Friday, February 28, 2014

Krabi Love and Jazz Festival

28 February 2014

This evening was the first night of the First Annual Krabi Love and Jazz Festival.  (I love first annual anything - how can it be guaranteed annual if this is the first time ever?)
Anyway, we headed down to the riverfront area, which was packed with maybe 1000-1500 people, a stage with various bands and musicians from Bangkok (and a singer from Brazil), and a variety of food stands and stalls selling drinks, ice cream, clothes, wood carvings, and who knows what.

It was great!  I mean, it wasn't the best sound system ever (there were some staticky moments), they weren't the greatest bands ever (it was sort of jazz with an Asian influence), and standing in the road wasn't the greatest venue.  

But it was such a mixed crowd, and the musicians were enthusiastic, and overall it was great.  I found the music to be very dance-able - and noticed only a few of us dancing, all people of European descent - apparently Thai and Asian people don't even nod their heads or tap their toes to jazz, at least from what I could see.  But several of us did our little restrained in-place dancing to the music, grooving to the beat, whatever song you want to quote.  It was fun!

It was in the evening, so I don't have any photos.  There are two more nights, and we might go back once or twice.  It's definitely a small-town event, but also something new and different to do - and we need that.
Even though my toe infection is cleared up, there's still a good-sized hole at the base of one toe.  My pharmacist recommends at least one more week out of the water.  I've used up all the bandaids we brought along, so had to buy some - only brand available is TigerPlast plasters!  (I was disappointed that the bandaids don't have stripes on them.)

So this means no scuba diving for me.  We're looking at maybe spending a few days on an island or two, with beach time and exploring - but no swimming for me.  No diving.  Play it safe, keep the feet clean and dry, and keep the medications going.  And while I'm sorry to not be diving, well, I do want to keep both of my feet happy and working.

We went to a restaurant names Mr. Krabi - cracked us both up.  Really nice Thai and Italian couple making Thai and Italian food - definitely eat here if you get to Krabi.

The lotus blossoms are in bloom, we found a Hello Kitty tuktuk, and life is good.

I'm still pondering the issue of universal human values versus cultural differences.  Best I can come up with:

I see, first and foremost, the universality of people.  We all, everywhere, have basic expectations.  We all need food, shelter, water in order to survive.  We expect that others will not injure us.  We want love, to love and be loved.  Many want to procreate.  And if we have children, we want them to grow up to be happy and self-sufficient.  Maybe to take care of us in our old age, however old that happens to be.  Most of us want to make our little part of the world a better place.  We also want to be happy.  We expect to be able to practice our religion without interference, or at least we desire to do so (depending on where we live).  These are all what I would consider universal human values.  These are the truths that Plato and Socrates would capitalize - Truth, Beauty, Love.  The big, major, esoteric values that we often can't define by what they are, but rather what they aren't.  But, whatever they are, these are the values that unite us as human beings.

Then, there are cultural differences, and most are what I think are interesting, they're what make a culture unique.  But they are also, for the most part, inconsequential.  It's interesting to see what people eat, what their eating utensils are, but it doesn't define who the people are.  It doesn't necessarily affect how they think, or how they treat each other.  Culture, ethnic heritage, language, religion, even colour create different groupings of people, and, unfortunately, we often let these things divide rather than unite us.

So, back to the young woman whose chair was blocking easy passage around the café.  Maybe it was okay within her culture.  However, within the overall picture of human values, it was selfish and inconsiderate to take up excessive space unnecessarily, and to inconvenience others, including the staff of the café.

And yes, the act of her doing so is, in the big picture, inconsequential.  But it has led to a whole reviewing of my approach to travel - because my approach is that people are pretty much the same wherever we are.  I still hold that approach, and I think it's what enables me to become involved in whatever culture in which I find myself.  But sometimes, I need to step back and look at whether a behaviour is cultural or personal.  I think that's the issue I was struggling with, and have somewhat redefined for myself.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Mysteries of Krabi

25 February 2014

I've asked around, as well as looked online, but finally walked up to the Thai Tourism Center here in Krabi to find the answers.  What do all the intersection statues mean?  Why are they here, instead of the usual monuments to illustrious citizens of the town, or heroes of legends, the way most of the towns in this country put up?  And they're all on Maharat Road (sometimes spelled Maharaj Road), the main road leading in to Krabi Town - to ensure every visitor sees them.  Why are they so important?

So, the explanations:

This area, Krabi province, is one of the areas where the white elephant comes from.  The white elephant is kind of elephant given to each king, so this is really important.  Plus an early king set up an elephant farm or enclosure here in the area, and the people living there eventually established Krabi Town.  So the elephant is not only considered an important animal in this area, a connection to royalty, but also is the reason the town exists.  (And all kinds of elephant statues are in the area of the elephant intersection.)

Heading south on Maharat, we come to the Sea Eagle intersection, with two sea eagles flanking the intersection.  The sea eagle obviously refers to Krabi being on the Krabi River, which feeds into the Andaman Sea - but the sea eagle also represents vision and perspective - the eagle has excellent vision from great heights, and we need to keep that sense of vision and perspective in our minds and in our abilities.

