Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It's the Great Penguin, Charlie Brown

One of the things I truly wanted to see on Kangaroo Island, South Australia was a wild penguin. While most people head to the Penguin Centres in Kingscote or Penneshaw on the eastern side of the island, I was convinced that I could stay cozily ensconced at Hanson Bay on the southern side and still see one. The rocks along the bay are supposedly a favorite roosting place, and Nikki at the blog Brave or Just Crazy happened to have a penguin walk out of the water and right up to her feet while she was taking pictures of her sons fishing at this bay. How awesome is that?

Come this way. There's sure to be penguins here.

Are you familiar with the classic TV special, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown?  In it, Linus remains perpetually hopeful that the Great Pumpkin will rise up out of the pumpkin patch on Halloween night even though, year after year, this pumpkin fails to make an appearance. Well, I began to feel a lot like Linus. Day after day, I'd head over to the beach in the hopes that I would one day find a penguin. Time after time, it never happened. At least I got some great pictures while I was fiddling around with my camera to pass the time.

Clouds filled the sky at the end of this day. No stargazing tonight.

Hanson Bay is a wild and rugged place. Like most of the island, it's pristine, relatively undeveloped and just a wonderful place to commune with nature. Wading into the chilly water, it marked the first time we set foot in the Southern Ocean. (This ocean wasn't on the map when I was a kid. I first heard of it when I helped my boy study for a geography quiz. As they say, the world keeps changing.) If you had the superpowers to swim directly south from here, the next land you'd hit would be Antarctica.

A beautiful January summer day at Hanson Bay

I never did see any penguins, but the kids and I had a good time playing on the beach. I'd try to persuade them to hang out a little longer, but they were less convinced that the Great Penguin would make an imminent appearance. On the other hand, we did spot these colorful arcs in the sky.

Double Rainbow and a chance to play around with photo software filters

We did see some other avian life...


Hooded Plovers
Fewer than 200 plovers are left on Kangaroo Island which means I captured 5% of the population in this photo.

Another night, we were eating dinner in our cabin having given up on seeing penguins that day. Suddenly, my son remarked that the sun was setting and that it looked pretty. I turned to gaze out the window behind me and saw the crimson and golden rays streaming out over the hilltop. Dropping our forks, we ran out the door and up the hill to get a better look at the view, making sure to grab the kids before they ran right off the tall cliff. Breathtaking.

While seeing a wild penguin would have been the icing on the cake, the cake was pretty awe inspiring all by itself.

Related Posts
Kangaroo Island's Koala Walk
Major Fail: Sitting Together on the Airplane
Kangaroo Island Highlights (YouTube)

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox, Photo Friday on Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Travel Tip: Staying Cool & Dodging Flies

Do I look ridiculous? Yes. Do I care? No.

"Bring a Scarf." How many times have you seen that tidbit of What to Pack travel advice? It's a fashion accessory. It's blanket. Yada, yada, yada. Like many other traveling women, I carry a scarf for all those many reasons. I found a couple more good uses when we went on a bush walk around Australia's Uluru (Ayer's Rock).

Staying Cool
Uluru was hotter than Hades when we visited, hitting highs of  45°C (113°F). Even starting out on our hike at 7 a.m., the heat radiating up from the baked earth was getting to us. Scarf to the rescue! Wet it and wrap it around your neck. You'll be amazed at how much cooler just doing that makes you feel.

Dodging Flies
The flies at Uluru followed me around like I was a buffet that had been sitting out for hours. A cloud of them whizzed around me, trying to gain access to my nose, ears and mouth. I never really pictured myself hiking around this amazing landmass while wildly waving my hands in front of my face in a futile attempt to fend off airborne insects. I began to regret passing up the flynets for sale at the resort giftshop.  That's when I uncoiled the scarf from around my neck and draped it over my hat and around my head. The gauzy fabric was easy to look through and kept the flies out. Problem solved. Sure, I looked ridiculous, but all the other hikers were too distracted with their own fly swarm to pay me much heed. I bet this works great for sandstorms, too.

Other Uses
Just in case if this is the first time you've ever heard the Bring a Scarf tip, other uses are:
  • Jazz up your outfit with a scarf (the original use, so not exactly ground-breaking)
  • Keep warm by wrapping it around you
  • Cover up bare shoulders when entering a temple or cathedral
  • As a head scarf when entering a mosque so you don't have to use the loaner headscarf
  • Roll other clothes up inside it to turn it into a pillow
  • As a towel
  • Wrap it around your waist for privacy if you have to pee by the side of the road.
  • Emergency First Aid sling, bandage, or (God help you) a tourniquet
  • Wrap it around ice for an ice pack
  • Attach your small child to you 
  • Bundle up all your belongings, tie it to a stick and pretend you're a hobo
  • Superhero cape
If you forget to bring one, it sounds like it's time to go shopping for a souvenir scarf.

