Finding The Heart Of Each DayBefore I began backpacking in 2002, after retirement as a lobbyist, administrator and educator, and with my three boys grown and out of the house, a friend asked me to “report back to those at home what travel reveals about the human heart and what we have become in this world. To look beneath the surface of things to the heart of each day. Is God alive? Does hope exist? Are people still falling in love? Is everyone buying death as if it were cheap socks at a smoke sale?" I take this on. I look for clarity. I look for signs of courage…of strength of conviction rooted in heart…in an authentic identity, in myself as well as in others. I look for cheap socks…and death for sale. I have found it all. I am now an expat living in Oaxaca Mexico...again finding both sorrow and joy. This blog is intending to keep family, friends, and any other inquiring minds apprised of my whereabouts, goings-on, world-watching and idle thoughts. You are welcome to leave comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click on the photos to enlarge them.
When I refer to myself as an expat in Mexico, I often get asked “what is an expat.” Now I am in the position of having to change my Mexican visa from a temporary one to a permanent one which means I will have to pay for Mexican registration on my car and get Mexican plates. Surprisingly, I have a gut aversion to this. Or go back across the border and come in again as a tourist. Do I want to be a Residente Permanente?
Today Garrison Keillor posted a poem by Paul Zimmer on his Writer’s Almanac web site entitled “Amongst The French.”
I do not have their words,
do not have their years or customs.
Passing them on the road,
shy as fog passing down
slopes into the valley,
I always give first utterance
or make an uncertain gesture.
My neighbors are kind,
knowing I am like rain,
that if they wait long enough,
in time I will go away.
It is the same for me in
all directions—under stars
swarming out of foothills,
on the gravel I churn
with my shoes—east, west,
north, or south—the same.
If I remained in
this friendly place forever,
I would always be a stranger.
This got me to thinking. It’s not just true in France of course. It’s true of anyone leaving their birth country and moving to another one. It’s true for me in Mexico and it’s especially true for Thailand. Apparently another “expat” has been thinking about this too and the following has been lifted from his blog Life In Prana
When is an expat not an expat?
Writing about my friend Al recently, I was reminded of an encounter I had with a particularly obnoxious Englishman in Khong Chiam a couple of years back. I was researching restaurants for a guide book at the time and he told me that no farangs like Thai food so I was wasting my time. I pointed out that in England Thai restaurants were very popular and he replied that he couldn’t live in England any more. When I asked him why that was, he said that there were too many immigrants in England and they made no effort to integrate, in particular they insisted on having their own food and did not learn to speak English. This seemed pretty rich coming from what I had already learned about him and I certainly did not detect any sense of irony in his remarks.
I pointed out to him that he and I are both immigrants in Thailand but he refuted this. We are expats, he told me. What is the difference, I asked. His answer to that was: “I should think the difference is obvious.”
What is obvious, I think, is what he was implying.
A result of this encounter has been that I have developed a dislike of the word ‘expat’, seeing it as denoting a sense of superiority. I realise that this is not entirely rational, or at least is not fully deserved. Some of my best friends are expats, as they say. There is some evidence, however, that the word is not exactly neutral. People from neighbouring countries who come to work in Thailand are referred to as ‘migrant workers’ whereas office workers in Bangkok who come from further afield are always known as expats. There is surely an implied racial (but not necessarily racist, let me be clear) element to phrases such as ‘expat hang-outs’ and ‘expat food’. I am reminded that Pensri worked in the UK for 30+ years, held a UK passport before arriving, and was often referred to as an immigrant, but never ever as an expat.
But whether a word is neutral or loaded (postively or negatively) is often a matter of intention on the part of the speaker or interpretation on the part of the hearer. For me, ‘farang’ is a neutral word on most occasions, but I think I can tell when the intention is otherwise, and that is sometimes positive and sometimes negative.
Time for some help from reference books. The Chambers Thesaurus entries for ‘expat’ and ‘immigrant’ are sugestive of a difference in emphasis: EXPAT: emigrant, emigre, exile, refugee, displaced person. It seems that the emphasis here is on someone who has LEFT their native country. IMMIGRANT: incomer, settler, migrant, newcomer, new arrival, alien. Here the emphasis is on ARRIVAL.
Two dictionary definitions (Shorter Oxford) suggest the same thing but also add the idea of temporary and permanent residence: EXPAT: person living abroad, especially for a long period. IMMIGRANT: person who comes as a permanent resident to a country other than one’s native land.
So in the end, there seems no doubt that whatever I may think about the word, since I am still a permanent resident of the UK who spends a lot of time abroad, when I am in Thailand for six months as I am now, I am most definitely an expat. That is not the conclusion I had expected to reach, but I am comfortable with it nonetheless. The all-embracing term ‘foreigner’ is still more to my liking, but I am less happy about ‘alien’. But there we are. Call me what you like.
I just don’t want to be called a fresa. Literally meaning “strawberry”, the word “fresa” is used in Mexican slang to denote anyone spoiled or soft. Of all the wide and imaginative range of Mexican insults this, for them, is the worst. For men it is acceptable to be a large goat (cabrón) or even, on occasion, a pubic hair (pendejo). But for anyone to be a strawberry is unforgiveable.
I arrived “home” April 19, 2013 after a 6 month RTW trip to Oregon, Thailand, Oman, Turkey, Oregon, Las Vegas and finally Oaxaca again. As I’ve recently said to friends, I’m getting too old for this shit! Figuring out the logistics in an unfamiliar country is exhausting even though exciting. Supposedly this kind of activity is supposed to at least delay Alzheimers. It better do something. Since retirement, and after more than 10 years on the road and living in Mexico, I’m beginning to feel like my friend Tim:
Just this year I started thinking that some travels closer to home would be nice, or a hotel room reserved for me by somebody else, or a pick up at the train station, a nice affordable meal that i haven’t had to search for, working out new currencies and languages, the certainty that my bed is gonna be quiet and comfortable, the knowledge of where I am gonna be tomorrow and the relaxing certainties that come with that. Even so there are a few places that I’d [still] like to see.
Well, now I’ve come home to a complete change in not only Mexican visa regulations but also rules regarding whether you keep your foreign plated car in Mexico or apply for very expensive yearly Mexican registration and Mexican plates. I don’t want Mexican plates. I was informed by immigration that with my current visa I have to apply for Resident Permanente which apparently means I have to get Mexican plates. So I will probably have to cross the border with my car and come back in as a tourist. Arghhhh!
This has been my life for the last 3 weeks. But I feel ashamed to be complaining as I read about the Boston Bombing, Syria, Bangladesh, Iran, Israel, Mali and a host of other places around the world. And BTW, there was a horrible bombing a couple days ago at the Turkey/Syria border very near Antakya where I stayed for 4 days in a guesthouse.
It seems strange to be thinking about what to do with myself. The U.S. is boring without the street life I’ve come to love around the world, at least in warmer climes, where people are not sequestered inside their homes all the time and I am free to interact with them. I love going to the zocalo and sitting for hours at one of the outdoor sidewalk cafes and drinking coffee or lemonade or mescal for hours over good conversation with simpatico friends.
I am very fond of Oaxaca and the capacity of the people to enjoy life and each other in the face of poverty and a government that sucks. (Well, my government sucks too.) I would miss the indigenous customs and art, the music, processions, political marches, dancing, ceremonies, celebrations, fireworks and even the rockets. And waking up to church bells and birds chirping in the courtyard at 6am. And the wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor. And walking to the corner at 7am to buy freshly steamed red and green or chicken mole tomales. And the comida coridas that serve a full home-cooked meal for 30-40 pesos (about $3.00US) And the street performers in the intersections.
I would miss even the horrible karaoke in the community center for elders down the street. And even if the people have no sense of time whatsoever. And even if I’d like to give the finger to nearly every driver on the road. And even though I left behind a beautiful home and my apartment is old and the grout is dirty. And I have to buy 5 gallon jugs of water for drinking and cooking. But I am especially grateful that I am not stuck in Syria…or Mali…or some unfortunate refugee camp. I am free to choose where to live and enjoy my life.
Before flying out to Las Vegas from Salem/Portland to see my eldest son, I drove a couple hours to the coast to visit my cousin, Cindy and her husband Jim who live near Waldport. They were kind enough to drive me along the coast so I could get some photos…and eat incredible Fish Wives Stew down by the harbor.
Won’t bore anyone with the sordid details of bureaucratic busy work while holed up at Howard Johnson’s Motel since March 19, 2013.
However I did meet up with the few remaining old friends I have here…very fun!
