Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Random Picture of the Week #8


Wat Kumaran, Koh Samui, Thailand. There is a mummified monk in the glass case.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Random Picture of the Week #7

Snake charmer at the local night market, Uttaradit (cobras!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Everyone!!!

The ants are getting out of control. Today I came home to find our entire dish cabinet filled with trails of the miserable creatures--- turns out there was a dried little rice kernel stuck to a plate.

Washing every dish we own wasn't my idea of a great way to unwind after work, but it gave me the opportunity to loudly recite my favorite lines from The Professional (Gary Oldman rocks)


How many dishes do you want to clean MacKensie?


Heehee.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Random Picture of the Week #6



We pass this on the way to and from Chiang Mai. I don't know what it is, it just looks cool.

Carnage and random thoughts from the day.

I killed a lot of ants today. I normally try to just scare them away but it takes a long time and usually there aren't so many.

Our house is very open so we have to be obsessive when it comes to keeping tidy. Even in the time it takes to eat dinner ants will flood into our kitchen so I'm constantly wiping and rinsing as I cook. Today, the trash had the wrapper from cheese in it (we normally put all food trash in a bag in the fridge until it is taken out). When I got home from work the kitchen had a serious wall of ants coming down from the ceiling, gathering on the floor, and then forming another thick line up to the trash. Gross. Small trails of ants are easily scared away in seconds. These guys weren't worried about me, so I had to resort to the spray. It was ugly. We're pretty lenient with the spiders and the geckos, but ants can't stay.

Poor Al (this story makes me laugh out loud as I type) accidentally ate an ant covered cookie this weekend when he absentmindedly reached into a bag of cookies he had left out earlier. Ah well, this is just how it is when you live in a tropical country.

On another note, our miserable neighbors are having another party-- the fourth this month. Speeches and karaoke blasted out of huge speakers, right outside our windows (less than 3 meters away). I'd like to call them some names but apparently, according to random people on the net, if I call a group of people in another country a name I'm insulting their entire culture. (roll of eyes) I'll just say they're challenged when it comes to respect for the other people living around them. Our other neighbors are lovely. The little girl in the house behind us is in love with us, I think.

Next week is midterm week so we're both very busy (hence the late blog post and the crabbiness) but then after that a much needed break. We'll shoot up to Chiang Mai for a couple days. No plan for what we'll do there-- just relax!

I was afraid that Al and I working at the same place would cause tension but it's actually really nice to have someone at work who gets you and is totally on your side. :-) Now, we're worried about how it will be in the next location when we're not working in the same place and won't see each other as much.


Once it hits 2009 we'll only have 4 more months here, it'll fly by for sure!

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Random Picture of the Week #5

Pork satay (satay moo) with peanut sauce and ginger broth with chicken and noodles (bumee naam gai). One of our favorite meals in town.


Satay Restaurant Location: I find it hard to describe the location of things in town due to my limited Thai, but here goes it. Looking at this map, from the intersection of Inchaimee (Injaimee) Road and Th. Samranruen, go south on Samranruen to the point where the Nan River bends toward the road. The river will be in clear view to your left and down at the bank will be a statue of a woman with long hair. Across the street, facing the river, will be the large, open air satay restaurant. Enjoy.

Adventures!

OK, minor adventures. We decided to go for a drive down a road that leads out of town to see what we could see. We took Thanon Samranreun (click here for maps) north figuring we'd stop at some wats (temples) along the way. It was a holiday for the King's birthday, so the streets were fairly empty and a lot of businesses were closed. Of course, once we were sufficiently far from home we got a flat tire. Haha. We walked the motorbike down to an auto shop. They couldn't fix it for us but pumped it with air and sent us down the road to a bike repair shop. When we got there we found it impossible to explain that the tire was flat and that it needed to be fixed (the poor guys there clearly thought we were nuts). They kindly pumped a bit of air in both tires and oiled the chain. We had exhausted our miming abilities and decided to just drive around until it was flat again, which only took another 20 minutes.

