Monday, 29 December 2008

Pfftt - We've had a computer virus

Which is why my wee blog has been neglected (and I've got loads to blog about!!). I think I shall start by wishing you all a (slightly belated) Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year.

Oh, and if anyone knows where I can buy a mirror that does this then perhaps I can ask Chris for one for my Christmas next year :-)

Right, I'm off to see what you've all been up to.....

Thursday, 11 December 2008

All about H

The lovely JJ has tagged me with the letter H (I did ask for a letter so brought it upon myself...well, I thought you needed a break before I finish the Mae Hong Son trip) so I now have to blog about ten things I love beginning with the letter H

Here goes

1. Husband - I adore him...he's the only man I have ever met that can make me laugh so much I get belly ache and I wouldn't swap him for the world!! (Awww....kinda makes you want to go running for the nearest bucket doesn't it!!)

2. Handbags - (Chris you came before Handbags....that's true love for you!!). This is a recent discovery for me....I always liked them but they didn't have my heart till JJ introduced me to the joy that is Mulberry Handbags....I shall never be the same again and it's all her fault!!

3. High Heels - I really did wrack my brains to find a way of including shoes on this list!! (Handbags and High Heels - That almost makes me sound like a classy lady....those of you that read this blog regularly will know that I'm not but hey....I can dream!!)

4. Holidays - I love going on holiday (who doesn't??). I get excited just thinking about all the amazing places I want to see and, sad person that I am, I regularly look on the internet for interesting places that I could visit one day. (Yesterday it was Machu Picchu....I soooo want to go there!!)

5. Hotels - I have no idea why but I love staying overnight in hotels....I think it's something to do with the clean crisp white sheets that they have on the beds.

6. Home - I love going away but I love coming home again too!! Home is where Chris is and that changes as we move around but in terms of an actual place.....well, it would have to be Glasgow. (The picture is of Glasgow School of was built by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and is absolutely stunning!!)

7. Hugging - There is nothing quite like a big hug when you are feeling blue!!

8. Herbs - Cause I love cooking and have a weird and wonderful collection of herbs!!

9. Hiccups - They make me giggle!! (Can you tell I am now struggling for words that begin with H?)

10. Hchocolate - hehehehe

If you would like to do this alphabet Meme then just let me know and I will give you a letter :-)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

An Award

The lovely French Fancy has given me this gorgeous award (Thanks hon) and as always there are rules associated.

1. Copy and paste the rules and instructions into your post.
2. When you post about receiving this award, make sure you include who gave you the award and link it back to them.
3. Post five winners and link it back to them as well.
4. Post five of your addictions.
5. Add the award image.
6. Let your winners know you gave them an award by leaving them a comment on their blog.

So the next step is for me to nominate five other bloggers for this award so I pass this to the lovely JJ at Tea Stains, Misssy from the Misssy M Misssives, Lily at When Life Gives You Lemons, Lane at Lane's Write and last but certainly not least DJ at DJ Kirkby's Blog. (Why is there always a limit on how many people you can pass these things onto?) addictions

Art - Go to any shopping mall and I am to be found in one of two places....either the art book section or the art supply section. I adore drawing and am never happier than when I am hunched over my drawing table scribbling away. There are a zillion things I would love to try and I keep a note book of ideas (most of which I will never be able to achieve but one of my goals is to have fun trying). I love going to art galleries and exhibitions and everywhere we go I have to buy some kind of art whether it is an actual picture or just a postcard as a keepsake. (If I ever have enough money I want to own a Dinh Quan original)

Tea - The difference in me pre tea and post tea is incredible.......I really am one of those people that can't function without a cuppa in the morning!! I blame my Gran.....she used to make me a cup of tea as a cure for everything (Secretly I still believe in the amazing abilities of tea to solve any problem you will ever have.....but don't tell anyone....they'll laugh!!)

Books - I don't read books I consume them!! I'm really not fussy what I read and have read books from just about any genre that you care to mention. My Dad's a writer and I think that is probably where I got my love of books from....In saying Mum is a book monster too so perhaps it's just in the genes!!

Funky Things - I am a collector of weird and wonderful funky things. I adore anything that is a bit odd (I'm a bit odd myself really....hey, at least I know!!) and have a strange collection of ornaments dotted about the house. I will give you a couple of examples - I have a gorgeous (Chris hates her) wee pottery cave woman ....that has huge feet, feathers for hair and a brown toga thing that goes over one shoulder but the thing that made me absolutely fall in love with her was that if you lift up the toga (don't ask me how I found this out) she has feathers for pubic hair (hehehehe - I would show you a picture but she's already been packed!!). Another example (which I bought the other day so can show you) is an old Burmese statue of a girl's face....she has, what I would call, sprigs (bunches of hair) on either side of her head and in the middle is a little rope which you can barely see but if you pull it she sticks her tongue out at you!! (I really need to get out more don't I....)

