems to be falling by the wayside, in regards to noise, illegal activity and other, more minor irritations.

Thanks again to all who have written expressing their concern. Stay tuned for updates in the near future!


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Just in case my readers are hanging on a thread...

The play went as planned and the kids were awesome and funny. Only one child didn't show, but luckily it was a child who was a Thai narrator, so the part was easily filled in.

The children were all awarded little prizes, but their performance alone was enough for the majority of them, as they were so excited and so happy to have the chance to appear in the school's major performance.

Some children forgot their lines, and some children stuffed up their parts a bit, but in general, theses little mistakes went off as a humorous segment meant more to entertain, than to hinder.

My two impoverished kids showed up and did fine, both of them grinning ear-to-ear about having the opportunity to be in the play.

Today closes the chapter on English Camp and the final days of the 2005 / 2006 term. We now will enjoy a full two months of vacation before the next term starts on the 15th of May.

Mam and I don't plan to vacation anywhere since money is tight, but we will be venturing to Songkhla to see the beach at the South China Sea, and sample the reputed excellent seafood near the shore in Songkhla City.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

After months of painstaking practice, students quitting, arrangements being made, props being ordered, costumes being made, new students filling in, and all the hassles that go along with trying to put a large play together with thirty children aged six to eight...our play, "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" is finally ready to go on.

But not without a few snags.

The performance will be tomorrow morning, Monday the 13th of March, so today we had a final practice before the big day tomorrow. At least four children didn't show up today, so naturally we're worried that they may not show up tomorrow.

Two of these kids are from my neighborhood, on Soi four, in what I refer to as the "poor" part of town. But, in Asia, you never have to go far to find a "poor" section, as unlike the West, where certain poor areas seem to have been pushed to the wayside, or the "other side of the tracks," here in Thailand they are everywhere.

Corrugated shacks are mixed in with modern buildings and people all seem to get along fairly well together here.

But with poverty, comes problems.

Today after our practice, Mam was asked to find Bebe and Nontawut, the two kids in our neighborhood who missed today's practice, and remind them that they have to show up for the final performance tomorrow.

Easier said than done.

Bebe lives in a small, squalid, one-room house that has no windows. It is approximately nine feet by nine feet in square area (2.7 x 2.7 meters), in which there is a stove for cooking, several mats on the floor for sleeping, and a T.V.

God only knows where they relieve themselves, because there is no visible toilet in the immediate proximity. The house smells musty and rank, from years of being inundated by floods.

Bebe typically wasn't home when Mam called on him. A young woman answered the door, and was busy jostling four young babies, stating she didn't know where Bebe was, so Mam began to ask around the neighborhood.

She went to Nui's house on the corner and was informed that Bebe had been severely beaten by his father this morning and was nowhere to be found.

At this juncture, Mam signaled to me to go on ahead and return home, as she would continue the search. I knew that what she really meant was that she could do a lot better on her own, so I let her go and went home.

A little history may help here.

Bebe is one of my prize Prathom two students.

Although he's from an extremely impoverished family, he is a star student. He is in one of the worst Prathom two classes this year, yet he has excelled and has learnt English despite the odds.

The school where I teach decided to award Bebe a large cash stipend last month, during our mid-semester activities, not only because he is very poor, but because despite his families financial situation, Bebe has excelled in school subjects.

Last Saturday, during one of our Goldilocks practices, Bebe's father showed up to watch. When he arrived, you could see the visible stress on Bebe's face as the child noticed his father walk into the auditorium. Bebe's father is an obvious scumbag, who doesn't care much about his appearance, let alone his conduct.

As I was coaching the kids on their performance, Bebe's father sauntered up to Mam and asked her in Thai, "Will my son get paid for this?"

Mam didn't know what to say, so she waved him off.

She said to me later, "I don't like that man."

Bebe's father is like many Thai children's fathers...

Lazy, unemployed, alcoholic, abusive, and living off what their poor overworked wives can bring into the household. They play all day, or lie around and drink Thai whiskey, expecting all to be well.

