Here we have another great lunch five of us had in a small restaurant in a beach community north of Pattaya, Thailand. As with all meals with others in Thailand, this was consumed at a relaxed pace, with many refills of the drinks, which cannot be seen.
The following is one of my favorite photographs from that day. The other fellow at the lunch was out of the sight of the camera to my left. And one of the three ladies had gotten up from the table for a few minutes, but you can see that she left her footwear under the table with the rest. As usual, the fellow from California was overdressed, with his thick REI sox.
One of my mother's favorite activities was growing beautiful flowers in beds around our home. One of the many perennials she grew were chysanthemums, or mums, as they were abbreviated.
These flowers are the official flower of the largest city in my home state, Chicago. And they are the official flower of Salinas, CA, the closest city to where my brother now lives. My mother used her mums a lot in bouquets she made.
She was also a great cook. But I never drank mums until I visited Thailand.
Here is the canister of what we called chrysanthemum juice at breakfast at our hotel in Chiang Rai. Chilled over ice, here it is with the rest of my breakfast.
By the way, the marmalade on the toast is not orange marmalade, as we would expect in the US, but pineapple marmalade.
This was all served as part of our $40/night room fee at a lovely rooftop open air restaurant at the Ruean Inn in Chiang Rai, Thailand.To be more accurate, we probably should have been calling it Iced Chrysanthemum Tea, which I read is not uncommon in Asia, but this was the first time I had ever encountered it. I had been expecting orange juice, which is the standard juice at most Thai hotels, but it did not disappoint, with a pleasant flavor that was much milder than orange juice. I could have been drinking mums all these years! http://askmsrecipe.com/2010/02/05/recipe-submision-iced-chrysanthemum-tea/
In the urban areas of Thailand, advertising signs are everywhere. In many places nearly every surface is covered by them. After all, everyone needs to make a living and Thailand seems to be a land of free enterprise and entrepreneurship.
Richer nations might pride themselves on the controls they've legislated on the placement of advertising signs. In California this is the case. But there is another difference. Whereas you see unrestrained posting of signs in Thailand, you also see NO graffiti anywhere. The country has not been infected by that form of expression, that visual intrusion.
Leave it to an old ham radio operator to travel 8,000 miles and end up stumbling upon an antique store full of old radio receivers!
While out taking a 3.7 mile walk in Singburi, Thailand, we came upon this scene. Of course my eye immediately spotted the old radios, so I walked over and had a look. Sitting in front on the concrete were the owner and his young apprentice. They were cleaning up an old radio while holding it in their laps; cosmetic repairs, not electronic repairs, their tools being rags, a solvent, paint brush and a bottle of beer. On the shelves inside the store were dozens of old radios. "Well, we may have discovered a local ham," I thought to myself.
No such luck. When I said "ham radio," there was no hint of recognition of what I was saying. I pointed to ham radio sections on the dial of the radio beside the owner, "See here, 7 MHz is the 40 meter ham band, 14 MHz is the 20 meter ham band." Nothing. Okay, he's an antique dealer, not a ham, and maybe not even a short wave listener.
Oh well, there's still a lot of radios here to look at. I wandered around the store, which was jammed with stuff, leaving little room to maneuver in most places, as with many junk stores, oops, antique stores. There were tons of mostly wood cabinet radios in various conditions, as well as many clocks on a wall, a section of antlers, some display cabinets with china, beer steins and all sorts of other oddities. I didn't see any work bench or table with a volt-ohm meter or any other equipment for repairing electronic gear. The cosmetic repairs they were doing out front was likely the extent of their efforts on these radios. It reminded me of a large collection of old radios that appeared some months ago at Halted Electronics, the surplus electronics store in Sunnyvale, CA. There were no Collins radios or ham radio equipment of any kind in the Singburi shop.
I went back outside and chatted with the owner, well, as much as we could with my non-existent Thai language skills and his limited English language skills. A nice looking Blaupunkt radio caught my eye (below) and I asked his price. After some mumbling and grunts, the owner said he wanted 5,000 Baht, which he then converted to about $158 US in his head for me. I asked him whether it was working and he said, "Oh, no." But I'm not positive he understood my question because when I asked him whether he had ANY radios which were working, he again said, "No." Surely in all these dozens of radios, there must be at least a few that were working.
He explained some of the difficulties, saying Thailand uses 220 watts in their radios and America uses 110 watts. Of course he was referring to the difference in line voltage between the two countries, 220 vac for Thailand and 110 vac for the US. He listed a bunch of other countries and how many "watts" they used, ending by saying he didn't know what Russia used. He suggested I should look around and let him know if I found one that really interested me. I knew prices would be negotiable, but I explained that I was from 8,000 miles away and the shipping costs would be too much for me. He nodded. I asked him whether he minded my taking some pictures and he said that would be "okay." So I gathered the pictures shown here.
