Thursday, 30 July 2009

Visiting kids

On the 22nd it was time to take the bus up to Bangkok and visit my kids. The bus was a VIP bus and it was frigid, luckily I had a sarong with me that I could try and warm myself. I arrived semi-deep frozen to Mor Chit the next morning.

Kids both were in good health exempting some sniffling and cough. We had a weekend of playtime as they were too busy weekdays studying. Their uncle had started a chicken and duck farm that they had fun feeding.

Pheung and Finn off to school

On the 29th evening I headed back south as I needed to get on Kalizma to take her to Langkawi. This time I took a night train. It was far more comfortable than the bus and I was prepared as I wore jeans instead of shorts.

The evening went chatting with teachers returning from a seminar in Pattaya (I wonder how those two go together). Around 9pm the train attendant came and folded all beds down and made our beds, then it was just to climb up and get some shuteye until next morning...

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Car crashing in Thailand

20th I drove to Phuket to pick up my laptop. Luckily the techies had managed to save most of my data from the protected hard drive so I could be a happy camper again. The official diagnose was a faulty RAM chip. On the way back I had a misfortune to collide with a motorbike.

Not this bad though...

I was cruising on a straight double carriage road abt 80km/h and at one point I met a motorbike that just turned in front of me. As soon as I realized that they are turning to right over the road I slammed my brakes and veered to left. By this I managed to avoid a frontal crash but the motorbike did not stop or try to avoid us so they hit my right rear tire. I could see people flying like ragdolls in my rear mirror. Because of the impact I swerved 90 degrees to starboard and stopped in the middle of the road. The engine died at the same time, I just pressed the clutch to roll back a bit in order not to be in the way of other oncoming traffic.

Once off the road I got out of the car to survey what had happened I discovered 3 youths lying on the road with minor scratches and torn clothes. I had actually stopped in front of a road rescue station so I asked Jira to ask them to call for the police and her to call for the Insurance Company. The rescue people loaded the 3 boys in a car and sped them away to hospital to be checked.

After awhile a constable arrived on a motorbike to take the initial reports and photos of the scene. I checked the motorbike myself, it was a total loss. The rear drive gear had split against the road surface and my rear tyre. I had bits of metal in my flat rear tyre too as well as dents on the whole right aft portion. After a couple of hours the Insurance Company guy arrived to the location and took his photos of the scene. I drew up a picture of what happened and Jira wrote it in Thai. Once we had our tyre changed we headed for the local police station to sign their reports.

It turned out that the 3 boys and the whole kin was there too. They requested Jira if we could handle our repairs so they would handle their repairs. We said it was ok on our behalf. We learned that the boys were only 15yrs old and had borrowed the motorbike that was only 2 days old. The father of the boy that had driven was ashen probably due to the extra expense of having to buy a new motorbike. The boys came and apologized to us in person for their reckless driving. I told them they were lucky today. After awhile we were called in by the head sergeant of the station and he read th law for the boys and their parents as they were still minors under Thai law. The boy got a 400THB fine for driving without a license.

After everybody had signed the police report we were given permission to leave. We arrived home late in the evening.

This was my first real crash in my life and it was in a sense scary as I could not control the events in any way as the boys on the motorbike had other things to do than look at the oncoming traffic so they almost acted like a person jumping in front of a train. Luckily the result was not the same and no fatalities occurred. I just hope they learned a valuable lesson.

The Thai traffic statistics are terrible reading, the fatalities in a year goes to thousands and the accidents to tens of thousands, all mostly due to drunk driving, underage driving and speeding. It seems at times that Thais start driving a motorbike when they can reach the handlebars and the parents allow them(!). No wonder accidents happen.
One never knows how your day will turn out when you wake up in the morning.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Trip to Ko Samui

On the 13th the entourage packs itself in the pickup again and we head for Ko Samui to visit Jira’s younger sister. I’m still on the road to recovery but feeling ok for the trip. We drive the whole day and take the ferry at Surat Thani to Ko Samui, only 420THB for the vehicle. The ferry seems to be (judging by the old signs) a Japanese 2nd hand find. It has Airconditioned lounges, a cafeteria and foot massage to offer.

