Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ghosts, Ghouls And Goblins: It's Halloween

Some of my nieces and nephews, making the rounds of their neighborhood when they were younger

As a small child I didn't stray far from our own home without an adult with me very often, so I anticipated the night of All Hallow's Eve almost as much as I did Christmas. The opportunity to run with my friends from door to door in the neighborhood and collect treats from people in houses nearby seemed almost surreal to this little piggy.

Although you could buy costumes in a few stores, many of the costumes we wore were of the home-made variety; ghosts and hobos were favored attire for many boys, since they didn't involve a lot of effort. Being a hobo meant borrowing some older clothes from an older male relative, rolling up the sleeves and pant legs and dirtying your face with ashes from the fireplace to give our peach fuzz faces the illusion of not having shaved for a week. 

Impersonating a ghost was as easy as taking an old sheet and cutting holes for eyes. Keeping those eye holes in place while you hurried about was another thing altogether, however.  Every so often you'd see some kid trip over their ghostly train and go ass over tea kettle, splaying themselves onto the sidewalk and spraying their "loot" out of the pillowcase often used as a treat bag onto the ground.  

My mother used to make her own treats to hand out: carmel-dipped apples, small bags of home made candied popcorn, cookies and the likes. With time (and repeated reports of razor blades in apples and other tampered-with treats) came the era of pre-packaged candy and things. It's sad to know there are more and more looneys out there with each passing year, but so it goes. Most kids (by my personal observations from the front porch) are now accompanied by at least one adult, tagging along to supervise and say such adult things as "did you say 'thank you?'" and "no running across the street... wait for us".

Today Halloween is Big Business, with stores chock-a-block full of aisles of pre-made costumes for at least a month in advance. Bags of candy to hand out to the kids who come to your door appear in grocery and warehouse stores, too, and I'm guessing that the makers of diabetic medications hold celebratory gatherings of their own around the same time.

I've given up on handing out candy to the little ones, but the front of the house still gets decorated and illuminated with colored lights. The past five or six years kids showing up at my door receive some small toy novelty instead of candy, and that's seemed to be fine with them.  

Glow in the dark items have been a hit, as have any other items that blink, flash or make some sort of noise.  More than a few times I've heard kids back out on the sidewalk on their way to the next house saying things like "this house is the BEST," and that makes it worth the extra expense for something other than candy.

I know a few of you reading this may have to resort to a web search to figure out what the holiday is all about, but most of you will understand. Either way... Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Report 7: Bangkok Boy - Story Of A Stolen Childhood

Front cover and the spine image
stitched together, for those
who browse used book stores
The man credited with writing the book "Bangkok Boy - The Story of a Stolen Childhood" is - despite all he's been through, including several instances where he by all rights ought to have died - is still alive.

Now somewhere in his mid-40s I've heard he works days as a tour guide and and can often be found on Soi Twilight, one of the main gay bar areas of Bangkok by night where he (I'm told) is a manager at the Scorpion bar. He's said to be married now, with two children.

I say "credited with writing," because in the acknowledgements he thanks one Soshan Itsarachon with making the book happen, and I'm going to stick my neck out and assume that Soshan actually ghost wrote the book for him.  The rumor is it was written by an Englishman, but it's of no real consequence who told the story; the fact that it appeared in print is what counts, I suppose.

In his mid-teens he was molested by a neighbor and given 100 baht, and that was his introduction to the world of prostitution. At the urging of some of his friends at he was swept away at the age of 23 by the lure of relatively fast money in the sex clubs of Bangkok, which is the real start of his story. His path then followed one familiar to most who fall into that quagmire of sex, drugs and violence, and parts of it are heartbreaking, so be warned.  He was lucky to escape from the alcohol and other addictions that overtook him, and his is actually a success story, as odd as that may sound here.

Nevertheless, it's a story anyone who dabbles in the "pay for play" world of rented admirers ought to find enlightening, especially if you're ready to take off the rose-colored glasses and see the truths (for many, anyway) of the World's Oldest Profession - for bar boys and bar girls alike. There have been several other books published that claim to illustrate the world of females in the business, but this is without a doubt one of the best I've found on the life of the bar boys/males many find entertainment with, comfort from, or both.

I bought my copy at Asia Books a handful of years ago and read it over a couple of long, lazy afternoons in Bangkok, but it's still in wide circulation and available from many places besides Thailand.

It's a disturbing but entertaining and reasonably easy read, and one I highly recommend.

