September 19, 2006

Military Coup in Thailand

BBC news is reporting:

"Military leaders in Thailand have staged a coup, suspended the constitution and declared martial law.

"Army chief Sonthi Boonyaratglin said the military leadership had formed a council for political reform and ousted the Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

"The coup leaders say the cabinet and parliament have been abolished, but power will be returned to the people."

"It is the first coup attempt in 15 years in a country where they used to be commonplace. There were 17 of them between 1932 and 1991."

Interesting development. Thaksin was very unpopular. Glad not to be in BKK this week...

Posted by sedda at 07:27 PM

March 16, 2006

Thailand Slideshow online

I was able to make a little Quicktime movie of my Thailand photos. However, it may take a very long time to download (62mb as currently configured. I may have to make a much shorter presentation!)

By the way, the music is typical of the Karaoke tunes they play on the bus when you go places...But I have no idea of the artist's name, since the CD I got is entirely in Thai. If you have any clues, drop a line!

Grab a cup of coffee! There are about 200 photos in the show, which should take about 14 minutes to view after it's downloaded. Enjoy!

Posted by sedda at 05:50 PM

March 03, 2006

More videos uploaded

Check out some videos of ordinary stuff around Khao Lak, including:

• The launch of a longtail boat at Baan Nam Khem

• Gauguin caulking a longtail boat at Cape Pakarang.

• A view of Khao Lak from the bus.

• Scene from the Takuapa bus station.

• View of Nang Thong Beach in Khao Lak, which is now rebuilding after being flattened by the tsunami in Dec. 2004.

If you're interested in what some of the building projects look like, I also found a video from a week ago of a student group in the area working in Thap Tawaan, Nam Khem and Koh Kor Khao.

Posted by sedda at 12:16 PM

Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

Sixty degrees and steady rain. Hot shower. No banana shake for breakfast. Stack of bills on the dining room table.

Toto, I don't think we're in Thailand any more.

But it's good to be home with G. .

Posted by sedda at 08:13 AM

March 02, 2006

Safe Journeys

I had really wanted Kong and Nid at my going-away dinner last night—but Nid likely had family stuff going on at home in Takuapa...and since I didn't have Kong's phone number any more I relied on someone else to give him the details and I suspect the message didn't get through.

So even though I'd planned to spend the morning at the pool again, I needed to say my goodbyes at the boatyard. Jonathan, in a year of volunteering and working in the area, had never seen the boatyard and tagged along for a tour. We all met at the usual morning spot, the Dive In (Dine Out), and rode to the site in the back of Scott's pickup, the way I did every other morning.

I gave Jonathan the nickel tour but the boatyard was humming like a busy hive, with preparations to make delivery on the Georgetown boat. I thanked Gaugin, the caulker who taught me how to fill in the slim lines between the planks with string and sealant, a chisel and hammer. We couldn't find him at first, so Kong and Jonathan helped me write him a note that said I enjoyed meeting him and I admire his work.

Nid wanted to get a photo, and Kong did too. Nid kept taking hold of my elbow, and stroking my arm, squeezing it in a polite, anxious way. Thai custom dictates that out of respect you avoid touching people high on their bodies as it would indicate that you think they are "lower" than you are. So, for example, you don't throw your arm around a Thai person's shoulder for a picture, you politely hold her around the waist.

Kong was rushed because he'd just been assigned to run out to the Sawasdee Homemart to buy a second or third cement ring to cap off the new sceptic tank for the boatyard (a long, smelly story that has been developing over weeks; you can fill in your own details). Scott had just accidentally cracked it with the backhoe and was in quite a state with himself about it.

Jonathan and I had hoped to get a ride back into KL on Kong's motorbike, but as ever the winds of change flowed us to a new plan. We asked only for a ride up the 2Ks to the main road to find a sawngthaew (a taxi that runs on a given path sort of like a bus) to get back.

Kong hopped in the back of the pickup with us, even though there was plenty of space in the cab. I tried to hold back the tears, the reality of leaving Thailand by leaving behind one of the true Thai friends I had. Banged on the side of the truck to get the driver (Chris?) to stop at the corner.

I wanted to give Kong a hug to tell him I would miss him. But hugging isn't really what Thais do (they don't even shake hands), and I remembered how embarrassed he'd been when I hugged him in thanks for giving me the Buddha amulet last year. So I didn't know what to do, what to say, how to translate it into Thai.

Kong held his fist out to me, and I thought it was for some sort of secret boatyard handshake. But Jonathan said, open your hand, he wants to give something to you.

From his hand, Kong dropped his braided ring into mind and siad, "For good luck on your trip. Good luck to you." This is one of the highest blessings someone can give you in Thailand. It's what monks say to protect your spirit as you travel. Kong had been a monk for eight years, though he had left the wat since then.

I was choking back the tears and gave him wai. He climbed into the cab and the truck sped off.

I didn't see that Kong's eyes were full of tears as well.

"He's really sad," Jonathan said.

I just tried not to cry. How is it that this journey above all others is never a trip, but a change of life? Each time I come here I don't just travel through but somehow manage to move my life, to live here, and to go back home is to move away again.

Jonathan kept me company at the pool the rest of the day, and kept me distracted from the inevitable. We talked about teaching, Thai customs, the past, the future. G. called and I had so much to tell him but my overwhelmed words came out stuttered, abrupt, halting.

I wanted him to understand the power of this place, the messages and gifts I receive in being here, in wanting to help. But any shortening of the story might have sounded like: "So I'm in this beautiful resort pool with this guy you don't know? And we're sipping fresh pineapple shakes in the cool water? And this other guy gave me a ring."

