Sunday, 7 February 2016

All things Chinese (27 January - 7 February 2016)

An early Chinese New Year has meant that the Western Xmas decorations were cleared away earlier than usual to make way for the bunting and red lanterns of Chinese New Year. As well as the increased number of Chinese tourists generally in Thailand, their new year holidays mean even more. I've documented their "cultural insensitivity" here before but another example stands out. A few evenings ago I was happily walking down the road when a young, well dressed, middle class Chinese family stopped on the front lawn of the very posh Santiburi hotel, right on the main road in full view of everyone. The child, a girl of about ten years old promptly removed her trousers, squatted down and did what she needed to do. She used the bundle of loo roll handed to her by her mother, stood up, dressed and as I was walking by they started to walk away leaving the mess and used loo roll right there in an unsightly pile... My inner memsahib came out I'm afraid! A very imperious two finger point at the mess and then at them and an even more imperious "move, move!". They had the grace to look sheepish and walked back to pick it up. Shocking behaviour. But at the other end of the hygiene scale another young family, Mum, Dad, child and Granny checked in here for a few days and promptly decided to wash everything they possessed, creating their very own Chinese laundry as everywhere was completely festooned with drying washing. There was so much we were all convinced they were actually taking in washing! It's really unusual to see Chinese people here at the Florist, mainly I think because most travel here as part of tour groups and stay in the bigger hotels whereas here everyone are independent travellers, so so far no Chinese returning guests. The hotel are very good at looking after their return guests and you have read the posts before about the returning guest parties with the juggling bartender. But this time they decided to do something different and treated the return guests to a day out on Koh Tan, an island a few hundred metres off Samui. The idea of me in a long tail boat going over just one hundred metres of open sea let alone a few hundred didn't work for me so I had to decline. Not sure if the juggling bartender made it either... But very kind of them to do something like this. And the hotel obviously do something right as many guests do return year after year. But they are getting something really wrong in the Tripadvisor stakes as they are dropping like a stone down the rankings. When I first stayed here they were up the top but the last couple of years there's been a steady decline and now they are at number18 of 28 hotels in Mae Nam. Yes, it's not perfect, the breakfast isn't up to much, there's an ongoing "gareen" problem with one of the pools (there are three and the other two are sparkling) but it's clean and the staff are nice and it is such a good location. And it's not overly expensive. Such a pity as any further down the rankings and they could be in trouble.
But all the bunting and lanterns are now coming into their own as the Chinese New Year gets underway. This morning, instead of the usual morning chorus of "cock a doodle do" we got the incessant sound of the rat a tat of the fire crackers going off at dawn. I think today (7 February) counts as New Year's Eve as tomorrow is the day when the Lion Dance and the Dragon thing happens. Mae Nam where the Florist is, is a traditionally Chinese area, an old Chinese fishing village and tomorrow there are the big celebrations. This morning seemed a bit more spiritual with lots of houses and shops having tables outside with cooked chickens, pig's heads, fruit and pop laid out as an offering to the gods as well as the loud firecrackers and red clothes are the order of the day. Many of the Chinese tourists are spending their holiday here in the large Carrefour hypermarket I was in earlier - not sure what they are buying but they are doing a very good impression of a ferry load of Brits in the Carrefour in Calais...
Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Is the high season the dry season? (24 - 27 January 2016)

Well yes, normally. Here in Samui the dry season has a few wet bits and the wet season has some dry bits which makes it more of an all year round destination that some other places in Thailand who have more extremes. But the last few days have broken that rule. A couple of nights ago there was a rather large storm which created some chaos for the island, most unexpected in January. High winds and high seas and very heavy rain. It didn't affect us too much here in the hotel except for being confined to barracks for the best part of a day as the rain virtually never stopped. But down on the beach the wind was so strong it was hard to keep upright and on the West coast, Nathon, where the main port is, there were a few flooding problems and the sea wall broke in places. 

