Saturday, July 28, 2012

Meat Market Maui & The Puunene Factory

Cane - with the leaves burned off - waits to be processed

Still on Maui, and revisiting a spot I enjoy wandering around - the old school and sugar mill along the isthmus of the island which ties the two mountains together and provides a lot of flat ground for growing.

A friend of mine grew up next to what was then the Alexander and Baldwin sugar processing plant in Puunene, attending school in the buildings on the same plot of land. I'm guessing she'll be pleased to see these pictures, since it's usually Old Home Week for her when I send other shots to her.  Here you go, Rhonda.

Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company (now owned by Alexander and Baldwin) processing plant - exhaust stacks

The plant is at 20°52′3″N 156°27′16″W if you're of a mind to check it out at those coordinates with Google maps or another service.  It's just a handful of miles outside of Kahului, and quite near the airport.  Odds are good if you've arrived here by plane you saw the place from your plane on your final approach. I came in once on a cruise ship and saw it from a different angle.

Today, the town of Puunene itself isn't much more than the plant, the school, a post office, a Sugar Museum, a very fine used book store (the Maui Friends of the Library) and enough residents to claim a population of 50, give or take a few. Nevertheless, if the weather cooperates it's a comfortable spot to walk around and take pictures, as I've done a few times.

Cane burning -  a regular
In an earlier post from last October you may remember pictures of gathering the cane after the leaves are burned off in controlled burns; enormous towers of smoke rising as high as the usually strong wind currents across the isthmus will allow, carrying black cinders up to an inch or so into the sky.

Naturally, what goes up must eventually come down, and it's usually visited on everything in the form of what people here call "snow'.

You see it on the ground, your lanai, your car and even on the ocean, where it can wash up onto the sand, leaving what look like black dotted lines where it comes to rest.

The old school was built in the early 1920s by the company that ran the processing plant. Its usefulness was waning a few decades later, and now the two-story building houses some of the department of education's administrative employees.  Nevertheless, the buildings have been respectfully maintained externally; held together by memories, if nothing else.

What I'm told was the boy's lavatory now houses the used bookstore. There's probably a joke in there somewhere, but I've given in to a case of Polynesian Paralysis and don't feel like conjuring up enough energy to make one.  Use your imaginations.

Trees on the grounds, the unused Congregational church behind

So what about the meat market? Oh, I see what you thought I meant by that title today. Actually, the meat market on the grounds is truly a meat market. Built in 1922, closed after the demand moved away. Perhaps my friend will leave a comment or let me know when it finally closed its doors. I've long admired the building, though, so I'm sharing a panorama of it today.

If you want an 2012 Olympics tie-in, the canals that bring in almost all of the water used in the growing of the cane were also practice lanes for some Olympic hopefuls, including two-time gold medalist Bill Smith, now a resident of Oahu. In an 2007 interview Smith said "A lot of my training was in the ditch," and it's not difficult to understand why, when you see them.

One of several buildings now vacant and unused.

As the sands of time wear away at this once-lively community of Filipinos, Portuguese, Japanese and Puerto Ricans the spirits of the place remain for anyone who cares to come and visit them. While there are plenty of places to go on Maui already it's a visit I'd recommend - if you're on the Island and have enough time.

Don't neglect the rich history available at the Sugar Museum there, either.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bon Dancing At Hongwanji Mission

Maui Taiko did the drum accompaniment for a half-dozen numbers

Still on Maui - here's a post card, of sorts.

The annual traditional Buddhist O-bon festival is called the gathering of joy by the Jodo Shinshu Buddhists on Maui. It's a time of remembrance for those who have passed on to [insert dogma of your choice here], as well as a time of self-reflection; an important Buddhist practice.

People dance in circles around a central tower for hours to traditional dance moves that sometimes tell a story, sometimes are just to keep a rhythm. Anyone can join in; knowing the steps or wearing a kimono or some other traditional garb isn't required at all.

