Ode to a Thai Fruit Trilogy

My fridge stinks. Or at least it did, weeks ago when I first decided to do this post, and decided I really felt like opening with that line, even if it’s no longer exactly applicable.

But yes, it stank, but in a way that became a little less offensive over time, in the same ways that at the beginning of durian season you can’t help crinkling your nose anytime a truck drives by laden with the spiky, unapproachable fruit; but after a week-or-so a stroll past the marketplace tabletops piled high with the beasts only leaves you salivating.

Or me, anyway. I know I’ve addressed durian before on one of my previous blogs, but the season has rolled around again and there was a period when we couldn’t go five minutes without coming upon a mountain of durian for sale; without one being pushed into our arms by a coworker; (and as a result) without the kitchen becoming permeated with its musty odor each time the refrigerator door was opened.

So I thought it was worth revisiting them, as well as two other popular Thai fruits that find themselves in season now and that have worked a very definite way into our hearts and stomachs. Durian is known around much of Asia as “the king of fruits,” for reasons I though initially dealt with health but which a friend who cultivates them has explained differently. He says simply that the trees can grow to enormous heights and the fruit ends up growing physically above all the other fruit, like a king overlooking his empire (okay that goofy bit of figurative language was mine, not his). Also, the flowers on the tree can have a bit of a crown-like look to them. That being said, they are quite healthy in that they have good cleansing properties and are full of good fats, not unlike avocados. (Though it’s funny to hear the Thais say that they can’t eat too much of it or else they’ll get fat.)

Of course, in the eloquent words of Bret Michaels, every rose has its thorn, or rather, every durian its spike. In areas where they’re grown in large numbers, the farmers cover the area between the trees with a net that’s high enough to walk under to prevent durian-related-death-by-head-pummeling. The spines and tough rind also make opening them a bit of a chore; whereas vendors often have protective leather gloves and proper cleavers, if they don’t get them started well enough for you, the customer, you might end up with a raw knuckle or two as you try to work your way in there. They also have internal heating properties, so it’s recommended to not eat them at the hottest time of day or with alcohol (well… I don’t know if there’s actually a correlation there, but we’ve heard numerous accounts of them not being advisable to eat with alcohol. At what risk, I’m not sure.). And then there is that whole smell factor to get past (though I still claim when they’re perfectly ripe there’s almost no smell at all), and the texture (“slimy”s a word no one really likes associated with their food but with many durian it fits the bill). Basically, I always tell people it took me three tries before being able to eat and actually enjoy a durian, but now I’m positively, literally, obsessed with them, no phobias about it. (Family joke! Did I mention my family’s in town, or rather Bangkok, or rather four fifths of my family? Hooray!)

Just one more thing about durian. These smaller, rounder durian seen in all my photos today are known as “durian baan” or “home durian.” You’ll also often see enormous durian with big bulbous protrusions and these are called “mong tong” (or something like that). The durian connoisseurs we’ve come across all prefer the durian baan hands down, as the mong tong come from grafted trees, which have created somewhat of a monoculture in certain areas, and also (according to them) just don’t taste as nice. My palate’s not that strongly refined but I will say that durian baan are often around 20 baht per kilo, as opposed to a standard 60-70 for mong tong. And since mong tong are such bigger fruit you might end up dropping a good 120 baht on one durian!

Every king needs his queen and that applies in the fruit kingdom as well. And in the fruit kingdom, mangosteen is queen. Again, I’m not certain of the qualifications that have named her such, but I do know it’s recommended to eat durian and mangosteen together because the cooling properties of mangosteen can counter the durian’s warming abilities. Anyway, people are far less hesitant to sink their teeth into a mangosteen than durian, though mangosteen also have a bit of an uninviting exterior. Once you crack open the hard, deep purple shell (which can be used as a natural insecticide. Bonus! [Haha, that’s for you, David.]) there’s a soft, white, sweet-ish, sour-ish, almost citrusy flesh that’s just oh-so-good. I’m actually stuffing my face with them between paragraphs right now. They’re in season in Thung Song right now and we get handed them by the bagful.

that white bag is full of them too.

And finally, rambutan, another of Thailand’s “alien pod fruits” as one friend has termed them. They’re impossible to pronounce in Thai: ‘ngo’ — the vowel and consonant sounds are just not within my ability to master. (In Thai, durian is pronounced the same, and mangosteen is, ‘mankoot’.) They’re similar to lychees (but easier to open) and I can snack on them for hours!

Links about benefits, if you’re interested:

Benefits of durian
Benefits of mangosteen
Benefits of rambutan


Campaign Day

Local elections were never anything that generated much interest in my immediate surroundings growing up, as far as I can remember. In fact, I can only recall the slightest of details about one that went down when I was living in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas as a 6th grader. We were briefly told a few things about both candidates, I don’t even remember exactly what they were running for, and the only reason I remember this at all is because one of the candidates was named Tom Sawyer. (Now that I think about this I’m not even 100% sure this wasn’t a dream, or some fanciful mock-election activity concocted by our teachers. But I’m pretty sure it was real.) (For the record: BOOM!)

In any case, it’s been my experience that politics– or at least their biased presentation– has no place in American schools. I remember my US/World Government teacher getting hugely agitated when one of my classmates took a peek in her computer cabinet, discovered some John Kerry stickers, and proceeded to inform the class that “Ms. Schlacter’s a flaming liberal!!!” It’s a dirty game and its best to leave the children out of it, right?

Not so in Thailand. Last Sunday was the Mayoral Election, and the atmosphere was definitely present in the school. I suppose it’s worth re-iterating that our school is a Municipality school: we are government employees; our checks are signed by the mayor (which has, allegedly, been one of the reasons they’re so consistently late). Two weeks ago an awards assembly in the morning was interrupted when the mayor himself decided to drop by, speak charismatically to the kids, and distribute posters and literature amongst them. Speaking to the teachers at school, one definitely got the impression that they all felt a bit obligated to vote for the incumbent ‘because he was their boss’.

