Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Another Pattaya Panorama

Click on the image to enlarge it, and again for a still larger image if your browser allows for that.

I'm a little short on time today so I'm offering a panorama shot of the Beach Road area of Pattaya, taken from a rooftop at the far Northern end, looking South. It's quite a walk down to the far end where Walking Street begins.

Walking along this stretch of beach in the morning is always such a pleasure for me - it's quiet, people are less hurried along the walkway and the folks setting up their businesses for the day are often happy to take a break and say hello or pose for a photo. It's also one of the better times to walk along the sand and find shells that have washed up overnight.

While blending the images the software managed to create a little more curvature to the horizon than nature intended - so while the camera didn't lie, the technology did!

I can hardly wait to be there again.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, Part 2

There were no plans for a second post about Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat after part one the day before yesterday, but I knew at the time I'd prepared too many pictures for a single post. Oftentimes the posts take a direction I don't consciously choose myself, and that one ended up being more about history and visitors making merit. Anyway, to keep the pictures somewhat together here are a few more from that visit.

In the top photo today you can see a little more of the extensive grounds around the temple that holds the large bronze Buddha statue, next to the the tall chedi. Below is a view of the entrance to the main temple. The ranad eek (xylophone) player was sitting just to the left of the entrance, behind the large white urn the young man is walking in front of. I didn't plan that (naturally) but it's a good point of reference for perspective, I suppose.

The row of seated Buddha images was in another part of the temple grounds, and although I've used a nearly identical image for the post about Visakha Puja day I'm adding a very similar one again today, since this is where it was taken (and I like the picture).

This temple was one of the earlier places where I'd seen the pig heads offered; the skin removed from the skull and splayed out flat, adorned with joss/incense sticks. They almost appear to be smiling, although we all know they'd probably have been happier to be still roaming around on the hoof. There were a couple of dozen offered on tables at this temple.

Lastly today here's another view of the Buddha statue itself, from a slightly different angle. I think it was the black walls and the massive amounts of gold adornment and painted detail that made this particular temple stand out in my memory as it has. For me, it was just breath-taking.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Photo Manipulation: The Camera CAN Lie

This isn't altogether the best example because the skin tones aren't close enough to being the same, but but I wanted to share what amazing things anyone with a modicum of patience can do with photo manipulation nowadays.

The top photo was taken on a morning walk along Beach Road in Pattaya - somewhere along about 09:00 - and the one below is an adjusted version of the same image, except the sun is setting behind the three guys, making it look as though the picture was taken eight hours later.

When I was younger we always heard "the camera doesn't lie", but as you can see - today it can.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Visiting Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat

About halfway to Chiang Mai from Bangkok in the city of Phitsanulok stands the beautiful wat (temple) Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, home to a large 14th-century bronze Buddha statue known as the Phra Buddha Chinnarat that's the second most revered statue in the country - second only to the Emerald Buddha, housed within the Grand Palace.

Throughout the year people travel enormous distances to pay their respects at this particular temple because of the miraculous powers the statue is reputed to have. They hold a week-long festival in its honor during the time of the sixth day of the waxing moon of the third month in the Thai lunar calendar. How's that for a mouthful? As we go along you'll undoubtedly notice there are a number of holidays and events important to the Thai that are based on points on the lunar calendar; you may remember another we covered recently: Loy Krathong.

The miracle granted the most significance happened back in the 15th century, when the image is said to have wept tears of blood when princes from Ayutthaya finally succeeded in running the troops from Sukhothai, but as we haven't even scratched the surface of Thai history I'm going to let you look that one up yourselves for now.

I have no guesses as to how many tens of thousands of visits are made to this particular temple in any given year, but people were moving through at a pretty steady clip the day I was there. After stopping to buy the usual offerings of candles, joss sticks and flowers they entered the temple to quietly pay their respects, as did I.

In the photo below you can see a small square of paper between the joss sticks. The folded paper holds the gold leaf, also used while making merit. There's another story about them from July you might be interested in: Putting Gold On The Back Of The Buddha.

