Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween: Drag Out The Feather Boas

Well, it's a nice try, but no cigar.  Russ, what do we have for our parting contestants this year?

Halloween has long been an opportunity for amaturish impersonations of different characters, styles and looks, and it's no different in Thailand as the holiday works its way into the Thai culture. The "undead" look is always popular there; bloody injuries about the face and head, and deathly, ghoulish fashions are actually more popular there than here, I think.

Unfortunately it's also an occasion for men to dress like women. There are only two way I can appreciate cross-dressing, or "drag" as it's often called: when it's done very well, and when it's done very badly. Anything in-between is often an opportunity for discomfort on someone's part, and that's all the often the audience, cajoled into acting as though it's entertainment while squirming in their seat and hoping someone finds the hook.

Examples of good drag are things like the Calypso cabaret in Bangkok, and more than likely the Alcazar in Pattaya (although I've never been to their show). An example of bad drag is the trio of men in the top photo today.  There will be many others in Thailand tonight - most of them farang nearing or past retirement age.

I took this at the Halloween parade and celebration in Bangkok one year. When I spoke with them afterwards to share the shot and ask permission to post it I could tell they actually thought they looked glamorous. To save the comments, this is in no way intended to ridicule or insult the guys - they were pleasant enough themselves, just mistaken in their thinking. A shame, really, because it was evident that a lot of effort had gone into their costumes and make-up, and they were nice guys.

Nevertheless, Happy Halloween, everyone! Don't indulge in too much candy - of any variety - and be safe.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Quick Flood Update

This won't mean a lot to some of you, but the graphics over a few weeks' time is actually pretty interesting; the flood waters coming down from the north and flowing through Bangkok. A kind soul posted this to a forum I participate in (thanks, Jim).

This is an animated GIF file, so click on the image above and let it load.  The dates shown are (naturally) the image collection dates.

The white area just above the black at the bottom (which is the top of the Gulf of Thailand) is the more heavily developed business and tourist area, as you saw in an earlier post. It's had flooding in a LOT of places, but the damage may not be quite as bad as originally predicted.  Let's hope not.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Health Tip: Tooth Brushes, Oral Care, Etc...

It's Friday, and I'm ready for a break from the week and the awful news coming out of Thailand. There's no doubt some may say "well, that's lame" and click away from this, but for those who haven't traveled much today's post may be a help. I'm willing to take the risk if you are, and it does provide a break from the breathless flood updates that seem to be taking over some Thai-oriented blogs.
Vee doing his "rabid dog" impression... with his own brush, thank you.
Past the age of 40 or so most of us stop getting cavities, and the main reason we lose teeth after that is gum disease of one kind or another.  Ask your dentist the next time you have the tartar scraped off of your teeth - let me know if they tell you anything different.  While it's true you can get health care in Thailand that's as good or better than where you hang your hat most of the time a sore mouth can put a real damper on a holiday.

The good news is that even if you forget your toothbrush while packing, any and all sorts of oral care products are available in Thailand -for less than you'd pay for the same brands back home; even  the ever-present convenience stores carry a variety of brushes, pastes, floss and the likes.

[As a side note, my doctor flies often enough to have a more than generous luggage weight and count allowance, and he likes to stock up on things before leaving Bangkok to bring back home.  He's partial to BigC, I tend to be more of a Tesco/Lotus guy, but either of those will do. Carrefour used to be part of that mix, but they've sold their Thailand stores to the BigC folks. There are packing tips for your trip here, if you're interested.]

Voy with his fashionable faux "braces" and teal elastics
Braces were a fad in Thailand about a decade ago. Honest to God. Real orthodontics that actually do something can cost in the general neighborhood of Bt60,000 in Thailand (about $2,000USD) but those with the disposable income could have faux braces glued onto their teeth that did nothing more than look like you had the money to afford real braces, and I met a couple of people who did just that... one of them is above this paragraph. He'd change the color of the elastics on them to fit his mood or wardrobe. Amazing Thailand!

