Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! May you all, especially my American friends, enjoy this holiday in a way that gives you the most meaning. For most of us, the “Thank” in thanksgiving may be mis-placed. It seems that football and too much turkey is the order of the day. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I thought that perhaps I’d reflect just a bit.

The pilgrims stated this holiday to celebrate the harvest and to share friendship with the Native Americans. In school we were taught that the first Thanksgiving was 1621at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. According to Wikipedia the day was codified two years earlier in Virginia. In any case Thanksgiving is the oldest American Holiday; our founders saw the wisdom in giving thanks. Today I’ll scribble a very private gratitude list. Maybe you will do the same, maybe not.  Now just because I can, I’ll share with you a few general things on my gratitude list. Some of you will understand and some of you will just have to trust the truth written here:

  1. I am free born in a world where so many are born into slavery and abject poverty. My time in the military was well spent.

  2. Years of drunken stupidity and selfishness that could only be defined as self will run riot culminated in my being gifted with sobriety and an opportunity to live as a decent human. Today I in good physical condition, and that is nothing less than a miracle!

  3. My Family is comparatively in pretty good shape. Sure some have financial challenges, others have physical challenges, but all in all we are in pretty decent shape. My relationships seem to be better than in the past.

  4. Spiritual teachers have appeared on my horizon as soon as I have been able to see them. While I often frustrate myself with a lack of progress I’m comfortable knowing that I’m where I am supposed to be today.

  5. Here, I am financially comfortable and can even make minor contributions from time to time. The little house in which I live is just about perfect for me. Between the volunteer work, the pre-school children and my attempts to learn the Thai language, I’m as busy as I want to be.

  6. I have friends from all over the world, you know who you are – Thank you for being in my life!

Traditional turkey dinner isn’t going to happen for me this year. Yesterday I went to the Chaing Rai market and marveled at all the fresh food. I decided to buy ingredients and make a batch of my, not so famous, “Jerry soup”. I tried a few new vegetables including something I thought was ginger, but wasn’t. Mick, I’ll only give this batch a 5 or 5 ½, compared to the 8 or 8 ½ we shared when you were here. Trust me this year’s soup is NOTHING like the turkey soup I used to make after the holidays back in the U.S.A. It’s more like a chicken stew with a serious kick! It’s much tastier.

Internet connection: Several months ago I lost my internet connection and after multiple trips to the TOT office and many phone calls I finally demanded they cancel my agreement. I was a rude American and the easy way to get rid of me was disconnect my account. TOT is government owened and ran. The service reflects the top heavy bureaucracy that governments are known to have. I went with a private company called Triple T Internet (3BB Broadband). I came back from Surin and the connection is awful! On and off all day it was. Yesterday I went to the office, first request mind you, and told them my sad tale. They promised someone would be out the next day or the day after. Two hours later the technicians were here! They traced the problem to a loose line outside the yard and fixed it. My internet is working perfectly! Yea 3BB Broadband! If you ever want internet in Thailand I highly recommend the Triple T Internet folks. Not wanting to be without internet for very long, these nice folks are definitely on my gratitude list.

Loi Krathong, also often spelled Loy Krathong is one of the most colorful festivals in all of Asia. Loi Krathong occurs on the full moon of the 12th Lunar month. This year that happened to be November 21st. Last year I was up in the Akha Village and missed out; this year I was in Chiang Mai but arrived from Surin to late and to tired to go to the river. Beautiful photographs of the Loi Krathong will just have to wait till next year, unless of course, you want to simply Google ”Loi Krathong” and enjoy the many good articles and photographs available on the internet. I especially liked the description at Having said that, the dates are from 2005 but the festival description is current.

In Northern Thailand the festival Yi-peng, which is from Lanna tradition, brackets Loi Krathong. It’s a festival of lights and parades. There is a lot of spiritual context to this festival. Some believe that the lanterns represent the sending away of your troubles and a prayer for good luck in the future.

In Chiang Mai the moat around the old city is decorated with lights in various traditional shapes. My favorites were, you guessed it, the elephants. The entire area around Chang Puek Gate was decorated with these.

Chang Puek Gate, Chiang Mai

Parades are the order of the day and did provide an opportunity for some interesting photographs.

Chiang Mai Parade

Chiang Rai Parade
I was lucky enough to shoot this over his shoulder

Chiang Rai Parade
Elephants Always!

Night Parade in Chiang Rai
 The rest of the shots are at:  Enjoy!

Abundant Blessings,


Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Few Favorites

So I’m walking down the street and some students stop me and ask for an interview. Actually this is pretty common. They are studying English and this is their assignment; I’m easy to approach. One of the stock questions is What is your favorite (fill in the blank)? Everything I mention about Chiang Mai is either inside the old city or very close. I hope you enjoy some of my answers.

Favorite places to eat:

If you read past blogs you will know that Taste from Heaven and Silom Joy are two of my favorites in Chiang Mai. There are more! On Arak Road just past Soi 7 is Issy. The food is Korean / Japanese. I love the place for its convenience, food quality and price.

