Impressive Thai Women

For my thirteenth visit to Thailand, I was impressed by the number of Thai women I kept meeting who seemed to want to speak out about their personal lives. They are no longer content to simply follow the tradition of doing what is expected of them but to instead take responsibility for their own lives and do what is in their best interests. I am going to back track to my latest post entitled Chiang Mai – Post COVID where I met in the park next to where I was staying a lovely Thai woman who commented in almost perfect English that she ‘liked my toenails’. I actually could not believe she had said that because in the past Thai women have been reticent to talk to farangs (visitors from other countries) out of conditioning, shyness, or a bit of both. Managing to have a conversation to find out more about each other, I noticed she was smartly dressed prompting me to ask what kind of work she did. She replied that she was ‘just a housewife’ to which I answered that this was a job in itself. Pushing the envelope further, I dared to find out more about her life so asked what her husband did and if she had any children. She responded that her husband was a retired engineer and her son was eleven years old. Of course, she was bored because her husband just wanted to put his feet up after working so many years at a job that perhaps he never really liked but stuck with to be the provider that he was expected to be. While he just wanted to relax, she was ready to move on and do something with her life.

This is a familiar story in our western culture but not so much in the Eastern culture. There are probably many reasons for this but I can’t help wondering if it hasn’t got something to do with the success of Thailand’s main industry…tourism. Thailand has been a major attraction for tourists who want to experience the culture and sites that this part of Southeast Asia has to offer. The King of Siam’s hiring of Anna Leonowens, a British teacher, to educate his children way back in the 1880’s, precipitated a trend that contributed much to Thailand’s opening up to our western culture. The close relationship which developed between this adventurous woman and King Mongkut was immortalized in the 1956 hit musical The King and I with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. This part of Asia was gaining in popularity in both Europe and North America for its tropical climate and gorgeous beaches as a great place to escape from the cold of winter. Thailand quickly became a haven for the British tourists who discovered not only its beautiful beaches and warm weather, but a peaceful country with welcoming people who drove on the left side of the road just like they did back home. They loved it! They too had a ruling monarchy with a king who was loved by his people for the dedication he had for his role and country. As for King Mongkut, in return he took as much interest in the western world. Members of the Thai royal family and those who served them were encouraged to get their education abroad in the UK and the US.  

There is something else we need to remember about the Thailand: it has never been ruled or dominated by another country. Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and many other parts of Asia have all been at some point in time under the protection of a foreign country. If you go back into its history, Thailand has been invaded numerous times but never defeated. Does this not show how tenacious the Thai people have been and still are? It’s no surprise to see how COVID has tested their tenacity but through it all they have come out of it still smiling with a genuine desire to please those of us who want to come back and enjoy their beautiful country. However, it’s especially noticeable with the Thai women working in the tourist industry which comprises a huge part of Thailand’s economy.

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Chiang Mai – Post COVID

” I love your toenails!” 

Walking in the only sizeable park in Chiang Mai which just happens to be near where I am staying, I heard a soft voice say, “I love your toenails!” It was dark, around six o’clock, so when I turned around to hear where the voice came from, there was a small woman with long, gray hair and glasses. She didn’t fit the image of most Thai women in their 50’s or 60’s, but I figured that strange remark must have come from her when there was no one else around. Why would she say that I wondered? After a moment’s hesitation, I realized she was looking at and pointing to my newly painted toenails which I had recently painted as an accompaniment to my summer sandals.

Recovering from her unexpected compliment, I felt she wanted to continue the conversation so I immediately got one started by asking her some questions. We continued to walk together for about ten minutes covering such subjects as her family, what she did for a living, children and husband…typical things one talks about with those who are native to the country you are visiting. Somehow in that short space of time, we landed on what was going on in our world today. This really got her talking… much of which I had difficulty understanding. We had entered into the realm of philosophy which can be a difficult topic to address when speaking to someone with an entirely different language. It’s something I’ve never been able to do with any Thai person in all the times I have visited this country.

Upon reflection of this meeting in the park, I have noticed that the Thai people seem to be opening up more now to all the tourists that are returning after the COVID shut down. Since my arrival, I am definitely seeing that more young people are making an effort to talk to English speaking visitors, something they have not been readily known to do in the past. I have always found them to be more reserved than the Vietnamese or Cambodians, for example. In fact, it’s not just me who feels that this is changing. The other day I was talking to a chap from the UK who noticed the same thing. He agreed that he has experienced the same thing: Thai people can be difficult to really get to know despite their smiles.

