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9 กุมภาพันธ์ 2551
 
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Not sure where to start...

Be warned guys... It's long... very long...

Had a bit of a crazy couple of weeks... Still getting used to being in Kalasin. It's much queiter than Naan. Farangs aren't so common and (maybe because of this) I'm struggling to work my way through a large list of invitations, to visit people's houses, eat dinner, drink beer, help their son's or daughter's with their English, or to go to Mukdaharn, Sakorn Nakorn or the surrounding towns.

I've been here almost a month now. It's a month thats gone scarily fast. I don't really do that much. I just go to school, ride my bike to Bua Khao (the nearest town) send a few e-mails, go home, eat, shower and sleep. But, somehow evening after evening seems to disappear.

It's quite strange being the centre of attention. I'm not sure I like it. I like having time to myself too, and seem to have very little of it at the minute.

This morning was great though. My friend's mum and dad went to the temple and to MahaSalarkham. I guess that I was supposed to go with them, but they didn't seem too fussed when I said that I felt really lazy and planned to go out on my bike and use the net instead. They went off around 9am leaving me a front door key, a pile of Khao Jee (BBQed sticky rice - great tasting stuff... am really going to miss it when I leave here ) and tom yam soup, and an empty house.

It felt brilliant, for the first time in ages to be totally alone. To not have to smile and make small talk (in English) or struggle to think of how to reply to a question (in Thai.)

So what did I do with my new found freedom ? I got my laptop out, took a quick look at some of my piccies from last week's trip to Loei, turned up the volume and played around 2 hours worth of old songs. Really cheesy English rock and indie stuff that I haven't heard in months. Then I got my bike and went bombing down a few of the streets in the village before heading to Bua Khao, the nearest town.

I'm now sat in one of the net cafe's here. It's full of teenagers playing shoot em ups. I keep getting stared at, like I am some sort of alien, but I've kind of got used to that now too.

So, whats gone on to make me crave peace and quiet ? Lots....

Loei
Last week was scarily hectic. Last Monday, me and my mud covered trousers finally made their way back from Loei. It was a great trip - 2 nights in Phu Reua, one in the town itself and 2 in Phu Kradeung - even if things didn't quite go to plan.

Phu Reu was beautiful but the weather was a bit shite. It was impossible to see any of the famous views. Each time I climed to the top of the mountain, all I could see were a few hazy trees and mist. Lots and lots and lots of mist. On the day that I left for Loei, the sun came out, almost tortmenting me, willing me to stay the extra day. In Loei it was more of the same. The clear blue sky the greeted my arrival there quickly darkened and, in the evening it rained. And rained. And rained.

It was still raining when I woke up at 5.30 the next morning and I was seriously wondering whether it would be OK to head to Phu Kradeung or not. A couple of people I met in the bus station decided against it and had already brought their tickets back to BKK by the time a second group showed up. The other group pointed out that, sometimes, the weather in the mountains is better than it is in the town. I decided to take the chance.

By the time we'd got off the bus, eaten and got into the songtaew to the national park, the rain had stopped. But, the sky was still grey. The others milled around at the base of the mountain, hiring tents and looking at souvenier T-Shirts. I decided to go straight for the top. It's a 5km uphill hike. Friends in BKK reckoned it can take up to 7 hours in hot weather. I was hoping it would take me around 5.

The sky was dark. The path was slippy and the lower part was caked in mud. There's several resting places on the trail. Some are merely signs pointing out the distance to the next stopping off point. Others are viewpoints, places where (if there was no mist) the nearby bamboo trees have been cut down, and its possible to see the surrounding fields. Others have restraunts, toliets and souveneir stalls. Standing at them, surrounded by bamboo shacks, and women hawking BBQ chicken and sticky rice, it's hard to believe that you're half way up a mountain.

The 1st and last sections of the path are the toughest. Plus, on reaching the summit it's another 3 and a half kilometers to the campsite, and almost 9 to the most famous of the clifftop viewpoints. I'd seen photos of bamboo ladders and mud covered trails on the net. I knew that if it rained, the path could become really dangerous. Although most people seemed to take their time, stopping off for water and food, or to wait for their friends. I plodded on.

I didn't see the bamboo ladders. Thankfully, they've been replaced by sturdier steel ones. I also managed to make it to the top well before the rain started. I looked at my mobile phone. I hadn't done too badly. Only 3 hours and 15 minutes, much better than I'd thought... though since the air was damp, and thick with fog, I'd not taken as many photos, or stopped to rest as often as I'd planned.

