Tuesday, 26 February 2008

My Neighbour...

My neighbour died this morning. It wasn't completely unexpected as he has been sick for a long time but it's a shock none the less as just yesterday he was walking around outside. He had breathing problems in the afternoon so they took him to hospital and this morning I see an ambulance arrive next door. I was surprised, thinking he was getting dropped back home, but no, he had died at the hospital this morning and they were bringing his body back home for the ceremonial bathing and funeral. Within 5 minutes of arriving, about 50 people showed up, within 15 minutes, about a hundred had shown up. The death is also announced by the Village Headman over the village loud speakers (that blare the provincial news at 5:45am every morning) for the world to hear. It's times like this where the cultural differences are so vastly apparent. Everyone goes to pay their respect, to view the body and help out if they can. His body was frail, it was just so sad. He was 62.

Another massive cultural difference is that of showing grief. Not a wet eye in the place. Blank faces or smiles. The mask. As soon as I saw him I was trying to hold back tears. I can understand it if it's an elderly person as you are celebrating the end of a long life, which I suppose is the case here as he was over 60 and in Thailand that is considered quite old. I don't find it strange, just quite amazing that tears don't come spontaneously at loosing a loved one. But Death is such a common thing to deal with in Thailand, it is a completely normal part of life, whereas in our isolated 'western' culture, we rarely have to deal with death, it is not a constant in our life and therefore, perhaps the loss feels more extreme. As I have said before, since living here (over 3 years) I have lost count of the funerals I've attended but it feels like about 50 as some months there can be 3 or more and then other months none.

After death, the body is washed by the family as soon as possible after their spirit has gone. Then at 3pm more masses came to "Rod Nam" which is to bless him and pay last respects by pouring water over his hand. Everyone stands in line to perform this rite as it's like a last goodbye. The immediate family stands in 2 lines at the end of the body for people to walk down the middle to accept their thanks for the blessing.

They have a commentator on the microphone (the same dude that did our wedding commentary) telling people about his life, his accomplishments, his family, cracking jokes. It's unfortunate and quite embarrassing that even after living here for 3 years I'm still made the centre of attention at things like this. As I went to rod nam (pour water), the commentator makes a big show of it, telling the guy to take my photo whilst doing it. Yep, not uncomfortable at all. It's pretty much just this dude cos at all the other funerals and weddings I attend that have a different speaker, they never draw special attention to me, but this dude ALWAYS, without fail, shouts my name out to the masses, every time. If I hear him on the microphone I try to turn invisible as I know I have that special power! Something I can definitely not get used to and I find rather painful, but in reality there's no blending in being the only whitey in town.

After the watering is finished, 5 monks showed up to perform the death rites by chanting for about 20 minutes. They will come every afternoon for 3 to 7 days, depending on when the body is cremated, in what I like to think of as helping his spirit on its journey. Exceptionally beautiful and something I never tire of hearing is monks chanting.. sweet bliss. The monks perform the rites sitting next to the body.

Within the hour of his arrival back home a myriad of activities were afoot. A truck full of karaoke speakers were delivered to the property, about 10 men had set up camp at the front of the house to get on the piss (get sloshed, maggot, drunk if you don't get the lingo), 3 tents and hundreds of chairs put out for the week's party, a pig was slaughtered to start cooking all the curry and the massive, sparkly air-conditioned coffin arrives. Now last time I wrote about the air-con coffin here, I felt a little silly thinking I had imagined this funky technology to keep the bods on ice, but not so I tell thee, not so.. check out the power cord in this pic with a little tube for the water runoff. My village is obviously very 21st century when dealing with the departed! So, this hive of activity is pretty much how it goes down at every lay person's funeral in Thailand, it's like clockwork.

Just to note - J took the photos of his own accord as I would feel too disrespectful (and actually quite horrified at the thought...although I'm using them here - bit oxymoronic really) but he assured me it was completely normal which was proved correct when I saw 2 others also taking photos.

As it's 9pm and no vibrating airwaves from a dozen metre tall speakers, I shall live in hope that people are too distracted by gambling (there's about 60 people next door as we speak, gambling) to turn on the karaoke machine tonight. I shall wait in anticipation for it to begin...