Another available light picture of the dance circles

There are usually a variety of local dishes for sale as a fundraiser for the mission, and always an area for games. The temple itself is also open for those wishing to sit and meditate, make merit or think of those they are there to honor. Below is one clip of the dancers in action:

I've seen quite a few of these festivals and one thing that seems to be a constant (at least on the islands I've been to) is the tradition of including the 1972 pop song "Beautiful Sunday", first half in Japanese, second half in English. I don't know who did this version, sorry to say. Not that I'd buy it, but it'd be interesting to know. It makes me laugh every time I hear it played at a bon dance. A clip of it is below.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

MCHCA Championships at Ka Lae Pohaku, Maui

Today is the MCHCA (The Maui County Hawaiian Canoe Association) Championships at Ka Lae Pohaku, along the beaches a little West of Kihei. Hosted by the Kihei Canoe Club, it's a full eight hours of races with other teams in the league. 

Whenever I stay with family in one of their condos near Kihei I hear the "hut...hut...hut" of the caller right about dawn each morning, and added to the dove and myna's songs it's kind of a gentle wake-up call. 

I'm posting this while I'm having half a papaya and some dark bread toast before going back out onto my perch to watch more of the races.  I can hear the rising roar of the spectators as each race comes to an end, and I'm nowhere near tired of watching them.

Just thought it would be polite to check in.  I'll do so again soon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Hana Highway, Maui

The 42 miles from mile marker "0" to the town on Hana on the East end of Maui have (depending on who you ask; I've never counted them, myself) somewhere between 600 - 650 twists and turns that take you through a lush, tropical forest and over 50-some-odd single-lane bridges.  It makes getting there a bit of a challenge, but there's really no reason to rush, anyway. 98% of folks get there by coming through Kahului and the little (now) faux-hippie town of Paia.

Past what used to be the sleepy little town itself you get to an even more challenging stretch of road that takes you around the Southern end. Doing so can void a rental car agreement, but what's a holiday without a little adventure?

One of many rewards of making the journey (even if only to Hana and back the way you came in) are the waterfalls.  It gets so much rain that during some parts of the year it seems there's one at every bend of the road.

This is one I saw yesterday afternoon.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Aloha 'Oe - It's Break Time

From a relative's patio last Fall - a view I plan to see again

For the next few weeks I'll again be in a tropical locale similar to Thailand, but this time about 6,000 air miles closer for me than the Land of Smiles: Hawaii.

Family have places there on a few islands, so it's sort of like home - although the mainland is (so far) where I spend the most time.

Like I've done in the past I'll make posts as time allows, but this is actually a planned break from normal life for me and I don't expect to be online and posting regularly.

Until then, pop in whenever you like - maybe there'll be something new posted from there, maybe not.  Perhaps look back over some posts from the past couple of years you may have missed, or re-visit a topic that interests you via the label roster to the right.

I'll still be monitoring comments and email sporadically, so feel free to check in if you wish.

If all goes as planned I'll be back to regular posts by Monday, August 6th. See you then!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Pathumthani Prison "Chain Gang" At Work

Yesterday you saw a crew of trustees from Pathumthani Prison while they were doing some drain cleaning work on the streets of Bangkok. Here today, as promised, are the video clips and follow-up photos of what the guys were actually doing.

No arguments from here - this isn't the most scenic post I've ever done, by far; but as most boys of assorted ages will do I'll stop and watch construction sites, carpentry work, cement pouring and, yes, even drain cleanings.  If nothing else, it makes me thankful I've never had to do such labor-intensive work myself.

Depending on where you are in Bangkok, Pathumthani (or Pathum Thani) is about 46Km/28Mi away. No real reason to include that, I suppose, unless you know someone being held there or are intending to commit a crime that might land you there yourself and you want to let folks know where you'll be spending your extended holidays.  Bad joke, there; having seen a bit of the insides of a Thai prison it's probably not something anyone should be joking about.

