Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tsunami, The Aftermath Update

Tsunami, The Aftermath Part 1 (of 2) has got a release date, finally! As you may recall, I worked as an extra on this movie when it was being filmed on location Khao Lak, Thailand. December 10th, the 2004 tsunami story, based on real life characters and events will start airing on HBO, almost every day of the month.

Right now, there's a behind-the-scenes documentary entitled Making Tsunami, The Aftermath being shown. I may or may not show up in either of them, but if I do, you may get to see me playing volleyball on the beach and gawking at the strange sea behavior (woohoo), and maybe even dead on the ground (eww).

BBC Film details
HBO Schedule for Making Tsunami, The Aftermath
HBO Schedule for Tsunami, The Aftermath Part 1

my professionally applied fatal(?) wound

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Moving to Mexico next month!

As many of you may or may not know, I've been wanting to go live in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, my birthplace, for a long time. As a matter of fact, I was originally planning to be there by September 2005, but ended up in Spain instead! The earlier part of this year was spent on an overdue trip to Thailand, where I ended up doing a lot of volunteer work for tsunami recovery, making some life-long friends, and getting certified as an Open Water scuba diver, among many other things.

Okay, I digress... Back to the topic of moving to Mexico. Some people say "Why?"
My first response is usually "Why not?" (to which some have said, "Hmm... yeah really, why not?!").

Then I explain that despite not living there for most of my life, I have always loved everything about Mexico -- the language, the food, the history, the culture, the weather, the beautiful and warm people, the list goes on.

And then I mention that since I was whisked away as a wee lad, I have been back to my home town exactly once, and over the border like 3 times (once to Tijuana, once to Mexicali and once to Rosarito with my friends Chris y Darci).

Puerto Vallarta and the Banderas Bay area has warm water, great fishing, awesome surfing and scuba diving, hiking, waterfalls, and beaches, the small village feel and the luxury resorts too (if you're into that sort of thing).

Considering these facts, and that I have many aunts, uncles, and cousins there that I have not even met, it's basically a shame that I haven't even been back to visit. So, I plan to stay at least 6 months, and work with my clients in the US via Skype, instant messaging, and e-mail, as usual. I also have a new site about Vallarta in the works, and you can be sure I'll announce it here when it's ready.

Today, I booked my flight on Avolar (only US$63 -- can you believe it?) from Tijuana to Guadalajara, where I plan to meet one of my best friends, Mark, and take a trip to Lake Patzcuaro and the island of Janitzio for las Dias de los Muertos (Days of the Dead). It will no doubt make for some phenomenal photography.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Fun with jetlag

I wanted to get out earlier, but jetlag seems to have the uncanny ability to have me wake up at sunset. So I go out to run some errands and set up new cell phone service with the GSM phone I got in Thailand. There, you can go to any 7-ll and pick up a SIM card for your GSM cell phone with a new number for THB 99.00 (currently about US$2.64), as well as prepaid minute cards. I was hoping to do something similar this evening... No such luck.

san leandro suburban skyline at dusk
This just isn't the same dusk skyline I've gotten used to in Thailand...

abstract image at the train tracks
Crossing the railroad tracks, I spotted a rabbit and tried to capture him on camera. Images of Alice in Wonderland came to mind, but this is what ended up on the Memory Stick

wittew bunny wabbit
I followed the rabbit up some stairs onto this patio -- he was trapped. I got you now, wittew wascawy wabbit! Unfortunately, he was too quick for a better shot using a long exposure.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Last full day in Thailand

I decided that I needed one more day in Thailand, so I'll be leaving tomorrow instead of today. I made use of it checking out the Royal Palace in Bangkok. While I'm sure millions of others have posted images of the same subjects on the net, hopefully, you'll find something new in these photographs...

one of many golden Hanumaan
one of many golden Hanumaan

sad and blue
sad and blue

Throughout the palace compound, stories are told through long murals. Here's my favorite piece:

part of a legendary conflict
part of a legendary conflict

This guard appeared to be struggling not to look at me while I took his photo:

can't... look...
can't... look...

students at Sa Nam Luang Park

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

So far behind...