For those of you who have friends you visit regularly - especially those who have braces or other problematic orthodontic or tooth concerns - consider buying them a power toothbrush at Big C or Tesco there. It's not going to set you back much, and from my experience it's been an appreciated gift. I've been told they're somewhat of a status item, as personal grooming products go.  Go figure.

Getting back to oral health, though: proper brushing and gum care can help prevent infections of various types, and you're likely to be exposed to different things away from home. Those of you who proudly wave the Sex Tourist flag might especially wish to take note of the importance of keeping one's gums healthy and "tight".  Flossing and/or vigorous brushing before hopping into bed with a stranger may be good for the breath, but bad in other ways.

Speaking of rented admirers, be advised that if your lady or gentleman du jour doesn't have a toothbrush (or other toiletries, for that matter) when they go into your hong nam to freshen up after arriving they may well just use yours.  If you're going to have that sort of visitor, be smart and put out a new brush for them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere...More Flooding

To paraphrase Coleridge slightly from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, there's "Water, water everywhere, and nary a drop to drink" - and that's a story that can be told today from multiple districts throughout the Kingdom of Thailand.

Residents in many areas are already being told to boil their tap water before drinking it, as the flood levels around their homes rise inexorably higher. The situation continues to get worse, even as you read this today: the Chao Phraya continues to rise as it snakes its way through Bangkok, and the high tides predicted for this weekend stand to push the limitations of the sand bag levees, even if they DO hold - and they may not.

Nevertheless, the buoyant spirit of the Thai people can be seen in many instances in the media, such as in the clip up top, showing a couple of young men in front of a music store, singing a Bird Thongchai song as their feet dangle into the very water that's making their lives difficult today.

Soldiers wading through flood water while doing rescue work

Rope lines help in stronger currents as the rescue efforts continue

As in most cultures, people there are pulling together and helping each other - for the most part.  Some folks have ignored the warnings and remained in their homes to protect their belongings from looters, but that's also the same in many other countries and cultures.

A baby is handed back to its mother during rescue operations

An older monk carried to safety by a Thai soldier
It's going to get worse before it gets better.  Initial estimates are that the clean-up process could bring things back closer to normal by the end of December, but it's doubtful that such optimism will hold up after such devastation.

If there's anything that's made me smile it's been the photo below.  I have no respect whatsoever for what that clown and his minions have done to the Thai diet, so I was tickled to see him sitting in the (probably) filthy water.  Not a kind thought, I know - but that's how I feel about them.

More on this soon. By the way - none of the photos today are my own. I just picked some from the thousands already posted on the internet.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Making Merit: Morning Monks

Husband and wife making morning merit at a canal in Amphawa
For well over 2,500 years Buddhist monks have made their morning rounds, just as Buddha himself did. Collecting alms is how the monks survive. The tradition is strictly outlined: they're not permitted to ask for donations of any kind, so if nobody gives them food they simply don't eat that day. Fortunately there are enough of us who don't live as good a life as we'd like to so there are usually plenty there trying to clear their slate (or conscience) by providing for them.

In villages, towns and cities throughout Thailand you'll see them on foot (if you're up early enough) but in Amphawa and places with active waterways you'll also see them in their canoes, paddling their way from spot to spot, pulling in to shore when they see someone along the way waiting to make an offering.

Early - and I mean early - one morning my friend knocked on my cabin door to wake me up, reminding me that I'd wanted to make merit at the side of a nearby canal.  "The monks tend to come through early," he said, so up I got, and with nothing more than coffee to hold body and soul together we rode off to two different spots: one the main night market canal and another far more minor local waterway.

While there were shops with bundled items for sale - like the in the photo below - many folks make donations of flowers, fruit, vegetables, home-prepared dishes and, of course, small amounts of money.

Women are not permitted to touch a monk (if they do the monk must undergo a "cleansing" ceremony) so any offerings from females are put into a container that serves as the go-between during the exchange, as in the top photo.