Last Wednesday, we were instructed to come to school wearing yellow (the King’s color, and not that of either candidate– the incumbent is green, his challenger pink, if you were wondering) so that we could walk around in the morning campaigning with the kids. This ended up being a 20-minute stroll around the block, with nary a soul to see all the fine posters the kids were holding, that canceled all our morning classes so I can’t say that I minded. I also don’t know what any of the posters said and no one could explain them, so I guess maybe it’s not fair to assume they partisan in any way. But through the sweltering heat it was a nice walk that resulted in a few nice pictures so here you go.

But first! An almost completed puzzle:

when we went to koh tao our friends claire and jean started this puzzle. i finished it, only by cheating (the pieces are numbered on the back and it was totally necessary– all the grey looks almost exactly the same and the puzzle’s so poorly made that lots of pieces that weren’t really meant to go together were able to fit together.) i thought trix might have eaten one piece when we’d started it in our old house, but then i found it on the floor.

one of many ‘tiny pups’ around school… mangy and starving from day one. so sad:(.


the walk begins! the desk-and-chair graveyard behind one of the buildings.


the mythical forest cows.


why walk with the procession when you can ride your motorbike at a steady 2km/hour?

thai stopsign. it says, ‘YOOT!’


also unrelated to campaigning: the bobblehead dog family on p’dum’s dashboard. the eccentric music teacher took us to lunch that day.





Thai Crash Course Part 6: Question Words

Question words are an integral part of any language-learning experience. In Thai, they’re often placed at the end of the sentence. There are also some irregularities and idiosyncrasies I’ll do my best to explain. As always if anyone notices and errors in my explanations or translations please point them out to me!

1. Mai (ไหม)

“Yes/No” question particle

This one’s probably becoming a bit Old Hat by now… you’ve seen it formally addressed in the Questions post, the Adjectives post and the Verbs post. But it’s probably the most common question word and something I’d be remiss to overlook in this post! It’s essentially a verbal question mark put at the end of “yes/no” questions, similar to the “ma” found in Mandarin. I’m sure from an etymological perspective there are a few reasons the word came about, but a possible one that springs readily to mind for me is this: Thai doesn’t change word order to serve the purpose of asking a “yes/no” question as we do in English (“Can you come?” v. “You can come.”), nor is it really possible to indicate a question is being asked by rising the tone at the end of the sentence– as we also do in English– without changing the tones (and therefore, the meaning) of the words themselves. Having a specialized word seems like a logical solution.

This makes asking “yes/no” questions quite easy, once you get the hang of remembering to tack on the mai. We’ve already seen this happen with such questions as “Sabai dee mai?” for “How are you?” (but literally, “Are you well/relaxed/comfortable?”, where sabai dee on its own simply means “well/relaxed/comfortable.”), “Ron mai?” (“Are you hot?”– lit. “Hot yes-or-no?”), and “Pad thai mee mai?” (“Do you have pad thai?”– lit. “Pad thai have yes-or-no?”). It can obviously be applied to more complicated questions as well:

“Hen peun proong-ni mai?” = Did you see your friends yesterday? (Lit. “See friend yesterday yes-or-no?”)
“Ao pai gin kao gahp chan mai?” = Do you want to go eat with me? (Lit. “Want go have rice with me yes-or-no?” NOTE: Remember to replace chan with pom if you’re a man!)
“Wai nam dai mai?” = Can you swim? (Lit. “Swim can yes-or-no?”)

Oh, and for the sake of being thorough: “Chop chan mai?” = Do you like me? (Lit. “Like me yes-or-no?” Again, remember to replace chan with pom if you’re a man.)

2. A-rai (อะไร)


Easily the next-most-common question word. As stated above, and contrary to what we’re used to in our native language, it should be placed at the end of a sentence. You’ve seen this already with “Cheu a-rai?” (“What’s your name?”– lit. “Name what?”)

“Chop gin a-rai?” = “What do [you] like to eat?” (Lit. “Like eat what?”)
“Mee a-rai?” = “What do [you] have?” (Lit. “Have what?”)
“Poot a-rai?” = “What did [you] say?” (Lit. “Say what?”)
“Tam a-rai?” = “What are [you] doing?” (Lit. “Do what?”)
Ma jahk pratet a-rai?” = “What country do [you] come from?” (Lit. “Come from country what?”)

If you haven’t properly heard what someone has said to you and need them to repeat it’s quite common to throw na (นะ) on the end of the word so it comes out as, “A-rai na?” Thai-language.com defines “na” as “a word added at the end of the sentence to soften it, make it polite, indicate pleading, disagreement, ordering, surprise, or emphasis,” similar to our “huh.” Basically it’s pretty widely used but I’ve personally only gotten into the habit of saying it in the phrase, “A-rai na?”

3. Nai (ไหน)


You’ve already seen this one as well: Pai nai? for “Where are you going?” (lit. “Go where?”), Pai nai ma? for “Where have you been?” or “Where are you coming from?”

Tee-nai (ที่ไหน) is often used when inquiring about location, but it is acceptable to leave out the “tee”.

“Ma jahk tee nai?” = “Where are [you] from?” (Lit. “Come from where?”)
“Satanee rot fai yoo [tee] nai?” = “Where’s the train station?” (Lit. “Station train is located where?”)
“Hong nam yoo [tee] nai?” = “Where’s the restroom?” (Lit. “Restroom is located where?”)
Koon/Rao yoo [tee] nai?” = “Where are you/we?” (Lit. “You/we are located where?”)
“Koon pahk yoo [tee] nai?” = “Where do you live?” (Lit. “You stay live where?”) (“Yoo” can mean both “live” and “to be located.” I find it helps to clarify the meaning by adding “pahk,” or “stay,” to the question.)

