Thursday, 29 March 2007

The Erawan Museum

This place is absolutely beautiful (If you live here and have not been - go!!). I didn't know anything about the museum and had assumed, since there is a huge three headed elephant on top of the building, that it was dedicated to elephants and their typical Thai style.....I was completely wrong!!

The legend of Erawan is as follows:
Erawan is also known as Airavata, the king-god of elephants, who is ridden by the God Indra. The legend goes that Brahma held two halves of an eggshell in his hands over which he read seven sacred hymns - from the right half of the egg eight elephants emerged and from the left eight cow-elephants. The eight guardian deities who preside over the eight points of the compass were given an elephant each (If you are interested the deities are: East - Indra, South East – Agni, South – Yama, South West – Surya, West – Varuna, North West – Vayu, North – Kubera and North East – Soma) so that they could use them for the defence and protection of their allotted quarter of the world. Airavata, the king-god of elephants, is also known as Ardh-Matanga which means elephant of the clouds.

So when we got there I discovered that the museum was built as a home for a collection of priceless antiques that were believed to bring blessings and prosperity to Thailand and it's people. The owner wanted to build something that would keep the artefacts safe, would adhere to Eastern traditions and that was symbolic of the cosmography of the East. He decided to use the heavenly elephant Airavata (Erawan) as it's main symbol (Huge elephant which is sometimes depicted with thirty-three heads and sometimes with three) and designed the rest of the building around the Thai belief in three worlds.

The ground floor represents the Underworld - This is where the Naga, said to be the guardian's of treasure, live. The Naga are a race of supernatural beings usually depicted with both snake and human attributes (You can't take photographs in this section so this is a picture of the Naga King and his wife and servant that I found). This section of the museum represents the Naga King's (Nagaradja) Palace and explains the idea behind the museum and has beautiful examples of Chinese porcelain, Vietnamese pottery, antique furniture, antique tea sets and it has a huge statue of the Nagaradja in the middle of the room (Obviously he's keeping an eye on all the artefacts!!)

The Hall represents Mount Sumeru - This is a sacred mountain in Hindu mythology considered to be the centre of the universe and the home of Rahma and the other deities - many Hindu temples, including Angkor Wat, have been built as symbolic representations of the mountain. The Hall is beautiful - It has a domed stained glass ceiling which is meant to represent the roof of the world and was made in glass so that light and goodness can pass through it. It shows the ancient map of the world surrounded by signs of the zodiac and is supported by four pillars which depict the history of the four main religions followed on earth - Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. You have to climb up a few stairs to get to the top of the dome and then you have a choice of getting the lift (Which is inside the right leg of the elephant) or going up more stairs (left leg) to get to the last section of the museum which is inside the elephant (Very cool!!)

The elephants stomach represents Tavatimsa Heaven - According to Buddhism there are twenty realms of happy existence and the third one is known as Tavatisma Heaven. The term 'tavatimsa' means thirty-three and this heaven is named after thirty-three men who collectively dedicated their whole lives to the happiness and well-being of other people - When they died the leader of the group became ruler of this heaven, acquired the name Indra (I guess this is why Erawan sometimes has thirty-three heads!!) and pledged to protect the earth. I could have just sat in this section of the museum for hours - it was absolutely beautiful. The whole room was painted blue, the ceiling was decorated with a painting of the solar system and there were some stunning Buddah carvings.

So......not a lot to do with the history of elephants but a really beautiful place to visit!!

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

I just had to share this

This is from a leaflet we got detailing the wonders of the Burmese Army Trekking Stick (I kid you not!!)

'Indispensable for safe trekking particularly when negotiating sharp inclines and fording quick-moving streams. Originally designed by Sir Jeffrey Hillpig-Smyth for British Special Forces stationed at Mandalay in 1941.

A brief sketch of Sir Jeffrey Hillpig-Smyth
  • Born London, 1910
  • As a schoolboy - overweight, few friends, poor student, non-athletic yet polite, called 'Hillpiggy' by the staff.
  • Harrow, 1928
  • Sent down from Oxford for indecency, 1930
  • Unsuccessfully stood for parliament, as an independent from the small constituency of Looting on the Thames, finishing fourth in a field of three, 1934
  • Alcoholic, 1935
  • Published at his own expense an angry and spirited collection of short essays entitled 'Sticks and Stones', 1936
  • Alcoholic again, 1937
  • Published a second collection of short essays entitled, Mudpuddles and Other Outrages, 1938
  • Joined Military Intelligence & Engineering, the elite I&E group, 1939
  • Assigned to British Special Forces, Mandalay, British East India (Burma), 1940
  • Recovering from a minor fall, designed the Military Trekking Stick, 1941
  • Disappeared while on a morning mini-trek within the Special Forces compound. A search party was organised and diligently combed the 3 acre area for well over an hour, sadly to no avail, 1944
  • Officially still missing, September 1992
  • Unofficially, over the years there have been periodic sightings of Hillpiggy in the Burmese jungle
  • The latest, as recent as the last monsoon, has Hillpiggy on elephant leading a small group of well-disciplined guerrillas near Kuhn Sa's stronghold at Nam King.
Further information is available by writing to:

