Tsunami in Thailand

Impressions of a Country

 

2004, the day after Christmas, there was a tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Perhaps you remember it like I do, the videos of waves crashing against the beach and rolling towards the buildings, explosion of water and debris as the wave hit trees lining the beach like a line of dominoes and shoving a wall of cars, boats, building and remnants of a holiday on the beach. Everything and everyone who were in its’ path were smashed into buildings, crushed against walls and sliced open by the objects in the water. Then the wave receded, sucking the living and the already dead, back out to the sea. The debris was pulled out with them. Then the next wave slammed ashore.

Rubber Tree Plantation

Impressions of a Country, Interesting People

Have you ever wondered how sap from a tree becomes rubber?

While in Southern Thailand, I had the chance to see a plantation of rubber trees.

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It was early afternoon on Sunday, when we arrived at the plantation. The barefoot men had been working since 10:00 p.m. Saturday night, making the sap from the rubber trees into slabs of rubber to be sold to a middleman. Their workplace is an open air shack with a roof and a cement floor.

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First, the trees are tapped for their sap. The bark is slashed about 6 inches wide and about ¼ inch deep- it looks like a skin graft area. Each stripped area of bark collects sap for about a month.

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At the bottom of the slash is a thin trench that runs into a spout which drips the sap into a small cup-like container. Traditionally, a coconut shell was used, but in this case, plastic cups were used.

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The sap is mixed with a chemical that thickens and binds .

After the sap had “set” and thickened, a man dumped the rubber onto a piece of plastic covering the cement floor. The rubber starts as a square of material about 2 feet long and 18 inches wide. The worker used a heavy metal pipe to beat it and roll it into a thinner piece so it would fit through the machine. He used his body weight to press it down, and also rolled the metal pipe a bit, like a rolling-pin to stretch it and make it thinner.

Then a second man put the now thinner rubber into a machine similar to an old-fashioned washing machine or a pasta maker.

Then this rubber was put through a second machine that thinned it some more, and pressed a design. The final result was a slab of rubber about 4 feet long by 2 feet wide. It looked like the rubber backing of a bathroom throw rug, but thicker.

These particular pieces would be turned into tires, or floor mats for a car, or for condoms. My oh my, the variety of uses from the sap of one simple plant!

This is considered a very lowly job. As a matter of fact, the workers were shocked that we gave them respect. In this case, respect came from asking them if I could take pictures and asking if I could touch the product.

The workers were from Burma (a neighboring country now called Myanmar), although the people are still called Burmese. The raw rubber used to be sold for 180 baht (about $11.50) per kilo. (2.2 pounds). Now the raw rubber sells for about $1.75 per kilo. 50% of the profit goes to the landowner, and 50% goes to the workers. One of these guys earns about $15 per day. Probably, most of the money earned is sent home to the family in Burma. This is a lot of money for the people there, but not much to live on in Thailand.

Thank goodness for people like these hard workers who are willing to make rubber for the rest of us. This is another job that I am glad I do not have.

Approaching the end?

Impressions of a Country, Round The World Trip

Quick Summary

Less than 8 weeks left on this leg of the trip- or is it the end of my journey? The answer is unclear today. Some of my goals were to meet interesting people, and see how life is lived by other people in the world. Along the way, I wanted to volunteer, learn and experience lots of life. Most of these goals have been accomplished, although the volunteering did not turn out as expected. I found that volunteering for only one or 2 weeks was not what the organizations I contacted needed. Some had a minimum of a six month commitment, another was not set up for an individual volunteer but wanted a group. Probably with better planning or a longer commitment, and I would have enjoyed those experiences as well. Even speaking English and exposing kids at a refugee camp did not work out, since my timing happened to be when they were studying for the most important exams of the year.

Let’s face it, a year is not long enough. The world is an amazing place, and so much bigger than I thought. Our planet is huge and there is so much more I want to see, but am out of time. My incredibly talented daughter is graduating law school, and I am going to be there.

Most frequently asked question of me: Do I like Obama?

