My trip to Bangkok…

November 28, 2008 at 12:35 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Travel | 2 Comments
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You won’t be surprised to know I had a fantastic 5 day break in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city.

I chose the airport shuffle service which provided me with my first glimpse of the city,  sights I had not seen for a bit, the  horizon full of  high rise buildings, motorways lanes full of  traffic , having left my volunteer sack cloth at the airport, I was on holiday, I had to switch to tourist mode… hoorah!

If I had any doubt about this it was forgotten as I entered the front doors of the Shangri – La Hotel (www.shangri-la.com) which was to provide my board and lodgings, courtesy of my sis Rosie who was to be there on business for a week, how lucky am I?

Awaiting her arrival, I took a stroll around the riverside location, taking in the sights and sounds of the street traders, traffic, and the folk who were about. After a short while I began to wonder had I gone deaf or had some one thrown a Harry Potter invisibility cloak over me, no one was staring, no questions about where I was going ,and despite the volume of traffic there was no constant honking… ahh ha I was back in the developed world, it felt a little strange. However sipping a G&T whilst catching up with Rosie and all her news, she having just returned from a 10day Trek in Bhutan, I felt I was coping quite well, I looked forward to a soak in a hot bubble bath…

Being a regular visitor to Bangkok Rosie knew her way around and had no problem locating a little eatery she had tried on her last trip. ‘Harmonique’   was a former Chinese residence located off the Silom Road, down a little side street entering through a round door, which opened into a really sweet court yard with marble topped sewing machine tables. Quite a cosy place, which served Thai and Chinese dishes…delicious, I can recommend the Thai fish cakes and the vegetable green curry washed down with a glass of shanghi beer, cheers!

Saturday we spent doing the sights which Rosie hadn’t done much of before, so armed with my Berlitz pocket guide and her with the LUXE city guide darhlings, we were sorted. Sadly due to the death of the presidents sister or was it the kings sister (oops short term memory loss) the Grand Palace was closed for the official state mourning. The Thai people lined the streets wearing black to pay their respects, the whole thing was recorded, I‘d caught a glimpse of it as I flicked through the TV channels in the gym earlier (burning off a few calories to make room for the breakfast).

We took a boat up the Chao Phraya River clicking away at the many temples on the riverside in order to visit Wat Pho, Bangkok’s oldest temple which contains the longest reclining Buddha in Thailand. It was indeed magnificent sight to view as with all temples I loved the atmosphere that prevails infused with incense; heads bowed in prayer and murmured chants.

Bangkok has over 300 Buddhist monasteries (wat in Thai), each consisting of a walled compound containing several buildings constructed in the traditional Thai style, with steep swooping rooflines and colourful interior murals. If you have any doubt about this don’t hesitate to ask me to show you my photos sometime I’ve a couple of hundred to chose from!

It was lovely to wander about through the streets and markets as well as hoping on and off the river boat that sped up and down the river. We ventured to the Patpong area as the markets stalls were setting up for the evening an area more re known for its go-go bars, massage parlours and sex shows. Sadly I can not elaborate on these as we had a date with a couple of Rosie’s colleagues. I did manage to barter successfully for a couple of watches as requested by my Land lord and his wife. (They were overjoyed with the fake Rolex and Gucci, it took it a bit of persuading for them to accept them as gifts, but I got there in the end)

Sunday was a leisurely breakfast   then a stroll to the silversmiths, Rosie was on a mission and little boutiques where I could not resist purchasing a pair of hand made earrings you know what I’m like about my danglies!

The temperature was warm, not humid (no hanky required) with a gentle breeze made it very pleasant having a mooch about. A trip on the sky train (an elevated railway) which crosses the city took us to Siam Square, an expensive shopping area festooned with Christmas decorations and fraught shoppers. That afternoon I had a Thai massage my first, an experience I would love to repeat again, I enjoyed it. The masseuse does not use oil but a series of strokes, and stretches utilizing her knuckles, fore arms, and feet, to apply pressure it was incredible.  I thought I’d ache the next day but no problem.

Monday Rosie was working so I booked my self on a’ Kanchanaburi trip’ (approx 200km out of the city) which included a visit to the Bridge over the River Kwai, a train trip on the death railway route, a visit to the World War II cemetery and the JEATH Museum (JEATH=Japan, England, America/Australia, Thailand and Holland the 6 countries that were embroiled at Kanchanaburi during WW II) which was informative in its presentation and very moving indeed.