Find the Hillpig Society
9/1 Arrak Road Soi 7
Chiangmai, Thailand

The reward of 25 pound sterling for information confirming Hillpiggy's status remains in effect.'

I have even found a website where you can buy one of the walking sticks (Teak Limey)

Monday, 26 March 2007

Living in Thailand constantly makes me laugh.......

I made spag bol on Friday night to say thank you to Chris and Moon for looking after me so well last week - Moon added dried chilli to it!! (She has also done this to mince and tatties.....much to Chris's horror!!) Talk about East meets West!!

I think perhaps the bar staff need some lessons!! (This was when we visited Khao San Road)

Random Tap in Gents toilet (No I didn't take the photo).

You can buy porn at the street stalls and markets here but when you go to the cinema to see a film (Chris and I went to see 300 on Sunday) the women's nipples are blanked out!!! In saying that, it is fine to have this displayed outside a lingerie shop in one of the central shopping malls. (All I could do was laugh when I saw this little gem)

Not sure what this is all about - there didn't seam to be any reason for the statue being there (I'm sure it's all very obvious once you are in the know but it left Chris and I scratching our heads)

The same goes for this 12 ways in business sign. I couldn't resist sharing the wise words of point six - 'Machines don't bread, if you don't break them'

Last but not least - I had to share this sign telling you not to flush toilet roll 'or any other foreigner objects' down the loo

Friday, 23 March 2007

A short update and a little something for Marilyn

It is now official - I am the Welfare Volunteer Co-ordinator for the British Women's Group here. I attended their AGM yesterday and was voted in (The mad fools!!). It's actually really exciting - we've had two people volunteer to join the new Welfare Team and I have a partner in crime.....a lovely woman called Carolyn who, believe it or not, worked in Customs and Excise for 30 years!! (I asked if she knew Chris - She had heard of him but had not actually met him - Small world). Oh, and whilst I'm on the subject of small world....I also met a woman yesterday called Meilan who used to live in Ayr and some of her best friends come from Straiton!! (Was so shocked I didn't think to ask who!!). My first official task is to meet with Oxfam here in Bangkok as they are looking for some volunteers and have approached the group for help.

I have other exciting news - I have met a lovely lady who owns a shop in Sukhumvit 53 called Pandora (She has some lovely stuff - Pandora Furniture) and she said that she is starting a gallery and would like to display my art work for me. I told that she should probably wait till she has seen them before saying that (She might hate them - I mean it's not like they are nice and normal!!) but when she heard that I had commissions she said that it would be fine - I am going to go and see her next week.

Talking of drawings.....I've done a new one!! (What do you think? - I might have a go at doing it in colour.....)

Last but not least - Marilyn, my Dad told me that you and Charles had been looking for me on-line so that we could say hi whilst he was staying with you - sorry I wasn't around but, knowing what a fan you are of my Fab shoes, I thought I would show you these......modelled by my lovely assistant Moon (Who now thinks I am more bonkers than she usually does!!) .......aren't they beauties!!!

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

The MRI Scan

Chris had three meetings that he just couldn’t get out of (probably because he had had to take so much time off work last week) so my lovely friend Jenny agreed to take his place and do the hand holding. (Thank you Jen - you deserve a medal).

We arrived at the hospital at 8am and I was told to go and get changed. I have to say that both Jen and Moon did me proud – neither laughed when I emerged from the changing room in the most hideous green pyjama things you have ever seen (They were the same colour as the Tupperware that Moon had wanted to buy – I rest my case!!). Anyway, they took more blood and then I was shown into the MRI room, asked to lie down and was strapped to this table thing which then entered into the actual scanner (Beam me up Scotty!!). I then spent an hour being told ‘breath in, breath out, hold your breath’ (Not the most exciting experience) whilst the machine made various beeping, crunching and whirring noises. (At one point the table thing I was strapped to started vibrating and all I could think was ‘At least this will be good for my cellulite!!’). They then injected me with this stuff (I assume it was so they could get clear pictures - That's me in the picture to the right!!) which I could actually feel going round my system – and then it was all over. That was a doddle (Good Scottish word for easy) - Not pleasant but not even close to how bad I thought it was going to be!! (I have an over-active imagination what can I say…..)

