Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The shaking of hands

One of the first questions I like to ask my business English students is, whose hand do you shake first? They always reply, the woman's. This, my German readers, will get you in trouble. My parents came to Germany to visit me and meet my boyfriends parents. My father stuck out his hand to greet his father and in return his father refused my fathers hand and went to greet my mother. My father was totally offended until I explained to him this custom of greeting ladies first. It is considered a major offense with Americans to refuse someones hand in a greeting. There is no greeting hierarchy, its first come first serve

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mickey D

So I set foot in a McDonald's for the first time since I've been here in Germany. Im generally opposed to fast food, but it was still morning and I had a hash brown craving.
The menu in McDonalds here is different than the menu in the US. For one, it omits certain foods of hash browns! I tried to explain (in Germlish) to the girl, in this surprisingly clean establishment, that hash browns were like Kartoffel pancakes. She had no idea what I was talking about. Saddened about the news I ordered bacon eggs and coffee. I paid and she said if I would sit down she would serve it to me when it was ready. I was a bit confused by that, 1. because I thought all food at McDonalds are hot and ready to eat immediately and 2. that I would be actually served in McDonalds. Anyway it was a nice experience and I didnt even get a stomach ache afterwards. Amazing.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


It took me awhile to realize why everyone was walking around with their right pants leg rolled up. Is this a new fashion trend? Is half of Augburg part of a gang? Nope. The pant leg is rolled up to avoid getting caught in the gear wheel of the bike. My gear wheel has a covering on it so I was never inducted into the club. This fashion tend has yet to take off in America where most people go by car.

Monday, September 15, 2008

wildlife in Germany

You know the thing that is disappointing or a challenge depending on your perspective is that there aren't as many animals to see when hiking around as in America. I went on a hike with my Dad and Jurij in Pennsylvania a couple weeks ago and the trail was crawling with baby toads. Sooo cute. Like you would see 3 over there and 5 to your left. They must have just hatched. I saw a Garter snake slither by and we saw a white-tailed deer and without looking very hard.

Now I haven't been going out searching for animals, or turning over many rocks like my brother does, but just walking around Augsburg seems to have an abundance of crows, slugs and a couple of jack rabbits here and there.
I rescued a hedgehog from being roadkill one night a couple years ago but rarely do I see a squirrel.
I saved a few mating toads from being roadkill with official toad rescuers outside of Salzburg on a late Summer evening
One day this spring I saw a couple of European Jays outside my window, but never to be seen again.
This summer I actually caught a lizard while bike riding in the Alps which was very exciting. Matt and I saw the poisonous Black Adder near KuSee. And last weekend I found an Alpine salamander on a rainy hike in the Allgaü which was also very exciting.

a bruise or a beard

So while I was in PA visiting my folks I went on a bike ride with my Dad. I was testing out my Moms mountain bike when after only 8 miles I stopped short and flew over my handlebars. My only injury was a small cut on my chin. It didnt hurt so much but it was a real bleeder and the sight of my own blood makes me pass out so we had to wait awhile before I was back on my feet. Luckily a man in a red pick up truck with a confederate sign on the front of his truck that said redneck loaded us into his truck bikes and all and took us home. He was patient, didnt say much and didnt smile. He was our unfriendly good Samaritan.

For one week I had a small cut on my chin, no big deal. But then on our way to the Alps for a nice hiking weekend, I bumped ever so slightly my chin on my bookbag. Bam! Extreme pain and a big blue bruise to follow. We hiked to the top of the mountain and had lunch at a mountain lodge. There I was made fun of by a picnic table full of drunk Germans. They said I looked like I had a beard. In fact they were so drunk that I think they did think I actually had a beard.

People were really staring at me and some asked questions. I began to empathize with cirus freaks. In America, you dont stare or at least youre not obvious about it. And I think this is where American and German differ. My German friends and collegues immediately asked me what happened and were giggly about it. My American friends didnt say anything but waited for me to volunteer the information.
Luckily after 2 long weeks the drama is over and Im back to looking just peachy instead of having a blue moon.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

america visit: restaurant differences

I'm visiting the land of the free for a few weeks and I'm really enjoying the free ice water I get as soon as I sit down at a restaurant not to mention the butter that comes with the bread!

