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April 29, 2005

Evacuation Drill in Thailand Today

"About 2,000 people took part in a tsunami emergency evacuation drill Friday on the Thai resort island of Phuket, where giant waves swept ashore four months ago killing hundreds of people."

AP has the story from Phuket, click here. The Reuters version is here.

These drills are important, according to Time magazine, who reports that "training—or even mental rehearsal—vastly improves people's responses to disasters," such as house fires, fires in the workplace, airline disasters, etc.

The drill is part of an early warning system for India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.

During the last tsunami scare on March 29 (see previous post by searching keyword Long Night), the only way Moira, Dee and I knew there had been an earthquake and possible impending tsunami was via a cell call from Moira's friend. Once we went outside, it was clear everyone had seen announcements on TV and knew what was going on, and we were glad the information was circulating. We had just enough time to get to higher ground.

Posted by sedda at 07:44 AM

April 26, 2005

Here comes the pain again, falling on my (shoulder) like a memory....

G. got the official word today: the dislocation likely tore stuff inside his shoulder, and they need to go in and sew it back together. By "stuff," I mean: all the stuff they sewed up four years ago when he dislocated it previously on Frontal Lobotomy (5.10a) at Big Rock. This time he dislocated it with a rough landing at Mammoth, snowboarding with Don and Laura.

He's really disappointed, and I feel badly for him. He's basically out of commission on climbing, cycling, snowboarding, backpacking for a good ten months, at least. G. 's favorite activities? Climbing, cycling, snowboarding. The summer trip to Italy to visit Sierra, Yvonne and Michael is off. At least we can still snowshoe. He needs to join a gym so he can weight-train before and after the surgery, which is in the second week of June.

Posted by sedda at 06:57 PM

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig

The flights home were long and uneventful (Phuket—>Taipei—>LAX). The plane had an individual screen on each seat for TiVo-like movie viewing, select TV shows, and video games. It rocked really hard. I saw four movies: Ray, Meet the Fokkers, Spanglish and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events — and an episode of Friends. I tried to sleep as little as possible so I would have a chance of sleeping when I got home (8pm) and minimizing the jet lag.

Our friends Julie, Marc and Olivier joined G. to meet me at the airport, along with Julie's brother Jean. It was so fun to have a welcoming party! And poor G. , his arm in a blue sling to help his shoulder heal. He has a great one-armed hug, though.

Please click continue below to read more impressions of coming home.

***
Driving home was surreal. I climbed into the "wrong" side of the car and settled into the cushy leather seats. It was strange to be riding INSIDE the car — my last ride in Thailand was the flatbed lorry ride to the airport with five other volunteers. Great way to see the countryside (and to see crazy Thai bus drivers unnaturally face-to-face at high speed — not for the faint of heart). The ride home from the airport was a superspeed tour in contrast. Instead of lush rolling palm-forest hills, we passed square miles filled with commerce and wealth. Instead of long rows of unmarked wok vendors frying noodles, rice and chilies, we passed as many fast food places peddling grease. Instead of a two-lane highway puttering with motorbikes, open cars, buses and pickup trucks—taking turns to pass—we hurtled along 12 lanes of freeway filled with expensive sedans and SUVs and an overwhelming amount of signage.

It was strange to come home as well. Where did I get all this stuff? Why do I need all this stuff? I'd spent the last six weeks living out of a single suitcase, wearing basically two outfits and rinsing my knickers at night to keep them "fresh." And how can these sheets be so clean?

I missed the buggy one-room bungalow with the sandy floor, the noisy crickets and the chirping geckos. I missed my regular end-of-the-day chat with my girlfriend Moira from Chicago. I missed the Thai fare at Khao Lak Seafood, the favorite restaurant in town.

I told G. as many stories as I could gush out as I presented him with souvenirs: Thai shirt, Thai pants, a monk's alms bowl, Tiger Balm patches for his shoulder. I learned a lot more about his two years in Cameroon, and was able to understand his experiences even more. He took me to dinner at the most un-Thai place we could think of : El Conquistador, authentic Mexican. Mmmmmm...cheeeeese. They don't have much of that in Thailand.

It's COLD here, 65 degrees! I put on a heavy wool sweater. At Thap Tawan camp where we painted houses, the average temp was 91 in the shade, 122 in full sun.

The adjustment process won't take long, I know. But I did enjoy my work as a painter, a teacher, a blogger, a boatyard assistant. I worked with the nicest and most giving people. I will miss them very much. But hopefully some will stop through LA on their way to the rest of the world.

Posted by sedda at 06:55 PM

April 25, 2005

Great news from the Cape Pakarang Boatyard

Scott had loads of great news this weekend from the Pakarang Boatyard.

•The first tsunami boat has been repaired and is ready to be painted.

•Through help from local fishermen (and Kon, one of the boatyard crew), Scott was able to locate two fresh keels for building the next two boats, which are starting today.

•Prince Andrew, of England, is donating 500,000 baht to the project, which will enable the building of four new boats from scratch! That's four Pakarang families who will be able to get back on the water before waiting futilely for help from the government that may never come.

Posted by sedda at 08:41 AM

April 24, 2005

Last Day

Bizarre to think this is it.

Moira and I hitched together to Takua Pa early this morning — she caught the bus to Ranong for a visa run and I found one to Phang Nga to see Wat Tham Suwan Khuha (Cave Golden Temple). It's this super cool temple built inside a cave with a reclining Buddha and a bunch of other Buddhas.

I met a young girl there, about 12 years old, her name is Deeyan. I convinced her to come down into the "dark cave" (from the "light cave"), where all the bats were squeaking and hanging from the ceiling. We climbed up toward the stalactites into an area that surely should have been roped off to keep greasy finger oils off the rock. Then she tried to take me through a pass-through that I completely vetoed due to MANY low-flying, screaming bats.

Please click continue below to read more about the wat in the cave.

***
But she did take me on a wee hike to an out of the-way-cave with three Buddhas in it. You could tell by the path hardly anyone went back there, and the Buddhas were all dusty and there hadn't been incense burning in a while. It was cool, I never would have found that one with out her.

There is a nice waterfall about 6K past the wat in the national park, but I decided to skip it so I could get back to Khao Lak. If I'd had friends with me, it would have been nice to go for a swim there.

I decided to hitch back into town, as the songathew driver I hired from Phang Nga pulled a fast one on me when we got to the wat. We had discussed a fare of 20bht (50 cents), which he repeated a few times. "Twenty baht, twenty baht." Once he tried "thirty baht" and I held firm at 20 (which was the rate the Lonely Planet book had advised).

When we got to the wat, I pulled out my 20bht note and he looked very insulted. He then insisted the fare was 200 baht ($5), which is completely outrageous. You can buy two dinners for that kind of money here, or a pair of pants, or a night in a hotel. It would be outrageous if I'd had three friends with me in the songathew. (If it were a guided, air-con minivan, maybe not as outrageous. But this was a piece of junk songathew, and I had to wait while he filled it with gas — while it was running.)

I tried to work it out with him but was getting nowhere. We each abandoned the discussion at 100 bht ($2.50). It was pretty disappointing; this is the ONLY time I've had a situation like this since I've been in the country, where someone flat tried to take advantage of the tourist. (The prices at the shops in Khao Lak are a little high in the same vein, but they are consistently high, and you are charged either the same or less as the price in the initial discussion—not completely jacked.) Both the town of Phang Nga and the wat grounds felt very touristy, people yelling at you, begging you to buy food, snacks, drinks and peanuts to encourage the disgusting aggressive monkeys out front. (These monkeys make the ones at the center look like private school kids.)

So anyway, I hitched the 10k back to Phang Nga, free. Found a minibus back to Takua Pa right away. Actually it was the exact same bus I took from Takua Pa to Phang Nga in the first place. And it was still playing the same karaoke VCD of some Thai woman singing, like, love tuens. These things are HUGELY popular here. All the buses play them on the little TV in the front. I've also seen bad American movies, and a Thai tranny magic show, which was cracking everyone up. (I didn't get it.)

We hurtled past the lush landscape. Some farms, green palm forests. Many of the houses were a little nicer — proper cement houses with several cars out front, more often than tin shacks without any cars but maybe with a rusty motorbike. Though we passed plenty of those, too. It was a pretty drive, but too hard to photograph at the speed we were moving.

In Takua Pa I found a bus headed to Khao Lak right away...but I didn't feel good about it. It was a tall, air-con coach, and as soon as I got on I felt uncomfortable. Crowded, tippy. So I got right off and hitched instead. It took me a while in the heat to find a car heading all the way to Khao Lak, and not to the market around the corner. But my patience paid off — I found an air-conditioned ride all the way to the front door of the center.

I need to pack up my bags for tomorrow's long adventure. Another volunteer at the center cajoled Christoff, a project manager, to make his Phuket trip on Monday, thereby scoring us a free ride to the airport (a savings of 250-1000bht!). Which then will be followed by abominably long air travel, and punctuated with more abominably long air travel. And some pasty airline food in between.

I hope tonight to catch a swim at the Merlin 5-star resort down the road, then a last-dinner with friends at Khao Lak Seafood. Mellow.