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city with well over one million people but for a city of this size it doesn’t have much in the way of green areas or parks to escape from the hubbub of the city for a quiet walk with nature. It’s most notable feature is the moat that encircles the inner part of the city and the remains of a wall built in the 12th and 13th centuries to protect the city from invaders. It’s always refreshing to walk along the moat to be greeted to the various plants and trees native to this part of Thailand. Outside the moat there seems to be another scarcity of parklands for a city of this size which stretches out well beyond the inner city. For this reason, I am grateful for having found a place to stay near the southwestern entrance of the moat which can boast of having the only park available in the inner city…the Buak Haad City Park…. where I met my toenail admirer. Because of the close relationship that has developed over the years between Japan and Thailand, the then Prime Minister of Japan in 1981 decided to donate a large sum of money to the governor of Chiang Mai to improve the park with a special condor tree and other greenery native to southern Asia, as well as ponds, fountains, and quaint little bridges, thus making it a beautiful public park for all ages. For families there are lawns to sit on for picnics, for the children a great play area with sand and slides, for the sports minded there is a court for a Thai game which is a mix of soccer and volleyball, and for exercise buffs, there are various machines for working out. At 5 o’clock every morning you may see Chinese seniors there practicing Tai Chi.

I should also mention that just outside the moat and not far from Buak Haad is another much smaller park which most tourists and the Thai don’t even know about. After thirteen visits to this city, I just found out about it on this trip. It’s a mere fifteen minutes by foot for me to enjoy a walk any time of the day in almost complete silence despite the busy streets above it. Called Kanjanapisak Park, it was recently discovered by an interested group of archeologists and historians that this was the site for an outer wall and fortress built to protect the inner city already surrounded with in inner wall and a moat. Seems that the Thai were not going  to take any chances of being invaded by any of the countries around them such Burma and China. Pieces of pottery and stone reveal that this outer wall was erected in the 16th and 17th centuries to provide not only added protection for those living behind the inner wall but also a fairly densely populated area outside.

Unfortunately for the whole of Chiang Mai and the problems with smog that have plagued the city for years, for whatever reasons their bus system is now a thing of the past. With only taxis, namely Grab and something called In Drive, along with the songtaos and tuk- tuks, I have been using my feet to get around. Yes, there have been many changes some for the good and others not so good. Many of the old familiar restaurants and guest houses have either disappeared or taken on a new look with new menus or owners in some cases. Prices have risen but not unreasonably so, for which I am thankful. The Thai are not taking advantage of us foreigners even though there is evidence that they are under as much pressure as we are with COVID restrictions, loss of jobs, and the rising cost of just about everything. I sense they are trying their best to give us good service. Even the songtao and tuk- tuk drivers are keeping their rates reasonable by being more willing to bargain. They aren’t putting pressure on me to use their service if I say ‘no’ with a smile. I have been to the Sunday Walking Market and was pleased to see that the price of their crafts and other merchandise is either holding steady or with slight increases. Food prices are definitely going up, but if you look carefully you can find restaurants selling their famous dishes such as pad tai at a very reasonable price of $2.50 a plate. Good prices for a coffee can be found anywhere from 30 baht (about $1.20 Cdn) from a small off- the- main- drag kiosk to up to $3.00 or more at an upscale bakery and coffee cafe. Starbuck’s is the most expensive at $4.50 so I won’t be buying my coffee from them any time soon. Since my new digs has a fridge, I paid a visit to one of Chiang Mai’s famous superstores, Rimpings, to buy some breakfast staples, such as butter, cheese, yogurt, muesli, crackers, and bread. I forgot to bring a tea ball from home for my loose tea, so I added that to my tab which came to approximately $25 in total. Fruit and veggies I can get at the many vendors around or at the local markets for a lesser price.

If any of you reading this happen to be one of my customers for the Harem pants and other clothing, the good news is that the prices are all about the same. I am hoping to pack up some of my merchandise into a very strong bag which will withstand the normal beating that our baggage can take on an overseas flight. This will definitely help me to keep my costs down as I won’t have horrendous shipping charges or duty to pay.  Pants in black and white elephant patterns seem to be all the rage this year with tourists of both sexes. I am seeing more Thai women wearing them but not the Thai men.

