Friday, September 28, 2012

The Long Weekend

I'm taking a long weekend away on somewhat short notice, so I'll see you back here on Monday.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Report 4: Blundering Around Isaan

"Blundering Around Isaan" is Peter Jaggs' second book about times in Thailand, the first being "From Beggar to Butterfly", published a year before this one came out in 2007.

"Blundering" is based on true people and events, and weaves an entertaining story of his unexpected journey into the Northeast of Thailand, living with a bar girl and the people of her village. Based on that, I took the liberty of labeling this post as fiction and non-fiction.

His original plan was to come to Thailand and immerse himself in the nightlife of Pattaya for a half a year, but that plan was dashed as quickly as his rented jet ski flew up the sandy beach and smashed into a fruit cart, leaving him bruised and cut up. That failed effort to approach the shore, cut his engine and slide gracefully to a stop on the sand as the locals do earned him a two hour visit to the police station, and left him 150,000 baht poorer.  With only four traveler's checks left when he limped out he said to himself "That's the end of my six months in Thailand, then".

As it turned out, a bar girl named Kung suggested he accompany her back up into Isaan to visit her family - a trip he could afford.  They clambered onto a bus to the Northeast. Once there, he was introduced to her sami (husband) - and there the story really begins.

Jaggs style is casual and free-flowing. He has an eye for everyday detail - as do I - so I went through the 291 pages at a slightly slower pace than I sometimes read things, just to enjoy it. I was in Thailand at the time, and on a journey into Isaan myself (you can read that 28-part saga by clicking here) and it was a great way to finish my day before going to sleep. Better than what was on the TV at the rooms we stopped at, that's for sure!

There are many tales of his times with the locals, including Kung's uncle Loong, considered a somewhat loopy elder of the village. Fishing, drinking, gardening, hunting and more drinking filled his days for the time he was there... along with plenty of other more colorful experiences.

The book is available through Amazon (as a Kindle, too), in book stores in Thailand, or in print or e-book through the publisher's site Bangkok Books for $6.99US.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Khaen Pipe Busking - Street Performing

If you visit the Chatuchak weekend market you're bound to run into people playing on the walkways for spare change, or busking to those of you in the UK. The two boys above were working as a team one late morning, standing in the already hot sun and going at it almost non-stop.

Another boy performing at
Chatuchak one morning
Being a musical skill passed along from one generation to the next he music played isn't always high quality, but if you appreciate free-form jazz you're likely of a mind to enjoy the somewhat repetitive, trance-like melodies they perform. What I mean is, the age of the performer isn't necessarily an indicator of the level of authenticity, and I'm not an expert so this kid might qualify as a very good player - who knows?

The variety of melody and tones used has been better with some older players I've heard - I can say that much.

The instrument the boy in the red shirt in the clip is playing is called a khaen; also spelled "kaen" and "khen", transliteration being the imperfect process it often is. There is also a close relative in the same family known as the khene; nearly identical, but tuned to a different (pentatonic) scale.

The khaen is a set of bamboo pipes, carefully cut to different lengths to produce different notes, and I say carefully because unlike a stringed instrument it's nearly impossible to "tune" it once the pipe is cut. There are five basic lai, or modes, of tuning for the khaen. This is beyond my musical knowledge, so forgive me for quoting a bit here from Wikipedia to explain them to those who'll understand:

"The khaen has five different lai, or modes: Lai Yai (A C D E G), Lai Noi (D F G A C), Lai Soutsanaen (G A C D E), Lai Po Sai (C D F G A), and Lai Soi (D E G A B). Lai Po Sai is considered to be the oldest of the Lai Khaen and Lai Soutsanaen the 'Father of the Lai Khaen.' "

More common in the Isaan region of Thaland, it's also a common woodwind used in the music of Laos and Cambodia.

I confess, when I hear this at an outdoor restaurant as part of the entertainment it's difficult to stay seated and not join in with the others who get up to dance. Thankfully, decency usually keeps me seated.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Flowers, Part 18: Euphorbia Milii - Crown Of Thorns

Euphorbia Milii  (or Euphorbia splendens) at Wat Khao Sukim

The color and variety of plant life throughout Thailand is always a treat while traveling through the Land of Smiles. The picture above was taken on the upper level of Wat Khao Sukim on the way into Chantaburi Province. 

