What Price, Thailand? ...

There was unleashed in the mid-afternoon a cleansing torrent from the heavens that passed as abruptly as it arrived.  Added to the fields was a bit more standing water, there were by now only a few remaining puddles on the drive, and everything green seemed that much greener.  There we were the usual suspects, gathered in the usual place, at the usual time searching for those thoughts we had left unfinished just the other day.

Looking north today presented me with a different sensation.  A cool moist breeze kissed my cheeks as it seemed to draw in moister from the mountains to the east.  Stationary, seemingly locked to the topography, was an impenetrable wall of grey.  We were just far enough away from the mountains to remain dry but you could smell it and feel it in the air.

Though not colorful, the western sky was bright by contrast and accented by those dramatic fingers of light that on special occasions reach out from behind the clouds at sunset.  As my eyes followed those rays of light, my thoughts were drawn to the mark that Thailand tends to leave on all of us who venture here.  While some escape her seductive embrace, returning to what many call the real world, others are marked forever and pay a price be it large or small.

Like many men, I suppose I was touched by the women when I first stumbled upon Thailand in my early twenties.  The resulting rush of hormones, no doubt colored everything else about the place with brighter more vibrant hues.  I went through all the typical phases that one does.  Much of the time, that meant I felt very uncomfortable back in my country of birth.  That which others took for granted and saw as inevitable, I no longer considered even an option.  Career, marriage, children, debt, divorce, redundancy and depression were not in the cards for me.

I remember my mother coming to visit once.  We were in a small office purchasing tickets to Chiang Mai, so she could ride an elephant up there.  Everyone in the office was interacting with me.  Even then my Thai was good enough to get everyone involved and I was a bit of a novelty back in those days.  Upon leaving the office my mother remarked that she got it, why I liked it here.  You would need to be a celebrity back home to get that kind of attention while going about mundane errands she remarked.

Though some of the lessons I learned here were painful at the time, in balance Thailand has been kind to me.  I am a different person for having matured in this foreign land far from the path I had been expected to follow.  Whether through luck or resilience I have run the gauntlet and come out the other end undiminished and content with my lot in life.  I have even found things to embrace about where I came from, though I would not wish to live there again. 

There is a fluidity to life here that I have come to embrace.  One never knows for certain what tomorrow will bring.  Life’s ebb and flow brings forth new and unexpected encounters.  As one scene passes from view another unfolds before us with something new to see, feel or learn.  I know Thailand has left a mark on you, so how would you answer the question?  What price, Thailand?

The After Beach Bar

Up on the hillside a few minutes drive from Kata Beach is what can be described as a Phuket Legend. I have meant to add this place to the blog for ages. The "After Beach Bar" has been open since ... well, since before I got to Phuket. I realised recently that I had not been for ages, and currently have a desire to get out and take photos and do some blogging (rather than being lazy), so last Friday I dashed out of work (Sunrise Divers at Karon Beach) just before 6pm.. with sunset due not long after 6:30pm. Only about 10 minutes to drive there from Karon, through Kata and up the steep hill past the Andaman Cannacia Resort, round a couple of corners and there you are. Easy to get to, easy to park a moped... not so much space for a car.. anyway I don't suppose a tuk tuk will charge too much from Kata or Karon.. er, yes they will - rent a scooter for a day instead, it's cheaper than a single ride in a tuk tuk.

After Beach Bar

Actually, there are now 3 bar/restaurants right next to each other, all built by the roadside hanging over the side of the hill. The After Beach Bar was the first, then another called the Small Viewpoint was built next door... and just a couple of years ago a new place called Baan Chom View opened on the other side, so the original After Beach Bar is sandwiched, BUT responded by extending the deck out further into space so the view is unimpeded by the other places. I have to say the Baan Chom looked like a good place for a meal, menu was not too expensive and it looks more like a restaurant than a bar. But I could already hear the reggae coming from the After Beach Bar. It's always been a reggae place. A bar to chill, hang, skank.. and I did catch a whiff of Bob Marleys favourite herb too. Actually I had forgotten how nice this place is. I took a cold Chang (70 Baht) and found a seat - it was not crowded, this is low season now (May), though this is also due to "lazy tourist syndrome". A 10 minute drive? Forget it! You're missing out. Phuket is there to be explored. The After Beach Bar is well known, but you have to get there. You have to get there.

