Friday, April 15, 2011

Thailand "Vacation"

It sure was an interesting trip. Joey and Hailey got quite an eyeful; I've decided not to enlighten everyone with all of the cultural differences, but some of them are sure worth a look Ü As you can see, this woman's backpack and hat have been around for hundreds of years. This is the great part of the culture that lives with all the technology, traffic, and poverty.

The streets of Bangkok come alive at night; especially in the expat/touristy areas. When we stepped outside of our hotel, which had a "Manchester United" restaurant/sports bar, you could head across the street to a big Aussie restaurant, or sit down at a chair and table on the sidewalk and eat the street vendors' food. There were ATM's, two 7-11's, live music at local restaurants, a backpacker hostel with more ambience than I can ever remember seeing when I was on the circuit, lady boys, and alleys with every kind of food you can think of, and of course massage parlors every 10 meters. The main streets were virtually impossible to see, except at the corners, as the street vendors turn the sidewalks into tunnels. On both sides, goods are plastered everywhere. You could buy anything from the brass knuckles Joey bought to tasers to Gucci handbags. As you can see (there's another shot at the bottom of the page) one guy turned his van into a pop out bar! Anything you want to drink for about $2. He lit up the street, disco ball included. The ladies of the night loved being a part of his glitz and glitter.

Like China, motorcycles, mopeds, and bikes can use the sidewalks. Bangkok Post delivers to your doorstep!

On one of our touristy days, we went to the King's Palace, which was adjacent to the Emerald Buddha Temple. The temple and all the buildings around it are amazingly elaborate in architectural design and intricate tiling. It was about 95 degrees that day, so we could only hang out in the huge compound for an hour or so..

This is a shot of the front page of the newspaper. There were devastating rains in southern Thailand just before we arrived. The government brought out the soldiers to help clear the roads from massive slides etc. It was just mind boggling to realize that it was all being done with brooms made of heavy, think plant stalks. China's streets are cleaned all day with the same gear. As a matter of fact grass clippings are swept up with these types of brooms. They look like they'd be completely ineffective, but work just as well as any broom made in America!

Sorry some of these pictures aren't ordered better. I'm usually just picking and choosing from a long list. Anyway, one of our adventures took us to this snake show. People warned us that the animal venues wouldn't be on any animal lovers list of places to see, due to how they are treated. The snake master had already captured two vipers, which he's holding in each hand, and now he was ready to catch one with his mouth-he was successful. Later huge-10 foot, fast moving snakes with rows of razor sharp teeth trying to eat their handlers for lunch. After they were caught, they showed the audience the teeth and drained the venom into a glass. It was fascinating. Apparently the handlers train with snakes from a very young age.

When we were at the river, Anne spotted some fun shoes. They were unique and colorful and cheap, so she bargained, but to no avail. Later, of course, we saw the very same ones in many other shops on the street, for less. It's amazing how the exact goods in little stores and on vendors' tables, hours drive away from each other, just keep showing up.

We aren't sure how or where it happened. It could have been food, water from the Floating Market splashing him in the face, or just forgetting to use a straw when drinking a Coke from some vendor. Joey has a fever and was suffering from G.I. problems for a day, didn't look well, couldn't eat or drink etc. Fortunately, we were 5 min. from a fabulous medical center that we had all gotten physicals at just two days prior. We had his hospital card, check him in, and had him hooked up to an I.V. in 15 minutes, got some anti-biotics, and the next day he was feeling great! Thankfully, our insurance covered everything. The hospital was terrific, but the juxtaposition of sensibilities, having Ronald McDonald INSIDE the healthy living center INSIDE the hospital, was quite a jolt to the brain!

They don't mess around with their warnings if you want to buy cigars. Every type of cigar basically says that if you buy this, you are risking gross deformity, cancer, and/or death. The photos are gruesome!

Ok, this is where cost, cheap labor, poverty, and an over abundance of manpower ends up with men and women heating up asphalt (or not on 95 degree days) and carefully pounding out a pattern with a hammer and a bent piece of rebar. It was interesting looking at something that seemed so third world in the middle of a fairly well developed part of the city.

