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March 30, 2005

Pakarang Boat Project Photos

Here are other photos from the boatbuilding project of our area as well. I think they all were shot by the project manager I'm working with.

Posted by sedda at 07:49 AM

March 29, 2005

More hitching in Khao Lak

I got a hilarious hitch just now. All day the roads have been lined with police officers, one every .5 km or so. I guess the King or Princess is in town. The police just have to stand there swealtering in the heat all day in full dress uniform plus an orange reflective safety vest. Well, Nid, a Thai woman who works for Scott on the boatyard project, she and I went to lunch, but it's not the Thai way to just leave a farang on the street to catch a ride. She had to make sure I went ok. So she talks to the cop to help. The guy stands in the middle of the highway and flags down this beater truck and the guys were freaking out that they'd done something wrong to get pulled over. Then the cop demanded that the guy take me the 15km or whatever back to the vol center. Luckily it worked out for them in the end! I had a good laugh about it.

Posted by sedda at 04:19 PM

Long Night

Moira and I had stayed late at the Volunteer Center last night, working on various projects (I have a new one, but more on that another day). Scott, who runs the boatyard project, gave us a lift home since it's hard to find a hitch after 11pm. Moira crashes with us in our hotel room when she's in town.

I grabbed a quick shower to get all the bug juice off, and Moira got a late call on her cell. It sounded like bad news, she said Oh. Okay. very seriously as though someone had just died. Then she turned on the TV, explaining there had been an earthquake in Sumatra of 8.2 (which later was revised to 8.7).

We all knew what that meant. About a week and a half ago, an earthquake in Indonesia had sent all of the traumatized and superstitious Thai people into the hills, fearing another 33-foot wave. But that was in the afternoon. It was after midnight now, and we were staring at the CNN graphic lamely trying to figure out where we were on the map. The newscast was entirely in Thai, and Dee already knew that we didn't get any English stations.

"Dee," I said. "Run downstairs to your Thai friends and find out what they know and what they are doing."

To read more, please click continue below.

***Moira's friend called back, saying that a tsunami could be produced from the earthquake, and if it were, it would arrive here within 15 minutes. She said the Thai government had issued a Warning. We didn't even talk about staying put.

In my PJs, I pulled on a pair of pants, then shoes, and grabbed my daypack, which has everything in it for the day—water, a long-sleeved shirt (for sun or temples), sunblock for the day, bugjuice for evening, passport/cash/ID, headlamp (Moosedog rule). On my way out the door I grabbed the rest of my unexposed film (about 18 rolls) and a sarong (for sleep/shade).

Later I realized I left behind: exposed film from the entire trip, extra batteries for the headlamp, the tiny tent. There just wasn't time to pack, or to think. Essentials only: clothing, sun protection, shelter at the Vol Center.

Within about two minutes we were downstairs and out front of the Khao Lak Inn. The Thai hotel clerks and shop owners were gone. There's a TV out front, and word travels fast. Motorbikes were flying by, with entire families on them, the baby's fine hair blowing in the breeze. Cars heading into town were honking, motorbikes bleating. Some volunteers on motorbike saw us and yelled, Get the Hell out of here!

Cars weren't stopping. We started to just walk to get moving uphill. I thought, there's no way we can get to the high point of the hill in 15 minutes, can we? Dee was wearing flipflops, standard Thai attire. Downtown Khao Lak is a flat basin, nearly level with the water. Only two months ago, it was leveled by the water. There wasn't even much to slow down the wave between the sea and what had been rebuilt or miraculously remained standing.

A grey pickup truck had pulled over. The windows were dark (the sun is bright here, so everyone has extra tinting) and we just climbed in the back. The street was slight chaos, people yelling, looking around, wondering about the others they had just seen on the patio where they had just been drinking and playing cards. We didn't know who we were with, we only knew they had good hearts, because they stopped for us.

As we pulled away, Thai merchants were yelling at us. They pointed to the left, 90 degrees to the road. They were trying to tell us we were going the wrong way, that the high hills weren't along the coast, but behind the main highway. The driver continued on.

We rode the breeze, looking out over the moonlit wasteland that once was 6000 hotel rooms, 8000 jobs. The wave they didn't know about snatched it all away. This time, was there a chance to be safe? Would everything rebuilt again be washed away?

We began to climb the hill to the volunteer center. We wondered if we should be asked to be let off, or just continue on with what we assumed was a Thai person inside. We figured whoever it was likely wouldn't want to stop again, but would know how high to go.

The truck turned in at the volunteer center. Loads of people were arriving. It turned out our rescuer was Ashok, a BBC documentarian, working on a film of Bang Naam Kem families. He immediately began asking for petrol, as the truck was on fumes, and he was thinking ahead.

People were asking around to account for everyone. "Have you seen Eli?" "What about the Canadian woman and her daughter, from our hotel? Have you seen them?" "I'm sure they're fine, they were drinking with the Thai guys out front, they would have taken them in the hotel truck."

The monkeys were nowhere to be found.

Inside, the TV was blaring a Thai news program. A woman was translating through a bullhorn for non-Thai. The mood was anxious, but not panicked. The volunteer center is on high ground, and the back of the property overlooks the water meters and meters below. Trying to remind everyone that the center was not troubled by the last wave, she called into the bullhorn, "Remember, this place used to be safe!"

We all laughed nervously at her English.

I went downstairs and dashed off a quick email and blog entry so you all would know I was all right. It was 12:06 when we heard the news, maybe a little before, and we were up the hill within 12 minutes, probably less.

People stood around, or sat, and chatted, or listened to the translation. Some monitored the AP wire via Yahoo and BBC. There were Thai families who worked in the center, Monty the tailor, the German drinker who had told us two nights ago he was staying through "To-morrow, morrow, morrow." There were reports that the ocean had gone way out, like the last time, but not as far. The moon was full only a few days ago, so tides would be high anyway.

Here's a bit from the official USGS tsunami bulletin:



Some candles were rounded up, just in case, some radios, and a printout of every volunteer's name circulated for check-in. There was a report of a second quake, "more Richters" than the first. Then it turned out that only was a correction about the initial quake. By 2:30 an all clear was issued, and people started heading back. I didn't feel right about it, and Eli really didn't, since she was in a room by herself. I told her she could stay with us, we'd figure out a place for her.

As Ashok and his reporting partner rounded us up, I decided, and so did Eli, not to go back to town. I didn't think I could sleep well on low, level, ground, especially knowing that the 100% all-clear wasn't until 8am. We thought our hotel wasn't harmed the last time, and we were on the second floor, but it didn't feel good to me. Moira went back. Dee, we thought, would head back.

I sacked out on a very hard bench to doze a bit around 4am, using my bag as a pillow. One of the dogs had taken the only short couch earlier, and no one had the heart to wake him. The tile floor turned out to be more comfortable, and I dozed until the vampire mosquitoes woke up and made sleeping impossible.

Today will be long on little sleep, and interesting.

Click here for a related story from a local perspective, written from our area.

Click here for a summary of what happened and speculation on further quakes along the same fault.

Posted by sedda at 03:58 PM

sumatra quake

midnite, moira got a call from a friend abt sumatra quake. we got out of our hotel and hitched back to vol cen via bbc jrnalist within 4 mins. vol cen not affected by earlier wave.

people are running like crazy from khao lak, motorscooters full speed, cars honking honking. we are on high ground. mood here is anxious. people calling coastal friends to warn. abt 2 wks ago an indonesian quake gave people a good scare, but that was during daytime. keeping on alert here.

Posted by sedda at 12:23 AM

March 27, 2005

Sunday's Color is: Puple eyeshadow with yellow highlights

Well, once a bruise goes yellow, the end is in sight. Still a little sore, but people have stopped staring at me, at least.

I was able to make it on the waterfall trip afterall; the toys for the kids thing has been delayed until after the 100 Days festival, when people have more time.

Dee (my roommate from Portugal/England), Sarah (England), Nate (Thai with ties to San Fran), a German volunteer, a Thai volunteer, and a bunch of Thai guys took the trip, about 30 minutes south to a small park called Limpee Hadd Taimuang National Park. The waterfall is about 100 yards from the parking lot, so there wasn't even much hiking. It's basically a swimming hole, which makes a much more impressive waterfall during the rainy season. But it was really pretty and mellow.

I should mention how the trip came together. Dee (or someone) wanted to go to the falls, which is a usual Sunday trek. Since it isn't far, we all were going to hitch. Earlier this week, Sarah and Dee have made friends with the desk clerks at our hotel, who hang out with the guys who own Ska Bar (basically a tiki hut with patio tables), and the guys who run the convenience store and the supermarket near Viking restaurant (or maybe they own the restaurant). Anyway, the last 2-3 nights, the whole lot of them have been hanging out at Ska Bar drinking Thai whiskey until 3am (I've been crashing early). Last night Sarah and Dee tried to convince them to go to the waterfall, but they all said they had to work.

This morning, when everyone was hung-over and underslept from last night's whiskey fest, Sarah and Dee invited them again. They all exchanged guilty glances, then they closed up the supermarket, and gave us all a ride in the Viking's open-air bus (which is basically seats in the back of a pickup truck, with an awning and some handle bars). They also brought Chang beer in a cooler, water, snacks and a beach mat.

For more about the Limpee adventure, please click continue below.

***The park was lush and beautiful, and we got there before the midday rush. There are a lot of vendors selling hot food from their motorbike carts, so we had a wonderful lunch made on the spot. Chicken on skewers (3 types), noodles, shrimp, sodas. The Thai guys harassed Dee about being vegetarian, by offering her bamboo from the forest to eat. It's an ongoing joke. Then we were offered squid jerky. Not a joke. Especially after you eat it. It's quite fishy.

While we were there, a group of about 10 Thai people marched up, and each one covered him/herself with a large tube-sarong, then pulled their clothes off down to a swimsuit (?) underneath, then folded the sarong shut around them to go into the water. Men and women, both. Then they basically showered in the waterfall. Thais are known for a bit of modesty, so it was interesting to see some Thai people wearing British-style Speedo kind of swimsuits, and other people wearing knee-length skirts for swimming.

The rest of the day was pretty mellow, and we'll all meet up for dinner in town around 7.

It will be a big week with a lot of work, with the 100 Days festival coming up.

Posted by sedda at 05:39 PM

March 26, 2005

Saturday's color is: Brown With Purple Accents!

The swelling continues to go down, the rainbow continues. I still felt a little off with the puffiness, even after a great night's sleep, so I kept it mellow with some sewing and finishing some tsunami dolls, which are sold at the reception desk here at the center and at the craft shop. My friends Kate (England) and Sarah (Australia) have been working on screen printing the logos that get sewn on the dolls, and printing for flags and banners around town with the 100 Days' logo.