Bangkok Boy: The story of a stolen childhood
Maverick Books, 2008   ISBN: 978-905379-51-4
Amazon: $12USD, Kindle $7.50, Asia Books: 525Bt

Monday, October 29, 2012

Trip Report, Part 28: Student Blockade At Kung Krabaen

Uh-oh...The car was off in the distance, past this school group.

When we'd arrived at Kung Krabaen Nature Center the parking lots were nearly empty; it was only mid-morning, and we'd only seen a single group of school kids within the park itself as we took our time walking through it - as one should, I'd say. Figuring we'd exit from where we'd entered the park we'd parked in a small lot near the main entrance, pleasantly surprised at our good fortune to find such a convenient spot.

It wasn't quite as lucky as we'd thought.

The walkway where we came out of the park ended up being a short ways from the car, and the narrow bridge leading to the car was blocked by a student group seated on the ground, listening to one of their instructors giving them an introductory talk about the place.  When the group of folks in the top image passed by, the instructor stopped to wait for them as they walked in front of her. She stood, microphone in hand, and waited for them to go by, and then began speaking again.

"So, what do we do?" I asked my friend. "Let's wait and see if they get up and move," my friend replied "unless you want to interrupt them again."  Swell.  Had I understood a word she was saying it may well have been interesting, but I didn't.

We stood there for about 10 minutes as the students listened, took notes and occasionally glanced over at us. Finally my friend said "I guess we just do like that last group did."  I know enough people in the teaching profession that I felt sort of strange doing so, but we began to walk through the blockade, trying to be inconspicuous as we went between the students and their teacher.

I figured, though, as long as we were going to interrupt them anyway, why not have some fun with it, so I put my hand up to my mouth and began to "talk" silently as we walked along, facing the kids who were now watching us more intently than they were their teacher.  They erupted with giggles and laughter as they saw me mimicking the woman, and that earned me a look from her we in the West might call "shooting daggers".  

The talk went on after we passed, and we stood at the car and again waited, our path to drive out still filled with blue shirts.  At that point there was nothing else to do but wait, and wait we did, some in the group still glancing over at us and smiling at my prank. 

Almost 15 minutes later they got up and began filing past the entry sign, returning my waves and laughing among themselves about the farang who'd interrupted the lecture.

I motioned for some of them near the end of the parade to stop for a picture, and they (naturally) grouped together and posed. It probably belongs in one of the "Smiles" posts, but it fits with today's follow-up post, so here it is.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Trip Report, Part 27: Kung Krabaen Bay Nature Center

Mangrove trees (Sonneratia alba) from the walkway of Kung Krabaen forest

Along the Gulf of Thailand in Chanthaburi, Kung Krabaen Bay - also known as "Stingray Bay" to the locals because of its shape - is home to a huge area of mangrove forest: the Kung Krabaen Mangrove Forest and Nature Center.

A wooden bridge spans one of the open areas in the forest

While there are many many other mangrove swamp areas around the gulf, this park is, I'm told, about the largest and more visitor- and education-friendly of them all.  At a little over 500 acres (1,300 rai) it's difficult to get a big picture of it because it's so dense you can't see the forest for, well, for the trees.  Literally, in this case.

Over a mile of raised wooden walkways wind through the forest

It's like stepping back into prehistoric times when you enter the forest, if you you can forgive a little over a mile of raised wooden walkways that meander through the place. The open waterway in the lead photo today is one of a precious few I saw as I made my way through beneath the dense canopy of mangrove branches and leaves.

For height reference, here are
people climbing up to an
observation tower, above
the tree tops
The mangrove trees that dominate the area are classified as Sonneratia alba (of the family Sonneratiaceae). Their extensive root systems, both above and below ground, filter salt from the water, making the brackish mix of salt water from the gulf and fresh water from the rivers usable where it couldn't sustain many other varieties of plant life.

There was very little air movement in the forest, even though you could see movement in the tree tops high overhead, and I was lucky it wasn't a hot day; the humidity in the area might have been overwhelming otherwise.

Birds sang out with a variety of calls around me, and every so often you could catch a glimpse of wildlife - if you were taking your time and being observant.  Butterflies were visible near the edges of the forest, but I saw very few beneath the canopy itself.

What you could see were several varieties of small crabs, skittering over and around the tree roots. Most were in the three inch wide category; blues, greens and reds being their predominant colors.  The light under the trees was low enough that I got quite a few blurry pictures, but not many worth sharing here.  Here's one:

Another unexpected creature were the freshwater rays that rested on the surface of the mud in some of the shallow areas.  These two were either snuggling or mating; perhaps both.