Second most frequently asked question: What is my favorite place? (While traveling)

Third most frequently asked question: Do I have a gun? (In the USA)

Favorite places: I cannot say I have a favorite because I liked so many places, but for different reasons.

Most beautiful- Switzerland, but really expensive.

Montenegro is a close second- the Natural beauty is spectacular. Lots of greenery and mountains, and very inexpensive, but harder to get to.

Best Food – Italy. Everything people say about the good food is true. The whole culture is built around enjoying food, and family.

Amsterdam, Netherlands – I enjoyed the “live and let live” attitude. Surprisingly, the city shuts down around 6:00 pm except for Fridays and Saturdays, and even then it shuts down around 11:00 pm. I would definitely go back to see the tulips in spring again, the photos do not do them justice. They are magnificent.

Germany– It is similar to the USA with the modern conveniences and easy to get around with public transportation. The variety of delicious sausages were enjoyable. Wonderful parks- especially the English Garden in Munich.

Scotland- if a person likes to hike and doesn’t mind rain, come here.

Ireland – lots of rain and lots of pubs.

Iceland- Windy. Lots of fish to eat. The Blue Lagoon will bring me back again- but this time in summer. The best organized tourism industry that I experienced.

Serbia – Someone told me to tell everyone to bring your tourist dollars here. The people are so helpful, several walked with me to my destination to be sure I got to where I was going. The public transportation is easy to get around. There is beautiful architecture, and it is a very inexpensive country.

Croatia– Another beautiful country. I didn’t get to spend much time here, but would go back to visit the National Park, and to island hop along the coast. The Aegean Sea is a turquoise blue.

Israel– I don’t think they will ever have peace. I think many people do not want peace. They would rather be right. Really hot and dry. This is where I got over my vanity of being overweight , middle-age woman in a bathing suit. I figured that more people cared about what it was like to float in the Dead Sea, rather than what I looked like.

Czech Republic – I only spent time in Prague, but it is a city with so much historical architecture. This is still an inexpensive area. Great public transportation.

Hungary– I only got to spend a day in Budapest, and would like to go back. It is inexpensive, has good public transportation. The caving experience here was the best caving I have ever done.

Turkey– I went here 3 different times over a 6 month period and explored different areas. The people are very friendly, and the country has everything from sea resorts, to recently discovered cities over 3,000 years ago. The Grand Bazaar is a really interesting place, and for the prettiest jewelry I have ever seen in my travels is located here. It is intricate and stunning. If I am walking down the red carpet in Hollywood, chances are that I will be wearing jewelry from here. Inexpensive.

Zimbabwe– This is where I learned to understand how important it is to have a good leader, and what corruption does to the general population. This is a fascinating country with many, many problems. The local, wonderful people I met here probably had the biggest impact on me through all of my travels. I only spent about a week here, but have a lifetime of memories. Also, a very dear friend joined me here and we shared the experiences. I am so happy to have shared these experiences with her.

Botswana– This is the representation of what I expected of Africa- endless scenery, lots of big animals.

South Africa – I only spent time driving through and then staying a couple days in Johannesburg. The city is growing so quickly they don’t know what the population is, and they have 12 official languages. I now question why some people in the USA think we need one official language. I was very uncomfortable here, partly because of the reputation of the city and people who have not traveled here telling me how dangerous it was. It was a growing experience for me to be the minority everywhere I went.

Thailand – A wonderful country that I will visit again. The people are very friendly and helpful, it is inexpensive, and easy to get around in English. The north has mountains and several Hill Tribes (ethnic groups that do not speak Thai, and dress in their traditional costumes). The south has fantastic beach after beach after beach.

Singapore – Lots of rules. Very clean. Excellent public transportation. Modern architecture. Expensive. A melting pot of Asian people.

Nepal – my least favorite country. The people were very nice, but it is a difficult life for many people. Again, government leadership is so important. When different factions cannot agree on anything, except “leave the tourists alone”, life is hard for its citizens. The capital city, Kathmandu is the most polluted city I have ever seen – air, noise, trash, water, everything. On the other hand, the citizens have bigger problems to worry about.

