Annica – Impermanent, Ephemeral, Changing

Anicca – Impermanent, Ephemeral, Changing

If any of you have ever been on a Vipassana meditation retreat, this is a word that you have heard S.N. Goenka crooning as early as 4:30 am: “Anicca, anicca, anicca…….” (sounds like a-nate-cha).

For those of you not familiar, anicca is an ancient Pali word that means everything is ever-changing, impermanent, ephemeral, etc. Although in our logical brains we may realize this to be true, something within our body/mind/heart connection does not want to accept this fact. We crave things to be unchanging, but they always change, and so we ‘suffer’.

Anicca is true. This becomes more obvious when we lose someone unexpectedly.

I had an amazing 3-week trip in Burma where internet access was slow and sporadic, hence making it a facebook free holiday. Upon my return to Chiang Mai, I learned that my friend Azriel Cohen had passed away. There is no doubt I will miss him. He has been mentioned on this blog before and is the person responsible for the hilarious Thai Nicknames videos. (Click on the link to watch the video.)

I last ran into him on Sunday Walking Street in Chiang Mai, days before I went to Burma and a week before he died. We had a funny, friendly, and interesting conversation. He was ill and had a gravelly voice, but was in good spirits. Maybe he was sicker than he thought. Our enjoyable evening walk and discussion about dogs, ceramics, Thai language, and upcoming travels gave me some type of closure.

Maybe it’s from living over a year in this Buddhist country, maybe it’s the result of meditation, maybe it’s just a realization, but somehow I feel like I am coming to understand the principle of annica. Life and death. Ebb and flow. Impermanence. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, but rather is the acceptance that death indeed is part of life…as much as we might not like it.

Shalom to you Azriel. As for the rest of us, anicca, anicca, anicca.


Local Swimming Hole and สนุก (Sanuk)

Local Swimming Hole and สนุก (Sanuk)

It’s no secret, Thailand is hot. Now we’re in the rainy season, but there is still plenty of sun to be had. My friends asked if I wanted to go swimming in a local spot 5 minutes away from where we teach. Why not?

Getting the rafts blown up

Jumping for joy into the water

Even though it was cloudy, being in the water was refreshing. We were the only ones there swimming. The only other person we spotted was a lone Thai fisherman in the distance. We figured it didn’t really advertise that you should swim here, but there didn’t seem to be any signs prohibiting it either.

Apart from this…

…the other fun was swimming across the reservoir, climbing up the wall…

…running and…

…jumping off the high wall. Nice form Tracey and Jessica!

There was a restaurant up on top so Andrew and I went to get a soda manao – soda water with lime, a favorite thirst quencher of mine.

Signs in Thailand can be hilarious at mastering the obvious.

Sometimes it’s just good to order something bizarre on the menu that sounds a little bit naughty. We had no idea what it would be.

Ruby Crystal Balls with Coconut Cream (or in phonetic Thai Tabtimkrob – I think, which doesn’t sound any better) Even after eating some, I really don’t know what the ruby crystal balls were made from. 555!

After trying mysterious snacks, showering off the quarry water, and heading to the city, it was time to relax again with a Thai massage – wonderful as always.

Next, it was time for a Mexican themed dinner at a Thai cafe, naturally. How much do I love Chiang Mai? So so so much!

Yao, our lovely chef, at Bird’s Nest Cafe

Rose and Rachel having conversations with hands

musical hats

guitars and cats

giggles with Rose

and smiles-o-plenty with Rachel and Matthew

It might look like it, but I’m not on holiday. I do work Monday through Friday from 7:30 – 4:00, I take Thai classes, yoga classes, workout, meditate regularly, sometimes volunteer, and I just started ceramics class. An important thing that I’ve learned from dhamma talks, yoga, mediation, and this incredible Buddhist country I live in is that it’s good to keep life in balance.



