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Monday, May 25, 2009


My new icon

When I was preparing documents for my visa report I realised that I was getting low on ID photos. It's quite cheap to get someone to take them for you here in Thailand but I decided I could do better myself. I put my camera on a tripod, pointed it at my wardrobe, set the camera on delayed exposure, stood in front of the wardrobe and 'click'. I took several shots, experimenting with draping different types of cloth over the wardrobe to change the backdrop. Occasionally I pointed the camera a little carelessly and took one that was off centre.

This particular one with a silk-sheet background inspired me. On my computer I cropped it, fiddled with the exposure and sharpening, then put it through a watercolour filter, sharpened again and this is the result. Years ago I would spend many many hours with paints and canvas to produce a picture. This little effort took me about ten minutes all up.

I decided to link my flickr page more definitely with this blog by giving them the same icon and name. And at this point in time my ID pics are about as up-to-date as they can be.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Buddha's descendants

Over 2,500 years ago Siddhartha Gotama sat in meditation under a fig tree (ficus religiosa). He stayed sitting until he achieved enlightenment and became known as the Buddha. Cuttings from that tree were planted and cuttings from the progeny also. Since then cuttings from the descendants of the original tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment have spread around the world and are revered by Buddhists as Bodhi (enlightenment) trees.

Before Siddhartha left home to take up the path of searching for enlightenment he had one son named Rahula. At the age of seven Rahula joined his father as a novice monk, apparently the first. I assume Rahula remained a monk until his death and so there are no descendant of the Buddha himself.

Perhaps we can think of the Bodhi trees that have now been planted around the world as the closest thing to a living descendent of the Buddha. I photographed this one close to the bank of the Mekong River in Mukdahan which I visited yesterday for the first 90-day reporting of my current visa for staying in Thailand.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Islamic dominoes

On Sunday night I watched the BBC's review of the week's news. It showed the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan along with Barack Obama showing their solidarity and talking about the need to suppress the Taliban in these two countries. And of course there is the suggestion that is so often raised that if the Taliban take control of Pakistan they will have access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The thought is planted in our minds but no one seems to want to take this suggestion any further. We are left with the thought to do what it will in our minds.

I want so much to give Barack Obama a chance. He talked about the need for change and he talked about withdrawing from Iraq. Is this man sincere? I hope so, but...

And then it dawned on me. Change? Nothing has changed.

I cast my mind back to the late 60s and early 70s, to the time of the Vietnam war. The justification for that war was the domino theory—if one country fell to communism all the others would fall too like a row of dominoes. We were inculcated with the fear of communism to entice us to accept that war just as now we are inculcated with the fear of al-Qaeda and extreme Islam so that we support today's wars.

Did the communist dominoes fall as we were told they would after Vietnam won the war?

'If you want to shrink something, you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something, you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception of the way things are.'

Ajahn Sumano Bhikku
Monk in the Mountain

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Stay thin and see no evil

We've been having an abundance of holidays here lately. After nine days straight for Songkran we had Coronation Day last Tuesday. Friday was Wesak and Monday the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. The astrologers who chose that date gave us another four-day weekend.

I decided that was a good opportunity for a change of scenery. I decided to go to Udon Thani because I remember that when I was there years ago there was a bookshop where I bought a few English-language second-hand books.

As I said it was years ago when I was last there. I figured my memories and a 2003 edition of LP Thailand would be enough for me to find everything I needed in Udon. I did have a quick look at a more recent LP a week or so ago and the description of one hotel being suitable for conversion as a prison made me think that the one I stayed in was still there. The 2003 edition also listed another in the same street that looked more promising. I figured with two in the same street I'd probably be able to find one that was suitable.

When I got off the bus, off course I was approached by a tuk tuk tout. I figured it wasn't too far to the hotel but it was hot so I asked him if he knew the street. He didn't. Nor did he know either of the hotels. I decided to trust my feet rather than a tuk tuk.

