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Category: Expat Life (page 1 of 2)

Andrew Biggs (Thai Memories): The Boat Sinks in the Mouth of the Bay

Andrew Biggs

There is a billboard that caught my attention this week while sitting in a taxi flitting in and out of four lanes of traffic on the three-lane city expressway.

It depicts a young man and woman sitting back to back desolately on a bed. It was clear they were desolate by the hang-dog expression on the man’s face, and the ankle-clutching stance of the woman.

It’s not often we see desolation on inner-city billboards. I’m far more used to billboards featuring the lily-white happy complexions of Thailand’s young actors and actors pushing collagen drinks or bird nest soups or any other of the myriad charlatan products out there.

What also grabbed my attention was the Thai writing next to the unhappy couple.

Reua lom bahk ao.

The boat sinks in the mouth of the bay.

What a curious headline!

“What does that mean?” I asked my taxi driver, a happy middle-aged fellow who had been enjoying practicing his English on me until I feigned a cell phone call to shut him up.

Reua lom bahk ao?” he asked back. He broke into a great middle-aged Thai smile. “Oh! You know? You know?” He paused and flashed me a leering smile. “You know?”

“No, I don’t; that’s why I’m asking you.”

“You and lady same-same but you no good. You go first but you very fart. No good, you know?”

I have been in Thailand too long; I understood exactly what he was talking about.

Premature ejaculation.

If ever there was an example of my theory that language doesn’t get much more vivid and descriptive than Thai, then there it was.

I’ve spent 25 years in this country and here was yet another colorful idiomatic phrase that completely passed me by. Nobody had ever said it to me before. And thank God for that, judging by its meaning.

No wonder the couple on the billboard looked so dejected! No wonder the woman was clutching her sturdy ankles; that’s about the only sturdy thing she was going to be clutching that evening for any satisfactory length of time.

(And if you’re new in town, the taxi driver wasn’t that bad in English. You just have to know that ‘same-same’ has the added meaning of ‘sex’ here, while ‘fart’ is in reality ‘fast’ since Thais have difficulty with consonant clusters consisting of S and T.)

How clever of the Thai language to equate premature ejaculation with the sinking of a boat just as it was to enter a harbor. When I got to my office I googled the phrase and sure enough, there it was, hundreds and thousands of times over on the internet.

I did get it the wrong way around. The boat is leaving the harbor, not entering it, as my School Director and Senior Sales Manager, both females, pointed out to me over lunch that day.

“It sinks before it even sets out on the journey,” my School Director explained as she popped a serendipitous Isarn sausage into her mouth.

“I thought it to be more like the train entering the tunnel,” I said. “It’s the boat entering the mouth of the harbor. You know?” Curse that taxi driver! He’s got me saying it now!

“Or the sparrow,” chimed my mannish Senior Sales Manager. She was enjoying a lunch of fried oysters, as was her wont. “When the sparrow has a drink of water.”

I gazed at her intently, expecting her to continue, but it appeared she was finished with her explanation.

“And?” I asked.

“That’s all,” she said. “The sparrow drinks water. That’s what we say in Thai. Nok krajok jib nam.”

“Yes,” said my Director, eyeing a second sausage. “The sparrow takes a sip of water.”

I don’t know, dear reader, but perhaps I’m just a little slower than the rest of humanity. How on earth does a drinking sparrow relate to premature ejaculation?

Being the boss, I was able to demand an explanation.

“Have you ever seen a sparrow drink water?” my Sales Manager asked. Before I could answer, she was making mannish pecking movements with her right hand towards her plate of fried oysters, accompanied by a very vocal: “Jib! Jib! Jib! Jib!”

“It’s the same as the boat in the harbor,” added my Director, winking, and I fell further down into the Stupid Hole.

It took them five minutes to pull me out.

The idea is that the sparrow’s pecking at water is a very short, spasmodic movement, not unlike a man who finishes quickly during sex. I find that metaphor a little tenuous and not as imaginative as the boat one, but still, how great is the Thai language!

The conversation didn’t stop there.

“What about the one about the dove?” asked Director to Sales Manager. “In Thai we say: nok khao mai khan, or ‘The dove does not sing’.”

“You can use that when you feel excited for sex but there is no change – down there,” said my Sales Manager, motioning towards my crutch. Despite every conceivable attempt not to, I reddened ever so slightly.

“Speaking of birds, what about the idiom ‘washing the face of the chicken’?” asked my Director.

“Stop right there,” I said. “I’m eating.”

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“Oh what the hell; tell me,” I said and they explained, in polite Thai, how it referred to the erect state of a male upon awakening, if indeed such things can be explained in polite Thai.

“That one is not considered a negative phrase,” said the Sales Manager. “Nothing is stronger than the boat sinking.”

Later that day I was back on the freeway and noticed that the billboard in question wasn’t on its own. It was part of three big signs, the first being the sad couple. The second explained in large letters that NEARLY ONE IN THREE MEN SUFFER FROM PREMATURE EJACULATION and there was a website to visit.

The last one revealed the boat had been dredged up out of the harbor, because in that one the couple were now smiling in each other’s arms, as if their love would last forever, which is a relief since it appeared to have lasted three seconds at the most in the first one.

I have a very old book of common Thai proverbs and sayings that are so entertaining, and not just of a sexual nature.

In Thai, for example, if you “make a sculpture out of water” you are telling lies, since this phrase dates back to an era before we could freeze water into ice-cubes. Yet you still hear it today.

If you “build a house over a tree stump”, you are committing bigamy. A jack of all trades is somebody who “knows things like a duck” … whatever that means.

If you “find a good tree after your axe is broken”, you fall in love with a beautiful woman after you’re already married. A “jar of pickled garlic on legs” is a short fat girl.

