The way to a man’s heart (and a woman’s too)

What better way to spend our last morning in Thailand than at a cooking class?

But first, these little piggies went to market, and what a market it was!
The vegetables were so fresh, the bees think they are still growing.
Thai “fast food” – all the necessary vegetables for soup, packaged together.
No wonder Thai food is so amazing–the ingredients are incredibly fresh!
Check out these master chefs.
Could that be Mike wearing a “do” rag??? Yes, it could, and it was.
The spring rolls were so delicious, I didn’t stop to photograph them–I think I might have inhaled them…but I DID capture our other glorious creations for your viewing pleasure.
Pad Thai
Green curry–we all were coughing as we were stir frying this dish. Not sure what ingredient caused that reaction.
And the grand finale–sticky rice with mango. I have never, ever tasted such scrumptious mangoes. They were perfectly ripened, sweet and juicy.
Our group: 4 Lindas, 2 Barbaras,2 Marys, Shelley, Sue, Sandy, Caroline, Karen, Kitty
2 Gregs, Alex, Al, Hal, Mike, Owen, and Rod, obviously not in any particular order.
Good news, folks back home. When I return, I won’t be empty handed. There will be a cookbook in my chubby fist!

After class, we were loaded into vehicles that resembled army trucks. Caroline pointed out this comforting sign. Good to know our driver was trained!

What a way to learn!

Learning was never this much fun during my school years! Why couldn’t all of my lecturers be like those on Road Scholar trips? Or could it be that I have changed?

Our first two lecturers, Jim Lehman and Tony Zola, were both peace corp volunteers, who stayed in Southeast Asia. Jim was a Buddhist Monk for three months, because he didn’t want to be “unripe”, or as our guide Tippy says, “uncooked rice”. Those are the terms for Thai men that do not spend at least a little time as a monk. If you marry someone who is “uncooked” or “unripe” the Thais believe the marriage will not work out, so it was off to the temple for Jim, so that his Thai wife’s family would approve of the union.

Jim explained that Theravada Buddhists don’t believe in god, however anyone visiting a Wat cant help but notice the Buddhists are deep into Hindu mythology.

Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, at Wat Prathap Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai
Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, at Wat Prathap Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

In fact, they believe Buddha was the last incarnation of Vishnu. When I asked how Theravada Buddhists reconcile “no god” with their belief in Hindu gods, Jim gave me the answer he got from his Buddhist teacher. “When you have an arrow in your chest, you don’t ask how it got there.” In other words, Buddhism teaches us the way forward. It is not concerned with how we got to where we are. I, on the other hand, would DEFINITELY want to know who shot that damn arrow!

In addition to blending Hinduism with Buddhism, Thais throw animism into the mix. Spirit houses are everywhere, and have varying degrees of grandeur. We saw this one on our daily walk to the SkyTrain from the Loft Hotel. I think my dad might have one just like this in his back yard. (Right, Sue and San?)

This fancier spirit house is far more typical.

Our second lecturer, Tony Zola, talked about the socio-economic-political climate of the countries along the Mekong River, which flows from Tibet to the South China Sea. Sixty million people depend on it for food. They receive 80% of their protein from fish, so the “health” of the river directly impacts the health of the people.

Two of the countries we are visiting are constitutional monarchies (Thailand and Cambodia); Laos and Vietnam are People’s Republics. Per capita income ranges from a high of $8,700 in Thailand to $2,100 to $3,100 in the three other countries. One last demographic fact: half of the population of Southeast Asia is under the age of 25.

Tony didn’t just give us facts and figures; he also told us interesting stories. Thailand’s former Prime Minister received a degree in criminology from the USA. He had a creative way of solving Thailand’s rising drug problem. Somehow, the word got out to rival gangs that each was encroaching on the other’s turf. The resulting murders remain unsolved, which triggered a protest at the United Nations. Again, the Thais had a novel solution. The Thai ambassador’s wife utilized her staff’s cooking abilities to prepare delicious Thai food, which was set up on tables in of the demonstrators. It’s hard to be angry with a stomach full of Thai food. Problem solved…demonstration over. We can learn a lot from the Thais.

Did i mention that my posts are not necessarily in chronological order? Random…that’s the way my brain works. After Tony’s lecture, we headed off to the airport for our flight to Chiang Mai. And what an airport it is! Comfortable lounge open to all ticket holders,. With free wifi, drinks and food. No need to belong to a president’s club here.

At Wat Suan Dok, we had a “monk chat”, a discussion of Buddhism from a monk that was not just passing through, doing time so he could become “ripe”. He was a wonderful speaker, who explained that the goal of Buddhism is to be happy right here and now, to relieve suffering by learning detachment. To a Buddhist, the test of a religion should be whether it helps us to be able to live together peacefully. (I’m thinking there are a whole lot of religions that are scoring big red F’s on that particular test. After showing us how to wrap yourself in an orange robe (or as my cousin Kristy would say “rock his robe”)’ we received a crash course in meditation, and I left with an increased fondness for Buddhism.

Wat Suan Dok
Wat Suan Dok

Wat Prathap Doi Suthep is located about 40 minutes from Chiang Mai, atop a mountain. This wat is renown because the pagoda contains ashes of the Buddha.