If you're heading North to visit the lovely Summer palace at Bang Pa-in (built by King Prasat Thong in the early 1600s, restored by King Rama IV in the mid-1800s) you drive through the general area, though. Just a thought, but a bit off-topic, sorry.

The one with the Halloween mask in the center seemed to be the Alpha Dog, directing the others.  His mask alternated between usage as sun and splatter protection. You'll see below that it wasn't always effective.

The work entailed the crew threading a thin rope attached to a much heavier one from one drain opening to the next at some point, pulling a cylindrical bucket through the line from one point to the next and then lifting the bucket of muck up through the opening and dumping it into one of dozens of large light blue bins to be hauled away.

The thin rope went through first, followed by the heavier one, which then held the bucket.

This meant opening each grate or cover and then replacing it afterwards. Some of them were quite firmly set in place, either by crud settled into the perimeters or by shifting of the surroundings, etc. That involved a more united effort of a different sort to pry them up. At one point they had six of them working on the ones below to break them free.

Lifting sidewalk grates with picks and crowbars is heavy duty

Pulling the bucket through the drain

Once the rope was ready to be pulled through a call went out to the lead man on what looked like a one-sided tug-of-war, and he began his call to heave ho to the guys to begin pulling:

When the bucket full of gunk reached the next opening, it was hooked and lifted up so a length of pipe could be put in place to hold it near street level, and guys would then lift it out and dump the contents into the blue bin.

For those who don't have the bandwith/time/patience to see the clips I'm including still photographs today, also.

Lifting the full bucket to sidewalk level...

... and emptying it for removal and disposal

Most of the time it all seemed to go smoothly.  The crew wasn't being hounded to move faster or work harder; it was obvious it was hot, heavy, risky work already.  I did see things stop for a couple of minutes while one of the guys who was knocked in the brow got a bandage put over his eye, and another time when the Masked Man had a large dollop of skunk water splash up and get into his eye.  I had a packet of hong nam tissues (just in case) and let him pull a couple from the pack.  He thanked me and wiped his face, while a co-worker looked up and giggled at his friend's misfortune.

Another usage of the phrase "here's mud in your eye"

As a bystander it was an entertaining 20 minutes or so. As a worker on this roped version of a chain gang it must have been a long, difficult day... but at least they were out and off of the prison grounds for the day. I hope their rate of recidivism is low, because the ones I had (admittedly very little) contact with seemed to be friendly enough guys.  Perhaps theirs were more "white collar" crimes, I don't know.  I wish them luck.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fraternize With The Prisoners? Go Right Ahead.

Walking back to my room from a 7-Eleven a few months ago I heard what sounded like short bursts of rhythmic chanting on the streets of Bangkok.  Supposing at the time that it might have been another group of students or kids doing some form of fundraising I made a slight detour and went over to where I could see them better. There weren't any signs, balloons or anything like what the Pantip cheerleaders were using, so I was still a little puzzled until I could actually see them and saw that they were hard at work.

Now, we've covered the concept of sanuk before; the Thai philosophy that if there isn't some fun to be found in doing something it isn't worth doing, and how camaraderie can pull people together in even more trying times, but this was a Gold Star example of thamngan sanuk (finding enjoyment in your work), so I thought it worth sharing with you.

It felt a little too warm to me to be wearing the garb they had on, but I figured it was a case of a) being acclimatized and/or b) protecting themselves from the harsh rays of the noonday sun. I'd guess the group was about 20 in all.

They were doing an unpleasant and difficult job - cleaning the muck out of the storm drains below the sidewalk, and doing it essentially by hand; dragging a bucket on a rope along multiple long lengths of pipe.  The "chanting" I thought I'd heard was their call-and-response while they did the heave ho, led by one of their own, sounding a little like a coxswain on a rowing team's boat.