All was well though, with the Nan river to our right and the train tracks to our left the route was rather picturesque. We eventually came upon a huge golf course and what was apparently a military site of some sort before turning back for the day. We stopped at two of the four wats we spied, enjoying being the only visitors that day. I'm not sure the names of the temples, will try to find out this week. Pics below:


Starfruit trees outside the walls.


Old-looking wats are the coolest!


If you peruse my Flickr pages you can see I'm obsessed with wat roof spires.



Nagas guarding one of the entrances.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Random Picture of the Week #4


The entrance to the university library.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Blogging as News...

I know this isn't a new topic to those who frequent the blogosphere, but it really is incredible how social networking, including blogs, texts, and applications like twitter, have influenced the way news spreads.

I was surprised to see a sharp jump in readers on my personal blog today until I learned I had been linked by World Focus, a news agency devoted to covering international events, in their article about the PAD protests in Bangkok. This makes me feel both excited and, well, a little queasy--- how can what I have to say be news? Right? I always try to be clear about my sources and biases in regards to information I post on here and hope that any readers take my posts with a grain of salt and consult other sources for whatever they are researching. I'm also glad if I can help spread information about life in Thailand or any of the other topics I have written about here and on my other blogs.


It's good to be reminded about my responsibility when I am putting things on the web for anyone and everyone to read. This CNN article, about the effects of twittering during the current Mumbai terror crisis, explored how individuals giving blow by blow accounts of the events as they unfold can be a terrific source of information--- and misinformation, which is then recycled endlessly as word spreads and rumors fly.

This TED Talk, by James Surowiecki, highlights the positive points of social media as news specifically in the context of the 2005 Tsunami. As in 2005, social media today in Mumbai is allowing normal citizens to participate in providing information to authorities and the public and also helping provide other much needed services such as making phone calls for people whose families may have been affected.

Benjamin Haydon, an 18th century artist and writer said, "There surely is in human nature an inherent propensity to extract all the good out of all the evil."

If this is true, one good thing we can extract from the horror of what is unfolding in India today is the evidence of good people who are doing everything they can to personally help those who are in need due to this tragedy.
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Random Picture of the Week #3

Samlor in Uttaradit.

My sweet new ride...

I bought a scooter a few weeks ago.



Up to now I've been stuck at home while Al was at work and had to depend on him if I had errands to run. I definitely miss the convenience of Seoul's public transportation system. There isn't really a taxi service here, although, someone at work gave us a friend's phone number and said they would give me rides on their motorbike if I really needed it. When you get out at the train or bus stations there are "taxis" (people who will you give you rides for money) and samlors (see photo of the week above), but that's about it in this town as far as I can tell. In the bigger cities there are far more options.

It's an electric scooter, new, that I bought for 20,000 baht. I only have to charge it once a week and I don't have to have a license to drive it. Works out great!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Random Picture of the Week, #2

A gift shop, specializing in stuffed animals, in Uttaradit.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Loi Krathong

We got to attend a really fun celebration Wednesday night, called Loi Krathong. It's celebrated on the night of the full moon on the 12th lunar month. Wikipedia can tell you all the historical details. Someone at work told me that traditionally it was meant to thank the river spirits, now it's thought of as more of a good party and a way to make wishes and shake off any bad things that happened in the year before.

What you do is put a small float made of banana leaves and flowers, topped with incense and candles into the river to float away, carrying with it your wishes for the future and any bad feelings from the year before. Some people put bits of hair or fingernails in the float to further symbolize getting rid of the old. A big party surrounds this tradition, with beauty contests, parades, music and drama performances, fireworks galore and, our favorite, the release of lanterns into the air. Our boss gave us a beautifully made float to send out.

We went to town where a ton of tents had been set up by the Nan river, centered around a pavilion and monument to King Rama V. There was a big stage with music performances and later, a beauty pageant, a huge square of food and drink stalls, an open courtyard where people were setting off fireworks and releasing lanterns, and then the pavilion to look out over the river. Under the pavilion you could access the river to set out your float. If you hadn't made your own there were plenty of people selling them; they weren't all high quality, but they were all beautiful! You could also buy little bags with live fish, eels, or turtles in enclosed to let loose in the river-- where they were probably caught earlier that morning!