It's hard to imagine really leaving. Giving up this lifestyle of paint-stained hands, sweaty clothes, hungry mosquitoes, showers with no water (disadvantage to cheap rates at the center: sometimes the water goes out). Great food, nearly every night — even when you're not sure what you've ordered, or you're sure, but the server isn't. Leaving projects before they were finished, but knowing they never will be finished, not for a year at least.

Someone asked Heather on Friday how she felt about leaving, and she said, "I feel like I haven't done enough."

I totally understood. We each have been here six weeks, and have sweated like crazy. But we want to do more. There is more to do, even before it's time to properly turn each project back to the hands of full Thai managment. The center is continuing as an NGO, with some shuffling as the proper paperwork is filed, and they hope to attract a lot of college volunteers on summer break.

They will need the help.

Posted by sedda at 04:26 PM

April 23, 2005

Enjoying Thailand

Since this was the last day before my last day, I decided to finally go see the half buried Buddha at Wat Phra Thong, back in Phuket province, and see where the day took me from there.

I caught the bus easily this time, then walked a few blocks to the Wat. The Buddha is sort of a head-and-shoulders Buddha, and he is surrounded by days-of-the-week Buddhas you can pray for for specific kinds of luck. I spent time with the rare Buddha with one hand on his own head, who offers beauty, good health, and success.

After a soda, I just barely missed the bus into Phuket town, so I caught a songathew instead. Nicer ride, but a bit slower. I went back to the used book store (ISO a certain title, but no luck) and picked up a Joe Simpson book instead.

At the bookstore, I ran into another volunteer, Flora, who had left a couple of days before, so we had lunch. They made me special panang curry with vegetables, but it was Thai Hot and I couldn't finish it. Very good, though.

While wandering back to the bus station I popped into a music store and found a recorder for Kong, from the boatyard project. He has a wooden Thai flute that he plays often, only it's splitting a bit because a wee friend of his bashed it like a stick. So it's been all taped up. Kong helped me out at the clinic when I bumped my eye, and I've been looking for something flute-y for him in thanks. I thought I got a really great deal on it (200bht), but now I see they are cheaper on Amazon!

I caught a lucky bus right away for the nearly 2-hour trip back to Khao Lak. I had my volunteer tag on, and the ticket taker wouldn't take any money from me! Later in the trip, I was sort of vegging out and I felt something lovely and cool on my elbow. It was an iced coconut drink in a plastic bag! The ticket taker treated me.

On the way back, I saw a beautiful red sunset over the water.

I got back just in time to ride with the boatyard crew (Moira, Andy, Scott, Kong, and various others) to have dinner at Kon's house, and it was a complete feast. Two kinds of fish, three curries, squid. All home made by his family. Crazy good food. People brought instruments, so there was a bit of a jam session. Two flutes, an accordion, a guitar, two rhythm eggs, and occasionally some recorders. To call it music would be an exaggeration, but we had a great time.

And, after bidding farewell to Heather last night, she gets to bid me farewell on Monday morning. She decided to fly to BKK rather than take the bus, and we'll probably share a taxi monday.

Posted by sedda at 11:51 PM

April 22, 2005

Paint and progress in Khao Lak

I enjoyed my week painting furniture for the schools. We made a lot of lovely bookshelves. My friend Heather from Ireland (but living in Scotland) and I painted one red shelf with yellow and white flowers all over. She thought she wasn't that artistic, but her flowers were beautiful! We had so much fun I've invited her to stay with us when her round-the-world plane ticket takes her through LA for a few days. She leaves Khao Lak this afternoon for BKK and further adventure.

I took some new volunteers on a brief tour of Khao Lak so they could see some of the damage and realize where help is needed. (Something like 150 Taiwanese volunteers, who had donated a large some of money, were in town to volunteer for one day, and we sort of got booted from our worksite.) They both were surprised that there was anything left to do, figuring it all would be cleaned up and fixed by now.

Seeing all of the debris they realized — how could that happen in such a short amount of time? The detail in such an effort is tremendous.

Posted by sedda at 06:25 PM

April 20, 2005

Mellow Week

Taking it easy this week with some furniture painting in Thaikea, and helping Moira and Scott get some things organized with the Pakarang Boatyard project. I painted perky yellow flowers with green stems on a Swedish-orange bookshelf, it's really cute.

I've also been spending some time with Jess, to help the hours pass by a little more quickly. She is still on the mend in her bungalow with a cracked vertibrae, and is taking in books like they are M&Ms. She devours them.

Saundra and Kerry from the Crisis Corps came by today for lunch, which was really really nice. I guess Jonathan had a meeting with Nanon and couldn't make it down.

It's my friend Nicole's last night, so I hope to spend some time with her. Last night it was Terry and Helene's last night. There is always something to celebrate here, especially once you get started on birthdays. It all usually happens at the Happy Snapper.

G. says his shoulder is feeling a bit better, but he's still going to get an orhopaedic guy to check it out. He's immobilized his arm in a sling for at least a week. This is seriously cutting in to his ability to properly style his spiky Hollywood haircut. So if you happen to see him and he only gives you his good side like Mariah Carey does, it's probably only temporary. Until he can put his Petzl helmet back on.

Posted by sedda at 01:14 PM

April 19, 2005

Related Reading

Check out April's National Geographic magazine for a story on local Sea Gypsies, the Mokens. I *think* but am not positive, that this may be the same group as the Morgan sea gypsies, some of which received some new homes last week in Thap Tawan.

Anyway, the Geographic story is all in this neighborhood, and the pictures are gorgeous. You'll have to check out the magazine for the whole thing, because they only have excerpts online, as well as this cool flash photo gallery (use a DSL connection, it's pretty heavy) and regular photos.

And, the international issue of Newsweek this week (the one with the Pope memorial) has some interesting articles on Travelling to Do Good — people who spend their vacations volunteering. Not all that in-depth, in typical newsmag style, but hits the topic squarely. I can't find the stories on thier website. But Hands On Thailand is mentioned, the group I nearly volunteered with.

Posted by sedda at 11:47 AM

Gravity is International

So G. emailed me yesterday that he took a rather rough landing while snowboarding in Mammoth on Sunday. He dislocated his previously-dislocated shoulder and got to ride in the ski patrol sled down the mountain with his arm stuck over his head.

Our friend Laura, a film sound designer by trade but actually a journalist at heart, photographed the entire rescue and hospital visit.

The last time G. 's shoulder was in trouble, stuff was torn inside and the solution required surgery and a looong break from climbing and sleeping comfortably. He hopes that this time he will heal quickly, and is checking with his doctor to make sure nothing ominous is going on.

I feel badly that I can't help him at all from here. But I am relieved that he seems to be okay (Laura and Don report he wouldn't even let them drive home from Mammoth). Just communicating with a 14-hour time change has been challenging. Thanks to Laura and Don for everything they've done!

Posted by sedda at 09:52 AM

April 18, 2005

It's National Volunteer Week

April 17-24 is National Volunteer Week. This is a good week to make a commitment to help your community! A gift of time — only one hour per month — to your neighborhood goes a long, long way.

You don't need to be a hero to volunteer. Volunteers are heros. And every community needs help. You could read stories to children. File books at the library. Plant trees. Teach knit or crochet at a nursing home. Teach English in the evenings to Spanish speakers. Sure, you could travel, like I'm able to do this year. But you can be just as helpful near your home (and you won't need shots for that!).

You don't even need a formal group or commitment to volunteer. Maybe for one hour a week, you could grocery shop for an elderly person in your neighborhood. Or cut their grass. Help the neighbor's kid with his homework.

Stumped? Try Volunteer Match. They have a lot of ideas, right near you.

Seem intimidating? Feel like you don't have time? Call up that friend you keep meaning to have lunch with, and volunteer together. You'll be guaranteed to see each other once a month, for an hour.

Posted by sedda at 09:56 AM

April 17, 2005

Photos - Kura Buri and Songkran

Not great scans, but I've posted some photos of Kura Buri from last week, including Songkran festival, here. Don't let them trick you into signing in; you should be able to see the images without a password.

This took about two hours to accomplish, maybe more, so I probably won't be able to post much more until I get home. Bandwidth and speed are issues here.

In other news, the Pakarang Team decided to have a squid cook-in — a nearby restaurant fried up all the squid (some with garlic) so the party could be held indoors to avoid the rain. The squid had been on ice since Saturday, and had to be eaten.

The weather, of course, was perfect.

A gentle reminder that all text and images on, and linked from, this site are copyrighted c.2005 by the writer/photographer who created them. If you have a need to use images like these, particularly for publication, please contact me in advance to work something out. Thanks.

Posted by sedda at 07:49 PM

Slow day off

We set out with grand plans. I wanted to see Wat Phra Thong, where the Buddha is half-buried, Moira wanted a good internet connection, and Scott wanted to check out sailboats in Phuket. (He has a truck.)

