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Swipping Spa Underwear. Thailand

28 Nov

At spa in Ko Samui, Thailand

Who swipes spa-underwear in Thailand? Me. I’m becoming one of “those” people — a hoarder.  I swipe hotel shampoos, soaps, shower caps, cotton balls, Q-tips… Well, anything free at a zero, one or two star hotel.   And, I’m wondering why my bag is getting so heavy.  I just can’t give up my Crabetree and Evelyn mini-shampoo from the Hilton in Beijing.  Or, my sugar spice soap from Bhutan.  Just can’t…

So, I’ve moved on to swiping underwear.  It all started in Chiang Mai at The Chedi hotel.  They give you underwear made out of pantyhose for the massages.  They are actually pretty comfortable.  I accidentally walked out with them on — So, there is NO way I was going to return them to the spa-lady after the fact.

You see, I’ve been leaving my underwear behind in random places and random countries.  I hand wash them.  Hang them up and then forget about them.  One pair of Hanky Pankies flew off my balcony in Krakow and landed somewhere in the middle of the square.  Another pair escaped me on the Trans-Siberian toilet.   Hung them up in rank train toilet while brushing my teeth in rank water.  Then, walked out.  Robust Russian Train Lady swiped them.  I can go on and on…

Now, I’m at places where they give you pantyhose underwear with your massage.  Granted — they are ugly as mud.  And, will disintegrate after two hand washes.  No matter.  I have a head massage this afternoon and plan on taking a few pairs.  Seriously, I  need to be put in a time out.  I know this is getting bad. I’m just cheap or  deranged.  I can say, both.

At Kamalaya — spa/wellness camp where majority travel afar to have their colon’s cleaned, loose the flab or find themselves – there is a tray FULL of pantyhouse underwear for the taking in the woman’s locker room.  What do I do?

Oh, I guess you want to know why in the world am I at Kamalayayaya?  Not for those things mentioned above.  For me, I came for the yoga, massages and fluffy pillows.  AND, to get back on track in the consumption and gluttony department.  Living off of beer, dumplings, meat, noodles, and rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner weighs you down.  Or, weighs your figure down.  Going to eat healthy for ONE full week.

And, you are probably asking, why don’t I just buy some new underwear.  Much harder than you think.  Besides being an amazon in countries where  LARGE is a small petite in US sizes, underwear is sold in open, street markets.   So, who knows how long they’ve sitting out there.  How many animals, insects, moldy men have touched them.  Or, better yet, how do you know if they haven’t been used. Nope.

On top of that, you have to bargain to wear them.  Who bargains for underwear.  It’s nope again.  So, I’ve taken to swiping.  I hope the pantyhose spa underwear can get me through to South Africa and onward to Australia…  I know there’s legit shopping in Australia… Has to be…

Arrived at the Spa. Ko Samui, Thailand

28 Nov

These last two days have been interesting. I’ve been staying in a town near Krabi, Thailand. It’s on the west coast of Thailand overlooking the Andaman Sea.   Beautiful. Peaceful.  Been holed up in a hotel called Nak-AMANDA, only 500 meters away from a 7-11.  Yes, was meant to be..

My next stop is the eastern side of Thailand to an island called Ko Samui, on the Gulf of Thailand.  I booked a spa/wellness retreat for a few days.

Apparently, they’ve been experiencing some rain on Ko Samui. Some is NOT the appropriate word. The rain closed down the airport. Rain. Not, thunder. Not, lightening. But, rain. So, I was taken back when the Bangkok Airlines lady told my flight was canceled because it’s raining? And, by the way, here is your money. Never before has an airline been so eager to give back my $$.

Bangkok Airways lady: “I refund your $$$…”

Me: “ I don’t want my money. I want a flight to Ko Samui.

BA lady: “I give you back money..”

Me, “When is your next flight?”

BA Lady:” Tomorrow – but another storm comes… I give you back money.”

I knew that the plane would have to eventually fly. So, I told her I would be back and put myself in time out. Grabbed some peanuts and tried to figure out my next move. The positive is I needed to do shopping for I left a bunch of stuff in Northern Thailand at the The Chedi Hotel at Chiang Mai. The negative is I’m going to miss a full day of yoga at Kamalaya wellness spa. I know. I know. I don’t even do yoga… Can’t even touch my toes. But, these two things were weighing on my mind.

Fast forward. Had to find ATM. Took the escalator downstairs at the Krabi Airport. Passed by a tourist table with two young girls eating noddles. Instead of spending hours on the internet locating a legit hotel close to the airport, I approached their counter and asked questions. They were excited to have a customer. “This hotel good….” I asked the price… And, commented, “Yea, this hotel IS good…Too $$. Try again…”

After I got a feeling of what is out there, I walked back upstairs to Bangkok Airways and told the lady to rebook me for tomorrow’s flight. No money back. I want to leave. The bus/ferry took over a day. And, I was not going to do that. A flight had to leave…. one day…

She thought I was crazy, but rebooked my flight. And, I went back to the girls and paid for a hotel in Ao Nang. And, off I went. The brochure said, “hotel is on the water…” It is NOT on the water. It is across the street from the water, hidden by trees. You can barely see the water. No matter. I have a room but no WiFi. The hotel wanted to charge me $40 a day for internet. Fat chance.

Walked into my room. It’s clean. No bugs. One shower cap. We’re back to a one star. I throw on my flip flops and set off to shop. I hate shopping. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. Especially market shopping for you have to haggle. And, they all follow you around. Not my idea of a good time. But, I need a skirt and clothes for humid, tropic climate. So, I was acting like this was FUN. The day was beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky. There is NO rain people…

Well, I spied a market stall for big people. The guy did not seem like a perv. And the clothes look clean. I walked in. He did not bother me. So far, so good. I just wanted a solid color flowy skirt with a thick elastic waist band that expands when you eat too much rice and drink too much beer. All these flowy skirts are multicolored and super, duper-hippie. I’m going out on a limb with the flowy skirt thing. It’s not my style. But, I just can’t stomach the psychedelic, “I drop acid” look. Just looking for primary colors. Oh, in the corner. My fingers searched the solid skirt rack. Looks like theses skirts will disintegrate after one wash. Good thing I hand wash garments in the bathroom sink.

Found a black skirt with a REAL coconut on the belt. The dude walked over and thought the coconut was the selling point. Fat chance. I was yanking this ugly, piece of ply-wood off ASAP. We haggled. He started at $15. I asked if he has ever heard of Wal-Mart? At Wal-Mart I would pay $8. And, you’re not Wal-Mart. So, let’s start at $3. We went back and forth. Got the black skirt with a coconut for $6. Still paid too much. Damn dollar is too weak. I also bought a long sleeve shirt to protect my cancer attracting white arms. He tried to sell me a dress. I told him the dress is too short for my boobs are not that close to my neck. I don’t think he got it. But, I scored. Black flowy skirt and long sleeve shirt. Honey, I’m a backpacker-cool girl. Don’t you know it… Right.

I walked through Ao Nang and decided I was beat. Needed a massage for $5. Prices are going up on massages. I walked into one place and walked out. I think they do “funny” business in there. It smelled wrong. The next place, three men sat in the lobby. Another bad sign. My fourth place was perfect. I asked for a head and neck massage. And, 3 mins later, shirt is off and she is walking on my lower back. Did not realize this was included. Not sure if I liked it. But after her stomping, she rubbed some fab oil on my neck and hair. I was relaxed in no time. All for $5.

Went out to dinner. Met some cool folks from Australia. They are traveling for ONLY 4 weeks. Ugh. They are sad. Just got here two days ago. They were telling where I must go in Australia. I told them I was set up with my new BFFers I met in China. Cool couple. Young.

So, next day, I head back to the airport. Not a cloud in the sky. Dark clouds loom far away. I bet that is Ko Samui. I was right. Flight delayed because of rain. Got to be kidding! An hour later, we finally board the plane. Only 5 people on a 30 seater. I guess Bangkok Airways lady did a great job refunding everyone’s money.

Landed in Ko Samui. We’re talking about massive flooding. It’s raining. The streets are underwater. People are using bamboo rafts to get across the road. A little dude from the spa picks me up in a big, pick-up truck. Four wheel drive. Looks like he’s been mudding. If it gets me to the final destination, don’t care about the transport. Off we went. Heading to Kamalya for one week of eating well, sleeping well, exercising well and trying all those things I would never do in the US like Chinese medicine, Astrology, Indian head massages, Acupuncture, strange yoga… Can’t wait. Blog is officially closed.

Tiger Woods. Krabi, Thailand

28 Nov

It hit me the other day. Why Thai people are obsessed with Tiger Woods.

In other countries, the non-English taxi drivers only know two words: Obama…Bush…”

In Thailand, it’s different. The only two words they know are: “Tiger Woods.”  At first, I thought it was a nation obsessed with golf.  Then, I met a Thai man who elaborated.

“Ah…Tiger Woods. Yes.  He hero… Our people love Tiger. Mom is Thai. Dad is American.  Met during American war.  He married her. Took her America. She has rich son.  No worry… Thai women want good life with western, rich man…Want a to marry a father like Tiger, no?”

Got it. It clicked. Vietnam War started this fantasy trend of the Western male rescuing poor Thai women.  And, Tiger Woods’  mother perpetrated this myth for she married a Western male and produced a super talented, promiscuous son.  She’s the poster child for possibilities for Thai women.  Just one more reason to celebrate our Tiger Woods…

Yesterday, I did the tourist thing. Took a boat cruise to four Thai islands off the coast of Krabi. You know, one of those tourist junkets where you load up about twenty on a boat carved out of wood and motor to “four islands in six hours.”

It was here I met a REAL one – young Thai bride and an old fart. Found each other in a chat room. Married a year later. He works in Baghdad. She still lives with her mom.

Quick description. He’s about 60+. Arms, shoulders and ankles colored with military symbols and lady tattoos. Skin soaked with either age spots or scars. Bald head wrapped tightly in a light purple dew-rag bandana. Extra skin protrudes around the edges. From his neck, dangles purple polarized glasses.

Looked to be missing back teeth. Bottom teeth were brown from coffee, tobacco or bad hygiene.  Blue long swim trunks pulled tight around his middle. Black muscle t-shirt pulled tightly around his beer belly and arms. Thick ankles.  Thick neck. Thick hands. Heineken in hand at 9 AM. Oh, forgot about the gold studded pierced tongue. In other words, cruise into any dive bar – from a biker bar to fish-camp bar, and you’re likely to find his twin brother.