Bali, Indonesia – such a pretty country with friendly locals. Too bad the places I went in Bali were so damaged by tourism. I would like to discover more of Indonesia, but would hesitate to go back here until the infrastructure catches up, and the trash is gone.

India – I hear that the south is very different than the north. I only had a few days in the north, although I met a very nice family. Next time I will visit the south. India seems to be making progress from what I had expected. It was cleaner than Nepal and school is compulsory. I would not travel as a lone western female in the North again. I was very uncomfortable, although I stayed safe.

Malaysia- Hot and humid, great public transportation. Excellent Chinese food everywhere and inexpensive.

I have met so many kind people and everyone has a story. I have been so fortunate to stay with friends, family, acquaintances and friends of friends, and near strangers. I have found that the world is full of good-hearted people no matter what country, and most people are just like me, trying to find my way on this life’s journey. We have the same concerns, taking care of our family and providing for our children. We are more similar than different, even though we may have different names for our “God”, and wear different clothes and have different manners, but in the end, the world is a wonderful place, and not as scary as we are led to believe.

Future stops in include Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii before I make my way back home. I am looking forward to knowing how to get to the grocery store, and the proper way to purchase vegetables without holding up a line full of people. I also am really, really, looking forward to a cheeseburger!

And most importantly- I am looking forward to hugging my family and friends.

They Are Not Some Thing, They Are Someone

Impressions of a Country

“They are not some thing, they are some one” is one of the first things we learned about elephants at Elephant Nature Park, in Northern Thailand.

One of the three families (herd) of elephants at Elephant Nature Park, in Thailand.

One of the three families of elephants at Elephant Nature Park, in Thailand.

I am happy to report that this is a place that actually makes a difference and is the kind of place that I like to think all non-profits aspire to be.

The wonderful, large property of Elephant Nature Park. The smoke in the background is from the slash and burn method the villagers use.

The wonderful, large property of Elephant Nature Park. The smoke in the background is from the slash and burn method the villagers use to prepare fields for planting.

It started with a Thai teenager named Lex, who saw the way an elephant was abused and decided to make a difference. It has grown into a park with 44 elephants, a herd of water buffalo,

Water Buffalo

Water Buffalo

400+ dogs

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and a bunch of cats. (This is a woman who cannot say no to animals in need.)

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Elephants are the main focus- the dogs came later. Some of the dogs were found in a warehouse waiting to be slaughtered as dog meat for other countries. Some were rescued from rooftops during massive flooding in Bangkok. They have been given their shots, spayed / neutered and treated for fleas, and are up for adoption.

The water buffalo were facing a similar fate of being eaten and were rescued by a group of Hindus. Since Lek had available land, she agreed to take them in.

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10 years ago, Lek had 9 elephants and was struggling to support them.  Elephants eat up to 300 pounds of fruit, veggies and grasses per day – each.

Unloading the daily watermelon truck - 4000 watermelons.

Unloading the daily watermelon truck – 4000 watermelons.

 After unloading the watermelons, we washed and cut them. I noticed the next day when scooping the poo, that the rinds were not digested by the elephants.

After unloading the watermelons, we washed and cut them. I noticed the next day when scooping the poo, that the rinds were not completely digested by the elephants.

A westerner convinced Lek that foreigners cared about elephants so much that they would volunteer to help and even pay money for the experience.

Yep, I paid money to volunteer to clean up elephant poo.

Yep, I paid money to volunteer to clean up elephant poo.

Some Westerners care about the plight of endangered elephants and believe in treating them well.

Lek’s example of using positive reinforcement, rather than brutality has made her business so successful that her limited volunteer slots fill up quickly and she must turn away business.

Our group of volunteers for the week. It was fun getting to know so many other interesting and compassionate people

Our group of volunteers for the week. It was fun getting to know so many other interesting and compassionate people

Even better, other local businesses have seen that Elephant Nature Park is always busy, and have changed the way they do things. As a matter of fact, a nearby camp offered to sell out to her, and she declined. (Her goal is not to become rich, it is to help elephants). She agreed to teach them her methods of positive reinforcement, and how to run a business, and even refer people to them – however she had two rules. One, they were not allowed to use the bullhook, and two, they were not allowed to ride the elephants.  That same camp now has a “walk with elephants” tour and is doing great. Money may be the primary motivator for them, but if it is good for the elephants, who cares?