สนุก (Sanuk) is a significant Thai word that means fun. สนุกดี (sanuk dee) means to be fun or enjoyable, but literally translates to ‘fun good’. Fun is good. Maybe this is part of the reason Thai people smile so much – they’ve figured out work and play can both be fun and it’s essential to have a balance of both. Life cannot be in balance without a healthy dose of สนุก.

นวด Nuad – Thai Massage

นวด  – Thai Massage

Thai massage is everywhere in Thailand and it’s so cheap that it’s accessible to most everyone. The standard rate at your average Thai massage place in Chiang Mai is 150 baht an hour – that’s currently about $4.78 USD.  I get about 1 a week.

If you’ve never had a Thai massage, it’s not an oily rubdown, but rather you get your energy lines (sen) worked with what sometimes is brute force. You’re given fisherman’s trousers and a loose fitting shirt to wear, and generally are massaged on a mat on the floor. Sometimes the room is shared with other people getting massages. Most of the time it starts from the feet with a large focus on the legs. It can almost be like having someone do yoga for you with all the stretching that is done.

When my sister Wendy came for a visit, right after I picked her up from the airport, I took her to get her first, but definitely not last, Thai massage.

Wendy in her Thai massage outfit getting a beautiful foot wash before her massage.

I took her to a place I like in the old city called Viangchaokun Thaimassage and Spa. (Yes, Thaimassage is one word. In Thai language there are no spaces between the words which makes reading kind of challenging, but that’s another story). It’s a very elegant and very Thai place. It’s 180 baht an hour ($5.72 USD), but I figure it’s worth the extra 30 baht for the foot wash alone.

Rose petals, kaffir limes, an assortment of herbs, milk and honey all make the foot wash both lovely and wonderful smelling.

Upon walking in you are given slippers to wear, served herbal tea, and given a menu of massage options to choose from. They give you massage clothes and a locker to put your things in. Next is the foot wash, and afterwards it’s upstairs for the massage.

Unlike many Thai massage places, Viangchaokun has massage tables, rather than mats on the ground.

Time for Wendy’s first Thai massage!

Since the goal is to relax, I did not take any pictures of the massage itself. Each massage therapist does their own variations, and when you find someone you whose touch suits you, it’s like pure gold. My current favorite is a woman named Gae. She is a petite younger Thai woman who is gentle, yet firm, and every touch has a purpose.

Sometimes Thai massage can be very intense and even a little painful. I’ve occasionally been worked the way someone would tenderize meat. There are others where they’re just missing the spots you need. And then there are the ones that are juuuuust right.

Wendy thoroughly enjoyed her first massage, and in her 9 days in Thailand, she got 5 Thai massages, and one foot massage. Sometimes I feel a little spoiled having this luxury, and at other times when I’m in pain, I really think massage should be affordable for everyone.

Just another of the many reasons to love Thailand.


ส้มตำ อร่อย มากๆ – Som Dtam yum yum yum

ส้มตำ อร่อย มากๆ – Som Dtam yum yum yum

ส้มตำ som dtam, som tum, or som tam, means papaya salad however it’s written. It is a quintessential Thai salad that combines savory, sweet, sour, and spicy flavors in one dish. Although its origins are from Northeastern (Isaan) Thailand, it is widely available throughout the whole of Thailand. It is easy to find little food stands with someone pound pound pounding the ingredients of som dtam in a large wooden mortar and pestle surrounded by people awaiting their delicious meal and ordering their salad to taste.

My local som tam stand

Though som tam means ‘pounded sour’ it’s actually a combination of several flavors. The ingredients vary a bit but generally they are: Thai chillies, garlic, unripe green papaya, long beans, carrots, tamarind juice, lime juice, fish sauce, small dried shrimp palm sugar, tomatoes, and peanuts. It is often served with ข้าวเหนียว khao niow– sticky rice, which is great for sopping up all the spicy/sour juice left in the bowl.

Som dtam preparation

Yesterday, I ordered it to my taste entirely in Thai (spicy, with no shrimp or crab) from a local spot and got the spiciest som dtam I’ve ever eaten! In the more touristy areas, even if a Westerner asks for spicy dishes, they usually aren’t spicy by Thai standards. I guess if you speak some Thai, and order it in a Thai neighborhood, it gets significantly spicier.