Related Post:
The Allure of Uluru (Ayer's Rock)

This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday on Walking On Travels and Suitcases and Sippy Cups. Check them out for more great travel advice.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Ruins of Chiang Mai's Chedi Luang Temple

The ancient Wat Chedi Luang with its partially collapsed chedi.

For centuries, Wat Chedi Luang towered over ancient Chiang Mai. Construction began in the late 14th century, and by 1481, the Lanna-style chedi (pagoda) reached up 82 meters (246 feet) to the sky. Imagine what a humbling sight that must have been back then. Varying accounts have popped up to explain how the top of the chedi partially collapsed. Some say that it was an earthquake in 1545 while others claim it was caught in cannon fire when  King Taksin recaptured Chiang Mai from the Burmese in 1775. Either way,  I found it to be one of the more interesting temples in the old city.

No building within Chiang Mai's walled city are permitted to be taller than Wat Chedi Luang (60 meters/180 feet tall).

The Emerald Buddha used to reside within this temple until the Laotian king took it to Luang Prabang, Laos around 1545. That buddha is now in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew, but a black jade Buddha carved in 1995 sits in its place in the eastern niche. Other Buddha's are located all around the Wat, and a wire and pulley system is in place for pouring spiritual cleansing water over the ones at the top of the stairs.

Incense sticks in front of the Wat's many Buddhas.

A couple decades ago, the Japanese government and UNESCO contributed money for a restoration of the temple. However, no one knows what the original chedi looks like, so that was left untouched. The work that was completed has been controversial because some have declared it to be done in the central Thai style instead of the more authentic, northern Lanna style. In any case, it's quite easy for even a novice like myself to spot the restored versus untouched sections.

Left: Original brick and stucco elephant
Right: Cement restorations

Statues of Naga, a mythical serpent beast that sheltered Buddha while he was meditating.

This temple is also one of the most significant within Chiang Mai as it holds the city pillar, and is thus considered to be the home of the city's guardian spirits. The building is only open during the annual Inthakin festival in May, and only men may enter. At that time, blessings of peace, happiness and prosperity are invoked for Chiang Mai and its people.

The city pillar inside this building protects the city, especially from Burmese invaders.

The viharn (sermon hall) near the street entrance was built in 1928 and holds a large, standing 14th century Buddha with a disciple on both sides who are known for their mysticism and meditation. Everyone is welcome in this building, but please exhibit proper manners such as never pointing your feet at Buddha. Don't sit straight-legged! Sit "mermaid-style" with your legs curled around to the back. 

Inside the Sermon Hall

If you want to donate to the temple, numerous containers are located around the temple grounds.

A different pot for each monk.

This is the most secure donation box I have ever seen.

Monk Chat
A monk chat club is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the northern side of the grounds. Drop in to chat with them about Buddhism, a monk's life, Thai culture or other relevant topics. They get to practice English, and you get face time with a Buddhist monk. (Ladies, be sure not to touch them as it is taboo.) As their sign says, "Don't just stand looking from afar and walk away."
Dress Code
Please remember to show respect when visiting temples by dressing demurely and removing your shoes at the entrance to buildings. Ladies, despite how hot you may feel touring Chiang Mai, spaghetti straps and short shorts are big no-nos. You can fashion a skirt coverup out of a sarong and bring a wrap for your shoulders. They didn't seem to mind knee-length shorts on me. It is also forbidden for females to climb the corners of the moat structure around the chedi.

Keep these Do's and Don'ts in mind.

Kid point of view:
My kids would like me to let you know that they think this place is boring. My oldest son has done a Buddhism unit in Social Studies, and both boys have done field trips to the Thai Buddhist temple in Penang. They have a background understanding of temples but were still completely uninterested. So, I resorted to the age-old bribery trick. I traded a cultural morning of my choices for an afternoon of paintball and go-karts.