Thai girl? She’s about 20 or younger. Long black hair, later found out they were extensions. Tan skin. Plucked eyebrows. Purple eyebrow pencil. Angelina Jolene lips. Full set of white teeth. Dainty hands. Petite ankles. Flat tummy with two gold belly piercings. Matching, gold studded tongue piercing. Tattoos on her thumb and wrists. Itsy-bitsy black bikini.  Mini-diamond ring. Looks like she’s been through a hair removal program.

Question was how to strike up a conversation. Couldn’t just say, “Hey, did you buy the bride?” No. Had to go covert.

As I waited for our boat, I found some children, birds and trash to play with. Cute kids. Need to understand Thai’s fascination with birds and bird cages though.

Anyway, the boat pulled up. I followed the couple onto the boat. They headed to the front and I followed.

There was another couple perched up front. Found out later from Finland. I squished my body next to them. Smiling all the time. Old Fart and Young Bride sat across. Mission accomplished.

We pulled up at our first island. Jumped off. They walked ahead of me. I noticed my camera card was full. Found a cave.  A cave of fertility. Not the cave I was looking for. It’s the cave where Thai women worshiped wooden dildos. We’re talking all sizes. All colors. All shapes. A true Kodak moment. Put some pictures in below. For full enjoyment, check out the photo album to the left of this posting.

Before I could immortalize the hundreds of dildos on my camera, I had to delete pictures. I sat my tall frame on a mini-rock, away from the monkeys, and near the bride, groom and dildo shrine, to delete photos. Old Fart and Young Thai walked into the cave. Seemed not to be surprised by the hundred of dildos plastered, hanging and protruding.

Old Fart, in a thick-drawl, “better pics around the corner…better views..” I told him about my camera problems. He laughed. She laughed. He initiated conversation. SCORE! I’m in.

Screw the view. I’m shooting the dildos. The Goddesses are going to LOVE their smiling faces pushed up next to dildos the size of orange traffic cones. What makes it even more funny is the Goddesses all have kids. Their issue IS fertility.

It begins to rain. We all get back on the boat. Same places. Old Fart starts the conversation..

Old Fart: “Did you get some good photos? Get the view?”

Me: “Yes. Thank you….Where are you all from?”

Old Fart: “I’m from Fort Worth. They call it Dallas, Fort Worth – but it’s just Fort Worth. Retired US Marine. Served 38 years. If my back did not go out, I would still be serving. In the construction business. In Baghdad. Got some time off to see my wife.”

They smile. I smile at them. Nod.

Me: “So, how did you meet?”

Old Fart: “Chat room. I pursued her for a full year before she said she would marry me. Traveled to Bangkok twice.  Even met her mom…Went after her hard….”

She smiles. Nods. Smiles at him. Barely touches him… I take notice.

Old Fart continues, “I live Baghdad. She lives in Bangkok with her mom. I come to Bangkok whenever I can get off. I have three weeks off now. Longest off in a while. Got married last year. I hate the city. I told her, I can’t live in the city. So, we go to the Thai islands when I come…

Now, you need to see other Thai islands…. there is a nude beach on the other side. Great beach. Not as rough as this water. We like the nude beaches.  Get a full tan…”

He smiles. I see his brown teeth for the first time. He turns and grins at her, reaching for her hand.  She smiles back and squeezes his hand.

Me: “Yea, not into the nude beach scene…. I burn easy….Pale skin. I have to cover up… Skin cancer…”

He did not hear a word of what I said. Only thing he heard was “PRUDE” girl. Yea, I would think the same thing if I were him.  I wanted to add that I steer clear of nude beaches because I don’t want to see people like you fully exposed….

Finish man next to me: “What part of England are you from?” This question was directed at me. England? Wow. Do I sound that proper? Intelligent? Uptight. LOVE THIS!

Me: “I’m not from England. I’m from Florida.”

Try that response sometime and imagine the expression. Finish man looks at his wife and they quickly converse in Finish.

Me: “Yea.  That’s right.  I’m from Florida. Disney World? Micky Mouse?  Do I sound English to you? Proper? Smart?”

Finish: “You no sound like American…Your accent good. Me, I learned English from the Russians. American accent is hard to understand..I understand British and Russian English accent….”

Russians again… They are EVERYWHERE…

Me: “You learned English from the Russians? Do you know how strange that sounds to me? I don’t understand.”

Finish: “Yes.  I was in the Finish Coast Guard. Now retired. Did a lot of work with Russians.  Finland and Russia have a long history – not a good history. Now, I do work in Antarctica…”

Me: “You mean the Arctic. It’s closer…right?”

Finish: “No. Go to Antarctica. Very cold. Not much fun. Nothing to do. A lot of research… I get away from Russia, no?” He starts to laugh. I don’t get the joke, but I have a feeling his slamming the Russians.

Me: “I’m from Florida. I don’t understand the desire to live, work or sleep near the arctic circles…Not fond of penguins and polar bears. Take  a liking to alligators, sharks and mosquitoes…”

Finish man looks confused, as I intended. I laughed. Sometimes I just crack myself up at others’ expense. When you’re traveling alone, you have to do this sometime —

The boat stops at another island. It looks the same. The smiley tour guide gives us a long explanation of the island. He talks about a sandbar. He’s really excited about the sandbar as are other people who are not from Florida or lives near an ocean. I didn’t hear any of it. I wanted to be back in the conversation with the Old Fart and Young Thai.

I did the obligatory walk across the sandbar to another island.  It was very pretty – don’t get me wrong. Breathtaking. I found a toilet on the other island, so it was worth the walk.

Also, I found interesting the Thai bathing suit attire. If you are not cozening up next to an old, hairy, white, fat male, then the Thai women wear surf shorts and t-shirts. No bathing suits. The Indian couple with beautiful dark skin swapped out their surf shorts for leggings and a long sleeve shirts. The only ones wearing actual swimsuits showing obscene skin were the Europeans, Scandinavians, Canadians, Australians and Americans.  All the ones more prone to skin cancer. I seriously think I was Asian in another life.

We climb back on the boat. Leaving sandbar island. Next stop is Chicken Island.

Me: “So, what is it like living in Baghdad? Is it really getting any better?”

Old Fart: “Depends who you ask. The PM is corrupt. That’s not news. It’s how things get done over there. We just see it differently. Sunnis and Shiites are still killing each other – have been doing it for thousands of years – no news there. They’ll keep killing – with or without US troops there.

A lot of business in Baghdad. It’s the wild wild West. A lot of Slavs are in Baghdad. Hire them for my crew. Work for cheap. Work for less than what we pay Iraqis.  Nigerians are coming too.  Low cost  labor has arrived…  Baghdad is looking like an international city…Surely ticking off the locals, if you know what I mean.  A lot of US money there.  A lot of European money. Just a lot of money… Building. Keeps me in business.

Me: What do you do?

Old Fart: I’m a project manager for construction projects. I just tell them, “let me get it done…don’t ask questions.’  My best workers are Iraqis. I promote them to foreman or project manager. Very smart. Hard working.

No women in Baghdad. I mean no real women. I’ve got my real woman here… Once she get’s a VISA, I’m retiring. Done…. Yea, they pay me well. Able to buy a house…

Me: Do you see a lot of death? Killing?

Old Fart: Yea, I’ve seen many men and women getting killed. That’s war. What do you expect.

Iraqis I worked with have had their entire families hacked up. They take off a few days work. Come back… Can’t explain it – but that’s the way it is. Americans don’t get it. Media doesn’t get it. Don’t watch the news. My mom calls and tells me what’s going on – and I tell her, Naaaa…didn’t happened like that… not that bad… not true…You know how it is. What US doesn’t get – is it is not the US. Not America. I love my country. Proud to serve…I would do it all again tomorrow – no questions ask. Marine for life.

Me: Do you want children?

Old Fart: “Why not…. I have three grown kids back home. Flew home a few months ago for my daughter’s wedding.  Bride couldn’t come. No Visa. Yea, we’re married, but they still wouldn’t let her in.

I wanted my kids to meet her – my bride. Yea, we could have some kids…”

She touched is arm. Cozyed next to his hairy armpit. He asked her to get her another beer. We’re pushing around noon time, so it is beer time. She jumped up and yelled in Thai something about more beer upfront. I think I will have one too. I think I need one. Next on the docket was some snorkeling.  Beer goes well with breathing underwater.

They brought their own gear and proceeded to tell me how much they paid for their mask, flippers and shoes…bathing suit. She smiled and added, “very cheap in Thailand…no?” He called her “mama” and told her how to put on the flippers. You could tell she very well knew, but she just nodded, smiled and did what he said.

And, guess what, it works. I mean, I was expecting to see something horrid. Terrible. Like he whacks her or something. None of that was true. He treated her well. His voice filled with calmness and respect for her, even when he was telling her what to do. And, who am I to judge whether this marriage is good, bad or indifferent. It seems they have what they want.  A partner.  Or, a caretaker – looking after each other. He cares for her monetarily. Gives her safety. Options. Freedom. She cares for him emotionally. Giving him comfort. Stability. And, no sass.

And, she is lucky for he DID marry her. I’ve seen so many old men – Western, Chinese, Japanese – with beautiful Thai woman on their arms. You know they are just paying for sex. Or, telling them wild fantasies about how they are going to take care of them, but never returning. You hear stories like this in the states too. Universal.

As we parted, I thanked him for his service with tears in my eyes. It takes a special, unique person to serve that long in the military. In war. Serving for the freedoms of our country. Go and travel the world – and you’ll have a new respect for our country. For the majority of the people in the world, they don’t have the freedom to bitch, gather or pray like we do. We take it for granted. I certainly did…

Flight leaves today? Chiang Mai, Thailand

28 Nov

The Chedi. By Night. From my Balcony.

Phone rings. It’s dark. Blue lights from clock spell out 5:45 am. Phone rings again. Reach for phone. Drop it. Pick it up. “Yes?” Voice sings to me. “Ahhhh.. Ms. Amanda… taxi is here for you… take you to airport… send help for bag?”

Eyes flew open. What day is it? Is it the 30th? My travel calendar is based on weather and dates. What number is it today…

I sit up. “ Taxi? Wait, what? What day is it? Today is 29th,?”

