Dhaka Daze

June 14, 2012

 

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Occasionally you will come across a country that will leave you excited, stunned, shocked, amused, heartbroken, impressed, depressed, and thankful.

For me, that country was Bangladesh, situated in south Asia and bordering India and Myanmar.

Up until early this year I have to say I knew nothing about the country, and could certainly not locate it on a map. All I knew was that it suffered from bad floods, and other than that it rarely made the news. But things changed when my good friend from Phuket moved there in January ish of this year, and I immediately made plans to visit.

The research began. I found a Lonely Planet in Bangkok and began reading up. The edition was small, only 200 pages, and quickly confirmed that there weren’t a tonne of attractions, and that many tourists tended to instead visit nearby India. Down the track I managed to find in Phuket a 1985 edition of the Bangladesh LP which reconfirmed nothing much had changed since then!

Bangladesh has had a really rough past, not much of which I knew about before some online research and a visit to the Liberation War Museum in central Dhaka. Initially it was part of India, then when India and Pakistan separated it became East Pakistan. Following a bloody war in 1971, Bangladesh was liberated, but not before India stepped in to defeat the Pakistanis. A year earlier around 500,000 people in East Pakistan had died when a cyclone hit, and Bangladesh today remains the victim of yearly floodings and other types of natural disasters.

I landed in Dhaka, where my friend was living. Arriving at the airport was incredible. It was so late at night (I had been delayed by about six hours in Bangkok – a common theme of this trip!) and when I arrived there seemed to be only men at the airport. Where were all the women? The airport was extremely run down and it was here when I stepped outside to find thousands more men who all appeared to be looking (or should i say, staring) at me that I got my first taste of what was to come.

We spent the next couple of days exploring Dhaka – the capital city of Bangladesh and home to 16 million people. Our main form of transport was a CNG, a little tuk tuk car thing on three wheels, in which we were caged and the door was locked – only able to be opened by the CNG driver. The CNGs, as the name says, are powered by compressed natural gas and since their introduction I read somewhere that they have done wonders for helping the pollution problem in Dhaka. Now they only have to sort out the horrendous totally un-eco friendly buses!

The traffic was insane. To get to the Old Dhaka part of the town (where we found most of the attractions were plus the markets) it took about two hours in a CNG from where we were staying. We dodged buses, people, rickshaws, beggars and huge pot holes. I’m used to a lot of crazy driving however there were times when my friend Hina and I both grabbed each other. With good reason too – we actually got hit by a bus. Thankfully it wasn’t at high speed and the CNG just rocked and got bashed forward, we didn’t tip over. One of the worst moments was when were driving through an area at such high speed and an old lady turned to stare (i got stared at A LOT on this trip) and then she fell over a big pile of trash. It was really sad and our driver didn’t even stop to help her up or anything.

The staring was definitely one of the worst parts of the trip. Hina is Pakistani so didn’t attract anywhere near the attention I did, with my white face and all. I’m not sure if people had not seen a white person before, but it sure seemed that way. Either that or they were just so bewildered and shocked to find me there, and wondered what I was doing there. It was a question I asked myself multiple times during some of the low points on the trip!!

Old Dhaka was great and was one of the highlights for me. We managed to cram in a lot during the two days we spent there. To get between the attractions we got to ride on a rickshaw, which I just loved. Rickshaws are a little carriage with a pushbike attached to the front, which usually an old man pedals to get you around. Certainly not the type of transport to take if you want to keep a low profile as the minute you sit high up on the rickshaw you immediately attract attention. Also it felt so awful sitting there while an old man drove you around the street, sweating like anything in the 35 degree heat for the measly 50 cents he would charge you for the service.

Here we visited lots of old buildings – the Ahsan Manzil (also known as the pink palace) built by a rich man in 1872. It eventually got run down but has been done up over the years. We also found the Armenian church, dating back to 1781 and unbelievably our guide (we were so stoked to find a guide there at all, let alone one who spoke amazing English and actually knew a lot of history about it) said it is still used about twice a year by people in Dhaka.

We went to the Sitara Mosque (Bangladesh is virtually all Muslims) which was rated by Lonely Planet as the one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. This was definitely not true. We had difficulty finding the place, and when we did, it was just a white mosaic mosque. Nothing impressive at all.

