Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thaton 2: A celebration

Two posts in one day: a catch up!

Yesterday we had a miracle and I am not being facetious. Finally, after literally years and years of trying, Shu and Shu-Ai were given identity papers, and in three months they'll be able to get the real cards. I won't go into all the details, and I don't understand half of them anyway, but it means they now officially exist and cannot be tossed out of Thailand at someone's whim. They still don't have all the rights of a Thai citizen - don't think this means they can hop on a bus to Chiang Mai - but it is something, a step, a toe in the door of security. No one is really celebrating, I think it has taken so long (the 'identity card quest' has been going on since we first came here eight years ago, at least) that no one really believes it is real, or feels those pieces of paper with their photocopied mugshots and enlarged fingerprints could be taken away at any minute, but I am very glad it has happened at least. The next trick will be to get one for On. It may only be another eight years before that happens.

Today is the Chaluk at Wat Huai Pu, the local temple: the special day just for this little temple when everyone donates lots of money in the form of elaborate arrangements like little shrubs with leaves of 20 baht notes and flowers of 100 baht notes and various bits of bling and sparkle. The music reverberates around the hills and started very early, traditional Thai music from the temple clashing with pop Thai and drunken singing from the karaoke huts over the lake. Gunpowder smoke and small explosions punctuate the air from the firecrackers sold to the kids. The vendor wouldn't let me take a photo of the cherry-bombs, it's probably illegal to sell them. There was no real food on offer, just multi-hued and fluorescent packets of sugary junk. We watched the traditional dancing for a while. Every mini-village (Ban) had their female dance troupe all dressed in ceremonial costume (unique to each group), the general public was completely disinterested by the dancing until a man dressed in uber-traditional Thai came into the middle of the concrete plaza and danced something rather special and very slow with lots of posing. People flooded in from all over the grounds to watch, although practically everyone got bored after five minutes and wandered off before the second half. Naturally, SP upstaged him too, as the 'pinky bluey blondey' falang baby (as Susan says) would.

Thaton 1: update

(Written a few days ago)

We are at our second home again, sleeping high on the hillside in the little wooden hut surrounded by giant creaking bamboo, banana and papaya plants, and the lychee grove. Last night it rained: the clouds split open overhead and sky screamed and wailed and cracked and wept and the bamboo thrashed at the air and the ground. Today the earth bleeds sticky red clay, treacherous and slick underfoot, and the sun is pale and weak in the distance, not welcome in this restless atmosphere.
What news of Thaton?
Let us start with the boys from youngest to oldest.
Ume is gone, vanished for good they think, and likely to be dead by now. Snatched up by someone or something, and dumped in the darkness. The drug trade, the sex trade, the begging trade: who knows what becomes of lost little boys here? It is no surprise, but a disappointment nonetheless.
Shu is back, permanently I hope, and is still the reliable and gentle one. He has now seen the benefits of working here at the Sanctuary, rather than working for a pittance herding cows up in the mountains somewhere. Unlike practically all the other kids around here, he still does not drink, or smoke, or take drugs, or have any tattoos. He merely spends far too much time talking on the phone to various girls.
Shu-Ai is still here and as subversive as every, but he has a nice smile when he deigns to employ it.
On comes and goes, comes and goes. When he comes he needs money, and when he goes he uses it to binge on opium or alcohol or both. Another bitter disappointment, worse than knowing that Ume is gone forever because On was smart once.
Now for the village boys we have only known in passing... and too many have passed on.
Jet, whom we met last time when Susan cut his hair, and who was lovely and popular and generous, was caught by the 'special police' a few months ago mid drug-deal with four other boys. He and one other were filled with bullets from behind when they tried to run. Another was shot in the shoulder but survived. Miraculously the other two managed to get away and slunk over the border into Burma, too terrified to come home for a month. Yuki had to go and pick up the two bodies from the hospital and tried to return them to their families in the hills. It was too expensive for anyone else to collect them apparently - 5000THB (about $170) which is masses of money in this poor area, unless you're heavily involved in the drug trade. It was the wet season and the road was too bad for the car, so they cut bamboo and tied it into a raft of sorts and dragged the bodies to the village that way. the village fell into a grieving heap. One of the boys, although only young, had a wife, a small child in school already, and a newborn.
Recently there was some sort of fight over something and another boy vanished, only to bob up in the middle of the lake a week later. Now, no one will fish in the lake because they think the fish would have been eating the body, and the people have stopped using the little white paddle boats to cruise about in there; such a lot of drama for such a little village.
We are immune to all this in middle-class Australia. I look at my child and I know that almost certainly she'll never be mixed up in anything like this. I will never have to worry that she'll deal drugs, or be murdered or accidentally killed, or die from tuberculosis or malaria. When we come here and hear about all these things I feel almost blase about the deaths and the drugs; everyone is so matter-of-fact about them. Dylan feels it harder than I do. Perhaps I have a thicker skin.
The monkeys now number 24. A few we knew have gone, and there are a couple of others we are yet to know. This environment is brutal, taking the people and animals to grisly ends on a regular basis. The only animals that are increasing without losing any along the way are the cats, who now number seven. The latest is Gin - short for Ginger - whom Yuki rescued from the side of the road, half dead, and who then staged a fabulous recovery. Gin is sleek and skinny, the end of his tail is bent into a complete spiral. He is a bit skittish. but we have made friends now and he likes to come and sit on the desk between my hands as I type.
Yuki is as laid back as ever, and Susan bubbles over with that effervescent and manic energy now so familiar and dear to us. Probably all those Vitamin B12 shots...
In other words, this place continues the same.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Penang 3