The afternoon was spent at   ‘Wat Pa Bua Yannasamparnno Forest Monastery’ Tiger Temple          www.TigerTemple.org. Here I was able to get up close (but not too personal) with the big cats. I admit to being a bit nervous, as I stood in line, listening to the volunteers at the monastery state that the tigers were not sedated, and then proceed to show their scarred legs! All was well with lots of photographic evidence!The cubs were so cute ..ahh and me a dog lover!

 I met Bandu and Lalaniabey a couple who hailed from Sri Lanka, they seemed impressed with my Sinhala, and interested to hear about my work with VSO, they promised to keep in touch which was nice. They had been to SL for a wedding and were on their return journey home, small world?

The Khoa San Road the in famous area of the city for backpackers was were I headed on Tuesday, I had a good old mooch along the street vendors selling brightly coloured sarongs, silks, copies of designer goods amidst the smell of phat thai (Thai style fried noodles) I found myself bartering for items (silk cushion covers at one stage) then having a reality check, did I really need this stuff…? Err me thinks no… The bartering was good fun tho’. I had a spot of lunch at one of the many bars /an internet cafe that line the streets and was asked to take a picture by 2 women who it turns out were Irish they were cousins and both worked for the NHS …how big is this planet?

Well there you have it my short hop to Bangkok, thankfully no great drama to report.  It was great both interesting and relaxing just what I needed, a catch up with Rosie ,a little bit o’ luxury and pampering (oh yeah I had a manicure and pedicure before I left for the airport)

5 days in the city was plenty for this ‘country gal at heart’, I’d found myself missing the palm trees… more soon.

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The living is easy…red letter days!

November 11, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Health, Life, Love, Travel, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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 Part 2 work life balance… 

  The last few weeks including work have been pretty good, certainly makes the time fly by as I sit here tapping at the beginning of Nov, I recall what I’ve been up to. A new batch of Volunteers arrived 4 weeks ago one of which is working at main hospital and living 10 minutes away by bike. She ventured out to see her accommodation with 3 other vols and popped in for a brew on the balcony of the PP. I felt like a 2nd year at school no longer the “newbie”  as I answered the stream of questions similar to the ones I’d asked on my arrival…it seemed an age ago(March that is, not me being a second year coz that is eons ago!!!)

I actually started this 2 weeks ago and have edited it as it went on a bit about a trip to Water World  which boasts to being “Sri Lanka’s first Public Aquarium” and the “jobs worth” on the gate refusing to give me residents rates. I waxed lyrical about a trip down south Ambalantota, continuing with the water theme I enjoyed a Sunday afternoon trip down the river, spied some amazing birds of prey and a crocodile!!!  I saw a few temples at Tissamaharama and ate curd which is infamous in Sri Lanka but curd from Ambalantota apparently the best. They use the buffalo urine to sterilize the clay pot, (the curd is delicious), but they don’t reuse the pot (saw hundreds of them laying about the place or used as edging in gardens) due to the use of urine …folk are funny hey? I cut it short as events of last week  were far more memorable more of them later, my update continues…

New friends have been made in the last weeks, linked to work.  First is Barbara, widow of an ex Medical Superintendant of Mulleriyawa ’69 – ’81. She is an amazing octogenarian (81 to be precise!)In memory of the 10th anniversary of his death, the family wanted to make a donation to the unit. She contacted JM the director he invited her to visit the unit following the purchase of an industrial washing machine, I was dispatched to give her a tour. We hit it off straight away, the visit ended with her asking for my contact details a) so she could keep in touch to make sure the machine got installed and b) so she could invite me round to hers for lunch, which she did the following week. On my arrival a drink was offered in true SL style, water or tea I presumed, no …a beer or a rum and coke with fresh mint, taken a back for a second, I informed her that technically I was on duty. I was corrected I was a guest in her house for lunch, she was having a rum would I care to join her…I left a couple hours later, family and life histories swapped, plus some hand embroidered table mats as a gift, I’m sure there will be more of Barbara in future blogs.

Pat is Scottish married to John of St Andrews Church in Colombo, supported by the Church of Scotland, donor to one of the wards at the unit. Pat contacted me to discuss training for staff at a community home, where 6 women had been settled for a few years. She had been given my name by Lorraine from Lanka Alzheimer’s society(small place this island)We met 2 weeks ago discussed a future meeting and visit to the house with social workers and Occupational therapy staff on Thursday  this week. She and John been here 5 years, apart from church and charity work they also run a Scottish evening at the Canadian embassy every Tuesday, I’m sure that will be visited before long for a bit of a knees up!

