Loy Krathong — by Catherine

Yesterday was Loy Krathong day here in Thailand. Loy Krathong is a festival celebrating the water spirits/goddess. Almost everyone in Thailand celebrates this day by making krathongs to float on the river. I read recently that “loy” means float, and “krathong” means little boat or raft.

In order to celebrate the spirits, Thai people decorate their krathongs with materials ranging from banana leaves, flowers, fruit, sweets, and vegetables. They are usually small, but I saw some very large ones down by the river last night. In order to pay offerings to the spirits, people put little pieces of their hair or fingernails on these boats, light incense and a candles, bless them and then send them on their way. Because I cut dreadlocks off last December, I decided to put one on the krathong Gary made as part of my offering and as a great way to send off yet another dread.

All day the students at Thida were getting ready for the special event. Many of the Mattayom girls made krathongs during the school day and some of them were even in the Thida Loy Krathong beauty pageant. The krathongs that the students made were very ornately decorated and so were the contestants in the pageant. It was a difficult day for teaching, as most of the students were distracted by the events that were happening and that were yet to come.

When I got off work, I headed down to the river. Here, there were more krathongs to be purchased as were many lanterns. These lanterns lit up the sky as people lit some fire underneath them so they could float up like mini-hot air balloons. Some of the lanterns would catch on fire and fall back down from the sky in a dangerous, firey turn of events.  The streets were filled with people who were on their way to the river, buying goods, or going to the concert set up in the middle of the street.

In order to meet Gary, I had to walk past all of these people, including walking by the stage.  This turned into taxing feat as I had to walk single file past the concert goers.  When I finally got passed the stage, I was at the part of the river where there are stairs going down to the river’s edge.  I met Gary and some of his coworkers by some ladies who were selling baby turtles (tao).

After meeting, we walked down the steps to the river.  Gary put some of his hair on the krathong and I put on my dreadlock.  We both blessed the krathong and made wishes before putting it in a metal basket that was attached to a rod, kind of like a metal fishing net.  We lit the incense and candle, which almost immediately went out, and sent our krathong off on its magical journey.  It was a really great night of Thai tradition and I’m happy that I was able to participate.

Skyping in Thailand — by Catherine

Because of Thailand being the way it is, my house currently does not have internet (but hopefully soon!). Therefore, whenever I want to use the internet, I must find a coffee shop that has wifi. Doing this can make skyping a different kind of experience.

The first time I skyped with my friends from Portland, I was so excited that I began the typical American yell. “Oh my gawd! I miss you so much! AAAAHHHHH!!!!” After doing this, I had to ask Gary, who was sitting across from me if I was being loud, to which he replied, “yes.” I hope I wasn’t being too embarrassing.

This first skype experience was at what we call “The Cow Place,” because it has a cow on the sign outside. I have since learned to take my computer outside for skyping. Not only do I get more privacy, but I can be WAY louder!

One of my other interesting skype experiences happened on Friday morning for me and Thursday evening (Thanksgiving) for my parents and family. I woke up early and went to Impressions, the coffee shop next to the Thida schools, so I could say hello on Thanksgiving.

Because it was before school started, there were a TON of small children in Impressions. As soon as I began skyping, they flocked to me like a mosquito to a light. Being surrounded by 10 or so young ones is not really what I had in mind for skyping with my family on Thanksgiving. It was fun for a bit, but then my mom told me to tell them to shoo! It’s a good thing the kids know the word “goodbye.”

Skype is such a wonderful invention, and being able to skype with my friends and family has made being away from them a lot easier. I feel as though these skype experiences add to the whole Thai experience in general. But, skyping from my house will be nice too!

Thanksgiving #2 — by Catherine

Who knew I would be so lucky to enjoy not only one, but 2 Thanksgivings in Thailand! Unbelievable if you ask me. This second Thanksgiving was done in a very different way than the first. Peter, our boss, was VERY generous in paying for this wonderful meal, and the accompanying wine and scotch whiskey.

Levi and Savannah were put in charge of finding a restaurant to host us for this Thanksgiving. The original restaurant, Ciao Italia, where this event has been held before, had been closed every time they went in to ask for the favor again. Thus, Levi and Savannah went on a hunt for a restaurant that would cook us an American Thanksgiving.