Lalbagh Fort was one of my favourites – one again it was a pink building but had such beautiful grounds. In a place as dirty as Bangladesh, it was so refreshing to find well cared for, luscious green grass and lots of trees and flowers. It made for some great photos as well. The guards here were particularly helpful and directed us to a local place where we ordered up a storm of Bangladeshi food (chicken curry, naan, rice and heaps of coke!) for $5. This was also where I got my marriage proposal (something I hope I won’t regret turning down when I’m alone at 60 with my 10 cats!).

We also visited a couple of markets – Shankharia Bazaar which had heaps of amazing cloth and other random things. Because Bangladesh doesn’t have much/any tourism, the markets were mostly just full of things local people will use/buy. This sadly didn’t include anything Hina and I wanted to buy! However I did manage to pick up a few cute scarves, only to find once I returned home they were made in China. Ah well. Also a lot of street food and fruit around – the fruit on our travels was delicious. Young coconuts (which I ate a lot of) were 20 cents each and chopped open fresh on the street, plus lychees, mangoes etc etc. There was a lot of really disturbing things such as a meat shop which had lots of live chickens there, clearly you just picked which one you wanted to eat for dinner. Also we somehow found ourselves on a chemical shop street. Here shopowners were pouring out cleaning and other chemicals with no protection at all, spilling it on the street etc. There was also a couple of perfume shops, where fake scents were labelled in jars behind the counter. It seems you just picked whether you wanted Gucci or Tommy and they popped it into a little container for you.

We also visited the Liberation War Museum as I previously mentioned. I was impressed by this because it was in a really neat little building (almost like a two storey house – sadly they took my camera away) and the exhibits were really detailed and all in English. They had some amazing records too – photographs and newspapers from the liberation period and lots of possessions from notable people involved in the movements of the time. Surprisingly there were a lot of women involved in taking a stand for freedom and I was surprised to find out the PM today is a woman also. One downside was how anti-Pakistan the museum was, and all the commentary of the exhibits reflected this. Understandably I suppose, but I normally expect museums to be more factual and balanced and this one really wasn’t at all.

We also went to the National Museum, which wasn’t very good. However it was packed with locals, all checking out the exhibits. There was a very small (and not very good) section on Bangladesh. The most interesting thing was a huge floor map of bangladesh, with a man sitting nearby who would light up particular towns when you asked him. What a job. The kids loved this and I was quite interested in seeing just how far we would have to travel by bus to get to Cox’s Bazaar, our final destination and a place near the Myanmar border. Turns out it was miles away (two bus rides, one eight hours and one six). The rest of the museum was basically just world artifacts, including some really weird exhibits such as dolls from different countries and birds etc. We got bored of this quickly, and I was rather disappointed.

It was also in Dhaka we got really bad food poisoning. After our first day in Old Dhaka we were stoked to have done so much and so far surviving, so we went out to a really nice restaurant we had eaten at the previous day. Lets just say the next day and a half were not pleasant as we both were so so sick (I was vomiting for 12 hours!!) and the toilets didn’t flush and the power was mostly out which meant no fan. Probably one of the standout worst moments of the last year. Sadly that meal remains the best one we had in Bangladesh!!!

After four days of exploring in the heat and dirt we decided to start making our way to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh’s pride and joy beach town. We headed east through Chittagong (about eight hours from Dhaka) before arriving at Cox’s, an area right on the Bay of Bengal and very close to the Burma border.

Stay tuned for more soon.

Tsunami scare

April 15, 2012

I’ve decided to momentarily resurrect my blog (which died a natural death late last year after I got bored/ran out of fun tourist things to talk about) to fill you all in about Wednesday’s tsunami scare, as so many of you have been asking about how it was etc.

I’m not sure on the exact times as it all ended up in a bit of a blur as you can imagine.

It was around 4.30pm on Wednesday when our office (on the 2nd floor) began shaking from an apparent earthquake. The clocks were shaking considerably and we all evacuated outside. Everyone was pretty ho hum (myself included, I used this opportunity to buy some deep fried snacks) about the whole thing. I was a bit worried especially after Christchurch and I was thinking if Phuket felt the quake, I wonder how bad it was elsewhere. Most of our staff (both Thai and Westerners) had lived through the 2004 tsunami so that was at the top of their minds, and some casual discussions began outside. Most of the Thais were on their phones, and I sent Mum (Mum and Dad were visiting Phuket during this time) a quick text saying, “Are you okay, quake.” She replied “Having a Thai massage!”. After about 15 or so minutes we decided to go back inside the office.

