About This BlogStarted 29 August 2005, this blog is meant primarily to follow my adventures around the world. There will undoubtedly be detours into other things that interest me.
Ordination of a Monk
You may recall my adventure about a week ago, talking to a monk at Wat Arun and being introduced to the leader of the local meditation center (Hartanto). I also met Sean (my apologies to him if I'm spelling his name wrong). I can't say I know him well, but I found out that he's from Colorado and he'd already done his month as an initiate. He mentioned at the time that he was back to be ordained as a monk.
I showed up yesterday at Wat Arun about an hour and a half early for a meditation class and found out there was to be an ordination that day - Sean's. So I sat quietly along the wall of the wihaan during the hour-long ceremony, as he was led through agreeing to the 228 precepts you must uphold as a monk - mostly in the Pali language. Of course when he didn't understand, the monks (who are all Thai) would try to explain in broken english. He did have some support from Hartanto, who is his sponsor, a former monk, and speaks good english. One thing I love about Buddhism: when something didn't quite work out, the monks simply laughed instead of getting bent out of shape. Hartanto (who is visible in the background here, in white) told me later that Sean is the first westerner ever ordained at Wat Arun.
If you look at the picture, you'll see that he's carrying his new alms bowl on his back. Since you become a monk with nothing, at the end of the ceremony people gave him things he needed - sandals, toothbrush and toothpaste, a sleeping mat. I suspect that there's something of a cottage industry preparing bundles for new monks, because they looked like they were kind of standard packages. The gifts were laid before him, and he picked them up: men can pass things directly to a monk, but women aren't allowed to and must place gifts near the monk. Monks may not touch women (one of those 228 precepts). You'll see women bending well out of the way when a monk passes them on the sidewalk or public transit - just one of those ingrained cultural things ... I followed a monk off a ferry recently, and the ticket-taker (a woman) bent well over to avoid touching him, but as I passed she straightened up.
My departure for Myanmar is tomorrow evening. I've said this before, but I think it probably bears repeating: there's a very good chance that I won't be able to post to the blog or email while I'm there. And if I can post or email, there's also a possibility that half way through the visit my connection will go silent. So don't worry about it, and I'll try to have some updates when I get back online.
Thailand is a Buddhist country - something like 95% of Thais list themselves as Buddhist on surveys. But animism still has a strong hold on the country, and it walks hand in hand with Buddhism. This leads to some interesting sights: huge demon guardians protecting the gates at Wat Phra Kaew come to mind, towering six or seven meters in the air.
One of the most widespread side-effects of this is spirit houses. When you build your house on a piece of ground, you're effectively evicting the spirits who live there. It's necessary then to create a place for them to live - if you don't, they'll become upset and bad things will happen. Generally, the bigger the structure you build, the larger and more ornate the spirit house should be - a mall will have a very large and very nice spirit house on a corner of the property. Seen above are the spirit houses for the Siam Discovery mall. They are very classically Thai; teak, and up on stilts, as Thais used to build next to rivers prone to flooding during the rainy season - most spirit houses are actually more colourful than this, but not so ornate. Apartment buildings often have a spirit house up on the roof. The spirit houses aren't just built and neglected: some people bow namaste to them as they pass, and some will pause to burn incense, place flowers, or leave drinks or meals. All of this is in the heart of busy, urban Bangkok: I imagine the practice is even more strongly supported in the countryside.
The Royal Thai Air Force Museum
The RTAF Museum is out by Don Muang airport. Lonely Planet's Thailand guide mentions in passing that it's a "world class" aircraft museum - I think they may be understating the case. The museum has a staggering selection of aircraft in several hangars and outside, including many trainers, aircraft ancient to modern, several helicopters, cargo planes, ground-based trainers (including a full hypobaric chamber setup), models, uniforms and regalia, medals, aircraft weaponry ... A couple of the airplanes are the only remaining examples in the world, including a Japanese Tachikawa trainer. Admittance is free. It looked like they got about twenty visitors a day. I gave the discrepancy between the quality of the installation and the number of visitors a lot of thought, and the biggest problem is probably that aircraft aren't the reason people come to Bangkok. They come to shop or to go to the beaches. It doesn't help any that getting there took about two hours from downtown each direction on public transit.