The walk to the campsite was pretty uneventful. It brough back memories of being a teenager and walking on 'Kinder Scout', a giant fog cloaked peat bog in the countryside near my parents house. The scenery was pretty similar. Miles of ferns and pine trees with sandy dirt tracks cutting through them. Like on kinder, and in Phu Reua, the famous views were all hidden by the fog. Most of my pictures are of the mist, and of the empty white space that dominated the weekend.

I pitched my tent OK, had a quick lie down, and went to ask the rangers where, if anywhere, would be a good place to head out to, to see the sunset. Their answer:- 'nowhere.' Most of the paths heading towards the nearby waterfalls close at 3pm. There was a herd of wild elephants in the area, and they can, apparently be quite vicious. A couple of the paths heading out towards the cliff tops were also out of bounds too.

I took a quick walk to the buddah statue and headed back to the campsite for some food. I had an early night. There's not much to do at night. Thai groups usually bring their own food, beers, mats and guitars and happily drink, and sing the night away. It was nice to chill in the tent listening to them strum their way through cheesy Thai love songs.

It had been a long day. I fell asleep around 10ish and woke up around 2am. My tent was shaking. My bag was moving. There were strange black shadows around the edge of one side and loads of strange noises. I was really scared.

A couple of weeks ago, when I first moved to Bua Khao, Kru Prasong, my friend's dad has asked me whether I believed in ghosts or not - and teased me when I said no. I knew it wasn't a ghost. It was definitely an animal of some sort, but I was too frightened to want to know exactly what.

The shaking continued and a few minutes later there was a ripping sound. The black shadow got bigger. The noises louder. My bag moved towards the edge of the tent. I was really, really frightened. I wanted to shout or scream but it was 2am. I shone my mobile phone towards the corner of the tent (I was too scared to use my torch.) Whatever it was was in the corner. I thought it was a deer. I sat in the middle of the tent, terrified, hoping it would go away. It pulled at my bag a few times, then wandered off.

It was cold. I was tired. I didn't really know what had happened to the tent, and knew it wasn't (but was really hoping that it was) just a freaky dream. I settled down and tried to sleep. It was freezing. I pulled up my hood but was still cold. I found my hat, stuck in on my head and tried to get some sleep.

Around 5am there was a load croaking sound, like there was a frog outside my tent. I was hoping the croaking would go away. It didn't. I opened my eyes. There was a black frog shape around 10cm away from my eyes. I got my torch. There were 2 frogs hopping and croaking their way around the tent. There was also a large hole in the bottom left hand corner. One of my backpack straps was soaked, as if someone had slobbered all over it. I shone my torch towards the hole. Another frog was approaching. This time I really freaked. I grabbed my sleeping bag and torch, stuck my feet in what was left of my trainers and rain to the visitor centre.

I tried to explain what had happened to the ranger, working the overnight shift. He laughed. 'The foreigner's scared of frogs' he told his friend.
'Can I sleep here' I asked ?
'No' he said.
'Can I sit down here?' I asked
'You speak Thai very well' he said 'How long have you lived in Thailand?' (Why is it that people always say this at moments when its clear that they haven't understood a word you've said ????)

At that moment there was a power cut. I sat in the floor with my head between my knees, closed my eyes and waited for it to become light. A couple of people came in few asked what I was doing there. The foreigner's scared of frogs, they said.

Around 7am it had become light. I was still feeling pretty knacked and decided to see whether I could hire a tent. There was a new guy manning the reception desk. When I asked, he laughed.
'Where did you sleep last night?' he asked
'In my tent.'
'So why do you want to hire a tent?'
'Because some animal tried to eat my tent.' I told him. 'There's a big hole in it' I used my hands to show him the size.
'You should put all your things in your bag' he said. 'The pigs will eat everything.'
'The pigs have already eaten everything' I told him.
He laughed and asked whether I could show him my tent.
I took him to my tent. 5 other tents also had holes in them. I wasn't sure whether their occupants were still asleep - and unaware of what had happened - or whether, like me, they'd also tried to escape.
He saw the hole, smiled and asked me how I'd managed to sleep in it after the pigs had attacked it. The wind's strong he said. 'I know.'