When you look at all those, a boat sinking in the mouth of the harbor isn’t so out of place.

I have only one reservation. Why is the man in the billboard a farang while the woman is Thai? Would it have been too close to the bone to have used a Thai male? Just sayin’.

Our story should end there, but it has an interesting footnote.

Remember my casual google of reua lom bahk ao? That was three days ago.

Ever since, I have been bombarded with ads for every erectile dysfunction clinic in town, and believe me there are lots of them. In these modern times Big Brother is not only watching me — he is waiting for my boat to sink.

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RIP: King Adulyadej Bhumibol

RIP

ข้าพเจ้าขอแสดงความเสียใจและเคารพรักต่อการสวรรคตของพระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัว

I’m extremely saddened by the passing of the Great King Adulyadej Bhumibol who is loved and revered by many, not just Thais. I humbly offer my deepest condolences to all Thais and those who have been touched by His Majesty’s kind and generous spirit.

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Chiang mai Burning: A Crisis in Northern Thailand (video)

SMOKE: A Crisis in Northern Thailand, the Health Effects and a Solution…

This film was presented as a work in progress at Chiang Mai University’s Faculty of Agriculture on January 8th, 2016 to create awareness and begin a dialogue about the yearly smoke crisis in Northern Thailand.

Note: There are subtitles for people who don’t speak Thai and/or those studying the language.

Burning in Chiang mai…

When I arrived back in Thailand after the Xmas holidays this year, the Chiang mai air already had the telltale signs of burning. One day the smoke was so strong we walked around to the backyard to see what was on fire (nothing – just another day in paradise?)

It’s not even February (typical burning season) yet I’m already housebound due to coughing. When I checked on Asian air quality forecast to see about any possiblities of escaping the boredom, it was quite apparent what with all the oranges and reds, it’s not looking good for me.

A Crisis in Northern Thailand

Orange: 101-150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups
Red: 151-200 Unhealthy

For 2016 the powers that be ‘officially’ started the burning in early January. The changes were announced in the New Burning Schedule Ordered in an Attempt to Tackle Smoke Issue.

  • 1–10 Jan: 9.00am – 3.00pm: Doi Tao, Mae Taeng, Mae Wang, Doi Saket, Hod
  • 5–15 Jan: 9.00am – 3.00pm: San Pa Tong, Chom Thong, Sameng, Wiang Haeng
  • 11–20 Jan: 9.00am – 3.00pm: Mae Jam, Mae On, Phrao, Fang
  • 16–23 Jan: 9.00am – 3.00pm: Om Koi, Chia Prakarn, Kanlayaniwattana
  • 26 Jan– 5 Feb: 9.00am – 3.00pm: Doi Lo, San Sai, Muang Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao
  • 6–16 Feb: 9.00am – 3.00pm: Hang Dong, Saraphi, Sankampaeng, Mae Rim, Mae Ai

From what I’ve know, not many are following the schedule set out by the governor. But if caught will any be prosecuted? Only a handful were charged during the recent disaster in 2015.

Here are two posts on the subject from last season. One by me (where I was still struggling to keep a positive outlook), and one by Hugh Leong walking you through useful vocabulary.

Chiang mai Burning: Could You Survive Thailand’s Polluted North?
Thai Language Thai Culture: Breathing in Chiang Mai

Chiang mai smog

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Housecleaning: Apologies for the Mess

Housecleaning: Apologies for the Mess

You have my apologies…

Over a month ago I started housecleaning on WLT and I thought I’d be done by now. Apologies. I should have warned you sooner. The site is over six years old and there’s 600 plus posts to make right. This is my to-do list so far:

  • Remove dead links.
  • Remove links that go to smut sites.
  • Remove links that go to parked pages.
  • Create a proper automatic archives.
  • And update that darn audio player.

The Broken Link Checker WP plugin was a huge help with dead links. WHY I waited so long to add it, I’ll never know. Fixing six years of broken links all at once was a pain.

Broken Link Checker isn’t a miracle worker as it doesn’t tell me about links that no longer go where they are supposed to. The sneaky buggers are going to smut sites, parked sites, and China. Unless someone here knows some magic, errant links can only be discovered by clicking on link after link.

The main problem you might experience personally is the editing of audio players. My previous plugin didn’t work with iStuff so I stripped off the code and went with the new WordPress player. Problem is, it’s butt ugly (if you poke around today, that’s mostly what you’ll see).

For weeks I played around with audio players and finally settled on one. But, after recoding a part of the site, iOS 8 came out today and it no longer works. Back to the beginning. Again!

I’m now recoding the audio links using the Haiku minimalist audio player. When you have as many audio files per page as WLT has, the design for Haiku is overwhelming. CSS tweaks will need to be made (and hopefully you won’t notice).

Anyway, as there are other fixes in the wings, I don’t know how long it’ll take to make everything right. Apologies. I’ll get it done as fast as I can.

Oh. And if you come across links acting badly, please do drop me a line. Thanks in advance!

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Please Help STOP the Grand Palace SCAMS

STOP the Grand Palace SCAMS

Please help STOP the Grand Palace SCAMS…

The Grand Palace complex in Bangkok is stunning. For most tourists to Thailand, it’s a must on their list of places to see in this country. But because of the scams, too many go home without experiencing the inspiring beauty of the glorious Thai buildings decked out in gold.

The tourist police, Thai police and the palace guards sit by and do nothing. Even the Thais walking by ignore the unaware tourists getting scammed by their thousands. And from what I’ve seen personally, only expats intervene.

The scams have been going on for years. Long-time friends scrimped and saved to come to Thailand for a once in a lifetime trip to the country. Sadly, I didn’t go to the Grand Palace that day and they were scammed. Instead of experiencing all that gold and glitter, they came home with a new set of clothes. What a tradeoff. And what a crying shame.

