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February 28, 2006

Sticking to it

So today started with another increased deadline ("take your time on that logo" turned into "the fisherman says he's hungry so we need to finish it up ASAP"), which meant we were sort of double-timing some of the processes. This means that Chris, Nicole and the fisherman were inside the boat oiling it while newcomer Noriko and I painted the logo on the outside.

Which was a bit like trying to paint a fine line while riding in the back of a truck on a gravel road. Not the simplest task, but the oiling was finished quickly—shortly after Chris began oiling the headpiece at the bow of the boat over my head, throwing linseed oil all over me in huge drops, splattered by the wind.

The rest of the day was hopelessly sticky.

Not a big deal, most days are like that. You tend to collect the stickiness in layers, choosing the least sticky parts to, say, scratch your eye or eat an ice cream or have fruit from the fruit lady. I finally had to tie my hair back with a bandanna, as it was sticky too, and sticking to my face, then trying to brush it away it would stick to my fingers.

Linseed oil, and oil paint, in 90+degree heat is just....sticky. The paint gets a skin on it, and we have to peel it away to find the good paint inside. This happens in under an hour sometimes.

But Noriko and I each finished a logo for the city of Georgetown, South Carolina, and they turned out pretty nicely. I mixed some of the colors, and used some seventh grade math skills plus manual photo enlargement skills to enlarge the image from the sample. A proportion wheel would have speeded things up, but the calculator on my phone worked fine.

In the meantime, Paul from Ireland has been targeted by Chris from Liverpool in a practical joke contest....Paul found his shoes filled with sand. Somehow when the cursing happens with an accent ("Bloody Hell! Fock!") it's more hilarious. He's going to be thrilled when he goes for his next swim and figures out his swimtrunk legs have been stapled closed....

Posted by sedda at 06:57 PM

February 26, 2006

...Mmmmmmmmmassage....

I had a nice, simple breakfast then headed to Ao Nang for a day of beach and a Thai massage!

Lovely, in that Thai hurts-so-good kind of way.

Ao Nang itself was pretty, as long as you keep your back to the land and just look at the water. It makes Venice Beach look simple and quaint. They even have a McDonald's. Yech. Tourist mecca. Lots of new stuff as well, as they got hit in the tsunami, too.

Best part of the day, besides the massage, was the fab samosa I grabbed for a take-away treat on the bus ride home. Yummmmm....

Best thing I didn't buy? Barbie in Thai silk, handmade dresses (and expensive! $7 per outfit or more!).

On the bus on the way back, I met a Canadian girl named Julia who was just arriving to volunteer. I helped her find her girlfriend's accommodation, because she seemed a little nervous. She'll have a great time, though.

Posted by sedda at 08:14 PM

The Namesake

Just finished a great book called The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

It's the story of the life and growth of a boy, and then man, born to Bengali parents who came to the States for a better life. The story describes the tradeoffs in intimate detail, as though you're a part of the family. The boy, Gogol, decides to change his name to distance himself from his heritage, which is so different from that of his American friends. As he goes through life, he learns to value that heritage more deeply.

I picked it up because it was on the new popular table by the front door of the bookstore, with about a million good reviews from newspapers and magazines on the cover, and I was delighted with the choice.

Posted by sedda at 07:39 PM

February 25, 2006

Haircut in Asia? Asian hairstyle!

My new friend Wendy had given me plenty of tips on Krabi before I came down, recommending a hair stylist that charges her under $10 for a wash/cut/dry.

Well, that's worth a shot.

I stumbled on a great afternoon/night market near the salon, and enjoyed fresh hot corn-on-the-cob (10bht) and a delish banana shake (10bht). I smelled wonderful and wretched smells, saw new and amazing vegetables. Then I went in for my salon appointment.

"ONLY let Porn cut your hair," Wendy had warned. (And we'd both lived here long enough that we didn't need to acknowledge that Porn is a common Thai nickname that doesn't mean anything like what it means in English. It's just a name.) "DO NOT let the other girls cut your hair."

So I laid back in this chair thing as my hair was washed then conditioned once, twice, THREE times...and enjoyed the rare bit of air conditioning after that sweltering hike up 1237 steps at the wat earlier.

Porn was really pretty, with a good haircut, very straight and stylish. And Asian. Her hair was straight in a way that you can only see on women with long, fine, black hair...or see on Marcia Brady in a rerun.

I asked mainly for a trim (because if it doesn't work out I can just wear a pony tail for 6 weeks until I can get it cut again). Porn tried to sell me on a straight perm—which I kindly declined, especially after Wendy's story of getting a "magic straight" in Vietnam and losing half of her very fine hair in the harsh chemicals. (But, she admitted, what was left was Very Straight.)

Porn made my hair long, straight, flat, pin straight, and ironed straight. Did I say it was straight? My cousin Alley would KILL for this hair. And the best part? I had the SAME hair as all the Thai girls in the salon!

Only I'm a little bit taller.

Now all I need is a little toy to dangle off my cell phone and maybe I'll start looking like I fit right in—and the Thais can stop charging me tourist prices for everything!

Posted by sedda at 09:59 PM

Wat Tham Sua - the Tiger Cave temple

The main reason I came to Krabi this weekend, besides just to do something cool and different, was to check out Wat Tham Sua, the Tiger Cave wat.

Wats are like Safeway grocery stores in Washington DC: each has its own nickname and specialty. This wat boast caves, and was built on ground where tigers used to roam, and has a pinnacle 1237 steps above the rest of the wat.

And not all steps are of regulation height.

It was a very lucky day. It began with a blessing from some women monks (I need some background on this, but women can't really be monks, but they can study and do a lot of things monks do...for this reason they wear all white instead of saffron, but they still shave their heads.). It is very lucky at a temple to have a monk tie a red crocheted bracelet around your wrist and wish you good luck. Which is how my day began.

In the first room, I bought a small amulet with a monk's image on it for my friend Roscoe, the main dance instructor at the Derby, who was in an awful car accident over Christmas and is not able to work as he heals. "Very Lucky, this one," the woman behind the glass counter assured me.

But of course I forgot the guy's name in two minutes.