The aircraft shown is a De Havilland Chipmunk, a trainer. Apparently the RTAF liked this fine Canadian product: they flew it from 1949 to 1989. The Chipmunk was a replacement for the Tiger Moth, possibly the best known trainer ever put in the air.
FoodA friend pointed out that the only food I've written about so far is McDonalds - kind of a shame when you consider that I'm in Thailand. The main reason I haven't written about food yet is because I've been very cautious. At this point I've expanded my horizons enough that I think I can start to write about it. A lot of farang do the "point-to-order" thing and I've certainly done that a couple times, but I like to know what I'm ordering so I can either avoid it in future or order it again if I really like it.
Thais eat with a fork and spoon - the fork is used to help load the spoon, and you eat off the spoon. The spoon is usually held in the right hand, but I don't think the Thais care - unlike India, where it's very important to eat only with the right hand. Chopsticks are appropriate if you're eating Chinese food, not Thai food - although I haven't always known which I'm eating. Portions are generally half the size of what you'd get in the U.S. or Canada - enough to keep you going without gaining weight, I've been very happy with it.
Most dishes are based on either rice or noodles. I've eaten at a lot of chain restaurants as they offer consistency and reliability (I make those assumptions, let me have them), but many of them make really good food at very reasonable prices. My lunch today was "Chicken and Galangal in Coconut Soup," which was a truly sinus-clearing experience. Utterly delicious though. Both of these things have characterized my Thai eating experience - very spicy and marvelous. Since I ate at "Black Canyon Coffee," I also had a "Kopi Ancient Coffee," which the english explanation claims is an old Chinese interpretation of coffee: basically an expresso and condensed milk. I like my coffee sweet, so that suited me fine. Total price for a delicious meal? Just under $3US. Yesterday's lunch at the Chulalongkorn University cafeteria (where they have multiple vendors surrounding an open air seating area) cost me about $0.50US for a substantial meal with two point-and-eat mains on rice. Sometimes you'll find yourself pushing aside the inedible bits that are in there as flavouring: kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chunks of galangal, big bunches of fresh green pepper corns still on the stem, and maybe the red peppers depending on how hot you want it.
Depending on what you're eating, you may get the tray of condiments. These generally seem to be 1) flaked red pepper, 2) vinegar flavoured with hot pepper, 3) plain sugar, and 4) fish sauce with hot pepper. Most Thais and Vietnamese reach first for the fish sauce, but most farang's first encounters with the stuff involved wrinkled noses and revulsion. It's an acquired taste. As I'm planning on visiting Vietnam, I'm really trying to adjust to the stuff. It's used as we use salt, or as the Chinese use soy sauce.
Desserts (take this with a grain of salt as I haven't had many) are often very sweet, and flavours tend to perfume. They can also include red beans (I think they're what we call kidney beans). On the other hand, my favourite so far was "Sesame Balls in Ginger Tea," which was also very sweet, but had several balls - a thin layer of dough around black sesame seeds - floating in a hot ginger syrup. That was really good.
There are many western chains here, including Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds, but nothing has caught on like 7-Eleven, which you'll see pretty much every single block. I visit them frequently: a 1.5 liter bottle of water is 13 baht (about 33 cents US), and I buy a couple a day. I gave up on the smaller sizes two days after I arrived since I have to drink about four liters of water a day to stay hydrated. 7-Eleven has also been an education in Thai junk food. Frito-Lay has a strong presence, and, like McDonalds, they've adapted to survive. The most interesting flavours they offer in potato chips are "Grilled Lobster" (tasted like mediocre fish to me) and "Nori Seaweed" (which I haven't tried because I don't think I'd like it), as well as the more western flavours. Also very common are flavoured yogurt drinks, flavoured milk ("orange flavoured milk" remains a disturbing concept to me, although I'm unbothered by the "orange flavoured yogurt drink" next to it, go figure), soy milks, and what I think are energy drinks (although the labels are entirely in Thai so I'm not sure).