Mam finally found Bebe today, entering what I call the "Catacombs," of Soi four, which are a maze work of pathways leading to progressively poorer hovels nearer the river. Places I wouldn't have the intestinal fortitude to venture into. Once she found him, he refused to come out to greet her, instead opting to speak to her from a back room, through another child.

"He says he'll show up tomorrow," Mam says, but only time will tell.

I've never been to Nontawut's house, but when Mam returned to our place, she said, "His family is very, very poor,"

I knew immediately, from that statement, that what Bebe is used to, is a mansion compared to where Nontawut lives.

Nontawut is a sweet boy who is a bit shy, but is a good student. He eagerly jumped at the opportunity to be in the play, and to date has done very well. He has a huge, horseshoe shaped scar on the right side of his head, from an accident he suffered when he was only four, playing with other kids at the local dump.

Back many years ago, some kid hurled a sharp object at Nontawut, striking him in the head. Nontawut would have died had it not been for locals who grabbed him, threw him in a truck and drove him to a local hospital. He underwent several hours of intricate brain surgery and emerged unscathed, with only minor memory deficits.

Mam told me that Nontawut told her he "forgot" about today's practice, but both of us knew that he was probably fudging it, as all the members of the play had been given permission slips to give to their parents, notifying them of today's practice.

Nobody really knows the mechanics that go on behind the scenes of these impoverished kids lives, but all I know is that the kids who do show up and do end up performing in the play, always have a good time and end up feeling a sense of importance and accomplishment.

As a kid, I was a "quitter," meaning I would easily sign up for things, but soon lose confidence in my abilities and "quit," because I felt I couldn't perform adequately. I was punished severely for this "quality" of mine, when I was a kid, but I never really learned my lesson until now.

Many of my past experiences as a student in school have helped me to be an effective teacher in grade school. Kids are all about fun, affection, love, happiness and playing. If you can design your classes and activities in a similar fashion, you've nailed it. If not, kids are gonna be kids and you will have to deal with the results as a teacher.

Whatever the situation, I'm sure that tomorrow's performance of Goldilocks and the Three Bears will go off well. I'm not worried, and I'm looking forward to another big, two-month break in semesters.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I've dealt with many issues in Southern Thailand, most of them positive, but in two years of residency here, a major issue has been pressing hard on my psyche.

Approximately five months ago, I was approached by one of the Thai teachers at my school, telling me one of my grade three students had been struck by a car on the main road in my village. I was shocked by this news, but surely not surprised, as Thailand's roads are known to be some of most dangerous in the world.

I continued to inquire about the little girl and tried to picture her, but I just couldn't put a face to the name. On the average, I teach over one thousand eighty students in any given week. All these students have names such as Pajaree Narinthaporn, Wontawut Kaewphibool, or Sirima Prakopkaew. Try remembering those three names alone, not to mention over one thousand of them. I do remember a phenomenal amount of my students, but most of them are the ones you'd never forget even if you tried.

This little girl was described to me as one of the more out-spoken, and vivacious, who had a deep voice, but still, I just couldn't picture her.

Two weeks later I was informed that she died on the Thursday after she had been hit. Her class was on a Wednesday afternoon, and for months, her empty place at her desk haunted me. The accident was a hit-and-run, which is highly common in Thailand, and the driver was never found. Not surprising, considering the current state of Thailand's police force.

I've dealt with death thousands of times in my past, both professionally and personally. I worked as an autopsy assistant for several years during my medical career, as well as a procurement technician for the New England Eye Bank in Boston, Massachusetts, harvesting corneal tissue and whole eyes from cadavers. I "bagged and tagged" numerous patients during my long medical career that spanned over twenty-two years. I also buried both my parents and numerous relatives and friends.

But, a kid is different.

I don't care what anyone says or thinks. The death of a child is always the worst. Children are innocent and full of fun, nonsense, jauntiness, games, wonderment, and joy. They are at a stage where independence and responsibility is just out of their grasp. They look to us, the adults, for safety, consolation and dependence.

Whoever hit my little student and ran, trying to escape punishment, should suffer. I personally hope that they suffer endless guilt and despair for the rest of their lives for selfishly taking the life of this little girl.

