Saturday, November 27, 2010

Monkey business

After the sunflower fields and lunch on Thursday we went to Pra Prang Sam Yot (Temple of the Three Prongs) which is a Khmer style temple built around 1200. Each prong represent the three Hindu deities: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer.

Oh yes, and the temple is overrun by monkeys.

This (on the left) is Rambo, the alpha male, or 'the King' as they called him. I couldn't think where I'd seen him before until Husband asked why I was singing 'I'm the King of the Jungle; a jungle VIP.' (Updated to say that you HAVE to go and look at this YouTube. What a totally brilliant, genius piece of work.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Photo Gallery

Yesterday I went  to Lopburi Province, two and a half hours north of Bangkok, to see the sunflower fields.

How gorgeous?

(And you must come back tomorrow to see pictures of the monkey temple. You don't want to miss it, honest.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Grandmother's House: A review

Monsoon Books sent me a copy of In Grandmother’s House a few weeks ago. It was co-authored by Sorasing Kaowai and Peter Robinson and I was really excited because I’d come across both of them (on paper) before.

When I first came to Thailand I chanced upon the book Phra Farang, a story written by an English man, Peter Robinson, who gave up his London life to ordain as a monk in Bangkok. It was a fascinating read that helped me to understand my adopted country better. I read his second book next, Little Angels which documents real stories of children and youths that the former Phra Peter came across as novice monks. Sorasing’s story was one of those in the book.

In Grandmother’s House is an account of Sorasing’s childhood with his mother and grandmother. “The writing style, he says “is Peter’s, the memories are mine.” The book is part memoir but also an important historical account of the customs and traditions of rural Thailand. Sorasing’s grandmother was the village matriarch, a healer and a midwife. From the day he was born she took over most of his mothering so that his mother could return to work in the fields. His stories made me laugh and they made me weep.

Sorasing’s grandmother began working fulltime in the family paddy fields in 1930 when she was nine - although she would have been helping out with simple tasks for several years. “At nine years old”, Sorasing says, “her childhood days would have been considered at an end by her family and she was expected to work as hard as any adult.” His mother was born in 1954 and she had the compulsory three years of primary schooling but was still almost illiterate. Sorasing’s mother was determined that her son would break free of the cycle of poverty and she knew education was the answer.

Woven between the memoir are stories of their practical lives. We get an insight into their relationship with the creatures around them and food: “Despite sometimes being very dangerous, the creatures around me were all beautiful and interesting. They were only viewed as breakfast, lunch or dinner when we needed something to eat.” He gives us stories of spirits and ghosts, “Thais are a very superstitious people. Even most well educated Thais believe in ghosts…” and Sorasing tells of all kinds of spirits including the Thai man’s terror of a visit from Phi Mae Mai, a female ghost with an insatiable sexual appetite. And stories of his grandmother’s herbal medications, some of which are now used in mainstream medicine. (Some, a live gecko for tummy ache, thankfully are not.)

Sorasing’s written style – and here of course it may be Peter’s style – is disarming. “I know many Westerners think eating rats is disgusting, but they are actually very tasty and provide about the same level of nutrition as chicken or pork, but with less calories... I suppose Thai people eating field rat is not much different from Westerners eating field rabbits.”

In Grandmother’s House is utterly charming. You don’t need to live in Thailand to appreciate it; you need only an interest in your fellow human being. 

In Grandmother's House is available here, in Asia Books Bookazine or Kinokuniya.

(Blogger won't let me upload an image today. I will try again later to post the book jacket.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Malaysian style

I loathe having anything done to my hair.

I have thick wiry hair that kind of curls. Not beautiful pre Raphaelite curls or corkscrew ringlets but the sort that just half-heartedly attempts it. It needs tremendous coaxing to encourage it not to frizz and you can imagine the traumas of being in a tropical country where humidity is a constant issue. (Does anyone recall the Friends’ episode set in Barbados with Monica’s hair?)

