Slow day, herbal sauna

Lunch was at the vegetarian Chinese place I saw last night. Only Thai menu, but with pictures,and I understood enough from those plus the owners speech to grasp that he recommended laab, and that it would be good with rice. An iced herbal tea arrived and then the laab, tie and a refreshing soup flavoured with lemon grass. Laab is basically a warm salad with a predominance of mint leaves, this one also with sweet basil,and spiced crispy cubes of possibly tofu,maybe gluten, accompanied with raw vegetables: green beans and Chinese cabbage leaves. It came with tasty chewy red rice. It was very good…aroy aroy.

I spend some more time in the peace of the garden at he guesthouse reading, dozing, then chatting with peter as he returns from work.

Later in the afternoon I head for wat mani for the herbal sauna. It’s not apparent where it is, yet obvious when the monk points it out. It’s a shack roofed with corrugated iron in the corner of the temple compound. There is a low wall surrounding it with space to stretch etc, I guess. Some rudimentary wooden exercise benches with roughly hewn metal weights on bars…and an inclined sit up bench. Gym equipment! On the left is a counter and behind it a large man in his forties wearing a sarong swaying from one foot to the pt hand swinging and stretching his arms. I think he works here. Maybe a masseur. In the centre is a table with a donations box. 20 baht! And a water cooler. Around the edges of the space are stone benches, the floor is concrete and covered with sand and grit. The sauna itself is at the back of this space. It is a green coloured little house with 2 doorways coved by tatty curtains. The right hand one is red and I learn it I’ve men’s entrance. The lefty and for women, and this has a kind of antechamber, probably for changing. There is no changing room. You come prepared. Past the little sauna house on the right is a metal drum with a scoop and cold water. The furnace is behind the house. It’s burning freshly chopped wood, which is prepared by 2 dark skinned guys. One in Welles. I actually see him rinsing our the in nerds of these. Music is broadcast through the tinny speaker of a mobile phone balanced on the donation box. On the whole the experience is a serious and solemn one. There are more men than women coming and going. All are around my age and with some fatty deposits.one guy nets wearing a vest, the others in shorts. A one point a monk joins us removing the top part of the garments they where. The sauna room is small. 2 benched facing one another, large enough for 8 people, though the max I experienced in any one go was 5 of us. That was full enough. The walls are tiled and the ceiling is just about high enough for me to stand. The flappy now sodden curtain is a poor door and on each entrance and exit it needs to be red draped, it’s weight and moistness allowing it to be stuck to the sides of the doorway. It’s hot, of course. I’m wringing wet with a minute. It feels great, and the herbs are powerful, the one I pick out most clearly is lemon grass. I come and go five times, each time feeling ennervated and refreshed. It’s also hot outside, but strangely cooling..it’s still 28 or so degrees. It means my sweat and damp shorts dry quickly and my body cools down from the 40 degrees of the sauna. As I’m preparing to leave,ore people arrive. Locals, I guess, a lot of chit chat. Sme small kids run through. One takes a drink of water, another plays withhe curtain and is not quite sure whether to go in or not.

When I do leave its rush hour. I see kids boarding sawntaewns. I must have seen both ends of their day.this morning I watched some squashed, both standing and sitting, and over spilling onto the step, like cattle in a truck. It looked really uncomfortable. I wander he market on my bike and buy some more mangosteen. I’m eating a kilo of fruit a day. Love it.

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Mae sot, teaching and prison

I’m going to hang around here for a few days more. It’s easy going,hassle free, cheap, stimulating, slow. But today I must stay put of the sun. I went for a breakfast. Time cycle around the town..it’s very small, and the breaking sun felt hot on my covered but singed shoulders.

I spent last night at the guesthouse over beer chat.ing with a fellow encumbrance, peter, 65, Australian, working as a teacher for 3 month on and off stretches at a school for Burmese. I learn a lot from him, and it’s quite inspiring to hear of kids (he teaches 17-19 year olds) who have real desire to learn and achieve and make something of their lives. It’s an interesting contrast with the students I work with, many of whom don’t recognise the fabulous opportunity their parents’ money has bought them, nor havethedriveor the realisation that an education can change their lives. Petter’s students are refugees, some using false names, some experiencing harrowing pasts. He told me of one boy, who he described as the happiest person he has met, a previous slave worker. This boy’s work was acting as a human shield for troops crossing potentially mined land.

His school scrapes by. The staff are volunteers, getting in recompense a lunch and a bicycle. They are undermanned, and resources are ones they cobble together through material donations back home, Catholic Church money and pillaging the Internet. I can see how rewarding the work is from peter’s immense pride in spite of he superhuman efforts he must put in. As he says,he is exhausted and will be going back to Australia for downtime to walk and swim. He lives in what he describes as a beautiful and natural environment.

