Posted by: Ted | July 2, 2008

Time to Celebrate

Thank you everyone for your thoughts and prayers. Heather’s second surgery was successful. In fact, we anticipate getting medical clearance to leave the States at the beginning of August…only four weeks from now.

We will be launching back into planning mode shortly after the 4th of July. It looks like Japan will be our jumping off point. Then we anticipate high-tailing it across Asia to get to Africa by October. Is it possible? Sure. We just haven’t figured out how yet.

Meanwhile, we are in the DFW area for four more weeks. Contact us if you’d like to see us before we leave if we haven’t already contacted you.

Keep checking back on our website/blog. We are about ready to release an actual website in addition to our blog.

Posted by: Heather | May 16, 2008

Kiddie Cock Fighting

Kids as young as 7 dressed in red or blue, a big venue with plastic chairs ringside filled with tourists paying $50 a pop and Thai locals filling the stands screaming for one kid to kick the other just to win a $.50 bet. Welcome to Thai boxing- one of the most publicized sports in Thailand. I can equate it to cock fighting. A sport that would be quite controversial in America pits one youngster against the other while the bets line up.

Matches start with the “band” banging the drums to the dancing beat while the to-be-kicked opponents dance in their fancy headdresses and pray to each of the corners as part of the ceremonial ritual that kicks off each match.

Then, let the bloodbath begin…..

Each match, the kicks get harder and the rounds get longer in addition to the competitors get older. Coaches are screaming from the sidelines and waving their hands signaling to their “cock” what to do next to “strike.”

The better the match, the more wound up the crowd gets… it’s madness.

Once the competitors got older, the matches got more serious to the point that one guy got kicked in the head, knocked over passed out. It took three guys to get him out of the ring. Watching Thai boxing is not like watching golf on T.V. This is not a sissy sport for the anti-child-labor activists. You must come to a Thai boxing match with an open mind. It’s a fight to the finish.

Posted by: Heather | May 16, 2008

Trannies and Tales of the Sea

Old, fat British men walk around like kings of their own domain with “pay by the day” 75 pound 5 foot tall mini things (Thai women) in tow carrying shopping bags full of new clothes purchased by “Big Daddy Spender”. The “lady girls” (a.k.a. transvestites, katoey) of Thailand are dancing on stage in the street long bar after bar areas and putting on private cabaret shows in private theaters. Massage parlors are on every corner. Welcome to Pattaya beach in Thailand.

Our friends Amanda and Lance came to visit us for a week in Thailand. We hit this famous beach area, the shows and the nightlife for more people watching than anything, but we did get a glance at some of the “girls”. Watching the “free” show and sipping our $10 a piece beers, one of the girls took a particular liking to Ted during the show…the ugliest one of course. Ok, so it was a guy dressed as a girl, but it was still funny.

The whole group got into the action after the show. These, by the way, are guys that are now girls.

Post trannies, we all hit the high seas for 5 days on a scuba diving live-a-board in the Similan Islands way off the coast of Thailand.

Ted spent most of his time below in the cabin with food poisoning he got from eating strawberries on the beach the day before we left. This is a picture of him eating his first meal on Day 3. Everyone say, “Poor Ted.”

When he did feel better, Amanda, our resident scuba instructor, certified Ted for Nitrox diving.

Nitrox air allows scuba divers to go deeper for longer periods of time. Ted’s now ready to dive to the bottom of the ocean, or so he thinks. PADI will stop him.

Ted, always the daring diver, got up and close to a poisonous fish, a lion fish while diving

and almost got bit by the most poisonous snake known to man, a banded sea snake. Thanks to our scuba instructor for the image below.

His excitement is overwhelming though and you can’t blame his curiosity. I’m just glad he’s still here.