Of course arriving back at my desk news had already began arriving that the quake was somewhere off Banda Aceh. This immediately sent everyone into a state of nervousness because that’s where the 2004 tsunami stemmed from – a quake in almost the same location, and also, it was bloody close to Thailand. Within a few minutes BBC, Reuters and our newswire, AFP, had breaking news up detailing the situation. A short while after came a tsunami “watch” alert, meaning that people were being advised to evacuate areas around Thailand and other spots that could be affected, just incase a tsunami was triggered.

It was here I began really getting worried, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the newsroom. Mum and Dad were in Patong (the tourist beach area) and I had tried 28 times to call them (plus all the text messages), but the phone lines were blocked due to overloading (also what happened in the Christchurch quake). I had horror thoughts running through my mind of Mum having a massage, totally unaware what was happening around her.

Of course the news reports were careful, never directly saying a tsunami WAS going to happen. One of our two reporters went to Patong, with strict instructions of not to endanger herself and to remember that if a wave hit, it could be one of a few. Our other reporter stayed behind gathering information from the local authorities and finding out what was happening with evacuations, the airport etc. We also had to be very careful with our reporting, without trying to introduce fear (turns out we didn’t need to bother, most of the beach areas were already in a state of panic) and only going by what we believed to be the facts. Of course, that’s purely down to our interpretation!

In the meantime our paper’s website crashed due to heavy volumes of traffic so we had to rely entirely on our Facebook account. I’m the web editor (responsible for uploading all content online) so am in charge of our Facebook account and website anyway, but Wednesday saw huge hits like I’ve never seen before. While our IT manager frantically built a temporary website, Facebook became our only way of connecting to our readers and posting news, and of course, getting readers to email through their own photos of evacuations in the beach towns.

This brings me to my next point. Scare tactics. Within an hour or so my work Facebook newsfeed was full of photos of computer generated or just plain fake tsunami photos, dated April 11, 2012. Some were so dramatic and obviously fake, while many were photos from the 2004 tsunami. Just sickening really. Also was the large numbers of shares on status updates saying how the water had receded around Phuket (one of the signs a large tsunami will strike), which was simply not true. Also around this time videos of “the Phuket 2012 tsunami” were being uploaded on YouTube. Also the majority of people online had statuses saying “tsunami in Phuket”, which could be a result of translation errors, but also a reminder of the large amounts of misinformation circulating.

When I think of it in hindsight it is amazing how quickly rumours start online and gather momentum when people are scared and trying to find out the facts. In the case of Wednesday, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of correct information circulating from reliable sources, so I guess people just go on whatever they can. My boss was in charge of getting local info from the reporters and combining it with national information coming from the newswires, which I was sourcing. I was in charge of the Facebook account – uploading all news snippets as and when we got them, uploading readers photos of the evacuations, relaying information, and repeating all information coming from the international wires. Work was very very chaotic and everyone was under so much pressure, all the while worrying about their loved ones (most had partners/gfs around the island) and hoping 2004 wasn’t going to repeat itself. My work office is not near the beach so I was never in any danger here.

In the meantime turns out Mum and Dad had since been evacuated to the sixth floor of their hotel building (right by the beach). I finally got through to them an hour or so later and I didn’t know if this was the right place for them to stay, but the phone cut out after about 10 seconds. so I just had to hope for the best really. After a couple of hours we became 90 per cent sure that no tsunami would hit, given the time frame, and eventually news off the wire and from authorities began filtering in that a 10 cm tsunami had been registered but the tsunami alert was now called off. I think this was around 8.30pm or something. Not sure.

We decided to go home from work and I planned on going to meet Mum and Dad at their hotel, but all the roads were barricaded. Not only could I not get to Patong, but at this point I wasn’t going to be able to get to my apartment either. And by this time all I wanted was bed. Those few hours had felt like a lifetime.  There were so many people just waiting at all the road blockades, and the first one I came to they weren’t letting anyone through at all, so the traffic was insane. I decided to go the long way to Patong and also came to another blockade. But this time I saw a few motorbikes getting through, but I wasn’t sure how. After waiting a LONG time i managed to get through it (I was one of three bikes to get through at this time, no idea how that happened) and arrived in Patong not long after. Even at this time of night there were so many people still evacuated on the Patong Hill (one of the highest points on the island probably) and just sitting, waiting. There was no traffic on the roads and it was one of the most eerie feelings I’ve had.