All this brings me to my main point. Although I haven't lived in Thailand a full two years yet, I have witnessed over twelve major accidents on the outlying roads, at least twenty minor accidents, and an uncountable number of near misses. Two of the major accidents I witnessed had obvious fatalities. At least five of the minor accidents had the potential to have been fatal, and I won't even get into the near misses.

As a pedestrian, either a motorcycle or a car has almost struck me on at least five occasions, possibly more. On one occasion, I was struck by a large truck backing up, which (luckily) knocked me into a ditch. Here in Thailand, the pedestrian DOES NOT have the right-of-way, no matter what the written law may or may not say. It is unbelievable what drivers of motorcycles, cars, SUV's, buses, trucks and the like, will do once they are on the road here in Thailand.

Many, if not most, of the drivers in Thailand are inexperienced, untrained or poorly trained, yet they hit the road every day, zipping in and out of lanes, passing other vehicles at high speeds, traveling the wrong way on a one-way lane or street, merging in any direction, driving drunk or severely incapacitated, driving vehicles that should have been junked eons ago, babbling incoherently on mobile phones instead of paying attention to the road, or just changing lanes without even looking. Just to mention a few of their many infractions.

People die. People continue to die. Numbers of road casualties continue to escalate, but is anything done? Not to my knowledge.

Of late, although I try hard NOT to be a politically motivated individual, it seems that the governmental system in Thailand needs a serious overhaul. Corruption is rife, which is something about Thailand that the whole world is aware of, not just a select few. Government leaders appear to be faithful about empty promises, while very good at pocketing illicit cash and delving deep into graft practices that serve the governing parties.

I remain hopeful that Thailand will "wake up" soon, to the many issues about their country that need "fixing" by a capable leader who carries the people's interest in the forefront of his or her mind, rather than personal and private interests that only serve to undermine the greater good.

As "English Bob" once put it in the Bangkok Post news bag, "Let's not forget," an article heralding the current PM's insulting and prejudicial comments about Western aid sent to relieve the victims of the recent tsunami...

"We don't want farangs to walk around Phuket and say they built this building or that building."

I seriously doubt that the current PM would have made similar comments on his "ass kissing" missions into other Western countries on his Thai financed jet airplane, lest he lose other forms of much sought after aid, in both monetary and material forms.

The current political attitude is the type of attitude that destroys a country, not one that builds a country. Prejudicial thinking, smug remarks, slanderous comments, are not makings of a good leader. This country needs a good leader who doesn't just make empty promises, but rather fulfills them.

Deaths on the highway can be seriously dealt with, if Thailand inaugurates a leader who can move the country beyond the disarray it is currently in, and begin methodically unraveling the dense weavings of corruption and evil that exists in the country today. A good leader will focus on his or her underlings, who command the various departments responsible for the major problems in Thailand, rather than try and combat troubling issues by his own.

Dumping a bunch of folded paper birds upon an area rife with Muslim insurgent violence is not a solution to the problem, but rather a silly, poorly planned action that buys time for an embattled leader who doesn't have answers because he just doesn't care.


Sunday, March 05, 2006

About once every two months or so, I have to break down and get a haircut.

I hate getting a haircut and I put it off until the very last minute, because the only lady who I'll allow to cut my hair is housed in an open-air salon off the main highway in Thunglung, and it is hotter than Hades in her shop. This woman, although she is very familiar with me and calls me by name, "Krue Jeeem," which in Thai basically means "Teacher Jim," she cannot speak hardly a word of English.

My mother was a hairdresser for forty years, and I learned early on that hairdressers depend on their tips to make a profit. Well, perhaps this is not so in Asia, but I've continued my tipping practice through the years, and believe-you-me; I've never been refused.

Today, a funny thing happened.

Mam and I went to the hairdressers this afternoon so I could get my hair cut. The woman I choose to go to is quick, and she does a job comparable to any of the best Western salons I've ever gone to, at a fraction of the price. She charges fifty baht, ($1.20 U.S.) and I always tip her another twenty baht (about 50 cents).

