Monday, 30 April 2007

An A-Z of Taxi Drivers

Unlike in the UK taxis are a part of my every day life here. They ferry me to and from work, home from the pub, they are a shelter from both the heat and the rain and are the occasional place to nap in at times of extreme traffic. In this time I have been able to observe the phenomenon that is the Thai Taxi Driver.

1. Talkers

I am not a morning person and at 6:45 am I really do not want to engage in conversation on the way to work. However, my grunts do little to halt the barrage of questions I invariably get with this group. But we can further break it down into 2 groups:

a) English talkers: With varying levels of English this taxi driver will instigate a conversation about football, the weather and the state of the traffic. While they will struggle through each English sentence you on the other hand will be required to answer in thai. Yes I have had lessons but on the way to school thai is beyond me - I have yet to have caffeine and I am so space cadet it is very likely my underwear is on inside out.

b) Thai talkers: Encouraged by my basic thai of: I’ve lived here 18 months, I’m a teacher, I come from England - this driver will then to continue to talk at top speed about whatever comes into his head. I’ve found the best option is just to smile and nod but I’ve yet to have such an entertaining conversation as I did on Friday on my way home. I had gathered that he was telling me about his day – several key words were popping up about places and traffic and people, but although I did get the gist I had no idea about the specifics about what had happened. But it must have been a very amusing story because he could barely get it out he was laughing so much. His high pitched giggle was accompanied by tears which streamed down his face (yes I was concerned whether he could see or not) and a shaking body. I soon joined him and laughed all the way home. At the end of the journey he shook my and said “you have very good thai”. I couldn’t break it to him that I had no idea what he was going on about.

2. The Silent Type

In contrast the silent type will not speak to you at all. You state your destination and off they drive with no acknowledgement that they even know where are you are going. When the destination is repeated several times to ensure that this is where you will actually end up you may or may not be greeted with a grunt. At the extreme end the silent type will both ignore you AND refuse to drive anywhere. The first time this happens you may think that they are just waiting for a break in the traffic in order to pull out. You repeat where you are going and still they sit there. You try again. No response. Eventually you sheepishly get out of the cab and try again.

3. Spitters

Yes my least favourite variety of driver. Throughout the journey they snort, cough and wheeze until they manage to hawk up a big greenie. The door is then opened (yes even when careering down a 6-lane road) and the offending slime is expelled. A proficient spitter can repeat this every 3 minutes or so and is a huge contributing factor to why I wait to get to work before eating breakfast.

4. Speed Freaks

I’m sure Bangkok is unique in the randomness of its flow of traffic. There is no ‘rush hour’ as such, but you can be caught for hours at any time of day. You can be stationary for a good half hour and then just as suddenly as you stopped you start again and this is when the speed freak gets into action. He MUST get past as many traffic lights as he can before we once again snarled up in the traffic. He weaves from lane to lane while you slide from side to side on the plastic seats in the back. His foot swaps from accelerator to break with the speed of a rock drummer causing your stomach to dance to its beat. Even the doubting Thomas’s find themselves sending up a little prayer and kissing the ground when they finally arrive in one piece.

5. Slow Pokes

The yin to the speed freaks yang this driver is overtaken on all sides by horn honking vehicles. Often lacking concentration he may try to eat, engage you in conversation and play with the radio station while crawling along. Get out and go on the skytrain!

6. Flirts

While Bangkok has been a dating desert for me I seem to attract taxi drivers. I’m greeted with cries of ‘suay suay’ (beautiful, beautiful) and I have to try not to notice the winks in the review mirror. Admittedly, they might just want a good tip but sadly this actually perks my day up!

7. Worshippers

Unlike England teachers are actually respected here and once the taxi driver has worked out what you do for a living you will be met with appreciative oohs and aahs while you are questioned about the exact nature of your profession. My driver yesterday puffed up with pride that he was ferrying a slightly damp and disheveled teacher around (yes it was raining again) and insisted on calling my Khun Kru Alex at every opportunity. For a moment I actually thought he was going to get out and lay his coat over a puddle for me, but I guess that really is reserved for royalty.

While you may be able to choose from an assortment of colours a Bangkok taxi is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get on the inside. Enjoy the adventure!

