Saturday, January 31, 2009

Adventures

Sorry no pictures yet. I'm about to tackle that one. So far I've wasted a huge amount of energy trying to get cell phone working. Mainly because the dental clinic people looked distressed that they couldn't contact me. Turns out that Skype is available everywhere and it's only 2 cents a minute to call home, or free if we did it via the computer.
I ended up hiking to hell and gone to find this tech shopping center. Two Thai techie guys looked over my ebay phone and pronounced it unworkable. So I bought a cheap new phone (that I hate) and spent about an hour trying to get it set up, only to have the credit run out after a ten minute call. I don't understand the Thai phone system! But I surely do love Skype!!!
Sorry for the rant.
While I was searching for the tech mecca, I found one of those nationwide optical chains Top Chaoren and went in to see about getting a second pair of glasses. What a trip. There were four or five very pretty young women in tailored uniform outfits who brought me juice and a chair and many more frames than I actually wanted to look at.
Fortunately the manager was not so distractingly pretty and spoke decent English. She said she'd been to San Francisco twice!
I got the cheaper lenses and frames and it came out to about $60 I think. Probably people will point at me and laugh out loud when I wear them, since I picked them out myself without the aesthetic counseling I'm used too. That would be American people laughing at me, I mean. The Thai are much too polite.
On the way back to my hotel I was shanghai'd (sp?) by a massage provider. A rather big and strong Thai woman, from Issan, the poorest part of Thailand. Many workers, taxi drivers, etc here in Chiang Mai are from Issan.
Somehow I always end up hearing the sob story of my massage provider. I don't know if that's just me, or universal. This woman had to leave her bad husband and take care of her two kids, who were back in Issan. Today is her seven year old's birthday and 'no party'. No money.
Well, thank god the massage was excellent. I gave her a very good tip indeed.
The massage was excellent but the room was bathed in lurid pink light and there were many mosquitoes despite the too cold air con. I was worried about getting bit, but didn't. When I saw that pink light I was worried it was a sex place. I have to admit to being very naive about such things. I've heard an offer of an "oil massage" can be a euphemism for sex.
My gal wasn't the type. Thank god.
So after the massage I was almost home when I spied an old man sitting in a samlor. A samlor is a bicycle rickshaw and I'd been wanting to try one out. So I 'negotiated' a ride to the Saturday night walking street market over by Chaing Mai Gate. When I say negotiate I mean that this old fellow kept saying "whatever you like" when I asked how much it would cost! I offered 30B and he was happy, but I ended up paying 40B since it seemed like hard work hauling my skinny ass around through thick traffic, crazy intersections and long quiet dark alleys. It was a beautiful experience. The Thai seem to do much of their living at night. I guess because it's usually so hot. It reminded me a bit of the Oregon Country Fair, how so many places were all lit up with colorful lights, and lots of music from bars and clubs spilling out on the street.
Anyhow, we finally got there and made warm farewells and I waded into the walking street experience.
I'm guessing it was about 97% Thai. The farang were few and far between. I met a few very nice folks from Oz and Florida and Paris. I was craving having even a brief conversation in English and with the overwhelming sights and sounds it was lovely to be able to share words.
Of the sights and sounds, perhaps the most intense were all the musicians parked in the middle of the street. It was a fairly narrow street, what with solid lines of booths and stalls down each side, and totally crowded in most places. The musicians would usually be sitting on a mat and after a bit I realized that most of them were blind. Quite visibly blind, if you know what I mean.
They had cans or boxes out to collect money and the music they were making was quite diverse, but uniformly awesome. A whole range of instruments, from horns to electronic keyboards, to drums. I ended up spending much much more on these folks than on food. I did buy a little skirt for Eden from some Hmong folks. They were really nice people too.
The food was just a trip. I kept thinking Jerry would love it. For a quasi-vegetarian it seemed a bit risky. In fact I was tempted at one point by these crepe like desert things a woman was making, they had chocolate syrup and weird ingredients to choose from. I asked what this stuff was on one of the crepes she was making and it was shredded pork! With sugar, syrup and chocolate sauce no less.
I was looking at these little leaf boats filled with baked eggs. They looked like they'd been cooked over a hibachi and all had stuff in them. One was crab, one mushrooms and another insects. Ironically those were the tastiest looking ones. When I asked what sort of insects the woman held out a little tupperware tub of wriggling meal worms!
I guess I made a loud "Oooohh" cause all of a sudden people around me were laughing and I heard a little girl imitate my Ooooohh. They thought that was hilarious I guess. I didn't even know any one was watching me!
Well, I'm almost out of time (I bought an hour) and I need to get cleaned up. Actually I'd better buy a few more shirts today as I only brought the two.
One last thing though, so far I've been totally unable to sign into my email with sbcglobal. They say they're updating their goddam webmail service, so if you'd like to email me, please us robnelson.eft@gmail.com. I don't have anyone's email addresses at this point, unless I happen to have them memorized.
love from Thailand,
rob