My appointment with the Specialist to discuss the results was not till 12 so we had a few hours to kill before I saw him. We sat in Starbucks drinking tea and eating cake (naughty but nice). It turned out that he was running very late and my appointment was moved to 2pm (I would rather he be late and take his time with someone else than rush them) so we went and grabbed some lunch. Jen also had an appointment at 2 which was handy because it meant that she didn’t have to hang about waiting for me – Moon wasn’t so lucky!! (Jen is a great friend – she actually came back and was there when I finished speaking to the Doc.…she should have made a bid for freedom while she had the chance!!).

I got to have a good long chat with my Doctor during which time he showed me scans, x-rays and explained exactly what was going on and what had caused it. I have a 3.5cm tumour in my liver (Don’t worry it’s not cancerous - You can see it quite clearly on the left hand side of my liver in the scan - Chris has christened it Mini Me). It has been caused by taking the birth control pill for so many years - apparently the Gall stone and the tumour are classic side effects (can you believe it!!). I’ve had Mini Me for about two years and I have been told that it won’t cause me any pain or discomfort at all but that they want to see it reduce in size. I have to stop taking the birth control pill, take medication to thin my bile (Yes, I know you didn’t really want to know that but hey….at least I’ve not put the DVD of my op on the blog!!), continue to lose weight and (This is the worst bit) not drink any alcohol for two months!! (TWO MONTHS!!! Actually, I have negotiated one day off – I asked if I would be able to have some wine with my husband to celebrate our wedding anniversary and he said yes…..I’ll probably have one sip and be away with the fairies). The other specialist explained that the medication they are giving me should help me lose weight, shrink the tumour and, since the gall stone I have is really small, wear away the stone so that hopefully it will just disappear. I've to go back to have another MRI scan in three months time which, if they have got everything right, should show that the tumour has shrunk and then life will return back to normal with the exception of check ups on it every few years or so.

I did also get good news - the procedure they did to remove the stone was very successful and I can now eat spicy food again. Yipeeeee almost makes up for the no alcohol (I told my friend Louise today that I've not to drink anything for two months....she laughed a lot....I may have to hit her next time I see her).

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Three fun filled days in Bumrungrad

I loved the place so much I decided to visit it again……and then stay a while!!

I woke up on Wednesday morning with the horrific burning pain in my stomach and my back so it was back to hospital. I saw the same lovely wee doctor I had seen the first time who decided that this time I would be admitted and that they would run a series of tests to see what was going on. I have never been so poked and prodded in my life!! I was connected to another drip (Fido the 2nd), given two lots of blood tests, had an x-ray, a CT Scan (I was allergic to the contact media they use so not only was I being poked and prodded I was red and lumpy……Chris had never seen me look so attractive!!) and then I had an Endoscopy. So, they discovered that I have a stone and some gravel in my gall bladder – The stomach produces chemicals that stimulate the gall bladder causing it to expand and contract this then pushed some of the gravel out the gall bladder into my common bile duct (It had to be the common one didn’t it!!) and it had formed another stone which was blocking the duct and causing the pain (Got all that…..good).

On day two I was told that I would need another Endoscopy to remove the stone and the gravel (This is one of the images of the stone - how cool is are now looking at a picture of my insides!!). I also had the most humiliating experience of my life and I just know that you are all going to laugh your heads off (It’s not funny!!). A little woman came in (She did work at the hospital – she wasn’t just some random woman) and asked me if I wanted to have a shower – well having been poked and prodded I felt a bit skanky so, yes, I wanted a shower. Me, Fido 2 and little woman made our way into the bathroom. She then undressed me (Erm…..okkkkayyy!!), turned the water on and got it to a good temperature (I’m naked here!! When are you leaving!!), put on rubber gloves (Oh Nooooo!!!!!) and proceeded to wash me…..and, when I say wash, me I mean everywhere!! (Arrrrgggggggg). I was absolutely mortified!!! (To be fair I think that in the grand scheme of things she had the worst of it but !!!!!!!). I was just recovering from this ordeal when they wheeled me down to have my second Endoscopy (Actually that was a bit weird….the staff remembered me from the day before so all said ‘Hello’ and waved when I was wheeled in…..very surreal!!).