As with all food stands in Thailand, take away food is put in a plastic bag and wrapped up with a rubber band.

Although I think som dtam is just about perfect (and apparently it was ranked by CNN as one of the 50 most delicious foods), it doesn’t seem like something children would like. Much to my surprise, my Thai students absolutely love som dtam, the other Asian students also enjoy it, whereas the Western students seem to like it to varying degrees in relation to how long they’ve lived in Thailand. It quickly became my sister’s favorite Thai food when she visited.

Sometimes it is served with large shrimp and crabs in the shell.

Does it sound good? Here’s a recipe: Truth be told, the only time I’ve ever made it was in a Thai cooking class. It’s just easier, cheaper, and more delicious to buy at the food stands. It usually costs right around 30 baht (just less than $1 USD).

I think I know what I’ll have for dinner tonight. ส้มตำ อร่อย มากๆ

From 555 Pride to Being a Baby

From 555 Pride to Being a Baby

The number 5 is pronounced “ha” in Thai, so in texts and e-mails when someone writes 555, it means ‘ha ha ha’. This seems much more clever than the overused lol*.

I was feeling rather smug when I responded to a message from a Thai friend using my newly acquired 555 knowledge in an e-mail. A few minutes later someone asked me a basic question in Thai that I couldn’t answer. My moment of pride was followed by a moment of feeling like, “I can’t understand anything anyone says! Argh!” Thinking back to the e-mail, I was really only responding in English with some basic Thai words in Roman script, and a peppering of kha (the Thai polite particle used by female speakers). I did not really write in Thai at all.

It takes all my brain power to try to speak in Thai, and I still feel like I sound like a toddler. I can only put strings of words together, which aren’t sentences in the slightest. There are 5 different tones in Thai, so sometimes even if I say the right word, I pronounce it incorrectly.

Then I go from feeling like a 2 year old to being a kindergartener when trying to write Thai letters. Thai has 44 consonants and around 30 written and pronounced vowel combinations. Just even learning how to write and remember the Thai alphabet isn’t easy.

Learning a new language and a new culture takes time. I know that and should be a bit kinder with myself. That said, I should be studying more and speaking Thai more than I do. I think it’s time for me to take Thai classes twice a week. My level of frustration is prompting me to make a move. Thai language, ready or not here I come!

*I loathe lol and never use it, but the first few times I saw it I thought it meant lots of love. If it meant lots of love, I’d use it, but it doesn’t. For now I’ll stick with 555.

Phang Nga and Ko Yao Noi

Phang Nga and Ko Yao Noi

Monks looking at Buddhist amulets in the bus station in Phang Nga

Phang Nga is not much of a town, but the surrounding area, with the karsts in the water is truly beautiful. It is nearly impossible for me to pronounce its name correctly, so it’s a good thing I didn’t stay that long. Any word in Thai that begins with ‘ng’ is extremely challenging for my mouth to say.

There was some fair in town, but I was too tired, alone, and it was too rainy for me to want to go check it out.

Although I’d been traveling with my sister and had stayed in several different places over the previous week, I decided one night was enough in Phang Nga. I took a bus to Phuket to meet someone who would take me to the ferry and then his guesthouse on Ko Yao Noi. He told me he’d be there in 10 minutes. I sat on the side of a busy road in Phuket awaiting his arrival. One hour and 20 minutes later he arrived. I wasn’t feeling all that well, and the waiting didn’t help – if I’d known he’d be an hour and 20 minutes rather than 10 minutes, I’d have gotten lunch somewhere while I was waiting.

Luckily, it hadn’t been raining, but as if on cue, the rain began as the songthaew arrived. It was about a 20 minute ride to the ferry pier, then a 20 minute wait at the pier.

Luckily at the pier, I had these little guys to watch.  Sadly, a  guy told me that they come here because they have had their mangrove habitat destroyed.