I'm really behind on getting back to everyone via e-mail, and I hope those of you that are waiting can forgive me. I'm heading to Phuket for a few days to relax and sight-see, and should come back refreshed with some good photos and some emails and web updates for y'all!

In the meantime, if you haven't already, check out the sites I've recently launched:

Ecotourism Training Center

And look at this cute bunny I saw at the Bangniang Market a few weeks ago.

bunny hanging out at the rambutan stand

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Thailand: Nellie has arrived

My good friends at the Ecotourism Training Center, Reid and Cougar, were blessed to have their daughter arrive safe and sound this morning. After a run down to the hospital yesterday that turned out to be a false labor, Nellie meant it this time, and got everyone up at around 5 this full-moon morning. She was born at around 10:30am at Bangkok Phuket Hospital, weighing in at just 2.89 kilograms (6 lbs, 5 ounces).

Nellie Narisarah Ridgway

What a beautiful girl. Maybe it's the Irish genes from Reid's side, the little gloves, or both, but to me she looks like a little scrapper. Perhaps she'll be a future featherweight female Muay Thai champion? Who knows. Regardless, there's no doubt she'll be a knockout in more than one way. Watch out, boys! :)

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Thailand: Extra work and extra work

I've been keeping rather busy doing freelance and volunteer work, and desperately needed a break from coding. As it turns out, HBO and BBC are filming a movie in Phuket and Khao Lak, and needed extras for the shoot in Khao Lak, and so I got a small part.

It'll be interesting to see if the shots I'm in will make into the film. The current working title is The Aftermath, and the plot of the film is based on true events surrounding the 2004 tsunami, while some of the characters are fictional.

the aftermath camera crew on the beach in khao lak

The first day was a lot of fun, despite a lot of waiting around. I'll be coming back next week to play dead, and so I'm curious as to what kind of gruesome death they have in mind for me. :P I'll post more photos and updates on this soon. Questions and comments welcome. :)

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Koh Samui budget accommodation: Whitesands Bungalows

Lamai Beach
not exactly white sand, but still gorgeous

Making my way down Hat Lamai (Lamai Beach) on Koh Samui from Lamai Pearl toward Hin Ta Hin Yai (Grandfather Rock and Grandmother Rock) today, I came across a group of neat little bungalows right on the beach, and it turns out they only cost 120 baht per night (about US$3.15). Even though they didn’t have all the amenities I had at Lamai Pearl like the private bathroom and shower, it had a better view of the ocean, and was just as peaceful and quiet. I couldn’t resist — I checked in as soon as I had taken a look at the bungalow and the facilities.

lamai beach bungalow ocean view

Budget bungalows
It’s not much more than basic Thai style accommodation — a couple mattresses with sheets on mats inside a wooden bungalow with a porch to chill out and take in the ocean breeze — simple but effective. A fan, plus an additional electric outlet are included as well. Each bungalow has its own personality, as past and long-term tenants have personalized them with everything from small bits of graffiti, to faded murals on the insides of the window shutters and charming bits decoration and landscaping.

While the Thai staff does freshen up the bungalows between tenants, you may opt to do some of your own cleaning. At these prices, however, I don’t think too many budget travelers will have a big problem with that.

budget bungalow door

As for the budget toilet facilities, one thing I found odd was that the squatter-style toilets are on the opposite side of the hall from the showers, so that you have to re-clothe between tasks if you need to use both. Note: there are no spray nozzles for washing up, and you need to bring your own toilet paper. The sinks are all at the end of the hall. If this is all an issue for you, staying in one of the private bath units, a little further from the beach, for 300 baht (approx. US$7.95) per night is another option, as are the 800 baht per night air conditioned rooms.

Tasty Thai cooking
An additional perk here at Whitesands Bungalows is that although it’s off the beaten path, you don’t have to go far to eat — there’s a Whitesands Restaurant that serves tasty Thai and western food at a decent price. Keep it simple, and you can get a nice meal for about US$2 or less. If you’re feeling pretty hungry or you like to drink beer, you can end up spending more, maybe US$3.50 to 4.00.

