149 Hours

How long could you go for without social media? Hands up I confess I’m an addict. On my recent trip to mainland China I decided to try and find out how long I could last without my daily fixes……..

How long could you go for without social media?

Hands up I confess I’m an addict. Be it Facebook, Instagram, Line or Twitter I love a bit of social nosiness. But it’s not just nosiness (although that has a great deal to do with it if I’m being honest), since becoming an expat I have become increasingly reliant on it for most of my interactions with friends and family. Gone are the days of letters and phone calls, it’s all instant messaging and photo sharing.

On my recent trip to mainland China I decided to try and find out how long I could last without my daily fixes. If you are confused as to why traveling to mainland China and connectivity issues are related then a quick google search for ‘The great Firewall’ will enlighten you sufficiently.

I could have bought a VPN subscription to bypass the great firewall but the more I considered it the more I became determined to try. I almost lost my resolve when I found out that WordPress was also on the list of dishonour, but as hubby has a VPN ( he’s there working for 3 months not just a measly 6 days so going without reliable connection to ‘the outside’ for him is out of the question ), I figured if I REALLY couldn’t manage I could always hijack his connection for an hour or so.
The fact that just the thought of going google-less ( as well as all the other things) for such a short time was worrying me was actually an incentive to try and do it. We are so connected these days, but the need for instant gratification and information is almost all consuming at times so it was time to try and take a vacation the old fashioned way and tell people about my trip when I came back.

So how did I get on ?
Well it wasn’t easy and there were times when I was cursing my decision ( like when I couldn’t find a decent map of the city, and when my total lack of mandarin speaking left me floundering and googling would have been so much easier ), but I didn’t crack. Not even a sneaky look at Facebook when hubby got in from work.

But the day to day business of my trip made me realise how much we ‘momentise’ our lives. Walking around seeing unfamiliar and amusing things and framing them in terms of a tweet or a status update, taking a picture and instantly thinking how we can hashtag it on Instagram.

During the week I made a series of notes to remind myself of key thoughts or events I may want to draw on for blogging and as I was doing this I realised that what I was actually doing was updating my status and tweeting without sending.

I’m not really sure if I learned anything about myself from this other than what I already kind of knew;

My name is Hillywilly and I’m a social network addict.

I lasted 149 hours without a social media fix.

But by heavens, it’s good to be back.

My week in unsent social media;

Sunday
15. 45
Just sent my last Facebook update before flying behind the great firewall. Wuhan here I come.

16.05
Not really what you want to see at the airport just before you board…. What the…..???

At the boarding gate ... eek
At the boarding gate … eek

16.20
Despite widespread mutterings in the terminal no panic on the ground and smoke now clearing. Time to board then…

21.40
Properly I will never* complain about it being too warm in Thailand again. I’m B*****d freezing. We’ve come from a fairly consistent 30degrees to a horribly rainy 6.
(*until its mid burning season and 41 anyway )

Monday
11am
So…..cold……

12.20
Small one can barely move due to the number of layers she’s wearing. Her slipper boots are a triumph of warmth over style but she has just declared she never taking them off.

Small one is loving her 'sloots' ( slipper boots!)
Small one is loving her ‘sloots’ ( slipper boots!)

17.00
Taking in the spectacle and wonder of a truly foreign city would be much more spectacular and wonderful if I didn’t have a running commentry of sighs and ‘so what’s’ accompanying me.

17.30
Wuhan. Taking onesiewearing to the next level #carrefour #shoppinginpyjamas

Are those pyjamas? Yes, yes they are
Are those pyjamas? Yes, yes they are

 

Shopping in PJ's is a thing here...
Shopping in PJ’s is a thing here…

19.25
WHY are cucumber flavour crisps not a thing everywhere? #gamechanger

My Husband and child do not share my enthusiasm. More for me !

21.45
When the biggest quandary of the day is deciding if you like the steam room more than the sauna while sitting in the hotel hot tub you know it’s been a good day.

Tuesday
10.45
Getting used to the cold ……. Kind of

12.30
High end shopping with hubby. Just passed a Junior Versace store.
Junior.
Versace.

Luxury Malls  ( no pyjama wearing here)
Luxury Malls
( no pyjama wearing here)

18.30
Small person scored big time shopping with daddy. ( not in junior Versace ) Big persons feet are still too big for Asia it seems 😩

18.50
To add insult to injury I’m getting emails from Facebook and Twitter telling me I have pending notifications.

20.30
Family spa night abandoned as ‘spa is closed for males’
Oh well.

Wednesday
8.20
Starting the day with a bubble bath is both a wonderful and terrible thing.

9.45
I made the horrifying discovery that I have nasal hair.
Scary big man type nasal hair. WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN? I look like the BFG!!

10am
Is there anything more painful than tweezing nose hair. Painful but necessary.
I still look like the BFG, just slightly less hairy.

13.00
Dragging an extremely reluctant small person out sightseeing this afternoon.

15.30
A small white person looking through binoculars at the view across the Yangtze River is getting more photographed than the view across the Yangtze River.

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Who watches the watchers?

 

16.50
The yellow crane tower is beautiful and some incredible views of the city sprawling in all directions around it. And birdsong. It’s funny what you miss.
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17.30
Found a random flower festival in front of a magnificent building ( as yet unknown)

18.45
Had to have an emergency stop in mcD’s to get some wifi and try ( in vain) get a proper map of the city. Guess NONE of the cabbies know ANY PLACE ‘over the bridge’.

2020.
Finally back at the apartment. 3 hours standing in the cold to find a cabbie who had a clue where we were going. It was around a 10 minute drive. Small one refuses to go exploring with me again.

Completely shattered. My feet officially hate me.

