Daily Archives: February 24, 2013

Reflections on Thailand and return to China

Terry here. Some of you can’t tell the difference between us as writers and you need to know that Geoff adds ed notes to his own blogs so you can’t count on that to distinguish us. Peter asked for a summary and I know Geoff has beat me to the punch but I will put in my thoughts anyway. Here goes.

The best part of Thailand for me was the food. Finally, we were in a place where they didn’t either deep fry or cook with a lot of oil. They grill!!!!!! Those who live/lived in the Tri-Cities may remember Carumba, a restaurant that used to exist in Newport Village, and was the only place around where you could get pan-fried calamari. I have been spoiled ever since and cannot abide deep fried squid. What’s the point, really? You might as well be eating a deep-fried onion ring or a piece of eraser–no flavour whatsoever. Imagine my joy, then, when I spotted grilled squid on the menu. Fresh, hefty squid, grilled so there are actually hatch marks on the outside, dirt cheap and wonderful! Dip them in the hot sauce provided or drizzle with a fresh lime. Deeeelish!

For $3.00 Cdn. you too can have this - and yes that is a regulation sized dinner plate it is on.

For $3.00 Cdn. you too can have this – and yes that is a regulation sized dinner plate it is on.

King prawns done the same way–terrific! Pad Thai, stir-fried morning glory or chrysanthemum, whole fresh snapper done on the Bar-B, yum yum! Geoff talked about the cooking school and I agree, it was fantastic! Really worth doing. We made our own curry paste from scratch, then concocted fantastic dishes. Lots of fun and such great flavours! Love Thai food!!!! Once you know what’s available, it becomes almost intolerable to eat less than fabulous food, hence our displeasure with certain establishments.

The single best moment for me was watching the baby elephant submerge itself in the river for an impromptu bath. Everything about the elephants was great! You can’t help falling in love with them, they are so big and wonderful. If I were to go back to Thailand, I would book well in advance a whole day with the elephants and go with one of the companies that assigns each person an elephant for the day, so you learn about their individual personalities and how to look after them. What fabulous animals!

Geoff talked about the dogs but he did exaggerate somewhat (Ed. note: a little only!). I wouldn’t want anyone to think the country is overrun with dogs. He said there were hundreds but we didn’t see that many. I had noticed in Chiang Mai that there seemed to be dogs hanging around, not really attached to anyone but not acting like strays either, although most of them appear to be pretty full of fleas. They are passive and as he explained, are fed at temples and by locals and seem to be pretty happy just being. It is a Buddhist country so of course, they are protected and treated with a degree of reverence by the population.

One of the places we visited in Bangkok was Jim Thompson house. He was an American who is credited with restoring the Thai silk industry. Interested in everything, his home is architecturally compelling as a combination of Thai and western sensibilities, full of art and beautiful teak trimmings. We learned about the little shrines that adorn virtually every home and business: they must not be placed within the shadow of the home–bad luck–and must have refreshed water, flowers and offerings daily. This place was worth a visit, plus the shop had some nice things for decent prices.

If you were to go to Thailand, I would say absolutely go to Bangkok and travel any way except by car. It is a vibrant city, safe and fun to explore (Ed. note: But one big traffic jam).

Traffic in Bangkok Chinatown at 11:30 a.m.

Traffic in Bangkok Chinatown at 11:30 a.m. It was like this for about 15 blocks.

Go on the river and see as many of the ‘big’ Buddhas as you can, then you can safely skip visiting any other temples. Someone told me they thought there were a lot of temples in Chiang Mai and I didn’t really notice as we were way past temples at that point. However, I did count 12 in a few minutes, looking out our hotel window, so yes, I guess there are a lot. Go to Chiang Mai–a wonderful “small” city with a great feel to it. Don’t go to Hua Hin–a bloated tourist beach town in the winter and a small town of no real import after that.

If you go, eat street food and be adventurous at restaurants. Eat light–make dinner a whole fish with a pan of morning glory–that’s all you need. Drink Chang or Singha beer–always cold! Get clothes custom made–why not? Cheap cheap cheap, so you can afford the few things that don’t turn out 100%. Fun to bargain and great deals are to be had if things turn out well. Bring a large expandable suitcase. You’ll want to bring home souvenirs. Get a pixie cut before you leave home as it is so hot that the last thing you want to do is mess with a hairdryer. And finally, be careful on the golf courses–they take OB seriously and line the area with razor wire, which is probably a good thing, since in many places, snakes like cobras live in those places.

Back in China, I got that pixie cut I so desperately needed, and learned some interesting facts in the bargain. Apparently, having a child out of wed-lock is illegal in China. How could that possibly be enforced, I wondered. The answer: the government withholds citizenship. Now, that’s serious! You can get it eventually, but it will take a lot of time, energy and money, things that people avoid, which is why there are so many abortions performed in China. Who knew? I also learned that the fruits and vegetables that we so enjoy are sprayed with chemicals, and the meat, fish and poultry is all spurred on to fast growth with hormones and is not all that safe to eat. Maybe that’s why I’ve grown a bra size since I’ve been here! All kidding aside, it may be why the kids now match their Western counterparts in size.

