Friday, April 27, 2012

Same Same, But Different! Part 11: Alcohol And Drugs

Still dead to the world from the previous night I managed to wake him. He was grateful for lunch I'd gotten from a nearby cart for him.

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like 'I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive . . .' " - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

That's how the late author's second book begins. When it first appeared as a serialized feature in Rolling Stone Magazine in November of 1971 some of my friends at the time felt as though they'd heard the word of God. "Oh, man... I'm gonna live like that!" they shouted, derailing their real lives to emulate the fiction and all too often ending up in the emergency room, some form of treatment center, jail, the morgue or some combination thereof.

What most of them didn't understand was that although Thompson could be a masterful and entertaining writer and spinner of tales he was also a troubled soul who spent his entire life wrestling with demons unknown and unfaced. He lost that match in February of 2005 when he took one of his beloved Smith and Wessons and shot himself in the head. Again, just my opinion, but the world needlessly lost a talented entertainer that day.

Being young, impulsive and bolstered by the invincibility that leads many of us into such foolishness in our youth I, too, jumped the tracks of rational living and paid the price for it. Not because of Thompson or Rimbaud or any other writer; mainly via peers, and there wasn't much pressure necessary to urge a young man with my psyche at the time to join in on what was passing as "fun" back then.

I'm most thankful that I was able to see past the sham of it all a couple of decades ago and stop putting poisons into myself on an hourly basis. Nowadays I shrug my shoulders and shake my head when I hear or read about people who are most certainly old enough to know better expounding on an addle-headed philosophy that falls somewhere to the left of whoopie.

Note, please, that I'm not judging anyone here; I'm just baffled by the behavior. People who can drink alcohol responsibly in a social setting have my profound respect. I can't, so I don't try any more. Some are in the habit of over-indulging on an occasional basis and without lasting damage to themselves, their lives or the lives of those around them, and I'd say that's fine if that pleases them.

In the lion's share of cases those whose prime raison d'ĂȘtre is to get as drunk as possible in an evening either have a problem or are one themselves, in my admittedly less than humble opinion. People who boast about their intake of recreational drugs earn the same respect from me as those who'd stand on a mailbox and shout that they beat their partner or steal from their families. I suspect that many of you agree.

The folks I feel sorry for are those lost souls who deal with a compulsion to drink or use some form of chemical; meaning to have "an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against one's conscious wishes."  That sort of compulsion.  People drink other than lightly/socially for a cornucopia of reasons, and there's no one label that fits them all.

It's a very real problem in Thailand, too. When it gets bad enough you'll sometimes see them sitting in doorways and along the curbsides of Bangkok "like punchlines between the cars", as Tom Waits put it. If you've spent any time in the country at all you've seen folks there like those in the pictures today.

There are an estimated 17.6 million designated alcoholics in the United States, but I couldn't find any figures for Thailand.  Part of it is cultural - weakness is shameful - and part of it is that there are precious few resources for recovery in the Kingdom.  As for the US figures I doubt that includes the people who don't/can't/won't acknowledge that they have a drinking problem, because their numbers are legion.

If you can drink responsibly, I say more power to you. Have one for me.  If you can't, consider reaching out for some help when you've had enough - and if you're nearing that point you understand what I'm saying.  If this sounds like you and you're in Thailand now, check out the link below.

If you know someone else in Thailand (Thai or not) who is having problems and you know them well enough to be willing to help them, let them know about Alcoholics Anonymous. It does good work in Thailand (and in well over 150 other countries), and by doing so you just might save a life, figuratively or literally.

I couldn't even rouse this couple to offer them food. I left some money under one of her pink slippers.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Telephone Pub And Restaurant - Silom Soi 4

A panorama of four images, from across the soi
[Use the "Translate" menu to the right for Chinese, Spanish, German, Swedish and other languages]

You don't have to be a gay person to have an enjoyable evening of people watching on what I believe to be Silom's most popular side street, Soi 4, but you do need to have more of an accepting nature than some folks can muster.  To my way of thinking a straight person who is able to say "no, thank you" should do just fine.  If you're a deeply closeted gay person who doesn't want to be seen in an area accepted as mixed you may have slightly more of a problem than others, but don't let that keep you away.