Tomorrow I’ll drive over to Waldport on the Oregon coast to visit Cousin Cindy for a few days. Then back to Salem and fly out of Portland to Las Vegas on the 9th to spend about 10 days with son Greg before flying on to Oaxaca on April 19. Whew! It’s been a long haul on this RTW trip…Oaxaca, Oregon, Thailand, Oman, Turkey, Oregon, Las Vegas, Oaxaca from the end of October 2012 until April 2013! I’ll be glad to be “home!”
Dilek, I’m back home again, I blurted as I came tumbling through her door with my baggage in Bakirkoy, Istanbul.
Thankfully the weather turned warm so Dilek and I walked all over Bakirkoy for a few days before catching my Turkish Air flight to Portland Oregon on the 19th. Why do we “catch” a flight or a bus but not a boat? Oh well…
“Jimmy’s Place” behind the bus station, right in the center, welcomed me to Selcuk where I stayed for three days and took two tours. One to an ancient Greek city and the Temple of Apollo and the next day to Ephesus. I liked Selcuk with it’s ruins in plain view of the city center. And it’s espresso cafes where the waiters usually spoke English. Turkish guys are fun to talk to.
Bodrum and all it’s inlets and bays seen from Mediterranean hilltops is about as breathtaking as it gets. My Couchsurfing host, Gunes picked me up from the bus station after my 6 hour ride from Antalya and roared up the narrow winding roads in her little Fiat to her house on top of a hill. As I said to her, once in awhile you meet someone that is as crazy or crazier than you are! I am so happy that Gunes is one of these! We understood each other perfectly! So much for stodgy old women! lol
She treated me to a couple trips around the bays and I enjoyed her home cooking, her hobby. It was so much fun trading travel stories and a bit of politics thrown in. The last day she treated me to seaside fish dinner when I should have been the one to treat her! I will be waiting for her in Oaxaca! She promised!
I have never seen so many stray cats in a country. The people put food outside their doorways to feed them. Dogs too. The surprising thing is they are so mild and gentle and approachable. Never seen an approachable cat before! I think this says a lot about the people here. They treat animals with love and care and it is a joy to watch.
And they love children! A month here and I’ve never seen anyone give a child a harsh word. Visiting a family on a Friday…their Sunday…with a 7 month old baby in Adana with my couchsurfing host, the whole extended family was waiting in the living room for the child to wake up. The word came. All 7 of them jumped up to run to the child’s room…hovering over the crib. Oh, I thought, all these big people staring down at him will frighten him. But he wasn’t frightened at all. He just looked at first one person and then the other with a big grin on his face. They brought him out to the living room with a blanket on the floor. I had to laugh at all the ridiculous “baby sounds” the family was making…especially…I noticed…an older uncle. lol. They were so proud of this child!
In the breakfast room early this morning I had a warm conversation with one of the pansiyon employees. There is an old resident dog and as I was sitting out on the patio with my coffee petting her, the breakfast manager brought out some pieces of buttered bread. She is fat, I said, smiling. But she likes buttered bread, he said. It is delicious for her!
He said he has two children, 7 and 4. I asked him about the schools here. The schools don’t cost money but there are a lot of other expenses. There is morning school and afternoon school…split schedules…because there is not enough money for schools. Then suddenly he says, “I love my children!” And pulled out his phone to show me their photos.
I told him that in the month I have been in Turkey I have found the people to very gentle and kind. Why is this, I asked. He said, we are mostly a Muslim country. It is in our character. We must not be rude. I told him that I wished people in America knew this…because all they hear and see in the media are the words and actions of the militant jihadists. However another Turk…a modern secular one…says she thinks it’s an individual thing…people are either kind or they aren’t just like in any other country. So there you have it. Well, I’ve only been here a month and haven’t had time to drill down into the bias, prejudices, loves and hates that exist in every country and every culture.
The breakfast manager has been reading an autobiography of Ataturk. Ataturk is very important to us, he said. As the conversations progressed to world affairs he said that there are about 10 American military installations in Turkey. He added that 85% of Turks hate America. They killed one and a half million muslims in Iraq, he said. It is unbelievable, he said! Your defense minister lied. They said they were bringing democracy. What good is democracy if you are dead, he said. They just wanted the petrol. I was sick to my stomach… knowing Iraq didn’t have to happen.
Then we moved on to domestic matters. Seeing an old woman walk by in the street he said, “That is my boss!” Her three sons own and run the Pansiyon. “But when she says something it is finished, he said!” I said that families in Mexico are like that too. People there say I am a bad mother because I “let” my sons, in their 40′s, leave home to live in Hong Kong and Thailand. “Why you let them live there, they ask! I told my Turkish breakfast friend that when I tell my sons to do something they just roll their eyes and say “Moooommmm!” We laughed.
And now I have to go to thank the Pansiyon employees for a wonderful week here in Antalya and go catch a bus to Bodrum where I will stay with Gunes (which means sun in Turkish), another Couchsurfing host.
I left Adana by plane for Antalya. Outside the Arrivals Hall I asked a gentleman if he spoke English. He didn’t but another one with a very busy 4-year old in tow, overhearing me, asked if I needed help. The city was a considerable distance from the airport. “Do the Red buses leave everyone off at the same place in the city?” Yes, he said, but my friend can give us a ride into town. Oh my, I thought! Ever since I arrived the Turks have been friendly and generous everywhere! He even gave me a Turkish pastry to eat on the way!
I am staying in the Kaleiçi (KAH-leh-ee-chee) a castle ruins at the center of the sprawling modern city which was a Roman town, then the Byzantine, then the Seljuk Turkish, and finally the Ottoman town. There are oodles of shops, boutique hotels, guesthouses and restaurants along the narrow winding walking streets. I am staying at the Sabah Pansiyon…with breakfast…very friendly and helpful staff. And wifi in my room! It’s a short distance to both the city center and the many coffee houses that line the beaches. So the easy walking has been a pleasure.
I had to laugh today at an outdoor cafe with a view of the Taurus Mountains. About 40 German guys took nearly all the tables and chairs and ordered beer. The first one took a taste and made a face! lol. Turkish beer not so good?! ha! Then a Turkish guy tried to sell them all cologne and perfume. They had great fun with that!
I’ve been corresponding with a woman in Germany. When she read my blog and saw that Antalya was full of Germans she said:
The place where you are staying sounds very romantic. I know I would enjoy it there. The pension inside the ruin makes it even more romantic. I wish I could join you, but I don´t think I would like meeting so many Germans. I hope they behave and respect the country and the customs. There are reasonable ‘packages’ for a vacation in Turkey, so that must be the reason, why so many Germans are there now. We had a very tough and long winter . The sun has been out for the last two or three days, but next week, winter will be back again.
I assured her the Germans here were very well-behaved and gracious. lol I told her I felt sorry for these Germans. Cold in Germany and it’s been damn cold here!
I have never seen so many stray cats in a country. The people put food outside their doorways to feed them. Dogs too. The surprising thing is they are so mild and gentle and approachable. Never seen an approachable cat before! I think this says a lot about the people here. They treat animals with love and care and it is a joy to watch.
I called another couchsurfer and a food writer, Tijen, whom I had had lunch with in Bangkok a couple of years ago. I was delighted to find that she lived only about a 10 minute walk to my pensyon in the Castle. She cooked a lovely vegetarian lunch for me…steamed artichoke hearts with oil and lemon and a lentil salad. Says she:
“Green lentils with dried eggplants, wild leeks and dried tomatoes (I just soaked green lentils in water for few hours, then add all of them in the pot with some water and cooked it down. Of course there is salt, pepper, cumin seeds and olive oil. You can use normal leeks or onions, doesn’t matter. Buon appetite!”
The next day we had a breakfast of Borek, a wonderful Turkish pastry made by an old Borek Master in his tiny three-table restaurant. He learned it from his older brother and his uncle, Tijen said. Watch the video below showing how Borak is made:
Well, Tijen surprised me this morning and came by my pensyon to see if I needed anything. So I walked her back to her apartment and on the way we stopped and bought a bus ticket for tomorrow at noon to Bodrum. Thank God! I would have gone to the bus station not knowing there was only one bus a day and might have missed it! I told her she was my angel! She is leaving in the morning for Morocco. She is lucky she can travel all over the world for her work…writing food articles.
This morning in the breakfast room I talked again with a tall blond Danish guy…about 50. A former journalist, he is enraged by the lack of transparency and the corruption in Denmark! And the stupidity of the EU. Of all places! That should tell you a lot about all the other countries! When he described his Prime Minister I told him she sounded like our Sarah Palin. “Worse!” he said! She’s never worked…just always been a politician/bureaucrat. He actually said a lot of other things too I won’t repeat here.
