Thursday, March 31, 2011

Making (And Keeping) Friends

Friends can be found where you'd least expect it to happen

If you read many of the other forums, sites and blogs you'll hear story after story from farang who feel they've been taken advantage of when "all they wanted" was friendship or a longer-term relationship, both straight and gay varieties. I've met people who have been able to make these mixed cultural international things work, and many more who had their relationships crash and burn. Today I offer a bit of advice, based on what I've learned from others and through personal experiences.

Before my first trip to Thailand I was a little hesitant to go wandering around alone in a completely strange country where I couldn't speak more than a few words of the language. I also wanted to avoid organized tours and see more of "real" life there, and therein lay the problem.

I knew where I was going months in advance of my trip so I'd gone online and made introductions and offers of friendship to a couple dozen people through a part of Yahoo. Actually, back then there were only a few places I could find to make friends of the "pen pal" variety, as we'd called them back in school; most I could find at the time were more of the hooking-up variety and not of interest to me.

Naturally, some of the people who began with what sounded like a sincere interest in a friendship soon slid into routines familiar to some readers here, and the emails began to roll in: their brother was in an accident, their mother needed an operation, the crop had failed, the family water buffalo had died, they were short on rent for their room, their motorcycle had been stolen - I could go on for another paragraph, but I won't. For the true newbies out there let's just say they wanted money.

I weeded them out as quickly as possible, and almost all of them were never to be heard from again - at least not by me - after I declined to fund their requests. I'm told one of them, now nearly a decade older, posts regularly on a variety of sites, still in search of multiple sources of income from guys who all believe they're "the only one".

However, as the original 15 dwindled down to four it was evident that friendships were growing, so by the time my flight touched down at Don Muang International I had folks I was looking forward to meeting: an IT professional, an office worker, a doctor and a man from a rice farming family who really wanted to get away from farming. Out of respect for these people you won't read recognizable versions of their stories here, but I'll share what I can here over time. Two of the four have remained good friends, and I'm in contact with a host of others there that I've met since.

Now my biggest problem when I'm there is trying to schedule time to see the people I want to see, but that's a happy dilemma, really.

My suggestions for tourists, especially newbies on their first visit to Thailand:

(1) Just make friends, and let it go at that. If more is to come, let it develop slowly over time - meaning a few return visits. As a rule, I've always read and been told that shipboard romances and other whirlwind relationships (or liaison) are better left to drift away on a sea of memories.

(2) If you're truly looking to start an actual relationship, look where people you'd want to be partners with would tend to be. As an oversimplified example, if you don't ever drink alcohol you'd be better off not hanging around some raucous bar looking for a life partner.

More on this topic another time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 15: On The Road Again

Fresh, fragrant daikon radishes, riding North on Highway 2 in Isaan

[This is Part 15 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find parts 1 through 14 by scrolling down the Labels in the right-hand column and clicking on "Isaan Oddysey".]

From Muang Tam we had a longer ride ahead of us (somewhere around 350Km/218 Miles) as there wasn't a stop scheduled between the Buriram area and our destination in Udonthani. My guide Suphot guessed it would take us about six hours, which seemed to be a proper cue for me to nap a bit. It usually generates a bit of an inner debate when I'm traveling since I don't want to miss anything but I'm off-schedule and often a bit sleep-deprived. The nap usually wins.

While I settled back to gaze out my window at the fields passing by Pot stuck a cassette into the tape deck, and bobbed his head while Shania Twain exclaimed "Man... I feel like a woman!"

Once we got onto Highway 2 North, the small farms were soon blending one into the other as we sailed along; Pot paying careful attention to the road and other drivers, and me nodding out every so often - occasionally waking up to see something new, like the truck loaded with daikon radishes, headed for Points North up top today, or the mega-load of string and rope that towered three times the height of the pickup truck it was riding along on.

An overloaded pickup truck sways to and fro ahead of us

"That couldn't possibly be a good idea, could it?" I asked Pot as I shut my camera down after taking a few pictures of the load, swaying back and forth as the wind threatened to simply blow it over. "Why on earth would someone take that kind of risk?" "Gas prices," he replied, pulling into a filling station himself. "The cost of gasoline is high, and they're poor. It costs a lot to make two trips to get that load from Bangkok back into Isaan, so they say their prayers and ride with Fate."

It's certainly no secret that for all the pissing and moaning we in the USA do about gas prices, we don't pay nearly as much as they do in many other countries - and when you take into account the average Thai wage, it's an expensive commodity. VERY roughly calculating, at this week's rates gasoline is $4.00 per gallon in California and $5.00 per gallon in Thailand.