“Nooooo. Ms. Aman-DA. Today 30th day. Check out day. Taxi here to take you to airport. You request, no?”

“Give me 10 mins. I will be there.” FUUUUUUUU…

I knew this day would come. It’s only a matter of time when you sleep through an alarm, a train stop, or the last call for alcohol… Well, today is my day.

Body bolted. Heart’s racing. Took a deep breath. I can do this. Eyes darted around the room. Quick assessment of my tossing, throwing, thrashing these last four days at The Chedi hotel in Chiang Mai. Four days is the longest time I’ve stayed in one place since July – excluding my time in London visiting brilliant Mary and her posh husband. The positive here is I properly unpacked, meaning my clothes were free from their imprisoned life in zip-locked bags hanging in the closet or stuffed in scented drawers. I knew where they lived.

The clothing concern is purged. I stood up. Eyes scanned for placement of THE chief necessities – adapters, EQUAL, battery charger, coffee creamer, instant coffee, writing pen, laptop cord, notepad, toothpaste, razor, brush, hair rubber bands, detergent… Items at the local Dollar Store.

Stripped off the boxers and Habitat for Humanity t-shirt. Reached for the bulkiest clothes. More I put on, more room there is for packing. Wiggled on the jeans. Thank you God they still button. Punched my arms through the thick long sleeve brown shirt. Reached for the flowy wool wrap. Couldn’t find my socks. Opted to go without. Forced my feet into my pink hiking boots. Got the scarf. To remember, I chucked my purple PTA-styled rain jacked at the door. Dressed. Box checked.

This was my first pack & jam feast. Prior to this, my track record for packing for air travel was around 45 mins. It takes time to push the life out of cottons, polyesters and wools using an over-sized, vacuumed pack, Zip-locked bag. And, keep in mind flights only allow 20 kilos – equated to 40+ pounds – per person. So the heavy equipment – electronics, shoes, pills, books – is allocated to the carry on case. Ragged apparel and used toiletries are checked. You ask about transport via a train, bus or camel? Weight is irrelevant. Here, the chief concern is accessibility to soap, toilet paper, flip flops, clean t-shirt and underwear.

Mind raced. There’s a Coke Zero in the micro-mini fridge. Couldn’t go to waste. Spent less than $2 on it. Grabbed it from the re-fridge. Flipped the lid. Started swigging. Nice. Love the sensation of carbonation hitting an empty stomach. Inhale. Time to start jamming.

First, I went for anything on a hanger. Next, emptied the drawers. Shoes. Damn, where were my shoes? Located the furry boots bought in Poland. Where’s my black Chinese “wanna-be” Todds. I knew they were here. I wore them the other day. Which day? Damn, right about now I was feeling annoyed with the Thai custom of de-shoeing when walking into a home or room. Neglected the rule, so God only knows where the black flats landed. I opened the hotel door. No flats. No shoes. No nothing. Shoe search put on hold. Back to concentrating on packing.

Night before, I transformed the jumbo-sized tub into my personal laundromat. Biked, hiked, whitewater rafted and road an elephant earlier so scrubbing and soaking the J-crew not made for bike-riding pants, bathing suit, t-shirt, underwear and socks were a glamor-do. Now, where did I hang the stuff. From the looks of it, everywhere. I walked the room and balcony and snapped up the soaked items. No time for plastic bags. Figured it will dry in humid Southern Thailand.

Now, time to locate all the Dollar Store supplies. I heard myself say, “don’t forget about the weight and liquid factor.” Question to self. Do I say, “screw it” and check both bags and swallow the unnecessary $50 luggage fee charge or take the harder, cheaper route? I hated being ripped off. You know the answer.

Bathroom. All SPFs and lotions must go into separate zip locks for the high altitude, explosive factor. Where were the 7-11 plastic bags? Did Thai Molly-Maid toss all of them? Guessing yes. OK, needed to think fast. Shower caps. Nabbed them. Tightly wrapped the explosive toiletries into the thin plastic shower caps. I just hit the ten minute mark. Almost there.

Door knocks. Little Thai boy with no shoes smiles. I smile. He started apologizing to me. Loved the Thai graciousness, service and hospitality. But, there was no need to apologize. I asked him to help me find my black wanna-be Todds.

I blurted, “black shoes. Dark in here. Poor lightening. Can’t find black shoes. You help.” Yes, I’ve started talking like English is my 4th language. He got it. I looked over and he’s searching blindly on his hands and knees for the black flats. Little Thai boy found my flip flops instead. SCORE. Would have forgotten those.

Meanwhile, I dumped my tall self on top of the ginormous brown backpack masquerading as a suitcase. Anxiety adrenaline rushed through me. The infamous sweat mustache formed. Flight will shoot in the air in 45 mins. I struggled. The zipper appends itself to some piece of cloth. I tugged harder… It zipped. Little Thai uttered “I sorry… Help you…taxi waiting…?” I pointed to the bathroom. “Please. Look. No leave nothing. Please. Look one more time.” He’s been here for 2 mins, and now I’m annoyed. Get him out of here.

“Have you found black shoes?”

“Yes. Found sandals.”

“No, black flats. No heels. Sparkles. You find. I happy.”

Damn, this place is dark. NOT going to leave without my shoes. As I write this blog, I truly can’t remember if I found them nor not…It will be a Southern Thailand surprise.

Now, where’s the passport and money? In the safe. Good job Amanda! Surprised I remembered. Running off without the passport and $$ would be very typical. I could see myself packing old hotel soap but forgetting to pack the passport. So me. Thank you God! It was then, I started to pray. “Ok. Need help here God. Don’t want to miss the flight to Southern Thailand. This is in Your hands – with or without my black flats. Help me stay focus and calm…” I felt my body relax – a notch. I smiled at little Thai boy and used a sweet voice – not my bark voice – to please take the brown, hairy monster suitcase to the taxi.

I did a quick scan. All packed, dressed in 14 mins. Oh, yea – needed to wash my face. Washed off the eye gel or random lotion residue.

Took a deep breath and looked in the mirror. Wow. This was a bad one. Looked like I was bit by a vampire. Where’s eye drops? And, what did I eat last night? Face looked like I opted for salt instead of food. Eyes darted from eyes to hair. Damn. Matted frizz served up and in-style… It dawned on me as I was reaching for a hair band that I was to shower first thing in the AM. What was the reasoning? Oh, I laundered clothes instead.

Earlier in the day, I hiked, biked, whitewater rafted and rode an elephant for nine hours in the rain. So, it makes perfect sense to forgo a shower for doing laundry. Sometimes I want to put my logic in timeout. What’s staring back at me was ripe, river rank and elephant aroma. Pray a stunner does no sit next to me on the plane.

Turned on faucet. Wet down the bangs. Matted them over. Tried for the severe Latin look. Washed my face with left over soap. No time for the teeth. Time check?

Scanned the room one last time as I was touching my passport. Brain saying, “remember the passport, credit cards, cash, laptop…other than that, GO!” Touched it all and ran out the door. Watch said 6:08 am. Plane leaves at 6:55 am.

Ran to counter. Thai receptionist said, “Oh, Ms. Aman-DA…how you stay? Fill out questionnaire?” Didn’t he just call me a few minutes ago about my taxi and I shouted…”WHAT!” I breathed. “Thank you. No time. Late for plane. We good.”

“Oh, but Ms. Aman-DA. Please fill-out form, please.”

I responded, “I love hotel. Body forgot what day it was. So relaxing. So beautiful. Want to stay forever and ever and ever. We good?” I forced a smile. Let’s go buddy.

He says, “Oh. Oh. Oh. Need your your credit care for buy-one-get on free spa treatment. You have spa, no? Fill out form about spa?”

I handed him my credit card and ignored him. I looked for Mr. Taxi man. Signed the slip. Screamed thank you and took off for the taxi.

To taxi man, “How long to airport.”

“Ten minute.”

“Seven minute? Five minute? Faster? Late for airport.”

He pushed the accelerator. Car lurched from 30 mph to 35 mph. Really? This is going fast at 6:15 am on a Saturday morning… God was in charge here. Calm down. I’m fine. As my fellow world traveler Stephanie would say when we were in these types of travel predicaments, “We’re fine… everything is Fiiiiiiiinnnnnneeee.” I thought of Steph. She would have LOVED this.

I searched for a car light. Wanted to see what I threw into my LL Bean blue backpack. Hoped I packed my flight information. Dumped everything onto the backseat. Started to reorganize. My three-ounce liquids were thrown everywhere. Stuffed my cover girl cover up cream, chap stick, SPF, toothpaste, hand lotion and eye drops into the zip lock. Laptop and Kindle were there. Found flight information. OK. Good.

We pulled up. There’s a line at Bangkok Air. Check-in gate was open. When Thai taxi asked if the flight was domestic, I had a flash back of Poland. In Poland, I was going to St. Petersburg, Russia. I told Polish taxi man my flight was an international flight. Wrong. On that day, Russia was domestic and I landed at the wrong terminal. So, when I responded to Thai Taxi my flight to Southern Thailand was domestic, I took a wild leap of faith, praying it was still part of Thailand.

Paid the taxi. He had no change. This gets me. You give them a large bill. And, they claim no change. Not going to budge. Might miss my flight, but he was already robbing me for the taxi charge for 8 minutes. Loath getting ripped off. I just looked at him. And, said, “Problem? Get change inside?” Then, I smiled and waited. He looked around. Went to another taxi man and got the change. OK. It was all of $2, but it was principal here. Was I really going to miss my flight over $2? Maybe. I could have seen it happen.

Got in line behind more Norwegians. This is the travel year for Scandinavia. They’re everywhere. The family of four was traveling with four kilo-sized bags of Thai chips. I mean these bags put American-style, super-sizing to shame. What was it? Major munchies on domestic flights? I could not stop starring.

I checked in at 6:42 pm and flew to the gate. No line at security. Actually,there was no nothing at security. As I start to strip, I call out…“” He said, “no worry.” Thank you GOD! Wow, I could have brought my Coke Zero through X-ray security without a problem. I told myself just to be grateful and forget about the Coke Zero.

Last call for the flight. I asked the agent if I had time to go to the toilet. She said, “yes.” Went to the restroom and looked in the mirror. I must do something about my eyebrows. I can’t even see my eyes or my face. When I get on the plane, I’m locating my eyebrow pencil. Or, any pencil. This must be fixed ASAP.

