Things That Rustle in the Night – or – No Nasties in New Zealand

No words really...

No words really…

Much as I enjoy wandering around the fascinating tropical areas of Asia, there are times when I’m pretty glad I live in New Zealand. As I sit here right now (about midnight), in my awning outside my tiny house caravan, I can hear loud rustling outside amongst the dry leaves – the rustlings of a nocturnal creature of some sort. I am remaining fairly calm about this, because I know the odds are it’s just Russell, the avocado-eating prickle-critter. Russell won’t eat me. He just eats snails, slugs, cat biscuits (stolen ones taste best) and avocados. I think that’s why he lives around my tiny house – it’s situated under a plum tree and an avocado tree, and lately it’s been raining avos down so hard that it pays to wear a helmet outside. A veritable feasting ground for a prickle-critter.

Russell the prickle-critter, saving me from nasty vicious avocados.

Russell the prickle-critter, saving me from nasty vicious avocados.

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2009 Thailand # 9: An Old Lady on a Harley Davidson and Inspector Clouseau Shopping Expedition

A very experienced umbrella maker, Chiang Mai.

A very experienced umbrella maker, Chiang Mai.

The evening after our zoo day, we had a wee party on our verandah. I had decided that a bottle of gin was in order, so I went and bought one at the 7/11 (otherwise known as a Dairy in NZ) for 260 baht (or about $12.60 NZ). Chow, Gill myself and a Phillipine girl called Lyn swanned about with a guitar, some gin and whiskey and several buckets of ice. Very civilized. Chow and Lyn put a sand lizard on the ground by my foot, thinking to scare me, which didn’t work at all, to their great disappointment. Gill suggested quietly to me that I should go and get my scorpion and do the same back, which worked a treat. When Lyn spotted it, we both jumped back and climbed on our chairs in horror (this was at night time, so the light was working in our favour) and she was totally taken in, poor thing. I think she had murderous intentions towards us for a little while after that. Chow then passed me a fancy whiskey bottle that had a cobra inside it with a large scorpion in its mouth. He was lucky I didn’t drop it! He then told us that the cobra would have been put in the bottle when small, then the scorpion dropped in once the snake was bigger, then both of them drowned in whiskey. We couldn’t believe the cruelty of it! And in a Buddhist country? But for some people, dollars speak a darn sight louder than morals. I also really hate seeing the insects set in resin or in frames at the markets. They’re pretty impressively sized bugs, but I refuse to support such a practice. Every time I see this I shake my head at the person selling them. I have to say I’ve seen a lot less of this than I saw in Bangkok in 2005. Maybe more tourists are refusing to buy them. I hope so. Continue reading

2009 Thailand # 8: The Laughing Tuk-Tuk Driver and Fluffy Snake Fodder

Sign at Wat Umong, Chiang Mai

Sign at Wat Umong, Chiang Mai

Yesterday we travelled out to Wat Umong. Yes folks, we made it outside The Wall. We jumped into a tuk-tuk with The Laughing Tuk-tuk Driver who giggled at everything he said, so we figured either he must be a very funny man or we’re extremely amusing from his point of view or he’s slightly gaga. Or maybe all of the above. He had by far the slowest tuk-tuk we’ve been on by far so we got to appreciate the unlovely eau-de-exhaust coming off all the other vehicles as they passed us most the way there. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why he giggles so much – he’s high on carbon monoxide or whatever it is that cars breathe… Continue reading

2009 Thailand # 7: The Case of the Mysterious CupCake Lizard and the Meditating Chicken

Blind buskers at the night market, Chiang Mai

Blind buskers at the night market, Chiang Mai

On Saturday night we went over to Waialu Road to the Saturday market.  It’s held in one long line of outside stalls along the road and it goes for ages! It was nice to be in an outside one though – nowhere near as sauna-like as the inside ones. There are many disabled and blind people there with amps and instruments – some traditional and some modern – busking for money. This is really good value as you get entertained as you shop, and I’m sure it’s financially rewarding for them, as well as satisfying that they can do something to help themselves. Continue reading

India 2008 # 3: Centipedes, an Indian John Cleese and Dancing in the Rain

Tuesday morning I was up early in the morning and went up to our rooftop to photograph the squirrels and other life in general going on. The squirrels here are really tiny and remind me of little cartoon creatures as they scurry about with their long furry tails waving like flags behind them. I was lucky – one got very close and I was able to get some nice shots of him. When I checked my photos afterwards I saw he had a very surprised look on his face. I guess he’d never met a one-eyed creature before. I discovered a lizard as well, who also ran about on the roof tiles. Then he’d stop suddenly and pump his front legs up and down like those american cars on hydraulics. Once again, I have seen many creatures here. An especially interesting experience was when I used Rani’s toilet and was able to count the centipedes that were holding a rally about two inches in front of my face. I got up to about seventy something by the time I had finished my business. Never a dull moment.