Tonight we'll hang at the Ska Bar, a patio area in front of our hotel. All the bars are outdoors here, tho some are outdoors under a thatch roof. The owners hide mosquito coils under the table to help with the bites. We use Tiger Balm to stop the itching afterward, though today we found out about a Thai remedy that is similar, with slightly different ingredients, and entirely in Thai so I can't tell you what it's called. Works great, though.

Sunday is usually reserved for trips to local waterfalls, which Dee and Sarah and Caroline will do, though I've promised to help give out some toys to kids (and take photos), so I'm not sure whether I'll make it this week.

Posted by sedda at 06:34 PM

March 25, 2005

Friday's color is: Purple!

My swollen eye is healing slowly but surely. All I can say is, I'm glad I don't have to look at it. This morning it was a bright eggplant color. Really pretty, actually. Just in time for Easter. The swelling has reduced by more than half. And I did get some sleep last night.

A couple of the guys who saw me get bonked (and were pretty freaked by the swelling) were worried that I could have a hairline break in my cheekbone and insisted I go back for an x-ray. I didn't really think it was broken, and neither had the doctor yesterday, but I checked with Desert Rat Doc Martha via email, who said a picture of it wouldn't hurt, especially since a fracture in the sinus area could prevent me from flying safely.

A new friend, P'Tor, who works at the Center, found me a ride back to the clinic with Mimi and Krat. It turns out they are volunteering up the road with the guys I met at NATR last Sunday — small world, no?

To read more about adventures in Thai healthcare, please click continue below.

***Mimi is from Bangkok and has strong American English, which she has learned through three months of intensive self-study, mainly featuring films by Sandra Bullock. She has seen Miss Congeniality 2, a favorite, at least 8 times. The first few times she watches a movie, she turns on the Thai subtitles so she can learn the words. She also reads the entire newspaper in English — including the classifieds — as well as journaling daily in English, to improve her vocabulary.

The guys in the NATR office tease her by giving her tongue twisters to learn. She was like, "What is this 'Wood chuck chuck?' and 'Peter Pickle?'" I wrote some down for her so she could learn them. It was a riot hearing her practice. Her accent is perfectly American, she sounds like she's lived in the U.S. for a while. And she talks a mile a minute. Krat was harassing her for gossiping with me during the drive. She helped me with some translation at the reception desk at the clinic. Krat went to 7-Eleven and got us Pringles and Green Tea to pass the time.

We had to wait 30 minutes for the x-ray tech to get back from lunch, but after that, the whole process took only about an hour, including an initial consult from a doctor who thought I was fine but could still have the x-ray anyway, and a thoughtful consult from the radiologist (an M.D.) after the films were developed. He said there's no fracture and nothing abnormal going on, there's just some blood that needs to be absorbed under the skin, from my glasses hitting that magic spot below my eye.

Which, is pretty obvious just by looking at my face.

I had stopped at the ATM and withdrew the maximum amount, $300, to prepare for the medical visit. Total cost of the x-ray and consult: 590 bht, or $15. I don't think I'll even bother to claim it on my traveller's insurance.

An EMT here at the center who is passing through, said that the healthcare system in Thailand is a real source of national pride. The current king was born in the U.S. to a nurse mother and a doctor father, so healthcare has been important to him all his life. There are only about 4 med schools here, and all in major cities with on-the-job training in rural areas. The knowledge base is high, even when the available technology from clinic to clinic might not be the best. The EMT compared the Siriraj hospital in Bangkok to the Mayo clinic and said he'd prefer it to many U.S. hospitals.

For what that's worth. I felt well cared-for in my Eye Bonking Incident, with lots of support from new friends here.

We have rain again this afternoon, so I'm going to continue to take it easy for the rest of the day.

Posted by sedda at 04:49 PM

March 24, 2005

World Vision

Well, I'm bailing out of the construction part of the boathouse construction project. The day started simply, sweeping out some deep rainwater on the boathouse floor with some palm branches (talk to the project manager about pouring concrete in Thailand, and timing the truckloads in a way that you get a proper surface that doesn't collect rainwater). A heavy piece of wood slipped and I got caught underneath it, it banged me in the head a bit, and in the process my sunglasses got crammed into my face. So I have a big shallow cut under my eye and I look like Rocky in the last round, since my cheekbone was bashed by my glasses (which weren't even scratched). "I culda been a contendah! Adriannnnnnn!"

I'm fine, though my cheekbone is a bit sore. I got to visit the local clinic just to be sure, and they saw me right away. I had a good doctor (who looked like she was from the ER cast, very hip) who gave me an antibiotic so the cut doesn't get funky in the heat, and an anti-inflammatory so that my face doesn't swell too much. No stitches, just keep it dry, is all. The Boathouse project manager, Scott, took me there, along with Kong, this cool Thai guy on the project who helped with translation and provided comic relief.

And so far I've gotten to tell the story about 30 times. My eye is going to look really gross for a good week, I think. All the colors of the world. How perfect.

Posted by sedda at 04:43 PM

Power Tools!

Yesterday was a busy day, so this post was delayed. I got up early (5:45) so I could check email before the day began, then two minutes after I logged on, the network crashed and the guy with the keys to the server closet was sleeping in until 10am.

If I recall correctly, Mercury Retrograde has recently begun.

Anyway, I decided to take a break from beach cleaning and try something more team-oriented. I'd heard good things about the Pakarang Boatyard team, and some of the guys encouraged me to come out. I don't know much about construction, but everyone assured me that there would be small jobs to do.

The Pakarang Boat Shed is funded by private donors, and will provide a workspace for fishermen and longtail boatbuilders to rebuild and build boats that were destroyed by the tsunami. This support has a direct impact on the local community, since for many families, longtail boats are a source of income, food, and the future. The Pakarang Shed is designed to be a public workspace, with access assigned by lottery, for two years. After two years, the lease on the land is complete, and it's up to the land owners to either continue the project as a gift to the community, rent the space out, or turn the space over for an alternate use.

The shed is near the water in the middle of a coconut palm farm, just acres and acres of tall trees neatly lined up. The farmowner's house, nearby, was ravaged by the water. There are about 2.5 walls standing in a few parts of the house, the rest is leveled to the floor. They have offered free use of the land for the public shed for two years.

The trees provided a bit of shade, and a nice, whispering rustle as the breeze blew through. We were nearly at the water's edge, a shallow pale turquoise flat as the eye could see. With the exception of 1-4 pm when the sun was directly overhead and completely searing, it was a beautiful day.

To read more about Thursday and the Pakarang Boat Shed, please click continue below.

***It was a great day overall, a lot of hard work. Scott, the project manager, is really well-liked as a manager by volunteers, especially the ones with building experience. He also will be involved in boat building when the shed is complete, which should be within a few weeks.

I teamed up with Eli (say Elly), a Norwegian teacher and photographic manager (who, incidentally, assisted National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenburg for several years in Minnesota. We had a lot to talk about. Btw, Brandenburg's Chased by the Light is a must-read for anyone interested in nature, photography, or thinking about the world around us.)

Eli and I measured and cut wood to make triangle-shaped trusses for the roof in the center of the boathouse. The boards were heavy, hardwood, but the work was refreshing. We banged them together with Dan, a builder, and other volunteers got them from the ground up top, and bolted into place.

At about 11am and again at 2:30 or so, we heard a familiar jingle of bells. "It's Ice Cream Billy!" A motorcycle ice cream vendor visits the site every day for treats. The other real treat is that every morning on the way into town, Scott stops at the grocery for some drinks (he provides gatorade powder and water, if you want more than that you can buy some), then stops at the ice place to fill up the cooler and the gatorade container. Ice cold water and drinks make a huge difference in dealing with the heat and humidity.

The work was tiring but rewarding, and it was nice to see a tangible project grow, and work on a team. There were something like 8-12 of us all together, listening to a very bad mix tape of Scorpion tunes and bad Beatles covers, which apparently has been the only music available on site for three weeks or so. The tape came with the truck that the Volunteer Center is renting, and is the only cassette anyone has been able to find.

We topped the day off with a thank-you dinner at Pong's Bakery, which is near the Police Boat and the Tsunami Craft Center. Pong has donated a large retail space to sell crafts made by people still in the camps, as fundraisers. He wanted to give the space for free, but the Volunteer Center worked a deal with him because his family was hard-hit by the tsunami as well. He offered us an all-you-can eat dinner of home-cooked food with fruit and dessert for 120bht (plus drinks). It was a wonderful evening, hot and sticky with heat lightning flashing overhead.

Then it suddenly poured rain, which delayed the hitchhiking home. Luckily a lot of the volunteers who had motorbikes generously ran shuttles, since it turned out to be a 45-minute walk home.

Posted by sedda at 02:38 PM

March 22, 2005

More Beach Cleanup

Our group decided to beat the heat and start on the beach at 7am today. Boy it made a difference. It gets really roasting by about 10, 10:30, so we bailed around then.

We cleaned on Bang Niang beach, near the Craft Shop and the Police Boat (a local landmark — a large police boat that the wave beached a km or two inland). There were two more memorials, and one photo I found lying in the sand, a portrait of three (Thai?) women goofing around. It seemed to be part of a memorial, perhaps the one that had the fresh orchids in it, that were floating in the water now. I tied it to the top of a tall stick. I couldn't throw it away.

The Beach CleanUp team also is supposed to collect these small, square, brown glass bottles that litter the beach, called M150 bottles. They hold a Thai energy drink (like Red Bull), but apparently aren't refilled so people just toss them. The 100 Days' committee is going to use them to make commemorative lanterns for the ceremony. This will be impressive, and beautiful. A nice memorial.

To read more about Tuesday, please click continue below.

***I met a team of Christians from Oklahoma, who had collected money from back home and are filling trucks with care packages filled with Nescafe, soap, and a few other household things. There are about 10 in the group, maybe more—their 'office' is next door to the guesthouse I'm in. It's great to see how many people have been moved to just come and help. There have been plenty of news reports about how aid money isn't always getting through to the people, and so many of the volunteers I've met wanted to come here and see that their money went straight to those who need it, and quickly.

Stuart treated us to a free lunch today of veggie fried rice and omelette, courtesy of PADI, who has donated funds to help keep the water clean for divers. I'm hoping Simon wants to take over as Beach CleanUp coordinator. He's very enthusiastic about it.

Posted by sedda at 02:34 PM

March 21, 2005

Beach cleaning + Painting

More beach cleaning this morning, another slow start b/c Stuart put me in charge again and I was a little unsure what to do.