I’ve always had thick hair but it didn’t begin to curl properly until adolescence. My mother told me that people paid a fortune to have hair like mine. She told me this over and over as though that might help. Looking back I suspect that that some of the traumas I had with my hair might be because as a small child I was tasked with brushing it myself. I brushed the surface and allowed a vast bird’s nest – nay a bird colony – to grow underneath in the nape of my neck. When this was discovered my mother claimed something weird must have happened in the paddling pool that day. Little did she realize that I’d grown it myself through neglect. I screamed the house down while comb teeth and hairbrush bristles flew through the air. My bird’s nest had to be cut out while I was pinned to the table.

So I hate the hairdressers. Quite often the first thing a hairdresser or their junior hair washer says to me is “have you ever thought of having your hair straightened?” Whether or not I like the curls, anyone who thinks curly hair is not nice isn’t the right person to cut my hair.

It’s got even worse in Thailand because of the language barrier. I have found someone to cut my hair but she’s in England and mostly I’m not. This suits me because I don’t have to go too often but when I’m there I have to grab the opportunity so that I get sorted out at least once a year.

But my hair has been troubling me in recent weeks and I won’t be in the UK until March so … I ambushed myself last week in KL. I walked into a salon and asked for an appointment. He didn’t do quite what I wanted but it’s a good cut.

They did the oddest thing: I had my hair washed ‘Malaysian style’ – in the chair with a bottle of water and shampoo. Does this happen anywhere else in the world?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Loy Krathong Festival

Today is the Loy Krathong festival. Thai people make (or buy ready made) these Krathongs. It's the end of the rainy season and they make a wish and launch them onto water – canals, rivers or ponds – (in our apartment’s case they’re being launched onto the pool this evening.) By paying respects to the water spirits it is believed that the krathong carries away sins and bad luck and will fulfill the wishes for the New Year.

On the streets today I’ve seen krathongs made from bread, banana tree trunk but the bases can also be Styrofoam. They are decorated with folded banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks – sometimes a low value coin is included as an offering to the river spirits.

On the streets

 Selling krathongs

Launching krathongs in the pool

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stop, look and listen

Something I didn’t think to look up in my guidebook – and it didn’t occur to me until I was facing six lanes of traffic – was how to cross the road. Oh yes, you can jest. In my ignorance (arrogance?) before I moved overseas I thought there was only one way to cross the road. You found a crossing and (either pressed the timer button) or stood with intent in front of the road and the cars stopped.

Ha ha ha aha. Oh no.

Whoever would have thought that one of those cultural differences we hear so much about would extend to the simple act of crossing the road? We have crossings in Thailand; Western pedestrians know what they mean but apparently not the cars. 

In Thailand you have to put yourself in the road and then the cars will stop. Mostly. Hopefully. And by and large they do actually stop.

In China you have to put yourself in the road. Then the cars and bikes and lorries will drive around you. (Much, much more terrifying.)

I know there are some countries in the world that consider (quite sensibly?) jaywalking a crime. In Singapore (my neighbour while I am in KL and therefore why I want to know the rules) you can be fined or even go to prison. (A taxi driver in Singapore told us that crime is low because punishments are severe and implemented.)

I’ve got quite ballsy about crossing roads in Thailand. You do have to watch the body language of the cars to check that they have seen you; you should not make assumptions. But sometimes when your ballsiness lets you down or you are new to the city and the idiosyncratic style of road crossing, you should follow our rule: go with the locals.

So that’s what I did here. I can report that crossing the road is well behaved in my experience of KL city centre. There are traffic lights with pedestrian buttons and the cars stop. Lovely.

However this training of new road habits can be its own danger. Last time I was in the UK I nearly got hit by a car. Let me tell you cars in the UK do not appreciate your sudden appearance in the road with an expectation that they will good humouredly stop. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not about Kuala Lumpur at all...

The prospect of not knowing ‘how things work’ scared me when I was preparing to move to Bangkok. And it’s no different visiting a new country.

I knew it would frighten me because even things in the UK worry me when I didn’t know how to do them. Public swimming pools always feel like a good example of this. (Is it just me or is it really easy to type ‘swimming poos’ by mistake? That’s another whole blog post for why we shouldn’t use public swimming pools but not one I’m doing today.)