Dunkin Donuts makes a sort of string-of-beads looking donut called a "Mochi Ring" that I tried. "Mochi" would seem to indicate it may be made with glutinous rice flour! That would certainly explain the remarkable chewiness. It was good.
I haven't tried the street vendors yet. Many tourists eat from street vendors frequently and suffer no ill effects - they're everywhere and very cheap, often with tables set up right beside the cart they cook on. But they're less likely to speak english and you do have to be careful as there's some possibility that food has been sitting in tropical heat for several hours without refrigeration. I'll get to it eventually.
The food is great. Anyone want to join me?
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX
Like Canadian money, the reigning monarch's image is on all the currency in Thailand. While there's a law that will put you in jail if you say anything bad about the king, everything seems to indicate that the man deserves respect, and our tour guide at the National Museum today (a German who has been here for about 30 years) talked about him as a peace-maker who has held the country together in the face of major military issues. Read more about him here. He's also both a dedicated jazz musician and a photographer (look at the image on the central bill). It's fascinating and wonderful to see someone who is (in theory, at least) nothing more than a figurehead be so critical to his country. Queen Elizabeth (who is also the Queen of my country) is a distant figure to most Canadians, and has never been tested as King Bhumibol has. I hope that she would stand up as well as he did.
Buddha Images Everywhere
There are images of the Buddha everywhere you turn in Thailand. Most are less ornate than this (this is the main image at a big Wat), but most have this kind of decoration - candles and incense burning in front of them. All of which is kind of humourous when you consider that the Buddha himself refused all requests to make images of him, and the first image of him didn't appear until about 500 years after his death. I think the likeness is remarkable. Also interesting is that the Thais (like other Buddhist countries) have given the Buddha a hairstyle appropriate to their country.
I'm having trouble locating an internet cafe in the immediate area that I'm happy with. This one is using Windows ME (possibly the worst version ever) with no security, intermittent slow-downs, and sticky keyboards. I've found a couple good places, but they're farther away. I was going to say "I might post less," but that does seem unlikely because I enjoy it. :-)
Thanks to all of you who've posted messages - it's much appreciated.
According to Lonely Planet (which often needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but in this case offers a highly plausible explanation), Chinese ships used to come to Bangkok carrying tons of old ceramics as ballast. This ballast was used to particularly good effect in the early 1800s (long before anyone thought of the term "found art") at Wat Arun. I don't know if the scale comes through with this image: the top of this thing is 82 meters above the ground. For those not familiar with the metric system, read "bloody huge."
I had returned there today to take pictures, and to attend a meditation class, but I was the only student and the teacher (Har Tanto, mentioned yesterday) didn't show up. I have his phone number, so I'll check next time - it's supposed to be every day. I'm wondering about returning though: classes are outside at dusk, and the area seems to be a breeding ground for mosquitos. I might do better to find another place to study.
Transportation OptionsThere are a plethora of transportation options in Bangkok. It's a big city, so your most obvious option (walking) won't get you too far. Especially as you're likely to be walking beside a major roadway full of stationary diesel buses and tuk-tuks in the Bangkok heat, which happens all too frequently. How about getting on one of those buses? The air-con ones cost more (although they're all cheap - almost every transportation option charges by distance, buses tend to be in the $0.30US range), and all of them are subject to the whims of traffic congestion. The biggest trick, though, is figuring out which buses go where. It's pretty much the cheapest way to get around town other than walking, but there's nothing a North American would think of as a bus map. The best you'll do is a map with numbers alongside each road. Look at those numbers, look at your destination, and hope you can match numbers. Even then there are probably unlisted routes - I've ridden those at the direction of locals and arrived fine even though the bus isn't mentioned at origin or destination on the map. There are several more varieties of buses that I haven't got the hang of yet, most notably mini-buses.
The best way to travel here is the Skytrain. I'm lucky to be staying at a guest house a block from a Skytrain station. Fares vary by distance from about 15 to 40 Baht (that's about a dollar maximum) and you ride a new aircon train above the traffic. Unfortunately the system is fairly new and covers only a relatively small portion of the city. Your second best choice (which links up with the Skytrain in at least one place) is to catch public transit boats running up and down Mae Nam Chao Phraya. While you're obviously limited to where the river runs, a lot of tourist destinations are on the river because the city grew up around it. Costs on the river are comparable to buses and Skytrain.
