About Thailand: Katsjourney Around the World: 23 April, 2003

Subject: About Thailand…
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2003 08:15:49 -0500
Greetings! Islands internet cafe

I hope everyone had a nice Easter.  And if you don’t celebrate it, I hope

you are having a nice Spring/Autumn (depending on your side of the equator).

I have been a bit out of commmunicado, but wanted to let everyone know I am

alive and well and trying to make the most of my time before immersing

myself back into the reality of the proverbial “rat race”.

Just in case you don’t know much about the Thai culture, here are a few

interesting notes…

HAPPY NEW YEAR (Sawadee phi mai)

The Thai New Year or Songkran Festival happens every year in mid-April.  I

was fortunate to find myself in the middle of Bangkok during the

festivities.  During this time the locals and the farangs (foreigners)

alike, are sprinkled with water as a blessing.  First, of course, Buddha

statues and elders are sprinkled, but then it moves into the streets.  The

“sprinkling” has turned into a dousing over the years, as folks use buckets

of water, hoses and those commando super-soaker water guns.  They also mix a

type of powder with water to make a paste that they rub on your face. At one

time I had three little boys eagerly covering my face, ears and hair with

the dreadful mixture.  It is all in good fun and a great way to cool off

during the hottest month of the year.  Did you know that Bangkok is listed

as the hottest city in the world?

Ban Songkarn Festival water

Khao San Road, a Bangkok’s backpackers enclave, transforms itself during the Songkran Festival (Thai New Year) into a massive water fights zone with thousands of Thais and foreigners armed with water guns (loaded with ice water) and cans of beer, battling both the heat and each other. Many Thais would also perform one of of the oldest Songkran traditions – applying the white powder to various parts of the face, neck and torso of the others, for protection and promises to ward off evil. Children with huge water guns roam the streets or sit in the back of their parents’ pick-up trucks, which are loaded with buckets of water that is dispensed on anyone who happens to be within reach. “Splash water! Splash happiness!” as the Thais say.

Or at least that is what the guidebooks

tell you so you don’t get too upset when you and all of your belongings

return to the hotel dripping wet!

KEEPING FACE

They call Thailand “The land of smiles” because the locals are amazingly

friendly.  Those of you who have been there know what I am talking about.  I

did talk to a bartender who told me that it is not all that it appears toThai face

be.  Like in many Asian cultures, Thais have a happy “public face”, but can

be quite different in the privacy of their own home. They also expect

foreigners to put on a face.  It is a huge embarrassment for anyone to argue

in public in Thailand.

FOOD & EATING

The food is Thailand is some of the best in the world.  They make great use

of their natural resources from the ocean and rice from the land and have

borrowed their version of curries from India and noodles and sauces from

China to make a unique fusion food.  Thais do not eat with chopsticks.

Instead, they use a fork in the left hand and a spoon as a shovel in the

right hand to eat. You see Thai people on the street and at work eating allstreet food

the time.  Lots of small portioned snacks out of little plastic bags from

street vendors.  I have yet to see any natives overweight.  I learned in my

cooking class in Ko Lanta that everything is very balanced in the

diet…

Meat vs. rice, sweet & sour vs. curry, chilies vs. coconut milk, and

lots of fruits instead of fattening desserts. They must be doing something

right with a nation full of healthy bodies.

TOILETS/BATHING

(Don’t worry, this is not about MY personal habits!)

Most Thais to not have flush toilets, nor do many restaurants or public

places.

The toilets are usually porcelain squatters with a hole in the

floor.  There is not typically toilet paper, unless you are at a place

catering to westerners.  There is usually a large container of water next to

the squatter.  With a cup floating in the barrel of water, you rinse off

your private body part/s and then pour the water down the hole to “flush”.

It can be a bit of a challenge being a girl and wearing pants (or shorts)

and holding on to a beach bag since the floor is soaking wet.  You get the

picture!  Most Thais do not have hot water either.  Of course, the weather

is so hot that it is not completely necessary.  Many people still bathe in

rivers and canals.Bathing in canal

PROSTITUTION

No, I a not considering a new career.  But I am currently reading a book

titled “Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia”.  So much for looking

for a little “light” reading on the trip.  Prostitution and sex

entertainment is BIG business in Thailand.  You often hear of western men

coming to Bangkok or Phuket to buy “escorts”.  These types of Go-Go Clubs

are very obvious and out in the open.