At home here it's commonly known as "crown of thorns", a part of the Spurge family (the Christmas flower poinsettia is part of the same family) and while the blossoms are stunning the thorny stems are truly nasty. I suppose if people were in the habit of picking flowers in your yard, this would be something you'd want around the edges.

Yellow blooms of the same plant in a home yard in Isaan

For those of you who aren't horticulturalists, Euphorbus was the Greek physician of King Juba II of Numidia (present day Algeria) between 50BC to 19AD, and Millius refers to Baron Milius, who introduced the species into France in 1821. Eventually it made its way to Asia. Christians believe it may have been the crown of thorns used during the crucifixion.

You're likely to see these as potted plants in home gardens, but in the ground they can become shrubs that can grow to nearly six feet high. They're also part of the family of plants that contains the cassava that grows throughout Thailand, too.  It's what tapioca is made from.

There. That's your agricultural lesson for the day... and no, it won't be on the final.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Thai Smiles, Part 51: Chantaburi Weekend Smiles

Father and daughter in Old
Chantaburi Town
I hope you all had a good weekend. Mine was a little overbooked, but some things (like the memorial service and gathering for a family friend) aren't possible to put onto the back burner in lieu of others.

That said, I had quite a few friends and family staying here in town for the past few days, and that's put me a long ways behind schedule for my usual rounds.  While I was hoping to get a post up about another part of the Chantaburi weekend getaway, that's not going to happen.

Instead, here are a few shots I took while away for that weekend, adding another installment to the Thai Smiles series.

Hey... at least they're my photos. All too often trolls with blogs troll the internet for images they alter slightly and claim to be theirs (part of the reason for the watermark on mine, although I've still found a few on other sites with the watermark cropped out - HA!)  Anyway, I'll take another stab at a post tomorrow.

The first three of these were taken on the long Chantaburi weekend, and the last is a leftover from Friday's post about killing time at work.

Couple on a cycle in Old Chantaburi Town

Proprietor of one of two small stores in Laem Singh

Guys on Soi Twilight, filling a slow time

Friday, September 21, 2012

Working Boys: Killing Time On Soi Twilight

Sharing the news in that day's paper

All of us have had those times at work at one point or another: there's really nothing to do for some period of time, and we either have to look busy - in case some supervisory figure comes lumbering by - or are left to fill that dead space in the day by ourselves in one way or another.

Group dinner before work

As one example, here where I live you're likely to see state road crew workers clumped together at a site in their brightly colored safety vests often standing idle, watching one person working with a shovel while they simply lean on theirs. I usually say to myself "there's my tax dollars at leisure," but I know that's not always the case. I feel fairly confident in saying this happens at workplaces around the world.  Sometimes it's borne of laziness, sometimes not; it's not for me to judge, I suppose.

Road workers in the USA (Internet image)

One early evening in Bangkok I noticed just such a group of guys waiting for something to do and filling the void. What they do for a living and where this was isn't important, so I'll leave that unsaid, but it reminded me of the times I'd go to the water cooler or away from my own office just to kill a few minutes.

Something seemed to be holding their interest in the paper

Since it's Friday - a time when many of us are looking forward to "our time" on the weekend - I thought it might be a fitting opportunity to share the thought and a few of the pictures I took of those workers.

"Look at what I've downloaded here..."

While putting this post together I realized it might just as well have been put under the "Same Same, But Different!" category, but so it goes.  Enjoy your weekend, all.  See you here Monday.

Lost to their cell phones, filling some dead time

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Trip Report, Part 25: Khuk Khi Kai

The road-side view of Khuk Khi Kai

While on a long weekend getaway this last trip I had the opportunity to stop and see Khuk Khi Kai, a remnant of the French-Thai unpleasantness at the end of the 19th century.

An internet image of Siamese mounted artillery in 1893

The Franco-Siamese War of 1893 was a conflict between the French Third Republic and what was then known as the Kingdom of Siam. The Thai naturally didn't care for the attempted occupation of Chantaburi, and some rebelled. As punishment, those who did were rounded up and put into the small (4.4 meters/14.4 feet across and 7 meters/23 feet high) brick building above.