A couple more photos for your viewing pleasure.

Another Naga, a multithreaded snake
Another Naga, a multithreaded snake
I love the animal statues!
I love the animal statues!

Riding High in Chiang Mai

I’ve finally acknowledged that my blogging just can’t keep pace with our activities. So rather than try to record all of the things we have done over the last couple of days, I’ll just share one highlight…our visit to the elephant camp.

I didn’t realize our guide was joking when he said we needed our bathing suits to help the mahouts bathe the elephants. I was so ready!
The mahouts are showing us how we’ll be mounting the elephants for our ride thru the jungle.
Okay, so I was kidding about the mounting part, but not about the jungle ride.
It took about 40 minutes to get to the village. I bought a few treasures from this sweet young girl.
On the ride back, we took a short cut thru the river.
Going downhill was a bit harrowing. No photos of that experience…I was hanging on with both hands.
What a great adventure!

Night in Bangkok

Many years ago, Mike and I saw the musical “Chess”, which was memorable for two reasons:
1. it is the only musical that Mike and I disliked enough to leave at intermission, BUT
2. it had a really catchy theme song by Tim Rice, whose lyrics I remember to this day.

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble,
Not much between despair and ecstasy,
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble,
Can’t be too careful with your company,
I can feel the devil walking next to me.

Well, now…MY man has been here for THREE nights and he hasn’t tumbled yet. Let’s see what night number four has in store for him.

First decision–what to wear? While at Wat Arun, I saw some possibilities.

20130207-094944.jpgHad one of my female traveling buddies (you know who you are…) been by my side, this next photo might have been us in our evening attire. (These sweet young girls were also touring Wat Arun, decided to purchase the full outfit, fingernails and all, and allowed me to photograph them).

But I digress. Back to last night. Our first stop was Distil Bar on the 64th floor at the Lebua Hotel, where for the equivalent of about $40, I had a rose apple martini and Mike had a beer.

That might sound a bit pricy, but the olives and pistachio nuts were free, and we were able to relocate to the SkyBar when it opened. I’ve been told that this place was prominently featured in the movie Hangover Two. Since we saw neither that nor Hangover One, that wasn’t our reason for going there–it was, what else, the amazing view.

It would have been wonderful to have dinner at the restaurant, but it is booked months in advance, so we needed to go elsewhere.

That gold blur in the center of the next photo is indeed McDonald’s Golden Arches; Kentucky Fried Chicken is a few yards further down.

As tempting as those options were, we decided to walk on by, and headed for “Flow”, a restaurant on the river.

20130207-102150.jpgLast stop, the 360 bar atop the Millennium Hilton, from which you can see the Dome at the Lebua Hotel. A great way to end our time “on our own”. We join the Road Scholar tour on Thursday evening, moving from the Loft Hotel to the Majestic Grande.


And now, as promised, the answer to yesterday’s question. There may actually be SEVERAL correct answers, but here’s the one I had in mind when I posed the question.

Thais, like the Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, Japanese, Indians and South Africans, drive on the left side of the road. If you think that wouldn’t make a difference to non-drivers, you would be wrong. We kept heading for the escalators, doors, and turnstiles on the right, not the left.  So, wouldn’t you think walkers should bear left? Sometimes…but most of the time it didn’t matter what side of the sidewalk you chose, it was guaranteed to be wrong. And if you think motor scooters should only be ridden on the road, you’d be wrong again! We have been wrong a lot.


Recycling in the old days

Question: What do you do with your defective porcelain?

Answer: If you are Chinese, and it is the 1800’s, you use it as ballast in your cargo ships; however if you are Siamese, you realize it makes ideal building materials for your next temple.

Although Wat Arun is called the Temple of the Dawn, supposedly it is best viewed at sunset, when the light makes all of the porcelain glow, and the temple slowly turns into a silhouette against the crimson sky. Mike and I had another location in mind for our sunset hours, so we visited in the morning. The view from across the river was spectacular enough for us, even without a dramatic sky.

If you are game enough to climb the steep steps (check out the relationship between that guy’s leg and the step behind him to get a feel for it), you are rewarded with a spectacular view.

Oh wait–those weren’t the steep steps, these are the steep steps, and someone thoughtfully left a bottle on one of them to provide scale. They are SHALLOW, steep steps, not designed for big western feet!

Going up was like climbing a ladder; coming down was a bit harder, but the view was so worth it.

On the top left, you can see the rooftops of the Grand Palace.

The view looking up was pretty great too. Erawan, the elephant that the Hindu god Indra rides, is standing on the ledge above us. (Don’t see Indra, though).

The grounds surrounding the temple, normally lovely, are even more so, because they are being decorated for Chinese New Year with red lanterns everywhere. Can you see the two Yakshas guarding the entrance? These spirit “monsters” were at the grand palace and also had green and white faces.

I’ll end this post with a question:
What do Thais have in common with the Brits, Aussies, Kiwis (New Zealanders), Indians, Japanese and South Africans? This is a hard one. The answer will be in the next post.