If you want to get away from the public transit boat stations, you can pay for the services of a long-tail boat. I have to admit I'm fascinated by these ... Take a long, skinny, shallow boat. Mount a big gimbal at the back of the boat. Make it strong, because it's supporting a four, six, or eight cylinder car engine complete with transmission about two feet above the deck. Run a six meter (20 foot) shaft off the back of the boat with a propeller on it. Run a two meter (six foot) bar forward to the driver, and equip it with a couple odd levers for throttle and shifting gears. Then de-tune the engine so it belches black smoke whenever it's in use (or start with a 25 year old engine in the first place). Now crank it up, and send it skidding around the river at 30+ miles per hour, with the driver leaning about, swinging the entire motor and transmission to direct the boat ... Now you can charge 500 Baht per hour. I'll try to get a picture at some point.
At the top of my shit list are the tuk-tuks. These are three-wheeled motorized open vehicles that are ubiquitous in the city and across much of India (probably lots of other places, these are the ones I know). I'm pissed at them because they spew fumes, and because their drivers will cut across three lanes of traffic just to yell "where you going sir?" at any farang. Near the Grand Palace, you'll average ten offers per block, and they can be persistent. They also cost about the same as a taxi, although the taxi has better seats and aircon. A big fare on either is 300 Baht, about $7.50US.
If you're really brave, there are motorcycle taxis. These have much more manoueverability than eiter taxis or tuk-tuks, but a relatively low life expectancy as they drive you between stationary cars on heavily trafficked roads.
Scooters and motorcycles are rampant in the city, although the largest (legal - the law gets bent occasionally) displacement is something like 150cc, smaller than anything a North American would even recognize as a motorcycle these days. All of them lane-split (travel all around stopped cars) so every long light has a horde of bikes at the front of traffic.
I've read about and seen a couple samlors. These are essentially a pick-up truck with bench seats in the bed. They're apparently pretty common outside Bangkok - you wave them down like a taxi, but the cost and behaviour (they tend to stick to a specific route) is more like a bus.
One option I haven't tried is the subway, and I'm sure there are at least a couple more options I haven't mentioned here.
And finally, a joke. Unfortunately, it requires more explanation because I know that most of my friends will never have watched the TV show the joke references ... MTV has a half hour show called "Pimp My Ride," hosted by the fallen rapper Xzibit. People with really terrible cars send them videos begging them to "pimp my ride." The lucky individual chosen for the weekly show has his car picked up by Xzibit, and the car is then "pimped" (usually in an exceedingly bizarre way) by a California custom shop. It's worth watching precisely once: the shop is inventive in the things they do to the cars, and it's funny the first time.
So, a few days ago I was walking down Khaosan road, and I saw a guy wearing a shirt that said "Pimp My Tuk-Tuk." Okay, I thought it was funny ...
The Monks Wear Orange
The picture above is the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, the largest reclining Buddha in the world. With some effort, you can get more of him in the picture, but this looks better. He's got to be 30 meters long.
At Wat Arun (across the river from Wat Pho) they had a "talk to the monk" area where I got an impromptu lesson in meditation. He was impressed that I could sit in full lotus, and that I could sit still for five minutes. So he said "follow me," and led me off behind the Wat to the associated meditation center, where I met Hartanto, Indonesian, former CEO, former Buddhist monk, and all-around charismatic meditation teacher and Buddhist school manager. And I met Sean from Colorado, who a year ago did his month as an Initiate, and is now returning to wear the robes again as a full monk. In a couple days he'll be shaving his head and eyebrows, donning an orange robe, and getting up at 4:00 AM every morning. Not forever though: unlike Christian religions where you're expected to enter the priesthood for good, a lot of Thai men spend a month or two of their life as a monk and then return to normal life. He sounded like he'd be in for several months to a year.
This is only a couple of the several very interesting people I've met so far. I've been here six days so far ...