Last Wednesday has to go down as the best day in Sri Lanka so far (tissues at the ready). I may have mentioned a trip to Anuradapura in July, to visit AKASA women physically disability project. On this trip a lady( resident at the unit) called MC had travelled with us, as the social worker Ms P who was coordinating the trip had been working with her for a few months, trying to locate her son, who she had last seen 12 years ago. A series of phone calls and letters with only a name and date of birth, to the many children’s homes and orphanages in SL, he had been located in the SOS village in Anuradupura (an Austrian organisation134 village’s world wide)

In July we visited the orphanage to meet the staff but not her son. MC was relieved to know her son’s whereabouts that he was progressing well at school and enjoyed football. Despite our reassurances she was bitterly disappointed that she could not have met him, she did how ever handle the situation well and saved her tears for when she was back on the van. This had been a big day for her, on the return journey she sang a song in Sinhala, which she had made up her self stating her love for her son, her inability to care for him as she had been unwell, and that one day they would be together. She also thanked all the staff for making her feel ‘normal’, she felt very special, but unworthy, she did not deserve this. On return the she wrote the words of the song with the help of the nurse in a letter to her son and enclosed some photos I had taken. Ms P continued the contact with the director of the orphanage who had started to prepare the boy; the letter had been given to him. The problem was when we would be able to access transport for the 6 hour journey to travel north again?

My friend Riza a vol at AKASA, was in Colombo renewing work permits and visa  and came to see me at work we met Ms P, never one to miss an opportunity asked when she was returning to Anuradurpura …could we have a lift( as VSO provide a van), we had business to attend to!

So last Wednesday we headed off, all  of us were quite upbeat as you can imagine, the 6 hour journey  passed quickly as it does when there’s something special at the end…

Ms P and I spoke with the director to discuss formalities what info had been given to the boy how he had taken it. No problems , they were the experts after all. MC was to meet the house mother she had looked after the boy for the last 12 years. We were all shown the shared house and met other children; I was befriended by a beautiful big brown eyed 8 yr old girl, who was quite good with my camera at the end of the visit.  We were told R, the boy had arrived from school he was seeing his key worker first. We waited, I clicked away nervously…then  there he was standing in the door way, there was no doubt who his mother was, that big grin and big sparkling eyes… a mother and child reunion, an incredible moment to have witnessed.

MC and son R spent over an hour together, we shared tea, songs were sung, hands were held, hugs and big grins all round. A fantastic day, one I will remember for a long time…

 

Where do the rupees go, family matters … A big girl’s party?

July 27, 2008 at 12:22 pm | Posted in Food, Friends, Life, Travel | 1 Comment
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I receive an allowance of 90,000 rupees per 3 months, which roughly works out at 1,000 per day to cover food, electric, water, phone bill, top up for mobile, toiletries and household stuff. On my way home today I did some shopping so thought I’d share with you what I spend

 50.00   For an hour at the internet

 40.00   A fax

520.00 hard ware shop 6 plastic coat hangers, 4 candles and lighter, 4 light bulbs, a bucket

120.00 fruit stall, 10 small bananas. Large water melon, an avocado

56.00 co op veg stall onions, okra=ladies fingers

465.00 co-op, hand wash, raisins, dates, peanuts and Bombay mix (treats!!)

60.00 tri Shaw -I was laden down and it was raining about 1 ½ km

1255.00 total rupees with the current exchange rate work out to equal £5.90.

So over the daily allowance but those household items are not a regular purchase but have to be bought , (neither are the treats but I was going on a 5 hour bus journey  where every shares stuff)Some days I don’t spend a rupee so I do manage  . The treats of weekends at the coast, clothes or a trip to Colombo, come out of my savings.

I love going to the market I have a couple of fave stalls where they know me, at the co-op (New initiative) you can pick you own veg they still smile when I buy small amounts, the other customers are shopping for families. It is so much nicer than the UK where I’d be forced to purchase pre packed produce in the big supermarkets  and often waste some as it would go off before I could eat it. I buy fruit and veg every couple of days.

There are loads of hard ware shops, I’m not talking B&Q, but they all carry a  wide range of  goods ranging from plastic imported from China, to clay cooking pots made locally, bulbs, candles ,elastic, crayons and VIM( powder used to wash the grease off your plates as most folk only have  a cold tap to wash up )It  doesn’t  seem to matter where you shop, locally the prices only vary by one or two rupees(Colombo is a different matter)The other type of shop is the bakery cum biscuit shop, the SL equivalent of Mc vites is Munchee, they have a wide selection of biscuits that in my little village every shop (or Kaddy) sells .You can usually purchase any thing from a cigarette, to a broom with cashew nuts and yoghurt in between. I have found the best thing to do no matter what size or disorganised it may seem, go in and look as if they don’t have what you want or you cant see it, the one down the road might and you may find something more interesting to try!