If you don't already know, Thai culture believes the top of your head is the closest to heaven, and therefore the most "holy" part of the body, and your feet are the most base parts. It's common knowledge that you don't touch the top of peoples heads unless you've been given permission to do so, and that you don't point your feet at someone, step on them, or, indeed, even step over them. 

With that in mind, here's what made this holding facility most odious to the Thai: the French put a slatted roof on the building and kept chickens in a coop up there. The chickens would eat, scratch about as chickens will, and, naturally, poop - and their droppings would fall with no warning on the heads of the captives below. It wasn't a physical torture, per se, but one that was a great insult psychologically.

"Well, that was kind of a chickenshit thing to do," I commented while taking these images, and my friend blushed - he would rarely use such a crude term himself - but agreed. I had to push to get an answer as to how that would be said in Thai, and since I didn't take note of it I can't share it with you today. Probably just as well - there's plenty of that very behavior still going on today, anyway. Man's inhumanity to man, and all.

Being uncomfortable about the whole idea I declined to go inside myself, but you can bend down and enter a 3-foot high doorway, if you visit there.  It's history, but it's not history at its finest.  Still, an interesting stop.

The back side view, with the entrance door on the right

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Report 3: "Tsunami Stories"

Along the Western shore of Thailand, dawn began as it had for centuries on December 26th, 2004; the sun peeking over the lush green hills to the East before spreading a warm blanket of golden rays across the wide waters of the Andaman Sea. The local residents of the area began their days as usual, also, but it was the last time they would do so for many, many months to come - if ever.

Two minutes before 08:00 local Phuket time, the third largest earthquake on record began to shift the floor of the Indian Ocean to the East of Indonesia, some 500 miles from the shore of Phuket. Lasting between eight and ten minutes, the magnitude 9+ earthquake initiated a tsunami that generated more power (according to the Tsunami Society) than twice the total of all of the explosives used in World War II, including the two atomic bombs.

Approximately 90 minutes later it hit the shore of Thailand, where it would kill 5,400 and leave nearly another 3,000 missing.

A quick search of shows at least two dozen books and published papers on the disaster; this is just one of them. I found it in a bookstore in Bangkok and thought it would be an "easy" read while on holiday. It was quick - it's a mere 122 pages - but it wasn't altogether easy to be reminded of the disaster through the 16 personal recollections of the day, along with eight from Burma (although those are only a short paragraph each).

I enjoyed the casual, almost conversational style of the book; somewhat like sitting across from someone, listening to them relating what happened to them that eventful day. There's a small thumbnail photo of each person, putting a face to the story, which I also liked, and about 18 black and white photos throughout the book, some spreading over both pages as one larger image.

There's good news and bad news about actually getting a copy of this book.

The bad news is if you want a physical copy you'll have to find it in a used book store or from a private vendor, as the initial printing of 15,000 copies - done as a fundraising effort for 16 children who lost their parents that day - has sold out. The good news is that author Bill O'Leary has generously made it available as a free download in e-book (PDF) form here. He says they are still supporting the education of the 16 kids, so if you feel you want to make a donation to them, that's entirely up to you. I've done no research on the group myself, and I'll leave that up to you.

As the old TV show used to say "There are eight millions stories in the naked city... this is one of them". There are a couple of dozen in "Tsunami Stories," but they're worth the time to read and reflect on, as unpleasant as it can be to be reminded of such a terrible event.

[The upcoming feature film "The Impossible" looks as though there's a chance we may see more of what probably happened that morning than some of us may wish to see, too, but I'm sure I'll go see it. There's a preview clip of it in the April 29th post, if you missed that.]

Monday, September 17, 2012

On Avoiding Being "The Ugly American"

The Three "Stoolges" on Walking Street, Pattaya

For the sake of argument, let's agree that we're not dealing with The Ugly American, the 1958 novel by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick and sticking with the common usage: a pejorative term for a "stereotypical offensive American: a loud, boorish, nationalistic American, especially one traveling abroad, who is regarded as conforming to a stereotype that gives Americans a bad reputation" (Encarta dictionary).

It's unfortunate the term seems to focus mostly on those of us in the USA, which in and of itself is exclusionary enough - after all, there are plenty of other countries in North and South America that contain unpleasant examples of humanity - but I suppose it's all part of it, isn't it?  We're the real Americans, damn it. Now, if the behavior were limited to only we from the US that'd be a different story, but the label of Ugly American fits people across the wide spectrum of races, countries and cultures. You may have an example or two that pop to your mind... I certainly do.

