John and Jane in Thailand

J and J have escaped the hurly-burly of life in the USA.

Giant “sand castles”

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By happenstance John and I stumbled upon a large sand-castle building project at a park not too far from us.  When we first got there the builders were away at lunch, though I happily photographed the giant structures, the images seemed empty.  So, after we had our lunch, we went back to shoot again.  We learned the sand sculptures were to be part of the Chumphon Marine Festival and each of the ten was being built by an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) country.  I whipped out my iPhone calendar to note the date of the festival; I had to go back to document the finished product!

If you click on a thumbnail it will put the images in a larger format so you should be able to read the info plaques that precede each country’s sculpture. 

Written by Jane Estes

April 16, 2013 at 11:28 am

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Love At The Beach

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V day on the beach 001

For weeks now we have been seeing posters along the roadside with the English words “love at the beach” but everything else written in Thai.  What?  Yesterday we found out what was going on, Valentine’s Day weddings on our beach.  I was out for my early morning bicycle ride when I realized what was going to happen, so I turned around and headed home for my camera.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity to do another photo essay for you.   I arrived at the beach early enough to watch as the workers prepared the beach with an aisle, hut for paper signing, and four different photo-op scenes all made with real flowers.  I thought the area looked stunning.

 The Thai equivalent of our Madison Avenue has done a great job convincing Thailand to buy into Western commercial celebrations; in this case lots of money to be made on chocolates, flowers, cards, and pink.  Yes, pink is the color of choice when it comes to decorating and dressing up for Valentine’s Day.  It was also a great PR and photo opportunity – the mayor opened the religious side of the event and signed each certificate, the governor gave a speech and handed each couple the bride’s flower bouquet with his best wishes.   

I had great fun photographing the beach both with and without people; I hope you enjoy seeing this Thai take on Valentine’s Day romance.  (Don’t forget, if you click on a thumbnail photo it will take you a larger format with which to cruise through the images.)

Written by Jane Estes

February 16, 2013 at 11:49 am

A Day at the Races

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They come from all over Thailand, teams of thirty men hoping to paddle their way to victory. Yes, I said paddle.  We from Seattle are familiar with boat races – hydroplanes, sailboats, UW crew rowing but I’m new to this form of racing.  Traditional Thai long-boat racing is held annually in October about 10 km from our beach and this year we were able to attend one of the four days of racing.  It was exciting and colorful as I hope you will see in the photographs.  It is not just the first boat across the line that determines the winner in these races, the lead man in the boat throws his paddle in the water, climbs the bow and must grab the marker flag as the boat crosses the finish line.  These last seconds really get the crowd going of course.

The boats are hand-crafted, dug out from the trunk of a single tree, usually Hopea.  Take a close look when the photos allow, most are beautifully and imaginatively painted.   The races take place on what we call “the King’s Cannel”.  It was designed/engineered by the current king (Rama IX) to relieve the chronic flooding in the Chumphon area. The large billboard like signs you see across the water are all in praise and honor of the King.  He is a remarkable man and oh so loved by the Thai people.  In front of the signs are stages on which the . . . I call them the “cheer leaders” are performing.  They are purposely dress in silly costumes and look like they are having fun but oh-my-gosh they have got to be hot!  When we go next year, I’m taking my telephoto lens.

Written by Jane Estes

October 26, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Dive Right In

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I have been hoarding underwater photographs that I have been taking for the last five months to give you a tour of what we see as we dive “our islands”.  When the weather permits, we dive at least once a week.  “How can they afford that?” you say; scuba diving isn’t exactly a cheap sport.   To put it succinctly, the boat club.  A fellow expat, Nigel, owns a Thai long-tail boat which was sunk some time ago.  The cost of pulling it out of the water, repairs, then ongoing maintenance was too much for one man and so the idea for a club was born.  Eight of us, three couples and two singles, jumped at the chance to have a boat at our beck and call.  Five of the eight are divers.  Nigel and his wife make an even ten members.  We each put in a chunk of money, had meetings about how we would operate, worked on the boat in dry dock, and Nigel named the boat and club ‘The Blue Lagoon’.  Nigel found a Thai captain who not only takes us out, but in exchange for using the boat himself (probably squid fishing), takes care of the boat.  Kai moors it in the Saplee River which is about a 4 minute drive from our house.  We really like Kai and I know he finds us amusing.  He speaks no English, but we’ve learned enough Thai and hand gestures to get along just fine.  This is truly an international enterprise; our members hail from Britain, Germany, Norway, Thailand, and of course America.  We primarily dive two islands off of our beach (Ngam Yai and Ngam Noi) and the navy boat wreck that was sunk specifically for divers about a year and a half ago.  A third island, Crocodile, is too shallow for good diving but makes a terrific snorkeling area.  I will narrate the photos as they go along.  Have fun.

