November 2003 Archives

Odai's Village

I'm siting on the train now, watching the rice fields go by. Usually I enjoy seeing the rice fileds, but this time they are stressing me out... only because they are no where near Bangkok and, accoriding to my clock and my ticket, we should be arriving at Hualamphong now but we are at least two hours away.

In any case, it gives me some time to refect on another amazing weekend getaway. Most of yesterday was spent at Odai's village outside of Vietiane. It took us about an hour to make the 30 km trip by truck. But there was so much to look at, the time passed quickly.

The last time I visited Odai's village, I didn't get a chance to explore much. But this time, the four Americans decided to walk around a bit. The village was actually quite big and was located between the main dirt road and the Mekong. On the banks of the Mekong old ladies were busy tending terraced plots of corn, chives, beans, tomatoes, and other staple crops.

Most of the houses in the village were the traditional style: raised on stilts and made of wood. Pigs, chickens, ducks, dogs, and Lao children were everywhere. The animals mostly ignored us, but the children didn't. They were shy at first, but when we smiled at them and said Sabai dee (Hello) they would smile and giggle and follow us. By the end of our tour, we had about 20 dirty but very happy kids on foot and on bike following us down the dirt road. So cute!

Back at Odai's house, we had a lunch of ginger chicken and fish soup before we piled back into the truck and made our way back to the bridge. Now we are sitting at the Nong Khai (Thailand) train station waiting to take the overnight train back to Bangkok.

Relaxing in Vientiane

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We ended our first full day in Laos at a nightclub called "Future". An Irish guy who we first met at the border crossing was at the club as well. "What a great day!" he raved. "I ate pastries at the Scandinavian Bakery, then walked around town, then went to the sauna, and now I'm having a great time being one of the few white people at this Lao disco." The funny thing was that our day was exactly the same as his and we liked it just as much as he did.

The only thing we could add was the tour of Vientiane in a pickup truck driven by my good friend Odai, who lives outside of Vientiane. We visted the main tourist spots of the Pratuxai Mionument and That Luang. I had been to both before, so I wasn't as busy taking pictures as Mark, Sarah, and Jackie were. But I was still able to take a few good ones.

We then headed to my favorite Lao sauna. There is just something amazingly refreshing about sitting in a hot, herbal steam room, then splashing down with some ice cold water, then relaxing under the trees sipping warm tea, then doing it all again (and again and again). The fact that the whole place is full of chatty friendly Lao people makes it that much more fun.

Next on our busy schedule (heh) was drinking Beer Lao and watching the sun set over the Mekong. As I have said many times before, this is one of my favorite SE Asian activities. Then it was time for dinner and a trip to the disco. The disco was the usual set up with tables and young Lao people sitting around drinking whisky and subtlely bopping to the high-energy dance music. We caused quite a scene: five white people dancing with arms flailing, booties shaking, gettin' down western-style.

Learning Immigration Laws

Whew, today has been a hectic day.

The plan for this weekend was for me to take three fellow Americans (Mark, Sarah, and Jackie) on their first visit to Laos. We will take the overnight train to Nong Khai and then cross the bridge over to Laos. We'll spend Saturday night in Vietiane and then back across the bridge to the overnight train back to Bangkok Sunday night.

But this morning, a panicked Jackie asked me, "But what about my visa?!" It's a good thing she asked, because if she had gone to Laos, her non-immigrant visa would have been cancelled and she would have had a huge headache to deal with when she was back. So I ran to the Immigration Office for her today to get her a multiple-entry visa.

I guess the take-away for today is that sometimes dealing with visas is an inconveniece, but at least now I am learning the rules and getting the hang of it. Today's trip to Immigration was smooth as silk.

Now it's time to pack up and head to Siam Center with Jackie to meet Mark
and Sarah. We'll have dinner and then grab a cab to the train station. Laos, here we come!

"Christmas"

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As the skytrain pulled into Siam station tonight, I noticed a lot of decorative lights adorning the nearby shopping malls. "Ahhh," I thought. "Decorations for the King's Birthday next week."

Then, to my horror, I looked closer at the flashing lights to read "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year."

Sure enough, as I walked through Siam Center and Discovery Center on the way home, green wreaths and white lights and gold and silver and red bows were going up all over the place. Over the loudspeakers, dance versions of Christmas carols were blasting.

What? Dance versions of Christmas carols? I had to stop and listen to see if it was true. Sure enough, throughout "O Come All Ye Faithful" a "diva" was moaning, "Ooh... Come... Come... Ay!".