The trip only lasts for 1,5hrs and we head down to the car deck to get off. We drive around half the Island towards the airport at Chaweng beach where Plen lives with her husband. Her kids are with us as they are being looked after by her mother, they are all ecstatic of seeing mommy and daddy again. The evening is spent cooking and catching up.

14th we laze the whole day and in the afternoon go shopping for seafood, it is not that much more expensive than on the mainland. Everything else is though as the Island seems to be mostly geared up for tourists which abound compared to Phuket. I have also never seen so many English signs posted, actually more than Thai signs, all advertising for services, restaurants etc. In the evening we head down to Plen and Muk’s restaurant at the beach. All the seafood is BBQ’d there and we all have a delicious and enormous dinner.

15th is spent driving around the Island and visiting tourist spots. The 1st stop is at the Grandfather and Grandmother rock. I have no idea why they are called so but Jira’s sister is leading me onto the rocky outcrops pointing at another rock jutting up saying “that’s the grandfather rock” and we walk a bit further down towards th waters edge and she points at a cleft and asks me “Does it look the same?”. A light goes on in my head and I laugh. They also sell here locally made coconut candy that is an Island speciality. No wonder at all as coconut groves abound everywhere you drive.

2nd stop is at Namuang waterfall that is but a trickle down the mountain side into a pool of muddy water. Kids are seen splashing around there. We don’t linger long and leave after we have fed the elephants with bananas.

Next stop is at Hin Lat waterfall that is at the edge of the nature reserve that is in the middle of the Island. The water is not running much more here either but the waterfall is in several stages and has “cauldrons” of water where one can take a cooling dip. I venture up the rocks that just gets bigger and bigger the further I get. Eventually I discover the waterfall has a fork on it’s way down but as the rains have not started yet it is dry. I go up further and climb huge boulders the size of brick houses. I don’t reach th end after 1 hour so I decide to take one last dip and head back. I discover that the cauldron has many small fish that comes and pokes at me when I sit in the water listening to the birds and the trickle of water down it’s path. When I come back all are ready and waiting for me, Muk is buying Durian fruit several of them and we gorge ourselves on the King of Fruits while driving back home. Dinner was made at home this time, spicy Moo Phad Phet that burns the living daylights out of an ordinary man.

16th July was time to do temple hopping. We visited so many temples that I lost count. I “hired” a Luang Pho Daeng amulet at one temple by the beach while Jira & Co made merit with the monk. One temple that stciks in mind is one with a huge Chinese laughing Buddha surrounded by Hindu deities like Ganesh and Krishna, beside these was a giant Buddha statue with more arms than an octopus. I reckon they depicted all the postures Buddha has (Well, excepting the lying down pose). Once at home we went and visited the temple built on the hill on top of the airport, there was a magnificent view of the Island.

The Buddha and all his hand postures

17th It was tme to pack our gear together and get back to the mainland. We started early morning and arrived safe and sound to Trang same evening.

Related pics posted here...

Monday, 13 July 2009

Getting sick from local mosquitoes

Thai mosquitoes in the act

10th July I get sick. I wake up in the middle of the night to that my every joint is aching and I run a high fever, so I quaff some paracetamol and go back to bed.

Next morning I still feel bad and I can see that I am starting a rash like measles (which I suffered when I was a kid). Jira concludes it is a local sickness that is obtained from mosquito bites. I endure the whole day thinking I will get better but the fever seems to gain momentum in the evening so we head for a local doctor and her private practice.

At the Clinic the Doc seems to draw same conclusions and I get a shot and many different colored pills to take. Doc advises me that I should not drink excessively and live a regular life the following 6 months as the fever may and rash may come back. The fever lets go but the rash remains. It is bloody itchy too.

