December 18, 2011

Jakarta Primer 1.2

Living in a country with a Muslim majority can be a little tiring for someone not used to the traditions, but nothing really outrageous.

For instance, wearing comfortable clothes for the climate can be a bad thing (it's the tropics, yet sleeveless tops and shorts are considered slutty).

Getting bacon should be trickier than it is... but we can find pork products fairly easily, although they are usually banished to a special area.

Each Mahjid (Mosque) tries to outdo the other during the 5 times daily prayers, so they all get loudspeakers and broadcast the call to prayer.

Except they don't start at the same time, and they don't all sing on key.  So you have a cacophony instead of a respectful call to piety.

I really like muezzin calls, just not the wailing ones jumbled into a ball with four others all starting within 30 seconds of each other being blasted over cut rate loudspeakers.

Good news: can't hear them in my bedroom, so there is sanctuary.

Occasionally, the politics of religion rears it's spectacularly ugly head and we have to deal with fanatics (which come in all religious shapes and sizes, they just happen to be Muslim here...) who defy the government authorities and make minor trouble for everyone just to be cussed, blocking off streets on their own initiative or blaring intolerant sermons over their tacky speakers, or just being bad humans- but that's not unique to this location. 

Although it can be more difficult in a foreign location just because we aren't native to this culture and have no say in the laws and consequences of this nation, so we must just watch, and learn, and try not to judge. 

Too much.


Water is another stumbling block.

It's filthy.

In Africa I used the tap water to cook with if I was boiling it- like pasta or potatoes, but here I don't ever use it except to shower and brush my teeth and the use for teeth brushing often brings gasps of horror from a lot of expats.

Our dishwasher temp control is set to Hot Lava. We hope that’s sufficient.

Our water comes from a well and the well is supplied by groundwater which runs through god knows what to get here.

Okay, god knows some of it.  And unfortunately so do we.

Human waste, compost, litter, animal waste, decomposing animals, garbage, chemicals... you get the idea. Theoretically it gets filtered, a little, by nature... but...

And it's got a nice sulfur component to remind you just in case you get lax and think about using it casually.

So what's the good stuff about Indonesia you are asking? 

A lot.  

Truly.  :-)

Unless they are driving, the people here are kind and helpful, gentle and quiet- anger and loud voices are considered bad form and that's a truly nice way to live.

The other day at lunch we saw a man who was very angry because he made a request that wasn't honored.  He was livid and showed it to the restaurant employee by silently pointing very hard at the perpetrator of his ire, and then speaking so softly that we couldn't hear him from 5 feet away. 

His friend came and retrieved him to calm him down, embarrassed at the ostentatious display.  Pointing is a no-no and using it as he did showed his extreme displeasure.

(That makes loud, complaining expats all that much harder to endure for us, but life goes on- because the angry entitled expats surely will...)

And Indonesia delivers anything you want.


Food, clothes, gasoline, you name it.

I once had beanbag beans delivered so I could re-stuff Elliot's bed.  Cost me an extra buck on top of the price of beans.

You can have groceries delivered or restaurant food or catered food.  Even McDonalds delivers here.  There is no mail service (or even reliable addresses) but if you buy something, they will send it to you on a motorbike, damn the size.  So you will see motorbikes with precarious loads fairly often on the roads, just to add to the joy and hilarity.

A truck comes every Friday with my four 5 gallon bottles of clean water from the local Coca Cola bottler.  They cost me about a dollar apiece and the delivery is free.

Life is pretty easy here.

We get most of the big Hollywood movies within a week or so after the U.S. release.  Except they cost about $10 for both of us.

On a Friday night.

With stadium seating and cushy rocking seats.

And the food concession at our movies has popcorn (sweet OR salty) and coke plus hot dogs, but they also have sandwiches, spring rolls, french fries, cheese breads, hamburgers, pizza and tons more- and a typical popcorn/coke/hot dog combo will cost you about $3, I kid you not.