The lanterns in the air and candle-lit floats in the water really gave a magical feel to this beautiful festival. We spent most of the evening there, stopping on the way home at a wat and another small point along the river where people were setting out floats. As this is a Buddhist festival (although it likely has roots with the same traditions that the Hindu Diwali Festival stems from) there was a lot of activity at the wat (temple) as well. As a fundraiser you could pay 10 baht (30 cents) to fish a little capsule out of a pond. In the capsule was a number that corresponded to assorted raffle prizes. It was good fun. As the main festival was very crowded it was nice to stop at the smaller point further up the river, near home. There, people were selling floats that I would guess were made by children for a donation of your choice. The peope we met there were incredibly sweet, so we bought another float and got our knees dirty sending it out from their floating platform.

Setting out floats on the Nan River, Uttaradit.

Children nicking coins out of floats.

King Rama V statue, lanterns galore.

The river pavilion.

Floats for sale.

Al, getting ours lit.

Hopes and dreams, floating down the river.

It was a great time!
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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Random Picture of the Week, #1

I take tons of pictures and not all of them go along with any of my regular blog posts, so I'm starting a one-a-week post. Enjoy.


Animal balloons at the OTOP Fair market, Uttaradit, Thailand.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Correction

I made a mistake in my last post in regards to the independence of Mongolia. I erroneously said it was in 1991 but, as an anonymous reader has pointed out, Mongolia was declared independent in 1911. I definitely had it stuck in my head for some reason that it was 1991, and after looking at some of the books and websites I have been reading lately, it seems that I was associating the pull out of the Soviet Union with independence in Mongolia --- totally my mistake. I've been reading a lot lately about the resurgence of Buddhism in Mongolia and often the phrase "since 1991" and "since the early 1990's" is employed. I am new to Mongolian studies and will certainly make many mistakes. I always appreciate comments, suggestions, and corrections--- of course, I also hope that these would come in a (less hostile) constructive manner.


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This summer...

I just realized that I never finished the stories of this summer's travels. I'm really busy these days so I can't really give the rest of those experiences justice on this blog.

I'll just add some highlights here...

Mongolia:

After wrapping up in the field we said our goodbyes and headed back to Ulaan Baatar where I stayed a few more days. We had a few more get-togethers with the friends we made on the trip, both Mongolian and Western, and just had a lovely time. I really love Ulaan Baatar, despite the first impressions I had. Crumbling soviet-era apartment blocks with gers bundled in between, both bizarre and charming. Of course, seeing the city with my new friends really put it in a different light.

I was extremely lucky to be present for a special time in Mongolia--- the night they won their first Olympic Gold Medal-- ever! It happened to be an evening I was spending alone so I wandered to Sukhbaatar Square where I assumed there would be celebrations. Sure enough there were hundreds gathered and it soon turned into a huge party. Everyone was chanting Monguul! Monguul! (Mongolia! Mongolia!) there were fireworks and at one point the Prime Minister came out, flanked by a band, and spoke to the crowd before the band played their national anthem. Mongolia has only been independent since 1991-- this was a very big moment for them. I'm so glad I was there! I made some new friends at the square that night and spent the rest of the evening with them, celebrating--- a night I won't forget.

Flags were out en masse.

The Prime Minister and entourage in front of the Chinggis Khan statue.

Fireworks over Sukhbaatar Square.

China:

I took an early flight out of Mongolia to Beijing, glad there were clear skies so I can watch Mongolia roll away as we flew out. I hope it's not long before I go back again.

My friend Laura, one of my best friends from college landed a job working at the Beijing Olympics. This was a great opportunity for me to return to the city and see it at a tremendously exciting time. I was really impressed with the way Beijingers came together to put the city's best foot forward. Businesses had new signs, buildings were freshly painted, and tourist help kiosks had been erected everywhere. Cheerful old men and women (without a lick of English), sporting brightly colored vests that said "Olympic Volunteer", hovered around on the streets, ready for anything. I made sure to ask them directions, even though I knew where I was going, as it so pleased them to help out.

