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Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

(Photo Blogging Day 21)

I can’t really understand people who take photographs, and never do anything with them, or look at them. Photographs are taken to be seen, after all. Sure, they can be records. But what use are records if they’re never referred to?

I have photos of my family scattered around my house. To mention just a couple, a favourite photo of my father, standing on a chair when he was 2-3 years old, is a precious possession, and I have one of Charlie a bit younger, sitting on the shelf behind my computer. I made a photobook for my father-in-law after a family Christmas. He cried when I gave it to him. I hope he looks at it from time to time. I do!

My favourite giraffe

My favourite giraffe

Most of our photographs though are travel photos. I have the African sunrise photo on my wall, as well as two smaller canvases of a leopard and an elephant respectively. I printed out a photo of my favourite giraffe, and have it in a frame in my living room. And of course there is the black-and-white wall. Never to be forgotten are my photobooks. I will quite frequently pick up one of these books and flip through it. I like remembering.

A favourite way though to make sure I can take pleasure from photographs is to have a folder set up as a screensaver on my computer.  I love turning to my screen after a phone call, or returning to my chair after doing something else, and being surprised – in the nicest possible way – with a photo that I might even have forgotten I’d taken, but that I love. It always makes me smile. This is one I saw today.

Thai dresses

So, tell me, how often do you look at photos you’ve taken?

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30

When I turned 30, we lived in Bangkok, one of the great cities of the world.  Work was stimulating; I was watching and taking part in world events, and we lived in one of the great cities of the world.  There was Thai food, and a maid.  Life was good.

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The news this week of the attacks on the US Embassies, and the murder of the US Ambassador to Libya and some of his staff, was shocking to me. It has been about 18 years since I left our own diplomatic service, after only one posting in Bangkok. Even with such very brief experience as part of the global diplomatic family, I felt this deeply. When you’re away overseas, representing your country, you feel an affinity with those other diplomats. Because they too are overseas representing their countries, living in a strange land, learning (often) a strange new language and culture, missing their families and friends at home, setting up home wherever their government decides to send them.  So often the similarities between us all – whether we are from New Zealand, the US or China – outweigh the differences. We become friends and colleagues. And things that affect our friends and colleagues affect us too.

I was on the phone this afternoon to another friend who has only recently left the diplomatic service, and we chatted about this.  She has had a more than 20 year career serving in three different countries.  She has a friend and colleague in the US Embassy here who she met somewhere offshore years ago. This often happens. Friendships develop, rekindle, and deepen over the years as diplomats crisscross the planet.  And in the process, we become a family. A huge, disparate, diverse family. And almost 20 years later, I still feel part of that family. And I feel for those diplomats who were threatened, injured, and killed overseas.  I feel for the diplomats all over the world who will now be on heightened alert.  I remember walking past the gun-bearing guards and the small cannons outside the US Embassy in Bangkok during the first Gulf War.  I remember their vulnerability.  I remember my grief at the death of the head of the Red Cross, and international diplomat who I had met ten years earlier in Cambodia.  And I grieve for them all.

It reminds me of the AFS motto, taken from Sanskrit:

Walk together, talk together,
All ye people of the earth,
Then and only then
Shall ye have Peace.

If only …

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These days, the closest I get to foraging for food is wandering up and down the lanes at the supermarket without a shopping list.  Even growing up on our farm, we never foraged.  Food was farmed or hunted, whether it was meat, fish or the vegetables grown in our large garden.  And so I was intrigued with Lali’s experience of foraging for mushrooms and lambs’ quarters.

And then I remembered.  Next to my host family’s house in Thailand was a large vacant section, one of only a few in the wealthy, gated community.  As with any vacant space in Thailand, it was lush and green.  The plants grew profusely – but looked like (and probably were) weeds.  One day I looked out my bedroom window and saw my Thai mother, and one of the drivers, wandering through the section looking for something.  I called in my sister, and asked her what they were doing.

“Getting dinner,” Dao said, matter-of-factly.  I was appalled.  What on earth did she mean?  The lot was full of weeds that to my foreign mind all looked as if they’d be poisonous.  The only other things out there would be some impossibly large and creepy insects – not appetising at all – snakes (argh!), and maybe even some ubiquitous rats.  “Vegetables,” said Dao, sighing at the ignorant farang.

Yes, my Thai mother and a helper would regularly forage through this area to find greenery to be thrown into the wok.  I have no idea what she found.  I never knew whether the vegetables I was eating came from the market, or the vacant lot.  So even upper-class wives of senators in a gated community in Thailand forage.  With some Help, of course.

