And paradise it was...

Though it didn't start out that way. Sometimes the means to a utopian end is a three-hour ride in a cramped, stifling, sticky van with a girl up front puking into a plastic bag.

We arrived in Krabi and arranged air-conditioned transport to Ko Lanta. What we weren't told is that the mini-van's sluggish AC only reaches the first, maybe second, row. That's why the back row was empty, waiting for us. Us being the only tourists, who probably paid for the rides of all the locals heading home or to work. But if they have to endure that ride every day, I'll gladly pitch in for their fares one time. Well, except for the girl in front of me who reclined so far into my personal space, I could easily give her a lice check (lice being on my mind because a friend of mine who lives two hours outside of Bangkok has been suffering from the little buggers). Meanwhile, the afternoon heat was producing pools of sweat between leg and leather. And the poor thing up front was still heaving, while a comforting boyfriend stroked her head. As if just to prolong our discomfort, the driver would stop every so often at a resort to drop off some suitcase or package. This being Thailand, it was never a simple process and the twelve of us would peer through the curtains at three or four men huddled around paper trying to determine I'm not sure what.

Eventually we made it to the last stop where a four-wheel-drive pick-up waited to carry us down the final, extra bumpy stretch to a near-secluded beach. How quickly that hairy van ride changed from uncomfortable reality to a source of laughter throughout the week!

There are only three modest bungalow-style resorts on this beach and you can see where sand meets rocks on both ends. Walking the length of the beach and back just takes an hour. And it's so peaceful—I don't believe I ever saw more than ten people out there at one time. Something about this place mellows a person instantly.

Let me show you around some...

My travel companions, Jill and Daniel, chilling out at the "house of the mountain and sea". See the plastic bags behind them filled with red and green liquid? We asked a server about them and he answered by singing "Jingle Bells".

Baan Phu Lae at dusk. It definitely has that laid-back beach thing going on. The restaurant here serves excellent Thai food and breakfast and we deprived ourselves of nothing. Jill commented one day that when your potassium intake is a banana daiquiri and banana and chocolate waffle, you know you're living right.

A row of mats like these face the ocean and make one completely content to stay put for hours.

Especially when you're treated to a fire show every other night.

I took this at nine in the morning, when the dog and I were the only souls on the beach.

Apparently the walk was too much exertion.

Beach lanterns.

Daniel on a motorbike he rented and rode all day long. Or at least that's what I'm supposed to tell everyone. Daniel, don't worry, I won't mention your actual kilometers logged. Or would that be kilometer?

This is more like it.

More ocean.

To our backs as we face the ocean.

A sign at Same Same But Different, a restaurant at a neighboring beach that attracts more backpackers.

Black and white beach.

We spent the last night in Krabi town because of an early morning flight the next day. Here, men fish and boys wait for the catch on the river behind our hotel.

And now I'm back in Bangkok, still finding sand in my shoes and reminiscing. I just talked to Daniel on skype and he's having a great time in Chiang Mai. Jill's back safe and sound in the US. Jill, I hope you make it through the week and your students love their new Thai goods.

By the way, why do my pictures look more vibrant before I post them to blogger? The colors seem to flatten out. Anyone know?


Tropical paradise, here I come

Today is the last day of the term so I have next week off. My good friend Daniel from high school flies in around midnight. His friend Jill arrives tomorrow. And then Sunday morning, we're off. White sandy beaches, tranquil turquoise waters, and several days of lazing around like it's my job. "Let's see, shall I lie in the hammock and read, or go lounge on the shore and stare at one of the world's prettiest scenes?" It's going to be rough. Hard to believe I've been here nearly six months and haven't laid eyes nor body on a beach, but all that will change in about 48 hours when we land in Krabi and take a ferry over to the island of Ko Lanta. Take a look at our bungalows ... sorry Bangkok, you may not look the same in a while.



Happy Valentine's Day

As I've mentioned before, Thais love holidays. They also love love. (Hearts and sentimental messages are popular on all kinds of things, from notebooks to t-shirts to bedspreads.) So naturally, Valentine's Day is a huge hit here—Hallmark must be beaming. My classes tonight were positively giddy. I left with a sweater covered in heart stickers and a bag full of candy and cards (and a croissant and a tuk-tuk keychain) from my most enthusiastic students. Adults, I remind you. And those aforementioned bedspreads covered in hearts. They're for adults, too. Oh, I could digress here, but I'm reeling myself back in and will save it for another post, probably entitled "For sanuk-loving Thais, the child inside never dies" or "That's not the kids' section".

But not everyone is enamored with the holiday. Thai police take on Cupid in the annual V-day campaign to turn down the heat of those mischievous Thai teens.

Speaking of Thai police, this creative crackdown on naughty officers went into effect right after I moved here, and I meant to share.

Do you see why I'm so smitten with this country? Thailand, a big Valentine's Day smooch back atcha.


Happy Chinese New Year, and other stuff

Bangkok's all decked out for Chinese New Year, eye-catching red parading her sensational self all over town. A student brought me oranges, keeping with the custom of giving tangerines and oranges during this time because their Chinese names sound like "luck" and "wealth".

After taking the picture above, I looked down to see this scene, but had no time to adjust my camera. I just snapped and the moment was over. Unfortunately, she is out of focus. But I have to post it anyway for one reason. Check out the red line around her head. It's the outline of one of the rat's ears (I assume that's a rat since 2008 is the year of the rat) perfectly lining her head. Wild, huh?