Posted by: Ted | May 16, 2008

We Met by Accident

“Excuse sir, you wife motobike? She accident maybe I no sure. Police say you go Kodak shop on beach road now pleese”. Regardless of what it might mean or whether there is a mistake, that phrase is sobering enough to ruin the most perfect Patron tequila buzz. I’m in the open air lobby of a local Ao Nang hotel using their Wi-Fi connection when synchronizing emails is no longer important. Cut to Ted cramming everything into a day pack and standing in the road flagging down the first empty Tuk-Tuk for a ride. No time to negotiate, just get me there. “Can you GET ME THERE? Does this thing have more than one gear?!?!”

Pulling up to the scene of what I hope is a mistake I see police directing traffic on the busy 2-lane beach road of Ao Nang, Thailand, a car and motorbike on the side of the road and Heather standing in tears with open arms awaiting a hug. She’s been in a motorbike accident and the car won.

Strangely , the bike is in perfect condition and except for a scrape, some bumps and a couple of minor bruises, Heather is fine.

It is moments like this that define love and remind you of what is important. Not the house or car. Not the new shoes you got on sale at Nordstroms. Not the decadent dinner and wine you enjoyed last night at the most incredible restaurant in town. LIFE, LOVE, HEALTH and the JOY of being alive. Luckily, we still have all of them so let’s sort out the situation. During the next thirty minutes, Heather, the Police and the driver of the other car explain the scenario to me. Trouble is, they are all slightly different and I am being forced to make immediate decisions on the differing data.

In Thailand, a traffic accident scenario is very different from what we are used to in the United States. First, there are different classes of insurance. Technically we have no insurance since the bike was rented from the hotel, but it is covered by their 3rd Class Insurance. This covers people but no property or vehicles. The other driver, a Polish citizen on a 12-month temporary work visa, has borrowed the car from his Thai mother-in-law and also has 3rd Class Insurance. Second, the police are asking for an immediate resolution on the scene. Either agree to the amount of damages on the spot and pay them or we all go to the Police Station for reports and further negotiations. It has been determined that the accident is ‘at-fault’ to Heather so they want us to make amends. We’re not Thai so the odds are stacked against us. Luckily, the other driver is not Thai so it’s an evenly fitted match. The question is: How do you resolve this on an accident scene? Simple. The Police officer calls his buddy “Mr. Mechanic” to come onsite and give an estimate. So after about an hour, we have an estimate of 10,000baht for damages or roughly $330. Sure, you’re thinking pay it and get the heck out, right? Wrong. We’ve been in country long enough to know that this is the opening bid and your worries are not over yet. If you agree, they will rethink it and decide it was wrong. Before you know if you’re paying two, three, four times that amount and let’s not forget the kick-back going to Mr. Police Officer who called his buddy “Mr. Mechanic” for help. We refuse the offer and he leaves. Now the Police are irritated. Chances are they won’t make any money on this deal, no Thai citizens are directly involved and they really don’t want to waste their time while a couple of “Farangs” (westerners) argue over collision settlements. This doesn’t really concern them now so they just want the 2-lane road cleared. It’s nearing the busiest time of day, traffic is picking up and we’ve got 50% of the road blocked. So everyone moves to the Police Station down the road to talk further.

Waiting at the Police Station, relatives start arriving. Any social event in Asian cultures is a family affair. As more and more relatives start arriving we call the owner of our hotel who graciously tells us “don’t move, I’m on the way and I will handle this”. For the next hour we sit inside as more people arrive. The other driver has about eight family members onsite for support. Everyone is negotiating in Thai, accepting and rejecting offers. The brother of our hotel manager arrives who has a mechanic friend and insists that the 10,000 baht estimate is grossly over priced. Fourteen people are staring at the wreckage and suggesting solutions. The police finally take a report and tell us to basically go figure it out ourselves but we cannot leave until we have an agreement. The agreement? Let’s all go to the mechanic to get a final estimate and we will pay that amount. Problem is, it is located in the next town 30 minutes drive away. So what do we do? Heather and I actually get IN the wrecked car with the driver of the other vehicle and HE drives us 30 minutes to the mechanic! Imagine the awkwardness of holding a 30-minute conversation in the car of the guy you just hit while in the middle of financial negotiations! “Uh, so. Uh. How long have you, uh, been in Thailand? Oh, that’s nice. And, uh, you say you, uh, have a little girl, huh? Oh, that’s sweet.” This has to be the most unintelligent conversation you have ever attempted but you figure it’s better than sitting in silence and maybe, just maybe he will like you more and be a little easier to negotiate with. Sure. Whatever helps you keep going.