4. Kraai (ใคร)


Here’s an example of one that doesn’t always fall at the end. As a general rule I think as the subject of a sentence it goes at the beginning and as an object (“whom,” really) at the end, but don’t hold me to it. Also, just a pronunciation note: the “r” in this word is very, very soft; pronounced almost in your throat like a French “r”. This happens with many “kr”/”gr”/”kl”/”gl” combinations in Thai.

“Koon pai gahp kraai?” = “Who are you going with?” (Lit. “You go with whom?”)
“Koon rak kraai?” = “Who do you love?” (Lit. “You love whom?”)
“Kraai kaai kai gai?” = “Who sells chicken eggs?” (Haha… a tongue twister I just picked up from thai-language.com that I imagine requires a working knowledge of tones to successfully pull off.)

5. Meua-rai (เมื่อไร)


“Ja pai tam-ngaan meu-rai?” = “When will [you] go to work?” (Lit. “[Future indicator] go work when?”
“Ao gin kao meu-rai?” = “When do [you] want to eat?” (Lit. “Want have rice when?”)
“Pai hen nang gahp chan dai meu-rai?” = “When can [you] go see a movie with me?” (Lit. “Go see movie with me can when?”)

Meua (เมื่อ) on its own can be a sort of past tense indicator; a way to say “before” as well. Meua-wan (lit. “before day”) means “yesterday,” for instance.

6. Tam-mai (ทำไม)


I feel more comfortable using this one at the beginnings of sentences, but I think it can go equally well at the end.

“Tam-mai mai chop gaeng som?” = “Why don’t you like gaeng som?” (A sour orange curry that people eat like crazy in the South of Thailand but that we… genuinely don’t really like. A potential answer: “Preu-wa kit wa pliu gern!” = “Because I think it’s too sour!”)

“Tam-mai mai bork wa ja pai Krung Thep?” = “Why didn’t you tell me you’re going to go to Bangkok?” (A likely question to be asked at my school, even if I’d told them, say, two times before. In this case I’d respond, “Bork sawng krang lay-o!” = “I’ve told you twice already!”)

“Tam-mai ma Muang-Thai?” = “Why did you come to Thailand?” (Potential answers: “Ao son pasa-Angrit tee nee.” = “I want(ed) to teach English here.”; “Kit wa ahaan Thai aroi maak!” = “I think Thai food’s very delicious!”; “Kit wa pu-ying Thai soo-ay maak!” = “I think Thai women are very beautiful!”)

7. Yang-rai (อย่างไร)


So I’ll admit to almost never using this one but… it falls under the 5Ws+H order of questioning as we’re familiar so I suppose it must be included.

“Pai rong-ree-yin pai yang-rai?” = “How do you get to school?” (Lit. “Go school go* how?”)
*I never would have thought to put the 2nd “pai” in there but in thai-language.com I trust and they had it… They tell me it’s a “directional auxiliary meaning ‘away.'” Whatever that means.

“Chee-wit ben yang-rai?” = “How’s life?” (Lit. “Life is how?”)
“Tam kahp tom yum goong yang rai?” = “How do you cook tom yum goong?” (Lit. “Cook tom yum goong how?”)

Oh, I guess this is important too: one of the reasons I use “how” so infrequently here is that it’s not incorporated into the questions “How much?” and “How many?” These are as follows:

Tao-rai (เท่าไร)

“How much?”

“Nee tao-rai?” = “How much does this cost?” (Lit. “This how much?”)
“Ao tao-rai?” = “How much do you want?” (Lit. “Want how much?”)
“A-yoo tao-rai?” = “How old are [you]?” (Lit. “Age how much?”)
“Dong ror naan tao-rai?” = “How long do [we] have to wait?” (Lit. “Must wait long time how much?”)

Gee (กี่)

“How many?”

So tao-rai can actually be used for both but I think gee is more proper. It’s also useful in certain time expressions.

“Gee mohng lay-o?” = “What time is it?” (Lit. “How many hours already?”)
“Ja pai don gee mohng?” = “[You’re] going to go at what time?” (Lit. “[Future tense indicator] go at how many hours?”)
“Koon yoo tee-nee gee pee lay-o?” = “How many years have you lived here?” (Lit. “You live here how many years already?”)
“Koon ja yoo tee-nee gee pee?” = “How many years are you going to live here?” (Lit. “You [FT indicator] live here how many years?”)
“Mai roo gee kohn ja ma.” = “I don’t know how many people are coming.” (Lit. “Not know how many people [FT indicator] come.”)
“Ao gee kilo?” = “How many kilos do you want?” (Lit. “Want how many kilos?”)


Also one more tiny thing… I’ve recently learned that the who/what/where/when/how question words also serve to mean “anyone/thing/where/time”. As in, “Mai mee a-rai,” for “There isn’t anything,” or “I don’t have anything.”

An especially useful way to use this is followed by “gor dai” as follows:

a-rai gor dai: “Whatever”/”Whatever you like”/”Anything’s cool” etc etc.
kraai gor dai: “Who(m)ever”
tee-nai gor dai: “Wherever”
meua-rai gor dai: “Whenever”
yang-rai gor dai: “However” (as in “any way you like”, not as a synonym for “But”).

Other lessons:

Thai Crash Course Part 1: 6 Useful Expressions | Thai Crash Course Part 2: 5 Useful Questions | Thai Crash Course Part 3: 7 Commonly Used Adjectives | Thai Crash Course Part 4: 5 Useful Verbs | Thai Crash Course Part 5: Numbers

Little Rascals

My teaching experience has rarely involved students under the age of 7. In China, for some reason, I’d only been handed the higher-level kids, and I learned to really enjoy it. Whenever anyone would talk about their experience with, or I had to observe, one of the “Playway” (essentially pre-school) classes, I got stressed out just hearing about it. “But it’s fun! You just sing songs and color the whole time! Way better than dealing with grammar…” But I’m good with grammar. I– dare I even say it– kind of like it. A month before my contract expired I found myself slapped with a full-to-bursting (which at EF, thankfully, means only 15 kids) class of brand new 4-6 year olds who knew nary a word of English. I was almost in tears after my first 40 minute-session, trying to laugh off to Wayne that they still hadn’t learned how to ask, “What’s your name?”