South a few more blocks we find the Saber-Tooth Tiger intersection - one giant pillar with a huge tiger on top, and four smaller tigers crouching above the four signal lights.  Saber-tooth tiger fossils have been found in this area, so this animal is represented as part of Krabi's prehistoric past.  (And yes, my dad's hat decided to be in the photo.  We're a cat family.)

Then, the piece de resistance:  Cro-Magnon Man.  Actually, more like four Cro-Magnon Men.  There are four of these statues, each on his own pillar, and each holding two traffic lights as if these are his luggage.  Okay, this is really really funny, bordering on hilarious.  Seriously funny.  One of those "what the ???" moments.  The nice tourism lady explained that one of the oldest settlements found in Thailand was in this area, that evidence of Cro-Magnon people have been found here in Krabi.  (There are cave paintings in some of the karst caves.)   So these statues also represent Krabi's prehistoric past.

And I had to ask if these were meant to be as funny as they seem to many of us.  She agreed that yes, they are funny.  Sort of a joke.  

Which, of course, started me thinking about what is considered funny or humourous in one culture may or may not be funny in another culture.  Is there a funny absolute?  Pure humour?  That crosses cultural boundaries and mores and taboos?
This is something I've been thinking about lately, although in other terms - we were at a café, and a young woman was sitting at a table, chair pushed all the way back so she could sit in that chair cross-legged.  And the chair all the way back was making it difficult for guests and wait staff to pass back and forth.  Did she care?  Did she notice?  Well, she didn't move her chair, no matter how many times someone passed by.  I have no idea if she noticed, or cared.  But she didn't move.  It was an incident that I would think showed someone being rude and selfish - but is it, in Thai culture?  Or any other culture?  Is rude or abrupt or impolite behaviour the same from culture to culture? 

For example, on the small Fijian island of Nacula, we were told to sit with our feet tucked under when we met with the village chief; it's very rude to show the chief the bottom of your feet.  Not that I'd show the US President the bottom of my feet, but we don't exactly have that taboo.  

Or, in the USA we use one side of a fork to scoop up food.  In British countries (including Australia and New Zealand) the fork is turned over, and food is piled on top.  In Indonesia and Thailand, a fork is used to push food onto a spoon, rather than using a knife to push food onto a fork the way we do in the USA.  And in Australia I saw several people just eating from their knife, which would have appalled my mother - but that's the way we were brought up.  Those were part of our etiquette, our cultural norms.

So, how much are cultural norms and behaviours, and how much are human behaviours?  When does a behaviour go from being a cultural norm to being rude or impolite or selfish?  

There are expected human behaviours that are codified into law (and religion) - do not steal, do not kill, to not injure or maim.  But these are major behaviours; what about minor behaviours, like blocking a small café aisle with your chair, just so you're comfortable, but inconveniencing others?  Is that okay?  Is that an expected human behaviour, to not do this, to be considerate of others?

So, I have no answers.  But these are the questions I think about as we travel, as we notice how people in various cultures behave, how they act, what seems to be important or unimportant.

And of course there are all the lovely and interesting market foods, pictured here - I'm not sure if the pink eggs are natural, or coloured - but they are a lovely rose pink.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Off the Beaten Path

21 February 2014

 We decided to go out to Aonang Beach (pronounced ow-NANG, with the A as a long "A" sound, as in "rain").    Even though I couldn't go into the water with this stupid toe infection, I still enjoyed the beach and the views.

Aonang is fairly touristy and full of the normal franchises that, sadly, have become common all over the world: McDonald's, Burger King, Starbucks, etc.  Sad but true.

But there are little Thai restaurants, as well as various other cuisines, and stands selling everything from souvenirs to Chinese medicine.

But what is really amazing is the geology of the area.  In fact, even the view from our hotel windows is incredible, and I just had to find out what was going on with the crazy-shaped hills and rocks and sea stacks that are all over this part of the world.

The following information comes from an article I found online, at this site if you want more information:

"The landscape in Krabi Province in southern Thailand is characterized by steep, limestone headland cliffs along its shoreline and by limestone (karst) towers both offshore from the headlands and inland along its alluvial plains. The coastal karst towers rise directly out of the shallow waters of Phang Nga Bay or emerge from mangrove-fringed tidal flats whereas the inland karst towers are surrounded by Quaternary alluvial and colluvial deposits. "  

Yeah, okay, so it gets more scientific from there.  

Basically, these are limestone cliffs, islands, and towers (the limestone towers are also known as karst) that are leftover from erosion over the millenia.  Simplified but the basic explanation.

Of course, the next question is why these karst towers, islands, cliffs haven't eroded themselves - the river has receded to it's banks, though water probably will erode these rocks at the end of the next ice age, when there's massive glacial melt and subsequent flooding.  Until then, we get to enjoy this crazy landscape.

Anyway, it makes for incredible scenery surrounding the town of Krabi, making it look like a town plunked down in a moonscape.

We've been enjoying walking around Krabi, checking out shops, cafés, the sculptures, as well as all the things to do in the area.  Richard will probably go off diving for a few days while I explore some of the temples.  