If you you don't disrobe you can play with matches

Common sense applies in most other areas, though. Not only do I very rarely see smoking at the stations there, I've also noted far less cell phone usage that I've gotten used to back home. The translation on the "open flame" warning was entertaining enough to take a picture of, too.

Any time we stopped I went in and bought water, whether I was thirsty or not. That usually goes hand in hand with a restroom stop, so I tend to leave the contents of the last bottle behind and then go in and buy another. This particular stop Pot said he was going to check fluid levels in the pickup, so I took the time to get an iced mocha from the woman at the coffee stand in the parking lot.

More often than not, the coffee you're served in Thailand is instant coffee; Nescafe having a stranglehold on most of the distribution there. In many areas you can find "real" coffee, though, and since I personally despise the business practices of Starbucks I'm always happy to see similar chains and small family places like the one above.

I don't know if there IS a Thai word is for "barista," but I suppose she'd qualify

As is often the case with Mom and Pop type establishments this one had different things for sale in addition to the drinks. I neglected to ask what the stuff was next to the bottles of honey, though - and if anyone can provide an identification it'd be appreciated. It seemed odd to think anyone would bottle wood, unless perhaps it was something aromatic.

Gassed up, drained out and with an iced refill in hand we were ready to pull back onto Highway 2 and what lie ahead.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 14-A: School Kids

The group of boys above were part of one of the school groups visiting Muang Tam (see the posts from yesterday and the day before - part of the Isaan Odyssey series).

Most of us have probably been on what we called "field trips" when I was in school, and it never fails to bring back good memories when I see groups while out and about in Thailand.

I didn't include them yesterday but it was such a bright spot in the morning visit I wanted to share them today - so here they are.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 14: Prasat Muang Tam, Pt 2

[This is Part 14 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find parts 1 through 13 by scrolling down the Labels in the right-hand column and clicking on "Isaan Oddysey".]

Continuing with our stop at Prasat Muang Tam from yesterday: the picture above shows the beautiful water lilies that dotted the four ponds around the central sanctuary. While there's a significance behind the number and placement it was meaningful enough for me just to be there, immersed in the tranquility of the site; I'll let people do their own searches for the meaning behind them. As stated long ago I'm usually not much more than an observer, although I do make an effort to know something about the places I visit, and I suggest that to any traveler.

Here are a couple of HD videos taken that day at Muang Tam that give you a bit of a feel for the place. Apologies for the slight jerky motion, but it's one drawback to the compact recroders (smaller than a pack of cigarettes) - they aren't very forgiving of an unsteady hand.

This clip is the longer of the two and gives you an idea of both how well the site is maintained; and how peaceful it was with just Suphot and myself there some of the time...another reminder to visit sites earlier in the morning. It's decidedly cooler, too!

Next is a shorter clip I took while doing a pan around the courtyard. You can see one batch of the flying insects mentioned yesterday at the very beginning of the clip. The music in the background was just serendipitous and nothing I had anything to do with. I certainly enjoyed hearing it as accompaniment to the drone of the insects as I explored the site, though.

Another view of one of the lily ponds

Morning light is probably my favorite, ahead of late afternoon light.

This interior shot of the central sanctuary is a good representation of the stone used in many of the Khmer-era temple buildings. The foundations, floors and many of the outer perimeter walls were built of laterite, a harder and more stable stone, while the interior walls and portions that were to be finished more finely-surfaced or embellished with decorative carvings were made from the gold and pinkish sandstone.

Whenever possible sandstone was taken from a nearby source or water, such as a river. When it's wet it's easier to cut and carve - becoming harder as it dries and ages. It always amazes me how the window posts were made. Can you imagine carving a cylindrical piece like this from stone by hand, without the benefit of machinery? I can't.

When I'd finally had my fill of this spot I caught up with Pot closer to the entrance and we again loaded ourselves into his truck for the day's drive North to Udonthani. I was anxious to finally get there and see my friend, and excited about the possibilities of what might be seen along the way.

[Coming up in Part 15: Finally... Udonthani.]

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 13: Prasat Muang Tam

The central enclosure that houses the five chedi at Prasat Muang Tam

[This is Part 13 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find parts 1 through 12 by scrolling down the Labels in the right-hand column and clicking on "Isaan Oddysey".]