After Beach Bar Phuket

Sunset was not too far away. My beer disappeared rather fast, so another was called for. The staff were very friendly, I do recall them being a bit more dreadlocked a few years ago.. but the music and decor is the same. People do like to joke about bars all over the world playing Bob Marley. I love it, never mind that we are in Thailand. I did stay in the Caribbean for a while and learned from some people there that there's more to Bob than "Legend"!

After Beach Bar Staff

The Small Viewpoint Bar

(above) The "Small Viewpoint" bar as seen from the After Beach Bar. I guess they enjoy a friendly competition. On the road when you arrive, touts from the 3 establishments are outside trying to lure you in. I was really only interested in the "original". Lots of copies in Phuket. Bags, DVDs, Hello Kitty. Must be a little annoying if you have a good business. Someone opens up an almost exact copy next door. I'm going to be back for another cold beer at the After Beach Bar sometime soon!

Sunset at the After Beach Bar, Phuket

It's open all day, but surely sunset is the time to be here. I mean, at any time of day you get an ocean view and fresh air, but a bar facing west on the west coast of Phuket is best experienced on a sunny day in the late afternoon, as the sky turns orange, cold beer within easy reach. Excuse me while I light my spliff. The After Beach Bar is a great spot.

Sunset at After Beach Bar, Kata, Phuket

A few places near the After Beach Bar

Kata Beach Hotels
Karon Beach Hotels
The Phuket Viewpoint
Phromthep Cape

After Beach Bar - Location Map


View After Beach Bar in a larger map

Random Thoughts on Riding My Ninja 650...

The oppressive heat of the day began to subside as the sun set heavily in the haze and dropped behind the western hills.  I sat with the dogs and the cat, on the driveway looking north over the fields as a slight breeze developed.  There have been some spectacular displays recently, with multiple thunder storms, towering columns of cloud, and the sun and moon at opposite ends of the stage, but this looked to be a grey and uneventful evening.  Slowly but surely, the shapeless mist-like clouds that lingered in the murky sky began to catch the rays of an unseen sun beyond the horizon.

I marveled at the progression of pastel colors that migrated across the evening sky from right to left, east to west.  I have recently instigated a jogging routine around sunset but today I was nursing a sore tendon in an effort to avoid injury.  What better place for recovery and contemplation than this pastoral setting, surrounded by my four legged friends and a soothing light show.

Realizing that next month brings yet another birthday, I began reviewing the events of my fifty-sixth year.  Most notable was perhaps the purchase of the Ninja 650r and the nearly thirteen thousand kilometers I have put on it, to date.  Most of that milage was acquired during the first six months or so, as I rode with a friend learning how to deal with the beast and exploring my own connection to the road and the bike.  Riding a motorbike is a very personal thing though most people probably fall into one or another of the notable subgroups of riders.  I have only recently discovered where I fit in.

My riding partner clearly headed down a different path from me, buying a much bigger and faster sport-bike, with an emphasis on how far, how fast and an almost obsessive need to ride daily.  I on the other hand have taken to riding my Ninja more like a touring bike.  The bike is merely the form of transport I use to get where I want to go.  Riding at a relaxed and comfortable pace, exploring side roads, stopping to take pictures and usually with some scenic destination in mind.  More often than not, that means I am better off riding on my own and at my own pace.

As the weather has turned intermittently hot or rainy, I have found myself busy doing other things.  Riding for pleasure as I do, the weather has a lot to do with my enjoyment and thus the amount of riding I do.  Distance is another issue for me as I prefer day-rides with my longest ride being roughly 500 kilometers to Chiang Mai and back, for servicing at Kawasaki.  I have already explored most of the paved roads in my area and find myself, as yet, unwilling to take on multi-day rides.  When there is so much to see, so close to where I live, traveling long distances to see something not that much different from what is in my back yard, seems questionable at best.  Perhaps that will change next winter but for now I seem to prefer sticking close to home.