Thursday
03.20
Sounds like the man on the digger outside the hotel has finished his digging. At last. Only another 3 and a bit hours till he gets to start again.

08.45
Ah. Rain then. Cold cold rain.

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The extremely impressive Han Theatre Building

11.30
Very excited. Off to the Han Theatre to see what hubby’s been up to for the last couple of months.

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The Architecture becomes the entertainment at night.

12.35
Unfortunately I’m not allowed to give anything away about what’s going on inside the building, but WOW!!
It may have its issues but it’s stunning. Very proud of my boy.

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Fresh handmade dumplings and gyoza. Unbelievably good.

13.45
Finally got some real proper Chinese food. Glorious handmade dumplings and chow mien to die for. That little back street noodle joint must have had a good few months since the production crew found it, and deservedly so.
The little man was both delighted and  slightly hysterical watching moo using a hastily rustled up spoon to eat her noodles after a valiant effort with chopsticks.

15.50
I can feel a blister on my little toe. Probably shouldn’t have worn my brand new boots ( shoes in my size-in Asia-squee!) for a shopping excursion  on Han Street but apparently my trainers have a leak. #wetsocks

16.45
Oh the profound joy at finding a western toilet at just the right moment. #notsquat

18.30
A serendipitous coffee stop. Walked into Starbucks just as hubby was ordering his dinner break cuppa. #makeminealatte

19.30
No transport drama tonight. Time for tea then hot tub methinks.

21.25
My feet have gone from simple hatred of me to outright loathing. Oh how they long to be back in flip flops.

Friday
09.00
Ah China. Where even the simplest of internet related tasks are made hugely difficult. #onlinecheckinfail

12.30
Lunch with hubby again 🙂 #makingthemostofit

15.45
Small person going lego crazy in the mall #makingthemostofit

17.00
Back at the apartment to pack. While I shall miss hubby for the next 3 weeks I’m looking forward to seeing the sun again. And the sky for that matter.

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On further inspection the sign proclaiming them to be ‘ALIVE FISH’ was not entirely accurate…..

18.30
Someone out to catch some dinner. Literally. ( not for us!)

21.00
Finally finished packing. Only had to buy one extra case. #oops

Saturday
06.20
Rather spectacular thunderstorm going on right now. Hope its over by take off time.

09.55
Arrived at airport for check-in. Have to wait another hour before we are allowed in.

10.00
Free airport wifi, great.
Oh you have to have a Chinese mobile number to register, not so great.

11.04
Checked in, through security to quite possibly the worst provisioned departure lounge. Oh well, coffee on the plane then.

12.10
It’s not a bus people. You don’t just get to pick where you sit. See that number on your boarding pass that says ‘seat number’. It’s a bit of a clue.

12.21
SIT DOWN! You can’t just get up and wander about when we are on the way to the runway. You just can’t. Ok? Ok.

12.29.
I can see sky. Hello sky, I’ve missed you.

15.55
Bugger bugger bugger bugger.
Swapped seats with small one halfway through the flight. Failed to remember to check my original seat pocket as I left the plane. 1 lost purse. #seat20B #iamanidiot

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Thank you , Thank you , Thank you. And did I mention, Thank you?

16.25
Air Asia staff are my new heroes. Hurried to my connecting gate in DMK and reported my stupidity. Check in staff called the landing gate and had the plane checked (twice!) until my purse was found. Thank you thank you thank you.
With apologies to the passengers en route to Wuhan who were delayed ( only slightly) because some idiot had to have the plane searched.

18.40
The most glorious sunset for our arrival home. Thank you Mother Nature #welcomehome

Pink Wings
Pink Wings
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Landing at CNX Chiang Mai. Good to be home.

 

19.20
I’m almost reluctant to get back online. Almost. Unpacking and a g&t first I think. And flip flops. Definitely flip flops.

There will be more of my Wuhan wanderings in due course (and in more detail!), but for now its time to go and check my Facebook page.

Jer Gan MĂ i

A Small Act of Kindness

I am interrupting my European travelogue for something VERY special. ( it will continue after this post )

Now those of you who follow my blog will understand my reasons for the interruption. If you are new to this page I would humbly suggest reading a post from April of this year before continuing to help better understand just how important this is to me.

Today something quite wonderful happened that reaffirmed my belief that I live in the best city, with the kindest people, in the world.

It was not long after I’d dropped small person off at the school bus this morning and I was back at home pottering around in the kitchen when my phone rang. When I saw it was small person calling my Immediate reaction was to check and see if the Matilda was in her box. ( Our adventurous hedgehog had a recently stowed away in small persons school bag and had an excursion ). Thankfully she was in and the cage lid was closed.
But what could possibly be wrong? She must have only just arrived. Was she sick?

Of course these thoughts were fleeting as I answered the call to an extremely excited 9year old.

“Mum, mum, mum, you will NEVER guess what’s happened!”
“So tell me then…”
“Well I just got to school and one of the secretaries told me that she had something for me and I should wait outside…”
“So what was it?”
“Well she went inside ,then she came back outside and guess what she had?”
“I don’t know…. Tell me, please?”
“She had the bag”
“Which bag?”
“Your bag!”
“My bag?”
“Yes, your bag, THE bag!”
“WHAT?”
“The bag that you left in the songtheaw, your bag, it’s here!”
“But that’s impossible, how?”
“My student ID was in the front pocket of the bag. ( On a side note I was wondering where that had gone, I just assumed it was somewhere in the mess of drawers in her bedroom). The driver must have found it in the pocket and brought it back to the school so they could give it back to me.”
“But that’s amazing, that’s so brilliant and kind. Did the driver leave his name so we could say thank you?”
“I don’t think so, they didn’t say so. He just dropped it off when he was going past.”