We have splashed out today and gone the full buffet breakfast. SP had a ball with fruit and steamed red bean buns; that child would eat papaya until she exploded if we let her. Today they're playing pan-pipe music over the speakers, but I wonder if they missed their market as all the South Americans that were here for the 'Love the Earth' conference went home yesterday. I think the Kazakhstanis that were here - there were dozens of them - might have gone too. I will miss them, they were loud and wonderful and played water polo in the pool incessantly.
We have taken the easy route and arranged a car to take us to half a dozen sights today, doing the full-tourist and going to the butterfly farm, the spice farm, the fruit farm, and any other farms we can think of along the way. This mid-range travel experience has been eye-opening. I can't help wondering how much easier life would have been on all those other back-packing Asian trips - is this our sixth trip now? - if we had occasionally spent a bit more money instead of being so budget obsessed.
Yesterday we went out the botanic gardens which was nice, but all the special exhibits were closed, as per usual Dylan-and-Katie-Style. There were monkeys of course. We saw some long-tailed macaques, and some other lovely dark creatures with very long tails and pale snouts and white rimmed eyes (leaf eating monkeys maybe?). However, SP was by far the most interesting thing in the park if the behaviour of the other visitors was anything to go by. Lucky it was D in the centre of this, I would have been very edgy. SP took it all in her charming-stride of course.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Penang 2

Written retrospectively

FRIDAY 23RD October

Is today Friday? Already?

Penang is, like most tropical South East Asian destinations we have been too, florid and fecund and fetid. The light is luminous; this place gleams. I love it. I feel at home, apart from the feeling we are about to be skittled every time we cross the road. I’m not sure about having SP in the pusher around the roads as she goes out front; she goes first and is so vulnerable. We wandered around Georgetown for a brief while today before we got too hot and over it. We looked in Komtar – one of the biggest shopping centers – round and round for a while but it was a little boring. We didn’t feel overly inclined to buy anything, except perhaps shoes, but we had gone into town with only a small amount of cash.

