New Year’s 2009...

We sent off the old year with a party for the kids.  Entirely my wife’s idea of course.  Without alcohol or loud music, the adults I’m sure were less impressed than the children.  The kids did seem to have a good time playing games and receiving gifts, however.  I had the pleasure of conversation with an Australian neighbor and a British friend.  Their children seemed to hit it off and made followup plans for today.

We retired well before the midnight hour, but as is our custom, we took Cookie out one last time before bed.  The air was cool and crisp and the stars brilliant and beautiful.  From every direction could be heard revelers from neighboring villages.  All duty bound to bring in the New Year in a drunken stupor.  Though 2008 was good to me on the whole, I was content to say goodbye early and have a good nights sleep.

Much of last year I had been waiting for “Mr. Motivation” to join me in establishing a more consistent exercise regimen.  Motivation’s failure to show up to the party, left me with no choice but to rely on grit, determination and unrelenting action.  Though I hate morning exercise with a passion, it is the only time of day that I can consistently exert control over my schedule.  After a week I seem to be over the initial hurdle.  I no longer search for excuses not to go.  The first kilometer or two can be quite painful but the body warms up and the pain subsides.  A run up to the reservoir and a walk back, will in time, be replaced by a nonstop run.  A mere seven kilometers, it is not a major accomplishment but it is a step forward toward regaining some of my previous physical prowess. 

So this morning, the first of the New Year, was a continuation of what began in the waning days of the last.  In appreciation for all who visit these pages and especially those who take the time to correspond through comments or email, here are a few shots of the first morning of 2009, in my remote little piece of heaven.  My wife and I wish you all, health and happiness in the coming days and may you find whatever it is you are looking for.







4 years after the Tsunami

I don't really know what to write, but want to write something. What happened on December 26th 2004 was something quite unimaginable, off the scale, almost impossible to believe (unless you were right there). I did not see the tsunami, my family was safe at home, all we saw were the after effects, and most of what we saw was on the TV... even though you might think we were right here in the middle of it all.

Kamala Temple hit by the tsunami

The photo above shows Kamala temple, at Kamala Beach Phuket as the tsunami hit. Kamala was one of the worst hit areas of Phuket. We'd been there on the 25th with friends, having a drink at the beach, kids playing around. My wife was 9 months pregnant... our son was born 11th January. A lot of "what if's" were in my head for a long while after the tsunami. When I see this photo it reminds me that we are very lucky. 4 years later I don't dwell on the "what might have happened", but am very happy to have my family. As I write this, my boy (nearly 4 now) and my girl, now age 7, are racing round the living room on their Christmas presents - a couple of scooters. It's well past their bed time, but for today, I don't want to tell them "Go to Bed!" - I am happy to watch them having fun.

4 years seems like a long time, but also but a blink of the eye. Hard to believe my boy is nearly 4 years old. He doesn't know anything about the tsunami. My daughter has some idea.. I tried to explain a bit today about what happened and she was very relieved to be alive. This year, 4 years on, the tsunami seems like a surreal dream. In Phuket you certainly can't see any physical effects. Khao Lak (last time I went there) looked very neat and tidy. I want to take another visit soon. Phi Phi also is all cleaned up and new.. in fact some of the clean up was very very quick...

I was (and am) working at Karon Beach, Phuket. On December 26th 2004.. things looked like this...

Karon Beach Road, 26th December 2004

Karon Beach, 26th December 2004

And a few days later...

Karon Beach 2 days after the tsunami

Actually, Karon Beach was not hit hard in comparison to other places. And since it was what I saw first, I kind of thought, or hoped that things were not too bad. We got news from Phi Phi and Khao Lak later, and news from Aceh, Sri Lanka... many places. I took a walk along Patong beach next day...

Bus at Patong Beach, photo taken 27 December 2004

More photos of Karon and other beaches after the tsunami.. and you can get some idea of the rapid clean up here : Phuket after the tsunami.

