Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Wat Across the Street

Just across the street from my apartment is an old (1453) monastery called Wat Ched Yod.  I drove onto the extensive grounds today to have a look-see.  As I wandered around there were people "making merit" by doing several things for prayer.
One way is kneeling before an ornate golden Buddha alter with joss sticks in between palms pressed together and silently giving prayer.

Another way is by writing a prayer or a wish on a white stick that is propped up against the bodi tree (also planted in 1453) on the grounds.  One purchases the stick and writes the message or prayer on it.
With hundreds of propped sticks under the bodi tree, I wondered how often they get repainted and resold.

Another method of making merit with the Buddha that I saw was to make a donation to buy a brick and write your prayer or wish on it to be used somewhere on the grounds presumably to build a wall or other structure.

For more information about Wat Ched Yod see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wat_Chet_Yot

Friday, January 25, 2013

China Eastern Airlines

My flight from New York JFK to Bangkok was on China Eastern Airlines.  It was the cheapest airfare available at the time of booking and as far as I am concerned there is not much difference between airlines when it comes to getting you to your destination.  I have friends who vehemently disagree with me, but they fly more than I do and often use business class and notice the differences between airlines.  They know which airline serves the best food, has the best service, best seating alignment, and on-time record.  Most of these things don't matter to me, although I always like a good in-flight meal.

As I read through traveler's comments about this airline I was prepared for a grueling 20 hours endurance marathon.  People complained of almost every aspect of this airline, but I was committed to the best price and would suffer if I had to.

The beginning of the process was somewhat unsettling as I looked at several airline pricing search engines and when I found China Eastern I tried to go directly to the airline website to book as I usually do.  I feel more confident and comfortable knowing I am dealing directly with the company.  As it turns out booking directly is only available to residents of China.  My only other option was to book through a second party booking agent, Orbitz.  Not my ideal method of booking since I have been burned by using a second party booking site before, which was way inconvenient.  (Airline says the booking agent is responsible, booking agent says the airline is responsible).

Ok, I booked through Orbitz.  You only get the choice of "isle", "center", or "window" seat when booking and they put you where their computer puts you and that's it.  Can't change seating assignment.  I requested isle seats and for the long JFK - BKK 15 hour flight I would be very near the toilet.  Thought I would have to "grin and bear it".

Upon check-in I asked if my seat could be moved and the very pleasant desk agent gave me 4 different options!  I chose the exit row over the wing, hurrah.  Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.
Boarding was straight forward, everybody in a line, no row call-outs to fill the back of the plane first.  It was exceptionally fast and seemed to me more efficient.

This aircraft was an Airbus something or other and seemed as new as any other airline's equipment.  It did not have seat back entertainment, which I don't usually use anyway.  There were drop-down screens - one movie at a time.  Suited me since I rarely watch the movie anyway.  We got a wet towel before food service and drinks came first.  I had water and a red wine.  Dinner choice was "chicken rice" or "fish noodle".  I had the most delicious baked white fish with Chinese spiced noodles and vegetables.  I can't remember the second meal, but it was good as well.  Service was very good as when I asked for hot tea, which was not on the service cart, the FA brought it as soon as she could get back to the galley.

The second leg of the flight from Shanghai to Bangkok was similarly pleasant although my seat was not an exit row seat I was comfortable for the slightly less then 5 hour flight in the same type of aircraft.

I won't give China Eastern an A+, but I won't discount them for future travel either.

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Thai Market

I found my local market quite by accident while bike riding around the neighborhood the other day.  Its a large covered area open on all sides for easy access.  In a more-or-less sectioned fashion one can find fruits, vegetables, fish, sweets, and anything else needed for the kitchen.  Meat is further sectioned by a glassed-in area meant, I suppose, to keep cooler than the rest of the market.  Besides produce one can buy ready-cooked rotisserie chickens, and other cooked meats, fish balls, sausages of all types (the Thais love their weenies), but one thing I found missing in this market was the fried insects that are featured in other markets, but maybe I just haven't run across them yet.
You will notice that eggs are not refrigerated here and the sun was actually shining on this stack.  My guess is that they are so fresh and sold so quickly that micro organisms don't have time to take hold.  Food safety experts would not take kindly to the handling of unrefrigerated meat or other food practices here.  Perhaps America is a little overzealous in food safety laws.  I sometimes get soup or ready-made meals from steam tables that is only luke warm, a highly inappropriate practice in the U.S.
The young woman in the picture above (provided the pictures come through with his posting) was filming a travel segment about the market and the adjacent food stall building while I was shopping.  She was giving commentary in English, but I was unable to find out for whom her audience was intended.
Yep, things are different here and I think its best to relax a little about preconceived ideas and "do as the Thais do"

Saturday, January 19, 2013

New to Thailand

Let me start with "phew". It's been a stressful week arriving in Bangkok, trying to get over jet lag (that I'm still struggling with a little more than a week later), wrestling two suitcases and a carry-on (125 lbs.) on and off the overnight train to Chiang Mai, then getting my new apartment set up for living...yes, Phew.

When you consider "starting a new life", do you think of things like needing drinking water delivered, or getting a stove top to cook on? How about trying to buy products that only have Thai writing on the packaging? I got laundry detergent only because it has a picture of a washing machine on the label. Not so lucky with shampoo... which I picked because it was a familiar brand "for damaged hair repair". My hair may not be damaged, but that must be better than "for dry, oily, or thick hair", right? Turned out to be conditioner.

I think most of the necessities of living are done for now. I have a new bank account, but in order to wire funds from my U.S. credit union, the documents must be notarized. Who knew that: 1. The bank never heard the term "notary", and 2. Only a lawyer can notarize in Thailand.... at $30 to $50 per page!

I've been exploring my neighborhood little-by-little as my energy level lasts. What I've found is that I really prefer to do as much as possible in my own neighborhood so I don't have to travel far in this rather large city. I've rented a motorcycle, but it's pretty taxing getting from one side of town to the other. Traffic is heavy and if there are such thing as road rules nobody cares about them... motorcycles are especially vulnerable on these roads.

There is trouble uploading photos to the blog and the process is supposed to be loading as I continue to write, but I may have to post this without photos until I can learn how to do it here. It seems some things on my computer have changed now that it resides in Thailand. I'm also getting warning signs that there is trouble saving or publishing this blog entry, so it may not actually get posted... we'll see.

Perhaps I won't write more now since the photos aren't working and there's no guarantee this will post at all. More to follow as I figure it out.