Even today they laugh about their “truly Thai experience – the Thai scam” but are unable to share memories of the actual palace. Is this how Thais want Thailand to be remembered?

I’ve asked Thai friends and they are embarrassed about the scams but feel powerless to stop the practice. Finally fed up, Richard Barrow decided to ask for our help.

Richard Barrow in Thailand: This scam has been going on for so long. I want to see this one closed down and will be working towards making this happen. With or without the help of the Tourist Police.

Please help spread the message by sharing this post. These guys are scammers – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is NEVER closed and the Grand Palace is very rarely closed all day.

Here’s the link to retweet: Richard Barrow ‏@RichardBarrow Please RT & help share on Facebook: Don’t Fall for the “Grand Palace is Shut” scam

And here’s his blog post: Don’t Fall for the “Grand Palace is Closed” Scam.

If you are Thai, expat, tourist, whatever, please help stop the Grand Palace scams. It’s as simple as RT’ing Richard’s tweet, forwarding Richard’s post, even writing a post of your own.

UPDATE: Richard Barrow just launched Bangkok Scams. He’s also Tweeting Scams Live in Bangkok.

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Siem Reap. Cambodia. Again. Part Three

Siem Reap: 2012

Siem Reap, Cambodia…

As mentioned in Part One and Part Two, on my return to Siem Reap I revisited Viva’s nachos and ‘buckets’ of margaritas, Ankor Wat, Ankor Tom, and the heads of Bayon. A new (and not to be repeated) adventure was the fish massage.

And day two? Well, the second day was saved for a trip out of Siem Reap to Kulen Mountain.

Phnom Kulen National Park: Kulen is considered by Khmers to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia and it is a popular place for domestic visitors during weekends and festivals. The hill is used as the ancient capital city II in AD 802 to declared himself as god king and announced independence from Java, then giving birth to present day Cambodia.

If you jump in your vehicle and drive straight through from Siem Reap to Kulen Mountain it takes about an hour. Our guide added detours so it took us twice as long. And at each stop he shared insights into the Cambodian countryside. It was perfect for me because I love learning new stuff.

The first stop was at a small family owned… I’d like to say ‘store’ but it was more than that. They sold baskets and tourist bits but they also educated tourists on the production of palm sugar. I remember stopping by this very same place 5 years ago (I still have the baskets) but I somehow missed their sugar palm spiel (if it was even around back then).

Siem Reap: 2012

I find the practicals of tropical living interesting, so please bear with me… For pollination to occur, both a male and female coconut palm tree are needed. While I realise you can’t see it clearly, in the photomontage above the male tree is on the left and the female on the right. And just like you’d expect, the male flower (top right photo) pollinates the female flower (shown underneath). The female flower is bent down, cut, and a container (bamboo or plastic bottle) is attached to gather the dripping nectar. Each morning a palm sugar worker climbs into the trees to collect the harvest. On his return, the nectar is then boiled down to create palm sugar.

Was my explanation of palm sugar production as clear as mud, or what? To help fill in any holes, above is a video explaining the how to’s of palm sugar. The video is shot in nearby Amphawa (Thailand) so I just might stop by at some point.

Siem Reap: 2012

Another first for me was seeing a real live cashew tree. And who knew that a cashew tree has two types of fruit? As you can see from the photos, the cashew grows out of the middle of the green fruit, which turns yellow when ripe.

Tasting a bite of the yellow fruit I found it watery and slightly sweet. Refreshing actually. And from the piles rotting on the ground I’m guessing that the yellow fruit isn’t the main cash crop.

Siem Reap: 2012

This is a lucky shot taken out the window of the van as we drove away. Along with other family members, these two beautiful Cambodian gals ran the tourist stall.

Siem Reap: 2012

And here are two more things that surprised me about Cambodia: 1) Cigarette butts offerings at spirit houses, and 2) monks asking for money donations.

When I asked the guide about the cigarette butts shoved on top of joss sticks he suggested that it was a joke, not a serious offering. Because same as in Thailand, Cambodians leave whole cigarettes for the spirits, not just the butts.

Further up the road we stopped to donate money to novice monks. I was surprised because in Thailand monks are not supposed to ask for money. If they do they are usually fakes. But apparently, in some parts of the Cambodian countryside, the locals are too poor to support their monks. Being practical the monks take to the roads to get money to feed themselves.

It just goes to show how impoverished Cambodia is in comparison to Thailand. Or perhaps I haven’t been to the dirt poor parts of Thailand yet?

Siem Reap: 2012

We saw other sights along the way but let’s fast forward to Kbal Spean’s 1,000 Shiva Lingas. I grew fond of lingas while researching for my post, Bangkok’s Fertility Shrine: Chao Mae Tuptim. So of course, when the chance came to see 1000 more, well, there I was!

wiki: Kbal Spean: The site consists of a series of stone carvings in sandstone formations carved in the river bed and banks. It is commonly known as the “Valley of a 1000 Lingas” or “The River of a Thousand Lingas”. The motifs for stone carvings are mainly myriads of lingams (phallic symbol of Hindu god Shiva), depicted as neatly arranged bumps that cover the surface of a sandstone bed rock, and lingam-yoni designs.

Before we got out of the van the guide told us to avoid standing on the carvings. But everyone does. Locals walk over them. Tourists stand on them. Oh well.

As you can see from the top photo, the lingas are boxes carved into the river rock with carved circles protruding from their middles. The boxes are symbolic of the yoni (lady parts) and the circles the lingam (man parts).

wiki: (Sanskrit: योनि yoni) is the Sanskrit word for the vagina. Its counterpart is the lingam, interpreted by some as the phallus.

wiki: The Lingam (also, Linga, Ling, Shiva linga, Shiv ling, Sanskrit लिङ्गं liṅgaṃ,Tamilலிங்கம், meaning “mark”, “sign”, “gender”, “phallus”, “inference” or “eternal procreative germ” is a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva used for worship in temples.