4 years. A lot happens in 4 years. On December 31st 2004 we had no party, we lit some candles in the garden and a few tears were shed. I have to say it was a very very sad time. Replaced by happiness on January 11th 2005 when our son was born. At this time the future's so bright I gotta wear shades. Kids are still riding around the living room on scooters. Bless 'em.

There have been some interesting stories in the news about the tsunami recently. One talks about coral regrowth in damaged areas.. another hints at tsunami recurrence times of about 600 years based on studies of soil layers in affected areas.

I think this will be the last time I try to write anything about the tsunami. People keep asking about it. Today I have told the same story to customers several times. I don't want to be rude, but OK, it was 4 years ago now. Yes I was here. No I was not directly affected. We saw nothing really nasty. I did for a while feel guilty about being so close to it all, and yet not losing anything or anyone myself. Time now to get on with life.

Previous ramblings about the tsunami:

Living through the tsunami I
Living through the tsunami II
Life after the tsunami

Just 2 weeks until my son's 4th birthday. And just a few days until New Year.. and we will party this year!

Oh, a final note.. I saw just a few days ago, just before the 4th anniversary, that Oxfam had announced the end of it's tsunami relief program. There is a locally based charity still involved with long term relief, though they also have nothing now to do with "tsunami relief". I somehow feel attached to it, as the 4Kali charity was set up by the family of a girl called Kali who died on December 26th 2004. She and her family were originally booked by me on a dive trip, but had to cancel due to their son suffering a bad accident where he broke his neck. The family came to Thailand anyway for their holiday. The local director of the charity was a neighbour of ours too.

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year and I hope to see you in Phuket soon

Fear not for the future, weep not for the past. Bring on 2009.

Jamie's Phuket 2008

High Season Weather in Phuket

Finally a couple of weeks ago we saw the last hurrah of the "rainy season" in Phuket. There are no exact dates on the seasons, and the terms "wet" and "dry" are far too black and white. The low season has plenty of good weather and indeed I do recommend visiting Phuket in the off season - see here : Low Season in Phuket - A Great Time to Visit! - Sure there can be wet days and some bouncy seas and the beach is not always swimmable, but it's nice anyway! Sometime in October or early November the season changes.. which is to say the wind changes, from prevailing southwesterlies to northeasterlies. There can be weeks of unsettled weather before we get to where we are now - perfect weather!

This year there was still some rain (mostly in the evening) in late November and into December even, but the last 2 weeks has been almost entirely dry, sunny and blue-skied. I think that smiling moon on December 1st marked the change into real high season weather.

A few Phuket photos from the last 2 weeks...

Phuket Big Buddha 3rd December

Karon Beach 9th December

Kata Beach 18th December

It was back in May 2006, just after starting this Phuket blog, that the Phuket Weather Blog was born, now 2 ½ years old - if you want to know about the weather in Phuket, that's the place to go for weather reports, photos and lots of weather links.

A Few of my Favorite Things ...

As I stood in the cool darkness, gazing upon the glow of several fires in the distance, the moon made her dramatic entrance.  Not to be outdone she emulated the color and brightness of the blazes, while bathing the entire valley in her brilliance.  Reportedly much nearer to earth than normal, yet to my untrained eye she seemed no more, nor less, beautiful than normal.  The presence of smoke in the air aided her efforts to monopolize the night sky.  Diffusing her light in such a way as to hide all but the boldest stars and constellations.  Greedily demanding that all eyes focus on her, I too acknowledged her beauty.  Yet I do not miss her when she is gone.  The night sky holds other fascinations on a clear dark night.

I am not a clinger by nature and in turn things do not cling to me.  Things wash over me while leaving not a mark.  All that is left is the knowledge I gained from the experience.  Perhaps this is something inherent in my nature or then again it could be learned from the transient nature of life as I have known it in Thailand.  I have found that people come and go, interest vary and the only constant is change itself.  Having lived in Thailand most of my life, I marvel at the newness of my present situation.  We have been in the house for more than a year now, yet life still feels new.  I am presently in a heightened state of exploration and adventure.  It is hard to control my need to wander and explore, further and further from my home. 