I really find it annoying that I have to pay for bottled water in Europe. I have gotten free tap water at restaurants in Europe but they make you uncomfortable for doing so. And I must admit the bread in Germany is tasty enough to eat with out butter and I'm saving a few calories in the process!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

coffee talk

The other day I went to Powwow, a local coffee house, with a friend. It was pretty warm out so I thought a cold drink would be a little more refreshing than the hot coffee which I would normally get. So I ordered an ice coffee. I said, Grüss Gott. Ich hätte gerne einen ice coffee. ( I would like an ice coffee. She said, "ok" and I paid. Then I waited longer than I thought for an ice coffee. And I wondered why the guy in the back was making some sort of ice cream sundae and not my simple ice coffee. Shouldn't my drink come first since I just paid?

In the next minute the guy turned around, smiled at me, said "ice coffee?" and handed the bewildered me the ice cream sundae.

Ok so it wasnt an ice cream sundae. It was a glass of hot coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on top. What I actually ordered was an Eiskaffee. "Eis" sounds exactly like the English word "ice". Eis means ice cream. It is one of the rare German words that actually has less letters than the English counterpart.

If you want an ice coffee, that is a cold coffee with ice cubes in it, go to Powwow and ask for an Iced Kaffee and really pronounce the d. However when I tried asking for an Iced Kaffee in several other coffee houses in the area, they had no idea what I I suffered not to badly with an icecream coffee. Damn they are really good!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

German names

Its nice to be in a country where the meaning of my last name is appreciated. Germans sometimes ask me if "Goldfarb" is my real name or just an artists name. Its a Jewish name. Its my real name. "Goldfarb" means gold color or gold paint in German. Its an appropriate name for an artist but Americans just don't get it!

names of Americans I know with German last names:
Reisner (traveler)
Weider (pasture)
Adler (eagle)
Bergstein (mountain stone)
Bernstein (amber)
Kessel (kettle)
Gipfel (summit)
Rosenthal (rose valley)
Kaufman (merchant)
Strom (electricity)
Ahorn (maple)
Bauer (farmer)
Klein (little)
Traub (grape)
Ferkel (piglet)
Fuchs (fox)
Hersch (deer)
Weiner (person from Vienna)
Herzog (duke)
Shenker (donor, giver)
Katz (cat)
Reiniger (cleaner)
Saltzberg (salt mountain)
Henkel (handle)
Greenblat (greenleaf)
Steigbegel (Steigbügel-stirrup)
Eichenwald (oak forest)
Zimmerman (carpenter)
Maybaum (Maibaum-Maypole)

Famous People
Johann Sebastian Bach (creek)
George Frideric Handel (business)
Richard Strauss (bouquet, ostrich)
Arnold Schoenberg (beautiful mountain)
Alban Berg (mountain)
Carl Maria von Weber (weaver)
Franz Schubert (Schuber-slip case)
Gustav Mahler (mahlen- to mill)

Marlene Dietrich (pick lock, skeleton key)
Kirsten Dunst ( smoke, haze)
Goldie Hawn (Hahn-rooster)
Rob Schneider (tailor)
Fran Drescher (thresher)
Howie Mandel (almond)
John Ritter (knight)
Ted Koppel (belt, padlock)
Jerry Siegel (seal)
Claudia Schiffer (sailor)
Mick Jagger (Jäger-hunter)
Max Weinberg (vineyard)

Sigmund Freud (joy)
Carl Jung (young)
Erich Fromm (pious)

H.R. Giger (Geiger-violinist)
Anselm Kiefer (jaw)
Gehard Richter (judge)
Julian Schnabel (beak)
Paul Auster (oyster)
Hermann Hesse (a state in Germany)
Calvin Klein (little)

Helen Keller (basement)
Betty Friedan (Frieden-peace)

Bayer asprin-(Bavarian)
reebock sneakers (Rehbock-roe buck (deer))
The Strand Bookstore (beach)

If you can think of some more names lemme know!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Thailand day 13-Phuket-Bangkok-Augsburg

April 4th.
Breakfast by the ocean, a frolic with Jurij in the waves and a plane back to Bangkok. We spent the night in the luxurious Bangkok airport hotel and left for Munich early the next morning. Its hard to come back from Paradise. Sigh.