I said my goodbyes to small person with the firm promise that she would remember to bring my bag home with her. Of course she’s as absent minded as her mother and left the bag in her classroom when she came home, but it matters not. My smelly frayed old bag has been returned and I could not be happier or more amazed.

The driver could have no idea that an empty bag could have been so missed or mean so much. It was worth very little in monetary terms, probably less than the cost of the fuel he used to get it back to the school, but in terms of memory and feelings it is beyond price. But with no thought of reward, I’m not even able to say thank you, he brought my bag back to me and he will never know how much his seemingly small act of kindness means.

When you do something nice, when you perform one small selfless gesture, when you give something of yourself with no expectation of thanks or reward you often have no idea of the consequences of your actions. Even what you consider to be the smallest most insignificant thing could bring so much happiness to a stranger or a friend. So as a way of saying thanks to this lovely, lovely songtheaw driver I’d like to ask you all a favour.
It’s not a big thing, it won’t take much for you do, but please I’d be honoured if you would.
Just do something nice for no reason. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, it can be as simple as giving up your seat on a crowded train, holding open a door, even a kind word can sometimes be the most precious gift.
So after you’ve read this, be it an hour a day or a week, just do something nice for a friend or a stranger. You have no idea how much joy you might bring.

Jer Gan MĂ i.

Part the Second; Bangkok to Eastbourne.

My body says 10 to four in the morning, my clock says 21.50… And it’s still not dark. I’d forgotten about that.

Yes we have arrived in Europe. Our long long journey is almost at an end (for a few days anyway) as I sit on the train bound for Eastbourne and my parents. Small one is crashed out under a liberated Air India blanket. She has once again been a traveling superstar and has conducted herself with much more composure and courtesy than most of the other travelers we encountered today.

We began with a four hour ‘hop’ from Bangkok to New Delhi. Rather uneventful, with a not too shabby breakfast of omelette, sausages, fruit and plenty of coffee ( not quite sure what the strawberry jam was meant to accompany though… ).

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A hearty meal is exactly what you need when you are transiting through any Indian airport as the security is something of an ordeal, even when you know what’s coming….

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Bear in mind that you have already gone through airport security at your departure point and an additional pat down and hand luggage search at the gate. So you have had 2 full security checks by the time you get to New Delhi. When you exit the plane you are shepherded towards a passport check area where you must show your passport, boarding card AND the stub you have left over from the boarding card you have just used on your previous flight. So don’t leave it in the seat pocket or throw it away. They get quite cross if you don’t have it.
After that you are given leave to pass through this desk you will be given a new luggage tag for each item which MUST be filled out and attached to every single item (including a child’s teddy bear) and then you are taken to a security screening point. Yes another one.
It is utter chaos. There is a semblance of a line, but it’s more of a free for all to get to the front. Now the next bit is REALLY important. At the edge of the scrum if you are a gentleman, go to the left lane and if you are a lady, go right. They don’t tell you to do this unless you happen to go the wrong way. They get quite cross if you go the wrong way.
Once in your correct gender specific lane you must put all hand luggage on the conveyer belt and walk through the scanner gate. Once through DO NOT try and pick up your bags. They get quite cross if you try and pick up your bags.
You must then have a personal ‘wand’ scan. Now if you are a lady you have to step into a closed curtained booth to have this done ( by a lady officer of course). You must show the officer your boarding card and stand with your arms out ready to be ‘swept’. Do not attempt to smile or make conversation ( definitely don’t be tempted to try out any wizard of Oz themed ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ jokes) . They get quite cross if you do that.
After you are deemed fit to pass through you may then identify your bags and wait until the labels have been date stamped by yet another officer before you are allowed to reclaim them. If however there is something in your bag that is deemed unacceptable (despite being passed through security twice already) you must empty your bag completely and remove the offending article.
Now after a child’s pencil sharpener had caused us to almost miss a connecting flight through Mumbai a few years ago I had been super careful with packing. As this trip was a hand luggage only deal I had to be absolutely aware of what may or may not be permissible. I even went as far as to email head office and was assured that my needlework scissors would be acceptable as the blades were under 1 inch.
Sadly head office didn’t pass on that particular memo and regardless of my pleas and assurances that head office had okayed my scissors they are now languishing in the contraband bin. Don’t try and tell the security staff about head office. They get quite cross if you talk about head office.
Case re packed and stamped luggage in hand you are then free to pass through to the main body of the airport. Where you can walk into a stationary shop and buy a pair of scissors. Go figure.

Now small one was getting a little peckish by the time security rigmarole had ended as we still had another hour till our connecting flight was due to be called so we headed up to the food court for a burger. Having been assured by my bank a week previously that it would be ‘absolutely fine’ to use my card anywhere, it turns out that it was somewhat less than ‘absolutely fine’ to use it in New Delhi airport. Trying to scale back the order to fit the 300 baht I had left in my purse ( thankfully thai currency is acceptable here) left me without coffee or bun, but as long as small one could eat that would be fine. It was then that a small act of human kindness made it all okay again when the manger (whose attention had been caught by a slightly deranged foreigner calculating the price of chicken nuggets versus cheeseburger), just pushed the tray of food we had already ordered towards us he’d take care of the shortfall. Two minutes later when he arrived at our table with a huge cup of coffee ‘on the house’ I actually almost cried. It is the sometimes the simplest and smallest of gestures that can turn a rapidly escalating stressful situation into calm and happy moment.