Arriving at the mechanic, nearly four hours have passed, it is after 7pm and he has closed for the day to attend a wedding. You have no choice but to pack it up and try again tomorrow. Where does that leave us? He has to drive us thirty minutes BACK to the other town to drop us off at the Police station! He even has to stop for gas! Talk about awkward situations; are you supposed to pay for some gas or offer to help out with the cost? We opt to shut up and ride. “Uh, wow, gasoline is more expensive here then I would have imagined. Gee. Uh, and you, uh, said your daughter is almost two, huh? Well I bet you are proud of her, huh?” Back at the Police Station, we exchange numbers and agree to talk by phone the next day. He will get the estimate, we will verify the amount with the brother of our hotel owner and pay it. Next day we get a call from the hotel, not him. They tell us that the owner has “handled” the situation. The final agreement is 6000 baht (about $200US), not the original 10,000 baht and that we are not to talk to the other side. We are instructed to bring the money to the front desk and they will handle everything from that point. Relieved, we rush downstairs, pay the amount requested and exhale a long sigh of relief. There is obviously some sort of settlement and ‘pay off’ buried in this amount but how can you argue too much about a $200 accident settlement? The door, front fender and bumper were smashed and in the U.S. we would easily be at about $2,000 with a $250 deductible. After paying the $200, the only question was “Where’s the bar, it’s celebration time.”

Posted by: Ted | May 16, 2008

jumpAmonkey in Texas for the Summer

There are always reasons why some things just happen and this week, we truly are both thankful to be in Texas. Someone is looking out for us both.

Were we not in Texas for the last 6 weeks waiting for Heather’s surgery and recovery, we would have either been Myanmar (Burma) where the cyclone hit or in China where the earthquake hit. Those were the two places we were choosing between to go to next on the next phase of our trip. We were disappointed to be “stuck” in Texas for a while, but now we believe it was meant to be. Spending more time with our best friends and family is so much better than risking our lives, don’t you think?

We just found out this week that Heather is going to need to have a more invasive and second surgery done on June 17th to remove more “bad cells” so we are resolving to be in the U.S. until sometime in August. This next surgery requires more time for recovery and checkups. Thank you for all of your kind words and cards that you have sent her. We are very thankful for the care she is receiving and that the doctors can take care of things now before it’s too late.

In the meantime, we are “home” enjoying the summer. Here’s a picture of the two of us together at the Fort Worth Main Street Arts Festival. Those of you who know what kind of beer we prefer will find this picture funny.

What are our plans you ask? We have rented a Jeep Liberty for a few months and are hitting the road jumpAmonkey style to see some places we’ve always wanted to go while we’re waiting…West Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. While we’re on our trip, we hope to post more exciting travel stories that we haven’t had time to post- this time about Vietnam and Cambodia (and the crowd cheers—-Yeah!). Keep checking back for more.

Posted by: Ted | April 25, 2008

Where Are Heather and Ted???

Thank you to those who have noticed that we have not posted to our blog recently and are wondering, “Where the Heck Are You Now?”  We are actually both back in the DFW area for a few weeks.  Heather originally came home alone for two weeks to see her new nephew, her sister’s first child.  While she was home, she went in for some routine medical tests.  Two days before her return, the doctor called and said she needed to stay in town for a few weeks for some more tests and a biopsy.  I flew back immediately. Heather is scheduled for surgery on April 28th.  Pending positive news from the biopsy, we should be back to our travels by mid-May.  We don’t know where we’ll be going next but please post your comments and updates so we can stay in touch with everyone.  The adventure WILL continue!