On my way towards the temple I stopped near a group of students who were listening to the monk (above right) speaking. Some just listened, some were taking notes, all were paying close attention to what he said.

A man was playing music on a ranad eek (xylophone) outside the entrance to the temple, a soft melody that set the tone for my visit inside. Shaded from the sun it was cooler inside the temple, and I paused to kneel before the meticulously polished image towering in front of me to make my offering before wandering around the inside, admiring - as usual - the fine craftsmanship and detail.

If you're ever in the area - perhaps driving to another destination further North - I highly recommend stopping in and spending some time here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Day Of Rest

Robed monk on a Chao Phraya river taxi, Bangkok

I'm resting up after a full day of hosting family and friends yesterday. It's a lot of prep work, cooking, serving and cleaning up afterwards, but I wouldn't want it any other way - despite my occasional bitching about it. Today I'm finishing up putting things right again here at home and pausing to reflect a little more than I had time to do yesterday. For readers in the US: I hope you had as nice a Thanksgiving holiday as I did.

Back to regular posts tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Butterfly Pictures

Since a reader was kind enough to identify the red "Pin Cushion" (Ixora) blooms in yesterday's post for us today I'll share a few more photos of butterflies I've been lucky enough to catch while out walking and taking pictures. The first batch were posted on October 10th, and you can see that post here.

These today were all fairly close together along a side-soi leading to a friend's home I was visiting in Phitsanulok. There was a stand at least five meters wide of Ixora in full bloom, and the butterflies were plentiful.

It was a lucky day for photos, and an altogether great day with an old friend. I hope to return there again to spend some time - and hopefully see more specimens like these!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Flowers, Part 6: Another Assortment

Yellow Cannis in Phitsanulok

Here today are a few more pictures of flowers seen on walks in Thailand. The cannis above I know, and I believe the pink and white blooms below protected by the nasty spikes are what are called "Crown of Thorns" (or Euphorbia splendens) in the West - but I may be wrong.

"Crown of Thorns" (or Euphorbia splendens) in Udonthani

The red flowers below I was told were commonly known as a "Pincushion" plant, as the flowers have such long, thin bases that look as though they could be pins in a pincushion. There are similar blooms in the October 10th post about butterflies, and you'll see them again at some point.

Red "Pin Cushion" (Ixora) blooms - common throughout the country

The oddly curled pink blooms below have me stumped. At first I thought they were fading and past blooming, but on closer inspection I can't figure them out. I saw them in a garden in front of someone's home and didn't bother them to ask (as if I'd understand it in Thai, anyway).

[Today's captions corrected after a comment came in to identify the blooms I didn't know. Thanks!]

Cleome, aka "Cat's Whiskers"

Monday, November 22, 2010

Songtaew, Pt 1 - A Taxi For Everyman

You can't do much reading about visiting or living in Thailand without running across the word "songtaew" (sometimes written as two words - song taew). I had to stop and look it up the first time I read it too, thinking it was a bus - and in many ways it is; it's just a more casual type of bus. I think they're not only fun but great exposure to locals and local life and ride them as often as possible.

In many places throughout the kingdom you can hop into the back of one of these covered pickup trucks with benches along the sides in back( over the wheel wells) and ride. The trick is to know when to push the button to let the driver know where you want them to stop and let you off. After you get out you go up to the window and hand the driver your fare - usually 10 baht.

If you're able to get the driver to understand you you can ask before boarding to go to a specific place, but by doing so you've hired the vehicle as a taxi and the rate will go up to whatever the driver thinks you're good for - often 100 baht or more. If you're someplace smaller - like Pattaya - don't pay more than this, and just politely wave them off if they won't lower their price. 95% of the time they'll take the 100 baht. If the price is reasonable and worth it to you (and on some days it certainly is, depending on my schedule and how I'm feeling at the time) you've just hired a driver!