But that still left the problem of my card. Without being able to use my card I was left without Internet, as I couldn’t buy any time, so I was unable to keep people posted of my progress. Slightly more worrying was the possibility that when we reached London my card still wouldn’t work and without a phone I couldn’t call the bank, without cash I couldn’t get to Victoria station to get to my mum and dads….. Now I could have worried about this for the entire 9 hours of he next flight, but I decided that as there was absolutely nothing I could do to alter the eventual outcome it was a bad idea to spend the rest of our journey fretting about it, and as we had already been the recipients of one strangers kindness I felt certain that should the worst case scenario transpire that we would find a Good Samaritan. If you have faith in human nature it will be rewarded ( not every time I know, but I am a great believer that people are inherently good and kind, however deeply it may be buried in some).

All to soon it was time to go to the gate for yet another hand luggage check and full body scan, then through to the corridor where the final severe looking soldier stood and checked that everything you were carrying has its own label. Whatever you do when you are transiting through India don’t be tempted to go shopping, or if you do make sure you can fit whatever you have bought into your existing pre checked luggage, as an extra carrier bag without its own label can be enough to get you held back off the flight if the mood takes them. And don’t argue with them that ‘it’s just a carrier bag with sweets/booze/whatever in’, because they really don’t like it when you do that.

We finally made it to the door of the plane and small one pulled out an ace out of her sleeve and guaranteed that we would be very well looked after by ‘wai’ing ( the Thai hands together greeting ), bowing her head and apologizing to the cabin crew that she didn’t know how to say hello in Indian. GOOD WORK SMALL ONE! She immediatly had her bag taken from her and we escorted to our seats and had our luggage stowed for us as we took our seats, and were told if there was anything we required during the flight just to let them know. I’ve trained her well over the years of traveling.

The flight passed as most of them do, in a slow progression of snacks, drinks, films, fidgeting and reluctant small talk with the Indian gentleman sitting next to me who decided at one point that his life story was the most enthralling tale and must be shared at once. It really wasn’t. But he was a pleasant enough chap so I sat and let it wash over me as I drifted in an out of a light snooze. He didn’t seem to mind.

When the cabin crew came around proffering yet another round of drinks, he paused briefly in his chatter to berate the poor lady as his previous Bloody Mary was not mixed well enough. He really was extremely rude to her and my face must have been a picture when she caught my eye as she gave me one of those ‘ don’t worry it happens all the time looks ‘. I made certain that when I was given my little plastic bottle of wine I thanked her profusely and in a very British way signaled my disapproval of his behaviour by firmly plugging in my headphones and turning away from him. Not an easy task in economy class.

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On a side note here I would just like to mention here the utter pointlessness of the many and varied security checks to ensure that no one brought anything in anyway vaguely capable of doing grievous injury on to the aircraft, when they give you a full set of metal cutlery with your in flight meal. You took away my 1inch scissors and then you gave me a metal knife. A knife!!

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After food I began the futile search for a comfortable position to nod off in, twisting and turning into ever more contorted and painful poses, a task made all the more complex when you have a 9yo next to you trying to do the same. When the cabin crew saw our efforts they did what they could to assist with many extra blankets and even a comfy pillow was brought out for small person, who finally collapsed in a heap on my knees putting a firm full stop to my own attempts. Oh well.

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A couple of instantly forgettable movies helped to pass the time until the next meal. When it became clear that small person was not to be roused the staff bagged up her food and threw in a few extra chocolate brownies and some juice boxes for her to enjoy when she regained consciousness.

It seemed that an eternity had passed before the sheer joy of the ‘seat belt sign’ blinking into life told us that London was at last almost below us. Small person was maneuvered into an upright position and we began our final descent.
There is something quite magical about flying into London on a clear calm summers evening. All cities have their unique views from the air, but the sheer number of landmarks that slowly reveal themselves the lower you go is breathtaking. From the shape of the Thames snaking its way across the terrain, being able to pinpoint districts long before they can be seen simply by feasting your eyes on its languid curves and hairpin peninsulas, to the iconic buildings that rise up to meet you one by one as the ground grows ever closer. On a clear calm day it really is my favourite approach.

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Upon landing there was the customary rush to be first to wait behind the swishy curtain for 10 minutes before the doors were opened and as usual we just kept our seats and waited till the plane was almost empty before making our move. As we were sitting waiting for the crowd to disperse the lovely lady from the crew came and got our bags down for us ( 🙂 ) as I was trying to unwrap small person from the blanket. “But its so comfy mum, they are the best plane blankets ever !’. She had a point, they were very nice. When we were finally ready to disembark small one was presented with her very own still wrapped air India blanket. Which made me feel a little guilty about the one I’d stuffed in her case in order for her to stop whining and get off the plane…..

A quick breeze through the airport ( I love traveling with hand luggage only ) via a cashpoint which accepted my bank card, yeah!, down to the depths of the underground where to my surprise I found there was still a cash balance on my hastily packed Oyster card ( London transport prepayment card) and 1 minute later we were on our way to central London. Now I’ll admit that I have a hefty advantage flying into Heathrow as I know my way round and I’m familiar (although less sure than I used to be) with the tube system and routes. If you are unfamiliar with it here are a few tips.

Plan your route from Heathrow in advance. It’s quite a way from central London and there are no free shuttles waiting to whisk you to the capital.
There are however many options -coaches, taxis and express trains will all get you there at varying degrees of expense, If you have vast amounts of luggage and are traveling at busy times it might be easier/less stressful to book a coach into London as there is not a huge amount of space for luggage at rush hour on public transport.

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By far the cheapest and easiest way is by the underground.
Maps and journey planners are available online but its a good idea to have a ‘pocket tube map’ with you just in case. Familiarise yourself with the route you intend to take and any changes you need to make before you travel.

If at all possible have an Oyster card with you. This is a prepayment card that can used for Tubes, busses and some river bus services within London. It will save you a fortune as ‘Oyster fares’ are significantly cheaper than ‘cash fares’. You can buy and top up Oyster cards at most underground stations. And if you are traveling with kids then all under 10’s go free on tubes and busses. Which is nice.