Written by Jane Estes

September 18, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Sri Lanka

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When John’s sister, Jeanette suggested we go on a week’s vacation with her and her partner, Maew, we jumped at the chance.  They are fun to be with, have a sense of adventure, and Jeanette speaks a lot of SE Asian languages.  Our criteria for choosing a location included reasonable flight length (that left out New Zealand), culturally interesting, and an Air Asia destination (cheapest fares around with deals always to be had).  We found what we were looking for in Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon.   I’ve put a map of the world in with the images for those of you not sure where Sri Lanka is.  It is the dark spot off the southeast coast of India.    Archaeological evidence puts humans on the island before 125,000 BCE; Sri Lanka has a history of over 3000 years, having one of the longest documented histories in the world;  it is where the Buddhist teachings were first written down and is the oldest continually Buddhist country.  Sri Lanka is the greenest, most lush place I have ever been.   It is a beautiful island with gorgeous beaches, wonderful mountains, a wealth of archaeological sites, and lovely people of diverse cultures, languages and religions (70% Buddhist, 15% Hindu, 7.5% Muslim, 7.5% Christian).  And, it was once an English colony so it has that thrown into the mix too.  Sri Lanka has eight UNESCO world Heritage Sites, we visited four of them.  I’ve put in a map of the island with markings of only those places we visited.  Well, we didn’t really see Columbo but that is where we flew into.  I will take you on a photographic tour using the captions to narrate.

 

Written by Jane Estes

June 13, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Adventure of a Different Kind

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I was lying in bed after a good night’s sleep thinking about what I would do with my day.  John had gone on a “visa run” with our Norwegian friend Per and wouldn’t be back until the afternoon.  Ah, a day to myself.  As I started to get up I felt a pain in my left knee which made me think maybe I’d over done it on the last day of diving in the Andaman Sea (see previous blog).  Or maybe it was the seven hour ride back from Khao Lak in the cramped bus seat following the extreme diving or a combination thereof.  Oh well, a little stiffness and/or soreness is an easy price to pay and a common one in our life style. But, I soon found out this was different.  The pain got worse and worse to the point where I wouldn’t move for fear of the pain. Fortunately one of our neighbors, Martin, was a nurse in Germany before retiring here so as soon as John got home he went to fetch him.  Martin put on an anti-inflammatory gel for the swelling and wrapped it in an ace bandage.  He said we would keep a close eye on it and go to the doctor if it didn’t get better within 24 hours.  We didn’t have to wait that long – about four o’clock that afternoon the knee started swelling very fast and the pain became excruciating. Off to the hospital we went.  The doctor pulled out 120cc of blood!  Yikes, what caused that?  There was no defining moment of trauma so the doctor said we had to go to Bangkok to have an MRI to figure out what was going on.  Here the adventure begins.  The next morning we flew to Bangkok.  I got to be one of those people who is wheeled through the airport and boarded before anyone else; I had a front row all to myself so I could stretch out my leg; at BKK we were again escorted through the airport all the way to the car where my sister-in-law Jeanette was picking us up. Despite the pain, it was kind of fun.  I felt a bit like I was in a movie.

Bangkok Hospital is suppose to be the very best and it is a beautiful, state of the art hospital but I had the unfortunate luck to get an orthopedic surgeon  who barely glanced at the x-rays, said I had old knees, no need for an MRI, stay off your legs for two weeks and you’ll be fine.  It was very clear in a short time that he was wrong so we made an appointment with another doctor.  This one got sick and kept putting us off.  Finally Jeanette called the surgeon who had done surgery on her hand/wrist and I was scheduled for the next evening.  He immediately saw something was wonky on the x-ray so he scheduled an MRI for the next day and arranged to see us that evening to go over the findings. My patella (knee cap) is way thinner than it should be, the meniscus had a tear in it, a small piece of the patella had broken off, and the blood from the now 2 week old bleed was not reabsorbing. Surgery was scheduled at St. Louis Hospital where they had recently installed new state-of-the-art orthopedic surgical suites.