I stayed with Laura, in the apartment her job provided near Sanlitun. Sadly, we both got very ill my second day in so I spent most of my time that week in the hotel room-- I saw a doctor in Chiang Mai-- turns out I had dysentery!!! Yes, the disease that kills off members of your wagon train in the old "Oregon Trail" computer game. Needless to say, it is as unpleasant as it sounds. I still wrestled up the energy to see my friend Jade, a cool chick I met on my North Korea trip last year, and to go to my first Olympic competition, which was really exciting. Laura scored free tickets to the synchronized swimming finals, in the Water Cube. The Olympic grounds were expansive and the Water Cube and Birds Nest were impressive up-close. It was fun walking around the grounds, soaking up the excitement, and watching the medal ceremony for our competition, with the gold going to Russia.

The entrance to the Water Cube.

Laura and I in front of the Bird's Nest.

Russia gets the gold in synchronized swimming (you can blame Canada for this bizarre sport).

Thailand: Al met me at the Chiang Mai airport and brought me home the next day, only to bring me to the train station less than 24 hours later for the last leg of my summer travels. I had months earlier planned to meet my friend Amber, a fellow English teacher in Korea, on the islands somewhere during her once a year break (hagwons work you to the bone). These plans were made before the Beijing plans so I didn't realize how stretched out and tired I would be. I caught an overnight train to Bangkok, waited around a few hours, and then hopped on a flight to Koh Samui, where she had arrived two days earlier and booked some beach side bungalows. It was a great way to wind down after all of my adventures. We lazed around all day on beaches, both on Samui and Koh PaNgan, enjoyed fantastic seafood and tropical drinks, and danced with a bizarre group of Spaniards. Good times.

Ko Samui sunset (click for larger view)

Amber,relaxing at the Dolphin on Koh PaNgan

Boats in the bay, Ko PaNgan

Me, enjoying fresh coconut.

It was good to get back to Uttaradit after all that, to start settling in to my new home there. I'm glad I had six weeks off before starting my new job. This summer shook my life up like a snowglobe, now everything's falling into place again-- until the next time!








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Sunday, November 2, 2008

English Reading Materials

If you love me, you'll send me some of your magazines when you're done with them!

I have access to an eclectic collection of classics and fiction novels but nothing current and no magazines to enjoy over coffee on the weekends.

Any genre will do.

Send to:

Language Center
Uttaradit Rajabhat University
27 Injaimee Road
Amphur Muang
Uttaradit
Thailand
53000


THANK YOU!!!!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Chiang Mai, again

Well, we had a short break, during which I had to go to Chiang Mai for visa stuff.

So far, I've found the documentation process to work here to be rather annoying, and more expensive than I expected. I really don't like having to pay to work someplace, so I'm also rather unhappy with myself for not making sure the school covered those expenses. I came in on a tourist visa and then, after hanging out in Ko Samui, went to get a "non-immigrant B" visa, the first step in getting a work permit. I didn't know, and the school didn't warn me (and I've never heard of this) but I had to have at least 20 days left on my first visa, I only had 19. Yep, one day off. Had to pay 2,000 baht (about 60$) for an extension and then another 1,800 baht for the non-immigrant visa, which is only good for 3 months. Then, you get to apply for a work permit which cost me 800 baht. Get this. The work permit is only set until the visa expires (the three month non-immigrant one I JUST GOT), so I then have to go to Chinag Mai or Bangkok to extend my non-immigrant B to when my contract expires (Oct 2009)-- another 1,800 baht. Now that I have completed that, I have to get my work permit extended to Oct 2009 as it is only good for my old visa. Fun!

Luckily, since Al had time off he could come too so we really did get to have a little fun.