Anyway…… It was a very smooth journey to Victoria station where we picked up our pre booked train tickets and had just enough time for a coffee and buns. And to pick up 5 minutes free internet and let everyone we had arrived and were on schedule. So here we are on the 21.17 to Eastbourne speeding towards my parents, small person fast asleep under her Air India blanket, large person having a tiny freak out because it’s still not dark, watching the familiar countryside that used to be home whoosh past in a blur of ever darkening greens shot with red from rays of the setting sun and happy in the knowledge that our travels are almost at an end. Well for a few days at least.

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Jer Gan MĂ i

My First Coup

I know it’s not like me to write about current events, but there is no possible way I can ignore this one.

I have been trying to write this piece for several days. It has undergone many revisions, edits and rewrites as on rereading it was unpublishable, for many reasons, in the present climate.

So I deleted everything I had written and started again.

As most of you will be aware by now the country which I now call home has undergone some rather radical changes in the past week.

On the 20 th may at 3am the Thai Royal Army announced through a television broadcast that it was assuming control of security and peacekeeping duties and the whole of the kingdom was now under the rule of Martial law. This was to put an end to the protests between rival political groups in the Capital which had been ongoing since November of last year and were escalating to a point that was no longer acceptable.

The following two days saw the protest sites of both camps closed down and the protesters dispersed while the chief of the army General Prayuth Chan-ocha gathered the key figures from both political parties in order to seek a resolution to the crisis.

On May 22nd, seeing no advance in the discussions the general assumed control of national administration and a coup d’Ă©tat was announced on all national television stations.

Since then it has been hard to keep up with developments.

Large numbers of troops have been mobilised and there is an extremely visible presence on the streets of most large cities.

All of the politicians and civil servants who were at the meetings were detained and many more have since been requested to report to the military.

The senate has been disbanded and all law making powers rest in the hands of the military under the name of the National Council for Peacekeeping and Order (NCPO)

All TV stations ceased regular broadcast, ( although most have now been reinstated)

A national curfew has been imposed during the hours of 22.00 – 05.00, with exception of essential services, transportation of food, and those with legitimate travel plans.

Certain international and domestic web sites have been blocked as they were deemed to be promoting instability or of being critical of the coup.

A ban has been placed on all political gatherings of 5 persons or more.
Despite this ban there were a number of anti-coup protests in Bangkok and here in Chiang Mai on the 24th on May, which in the main passed of peacefully with only a handful of arrests.

On 25 May 2014, the NCPO authorised the military courts to try all cases concerning lÚse majesté, sedition, national security or violation of NCPO orders.
In military courts, civilians are not allowed to have themselves represented by lawyers.

This is a very brief summary of some of the key events that have taken place over the last week.

Obviously I am unable to make comment on these events as we are operating under extremely strict rules regarding both the activities of the military and civilian populations. There are many good sources of information available outside of the borders of the kingdom if you wish to look into this further or if you are unfamiliar with the strictures of martial law or the details of lÚse majesté.

Whilst I’m certain that the general has far more important things to do with his time than to trawl the internet reading through ex-pat blogs I’m not ever so keen to be among those who are testing this theory so I shall be keeping my opinions very much to myself. In the words of the character Francis Urquhart, ( or Francis Underwood if you happen to be a fan of U.S television drama), ” I’m afraid I couldn’t possibly comment “.

Now how is all this affecting the life of Small person and I.

Well in all honesty, not a lot.
Other than an extra day off school for small person on the 23rd it hasn’t really had an impact on our day to day living. As I do have a small person in the house, being out after 10pm is rarely an issue. And getting out of bed and out of the house before 5 am is unheard of. I’m not really one for protests, certainly not in a country where I am a recent arrival and whose politics are far more involved than anyone who has been here for only 9 months can have more than a basic grasp of at best.

Day to day life in the city is carrying on in an almost normal fashion with very little disruption. There is a large military presence in the city, but on the whole the few soldiers I have come into contact with have been courteous and friendly and have been extremely helpful at stopping the traffic to allow small person and I to cross the busy main road when the traffic lights were broken.

Clearly this is an extremely fragile time for this wonderful country, and we are not naive enough to believe that it will be plain sailing from here on in, but as of this moment we are happy, at peace and safe.

No-one knows what is going to happen over the course of the next days, weeks or months, I pray with all of my heart that Thailand will emerge from this time as a stronger and more unified country and that democracy will be restored. But until such time as that happens we just need to be vigilant, but most of all ( and much as I hate to use this hackneyed phrase it does seem rather appropriate in the circumstances), just keep calm and carry on.

Jer Gan MĂ i

Did the earth move for you darling?

So tonight I was all ready to post a blog about His Majesty The King, it is after all a national holiday today to mark the anniversary of his coronation. But at around 6pm something happened that changed my mind. Something big and a little bit scary.

So tonight I was all ready to post a blog about His Majesty The King, it is after all a national holiday today to mark the anniversary of his coronation, I had done my research and had my notes ready to compile. But I’m afraid that post will have to wait until another day.

At around 6pm something happened that changed my mind. Something big and a little bit scary.

I was on the phone to hubby casually chatting about the days events and all of a sudden my tummy started to feel a bit odd. Now its not unknown for me to get a few butterflies from time to time when I’m talking to my belovĂ©d, ( even after all these years 😉 ), but he’s never actually made me feel queasy before. It was then I noticed that the tv was rocking gently before my eyes and I had a fleeting worry that I was about to faint. My fear of fainting was soon overtaken by a deeper concern as I noticed that not only was the tv moving but the pictures hanging on the wall behind it were swaying from side to side. Simultaneously I became aware that my feet were moving too, even though I was sitting down and they were flat on the floor, which could only mean that the floor too, in fact the whole house, was having a not insignificant wobble.  I tried not to panic as I grabbed small ones hand and dragged her into the garden whilst my poor, dear husband had to listen to me verbalising these events on the end of a phone 6000 miles away. It wasn’t till I was almost through the door that my thought process  caught up with my physical awareness and the word “earthquake” arrived in my brain.

