Time for Q & A ...

“When you walk around your house, when you see Thai farmers working on the rice field, I am sure that you would see them walk pass by to work on the rice field by your house, in the morning before sunrise and back home when the sunset. Do you have any of your opinion story to talk about that?”

Alas, it does not bother me, that they do toil in the fields and I do not. If, that is what you were getting at. They have their lives and we have ours. Life is neither fair nor equal and values can vary greatly. People here for example are not always as respectful of boundaries as we might like, but I can appreciate that it is easier to cut through our property than to walk through the fields. Just keep your hands off my fish in the pond and don’t throw rocks at my dogs.

Around here they only get one crop of rice per year. Very few are industrious enough to plant some other crop during the off season. Those who do, usually plant Thai pumpkins with that wonderfully “politically incorrect” name (f**k). You need to haul one bucket of water per plant so it is not hard to imagine why most don’t want to work that hard. Up in the hills they do plant other things, after cutting down the forest of course. That means most of the year I am not treated to their presence on my stage.

There is always something to watch, however. The weather or the dogs, are always up to something and there are some very interesting birds. My favorite is a hawk of some sort. White body with black head and wing tips, thin black epaulets and patch on the back. There are also a few birds that frequent the pond in search of small fish. A couple of snakes swim in the pond with the fish and crabs.

During the harvest which recently ended, I noticed people were waiting for the fog to burn off before heading off to the fields. It was quite cold and wet, with low visibility so not much point in heading out before the sunrise. I’m sure they were at the market or doing something else at home in the meantime. My wife and I were more apt to meet people heading out as we were returning from the dam like we did this morning. Greetings are brief as they whisk by on motorbikes, E-Tans or tractors. Their facial expressions speak volumes, however.

I like the communal aspect of their work, though I’m not a great fan of their loud, after work drinking. I feel that may have something to do with holding them back. But, to each his own. Sometimes they work in family units and often larger groups of 10, 20 or even 30 people harvesting by hand. Others hire big harvesting machines for the day. Most use machines to thresh the rice, while some still beat the bundles by hand to separate the grains of rice from the stalk. My wife actually did that for the first time this year. She saw her mother and brother pounding away and maybe felt a tad guilty, so went out and gave it a try. I helped by loading the bags of rice into the truck and hauling them over to the mother’s house. I am not easily guilted into anything but since my wife’s driving is still not up to par, I do the driving out of self interest and preservation.

“I like your blog very much and would like any comments you have to make about the differences in culture that please you, the ones that make you stay there ~ and how it's different from your culture of birth.”

I have to say, I completely misread this question at first and had to rethink my answer. My wife and I actually discussed this on our hike to the dam this morning, so here is my take on things.

We don’t live here for any cultural reasons. It is all about lifestyle and affordability. Often, when reading or dreaming about a foreign country, one can be transported into a romanticized and magical realm where all things are beautiful and all problems and worries disappear. Discussion of culture usually focusses on historical foundations, theories and an idealized version. The truth of daily life seldom has any resemblance to those lofty ideals. It is like watching a Hollywood movie and believing life is really like that. Common people often have little understanding of their own culture or religion. They keep up on all the rituals and ceremonies but don’t necessarily understand the cultural and historical foundations for what they do.

My wife pointed out how monks aren’t what they used to be. They have cellphones, chase girls, drink, smoke and at least one major theft case in the village was young monks breaking into houses after having been there for blessing ceremonies and sussing out what might be ripe for the taking. At present we only have two monks at the local temple as the boys would rather pursue a more modern and materialistic lifestyle. Regardless of this, the older generation only see their sons becoming monks, in the light of the merit it brings to them and the family. Now it beats me how they can see merit coming from the goings on of their young delinquent sons, just because they shave their heads and wear a shade of saffron.