I’ve always said that people running for government office should be required to have some time in the workplace first. He’s been aggravating government officials with letters and questions he doesn’t get answers to. He is afraid they will find a way to nail him and shut him up. So he is writing a book. He’s supposed to be here resting from all the controversy but it’s so cold he has been miserable…and we’ve both gotten chest colds…we think from the unclean air con/heating units in the rooms. I told him I was sorry to get him revved up again but he said no, it’s all just going round and round in his head anyway and that it was good to talk. I hope so.
I caved in this afternoon and had my first Burger King in 5 months!
After Antakya, I took the bus to Adana where I stayed with a lovely couchsurfing host, Gursel, and her daughter Nida in their beautiful high-rise flat.
The evening of my arrival we sampled traditional Turkish food in a popular restaurant. And later, Gursel took us to a specialty cafe that served a to-die-for dessert called Künefe, a shredded pastry with cheese, that is actually famous in Antakya…it’s origin. Lahmacun is a kind of Turkish pizza but my friend Dilek bristles at this comparison. And of course Kabob is skewered and grilled beef, chicken or lamb.
The highrises in the “new city” are chock-a-block together and there wasn’t much to see walking around from Gursel’s apartment. But no worries! She spoiled me with home Turkish cooking and of course many good conversations over the three days I stayed with her. I also really enjoyed her bright vivacious daughter, Nida, who wants to study in the U.S. after high school.
Gursel had asked me to cook something for them but alas I was unprepared and couldn’t think of anything original on the spot except maybe Mexican food and of course there were no available ingredients. I’m sorry, Gursel! From now on I will be prepared for cooking for my hosts!
After having been in Thailand for several months I was not prepared for the cold spring in Turkey, so Gursel kindly gave me one of her sweat-shirts and a warm pull-over to sleep in. Thank goodness for Gursel! It was freezing cold all over Turkey!
One evening we visited a huge open but covered market where I bought some really sharp paring knives for $3US and a yummy soft leather bag $7US for my newly acquired iPad that was handed down from my son in Hong Kong. I was wishing I had room in my baggage for more!
The last day of my stay, Gursel drove us through bustling Old Town where we saw the tallest clock tower in Turkey and out to the Seyhan River and the Taskopru Bridge…a 4thC Roman bridge that has the Sabancı Central Mosque, the largest mosque in Turkey, at one end and the Hilton Hotel at the other. We wound up having a Turkish coffee at the lake behind the dam where locals spend time at the many coffee and tea houses on the banks.
Adana is Turkey’s 4th largest city, 2 million people, and is an agricultural and industrial boom town in the middle of the Cilician Plain…the commercial capital of the eastern mediterranean coast. Click on the photos to enlarge:
Manti is a smooth yogurt soup with Turkish dumplings…kind of like Ravioli. There I go again! BTW, there is no better yogurt I’ve had in all the world like yogurt made by the Turks!
Antakya is in the south of Turkey…30 miles from the Syria border. I flew here yesterday from Istanbul and Friday I will take a 3 hour bus to Adana north of here where I will stay with another Couchsurfing host.
The guy sitting next to me on the plane to Antakya was a Canadian working for the American Emergency Services Organization. He was going to Antakya for a meeting concerning the Syrian refugees at the border. Perhaps with the UN. Today I saw the proverbial white SUV with UN written in bright blue on the side. I asked him how many refugee camps there were along the border. He said “not camps.” Just solid people on both sides. This doesn’t bode well.
So I am ensconsed on the third floor of a little hotel with windows opening to the city center along the Orontes River about 14 miles from the Mediterranean coast. Click on the photos to enlarge.
Known as Antioch in ancient times, the city has historical significance for Christianity, as it was the place where the followers of Jesus Christ were called Christians for the first time. It had an important role as one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire and Byzantium, and was a key location of the early years of Christianity, the Antiochian Orthodox Church, the rise of Islam, and the Crusades because of it’s massive walls.
According to wikipedia, both Turkish and Arabic are still widely spoken in Antakya, although written Arabic is rarely used. A mixed community of faiths and denominations co-exist peacefully here. Although almost all the inhabitants are Muslim, a substantial proportion adhere to the Alevi and the Arab Nusayri traditions, in ‘Harbiye’ there is a place to honour the Nusayri saint Hızır. Numerous tombs of Muslim saints, both Sunni and Alevi, are located throughout the city. Several small Christian communities are active in the city, with the largest church being St. Peter and St. Paul on Hurriyet Caddesi. With its long history of spiritual and religious movements, Antakya is a place of pilgrimage for Christians. It also has a reputation in Turkey as a place for spells, fortune telling, miracles and spirits, the wiki writer says.
But I have to tell this story. In the breakfast room this morning I saw a guy who had a “California” sweat shirt. But he looked maybe Turkish. I felt silly asking this but I asked if he was from the U.S. Yes, he said, but I’m Syrian. He has been going to a large refugee camp 30 miles away on the border to volunteer. No toilets in this camp…one of three along the border inside Turkey. The UN is giving food but this guy says he went to several markets here in Atakya and he saw “with my very own eyes” sacks of grain with “UN” marked on them being sold on the black market.
His brother, a medical doctor has traveled from CA to this camp 3 times to volunteer with Doctor’s Without Borders. He spent 20,000 of his own money for milk for one week for the children and to build 12 toilets for men and 12 for women. He and his brother have collected money and clothes and blankets through a Syrian-American org. They sometimes don’t even have shoes or anything else because they fled so quickly.
His father is very sick in Syria. His sister is 6 months pregnant. He cannot reach them because it is so dangerous. He has been told by everyone he dare not go…even with a bullet proof vest and that he likely will be kidnapped by the opposition who hates Americans. Who is the opposition I asked. Various Al Queda groups, he said.
“Syria doesn’t care about the people. Turkey doesn’t care about the people” he said. Turkey has forbidden any more camps along the border and they won’t allow any pictures from visitors or the press. So now the camps are beginning to multiply along the border on the Syrian side. For every person who goes back 1000 will flee. So people aren’t seeing the misery. It’s just an impossible situation. And this is only one of the wars going on in the world.
I have to go back to the US to school he said. I am doing what I can.
My friend Dilek, however, says that Turkish TV reports have indicted massive problems in the camps…predictably so considering the environment. And the guy I talked to had a very hoarse voice. He said it was from yelling at a bunch of drunk Syrians the other night who were raising hell in the camps. It’s the women and children and old people he was concerned about the most. They are always the most affected victims.
Another Turkish friend wants to know, if the opposition is Al Queda…and Al Queda is our enemy…why is the U.S. supporting them against Asad. But things are never as they seem.
Update 2/28/2013: This morning in the breakfast room I met another Syrian. His brother works in the hotel, he says. I imagine the hotel is putting up these Syrians. He said he came here from Lebanon but cannot go to Syria. Two brothers in Syria are “kaput” in a bloodbath of 200 people. “Kaput?” Odd word to use? He showed me an interview on his iPhone he gave to Aljazeera. Then he showed me a photo of the head of Hesbollah. Said Hesbollah was behind the opposition. They are not good he says. He wanted to know why Obama wasn’t helping. I told him we never know what our government is doing or not doing.
Update 05/19/2013 Last weekend there were two car bombings in Reyhanli, near Antakya on the Syrian border, in which 50 people were killed. Nearly 20 people were arrested. The bombs were most likely planted by pro-Assad forces in retaliation for Turkish support of the Syrian rebels. Criticism of Prime Minister Erdegon’s response to the bombing, fearing Turkey is being dragged into the Syrian conflict, criticism of Turkey’s lack of intelligence and criticism of PM Erdogan’s relationship with the U.S. has sparked anti-government demonstrations this week in several cities across Turkey on a day that is supposed to be celebrating Ataturk’s tribute to children. My Turkish friends are posting slogans all over Facebook.
Arriving in Istanbul I was delighted to see smiling, laughing, joking people! I am so tickled to be in Turkey! I had forgotten how open and fun the Turks are…laughing easily and so funny! What a relief from the oppressive atmosphere of Oman where I felt like I had to walk on egg shells!
Much to my surprise, I was met outside the arrival hall by Darrell, a Couchsurfing “friend” that I had corresponded with for several years on one of the forums. I don’t know how Darrell recognized me at the airport…probably the hair. I had no idea he was going to be in Istanbul! So we took a taxi to another couchsurfing friend’s house in Bakirkoy where I was going to stay for 3 nights. Apparently it was a secret kept from me because Dilek knew Darrell was going to be in Istanbul. She had prepared a traditional Turkish meal of rice and lentils and condiments for us and then Darrell left for the Peninsula Hotel in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul.
It was so much fun meeting Dilek after years of being on the Couchsurfing International Politics forum with her! The first night after Darrell left we stayed up late talking a mile a minute about everything under the sun. I am enjoying her insights. She is the consumate cs host! ! I told her I was enjoying seeing her in her own country…being a Turk!