The ferries from the mainland were stopped for most of the day, leaving a few people stranded here I guess, and I assume many of the revellers who had travelled over to Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party the night before would have been similarly stuck.The rain stopped but the winds are still high a couple of days later and evidence of the storm is everywhere. The beaches are littered with a collection of seaweed and flotsam and jetsam. The main beach at Fisherman's village in front of the posh Hansar hotel is a real mess with the sand having been piled up into dune shapes. Massage beds from the beaches at Fisherman's and Mae Nam have been destroyed and are floating about in the sea. It's such a pity, people's livelihood's are affected, their small businesses blown into the sea. Little beach cafes at Fisherman's village are destroyed. 

Thai, the head housekeeper here at the hotel was looking glum yesterday and she told me that as she lived near the sea, her house had some flooding and a lot of her things "were broken". She did say though that Surajit, the owner here has been very good to her, helping her out. Not sure to what extent she is being helped but she seemed very grateful. And all this rainfall is making the "sawimmng pool" tiles a delicate shade of "gareen" again, hope we're not back to square one on that one...
But on a more positive note there was an army of people on one of the beaches today cleaning up and putting all the debris and seaweed into big bags. Hopefully their understanding of this weather means the storm is well passed and the high season is about to re rear its head... can't come too soon for me, am sitting on my terrace wrapped in a sarong to keep warm!

But at least I'm not making front page news like the school kids in Bangkok who are shown all wrapped up in jackets and hoodies as the temperature "plunged to 16C".

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Working hard (15 - 24 January 2016)

Well, not me working hard you understand. The nearest I get to working hard is trying to observe other people working hard so I can craft a blog post....  But many people here really do put in the hours. The cheery lady with the disorganised laundry is there early every morning and evening washing and ironing away, 7 days a week. I assume that unlike me she continues to work in between rather than retiring to a sun lounger by the pool! Then there's one of the older housekeeping ladies from the hotel who cycles in to work to arrive by eight, works all day in this heat and I see her cycling home again early evening.  The guy who owns the French cafe seems to work seven days a week too. He closes Sundays but is still there cleaning away. Not sure if that's because he really loves it or he is financially trapped in this way of life. I hope it's the former. And the truck loads of Burmese and Cambodians being bussed about each morning and evening look work weary. A truck load of them stopped the other day outside a second hand jeans shop (£1.80 a pair) and their excited chatter filled the air as they tried them against their skinny bodies deciding which looked best. All such young guys to be living a life like that away from home. The minimum wage here for Thai's is under £6 a day so a you know these guys must be getting a lot less, still sending most of it home I suspect and their big treat is the possibility of a pair of someone else's cast off jeans. These construction workers are building lots of swanky new "living spaces" around here. Luckily, Samui has a few more ground rules about what you can build and there is a limit as to how high you can build within certain distances from the coast. The whole island is hilly and mountainous with a narrow coastal plain. This plain is starting to run out now, at least where this a beach area, filled with low rises - their height planning restrictions have saved the place from becoming the condo nightmare like Pattaya and parts of Phuket which resemble a small Hong Kong and in my view are hideous. Although the bottom has dropped out of that market with the 46% reduction in Russian tourists last year. It remains to be seen if the Chinese will now fill that gap. Given they now make up more than 25% of tourists arriving here in Thailand, you never know. But the builders have now turned to the hills and what I call "reverse condo's" are springing up - or should that be down? These are multi storey apartment buildings that cascade down the mountainside rather than stick up from it if that makes sense!  Certainly whilst they are being built, they leave huge white scars in the forested mountainside as all the trees are cleared. There's lots of them up above the road into Chaweng. I imagine they will have the most spectacular views and some of the hanging swimming pools will be fantastic, just a pity they spoil the green of the mountain leaving great white holes in the view. But they still look a lot better than a thirty storey monstrosity. But I'm not sure that building something that looks nice is any consolation to the young lads who can only afford a second hand pair of jeans... 
I also like looking at local construction on a smaller scale. Most houses, however humble, have a rather posh spirit house purchased no doubt from Spirit Houses R Us. But I like the homemade ones, often built to mirror the houses they belong to. Even if they are not as smart, they still always have fresh offerings every day. Here are three of my favourites.

