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.