Be especially aware of other riders sitting next to you, as there are countless stories of pickpockets working solo or in teams on these rides, especially when they're crowded.

A local might be able to explain the routes to you, but I'd encourage you to bring a pocketful of "mai pen rai" along if you're honestly thinking of getting from Point A to Point B in a hurry without a hitch. If you've got time for an adventure, though, they're a wonderful way of getting around.

If you're with a local, do not miss the opportunity to ride them as often as possible.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Streetside Omelets - Another Tasty Snack

Everyone's tastes are different, and I freely admit mine can run to what some might call bland - but if I want something hot, quick and filling that I feel fairly sure isn't going to give me any stomach problems, I like stopping at a cart and getting a basic omelet on rice. A fried egg on rice is a close second, but there's always the minor concern about eggs that aren't fully cooked, too, and I feel better knowing it's cooked through.

Usually there are additional ingredients available to add to your order, but I tend to stick with the egg and maybe some chopped green onion/scallions unless the stand's fairly busy and the other meat seems fairly fresh and well-done. I say that because I've seen food being cooked on early morning walks that looks like what's still there at the same stall later in the afternoon.

As far as I'm concerned the jury's still out on the whole "how clean are the plates and utensils" argument, but that's kind of a personal decision. You can see in the photo below that there's soap involved, but as to how clean the dishes and utensils actually get - well, that's anyone's guess. Probably as clean as they get in some people's kitchens. So far I've been lucky.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Wat Arun - Night Video Clip

The Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) is an impressive sight by day, but almost more majestic when bathed in light in the evening. The grounds themselves are a little eerie to wander around in on foot after dark and you don't have access to many areas that are normally open during the day, but you're still able to see some impressive views. I'll try to gather and prepare the images I took there one night earlier this year for another post soon.

The clip today was taken from a riverboat dinner cruise, and the voice you hear is the "host" narrator as we sailed upriver past the temple - the same cruise where I took the clip of the Grand Palace as we went by.

My HD video camera doesn't do as well in low light as it does in the daytime, but I think it's still a pretty clip.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Loy Krathong: Whatever Floats Your "Boat"

I envy those of you who are in Thailand right now, because you have the opportunity to participate in one of the loveliest of all the traditions there: Loy Krathong - a night for wishes and amends. The wishes are often for good fortune in the year ahead, the amends are made to Phra Mae Khonka - the Goddess of Water, for all we have done to her "home" over the year just passed - in addition to thanking her for the bounty the water has brought us.

Loy means to float, and krathong refers to the hand-made rafts or boats seemingly used by at least three-quarters of the population. Individual krathong are usually smaller than a dinner plate - say, eight or nine inches (20 - 23cm) across, but some commercial or corporate krathong can be much larger. I've seen some that were at least 15 feet wide.

Each has a candle, a symbolic veneration for the Buddha. As the candle's flame floats away from you on the water it's intended to take with it your year's worth of anger and grudges, allowing your heart and spirit to start afresh. Each also has a flower, and three sticks of incense, and some people add a coin to the load; Christians may liken this to "casting bread on the waters," if they wish.

Traditionally krathong were made of banana leaves with cork or something natural used for flotation, but all too often today they contain styrofoam and other non-biodegradable parts that cause a lot of headaches as the floating debris gathers in waterways after the festival. The photo to the left is of a man in Udonthani a week before the festival, creating a net to collect the leftover krathong. It's unfortunate that the festival intended to make apologies to the Water Goddess leaves such an insult behind, but it's not my place to judge - so let's move on.

The Loy Krathong Festival is observed across the whole of Thailand the evening of the full moon of the 12th Lunar month, which is usually November by our Western calendars. This year it falls on Sunday the 21st, but there are celebrations of various stripes throughout the weekend, depending on where you happen to be in Thailand.

Chiang Mai holds parades and several evenings of festivities. In addition to the traditional launching of the krathong they'll also release balloon-like bags called khom fai that are illuminated by candles, rising silently into the night sky with the heat the candle's flame generates. Udon Thani hosts a festival in the large central town park that is a blend of paths, walkways and bridges surrounded by water.