A Muslim Thai friend had never been to any gay area in Thailand and asked if I'd take him when I was there a couple of months ago.  He is the one who is living within the constraints of an arranged marriage, and you can read that story here, if you wish. While he was quite nervous about someone he worked with or knew seeing him there he sat there bug-eyed as folks passed by along the street in front of our table at Telephone Pub.  We'd only been there on the terrace for 15 minutes or so when he decided he'd be more comfortable (and perhaps less visible) inside.

Plenty of seating both inside and out

If you are gay you've undoubtedly have your own stories of dealing with it while at the hands of ignorance, prejudice or persecution on one level or another.  Some of us have only had to deal with taunts and name-calling, some of us have suffered far worse. My own story isn't relevant here today, but suffice it so say I tend to avoid situations where I'm liable to be put into an uncomfortable situation when it's at all possible.

The atmosphere on Soi 4 has always been a comfortable one for me.  There are enough bemused straight couples and assorted curious folks who are just exploring the area - or in to eat at Sphinx, a fine spot towards the back end of the soi - that I'd venture to say most anyone could sit out at a table and be bothered by nothing more than the drifting cigarette smoke from someone nearby.

You can't miss the sign from Silom Road

Telephone Pub itself is one of the longer lived places on the soi, having been there about a quarter of a century.  As I understand the story the owner(s) used to be partners with the owner(s) of the Balcony, directly across the soi. Telephone was opened when those folks parted ways.  Balcony is also still quite a going concern, and both have their ardent supporters.

These photos were taken in March, and while they probably belonged in the "Night Photos" series I wanted to mention a little more about the place itself to encourage you to try an evening there or at another of the places along Soi 4.  It's not quite as colorful as Soi Twilight, but it's a good starting point for newbies who aren't as interested in the go-go clubs.

There's more on the Telephone Pub website.

The green dot shows the location

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Another Reminder Of The 2004 Tsunami

A still captured from the trailer clip below

While mortality figures from the December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami were far higher across Indonesia than they were in Thailand (130,736 confirmed deaths in Indonesia vs 5,395 in Thailand) the emotional factor regarding Thailand was far higher for most of you regulars here, and that's perfectly understandable; any personal connection to a disaster that brings a clearer image of people and places we're somehow attached to make the event far more vivid in our mind, and for many of us all the more emotional.

In addition to a couple of tabloid-type video releases that were rushed out shortly after the 26th of December event, HBO and the BBC broadcast a mini-series two years later. "Tsunami: The Aftermath" is still readily available on DVD, and is scheduled to re-broadcast on HBO again this December. My main complaint about the film was that I didn't feel it showed enough of what happened to the native population, but I understand it was aimed at a farang audience. Nevertheless, it triggered the intended emotional response and was reasonably well received.

There's a new feature film currently in post-production that looks as though it may fall into the same rut, although I'm hoping for more. "The Impossible" was filmed in Spain and Thailand, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and starring Ewen McGregor, Geraldine Chaplin and Naomi Watts. This early trailer is in Spanish, but the film will be released in English. You won't have any trouble understanding what's going on:

Many of us repeat visitors to Thailand know (or knew) someone who had ties to the Phuket area during that unfortunate period of time. Some had visited there themselves. One couple I know were most thankful that their business here prevented their annual beach-side holiday there in 2004 or they probably wouldn't be around to tell the tale.

My most personal connection was via an Isaan friend, one of my first contacts in Thailand many years ago. He was working the reception desk graveyard shift at a hotel quite near the shore. Most mornings after he was off work around 08:30 or thereabouts he'd go walk along the beach for an hour or so and visit with friends to unwind before walking up the hill to his room, but he was more tired than usual that morning and skipped his usual stroll. As he sat safely in his room, the water surged in and took the lives of everyone in the reception area and lobby of his hotel. I knew he was in the area, and the wait before I heard from him seemed far longer than it actually was.

 The tsunami in Japan a year ago was just as awful - if not more so, in some ways - but without the personal connection it didn't have the same impact that the 2004 disaster had on me, despite the far more complete coverage of the event. That day in 2004 will stay with me for a long, long time.