Friday, 22 February 2008

Bangkok Interview, Fab Food and Fab Friends

What a week! Firstly, the interview was fab fab fab, to put it lightly. All my research over the last month, all the 50 pages of hundreds of potential interview questions I might be asked, led me to that interview room with surprising confidence. They allowed me to peruse the interview questions for a few minutes before the attack, and I actually laughed when I saw it.... 4 questions!! Huge sigh of relief. Next, onto the interrogation room where I was met by 2 lovely Aussie dudes and a Thai chic, 2 smiling.... I was feelin' good. The interview only took about 20 minutes and felt more like a friendly chat and I walked out with big smiles and hoping like hellooga that this will be my new work abode in the not too distant future. As expected, everything is running on muted Thai Time, so they won't let me know for 3 weeks or so! Actually, the boss is going on holidays so they weren't sure if a decision will be made before or after the holiday.

Nextly, I got to meet 2 of my faborama blog friends who reside in Bangkok... and I realised within 5 minutes of talking to them that I actually do put 'rama' on the end of words when I'm talking in the flesh! hmm, embarrassment! Will have to curb that if I become some sort of professional office worker! Anyhoo, jj from Tea Stains, and Carol from Only in Thailand, are 2 of the most lovely, generous women I have ever met and I praise the day I decided to start a blog as I've 'met' so many amazing people through it. I originally didn't tell anyone about this blog cos I was just venting my need to 'speak' English to someone (I'm very friendly with my computer!) but then somewhere along the line decided to go public with it, and a fine decision it was.

We had decided to meet for lunch, and knowing that they are ladies who 'do lunch' ;-p, I left the decision to the experts. So, off we went to a Lebanese restaurant that unfortunately I can't give free press to as I've forgotten the name, by oh my lordy lord, if I wasn't transported to an alternate reality of divine bliss eating that sumptuous food. Oh, the variety, oh the vine leaves, oh the falafel and dips and bibs and bobs. If I hadn't already loved those gals, I would have fallen right then and there!

A sign of good things to come is that I really enjoyed my flying visit to the big city.. the thought of having friends again is a humongo, top of the list advantage, followed by being able to go shopping. Ooops, how could I forget above all having FREEDOM is of course numero uno!

To go backwards in my story... by some strange lapse in judgment we decided to get the train up to Bangkok. Now, they always tell you it will be a 14 hour trip but without fail, it is never, ever less then 16 hours from here to Bangkok. I have done this trip many a time in various carriages ranging from second class seating air-con, seating fan, sleeper air-con, sleeper fan and had definitely concluded that sleeper air is the most comfy. The trains are in seating position in the daylight hours and at about 7.30pm they change them into beds. Very funky indeed how they change into bunk beds. The top bunk is 100 baht cheaper cos it's about 20cm narrower then the lower bunk. Surprisingly comfortable but this particular ride we were right near the doors so had a craphouse sleep due to the constant opening and closing of the doors for 16 hours.

I spend a bit of time feeling like I have it pretty bad living with my MIL, but I had a reality check in between looking at the gorgeous views on the way to the big city. This man was digging a hole in a field of millions of rocks. About 10 metres away there was another man doing the same thing. Mysterious rock diggers. Note to self.. potential new career to escape the house of doom?

One thing I really love about Bangkok is the excellent transport system. The skytrain and the underground are awesome. This is the underground train... bloody freezing on board but fabulously cheap and easy to get around.

This last pic is my farewell to Suvanabhumi Airport in Bangkok, hope to see you again real soon!

Monday, 18 February 2008

Gonna eat some popsicles...

Hip yah, hoo ha, hooray and all that jazz! I'm on my way to sunny, smoggy Bangkok this afternoon to meet my fate on Wednesday when I have a job interview!!

I'm feeling like my life events to this point have all been for the sole purpose of getting this job... 3 years in a village will do that to the mind! So now it is blindingly obvious how dire the situation living with the inlaws is in my affectionately termed "house of doom".... choosing a big polluted city with 8 million other people, or quiet, fresh air, rice fields and lots of trees. Let the insanity begin! or continue I should say.

Can't wait to blow this popsicle stand!

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Big Day for Australia

Thai politics and politicians may have gone down the toilet with the recent change in government but I've got to say that Australia's new government led by Kevi baby (aka Kevin Rudd) absolutely craps on the previous Liberal John Howard run fiasco.

I'm not staunchly nationalistic, but that said, I do love my birth country and would not wish to be any other nationality but Australian. Without bias (ha! much) Australia is the best country in the world to come from. Today was huge for Australian history... the Australian government finally apologised to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generation. Reading the news this morning actually made me teary reading the apology.. just imagining how the people affected by this travesty would have felt hearing an official apology and recognition for what happened.

In a brazil nut the Stolen Generation refers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were forcibly removed from their families to be placed in state housing or with white families in what the government considered a rescue mission for half-castes living in poor, degraded communities to become 'civilised' with better life prospects and many believe to breed out the colour to 'eradicate the black race'. This was legally carried out by government officials, police and religious groups between 1880 and 1969, with the crux of it happening in the 1930s. It is estimated that well over 100,000 children were forcibly removed from their parents, community and culture.