We usually try to stay at a different guesthouse every time we go as there are endless options. This time we stayed at Your House Guesthouse where we got an aircon room for 500 baht (about $15). It was sparse but clean with good hot water showers. The family that runs the place were very friendly and helpful. I had read a few reviews indicating that they pressured people to book treks but they didn't do that to us at all.

So far, no place has come close to beating Three Sis, a lovely guesthouse filled with open spaces, waterfountains, and Lanna art, located in front of Chedi Luang.

Anyway, we got a chance to walk around the sunday night market and have a nice glass of wine at a quaint little antique store-- old records, Buddha statues, and wine? Of course.

We did do a trek, although just a short day trek. I can't say if I recommend it or not. It was right for us as we just wanted to get a taste for everything. We had a private tour, which was ideal as we didn't have to stick to a strict schedule. Our guide, Lulu, who is actually from a hilltribe himself, took us to sites when he knew there would be less people. This payed off as we really did seem to miss the busses by a few minutes at each stop.

Even though it's called a trek, we didn't do any "treking". We wewre driven in an air conditioned car from place to place, starting with the orchid and butterfly farm. It was small, and souvenirs were a big focus, but the displays showing how orchids are farmed were interesting and of course, the flowers were beautiful!

Next stop was an elephant camp. As it's in the mountains it's rather atmospheric seeing the elephants (this camp hosted 75 of them) amongst the trees and playing in the river. However, these are captive elephants, trained to put on a show every day and cart falang like us around every day (falang= foreigner). I'm sure it beats logging though, which is how the elephants used to be employed before it was banned in 1989. The show was definitely entertaining, my favorite part being the man vs. elephant dart tournament.

Next stop was to see the hilltribes. This part we had mixed feelings about. There's a lot of controversy about visiting hilltribes, on one hand you are disrupting village life and potentially causing a dependency on tourists on the other hand, it is the 21st century so isolation is a bit of a dream (in Thailand anyway) and, supposedly, many tribes welcome the income opportunity. The "village" we went to was a creation for tourists, which was clear as soon as we pulled up. There's a welcome sign and everything. Eventually our guide explained to us that the people we were seeing only come here during the day. They demonstrate how to make their handicrafts and sell things, then return to their real villages at night. People from the Black Karen, Lisu, and Longneck Karen tribes were represented here, each in their own section of the "village". At first we were dissapointed, but really, this sort of setup helps prevent our intrusion into real village life and made us feel less awkward about taking pictures (always ask first!) and asking questions. Our guide knew some old ladies there and we were happily the only tourists invited in for lunch. Spicy stuff!!! One of the ladies kept giggling at me and htting my arm, good times were had by all.

From there we went for a jungle elephant ride, followed by a small bit of river rafting (only a level II) and some bamboo rafting. The bamboo rafting, to me, was terrifying. You're just sitting on bamboo, which sinks a bit so the water is flowing over and around you. You are in the horrible, brown river (which I imagine has horrible creatures in it. I was glad to get out.

Well, a good day of adventure anyway!

We're back to work now, I'll let you know how that's going in a later post.

Orchids


IMG_0102, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

At the orchid farm.

Karen Longneck tribe.


IMG_0138, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

This woman spoke English better than most of my students.

Hilltribes


IMG_0141, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Through the rice fields to the "village". It wasn't a real village, more of a living museum with representative people from different tribes, selling their wares and giving weaving demonstrations.

Chiang Mai Hilltrek


IMG_0166, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Yay, elephants!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Doo doo doo...

Al and I are always catching ourselves singing this song. It's on about every five seconds and, so far, it's the only Thai song we can sing along with!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Noisy Neighbors--- A Universal Problem

sometimes fireworks are just too loudImage by Malingering via FlickrI've certainly had my fair share of loud neighbors in the past-- from the fraternity guys playing beer pong above me while I was finishing my thesis in Albany, to the young family with the new puppy in Korea--- who would throw him outside whenever he got to loud for them--- but this time is different. Apparently, we're not allowed to complain!