 If you would like to be more comfy while you watch your movie, you can spend an extra buck and get La-Z-Boy recliners with little tables between them for your inexpensive food (which will be delivered after the movie starts) and if you want to be at home while you watch your movie, they will put you in Velvet Class which is a nice comfy double bed with pillows.

Ted and I do not do this because it's hard enough for older people to stay awake as it is.

We've got tropical fruit like you wouldn't believe, although here they just call it... fruit.

The previously blogged Durian notwithstanding, we get so much really good fruit at cheap prices we practically bathe in it.  Dragonfruit, mango, papaya, pineapple, melons, rambutan, star fruit, and on and on.

So the cultural differences are why we come, because they put the spice in life, and the cultural positives are why we stay because they make life pleasant, and when we notice the tap water is a little brown, or the traffic makes us late...again, we remember the things that annoyed us at our last 14 locations and try to be thankful for not having those anymore.

No place is perfect (or if it is, we haven't found it yet!), but all places are interesting in their own way so... challenge accepted!

December 12, 2011

Jakarta Primer 1.1

Traffic.  Traffic jam.  Macet (mah-chet).  It's a fact of life here, and epic in its proportions.  I wish I could say that this is only a picture of rush hour traffic.  But I could only do that if by 'rush hour' you mean anytime between 7a.m and 10p.m., seven days a week. 

Frustrating.  Selfish.  Thoughtless.  Lawless.  It's so bad that the company provides a car and driver and requests that we never use one without the other.   

It's so bad that even after driving for years in the demolition derby that was Africa, we aren't even tempted to get behind the wheel of a car.

I am never in the car without a book.  I don't look up, I don't backseat drive, I try very hard to be NOT IN THE CAR.  It has the same chaotic components of Africa, but much worse due to sheer numbers and the addition of motor bikes by the thousands.

All the people in the cars are very very important and have to be wherever they are going first, or at least before you.  Common sense, common courtesy, rule of law, and safe driving practices go right out the window as soon as an Indonesian starts his car.

Need to turn left from the right lane?  No time like the present.

Need to turn onto a street, but stopped by a line of cars coming off the street? No problem, just turn into the wrong lane and shimmy over later.

Don't want to stop when the light turns red?  Okay.

What are those lines in the street? It's like they are there to keep me from making a new lane to drive in, and that's just stoopid!

Add to this the thousands of motorbikes who weave, drive on the wrong side of the road, ignore traffic signals of every color, and swarm through stopped car traffic like a machine made ooze  and you have a recipe for frustration, anger and tons of wasted time.

Ted sits there and stews. 

He watches, he gets indignant and he itches to ram the whole mess with a Bradley tank, but all it does is feed his ulcer.  I have extolled the virtues of books and being NOT IN THE CAR, but he just can't seem to let it go.

The company requires our drivers to learn and follow safe driving practices, but that mostly covers safety of the vehicle and occupants, not what we would call defensive driving.  

We have given our driver a letter outlining the things we would like to have him do- over and above the company regs, and he has made a valiant effort to comply, although he isn't completely on board.

We asked him to stop or at least slow for pedestrians instead of playing Carmageddon.

We asked him to allow other cars to pull in front of us as they exit parking lots and side streets. You know... when you wave someone out?  Unheard of here.  Crazy foreigners and their crazy ideas.  Why would anyone do that when we are all so important and have places to be...?

We asked him be courteous to other drivers even if it took longer to get where we were going.

He thanked us for being to him in his job and we've moved on with a kind of half-assed courtesy and patience policy that still makes him the most courteous driver in Jakarta.

I will not test your patience with my traffic whining by including stories about what happens when there is rain/hujan (hoo-john) and the streets flood/banjir (bahn-jeer). 

Bottom line: we both drove cars in Africa where the traffic is legendarily bad.  We do not drive cars here.

Although we are still thinking about getting a scooter and becoming part of the ooze... (don't tell the company).