So further into the grounds, I met a nun, or maybe she was a nun-in-training. She explained that shaving all the hair helps one concentrate on meditations. She's 23, and from Surat Thani (Ko Samui) and is at this wat for two weeks. She felt a lot of empathy for Roscoe, since she's been in a car accident herself, with a bad break to her leg and some other scars. Her name is Lek.

She explained about the man on the amulet and we chatted for a while. This is a lucky thing you can do when you travel alone, you can make new friends with strangers because you are easier to approach, and it is easier to approach them since you're not on a 'schedule.'

Then as I walked away, she called me back. "Here," she said, "For you friend. Good luck." and she demonstrated wearing a long red crocheted string around her waist. I thanked her deeply. It is a very special gift, and I know Roscoe will draw strength from the passion and fortune she put into it as a gift.

Then I walked a monkey gauntlet (There are always monkeys at wats. Don't ask me why.), and climbed all 1237 steps to the top, with people on the downward path encouraging me in a variety of languages. (A couple from Sweden told me they called their friends back home from the top and reported that it is below zero and snowing there. Since it's about 92 and 105% humidity here, we had a good laugh at that.)

The view was beautiful, and the large Buddha at the top was pretty cool, protecting the whole city.

At the bottom again, I checked in with Lek. She is very worried for Roscoe, and asked if we could exchange email addresses so she could hear how he is doing. I promised to send an update.

Then I ran into a guy buying amulets for himself. I think he saw the TVC pin on my bag, because suddenly he told me, "I'm a tsunami survivor."

He was in the Khao Lak area—Nam Khem, actually—to do some hotel training for employees at the Andaburi. For his last night, he'd moved to a room closer to the highway. (Luckily—as most of Nam Khem was washed away.) He was in bed when the tsunami happened that morning, and his room, all that way from the beach, filled up with water and he floated to the ceiling. He prayed to Luong Phu Thuad for safety. He prayed that it couldn't be his time, that he still had many students to train. He asked Luong Phu Thuad for some more time, so he could continue teaching his students. He could hear a large, strong German man calling for help in the room next door.

The German man didn't make it. But the hotel man got out alive. And he was buying some more Luong Phu Thuad amulets for luck.

He says he never stays on the first floor of any hotels any more. Even in Bangkok.

And he just trained a brand new crew at the Andaburi.

I told him he was very lucky, and I was glad he made it out safely.

Posted by sedda at 09:35 PM

Near-translations

G. and I are preparing for a trip to Peru a couple of weeks after I get back from Thailand, and he thought it would be a good idea to lay in a supply of Cipro and Diamox for the trip. (Cipro for any myriad of known or unknown problems, Diamox for the Machu Picchu hike and time in Cusco.)

I told him I'd check out the pharmacies here to see what I could find, since the system is a lot more simplified. Basically, you walk into a pharmacy and say, for example, "I'd like some Cipro, kaa," and they hand it to you and say, "Two time a day. Five days. One hundred twenty baht."

It's just that easy.

So the Cipro was no problem. But in two pharmacies, no one had ever heard of Diamox—which isn't a surprise since Krabi is at sea level and this drug is good to prevent maladies at heights of 10,000 feet or more.

In the first pharmacy, the three people who worked there gave me quizzical looks. They held imaginary food up to their mouths and asked, "Tablet?? Cream?" No, I say. Tablet. I drew a little mountain with a snowy peak on their receipt pad, and said, It's for when you climb high, and you get a headache. "Ibuprofin?" I smile. I point to the words "mountain" (poo kow) and "climb" (been) in the phrasebook. I draw a stick figure on the mountain. It's so you don't get sick when you go very high, I say. Another pharmacist goes to the back, and pulls out a medicine, and presents it to me. It's for PMS.

Thank you very much, I say. Mai pen rai, nevermind.

Now it's turning into an all-pharmacy game show, sort of a $10,000 Pyramid or an Outburst—only you can say all the words you want since it's a 50/50 shot whether either side will understand each other.

I try at the second pharmacy (there are about three every block here). I draw another mountain, and another stick figure on it. One pharmacist asks, "Cream?" No, I say: Tablet. She looks more confused. This time I draw a whole mountain range. I say, "poo kow, been" and a light bulb goes off over the second pharmacist's head.

Oh! She says! And she points me to some perfectly good climbing tape hanging on the wall in the corner. She scored points in the supersecret bonus round—we're in the right neighborhood, at least. Apparently she's seen my type before, on their way to Railay for world-class rock climbing (not at high altitude).

So now I draw tick marks up the mountain: 1000m, 2000m, 3000m...and she understands: it's for when you go high.

So her final try, after scanning the "D" area on the shelf, was to present me with a box of Dramamine. Close—but not exactly.

She looks confused. "No have," she said apologetically.

Kap kun kaa, I say, that's okay. Mai pen rai.

And I giggled all the way down the block.

Posted by sedda at 09:07 PM

February 24, 2006

NATANDY is in the water!

Worked on another Ireland logo over the past few days, but the real fun was in delivering the NatAndy boat in Baan Nam Khem, just up the street from where the devil fisherman's boat landed during the tsunami.

(Two large fishing vessels came inland in Nam Khem during the wave...the large blue one is known as the angel boat as it didn't destroy any houses, and a fisherman and his son were saved by grabbing onto tires hanging off the side of the boat. It stopped just short of a house. The large orange boat is the devil boat, because it mowed some people down as it thrashed its way through houses on its way into town. In Nam Khem the wave was 4-5 meters high in places, and more than half of its 5000 citizens were lost.)

It was tricky for Scott to navigate the trailer backwards down a couple of narrow town blocks then at an angle down a rather sketchy ramp onto the sand. (It was low tide—last time they delivered here the water was up to the ramp and it wasn't a problem.) But he didn't have any problem with it. With a "Neum...song...sang..." the crew gave it a heave-ho and it went in just fine. The fisherman was so greatful he took us all to the corner market to buy us each a beer.

We all kept an eye on Lucky, as at the last boat pickup in Nam Khem we managed to leave without him, and had to circle around the block with like a 25-foot boat trailing behind, to come look for him. The fishermen thought that was hilarious.