I'll be headed to Myanmar in about a week. Connectivity is reported to be fairly poor within the country: I may be able to post to the blog, I almost certainly won't be able to get to my Gmail account. I expect to be there one to three weeks. Expect at least a couple more posts before then.
Ronald McDonald Adapts to Thailand
Ronald greets you at the door of McDonalds, namaste. It's a very common gesture in Thailand. McDonalds sell a fairly different line-up, including pies filled with corn, pineapple, and taro. I had a Samurai burger - recommended to me years ago by a co-worker who married a Thai woman. It's pork, with some sort of gravy, lettuce, and a mayonnaise-like substance. Edible, but hardly exciting. I may have to go back to try the corn pies.
I'm not planning on eating a lot of meals at McDonalds (I'm not a big fan), but I'm beginning to think that eating there once should be required on any trip. McDonalds is willing to change to sell product, and they're good at it. It's a quick education in the local culture. ^ TOP
The Grand PalaceI'm staying in Khaosan Road one more night, but then I plan to move to the Siam Square area - it should be quieter, cooler (in the literal sense - I'm going to get a room with aircon), and less ... ghetto.
Yesterday I was very, very hot and I saw some bad parts of Bangkok. Today I'm very, very hot and I went to the Grand Palace. I had to leave after a couple hours to pay for my room, which was unfortunate: it's stunningly beautiful.
This guy (along with several friends) is supporting one of the many Chedi on the grounds. (Chedi: from the Palli cetiya - stupa; monument erected to house a Buddha relic. It's possible this isn't technically a chedi, but hey, it looks like one to me.) He's covered in mosaic tile, as are many parts of the buildings on the palace grounds.
Farang at lastThere are slang terms in many countries of the world for "those not like us," or "white foreigners." They are generally not meant badly (although occasionally it's very bad). In Japan, I would be "Gaijin." In China, "Gweilo." Here in Bangkok, along with the hordes of non-Thais on Khaosan Road, I claim the title of "Farang."
The above image was shot in Chicago O'Hare airport. I was struck by the colour and the lines. Sorry about the size: the lines display poorly at smaller sizes.
Now I'm off to see Wats (temples) so I can post pretty pictures of Bangkok here.
Imminent DepartureI board a flight for ... well, not Bangkok strictly speaking, but I board a flight tomorrow morning. 25 or 26 hours later I get off another plane in Bangkok. Forecasted high temperatures for the next week in Bangkok are astonishingly low, reminding me of a good week in Georgia during the summer: mid-80s to low 90s, or 29 to 33C for those of you who use the Metric system. That probably sounds pretty hot to Canadians, quite tolerable to Georgians, and pretty nice to Thais.
It'll probably be a few days before I get to a computer to do an update (unless I put one in this afternoon, which I may do).
Wish me luck! ^ TOP
Land of Donuts and Social ServicesOne of the biggest differences between Canada and the U.S. has to do with social services. Canadians pay higher taxes on nearly everything, and those taxes go towards things like socialized medicine. But the distinction might better be described by talking about the ads in bus shelters. Toronto has a large public transit system (also subsidized by taxes), so there are bus shelters all over the place. I would say that about 25% of the six foot by three foot ads in/on those shelters is some form of social service (this isn't good science, just a wild guess). One nearby explains how to contact a government agency to find out how to discourage graffiti. Another has a big sign that says "Every baby deserves to be breastfed," followed by pictures of babies of all colours. There are recycling bins everywhere, and one of them I saw has an ad under the slots showing a different set of slots for throwing away fish and turtles - it was a WWF ad against incidental animal kills caused by net fishing. Not exactly social services, but non-profits are also very common up here.