For those of you in Phuket, imagine driving over the Patong Hill with only three or so motorbikes on the entire road, at night. When I got to Patong there was no traffic, everything was closed and all shops had been packed up. All the deck chairs from the beach were stacked and piled up and all furniture from restaurants had also been packed away. It was like a ghost town and driving so close to the sea gave me the absolute shits and I couldn’t wait to see Mum and Dad (their room was on the 3rd floor) but then leave and go home again. I hated being so close to the beach especially in the dark when I couldn’t see what was happening. Mum and Dad had spent several hours waiting at the top of their hotel and the hotel was full of people when I arrived. Not long after I got there another siren sounded and everyone in the lobby started screaming and running through the hotel. Absolute terror. I gave our reporter a quick call just to check (i don’t have the net on my phone) there had been no more warnings issued and she confirmed no. Thank god.

Phuket was so lucky this time and I’m so thankful that nothing did eventuate. But I suppose this event acted as a dress rehearsal if, god forbid, it should happen for real. Let’s hope not. And thanks so much to all of you who sent me messages online! I didn’t reply to any of them in the madness, but it was much appreciated.

xxxx

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Phuket’s road rules

September 9, 2011

1/ There is no speed limit. Go as fast, or as slow, as you want.

2/ Don’t let the inability to hear or see stop you from driving. (My last motorbike taxi guy was about 80 years old, could barely see and did not speak English. He nearly killed me about five times so I got off and walked. He thought it was funny.)

3/ If you drive a big truck, bus or cement mixer, don’t think your size means you have to go slow. In fact, it means you can go EVEN FASTER that what you normally would driving a car!

4/ You can park your car anywhere as long as you leave your hazard lights on.

5/ If you’ve got a newborn baby or a toddler you need to take on your bike, just do it. Feel free to carry the child 1/under your arm, 2/ wedged between the driver and person on the back, 3/in a sidecart or 4/ seated on a little chair between the driver and the handlebars.

6/ Driving on the wrong side of the road is also fine. But just beware traffic coming toward you, especially at night if you don’t drive with lights on your motorbike.

7/ Tourist vans and visa run vans rule the road/world. If you see one coming, get out of the way.

8/ If you have dogs, encourage them to play on the road. It’s a lot more exciting for drivers having to swerve through street dogs on the main highways, particularly when they are chasing you.

9/ You can do a U-turn anywhere.

10/ Don’t let a traffic jam hinder your trip. Just drive up the side of all the traffic and push in front of everyone. It’s as easy as that.

11/ Oh, and don’t wear a helmet. Life is way more exciting without one!

36 hours in KL

August 22, 2011

When I first moved to Phuket it was my mission to do as much exploring as I could, because who knows how long I will be in the area for. Because I get no annual leave, it means most of my trips have to be done on weekends, or I have to take unpaid leave. So I decided to go to KL for two days and one night, after I got flights for around $60 each way.

I arrived at around midday on Saturday by the time I got out of immigration and into the city centre. I was surprised there was not much culture shock for me, having seen similar stuff in Thailand – however it was nice to have a break from the prostitutes and stray dogs!

Some observations (keep in mind I was only there for a short time!)

1/English skills. Malays have far better English skills than what I’ve seen in Thailand. I was able to have ‘normal’ (as in, not broken English) conversations with pretty much everyone I met there. That included taxi drivers, stallholders, and everyday people on the street who I had to ask for directions. So much easier!!

2/ Public transport. Phuket has about two buses, so realistically I was going to think anywhere else had amazing public transport. But it really was good, there was a LRT, monorail, train and various bus networks that worked really efficiently and it was so easy to get around. And CHEAP! I know Phuket is overpriced but this really brought home the fact. Taxis were about one third of the price, while public transport was cheaper still.

3/ No stray or very sick dogs! Such a relief! I also didn’t see any hookers, but to be fair there aren’t hookers everywhere in Thailand, and I might just not have been in the right district for them in KL. But the no dogs thing was a real plus.

4/ If you have rubbish in your hand, it’s pretty easy to find a rubbish bin. Unlike in Phuket, where there are hardly any. However KL still seemed to have the same rubbish problems that Phuket does. KL was still dirty, and there was still raw sewerage being pumped around below vents in the ground.

5/ Cheap western food! hurrahh! i was able to have a chicken pie and salad for B90!!! The coffee is also good, such a relief. I haven’t had a good hot chocolate or coffee in nearly five months.