Posted by: Heather | February 28, 2008

Aunt Heather and Uncle Ted

Even though the “Williams” name will not live on, there is a new addition to the Greene family.  After a difficult pregnancy ending in bed rest, my sister, Michelle, has just given birth to a beautiful baby boy.  Cade Michael Greene was born on February 4, 2008.  He’s quite itty bitty, but Aunt Heather and Uncle Ted know he’ll grow to be big and strong.

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We wish we were there for all the excitement, but then again, we’d be afraid we’d be recruited for diaper duty.  For those of you who know us well, it won’t come as any surprise that we’re not very kid friendly, but we sure will enjoy spoiling him from afar until we get back around the world.  Loud toys and obnoxious gifts will be our specialty. Congratulations to Michelle and her husband Aaron.  Cade is ready for his first photo shoot if anyone feels they can fill my shoes.  If you are interested, please contact me.

Posted by: Ted | February 25, 2008

Muslim Karaoke

At the core of every American is a fundamental regard for religious freedom that stems from the early founding fathers of the U.S. and the Constitution. The illusion of a separation of Church and State were also part of this doctrine but that fact remains inconsequential because the reference to “God” permeates every facet of American life. It is printed on the currency: “In God We Trust.” It is referenced in politics: “God Bless the U.S.A.” It is in the Pledge of Allegiance: “One Nation, Under God…” It is at the root of the legal system: “I swear to tell the truth…so help me God.” It is used in the lyrics of “America: My Country ‘tis of Thee” which was of course taken from the English song “God Save the Queen”: “America…God shed his grace on thee…” You get the idea.

When you enter Muslim populated countries however, the concept of religion permeating society takes on a different level of expression. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for freedom of speech, religion, expression, etc., and I am not talking about Burkas or restrictions that may be observed from region to region. I am not a morning person so I have a fundamental problem with someone else’s religion waking me up at 4:30am everyday. I am referring to the Muslim Call to Prayer, or Muslim Karaoke, as we now call it. True, churches ring their bells and play music for weddings or religious ceremonies on a regular basis but this happens at reasonable hours. I have never heard wedding bells before dawn.

The ancient practice of climbing to the top of the temple tower and barking the Call to Prayer for everyone to hear was eventually replaced with loudspeakers pointing in all directions. There is one standing rule in SE Asia regarding loudspeakers: If you have one, use it as often as possible and as LOUD as possible at distortion levels whenever possible. This is especially true with the Call to Prayer which takes place five times every day. Temples actually compete to be the loudest in the area and are constantly updating equipment to be bigger and louder. Some particularly clever and inventive singers have perfected the technique of adding feedback to the distortion, much like an electric guitar so when they hit certain high notes and hold it, (which happens about every 30-60 seconds during the 20-45 minute ‘concert’) they get a penetrating vocal feedback that literally vibrates through buildings and could hold Eddie Van Halen in awe. It is impossible to sleep through. Even with ear plugs, a pillow over your head, an AC unit running on high, a ceiling fan on high and the television on a blank channel spouting static at a high volume for white noise to cover it. You WILL wake up. What really aggravates you is tolerating the performance for twenty minutes and then settling back to sleep when things are suddenly quiet. Ten minutes later, they will start again for another 10-20 minutes like a high school prank fooling you into thinking they were finished. So you lay awake in bed at 5am, tossing between anger and laughter while marveling at the vocal ambitions of today’s performer and wondering where you can find a pair of wire cutters.

You have to develop a sense of humor about the Call To Prayer because it happens throughout most places we have visited in SE Asia. Even countries that are predominately Buddhist allow the practice and tolerate it. You would think they would broadcast the Call to Prayer on a radio station and loyal Muslims could simply set their radio alarm clocks to turn on at 4:30am. Message delivered; Practice maintained; Religion followed; No neighbors disturbed. In fact, they actually do this but remember the first rule about a loudspeaker: Play it as loud and often as possible. So they do.

As our travels take us further westbound toward India and Middle Eastern countries, we hope to gain a better understanding of the Call to Prayer practice. Perhaps we should try sleeping with turbans to muffle the sound. Just think of the money we can save on shampoo! Meanwhile, I hope Bose will invent sound canceling earphones I can actually wear to bed.

