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Friday, July 25, 2008


Finding Little India

Because I live such a long way out of town and it takes me ages to get there I usually like to do any special shopping on the days I go to school. I finish school at 1 pm so I have time to do a little before I get the train and bus back.

I have an online friend in Delhi who recommended a few Indian movies for me. I got hold of the first one at the IT Mall at Panthip Plaza. This was 'The Namesake', directed by Mira Nair who also made 'Monsoon Wedding'. Both are great movies but very different. My friend's recommendation of 'The Namesake' says we are on the same wavelength. I decided to seek out the other titles on her list.

I decided to go to Bangkok's Little India after school yesterday. It's just past Chinatown and I was told there's a DVD shop there. Two people told me to catch bus number 40 from outside the school in Asoke. 

I waited at the bus stop and after a while bus number 40 came along. I got on. When the conductor came to collect my fare, I told her 'Parhurat'. That's the name of the Little India area. But she shook her head and held up two fingers. 

'Rotmay song?' (Bus number two?) I asked. She nodded. I got off at the next stop.

When bus number two came along I got on. Once again, when I tried to pay my fare the conductor shook her head. She went and talked to the driver, came back and told me two more different bus numbers. I got off at the next stop.

When a bus came along for one of the numbers I'd been told, the conductor was at the door so I asked her 'Bai Parhurat mai?' (Do you go to Parhurat?) She told me no and gave me two more different bus numbers. I decided to give up on the buses.

There were a few motorcycle taxis not far from the bus stop. I approached them and asked, 'Bai Parhurat tao rai? (How much to go to Parhurat?)

'200 baht' one said. Now I expect that I can get an air-conditioned taxi to Parhurat for less than that. This guy thinks I am a tourist and is offering me a special price. I decided to not take him up on his generous offer. Instead I went home.

Today I took a day off from my studies. I took my usual bus and train but stayed on the train a little longer. I got off the train at Hua Lampong, the last station. It is right on the edge of Chinatown. I took a walk through Chinatown. It is quite big and quite interesting. You can buy almost anything there if you know where to look. I took a few photos as I walked. Got lost twice and found my way again both times. After about an hour or more of walking I eventually found Parhurat Road. There were a few Indians in the area but I still didn't find any shops selling Indian movies.

I kept wandering around the area for an hour or more and eventually someone told me where to find the movie shop. I bought all six movies on my list and the Devdas soundtrack CD. Not as cheap as Panthip Plaza but still quite a good price. The woman was ready to make further recommendations but I decided to wait for my friend's advice. 

After that I was ready for lunch. Found a vegetarian restaurant and had a thali. I decided to take a bus back to Hua Lampong station and I noticed one of the buses on the route was bus number 40.

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Friday, July 11, 2008


Don't wanna lose the old stuff

A few months ago I lost my storytelling website. Did you notice? The ISP account that it was linked to was closed and as I personally don't really need it, I decided to let it go. At the time it was still getting quite a few hits, maybe as many as this blog does, at times more.

A few days back someone pointed out that the link to my blog archives Jan - Aug '05 was not working. It's on an entirely different site from this one. It seems OK now but that got me thinking, if that site closes, all that stuff is lost and while I have backup of most of it, some bits I don't.

I have not been maintaining my personal website for some time but there is still some useful stuff on it. It comes to me (and you) courtesy of a kind relative's ISP account. If she make changes, I could lose that site too.

I've decided to gradually move all that stuff, or at least the worthwhile bits, to a new blog page that will be linked to this one. I'm starting with the storytelling site because it does not exist anywhere else at the moment. If you are interested in any of that stuff, bookmark this address: http://oznasia.wordpress.com/

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Fear of reptiles

I sometimes wonder where fear comes from.

If you've ever looked at my flickr pages you may have noticed that I enjoy having my photo taken handling snakes. Yes, I'm showing off but the only reason it gets attention is that others find snakes—maybe reptiles in general, maybe spiders too—scary. Why? I have a feeling that this fear is learned. My siblings are not quite so comfortable as I am with reptiles so I wonder why I didn't pick up this fear.

One of the good things about my childhood was the environment we grew up in. Our home was on a half-acre block. Most of the houses around us were on similar blocks and on one side were several acres of bush. And it was crawling with reptiles—many species of lizards and quite a few snakes. We were warned to keep clear of the snakes as they could be poisonous—and some were. If Dad ever caught a snake it was killed.

Bearded dragons were extremely common and still are in Brisbane backyards. I realise that in some countries now they keep them as pets. If they are handled regularly from birth they become tame but ours were wild. They grow to about 60 cm long. When they are babies it is OK to pick them up by the body but the big guys will bite. There is a trick. You have to get their feet off the ground quickly. When they see you they puff their 'beard' out to try to scare you but it is mostly bluff. If you grab them by the end of the tail and quickly get their feet off the ground they are almost helpless. They try to reach you but they can't if you hold them at arm's length.