About five miles (8Km) from the mountain top ruins of Prasat Phanom Rung are the ruins of another Khmer temple: those of Prasat Muang Tam. Also located in the Buriram area, in the Prakhon Chai district these are also worth a stop. Being less popular with travelers you won't find much there other than the ruins themselves, but we didn't see many people, either - and that's a plus in my book. There was a small shop with some historical displays, but not the full array of souvenir stalls.

Admission to these places is next to nothing (around $1US) for farangs and about 10 Baht for Thai people, and if you decide to visit both places in one day I believe I was told your ticket was valid at both places.

Being dry season it wasn't as green and pretty as I suppose it can be at different times of the year, but it was quiet and there really weren't many other visitors, unless you count the thousands of flying insects that were swarming above our heads in a couple of places on the grounds.

Nothing that landed near me (or on me, thankfully) so I couldn't identify what type of insect they were, but if you click on the image to the right and look near the blue arrow you'll see them. That's not dust on the camera lens... it's bugs. My uneducated guess was that they were cicadas, as they certainly were singing their mating calls from the trees around the area.

This site also began as a Hindu temple, again built in the late 10th or early 11th centuries by the Khmer who lived in the area at the time. Almost all of it but the central linga-like chedi have been restored to some degree, and the entire area has been carefully maintained.

It was so peaceful there that I could have wandered around longer than we did. I have a few clips I took there and I'll check them and see what I can get uploaded for part 14. Then we'll close out our visit to Muang Tam and be on our way to Udonthani.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 12: The Next Morning

Dawn in Isaan, looking East from my bedroom windows

[This is Part 12 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find parts 1 through 11 by scrolling down the Labels in the right-hand column and clicking on "Isaan Oddysey".]

I jumped awake in Tong's bed, completely disoriented by a bad dream. For a few moments I couldn't place where I was, and smelling smoke coming in through the open louvers of the jalousie windows I panicked a bit, probably moving faster than I had in months as I looked out the windows on all three sides while trying to determine if the house was burning.

The covered landing just below my room. Note the large slab table

Peeking out of my "penthouse" door I didn't see or hear anyone, and although nothing seemed out of the ordinary I slipped on a pair of shorts and went down the few stairs to the landing below my room to investigate further. To the East the sun was beginning to paint the sky with broad strokes of pink and orange, and to the West last night's just-waning moon was now setting, fat but faded above the horizon.

The setting moon, colored by the light of dawn from the opposite horizon

There were no sounds but those of the countryside at dawn: chickens clucking down in the yard, the syncopated rhythms of roosters setting one another off in the distance, the drawn-out lowing and mooing of cows and cattle, both nearby and farther away.

I padded softly back up to my room and got my camera, bringing it back down to the landing. There I stood and took a number of deep breaths, noting with a smile how the cool morning air drifting over from the trees was infused with the scent of leaves and grasses. It was so peaceful.

Looking to the South from the landing at Tuan Tong's home in Isaan

Fortunately the smoky smell was coming from the open area below the landing I was standing on, where Tong and Pot's mother had begun to cook breakfast for us - and not the supports for the house burning!

Standing there I heard the sound of Tong's motor scooter again coming up his driveway, carrying him in his robe. I suppose that's a luxury of living in the country with family nearby: you can dress casual to go visiting! I didn't ask but I suppose Tong had gone to visit his father who was staying at another brother's house nearby. If you remember from part 1 Pot and Tong's father had been quite sick for some time, and I'd suggested the stop to check on him since we were on a road trip North, anyway. I waved to Tong as he pulled in, and he waved back.

My host, sporting the latest in Casual Isaan Style

I went back inside to shower, dress properly for the day and pack up my belongings. When I was finished I set my bags down on the landing and went looking for Supot to get an idea of what our schedule looked like for the day. He was gone, as was the motor scooter, and I sat in the cool morning shade and read for a while until I heard the scooter again crunching up the gravel driveway, carrying Pot. He'd also gone to visit his father. I asked "Are we OK to go, or do you need to stay here?" "He's all right for now," said Pot, "We'll go ahead as planned."

After breakfast, we loaded things back into the truck and I gathered Suphot, his Mom, Tong and who I'm remembering as a cousin who happened to be visiting together for a quick family snapshot. Staying a night with them had been an unexpected surprise in addition to being an visit I'd enjoyed immensely. I was so grateful for their company and hospitality, and I'll always remember their kindness while I was there.

Tong leaned into the driver's window to talk to Pot for a minute as I waved goodbye to his Mom, and then we were off.