Last one to board the plane. Two happy Bangkok Air attendants welcomed me with freshly brewed coffee, EQUAL and fruit. I exhaled. Settled into my window seat. Thank you God! You got me here.

We’re to go to Bangkok.  I have an hour lay over.  Then, I’m to jump on a plane to Krabi, Southern Thailand. I sipped my coffee. Looked out the window. Let my mind wonder. Bad idea. Mind goes to dark places. I started itemizing everything I forgot.  Time to think positive.

It’s not bad. Really. I have been needing to change out a few t-shirts. Talking about it for weeks. God’s way of pushing me to purchase. Even the night before as I was scrubbing my pastel peach t-shirt – trying to get the elephant mud out – I told myself, toss the pastels t-shirts and replace with brown or black. I will be trekking, hiking, biking and kayaking these next few months and don’t have the time or energy to scrub dirt. Dark colors wear dirt better. Besides leaving the pastel shirt, I may have gifted my J crew pants made for tall people. I’m OK with the shirt. But, replacing pants in the land of the little will be more difficult.

My mind ran through items I don’t recall touching. Bra? Hankie Pankies? No memory. Confident I touched the soaking wet bathing suit. I don’t recall touching my black, bullet proof, mini-purse I carry for day trips. Ugh. I think I tossed it in the dark corner of no lights in the hotel room.  What else was in that corner. That’s right. Postcards. Written too. I even bought stamps. The more I tried to remember the time between 5:45 am and 6:10 am, it all turned to mush. Brain is out of order. Perfect.

Think positive. Positive is the pink-now-gray bra was on its last leg anyway. Can switch to the black bra. And, since I’ll be buying a dark t-shirts, we are good. Postcards can be rewritten. Stamps are not that expensive. Bullet, terrorist purse can be substituted for a plastic 7-11 bag. And, I have been complaining about style. When I get the islands, I’ll go the market and buy some t-shirts and a long flowy skirt to go with my pink hiking boots. I’m fine. Plus, when I open my brown backpack, it will be like Christmas. “Let’s see what Amanda brought me from Chiang Mai!” It is all good. God is good.

I landed in Bangkok an hour later. Back to my home away from home. Bangkok airport. I need a shot of my addiction – a super-sized fountain drink. Head to Burger King. I forgot they sold beer. It’s 8:05 AM. No beer for me. Just my Coke Zero. Sit down at my favorite place overlooking the green park and mini-Buddhist temple cozening up next to concrete structures. A family of four walk by. The husband is carrying a pitcher of Chang beer and one mug. Mom has coffee. Kids have Burger King fries and burgers. Where are they from? And, was the flight that bad that Dad had to go solo on a pitcher of beer at 8 AM. Now, I’m curious. The majority of the people in this food court are drinking beer. One dude is drinking coffee and beer. In Bangkok, it’s stimulants and depressants before 8 AM. Got it.

In order of importance. Sugar. Depressent. Stimulant. Rehydrate.

Bangkok Airport. View from Food Court.

Go to the gate. Board a mini-plane. The airline baggage carriers are sportin’ the terrorist fashion. Whole head is covered in a black mask. This look wouldn’t go over in the states, regardless of air pollution index.

Just took off. Heart stopped again. Damn, bad karma day. The pilot said we’re going to Samui. I’m not going there. I’m going to Krabi. Am I on the wrong plane? They were laxed through security. And, Bangkok Airways gate lady did not really look at my boarding pass. I swear I went to the correct gate. My brain is so scattered right not, I could be on a flight to Ho Chi Minh City and not know it. I catch the eye of the Thai flight attendant. Smile. Just smile. I tell him I’m going to Krabi. Smile. Keep smiling.

I watch his expression. What do I see. I’m holding my breath. I can feel it. Wrong plane… He smiled. “Oh, we go to Samui first. We get off. Get next plane. Go to Krabi.” I need to repeat what he said. I’m not trusting my synapses. “What I hear you say … I get off this plane. Go to Samui airport. Wait for next plane to Krabi. Same flight number and same seat, no?”

“I go to Krabi too. You follow me…”

I exhale. Body relaxes. Thank you God. Thank you for sending me another travel angel. Yes, I’m in need of a lot help today. Need a travel angel to carry me from point A to point B… wherever that leads. My journey continues with the help of travel angels.

Land in Samui and greeted by Disney-like, colorful tram to transport us to the airport. The air is thick with humidity. I’m sweating through the layers. No matter. I’m in the islands baby. I smile. Tram man drops me off at the best airport gate in the whole wide world. Pictures have to describe it. I mean, the ladies room has an aquarium in it. Bangkok Airways offers complimentary pizza topped with can vegetables – peas, carrots and potatoes. There’s an all you can drink juice and coffee, and water bar. And a table full of complimentary cakes and coconut jellies. Love this!

I plop myself down in a chair. Taste the cold pizza. Smile. A few mins later, we’re back on the colorful tram in route to the same plane. Boarded. And, behind me sat a young German couple with a 2 year old. Little girl is NOT happy to be on the plane. Neither is the mother. We took off and she reached for a barf bag. I’ve never seen or heard anyone use a barf bag before. You are not missing anything.

About 45 mins later, the plane bumps into Krabi airport. Two hotel greeters welcome me. I don’t even know where I’m staying. They have my name on a card. I go with them. Again, they could be Armenians posing at Thai greeters wanting to sell me to an underground sex market and I would not know the difference. The more I think about it, I don’t even know the name of the hotel. Nor, do I have a brochure. I booked this two weeks ago based on price and a friend’s recommendation. I just followed them. Folded myself into the back of their recalled Toyota. Little Thai lady handed me a bottle water and cold towel. I sat back. Made it.

A hotel brochure was perched next to me. Guess it’s time to read about where I’m going, where I’m staying and where I am. The name of the hotel is Nakamanda. Wait. That is my name. Nak-Amanda. It means Sacred Sea Dragon of the Andaman Sea. This is fortuitous.

We pull up. Wow. Kari and Patrick were right. (Friends from grad school living in Singapore). It’s small. Boutique. Beautiful. My room has its own private, bodacious balcony. We’re talking chairs, couch and tile. Bathroom is the size of my car port at home. When checking-in, the owner greeted me. Served me tea and showed me around. Before, he opened NakAmanda, he was in the Seafood business. This resort was his dream.

I’m surprised this place does not cost more. I mean, this is paradise. I’m more surprised more Americans don’t travel to Thailand. It’s easy. Inexpensive for what you get. The word is “value.” Good for kids. Customer service focus. Best food ever. And, they have over 6,000 7-11s. Love Thailand! Thank you God for getting me here safely. Thank you. Thank you. And, Thank you. Tomorrow, I’m off to island hoping. But before that, I need to unpack… Let’s see where the day takes me.

Bangkok Airways. From Bangkok to Krabi.

Outfit for Bangkok Airways baggage handlers..

Airport Tram. From plane to gate.

Nak-AMANDA hotel in Krabi, Thailand

It’s Expensive to Die in Thailand

28 Nov

It’s expensive to die in Thailand.

Found out it costs major bank to die in Thailand. Who knew.

I was mounted on an elephant, being guided by a 12 year old, meandering down a muddy trail, when we stumbled upon music, laughter and smoke. I asked the soon-to-be teen elephant driver, “what’s this?” He responded, “Die. Die. Die.” I rephrased the question and the response was the same. Die? These people are partying, eating and playing. They’re not killing. It must be a funeral.

Of course, I was mortified to be that random American tourists on an elephant kicking-up dust at their funeral party. They see this a lot – a tourist on top of an elephant. But, still.  Look, I would NOT want some random out-of-towner walking through my fiesta for the dead on large animal. I mustered a smile. Nodded at them. And, pretended to be invisible riding a mammal weighing a few tons.

Much later, I asked Bae – my English speaking Thai guide – more about funerals in Thailand We had a 2 hour car ride in front of us to get back to Chiang Mai. Needed a “hot topic.” Plus, Bae’s English was very, very good.

Bae: “Guess how much Buddhist funeral costs in Thailand?”

Me: “No clue. $500 US dollars?”

Bae: “No, cost between $3,500 and $7,000 US dollars. And, if you are rich, it costs more.”

Me: “You have GOT to be kidding. For what? Is the body dipped in gold?”

Bae elaborated…

Bae: You are very funny, Ms. Aman-DA. Buddhist believe when you die, your spirit needs help. There is a lot of preparation. If you are poor, then Monk says need three days to prepare. If you are rich, need seven days or ten days. Monk come to house to tell you.

Me: What happens to the body during this time? In morgue?

Bae: No. Dead in house. In the bedroom during preparation period. On last day, dead goes to crematoria. If you are rich, you can rent space at the Buddhist temple and not put dead in bedroom. Monks charge a lot for the space.

Now, if you die in accident and not by natural causes, then the body can not come home. It must go to the Buddhist temple and the Monks charge you rent – poor or rich. Buddhist believe if you die in accident – like a motor-bike wreck, knife fight or elephant stomping – then there is bad Karma or bad spirits around you. Accidents to Buddhist mean you were not suppose to die then. A bad spirit came and got you. So, to protect the family from bad spirits, dead body goes to the temple. And, yes, Monks make money. Lot of accidents in Thailand.

Me: What happens during the three days when dead body is sitting’ in the bedroom?

Bae: During these three days, everyone from the village stop by home to show respect. You – the host of the dead – must prepare food for village when they come by house. You cook breakfast, lunch and dinner and feed all village these three days. Last day, is celebration. You pay and cook for big party for village. Pay for food. Pay Monk. Pay for whiskey and soda. Very expensive.

Stop right there. All I heard was the family of deceased has to pay for Monk time and food/drink for three days for EVERYONE in the village. And, booze costs? We’re talking about some serious cash. Thai people LOVE to party and drink.

Me: “Wait. You mean to tell me the family has to pay for everything? What if they are poor? What if they have no money for monks or whiskey?”

Bae: “You find a way. Our culture is about respect. Saving face. We don’t question Buddhist belief systems. Or, how things are done. It’s about respecting the dead, monks and tradition. You find a way. My mother-in-law died. We had to pay over $6,000 US dollar for food, drink and Monk ceremony. This is a lot for Thai person. Costs more than a car and two motor-bikes.”

Me: “My God. It’s expensive to die in Thailand.

