Friday, December 29, 2017

Bamboo Structures part 2

For the second post about the bamboo structures at the international school, I refer you to my friend Dave's blog post in which he has much better pictures than mine.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Bamboo Structures in Thailand


After seeing an interesting and artistic bamboo arched entryway to a showplace of bamboo architecture in Chiang Mai, some friends and I stopped in one day to check it out.  The name of the company that builds artistic bamboo structures is Chiangmai Life Construction.

The structures on display there were wavy, undulating roofed examples of the artistry built into these covered areas for living or just lounging.  It was explained to us that builds could be tailored to the client's needs, including glassed in areas for air conditioning containment.  There were also adobe walled more traditional structures that then had artful roofing on top.  These are built as more traditional living spaces with interior walls, but showed off the whimsy of the architect with bottle-bottoms incorporated into the walls.

What clued us in to this place was a Facebook post about an international school that had a bamboo basketball court.  So while at Chainamai Life Construction we were told about this school and if we liked, the receptionist could show us the school and its structures the following Saturday when students would not be in attendance.  So.... to be continued regarding Panyadin International School.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Portugal, the Final Narrative

Franchesca, our faithful virtual navigation talking head, accepted our request to guide us to our apartment rental in Porto, a 4 hour drive to the north.  Although she didn't have much to do on the highway, she kept reminding me of the speed limit when I would inch upward on the speedo.  It was when we actually arrived in the metropolis that she began her urgent commands.  True to form all three passengers chimed in with differing opinions on what she was directing.  Turn left in 300 meters, "not this turn, it's not 300 meters yet".  "Yes, it's this turn because I don't see any other turns".

With several "redirecting" utterances from Francisca, we arrived in front of our digs for a week in a truly beautiful spot directly overlooking the Douro River.

Our landlady was very accommodating and gave us information about where to eat and shop. She even provided a nice cinnamon cake and a decanter of port wine for our enjoyment.

 Just a couple blocks off the main riverfront tourist area was a fantastic local restaurant where, on the several times we visited, never saw a tourist.

The main city was just across this bridge just 100 meters from our front door.

The view from the apartment gave us a  relaxing panorama of the Douro River and the main city across the way.

The streets on our side of the river are steep and wind aimlessly up.  The main streets of Porto proper are also steep, but lucky for me there is a funicular that gets one up pretty high to start a walking tour so its not so strenuous.
And now a word about port wine:

It was the English who started importing wine from Portugal because of feuding with France in the early 1600's.   In the beginning the regular wine from this area, the best in the country, couldn't stand
the long travel time by boat to England, so they discovered that by fortifying the wine with added alcohol, the wine could easily be transported.

So the fortified wine became to be known as Port named for the region. "Moonshine" or other high alcohol medium of 77 % alcohol, which is typically called "Brandy" is used to bring the port up to 20% alcohol which stops fermentation. Stopping the fermentation leaves the residual sugars in the grapes intact which makes it so sweet.Interesting, the fortification alcohol for port comes from South Africa.

We took and all day boat trip 100 kilometers up the Douro to see the growing area.  Our relaxing trip included breakfast and lunch on the boat which transited two enormously high locks. The return trip to Porto was by train which gave new views of the countryside since it didn't follow the river.

There are 14 grape varieties used for white port and 15 varieties are used for red port. Red is divided between Ruby and Tawny.  Ruby is young, typically only a couple years old. Vintage Tawney can be up to 20 to 50 or more years aged in the bottle. 

Each vintner employs their own cask makers which make typical barrels to thousand gallon holding tanks 20 feet tall.  Portuguese oak forests have been decimated, therefore American and French oak is imported for cask making. Casks last 100 years or more and can be used after port making for French cognac, then for Scottish whisky, then for Cuban rum, although apparently shipping of casks is prohibited under international law.

Cork is used for capping, so far no screw caps.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Spain and Portugal Blog #2

I left off of the previous blog with a question which has since been answered (at least to my satisfaction).  I mentioned our Norwegian flight went directly over Iran and Iraq.  I have found that U.S. airlines do not overfly these countries and other carriers are mandated to fly higher than ground-to-air missiles can reach.

