The cold of Ban Phar Kham
Driving a motorbike in the dark is not fun. Driving in the cold also. Not fun. Put them together and there is a whole lot of not-fun-ness going on.
It's was not a cold night in it of itself but the moment you add a 70kmh wind-chill your hands become unhappy.
How did I find myself in this pickle? Waiting on the side of the road for my friend to show up because I sped ahead. When you are waiting for someone there is a gamut of emotions that you get to run through. Stage one: You wait. "He'll be here any minuet now." Stage two: You start to get annoyed. "Nu! What's taking him so long? Did he stop again
?!" Three, you start to worry.
Stages two & three often go together. You can entertain yourself by switching back and forth between them. Other fun things to do while waiting: Curse yourself for speeding ahead. Plan what you will say when you finally meet up. Count the California licence plates. (none.)
Not that any of this helps when it's dark and cold and you have very little choice but to keep waiting. Then there is always the question of: "Did he fly past when I sat inside drinking that cup of coffee?"
"This is Thailand!" - teenage boy who kept me company while waiting in Ban Phar Kham.
Expats are Expats
Expats are expats. They often come fully equipped with expat friends and expat bars. You can spot them by the clothing or the accent; here in Thailand it's the face.
I spent last night in an expat bar with a food journalist who has been here for 3 years. It was different from expat conversations in Israel.
I didn't hear one complaint about the country, the people, the food or the culture. If someone moves to Chang Mai, Thailand it's because he wants to. For better or worse, with Israel there is this quasi-obligation. 1 part religion, 2 parts nationalism, and topped with a sprinkle of guilt. So it's not uncommon to hear "I'd never move back to _____, but sometimes the _____ here is...."
Maybe in Israel, olim are part expat and part refugee.
4 days on a bike
Monday night - Pai
I guess certain things are on the backpacker trail whether you look for them or not. Tonight was a traditional "recreate high-school" evening around a campfire with grilling fish and veggies in the coals. A few Germans, some Israelis, a Brit... Oh, and a vegetarian South African, a rare find indeed. On the whole it was nice. Roast garlic - Mmmmm!Tuesday night - Mae Hon Song
After a full day on a bike I'm wiped out. We're now in Mae Hon Song and tomorrow will be some small villages. I was passed by a few "Jeep Trek tourists" in their jeeps. We also met a few in the town while having coffee. "You got here how?!"
Lessons learnt: Coconut milk goes in the stir fry at the end, before the herbs. Use sunscreen. I think my nose is burnt.Wednesday night - Mae Chaem
The hour before sunset was the most beautiful ride I've ever done. Every single minute of flying down the mountains we wanted to stop and look at the view. The problem was time. The scariest part of our journey was the half hour after sunset when it just got darker and darker. No moon only headlights and I had to wear my sunglasses so as not to end up with bugs in my eyes. Please try to imagine my relief when we pulled in to Mae Chaem. Real streets and streetlights. And a bed.Thursday night - Chang Mai
We made it back to Chang Mai. By far yesterday evening was the most beautiful part of the ride. Khun Yuan to Mae Chaem - Wow!
This morning we set out early and it was freezing! Riding at 7am, in the mountains, in the cold. Around 8:45 I started
to warm up enough to enjoy myself.
Around Chang Mai
Apart from the fear of death there is very little reason not to take a bike up into the hills of Thailand. The roads are smooth, the hills are stunning, and the winding curves make for a wild ride! Chang Mai to Pai, to Mae Hon Sot, to Mae Chaem, to Chom Thong, to Chang Mai.
4 days in a circle around Chang Mai makes one weak. I was planning on finding a quiet place in some village for Shabbat but I'm not sure I want to bother. I just needed to share the view with whomever is reading this.
"Yes folks, it's the night of January 16th and our fearless Asian correspondent Trisha Takanawa is eating her dinner. Dining kosher as she tries to do, she feels an immediate connection to her Jewish Eastern European ancestors. Or maybe that's because her dinner consists of boiled potatoes and rice."
Come see exciting Lao! Home of lots of tasty food that I can not eat.