As I was taking this video I couldn’t help but be impressed at the dedication needed to pull off a project of this size. Hermits started carving in the 11th century and finished in the 12th. That’s a 100 year stretch, give or take. Very impressive.

In Thailand there’s a mix and match of Hindu and Buddhism so to simplify it in my head, I sometimes lump the two together. And that’s why I at first assumed the lingas were carved by monks. Wrong. Monks aren’t Hindu. Plus, the issue of sex comes into play. True? Obviously, monks on their knees carving male and female sexual organs doesn’t make sense. Or does it?

Siem Reap: 2012

After wandering around in the heat of Kbal Spean for hours, off we went to Preah Ang Thom.

wiki: Preah Ang Thom is an 8 meter tall statue of the reclining Buddha reaching nirvana. The statue is carved into a huge sandstone boulder. Preah Ang Thom is the sacred and worshipping god for Phnom Kulen.

The Buddha at the top of the mountain is (I’m told) the largest reclining Buddha carved out of a solid piece of rock in all of Cambodia. Note: The photo of the Buddha shown above is not mine but was taken by a dear friend.

Before you get to the reclining Buddha you have to first run the gauntlet of professional beggars. The guide instructed us to get small change from the money changers to share around. After seven plus years in Thailand I’m cynical about beggars, so instead of giving handouts, I opted to wield a camera. Not much different than I was doing previously but it kept my hands busy.

At the shrine before the shrine, and after the first bit of stairs, you take off your shoes and then get blessed. And only then can you climb the next steep lot of stairs to the top of the mountain.

I’m not a wimp, but I’ve been there, done that. I’ve climbed many stairs to see many Buddhas on many mountain tops. Most in the baking sun. Opting out (yes, again), this time I stayed back to take photos of an equally cynical monk. To get photo permission I waggled my camera. Nodding his reply, he put out his cigarette and signed off from his mobile (both are on the mat in front of him).

Siem Reap: 2012

PHEW! The last monument of the trip was Banteay Srey (Citadel of the Woman).

wiki: Banteay Srei or Banteay Srey is a 10th century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Located in the area of Angkor in Cambodia. It lies near the hill of Phnom Dei, 25 km (16 mi) north-east of the main group of temples that once belonged to the medieval capitals of Yasodharapura and Angkor Thom. Banteay Srei is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still observable today.

Banteay Srey is truly stunning. A must see. I did stop by this Wat on my first trip to Siem Reap and I was thrilled to do it again. In my opinion, the carvings are the best out of all the Wats on the tour. And if you catch the sun just right you come away with fabulous photos. Again, on my first trip the sun was perfect. This one not so much. Regardless, I found the ambiance of the area much the same. Fabulous.

Siem Reap: 2012

Returning to the Heritage Suites Hotel we were tired, hungry, and dusty. Checkout time was around noon but to accommodate our late flight they moved us from our Bungalow Suits (see the wraparound view) to a smaller but equally suitable room to relax and do whatever. Bless them.

After being showered, watered, and fed, we were tucked into a vintage Mercedes Benz (formerly owned by the King of Cambodia) for a ride to the airport. And home. Finish.

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Siem Reap. Cambodia. Again. Part Two

Siem Reap: 2012

Siem Reap, Cambodia…

Carrying on from Siem Reap. Cambodia. Again. Part One… Snap (Cooee) and I have been leapfrogging Cambodian posts (but she’s far quicker off the mark).

Onward to the Bayon and Thom: A good hour and a half later after wandering around Angkor Wat, we cooled down in a nearby café. It was SO hot, other tourists where asking the gardener to hose them off, instead of the plants.

Agreed! It was boiling HOT! The first time I saw this sign was in a ladies’ toilet at one of the Wats. I just had to laugh at the shower icon. I mean, who’d stick their heads under a [cough] bum-gun?

Siem Reap: 2012

The second time I came across the sign I knew just who. ME!

But hot or not, we still had time to fill. So, after sweating through the heads of Bayon, my group opted for a late afternoon elephant ride to the top of Phnom Bakheng hill. Without me. Needing a quiet space, sans elephants and people, I wandered around on my own.

Siem Reap: 2012

The elephant rides are relatively cheap and the view from the top of the hill is (apparently) worth it. To ride up the hill is a mere US$20 per person, and for the ride back down, US$15. Walking or riding, the entire trip is around 30-40 minutes. But, if you plan on taking in the ruins of Bakheng temple, you’ll (obviously) need more time.

Shagged out – them from their walk and me from being quiet – back we went for a shower, a change of clothes, and happy hour at the Heritage Suites Hotel. As promised, the Long Island Iced Teas were tall and cold. Needed.

After dinner is where the evening got interesting. And before you think it, no, I didn’t get arrested. Not me.

Siem Reap: 2012

Old town Siem Reap is loaded with places to eat. In search of a fit we made our way through streets lined with restaurants and heaving with tourists. The noise would be deafening, but then we’d turn a corner to find entire streets quiet of customers, sporting staff manning emptiness. What’s up with that? With a mostly tourist population, how can entire sections be unpopular?

Anyway… after an uneventful dinner [boring] we went looking for a fish massage [yeah!]

For years I’ve contemplated the experience of a fish massage. Whenever I came across massage tanks in Bangkok I’d take photos while avoiding the plunge. But Talen did go for it (check out his post, Thai Foot Massage Can be a Fishy Business – no longer online).

One of the main reasons for my reluctance was down to the reported health risks.

Feeding frenzy: Thailand’s fish spas nibble on despite health fears: Britain’s Health Protection Agency recently announced it was investigating the possibility of human infection from fish spa pedicures, but had no confirmed cases of disease.