It's a nice way to spend the early morning, and I don't ever get tired of it.  So much nicer than being held captive in a church and having a plate come by, don't you agree?

Along the "night market" canal

I've done this in many parts of the country, so we'll revisit this again - but with the flooding situation there now I've wondered how their morning rounds have been effected.  News photos have shown the monks shoulder to shoulder with everyone else, working around the clock to save one area or another - as you'd expect.  It's certainly a mess there now.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Flooding Throughout Thailand

The areas in blue are already flooded - the red spots are in danger.

This isn't breaking news to many of you - it's old news to some - but it's very much on the minds of those currently dealing with it in many, many parts of Thailand - and those of us who have friends and loved ones there.

The heavy rains that have been coming down for the past few weeks have overwhelmed the drainage systems, the rivers, the levees, the dams and the saturation point of the land itself, and still the rain falls. In a more normal season the water flows down the natural paths; man-made waterways and systems that empty into the rivers which make their gentle way to the Gulf of Thailand and into the South China Sea, eventually ending up in the Indian or Pacific Ocean, depending.

This is not a normal season.

In the top image you can see areas in blue that are flooded. Note the city of Udonthani in the upper right quadrant and you can see how much of Issan is under water, as are many, many of the farming areas surrounding Bangkok, near the gulf coast.  There have been major efforts to protect the business and tourist areas of Bangkok, and millions of sandbags have been placed and re-placed as the waters make their way to the gulf.

Normally I wouldn't post such unpleasant news other than to send a prayer or good wishes to those who are suffering at the moment, but the sheer size of this event is compelling enough to share a couple of the images I've seen online.

The image below gives another view of the path of the water. Note the green "O" I placed in the approximate area you may have stayed in when visiting Bangkok; the Pathum Thani district, home to many of the shopping, club areas and tourist stops.

The flooding was so overwhelming that the government made the choice to allow the water to nearly demolish the areas to the East of Bangkok, and you can see that in the image below, also. There was simply too much to control, and more is on the way.

Estimates are that it will be six to eight weeks before the water has cleared out and the area has been cleaned up again, but that doesn't save the crops - and homes - that will be lost along the way.  If you have friends, family or loved ones there I hope they remain safe and dry... but it's going to be a challenge.

Once again I ask you to join me in holding the good thought for the people of Thailand.  They need it.


As an addendum a few hours later, the Bangkok Post reports that the Governor of Bangkok says high tides for the 27th through the 31st will hamper water flowing from the Chao Phraya river into the gulf.

Today's level was estimated to reach 2.35 meters above mean sea level, and the concern is that it may well reach 2.60 meters.

The walls built along the river to keep it within its banks as it flows through central Bangkok are only 2.50 meters.


Another addendum, Wednesday the 26th: the entire city  of eight to ten million people is expected to flood tonight, to some degree - somewhere between 550 and 600 square miles.  Almost unbelievable.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thai Smiles, Part 40: At The Amphawa Floating Markets

Spring roll vending boat at the Amphawa Floating Market

Welcome back to the Thailand portion of the blog, everyone. Thanks for hanging in there while I was away.

Being back home is always a comfort on one level or another, but there's always a flurry of activity needed shortly after landing back on home turf, when I least feel like it. I'm sure most of you know that anything left undone is still waiting for us when we return. Not that it's any different at home on a daily basis; I've shouted at the dishes in the kitchen sink any number of times in hopes of them washing themselves, but so far that's proved a fool's errand.

Two weeks of mail lay in the basket. Most of it was bills, and some of it needed attention sooner rather than later, but a lot of it was just junk.  Tending to that is never a pleasant task, but it's part and parcel of being able to get away, I suppose, and I try to keep that in mind as I unpack, wash clothes and settle back into the regular routine.  Part of that is crawling into my own bed again, and regardless of where my travels have taken me and no matter how wonderful the trip was I'm always grateful for that.

