Category Archives: From The Land of Smiles

Happy New Year – Thai style

SS1 Songkran, or Thai New Year, starts today. From the 13th to 15th of April, there will scarcely be a dry spot or person in the entire kingdom.
Originally, I was told by various Thai people, Songkran was celebrated by pouring water over the elders’ hands, a gesture meant to convey paying respects. Also, people would gently splash water on their family, neighbors and friends. This was, and still is, a good time to make merit at a temple, either through donations or simply by praying for one’s ancestors. These days, however, things have gone full on crazy.

While I enjoy a holiday just as much as the next person, it’s not fun to walk down the street just to be drenched head to toe in ice water, some of it mixed with baby powder. I have been splashed while in a bus that had open widows, on the street, and once a guy armed with a water gun made a grab for the taxi I was in. Luckily the taxi driver locked the doors and I was safe but for a moment I saw myself forced to take an unwanted shower.

I get it, it’s the hottest month of the year, the water symbolizes washing away the old year, bringing good luck and leaving you clean for the upcoming one. For most people it’s fun and fun is good but with the risk of sounding like the Grinch, why should I be included? Why can’t people just splash others who look like they want to join in this kind of fun?
Last year I was on Koh Chang, an island on the eastern side of Thailand. Husband and I had rented a motorcycle and we were driving on the winding road, extremely steep in parts, much like a roller coaster. It was a great trip, and so far we had managed to elude the rain showers that broke every now and then. Until, in the afternoon, on our way back, we saw crowds waiting on both sides of the road and I knew then we had made the wrong assumption that we were going to get away dry. We didn’t. They were very thorough, and as other motorists slowed down to avoid running over people, we were forced to do the same and got a thorough washing down. Not even my phone and camera inside the backpack I was carrying between me and my husband got away. Ice water, powder, the whole package were poured down on us from buckets, sprayed from water guns and full on drenched from several water hoses. There was no way but to bear it and drive away as soon as we could on the only road. Nobody was splashing water on the beach.

The area we live in celebrates Songkran a week later, so there’s the added joy of having to go through this again. Last year when we ventured out by car, the only vehicle to use if you want to stay dry, we spent more than two hours driving at a snail’s pace through cars, motorcycles and pedestrians in various stages of undress walking the streets in various stages of sobriety. They were armed to the teeth with water containers, and all of them were drenched and painted with white powder.
This year I’m staying home. I have some great books to read, movies to watch, and enough food for a few days. There are enough things to occupy my time with while the city is waging its water war. Happy Thai New Year or Sawadee Pee Mai!




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Bringing back Christmas

I’m a little late with my Christmas post this year. I had planned to do it yesterday, but when I was done with my “experiment” I wanted nothing more than a shower and the bliss of lying down with a book in my hands.

When Christmas comes around this part of the world, it’s a rather melancholy affair for me – thinking of family and friends who live thousands of kilometers away, the holiday visits and symbolic gifts, the tree twinkling with lights, and coming in from the cold, hands all red and frozen, thawing slowly in the aromatic warmth of the kitchen where various culinary delights are cooking or baking, well, all that is apt to put me in a less than cheerful mood. Not that I miss the cold, far from it, and I do have a Christmas tree (plastic, of course), but still it wasn’t enough to make me feel like the holidays have arrived. So, I asked myself, what should I do? Why, bake, of course!

xmas cake4 As a child I have often watched my grandmother, aunt, and my mother bake a traditional dessert for Christmas. It’s basically a roll of dough filled with Turkish delight of various colors, or ground walnuts, spices and baking essences – rum is the favorite one for this particular dessert. There was no house without it at Christmas, and in those times, the women would follow their own particular recipes, and they were all slightly different but amazingly delicious. Just the thought of cutting into that rich sweetbread and releasing those wonderful aromas, made me nostalgic. So I decided to bake one, or several, and see how they would turn out. And bake them I did. It wasn’t difficult, but being my first time with this recipe, there were things I hadn’t considered and had to speed things up a bit. Nevertheless, a few hours later, when it was all done, and the baked dessert was cooling, and the smell was in every room, I finally felt like it was Christmas. Did I enjoy the whole baking experience? Very much. Would I do it again? I’d like to, next Christmas!

Happy holidays!

xmas cake3

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Somebody’s watching

A mango tree with an attitude.

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It’s the suspense that’s killing me!

Photo of the day: waiting for the flood to pass through Bangkok so things can get back to normal. While several areas in the city are flooded, other parts are dry but no one knows for how long. The fact that the high tide is also due this weekend doesn’t make things easier. If I celebrated Halloween I might have gone for a mermaid costume. Or a fish.

Later on, I went out to meet a friend. During a visit to the ladies’ I saw this sign and it made me smile. I needed that.

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Gone Packpacking

The time has come, at last, to go on a little trip. After months of dreaming, days of planning, here I am, just hours away…if the weather doesn’t go crazy at the last minute (the floods are still expected to hit Bangkok these days and it’s raining as I’m typing this).
The bag is packed, my camera is ready. Being a fan of, I’m also taking two really amazing books to release along the way. Paulo Coelho’s “11 Minutes” will be my book to read on this trip, if I have enough energy left at the end of the day.
See you next weekend when I get back.