I wish I was kidding.

Sunflowers

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Often when I go visit someone's home in Bangkok, I see a picture of them in a huge sunflower field in Lopburi. The flowers bloom in November, and sinced I have trouble resisting a photo-op, I took the 3rd class train from Bangkok to Lopburi last night.

My friends Don and Gey picked me up at the Ban Mee (their hometown) train station and I stayed at their very cute Thai-style house. The most challenging part of the evening was explaining the meaning of: "Your house is very cozy".

The next day we visited the sunflower fields and I have to admit, it was quite impressive. Many Thai people were there visiting as well, taking pictures in the fields and snacking on sunflower seeds that were for sale along the road.

The afternoon consisted of Isaan-style lunch on a floating restaurant at a nearby lake and a trip to a big dam. Our lunch was especially good. The food we had has become my favorite Thai meal: kao neow, som dtam, and mu nam tok -- phet nit noy (Sticky rice, papaya salad, and "waterfall" pork -- but please don't make it too spicy!)

So now I have a picture of me in a sunflower field. Hopefully I can post it soon!

"Thanksgiving"

We celebrated Thanksgiving a week early tonight. There were seven of us: me, Piyawat, Jackie, Mark, Dtri, Manop (visiting from San Francisco) and Manop's friend ___ (Oh no... I have forgotten his friend's name. How embarrassing!) who was also visiting from America.

On my suggestion, we ate at one of my favorite restaurants -- Sphinx on Silom Soi See. I don't think I have ever seen any turkeys in Thailand, so we had to make do with wing bean salad, crab curry, tom yum goong soup, some seafood quiche/casorole, and pork in egg nets. Yum!

Iraq Bound

As my friend Jase said on his weblog, I now know someone who is going to war in Iraq. (And yes, America is still fighting a war there. It ain't over yet.)

Ira was someone I first met online maybe 10 years ago and finally met him in person when I moved to San Francisco. He joined the Army (Reserves, I think) around the time I moved to Bangkok, and now he has his orders to pack up and ship out.

I check into his weblog every now and then and I hope that he has a chance to continue updating it even in Iraq. Ira has an amazingly unique view of the world and so I am sure his posts from the desert will be interesting reads.

So, for now I say: Good Luck, Ira. I look forward to hearing all about it in "past tense" a year from now.

Young Buffalo Fighting

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Apparently, sometimes the most interesting prose comes when the writer is not using his or her native language.

I spent the entire day grading labs from my computer class. Some of the labs required the students to write a little bit about themselves -- using the computer of course. It didn't really matter so much what they wrote, but that they were able to write in Word and upload the file to their Yahoo Briefcase, for example.

As I read through Word docs, text files, and HTML files (200 of each), I found a few gems that give an interesting insight into some of my students. For example, several students talk highly about themselves:

"I'm handsome and smart"

But they often had different things to say about their friends: "She is quite fat, long hair and very pale skin... she looks like a big ice or iceberg in polar. She is a good friend and clever. She looks like a talking Dict(ionary) of my group bcoz she know many vocabulary a lot in her brain." Another friend was described this way: "He has man body but inside his mind is a little girl. He is a good friend and friendly he help me about assignment when im sick."

Whereas I would never call a friend "fat" or "little girl in a man body", I guess it is ok to do it in Thailand as long as you add a few compliments as well!

Another student said: "My favorite subject is IIT 201(it's about computer) and its very funny, not serious." That's my class. I think it's supposed to be a compliment.

Finally, since metaphors represent the writer's view of the world and personal biases, perhaps they are the most telling. My personal favorite metaphor today is this one:

"My hobby is playing football in the swamp like young buffalo fighting."

Paints a vivid picture, doesn't it?

Pictures of Kuala Lumpur

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SunsetIt's time to get back to picture posting. Today's set comes from Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, Malaysia and were taken on October 18-19, 2003. These two days were definitely one of the highlights of the entire trip. I've never been in a Muslim country before, so the architecture and culture were all very new to me.

Check out the pics in the Pictures of Malaysia Photo Album.

Loy Kratong

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Holidays are one of those chances for me to say "Wow, another year already?!" This week, the annual celebration is Loy Kratong, one of the most important Thai events on the calendar.

Last year's Loy Kratong was mildly interesting for me, since I had never seen it before, but the crush of people at the river where we were was almost unbearable. This year, Piyawat and I decided to avoid the crowds as much as possible, but still take part in the celebration. So after dinner, we went to watch the latest Matrix movie at MBK. By the time we headed over to Chulalongkorn University, it was almost 11 PM and most of the crowds had left.