Food - I love my food. I didn't used to (that was when I was thin) but as I've got older my taste buds have matured and I have discovered the absolute joy that is good food. One thing I have really missed here is cooking...the kitchen doesn't have air-con which makes cooking in it just hideous and I end up all red faced and sweaty so one of the things I am really looking forward to about moving back to the UK is being able to cook again. I can't wait to get back to perusing farmers markets and going to food fairs choosing the freshest ingredients to cook with and then matching the wine to the recipe....bliss!!!

So there you have my five addictions :-)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Mae Hong Son (Day 2) - Huay Gung School

Gawd it's taking me some time to get to the end of this trip isn't it......Your going to be fed up reading about it by the time I'm finished!!. In my defence, during the last week, we have gone through all our stuff, had it packed up ready to be shipped, had the splats chipped (Lugs was determined not to get into the cat basket and had all four feet employed in the task of avoiding it) and we've been waiting with bated breath to see what on earth was going to happen with Thailand's political situation....ok, I'll stop making excuses and get on with it.

As I've already reported (here) leaving the village of Mae Jong was nowhere near as nerve racking as our arrival. The road, or the muddy track as it's otherwise known, had dried up overnight so we were not sliding all over the place much to the relief of all concerned (although the plummets on either side did still cause a few heart stopping moments!!). We had planned to visit Om Ai School which the BWG recently gave money to for the refurbishment of their bathrooms (If you look closely at the picture you can see the village) but we were told that the road was impassible and the only way to get there would have been by elephant......we didn't have the time.....or the elephants!!

The next school we visited, Huay Gung, was one of the most heart breaking places I have ever been and I left there with my blood boiling and a determination to help change things there!! My first impression of the school was that it was not too different from the others we had visited but once we started asking questions and walked past the main building we were shocked by what we found.

To put this into some kind of context - there are 190 kids attending this school aged between 4 and 16 and over 30 kids live h
ere full time.

To be honest I don't really know where to start!! (The photo's don't show just how awful it was there). There was rotten, mouldy food all over the place...there is no canteen, all food is cooked on this one stove, and not enough teachers to look after all the kids, never mind keep the place clean, so they are kind of running riot. The water tanks which are supposed to provide them with a water supply for the year are leaking, the classrooms were in a terrible state and the accommodation for both the kids and the teachers was just horrific!! I don't know if you can see from the pictures but there are no beds, no proper mats or mattresses, mold was growing up the walls, mouldy boxes were piled up in a corner along with broken desks and the teachers, that don't sleep in with the kids, sleep in the cooking area cause there is nowhere else for them to go!!!

To add insult to injury some idiot in the education department (I have no idea which government was in charge at the time) pledged that ever
y school in Thailand would have a computer and computer room. The people that run the schools were told that the money would have to come out of their budgets (no extra funds were made available) and that they had to comply. So, as a result, this school has a computer room and something that would pass as a computer....they can't use it........because they have no fucking electricity!!!! That money could have paid for another teacher, or beds, or a new water tower but nooooo someone wanted to be able to tell the rest of the world that every school in Thailand has it's own computer!!!!

On a happier note - The school now has a new headmistress in place and it was her that approached us for help and showed us round. She has some excellent plans for tackling the problems there but she needs financial help to achieve them so, upon our return to Bangkok, I made a special request to the BWG Committee that we pledge to support this school for an initial period of three years to help it get to an acceptable standard. It was agreed and I have offered to co-ordinate the project from the UK.

Friday, 28 November 2008


Things are very tense here at the moment!! The PAD are refusing to leave Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports and the PPP (Ruling Government) are refusing to stand down. Last night tanks were spotted on Bangkok streets and ten buses full of troops were seen leaving Prachin Buri which added fuel to the rumours about the possibility of another coup. So far today, we have heard that Mr Somchai (The Thai PM) has authorised the use of force by the police to disperse the PAD who have responded by stating that there will be chaos in central Bangkok (They are threatening to block traffic at 50 intersections which would bring the entire city to a standstill) if the police move against them and that they are prepared to 'fight to the death'. In my opinion The tragedy here is that it's the Thai people's blood on the streets whilst the two leading factions battle it out using words, the media and anything else at their disposal. I guess the big question is are the two sides man enough to call a truce and sit round the negotiating table (which I feel is going to have to happen at some point anyway) before any more innocent lives are lost?

We are fine so please don't worry. We are at least a 30 minute drive from both airports so are no-where near the main trouble spots. Last night we were told to stock up on money, food and water as a precautionary measure which we did (Note to self: Don't let Chris do the stocking up ever again....he came back with what he loveingly called 'panic bought' donuts and ice-cream....honestly!!).