We made a stop at their brother's home nearby so Pot could spend a few more minutes with his Dad, which, it turns out, was time well spent. I'm sorry to say his father passed away in August of last year.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's Bao-Bao's Birthday - The First Anniversary

Today marks the first anniversary of the blog.

On March 22, 2010 I opened a Blogger account, re-sized a photo of the floating markets in Amphawa and made the first post. The photo above is that first image, made a bit larger. Since then there have been close to 900 more, and we've got a lot more to go. I tell friends and family here if they have a problem with insomnia they should come over for a few hours of Thailand photos...

The blog was started because I'd finally gotten disgusted enough with what some like to call the "spirited and lively" atmosphere of some Thailand forums and decided it was time to pull my photos and stories and start the blog, naming it after my online persona. It has its faults, but it's home. One glaring mistake is the use of a Lao-style font instead of a Thai-style one in the title photo, but I'll get around to changing that some day... or not.

Today's post is the 333rd entry, so although there haven't been as many real stories as I'd envisioned there would be we haven't missed seeing each other here one way or another all that many days over the past 365. I hope all and sundry have been entertained on some level; maybe planning to visit Thailand, learning something useful, being inspired to do further research or just sharing a smile - and I personally feel that's really the best part of most social interactions in this life.

To those who have taken the time to comment here on the site or via email: thank you. While some of these posts may look as though they were just thrown together most take time and thought, and that's a commodity I find dwindling on a daily basis. The photos are cropped, re-sized and sometimes adjusted for you, and that takes time, too - so I truly do appreciate the input from everyone. You're a largely quiet bunch, you know; there are now over 7,000 views per month, and I hear from a very small percentage of readers, but that really just makes what I do receive all the more appreciated.

A few questions received deserve a public answer, so let me try to address them here:

1) Why do you put a watermark on the photos?
Because people choose to ignore the simple request to the right in the "Standard Legalese" notice and early on began lifting images and using them on their own (sometimes commercial) sites. The watermark at least slows them down a bit.

2) How do you have time to do this?
The flip answer would be "sometimes I don't", but I'm a writer and have the luxury of working at home, so that helps. Two of the five books I have in progress are about facets of Thailand, so as I mentioned in the first post some of what I've published here will appear in different/expanded form at some point. Past that, I have the same obligations and commitments in life that many of you do, and that leaves precious little time for this, even as entertaining as it is for me to do it - and I may need to cut back to, say, four or five posts per week.

3) What's been the most popular post so far?
The post that's received the most hits in one blast since June of last year was the September 2nd post "The BBQ Boys Of Udonthani", which received nearly 400 views in a single 24 hour period and continues to be popular.

Other posts that have continued to receive an enormous number of hits have been "To Squat Or Not To Squat" (about using a traditional squat toilet), "My Time In A Thailand Prison" (making a charity visit to Nong Palai in the Pattaya area), "Pre-Show Free Show" (street side promo dances for a club, with links to other stories related to gogo boys), "Out In The Rice Paddies" (showing farm work at a friend's home in Isaan) and "Where The Wild Boys Live" (my first visit to a room shared by some gogo dancers).

4) Do you take all of the photos on the blog?
Yes, unless I note otherwise.

5) Where were you for the headline photo behind the blog name? Is there more to that picture?
That's a favorite spot near Udonthani outside of the village a friend lived near. His family is still there - but sadly enough, he's not. The full image is at the end of today's post.

So, that's a year, folks. Thank you for riding along, and as one of my favorite journalists wrote me once: "thank you for reading my stuff".

See you tomorrow.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Day Away

This sunrise welcomed me home after the last Thailand trip

At least 98% of the posts here are written the day they post. I do prepare batches of photos in advance, but that's more for my own convenience than anything else as they take time to crop, re-size, watermark, etc.

I have some unhappy family business to attend to today, and my educated guess is that I'm not going to feel like sitting down and writing something later this afternoon, so I'm going to "give it a miss", as readers in the United Kingdom might say. Apologies to the regular readers. Back tomorrow.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Random Beach Photos For A Rainy Day

It's cold (52F/11C) and rainy here in my part of California, and while that's nothing to what readers are experiencing in, say, Helsinki (25F/-4C) or Stockholm (38F/-3C) today it's been raining for several days and I'm daydreaming of the warm days under an umbrella on the beach in Thailand, such as the one the man was putting up for me in the photo above.