Though I was first drawn to Kawasaki by their Vulcan 900, I was won over to the Ninja 650 by price and the relatively comfortable upright riding position.  At first, however, I found the strain on my wrists and subsequent numbness in my hands unpleasant on longish rides.  With greater experience and improved riding style I no longer put much weight on my hands.  The saddle modification has added to my comfort as well.  So who knows, there may yet be some long distance rides in my future.

Though I chose to write mainly about riding today, my mind danced about erratically touching on many themes, until darkness enveloped, the bugs began to annoy and the sounds of nature overwhelmed.  At that point we ventured back up to the house and I left my thoughts lingering out there in the darkness, to be revisited another day.

Search stories inspired by Parisian love

Okay, I am six million viewers and a year late. But I just saw Parisian love - a TV advertisement by Google which has been put up on youtube.

Google was so encouraged by the positive reviews that they made a tool to create your own search stories. So I went ahead and created a couple of stories. I hope you like it.

This video gives a low down of the hunt for osama



This video explains why it took so long to find osama



It is going to be a quiet week as I am going on a temple trip the whole of next week. So as you can see, there is not much scope of finding the funny side the coming week.

What the world thinks of Indians

Won't you love to know what people think of you? Well, I know a way to find out. It works well if you are aishwarya rai or some such celebrity.  Go to google and type in the first letters of your name and Google auto suggest will tell you what the world is thinking about you.

But, if you are not a celebrity? Well try the larger group of which you are a member. For instance, I am assuming I will come across as an Indian. So I decided to find out what the world thinks of Indians. It sure is not pretty.

Here is a list of top "why do Indians" question that seem to bother the world. Why do Indians stare?
Ouch! We thought nobody notices us staring.

Look at the list of questions starting with "Why are..". Let me tell you why we are cheap. Because we eat grass more often than not :-)

But, you know what is even more damning? What people think about "Indians are..."

Before BJP starts making an issue of what world thinks about us, let me assure that it is just some misunderstanding. The world doesn't even know some basic things about us like our toilet ritual. And what they think of Indian girls is ,well, let's say very flattering.




Enough about Indians. Let me see what the world wants to know about Aishwarya Rai. See, I have this great urge to know one thing about Aishwarya Rai.


Yes!!! It's right there. The one concerning Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan. Yep, that's what I am interested in :-)

Have noticed some interesting things in Google suggest? Drop a comment. And do forward this post to other Indians. Looks like we have a lot to work on.











Phuket Vegetarian Festival - My favourite event in Phuket!

The 2016 Phuket Vegetarian Festival Festival 2016 was held from 30 September - 10 October. The date changes slightly every year as it's based on the Chinese lunar calendar. For 2017 it will be 19 - 29 October. It's my favourite time of year, and it's not because of the food. I am certainly not a vegetarian, though I try to stick to "the diet" during the festival, meaning no meat, no alcohol, no dairy, no onion or garlic, no eggs. Over the years on this blog, I have posted many many times about the festival. At least one post per year since 2006, some years with multiple posts. I love it!

Recent Phuket Vegetarian Festival Blog Posts

NEW! 2016 Phuket Vegetarian Festival Photos

2015 Phuket Vegetarian Festival Part 1
The Slightly Crazy Last Night of the Festival

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2016 Schedule

Vegetarian Festival 2014 (Part 1)
Vegetarian Festival 2014 (Part 2)
Vegetarian Festival 2014 (Part 3)

• 2013 Festival - Street Procession from Jui Tui shrine in Phuket Town (October 11th 2013)
• 2013 Festival - Kathu Shrine - Early Morning Procession (October 12th 2013)
Vegetarian Festival Food

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2012 Photos / Blog

It's not for everyone. If you know about the festival, you'll know why... some people love it, some moan about the street processions blocking traffic for a week (around Phuket Town, true enough), some consider it to be "just a show for tourists" (very untrue), and lots of people are turned off by the more bloody aspects of the festival. The festival has a long, long history. This is not a show, not a fake. The history, the tradition and the respect for the festival among the local people is plain to see. Just to be clear, not all local people get involved. The vegetarian festival is based on Chinese beliefs and the participants are generally from Phuket's Chinese-Thai community which makes up around 30% of the population. Most of the participating shrines are in and around Phuket Town or Thalang, the 2 old centers of Phuket.