Chris was absolutely brilliant and I don’t think I would have been half as relaxed as I was if he hadn’t been there to hold my hand and Moon kept a close eye on both of us. Actually, the staff were brilliant as well and I have to say that I would rather be ill here than in the UK!!. I saw four doctors, all of whom were specialists in their field, they all visited me in my room and explained exactly what they were going to do and why (and took the time to answer any questions that I had), the nurses introduced themselves to me, the room was spotless and the hospital even sent a customer service person to my room to make sure that I was completely happy (Can you imagine that ever happening in the UK…….I don’t think so!!). Ha, I even got a DVD of my endoscopies which, because I am a nasty piece of work, I made Chris and Moon watch!!

They also detected a problem in my liver but are not too sure what it is so I have been asked to come back on Tuesday for an MRI scan and some more bloody (literally) blood tests. So I have had a fun filled three days in hospital and still have another one to look forward to (aren’t I the lucky one!!)

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Visit to a Bangkok Slum

Yesterday I did my first piece of work on behalf of the BWG.

Just after Christmas there was a horrific fire that swept through a squatter community in Klong Toey causing 300 slum houses to burn down and making numerous families homeless. The slum is under one of the expressways and it took something like 30 fire trucks about three hours to get the fire under control. It didn’t help that the gas canisters people used for cooking were exploding and sending fire balls into the sky and, to make matters worse, rescue services couldn’t get to the fire and ended up having to go onto the expressway to put it out.

At the time members of the BWG visited the site and offered to help where they could – people had been so generous that they were asked to wait till the site was cleared and then to give some money to help with the re-building of the area. So yesterday I met up with Julie and Louise and headed over to the Human Development Foundation (HDF), also known as the Mercy Centre, which is responsible for coordinating the relief effort.

The HDF is run by a man called Father Jo and what they do is incredible. It began as a single nursery school aimed at providing the slum children with a basic education and then grew into an umbrella organisation for 31 schools - 30 nurseries and one primary, all located in the slums around Bangkok (So far they have educated more than 55,000 children and there are nearly 4,000 students currently enrolled in these schools, taught by 110 teachers). There is even a ‘Special Kids’ programme which gives exceptionally bright children, that want to pursue higher education, financial help to continue their studies up to university level. Then, after arranging medical care for some members of the community, a regular service was set up three times a week (every Monday, Wednesday and Friday), until the HDC procured enough money for a medical clinic that now provides pre-natal and post-natal care, as well as general health care, seven days a week. It doesn’t end there…..they have also set up the ‘All-Slum Savings and Loan Programme’ to help fire victims rebuild their homes before developers can move in, they run vocational training and employment programmes (This involves giving slum mothers, who cannot afford to leave their homes, sewing machines and fabric and then selling the products they create in exhibitions and fairs), The Mercy Centre also cares for HIV carriers and Aids victims and serves as a hospice for the terminally ill so that they can die in comfort and dignity. (Told you what they do is incredible). Father Jo has written a book called 'The Bangkok Slaughter House' and it is about the lives of the people that live here - some stories are happy, some sad.........If you buy a copy your money will go towards improving the lives of these people.

We were shown round the centre and then headed out to the fire site to see what was still needed. I knew I was going to visit a fire site and had prepared myself for that but wasn’t prepared for what I saw. The site had been cleared of all the big pieces of debris but it wasn’t what I would have called cleared by any stretch of the imagination. The architect who is putting together a plan for the new site was telling us that they are just going to build over what is left (!!!!) but that no building has started as yet because there is a stale mate between the company that actually own the land and the Government. There is no-where else for these poor people to go!! The Government have unofficially pledged 30,000 baht per house to help re-building but the company that own the land are sending people to stand watch and it’s possible that anyone who starts building will face arrest.

Oh my God - You should see how these people are living. The Klong Toey district office has put up temporary shelters for the homeless families to stay inside the compound of the Klong Toey flat – they have no water, no electricity, no sanitation and the entire place is infested with rats. No-one should have to live like that!!! We signed a check on the spot for 70,000 baht and we will go back in a few weeks time to see how they are getting on.

I went home and designed a volunteer form and wrote a paragraph explaining what my idea is and how it will work – I hope that I will be able to make a difference!!

The Bridge over the River Kwai

This is something that Chris and I have wanted to do since we arrived in Thailand so when Sadie said that she fancied visiting the Bridge on the River Kwai I jumped online and booked a private tour.