November 29, 2011

Jakarta Primer 1.0

Selamat datang!  

It has come to my attention that I have neglected your cultural introduction to Jakarta and Indonesia.

We have been here a little over a year now, and it's past time I gave you the low down on the fun, the sometimes frustrating local customs, and some of the laws and quirks that are part of what makes living overseas interesting.

Much of Indonesia, and especially this giant capital city, would be familiar to most people.  It has miles and miles of fairly good paved streets, lots of shopping malls and fast food, cable TV, movie theaters, and skyscrapers. 

But there's plenty of stuff that wouldn't be so familiar (some of which I haven't mentioned because it was true in Africa too and I forgot that it might be noteworthy).

Let's start with the things I was happy about when we spent that week in Anglo-Saxon London...

Body language.  Whew!  This is a minefield.

Bad things: showing the bottom of your feet (try sitting all day without lifting your foot, I dare you), offering or accepting something with your left hand, eating with your left hand, patting or touching someone on their head, standing with your hands or hand on your hips, pointing with your index finger, or smacking yourself in the forehead (as in: I could've had a V-8!)

All these things are disrespectful/rude, except the hands on hips thing which is just seen as arrogant.  I never realized how much I did that in the U.S.- it's a handy place to keep my hands and in my family it's practically genetic to stand that way.

Since I am left handed to an extreme I am handicapped here to a certain extent.  I constantly remind myself to hand people things with my right hand and extend my right hand to accept things, but it's very, very hard for me because it requires that I basically change everything instinctive in order to comply.  All my stuff is arranged for my left hand, just as yours is arranged for your right.  Try spending all day doing things only with your left... and there you see my problem.

Few of my right handed friends and family have ever understood the left handed thing- when I took Ted to his first "Lefthander Store" he kept walking around picking things up and saying "Oh wow! I never thought about how hard this would be for a lefty..."  - so I know you are shaking your head and thinking, 'Get over it!'.

All I can say is, it's not something I can just switch (a fact proven by my medieval 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Geary).  My brain is hard wired to use my left hand and it can't simply be altered by wishcraft.

Even though this using of the right hand thing is so ingrained in Indonesian culture, when I mess up- aside from the occasional flinch- people are kind and pretend I didn't just make a mistake.

Think about shaking hands with a small child you just saw pick his nose.

That's what it's like to deal with me in Indonesia and they do it very well.

Anyway, for the most part we muddle through, although my Blog Photo is... the bottom of my feet.  I have had that photo for many many years and it transcends this single blog, (and is actually 1/3 of the family feet triptych that hangs in my house with our family hand triptych) so to my Indonesian friends I just beg a little cultural indulgence.

I'll continue this primer in installments so you don't get overloaded.  :-) 

Your job is to spend the day not putting your hands on your hips, resting your ankle on your knee, or using your dominant hand.

Just to practice being here with us. 

October 30, 2011

Working Vacation!

i.e. He works, I vacation!

My hardworking husband had to fly to London to talk with company lawyers about an old project.  
I am the mother of a grown up child, and as such am no longer shackled to the public school system calendar.  

These two facts equal a sudden vacation in Jolly Olde England!  Whoopee!

If you want an account of the basics of London, see our previous trip in An American in Africa circa 2005- it has bonus stuff from England and Scotland too! 

This time, we were in full geek mode, and began our explorations in Greenwich because we wanted to stand on the Prime Meridian (which runs straight through Ghana, as a bonus Geekfact).  

If you are unfamiliar with the whole shootin' match, here is a quick explanation (just click it to make it bigger):

and most importantly, here are our two pairs of Nerd feet straddling the line between Eastern and Western Hemispheres...

We were way too pleased with this outing.  :-)  

So next time someone tells you that it's XX o'clock GMT, this is the clock they are using:

You probably aren't as excited by this as we are, but you should be.  