From an official report written in 1997:
"Nationally we can conclude with confidence that between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities in the period from approximately 1910 until 1970. In certain regions and in certain periods the figure was undoubtedly much greater than one in ten."

From Big Kev's speech:
"Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment...We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry."

While Johnny Howard didn't deny the stolen generation happened (one of his MPs did) he refused outright to apologise, not wanting to open his government up to potential financial responsibility for admitting fault, Rudd's apology goes beyond being a mere political stunt but showing someone with progressive thinking not stuck in the last century. That's not to say that I love the dude or anything, just that he's a better leader then the previous government we had for 11 years.

Yay to the new government and yay to lots of positive action being taken!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Around the village...

Went trippin' on the motorbike this arv to enjoy the fabioso weather. Who would've thought that rainy season ended less then 2 months ago, it's so dry now.

This limestone mountain is about a km and a half from our house and has a fresh water stream running under it with dozens of little caves.

Scaled a few mountain cliffs...

Saw some fabulously green vines (haven't touched up these photos at all)

Saw lots of rice fields being ploughed..

Was inspired by a banana tree...

Saw a disturbing case of pollution... thousands of mushroom bags dumped in a local creek

And saw lots n lots of rice drying on the side of the road, all the way home...

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Heathy baby...

Being an Aussie, I'm feelin' a lil sad about the whole Heath Ledger thing so thought I'd put a bit of a tribute to him here. This song was written by Ben Harper *sigh* at the request of Heath to write a lullaby for his new daughter... it's very sweet and sad.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

In the beginning...

Today was a lil bit special... Not only because it was dearheart husband's birthday, but today we also celebrate the very moment that we first met, all those (several!) years ago. Let me take you strollin'...

Twas mid afternoon on a rip roaringly hot day that February 5th long past. I had taken 2 days off from the volunteer centre at Khao Lak to do a visa run to oh so unlovely Ranong. Gruesome border run that one! Black, oily rivers and having to trudge through sludge if the tide is out to get to the boat is not a pleasant experience!! After having finished my visa run I had stopped in at an internet shop to check my email and a Swiss dude next to me starts a convo with me about the fact that he has a huge box of tools to deliver to the tsunami affected area. "Well!" I exclaimed merrily, "isn't it just a coincidence that I am working in the very area you wish to go, bring me your tools oh messenger you"...or along those lines anyhoo, memories faded a little since then! Then, mid conversation Mr Cuteo futurehusbandtobe walks in with a face splitting smile to light up my life for all of approximately 1 minute of hellos, then goodbyes, with Mr. Swiss promising to deliver the tools to the Tsunami Centre.

So, a couple of weeks pass and I didn't think of it again UNTIL one fabulous morning I walk out the front of the centre to see that amazing smiling little guy again (the future husband!) and the soon to be realised complete ass of a Swiss guy standing, as promised with a massive box of all the tools you could think of! Within minutes Jay is hauled off to start working with a group of Thai folk building stuff and next thing you know, it's 3 days later and Mr. Smiley is inviting me to his village to take a break from the centre... he's promising hot springs, lush waterfalls, tropical gorgeousity...how could I possibly refuse! And the rest as they say, is history... well, after going back to work at the centre for a few more months and J and I alternately visiting each other every couple of weeks, I eventually moved to the ville and we got married 7 months later...can't go living in sin y'all! Actually, it was more of a when you know, you know scenario, so why wait cos I'm obviously quite comfortable living in hell as demonstrated by my ability to live with evil incarnate for the last 2 years, nine months!

Photos show the happy birthday boy with gourmet lunch.
Lunch was Pla Dook Fu = crispy cat fish and mango salad (highly recommend this as it's my absolute hands down favourite Thai dish when made correctly!)
Kua Kling Gai Ban = round roasted house chicken! Only recommended if you want to burn your stomach lining off, have a burning ring of fire in the morning and want to eat lots of bones.
Tom Yum Tale = spicy sour seafood soup (yumalicious and then some)
The lovely restaurant..

Monday, 4 February 2008

Reading is so much fun....

Thought I'd discuss some of the world changing events that are featuring on the main news stories in Thailand for the last 2 days. Since it made the headline news last night and several news breaks during the day today, I thought it worthy of my attention...