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Bullhook – it is attached to a handle about 2 feet long.

What makes this place special is that they are truly looking out for the elephants. This is a sanctuary where elephants who have been beaten and abused get to live out their lives as elephants, without being a slave to people.

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Many of the elephants who come here have mental issues, and some have killed people. Some of them have major health problems; several have land mine injuries. One baby elephant was found in a steel trap, and several are blind because their mahouts (trainers) used slingshots to shoot them in the eye when they refused to work. Because the elephants are so big and weigh so much, the foot and leg wounds have not healed, even though it has been years since the accidents. Each day, the foot and leg wounds are treated.

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The baby who was caught in the trap was adopted by one of the females.

Lek teaches that these huge, magnificent creatures have feelings and thoughts, just like cats and dogs (which many Thai people do not know), and that positive reinforcement is a better and more humane way to treat these creatures.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captive_elephants Elephants exhibit a wide variety of behaviors, including those associated with grief, learning, allomothering, mimicry, play, altruism, use of tools, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness,memory, and language.

And the elephants are not the only ones effected. 75% of the mahouts come from a nearby Burmese refugee camp. Some of the young mahouts were child soldiers. They have seen the brutality of their mothers and sisters being raped and worse, right in front of them. They have not known love.

In Asia, a Mahout is considered one of the lowest ranking jobs. It is a job for someone who has no other options in life.The mahouts are uneducated and poor. They cannot get any other job, and are not respected.

The mahouts earn about $3.50 per day; and are able to supplement their income by making handicrafts, such as elephants carvings and sell them in ‘the gift shop. The money for the carvings go directly to the mahouts.

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One thing I really enjoyed were the other volunteers. Most of them are compassionate people and I saw their kindness. For instance, one of the volunteers decided she was going to buy an elephant carving as a gift for someone back home. She did not particularly care which one. Each mahout carves the elephant that he works with so each carving is different. The mother and baby elephants are attached, the elephant with a hole in her ear, is represented by a carving with a hole in its ear. The old lady elephant who gets cold wears a blanket and so does the carving. All the carvings were quite nice. One of the employees at Elephant Nature Park suggested that is someone did not have a preference, to choose the mahout’s carving that got the least amount of sales. The mahouts get disheartened when they don’t earn extra money and the mama and baby elephants sell the best, I am sure. So, she remembered to ask the lady running the gift shop, which mahout sold the least amount and purchased his carving.

I am continuously heartened about the kindness of strangers. Although we hear so much negativity every day, in fact, there are wonderful and giving people all over the world. As westerners (and rich compared to the rest of the world), we truly can make an impact by making choices with our wallets. A fancy coffee for us is a day’s pay for a mahout.

I have learned that what the people in the developing world need is money. They want to work. They want to earn it. The western world has the money and tourism is having an impact. As a westerner, we can make a difference as to the kinds of tourism we want to promote, based on our pocketbooks.

This job changes the Mahout’s lives too.

This mahout is 55 years old.

This mahout is 55 years old.

Most of the mahouts have experience working with elephants which realistically means experience beating them and using the metal hook. Sorry to say it, but it is true. I was shocked at the brutality when I learned how the elephants are beaten into submission.

No worries- there are no photos of abuse in this post. There are plenty on the internet if you care to know more.

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We watch a video of how an elephant is “trained”. I had heard stories that elephants are abused, but never saw it in action. We were shown a short documentary and learned  the way they are taught- even now. They are tied up by a group of men, and confined. When the elephant tries to move, they are beaten with sticks, and hit with boards with 6-inch nails in them. Their legs are tied apart, chains are used to tie them up, they are sleep deprived and starved as well. And once their spirit is broken, they are ready to learn commands. No doubt that this is torture.