What are your thoughts? Chime in and post your comment to be heard too!

Posted by: Heather | February 25, 2008

Tuk Tuk or Songethaw?

Ao Nang, Thailand

Moving around in Thailand is not as simple as jumping in a car (a moving motorcycle crusher) or walking to the nearest beach. Here are your options:

Motos (Motorcycles): There is limited parking for cars- motorcycles dominate the street traffic. For $3.00 a day, you can risk your life and limbs and navigate side-to-side disregarding all traffic rules by renting your own.

motos.jpg

Driving on the left is prominent, but if you choose to go the opposite direction or cross two lanes of traffic, it’s OK. Instead of waiting bumper-to-bumper in traffic, you get a “get out of jail free card” and can move to the front of the line by weaving between cars. When the light turns green, you are the first to go.

Motorbikes don’t limit you to what you can carry. The average is 2-3 people on one motorbike…we often see four and have seen five a couple of times. Regardless of your age, you can drive.

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A 2-year-old standing on the seat “holding on” to daddy is not uncommon, nor is strapping 4 mattresses behind you on the seat. This was the most clever thing we saw for a baby. Normally, they are balanced on the handle bars.

 

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If you don’t have a motorbike or don’t have the renegade spirit, you can jump on the back of someone else’s and negotiate a fare. Everyone wants to make a little extra money. There are no credentials required. The locals love a blond on the back of their bikes and rates tend to be cheaper than when your husband joins you.

Moto Tuk-Tuks: Welcome to the “I’m a tourist” mode of transportation. A covered sidecar attached to a motorcycle is delicately balanced as it moves through traffic. If more than two people get in at once, they must be strategically placed to “balance” it.

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Rates are generally double that of motorbikes, but a much “cooler” looking ride. The fancy tuk-tuks may be bright red or they may be bright pink.

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Regardless, you do stand out when you are riding through traffic as if you are screaming, “I’m a tourist. They pimped my ride.”

Songathews: This is a more budget form of transportation. The question is “Are you going in our direction?” If you are, hop onto our truck with a covered roof and two benches.

songathew.jpg

Bang on the window or the side of the truck when you want to stop. There are still “local” versions of these trucks. The words on the side painted in Thai keep the clueless tourists away since they are looking for the trucks with words painted in English. Jump on a local version and don’t ask the rate, otherwise you may find it triple the price. Jump on and off without a word and feel like you are a part of society. The wooden benches can be quite rough on the bum, but you will get to where you want to go cheaply and eventually as long as time is not a factor.

The Really Local Truck: One, you must be a local. Two, you never know where the truck is going. Generally locals pile-in and take these to and from work (that is if they don’t live on site- a common practice).

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By foot: You generally can walk just about anywhere in a matter of time if you have two liters of water and are prepared to sweat in the 95 degree heat in the middle of the day. You do risk being accosted by moto and tuk-tuk drivers every 30 steps. “Taxi?” “Taxi?”

By Water: Do you want a ride to the uninhabited island across the way? You need a boat? Jump in our wooden slat, ready to tip over water vehicle by climbing over the side and our noisy motor on a pole will get you there.

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Posted by: Heather | February 25, 2008

A Month in Ao Nang

Ao Nang (Krabi), Thailand

During a one-week visit to Ao Nang, Thailand, about two hours south of Phuket, we fell in love with the limestone rocks jetting out of the water,

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the scuba diving opportunities on the nearby Phi Phi islands and the possibility of buying land and starting a new business venture. We rented an apartment for a month to do our due diligence. Our prospects failed after further researching costs and talking to the locals (you are doomed to fail unless you marry local), but we did enjoy our time in the small, beach-side town.   We even rented our own moped for the month.  That was an adventure in itself (great story to come).

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Eating dinner while watching the sun set (yes, that’s a whole fish)

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and visiting our friends at Scuba Addicts every night while they puffed on cigarettes, drank beer and recalled the day’s diving adventures became our routine for a while.  We really dug in to the place.

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