Saturday, February 28, 2015

Piggy Goes to Market

Okay not Piggy perse, but rather a bunch of hungry farang (foreigners) accompanied by two Thai locals. Our friend Om, our favorite barkeep, set up a Thai cooking class for us with a chef from Aleenta, an expensive restuarant on the beach of Pak Nam Pran.

First stop on our cooking adventure was Om's bar where we picked the three dishes we'd learn to make: Green Curry with Seafood, Massaman Curry with Chicken, and Tom Kha Gai soup.

The next stop was the local market where we bought our ingredients and some snacks too!

Om picking out the best (read: most transculent) squid for our green curry, as Josh looks on.

Mags, Paul and I with our Thai chef stocking up on fresh produce.

Can you say spicy? I always ask for dishes my pet (not spicy).

Fresh morning glory greens are incredibly delicious!

Ready-made curries may seem like cheating but even the nicer restaurants do it.

U-pick shrimps, head and all.

Scooters parked like sardines outside the market stalls.

Juicy pineapple ready to be snacked on.

Weird meat popsicles? I'll pass, thank you very much!

My preferred snack: fresh strawberries coated in sugar and something red.

10 baht (30 US cents) for this luscious bag of tomatoes.

It wouldn't be Southeast Asia if there weren't whole fish starring in you in the face....

Or raw chicken dripping its salmonella-infested juices into a bucket....

But when you can get a bouquet of beautiful orchids for 50 cents from a smiling woman, there's no reason not to love the market!








Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Home Sweet Home

We have been travelling now for more than year and while perhaps I should be homesick, I am not. In fact, sometimes I feel like I'm home even when I'm far from Seattle.

Home for me seems now to be the places where people and customs are familiar. I don't have a physical home anymore, as we sold our house last year. And while our belongings are mostly stored in Seattle, we have things scattered across the US West.

Arriving in Pak Nam Pran, Thailand the other night it was dark, the streets were vacant, and all was quiet. And yet when I stepped off the bus, our good friend Brad was there ready to help unload our many bags from the bus as if this was a normal occurrence. Riding to our rental house in a familiar neighborhood, I didn't even notice that we were on the left side of the road.

The next evening while riding on the back of Josh's motorbike at night, I reminded him to watch out for stray dogs in the road; a fact of life in Thailand that seems to be embedded deep in my subconscious. And although our friend's bar has relocated after a tree fell on it and then it later burnt to the ground, her new bar feels like home too. She gives me a big hug when we roll up and we promise to get drunk together at least once this season. I order my favorite Thai drink--Sang Som (rum) and Manae (lime soda)--and Josh gets his (Sang Som and soda water).

I remember that 7-11 is the place to get "top up" (phone credits) for my Thai SIM card and I remember to thank the clerk with a "Kob Khun Kah." I also know how to get to my favorite coffee place, which sadly seems to have a different--less skilled--chef this year so my typical fried pork and rice breakfast is less than superb. I recognize the Thai massage place where they are a little too touchy-freely for my taste and delight in seeing the seaside massage stand still standing, knowing that I can get an incredible massage there for just $10US.

Driving on the left side of the road now seems more comfortable than being on the right. When I was in the States a few weeks ago, I was terrified to find the car on the right side of the road and had to stop myself from yelling at the taxi driver in fright. But riding my scooter is a breeze and I'm happy for the free AC while I ride around town.

There is something special about returning to a place and feeling at home, especially when you've only lived there for a short amount of your life. And while we will leave Thailand again in a few weeks, I know we will return here many more times in our life.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Underwater monsters

Bitten by a fish. Stung by jellies. Attacked by a bristle worm. Our underwater adventures took a decidedly dangerous turn this February as we returned to Thailand. And also an incredibly beautiful one.

Last week Josh and I lived aboard Wicked Diving's M/V Mariner based out of Khao Lak about an hour north of party town Phuket. Our dive time was split between the Surin Islands and Similan Islands, both top dive spots in Southeast Asia and new haunts for us. In the big blue ocean we spotted dozens of giant moray eels, plenty of octopus, school upon school of yellow and blue and silvery fishes, long skinny trumpetfish, and acres of colorful corals.

Josh also got into an altercation with a mean old Titan Triggerfish. Triggerfish are very territorial, especially when they have a nest of eggs. This is their nesting season and we got unlucky when I unknowingly floated over the nest, angering a two-foot long mama or papa triggerfish. A whooshing feeling on my leg was the first indication of something of gone awry. The next was a large eyed fish starring me down as it charged towards me. I turned and swam in the opposite direction, fortunately away from its nest. Josh, meanwhile, just looked on in awe as the triggerfish swam full speed in his direction. For some reason, Josh was convinced the fish would turn away at the last minute, a game of chicken of the sea I guess. But, alas, the triggerfish had other intentions and slammed into Josh's bicep, taking a bite out of his wetsuit and a leaving bloody teeth marks on his arm. I watched it all happen, too shocked to intervene. Happily, triggerfish bites are not poisonous. So while Josh lost a bit of his arm that day, we were able to continue the dive and just smear some neosporin on his arm when we returned to the boat.

Then they were the jellyfish on the surface. As we bobbed along awaiting retrieval by the boat after another dive, a current filled with jellyfish mangled in the boat's prop flowed towards me. I was getting stung repeatedly and it turns out so were other divers in group. By the time I climbed back on board, I had a series of bumps the size of a #2 pencil eraser all up and down my arms and legs. And that was the end of my shortie wetsuit dives. From then on out, I covered myself head to toe with neoprene and polypro and delighted in admiring the jellyfish without getting stung.