Just this morning, in the still cool air and as the fog lifted, I mounted my motorbike and set off to explore the back roads of my area.  With that need satisfied I find it somehow easier to sit here and write.  Though it does not worry me, I have reflected upon my own reluctance to sit here at the keyboard with some fascination.  I guess it is just another of my interests that ebb and flow, and will perhaps one day leave for good.

Uncharacteristically I have begun to entertain the idea of being a bit more social of late.  In Bangkok my work was quite social and I was always a member of a health club.  Life was quite compartmentalized, however, and though some thought me a social butterfly, I was in truth very private and people only new a part of me, relevant to that place or role.  I don’t believe in forcing relationships and feel there needs to be some common ground other than the fact the people are perhaps foreigners in a foreign land.  Playing a sport was always a good way to meet people who shared something in common.

Living in this village provides less opportunity for spontaneity in ones social relationships with other foreigners.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  I am not in great need of others company but the same cannot be said of my wife.  She is much more social than I am.  To that end I can see that life might be more pleasant for her, and us for that matter, if we could meet a few more foreign/Thai couples.  Their life experiences stand a better chance of being more similar to our own than most people in the village.  My wife met some lovely Thai friends in my country and still keeps in touch with a few.  Not everyone is so lucky with the group of friends they fall in with, but sometimes that is their own fault.

Not too long ago a reader and resident of the Rai, dropped me a note mentioning several activities he and others enjoy on a regular basis and opined that I might like to take a break from my village life and join in.  He is seemingly involved in several groups and obviously much more extroverted than I.  As gracious as his offer was, I might have been hard pressed to actually fix a time and place for meeting.  As an example of how my life unfolds, imagine this.  I was out on a ride with a friend.  We pulled up at an out of the way place we had never been before.  As we dismounted our bikes I noticed two farangs.  One on the cellphone and the other waiting.  I instantly recognized one of them, as the guy who had written to me, from a picture I had seen on his website.  I introduce myself, to his amazement, and we were able to have a spontaneous first meet.  On a terrace with a beautiful view, we had a brief visit and exchanged phone numbers.  Even that I would have been reluctant to do online.  Call me old fashioned but I prefer to meet face to face and by chance.

Thus ends another pointless post by Village Farang.

Wat Mongkhon Nimit (Phuket Town)

I keep heading back to Phuket Town to explore different areas. I find the town fascinating - you can get a totally different perspective on Phuket by walking around the town. This is where real life goes on. It's completely different to the main tourist beaches. I recommend everyone spend a few hours wandering around the old town, check out some markets, temples, small restaurants, old Chinese shops and maybe you can get a taste of Thailand that is not available on the beach.

Today I took my 3 year old son for a walk around, I wanted to visit Wat Mongkhon Nimit (sometimes called Phutta Mongkhon Nimit) and promised the boy to buy him some new shoes in town later. The temple is just on the north edge of the "old town". If you walk up Soi Rommani from Thalang Road, you can see the temple, which is on Dibuk Road.

View along Soi Rommani towards Wat Mongkhon Nimit

(above) View along Soi Rommani towards Wat Mongkhon Nimit

Turn left and you reach the entrance to the temple...

Wat Mongkhon Nimit entrance

The main temple was locked today.. guess that means I have to go back to look inside another day. Just inside the entrance is a school and the HQ for the Phuket Buddhist Association and also the Phuket Old Town Foundation.

Wat Mongkhon Nimit, Phuket Town

Just inside the entrance is a school and the HQ for the Phuket Buddhist Association and also the Phuket Old Town Foundation

The temple grounds are large, including some impressive Chedis...

Chedis at the Mongkhon Nimit Temple, Phuket Town

There were proverbs and I guess what you might call "Buddhist life advice" written on signs attached to trees around the temple...

Buddhist teachings at Wat Mongkhon Nimit, Phuket Town

A couple of other photos around the temple...

Monks quarters at the temple

Decorated doors at the temple

As with many of the local temples in Phuket, certainly worth a few minutes of your time if you happen to be looking around the town. Phuket is full of temples - I am trying to blog them all - see Phuket Temples - many tourists end up at Chalong temple (largest in Phuket) but I reckon most of the smaller temples don't see too many foreign visitors.