He asked me when I was planning to leave and told me that, if I hired a tent, he'd mend my tent for me, for free.

I said OK, not really believing that the tent was mendable. The groundsheet was ripped. Mending it would mean that it wouldn't be waterproof. Without being waterproof, the tent was as good as useless.

I hired the tent and went off to get some sleep. When I awoke my tent had disappeared and a couple of people who's tents had also been broken into were standing around looking at the damage or trying to repair them.

One said hello and asked what had happened to my tent. I told him to go and speak to the rangers. "They'll help you mend you tent."

The second day was pretty uneventful. The fog thickened. The rain got heavier but thankfully my new hired tent remained pig and frog free. I got some sleep, read my book, took a walk to see the 'non-existent' sunset, and relaxed. I was disappointed by the weather but enjoyed the walks. They reminded me of winter's days in the peaks. And, every so often, as long as its not too often, a cold day makes a nice change from the sun, and the stifling heat.

Monday's trip down the mountain was worse that Saturdays trek up. The rain had stopped but the path remained treacherously slippy. Almost everyone I saw make the trip down, with the exception of the porters, fell at some point. Their jeans and T-shirts were, like mine splatted with mud.

Reaching the bottom was a bit of an anti-climax. The big adventure I'd been looking forward to for the last 2 weeks was over. All that was left was a long bus ride home then... back to school, and back to the odd kind of reailty that seems to be my life at the moment.

Other Loei tales

I caught up with a couple of old friends in Loei. One used to work in Bangkok, but, last year, after marrying a guy who lives in one of the small towns dotted along the road between Loei and Lomsak, moved upcountry to help her new husband's family run their business.

Her husband's family sell fertiliser. She works in their shop. She enjoys it but, it sounds like a really hard life. Early mornings, late nights. And, most of her friends still live in BKK. She hasn't seen them since the wedding. I asked her whether she ever gets lonely. The village she lives in is very different from Bangkok. There no 7-11, and most of the people that she knows are customers, or her husband's family. 'Not really' she said. She's with her husband all the time. That's enough for her. It's what she wants.

She hopes to get some time off in April, to go back to BKK for a few days and catch up with some of her friends.

I couldn't help thinking whether, if I had to make the same kind of choice, 'bf' or 'friends' ??? I would be able to do it or not. I know that I wouldn't. I value my independence too much. It would be hard for me to give that up for anyone, however much I loved or cared about them.

When my ex asked me to choose between BKK and him (though at the time I didn't see it that way, I saw it as BKK V very pokey flat in Peckham) BKK won hands down. It felt right at the time, like my life was here. I didn't see that there was anything (other than a crappy job) for me back home. Much as I loved D, my ex, it wasn't enough.

One day it would be great if I could meet someone that I liked sooooo much, that I would be happy to make the same kind of sacrifice for them. I can't see that happening in Thailand. Here, dating is a total disater. But, maybe somewhere, someday... ???

Still not over it...
I thought I'd got over it. Thought being upcountry, being places where there is always something new to see, do and learn about, or someone new talk to would help me forget one of the sh*tt**r things about the last couple of months of my life in BKK. But... it's not that simple.

Last year, one of my friends went all weird on me. One day we were friends. The next, for what ever reason he decided not to speak to me. Things went back to normal just before I went back to the UK. Then, just after I came back to Thailand the same thing happened.

I really wanted to see him before I moved out. I'd stuff I wanted to pass onto him and I wanted to ask for some of my stuff (a couple of books and DVD's that he borrowed plus my SLR camera) back. But, it didn't happen. I left the stuff for him, got a quick 'thanks' after he'd collected it from my friend. Then.. that was it.

Much as I laugh and tell people that I'm not really that arsed when they ask whether he's spoken to me or not, deep down, inside, I guess I still want to know why he suddenly decided to start avoiding me. It's almost like he has a list of friends and, for whatever reason decided to put a big black X through my name. It still feels like I've done something really wrong. And even though months have passed, even though I know there's no way I'll ever get an answer (well not a really honest one...) I still, still, still really want to know what it is.

So, what made me think of it (and him) again ? Here, everything and everyone seems to be related. My friend's parent's are related to parents of friends of friends.

A couple of weeks ago, Kru Prasong and his wife took me to Sakorn Nakorn. We stayed the night at what just happened to be the house of the mother of one of girls who worked in the same company as me 3 years ago.