Shock to the System

I just had the most wonderful meal, here at the Vegetarian Restaurant. Catchy name. I passed by this place last night on my weary way to the Night Market. It looked nice. Turns out it's affiliated with the Elephant Nature Park, where I'll hopefully be headed Wednesday.
Their menu was about 25 pages long. Incredibly varied. I had red curry with some sort of yummy brown rice and a side dish of fried mushroom cakes with a dipping sauce. The first bite of the curry caught me by surprise--immediately yummy and then wham! HOT. But I got used to it without too many tears or a runny nose. This was the best meal I've had yet, though my breakfast burrito and mocha at the Art Cafe was damned good.
My body thinks it's 1am still.
I've been walking all over the place. It's just a little bit hot in the sun. Just a bit. In the shade it's perfect. Very different from last time, when we were all just melting.
I took a long and wild tuk tuk ride to my dental apt. I thought the driver was trying to over charge me at first, but then it really was a long way. The problem with the tuk tuks and even the songtheaws is that they're hard to see out of. At least if you're tall.
As we careened throught the chaotic streets I became more and more nervous about my dental apt. I always do that. Put off the worry until the end. Not sure if it's better that way or not, but I can't help it.
The apt was indeed a shock, despite my research and all. Because the xrays showed that I'll most likely need two root canals on two back molars. I suspected I might need one. So that was bad news. Not just because of the pain and extra expense (hey, the more I spend the more I save!) but because it means lots of extra apts. Seven in all, counting today, where she mainly just took impressions of my teeth.
So much for all my jolly sight seeing plans. I'm going to be here in Chiang Mai pretty much the whole time. Which is fine.
Last night I was trying not to go to bed too early, so I walked over to the Night Market, trying to find the outdoor food area where Krista ate her famous bowl of HOT soup. I have a great photo of her eating it, sweating like crazy. Didn't find it, but did look about in the shops and night market stalls.
I'm not all that into shopping. But this experience is staggering. I was especially caught by the bags, dresses, and coats made out of Hill Tribe fabrics and sewn together in very creative stylish ways. One woman's stall in particular grabbed me. She said her sister did all the sewing (and designing). I'll probably bring some back.
The big problem with Thai clothing though is that all the sizes are too small for us Jumbo Size Americans.
I just noticed this is getting pretty stream of consciousness here.
So I'll just mention what I discovered about the Taipei airport. Our flight from SFO got dumped out into the old section of airport. It's smelly. And kind of grungy. I had time to kill, so I put my heavy bags on a cart (they're always free in other countries) and went for a long walk down the seemingly endless corridor. Finally I did see the end, or so I thought, and decided to go all the way. But there was a corner and then another and viola! I was suddenly in the NEW section of the Taipei airport, with floors of shiny polished granite and an art exhibit, a kid's playground area, and best of all--an area set apart with bamboo in planters, with pretty lanterns overhead and eight massage chairs. The really good ones that even do your calves. And they were for free! I went through two cycles, about 4o minutes I think. Oh my god.
Oh, and there were free internet stations all along the way.
Not such luck in the Bangkok airport. Big and modern and clean, but no freebies. Even the seats in the gate areas were metal. C'mon. Metal?
I hit bottom there. I desperately needed to eat, but all the food looked horrid. Warmed over airport food. I ate a Cliff bar and a carrot and felt awfully shaky until I did some tapping.
Anyhow, I'm here and I just used up my free internet. Gotta go.
love and hugs,
rob