I mean, in the states, weddings are a big business with feeding and liquoring up the masses. Funerals? Not a big business….yet… It could be because we Christians and non-Christians bury the dead in one day. And, getting married can be a two night, three day affair – excluding honeymoon and the pre-prep costs. Weddings, not funerals, are big business.

For funerals, a family spends dough on the church, casket/cremation, plot, flowers, hired cars… And, because the family is in a state of grief, its the neighbors, friends, church ladies or relatives are the ones who prepare the food for the gathering after the funeral. This is a time for people to support the family, not gouge them. Seriously Don’t die in Thailand”

Bae: “Very different in Thailand. Monks need money. Family needs merit. Very different.”

Now, here we get into the real discussion. Bae broke Thai funeral down day by day. After listening to him, I was exhausted and figured you need a second job when there’s a death in the family.

Day 1:

Body comes home. Dead rests in bedroom. Feeding the village is contingent on when dead body arrives. Dead arrives before lunch, the host family must serve lunch and dinner on Day 1. After lunch, we’re talking dinner only. No whiskey or sodas are offered, yet.

Around 8 pm you get a knock on the door. Monks (PLURAL) arrive for prayers and to perform ceremonies. The number of monks is based on your pocket book. Expect Monks to come in odd numbers. “One” is not odd. So, minimal, you’re looking at three Monks in orange robes. If you are rich, expect more like five to eleven….

Monk performs ceremony in San-script for host family and relatives. No clue what the Monks are saying in ceremony. They do remind the host family about the five main precepts (rules) in the Buddhism practiced in Thailand. If you follow them, then you will be closer to enlightenment and not be reincarnated into a rabid dog.

  1. Don’t kill humans or animals.
  2. Don’t steal.
  3. Don’t lie.
  4. Don’t commit adultery.
  5. Don’t drink.

Don’t drink? We will come back to that one later. Bae said when the Monks get to #5, everyone in the room puts their head down for they all either drunk or intend to be drunk in a matter of hours.

After the ceremony, the host family pays Monks $$ for merit. Merit is an uncommon word for me. I found out merit is what you earn for doing “good” deeds. So, when you die and the “universe” is deciding your next life form the more merit – good deeds – you stacked up in this life, the higher likelihood you’ll be reincarnated into a 7-11 franchise owner instead of a elephant taking around tourists. I’m sooooo overly simplifying all of this.

Point here is that the host family is buying merit – or a hall pass – for themselves and for the dead peacefully resting in the bedroom. When Bae was telling me about how each night the family needs to offer money to the Buddhist Monks for merit, Luther sprang to my head for Catholics tried to pull the same thing. Martin Luther, a catholic monk, criticized the Pope for pardoning people in exchange for money. Luther believed it was wrong for the church to earn money by selling forgiveness or pardons, instead of praying to God and asking for forgiveness. Long story short, after the scuttle between Luther and the Pope, a new denomination was founded – Say hello to protestantism.

And, once again, I find it entertaining how man is so uninvented when it comes to swindling money in the name of God. It’s the same story, different century. Get creative people…

Day 2

Host family of dead prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for entire village.

Monks come by again for the same ceremony. Underscoring the same FIVE precepts.

Host family still drinks.

Monks get the same money. Host family gets the same merit.

Dead body still in the bedroom. Host family lights incense

Day 3

Big spending day for the host family. They prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner and booze.

Monk(s) must eat before noon. It is a Monk rule that they can not chew anything after the noon hour. No gum. Nothing. Only liquids. So, the monks must be fed between 11:00 – noon.

Monks eat first.

Villagers eat after.

Monks kick off ceremony after everyone, including the dogs and water buffalo, are fed.

Host family says some simple words. This all take place at the home.

If host family has a son of a young age, watch out on Day 3. The monks require the son to shave its head – regardless if they have a future in the monk-hood – and put on an Orange sheet. The son is considered a Monk novice on this day. Little novice goes with the Monks and takes dead from bedroom and places him/her in a coffin.

Monks and novice boy are draped in orange and pull the the coffin down the road to the crematoria. (Yes, they use cars too). It is believed the color orange helps lead the dead spirit to “it” or Buddha. They don’t believe in heaven, so I’m not sure where their highway is taking them.

Next stop. Crematorium. They cremate bodies in Buddhism. There’s another ceremony, meaning coughing off more $$ to the Monks. This is your last chance for one more photo with the dead. The crematorium charges extra for pictures.

The monks do another ceremony for merit. Again, charging you more. They wheel the dead to the fire. The crematoria charges for burning. Meanwhile, it’s time to light the fireworks and get the village party started. Villagers are waiting at a park, home or central location for you to feed them and booze them. Fireworks cost a lot too. Monks are the only ones allowed to light the fireworks. It can run you around $100 to $500 US dollars. If you are rich, expect to pay the Monks more.

Next, host family provides the holy water for the monks and the crematoria. They do NOT want any evil spirits from the cremation to follow them back home. Monks charge for the holy water too. Monks do another ritual.

Next on dock is  The Part-ay. Everyone in the village comes. You are expected to pay for it all. We’re talking 50 to 500 people, if not more. If you are considered wealthy, then randoms will show up too. It’s a booze fest. Music. Food. Party… It goes late into the night. All you can drink Whiskey.

Day 4

Host family is hung over.

Day 5

Host family goes to the crematoria and pick up the ashes. Time to blast these babies into the spirit world. No joke. The monks come. Perform a ceremony. They charge you for it.

Monks put the ashes, some coins and GUN POWDER into a bottle and light it. Blast it into space. They want these ashes to get to “it” ASAP. They don’t want the spirit to get distracted. It is in everyone’s best interest to make sure dead makes it to “it.” Can’t have him/her linger around.

Day 6

You are poor.

Monks stop by to be paid.

You need much more than merit. You need a new job.

Moral here. Don’t die in Thailand.

Bikes. Elephants. Rafting. Orchids. Military. Chiang Mai, Thailand

27 Nov

I had to get out of my hotel room. Out of my head. I’ve been in the glorious Chedi Hotel in Chaing Mai for two days now editing China. It’s consuming. And, I believing biking, white water rafting and elephant riding are in order.

I called  my new BFFers at a local travel agent for Asia. The day prior I scared the shit out of their Chiang Mai office by knocking on their door. That’s right. I went to their physical location. Apparently, people don’t go to the office. They only email. American girl does not email when wanting information about travel and transport in communist countries.

I hired a Tuk Tuk to take me to their offices. Off I went in a Hello Kitty motor-bike with a covered seat. The Tuk Tuk driver dropped me off at someone’s house insisting it was an office. I thought, “fine. I’ll knock.” Got out of Tuk Tuk and she raced off. I knocked on the door. Two young women peered out. I peered at them. Smiled. And, said, “I need travel help…”

Thirty mins later, after my face to face with them, I’m emailing my travel ideas. Looks like the Chiang Mai office is for operations only. Hey, website did NOT say that. I gave them something to talk about for the day… But, they did help me with a day bike trip exploring Chiang Mai.

My tour guide picked me up at 8 am and we’re off. My tour guide’s name is Bae. It is short for a very long Thai name. Bae was on fire. He’s highly irritated with his government, royal family, military, corruption, education, health… you name it, he’s mad.

I told him “Welcome to America… We’re all mad too…” I have not found one Thai who would speak the truth on how they feel about their government. Not one. So, I was surprised at his spewing. Taken back actually. And, I LOVE talking politics and learning about other country’s governments.  It says so much about the energy of the people.  And, his rage was another birthday present. Yes, I’m still celebrating my birthday a month later.

In my opinion – and take this with a grain of salt for I only rested my head in this beautiful country for a few weeks and I’m NO expert – Thailand could implode economically or politically in the forseable future.  I’m not talking Chinese future, like 1,000 years.  I’m talking US future, like 2 to 8 years.

Why? Well you have two old farts running the country. The King and the Military General are in their 80s…  on their last leg.  So, what the Thai people are up against is the elite ruling from a place of fear….  It’s your typical fear — Fear of change.  Fear of their legacy. Fear of being found out.  When one manages and leads from a place of fear, then expect the worst.  And, we all know what that is like for we have had bosses who use fear to motivate, lead and direct their employees.  Not a happy place to spend 8 to 10 hours a day.   So, in my pee-size brain opinion, Thailand is a ticking tomb bomb.

According to Bae, this mess started about six years ago. And, it’s complicated and simple in one breath. The Prime Minister at the time – forgot his name – was from Northern Thailand. Smart man. Business man. Studied in the states. Made a lot of money in Thailand. Owned the largest telecoms business. I believe he brought wireless mobile phones to Thailand.

He ran for Prime Minister. Overwhelming majority. The country was progressing. He invested in infrastructure, education, tourism and business.

Goal was to open up Thailand. And, it was working. More business was coming in. Tourist flooded in. Thailand was moving. Then, the opposition started asking more and more questions about his business dealings. The kick-backs. Bae, my tour guide, went in detail, which I don’t recall now. In essence, the Prime Minister was getting $$ under the table. But, it could not be proven. His supporters do not believe it is true.   He said he would sell his business to avoid future conflict. And, he ended up selling the largest Telecoms/wireless company in Thailand to a S. Korean company or to another government.  Details escape me…

At any rate, the Thai people could not believe that a foreigners owns their Telecoms company. Found this disrespectful. It became a scandal. The opposition and military said they were going to arrest him for corruption.

New elections were held. And, he fled for the new party in control wanted to arrest and try him. His wife is still in Thailand.  Now, the Northern Thailand political contingency and the poor call themselves the RED Shirts. It’s all about the color shirt you wear in Thailand. Either you’re a Red Shirt or a Yellow Shirt. They keep it simple in Thailand.

This was six or so years ago. The new government came to power. Military backing. This new Prime Minister is just a puppet for the military. There was a quote in the Bangkok Post that said he is just a pretty face. The military has grown stronger and stronger. Their goal is to wipe out any opposition and try the old Prime Minister. They want old Prime Minster to go to jail, thinking if they show he’s corrupt – unlike them – then his followers will join their side. Easy Breezy. Cover Girl.

The military has been suppressing freedom of speech and freedom of assembly for the last few years.

