Monthly Archives: December 2005

Journey to the Khorat Plain

Temple ruins at Phanom Rung

Northeast to Khorat (November 2004)

I landed in Bangkok from San Francisco, then two days visiting Lek’s (my Thai girlfriend of several yrs) extended family in Thonburi, across the river from BKK proper and near Wat Intharam. Finally we secure her two daughters at Momma’s house, and are ready to begin our journey east to the Khorat plain- ultimate destination: the 12th century Ankor restored city of Phanom Rung, and next to find a driver who will take us off the main route, following back roads mirroring the Cambodian border south to Trat, which will put us in position to take the ferry to Ko Chang (Elephant Island).

After a concluding night of dinning and drinking on the west bank of Mae Nam Chao Phraya, with forty or so of the extended family, next morning we board a train from downtown Bangkok station. The second class car is only half full as we make the slow trudge through the many stops servicing the suburbs of this vast city of seven million; yet the view from the tracks educates the first time rider of the poverty often gone unseen by someone staying in Siam Square, or even on Banglamphu (Khao San Rd).

Four hours up the rambling trestles we pass scary looking chemical plants and bleak desolate flatlands, before the terrain gives way to rice fields and sparse herds of skinny cattle. Then our train chugs ascending a grade cut through the hills, and we see mining operations and small dusty towns, before leveling over the mountains onto a wide open plateau. From here it is all endless paddies and occasional skinny cows and forlorn water buffalo; soon we head into the populated outskirts of Khorat and the weathered terminal.

Lek and I check into a ten buck a night hotel, and are stoked to find the hot water works, yet the bed has barely a mattress and is hard as concrete, and the white stucco room makes us feel like we are staying in a mental hospital. However that evening we walk a few blocks to the night market, and enjoy a yummy Issan meal of kai ping (grilled garlic marinade chicken) and laap muu (fried minced pork with chilies and fresh mint leaves)- including sticky rice and beer, total cost for two around $4 US. Walking back to the hotel we cut through a dark alley and literally run into a smiling little man walking his teenage elephant; we stop and chat and he allows us a photo.

The next morning we negotiate with a guy for a lift to the town of Phimai to the northeast of Khorat. Lek sits in the cab with the driver and I spread out in the bed of the dented pickup with the bags, and off we ramble up the road.

Phimai to Phanom Rung

An hour later the truck dumps us off in front of an ok looking semi-modern hotel in middle of no where- off desolate two lane Rte 206. The Phimai Inn turns out to be good digs, with large, clean rooms complete w/ A/C, hot water, satellite tv, fridge, and a comfy queen sized bed ($18 US a night). The view from our second floor nest gazes out over a small garden and mature fruit trees, and beyond endless rice paddies w/ the occasional skinny cow & or forlorn water buffalo. There is also a large well maintained pool, and a well staffed open air restaurant covered by a wooden roof which is good, since it’s nearly 90-F degrees in the shade; even though it is only the end of November. We’re delighted to find the food very fresh and Issan tasty (spicy), the beer icy cold, and the waitresses extremely friendly. Although reading the menu cracks me up: “curry snake head…flyed frog…curried grass hopper…eel with kiss rice…” but the fair also has the more traditional dishes like laap muu, kai ping, etc- and everything Lek and I order is yummy.

Next morning our prearranged driver picks us up at 9-am and we ramble over country roads leading east, and a bit south. We are headed to Phanom Rung which is considered Thailand’s best restored Khmer monument/ancient city- circa AD 1113-1250. After about 90 minutes the lonely track passes through a small village and we begin to see evidence of historical sites: the remains of timeless stone walls, a well constructed reservoir still holding water behind a dam built in the 12th century, overgrown piles of earthen brick, etc. Then the road rises up the side of an extinct volcano which allows us to gaze over an extended plain leading to Cambodia, and we enter the park; I’m glad we hired a driver w/ a good vehicle, as he drops it into first gear and we motor up the steep ascent. The jovial wheel man is named Pong and he drops us at the top, explaining he’ll pick us up on the other side of the mountain once we’ve seen our lot.