Perhaps the CIA learned some of the torture techniques from brutalities like this. The traditional breaking of an elephant’s spirit has been going on since elephants have been used for the purposes of man, hundreds if not thousands of years. The only thing lacking are electrical shocks, and I bet if there was access to electricity, that would be done too. No wonder the elephants arrive at the sanctuary angry, crazy and distrustful.

If an elephant is lucky enough to be brought to this sanctuary, she or he is treated with love and respect. Mahouts here are not allowed to use the bullhook or slingshots.

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Lek shared some stories about the different elephants. A recent arrival, who is not free to roam with humans yet – too dangerous, would pretend he didn’t see a person behind him. He would pick up a rock with his trunk, and throw it over his shoulder at the person. I was told he has excellent aim. The mahouts removed all the rocks from his area. Now he sucks up pebbles with his trunk and shoots them at people. He has also been known to pick up dung and throw it. Again- he is known for his accurate aim.

It was amazing to see a blind elephant with her best friend/companion by her side, guiding her.

Baby Elephant playing

The elephant on the left has a damaged foot

It looked like best human friends who are their for each other. I have a friend like that, and had no idea that elephants do too. They have adopted each other because they have each lost their whole family. Instead of herds being formed by blood relatives, they have formed their own families by choosing who they like and dislike.

One sweet elephant is afraid of all other elephants. If another elephant approaches, she leaves – even leaving behind food. I can’t imagine what must have happened to her.

I asked one of our volunteer coordinators about his experience. He has been employed here for nearly 3 years. Tourism in Thailand has only been around for about 20 years. The reason he chose tourism as a profession is because of the money he could make.

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He used to drive past  ENP every day and thought that this person running it must be crazy to let such big animals roam freely. He worked at a trekking company, giving rides to tourists on the backs of the elephants. To him they were machines. He told me that elephants were only job and a means for him to make money.

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A friend of his suggested he apply here when there was an opening. He noticed it was always busy and he knew he could make more money. After arriving here, he learned about the way elephants are “trained”; restrained and tortured with sticks and nails, and ropes holding them in a squeeze. They have sensitive ears, so this is a common place to jab them with the pointy end of the bullhook. They were beaten into submission.

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He had treated his dogs and cats the same way, not thinking of them as a “someone”, and would kick them when they were in the way, and liked to fight / roughhouse, with his dog. Now, he has changed. He can see that elephants are happier and healthier here.  For the record, he mentioned that he treats his dog and cat differently now too. As the saying goes, “when you know better, you do better.”

There was an instance when 20 of the 30 mahouts got together and complained that they could not control the elephants without the bullhook and slingshots. They told Lek they were going to quit unless she allowed them to use these tools. The mahouts knew these giant animals can be dangerous. Lek decided to prove to them that elephants can be gentle when treated with kindness and respect. She sat on the ground feeding a group of 4 elephants from her hands. The elephants caressed her with their trunks, putting their trunks all over her and feeling her, while eating the small berries she gave them. Each of us strangers, aka tourists, got right up there with her to have our photo taken. The mahouts could see that the elephants responded to kindness.

Lex is sitting behind me feeding the elephants small fruits. The elephants are touching her all over with their trunks and caressing her.

Lek is sitting behind me feeding the elephants small fruits. The elephants are touching her all over with their trunks and caressing her.

Each afternoon we got to learn something. Sometimes is was about elephants; one day we learned about the stories of some of these elephants and the different personalities, the behavior of elephants, history of the park, breeding in the wild vs captivity etc., another was learning about Thai culture.

All in all, it was a very fulfilling week. I really enjoyed my adventure, and the interesting variety of people I met.  If you ever go to Thailand, this is an experience that won’t easily be forgotten.

ihttp://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

Summary of January and February in Asia

Impressions of a Country

In January and February 2015 I traveled to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Bali, Nepal, India, and now am back in Thailand for about a month.

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I have lost :

1 water bottle (left on a bus)

1 pair underwear (left on a clothesline)

1 jacket (must have left it in a hotel, because I can’t find it anywhere)

1 hat (no clue as to what happened to it)

and my watch now loses 10-15 minutes per hour.

My backpack has 1 large rip after arriving in baggage claim, and another small rip from another baggage claim destination.