But then it did get fun! They were awful cute, and just so self-unaware and innocent and I found myself laughing at them and myself all the time. At the end I was sad that I only had a month with them.

In Thailand I’ve also only had experience with middle-to-high school aged kids. Until about 2 months ago, when I started teaching some extra classes at a new after-school English center called Baan KruBik. Suddenly I had eight (and then nine) little rascals on my hands for three hours a week over the course of Thursday and Friday evenings. I’ll admit it was often hard to get myself motivated, upon finishing an already full work day, to go and teach again for 250 Baht an hour (roughly $8). But once we got into the swing of things I must admit I nearly always left the class with a smile on my face.

And now it’s all over! I taught my last class with them on Friday. Here are some pictures and a video of them.

(Funny[-ish] story regarding this song… It’s Tilly and the Wall’s appearance on Sesame street singing the ABC Song. Now, the kids loved it and despite the commentary about the one girl’s tattoos I found it to be an enjoyable and totally appropriate addition to my class. If you’re familiar at all with Tilly and the Wall [say, with this song, that resulted in my dad’s snapping of a CD I’d burned in high school], you might be surprised that they put out any kindergarten-worthy material. Now, Jack Johnson on the other hand… he’s a teacher’s dream. Put on “Upside Down” in class, and you’ve won the kids’ hearts for life. Put on a Jack Johnson YouTube playlist, and you’ve got ambiance for a full coloring session, right? Well… until the Andy Samburg-featuring “At or With Me” comes up, and you don’t realize what the video entails until you follow the direction of every child’s gaze and find them watching a full-on bar fight complete with knives and bottles being broken over heads. Whoops.)

(Oh also notice Krit, the much larger boy who moves to the back immediately. Krit is 9. I still don’t know why he was put into the class with the 4 and 5 year olds…)

my favorite game: hang flashcards around the room, shout out one of them, and make them all run to it! except namwan… who was in a bad mood that day and only wanted to color.

name-writing board race.

win-win was so excited he began to levitate!

looks like yok’s just lost a round of musical chairs… that is, cushions.

all out of musical chairs, all on one cushion, and all smiles!


my two prize troublemakers, son and yok.

good job guys!

Thai Crash Course Part 5: Numbers

i really want to get a thai number clock before i go home!
source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/philuknet/86399220/

After going through a few specific lessons I thought it might be a good idea to do something more general but no less useful: numbers. I’ve been making an effort to include phrases that come in handy when shopping, but of course you’ll find it more effective and easier to strike a bargain if you can actually toss around some numbers in Thai rather than just telling a vendor his or her wares are expensive! It’s very true that vendors are almost always more flexible and easy going when you demonstrate that you know a bit of their language. Obviously there are other situations when a working knowledge of numbers can be to your advantage so let’s get on with the lesson.

As you can see, Thais have their own system of writing numbers as well. However, our Arabic numerals are nearly as, if not more, ubiquitous than the Thai system, which is seen more on official documents and house numbers and such. (Source for the following number pics.)

1. Neung (หนึ่ง)

2. Sawng (สอง)

3. Saam (สาม)

4. See (สี่)

5. Haa (ห้า)

 (You’ll often see Thai kids writing “555!” on Facebook or the like as their equivalent of “lol”. Say it out loud, in Thai, and you’ll see why!)

6. Hok (หก)

7. Jet (จ็ด)

8. Bat (as in “vampire” or “baseball”) (แปด)

9. Gao (ก้า)

10. Sip (สิบ)

“10” (the number on the right face. the one on the left you should recognize as “8”!)
source: http://www.trollandtoad.com/p294068.html


Further notes:

  • Soon (ศูนย์) is “zero”. In Thai script it’s written as a big circle (as seen in the number “10” above).
  • Yee-sip (ยี่สิบ) is “twenty”. To continue counting by 10, you say the single digit+“sip”. (Sam-sip for “thirty,” See-sip for “forty,” Haa-sip for “fifty,” Hok-sip for “sixty,” Jet-sip for “seventy,” Bat-sip for “eighty,” Gao-sip for “ninety.”)
  • Et (เอ็ด) is the way to say “one” in any two-or-more digit numbers ending in one. (Sip-et for “eleven,” Yee-sip-et for “twenty-one,” Sam-sip-et for “thirty-one,” etc.) The rest of the numbers remain the same in their position as a final digit. (See-sip-sawng for “forty-two,” Haa-sip-see for “fifty-four,” Hok-sip-haa for “sixty-five,” etc.) Essentially, with the exception of the 20s and numbers ending in 1, you’re saying “[number]-‘ten’-[number].” A pretty simple system, really.
  • Roi (ร้อย) is “hundred,” and standing alone often serves as “one hundred” (though neung-roi and roi-neung are acceptable and even common ways of saying “one hundred” as well).
  • Paan (พัน) is “thousand,” and standing alone often serves as “one thousand” (though neung-paan and paan-neung are acceptable and even common ways of saying “one thousand” as well). The hundreds and thousands work just the same way as in English: [number]+”hundred/thousand.” (Sawng-roi is “two-hundred,” Haa-paan is “five-thousand,” Jet-roi is “seven-hundred,” Gao-paan is “nine-thousand.”)
  • Here it gets a bit more complicated, but as these numbers are so much less frequently used so this is kind of for trivia purposes more than anything. Meun (หมื่น) is “ten-thousand” and Sen (แสน) is “hundred-thousand.” 111,000 would be said as, “neung-sen, neung-meun, neung-paan.” 435,234 would be “see-sen, sam-meun, haa-paan, sawng-roi, sam-sip-see.”
  • Creating ordinal (“1st,” “2nd,” “3rd”) numbers is easy: just add the word “tee” before any normal number. (Kon tee-neung is “first person,” wan tee-sip-jet is “the 17th day [of the month]”.