Also still working hard are the coconut monkeys, no, not the latest Thai boy band but actual coconut collecting monkeys who, tied to a string climb up the highest palms, pick the coconuts and throw them down. So clever. I was watching one this morning and I was amazed at how far the coconuts bounce away from the tree the monkey is working on. I was quite a few metres away when a second one bounced down. It was at that point even my limited physics knowledge kicked in and I realised the distance they were travelling towards me was just not possible... I look up at the tree I was standing under only to see monkey number two right up at the top doing his thing and flinging them down in my direction. Lovin' the health and safety here.... But pleased at the old adage again "you're more likely to win the lottery than be hit by a falling coconut". I didn't win the lottery either...

The massage girls are also hardworkers, or at least they are open for business all day. There are virtually no girly bars here in Mae Nam except for a few slightly dodgy looking ones a bit further down the main road. But a new bar has opened up this year a couple of doors down from the 7/11 so that may be changing. A pool table, lots of loud music and a fireman's pole set into a concrete platform base. Perhaps it's a new gym, I gather that pole dancing exercise is one of the more recent keep fit crazes at home..... But one establishment clearly doesn't work quite as hard as some of the clients obviously request them to.  A great sign outside one of them makes it quite clear that they are offering proper massage only with no "extras" -  "no sex, no happy end" it says. Go, girl!

Friday, 15 January 2016

Everyday days (7 - 14 January 2016)

As Carole's last week here this trip dawns, we settle into everyday pastimes. Lots of reading, some walking, nice food and the odd why why... Some not so good food too. We revisit John's garden a restaurant set, unsurprisingly, in a beautiful Thai garden. They are owned by different people to last time we went and although billed as Thai fine dining, it didn't quite hit the mark. A first for me when eating Thai food, I wanted to ask for salt and pepper. When commenting to the waiter about the blandness of the food he said we should have asked for "more curry" - perhaps not the fusion you expect in a Thai restaurant. We manage to get in to Chaweng on Sunday for the traditional Sunday lunch at Tropical Murphy's for Gill and some shopping with the obligatory visit to Jim Thompson's for Carole. 

Although for Carole this is less everyday as in Geneva the shops don't open on Sunday. We do however pop in for a pre shopping Sunday lunchtime cocktail in the Library Hotel beach bar, a very "cool" place but with what is very strange and to me rather unappealing red swimming pool.

My main shopping consisted of a pair of lightweight trainers for walking. This purchase has turned out to be a bit of a saga and proved Ant's favourite saying of "buy cheap, buy twice". Never being a girl to do things by halves, I managed to magnify this into buy cheap, buy three times... I decided not to bring my old walking shoes from home but buy a new pair of lightweight trainers here. But before I could manage to get to Chaweng, the flip flop blister monster decided to rear its ugly head after doing too many miles in the Haviana's. I bought some cheap pump like shoes locally to allow me to get around. Whilst these didn't hurt the first set of blisters, they managed to create a whole set of new ones and when in Fisherman's Village one evening I had to make a distress purchase of another pair of shoes in order to be able to walk home. I go into the smart trainer shop, every designer you can name. All fakes but quite expensive. The girl was very proud of them though "good fakes, made in Vietnam, not cheap fakes from China"... Hmmm, life gets even more confusing when you get fake fakes..... But it had to be done. They were not that good though and after a day my ankles in them looked like they were about to collapse inwards. So when we finally get to Chaweng I get a pair of real ones...

Probably an age inappropriate bright pink but they do double duty as hi vis at night... I thought I had got a bargain, I assumed they must be cheaper here as they are made next door in Vietnam but no, I check the UK price online after buying them and they were twice the price here. So including the other two pairs of emergency shoes, all in all they proved to be the most expensive pair of trainers ever!
But their Health & Safety benefits did come to the fore - but not in the way of avoiding an errant motorbike as I had imagined. I was walking along a lane on a breezy day and crossed over to avoid the ever present threat of a coconut falling on my head.. (Yes, I know, you are more likely to win the lottery....). As I did I only just managed to avoid treading on a slithery brown snake emerging from the grass on the other side... Afterwards I did wonder what might have happened had I just been in my flip flops, perhaps the very expensive trainers were not so expensive after all...