Please click the link below for more.

We happened to drive by three German women who were interested in what was going on, and then came back to the boathouse to check it out. Two of them had survived the wave. One woman lost the entire group she was with. When the wave came, they all started running, and many of them ran into a building. This woman just kept going and going, holding her camera high above her head so it wouldn't get wet. She survived, and is still shooting with the same camera. This is the first time she's been back, and it was quite an emotional time for her.

This weekend I'll be heading down to Krabi (say it kr-BEEE, and roll the R a bit) to see a cool Wat, and hang out. Should be fun, and beautiful. A new friend who used to live there gave me the lowdown on the best place to stay, the best spots to eat, the great massage lady and where to get my hair cut. I'm looking forward to it.

Posted by sedda at 06:11 PM

February 23, 2006

New reef discovered off Khao Lak

Tipped off by local fishermen, WWF divers in January found what they say is a healthy, 667-acre reef in southern Thailand with over 30 genera of hard corals, and at least 112 species of fish.

Among the fish species identified, the WWF said, was a type of parrot fish first discovered in Sri Lanka and never before seen in Thailand, and a species of the sweet lips fish previously only found in the Similan Islands.

The reef is off the coast of Khao Lak, a popular tourist destination on the Andaman Sea coast of Thailand.

Read more about it here.

Posted by sedda at 08:28 PM

February 22, 2006

Things you learn by traveling

—Keep your toothbrush zipped up and away and not out on the sink, as that roach the size of your index finger likely was sucking on it right before you discovered him in your toilet kit.

—No, you can't move faster than a roach the size of your index finger when it's a manual flush toilet and a good flush takes three bowls of water. But thanks for playing.

—The big 5-gallon tin with the mermaids on it is linseed oil for the boats, the plain green label tin is the paint thinner. The red label tin and purple label tins also are paint thinner, but it's the kind that burns like hell if you try to use it on your hands.

—No matter what color thinner you use, your fingernails will still be blue for the entire rest of the trip.

—Unwrap the extension cord before plugging it in, or you could get zapped.

—"Mai sai het kaa" means, please no mushrooms.

—When you discover that the entire world is the same and even in another language you have to argue with the server about the value of mushrooms in a given meal, the follow-up phrases are "gin mai dai" (cannot eat) and "bin paa" (allergic).

—If you don't use a towel to squeeze water out of the capilene underwear and socks before air-drying it in humid weather, they will smell like a small mammal crawled into the fibers, killed a skunk in spite, and the two of them died together there.

Posted by sedda at 06:31 PM

Go go logos....

Well, I finally finished the NATANDY logos on the next boat. They commemorate a couple who were lost in the tsunami. Scott hands us printouts from the computer and we have to eyeball them and copy them onto the boat in a proportion suitable to that size boat. It's an interesting process, you kind of have to just go for it.

I think it's great that their families are remembering them by donating a boat that can support 1-4 families. But I think it's bad juju to sport the names of dead people that the sea came to swallow up on a boat.

Thai people are extremely superstitious, but they don't seem to mind this. I suspect that eventually they paint right over the logos (I would). I just hope this one sticks around for a month or so before it gets painted over, because it took a really long time!

And unbelievably, Terry is gone again! He only was in town for a few days, then off to Bankok and back to Australia until October. What a rip! I hardly got to see him!

Posted by sedda at 06:24 PM

February 20, 2006

Free food!

A new bar in town wants to get new customers, so they offered free eats as long as you buy some drinks. Yummy thin chicken skewers with spicy sauce, salad, fresh pineapple and watermelon, salad, fried spring rolls.

Tons of volunteers were there, and I sat with Albert from Thap Tawan, and three Thai girls who work at the volunteer center named Goi, Nong, and Myao. They are hilarious.

Posted by sedda at 11:13 PM

Another familiar face—and more photos

Terry from Australia, who was on the boatyard crew with me last year, is back for a week. He's a hard-smoking, sailor-swearing hippie in flipflops who has been traveling Central America since the last time I saw him (he recommends Panama as "Costa Rica without the gringoes.")

I finished another boat logo and we delivered another boat.

I already maxed my Flickr account with uploads and they don't let you modify or downsize to make it right again, so try this Kodak Gallery link to see more pix (click "view photos without signing in.").

Posted by sedda at 06:49 PM

February 19, 2006

Video Experiment

I tried making some videos today out the bus window with my new digital camera. Then finding a way for you to see them. Basically fruitless, even with DSL.

After much wrangling, I got one of the short ones uploaded, of the view of the north side of Khao Lak, including the Happy Snapper, Jai's bungalows and Khao Lak Seafood (pink bougainvillea). Which took about 40 minutes. So please, please try to enjoy a dollar and a half's worth of mushy video, as that's what it cost me to post at the internet cafe (it's about the price of lunch here).

Apologies for the crummy compression, and the bumpy ride (it was an old, non-air-con bus that truly had seen better days). Maybe if you squint it will look better?

Sorry to say I likely won't be posting many more of these until I get back, as I don't have a machine and a line I can just "park" while uploading.

Posted by sedda at 11:19 PM

Photos!

I'm going to upload select, random photos to my new Flickr account. Enjoy!

Posted by sedda at 09:29 PM

Khao Sok National Park

I hooked up with Wendy (Canada) and Alice (Australia) to take the bus ($3) up to Khao Sok National Park for a night. It's beautiful! There were butterflies everywhere. I think I saw 100 of them.

We found a room at the Morning Mist Resort, for 800 bht/night (about $5 per person for 4 of us). The restaurant in the hotel was beautiful, very earthy and outdoorsy. We spent the afternoon floating down a river in innertubes ($6.25). Ultimately 24 volunteers came out and coordinated, somehow.

Saundra came out as well, and had a lovely all-wooden bungalow with mosquito nets and a porch out front. We sat and listened to the crickets and the birds as dusk fell. They grew louder and louder in the darkness, and we watched some mice travelling back and forth along the leaves and branches. It was very peaceful.

After dinner, we all hung out at the Rasta Bar in town for a while. Reggae is big here, for some reason. (I suspect at least part of the appeal, just like in the states, is the ganga.)

Sunday morning, Saundra decided she was too worn out to hike, so after a very leisurely breakfast where I was joined eventually by Alice, I set out to the park to do a 2k rainforest hike on my own to a waterfall ($2.50 to get into the park, at half off for volunteers).

The hike was sheerly vertical, and consisted entirely of stone steps. Have any of you ever hiked the hidden steps in Silverlake? You're all amateurs. This wasn't a hike, it was a climb. Without the steps in the rainy season, it would have been a sledding expedition.

The trail was straightforward, until one point it made a T. My instinct was to head right, but I was approaching my turnaround time to make the 3pm bus back home. So, no waterfall. But I did see a cute baby green snake on my way back. Of course I got down in less than 1/3 the time it took me to climb, and I had plenty of time to make the bus.

Nick, Alice and I hitched 1k up to the main road, and another guy I'd seen on the hike gave me the scoop—I had chosen the right direction, but the waterfall was another 40 minutes up the trail. No time for a swim, for sure, so I'm glad I turned back.

And then tonight on my way to dinner I saw a lightning bug by my bungalow! I tried to tell my server about it by drawing a small bug with a lightbulb for a butt...but it didn't translate. I'll have to find out the Thai word for firefly.

Posted by sedda at 07:08 PM

February 17, 2006

Bees, Waterwise

Everything changes again. I met up with Jonathan, formerly from Crisis Corps, last night and we caught up over a Singha and some Thai food at The Place Next to Khao Lak Seafood (which now actually has a sign — Weerapat's — but I'm not sure if I'll remember that).

I was glad he was around when Moira and Cecilia came by to say their goodbyes, because I wasn't about to cry in front of other people. They left this morning and I'm so bummed to be here without them. It was so awesome to see Moira again and hear about her "Moiriental" adventures teaching in Beijing. Her mom has a great spirit as well. I told her it was cool of her to come all this way, not only to teach the 10-day English workshop with Moira in China, but to come on to Thailand and meet the homies.

She said, "Well...how could I not?"

It's true. But sometimes that's not so obvious until you get here.

So today's excitement at the boatyard was a swarm of bees, discovered in the tool shed/office area. I think they must have been from the hive previously discovered in the woodpile. The bees were literally flying around in a swarm, looking for a new place to be. It was quite annoying. All the volunteers would randomly break into this spastic dance as bees buzzed their heads, for most of the afternoon. People set up some fires to smoke them out and that helped...but who knows where they'll have landed tomorrow.

Late in the day it was discovered that someone had helpfully refilled the pristine drinking water tower...with rainwater from the cement cistern...via the bilge pump we use to empty oily rainwater out of the boats....

Oops. Luckily no one had had much of it to drink, and so after the lecturing, the tower was emptied and rinsed before the water man came at the end of the day.

The water man has this totally pimped-out water delivery truck. It's brand-spanking clean, has pink and purple running lights, oxidized lug nuts in a rainbow of colors, a custom painted airfoil, and a 5,000-watt stereo system with a subwoofer.

On the dash is a metallic happy cat, complete with a waving arm. The water man was quite pleased that we all admired his fine ride. Personally I'm surprised the whole truck didn't kneel or something. But maybe with the weight of the water, that's out of the question.

At the end of the day, I met a Thai woman named Noy and a Thai guy named Bidpat (or something). They were interested in the boatyard. It turns out Noy owns a shop in Phuket and got caught in the tsunami. The water crashed into her front windows and filled the shop to the ceiling. She was trapped. Then suddenly all the water rushed out and she was able to get to get out alive. "It's all right," she said. "No one was hurt."

They may be back to volunteer at the boatyard. Bidpat helped me paint some letters on the bow of the boat I was working on, and they both seemed excited about the painting.

We set another boat free today. It was the one that I painted the logo on yesterday. We put it straight into the water from the beach, with its brand new engine, and the fisherman was so excited. I was really happy for him.

Posted by sedda at 06:34 PM

February 16, 2006

Spa moments

Yesterday morning in the boatyard was fun, I did another morning of caulking boats, while ignoring an enormous blister in a completely inconvenient place for further hammering. Nothing a couple of layers of duct tape couldn't improve.

I had a pretty rough night the night before. We lost power for a while (later I found out lightning hit a transformer in Bang Niang, up the way, I'd bet that was the cause), and somehow that sudden drop caused the fan in my room to come to a slow, grinding, whining halt, and it never was right afterward.

After two hours of squeaking, I finally came to the conclusion those were NOT birds after the storm outside, it was my (now totally obnoxious) fan.

Bugger.

The only lubricant I could find was Dr. Bronner's (totally unsuccessful), and turning it off entirely was out of the question. After an hour of brainstorming, false attempts, futile attempts at ignoring it, and then finally packing my suitcase so I could find another room in the morning...I suddenly remembered that I had packed earplugs for just such an emergency. Ahhhhh.....

I did try to find another place and still try try tried to get into Jai's bungalows, which are so cute, but ultimately I decided I was letting Perfect be an enemy of Good. In very broken pointing-to-phrasebook Thai, the handyman and I determined that a little oil may fix it right up.

And it did. For about four minutes.

please click continue below for more about Wednesday and Thursday.

On the second go-around, I got a new fan, which made sleeping a joy again, until I was attacked by a rogue gang of mosquitoes. Not sure how they got in.

After all of the accommodation-hunting, I lost contact with the boatyard crew in a typical Thai-time situation (often times, "meet at 3:30" can mean, "well, I came by for one minute at 4:15, I can't believe I missed you!" so hooked up with Moira and Cecilia for a short but extremely sweaty hike down to a rocky beach. We walked back to their swank hotel and swam in the pool and had a lovely "rainstorm" shower. Then we came into town for dinner, ran into some old and new friends at Pia Foot Massage and Bar (Seriously. You can get a Singha or a foot rub. Or both.), then called it a relatively early night.

Today I spent in the boatyard again, painting a logo on the bow of a longtail boat. Pretty fun. I'm off to meet Jonathan and Saundra for dinner. We're trying to stir up some fun for the weekend. It's looking like Beach or Elephant Trek. Stay tuned.

Posted by sedda at 06:49 PM

February 15, 2006

Not Lost in Translation

The most hilarious thing happened last night. Saundra wanted to have dinner on the beach in honor of Valentine's Day, and to check out the beach spots. Moira and her mom, Cecilia, were going to meet us. So Saudra and I walked down the road that Nang Thong Supermarket is on, passed the Happy Lagoon resort (where I had a great shake during beach cleanup last year...it is now totally landscaped and creatively lit, complete with a replica James Bond Island tower, and Fred-Flintstone-Inspired faux-rock seating), and checked out the Nang Thong Bay Resort restaurant.

Which was completely blowing me over, because not a brick of it existed this time last year, and I have certainly crossed over the rubble of land several times during beach clean-up. But now it's a swank resort, suitable on-the-beach lodging for the likes of my parents, with a beautiful pool.

Anyway, we get to the restaurant and it is huge, over-lit, and FULL of older white tourists, all dressed the same in their Reyn Spooner "travel shirts" and pleated pants (no offense, Dad). Not a single Thai in the place (except for the staff). So we're starting to double-think our choice for dinner. As we are standing there, stupified, at the obvious seG. ation, and the prospects of getting anything interesting to eat there, the hostess says something in Thai that I didn't understand.

Well, much to the woman's horror, Saundra did understand after three years in Thailand, even though she was as fair skinned as the rest of the farang (foreigners) in the place.

The woman had sighed, in a plain speaking voice, "Where the hell are they going to sit?!" while she was standing right next to us. Thinking we couldn't understand a word.

Saundra looked her in the eye and smiled, and said in Thai, "Well, we haven't decided yet, can we have a look at the menu?"

And the hostess buried her face into the menus she was holding and I just realized that Saundra had busted her at talking behind our backs right in front of us! It was HILARIOUS. I laughed way too embarassingly loud because she was So. Busted.

Needless to say, once we realized the food was all farang food (spaghetti, German stuff) for three times the price of any other restaurant, we bugged out of there, found a way to meet Moira and Cecilia, and went to the next place up the beach (also brand new, and where we used to dump the trash we collected from beach cleanup), which was wonderful. It was quiet, each table a little picnic bungalow. Saundra made sure we ordered in Thai style, with a sweet dish, a spicy dish, some fish (served whole) and all of the balance a proper Thai meal requires. Delicious, and inexpensive.

At the end of the meal, after we all had been talking for hours, Saundra suddenly looked at Moira. They hadn't officially met before, but had exchanged some email about some projects. Saudra said, you're not related to Kestral are you?

And Moira and Cecilia freaked out.

It turns out Saundra used to work with Moira's cousin at an outdoors school in Santa Barbara. Saundra's Nature Name was Thistle, and Moira's cousin was Kestral.

Kestral told Saundra to look Moira up in Ban Nam Khen when she arrived a year ago, but Saundra blew it off. I told her she must be meant to meet Moira, because here the introduction was put straight into her hands!

Not a bad Valentine's Day overall....but I am really disappointed G. couldn't have been here to experience it, too.

Posted by sedda at 02:10 PM

Tsunami Volunteer organization update

TVC sent its monthly update, for those of you who want to know a little bit more about the organization, how it started, and what it's like now.

I'm also friendly with the NATR folks, as well as Saundra and Jonathan, who were with the Peace Corps and Crisis Corps, and now are managing D-trac. D-trac could use some corporate sponsorship, by the way, so if you are looking for a good long-term cause to support tsunami survivors, they are providing wonderful resources for NGOs helping folks out here.

Posted by sedda at 02:05 PM

February 14, 2006

Happy Loever's Day

Happy Loever's Day — This is the greeting on the sign of the "best" restaurant in town, which is offering a 15% discount today. The O on the sign was a heart.

Moira and her mom came out to the boatyard and ended up spending the day. Her mom is a rock star—she came out to teach a 10-day English workshop to Chinese students in Beijing with Moira last week, then afterward they came here together for a short vaca.

She seems thrilled with her trip so far...first thing that happened when they got there was that we made delivery on a boat to a Thai family...in the morning the team had gotten the boat (2 tons, 11.5 meters long) up on the trailer, then we all piled in and rode the boat — in the trailer — to the delivery spot. it took all the volunteers, and the whole Thai family and a few guys from the neighborhood to get it into the man's yard (he's going to "pimp hs ride" before it goes into the water, building a small hut so he doesn't fry in the sun and whatnot). Moira's mom was thrilled to participate. "We're a long way from Chicago," she said, as the palm trees whizzed by, and her hair whipped around in the light rain as we hurtled down Highway 4 balanced on the ribs and the gunwhales of the longtail boat.

They stayed on and we caulked boats all afternoon, with a chisel and a 2lb hammer. It was bloody hot. And I'd been doing it all morning, so I have a great blister, right where I need NOT to have a blister if I'm going to do more of this tomorrow.

We're meeting Saundra for Valentine's dinner on/near the beach. (G. isn't totally missing out on Valentine's Day, however, I left him a Valentine to open.) I handed out schoolkid Valentines to the whole crew, and Nid brought in sweet sticky rice (wrapped in banana leaf) as a treat this morning. And we saw a rainbow on the ride home!

Posted by sedda at 06:52 PM

February 13, 2006

Tsunami Volunteer projects tour

Tsunami Volunteer Center has made a lot of changes since I left last April. The center was embroiled in the depths of change then, transitioning from tsunami relief and immediate needs into community growth and development for the long term. Many of the volunteers who had been there for months were burned out. Some took leaves. There were changes in managment, office location, policies.

It was a bumpy road for a bit as TVC redefined itself. The group seems stronger and much more organized now. The group moved to an office in "downtown" Khao Lak, and out of the beautiful Khao Lak Nature Resort, which had been so generous for so long in loaning their space without charge. TVC now offers an orientation tour (!) for new volunteers, a more comprehensive welcome pack with info about the community, and the nametags now have photos, which are stored in a database.

I checked out the tour today (they only offer it on Mondays), and a lot of the projects have grown and changed.

A lot of homes have been rebuilt along the main road, Highway 4. Many of them are on stilts. Most are cement.

There are now blue metal signs posted occasionally at corners noting Tsunami Evacuation Route with arrows. I'm sure this makes the government feel better, but I don't think the locals weren't sure where to go when the wave happened. They just didn't know the wave was coming. In Thep Tawaan and in Nam Khem, the landscape afforded residents with powerful walls of water barreling in from both sides of a peninsula. Sign or no sign, there was no where for these people to go.

Tilo put the scale of the wave into perspective: 10-15 meters high (30-45 feet), sometimes moving at 60-80mph, and with the force 1/5 the intensity of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. A comprehensive warning system is going to go a lot farther to prevent future trauma than direction signs in a small community where people have lived for generations.

—Dive cleanup is halted for the moment. This is a bit unfortunate, as things keep washing up onto the beach, and one diving volunteer estimates that within 2-3 months, this could be a significant problem on the Khao Lak beaches. Occasionally personal items still wash up, and the TVC does everything in its power to return the item to the family, as it can be a powerful memory of the person who was lost. To do the cleanup, divers use knives to dig under the sand, and pull up whatever they hit. Which is a lot. And most of it is heavy.

As an aside, a mother who had lost her daughter in the wave came to Thailand to close the circle, and grieve. She picked up her daughter's things the police had recovered from her hotel room, which apparently was undamaged. The mother developed the last roll of film, and found photos her daughter had taken of a sweet, limping dog in Khao Lak. Something about the dog made her stop and make his photo; he meant something to her.

The mother showed the photos to Scott, the boatyard manager. When he saw the photo of the dog, he quickly turned, and called: Lucky! The gentle dog her daughter had noticed was well-known in town, and is now the boatyard mascot. Her mother burst into tears at the connection, at the spirit of life as she grasped for anything meaningful about her daughter's vacation that had gone so wrong.

Stories like these pop up throughout the day, they are intermingled with the work, the travel, the knots of languages that are hard to follow.

But back to the tour.

—Thep Tawaan, the housing project where I helped paint houses, was in the middle of its second group of buildings when I left, and now is building kitchens for a third set of buildings that were built by another group. These buildings met the immediate need for shelter, but are a bit small for long-term family use, so the thought was an add-on kitchen will give more space. Andy (a different Andy), who runs the project, insists that it would be a good week for me to learn brick laying. I told him I'd get back to him on that.

Tilo, who managed Thep Tawaan II, is still around, managing things in the office. Also Lisa, who used to run the Thaikea project, is back again for a long-term fundraising stint. I think by the end of tonight I'll have run into more than 10 familiar faces, which is a lot more than I expected. As Lisa remarked, "This is a four-star volunteering experience." As in, it's no wonder people stick around, what's not to like?

—In Ban Nam Khem, where Moira ran a boatbuilding project last year with a small NGO, the community has constructed a Tsunami Memorial Park.

—The craft shop selling survivor-made crafts such as batiks, t-shirts, woven items and baskets, has moved several blocks away, but remains essentially the same.

—Thaikea furniture building has used up all of the extra coffin wood and now builds furniture out of plywood (which costs the same as at home) and out of scraps from the boatyard. However, the project now requires that the homeowner assist in or build his or her own furniture, rather than receiving it as a gift. The effort helps the survivor feel accomplishment in working to start anew in his or her life. Also the furniture is no longer painted, as the expense became too great, so the homeowner is left to choose painting or varnish at his or her own expense.

—There is an Environmental Restoration project that was just getting off the ground when I left, it has planted hundreds of trees to replace lost palms and vegitation.

There's more, of course, but it's too much to list. I should be clear that TVC's mission is Thai-sponsored and Thai-inclusive, and strives not to be a "Santa" operation. The idea is to help Thai people rebuild on terms they understand and will support after volunteers have gone home.

(Abrupt subject change) We're in our third day of afternoon heavy rains. The season is looking early this year! I saw the dark clouds in the sky and made it to the internet cafe before the rain started today. If this keeps up, I'm not sure I'm going to be so lucky every day!

Posted by sedda at 04:37 PM

Old Home Week

So, walking home from Fisherman's bar last night, where I had a Chang beer with Saundra, I ran into Andy at Scuba Groupies, a new scuba bar. Andy is a British volunteer who was here last year at the very beginning. You might remember that he had made friends with the Takua Pa chief of police (when everyone was focusing on body recovery), which had earned him, and me, an invitation to sit up front for the 100 Days Memorial ceremony.

It's lucky I ran into him, as he's only in town until the end of the week, before some business in Turkey then a great launch with other volunteers to help out in Pakistan after the awful earthquake there. And, although I missed my friend Franz (by one week!) from painting houses last year, Albert is in town and so is a cool guy named Jan-Eric, who is here for one day with his wife on a visit. They're all from the Thep Tawaan project, and we're going to meet tomorrow for dinner.

Posted by sedda at 08:05 AM

February 12, 2006

Pakarang Boatyard Update

The heat hasn't been too bad, on a relative Thailand scale. I was dripping sweat before 8am, but I balanced it out with a lemon shake (like a frozen lemonade, they come in all fresh-fruit flavors).

I met Scott for breakfast before the boatyard crew went out, then decided to tag along to see what it was like, now that they are 47 boats into the project. Scott came to Khao Lak to help out for a few weeks in January 2005, and he's stayed ever since.

Six of us and Lucky, a stray dog with a gentle personality Scott adopted piled into the back of the silver pickup for the ride to Cape Pakarang. One of the loveliest feelings on earth is riding free in the back of a truck, air-cooled watching the lush green countryside go by. It's the definition for me of going places, of moving through adventure.

The first view of the boatyard was breathtaking. Saws buzzing, hammering, music playing. There were at least four boats in production, and two more that needed names of donors painted on the bow. I wandered around, taking photos, overwhelmed. When I left last spring, the crew had just started the roof, and the first tsunami boat to be repaired had been delivered.

Last Thursday, the crew celebrated delivery of its 47th boat to Thai fishermen...and boat number 58 is under construction. They are finishing a boat about every five days, and are looking for sponsorship for at least 8 more boats. The boathouse was built almost entirely by volunteers. The managment of the project and the boatbuilders have been the same for the last year. Only one man has quit.

I decided to stay for a while, and helped paint some names on the bow of a boat until the rain began. The volunteer team at the moment is entirely from Melbourne, Australia. And, thanks to Scott's mom, the audio system has been upgraded from cassettes played on the car stereo to an iPod with portable speakers. Scott also asked me to put together a photo album for a group from the Royal Thames Yacht Club, who had donated five boats (it costs about $3,000 US to build a boat from the keel up). I might do some more photo editing for him later, since I suggested setting up a "standard" photo album for donors, using a certain number of process pictures for each one, then adding in photos specific to that donation. This way, each book doesn't need to be started from scratch. We'll see if it's worth doing...most groups aren't concerned with the photos in that way.

The rain has come early this year. When it comes, it pours like a solid wall of water in a way you've only seen in movies before. Or in Florida. Muddy rivers form, and you can get soaked in a matter of seconds. Which made for a lovely ride back to Khao Lak from the cape, in the back of Scott's pickup truck. We were soaked before the car even moved. Especially the volunteer sitting by the gate, who got an assful of muddy water everytime the truck accelerated. Even Lucky found a way to squeeze into the cab to avoid the rain.

But we didn't have it as bad as the kid who was riding in the cart of his dad's motorbike, even though he had the same grimace on his face that we all did, facing the driving rain.

After a cool shower and some dry clothes, I met my friend Saundra for dinner, then she showed me around the D-Trac offices (new). Their first priority is helping out with the tsunami early warning system. I was disappointed that an idea to broadcast warnings via SMS on cell phones was for some reason turned down at the governmental level. I have always thought this would be highly effective.

Saundra was very appreciative of the copy of the new Yvon Chouinard book and the 500 pens I donated to the group (thanks Jenny!), which offers conference space and training to NGOs in the area. She suggested some groups that would love the paints and colored pencils my friends donated, as well (Thanks Alissa, Jennie and Grace!). The paintbrushes will go to the boatyard, for sealing the boats with linseed oil (Thanks Jennie!).

Tomorrow it looks like I'll be back to the boatyard, since there is more painting to do, and I'm not sure when Moira arrives from Beijing with her mom.

Posted by sedda at 05:47 PM

February 11, 2006

The New Khao Lak

I arrived just after a brief rain, just before the full moon was peeking out from the moving clouds. The cab driver seemed concerned about finding the right address, but I knew where to go and after a lot of pointing and repetition got him to turn into the right place.

I was glad to have read on Lonely Planet's discussion boards about using metered taxis, instead of private ones, from the airport. It's a fair setup that is great to encourage, and was so easy. My hour-and-a-half to two-hour trip cost $25, which is a fortune here, but after a long, stomach-churning descent and two days with little sleep, not to mention two suitcases, it was great to know I didn't have to finagle a bus trip via Phuket Town. (Which likely would have cost only $3.50 total, but could have taken several hours, landing me in KL in the dark.)

Khao Lak has a completely different flavor now. They widened the road to three lanes in each direction, with a tree-filed boulevard. Sidewalks line both sides of town, with shaded benches. There are more restaurants and bars, and lots of actual tourists. The real kind, with collared shirts or "Khao Lak" t-shirts, and pleated trousers. There is a lot of bustle in the town, people walking along the side of the road.

The town is still small, though. I was here less than 45 minutes before running into the one friendly face I know here (Moira arrives in a few days with her mom). Scott still is working as hard as ever at the boatyard; they just celebrated building their 47th boat! You'll remember that when I wrote about the 100 Days celebration, the boat project had just received their first tsunami boat to rehab. I'm going to meet the crew for breakfast in the morning. Unlike many of the other volunteer groups, they don't take Sundays off.

I'm not sure what I'll do about dinner; I've only been in town about an hour. I probably should eat but I feel like I've been doing nothing but eat travel food for two days.

My bungalow at the Phu Khao Lak looks nothing inside like the cute picture, but I was greeted with a warm welcome and given a motorbike ride to the room. The cold shower felt pretty good after I got used to it, and it's a manual flush toilet. Which isn't a big deal here. Basically there is a bucket of water near the toilet with a bowl floating in it. When you are finished, you just dump water into the toilet until it's clean. When the bucket gets low, you refill it from a special spigot above the bucket.

I received my first two mosquito bites within three minutes of arriving.

And there must not be any bad spirits here, because someone just set off a load of firecrackers that went on for about a full minute!

Posted by sedda at 07:22 PM

6774 miles, 2 breakfasts and 2.5 movies

I made it to the Taipei airport, called CKS. (Interesting moment when a flight attendant announced we were coming into "Seecaies" airport, I panicked a bit thinking, well now that would suck to have gotten on the wrong plane and end up in Singapore or something...Then I realized she had said "CKS," and a quick ticket check confirmed I'd was in the right place—not that I could have done anything about it if I wasn't!)

It really meant a lot to me to get sendoff phone calls from all of my closest friends. I kind of ran out of time at the end to really talk with people, and I am glad to take all of your spirits with me in my travels.

The flight was as cramped as you would expect, full, and long. The food wasn't that bad. But, after opening the treasure chest of wonderous movie riches on the little screen in front of my seat, time flew and I didn't even make it through my second New Yorker or my first book.

The first round of drinks started with a small package of "mix nut"...which turns out to be mostly nori maki, some other rice crackers and very few nuts. But salty and good just the same.

We started with breakfast at 1:15am. I was surprised I was even hungry, since I've had a funny stomach all week. All I wanted for dinner before I left was a PBJ. The choice for breakfast was "fish noodle" or "pork rice" I went for "fish noodle" and it turned out that my first instinct—that both sounded a little icky—was pretty close on target. But with sliced melon and pineapple, potato salad, salami and turkey slices, a roll that tasted like it had been sweetened with marshmellow, and Milano cookies to save for later, I wasn't going to starve.

A very suspicious looking marbled sweet with some clear gooey stuff on top turned out to be a respectable banana cheesecake. Yum. I think G. would have liked it.

Above the tray table is a little screen, with a corded remote in the armrest. You can listen to music, watch some TV-type shows (travel shows mostly, news+sports), play video games and watch movies.

And the movie choices were fabulous—some of these are still in the theater! Under "Popular," I could choose from Legend of Zorro, Walk the Line, An Unfinished Life, Elizabethtown, Two for the Money, North Country, Shopgirl and Capote. Under "Favourites" I could choose from Constant Gardener, Brothers Grimm, Just Like Heaven, In her Shoes, the entire LOTR series or Jerry Maguire.

I watched Capote and Walk the Line, and about a third of Just Like Heaven (b/c it's not one I'd make G. see. And it is pretty weak.) I plan to hit North Country, Shopgirl and Elizabethtown on the way home, assuming the lineup will be the same.

Some time after crossing the international date line, we had second breakfast (about 10am Friday, LA time?) and it was nearly as good as the first. Omelette, melon, pineapple, grapefruit, Dannon yogurt, a croissant, a very neglected sausage, and four of the sorriest, soggiest tater tots you've ever seen (they tasted all right though).

I'm on China Airlines and the service is excellent and polite, everything coming at the exact right moment. Hot towel, water, tea, meals. The only thing that really stinks is the utter lack of leg room on the plane. My knees touch the seatback in front of me when it's reclined (I'm only 5'5"). There isn't much space in the front for your feet, and you can't tuck them under you because that's where the lifejacket is stowed. And you can't leave your feet in the aisle because there's a lot of traffic and you'll send someone flying. So I just moved around a lot to keep the circulation going. Hey, it's only 14 and a half hours. Once you've got your inflatible neck pillow, and some Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash songs in your head, what's to notice?

I'll be hanging at an airport club my dad set up for me, quite swank, with free internet, free shower and variety of free noodles and snacks.

1775 miles to go. Next stop, Phuket airport, then a two-and-a-half-hour taxi or bus ride up to Khao Lak.

Posted by sedda at 06:14 AM

Emigration

G. 's dad gave me a copy of the New Yorker with a really interesting story about Edward R. Murrow and the state of journalism today, which I enjoyed, but I also discovered a story about green card lottery winners and how their sudden fortune affects them...the story centers around a couple from Lima, Peru.

Posted by sedda at 06:12 AM

February 09, 2006

Last-minute details

Somehow I still have a bunch of running around to do, a few bills to pay, and details to wrap up. I'm packed and I'm hoping that the suitcase filled with donations is lighter than the alotted 50 lbs under new US regulations (Asian regulations allow you 70lbs).

G. took me to a nice dinner last night at one of his favorite spots, but I felt sick afterwards, must be a combination of the rest of the junk I ate during the day (2 Cokes) and the stress of leaving him for so long. So didn't get as much done last night as I would have liked, to have a smooth day today.

But at least I did get a brief walk in today, to counteract some of the 27 hours of sitting I get to do, in order to get to Phuket. Yeeeee.....

Posted by sedda at 05:33 PM

February 07, 2006

A heartfelt thanks for donations

A giant thanks to everyone who brought contributions to help the tsunami survivors in Thailand! In Thai they say, Kop Kun Ma Kaa, thank you very much.

Thanks to Knitting Jenny, who donated a lot of colored pencils, coloring books, watercoloring books, sharpeners (awesome!), work gloves, paintbrushes, and stickers!

Thanks to Fairfax Jenny, who donated 500 brand new pens for teachers and students!

Thanks to Grace, who donated stickers, crayons, colored pencils and small bells for crafts!

Thanks to my friend Alissa in Boston (not even a knitter), who sent a box from Staples of colored pencils and watercolor sets!

Thanks to Monica, in Beverly Hills, who donated a huge boxful of stickers, creative paper and journals from her scrapbooking store!

Thanks to Susan for donating $20, $5 of which went to buy a secondhand suitcase to get donations to Thailand!

Thanks to Penguin books, who is donating a couple of copies of Yvon Chouinard's new book Let My People Go Surfing for NGOs in Phang-Nga province!

I'll also be taking some paintbrushes from the Tony Danza school painting project, and peanut butter for the volunteers (it's really expensive there, and hard to find).

I appreciate your "jai dee" — your warm hearts — as you give to kids who don't have a lot.
(Any items that are too heavy for my suitcase will be donated to Ninth Street Elementary school in downtown LA....I'm limited to 50lbs)

Posted by sedda at 05:21 PM

Thai Time

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.

Here is a clock converter to play with. Click here for the current time in Thailand.

The Thai country code is 66, so if you dial internationally, you'd dial 011-66 then the number...but if the phone number has a leading 0, you only dial the 0 in Thailand. Just skip it to call from here.

Posted by sedda at 10:09 AM

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.

Khao Lak town, and photos of the Phu Khao Lak bungalows, where I'll be staying.
Phang-Nga Provence, north of Phuket Provence, including Khao Lak.
Thailand, South Thailand
•Other maps and info about attractions in the area I may mention, and a site on Phang-Nga Province.

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 09:49 AM

February 05, 2006

Name Melding

Name melding is becoming more popular, as NYT writer Judy Ruderman and husband Gary Wilgoren become the Rudorens ("ruDORens"), and write about it.

This kicks it up a notch from the looser meld of sharing both names, as my friends Elissa and Jon did...when they got married, she took his name as a last name, and he took her maiden name as a middle name. So his official signature now has two initials in it: Jon A.S. Pollack, with the "S" being a "new" constant part of his familial ties.

Another famous name melder? Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was born a Villar and married Connie Raigosa in 1987.

(For those of you Smarty Pants who are skipping ahead, fear not...even hypothetically, there's no palatable way to our names together. Kruller? Wubs? Kreabber? Wulls? Wulbs? Dang Germans.

I've got a better chance of convincing G. to consider "Mr. Bug" than something like that.)

Posted by sedda at 12:48 PM