After this, we got a little less nerdy and headed out to Brighton (kind of disappointing) and Hastings (actually a pretty nice place) and Dover- of the white cliffs fame.  They also have Dover castle so for us it was a must-see destination.  

This is actually a really cool place to walk, although windy and truly scary if you think too hard about the fall and what's at the bottom. 

Here's my scale model showing you how not to fall off the cliffs of Dover. 

...and Dover Castle.  Really pretty, but oh what a damp and dreary place this must have been in 1100.  

From there it was on to Canterbury, just because it's Canterbury!  The town is the usual English mix of old and new, and on the whole it was a pretty interesting place...

...and we had to find the cathedral where Becket met his end...

Not my favorite cathedral...too lacy by half, but it has some really great carvings of saints on its face.

The shocking thing was its condition.  

The stones are crumbling and the work to preserve it has only just begun.  

I would have thought that Canterbury Cathedral would be considered pretty darned important to history and have been better looked after... now it will cost Britain 16 million pounds to restore it, which is just a freaking lot of money.

In any case, we returned to London, and one of us went back to work while the other watched a fascinating "news" story about Travellers being evicted in a place called Dale Farm that was being covered wall to wall by Sky news like it was really important.  I love Sky News. 

Finally on our last day in London, in true Nerd Tradition, we went to the British Library.  

Really gorgeous building - only about 10 years old.  

Inside we saw another of the four extant copies of the Magna Carta (we have also dragged Cooper to see the one in Salisbury Cathedral), a manuscript copy of Beowulf, and an illuminated copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.  

On that day I realized why I have never bothered with a Bucket List... because on it would be ridiculously impossible things like being able to hold that copy of Chaucer and turn just two pages of it.  

So I contented myself with standing there, staring at it, trying to notice every single detail and imagine what it must feel like to hold a beautiful, illuminated, hand written 600 year old book.

Maybe my first tattoo should be "Book Nerd". 

Also, Crazy King George III's library has been enshrined in a four story glass room inside the library.  We ate a sandwich sitting next to it, looking up at all those books...

It was a good week, and we had a good time.  One of us more than the other, although the other enjoyed my recounting of the Dale Farm antics for the two days that it lasted before it was blasted out of the news cycle by actual events.

My parting shot for this trip is a great sign we found.  

We have absolutely no idea what it means, which is bad, since we were driving at the time and probably should have been aware of the caution, but we were laughing so hard we didn't care what it meant anyway.  

September 22, 2011

So Many Islands, So Little Time...

We had to do something to get over the sadness of having Cooper go back to school.

Our empty nest was too much to bear.

That's our story and we're sticking to it. 

Enter stage left: The Maldives (Google it, but don't blame me for adding another thing to your bucket list).

We found some pictures of this country of islands about five years ago, but could never make the travel plans work out.  Suddenly, though, we are in Asia and getting there requires only four hours by plane, so Voila! our latest wish fulfilled!

There is absolutely nothing to do in the Maldives if you don't like to swim, read, snorkel, dive, or eat.  If you like those things, that is all there is to do.

Some people do not find that a good recipe for a vacation, but Swim, Read, Eat should probably be our family motto because Ted and I find it spectacularly easy to do, and do well.  After nine days, during which our most difficult decision was "shrimp or chicken", we were relaxed, happy, and ready to take on the real world again.

There is certainly a culture specific to the Maldives, and the people who do not value sloth and hedonism actually go and try to find it, but in reality a country of small islands and atolls that is pushed from all sides by the India, Africa and Asia has a hard time maintaining an identity all its own and no place to showcase it anyway.

So yet again, we spent our time not expanding our minds and not learning a damn thing, but boy did we have a good time doing it.

I have nothing to show you except vacation pictures.  So if you are tired of those, you can stop reading now, and thank you for coming.  :-)

The view from our front door walkway.

Count out 22 bungalows...that's ours. :-)

The path from the restaurants to our bungalow...

Our porch.  Down to the freshwater shower, down to the sea.

Bathtub with a view.