The sculptures - at most of the major cross streets, where there is a traffic light, there's either one huge pillar and statue in the center of the intersection, or two large pillars/statues flanking the intersection.  Uphill from our hotel is the elephant intersection; downhill is the sea eagle intersection, and then further downhill is the saber-toothed tiger intersection.  And, between those intersections, the street signs are adorned with a small sculpture of the animal from the intersection statue.  My favourite is the elephant with a scimitar in its trunk.  In the area of the temple, with dragon staircases, the street lights are protected by three-headed dragons.

I'm trying to find out more about all of this - are these animals representatives of the various neighbourhoods, like the contrade of Siena?  Are they guardian animals who fought to save Krabi at some point in time?  Or protectors?  I don't know, but I'm asking around - once I find out, I'll add that to our blog.

A natural adjunct to the giant animals guarding the road is the café with a giant coffee cup out front.  (Richard offered to pose inside the cup, but we thought the café owners might be upset.)

I tried the menu item called "gold bags" - turns out to be minced chicken and vegs in a wonton wrapper, tied with a single chive leaf, and deep fried.  Very much like fried wontons.

We've encountered a variety of vendors, such as the fruit trucks carrying mangosteen, lychees, and durian.   But I think my favourite are the people who carry eggs and various items on a giant balance across their shoulders, and walk around honking a horn to announce their presence, should anyone wish to purchase their wares.  Really, can you imagine carrying eggs on a balance, like a huge scale?  I'd spend the entire time worrying I was going to drop the eggs somehow!

The highlight, though, has to be the upcoming Miss Krabi competition.  I know, we shouldn't laugh, but this town's name is just so unfortunate in English.  Miss Krabi!  Can you imagine the title of Miss Crabby?  Straight out of a cartoon, maybe The Simpsons!

I know, not the most exciting events, but somehow everything is interesting, and different, and exciting.  We're strangers in a strange land, everything's strange when you're a stranger, and we're just enjoying all those strange things!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Down But Not Out

18 February 2014

First, let me say that we're not in Bangkok, and we're fine.  The riot police continue trying to close down some of the demonstration sites, and today erupted in quite a bit of violence.  It's sad to hear about, because we liked Bangkok and met so many nice people - so we hope that things are quickly resolved without continuing violence, without any more deaths or injuries.

We're in Krabi, which is on the southern peninsula of Thailand, not too far from Phuket.  We opted to not go to Phuket, since that's such a popular tourist spot and tends to be crowded (read: overrun with tourists).  Krabi is an undiscovered treasure, according to what we've read online and in various travel literature, and so we decided to come to Krabi.

Krabi town is on the Krabi River, which flows out to Phangnga Bay and then the Andaman Sea.  There are two crazy-shaped hills (maybe limestone?  they look very eroded) that are considered to be emblematic of Krabi province:  Khao Kanab Nam refers to both hills, located just outside of Krabi town.  The two hills stand almost side by side, with Krabi River flowing between them.  
And yes, Krabi is pronounced "crabby" - the town seems to have adapted to the name with a wry sense of humour.

Krabi province encompasses a series of islands that are some of the best dive sites in this part of Thailand, so that's why we made Krabi our base for a week.  We've found a few dive companies, and the plan was to set up several days of divings.

Of course, this is why we don't plan.  Things never quite work out.

The problem with travel in the tropics is that we encounter tropical diseases.  I've been babying along and trying to treat what seemed like an odd form of athlete's foot.  I bought some ointment, but instead of getting better, things spread to the other foot, and, well, not to go into too much gross detail, things just got worse.  So we took the advice from several Krabi tourism websites and visited a pharmacy just next to our hotel.  Lovely pharmacist looked at my toes and said I have a fungus from walking in dirty water (as happens in places during rainy season, such as in Bali).  The fungus caused blisters, a few are now infected, there's all kinds of bacteria, and, well, it's rather yuck.  So I'm armed with sterile saline wash, antibiotic fungicide for the infected toes, regular extra-strength fungicide for the other toes, oral anti-fungal pills, and strict instructions not to get one foot wet and to stay out of water for a week or so.

As in, no diving this week for Phebe.

So we'll check out some of the beaches in the area, and I'll stay out of the water.  Richard might go diving, and I'll explore places on land.  There's plenty to see, with cave paintings (this is one of the oldest areas inhabited by humans in Thailand) and various temples and a few national parks with supposedly some of the oldest trees on earth.  Plus monkeys and a tiger temple (no live tigers though).  So I'll have plenty to do.

As the title says, I'm down but I'm not out.

Anyway, my pills (one a month for the next four months) are a gorgeous turquoise.

Krabi has some of the craziest tuktuks ever - a motorcycle for the driver, with an attached cage with benches for the customers!  Yes, we rode in one.

We also found a shrine shop, selling not only the structures for indoor shrines but also the statues, garlands, candles, bowls, incense holders, and various other tchotchkas used in the shrines.  

Sea eagle statues and street signs, saber-toothed tigers adorning traffic lights, and elephants holding up street lights - this is a crazy kind of town!  I love all the little hidden sculptures!

That's our first 24 hours in Krabi.  We'll see what else it has for us over the next week.