It was still fairly crowded, though, as we bought our 10-baht (US$.25) kratong. The kratong is basically a small boat with a styrofoam base filled with flowers and incense sticks and a candle. The idea is that you go to a river (or in our case, a pond on a university campus), light the candle and the incense and then loy (float) the kratong to give thanks to the water god/godess/spirit for providing the water that sustains life.

All in all, I think it is a nice tradition. Since I was raised as a Christian, I don't really believe in a water spirit. I do, however, think it is a good idea every now and then to reflect on the natural world (the water we drink and the air we breathe) and to be thankful for what we have been given.

Thai Flashcards

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After taking a long break from Thai lessons due to exams and road trips, I am back at it again. I've done a pretty good job this week -- studying for an hour or so most days. To help study, I made flashcards of 60 Thai words I should be able to read, write and speak.

I'd guess my working Thai vocabulary is about 100 words now. This makes me wonder what my English vocab is (tens of thousands? how many words are in a dictionary anyway?) and I wonder if I will ever break 1000 in Thai.

It's interesting to think about what words are most common in a language. Which are the important ones? Which would you teach first? In English it's "A is for Apple, B is for Banana". In Thai its "gaw is for gai (chicken) and kaw is for kai (egg)."

Here are some of those 60 words I know (well, at least these are the English versions)

Amimals: dog, cat, rabbit, tiger, elephant, monkey, chicken, shrimp
Other Nouns: glass, dish, house, water, song, swing, rice, egg, head
Verbs: eat, think, fly, sing, sit, want, speak, give, forget, have, study
Adjectives: sour, spicy, hungry, good, drunk, small, red, green, blue

Did you Notice how many of these have to do with food? Also, I don't think tiger, elephant and monkey are some of the first English words you would learn, but they are very important Thai words.

So now I can say something like this:

gra-dtai nang ching-cha lagaw rawng plang chang

(The rabbit sits on the swing and sings the elephant song.)

When I'm 64

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A special little poem by Lennon/McCartney for today: November 6, 2003.

When I get older
losing my hair
many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine?
Birthday greetings?
Bottle of wine?
If I'd been out 'till quarter to three,
would you lock the door?
Will you still need me?
Will you still feed me?
When I'm sixty-four?

I could be handy
mending a fuse
when your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings, go for a ride.
Doing the garden
Digging the weeds
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me?
Will you still feed me?
When I'm sixty four?

Lifestyles

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We interrupt the regularly scheduled picture posting for this brief introspection:

I always hated the word "lifestyle", as in "you and your (fill in your demographic here) lifestyle". Many times when I heard this phrase about my life, I felt a little defensive, as if my lifestyle was abnormal enough to merit a special lifestyle category.

But then last night, I made the observation that my lifestyle now is radically different than it was in San Francisco. In San Francisco, life was all about living in a big city, working, going to the gym on the way home, cooking and eating dinner at home, drinking a glass of wine, watching Ally McBeal, watering the plants on the condo balcony, working on the personal (family) relationships with those I was living with...

But now I live alone in an even bigger city. The important things in my life are working and going to the gym (ok, so those things are the same) studying Thai language, and eating every single meal outside my home. The big difference is that the only time I am ever in my condo is to sleep and to dress in the morning. I don't have a garden or a wine collection or a "home" with family. I just have an apartment in the city where I sleep. Seems like a small difference perhaps, but "finding comfort and purpose" is a big deal.

Even though I am very much enjoying my life these days, I did miss the old life a bit last night. I wonder when/if I will ever go back to that "domestic lifestyle". More importantly, I realized that as with everything, there are good and bad aspects of all lifestyles, whether you are a stressed-out executive with all the money and no time, or you are a laid-back rice farmer with all the time and no money.

So perhaps being put in a completely new environment has taught me that "lifestyle" is not such a bad word after all. Perhaps it has taught me to not be so defensive about the lifestyle I have chosen and instead be thankful that I am able to choose at all.

First MosqueToday's set of pictures are from our first stops in Malaysia -- Alor Setar and Georgetown, Penang. As soon as we got out of the car in Alor Setar and saw the city Mosque, we knew we weren't in Thailand any more.

For more pictures taken on our first two days in Malaysia (Oct 16-17, 2003), see the Malaysia Photo Archive

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2003 is the previous archive.

December 2003 is the next archive.

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