Prayers and respect

(above) Prayers and Respect - Kathu village shrine outside Phuket Town is one of the main centers for the vegetarian festival. Dressed all in white, local people carry incense at the start of the fire walking ceremony.

Why do I love this festival so much? You know, the first couple of years I was in Phuket, I saw almost nothing of the real local life, knew nothing of the history of Phuket .. I just dived and hung around with diving people, went out to bars and never went out to explore the island. The first time I saw anything of this festival was in about 2003, driving into Phuket Town to pay my tax, and got stuck in traffic caused by some damn local street procession! Over the years we have enjoyed exploring Phuket and the surrounding area and discovering new back roads and new events. And I have read a lot about the history and traditions here. The vegetarian festival is celebrated in other parts of Thailand where there are Chinese-Thai communities, but Phuket is where it started back in about 1825, probably a bit later than that, nobody exactly knows!

Inside Kathu Shrine

Lighting candles

(above) Kathu shrine is my "local". We live about a mile from old Kathu village where the shrine is located. Kathu is actually where the history of the festival began, being the center of the tin mining boom which attracted many Chinese people to Phuket in the 19th century. I like to head to the shrine at any time during the festival to "people watch". I love the atmosphere. Everyone is dressed in white. I mean not everyone in Phuket, but around the shrines, pretty much everyone. In the weeks before the festival, shops are selling the white clothes. It's a sign of purity. I like to visit the shrines to catch a glimpse of the tradition of the festival. On the first day (see below) the Go Teng pole is raised to allow the spirits of the Emperor Gods to enter the shrine.

Go Teng pole at Kathu Shrine

And then the street processions begin. Every day for a week. Each day with participants from different shrines. And this is where things get weird. Shrines, candles, prayers, traditions... and self mutilation and extreme piercing. By their suffering does the whole town receive good luck and blessings for the year. Purification by eating the right food, by wearing white and by sticking sharp objects in your face. If you have not seen this before, it's a shock. It's also a photographers paradise! Well, I am not a pro photographer, but during the festival I will take hundreds of pictures. Trying to select just a few for this blog is hard! You can find lots of photos on Flickr - see Vegetarian Festival 2010 - Vegetarian Festival 2009.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Street procession

(above) Vegetarian Festival procession carrying statues of the gods led by the "Ma Song" who have let the spirits of the gods enter their bodies. Some of these Ma Song are quite freaky. I have been up close in the shrines and in the streets. I do not believe they are pretending. Well, not all of them!

Feel no Pain

Sorry should have warned that was coming.. The Ma Song above walks the streets cutting himself with an axe. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I love the blood, but it all adds to the intensity of the experience. I try to get to some shrines early in the morning, like 6 - 7am before they start their processions. Photography a bit harder in the dim early morning light, but this is when the piercing takes place. The blood is fresh.... anyone who wants to vomit now should go search for a photo of a funny cat. Don't come back just yet .. it gets worse. Too late.

Ouch

What a spanner!

If you go and watch any of the processions or early morning goings-on at the shrines, like I said, if you have not seen this before, you might be shocked. In fact I am still shocked. Swords in your cheek? No thanks! Oh, come on, just a small one... or an umbrella? Sometimes I don't know where to look. One pair of eyes, one camera. Many times I "miss" a photo opportunity. I try to take as many pictures as possible. Some will be good and it's true - better camera = better photos. Last couple of years I was using a Canon EOS 20D - hoping to get a newer model before September. Getting a really good photo here you need to get into the shrines or walk along with the processions and get involved, get close. Watching from the side of the road, hard to get a decent photo. Last year, when the Bang Neow shrine in Phuket Town had it's procession, I was running around in the sun for 2 hours, getting covered in firecrackers and loving it!

Firecrackers again

(above) in Phuket Town, carrying the gods through a constant barrage of firecrackers. Only the bravest local lads sign up for god-carrying duty! I like to follow them through the deafening noise and choking smoke trying to get a good photo!