Infected human blood can turn a fresh water aquarium into a potential mixing vessel. Pieces of uneaten, dead or diseased skin floating in the tank during the treatment add to the risk of additional skin diseases, according to health officials.

Sounds appetising. Yes? Seems with one Island Iced Tea (most) of worries were gone.

Old Siem Reap had fish massage places galore. Some of the tanks were milky-murky with dark bits attached to the glass. Hmmm. But two tanks, side by side, were crystal clear. And these tanks just so happened to be manned by a lovely, high-spirited character. So fun!

Seriously, I don’t know what he was on, but, wow. Our host bounced around. Cracked bad jokes. And then agreed to free Angkor Beers and a pee. Into the water we went.

Siem Reap: 2012: Fish massage

See that lovely Swedish couple in the photo? On the bottom left? They not only put up with fish nibbling their toes but with us as well. Oh dear. My friends and I were in an [um] cheerful mood and the free beers were possibly one drink too far. Poor things. Alexander and Mathilda, if you two are reading this, thank you for putting up with our merriment.

We were having such an amusing time that at first I ignored the fish nibbles going from gentle to pain. The fish had gone beyond the outer layers and were making inroads into my skin. Ow. I’d cover one foot with the other, and when the foot on top was hurting too much, I’d switch. Double ouch. And time to go.

Siem Reap: 2012: Fish massageIn the morning I woke up to multi-hued feet covered with red dots. The larger bites oozed blisters. Oh joy.

During the day my toes got fat. Just like little sausages. And angry red dots abounded.

And my friend? Nadda. Her feet were fine.

This is sooooo typical. When I went to write a series on Thai street food I came down with food poisoning. And that was before I even got a chance to review the first hawker stall!

Which reminds me… Pssst… Talen … I won’t be jumping out of a plane this coming May with you after all. I’m not overly superstitious but… three strikes at that height and I’d be seriously out.

Please stay tuned for the next post featuring Kulen Mountain (Valley of a 1000 Lingas) and Banteay Srei (Citadel of Women). Until then!

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Siem Reap. Cambodia. Again. Part One

Siem Reap: 2012

Siem Reap, Cambodia…

Siem Reap in Thai is pronounced in a slightly different way than you might be used to hearing: เสียมราฐ /sĭam-râat/. And funny enough (but perhaps not to Thais), Siem Reap in Khmer translates to ‘Siam Defeated’.

Wiki: Siem Reap: The name Siem Reap means the ‘Flat Defeat of Siam’ — today’s Thailand — and refers to the centuries-old conflict between the Siamese and Khmer peoples.

This name was baptized by King Ang Chan (1516-1566) as “Siem Reap”, meaning “the flat defeat of Siam” (Cambodians call Siam or Thailand “Siem”). It was because of the victory over the Thais which King Ang Chan counter-attacked, and shot Prince Ong dead on an elephant’s back, and routed the Thais and captured no less than 10,000 Thai troops.

Even with the Cambodian–Thai border dispute being manipulated by politicians on both sides, antagonism between the two countries has mostly slowed down to a soft boil.

And while I haven’t asked Thais, the Cambodians I’ve talked to admitted to a fondness for the Thai people. I’m curious, what’s been your experience, if any?

Siem Reap five years ago…

I’ve dreamed of walking around the huge stone faces of Bayon ever since National Geographic did a feature on the Wat. I believe I was around 14 years old. Or was I 16? Close enough.

Only back then I thought the area was called Ankor Wat. How wrong I was.

Five years ago I finally made it to Siem Reap. I’m told that partially due to the Khmer Rouge shutting down the country, many of the colonial buildings in the old part of town have been mostly preserved. Um. Thanks?

Using the quaint city as a base, during my visit I trudged through way too many Wats. Some were almost completely restored while others were distinguishable only as piles of stone. Yes. You got it. My long awaited adventure morphed from a thrill a minute to quite the dull drudge.

Even though the trip was exhausting, I absolutely loved the city and the main Wats. And no surprise to me, the enormous faces of Bayon stole my heart. Ok, Thailand owns the biggest part of my heart but there’s room for more. Seriously.

Each evening, after a long day of sightseeing, I’d head to the Viva Mexican Cafe situated in the old part of town.

Armed with an order of nachos and (small) buckets of margaritas, I’d sit beside the sidewalk to watch the street show. There’d be a smattering of tourists strolling the partially lit streets, street kids trying out their multi-language skills, and tuk tuk drivers parking and/or sleeping nearby.

Ever since that trip I’ve vowed to go back to Siem Reap. FINALLY, with well-traveled friends visiting from the UK this month, away we went!

Siem Reap in 2012…

Depending on the flight, Bangkok to Siem Reap is either one hour away via propeller driven plane, or a mere half hour by jet. We went during the week (less popular) so the airline used a small plane going over. In comparison, the return was booked for a Friday night so we were whoooooooshed back to Bangkok.

There’s no way getting around saying this (and I’ve tried) but the excitement of our arrival was deflated when the Heritage Suites Hotel neglected to collect us from the airport. After waiting outside the airport for what seemed like forever we gave up and traveled to the hotel via van instead of the promised vintage Mercedes Benz (formerly owned by Father King Norodom Sihanouk). Sigh. Riding in a van wasn’t special. It was merely ‘ok’.

During the ride to the Heritage we passed hotel after new hotel. A big change. When I queried the driver about the growth he mentioned that something like 150 hotels had gone up in the past few years. Wow. I hope their infrastructure keeps up with the pace.

Siem Reap: Hotel

Once at the Heritage Suites Hotel the manager, Magnus Olovson, took immediate charge of the situation. Apologising for the snafu, Magnus upgraded everyone to spacious suits. Is that impressive, or what? And I’m sure the next question is, how can you get a snafu too?