In an old shop-house painted emerald we tried cendal for the first time. Delicious and syrupy: a mess of coconut milk, tapioca worms, red beans and shaved ice stained with brown sugar. I’d like to learn how to make it. We have resolved not to eat any junk food this trip, nothing preserved in plastic; local food all the way. Dinner tonight was wonderful Indian food from the little strip of shops over the road from the hotel. We started with cheese and cashewnut croquets. We ate spicy prawns, fried reddened and crispy chicken, potato and cauliflower curry with paratha and naan bread. We drank mango lassis and salted lemon juice. Afterward we finished it with carrot halwa and icecream and semolina pudding. SP sat in a fabulous pink retro highchair, scattering paratha all over the floor and crushing the croquets in her little hands. She smiles at everyone who walks past, like a film starlet. She makes friends wherever she goes, our blue-eyed babe. Local people and tourists alike are fascinated by her. She gets waved at, and high-fived, and her hands held and cheeks stroked and picked up out of her highchair and cuddled by random people we meet in restaurants. I think she must be very gregarious, like Dylan. She has just learnt to high-five back, which naturally we think is the cutest and cleverest thing we have ever seen. Lots of people have guessed her age right here, I think babies must be smaller overall here than Australian babies, so people don’t automatically think our tiny girl is much younger than she really is as happens at home. I think she is suffering a little in the heat despite our best efforts to keep in the shade or the airconditioning. I also think the 3 hour time difference has knocked her around more than I would have expected, although I suppose it would when you’re little and can only stay awake for a few hours at a time.

Penang 1

Written retrospectively...

Our card reader has bitten the dust so photos will have to wait.

Thursday 21-10-2010

We are in Penang. SP is asleep in the middle of the bed beside me.

Our hotel overlooks the sea, which is grey and blends in with the dull and hazy horizon. There is a view to the left of the beaches –such as they are – and the highrise hotels that line it below the green hills. I think our hotel would have been very nice about 30 years ago, or whenever it was built, but now it is quite tired and badly in need of upgrading. The hallways and lifts smell overwhelmingly floral, like someone has emptied an entire can of air freshener in each one. Our room, however, has the tropical and slightly mouldering smell that is so familiar to us. I don’t mind it; it’s better than the blossoming scent outside our door. The staff are lovely, one and all.

It’s funny to think how much I worried about transport safety before we left. How were we going to get from place to place with SP? When we arrived at the airport, we waited an age for a teksi before we were finally at the head of the line and jumped straight in. The traffic was very heavy, alternating from not moving at all to bumper to bumper at 80 kph. Then creeping creeping creeping. The driver suggested there might have been an accident and then the flashing lights slowly appeared round the corner. ‘O,’ said our driver, ‘dead on the spot’. And there was the shapeless body, covered by a white sheet, blood seeping through and bright like raspberry cordial. My heart fluttered in my throat like a trapped bird. Alive one minute then dead on the side of the road the next; abruptly a public spectacle, a traffic obstruction.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nearly away!

Woo! Exciting! On Tuesday D, SP, and I are all off to Penang via Bangkok for a week or so, and then my aunt's place in Thaton in far Northern Thailand for another week or so. We haven't been to Thaton for a few years and I am very much looking forward to it, it's like our second home. It will be the shortest overseas holiday we have ever taken; we are easing ourselves into travel with a munchen. Even stranger, we have even booked our hotels in advance instead of just rocking up on the doorstep and hoping they have a room for us. This pair of backpackers is now a trip is going to need to do things very differently from now on. In Penang we intend to wander about eating fabulous Malaysian food and not much else. We might even sit by the pool at our hotel for hours at a time (it's where the WiFi is ;-)) When we get to Chiang Mai we're going to hire a car and drive the few hours out to Thaton. And then not do much at all because that's what holidays are all about.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another wild visitor