Nong Khiaw to Luang Nam Tha
Breakfast was 3 hard boiled eggs and lunch a Snickers bar. I grabbed the candy bar from my bag while jumping from a songthaw to a minibus at the Udom Mxai Bus Station. A Songthaw is a pickup truck with 2 benches in the back facing each other (song is 2, thaw means row). Usually the top has a roll cage with a cloth cover. Inside can be any number of occupants. Any number of occupants is the case for all modes of transport in these parts. I haven't had the pleasure but I've heard stories of a bus with 25 people, 15 chickens & pig (or three).
It's now 3:30pm. We left Nong Khiaw at 11:30, I have no clue when we'll get into Luang Nam Tha. At least I was able to buy another bottle of water..... Ah! My favorite! One minute out of the bus station and we stop. To fill up at a gas station.
Reb Elimelech's Shabbos
One of my better stories was in the village Nong Khiaw, 6 hours upriver from Luan Prabong.
First a story. Rabbi Elimelech and Rabbi Zusha were wondering: "Is Shabbos special because of all the special things we do - The prayers, the meals, the preparations? Or is it something about the day itself." To find out they decided to make Shabbos on a Tuesday. In Nong Khiaw I came close to doing the same.
I arrived on a Wednsday. The next day, Thursday, after locating the market I went out walking with a Dutch girl from my guesthouse. We headed up the river and came across a beautiful river beach. Planning the next day out loud I said "I think tomorrow I'll go to the market in the morning and then spend Friday afternoon here for a swim." She turned to me and said "You mean Saturday afternoon, today is Friday." "No, today is Thursday and tomorrow is Friday." She insisted that it was in fact Friday and I had lost track of the days. "But what difference does it make? It happens when you travel."
I started to count days as I explained to her that is made quite the difference to me. I then realized it was Friday, 5pm, I was 20 minutes upriver and had nothing prepared for Shabbos! I also realized as we rushed back, that had it not been for Mika I might not have realized my mistake until ... maybe not until after a Rabbi Zusha Shabbos on Sunday! I rushed back and made some instant soup with rice. Mika went to a fruit stand and bought some fruit and Pringles for me. It all worked out. By 6pm I was as ready as I could be.
I hope it will be ok with you if I don't do any cooking my first few weeks back home. Right now I've got 3 weeks left and I would welcome the idea of eating something I didn't have to prepare. Also Snickers bars and Pringles. Not for a while.
As for things I miss? Dairy products would be great. I haven't had a glass of milk in a month and a half. Cheese! Mmmm! Now there's an idea for a dinner - fresh baguette with cheese and butter. Or even better - crackers and cheese. Camembert with some olive oil and za'atar......
It's not that I'm starving, I'm eating quite well and often cook for 2 or 3 people. But a bowl of the spicy noodle soup that they serve on every corner here would be so nice! The garlic chicken... Oh well. At least I'm not baking my own bread this week.
A cold shower is OK. There is the initial shock and then it's over. A cold bucket shower is different - you shock yourself. Over & over & over. But it's a shower and that's worth a lot to me. I'm now in Nong Khiaw and hope to do some trekking tomorrow. Don't know where yet but I'll be up early to start. The lights go out in this town at 10pm.
A 6 hour ride up the Mekong and Ou rivers. The boat is like a canoe on steroids. Thankfully it's not as packed as I was told it could be. I was warned about sardine cans - so far not.
I'm hoping for a good cup of coffee in Nong Khiaw. Oddly enough I did not have one in Luan Prabong. The highly recommended Hong's coffee shop was not open in the morning and 10:30 at night was not when I wanted my coffee.
Oh did we have a Shabbos!
I felt like Reb Levi Yitzchok M'Berditchev.
Saturday night, Von Vieng - the party village of Lao PDR. We were 20+ people and for most of them the only kosher food they had that week was on Shabbos. People carrying wallets, room keys, who knows what. Came time for Havdalah - no one had a light!! Gevalt! Shabbos!!
Shabbos was wow. Chabad Bangkok has boxes of stuff here that they haven't used in a few months and they gave permission to myself and a few friends to use it. We had 30 people for Kabbalas Shabbos and seudah. During the day we had two more meals each one with 20+ people. A minyan for all tefilot! I don't know where I'll be for this coming shabbos but this one was amazing!
One of the downsides of pay-per-min Internet is that I have to run. The good part is that there is too much for me to do just to sit and veg in front of a computer.
Monk and me
I'm in Laos and the people here are so friendly and nice. Vientiane is a city I could live in - nice and slow paced.