I received an email from someone asking if we were ever going to get back to the Amphawa stories to wrap up my stay there, and it seems like a good time to do just that.  I'll post about another part of that getaway next, but let's ease back into things with some photos taken at the night market there.

The "Beauty Queen" collects donations with her friends

A girl sells satay sticks in a stall at the Amphawa night market

Dried peanuts, peas and beans - crunchy walk-away snacks

Thursday, October 20, 2011

One Last Sunrise Before Heading Home

Dawn gives a rosy glow to the sky and ocean to the East. The lower Southern slope of Haleakalsa is visible at the middle left, coming down to the water

Haleakala means "the house of the sun" in the Hawaiian language, and the volcanic crater that is one half of the island of Maui is a tourist stop for many. The more adventurous make the 30-mile drive up the side of the volcano from Paia to see the sun rise over the massive crater from 10,000 feet - high enough to have some frost in the Winter months. Nobody packs cold weather clothing when going to Hawaii, so they stand and shiver in the dark as the sky lightens and the sun breaks over the far side of the crater, some wrapped in blankets they've swiped from their hotels and rentals to wrap themselves in.

I did no such thing this trip, having made the two hour drive up the severe switchbacks more than often enough over the years, thank you - so I contented myself with watching dawn from my lanai (balcony) early this morning.

Today will be a travel day; flying back to the mainland with a herd of farang, most weary from running about on their holidays in Hawaii, some sunburned and/or peeling, some still attired in their aloha wear - but very few really ready to leave the islands and head back to their everyday responsibilities, that's fairly certain.

Tomorrow will be a day of digging out from under email (and snail-mail) and I don't expect to be online to post a proper Friday entry, so odds are I'll see you back here on Monday and we'll continue from there.

Thanks for checking in the past couple of weeks. It's been nice to have you along.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Another Tropical Sunset

Another miserable day in paradise...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Surf's Up, Boys - Some Photos

No offense, but there are many other things I'd rather be doing here than composing a post... so here are some pictures I took yesterday.  The North side of the island here has the best exposure for the surf coming in off of the ocean, and as a result has the best spots to watch people of all ages riding the waves.

If the sunlight is right the water turns a beautiful aquamarine or turquoise blue that can be breathtaking when combined with the bright white of the froth caused by air being churned into it.

The surfer's cars line the roads near the vantage point I usually watch from, and they come hurrying along to where the rocky trail leads them down to the water, firmly holding their surf boards under their arms.  With the gusty winds that are almost always blasting away up there they need to keep them from acting as sails that could push them off balance and send them ass over tit down to the bottom, bouncing off of rocks along the way.

The waves in the pictures today are nowhere near competition height, but if you've ever lifted a five gallon/19 liter bucket of water you can understand the power behind a wall of water this size has.  Of course, the wave itself has no way of knowing how delicate the creatures are that attempt to skim along it's crescent face, and it obviously doesn't care.

Most of us are more than content to merely watch the show, or to walk down an easier path to the rocky ledges below and watch the water spraying up in the sunshine there.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Same Same, But Different! Part 9: Some Sugar In My Bowl

Sugar cane in Hawaii - same-same other tropical places
May 30th a year ago there was a post about processing (tao tan) the sap from sugar palms in a smaller roadside  place Southeast of Bangkok. While I was driving back home today here in Hawaii I thought of that story while cruising through thousands of acres of sugar cane and caught myself saying "same same, but different," as if I were hawking something from streetside in the Land of Smiles.

Along about the same time my nose caught the distinctive, almost sickly-sweet smell of recently burned sugar cane, and since there were no billowing clouds of smoke to signal immediate danger from doing so I followed a couple of dirt roads down to take a look-see.  

Lining these red-dirt roads were heaps of sugar cane, partially blackened by the fires that had been set a couple of days before to burn the drying leaves off of the seven- to eight-foot densely-planted fields of leafy stalks that normally sway and undulate like a green sea in the trade winds.  That in and of itself is an impressive sight when you're flying over them.

