On December 31st of last year, we went to visit Max and Mina’s great grandmother in Surin. This is the second year we have stopped on the way at Baan Tha Klang Elephant Village on the way.
This is the affordable elephant village in Thailand for mainly Thais, as compared to the overpriced one for foreigners in Chiangmai. Prices for everything are much cheaper here, especially for high ticket items like elephant rides and elephant paintings. Also, the experience here is raw – you are closer to the animals and may even get into slightly dangerous situations (if being molested or trampled on by an elephant could be described as such). For these reasons, I recommend Baan Tha Klang in Surin Province as the best place to go see elephants, except for the faint of heart, or people who don’t mind paying $150 for a Dumbo painting.
These villagers are descendants of the Suay or Kuay Ethnic group, who have a long history elephant husbandry. Unlike northern Thailand where elephant is kept for labor, Ta Klang people consider elephant as their friends who can share the same house.
Insofar as they are all living in the same dusty village, this much seems to be true. The mahouts in Chiangmai are probably told not to speak with all the thousands of guests they see every day. The mahouts here openly ask for money to buy the elephants food. It’s just a more genuine experience, as exploitation of large mammals on a large scale goes. Anyway. Elephants!!
Looking back through our photo archives, I found that I’d never had time to blog about last year’s visit. I found footage of the main show, where we almost got trampled by Jumbo and Baby Dumbo:
The university where I teach, Rajabhat Maha Sarakham, used to be a teacher’s training college. My uni is just one Rajabhat institute of about 40 spread all over Thailand, that were turned into universities by the king with something called the Rajabhat Act in 1995. Therefore, when we clean up, move, or renovate offices and I see asset tags with “teacher’s college” or the like, I know I’ve found something at least 17 years old, and sometimes much older.
The last time somebody cleaned out a storage room on the 3rd floor, above my office on the 2nd floor, a bunch of cool old stuff was put out to be thrown away. I’ve started documenting what I’ve saved, and this is one of my coolest finds:
I’d never even heard of the United States Information Agency before, and I can only assume that “U.S. Information Service” was an alternative name for the agency.
Now if I can only find a working 16mm film projector!
Today we were hit by a sudden storm that dumped a whole lot of water on us, very quickly. This year’s weather has been very wet and relatively cool for Thailand, and it’s been raining almost every day.
I’ve been very busy for a while now, and everybody in this house started getting sick from last week. First it was Mina, then mommy, and now Max – but daddy is too busy to get sick. Taking care of three sickies is demanding, you know. So I didn’t even notice that the street in front of our house was flooding after about an hour of heavy rain. Nam did, though. I rushed out to make sure the storm drains were clear. They were, but they were running slower than usual. They empty into the pond in front of our house, and it was very high, the highest I’ve ever seen it. Hmmm.
For the time being though, the water in the pond and in the street wasn’t high enough to worry about, so I went to survey the damage behind our neighborhood, which always floods during heavy rains. A truck plowing through the water sent a small fish flying in its wake, and it ended up gasping for air on a non-flooded part of the street. I rescued it and took it back to Max and Mina as part of my One Day Pet Plan. This time it also turned out to be a snakeskin gourami. Shades of Bitty. I returned to my damage survey thinking that there were probably much larger fish in the flood water, and in fact ended up slowly chasing one up the street. A lady saw me and asked what I was doing; I told her I was chasing a snake. She disappeared. By the time I reached the rearmost houses in our tract, I was wading in knee deep water, and some of the houses had very nearly escaped being flooded. The raised driveways are all that saved the houses not built on a high foundation (our house is built on a meter-high foundation laid on a raised plot so there is no real danger of floodwater reaching inside – but it might damage our vehicles if it got really bad). Satisfied that none of our neighbors had been washed away, I returned home to resume cooking dinner (Hainan Chicken ala Kris).
An hour later or so, I needed some Chinese parsley and feverish Max needed some cooling pads, so I got on my bike and got as far as the back exit of my tract, the one that connects to another neighborhood and eventually exits out onto a highway. It was totally flooded out, which was a surprise since the rain had stopped almost two hours before, and the sun was now beating down on us like nothing had happened. There were cars and motorcycles stalled out and abandoned in the deepest parts, and pickups with pumps were trying to help drain the newly-formed lake. The storm drains were just full.
Remembering some elderly teachers we know back there, I decided to try and check on them. I went home to get the car and tell Nam where I was going, then got on the bypass and drove around to the other side of the flooded area. I drove down a side street as close as I could get, then started running into flooded out cars. The flooding in this neighborhood was quite bad. It reminded me of the damage I’d seen years ago after a big typhoon on Awajishima.