Anyway, here is today's story:
Bangkok to Ayuthaya: The monk across the train from me is showing off his new digital camera. For a man wearing nothing but an orange robe its an odd luxury. I'll be nice to get out of Bangkok. Ayuthaya used to be the capitol city, we'll see what it has to offer.---The above paragraph was what I wrote in the first few minuets of my train ride to Ayuthaya. From there we would have the day to tour the city and then at 10pm we had tickets for the sleeper train to Nong Khai on the Lao border. The following paragraph is what I wrote while waiting for the train later that evening.---
And I thought this would be dull. Nope. I can now say I exchanged emails with a Buddhist monk! So far, a highlight of my trip.I crossed the aisle to ask (in my phrasebook Thai) how long to Ayuthaya. That started a conversation and thought me a little more Thai. 'Phom phoud Thai lek noi' - I speak a little Thai. turns out these two monks across the Aisle were also going to see Ayuthaya. When we got there, Paradorn (monk with digital camera) was bargining with a taxi driver for a tour. We invited ourselves along. 50B per person, per hour. We got to see some fascinating Wats and since we were with monks we got in free. There were lots of fascinating sights but the best part was that we were going places very few tourists had gone - and made friends with two Buddhist monks! Apichart and Dorn, Thank you for a wonderful day!
Jewish Racisim and other thoughts
Laos I'm told is pronounced Lao (no s). I'll be arriving in Vientiane Tuesday morning and will have a few days to get to Von Vieng for Shabbos. I found a Shomer Shabbat/Kashrut partner for the next few weeks. Should cut down costs and help with making Shabbat proper. I think the bread issue can be solved and the visa issue will be dealt with along the way in Vientiane. 15 days at the border and then a few more with an extension. No worries.
I'm hoping to get in some trekking. The more I'm here and talk to people I feel I'd find more of what I'm looking for in Nepal and India. Thailand seems to be filled with tourists rather than travelers. Lots of folks running around to the same attractions - bungee, elephants, jeeps and waterfalls. I just want a few days of hiking in some hills with a nice view and some interesting people. Finding the country behind the wall of tourists is becoming a challenge. We'll see.
In other news, I still owe Elizabeth and Sabour parts 3 & 4 of my Israel thoughts. Part three is now under construction. I was also asked where I live in Israel and I've decided to leave that question unanswered as I can't see anything positive come out of whatever response I might give. I would hope that anyone reading this would give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I live in the part of Israel that they live in - just one of your neighbors.
My last thought I want to share is on Jewish racism. It is very real. I'm not talking about other people disliking Jews but rather Jews who look outside and see a world of "Goyim". It bothers me. While I was in Sydney I had a moment of realization that I was coming form a very insular background and part of the tradition I've inherited was a bit of racism. At the time I wrote about it and now can't seem to find what I wrote. Looking back it now seems obvious. Growing up in Jewish Community, USA, I went to a Jewish school and had Jewish friends. I moved to Israel and made more Jewish friends. I dated Jews. I started university and sat in classes with Jews. And so on. As outgoing and as worldly I thought myself to be I was still in a world of us and them. At some point this year I had the following concept move from external to internal: "They" are just like "Us".
The Indian girl and the Greek I was hanging out with have the same thoughts and street smarts that I have. The Muslim from Pakistan was one of the nicest people I'd ever met and was just as grounded in his beliefs as I am in mine. He could logically and clearly explain his theological world just as I could mine. My list goes on but I think you get the picture. I realized how racist I was and once I realized that... Interesting.
I recalled this whole story after a conversation with someone here in Bangkok. Looking through the eyes of the locals I found that Thailand is just one more normal country with people working jobs, getting stuck in traffic and eating dinner with their families at night. When I mentioned this to a fellow Jew here I got the response of "You make them sound so normal!" (The word he used was "Enoshi'im", lit: human.) I was blown away. "Yes! They are! Just normal folks like you and me!"
He got a bit defensive and said it was only a joke. But still. I found it frustrating that after all the times I had tried to explain to people that Israel is a normal country and no-one has to duck under sniper fire when they leave their house, I now was hearing a similar sentiment from a Jewish person about non-Jews. Very sad.
Beyond that, not much. I have the rest of today to burn here in Bangkok and everything is closed. Also tomorrow things are shut down as it is a public Thai holiday of some sort.