Years ago, when D and I lived in a unit nearby, there was a small pile of bricks in our minuscule backyard and in those bricks lived a sleepy lizard. He would come and hang out by our back door when the weather was warm and a few times he wandered right inside and had to be coaxed back out again with the gentle application of the broom.
On Monday it was lovely and warm, the warmest day in months and months. It got up to 30 degrees Celsius and we luxuriated it in. When D looked out the kitchen window, which looks out over our driveway, he spotted a blue tongue hanging out on the concrete by the drain. There is a broken section there, we discovered, a perfect little hideaway for our scaly friend. D called out to me to look, which I did, and I said hello to our fellow resident, who crept half back into her home when I approached too close, looking at me warily out of her slow blinking eyes. So I left her alone to enjoy the sunshine and went back on with whatever I was doing.Cue: a startled shout half an hour later from the bathroom. Evidently our lizard-friend had thought that since we'd taken a close look at her home, she should take a good look at ours. She'd come in through the laundry, the kitchen, the hallway and into the bathroom. Quite a trek over concrete, lino, and carpet, and she was investigating the clothing tossed onto the floor. It took D a good 10 minutes or so to persuade her to get into a box so she could be taken back outside and back to her drain, but not before a few happy snaps of course.
It's like history repeating, but I'm calling this bluey a girl because she's fat around the middle :P

Fun with shirring.

I thought I'd try my hand at shirring the other day. I popped up to my local fabric shop and bought my elastic, and after dithering for ages over pink floral fabric versus the same fabric in blue, I bought both.
To my amazement, shirring is actually really, really easy! I didn't think my ancient Singer machine would cope, it's almost as old as I am for a start, and the tension is not what it was, and don't even talk to me about doing zig-zag stitch. But I should have trusted Old Faithful, for look what it helped me make! Isn't it amazing how a rectangle of fabric can be transformed into something so cute with 20 minutes of careful stitching with elastic and the addition of some -rather long - straps? I can't go any further without acknowledging the online tutorial that I referred to for help, which was the "Shir Madness" Tutorial (cute name, too, Portabello Pixie!).
Look out, SP, Mama's learnt how to shir and has lots of fabric to practise on! Poor child's going to end up dressed head to toe in it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

More garden ramblings.

Did I mention that I've planted a couple of my trees? I can't remember because it's quite late on a Friday night and my brain stopped functioning within five minutes of putting SP to bed. Anyway, the Moorpark Apricot and my Mulberry treeling are finally in the ground, taking their spots in the lawn (such as it is, mostly mowed weeds). They both got planted into the soil with generous scoops of compost (out of a bag because mine's not usable yet), cows'manure, blood and bone, and this expensive 'mulch 'n' feed' I got talked into by the man in the nursery. Then more mulch 'n' feed on top, then peastraw (still to come on the mulberry, quite hard to get anything finished in the 30 minutes allocated to you by a sleeping baby).

Here's my beloved apricot right in the middle.

And of course, my little mulberry. Not the best picture, with the leaves blending in the background, but you get the idea.

In other news: I have a fruit! My very first snow pea. It's only about an inch long but I am disproportionately excited about it.

The bluebells are flowering and here are the obligatory photos, Such a lovely translucent violet to them. And check out the rose bushes behind: they have gone mad!

And finally a gratuitous cute shot of SP helping bring in the laundry. Only seems fair since she creates so much of it!

A bit experimental

Our house is a moth-magnet. Small moths, large moths, black moths, white moths; in they come, drawn towards our late-night lights. I found some dried and dessicated on the floor and I had an idea...

Needs some work but I'm happy with this beginning.

Monday, October 4, 2010

How nice.

I found something sweet on the ground today: an pale blue egg shell speckled with brown, blown out of a tree nearby after the bird hatched and landing in my yard under the washing line. It's paper-thin but much more fragile. I can hardly wait until SP is old enough to share my excitement at such precious things.

On my travels through Etsy I found this simply lovely 'Robin's Egg' set of nesting bowls by Alina Hayes ( Tempting, tempting...

Saturday, October 2, 2010


It was glorious outside today: 23 degrees and sunny. I could feel myself unfolding in the warm air, my spirit lifting and energy is flowing through my body like sap.
When my Small woke from her sleep tonight I took her out into the lounge room to feed her. She tucked her head into my shoulder and her hair brushed my nose. She dozed and fed intermittently, dense and heavy in my arms, her tiny belly rising and falling, and I thought, how did I get so lucky? Tiny gorgeous babe, and all mine!