Thailand day 12-Phuket

April 3rd.
I actually awakened in time for the 7am dive. Its good to be up early for a change! I saw a sea turtle and got so close to it that I massaged its flipper. It was so sweet faced and totally unafraid or just oblivious. I also saw a sting ray, the very poisonous but beautiful lion fish and this crazy techno colored, florescent purple and green giant slug called a Spanish dancer. Jurij didn't dive today because he was a little congested and couldnt equalize. It sucked.

Around 2pm we left the boat and took a speedboat to a van to Kaolak, a town in Phuket. We met up with Annette and Alex, collegues of Jurij who were at the wedding, at their resort in Kaolak. The resort was situated by the beach and built into the jungle. It was very beautiful and a nice way to end our stay. We all walked into town and had dinner. I caught a frog and made many unsuccessful attempts to catch the geckos hanging on the sides of buildings.

Thailand day 11-Phuket

April 2nd.
I made 2 dives today. New mask, I can see fish! The water is crystal clear and even 27 meters down doesn't feel so deep. I feel more confident in the water and its great to be on the boat. The rocking is relaxing, the boat-made Thai food is excellent and the company is great. I saw box fish, parrot fish, trumpet fish, a school of bat fish, a moray eel, a giant sea cucumber and shit load of other colorful and interestingly shaped fish.
At night we snoozed up on the sun deck hoping to stay there all night under the starry sky where the air was better than our mildewy cabin, but the thunder and lightning and threat of rain forced us back inside.

Thailand day 10-Phuket

April 1st. April fools day. Haha I get my period and my chest is congested. This is perfect for scuba diving. We were picked up at Lucky Guest House at 6am and were driven to a speed boat an hour away. The next hour and a half were spent on a extremely bumpy speed boat. It was kinda fun, like a roller coaster. Jurij was not as amused. Our dive boat was nice. It had a sun deck above and shaded deck below where we ate and a TV room. The next level below was where we got our gear on and jumped into the water. Cabins were on this level and the level below, the bottom level where we slept. The cabin couldn't be any smaller and was a little mildewy. I even spied a stow away cock roach. The bathrooms were the same as Lucky Guest House and perpetually wet. Jurij and I joked that each place we stayed on this trip got a little worse. I missed the first couple dives because I wasn't feeling so hot but I was reassured that a shark wouldn't attack me since I was bleeding. Instead I went snorkeling with my new pal Naomi. Naomi is from Toronto but has been living with her New Zealander boyfriend in NZ. She wasn't diving because of asthma. And you're not supposed to dive if you have any lung problems. It was interesting to note that after talking with many of the divers, there was a lot of asthmatics on board. Everyone else, especially the dive masters, smoked!
We saw a lot of beautiful fish and wound up being swarmed by a school of barracuda which was a little freaky but cool.
I finally got up the nerve to go diving, I was fine but I was using a crappy mask that totally fogged over and I could barely see anything except though one clear point. I thought this is probably how Momom who has macular degeneration sees.

Thailand day 9-Phuket

March 31st. We flew to Phuket which is in the south of Thailand. Its actually a large island that juts into the Andaman Sea. Jurij was in a bad mood because he left his jacket in the airport. Our new accommodation at the Lucky Guest House didn't help his mood either. We stayed in a bungalow, a very small and sparse room a minute walk away from the main house. The bathroom was interesting. Basically it was a shower and sink with a toilet in the middle of it. You could shit, shave and wash all at the same time.

We spent the afternoon walking around the tourist trap that is Phuket. Jurij bought a new sweatshirt at a price that almost made the shopkeeper cry. Jurij haggled the guy down to a price probably reserved for Thai people and not tourists. After Jurij bought it the shop keeper tried to make him feel guilty. He wanted to sell it for 30 euros. Jurij gave him 4. (200 baht).