We arrived to find a small memorial set up, facing the beach, with photos of a sunkissed, smiling vacation face of an Italian woman lost in the encroaching sea. Another photo was tacked to a small Thai wooden statue further along the beach. A wedding photo of an ecstatic bride and groom grinning broadly from the back of the limo, toasting the photographer with tall glasses of golden champagne. In the one light space of the car window between the two friendly faces someone had handwritten in pen: "Fabi Vermisst We Hope! Still!"

It kills you, the hope. So much hope in spite of so much loss.

A woman who has been at the center since the beginning was on this very beach the day the wave came. A friend with her was a surfer, and looked out to the dark line in the ocean, as the water drew back away from the beach. "This isn't right," he said, "We have to get the hell out of here." They pushed the scooter throttle to the limit and drove to a nearby waterfall on high ground. They waited there 36 hours before venturing back.

When you see what should be here, what the beach was like in the postcards and the dream brochures, then compare that imaginary picture to the sand-covered broken tile and cracked-up buildings...the horror is worse than you could think of.

The work is endless, there are maybe ten jillion million little tiny pieces of junk that need to be raked up and disappeared. The beaches are getting better, but the resort land is trashed, just trashed. Another team handles small resort cleanup, although that also includes stuff like planting trees and grass to get their business up to speed.

For more about the day, especially including How Stuart Got Duped and the ThaIkea furniture project, please click continue below.

***If anyone is looking for an environmental project to take on to Save the World, by the way, it's time to look at plastic drinking straws. I think I've personally pulled hundreds of them off about 100 metres of beach, and they won't degrade for what, like, a million years. All for something that you use for three minutes.

Today's refresher was a "shake" at a local thatch-hut restaurant. I chose orange flavor, Mandi chose watermelon-orange. All it was, was: fresh squeezed orange juice and ice. A fresh-squeezed Slurpee. After working three hours in the hot sun, it was THE BOMB. Also on the menu: "Fresh Sgueezdz Juices." The English here never is perfect, but usually it's perfectly understandable.

Miscommunication has created a bunch of funny situations, though. While walking back from lunch, I saw a bunch of people gathered on both sides of the highway, in an area that has nothing, it's all washed out. There were 4 people in a jeep driving up to the area, a white jeep with a "Red Cress" logo on it. People wearing spanking new t-shirts and spanking new bandages sporting red ink splots were lying around. Nearby, guys under golf umbrellas, holding out fuzzy microphones on a stick.

I'd come all the way from LA for the wild Asian experience and someone was filming in front of my hotel.

The funny part came later. I was telling Stuart about the beach cleaning, and we were talking about the 100 Days' teams project to make lamps out of small glass bottles, when three girls walked up to the hotel and started talking in Thai, looking for permission to use the restroom. Stuart replied in Thai, then noticed this one girl with a raging head wound! She needs help! No wonder she wants to use the bathroom, she's injured! He started freaking out and running to her with some tissue-thick napkins he grabbed off the table and he couldn't understand why they were stopping to take their shoes off, and being so casual about such a massive head wound! Mandi had come back by then, and we were laughing our heads off. We were yelling, Stuart! It's for a MOVIE!

It took him a minute or two to figure it out. Then he was laughing too.

I went back in the afternoon and ran into Moira from yesterday's Day of Adventure. She may be doing some work here at the center. We might bunk together to save some dough. Isn't that awesome? $12 is way too much in Thailand to spend on a hotel, even with A/C, so we hope to split for $6 each.

I got a very minimal amount of painting in at the ThaIkea project site, before black clouds rolled in and we had to cover everything up before the rain. Volunteers and local Thai take coffins made for the tsunami, dismantle them and take the nails out, then the wood is used to build bookcases, stools and benches for local schools. The coffins are unused. They were built in the standard size, however, the bloated, seawater soaked casualties would not fit inside the standard boxes. Click here and herefor little stories about the project.

Posted by sedda at 05:19 PM

March 20, 2005

By the seat of my Thai pants

Well, the big plans for the elephant excursion for my Day Off fell through last night when I found a note from Fern in my room saying her family wanted to go up early, and they were sorry they missed me. Guess I'll work on that story another time.

Plan B: Take the bus back down toward Phuket Town, to see the Wat Phra Thong, a Buddha who is half-buried in the ground (those who try to dig him up experience bad luck) and the Heroines Memorial, commemorating a town full of women who dressed up as men so that the approaching army were intimidated to find so many men to fight, and retreated, thereby saving everyone.

Only, I'd just missed the 7am bus by 5 minutes. So after a leeeeeiiisurelly breakfast, I was sure to be ready for the 9:20 when it came by — particularly since I wasn't more than 80% sure it was going where I wanted to be anyway.

At this moment, who do I run into but The Money Man and The Bodyguard, photographing the rubble in front of my hotel. The Bodyguard is in much better shape since the last time I saw him, with bandages on only one appendage instead of three, and in much better humor since being allowed to shower after his Welcome to Thailand Motorbike Wreck.

I showed them around a bit and told them all about the Volunteer Center, which was what had brought them up this way in the first place. They are touring southern Thailand, evaluating projects that may need a piece of a large hunk of donor dollars they have collected from friends. The Money Man, a frequent visitor to Thailand, had just happened to hop on his motorbike to head up the hill out of town for some sightseeing or something. While he was driving, he heard a lot of yelling and screaming. When he stopped finally to see what was going on, he saw the horror beneath him, which in some fluke of fate he had unwittingly escaped. He is compelled to give back in the dramatic way he knows how, and he is the kind of person who does things Big.

Plan C: I sensed that my Phuket bus was barelling down the road as we were at the beach, and since it wasn't a sure thing anyway, I asked to tag along to learn about others in need and see parts of the north I might not have another chance to see. They were happy to fit me in the car, with their driver for the day, Nosh. (By the way, if you keyword search 'maps' in the box to the right, you can call up the map links I posted earlier.)

The rest of the story is important, highlighting Baan Nam Kem and Kura Buri, so please click continue below to read it. Please.

***Our first stop was in Baan Nam Kem, the worst-hit town in the tsunami. They lost 60% of their residents in the waves. Let me spell that out a bit, while you digest it. The small town of a bit over 5,000 people, poor, many fisherman, have counted 3400 dead or missing friends from their village alone. Sixty percent.

The devastaion there is vast, making hard-hit Khao Lak and its slow construction look a lot better off than it did even when I was cleaning the beach on Friday. Cars that rolled around in the waves lay battered in fields. Small pieces, pieces, bits of stuff everywhere. Buildings cracked, sagging, blown out. The people patient, stoic.

"This looks like Disneyland compared to what it was," Moira told us. She was showing us around to spread awareness about her project, and with any luck, The Money Man might be able to help her fisherman friends.

Through various contacts The Money Man had discovered the Tsunami Fishermen Relief Fund, directed by Graeme Killen and Pon Ketkliang. They recently were joined by our host, Moira Hieges, a former English teacher (for medical sciences) in China, among other amazing things.

The TFRF is a relatively small project, which aims to build and rebuild boats for the fishermen of Baan Nam Kem, to get them back to work quickly, so they can support their families. The twist is that these fishermen all are under governmental radar, because they do not have the title to the boat they lost in the waves. The government may be able to grant up to $650 for those who can prove they had a boat. No title, no benefits.

Moira, Pon and Graeme hope to build 20-40 boats with the townspeople, which will be handpicked for benefits. This is a different spin than projects of other groups, some of which attempt to help communities equally. TFRF has fixed seven boats so far, which are back on the water, supporting more than seven families. They had some help from the Volunteer Center building their boat shed (Photos here).

TFRF is working closely with the Fisheries Dept. (in fact the office is nearby), who are happy with the project especially since the government does not have resources to help everyone. The 10m boats cost about $3200 to build from scratch (including tools, which can be reused), not including the motor. It takes four guys three weeks to build each one.

The price of boat building has gone up in Thailand, in a typical supply/demand way — the cost of lumber has more than doubled recently, and one has to be mindful to get "legal" wood. Lumber from Cambodia, Burma, or the local hills is illegal. Lumber from Laos, which may come from badly deforested areas, may be unethical, but still is legal. TFRF currently drives 120km north to Ranong to get their wood at a lumberyard. So the current cost of building the boats may be higher than what you have seen on websites for various projects.

All of the building is done by hand outdoors, with simple tools, and with special care. An electric saw may be one of the more specialized tools used. The group would like to have a toolshed built to store the tools through the rainy season, and are hoping that the Volunteer Center may be able to help — volunteers from here already built a small open-air boathouse with electricity for some of the construction.

If you have an interest in helping Thai fisherman directly, this is a project that does help Thai people to help themselves. I can assure you that the overhead for the group is low to non-existant. Moira's living space is basically the size of a 1.5-car garage with a rollup door. Her furniture is a foam mat on the floor with a mosquito net, a grungy plastic patio table with a few grungy plastic chairs, and a bookshelf made with bricks and filled with old books. She has a laptop that I assume is her own.
But they still have at least 30 boats to go.

(I also highly recommend the Pakarang Boatyard Project, which is even more community-based, but more on that later.)

The Money Man and The Bodyguard were anxious to get to their next appointment, ganged up in a row LA-style, by cell phone. We paused to photograph the large fishing boat beached at an intersection a kilometre from the beach, then headed north again. It is difficult to imagine the force of nature that sent the craft so far inland.

The further we drove, the more local and less touristy the areas became.

In Kura Buri, we met with a small team also working on some local projects in towns that were completely thrashed. Called North Andaman Tsunami Relief (a 501(c)3), this group particularly would like to support the people of Laem Naew, and seven other relatively undisturbed Thai villages. Click here for photos. While some groups specialize in initial emergency aid, and others are prepared to help in the long term, NATR is addressing all three phases, with a special understanding of mid-term needs. A lot of people have worked through the initial shock of the tragedy, but are not yet prepared to focus on their long-term goals. Some may be preparing to move back home from temporary housing — where they will be faced with immediate needs again as they re-build.

NATRis working with eight villages in the area, to "Provide emergency, mid- and long-range assistance to ensure that tsunami victims have access to food education, healthcare and can rebuild and/or diversify their livelihoods."

The group's organizer, who prefers not to be recognized, has lived in Thailand for a few years, and is familiar with the customs of the culture and his neighborhood. It's another great grass roots effort.

During a lovely lunch at the nicest restaurant in Kura Buri, The Money Man discovered he had mislaid his cell phone, and rushed to find it. It never did turn up, and he was too upset to eat lunch, allow anyone to speak to him, or enjoy most of the ride home as a result. He thinks someone nicked it between the car and the office, we didn't cover much more ground than that since he remembered having it last.