The utilities have recently gone up, water on a meter, actually not had a bill, the leccky averaging about 800 a month, telephone (mob) 1000, landline depends if I’ve phoned home aver 1-2000 per month again it is all relative. I’m aware of the rising food and living costs around the world I’m by no means pleading poverty, thought you’d like to know how it is for me.

           

Recently I’ve   heard from family and friends  via emails /text/letter/phone what’s they’ve  been up to which is great especially the photo’s( thanks keep ‘em coming).There’s been  Katie, my nieces first holy communion  in Galway, Faye my god daughter also made hers in Manchester, Jakey my nephew had his 2nd birthday  and Ted(Denise’s son) celebrated his 17th last week .All family do’s that I would have attended if I’d been in the UK( and invited obviously)…hey don’t worry it’s not going to be  a tear jerker, but I must admit I felt a bit home sick, not to be at these events ,you know how I enjoy a get together !Yes ok you’ve sussed me out  what I’m really thinking of and missing is a glass or 3 of chilled white wine, and the food of course!

Here in SL there is a big emphasis on the family, they do party and celebrate  the usual family occasions (see blog entry “new kid on the block”)and for traditional reasons  as well.

Helen invited me to attend  the gym owners daughters party  “ how old is she “ I asked,  to be informed it was not her birthday, but a party to celebrate the start of her menstruation!  It is SL tradition when a girl enters this stage of her life, she is off school for a week, kept in her room away from the male members of the family or friends. She is attended to by her mum and female family members and she is not allowed to bathe. At the given auspicious time she is assisted to bathe, her hair is washed and attended to, she is given a whole new outfit, shoes and jewellery included, to wear for when her guests arrive later that evening. She sits and receives her guests and their gifts, once every body assembles the music starts. The men start on the alcohol, the caterers serve the amazing buffet(rice and curry of course!) when the women have eaten the DJ gets going and the dancing starts!

It was a really lovely evening, everybody was again so welcoming. I could chat a little more confidently than the last time, I had a little boogie  to the Hindee tunes and ate far too much. As the night came to a close ,I watched a 7 year old  girl who had danced all night long in her purple party frock collapse in to her dads arms, I  remember thinking  I didn’t feel as home sick any more thanks to the “Big girls Party”…

Travels with my sis…

July 12, 2008 at 10:49 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Well my sister Rosie popped over from Hong Kong like you do, for a 4 day break in Sri Lanka. I was of course  very excited  at the thought of seeing a family member, seeing other parts of SL and of course the goodies she would bring! I arrived at the Beach Hotel in Negombo  ( 15mins from the airport )in plenty of time to make use of the  hotel facilities. Rosie was due to arrive at midnight. She had rung to inform me that, when she had arrived at the Cathy Pacific desk to check in she was informed that as she did not have a full page empty in her passport, there may be a problem with SL immigration??? she had been asked to sign a disclaimer…! I made some enquiries this end and was reassured that there would not be a problem the stamp was not a huge one , however Cathy Pacific had just left that nagging doubt what if… Rosie prepared for all occasions asked me to bring my passport just in case, if they refused her entry ,I was to get the next flight to Bangkok and have the weekend there instead ,so as I sipped my gin and tonic in the bath I contemplated my win win situation!

Anyway she waltzed through  the arrivals lounge the seasoned traveller that she is,there was nay problem at all.  As she unpacked we drank Stella and ate galaxy chocolate don’t you just love duty free! In her case there was  some DVD box sets some I was not familiar with but hey I am not fussed these days, tahini  (sesame seed paste vital for making hummus cant get it here)insect repellent, and of course gin and vodka ,oh yes a bottle of  bubbly(Tattinger  dahlings!)sorted… we slept soundly!

After a swim we enjoyed a fantastic brekky including beans on toast (haven’t had proper toast since leaving the UK)we travelled to Pinnewala to the elephant orphanage( see an earlier blog for details) and then on to the Kandy area. It was fantastic to be in the hill country, my recent ventures out and about in SL have been to the beach areas which are fab, but I am a country girl at heart! On route we stopped of at a tea factory ,as it was late we had the manager show us around, it was most informative and really hot. The temp to be endured by the workers  was generated by the driers ,we were assured they took breaks and rotated their place in the production line?!From here we travelled through to Kandy  which according to my copy Rough guide “is situated amidst precipitous green hills at the heart of the island”. We headed for the Villa Rosa hotel a couple of km west of the town, it was a fantastic location nestled in the hillside over looking the Mahaweli  Ganga(river)if you are thinking of visiting SL ,I highly recommend a visit, check it out on www.villarosa-kandy.com