Because we planned to go scuba diving off a boat for the next few days and hadn't dived in 2 years, we took a little refresher course around 3 today. We put on our gear at the beach which I was fumbling with since it had been so long and we swam out into deeper water. I didn't fill may jacket with enough air and was falling behind in the swim. When we reached our destination and descended the visibility was like 2 inches. This made me really nervous and I came back to the surface with the instructor. Then we lost Jurij and this other guy who was taking the refresher also. Because the current was so strong they kept moving even though they thought they were staying in one spot. This did not help my feelings of malaise. Eventually I saw their bubbles, the instructor found them and we swam back.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Thailand day 8-Bangkok

Today we went to the giant Chatuchak weekend market. It was really hot, I was wearing sticky jeans and feeling a bit sick. Still I could have spent the entire day shopping for trinkets and doodads, fabrics and clothes and a million other things for 1/3 the price of anything I could purchase in Germany. Jurij wasn't unfortunately as interested in shopping the entire day as I was, go figure, so we left after a couple hours and found our way somehow to the Jim Thompson House. Jim Thompson (1906-1967) was an American expat in Thailand who founded the Thai Silk Company. He was originally trained as an architect and designed his own Thai house complete with a very cool art and antique collection. He mysteriously disappeared in 1967. We got the tour and then ate in the adjoining air conditioned restaurant.

Or next stop was the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre. We saw a traditional puppet show about the story of Ganesh, a Hindu God (as I like to call him, the elephant dude). No sooner did we take our seats we had to rise to the national anthem and watch a short video showing the king in various activities throughout his life. They take their royalty very seriously and it is offensive to show any disrespect towards them.

3 puppeteers in black moved around each puppet on the stage. Subtitles or should I say a synopsis of each scene were on a screen to the left and right of the stage. I'm sure I missed a lot of subtlety not knowing Thai. But basically the story goes like this according to the subtitles. The demons are invading heaven so the main god decides that Shiva and Uma should fall in love. Of course thats what I would do if the demons were invading my heaven. Shiva gets hit by a love arrow thrown by the love gor and the 2 fall in love and get married. Sound familiar? Shiva tells Uma after some time at the residence that he wants to spend some time alone meditating. She stays alone at the residence with his friend. Great idea. While he is away his friend tells Uma that she should have a son to protect them. Why cant he protect them? So she naturally created a divine boy from the dirt on her body. The boy is told to fight anyone who approaches the residence. One day Shiva comes home with a friend and sees the boy not knowing who he is. He has his friend fight him but the boy wins. Angrily Shiva throws a trident at the boy and it chops off his head. A moment too late Uma comes out of the residence and discovers the scene. After Shiva learns who the boy is they search all over for his head but it is nowhere to be found. So they decide that the first head they come upon they will take. This happens to be an elephant. Ganesh now has a new head and after all that trouble is sent to fight the demons. Ganesh fights the demons, wins and becomes a mighty god. The end.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thailand day 7-Bangkok wedding

March 29
Jan and Armin's wedding.

Jan is from Bangkok. Armin is from Bavaria. They met in Dubai while working as flight attendants for Emirates about 5 or so years ago. They now live in Augsburg. I met Jan here in Augsburg at a German Stammtisch run by my friend Silke (who I had met some months before at an English Stammtisch!) Not long after talking Jan and I discovered that our "significant others" are colleagues in the hospital. Jurij knew more people at the wedding than I did! And because of my extreme form of hypochondria I was happy to be surrounded by a gaggle of MD's in a foreign land.

I used to do wedding photography in NYC but never have I experienced a wedding that started at 8:30 in the morning! Apparently Thais are morning people. The morning ritual is this: The groom and his parents followed by a procession of relatives and friends try to pass through a series of string "barriers" each held up by 2 of the brides relatives. At each barrier light hearted negotiations take place until an agreement is reached and the grooms family is allowed to pass.

The party then proceeded into another room. We took our seats and then watched what seemed like a TV talk show. Both parents were seated on couches opposite each other in the front of the room while the talk show host sat on the couch in the middle holding a microphone. All the parents took turns talking interrupted only by Jan's fathers cell phone beeping in the middle of it. On the stage he took the call. It was pretty funny. Must of been really important! The bride and groom then lit candles to the left of the couches and bowed. Rings were exchanged in the middle of the room, words were exchanged with the parents, pictures were taken.