By the time we were in the garden, less than 30 seconds since it had begun, the ground had resumed its usual and much more welcome position of reassuringly solid and the only visible signs of something awry were the hanging orchids swinging from side to side in the still, calm evening air. I handed the phone to small person as I did a quick perimeter check of the house to ensure there were no blown out windows or new cracks in the masonry and was satisfied that no obvious damage had occurred. As I finished the circuit of the house I noticed the garden wall, which has never been the sturdiest of structures, had sustained some damage, but other than that we appeared to be in the clear.

Several large cracks appeared in the mid section
Several large cracks have appeared in the mid-section

I spoke again to my worried sick husband and assured him that we would be staying outside for a little while in case of aftershocks, and that I would speak to him again soon.

Then I did what had to be done.

Within seconds I had confirmed via twitter that it had indeed been an earthquake, and not a small one. A 6.3 magnitude quake had been recorded by the USGS, ( United States geological survey), 12km south of Chiang Rai, which makes that just over 130km of us here in Chiang Mai, but that there were, thank goodness, no immediate reports of serious damage or casualties.

Epicentre 10km south of Chiang Rai
Epicentre 10km south of Chiang Rai

Then I took to Facebook to let my friends and family know that all was well should they hear news of an earthquake in Northern Thailand, and of course to swap immediate news and ‘quake stories’ with my fellow residents of this fair city. In the immediate aftermath it became clear that whilst there have been a few reports of structural damage, there was nothing major to report other than a sense of overwhelming relief that we seemed to have got off so lightly.

This is not my first earthquake, I’m up to 4 now, but this is the first big one. The others were insignificant by comparison, registering as no more than a momentary shift that had to be confirmed by news reports after the fact ( and one not registering at all as it happened while I was asleep and was so small that it was barely there at all).  However I very much suspect that it won’t be my last. Whist not on a par with ‘the ring of fire’ or the San Andreas Fault, Thailand, I have discovered, is no stranger to earthquakes. The area between Chiang Rai, the epicentre of todays quake, and Chiang Mai sits on right on top of the Mae Chen Fault and over the past 40 years, Thailand has experienced mid-sized earthquakes (magnitudes 5.0-5.9) 8 times, or once every 5 years. 5 of these tremors struck in the north, while the other 3 were centred in the west. Virtually all earthquakes recorded in Thailand are under magnitude 6.0*, but todays was clocked at an impressive and rather scary 6.3.
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There have been reports of some small aftershocks in Chiang Mai at around 7.30, but I didn’t feel anything personally. Possibly as I was being pulled headlong into a series of storm drains by my dog who was making great sport out of chasing lizards on his nightly stroll around that time.

But of course it wasn’t just me that felt the earth move this evening and its time to look at things from small persons perspective.

After her initial period of wide-eyed wonderment at feeling the floorboards shimmy beneath her feet, and telling  daddy that it was ‘just like being in the earthquake room’ at the Museum of Natural History in London, she quickly lost patience with my insistence that we stay outside in the garden for while, just in case. Her impatience grew even stronger when she realised that her beloved ipad was just too far away from the router inside to pick up the wifi.

My request that she was to go to bed in our room tonight (which in all honesty is more for my comfort than hers), was treated with not a small amount of disdain, until she remembered that you get much better Internet in our room than hers and suddenly decided she was a bit too scared to go to sleep straight away but she would probably be ok if I let her play mine-craft for half an hour…. As I went up to declare the final bed time I asked her if she was ok, to which she replied ;
‘Honestly mum, what’s the matter with you tonight,  it was only an earthquake’.

Jer Gan MĂ i

 

*source ; source http://www.cicc.chula.ac.th/en/current-campaign/203-likelihood-of-earthquakes-in-thailand.html

The Accidental Tourists

Power cuts are something you have to learn to live with in Thailand. Sometimes the power will drop out for a few seconds, sometimes a few hours, but never usually much longer than that. We have learned to be ready. Torches are dotted around the house in convenient location, candles are at the ready in the kitchen drawer and there is always a lighter on hand in case of a night time outage. It’s not really been a problem ( well not since hubby got a U.P.S. for his computer anyway), just a minor inconvenience. So when the power dropped out yesterday morning, we thought nothing of it and carried on as we were waiting for it to return.

Lunchtime sandwiches were eaten and water boiled on the gas stove for coffee while we watched the battery power on our phones and computers slowly head towards zero.  Which was not a problem as the power would be back soon right?

By 3pm  hubby was beginning to panic. His laptop had just died and his evening Skype meetings were approaching with alarming rapidity. Of course these were the meetings he could not afford to miss but with no power ( and therefore no Internet ) it was not looking too favourable, so a plan was hatched. Hubby would go into town and find a convenient coffee shop with free wifi and charging facilities, and if the power was not back on by the time I left to pick up small person from school he would book himself a cheap hotel room for the night and conduct his meetings using the hotel wifi.

When hubby got to town he sent word that it was the whole of our area that was out, but the city centre was good. As I formulated my reply and wondered just how many candles we had left in the drawer I heard the glorious sound of our little fountain spluttering back into life. 7 hours later we had power back- huzzah!