One of the most difficult challenges I’ve had to face here was the rejection of my Credit Union debit card. None of the ATM’s would accept it. This came as a shock since I never had a problem in the past with this card. However, my lesson learned from the stress of not being able to access my money is that these days a traveler must not assume anything. Everything is changing as I should have guessed. The banks are only recognizing the more acceptable cards from the big banks and credit cards, such as VISA and Mastercard. To make a large withdrawal, I had to find a bank that would do a VISA transaction for me so long as I had a passport to show and was able to find an employee who spoke enough English to understand my plight.

Nevertheless, Thailand is really letting out all the stops to attract tourists which are a huge part of their economy. They now offer a 45 day visa for free as opposed to the 30 day visa of the past. Wearing masks isn’t mandatory anymore but you still won’t find many Thai without one. It’s mostly us tourists who are going about maskless. However, I don’t sense any bad feelings towards us for as far as they are concerned, it’s our choice.

On one of my previous visits to Chiang Mai, I wrote about the interest that the Thai take in celebrating how we westerners spend our Christmas. It’s got nothing to do with religion or why we celebrate it, but all to do with shopping, music, and just the fun of giving gifts, dressing up as Santa, decorated trees, elves, and reindeer. Because most Thai people love to celebrate something that entails food and family gatherings, they have discovered that our Christmas provides all of that and more. The irony of this is that while they are having fun shopping, we are thankful to be able to escape it. About the only thing I could miss is hearing some of our Christmas choral music. However, the Thai have even thought of that for us tourists and the many ex-pats who live here. The other day when I was visiting the new Central Festival shopping centre far out in the burbs, I heard this beautiful music despite the noise of the hoards of people who were there. Following the sound, I discovered a small band of girls and boys with a director playing this beautiful music. I have to admit it lifted my spirits immensely since I was only out there to find a bank and an internet company that was recommended to me for help in solving my cash and phone problems.

To sum up my impressions made from the time I arrived almost three weeks ago, I have to say that it’s been a pleasure to be back here again despite the various problems that invariably surfaced before, during, and even after my arrival here. Without a doubt for me, it’s about the people I’ve met up with both Thai and friends from other countries who have been so kind and willing to help out when I needed it. I am always amazed at how good the memory of the Thai people is especially when they are able to recognize you after a two year absence. Their gift to me has been to give me a distraction from all the politics and problems of home. I admire how they genuinely seem to be handling the after effects of COVID with a resilience and some hope. They appear to be so much better at being able to live in the present rather than worry about what has happened in the past or will happen in the future. We can take a lesson on this topic, I am sure.


New Beginnings Surfacing Once Again in Cornwallis Park

It’s been more than a year since I posted an article about the community of Cornwallis Park the place where I chose to take on the responsibilities of a house owner once again. Although happy with my new home, I have been dismayed by the challenges facing this community and how the residents were meeting them. All I could see was the potential here that was being ignored. Little communication among the residents, apathy, and negative thinking was keeping them stuck in a place which would no longer help them to move forward to meet any of the challenges that would be facing them. It wasn’t my idea of what a community was supposed to be.

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A Little Piece of Heaven ?

When I begin to feel the stress of everyday living, one of the best things I can do is to get outside and head for either the beach or the trees which are both only a fifteen minute walk from my house. I’ll bet that anyone who lives in a the city might think that quite wonderful and be envious. I agree that it is, but I have a terrible confession to make… I don’t do this enough. Why is that when I am retired and only have myself to care for? Could it have something to do with not having enough time, or might it be a bit of laziness, sometimes forgetfulness, or some other lame excuse? Regardless for what the reason is for my not getting in touch with nature more often when it’s right at my doorstep, the one thing I am certain of is that when I make time for a walk in nature, I return home feeling invigorated and more at peace. And, yes,I am more motivated to write about it on my blog.

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An Unforgettable Meeting With the Queen

Even though we had been aware that our Queen Elizabeth was showing signs of coming to the end of her long reign as well as her life, when the world was told on Thursday, September 7th, that she had passed on, many of us were left with a feeling of shock and sadness. Wasn’t it just a few days before that she had inducted the new Prime Minister of England into office, a tradition that has been carried out by the reigning monarch of the UK for eons?

No matter what anyone may think about the value for maintaining the monarchy these days because of its cost at a time when a large part of our world is suffering from famine, climate change disasters, war and terrible injustices, the Queen’s death has revealed to us that there is something very worthwhile about it after all. The debate about abolishing the monarchy has been ongoing for almost as long as the Queen’s 70 years on the throne. The fact that she, a woman who wasn’t the next in line but unexpectedly inherited this responsibility because her uncle abdicated the throne so he could marry a divorced woman, put her in the position of ruling over one of the world’s oldest empires.