In the next scene bride and groom are stage center and receive flower necklaces. Then a loop of white string is placed on his head which is connected to a loop of string placed on her head. I think its like kinda symbolic or something. The audience gets up and in single file gets to pour with a ladle water onto the folded hands of the bride and groom and give good wishes. Scene ends and we eat a little something.

Intermission lasts the entire afternoon and we take a trip with Alex and Annette, who work with Jurij, Armin's brother and his parents to the one of the floating markets of Bangkok. Basically we walk onto a covered pier which is lined with Thai style row boats on either side. In each boat is a cook and her "kitchen". We order various tasty dishes and sit Indian style with our shoes off at very low tables on the pier. It was very enjoyable! Yum I loved the huge prawns!

back at the hotel was a dinner for way more people who showed up at the earlier festivities. The dinner was delish but the most memorable thing were the drinks. For one if you ordered your choice of coke, water or whiskey (whisky flavored water was what it really was) as soon as you were finished another of the same would appear 5 seconds later. Didn't matter if now wanted a coke you were going to get another whisky flavored water that you have been unfortunately drinking for the past hour.

Alex asked the waiter if he could order any wine. The waiter responded, sorry sir we only have one bottle of wine and that is reserved for the guest of honour! Jan's father is a well known crooner and the guest of honour was a famous singer, I assume a friend of his, who entertained us that night. But only 1 bottle of wine??? And no big drunken dance party afterwards??? Well I guess that's how they do it in Thailand!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Thailand day 6-Bangkok

March 28
Happy Birthday Mommy!

and that of the king. Really the Today we visited the National Museum. I got this confused with the National Gallery, a museum of Thai art, past and present which I really wanted to see but didn't. Instead at the NM we read about the detailed history of Thailand of which I do not remember, saw some cool Thai instruments and a whole lotta Buddhas. Buddhas crafted from wood, from metal from stone, small Buddhas, medium sized Buddhas, extremely large Buddhas, Buddhas with various sized ears. I visited about 10 rooms filled only with Buddhas. Although I acknowledge these statues represented years of craftsmanship and art created by the top artists from their day over the course of many many centuries, I took the 10 minute tour. 2 images you cant escape in Thailand are Buddha. Really I think repetition kills the meaning. Isn't that what Warhol was getting at? I definitely got Buddha-ed out. I sure was ready for some good ol pics and statues of Jesus, Mary and various saints by the time I got back to Germany.

Afterwards we roamed around Bangkok. Luckily I had one of the worlds preimere navigators by my side, Sir Jurij Pitako and we always arrived when and where we should have. I have a more go with the flow, see what happens and where I'll wind up approach to tackling a new city. I was able to convince myself that we were wandering the city my way by basically not paying attention to where we were going or reading anything in a detailed manner. Hence we wound up at the National Museum because thats where I told Jurij I wanted to go. Heck it was still a nice place.

So our next stop was the Reclining Budhha who measures 46 meters long and 15 m high. We were looking for the entrance to the very large 20 acre walled temple grounds in the middle of the city. We came upon one entrance that was "for Thai people only". Talk about discrimination!!!! Im going to sue! We got out out map and in a blink a very friendly man camje up to us and asked us. "Where you want to go? Where you from?" Jurij looking very annoyed said we were looking for the entrance for the Reclining Buddha. The man continued, Reclining Buddha closed. It closes at 4pm. I can take you to another temple. Jurij shots back, "but look here in my book it says its open till 5pm!" The man says, Its a Buddhist holiday. C'mon I take you to another more beautiful temple. Jurij suppressing the desire to beat this man to a pulp grabs my hand and instead we practically run through the man, turn a corner and find the entrance to the Reclining Buddha.

Its one thing to read warnings in every guide book about these scams and another thing to experience the scripted scam lines from the guide books come to life. You really want to believe that this friendly nice faced person is wanting to help you. Its a westerners instinct and thats what they try to exploit. Its very jarring. I wondered what would have happened if we got suckered into going with the man. I imagined winding up in some dark alleyway with a bunch of short smiling Thai men trying to sell us fake gems. They laugh unaware of the wrath of the Jurij bunny soon to be unleashed upon them. Howard Cosell's disembodied voice comments, "Its all over for the Thai gem scammers!"