It looked to be pretty demanding work in the heat and traffic-fueled smoggy air, even though there were breaks of several minutes between each length of pipe cleared. Nevertheless, they smiled and joked before, during and after; cheering or jeering the others pulling along with them.

I finished off a bottle of water while I walked along the sidewalk beside the work party, pantomiming taking pictures with them and taking them with the camera when they gave me an "OK" sign of one form or another.

As they worked their way past a cart where the vendor squeezes oranges to fill small plastic bottles of juice to sell I bought about 12 of them and took them over to the group of guys when they next sat down to rest between sessions.  They were surprised, but pleased. The bottles began to go quickly.

It was then that I noticed a man in a nicely pressed uniform walking towards me, with a patch sewn on the chest of it.  Most of the wording was in Thai, but there was one word in English: PRISON. Concerned that I'd perhaps overstepped a boundary my mind scrambled hurriedly for an explanation as he approached, but he smiled and reached out for one of the bottles of juice, I gave him one, and my heartbeat returned to normal.

I nodded towards the workers and asked him a one word question - "Prisoners?" - and he nodded, popping the top off of the juice and taking a long pull off of the bottle, downing half of it. These were trustees, he said, allowed out on work detail because they were deemed to be inmates with a low flight risk, but I wondered what they got in exchange for what was essentially slave labor other than being out of the prison for a while.  I didn't think to ask him that, so I still don't have an answer.

While a few of them gathered up the ropes, buckets and tools to load into a cart one would pull off down the street I motioned for the guys who'd by now finished their juice to gather together for a group shot.  That's the photo below.  More tomorrow on the actual work they were doing - and some video clips.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On Being A Tourist: It's Up To You...

Hand-crafted detail at the Grand Palace, Bangkok

In my admittedly less than humble opinion, a substantial part of traveling is being able to be a tourist; which we all are, unless we've moved to a different country. While being a visitor can have its drawbacks, it also has its good points: we tend to be waited on more than at home, we often get to take things easier than our lives would normally allow, we're gifted with that sense of surprise when first seeing new things, try new foods and we're allowed to have new experiences.

I've been taken to task for writing about tourist spots in Thailand, but it's my fervent hope that I never become so jaded that I can't appreciate those very places on one level or another. If I ever do reach that unfortunate point where I'm not able to enjoy something different than I'd see here in the USA - regardless of how pointless and tacky others might think it is - I hope I have the presence of mind to stop, stay home and not be a bitch about it; i.e. people who find fault with anything they didn't come up with themselves.

If you'd rather skip the local fare you can eat much the same processed foods available back home. Personally, I'd rather skip a meal than eat with this apostate of hell, but that's just me.

There are more reasons to visit Thailand than there are fingers and toes on the normal person. Some travel to Thailand for the different cultural experiences available, some for the food, some for the temples, some for the shopping, some to visit the most touristy spots imaginable and some for the ubiquitous plastic chairs and the body part that usually rests upon them.  No penalty should be accrued for any of these people, and I am neither judge nor jury.  If you go to serve time as a monk or attempt to satiate yourself as a sex tourist it's all the same to me.  Go, do the best you can to be a good person overall, and be in peace. 

Of course, I'd suggest trying to reach some happy balance in your mix, but it's entirely up to you. After all, it is your holiday.  It may be merely a flashback but something Jack Nicholson's character said regarding a cheeseburger in the movie "Last Detail" often comes to mind when thinking of things such as this: "Have it the way you want it, Meadows - you're paying for it."

Touristy? Absolutely. An interesting place? Of course. Do you see many crocodiles in your area?

I've been to the Grand Palace more than a few times. My first visit was on my first trip to the Land of Smiles, and all of the others have been accompanying people I know who are there to experience it for the first time themselves.  While I don't have the feeling of awe I did when I first wandered through this magnificent display of detailed art, history, faith, respect, craftsmanship, and yes, affection for leaders present and past, I still enjoy each visit, because there's so much to see that bears closer inspection.