6/ High rise buildings. WOW I was in the big city ha ha! Also, huge highways and overpasses.

7/ There were so many Muslims. I think the majority of people in Malaysia are Muslims (correct me if I’m wrong) but in KL I saw not only the ones with the headscarves but also the full on burka which was interesting.

 

I met some really awesome travellers (about six lots in total) which is one of the great things about travelling alone. I find it really easy to approach people when I’ve been alone for a few hours, plus its the only way you are able to get photos of yourself when you’re alone – you have to ask someone else to take it!

So all in all a successful trip, I really enjoyed it and also spent hardly any money compared to what I would have in Phuket!

(oh sorry, left out what I did. I went to Chinatown, Little India, Central Market, KL Tower, Petronas Towers and Mid Valley Mall. And also I stayed at the Red Palm hostel right in the city centre, such lovely, friendly owners, great atmosphere, and very clean.)

Chinatown

A monk in Chinatown

 

 

 

How the other half live

The pancake man in Chinatown

KL Tower

Petronas Towers - impressive!

Little India

Little India

Little India

 

 

Exploring Koh Sireh

August 18, 2011

Last weekend my friend and I decided to explore Koh Sireh (also known as Siray, Sirae and any other spelling you can think of) which is a small island off the eastern coast of Phuket Town. I’ve been meaning to go there for a while, and in fact its so close to the mainland there is a bridge you cross, it barely seems like an island! It is a scenic spot and it was where I saw my first ever monkey drinking from a plastic bottle – which of course a group of people next door had thrown at him for entertainment purposes. The area was full of trash like most other areas around Phuket, which was a real shame.

There was also a very cool buddha temple which included a “sleeping” buddha, a monk village, and some really scary street dogs. It also cost B20 to get in which I was annoyed about, I just wish they didn’t force people to donate. I would probably donate more if there wasn’t a man breathing down my neck demanding money the second I took my shoes off! I think Koh Sireh is mainly a fishing village, and I didn’t see any Westerners the whole time we were there, although I think there are some resorts and condo blocks on the island.

There is a lovely beach but sadly it is blocked by a pack of barking stray dogs – a bit of a put off! However we did go down and they left us alone – the water was very clear surprisingly.

I definitely want to go back to explore Koh Sireh more! I’m off to Kuala Lumpur this weekend which I’m excited about – should be a great trip although very fleeting – I go Saturday and come back Sunday! But the flight time is just over 1 hour so its do-able – I think. Anyway hope everyone is surviving the snow ok! Some of those pictures were intense.  Enjoy your weekend 🙂

Clever monkey!

My obsession with monkey photos begins

 

Sleeping Buddha

 

 

 

 

 

My hair nightmare

August 14, 2011

“Ahhh. Maybe next time I think we do more brown. It is very blonde. Not so good.”

My Thai hairdresser, Nok, is spot on.

My long dark brown hair is now covered in very thick blonde foils, it’s about 6cm shorter, and I resemble some kind of street worker. And I still have about a month’s worth of regrowth.

Another Thai hairdressing nightmare bites the dust.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not particularly precious about my hair. I’ve had some pretty horrendous experiences in the past in New Zealand when I was younger (mostly thanks to my own ideas), but this time Nok just hadn’t listened.

I had asked for some blonde foils, and a very VERY small trim. Half my hair was now on the floor. And the regrowth? “I cannot do,” Nok says. I’m unsure why, but my current haircut definitely proved she could not get closer than 3cm away from my scalp.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do except laugh.

Living as a Western woman in Thailand has its challenges, like it would have in most other Asian countries I’m sure. Perhaps its my own fault for expecting the same quality I do back home, but there are a stack of expat women on this island who face the same problems whenever they try to look good.

Sadly I’m just another statistic for bad haircuts, where many Thai hairdressers cannot understand how Westerner hair works, or deal with any colour other than black. Plus there is the language barrier.

My colleague had her beautiful blonde curly hair reduced to tufts after a hairdresser left foils on for too long. The foils snapped off and she was mortified. She now faces a long time waiting for the very visible short pieces of hair to grow back.

I was in a complete panic the whole time my colour was on my head, particularly because Nok spent the whole time on her laptop checking her Facebook account. She insisted she had worked at Toni&Guy, the internationally renound hairdressing chain.