They ended up at Sweet kitchen by the pier, where a trained chef, who went to culinary school in America, agreed to cook us the meal. YAY! He made us stuffing, caramelized yams with pecans, zucchini boats, veal, roasted vegetables, and a Mediterranean salad. Plus, we got to have cheese cake for dessert!

Like I said before, this meal was quite different than the first in that it was made by a real chef, and not people smoking out the kitchen. I was able to get all dolled up for this event and had a wonderful time with my Super co-workers eating, drinking, and being thankful.

Central Plaza — by Catherine

Now that I’ve written a post about shopping, I feel as though I should tell y’all about Central Plaza: the brand new, fancy-dancy, shopping mall.

When I arrived in Surat, Central wasn’t even open yet, but I passed by the large architectural structure and was told it was going to be great! Coming from America, I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of a new, big mall in Thailand, I can get that in at home! However, last weekend I took my first trip out there.

Central is a more Americanized mall with places like Dairy Queen, Starbucks, and Mcdonalds, and upon walking in, you are greeted with a Wai-ing Ronald McDonald. When you open the doors, you are immediately blasted with air-conditioning, which is reason enough to make the journey. With Tops on the left and Startbucks on the right, Central seems to welcome you to a taste of home.

Going further into the mall, I saw a sight I never thought I would see in Thailand. As you continue deeper into the mall, walking past many shops and heading towards the center, you will see the most magnificent Christmas Tree I’m sure Thailand has ever seen! Who know that I would get to see a 4 story tall Christmas tree in Thailand!! I almost felt like crying when I saw it, but then again, I’m a huge nerd for Christmas.

Surrounding the tree are big, fake cupcakes complete with a Santa, a Snowman, and other winter characters bursting forth from the fake frosting. Surrounding the tree are hanging decorations reminiscent of any good mall decorations back home. In front of the tree is a small stage, where we were lucky enough to see a Traditional Thai dance being performed. Is that irony? I’d have to ask Alanis Morrisett I guess.

To complete my wondrous adventure in Central Plaza, my friends and I stopped to get some gelato. GELATO! It was some of the most amazingly tasting dessert I’ve had in a very long time. I paid 80baht for 2 scoops, and it was worth every baht. The 2 flavors I chose were cheesecake and carmel. My stomach is rumbling just at the thought of it. Some of the other flavors my friends tried included Ferrero Roche, White Chocolate, and Tiramasu, meaning I got to try those as well. De-Lish (delicious!).

I’m not usually a mall person; in fact, most of the time I do what I can to avoid them at all costs. But, being so far from home, it’s nice to know I can go somewhere with air conditioning and look at a huge Christmas tree while eating yummy dessert. I definitely think I will be going back to Central Plaza.

Shopping at the 3 story market — by Catherine

Last week we received our first paychecks…YAY!!!! I decided to celebrate by going to the 3 story market (Ocean Plaza) to buy some new work clothes. This market is called as such because it is 3 stories, each hosting a different kind of ware. The first floor holds a smorgasbord of food ranging from fruit to dried squid. And one day, I say a rat that was the size of my head scurrying around the seafood section…yummy.

Anyway, when you journey up the escalator to the 2nd floor, the food dissipates and on comes the accessories. This jam-packed floor is filled with any kind of accessory you could ever want: shoes, belts, purses, headphones, hats, scarves, jewelry, and so on. Everywhere you turn, there is more stuff!

Going on up to the final floor, the 3rd floor is where all of the clothes live, to go with the accessories you bought to go with the food you bought to make for he dinner party you are hosting after buying a new outfit from the top floor. This is the floor where I went shopping for my new work clothes. Here is a tip for non-Thai shoppers: try everything on! Thai people are tiny, and as a “normal” sized American, I do not fit into all Thai clothing. It seems like stretchy things work best for me.