It's reasonably important to remember that we - like it or not - are all ambassadors of a sort, and should behave accordingly. If you read up on your planned destination(s) it's not difficult to learn enough about the local customs and traditions to be a gracious guest.

Two obvious examples most readers here should know about visiting Thailand: it's always wise to be respectful of the royal family, and climbing up onto a statue of the Buddha for a snapshot - or any similar disrespectful actions like it - are likely to get you into trouble, but opening your own personal Pandora's box of less-desirable facets of yourself can, too.

Regardless of how pointedly acerbic your own "humor" may seem be to you or those who understand your "style" at home, sarcasm rarely translates well into another language (or culture). At best, you'll merely confuse the person you're dealing with; at worst you'll come across as an asshole and lose face, which is probably the more likely of the two possibilities, since many who think their wit isn't understood just compound the social gaffe by pushing it further.

The three men sitting on stools at a beer bar (ladies as Rented Admirers optional) are enough of an illustration, I felt, so there's the image.  The one on the far left was being pleasant while interacting with the girls at the club, and the one in the middle appeared to be doing the same.

The Hulk on the right, however, appeared at the time to be a force I'd prefer not to deal with.  He'd been lurching up and down Walking Street a couple of times while I was there with a friend, and we (and others) gave him a wide and clear berth.  Swaying back and forth he actually growled as he moved along. At first I'd thought he might have just been burping, but that wasn't the case.

My Thai friend leaned in towards me and gave me his opinion on where this walking refrigerator may have been visiting from, and he may have been right - but I just said "Ugly American", without thinking. Then I had to explain it, and this time it didn't take much of an effort to get the meaning across to him.

He told a story about seeing one of millions of balding, pot-bellied later-middle-aged male farang haggling with a vendor at the JJ  weekend market a few months before. Haggling is expected by many vendors; a good-natured (if sometimes slightly aggressive) but respectful bantering back and forth in an attempt to reach a "win-win" agreement on the price of an item. This particular episode had begun to escalate beyond banter, and my friend stopped at a safe distance to watch them.

The short version is that the farang actually began to holler about "being an American" and not being willing to be "ripped off by some bandit". When the vendor tried to smile it off and turn away, the farang grabbed his arm to turn him back face-to-face and lunged at the Thai. Vendors and others nearby joined in and gave the Ugly American what he had coming to him, to my way of thinking.

The people who over-indulge in public to the point of losing control of their manners and/or civility can be the worst of it, but the man at JJ was merely a pig-headed fool of a bully, pure and simple.  I'd wager we all run into similar folks on a daily basis. There's rarely an explanation as to why they're such mean-spirited creatures (bad childhood, inferiority complex the size of a Buick, monthly cramps, small penis, inability to hold a civil relationship together... who knows?) but they're there, meaning here and there, anywhere around the globe; being miserable and freely willing to visit their misery on anyone within reach, figuratively or literally.

Readers by now are well aware I'm not one who studiously follows dogma of any stripe, but there are some basic rules of life that I subscribe to, and one of those is what many would call the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  That covers nearly all social situations, and if you don't allow it to tarnish while traveling it'll serve you well.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Street Snacks: Take-Away Iced/Hot Chai Tea

The first think you might want to know is that Thai "iced tea" isn't what you're used to back home... it's not merely brewed black tea over ice.

It's also not what those in some parts of the USA call Sweet Tea; normal iced tea with what seems to be a cup of sugar per glass, but unless you're looking to cultivate the adult onset of Type II diabetes that's probably a good thing. No offense to my Texas or other Southern readers intended.

There are many variations of the Thai drink, but the base ingredient is tea, and that often means black tea, but there are other spices in the mix - star anise, cardamom, cinnamon and/or others by locale - and milk; whole, coconut, evaporated or sweetened condensed.

The clip above, shot in Old Chantaburi Town is one of the simplest versions I've seen prepared, but the preparation is a show unto itself in some places, such as the Chatuchak/Jatujak/JJ weekend market in Bangkok, where they often whirl about as they pour it a distance to blend the concoction from one container to another, as in the clips below from a few years ago.