Seems some naughty boys and girls have been using the Nakon Si Thammarat Public Library to do the do. Seems they busted a couple of young teenagers going for it and found an accumulated mess in the corner which suggests this has been quite the den of sin for some time. The good (but oh so ewwwy) thing is, they found condoms shoved in several of the books, so at least the little devils are playing safe. It's got the nation in quite the uproar with library staff vowing to patrol their turf with new vigor.

What I do love about the Thai news is that no matter the situation, whether it be a shooting, road accident, cum stains on a wall, there is always someone (usually the perpetrator) there in the picture pointing at close proximity to their sinfulness in a reenactment for the entire nation to behold. Hopefully they won't cuff the naughty duo and force them to do a reenactment for the cameras as most other criminals are made to do by 50 cops and a barrage of news cameras. I guess the power of public humiliation should never be underestimated.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Chicken Anonymous...

Is it possible to be addicted to chicken? I actually think I'm reaching saturation point where I'm never going to be able to eat chicken again due to our neighbour directly across the street selling fried chicken and sticky rice (with fried crispy onion) every day this week. Her chicken is delectable...it screams out to me to dare me to bite into the crispy, secret recipe flesh, the smell wafting up my nasal cavities ceaselessly teasing, teasing...I gave into temptation again today and now feel quite nauseated...Funny thing is that I used to be vegetarian in my Australian life. I still remember my 21 birthday driving behind a chicken transport truck and all the back chickens were dead...I had already given up red meat for a few years by this time, but white breasted chicken was my weakness...until I saw that truck and didn't eat chicken again until 3 and a half years ago while travelling in South America... it was for the vitamins I told myself and a better option then fried guinea pig, or so I thought at the time! So down, down I went into the decadent world of flesh eating once more, only feeling the occasional pang of guilt that this living thing had given it's life for me. So, I think by overdosing on chicken, it may well bring about my vegetarianism once more.. surely I can go to rehab or something for this torturous disease. Seems to be the done thang this week..

Friday, 1 February 2008

Thailand's New Prime Minister

Well, it's happened. Pigman has got the power. It's just painful to watch Thai politics and feel such wild hopes that a change is acomin' and then Samak is voted the new Prime Minister. A PM who will continue his prime time Cooking Show on television. A PM whose main priority (and says it loud and proud) is to return ousted corrupt ex-PM Taksin. A PM whom the deaf refer to with the symbol for pig. A PM whom is still under investigation for corruption charges regarding the misuse of 10 billion baht whilst performing as Governor of Bangkok. A PM who has quite the potty mouth and often says swear words and other highly inappropriate language in front of the media. For example, he was recently asked something of a personal nature by a journalist and replied with "If I asked you if you made love last night, how would you respond?". Hmm, very noice oinko.

For a country that is so taken with the element of "Face" and saving it at all costs to all parties, it stupefies me to see that the entire country is now loosing face due to having such a puppet "leading" the country. It's pretty amusing to see that all changes have a lag time of about 1-2 days while he desperately contacts Taksin to receive advice on proceedings. Samak also wants to be in charge of the Thai Military. Interesting times ahead for sure...

Parades R Us

Monday was Community Volunteer Day and husband dearest took part in a parade and was even special enough to be a flag carrier! Although I guess I should concede that others were also the special ones. I was like a squealing groupy on the sidelines taking photos (minus the squeals and pigtails). The procession involved about 500 people all dressed in either black or white in remembrance of the late Princess who Thailand is mourning for 100 days. Apart from being the lead groupy, I was also the Transporter, as per usual with 10 ladies in white in the back of the pickup. J is the leader of the community activities group in our village so often has to do stuff like this. I'm sure Active Parade Participant would be highly regarded on his resume!

I'm still in job application mode obviously but since we're living the life of Thai Time, not a word as to whether my adventures are soon to become city adventures. Closing date was a week ago today, not that I'm counting the minutes and milliseconds til my potential release from the house of doom or anything. I do however have a backup plan to ensure I am not living the hermatic life dominated by a pint sized beasty for much longer!! Aha, plans ahoy and all shall be revealed in time, my friends, in time! (that be Thai Time, so you may be waiting a while ;-)

Sparkly Bird of Wonder

This beautiful lil bird keeps flying into our lives....in the past 2 and half weeks it has come visiting twice and will sit happily on our front table until picked up, where it remains calm as. It's very tame so I'm not sure if it's been previously kept in captivity but we set it free both times but it still seems to want to hang around...since about 8 out 10 houses in my area keep birds in teeny weeny cages I'm hoping this one remains free to roam...splendiferous! It's called a Nok Pang Ga in southern Thailand ..I believe it's a species of kingfisher. Gorgeouso!