On a lighter note, another thing that's extremely common in Toronto is donut shops. Unless you're in a purely residential area, you can't go more than a couple blocks without seeing one. Perhaps people burn the calories off as nervous energy partly generated by the bad coffee served in the same establishments, I don't know. There are a lot of coffee shops too, but they can't compete with Tim Hortons and Coffee Time (both primarily donut places). I don't think Krispy Kreme (a big American chain) has much of a presence up here. ^ TOP
Gross National HappinessHow could I not want to go to Bhutan? "Instead of the usual GNP statistics, Bhutan relies on a GNH scale to measure the country's ranking. GNH stands for 'Gross National Happiness', and figures are based on the amount of environmental protection work that has been accomplished, the efficiency of using the country's natural resources, the government's ability to meet the people's needs and the degree to which conditions for creating harmonious co-existence among its citizens are being followed." From the Bhutan article at Wikitravel. But Bhutan issues very few visas, and requires you travel only with a tour group - no independent travel. ^ TOP
HumourThe Ig Noble Prizes strike again! I've always loved the Ig Noble prizes. This is a particularly fine article on the subject.
In case you're wondering, the Ig Noble Prize is real, and has been around for many years. And everything they report is quite (often disturbingly) real.
Update: If you have trouble getting the first article to display, try this Google search: gregg miller neutered dogs site:boston.com and click on the "Cached" version of the first result. ^ TOP
Ethnic Food InjectionI grew up in Toronto, surrounded by restaurants serving the cuisines of nearly every nation on earth. By the time I was 25, I had sampled food from several regions of China, several regions of India, Ethiopia, Korea, Thailand, Italy, France, Lebanon, Portugal, even Mauritania. Milledgeville has a couple passable Mexican places (good Mexican has always been hard to find in Toronto), a rather good Chinese place (Lieu's Peking), and little else. So in the decade I lived in M'ville, my visits to Toronto were the culinary high points of my year (trips to Athens or Atlanta helped too). As with past visits, I'm stocking up like a bear eating before going into hibernation: I've been to the Chinese bakeries three or four times (probably again tomorrow), I've eaten Italian a couple times, Vietnamese, Chinese, and stuffed myself on Sushi. I've also cooked Chinese (Ma Po Dofu), Thai (chicken and potato curry - thanks Nichi!), and Indian (Aloo Gobi) at home. Have I mentioned that I love this city?
I've always had a preference for things with strong flavours. Subtlety in food is often lost on me. So I like the things that reach out and grab you: Thai over Italian, Indian over Polish, Laphroaig over Cragganmore (whisky). Cragganmore is subtle, and I don't get it at all. Laphroaig is like chewing on smoked peat - not a perfect experience, but you won't forget it.
This isn't the best intro for the recipe that follows - it's actually fairly sedate. Enjoy!
Ma Po Dofu
I didn't have fermented black beans, so I can't guarantee that part works. It's very good without, I think it would be even better with.
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-1/2 Tbs. chopped fresh ginger
6 scallions, very finely chopped
1 tsp. to 1 Tbs. chopped fermented Chinese black beans (optional)
red pepper flakes to taste
1 lb. lean ground pork
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1-1/2 cup chicken broth or water
1 lb. firm tofu, cut into small cubes
1 cup frozen green peas
1 Tbs. cornstarch
In a wok or a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add half of the garlic and ginger and a handful of scallions and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the black beans if you're using them, and then the meat and red pepper flakes. Stir frequently for about 5 minutes, or until the meat is almost cooked through. Add the soy sauce and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Gently slip the tofu into the wok. Add the remaining garlic and ginger, another handful of scallions, and the frozen peas. Cover and let simmer about 3 minutes. In a small cup or bowl, stir the cornstarch with a few tablespoons of hot broth from the wok. Slowly add the paste into the wok and let simmer about 2 minutes, or until the sauce is slightly thickened. Taste for seasoning. Serve over steamed rice and sprinkle each bowl with the remaining scallions.
Flight booked, bundle of updates
I went to visit a local travel doctor recently - a rather expensive visit as the Macon travel clinic missed a couple fairly important inoculations, specifically Cholera and Japanese Encephalitis. This doctor also had substantially different opinions about what areas were a problem for malaria, but in the end I think I trust him more simply because the nurse in Macon didn't sound like she'd ever left the country, and he was about to close his office to go to the far side of the planet - again. His education on the subject of travel medicine is motivated by enlightened self interest, whereas for her it may just be a day job ...