Bakirkoy is a lovely middle income neighborhood and Dilek, my friend, is still living in the house she grew up in. Most young people move out, but in her case, her parents moved out she said laughing. Our walk-about the next day included a buffet meal I had been looking forward to, a visit to a pastry shop where I wanted some of everything, and a yarn shop where I saw more yarn than I had ever seen in my life! I was introduced to the tram and the train and bought a transpo card I could use on either.
Then the next day Dilek took us on a walk-about to see some of her secret haunts…one being a shop that sold a fermented beverage called Boza…popular in Kazakhstan, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, parts of Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, according to wikipedia. It is a malt drink, made from maize (corn) and wheat in Albania, fermented wheat in Turkey and wheat or millet in Bulgaria and Romania. It has a thick consistency and a low alcohol content (usually around 1%), and has a slightly acidic sweet flavor. It tasted to Darrell and me like slightly fermented applesauce. It’s supposed to cure everything under the sun and locals often stop by for a glass.
My last and only visit to Istanbul had been in 1995 on our way back to the states after a trek in the mountains of Central Asia. I was astounded at how developed, Istanbul, at least, had become! I certainly don’t remember a tram! Or the train!
I did visit the Suleymaniye mosque which had been closed for restorations since 2008, and since re-opened to the public in November 2012. It’s the largest mosque in Istanbul with four minarets, symbolizing, I am told, the four centuries of imperial Ottoman rule. It’s architecture is a blend of Islamic and Byzantine architectural elements and took 8 years to construct. It combines tall, slender minarets with large domed buildings supported by half domes in the style of the Byzantine church Hagia Sophia which the Ottomans converted into the mosque of Aya Sofya. People going in for prayer now put their shoes into plastic bags and carry them into the mosque with them…leaving them on shoe racks just inside. The women are still made to sit in the very back of the mosque in their own section behind a railing while the men fill the main cavernous interior. It is a bit touching to see so many men washing their faces and hands reverently before entering. It seems a religion for men.
After 3 days with Dilek, I checked in to the Peninsula Hotel so it would be easier to meet up with Darrell for dinner. Darrell was hilarious! We met some delightful travelers in the hotel where Darrell was quick to robustly tell early morning people in a hushed breakfast room that he was a farmer from Indiana and that we were couchsurfers. And then go on to tell them about the people he knew on Couchsurfing!!! Of course he was met with quite quizzical looks! He’s Anabaptist but I think his mission is to get everyone in the world to join Couchsufing! LOL He was off to Uganda after Istanbul. Couchsurfing is his world now.
I stayed in Istanbul an extra day because I had an opportunity to do a walk-about through old neighborhoods near the Spice Market with a young Turk, also a member of Couchsurfing, who had stayed with a Mexican friend of mine in Oaxaca. Onur was really interesting…had lived in Columbia 9 years, traveled all through Mexico, Central and South America and I don’t remember where else. I enjoyed his take on Turkish politics. Turkey is like the U.S. in many ways…very diverse with many minority groups. It is booming economically. At the moment he was in-between jobs as an IT engineer.
OMG, up and down hills! My poor knee! But we stopped to have lunch finally in a working class neighborhood and and I sampled Turkish tripe soup, Işkembe Çorbasi, which was wonderful. Not as sour as the Polish tripe soup and not as spicy as the Mexican Menudo. We were going to go to a Klezmer concert that night at a synagogue but I was beat and literally limped my way to the tram which took me back to my Sultanhamet hotel.
BTW, Sultanhamet, near the Blue and Sofia Mosques and the Grand Bazaar, has completely changed since ’95! Total Tourist! Streets full of smart cafes with white table clothes!!! Many offered a hookah pipe.
So after a week in Istanbul I flew to Antakya just on the mediterranean coast…and about 30 miles from the Syrian border. My plan is to take the 3-hour bus tomorrow to Adana where I will stay with Gursel, a couchsurfer, a couple days before working my way to Antalya where I hope to see Tijen, another couchsurfer, and then to stay with yet another couchsurfer, Gunes, in Bodrum and then fly back to Istanbul from Izmir. I will stay a night with Dilek and pick up my big bag she let me leave in her apartment before flying out to Oregon and back to Oaxaca. Whew! I think when I get to Oaxaca and my own apartment and my own bed I won’t want to leave it for a month!
After the family reunion on Koh Samui I flew back to Bangkok for 3 days while I waited for my flight out and for more last minute dental work. And got to meet up with Tim who I knew from Couchsurfing forums and who was also waiting for his flight back to England. A lovely man!
Then I flew out to the Sultinate of Oman, a small Arab state on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by the United Arab Emerates to the northeast, by Saudi Arabia to the west and Yemen to the southwest. Off the north coast is Iran, and on the south coast is the United Arab Emirates and Musandam, an exclave of Oman. At its narrowest, the strait is 21 nautical miles (39 km) wide.
It is on the Hormuz Strait which is the body of water between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. It is the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean and is one of the world’s most strategically important choke points. About 20% of the world’s petroleum, and about 35% of the petroleum traded by sea, passes through the strait making it a highly important strategic location for international trade. (Which is why the U.S. has ships anchored there.)
Muscat is spread out for 40km along the coast. The whole metropolitan area of Muscat has about 800,000 people spread out over about 580 square miles with the rest of the population, mostly tribal, in small towns and villages in the mountains.
I was picked up at the airport by my Couchsurfing host who I stayed with for 3 days near Muscat…the capital city. She is from Australia but is in Oman teaching English. The day after I arrived, she needed to attend a meeting so she drove me to a gas station out on the highway where I could pick up a taxi to the Mutrah Souk (indoor market with winding aisles and goods galore), sit along the corniche in view of the sea and just people watch. There is a port here (there were 2 cruise ships docked here) so the locals are used to seeing tourists walking around in this part of Oman.
It was my great good luck to be in Oman during the Muscat Festival when Omani customs and practices were demonstrated and we had permission to take photos of people although some women did wave us away. At the airport, upon arrival, I was given a bag with a cup, a thumb drive, a white polo shirt, a couple promotional DVD’s concentrating on eco-tourism and a slick-backed tourist book listing the week’s festivities which included an international biking competition through the mountains.
Click on this link for a video:
Omani Tribal Ritual
I also took a tour of the city on a hop on hop off bus although Muscat is fairly uniform in color (country code (white)) so there wasn’t much to see. My knee was hurting so I didn’t stop off at the palaces and museums. Sigh. I mentioned to my host that the neighborhoods looked similar to the newer white-washed suburbs of Las Vegas! She is still probably shaking her head and telling her friends about this remark from a stupid American! LOL
After the third night with my host I moved to a hotel, the Husin Al Khaleej Hotel Apartments (a huge suite of rooms apparently for big families) for about $30US) in Seeb City Center, a coastal newish middle income section with large homes, located several kilometres northwest of Muscat City. No tourists there!
My own experience as a solo foreign woman was interesting indeed. I saw no foreigners in a week in the country other than Europeans who got off cruise ships at the port in Old Muscat. And a few young people headed into the mountains to off-road in the mountain washes. And I was the only foreigner that I saw in Seeb City. I saw only a handfull of women on the street although I did go to a mall about 20 minutes away by taxi where I saw plenty of women…all covered of course.
So where to eat. There were a few Turkish tea houses nearby with men only that opened about 4pm until about 4am. So I asked the Muslim receptionist in the hotel where I could find typical Omani food. She sent me to a restaurant with a narrow walkup to several small tiny private rooms where I sat on the floor and ate alone. I should have paid attention to this.
The next couple days I walked down from the hotel a couple blocks and found 2-3 small take-out cafes. I ordered and ate at a table on the sidewalk in front…crossing my legs and having a cigarette after. Finally (low-wage people are usually Indians) I got the feeling that the Indian waiters were uncomfortable with me there. On the third day one of them handed me a menu and told me in English to go back to my hotel and call in with an order and they would deliver it.
I noticed that hardly anyone went into these cafes either to eat or to take out. Men would drive up on the service road and honk. A waiter would run out, take the order and return with it whereupon the men would drive off…presumably to their homes or work. I also have to say that no Omani men looked at me in a lewd way. In fact they didn’t look at me directly at all and I didn’t look directly at them. But I felt very conspicuous and I found myself oddly wishing I could cover up like the local women. Even though I had been in Muslim countries before (Egypt and Morocco) in the past, I was in areas that were either inundated with foreign tourists or in big cities like Cairo. And indeed in Egypt I WAS propositioned. “30 minutes I give you banana.” Whatttt? I see no bananas. Duhhh!
What I didn’t know while in traditional Oman was that people, when they are not working, mostly stay home.