The system for how each pool operates differently from the last one I went to makes me deeply nervous. I pay the cashier. Although I'm already worrying about the locker system and whether I’ve got a coin of the right denomination and where or how I will stash the key while we're swimming, I forget to ask cashier lady for confirmation. I make my way with my inch square ticket in the flimsiest of papers and my small children through some barriers. I put the fragile ticket safe (somewhere; though for the life of me ten minutes later I won’t know where that was) and make my way to the lockers; cashier woman hasn’t reminded me what the lockers require. There's no reason why she should - she's not responsible for my child-induced dementia and I know she’d have to say it eleventy million times a day but now she has to deal with me again. I have to drag the children back through the barriers that only move in one direction. A sign tells me I can’t get the right change from her for the lockers so I have to go and buy something I don’t want from the shop. Then I don’t have my little ticket to prove I’ve paid but luckily cashier woman recognizes me because I’ve been a pain and lets us through. 

We get changed and squeeze everything into the locker. In the days when I frequented swimming pools I wore contact lenses so by this time I’d removed them and put on my glasses. I couldn’t see so well. While they’re the correct strength they alter the depth of field; the floor is slippery and it’s all a bit labyrinthine what with showers and loos and men's and women's and family changing areas and pools. All while I’m vulnerably dressed and trying not to let small children slip over. When we finally make it to the swimming pools the guard asks to see our ticket as proof of purchase. I have two small children that I’ve just wrestled into lycra, I’ve made it through a maze of tiled floor full of puddles of an indeterminate liquid and now I have to reverse it all again to find the ticket.

It’s not fun. I’m glad my kids have grown up and can take themselves to the pool. And tomorrow I might even get onto how things are different here…

Monday, November 15, 2010

Move over Flash Gordon

This was the view from my window when I arrived at my hotel: KL's iconic Petronas Towers, briefly judged to be the world's tallest building (the spires were considered to be 'architectural details.')

The highest up the towers that mere mortals can go is to the 41st floor skybridge, 170m above street level. Yes, you bet, I'll be in the queue for tickets before the week is out.

In the day the towers are different - more space age - but just as beautiful. I doubt a week will pass without a daylight picture on here. I can't stop looking out of the window to check them out.

But I must. I've got work to do.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kicking my heels

My children go off on their school residentials tomorrow morning.

When we first came to Bangkok I had one child in primary and one child in secondary so their residential dates didn’t match up; I had to bide my time, listening to the other mums kicking up their heels over five days freedom. Two years I waited ‘til Daughter got into secondary.

In secondary the idea behind residentials – as well as all to develop teamwork, leadership, personal and social skills blah blah blah – is to clear out the school while the GCSE and IB mock exams are taken. I waited and waited and then I got my chance: that’s when I went on the wonderful Andaman Discoveries trip (see November 2007.) The second year I wanted mountains. I looked at a map; and discounted places I’d been, locations I planned to go to with family and arranged it all. Geography was never one of my gifts: Khorat turned out to be the flattest of flat plains. Not a mountain in sight. Not only that but there was a junior school residential inhabiting my hotel. Not my children but still, pah.

The following year was last year; Daughter went off and Son stayed behind to take mock GCSEs. Next year Daughter will do GCSE mocks and Son will take IB.

This year is my last chance.

In about an hour I will leave for the airport. I’m getting a flight to KL – Kuala Lumpur. Doesn’t that sound exotic? I’m dreaming of gin and tonics in a black and white world…. *sound of scratched record as I come to my senses* I’m not. I’m dreaming of coming back with my manuscript all in the right order. I will not worry about the prose. I will only worry that everything happens in the RIGHT ORDER.

I will not worry about the prose. I will not worry about the prose. RIGHT ORDER, RIGHT order, prose not worry …. Right order….

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Photo

A week or so ago, Central Chitlom department store was a spectacular sight. To celebrate King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit’s 60th wedding anniversary all seven floors were full of flower displays. 

For once I didn't have to creep around taking surreptitious photos - it was permitted. Phew.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I love...

I LOVE these take home bags. I think they're courtesy of Cafe du The.

It's a crying shame I can't eat cupcakes (unless wheat free) but I still had to use all my will power yesterday not to buy a family sized portion just to get my hands on a bag. My family would've been only too happy to oblige but I would have been resentful!