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Than Halfway

I'm in Taipei for a nice three hour layover. Can't seem to sign in to email so this is my best bet to communicate. It was horrible, but not too horrible, getting to this point. Had a nice ride down to the SF airport with Jon and sailed through ticketing and security.
Of course the plane was crowded and crammed full of folks. Lots of Indian travelers and a big group of high schoolers or maybe college freshmen?
I finagled a window seat, but it was night time for the whole flight! We were racing the sun West I guess. It was good to have the wall of the plane to lean my poor tired head against. Thanks to a dose of melatonin and a kava kava capsule I actually slept for at least 6 or 7 hours. Wonderful! Of course that meant waking up every half hour or so because my neck was screaming distress.
After that seven hours of sleep, the big screen at the front of the plane told me we still had 5 and a half hours to go!!
I brought a flattened cardboard box and folded the ends up to make an elevated platform for my pillow. It worked pretty well. I was very glad to have it.
I was also glad to have the excellent sci fi book that Steve B lent me. I read about a third of it. There was a screen way up the aisle with some sort of bad movie playing. I was glad to have a book.
I sincerely hope that this will be the most boring entry of the trip.
So far so good, anyway.
rob

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Update! Temperature is Rising!!



UPDATE: As of Monday night, I'm at $750 exactly, and poised to hit $800 tomorrow morning. Don't know if anyone else will book, but that's pretty much my whole Bangkok round trip airfare!!
I've really been enjoying these massages and I hope my gratitude and enthusiasm come through. It's also new and wonderful to feel that I'm working toward something so specific.
Yikes! I'm leaving in two days.

Yesterday:
Okay, thanks to many kind and well rubbed clients, I'm up to $580. That's more than halfway there! In fact I'm only $385 short, which means they'll be dumping me out somewhere between the coast of Vietnam and Taiwan.
I hope I'll have enough time to grab my seat cushion.
Or maybe a few more folks will sign up for a massage and I can make it back down to earth.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Party 1-20-09


Inauguration Party 1-20-09, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

We saw in the New Age with waffles, quiche, fruit salad and champagne, watching the event live on the internet. I had tears in my eyes during Obama's speech.
And seeing Bush being flown away, and Cheney rolled off in his wheelchair like Old Man Potter in It's A Wonderful Life, was such a huge relief. I felt the whole nation, the whole world, exhale in a vast sigh of relief.
If you missed the speech, find it and watch it. It was a real call to service. I think we're seeing something new in the world. And I refuse to entertain cynicism any longer. Time to step up and get to work!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Temperature's Rising!


Today I brought the thermometer up to $325. I'm a third of the way and I've got two more folks booked with more to come. Woo hoo.
I also just bought a cell phone to use over there. Turns out USA and Canada phones are mostly 'dual band' which don't work anywhere else, so I had to find an unlocked 'triband' phone (thank you Ebay--$40).
Now I'll be able to call home accidentally in the middle of the night with much greater convenience.

Hey, if you want to jump in on my massage special, better get on it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Learning to Cook in Chiang Mai.

Oh boy, another thing I REALLY want to do in Chiang Mai. There are a lot of cooking schools there and I want to spend a day learning how to cook Thai.
I think I've got it narrowed down to this one school, thanks to a great review by another blog about Thai cooking.
How I'll find time I don't know! I guess I'll make the time. God knows my culinary skills could use a boost.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Elephant Nature Foundation


I found another thing I absolutely want to do whilst in Thailand. This place is different than all the elephant shows and treks. Here's a statement from their website:

Our mission is to increase awareness about the plight of the endangered Asian elephant, educate locals on the humane treatment of their elephants, and provide sanctuary for rescued elephants at our nature park.

It's not cheap, by Thai standards--$75 for the full day experience, but the money goes to helping elephants so that's okay. Committing a full day (out of ten) is a bigger deal, but I think this would be an unforgetable experience. More so than laying in a hammock by the Pai river.
I have to admit, I think it would be cool to see elephants painting too at one of those more commercial shows, but that'll have to wait.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Massaging My Way to Thailand


My Office, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

To help raise money for my plane fare, I sent out an email to friends and family, offering a great rate for 75 minutes massages--$45!
Today I did my first two and have my old friend Steve booked for next week. I've also got about five more folks saying they'll book. I just need ten and I'm halfway there. If I hit 20 I've got it made.
The great thing is, it feels wonderful doing massage again. I've been doing a few here and there, but doing a bunch in the next few weeks will be awesome. I'm feeling such gratitude and enthusiasm for these massages.
I've always wanted to create one of those fund-raising thermometers, so here it is. Today I hit $115 thanks to two happy friends.