The park is open from early morning to dusk most every day, and because of the educational value of the place it's a regular stop for school outings. It's not far from the area I stayed in the Laem Sing area for my long weekend holiday. On the map below the park is on the bay with the purple dot, and Laem Sing is indicated with a green one.

Image from Google Maps

Even if you don't make the five hour drive from Bangkok to visit here, try looking up other similar areas and check them out. I've seen photos posted by a friend of another park like this near Hua Hin. It's worth the effort.

A common tiger butterfly near the edge of the mangrove forest

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Trip Report, Part 26: Walking Laem Sing Beach

A young man jumps for joy (or his wife, anyway) as his picture is taken along Laem Sing Beach

It was after lunch and our stop at Bud's Ice Cream that we finally got out onto Laem Sing Beach itself to walk along the surf line, people watch and just meander along for a couple of hours or so. Although it was a warm afternoon the sun wasn't too harsh, and the locals were out to enjoy the day, too.

The Thai being modest overall (and not being tan fanatics many are in other parts of the world) most were wearing shirts in addition to their swimming suits or shorts, as you can see in the picture of people in the water below.

These eight people (one was underwater) were enjoying the mild afternoon temperature

Sea shells of all kinds were
the only "litter" on this beach.
What a nice change!
The beach itself was cleaner than you'd normally see in Pattaya or Jomtien, and it was nice not to have to be quite as careful about stepping on glass, metal shards and other trash. A cut on the bottom of your foot can be more than an inconvenience when you're on holiday, as can the infection that can come soon after; sewage treatment in the Land of Smiles can be nothing more than releasing it into the sea a little too close to shore for my liking. Here there were precious few hotels, so that possibility was far slimmer than other more concentrated tourist areas.

The locals also appeared to be more conscious about keeping "their" beach clean, and I was pleased that there wasn't the usual assortment of wrappers, plastic bags, bottles, cans and other assorted litter floating up onto the beach at the water's edge. Another plus in my book.

The walk brought back memories from my youth of walking along a beach and seeing sea shells all along the way; small treasures when we're children, and still a pleasant sight when they're sprinkled along as far as the eye can see.

A Mother watched as her three young kids played in the small, gentle waves that lapped along the shore of the sandy beach; the little ones edging their way closer and closer to the water and shrieking with happy surprise as it washed over their tiny toes, sending them running back towards Mom before they'd again creep nearer.  Two of the boys repeatedly picked up stones and shells and hurled them with great zeal as far as they could out into the surf.

A message in the sand, left by a local

I got a laugh out of the message above, left in the sand by a local. Unless you've never been to Thailand you've heard someone - at one point or another - defer a choice to you by saying "Up to you!".  Here the tables had been turned, and as you can see above the message was "up to me... becoose up to me"!  Both the sentiment and their spelling of "because" were amusing, I thought.

It's a phrase heard so often along Soi Twilight and Soi Cowboy from club workers trying to encourage an off with a customer, and thinking it might have been left by one of them away for a holiday themselves I went over after I'd taken the picture and added "you go, girl" below the original message, figuring it'd apply to workers of either variety.

Dried and freshly barbecued squid at a cart on the sand

The shells crunching beneath my sandals (worn without socks, if there are any from the Fashion Police reading this) I was lost in thought and didn't notice my friend stopping as the breeze changed direction. He'd caught the smell of BBQ drifting towards us, and exclaimed "squid!". He made a turn and headed back up across the dry sand to a cart selling dried and BBQ squid. I was still full from lunch and our ice cream stop, but had a sample of the piece he bought to snack on as we went back down to walk along the waterline.

The sun was beginning to set as we reached the farthest end of the beach, and we turned to head back to where we'd left the car. In Hawaii (and other tropical tourist areas) you're likely to see tee shirts emblazoned with the phrase "Just another shitty day in paradise", and that thought came to me as we made our way slowly back along the sand. 

Goose barnacles growing on a piece of wooden handle that had washed up onto the shore

It had indeed been a fine afternoon, and one of the nicer walks of my trip.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Finding Cheap Flights To Thailand: Reference Links

The coast of Northern California on a flight home one trip

There are so many sites where you can do due diligence and - with luck - find cheap air fares and hotel rooms I hesitate to begin listing them, but since they're important to note as references, I'll put some up here today. These don't take the place of agencies and other brick-and-mortar places for everyone, but for the adventurous they're definitely worth a look.