Interestingly, there are also very private or secret clubs that cater to

Asian men, particularly Japanese.  The Asian sector has the most demand for

prostitution.  In many Asian cultures, the girls are expected to be virgins

when they marry or not only do they shame the family they may never be able

to marry as they are labeled as “damaged goods”.  With the lack of free sex

partners for Asian men, many turn to prostitutes for sex.  It is quite

acceptable for married men as well.  As you might expect, some of the true

life accounts in the book I am reading are pretty horrifying.  Many young

girls are sold into brothels by their own families.

SHOES

It is customary to remove your shoes before entering any palace, temple,

home, or even business.  Most Thai people eat sitting on the floor.

Therefore, they find it disgusting when foreigners wear shoes through the

threshold. islands shoes at door

I have been respecting the culture, but have found the practice

rather time consuming since I have been wearing Tevas(a sports sandal with

velcro straps).  I finally broke down and bought some flip-flops!

I could go on and on about this wonderful and strange new world, but I

imagine this is a long enough newsletter!  It is an amazing country and a

place I would suggest as an exotic and VERY affordable holiday destination.

Take care of yourselves.

Love,

Kathleen

Backpaker Underworld, Katsjourney Around the World: 8 April, 2003

Backpacker Underworld
Date: Tue, 08 Apr 2003 02:22:42 -0500
I am sitting on one of the most beautiful beaches in Thailand while

composing this newsletter.  I am at Rai Leh Beach in the Krabi Province of

southern Thailand.  The beach is about a half kilometer long made of powdery

cream colored sand.  Islands Railay Beach 4  There are towering limestone outcroppings framing

either side of the crescent shaped land.  A small monkey just came over to

say hello.  I am eating a traditional Thai breakfast of rice soup with

chicken.

I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about life (and my life) on this

earth.  I believe that everyone and everything has a place in this world or

we wouldn’t be here.  For me, that place is not Thailand.  Oddly, this

fabulously beautiful “Land of Smiles” has been my most challenging stop on

the journey.

Perhaps it is the timing.  Had this been my first stop, I think I would have

had a different attitude. Not yet weary of living out of a suitcase. Perhaps

it’s the language barrier and the frustration of not understanding and not

being completely understood.  Perhaps after traveling for so long alone, a

social being such as myself just longs for more companionship.

That brings me to the backpacker underworld.  Some of you have had little

contact with them.  Others have BEEN or ARE them.  There hundreds of

thousands of these mostly twenty-somethings around the globe.  Most of them

are from Australia, New Zealand, UK, and several parts of Europe.  They

travel for months, sometimes years, on end and find a few odd jobs along the

way when it suits them or they need to eat.  Typically they travel where it

is cheap (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Nepal, etc.).  Occasionally

you will even see an American backpacker, but usually just on summer break

through Europe.  American society is not very accepting of taking off a year

or two. I keep asking myself if that attitude will ever change.

Anyway, the island of Ko Phi-Phi (where “The Beach” was filmed) is a perfect

example of the backpacking scene.

These are mostly the people who stay in

basic huts without air con, hot water, and sometimes a shared “Asian style”

bathroom (they don’t flush).  Now this is a very cheap way to travel, but

there is often a particular lifestyle that accompanies it.  Every night is a

party.  I mean, throw down, drink and drugs all night, puking at sunrise,

“who did you bring home?”, partying.  This is the reckless abandon of the

dreadlocked, tatooed, body pierced, coming of age, Generation Y’s.  It can

be annoying. Was I ever that bad???

Needless to say, for someone looking for introspection, some intellectual

conversation and an occasional Sing-ha (Thai beer), this is not my scene.

However, I am hardly traveling with a 5-star hotel budget either.  Remember,

I have been unemployed and homeless for almost 8 months.  Where does that

leave a 40 year-old woman traveling alone in Thailand?  Smack dab in the

middle of the German-French-Swedish families and couples looking for

reasonably priced package tours out of the European winter.

I must say that experiences like these are better shared with a friend, a

lover or a family member.  But if I could do this journey again, I would.  I

have very little regrets. And I am thankful for the amazing, new, life-long

friends (mostly in South Africa and Australia) that I have met along the

way.  You know who you are!  😉

I am planning to be home within a month.  I want to use my new inner peace

and understanding (and patience?…sometimes) to make my world and your

world, a better place in time. Schmaltzy, huh?  Well that’s because I love

you guys!