Expat Brat

It’s the last Friday of the month and where should any self-respecting disco diva be heading? That’s right! The Bulls Head Disco. Delightfully cheesy as always. However, so as not to peak to early a pie (and several 2 for 1 vodkas) was first consumed in the Robin Hood. Unfortunately we lingered to long and were trapped there by an enormous lightening storm. The rain was beating down, forked lightening lit up the sky, our gossip was punctuated by booms of thunder and the soi along which we were soon to head was rapidly flooding. We were damsels in distress and needed saving. But never fear, help was at hand in the form of my new buddies driver! Yes we expat brats legged it out of the pub and straight into our chauffeur driven car. Our knight in shining armour then reversed the 150 metres up the sodden soi and we alighted at our next destination with dry clothes and hair-dos intact! Shameful I know, but so worth it.

So what should this brat do for the rest of the weekend? Of course – the Marriot Sunday brunch. A delicious buffet of barbecued shrimp, steak and satay, mousaka, pasta’s and hummus, cheese, cheese and more cheese, tantalizing puddings AND a chocolate fountain!!!! Heaven. However, not only can you gorge yourself on these sumptuous offerings but you are encouraged to pour yourself a generous bloody mary, help yourself to a champagne cocktail (or two), and sip fine white wines. I ask you what better way is there to spend 3 ½ hours of your Sunday?

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Gender Stereotypes

Today was school photo day. Nothing exciting there you might think, but remember this is Thailand and boy do they like to pose for photos! They all started off with the formal shot against the blue background and then it just got cheesier and cheesier. Hands in the pockets looking moody, hand on the chin looking pensive and of course the cuddling a teddy shot.

I did wonder why they had split the boys and girls into two groups and I soon found out. After the blue background shots the girls were ushered in front of an English country garden scene, complete with white fence, roses and a wooden sign saying welcome. They were then handed a basket of flowers and posed once more. The boys, on the other hand, were put in front of plain background and given a bike to pose on and a golf club to swing.

Needless to say I was having none of this and told the girls that if they wanted to have a picture on the bike they could and the boys that if they wanted to hold a bunch of flowers then they should go for it. Several of the girls swapped over and although one boy looked keen he decided against it when none of the others would. I’m sure I’m now very popular with the photo company and our head said that any complaints from parents would be directed to me! What could they possibly complain about? It’s ridiculous!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

One of those days

I woke up this morning feeling great. I stretched, yawned, leant back on my pillow gazing at the sun streaming through the door and waited for my alarm to go off. Have you spotted whats wrong yet? Yes I failed to complete the simple task of setting my alarm and I was already late for work. It was no longer going to be the good start to the day that I thought it was going to be.

With superhero speed I was up and out the door in a mere 10 minutes clutching my breakfast and brushing my hair. But, in a city full of brightly coloured cabs, there was no taxi to be seen. I rushed down the soi in what was already 30+ humid weather and finally at the end of the road managed to get a cab.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I tried not to stick to the plastic upholstery and looked around me. Something was not right. There was a meter. Taxi driver ID. The air con was on. What could it be? Then I realized…..there was no Buddha! In its place was a pamphlet proclaiming ‘Who is Jesus?’. My driver then proceeded to preach to me in very very stilted Tinglish. I had managed to find the only evangelising Christian taxi driver in Bangkok. Just as you think that your day can’t get any worse and you are pounced on. I’ve yet to have a hungover conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness trying to get through my door here, but I can only imagine that that will happen next. I’ll take it easy Friday night.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

Yes it’s the hot season – but I don’t think that ‘hot season’ quite conveys how utterly roasting it is here. It doesn’t seem that long since we were enjoying the cool weather of the coldest winter on record but now apparently we are going to experience that hottest month on record!