Thailand day 5- Chaing Mai to Bangkok

March 27
Early flight to Bangkok. Arrived late morning at the Convention Hotel a half hour taxi ride from the center of Bangkok. This hotel was really big, stately, mainly catering to business people. Not chick or gemütlich or as friendly as our last hotel but the breakfast was good. We stayed here because this is where the wedding took place and we didn't feel like schlepping from hotel to hotel for the 4 days we were in Bangkok.

Our hotel room was number 1116. I think this must have been a sign because our last hotel room was number 911. If you turn 1116 upside down, what do you get? That's right 9111. Its a sign. I don't know what kind of sign or if it has any lasting significance but its a sign!

After sleeping all afternoon (Jurij was still a little sick and my nose was now running!) we took a taxi- which here in Thailand are Toyota Corollas! Yes they know a good car, just like my ol TC back home except with a steering wheel on the opposite side- to the Sky Train (sounds really exciting and the guide books say not to miss a ride on one but its just the elevated part of the subway system. Not that it would make any sense given the large population in Bangkok but I imagined some sort of gondola ride above the city like at some zoos or amusement parks. I was a little disappointed....but then amazed that the subway/sky train was so clean and air conditioned. There were flat screened tvs showing advertisements in the train and a soothing automated voice in Thai and in English announcing each station. It was 100 degrees outside we were smooshed together like a bowl of Thai noodles and yet no one smelled and all were quiet.

I am constantly amazed how every other city in the world has a more modern and clean subway system that in NYC. Why is that? Thailand is a 3rd world country for god's sakes!

We walked around Siam square, a shoppers paradise, our nightmare. Basically in Siam square you are either walking around a large block of shopping mall that connects to another large shopping mall block via a skinny enclosed walkway and you cant find your way out or you have found your way out and are now standing in the middle of a hot smoky congested highway wanting to get back in.

Amazingly we found our way to the neighborhood of Bangalapoo. You could say that its an artsy hip neighborhood or you could say its a place were burned out western hippies congregate and old white men walk hand in hand with very young Thai girls. They did have a cool market but Jurij wasn't about to be dragged around shopping for very long on an empty stomach.

We had dinner in a hole in the wall family run restaurant. The kitchen was outside the restaurant on a wagon! But we ate very well for very cheap. In Thailand the more expensive your food is and the nicer the restaurant, the lower in quality your food will be. There is no gormet food here. What the common person eats is what the king eats. If your food is expensive you're only being ripped off.

Thailand day 4- Chaing Mai

March 26. Today I am 34. How did I get so old? What am I doing with my life? Oh yeah, I'm traveling in Thailand. Not bad.
Jurij was feeling a little better today so we took a trip to a snake farm. We saw lots of animals in small cages including a very exotic bird, the crow. We watched snake charmers play with cobras while a Thai man speaking English into microphone commented in a Howard Cosell inflected voice. I thought I had been transported into a Woody Allen film.
After we visited the famous wa cha lacka yakka ya KA temple (intonation goes up on last syllable) on the highest mountain in Chang Mai built in the 1300's. (Actually Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep one of the most sacred temples in Thailand) I entered a room in the temple walking on my knees and encountered a 180 year old monk sitting in the corner. He asked me where I was from and then wished me good fortune while tying a white string around my right arm. I asked him what the white string meant but he only nodded his head. I found out later that this was holy string. I'm never going to take it off!

When we arrived back in our hotel room I first saw that on the desk there was a beautiful chocolate cake that said Happy Birthday Lisa on it. I looked at Jurij astounded. I said Jurij! How did you do that? I cant believe you got this beautiful cake for me. Thats not your style! Then he looked at me and said, Lisa now how did that happen. What did you do when you first checked in? Yes you gave them your name, address, credit card and birthday.
Im my opinion he should have lied and taken the credit! Men!

Well we had a nice dinner later on at a restaurant whose walls were covered in clocks. my clock ticking?