Quiz yourself!

Part A: How do you say the following numbers in Thai?

1. 7     2. 14     3. 27     4. 86     5. 107     6. 812     7. 958     8. 1,234     9. 4,987     10. 312,683

Part B: How do you say the following numbers in English?

1. bat-sip-gao     2. hok-sip-haa     3. jet-sip-et     4. neung-roi-sam-sip     5. sam-paan-haa-roi-yee-sip-gao 
6. sam-roi-bat-sip-see     7. sawng-roi-gao-sip     8. jet-meun-gao-paan-see-sip-bat

Part C: How much more are you being charged as a foreigner?

(the top figure is for adults and the second is for children)
source: http://elinguistic.blogspot.com/2011/05/thai-number.html

Answers below: Continue reading

Koh Tao (The Bad and The Ugly)

I’ll apologize in advance for this entry being solely text-comprised. No photos were taken of the Bad and Ugly happenings on our last day on Koh Tao (and the getting home process), so time to slip on the ol’ reading glasses and bear with me!

As I mentioned in “The Good” entry, I’d decided to rent a bike to facilitate my passage back to Chalok Baan Kao from Sairee. As I also mentioned last entry, I did this in spite of the fact that I’d been taken for a bit of a ride (no pun intended, and to clarify: charged $50 for a microscopic scratch on a side panel) the last time I’d tried my hand at bike-renting on Koh Tao. To be extra cautious, I’d chatted and joked a bit with the man renting the bike in order to establish rapport, and Sam was clever enough to start snapping photos of all the small scratches already on the bike so that I wouldn’t get charged for someone else’s mistake. Mr. Rental Man kept laughing and assuring me that the small scratches are no problem, and that if I’m just honest with him we won’t have any issues. I handed over my passport (the universally required collateral on Koh Tao), and he handed me the keys. It seems significant in retrospect that in the process of doing this a guy walked up to us to warn us about this guy in particular because his friend had had issues before.

The fact of the matter is, as a few of us discussed upon my return to the dive shop, that people have had issues with every bike rental company on the island, because the companies very much survive off of the issues. Or, more specifically, the fines that the issues produce. Theses guys are renting brand-new bikes for the equivalent of $5 a day. Maybe $6 if the renter doesn’t have the heart or wits to bargain with them. This is not a sound business plan until they start bringing in the big bucks when people screw up. They not only want people to screw up; they need them to. And I did.

We’d considered the possibility of a joy ride around the island the next morning, but decided instead to buy our Chumphon-bound boat tickets at Mae Haad and then spend the day on the neighboring Sairee, where the bike needed to be returned anyway. Alas, three people and our luggage couldn’t fit on the bike, so I drove with Collette out to Mae Haad and we started searching around for the best option home. Suddenly she cried, “Oh my goodness! That’s Juan!” Juan was a Chilean guy she’d met in Laos whom she knew to be on the island, but as she had no way of contacting him she had lost hope of actually meeting up with him. What an amazing stroke of luck! What a delightfully small world! But Juan was not in the best shape. When asked, “So where are you heading now?” he responded, “To Kuala Lumpur. And I’m going to the hospital first thing!” It seems he had stepped on a nasty piece of coral, and was walking with a noticeable limp.

Upon buying the tickets Collette said they could just walk the 15 minute path to Sairee while I went to fetch Wayne, but being that Juan had a hospital-requiring hole in his foot I thought I might as well just drive them. Oh, and Sam thought maybe he’d left his vintage Oakley sunglasses at the bike shop and I said I’d check up on it for him, so I let them off riiiiight on our good friend Mr. Rental Man’s doorstep.

Mr. Rental Man was on the phone, so after sitting on the bike for half a minute to see if he’d wrap up, and then determining he wasn’t, I made to leave. But he motioned for me to stop, walked in his shop, and came back out with a piece of paper. “Oh God…” I thought to myself. “Did I fill it out to say I’d be back earlier? Is he going to try to slap me with a 1300 Baht late fee?”

Nope. His finger slid down to the bullet point on the contract stating, “ONLY 2 PERSONS ARE ALLOWED ON THE MOTORBIKE AT ANY TIME. IF 3 OR MORE PERSONS ARE SEEN RIDING THE RENTER WILL BE CHARGED A FINE OF 5000 BAHT.” $170. Way worse than a late fee. Way worse than anything, including replacing a passport, not that I really wanted to have to resort to that. I told him, “Oh no! I didn’t see… His foot was hurt… It was very short… I’m sorry I must go get my boyfriend… Be nice to me!”

I drove off with my heart in my mouth, trying to convince myself that he would indeed be nice; I’d explain, he’d respond to reason… But at the same time I just kept thinking of the conversation we’d had the day before… they want people to screw up. They need them to. And he had my passport… there was really nothing stopping him doing exactly what he’d indicated he would. When I got to Wayne he also tried to be reassuring. “Speak Thai to him. Tell him we’re teachers. Tell him what happened and that you can’t pay that much. Just stay cool.”

But when we arrived Mr. Rental Man (henceforth known as Mr. Jerky Rental Man, or Mr. JRM) made it clear from the beginning he was going to make the “staying cool” part difficult. He made us wait for five minutes before even acknowledging us as he parked another bike, and blew off all of Wayne’s attempts to be friendly and joke with him about wanting to buy the bike. When I began explaining just what had happened and why I was driving three people, in Thai, he stopped me and told me to speak English to him. He explained that his boss had seen us on the bike, and it was his boss who was insisting that mistake or not, we’d made an agreement and I had to live up to the agreement. Wayne asked to speak to the boss, and Mr. JRM began scrolling through his phone. It was then that I realized, from the language his Contacts list was written in, that he was actually Burmese and not Thai (though I’d heard him speak Thai the day before).