Boom!

(above) Statues of the gods being carried through Kathu village - can get a bit crazy in Phuket Town. The 2 main shrines in town are Bang Neow and Jui Tui. On the days when they have their processions, the crowds are at their largest. In Kathu it's much easier to get a photo, not so many people around early morning as they begin walking to town, which is about 6km away.

He's bananas

Ready to march

The banana guy is also a local policeman. For weeks after the festival I see local guys with fresh scars! The scar tissue is often quite obvious especially on those who have been participating for many years. Old and young take part. The tradition is passed down, though there is the suspicion that some youngsters might be doing it for the street cred. And there seems to be a level of competition - who can do the biggest or most bizarre piercing.. Some examples:

Pistolero

(above) The classic "gun in face" style.

4 swords in the face

(above) 4 swords. Beat that.

8 Swords in the Face

8 swords. I thank you. Meanwhile, the young generation watch and learn.

Boy with firecrackers

Young Rambo (above) carrying firecrackers.. or maybe his Mum had enough of him. "If you don't stop that, I'll light those firecrackers!" - and below - respect.

Prayers and respect

Prayers

I love the tradition, the history, the firecrackers, the craziness, the street processions, the prayers at the shrines, the food is worth a try too. I love the way the local community comes together. The Phuket vegetarian festival is my favourite thing in Phuket!

Map of Chinese Shrines


View Phuket Chinese Shrines in a larger map

TO NOT DO LIST: eight things that I will not do when I grow old

Pancake and Paneer butter masala is not a good combination, right?
Tie and Slippers? Not good again.
What about veshti* and Nike? Ditto. Right?
But why is it then I see so many old people in that attire in the park?
It looks like old people stop caring about how they dress as they age. In fact I have been observing old people carefully for the past one week and they care a lot less about lot of things. But, it doesn't seem to be making them any happier. Maybe, that's because they have very different kinds of worries from you and me like how to get up from the bed or how to lift the leg and take that next step in the park.

Anyway, I know that I will grow old too and I will stop caring about what I wear and what I talk. But I do not want some crazy blogger to make fun of me when I am old. So I decided that I will make a To Not Do list for myself. A list of things that I will not do when I grow old made before I decay and stop caring about others opinions.

1)I will not ogle at twenty something girls and then call them betis.
2)I will not fart. Well, if it is biologically inevitable at old age then I will not make a lot of noise in public.
3)I will not develop this more knowledgeable than thou attitude just because I have spent more days than people around me.
4)I will not, I repeat, I will not set foot on the inter galactic ship to M263 or any other planet just because my son who has gone on work permit there invites me to come over for sight seeing.
5)I will not baby sit my grandchildren. I know I am guilty of using my parent's service. But somebody has to stop this. So let me be the beneficiary and not my son.
6)I will not make a fool of myself by trying to retrofit whatever they may or may not find three decades hence. You might have heard an old man saying "It is all there in Vedas, beta. Theory of relativity, Quantum physics. They even have predicted when Big Bang occurred." I will not be that old man.
7)I will never start a conversation with "In our time and all..."
8)I will never say to the younger generation "you people are having stress from constantly looking at computer (or whatever shit that people work on three decades hence)."
-------------------------------------------------
* vetti, dhoti, sarong - you get what it is, right?

Inception: Two middle fingers up

(Don't read in between the words. I am just showing my appreciation by using the longest fingers instead of thumbs.)

There are thousands of glowing reviews of the movie Inception on the internet.
But I decided to write my bit anyway.

If you have not watched it, you should immediately go and watch it. Especially if you are an Indian. You see, the name of the hero is Cobb. You know what it means phonetically in Hindi. Dream! Yes, Nolan is really a genius. I think he deserves an Oscar for life time achievement just for this.


But wait,he gets better. He is a master teacher too. Teacher? Yes! Right in the middle of the movie he takes a time out to conduct a class on Dream 101. He makes cobb assemble all the characters and the audience to cover concepts like dream levels,dream travel, dream-time space, totems, limbo. The people who would have shouted at their quantum physics teacher, "Stop bull shitting. Get Real, man!" and stormed out of the class chose to sit through this movie and came out saying, "Wow! He really exercised the tiniest of the tiniest cell of my gray matter! And I thought I came to watch a movie. I can't wait for Dream 102." He should get the award for best teacher too, if they have one.