My boy certainly enjoyed his visit.. and we did go and buy him some new shoes.

My son at Wat Mongkhon Nimit in Phuket Town

More temples...

Phuket Temples

Amari Phuket Resort - Patong Beach

Patong Beach does not feature a great deal on this blog. That's because on the whole I don't like Patong, and rarely go there. Sure, you can find some great restaurants, and there are some stand out hotels which are already listed in my Recommended Phuket Hotels. The Amari Phuket Resort certainly merits a recommendation, and I was reminded of it recently when an old friend came to Phuket and we went to meet her at her hotel - the Amari.

As we wandered along the pathways looking for my friend's room, and headed past the seaview bar and a restaurant or two, down to the pool by the beach (a little bit of beach that nobody else can get to except hotel guests), I got that "Wow, I'd like to stay here" feeling. Everyone looked to relaxed, so comfortable, so unhassled. I guess the secret is that the Amari is not really on Patong Beach, it's "just off" Patong, so you can easily head into town for .. well, whatever you need, and then go back to the hotel to relax. And if the Amari is not relaxing enough, carry on over the headland a few km and you reach one of our favourite little places - Paradise Beach... See, I am not a fan of Patong but there are a few nice bits near Patong!

Amari Phuket Resort - Booking & Reviews

Amari Phuket Resort - Rates and Reservations / Booking
Amari Phuket Resort - Reviews at Agoda.com
More Suggested Patong Beach Hotels

Amari Phuket Resort - Photos

Restaurant at the Amari Pool at the Amari

Deluxe room at the Amari Beach at the Amari

Phuket Hotels - More Info & Online Booking

Jamie's Phuket Hotel Recommendations
Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016
Book Phuket Hotels at Agoda.com

My Big Questions and more Pictures...

Truck, motorbike, mountain bike or foot?  Which mode of transport to use today?  Should I stay close to home or venture further afield?  Should I invite a friend or take my wife?  What about the dogs?  Should I take them all for a walk or throw Cookie in the back of the truck and hit the road?  While others struggle with political, economic or airport transportation difficulties, my life questions seem so trivial and inconsequential.

Taking advantage of beautifully cool weather, I have been busy “doing” instead of “writing”.  It has been a good mix, of friends over for Thanksgiving, to time spent in my own company on seductively curvy mountain roads.  Yesterday was an impromptu drive to the largest waterfall in Chiang Rai, with my wife and Cookie.  The late afternoon hike to the falls in the chill of the dark damp forest was exhilarating for one and all.  We even managed to lend a helping hand to a couple of Canadian girls we met on the trail.  Having had such a good time we took another walk today to our local reservoir.

On the weekend I did a solo motorbike circumnavigation of the mountain range directly to the east of us.  Just one of several rides lately but by far the most ambitious to date.  Normally any one of these events would have proven adequate stimulus to wax lyrical and fill the page.  Yet, here I am struggling to produce a few words.  Best I give it up and share some recent photos instead.








Kuay Jap Noodles - A new restaurant in Phuket Town

Last weekend, after a little drive around Sirey Island to the east of Phuket town - where I finally got to see the reclining Buddha (the other times I have been there the temple had been closed) - we were heading home and I had half a mind to cook some pasta, but we passed a new looking noodle shop which looked interesting. Most noodle shops look the same, rather basic and cheap with plastic chairs and questionable hygiene (don't look too close - a good motto for Thailand!).



The Kuay Jap Champ Suphan noodle shop is in the Sam Kong area in the north of Phuket Town, just half a kilometer east of the Tesco Lotus store on the way into town. It has been open about 6 months they told us, somehow we'd not noticed before. Or maybe we were in the mood for Kuay Jap which is a kind of noodle soup made with rolled up thick noodles, crispy pork, "moo daeng" (roast red pork) and (unless you ask them NOT to include it) things like liver, heart, intestines, congealed blood.. aka "offal". If you are an ex vegetarian like me, some meaty things are still considered inedible - so if you don't want all the bits, just say "Mai Sai Kruang Nai".