In Bangkok the Chao Phraya river is lit not only by the candles of the krathong released onto its surface but by the fireworks launched from barges along it, bursting into colorful blooms high in the sky. Wherever there are bodies of water - lakes, rivers, ponds, dams, and the ocean itself - people gather together to release their krathong and wish for luck, health and prosperity. Families often go together as one, oftentimes you'll see couples launch krathong together.

In cities, towns and villages - everywhere you go throughout the country - you'll find krathong for sale: street-side stalls, grocery stores, open markets, along the highways and byways and on tables set up in front of homes where families have joined forces to make krathong to generate a little more family income, like the women in Samut Prakan (below). Contests are held in many areas where individuals compete to see who can create the most distinctive or ornate krathong.

While it's a festive occasion, there's a serious note beneath the fun. The launching of krathong is not something done frivolously - it's a sincere gesture, and you can sense that as you see people kneel at the water's edge and say a prayer before gently releasing the krathong onto the surface, watching it float out away from them.

I was told that after you released your krathong onto a river you'd watch and hope it didn't stray back to shore, because if it continued to glide along with the current until it was out of sight it would mean your wish would be granted.

Here's wishing all of you a year of good fortune ahead.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sek Loso - "Fon Tok Tee Nah Taang"

Not my photo (see note at the bottom)

Although he still actively records and performs, Sek Loso isn't one of the carefully coiffed stylish young pop stars you see splashed across CD and video cases in Thailand - but he's long been a favorite of mine. Born into a rice farming family in Nakhon Rachasima on 7 August 1974, Seksan Sukpimai has had a long and colorful career for someone still in his mid-thirties.

He goes by Loso, from a vernacular contraction of the English "low society"; a person of a lower caste, and the working class has always been the firm foundation of his fan base. His releases consistently sell over 1 million units, and that only counts the legitimate copies in a country where bootlegging is common. His career is still a long ways from that of Thongchai ("Bird") McIntyre, but he's a "keeper" in the world of often-disposable pop artists.

Although he's often heard playing music inspired by his early influences - Jimi Hendrix being a long time favorite - he's also recorded some wistful and thoughtful numbers about life and love, one of them being "Fon Tok Tee Nah Taang" (Rain Falls Against The Window) - my personal favorite of his.

A web site offered this translation of the song. Naturally I can't vouch for their work!

Rain Falls Against The Window
Today the rain falls against the window
I wonder if you're thinking about me
The past Sunday, both of us met, you smiled at me
8 months ago

Sitting by myself, I turn to look out the window
If you were here with me, I'd be very happy
You probably don't know that I am single
If it was you, you would understand
8 months ago

You might already have someone, a great person
And I would be a very sad man
You might already have a boyfriend
I still wonder, I still want to know
8 months ago

I only wish you liked me back
I'm only waiting to hear you say you love me
I'd be extremely happy if I got to look into you eyes
I'd be happiest of all
I'd be happiest of all

Here's a clip from the original music video of that song, taken from the karaoke video CD of that album:

... and here's a live performance of the same song:

You'll find a truckload of other Loso clips on YouTube, and you likely to see another couple here as time goes by.

BTW, I didn't take the photo up top today. If you'd like to see more photos from that same October 2006 performance they're at http://www.flickr.com/photos/yaknarak/

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sick On Holiday: Bangkok's BNH Hospital

Overall I can't think of many things less fair in life than being sick on your vacation/holiday. All year 'round you show up to wherever it is you do your own personal impression of Sisyphus, pushing your rock up the hill day after day in exchange for a precious few weeks of rest time, and then you're unable to enjoy it. Where's the fairness in that?

<-- Sisyphus, by Titian - 1549 (Prado Museum, Madrid)

One trip I heard a single man in the room next to mine who was so "actively" nauseous that he woke me up three times one night. The third time I felt so sorry for him that I dressed and went over Silom Road to the 7-eleven and bought some saltine crackers, water and 7-Up and took it to his door. As I expected, he looked like Death warmed over when he answered, but he accepted my gift for later and thanked me for the thought.

Having minor stomach and intestinal distress is to be expected when you travel; if you don't accept that possibility and take some basic precautions you're living in a fool's paradise - but there are some precautions you can take to avoid needless risks. I've shared some lessons I've learned about staying healthy on planes and in Thailand in earlier posts, and I can't say enough about the common sense of proper sleep and drinking enough water. Past that, you're at the mercy of Fate itself.

I've experienced sinus problems and what I self-diagnosed as colds in the past; usually blaming them on viruses in the recycled air on the planes, bacteria from the seldom serviced filtration of hotel air conditioning systems or the way I'll go hot and sweating into a refrigerated room somewhere. There's really no way to be sure about any of those theories, though.

Last Spring (2009) I made another journey up into Isaan with a friend who runs a guide service, and as we began our trip I felt as though I was starting in with some definite sinus problems. It escalated during our week on the road, and by the time I returned to Bangkok I was ready to concede defeat and seek help for the first time in Thailand. Having read about BNH Hospital and having it again recommended by an ex-patriot friend I headed there the next morning after breakfast.

BNH Hospital - as the sign on Convent Road reads - was started in 1898 as the Bangkok Nursing Home, not far from its present location. They began receiving patients at the current location in 1902, and after renovations turned it into a world-class medical facility it became BNH Hospital shortly after its re-birth in 1996.

It's located on Soi Convent, between Silom and Sathorn Roads. For those of you who might go on foot as I did, take the BTS to Saladaeng and ask the ticket booth folks which way to exit the station for "BNH Hospital" - they'll know it's on the Silom Complex side of Silom Road. BNH is on the left, almost to Sathorn Road, past the Saint Joseph convent.

I walked into the bright, spacious lobby area and up to the receptionist who politely directed me to a registration counter, where I was immediately greeted by a woman who took my passport, entered my basic information into their computer system and asked why I'd come in for treatment. As I briefly explained my plight she handed me my freshly-generated hospital ID card and directed me to a different receptionist on a higher floor. I went up the escalator and to that counter, where a nurse swiped my card through a reader and asked me to have a seat on a padded vinyl bench nearby.

Less than five minutes later, another nurse came to collect me and take me to a small room where she took my temperature, pulse and blood pressure and entered those numbers into the system. She then walked me back to where she'd found me, and said a doctor would see me in about ten minutes. I sat there somewhat dumbfounded by the efficiency of the place - and how amazingly clean it all looked.

While trying to flush my system I'd been drinking far more water than usual, and now it was time to find the hong nam. I asked the first employee passing by and was directed to one nearby. It, too, was spotless and equipped with stylish Western fixtures and sinks. Walking to it I noticed an outdoor garden that I stepped out to take a quick three pictures of on my way back, joined together into the panorama shot below. My guess is this garden is above the lobby area.

I'd no sooner sat down again than a different nurse came to collect me, this time ushering me into a female doctor's office, where she (the nurse) remained standing off to one side - in the interest of propriety, I assumed.

The doctor asked me a number of questions in perfect English, looked at my readings and shook her head apologetically. "I'm sorry to tell you that it looks like you've fallen victim to our somewhat unfortunate Bangkok air," she said. "My guess is that you've had some cold or sinus problems that haven't been helped at all by the particulate matter here." She prescribed a decongestant and a rather potent cough medicine to use at night so I could sleep, wished me better health and stood to see me leave, walking behind my nurse guide.

My guide took me back to my bench and asked me to listen for my name to be called from the pharmacy window nearby. Again less than 10 minutes passed before I heard my name and went to collect my medicines, packaged neatly into a small glossy BNH handle bag. The woman pointed to the cashier's window, where I paid for my prescriptions and was then free to go.