If I were furnishing a home in Thailand, this would certainly be a place I would come. The voltage difference is easily solved with a voltage converter and many of them could likely be brought back to life easily, if they weren't already working. I would make an offer on the Blaupunkt, or perhaps on this Grundig. But the distance saved me from adding to my collection of too many radios!
I told him he had a very nice store and thanked him. He looked pleased and I was on my way, relieved that I managed to get away without beginning to calculate estimated shipping costs.
When we checked in to the DPU Place Hotel again after our travels to Pattaya and Singburi, I was shocked to see a nice young man helping at the front desk who was well over six feet tall. If Dhurakij Pundit University has a basketball team, he better be on it. In 2008 the average height of men in Thailand was 5'6" and the average height of women was 5'2". I'm guessing the guy at the front desk was going on one foot above the average height. http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/height-chart.shtml
During our residency in Singburi, I had an unfortunate reason to wonder whether these average heights had an influence on the design of our hotel. It had a central elevator by the front desk to go up the five story building. But on each side of it were curved staircases one could take instead. These were lovely with gleaming stone steps and sturdy metal handrails. I got into the habit of taking the stairs mostly, as our room was only on the second floor. I usually held on to the railing because of the curve in the steps, which I didn't want to throw me off.
One day I started down the left of the two staircases from the second floor. Well I almost started down, I should say. I was going to go down the right side of the stairs, holding on to the right side railing. To the extent that my attention was focused at all, it was focused on grabbing the railing, while looking down the curve of the stairs. But before I could put my foot onto the first step going down, I felt a terrific BONK on the top center of my forehead at the hairline. Or maybe it felt more like a WHAM! I was sent reeling backwards and ended up steadying myself against a center pillar holding up the ceiling.I had run into the bottom of the staircase going up to the floor above with full force. I never saw it coming. It had never occurred to me that I might have to duck as I headed down a staircase. But on that staircase, you definitely need to duck if you're going down the right side. Well maybe not if you're a 5'2" tall Thai woman. But if you're a 5'10" farang, you better be ducking, or you're gonna get bonked.
The staircase (above) I was going to go down on the right side by the fire extinguisher.
Here is a closer view (above) of the low clearance on the right side of this staircase. When I later stood on the far right, right up against the railing, the bottom of the staircase from above hit me at the bottom of my chin. As I stood a little further out to the left, it hit me at the top of my forehead.
Looking up the staircase (above) at the low clearance on the left side, with the staircase going up to another floor visible.
As you can see (above), I was not the first one to ever bonk themselves on this low clearance. Some unlucky people before me had actually chipped off the paint in two places, no doubt with parts of their body.
Of course this was an error in design by the architect. It's rather surprising that it actually got built this way. When we pointed it out to a member of the hotel staff, the recommendation was that we go down the left side of the staircase, instead of the right. Ha ha!
Of course in the US, the hotel would have already been sued over this many times, or maybe once would have been enough. The obvious solution at this point is to place a very heavy and immovable planter with a lovely plant at the top of the stairs on the right. Make it impossible for a person to walk where they can get hurt.
Near Dhurakij Pundit University in Bangkok, Thailand is an open market, the kind you see all over Thailand, where entrepreneurs sell their wares. This one was about ten rows of vendors, with those closest to the street selling fruits, vegetables, cooked and uncooked meats, and freshly cleaned fish in great variety and quantity. At the back, vendors were selling clothes, jewelry, souvenirs and household goods.
But what do we have here?
Hand-Made Cream Puffs, Thai Style
I wasn't expecting that!! I wasn't sure what they were, but they told me they contained fresh cream. As I recall, they were 10 Baht each, less than 50 cents US, so how could I go wrong? I bought two; one with the yellow stuffing and one with the dark berry stuffing and moved along to the clothing area, eating them as I went. Delicious, both of them, especially the yellow one, though I had no idea what kind of stuffing it was. I just knew it tasted good!
I headed back to the cream puff stall to learn more from the enterprising young couple who were making and selling them. Here is the oven they were using to cook the soft shells, four at a time.
And now watch as they bake the shells, fill them with their fresh cream and stuffing and then package them for sale. In the fourth cream puff, she used corn as a filling, a variation I didn't try.
They were both very friendly and did not object to my filming their activities. I thanked them, we exchanged a Thai wai, and I was on my way, very pleased to have had such a delightful exchange and eaten such delicious treats.
I played the videos for a native Thai and last night I found out what the yellow filling was. It was Foy Thong, described as the "most expensive Thai dessert" available in markets in Thailand, usually saved for a very special occasion. The recipe shows the yellow color to be derived from chicken and duck eggs, no food coloring!
Well now I think of my discovery of Foy Thong in hand-made cream puffs made at a street market in Bangkok as a rather special occasion. When I am near that market again, I will stop by to say hello to the lovely young couple and taste their desserts once more!
My first night in Thailand, I was surprised to find that it required a small step up to enter the bathroom in my hotel room. I had never seen such a thing in the US. Maybe it was unusual in Thailand too. Well, all hotels since that one have required a step, but a step down, not up, to enter the bathroom! I had never seen that in the US either.
These are not normal steps with a riser of seven inches or so, that is, something that would jump out at you as obviously a step up or down, just ahead. No, these are tiny changes of one to three inches. Just enough to trip you up a bit because you didn't notice it.
It is not limited to hotel bathrooms. It is common in many places in Thailand. Major hotels may require a small step up or down when you come in their front door. I've seen the same thing at the entrance to a major mall that had a doorman watching the front door, saluting as you came (maybe stumbled) in or out.
The image (above) is an example from the DPU Place Hotel, a 4-star hotel in Bangkok.It shows the transition from the main room into the bathroom. The room had a gray carpet. The threshold into the bathroom was black tile, at the same level as the carpet. Looking into the bathroom, you see that the bathroom floor had a trim of black tile around the lighter tile floor. So we have a black tile threshold, butted up against black tile trim, BUT the black tile trim (and the rest of the bathroom floor) was a small step down from the carpeted floor.
I took a picture of this (below) from the bathroom side, with the camera down on the floor, looking out into the carpeted area. I propped up the hotel business card against this small step to get an idea of the distance, about 2/3 of the height of the business card. I believe the standard business card is 2" x 3.5", so this step is a little less than two inches. Because it occurred at the transition from one black tile to another (lower) black tile, it was nicely disguised. As your foot went into the bathroom, it would not land until a split second after you were expecting it to land. So you'd catch yourself, maybe grabbing the sink, at the surprise of the extra distance down.
At the Golden Dragon Resort Hotel in Singburi, I took two pictures of the inside of the room. This is a very nice, newly constructed, hotel with large rooms at an affordable price.
Let me tell you about the elevation changes in this one! In the first picture (below) you see the doorway in from the hall to a tile surface, which is at the same level as the gleaming tile in the hall. To the right of where you see the white bath mat on that tile, just before the carpeted part of the floor begins, is the entrance to the bathroom. The threshold of the bathroom door is the same tile as used on the bathroom floor, a yellow color, so clearly different from the darker tile of the entryway. The tile on the threshold sits up the thickness of one tile, or 1/2 inch, from the surface of the entryway. Then on the other side of the threshold is a drop of 2-5/8 inches onto the tile floor in the bathroom. So they have two ways of catching you with this entry into the bathroom. If you don't notice the threshold is just slightly higher than the entryway, you might catch your toe on the front edge of the threshold tile and then as you lurch forward from that surprise, you have much further to go down to catch yourself on the bathroom floor below. Fun!
Coming toward the camera from that bathroom door, you'll see the carpet begins. Okay folks, there's a one inch step up from the entryway floor to get onto that carpet. Watch your step.
Now I turned the camera around and took another picture (below) looking from the entryway area out across the room to the lovely porch beyond the carpeted area. The carpet goes until you reach the curtains, which are pulled open in the picture. Then there is the porch, which is tiled and then the outside windows. Lovely to look at from inside the room.
By now you're already expecting a step up or down onto the porch, right? Okay, you're right, it's a 3 inch step down. But maybe you were expecting the step down to occur at the transition between the carpet and the tile? Well there you got it wrong. No, the carpet stops at the edge of the curtains when they are closed and the tile begins. At first the tile is on the same level as the carpet, for 7-1/4 inches, in fact. And THEN you make the 3 inch step down.
Well I've learned to expect these little surprises now. So I watch where I'm going, especially at a transition from one room into another, or from one type of surface to another, and I haven't actually landed prone on any floor yet. It would be fun to talk to a Thai builder or architect to find out how this building practice got started and the reason(s) for it. I suspect that the building rules in the US that are designed to make it easy on those in wheel chairs is the reason we don't see these sorts of things so often in America.
So far I've found that every day brings another surprise here in Thailand. Today was no exception. I was going to write about today's surprise and call it the Surprise of the Day. Upon further reflection, I decided to call it the Surprise of the Week!
I will start with some background. One of the things that first got me interested in traveling to Thailand was the fact that every town seemed to have at least one dramatic and beautiful Buddhist temple, a Wat in the Thai language. I would do a Google search on a town in Thailand and soon I'd be looking at images of these amazing wats and Buddha images. One, which I can't find now, was a large white Buddha on the mountains above a town. It might have been the white Buddha at Wat Kiri Suban near Lampang. It looked to me like anyone in the town would be able to look up to the mountain from anywhere and see this large Buddha looking down on the village. The idea of a great spiritual leader being so ever present in the environment was especially appealing to me. It suggested to me a culture that is exceptionally spiritual in its focus.
Fast forward to today. I am especially fortunate to be able to travel with a native Thai as she drives around the central and northern provinces for her job. These are not tourist routes on tourist buses with crowds of other tourists. This is riding in a nice new pickup truck as she goes about her business. Today we were to travel from U-Thong to her next assignment in Sing Buri. She asked me whether I wanted to stop at any wats along the way. "Well only something really dramatic. After all, you have your business to attend to!"
So off we went, driving through farm lands from one town to another. These were mostly rice fields, as well as groves of coconut trees, banana trees and sugar cane. Some rice fields were newly flooded and others were covered with rice plants of the brightest green imaginable. I was enjoying this landscape, flat and green as far as the eye could see in all directions. It reminded me of central Illinois where I grew up, except there the crops were mostly corn and soybeans.
And then it happened. As my eye scanned across the horizon, a large golden Buddha appeared far off in the distance! The sun was in the perfect position to make the gold shine at us from very far away. This was just like what I had imagined with the white Buddha in the mountains! I let out a yell of surprise and pleasure. We had come upon Wat Muang, perhaps five to ten kilometers away.
The impact was dramatic. The fields presented a low horizon in all directions, with the Buddha standing up (or sitting up) far above everything else. Perhaps I was feeling the same way one does when seeing the first pyramid rising up from the desert floor in Egypt. It also reminded me of the first time I saw the Rocky Mountains rising up from the plains of eastern Colorado, as we drove west.
I made a video to give some idea of the horizon all around. The sun was in the wrong position at the time, so the Buddha can only be seen as a dark outline. But you do get to see one of the bright green rice fields.
Well this qualified as something really dramatic, so we did a U-turn and headed back to the road that would take us closer for a photograph. It turned out to be a major Wat, with much more than the impressive golden Buddha.
But first the Buddha. We had stumbled upon the largest Buddha, the largest statue, in Thailand. It is the ninth largest statue in the world, built over the course of 16 years from 1991-2007 at a cost of $3.3 mil US, entirely from donations. It is 92 m (300 ft) high, and 63 m (210 ft) wide, twice the height of the Statue of Liberty in the US. It is made of concrete, painted gold and it is MAGNIFICENT.
Note the people standing at the bottom of the statue to get an idea of the scale involved.
I saw the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok, both totally impressive. This statue was just as impressive. When you come to Thailand be sure to see all three! The admission to the Grand Palace was 400 Baht ($13), Wat Pho was 100 Baht ($3) and Wat Muang was free. Wat Muang will require more effort to be reached, as it is about two hours from Bangkok, perhaps a challenge with public transportation. Again, I am verrrrry fortunate to have a ride along in a comfortable private vehicle.
The next time I come to Thailand, I will want to visit Wat Muang again, for at least a full day, perhaps two. And I hope I will be able to arrange to have an English speaking guide who is familiar with everything there. That's because, besides the Buddha, there is a large area devoted to life size re-creations of events in the history of Thailand (e.g. the Thai-Burma war), very graphic depictions of the Buddhist idea of hell, Thai god paradise and Chinese god paradise and both a male and female "hungry ghost", Pretas that stand 10 m (30 ft) tall, called Ting and Tong by the locals, both given cloth pants, to spare the children visiting the wat.
These displays are all painted in bright colors with low fences around them and signs in Thai script, presumably describing the (many gruesome) events depicted.
Watch the following rarely viewed videos to get a look at these amazing displays.
I will conclude by telling you that my "Fully Updated, New Edition" of the Insight Guide to Thailand, 433 pages, 15th edition published in 2010, reprinted in 2011 has NO mention of Wat Muang at all. So you may have heard it here first. You can thank me later!
"Elephant in the room"is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss.
It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming big issue.
In Thailand, you don't need no stinkin' metaphor. An elephant may just be in the room!
We went to dinner in U-Thong at a restaurant by the side of the busy highway going through the center of town. Only this was a dinner eaten off of a blue folding metal table, put there by the street food vendor who had her motorcycle food cart parked right near the curb of the road. Like many restaurants in Thailand, this room had no walls. We were outside, large dirty trucks crashing by twenty feet away.