Seventy years is a long time to have to reign over an increasingly more complicated role as the British monarch for the “Commonwealth of Nations” which reached to the far corners of the world. Gradually as the world population increased and became more connected, many of the countries conquered by the Brits no longer wanted to be ruled by a distant relative who knew little about them and their customs. Wanting their freedom from the monarchy’s tight control, they either set up their own monarchy or elected their own leaders to form a republic. Despite her efforts to connect with her far flung family with more frequent visits and in some cases a first visit from a monarch, she was dismayed to see more than 30 members leave the commonwealth during her reign. Nevertheless, she handled every crisis within her dwindling empire with grace and understanding. On top of this kind of pressure, she also had to handle the precarious position she was put in as a Head of State demanding she be supportive of the numerous changes of government and Prime Ministers in England whether she liked them or not. Again, she was able to handle every political crisis and leader with an astounding knowledge and understanding of their roles. I think there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was born to be both a Queen and a Head of State. Totally dedicated to her job with its responsibilities and changes, she revealed such dedication that at times the media blatantly accused her of neglecting her own family. No doubt she did but she never faltered. She came through both her personal and her public life with aplomb.

We, being her people you might say, have always taken a tremendous interest in her personal life. Unfortunately, the media may have expressed too much interest in the the Queen and all the Royals. Many of us will remember the time when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997. Unfortunately, the Queen was instantly chastised for the how she handled the tragedy. Why had she waited so long before issuing statement after the tragic news to the people, and why did it take her so long to return London from Balmoral where she was taking a holiday? Did she not care? Was she that much out of touch with the public that she was not there to mourn with all her subjects the death of a young woman who inspired all those she met with a freshness that the monarchy had never seen before? All of this kind of publicity was probably one of the worst times of Elizbeth’s reign. I remember distinctly listening to her annual Christmas speech that year when she described her year as a “horriblis annibus”. Well, to her credit, she took the message from the people to heart because from that time on the whole mood at the palace began to change. She made more appearances and somehow appeared to be more vulnerable as a person whom they could connect to. Yes, she had listened to her people and had learned from them.

During this time, I wasn’t paying much attention to what was going on with the royal family. I had other, more important things on my mind. I remember thinking, however, that the media were making far too much fuss over Diana and being almost cruel to the Queen. I could understand the difficulty Diana would have had dealing with her role as wife to the future king, the protocol that this role required, and worst of all realizing that she had married a man much older than she who was in love with another woman… Camilla…his first love. Of course, the media had a hay day with this family affair making it into a sordid event which must have been extremely difficult for Elizabeth.

Somehow the whole tragic story got absorbed into my subconscious because one night I woke up from a dream I had about the Queen. It went something like this. I found myself enjoying a beer in a typical British pub and sitting across from me at my booth was the Queen! She was casually dressed with no hat and purse. She seemed relaxed and to be enjoying herself. All I could think of was how natural she was and how normal she appeared. Our conversation…can’t remember what we were talking about…flowed so naturally that I felt I was talking to one of my close friends. Not long after that dream, I heard on the CBC news that the Queen was making a huge effort to visit some of the small villages in England that she seldom got to, and that she had actually visited a pub or two. Wow! To this day I fully believe that our dreams sometimes do foretell the future, not just for ourselves, but for others we may know or events that are about to happen.

Now almost two weeks later since her death, the out pouring of love for this remarkable woman has been phenomenal. England hasn’t seen anything like this since the death of her father, King George VI, and the invincible Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister who carried the British through WWII to victory over Germany. There have been many great men, including past Kings of England, who have been proclaimed as heroes but few women. Elizabeth II will be the first to have ever succeeded in her role as Queen for over 70 years making her the longest reigning royal in the world. She will surely be missed for her undying sense of responsibility to a job she never asked for. Once she revealed her vulnerability to her people via the media, we came to see her as a human being dealing with the trials and tribulations of life. She became better at her role as Queen and as a person as she grew older. She never gave up. We have been moved by her death more as the person she was than what she represented in a way that we never anticipated. She has been a great role model for us all and will remain in our hearts for a long time.

God bless the Queen and God save the new King”– A quote from an anonymous admirer.

The Queen in her later years.