We drove around Phuket all day, and didn't do anything we set out to do, but it still was a nice day off. We hit the used book store (I picked up All the Pretty Horses and some Steinbeck short stories, as well as Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods for another volunteer, Jess), got some lunch, looked for sheet music for Scott, got a reading lamp and better Thai dictionary for Moira, and got donuts at Mister Donut (they also have KFC, Sizzler, and Auntie Anne's pretzels in the mall, among other familiar places...who knew that we'd see a floor-to-ceiling sized poster of Paris Hilton here in a Guess store). I also found a cute little tie-dyed outfit for G. 's oldest niece that I hope her parents don't think is too...island-y.

No time for the Wat, Scott's sailboats, Moira's DSL, or buying the small Buddhas that I wanted to look for. I'm beginning to think I'm not destined for this wat, as it's the second time I've tried to get there without success.

We came back just in time for a thunderstorm, which puts into question the squid cookout that got rescheduled for tonight after last night's thunderstorm.

We also spent just a few minutes with Jess in Bungalow 5, a volunteer who cracked a vertibrae after her balcony railing broke and she fell. It wasn't far, but she landed poorly. She's on bedrest for three more weeks and is pretty bored. I brought her the Nick Hornby book yesterday during a visit and she's finished it already. Moira brought her donuts, one was a lolly-donut and another was shaped like a bunny. She LOVED those. Jess is thinking about a fellowship in Irvine, so we may end up being neighbors in CA next year, after being neighbors here.

And Jess' roommate Britni? Graduated from Cranbrook High, which is about five miles from where I grew up. And I had to go halfway around the world to meet her. Funny, hey?

Posted by sedda at 05:34 PM

April 16, 2005

Travel Humor

I ran into my friend Helene (pronounced "L-N," she is French) at Andy's birthday party last night. We agreed to have lunch today to catch up.

"Do you like Thai food?" she says earnestly, in her beautiful French accent. "I know ziss great place..." And we both laugh.


(For those of you who may have missed the obscure funny part, the ONLY food you can get here is Thai food.....a bit like Mexico, in that way...)

Posted by sedda at 09:01 AM

April 15, 2005

Back to Khao Lak

It was sad leaving the Wat Pa Saan camp this afternoon, even after the tough and confusing week there. We spent the morning playing Bingo, which Lisa and I made out of cardboard and woodchips, with help from the Peace Corps filling in the numbers. The Thais all went crazy for it. We played for two and a half hours before Nanon pulled the plug for lunch.

We never did figure out a formal class schedule this week. We actually only offered three classes, then it was Songkran for two days, then today was a half day and a lot of the adults were working. So it was pretty confusing. We never really ironed out the meals thing either. Today it seemed that we had sort of a special lunch: a fish soup with 'pumpkin,' some kind of pork scramble, and a very spicy green beans and fish thing. By the way, anytime I describe food, you always can assume: "and rice." I didn't eat a lot of it, but they really went all out.

***It was hard leaving...Even though we never knew what was going on (at least two of us trying to work the problem and we still couldn't figure it out), it was clear that the people there really, desperately wanted to learn English. It was unfortunate that the holiday confused the potential for formal classes, but I think some of the people got a lot more out of us just hanging around while they worked, saying the English words for what they were working on. And that was a lot more relaxed way of doing things than the class.

The really cool thing is that Jonathan from the Crisis Corps (Peace Corps) is going to translate the words and phrases we used into Thai, and add a Thai pronunciation guide, so the camp will have a laminated set of flashcards. We hand wrote one set of cards, but we expect those will disappear at some point. Also if the Crisis Corps folks monitor what's going on in the camp, they may be able to help with some continuity from volunteer to volunteer. I wasn't really confident that our contact at Tsunami Volunteer would be able to do that — and anyway if they get someone from another org she wouldn't be involved. So it's really great Jonathan is able to help that way.

Nanon clearly had his ideas about the curriculum and they were all good, but a bit unrealistic in timeframe. His schedule didn't accommodate much for absorbtion, which is how I came up with the Bingo game to learn numbers. Worked pretty well, we thought. Nanon works like crazy and has lots of great ideas. He just really wants English speakers around so people can immerse themselves and have resources available to learn even more. The two villages there may be at the camp for three more months, or more. The people staying in tents will get pretty swamped in the rain. I'm not clear what the plans are for relocating these villages, but maybe Saundra will have a better idea after doing some recon over the next month.

Yesterday Lisa and I shopped for a housewarming gift for grandma Yai, seeing as they had given up their bed to sleep on the tile floor for us for a week. I had consulted with Jonathan about whether this would be appropriate, and he said giftgiving in Asia always is a good idea. We ended up giving them a small basket filled with washcloths and lavendar Prickly Heat powder (a staple in this climate), and some colored pencils for the kids. Total cost 200bht. We gave Nanon some roasted cashews, 100 bht. Yai seemed really pleased and insisted on making our photo together (our cameras). She was extra friendly today, and also offered to do our laundry!

After the bingo game, one of the fishermen gave us each a wooden dolphin keychain he had been working on all morning. Hand carved and sanded. It was so sweet. They were talking like they wanted to give us a model boat, send it to us at home, but we really hope they don't — they take 3-5 days to build and it would be much too generous a gift. Nanon gave us each a small batik of fish underwater that said, "All My Hart, Nanon." They are really beautiful, with watery colors and nicely done. Turns out he is a painter as well, and used to have a job with IBM.

We already said See You Later to the Crisis Corps crew of Kerry, Saundra and Jonathan — they hope to be in Khao Lak on Tuesday to get the tour and I'll reconnect with them then. Lisa heads back to BKK tomorrow since she has to work on Monday. She's a science teacher fresh out of college at the American School/BKK.

Yai and the family across the street gave us a ride to the bus station on their way to the waterfall. We got there at 1:30 for our 2:30 bus — lucky thing, too, because the bus came at 2pm. Strange scheduling, but we got home directly, with a fast connection at the Takua Pa depot.

Posted by sedda at 04:15 PM

On travelling

Quote from the bulletin board of the Kura Buri internet cafe:

"You cannot find and touch the horizon, if you do not go far away."

Posted by sedda at 08:44 AM

April 14, 2005

Songkran in Kura Buri

It was a fairly quiet Songkran yesterday. Nice to have a relaxing holiday. The setup in this small town is that all the kids take up posts in front of their houses with big buckets of water and bowls. They stop the cars and motorbikes that go by, and throw water on the people. The adults are very accommodating, pausing to make sure they can get doused properly.

Usually farang, foreigners, are targeted, but the kids all were really polite with us. Some actually poured water into our hands in the old tradition. The ones we live with made sure we got good and wet, however. I repaid the favor by accidentally "slipping" with the bowls of water they gave me. It was fun. The water was nice and cool.

They also put powder and strange colored things on your face. Red and green water, anything sort of gross and funny. But most of it perfumed. I think you are supposed to say some kind of Happy New Year blessing as this goes on, but we never figured that out. Kid-to-kid, it's pretty much all-out water warfare.

Early class was canceled because the kids were all out celebrating. I hung around camp a bit, tried to chat with some of the model boat builders, but they all seemed pretty engaged.

In the morning, I had spied an American guy in town. When he waved Hi at me from a restaurant I walked over to say hello. Jonathan and three others are here with the Crisis Corps(slow link), a division of the Peace Corps. They are spending six months in Kura Buri to create a database of project work needed here.

Please click continue below to read more about Wednesday's first day of Songkran.

***All three of the volunteers I met (Saundra, Kerry + Jonathan — Peter was in BKK for a long weekend) had previously been assigned to Thailand through Peace Corps. They were asked/decided to return because they could hit the ground running — having some of the language and cultural issues ironed out. They've only been here two weeks.

Peace Corps seems to have quite a lot of guidelines for them to operate under. If they want to take a day to explore around, they have to get permission in advance from the Peace Corps and the Thai government. They aren't allowed to ride a motorbike, hitchhike, or ride in the back of a truck. All of this seems sensible on the surface, but it completely precludes any mode of transportation except walking. And it's bloody hot to be walking from village to village. I'm not sure how they're going to get around to do any work.

We arranged to meet them for dinner, which was really nice. They all are good Thai speakers. Lisa and I had to rush back for our 7pm class. When we got back to camp, Nanon giddily informed us that everyone was too drunk to come to class tonight, so he had canceled it. Songkran is the biggest holiday of the year, so we were surprised they were interested in classes this week at all. But I think there was a slight overestimation when it came to the holiday.

So we all re-met at Saundra's apartment in the government complex, armed with chips, beer, soda, cake and a deck of Uno cards (I lost every round). It was a nice night. We gave them some info on Tsunami Volunteer, and all traded travel stories and No-I've-Eaten-Something-Grosser Stories. Saundra won this one. She previously worked at a Thai national park, where the poorer workers ate meals of cooked/uncooked BUGS daily, because they were free.

On the way home around 11:30, a pickup truck stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. Turned out it was a Burmese shop owner Jonathan knew. He was able to take the ride because there was a seat for him in the cab. Lisa and I rode in the back for the roughly 5 blocks home. The Burmese guy had seen all of us walking around to get our chips and beer, and had been watching for us to come home. When he saw us, he got in his truck to come get us so we wouldn't have to walk at night.

That's just how it is in Thailand.

Posted by sedda at 08:31 AM

April 13, 2005

Second day in Kura Buri

Well, the day got a little better. We played some games with the kids, who knew their numbers pretty well up to about 11 or 12, and it fell off from there. Shapes of square/triangle/circle really slowed them down — the "skw" "LLL" sounds aren't really part of Thai vocabulary and they were having trouble making it stick.

We spent some time under a large tree with men building model boats that sell by order in BKK. They are mostly longtail boats. I made a drawing of the boat with its parts listed in English: keel, bow, stern, gunnel, and we're supposed to spend more time with them so they can learn the English words. Nanon wants them to be able to "present" the boats and the process for making them if a tourist comes by. Tall order! Lisa worked on "I cut the wood with a saw" and "I am sanding the wood."

Lisa also has been wanting to learn Thai cooking, so she volunteered to help with dinner last night. The person who offered brought out a giant pig's head! It was too firm to cut with a knife so they used an axe. She was freaking, she said the whole thing was fat. They took big pieces and put it between two metal grates that you hold in your hand and they roasted it over a pot with wood coals. "Barbeque."

Check out the one cool Thai phrase I already knew that came in handy:
"Kon gin jair." Which means: I am vegetarian.

To read more about Tuesday, please click continue below.

***We did get some meals yesterday. Actually I missed lunch, since I ate in town. And I thought dinner was the pig head, but after class they took us to a community center where kids and five young, tattooed monks gathered around a nightly TV soap that seems to involve a nice woman with short hair in love who also has superpowers and a spandex supergirl suit, an evil woman with long hair and a drug problem and an Evil Headquarters with a number of TV screens for communicating, and a man who is friends with both of them. All the kids watch it.

Since I am vegetarian on this leg of the trip, they gave me an onion soup. With fish balls. Don't ask. It was pretty good, but I didn't eat many fish balls (sort of like matzoh balls, but a bit fishy flavored). There was a giant plain omelette to share, maybe 2-3 eggs' worth. Lisa was given some clams. All comes with rice, water, and as a treat we had grapefruit soda.

The adult class was a little smaller, 22, and only about 5-6 kids running around, which made it easier. We went through a review of Hello, How are you, the days of the week, the months of the year, then when everyone was pretty fried, Nanon asked us to start on numbers: 1-20, 30/40/50 etc, 100, 1000. I think it was a little much. Especially since he wants us to move on to menu items tonight. We're not sure which is better/worse....covering a lot and a little of it sticks, or covering a little and most of it sticks.

He has been in every class which has been helpful with explanations.

The NATR guys told me that most of the people in this camp are from the island of Koh Prataong (literally: Golden Buddha island), from two different villages. Bak Jok was totally destroyed, and 25% of their community were killed in the wave. That's 50 people out of 200. Not all of their members are here, some are in another camp on the Kura Buri pier. Then the rest are from Tapa Yoi, also on the island. It's close living in the camp. This one is small, but everything is very close together.

NATR is involved in rebuilding entire villages along here. There is a lot of work to be done.

Posted by sedda at 08:36 AM

April 12, 2005

Lunch helps

Fried rice at a nearby restaurant, with some Americans and Brits. Entirely in English. Talk of how it can be confusing working with volunteer groups, particularly mine. Feeling a little better.

Better still after talking with G. , who lived Yesterday for two years in Cameroon in the Peace Corps. All he really could say was, "I understand."

Posted by sedda at 12:33 PM

English in Kura Buri

English teaching in Kura Buri is proving to be more adventure than teaching, but all about education.

The camp is on the grounds of Wat Pa Saan, a few blocks south of "downtown" Kura Buri. We entered the grounds to meet Nanon, our contact there (also an out-of-town volunteer, but Thai). He walked us past the proper wat—white, red, gold and formal—then we passed the saffron-robed monks in their sleeping houses. Several meters later the camp begins with a series of tents crowded together, maybe 60 of them, which merges into a group af about 20 temporary plywood homes on stilts. Behind those are some volleyball nets and a boatbuilding school with at least seven boats under construction.

We kept walking, past the field, to a deluxe cement home way in the back. It has a tiled entrance, awning and wood doors. A family was inside, an older couple, some kids, and others. We were shown the one bedroom, with a king-sized bed inside, as our guest quarters, but we were concerned that we were putting the family out of their home.

To read more about the Kura Buri adventure, please click continue below.

***Lisa, my teaching partner, knows a little bit of Thai and Nanon knows a bit of English, so we tried to express our concern and were only repeatedly assured we were welcome to stay — as long as we were comfortable (This was of course loaded, as it is a luxury mansion compared to nearly everything else I've seen in Thailand, especially within the camp). Nanon also mentioned that the previous night he had slept on the floor in the living room.

We felt like we were putting everyone out of the house. I suggested that I could use my own tent outside and Lisa could easily take the couch. We didn't want to put anyone out of his bed. Nanon explained that the owners were living in Israel for three years, so the house was free. We weren't sure who all these other people were in the house, but apparently they lived next door.

It wasn't adding up, but there was little we could do to argue.

Nanon explained the class schedule: three daily classes two hours long of kids/teens/adults. Sheera, the project manager at the Vol Center, had told us these classes would be 8-10 students. We thought two hours was a bit long (I lasted 35 minutes in my first Thai lesson before my brain got full), but it was hard to make ourselves understood, so we decided to see how it went and plan breaks if we couldn't shorten the length. In the middle of all of this, Nanon kept handing me the phone to speak to his English speaking friend Linda, who translated his syllabus wishes, while I expressed our concerns and understanding.

We were left to shower and hastily plan the evening lesson for the adults, while the next-door neighbor kids hung out and watched us, watched the TV, and looked over the various supplies we had been given. With no training and few instructions, we received the bag as we caught the bus in the morning, and were told it was filled with "teaching materials and lesson plans."

We spent the afternoon going through the materials and determined:
—The items in the bag appeared to be totally random, a collection of coloring books, some markers/colored pencils/paints, with a few "early reader" phonics books — but those seemed to be designed to be photocopied for distribution, not torn up and used.
—We did not know the English ability of the students we would have, guessing it was maybe low, given the people we'd met so far.
—So it was hard to say whether the complex lesson plans on "What type of job will you prepare for" would be useful (There were few beginner lesson plans included...and the plans did not seem to be sequential in any way).
—We really weren't sure what to do with the 5-6 year olds we would teach at 1pm, who probably had no English at all, but we were the least afraid of them since their standards probably would be more geared towards how much we let them climb on us.

We had missed lunch with all of the introductions and travel, and we weren't sure where dinner would come from, though we were told that it was included, as were the accomodations. We decided to shower and be ready. At one point the kids disappeared to shower as well — then returned to the living room bureau to get their fresh clothes.

We really felt like we were putting a family out.

By around 5:30pm, people turned up again to hang out in the living room. They kept saying something about, Are you going to the Wat? The class was to start at 6:30, but we thought we could drop our materials at the classroom, then see about dinner. We had hoped someone would come by and get us to tell us where to go, since the meals were "included," but so far no one had. We asked about it, and the answer was, "Oh, you go to the market by the school."

Our new "norng sow" and "norng chai" (little sister+brother) had become the shadows we never had. They took our hands and walked us to the classroom, then to the market. We walked past a number of shops by the school, a few of which looked like restaurants, but no food cooking. The restaurant at the end of the road across the street also had no food. The kids kept walking us further. We'd picked up a number of stray friends, so Lisa and I were a couple of Pied Pipers in search of dinner, trying to keep the end kids on the chain out of traffic and out of the embankment.

We kept walking. We were skeptical that we'd be back on time.

The kids led us to a small restaurant where some women were eating, and we had to order two or three times before we convinced them to start making the food for us. They all seemed to laugh at the farang ordering Pad Thai — I think like fried rice, this is seen as a kids' dish. I was too hungry to care that much.

When we finally got back at about 7pm, there were about 10 students waiting for us. We apologized, saying we didn't know how far the 'market' was (we're still not sure we ever found it). They seemed forgiving.

As we opened the chalk and distributed the 5 dictionaries we had to loan, the room filled with chatter. Everyone sat on the tile floor.
Nanon again handed me the phone, and Linda said they would like to focus on "the environment (trees, etc), jobs ("fishing net, boat"), and the weather." I said that was fine, but that we wouldn't get to it all tonight.

The numbers varied through the night, but at final count there were 29 adults in the class, and 22 children milling about (who we had to continually shush to keep the din down).

Mayhem.

All I can say is thank God for Lisa and her little bit of Thai, because she really carried the class. The whole night was punt after punt, but we came out OK, repeating a dialogue we built:

1: Hello, how are you?
2: I am fine, thank you.
1: What is your name?
2: My name is _____. (It took us several tries to convince everyone not to say Lisa)
1: It is nice to meet you. (handshake—they didn't really get this)
2: It is nice to meet you, too.
(give person an item)
1: Thank you.
2: You are welcome.

We then moved on to Good morning, Good afternoon, Good evening, but it didn't stick as well. I was impressed they stuck it out the whole 90 minutes. That's a long time for a language class, I think. Especially when you're shouting over kids.

We told the 'students' we would test them in the morning when we bumped into them. I saw one of them this morning and he got about half of it. Which is pretty good, considering I don't think I have even this much Thai, and I've been here a month.

Nanon said he was hungry, and invited us to eat, but we told him we had eaten already. The entire group walked us back to the house. We're not sure if they do everything in groups here, or if we're just the novelty visitors everyone wants to help. Seems like a bit of both.

The kids stuck with us like glue, and the day's previous jokes about their sleeping in the living room were starting to look more serious. At the rate we were going, it was going to be a bona fide slumber party. The telly went on, and Yai from next door turned up in her night clothes with dinner for Em, our "norng sow" and a snack for herself. Nanon explained something that sounded like they all would be staying here, then said he would be staying in another place tonight.

At about 9pm, Yai started saying stern things to the two girls (the second was a friend? a sister? where was the boy?) that sounded like Time for Bed. They spread out some comforters on the tile floor. Yai looked at Lisa and me with an expression that said, "Scoot." We retreated to the bedroom, norng sow in tow. We exchanged glances. For a moment it looked like they were aiming for five in the bed: Lisa, me, the two girls, and grandma Yai. I was feverishly planning on how to get my one-man tent set up on a flat spot in the dark.

The girls were called out at the last minute, and, unexpectedly, the overhead light in the bedroom began to work. Yai watched TV for a while more. The doors and windows in the house were closed, but each room had a fan. The air was close and stale and I didn't fall asleep for a long time. It probably didn't get cool until about 5am, which is when the roosters started crowing. The girls woke up at 6 and began chatting.

I dozed until 7, feeling sticky, crowded and overwhelmed and needing to get into town. I hitched, but I think the ride I got was with Yai's husband. It wasn't far — if I have time I probably could walk. Luckily the internet cafe is next to the NATR office, so there were a few familiar faces this morning.

"Welcome to the chaos," Bodhi said.

Posted by sedda at 09:09 AM

April 11, 2005

Ewwwww

So our room at the Khao Lak Inn had this huge ant problem. Hundreds of these tiny blonde ants, everywhere. They're all in my bag, in all my stuff, you can't get rid of them.

Moira gave me two yummy mangostines to munch on the busride up to Kura Buri. I noticed there were ants in the bag this morning when I was packing up, so I just rinsed them off.

But then I decided not to carry the mangostines, just to eat them right now.

I was almost finished with the second one when I realized the little black flecks on the fruit weren't pieces of skin....they were ants inside the fruit! I ate a bunch of them. Yech!

On the upside, I did stumble across a free copy of Nick Hornby's "How to Be Good," so the book situation is vastly improved. And, I found the last spoonful of PB for my toast this morning. Lucky!

Hey check out photos from the 100 Days memorial at BBCnews.com

Posted by sedda at 09:44 AM

April 10, 2005

Teaching English

The mood at the Volunteer Center has changed dramatically over the last week. The 100 Days Memorial has been a real turning point, as the Center now needs to look toward long-term building and away from initial emergency need. They are slowly making the change.

In the meantime, many volunteers (like me) who extended their stays a week, a month, two months, to be able to participate in the event have moved on, and the project managers are taking breathers after a long work period with few breaks.

So it's been pretty quiet around here. While Scott always has organizational work for me with the Pakarang Boatyard project, I still want to try some new things, so I have taken a one-week assignment teaching English to all-ages at a Kura Buri camp. It's more than 40km north of here. I will stay in some provided housing with a volunteer named Lisa, and teach three one-hour classes a day, focusing on tourism. ("Bathroom" "Check Please" "Can I help you?")

This is an investment in the Thais future, as the good jobs here all focus around tourism—hotels, motorbike rentals, restaurants, tours, taxi service. Many of the well-employed English speakers were working in the resorts near the water when the wave came. For the area to rebuild, they will need to rebuild the tourism they can offer here.

For those of you still puzzling, No I don't know any Thai. An embarrassingly small amount. Hardly even a useful amount. The week will be challenging. I suspect I will learn more than the "students."

The Songkran Festival, or Water festival for the Thai New Year is this week as well. No idea how we will celebrate; it will depend on What They Do in Kura Buri. (I ultimately decided to skip Chiang Mai—It would have been four days' travel roundtrip (spent entirely on a series of buses), additional expense, and lost time helping others here. Moira decided to take a week off at Krabi with some other friends. She may join me in Kura Buri next week.)

If the week is good I can extend into a second week — or I can come home early. It's a pretty open arrangement.

The only real bummer is that I have just finished the one book I had here (Life of Pi...I jettisoned ShutterBabe in BKK when my suitcase was too heavy, knowing it was an unwise decision. Regrets!). The best second-hand book I've found so far is The World According to Garp — German language edition. See, Khao Lak isn't only geared toward tourism, it's geared toward German/Swedish tourism. You find evidence of this in unusual places. Like the pile of used books. Entirely in German. Stay tuned to see how this shakes out.

Posted by sedda at 02:33 PM

April 09, 2005

New Beginnings

Today was a special and lucky day. After spending three days painting houses near the Thap Tawan camp, I was able to see the handover ceremony as the village was returned to the villagers in BangSak.

The ceremony had long ago been set for April 9th, as the number 9 is auspicious for new beginnings.

Yesterday I helped inflate and tie knots in balloons for the ceremony. They thought they had gotten balloons in the colors of the German and Thai flags...however, the black balloons for Germany inflated...blue. Sometime overnight, they spray-painted the blue balloons black. These were the first ones to explode in the heat. By the time of the ceremony, only about half the ballons were left. Too hot!

Click here for photos. (I'm standing in the group photo on the right hand side, next to a guy in a navy shirt. Good luck finding me.) Anything on that site that says Thap Tawan, Morgan, or BangSak probably will be of interest.

The day was really interesting, please click continue below to read more about it.

***But back to the beginning. The day began with a blessing by nine (?) saffron-robed monks for the community and the homes. They chanted and prayed in a temporary wat, a home that was covered inside and out with 8x10 photos of the international volunteers who built the community. They blessed a large ball of string that would connect all of the homes, eventually.

Thai people from the community crawled in and made rice offerings to the monks, bowing low three times. The monks chanted and prayed some more. The senior monk came out with a small green reed-brush that he dunked in holy water, and used the brush to fling water on people while praying as a blessing. He also used the brush to bap people on the heads in blessing. A small child, who was one of the more rambunctious ones, received four baps on the head. I think somehow he knew she might need some extra help.

At the end, people crawled in then paid respects three times, and the monk blessed a string necklace with a buddha charm on it. He blew on each one as a final blessing, then placed it around their necks. This is a very auspicious gift. The project leader, Albert, was asked to go in, and he received a necklace and two other small Buddha charms.

Finally, the senior monk came over to the window where some of us were watching what was happening inside. He picked up a bag of home-roasted cashews and blew on it, then handed them to me! He made eating motions. I gave him deep wai, amazed. I ate many of them and shared the rest with friends, making sure many people participated, to share this special blessing.

Then, lunch! Many vendors with noodles, soups, whole fried chickens, shakes (shave ice), sodas. All free, except the sodas and ice cream. And lots of time to spend, as the rest of the ceremony began at 3pm.

It was a long delay, but this time gave the opportunity to talk with some Thai people that we wouldn't ordinarily have. Luckily, Martha likes to chat in her simple Thai, so by sticking with her, you could nearly have real conversations, groupwise. She and Gorana and another woman were taking dance lessons from an old Morgan lady. It looked a bit like a hula dance, without hips. I said, "That looks a lot like the Morgan dancing at the 100 Days ceremony. Is that a traditional dance?" Martha smiled as she gave me the reply: "She says, 'You just feel the music and you dance."

Perfect.

We also spent time with Aw, a Thai coordinator of the Thap Tawan project from Takua Pa, the 'larger' city to the north of here. I told her that I had seen her in the wat, receiving the beautiful special beaded bracelet blessed by the monk. Eeek, which of course compelled her to insist on giving it to me. I tried to say no, it's yours, it's for you, but she insisted three times and my understanding is after three times in Thai culture you have to give up or else you are being rude not to take what is offered. She said, "I am the owner now, and I would like to give it to you." This is a great blessing and a wonderful gift of love and friendship in Thai culture.

Later, she thanked all of us on behalf of all of Takua Pa. It has been lovely, how appreciative everyone has been. Really heartfelt.

Then Willi and a friend showed off their fencing skills. One of them fell off the stage dodging backwards, and some Morgans had to post there as interference for the rest of the demonstration.

The ceremony finally began, and there were lovely (and brief!) speeches from Willi, his father, the German ambassador to Thailand, the governor's wife (who has a leadership role in the Thai Red Cross?), and the Phang Nga representative in the National Assembly for the district. All wished luck and blessings on the Morgan people, and deep thanks for the Germans who donated money, and the volunteers who spent time. The ambassador was sweet, she said she didn't really know why she was there because, "We didn't do anything! You did everything yourselves."

Then each of 30 families received keys to their new front doors (which was mostly symbolic as....most homes didn't have doors on them yet, and...the community is small enough that no one locks anything). They also received donations from the Thai Red Cross and others. Their starter kit for the house included, but probably wasn't limited to:
-"Willi for Morgans/Morgans for Willi" t-shirts distributed early in the day
-Symbolic house keys
-Two large 2-gal bottles of water
-A large laundry bag filled with unknown stuff (clothes? rice?)
-A saffron bucket filled with cutlery and small kitchen stuff
-A packet of sarongs and possibly flipflops
-An electric fan (they do have electricity, one cord seems to service the whole neighborhood...)
-And the big surprise, a new refrigerator.

The best part happened last. Thais believe that releasing loud bangs of firecrackers will clear bad spirits away from homes and temples. Each house had a long string of firecrackers hanging from the front porch. They all were lit at the same time, and the noise was deafening. Thirty homes all being cleansed of three months' worth of sadness and uncertainty. Together, as a community. The moment was powerful and bittersweet. Tears streamed down my face and I strained not to cry for real because I didn't think I would be able to stop. This is the power of people working together. We can't always right the wrongs of the past, but we can pull together so people can go on with their lives and do the best they can.

Posted by sedda at 11:30 PM

April 08, 2005

Painting Homes in Thap Tawan

It's been very satisfying painting houses for the Morgan people near the Thap Tawan camp. Freaking HOT, but satisfying.

The project was launched by Willi Kothny, a German Olympic bronze medalist in fencing. He used his celebrity status to collect a lot of donations from large companies, so that he could build 30 homes for fishermen's families whose small tin or rattan homes had been quickly washed away by the 11-meter waves.

Please read more about Willi for Morgans by clicking continue below.

The posting of this entry was delayed due to internet access issues.

***Willi is German, but Thai-born, with a strong connection to his heritage. This project, German-run, has been much more disciplined than others I've worked with. If they say the truck is leaving at 8:15, you better be on the truck at 8:15 if you want a ride. The project managers, Albert and Franz, worked like absolute dogs. We are all hard workers, but I could hardly keep up with their initiative, speed and determination.

The land has transformed abruptly from a barren, junk-filled desert to a neighborhood in about two months. This group of homes was made of cement bricks, another project chose woven palm walls. The cement requires painting, and someone chose pink as the color. None of us particularly liked it, but I reminded everyone that in Florida all the houses are pink and somehow it reflects the heat. We all agreed it didn't look that bad once it was finished.

We would arrive at the site around 9am, and start mixing paint (both indoor/outdoor required dilution with 20% water). We had informal teams: indoor, outdoor, and trim or cutting in (indoor/outdoor). I did a little of everything, but focused mostly on trim. The brushes were well-used, and had been cut down several times.

Time would fly and by 11:30 it would seem very hot, and you just hold on until noon, when lunch is served. During lunch we tried the various 'delicacies' of home-food the chef was trying: fries, tempura vegetables, hot dogs! And we would play with the two kittens that hung out at the table. We handfed one of them shrimptails until his belly was so full he keeled over into a deep sleep, tummy puffed out, unable to move otherwise.

Then back to work until 3ish, when we took another break. Franz even would bring us trays of icewater, in aluminum Thai cups during breaks. Heaven! By about 4 or 4:30, you're pretty cooked, but we plodded along until 5pm when the truck came to take us home.

During the three days, I think we painted 7 houses, inside and out, including priming 2 or 3 of them. On my team were Jackie, Cristal, Sarah, Martha, and Chelli. Franz was our leader, and painted with us as well. We also had help from some Thai volunteers, but I didn't learn their names. Or maybe I should say, they had help from us. We all worked together.

A funny thing, the houses all had strings hanging from the rafters, and along the sides of the houses. I thought they were leftover from some early point of the project, but apparently they are part of a blessing for newly-built structures. I'm not sure if monks are involved. When you drive along the highway here, underneath the electric lines you can see long white strings travelling the entire length of the road. It turns out these strings were tied when the telephone poles were re-installed and the lines re-done. Lucky.

Posted by sedda at 08:10 PM

Cheeky Monkeys

Today at breakfast, Dan from the Pakarang crew was casually trying to enjoy a smoke and a few minutes of cool weather on the steps at the center's entrance, before heading to the jobsite at 8am.

He jumped up suddenly and backed away, uttering an exclamation. We heard a sound like rain. Localized rain. VERY localized rain.

One of the gibbons had perched himself high up on a tree at the perfect spot to pee on Dan's head.

Fortunately Dan had moved before the small poops fell.

Which Lucky the dog swooped in and ate.

Dan's opinion on the matter is entirely unprintable.

Posted by sedda at 08:30 AM

Still Taking Donations

For those of you who haven't had a chance to support tsunami survivors, they still need your help — despite what you may be reading in the news. Many of these listed here are 501(c)3s, some might not be—check out their sites.

The major areas of support needed are (in no particular order):
-building homes
-building boats
-educating kids
-teaching english to adults and kids

You can make a general donation to Tsunami Volunteer, where I'm working, by clicking here. If you are able to afford shipping and want to support the volunteers' spirit, they always will appreciate peanut butter (small jars for better rationing), CDs/cassettes, playing cards+games, mosquito powder packets, sun cream, CHOCOLATE and first aid supplies.

You also can earmark a donation for specific projects we are working on.

You can donate to the Pakarang Boat Building Project via Tsunami Volunteer, or through the private group that funded the project (Click here). The boat shed is nearing construction, and now fishermen are queueing to build and repair boats. A boat costs about $3,000 to build from scratch, and allows a fisherman to support his family and get back to his normal life. If you have the means to ship goods, the project is in need of at least two outdoor-style push brooms, and likely boatbuilding chisels, etc. You can send them c/o Scott Carter, Pakarang Boat Building Mgr, to the volunteer center. Tools can be purchased here, but you can't find a pushbroom anywhere.

If you don't want to do a bank transfer, you could mail your donation to the center:
THE MIRROR FOUNDATION PHANG NGA OFFICE
KHAO LAK NATURE RESORT 26/10 MOO 7
TAMBON Khuek KHAK
Takua Pa, PHANG NGA 82190 THAILAND
Tel +09 882 6187 Fax +66 (0)76 420179

Today I found out about a project that will build 80 homes for the people of Kura Buri, north of Khao Lak+Nam Kem—also hard hit. The group is called 4Kali (and here for the whole story, whether you want to donate or not—they have a positive spirit to share.) The family was in town a couple of weeks ago to cremate their daughter in a moving ceremony some of the volunteers attended.

The guys at North Andaman Tsunami Relief always can use a hand with their community projects. Click here for their site. They have a group of 20 (?) volunteers as well, lots of Americans and some Brits, as well as Thais who could use care package and financial support as well.

Tik and Neil down in Kata Beach are still taking donations for the kids of Kamala, and I think they are supporting some Khao Lak and Nam Kem groups as well. They would like to support the children of Kamala who lost one or both parents. Click here for more info. If you scroll to the very bottom, you can donate via PayPal (Please consider adding a buck or two to your donation to take care of the PayPal fees they will incur getting your money). They give a hearty thank you to all of you who donated via Knitzilla (here) on their site.

If you send any donations to the Knitzilla mailbox, I will forward them along in early May after I return. Or you can buy a wonderful handmade cotton dishcloth. These funds will be routed to one of these projects, or to UNICEF. You can write checks for your scrubbies directly to the project and we'll send a scrubbie in thanks. (Please include a SASE or a couple of bucks for shipping so I can mail it to you, thanks.) Also if you'd like to support my trip here specifically, please send the donation to the Knitzilla address (or my home) with a note explaining that's what you want to do. I'm not shy—the plane ticket was $850, plus I have a change fee, so I'll take any help you'd like to send.

I would love to hear about any donations that were made because you read about them here. Please drop me a line and let me know! (s crubbie[at]r aincircle(dot)com). Thank you!

Many of these groups still are looking for volunteer help, if you are interested in donating time. If you are a medic specializing in tourist motorbike wrecks and exhaust-burns, you won't go out of work here, especially when it rains. There is a great need for a spay/neuter program for cats and dogs — I think I have yet to see an animal that isn't pregnant or with little ones.

Posted by sedda at 08:19 AM

April 07, 2005

How it works in Thailand

The story goes that the people who are in real trouble after the tsunami are the Sri Lankans. The Thai people know how to take care of each other. They take each other in. In Sri Lanka, somehow it's different.

This is the kind of thing that happens here:

—I was hitching from the Vol Center to the 100 Days site a while back, and the ride that stopped was another volunteer, with a bike hanging off the back of her little Jeep/Samuri thing she was driving. She hopped out, demanding someone who speaks Thai. She had found a man at the side of the road, near his bicycle, doubled over clutching his stomach. She put him into the car and went looking for someone who could find out what was wrong with him. All she knew was that he was biking from BKK to Phuket (though he had hardly any gear).

A Thai man who was standing out front talked to the guy who was sick. After the first sentence, the man immediately reached into his back pocket and pulled out a few hundred baht and gave it to the sick man, who thanked him with Wai. Total stranger, just gave him money without even thinking about it. Everyone decided the next stop was Takua Pa hospital. The man's only English words were "Monkey Bite" as he showed scratches on his arms. He was taken to the hospital right away.

—When I had needed to go back and get my face checked, a Thai couple drove me the 40 minutes to the clinic, translated with the doctors, waited for me to get finished, and talked with the radiologist. Then drove me 40 minutes back. They wouldn't accept anything in return but a "Thank You."

—When being sent off by a Thai person, they make sure you are safely into your ride and the driver will take you to the right place, and they bully the driver into getting out and taking your bag and making triple sure you are in the right place.

—You barely have to hitch at night sometimes. Just walking along the street will cause someone to stop and ask Where You Go. In groups, alone, a Thai person will drive you a single block if they think it will help.

—Sometimes drivers will travel out of their way just to give you a ride, even though you think it's on their way. I've had plenty of people drive me up the hill to the vol center then turn around and go back where we came from.

—People will watch out for you and check on you when you are walking. Monty the tailor rides his motorbike along the Khao Lak strip on big drinking nights to give people rides back to the hotel. It's only a few blocks' walk. But he wants to help.

Posted by sedda at 09:35 AM

April 06, 2005

Hanging on

Yesterday was pretty mellow after the 100 Days' fest. I had a hard time finding a project, so it ended up being a bit of a day off.

Today I went with Albert's group to the Thap Tawan camp. He is working with some German investors, and the project is building something like 30 homes for Thap Tawan residents whose homes were completely washed away. (Ha — sorry — I was told this link would "explain everything about the project" but I see now it explains entirely in Thai and German. Good luck!)

Please read more about Thap Tawan camp by clicking continue below.

***The new homes are thin cinderblock, one BR, one BA, with a bit of a front porch. Open-air roof, ceramic tile floors throughout. Small. But supposedly an improvement over the tin-roof shacks they used to live in. Another group right up the street opted for bamboo houses on short stilts with sort of rattan walls. They are nice, and breathable, but I wonder how they would do in a windstorm?

I joined Sarah (UK), Cristal (Belgium), Jackie (UK) and Martha (Denver) in whitewashing two houses as primer before the final paint goes on. It was straightforward work, and lovely in the shade. Until noon, when there wasn't much more shade. A group of guys built and installed windows.

The dirty secret of this project is, the chef at the Sheraton/Bangkok is guest-chefing for a week to teach the Thais some Western cooking. We all benefit from the lessons. Well — the volunteers do anyway — at lunchtime all the Thais lined up for veggies and rice and all the volunteers lined up for the pasta, potatoes and small bits of steak. We'll enjoy it while he's here.

The 'kitchen' for this project is outdoors and camp-style. They have 2-3 buckets they fill with wood and burn it until it's charcoal, then cook everything on a wok on that one flame. Tables are made from planks and cinderblocks. Washing up is done in a series of round plastic bins. Two families of pigs and a new lot of chicks wander around nearby. One of the pigs barked at me today. What is it with the animals in this country?!

Around 3pm on a break, Martha took me to the small 'convenience' store nearby. (It's a place where a guy has some simple things like soap and shampoo and snacks on a shelf and a cooler full of drinks.) She bought me a cold Coke, and a Thai guy joined us at the table out front. He offered to share his Chiang beer (never made the same way twice, varying levels of high alcohol content, contains formaldehyde, very popular here) but we already had drinks.

Then he started just talking to us. I didn't understand a word he said, since it was all in Thai. Martha lived two years in BKK a while back, so she translated. He is a fisherman, and still has a boat. He said he was 39, and a member of the Morgan Tribe (they took a big hit in the wave). He lost seven people in his family — his four children and three others. His wife is still alive. He grabbed a tree while he was in the water and he tried to reach for his children, but he couldn't save them. They were aged 6-14, three boys and a girl.

His eyes were welling up with tears as he told us so many times, he is part of the Morgan tribe. He lost....one, two, three, four, five...he kept counting on both hands so we would understand. All his children. Martha asked if he had friends around, and he said no, he just drinks beer.

He seemed so lost and there wasn't anything we could do but listen. After about 20 minutes we needed to go, because we had finished our drinks and he would have bought us new ones. Martha told him that we appreciated that he had shared his story and that we will be thinking about him. And "Chok dee," which is a Thai wish of good luck, sort of like "Safe Travels," only a bit more meaningful.

How is a parent supposed to live without any of his children? There are so many stories here of the parents who tried to hold on, but their grip was lost, the water was too strong. This man is more than devastated. There is barely a slip of his soul left, and he is left trying to figure out how he has been permitted to move on without the only things in life that matter to him.

Posted by sedda at 05:59 PM

April 04, 2005

100 Days Memorial

The official ceremony of the 100 Days Memorial was this morning. The governor and lt. governor attended, and the crowd received blessings from a Catholic priest, a Muslim leader, a Buddhist monk, and a Christian leader.

BBC has photos here

The day opened with an opportunity to pay respects to the governor's grandson, who was killed in the wave at the 5-star resort adjacent to the grounds of the festival. The resort is still demolished. There was a large photo of him, and you could make a small donation to get a rose or lotus flower to lay near his photo, and near two plaques listing the names of everyone who died on paper.

The list still is incomplete — some people who approached added names with a pen.

There was a lot of ritual, but the ceremony did not seem emotional to me since I couldn't understand the Thai speeches. Later that night, in the bar in Khao Lak, one of the boatyard workers Kon, talked about what parents went through during the waves. He lost his son (age 14?) in the first wave. Even though he knew a second wave was coming and he had to get to safety, he only could think about the safety of his son, and worry about him. That's what parents do, they worry about their children.

Posted by sedda at 10:49 PM

April 03, 2005

Special Thanks

Sunday at the festival was a little more mellow. Not as many people wandering through to check it out. T-shirt sales in the Pakarang Boatyard booth were slow but steady.

At one point just after lunchtime, I looked up and noticed an Important Man approaching the booth. He wore a western, collared shirt and trousers with a belt and gold belt buckle, a gold necklace, a gold watch. These are definite status symbols in a country like this. His wife was wearing a coordinated silk Outfit and, like Daisy in the Great Gatsby, was "dripping with diamonds." As I dashed to get Kong, who speaks Thai, I noticed the man was traveling with about 12 other people, and at least four of them were soldiers.

Yesterday, we had a visit from Phang-Nga's governor. Again he looked important in his style of dress and how he carried himself, but what really tippped me off was that Kong was bowing lower and lower, the closer the man approached. It was clear he was a man of respect.

But today's visitor Kong described as the "second governor," which I took to be the Lt. Governor. He spent quite a while in the tent watching the builders work on boats. He tried chatting with me, but he was very soft spoken and the words I could understand were lost in the noise of the circular saw. His wife was nice, too—she gave her son money to buy a t-shirt from us. They wanted to make a picture with the boat builders. As I set up to take that photo too, his wife grabbed me by the hand and dragged me into the picture. Which was a bit bizarre, but whatever. Flattering, I guess?

After they left I had walked across the street to ask a question at reception. I nearly bumped into the second governor again. He stopped me, and said: "I am really glad to meet you today, for you donate to tsunami. Thank you very much."

I never expected any thanks for working here in Khao Lak. I mean, it's always nice, but it wasn't a requirement. To receive such a heartfelt thank you on behalf of the entire province — I can't ask for more than that.

Posted by sedda at 11:32 PM

Hat Yai Bombings

Thai television is reporting bombing in a Hat Yai department store (Another story here). Sort of standard Islamic separatist mayhem for southern Thailand. I'm told Hat Yai is a four-hour bus ride from here. I don't know what that is in km, but it's not near Khao Lak.

Posted by sedda at 10:49 PM

100 Days Festival

The festival's first day was mellow, but powerful in its own ways. The day began with a walking parade down to the beach, through some of Bang Niang's demolished resorts. Children carried signs that said "Thank you Tsunami Volunteers." Survivors in colorful sarongs walked proudly. Cyclists finishing their ride from Bangkok walked their bikes (some wore helmets made from coconuts!). The volunteers each carried a huge canvas beach umbrella painted with giant sunflowers, which was pretty impressive.

About 20 meters away, a Thai woman attending the event had stopped to sit on a crumbled wall of the 5-star resort bungalow, to sob in grief. Two photographers stood about 5 meters away from her, photographing for a long while. I felt really badly for her. But at least the photographers kept a respectful distance. When I saw her again about 15 minutes later, she was swarmed by at least 12 media. I wondered if that made it a hard day for her, or if it helped her by being able to tell her story again, and keep her family member alive through words.

There also is a field of 100 painted bamboo poles with streamers, as a symbol of the resiliency of the people through this tragedy.

Each of the camps making crafts has booths to sell their artwork. Everything handmade, it's so lovely. The Pakarang Boatyard has a double tent with two long-tail boats being repaired, so people can see how it works. The boatyard is selling t-shirts that Helene designed. They cost 100bht to make and we sell them for 250, so that will be some nice extra money for the project. 47 shirts sold alredy!

The ThaIkea group is painting furniture as well. There are some food vendors, and bands on the main stage.

One of my favorite things so far here in Khao Lak, has been the police. The station is just down the road from the vol center, and they have a large outdoor movie screen put up in the driveway along the road. Every night they play loud music or movies — for the spirits to enjoy while they walk the earth for 100 days. I had noticed the screen was missing — but they have set it up on the 100 Days Memorial site.