The Red Shirts had enough. In 2009, they protested against the military (governments) policy. And, riots broke out. Military came in and with their big, bad guns. CNN aired the riots. So, the world thought these people were hooligans. US State Department posted travel warnings. I read some place that almost 100 people died in the riots and over 2000 were injured. After that, the military went crazy. Shut down everything. They shut down TVs, newspapers, blogs – anything against the government. The World Press Freedom Association downgraded Thailand to 153 on their list, below Democratic Republic of Congo and Palestine. Hello, Houston, we have a problem??? Democracy to military dictatorship in a matter of days. Though, Thailand still calls herself a democracy. Another example of using the wrong word to describe a government. Communism in China. Democracy in Thailand.  Both get the ax in Websters.

Oh, after these riots, the King Bhumibol Adulgadij – longest reigning King in Thai’s history and the world – had a nervous breakdown. Couldn’t deal. Guy is 83+. Broke him that people might be a wee bit upset. He has been in the “hospital” since 2009. When Thai’s say the word “hospital” their voices convey doubt. So, the military, in essence, is running the country.

Let me give you some perspective. Right now, a Thai Editor for a newspaper/blog is facing 70 years in prison for remarks she made about the monarchy. The government claims she breached some computer law and Thailand’s majestic legislation, prohibiting criticism of the royal family. Can you imagine the US pulling that one? What would Glen Beck and Morning Joe talk about? All the advertising dollars lost because NO ONE can speak ill of Obama, Palin, Biden, Bush or Clinton.  Again, raise a glass to our country! Thank GOD we have freedom to rant and rave.

Back to editor. So, I read that ANY Thai can make an accusation of insulting the monarchy and the police MUST investigate. You are guilty until they prove you innocent. When I was in Bangkok, the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon came for a visit. The Army Chief had some fab quotes in the Bangkok Post. He told the “bad people and outlaws” not to rally. Not to embarrass Thailand. See if our local police, or Obama for that matter, could get by with quotes like this…

Army Chief  quoted in the paper…

“Do what civilized people do….They must NOT show up in masses or cause trouble before the eyes of foreigners. I think that is embarrassing.”

“There are two groups of Thai people: the good and the bad, normal people and outlaws. The bad and outlaws must be prosecuted, no matter what they do, and they can later defend themselves by legal means.”

“Young kids should not protest. You should not do that. If you do not know, you can ask your parents.”

“All people, from their grandparents’ generation down have been blessed by the royal institution. From past to present, Thailand has existed thanks to the royal institution. So no matter what the political expression, do not involve the royal institution.”

Bae talked in length about the government corruption. They take bribes. Take the people’s money. Once again, there is no social safety net. The outsiders think Thailand is an nice place. To travel, yes. For freedom. To raise a family, no. Bae was raised on a farm. He was the youngest and was in charge of feeding the water buffalo every morning and harvesting rice. He came from a very poor family. I asked him how he learned English? How he broke out of poverty?

Summary of Bae’s story: “I have three sisters and two brothers. I was the youngest. My father was a farmer. We grew tobacco, rice, corn, vegetables to sell in the market and to feed our family. I did not want to be a farmer. Very hard life. I went to primary school. Did not graduate from high school because my father said we could not afford college. He told me I must become a farmer.

My sister worked in Bangkok. She worked in a bar. Served drinks to foreigners. I went to live with her. I was 16. I learned to make drinks and worked in a bar. I worked all night. My sister said I must learn English to get a better job. There was an English school down the street. She made me go. I was so tired. I worked until 3 am. And, had to be at English school at 8 AM. I would study English until 2:00 pm. And, start work at 4 pm. Other students dropped out. I was the only one that stayed. I studied English for three years. Worked in a bar. And, practiced my English with foreigners. Always practicing.

I worked at the bar for many years. My other sister was working at a travel agency. She helped with reservations. They needed English speaking guides to answer tourists questions. My sister gave me the job. I went to tourism school. You have to be trained and certified to be a guide in Thailand. I took classes for two years. Passed the test and became a guide. I know everything about Thailand. I love my job.

I’m married. Have two daughters. My wife works as an accountant. I have two Labradors. I jog with them everyday. And, very happy that my sister made me learn English. I have a good life. I’m not a farmer…”

Of course, tears welded up in my eyes from the backseat. I love his story – story of perseverance, faith, struggling and overcoming GREAT odds. And, he had the support of his family. Love Bae.

We biked through the countryside. We stopped at a rice house. I really don’t know what they call it, but I’m calling it a rice house. A woman about 70 was cleaning the rice with a machine that costs $4,000 US. It’s old. Rusted. And, amazing.

Farmers bring her their rice. She puts it through the grinder. It takes off the brown stalk. Cleans the little rice, turning it to white, and dumps into a 20 kilo bag.   There is NO bleached or random products applied to turn rice white.  For whatever reason, I thought that was the case.  White rice is natural.  And, there a billion-and-one types of white rice…

Back to rice lady.  She charges $1 to clean (take mini-stalks off each rice grain) one 20 kilo bag of rice. Dumbfounded. She needs to charge MORE. She said, she can’t because the farmers would get mad. Mad, who cares. Again, it gives me a greater appreciation of rice.

Next, we stopped at a random shack. It started to rain, of course. When I was in Thailand, they were experiencing the worst floods in 50+ years. Nice.  A family of six were sitting in their house with no doors cutting up marigold yellow flowers. They were going to sell the pedals in the market. People will buy and make it into tea or  wreaths for the dead or Buddha.

They had a small radio playing Thai music in the background to keep them going. They will make $4 for all their work, if that. The family seemed very joyful. Happy to be together. They offered us tea. Out of dirty glasses.  We drank.  Sat.  Talked.  Even the men joined in the conversation, which was unique for they are the ones that sit back in a corner and stare at foreigners with distrust.  I tried my hand at cutting too.  Didn’t work out so well — Cutting pedals with a dull knife  and bike helmet is HARD work.

As we trekked on, the roads became more and more muddy. Our next stop was the elephant farm. This is a “must do” in Thailand. My elephant was PMSing or something.   She growled.

I did NOT think elephants growled. She got really pissed at the teen who was sitting on her head making her move. He would talk, cluck and them hit her. When he used the stick, she growled. I tapped in the shoulder and waved my finger – “Don’t do that… No hit.” I felt better. We walked a mile, which took a good hour. Very slow. And, it was raining. I was over the elephant ride about 4 mins into it. Check to box on riding an elephant in Thailand…

Next on the docket was white water rafting down a polluted river. I love rafting. Right up my ally. We loaded up and off we went.  I asked what “class” river this was.  And, they did not know.  They said, “fast because of the floods.  A lot of water.  A lot of rocks.  A lot of  fun.”  Got it….

We hit the first rapid and Bae, my guide, flipped out. I mean, flipped out of the boat.  Yea, it’s fast and rough all right.   Bae landed in water that was teaming with sewage and other random particles I learned in chemistry.  Glad it was him, not me. No skin disease today please.

After white water rafting, we biked to an orchid farm. As we biked, he vented more. He was linking military life with monastery life.   According to him, both were the same. Really?

The monastery is for lazy boys or poor kids, according to Bae. People really don’t have a “calling” to be a monk, per se. At least, I did not hear it. If a family can’t support a child or the child is not that motivated, the family sends him to a monastery.

Everything is free for the boy. Free food. Free housing. Free orange robe. Free education. Free. The poor see this is an insurance policy. The boy spends nine years in the monastery. I asked about what the kids learn. I mean, this education is “free” but what are the filling their brains with?

He said 80% is Buddhism. 20% is math, science, Thailand history/culture. And, they are starting to teach them English. That is good. When the boy is around 20, there is a ceremony. He “graduates” into monk-hood. He has learned his 227+ rules. Remember, the plebs or commoners only have 5 rules. Monk have a few more. Their Buddhism they practice is from India – so it is very restricting. Bae said around this time is when the Monks leave to go into the military, go to university, find a job or get married. He said about 95% of kids who graduate from the monastery leave. But, they leave armed with knowledge.

The Thai military is compulsory for all Thai boys. But, there are some rules there too.

You have to be over 160 cm (not short), be built, have good coordination and not be a Lady Boy. What is a Lady Boy? Google it. I beg you. Then, you will understand why Thai Lady Boys are not permitted in the military. The govt has a supply and demand issue. More and more boys are voluntarily enrolling in the military after university or later in life. They see it as job security. Especially, given the Thai economy. So, there is a large chance that you will not have to serve time in the military right after high school or college. In other words, the military is full.

If you do serve time, then your life will ONLY be complete if you also do time at the local monastery. Boys are encouraged to enter into a monastery for 3 months or 15 days to learn more about Buddhism. The story goes, once they do military and monastery time, there life is complete. That is all it takes for a male in Thailand. A little M&M – military and monastery – then you’re good to go.

We ride up to the orchid farm. All I can think about is my stepmother Dewease and my Mom. They would DIE. I mean this is orchid heaven. I took a zillion pictures to share with them when I return. Amazing. The grow and export these babies all over the world.

Bae was a gift. His rants, raves and remarks made me curious. And, opened my eyes to another Thailand. I could tell he was unconformable sharing all of this when we parted. He apologized. I told him I LOVED every minute of it and gave him a nice tip. Thank you Bae for your honesty!

Just a Crying. Chiang Mai, Thailand

27 Nov

In Northern Thailand. Just flew into to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. Booked a room at the Tamarind Village Hotel. Love my little room. Love Thailand’s design and architecture.

Well, I’m in bed.  And, crying.  Actually, bawling. Can’t stop crying and laughing.

I have not seen a movie since July. Embarrassed to admit this. The movie causing my eyes and nose to inflate is The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and the male actor – forgot his name…You know the one… The hottie married to Scarlet someone.

Anyway, the movie’s is a COMEDY! I’m crying to a comedy. But, you don’t understand. These people are clean. Their white shirts, are truly white. There are no dust bunnies flying across the room. And, their movie-family seems like so much fun. Oh, this movie makes me miss my family. I’m feeling homesick. For my family. For my friends. For my dog (not cat). For EQUAL. For a fridge full of FRESCA. For clothes hangers. For an iron. For Ziploc bags. For bleach. For new undergarments…. I’ve been washing my bras, underwear and t-shirts in the sink since July. You can only imagine. So, yes, I’m bawling.

Turned on my computer to write about it. Why not. This will be a different type of blog. No talk of politics, religion or economics. But, just emotions. Tears. Am I really crying to The Proposal?   This is starting to scare me…

Trying to think back to the last time I bawled. Can’t remember. It feels good to cry. Not sure if the source is homesickness or sheer exhaustion. If I’m really going deep. Ask the question of what is triggering this. I need to mute the TV. Close my eyes. And, write the first thing that pops in mind. OK. Here it goes. I really don’t want to do it because I know this scene – it’s funny. OK. Focus. I will turn the TV on mute. What do I hear?