So now our troupe of 4 have reached our lodging (and the picture above is not it).  Pictured above is a "castle" inside the grounds of a natural park with extensive gardens which even included a couple Giant Sequoia trees.

We rented a 3 bedroom house several miles west of Lisbon in order to be out of the fray and still near the coast.  We had a full kitchen, outdoor barbecue, and even a small pool.  The owners were very accommodating and gave us some pretty nice wine.  He is a stamp collector and I promised to send him some stamps from Thailand for which he was very excited.  Coastal access from our place was a short car ride and some even walked it for exercise.  One lucky stroke of luck was when food shopping we stumbled on to the wine buyer for the supermarket who, in his knowledge of wine, guided our hanging out tongues to several really nice selections.  On subsequent shopping trips all we had to do was duplicate our list.

This area where we stayed was a virtual warren of small villages and narrow streets with an occasional connecting road between them.  Fortunately I had downloaded Spain and Portugal on my "Open Street Map" phone navigation which guided us through the labyrinth, although there was much discussion in the car about how far "300 meters"was, or where the "next right" was.  We named our navigation's voice Franchesca and alternately praised her when we got it right and cursed her when it was obviously our own stupidity.

This stretch of the Atlantic seemed somewhat rougher than my experience with the Pacific of California.  It was kind of fun to point out to sea and say "there's New York over there", but of course you couldn't even see the Azores 700 miles distant.

My housemates, determined to walk distances as they always are, took a long coastal trek while I drove further up the coast and then back down to a predetermined meeting up spot.  We ate a nice fish lunch, which we did on multiple occasions, overlooking the ocean.

Something I learned is that Portugal is the largest consumer of cod (fish).  Not fresh cod, but dried and salted cod.  More interesting is that there has never been any cod in the waters off Portugal.

Here's the (short version) cod story:

In the 10th century, the Vikings were the first to dry cod which enabled them to sail great distances landing in Greenland, Iceland, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and even as far south as Maine. In more modern times, cod was fished down as far as Boston and the Gorges Banks off Massachusetts was teaming with the fish.  Hence the name "Cape Cod".  It's no coincidence that this is the natural range of the North Atlantic cod.
Vikings "freeze dried" the fish since the climate was so cold.

Centuries later the Basques began bringing in cod and their fishing grounds were kept a secret, which turned out to be the Grand Banks off Nova Scotia.  The Basques, unlike the Vikings, had access to salt, and so, learned to salt the fish before drying which made it last longer.  Cod is the perfect fish to dry since it only has .3% fat and the fat is what degrades dried fish.  The Basques became rich from the cod industry and especially since Catholicism all but mandated people eat fish on Fridays.

So today "salt cod" is ubiquitous throughout Portugal, Spain, much of Europe and even Brazil.  It now comes exclusively from Norway and Iceland.  In Portugal alone there are no less than six grades of salt cod for sale depending on such things as how they are cut, the size and other factors I am not privy to.  I saw many cod shops in Lisbon but, alas, didn't buy any.

Lisbon for me was not as exciting as the first time I was there years ago.  It is very touristed and overcrowded and consequently I only spend an afternoon going there by train.  The picture above is the famous convent where the nuns used egg whites to starch their habits.  With the leftover egg yolks they made a tasty little treat of egg custard called pastais de Belem.  Belem being the neighborhood where the convent (and the pastry shop) are.  They are pretty damn good with an espresso!

Having enjoyed our time on the coast of southern Portugal we now ask Franchesca how to get to our apartment in the northern city of Porto.   To be continued in blog #3.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Spain and Portugal Getaway

In March, April, and May as the temperatures rise and the air quality declines here in Chiang Mai , I typically try to schedule some away time. Mid April is also the Thai new year and "Songkran Festival" where the tradition of gently pouring of water on the hands feet of elders has morphed into forcefully throwing water at traffic and flaneurs.  Sometimes ice cubes are included in the thrown water making the practice even more dangerous and unpleasant, especially for motorcycle riders.