B, the girl is now pregnant and her mum asked me whether I'd seen her recently. I haven't. Although we worked together, I never really got to know her. Her bf worked in the same office as me but he was really quiet. Given the choice between typing away on his computer or trying to speak English to the farang, he would have chosen the computer, and his work anytime. S and B got married last year, at a hotel in Sakorn Nakorn.

It's around a year since the weddding. I remember recieving an invite but, unsure as to whether it was genuine, and whether I'd be able to get a day of school to make the trip upcountry, I turned it down. B's mum asked why I didn't go with them and whether I wanted to see the pictures. I couldn't really say no.

I flicked through the album. B looked stunning. S, her other half looked really smart. Loads of the guys and girls from my old work had beaming smiles. Then came the question.
'Do you know him' B's mum asked?
'Yep. Thats A.'

'He came to take photos of the wedding. He flirted with this girl here (she flicked back to the page of B's friends and pointed at the picture), but he wasn't really interested in her.'

I looked at the picture. A smiling girl in a bright yellow dress. She looked stunningly beautiful. I didn't really know what to say.
'You're his friend' she asked ?
'erm, yeah... we're friends but I haven't talked to him in a long time.'

I looked at the rest of the pictures. I didn't really know what to say. Last year, when we went to see the Thai national team play Australia, I remember him telling me that he really, really liked a girl but, that she lived quite far away.

At the time I felt quite happy for him. He's a nice guy but can be really quiet and shy. A gf would have been good for him... maybe it would have helped bring him out of his shell a bit.

But, since I wasn't sure whether it was the same girl or not, and, even if it was, what on earth I should say to her, I just listened. B's mum told me the story. He came and went. she said.

Just seeing the pictures made me think back to a year ago; teaching at school in BKK, looking forward to going up north and going rafting at trekking at the end of term, living in 3J, helping B find her way around BKK, a disaterous 'date' that wasn't in Petchabun over Chinese New Year, Friday night 'Thai - English / beer drinking lessons' with a couple of the guys from my old work...

It made me realise how much has changed... how much I've changed... How much the people, places and things around me have moved on. And, it made me wonder, yet again, what on earth it was that I did to make A feel like he doesn't want to speak to me anymore.

New Shirt
People normally think that I don't like Thai style shirts. It's not that I don't like them. I love the patterns and the fabric. It's just that, it's normally really, really hard for me to find jackets and shirts that fit.

I'm big. People here say I'm fat but I kind of prefer the word 'big.' But I'm also tall. In Thailand 'fat' people, are normally little old ladies. So, anything made for a female that comes with a large waist, is normally child sized, with tiny arms. If my arms can fit into the armholes, the moment I try lifting them in the air, the fabric stretches to the point of ripping.

Oh... and then there's 'breasts.' Thai designers assume that people here don't have them. Unfortunately I do. If I can get a shirt to fit, chances are that I won't be able to button it up (well not the top 3 buttons anyway.)

So... now, I rarely bother to look for anything 'thai style.' I already know that it isn't going to fit.

A couple of days ago one of the teachers was wearing a great shirt, thick black cotton with flowers embroidered around the edges. I told her that I liked it. 'I'll get you one' she said.
'erm...' I replied and started to explain that I'd rather she didn't. Chances are, there's no way that it will fit.
'don't worry' she said. I need to have a black one made. Come to my village with me, and I'll get the seamstress to make one for you too.

In December the King's sister died. As a mark of respect, teachers and government officials were asked to wear mourning colours (black, white and grey.) They're now expected to wear black for 100 days.

My friend had already brought a big roll of fabric, and wanted the seamstress to make her several black jackets. She showed me the fabric, and some finished shirts so that I could choose the design.

There are a lot of options. Neck - Chinese style, Thai Style, Western style... Pockets (yes / no)... Button holes... Embroidery (pattern, size of pattern and number of colours...) Then there's the measurements. Lots of them. Arms, breasts, waist. I was surprised that it took so long.

The shirt should be finished sometime next week. It will be nice to have a Kalasin style shirt, to go with the one that the teachers in Naan brought for me last month. Once I've collected it, and tried it on, I'll let everyone know how it looks :)



Create Date : 09 กุมภาพันธ์ 2551
Last Update : 9 กุมภาพันธ์ 2551 17:24:17 น. 0 comments
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