Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

I feel the need to talk to you about footpaths and what they mean in various countries I have lived in. Since I’ve previously done toilets of the world, I thought it time.

Now in your own country, footpaths or pavements are no doubt used for walking on and are generally well kept, some even have nature strips and trees planted. This is not the case everywhere, trust me. Taking them for granted is something I no longer do.

In Nicaragua, well there weren’t any and you walked on the dusty side of the roadway leaving yourself wide open to having your butt grabbed by passengers in the back of the many trucks/utes that pass by. This of course causes great argument about whose turn it is to walk on the outside…hoho. However, it also carries some risk from rather crazy taxi drivers who honk all the way trying to fill their cabs up, or other vehicles just trying to get past a line of traffic….on the inside.

In Tallinn, the footpaths are wide and generally well cared for in most parts of the town. However, when the Russians were there, not a lot of car parking was required and so parking space is at a premium. Hence, the wide footpaths are the next best thing and very often you find yourself having to walk on the roadway because the footpath is full of cars. Too, it’s not a rare thing to find yourself walking along and having a car come at you, blaring his horn as if he had the right of way. Come wintertime though, the footpaths are generally not very populated by pedestrians as any slight warming causes great icicles to form on the eaves of the buildings and these crack and fall killing approx 4-6 people a year. Residents put great slats of wood across the pavements warning people of the icicles overhead.

Interested so far? I hope so.

In Mozambique, footpaths are there, but are a danger in themselves. Some have great holes in them. I’m not talking potholes…some of these are seemingly bottomless open drains and in the dark, you can’t see them. You will smell them before you ever see them. Tree roots also play a major part in uprooting the footpaths and making them higgledy piggledy. Concrete blocks are often stolen from the paths as they are very useful around the home. They are badly maintained and always an obstacle course. The trick is to know your street and what obstacles there are to be avoided. At night on a new street, walk on the road….simple really. Trust me, I once saw the whole front end of a ute totally swallowed by one of these wondrous holes in a footpath.

Doha on the other hand, has some extremely lovely footpaths. Course no one walks there, so they are generally deserted. However, this also means that date palms, freely planted on the nature strips, are not trimmed to make way for pedestrians and you may find yourself having to duck and weave to avoid the large fronds. Road works are a constant and so paths are torn up without any real consideration to those few of us who might actually use the footpath. In general though, they are pretty, but rarely used due to the heat.

Finally I come to Thailand…and Hat Yai in particular. Footpaths here are a mixture of heights and widths and this along one stretch is not uncommon. You can find yourself stepping up and then down or over open drains. There may be portions made of wooden decking and others of concrete block, while outside some of the shops, ceramic tiles…slippery when wet…are the go. Even the plain concrete is a slippery danger when wet. It seems that every business is responsible for providing its own piece of pavement. This strictly speaking is not true of course, but the patchwork of heights and surfaces would certainly lead one to believe so. However, this is not so difficult to overcome, it’s the general usage of the paths that comes into question. Footpaths here are obviously for doing business on and cafes set up and block entire lengths of streets. If this is not the case, they are certainly for parking your car across…and most definitely a favoured place for parking the motorbike…which again can be met head on, the driver thinking he has right of way. So, not only do they do business and park on the damn things, but a café whose tables and cooking area is actually inside a building will often bring all the plates and pots out onto the footpath to wash them in great tubs using a hose. Cheap telephone stalls set up on footpaths too and hawkers sit outside the massage parlours and try to draw you in. This along with all manner of mobile signage and numerous large potted plants as well as large ceramic fish bowls…are you getting the picture?

In the souk, well, the path is wide enough for barely more than one person as stalls are all the way along the footpath and just outside them, motorcycle parking, so to walk, if not slowly like a turtle through the souk, you must walk quite a ways out on the road and hope some avid tuk tuk driver or motorcyclist doesn’t get too close to you on the narrow streets.

Ok, now you’ve had your general tour of footpaths of the world, more about life in Hat Yai.

This is, as I believe I may have said, the transport hub of Thailand and all goods which come in by road pass through here. Its not a great tourist spot, well not unless you are a Malaysian or perhaps a Bangkok resident. The shopping is great especially if you are after some of the wonderful Thai food ingredients and of course copy clothing and dvds abound….this is the land of copy….even though it is illegal.

