Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Thailand photos!

Hey all, Cindy the photo-monger here. Well, by the time you read this Tracy will probably be on her way to India! Yes, leaving Bangkok she flies into Bangalore and will meet up with friend Sherry for their foray in southern India.

In the meantime, I am posting a slide show made from the latest batch of photos that I just received from Tracy. This one is of Thailand pictures. Many photos have not been posted, mostly from Japan and Cambodia. I will over the next few weeks be posting those on the picassa web albums site where all of these pictures are living. You can visit that site simply by clicking on any of the slide shows and from there you can see all of the different albums posted.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Everyday stuff

Both Kara and Cindy tell me to write more. I tell them I haven't had much interesting happen. They say write about your day to day details. Here is my trip to the night market for dinner. I have been travelling without staying in a room for three days. (That story will come.)I finally got a room tonight, got a shower,washed my clothes and then headed to the night market for dinner. I didn't feel like cooking. (The night market is this phenomenon that happens in empty parking lots every night in most towns. About five o'clock people appear with their carts, portable booths and tables and set up to feed the town. Apparently not to many people eat at home. There are groceries and cooked food, drinks and every food thing you can imagine. Kind of like carnie food but really good carnie food, Thai style.) I asked the guest house owner where the night market was but she could only point. Thai's generally don't have the english vocab and I can't understand the Thai vocab to give or get directions. So I headed out in the direction she pointed. I noticed as I walked that this town in particular has dogs in bad condition. Most dogs in Thailand have sarcopic mange presented by feverish itching and loss of hair with angry inflammed skin developing into "elephant skin" in later stages. I saw several dogs that made me cringe. They had absolutely no hair and were scratching themsleves silly; they found it hard to take several uninterrupted steps. I found it hard to watch them. I passed a older couple out in the street feeding their local stray dogs. The old man was smiling and talking to the dogs while his wife watched. He caught my eye and we smiled at each other. I "asked" them for the direction of the night market and they just stared at me. We laughed and I walked on in the same direction. Next? Eventually I got to the market area. Along the way there were several carts "outside" the night market area trying to catch the hungry "I can't wait " people of which I am one. I bought two chicken kabobs for 30 cents. As I got to the official night market area I noticed this one was different than most others. The food and clothing and other junk are all mixed in together in a chaotic mess which is not typical of most night markets. Most night markets are clearly oraganized into what is being sold. I had to search but I located some of my favorite sweet potatoes, bought them and continued walking through the booths and such. I saw one of the many dogs and cats that I see with terrible wounds. This particular dog had a gangrenous leg. Who knows what has happened to him but he was doing the best he could do with the wound. I can't look very long. I have had to work hard at not trying to save every dog and cat I see in distress, I am just unable ( though I have "saved" a few). I walked over to the fruit shake place that every night market has and got a shake for 30 cents. I have had a fever for a few days that some damn american expat gave me and I am hoping the vitamin c will help. There I see another dog this one with an eye infection so bad that his face is swollen beyond recognizing it as a dog. His head is heavy for him to carry it is so full. I walked over to him and told him I was sorry, he could not look up. I continued walking and found my favorite sausage things, grabbed a couple of those and took another lap around. I was starved. I hadn't eaten since 6 am and it was 6 pm. I had either been on a train, tuk tuk, motobike taxi or in a bus all day. It is kind of hard to eat when I see these dogs, my stomach flips over, but there are so many of them I cannot begin to change their lot. I have had to work hard on this issue. I volunteered for a vet while I was here on the island of Khoa Tao and she said mange is an epidemic they don't even have hopes of slowing. So I have had to let it go. After my last lap and before I see any other dogs I headed home because I am exhausted after travelling for three days straight. On my way home I passed an old woman sitting up, asleep at her food booth. I wished I had had my camera. Someone could have taken off with her cooked sausages on a stick or her kabobs. I thought about it, they looked awfully good. On my way home I saw this town's version of the songatheiw go down the road. It is a motorcycle, cattle truck thing with a narrow rounded front end that makes them look like a piece of pie going down the road. Then I saw a volkswagon bug go down the street. I checked myself. Did I really see that? It reminded me of Mamaw, she always drove a bug in her early years. I also passed an old woman feeding cats so I stopped and "asked" to pet them. One by one I picked them up and kissed them watching their faces squinch up as I did. I kissed and petted on each for awhile talking my cattie talk to them. It seemed to be a universal language. The older woman and I smiled at each other, but didn't even try to talk. I continued down the street amidst the traffic, trash and more terrible looking dogs. I looked down an alley way that was littered with people and trash, dogs and cats, motobikes, bicycles and other random discarded things. I had to remind myself that this is SE Asia and this is what it is, and I have to appreciate it as such. And I do, mostly. I passed an internet cafe and went in and began writing this blog. Now I will head home to my guest house. It is an old style Thai teak house. I have a very simple room. One bed, one fan, one pillow, one sheet; the bottom one. That's it, and that's all I need right now.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Can I be your friend?