“God is breaking me again.”

Great. Great. Great. Fab-u-los-a. My question back is… are we talking about a rebuild or remodel job? I pray we’re talking about a few new additions to the soul. A total rebuild is just too painful. And, I don’t have time for a rebuild. I can with some new additions though… I know this feeling for God shredded me while living in Honduras working with street kids. Shredded me to pieces and had to start from scratch. That was an intense project for Him. And, I did not willingly oblige to the process either.

Yea. TV still on mute. So, this pain. This crying. What is it. It is reminiscent of Honduras shredding, yet different too. I’m not living for a year in a country where despondency, desperation and depravity are the norm. No, I’m moving through places glimpsing noxious despair and surprising hope not from one country, but from multitude of people. I believe that’s the difference. Places are not remodeling me. It’s the world’s people with their hammers, nails and measuring tapes building new additions for them to settle into my soul. Unfortunately, I’m not privy to their plans – size, shape and function. I do wonder what will these new additions hold? And, what does it hold for me? It truly excites and scares me. Yea, more excited than anything. Bring it on… Build it baby! OK. Stopped crying.

I look at the movie again. Watch it for 20 mins. I truly am embarrassed I’m crying to The Proposal. I hope Sandra Bullock never finds out. The next thing that pops to mind is how I’m going to talk about this journey. Friends back home assume it’s about running away, finding a husband or finding me. Survey says, “XXX.” (XXX is from Family Feud not a porn shop…)

For better or worse, I know me. I’ve been traveling with me for 39 years. It’s more about knowing others. Seeking their ideas. Probing their thoughts. Understanding their culture. Respecting their way of life. And, figuring out a way to communicate it back to the world that we’re all very similar. Souls do not discriminate. We do. And, all of us are trying to navigate through the ups and downs of this unfair, discriminating world. Now, how do you sum that up at 2 for 1 Happy Hour at Hooters? I think I’m going to cry again…

OK. Took a break from writing to finish the movie. Now, a Drew Barrymore and the star who overdosed on meds movie is on. I think it is about Boys Driving in Cars. Not a good flick. But, I’m crying again. Why? This move is about friendship. I now miss my friends. Damn, I have a lot of emotions pent up inside. If I was traveling with a boy, they would be reaching for the Jack Daniels and a gun right about now. It makes me laugh. One thing that sucks about all this crying is my eyes will be super puffy tomorrow. No matter. I don’t know ANYONE in Thailand. So, we’re good there. Thai’s will just think, “Oh, your typical puffy American…”

Speaking of tomorrow, I check out of the Tamarind Hotel and have upgraded to a five star for a reduced price. It’s interesting because Bangkok has reported massive flooding in Northern Thailand. It hasn’t rained here for days, but tourists are canceling their trips. Good thing I’m here – ripe and ready – to take advantage of weather gone wrong. YEA! This means, I need to pack. Hate packing. I’ve been leaving stuff behind at the hostels, hotels and rest stops. Did toss the Naturalizer flats. Exchanged them for a pair of Chinese-made, look-a-like Todds loafers. The lady put a match to the loafers to ensure “its real leather.” Could care less. I was only going to pay $15 – real or fake.

OK. That is all I’m going to write now. I can go on and on about this random crying. But, it’s ran its course. Drew Berrymore’s character just found out she is prego. I’m starting to like this movie..

Bangkok by Day. Bangkok by Night.

27 Nov

Arrived in Bangkok. Had three days in this city. Three days is plenty. Sprawling. Polluted. Unruly. Word on the street is there’s over 5,500 7-11s convenience stores in this country…  And, thousands  and thousands more profiting in prostitution.  Heart the 7-11s.  But,  can do without human trafficking and sex crimes.  Yea, three days is plenty.  I’m ready to absorb the brazen seediness of this city. Bring it on baby!

A friend of mine has a friend who’s a driver/tour guide in Bangkok. His name is Kitty. I emailed him prior to my arrival asking for help to pilot this place.. Next thing I know, I have a private guide ushering me around in a big, black car with tinted windows. Well, at least I fit in.

Kitty and I kicked off “Bangkok in one day” at the Grand Palace. The present King Bhumibol Adulyadej – pushing 83 years of age – and his Queen no longer live there. They built another super-sized palace across town. The Grand Palace was the official residence of all the Kings of Thailand starting from 18th century onward.

It houses complex buildings like bodacious Buddhist temples, golden Stuppas, and Kinnon – the mythical golden creature of half bird and half man. All in all, the place is dripping in gold and largeness and scary mythical statues that give kids nightmares.

A quick background on Thailand’s govt to put things in perspective. Sum it up this way. Thailand is considered democracy to the UN and military dictatorship to the people.  They haphazardly borrow from the British style of government – a constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democratic system.

But lucky for its people, the government adds its own special seasoning. Try a strong dose of military might whose special mission is to imprison or kill anyone who speaks against or annoys the Royal monarchy. Yea, it’s in the air. I bet my pair of H&M black leggings this place is gearing up for a rumble. More on that later…

Back to a day in Bangkok. So, I had Kitty-cat and his armored car for the day. As I said, our first stop was the Grand Palace. Yes, it not only houses scary, gold statues but it also entertains the famous Emerald Buddha. I assumed E-Buddha would be large and in charge. Like Jolly Green Giant to sprout. Not the case.

E-Buddha was sprout – about 2 feet on a good day. And, he REALLY was made out of emerald. Rumor has it the Thai people stole him from Cambodia. Sprout was perched high on a stack of gold plates. You can’t take pictures. Was anti-climatic for me. *This is NOT a travel blog, so if you’re interested, google Emerald Buddha and Bangkok for more background on the little green martian.

I was more interested in the monks with shaved heads wearing Orange sheets sitting a mere 4 feet away from us. They look like Hare Krishnas hair at JFK airport. I wanted THEIR story. Kitty gave me the low down while we sat cross-legged, with no shoes in temple-land.

Me: “What’s their deal? The guys in the orange sheets?”

Kitty: “The monks? They come to pray. Everyday. Pray..”

Me: “What type of Buddhism do they practice? Can they marry? What is their life like?”

Kitty: “The Buddhism Thai people follow is called Theravada. But, Thai people have old traditions and beliefs. So, our Buddhism is different Buddhism. We use our traditions, Chinese traditions and mix with Buddhism. Almost 95% of population is Buddhist.

You ask about marry? No marry. No touch woman. No look at woman. No think woman. Can’t eat after noon. Only two meals a day. Pray. Pray to Buddha. Monks have many rules. Over 200 rules to follow. Thai people, not as many rules. Just five rules to be a good Buddhist – no stealing, no lying, no cheating on wife, no gambling, no drinking… Follow these rules, we get good life. Good afterlife. Good Buddhist.”

I never thought Buddhism had rules. Catholic church has the rules. But, Buddhist? Newsflash. Then, my American side came out. I mean, they have to do something productive, right?

Me: “Besides, praying what do they do? Give back to the community? Help the homeless? I mean, they can’t pray and not look at woman all the time…”

Kitty: “No help people. People help them. Our people make food. Honor to give food to monks. Honor to give money to monks. Give to monks, you get merits. Get better life and more blessings. Monks do ceremonies. People pay for ceremonies. Good if your son is monk because you get ceremonies for free…”

Me: “What? What? What do they do with the money then? Pay for upkeep of the temple? Reinvest? 401K plans? Mattresses? Health Insurance? ”

Kitty: “ People don’t know where money goes. People are upset, but can’t ask questions to monks. Be disrespectful. People do talk… Bad to talk about monks. The collect money. But,temple paid for by the government. Monks pay nothing. Being monk is good profession.”

Me: “Wait. They don’t feed the poor? Help children? Feed children? Nothing?”

He starts to laugh out my outrage. And, he is not whispering. He’s enjoying this conversation, yet looks around to make sure no one is listening. What he is saying is blasphemy.

Kitty: “Many monks in my country. Monks get free food. Free education. Everything is free for them. Just like military, no? And, you don’t have to be a monk for life. Get education. Food. House. Clothes. Leave and get married later. Poor families send their boys to be monks. Good investment in son. Good profession…Easier for son to get job later if monk.”

I look over. There is a huge box filled with money. Contributions. This temple is dripping in gold. And, the people outside are starving. Men sabotaging religion in the name of God to better themselves. It’s called “morality by man.” And, its a reoccurring theme in all religion – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism…And, I suspect Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Taoism. Not one religion holds the morality card.

The irony here is man never learns. Each religion has a story of God punishing its people who use His name to self-enrich and promote their individual interests. Old Testament is full of stories. God destroying temples because the Jews were selling goods in holy places. He sent Jesus down to kick some woop ass, then we have the stories in New Testament of man getting annoyed with Jesus for calling them out on their corruption, lies and selfishness. Yet, man does it over and over and over again. Hijacks a religion or a philosophy to personally gain. Man’s pride and cowardice continue to be our downfall.

As I listened to Kitty and through my travels in Buddhist countries, I found Buddhism to be rooted in a philosophy of one gives to get. Give monks money. Prepare monks meals. Feed the poor. Turn a prayer wheel. Raise a prayer flag… With the intention of getting something in return – get more merits, get a good grade, get married or get reincarnated as a super-star instead of a slimy-salamander. Their intention is to give back to personally benefit. There’s a difference between man giving to others to get blessings rather than giving to others to be a blessing. Take a look at the verbs. To Get vs. To Be. Big difference.

I’ve been making a daily effort – though most days I fall short – where I try to be a blessing to others whether it is in the form of a smile, kind words, or just being still. It’s hard because most of the time I think, “if I’m nice, smile and wear lip gloss, passport man will give me a stamp… or the front desk lady will upgrade my room to a plastic shower curtain and two towels…” It is only those times when I’m conscious of being a blessing to others, where I can truly can see a difference. Difference in the people’s acceptance of me. And, a difference in my acceptance of them. It’s like all barriers of communications are shredded. We genuinely connect.

Tangent. Sorry. I’m writing this AFTER being in Bhutan. So, my appreciation and understanding for Buddhism has only increased. Back to Bangkok.