 "The Impossible" is scheduled for worldwide release in October.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Beach Road Pattaya - Night Panorama

Looking South along Beach Road, Pattaya

From past visits I knew the Markland Hotel at the North end of Beach Road was a pleasant hotel, and I'd wanted to stay there on this last trip.  Unfortunately they did a remodel that kept it off the market longer than I was comfortable waiting to make a booking for my last trip, so I stayed nearby.

I can't with a clear conscience do an Accommodations post about it, as my references would be pre-remodel.  When I was there a couple of years ago the only complaint I recall having about the place was that the hallways were extremely warm. It would probably have been fair to say hot.

The lobby's been completely re-done, and if they did equal justice to the rooms it's probably a fine place again. Maybe they got the hallways cooled off some, too!

At any rate, one night on my way back to my room after an evening out taking night shots I was near the Markland, so I went in through the lobby and took the glass elevator up to the 25th or 26th floor, whichever the restaurant is on.  From the outside patio I got a handful of interesting shots on a night that was warm and humid enough to give a soft glow to the lights along Beach Road.

I stitched four of them together up top for you today, and I'll do a grouping of night shots again soon to share some of the others from that evening.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Flowers, Part 15: White Flower Day

Foliage & flowers around a fountain atop the Trinity Complex

There are buds, blossoms and blooms to be enjoyed anywhere and everywhere you go in Thailand, even in the most unlikely places. Wherever the wind (or whatever) carries a seed, rhizome or bulb, if there's some sort of earth and water available for it to begin its new life, they'll take hold. Foliage follows, and often blooms after that.

While a larger, carefully tended garden can be both enjoyable and restful I enjoy being pleasantly surprised by the unexpected plant either flourishing as foliage or blooming away on its own in a pot on the sidewalk, tucked away in some sub-soi or doorway or on a window ledge, and you see them everywhere there.

The blooms in the bed of orchids (below) in front of Bangkok Nursing Hospital were so bright white with the sun on them that I had to tone them down to get a proper image for the web.

The "Pincushion" flowers below were in open shade didn't pose the same problem. Bright but indirect light has long been my favorite, since it eliminates the harsh shadows of direct sun that are often the bane of many people's face shots in the daytime.

Next is a small orchid plant that had taken root one way or another along a stairway in a relatively shady area of Nam Tok Phliu park, by a stairway on the way to the falls. It was perhaps 18" tall, total.

...And as long as it seems to have turned into White Flower Monday, here's one more: a spider orchid (Lycoris Amaryllidaceae) I took a snapshot of in the garden in the opening photo. That area is up on the Trinity Tower, next to the Glow Trinity hotel.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Songkran: Time To Dry Off

It was my intent to let Songkran go after the post last Friday's mention, but now that the sometimes seemingly inexhaustible holiday has finally dribbled to a close (so to speak - no offense to any of my older male readers with enlarged prostates) I've found myself once again looking back through photos old and new that sit in the "Holidays" folder; a reminder of both the fun I've missed and the inconvenience and mess I've avoided.

Water scented with rose petals for a traditional blessing

One of these years I'd really like to experience a more traditional Songkran in Thailand; the observance of the new year, the simple water blessings and showing of respect - and the more-or-less innocent water splashing fun, but on a lower key than the mass melee in, say, Pattaya or Chiang Mai.  Especially in Pattaya, where the buckets of fun have unfortunately become a free-for-all; a place where too many amped-up foreigners (and some Thai) have come to think that reckless behavior is acceptable, and people get hurt.

The simple blessing by pouring a bit of rose-scented water over the hands and the playful splashing is still the norm throughout most of the country, I'm told, and that's nice to hear.

They were playing, but a tuk tuk is foolish during Songkran

The part of the festivities I know I wouldn't enjoy would be getting soaked when you didn't WANT to be wet, were carrying something that shouldn't get wet or when your safety was compromised by a sudden deluge. You can, with some preparation, protect yourself: avoid certain areas, seal your valuables, dress to get wet and all that, but still...