I helped an old lady push her scooter to high ground after the engine flooded. I almost got bit by a stranded dog I tried to help, and gave up. I got to the teachers’ house and found them OK. The water had just barely come up to door level, then receded, but their son had parked their new SUV on the street. It started and they moved it in the driveway, but the floorboards were soaked with dirty water. They were angry, but didn’t need any help. I waded back to my car and took some photos with my phone.
This is a bael or bael fruit AKA Bengal quince, wood apple, stone apple or seer phael (head-fruit). In Thai it’s known as matum.
In Thailand, bael is usually found in the form of dried slices, which are reconstituted in water to make juice. Our housekeeper brought over a few from her tree and I was surprised at how hard and heavy they were. We did as she said and boiled them, but then accidentally left them out on a hot night and the next day, they had fermented in the shell and burst, oozing a heavy syrup onto our counters. I threw them into the pond out front as an offering to Shiva, although he seems to favor the leaves instead of the fruit.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being Chris Delivery’s bodyguard (I got the job by looking “ex-yakuza.”) Fortunately, there were no kidnapping or assassination attempts, but he did get jumped by several groups of screaming fans wanting autographs and v sign photos (and, I suspect, a romantic evening under a private mango tree).
The talk he gave at our university was heartfelt and entertaining, and a great success by any measure. Props to my friend, Ajarn Kedsiree Jumpeehom, for setting it up and thanks to Chris for putting on an awesome show.
For a television personality with several shows, books, and other assorted projects known to pretty much everybody in Thailand, Chris is humble and just a generally great guy; he pretty much hates being grouped in with the snobby TV star set and keeps it real. I pretty much flipped when I heard that he personally teaches all of the classes at his English School in Central World (there’s a list of other teachers there so maybe he teaches all of the classes some of the time).
Here’s some shots showing the venue (the Main Hall at Rajabhat Maha Sarakham) and the turnout (around 1,500 at the start by my count, plus many more walk-ins changing with students leaving for classes part way through)
Pre-show meet & greet:
Almost go time:
Gauging crowds by counting rows, but sorely needing a wider lens:
Gauging crowds with the motorcycle index:
Gauging crowds with the broken toilet index:
After we reached Khon Kaen Airport, my detail ended by safely escorting the principal to the secure area, and I immediately proceeded to the airport shop to acquire a cold six-pack. All members of the escort team proceeded to the nearest McDonalds and many freshly-constructed McRibs were consumed the way Buddha intended them to be, with a freezing can of Leo. All in all, it was a great day, even if I did crash my goddamn car to start it off.
Taken (shakily, sorry!) at dinner gathering for the International Conference on Science and Social Science / International Conference on Science and Agricultural Technology held at Rajabhat Maha Sarakham University in Thailand.
Being MC for an event means you get the closest seat to the stage!
I announced that it’s common practice to tip the performers if you like them, and I think the girls and the band made out pretty well…
I took this photo a couple months ago out toward the local ostrich farm. The political party that put tons of these signs up on all the roads won Sunday’s elections, so I guess Max and Mina will be getting their ThaiPads soon…
April, May, and June are mango season here. Everybody who grows them at home brings them into the office or to their friends before the fruit gets too ripe. The coolest thing is that there are over a hundred different species grown and sold here in Thailand. I’ve probably tried about a third of them. To date, the best kind I’ve had are small ones that people grow in their backyards and sell at weekend fresh markets, known generically as mamuang noi (small mango). They have the perfect blend of sweet, tart, and wild flavors, and are at once slightly chewy yet soft.
A few weeks ago, my bathroom reading materials had dwindled down to the point of having to reread some old favorites. Then, while browsing a Thai-related forum, I spotted a banner for booksthailand.com. They are apparently a used bookstore on Koh Chang that have started selling online.
Long story short, they are my new go-to place for books here in Thailand. They accept PayPal or bank transfers and the prices are very reasonable considering the price of new English language books here.
They are currently running a “buy 3 get 1 free” promotion that I used for my first order. I paid via PayPal and quickly got an email from one of the staff stating that one of the books I’d ordered was out of stock… So when I had time, I chose another instead. Then, they hustled to get the delivery out before the long holiday starting the next day. In short, the service was excellent.
Now, to top it off, I’ve won two free books in their latest monthly competition! (I’m so sad I have so little time to read these days.)
In short, if you are living in Thailand and have a need for books, you should definitely try them out.
I am taking the family on a work trip from now. It will be an overnight bus ride, followed by a boat ride to Koh Samet and a smaller ferry-to-shore. We plan to return on Monday night, just in time to finish preparation for the new school term.
Yesterday we got home from a trip to Nakhon Ratchasima, more commonly known as Korat. The city is famous for being the gateway to the Northeast region (where we live) of Thailand, and is at just about the halfway point when we go to/from Bangkok. We were only there for one reason, though. Max wanted to see animals…
The zoo is medium-sized, and unremarkable from a technology standpoint. However, some thought has gone into the layout, premium services, and a few of the exhibits really stand out. In addition, the cost of things including admission (50 Baht for Thais, 100 Baht for foreigners, free for small children) is very reasonable. We went from 9:00AM and rented a golf cart for a couple of hours (500 Baht) after seeing the lines for the trams and figuring it would be too hot by noon. Two hours turned out to be just enough time to see almost everything including the obligatory pinniped (why isn’t “pinniped” in the Chrome spell checker dictionary?) show, which if you’ve been to Sea World looks like Retarded Animal Training for Dummies, but kept the kids entertained until they, too, got tired of seeing finned marine mammals playing in the water and doing horribly easy tricks for piscine (why isn’t “piscine” in the Chrome spell checker dictionary?) rewards.
We missed seeing some of the exhibits; it would probably take another hour to cover everything, but then again if you don’t have kids you don’t lose time on diaper changes and meltdown control when they are both convinced that the other has something in their hand that they want.
The highlight of the zoo for us: The giraffes! I have never been so close to a giraffe in my life, and it was a really cool experience. Now I have one less reason to go on safari.
At first I thought this was an early April Fools thing, but it wasn’t. The Bangkok Post was/is the widest circulated English language paper in Thailand (possibly initially funded by the OSS/State Department!), and printed a half-page article on how to properly shovel snow. In Thailand. Apparently, somebody sent a complaint to the editor that was printed in a subsequent issue. This was addressed by claiming that this article was pulled from a partner news source, which is just a ridiculous defense… They really should have claimed it was an early April Fools thing.
Maha Sarakham University, where my wife works, paid off the right people to make a sappy love story movie (the kind that makes the most money here) about the university and our town in general called “Hak Na Sarakham” (Laotian for “Love Sarakham”). It opens today at SermThai Plaza in downtown Sarakham, and we saw a steady stream of motorcycles heading that way from the university.
It was fun trying to guess all of the locations shown in the trailer; our favorite bar, Play Bar, is shown towards the end.
A couple months ago, when it was still “cold,” we visited a temple that we’d been hearing of for a while, Wat Ban Donnad (Wat Ban Don Nad?). At the end of a long, broken dirt road that runs through several villages, we ended up here:
You can see our destination out on the island:
We honked our horn, and a young monk on a small outboard came putt-putting out. Max saw the boat and it was on.
Max was wearing his inflatable life jacket all day in anticipation of riding on a boat.
The monk was shy, so I spared him the embarrassment of a face shot.
There’s no electricity on the island, so we brought yard-long candles in addition to the usual food offerings. Giving these to a temple is the most popular form of making merit in Thailand. We talked to the monk that greeted us on the other side for a while, and he seemed to enjoy playing with the kids. Then he showed us the new temple they are building with massive slabs of timber floated down the river from Laos.
We walked around the island for a bit, then headed back to the boat.
We’ve since visited the landing again, but didn’t cross over because there was a temple festival with crowds of people, and they were packing themselves onto the tiny boats to cross over and back. In typical Thai fashion, the people sitting on the edge of the boats were half-heartedly bailing them out until the water inside reached their ankles, at which time the rate of bailing doubled or tripled – this would repeat until the boats reached their destination. When we saw this was happening, we decided it would be okay to pay our respects from the shore on this side.
Mina shook her head in serious disagreement 17 times in a row yesterday – I was asking about people she loves; apparently she just hates everyone, because by the time I got to the end I had run out of people she knows by name and had started naming animals.
Max just told his mother to leave him alone and go be with daddy.
I got an e-mail from a distant relative in Kyushu who runs a beauty salon that T, Adam, Inaba and I visited 12 (?) years ago when we went to visit my cousins Kana and Aya in Saga Prefecture (Saga was where my grandfather on my dad’s side grew up, and is the Northeast Thailand of Japan – the locals move out to work shitty jobs in the big city, and the only people moving in are either going back to work on their family’s farm, or to get away from people in general.) Anyway, when we visited the salon, they just happened to be shooting a commercial to be aired on a local TV station, so we got to be in it while getting haircuts and shouting the name of the store – “HEADS!” – at the camera.
So the owner of that shop is either a distant cousin or uncle (which makes him close enough to kill for under Sackett law), and he emailed me out of the blue yesterday. He’s recently into sansevieria plants (AKA mother in law’s tongue), which are not so popular in Japan, so he’s coming this June to check out some of the farms and collectors here in Thailand. Maybe we will hook up.
Max had to take an entrance exam for a nearby preschool yesterday (his current school, which he loves going to now, is closing at the end of March). They test out the little kids by giving them various little tasks and challenges like drawing, puzzles, logic games, motor skills testing, simple questions, etc. Max would not enter the room without mommy, but aced all of the tests. He apparently did some of them twice, by choice, because they gave him too much time to complete them. Sounds scarily familiar.
Nam thought up a brilliant substitute for tenkasu today: Rice Krispies!
This was sufficiently genius for me to acknowledge that I am truly lucky to have married her… For the ten thousandth time or so.
Exactly one month ago, our family took a trip to Chiang Mai by way of daddy, Max, Mina, and the nanny hitching a ride with mommy on a business trip. Our driver was fast and polite, and since there are typically no seat belts in a Thai commuter van, we decided to leave the baby seats behind. This made for a very smooth and uneventful ride, just the way I like it.
I’ve written about other parts of the trip already, but I didn’t get around to posting (blurry) photos of one of the highlights, an impromptu night stroll from the center of downtown to our hotel. We went out as a group for dinner and to check out the night market, which was a big tourist trap / disappointment. By that time, we had joined up with Daisuke and some of his and Nam’s students… Dai had expressed a longing to drink on the grounds at Wat Chedi Luang, at the very center of town, because it was beautifully lit up at night and temples make such excellent chill out spots.
So Dai and I got dropped off at the main gate, and everybody else went back to the hotel in the van. So began our journey.
Since the front and side gates were already closed, we had to walk all the way around to find a rear way in. We found it, and weaved through various building to get to the chedi (stupa).
Unfortunately, the temple grounds were full of monks and followers walking around and looking at the illuminated stupa, just like us. We could have had beers while hidden in the shadows, but having other people around kind of killed the appeal of it. Instead, we decided to walk back to the hotel by walking out to the ring road (Chiang Mai has an inner and outer ring road, one running clockwise and the other counter-clockwise, just like Osaka’s nakakanjo and sotokanjo, but not elevated), and following it back. We made several stops at historic sites along the way, roughly fulfilling one of the main to-dos for visitors to CM: Visiting many temples.
After leaving the heart of the historical district, we came upon the first 7-11 and eventually instated the two beer rule: Two cans of Leo per person at every 7-11 passed
We ended up at an outdoor futsal stadium with two fields. Daisuke played in the minor soccer league in Japan, so he wanted to watch for a while. I had several beers and a pork bau from a cart outside the 7-11, so I didn’t care. It started getting chilly, though, so I got up and stood watching the khao tom store across the street for ten minutes. There was a deaf guy waiting on the tables who would bring out food to the customers and communicate with them by pointing at the menu and writing things down on the pad, but the cook insisted on shouting at him when orders were ready, very loudly, twice for everything. It made for some fairly hilarious happenings which would suck to relate in writing.
Eventually, we neared the ring road.
We passed an open jazz bar with too many skanky farangs hanging out, and resupplied at another 7-11.
More CD-stars. They might just be used as traffic reflectors, but the placement of some of them was off the road so they might be used to ward off dogs / cats / Christians.
We ended up on the ring road near a historic gate and in dire need of a place to pee, peed on it.
The rest of the night was fairly surreal. We had seafood noodles outside a car dealership. It was fairly late when I saw a red lantern way down a small street, and I was drawn to it. It turned out to be a Japanese izakaya that was closing. They initially refused to serve us, but I begged piteously and an old Japanese man drinking outside shared his bottle with us. He turned out to be just an average guy from Nagoya, who I naturally gave a lot of shit to even while partaking in his drink, just because I secretly look down on Nagoyans as a proud Osakan. The owner’s husband came around and he turned out to be an ex-coworker of Dai’s, so we extended our unwelcome at the closed bar even longer.
We eventually got home, but I don’t remember that part.
It’s still quite cool during the days in Maha Sarakham and actually cold at night. Last year we only had a week or two of this weather, so it’s been great to have it continue for almost two whole months.
These past two months, I’ve been all over on family trips to Phimai, Chiang Mai, and Surin, and for work to Nam Nao, Saraburi, Trat, and Koh Chang. Next weekend I’m taking my Master’s class to Wang Nam Keaw for a weekend survey. Then hopefully, I can take a break from too much traveling for a while. The babies miss me when I’m gone (or so I like to think), and I miss them too.
The photos above were taken with my Galaxy 5 phone on one of our neighborhood walks – the open areas in our development are fast disappearing, so we are getting in as many dirt road rambles with the babies as we can.
Yes, I know you have it on the iCrap, too, but Google will never make it as good for you. Fact.
I’m heading off on a trip to visit some 3rd year students interning in Saraburi, Trat, and Koh Chang for a few days. Leaving at 5AM tomorrow, so I’m starring destinations and saving route info (toll and non-toll, with different ferry options to the island) in Google Maps on my PC. Tomorrow, I’ll be able to access it all from my phone. This is the kind of techno-wienery I’ve been dreaming about since I was 7.