Related Posts

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Glimpsing the Past along Penang's Warehouse Row

A big pot of chicken stock is simmering on the stove for the next six hours, filling my home with the heady aroma of slow living and doing things the old-fashion way. This island goes at its own pace, a notch or two lower than busy, buzzing metropolitans elsewhere, making you harken back to how things were done in a bygone era. That same sense comes over you when you stroll down the Prangin Road warehouse district which lies in the shadow of the towering, modern but sterile, KOMTAR structure that dominates the city.

The Prangin Canal used to run alongside this road, enabling small boats to bring goods inland from the harbor. In the 19th century, this canal marked the edge of George Town, and the area was called Sia Boey which means "village's end" in the Chinese Hokkien dialect. Numerous wholesalers conveniently located themselves next to the canal, especially inside Sia Boey Market. For a while, this district was nicknamed "The Land of Gold" because whoever opened a business here would prosper. As time marched on, the Market was forced to relocate in the name of progress to make way for the KOMTAR development, and the canal was almost completely filled in. A few wholesalers still station themselves in the shophouses lining the road, and they provide a glimpse into Penang's yesteryears. No speedy, computerized equipment here. Just folks conducting business as it's been done for generations.

The Egg Man
One of my favorite sites around Penang is the man delivering eggs via motorscooter. Now, I know where they get their start. Ooi Ah Tong started his egg distribution warehouse in the old Sia Boay Market over 50 years ago and moved it across the street when the market relocated. As is typical to the area, the eggs are unrefrigerated and kept at room temperature which is about 34C (95F) on this tropical island.

I am the egg man.

How many omelettes could you make out of these?

We are Rice, Ain't that Nice?
Being in Asia, rice is a staple on everybody's plate. I'm sure that this warehouse does brisk business. The man out on the covered 5-foot-way sidewalk clears the rice of hulls before scooping it into bags as heavy as a small child.

Cleaning the Rice

Rice Warehouse

Something Smells Fishy
Dried fish and shrimp are a big part of Malaysian cuisine. Caught fresh in the waters around Penang island, the fish are gutted and laid out on racks under the sun to dry. Surprisingly, the smaller ones take only one day to dry out.

An entire shop was dedicated to dried cuttlefish (squid). One man slices it into thin disks while the other one uses a machine to cut it into strips.

Slicing cuttlefish

Putting cuttlefish through the shredder

Eventually, some of dried seafood end up at another store on Prangin Road to be sold in bulk. You should be lucky that the internet hasn't invented Smell-o-Rama because I would have definitely piped through the pungent, fishy odor so that you could experience it yourself.

Top: These were as big as a serving platter
2nd row: Tiny shrimp; bulk scale; Finger-sized fish for MYR12 per kilo

This bulk bin warehouse actually sells a variety of other goods including premade rojak sauce, blocks of belecan paste (salted, fermented ground shrimp) and 10 pound tins of peanut butter.

I was particularly intrigued by these tins of Wheat Molasses. I've used sugar molasses plenty of times, but I had never heard of wheat molasses. Upon closer inspection, the ingredients are wheat, glutinous rice and water. I didn't have a chance to taste it, so I really wonder how close it is to what I know as molasses.

Hmmm.. what to do with all this Wheat Molasses?

The Sweetest Place in George Town
The sugar warehouse confirmed my suspicious that coarse grain sugar (color coded with a green label) is much more available here than the fine grain (pink label) or caster sugar. My daughter who, unbeknownst to me, only ate the dessert cake and sugar sachets on our last airplane flight would be in heaven here.

Sugar piled up to the ceiling

Revitalizing Sia Boey Market
The old, open air market building across the street has sat abandoned for years waiting to be demolished for a development project that never reached fruition. In July 2012, the state announced plans to capitalize on the site's status as a heritage enclave and restore it along with the old Prangin Canal. Who knows what lies in store for this area? Will it strengthen its wholesale business or support Penang's growing tourism? Only time will tell. Until then, we'll just have to take it slow and easy, the old fashion way.

I toured this area as part of the Trishaw Trades Trail tour organized by Spiral Synergy. Michelle Grimsley offers a great look at Penang's heritage past and the endangered trades and businesses that have been here for decades.

Related Posts:
Penang's Vanishing Heritage Trades
Penang Cooking Schools
The Street of Religious Harmony
Ramadan and Penang's Kapitan Keling Mosque

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox. Head over there for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Visiting the Long Neck Tribe

These girls have worn neck rings for just a few years. More will be added as they get older.
My daughter lives such a different life than them.