A portion of the old city of Ayutthaya from an early trip, but I've been there since. I still haven't explored all of it.

So, if you want to take tuk-tuk after tuk-tuk to be paraded through suit stores and jewelry shops, be my guest.  If your idea of a holiday is to stay out most nights partying and sleeping through the days, fine. If you're buying furniture to ship home, visiting as many wats as possible, taking cooking classes, stocking up on knock-off items at streetside stalls, or just spending every day under an umbrella on the beach - great. 

Give some thought to trying some new things, but just enjoy yourself - and try not to judge others who are of a different mindset than you.  It's what makes the world go around, folks.

Happy trails! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A "Healthy Hotel" Reminder

Repeating an image from the Smiles series, as I don't have all that many photos of the housekeeping staff with their carts. Ah, well.

A study was done recently which claimed that the most unsanitary thing in a hotel room was... no, nothing in the bathroom, but the light switch on the bedside lamp; followed a close second by the remote control for the TV. Why the telephone keypad and handset didn't land high on that list I'll never understand. Apparently they just picked random items to test and stuck with those.

Two years ago in the Staying Healthy In Hotels post I'd shared the suggestion of taking a small baggie with maybe a dozen folded up santitizing wipes in it, such as the ones shown here. 

As I mentioned in the post, I wipe a few things down shortly after I've loaded into the room (and gotten rid of the bedspread - something often "soiled" but very rarely washed, if ever). One of the things I wipe off is the TV remote control, but I also do other commonly touched things and surfaces. Switches, drawer pulls and door handles, especially the bathroom ones. 

Despite how it may sound I'm truly not OCD about this, but it takes less than five minutes total for a little piece of mind. Who wants to get sick on vacation?

While the findings of some folks at the University of Houston haven't undergone "peer review" they made some unsettling observations concerning both bacteria in general and separately for coliform (fecal) bacteria. Levels they found were between 2 and 10 times higher than those considered safe in a hospital setting.

Not surprisingly, the dirtiest item of all was the cleaning mop that housekeeping drags from room to room, bathroom to bathroom.  The cleaning sponges and cloths would fit in with these, too, I'd suppose. Here's the list from the study I read first:

Dirtiest hotel items
1) Cleaning mops
2) Light switches
3) TV remote controls
4) Toilet seats 
5) Bathroom sinks
6) Bed headboards
7) Curtain rods
8) Bathroom door handles

Now, I don't wipe down the bathroom, but I don't lick the counter, either. Number 8 - bathroom handles - surprised me: last year when I posted about the Norovirus aboard a cruise ship it was pretty obvious that many people don't wash their hands after using the toilet. They had a young man stationed outside the open-door entrance/exit who could see the sinks. 

Most who spoke on the topic agreed that improvements in housekeeping could make significant cuts to the bacterial counts, but odds are against that happening. It's another case of "up to you" if you want to do anything about it yourself.

So often it seems stomach problems are blamed on the local food or water - and that can certainly be the case, sometimes - but I'd say there are plenty of cases where the victim has touched some contaminated item and gotten it into themselves that way.  Again - no point in being obsessive about it, but taking some steps to remain healthy while traveling is wise, I think.

Those who wish to read the CNN story I thought fairly complete can see it here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Jomtien Beach Breakfast

Breakfast off to a fine start at The Bondi, Jomtien

If you want to help someone start building a resentment towards you, I can't think of a much better way than to mess with their breakfast. People can be testy other parts of the day, too, but mornings are often the worst. Someone I know well had a number of years in the restaurant business; primarily places that did a brisk business during the morning hours, meaning real-time and people's fiscal "mornings".