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I’m not going back. We visited in March 2008, again at Christmas 2010/11, and now February 2012. This time it wasn’t really our choice. My niece decided to get married in Phuket, and we weren’t letting the rest of the family go without us! But you know, revisiting places can be tough. It’ll be a while before I can face it again.

We first visited Thailand together Christmas 1988 (give or take a year – my memory fails me). We flew in to Phuket, and stayed at Patong Beach. Phuket was only just opening up in those days. We stayed in the one hotel (still the ONLY hotel) on the beach – there were a few across the road though – and there was only the street parallel to the beach, and one other turning off diagonally with a few bars and restaurants. I remember the beach was wide and deep and had perfectly white sand. The sea was warm – so delightfully warm – and swimming every day was a delight. We enjoyed dinner that first night at a restaurant right on the beach – we tossed off our jandals and buried our feet in the sand, as we shared a whole fish. A perfect introduction to Thailand for my husband. Patong Beach was beautiful, pristine, and serene.

This is Patong Beach now.

Can you hear me screaming?

Words can’t express my horror. It looks like something on the Costa del Sol. But this is my beloved Thailand, not a crass Spanish beach! There is nothing – NOTHING – like this in New Zealand. Or I think Australia, or the Pacific. I have no idea about beaches in the US. Most of the people on this beach are Europeans. You can tell by all the men in Speedos, and women in bikinis, regardless of their shape. (My sister called it “The place where you will always find someone who looks worse in a bathing suit than you.”) We, in the Southern Hemisphere – or perhaps the New World – don’t know how lucky we are to have space. Space to go to the beach and to enjoy privacy, or at the very least not to have complete strangers just a few feet away.

Looking at Patong Beach in 2012 made me want to cry.

PS. I have to note we didn’t stay in Patong, but about 45 minutes away, in a very peaceful spot, and it was great.

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We came. We saw. We sweated. We gathered. Waves lapped. Sun beat down. Palms swayed. We smiled. Bartenders shook. And stirred. We drank. Fans cooled. Almost naked tourists stared. Music played. She descended. Dad proud. Mum cried. I cried too. He vowed. So did she. They kissed. We cheered. We hugged. Flowers thrown. Baby elephant Nadia arrived. Nadia kissed. Cameras clicked. Sun set. Guests swam. Dresses changed. Stars twinkled. Lanterns lit. Cocktails consumed. Speeches made. Eyes wiped. Cake cut. Dances danced. Lobster eaten. Tide advanced. Mango met sticky end. Sparklers sparkled. Boom! Fireworks enthralled. Fire dancer amazed. Moon rose. Band played. Shoes discarded. Bride glowed. Groom beamed. Moonlight shone. Surf gleamed. Palms swayed. Stars twinkled.

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Blogging isn’t always easy on the road. So usually I write something in advance, and schedule it to post when I’m away. Facebook is easier to deal with – they’re like mini-blogs. A blog in a two sentences or less. I wish all my readers could see my Facebook updates – it would take the pressure off posting here. But even keeping up with Facebook can be a chore. So, in anticipation, here are the Facebook Status Updates I am most likely to post over the next 12 days. But now I don’t have to.

Day :

  1. I am seriously allergic to economy class. 10 hours is more than enough. Any more might kill me.
  2. On this day in 198X, I did. He did too. I’m glad.
  3. Sawatdee kha, prateyt tee ruk! (Happy happy happy).
  4. Mangoes, warm seas, white sand. Who needs summer in NZ?
  5. Another foot massage. Is there much more blissful than that?
  6. This. Here. On this island. This is where I’d retire if we won the lottery. Sabai Sabai.
  7. So funny introducing my sister to the joys of a road-side food stall, complete with the ubiquitous dogs, and chilli. Wish other sister was here with us for the fun.
  8. Felt very old today, watching my niece get married. We were all very happy – yes I cried – and there was a funny incident with the baby elephant which I can’t repeat.
  9. Sticky rice, barbecued chicken, and green papaya salad. Still the best picnic EVER.
  10. Hate leaving. Hate anticipating long flights. Why can’t you beam me up, Scotty?
  11. Gasp. Allergic … gasp … economy class … gasp … (And it’s even worse when you have to read Board papers on the flight.)
  12. But it’s only 1 am in Thailand. WHY do I have to get up now? Oh right, holiday’s over.

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