Comprehensive, friendly service
Not leaving any base uncovered, the Whitesands staff also offers laundry service for 30 baht (about 80 cents) per kilo, motorbikes and jeeps for rent, as well as tours and information about everything Samui Island has to offer. Many tenants here love it so much, they stay for months on end, some even stay most of the year. If you’re coming to Koh Samui, Thailand on a budget, it’s definitely worth the time to see why many people from around the world keep coming back, or simply don’t leave.

How to get to Whitesands Bungalows from the southern end of Lamai, on Koh Samui:
From Ban Lamai (Lamai town), take road 4169 heading southwest and turn left at the sign, immediately before 7-11. Follow the dirt road down a few hundred meters or so, turn right at the Whitesands Bungalows Restaurant sign, then turn left at the end and park in the cul-de-sac.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Thailand: Koh Samui seaside magic

the full moon on Songkran night

The weather was so fantastic last night, with the full moon out and the soothing breeze blowing in from the sea. So great in fact that I didn't even sleep in my bungalow. I grabbed my favorite Mexican blanket, and took the 30 steps or so down to the beach and enjoyed the night sky along with the sound of the water lapping at the shore. And almost even more amazing -- no mosquitos! :)

sunrise at Lamai Beach, Koh Samui

Waking up with the sun, the scene was breathtaking -- sections of the tall clouds in the distance would brighten up with colour intermittently as lightning bounced around inside...

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Songkran - Thai New Year Celebration

I had heard so much about Songkran, Thailand’s new year celebration that I had to make it back there in time to see it. Dubbed “Extreme Holiday” by a Thai television news station, it’s a 1 to 5-day, country-wide happy water fight.

Because Songkran is a Buddhist holiday, and southern Thailand has a high percentage of Muslims, I was told that Songkran was not so big of a deal in Hat Yai, the biggest city in Southern Thailand. Well, don’t let anyone fool you! Everyone participated, from little kids to senior citizens. I arrived from Kuala Lumpur somewhere around 7:30AM and already, there were grandmas sporting super-soaker guns and buckets of water ready to douse you as you passed. Walking down the sidewalk, I heard a timid “Sorry...” and got shot in the back by a boy with a water rifle — pretty hilarious.

After breakfast, the water throwing and had picked up pace and I was dying to jump in on the action, but had to catch the bus to Koh Samui, and unfortunately ended up watching all the fun from inside the bus, all day...

It took forever just getting out of Hat Yai. The streets and everything in them were glistening with water and crammed with quick-moving attackers and slow-moving vehicles. People on motorbikes probably got the worst drenching. While able to weave their way through the traffic, they had to go slow, making themselves easy targets for the truckloads of people armed with buckets, bowls, giant syringe-like squirters, and huge barrels of water as an almost endless supply of ammo.

Helpless motorbike riders

Another part of the Songkran tradition is to mix baby powder with water and cover everyone you see with that as well — making for many more white people (and cars, for that matter) in Thailand than usual — even the bus got hammered.

As the bus made its way to Surat Thani (the take-off point of the ferry to Koh Samui) it was hard to find 100 meters between water squads next to or in the road, throwing water at others across the street, helpless motorbike riders, cars or mobile attack units. Even when it started raining in the afternoon, the action kept going.

You may be wondering, so where’s all the photos? Sadly, my camera battery had basically died. And with no way to charge it on the bus, it wasn’t until I got on the ferry that I was able to find a power outlet. At least I was able to get a few shots after that, but there wasn’t any water tossing on the boat — only on the television in the ferry lounge.

That’s where I met little Ning, a little cutie that introduced herself by attaching a Hello Kitty sticker to the back of my hand. Thai kids seem to love practicing their English, and she had a number of essential phrases down pat, like “What’s your name?” and “Where are you going?”. Soooo adorable.