Kandy itself is steeped in Sinhalese tradition and its unique cultural heritage is apparent everywhere, music, dance and architecture it is also home to the countrys most important shrine the Temple of the Tooth which is where we spent Saturday  morning accompanied by our guide Gammage. He was full of knowledge and anecdotes his English was very good, his photography needs a bit of practise or was that my new camera! From there we proceeded to Dambulla. I forgot to mention I had booked a car and driver for the trip which is the done thing over here. You hire a vehicle and driver for your trip he stays at the same hotels in the staff quarters and will drive where ever agreed on booking. These drivers have their favourite places where they get a bit of commission for bringing tourists. We gave into Saraths persuasion to visit a spice garden, and left feeling very relaxed having recieved a free head, neck and leg massage. As it was low season the student s practised on us using Ayurvedic preparations.

Next stop was the Kandalama Hotel on the edge of the Kandalama lake,one of the countrys most famous hotels, ranking among one of the finest works of Geoffrey Bawa ( I visited his home on return from Unawatuna see previous blog entry  Oh to be beside the seaside..also www.aitkenspenceholidays.com for more info) Here we enjoyed the pools (Rosie made it to the gym)and again fantastic SL cuisine. It was great just to just chill forget about work to spend time chatting or not ,and to enjoy this another very beautiful part of  the island of SL.Interestingly Rosie commented that I walked slower these days …must be getting into SL pace not such a bed thing hey?

Sunday morn dawned,it found us well rested ready to make the most of the cool of the day as we  were to climb Sigiryia- Lion Rock ,which was declared a world heritage site in 1982. It is a remarkable archeological site making it is one of SL’s memorable single attraction by its dramatic setting, as the Rough guide states “the spectacular citadel of SIGIRYIA  rises sheer and impregnable out of the denuded plains of the dry zone, towering 200 m above the surrounding country side” I couldn’t have put it better myself! I  have been known to suffer from a bit of veritigo ( remember St Pauls Cathedral Denise, Montserrat Barcelona, John- Sydney Harbour Bridge Alistair???) so as I approached, I did wonder would I be adding Rosie and Sigiryia to my list of throwing a wobbler at a great height? I said nowt to Rosie as she led the way up the narrow rusting stair well ,she was taking her time I enquired of her well  being, to see  in front of her an elderly tiny wee Sri Lankan lady, bare footed  slowly making her ascent,I stopped fretting and got on with minding my step! Wow it was worth it, what a breathtaking view at the top, to consider the Royal Palace that had stood here years before, the foundations remain today,amazing really fascinating!How on earth they manged to build such a place.You certainly would not want to forget anything at the shops thats for sure!The desent is a bit precarious but we made it without difficulty! A slow walk around the gardens we returned to the hotel for what I think was a well earned beer and lunch. After the mornings efforts we spent the afternoon catching a few rays by the pool playing cards, both listening to our ipods and singing out of tune It was great just to chill I had to keep pinching myself(catholic guilt creeps in ..)should I really be enjoying myself I’m out here volunteering,rosie put me straight, it was her treat to me all I was to do was to enjoy! Later that evening we received a call from reception  confirming we were staying  a second night, would we like to be upgraded to a room with a Jacuzzi bath  – I ask you …is the Pope a…? Crack open that fizz sis was my reply !

On Monday headed back towards Colombo, we made a flying visit to Mulleriyawa Unit 2 as my colleagues were really keen to meet Rosie. Bless her, not keen on hospitals at the best of times she coped very well with the inquisitive looks and touches from the women, their environment, and the questions re her marital status from the staff. Finishing the short visit we popped into my office the sight of the bare walls, desk covered with a sheet, the 2 chairs with vase of plastic flowers(they are compulsory in SL they love ‘em), she gave me a big hug and whispered that she was really proud of me… dewy eyed we retreated to the car and on to the Pink Palace where the landlord and his wife were there to greet us they were lovely. The tour completed  we headed off to collect Podi who was to joined us for dinner at the Galle Face Hotel where we savoured the delicious buffet, it was then time for Rosie to depart for the airport.

 As I said this was a short break in SL for Rosie, it was a LUXURY mini break for moi! I had spent 4 great days in the company of my sis, seen more of this beautiful amazing island that is my home for the next 21 months and enjoyed fabulous food and facilities, lucky me hey? I returned to work fully rested  and raring to go… to my diary, who and when is the next visitor due?

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