I have been on quite a dry spell. Though I did meet Zofia, I could not really "hang out" and do things; except of course her finances and hitch hiking. Overall I have not been speaking much for about a month. I did meet a young American couple from Alaska but it seemed as though every time I was getting into town they were leaving or vice versa. I had been able to have dinner with them once and take a walk another time but that was the extent of my english speaking contact for the month. So as you can imagine I was quite starved for conversation. To see someone wave and smile in recognition was enough to make me choke up. I needed some friendship. I was determined then to make a time when the couple and I could be in town for a day together and do something. I emailed them and asked if maybe we could meet in Krabi. They wrote back and explained that they might be moving on before I got there but they would be at the Blue Juice guest house if they were still in town and to look them up there. So I did of course, as soon as my feet hit the pavement in Krabi. I was so excited becasue they were still booked in the guest house, so they were there, but were out to dinner. When I met them they said they were moving on the next morning. Ugh. They were excited because they had rented a motobike that day and had gone to this really cool temple that was up a flight of ...1,272 stairs. They said the view was incredible and that I should go. I was holding back tears, I had so wanted to hang out with them. They invited me to go to the night market with them for dinner and I jumped at the chance. At dinner they talked about their day together and again about the temple. Then Richard said it would be great to see the sunrise from the temple and eventually we made arrangements to do just that. They still had the motobike until ten the next morning so we decided we would all squeeze on and get to the temple before six. They would pick me up around five. I was SO excited. I told them I was staying on the street around the corner and that I would be standing outside at five. I could barely sleep that night for checking the alarm. When 4:45 did come ,I got up, dressed and hurried downstairs. In my hurry I almost ran into the locked garage sized door across the front of my guest house. CHIT CHIT CHIT . I had heard about this, that someitmes guest houses lock you in at night. Fuck. I grabbed the gate and shook it and tried to pull it apart, but it was locked. Definitely locked. Then I heard it. Their motobike rounding the corner. I flung myself at the gate, smashed my face against it and shoved my arm through the bars. I waved frantically, they searched casually; and they drove by. I wanted to cry. I might of actually. I stood at the gate, dejected. Then I heard them again. I slammed myself against the gate and this time, five in the morning or not I yelled at the top of my lungs. They slowed, looked around and stopped. "Oh shit" they said. I asked them to give me a few minutes to look around and check the back door. I went back to the kitchen area and found the door locked but a large window open. I looked out and there seemed to be a back yard off the porch but I couldn't see any further than that. I raced back to the gate told them there was a possibility and I needed to get my headlamp. I ran upstairs and then back down, crawled out the window and shone my light off the narrow porch. The porch dropped off (no stairs) to ... the most putrid smelling, gross looking, old, rotten pile of peelings, egg shells, soup broth, and waste the restaraunt had generated plus chewed on chicken legs, rice and other food not eaten by customers. I jumped. Not far enough. My crocks filled with the stuff and my hand dipped deep into the pile. I gagged and kept going. Three steps later I was free of the pile, but in the walled in back yard. Damn. I am shaking my feet and shaking my head. I am searching for a way out. Yes, I am desperate. I find where two sheets of tin meet but are not bolted together. I pull them apart and spy an alley, but I have to make it through someone's packed garage to get there. I step into the garage, onto their night market food cart, over their motobike and scare up the dog. I let out a yelp, the dog does too. I start running for the opening. I get to the alley scare up another dog and a couple cats. I hit the street and ran around the corner sqeaking in the juice in my shoes. I reached Richard and Tasha triumphant but grossed out and stinking to high heaven. I spent the next few minutes scraping my shoes, feet and hand on the pavement. Then I used some of Tasha's purell gel on my hand and I was ready to go. I climbed on the very back of the bike with a huge smile. I was with friends.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Hair Cuts, Dancers and Dressing Packages