It didn’t take long for him to become blatantly rude… really getting in our faces when talking, accusing Wayne of lying to him, just being really unpleasant. I mean, the other guy who swindled me two years ago was at least a bit jovial, and even offered me tissues when emotion took over and the tears came (ohhhh women…). This guy was just nasty. So Wayne said we were going to the police station. I went along with it, but at the same time was wondering what they’d really be able to do; the fact of the matter is that I had signed the contract, and I had been caught in violation of it.

Wayne made the valid point that we had some potentially vital connections: we’d taught the police in Thung Song, after all, and just generally work for the Municipality. That had to mean something, right? So we went, and this cop with wonderful English stepped up to ask what had happened. I gave him a much more concise version of the story I’ve just shared with you, and concluded that I’d be willing to part with some money on account of my offense, but that 5000 Baht was excessive. Then came the most wonderful words I think I’ve ever heard:

“Oh yes… I think these men are very bad. We have many problems. [Produces a stack of motorbike rental fine documents about an inch-and-a-half thick, the top one displaying a fine of 8000-some Baht.] You say you live in Thung Song? I am from Thung Song, just come here for Full Moon Party [presumably to beef up the police force during this time, not to actually attend the festivities, though who knows…]. It’s okay, you can leave today. Leave passport. I go tomorrow, I tell him a lie. I tell him the embassy call me and say I must take your passport. Then I bring it to you when I come back Thung Song, maybe next week.”

Mind you, Thung Song isn’t exactly one of the major Thai cities… this was a coincidence-and-a-half and the corners of my mouth had about reached my ears as he gave me this news. I agreed that this was a very, very good idea; we exchanged information and I let him speak with one of our police-officer friends just to make sure everyone was on the same page; then headed back to the bike shop to return the bike and its key to the man without putting up any more argument or fight concerning the matter. Later, when I began to worry that maybe Mr. JRM might just dispose of my passport for good measure and called Chet (our new copper friend) to see his thoughts on the matter, he assured me that if the passport had been thrown away he would “arrest him for sure.” I didn’t have much of a choice but to take his word for it.

At this point I’ll include that it didn’t take long for a bit of sympathy for Mr. JRM to creep into my little ol’ heart. To have a job that required such negative interactions with almost everyone he went into business with (or at least one a day, I would imagine), to have been presumably forced to come here and get into such business on account of the lack of options in his own country… I started to almost feel sorry for making any extra trouble for him, and to really hope for his own sake he’d just part with the passport peacefully.

After that, we didn’t really have time for lazing around on the beach at all. Instead we met up with a confused and borderline-concerned Collette and Juan for an excellent lunch at the yet-to-disappoint New Heaven Café, visited my old buddy Tu (to whom I’ve been paying a visit every time I go to Koh Tao after Laura and I enjoyed his company so much on our first visit, and who also lives just outside of Thung Song. So random.), and headed back to Mae Haad to start the journey home.

what do you know, i do have a photo from the last day. this is from the chumphon pier at around 6 o’clock. from here we expected it to be smooth sailing but… no… things got ugly.

So nearly 1800 words into this post and we’ve only gotten through “The Bad.” I’ll be more brief with “The Ugly.”

Whereas we took a train to get to Chumphon on the way to Koh Tao, Collette remembered that she’d had more comfort and success with buses for the return journey. We had the boat-company-provided-taxi drop us at a bus station after leaving everyone else at the train station. We were informed by the ticket counter that the only bus to Thung Song was full just in time to watch the taxi that had dropped us off turn a corner and roll out of our lives forever. Collette was sure that wasn’t the bus station she’d left from before, but the ladies inside offered only blank stares when we asked where the other station was. Luckily a motorbike taxi driver outside knew of one, and said it was a mere half-kilometer down the road. He was also sure there was a bus leaving for Thung Song at 8 o’clock.

But he was wrong. So after walking to that station we had no choice but to head back to the train station, which we also did by foot. There we bought 150 Baht tickets for the train departing at 9 o’clock that would apparently move at the pace of an injured snail in order to get us to Thung Song at 3 in the morning. As we all had to teach at 8 the next morning this wasn’t the most appealing of options, but it seemed we had no choice. That is, until our waitress at dinner became savvy to our situation and offered the good news that there was a bus station just outside of town and she was sure there was a bus that left at around 9 and only took three hours to get to Thung Song! We let her make some phone calls just to be sure, and she came back offering all the same information. Yeah, we’d only get a 50% refund on the train tickets we just bought, and the bus would be slightly more expensive, and we’d need to take a 200 Baht taxi to get us to the station, but for added comfort and a few hours’ more sleep it seemed worth it.

And I’m sure it would have been, had there actually been buses. A bit of insecurity with the whole “plan” set in as soon as we pulled up to the bus station: our “taxi” driver asked if we were going to Phuket or Bangkok. It didn’t sit well that he had no idea what we were doing. Then the man at the first ticket counter looked really confused when we said the words “Thung Song” to him, saying he only sold tickets to Trang. After pressing him a bit his eyes lit up and he pointed to the ticket counter on the other side of the station, saying they had a bus to Thung Song but they didn’t serve food on it. As if this mattered to us at that time of night. So we crossed the station only to be told that that bus too was full. We asked the taxi driver if he knew the woman from the restaurant, and could he get her on the phone? Surely she’d talked to these people, even reserved tickets for us… Otherwise what were the phone calls for?! Why had we cancelled our for-sure tickets if there was a chance there were no seats on the bus?! He said the woman was his sister (of course she was), but getting her on the phone did no good. The bus was full.