This isn't anything like a comprehensive list, but it might save you re-creating the wheel, if you know what I mean.  Take them as my preferences (like my preference for EVA Air), and with a grain or ten of salt... then do the legwork and make up your own mind. No penalty, no foul from this referee, that's for sure.

 Kayak was recommended to me by a forum friend some years back, and overall they've been my site of choice.  I invariably start here, and if I don't find what I'm happy with I add others.  Truth be told I usually check the others before clicking "confirm", anyway - and as we covered Friday I often find decent deals by going through the airline I'm considering.

I have two friends who think very highly of Orbitz, and one that doesn't. I've not found much there that I couldn't find for within a few dollars elsewhere, myself. Don't forget to check sites like Travelocity and Hotwire, either; they (like Orbitz) handle so many bookings that they have enormous buying power in some cases.

More and more companies are popping up, though, and checking a travel forum or two can alert you to them. I've had Priceline recommended to me, but I've heard tales of folks being locked into flights (possibly because they weren't paying close enough attention) and I'm leery of that "name your own price" deal. Just be aware.  Again, suggestions on sites you've found to be handy (or hellish) are welcome.

Kind of a short post today, sorry. Family obligations, but joyous ones.

Next: peripheral reference links.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Report 6: Mercati's Thai Massage Manual

Before my first visit to the Land of Smiles I had been emailing and chatting with a few friends I'd made as pen pals, three of whom were anxiously awaiting my first trip to meet them.  One of them lived a fairly frugal lifestyle, watched every baht and was somewhat surprised to hear me say I was looking forward to the massages I'd read about there.

"Oh, so expensive," he wrote "I'll do Thai massage for you!" "Do you know how to do a Thai massage?" I'd asked, and when he replied "No, but I'll learn. You don't need to spend so much money here!"  I figured I could either have lucked out or I may come back home in traction of some sort.

Nevertheless, I thanked him for his kind offer and thought that maybe - just maybe - he'd actually take some classes in the five months before I was scheduled to arrive. "Stranger things have happened," I said to myself, but knowing he worked six days a week at an office job I wasn't getting my hopes up.

When we met we went out to dinner and he mentioned in passing that he'd learned "some" technique and was planning to show me what he'd learned when he dropped me back at my hotel later that evening.  I was apprehensive, but figured "oh, what the hell... why not?"

Back at my room I asked him where he'd taken his training, and he said "oh, no time for training... I read a book!"  "A book?" I asked, now more than merely apprehensive. "Yes, I bought a book, and I read it every day on my lunch hour. Every night when I'd get home I'd practice on my father". "Is your father all right?" I inquired, trying to be as delicate as possible in my questioning. "Yes, he said I'm learning fast!"  He seemed so pleased to be able to do this favor for me that I let down my guard and had my first Thai massage.

Lo and behold - in this "newbie's" opinion - he did a decent job at it. Having had countless others of varying quality since then he did just fine, thinking back.

There were a few times when I had to say "easy with me, I'm not used to this" and he'd lessen the pressure he was using, but it really was relaxing, and when he was through I got up and moved around the room, noting my increased range of joint motion and stretched muscles.  As I was complimenting him on his new skills he pulled a used copy of today's book out of his backpack that he'd found in some book shop.

Both images today are from Thai Massage Manual by Maria Mercati, copyright 1998

Thai Massage Manual is all in English, published by Asia Books, but is so well illustrated with step-by-step images and instructions that even with his limited English he was able to duplicate the moves fairly well.  I went out and bought a copy the next day.  Anyone can learn this. Anyone. I practiced it myself at home and returned on my second visit with enough at hand to give him an approximation of what he'd done with me.

New, the book cost me 595Bt (about $20USD). I hope at his pay rate he got a much cheaper version someplace used, but I didn't want to be rude and ask, so I didn't. It's a full-size (8.5" x 11"), full color paperback, 144 pages, and covers technique, different stretches and pressures, and how to work on different parts of the body.

Doing a quick check on Amazon I found copies between $3USD and $15USD. Well worth the investment if you care to learn some about this wonderful and healthy practice.

[As a side note/reminder, there's a link to a very good currency converter right here on the blog in the right hand column.]