One of the first things Sherry did when she got to India was pull a few of my whiskers. What are friends for? I guess I had been a bit remiss. My hair was a bit wild and untamed as well. I had cut it myself a couple of times ( with my folding traveling scissors) but that was beginning to show. Not to many beauty shops along the way. In a small "hill station" in India I did spy a barber shop that was churning out short cuts like an assembly line spits out parts. I peeked in, and before I knew it I was in a chair trying to explain the cut I wanted. I have always spoken a different language than my hair dresser but this was something else. The shop had about four chairs, all occupied, me in one of them, a bench packed full of waiting boys and men, and a small crowd hanging around. I of course, was a spectacle. A woman with short brown hair, blue eyes and white skin. The barbers who were not cutting my hair stopped to chide the guy who was going to. In the mirror in front of me I could see guys behind me leaning on each other left and right so that they could see. Some bench sitters were laughing, all were staring and I was a nervous nellie. The barber started in and I indicated " no more than this please" and crossed my fingers. He worked and worked, the more he worked the more I got nervous. He returned to the back of my head several times, I guess I had butchered it thouroghly. Eventually he handed me a mirror and along with the about 25 men in the shop ,I took a look. It wasn't bad! One of the bench guys claimed that my chair would be the "girl's chair" from now on. I paid the equivalent of one dollar, posed for pictures, waved many goodbye's. Just a few minutes down the road while Sherry and I were looking for internet I stuck my head into what I thought was an internet "cafe". Out from behind a wall came this flaming Indian gay guy. He apologized, and explained that he was a I tech teacher and these were school computers and we could not use them. He then proceeded with the ususal line of questions. Where are you from? What's your name? What do you do for work? When I said I was a teacher he threw himself into my arms , hugged me and said in a high, excited lilting voice " We are both teachers!" " I am so happy". And he WAS happy, so excited and I was SO captive. " Please sit dwon, tell me more, let me show you, meet my students...". I called out for Sherry who was by now wondering where the hell I was. When she came in he repeated the whole process. Hugging, questions, excitement, and "please sit down". As he told us about his life and teaching he mentioned that was also teaching dance. We didn't have to ask, he offered. He jumped from his chair, excused his students, pushed back the furniture and began the recital. ( View the movies Cindy posted) He did several traditional Indian dances complete with singing. It was fantastic. There we are in India, watching a gay man dance and sing, and we are the only audience. When Sherry and I tried to make our exit he sighed and complained, and kept talking. We finally convinced him that we had to go but he insisted on pictures. We took pictures with him; his cheeck pressed against ours, then he called his students in and we took more pictures. Upon leaving I asked him for his address and he gave me his land address. He didn't have email. The next errand we had to do was to send some stuff home to the U.S. Easy enough; find a box, package the box, address the box, and mail the box. Not in India. You have to "dress" the box as well. Which means taking the box to a tailor and having them make a linen "dress" complete with wax over the seams. Yes linen. ( See photos) We didn't have to look long for a tailor, as we walked down the street a man asked; " Do you need your package dressed?" Must have been the bewildered look on our faces.