It's in the high 80s there, and there's so much to see from a lazy afternoon's beach perch, such as the jet ski guys below. Add to that a good foot massage, a cool drink and a generous amount of what I call "walking scenery" and you have a recipe for a great day.

I hope you who are already there (or somewhere somewhat similar) appreciate it, and for the rest of you in the rain and snow, you have company: I'm with you!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thai Smiles, Part 30: OK Fine... DON'T Pose!

Schoolgirls talking one morning in Pattaya

Sometimes while I'm out on foot Fate offers me opportunities to take pictures that are what I'd call "slice of life" photos; people going about their everyday lives, unaware that I'm there at all (as it should be, I think). There's a spontaneity to them that a pose rarely captures.

I kind of like these, myself, but they're difficult to catch with a snapshot camera that doesn't focus/take nearly as fast as I'd like. Exposures are left lacking, composition suffers and there's always the issue of the subject or myself moving and leaving the shot blurred. Ah, well... mai pen rai - so it goes.

However, these shots can be some of the most rewarding to someone like me, a part-time voyeur. Perhaps I should be less cavalier about taking people's pictures, but for the most part I still go by the journalist's credo from my college days that says "if they're in a public place, they're fair game." It's not that I don't respect people's right to privacy; if someone declines to have their picture taken I rarely (and I really mean rarely) wait until they're not looking and then take it anyway, but being human I do occasionally - although naturally those never hit the internet.

So, here today - starting with the schoolgirls up top - are a few "candid" shots; pictures that the subjects weren't aware were being taken.

Sabai Hotel employees in Lopburi share something on a cell phone one morning

Three schoolboys laughing at some schoolboy joke before school

A knot of farang on the street in Jomtien

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 11: A Night In A Country Home

The full moon rising over the treetops in rural Isaan

[This is Part 11 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find parts 1 through 10 by scrolling down the Labels in the right-hand column and clicking on "Isaan Oddysey".]

After leaving the corner market it wasn't far at all to the home of Suphot's brother, Tong. We rode along the paved country roads past farms, fields and traditional houses on stilts - many with the resident families now sitting and visiting beneath them as the day drew to a close. I rolled down my window and took deep breaths of the warm, fragrant air as we rolled along; it was rich with the aroma of vegetation and felt good on my face when I leaned my head out.

The sun had sunk below the horizon and the sky was bathed in a deep orange glow that was beginning to dim as we pulled off the road and into Tong's driveway. Another hundred yards brought us to the house, and Pot shut off the motor. Other than the tick-tick-tick sound of the engine as it began to cool off there was complete silence, and opening the door sounded strangely loud as I clambered out of the car and tried (unsuccessfully) to close it quietly. Soon I heard the sound of chickens nearby, scrabbling about in the dirt - and off in the distance there was the unmistakable whine of a motor scooter, but it was peaceful, other than that.

I should point out that where we stayed was not the building you see above, but a very nice three-level home on a large plot of land. The small structure was the temporary residence Tong lived in while he constructed the house - doing quite a bit of the work himself, along with the assistance of some hired help. It's since become just storage.

The sound of the motor scooter grew louder and I could see the headlight cut a swath across the wide, flat field as it approached the driveway and turned in, carrying Tong. He parked the scooter beneath the house in the car port and came to welcome me as I stood there looking around, Pot having already gone inside to say hello to his mom and deliver the food we'd brought. "Welcome to my home," he said, smiling.

It was, to say the least, more than I'd expected. This "country home" was a country mile from the traditional buildings on stilts I'd envisioned; it was a much more finished, Western-style home - but built in the open Thai style. There were three levels of rooms and open areas of social and private space, obviously arranged with a lot of forethought and planning, and views from several vantage points, such as the one below from the open area on the second level...

The area was a bit brown because this was nearing the end of the dry part of the year. I can only imagine how green and lush the area gets during the rainy season.

"You're going to stay in my room," Tong said, picking up one of my bags and heading up the stairs from where I'd just taken the photos for the panorama above. I picked up the suitcase and headed up behind him to the third floor, a bit puzzled. "Your room? Where will you stay?" I asked and he replied "Pot and I will sleep on the floor downstairs," somewhat matter-of-factly. "That doesn't sound fair to me," I began, but he stopped me and said "You're my guest. I'm giving you my room for the night." I thanked him and shut up.

He opened the solid wood door and led me into a large room that could easily have been one in a guest house, as you can see from the photos of the (East) bed side and the hong nam side below. There was even water in the refrigerator - everything but a room safe and a phone to call the front desk. Peeking out of the jalousie windows behind the headboard (stocked with books in English, no less) I could see his barn and livestock area (pictured to the above left).