In Jiaxing, we were reminded again about the bad drivers.

Getting our suitcases home from the train station - just leave the trunk open, no problem at 100 k/h.

Getting our suitcases home from the train station – just leave the trunk open, no problem at 100 k/h.

The stereotype is more than accurate–the Chinese drivers are terrible! Not all, of course, but many many. Case in point, we watched a driver back out from a drive into a 3 lane road-way, so that he came out facing on-coming traffic, in a bus lane, and then cut across all 3 lanes to go in the direction he wanted on the other side. Today, we saw a police car pass by and ignore two motorcycles driving against the traffic on the wrong side of a divided highway. If you can imagine any bizarre driving habits, you can see them here. We laugh out loud when we walk pass the “Traffic Police” building in downtown Jaixing. All of them should be fired. What we see in Vancouver are Chinese drivers on their best behaviour.

This evening in Jiaxing, the fireworks have moved to the very balconies and roadways beside and under our apartment. Although we have become somewhat inured to the prevalence of fireworks, we were inspired to look up the date: today is the beginning of the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the Spring Festival (which happens in winter), so we expect there will be many more fireworks to come. Also hoping to see some great lanterns around town.

We had dinner at newly renovated Krabi Thai last night and were treated like royalty, moved to one of the best tables after first being seated near the back of the restaurant, and serenaded by the singers at our table with “Unchained Melody”, a song I sang with them on our way out one night. What fun! We also learned from the owner that he has opened a wine bar in downtown Jiaxing, so we are eager to try that out one night. The food as usual, was terrific–not as good as in Thailand but a very reasonable facsimile.

So here we are, back home after three weeks away, ready to carry on to year-end and looking forward to the warmer weather to come. It was a beautiful sunny and warm day today, lots of blossoms around and people out and about. First day back tomorrow but our kids don’t start until Wednesday, so we have a few days to prepare. Second semester is bound to move by quickly and before we know it, summer will be here. Meanwhile, we are looking forward to visits from some friends from home and Shanghai, and our next school inspection in March. Cheers, everyone!

Home Again, Home Again or …

Clearly There Has Been A Failure To Communicate…

Well we are back in our cozy apartment in Jiaxing. When last we wrote, we were in the balmy climes of Hua Hin, waiting to play our last round of golf at the #1 Golf Course in Thailand in 2012. Well, a story indeed.

We check in and are told that we should be able to get off about 20 minutes early. Great. We get changed and go to the starter – at least that was her apparent title. A more inept, incompetent idiot I have never seen (except for the guy a couple of years ago at the Pitt Meadows Club Championship Weekend in LoudMouth Golf attire, but that’s another story). Anyway, we were about a hundred yards with a hill between us and the first tee and there are 8 power carts lined up for 8 golfers and their caddies. I ask 2 or 3 times “Are we 2 or 4?”. Terry’s caddy shows her the rentals, Terry frowns and away they go, back to the pro shop and get her a better set of clubs. I’m still asking “2 or 4?” I hear a guy drive up and say to a two some, “I think I’m playing with you.” All of a sudden, people are going off towards the tee, so my caddy says “Let’s go, we get off first”.  We head off, stop about 30 feet back to wait for the people teeing off and all of a sudden 3 carts whip past us, squeeze into the space so they can go next. My  caddy says nothing. I look out and see on the first hole the following: a twosome, a single, a foursome and in front of us the ad hoc threesome. Then the two of us and behind us another threesome. We tee off 5 minutes late! My blood starts to boil and continues as we wait on every single shot – and there is no exaggeration there – (with the exception of the putts) until the second shot on the eighteenth fairway. Any guesses on the kind of game I had? Here’s a hint – I walked more than I rode. On the other hand, Terry had a great game, shot a 97 and had fun with her caddy (who commented  “Papa upset” Ya think?). I do admit, though, my caddy didn’t have a great day.

Then it was back to the hotel to pack up our belongings and get ready for the trip to the airport. We went to our favourite Hua Hin restaurant – Hua Hin Seafood Restaurant – for our last Thai meal – Lobster Thermidor, Grilled Squid, Grilled Morning Glory, Rice and Chang Beer. It was excellent, although Terry feels we may have had some of our lobster misappropriated to other plates.

Terry, Bee and Larry the Lobster - soon to be Larry Lobster Thermidor

Terry, Bee and Larry Lobster – soon to be Larry Lobster Thermidor

We get picked up for our 3 hour ride to the Bangkok Airport at 8:30. Apparently, the driver’s sole goal was to get there in less than the allotted time, irrespective of speed limits, traffic, road conditions (ie potholes, bumps, construction) and the fact that any shock absorbers or springs his van once had were loooooooonnnnnngggggg gone. Our flight was leaving at 1:55 am (yes, a.m.) but we figured we would get a couple of hours of sleep in the van. HA! FAT CHANCE! We get there in 2 hours 25 minutes, with my back saying “Good luck on the plane, pal”.