 The type of surgery done  is called arthroscopy.  Because they did a spinal block instead of general anesthesia, I was able to watch on a TV screen what was going on in the knee.  They made three little cuts and passed through a miniature camera and miniature tools to work on the patella and the area in general.  The doc used mini scissors to cut and a mini file for filing and a mini vacuum cleaner to clean the area out.  He cut a fascia so the patella can glide across the knee joint easier and he cut off part of torn meniscus; he filed down ridges of the patella (normally it is suppose to be flat) so they wouldn’t scrape the femur and the tibia; and he vacuumed out old blood and other tissue clogging up the area. I hope that wasn’t TMI.

 I was in the hospital for three nights.  The care was excellent, the nurses not only did their jobs well but were always cheerful and friendly. Occasionally the language difference got in the way but we always managed to figure out what we needed to convey.  I had a private room which was really big and included a “day bed” for John so he stayed with me the whole time.  The room also had a refrigerator and sink and microwave. The food they served was better than usual hospital food and it was very authentic Thai.

Once I was discharged from the hospital we stayed at Jeanette’s and Maew’s apartment for two weeks.  They didn’t want me too far away from the doctor and the hospital “just in case”.  After two very long weeks, stitches taken out, and a last check with the surgeon we were on our way back to the beach. Once again Suk was driving us down but this time with a big difference.  Suk was driving our car.  Yes, we bought a car – a Honda Jazz (in America known as the Fit).  My bicycle riding days weren’t exactly over but it would be many months before I would be able to ride again.  We lived for over a year with bicycles as our only form of transportation other than begging rides or public transportation (pick-up trucks with two benches and a roof over the truck-bed). Since it is my left leg with the problem, I would be able to drive if I could figure out how to get in and out of the driver’s seat; which I did.

It has been almost three months since the surgery.  I can now go up and down stairs like a regular person, walk without a limp, and sit in a chair without having my leg stretched out.  I’ve been diving three times and will be going again tomorrow; I’ve had to develop my own form of the frog kick and I hang on to John or don’t dive if the current is too strong.  Last week I started riding the bicycle again.  At first I just rode up and down our street but now I’m ready to venture out to a destination. In other words, life is getting back to normal.

Maybe the last four months haven’t exactly been an adventure but it was “some journey”.

Written by Jane Estes

May 22, 2012 at 11:27 am

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Diving the Andaman Sea

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Two days after the wedding (see previous posting) John and I went on another dive trip.  This one was different from all the others we’ve been on.  We did what is called “a live-aboard” and we stayed in Thailand.  We live on the east coast along the Gulf of Thailand; the west coast is along the Andaman Sea. They say some of the world’s best diving is in the Andaman, specifically the Similan Islands, Richelieu Rock , and the Burma Banks. Unfortunately these areas are far from shore so day-trips are arduous at best, most companies only offer live-aboard diving.  But that’s okay; it is great fun to be with a group of like minded people for an extended period of time – we were on a three night, four day trip.  We dove four times a day:  up before dawn, snack, dive, breakfast, rest, dive, lunch, rest, dive, rest, short evening dive, dinner, sleep.  In other words, eat-sleep-dive.  It was great!  One of the most amazing and exciting things I’ve ever seen underwater occurred on our last dive. We watched a large male cuttlefish trying to mate with a smaller female.  She seemed a little reluctant, trying to scoot under a rock ledge out of reach.  The male was pulling her out when along came a gutsy small male who was also interested in the female. He bumped (not aggressive enough to call an attack) into the large male who just turned and threatened him by waving his tentacles.  The little guy would back off then try again.  Finally the big guy got fed up and really attacked the other, actually biting him. Through it all these animals were changing their colors, sometimes with very vivid colors.  Cuttlefish can change their color and patterns in 700 milliseconds doing so not only for camouflage purposes but to impress potential mates and to intimidate rivals. Our diving group of four was mesmerized by this underwater soap opera.  I did not have my camera with me but, in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t  because I was able to focus my whole attention on this amazing display.  I will pull a photo from the web so you can see what a cuttlefish looks like. Sorry, I don’t have many photos to show you and they are not the most interesting of fish but I think there is enough to keep you coming back for more.