Kuay Jap noodle shop



This noodle shop makes an effort. The place has a little style, the tables are wood, not plastic, there are decorations, and it is clean! This is no local backstreet noodle stall, it's much nicer and yet.. it's still cheap. We paid 210 Baht for 4 dishes and 5 drinks. I had a delicious Kuay Jap with the Moo Grob ("crispy pork") and the Moo Daeng plus some egg; my wife had the full monty with all the bits, and our kids had Khao Moo Daeng - red pork on rice with a kind of sauce/gravy. Very tasty.

My Kuay Jap



I do love a bit of moo grob! Crispy pork.. like porky scratchings/hog lumps in a soup. I think we will go again tomorrow!

Update 2011 - they have opened a 2nd branch in Kathu, opposite the entrance road to the Prince of Songkhla University, we have tried this one too - just as tasty.. and it's close to our house. Bonus!



>



(above) Kuay Jap Champsuphan noodle shop in Kathu near the Prince of Songkhla University (PSU) - it's just a couple of hundred meters from another favourite local restaurant of ours called The Big Chicken. It's much easier to find good local food when you are not in a tourist area!

Update 2015 - The original location at Sam Kong is now closed. The one in Kathu is still there.

Cross-Cultural Relationships...Answer to a Question

To Jonathan Krone,

Normally I would send you in search of the plentiful literature published on this topic, but coming from a “cross-cultural expert and professional,” I am intrigued that you are asking me to clarify.  With my muse having taken leave of late, perhaps on the day, this will have to suffice as motivation to write.

“So how do Thai express affection?”  On the surface that question would appear simple enough.  With Thailand’s world renowned reputation as a destination for sex tourism, some might assume they are a highly sexual and affectionate people.  Traditionally, however, any public display of affection is frowned upon.  With the notable exception of Bangkok and some tourist destinations, that tradition continues today.  Villagers by necessity are very subtile and creative, in the signals of interest they send to one another.  Right now, looking out my window, are some thirty villagers involved in harvesting our neighbor’s rice.  No doubt there will be stolen glances, teasing remarks, intentional bumps and the sharing of food, going on as a subtext to the job at hand. 

Other than me and my wife, one will never see villagers here, holding hands, hugging or kissing.  Even when they go off to Bangkok for work, it is difficult to overcome their internalized reluctance to display affection.  Bangkok is, however, where many romances are begun or nurtured, away from the prying eyes of the village.  The younger generation is changing but not all approve of that change.  Around here, if two young people are found to have had sex, there will either be a forced marriage or the boys family will have to pay a fine to appease the girls parents and exonerate her reputation.  At the same time the family may not blink an eye if she went off to work in the nightlight, yet sent money home for the family.  Unable to touch in public their humor is at times, however, quite raunchy.  Such are the contradictions of Thai life.  Pragmatic, with nothing being definitively black or white.

I met my wife in Bangkok so we were free of village constraints, yet it was our time in Hawaii that helped her to modify her beliefs and behavior.  Observing people wearing almost nothing in public, all age groups showing affection and touching and nobody paying any attention was an eye opener, for her.  Being me, a little shock therapy is always fun.  I remember grabbing my wife on a walk through the park.  After a groping and passionate kiss, I held her close and asked her to look around.  No one was gawking at us and there were no disapproving looks.  We were all but invisible to others and as this began to sink in, she kissed me back.

My wife was open to change and responded on a deep emotional level to social touching, from my parents and the friends she made along the way.  I am not a scientist making a proclamation of the universality, or necessity, of human touch.  People who touch more, are not necessarily better or kinder people.  It did, however, make a difference in my wife’s life and development, as a more open and caring person.  It is heart-wrenching to think that someone with such a capacity for caring and warmth, was denied that within her own family. 