Peace,

Kathleen

Paradise. Katsjourney Around the World: 31 March, 2003

: Paradise
Date: Mon, 31 Mar 2003 03:48:00 -0600
After an hour flight south of Bangkok and a two hour boat ride further

south, I arrived to monsoon rains on the remote island of Ko Lanta (not too

far north of Malaysia).  Islands Ko Lanta port

My first two days were the loneliest of my journey

thus far.  The kind of sad days in paradise where tears fall in rhythm with

the raindrops.  Time to reach within myself and slay dragons.  Time to admit

who I am, to like myself and to vow a change in that which I don’t.  Time to

read about the Dalai Lama and the teachings of Buddha.

Time moves painfully slowly when you are in the rain, alone without a TV, a

phone and often, electricity.  Funny, always so caught up in our “western

ways”, I used to long for time to stand still for a while.  Here it does.

But day three gave way to brilliant sunshine and I realized it is an island

paradise.

There are several Thai style (A-frame, thatched roof, bamboo

siding) bungalows along the west coast of the island facing the Andaman Sea

and Phuket.  Makes for fantastic sunsets.  But there are also signs of

progress and new development.  I am not sure that this fragile environment

can handle the continuous onslaught of added tourism.

For now though…Paradise!  The surrounding islands have these amazing

limestone outcroppings with coral reefs all around them.  The stunning

undersea world of groovy fish and coral is only a couple of meters below the

surface.  Perfect for snorkeling or diving.  Islands pipi landscape

The eastern part of Ko Lanta is mountainous and has escaped the detriment of

the logging industry.  The forests and mangroves are relatively pristine.

There are a number of caves to explore, also.  But I had to pass  on the

part where you slither on your belly across slime.  No way!  That is where I

take the “adventure” out of the adventure tour!

I had a one hour Thai oil massage right on the beach under an umbrella for

250 baht (about US $6).  My friend Connie, the massage therapist, is

probably cringing at those kind of prices!  I plan on having several

massages.  I think it is helping my shoulder injury.  Remember the Kamikaze

off road bike ride from hell down Mt. Wellington in Tasmania?  That injury!

I went elephant trekking earlier today.  The Asian elephants here were

mostly brought in from the north where they lived very difficult lives as

logging animals.  Since logging is now outlawed (although somewhat ignored

like other environmental sanctions), these elephants have new careers in the

tourist industry.  They appear to be very well taken care of.

I went with a guide (name sounded like “Ming”)for a 20 minute walk aboard a

gentle giant deep into the forest.  There were crystal clear streams that we

crossed.  Each time he was in the water, the elephant would reach down with

his mighty trunk and give us both a bath.  It was great fun!

After the elephant ride, Ming took me upstream on foot to a beautiful

waterfall.  Ming is a caveman. Islands tour guide cave I kid you not…he showed me the cave in

which he lives.  Complete with bats and an occasional tiger or cobra!  He

was a Buddhist monk for five years and now he gives elephant trekking tours

to the waterfall.  He doesn’t like money or Americans much and just lives

this unusual, peaceful existence in the forest.  He struck me as the kind of

guy who never had a warm bath (certainly not with soap), never watched TV,

never drove a car or ate fast food or went to a shopping mall.  Yet he

seemed more at peace with himself than anyone I have ever met.  I wish I had

a video camera taping the day. It was one of those “out of this world”

experiences.

I will be leaving Ko Lanta in a couple of days to Ko Phi Phi (proIslands mapnounced

Pee-Pee).  This set is islands was host to a couple of movies, a James Bond

one and Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Beach”.  I hear it is a bit more civilized,

and perhaps overcrowded.

I read and hear bits about the war every day…both sides since this area is

95% Muslim.  I am not sure who to believe anymore.  But I do believe the

Ban war warningsPope is right about it creating a huge hatred between Christians and

Muslims.  A hatred powered by death and destruction.  I pray for the safety

of all involved and each of you, wherever you are in the world.

Love from paradise,

Kathleen

P.S. Editor’s  note…Not sure why did not include this in my e-newsletter. I went to a little Thai  cooking school called “Time for Lime” run by a cool Norwegian chef named Junie Kovacs. I enjoyed making many authentic local dishes from scratch with 2 chefs from Sydney and London.