After Kitty-cat took a zillion pictures of me at the Palace – hate pictures of me – we bolted for the tailors. This was HIGH on my list.

Wanted to get some clothes made. No clue what, but why not? Well, three dresses and two suits later, I walked out the door. First of all, don’t wear dresses. I’m a pants gal. The shocking white legs will do it to you. But, since I’ve been wearing only three pairs of pants for the last four months, I’m on a fashion, style mission.

You’ve heard me vow upon my return to the land of the free press, that I’m going to wear styles made for 2011, not 1989.

Tailor people asked me to pick out fabrics, colors and styles. They handed me a 2000 Vogue issue and said, “You pick style. We make.” Well, maternity, wedding and bridesmaid dresses were out. So, I randomly choose three style that MAY work. And, what do I know about fabrics? Silk? Cotton? Wool? No clue. Colors too? I willed for Mom to be there. She knows her fabrics and fashions. It was good fun. They shipped the clothes back to the states. After all of this, let’s hope they fit. If not, it’s going on Ebay.

That night, I signed up for “Bike Bangkok by Moon-Light” with Grasshopper Adventures. The company claims they have bikes for Amazons – aka Tall people. The bike tour started at 6 pm and ended around 10 pm. We were to bike through the bowels of Bangkok while wearing a helmet and bug repellent.

Only three of us signed up for the tour this night. The other two were from Sarasota, Florida. Super buzz kill. They thought the same. Young couple. Early 20’s. Sold their condo and took the year off to travel the world. They are just entering week 4 of their overseas adventure. It took the other Florida gal only 15 mins to start complaining – Thai food was too greasy…hostel was dirty… and surprised by the number of creepy crawly bugs… I smiled. Nod my head and looked at the dude. Yea, this is not going to last. He looked embarrassed.

I would love to know how this little soiree around the world even came up in conversation.

Drunk one night? At a bar in Sarasota with the 65+ crowd. Looked around. Thought there was more to life than this. Both hated their job. One is a teller at a bank. The other answers phones for a bankrupt developer. Thought they must seize the moment. Live life for today…Why not sell everything and travel. Sounds super-cool. Super-fun. Can do it for cheap. Stay in hostels. Eat street food. Go where the wind tells us… Yea, super-cool… And, bamb, here they are in Bangkok. Eating street food. Staying in a bug, infested hostel for whores for $1. And, calling this “fun.” I have to smile. I give it 3 months.

The beginning of the bike trip was to be expected. Many people. Many cars. Many potholes. Much pollution. The city of Bangkok sits on a river. It is divided into two parts. The old city. New city. So, we bounced around on bridges, ferries, sidewalks and roads all covered in dirty water. It started to drizzle about 45 mins into the ride. No matter. We’re all from Florida. We know rain.

We stopped at two temples – forgot their names. Glad we did for there were NO tourists. We had the place to our selves. Taking pictures. Riding around. It was brilliant.

Our tour guide told us the temples were made by Chinese workers. Chinese were the Thai “worker-bees” at one point in history. The Chinese used porcelain from coffee cups and plates to design and build some of the temples. Very ornate. Intricate. Beautiful.

It was at temple-land, when it really started to rain. And, rain, and rain.. And, we thought we knew rain. Our tour guide came prepared and handed us over-sized, see-through garbage bags to protect our clothes. Perfecto. No worries. We’ll just get muddy instead.

Next, we peddled down a muddy road and stopped at a shack that cuts, deep fries, ferments to preserve fruits to be sold in the market and exported to China. Got to see fermenting fruit in action. We’re talking mounds of oil and sugar. Rethinking the whole idea that dried fruit is healthy. But, what do I know…

Two sons at the fruit fermenting shack are tasks with hacking the fruit into small bits using and over-sized, sharp knife.

When we were there, one was humped over on the floor. Wearing dirty socks. Smoking cigs. Unwashed hands. And, you wonder why you need Cipro or antibiotics in these countries. It starts with the sons.

Meanwhile, their mother is sitting fat and happy in the doorway watching her sons and watching the street.

I wish I remember the name of the fruit they were preserving. It was a big word. Take a look at the pictures. Keep me posted.

The rain would not stop. We biked for a little while longer. The riverfront flooded. We waited it out in a random family’s wooden porch. These people package garlic for a living. Try sitting next to a ton of fresh garlic for an hour. In the rain. The family gave us water in bottles that were already open. I politely declined due to future bowel irritations.

We sat. Watched the rain. Watched the flood for a solid hour. It was hitting 10 pm. The rain was not stopping. We’re already wet. We’re from Florida. Why not get soaked. So, off we went. On our bikes. Peddling along the flooded riverfront to the Thai flower market.

This is the main Bangkok market for all flowers to be exported around the world or sold in Thailand. Beautiful. We’re talking about two dozen, long stem roses for less than a $1. Orchids. Lillis. Daisey. Gardenias. Jasmine. Lotus. You name it. It was there.

Everyday, budding flowers come in from all over the country. They refrigerate them. Load them onto shipping containers. And, the flowers are delivered in a day or two or three. Take a look at the pictures. If I were Thai and forced to work in a market, this is my market of choice. Someone else can hack meat, fish and fruit. Give me the pretty flowers please. Scroll for pictures…

The downside in riding in a flood is drainage. I’m in Bangkok. Not known for good infrastructure or a run-off, environmentally sensitive drainage plans. Let’s just say scary floating things were moving beneath me. Stopping was no longer an option.

Our guide wanted to take us the shorter way back for we were approaching midnight. Get ready for the super REAL Bangkok. She led us to the streets of prostitution. These streets were not for the old-Western or Japanese tourists hungry for cheap girl meat. Or, where the Lady Boys dance and exploit their new and improved bodies for hundreds of dollars. These streets are for the low-life. Poor girls and boys with no options. No way out. We are talking about 11 and 14 year olds trolling the streets looking for anything – I mean anything.

My eyes would hold their eyes as I approached. Saturated in black. Hardened. I had to look away for I did not know what to do. I’m an American. I solve problems. I fix things. We’re a fixer country. And, I was embarrassed by my helplessness. I also felt like an oversized fool – biking through their streets in my H&M black leggings, pink hiking boots and blue bike-helmet – as they sell their bodies for a hot meal. I just asked my mind to remember these people. And, they are people with hearts that beat like you and me. Remember them. Never forgot them. Pray for them. Hope for them.

As we motored on, I was shocked to see the street vendors – those selling water, Thailand T-shirts, postcards, or kittens – actually live in their mini-stalls. I mean LIVE. An entire family lives in a tent on the sidewalk. Families gathered around their tiny TVs watching America’s Next Top Model or Thai news. I saw a TV turned to an infomercial where a California blond with a flat stomach was selling some ab-fat reducer. Ab-fat reducer in Thailand? My brain could not take this in. The poverty. The Shock. And, American tacky TV. It’s hard to digest. Because, what am I to do with this information? I don’t know. I’m at a loss. I keep riding on. Looking. Watching. Absorbing.

My mind kept going back to TV and toilets. I asked our guide, “Where do they use the bathroom?” She said, “streets, parks, sidewalks… Anywhere. They shower in the river.” And, to think I buy food and postcards from them. I truly will never look at a street vendor the same. I assumed they had homes – or shacks. Like China, Thailand does not have a social safety net. Monks certainly don’t help these people. The poor are on their own.

We arrived back at Grasshopper Travel around midnight. Wet. Dirty. And, nervous. Biking Bangkok by Night struck an uneasy cord with me. Something was off. The element was out. I felt it. Darkness surrounded me. Not right. I need to get back to my hotel ASAP. I asked my guide to help me get a legit taxi. One with a meter. My intuition told me if I were hailing a cab on my own – at this time of night – a dark ally and not a hotel would be the next stop. The tour guide said of course. I quickly went next door to get some bottled water at the 7-11. I was right. People were staring at me – in a way they want to hurt me. Rob me. Mame me. Saw this look in Honduras. Know it well. Yep, time to get this wet, smelly butt home.

Tour guide hailed the first cab. They exchanged words. He drove off. I asked, “what happened?” She did not answer and smiled. She hailed another cab. Same thing. The third cab, she let me in. She wrote down the cab’s name and identiy number and kept it. He saw her do this, meaning, he is busted if he tried anything. Yea, she felt it too. We both knew but did not say a word. She got a big fat tip.

Taxi driver asked if I knew Tiger Woods. That would be a BIG no. Those were the only words he knew. He did not even know Obama. Just Tiger. Have to laugh. He dropped me off. I ran upstairs to my room and took a hot shower. Thankful I’m home. And, asked God to look after the people living on the street. What else can I do? I just stood in the shower letting the hot water run over me thanking God for my blessings. And, asking Him, “Why not me? Why am I not out there, living on the streets, ogling at America’s Next Top model, bathing in rivers and selling my body? How come I am here? In the hot shower? Safe? Oh, did I say Thank You? If not, THANK YOU. And, please, what do You want me to do to help?

Blog Housekeeping

26 Nov

You have asked, “where’s your blog about Bhutan? Weren’t you in Thailand? Have you posted anything about Vietnam?” I know. I know. It’s in the pipeline people. Let me give you a verbal vomit status update.

Bhutan blog is coming. I’m editing it in route to South Africa. I believe I have a 20+ hour transport agenda on December 4th and December 5th. Meaning, I have time to kill if the flight doesn’t kill me first. Expect Verbal Vomit of Bhutan posted the second week of December, while I’m in Johannesburg. I’ve scheduled a safari for 4 days. Then, I have 3 extra days in Johannesburg. Considering it is one of the more dangerous places in the world, I will be hunkered down editing and posting from the confines of a J-berg hotel room or lobby. Let’s just hope WiFi works..

After Bhutan, I traversed to Thailand – my place to take a nap. To re-energize. Try yoga. Eat healthy. And, work on amassing more freckles and age spots.

My friend Mary from London sent me an email saying, “You are the ONLY person I know who takes a holiday from a holiday?” She’s right. But, quite frankly, I was in need of some R&R after the Russian sighs, Mongolian sunshine, Chinese confusion and Bhutanese Buddhism. Thailand blogs will be short, even though I could have written a book about the place.

After tranquil, tame Thailand, I popped on over to Vietnam and Cambodia, where chaos befell and the “true” travel experiences were achieved.   So, expect many blog entries or, as I refer to them as, TallGirl Verbal Vomit to delight your day.    Off the races…