On our last night dive, Josh and I discovered a new type of sea worm, one that is drawn to the light, glows with iridescence and is covered in tiny spines like a cactus. As we swam along, holding hands and searching for the red reflective eyes of crabs, shrimp and lobsters in the dark, this evil little creature drifted down from the surface into our clutched hands. I was oblivious, cloaked in long sleeves, but Josh thought the weird sensation in his hand was my wedding ring drifting away. Sweet man that he is, he grabbed at it only to be stung by a hundred microscopic thorns which embedded themselves into the palm of his hand as the bristle worm attempted to flee its captor. In the scuffle the worm landed on the back of Josh's leg, which he then grabbed at resulting in more pricks to his hand. Eventually Josh got free of the two-inch tiny bugger and was able to dislodge most of the spines from his hand before we continued our dive. Later I spotted a second one drifting down from the surface. When it landed on a rock, it curled into a ball, then laid flat with its spines folded down. It reminded me of a porcupine or hedgehog, except underwater and not nearly so cute!

The highlight of our dive trip was seeing a manta ray at Koh Bon. Although we later learned it was small compared to some of the other mantas our dive master had previously seen, I was awestruck by its immensity. With wings spanning more than 12 feet, the manta glided through the waters back and forth, up and down, giving us quite the show! One of our fellow divers (Peter from Germany) took some incredible photos of the manta ray and is letting us share them here. Enjoy!

Massive manta ray surrounded by schooling fish. (Photo by Peter)
Mantas are so majestic. We were giddy with excitement to see one on our last dive! (Photo by Peter)

A Titan Triggerfish nibbling on the hard coral, rather than Josh's arm. (Photo by Peter)

Pretty coral and jagged clamshell.

So many fish!

Tomato clownfish among the obscenely shaped sea anemones.

Tiny fish on colorful lichen-like hard coral. I love the colors underwater!

Sea cucumber with its ruffly black feeler thingies (technical term, I swear!)

Josh showing off his bouyancy skills. Did I mention that he flew me like a kite when I was underweighted? At least one of us is good with bouyancy.

One of many creepy giant moray eels we saw. (Photo by Peter)

Believe it or not, there is an octopus in this picture. No matter how many I see, I am still amazed at the way they change colors and textures to blend in with the rocks.

Least you think we lived under the sea, here's a cool shot of our dive boat and home for 6 days. (Photo by Peter)


Friday, February 13, 2015

A Traveling Ludite

I remember the first time I heard the term "Ludite." One of my all-time favorite bosses and I woman who I greatly admire used the word to refer to her challenges with adapting to new technology. I remember laughing at the phrase, thinking to myself that technology wasn't such a big deal. Now I know that I too am a Ludite. Or perhaps, a Ludite-lite.

Josh has always been the techie one in our partnership. At home, he was in charge of setting up our wifi and connecting our complicated TV/stereo/projector system. He also installed fancy light switches for us with different buttons corresponding to various lighting combinations, most of which were labelled inaccurately leading me to push every button until I could turn on my desired appliance. Still, I didn't truly embrace the notion of being a Ludite until a few months into our travels.

Technology and travel go hand in hand these days. We can check-in for flights and get boarding passes that live on our cell phones. We buy SIM cards for our unlocked iPhones and top up on prepaid calling and data plans in each new locale. We even get our paper mail delivered to us via the internet. And yet when things don't work seamlessly, I lose my shit.

Like the time I was making a photo collage of our travels in Tonga to send to my nieces and nephew. Inexplicably the app on my iPad decided to flip one of photos upside down. Just one photo, mind you. It was crazy-making. What should have taken a few minutes took more than an hour as I tried to outsmart my cranky app. Finally I succeeded in sending the postcard via Postagram, but I was convinced that technology hates me.

On several occasions, my blogging app Blogsy has spontaneously deleted an entire post as I tried to fix a one last grammatical error before publishing. After nearly a year of using the app, I finally discovered -- inadvertently -- that it saves my revisions within the app, allowing me to revert to an older version with a single click. If only I had figured this trick out before retyping several blog posts by memory and with no shortage of swear words.

Each time Apple releases a new iOS, I am confounded by the prospect of updating all my apps. I lament the fact that some of my apps will no longer work on the iPhone 3 which I got second hand from a friend. Google Hangouts, my favorite app for calling the US while abroad, won't work on my phone anymore. And although another sweet friend has given me an iPhone 4, I can't use it until Josh sets it up for me lest I go mad trying to do so myself.

And as for my technology working together to make my life easier, I'm certain that is just a fantasy. I had a fitbit that I couldn't get to sync with my iPad. Luckily I lost it less than two months into our travels so I am no longer frustrated with its complexity packaged in a small lime green smiling robot. My iPad takes ages to import photos from my camera's SD card, for which I finally bought a special adapter so I could stop using Josh's laptop and email as an intermediary. That is to say, when you see photos on my blog posts just know I have spent too much time transferring them to my device and then uploading them to the internet.

Speaking of internet, man it is slow in some countries. I often have to practice deep breathing techniques as I wait for email to load, and Facebook can be impossible. Videos are out of the question and when I accidently click on one it can cause my iPad to crash when I'm connected to shaky wifi. There are times when I wish wifi wasn't available just so I could escape the frustration of having it barely work.

For someone who loves to create graphics, write blogs and stay connected with friends and loved ones over the internet, I am in no way, shape or form good with technology. I muddle along because I cannot escape the reach of technology, nor can I ignore its usefulness even when a simple task takes me ten times longer than it should. Still, I draw the line at Twitter, Instagram and Reddit. There are just some things that this Ludite isn't ready to adopt, no matter how cool they seem.