That's a picture window to the ocean.  No reading material required.  :-)

Oh yeah.  Drink.  That's another activity! For this shot, we are at the swim up bar.  :-D

Culture!  Right?  We did have some.  Fisherman going home.

This is Frederick. He was with us all 9 days.

That's right, it's a hammock.  In the ocean. 

You know me and clam lips. 

Watched this guy for a while after lunch.  Worked him into our busy schedule.

Fat starfish.  A first for me.  Had to dive down to get the shot, so...

My scale model demonstrating proper snorkeling technique.

Swimming through these guys was awesome.

Off our porch.

This coral is soft- it was waving in the currents!
This is Tony.  He lives around our bungalow.         

SQUID!  Another first for me.  These guys were so much fun to swim with.
That's all folks!

September 2, 2011

Ramadhan, Bismillah, and Me

Travel is broadening.  Living abroad is travel cubed.  One of the biggest joys and biggest challenges of living overseas is the immersion in local culture and tradition.  

In Indonesia, I have not had as many opportunities to jump into the local culture as I would like, but for this special month there is no avoiding it- even for the people who desperately want to. 

In any case, this year August was the holy month of Ramadhan (it's dependent on the moon).  There are many spellings when a language changes alphabets, so take your pick but they all spell the same traditions.

During the daylight hours in the month of Ramadhan Muslims are exhorted to fast, abstain from music, smoking, fighting, and lust.  They are encouraged to be generous, commit to the five daily prayers, and reflect.  

This sign tells you how to prepare yourself for worship.

No sex during the day.  No water, no food, no nothing.  And the Q'uran asks that you do it with gladness in your heart and with love for Allah. 

This is not a religion for sissies.  

Indonesia is not a hardline country like Saudi Arabia, so one would be forgiven for thinking that Ramadhan would be a simpler affair here, but this is a serious time for Muslims and the celebration affects everyone, Muslim or not, for the entire month.  It's an incredibly complicated and involved ritual and there is so much more to it than I could explain in this format, but suffice it to say what I experience is a fraction of the real purpose of the month of Ramadhan.

Just a quick look at the countries with the biggest Muslim populations.

The nightmare traffic becomes surreal because everyone in this city of 20 million tries to get home to be with their family when they break fast.  

The Q'uran explains that when you can see the difference between a white and black thread in a dark room, your fast begins.  Presumably when you can no longer tell the difference, it ends, although in practice people simply listen for their local muezzin call to tell them what up. 

A few times in August, Ted abandoned our car and driver and walked the last mile or so home.  On at least one evening, our driver pulled in the driveway a full hour after Ted bailed.  

That's one hour, for one mile.  Try to wrap your mind around that kind of traffic jam.  

Restaurants cover their windows to avoid tempting those who are fasting, which is kind, but can't mask the smells of grilled meat, wood fired pizza, etc...

Bars often close for the month to avoid violence and vandalism from extremist groups who decide everyone should participate, Muslim or not.  Even though this is officially against the law and the perpetrators are 'warned', we have noticed that this group of thugs pretty much does what it wants while the Indonesian police and local government wring their hands and whine.  

The bars that do stay open are the ones with fairly extensive menus, making them more like restaurants.  To further that charade, they serve beer in coffee mugs.  

I kid you not.  

Ted and I never got used to sipping our beer out of a large, plain white mug.  

Was anyone fooled?  When we were sitting in Murphy's Irish Pub?  

Anyway.  It's a unique experience for this midwestern girl.  

I've been a lot of places, done a lot of things, but this month spent in a country with a Muslim majority was both instructional and oppressive.  

There is no way to understand all the nuances of the Muslim religion for an outsider, so there is a constant worry that you will offend someone by doing something stupid or thoughtless- it's tiring.  Asking our Muslim friends got us only assurances that we would be forgiven because we can't be expected to know, but that doesn't really ease the tension- even though we were shown nothing but kindness the entire month. 