We had breakfast at the Ram Raja Restaurant as usual and the kids all spilled out to show us that the had been playing with their toys. I got some lovely photos of that also. Then, when I went across the road to photograph a guy who was sharpening Parbhat’s kitchen knives on his bicycle-sharpening setup (like the gypsies used to use in England) I turned around to find an Indian guy photographing me photographing the sharpener. He came over to show us the photo and have a chat. He was also a (Indian) tourist. It’s quite funny to find yourself being photographed for a change. I suppose a white person in a small village makes for an interesting shot.

Indu took us for a ‘nature walk’ later on in the day. He looked just like an Indian John Cleese with his upright stature and furled umbrella. “Come!” he would bark, and we all followed him obediently, meandering through fields and down pathways. Orchha has so many monuments it’s just ridiculous. All of our cameras were heating up by the time we were finished. We saw spotted owls, talked to water buffalo, avoided a seriously over-territorial dog and managed not to find any snakes (yay). Indu told us “Nature is nature. You are being careful in nature. Watch where you stand.” We listened well!

Once again we finished our evening on the “Palace View” rooftop. It is possible to buy alcohol here (black market) – in fact Parbhat sends his young son to go and fetch it. But we drink it in private. This is a village with a major temple in it, so you cannot eat meat or drink alcohol at any place directly lining up with the temple. Apparently just to the side and behind some kind of a wall is fine. Ernie and Leisa went off to their Palace suite (the old palace that we stayed at in 2005) and us peasants hied off to our ordinary rooms to sprawl under fans on the usual two beds pushed together.

I frequently have a giggle in India about the state of their bathrooms. They do nice tidy tile work on the walls and the floors are fitted with marble. They then put two bare wires leading from the water “geysers” (hot water heaters) straight into a plughole in the wall. They bash holes straight through the tiles to put the plumbing through and the basins usually drain through a pipe that leads straight to the floor and washes it. Very efficient really, when you think about it. But the one I couldn’t figure out (funny what you look at when you’re sitting idly) was a beautifully drilled hole in a tile about a quarter of the way up a wall with a rusty nail sticking out of it, being used for absolutely nothing. Rack my brains all I can, I still can’t understand the logic in that one.

Back at the Ram Raja for breakfast again, Wednesday morning (yesterday? Losing track here…) I perused the menu. One of my favourite pastimes, apart from vulture and monkey watching, in this town. I found Veg Bargares (vege burgers), finger cheeps (hot french fries), Auborjin rusted (roast aubergine) and for dessert I could order “Hello To The Queen”. Don’t ask – that one’s beyond me. They serve chai, coffee or whatever, in glasses here. No handles for wusses like us. A bit tricky, particularly pre-caffeine, but I’m getting the hang of it.

Once again, Indu turned up and commanded us to climb aboard his flash new rickshaw, in which he drove us out of the village a bit to do a tour of a paper factory. This is a fantastic setup that employs many local people, more women than men, and gives them decent working conditions and wages. They get material (scraps, etc) in from down south somewhere, separate the cotton from the synthetic, cut it into tiny pieces, pulp it and soak it (no chemicals involved) then form it into sheets, dry it and makes products out of it. They have a little shop to visit at the end of the tour and the products you buy contribute to good local causes. Naturally we did our part there. The products were very beautiful.

Indu then delivered us to the Amar Mahal. This is a brand new palace that has been built here over the last five years and is mindbogglingly beautiful. I’ll make you sick with the photos I took when I get home. We settled into our suite, swanned about in the pool and generally lay around gasping with amazement. Poor Ernie was as sick as a dog thought and the only swanning he did was between the four-poster bed and the luxury toilet. Considering this whole palace thing was all about Ernie and Leisa’s wedding anniversary, it just seemed so cruel that this happened to him. But on the other hand, if you’re going to be sick in India, better that than in a luxury situation than jammed into a train or some such horrible thing.

Later in the evening, we heard some music start up somewhere yonder. Upon investigation, we found that they put on a live show with local Bundhelkandi musicians. Usually there is a dancer also, but unfortunately she was unwell, so we had to take her place. There’s something rather lovely about dancing in the rain doing (or attempting) impressions of Indian dancing with live music backup. The musicians were grinning from ear to ear – either with appreciation of our joining in or because it was the funniest thing they’d seen in a long time – two very damp ferangi twirling and wiggling their hips about as gracefully as a couple of water buffalo. We gave them some baksheesh (contribution) for their lovely music, but they refused to pay us for our dancing. In fact they laughed their heads off when we suggested it. Oh well – lucky I have a job back in NZ huh?

We had to grin later when we took our clothes off to go to bed – Indian clothing is not known well for it’s fixed dye and we had rainbow bodies to go to sleep in.

Finally, we went and dined in the glorious palace restaurant with it’s gold-leafed ceiling and chandeliers dripping with glass. Don’t ask me what we ate – I can’t remember most the names. But it was all really yummy and felt ever so decadent. We even had a Hindi lesson from the waiters, who were ever so tolerant and didn’t even laugh at our accents. Very graceful of them, I say.

Okay, I’ve had enough of writing for now and I’m sure you’ve heard enough of me. It’s really really hot here and super humid so I’m off to sprawl out and concentrate on just breathing for a while.