Friday, October 19, 2012

Finding Cheap Flights To Thailand - An Overview

Dawn one Thailand-bound morning as I waited for my connecting flight

The internet can be a marvelous tool for doing research, but advertising and deceptive linking have almost given it more drawbacks than benefits.  Take airline tickets, for example - and we will, today. I can suggest the sources I've used in the past, but since those are only based on my experiences you'll unfortunately have to do some of the legwork on your own.

Online travel forums can be a help, but sometimes the best references can be people you know and trust on one level or another, especially if you consider those sources with some amount of care.

Travel agents can be an enormous help if you're brand new to the idea of international flight, but you still have to do some research yourself if you intend to make an informed decision. Different travel agencies can be allied or connected to different outlets for blocks of discounted seats, and that can be a big help - if you know where to find them.  I'd suggest trying several different places, and advice from other travelers can again be the key here.

Dealing directly with the airlines themselves is another way of looking for deals, but fares can change with the direction of the breeze on any given day, and you need to be aware of that and, if possible, do some checking on fares over a period of a couple of weeks. Change your travel dates in their search engines, too, because different days will give you different results.  There are also often "classes" of tickets that are priced differently based on the miles awarded for each leg of your journey.  If you're one who enjoys that cat and mouse game that adds another dimension of probable frustration; I usually choose not to pay all that much attention to whether I'm getting 100% of my flight miles credited or, say, only 80% of them.  It's almost too minor a difference for me to worry about, but that may only be me.

I choose to get to Thailand comfortably, but that level of personal comfort is a relative thing, I know.  What may seem fine to me may seem hellish to others.  Still, I'd always choose not to spend my holiday money on more of a flight than I need; there are many other things I'd rather spend it on. That said, here are some airlines I'm familiar with, and how I'd rate them overall:

JAL - Japan Airlines - B+
I found the ticketing process, the on-time dependability and the employees I met to all be exemplary.  They also did deals with an agency I dealt with about a decade ago, and I got a round-trip economy seat for $610 round trip, with all fees and taxes included.

EVA - EVA Evergreen Airlines - A
My old standby, and where I tend to look first.  Booking directly through their site is often fairly simple, and they offer specials from the West coast of the US, especially from LAX (Los Angeles). The cabin staff are very attentive, and they offer a wide range of amenities - especially if you join their free frequent flyer program.

United Airlines - C
Domestic (for me here in California, anyway) airlines are just that: domestic, basic, little or no frills or amenities unless you popping for First Class, and the employees all too often tend to act as if they're doing you a favor by giving you much of any dollar value. I've actually had surly flight attendants. The cabins haven't been up to snuff - for my money, anyway - and I don't find much value to them period.

Cathay Pacific - A
A little more expensive than EVA, but their reservation system, staff, cabin crew and amenities by class are all on the same level as EVA.

If you're concerned about safety overall, you can do a Google search for airline accident rates and find several sites that list safety issues by airline and by region of the globe. I figure any time I'm hurtling along at 500 miles per hour 30,000 feet off the ground in a metal tube I'm literally flying on faith that the damn fool thing won't suddenly plunge to the ground, but there's no need to ignore safety records to save a few hundred dollars, either.  Do some investigation.

If you intend to book your own tickets, again do some checking on forums or travel sites to see which days of the week (and times of the year) are better buys.  Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays I've found to be the more reasonably priced days to fly.  I've heard from several sources that the best time to be checking for ticket prices is Tuesday 12:00 East coast time, or 09:00 West coast time.  Prices can change not only from day to day, but within the same day - for the same identical flight.

Booking well in advance is standard advice worth noting, but there are also "last minute" fares when an airline is trying to fill a flight before cancelling it altogether, too.  And then there's just plain old dumb luck...

Let this merely be some food for thought, since some of you are thinking of the cold weather ahead and the warmer days in Thailand. We'll come back to it again with some sources for you at the beginning of next week.

As always, you input is welcome!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sleeping, Part 11: Anytime, Anywhere 2

Snoozing between fares in Isaan

The "Sleeping" series still generates enough interest that it'll continue, I suppose.  It's certainly not for a lack of people seen snoozing while I'm out and about, that's for sure; it's perfectly normal in a warm climate and even somewhat of a prerequisite in a hot one.  For those who missed or have forgotten the post about Mad Dogs and Englishmen from a couple of years ago you can hear Noel Coward's admonitions on the subject by clicking the link.

Napping amid the chaos of the Chatuchak weekend market

An afternoon nap is a guilty pleasure for me, and while I don't manage to sneak one into my schedule very often here at home I often do when in Thailand. It's a simple matter of "When in Rome" and all that, you see, but I do sometimes regret losing that time while on holiday. I sometimes tell myself "you snooze, you lose", but after a few hours walking around I'm often so knackered (as some would say) that it's the only logical choice. So it goes.