I've been told that no matter how you attempt to serve eggs as ordered you're liable to be called down for not preparing them "properly" - meaning as the customer does at home.  You're likely to hear similar comments for bacon (cooked but pliable vs crispy), toast (light vs dark and/or hot vs cool) and, indeed, coffee (weaker vs stronger). While there's really no pleasing some people it's really more on the traveler, I'd say: going with the flow while in another country is often the easier, softer way. Like we've covered a number of times here, losing it with a Thai person puts you in the loser's spot, minus some points from your "face" tally.  I've also heard reliable stories of what can happen to food that's sent back and then returned to your table. Enough on that, though.

That said, I delight in a well-prepared and -stocked buffet or breakfast place, and the ambiance buys a place a lot of slack with me. Put me at a walkway-side table at The Bondi with a view of the beach and start me off with something like that pictured up top and I figure they could serve me a mediocre meal and I'd still be pleased, but maybe that's just me.  

Just so no one gets the wrong idea, I have always enjoyed the breakfasts I've had at The Bondi. The beverages above were put in front of me one morning while I perused the news, not really caring what was going on anywhere but in this restful spot. From there it's just steps to the sand.

Just a minute's walk from there is Tui's place, which has already been covered here.  It also has a delightful view, good food and good service. If you're staying in Jomtien Complex you'd do well having breakfast at the Poseidon.  I haven't eaten there for a year or so, though, and things can change. They used to have a buffet breakfast - not sure if it's there now.

For you more seasoned visitors: do you have any places in the Jomtien beach area you enjoy? We'll cover others in Pattaya proper another time, but while I was daydreaming and having my coffee (perfectly prepared, naturally - ha!) I thought of the cool morning breeze of the quiet beach and thought I'd bring the subject up.

Please leave a comment or send me an email (under The Standard Legalese in the right-hand column) if there's someplace you'd like to recommend.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Flowers, Part 16: My Aging Brain, Again

Hydrangea (Macrophylla) bloom in Bangkok

In the last Flowers series post a month or so ago I noted how disorganization has left me with photos I've already published but didn't move out of the "ready to post" folder and what a frustration that was for me. I don't like to repeat pictures needlessly, but it gets to be pretty time consuming to look back and see where I might have used them over the years.

Aglow in the morning sun, a yellow-orange Cannaceae in Bangkok

Anyway, as long as that theme has already been set in place, here are another handful of flower pictures taken around and about in Thailand. Some of the pictures have been waiting a long while to see the light of e-day, but hopefully nobody but the hyper-critical will blanch at the older, larger watermark!

A variegated ruffled orchid at Jatujak Market on my first trip

Here's to a good weekend, everyone. I hope you all are able to make the most of it. I have a pretty busy week ahead of me, so I'm going to take the opportunity to re-charge my batteries the next couple of days.

Bright white orchid blooms in front of BNH Hospital, Bangkok

And yes, I've moved these pictures into the "posted" area!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Trip Report, Pt. 15: A Massage Boy's Story

In the interest of privacy this is not where Nat works. I met him in Pattaya. Center Point is a shop in Bangkok.

Nat was deep in thought as I approached the massage shop. Rather than calling out the familiar welcome to passers-by he was adding up what monies he'd need to finish out his current "fiscal" month. There was enough for his portion of the shared room rent and food, but there wasn't a whole lot of extra left over past that.

As many of us do (or have done in the past) he'd had a few too many the previous night and was paying a minor price for it today. As it stood, it was very late in the evening and his work day would be ending soon. He was thankful for that - and the promise of something to eat before heading back to the room to sleep. He would be very happy to see Bee when he arrived on his motocy to give him a ride home after finishing his shift delivering food.

Still, when he noticed a pair of feet stopped in front of the shop - mine - he looked up and flashed his best smile.  "Massage?" he asked, hopefully. "That's what I'm looking for," I replied "but that's all, really." I'd heard nice things about the quality of the massage at this place and figured we could cover the specifics later. I was on my way back to my room, and had decided that a decent massage would be the best nightcap for the evening.