What about Nobel prize? Oh yeah that too! This whole branch of science that inquires into dreams within dreams is his creation.
Really! So he is the first to come up with an idea of dream within a dream within a dream.
Of course, yeah! Engineers, especially software engineers, will blabber something about recursion. But don't let those geeks take away from the genius of Nolan. They just download code from Internet.

Okay, so Do I belong to the gang that believes he should have got the Oscar for best director or at least best movie? Well, Hmm.... Not really. He got couple of nominations, right? Good enough.

A Look Inside...

I believe Hobby has called it my ‘coming out’, but I prefer to see it as the personalization of my blog.  Since some of you have expressed interest in us as individuals as well as the overall content of the blog, I have started inserting us into the content from time to time as you may have noticed.

Following in that trend and realizing that I have yet to let you inside our home, I have selected a few shots from a party we had last year.  An empty house shot comes off as clinical and lacks the warmth of a home.  So here are a couple of indoor shots, before and during the festivities.  The outdoor shot is on the veranda off the main living area.

Nothing fancy or pretentious, just a relaxed open space in which to live and enjoy our views.


The friendly neighbourhood gym

When I saw dozen odd spandex clad smoking hot women pounding the treadmill behind that glass wall, the first thought that crossed my mind was "That's a sight I am never going to see in India." Okay, I will be honest. The first thought that crossed my mind was, "Wow!" followed by "OMG, she is looking at me!" and then "Turn your head now!.... Okay now... At least NOW!. Okay Don't. she has already turned her head." Sometime after that I got that thought about India.
I think the first gymnasium was built in Greece. I am just guessing here as most of the things seemed to have been built there first. That gym would have fallen into ruins by now but if you want to see a pretty close model you can visit the slightly older gymnasiums in India.

Till pretty recently, the concept of paying money to get tortured was very radical in India and so the gyms were restricted to universities (where anything radical is the mainstream), five star hotels (where people didn't know what to do with money and were willing to experiment with the idea of getting tortured) and institutes run by Government (who always wanted to torture you for some reason ). These gyms were modeled on the one in ancient Greece.  They had a eight by six feet room without ventilation accompanied by a slightly larger bath room. In one corner of the room (in the smaller room not in the bathroom) the barbells and the dumb bells will be in a pile. Of course, in the Government sponsored Gym all the bar bells and dumb bells would be chained to the floor as they are very concerned about the safety of anything that can be moved.

But pretty recently things have started changing. Fitness chains are opening in every neighborhood as the fashion of thin (wallet) is in. These gyms look just the same as the ones in U.S: all-glass front wall, full height mirrors on the sides, numerous treadmills. One difference though - no spandex clad women. It is just salwar kameez and Nike shoes. Indian women who swim in pools in salwar kameez would not make an exception for the treadmill. So the first thought crossed my mind on that day in U.S is still correct, after all.



Doi Din Dang Pottery, Yesterday ...

Yesterday found us dropping in on our favorite pottery place in Chiang Rai, in search of gifts and a cup of coffee.  So much to choose from and so hard to decide.





Going Bananas

Well, almost 6 months ago we got a banana flower on our tree and have watched with anticipation for it to get ready to harvest , well I never knew it took almost a half year for them to get ready to eat after the flower appears , but  ready they got and we were excited to get to cut them down and keep a few hands a(as they call them)  for ourselves and to share with the neighbors and friends as they have shared their harvest with us in the past, Our bananas are grown all organic with no pesticides or fertilizers and  with lots of tender love and care  , and it was well worth it , to bite into one of the sweetest and favourable bananas ,I have ever ate before , maybe I'm bragging a little , BUT they sure were good and the neighbors loved them to .
Have you ever planted a banana tree and were you able to harvest bananas for your self?





I got a few pictures of them and Ciejay and the dogs(kids)  watching the harvesting, I was surprised that the kids loved them too. . Hope you enjoy.