This year I planned a trip to see some longtime friends who live near Seville and meet-up with a friend living in the U.K.  Our plan was to sojourn by car from Spain through the length of Portugal spending a week near Lisbon in the south and a week in Porto in the north.

My flight from Bangkok to Malaga, Spain was on Norwegian Shuttle because of its no-frills cheap fares.  It was $300 one-way and $300 returning from Madrid plus about $35 for hot food service that I consider essential on a long flight.  Lots of folks brought their own food on board for the savings. On Norwegian, you pay for any extras you want such as food, baggage, seat selection, etc. The only drawback is that the flight flew north to Oslo before the connecting flight flew back South to Malaga. On the the plus side is that Norwegian uses the new Boeing Dreamliner for its long-haul flights.

Yes, it's about 10 hours to Oslo, but it was a very comfortable flight with lots of leg room  and the lighting system on the Dreamliner helps to reduce jet-lag because after cabin service is completed the cabin goes dark which calms the passengers so sleeping is easier.  A couple of hours before landing the lights gradually and gently replicate sunrise and a final cabin service is completed before landing.

One thing that interested me is that we flew directly over Iraq and Afghanistan.  Are passenger airliners immune to air attacks?  Or as one friend speculated "It wasn't a U.S. carrier".

Once in Malaga. I gave myself a few days to recover from jet-lag and explore one of the oldest cities on the Spanish coast, the "Sunshine Coast".  It's an obvious old fort-protected city as evidenced by the tangle of narrow streets, many of which are pedestrian only.

The train trip north to Seville took about 4 hours and the highlight, besides going through vast orange orchards, was the spectacular canyon with vertical rock walls reminiscent of the rock walls in Yosemite.  As a popular climbing and trekking site the view from the train revealed a hanging walkway built of wood.  Apparently this was access to an original water flume that in decades past delivered water to distant towns.  The walkway is miles long and is a favorite among Spanish trekkers.

This trip only allowed a couple hours in Seville, which I have explored in greater detail in the past.

This, the Guadalquivir, is the river Columbus used to get to the Atlantic Ocean, nowadays plied by tourist sightseeing barges.

And now on by bus an hour north of Seville to the property of my U.K. friends, Nicholas and Caroline.  They have what looks like about 10 acres to me, all very natural as Nickolas, the botanist prefers a natural flora and fauna setting to trimmed, manicured trees and bushes.  Caroline is growing a few non-native plants and flowers near the entrance and of course they have an extensive garden.  The "finca" (ranch in Spanish) is a great place to hang and relax listening to native birds, the most recognizable were the two cuckoos on either side of the property.

Sunsets were a favorite time on the west patio with guacamole, chips, olives and of course cheap and abundant wine.

While visiting with Nicholas and Caroline we explored some nearby hill villages both on foot and by car.

This is the untouristed town of:

You can see the nesting black and white stork on the church steeple, but what you can't see is how steep the hilly streets are!

Throughout the mountains of the Extremadora area are cork oaks that have been harvested as this photo shows.  It takes about 9 years to grow enough new bark to harvest again.  Some oak forests have been planted and managed and other oaks grow wild on private land.  There are occasional bands of harvesters who systematically pass through and will harvest the cork on your property and pay a percentage of the harvest.

One of my favorite hill towns pictured here is called Cartegena with the requisite castle.  It is relatively small, but large enough to have a couple banks and grocery stores.  It also has two "casinos" which are social clubs, one of which is pictured below.

This idealic town just might be on my short list for spending a month or more next year during Songkran.

One more thing before leaving the finca is the cave system in the nearby town of Arecena.  The caves are actually in the hill underneath the castle and are quite extensive and beautiful.  Many movie scenes have been shot here including Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  The guided tour takes about 90 minutes, so be sure to pee before hand.

OK, enough for this blog.  To be continued where I learn about cod (yep, the fish) and port wine.......