There were three other guys sitting out front; one staring off down the street, deep in thought, and two others staring intently at the small screens on their cell phones; the light from the displays eerily illuminating their faces as they frowned in concentration. Their boredom looked to be approaching the near-paralysis stage.

Since it's always somewhat of a toss of the dice (a crap shoot, if you will) with massage guys and their level of actual massage training and skill I figured Nat would be the one.  At least he'd acknowledged my existence.

"Do you speak any English?" I asked, hope against hope. "Nit noy (a little bit)," he answered so I asked "how many months have you done massage?" "Not month. Four year," came the reply, and that settled the deal. I figured he wouldn't have lasted that long if he was a complete klutz at it, so I said "OK, you win the lottery".  He looked puzzled, but smiled when he saw me do the "after you" motion toward the door with a sweep of my hand.

I showered and met Nat back at the room where I'd left my things, lay my weary self down where he indicated and started taking some deep breaths to relax. The window was open near my head, and I could hear the sounds from the street below; the rise and fall of motor scooter engines, the clattering of street carts, the talk and laughter of people as they went about their lives.

To be polite, I asked where in Thailand he was from, and that started him talking. More than I wanted, actually; this wasn't work time for me, but hey - a story is a story. I tried to make mental notes while trying to relax; not something I do with much skill, but here's what I remember...

Nat was in his later 20s, and had been born into a farming family who had staked their claim near Suphanburi generations before. The oldest of four children, he was the one who was leaned on for support more than the others. The rainy season flooding in 2011 hadn't helped the family finances any, and now that he was fairly recently back to work he had legitimate money worries. With a sister's medical bills still an ongoing burden to his mother and father back home upcountry he was forlorn that there wasn't anything to send home to help them. 

Beginning massage in Bangkok he'd left the business after a few years to work in a shop selling bags near the two Baiyoke towers, figuring that although the money wasn't as good it was consistent, at least.

Nat had realized early on that he was gay, but hadn't met anyone special until he was away from the countryside and into Bangkok. It was during this stretch of time he was selling bags that he met someone and entered into his first relationship. His boyfriend was a "lady boy" of one stripe or another; I didn't understand what Nat was trying to say more than that. After a single tumultuous, stormy month Nat ended the relationship and went back to Suphanburi to visit the family and lick his wounds.

He was back with his family for a visit when a friend called him to say he'd bought a massage shop in Pattaya with the funding from a farang friend, and would Nat like to come join in the operation to try his hand at massage again, so to speak.  Finances being somewhat dire at the time, Nat agreed. Initially he'd done well, and still had his group of regulars who asked for him, but things had slowed down dramatically in the area overall.

Nat said I was his third customer in five days, and nobody in the shop was making much money. Here it was, close to closing, and I was both the first and last customer for the shop that day.  Knowing that it was really no wonder the guys were rather listless out front.

Maybe Nat figured he'd talked enough, I don't know, but he stopped and was quiet for a few minutes - and I didn't ask him any more questions.  "You OK?" he asked, and I said "Yes, fine". He definitely knew his massage moves, and although I got a full hour of treatment the time seemed to fly by.  Soon I was showered again and back gathering my things; Nat waiting in the hallway already dressed in his street clothes when I came out of the small room.

I tipped him as if he'd done the extras many expect, and he seemed pleased with this gratuity, giving me a polite wai and leading me back downstairs through the now closed shop. The guy at the counter was there to collect the massage fee, but everything else from outside was now inside, and the lights were off, save the one over the reception counter.

"Do you want to have something to eat?" I asked Nat. "No, friend me waiting," he said, pointing to Bee, sitting in front of the shop on his motocy. I patted him on the shoulder firmly, telling him "good massage!" and he smiled.  "Thank you," he said, holding the door open for me. "See me again."  I hope I do.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A 4th of July Wish

A bit of rainbow Pride left over from June. 

Never having had a camera of my own that would allow fireworks photos like the one above I have - to paraphrase Tennessee Williams - "always depended on the kindness of strangers".