Last night I celebrated the gastronomical treasures of a much smaller country, one shaped like a boot. Some other teachers and I gorged on glorious pies from Lemoncello (Sukhumvit Soi 11 for anyone looking for good pizza in Bangkok). Afterwards on the skytrain, headed for an early night in, I got a text from another group making its way over to a jazz and blues club near my apartment. My play-doh arm was successfully twisted. The place is called Saxophone and it's one of my favorites here. We scored a good dark booth in the corner and laughed and exchanged stories over loud music and through thick smoke. I have two funnies related to Thai nicknames, and since that seems to be my theme lately, there's no way I can keep them from you.

Story 1

Teacher reads this sentence to a low-level class: "My keys are gone." Then she asks "What does that mean, 'My keys are gone'?" No response from the class. Again: "'My keys are gone.' What does that mean?" Gone, thinking she has just called on him, begins to read from the book. You can imagine the laughter that erupts from the class.

Story 2

Teacher is demonstrating the responses "Yes, I am" and "No, I'm not". Without recognizing the connection, she chooses a student named Not as the model.

Teacher: "Are you Not?"
Not: "Yes, I am."

The teacher then moves on to another student.

Teacher: "Are you Not?"
The student looks a bit perplexed and then answers: "No ... I'm not."

For a few seconds there, the teacher is confused, realizing that something is off, but not quite sure what. And then she gets it. Of course, the class is doubled in laughter by that time. Oh, they get the biggest kick out of these moments. It really is wonderful teaching a society with such a love of fun and humorous situations.

One more thing before I sign off and crawl into bed. Here's a picture I took in my neighborhood today. It was a beautiful, sunny, not too sweltering, afternoon. The kind of Sunday you don't want to end.


What's in a (nick)name

So sweet Sarah just read my post on nicknames and told me a few things I didn’t know, which led to an enlightening google search. But geez, there are so many facets to this subject, I'm not sure I'll be able to condense my findings into a blog post that won't bore you to tears. But here's my attempt in a large nutshell: All Thais are given nicknames at birth because their real names are so humorously long and hard to pronounce, even for fellow Thais—and also to confuse ghosts (but more on that in a bit). Some nicknames are one syllable of the full name, but the great majority are just words for things such as animals or fruit. I've personally taught a Poo (crab), Tai (rabbit), Jeab (baby chicken), Pla (fish), Muu (pig), Maow (Cat), Som (orange), Kluay (banana) and Ple (Apple). (Of course, Gwenyth Paltrow wouldn't find the last one at all unusual.) I've also taught students named after their size or birth order: Lek (small), Noi (little), Yai (big), Pui (fat), Nueng (one), Song (two). Some of these names may seem offensive, but there's a completely logical reason behind them. From what I gather, there's a cohort of evil spirits conspiring to swipe newborns. But their rolodexes are organized by birth names, so nicknames thwart their baby-snatching schemes. Some families, though, opt for extra defense against the slyer spooks in the form of an uncomplimentary nickname. You see, this is a superficial supernatural bunch, especially keen on cute babies; they will snootily pass over those called pig, for instance, who must be unattractive. This is, I read, also the reason Thais tend to say babies are ugly.

Later in life, nicknames are associated with luck. Thais experiencing a string of bad luck may change their nickname just like that. And without so much as flinching, friends and family will start calling them by the new name.

It is now uber trendy, and controversial, for Thai parents to give their children English nicknames. I mentioned some of these in a previous post, but here are more of my students to add to the list: Bank and Mink (referring to wealth), Joke and X. A recent article in the New York Times covered the movement to quell this trend in an effort to preserve Thai culture.

Hello? You still there? Oh, my loyal friends. I have more! (I know, I know. You have things to do! But isn't this fascinating?) Turns out last names are just as quirky. Surnames, which only became legally required here in 1920 (!), must be unique to a family. So there's like a jillion last names and rarely will two people have the same first and last name. To make things even more interesting, it is common for families here to change their surnames (I'm not sure why—maybe again with the luck thing—and frankly, I'm tired of researching). But can you imagine that family meeting? "Okay, our family name currently means those who will be rewarded for good deeds. Let's change it to those who cook the best tom yum for many friends. "


A little nip-tuck and Thai hospitality

Last night Allen and I went to Silom Soi 4, the place to be in Bangkok if you're a guy and you're gay. For someone who's neither, it was still a mighty fine place to kick back. Bars and restaurants line the street, most of the seating outside. Lanterns and strings of lights hang over head. Pretty boys parade. First-rate scenery all around. A guy Allen just started going out with, Bomb, joined us and couldn't have been any sweeter. (Allen dates the nicest guys and I get attached. It's a pattern.) We talked about plastic surgery—he's had his nose done—and how cheap it is here. This really is the place to come have "work done". It's especially popular for sex reassignment surgeries. Only $1,500 for the whole shebang. And it must be quality work—some of the Thai "katoeys" put other women, including myself, to shame. But I digress ... Back to Bomb, who's only altered his nose. He taught me some new Thai (I love you is chun ruk koon, sounds like raccoon) and invited me to call him anytime I wanted to learn more. I assumed he meant the every-now-and-then call. Then he said he's available to talk on the phone in the evenings and could talk about two hours a night. Two hours a night! I found this so amusing because it's a perfect, slightly extreme, example of Thai hospitality. Many Thais are so excited to show foreigners their country and language, they'll go above and beyond what a Westerner could imagine doing. It's very endearing, and inspiring. Or maybe it just means this guy needs more hobbies—but I'll go with inspiring. At the moment, Allen probably wanted to slap me, but all I could say was ... yes, I said it ... I know, I'm a dork ... "you're the Bomb."