Lek and I spend the next three hours strolling and examining the excellently restored, impressive, ancient city monument which sprawls over several wooded acres. The deserted hallways, hefty pillars and giant door openings lead one to image gods living in these perfectly symmetrical walls and ritual spaces. The stone blocks are laterite and sandstone, and the carved art work depicting lotus-bud tops, dancing girls, Vishnu, Rama, Krishna, and the rest of the Hindu brethren are stunning. By the time we amble back down to the van we are quite overwhelmed by our walk through time, but then Pong insists on stopping at two other lesser sites on our journey back to Primai; which is only icing on the historical cake.

Teaching in Thailand

A Survival Guide for Perfectionists

Confession time: I’ve been a perfectionist all my life. Working for ten years in Japan, a culture obsessed with orderliness, detail, and “going by the book,” intensified my natural bent. The positive side was that it brought me a modest bit of success in working with my Japanese counterparts in business. On the other hand, there’ve been huge downsides— trying to over-plan things to the detail level of a gnat’s eyebrow, a tendency to be inflexible and judgmental. I have to consciously and continually monitor myself in these areas, lest I become impossible to work with or live with.

Three years ago, I started teaching at a small Thai vocational college in Isan, the first farang ever to work there. My first duty was to plan my courses from scratch, and that meant planning a week-by-week curriculum, then converting it to a syllabus. I was told not to worry about anomalies in the academic schedule, as it was a straightforward 16 weeks of instruction and two weeks of exams.

Ah, a tailor-made job for the obessed perfectionist!

Oh my. That first syllabus. It was beautiful. A six-pager that choreographed nearly every classroom movement. Want a restroom break, students? Check the syllabus. Want to know when you can raise your hand with a question? Check the syllabus. Want to know how many jinjoes (house lizards) were allowed on the classroom walls at any given moment? Check the… OK, you get the picture.

Then, early into the semester, the unthinkable happened.

On one of my more spectacular-to-be teaching days, using a lesson plan created to bedazzle the most jaded student, inspired by my perfect syllabus, I showed up at a ghost school. Not one soul in sight. For some reason, the security guard wasn’t even there.

It was like the twilight zone.

I checked the time—classes should be starting in 19 minutes. I phoned a Thai teacher and inquired whether it might be a Saturday or Sunday. No, it was Friday, just like I thought.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Ajahn! Half the teachers went to Bangkok for a seminar, so no school today. Would you mind making up your classes on Sunday?”

What? Half the staff gone? School canceled? How in the world did I get left out of THAT loop? Moreover, to rub salt into the wound, make-up classes on Sunday? My Sacred Day of Rest? (Ok, my day to write lesson plans for the following week and to visit friends in another part of the province.) I had arranged for the outing weeks ago. I had meticulously arranged my daypack for this trip the previous Tuesday!

I felt my little organized world crumbling about me. Mini-pangs of indignation mixed with frustration grew into sharper jabs of anger, poking at me like little shards of glass flying about my shattered glass bubble. You’ll never know the intensity of these feelings unless you’ve been under the curse of perfectionism.

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Buddha in the Horizon

There are two outstanding monuments near Bangkok; one is the Standing Buddha and the other is the Phra Phathom Chedi.

The Standing Buddha dominates the vast open fields and the sky. It is an easy reminder to us about Buddha’s teachings; that life is full of sorrow, that desires cause sorrow, that sorrow is liquidated when we overcome desires and the eightfold path leads us towards achieving nirvana or deliverance. In order to remember the eightfold path in my childhood for exams, I had formed a shortened abbreviation-VASCLEMM: right view,right action,right speech,right conduct,right learning,right effort,right mindfulness and right meditation. These paths have remained in my memory.