Made a rookie mistake on Saturday and spent the entire day in the aircon only to melt that evening when sitting OUTSIDE (what were we thinking?) at Cheap Charlies. Breathing makes you sweat. Standing outside for 5 minutes at 8am while we sing the national anthem is challenging. After walking the 10 minutes to the skytrain you feel like you have run a marathon. The only thing anybody should do in this weather is sit with the waves lapping on their feet while sipping a mango shake. Time to escape the city again methinks.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Good to Be Me

While trying not to be too self-indulgent my PHSE lesson last Friday turned into a bit of a warm and fuzzy session. We were focusing on why ‘It’s good to be me!’ hoping that the kids would realize that yes they may not be the next Olympic runner, Monet or Thailand’s Next Top Model but that they all had something that makes them special. Generally quite a modest class they found it difficult to brag about what they were good at but were happy to talk at length about why they were lucky and wanted to know why it is good to be me!

Isn’t it great when you stop and realize that your life absolutely rocks. I won’t go into too much detail as I don’t want anyone to think I’m gloating but my life is great…..

· Fantastic friends and family
· A job I love
· Healthy
· Great city (and aparment) to live in
· Social life rocks
· Endless travel opportunities

All in all pretty good. Yes there are a couple of things I would add (bet ya can’t guess what that would be! ho ho) but I wouldn’t change anything – I will put those down as things to look forward to. So today I challenge you to stop and think all the amazing things in your life – promise it will give you a warm glow. Enjoy.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

5 Hilarious Travel Photos?

Well the challenge has been set. The Brave New Traveler is looking for our 5 most hilarious travel photographs What a great opportunity to trawl back through pics and reminisce. Of course I have an abundance of amusing travel pics but as the whole digital camera experience is new and I didn’t want to repost any that I have already shared - although it was hard to resist the opportunity to once again publish Tom and Ian’s lady-boy pics or the Borats– so these are some that I took in the Philippines. They may not be hilarious enough to beat the competition but I hope they make you giggle.

I suppose as a teacher I probably shouldn’t find this one remotely funny (I nearly fell off the back of our motorbike in shock), however, I guess Philippinos just aren’t as cynical as we are, although I can imagine that this sign might attract some unwanted attention to the program.

While wandering the backstreets of Manila passing untold numbers of seedy bars and sidestepping rotund, inebriated, middle-aged men we found this one. Tell it like it is ladies…..

And just down the road was Hussy’s – does exactly what it says on the tin. Thought this pic might amuse the folks back home, but probably not my mum. Found this luridly coloured drink in 7Eleven. Probably should have brought a bottle for our swinging drinking buddy – would have been the closest thing to the orgy he sought that he was gonna get!
You will need to look closely to see the slogan “Marry Now, Pay Later!”. It made me chuckle especially after being discriminated against due to my single status. Apparently, when double booked the couple will automatically get the nipa hut and us single girls relegated to the dorm as “ziss is ok ya! Because you are single and zey are married”. Don’t worry she was left in no uncertain terms that this was not ok and we were soon found a hut all of our own.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Fun in the Philippines

Two weeks is just not long enough in the Philippines and we already have plans to go back. The weather is fantastic, sand doesn’t get any whiter, sea will never be a clearer blue and the people so friendly. Indeed I even think that Thailand has a contender for the title of Land of Smiles.

When we finally made our retreat from Manila we headed for the island of Bohol. Our first stop was Nuts huts on the Loboc river. The emphasis here is very much health and action while being able to relax in gorgeous surroundings. To be honest just negotiating the steps from our hut up to the restaurant was exercise enough and was generally followed by reading in a hammock. From here we visited the Chocolate hills and tarsier centre and although we were encouraged to do it by mountain bike we decided that a motorbike would suit us much better (it is 36km to the chocolate hills!). However, we did make it to the nearby waterfall just over a km away and as it was pretty roasty that day decided to swim rather than walk. As it was Easter and everyone had a day off we weren’t the only ones heading for the waterfalls –however, everyone else was on a boat so we strange farangs swimming there got quite a bit of attention and had to wave and smile for hundreds of pictures.

From Nuts Huts we went to Panglao Island where we enjoyed the white sandy beaches and clear blue water, not to mention some fantastic seafood. One morning was spent dolphin watching and snorkeling. Not only did we see loads of dolphins but also pilot whales and a fantastic array of brightly coloured fish.

I mentioned in an earlier post how religious the Philippinos are but no where is it quite so evident as in Tagbilaran. As we trekked round the city trying to find a cashpoint that would accept my Thai card we saw walls decorated with the Ten Commandments and signs asking us to be honest, kind and generous. Every cyclo had a bible quote or moral on the back reminding people to pray, worship and love thy neighbour however, my favourite has to be “God knows”.