So pretty. Please forgive them their translation quirkiness....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What kind of superhero are you?

Husband and I were catching up on the day’s events last night. My Dad had been in hospital for a cataract operation so I’d been on the ‘phone checking out how he was. Husband asked after Dad’s new vision. “Still a bit blurry,” I said. “He’s on some tablets that affect the action of his iris… It’ll take some time.”

It took us back two weeks to Daughter’s rush to hospital for the appendicitis that wasn’t. We were still in the ER and things were just concluding; the medics were finally able to give her something for the pain and the admin staff were doing the paperwork to admit her. Panic over; most likely diagnosis: a tummy infection. We began to laugh about a noise coming from the next bay (was it a sneeze or a mobile ‘phone?) when Daughter said, “Mum, I can’t see. My vision has gone blurry.”

I was thrown into panic again: repanic – there should be a word. We weren’t 100% sure what was wrong with Daughter but you don’t just ignore symptoms like that so I began to flap. I wanted to wave over a doctor and Husband said, “I’m sure it’s fine.” (It was a temporary consequence of the pain relief they’d given her.)

So last night, lying on our bed, thinking about the blurry vision of both my father and my daughter, I berated Husband. “You’re so casual,” I said.

“I’m Ice-Man,” he said.

“No, I’m fairly certain, if you were a super hero, you’d be Blasé-Man.”

“Help! Help! My cat’s stuck up the tree,” Enid cried. “No problem, Ma’am, Blasé-Man is here. Cat’s like trees; I expect he’ll come down when he’s hungry.”

“Help! That man stole my purse! Get him-” Mildred cried. “Aw, Ma’am. How much cash was in there? Only a few pounds? No problem Ma’am; that’s not so much to lose…”

It worries me slightly that I’m beginning to toy with Blasé-Man (in my head, people.) What does Blasé-Man care about? What costume would he wear? I am fairly certain that it would involve pink polyester. (He wouldn’t need to worry much about chafing because from his reclining position there wouldn’t be much rubbing.)

I think it’s time I wrap this post up now…

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bad blogger goes absent without leave

Whoops, sorry for that absence without leave.

I’m drowning here.

My unread feeds (other people’s blogs I read) number 467 as I write and it’s climbing all the time. (What IS all this obsessing about ‘is blogging dead?’ Jeez, it’s irritating. You’ve fallen out of love with blogging? That’s fine; don’t do it. Personally I think you’ve got to love it. It’s a commitment that you won’t keep up unless your heart is really in it. No, I probably won’t blog for ever but while I enjoy showing up here to post pictures of my adopted home and talk nonsense I shall continue to do so whether or not blogging is considered (by whom?) to be on the wane.)

I’m drowning under my 348 pages of manuscript too. Will I ever think it’s good enough? That’s not looking very likely right now. I’m enormously grateful that I can read it and tell there’s something wrong; more obliged still to the writing gods when I can identify what is wrong… but it would be useful to know how to go about putting it right.

So I’m not being a very good blogger friend right now; I’m probably not coming by and commenting but it’s not because I think blogging is dead. It’s because I’m drowning….

Monday, November 01, 2010

Precious little progress is still progress

I had a sudden shock on Saturday morning when the York Writing Festival programme pinged into my inbox. About a trillion months ago – the kind of notice that is required – I booked air mile tickets to go home for this writing conference. I kept my fingers crossed that the dates wouldn’t change because my tickets can’t!

I had worked it all out. I’d have time to finish the edit; send it to some readers; get their feedback and still have time to go through it again. It had seemed at the time as good a deadline as any on what is turning out to be the never ending novel.

So when I saw the festival programme I began hyperventilating and determined to get down to work. What progress have I made toward hitting that deadline? Errrm, precious little… but I have tidied my office. Still, you can’t write in chaos, can you? What? You can? Yeah me too but tidying seemed so very much more attractive…

I seemed to have slipped on my public humiliation tactic of writing what page of the edit I’m on. I must remedy that immediately. Page 54 - which represents about a sixth of the novel.

And by the way who is planning to attend the York Writing Festival? Let's have a show of hands please.