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!
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).
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.
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!