Thank you Magnus (but honestly, I would have been happy with a ride to the Viva Mexican Cafe in the ‘Bentley’ ;-)

Siem Reap: 2012

After jumping in and out of showers we called for tuk tuks to take us to dinner and drinks at the Viva Mexican Cafe.

Unlike on my first trip the now lit streets were filled with tourists and the restaurant heaving!

A further sign of Siem Reap’s recent success, the nachos at Viva went upmarket (but were just as tasty) and the actual buckets filled with margaritas were no more. The small buckets were replaced by large beer glasses instead. No matter. The margaritas went down mighty fine.

After wandering around the old part of town for an hour or so we headed back to the pool and our private steam rooms, deep bathtubs, and super comfy beds.

Magnus, it was mighty fine. So again, a ‘ta’ from me.

Siem Reap: 2012

Breakfast by the pool was rather good and the wait staff were exceptional. Congrats Heritage. Well done. In addition to the buffet, the outdoor chef cooked up delicious plates filled with omelets, bacon, sausage, and grilled tomatoes. The coffee was topnotch as well.

Siem Reap: 2012

Breakfast over, soon enough the guide arrived and off we went to our first stop, Ankor Wat. The sun was at a bad angle (not conducive for decent photos) so I won’t share my weak shots of the famous entrance over the moat. Apologies. Perhaps better photographers have light tricks unknown to me.

Wiki: Angkor Wat is a temple complex at Angkor, Cambodia, built by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation – first Hindu, dedicated to the god Vishnu, then Buddhist.

Walking around the Wats our guide pointed out the many headless Buddha statues. He mentioned that their heads were chopped off and buried in the jungle by the rival religion. Nice to know. And all this time I thought the destruction of the stone Buddhas was due to the shameful (western) antique market.

Many, but not all, of the heads have been found. Sooo, is anyone up for a treasure hunt? Hmmmm?

Siem Reap: Ta Prohm

Next on the agenda was Ta Prohm, known for its impressive trees growing over stone buildings.

Wiki: Ta Prohm is the modern name of a temple at Angkor, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia, built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara.

Located approximately one kilometre east of Angkor Thom and on the southern edge of the East Baray, it was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university.

Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitors.

Siem Reap: Monk

I swear this very monk was walking in this exact same spot five years ago!

Siem Reap: Lunch

A fair bit of Ta Prohm was under construction so after seeing what we could, off we went to what turned out to be an excellent lunch washed down with coconut water (moi) and beer (them).

Why did I go for coconut water? On holiday no less? Sure, I do sometimes enjoy a good beer, but in the heat of the day a nap must soon follow. And hey, that’s just one of my many excuses for not drinking beer.

Cambodian food is far less spicier than Thai food but the lack is easily remedied by bowls of cut chilis. And every time we ordered chilis, broad smiles came too.

Siem Reap: Faces

Tip: If it’s absolutely crucial to get decent photos, and you don’t know any light magic, make your intentions clear to your guide.

Five years ago I was delivered to the Wats that mattered at perfect times. But, on this trip, I didn’t realise the importance until we rolled up to washed out Ankor faces. Boring.

I do understand why we arrived at Bayon when we did. These days there are HUGE numbers of tourists crowding the Wats, so after checking out the situation, our guide made a snap decision to change our itinerary.

Pity I didn’t come across this site in time:

The Bayon: Built by Jayavarman VII the temple stands in the center of Angkor Thom. With its 54 towers and 216 faces of Avalokiteshvara, this temple looks best in the morning just after sunrise or at the end of the afternoon as the sun shines on the faces.

After agreeing to make it back well before sundown we returned to the hotel for a needed rest.

Siem Reap: Faces

We got back to Bayon around 4pm. With hindsight, to get the best chance at catching more of the golden light, perhaps it should have been 3pm instead. Live and learn…

I saw noticeable renovation on the statues flanking one of the entrances to Bayon (shown in the bottom left photo). And most of the replaced heads were already showing considerable damage. Odd.

I asked the guide about the destruction and in his opinion it was deliberate. Supposedly the large chunks out of the renovated heads were done to make them look more like the originals. It looked like vandalism to me.

The day is not yet over, but as this seems a perfect place to stop this post, I will.

Before I sign off, Snap was at Siem Reap shortly before my visit so please stop by to say ‘hey’: Arriving in Siem Reap.

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Expat Living: Brother Dan is Still Sailing Away

Brother Daniel is Sailing

Photo credits: Daniel Anderson (Dan the Younger)

Expat living on the high seas…

This post has nothing to do with learning Thai or Thailand. It’s about expat living. And since I haven’t written an expat living post for awhile, and the opportunity arose, here you go.

When I was growing up I spent a bit of time on sailboats. It’s one of the many outdoors activities our family engaged in to keep three rowdy kids entertained. When we first took to sailing seriously, we lived in one of the most beautiful places in the world: Marlborough County, on the South Island of New Zealand. After New Zealand we started sailing the equally stunning waters around California, Nevada, Mexico, and more.

A few years after relocating to California, my father retired, gave away or sold most of his belongings, got on a boat and sailed away for good. He was in his early 40’s. His trip started from the Sacramento River, downtown Sacto, and ended back in Picton Harbour, New Zealand. His craft of choice was the family boat, a 23′ Islander (single hull), aptly named the Don Quixote (the impossible dream).

And for international waters especially, 23′ is a small boat.

How small is small? It was small enough for a teenage girl to manage lake sailing for a week plus on her own, no problem. But when small craft warnings went out on Californian and Nevada lakes, it had to come in. That’s small.

After his well-publicised launch (warmed up with a wake the night before), the Sacramento papers joked about there not being enough room left in the sailboat for a spare can opener. They were right. That boat was packed tight.