Do you remember your mother telling you not to pull on threads that may be hanging off a shirt? Well, it is still good advice. I bought a few cheap shirts in Thailand, about $3 each.

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I knew they were not well made, but that was ok. As I wore them, I noticed they often had threads hanging out of the sleeves and have tickled / startled me on more than one occasion. I do not like to feel like something is crawling up my arm,

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so every time I felt a loose thread, I pulled it or ripped it out. That is, until I pulled a thread and the whole seam of my shirt disappeared.

There was quite a draft.

I have gained friends and travel buddies from all over the world including Finland, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, Spain, Turkey and Canada. I even spent 10 days with another solo female traveler while in Nepal.IMG_1927  and shared a bed mattress with women from the USA, Malaysia, Canada and Thailand.

I met a professional photographer, as well as a girl who was bitten by a monkey and had to face the fact that she may die from rabies (a horrible way to die) Rabies is 100% fatal.

I met an author of 10 books, and a Saudi Arabian student who bought property in Nevada to allow local farmers to use it for little or no money, several people studying to become a Yoga instructors, and made friends with Indian man who treated me like his sister.

I even went to his home and met his wife and children.  And, let me tell you, he did not let men in India harass me.

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The world is full of interesting and kind people from all walks of life.

Here are my brief impressions of these countries:

Thailand – love this country! Things are inexpensive. Massages cost about $7 for an hour. I am staying with a former AFS (high school exchange) student. It is so much fun to see the kids all grown up and in their home countries. She is my resident expert on all things Thai.

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There are so many gorgeous temples

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The food is delicious,though I questioned the cleanliness of a kitchen more than once.

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A meal costs about $2 when buying it from street vendors. The people are friendly and very very nice. Even Bangkok is great- no horns beeping, clean and the people are helpful. It does not seem like a big city.

Malaysia– hot and humid, so tropical. I stayed in Penang, Malaysia which is in the North of the country. I was so lucky to stay with friends of friends,

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and spend time with a favorite aunt and uncle.

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I had the opportunity to try new things.

and attended a 50th birthday party with 8 courses of food. The picture below was the first course of appetizers.

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I (tried) to use chopsticks

and sailed on a 72 ft. yacht,

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as well as stayed in a private bungalow / mansion on Penang Hill, overlooking the city.

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It was fun to experience how the wealthy live.

The food was incredible and so inexpensive.

I learned that Chinese people eat everything

?????????????????????????????????????-including something called a “Bishop”s Nose” which is a polite way of describing the ass hole of a chicken. Seriously, that is what it is called. It must have gained the English name during colonial times when Penang was a colony of the British. No worries, I don’t have a picture of that part of the chicken.

Singapore– Lots and lots of rules. I would even call it sterile. I could not live here without getting in trouble by accident.

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Durians are a fruit that have a strong smell.

Durians are a fruit that have a strong smell.

There are fines for everything, even a $500 fine for chewing gum, etc. Most people know that I like to bend the rules. I would always be getting in trouble here.

But the city is incredibly clean and safe so the rules are effective.

The architecture is amazing.

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I am told it costs about $60,000 in order to get permission to drive a car. And then you have to purchase a car. Fortunately, the public transportation is outstanding.

Bali – I only had a few days to spend here, but it is another country I would to spend more time. Again, although the people do not have much in material possessions, they have a family oriented culture and are friendly. I took my first painting lesson here.

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Nepal

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The people are so friendly and affectionate. It was the best thing about Nepal.

I passed these guys while walking around the neighborhood. The boy wearing the Harley Davidson T-shirt has a dream to go to America

I passed these guys while walking around the neighborhood. The boy wearing the Harley Davidson T-shirt has a dream to go to America

The country has a lack of infrastructure. It is a hard life for so many people. Nepal has been my least favorite country of the trip, although I have a lifetime’s worth of memories.

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??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? There are very few traffic lights and no stop signs. The traffic police stand on a pedestal.

and each home gets a few hours of electricity per day.IMG_2926 6:45 p.m. Our electricity was turned off and someone else’s was turned on. This is a photo from my balcony in the capital city.