I texted hubby the good news and hurriedly found every chargeable appliance and plugged them in. A few minutes later hubby called me back and rather sheepishly confessed that he had panicked on the way into town and reserved a hotel room for the night just in case, and then tried to cancel it only to be informed that such a late cancellation would incur a full fee penalty.

We ran through our options. Hubby could go ahead and use the room, but would not have access to his main computer so wouldn’t have all the information at his disposal. We could join hubby at the hotel but would have to keep small person quiet from 7pm, and get her to sleep without interrupting his phone meeting ….. never going to happen. Hubby could just come home and we could chalk the whole thing up to experience, or, I could pack an overnight bag pick up small one from school pick up the hotel key from hubby then send him back to his office at home and she and I could enjoy dinner in town and a night in a hotel.

Guess which one we picked?

A bag was duly packed and a very confused small person was whisked into town to meet up with hubby and find out where we were staying for the night.

When we arrived at the 4* Imperial Maeping hotel I was rather impressed. Of course I have seen the hotel before as it is brilliantly located in the town close to the night bazaar, but as we live here, we have not stayed in it before.

Imperial Maeping Hotel
Imperial Maeping Hotel

Top tip coming right up ; It may seem rather extravagant for hubby to have booked a 4* hotel, but if you are booking in the low season ( march is not a big tourist month here generally ) and at the last minute the 4*&5* hotels can often be almost as cheap for a night or two as the mid range 2*&3* so its definitely worth checking.

We bid hubby a fond goodnight and checked in. It was a very nice twin room with coffee making facilities ( often lacking in most hotels these days) and being on the 12 th floor we had a lovely city view.

View from the 12th floor
View from the 12th floor

But it was the bathroom that made me squeal with joy. Literally squeal. It wasn’t a huge room, there wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about the colour scheme or the fluffiness of the towels, but there was one thing in this bathroom that filled me with joy and presented the perfect way to spend the evening once small one was in bed.
And that one thing was a bathtub. ( Which of course is the only picture I took that came out fuzzy and out of focus ).

I love having baths. I haven’t had a bath for 7 months. Our house, as wonderful as it is, has no bath. The vast majority of houses in Thailand (and I’d go as far to say the vast majority of houses in Asia ), have no baths. Plenty of showers but unless you are in a place that has been specifically built for westerners you will more than likely not have a bath in your bathroom. Now this wasn’t a deal breaker when we rented the house, but it was close!

As I have said, I LOVE having baths. It’s not just about getting clean you see. A bath is so much more than that. It’s a place to relax, to wallow, to pamper, to read, to have a glass of wine or two and on occasion it’s a fine place for a snooze. Bath times in my younger days were a highly controlled affair. With a family of 6 living in our house I had to clear a large window in the family schedule to enable my wallowing, but even then there was always the chance of interruption, and I was always getting into trouble for using all the hot water. A 3hr bath needs a lot of topping up.  When we moved to a house with a separate toilet and bathroom it was heaven. I think my longest ever bath was around 5 hours. I didn’t plan to stay in there that long  but I was heavily pregnant at the time and after waving hubby off to work I decided to have a bit of a read in the bath. I was so heavily pregnant that getting into the bath was a struggle and getting out was impossible. Thankfully my toes could still reach the taps so I didn’t have to suffer the indignity of cold water while I waited for hubby to come home and rescue me. Equally thankfully it was a very good book.

But I digress, the hotel room was lovely, but we were hungry so we headed out to eat. It’s a curious thing being a tourist in your own city. We wandered out to the night bazaar and browsed a few stalls, but as we know this market fairly well we knew the busy areas to avoid and we were able to recognise when ‘market fatigue’ kicked in and we knew exactly which side street to head down to find the right eatery to satisfy our needs.
The panoply of culinary options available to you in this area of the city is quite breathtaking. From tradition Thai street food to high end European menus all within shouting distance. The choice can be somewhat overwhelming and the ‘what would you like for dinner?’ question can be both hazardous and time consuming, luckily for us small one had already decided that a burger was what she needed and despite being surrounded by some of the most delicious and exotic of dinners a burger was what she had.

Sometimes only a Burger will do
Sometimes only a Burger will do

With dinner over it was time to retire for the evening ( small person still had school to get up for in the morning ) and we headed back through the busy streets with nothing but having a long luxurious bath on our minds. Well that was on my mind anyway.
Obviously small person had to go first, but she doesn’t appreciate a bath as much as I do and it didn’t take long for her to be tucked up in bed and at last it was my turn. With a cold beer in my hand and a freshly downloaded book on the iPad I lost myself for the next few hours.

Sunrise over CM
Sunrise over CM

Morning arrived all too quickly and the scramble to get small person ready for school was unchanged by our location. Breakfast in a tuk-tuk was quite fun though. I waved goodbye to her but instead of heading the short distance back home to a bleary eyed husband ( who had been up until stupid o’clock in the morning and was now fast asleep) I turned around and headed straight back to the hotel. Well the beds were so comfy and the pool looked so inviting and as I still had 3 and a half hours till check-out it would be silly not to. Might even have time for a quick bath before home time……..

not quite time to check out...
not quite time to check out…

Jer Gan MĂ i.

 

Lessons in love and loss.

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It started as any other Monday does.

A bleary eyed me navigating the perilous route from upstairs to down at stupid o’clock in the morning.
Stumble to the kitchen, kettle on, coffee and milk in mugs. Check.
Open the windows on the right side of the house. Check
Open the windows on the left side of the house. Check.
So far so good.
Oh wait hang on, small ones school trainers aren’t quite dry yet, better just pop them outside for a bit.
Back to the kitchen fill mugs with hot water. Check.
On the way back upstairs ( to wake husband with coffee and small person with yelling), pause under the staircase to retrieve hedgehog food and water ( to wake hedgehog with bribery ). Check.
Feed hedgehog. Che……

This is the moment that the usual Monday started to go horribly, horribly wrong.