With parts missing (storms do take their toll) the Don Quixote made it all the way to New Zealand, limping the final stretch.

EDIT: Going through photos I came across a copy of a newspaper article written after his arrival in New Zealand: Pair Took Trailer Sailer from California to Wairau Bar! (apologies, but for the article to be legible, it needs to open outside of this post format).

Fast forward to the year before last.

After fulfilling his obligations, my older brother Daniel (Dan) upgraded his sailing skills, wrapped up his life in Hawaii, flew to LA, renovated a ’78 Cascade sloop named the S/V Leeway (he’s brilliant that way), and sailed off towards southern waters.

Dan’s adventurous shipmate Daniel Anderson kept friends and family abreast of first the renovation and then their travels via his well-written blog, dansailing (warning, they are both Dan). Dan the Younger is shown in the photo below (ahhhh, the life, yes?)

Daniel Anderson is Sailing

About a year later, when the younger Dan’s time on Leeway was up, we grew to depend upon my brother’s lively but sporadic emails.

This week I received such an email. And as it’s such an interesting (alarming?) update, I thought you’d get a kick out of reading it too. Note: for those without sailing experience, I’ve added links to a few boating terms. Let me know if I’ve missed any.

From Daniel: An update on my journey…

I left out of Moorea after Christmas. The southern oscillation had moved north displacing the 20 plus mph trade winds with a gentle 10 mph breeze. I figured that it would be a good time to start my first singlehanded passage: Moorea to Samoa.

My first 24hrs were a gentle northwest broad reach heading northwest to clear the Leeward Islands of French Polynesia. The second afternoon the wind dropped to a still, muggy calm with isolated thunderheads marching up from the east.

I spent the night in the cockpit tacking the boat north and south to avoid the worst of these. The gentle breezes and diminished storm activity came with dawn.

Daniel is Sailing

I slept a few hours as Leeway, sails set wing and wing, made her way under control of the wind vane. I was tired but in good spirits as I dozed off and on into the afternoon, catching rest to prepare for the night watch.

I awoke fully at 4pm with the sound of a pair of French Mirage fighter jets coming up low and fast from behind Leeway. I turned to watch them blast by only to see a whitewater torn line of wind racing toward me instead, close and fast. Too close, too fast. I hit the deck moving forward to release the guy out 140% genoa as the wall of wind hit us. The mainsail back-winded and bounced against the preventer which kept Leeway from a full-flying gype.

The boat spun a full 180 degrees, both sails now filled taut from the bow. Leeway was sailing backward!

I had been flattened to the deck by a blow to the head by the pivoting boom. Knowing from first aid courses that head wounds bleed copiously did not prepare me for the flood of blood down my face and chest. Blood splattered everywhere as I dropped and bundled the genoa on deck, heaving it out of the water and gasketting it tight against the lifelines.

The preventer had cinched the customary half hitch too tight to release. I made my way back to the cockpit on a nearly vertical deck returning with my emergency machete. With a quick stroke of the machete Leeway popped vertical, mainsail adding the timpani of outraged cloth to the roar and howl of rigging straining wind.

I knew I was hurt. Footprints of red went fore and aft. Chest to foot flowed red. Windswept splatters and sprays of red swept the cockpit, the coach roof, deck and sails.

With Leeway running downwind on mainsail alone, trusty wind vane managing beautifully and the nearest lee shore 30 miles away, I went below to tend to myself and ascertain the damage.

Using precious freshwater at the galley to wash my face, a gaping cut over my right eye showed in my shaving mirror. “This will need stitches” my mind flatly stated. I have everything aboard and the training to stitch skin. On someone else…

I had experimented with self stitching 10 or 15 years ago on my leg after an encounter with rebar on a job site. I didn’t do so well. Even with lidocane the sensation was just too weird.  

I tied two 4×4 gauze pads tight to my head with a strip of clean T-shirt and reviewed my options. In two weeks I could arrive Samoa with another interesting scar, or Bora Bora was a 6 hour beam reach south.

I wore about, still under full main, still in 40 knot winds. By 6pm I was outside the pass, motor wouldn’t start, wind coming directly out the pass precluding a sail in. I was dizzy and unable to make out the pass entrance lights against the backdrop of channel nav within the lagoon and lights of Vaitape.

Daniel is Sailing

I radioed Port Autonome Bora Bora on 16, on 14,  on 12, on 22. No response. I went back topside to set the sails for a heave to position off Bora until dawn or my vision cleared .

The radio squelched loud and a voice came out identifying itself as SAS Papeete, inquiring about my status and position. When the officer learned that I had a bleeding head injury he was not satisfied with my decision to stand off ’till dawn. He mobilized a rescue boat with a captain and three crew, a local Gendarme and an emergency room physician, and sent them my way.

I hoisted my emergency strobe to the spreaders, set a light on the mainsail, and hunkered down to wait. By 11pm Leeway was tied to the municipal quay in Vaitape and I was in the island’s emergency clinic (after hours but re-opened for me), getting 8 stitches to close me back up.

Daniel is SailingAdded to the crew of the rescue boat, the physician, and the gendarme was an ambulance driver and an on call emergency nurse. Eight residents of the island, the local Commune du Bora Bora rescue boat, an ambulance and a hospital were mobilized on my behalf. I am beyond grateful.

Thank you SAS Papeete, thank you Commune de Bora Bora, Doctor David and Nurse Michelle. This entire orchestration was a free event. There isn’t even a mechanism to make payment.

My emphatic “Merci Beucoup” is shrugged off, thumbs up’s are offered in return. I am going to sit out a few days here, check the weather gribs, and then see Doctor David for a follow-up before I depart for Samoa.