The real shame is, and not the Thai people’s fault, is that Western women are unable to work legally as hairdressers in Thailand. It’s obvious why not – they would make a fortune.

As would beauty therapists. The stories of waxing (particularly bikini waxes) going wrong could fill a novel. I have friends who have been burnt with hot wax, have had waxers just give up and advise them to shave instead, or had three ladies all working on a waxing job. My waxing experience involved a 60 year old Thai lady smearing cold wax on me with brute force and ripping it off with strips of material. I swear I nearly passed out from pain. She kept laughing.

“You not relax. You try to relax. I have done many time,” she says. Not even a packet of Valium would have relaxed me.

But of course, living in such an environment provides loads of laughs. Every day there are endless stories to share about culture mixups, and beauty treatment disasters. And of course we all know that none of the Thai hairdressers and beauty therapists actually set out to make us look like freaks, or cause immense pain. Many simply don’t know how the Western world works, are inexperienced, and most of the time don’t understand what we want. And that’s not entirely their fault. They mean well, and what they lack in talent they make up for with their friendliness and enthusiasm. But if you’re in Thailand, don’t judge a Western woman on her current hairstyle. Chances are she has had 10 disaster cuts and this is as good as its going to get.

My kiwi accent

August 6, 2011

It took my American friend to first discuss the subject. “To be honest Claire, I can only understand about one third of the stuff you say. You just use so much slang, and your accent…” This stemmed an in-depth discussion as my friend finally confessed to have a lot of trouble understanding me, and half the stuff I said she didn’t know what I meant.

Are us Kiwis really that hard to understand?! Apparently so.

Since I’ve arrived I’ve encountered the widest range of accents. Most pick me out for Australian (grrr), which I can understand because to people not from the area they must sound quite similar. I’ve also had a few think I’m from Canada or the UK. A lot don’t know where I’m from. But a few have said my accent isn’t that strong.

So I was surprised when I skyped a fellow New Zealander today who has lived abroad for a few years. He was blown away by how strong my accent was, and I was equally surprised by how non-existent his was.

My name has also created problems. A British girl on my visa run bus was amazed my name was “Clear”. That’s quite unusual, she said. So after a while I brought up the name thing again. Turns out Claire is her middle name also, only she says it “Claare” (in a British accent.). Hilarious. She actually didn’t click we shared the same name, due to my accent.

I guess the slang is a different topic altogether. I, of course, just think I’m speaking normally, but I have learnt that people don’t know what jandals are, what the term “Kiwi” (as in the people) means, and the word “aye”. I’ve dropped the “aye” since I’ve arrived because one of my really good American friends (who has since left) introduced me to using “right” instead.

Eg. “It’s so hot today, right?” instead of “It’s so hot today, aye?”

Talk about bloody confusing. I find it relatively easy to understand accents but often get tripped up if they say words I have no idea what they mean ie have never heard of them before. Another friend says “ya’ll” (she’s from Texas) which I find funny. The same friend was talking about Tylenol, which turns out is just paracetamol.

I also have NO idea when foreigners talk in acronyms. A kiwi colleague the other day was talking about whether Phuket had an Osh equivalent, after a worker died here under a dirt pile while on a construction site. The thai girl clearly had no idea what Osh was, and I guess that just brings back home how hard it must be for the Thai people, surrounded by so many accents.

However a lot of Thai’s I’ve met in the tourist area (aka tailors, salesmen etc) have also got an accent. One particular Indian man has adopted an Australian accent and always says “gday mate” when people walk past. I find it’s really weird but maybe he’s just taking the piss.

I also had no idea how British influenced New Zealand was until I moved to Phuket. For example spellings, medicine (a lot of Americans haven’t heard of Panadol or Nurofen, although I’m unsure if those originate from the UK). Thailand is also quite British based, eg there are pharmacies such as Boots and Watsons (both British I think). But there are also 7/11s on every corner, plus Family Marts which originate from Japan.

Plus the megastore Carrefour, which is French/European, and various other international stores. I just presumed every huge branded store here in Phuket is American, but apparently not so.

Anyway sorry I haven’t blogged for a while, I’ve been busy with work this week and also had a couple of freelance pieces to write. The rain has stopped now, thank goodness!! Also have had my first hair massacre thanks to a Thai hairdresser, will blog about that at a later date! Also is there anything you want me to blog about?? Just let me know. Hope you enjoy your weekend and go the Kiwis in the rugby!