I've booked a flight to Bangkok, leaving October 16th. My return flight is August 31st, 2006, the latest date available. I can shorten the return date at will. Toronto to Chicago, 1h46m. Chicago to Tokyo, 13h5m. Tokyo to Bangkok, 6h30m. I arrive in the evening, which is good because I don't sleep much on flights.
I've joined SERVAS, at the recommendation of a friend in Milledgeville who is also a member. Joining takes a considerable amount of time (two letters of recommendation, a personal letter of introduction, getting interviewed by an unpaid volunteer, paying your yearly fee and host list deposits, and getting mailed host lists by another unpaid volunteer), but sounds like it'll be worth it. The hosts are people who are willing to have visitors from around the world call on them. Some will show you around town as "day hosts," others are willing to not only spend time with you, but also put you up for a couple days. The aim of the organisation is to encourage world peace by getting people all over the world talking to each other. The two Canadian members I've been in contact with have been very helpful.
Those of you who have followed this blog for a while may recall that I noted earlier that Mandarin and Cantonese are tonal languages. As it turns out, so are Thai and Vietnamese. Mandarin has four tones, Thai has five, Vietnamese has six, and Cantonese has nine. I'm sort of working on Thai now, and was a little disgruntled to find out that, while some of the accents indicating tonality are the same from Thai to Vietnamese, none indicate the same tone in both languages. Thai tones consist of Low, Mid, Falling, High, and Rising. Vietnamese tones consist of Ngang, Sac, Huyen, Nang, Hoi, and Nga (although I'm misrepresenting them because several have accents on them). Ngang appears to be the equivalent of "Mid" in Thai, a flat middle level tone. Lonely Planet's small intro to the language shows that Nga is a tone in the high range that falls and then rises. Wikitravel's Vietnamese Phrasebook explains this tone with the title "creaky."
In other news entirely, the internet is in crisis. Read Google News articles to get an idea of what's going on. In short, two very large service providers are refusing to allow traffic from each other's networks in a dispute over amount of traffic and revenue (although both are making vague statements, so this is partly assumption). For me it means that I can't get to Wikipedia and a couple other sites I use a lot. It's less than clear how long this will last.
Graffiti, the Toronto way
I've seen graffiti in a lot of places, and Toronto's is actually quite good. Some of it is even sponsored, in the sense that the owner of a building invites an artist to decorate his wall.
I've been a fan of Scott McLeod's Understanding Comics for many years, and in it he argues that pretty much anything we do that isn't reproduction, sleeping, or survival, is art. Yes, graffiti can be defacement, but it's also art, and Toronto is home to a LOT of good graffiti. For an extensive photo gallery of Toronto graffiti, see http://www.dreaming.org/~goofy/graffiti/.
Fall in Muskoka
Shot in Muskoka this past weekend. Fall colours just don't exist in Middle Georgia, and I'm very happy to see them again.
The Leslie Street Spit
One of the few things that I managed to retrieve out of the storage locker before it was closed and locked was my bicycle. I'm staying with my brother, and since he lives about ten blocks from the nearest subway station, a bike is nice to have. The weather has for the most part co-operated, providing me with beautiful, sunny, only slightly warm days. Today I rode down to the lake shore and along the bike path to the Leslie Street Spit. The Spit is one of Toronto's many parks, and probably ranks up there as one of its weirdest. Someone got the bright idea of building a breakwater into the lake starting around 1960, using fill from Toronto's many excavations. The fill is supposed to be "clean" - most of it appears to be brick, stone, dirt, and concrete (including an awful lot of rebar). Over the years, the Spit has expanded until it's now about 5 km (3 miles) long and has quite a few lumps growing out of it. Along the way, plants started growing on the fill and birds (a lot of them, some of them rare) started nesting on it. In the mid-1970s the city started opening it up to the public on weekends as a park, and that's the status it has now: landfill during the week, recreational area during the weekend. I used to ride out there about once a year, and had the opportunity to do so again today. It's always been popular with cyclists. It hasn't changed much, but out at the point a bizarre form of co-operative sculpture has appeared. Someone has started to put the driftbrick onto the rebar, like beads. There are several besides the one shown above. ^ TOP