I have washed the blood off the boat and off my body. My shorts are rinsed and hanging on the lifeline. Tomorrow I can wash the blood out of my hair. Life is good.

To continue my sail to Samoa, I’m now waiting in Bora Bora for a weather window to open up. It ain’t a bad thing to be stuck in Bora…

Cheers!
Your brother Dan

Bora Bora

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Remembering Tsunami 2004: And Then One Morning

And Then One Morning

Remembering the Tsunami of 2004…

What happened on Boxing Day 2004 was horrific. Even though I wasn’t on the ground, it marked my life. And because of that, every year I’ve put aside time to honour those caught up in the events.

This year I made a point to read And Then One Morning, an eyewitness account written by Aaron Le Boutillier (interviewed earlier this month on WLT).

Aaron’s book saddened me but gave hope as well. It underlined how fragile life can be, but it also brought home how an event so massively terrifying can change lives forever. And not always for the worst.

I didn’t have an easy time writing this post so please forgive its faults.

And then one morning…

When the tsunami hit I was on the island of Borneo, wandering around packing boxes bound for Thailand. My Thai visa being delayed, I was experiencing the simmering limbo well-known to seasoned expats.

On the same side of the world Aaron was visiting Phi Phi, Thailand, to help a longtime friend and his family of five relocate to Phuket. It was meant to be their last Christmas on the island, with Boxing Day being moving day.

At about ten the next morning I was in that comfortable slumber zone… Suddenly my brain was registering the sound of children screaming. At first I thought some idiots were trying to scare them, but the screams were genuinely frightened, so much so that they were frightening me… Now fully awake, I could hear that the screaming was mixed with another sound – a crunching, grinding, roaring kind. It would be almost another two days before I would sleep again.

So while I was casually sipping coffee and recovering from Christmas dinner of the night before, Aaron was waking up to the fight of his life.

Through the noise I picked up the words “wing wing” which means “run run” in Thai and I heard the sound of feet pounding on the sandy street outside my room.

I jumped out of bed and pushed open my wooden window.

Down on the street, the first thing I saw was Heinz with Anna under his arm and Tina holding onto his hand. I shouted down to him and he looked at me for a brief second with eyes that will haunt me until the day I die.

An hour after the tsunami hit I was most likely moving slow, perhaps wondering what to wear that evening at Barnaby and Luciana’s. Or maybe, just maybe, I was thinking about what leftovers to reheat for lunch. But whatever it was, was not life threatening.

All I knew was that I was alive and badly cut up. There were many people who were alive but in desperate situations. Some would die but there were many, many who were already dead. Ten? Fifty? A hundred? Possibly more. But did I think tsunami? The answer is no… Life had truly been reduced to its very basics – trying to stay alive – certainly not trying to analyse what might have caused this hell. This was an obscene soup, not a tsunami wave.

For me, the quiet of lunchtime came and went. And as far as I knew nothing out of the ordinary was happening. It was just a typical day on yet another Christmas holiday.

I had lost count of how many dead bodies I’d seen already. Curiously, although my mission was now to find Heinz, Oiy, Tina, Anna and little Dino, it didn’t occur to me to look to see if any of these bodies were theirs. It never entered my mind that they might not have survived.

I scrambled up the hillside to join the crowd making their exodus from the beach and suddenly I saw them – Oiy and Dino side by side. Dino looked completely blank, like so many others. Oiy looked to be in total despair and I could see she was suffering from some nasty wounds… It was just the two of them – no Heinz or Tina or Anna.

That evening at Barnaby and Luciana’s I celebrated with friends made during nine years of Borneo living. At some point late in the evening there was a whispered mention of a tragedy somewhere in the region but the discussion never took hold. Too many rounds of holiday cheer? I honestly don’t know.

It was only when I checked emails that I read how serious it was. Arriving home I found an inbox filled with friends panicking at my lack of a response, some even posting alerts on design forums to see if I’d survived. But I was not in Thailand. Yet.

The day after the tsunami hit I bounced between the BBC and the Internet. The day after the tsunami hit Aaron continued his search for his dear friends.

Nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see. There must have been ten rows of bodies with a short gap between them for walking down. In total, there was about six hundred bodies. All of these were from Phi Phi: babies, toddlers, children, adolescents and adults… We stood there for some time with our own thoughts. After the spell was broken we made our way to the front of the row and then up and down six hundred corpses looking for Heinz, Tina or Anna.

From the quotes I selected above, it’s obvious that ‘And Then One Morning’ is not an easy read. Especially if you are reading this during the holiday celebrations of Boxing Day, 2010. But if you too want to understand just a bit of what happened during the Tsunami, then I highly recommend grabbing a copy.

Interview: Aaron Le Boutillier…

Aaron, one year, two years, three years… as time marches on, each year the impact from a life changing experience morphs. Looking back over the six years, how do you see the influence of the tsunami on your life?

And Then One MorningLooking back, while although I wished all those lives were spared, experiencing the tsunami gave me a unique insight into people and the fragility of life that we all take for granted.

In the space of a few hours, I saw the best and worst of humans, ranging from pure heroism that a person can have for a complete stranger to the human instinct of people benefiting from the misfortune of others.

To have faced death square in the eyes, then through sheer luck survived, is a rewarding experience. It gives an inner peace that you can never truly understand unless you have experienced such an event.

On a negative, I cannot stop my mind from playing games. Quite frequently in a crowded environment where everyone is relaxed and enjoying themselves, I will imagine a tragedy, go through how everyone will cope and the horror of the aftermath.

I think all survivors have their demons and when you have been so closely linked to so much death it does affect your imagination. As a result it occasionally becomes quite dark.

All in all, I gained from the experience and have used it to make my future more rewarding.

Aaron Le Boutillier
And Then One Morning | Le Boutillier Group
Successful Thai Language Learner: Aaron Le Boutillier

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