There are many children. I am sure that the children feel very loved.

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India

 I only had a few days in Northern India so will have to go back to get a broader experience. Traffic was unlike anything I have seen before, but most surprising to me was that so many people wanted to take a photograph of themselves with me. Here are a few:

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Whole families came over to me, and even put a baby on my lap. I wasn’t sure if I should feel like Santa Claus (some little kids were scared and didn’t want to get too close, or a celebrity- many people stared, and some discretely tried to get me in a photo as I walked by.

Next stop is an Elephant Conservation Park. I am volunteering to help with the elephants. I don’t know exactly what that entails, other than cutting grass and bathing them, but will keep you posted.

Chiang Dao and the Hill Tribes

Impressions of a Country

Chiang Dao, Thailand

After a few days in Chiang Mai, we rode in a “Songthaew” similar to a pickup truck with a bench along each side and a roof, for 1.5 hours to Chiang Dao, which is only 20 miles from Myanmar (formerly called Burma) border. One morning we went to a local market where the Hill tribes – minority indigenous people, come to sell their wares. There were lots of food stalls, both cooked and vegetables, many of which I had never seen before and could not identify.

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Checked Another One Off the Bucket List

Bucket List, Impressions of a Country

One of the experiences on my bucket List was to try a fish spa – you know, the one where you put your feet into a tank of water with live fish . The fish eat the calluses and dead skin. I got the opportunity to try this in Thailand while sharing the experience with my Aunt Peggy who joined me.

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There are plenty of massage places and plenty of spas in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but not as many that have the fish spa. We walked past 7 or 8 massage places and several blocks before finding one that had fish. I have heard that the USA does not allow this kind of spa because of disease. I don’t know what kind of diseases, but my opinion is that many things are over regulated and this is probably worth the risk. I did not have any open wounds, grew up swimming in lakes and ponds, and the fish would come along and nibble a freckle, so how much different could this be? Of course, I reserve the right to change my opinion if I start growing scales and fins.

Once we found the fish spa, we took off our shoes before entering the small shop. Thailand is very clean indoors, and a person is expected to remove their shoes and leave at the entrance in many places, including hotels, temples, museums, spas and private homes. The massage lady proceeded to hose off our feet – probably to protect the fish from who knows what as well as to keep the tanks clean.

In this spa there were 2 large fish tanks. Each was a rectangular shape, about 6 feet long and 1.5 feet wide, and about 100 gallons .

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The tanks were very clean; there was no algae anywhere to be seen in the tank, there was no fish poop or food laying at bottom of the tanks, and each tank had a bubbler / aerator, which was quite a soothing noise. It sounded like a waterfall. Along the length of the tank was a padded bench against the wall where we sat with our pants rolled up to our knees. It just looked like hundreds of fish in a tank.

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We put our feet into the cold water. Dozens of minnow-sized fish swam right up to the buffet – our feet, ankles, and even legs! and attached themselves by their mouths. At first it was weird and I squealed. We could feel the fish touching everywhere that was under the water surface. Then we could feel them nibbling between our toes, and swimming between our toes, with both sides of their bodies sliding along each toe.

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Peggy wouldn’t look at her own feet but was not bothered one bit by looking at mine which were covered in black fish. After getting used to the idea of dozens of black minnows that looked like leeches stuck to our feet it rather tickled as the fish hung on by their mouths while their bodies undulated.

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The fish looked like they may have been bottom dweller types, the minnows that were not eating stuck to the sides of the tanks, like snails.

The feasting fish was a sensation unlike any I have had before. Looking through the tank from my vantage point above, it looked like what I imagined a bunch of leeches would look like, dozens hanging from their mouths, each minnow was about ½ inch long and felt like my feet were vibrating.

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If I moved my feet the fish would swim away then come back for a second serving. We sat here for 30 minutes and when our time was up – the fish were still everywhere, our feet were really really soft. Peggy noticed a callus at the end of a toe was gone, but another was still there.The end result was my feet were incredibly soft all over and I would and probably will do it again.

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