I would like to take credit, for all that my wife has become, but that would be silly.  At best all I have done is provide reinforcement and a safe environment in which she could explore the world and find herself.  As a work in progress, together we continue to work through some of the residual cultural fears than cling tenaciously to her subconscious.  But then again, who among us has no issues at all?  I just know that I am a very lucky man, that she puts up with me, while I get to witness her growth and exploration of life.

I might reiterate at this time, that we have a rather unique lifestyle here, which is not focused on integration into the cultural norm.  My wife participates in customs that she enjoys or appear beneficial to others, while not making our own lives uncomfortable or disavowing our own values.  If it entails loud drunkenness that often deteriorates into violence, then some way is found to meet our obligations with a minimum of participation.  Many customs that are seen by most as obligatory, like the big wedding or housewarming party, have been avoided by us.  In that regard we are not the best example of cross-cultural integration.  We could be seen as providing an alternative lifestyle model that others may or may not approve of.

I seem to have wondered off topic here, which is not unusual for me.  I am hopeful that Mr. Krone, as a cross-cultural expert, will be able to extract or extrapolate answers to his questions from my muddled reply.

Phuket Thai Hua Museum

I have said it before and will say it again - I like Phuket Town, especially the old part of town which comprises a few blocks around Phang Nga Road, Thalang Road, Krabi Road and Dibuk Road. The narrow roads and turn of the century architecture combined with the old Chinese shops make a welcome break from the busier parts of town, and if you come from the tourist beaches it's like another world. Yes, you are in the real Phuket, which is what this blog tries to show!

The Phuket Thai Hua Museum is found on Krabi road, a block North and half a block west of the traffic circle near the market. Krabi road is pretty quiet, most of the buildings are of the "Sino-Portugese" style and life itself seems slightly old fashioned in this part of town.

Old Chinese shop in old Phuket Town

Watermelons for sale in old Phuket Town

The museum has been open a couple of years, and still has a museum-in-progress feeling. It has been used for art exhibitions too. The building dates back to 1934 when it was established as the Phuket Thai Hua School, a Thai-Chinese language school mostly for the families of local families of Chinese origin (there are many due to the arrival of many Chinese in the 19th century in the tin mining boom years). The Thai Hua School moved to a new larger home on the edge of town in the 1990's. We know people whose kids study there and the Chinese language is still part of the curriculum.

Phuket Thai Hua Museum Entrance

Phuket Thai Hua Museum Building

Inside the front gates, the car park is decorated with photos of the old school.

Thai Hua Museum Carpark

When my daughter and I arrived, there were loads of guys with fancy cameras all over the place. With my little Canon Powershot I felt quite inadequate! I asked a guy what was going on. Turns out to be a photo assignment for Canon. I looked closer, yep they all had Canon cameras. A model was posing for photos inside the museum. Well, even with a Powershot you can snap a nice photo!

Model photoshoot inside Phuket Thai Hua Museum

My daughter and I then wandered around the rooms of the old school. Some still with old school desks, lots of photos on the walls of past students. I did feel a sense of history, and we even met a former student sitting in her old classroom. She told us she had been at the school in the 1970's, and her mother had been to the same school before her.

Former student in Phuket Thai Hua Museum

My daughter checking out the old school photos

One room was full of old school books. The Chinese connection is clear! There was a wall full of little reading books ranging from Snoopy to what looked like "Why China is the best country in the world" type books! There were also old Chinese dictionaries and such. We did consider the Thai Hua school for our daughter some years ago, thinking Chinese would be a useful skill if they decide to take over the world, but in the end we opted for a school that teaches more in English.

Chinese books on display at Phuket Thai Hua Museum

Chinese book on display at Phuket Thai Hua Museum

As I say, the museum is still growing, but it's certainly worth a visit. Phuket has plenty of history and culture, but you are not going to find it in Patong Beach! The brochure I picked up says it's open every day except Monday. If you are in Phuket Town, have a look. If you are a backpacker and stay at the Old Town Hostel, no excuses, it's about 1 minute down the road!

(update 2011) - the museum has been renovated and there is more to see now, but there is also an entry fee of 200 Baht per person :)

New blog post about the Thai Hua Museum

Inside the Phuket Thai Hua Museum