The Dynamic Duo, powered by Nosh, were so nice to drop me off at the front door of the Volunteer Center. It was a sad day, seeing all of the work that needs to be done, all of the laborious steps it will take to get people back to their regular lives. I am inspired by the generosity of each of these people helping, doing what little they can to effect great and important change. Each one can't save the world. But if every affected town had a Fisherman's Relief Project, a Volunteer Center, a Tsunami Relief group like the ones I met today, they all could heal with so much extra love and support.

Posted by sedda at 04:12 PM

March 19, 2005

Nang Thong Beach cleanup+Tsunami Survivor store

Today I signed up for beach cleanup. Then immediately was put in charge of it, as the project leader's birthday is today and he wants to see his girlfriend and go diving this weekend. So he took off.

The job is to sweep the beach clean of anything the sea is unable to digest: plastic, plastic bags, broken glass. Larger items get piled up beyond high tide point. Smaller items go into garbage bags.

A group from USC and some Christian volunteers, all students, turned up as promised shortly before lunch. I took my leadership role seriously, and lead by example: I gave them detailed instruction, offered them sunblock and gloves, told them to be careful. Then I took off. Fern and I got some cold drinks, in a lovely rebuilt hotel nearby. (But we came back about 15 mins later.)

It was soothing to be next to the water, hearing the waves lap up. And bizarre to imagine that awful day, with perfect weather just like this, when the sea came alive and buried everyone.

Walking along the waterline first, mostly what you find is broken glass and small bits of plastic and electronics, like the plug end of Christmas lights, or a lightswitch cover, or a broken bottleneck. A little further from the water are heavier plastic and metal things like broken beer cans, parts of cars and surf toys. Further from the water are larger and heavier items like plastic bags filled with sand, ripped up clothing, shoes. Lots of shoes. Towards the dry part of the sand are all kinds of things, mattresses, soaked foam, shoes, clothing, wads of plastic string. I wore gloves, because by noontime glass was too hot to touch.

If you find a passport, you turn it in to the guy who runs my hotel. He has a shoebox full of them that he will return to the embassies. Lost lives from Finland, Germany, Russia, here. Three of them in the box had the same family name, and credit cards too.

The suitcases usually have been slashed open and looted already. But I always check just in case, for anything personal. The guy at the hotel has a luggage tag with a Finland address on it. For all you know, that might be the only thing her family gets back from this tragedy. Just a luggage tag, to a missing suitcase for a stolen life.

To read on about the Tsunami Survivor Craft Store this afternoon, please click continue below.

***I also was able to hitch to the Survivor Craft Store today, which opened last week. Artists and children in the camps are making batik wall hangings depicting the tsunami and ocean life (200bht), cool woven purses (400bht+), woven plastic beachy purses (150bht, these are cute), and some children's wood burnings (they call them wood soldering). They also have the tsunami dolls with the sand, as I described yesterday, and some drinks and snacks. And people doing some crafts in the store to show you how they made them. I guess on Weds there will be an all-you-can eat grand opening buffet there.

It was a great hitch, as it was a German tourist who picked me up on his motorbike (his 2 friends blew me off), and he spoke great English. They had ridden all the way from Karon, which is near Tik+Niel's way down south. Something like 160km he said, on motorbikes. They had come all this way just to see the police boat that was beached 1 km from the water. This is the landmark for the craft store. "It's by the police boat." The waves were taller than the trees here, forceful enough to drag a huge boat to where it doesn't belong, then dump it there.

Then the Germans checked out the beach and picked me up again on the way back. Which was brilliant, I caught a ride all the way back to the volunteer center, which was a good few miles. The guy who gave me a ride looked overheated, so I gave him a cold water in exchange for the ride. I must have looked the same, because he had gotten me a cold Coke!

Tomorrow is a day off. I plan to check out an elephant safari with Fern, Arnie + Dana (age 16), a family who helped with beach cleanup today. They are hiring a car to get there, so it sounds like a good deal. I want to see the setup to write a children's story about elephants and their jobs. We also hope to see the Buddha who is halfway buried, but need to consult the maps first to see whether it's feasable.

Posted by sedda at 04:33 PM

Monkey business

Then at breakfast the blasted monkey jumped on my head, someone had to pull him off. He likes you, he likes you! everyone teased.

I'm told both gibbons have had their shots. Which also is lucky for the dogs, as he was picking on them next this morning.

I knew I'd made a fatal error when I let him win on those fruits. Now he can smell fear.

Posted by sedda at 08:56 AM

Hitchhiking in Khao Lak

Hitchhiking the mile or so down the road has been a fairly easy prospect. Mostly I've ridden in the back of pickup trucks, though I did get one ride up front in the air-conditioned cab. The driver never understands where you are going (although s/he always will nod and tell you he does), so you bang on the side of the truck when you need to get out. Sometimes a volunteer with a motor scooter will give you a lift as well. Generally people go in small groups.

A guy I talked to last night said he had his thumb out by the side of the road, and a cluster of four cars approached. All four cars stopped to give him a ride. The people here have been very supportive of the volunteers this way.

At night, it's a bit of a different story. The Thais believe that when someone dies, their soul hangs around for 100 days before moving on. This is why the volunteer center is organizing the huge 100 Days Festival for April 2-4, as a ceremony to release these spirits and send them on peacefully.

Anyway, it's harder to get a hitch after dark, as the Thais think you are a spirit wandering, waiting to go home to a place they cannot take you.

Luckily the walk isn't far.

Posted by sedda at 07:21 AM

Don't mess with the monkeys

I got to breakfast early at the volunteer center. It's quiet and peaceful, and cool — for now. I heard a plastic bag rattling and saw that two gibbons were busting into a stash of fruit that looks like lychee nuts. I chased them away and grabbed the bag. But then one of them took me from behind. He jumped on me and tried biting my butt. I decided it wasn't worth the victory and threw the bag in his face to get him to back off.

One of the volunteers says that sometimes they gang up on the dogs and they chase them until they can grab their back legs.

I'm a little more leery of the monkeys now.

Posted by sedda at 07:08 AM

March 18, 2005

Moving north to help more people

It's time to head north to find some work to do. Tik helped me find a red tuk-tuk (open-air taxi) to take me to Phuket Town, about 45 mins northeast of Kata Beach. The fare was 300bht ($7.50), which is pretty steep considering the sawngthaew openair bus would have been 40bht or less ($1). But the tuk-tuk dropped me right at the bus station, which made it easier with my heavy bag, and what I really was paying for was for Tik not to worry. She is a natural worrier. I think she might have been convinced that I could have ended up with the rebels in Burma without her watchful eye.

The timing was perfect, and I found a bus leaving in 40mins to Khao Lak Nature Preserve, which is where the Khao Lak volunteer center is. The bus was basically a school bus, but entirely done in chrome instead of yellow paint. No a/c, no bathroom. The breeze was wonderful through the whole 2.5-hr ride. I had a seat to myself until I got to share it with a Thai student who kept falling asleep on my shoulder. During a few of the stops, vendors hopped on peddling bags of ice with a straw (perhaps a drink came with, I couldn't see), sliced fruit, and other sweets.

I stuck with my Lay's Sweet Basil chips (which somehow tasted a bit like BBQ) and only a tiny bit of water. See "no bathroom," above.

The driver knew exactly where to go, and dropped me at the front door of the volunteer center, right next to Khao Lak National Park. I signed up for two weeks, and have my pick of helpful tasks. Tomorrow I think I'll do the beach cleaning, and on Monday I'll help with painting bookcases, stools and benches to be used at schools. I also can help with construction and a number of other things, if I want to. Sundays are a day of rest.

It's a great project because it is run by Thai people for Thai people. At registration, Jenny stressed that things must be done in the Thai way, even if it doesn't make much sense. This is to limit their sense of confusion (they've been through enough already), and to make sure the project is maintainable in the way they are used to, after volunteers leave.

Please, please click on continue below to read the rest of the story.

***The goal of all projects is to get each situation stabilized enough to give it back to the Thai people.

The volunteer center has several main, important requirements they stressed as I registered. All appear to be priority #1:
-be respectful to the thai people and thai ways (+dress appropriately)
-pick up after yourself
-do not leave ANY food unattended because the monkeys get into it

The gibbons apparently are "quite cheeky" (as a girl Kate described one lurking over her head), and will grab anything that resembles food even if you are standing right there. They tried to get into some Cipro earlier today, and one of them found some painkillers yesterday. Although, they don't sound half as bad as the squirrels at Big Rock or the Marmots in the Sierras, as they will not chew your bag open to find the crumbs inside. (Signs posted around say: "Caution—Be Careful Monkey. Do not touch+give your food.")

Today I helped Kate, Mickey and Yo tie tags onto Tsunami dolls that will be a fundraiser during the a 100 Days Festival. Each of us was from a different country. The dolls are in the shape of a spirit person (like their logo) and each has "hope" "spirit" or "renewal" on his chest. They are filled with the sand of local beaches, and made from donated clothing that can't be worn, but must be consumed in some way so they don't become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The dolls come with a tag printed in English/Thai:
A symbol of hope, spirit and renewal:
Women from Thap Tawan, Khuek Khak, Khao Lak and other villages sew the Tsunami Dolls using leftover donated clothes. With the hope for a sustainable future, in the spirit of strength and togetherness, creating new out of the old.

Filled with sand from Phang Nga's beaches, the Tsunami Doll reminds us of the 26Dec2004. Grains of sand represent our lives-lives of those who perished, of survivors, and of those who came to help.

They sell for 50bht+ each. If you would like me to bring one home for you, email me and I can collect $1.25 from you later. They are not cute, but they are quite powerful to hold in your hand, the grains of sand working their way out of the fabric and into your palm.

The center requires a 100bht ($2.50) daily donation, which covers three meals, and some food for local volunteers. I hope to find a hotel in town, I hear the closest one is 200bht ($5) per night, with A/C. Or, I can stay in my tent for free (no A/C). After all that complaining about how heavy my bag was, I may not use that tent at all!

But I need to arrange all of that. The local method of transport is hitch-hiking — the Thais are so grateful to have the help, they pay the volunteers back by shuttling them the 4 minutes over the hill.

I haven't yet been into town, and it's supposed to be quite a mess. Khao Lak was hit particularly hard, which is pretty evident just by the fact that this center is still open and thriving. On my way in, I also passed the Thai Army Tsunami Relief camp. Thriving, and just up the road.

Posted by sedda at 04:57 PM

Helping the Monks of Kamala

I am pleased and excited to tell you about more of the donations the Knitzilla project has given to the people of Kamala Beach. Yesterday we supported 10 children in their school tuition for the next school year. (The big kids started summer vacation on Wednesday, the warm months are coming up.)

Today, Tik promised to help us by buying the uniform for a needy student. Also, she will take over our donation of about $250 to help the monks rebuild their temple. The temple is an important center of community, and by repairing it and rebuilding its strength, it's my hope that the community will be able to heal more fully.

The small donation isn't nearly enough, as the walls alone will cost $10,000, but monks rely solely on community support so the funds may go toward their food, clothing, sleeping mats, etc., while construction is underway. We hope a generous donor will surface soon so the walls can be enclosed before the monsoons begin (and, they are really close to the water, so that rain will blow right in off the water). A separate group is working on a larger project to help with the entire complex, long term (see previous post, and this website).

There still are funds left (if you can believe that — see how far your donations are going?!), which will be put to good use in Khao Lak. I'll be heading up there shortly.

Posted by sedda at 09:11 AM

March 17, 2005

Helping Kamala Kids - Photos!

Today was an important day for this relief mission. With great help from Tik Satterwhite, more than half the donations collected were given today to the Kamala Child Development Center, to pay one year's tuition for ten young students in pre-k/kindergarten, as well as for uniforms for one student for the next year or so.

I am glad to be able to support these kids with your donations, especially since so many of you wanted your gifts to go directly to children. Jaran Sararak, a school administrator, gave us a thank you letter expressing sincere gratitude for your generous kindness.

Their sweet faces tell the whole story of how important it is to help them with school and give them every opportunity to learn and grow. The Thai people are very good at supporting those in their community, but there is so much to do, I am glad that as world neighbors we can help them help their own community.

I haven't developed my photos yet, but Shanti has posted some images from the Kamala schools yesterday, and the temple, on Ofoto: Please click here for Shanti's photos from Kamala. (You do not need to sign in to Ofoto to view them.)

I'll also be making a donation to the Kamala temple, where the monks need walls built before monsoon season washes them out.

For more information on the monks and other notes from the day, please click continue below.

***Half of the monks living there died in the wave, which filled the temple up above Buddha's eyes (look at the photos to check this out—it's a LOT of water, and extended 1km into the town). Someone has given them a soft-top quonset hut to sleep in until a compound can be built, but the temple is in pretty bad shape. Monks rely totally on support from their community, and are not permitted to ask for anything. Each morning they walk the streets of the town, where people leave food out for them, and that's their day's meal. Local shops sell shrink-wrapped saffron-colored buckets filled with Monk Supplies that you can bring to the temple as a gift, or I guess leave out for them: All have a saffron robe, and basics like a toothbrush, toothpaste and soap. After that, there are three sizes for different prices—the largest one comes with a flashlight with D batteries. Some Buddhists prefer to give the monks separate donations instead of a pre-made kit, to insure the stuff in the bucket is fresh and usable.

The temple is the local worship area for the Kamala people, and so is an important gathering place and place of healing. I hope that by helping to heal the cement walls, somehow, it will help the community heal together.

Shilpa, Shanti + Daz headed up to Khao Lak today, on a go-see to understand the damage there on their way to the beautiful islands. The town was one of the worst hit. Shilpa+Shanti then will travel on to see Shanti's friends Elizabeth and Sun, divers in Ao Nang whose business was wiped out by the tsunami. Shanti has donations for the sea gypsies there, to help rebuild their boats. They'll also check out Koh Phi Phi and rack up some chill time in Koh Lanta.

I had some things to wrap up here in Kamala and Kata, and wanted to make a connection with the son of an old friend of my mom's, who has organized some relief work as well, so I stayed behind. We'll probably all reconvene later in our journeys.

Lunch today included Coconut yogurt ("nata du coco") from a mini-mart, which was quite tasty. I didn't try the yogurt with the picture of a fresh corn cob on the front, which boasted lotus beans as a key ingredient. Maybe tomorrow.

Posted by sedda at 04:17 PM

March 16, 2005

Kamala Kids

Today's highlight was handing out care packages to each of the 49 kids at the Kamala School who had lost a parent in the tsunami. Each received a plastic bag with a t-shirt, a pair of shoes, a beanie baby and a school supply like colored pencils. Well, except we were three kids short. They got two beanie babies and we'll have to do some more for them. That made me feel bad, not to have enough. I thought someone else had counted them. Or maybe, there were more kids in line than we expected.

The kids were very excited about the toys and t-shirts. They were instructed to just trade if they got shoes that didn't fit. It was the last day of school, a half day, so they were really chatty and giggly. Very very cute. I was wondering how they felt, to be singled out. Lucky? Important? Sad? I wondered if they were told they were getting special stuff because of the horrible things that had happened to them. I wondered what they were thinking about this random group of strange-speaking foreigners, who showed up on their school's doorstep to pull them out of class and give them some free stuff. What would that be like?

The teachers were also happy to receive 500(!) pens and about a thousand donated stickers to hand out to the students. We also gave them pictures drawn by kids at the school where I volunteer, and two flags to hang wherever is appropriate. The school did have a nice flag flying. The Money Man and The Bodyguard were impressed that the flags were donated. The only glitch in the whole thing was that while we were making the kits, we ended up with a mismatched pair of shoes—same color and style but different sizes! We assume there is a bag that has the opposite pair in there, so we left the odd shoes with a teacher who hopefully will straighten it all out for the poor kid who thinks we gave him carnival shoes!

To read more about Wednesday's adventures, please click continue below.

***We also visited the preschool, where we donated the rest of the beanie babies. They will stay in a common area, for the kids to play with at school. We didn't have enough to give each child one, after the 49 kids received them. There was a group of about six of them crowding the doorway as I unloaded the bag and they were SUPER bummed they couldn't each have one right that moment!!

I took a ton of photos (film) but I have no idea when I will post any. Shanti wants a photo of each child to post on her website, so they can be sponsored.

We'd met some British people who came along with us to the school, to check it out for incoming donations they are managing. They were kind enough to drive us, and Shanti's new friend Daz, in their rental car to an area north of Bang Tao, where an elderly rubber tree worker lives on borrowed land. Her bungalow was washed away in the wave, and the property is littered with debris. About six people live there, and their well has run dry after the tsunami. They literally have nothing. Two recently rebuilt bungalows, make of corrugated metal, a thin futon to sleep on, and some cats and kittens hanging around.

Daz had told us about the place, and we met his friend Pujan there. Daz trusts Pujan, who said the main thing this group needs is a well for water. Pujan was explaining that it's about $25 per "ring" (cement?) to drill the well. I think he was explaining about the depth, and the cost for drilling (which, in the States at least, can skyrocket if you drill and don't find water, and have to start over.) Shanti decided to grant the group $250 on the spot to drill the well. Daz and Shanti convinced Pujan to oversee the project, trusting that since he works with the government, there won't be any unnecessary 'fees' tacked on to the project by corrupt contractors trying to make a baht.

After a great lunch of fried rice in Phuket Town at a veg place (a lot like Govinda's), we took a colorful open air bus back to Kata, where I've been writing this post to hide from the heat!

Tomorrow we may head toward Khao Lak, Ao Nang, Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi. Not sure what internet access will be like there.

Posted by sedda at 05:36 PM

Khao Lak Photos

Here are some photos photos that Shanti took the day before I came up to Khao Lak. I'd heard about the volunteer center online, but was really enthused about it when Shanti called me after she drove through. I'm so glad I came up.

Shanti's Photo info:
#1 Is the view right after the vol center, on your way into town.
2 Looks like the beached boat in Ban Naam Kem, where Moira works.
3-4 is the land immediately in front of the first hotel where I stayed. A common sight here.
5 No idea, but I did make the sign
6 Marilyn in the ThaIkea furniture shop. Eli is to the right.
7 One of the locals helping with furniture. Haven't met him.
8 Police boat landmark. It's at least 2km from the waterline. The craft shop is a bit to the left.
9 Bang Tao family from last week.
11 Infamous gibbons at the vol center
12 Vol center meeting/dinner/craft area
13 Mandie at ThaIkea

Posted by sedda at 01:24 PM

March 15, 2005

Seeing the devastation for the first time

Tik and Shanti came to get us from the airport in Phuket in a minivan rented by two American Tsunami Angels, who purchased her plane ticket for her trip here (Shilpa + I have paid our own way.) We picked them up at a seaside resort suitable for James Bonds’ vacation. They are a great Mutt-and-Jeff duo, one wiry and small, and the other tall and burly. Because Mutt wishes to remain anonymous, I’ll call them The Money Man and The Bodyguard. See, the Money Man, has collected donations from his friends to help out, just as Shilpa, Shanti and I have. Only, in his line of work, his friends have been able to donate more than just a daily latte toward the cause. He is giving an undisclosed sum to individuals and small businesses that has several more zeroes in it than the amounts we have been able to bring over. The Money Man is interested in learning more about the troubles of local business people to issue individual grants so they can rebuild their lives.

The Bodyguard is a friend of Money Man’s, and together they are evaluating the tough situations. We call him The Bodyguard because he seems to be the Money Man’s emotional protector, making sure the donations go to good causes. A few days ago, however, The Bodyguard took a major wreck on a rented motorscooter, and is sporting a serious case of road rash on three out of four appendages. So now the Money Man is bodyguarding the Bodyguard, who visits a local clinic daily to have the dressings changed. On the upside, through the mishap, the Dynamic Duo realized the clinic needed a new UltraSound machine particularly for its women’s health division, and are arranging purchase of one for the community.

The funny part is, that Motorbike Road Rash is so common in Phuket, that strangers address The Bodyguard as though his injury is his name. Each person he meets laughs and points at the white gauze around his legs and arms, calling “Motorbike!” (Hundreds of people are injured on motorbikes in Phuket every year. We’re not going to be renting one this trip.)

The Dynamic Duo had rented the minivan to give us a tour of the areas ravaged by the tsunami, and meet some local people. Many areas are still destroyed, looking dried out and littered with debris. The communities have done a lot of rebuilding, and the fixes come together quickly. Shanti has watched a few buildings progress just since Saturday.

To read more about Tuesday’s adventures, please click continue below.

We worked our way down the coast through the resort towns. In Kamala (pronounced KAHM-uh-laaa), the waves reached two stories tall. We drove past dry vacant lots that used to be the bustling town center. Not knowing what was there before, it’s hard to imagine entire blocks being washed away in a couple of hours.

We passed the Kamala school, now an open landscape. In the distance you can see a large, three-story school building. Two more in front of it were taken out by the wave, and now all that’s left is a dirt field with a few awnings to shade the hot sun.

Almost next door to the school is the monastery. Of the six monks in residence, three survived the wave. Only one of their four walls is fully in tact. Yet, in the open air, the monks are at peace, in spite of the monsoon season approaching within two months. I felt a feeling of hope there, in the midst of such a desperate situation within their community. Their temple was strong, even though it was badly damaged.

Shilpa, particularly, had a difficult time at the monastery. It’s difficult to explain how emotional it was, standing within these walls bound by faith, and looking at a bulletin board filled with pictures of the neighborhood, flooded and ravaged by an act no one could control. Bodies floating in the water. Local businesses washed out. People cut up by millions of shards of glass in the water.

And today, a hot, sunny sky, bulldozers in the background, and incense burning for Buddha as it has every day for thousands of years. It’s very difficult to wrap your brain around.

While we were there we met a 14-year Kamala resident named John Clarke, who is working with a partner to rebuild the temple complex. It’s a 16m baht project ($420,000), and will include separate housing for the monks. The surprising part is that Tik, who is very well-connected to her community, wasn’t aware it was going on. With a lot of the projects, there are many groups participating, but there isn’t always a common thread to link them so they can work in concert.

We passed through Patong, which also lost its school. A very touristy resort town (think Cancun), 200 people were lost in the grocery store alone. It’s an underground grocery, close to the sea. It filled with water, and there wasn’t enough time for everyone inside to get through the two entrances to safety.

Moving on to Kata Beach, where Tik and Neil run Tik’s Place (we are staying in her rooms), we stopped in front of the Club Med, whose grounds clearly were worked over by the 1-story-tall sea. But only on one corner. If you continue along the road, you can see the evergreen landscaped lawns you would expect at a resort.

Across the way, Tik introduced us to Aai (pronounced Aay, like the letter A). He runs a beachside rental business renting snorkels, fins and surfboards. Knowing that his leg is damaged and he doesn’t walk well, friends rushed to get him into a car, and he wasn’t injured in the tsunami. At Kata Beach, some locals could see the wave coming, and ran ran ran to tell people to get to safety. Luckily the flooding was shallow here, maybe 3 feet deep. Between the warnings and the luck of the low waves, the damage in Kata is not great compared to Kamala up the road.

Today Aai is up and running thanks to Tik’s efforts. She had a sturdy plastic sign made to advertise his business (“Beach Rentals - My Joy Your Pleasure”)and she arranged to get him donated gear he could rent out. She found him four free gently used surfboards, but there’s a catch – they don’t have fins. All of you surfer types can understand that this is problematic, especially from a rental business perspective. And he doesn’t have money to buy new ones. Shanti will work to have some donated from the outdoors companies she sources for her articles.

In the meantime, the Money Man and The Bodyguard decided they really wanted to help Aai out. They talked with Tik, and decided to grant him a donation to purchase some more surfboards and rental gear. Which they did, on the spot. Tik will check in with Aai periodically to make sure the money is being spent as promised.

When we came back from lunch, Tik and her assistant Aai (this is a common name in Thailand, I guess) had the contents of our five large donation suitcases spread out across the reception area. Together we made kits for 49 Kamala Kids, each of whom lost a parent in the tsunami. Each kit contained a brand new t-shirt; a pair of shoes donated from Nike, Etnies, or a Silverlake mom named Tnah, some art supplies donated by Fairfax High students + teacher (and knitter) Susan Barth or myself, and a cute snuggly Beanie Baby donated by Susan or two other local donors, and supported by your donations for their travel here. We’ll be giving out the kits tomorrow.

The rest of the beanies will be distributed through the Kamala School. I’ve also put together two Kits for the principal of Kamala School. The head of the upper and lower schools each will receive a Thailand Flag donated by AAA Flag and Banner, a box of 250 pens donated by a Fairfax High teacher, stickers donated by Fairfax High students, and some drawings by 9th Street Elementary School first graders, student to student.

We took a walk to the beach to decompress. Tomorrow will be a big day. The water was cool, and the sand fine. It’s hard to picture that just two months ago the sea came alive and changed this town forever.

Posted by sedda at 09:49 PM

Monday in BKK

We got an early start, which turned out to be brilliant because of the humidity. Noon-4pm is pretty brutal, bright sun + high humidity. You get used to being wet and sticky all day long.

After schlepping the tent all the way here (and whining about it ever since), I wonder how excited I'm going to be sleeping in it without "air-con"!

Our room at Suk 11 (700bht or $17.50/nite dbl) included a light continental breakfast of croissant, yummy banana muffins, melon and pineapple slices, and other sweet breads. Bottled water is 5bht (10c) extra, and COLD. There are seats outside on a small veranda, with a fountain. THey play movies out there in the evenings on a medium-sized TV with a DVD player.

Suk11 itself is like a secret hideaway, back in an alley off Soi11 in the Sukhumvit area. The inside is decorated as though each room were a separate bungalow at night, with dark lighting, paper lanterns, and boardwalks lined with mirrors to give a feel of being on the water. In the common area (reception), the walls are floor-to-ceiling graffiti messages from people across the world who have enjoyed their stay there. The words crawl up the stariwell and sprawl into a common lounge on the 3rd floor, where they are extending into the hallway toward the Buddha shrine and loaner bookshelf.

So, altogether a bit of Shangri-La, particularly since the rooms feature "air-con," proving essential to a decent night's sleep.

To read more about Monday's wanderings, including the Royal Barge Museum, Red Lobster-flavored chips, and pancake popsicles, please click continue below.

***But much to see in the great beyond. We began at Wat Pho, the world's largest reclining Buddha. Women are required to wear sleeves and no sandals — though everyone is required to remove his shoes before going inside the temple. Guards will remind you before entering if you are dressed improperly.

Wat Pho is about 4 stories tall, and so large you hardly can fit any part of him into a picture. He is entirely gold. Gold leafed, I should say. I paid 20bht to take a cup of coins and drop them one by one into a series of monks' bowls, each one making a tinking clink as it went in. I believe you make good thoughts and wishes as you go along, and the ritual brings luck, or prosperity. I thought it was worth a shot. A few bins got more than one coin as I went along, and when I got to the last bin, my cup was empty! The prayer was incomplete! I could never leave Thailand this way. The smallest coin I had was 10 bht, so I exchanged it for one more "penny" for the last bin.

Then, the infamous Wat Pho Massage School for one hour traditional Thai Massage. With herbs: lemon grass, keffir lime, casumunar and camphor. Thai massage goes deep into the tissue with a lot of strength. Parts of it are not relaxing. But by the end of the hour you feel light, lemony and cooled. And they send you off with cold tea. All for $10. I can not recommend this experience more highly. Everyone who goes through bangkok should try this.

Shilpa and I split up, and I took a ferry across the river to find a Buddha-making factory. I was the only tourist on the ferry and walking in the markets. I somehow ended up at the wrong landing (turns out each ferry is marked as to where it's going, huh), but no matter. It wasn't far on the map to walk back. After a snack of Lay's chips (written in Thai—other flavors available were Nori Seaweed and Red Lobster), I found a sign pointing out the Royal Barge Museum nearby.

I turned off the main road expecting to find the museum within a block. I ended up winding through a narrow quarter mile neighborhood of wall to wall rooms opening one wall to the open air on the boardwalk. Each room was a family's house, with a kitchen in one corner, a small TV in another, and sometimes a mattress bed somewhere in the middle. Many had the family business inside as well — a restaurant, a place where you can buy drinks/snacks, a hair salon. Being a weekday, I didn't see any other tourists, but there were easily 10 places to stop and get a snack. Some homes had newspaper boxes, some had chickens, some had CDs hanging as mobiles. There were a lot of stray dogs, and an occasional motor bike to share the boardwalk with.

The museum itself was a bit of a disappointment after all I had seen along the way. The Royal Barges were interesting and beautiful (they had about 8 of them), gildged. Some were damaged in WWII bombing while in slips.

On my walk back along the boardwalk, I stopped at one home to buy a refrigerated bottle of water (10bht), and the woman who sold it to me interrupted herself singing a traditional Thai song on the radio to toast me with her own drink. We clinked plastic containers and I set out again.

Near the main road, school was letting out and parents were picking up their kids on motor scooters. Vendors lined the road to the school, and the kids crowded around the man making hot pancake popsicles in the shape of elephants, rabbits, stars and dogs. 5bht each, they looked yummy.

Heading now toward the Buddha place, I realized that it was only on the map that "some objects may appear closer," and with some help found a bus. Another man gave me some more directions after I got off the bus, he seemed American but a local. I pretty much stuck out as a tourist, and a lost one at that. (I thought I was fine, but he did save me a good 30 mins since I was a block shy of where I thought I was.) It turned out his wife had been principal at the school near the Buddha place - only she said it was long gone. I went by the temple there anyway, and that school was letting out, too. Passing another pancake vendor, a small scout in uniform caught my eye and gave me a proper 3-finger salute, which I returned to his delight.

I was more careful about the ferry back across the river, asking directions and reading the sign on the side of the boat this time. Taking the bus through rush hour traffic took three times' longer than our morning ride, and in spite of the ticket-taker's calls that I was getting off long before my stop, I bailed to jump on the Sky Train metro, and finished my journey to the hotel within 20 minutes.

We hit the Night Market, which was smaller and less exciting than the weekend market. I still found a few things, and we both were relieved to be out in slightly cooler weather (unbearably hot, compared to Nuclear).

Tomorrow — Phuket.

Posted by sedda at 09:52 AM

March 13, 2005

Made it to Bangkok!

We finally made it to Bangkok. I have to say at hour 18 of air travel I was completely done. With two hours left to go. And a serious case of Fanny Fatigue.

Customs was a non-issue and we hired a taxi for the 30-minute ride to the hostel (700bht, and abt. 38bht/$). We realized later we had hired the more expensive in-the-airport service, rather than the stand-in-the-queue service, but it was a done deal and it was a nice car, and although he assured us he knew where he was going (and it was clear he didn't, totally) he didn't get lost — though he did stop for directions.

We checked out the famed Chatuchak Weekend Market, open Saturdays and Sundays only. It's enormous, with everything from silk scarves to chicken nuggets to real knockoff Louis Vuittons. If you've ever been to The Alley in LA, just times it by about 75, add about 4,000 more people, and crank the heat and humidity up to about 89/90%.

To quote "Look," a local what's-happening magazine (which seems to specialize mostly in ads featuring young, scantily-clad women and what kind of time you might spend with them), "As for Chatuchak Market, it opens for every Saturdays and Sundays. The most important thing is we have to push the way through the crowd and our happiness can be disappeared because of our soaking sweat."

A little while after our happiness was being disappeared in our dizzying sweat, we took the sky train (it's a metro with a view, about $1 each way) back toward the hostel and decided to have Indian food for dinner, since it seemed familiar. (Full meal with dessert and drinks was about 235 bht, or about $5.) Yum-my.

There was a quote on the menu:
"The new year, the spring, wine and the beloved are pleasing;
Enjoy them Babur, for the world is not to be had a second time."
-Zahiru'd-don Muhammed Babur Padush Chazi, 1483-1530

Posted by sedda at 07:21 PM

Made it to Taipei!

We made it through the first 14 hours of the flying and are in Taipei on a layover for a couple of hours. At this point it's a good time to acknowledge my dad, who years ago shelled out for a membership to one of those fancy airline clubs for me, which Shilpa and I are much enjoying now. Free internet, showers and noodle lunch with drinks, and no annoying announcements overhead. We feel like movie stars, the people in the club are so nice.

The flight was uneventful. Interestingly, you don't fly due west to Asia. Or at least, we didn't. According to the computer graphic they flashed on the screen occasionally, we left LA around 11pm (and change), flew north of Santa Barbara up toward Alaska, hit the Bering Straight by around 7am PDT, making almost a U-turn along the Asian continent. We flew over Japan around 9am, then landed in Taipei by 2pm (which was like 6am locally).

The airline food was as expected, except to note that the Chinese guy sitting next to me was so displeased with his Chinese breakfast (he made a face that said, "Euuuu," and I have to say it looked like gruel) that I offered him the mini-croissant from the American breakfast I chose. Which he immediately accepted.

Next stop, Bangkok!

Posted by sedda at 07:01 AM

Last-minute craziness

My last few hours of packing were a challenge. I had hoped to be ready early, but there were too many things to do. I was having a hard time making decisions. Would I need a tent, as Hands On Thailand suggested? Or just pay for a hotel? What would I do for 20 hours on the plane?

In the end, I put everything in. Tent, Thermarest, two knitting projects. I couldn't fit all the film in the small carryon I had gotten so I wouldn't try to carry too much stuff. G. helped me cram a lot of it in, but I had to use a donated daypack to fit it all, since the film couldn't get nuked in regular baggage. Through my tears of frustration and not being able to make decisions, and realizing for real that G. couldn't come with me for the trip, I threw in two wine-red balls of Merino Frappe yarn. Just in case.

In case of what? World hunger? Emergency scarf knitting? I wish I'd been talked out of this. But in grasping to take my home with me — G. — I could only fit two stupid balls of yarn in the bag. Which I didn't need.

I felt guilty now that my suitcase was full now - hard to zip. As though if there weren't a little room in it, I wouldn't be able to take any Adventure home with me. I felt worse when Shilpa came up with the same size bag I'd had before the tent and thermarest. My carryon was heavy with magazines, a book, travel books.

Please click continue below for the rest of the story.

And then when I got on the plane all I wanted to do was sleep. My chin nestled into the cushy neck pillow G. gave me. And I felt even more dumb about the extra yarn. My heavy bags, added to the heavy donation bags.

The thing is, I'm a person who likes to make decisions, have options. It makes me feel rich to have choices. Knowing I always overpack the carryon, I still couldn't figure out what I'd really want during the trip. In the last hours of Friday and on the plane, I realized I just wanted a simple trip, and for G. to be with me, helping the kids as well. Maybe I could have left the tent at home. And I realilzed, having something productive to do on the plane wasn't as important to me as travelling simply.

But now here I am in Taipei, more than halfway there — with 100 kilos of luggage (most of it donated toys, shirts + shoes for the kids in Kamala), three pairs of knitting needles, and five balls of yarn that I now want to just send home (and I just might). I'd hoped to finish a sweater for G. 's niece in all the travel time. But I didn't fully absorb how many emotional levels this trip will span — and now I realize that adding another layer of productivity on the airplane isn't really necessary.

Posted by sedda at 06:45 AM

March 11, 2005

I'm off!

Well I'm packed with a lot of help from G. . Fitting the knitting and film in my small carryon was a bit of a challenge. All the bags are heavy. Really heavy.

A big disappointment today — the Baden playground balls hadn't shown up and for some reason they had been sent back to the shipper. I am really sad about it. I had hoped to bring some joy and stress relief for the kids. I'll try to arrange something when I get back.

Off to get some dinner then hurry up and wait for my 11pm flight!

Posted by sedda at 06:31 PM

March 10, 2005

Beanie Update and Thanks

Another word of thanks to teacher and knitter Susan Barth, who found a bargain at Target, and has donated 26 more beanie babies! This brings her total donation to 100! And that's 166 beanie babies in my suitcase — which barely zips, by the way. That's 50 lbs of beanie babies, folks. Serious. Outstanding help for the Kamala kids!

Susan also cashed in another Staples Rewards certificate she earned as a teacher and added five more packs of colored pencils to the stash going to the kids. And, she's contributed 8 rolls of film for documenting the project! Thanks Susan!

Thanks extended also to Laura Harris, who has collected $60 in scrubbie donations and even offered to send the checks straight to UNICEF!

I also appreciate the efforts of Tnah, a mom from Silverlake, who brought by seven pairs of new and gently used boys' shoes for the Kamala kids. Thanks to her four boys for sending their shoes on to help other children!

And many thanks to all of you and your thoughtful hearts for donating more than $1000 in cash and scrubbie fundraising. The money can go a long, long way — just $5 can buy school supplies for a child, or food for a week. Your generosity is going to help these kids grow, in so many positive ways.

Posted by sedda at 10:14 PM


G. found my keys on the dining room table. About two layers down, under stuff that otherwise may not have been moved for weeks.

Posted by sedda at 07:56 PM


No sign of my keys. Had to take the spare set to go run errands.

Posted by sedda at 05:55 PM

Last-Minute Details

A whirlwind day of little details and taxes! Wheee! I thought I was maintaining complete control until yesterday when I kept stubbing my toes on all the junk scattered around the house. The house is a scary reminder of what my bedroom looked like in high school. Lots of pieces. Everywhere. And deep.

My keys are missing. Big, girly, "what-is-all-of-this" kind of keychain gone. Ah, the International Sign of Doing Too Much, Too Fast. I hope I find it after I dig down through a layer or two. They usually don't go missing for long.

So then I pull yesterday's laundry out of the washing machine to finally dry. Underwear, underwear, black t-shirt, red t-shirt, jeans, underwear, pink tshirt....pink Gap girl t-shirt like my cousin Alley would wear? Pink? Whose is this? How did some girly girl's laundry get mixed in here, when I know I put this load in myself? Did someone from next door sneak in and...waaaait a miiinute....that's my FAVORITE WHITE T-SHIRT! How did it get in the load with the red stuff?!?! D'oh!

Yeeeahhh.... doing a little too much at once, I think.

Posted by sedda at 09:45 AM

March 09, 2005

Suitcase Scramble

I solved the problem of how to get 138 beanie babies, two Thailand flags, 20lbs of playground balls+pumps, seven pairs of new/used kids' shoes, 500 ballpoint pens, 100 tshirts, several packs of colored pencils, various school supplies and a few other random things, to Thailand.

I'm limited to three bags, maximum of 70lbs each. This is because Shanti and I got special permission to check one additional bag to bring relief supplies.

I have no idea how heavy 70lbs is, and after the second bag you can't carry everything, anyway. So I keep lifting the garbage bags of donations, sort of weighing it in my hands and asking G. , How much do you think this weighs? He never knows. No matter how many times I ask him.

Since my cool adventure duffel is packed to the gills with beanie babies (ohhh SkyCap!), I decided earlier today to pick up an inexpensive wheely duffel downtown in the garment district, to make a single trip over with the rest of the donations. Shanti had some wonderful bags donated by Solomon, but she has filled them with other awesome donations for the kids.

Only, while absorbed in talking the downtown vendor down from $25 to $20, and feeling thrilled to have found an inexpensive solution, I forgot to inspect the bag, which — as Murphy would have it — had two damaged wheel covers, making it tough to roll fully loaded.

G. said he could fix it with a drill, some washers, bolts and nuts. Unfortunately, we were out of nuts, as I had used the last of them to make his Valentine ("I'm NUTS about you!" yuk yuk). So he had to run to Home Depot to get supplies. The bag is now sturdier than ever.

But—to weigh it! I hit up our rock-star next door neighbors for a scale. Chances of finding a bathroom scale there were pretty low. But it was 10:30 and they seemed to be the only ones up. Luckily, Josh's girlfriend's roommate had bought a scale when she was in the same pickle before a trip to London. She gave me directions and I drove the 1.8 miles (ahhh, love...they clocked the distance between their houses) to her apartment and picked it up.

And, I saved the best for last — Josh works at Quiksilver and may be able to help us get some clothes to children in Thailand!

Posted by sedda at 10:28 PM

March 07, 2005

Beanie Update

Many thanks to high school teacher Susan Barth, who has donated 74 beanie babies and small toys for the kids of Kamala. This brings the grand total in my suitcase to 138 small stuffed animals! With the 50 that Shanti purchased and had sponsored, this is exactly enough for all of the students under age six at the school.

Susan also sponsored a school supply and sticker drive among her students at Fairfax High in LA. They collected a few hundred stickers, a bunch of pencils and pens, and one teacher donated 500 pens! (These are heavier than you might think.)

Thanks, too, to Whitney from the Knitzilla knitting circle, who also brought in a ton of stickers for the kids.

Susan additionally donated her hard-earned Staples teachers' rewards gift certificate for $20. With that coupon, and $11 from the donated fund, I'll be able to bring 13 packs of colored pencils and six sharpeners for kids.

Posted by sedda at 11:14 PM

March 06, 2005

Vaccinations for Thailand

I've been getting a lot of questions about vaccine prep for a visit to Thailand, particularly when you don't know what the conditions will be like. I'd like to assure everyone that I'm in good health and am up-to-date. I met with a doctor specializing in traveller's health, and consulted the CDC website.

The CDC recommends Hepatitis A+B vaccines, typhoid, boosters for tetanus-diphtheria and measles, adult polio, rabies if you'll be spending any time with animals, and Japanese encephailits if you'll be in a rural area for 4 weeks or more. As well as anti-malarials for certain areas. There is no risk of yellow fever, and the Cholera vaccine was so spotty they don't even give it any more. Meningococcal (bacterial meningitis), while a concern in parts of Africa and the Philippines, is not now a concern in Thailand. I did take a pass on both the rabies and the JapE, both of which my doctor said wouldn't be necessary. JapE potentially can cause anaphylaxis a week after the shot for an absolutely miniscule percentage of people who take it, but I didn't feel like messing around with that.

For more info on health in Thailand and links for those of you who are anti-vaccine due to potential mercury poisoning, please click continued below.

There is talk about their worries of an avian flu pandemic in Asia, and say to make sure chicken (etc.) is cooked through, and to avoid the bird areas in the markets. This is more of a concern in the very northern part of the country, like Chiang Mai. I'm not too concerned about being exposed. (There's a great New Yorker article on this in their 28Feb05 issue by Michael Specter. The New Yorker is too clever to let us read his story for free, though The Drudge Report does a good job of condensing only the most alarming bits. Please read the original, longer story, it's pretty well done.)

I picked up an expensive course of Malarone (atovaquone/proguanil), although I believe I'm far enough from the Burma border that I don't even need it anyway. I packed some nasty bug juice (deet) too. I've even had a pneumonia shot and I wangled a flu shot last fall during all that nonsense. So I really feel like I'm covered.

Some links on thimerosol (50% mercury) preserving agent in vaccines, from the San Francisco Examiner and SafeMinds.org.

An 8Feb05 LA Times article by Myron Levin on a 1991 Merck memo warning about mercury in shots is no longer online for free. It is, however, reprinted here.The memo apparently warned that infants who get their vaccines on time are exposed to 87 times the level of mercury recommended for adults eating fish.

I haven't studied this issue in the least (beyond what's here), so I can't vouch for the accuracy or origin of the material — though I will say the LAT is pretty well known for digging up pharmaceutical dirt on dangerous drugs.

Posted by sedda at 04:03 PM

March 05, 2005

I love my new travel watch!

I've been in the market for a new travel watch for a while. I haven't been travelling much lately, so the need hasn't been all that pressing. I love my St. Moritz Pathfinder, but the alarm has been a bit winky lately and I was sort of hoping to find something with dual time, since Thailand is +15hrs (see previous post).

I ended up with an Ironman Sleek, which totally rocks. If you want to read more about it, please click continue below.

I had such great luck with a previous Ironman Triathlon that I tried a Timex Expedition watch (cheap from Campmor), but it had this weird I-control ring to set the alarms and such and the thing made no sense at all, even though it had a lot of what I wanted on it. Plus it was men's size, enormous and annoying. And ugly. And confusing. So I sent it back.

Here are my usual watch criteria:
•I have to like the way it looks+fits
•Waterproof (or resistant to some depth you'd never go anyway)
•Analog face
•Alarm (who packs an alarm clock?)
•Easy to navigate
And now, I wanted to add: •Dual Time.

I finally found EXACTLY what I wanted at a gross gen-Y watch store in the mall (which ended up costing me $20 more than had I gone to Target, as G. originally suggested. —But in my defense I checked Target online and didn't see this one. Um, until now. But it's blue online! Too Girly!)

Anyway, this new Ironman Sleek rocks so hard! It looks like a cool techhie watch. It has dual time (you can view the second zone for a second by pushing the button), THREE alarms which you can set up for daily, weekly or weekends, a timer (great for pasta), and, like, all this other fancy fitness stuff that I have no idea why you'd ever use it. Like, lap and split and interval timers (hey, interval timers, I could time the pasta THEN the garlic bread...), stuff like that. And, the alarm sounds pretty cool, too.

An interesting thing about buying watches now, you used to have to search for "men's" or "women's" or "Ladies," or whatever permutation they had set up. The new catch phrase for ladies' watches (at Timex anyway) is midsize. I guess men with small wrists were having a hard time buying women's watches and they've unisexed the language.

Anyway, my last Ironman lasted for more than 10 years with light use, so I have high hopes for this one. Especially since I've got 20 extra bucks invested in it. And yeah, the one thing I settled on was the non-analog face. But that's OK. This one is so easy to use and clear to read, I don't really care.

Posted by sedda at 12:10 PM

Playground Balls + School supplies for Kamala Kids

Students and teachers at Fairfax High School are collecting school supplies — like 500 pens — to donate to the Kamala School, teacher-to-teacher and kid-to-kid. I love this community spirit! Thanks to science teacher (and pro knitter) Susan Barth for organizing the effort!

Baden Sports is donating 20 playground balls for the Kamala School! The catch is, there is a shipping cost of about $20 incurred to get them from Seattle to LA, then I will carry them on the plane (shipping to Thailand was $350!!) But perhaps someone will want to donate that cost?

I am so excited to be able to take sturdy kickballs to the kids so they can blow off some steam. Baden even will send a few pumps and needles to inflate the flattened balls. Thank you Baden Sports! (And thanks to Mary at 9th Street Elementary in Los Angeles, who helped me find the company that makes the best balls.)

Posted by sedda at 09:28 AM

March 04, 2005

Thailand Tidbits

The time difference to Thailand from LA is +15 hours. This means when it is 9pm tonight here in LA, it is noon tomorrow in Thailand. That is, until US daylight savings time kicks in on April 3rd. Then it will be +14 hours. Here is a clock converter to play with. Click here for the current time in Thailand.

A few common Thai customs:
•Squat toilets are common but western style is increasing. Toilet paper is rare - cleaning by left hand is normal. Flush with hand bucket.
•Do not touch others with your left hand as it is considered dirty - see above.
•It is quite insulting to touch a persons head, especially a child's. Don't do it.
•It is acceptable for a male to touch a monk, or hand things to a monk, but a woman should not does this.
•It is the sole of the foot that is offensive to Thai people. You should never sit in such a manner that the sole of the foot is exposed for all to see. Do not 'point' with your foot.

For more customs and tidbits, click continue below:

More customs:
•Ensure that your hands are visible at all times and not in your pockets
•In a theater or auditorium, the front row is reserved for monks and high-ranking officials.
•Touching a Buddha is perceived only as a sign of disrespect
•You should not walk in front of Thais praying in a temple.
•Tipping Not customary. Except porters, and at high class hotels & restaurants.

Some common Thai foods:
•Pat Thai (fried noodle), •Tom Yam (hot, spicy, lemon soup),
•Yam neua (hot beef salad) •Kluay buat chii (banana in coconut milk)
•Khaaw niaw mamuang (sticky rice & mango) •Kluay tort (fried bananas)
•Drink - recommended fruit juices.
•Fruit - recommended Durian, Rambutan, Mango, Papaya, Water melon, Mangosteen, Custard apple, Pineapple, Star apple, Lychee, Jackfruit

Some pricing...things may have changed a bit, this was compiled in 2001. Today the rate is 38.45 bht/$. As everywhere, they make their money off the beer!
•Room from: single80+B, double100+B, a/c d300B
•Noodles: 20B (about 50cents)
•Meal: 40B, Big Mac 59B(set 104B) •breakfast(Cont.)50B, breakfast(Ame.)50B
•coffee(instant) 15B, coffee(real) 35B, Starbucks grande 80B (less than $1 for coffee, but $2 for Starbucks)
•Mineral Water(1 liter) 5-20B
•beer 45-65B, Coke 7-20 B
•toilet paper 6B (see customs, above) (!)
•Ice cream 5+B, T-shirt: 90B+, postcard 3-5B

The country code is 66. Calling back to the States seems really complicated. I've found calling cards from here with convoluted rate scales...basically you can buy a 100 min card (or whatever) then for Thailand the conversion is 8/1, meaning 8 mins on that card=1 US min. So say you get the 100 min card for $10, you are getting 12.5 mins to talk to home from Thailand, which is 80 cents/min. But you have to do all that math to figure out if the card is a good deal — and every card has a different conversion rate. Oh yeah — and if you call a cell phone the rates are times three, and if you call from a payphone, there is a two-minute surcharge. So now you're up to $1/min on a 10min card. And yes, that *is* AT&T. Oy. There are prepaid cards in BKK (Bangkok) that are more in the neighborhood of 50 cents/min, I'll probably try that....Internet cafes are supposed to be pretty common, you can get access for about $1.60/hour. I'm hoping that will allow me to update this site!

Posted by sedda at 08:36 AM

March 03, 2005

Beanie update

We've collected 64 beanie babies for the Kamala Kids from Los Angeles area donors Karyn, Judy C. and Taylor B.! A bit shy of the 347 for the entire upper school, but there are still a couple of days left! If you have some you'd like to send in or bring over, please contact us (snail mail address in a previous recent post) at scrubbie[at] rain circle (dot)com. We're also collecting stickers for the kids. We leave in a week!

Posted by sedda at 09:07 PM

Maps of Thailand

Feeling geographically challenged? Here are some maps to help out. Thailand is long and thin, with a long peninsula between the Andaman Sea to the West and the Gulf of Thailand to the East.

Phuket Provence, including Phuket and Kata Beach/Kata Centre, Kamala. More Phuket maps here. Tik and Neal are in Kata Centre. The kids and monks we are helping are in Kamala. Here is Tik+Neil's website.
Phang-Nga Provence, north of Phuket Provence, including Khao Lak.
Krabi Provence, including Ao Nang, the islands of Ko Phi Phi (say it "pi pi"), Ko Lanta in the Andaman Sea. Shanti's diver friends Saffron+Darryl are in Ko Lanta. Pon is in a remote corner of Ko Phi Phi.
Bangkok, including Sukhumvit neighborhood. More nice Bangkok maps here.
Thailand, South Thailand

I think using www.athailand.com you may be able to search on the map for popular hotels and destinations as well.

Posted by sedda at 08:46 AM

March 02, 2005

New business cards for Pon, Shirts+Shoes for the kids

A woman that Shanti knows named Pon runs a small, remote resort on a small, remote island near Ko Phi Phi. She isn't getting help from the government due to a land dispute, and she's not getting much business from tourists, who don't understand that her little corner of the island weathered the tsunami well. She probably needs some fresh photos and a web page for advertising. Shanti cooked up the idea of updating Pon's business cards to give a professional feel to the business when talking with tourists. Shilpa is working with an aunt who's a printer, who will donate the printing for the cause—as long as Shilpa's friend the graphic designer can pull the design together, pronto, since it may take some time to print up.

In the meantime, Nike has sent Shanti 100 red soccer shirts for the kids, and some more flip flops for the Kamala kids.

Posted by sedda at 06:08 PM

March 01, 2005

Find the open road

Jane Smiley, a Pulitzer-winning novelist, has an interview posted deep in the archives of RoadTripNation.com (requires Flash 6+ for the megacool intro page). My friend David found it and passed it along today.

RTN:Do you have any final words of wisdom for people like us who are trying to find their roads in life?

Jane: The people I know, who didn't follow their own desires, ended up sort of lost and confused. Even if they were successful, they ended up lost and confused in their late 40s and early 50s. They were left wondering who they were - not just wondering whether they enjoyed their lives, but also wondering who they were. That is a very difficult way to spend your life, especially your later life - not knowing who you are and wondering if you wasted your time and energy. So I would say, even if people say, "No, you don't have any talent" or "No, you should not do that because you won't earn any money", I say go ahead and do it. Do it with your whole commitment. Do it knowing that you're the one that wants to do it - it's your choice and your responsibility.

Posted by sedda at 11:34 AM


I must be excited about the trip, last night I had the "I'm Late and I'm Going to Miss My Airplane to Thailand" dream. You know — the one where the plane leaves in one hour but you have a 35-minute drive to the airport and you have to park the car. And the bags! I hadn't even gotten to the part in the dream where I realized about the bags.

Posted by sedda at 08:27 AM