The Muslim religion has as many crackpots as the Christians and the Jews (although I have yet to meet a Buddhist crackpot... we may have to look into that...), but aside from the ridiculous coffee mugs and economically disastrous month long closings for Indonesian business owners who sell alcohol, the crackpots were not much in evidence.  

Yesterday's Facebook feed from the Pub:

Business as usual today in Murphy's - open from 11am, glasses are back and live music from 8pm tonight.
 Glasses are back.  Oy vey.  
 I mean Insh'Allah. have mercy. 
Murphy's and all the other infidel liquor barns are back because this week is Idul Fitre (again- millions of spellings, pick your favorite and I'll pick mine).  This week, everyone leaves the big city for home and hearth- think of it as a week long Thanksgiving holiday.  It's a time for returning to your home kampung ([kom-poong] village - see how I worked your language lesson in?) to bring your extended family the bounty of your year away.  
It's a time of massive road accidents, joy and sorrow, theft and generosity.  
It's a time of constant 24 hour fireworks in celebration.  
It's a time when Indonesians are all absent from the office and many of the stores and shops and services in Jakarta are closed so that people can celebrate with their families.  
Next Monday, life will resume as normal.  Or as normal as it gets when you are far from home.  
It's a learning experience, and it's always good to put faces and names to a dogma- it makes it much harder to generalize in a hurtful way.  
But for the record, a pox on everyone, no matter what their religion, who seeks to harm anyone for having a different viewpoint.  
Travel, experience, learn.  I highly recommend it, even when it's difficult.   


August 24, 2011

Independence Day!

Wednesday, August 17 was Indonesia's 66th Independence Day.  

They declared independence from the Japanese at the end of WWII but the Dutch held on for a while longer.  The U.N. finally intervened and Indonesia became an independent state. 

All over Jakarta there are banners, bunting and flags along with signs that say "Dirgahayu RI" which means "Long Live the Republic of Indonesia".

The flag is simple but pretty, and we have one that we bought from a roadside vendor- but when we went to hang it from our front gate (since we don't have a pole for it), our guard patiently explained to us that the flag was meant to be hung horizontally.  

Ah, cultural diversity.  He had no way of knowing or caring if we had flags where we come from, and if there was a correct way to fly it if we did.  All he knew is that we were stupid.  

Even though we had seen many official buildings with the flag displayed hanging vertically, we opted not to try to explain the esoterica with our limited language skills (we can converse with the people we meet every day, but "discussions" are still out of the question), so we just smiled and thanked him. 

On our way up the driveway he stopped us to say, in English, 

"It okay.  You no hap to do... because you American."  

He was worried that we felt obligated to display our respect.  Sigh.  We really wish we could convey more than first grade ideas.  Maybe some day. 

Anyway, we thought it would be a good day to go to the National Monument, so we did, and here are the pictures we took.  The park area all around the monument was loaded with families enjoying the holiday, but the Monument itself was closed.

Because it was a holiday. 

Oh, the irony. 

For your trivia pleasure, Ted says the flame is layered with 50 kilos of gold leaf.  I'll save you the dollar calculations and just tell you it's the equivalent of "Holy Cow".  

Kind of a flowery way of saying "Independence Park" and giving credit to the politicians who okayed it.  Your vocabulary word for the day is 'khusus' (koo-soos) and it means 'special'.  You can have khusus parking or khusus children or khusus reasons.  In this case, they have a politician for special projects. 

There was not a lot going on, generally speaking.  Plenty of people enjoying the day all over- not just on the grounds of the monument.  

Strangely, for a firecracker happy country, there was not a single one set off all day or night this year, at least in our neighborhood.  

It may have to do with Ramadhan (in effect for a few more days) or it may be that only Americans need to blow stuff up for Independence Day.  

Idul Fitre is set to begin next week though, and a month of abstinence will give way to a week of abandon.  Like Catholic school girls at 3pm.  

Next time we'll explore the whole Holy Month thing here...