Water toys for sale in Pattaya

High-powered water cannons and guns are against the law, but history's proven most any type of prohibition is difficult to enforce, and in a land where the baht talks louder than the law it would seem there's only the slimmest of chances of controlling it.

A graceful face full

So, today I again observed from a safe distance.  These are images I've found on the internet and am passing along to you today as a sort of Songkran round-up.

Elephants helping bathe the humans for a change

If you happen to see an image of yours here that you'd like removed for some reason, please let me know via email and I'll edit the post. Have a good weekend, everyone.

The Bucket Brigade targets a passing truck

At least this guy was wearing a helmet

A strong blast can knock a cyclist off course, or off a cycle

Probably refreshing... up to a point

Looks like a fair fight to me...

These two were caught unarmed

What a holiday for the handlers!

This almost looked more like a Songkran Flash Mob

Sometimes it's truly a madhouse. I wouldn't enjoy this at all.

Empty buckets of paste/powder piled up at the end of it all.  "Finit" for the year.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Accommodation, Part 18: The Dusit Thani, Bangkok

The two wings of the hotel from the edge of Lumphini Park

Most of the posts here about accommodations in Thailand have been of the more economical and middle-range guest houses and hotels, but I do sometimes splurge and allow myself the luxury of a higher priced place.  Not necessarily nicer overall, but better equipped with the accouterments and trained staff to cater to your whims. Let's just say "nicer" in a different way.

I myself tend to enjoy the more casual and simple places so I haven't written about any of the higher priced hotels I've visited yet, but if I'm going to present a balanced selection I suppose I need to - and here's one today.  There are a couple of others I'll post about in the future, but since the Dusit Thani has been bandied about on at least one forum by someone who may or may not ever have set foot in the place it seemed the most appropriate to begin with.

Lumphini Park from my balcony on the 16th floor. You can see the  sign atop the other wing on the right

Practically connected to the Sala Daeng MRT station and less than a five minute stroll via covered elevated walkway to the Sala Daeng BTS station the Dusit Thani is smack dab between what one farang friend there calls "the sacred and the profane", with the lush expanse of Lumphini Park on one side and the nightlife of Patpong and all that it entails on the other.  It's also worth mentioning that if you go diagonally across the intersection from the hotel you'll be on the Red Cross grounds, on which you'll find the snake farm from the June 23rd and 24th posts last year.

Nothing against those who do, but I've never felt the need to stay in a suite any more than I've felt a need to fly first class. Even if I had the disposable income to do so I'd personally choose an additional trip on a less costly basis than to go all out with hotels and air cabin expenses, but again, that's just me.

When I can honestly say I've enjoyed my trip to Thailand on my budget as much as my friend who did things more lavishly - including sitting up in first class and staying at the top of the Le Bua - I have no regrets about my choice whatsoever, albeit a beautiful view from up that high. If you haven't already seen it there's a video clip of that view here.  But back to the Dusit Thani...

On the 16th floor you don't have to worry about leaving the drapes open after dark, and it's a great view.

With over 500 rooms the Dusit Thani has been serving travelers for four decades. Not having stayed there back in the 70s or 80s I can't say how they served their guests then, but they're most gracious and accommodating now. As an example, I'd set down my notes and pen on the reception counter and forgotten them when I turned to head up to the room, and before I'd even finished taking my first room photos * and as my bags were arriving the man from the desk showed up at my door with them.  He was nice enough to stop with another employee for a photo before going back to his station downstairs.

The reception clerk is in the gold jacket. Nice uniform!

At 60sq meters the "Grand" room was far more space than I needed, and although I didn't strew junk around the room too  much in my couple of nights I did find it took a little longer to "check for anything [I] may have left behind," as the stewardesses say near the end of a flight.

The sitting and TV area. The desk was just to my right.

Nevertheless, it was in excellent repair, clean, well stocked and the internet was fast.  The breakfast on offer was of a higher quality than most places, too; both in preparation and variety. They must have a carefully trained kitchen staff.

Lumphini Park is perhaps a 10 minute walk from the lobby, and it would be about the same to the base of the Sala Daeng BTS station.  As far as getting around goes, the location is nearly ideal.