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Monetise that blog... (6 - 7 January 2016)

Over the last few years the buzzword around blogs and new websites is how to "monetise" - i.e. after all your writing effort, get some profit out of it. It's all about getting lots of hits and then redirecting those hits to other sites and being paid for doing it. Or just placing straightforward ads on your page. There are widgets you can add to a travel blog like mine with weather or foreign exchange or hotel booking sites and Google now make it quite simple to do. But dear readers, I do not want to make the blog a jumble of flashing adverts for "Check your PPI NOW!!!" and confusing links so it looked like the whole monetise thing was not for me. But this year I have stumbled upon a way to do it, if not for money, for tasty goodies. All you need to do is write a series of posts that are so pathetic about you missing things like mince pies and champagne. Miraculously they appear (Xmas miracles after all?). Thank you Carole for bringing over the posh champagne and thank you Sue and Tim for my fantastic box of mince pies, exactly what I needed. So appreciated.

Not sure Dragon's Den would approve of my monetising method but it works for me.  I am now composing my early December 2016 posts. Now, how can I be so pathetic and needy that someone brings me a full on turkey, sprouts and stuffing Xmas dinner?

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Language and culture (31December 2015 - 6 January 2016)

So at last the Xmas and New Year celebrations are over and normal service resumed. New Year here was celebrated as usual with the Florist "do". It all looked lovely set out on the beach and the food was a bit better than the Xmas do. The receptionist and Thai, the head housekeeper looked resplendent in their golden outfits. 

But by the time 9 o'clock came and I had seen the entertainment highlight - the juggling bartender again - I gave up on the party and crept back to my room. The band weren't too bad though singing lounge type music, but instead of the normal American accents singers tend to have, these guys were clearly singing in Tinglish! John Denver's "Tae me hoe, coutree row" will never sound the same again. 

And I am finding another linguistic use of the spurious "a" that is so useful in my Tinglish here - as in "your sawimmng pool is satill gareen". I have been trying to find a particular battery so I asked in a shop where the batteries were. Blank look so I tried the singular, battery. Still got a blank look. Even trying to mime battery proved impossible after I realised her calculator was solar powered... Then she came up with the idea of Google translate and got her phone. I duly tap in "battery" the result is that she gave us that smiling realisation and an "ah, batterya". That extra "a" did the trick again. In the end she didn't have the one I wanted so I tried a couple of other shops. In both the request for battery produced the blank look, but then asking for "batterya" was immediately smilingly understood! Another tool in my linguistic armoury.

And now that the holidays are over Carole has got here and we are chillin' out with the best of 'em and of course doubling the why why throughput in Mae Nam. The odd crisis when the French Cafe had no rose or why why and we he to resort to beer but we manage... We also went to a new lunch place that's opened yesterday. The first couple of times we looked it all looked a bit healthy with vegetarian tapas and Yoga sessions but as soon as we realised why why was available in we went. The guy running it recognised us from last year. He used to have a rather hippy looking bar on the beach with hammocks and daybeds and sunset cocktails. It appears some Russians made him an offer for the bar that he couldn't refuse so he sold it and now has a clothes shop and this restaurant on the proceeds. From what I can understand he insists he warned the Russians that road access wouldn't be available if a non Thai  bought the land but the Russians ignored that. And now if you walk past he says you will see the Russian family sitting on their bare patch of sand with no business at all. A salutary lesson in Thai property transactions. We did make sure we double checked our bill....
Chinese tourists get a really bad press over here due to their bad manners,  general hygiene and complete lack of cultural sensitivity. A couple of nights ago we got an insight into some of that. A Chinese couple came into the little Thai restaurant we were eating in with a load of takeaway food they'd bought elsewhere. They ordered some drinks and then proceeded to feast on said takeaway and at one point demanded chopsticks to use. If you are eating your breakfast, look away now.... a well as the noise of said eating with great open mouths, every so often the half chewed food was taken out and inspected before putting it back for further chewing. They were completely oblivious to the retching imitations, disapproving looks and loud tut tutting coming from the two Brits at the next table... Really gross.... And then as we walked home some Thai's had set up what looked like a mobile barber's shop with people queueing up for ear cleaning, just what you don't want to see on your way home after dinner! This sort of cultural diversity I can do without.
And by the way, for anyone still wondering, there are occasional Xmas miracles, the Mont Claire sparkly Brut, whilst not like champagne, was a drinkable wine. Result!