Here's another - shorter - clip from the same visit:

As mentioned before, local ice can sometimes harbor bacteria that the Thai have no problems digesting but Western systems can find a challenge, so be advised and take that into consideration before being charmed like a snake in a basket into imbibing the tasty beverage.  There's more about  protecting yourself from that chance here.

It's looking to be another fairly warm day where I am, though, and the thought of walking along sipping one seems worth the minor risk. After all, it's all part and parcel of the adventure!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Walking and Exploring Local Markets

Roses by the bundle on a rolling stand in Bangkok one morning

Yesterday's post made reference to stepping outside of our comfort zone(s), and one of the easiest ways to begin is to simply take a short walk around and explore the area near your hotel.

A good example is shown in the April 11 post from last year, where I posted about the morning market I walked through in Udonthani on a week-long road trip up that way to visit friends - part of the Isaan Oddysey series that ran in fits and starts from February into May of last year.

An office worker buys flowers on her way to work one morning

I call these places Local's Markets. Sometimes they're just a gathering of carts, but most times they're a grouping of stalls, covered by a roof of one form or another; tarps, galvanized metal or an actual structure, but they're all pretty casual. Somewhat like what we here would call a flea market or swap meet, or a boot sale to you in the UK.  Today's pictures are all floral, but they sell most everything at the markets.

A woman sells flowers from a rolling cart in a morning market

One of the more recent I've visited is the one near the Trinity Complex in Bangkok, within a five minute walk of the Chong Nonsi BTS station. I was staying at the Glow Hotel at the time, and the market began maybe 100 feet from the front door of the place. I've mentioned it before, but I'll post more about it soon.

Detail of the small bunches of carnations and roses filled the cart in the photo above

The point is there are similar places all over the place... you just have to look a bit. It's a great way to get a look at everyday life in a city, town or village. Make a minor mental note of where you walk to, or take a hotel card from the reception desk. That way, even if you do get lost you can grab a taxi, hand them the card, and be back "home" easily.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Comfort Zones: Don't Let Fear Choose Your Path

A somewhat less-than-perfect panorama of part of the skyline of Bangkok from the Asia Hotel, circa 2005

I was drawn into a conversation yesterday with a fairly well-to-do physician friend - I'll call him Tim - who will be off to Thailand tomorrow for five days.  Personally, if I wasn't going to be flying in the lap of luxury (so to speak) I don't think I'd even bother going that far for that short a stretch, but to each their own.

Tim was sharing the story of his first visit to Thailand, a somewhat spur of the moment stop on a "suit shopping" trip he'd taken to Hong Kong many years ago; a stop suggested by a Thai woman he'd sat next to on his outbound trip from here.

He was worried (OK, afraid) he wouldn't be safe, that his lack of knowledge of the language would leave him helpless and vulnerable in a strange land, that he would be lost and alone in what he'd always thought was a third world country. He spoke with his airline while in Hong Kong, re-routed his homeward flight and stopped for four days in the Land of Smiles.  He's been back many times since.

Stepping onto the Thai Air flight that would take him into Don Muang airport he was taken aback by the smiling woman who welcomed him aboard with a wai and said to himself "Wow... this might not be quite such a primitive place after all", and settled in for the short hop.  He arrived near midnight and was directed by another airline employee to what he felt was a reliable ride to the old Meridian (now part of the Holiday Inn chain) hotel, and off he went. The taxi driver spoke very little English, which didn't make him any more at ease, especially when he was asked why he was visiting and he said he wanted to go to the Night Market.

He wanted to look for the knock-off merchandise friends at home told him was so inexpensive, but the driver began wiggling his eyebrows up and down, beginning the sing-song routine most of us who have been there have heard. "You want girl?" he asked, and Tim, somewhat taken aback said "no". "Boy? You want boy? I know where you can find," but that wasn't the idea, either. My friend just said "No, no girl - no boy. I'm going shopping."  That brought the standard offers for tailors and jewelry shops, but Tim was peering out his window, ignoring further questions as they moved along quickly through the darkness.

Turning off of what Tim thought looked like the "right" way they went down a darker side street, and then onto another, darker still.  Tim worried where the hell he was being taken when they pulled up to a hotel that didn't look anything like the Meridian he'd expected.  Going inside, he found he was at the wrong hotel, and got an employee out front to let the driver know that.