I booked through a website called Hellfire Pass which claimed to be the official memorial website and our itinerary was supposed to be as follows; 7am Depart Bangkok for Kanchanaburi, 9am visit the infamous Bridge and view the war cemetery, 11am Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum (This is a museum dedicated to the allied prisoners who worked around the clock to complete excavation of the 17 meter deep and 110 meter long mountain for the train line. The mixture of hammering noises and the light from the fires and oil fired bamboo torches, needed to make work at night possible, created such an eerie illumination that it looked like the ‘Fires from Hell’ which is why the locals called it ‘Hellfire Pass’ - See photo), 1pm Lunch at Nam Tok Station (The last Existing train station of the Thailand-Burma railway in Thailand), 12pm Tiger Temple (Where you can walk among the Tigers and Monks), 4pm Take a train ride along the ‘Death Railway’ passing over the wooden viaduct built along the mountain. 5.45pm Depart for Bangkok. Despite the tour being advertised as a one day tour we discovered when we got there that there was no way that it was possible to do all that in one day…..I also got the feeling that it was not the first time that the guide had been left with really unhappy tourists. (Not good at the best of times but a really stupid thing to do when you are dealing with people that actually live here and you could get a lot of repeat business - next time I will hire a van and a driver and do the trip myself). Anyway, we got to see some of the stuff we wanted and had a great time despite the upset at the beginning.

We had a lovely little driver who had no teeth and who could only speak one word in English…..toilet. We discovered this when he pulled into a service station on the way to Kanchanaburi, opened the door to the van and announced ‘Toilet’ whilst grinning (He was very proud of his one English word). We dutifully trooped in and found ourselves facing one of those toilets with the footprints that you need to hover over…..all I could think about was ‘Thank God I’m not wearing wellies!!’ (Those of you who have ever had a conversation with my Dad, or indeed those of you that attended our wedding, will know what I am talking about). At least it was clean which was more than could be said for toilets that were advertised as ‘Clean Toilets’….now they could have been done if Thailand had a trades description act!! Sorry….digressing again…..where was I…..ah yes – We arrived in Kanchanaburi and met up with our guide who then took us to the main POW (Prisoner Of War) Cemetery. There are 6,982 POWs buried there (mostly British, Australian, Dutch and Canadian) the majority of which were younger than me – I didn’t expect it to upset me as much as it did. I had a huge lump in my throat which, despite my efforts, spilled over….I tried to pretend I had something in my eye but no-one believed me!! (Chris was struggling as well and I found out later that both Sadie and Margaret spilled over and that Sadie had also tried the ‘something in my eye’ excuse).

From there we went and had some lunch and then went to visit the old ‘Wang Pho South’ POW Camp. This is the site of the original Wampo Viaduct which was built round a cliff face, round a bend in the river and is about 1/3 of a mile long. It is absolutely phenomenal - The original Wampo wooden Viaduct is till in tact (You go over it when on the train) and, when you actually visit the camp, you can walk along it and go into a cave which was used as the POW hospital. To be honest I really didn’t know how to feel… was the oddest sensation – you are standing there looking at something incredibly beautiful, a feat of engineering, knowing that so many lives were lost to build it. You can read more about the personal stories of the men who built this viaduct at (War Stories)

Then we went to visit the Tiger temple I think after all the emotion we all needed some light relief!! The Tiger temple came about when local villagers found an orphaned tiger cub and the Monk, Abbot-Pra Acharn Phusit, took pity on the poor cub and saved it from certain death. Since then it has become home to numerous tigers as well as a myriad of other animals. It was amazing – we watched two cubs frolicking in a cage with their mum….they were chasing each other and trying to bite each others tails with Mum giving them an occasional friendly bat as they ran past. Then we walked down to ‘Tiger Canyon’ and had our photo’s taken with the big cats……sorry but I have to get this out of my system…..’OH MY GOD I TOUCHED A TIGER!!!’ there…..I feel better now!! I thought it was brilliant and would love to go back – they are so beautiful up close.

After the tigers we headed to Nam Tok Station where we boarded the train and set off on our journey upon the Death Railway. It was absolutely breathtaking…..I’m going to let the photo’s speak for themselves.

Then we headed to the actual Bridge over the River Kwai. It was really busy and there were a surprising amount of Japanese Tourists at all the places we visited now that I come to think of it. We all walked onto the bridge and looked out down the river then Sadie and Margaret headed back and Chris and I walked right along to the other side – It felt quite monumental!!

We didn’t get to visit Hellfire Pass but I think in the grand scheme of things that was probably not such a bad thing…..I think I would have bawled my eyes out (and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been the only one). We will go back and visit it at some point but I think we were all worn out on the journey back to Bangkok.

Sadie and Margaret left the next day – can’t believe that their holiday has come to an end already!!