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Archive for March, 2008

I have a bunch of new photos from Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Krabi, and I’ll have a boatload coming from Angkor Wat as soon as I can get them up.

The whole family came out for a few weeks and we toured the Palace and a few wats in Bangkok, caught a few more wats in Chiang Mai and took in some muay thai and a cooking course, and saw some really amazing beaches in Krabi (we also got to do a bit of climbing).

I also have some photos up from Koh Tao and Koh Samui. Just click on the links under “My Photos” to have a look.

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In the wake of the situation in Lhasa, France and others are considering a boycott of the Opening Ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics. The possible boycott would include only public officials, not athletes.

Some in France have floated the idea of athletes wearing pro-Tibet armbands on the medal stand or at the Opening Ceremonies, but so far there has been no serious talk of a true boycott of the Games by athletes. Even the Dalai Lama opposes such a boycott, according to the AP.

There is also controversy brewing over whether the Olympic Torch will be carried through Tibet, as originally planned. China maintains that it will be, though it would seem to be a very natural target for those who might want to stage a large and very public pro-Tibet demonstration as the Torch is on its way to Mount Everest.

Meanwhile, China is now publicly acknowledging that rioting has spread to other provinces and the government is “seriously concerned” about a meeting between the Dalai Lama and the British Prime Minister.

Things could be very interesting by the time I get to Beijing for the Olympics.

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That’s how much I plan to invest in China’s new ‘socially responsible’ mutual fund.

China seems to be paying a lot of attention to the environment recently, and not only in Beijing, where the pollution is so bad that the world-record holder in the marathon has pulled out of the event in the Olympics rather than risk running 26.2 miles in the Beijing smog. (As an aside, it’s pretty amazing that the world’s top marathoner has asthma)

The government’s efforts might even save a few Chinese souls. Polluting is one of the Catholic Church’s newly released modern sins.

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The little boy I’m doing homework with is Fah. He’s learning the Thai alphabet by writing the letters 50 or so times each in his notebook, so I decided to do a couple to help out.

His brother’s name is Fuck. His full name is something in Thai that I couldn’t begin to pronounce or remember, but his English nickname is Fuck.

Every child in Chaiyaphum is given a nickname in English, which is very convenient when they go to school and learn English from a foreign teacher like me. The trouble is, many of the parents who give out these nicknames don’t seem to understand what the names actually mean.

So all over Thailand there are people walking around with names like Porn (our security guard at Satrichaiyaphum High), Beer (a fairly popular name at school), Bum (also fairly popular), and Fuck (Fah’s brother is not the only Fuck I’ve met). Other teachers tell me they have students with even more explicit nicknames, including Tittyporn and Pregoporn.

It’s good for a chuckle from time to time, but I often find myself intentionally mispronouncing people’s names to avoid addressing 12-year-olds who may or may not know what their names mean, by their unfortunate monikers.

Anyone know what Mike means in Thai?

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From time to time when traveling, you come across something that really should have been made clear in the guidebook.

Since many of the places I’ve been to have warranted less than three pages of attention (generally following a lead in which the guide essentially asks why you might be going there and if you might like to reconsider), this has been a fairly common occurrence.

I suppose when you make the decision to hop on a plane to Thailand without being told where you will be teaching for the next four months, you can’t be too surprised when you end up in a town that didn’t even make the index of your guidebook, let alone earn its own listing (Let’s Go has indexed a place called Chaiya, though … apparently it’s a day trip from Surat Thani).

I wouldn’t expect Chaiyaphum to command more than a page or two in any guide, even with construction underway on a brand new Big C shopping center right next to the new Makro that opened a few weeks ago (think Thai Wal-Mart). But there are some things that really would be nice to know before you get there.

A prime example is what Chrissy and I encountered at Khao Yai National Park. One of the more renowned national parks in Thailand, Khao Yai gets two and a half pages in Let’s Go, including this mention about halfway down the third page:

After stepping off the songthaew at the northern park entrance, it’s another 14km to the park headquarters and visitor’s center. You can arrange pickup at the entrance to the headquarters. Although Let’s Go does not recommend it, most travelers find they have to hitchhike there.

What the guide does not make clear is just how much hitchhiking you are expected to do. In order to reach the national park, you take a songthaew from your hotel to the park’s entrance gate (about 300 baht). There, you climb into another songthaew to take you from the gate to the visitor’s center (about 300 baht). There, you get a map of the park and talk to the guy behind the desk, who tells you that the park is very spread out and the best way to get to the waterfall you want to see is to hire a park ranger to take you there on a five-hour hike (500 baht) or to hop into yet another songthaew to the trailhead for a two-hour hike to the falls (300 baht again).

When you finish your hike, you must get back to the visitor’s center, then back to the entrance gate, then back to the town where your hotel was to catch the bus back to Chaiyaphum. For all of these connections, you are expected to hitchhike.

It’s not that there aren’t dozens of songthaews cruising around all over the park, it’s just that almost none of them will agree to take you anywhere. Nearly every songthaew you see will be empty. They are all happy to stop and explain why they can’t take you wherever you are trying to go, but don’t count on them actually taking you there.

At one point, I asked a park ranger where I should go to find the right songthaew to take me from the trail back to the park headquarters. He told me there are no songthaews for that route, and suggested that I hitchhike. I was surprised enough to put the question to him again, and he seemed genuinely confused as to why I thought it odd that a park ranger would tell me to hitchhike around his national park.

We eventually found a songthaew to take us back (after 15 minutes or so of failed hitchhiking attempts). It was the very same songthaew that had taken us to the trail earlier in the day, and the same one who would take us from the visitor’s center to the entrance gate, and then back to the town. He must have saved us at least a half hour’s worth of trying to hitchhike.

The park is, of course, beautiful and worth all the hitchhiking headaches. A few pictures:

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This one gives you an idea on the size of the waterfall. Those are people standing under the falls (one is wearing a yellow shirt).

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The trail to the falls.

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