So, I was a woman…a foreign woman…dressed in (what in virtually every other country I have been in recently…even Turkey) the ubiquitous black tights and top. And I was on public display. I still want to talk to my couchsurfing host about this.
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It had been Christmas 15 years ago, Josh remembered, when the whole family…Bob, Greg, Josh, Doug and I…had been all together at one place at the same time.
So Bob, retired from his pediatric practice in Salem, Oregon and realizing we weren’t getting any younger, rented a resort villa on the island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand where Doug lives part of the year in a rented bungalow with his Thai wife Luk. We chose Thailand because Doug was already there and it was easier than trying to get Luk a tourist visa to any other country.
Josh brought his Cantonese significant other, Polly, from Hong Kong where he lives and works as the Executive Chef at the American Club. (Not that it has anything to do with America!) Greg had taken off a couple weeks of his anesthesiology practice in Las Vegas to meet Josh in Hong Kong and then spend a few days in Hanoi together before flying down to Samui. Bob flew in from Pattaya where golf is his life. In November 2012 I had flown in from Oaxaca Mexico where I live so it was no problem to fly down from Bangkok where I had been sitting in a dental chair for days.
Four whole days together was wonderful but it was just about the right amount of time for resort living. We all had our own villas right on the ocean. Several Thai girls and a cook were at our beck and call. They spread out an elegant breakfast of our choice each morning by the pool. A massage table by the pool was ready for us. Doug and I had rented a pick-up and Josh and Greg rented motorbikes to run around the island. The only decisions we had to make were what to eat the rest of the day.
Sitting there watching the boys in the water I shivered remembering Christmas of 2004 when Doug and Luk almost lost their lives in their bungalow 14 feet from the water when the tsunami hit the Krabi coast. About 8 in the morning Doug heard what he thought was a bomb. Lukily they had the doors and windows closed. When he pulled back the curtains to the sliding doors, the water was engulfing the entire bungalow. When the first wave went out they grabbed their phones and ran up the hill behind the house.
But then Luk wouldn’t live on the Krabi beach anymore. She said there were many ghosts and she wouldn’t eat the fish because she said the fish had eaten the people. So Doug had rented a pickup to move them to Koh Samui on the other side of the Thai peninsula in the Gulf of Thailand. I was in Bangkok at the time and seeing the news on TV I was frantic. But after 30 minutes of trying to get through to them on the phone I heard those sweet sweet voices. A movie about the tsunami is in the theaters now called “Impossible.” I can’t bear to see it.
Anyway, this was the first time any of us had experienced a self-contained resort like this. But as we were all very familiar with Thailand and Thai life, we weren’t sacrificing anything by isolating ourselves. We did remark how sad it is that many people only experience a country in this way though. Our time together ended with “When are we going to do this again?” All of us looking at Bob who footed the bill! LOL
LiYu, my former couchsurfer in Oaxaca last year had been a student at Colby College in Maine on a scholarship and had accompanied Gustavo Esteva, from Oaxaca, and a group of other American students on a one year tour to India, Thailand, New Zealand and finally to Oaxaca to study indigenous sustainability…not to teach…but to learn. At the end of her year with Gustavo she returned to Malaysia to find a way to implement what she had learned.
I fell in love with her in Oaxaca and so I jumped at the chance to join her and her family in their home in Kuala Lumpur for a couple days while renewing my tourist visa.
I had the luck of meeting her grandparents…Chinese immigrants to Malaysia and learned a bit of history.
By the start of the second world war, Malaysia’s economy was flourishing with the output of tin and rubber, giving it great strategic importance. Malaysia fell under threat of a Japanese invasion when the American, British and Dutch governments froze essential raw materials and oil supplies to Japan. Japan was then forced to look to Southeast Asia for shipments. While Britain was preoccupied with defending itself against he threat of German invasion, the Japanese wasted no time to effect their occupation of Malaysia, commencing with the bombing of the beaches of Kota Bharu in Kelantan, and Singapore, on 8 December 1941.
The takeover continued almost without opposition as Commonwealth troops defending Malaysia were expecting invasion by sea and not by land. They were hopelessly and inadequately trained in jungle warfare and lacked ammunition, so fell to the invaders one by one. Malaysia was occupied for the next three and a half years by the Japanese.
On Feb 15th, 1942 Britain surrendered the Allied forces.
Within ten weeks the Japanese won control of Malaysia and Singapore. The dreaded Japanese secret police, the Kempetai subjected sympathisers to humiliation and torture especially the Malaysian Chinese sympathisers who were treated ruthlessly and executed.
Oppression of the Chinese community led to a resistance movement which moved to the jungle fringes. There was widespread unemployment and marked social and economic problems, destruction of mining equipment and decline in rubber and tin industries. An armed resistance movement against the Japanese was organised in the Malaysian jungle consisting mainly of Chinese men from The Malaysian Communist Party.
When the Japanese took control of Malaysia they put the Chinese in a sort of concentration camp…individual homes that were fenced off to contain the population. Very ironic. LiYu’s grandparents were among those and they still live in that original home in a seedy part of KL. Listening to them talk (through LiYu’s mom who translated) I came to realize why the Chinese are often the fiercest conservative bootstrappers. And finally understood why LiYu feels so constrained living at home with her parents who are quite controlling. You have to get out, I said to her. Yes I know, she said.
Met a really nice bright young Swiss guy in the breakfast room while at the Sarisanee who has been living in New Zealand. He talked up NZ and of course now I want to go there! He, a self-described punker when younger (you would never know it by looking at him) is living in Karamea on the West Coast of the South Island where apparently there is an enclave of “hippies.” Wikipedia says that in 2006 the population was 423! Wiki also says the Karamea township offers local services including a general store, supermarket, petrol pumps, information centre, cafe, hotel, camping ground, motels, backpackers and art & craft shop. Ha! Must have been written by one of those hippies!
A NZ blog says Karamea has a warm climate with over 2000 sunshine hours every year, making it the sunniest area on the West Coast. The surroundings are beautiful with the Tasman sea on one side and Kahurangi National Park – encompassing a high plateau, 15 river catchments and a long coastal strip – on the other. The park boasts stunning walks, including the Heaphy track, and mountain bike routes.
In the Oparara Valley, just north of Karamea, there are stunning caves, canyons and arches carved from the natural limestone and backed by granite ranges. A guided tour will take you to an important assemblage of bird fossils, including moa fossils, that have been found at Honeycomb Hill – a 13-kilometre labyrinth of caves.
The town sits on the estuary of the Karamea river, 100km north of Westport. A two-hour trip down the river from the gorge is a pleasant way to spend part of the day. Horticulture and dairy farming are important industries to the town.
Wonder how long they are going to keep this place a secret. Hmmmmm.
After traveling through central Thailand with Supaporn, I returned to Bangkok to get started on my dental plan at the Bangkok International Dental Clinic. My mainstay, the Queen Lotus Guesthouse just off Sukhumvit 20 welcomed me anew. I left my large bag there and took a bus to Pattaya to spend Christmas week with Bob…attending midnight mass with he and a friend of his who played Santa for all the little Thai kids.
Back in Bangkok again, I moved across the Chao Praya River to Thonburi about 10 minutes from the end of the BTS line. I think it may be the next cool area of Bangkok but at the moment it has little infrustructure for tourists. If I wanted a Thai neighborhood I sure got it! Even the taxi, coming from Sukhumvit, had a little trouble finding the Sarisanee Hotel. But at about $25 a night I got two big rooms with kitchenette and sitting area…about half of what I would pay on the Bangkok side of the river. I had the added advantage of not only being 10 minutes away from the skytrain but about the same distance to the river boats. A 90 minute trip upriver to Nonthaburi on the Bangkok side…past everything from the Oriental Hotel to old houses on stilts was lovely.
As with any holiday season I get many greetings from friends. But the ones from Patty are always especially rewarding.
A bit about my Mexican-American friend. She married a Mexican National in the states, left all her family there, gave up her home and moved to Mexico with Jose to begin his legalization process. This entailed a hefty fine for his being in the States as an undocumented person and a long drawn-out and expensive and bureaucratic process. It has been 6 years and they are still in Mexico with little hope of getting the money together. So they are barely making it with Patty teaching English to young folks in her home and Jose trying to get work as a mechanic even though he has a college degree in it.
Patty’s Christmas letter 2012
“Well, we’ve made it to the end of the year and despite all of the dire predictions, we partied like it was…going to be 2013 in a matter of days!