Robbie and Issy

Across the moat is Ruang Jai, an Isan restruant. Don’t look for signs in English, there are none. The food is Isan style very tasty and quite affordable. If you are not too adventurous try the grilled chicken with sticky rice on the side. If you are adventurous, it’s all great!

Ruang Jai
Where to stay:

For 350 baht a night (450 in high season) you can stay at the Pachkit House in Chiang Mai. It’s a great little family owned boutique hotel. I highly recommend you try them first. See The only down side is no pool. If a pool is important, the Anodard Hotel is a good idea. Another fine choice, though a bit more expensive and again without a pool is the Parasol Inn, right in the center of old Chiang Mai.

In Bangkok I tend to stay at the Federal Hotel. Sukhumvit Road, Soi 11. Great pool, reasonable rates and a good coffee shop. See

Favorite photographic subjects: Elephants, temples and people, especially old ones and young ones.

Pang Dow
Tamboon, Wat Pra Sing, Chiang Mai

Lunch Time
Favorite massage: In Chiang Mai try Lila Thai Massage. Their website will explain why they are truly unique. Bottom line: This business was established to help women re-enter Thai society, there work is excellent and the price is fair.

Best Dental Clinic: I’ve only tried one, Grace Dental in Chiang Mai. They do great work and the staff is friendly, cooperative and very professional. You can find them at btw. Thailand enjoys a fair amount of medical tourism business. Grace Dental is a good example.

Where to get photographic prints made:

In Chiang Rai go to Focus Digital lab; right across the street from the Chiang Rai Night Bazar.. I took 24 images to have printed. The color came out right on every single one of them. In other words they fixed what I didn’t, and they did it right. Further, the whole thing took less than 15 minutes.

This is not about Kodak vs. Fujifilm, I’m 5 years over that one. Kodak and Fujifilm both have excellent products, the difference in quality really depends on the lab. In Chiang Mai there is a Fujifilm shop on the corner between Lili Massage and the 3 Kings monument. They do a good job. Avoid the Kodak shop across the street from Wat Pra Sign. The work is shoddy. It costs more than the Fujifilm shop and while there are only three rude people in Thailand, two of them work there!

Your Favorite Photo’s taken by me: After this article was started and before it was finished, I was asked to submit a few images for a contest. That resulted in my selecting 60 or so and asking you to judge them. To my son Tony, a huge thank you for your keen eye and your candid words. The images are better, some much better because of your efforts! Many thanks to the rest of you who responded, even if my request was confusing! The favorite images ranked in the order you chose are at: Below are a couple of my personal favorites that are not in the group that was judged. Enjoy.

Wat Pra Sing at night
(the temple dogs were not so sure I should take this)



Abundant Blessings!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Vientiane Laos

Jerry at the Mekong, photo by Maliwan
Visa runs, they are the plight of the ex-pat. Where to go, what to do, how long to take are all questions that get put into the visa run formula. My old visa was expiring so I needed to go to a country with a Thai Embassy or consulate and apply for a new visa. I decided to go overland to Vientiane Laos; the timing worked out so Maliwan and I went right after the Nang Rong visit – see the Tamboon article below.

The trip involved a bus trip from Nang Rong to Nakhon Ratchisima (Korat) and then another one from Korat to Udon Thani and finally to Nong Kai where we crossed into Laos. I can tell you right now I enjoyed Laos and will return; just not by 2nd class bus from Korat. Allow me a moment to vent. On the bus from Nang Rong to Korat the seats were terrible. They played a movie, that could have been good news, but the movie was “Snakes”. I have to tell you dubbing it into Thai and blurring out the one or two tittie shots did nothing to improve Samuel L Jackson’s worst movie. Thankfully the movie player didn’t work on the bus to Udorn Thani. However, the loudspeaker did and would blare the next stop just about every time I started to doze off.

The next morning we got a bus to Nong Kai and then crossed into Vientiane. The Lonely Planet guidebook (Gad, I’m such a tourist) tells you that it’s a waste of time and money to have a driver get your Laos visa. Just go to the border and do it yourself. There is no up charge and it’s actually faster. Besides, I’m not all that much into surrendering my passport to a tuk tuk driver, here or in any other country.

Another country with a workable drug enforcement policy!
Vientiane is a great little city. I hope to return in the not too distant future. To me the city has a feel just a little bit like Siagon in 1965, but without the insane traffic. There are wide streets, lots of French architecture mixed with traditional Lao.

Basket Vendor

Coming out of the cafe I noticed that this tuk tuk driver has a hammock in his vehicle.  Talk about a relaxed life style, I love it! 

Lao Relaxing
 It did take me a minute to adjust to the flags. The cycle and hammer flag was everywhere; a reminder that Laos is indeed a communist country. For a moment I thought I would have a flash back to the 60’s when we thought communism was the root of all evil. After a few minutes I was again comfortable in my own skin. Today I see it as another form of government, not as efficient as our democracy, and perhaps a bit more corrupt but that’s a totally different subject for another time.

The flags of Laos and the communist party

Lao food is good. It’s actually quite similar to Isan style Thai food. I had tried som tom (spicy papaya salad) a couple times in the past. The first time it was spicy but not to my liking. The next encounter was just nasty! Armed with this prejudice I was very reluctant to try it again. However, Maliwan wanted some and found a vendor at the Patouxay. It was delicious!