So we will be back to the Philippines soon hopefully. Roll on the next holidays…..

San Miguel Light

I am a San Miguel Light convert! It tastes good and is low calorie. And to top that off it cost just 40p! Hoorah! However, possible side effects are pics like this!

Chocolate Hills

Faced with an Easter without chocolate (easter eggs are distinctly lacking in the Philippines) we headed for the next best thing: The Chocolate Hills. Unfortunately they do not taste like chocolate but a walk to the top of the viewpoint gives you a pretty impressive view.

Legend has it that they were created when a giants tears hit the earth – and although I like that idea I was hoping for a more geologically accurate explanation. However, the best the information sign could manage was: The chocolate hills were created ages ago. Hmmmm.

Great scenery though and the drive up there was fantastic even if it did take a little longer than it should due to my 50km/hr speed limit imposed on Ange.

Just the Cutest!

Although this little critter has been described as a cross between ET and a gremlin I don’t think you’ll find anything much cuter! Their eyes are 150 times larger than a humans in relation to their body and they would fit in the palm of your hand. Poor little buggers are endangered too :(

Friday, 6 April 2007

Not for the Squeamish!

As you are all enjoying an Easter long weekend I'm sure you are aware that it is Holy week - but I'm also sure that no one around you is approaching this holiday with the same religious zeal that we are witnessing here in the Philipines. Everyday there have been re-enactments of the passion of Christ across the country and today, of all days, we decided that we really should see it. We could have taken part in the feet washing, last supper, entering the city on a donkey - anything on any other day - but no - we decide to do it on Good Friday.

So up we went to San Fernando Pampagna and it was soon obvious just how realistic this "re-enactment" was going to be. We followed men with blood dripping down their backs and soaking their trousers as they flagellated themselves with wooden tipped whips. Others carried wooden crosses on their backs and were beaten if they paused to stop. At our destination Roman Centurions whipped 'Jesus' as he made his way to the cross. Pontious Pilate made his declaration and Jesus was nailed to the cross - yes nailed - with real nails - a real hammer - real blood and real pain on his face. Then Judas hung himself - we were very glad that he had a harness on!

However, this was not the end. 7 other Jesuses were in line ready to make their sacrifice too. The first Jesus was brought down with blood gushing out of his hands and rushed to the paramedics. Then the next one lined up. And the next one..... and we had so had enough.

I wondered out loud why these men would volunteer for this painful part and was answered by the guy next to me. Apparently, the men flaying themselves are doing so because they have sinned and are repenting. The first Jesus, on the other hand, had a sick relative in the hospital and was hoping that by following Jesus's example that his prayers would be answered! I think we should all pray for his relative too!

This was all too much for our travelling companion who nearly passed out and had to sit with her head between her legs and was promptly surrounded by locals who wanted to see the crying tourist - did they not realise that there was a man with nails in his hands behind them? Obviously they had seen it all before and she was much more interesting.

Hopefully, that is all the blood I will have to see for the rest of my life. Still haven't been able to stomach lunch - thank goodness we were hungoverless today!

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Volcanic Ash

This morning I decided to blame Ange for our difficulties yesterday - afterall it was her who exclaimed 'Jesus Christ' when we saw a sign for 24 hours of prayer and worship on Easter day. This is not the time or the place to blaspheme. However, she has repented of her sins and today we actually managed to leave Manila!

Obviously the buses were still out of the question so we hired ourselves a driver and headed to Talisay. Our destination Lake Taal - a lake within an island within a lake - and to climb the volcano.

We were a little confused when our boatman gave us a tarpauline to cover ourselves in - why would we need this on a lake? However, we soon realised that this boat journey was more like crossing the atlantic in a gale - we were drenched in about 5 seconds. But we made it across in one piece ready to climb the volcano.