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Mae Hong Son (Day 2) - The Village of Mae Jong

I was going to split the details of my trip over two posts but when I sat down to write day 2 I discovered that to do it justice, and to share my impressions of the place (and some of the stories of the people who live there), the village of Mae Jong needed a post all to itself!!

The lovely Lane mentioned in her comment on the previous post that she was curious as to why the people are known as The Karen Hill Tribe so I thought I would try and give you a brief history.

If your not interested in the history you can skip this bit :-)
The Karen people are originally from Burma. There are roughly 7,000,000 Karen People in Burma and around 400,000 in Thailand. When the current Government came into power in Burma the Karen people aspired to have the areas where they were the majority formed into a 'region' within Burma similar to what the Shan, Kachin and Chin peoples had been given but, due to the fact that they boycotted the elections (This was because their people had been massacred by both the Japanese and the Burmese Army during World War II and had received no justice), they were not included in the 1947 constitution (The Karen were not the only ones...the Mon People got no consideration as well). I don't know what their name was originally but when Burma was carved up into different regions by the Government the Karen people took their name from the land on which they had lived. The Burmese Goverment (I should probably say Myanmar but I can't get used to calling it that) refuse to recognise them as Burmese citizens and the Thai Government don't recognise them either!! (They are known for their weaving and hand crafts hence the pictures). So, back to the village.

We were dragged from our peaceful slumber at 6am by the Princess's anthem being blasted out of speakers across the hillside. We were then lulled into a false sense of security by a few moments silence, when we thought we might be able to get a few more minutes shut eye, before the Kings anthem started!!! (No-one had warned us about that but I have to say that it's a very good alarm system....there is no way you could sleep through it!!). I dragged my carcass out of my sleeping bag and was shocked to discover that it was actually cold....proper cold!! Do you remember me telling you that the water for showering was in a concrete bath and that you had to scoop it up and pour it over yourself?.....well, I had to use all my powers of persuasion to convince myself to pour the second lot of water over my skin. The first one was bad but the second one.....holy crap it was freeeeeeeezzzzing!!!!! Then it dawned on me that that was how these people they washed themselves and their hair every single day. We had breakfast outside looking over the valley and then it was time for us go into the village itself.

I have never seen anything like it!!! The village consisted of about 40 houses all made of wood and bamboo (which had been built by the villagers themselves!!) and had a large clearing in the middle of it which was obviously used as the village meeting area. The whole place just bustled with life...there were little pigs (and I mean tiny wee things) that snuffled around your feet making very cute little snorting noises as you walked, cattle lowing as they were moved from one area to another, chickens scratching in the earth and people going about their daily lives. Traditionally this was one of the villages that farmed poppies which were then used for opium but some time ago the Thai King requested that they swap poppies for cabbages so as well as the rice paddies there were also tiers of cabbages growing up the mountainside.

Life is not easy for this community.....if you look closely at the photo you will see a little track leading from the top of the hill to the huts at the bottom....the family who's land that is walk along the ridge, down the hill, work in the fields, walk back up the hill and then back along the ridge to their home......and they do that every day!!!

This is a picture of a man in the process of slaughtering one of his cows....every single scrap will be used in some way or other. I don't know if you can see it clearly in the picture but he has spread a bamboo mat on the ground just next to his house which he is using to keep the carcass out the dirt. The woman here is being helped by her neighbours to wash the entrails and other bits (bits is the technical term obviously!!)

We stopped and had a chat with this woman using one of the teachers as an interpreter. Her husband passed away a number of years before so she was out chopping her own wood for a fire later in the evening. She told us that the bracelets on her arms give her strength which is why she is still able to chop wood, cook and be a help to the community. She wasn't sure just how old she was but she knew that she was over 80.

Some of the villagers had got together and were sitting chatting in the meeting area of the village. I have to say that the number of people smoking was really surprising....I'm not sure why I found that so surprising but I did!! It was here that I met a woman who told me that her son was one of the first kids to go through the school and that he's now studying to be a Doctor in Chaing Mai. She earns two thousand baht a year (That's about £35) and she gives one thousand five hundred of it to her son....she was so proud of him!!! I tried to take some pictures of the villagers surreptitiously.....I hope I've managed to capture something of the place and it's people.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Mae Hong Son (Day 1)

I have been struggling for the last week to work out how to blog about my trip away....I think my main problem has been that I was deeply affected by it and I just didn't know how to share that with you!! So, I've finally decided that I should just start writing about it and see what happens....