Soon they were pulling up to the correct hotel, where again he was greeted by the pleasantly gracious staff. His room was waiting, and the bell boy, instead of merely dumping his bags in the room and holding his hand out for a tip, showed him all the features of the room and explained how they all worked.  Tim was impressed, and fumbled for what he hoped was an appropriate gratuity.

Still too spooked to go out anywhere that first night he holed up in his room, took a shower, and went to bed.  The next morning he had a fine breakfast at what he thought at the time might have been the best buffet in the city, stepped outside of his hotel, climbed into a cab the man out in front had hailed for him and was off to the Grand Palace.

He's been back at least a dozen times since, along with another few dozen countries around the globe.  The tales he has to tell are plentiful and colorful.

The point is this: don't let fear choose your path. I'm not advocating just landing blind in a completely new country or culture, but with a bit of legwork there's a wide, wide world of adventures out there. Stretch your comfort zone a little and try exploring some of it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thai Smiles, Part 50: More Folks At Work

Not a lot of time for a post today, but here are a few more photos today of Thai at work.

The guy above was at work on a scaffolding near the Surasak BTS station and "posed" for me while I was walking by, on my way to have lunch with some friends at a nearby spot.

 The woman below was smiling, but she had the knit head covering on to protect her from the sun. Seemed a little warm to me for such a cover, but she was by the side of the road selling crab as I was passing by her in Chantaburi province. The crab was delicious, by the way.

The other day you saw workers at Wat Khao Sukim, and this was actually a better picture of them. We were having a laugh, sharing what little we knew of the other's languages.

Finally, here's a man working his lottery ticket stand. He laughed when I held up the ticket I'd just bought from him and my friend informed him that I'd just bought the winning ticket, and I got the shot.

It didn't win, but who knows? Maybe next time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Trip Report, Part 25: Night Shots From The Festival

Three of the festival entrance, taken from across the road

What I call "night photography" - photos taken without a flash - is problematic enough on its own, since I rarely lug around a tripod and finding a steady spot to rest the camera is often catch-as-catch-can. To add to that, they're often more than a five second exposures and I just don't have the steady hand I had 40 years ago, and the aperture of my simple camera won't give me any more of a break than that.  

Maybe I'll invest in a better camera before the next trip, but the instruments I'd like to purchase often cost half of my round trip airfare there. Perhaps the camera fairies will leave a new one under my pillow, but that might entail leaving the old one underneath it before going to bed, and my sleep cycles are screwy enough to begin with.

That aside, a short while back I posted about this festival that was to raise funds to build a new temple (part 1 here and part 2 here). Those evenings I took night photos, and tried something new: stitching shots together into panoramas. Here are the results.

The "bouncy house" where kids of a wide age range jumped around

The dart throw carnival game

Part of the new temple building boundaries. Offerings were made by most, including myself.

I like the somewhat eerie light and coloring the camera catches. It's often a surprise when I get back to where I can download and view the pictures.

Hope you enjoy them, and your weekend.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Trip Report, Pt. 24A: Wat Khao Sukim 2

Some of the beautiful views at ground level

You can see long rows of
display cases behind this
Buddha image
In part one of this post yesterday you saw an overview of the grounds and buildings at Wat Khao Sukim, several hour's drive South from Pattaya.

My friend was driving me to a long weekend getaway in a coastal area of the Chantaburi province - an area probably best classified here as Laem Sing.

Wat Khao Sukim is a work in progress; a wat without much of an actual wat, if you will. The new construction (there's a model rendering of the temple to come at the top of yesterday's post) will double the amount of buildings that exist there now.

Today we'll try to wrap the post up with some of the photos I didn't have ready yesterday, showing more of the museum interior and the surrounding area.  Since it was approaching closing time I didn't see a couple of the floors of displays, but that just gives me more of a reason to stop there again in a few years and (hopefully) see more of the main temple finished.

A grouping of larger Buddha statues, adorned with silk flowers

There'd been an attempt to organize the countless offerings made to the temple - countless for me, anyway... let me know if you come up with anything like a total if you visit there - but they were grouped together, after a fashion.  Below is a panorama of some of the furniture that had been donated.