Thursday, 31 December 2015

A samall (sic) Tinglish lesson (26 - 30 December 2015)

So Xmas is over and my first job on Boxing Day morning is to get Slingbox up and running and watch Downton Abbey. Despite freezing at a few pivotal moments I really enjoyed it. 
I have also spent my time here usefully improving my linguistic skills. Careful not to sound patronising every time I go somewhere new for a drink, I always ask for white wine and every time we go through the whole "aaah, why why" conversational exchange. My real Thai language is not improving although I have added one word to my four word vocabulary, "pakchee", the word for coriander so I can add "no" before it and avoid it everywhere. But my real linguistic breakthrough has been in my understanding of "Tinglish". I have realised that when Thai's speak English (a hell of a lot better than any English people appear to speak Thai), they put an "a" in any word beginning in two consonants. The conversations went like this:
"Your swimming pool has gone green again"
Puzzled looks, so I try moving the words around, this sometimes works.
"Your swimming pool again green"
More puzzled looks, I point to the pool and then to her green top.
A look of recognition
"Aaaah, sawimmng pool gareen, fix tomorrow"
The second learning conversation was me trying to explain how I had broken a glass trying to catch a rather large spider. The word spider was a real stumbling block so I Google a spider image. The resulting smile and "ah, sapider!" were a joy to behold. I just think she was glad it wasn't the crocodile she thought my acting ability was trying to indicate....
The third in 7/11 when trying to buy stamps. This really challenged my Thinglish. "Do you have stamps" didn't work, so I decided to use my Tinglish and leave off the end of the word and asked for "stam". Still no joy so I showed her the postcards and pointed to the area where the stamps go. This produced that lovely understanding smile and "Aaaaah, satams".
So now I always remember to use "samall" but never of course in connection with why why....

But in between all this new learning I continue to walk as much as I can and the morning walk is a chorus of Hello's, Bonjour's and Sawadeeka's. In order of appearance there's:
The French man who owns the cafe where Carole and I partake of the odd glass of rose when she's here. We are both convinced he used to be in the foreign legion..
The laundry lady with loads of cats and the most jumbled laundry I have ever seen, no idea how the right things ever get back to their owners.
The girls in the massage parlour getting ready for their day - that is real massage, none of the ones in this area are the "Thai" type, if you get my drift!
The laundry lady whose dogs also woof out a hello.
An older lady driving her motorbike and big sidecar with hot breakfast stuff, satay cooked to order on the portable BBQ.
An older man with breakfast buns on his side car tooting his horn as he detours round all the houses, I just hope no one's trying for a lie in...
Another massage lady who always tells me "exercise good".
The travel agent with his very tidy booking stall and family near the temple.
The Indian Thai lady in the shop near the temple.
The Taxi driver in his bamboo hut on the main road on the way back.
A bonjour from a Jeremy Paxman older brother lookalike on his bike.
The one armed man.
I'm exhausted by all these greetings by the time I get back!

And now is the time of year when the stiffies arrive - and of course I am talking about the invitations that are propped up on your mantelpiece... Mine to the New Year party of the year arrived on 30 December, slightly close to he wire I feel. Not sure I can face the juggling bartender again so soon..... But there again cocktails at less than a quid just may help!
And those of you who read the last post are probably sitting on the edge of your seats wondering was it a real mince pie or not. Sadly the Xmas mini pie miracle was not to be and it was exactly what it looked like, a small (samall) apple turnover with a rogue sultana peeping out the edge. Close but no cigar... As to whether the Mont Clair Brut miraculously tasted anything like wine will have to wait. I decided to keep that discovery to New Year's Eve and like a soap have yet another nail biting cliffhanger for you all...