The vanity & tub/shower area. The shaving mirror was handy.

I was sort of on the run and out and about the time I was there so other than breakfast I didn't dine in any of the other spots of the hotel.  They were, as you'd expect, somewhat pricey. The lounge on the top floor had a magnificent view and a wide variety of call liquor and champagne.

Security was observant and attentive, too, but not intrusive.  I didn't try waltzing in with a go-go dancer, but none of my friends were challenged when I met them in the lobby or came through the front doors with them.  Shorts, rubber slippers and tank tops aren't allowed in the nicer dining places, so I suppose bringing in a guest who wasn't "properly" attired might get a comment, but I can't say.

This isn't the most expensive place in Bangkok you could stay in by any means, but it's decent dollar value for the service, the amenities, the wonderful bed, the staff overall and the food.  Add at least a handful of extra points for where it's located, too, naturally.

A room will run you about $150 a night, around $250 a night for a room like the one today, and there are suites for close to $600.  I got a discounted rate - and they do run some specials, too - but it still made me cringe a bit.

[* Since someone asked - I either quickly take room photos for these write-ups before my bags arrive, or after room service has tidied up. Saves you seeing my clutter.]

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thailand Immigration Forms

The Arrival and Departure cards should be available on your inbound flight.  Ask the steward(ess) if  you missed the distribution

An email came in from a newer reader who reminded me about something I'd left out of the post Arriving at Suvarnabhumi International Airport: the Arrival and Departure forms you have to fill out and provide the agent at the counter, both coming and going. Not that he'd had a problem (other than needing a pen, something I always suggest carrying) but he'd had a clumsy time filling it out in line. The comment was that an image would have been nice.

Rather than re-word it, this is what was in the post from February 3 of last year about them...

"One thing to mention, though: you'll probably be given an "arrival/departure" form to fill out on the plane. Do it on the plane and don't expect to be able to do it at the passport desk when your turn comes. You will be directed to a counter some distance away to fill it out and will not be allowed back to the front of the line. I've heard some people try (with raised voices, in a variety of languages) and thankfully the boorish fools were politely but firmly moved along and out of the way of we good children who'd done our homework."

The agent at the Arrivals counter will staple your departure form onto a page of your passport. From stories I've heard it can be a nightmare if you lose it along the way, so take good care to protect it.  The easiest way to do that is to simply leave it in your passport.  One visitor there told me they'd taken theirs out and put it in the safe in their room to keep it safe, and - you're way ahead of me here, aren't you? - they either forgot to lock their safe or it was broken into, one or the other, and the slip was gone.  They missed their flight during the ensuing fun while trying to get home.  At least they still had their passport.

Thanks for catching that, Dennis.  I'd meant to go back and amend that post when I got the form scanned, but instead added another brick on the road to Hell, if it is indeed paved with good intentions.

If anyone has a story about problems entering or exiting Thailand you can either leave a short one in the comments or email me at the address to the right.  I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Travel Tip: Brewing Coffee On The Road

Melitta's light but sturdy cup-top filter cone - about $3.00

Cilio's ceramic for +/- $15
Today's tip isn't any great shakes as tips go, unless you're adamant about having a decent cup of coffee while on the road, wherever that may be in the world.  I myself prefer to have a cup of something actually brewed and not some concoction spit out of a machine or - God help me - one of those little tubes of instant Nescafe that grace the coffee-making area in nearly every hotel I've ever stayed in there.  In lieu of that throughout most of Thailand you get nothing but tea.

Now, if you're staying in a nicer hotel you have a chance of being served a cup of coffee that isn't Nescafe in the dining room, but far too often it's been held too long, held improperly, or both. You know what I mean; you're served a cupful of black fluid better used to ink a stamp pad (for those of you old enough to remember those). You add creamer and it turns gray rather than a lighter brown. Makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it.

Cuissential's collapses
Back in an earlier life in restaurants it was almost always difficult to get a waiter or waitress to understand the Three Commandments of Restaurant Coffee Brewing: #1 Thou shall not leave the grounds above the pot after it is finished brewing, #2 Thou shall not serve coffee that's been sitting on the burner for more than twenty minutes, and #3 Thou shall not "marry" an older pot into a fresher one. The reasons are simple, and here's your bonus tip today: grounds left over the brewed coffee drip the acids into the prepared pot (which sours it), coffee doesn't hold on a hot plate without scorching or going stale, and putting the new coffee into old coffee makes the new coffee the same "age" as the old coffee.  These are all more evident in a restaurant setting where larger pots may sit a while, but you can replicate them at home if you want to try it.

Negativity aside, here's the tip for today: if you're willing to spare a bit of space in your luggage - and assuming you have a hot pot in your room to boil some water, which is usually a given - you can have a fresh, aromatic cup of your favorite coffee from home at any time of the day. It also involves bringing some #2 filters and a sealed bag-in-a-bag of ground coffee (for freshness), but that's hardly any weight at all.  You can buy ground coffee in Thailand, too, but I never have so I'm no help on pricing for you here.

A mug can be bought for less than a dollar if the cups in your room are too small for your taste. I've washed some I've purchased to use and left them with the final tip for housekeeping sometimes, but maybe you want to give yours to someone else or take it home. Up to you.

There are three basic types of filter cone holders available: ceramic, plastic and silicone.  In my opinion the ceramic is more weight than is practical, so I'll skip that one.  The red silicone one above collapses into a flat disc and takes up less space in your bag, but it's also five times as expensive as my favorite, which has long been the black (or red) Melitta cone up top today. It rinses easily, dries out easily, is just flexible enough that it doesn't crack when packed in among your clothes or other junk while being thrown about by baggage handlers, and costs between three and five dollars, tops.

After your initial investment for the filter holder I'm going to estimate your fresh brewed cup of coffee is going to cost you less than 20 cents, even if you prefer Peet's or another fine brand of coffee from home. That's around six baht per cup, and you can have it while sitting in your skivvies.

So if you prefer fresh brewed coffee without having to go out and find it, here's your answer.

[PS - Apologies for the image quality today. I pulled them off the internet as reference.]

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Signs" Of The TImes: TSL, MTSL And ASL

The clip here today was taken at JJ/Chatuchak Weekend Market. By the time I'd gotten my video recorder out, on and started I'd missed most of the conversation, which a cousin (who signs well) tells me seemed to be more or less the woman in blue saying "just get me three or four - and don't be slow about it, I'm not a patient person."  My cousin doesn't know Thai sign language and there are regional differences, as you'd expect. Not what I'd call really fascinating talk, but it was still interesting to see her somewhat exaggerated manner of signing.  I've only seen people sign in Thailand maybe 10 times, total.

Having been acquainted with a few deaf folks over the years I tend to be more aware of people around me that are communicating via signing with their hands than some people are. For some of them it's a necessity, and for others it's another language they've learned to communicate, rather like learning French - and if I watch them a bit I can usually tell if their hearing is compromised or if they're simply talking with someone who can't hear them properly for whatever reason.

It's not foolproof radar, as seen in the post from April 18th of 2010. In that story the deaf man selling pop-up cards along the beach didn't set it off, although perhaps it should have; I'd figured he was having a "blah" day and was simply trudging his way through it. As you can see below, he wasn't exactly an enthusiastic beacon of smiling salesmanship.

If you've read it you know the story had a happy ending. I haven't run into him a third time, but I've seen similar cards in other places in Thailand noted as being made by the hearing impaired and have learned it's a shared craft.

More often than not what you'd encounter here stateside are hearing impaired or deaf people who will hold out a card not much larger than the cards I made up for the Sexy Movie DVD touts.  The cards show small icons that illustrate the letters of the alphabet as used by those who communicate via ASL, or American Sign Language. Sometimes there's an insignificant item attached to it - a miniature candy cane around Christmas, for example - but most of the time it's just the card.  On the reverse is a brief explaination; something along the lines of "Hello. I am deaf and sell this card to make a living. Please donate whatever you feel is fair." You make a donation and receive the card. The card vendors along the beaches of Thailand now carry a larger version that alert you that they're hearing impaired, and I think that's a great idea.  Wish I'd have thought of it for them.

Skeptics have commented "Oh, you fell for the line about them really being deaf, did you?", and it's possible we do sometimes.  I suppose if you set off a firecracker next to your beach chair after they'd turned away you might make one of them jump and give themselves away, but my guess is most of the reaction would be from the aging farang around you as their pacemakers kicked in.

Thai Sign Language alphabet card - 49 vs the 26 for English

The TSL (Thai Sign Language) alphabet card is above. The most reliable info I can find on it is that TSL was an extension of ASL (American Sign Language) brought to Thailand in the 1950s, but there are suggestions it's more reliably rooted in the Old Chiang Mai Sign Language and Old Bangkok Sign Language which were already in place.

A dear friend from an old relationship said he and his best friend in high school learned to sign so they could talk in class.  Since he went into social work it's continued to be an asset to him while dealing with hearing-impaired clients.  I was at a gay workshop at a convention many years ago where there was a person doing ASL signing for the deaf attendees and afterwards I heard someone asking him how to say "I'm a grower, not a shower", which naturally got a laugh from all of us within earshot.

If you're interested in learning more about signing in Thailand there's an interesting and rather extensive web site about it here: Thai Disabilities Development Foundation. There you'll find the cards above and below and a number of other vocabulary help, as well as other resources.

For now, though, just be grateful if you can hear well.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Happy Songkran

We TOLD you not to park your motocy there...

Rather like the motocy above I'm somewhat buried under things on my "To Do" list today, which unfortunately doesn't allow me the luxury of time to put together a proper post.  If I can manage it there will be something else this weekend... if not, I'll see you back here on Monday.

HOWEVER... it is Songkran, a traditional festival in Thailand. Once a charming religious / family tradition it's mutated into a huge yearly fiasco in some areas. There's a truckload of info on the web about it, so I won't go into detail other than to suggest staying away from the larger tourist areas unless you're dressed to be drenched. I'd also suggest carrying your passport and anything you don't want soaking wet in a zip-lock baggie. Ask at a pharmacy for an appropriate sized one if you don't have one handy otherwise. (By the way, it still is a charming tradition in most parts of the country.)

The photo below is not from Thailand, as far as I know, but it's definitely an example of something likely to happen in a wilder area of Thailand during Songkran. Should memory serve I received it in an email six or seven years ago, and it's been in a folder of favorites since then.

Happy Songkran, everyone.

I wish there had been another shot, say, 15 seconds later...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Howling At The Moon - I Mean BELL

To my way of thinking, the biggest problem with most any organized religion is the organization itself. Anything that gives an individual comfort and peace of mind is fine with me, but when a group begins proselytizing, I cringe... sometimes noticeably.

Therefore, I gave the Catholic church in Chanthaburi a wide berth, to the surprise of my Thai friend. We were on our way for a wander through the old part of the town and walked near the place on our way. Even knowing I'm not a participant in any Christian religion he thought I'd want to see the stained glass windows that he said were very nice. I may have missed out on an opportunity, but I passed on the offer.

We spoke briefly about it, sharing our views on one religion coming in and trying to take over an area where they didn't really need to be, and were agreeing on most points as the bell began to ring in the bell tower, announcing the mid-day services or whatever. I was just saying "Well, I don't care for it," when a dog along the way looked up at the church and started to howl.

"Maybe he's Buddhist," my friend offered, and we laughed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Health Tip: The A-B-Cs Of Hepatitis

This is the Hepatitis C virus, not Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

First of all, let me state (again) that I'm neither a doctor nor a medical expert on anything other than on a personal level, and I also believe strongly that we're all responsible for doing the research and legwork to protect ourselves when whenever possible. What I'm posting here is what I've learned from sources I feel are reliable for me, and I urge you yourselves to do some cursory investigating on the subject at the very least. In this case knowledge truly is power.

This is a portion of Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

When traveling to any third world country (and many would agree that on a good day most of Thailand qualifies as such) there's a possibility you may unwittingly be exposed to some unpleasant diseases. If you're one who ventures out into the less tamed parts of the city or country that possibility factor increases more.  If you're having unprotected intimate contact or sharing bodily fluids with someone (say, oh, I don't know... a Rented Admirer, maybe) the factor skyrockets.