Trying clothes on is an adventure at the three story market. The dressing rooms are comprised of a curtain that is attached to a small half-circle shaped bar that you can barely get behind. When the curtain is closed, an outsider can definitely see the person behind it, bumbling around trying to change his/her clothes. Imagine a quick-change act or some kind of magic show were the performer is purposefully moving the curtain for a comedic effect. Not to mention, it’s hot as H-E-double hockey sticks in there, I’m surprised they let me put on the clothes.

After trying on a few things that were too small, I wizened up to ask the people working in the stores where the bigger sizes were, and I started to look for stretchier things. I ended up with a dress, a shirt, a skirt, some leggings, and a belt to tie everything together. I bought the belt and the leggings on the 2nd floor and had a fun time trying to bargain. I have been learning to do so in my Thai language lessons, but the store clerk was such a quick a talker it was more difficult than I thought! Luckily, I still talked her down, but I’m not sure if I still payed too much.

Overall, it was a great shopping trip. I was able to get some good, essential things for work, and I learned more about shopping in Thailand. The three story market is definitely a fun, cheaper place to go shopping, and is a one-stop shop for everything you need for a fabulously dressed dinner party!

Thanksgiving in Thailand — by Catherine

This was not my first Thanksgiving away from home, but it was my first in a completely different country. Luckily, with the recent installment of Central Plaza, Surat has welcomed a somewhat more “Americanized” grocery store: Tops. It was at this wonderful place where some friends and I were able to buy some special ingredients in order to make a Thanksgiving dinner, Thai style.

Last night I ventured into the jungle where Jade and Evan graciously loaned their kitchen to make a bountiful Thanksgiving feast. I brought the very American, from the package Stovetop stuffing, John was in charge of the mashed potatoes, which he whipped up to a creamy Southern style smoothness that only people in the southern states of America know how to do, Jade made mac and cheese (not from a box) and delectable, garlicy acorn squash, and Evan/Jade grilled up some bacon wrapped chicken.

The latter part of the aforementioned meal, the chicken, was a hilarious scene to be watched. Not having lighter fluid, Alyssa and Fiona show up with gasoline. Then, because the coals were lit late, there was a genius idea to blow on them with a fan in order to get the fire going. When the fire was lit, and the coals were hot, the boys decided to put the chicken on. It is my belief that the coals were a bit too hot, because some chicken and/or bacon dripped down onto them and *POOF* out comes the billows upon billows of smoke! Smoked chicken anyone? Fortunately, the kitchen is outside, but we were still smoked out! I don’t eat chicken, but I was told the chicken was still delightful.

During dinner, we all said what we were thankful for, just like if we were in America. This is a tradition I have not really followed at home, but I enjoyed doing it here because it made me appreciate the people I was celebrating with even more. Being able to celebrate one of my favorite holidays with my new friends was definitely a highlight of my time here. Tomorrow, we will be doing Thanksgiving again with the entire Super English family, which I am really looking forward to! Who knew that in Thailand I would get 2 Thanksgivings!

"Dubble Bubble" – Thai Style

If you have ever seen a Thai make coffee or Thai tea, you know those drinks are about 1% coffee or tea and 99% sugar & sweetened condensed milk. Sweet stuff. Well earlier today, Eric & I stumbled upon a drink that might take the cake for being the sugariest, sweetest drink we have had in Surat.

It all started when we were craving some Massaman & roti. We headed over to the Massaman & Roti place off of Chon Kasem, and ordered some delicious grub. We also ordered some drinks – “chaa-yen” (iced Thai tea) and “nam keng” (ice) for water. The drinks were delivered, and we were presented with a Thai tea and another mysterious pink drink. This stuff seriously looked like pink cotton candy in liquid form. We politely smiled, said “kob-khun-ka” (thank you), and figured why not give it a try. I’m pretty sure this stuff was “Dubble Bubble” gum in a glass. Seriously, it tasted like Dubble Bubble gum, sugar, and of course the favorite ingredient of Thais, sweetened condensed milk. Sweetness o-ver-load. We weren’t sure if we accidentally ordered it or if they were just being nice and gave it to us, so we downed the whole concoction.

I can’t say I recommend it, but it was a funny experience. If you find yourself craving some Dubble Bubble gum, why not head over to the Massaman & roti place and partake in a sugary glass of the Dubble Bubble craziness yourself.

Get Cultured (Part 2) – Monks on Parade!

Last week, school was canceled on Wednesday due to the Chak Phra festival, signifying the end of the Buddhist monks’ three month rainy season retreat. I heard that it was the first time many of the monks were out around town during that time.

Chak Phra.

A few of us heard something about a boat race on the river and headed over to watch. Little did we know there would be a day-long parade through Surat’s streets. This was the most insanely long parade I’ve ever seen. There were some banner-bearers and a few dancing groups, but the focus of the parade was on the HUNDREDS of richly decorated boat floats being pulled through town, each representing a local temple.

The floats were adorned with Buddhist images and ridden by the monks, who were splashing holy water on everyone in the Shamu spray zone. Thousands of people lined the streets, and the floats just kept coming. Similarly decorated boats floated up and down the river. We later learned that while other places in Thailand also celebrate this holiday, the boats and floats are unique to Surat Thani.

We never saw the supposed boat race, but I’m glad we got a taste of real Thai culture. Can’t wait to see what we stumble into next!

Durian Cookies — by Catherine

Have you ever watched the show “Bizarre Foods” with Andrew Zimmerman? This guy on the travel eats everything from eyeballs to testicles and even drinks blood fresh from a cow. But when it comes to the foul smelly native Asian fruit called durian, he can never seem to finish a bite.

Durian is a strange fruit that looks like a spiky green coconut hanging from a tree. Upon opening, it emits an awful smell that has gotten it banned from many places. Some people, like Andrew Zimmerman, are so unable to get over the smell that the taste of the fruit is lost in the funk.

During a day out last week I ventured into a street market across the street from the 3 story market on Namuang. I was in the mood for something sweet, and apparently something cute as well, because I decided to buy some cookies on the sole basis that they looked like hearts. These cookies were little sandwich cookies that looked like the filling may be of the lemon or custard variety. Oh how wrong I was….

Getting home, I was ready to try my new sweet fare, so I tore into the package and tried one of the deceiving little baked goods. “WTF?!” is pretty much what went through my mind. These cookies had the strangest flavor; what kind of Thai oddity did I get myself into? I put the cookies in the fridge and walked out of the kitchen with a lingering flavor of weirdness resting on my tongue.

Later that day, Gary came home and I told him I bought some cute heart-shaped cookies that he should try. He agreed not knowing what they were. The face he made upon taking just one bite was priceless. Immediately, he spit out the cookie and said, “These are durian cookies!” Whoops! I had no idea! I’ve never even tried actual durian and here I am buying it in cookie form.

Being frugal and not like wasting anything, I decided to keep the cookies and keep eating them because I DID pay for them. After being in the fridge for a while, the strong durian flavor was somewhat subdued and the cookies were actually edible. I finished off the package last night and feel like I’m ready to try the real thing.

Maybe I should send some of these sweet treasure to Andrew Zimmerman…

Get Cultured (Part 1) – Dragon Fight!

What do a Chinese dragon show, a Thai boat parade, and monks spraying holy water have in common? Besides being just plain awesome, they are all bits of authentic Surat culture you can randomly stumble into here.

Dragon on a stick.A couple weeks ago, while Surat was hosting the annual vegetarian festival, we happened to pass by a huge crowd with loud music and bright lights around the Chinese temple on our way home from errands with Wen. Wen asked if we wanted to stop and check it out. We remembered some of the first advice we read about living in Thailand – just say yes – and happily went in to see what all the commotion was about. We found a throng of Thais standing around the courtyard waving their hard earned baht at a Chinese dragon covered in twinkling lights. We learned that putting money in the dragon’s mouth and taking one of its beard hairs gives good luck for the next year. Sadly, I missed out on the not-so-free good luck. But I was fortunate to see what came next, as 10-15 guys climbed a freestanding pole and wrapped the dragon around and up the pole. Some sort of fight ensued, with a kid on an adjacent pole taunting the dragon with a glowing orb while swaying wildly in the night. The show climaxed with the dragon shooting fireworks out of its mouth. Then I think the dragon died, but I was kind of confused the whole time, so maybe ask a Thai.

Check back later this week to read about the splashing monks and boat parade.