Before you think that this was terribly energetic of us I will point out that this is actually the smallest active volcano in the world - set your goals small eh! However, we were about the only people who walked up. Everyone else rode a pony to the top and couldn't understand why we wouldn't do the same. There were several reasons for this. Firstly the poor little buggers weren't much bigger than Shetlands, secondly horses freak me out and most importantly I love walking. The sense of achievement when you reach the top and take in the view can't be the same if you hitch a lift. We weren't able to explain this to the enterprising locals though who followed us for the first ten minutes with spare horses just in case we realised our folly and changed our minds despite their shouts of:

'it's very steep'
'it's 10 km'
'it's hot!'
'it will take you 2 hours'
'it's too hard for you'

Finally they gave up.

In the end we actually made it to the top in 30 minutes (I told you it was a small one), but obviously we are superfit and caned it up there. We were, however, covered in black volcanic ash and were more than a little sunburnt. The view of the crater lake below us and surrounding us was very cool, as was the steam venting near the craters edge. What shall I climb next?

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Escape from Manila

Arrived in Manila yesterday and was pleasantly surprised. I had been led to believe that it was a hell hole that must be avoided at all costs. However, the people were friendly, the seafront entertainment good and we found a local drinking hole with amusing locals.

Unfortunately the rose tinted glasses have now been removed. We woke up a little worse for wear after drinking rum with a swinger (I, amazingly, managed to give off the impression of being an incredibly conservative school maam, so poor ange had to put up with his advances) and were ready to head up to Banaue to see the rice terraces. But the city had other ideas.

The lonely planet says:

"it is surprisingly difficult to get a bus out of Manila"

I say:

'"it is bloody impossible to get a bus out of Manila"

Admittedly it is Semana Santa and everyone is trying to head home but there is no rhyme or reason to the bus stations. There seems to be about 50 different operators dotted about town all heading to alternative places. The only thing to do is pitch up at each one and try and get on a bus. This involved taxis, cyclos, mototaxis and jeepneys as we got caught up in the snarled up traffic. After about 3 hours of this we decided that Banaue was not an option so decided on an alternative destination. This also proved impossible.

Dehydrated, standing in the pissing rain, having a huge sense of humour failure we hailed yet another taxi to the airport. bugger the buses - we were going to change our flights and head to the beach earlier than planned. No joy. Aaarrrggghhhhhh.

We are going to try and flee the city again tomorrow but after 7 hours of failed attempts it was time for a nap and I think, shortly, a beer.

Wish us fugitives well - I think 3 days in Manila may be too much to bear. Hopefully tomorrow we will get out of here!

Monday, 2 April 2007

Battered and Bruised

What a weekend! Jules and I hit the Hong Kong 7’s – 3 days of rugby – phwoar! Unfortunately the Kiwi’s knocked us English out in the semis which was a bummer – but I did so enjoy watching the Aussies follow a similar fate minutes later – ho ho. And it was great fun being in a testosterone filled stadium for so long……

Dressed up as red Indians on the Saturday and found ourselves in the South Stand (THE place to be!) with all the others in fancy dress. The prize has to go to the Borats who had the guts to wear that green swimming outfit – however, security weren’t too impressed and made them cover up.

Have to admit though early Saturday morning was a bit of an effort after a lubricated Friday evening. Hooked up with Hols and sadly enough got caught doing the Madison in the disco tent – not sure we should be doing dance routines at 30 – should have given them up at 13 really. However, it was nothing a couple more jugs of pimms and seabreeze couldn’t fixed. The food at the stand however, was less than desirable – although I did have a bite of someones hotdog I realized at 11pm that the vodka jelly I had just necked was the only real solid since breakfast!

The crowd was a little subdued Sunday morning but we soon all got back in the swing of things and soon jugs of beer were being flung all over the stand – so I now have a delightful array of bruises to match my sore nose from a taxi crash on Friday night (I was a total weiner and cried and cried which freaked the taxi driver out a bit – but it did hurt!) After some exciting games Samoa were victorious, which is more that can be said for the streakers and penguins who rushed the pitch throughout the afternoon.

Sunday night was spent at Mes Amis in Wan Chai with the rest of the lairy crowd and several of the teams. Although they were happy to pose for photo’s it was slightly disappointing to note that they were all about 18 and viewed us as old ladies – how did that happen? I’m young and hip – honest!

Enjoy the photos above – borats, English, Tunisian and Scottish players, hols, cowboys and Indians.