Well, today she must have forgotten this, because Mam gave her a hundred baht note (roughly $2.50 U.S.) and the hairdresser returned a fifty baht note ($1.20 U.S.) to us in change. Had she remembered that I usually tip twenty baht (50 cents), she obviously would have given us two twenty baht notes and a ten baht coin ($1.20 U.S.).

Anyway, I told Mam, "Tell her we need change for the fifty baht note," and as Mam did so, the woman replied in Thai...

"I don't have any change."

When Mam reiterated this to me, I said, "Tell her that I want to tip her and I need change."

So, Mam communicated this to her and the woman quickly replied, "Oh!" opened her cash drawer and promptly extracted two twenty baht notes and a ten baht coin. I then handed her twenty baht as her tip, and tried hard to suppress my little chortle at her obvious indiscretion.

Cutting of hair is a good subject when comparing major differences between services and prices-for-services between the West and Asia.

Many foreigners would argue that prices are not different between the distant continents, but these foreigners are most probably part of the elite, who arrive in Asia off the business class and first class flights, and end up staying in Asia during their limited time, in five-star hotels and traveling from site to site in Western luxury.

I have to laugh at these individuals from the West who claim they have "visited" Thailand or "lived" in Asia, because they've only experienced the coveted Western environment present in any Southeast Asian country that caters to rich, fat Westerners.

Get out of that coveted environment, and you'll find out what Asia is all about. China, in my personal opinion, is miles ahead of other Asian countries in the economy hair-cutting business.

I remember well, my haircutting excursions in Xintang and Guangzhou, China.

You can go to these little back alley "dives" that are mere holes-in the-wall shops, where they don't even have a shampoo bowl, but will shampoo your hair as you sit in the barber chair, and then methodically "comb" off all the foam and dispose of it in a trashcan, as they systematically "wash" your hair using spray bottles and combing your hair with their bare hands.

In China, at the very least, you will get a minimum of at least two full shampoos, and a maximum of four, unless you ask for more.

Most shops will provide you with a minimum of two shampoos, plus one of the most incredible facial, neck, shoulder, arm, finger and hand massages you've ever felt.

The shampoo alone is one of the most incredible scalp massages imaginable, not to mention what else is in store for you after the shampoo is finished.

The full "haircut" experience, in China, encompasses at a bare minimum, at least an hour. Whether you just need a trim, or you are really a "shaggy dog" and need a major cut, you will get the full treatment and you'll walk out of that hairdressing shop in sheer ecstasy.

In China, a haircut can range from 5 Yuan in a "dive" and up to 35 Yuan at an expensive salon.

Thailand doesn't offer the massage unless asked, in most shops I've been to, and they usually will charge extra for it. Shampoo, in Thailand is also an option, not inclusive, and although you'll pay extra for this service, it's cheap beyond the Western imagination.

In the small community of Bristol, New Hampshire, where I lived in the Northeastern U.S. for over twenty years, I got my hair cut for a bare minimum of about twelve U.S. dollars, not including the tip.

That's ninety-six Chinese Yuan, or four hundred and sixty-six Thai baht. Compare that to what you'd pay in China (about 5 to 10 Yuan) or in Thailand (about 50 to 70 baht), which comes to either (60 to $1.20 U.S.) or ($1.28 to $1.80 U.S.)

For the price of one haircut in the Northeastern U.S., you can get about 19 good quality haircuts in China, or 9 good quality haircuts in Thailand, without the massage.

So, despite the heat and the faux pas today, I'm a happy camper.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Trying to be true to my promise, I have finally managed to put my experience in Isaan down into words. It’s always difficult to write a story about your experience after-the-fact, but I think I’ve managed to get most of my true experience and feelings into my story.

Those of you who follow my blog will hopefully enjoy some of my humorous experiences in the Northeast of Thailand, where although their lifestyle is set in poverty, they live a very enriching life.

I caution you ahead of time, the chronicle of my experience is a long one, best read if you save the webpage for off-line viewing at your leisure, unless, unlike me, your Internet time is unlimited.