After some days the rash also fades away. Only thing remaining is a constant neck pain, like after sleeping on a bad pillow. I hope it will also disappear soon.

After doing some reserach I found out that I might have gotten "Chikungunya", roughly translated "grandmothers illness" by the Thais although the original name stems from Mozambique as it is associated with aching joints.

Below is a description from the US CDC website:

Chikungunya fever is a viral disease transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Chikungunya virus is a member of the genus Alphavirus, in the family Togaviridae. Chikungunya fever is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., joint swelling), laboratory testing, and the possibility of exposure to infected mosquitoes. There is no specific treatment for chikungunya fever; care is based on symptoms. Chikungunya infection is not usually fatal. Steps to prevent infection with chikungunya virus include use of insect repellent, protective clothing, and staying in areas with screens. Chikungunya virus was first isolated from the blood of a febrile patient in Tanzania in 1953, and has since been cited as the cause of numerous human epidemics in many areas of Africa and Asia and most recently in limited areas of Europe.

See original post and more info here

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Bull fighting in Kantang

9th July I went with Jira’s father and Luang to watch bullfighting in Kantang. In southern Thailand one can frequently see huge bull’s grazing at he roadside and I found out the local pastime is to pitch them against each other. I suppose some of them ends up in the cooking pot as well but bull’s are definitely more popular than cows.

Bull's at it

Anyway, said and done I asked my Thai friends to make some enquiries and Jira’s father came up with the date, so off we are in the morning towards Kantang, the seaport serving Trang. We arrive to what seemed to be a market, cars are lined up along the street and parking attendants whistling and hollering.

We are dropped off by Jira’s father and me and Luang make our way towards the entrance that is lined by snack sellers and other peddlers of bull paraphernalia. We pay 500THB/ person to gain entry for all 5 rounds. The day is divided into 4 fights per round.

The first fight is already on and I see two huge bulls locking horns on the arena. The cacophony of people shouting bets is deafening, every time thre seems to be a break imminent the noise goes into fever pitch. The fight lasts for abt 10minutes and then one of the bull’s gives up and runs away from his aggressor. The crowd goes quiet and retreats to the shadow of the lecter and waits for the next pair.

Next pair also fight for 12 minutes and at times the bull’s just stand horns locked and pants, no-one is willing ti give up eventually one does. After that the 1st round is clear and we wait for the 2nd to start. It is opened by a bull from Jira’s district, it is a coward, he runs away as soon as he sees his opponent coming.

Next fight goes almost same way, hadly 30 seconds of locking horns one bull retreats. 3rd fight is more interesting as one bull is clearly winning and he seems to realize that and he chases the other bull away. The winner stands seemingly unperturbed and then the loser bull suddenly attacks him from behind and almost plunges him into the dirt. The bull turns swiftly and shows who is the boss, the loser bull runs away again.

The 4th match which sadly is the last as the organisers can’t find enough pulls to pair for a fight turns out to be the best match of all I saw. The bulls lock horns and the outcome seems to be determined as one bull bends the others head in the dirt forcing him on his knees but time and time again up he comes and gives resistance. Finally the other bull is fed up or exhausted or afraid so he gives up.

The bullfighting day is over. I’ve lost 200 THB betting but it is no big deal. We head out among the throng of people, find Jira’s father in his pickup and head for home.

Update 2020: All the bullfighting videos are taken down from Youtube due to them violating the community standards. Oh well, huMAN natURE...

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Beach hopping in Trang

6th July I hopped on our motorbike and drove with Nong Thuen towards Sikao and ended up to Khlong Son beach and port. The beach was actally called Hua Hin. It was all deserted and had some evidence of the sand eroding as it had been preserved by metal netting and sand bags. The bay must be an enormous habitat for screw shells as I saw thousands of empty shells lying in droves on the beach. After wandering around for awhile we hopped on the motorbike and drove along the neach until we reached the port.