There are two schools of thought about taking pictures of people lost in the land of Winken, Blinken and Nod, I suppose: some think it's not proper to take them and then post them online, but I believe it's a matter of context.

Bao-Bao's Blog is not one of many just a short step away from a porn site, and most tell me that cuts me a little slack. Leave a comment or drop me an email if you think I'm way off base here and let's see. I produce this site for you, the readers, and am always open to suggestions (other than just stopping and going away)!

Testing the capacity of a canvas chair in a market in Surin

So here's another grouping of images of people making that logical choice, taken in a number of different places in Thailand. How some of them can sleep in the chaos around them used to baffle me until I realized it's more than likely they've grown up in communal settings and have adjusted to it.

You'll have to look closely to see this woman napping above the Chao Phraya River near Nonthaburi, but she's there.

I'd love to be able to say I'm going to get a nap in today myself, but it's not going to happen. May you have better luck with it than I do!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Same Same, But VERY Different! Pt. 12: Businesses

A simple BBQ stand in Bangkok

Costco is currently a large chain of warehouse stores with over 600 locations worldwide (including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan for you "Asiaphiles"). It's the 7th largest retailer in the entire world, and conspicuous consumption for the masses in it's finest form.

The other day I was pushing my cart away from the check-out area and happened by a computer monitor displaying some sales figures for the location I was at. Being curious, I looked at it, and saw sales goals for the unit and the results of goals vs actual sales: the day's goal of $743,000 USD, and actual sales (an hour before closing time) of $689,300 and change.  That's one hell of a lot of sales. If you extrapolate those figures out for an entire year that comes to roughly (entirely my guess here) $255,000,000.

Shoppers pushing oversize carts from a Costco checkout area. Internet image, not mine.

While wheeling my cart to the car I couldn't help but think of a family I'm acquainted with in Pattaya who operate a little shop on wheels, offering those little sticks of BBQ chicken and beef for sale. The single mother who runs the cart business buys roughly 200 baht's worth of raw product daily, cooks it on the street and - on a good day - sells enough of them to make a meager profit that helps keep a humble roof over the heads of her and her three children.

When her husband was around for the first handful of years they were a family they lived with his parents in a simple home a short distance from where many of you would probably stay while visiting Jomtien, an area adjoining Pattaya.

The father used to collect recyclable items from the streets and dump areas, but his alcoholism and penchant for other women finally got the better of him and he walked away from his familial responsibilities a few years back, leaving the mother to make the best of things.

To compound her misfortune, when her husband's family learned that their son had left they blamed her, and decided that she and their three grandchildren didn't belong under their roof any longer, and put them out onto the street. They stayed with friends briefly before she found shelter for herself and the kids, and after working some odd jobs here and there she managed to scrape together enough to buy a cart and begin her own business; a trade learned from her own parents in another part of the country decades before.

Now, I realize it's an extreme stretch to make the comparison between the cart she wheels about to wherever she feels the sales are for the day and an enormous warehouse location, but a business is a business, and if you do the dollar-to-baht conversion that brings us to a daily sales comparison of roughly $700,000 vs $12.

Same same, but VERY different.  Chew on that one a while the next time you think you're not doing well financially, and thank your lucky stars - or whatever - that you're living the life you've been graced with.

While you're at it, pass me that ten pound bag of mini-pretzels, will you?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Report 5: What-You-See-Is-What-You-Say Phrasebook

Another reference book today, and while it's not as readily available as some it's both informative and entertaining: Eric Allyn's What You See Is What You Say Thai Phrase Handbook, originally published by Bua Luang in 1999 and updated in 2003. He worked with Samorn Chaiyana to put this volume together, and they did an admirable job of it.

It's available through both Amazon US and Amazon UK, and I've seen it numerous times in bookstores (both new and used) in Thailand.  For that reason I've added the spine image to my somewhat worn cover image, just to make it easier to spot if you're scanning through stacks of used books in a shop or market area.

At 304 pages and weighing nearly a pound I've considered leaving it behind several times, but it's come in handy more than any other portable reference I've found so far; even more valuable than an electronic translating device, or "talking dic" as my friends usually call it. It's a bit larger than a standard pocketbook paperback, but it's still worth the space.