In a last ditch attempt I went back to the original man to ask if his buses to Trang stopped in Thung Song. He responded, very enthusiastically, that they did, and also that there were tickets! Then Wayne showed up and asked the same questions and suddenly the answer was that there were no tickets. We were fed up. It was back to the train station, but by this time the original train we were booked on was also full. So we were forced to buy 300 Baht tickets on the 10:45 train that was scheduled to arrive in Thung Song at 4 am. In good Thai fashion, it was actually just after 5 when we finally set foot on the platform. Motorbike taxi home, the most solid and well-deserved 2 hours of sleep ever, and zombie-mode for the entirety of last Monday.

Worth it? Totally.

(Oh, and the conclusion of my passport fiasco: Called Chet on Tuesday to ask about the status of things. He seemed confused as to who I was at first, which was worrisome. Then he figured it out and told me that he already had my passport. Excellent news! Then Thursday, in the middle of my last class before my lunch break, my phone rang and Chet informed me he was in Thung Song and could I meet him at Sahathai that minute. To the kids’ eternal delight they got an early lunch and I ran off to fetch my passport. Chet earned himself a bottle of whisky, which he acted reluctant to accept in the middle of a department store, but I hope he enjoys it thoroughly, as he really did me just about the biggest favor imaginable. The end!)

Koh Tao (The Good)

(That parenthetical addendum is indeed to suggest that there’s a [The Bad and The Ugly] post to follow, but before you go ahead and get yourself in a fret I’ll spoil the suspense by assuring you that everything has been resolved.)

You’d think, as I’m really starting to feel the numbered nature of my days here in Thailand, I might be getting a head start on my desperate attempts to see all the places I still haven’t gotten around to visiting yet: Koh Lipe, Khao Sok, Pai (or really anywhere in the north)… the list goes on. In fairness, my family’s coming soon (16 days, to be exact! Not that I’m counting or anything…), and I’m planning on checking off a few of those yet-undiscovered places with them. Even so, Koh Tao is the kind of place that keeps calling you back, and last weekend Wayne, Collette, and I took our fourth/third (respectively) visits to the little island.

And it is a little island. But it has so much to offer, which we discovered especially this weekend as we drew ourselves away from the hustle and bustle of the Sairee/Mae Haad area to acquaint ourselves with the more remote and chilled-out Chalok Baan Kao side of things. Collette had ended up there months ago, on a suggestion by a stranger to do her PADI Open Water certification at Alvaro Diving, one of the handful of dive shops that are located on that beach. She found it to be a good suggestion then, and Wayne and I would come to agree over the course of our weekend. Wayne and Collette were both there to do their EFR/Rescue Diver certification (the last big step before becoming official Divemasters-in-Training!), and I just tagged along to do some Fun Dives. We stayed at the Taraporn Bungalows adjacent to and affiliated with Alvaro for 400 Baht a night.

Of course, first we had to get there. Last time Wayne and I went to Koh Tao getting there was a fiasco that involved a mini bus and two boat rides separated by a hectic and unplanned drive across the island of Samui. We were hoping to simplify (and cheapen!) things this time by taking an afternoon train to the port town of Chumphon on Wednesday evening, and then the night boat to Koh Tao. Though it was an unsurprising hour-and-a-half late, the train ride itself was fine. There was that lady in the restaurant car whom we seemed to have pissed off royally by inquiring as to whether we could order a vegan version of the sweet-and-sour dish, and the fact that when we came back to our car a Thai family had taken our places on the long benches and we were forced to attempt to sleep as best we could on the short seats they had abandoned, but other than that no problems!

We’d finally managed to drift off in the most creative of positions on the hard wooden seats when we were jolted awake as the train pulled into Chumphon. We collected our belongings, hurried onto two motorbike taxis who toted us off to the pier, where we were informed that we’d arrived with just 10 minutes to spare! This was welcome news, considering we thought we’d be waiting an hour, and also quite lucky because the train could have easily been much later. I think we were all knackered and prepared to sleep like rocks on the night boat (the night boat from Chumphon has lots of little beds, including pillows and blankets, for its passengers and can be quite comfortable. I hear from Surat Thani it’s more like millions of mattresses on the floor and altogether much less pleasant so if you’re torn between the two I say go with Chumphon.), but as the boat set off we met huge swells that rocked the boat like crazy and despite my attempts to envision myself as a large baby in a very large cradle sleep was reluctant to come.

But we arrived, safe and sound, at 5 in the morning, and had to wait only an hour for the taxi driver we’d organized to come fetch us. At this point day was breaking and we were able to catch our first glimpses of the yet-unseen beach. We had just enough time to muse to ourselves how lovely it was as we crossed the long walkway to Alvaro, still closed, before curling up on the cushions on the floor of the dive shop and finally getting some sleep– at 6:30 am.

he greeted me as we first set foot on the beach and i was sure i’d found a new friend for the weekend. alas, i only saw him but once or twice more 😦

early morning chalok ban kao

‘private beach’ in front of our bungalows.

our bungalows

breakfast at the buddha café– a godsend for divers! one of the only places open early enough to get your pre-dive (or in this case, post-morning-nap) eats.

alvaro’s over yonder

indian miner. i love these birds!

the ‘sitting buddha’ rock formation at one end of chalok bay.

wayne and collette had their 6-hour EFR course the first day, leaving me with lots of time to read, relax, and enjoy the surroundings.

paparazzi shot of the first aid role plays.

haha… not a bad afternoon!

at the bar next to alvaro they have all kinds of creative fish tanks…

sunset on the first day.

Our first night we spent with Miguel, one of the DMTs at Alvaro, eating at Taraporn Restaurant (where I’d taken a lot of the above shot in the daylight hours. Veggie sandwich on wheat: amazing. Pizza [though we’d been really excited on account of the proper oven]: so-so) and then watching some live music at the Buddha Bar just down the stretch. But for the most part, taking it easy because Wayne and Collette had more studies in the morning and I was finally getting to dive!

with roland and gunda on the way to the big boat!

shoot, the sweet swiss lady whose name i’ve forgotten and sam on our way to the big boat.

view from the big boat

beautiful, clear water!