OK. Here's the part that's going to sound like a fairy tale, but I swear it's the truth: total time from walking in to walking out - under 45 minutes. Total cost: $60US. If that isn't an indication that the health care system in the USA is broken, I don't know what is.

All this, and the nifty card as a souvenir. If I'm ever sick there again, I'll know where to go.

BNH Hospital
9/1, Convent Road, Silom Bangkok 10500, Thailand
Tel : (+662) 686-2700
Fax : (+662) 632-0577-79
Website :
GPS Location : 13.724961, 100.5351

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chao Phraya River Panorama

You can click on this image to enlarge and scroll around on it.

Some of the nicest views while traveling are best seen while you're walking. Yes, you could see the panoramic view above from a bus, but not only would you see it for a fleeting moment, you'd also miss the experience of seeing everything else while getting to that quick point of view.

The Chao Phraya river runs a winding course through Krung Thep (Bangkok) on its way to the Gulf of Thailand. There are many vantage points you could see it from, but one of the more accessible - for a newcomer, anyway - is the short walk from the Saphan Taksin BTS station, up the stairs and across one of the bridge walkways. In the diagram at the bottom today you'll see the station in the lower right hand corner of the image.

I was staying at the Grand Tower Inn (on the left in the image, below the green V) the day I went for a walk around the area there and while in the park you can see at the river's edge I discovered the wide cement stairway up and thought "Why not?" I enjoyed it enough that the following day I walked over it again and visited some familiar spots on the other side of the bridge. I took the image today (five individual pictures, actually) from where the blue X is on the image below.

The red cranes to the left rise above what's known as "Pepsi pier," where hundreds of thousands of cans and bottles of the soda are shipped and trucked out. The tall white building slightly to the right of that is the Peninsula Hotel, consistently rated one of the top 10 hotels in the world. You can stay there any time you feel like popping for a room with rates starting at $300US per night.

The curved hotel on the right is the Southern end of the Shangri-La, which is also a plush spot I've never stayed. To my far right, out of the picture, is the Royal Orchid Sheraton. You can see both of them in the image below.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Arranged Marriages

A Thai friend of mine had quite a dilemma last year. In order to relate the story I'm changing some details and using one of my "Sunset" photos, just so there's a picture for today's post. Let's call my friend Nong (which means younger, as he's just now 30) and his female friend Bua (meaning lotus flower, as she is a beautiful young woman).

Although the men are usually the actual breadwinners in the Thai culture, many times the women rule the roost at home. It's rarely safe to make blanket generalizations, but this is certainly the case in almost all Filipino families I've known in my life, and seems to carry into most of the Thai families I've come in contact with so far, too. Nong's family is one such group. Nong's mother selected his school, his educational path and nudged him into the stable professional job he now labors away at a good 10 hours a day.

Nong's family is Muslim, the minority religion in Thailand (less than 6% of the total population), but one of quite strong beliefs. His father is quite active in mentoring and educating others in the Muslim ways, and their home is often the meeting place for readings, discussions and celebrations.

While Nong himself is a strong believer in the faith and holds almost all of their traditions to the letter, there's one he's had no choice in, and one that has caused him a great deal of introspection and thought: Nong is a gay man in a culture that finds his natural inclinations an abomination, and there lies his dilemma: unwilling to face what he feels would be the certain loss of his family and the probable shunning by his community, he lives firmly locked in the prison of "the closet," as do many others in this world.

A couple of years ago Nong's mother decided it was time for grandchildren, and that meant Nong must marry and get on the job, so to speak. As is their tradition, Mother found a wife for Nong, a date was set and there was an ornate and festive day of ceremonial nuptials, food and celebration, widely attended by their family, friends and community.

Nong sent me an invitation but my finances and schedule didn't allow me to attend their wedding, although I'd have been more than happy to witness it to provide whatever peripheral emotional support possible from a safe distance, and, of course, to satisfy my own curiosity. In the note he'd enclosed with the invitation he wrote "This day will not be a happy day for me. She is a family friend, but I do not love her." These few words were some of the saddest I'd read in a long time, and with a tear in my eye I wished him well, knowing he was heading down an unhappy path; not alone, but not with a companion of his choosing.