Later in bed I finished my book, Watership Down. I opened the drawer next to my bed hoping to find the I Ching or some book on Buddhist teachings and principles...but no. Gideons International Association strikes again so I fell asleep while reading revelations. Not the thing to read if you want to have sweet dreams.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Thailand day 3- Chaing Mai

March 25.
I'm behind in this blog because of spotty Internet access. We were unable to go on our 3 day bike tour because Jurij was suffering in bed. Luckily they postponed the trip one day and let me go for a day trip. There was only one other person on the trip. A Danish gal named Kathrine. She was 37, cute, an engineer for an oil company and traveling by herself. She was strong on her bike and confident on the crazy one track and mountain bike trails ( I was not). I was even thrown off my bike once by a mean little pebble, luckily no major damage.

Before our ride we were taken to an elephant farm where we watched the elephants bath in the river and then perform some circus tricks. I felt a little embarrassed for these majestic creatures. But consoled myself with the fact that these elephant camps generate money from tourism to protect them. Elephants are endangered in Thailand with only 5000 left in the wild. There were also thousands of domesticated elephants that used to work for the timber industry. When lumbering was outlawed in 1989, these elephants were "unemployed" and homeless.
The elephant is the symbol of Thailand and after the show everywhere I looked, at the leaves on the trees, clouds in the sky, foods that I ate, I saw the shape of an elephant.

Before we left the elephant farm I caught a lizard. Yes I thought I am my brothers sister and was very proud. And then I saw the shape of an elephant on the lizards back...

Afterwards we visited a cave. It was well lit and contained your average limestone stalactites and stalagmites. The stalactites hang from the ceiling and the stalagmites grow up from the ground. This is a mental note to myself because I keep forgetting which is which! And yes I saw and elephant shaped stalactite. I've seen more beautiful caves than this one, like for example Carlsbad Caverns which is really one of the most beautiful caves in the world. But Carlsbad didn't have a Buddhist statue in every nook and cranny! I learned from the tour guide that the here to the left people make offerings to the lion statue for fertility. People make offerings to the different spirits that inhabit places and animals.

Outside the cave the cicadas were deafening. Where was the forest mute button? The sky was clear but felt a mist while walking under a tree. Not a rain cloud in sight. Then I learned from a monk that actually I was just peed on by one of those noisy cicadas. Some nerve.

This reminded me that I needed to use the "bathroom". Really, squatting over a hole is easier on the back.

Finally we began our ride in the heat of the day, 2pm. We covered only 25 miles on either paved roads through farmland and rice paddies or dirt paths and one track mountain bike trails. We rode through a village that looked like it hadn't progressed on a 1000 years. Except some of the women sold me souvenirs that were definitely made in this century!

The scenery was beautiful but I think it was 100 degrees and humid out. The forests around us were burning from slash and burn agriculture and the sky was gray from the smog. When we finished the ride, I looked up at the sky and saw that it was raining ash. For the first time since I lived in NYC I felt asthmatic.

Perhaps it was for the best that I could only ride for one day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thailand day 2- Chaing Mai

After stuffing myself silly with an extravagant hotel breakfast Jurij and I set out for a day on the town. I saw my first lizard half a block from the hotel, some sort of anole like creature. I was very excited. Its very hot and humid here and we need to consume a bottle of water for every block we walk or else we might pass out. The streets are bustling, lots of concrete and dirt. It reminds me vaguely of the Bowery or Canal st. in New York City where you can see piles of products stacked everywhere inside the open store fronts and that are bursting out into the street. I'm fascinated by the "telephone" poles along the street. Hanging from them are more than just the one telephone wire that we are used to in America or Europe. The wires hang like hair knotting and bunching around each pole. Again I feel like I'm in some distopic blade runner scenario.

Its strange to be in the minority as a white person. It makes me want to yell hey bro! Hey sis! every time I pass a white person on the street. There's this awkward dialog we say to each other with our eyes while we pass, "ya were tourists too and were white too but this doesn't mean we have to be friends, be friendly and start a conversation". Perhaps I'm just unfriendly

I'm still amazed by everyone wearing loose flip flops riding motorbikes. I'm surprised that there aren't lost flops littering the street.

Jurij and I walked the streets, saw a couple of Watts, or Buddhist temples. We had a bite to eat at a restaurant catering to an international crowd. On the menu next to the Pad Thai and curries was a club sandwich.