The East side of the top room. The louvered windows allowed a view and circulation.

Morning sun cast a golden light onto the West side of the "penthouse" room

I set up shop on the small desk and transferred some photos onto my laptop, took a quick shower to freshen up a bit and then went down to the second level, where dinner was being set out on a large wooden table made from a finished slab of tree trunk.

With a gentle breeze keeping us cool we sat and talked and had a leisurely meal while the insects sang in the trees around us. Tong and Pot translated for their mother so she could join in, and we really had a delightful visit.

Pot pulled out his map book to set our course for the next day, and Tong - who owns a home nearer our final destination in Udonthani - made suggestions.

It had been a long day, and I was pretty well wrung out by the time dinner was finished. After all, we'd really covered some ground this day: waking up in Lopburi, a morning spent visiting the monkeys, making merit at Phra Prang Sam Yot and seeing the ruins at Phra Narai Ratchanivet, followed by an afternoon driving up the side of the volcano where we climbed the stairs up to the temple at Phanom Rung, shopped a local market and settled in at Tong's. Seriously... I was done in.

A full moon was rising over the treetops as I said goodnight and went up to my room for the night. I debated whether to lie down for a few minutes and then prepare things for the morning but I realized if I got horizontal it was going to be sleep time, like it or not; so I got undressed, turned on the fan and got into bed, pulling the sheet up over me. I might have been awake for another full minute, but I sincerely doubt it.

[Next up in Part 12: Prasat Muang Tam, and North to Udonthani]

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 10: Corner Market In Isaan

One last look at the upper level of Phanom Rung

[This is Part 10 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find parts 1 through 9 by scrolling down the Labels in the right-hand column and clicking on "Isaan Oddysey".]

Once we were down the side of the volcano and out of Phanom Rung park we headed towards our stopping point for the day: the area where Suphot's family lives, and specifically the home of his brother, Tuan Tong.

Out the passenger window as we headed "home" for the night

As we rolled along the highway I heard more about Suphot's family and his years growing up. While it was all interesting it's really not fodder for a public web site - although I may write about it as my book progresses, if he agrees. His mother currently lives in Tong's house, sort of keeping an eye on things when the master's off at his other home further North. Other family members live nearby.

Concerned we'd be dropping in empty-handed I asked Pot what I was going to be able to take in the way of a gift to his mother, and the options out in the farmlands were slim. "Will we be eating there?" I asked. "Of course," said Pot, "there aren't any restaurants anywhere near there." I suggested we at least take some fruit and other food, seeing as how his mother was going to be put into the position of cooking for a stranger in the house. "We'll stop at the corner market and you can pick out some things," he said.

The sun was low in the sky as we pulled off of the highway onto a smaller country road. I began to look for signs of commercial life, but there were none to be found. Soon I saw what he was referring to: an open-air market on the corner of an intersection of two small roads. It was crowded with locals shopping for produce and other food, and after Pot parked in a small lot across the road we joined the river of folks meandering through the area. I didn't see another farang.

With Pot's input on what we should take (and help translating) I bought the two splayed BBQ chickens in the photo below, some corn from the man sitting in the back of his truck below that and some of those wonderful green-skinned oranges that Pot picked out, along with a few other things.

All of a sudden there was someone calling out to Pot, and I turned to see him being greeted by Tong who'd just come out of the crowd. Pot introduced me, and, as Tong could speak conversational English we exchanged pleasantries. As pleasant as Supot is I wasn't at all surprised that his brother was as personable as he is, and we got along well.

Suphot and his brother Tong in the late afternoon sunlight

While the two brothers caught up on things I went off to people watch and take some photos. Kids are usually a sure smile if I act goofy enough, but the boy below couldn't manage to do much more than stare at the Big Pink Guy who was trying to get him to laugh.

Finally his father picked him up, and that broke his somber look. He giggled when his dad nuzzled him under his chin, and the two of them laughed together as they played. The light wasn't good and I didn't want to use a flash so the image isn't great, but I liked it so I'm including it here.

By this time the sun was setting behind the trees to the West. Tong waved as Pot and I walked back to the truck, both of us carrying bags of food. I was seeing Thailand off the beaten track, and I was a happy boy.

Now we headed home. Pot with an image of it in his mind, me with one in mine. Mine was wrong, as I'd soon see.

[Coming up next in Part 11: A night in a country home - in the "penthouse"]