After asking around I purchased an appropriate wedding gift, wrapped it up and took it to the post office to ship to he and Bua, but it wasn't with the smiling anticipation I'd normally stand in line with when sending a similar package.

Fortunately for Nong, he and Bua did become friends. He found they got along fairly well, shared similar tastes in everyday things, and both had the bonds of their faith. He was able to "perform" as expected, but found reasons not to do so as often as possible, aided by both his and Bua's long work days and long commutes to their home. Bua would often stay with her family to save her the two hour commute to their marital home, and Nong worked so late he'd regularly been sleeping on a cot in his office for a couple of years already.

A couple of months ago I received my first phone call from Nong to my home here in the US. He sounded sad, and I sat down to listen to his tale of woe. Despite their best efforts over nine months or so, Bua had not become pregnant. Her patience wearing thin, Nong's mother sent them to doctors to be checked out, and while Nong's "little swimmers" were just fine, Bua's eggs were not. They would not be able to have children of their own. A divorce was out of the question, and many in the family - naturally Bua and Nong, but especially Nong's mother - were inconsolable. Nong was doubly sad: married, gay and unable to make children to be some joy to him.

"NOW what shall I do?" asked my friend, his voice breaking as he began to cry. Wishing I could give him a hug but well aware he was 8,000 miles away I waited quietly while he wept and then composed himself. "What do I do now?" he asked again, and I had no good answer. "Well, Nong, you care a lot about Bua, yes?" "Yes," he allowed "but I still do not love her. I sleep on a mat next to our bed when I am home."

"Then you have two choices," I said, trying to be sensitive, respectful and logical all at the same time, which is not always my strong suit. "You make the best of things as many others do, or you tell your family the truth and take whatever comes after that." "I know," he said, softly. "I will do as I must do."

Nong and Bua are still together, and the only ones who know the truth are Nong and I.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Flowers, Part 5: Orchids #1

There are nearly 900 genus (between 250 and 300 in tropical Asia alone) and somewhere between 22,000 and 25,000 species of orchids on the planet. While you're not likely to run across that many while visiting Thailand you're bound to see more varieties than you can shake a stick at.

You'll see them in every open-air market, in most every home garden and just growing on their own in the wild. I know a few of the genus names, but apart from appreciating their sometimes breathtaking beauty and color that's about as far as my mental bus goes.

Nevertheless, I've easily taken a couple thousand photos of them while walking, visiting people's homes, in formal greenhouses, parks and gardens and at markets. I won't bore you with too many of them at a time, but a few here and there shouldn't clog thing up too badly, should it? Good. Thanks for indulging me!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jatujak Market, Part 5: Things For Sale #2

One cage of dozens in a stall full of parakeets - Jatujak Weekend Market, Bangkok

As a follow-up piece to the first one back on August 26th, here's another selection of things I've seen for sale at the Jatujak (also known as Chatuchak) Weekend Market. For a better explanation please take a look at that post, too.

It's not surprising to see numerous stalls full of things you'll see repeated - for example, similar selections of "basic" popular tourist items - and that makes it all the more of a pleasant surprise to come across a stall entirely full of wooden musical instruments or ceramics and stoneware, like in the photo below. The art of arrangement and display obviously wasn't one of the vendor's strong suits here...

In areas near important temples you're likely to see rows a block long of stall after stall full of religious emblems, pendants, amulets, necklaces and charms, but such concentrations aren't as common at Jatujak. Naturally, there's no way of knowing if these items were truly aged by time, or by being buried for a while to command a better price.

One day in the "Pets" area of the market I saw several stalls of birds grouped together. The top photo today is of one completely stocked with parakeets... hundreds of them.

Nelloware isn't an uncommon item to see for sale in multiple stalls there, but seeing shops with nothing but that intricately painted ceramic ware isn't as common.