With the help of some of my 40+ past and current students and their families we celebrated with as much hope and joy as possible and in the process consumed 150 cupcakes; 400 cookies (sugary stars, frosted Christmas trees, chocolate chip and strawberry filled); 60 quarts of piping hot homemade fruit punch (guayabas, apples, whole sugarcane, tejocote, raisins, plums and piloncio boiled for about 4 hours); and bowls of mole, beans and rice, and just about anything else that happened to wander by.
Thank you all so much for the wonderful e-mails and prayers that have been great company this entire year. I always look forward to hearing from you. When things get particularly tough I gather all of your Love close to my heart, and always seem to find myself on the other side.
The Mayans didn’t predict the end of the world, but rather the end of one cycle, and the beginning of another. In this New Beginning I pray that all of your days are filled with enough Love, Joy and Laughter to get you through whatever difficulties you may encounter along the way. And, as always celebrate the good stuff and kick the junk to the side.
Patty’s “letter” on behalf of Jose:
“What Jose Roberto Did While I Was Busy Trying Not To Get Whacked By The Crazed Mob That Was Chasing Swinging Piñatas…”
“This is what happens when you leave a guy alone for way too long, with too many loose ends-or metal pieces.
Though Jose comes from a long line of stone sculptors (endless cousins and uncles with a multitude of workshops in the neighboring town of Escolasticas) most of whom make a livingselling their beautiful artistry around the world, Jose has never shown much of an interest. As most of you know he works as a mechanic alongside his brother, Carlos. Unfortunately, lately there hasn’t been as much work as we could hope for. Usually, he and his brother sell damaged car parts to a local recycler, but unexpectedly, Jose said he was bored and starting to get a little stressed-out, when he decided that he would take some of those used car parts and create something else.
As you can see he has been busy even if he hasn’t had too many cars to repair.
The first piece he made was Don Quixote which he just sold on Christmas Eve for $300 pesos-about $24 dollars. He has another request for Don Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza.
Jose was nice enough to create a statue of a figure seated with a book (actually a small, rustydoor hinge) in its hands, aptly named the “Student.” I raffled off the Student at our students’Christmas party. Each attendee received a ticket, including their family and friends. The interesting thing is that of the dozens of people present, the statue went to one of my younger students who really struggles to read and to retain information (I suspect he is autistic). God knew what He was doing. The little boy was beyond thrilled and was absolutely beaming with a smile that could hardly fit on his little face!
I don’t think I could be prouder of Jose, and if nothing else, he brought a bit of joy to my little student and his family.
Once again, Jose has shown me that when things look the bleakest, it’s the perfect time to do something for pure pleasure. And, within that, there might just be something more, something beyond the obvious. Something unexpected, and really sweet and good, for more than just ourselves.
I hope your Holiday Season is as Blessed and Joy-filled as ours.
I wish more people in the world were as good and unselfish as you and Jose. You are wonderful models for the Mexican people around you. As with our Latino high school drop-outs in our alternative education program, we just felt like we were planting seeds. You may not always immediately see the happy results of your labors…just know that you are indeed making a difference in people’s lives. They will think back on what you have modeled for them. It’s what makes life worthwhile.
I may have told you this. A baby sitter in LA from a Chinese family a couple doors up from us found me on FB about a year ago. She called me and told me what an influence we had on her at the age of 12. She used to go through our books and skim them while sitting the kids which she said opened up her world. She expressed such gratitude, it made tears come to my eyes. She since went to college and is now married to a pediatrician (!) and has a lovely family. We never know how we affect people. It was almost scary to me to realize why it is such a great responsibility to model healthy behavior. I get similar feedback from former CREATE students who are on FB with me. (Thanks to modern technology) It makes my life worthwhile.
And thanks for being such a good partner for each other.
A couple nights ago I went to the Thailand Foreign Exchange Club in the penthouse of the Maneeya Building to sit at the bar along with all the foreign correspondents and reporters and see a documentary and listen to a panel of speakers about the repatriation (or not) of the 160,000 Burmese refugees in the camps in Thailand along the Burmese border.
As with everything else in the world, this issue is incredibly complicated too. Apparently the Burmese army didn’t get the memo about the cease-fire in a dirty war against the Shan, Karen and Mon minorities. There is no political stability or rule of law and many of the refugees either have no place to go back to because their land was confiscated and homes burned or they are petrified of violence perpetrated by the Army. With no transparency, rumors and tension abound. The UN is supposed to be coordinating this but they are kept in the dark too by the Burmese government who is calling the shots (so to speak) and no one seems to know what will happen…and killings and rapes go on with impunity.
In this information vacuum and continuing threat of violence, the minorities have issued some conditions: A nationwide ceasefire between the ethnic armed groups and the Army, rule of law and human rights improved, military bases withdrawn in the areas where they would return, landmines in areas cleared in areas where refugees would return, minority representatives must be at the table during planning and decision making and implementation. The repatriation process must conform with international principles of repatriation ensuring that refugees would return voluntarily and in safety and dignity and that those who do not wish to return to their original place can choose to live elsewhere. This last one will be particularly sticky with the Thai government. This will take years.
During the Q&A a guy stood at the microphone and started ranting loudly and vociferously about the lack of care and attention being given to the Rohingya Muslims who are native to Burma, but who are ethno-linguistically related to the Indo-Aryan peoples of India and Bangladesh (as opposed to the Sino-Tibetan people of Burma). The region of Rakhine (Arakan) was annexed and occupied by Burma in the 1700s thus bringing the Rohingya people under Burmese occupation.
As of 2012, 800,000 Rohingya live in Burma. According to the UN, they are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Many Rohingya have fled to ghettos and refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh, and to areas along the Thai-Myanmar border.
This was all brewing of course 10 years ago (indeed for the last 30 years) when we visited Burma and found the people to be sweet and very friendly. They were hungry to talk to foreigners if they could speak some English…usually the people who had been English teachers before India left. (See my other blog entries re Burma) Now with the opening of Burma it’s all coming to a head.
In the Burma Couchsurfing group I think every backpacker in SE Asia will be there this winter…hopefully witnessing but avoiding harm if they are sensible enough to not try and sneak their way into the border areas.
From rice fields to the Royal Bangkok Sport Club! Took a short cut yesterday, saved money on a taxi, and hiked a trail across the golf course of the club. On through a construction area where a guy let me through a door in an iron wall and then out onto the sidewalk and the Rachadamri skytrain (BTS) station. My friend, Wera, who I had been having a 3-hour lunch with at the club, calls it “the electric train.”
Wera spent 4 years in the late 50′s and early 60′s getting an engineering degree in Michigan and returned to work on various dam projects in Thailand from north to south and has been a member of this club for 40 years.
But Wera also has traveled all over the states…often studying in Buddhist temples, and is just as familiar with U.S. politics and policy as he is of Thailand’s… which is hilariously complicated if it wasn’t so sad. Ex-PM Abhisit has just been charged with murder for ordering the Army (because he had no control over the police who were sympathetic to the demonstrators) to disperse the Red Shirt demonstrations in 2010 when over 90 people were killed. The politicos in Mexico should be watching this.
Anyway, I peruse the Bangkok Post every morning at breakfast downstairs in my guesthouse. The paper is usually quite entertaining…with bits of perversity as well as the latest news. The letters to the editor are best….
Time out. I am sitting in the Exchange Tower right now, looking out through a third-story plate glass window with a view of Sukhumvit Road. An especially dark-skinned fellow is walking on artificial limbs among the lanes of traffic asking for money. I suspect a land mine casualty in Burma or Cambodia. All of a sudden my expensive coffee in my upscale cafe has become bitter….
Back to the Bangkok Post. One of the letters to the editor in the BP was about Thai food being loaded with MSG. Whether this is true or not I have no idea, but the writer notes that visiting dignitaries are not given food with MSG. Now I’m thinking it may not just be the walking and heat that makes me tired by the afternoon in Thailand. Hmmmm. Think I might try finding some restaurants that don’t use MSG in lieu of street food and see if it makes a difference in my energy level.
Each day I pick one “big thing” to do after breakfast. It usually involves riding the sky train or the subway. It might be a dentist appointment. This week I will have lunch with my friend Jiraporn who spent 10 years at Oregon State University getting her doctorate in fisheries and who is a professor at Kasetsart University. She is giving back 5 years to the University for financing her doctorate. She will tell me about how the students aren’t interested in studying…they just want the status of having the degree. And all the “Old Head” professors there drive her nuts. I think 10 years in the states has made her a little too independent for Thailand! ha!
Or spend a couple hours in front of the Landmark Hotel people watching and checking email and FB on my iPhone along with all the other Thais. Then stroll over to the middle eastern or Indian streets for lunch and more people-watching…all Indians and people from the ME.