The Phra Phathom Chedi is also monumental. Its yellow colour is very pleasing to the eyes. All around the chedi there is a lot of life. We are reminded of the Japanese Daibutsus of Kamakura Buddha and Todaji Buddha of Nara. The following words of Einstein seem very appropriate:

The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.

This much for today.

Old Patong:The Early 80’s:The Great Wall Of Patong

The slowly smoldering feud between Big Dave[Thai Garden Restaurant] & Canadian Bruce[Paradise Bungalows/Bar]finally came to a head this week.

Earlier in the day Bruce had mentioned how noisy Thai Gardens had become. Naturally there are two sides of every story. Bruce had 8 bungalows to choose from, but somehow his wisdom was to live in Mr Singhs old office near the streetfront and RIGHT next to Daves restaurant!

Well, it seems that Bruce finally had enough and decided to build a concrete wall, 6feet high between the two, once friendly businesses.

Meanwhile, the 3 BIG Polish tourists had returned to sunny Patong for yet another holiday and these guys CAN party!

They would spend ALL their time having a good time at Thai Gardens and they NEVER slept the entire month each year when they were there[well, maybe an hour or two per day, but really, they were wild boys].

As the Mekhong took over their thinking, along with Big Daves prodding that the new cement wall was really infact little more than another Fascist BERLIN WALL, about 3AM, the 3 BIG bruisers[but otherwise really NICE guys]suddenly leaped on the wall, taring it COMPLETELY down! Brick by brick, it was soon a pile of rubble!!

Naturally Canadian Bruce called Patongs finest to enforce the law, they arrested the 3 inebriated Polish gents, carting them off to Baan Ling over the hill in nearby Katu for the remainer of the night, with the judge giving Canadian Bruce MORE than enough Baht to not only rebuild the wall, but to build it about 10feet high this time!

It seemed funny to Patong Patty & myself, cause we’d moved out of Paradise because Bill would crank the stereo up each night for a few hrs towards quit’n time to rouse the drinkers into quickly buying more hootch,,,go figure,,,what comes around goes around!

ps: about ready to install NEW scanner, so those long waited for pix of OLD PATONG may soon be viewed!

Sawdee PeeMai y’all

My Own Top Three Thai Blogs

A beautiful sunset on the holiday island of Koh Samet

Living upcountry in Thailand, X’mas was just another day and I didn’t indulge in any merry festivities, which anyway, were not…..happening around town. In fact, I think the closest I got to a feel of X’mas was being served by a couple of naughty looking Beer Singha Promotion girls dressed-up in some short kinky Santa Clause outfit at the Beer Garden just down the road.

The Thais may not exactly celebrate X’mas that much, but New Year (1st Jan) is another splendid time of the year for the locals to throw a wild party. Great country this is, Thailand! Just import lots of other national holidays and celebrate them too! Halloween? Valentines? X’mas? Chinese New Year? Bring them all in, wonderful excuse to have a mad party, get drunk and gamble on cards every month! And you wonder why I don’t go back to England!

The response so far to my own top ten has been pretty decent and I’m delighted that some of the readers have taken time and wandered back to look at some of me older stuff. So here it is, my own final… top three blogs of the year:

3) Thai Ladyboys

And I am not joking! You be may wondering how I had the darned nerve to stick this in the top three – well that’s pretty easy to answer. A lotta unique viewers get through to thai-blogs every day through search engines and definitely Google. If you thought that key-words for finding ‘stevesuphan’s blogs’ were in the form of ‘Teaching in Thailand’, ‘Getting Married in Thailand’ or ‘Saucy Thai singers’ then I am afraid to inform you – NO! You would be amazed to the amount of readers we get coming here everyday looking for info on ‘Thai Ladyboys’.