 

Written by Jane Estes

May 13, 2012 at 3:22 pm

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A Thai Wedding

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In January John and I had the privilege of attending our landlords’ daughter’s wedding.  Technically we attended only the reception, as did most of the other guests.  You see, Thai weddings can be long drawn out affairs; some even last three days.  Fortunately this was a one day event but even so, the formal ceremony started at 7:00am and the chanting, drumming, and marching of the Buddhist monks would go on for three and a half hours.  It is apparently typical that all the family attend this portion of the wedding but most come for what we Westerners call “the reception” – eating, drinking, and general merriment.  January is great time for a wedding here; a long time British expat once told me December and January are the “picture postcard” months of Thailand.  Fortunately her statement held true because the wedding was outdoors at the home of Suriya and Parichart, our landlords.  As you will see in the photographs, the grounds of their home are beautiful.  Suriya is an excellent gardener who spent many weeks, if not months, getting ready for this event.  Several days before the wedding he told me that he was very proud of the work he had done on the gardens and suggested I bring my camera.  Good thing I did too; after the wedding he said I was the only one to get photos of the setting and the entertainers.  Apparently the official photographer had eyes only for the bride and groom, failing to document the wider scope of the occasion.

I hope you enjoy this photo essay of the wedding celebration of Orm and Beer. By the way, there were about 400 people at this reception and a handful of them were farangs, a.k.a. foreigners.

Written by Jane Estes

May 3, 2012 at 5:22 pm

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December at the Beach

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I returned to Thailand on Tuesday December 13 having left Seattle on the 12th.  No, it didn’t take me 24 hours plus to get here, I crossed the International Date Line.  Coming East a traveler looses a day but going West is great fun because you gain almost a whole day.  About 12 years ago we flew from Thailand back to Seattle on January 1st so we got to say and experience “Happy New Year” twice, once on land and once in the air.

Even though I had been in Thailand for seven months before going back to the States, I always felt like a visitor. Upon returning to Seattle, I hadn’t been gone long enough to truly experience culture shock, but I did find myself yearning for “home”.  Without my realizing it, the house, friends and acquaintances, beach, restaurants, heat, bicycles, birds, landlords, bougainvilleas had wormed their way into my heart and I missed them.  When I arrived back in Thung Wua Laen, I embraced living here and was determined to make it mine.  I bought a sewing machine and made new curtains for the areas that needed them and took down the ones we didn’t need.  We rearranged the furniture to make our house friendlier, more accessible. We bought very comfortable lounge chairs for the veranda, where we spend most of our time.  I rearranged the kitchen and bought items for it to made cooking easier.  I got John to talk our wonderful landlord into buying us a new and bigger refrigerator.  In other words, I turned our house into a home.  In other, other words, I committed.  Maybe it will only be for another year, maybe two.  Maybe we will live here part of the year and in the States part of the year.  I don’t know and I don’t need to know. Right now I am happy to be where I am and that’s good enough for me.

To get back on track  . . .  shortly after returning to the beach a British expat friend approached me about teaching English at a school in Chumphon City (about 15km from here).  A fellow Brit had quit and there was still four months left of school.  This particular school has 1200 students and is supported in part by the Chinese government.  Among the usual subjects are also Chinese, English, and of course Thai languages. I decided to spend a day at the school with Nigel to see what it was about and I took my camera.  As you will see in the photographs, it was scout day – once a week they wear their scout uniforms and presumably do scout things at some point during the day.  A week later my camera and I were back at the school to photograph a Christmas celebration. Thailand is about 95% Buddhist and only 0.7% Christian but Thais love to party so they’ve adopted Christmas as a secular celebration.  Or maybe I should say their equivalent of Madison Avenue has done a good job of promoting Christmas as a marketing tool. By the way, Christmas Day is not a holiday – work goes on as usual.  Nigel and several other British expats arranged what we would call “an assembly” to sing carols and to present the school with a Christmas present of a 32inch flat screen TV to be used in the English classroom.  During the assembly, the history and significance of Christmas was read to the students by one of their Thai teachers, in Thai, and Jingle Bells, in English, was sung with gusto.  After going to the “Chinese School” we went to the public hospital where we handed out toys and bags of “sweeties”, as the Brits say, to the kids in the Children’s ward and to the kids we could find in the waiting room.  Did I neglect to say that we had a Santa doing the handing out? After the hospital, we traveled closer to our beach area to a resident school for Down syndrome children.  I’m not positive about the number of students at this school but I believe it is approximately 150. Here Santa and his helpers (Thai wife and girl friends of three of the expats) passed out a bag of sweeties to each of the students and sang Christmas carols with them.  You will hear more about this school in a future blog; I am involved with another project for the school which is a work-in-progress.