Today's photo from the internet isn't mine; a rare exception, since 99.9% of the over 1,800+  posted here ARE my own, but I really liked it. It certainly makes the full circle around the bases today.

Growing up I was told that fireworks displays were intended to be an example of "the bombs bursting in air", a line from our (the USA's) national anthem, but the reality of actual bombs bursting anywhere is nowhere as picturesque and romanticized as those we "oooh" and "aahhh" at at public displays. A quick Google will sober your right up if you think otherwise.

Nevertheless, despite the ads, special sales, over-eating and alcohol-related carnage this is intended to be a day to pause a moment in appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy in this less-than-perfect country of ours. As easy as it is to pick life here apart and find fault with things big and small, there's nowhere else I've visited yet that I've found to be better overall... so happy 236th, USA.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thai Smiles, Part 48: Miscellaneous Smiles

This young man was making sure everyone who intended to go into the Sanctuary of Truth with a tour or on their own had a hard hat.  Very pleasant fellow.

Since I'm pretty busy with preparations for the celebration of the 4th of July tomorrow I figured we'd pull a few more photos from the Smiles folder today. 

It's not like throwing a gala for a hundred, but it's more cooking in a day than I'm used to, and I'm still smiling, so why not share a few?  

I hope you all enjoy the day off tomorrow, if you have one.  Maybe some of you to the North of me who celebrated a fiscal Canada Day on Monday the 2nd took a few extra days off; that would have been nice, too.

Anyway - I'll check in tomorrow one way or another, I suspect.

I'm told this woman's no longer with the hotel, but she (and her tie full of what some places call "flair") never missed a smile or salute when you would approach the elevators at the Asia Hotel.

Tinted blue by the tarpaulin above him to shield him from the sun at Chatuchak  / Jatujak / JJ Market (pick one) this boy was smiling because I'd bought two bottles of water and handed one back to him, motioning that it was hot and he could use one.  He laughed and put it back into the ice water. It's the one on its side.

Some feel clowns are scary, but this guy on Beach Road near Walking Street was entertaining. [If you have read Stephen King's "It", Pennywise was a creepy clown, I admit.]

Monday, July 2, 2012

Trip Report, Part 14C: Sanctuary Woodworkers

Workers begin the transformation, following the drawn template

[This is part 14C of a series that may or may not ever find its way to a proper conclusion. It has to do with my latest trip to Thailand, and the people, places and things I encountered along the way. You can find the rest of the series by clicking here on Trip Reports.]

OK, one last look at the craftsmanship involved in constructing the Sanctuary of Truth - but these images were taken in the workshop where most of the actual artistry takes place; a community effort under the direction of a handful of artisans who direct the more time-consuming process of the actual carving itself.

It's undoubtedly tedious work, but nevertheless a necessary investment of time and effort, and still a part of the magic of turning a block of wood into a work of art. The finer points are completed by those with a more accomplished skill set, naturally.

Note the wooden "peg" that will hold the post in place. No metal is used.

In the interest of time, materials and effort portions are repaired, rather than replaced

As you saw at the end of yesterday's post, part of the detailing is done inside the structure itself, but the extensive workshop had hundreds of pieces in process beneath it's roof.  The walls are open-sided - as is the main sanctuary itself - but it's warm inside, and fans were running to keep a breeze on the workers.

The workshop areas are set off the regular visitor's path, and there aren't any signs to welcome tourists inside - undoubtedly a safety issue more than anything else - but when my friend asked if we might come in and take some pictures to post here we were welcomed as if nobody else had shown them any interest in a year.  I think they were pleased to be recognized, myself.

Being the uncommon visitors we were the source of some interest, but I didn't interrupt their work to ask people to pose, but I'd asked my friend how to say "nice work!" to compliment those who did look up, and since I had the camera out at the ready I did get one shot of some of the boys smiling. 

A nice addition to the day's batch, I thought.