That was the technique I used as a kid. Bear in mind that this lizard might be 2/3 as long as I was tall at that time. My macho brothers were not brave enough to do this. But once I got one off the ground they were happy to take it from me. One day one of my brothers had one that I'd picked up. I'd asked for it back but he wasn't returning it. I reached out to take it from him. The lizard reared up and bit my thumb. I lost some of my enthusiasm for picking them up after that.

Snakes were another matter. I accepted what my parents said but I was probably also reading and learning for myself. Carpet snakes—Australian pythons—were relatively common. I knew they were almost harmless, at least not poisonous, and they were easy to identify by their strong pattern and their size. The bush next to our yard ran down to the Brisbane River and there was a boat shed on the river bank. One day there was a lot of excitement because one of my younger brothers had found a carpet snake hibernating in the rafters of the shed. My two younger brothers were with some friends. They managed to force the snake down with a stick, held it with a forked stick and one of them was returning home victoriously with it across his shoulders. One hand was holding its neck tight the other hand its tail. As I said, the snake was hibernating, but now it started to wake up. As I came on the scene it was starting to wrap itself around his neck and he was calling, 'Get it off! Get it off!' So I helped him to carry it up to our house where they made a pen for it from some pieces of old iron roofing. Many of my brothers' friends would come around to see this snake which was about two metres long. Even though the snake was hibernating and was not going to attack anyone they had a ritual to go through whenever they handled it. First its neck was pinned by the forked stick and only then would one of them grab it behind the head tightly and boldly lift it out of the pen. One day there was quite a crowd there and I was watching this procedure. I could see that the snake was too sleepy to attack anyone. I calmly reached over the side of the pen, picked the snake up and dropped it into the middle of the crowd of kids. They sure ran fast until one of my brothers came back with the forked stick. I just stood there and laughed.

Through my life I've treated snakes based on the following knowledge. A snake will usually only attack you for one of two reasons: 1). It is planning to eat you; or 2). It thinks you might attack it. When you consider this, you realise that at most times we have very little to fear from snakes. Most Australian snakes are too small to consider eating a grown human. However you have to be careful not to put a snake into situation number 2. They will attack to protect themselves. But generally, they will be trying to get away from you faster than you from them. There are exceptions, some species like the Australian taipan are both aggressive and poisonous but they do not live in the area where we lived so they were not an issue for me.

A little north of Sydney at Gosford there is a reptile park that was started by a man named Eric Worrell. When I visited they had a pit which was about 3 x 5 metres. It was literally crawling with tiger snakes. Tigers are one of the world's deadliest snakes. There were so many of them in the pit that if you were brave enough to get in with them you would have had difficulty finding somewhere to put your feet. While we were looking over the wall, Eric Worrell jumped over, into the pit and walked among the tiger snakes. One by one he picked them up and in front of the small crowd that had gathered milked them for venom.

On one of my early visits to Thailand a storytelling camp was held in Mahasarakham. After the camp was over, I was staying one more night at the campsite and some of the students had stayed back to keep me company. We were chatting in a circle when someone came from outside and said, 'There's a snake over there.' I immediately got up and started heading towards my room. 'Where are you going?' I was asked.

'To get my camera.' I came back with the camera and started walking towards the snake.

'Where are you going?' they asked again.

'To take a photo of the snake.'

'No! No! No! It might bight you.'

'That's OK. I won't get close enough.'

'Don't go any closer. You don't know anything about Thai snakes. It could be a cobra.' I was perhaps about 5 metres from it. I stopped. They were right. I didn't know anything about Thai snakes. It might be a cobra.

I followed the advice and took the photos from that distance. This was my old Kodak camera. It doesn't have the zoom I have on my fz20. With the fz20 I wouldn't have needed to get any closer but it wasn't invented at that time. Still I got this photo. I've cropped a lot of background here.

A few days later I was in Bangkok and I paid a visit to the Snake Farm. They had a show which included cobras. The handlers were working very close to the cobras. After the show I asked a few questions. I showed them my picture, told the story and asked if they could identify the snake. He did and said it was harmless. I asked how close it was safe to get to an unidentified Thai snake. He said one or two metres. 'What if it was a cobra?' I asked.

'One or two metres,' he replied.

After that they allowed me to hold one of their Burmese pythons and my friend took a few photos.

When I was in Kuala Lumpur not so long ago my friend, Shuenhuey, took me to Batu Caves. At the entrance to the caves there was a guy with a large python that for a small fee you could handle and take photos. I gave Shuenhuey my camera while I held the python. I wanted to get some photos that I could use to show off to my grandchildren. We got a few good photos and went into the cave.

On the way out Shuenhuey said she was thinking about getting her photo taken with the snake. I was impressed. For me this is no big deal but she had grown up with the same fear of reptiles that most people have. Seeing how casually I had handled it she had decided that perhaps she could face her fears. I encouraged her and as you can see, she did it. (But check out the kid in the background.)

People have all sorts of mistaken beliefs about reptiles. How many people, for example, think that snakes are 'slimy'? They're not. Sadly we also often take on beliefs about other people who we've never met. Just as we do with snakes and lizards we think that people of this race or religion are all .... You fill in the gap. Me, I do my best to travel to exotic countries, meet people and find out first-hand what they are like. Just as I do with reptiles.

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