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The Aliens

The amount of time I spend in a taxi over the course of a day can vary between 40 minutes to 2 hours or a little more than that, depending on how bad the traffic is and whether my return trip also takes place in a taxi or if I use public transport. Having no car to call my own – not that I would want to drive one in this chaotic city, thank you very much – and still wanting to make it to work at a reasonable hour, I have little choice. So in the mornings, instead of switching between various means of transportation I choose the easier way – the bright pink, yellow, blue or plain green cars cruising the streets with a TAXI sign on top and a red light at the front. Being in a taxi everyday can be interesting, fun, scary or downright creepy, much like riding a roller coaster. The taxi drivers I meet range from the silent one to the chatterbox, from the I want to practice my English with you to the one who’s trying to teach me Thai, from the grunt man (because that’s the only sound he makes) to the singer (let’s turn up the radio and sing along, in Thai, of course).

Yesterday I was in a hurry. After a hectic day, wanting to take my aching head home as soon as possible, I hailed the first taxi that passed on the street outside my work and hopped in. The driver didn’t say anything at first so I told him the address in Thai and made myself comfortable and ready to enjoy my book. He asked me something in Thai, but his words were drawn out and spoken carefully, not like the quick jabbering I’m used to hearing. My reply seemed to satisfy him and so once again I turned to my book and lost myself in it. I was reading Little Bee, by Chris Cleave, and this is a very hard book to read in a taxi. Why? Well, because every few pages I just wanted to cry, and not silent tears that can be wiped before they even have the chance to slide carefully down the hills of my cheeks, but a hearty loud cry session, the kind you do in the bathroom with the door closed and the water running. Oh well. Every few minutes I had to take a break and look out the window and breathe deeply.

Me no speak English good, I heard the driver say. I tried to put my reply into a smile and we seemed to understand each other. He was very young, probably in his early twenties and he drove carefully, not in the quick jerks and stops that are the trademarks of most taxi drivers in Bangkok. A thought sprang to life in the back of my mind – there’s something strange about him, he talks funny, like he’s not from these parts, like he’s just learning the language. One or two questions later I was sure of it and my curiosity got the better of me so just before I got out of the car I asked him in my broken Thai: You’re not from here, are you? That’s what I’d like to think my words came out like but it was probably more along the lines of “You not Thai, huh?” He turned to me and offered a broad smile that made his eyes as round as two perfect circles, and then it was plain to see he didn’t look like a local either, made two fists of his hands and shaking the right one he said Thai, then the left and said Malay and brought them together, then pointed to his chest and said Thai. So, I thought, your mother is Thai and your father Malay, or the other way around. He pointed his index finger at me and then used it to draw an invisible circle in the air around his right ear and said, in his carefully spoken Thai – You notice, huh?
I smiled too and nodded, and it struck me how we had both tried to speak in a language that was not our own and how sometimes a simple smile is worth more than a hundred jabbering words put together. How wonderful it is that when words fail us, we can still speak, with our hands, our eyes, even with our smiles. Than even when we find it difficult to say the right words, the body language is sometimes enough. That even though we were both aliens, we found a common language.

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House Guest

One of the “perks” of living in a perpetually warm climate is the amount of creatures one discovers in one’s house. From the ants – who can be a royal pain, and who seem to like the cakes/muffins/cookies (take your pick) which I bake and leave out to cool and come back only to discover at least one has been invaded by the little black pests – to the snakes, rats, frogs and monitor lizards which can be found in the yard, most likely without their heads, as a result of their lost battle with the three dogs we have.

I still remember the day I saw a huge monitor lizard for the first time. It was sunning itself on the concrete wall that separated our house from the next one on the left, and the first thought that crossed my mind was, oh my God, what’s that crocodile doing there?!? I stared at it from behind the safety of a window, couldn’t help but admire its long body, small head and the tongue darting in and out of its mouth. That’s when I realized it wasn’t a crocodile. The mouth was too small and the snake-like tongue didn’t fit the picture either but in my panic I wasn’t thinking about such obvious details. Oh, to have a camera at that very moment! By the time I went downstairs it was gone – back to the green wilderness at the back of the house.
We have moved to another house since then, and the biggest excitement we’ve had so far was the nocturnal visit of a small rat that came to nibble on the fruits on the kitchen table. Bananas were his favorite and that was his undoing. We caught him in a cage, released him far from the house on a field and not long after he was back. Or maybe it was his brother, who knows. The bananas on the table didn’t lie. So we took out the cage again, caught him and took him even further away. He didn’t come back, I’m glad to say. As much as I liked Ratatouille (remember that movie?) this one didn’t quite fit the picture. And I doubt he could cook, that would have been just too good.

The gecko is by far my favorite “house guest”. Although in the beginning I found it creepy to live in a house with those little creatures running here and there (now don’t imagine hundreds but two or three would be a more accurate number), these days, after more than a decade, I find it quite amusing. Sometimes I catch them, holding them carefully, and just look at the little bit of grey life in my hand, its little heart beating wildly under the thin soft skin, the legs trying to scramble free and once it has escaped, it vanishes with the speed of which only those small creatures are capable of when frightened.
This morning I saw one of them behind a curtain in the house. I hoped it wouldn’t move while I went and got the camera. It didn’t, not much anyway, and the sound of the device didn’t scare it away. There it is, our little house guest.

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