Leave the usual STDs out of the mix today, and let's look at something you might not think of unless you've done some homework; something you can catch by eating or drinking regular things: Hepatitis.  There are five or more types, but we'll stick with the most common three - A, B & C - and while there's some protection available for A and B there's no prophylaxis for C, and not much care available for ANY of them, to my knowledge.  You'll more than likely fight off type A in a couple of months, but B and C wreak havoc and are deadly more often.

The less troublesome of the three types of hepatitis is "A", something many of us are exposed to as children (when it doesn't cause nearly as much of a problem), don't show severe symptoms from and naturally develop antibodies against, giving us protection later in life. A simple test to see if you've created the antibodies can indicate whether inoculation is called for. If it is, it's a simple matter of three shots over six months or so.  Easy. The Thai used to have far higher rates of infection of type A, but other than the border regions - say near the Myanmar border, where the rate of those exposed is in the high 90th percentile - education and better hygienic practices have helped throughout Thailand.

Tattoo art by... who knows?
Hepatitis-B is a little more difficult for your body to deal with, but since 1982 there has been a vaccine that's 90% effective in preventing infection. The Bangkok Post reported last July that 1 in 20 Thai are infected with "B", and that it's far easier to transmit than HIV, the virus that usually leads to AIDS. Type B can become chronic if untreated. It often leads to liver failure and increases your chance of liver cancer by 100 to 700%.  If you plan to venture into the countryside of any third world country it's wise to check into immunization for it.  They're not cheap, but it's your life you're protecting here.

Hepatitis-B can easily be transmitted through bodily fluids (think semen and vaginal secretions) and through blood.  My guess is that most of you aren't sharing needles with someone, but some of you do get tattoos while in the Land of Smiles.  Goodness knows there are any number of shops in tourist areas offering to do the work for you, and regardless of how clean any shop is reputed to be you're flying on faith.  Don't forget the "inked" person you're bedding down with there might not have been quite as careful who did their tattoo, carries it in their system and guess what?

Oh.  OK. You guessed.

One of the easiest ways BOTH Hepatitis- A and B are transmitted on a wider range is food and water contaminated in one way or another by fecal matter. Unwashed hands or unclean water are usually the culprit. You can wash your hands thoroughly after using the hong nam when you're out and about in Thailand, but you have to find soap first, and that's sometimes not easy.  It's the same for the locals - just harder to find the correct tools.

Those of you who will line the streets for the wild festivities of Songkran in another week might keep in mind that the water being thrown, sprayed and shot at you may have come from whatever nearby canal was handy.  It's a safe bet it wasn't bottled water, that's for sure.

By the way - this is NOT intended to be a panic report - just a reality check. Leave other travel out of it - I've spent at least eight months wandering around Thailand over the last decade or so, and while I'm more adventurous than most of you would be (I'm just guessing here) I haven't caught anything more exotic than a number of cases of diarrhea - knock on wood - but it's just common sense if you're thinking of really experiencing Thailand (or Mexico, or Vietnam, or Laos, or...) that you take the precautions and don't bring any biological souvenirs home with you.

See your doctor, call your county or government health department, make the appointment well in advance and let them tell you what's recommended for you... then follow through on it.  It's worth the time.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Oh, And By The Way... A Few More

A boy with a pet Sugar Glider sat on the rocks near the falls. Note the info and link in the comments below.

The afternoon I invested in the area around the waterfall at Nam Tok Phliu National Park afforded me quite a variety of photo opportunities, and while some were easy to group together (i.e. the smile pictures) some didn't look as though they were going to fit comfortably in any folder.

Since yesterday's post seemed to already be long enough I left some of the prepared images out of the mix, but I'd like to share a few more of them with you today.  I'll come back to them again some time in the future.

The lower part of the falls drop into the largest swimming pond

A couple of visiting monks watch the fish watching for food

I saw several of these lizards during my afternoon in the park

My friend said the squirrel guy from up top was ready to leave, but his friends were still playing with the fish. He was tired of waiting.