While walking today, Anne and I saw the police drive up toward a DVD seller on the street. The sellers are all over the place. We don't know why police target some areas on certain days, and then you may not see the big white truck that collects illicit material for weeks, unless they just decide on a big cash penalty on the spot. The poor 25 year old guy saw them approach his DVD filled 3 wheeler flat bed. He panicked and tried to instantly push his cart away from the police that were chasing him. Of course, he only got 20 yards. We didn't stick around to wait for the outcome: arrest, confiscation, cash penalty. It can take a short period or up to an hour. The seller's face looked like his world was ending. There was fear, grief, sadness, and pannick on his face, all at the same time. We continued down the street into what is the much more busy part of town, next to the huge shopping mall known as Carrefour. Those stores are all over SE Asia. Anyway, after grabbing a Starbucks, we noticed the cell phones going off and the sellers yapping at each other. All eyes were on the street that we came from. 99 days out of 100, the two blocks between us and Carrefour are teeming with vendors and sellers: Corn, sweet potatoes, hats, hair products, jewelry, beggars, perfumes, baskets, reproduced books and CD's. Well, by the time we started down to do some grocery shopping, the place was a desert. No sign of anyone selling anything. I'm certain that the police continued to the next main street to the west where there is a large mall that doesn't sell anything other than knock offs. We've seen how quickly the word spreads and stores shut down. Goods disappear from sight and lights go out. There are lots of rules/laws that are ignored, and no one cares on a daily basis; even the police. But for one reason or another, the political wheels start spinning, and we then see soldiers marching on the street, police appearing to be stationed on random street corners, raids, and people arrested without reason. Even real estate salespeople have to stop handing out fliers in front of enormous compounds. They back off 20 feet, show some submission, wait for the police to move along, then continue doing what they always do. Those young pavement pounders loiter in front of every desirable compound in the city 16 hours/day. Somehow, it all seems to work for everybody. No one will worry about it tomorrow. Life goes on. Everyone seems to have work. The people have great attitudes, the parks are full, everyone's busy, and the sun shines Ü

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Household

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Well, well, well…where to start. It always seems like a whirlwind. Everything we do and teach is new. Everything involved in doing something new and teaching something new is also new. In fact, I feel like we’re all learning and experiencing more now than ever before. It’s all happening each new week, and just when you think it’s going to slow down, there’s a new plate waiting for you. It’s busy, lots of work, but very positive.

This particular entry will be dedicated to showing you some major walls/images in the ol’ Gribble household. Not your typical digs right now. Let’s start with our cats. (see the bottom and work your way up with each paragraph-I can't figure out how to manipulate where pictures go...) As I get up in the a.m., so do the cats, with immediate expectations after a rough and rowdy night. I open the door that leads to our living room before going into the bathroom. Our fluffy tabby, Beans, usually rushes by me into the bathroom, screaming, leaps onto the left side of the sink, waits for some obligatory petting, and soon settles under the faucet for his morning watering. Regular water next to the cat food is unacceptable at this point. Screaming will be relentless until water streams out of the faucet. Izzi will join the boy at times, but generally would rather go into the shower when we’re done. It has become an interesting obsession. Beans leads us to that faucet every time we enter the house, pretending at first to want petting, but then backing into where he wants us. Makes me think of Gary Larson—animals screwing with humans and living on the edge without letting us know what they do and say when we’re not there.

Joey has become enthralled with Chairman Mao’s reforms and thinks Obama would love it here. He’s got hats, shirts, and sweatshirts with blazing red stars. When it Rome…he’s bringing souvenirs home to friends to test the shock value in Washington. We’re educating that the humor may not transfer easily or well. Maybe him speaking Chinese will help. It’s fairly confusing to see the whole package at work. I can’t wait to watch it all myself!

How do you like the maps available in China? Interesting, don’t you think? Of course, China is the center of the world. Not sure I like this particular projection. Everywhere else becomes a bit convoluted and skewed to the point where you can’t see a realistic view. It’s as if the Western World is fairly insignificant. It does allow us to get a better understanding of Asia though.

Joey’s class took a trip to Inner Mongolia last week, which isn’t actually in Mongolia, as I’m sure most of you knew. It’s just south of Mongolia. The Gobi Desert is just one big playground. Meanwhile, Hailey was busy rock climbing and boating in SW of Shanghai, just outside of Guilin. Both had a ball while getting to see more of China. All students go on a week adventure each year starting in grade 6. It culminates in grade 11 as a service trip. Some explore Shanghai, others Beijing, Xian, etc.

We all thought it would be fun to make a Shanghai/China pros and cons list. It doesn’t get much amending since we started it in February. It’s just what it is, as they say. Many things we notice and other things go unnoticed, whether good nor bad. It’s all “interesting” in one way or another. Some of the things we don’t like are often transferred onto our list of items to bring to China after the summer break when we head back to Washington. Some things are so much a part of your everyday life in the states that they just make you more comfortable to have them…easy problem to solve with another suitcase Ü

Lastly, there are always some oddities that just have no real explanation. You just notice, look, wonder, think for reasons, make guesses, and then move on! Anne and I were visiting one of the local Starbucks last weekend. It was a bit warm inside, so while I added a bit of cinnamon to our drinks, Anne put a foot up on one of the planters outside and stretched a bit. She noticed two trees on each side that were growing well and were stabilized with ropes and wooden guides. In the middle of the planter was an exceptionally green evergreen. Oddly, some young shoots were growing out of the base, in the dirt. The top had some squared ends on the young branches of this 4 ft. tree, and they were shiny too! Yes, it was an artificial tree planted there with the best of them. THIS is China…Then, I step inside the big expat store, which has everything from the post office to sushi to motorcycles, and here’s a local woman in a nice Nike sweat suit wearing 8 inch stilettos that are supporting a 2 inch platform that she’s tippy toeing on, to shop…most of the sidewalks are some sort of stamped cobblestone-like texture with raised ribs for blind people to follow, yet 90% of all women wear high heels!

xoxo to all!