Som Tom Lao
Vientiane is famous for it’s French bread, sandwiches and Lao coffee. The Lonely Planet guide recommended a place called Sticky Fingers and with no better idea I decided to try it. It’s great! Another two meals were taken at the Full Moon Café. I really like this place. The food is good, the portions are ample and the people are gracious. When they give me my bill it was in Lao Kip, THB, USD and Euros; quite clever I thought.

The visa run is in two stages. On day one you go to the Thai consulate in the morning and make application. On day two you return in the afternoon and pick up your passport and new visa. It’s quite efficient and there is no need to pay the tuk tuk drivers to fill out your forms and make copies. All that can be easily done at the consulate. We spent the waiting time seeing a few of the more famous temples and enjoying the city.

I  find the temple architecture to be fascinating. It’s a bit like Thai with an extra kick! I just love some of the mythological characters that are hanging around the temples.

Temple Guard

There is often a bit of humor in life and I leave you with this little thought. A throne is not always a throne unless you decide to use it as such.  

My Laotian throne
 Many of you know that I really enjoy some of the odd usages of the English language that we find along the way.  Many signs in America are funny, even more so in Asia.   I'll close this chapter with the warning below:

The lawn near Patouxay
All the photographs from this trip are posted at   Enjoy them, but remember they are not for print without my permission!

Abundant Blessings,

Friday, November 05, 2010

Tamboon - Two days in Nang Rong

Maliwan's Dad carries the Buddha
Several months ago Maliwan told me that her mother wanted us to tamboon in Nang Rong; after some time we learned that the dates would be October 30 and 31. I know little about Thai culture, but I do know that family is very important and a good Buddhist will tamboon. Maliwan asks very little of me, and her mother asks even less of us. I promised that we would go, and gentle reader we did.

Tamboon is festive!

Tamboon is a Buddhist thing. My Thai / English dictionary defines the term as “make merit”. The principle of karma is deeply imbedded in this religion. In Texas we just say that what goes around comes around and don’t be surprised if it gains both speed and girth on the back stretch. It seems there are endless ways to tamboon; do something good, give your time, give your money, help someone. I’ve seen tamboon at temples in several formats, all different and all with a festive tone. These events are usually sponsored by the temple and have some specific fund raising goal. This tamboon was organized by the several villages around the temple; the funds raised will go to the construction of a new gate.

Monk at the Temple

Day One! I asked why two days of tamboon. The response from Maliwan was day one is “warm up”. O.K. I’m thinking, what does warm up mean, when the term is applied to tamboon? Would prepare be a better choice of words? (I’ve come to love some of the language nuances I here from Maliwan, and from other Thai people). Well, each family has a designated organizer who hosts day one. Family members bring their offerings and gifts. Everyone assembled at the home of one of Maliwan’s maternal aunts. The atmosphere was festive, with multiple offers for food and drink. The center of the gifts was what I call the money tree. Warm up, in this case, is getting to see family from out of town, collecting and organizing the family offering for the next day. It was really very enjoyable.

The family offerings, getting ready

Day Two! I was at the temple by 09:00 and enjoyed watching several other family groups dancing their way onto the temple grounds. Also, I note that many people brought food and refreshments as part of their tamboon. These were available gratis to all who came to the temple. I did learn that if you partake of this food you must eat it all, otherwise it would be very bad form to waste a part of their offering. Frankly some of it was prepared way ahead of time, not fresh and not very tasty. I’ve learned to take very small portions of the unknown so consumption wasn’t a problem. I should also mention that much of the food was truly delicious, especially this amazing corn pudding; something I’ll keep an eye out for in the future!

Food stands by the people, for the people.
 There is a very strong Cambodian influence in the Nang Rong area. The architecture of the temple shows the Khmer influence integrated with current Thai thinking of what a temple ought to look like. I thought it a bit amazing when a few of the monks asked me if I could speak any Thai. I told them “nit noi”, just a little. The next question was did I speak any Cambodian. That just got a blank stare and then a chuckle.
The temple

Our family group arrived last. Most were dancing their way along the road. The elderly and the babies rode, Maliwan’s parents included. The first image above is Maliwan’s dad carrying the Buddha statue. I just love this image. He was actually very relaxed and jovial till I made it clear I wanted a photo. He immediately assumed this reverent pose; it made a great shot especially considering the fact that he was a monk for over 5 years. (That, dear reader is a whole other story).

Elder aunt arrives with children looking on

The parade crowd

After everyone arrived I counted 9 money trees and could have missed at least one. Everyone made a parade three time around the temple and back to the meeting hall where the gifts were given to the monks. Announcements acknowledging the generous people were made. The last one I hear put the total gate money at 237,400 baht. Keep in mind that these people are for the most part rural farmers who are in the midst of what will not be a good year as far as yield is concerned. For them to raise 237 thousand baht is quite an accomplishment and a testament to their priorities and sincerity. I look forward to seeing their new gate in the future.

Parade of money trees

All of the images from these two days can be seen at:  Enjoy.

Abundant Blessings,