Ning, aspiring photographer

nui and I (photo credit: ning)

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Thailand: Koh Samui budget bungalow in Lamai

Arman and Nui told me about a cheap bungalow that was only 10 meters from the beach in Lamai on Koh Samui. It’s a bit aged — being right next to the beach things get rusty easily. However, it's got a private bathroom and shower, fan, full size bed, a little desk, electricity, and a deck with table and chairs to chill out and take in the ocean view. All for 200 baht per night (currently about US$5.25). Aptly named the Lamai Pearl, it’s not listed in the Thailand Lonely Planet guidebook. Luckily, they had a unit available when I arrived! It's nice and quiet — and there's discounts if you pay for a week or more in advance. Definitely worth checking out if you don't mind funky fixtures and a little rust, and just want to be next to the beach!

How to get to the Lamai Pearl on Koh Samui
You have to go to the south end of the strip in Lamai, and turn left up the small hill at the yellow Orchid Suites sign. At the top of the hill, turn left again to go down the hill to the Lamai Pearl.

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Traveling Thailand on a budget? Take the bus.

Amazingly, it costs only about US$20 to get from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket — a XX kilometer trip — by bus. I wanted to go to Koh Samui, however, and that was only about $25 total, including the ferry ride to the island, and the taxi ride to Hat Lamai, the beach where I was staying. On the night bus from KL, I met Nui, who was on her way to Koh Samui to go back to work, and her Dutch boyfriend, Arman, heading to Bangkok for Songkran. Despite Arman being close to a meter taller than her, she was definitely the boss... ;)

Nui (in the bus on the way to Koh Samui)

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Monday, April 03, 2006

I have to leave the country

It's already time for another visa run, and I haven't even gotten around to posting the photos for the one I did to Myanmar. I can hardly believe it's been a month already. Today I will head down to Malaysia by bus via Hat Yai, and try to see a few things before coming back into Thailand.

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Friday, March 31, 2006

Volunteering in Thailand: Tap Tawaan is looking good

The current Tap Tawaan project — the one I’ve been working on — consists of 31 homes started by Malteser International, and the Tsunami Volunteer Center is finishing the job by adding on the kitchen sections to each unit.

Tap Tawaan homes

We’re getting close to completion, and I’m feeling pretty excited about it. As Steve likes to say, I love it when a plan comes together! There are only a few homes left that need brick work. Almost all of those that still need work already have the window and door frames completed, which means that there's maybe a few day's worth of bricking left.

the naked boy oversees the bricking process

After that the walls just need to be rendered with fine cement to make them smooth and ready for paint. At that point, the villagers will take over and handle the finish work.

outer wall being rendered

Usually I find group photos to be... Well let’s say, “not so interesting”, so hopefully you won't feel the same about this one, because I think it's great. (Thanks Sheila!) Here’s the Tap Tawaan Crew, the fantastic people I work with daily. Nations represented are France, England, the USA, Mexico, Japan, Ireland, Sweden, South Africa, Scotland, Canada, Germany, and of course, Thailand. :)

The International Tap Tawan Crew

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Thai nicknames

Many Thai people have names that are either rather long, hard to pronounce, hard to remember, or all three. So as a workaround, virtually every Thai I’ve met has a nickname that consists of one syllable, sometimes two. Many foreigners also have names that are long, hard to pronounce, hard to remember, or all three. For most Thais I’ve met, mine falls under the “hard to pronounce” category.

Yesterday, I met a young student from Songkhla who was working for the week at Tap Tawaan, building a school there. She was having trouble with my name, and decided to Thai-ify it. So in Thailand I am now “Rak”, because she says it sounds close to my name, and it has a nice meaning (rak in Thai means “love”. Aawww!).

Since I revealed that her Thai nickname (Pan) in Spanish means “bread” she wanted a Spanish nickname, so I gave her the nickname “Amiga”. It kind of defeats the whole really short nickname idea, but oh well. She liked it.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Thailand: Khao Lumpee National Park

Today the folks from Weerapat's Kitchen closed the restaurant, and invited me to come with them to Khao Lumpee National Park to eat and swim at the nam tok (waterfall) for the day. Upon arrival, I realized that I was the only farang (foreigner) at the main swimming hole at Khao Lumpee, maybe at the whole park. Pretty cool. :)

E-San Thai foodEarlier, Tou prepared sun dried pork and sticky rice, which was was amazing as usual. We also ate some fried tofu, sliced green mango and cucumber with pha la a spicy chili sauce made with crab. Mmmm...