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

'Thailand has certainly bought into the commercialism of Christmas but ignore the religious aspect.'     The weather is so much milder than Maine's and yet it still gets quite hot in the "hot season" of March/April.  Christmas time is "cold season" which is the most pleasant time of the year.  Strawberries are in season and flowers come into bloom

Happy Christmas (as the Brits say).  This Christmas finds me almost 4 years into my life here and what a pleasant time it's been.

The King has died as you probably know and was like a father figure to the Thai people.  Many have never known any other king as he reigned so long.  As beloved as he was his passing was (and still is) a very big deal.  We are still wearing black in remembrance and all of Thailand is toned down.  Many bars and entertainment venues closed, but gradually are coming back on line as imposed restrictions are relaxed.  Wearing black (or pure white) was deemed the proper attire by the authorities and that too is fading slowly.  Some Thai people will wear black, and you really stand out if you don't, for a full year and all civil employees are mandated to wear black for a year.  As I usually wear a Santa hat this time of year, I had this one made by our nearby sewing lady.  The Thais seem to really like it because it shows respect but at the same time a tiny bit of festiveness.  My expat friends think it's stupid.  Apparently there is a line between silly and stupid.

My limited travel this year was to Singapore from where you can "see the equator", which makes it kinda warm, kinda humid, kinda energy sapping.  There is a huge contrast between walking out of air conditioned buildings and into the street.  Think refrigerator/oven.  There are some interesting sections of town like China Town where these full-sized puppets were just hanging around waiting for the next show.  The Arab section has some amazing Middle Eastern food as does the Indian section.  I actually made two trips in order to see everything and the highlight was "dining in the dark" where the dining room is totally dark and the waiters are blind.  What a fun experience trying to figure out what was being served by smell and taste alone.  I soon found that feeling the food helped a lot.  I was thinking they must have saved a lot by not having to paint or decorate!

All things considered it's been a good year although recently ( and why you didn't get a holiday card from me in the mail) I've had some shortness of breath issues.  It's been a slow process to investigate the problem and just last week had an angiogram for suspected clogged coronary arteries.  The test showed clear and free arteries with great relief, but still leaves the issue undiagnosed. Doctors are now investigating thyroid hormone imbalance.

I've had visitors.  Last Christmas Gary Edde and his friend Daniel came for a week and we breezed through a list of things to do and see.  They have been inspired to take motorcycle riding courses in the states because of all the motorcycling they saw here.  There's nothing comparable to two wheel riding in the mountains of the tropics.

Just last month my high school buddy Mayte came for a week and I got out the old list and added a few things like the elephant camp (at her request) and the traditional kantoke dinner and cultural show.

I have moved into a small, very small two bedroom house this year in an exceptionally quiet area outside of town.  This area was the original capital of Chiang Mai over 700 years ago.  All that is left of the town are scattered foundations and a few stupas that have been dug out of the overlaying ground,  I'd estimate this warren of windy tiny streets is maybe 50-60 acres and was abandoned way back when because of flooding from the nearby Mea Ping River, which is why these ruins are a meter or more below the present ground level.  In fact this part of town is called "sea shell" in Thai. The river now has flood control gates that prevent flooding in the area (hopefully).  My little house is next door to a wat and I often hear chanting and at 5:20 each morning a low gong is struck to perhaps calling the monks to start their daily alums rounds. I am usually awake by this time and if not it's a gentle reminder of what time it is.                                                                                                                  
There is still military rule here and as such our immigration rules and regulations have slowly tightened up.  There is more paperwork and timing of renewals of various reports that have some thinking of leaving the country.  It's certainly not to that point for me, but there is a level that would make it too difficult to stay.  For this reason I only rent.  As it is I report my address (in person) every 90 days, then renew my "permission to stay" (in person) annually.  If I leave the country I need a re-entry permit (another trip to immigration), otherwise my visa would be cancelled (and it's a bitch to get a new one).  Newly introduced is a report to immigration of the address you intend to stay when returning from out of the country (in person)... *within 24 hours of your return*.  We also now have to fill out a form of personal information which includes such things as Facebook account, email address, vehicle registration, places you frequent, your bank and account number(s), and other silly info.  It's not hard complying with all this, but you have to keep good records and a calendar, which many expats either can't or won't do.  Of course there are agencies that will track everything for you, but the price is high and going higher.