I walked up one of the streets running off the highway and shortly ascertained that it was the right one to get me where I was going. I came to a major intersection that looked promising. I asked a couple of passers by if it was Thanon Mak Khaeng. They said it was but didn't know the hotels. There was another hotel named Siri Udon in this street that looked about my budget level but I didn't remember seeing it in LP. When I reached the other end of the street I realised it was not Thanon Mak Khaeng at all but Thanon Amphoe. I remembered it from the LP map and knew I still had a way to walk in the heat.

Eventually I reached Thanon Mak Khaeng and walked up and down the block where I should have found the hotel Tang Porn Dhiraksa but I couldn't. No worries, the other one would do. Headed further up the block. And right where I remember my prison-like hotel being a few years back there is now a brightly coloured almost refurbished building that will no doubt be a hotel when it reopens. Or was Chaiya Porn hotel in the vacant block next door?

I found a shady seat and pulled out my 2003 LP again. Siri Udon was indeed listed and while they didn't say anything good about it, they didn't say anything bad. So I headed back there. They had a fan room for 180 baht. The sheets looked clean and so did the bathroom. The bed felt firm. I took it. The room was cool and the bed was comfortable. I crashed for about an hour.

It was already mid afternoon when I woke and I hadn't had any lunch so I headed off to find somewhere to eat. On the way I noticed the bookshop I wanted to visit and returned there after lunch. They mostly stock Thai books. In fact, from the front you'd think it was a specialist Buddhist bookshop but the back half of the shop has more general books. They used to have quite a few second-hand English language books but I must say the range has declined in those years. Perhaps they're not restocking as they sell them. I didn't see anything there I couldn't live without but still grabbed half-a-dozen that looked OK.

When I had paid for those I asked if they had any other English books. He said 'no'. But as I was leaving, walking through the Buddhist section, my eagle eyes noticed 'Monk in the Mountain' by Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu. It looked appealing so I bought that too. When the shop man realised I was interested in Buddhism he went off and returned with a selection of books in English. Five of these were by Phra Buddhadasa (Buddhadasa Bhikkhu on the cover). I had owned one of them before but had to dispose of it when moving on. I bought all five. I might not see them again in a hurry—not likely in Mahasarakham anyway.

Vendors gather in Thanon Amphoe and around the corner in Thanon Pho Si selling Buddhist amulets and also some Buddha images. The amulets are supposedly blessed by monks and have powers. It is not unusual to see a man wearing five or more amulets around his neck. No doubt he thinks that'll protect him from his bad karma. I don't go in for this sort of thing. I believe the Buddha specifically denounced the practice. Still, I find it an interesting aspect of Thai culture. Newsagents stock many magazines for collectors of these amulets. When I went out for breakfast the next morning a stall had set up right outside the door of the hotel. They had a mountain of amulets selling for 20 baht each. I have a friend in Australia who is fascinated by Buddha images showing the Buddha in his anorexic stage. I thought I might find an amulet like that. I did but the woman said it wasn't the Buddha. I asked who it was and she replied 'Samdet'. I would have liked to know more but that was the extent of my ability in Thai. I found another that interested me. A Buddha-like image with hands covering eyes. I asked what it was and she said 'pit dah'. I could already see that. 'Pit dah' equals 'eyes closed'. 'Thammai pit dah'. 'Why are the eyes closed?' I asked. But once again her answer was beyond my Thai language ability. I bought both of them anyway. I'm not sure what these are going to do for me. Maybe I'll never get fat nor see any evil.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009


Fruit-lover's bliss

Fruits are one of the delights in my life. I like so many fruits it is hard to decide which one is my actual favourite but I'd put both mango and lichee on the shortlist.