If you'd like to take me up on my special offer give me a call! 707-280-8134. I'm booking until January 27th.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Eyeballing Game

My friend Molly turned me on to this fun little game. I think it must help develop spatial coordination. It's not terribly addictive, so I'm passing it along to you. Enjoy.

Khao San Road Sunset


Khao San Road Sunset, originally uploaded by root-2.

The Great Pai Debate


Temple Elephants, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

After deciding to definitely travel up to the little village of Pai (about a four hour bus ride from Chaing Mai) I began reading posts on the Lonely Planet's thorntree forum--and was dismayed to find near universal condemnation of Pai due to the over development and the kind of culturally insensitive westerners who are drawn to it. Thorntree posters referred to Pai as the Khao San Road of the North--KSR being a section of Bangkok that caters to party going backpackers looking for disco bars, cheap digs and a rowdy time.
Not the real, authentic Thailand. Just a big party scene concocted to milk money out of tourists.
With that bit of discouraging news I began looking for a different destination. After all, I don't drink, don't "party", don't like 'techno' or disco or whatever it's called these days. I was rather picturing a quiet time in a hammock by the river.
But then I asked India what her favorite times in Thailand were. Khao San Road was near the top. We landed there near the end of our Thailand Sojourn and had a really good time. The atmosphere was like a carnival at night.
I remember being truly exhausted from our travels, then looking out of our hotel window, down onto the street and feeling an overwhelming desire to get out there! And we did! It was a surreal scene and we met some trippy folks, had the best pad thai ever--cooked up by a woman with a tiny cart on the sidewalk and stumbled around in the hot, smoky, colorful atmoshpere. We totally enjoyed it.
So I've come full circle thinking about Pai.
I'll probably give it a try after all. And if I hate it, there's always Soppong up the road.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Back to Thailand!!


Stop!, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Well, I just booked my tickets. SFO to Bangkok and then straight on to Chaing Mai. It ended up costing $956 all together. About a hundred dollars less than I originally thought.
It'll be almost exactly four years since I went with Krista, the girls and Joyce (Krista's mom). See Thailand Sojourn if you want to know about that trip. I could've called it Thailand for the Timid! It'll be so different being on my own, and I've been a little bit scared at the prospect. It's weird to see some amazing sight and not have anyone to share the experience with.
On the other hand there will be a lot less luggage to deal with!
My plan is to hit the Grace Dental Clinic my first full day, even though I expect to be pretty wiped out. The crowns can take up to 7 days apparently, and I don't know if they include weekends in that estimate. Grace is the most famous clinic catering to Farang (westerners) and has a fantastic reputation for quality. It's also the most expensive clinic in Chiang Mai, but still much much cheaper than care in the US.
There's a wonderful Sunday Walking Street Market in Chiang Mai that we missed last time. I'll get to check that out, then my plan is to head up to the little village of Pai and chill out for a few days. It's about 4 hours away by bus, but supposedly the trip includes fantastic scenery. If I'm feeling extremely daring, I might rent a motorcycle to do the trip--they say to allow six hours for all the stops, including waterfalls to bathe under. But I doubt I'd do it. Last time I rented a scooter (in Bali) I put it in a ditch and cut my leg up.
Returning to Chiang Mai for my lovely new crowns, I'll be just in time for the Flower Festival, one of the three big yearly events in Chiang Mai. I'm totally excited to get to see it. They say there are over 6000 orchid varieties alone on display. And 'on display' means big floats covered with real flowers and pretty girls an arm's length away. It sounds awesome.
From what I can make out (not knowing exactly what dental work I need) I'll get to enjoy this trip and still save at least $1000 (maybe closer to $2000) over the cost here in Santa Rosa. And I have no doubt the work I get in Thailand will be superior.
Even so, this trip is expensive and I'm starting to think about what I might buy there to bring back and sell. Maybe some yummy silver jewelry? Silk scarves? Or some hill tribe crowns and skirts and such? Any requests?

I am extremely grateful to Krista, letting me go off halfway around the world and fill my soul up with some adventure. I'll be gone for 13 days! We've never been apart that long in 23 years.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Krista and Molly


Krista and Molly, originally uploaded by Robbi Baba.

Our big night out!