Even though the glow of a new and different culture has warn off, I still love Thailand,

Best to you all,

Daniel Croddy
172/2 Moo 11, Baan Chang Kham
T. Tha Wang Tan, A. Saraphi
Chiangmai  50140


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Yuksom, The End of the Road

My time in Yuksom was magical.  There's something about the alpine quality of fresh, clean, crisp air and views to the high peaks that put me in that mood.  People there were delightful as well and as I mentioned in the last post always seemed to be singing.

My $25 room at the Tashi Gang Hotel was the most comfortable of the trip so I decided to stay awhile.  When you have a nice room with locally made carpets and wall hangings and a balcony from which to watch dramatic thunder storms you naturally want to linger (at least I do).

Yuksom is the starting point for a very famous 8-day trek up to a viewpoint pass called Goecha La at 16,000 ft. (5000m).  The trekkers I talked to said this is one of the more difficult climbs but exceptionally rewarding in beauty and views.  Hikers must spend a rest day at 14,000 ft. to acclimatize to the altitude, so it takes 5 days up and 3 days to return to a hot shower and a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant.

In my days of hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California it was assumed you would carry a heavy backpack with everything needed for several days.  Of course there were the pack trains that used horses, but I was never one of the fortunate ones who could afford such luxury.

What I found out here in the Himalayas is that yak or pony trains carry all your stuff and you are not limited to what you can take.  (I remember cutting off the handle of my toothbrush to reduce the weight of my pack)  With a group of 4 trekkers a typical outfit would have 6 yaks carrying all the food, camping gear, tents, pots and pans and personal gear for the trekkers.  The trekkers would wear a small day pack with water, camera and maybe some snacks..... that's all!  While the yak tenders trudged up the trail (in gum boots no less), the trekkers wander up the trail rather aimlessly snapping photos
and looking at butterflys.  Trekkers don't stay with the pack train.  When camp is reached by the pack train, the tenders unpack, set up camp, tents, and begin to cook dinner.  When the trekkers arrive in camp, which could be before or after the pack train, they just kick off their boots, relax in camp chairs and wait for dinner to be served.  This wonderful service comes at a price of only about $55 per person per day.  A real bargain in my book!  Unfortunately I never saw a person riding either a yak or a pony, which would have to be my mode of transportation at this altitude.

During my stay in Yuksom I saw 4 groups depart for the high country.  One family on school holiday from Spain consisted of mom, dad, and 2 girls aged about 13 and 14.  It was the older sibling's birthday present to do this trek.  They all wore tennis shoes!
Treks from here ascend this steep valley and after 4 days of uphill climb the reward is a very close view of this peak, the third highest mountain in the world called Khangchendzonga which is 8,600 meters high.

The yak and pony pack trains know the trail very well and do not need anyone to tell them where to go.  Their tenders just follow.

It was a pleasure to walk the neighborhood in little gem of a town where everyone seemed to be going about their business singing.  Even the young kids sang while playing.  The population here is heavily influenced by Tibetan and Nepalese cultures.  The greeting here is "namaste" and I read that there are 11 languages spoken here, none of which is Hindi.

While the electricity went out fairly often, the kitchen could cook on gas and use candles for lighting so guests never went hungry.  In such a laid-back part of the country electricity is a luxury and residents just don't make a habit of depending on it.  It was mainly the ferocious lightning and thunder storms that came up each evening that caused the outages.

With my motorcycle rental period coming to an end I had to leave this idyllic Shangrila and venture back towards Darjeeling.  I wanted to see the only tea plantation in Sikkim, so I asked the desk clerk to make me a reservation at a hotel there.  It was said to be a 2 hour drive to reach, but without road names or numbers (or road signs) I got irreversibly lost and after 6 hours driving just switched off the motorcycle and stayed in a nondescript town where I just bought the tea from the plantation I had missed.