Now let me tell you about the Thai Airport, where line ups mean as little as they do in China – sort of. Remember now, we are flying back to Shanghai, China. This is hard to describe. We get in line to check our bags and are about 100 feet from where the guiding ropes and stanchions start. I notice, however, that, just where these ropes start, frequently the Chinese travelers will just butt in and move ahead into the line up. As a result, after 30 minutes or so we have moved about 10 feet. I go for a walk. I get a drink and on my way back, I stop at the point where the line enters the ropes. The next Chinese folks who approach, I tell “No, line up starts back there – all these people first”. They shrug their shoulders and go to the end, thwarted in their attempts. This goes on for the next ten minutes or so, with “our” line now moving just fine. Terry was sure I was going to get either arrested or punched out by one guy who wanted to cross the line to get into a group he was traveling with. However, now many people in our line want to put me up for sainthood or least they thank me profusely.

So now we are on the plane. We are still at the gate. 80% of the plane is still boarding. Across the aisle from me is a guy who has his hands folded in his lap, his chin on his chest and he is snoring – and loudly! He continues this all through boarding, take-off, meal time, colicky baby screaming in the seat in front of us, drooling, rest time and landing. Unbelievable – he never moved once. I never checked, but he may still be on that plane. We land, they tell us our bags are on carousel 12 and we go down and watch about 60% of the bags get unloaded and then – nothing. After about 15 minutes of nothing, a young man comes over to us and says “You were on the flight from Bangkok with us, right? Well the rest of the bags are now on carousel 9.” No message from the airlines, no one to tell us (and many others). Just change the carousel. Yes we are back in China!

We check in to our favourite hotel  (The Paramount Gallery) at 8:30 a.m. “Yes Mrs. and Mr. Watt, of course we will get you into your room early – you must be very tired.” Terry goes off to get a cut and colour at Toni and Guy and I go off to hopefully get my computer fixed. I head down Nanjing Pedestrian Mall. Some Shanghai firsts: A 60 something, clearly gay white gentleman welcomes me to Shanghai and invites me for coffee; a buxom woman offers me a card which offers sex – I ask if it is her photo on the card – “No, no” she laughs; a second woman whispers “You want to pay for sex?” (isn’t that called marriage?) I say I am married “No problem”; a tall, 40ish very attractive woman with a shorter partner asks ” You want massage?” wink (literally) – somehow I don’t think it was going to be like Bird’s; two young (25ish), attractive women say “Aren’t you cold?  You strong.” (I am in a short sleeve shirt)  “Are you waiting for friend?” – maybe they were looking for a new Papa?

I go into the Apple store – “Maybe it is the cable, maybe it is the hard drive – you come back in 4 hours.” I come back and they say good news, it is the hard drive and we replaced it. “Good news? What is the charge?” “No charge” “What about all the data and photos from our three weeks in Thailand?” “Oh sorry, all gone”. Aaaahhhhh!! But, ta da ta da – Apple to the rescue – all photos you take (well, the last 1000) and upload to iPhoto go to PhotoStream – a giant hard drive in the sky so I am now downloading the photos back on to the computer, as I write. Thank you Apple (and thank you Geoff for having the foresight to buy an extra hard drive in January and back up your entire hard drive just before you left. Man, you are a genius!).

For dinner we go out with our bestest friends in China – Kim and Bruce, Chan and Greg, Lawrence and our newest bestest friends in China, Helene and Steve Henrichsen, at Lost Heaven – our favourite restaurant in Shanghai. We have much good food, much great wine and much much fun and conversation!

Today we come home – thus the subtitle to this blog (you were wondering, right?). Before we left for Thailand, I left a message with our neighbour Tina for our aiyu (cleaning lady)  about the things we wanted done. One of them was to take everything out out of the fridge and clean it and that she could have whatever vegetables were in the crisper. Poor Tina misinterpreted and told Huang to either throw out or take anything in the fridge she wanted, clean it and unplug it, so we come home to:

  1. No chocolate
  2. No chili sauce
  3. No black been and garlic sauce
  4. No ketchup
  5. No butter
  6. No chocolate
  7. No frozen pork
  8. No frozen lamb
  9. No frozen shrimp
  10. No $40 worth of cheese available only in Shanghai
  11. No assorted other condiments not easily available and gathered over the past five months in China.
  12. No things in the fridge at all
  13. Did I mention no chocolate?
Our very clean(ed out) fridge.

Our very clean(ed out) fridge.

Clearly, we need to be more careful about our communications! After all, the responsibility in any communication is with the sender, not the receiver, isnt it?

(Ed. note #1: I am noting a disturbing pattern here – fewer and fewer comments to keep us going. Will work for strokes, folks. 🙁 C’mon, do your part – there are hundreds of you and just two of us.

Ed. note #2: While you are now up to date with our last day, due to the equipment malfunction, we have missed some interesting anecdotes. In the next few blogs we will regale you with Tales of the Floating Market, The Trek to The Bridge Over the River Kwai, Jasmine versus James, Naval Protection, The King, The Return of Krabi and 7-11: The Training Ground)