So I gave G. headlines and told him that Kong had sent me off with a special good luck charm. Then G. and I quickly exchanged I Love Yous so I could squeeze the last few minutes of Thailand out of the bright humid air and store them in my heart until I can come back and see these friends again.

Posted by sedda at 04:05 PM

Moving beyond Feather Woman's longings

There's a book I read to my first graders in Los Angeles, it's a Blackfoot Indian fable called Star Boy, and here's how it goes.

Feather Woman falls desperately in love with Morning Star, son of Moon and Sun. "Together they flew into the sky as magically as the spider casts his silken threads." Moon teaches Feather Woman the ways of the Star Land.

Feather Woman and Morning Star were married, and had a baby named Star Boy. Moon said to Feather Woman, you must learn the ways of our people if you want to stay up here in the Land of the Stars. Moon showed her which plants were edible, but also pointed to a particular large turnip root, and told her never to dig there.

After a while, Feather Woman became homesick for her own family and community in the earth world. Forgetting her promise to Moon, she curiously dug at the forbidden turnip. When it pulled up, she saw underneath its roots a portal to the earth world and a view of her own family. She became very sad and filled with longing.


Sun recognized the sadness instantly, and knew Feather Woman had seen the earthly world. There was no room for sadness and longing in Star Land, so he sent her and her son back to the earth world, condemning Feather Woman to a life of always knowing two worlds, both beautiful to her, but always desiring pieces of the life in the other one.

In my last day in Khao Lak last spring, I felt consumed with longing, as Feather Woman did when she realized her heart was in two places. I could hardly bear to leave the pure work and good friends that were my small community in Khao Lak...but I couldn't stay without G. and the many people in the community I love in LA. I knew what I needed to do, but I was sorry to have to choose, and the depth of the realization of having these two loves made me feel both melancholic and ever the richer.

Native American teachings acquire deeper meaning as we interpret the symbolism and fable for ourselves. Unlike Feather Woman, I don't feel condemned to my life in one of my worlds, and I try to incorporate the beauty and strength of what I learned in Thailand enrich every corner of my lives.

As Native American educator David Risling learned from his father, I hope to construct all of my experiences into spokes for wheels that turn for myself and others. It's a wonderful story he tells.

But seeing the good and the strength in these experiences doesn't make getting in the taxi to Phuket a whole lot easier today. It will seem better in hindsight, as these experiences grow like seeds and intertwine their stems and branches with the others until they can't be separated, even from the roots.

Posted by sedda at 08:12 AM

Circle remains unbroken

This is how circles are completed.

After my errands yesterday, it was time to do something special on my last full day in Khao Lak, before my farewell dinner. I went to the Viewpoint Resort, set on a hill above Khao Lak with lush views and a cool, clear pool. For nearly three hours I soaked and read The Kite Runner (which I highly recommend, btw), blissfully resisting the close humidity of the hottest day of the trip.

It was finally time to get ready for dinner. I had been alone at the pool but a small group of farang had come up to the restaurant. I needed to preserve the purity of the mellow, volunteer vibe I wanted to take home with me, so I avoided looking at the tourists. But an accidental glance met with familiar faces: three volunteers I knew from last year, two from the boatyard.

I knew Dave and his dad Vic were locals now, but I hadn't seen them around (though I did see Dave and Mel on their motorbike in Bang Niang a couple of days ago, speeding by). I read Vic's blog from time to time, but they were the only familiar faces I hadn't connected with this time.

They live in Khuek Khak now, and are starting and arts and English program in the Takuapa school.

It happens to be Mel's birthday today, so I gave her one of the silk cell phone covers I'd stitched up to give to friends on my trip, wishing her a happy birthday.

It was such a pleasant coincidence to run into them in this out-of-the way retreat I'd never been to before. I happily hurried home to change clothes for dinner. We all met at The Place Next to Khao Lak Seafood (which this year has a sign out front: Weerapat's) and my favorite people were there—Lisa Ruth, Saundra, Jonathan, Dana, Jodie popped in before her special dinner with Edward. Scott and Wendy and Lucky, Nicole, Timm, Paul and Idele were at yoga and coming by later, but not before sharing bites of a Nutella and banana crepe bought from a new vendor in front of Nang Thong Supermarket.

The group split up a bit and semi-reconvened at Ocean, nearby. Paul told a story about trying to change into his swim trunks on the beach under a towel, and teetering over into the sand when trying to get his food into trunks that had been stapled shut! I innocently said, "Oh! you mean they were stapled like THIS?!" And I showed him the photo of Chris secretly setting up the prank. "Ah, bloody hell, you were in on it too! You can't trust anyone, can you!" Paul said in his Irish accent.

Jonathan told teacher stories from his years of Miami-Dade experience and we stayed out too late.

It really was a lovely eventing and a nice sendoff to complete the circle of the journey.

Posted by sedda at 07:25 AM

March 01, 2006

Errands

Finished up some things on my list today before the big flight home tomorrow. I can't even believe this day has come so quickly.

I had breakfast with the boatyard crew then hopped on a bus to Takuapa, the 'big' town 30 mins north of here. I mailed a couple of packages (one of the two post offices nearest here is in a Khuek Khak living room, and packages that go through this post office don't always seem to make it to their destination)...then kicked around. I chatted with some Thai men when I bought water from them, and showed them photos of the boatyard on my camera and shared my chips (crisps) with them.

Which proves how irrisistible chips are. Once the bag is open, everybody wants some, whether you're speaking the same language or not.

Then I had the bus drop me off in Bang Niang for one last look at the craft shop and a tour of the beach where I did beach cleanup last year.