Hua Hin beach

It was a concrete affair about 70meters long with 2 fishing boats alongside. The pier was at the shore of a khlong or river heading inland and being flanked on both sides by mangroves. The port had a large parking lot that I can only relate to the founding fathers some grandiose ideas not being realized. Apart from the fishing boats there were 2 women having a makeshift shop selling cooked food and then there were a handful of men fishing. We asked if the fishing boat would have any fresh fish to sell but apparently they were only into squid fishing and was all out. Just behind the pier a bit upriver there were some fish farms and one man on the quay knew his number and called the Owner to sell some fish to us.

Entrance to Ton Son port

After ahile 2 guys arrived and we hopped into a longtail boat and pottered to the floating fish farm. It was complete with lodgings (bedroom, kitchenette and toilet) although there was no lodger there at that time. We heaved on the nets and one guy cought Pla Kapong that we wanted. We got one white and one red Pla Kapong (maybe snapper in English, but considered the best sea water fish in the south). Once we had our catch we paddled back to the quay and then the fishes were measured and price was set. Of course the price was high as I was a farang but I’ve gotten used to it. Then we drove back home and bragged to the womenfolk that we had caught fish unawares. It took them awhile to realize we’ve fished with my wallet.

The petrified horse at Thungtong beach

In the afternoon Jira’s stepfather took me to se Thungtong and Bo Tuat beaches. The first beach was a long flat sand beach with muddy water and some large rocks going under to sea. I walked along the beach and as it was low water I could see the exposed rocky bottom and there were a couple of Thai kids looking for crabs. I also ventured on the rock bottom and could hear clams spitting water and saw occasionally a crab scuttling for shelter. Eventually I managed to catch one on my camera.

Meanwhile Jira’s father had struck conversation with local Farmer’s and I went to see what he was going on about. They also framed rubber treees and had one huge old timer tree left standing in the middle of the plot amid 2-3 yr old saplings. We walked back and headed for Bo Tuat Beach.

The old timer rubber tree

At Bo Tuat one had to climb down a steep dirt path and in fact if one would not know there was a beach I think no-one would notice it. The Beach was rockier than Thungtong, much more so. It had caves grated out by the sea in time and huge “plates” of stone lining the beach. I guess this what they call the “Geopark” in Langkawi, because of the layers of stone that can be examined and spans through thousands of year. It was totally undisturbed like some beaches I had seen in the Maldives although civilization was here too in the form of discarded slippers, empty bottles and whatnot. This beach would be ideal to spend a day at doing a BBQ. I climbed back up and we heade back home. At the local village we stopped to buy some fresh squid for dinner.

Bo Tuat beach

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Trip to Hat Yai and Songkhla

3rd of July we loaded our entourage into our pick-up truck and headed for Hat Yai and Songkhla. Eventually the goal was to have me and Jira take a traditional tattoo by a Holy man (like a Brahmin). We reached Songkhla at noon and we enjoyed Samila beach and the Mermaid and Cat statues there. The beach peddlers were not as active and not as frequent as in Pattaya or Phuket beaches which I found pleasant. I bought the kids a set of spades and buckets and showed them how to build sand castles. The grown up Thais sitting in the shade probably thought I was another crazy farang playing in the sunshine, the kids were not of same opinion.

Later on we stopped and went up to Tangkuan Hill to enjoy the view and pay respect for the Temple up there. At thebottom of the hill there was a lot of monkeys and they had been made a playground over there. Monkeys alleviated the heat of the sun by jumping into a pool specially for them only.

In the afternoon we headed for Hat Yai to do some shopping and to find lodging. Eventually we booked into Siam Center hotel close to all mall’s and shopping streets. After a short shopping spree we headed for dinner to Thalee Thai seafood restaurant that served a delicious meal.