Here we have fried chicken (left) and dried pla-muk (squid, lower left). The squid pretty much tastes like 100% recycled paper grocery bag at first -- but after about 8 to 10 chews, it's bursting with juicy cuttlefish flavour. If you don't like seafood, this is definitely not for you. On the other hand, I know one cat that's probably salivating as she reads this. Insert Phil Ken Sebben "Ha HA!" laugh here. ;)

The change of scenery was refreshing, and after a siesta in the shade, I jumped in the water for a swim before taking off back to town. Tou cooks every day, so tonight I am giving him a break and cooking instead. I'm making my special chicken recipe using the especies tipicas de Granada that I brought from Spain.

I didn't get a chance to check out the trails or hike up to the top of the waterfall, but it's not far from Khao Lak so it's quite possible I'll be able to visit later, and get more photos from this beautiful little park.

Nam tok at Khao Lumpee

P.Sao (owner of Weerapat's Kitchen) and Wan
P.Sao (owner of Weerapat's Kitchen) and Wan

Tou and Sant
Tou and Sant

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Happy St. Patrick's Day

Tonight I went to Pia Foot Massage's big St. Patrick’s Day party with P.Su, Ake, and P.Nid, a friend of P.Su’s visiting from out of town. The party featured fire dancers, face painting, potatoes, Guinness, free BBQ, and a hyped-up moustache contest. I heard Mark, a guy from Seattle, was the winner in the overall best moustache category. If I see him tomorrow and he still has it, I’ll try and get a shot and update this post. Update: Mark shaved it off. Sorry.

I normally hate using the flash. Lately, my camera's flash has been acting up too -- it either doesn't fire or fires so hard that it blasts the color almost completely out of the scene. (It probably doesn't help that I do construction with it in my pocket.) Sometimes, however, with the right settings and finesse, the flash can make for some trippy effects. The woman in this shot is P.Nid.

P.Nid outside Pia Foot Massage

Next we went over to Weerapat's Kitchen to say hi for a bit and some refreshment before heading to Happy Snapper for some live music. I got my almost-daily staple: chilled, fresh young mak prao (coconut). Mmmm...

Arthur and son Weerapat (a.k.a. Eric) outside Weerapat's Kitchen
Arthur and son Weerapat (a.k.a. Eric) outside Weerapat's Kitchen

P.Su (left) and P.Nid enjoying the tunes at Happy Snapper
P.Su (left) and P.Nid enjoying the tunes at Happy Snapper

So what did you do on St. Patty's Day?

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Thailand: Public display of affection = bad form

In general, Thais are pretty conservative when it comes to PDA (public display of affection), and when folks don't keep the hanky panky behind closed doors, it's rather frowned upon. These two, however, sure generated a lot of attention -- and laughter -- this afternoon when they got a little kii harum (too in-the-mood) and decided to completely disregard cultural norms, right in a front yard at Tap Tawaan, in broad daylight. I think they were sober too. For shame!

[view photo]

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Volunteering in Thailand: It helps to pay attention to the pros

I bricked up my first wall today. Up until now, I worked the "feeder" role, providing brick layers with all they need to stay productive. Some of them have many years of bricking experience, so I made sure to watch how they did it. I suppose it payed off, because I got a few compliments on my first wall. And I'm pretty happy with it myself. :)

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Visa run tomorrow

My allowed stay in Thailand expires today, March 4th, so I have to go on a visa run to Myanmar (formerly Burma) tomorrow and get a new stamp in my passport. It should make for an interesting trip since both my ATM cards are not working! Tune in later for the details.

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How to treat a smashed finger

As virtually all things eventually must come to an end, I had to do something about that fingernail and it’s pretty colours. The blood underneath the nail was causing a lot of pressure, resulting in a rather swollen finger. Not to mention, the skin was feeling uncomfortably (read: painfully) tight. So what does one do in this situation? Well, you have to relieve the pressure. Yes, you can treat this yourself, and yes, it will feel much better afterwards.

While this treatment may sound like it came from a torture scene in a horror movie, it can feel like torture — if not done properly! Follow the instructions, however, and it should actually be a painless — and pain-relieving — procedure.