I hardly recognized it. Grass has filled in a lot of the lots that were rubble-strewn gravel fields. The resort where the King's nephew died is nearly rebuilt. The damaged buildings where we held the 100 Days' ceremony are rebuilt and filling up with tenants.

The trash on the beach is for the most part, ordinary trash. Water bottles, flip flops, beer bottles. Some occasional tsunami things washing in, and I'll be they'll see more after a squall when the ocean waves get big and pull things off the bottom.

German women were walking around topless, people were swimming, a kid with a mask and snorkel ran for the water and plopped in to see what's on the bottom.

Buildings are being rebuilt, and the focus is on progress and growth. Khao Lak's tourist industry is healing.

Posted by sedda at 02:58 PM

Lao Tsu

An old friend sent along this thought from Lao Tsu:

Go to the People
Live with them
Learn from them
Love them

Start with what they know
Build with what they have
But with the best leaders
When the work is done
The task accomplished
The people will say
"We have done this ourselves"

Posted by sedda at 02:53 PM

more things you can only learn by traveling

—Just because the sawngthaew driver is speeding like New York taxi driver in a yellow cab doesn't mean you'll get there any faster.

—Between 11:30pm-midnight, all the stray dogs in town turn into Hounds of Hell, barking as you go by and threatening to fight with each other with you in the middle. Lisa Ruth reports being chased on her bicycle if returning from the bar late, and Moira says she couldn't walk home alone after 10pm in Nam Khem for the same reason.

—The Thais don't seem to have any version of "God Bless You" when you sneeze. They just don't say anything.

—There are always monkeys at the wats. I'm not sure what monkeys have to do with temples, but it's generally a featured attraction.

—Tablet medicine, like Advil or Tylenol Cold, melts in the heat.

—Even if sealed in the can with the lid on, Pringles will only last a couple of days before going limp in humid climates.

Posted by sedda at 02:05 PM

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

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

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

January 01, 2006

Thailand Tourism, One Year after the tsunami

In today's LA Times, Beverly Beyette writes a simple roundup about the regrowth of tourism spots in Phuket and lower Phang-Nga provinces. The Merlin resort she talks about is the one that was so generous to volunteers, allowing us to swim in their five pools whether we were guests at the hotel or not. An absolutely gorgeous resort.

Many places on Phuket have made a remarkable recovery. Hotels and restaurants are open, and the beaches are clean, the water clear and green. Tourists will see little physical damage, but economic damage is significant. "We lost about half of our [tourism] income" in 2005, compared with 2004, Pattanapong Aikwanich, president of Phuket Tourist Assn., told me. "And we had to repair everything."...

...And everywhere, I heard the same appeal: Tell the tourists to come. It's safe. Phuket is back.

Said Phuket Tourist Assn. President Aikwanich: "If people want to send money, clothes, thanks. But what we need now is tourists."

Posted by sedda at 11:08 AM

December 14, 2005

Almost a year has passed

The Khao Lak hotels are filling up with tourists, families and journalists for the one-year remembrance of the tsunami. Here's a BBC story on a Khao Lak resort.Thailand rebuilds after Tsunami (there's a nice photo gallery to go with the story as well).

Posted by sedda at 08:59 PM

November 18, 2005

2005 Scrubbie project raised more than $2,000 for tsunami survivors

selling handmade washcloths to raise money for Thai tsunami survivors
•61 volunteers from 3 countries and 12 states participated
•274 scrubbies were donated to the project, which opened a few days after the Tsunami and closed Labor Day Weekend, 2005
17 scrubbies were sent to a shelter for hurricane survivors on the American Gulf Coast
Many were stitched into more than 10 baby blankets that were sold or donated to hurricane survivors
•More than $2,000 was raised for tsunami relief and sent directly to programs supporting survivors
•Thanks to Edna Hart and Needlework Attic for yarn donations

Posted by sedda at 11:55 AM

October 20, 2005

Thanks to Knitzilla from NATR

This came today on a beautiful handmade paper greeting card, in thanks for our $50 donation from the distribution of five scrubbies:

13 October 2005

Dear Sedda and your knitting group,

North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR) would like to thank you for the support you have provided us and the local tsunami affected communities.

With your donation, the children of Bak Jok will be able to experience a fun-filled two day summer camp during which they will learn English and about the environment around them.

You have given us the chance to breathe a sense of hope into their futures.

With many thanks and Best Wishes,

From all of us at NATR

Posted by sedda at 05:04 PM

September 29, 2005

How you can continue to help Thai tsunami survivors

Once again, I would like to thank everyone who has helped with the String Scrubbie Project. The project has sent more than $2,000 to help Thai people who survived the traumatic waves to rebuild their lives. This includes a recent donation of $50, but doesn't even include a few more out there that have been promised but not yet received.

Remaining scrubbies have been stitched into baby blankets to help survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We have sent eight to Louisiana, we have two more on hand, and at least two more are out there being stitched — along with new squares and blankets for our afghanalong.

And most importantly, crafters have come together to send a lot of heart to families, by doing what they love to do. All of you have proven that if everyone gives even just a little — people who need it benefit a LOT. This is what brings our communities together and builds peaceful relationships worldwide and nationwide.

Although our dishcloth project has come to a close, the Thai people still need help! They will need help throughout 2006 as well. Many villages were washed completely away. NGOs have set up schools, education, craft, housebuilding and conservation programs. If you still want to help the Thai people, please consider the following two groups, which I worked with extensively in Khao Lak and Kura Buri, Phang Nga Province, Thailand: North Andaman Tsunami Relief(NATR) and TsunamiVolunteer.net (TV).

NATR is located in Kura Buri (where I taught English), helping the most ravaged parts of Thailand rebuild after the tsunami. They have an eco-friendly and "teach a man to fish" philosophy. They are supporting school teachers, creating projects to support local economy and support women, selling handmade paper greeting cards, and building bridges, among other things. Donations are definitely tax deductible.