Next morning 4th July we packed into the pickup truck and heade for the outskirts of Songkhla to Singhaburi where the Holy Man resided. We met our guide and he drove ahead to the “Ajarn’s” compound following narrow streets into the Amphoe passing temples and whatnot. We learned that he only does men, even no women was allowed into the parlour so they had to wait outside. I ventured inside the parlour and saw a handful of youngsters puffing on cigarettes trying to look tough. At the end of the parlour sat the Ajarn in a white dress and beside him was 2 other guys busy tattooing 2 other clients. I suppose they were his disciples. I wai’ed the Ajarn and the shrine beside him. Then I was invited to choose a picture, it was easy for me as me and Jira had decided on a “Ha theuw” (5 rows). Once chosen I was told to sit down and wait for my turn.

I was shown a home made video of young guys going into trance in the middle of the night around a huge bonfire. They were letting the spirit of the Tiger come into their body and while this was happening they let out very Tiger-ish sounds and grunts. After that they jumped into the bonfire kicking and throwing around burning sticks. Some guys got odd ways to spend their free time…

After awhile next in the program was to donate the price of tattoo (500THB) and read a poster asking for the good fortunes involved with this tattoo. Unfortunately I don’t read Thai so our guide he read for me and I repeated after him. Then I was asked to sit legs akimbo in front of the Ajarn, breath in deeply and slowly, close my eyes and clasp my hands in front of me. I suppose the idea was to get into a meditative state. Kind of difficult when the Ajarn started hacking into my back…

I sat like that for some time and after awhile I think my legs hurt more than my back as they were getting numb, very numb. That’s also one way to get your attention elsewhere. I can’t say how long it took but I just had to extend my legs in front of me, meditation or not the legs had to get some blood. The tattoo was not that bad, only when he got over some sensitive nerve endings at my spine I felt like crawling into the floor but I persisted stoically as the gaggle fo teenagers were gawking at me and for sure betting whether I would stand it or not. For awhile I was watching another boy being tattooed by one of the disciples, could not be more than 15yrs old. He sat in the same position as I and he was huffing and puffing from pain and leaning forward and forward until his forehead touched the floor. I think he had the same idea of crawling under the floor.

Then all of a sudden the Ajarn told me he was finished. I had to prostrate in front of the Ajarn and he recited some prayer in Pali “validating” the tattoo’s power. After that I sat and made some chit-chat with the Ajarn and he gave me some instructions of what I could not eat or do, otherwise I would loose the power within. The Ajarn invited me to come back after one year to do another tattoo, who knows, maybe I will…

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Processing rubber

I was given the opportunity to watch Jira’s sister’s husband processing rubber sap. In one night about 45 liters of sap is gathered by bleeding the rubber trees. This must take place daily otherwise the trees dry up like cow teats.

N. Rid cleaning up after rubber making

During rain no sap can be gathered so the Rubber farmer sleeps instead. Annually the rubber collecting stops for 3 months (approx. Jan-Apr) in order for the trees to recuperate, this is done when the tree drops all their leaves and grow new ones.

Once the sap is gathered the processing starts, 4 liters of sap is poured into a pail and mixed with 1 ltr water and 1-2dl of hardener, the mixture is stirred and then poured into a form.

This time there was a total of 12 forms filled, once the last was filled the 1st form had hardened. The Farmer then tipped the forms upside down starting from beginning and flattened the “cakes” out with a wooden bat and his feet, once this was done every flattened “cake” was fed into a roller that was operated by electric power.

The final stage was to feed them through another roller where a pattern was also made ontot the rubber “mat”. After this the mats were hanged to dry and after two days they could be sold to any rubber factory to be processed further to any plastic or rubber products that we need in our daily lives.

The whole operation took about 2hrs and will bring abt 1000 THB into the Farmer’s pocket. Some Farmer’s prefer to skip this whole process and sell the sap but there is a lot of cheating going on with middlemen, added water, measuring amounts and so-on…

To see the video I made abt it, click below: