Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 15, 2011

Greetings from Antigua.

I returned from Thailand Sunday around noon, after a 30 hour journey over the pacific, U.S., and into Guatemala.  Although it was long, the end gain was being back with Tom in this lovely town. Re-entry has been really nice, since this week the school where I do my observations is in the middle of end of semester exams, so I have the week to write, study Spanish, sleep late, hang out with Tom, etc.  Life is good.

True to form, my last day in Thailand was another extraordinary study in culture, cuisine, and kindness.  Chantana arranged a trip for me and another scholar from the World Bank, who consults with the institute on assessment, to a day near the coast going south from Bangkok.  We drove about an hour along a highway where on both sides we could see pools of water which were filled with salt water from the ocean. These natural holding tanks are used to collect sea salt. The operation is very simple: windmills are used to collect sea water, the water evaporates, the salt is collected, cleaned, and stored in large stacks, which is then bagged and sold on the side of the road, as well as to larger vendors who use or sell sea salt commercially.  For 20 baht (around $2.50) for two pounds of small bags of sea salt.  We have turned to sea salt, when we use salt, so this should hold us in good stead for quite some time.

We eventually ended up at a large dock area near a canal, where several flat bottom boats were docked.  Chantana knew everyone and had a arranged an oarsman to paddle us from the dock into a canal system that led through the jungle to a jungle of shops along the canals.  We paddled past houses on stilts, with boats tied in covered areas or on racks near the houses.  After going several hundred yards, we entered the floating market. This market was like no other I had experienced.  There were many boats docked along the canals' edge, as many other boats floated in and around each other, bumping lightly into each other, with passengers in search of goods, photographs, and intrigue. This was my last opportunity to shop for family and friends, so my intent was in the this order.  The goods for sale in the boats floating by mostly included fruits, vegetables, fried foods, soups, etc. The most intriguing boat was paddled by an older woman who had a wood fire in her boat, was cooking fried bananas, and hawking her wares as she passed.  Interest in food items was a nod away, boats connecting at the gunnels, and an exchange made, sometime walking bahts, bags, and change as boats floated by each other.  Other vendors sold turista trinkets as well as nice arts and crafts from the canal shore. An interest in these vendors, a nod, resulted in the vendor reaching out a large pole with a hook at the end, pulling our boat to the canal's edge, where the goods lay.  Examination, discussion, bargaining by Chantana resulted in excellent purchases and great fun.  Once I had met my quota of space in my burgeoning suitcase, and gift needs, we headed back to our dock, through a myriad of canals through the jungle of banana trees, mango groves, and mud flats.  Because Chantana regularly brings her guests here, the owner, an older lady, offered us ice coffee, bananas, sticky rice with mangoes, and company.  We sat, visited, and enjoyed the moment of being in the jungle of her property. 

Following the repast at the hands of our kind hostess, we ventured forward to a museum of homes and gardens of poets, near the river that feeds the canal.  We toured these stilted structures and saw the dancing puppets known to this area, photographs of fishing, and observed intricate designs of the weavings of the region. Chantana noticed an open-air reflexiology spa in the garden, so she and I each took a chair and enjoyed an hour of foot, leg, and joint massage, among the orchids, birds chirping, and light breeze blowing through.  Another extraordinary experience.

Relaxed and feeling good, we then headed to the coast, as short distance away, and enjoyed a seafood lunch in an open-air restaurant, where it seems only locals eat, with the exception of us.  The restaurant was on stilts, and when we arrived, the tide was out quite a way, so we could observe small crabs, lizards, and other sea creatures scurrying about the exposed ocean floor.  The tempura prawns they served were approximately six inches long, the squid in the soup fresh, the shrimp in the rice very fresh, and the vegetables garden green.  The three of us enjoyed the breeze from the water, the food, and each others' company before we took a short walk through the fish market across the street.  At this market was a buddha I had not seen before, a black buddha, seated, but with different hand positions, and not looking ahead, but down at the observer.  His face was more engaging and less pious than other buddha statues I had seen previously, and the extensive numbers of offerings suggested that he was revered and venerated in this area. So little time, so much to see and learn. The trip on this day, combined with all the other Thai experiences teaching, learning, and living, taught me the love of a people for those who take the time to get to know them. Pictures are on facebook.

With this as our final spot, we headed back to Bangkok to drop Mark, and take me to the airport for my journey back to Tom in Antigua.  Life here is quiet this week, with no school commitment, so the hope is to work harder on my Spanish homework, get some article work done, and enjoy being back in the mountains, the cool air, and the essence of the community in the process of Lent.  On Sunday Tom and I begin our journey to Belize for a week of sailing with our good friends Doug and Janet Camp.  The adventure continues....  Hope all is well in your world.  Love jt

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