I remember sitting in my suburban Texas home when I was a little girl and reading about the Long Neck Tribes in the remote jungles of Asia. Looking at the explorer journal sketches of women with rings going up their impossibly tall, giraffe-like necks, these people seemed no more real than the inhabitants of Tatooine, Narnia or Middle Earth -- maybe even less so. They were so far removed from my life in the land of cowboys and astronauts. I certainly never thought that I'd one day encounter them face to face.

Baan Tong Luang is an eco-agricultural hill tribes village just outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was created in 2005 as a cultural preservation project, tourist attraction, and a way to create income for the hill tribes, many of whom are refugees from Myanmar. Seven distinct tribes are located here including the Padaung people, also called the Kayan Lahwi, a subgroup of the Karen tribe and famous for their women with long, ringed necks. 

Uncurling the rings of the Padaung women

At first, I was hesitant to visit. What if I was contributing to the perpetuation of an outdated custom maintained merely to separate tourists from their money? I wondered if it would feel like a Human Zoo. But then I decided that I never question visits to Australian Aboriginal Cultural Centers, Colonial Williamsburg or other living history museums. Perhaps I should give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that these tribes kept their traditions alive out of pride and wanted to share them with the world.

Brass rings encircle her neck, wrists, and legs
Does she long to remove them or is it an integral part of her cultural identity?
Does she wish people would see past the rings to the individual inside them?

I'm so glad that I went. I got to talking with one of the Padaung women, thrilled by how well she spoke English as my Tibeto-Burman language comprehension is quite poor. After chatting with her, I no longer felt like a mere voyeur but instead like someone who heard her story and carried it out to the world. We asked her what it felt like to wear those rings. "Heavy and hot," was her answer. "But it is better here," she said. "When I worked in the fields in Burma, they were so hot. It was hard to work. Here, I can weave and sit in the shade." She unfurled some of her handiwork. Each one takes 3 days to weave and are priced at only US$5. After listening to her story, I didn't  have the heart to haggle. Like most girls, she started wearing the rings when she was about 4 or 5 years old, beginning with just a few. Now, she has 25 rings. (The rings do not actually stretch their necks but squash their vertebrae and collarbone so it angles downwards, giving the illusion of a longer neck.) In this woman's case, she did not start wearing rings just to draw tourist dollars. Perhaps this village did indeed provide her with a better, easier life after fleeing the turmoil in her homelands seven years ago. She also mentioned that she cannot leave Thailand because she has no passport.

Weaving is better than fieldwork.
Her white shirt signifies that she's unmarried.

One of the tables held postcards of a young Padaung lady dressed in modern clothes. With her hair flowing loosely down her back and a contemporary jacket, the neck rings took on the look of a bold, statement necklace. It's a look that the fashion world would approve of.

This perfume ad with Charlize Theron in the in-flight magazine
definitely reminded me of the Padaung women.

This village is not just some place for their day job catering to tourists. They live here, too. Rice paddies line the walk in the middle of the village while water buffalo graze off to the side.

Top: Livestock of water buffaloes and roosters
Middle: Rice paddies
Bottom: Houses on stilts and their makeshift sink comprised of a hose and bucket

A small one-room schoolhouse provides the children with a few hours of education each day, more on weekends. I noticed that working age men and older children were missing. Perhaps they go out and earn other income during the day.

A Community Education Development teacher from outside the tribe comes by to teach them Thai, English and Burmese.

Surprisingly, the village path ends in a Catholic church at the top of the hill. While the hill tribes were originally animists, many are converting to Christianity after meeting missionaries.

St. Nicholas Church at the end of the village

Other northern Thai hill tribes live in this village as well. For the most part, it's a big market selling goods that the villagers make along with outside handiwork. No guided tour, lectures, or performances are part of the experience. Since admission is 500 Thai baht, they don't do high pressure selling or charge you for photos. Haggling is acceptable, although my husband teased me about how horrendous I am at it.

Another branch of the Karen tribe who do not adorn their necks with rings are at the front of the village. Originally from Tibet, they moved into China and then Myanmar (Burma). In the last few decades, political turmoil caused them to take refuge in northern Thailand.

Karen woman weaving on her backstrap loom.
Married women wear bold colored shirts.

The Kayaw are another subgroup of the Karen tribe. Like the long necked Padaung subgroup, their legs are also encircled with brass. However, their necks are adorned with loose necklaces instead of confining rings.

Kayaw girl reads while mom weaves.

Kayaw section of the eco-agricultural village

The Lahu Shi Bala is another tribe that originated in Tibet and moved down to China, then Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Their women insert big metal earrings into their earlobes. My kids really enjoyed trying out the handmade cross-bows with the elder males of this tribe.