We are in a modest condo-type home but next to us--- one wall only two meters from ours, is a rather large home with a big yard. The only neighbors from this home that have ever come out and waved is a middle aged woman who I suspect is a maid or nanny. I don't mind them keeping to ourselves, in fact, I wish they did so more! Two or three times a month these guys have huge parties. They go all out-- tables and chairs are brought in, a stage is set up with a huge screen for karaoke and dozens of cars line up on our tiny street. These parties are always on weekdays and always go on until the wee hours of the morning--- bad Thai karaoke the whole way through (bad, as in the singing).

Usually we are able to muddle through with earplugs but tonight- no. Tonight they have hired a live band, whose bass is turned up so high that although we cannot hear the vocals, our windows are shaking and my ears keep popping. No kidding.

But can we go over and throw a fit? Plead and beg for mercy?

When we asked our landlady how we should approach our neighbors about this problem she responded "Do not say anything! They will kill you!"

WHAT? They will kill us? Who the @#!% are these people?

So far, no answers-- we've asked around and the guesstimations are split between them being local mafia or actually the head police.

Whoever they are-- they suck. Wish me luck as I try to drug myself to sleep (don't worry. over the counter sleeping pills, no more than the recommended dosage)



P.S. To all you worrywarts out there--- Thai people, in fact, most people on earth, do not randomly kill their neighbors-- I expect these people are no exception. I get the impression that my landlady just wanted to make sure that we didn't do anything stupid, and does not really think we would be killed. Thai people are known for not getting angry or overreacting to things but Westerners are known here as being the opposite-- so they worry about us.


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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wat Yai, Phitsanulok


IMG_0455, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Al, checking out the market goods on the grounds of Wat Yai.

Wat Yai, Phitsanulok


IMG_0456o, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, Buddha........

Wat Yai


IMG_0464, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

The main Buddha at Wat Yai (there are hundreds of Buddhas throughout the complex). This was a very active temple-- lots of worshipers, music and dance performances, a market... great fun!

Wat Yai, Phitsanulok


Kitty, Wat Yai, Phitsanulok, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Cats love the Buddha!

Troubles

I just want to remind everyone that we are nowhere near the parts of the country that have been experiencing violence in the recent weeks, Bangkok and the Cambodian border to be specific. We are hours and hours away and these troubles have not affected our lives here--- other than to provide a topic of conversation.

So, don't worry!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Geckos Galore


IMG_0007, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Geckos are everywhere in our house. Of course, these teeny ones are our favorite.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Back to Thailand

LangsatImage by robstephaustralia via FlickrAlthough I have one more post about Mongolia, and posts about Beijing and Ko Samui, I will interrupt now for some Uttaradit updates.

The Langsat Festival (pictures below) is the biggest celebration in Uttaradit. This province is known for the langsat fruit--- a small, round fleshy fruit that you have to peel-- similar to lychees. The festival lasted a week and included rides, concerts, markets, muay thai (kickboxing) and the parade. We went there every night for the food stalls.

Catching my first muay thai match was one highlight of the week. I never had a huge desire to see any kind of fighting but, I must admit, the atmosphere was rather exciting around the ring as the fight geared up to begin. In Bangkok and any of the tourist spots in Thailand muay thai can see a bit gimmicky as they try to bring in the crowds but here it was all locals, just crowding around the ring, standing in the dirt, and placing bets. From what I could gather the older competitior was a champion from Vietnam who was being challenged by a young, Thai guy. Although the younger dude got in a few punches, the Vietnamese man was clearly the better fighter and seemed to defeat him easily. It wasn't shocking, brutal stuff at all, like I hear it was in the old days--- actually, it was quite entertaining and exciting.

The other highlight was the parade, which showcased all of the things Uttaradit Province has to offer. Floats represented different fruits from the region, high school marching bands participated, and men and women walked in formation promoting their trades, from loom weaving to fishing. Good show!
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IMG_0352


IMG_0352, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

Miss Langsat.

Langsat Festival, Uttaradit

IMG_0305


IMG_0305, originally uploaded by MacKensie!.

The parade showcased local produce and handicrafts.

Langsat Parade, Uttaradit