Search phrases along the lines of ‘Ladyboy’ probably outrank even those other two hits of mine along the lines of ‘Dos and Don’t’s/ Thailand’ and ‘Thai girls’. On top of this, a myriad of readers latched on to this blog of mine and sent it whizzing around to other blogsites. It was the first ‘actual proper’ blog of mine that really punched readership power. Love it or hate it, it tells a variety of witty stories about the one and only…..Thai Ladyboy. Even a couple of serious points were mentioned too, to even things up. I think the blog offers good insight for newbie foreigners interested in Thai Ladyboys. It is a fun blog and not to be taken seriously!

2) Down and out……in Cambodia

This blog told of the horrifying ghastly saga of an extremely hunfortunate Hungarian going by the name of….Mr Tammas. From just needing to pop over the Cambodian border to renew his Thai visa, the poor fellow very soon had his passport, credit cards and cash stolen by a heartless razor-sharp thief. Money and passportless, Mr Tammas is soon stuck behind bars in a Khmer cell with a thousand cockroaches and smelly inmates for company. Finally arriving in Phnom Penh, he was bitterly aghast at the lack of diplomatic relations with the former east-bloc country and left to clean the floors and make ghoulash at one of the capital’s lousiest guesthouses.

Now, how the heck did this shortish blog managed to reach number two in a list of 50+ blogs? The answer? – word of mouth. Just a few weeks after that blog I went and joined up with a few of the ex-pat community here in Suphanburi only to here the likes of “Hey man, that was one gruesome story about that Hungarian guy, our Dutch friend had to go to Poipet for his visa run yesterday and was petrified!”. Geez, the sunfortunate saga of Mr Tammas had spread! Another Farang from Angthong had given all his Farang buddies in that province the awful lowdown on the fate of Mr Tammas! And if that wasn’t enough, I was at my favourite bar/restaurant ‘DDM2’, a Korean gaff located near the National Gallery one day and bumped into an English backpacker who had read a couple of my blogs. The backpacker asked “Do you know whatever happened to that hunfortunate Hungarian who had his passport nicked in Cambodia?” He went on to tell me that he had spread the story like wildfire at the beach resort he was staying at in Koh Phang-ngan! How many others spread the story story of the hapless Hungarian….i just do not know

Of course, Mr Tammas – never existed, I completely made the story up.

Having lived in Cambodia, I heard a variety of different stories about – being banged up in a Khmer cell, lack of diplomatic relationship, passports stolen and corrupt officials. And too right, there was a down-and-out Bahtless Farang working as a cleaner, tout and cook at this guesthouse I was staying at for a while! Stevesuphan’s nastiest wind-up of the year and fortunately….the only one!

1) Dos and don’ts of dating…. a ‘proper’ Thai girl

Without a doubt my top blog of the year. It didn’t just lead me to blogging for thai-blogs in the first place but it set a precendent for future Dos and Don’ts/Thailand blogs. Even though the blog never did make the main page here at thai-blogs, it caught the attention of various other bloggers who thought the blog was decent enough for them to post themselves. Permission sought or not. Due to referers, the blog still brings in unique visitors til this day. At the forums here, it also ended up as one of the most popular threads of the year.

The response to this blog from folks around the world and especially Thai readers was postively and completely unexpected. Received a host of comments and even e-mails from Thai girls and some Farang guys thanking me for the advice and my appreciation of ‘proper’ Thai girls. Ironically, the only negative feedback I got was from a couple of Farang guys who informed me to the likes of…“I don’t need your advice on how to date a Thai girl, if she doesn’t like me for who I am then she can bugger off!” In fact a lot of the support for this blog from Thai girls read exactly like……this kind of attitude.

‘Dos and don’ts of dating a Farang Guy’ is also one of my most read blogs, and is a witty but slightly serious insight into how us Farang men are seen through the eyes of a Thai girl. Not just Farang-bashing, I served up a bit of revenge in ‘Dos and don’ts for Thais going to Farangland’

Sees yous all soon after the hols….