August 10, 2011

Thailand Islands

And peninsulas.  

Whatever the geographical configuration, it all spells v-a-c-a-t-i-o-n (and if you are now humming a song, you are old).  

We just returned from a week on the Andaman coast of Thailand, which is a mere 3 hours from here by plane.  

We flew directly to the Phuket airport, bypassing Bangkok- so when I say I have been to Thailand I mean it the same way Aussies do when they go to L.A. and say they have been to the United States.  

Point being, I have seen a tiny bit of Thailand, and the touristy bit at that, but the important thing is that the Thai people are as kind and helpful as advertised, which goes a long way toward making one's vacation successful. 

This was another of those vacations where not only do we not speak the language, we can't read the alphabet!  Witness a typical license plate...

So anyway, we only had a week and we all wanted some time to just sit and watch the ocean, so we didn't plan to absorb much culture or diversity- we'll do that when we go to Bangkok.  :-)

What we did plan was some snorkeling (us) and some diving (Coop) and some elephants and some destruction of nature with All Terrain Vehicles.

Missions accomplished.

The islands part came into play when we went out to explore the underwater part of Thailand.

Big boat.  Which was a good thing, because it was 90 minutes to Racha Yai from the pier and in the off season (now) the seas can be... interesting.

It was a pretty wild ride in both directions, and we visited five different sites on two islands.  But it was good stuff...

Really bad picture, but he's so cute!

My favorite diver, headed down...

Ashy feeding them bananas.

Great picture, completely by accident.

This one is not shopped.  It's a blue starfish, something I didn't even know existed.  It's fairly deep (about 18 feet) so it's a little blurry and the coral is sucking up all the light, but there it is, pretty much just as I saw it.

My favorite snorkeler.

There's a fish in this picture.

Five sets of clam lips (embedded in coral).

We were out for two full days snorkeling and diving, but you get the idea.

Now, on to the elephants.  These are different from our African elephants- they have smaller ears and are generally smaller all over, but they are still elephants which are probably my favorite land animals.

Thai elephants have fallen on hard times because it became illegal to log elephant habitats about twenty years ago, and the main logging tool for doing that was... elephants.  So their habitat is saved, but the elephants are out of work.

With a little research, we were able to find a place that uses unemployed elephants and the mahouts that have been with them usually their whole lives.  Asian elephants can live almost as long as people, so there can be a huge bond between a mahout and the elephants they care for.

We were able to feed them fruit by hand, and touch them and just generally interact with them after our one hour elephant back ride through the jungle.  It was excellent.

This was our elephant...

...and this is what the kids looked like on theirs....

And to make a really good day better, one of the elephants we got to interact with is an artist.  He painted us a picture on canvas and we brought it home.  It's at the framer's right now, so if you want to see it you will have to come visit.

How's that for incentive? 

 All that nature was swell, but it was time to tear up some real estate, so we joined an ATV company to zip around a rubber tree plantation on some four wheelers.

We weren't too noisy, and we didn't harm the plantation- just followed the trails for a couple of hours and got muddy and sore and happy.  We stopped in the middle to have our picture taken.  Don't we look happy?

This was before we got to the muddy part.  We looked a lot less tidy after that, but we have no photos from then...

Of course, nature and redneck hobbies take a lot of energy, so we tried to relax and enjoy the scenery every couple of days.

We did that from our oceanfront porch...

I know, right?

Thailand is really good value for money.  We have had much less hotel room for much more money many times in the past, so we were thrilled. 

Here's my scale model showing you how to use our little pool (which is neck deep on most Thai people)

And this is the view back toward our bungalow...

Overall, an excellent place to relax and enjoy.  So we did.

We even had a local lizard to entertain us.  

The first day he was on our wall, later in the week he moved to the pool.

His tongue was blue.

 And finally, I'll offer up two sunsets (they were so good, every single night) taken by my scale model.

                  and that's our week in Thailand.   :-)