There's  around 20,000 thousand acres of it harvested in Hawaii each year, down from what seems to have been the high of 140,000 acres in 1940 - most likely because of the high amount of water needed to irrigate it and the environmental fallout, both figurative and literal.  That produces around 200,000 tons of sugar.  The latest figure I could find for Thailand (1996) was 62,000 tons.

Farmers stop watering the cane a few months before they intend to harvest it, and this allows the cane leaves to dry out, making it easier to burn - and burn it does.  If you're anywhere in the area you can see the dense, wide plumes of smoke rising into the sky, taking with it the ashes from the quick, wild burn.

A small amount of cane after a burn
The wind carries and spreads that around, and while it makes for some gorgeous sunsets that particulate matter is just as irritating for the lungs of some folks as the pollution in, say, Bangkok or somewhere in the countryside of Thailand; the sugar and rice fields often being burned off there at the end of the season, too. In addition to the smoke there's also what is sometimes called "black snow" here; bits of black ash that rain down wherever the breezes carry them - sometimes to the other side of the island or further.

The claw! The claw! - egrets watch the loading and look for food

After the cane leaves are burned away, it's bulldozed down into long, heaping rows that are then scooped up with a claw and loaded onto trucks, like the one below.  From there it's taken to a processing plant, where it's ground up and turned into raw sugar, molasses, brown sugar and the snow-white version you're used to seeing.

A loaded truck heads for the plant
A good 40 years ago I was in Mexico for a month and lived in a small town that was kept alive by virtue of a sugar processing factory a few kilometers away from the home I stayed in. When the wind was not in our favor you couldn't get away from the sweet smell of the plant. I'm reminded of that time so often while here in the islands, and it's a nice memory.

A old processing plant in Puunene, Hawaii - still up and running

Monday, October 10, 2011

Checking In From Paradise

Sunrise - while having coffee and waking up
Thanks for the good wishes, folks, but to save answering any more individual (but thoughtful) messages: I'm just staying a while in a favorite spot in Hawaii.  I've always disliked the somewhat snooty tone many people use when they talk about their "Summer home" or "little vacation place" so rather than risk sounding like a snob I didn't even try.  Sorry.

Early morning rain out over Molokini
I hadn't been back "home" here in a couple of years, and I was overdue in catching up on some basic maintenance, as well as some R-and-R time.  As much as I love Thailand, sometimes The Islands beckon - and this time I answered the siren's call.  We'll see if I'm dashed into the rocks, I guess.

Along with the food, the tropical feel to the place, the beaches and the guilty pleasure of being hidden away there's also the huge plus of an enormous Asian and Pacific Islander population.  As I've said before: sometimes you walk past the scenery, and sometimes the scenery walks past you - even at dusk while taking sunset photos...

Here's hoping all is well with you, wherever you are, and thanks again for checking up on me.  I'm fine, and I'll be back closer to my drives of Thailand photos in a short while. Meanwhile, I'll check in with photos from around here.

An egret flew by my table at brunch this morning

Friday, October 7, 2011

On The Beach

From the plane, before landing

This photo shows some of the more than six miles of relatively quiet beach I've been visiting since the late 1970s. It's familiar territory for me, and I probably feel at home because I am home; or at my second home, at least.

I tend to burn easily, so like in Thailand I walk more in the mornings and evenings, and I walk it a LOT. This visit has been no exception, and the rest of the days are spent doing some minor maintenance to the place, reading, visiting old haunts for lunch and doing some minor shopping.

Oh, yes - and often doing as close to nothing as possible. I need to get back to that now. Just thought I'd say hello.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Break Time, Folks

Nice sunset, isn't it? I'm hopefully going to seeing a lot more of them before I fly back to the mainland in a couple of weeks, and while I'm guessing I'll post some while I'm on here on vacation - after all, the blog's a hobby I have fun with, too - it's probably not going to be very regularly.

Face facts... given the choice between posting online or walking out along on this beach in front of my place here, which would you choose?

If you picked being online please seriously consider some sort of counselling!

See you here again soon.