TsunamiVolunteer.net is located about two hours south of NATR in Khao Lak, which also was hard hit. TV focuses on providing volunteer labor for a variety of projects that they sponsor, or are sponsored by other caring fundraisers. They have built a boatyard for building and repairing boats, build homes for fishermen, teach English and create furniture for schools. I was able to participate in those projects, and TV has many more. TV is working on getting a 501(c)(3)status.

Thanks again for all of your hard work.

Namaste, and chok dee na ka,

Sedda K

North Andaman Tsunami Relief (tax deductible)
Business for the Environment Tsunami Relief Fund
3524 Dutch Way
Carmichael CA 95608

(tell Bodhi I said Hi!)
—————————————————————-
TsunamiVolunteer.net

New! Now taking credit cards online!

or make a bank transfer:
Khrung Thai Bank Public Company Limited
35 Sukhumvit Rd , Bangkok 10110
Swift Code: KRTHTHBK

Routing No: 007895
Account Number: 000-0-01965-8
Account Name: Tsunami Volunteer
After making the wire transfer you should send an email to
Fundraising Coordinator (Tirian Mink) at fundraising(at)tsunamivolunteer.net
(and tell Tirian I said Hi!)

Posted by sedda at 09:44 AM

August 05, 2005

Phang Nga in the news

Some recent news stories about the area where I volunteered this spring:

A Sea Gypsy Hears a Siren Song to Champion Rights: Tsunami Aid Abuse Wakens Thai Native To Political Way, from the 5 Aug 05 Washington Post. (The temple referred to in the story is possibly the one where I volunteered, teaching English??)

Green light for tsunami sensors via BBC, Reuters+AFP. Indian Ocean countries meeting in Australia have decided to set up a network of seabed sensors and buoys as part of a tsunami warning system.

Miami filmmaker returns to tsunami area from the Miami Herald.

Environmental issues in rebuilding Thai tourism.

Posted by sedda at 10:54 AM

July 29, 2005

Scrubbie Project Update - July

A deep and sincere thank you to everyone who has given from your heart for the String Scrubbie Project to support tsunami survivors!

I wanted to give you an update, as we enter the project's sunset. We will be taking in new scrubbies through August 31st, 2005. If you have been meaning to finish up or ship some scrubbies, please send them before Labor Day weekend. We will take care of every scrubbie that arrives, even if it's a couple of days late, but please help us to meet the deadline.

So far the project has raised more than $1700 for tsunami survivors, and we have more than 100 scrubbies on hand to set free, plus an adorable handknit cotton child's sweater, which will raise more funds. These are the efforts of more than 56 knitters and crocheters worldwide, who have donated 189 scrubbies to date. While a $3000 project may sound like small potatoes compared to other aid efforts, please remember that money like that goes a LONG WAY in Khao Lak, Thailand. A fancy restaurant lunch costs about $1.25 there, to give you some perspective. Our donations so far have gone to:
-pay school tuition for 10 young students in Phuket province
-buy books and supplies for children who have survived the tsunami
-support tsunami relief efforts in Kata, Kamala and Cape Pakarang — Thailand.
-support the monks of Kamala, who lost 3 of their 6 brethren in the wave.
-assist UNICEF, the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity in tsunami relief efforts

Please click continue below for the rest of the update.

If you missed the daily accounts of my relief mission to Thailand (March-April) with TsunamiVolunteer.net, they are still online here, just click on the calendar months in the righthand rail. The recipients of the donations were very touched and appreciative of our gifts. The experience was absolutely wonderful. Thai people are amazing, generous and carry enormous inner strength and I encourage everyone to vacation there to infuse $$ back into the economy. It's an especially great place for climbers, divers, massage enjoyers, beach loafers, tchotchke shoppers, mai-tai drinkers and people interested in Asia (Thailand is big! Lots of beautiful spots are not damaged.).

The scrubbie project now takes PayPal, which hopefully will help in collecting donations. I was a bit of a slow learner on this point, and future projects will include a credit-card option for the ease of donors (like me) who prefer to use plastic.

Please note that the scrubbie project's official address will change on or around Sept. 1st, to a more professional locale. There will be a bit of overlap, to make sure we don't have to get the Los Angeles postal system deeply involved in forwarding stuff. Apologies to all of you who experienced delays with deliveries to us at our current address. I will send out the new address in a separate mail and post it on the scrubbie website.

Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for your donations of yarn, love, support, publicity, time and talent. May you all be blessed with the kindness you so willingly give.

Namaste,

Sedda Kreabs
founder, String Scrubbie Project
founder+ringleader, KNITZILLA! knitting circle
Silverlake, CA

Posted by sedda at 05:10 PM

July 12, 2005

Cape Pakarang boatyard and Tsunami Volunteer in the news

Sorry, I just stumbled across this CBS story Rebuilding Hope, One Boat at a Time about the Cape Pakarang boatyard project and Tsunami Volunteer. Please take the time to download the video and see the whole thing — it's not that long and gives you a real feel for what the volunteers are up to and why we do it.

Posted by sedda at 05:01 PM

June 27, 2005

Thailand blog

I just discovered an amazing blog by fellow volunteer Vic Glover. He has great insights on what it's like in Thailand, and why volunteering is important. I read the whole thing, it was awesome. It's called BroVicsCrossroads at blogspot. Note to teachers: rated PG (for language).

Posted by sedda at 11:52 AM

June 26, 2005

More post-tsunami updates

From today's NYT: After the Tsunami, Rebuilding Homes and Social Fabric by Seth Mydans from Indonesia. (If you need a logon, try going to Bug Me Not.)