Beyond here, I learn he is a very determined and focused person. He tells me of his walking of the camino. De Santiago de compostella. 34 days walking….physical, mental and spiritual battles, and days of crying. This is a walk that you do alone. Nobody else can walk your pace. His is a walk on which you learn about yourself. He tells me of his waking dreams and the. Battles through the near constant rain.once again, I sense him filling with pride as he tells me of this accomplishment.

I learn more about where I am through him too. The floods of several weeks ago forced him to relocate to this guesthouse.his former one being swamped with 40 cm of water, destroying clothes, the fridge floating away….

He tells me more about the precarious sitaution most of the refugees experience. The police spot check for pork permits, identity documents etc. those unfortunate to be caught out are stored in a place he ominously describes as “the cage” , near the abandoned project that is/was robe the new police station. My breakfast cycle takes in this place. And it is an apt name. Through an open gateway, so plainly visible to anyone passing, you can see a 2 storey wooden house. The ground floor is in fact the cage. Behind the bars I can see dozens of. Men and women, maybe even children. I didn’t have enough time to scrutinise, as, unsurprisingly, a coupled of immigration officials waved me, not aggressively, away. I don’t think they liked my camera. The conditions look pretty disgusting. How long they are kept there, I don’t know. As I pass by again I see a police prison truck back into the yard, the cage unlocked and a number of brightly dressed women shaparoned into he back. Evidently to be repatriated to Burma, where their fate Is probably not a promising one. Arrest, prison..or worse. I can only watch.

Breakfast is a bag of Burmese style pakora. 2 types. The most interesting contains pungent lime leaves. My bagful are freshly cooked on the road and cost 10 baht.

My local shop, Mae sot

The shopkeeper is hidden behind the fridge. Each time I have been there I have startled him. Last night he was watching bullfighting on tv. This time he was watching sport again but swinging dumbbells doing arm curls. We have a quick lesson in Thai and English numbers. Further down my road I get excited as a spot a restaurant labelled vegetarian. That’s a priority port of call tomorrow for sure. On the same road are some fancy looking resorts, an Italian pizza restaurant, and of all things a golf driving range, floodlit. Kind of puts what I’ve seen today into some harsh perspective.

 

Mae sot food project part 2

I really did get my shoulders and neck sunburnt, so I return to my guesthouse to recuperate.

I’m very keen toget back to the food project to witness what happens when the food finally is given out. As I cycle back into town I sense that they have started the distribution as I notice women in colourful dresses and small kids carrying the white sack that were stacked on the platform at the temple. The atmosphere back there has increased from hot patience to excitement, relief and joy. Groups of women, men and kids are clustered round their sacks, or are fixing them onto bikes, or balancing them on their heads and teetering home.i can sense their happiness. Their wait is over. But some are still waiting and thrusting their yellow and red tickets at the guards at the gates around the food platform. There is some marshalling system going on, people being called forward to enter on the left skirt down the side of the platform, around the front and up the right hand side where they hand over their ticket and receive with joy their sack, and exit back onto the road on he right hand side. A this gate their family are waiting anxiously. There is also a group of less fortunates without tickets, sitting in a square, rather squatting, and being carefully watched. They are hoping they will be offered the left over sacks. There is a woman calling people forward over a tangly, the Chinese dancers/ actors have removed their face paint and are watching through a grill. A of duty ain’td worker is sitting in a big hall in the door of his tent eating a bowl of rice. The aid workers are still very cautious to avoid a riot, which happened a few years ago, the marshals look tired. The lucky Burmese are so happy. A be-helmeted traffic cop with sunglasses and a whistle marshals the traffic in front of Canada bar to let the hoarders cross and head home.. I wonder what they will have for dinner….

 

For dinner I go to ban fern and have a taro basket filled with stir fried tofu and cashews. I wasn’t quite sure how to eat it. It was quite sticky, maybe too much soy sauce. The accompanying pineapple- mint shake was heaven.

 

I hope my sleep will be better than last night. I have changed rooms. Last night a whole raft of factors caused me an unhappy night. Ther room had an upper window which couldn’t be covered and that let in light from my neighbour. The outside terrace was full of people, mainly Germans, talking and even after closing the windows- which I didn’t want to do- I could still hear them. My neighbour then made a Skype call. Not lousy but the walls are thin…then. When all his had ended there was a low sub bass booming from across the yard. In the end I gave up trying to sleep and decided to get dressed and go for a walk. It was then 12. 30. The guesthouse was silent. I had to unlock the 2 external gates to get out. Around the corner is a place called smile bar. Unusual for Thailand…a bar full of teenagers playing pool and drinking. I walked up the road but nothing was open. A dog followed me, then barked, then the whole neighbourhood canine population began to join in and several more followed me. Better back in bed I thought.i probably got to sleep an hour later. my new room is at the rear, and has no extra window. Also the pillow is less like a bolster. Fingers crossed for a better slumber.