This year I hope to meet up with Dave Thompson, married to Syy, who I traveled with a bit 2 years ago when we went to visit Syy’s two-house village!. By coincidence they are in Thailand again the same time I am this year. Check out Dave’s Travel Corner…his travel web site. Dave has given me the name of a Couchsurfer in Oman I am hoping to contact before I get there in February.
Or I might get another two-hour massage. Or have coffee with a retired couple from Oregon who live here now. Or look up a “friend” I met on FB who lives in BKK. She’s youngish so I’m hoping she will humor me with a night out together. Jazz or Dubstep would be just fine with me.
Oh, can’t forget my Yellow Shirt activist friend who adopts homeless cats. He, who was at the airport and one of the Yellow Shirt guards who was arrested when the Yellow Shirts took over the airport in 2009, will give me the straight-on anti-Taksin story…with all the expletives included.
Usually when in Bangkok I catch a talk or a press conference about some current issue at the Thailand Foreign Correspondents’ Club in the penthouse of the Maneeya building at the Mo Chit BTS exit. They have a bar and restaurant and it’s fun to chat with the foreign correspondents there. One year I was privileged to hear Sharon Ebadi speak. She won the Peace Prize as an attorney defending the some 200 imprisoned journalists (at the time) in Iran. This year I saw a documentary and panel discussion about the repatriation of Burmese refugees along the Thai border.
Watching the people on the BTS is especially fun and during business rush hours it can be an interesting experience to be standing jammed up against each other. Oh well, you get touching where you can get it I guess! ha! I watch to see whether the young ones get up to give their seats to an older person. Amazingly many do, which would never happen in the U.S., but others, mostly naughty young guys with spiky hair just streak to the nearest empty seat. tsk tsk. I’ve even had a young girl giving me her seat. Most public areas in BKK has free wifi so virtually all the young ones are glued to their iPhones and iPads on the ride.
The iPad story is interesting too. When I had dinner in BKK with my husband there were several other Thais present…one with his 6 year old son. The government is trying to upgrade the education of youth and are trying to get parents involved in this effort. So iPads from China are being distributed free to each child. The school has it’s own Facebook page and each child has his/her own FB page. Instructions for homework are given to both child and the parents. Homework is even corrected on the child’s FB page. An incredibe innovative idea. So that’s why they all have iPads.
Tourist attractions have lost their appeal. I love searching out nicks and crannies where I’ve never been before. It is like treasure hunting. And it is endless. And so much fun for me after spending a year and a half at a time in my little town of Oaxaca. Back in my aircon guest room I take a shower and flop on the bed. Maybe fall asleep exhausted.
I don’t go out tromping around every day though…gotta take a down day every 2-3 days and just hang out in my room…in the aircon…with the wifi and my computer…sorting and posting photos. Then go across the alleyway from the guesthouse to a shop-house for a bowl of noodle soup for dinner and then around the corner to soi 20 for one of those little sugared banana crepes (roti’s)…usually made by Muslims for some reason.
Since I’ve been coming to Bankok for the last ten years, Sukhumvit sois 20 and 22 has become my little neighborhood and vendors, shop-house cooks and hotel workers remember me each year. Wera says that’s how they charm me! ha! Today I ate a bowl of Khao Soi at my favorite little eating spot. “Where friend?” the owner asks…referring to my husband who eats here whenever he comes to BKK.
And today I had a rousing irreverent conversation with the British owner of “Som’s Guesthouse” both of us venting about the noise, garbage and traffic and what seems to us like perverse cultural habits in our chosen expat countries. But in the end we agreed that we choose the freedom of living in anarchic chaotic countries rather than the anal tight-ass countries of our birth. And then we laugh…understanding each other perfectly. But it’s time to move on from the Sukhumvit area full of tourists…although they are fun to watch too. When I get back from Christmas in Pattaya I’ll stay in a cheap hotel in Thonburi and explore Thai neighborhoods on the other side of the river.
So for those of you who ask what I do every day by myself in Bangkok…there you have it…sort of…
Doug, my son, flew into Bangkok yesterday from Oregon to fly out again two days later to spend his annual several months with his wife, Luk, on the island of Koh Samui. We had a bit of a scare just before he arrived because a scheduled utility maintenance on undersea trunk wires went bad and Koh Samui and Koh Phagnan were both out of electricity for several days. It went back on in the morning just before he flew in to Koh Samui so Luk, my daughter-in-law, was ecstatic…saying that Doug bring the electricity with him!
Tourists were leaving the islands left and right and Thailand has reportedly lost 1.2 billion baht in income. Poor Thailand. I was in Thailand for the 2004 tsunami where Doug and Luk nearly lost their lives in their bungalow on the Krabi beach, 2006 for the last coup, 2009-10 for the Red Shirt Rally and in 2012 for the Yellow Shirt Rally. If it isn’t one thing it’s another.
I’ve written about the tsunami on this blog where Doug and Luk nearly lost their lives in their bungalow on a Krabi Beach on December 4, 2004. I was in Bangkok at the time and nearly had a heart attack when I came back to my hotel and switched on the TV to get the daily news. Half hour later I was able to get through to them, however. What sweet voices! Doug immediately hired a pickup to take them to the other side of the Thai peninsula to live. Luk said there were ghosts on Krabi and she wouldn’t eat the fish because they had eaten the people. So that is why they live on Samui instead of on Krabi…a place we all dearly loved.
On Dec 22nd I’ll take a bus to Pattaya about an hour west and spend Christmas week with my husband…or Oregon Bob…as his golf club buddies refer to him because there are 3 Bobs in the group. He wants to cook a turkey for me and his golfing friends. He says he needs someone to peel potatoes! hahahahaha!
Following our trail from Bangkok to Tak in the west of north central Thailand to Sukhothai and then east to Lop Buri and further east to Saraburi, Supaporn and I ended up at her home about 50km outside of Korat City (Nakhon Ratchasima) even further east. She lives 300km northeast of Bangkok and 20 Minutes from Phimai to the north. After transferring to a bus headed to Phimai, we got off at the head of a dirt road leading to her small village of about 25 houses 3km from the highway. She lives on a rice farm in Ban Hoatumnop Village. Supaporn called to find two people with motorcycles to come pick us up. And so there I was…in the middle of rice paddies and Jasmine fields and blessed quiet for three days after being on the noisy road for nearly a week.
Supaporn lives next to her sister and her husband and niece who live in Thai-style houses. The nephew lives on the other side of the sister. The nephew grows the rice and the Jasmine which the niece uses to make flower garlands (maa-lie) that she sells to people in the cities who offer them at various shrines and temples. She works about 12 hours a day and gets 10 baht each or about 30 cents U.S. for each one.
Supaporn has lived an interesting life. We are the same age…68. She left home, like I did, at the age of 12 but instead of going to school, she went to Korat City to work in a laundry. The American war with Viet Nam was ratcheting up in the early 60′s and Supaporn then found work in the laundry on the American Air Base just outside Korat…one of the three bases near each other belonging to Thailand, the U.S. and France.
She said that when she laundered the clothing of a platoon of several flying servicemen she would often come to work and find the name of one of them crossed off her list. She said it was very sad because it was like losing a friend. She said she wasn’t really very aware of the war…or how bad it was…until years later.
Then she found better work serving food and finally worked in the bar in the Officer’s Club where she met her first American husband. After 6 months in Japan, where she married her husband, he retired from the military and she lived in California for more than 30 years. She said he was anxious to get her out of SE Asia because he was convinced the war could easily spread to Thailand…as indeed it did later in Lao and Cambodia.
Divorced from her 2nd husband, she moved to Thailand and built a house near her sister and nephew two years ago. She was hesitant to tell me more…saying her past was complicated and difficult to explain. But she has written the first chapter of a book about her life that I encouraged her to finish one day.
Culturally, Supaporn is still very Thai…which surprised me. But I guess I shouldn’t be. I’ve been in Mexico 6 years and I suppose after another 25 years I would still be very American. It’s also an interesting comment on Mexican immigrants to the U.S.
I am very grateful for having Supaporn’s help as we made our way from Tak to Korat and I especially appreciate being in her home with her for the time I was there. At 6 in the morning of my last day with her I rode behind her friend on his motorcycle the 3km out to the highway where I stood by the road and waited for a cranky old bus to stop and pick me up and take me to the bus station in Korat.
I would have stayed longer as she had wanted but the heat was getting to me. The 3 hour bus took me back to Bangkok and my air-con room in my guesthouse just off Sukhumvit 20 and where I am catching up with my blog, listening to music with my tiny wireless speakers and waiting for my next dental appointment. And I am grateful for Couchsurfing.org because that is where I met her…online.
BTW, I’ve decided 3 hours in a bus is my max time. Now if I could just get from the States to SE Asia in 3 hours that would be awesome!