And from the AP: Ghost Fears Keep Visitors From Thailand, which talks about people worried that ghosts are hanging in the bungalows, Tsunami Survivors Deal with New Illness, which is about Tsunami syndrome, an illness found in people who breathed sandy saltwater during the waves.

Also from the AP: (Sri Lankan) Survivors Mourn 178,000 Killed in Tsunami

Posted by sedda at 11:11 AM

NPR updates Khao Lak and Phuket (and Sri Lanka)

NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday updated the situation in Khao Lak area and Phuket this morning. They interviewed a woman helping the Bang Muang school, a 600-student school where 45-50 kids lost one or two parents and watched their homes get destroyed. The woman's husband was a police officer protecting the king's grandson, who was killed in the tsunami nearby while jet skiing.

Apparently there are still some people missing, and they have been searching hotel basements to make sure they have discovered all of the bodies. Other than that, a lot of groups are transitioning from emergency relief to long term care, much as TsunamiVolunteer was when I returned from Khao Lak. Some of the care includes teaching English so that the Thais are qualified for jobs catering to tourists, selling crafts in the craft shop, continuing to build furniture for area schools, and offering counseling for survivors. (Tsunami Volunteer currently does not offer counseling services, but other aid agencies do.) All of these tasks require money, so if you would like to help, please click here and let them know that you heard about them through me. You may earmark your donation toward any of their projects.

Phuket is ready for more tourists, and is trying to get the word out. Quiet beaches, discounted airfares... personally I recommend Thailand and its lovely hospitality for a grand vacation. And, there's great climbing in Krabi!

The report from Sri Lanka today was not as rosy. They are just now building sturdier temporary structures to replace the tents where people have been living. The devastation has been much more extensive, and it sounded like they are just now doing things that Thailand was able to do months ago.

Posted by sedda at 07:37 AM

June 01, 2005

Survivors in Sri Lanka

Shanti is reporting on the women who survived the tsunami from Sri Lanka for the Canadian Homemakers magazine. She reports "there are over 400,000 people displaced there and living in refugee camps that range from livable to totally sad and terrifying."

Shanti has photos on Flickr and Ofoto (now Kodak's gallery). Click here for the Flickr slideshow, which is an update from her original post. To view individual photos, some with captions, click here.

Posted by sedda at 09:00 AM

May 20, 2005

Afghan Refugee Kids Help Young Tsunami Survivors

The International Rescue Committee has a story on Afghan kids helping out Indonesian tsunami survivors. Click here.

Posted by sedda at 09:13 PM

May 09, 2005

Related Photos

My old classmate at Mizzou, Kay Chin Tay, has some tsunami and Bangkok photos up on his site, eastpix.com. Interesting stuff.

Posted by sedda at 11:40 AM

May 08, 2005

Toto, I don't think we're in Thailand anymore

Saturday night, G. and I thought we'd catch a movie. We even had some free passes a neighbor gave us. We drove 20 minutes to the theatre at the Grove (a mall that is "Unique, Like You" — there is a whole essay in this, I think), and then drove all the way to the top of the 7-story parking structure, through zoo-ish honking shiny-car mall traffic. About 20 minutes later, passing every floor, a digital readout proclaiming the level of grimness on the parking spot situation: "Full" "Full" "Full" "3 spots" "Full" "1 spot," we left without ever stopping the car.

We just couldn't find a place to park.

So we went to rent a DVD back in our own neighborhood, and parking there was a problem, too. I thought G. might lose his zen completely. But he wangled a spot in a sort of non-parking zone that wasn't red, and we found a couple of things to rent (after flipping a 10-baht coin to finally decide).

Then ultimately we ended up watching a Harry Potter movie on tv, fast forwarding through commercials, thanks to TiVo.

TiVo, TV, movie theatres, parking problems....Not a typical Saturday in Khao Lak. But I guess not that surprising for LA.

Posted by sedda at 11:10 PM

May 06, 2005

Final Donation Tally

Here is a summary of how your donations have helped the people of Thailand. Thank you so much for your generosity!

$810.00 School tuition for 10 students in Kamala
$ 40.54 School uniform for a young Kamala student
$262.50 Support for monks at Kamala Temple
$ 54.05 Support for Tik's Place tsunami relief efforts
$ 50.00 Pakarang Boat Building project
$ 20.00 inexpensive suitcase for carrying donations, left with Tik
$200.00 Sikkha Asia Foundation, for purchase of books for Thai tsunami children. SAF is opening new libraries and circulates bookmobiles to areas where kids need books.
$ 11.00 Colored pencils for children
$ 2.00 Teaching materials for students of Kura Buri
———-
1450.09 in donations and scrubbie purchases

I also was able to hand deliver nearly 200 stuffed animals, hundreds of pens+stickers, donated colored pencils and two Thailand flags to the students and teachers of Kamala. That's in addition to the t-shirts and shoes I carried that Shanti had gathered from corporate sponsors.

As you can see, a little goes a long way when people are in need. I encourage you to keep giving — if not to tsunami relief, then to other causes you believe in — because every little bit you do helps a whole lot.

Thanks, too, to the friends who supported me personally and helped get me to Thailand. Your support means a lot!

Posted by sedda at 03:50 PM

May 04, 2005

Khao Lak volunteer writes in April Adventure Mag

Reading some back issues that came in the mail while I was away. See April's Adventure magazine for Matthew Power's first person story about volunteering in Khao Lak, Wat Yan Yao and Ko Phi Phi.