We thought we had found a way out of the traditional house warming (destruction) party by making a sizable donation to the local temple instead. After all it was all about the blessing of the house by monks and placating the spirits of the land that we displaced, right? Dream on. We were told by some that the temple and merit making is one thing and the drunken party is a separate and more important event, so to speak. I still think we are going to do it our way, however.

The cultural differences that stand out for many will depend on their own pet peeves. Like honesty, injustice, domestic violence, child abuse, manners, food, religion or any number of things that one places value on or is offended by. Culture shock or culture infatuation all depends on the luggage you bring with you. For me I was so young when I arrived and have been here so long, that the luggage was misplaced long ago.

Don’t know that any of this was what you were looking for by way of a response or “opinion story” but it is the best I can do right now.

What a difference a week makes ...

We were off to an early start. Our hopes, dreams, memories and the remainder of our worldly possessions, all neatly packed into our truck. It was a beautiful mourning that turned into an even better day and the best long haul drive I have ever had in Thailand. The roads were nearly deserted, due to it being election day. They had repaired the worst parts of the highway since our last trip and we cruised along at a moderate 120 kilometers an hour. All was good.

As we hit the mountains on highway 103 the trees were casting dazzling patterns on the road. The loss of foliage allowed for more light to pass through and the angle of the sun added to the effect. And yes, there is a semblance of Fall in the mountains of Thailand. Not the multi colored hues of latitudes further North but a subtle move from green to brown. The patterns were interesting to look at, even if a little distracting from the immediate task of avoiding the few drivers on the road and their tendency to cut corners on right hand bends. We even had time to stop and buy some garden tools on the roadside near Phrae and food at the market in Thoeng while still arriving home before dark.

Alas I started this at the wrong end of the week, so to make sense of things for you, I should perhaps go back to the beginning. I had let it slip to the manager of the condo in Bangkok, that next year we might be interested in “considering” the sale of our unit. Well, she jumped the gun a bit and said she had a buyer. We needed to retrieve more stuff if we were going to let her have a key, to show the unit, so we relented and made plans for a trip to Bangkok. It was not convenient but necessary at some point, so... Got the sister to come up and watch the house and dogs for us and hit the road on a Sunday morning.

Being a bit of a cynic and skeptic, to my surprise, the buyer really did want our unit and handed us a cashiers check and that was that. Check in the bank, we sat having dinner in a restaurant at Paragon just looking at each other. Had this really happened or was it some strange dream? The sale put into motion a cascade of other events. We had to cancel our internet connection, clear bills, close bank accounts, surrender my wife’s Green Card, visit friends, pack and shop...shop...shop. I had previously agreed to put off getting a new “Mia Noi” until after the condo sale, so now was free to do so.

This entry is in essence an introduction to my little miss iMac. She is 24 and a real beauty to behold. Sleek and stylish, yet extremely powerful and she does things for me that, quite simply, my wife cannot do.  Even off in the village one endeavors to keep up. With the new satellite set up, I now have my VOIP up and running, too. First day I was on Skype for 3 hours catching up with friends and family. Mainly holiday greetings and the like. That reminds me. I want to thank all of you who wrote in recently by way of comment or email and hope you had a good Christmas, if you celebrate it, and wish you the very best in the New Year!

Considering this was all well thought out, I found the twinge I felt as we drove away from the condo for the last time, quite moving. The condo was the first place I owned and we lived there for nearly 10 years. Now we are the owners of our first real HOME. Well, technically she owns it, but it was after all my money. The condo paid for the basic house and Apple stock paid for all the rest. It is interesting how things work out.

The first night back in the village was a vision of the Kuwait oil fields from the scorched earth days after the first gulf war. The moon hung low over the mountains but ones eyes were drawn to the dozen fires scattered around the valley. They were huge and menacing but eerily beautiful at the same time. The smell of smoke permeated the air but I found myself thinking how I preferred it, to the smell of industrial pollution in Bangkok. Surely there will be things about Bangkok that we miss. Some thirty years in a place leaves its mark but I’m not one to let that hold me back from new experiences.