Buddhist legend holds that during his lifetime the Buddha left footprints in all lands where his teachings would be acknowledged. In Thailand, the most important of these “natural” footprints imbedded in rock is at Phra Phutthabat in Central Thailand in the city of Saraburi.
Lopburi is famous for the hundreds of crab-eating macaques that overrun the Old Town, especially in the area around Phra Prang Sam Yot and Phra Kaan Shrine, and there’s even a monkey temple/amusement park where you can buy snacks to feed to them. Every year the town throws them a bash…a huge buffet meal. That would really be something to watch! They weren’t really aggressive…just curious more than anything. And it tickled.
You have to keep an eye out for monkeys hanging from trees and wires and sitting on roofs and ledges, and be aware that they have some unpleasant bad habits including defecating on unsuspecting pedestrians from their overhead perches, jumping on people to snatch food or anything shiny like my glasses and stealing bags that they suspect may contain something edible.
Lopburi is one of the oldest cities in Thailand, a former capital and the second capital after Ayutthaya was established in 1350. It was abandoned after King Narai passed away in 1688, but parts were restored in 1856 by King Mongkut (King Rama IV) and in 1864 it was made the summer capital.
Lopburi has been an important part of the Khmer Empire, later a part of Ayutthaya kingdom, and Ayutthaya’s second capital under the reign of King Narai the Great, who used to spend eight months of the year in Lopburi. Later on, King Mongkut of the Bangkokian Chakri Dynasty resided here. There are remains from almost all periods of Thai history.
We stayed in the Ban Thai Guesthouse in New Sukhothai on an old road full of backpacker guesthouses bordering the Yoh River that runs through “new town.” Unfortunately during the floods of 2011 the city was inundated with water and you can still see sand bags lying around in front of the buildings. Subsequently they built up the concrete barrier to the river at such a height you can’t see over it. So the river is hidden from the guesthouses. However it didn’t stop the sound of Zumba coming from the other side!
In north central Thailand, the Kingdom existed from 1238 until 1438. The old capital, now 12 km outside of New Sukhothai in Tambon Mueang Kao, is in ruins and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage historical park.
The history of Sukhothai is the history of the oldest known beginning of Thailand.
Prior to the 13th century, Tai kingdoms had existed on the northern highlands including the Ngoenyang (centered on Chiang Saen; predecessor of Lanna) kingdom and the Heokam (centered on Chiang Hung, modern Jinghong in China) kingdom of Tai Lue people. Sukhothai had been a trade center and part of Lavo, which was under the domination of the Khmer Empire. The migration of Tai people into upper Chao Phraya valley was somewhat gradual.
Modern historians stated that the secession of Sukhothai from the Khmer empire began as early as 1180 during the reign of Po Khun Sri Naw Namthom who was the ruler of Sukhothai and the peripheral city of Sri Satchanalai (now a part of Sukhothai Province as Amphoe). Sukhothai had enjoyed a substantial autonomy until it was re-conquered around 1180 by the Mons of Lavo under Khomsabad Khlonlampong.
Traditional Thai historians considered the foundation of the Sukhothai kingdom as the beginning of their nation because little was known about the kingdoms prior to Sukhothai. Modern historical studies demonstrate that Thai history began before Sukhothai. Yet the foundation of Sukhothai is still a celebrated event.
With regard to culture, the monks from Sri Thamnakorn propagated the Theravada religion in Sukhothai. In 1283, the Thai script was invented by Ramkamhaeng, formulating into the controversial Ramkamhaeng Stele discovered by Mongkut 600 years later.
The Sukhothai domination was, however, short. Meanwhile, Ayutthaya rose in strength, and finally in 1378 King Thammaracha II had to submit to this new power. (Wikipedia)
Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November.
Loi means ‘to float’, while krathong refers to a usually lotus-shaped container which floats on the water. The traditional krathong are made of the layers of the trunk of a banana tree or a spider lily plant. For many Thai it symbolizes letting go of negative thoughts. However, many ordinary Thai use the krathong to thank the Goddess of Water,
Loy Krathong takes place all over Thailand and parts of Lao and Burma but Supaporn, a Couchsurfing friend, and I traveled by bus 7 hours from Bangkok to Tak situated on the banks of the Ping River in NW Thailand to experience the Loy Krathong Festival there.
The Yi Peng Festival takes place at the same time so as well as Krothongs floating down the river we enjoyed hundreds of thin rice paper lanterns floating up in the sky. It is a time for making merit.
Waiting for the evening festivities, we also visited Bhomipol Dam about 3 hours out of Tak. But the bus dropped us off well before the dam. Supaporn put me out on the road to hitch a ride. They will never pick me up, she said, but they will stop for you! Ha! The last time I hitchhiked was Europe the summer of 1965! This sexy Thai guy from Chiang Mai picked us up in his pickup. He had a string of medals on his dashboard which he explained was from his work doing research on Bonsai…one of the King’s many projects to provide jobs and benefit the people of Thailand.
The American owner of the Bourbon Street Bar and Grill, just off the Ekamai skytrain exit, really served up quite a TG buffet feast. Oregon Bob bussed it in from Pattaya, about an hour outside Bangkok, and Cinncinnati Bob, a good friend and golfing buddy of my husband’s, interrupted his trip in Viet Nam for his birthday and to join us for the Thanksgiving meal.
Well, Facebook has cut into my blogging time. But since I am living in Mexico I love to keep up with my couchsurfers and friends I have made traveling besides friends left behind in the U.S. People say they prefer face-to-face interactions with friends but in my case that is mostly impossible.
Anyway I’m off on another RTW journey using AirTreks which is less expensive and less trouble than trying to negotiate multiple airline web sites. A friend I met through Couchsurfing will be renting my apartment until April when I return to Oaxaca.
Left Oaxaca Nov 1 for Oregon where I had multiple medical check-ups and in the process missed my flight out to Hong Kong to see son Josh. But I will be seeing him at a family meet-up the end of January on Koh Samui Thailand.
So this is my itinerary this year:
Oregon>Bangok Nov 18
Bangkok>Oman Feb 12
Oman>Istanbul Feb 19
Istanbul>NYC Mar 13
NYC>Oregon Mar 19
Oregon>Las Vegas not scheduled yet…sometime after 1st of April
Las Vegas>Oaxaca middle of April
So if any of you friends out there will be in any of my travel destinations at the same time as I am give a holler!
The NY Times Magazine ironically published an article called “The Opiate of Exceptionalism” or why, as I call it, that Americans seem to stick their heads in the sand when it comes to a civic discussion of sticky issues.
Positive thinking and Magical Thinking are two different things however.
As the article says, Carter was a positive thinker but he was crucified for bringing up problems because he thought they could be solved. Then they elected cheery Reagan who knew how to make people feel better about themselves and the country…a maximum magical thinker.
The problem with this is that politicos (aside from being bought off by lobbyists) then don’t have a popular mandate for dealing with the hard issues, eg. the financial system and the deficit, climate change, immigration, the “Drug War, gun control, military budget and continuing wars. None of these issues, were dealt with head on in any of the presidential debates.
People just don’t want to admit that there are serious problems in the U.S. and not only not talk about it but they don’t want to hear about it because it might upset their insular worlds. Candidates learned from Carter’s experience. If they do bring up these negative issues they are labeled “UnAmerican.” It’s called biting off your nose to spite your face.
Iceland, however is a good pragmatic example of taking the bull by the horns and making democracy work for the good of the country.
In the meantime I will sit on my veranda and watch the people in the park…with my music. And later finish packing in anticipation of my next trip to Asia to see my 3 sons.
But before leaving Oregon I will know how to vote and why.
I don’t think I would say that I exactly compartmentalize my life. As they say all politics are local and how we live our lives reflects the truth as we see it around us. So for example, living in Mexico I wouldn’t want to live a rich expat life in a fancy house and sacrifice my solidarity with the people as they struggle against impunity. And I see the value of the beauty in nature in the face of sterility of popular culture.
And as I travel I want to understand the lives of the people I am walking among. I find many parallels between Thailand and Mexico in regard to the accessibility of education for the poor and dispossessed. This informs the way I see my birth country.
So for me it’s a pretty integrated life but with an over-riding propensity for balance and most of all…laughter. As I say at the top of my blog…I travel to see what it reveals about the human heart and what we have become in this world. To look beneath the surface of things to the heart of each day. Does hope exist? Are people still falling in love? Or is everyone buying death as if it were cheap socks at a smoke sale?” I look for clarity. I look for signs of courage…of strength of conviction rooted in heart…in an authentic identity, in myself as well as in others.
I find it in the people on the street who are amazingly able to laugh and play in the face of impunity of their governments and they teach me how to do the same. Knowing they are there…but a kind of giving the finger to the exploiters, users and destroyers.