 

Mae sot refugee aid

It’s blistering hot. I’ve never felt such intense sun, so I’m now back on the corner by Canada bar. Opposite by the police station is the road with the Chinese humanitarian centre. Today is a special day. They a giving out sacks of food, and the street is awash with scruffy kids, mothers with new horns in their arms, men with broken teeth and betel nut stains, kids smoking cheroots, people now squatting wherever there is shade, including under the stage where the pink capped humanitarian workers are sitting on top of and guarding the sacks of food. They have a system for distribution, and it is guarded by guys in military uniforms. It involves a yellow laminated card with a red symbol on it. I gather it is gained by revolving around the stage and passing two checkpoints at which your hand is daubed with a different colour food dye, indigo then green. An overjoyed burman hugs me and shakes my hand, making me green too.

 

Opposite this stage is a Chinese temple and prayer hall a square with a gazebo in the middle and a stage on the other side. In the prayer hall a group of elderly Chinese monks, dressed in white sing prayers and carry out a ceremony. Inside the hall is a mountain of food bags which a shouldered out in line the crowd held back by an avenue of blue barrels, to the stage. The mountain there is growing, ready to be handed out. On the stage. Is a. Traditional Chinese play. Two large made up men, hooting and screeching. Sounds of Chinese percussion. The Burmese are hot, bemused, but. Patient.

On the other side of town the Thais are at school. In the street across the way the Muslims a being called to prayer. The Burmese temple is closed and full of sleepy dogs.

It’s 2 pm, and I can’t believe how much life I have seen already today.

Video to follow….

Mae sot

Im 5 km from the Burma border. A ride in 2 mini buses full of locals, up and down and round a windy mountain road. It’s misty and raining on the mountain top. Down the other side in the town it’s hot, sunny, the bus station is not full of the usual tuk tuk drivers and taxis and nobody is in the least bit interested in me, which is good and bad, as I am immediately lost and walk up and down in many wrong ways. Some schoolboys point me in the wrong way, probably not understanding what I want. Map reading in another language. Is impossible. Eventually a woman at an upmarket jade store helps me. I’m warned it is quite far,but actually it isn’t so far to locate the place in my guidebook. On a whim I decide to take a look at a neighbouring guest house.the room is big, airy, sturdy teak furniture and a bargain at 200 baht, plus renting a bike is 20. I. Take it, unwind, then cycle into town. The guesthouse is opposite a building site where manual labour is quite intense…I watched lines of young guys passing buckets of cement along a human chain. Later I saw them leaving the site getting paid cash in hand then boarding a pickup sponsored by man iunited’s Asian partner…

 

I searched for the Burmese restaurant I had read about but it had closed down. There are 2 main drags more or less parallel, I cycle up and down and criss- cross them too, looking for some vege food options. Nothing that seems open. Everything in Thai. There are brooding clouds over the school playing field where kids are gathered to watch some football game…the rain begins lightly then chucks it down for 15 minutes flooding some of the potholed roads. This is the province that experienced devastating flash floods only 1 month ago. . I try a new experience: cycling with an umbrella! I spend a while watching scooters and bikes laden with numerous passengers, holding umbrellas, shrouded in oversize brightly coloured ponchos. It all rapidly dries up, but obviously the bigger puddles are going to last a while

 

I look some more at the town, an begin to wander through the market. It’s not quite Thai. There are men. And women with white streaks of ash rubbed on their faces, apparently this is a Burmese habit. There are men in longyis, a kind of Burmese skirt type affair. It’s a scruffy town, there are poor looking people. A Burmese man hunched in the doorway smoking a cheroot, a dirty boy dropping a banana skin as he trudges the street. A man on a scooter in a pith helmet.women in head scarfs, Muslim. Chinese temples, Burmese temples; to be checked out later. A big police station which is prominent in the town centre, perhaps not surprising as this place is famed for smuggling of every kind. There is a one way system, and amazingly for a town that seems so wayward, everybody obeys it..unlike elsewhere I’ve been in Thailand. I do not, and feel very self conscious!

I ride round and round looking for the Canadian bar. God knows I must have passed it several times already. Once there I take a pavement seat and order a masaman curry and mango shake. The curry is not really the best I’ve had, the shake is great. This is a faring bar with low prices, and the guys here I think are all working for NGOs here.

 

Optician

I’m in an optician in sukhothai to get my stupid glasses straightened…..£100 they cost me and they have as much strength as a soggy biscuit.

The optician is all super clean and professional with 5 glamorous lilac suited assistants who naturally speak next to no English. One of them produces google translate to negotiate with me. The key phrases are that the glasses may break and the shop will not be responsible. So I wait while they do their best and a farmer type with nasty sores and scars on his legs tries on specs, his family in attendance.

Lo and behold the the frames have broken, the lenses fallen out. They kindly offer me some replacement frames, but I don’t want to make an impulse buy of £45 on specs right now. I graciously thank them for their efforts and depart. It’s actually hot today. Cloudy blue sky. Sunlight.