I hope you enjoy the photographs, there are a lots of them but I believe they are worth looking at.  All these children were a joy to photograph.

 

Written by Jane Estes

April 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm

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Catching Up

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Let’s see, where was I . . . oh yes . . . September . . . Indonesia . . . diving.  That was a long time ago and so much has happened since, or so it seems to me.  I think it best if I write one blog covering everything to catch you up.  I will support the narrative with photographs when possible. Unfortunately this program doesn’t allow me to intersperse the photos throughout the text so you will find them all together at the end.

In late October, John and I were getting ready for another big diving adventure in Indonesia but this time to Bali.  We had been there the year before and were so taken with it that we were inspired to move to Thailand. This time we stayed at three different locations on the island.  The first was a wonderful resort at Tulamben right in front of a remarkable dive location – USS Liberty. A torpedo sunk the ship off the coast of Bali in 1942; it languished on the beach for twenty-one years until tremors from the eruption of Mount Agung in 1962 caused it to slip into the water where she now lies in 30 to 100 feet of water. Non divers might think a wreck like this is a bad thing, garbaging up the water but it is quite the opposite.  The wreck makes a perfect environment for coral and reef fish to thrive.  In fact, last May an old Thai navy ship was purposely sunk off of our beach at Thung Wua Laen and we have had the pleasure of watching it come to life. It was naked (for lack of a better word) the first time we dove it and now it is teeming with life – growing on it, in it, around it; quite a remarkable transformation.  But, back to Bali.  The resort we stayed in was small, beautiful, and right on the water in front of the USS Liberty.  We actually walked from our bungalow into the water instead of having to take a boat out.

After three days at Tulamben we were driven to our next stop, in the mountains now. This location was even more isolated than the one we just left.  Words won’t really do this area or Great Mountain View Resort justice so I will leave it to the photographs except to say that it was not only exceptionally beautiful, but peaceful as well.

Our final stop was back to the water, but in the city.  Hotel La Taverna itself was old, in a good way, with lots of Bali character and charm.  While on the grounds, it was peaceful and felt isolated but step out of the perimeter and it was the hustle and bustle of a major tourist center. To go diving we had to take a crowded minivan for 20 minutes or more to get to the dive shop where we were thrown together with a zillion people to get equipment and such sorted; then another twenty minute ride to where the boats were docked; then the boat ride of 30 minutes to an hour before reaching the dive sites. I’ve become a bit spoiled, obviously.  Nico and Vero from Waters of Asia did a great job putting the whole package together allowing us to experience three very different environments on one small island.

Shortly before leaving for Bali I found out my mom, Alice, needed to have hip replacement surgery.  The timing worked out perfectly.  Instead of flying back to Bangkok I was able to get a flight out of Bali back to Seattle through Taipei and San Francisco and arrived with time to spare before the scheduled surgery.  While I was doing that, John changed his flight to Phuket in southern Thailand because the flooding of Bangkok would have made it nearly impossible to get home once there.  John was able to take advantage of being in Phuket to take a four day live-aboard dive trip in the Similan Islands and the Andaman Sea.

I was in “The States” for five weeks.  Most of that time I spent with my mom, first in the hospital and then in the rehab center.  We had some really good time together.  She especially enjoyed my reading her All Creatures Great and Small by James Harriet. With my acting background I have a hard time reading anything without giving voices to all the characters.  I was with her during most of her physical therapy and occupational therapy session which turned out to be fortuitous for me. Two months later I was the one in the orthopedic surgical suite. More about that later, maybe.  I did find time to visit with some friends and take care of some banking business.  Other than being able to help my mom, I had three special advantages to this unscheduled trip back.  I was able to spend some quality time with Jennifer and Nathan, I was able to stay at the home of our good friends Lynn and Jane and thus got to spend time with them, and I had Thanksgiving with all my favorite relatives.

I’ve changed my mind – it is hard to get five months worth of news into one reasonable size blog so I’m going to stop for now and will pick up the tread later, not too much later – I have lots to tell and show you.

 

Written by Jane Estes

March 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm