January 2001

The Human Garbage Disposal Abroad

Happy happy happy!  Boy do I love Thailand - it's good to be back!  Me and Allison, sitting in the back of a tuk tuk (kind of like a 3-seater golf cart perched on top of a moped - driver up front, two passengers behind) with a warm breeze blowing the 90 degree air nicely, scarfing down some most excellent cut up sweet, ripe pineapple which we just purchased for 25 cents.  Life is gooood!

Okay, so I’m eating my way across the northern part of this country - you've just gotta love a culture with a dedicated snacking cuisine :)  this morning, Allison

and I were at the "wet" market (I guess it's wet like the opposite of dry goods - and the pigs' heads and live eels would certainly qualify as wet, as would, I

suppose, the fried grubs, cockroaches and crickets we saw for sale.  No, we didn't try them, even a human garbage disposal has her standards) by 7am, the jet lag not quite behind us.  

It was nirvana.  There was a nice lady grilling bananas, just like in Laos (4 for 25 cents), someone else who had sticky rice w/coconut syrup & egg or fruit which she would wrap in a banana leaf and skewer w/a toothpick with lightning speed (again, 25 cents each), a man making tiny round coconut griddle cakes

(5 cents), and ooh, the donut men - they have these northern Thai doughnuts, shaped like x's, 1 baht each (that's about 3 cents - I splurged and bought us 5) -

- yum yum yum!  While I probably kick-started this vacation's Asia diet (i.e., my infamous food-poisoning induced weight loss plan) with a vengeance, it was a

most excellent way to start the morning!

We also found Allison’s favorite fruits, mangosteen and rambutan (which someone told us they thought sounded like a comedy team) and we even eyeballed a few durian (the infamous stinky fruit which is actually banned many places, including our hotel) but decided to pass, for now (the human garbage disposal is intrigued).  

We spent quite a few hours wandering the market, looking in vain for Kraft products (NOT).  We did see acres of dried, flattened squid, gallons of green

maraschino cherries (why why why?), millions of mushrooms, and pounds and pounds of inexpensive saffron (it's so tempting to buy it but I just don't think I can eat paella for two years straight and I can't think of another damn thing to do with it).

We spent the afternoon with a very persistent tuk tuk driver, sa-da, who took us around to a bunch of very cool temples (the 1000 year old crystal Buddha was

really amazing) which are hundreds of years old and really well preserved.  Of course, he also dragged us to the ubiquitous "factory showrooms" but I think he

underestimated the willpower of the Katz/Silver shopping machine team and we managed to walk away empty-handed (despite the obvious temptations of giant

pink paper parasols and fish leather purses).  We did, however, find an amazing antiques store which ships to the states - we haven't bought anything yet but we are each deep in contemplation over our possible purchases.

Tomorrow, we're going on a day hike where we'll hopefully see some hill tribes and a waterfall.  It’s going to be just the two of us and a guide and driver

(with an elephant camp visit on the way home) which was surprisingly complicated to arrange (if only we were a group of 6 who wanted to raft and walk for only 30 minutes...right).  

Okay, night market time, the human garbage disposal (a nickname my father once gave me) is hungry - -

Thailand, Land of the Elephant Booger

Greetings from Bangkok - happy happy happy!  It’s very good to be back here. But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Obviously, since I am writing this e-mail, Allison and I did survive our day hike out into the middle of northern Thailand with two strange men carrying large, homemade knives (hi mom & dad!).  It was much less risky than it sounds, I can assure you.  I was less than thrilled when we saw a large (about 2 feet) fat brown snake literally about 10 minutes into the trek.  I did not want to know what kind it was (although since it was not striped, I am going to assume that it was not the dreaded banded krait).  Fortunately, that was the only snake we saw the entire day.  The only other wildlife was, well, I don't think the dogs and chickens and oxen count as wild, so none.  But we did get to eat lunch in a Karen (name of a tribe) village - the only time I’ve ever eaten pad Thai in Thailand.  Our guide had packed it in a little Tupperware container & hauled it with him (along with like 12 bottles of water) - - it made quite a tasty lunch.  The scenery was beautiful and it was nice to be out just hiking around the woods.  We ended up being very glad that one of our guides had that big honking knife as he used it to whap us both some bamboo walking sticks which came in very handy :)

Oh, while in the village eating lunch, we saw a dog & a piglet get into a fight.  Allison said the dog nipped the pig, but I missed it.  Then two pigs got into a fight and all of the dogs (about 5) gathered around to watch them go at it.  It was pretty funny.

Interesting factoid:  no alcohol can legally be served in Thailand the day before or of the election (Saturday).  We met a nice expat man on Friday (day before the election) who thinks that given the poor quality of both candidates (the rich, corrupt guy wound up beating out the ineffectual sitting prime minister), there may be a military coup.  My first question was, of course, "tomorrow?"  Fortunately, we will be out of the country before anything is finalized (and safe and sound in Burma - right.)

Oh, so we're at dinner the first night in Chiang Mai.  It’s dark, we're sitting by the river (we had moved from the table from which the nice lady said was dropping worms - yich) and this burning object goes slowly sailing through the sky - I swear it looked like a flying burning lampshade, but Allison thought it looked more like a hot air balloon.  Well, we went to dinner w/an expat who lives in Chiang Mai, and what do we see (again, down by the river, different restaurant, no worms) but TEN flying burning lampshades.  So we finally get to ask someone who speaks English "so what's with the flying burning lampshades?"  Turns out, they're used in a northern Thai festival and one of the local hotels sends off a few during its Thai

dancing demo.  Allison was correct, they are small hot air balloons but to me, they'll always be flying burning Thai lampshades.

Yesterday, we hired a songtao (I am sure I am mutilating the spelling, but if you're ever here and you pronounce it like that, they'll know what you mean - by the way, I can now count to ten in Thai.  It was funny, when you know how to ask "how much" in Thai, then they automatically (and rightly so) assume that you know numbers in Thai.  Once you know the numbers in Thai, they totally assume that you know Thai - yikes.  Needless to say, I am never without my handy dandy pocket calculator.

Oh, so we hire this songtao (from a nice expat man named Tony - the one who thinks there's going to be a coup a- and his lovely gay chef & roommate (long story), moo (I’m SURE that's the wrong spelling, but if you say it like that, they'll know who you mean) and driver to take us up to Mae Rim and out to this huge beautiful temple & out into the mountains.  It was a great day. The temple was lovely.  It’s pretty far outside of the city - legend has it that they let this special elephant pick the spot & he kept walking & walking & walking & finally finally settled down on this mountaintop.  So that's where they built the temple.  It was really peaceful & there were hundreds of bells that you could ring for good fortune (kind of like Buddhist prayer wheels) and we walked all 300 steps to the top (for more merit) which kind of reminded me of the monkey temple in Katmandu.

So then, our nice driver took us to the orchid farm (touristy, but actually quiet and pretty and they had orchids which SMELL (nice, too) - it was really pretty - big orchids, little orchids, fat orchids skinny orchids, purple, yellow etcetcetc.  Then, we went on to the elephant camp (again, touristy, but really great) this is where the elephant boogers come in - - the place we went to has an extensive breeding program (which we learned some particularly intriguing factoids about...) and they have a huge "nursery" area - they have one brand new (3 months) baby elephant, but he was sleeping in his mama's shadow & wouldn't get up, one that's about a year old (he tried to escape while we were there, they're not tethered when they're that young - it was pretty funny to watch the mahout trying to corral him) and then 3 or 4 others – we fed them all bananas and sugar cane (when we first walked into the camp, some elephants were walking by & Allison wasn't paying attention & this big huge one just totally swiped two entire bunches she was carrying right out of her hands - it was really funny!  So, I’m giving some of our (newly purchased) bananas to the mama of the elephant that tried to escape and after I’m done, she blows muddy snot out of her trunk all over me - lovely! Then, after I get cleaned up, we're walking down the road and one that's

walking by blows muddy snot all over Allison (I thought it was much funnier that time!).  Thus properly marked, we were then able to continue on our way.

We spent about another 1 1/2 driving along winding mountain roads, past flower farms (marigolds) and through villages - lovely & peaceful.  We returned to the hotel & hung out at the pool until it was time to fly to Bangkok.

So, we've just gotten back from our (the word escapes me, I’m on vacation, I’m on vacation) obligatory trip to the weekend market.  Some of you may remember that Allison and I spent 50 cents a minute there for 8 hours last year.  I’m happy to report that we have gotten MUCH more efficient.  We roughly calculated that today, in only 4 hours, we spent $1.50/minute.  We are so proud.

Tomorrow, we finally head off for the cornerstone of our trip (of which my crunchy cousin Karen - hi Karen! - sorely disapproves) - Burma!  I am optimistic of at least finding an internet cafe in Mandalay so that I continue w/my trip missives (perhaps I can persuade a friendly Burmese hotelier to temporarily relinquish his personal machine like I did in Bhutan and Siliguri, India).

I must leave you with some tidbits from the Bangkok post, however:

Reporting on the election - headline: "Comedy of errors marks historic polls"  subheadline (I am NOT making this up and I know I’m mean, but I am laughing again just reading it): "man with no fingers unable to cast vote" (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I know it's not pc, but I cannot stop laughing! ...)

Okay, so, after wiping the tears from my eyes (which I now have again - I am awful, I know...), in the SAME issue (the same issue in which there was no mention of the USA until page TEN - excellent!), there's an article with the headline "Vacuum cleaner saves man's life" - - I am just too indolent on vacation to make this stuff up myself, but I am endlessly entertained. Allow me to paraphrase the article (which I just had to cut out and which is very brief) and let this be a good warning to everyone:  Tokyo - A vacuum cleaner saved the life of a 70-year old Japanese man when it was used to suck out a rice cake on which he was choking, local officials said yesterday.  "His daughter used the vacuum cleaner to suck out the mochi,” a local official said.  The sticky mochi, made of glutinous rice (aside:  I never knew sticky rice could be dangerous - yikes!), is traditionally served during New Year in Japan, but it can be lethal to elderly people (yikes, again!).  While the vacuum cleaner successfully sucked out the mass of mochi, the official (lesson here) cautioned that it is not an accepted way

to dislodge such items.  "Although he is all right, you have to be careful since such actions can harm your intestines," he said.  - - Reuters

God I love this place!  Hope you are all warm and happy & healthy - I will write more from BURMA - weeeeeeeee ha!

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