My wife will miss the restaurants and shopping. She is not the greatest cook and having to prepare all the meals for us and the dogs is something new for her. We are looking into hiring a neighbor to help out with the cooking and cleaning. As I write this, one of the prospects and her sister are discussing things with my wife in the other room. It was pointed out that where I am right now, sitting with my Mia Noi, is probably where one should look first when trying to find me. They giggled as village women do and surely find it strange the way we live our life. We have always taken care of ourselves, so having help will take a little getting used to. It will provide a job or two for villagers who might otherwise be struggling to get by or might have to leave the village to find work. Hopefully, it will workout for all concerned.

I haven’t forgotten those of you who had questions and will make an effort to craft a post that addresses your queries.

Ton Sai Waterfall and Khao Phra Thaeo

Ton Sai waterfall is on the other side of the mountain from Bang Pae Waterfall in the North East of Phuket. It's easy to get to - just turn east at the main junction in the center of Thalang town and you drive about 5km through rubber plantations. The two waterfalls have their source on the same mountain, Khao Phra Thaeo, which is Phuket's largest untouched area of forest and is officially designated as a National Park. Entry fee is 200 Baht, or free if you arrive after 3pm. We stopped for a look a couple of weeks ago after spending an afternoon at Layan Beach - I can't resist the lure of free entry!

Part of Ton Sai Waterfall

We just went for a quick look at the waterfall, get a bit of jungle air (it's very jungly round here) and a little bit of exercise. There was a sign for a 2km nature trail, but I didn't think my kids would thank me for that. Apparently you can even hike over the mountain and join up with Bang Pae falls - not for the faint hearted I would say. The forest is said to be home to wild deer, monkeys, wild boar and even bears - I read that somewhere, but I somehow doubt the presence of bears... I have also read that the area was used during the filming of Good Morning Vietnam (which was mostly filmed in Thailand).

Kids playing at Ton Sai falls

Local kid at TonSai waterfall

Like Bang Pae there were a fair few locals splashing in the water and playing on the rocks. Watch your footing - some steep rocky paths around the falls. Like all other waterfalls in Phuket, the cascade is not small, and yet not hugely impressive, although it might be after heavy rains. There are several little waterfalls and you can hike higher up the hill if you have enough energy. Yeh, it's quite nice but rather tiny if you have seen Iguassu, Victoria falls, Niagara...

Jungle scene at Ton Sai Waterfall

Local wildlife at Ton Sai Waterfall

My daughter enjoyed making a mask from giant fallen leaves...

Leaf Mask

Well worth stopping in for a half hour. If you come after 3pm. Worth coming to the Thalang area where you can also find several temples, the Thalang museum, and if you head round to Bang Pae to see the other waterfall and the Gibbon project, add on a seafood lunch at Bang Pae Seafood, well you've got the makings of a good day out away from the crowds.

Karon Temple (Wat Suwan Khiri Khet)

Having worked for several years (2001 - 2004) within walking distance of Karon Temple, you might think I'd have been for a look around before, but that was before this blog got started in 2006. Once the blog kicked off I explored a lot more! Phuket is full of temples, though many visitors here don't bother with them - after all, if you have stopped in Bangkok, chances are you've "done" temples already, but Phuket has some notable historical temples and every community has it's own temple. I find every temple has something different, but all have a certain peace about them. I took a walk around Karon Temple for the first time one day in December 2007 and have been again several times since.

Karon Temple, Phuket

Karon Temple is about half a kilometer from the beach along Patak Road. If your hotel is towards the north end of Karon Beach, the temple is easily within walking distance and certainly worth a few minutes of your time if you can drag yourself off the beach.

Karon Temple, Phuket

Monk at Karon Temple

It's quite an attractive temple and while I was there several monks were working around the grounds keeping their temple neat and tidy. The main building is guarded by 2 huge snakes (Nagas) whose bodies continue round the entire building. The doors and windows are engraved with scenes from the life of the Buddha. As I walked around, a couple of temple dogs came to visit.

Karon Temple, Phuket

And a Monk was doing the gardening ...

Karon Temple, Phuket

Karon Temple, Phuket

Karon Temple, Phuket

Another building is guarded by rather bizarre blue monsters... these are called "Yak", supernatural beings that feature in old Buddhist texts. They scare off spirits and keep the Buddha images inside safe from harm. Inside is a distinctive black Buddha image along with a couple of rather Hindu looking images - a cow and a statue of Kali. The two religions are actually closely related - read more here: Buddhism and Hinduism.

Karon Temple, Phuket

Karon Temple, Phuket

Tuesday and Saturday afternoon / evening is a good time to visit Karon temple, as there's a market on those days with lots of food, clothes, jewelery, shoes and more. On other days the temple will be much quieter. Rather like Patong Temple, if you visit Karon Temple you can find a little oasis of peace just off the main road and close to a busy tourist zone. With temples like this so close to the hotels, there's no excuse not to visit!

Karon Beach Hotel Tips
Karon Temple Market
More Temples in Phuket

What Now ?...

It seems like such a long time ago, I began contemplating a blog. Figured the best way to learn about blogging was just to jump in and get my feet wet. Looking back I had some rather quaint notions about what I was doing, why and for whom. Quite naively I thought it would be read by friends and family. Only a few friends have read any of it, that I know of, and even fewer have commented in any way. Aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, even my brother have all been painfully silent. One aunt said it was “nice” so obviously she didn’t read it or she was attempting to be “nice” in her response.

Don’t know for sure but I suspect that most of my relatives are pretty far Right and Religious in their leanings. Assuming such, it would be hard to expect them to read an entire post let alone the whole blog. In all fairness they most likely will never visit Thailand so have little interest in things so unrelated to their daily lives. I had hoped perhaps that by offering something of myself it might open a door that could lead to further communication. As it stands I am left to assume that when my parents are gone I will find little to connect me to my place of birth.

I knew, when I began, there were far too many people writing about the how, where and how-much aspects of the sex trade in Thailand. There are also those who write about their fascination with the newness and strangeness of a newly discovered culture, commenting on all they see and how odd or peculiar it appears to them. I was hopeful there might just be a few souls out there who were ready to read about Thailand in a slightly different light, without all the sex and touristy stuff. Several of you have been kind enough to read most, if not all of my musings, and even make a comment now and then.

Since we were beginning the house construction at the time it seemed logical to write about the process of building our house in a Northern Thai Village. I tried to make reference to the house in each post but found myself writing about our “life” more than the nuts and bolts of building. Well, now the house is finished, or at least we have taken up residence. Not sure it will ever be “finished” in the eyes of my wife and I’m pretty sure it will remain a work in progress for some time to come. Always something else that could be done.

My life has been transformed and I no longer feel as though I am camping out, at the mercy of the elements. Everything seems to work and things are so comfortable and convenient, that I have less need of the distraction which writing the blog has become. I’m spending much less time online or watching TV. The weather is great and it just seems such a waste to be staring at pixels on a screen. The mind does not shut down, thank goodness, so I continue to come up with topics to write about. Daily events can always be viewed from my slightly skewed perspective and turned into an entry or part there of. Just find it hard to plant my ass in the chair and get it down on paper, so to speak.

Strangely enough I feel I have found a voice, tenor or style that suits me. I had not noticed until an astute individual or two commented on such. It is oddly satisfying when someone makes the effort to peer behind the words in an attempt to know the author. Even more so when thoughts are provoked and memories or experiences are shared. Writing is an egotistical venture by nature. It assumes one has something worth saying, even if only to a few. It is also a good discipline and mental exercise so hope to keep it going and going ...

Pictures Not Words ...

They say a picture is worth ... well, something anyway.

Fresh flowers on our Buddha Shelf

Just about every house in Thailand will have a "Buddha Shelf", a personal shrine where prayers can be said, a mini temple in your own front room. Everyone's shrine is different, featuring images that are important personally. Our Buddha shelf does not actually have a Buddha image on it - the central figure is a statue of King Rama V (King Chulalongkorn).

King Rama V image on our Buddha Shelf

December 5th was the 80th Birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, an ideal day to clean our Buddha shelf, change the flowers and say a prayer. Some people change the flowers weekly, we tend to be a little less diligent. The old flowers were not looking great this time ...

Old flowers More old flowers

King Rama V needs pink roses, which were his favourite flowers. You'll find flower shops all over Phuket, indeed all over Thailand... all selling flowers for Buddha..roses and garlands just for the thousands, maybe millions of Buddha shelves all over the country.

Pink roses More new flowers for our shrine

With the shelf clean, fresh flowers in place and a fresh glass of water, next step is to light the candles and incense and say a prayer.

Putting candles on the Buddha shelf A prayer

The Buddha shelf is an important part of the home. Some houses have a shelf collection and many different Buddha images or statues of Kings. We do try to look after ours and it always looks great with new flowers and after a spring clean. The room looks brighter and fresher...

Buddha shelf close up

Our Buddha shelf

Mediocrity Revisited ...

After my post on Mediocrity I received a long email from an old friend on mine, back home. My ramblings seemed to touch a cord with him, especially the line “Thinking about consequences and being responsible is far too tedious.” Most of what he wrote was far too personal to be shared in these pages. Some of it referenced things I had previously shared about my sibling relationship. To paraphrase, his main observation in the end was that, from a social science standpoint, he found it fascinating that the differences in human nature really are not all that great when contrasted with the Thai village and my wife’s brother and sister, and the so-called more advanced "industrialized" nation of America in the case of his sibling sitting in the suburbs of a US city. He felt it was helpful and reinforcing in the end to be able to compare his situation to mine.

Perhaps one reason we have remained friends despite distance and age, is our ability to share ideas, thoughts and feelings. I do not feel it is necessary to share the same beliefs, background or locale. Simply being able to open up to another human being and share in the give and take of ideas, whether or not we agree, seems like it should be a simple enough thing. All too often, however, people’s beliefs are so ridged and their egos so fragile that even the slightest variance from standard deviation, will be met with outrage, anger or even violence.

As for my friend’s observation that it is helpful to compare and contrast things, I find that especially true and unavoidable living in the village. When much of what you take for granted is disregarded or incomprehensible to those who live around you, it can be disconcerting. On the other hand, it can lead to greater insight, understanding and self awareness.

Families are never perfect and the relationships, therein, are seldom what we would wish them to be. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you live in a village or city. If your family is too close and controlling, and in your face about your every move, you may wish for more freedom and understanding. If on the other extreme, they are too distant and uncommunicative, you may long for a more close knit and caring family.

On the rare occasion when I have been approached by a young relative as to why our family is the way it is, my reply is usually the following. Nobody has perfect parents or families and more often than not we succeed in spite of them, not because of them. We are not responsible for choosing our families. That fate was forced upon us.

Who we choose to let into our inner circle throughout out lives is a completely different story. Choose wisely and life can be a wonderful blessing. Make poor choices and find yourself in a never ending quagmire of burden and suffering. It is best in my opinion to dwell less on where we come from and more on where we are going. If our families care to join us on our journeys and contribute constructively, that’s great. If they are negative, complaining and try to hold us back then they should be let off the bus.

For an update on the little boy in our care, he is doing well. His parents came to the village during the recent holiday for the King’s Birthday. I don’t usually get involved in family matters but this time my wife asked me to back her up and contribute in a discussion about the future with her brother and his wife. We sat on the sofa discussing responsibility, consequences, alternatives and ways of weighing the plusses and minuses of living in Bangkok or the village. There was no rush to conclusion. The tone was more, food for thought and planting seeds, that may or may not grow to fruition. Some people you can help, but it is yet to be seen if her brother is one of those. He seems too much like his father for my liking but perhaps...

The Beach Bar is Back!

December 2007 : We first found "The Beach Bar" about a year ago and it quickly became a favourite place to eat, drink and just... chill. Finding a place to truly "chill" in Phuket is a bit tricky, but you can do it! The Beach Bar is a little restaurant on the east side of Chalong Bay, down Cape Panwa way. Just follow the signs to the Panwa Beach Resort and you'll find it.

Beach is NOT crowded!

Panwa has long been a favourite area and last year I was very happy to find a place here right on the beach, with cheap tasty food, friendly people, great views, a safe beach for the kids to play... The Beach Bar. Sadly it was closed all low season and we wondered if it would open again, and then last week we took a drive to check. Hoorah!

The Beach Bar Sweeping the beach

Another little bar a few meters from The Beach Bar View from The Beach Bar

It has actually moved about 20m closer to the Novotel, leaving some half-knocked-down walls next door. Yeh, not 100% pure paradise, but we like it and this is my blog! The family who run the place are very friendly, the food is tasty, beer is cold and the view across Chalong Bay is great, especially for sunsets. The Beach Bar is very much "the other Phuket" away from the crowded beaches and jet skis and tailors. Don't be surprised to see us here next weekend too...

Update - here's a more up to date blog page about the Beach Bar :

The Beach Bar @ Cape Panwa

Sunset across Chalong Bay (near the Beach Bar) Sunset at The Beach Bar

More about the Cape Panwa area...

Phuket Aquarium
Panwa Beach Resort
Khao Kad Viewpoint

Dog, Fog, and House ...

Previously I wrote in, Puppy Love, about my hopes for the future of our yellow lab mix. He is now 9 months old and doing exceedingly well. We chose to move him to the new house in the late evening and fed him here with the other two dogs. For familiarity his cage and bed were brought along and placed in the living room but have since been moved into a spare room off the kitchen. The first night he didn’t mind being locked in his cage. It may have provided some security in a strange environment. The next night he got upset in the middle of the night, thus the move to another room where he could be allowed to move around and change positions without getting into trouble for sleeping on the furniture.

We braced ourselves for the possibility of altercations with neighboring dogs, but to our surprise and relief they have all gotten along quite well. We have gone from a secure walled-in yard to an open area surrounded by rice fields. If I didn’t know better I could imagine that being the resident pack of the biggest and most eccentric house in the area has afforded our dogs an elevated status among the local thugs and bullies.  All three of our male dogs are behaving differently these days and strutting their stuff with a relaxed air of self confidence.

With the success of the move I decided to try, leash free, hiking to the dam. The youngster isn’t as strong as his uncles but makes a valiant effort to keep up. The one dog is an elegant leaper with some very stylish moves. The puppy has tried on occasion to follow his lead up a steep hill or high ledge, to find himself falling in a heap at the base of the embankment. Embarrassing for sure but no damage done.

Without the hindrance of a leash we are all getting a much better workout on our frequent constitutionals. With the foggy, morning temperatures in the fifties these days, the nearly 5 mile round trip jaunt to the dam, is quite pleasant. The locals are no longer shocked when we pop out of the mist on their way to the fields and orchards. We are heading home from the dam, flush from our exertion and enjoyment. No telling how long this weather will last so I’m determined to get out every morning, if possible. After the stress and preoccupation of building the house this aging frame is in dire need of a regular exercise regimen.

As for the house, it has far exceeded what I allowed myself to hope for. After grinding coffee beans and steeping them in the French press, I sit at the table these mornings, savoring this addicting brew. I take in the views of the fields and mountains beyond and count myself among the fortunate few to be living a dream.