I'm not going to bore you with the details of our entire journey (but it did involve being up at the ungodly hour of 4am.....the only reason you should ever be up that early is when you've not been to bed yet!!) so I will start with when we all met up at Chiang Mai airport. There were eight of us altogether and we were a truly international group - We had Karl and Britta from Germany representing the International Group of Bangkok, Vesna and Margaret from New Zealand representing ANZWG (Australia and New Zealand Women's Group), Carolyn and myself representing the BWG (British Women's Group), Brenda who is from the States and Susan who was leading the trip (She's originally from Tasmania) and has been working in the area we were visiting for over 20 years.

Our first stop was at a small market town called Hod (pronounced Hot.....which incidentally it wasn''s the cool season here and for the first time there was actually a breeze!!). The purpose of this stop was so that we could buy balloons and biscuits to give to the kids who's schools we were going to be visiting (The kids rarely get any kind of treats so it's customary to take something with you). Whilst negotiations were being done on price (It's Thailand...everything can be negotiated!!) the rest of us had a look around. Hod is populated primarily by Karen Hill Tribe people who, funnily enough, have moved out of the hills....there was not much to see but I did try and get some pictures of people living their everyday lives. (If you think the butcher here is bad then just you wait!!!)

We then travelled by van for another hour or so to the first village school that we were to assess - Just to give you an idea of where we actually were.....we were five miles away from the Burmese Border in the mountains of Thailand. This school is based in the village of Mae Sued but actually provides the education for students from 8 other villages (this will increase to 10 next year). They currently have 196 children attending, their ages range from 5 up to 15, and they have over 30 students who actually live on site because their home villages are just too far for them to travel to and from every day. Awww, I can't tell you how lovely it was to actually be able to see where our money has gone!! You can see from the pictures that there has been a lot of outside investment in this school.....but it still has it's problems. The site floods every year during the rainy season so for 3/4 months each year the kids are sitting ankle deep in water!! 'Why did they build the school there then?' I hear you ask.....well, they were told to by the education people in the then Government....and yes, they did tell the education people that the site floods every year but it didn't make any difference....they were told to build it there so they did!!! The other main issue they have is the facilities for the kids that live there.....two families gave up their homes (I think they are now sharing one further up the village) so that the kids would have somewhere to sleep!! But fear's not all doom and gloom....ANZWG have just hosted The Melbourne Cup (See, I got drunk for a good cause!!) and some of the money raised from that event is going to pay for a flood wall to be built and for new accommodation for the kids *grins*.

I'm sorry this post is so huge (There is a lot more to come so I'm going to separate them into different days) but I think it's important to give you a sense of the community here. This picture is of the local villagers harvesting rice in the paddy fields and this is the mechanised contraption they use for actually making the rice.

From there we then headed to the next school which was about a 20 minute drive away in the village (If you can call it was more like a wee smattering of houses) of Huay Sing. This is one of the schools that Susan has been working with for years and you could was just lovely!! In addition to their classrooms they had a large canteen, a library, a meeting area and four purpose built dormitories for the kids that stay there. Susan was there to interview 11 kids with the view to them going on to further education - the school only has the capacity to educate them to the age of 14!!

We were then transferred from our van into....wait for open air pick up!! I think the phrase 'Eeek....this does not bode well' was going through everyone's minds as we clambered in....and, I have to be honest, if we had known where we were going I'm not sure all of us would have continued!! The pick up wove it's way up a very very curvy single track road and then along a ridge at the top of a mountain.....I kid you not when I tell you that there was at least a 100 foot drop on both sides of us....and then the road disappeared.....and we were travelling on muddy tracks slipping and sliding everywhere....we just had to trust that the driver, who has been going there every three months for the last 15 or so years, knew what he was doing but it was a hell of a scary!! We arrived in the village of Mae Jong at dusk and were taken straight to the school so didn't get to see much of our surroundings (at that point). The school was right at the edge of the village and was spread over four levels which had basically been cut out of the hillside!!! This was the school we were spending the night in.

We were shown to our rooms which were in one of the dormitories at the top of the mountain. They were basic but there was a bed (we were two to a room so Carolyn and I shared) and each room had it's own washing facilities - A squat style toilet and a concrete tub with water in it for showering with. We set out our sleeping bags and secured our mosquito net and then went out with the others to take part in a candle lighting ceremony to honour the Princess who's official funeral service was taking place over the weekend in Bangkok (The one Chris went to see). As guests we were expected to lead the community section of the ceremony....this involved taking our lit candles and inserting them into a gravel square on the main table so that they stood upright and then each subsequent Student/Teacher/Villager added their own candle till the square was full. It was really moving and very beautiful!! After the ceremony it was time for dinner and, as the only Brits present, Carolyn and I were invited to open the school's brand new canteen which was built with money from the BCTFN (British Community in Thailand For the Needy). It was an honour to cut the ribbon and even more so when we discovered that the entire village had got together to help build it!! By torch light we made our way back to our rooms and settled for the night.....exhausted but happy!!