This weekend saw a festival to highlight the offerings of Hat Yai. Streets were closed off to traffic and there was a runway erected for a massive fashion show. This I didn’t bother with as the fashions were all from the surrounding shops and of course made for tiny Thai women…..forget our rather larger western bodies. Along the street further, amongst all the food and souvenir stalls, were crowds of people around cats brought from the Songkla Zoo. There were two very young lion cubs and a couple of even younger tiger cubs….these in straw covered small pens. However, chained to a large block of wood was a young cheetah, by all accounts well used to being handled. He was being passed around like a kitten and was happily taking all the tummy rubs he could get, with a bite or two thrown in for good measure. A few yards on was a 7 month old tiger, also chained to a lump of wood. By the time I got to see him close up, he’d had enough and lay down to take a nap. He was not going to get up for anyone and lay there and totally ignored the throng of onlookers. He was beautiful I have to say, but my heart cries out for them to be back in their native surroundings rather than a cage in a zoo or tied up for public display. At least the elephants they used to have here wandered freely…with their mahmouts, but not chained and certainly not manhandled by throngs of visitors.

The crowds over this festival weekend were much larger than the usual weekend crowds and moving about was really a pain in the butt. Asian people have to be the slowest moving people on earth. They think nothing of blocking the tiny pathways to talk to a friend while lines of people gather behind them…too polite to say excuse me. Its something you have to get used to and I never did completely. I’m constantly saying ‘Kator ka’ as I make my way through, much too impatient to wait on their seemingly endless chatter.

The traffic is itself something of interest as people drive down one way streets the wrong way or just plain down the wrong side of the road. It appears to be a little more organized than when I was last here, but old habits die hard. Motorcycles….well 125cc versions…are still the most popular and affordable and range from the really ancient to the sparkling new. Many have attachments made for them….carts where they make and sell somtam….traditional green papaya salad….or perhaps fruit on ice, ready cut for eating. Some have canopies over them to protect them from the sun, the less fortunate either go without or have large sun umbrellas attached in some way. This works two fold of course, as protection from rain is also afforded in the same way. Ice is delivered this way to the many bars and restaurants, in large sacks sitting in the side cars attached to motorcycles. The one I see most regularly is the ice lady that comes daily to The Post, one of my favourite haunts. She is a small woman, typically Thai, but she carries the sacks of ice on one shoulder from her cycle outside, into the restaurant. One at a time, without any sign of strain. The sacks are large and she is so small, I wonder at her strength. Women work hard here, much harder than a lot of the men…..that is my perception at least. Some motorcyclists tow trailer type structures. The small trailers have a kind of handlebar for pushing the two wheeled cart, but when on a moto, you can put this handlebar under your butt or have a passenger hold it as you drive along.

Children too are passengers, from the very tiny to the older. Sometimes whole families of four or more are transported on the one cycle. Babies are carried by their mothers, who very often sit side saddle, toddlers may have a special seat in front of the driver so that they can hold onto the handle bars…..and the others…well Thai bodies are tiny and you can get quite a few on the length of seat. Only the driver wears a safety helmet.

It was the Queen’s birthday here on Aug 12 and that automatically makes it mother’s day, and a public holiday. Much was closed but the afternoon saw the tourist places open for business. Queen Sirikit, still amazingly beautiful at her age…I think early 70s now….is as much loved as her husband and is responsible for many of the initiatives that have aided the poor people of the country. At night, there were explosive fireworks all around the country. Here in Hat Yai, they were so loud, one would be forgiven for thinking that gw’s (lower case intentional) shock and awe had arrived. Beautiful though they were, the noise was just way too much for me and I gave up watching to find a slightly quieter spot.

For those of you who know nothing about the King, he is the longest reigning monarch in the world. Since 1946 I believe….dont quote me. He is an avid musician and has written much music, some of it very good jazz. In the picture theatre, you still stand for the King’s song, much as we did in the old days to God save the Queen. He is not involved with the Govt at all and spends his time tirelessly working for the good of the country and the poor. He is much, much loved.

Though people tend to think of the tropics as hives of activity for creepy crawlies, in the cities I don’t find that so. Sure there are cockroaches, but they pretty much stay outside…well certainly from my place anyhow. But ants….they are everywhere. Not great ants you can see coming like in Africa, but the tiniest little things, and they get everywhere., You don’t have to have food lying around….I certainly don’t have any in my room, but they are there anyhow…..and they bite. More annoying than anything else I have to admit, but just part of the place. In Australia ants are also very common and so these little guys don’t bother me much at all.

Well, I think I’ve rambled on about as long as I can for now. I’m sure there will be more to tell you in the next edition. I want, at this stage, to send a special thought to my brother Jo, who just had open heart surgery and is recovering, and also to little Sarah, who just had her first birthday.


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I know that I haven’t written for ages bar the odd personal mail, but to be honest, there was probably not a lot of interest to tell you. The school year has now finished and the last week or so were very stressful in many ways, but also very warm and fuzzy in others. Let me expand on that for you.

Thinking about leaving the country, I had assumed that I could finish the school year and then take a week or at least a few days to pack up and get sorted before leaving. This would have been a relaxing way to do it, but this was not to be. The powers that be at the school didn’t bother to inform me till it came up in an unexpected way….but in essence, even though my residence permit was valid to the end of August, the school cancelled it as of June 24, my last day at school. This meant that I had to be completely organized and packed before I finished work and I had to leave on the last day of school. So, packers were organized to get my things as near as possible to the end, and during the last week I had to get clearance from the bank and telecom company etc….all this whilst working. Without these, you don’t get paid rather a large sum they keep back and in some cases, threats are made to stop you from leaving the country. We also had reports to finish up, and this in itself is a most convoluted process, but I won’t bore you with that…trust me though, it takes a lot more time than it should. All in all, the leaving process could be much more pleasant and easy, but the school itself is the cause of most of the hassles.

Kids of course were dropping off and numbers were small and so we were babysitting basically and trying to keep them amused…thank heavens for my large library of movies….we did make use of it rather liberally.

My kids had already been told that I was not coming back next year and this caused quite some tears among the girls classes, but in that last week, this got worse and the last day had me hugging sobbing children and me in tears as well. Though I will say that it’s a wonderful feeling that they love me as much as they do, it’s really heartbreaking when they are so upset, remembering that to 11-14 year olds, little things are very dramatic and so the sobbing was full on believe me. I spent a lot of time with them in and out of school and tried to fit in my own friends as well….this is often a very fine balancing act, and in the end, you always end up missing someone…and then feeling bad. The kids though, were essentially the good bit that got us through all the other crap.

The last day was horrendous with lots to do and this being delayed due to waiting for the final inspection on my flat, drapes not due from dry cleaners till 5 and me due to leave just after 6. In the end, a friend offered to hang the drapes for me the next day, I was never going to get it done.

Another friend took me to the airport and it was nice to have someone to see me off, but again emotional.

I had booked only as far as Dubai because at the time they took my passport for the exit permit I still had no idea of what I was doing….and at this stage though I have a special iron in the fire, I shall keep that under my hat till I know for sure that all is going ahead.

From Dubai I headed for Thailand and my old stomping ground of Hat Yai. Here I feel well at home and I certainly needed someplace to just relax after the frenzy of the last week or so in Doha.

After a grueling argument with Emirates Airways, which I will endeavour never to use again, I finally got to Thailand and booked a domestic to Hat Yai where I headed for my old home, Boonchai Mansion.

For those of you who missed my Thai adventures the first time round, Hat Yai is a smallish town, compared to Bangkok, but is the transport hub for all goods coming in and out of Thailand from Malaysia and Singapore. I’ts only about an hour from the Malaysian border so is well situated to do some tripping if desired. It’s a bustling little town with a great, though small, souk and more bars and cafes than you could ever dream of. Everywhere in than main town area is within walking distance basically and once out of Boonchai, there are 20 cafes and about the same number of bars…all featuring live music….within 1-5 minute’s walk from my door.

The smells are familiar, the noises are too and basically everything about the place makes me feel comfortable. Little has changed in the 3 years I’ve been away. A few places have closed up….my favourite noodle shop for one….but several more have opened. The family of rats still lives under the carpark and I saw one of its members the other day, looking very healthy I might add. They were there through my time here and survived the floods, so it was heartening to see they haven’t abandoned their home. Yes, I know that to most of you seeing a rat in the carpark would be horrendous, but they are part and parcel of this place. Its not that there is a lot of rubbish lying around, on the contrary, it is very clean, but they do have to live somewhere and I prefer them to cockroaches thanks.

I bought a bowl and spoon so that I can take home noodle soup of a night but for the rest, I will go out for everything as is the way of things here. I’m even doing without coffee since I havent got round to buying a kettle. Coffee is had when I go out of a morning.

I am swimming most mornings at one of the hotel pools and it’s really nice because I have the pool to myself. Even in the rain, when the attendant thinks I am a crazy woman, I swim. Other than that, I go out for brunch and watch a movie in my favourite café whilst lazing on one of the couches and drinking iced coffee. Not a great deal of activity, but certainly very relaxing.

People here havent changed either, they are still wonderfully warm and friendly. My language skills are coming back slowly and I’m pleased about that. The girls at Boonchai remembered me as did the people at the cafes I frequented. Even the band at the West Side Saloon remembered and gave me the same welcome I always got when I was last here. Woohoo….I must have been a noisy one or something…..but I’ll keep that part secret.

I’ve met up with old colleagues and also a family I used to teach privately. They invited me to dinner and remembered my favourite green curry along with other wonderfully piquant dishes. I had to get used to eating while being watched again. Basically, they feed everyone first and then you come and they again lay the table with many dishes and everyone sits around and watches you eat. You do get used to it, but be aware that you are expected to do the amount of food justice as this is a direct reflection on the quality of the food. Dinner is early in this household…at 6.30 and so you are gone by 8.30. They are a working family and get up early each day. The kids have grown of course, but are still delightful and very bright.

My body clock does not however, seem to want to change much. Though there is only 4 hours difference between Doha and Thailand, I can’t get myself to bed at a reasonable hour. I end up staying up till 3 or 4 am and then waking about 8. This morning I didn’t even bother…I lay down for about an hour and when it was light outside, I just got up and here I am talking to you lot. Maybe ill get more into the hours here as time goes on….I don’t know, and right now it’s not important because I don’t have to get up at a particular hour.

I’ve now been here more than two weeks and though I’m getting more sleep than before, the hours are still whacky. Considering it is winter and the rainy season, we have had little rain, but not to worry, the south will have ‘the more rainy season’ after this one. There is little chance of a drought down this end of the country.

It is not difficult to keep myself occupied. I can wander through the souk or the fruit and vege market till the cows come home. There is always something happening there and I like to watch life here. The cinema is good too and there is a new complex on top of a shopping complex in the twon centre, but the old ‘Diana’ complex is still the best with a better variety and more in English. Course the reclining seats I the theatres are just wonderful and I’ve not experienced those in any other country.

The souk sells an enormous range of goods from plastic junkware through to high end electronics. Many fakes are also sold and you will know the difference when you ask the price.  Vibrators stand among bottles of perfume in full view, whereas men’s sex toys are in glass cases with the binoculars and pocket knives…..I wonder if there is a reason behind that? Dvds of course are everywhere but care is taken not to have stock at the stalls. You tell them what you want from the covers and they jog off somewhere secret to get them. Of course they are copies….this is the land of copy….but I guess that not having them on site prevents them being trashed when the police do the odd run through. Prices are very cheap with a dvd costing less than 4 euros.

Business is tight for them at the moment…..this is not a tourist town….certainly not western tourists, but they usually do a bustling trade with Bangkok people who come here to shop. The numbers visiting here have dropped remarkably since the trouble with muslim extremists began. Several schools have been burnt and there have been two major gun battles in small towns close to Hat Yai, one that killed 100 odd people.

Its very sad because it is safe here. 99% of the muslims get on very well with the Buddhists and just want to live their lives. The actions of a few have affected the livelihoods of many,,,…its always the way.

Entry into the country has also changed. Whereas I would normally automatically get a three month visa, this time I was only stamped with one month, so in a week or so I have to do a border run to renew the visa.

The saddest change for me is that they have finally banned the elephants from coming to town in the winter when there is no work. It was one of my biggest joys to see the elephants here in the streets, but this is no more. I wonder what happens now to the really old ones that cant work….or to the mothers with babies.

Huge numbers of foot massage salons have opened up here and I have been making liberal use of them, but I very much miss my salon afternoons once a week in Doha. I get a shampoo here just for the great head massage that goes with it, but the blow dry is not great. If you are a Thai, then fine, but my hair is not Thai hair and this straight hanging, no body thing doesn’t work for me. Course they are not qualified hairdressers and so you can’t expect more than a cursory job anyhow. I have yet to find a place for a manicure and pedicure……lol…oh the small luxuries we don’t want to live without…..how shallow we become.

Anyway, I’m going to stop for now and send this off so you all know where I am. I have been dreadfully remiss in not writing chronicles over the last few months but feel confident that now I will at least have something to say again.

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