The new man in my life

July 28, 2011

Shortly after I moved to Phuket I quickly realised that I needed to get a personal taxi driver who knew where I lived and who could pick me up whenever. So when I hailed a taxi driver one day heading to Patong, he was so cheap and offered me his number that I decided to keep him on. Since then he’s driven me maybe once or twice a week around the island when I can’t be bothered driving, or I don’t know the way, or its pouring with rain.

He’s really cheap too, for a normal four hour trip around the island going to various sites and off the beaten track tourist places he only charges about $20, dirt cheap in my books. Plus he has lived here for a long time and knows the area inside out (well, most places) and acts as a tour guide/translator for the thai people I meet)

I honestly feel pretty spoilt because I can call him any time from 6am to 9pm and he comes and picks me up in about 10 minutes. He also drives slow and safe, and when I have couch surfers to stay they all use the bike too. Those coming to visit me will meet him at some stage.

Sometimes it’s pretty funny being on the back of his bike for hours on end and I’m not quite sure what to talk to him about a lot of the time, but his English is pretty good and he’s happy to chat away and point out various things to me on the trips. Apparently its very common for people here to have a couple of taxi drivers on call in case of emergency or purely just for convenience. One other guy I have since dropped because he’s a bit crazy. Unbelievable to think that most weeks my taxi man earns more than I do, although he is working considerably longer hours! He seems to be a decent guy and I feel a lot safer on his bike than I do on my own! (despite him looking pretty scary in this picture).

Funny things this week

July 28, 2011

So many funny things happen ALL the time here, so I’m going to start trying to keep some sort of record.

– I was about 20 minutes late to work earlier this week because I came around the corner to the intersection, and all the traffic was at a standstill because of some school parade. at 8am. on the main highway on the island. I could not believe it! So funny. also it was pouring with rain so have no idea why it wasn’t cancelled anyway.

– sadly a colleague has had a lot of her hair burnt off and reduced to about 2cm long tufts from a thai hairdresser who stuffed up the colour (and obviously used some sort of poison instead), and she was talking about it today, and a thai colleague goes “why don’t you try some thai herbs”. Yeah, because I’m sure they are the miracle hair-growing cure.

– our air conditioner broke down at work. in the middle of the day, and within half an hour we were all parched!

– I saw a clothes shop called G-Spot. on the main road in Patong.

These are just the few things that I can remember from this week, will try to keep you all updated about the funny things that happen here. I am hanging out for payday this month (on Monday!) as due to booking lots of flights earlier in the month, these last few weeks I’ve had to survive on only a few dollars a day, quite a challenge even in Phuket! Exciting news is that one of my best friends Cherie is coming to visit for a longish weekend next month while holidaying in Malaysia! SO excited. She will be my first official guest and we have sooo much catching up to do since I left Blenheim, it’s going to be a great time. The weather has been terrible too, it’s been raining every day for about two weeks, so I’m hoping it clears up for the weekend! Hope you all have an enjoyable weekend xxx

An update on my life here

July 24, 2011

Hi all thought I would use the blog to update you all this time rather than mass emails (which I haven’t been sending).

I’ve now been in Thailand for three and a half months, and time is flying! Seems just like yesterday I was here with Kristine and we were doing all the tourist activities in the 35 degree heat! I always joked to my NZ friends I might not like it here so I would maybe see them again in three months, but that time has come and gone and I’m still really enjoying living here.

I’m really settled in my house and have made a few really good friends, particularly another Kiwi girl here, a girl here from the US, a girl from India, and several Australians. This has been a huge achievement as because Phuket is a tourist town, it is hard to find the people who live here permanently. Phuket mostly attracts retired people so also the age factor has been a big one. I have met so many people but most seem to be older and I was really keen to find some people my own age here.

There is also a fantastic female social networking site for Phuket (and wider Thailand) called Chicky Net (chickynet.com) and I have signed up to it and attended some of the events. There are some really nice women there but as I said most are considerably older than me. But I still try to make it to the events because most of the women are really friendly plus it is where you pick up all the local tips eg where to find a good hairdresser etc! Plus there is a classifieds/forum section which has been really helpful and I ended up being able to borrow some Lonely Planets off one of the ladies after posting an ad. I have also made some good friends at work but of course my aim is always to make friends away from work too.