Through usage I've found it to be the both the easiest and best (and most accurate, according to Thai friends) reference for transliteration, and it allows you to delve as simply or as deeply into the Thai language as you wish. What I guess I mean is it gives you room to grow, and each time I return to it I see and am able to use more things. Stumbling with pronunciation is cute to a point - and entertaining for the Thai around you, naturally - but out of respect I try not to mangle the language any more than necessary.

It's also interesting reading if you're not using it as a word/phrase guide. You can read many, many short pieces dealing with, for instance, how usage of the fork and spoon became prevalent in the Kingdom, learn of the customs and importance of rice and see countless examples of things you might have seen but not understood via the hundreds of diagrams, line drawings and photographs that cover everything from street signs to fruits and vegetables.

There's a basic (but thorough) overview of not only the WYSIWYS transliteration system, but also  tones, vowels, consonants, and some English words "phoneticized", and the book also contains a wealth of interesting cultural information well beyond the usual hackneyed "dos and don'ts". Granted, I can usually pantomime my way through it if upon checking into a hotel I want to ask questions like "is there a higher floor", but it's nice to be able to clarify such points in Thai. There are a full eight pages of specific phrases you may well find handy at a hotel, for example.

In addition to the English there's the transliterated Thai and the Thai characters for words and phrases, and it's so much easier than looking things up word by word. If you're of a mind to try them, there are even short quizzes throughout the book's sections to test your comprehension.

I'd put it in my top five titles to look for if you're truly interested in experiencing Thailand, and not merely visiting.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kanom, Khanom... Either Means Dessert

Kanom - or khanom, depending on which source for transliteration you refer to - is the word usually used to designate something as a dessert. If you check the "Snacks" label link in the right hand column of links you'll see many other examples.

The little crepe-like pancakes being methodically assembled and hand-rolled in the clip above are (as I was told) called kanom Tokyo.  Some would know kanom Tokyo as more of a custard filled snack, but these were more of the slightly sweet/savory variety, and quite delicious.

I've tried many varieties of these small street crepes over the years, and have yet to be disappointed with any of them.  Granted, some are more to my palate than others, but I'd suggest you try some yourself - especially if you see a few locals standing at a cart while on your travels.  As you've read here (and other places) before: the locals know where the best food awaits you.

The clip was taken in Old Chantaburi Town, near where I was away on the long weekend with my always helpful Thai physician friend. This poor soul is so good about being patient while I scribble down the answers to my "what do you call this" questions. He's proud of both his country and culture, and it's worthy of my gratitude.  Thanks again, pal.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone.  I'll be back on task with an enormous ongoing project and probably won't see much of the Autumn weather here, but plan to be here again on Monday.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Oops... Missed A Couple Of Days, There

E-mail, Silverdaddies, IM, email, IM,  GRomeo, etc... my friend could sit like this for hours. Thank goodness he found someone stable and can make time to enjoy the real world!

No, I haven't dropped into a crack in the earth and vanished, although I imagine there may be a few on this planet that wouldn't mind if I did!

Rather like the young man hunched over his laptop in my room in Bangkok I've been knee deep in a project that's barely left me time to eat and sleep for the past few days, and I've been remiss in my obligation to myself not to let this become a casualty of the other obligations, if you know what I mean.

I'll be back tomorrow, I expect... or the next day. Trust me, I'd rather be thinking of Thailand.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Same Same, But Different! Pt. 12: Bud's Ice Cream

An open air Bud's Ice Cream shop on Laem Sing Beach, Chantaburi Province

OK, it's nostalgia time for those of you in the USA of a certain age, and I know there are some readers who will remember this. For the rest of you it's just a little background information about a product you're still likely to run into in the US - and Asia, strangely enough.

From the A.F.C. site
Bud Scheideman opened the first Bud's Ice Cream in San Francisco back in the 1960s. Then it was a small production facility and retail shop at 24th and Castro, and people soon learned that it was about the best ice cream around.

While Baskin-Robbins had opened in Southern California in the mid-1940s, this was before the days when Haagen-Daz and Ben and Jerry's were everyday staples of chain supermarket freezer cases. Several local dairies made their own house brands, of course, but the the brands we're talking about today have a higher butterfat content, and the "mouth feel" is noticeable.

Candied coconut, banana and sweet potato of some form were the base for my sundae. Syrups aren't often added as a topping.

Local treats in the freezer case

As a side note, Baskin-Robbins also branched out into the international market (including Asia) and they claim they also sell in Thailand, but I've yet to notice them there. I might have seen them and just don't remember it, but that's unlikely; when I travel I usually notice reminders of home.

