Merry Christmas!

Happy Hanukkah! And joyful anything else you may be celebrating! Hope you're all having a wonderful time just being with friends and family. I wish I could post some pictures of Christmas in Thailand now, but I'm traveling and can't download until I get back to Bangkok. Ah well... Suffice it to say Andrea and Jason have probably seen more tacky decorations and heard more Christmas tunes over here than if they had stayed in the States. We are up north now and having a great time. It's actually chilly here at night so it does feel more like the holidays. We went to a gorgeous temple on top of a mountain this morning, but more on that later...

Wish you could all be here. Wouldn't that be a grand party? But I'll be thinking of you, especially you Mom and Dad. Miss you so much. Your ears must be burning, we've been talking so much about how wonderful you are. That goes for all the relatives! Lots and lots of love... Okay, I'll go before I get too sappy ... Now, where's the nearest Starbucks? I think I need a gingerbread latte or something else terribly cozy and Christmasy. Cheers!


Come take a walk with me

I'm having a bittersweet moment, or few days I should say. On one hand, I can't wait until the teaching day is done tomorrow because that will mark the beginning of four weeks off. I'm so excited about all my travel plans, which include Thailand with Andrea and Jason and Laos with Ange. But I'm also a little reluctant to leave this quiet life in Bangsaen. The six weeks has flown and I must say I'm not ready for it to be over. I only need to take you through my afternoon walk for you to understand.

These bikes were the first to beg me to take their photograph. When I finished, the very sweet shop owner pointed across the street toward the sea and this is what awaited me there.

After walking a little ways more, I sat down on these rocks to watch the sunset. I've seen more sunsets in the past six weeks than in all my other days combined, and I can't see ever growing tired of it.

While sitting there, this adventurer passed by, followed by several friends.

After savoring the cool breeze for a while longer, I walked over to my favorite Bangsaen restaurant, Seahorse. Dave, Ange and I have dined here enough lately, the server runs through our favorite dishes and we just nod. The food is delicious, the atmosphere appropriately chill, and the sea view from upper level seating not too shabby.

These guys are always there, sprinkling their Thai love songs and English covers with low-key jokes (some we're pretty positive are about us, based a little on the words we pick up but mostly on the other diners' smiles and side-glances at the only foreigners there).

I love that the stage is decorated for Christmas, as is the rest of Thailand. Actually, many places in Thailand have Christmas-like decorations up year-round, but they get more specific this time of year. I walked past someone the other day who saw me and started singing Jingle Bells just loud enough so I could hear. Classic.


Are you on cloud nine, too? and other sure-fire pick-up lines

I went to Bangkok for the day today to a) take back most of the things I had with me here in Bangsaen so I'll have a lighter load on Tuesday and b) earn some extra money at a random two-hour gig that Demelza hooked me up with. The job was for a company that makes software - mostly computer games - for Playstation, Nintendo, etc. I was there to read basic English phrases that will be used on a travel gadget akin to a talking dictionary. In a small studio that held only a chair, microphone and sheet stand, I read through a page at a time, getting a ten-second break after each one to drink water and wait for the cue on the other side of the glass. Easy as pie until the last page - the section on romance. I burst into laughter during "Have you ever thought about hugging all night?", and once one inappropriate laugh escapes, it's unbearably hard to contain the others. Anyone who's ever been to church knows about that. It took major self-control and visualization to get through the rest of the lines, especially "Whatever may happen, whatever distances may lie between us, our love will keep growing as long as we stay in touch." These are campy enough, though, I bet a baht they work like a charm.


Scenes of the afterlife

I ventured to Wat Wang Saen Suk, near Bangsaen Beach, the other day to satisfy my curiosity about this "temple of hell". The peaceful scene above is one of several lining the walkway from the temple entrance to the gates of hell. Enjoy it now because things get gruesome on the other side.

These giant starving creatures demand initial attention, but the dozens of scenes that follow are more grotesque, all depicting what is supposed to be a Buddhist hell.

Torture shows itself in many different ways here. And then some statues are just plain weird. I wonder what the children who visit think of it all - especially when viewing the scene of what happens if you don't obey your parents. I wanted to steer one boy away from a particularly disturbing scene of a woman being mutilated, but instead took a picture of it that I can't bring myself to post here.

Statues like these form a huge circle and signs at the foot of each warn of the sin that if committed would lead to an afterlife in the respective form.

Gambling is quite popular in Thailand, which makes me wonder if that's why this was the only statue to have little Buddhas at the foot. Visitors hoping for extra protection, perhaps? (I think gambling is especially popular in Bangsaen, which has a significant mafia presence. I saw a guy with half his ear chopped off and was told the missing piece was probably payback for an unpaid gambling debt.)

I paid to free the two birds above, which means I encouraged the practice so they will only be captured again so some other dope can free them.

And a message to leave you with....


Happy Father's Day, Dad

Yesterday was the King's 81st birthday and as his birthday, December 5th is also Father's Day. It's a national holiday and most people get the day off so Bangsaen was packed with beach-loving revelers from Bangkok. This man took advantage of the festivities to peddle his floral garlands, which are commonly sold on the streets of Bangkok.

The one shot I took of the beach crowd doesn't do justice but at least shows that Thais really do swim in their clothes. Funny enough, modesty seems to prevail more on the beach than on the street, where some skirts are so short, the wearer will place her notebook or bag behind her as she ascends the stairs. This departure from guidebook descriptions was a relief for me because it meant I could wear my sleeveless shirts without feeling like a farang tramp.

Groups of three and four merrily cruised along, sharing the effort. I liked this camera pass-off.

This man was having a great Father's Day teaching his little girl how to ride a bike.

The proud papa took one picture after another.

But at least one person had had enough fun for the day.