Lahu Shi Bala grandmother tending to the baby in the hammock.

Lahu Shi Bala man demonstrates an instrument made out of a gourd with bamboo pipes emerging from it.

The Palong tribe is a minority tribe that immigrated from Myanmar to Thailand in the mid-1980's. When I first approached the children, they were happily playing. As soon as one girl saw my camera, she called the others to sit down and pose.

Palong children

Palong woman selling hats and elephant bullhooks

The Mien or Yao people are from central China but have been in Thailand for about 150 years. "Yao" means "not under the power of anyone." This was the only tribe I saw doing needlework and batik.

Top: Mein woman doing needlework; Hot coals keep the batik wax liquid
Bottom: Batik tool for applying wax to cloth. Those evenly spaced lines are drawn by freehand.

  • Baan Tong Luang  Eco-Agricultural Village is located off Maerim-Samuang Road, about 35 minutes from the old walled section of Chiang Mai.
  • In some ways, this place is merely a large marketplace. Turn it into a deeper experience by taking time to talk with the villagers. They want to share their stories. Feel free to take photographs.
  • Allow 1-1.5 hours for your visit, depending on how much time you spend talking.
  • Bring drinking water.
  • Admission is 500 baht for adults and 300 baht for children
  • Pair this visit with excursions to other area attractions: Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, Mae Sa Waterfall (a favorite among locals for picnicking and cooling off), or one of the many nearby animal encounters (Mae Sa Elephant Camp, Tiger Kingdom, Monkey School, or Siam Insect Zoo).

Related Post:
Dirty, Hungry Elephants
Longing for a Chiang Mai Wet Market
Chiang Mai Sunday Market
The Ruins of Chiang Mai's Chedi Luang Temple

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox, Pret-a-Vivre, and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Getting Lay's in Thailand

I blame the hunger. Otherwise, I would have played it safe. I would not have thrown caution to the wind. The hunger clearly addled my mind. How else can I explain the choice I made in Thailand while getting Lay's?

Some people claim that when you travel internationally, you should have an adventurous palate. Don't be picky and stick with what you can get at home.

I think it's extra fun to find the foreign spin on familiar foods. Hello, Starbucks Asian Dolce Latte, my new caffeinated friend. Only available in Asia Pacific, it's a double shot of espresso with condensed milk, steamed milk and espresso whipped cream. It tastes remarkably similar to Vietnamese coffee. See how I've justified visiting an American coffee chain while halfway around on the other side of the world? You can thank me later (preferably with Starbucks cards).

But I digress... Where was I? Oh yes, the foreign spin on familiar foods.

Enter the vast variety of Lay's Potato Chips I discovered in Chiang Mai, Thailand. First up was the traditional Original flavor I find in American stores.

Original Flavor
Accounts for 79% of the American market

Next were some flavors I recognized but the pictures showed them to be slightly different than their American counterparts.

Sour Cream &Onion
Notice that it's a regular onion, not a green onion.

Extra Barbecue
It's not Texas Barbecue; it's shish kebob!
The extra must be all the veggies.

Then, some truly Asian flavors started popping up.

Cheese and Chili
Chili = Thai Sriracha Sauce, not a hearty bowl of beef chili

Nori Seaweed
But perhaps not the rest of the sushi components pictured?

Hot Chili Squid
They can copy the squid flavor, but can they capture the squid texture?

Lobster Hot Plate
Not to be confused with a tasty Lobster Roll

Hot and Spicy Crab
No shell cracking utensils needed

That's a long list of seafood-inspired crisps.  Finally, there's the surprise flavor that should have been familiar to me, but I had never heard of it.

American Cheesy Paprika
Note the Stars and Stripes on the bag?

Has Cheesy Paprika taken over the United States since I last departed? There are tons of Thais walking around thinking how American these Cheesy Paprika Lay's taste.

So, what did I choose in the end? My sense of adventure led me to Hot and Spicy Crab. My reasoning was something along the lines of "I liked the Chili Crab in Singapore. Maybe this will taste just like that." I will give them credit for getting the crab flavor into every bite. I just couldn't wrap my head around it. True to the "Betcha can't eat just one" advertising, I had to keep trying it just to make absolutely sure I didn't like it. Partway through the bag, the verdict was in. Into the rubbish it went.

What flavor Lay's would you try? Any interesting varieties where you are?

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox. Check it out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.
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