Smaller items - and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say thousands of them - stood in glass-walled cabinets, neatly arranged in rows and somewhat grouped by vintage, it seemed. Bowls, pottery, brass work and wooden carvings, both simple and intricate: all had a place.

Even pottery with some serious age to it was set in one spot. We'd speculated that they may have been found while doing excavations during construction of the new main temple. Here they look somewhat haphazard, but my guess is they would eventually find their way into the grand scheme of the place.

It was silent in the halls while we were looking around on one of the huge open floors of displays, so we were (luckily) able to hear the clattering of a gate and the sound of keys as a lock was closed. My friend called out to the guard and we hustled our way over to him to get out. A lovely place, but not somewhere I'd choose to spend the night.

We took the tram back down and stopped at one of a few places still open in the touristy area surrounding the parking lot. I got us each a fresh young coconut from a young girl who cut them open for us. After sitting on ice all day, they were cold and refreshing. I wish I could find them here stateside. We sipped on them through our straws as we left the parking lot and made our way back to Highway 3, and on to the resort.

A young man doing detail upkeep on the naga stair railing smiled for me - or because his work day was nearly finished, one or the other.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Trip Report, Pt. 24: Wat Khao Sukim

You won't see this building, as it's still under construction. You can see cranes above the site in the panorama below.

Wat Khao Sukim is a fairly large complex, built on a hillside in Chantaburi Province in the mid-1960s. It's still a work in progress, with an enormous temple underway (but just barely). Nevertheless, it's a stop worth making, if for no other reason than the nearly auditorium-sized main hall "museum" and the views from up near the retreat, one of which is below, taken from the wide patio encircling the museum.  From there you can see more of the 1,000+ acres of land owned by the followers of Phra Ajarn Somchai Thitawiriyo, who had originally intended it to be a meditation center.

A panorama shows part of the lake, the parking and shops, and the new temple - under construction on the far right

On the weekend it's likely to be crowded, and I base that on the size of the parking area at the bottom of this hill; you could put dozens of buses and still have space left for a couple of hundred cars.

From what I was told, lay groups and individuals of the faith can attend meditation stays, but it was fairly quiet on the afternoon we visited. The main buildings were set to close an hour after our arrival, so we didn't invest the time (or energy) to climb the hundred and fifty or so steps up the naga-lined stairway to the main hall, which I called the museum in the first paragraph.

Some of the museum, quarters and other buildings on the higher level

It houses thousands of items, large and small; all donations from people who are making merit in their own way, but all of no small significance.  These were items which all seemed to have some historical value, although the signage in English was sadly lacking.

A small fraction of the offerings on display

As an alternative to the stairway there's a tram that ferries you up and down the steep hillside, although since there were so few visitors that afternoon it was being loaded to the weight limit with building materials - bags of cement and sand that day, for the most part. A group of about 10 young men would load the cars up at the bottom and send them up to the top, where another group waited to unload the stuff and lug it off to wherever it was going.

The last bit of tram track and stairs near the top as we were descending at the end of our visit

The guys at the bottom were glad to see us, I think, because that meant they could take breaks between loads a little longer than usual. When the man with the walkie-talkie up top saw us approach the tram he called down to his partner and he spoke to the others, who all smiled with relief and sat down on the chairs to rest.

Break time... light 'em if you've got 'em

Seems like as good a point as any to take a break in the story, too. I'll finish the rest of it tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Flowers, Part 17: Assorted Photos For A Tuesday

An enormous stretch of blooming shrubbery, gone wild in an open area near my hotel one trip

Having just had a long Labor Day weekend (here are the 2011 and 2010 posts about it too, if you're interested in seeing more Thai folks laboring away) it might seem a tad lazy to fall back on a post of photos again, but so it goes.

Here are some blooms and blossoms I've seen while out around and about in Thailand. Some I can identify, some I can't... despite buying a relatively comprehensive guidebook to Thai flowers a trip or two ago. Any comments from those who can ID them are (as always) welcome!

My guess is that this is part of the Ixora family

Similar to a passion fruit (lilikoi) unidentified bloom on a tree near Sattahip

Deep violet orchids in a private garden in Bangkok

I can't identify the flower, but it was the lone bloom on a large shrub that caught my eye

Back tomorrow, hopefully with another installment of the Trip Report from this Spring.