Hitching and High Finance

I jumped off the bus at the road to Khoa Sok Park dazed and tired after my visa run. I was walking down the road surveying the bugalow choices when I saw a woman around 65 years old nervously walking around a bungalow, then squatting, then standing then walking then squatting. I watched her and when she caught my eye she waved me over. She spoke to me in broken english and asked if I needed a bungalow. I said yes and she said "you come, you come here". She had what I thought was a thick Russian accent but she turned out to be Polish. She talked to the Thai woman owner of the bungalow and got me a cut rate price for a nice little place, I accepted and fell into bed. I never found out what she was doing and I am not sure she knew. The next day I had a few friendly "conversations" with her and in the evening she asked me over for a papaya drink. While drinking she sighed a big sigh, looked at me with a sideways glance and said "I have big problem". Soon enough I was helping her with major banking and financial translations and hoping like hell I was getting them right. She had her money in a Chinese bank ( don't ask me why) and the Chinese banking woman had written to Zofia in broken Chinese english asking Zofia what she wanted done with some of her accounts. Zofia had me translate the bad Chinese english into bad regular english so she could try to understand. She thought about my translation in Polish then translated those thoughts into bad Polish english for me to translate into bad regular english and write that translation in a letter to the Chinese banking woman. In the letter I was telling the Chinese banking woman to move this money, reinvest that money, save the interest on this money in a savings account so that Zofia could pick it up in a year. And this was no small beans either. Chit! Zofia was very pleased and treated me to more papaya drink. I was thinking I hope I put her papayas in the right accounts. The next morning it was coffee with Zofia. " Drink, drink more coffee. Drink" she kept saying, pushing the coffee toward me. Three expresso strength coffees later I was B-U-Z-Z-E-D. When I told her no more she pouted, folded her arms, pouted again and said " please one more". Then she asked me where I was going next. I told her Phang Nga and she clapped her hands. "We go together, auto stop." "What is auto stop Zofia?" I thought it was another form of organized travel, there are so many ways to travel here, so many arrangements can be made. But no, she made a hitch hiking sign. A sixty five year old woman hitch hiking in Thailand, I had to go. Next morning we were on the road at 6 am. She had me stay 30 feet from her and had instructed me to wait, that she would auto stop for us both. She was dressed in silky black pants and a black muscle shirt with a purple silky strap tank top over the muscle shirt; one strap constantly falling down. She had a tan scarff wrapped around her head and big hiking shoes on her feet. She was over dramatic everytime a car went by. She would stand in the middle of the lane and wave at the car with both arms and when they did not stop she turned to watch them go with her hands on her hips. I thought " this is never going to work they think she is crazy". Just about that time two guys in a small pick up stopped. One of the guys got out, took our bags, put them in the back of the truck, got in the back of the truck himself and motioned us to get in the front seat. Twenty minutes of hitching and we had the front seat. Chit! We rode about forty minutes and then she told the driver to stop at an intersection. We got out, said our Khow Phoun Ka's and the process started all over again. This time ten minutes went by and she had a ride. Not the front seat but the back of a concrete contruction truck. We got in among the buckets, trowels, shovels and gravel and an hour down the road the guys dropped us off in Phang Nga bus station. Shorter than a bus ride and free of charge. Before I could say much Zofia ran off to catch a bus leaving for Malaysia. I stood in the bus station smiling, hoping she had enough money.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

And the fine print said....