If you decide you’d like to view my experience, you can either click HERE, or go to the left-hand column and click on the link next to my Beijing, China experience.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Religion…a subject about as touchy as politics or right-to-life issues nowadays. This touchy topic has confused and eluded me over the years, if not left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

I had religion crammed down my throat as a kid and being raised a Baptist, grew to learn the crooked ways and misleading tithes of the church. We all watched Jimmy Bakker and his mascara-laden wife Tammy Faye go down in flames for screwing their religious followers out of their pocket money and savings. Jimmy Swaggart wasn’t far behind with his lewd lifestyle and hypocritical exploits.

All these antics aside, I was thoroughly convinced that religion wasn’t for me after my mother’s death. She had donated her home and all its contents to the local Baptist church, which was okay with me since she and I had been estranged for many years. But, when I arrived in El Paso to conclude the burial arrangements, I sat in horror as I listened to the church pastor suggest a pine box covered in felt for my mother’s burial casket. All this, after she had given the church her $90,000 dollar home!

I listened to an argument once, about the fact that politicians and religious leaders were human. Although true, these ‘humans’ took on service positions that are based on peoples trust in them. So, when that trust is betrayed, the infraction takes on a more powerful aftereffect.

Presently, my wonderment of religion is based on why people feel the need to believe in anything other than their selves and life in general? I understand the need to believe in something other than oneself, but for some reason, belief in something intangible evades me.

This brings me to the subject of my life mate’s chosen belief in Buddhism. I’m not going to attempt to even hint at the fact that I understand Buddhism, because, like other “religions” I don’t have any reason, nor interest to study it. But, that’s not to say I’m not a bit intrigued about the practice.

Here in southern Thailand, the predominant beliefs are Muslim, Taoist, Buddhism or, although not a ‘belief’ per se, Atheism. Catholicism has its place, but is certainly dominated by the above-mentioned faiths. Aside from a passing appraisal, I really didn’t take much note of the goings on of these religious practices until it was right underneath my nose.

My first sign was the incense.

Lots and lots of incense. Asia must have an edge on the incense market, that’s for sure. They burn it in front of Buddha images and any other place imaginable. Mam and I have a little Buddha image upstairs, outside our bedroom, poised on a wooden pedestal attached to the wall, about six feet off the ground. Mam adorns this pedestal with little vases of flowers, candles and food offerings now and then, and frequently burns incense to ward off “spirits,” worship Buddha and all the above.

When I say “spirits,” I’m talking about ghosts. Yep, ghosts. Mam says to me the other day, “You believe in ghost?”

“No, I don’t,” I reply.

“I know you don’t believe, but I do,” she says.

“That’s fine,” I remark, not really knowing what else to say.

But the real clincher occurred over the past few days…

As I’ve previously blogged, I suffer from the annoying malady of bronchitis. I am afflicted with it every year, sometimes several times a year, and sometimes it lasts two or three months. This encompasses a slowly increasing difficulty in breathing, typically at night, along with severe coughing fits and the production of industrial amounts of phlegm.

Mam was witness to this malady over the past few days and it scared her something awful. She kept prodding me to go to the hospital, which I refused, choosing to wait it out and subsist on cough remedies and antibiotics.

After a particularly rough night of coughing and wheezing, Mam got on the phone to her mother in Chum Phae and proceeded to spout out a plethora of animated Lao and Isaan dialect, peppered with the occasional, “Jeeem blah, blah, blah.” This phone call was soon followed by an incense burning session out on our back porch, and some whispered “prayers.”

When I asked her what was going on, she informed me she had asked her mother to visit a local Shaman in her village of Wang Hu Gwang, and speak to him about her series of recurring headaches and my breathing problem.

This necromancer, upon being approached by Mam’s mother, soon informed her that he was fully aware of our maladies and had been silently awaiting contact from the family. He “prescribed” a few incense burning sessions, followed by prayers and food offerings, stating that he needed to “eat” with us. I have no doubt that there was much more to this whole shebang, but upon further questioning, Mam simply said to me, “Ah! I don’t know how to say in English!”