I’ve been reading this guy Ben’s travel blogs (http://www.smh.com.au/travel/blog/the-backpacker) for ages as they were randomly posted on Stuff, but my aussie colleague gave me the link to his actual website so I’m now a regular follower. I particularly enjoyed this one (http://www.smh.com.au/travel/blogs/the-backpacker/why-travel-friendships-are-great–and-intense-20110719-1hmfe.html) about how quickly friendships form when you’re travelling. The close friends I have made here seem like I have known them forever, even though most have only been a couple of months. I guess you just click with some people like back in Western countries. Anyway check out that guy’s writing, there is some really funny stuff.

I also plan to start yoga sometime soon but it is $20 per class….kinda steep and although there are deals I’m not sure if I will like it so don’t want to get involved in any memberships. I won’t even tell you how many meals $20 can buy here!!

Work is going really well, sometimes its very frustrating but the people I work with are lovely and I am learning new things. It is nowhere near as stressful as my job back home, which is great.  I had a particularly bad run last week trying to sort out my visa with Immigration before I leave the country for KL next month.

Every time i leave the country I need a re-entry permit, otherwise I lose my visa and work permit. But getting one was a nightmare, i won’t bore you with the details but I’ve sorted it now! Or so I think, I guess I will see when I get back from KL! It is very frustrating here as many important people eg immigration officials all tell you different things. I’m not sure whether they are lying or they really don’t know. I guess it doesn’t help the rules for everything here change every five minutes. I had three immigration officials trying to tell me I didn’t need a reentry stamp in my passport, when of course I did. I finally found one guy who could speak english and he told me that of course I needed one, and also the other three had very conveniently not given me another document I needed – without this document I would have had to pay $250 at the airport when I came back from KL. Anyway hopefully its sorted now, but my main advice is to do your own research first (which I did). Make sure you know what you need to have before arriving at Immigration. Anyway two trips and about six hours later I finally had my reentry permit!!! success. Another option is to buy a multiple entry stamp, but that is considerably more expensive and will prob be cheaper to go to immigration to buy a stamp each time I leave the country. However I still have to go to Immigration every 90 days (a requirement of my visa) to “check in”.

The weather here has been pretty crazy lately, lots and lots of rain and the temperature has dropped a lot, some days its prob only early 20s. Yesterday I got caught in a torrential rain storm which was so bad I actually had to pull over to the side of the road. I have learnt that the minute I feel rain drops to quickly pull over and put on my poncho (hilarious) because a few seconds later the torrential rain normally starts!

I’ve found it really easy to keep busy here so far and have not been homesick. Maybe that will come in time. I’ve had a few frustrating days where I have missed Western things (can’t think of anything right now, but TVNZ on demand comes to mind! would love to be able to watch the full hour long news segment when there are big things happening at home). I have a television here but I don’t even have it plugged in. I also have a work thing once a week, either a restaurant review (which is a great perk!) or some other thing I need to go and take photos at for work. Tuesday and Wednesday we normally work late, until about 7pm as those are our two deadline days. (only two, oh the luxury!) The other days of the week I’m normally catching up with friends or just relaxing at home. I work about 8.15pm to 6pm every day, so its pretty draining work being at a computer ALL DAY. my old job i was used to going out and about lots so I’m still getting used to not leaving my desk all day.

I have some exciting things coming up, next month I am going to Kuala Lumpur and also Cherie a really good friend of mine from Blenheim is coming for a visit! Which of course I am excited about. In September my brother and his gf are coming to stay for a couple of weeks, then in October I am going to Cambodia for two weeks. in November I am going to visit Blair’s aunty in Chiang Mai (am SO excited about this, all westerners rave about Chiang Mai and say it’s their fav spot in Thailand, bring it on!) and then am spending New Year in Bangkok with Kristine, my old flatmate who I holidayed here with in April, and some others. I am totally broke this month from booking all these flights. But i thought it was important I did lots of exploring while I was over in this part of the world, particularly as thanks to AirAsia flights are SO CHEAP. I am going from Phuket to KL to Cambodia and home again for something like $300. Awesome. Plus, you never know when the dream might end here, so have to make the most of it while I’m employed and able to stay! I am dying to do more travel (now that I have arrived it seems so much more accessible) including Vietnam, Mongolia, China, Japan and Malaysia and Indonesia. It is so exciting and I think I have def caught the travel bug!

Anyway this has turned out considerably longer than expected, sorry if its boring and if stuff has been repeated! Hope everyone has a good weekend.


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