At on Watt you could talk to monks. They like to practice their English and answer questions about Buddhism. We talked to 2 young monks in their early 20's. The one said to me that one of their purposes is to spread the teachings of the Buddha to the common people. When I asked him what the major tenants of Buddhism were, he just smiled and said um. Then a gust of wind tore up our conversation and that was the end of that!

There was a garden by the Watt with sayings tacked to the trees, like Time and tide wait for no man and good to forgive, the best to forget. Sometimes I thought ya totally dude, other times I thought the saying were complete its good to forgive and best to forget!

We could here the monks chanting from the garden. I think I might have even like had something like a spiritual experience. Its very peaceful here.

In the evening we walked around the night bazaar. Carts with goods line the streets from 6 to 11pm. Its mostly tourist crap selling the same stuff, knock off purses, stupid tee shirts like the one that said "i pood" and a picture of someone on the toilet listening to music. But every once in awhile you would find a real artisan or artist selling there wares and that was something to look out for.
We went to sleep early in a city that never sleeps. The 7-11 on every corner is open 24 hours. Businesses are open 7 days a week and all night long. Not like Germany where everything closes at 8pm and on Sunday!

Jurij is still sick. I think he has the flu. And our room number is creepily 911.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Thailand- Chang Mai

So hi everyone. Its been awhile. Today is the first full day of Jurij's and my 2 week vacation in Thailand. We got a nice direct 9 hour flight on LTU from Munich to Bangkok. We spent a couple hours at the lovely modern Bangkok airport before flying to Chaing Mai in northern Thailand. Its wonderful to see palm trees and feel the heat and humidity. Our hotel picked us up at the airport which was really nice. After such a long trip it was great not to have to think about directions. They drive on the "other" side here. The drivers seat is on the right. It feels very strange like we are going to crash into every oncoming vehicle. Remember Barbados Molly?! We are in the minority driving in a car. Most people ride motorbikes. An entire families, small children smooshed in between parents without helmets were the norm on the bikes. It gave me a heart attack just to watch them! Also on the road were many tuk tuks, basically a motorbike taxi with roof and two seats in the back. We passed many street markets, even the fruit is arranged differently. The place is so exotic I felt like I was driving through the set of the Blade runner or my crazy Asian dream last week. Its a bit unnerving when the atmosphere of your dream becomes reality! Except I think all the street advertising in my dream was in Chinese and here everthing is in the Thai script and in English thank god. Im realy glad English is my first language. It really makes it easier to get around the world.
The hotel we are staying at, D2, is the most amazing hotel Ive ever been to. Visually its beautiful, very modern, simple, elegant. stylish. It would fit in very nicely in Soho or in a spread of architectual digest. The room comes with all kinds of toiletries and various products I can take home. Like the nice umbrella with D2 written on it. I love all the goodies! The service is totally amazing. Its great to be pampered right now because Jurij is in bed with a fever and muscle aches. I think he got sick the moment we stepped into the Munich airport. The staff has been very helpful with bringing us extra blankets, bottled water and dinner to our room. They drove me to the pharmacy to get drugs for Jurij. They talked to bike tour people for us and helped us sadly cancel our 3 day bike tour. Did I mention they have this fantastic chic restuarant here witht he most amazing food. I had the best Thai food ever last night. Also breakfast is included with the stay. Breakfast was a real wowzer. It was a Thai/American/ German buffet. Eggs any style, banana pancakes, waffles, french toast made to order on the spot. Cheese, cereal, fresh fruit, delicious pastries, juice, smoothies and great coffee. I just wanted to sit there and eat the rest of the day. Did I mention how friendly the staff is? Everyone is smiling. When you greet someone you bow slightly. press your hands together and say Sawadee ka if your a woman and Sawadee krap if your a man. Its very nice. I like it. I havent stepped outside the hotel to experience Chaing Mai yet except for the car rides but already I feel like yes I could live here for a couple years. I think every 2 years one should move countries. Newness in someway is necessary for the soul. Hopefully Jurij will feel better soon so we can go out and explore. If not this hotel with its free internet, and its free happy hour with drinks and appetizers between 5 and 7 and the pool and spa on the second floor that I have yet to visit and the talkative English spreaking staff and guests will keep me contented for now. But soon I think I will have to get out and walk around.