He speaks with the Breish family as they searched for their 15-year-old daughter Kali. A heartbreaking story symbolic of the loss many families experienced, this family founded 4 Kali, a group dedicated to giving new life to the people of the Khao Lak area.

The 4 Kali offices are adjacent to those for Tsunami Volunteer, where I volunteered, at the Khao Lak nature resort.

Posted by sedda at 05:04 PM

May 03, 2005

More on being home

G. : What happened to the ginger cookies?

Bug: You mean the ones from last week? Those are loooong gone.

G. : (Pause) Oh.

G. : (Pause) I guess I'm not used to having you back yet.

Posted by sedda at 08:03 PM

May 01, 2005

Pictures

I'm still working on sorting through 40 rolls of film. I had them all burned to CD, mostly in Thailand, and got lucky — though it was a rocky road, only three rolls on the same disc are completely broken and need to be rescanned. So that will be an extra $30 in expenses, but since they happen to be the rolls of donating all the stuffed animals to the kids in Kamala, I really have to get cracking on it.

Teachers from Fairfax and Brea high schools (my pals Susan and Jack) have asked me to give presentations, so I have a serious editing task ahead of me. The current edit is wandering and creates about a 4-hour show. But my friends and family indulged me last night, staying late and seeing about half the images. I hope to get it squared away this week.

Posted by sedda at 08:03 AM

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

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

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

March 30, 2005

Pakarang Boat Project Photos

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

Posted by sedda at 07:49 AM

March 29, 2005

More hitching in Khao Lak

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

Posted by sedda at 04:19 PM

Long Night

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

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

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

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

To read more, please click continue below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The monkeys were nowhere to be found.

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

We all laughed nervously at her English.

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

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

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

WARNING... THIS EARTHQUAKE HAS THE POTENTIAL TO GENERATE A WIDELY
DESTRUCTIVE TSUNAMI IN THE OCEAN OR SEAS NEAR THE EARTHQUAKE.
AUTHORITIES IN THOSE REGIONS SHOULD BE AWARE OF THIS POSSIBILITY
AND TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION. THIS ACTION SHOULD INCLUDE EVACUATION
OF COASTS WITHIN A THOUSAND KILOMETERS OF THE EPICENTER AND CLOSE
MONITORING TO DETERMINE THE NEED FOR EVACUATION FURTHER AWAY.

THIS CENTER DOES NOT HAVE SEA LEVEL GAUGES OUTSIDE THE PACIFIC
SO WILL NOT BE ABLE TO DETECT OR MEASURE A TSUNAMI IF ONE WAS
GENERATED. AUTHORITIES CAN ASSUME THE DANGER HAS PASSED IF NO
TSUNAMI WAVES ARE OBSERVED IN THE REGION NEAR THE EPICENTER
WITHIN THREE HOURS OF THE EARTHQUAKE.


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

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

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

Today will be long on little sleep, and interesting.

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

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

Posted by sedda at 03:58 PM

sumatra quake

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

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

Posted by sedda at 12:23 AM

March 27, 2005

Sunday's Color is: Puple eyeshadow with yellow highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 05:39 PM

March 26, 2005

Saturday's color is: Brown With Purple Accents!

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 06:34 PM

March 25, 2005

Friday's color is: Purple!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 04:49 PM

March 24, 2005

World Vision

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 04:43 PM

Power Tools!

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

If I recall correctly, Mercury Retrograde has recently begun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 02:38 PM

March 22, 2005

More Beach Cleanup

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

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

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

To read more about Tuesday, please click continue below.

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

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

Posted by sedda at 02:34 PM

March 21, 2005

Beach cleaning + Painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 05:19 PM

March 20, 2005

By the seat of my Thai pants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 04:12 PM

March 19, 2005

Nang Thong Beach cleanup+Tsunami Survivor store

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 04:33 PM

Monkey business

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 08:56 AM

Hitchhiking in Khao Lak

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

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

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

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

Luckily the walk isn't far.

Posted by sedda at 07:21 AM

Don't mess with the monkeys

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 07:08 AM

March 18, 2005

Moving north to help more people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 04:57 PM

Helping the Monks of Kamala

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 09:11 AM

March 17, 2005

Helping Kamala Kids - Photos!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 04:17 PM

March 16, 2005

Kamala Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 05:36 PM

Khao Lak Photos

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

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

Posted by sedda at 01:24 PM

March 15, 2005

Seeing the devastation for the first time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 09:49 PM

Monday in BKK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow — Phuket.

Posted by sedda at 09:52 AM

March 13, 2005

Made it to Bangkok!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 07:21 PM

Made it to Taipei!

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

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

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

Next stop, Bangkok!

Posted by sedda at 07:01 AM

Last-minute craziness

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

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

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

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

Please click continue below for the rest of the story.

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 06:45 AM

March 11, 2005

I'm off!

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 06:31 PM

March 10, 2005

Beanie Update and Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 10:14 PM

Hooray!

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

Posted by sedda at 07:56 PM

Hmmmm.....

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

Posted by sedda at 05:55 PM

Last-Minute Details

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 09:45 AM

March 09, 2005

Suitcase Scramble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 10:28 PM

March 07, 2005

Beanie Update

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 11:14 PM

March 06, 2005

Vaccinations for Thailand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 04:03 PM

March 05, 2005

I love my new travel watch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 12:10 PM

Playground Balls + School supplies for Kamala Kids

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 09:28 AM

March 04, 2005

Thailand Tidbits

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

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

For more customs and tidbits, click continue below:

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

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 08:36 AM

March 03, 2005

Beanie update

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

Posted by sedda at 09:07 PM

Maps of Thailand

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 08:46 AM

March 02, 2005

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 06:08 PM

March 01, 2005

Find the open road

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

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

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

Posted by sedda at 11:34 AM

Anticipation

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

Posted by sedda at 08:27 AM

February 28, 2005

Thailand Flags for the Kamala School

Thanks to the AAA Flag+Banner company, the kids at the Kamala School will have two brand new 3'x5' all-weather Thai Flags to remind them of the strength of their community.

Posted by sedda at 04:49 PM

February 27, 2005

Thanks to Ladies Who Brunch

Shanti invited me to a women's networking group called Ladies Who Brunch. The brunch meeting of about 100 women was at The Spanish Kitchen on La Cienega. The ladies donated $300 to Shanti's fundraiser for children in Kamala who survived the tsunami. Five of them lost both of their parents.

The fundraiser was initiated by Shanti, who purchased beanie babies and offered them up for sponsorship. For $5 donation, you can choose a beanie and send it to Thailand. She also sponsored flipflops.

And the String Scrubbie Project will contribute an additional $50 to the kids, in donations for scrubbies.

Thanks to the Ladies Who Brunch!!

Posted by sedda at 03:18 PM

February 25, 2005

Shoes, bags and clothes for the kids of Kamala

Shanti has been working her contacts to benefit tsunami survivors near Phuket and Ko Phi Phi. She is taking 65 pairs of donated flipflops from Teva with her for the children of Kamala. She also has daypacks and two large bags from Solomon, and some clothes from Patagonia, Oakley apparel, Timbuk2 and Etnies to give to the Thai people.

Additionally she'll bring about 50 beanie-baby sized stuffed animals that she got on sale at Toys-R-Us.

The next contact she will work is one at China Air, so she can get the Your Bag Is Too Heavy fee waived. "Ohhhh, SkyCap! Over Here!"

Posted by sedda at 03:30 PM

February 24, 2005

Planning for Thailand

Plans for the trip are underway. We're researching places where we can help the most. Shanti has a lot of connections in and near Phuket, Ao Nang, and Koh Lanta. She will help restore a Buddhist temple+monestary before we all connect midweek. I may decide to return there if they still need help. Monks are not allowed to complain or ask for help, as it must be provided for them, so no one was aware the Kamala Temple was in trouble until volunteers happened by to check it out.

We had hoped to build a daycare center on one particularly damaged island, but Shanti's further research revealed questions about the way that project is being managed. We want to make sure every donated dollar (baht) and moment goes to those who are able to use them well, so we will be checking the groups out through word of mouth and in person before we commit.

It's hard to know what we will encounter. Shanti has a lovely photo of herself with her mom at a resort at the edge of Koh Phi Phi. They are poolside at an infinity-wall pool, with a bar at one end situated so you can get your drinks without getting out of the pool. Within days of the photo, it was all gone, flattened by the immense force of the sea.

Can't imagine it? It's impossible to get your brain around it. Here are some photos a Canadian couple took of the tsunami rolling in, via AP/CNN. Sadly, they did not survive the disaster.

Some areas have received help already and are trying to get back on their feet, others still are being discovered. Speaking of feet, Shanti learned this week that many of the children have lost their shoes, and she convinced Nike+Teva to send a bunch of sandals that some of them can wear. One of us will take them on the airplane, along with a bunch of clothing Oakley contributed, and inside backpacks that Solomon has donated.

Other preparations for our journey will require minimal packing and precise planning. I'll be bringing a water filter, and to enhance the sense of surreal adventure: Malarone pills, the Malaria preventative—although locals have emphasized disease has not been present in the areas we are planning to visit. I've also got some serious Deet bug juice packed, which came with advice from the clerk at Adventure 16 that 100% Deet will eat through synthetics, so don't wear it under your clothes. But "It's completely safe!" (Isn't that what they told the soldiers spraying Agent Orange?)

I already had the bevy of major vaccinations, finishing off the complement with Typhoid pills this week (which my tummy has not been all that excited about). The weather will be in the 80s-90s and 100% humidity, so I'm packing a few light items with plans to pick up some clothes of the proper fabric in Bangkok. My goal is to keep my one pack less than 35lbs so I can travel light and manage the other large bags of donations we'll be bringing.

We're still looking for cash donations to take with us. Whether you'd like to give to the Thai people outright or by buying a hand knit washcloth, or to support our trip to Thailand to help others, we're interested. Please contact us.

Posted by sedda at 02:22 PM

February 20, 2005

Help Thai people in need

Friends,

As you know, hundreds of thousands of lives were suddenly changed by the December 26 tsunami waves that destroyed families and communities.

I have decided I need to do more to help. On March 11, I will be traveling with two extraordinary women to Thailand to lend a hand for tsunami relief for three weeks. My main traveling companion will be Shilpa Rajpara, who is using her vacation time from her HR job to make a difference. We will meet up with Shanti Sosienski, a freelance writer, who has raised more than $4500 in cash to give directly to Thai citizens rebuilding their lives. Shanti has inspired us to make the journey.

Shilpa and I will spend a few days learning about the Thai culture, then we will travel south via Krabi, where we will be helping people who need it. We have plans to assist villagers of Koh Lanta fix boats so they can return to their livelihood. We hope to help out rebuilding temples, or schools, or daycare centers. Other opportunities await us. We plan to bring back many stories of hope, rebirth, and new beginnings.

The String Scrubbie Project, begun about a week after the tsunami happened, organizes volunteer knitters across the country to donate handmade dishcloths/washcloths as a tsunami survivor fundraiser. We have sent $200 to UNICEF that we have raised by Scrubbie sales. Future scrubbie sales will be split between UNICEF and assisting Thais in need.