Posted by sedda at 06:06 PM

April 02, 2005

Practicing English

So I'm walking up the road from the 100 Days festival and from behind a green cloth fence I can vaguely make out some shapes rehabbing a demolished building.

"Helloooo!" a woman's voice calls out, with a bit of an accent.

"Hello!" I reply.

"Bye-Bye!" says the voice.

"Buh-Bye!" I reply as I walk along.

"I love you!" calls the voice.

I laugh. That covers about all the bases!

"I love you too!" I reply, laughing.

Posted by sedda at 03:22 PM

April 01, 2005

Wet Paint. And Pants.

Quiet day today after helping Scott's boatyard project with publicity info for a display at the 100 Days' Fest on Weds/Thurs, and yesterday's adventures in How to Get a Flat Butt in Just Seven Hours with Little More than a Tar-Covered Pickup Truck and a Thunderstorm!

Painting was mellow, and my friends Caroline and Jackie (both UK) were there, with a new girl Fabrienne. We painted two banners with the blue/yellow ThaIkea logo, for the furniture shop booth at the festival this weekend. I also painted some benches.

Another highlight was surrendering my tarred, rained-on, sand-covered Thai pants to the laundry lady this morning. Still wet. I've been washing my own clothes in the sink, but these are going to need extra care and a much bigger bucket.

Posted by sedda at 03:25 PM

Run for the border

(The satellite connection was whack this morning, so email and web posting were too frustrating to attempt until now.)

My friend Moira wants me to stick around for the Songkran Festival, or Water festival for the Thai New Year. I don’t know much about it except it’s a unique annual event, and involves throwing loads of water at anyone and everyone you see. Everyone is excited for it. (Except maybe for G. , as all it means for him is that I'll be home later than I keep saying. Again. Which has been a tough situation for me, as my heart is in one place and the rest of me wants to try some new things in the other for just a bit. How is it that even good things have so many challenges?)

The festival is April 14-15, a few days after my initial visa expires (they allow you to stay in Thailand one month visa free.) So in order to stay longer, I have to leave Thailand and come back again, thereby starting my one month over again.

And people being people, visa runs are big business.

In Phang Nga province, where Khao Lak is, the closest border is Burma, via Ranong – about a three hour drive. Tourist offices can arrange for a van to take you up to the border, get your exit visa, arrange the boat to the other side, and back again. These trips can cost something along the lines of 300bht and up, I understand. But yesterday the five of us, in the interest of saving money (remember, we are saving about $10 at the most), decide to try it on our own and hitch instead.

To Ranong. Three hours away.

To read the rest of this long adventure, please click continue below.

***The very first truck that stopped was willing to take us, but it turned out to be a good news/bad news deal. The good news: They were going all the way to Ranong! The bad news: They had just painted the entire bed of their pickup with TAR which was continuing to melt in the sun! We stuck to everything. Butts, shoes, bags, water bottles. Every time you moved, you had to unstick, then carefully reposition so you didn’t sit on anything that had stuck before. At Takua Pa, we stopped and found some newspapers to sit on, and alerted the driver that his paint job was all messed up. He and his friends laughed at us and our black butts.

So, so far, we saved 300 bht, but each of us is in for a new pair of pants (200bht+)—or "trousers" as Kate would say. Now might be a good time to mention that the bus from Takua Pa probably only would have cost about 50 bht ($1.25). But then, there probably wouldn’t have been a good story after that trip. So here we are.

After three hours in the back of the truck (wherein I sunburn my right ankle and left knee because I missed sunblock there trying to avoid the bandaids protecting various scrapes – so the sunburn has perfectly white bandaid-shaped no-sun areas now) we stop at a bus stop in Ranong. Through the valiant efforts of Tristan, his Thai phrase book and all five of us rubberstamping our left flat hands with our right fists (saying chai daan, chai dann, border border), we took serpentine songathew rides (like a tuk-tuk, but a little bigger) to the immigration office to stamp out.

Then, avoiding more songathews wanting to earn a fare, we walked four blocks to a longtail boat dock, and climbed in for the trip to Burma (150bht—usually less, but we were late and couldn’t wait to fill the whole boat). The wooden boat is long and well-worn, with a classic longtail motor. And for tourists, an awning.

The first stop is a house on stilts in the water, where one of the boatmen collects all the passports, hops up the stairs, then returns moments later with everyone’s passport stamped with a departure stamp. I’m not entirely sure how this differs from the departure stamps we got at immigration.

Then the long boat continues on. The boathand now collects five American dollars from each person on the boat, regardless of his nationality. Sarah, who is Australian, didn’t have five bucks American, so I paid for her and she paid me back in baht. This part apparently is the most essential, and least negotiable, part of the process. A guy told me a story about someone from the vol center who didn’t have five bucks, and the boathand made him wait six hours in Burma for his friends to go find five American bucks, and come back and get him.

So we motor on past a golden Buddha on an island wat, to Burma.

Only when we get “to Burma,” it’s still another house on stilts, where the passports are collected and stamped again, then we turn back around to go back to Thailand. None of us got out of the boat, except the guy who ran up to get our passports stamped. I thought we might have to spend an hour there or something, buy a Coke and let the vendors harass us into buying a snack or something. But – not necessary.

The thunder started rolling in halfway back, and the rain started blowing in. It didn’t really pour until we got back to the dock. We walked back the four blocks in the rain to arrive, dripping, at Immigration. The officer in the uniform sort of scowled at us, and handed me a roll of toilet paper to dry off a bit. (Aside – they use toilet paper for everything here in Thailand except the toilet. Napkins at a restaurant are generally thin squares, or are a toilet roll that allows you to use as many squares as you need. In the bathroom they have a shower sprayer instead of TP, but that’s a story for a different day.)

Now, fully stamped and legal for four more weeks, we take a songathew to the bus station to find a ride home. We grab a quick dinner in a typical Thai home-restaurant, near the baby in the playpen in the livingroom. Everything is fried fresh in a wok, you have the usual choice of Coke, green/orange Fanta or Sprite or water, and they even have ice.

One guy tells us the bus leaves in a half hour, which is perfect. At 6:30, we go to the bus area, and they tell us it’s not coming until 6:30 tomorrow. Uh Oh....

But there is another bus station around the corner. They say there is a bus coming at 7:30, in an hour. Tristan has had enough of tar trips on the gunwhales of a speeding pickup, and wants to wait for the bus. His sister and the other girls take off to hitch.

It takes us a while to find a ride (including getting into a truck with a strange guy who seemed perhaps palsied in some way, and wanted another woman on a scooter to drive us for a fee – he was a crappy driver and a poor negotiator, so we left him at the side of the road). A truck with tall rails on the side stopped, and the driver apologized repeatedly that the bed had sand in it. All of our clothes were ruined already, so we told him not to worry about it.

He stopped for gas, then pulled into the convenience store. When he came out, he had a bag full of water bottles – one for each of us.

He doesn’t speak any English.

We had negotiated a ride to Takua Pa – it seemed that’s where he was going – which is about 40 minutes from Khao Lak, maybe less. Even though we would arrive late in Takua Pa, we figured we could get a hitch the rest of the way, especially since they were having a special night market there these days. Maybe.

The driver traveled slowly and carefully, and we traveled under the usual heat lightning that we see nearly every night. The lightning that preceeds the sudden rainshowers. Good news/bad news…

We made it to Kura Buri, where I discovered I really needed to use the restroom. Too much water. And Kura Buri is a real hike from Takua Pa. I held on, and about 30 minutes later…the rain came, pouring, soaking. I was glad I’d had my longsleeve Capilene shirt on for a little warmth over my thin cotton tank top. We all were soaked to the bone, and I was shivering in the breeze (and I really had to go now – but there was no way to talk to the driver). But within 20 minutes or so the storm stopped and we began to dry off. Sort of. The sand in the truck bed was now mud, and stuck to everything.

Just when I didn’t think I was going to make it another minute, the driver pulled into a PTT gas station and drove right up to the bathrooms. What a mindreader! I thanked him over and over, and gave him Wai.

A few minutes later, we were in Takua Pa, and he pulled over again to where a group of locals were hanging out. They came up to us: “Where you go?” We said, we’re headed to Khao Lak.

They talked to our driver in Thai. “OK.” Would he take us? Was he really going that far? They seemed unable to answer our questions, but it was looking good.

We drove a little farther, and the driver stopped again, to pick up another volunteer who was checking out the Takua Pa night market. He was headed to Khao Lak as well, and I think was lucky to get a hitch at 10:30pm.

The last few kilometers went quickly. When we stopped in Khao Lak center, we thanked the driver several times, and gave him Wai. He absolutely refused to take any money. He tried to explain to us why, but we didn’t understand his Thai. Maybe he lost someone important. Maybe it just was his way to help. He repeated his story, but we didn’t understand.

We agreed that he was about the nicest person we’ve met in Thailand. And, interestingly, we never were passed by the bus — so I wonder if we even would have been able to get home that way after all?

Posted by sedda at 03:03 PM