I can see malls at home, so I don't usually spend a lot of time in them while overseas. Nothing against those who do, but I don't fly that far to see Swarovski crystal, regardless of the possible savings.

Standards aren't strictly enforced, as you might imagine, but it was still Bud's

My friend's sundae, although I've forgotten what was below the ice cream.

Alvin Edlin bought the Bud's operation from Scheideman - his cousin - in 1952. He upgraded the business and ran it until he sold it to a group of guys in 1982, who then sold it to Berkeley Farms in 1992. They were the ones who licensed it to American Foods Corporation, and that's when it truly went international, beginning in Singapore, Malaysia and, of course, all over Thailand.

"Base" options for your sundae

I have to admit - it was hot that noontime and it was a pleasant surprise to see the familiar logo sign sticking out over the walkway along Laem Sing beach on my long weekend in Chantaburi, and I told my friend we needed to stop in there after lunch. It was a happy break and a delicious - if different - treat.

Wall poster advertising ice cream cakes

Friday, October 5, 2012

Thai Smiles, Part 52: Kids In Chantaburi

Radio controlled cars at the Wat fundraiser I attended

Friday... finally.

It's been a long week for me, and I'm looking forward to doing a lot of nothing for the next couple of days.

I'd briefly considered attending the Castro crafts fair in San Francisco, but it's a long drive, and I'd heard from a friend of a particularly unpleasant troll seen lurking in their booth there last year, so I scratched that one off the list. Besides, it's Fleet Week, the city will be packed with sports fans, folks at other street festivals and the Blue Angels will be zooming overhead - which always draws a crowd - so it's best to just steer clear of the whole mess. When the laundry's finished and something is lined up for dinner plans this evening I'm done.

More or less.

Here today is an assortment of kids in the Chantaburi area, in keeping with the trip report about my long weekend near Laem Sing Beach. That poor thread has been dragged from Hell to breakfast already, so there's probably no damaging it further by derailing it another day!

Here's wishing you a weekend with nothing too pressing to do, too. See you on Monday.

This boy was all too pleased to be interrupted while studying one afternoon

Popcorn (sealed from the humidity to keep it crisp) was the item this boy had for sale at the wat fundraising festival

From their nervous surprised looks and giggles these two boys fooling around on the internet may have been looking at things better left until they were a little older.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Shrimp Farming In Chantaburi (Trip Report, Part 26)

Water is aerated in a small shrimp / prawn farm in Chantaburi

There are roads through the coastal areas of Chantaburi lined with large ponds that look a little like rice paddies, but there isn't any rice sticking up from the water. Instead, they're filled with shrimp - more black tiger prawns than other varieties. The water is aerated by axles extending out into the water, turning paddle wheels that agitate the water, sending a spray up into the air.

Detail of one of the aerating paddles

Shrimp farming is a big money maker for Thai farmers in the coastal areas of both the Gulf of Thailand and the lands bordering the Andaman sea.  We drove by hundreds of these shrimp or prawn farms in the Chantaburi area, and stopped to walk in and look at a few of them.

In the areas along the Andaman sea there are almost too many farms like these; large portions of mangrove groves have been demolished to make room for them, where crab, jellyfish and small fish previously thrived in the same brackish water now used for farming the shrimp and prawns.

Lines form a netting above many of the ponds that helps keep birds from diving in for an easy snack

In the 1980s Thai harvest nearly 90% of the shrimp directly from natural sources, such as the Guld of Thailand. Now some estimates say as much as half of the mangrove swamp areas along the Eastern and Southern coasts have been destroyed to create farms for them, due mainly to a rise in demand for the tasty crustaceans that exploded in the 1990s spurred by government subsidies, a demand from Japan and other countries and the rising prices that came along with it.

In an attempt to save some areas, notably near Trat, the government again subsidized the planting of sago and nipa palms, which would have normally thrived in the mangrove areas. Nipa leaves can also be a cash crop; easily woven into baskets and other items, and sago meal is a traditional part of the local's diet. Both allow the natural mangrove swamps to remain where nature intended them to be.

Some locals realized that by destroying the mangrove areas - and dumping pollutants from the ponds back out into the bay or ocean was causing an imbalance that effected them directly: less fish and crab for them to harvest for their own regular consumption.  

With luck, sense will win out over greed and the Thai will reach some happy compromise, allowing at least a partial restoration of the balance.