I guess here’s where I could shed some light on the differences in my diving experiences on Koh Tao, and why I would definitely advocate taking your business to one of the smaller shops away from Mae Haad/Sairee if you’re thinking of doing some diving there. For one, smaller just means a more personal and intimate experience. We really enjoyed our time with Crystal Dive Resort when we got our Open Water certification in October, but though our dive group itself only had six people in it, the fact is that we were always with lots of people. On our dive boat itself, and then at the dive sites when sometimes two or three other very full dive boats would be diving in the same location. It makes things feel a bit hectic and crowded, which is not something you really want when you’re underwater. At Alvaro we not only really had the attention of the staff to ourselves (and a handful of others doing other courses or fun dives), the same was true of the dive sites. Not to mention that the dive sites where much, much better. Really interesting topography and lots of cool animals (including some friendly batfish and yet another turtle! Heavenly!).

I ended up doing two dives in the morning, at Hin Wong and Shark Island (so called, as it turns out, because the rock looks like a protruding shark fin, not because there are actually man sharks around. Drat!). That night Wayne and I also did a night dive at Shark Island, which ended up being much different than our night dive on Gili Trawangan. On Gili T there was quite a bit of a current so we spent most of our time with our fingers stuck into an uninhabited bit of sand, looking around for whatever we could find, which was still plenty cool. This time it was nice, still water and it was just us and our flashlights. Roland actually had an amazing underwater camera with a big light on it as well, so it sometimes helped to stay close to him to see some of the really cool stuff, including an awesome blue-spotted ray we were able to follow for a bit. It really is a whole different world at night!

While walking around with Alex, Nico, and Sam that afternoon (an American, French, and Australian trio also doing diving/snorkeling at Alvaro) I saw an advertisement for a Clean-Up Dive happening the next morning through the neighboring Sunshine Dive Resort. I’ve heard about these a number of times but the timing had always been off, and I was really excited to be able to take part. Not only are they free (and, like most people, I love free!), it’s nice to be able to be able to do something that you love and something that’s good for the world simultaneously! When I came to Collette, Wayne, and Miguel with my good news, the latter warned me that he’d heard these were often just marketing schemes to get people into various dive shops, and that rarely did the divers ever recover much trash. So I wasn’t sure what to expect, and decided to just enjoy my free dive.

wanna stay here when you come to visit, family?

This dive was at Lighthouse Bay, a fairly shallow dive site where I nevertheless found myself awestruck by the abundance of neon-blue anemones and funky giant clams. In my group were an English couple and Simon, our guide; both men holding big dive bags with which to collect the junk. A few minutes into the dive I found a little piece of paper that more or less disintegrated in my hand. “Pretty sure I could’ve just left that one…” I thought to myself. Then a Band-Aid, which I was a little reluctant to pick up but such was my duty! A piece of net too wound around a coral to be able to remove without damaging the coral– we were told first, of course, to do no harm. Many pieces of trash (years-old tractor tires, glass bottles, etc.) become very much incorporated into their environment and it’s best to just let them be.

And then we came upon what must have been a plastic bottle dump site. Within three or four depressions in a coral garden were more plastic bottles than we knew what to do with… It was a mad dash to collect them, buoyancy on everyone’s part just going out the window, until before we knew it both bags were entirely full! It was time to return.

The final figures for the collection amongst all the groups that went ended up being over 200 bottles, 2-3 kilos of fishing net, and over 20 kilos of trash altogether! If you ever have a chance to participate in a clean-up dive I would definitely recommend it. Here‘s Sunshine Dive Resort’s blog post about the affair (I’m responsible for one of the children’s sandals mentioned!:)).

our two bags filled with trash (mostly bottles)

unrelated, but an old ugly mean dog that reminded me of ollie.

We returned just in time for me to bid Collette and Wayne farewell and good luck on their final day of rescue training as they pulled away in the truck to take them to the boat. Our new friends Alex and Nico were also on their way to start their Advanced Certification, leaving Sam and I to hold down the fort. We decided to walk all the way out to Sairee, and then to hike up to the nearby viewpoint. It was an excellent adventure involving presumed princely hangouts, rope ladders, loud cicadas, men with guns, termites, and running full-speed down dirt paths, but unfortunately I only have photos of a few of those things.

the rope ladder… do we dare?

of course! sam has braved his fears and is now on his way to being an australian spy.

heading back down… excuse my mane of hair, i lost my hairtie on the dive. (yes, managed to lose a hairtie and my own band-aid on a clean-up dive… whoops…)

the rock we’d climbed up on.

on the way down.

The divers had returned right as we reached the foot of the mountain, but I had the key to Wayne’s and my bungalow and we were still all the way at Sairee and so I thought it a good idea to rent a motorbike to make it quicker to get back. Remembering the debacle I had last time I rented a bike on Koh Tao, we were proactive and took photos of all the minor scratches on the bike just to ensure I didn’t get ripped off again. This is funny in retrospect, but more on that next entry. (Yes, the intended “Bad and Ugly” entry.)

That night we had dinner at a nice Thai place with the people we’d been hanging out with anyway and a bunch of Miguel’s Spaniard friends. Afterwards we went to the Castle Party that happened to be going down that night. I think I’ve seen one advertised every time I’ve been on Koh Tao and never really been interested, partially because it was always far away from where I was staying. But this time it was within walking distance and we thought we might as well check it out. It was… interesting to say the least, but fun for an hour or two anyway.

more new friends getting down

haha… emo wallflower.

but so happy with some friends!

haha, pufferfish.

wayne is having a great time!

Then Wayne, Miguel, and I left and stuffed our faces at an all-night pizza restaurant. And it was good. Because this is the good.

But the next day, things got bad and ugly. I’ll tell you all about it later.