for stays less than thirty days. I would never had known I was in trouble if this woman I was talking to had not said " so what kind of visa did you get since you are staying longer than thirty days?" " Huuuh?" "Visa? " I was about to be an illegal alien. Chit. I needed to do something. So I had dinner. That usually solves everything. While eating I read my guide book and found this was a common problem among expats and Burmese citizens,(needing extended visa's) and all I needed to do was a " Visa run". Seemed simple enough. If you buy an expensive package deal it is. But the guide book said it could be done cheaper on your own, if you wanted a challenge. My challenge started with the sleeper ferry. This time; dramamine and a bunk all to myself, against the wall, opposite the window. Several other travelers were on board, one of which was doing the visa run thing. She had a package deal and warned me against the "on your own" thing. I waivered but was determined. When the boat docked on the mainland at 5 am (I was awake this time) the woman tried to get me to wait with her for the visa run mini van package deal thing, and I waivered, but grabbed a songathiew (a fancy word for a cattle truck with benches) into Chomphoun town. As I left she said " your going to have to wait for hours for a bus". I cringed. When I got to the Chumphoun bus station I had one of the many "conversations" I have when trying to get transport. " Bus to Ranong?" "Yes." "When?" "Many Many." "Next one?" "Soon." "What time?" " Very soon." "When?" "&*%$#*" " What time?" SIX and THREE." "Where?" "Over there." "By the bank?" "Over there." "By the tree?" "No six and THREE!" " Which side?" "It go this way." "Okay; Ticket?" " Bus" " Yes, ticket for bus?" " Yes, bus" "Ticket?" "Bus Bus." "Ticket on Bus?" "Yes." " Kow Phoun Ka." I started wondering why I took on this challenge. I still don't know for sure if I am going to catch the right bus. "Is this worth the money saved" I asked myself? I stand between the tree and the bank and sure enough the bus comes, I get on, and later while on the bus they ask me to buy the ticket. I get to Ranong and there, again, I begin to waiver. A woman at a travel agency calls me in and tells me," Visa very difficult, I have Visa you go Visa with me". I look down at the price and it is SO expensive. I grit my teeth and head out on the search for a crisp ten dollar bill. The Burmese border guards want only crisp brand new ten dollar bills. If they don't like the bill, you don't get a Visa, period. I wander around asking people for a bank. They cannot understand me, or me them. A school girl on a motorbike stops and listens in on the conversation and offers me a ride to the bank. I am wonder what a school aged girl knows about a bank. I get on behind her backpack and all and sure enough she drops me at the bank. The bank people act like they have never heard about this ten dollar thing, even though Ranong is the jumping off point for visa runs, but finally after several "conversations" they produce, and I pay for, a crisp ten dollar bill. It is only 9 am. I think "wow this is going well". I head to the day market to catch a red #3 songathiew. At the songathiew station there is this big Thai guy yelling at me, "Hello you, Hello". I waved him off and climbed on a songatheiw, proud of myself that I can get around on my own. Thankfully the big Thai guy knew better and stopped the songathiew guy and gave me several stamping motions with his hands and a questioning look. Ah I thought, Visa stamp. So I got off, bowed an apology, and waited with him for the right songathiew. THEN I headed for the Thai immigration office. There they would stamp me "out" of Thailand. But instead I got in line with a bunch of illegal immigrants. Thankfully I was still legal and I noticed their leg chains, so I switched lines and got stamped out of Thailand. Next I walked out of the office and down the street a mile then turned right to a pier full of longtail boats. They are called longtails because the propellers are 12 feet behind the boat on a long "tail". The only way these things can go backwards is for the boatman to swing this propeller (while it is spinning) up near your head and beside the boat. There are thirty or forty boats there, all swinging their propellers forwards and backwards, moving into the pier and away, picking up passengers and dropping them off. It is an absolute zoo. I have to walk over four or five boats that are bobbing and bumping with the waves to get to the one that will take me to Burma. Then I have to wait for the thing to fill up before it leaves. When it did, we made our way to an island just off Thailand's shore, there I got stamped "into" Burma. Next we traveled about 40 minutes across the bay (not one life jacket ont the boat) and landed on Burma's shore. I went to the immigration office, got stamped "out" of Burma and got back on the boat in less than 20 minutes. I got another longtail and waited until it filled up and then it headed back to Thailand. On the way it stopped at another island and I got stamped back into Thailand. When we docked back at the original pier, I had to walk back to the immigration office and got my "official" Visa papers. There I grabbed another songathiew back to the bus station, went through another "conversation" and one half hour later caught a bus to Khoa Sok National Park, my final destination. I arrived at Khoa Sok Park exactly 24 hours after starting the Visa run. Yeah. I can stay in Thailand another 30 days. At this point I don't care. I just want to go to bed. Before I got to bed I met Zofia. She is a card.