HOW *YOU* CAN HELP TODAY:

There are several ways you can get involved to help tsunami survivors, without breaking your piggy bank. No donation is too small. We encourage you to skip that latte or pack a lunch once, and send just $1, $5 or $10 toward the following efforts:


1. To HELP THE THAI PEOPLE DIRECTLY, you may do this in a couple of ways: You could buy a scrubbie and write the check to me, indicating 'direct relief' on the check. Or, you could send a check/cash to me outright. Note that this part of the fundraiser will continue throughout the year and funds can be wired directly to the Thai people later, if you miss the 3/11 deadline.

2. HELP ME TO HELP OTHERS. If you would like to help sponsor my March 11 tsunami relief trip; I am footing the bill on my own expenses and am open to donations. Please indicate 'bug' in the memo of your check, if you can help.
Other Items I am looking for specifically:
—Loan/donate to me a 12" Apple Powerbook with Office for documenting the project
—Fresh film and batteries
—A lead bag for the xray machine
—A few 'flags' or banners of various designs that say thank you, for use in photographs. We could use two of them, $25 each, and a graphic designer to make a cool PDF so we can get them printed.

3. HELP AND GET A TAX DEDUCTION. If you would like to make a difference, but prefer to earn a tax deduction in the process, you may donate $10 to receivea Hand-knit 100% Cotton Dishcloth suitable for kitchen or bath. You may make the check payable to UNICEF Tsunami Relief. If you prefer, your money can benefit the Thai people directly, just write the check to me and let me know.
It would be most excellent if you could slip an extra buck in the envelope for postage, or send a large SASE, so I can mail the scrubbie back to you. I know this sounds a little cheap-o, but I'm really finding these small expenses add up—and my pockets aren't quite deep enough.

4. Knit scrubbies for the String Scrubbie Project.

Donations may be sent to the Knitzilla! mailbox:

Knitzilla! String Scrubbie Project
4845 Fountain Ave #11
Los Angeles CA 90029

Many, many thanks for your generosity in supporting tsunami relief. If you have given generously already, I completely understand and do not wish to pressure you again. But I hope you will let your friends know, so they have the opportunity to help, as well.

Peace and love to you,

Sedda K (Ms. Bug)
project mail: scrubbie[at] rain circle (dot)com

Posted by sedda at 03:18 PM

February 12, 2005

www.tsunamireliefla.org fundraiser event today

Today's tsunami fundraiser in Eagle Rock, hosted by tsunamireliefla.org, was a great success, raising more than $3000 for tsunami survivors.

For the price of the $10 entrance fee, we were allowed to set up a table to offer scrubbies right in the middle of the action. The String Scrubbie Project raised $75 for UNICEF, in exchange for three scrubbies and a brown knit poncho that I donated. I also donated a blue knit poncho to the group's raffle. (The ponchos are valued at $60 or more.)

The live Indian music was awesome, and yummy food was provided by Govinda's of West LA. There was an extensive silent auction as well as a raffle. And lots of information about some of the areas affected by the tsunami.

Photos and a writeup will soon be posted on tsunamireliefla.org and www.shantisos.com/thailand.

100% of cash funds that were raised will directly benefit tsunami survivors. Some will go to care for lost dogs in Phuket, some will go toward providing families with a basic survival kit including a wok, cooking pot, bug spray and other necessities, and some will go to help Ao Nang and Koh Lanta boating families, who have not received a cent of aid since the disaster happened.

The Ao Nang boating project is sponsored by freelance writer Shanti Sosienski. Many Thai families have lost their boats, which are their source of livelihood for fishing and tours. Shanti accepts cash donations via PayPal or you can mail them to her or me. For the price of a single latte, you can buy about a week's worth of food in Thailand. She will take a donation of $1, $5, $10 or whatever you are able to give. No donation is too small. More info on her site.

Funds raised by check today will be sent to UNICEF on Monday (I am in charge of this since the String Scrubbie Project has a UNICEF connection), and those total more than $1400!

Thanks to all of you for donating your beautiful hand crafts to raise money for these people really in need. We got a LOT of compliments on the lovely work, and people are impressed that knitters and crocheters from across the country are coming together as a community to help the community of the world.

Posted by sedda at 10:42 AM

February 04, 2005

Tsunami survivors need our help

Do you wonder where our funds are going? Here are some updates:
•Red Cross:Tsunami aftermath photos
•UNICEF:Update as of 17 Jan 05
•Red Cross:Update as of 1 Feb 05

Why should we continue to contribute?
•Red Cross: Uncertain Future Hangs Over Thai Tsunami Survivors
•UNICEF:For tsunami homeless, sanitation a critical concern

We hope you will donate through the String Scrubbie Project, or can contribute your knitting or crochet. But it's most important that you give at all, whether through us or through another venue. Thanks for contributing to a community of worldwide togetherness.

Posted by sedda at 02:42 PM

January 14, 2005

Harrowing tsunami tales

There are thousands of tales of horror and help from those who have experienced the tsunami and earthquake in December. One story that made it more real for me is this first person account from Emma Squire, a tourist whose family was caught up in the washing-machine-like rushing waters in Sri Lanka's Arugam Bay.

Posted by sedda at 11:11 AM

January 08, 2005

Join the String Scrubbie Project!

Almost a week ago, we launched the String Scrubbie Project to benefit tsunami victims. As part of KNITZILLAs core value to give positively to the community of our world, we Knit to Help. In this project, we are knitting or crocheting cotton dishcloths/facecloths that we are selling online and in area stores. From each scrubbie sold, we will donate $10 to the Red Cross or UNICEF, and we ask for an additional donation of $1 per scrubbie for the purchase of yarn for the project. We hope you will participate in any way you can, and let your friends know about the project!

Posted by sedda at 04:59 PM