A few weeks ago sweet yellow-skinned mangoes started to appear on the market stalls. I was happy to get them at 50 baht a kilo. That's about A$2. Since then I got some lichees at 30 baht a kilo. They weren't the best I'd ever tasted but at that price I wasn't complaining. Since then the price has come down to 20 baht and the quality has gone up—such beautiful texture. Mmmm mmmm. Mangoes have also come down. They put little bundles on the stall—probably around a kilo each bundle—and sell them for 10 baht. I'm in ecstasy.

I've been watching the price of durian. I look for it to be sold in a single serve because you're not supposed to eat too much at one time. It's been selling for quite a bit more than I was paying in Bangkok last year but last night I got a serve for 30 baht. I'm happy with that. It made a nice dessert after the BBQ fish I had for dinner. I saved the lichees for breakfast.

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Monday, May 04, 2009


How's your traffic jam?

One of the things I appreciate about the internet is the way it makes it possible for us to communicate with people we would never otherwise meet. Recently I have been communicating with someone in Cairo and I must say that my knowledge of Cairo is scant. My online friend mentioned being caught in a traffic jam which prompted me to wonder just what a Cairo traffic jam is like.

On my last visit back to Australia some friends who live in Toowoomba were complaining bitterly about how terrible the traffic was in Brisbane. To hear them speak you might think that to be caught in a traffic jam in Brisbane was completely intolerable.

I lived a long time in Sydney. For some years prior to leaving, my work required me to visit schools all over the city. When I got the opportunity to move back to Brisbane, the thought of being able to escape the traffic jams of Sydney was an incentive for the move. Let me assure anyone who thinks Brisbane traffic jams are terrible that by comparison to Sydney, Brisbane's traffic moves very smoothly.

I learned to put Sydney's traffic into perspective after I'd spent some time in Bangkok. The population of Bangkok would be more than double that of Sydney and when all those people are trying to get to or from work the traffic is utter chaos. Anarchy is the norm on Bangkok roads. Lane markings mean little and traffic lights not much more. When you notice the inside lane on a Bangkok road is free, you ease yourself into it and fly along for a little way until you come upon a vendor slowly peddling a heavily laden three wheeler ahead of you. If you're lucky he is actually going in the same direction as you are. For pedestrians it is extremely dangerous to put a foot on a Bangkok road and even on the footpath you have to contend with motorcycles that have given up trying to make progress on the road. When I visited Sydney after living in Bangkok I was surprised at how courteous Sydney drivers are.

Last year I made my first visit to India and when I'd spent a little time in Delhi I realised that traffic in Bangkok isn't so bad after all. You haven't really experienced a traffic jam until you've been stuck for a few hours in Delhi traffic getting absolutely nowhere. And when the traffic is moving fast you have to hope you have a good driver because traffic is moving every which way with horns blaring constantly. I have the greatest respect for the ability of Delhi taxi drivers. Without them I probably would never have gone anywhere. There's no way you'd get me behind a wheel in Delhi. Returning to Bangkok after experiencing Delhi I have to say the traffic is quiet and almost pleasant.

Sometimes I wonder how people back in Australia are coping with the economic downturn. On the news here I see garment workers in Wollongong protesting about the loss of their jobs. If you lose your job in Australia you have to contend with the poverty of living on the dole. Let me assure you, your poverty is relative just as traffic jams are. I have friends in Cambodia who even with a job have a lifestyle way below that of an Australian on the dole. My Cambodian friends who are unemployed are even worse off. They have no running water and no money to buy bottled water as I did when I lived there. If they are lucky enough to have a pump, they boil the water from underground before they drink it. Some boil the river water and drink that but that doesn't kill the germs from the human faeces in the water. Most Australians, even if unemployed, have drinkable water piped into their homes.

If you happen to have lost your job recently because of the economic downturn, I'm sorry about that. As you drive to your next job interview if you get caught in a traffic jam and you think you'll be late for the interview, take it easy. Just think of someone in Delhi trying to get to their interview on a broken-down motorcycle or perhaps someone in Cambodia riding through the traffic on the way to their interview on a borrowed bicycle. Stay calm. I hope you get the job.

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