That afternoon I returned home to find all of our shoes placed in a different spot on our porch. In their usual place was a huge “offering” complete with a fully cooked chicken, large bowl of rice with spoon, sweet treats, incense, fruit and some liquid for the “spirit entity” to wash it all down with.

My faithful readers would be proud at how I managed to appear serious and truly interested in these practices and going’s on and tried very successfully to appear grateful.

Oh, and did I mention that my bronchitis promptly got better? Ha! Chalk it up to those antibiotics, I say!


Thursday, January 19, 2006

After many stressful years living in the U.S., playing the all-American money game, I am finally resigned to a relaxed, peaceful life in Asia. Alas, part of this relaxed, peaceful life is contingent upon humor and when you live in a foreign country; definitions of humor are decidedly different.

Thai humor only mildly amuses me, so I turn to more familiar sources such as the Bangkok Post newspaper, which is Internationally inclined and in English. The Bangkok Post has many familiar contributors to its humor columns, such as Dave Barry, Roger Crutchley and other local favorites.

The “funny pages” as I am used to calling them, offer more comic relief, peddling my familiar favorites such as Garfieldâ, Peanuts®, Monty®, and Bizarro®.

But all this humor is not sufficient. So, I have included a new source of humor to my daily readings…”Miss Manners,” Judith Martin’s widely read column on the code of (supposed) correct conduct according to (ahem) social standards. Martha Stewart is old news, so I’m tramping on new ground now.

Knife or fork? A recent reader wrote in to Ms. Manners, in a quandary over whether a knife should be used on a normal broken salad, especially with a whole cherry tomato and a salad plate included in the equation.

The reader states she (he?) was taught that a salad fork must be used to cut the salad, but their “partner” says that as a cherry tomato tends to scoot across the table when attempting to cut it with a salad fork, a knife should be used. The reader adds, “Can a knife be used if the lettuce is not sufficiently torn?”

Jesus freaking Christ!

After I stopped laughing and rolling about on the floor, I read Ms. Manners answer…

”Miss Manners recommends dropping whatever else you are doing to go hunt for salad knives. It will not be easy, but the small knife, also sometimes called a tea knife or a youth knife, is the only correct one to use. You need them, because you are at an impasse. You are right that meat knives should never be used on salad, but your partner is right that one has to defend oneself against inconsiderate and lazy salad-makers.”

To knife or not to knife, that is the question. Tis…

My God! Who are these people?

I try very hard…(okay, I try sorta hard) to value other people’s opinions and cultural differences, but there are just some things that I consider weird…and Ms. Manner’s column exposes a good majority of them.

Another article is titled: “Use Patience.” The patient writer states that her husband maintains that it is rude to blow on hot food to cool it.

Hey, sounds cool to me…(pun intended)

However, the husband’s troubled spouse maintains that her husband’s practice of cooling the food by inhaling as he takes a bite is rude, since he makes a slurping noise while doing so. She goes on to point out the inherent dangers of children practicing this, “inhaling food” practice, since they can accidentally ingest large pieces of food whilst inhaling.

The answer? Ms. Manners states that both parties are wrong and neither should inhale or exhale on their victuals, but rather have patience and wait until their dishes have cooled.

Lord help me.

I use any convenient knife I can find to cut salad, meat or anything else on my plate, and I use (horror) mason jars for drinking glasses. When knives are not convenient, I rip things apart with my bare hands or cut them with my pair of industrial bandage scissors. I have no clue what a tea or youth knife looks like, nor would I ever purchase one if I saw one.

When food is hot, I blow on it, inhale when eating it, and even go as far as turning on a nearby fan to further cool said grub.

Miss Manners, my hat is off to you in regards to your getting paid to actually answer this obvious foolishness and walk away unscathed. I will continue to monitor your column for my regular humor boost, and I suggest you continue to laugh all the way to the bank.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Once again, like a bad habit, I’m back to blog yet again.

This time it was computer problems of the fatal kind and my laptop is all but dead. I’m trying to salvage the data on its hard drive, but have yet to make any headway. So I’m back in business with a new computer (PC) purchased at Tesco Lotus, but not without annoying snags.

It was difficult enough just securing a loan for the computer, being a foreigner in an Asian country. I had to come forth with my passport, up-to-date bank statement, work permit, teachers license and a gob of other documents before they would even consider giving me the loan, and even then they wouldn’t allow a two-year loan since my visa and work permit are limited to one-year renewals.

Once the computer was home and hooked up, I hit another brick wall. The operating system was Linux / Unix based and on top of that, it was all in Thai. So, back to the drawing board it was for me. Mam, my lovely counterpart, took the CPU into Tesco to have Microsoft Windows installed and ended up causing a major disturbance since security thought she was lugging a bomb into the store.

Once home, we discovered that although Windows was installed, several programs such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel were still in Thai. So, we finally ended up contracting with a local computer repairman who spent three days converting my CPU into an English friendly unit.

As many of my faithful readers may be wondering, my trip to Chum Phae in Isaan was a wonderful one. The train ride took three days and my layover in Bangkok was long and grueling, but worth it. Mam and her small entourage of local villagers met me at the Khon Kaen train station early in the morning and I can’t say that I’ve ever met friendlier people.

We drove from Khon Kaen to Chum Phae in a small pickup, piloted by Noi, a rather attractive lady boy, if I say so myself. I have to admit that it took me a while to notice that this “woman” was really a man, but if you know Thailand, katoey’s, as they are referred to, are about as commonplace as rice.

Most of the first day was a blur because of my lack of sleep, but once I arrived in the village, the hustle and bustle of meeting everyone (and I do mean “everyone”), didn’t allow for time to be tired.

Mam’s mom was awesome and greeted me with a huge hug. Her father was cordial, but all in all fairly accepting, which according to Mam, is a bit of a stretch for him. Her father is a rather eccentric, yet interesting man who lives away from the home in a small house on his rice farm. He chooses the tranquility of the farm over the hustle and bustle of the village. Several times during my stay of just over two weeks, Mam and I traveled out to his farm to bring him food and provisions and he seemed polite, if not a bit guarded.

Naturally, being a farang (westerner) and the major love interest of a popular, local village girl, I was in high demand. Everybody wanted to meet me. This was novel for the first few days, but became rather annoying after a week or so (We Westerners so covet our privacy and quiet time you know). My Thai is rudimentary at best, and my Lao and Isaan dialect is non-existent, so communication often came to an uncomfortable standstill since Mam often had difficulty translating what the villagers were saying to me.

Nonetheless, I had a wonderful time with these wonderful, gracious and exceedingly friendly people. My personal favorites were three women… Paan, Jaanta and Phuta. Paan is Noi’s mother. She owns and operates a beauty salon next to Mam’s home and openly jokes about her son/daughter’s gender issue.

Jannta and Phuta are two local villagers who have more character than could possibly be put down into words. Both these women are very dark, with deeply wrinkled, yet attractive faces from long hours in the hot Northeast Thailand sun, cutting rice in the rice paddies. Both typically wore turban style headgear and greeted me with red, syrupy smiles and blackened teeth, from years of betel nut chewing.

Waving sharp sickle knives about, they greeted me enthusiastically one particular morning, sputtering Lao and cajoling me to join them in the rice paddies to cut rice. As banal as this may seem to the reader, I must say it was one of the highlights of my visit and an experience I will not soon forget.

About fifteen to twenty of the local villagers showed up that day to cut rice in the burning sun, including Mam’s aged, yet agile mother. Once finished, the villagers were paid 100 baht (the equivalent of about $2.50) apiece and treated to a meal of duck. I, meanwhile, was graciously complemented by the landowner, as a (near) rice-harvesting expert.

It’s impossible to list all my experiences here, so I plan to blog about them as my memory banks retrieve them. At present, however, Mam is here with me in Songkhla and adjusting to life in the deep, restive south, quite well. Two months into Mam’s stay, we suffered a massive deluge of monsoon rains, which flooded the river basin and inundated our village. Mam and I were lucky though, and only had water enter our carport, up to the third step leading to our front door.

I hope to be contributing to this site more often now that I’m set up with a new computer, and I hope all of you who read my stuff had a safe and peaceful holiday season.

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