Do not follow these instructions if:
  • you don’t feel a lot of pressure or see swelling of the finger around the nail
  • your finger is deformed from the smashing (in this case, definitely see a doctor)
  • the damage is not just limited to the end of your finger or involves a significant cut (also, see a doctor)
  • your finger has not been smashed
  • you’re a wimp, or you’re not sure if you’re a wimp.

Note: If you’re a minor, it’s smart to have parental supervision before following these instructions. Also, I take no responsibility if you do something stupid in the course of relieving your finger(s) of pressure from blood
under the nail. In other words, proceed at your own risk.

You’ll need a few important tools to succeed at this. Here’s the list:
  • medium-sized metal paper clip
  • pliers (for holding the paper clip)
  • pen (I prefer Sharpie)
  • gas burner
  • matches or a lighter (if the burner is not self-lighting), and
  • something (preferably clean) to wipe up the blood.

Optionally, I recommend that you have a few assistants, especially if this is your first time doing this procedure:
  • One steady-handed and strong-stomached person. This is particularly helpful if you’re not feeling up to doing it yourself, as you may be a little queasy or weak from the idea, or just not feeling so hot in general.
  • If necessary, one or two more people to hold you down.

It’s probably a good idea for everyone involved to wash their hands with soap and water, if available, beforehand. Next, identify the area of the fingernail that appears to have the most blood trapped underneath, and mark the center of the area with a dot, using the pen.

Step 1: Straighten the paper clip
Un-bend the paper clip so you have about a 2 or 3 inch straight section, leaving one end still bent. Any longer than that makes accuracy more difficult.

Step 2: Heat up the paper clip
Use the pliers to hold the paper clip on the section that is still bent, for the best grip. Over the gas flame, heat the tip of the straightened end until it is red-hot. This is important! Unless you’re a masochist, it must be red-hot.

Step 3: Insert red hot paper clip into fingernail
Using the dot you made with the pen as your target, gently push the red-hot tip of the paper clip through the nail. It will quickly melt right through - don’t go deeper than a millimeter or so. Again, if it’s not red-hot, you will have to force it, and trust me, that doesn’t feel so great.  Warning: due to the pressure, you may experience some brief squirting action. I had a single thread-thin string of liquid red shoot about 2 meters. Sorry, no camera
footage --  you’ll just have to believe me on that one.

Step 4: Press out extra blood
Optional but recommended: After you create the hole, squeeze the sides of the finger next to the affected area to remove any excess trapped fluid. This should extend the time it takes before it’s necessary to repeat the procedure up to maybe a day or two.

Here’s the video, so you can see it all in action. Well, steps 3 and 4 anyway. It’s even formatted for your video-enabled iPod so you can gross out your friends and family!

You must have QuickTime installed to watch.

Step 5: Clean up.

Resources and more info
Vandenberg Air Force Base 30th Medical Group Self Care Guide

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Out of pain comes beauty

When setting down a big stack of cinderblock bricks yesterday, I managed to get my left index finger smashed between them, resulting in a subtle rainbow of hues under my finger nail. Isn’t it lovely?

You’d think with a title like that, I’d come up with something a little more deep and meaningful. Probably next time. :)

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Thailand: Moken people at Tap Tawan

mixing mortar rebar

Today was pretty much a normal day at Tap Tawaan, mixing mortar for the brickers, and cutting rebar to help tie the bricks to the cement pillars that support the roofs of the kitchens we're working on. The exception was that today we met "super cute Moken baby".

The Moken villagers are who inhabit Tap Tawaan. Also known as sea gypsies, they are supposed to be more "in tune" with nature than other people. However, I get the impression that this tendency seems to be fading with the new generation as technology, western products and values wedge their way in.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a number of inaccuracies at about Moken people, and as soon as I get more, verifiable information, I will update the Wikipedia articles and post about it here.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Volunteering in Thailand Day 2: Not so fun after the sun

After more time than I realized cutting bricks in the sun, I "enjoyed" the worst sunburn I can remember, and the second one since arriving here. It's probably in the worst place too — my waist. I was wearing no shirt and some shorts that ride a bit lower than my others, exposing an area that has seen waaaaay less sun than the rest of my back. Ice cream anyone? I’ve got some Neopolitan... :P Ouch.