A small fellow suddenly appeared, leading an elephant about the size of a VW bug, only taller. It had a bright red light fastened on the top of its tail. That's right, an elephant with a TAIL LIGHT. No kidding. He wanted money from the rich farang (foreigner). No more than five minutes later, another young fellow came along, leading an even younger and smaller elephant. No tail light. Also wanted money.
There's a surprise in this country every day!!
Yes, folks in Thailand are allowed to own their own elephants, although they are NOT supposed to take them into the cities.
My mouth dropped open when the elephant arrived, but I was the only one who seemed at all surprised, as this is nothing new. This is a looming big issue in Thailand, as elephants have been largely put out of work by the January 10, 1989 ban on the harvesting of timber in Thailand, following the worst flooding there in nearly a century.
Can you imagine how much food an elephant must eat in a day?
While a unique experience for a farang from the US, it gives one pause and is actually rather sad when you think about the plight of the elephants. Chang (the Thai word for elephant, pronounced "chong," not "chang") is a huge part of the culture here, the national symbol of Thailand. And the importance of the chang in the culture was well earned by the considerable amount of work they did to help build the nation. At the Grand Palace and Wats (temples) all over the country, there are statues and pictures of chang everywhere!
A very popular beer in Thailand is called Chang Beer, with a picture of an elephant in their company logo. You see their advertising signs everywhere and I have even had Chang Beer at my local Thai restaurant in California. One of our best friends in Thailand, Wit, makes a good living working for the Chang Beer company.
At the Grand Palace in Bangkok, people leave coins on top of the many statues of chang, believing it will bring them good luck. The chang is honored, respected, celebrated in Thailand.
But the chang has also become an endangered species. Will statues be all that remains one day? I certainly hope not. Their population is said to be stable now, at somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 elephants in Thailand.
When I was packing to come to Thailand, I wasn't clear on the rules about what you can take on an airplane these days. I printed about fifteen pages of text about baggage from the Korean Airlines ticketing website, but I was way too busy getting ready to travel to be able to read any of it. So when I was packing my toiletries, I decided to just skip the tall can of shaving cream and after shave lotion that I use. I figured it would be easy to just buy those things in Thailand.
When I first arrived, I was so busy taking it all in that I didn't even make it to a store to buy such things. I just used lathered hand soap, always works in a pinch. But after a few days, I wanted the real deal again, so I went to a grocery store and headed for the toiletries section. There were tons of bottles, jars, and tubes of stuff for men, but they all seemed to be concerned with cleaning, adding a nice odor, and whitening the skin. No shaving cream.
I don't think the tanning business is big here in Thailand. I understand that a lot of Thais like skin that is lighter, rather than darker. There are ads on television for these creams that are whiteners. But I haven't seen a single ad for any product related to shaving, for men or women.
So I gave up and did what men don't like to do, especially when we don't speak the language in the country. I headed to the check-out counter for some help. After repeating my question a few times, real slow, and pointing to my face, the lady got what I wanted. She walked to the exact area where I had been looking and tucked at the end of a row was some Gillette Foamy, exactly three small cans of it, 175 g each. That's about half the size I buy back home, and not the brand I buy either. But that's all they had, so I was happy to get it.
After a few days, I started wishing for some after shave lotion to rub on. So far, no luck with that. I looked at a 7-Eleven last night and couldn't even find the shaving cream. Well it turns out they did have even smaller containers of shaving cream. They were behind the checkout counter on the back wall in the corner, where only the clerk could reach them. But no after shave lotions with them. It may be the only thing these 7-Eleven stores in Thailand DON'T carry!
By the way, in the cities I've been in so far in Thailand the 7-Eleven stores are the most common retail stores there are. They are everywhere. Near the DPU campus in Bangkok, I found one about two blocks down the road from the hotel and thought, "Well that could be handy." The next time out of the hotel I walked the other direction and came to a 7-Eleven even sooner. And less than a block from there in another direction was a third one! They always have people in them who are spending money.
Anyway, I did some research about this puzzling scarcity of shaving accessories. On one shaving forum ( http://straightrazorplace.com ) I found this comment from JudgeMental:
"I'm here in Bangkok, and have lived here for quite a few years. Shaving is not something that most Thai's are very concerned about. The other day I watched a taxi driver pluck his facial hair out with tweezers while waiting at the traffic signal. Thais typically have sparse beards, and many don't shave every day."
I guess that's it. They don't sell it because no one wants to buy it. And it certainly does appear that 7-Eleven knows what people want to buy.