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Matilda’s box lid was ajar. Not fully open, but most assuredly not closed.
And our little Houdini was neither snuggled under her blanket nor curled up in her house. The panic level had not risen to beyond ‘sigh’ at this point as its not the first time she’s been missing on a morning. Small as she is she is nimble and has taken full advantage of the fact that once or twice we may have forgotten to fully close the lid of an evening. Usually she can be found curled up behind the front door curtain, so that was my first port of call. My second port of call was under the sofa- a space that is usually forbidden during her supervised outings. My third and slightly more frantic port of call was the downstairs bathroom doormat, a nice snuggly fluffy place to curl up. I checked all the kitchen cupboards ( even though they were shut ), I even checked under the fridge despite the fact there was now way she could have got under there. The panic level was now at ‘damn it’ and the clock was ticking, small one needed to be shoehorned out of her bed and into a school uniform, breakfasts had to be made and school bag packed. I decided to do a poo-rimiter check ( in delicate terms she leaves us tiny smelly hints on her trajectory ) and as I traced a path back to the front door curtains the horror of my morning activities dawned. *Oh wait hang on, small ones school trainers aren’t quite dry yet, better just pop them outside for a bit*.

I’d been outside. The door had been open. Only for seconds, but it had been open. What if….? The panic level was placed firmly on ‘****’.

I raced outside for a fast and futile search of the garden. But tick tick tick, if I didn’t get small one out of bed we would miss the school transport. Back inside to wake up the household and add them to the search party.

Small one was in tears before she got half way down the stairs. Hubby was out searching the garden. Breakfast was all but abandoned as we tried to alternately search and console small one whose heart was breaking in two as we discussed the possibility that she had heard the call of the wild and followed. Speeches were made about the rights and wrongs of animals being kept in cages, the need for some creatures to be wild, to be free. How adaptable animals are to their surroundings, how strong and fearless our little Matilda had become, and of course she would survive ‘out there’. What we were doing was trying to soften what we felt would be the inevitable blow of her departure.

There was nothing more to be done as school time approached. I left the house with a sobbing small one and I faced the 15 minute walk of shame as my every failing as a carer of hedgehogs was highlighted and underlined every step of the way. What’s worse is that she was right. I should have checked her cage before I opened the door.

It was a guilt that would lay heavy on me for a long while.

With promises of further search ringing in her ears small one was dispatched to school for the day and I returned to continue the search. True to my word, even though I knew in my heart it was utterly pointless, I scoured the locale for 2 hours before conceding defeat. The house had been gone over with a fine tooth comb and we had come up with nothing.

She was gone.

The day proceeded in a half hearted manner. Hubby and I went to the local flower market in the afternoon ( after leaving a food at the front door on the off-chance she scurried back), and although we managed to pick up some amazing things for the garden, along with some guilt pacifying toys for small one, our hearts just weren’t really in it. All I could think about was having to pick up small one from the school bus with the news that she hadn’t returned.

It was as traumatic as I had feared and the tears and recriminations rang in my ears all the way home. And there was me thinking I couldn’t feel any worse.

We had to move Matilda’s box into the spare room as every time small one fought sight of it she wept again.

The fact that she has only been with us a little over two weeks made no difference to the genuine sadness that we all felt. When you decide to take something or someone into your heart, time is irrelevant.
Whilst this was not small ones first experience of loss, it seemed to cut the deepest. When our beautiful little Chimney died, some time ago now, we were bereft, but at least we had some closure. The burial in the back garden meant we had our chance to say goodbye, and there was no possibility of her return.

With a missing pet the heartbreak is on-going, the smallest hope that it will return tempered against the fear that some harm has befallen your little friend. There is no closure.

Things weren’t much better by bedtime and it took hubby and I a long time, and a lot of prayers for Matilda, to persuade small one to sleep.

Hubby and I headed out to the inside outside lounge to take stock, say farewell to this horrible day and prepare for much of the same tomorrow. As we passed the untouched food bowl on the step the sadness that had oozed around the edged of my day breached the barriers and finally found its way to my eyes. We sipped our beers in quiet contemplation, both dreading the raw emotion that was sure to come the next morning. We finally called time around 1am and headed back inside bound for a restless night.

And that was when I saw the single most impossible thing I have ever seen.

The gasp that escaped my lips caused hubby, who was following me in, not a small amount of alarm.

“I don’t believe it. Look”

Hubby looked, and his burst of joyous laughter confirmed that I was not in fact hallucinating, but there, bold as brass in the middle of the living room floor sat Matilda looking, rather accusingly it has to be said, between us and the space that her box had previously occupied before it was removed from sight.

The questions of where she could possibly have been that were tumbling from our lips were swiftly answered as she turned tail and wiggled her way towards the kitchen, squeezed herself through the unfeasibley small gap under the fridge and scooched up into a tiny gap and nestled herself in between the warm wiring.

Her box was re-instated to pride of place and she was easily coaxed from her hiding space by a morsel of food ( hastily retrieved from the step outside ). When she was safe in her box, with the lid firmly shut, hubby raced upstairs to wake an extremely confused small person and spread the good news.

The look of pure unadulterated sleepy joy on her face when she uttered the words “goodnight Matilda, i love you ” is something that I will remember and treasure forever.

Love is a strange word to use in connection with a hedgehog. But love comes to us from so many directions and in so many forms. It can happen in an instant. It can grow over time. Perhaps the strangest thing about love is that we sometimes don’t even recognise it until it is gone. It really is all around us, we just need to know where to look. You can even find it behind a fridge.

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Jer Gan MĂ i.