Thai sunburn number two.

Sorry about that disturbing image... Here's something cute to make up for it. You can’t spend more than a minute in Tap Tawaan without seeing at least two of these little piggies running (or laying) around.

little piggies

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Thailand: Mystery Creature

Back in town later this evening at Ocean Bar where they have great free barbeques, Jess, a volunteer from Canada, noticed something crawling on the power lines across the street. I went over to investigate...

Can anyone identify this tailless creature?

Update: Meao at the TVC identified the mystery creature for me. And the name is... well... she knows the Thai name. So she wrote it down for me.

Can anyone translate?

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First day volunteering in Thailand

Today, in the village of Tap Tawaan, I sifted sand, mixed cement, cut bricks, made sure all the bricklayers had enough supplies, saved a cow in distress, and... watched on as a large room full of volunteers sat in a circle and watched a dog vomit five times. Read on for all the exciting and educational details.

In the mornings, many volunteers meet at the Nang Thong Supermarket to get a ride to their projects via sawngthaew (a pick-up truck with 2 benches in the back). Mine missed me somehow, but I was able to hitch a ride with another truck.

Sok works at another village called Nam Khem

Upon arrival, I found Andy, the project manager and he introduced me to Albert, a Dutch guy who leads the bricking team here at Tap Tawaan. He taught me the responsibilities of the “feeder”. He says the feeder is the most important job on the bricking team, since it keeps the brick layers productive by feeding them with cement, bricks, rebar, drills, drinking water, and so on. Some of the Canadian brick layers, however, prefer to use the crude term “brick bitch” for this job. All in good humour of course. :)

One of the perks of volunteering at Tap Tawaan is that the villagers make an amazing lunch each day (paid for by the Tsunami Volunteer Center) and there’s always plenty to go around. Today was gai (chicken), pak (vegetables), and khao (rice), with fresh fruit for dessert.

lunch at Tap Tawaan - that's Albert and Steve in the background.

A curious lunchtime visitor.

The homes in the current project at Tap Tawaan were originally built by a German organization called Malteser. However, for some reason they had no kitchen, so that’s what the Tsunami Volunteer Center is helping with now. Like all the TVC projects, it’s a cooperative effort between the villagers and the center, and I was impressed to see how productive we were. The bricking team finished bricking up two houses, and the rendering team started and finished the inside walls of one home.

At the end of the day, a cow across the road that had been yelling all afternoon was still quite distressed. As I had suspected, she had wound herself around a tree and was stuck. These cows were tethered by either a ring or a plug through their nostrils, so pulling to get away I can imagine wouldn’t feel so good. No one seemed to know who the actual owner was, so I decided to go help the poor girl and walked the heifer around the tree about six or seven times. I like the look of these cows. I think they must have been the inspiration for the look of Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars.


Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Every Monday night on the top floor of the Tsunami Volunteer Center, there’s a meeting where all the new volunteers are introduced, status updates are given by the project managers, and upcoming events for the week are announced. There’s also a “Thai vocabulary lesson” given by a few of the Thai volunteer staff.

Thai vocabulary lesson.

On this particular night, when Scott, the project manager for the Pakarang Boat Yard project was giving his update on the longtail boats being built, his cute but gimp-footed dog, “Lucky” decided to come upstairs to join the fun. Well, not only did he join the fun, but became the center of attention when he puked up a big ol’ load of something foul onto the floor near the stairs, and then just laid down casually in the middle of the room. As Scott continued with his update, Lucky began to wretch, and vomited again in the center of the crowd. Scott tried to go on, but was interrupted by laughter and groans from the volunteers as Lucky delivered his dinner once more. After Lucky graciously shared his culinary exploits 2 additional times, Scott let his associate take over the update and took poor Lucky home. Sorry kids, no photos of “lucky vomit”. Maybe next time. Ha.

Instead, here’s a view of the sunset from the top floor of the Tsunami Volunteer Center:

Khao Lak sunset

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