It was about a 40 minute ferry ride to the island, and it was raining cats and dogs the entire way. Some man with Down’s Syndrome who worked on the ferry gave us plastic waterproof ponchos to wear, for which I was grateful. In fact, it is probably due to his act of kindness that this computer is in working order.

When the guesthouse man and I arrived at the pier on Ko Yao Noi, it was still pouring. We took about a 2 minute songthaew ride, then we got on his motorbike in the driving rain. After about 10 minutes he got a flat tire. He said, “You wait here I go to my sister’s house nearby.” I was left in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road, in the jungle, in the pouring rain. To his credit, he was back in 5 minutes with a different motorbike. After about 10 more minutes we arrived. Even though the place wasn’t great, smelled of a bamboo bungalow mold, and I was the only one staying there, it was only 500 baht and had a fantastic view.

View from my guesthouse on Ko Yao Noi

After my lengthy, wet, and somewhat harrowing trip, I was happy to sit and look at the picturesque view from my verandah of the lovely limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay. I had absolutely no energy, so taking in view of the rain, the bay, and butterflies chasing each other, was the best way to spend my afternoon. The view here is really exquisite. It all has such an ethereal quality to it.

Phang Nga Bay in the rain

I decided to go get an early dinner and walked in the drizzle to the nearest restaurant.

This was my view from the restaurant of Phang Nga Bay. I bet it’s stunning on a clear day.

I could tell I was coming down with something and went to bed early. I awoke as the clouds parted to see ‘the Supermoon’.

The Supermoon

In the morning, it wasn’t raining so I took a little bike ride around Ko Yao Noi. In the afternoon I took the ferry back to Phuket.

Just another impossible load that just seems commonplace in Thailand.

The whole experience was reminiscent of my travels in SE Asia in the year 2000. I think I will always enjoy traveling, but not moving moving from place to place so quickly. I stayed in 7 places in 7 days, good thing I was traveling light. I think sleeping in the air conditioning made me ill.

I wanted to go surfing, but with loads of rain in the forecast, not feeling well, and the fact that transport in Phuket is supposed to be expensive and challenging, made me decide against it. I saw a few beaches in the rain and had my taxi driver take me to the airport only about 2 hours after arriving in Phukhet. The idea of 8 beds in 8 nights, and being in tourist-land Phuket, had everything in my being say, “Get out!” So I did. I booked an expensive one-way flight back to Chiang Mai.

Ahh. It is a complete deluge here in Chiang Mai, but I am glad to be back to my lovely home.

Words: Khao Jai

Words: Khao Jai

After just listening to this:  it made me start thinking of so many things. One, I love linguistics. Two, it seems that no only can we not separate language from culture, but this show expanded on that to say that we cannot separate language from thought. Certainly an interesting concept to say the least.

It seems that even if you learn a little bit of a language you can get a better glimpse into the culture.

Jai – heart is in so many words in Thai. I love that. To understand is khao jai – to know with your heart.

Although many things have been in my heart and mind for such a long time, I feel like the Bethy that we once knew and loved can now step forward without fear. It’s clear to me that I am here for some reason. Thailand is still my favorite country. The more language I learn confirms that.

บัว is a lot easier than เอลิซาเบธ

บัว is a lot easier than เอลิซาเบธ

Most Thai people all have a short nickname because their real names are often long. For some Thai people who have been exposed to western culture my name is easy, and for others it’s very difficult. In Thai language there are a lot of sounds that aren’t in English, but one English sound that doesn’t exist in Thai is th. In Thai th sounds like t (hence Thailand doesn’t sound like Thigh-land). My name here is written เอลิซาเบธ which is pronounced aeh-li-saa-baet. No th sound, only t. Nevertheless, people everywhere like to shorten my name.

Thai nicknames mean something that is usually a characteristic of the person, and some are really hilarious. I have been asked what my Thai nickname was. I have had people call me E, because it’s easier, and others call me be my title of teacher – ajarn or kru.

A woman who was showing me houses gave me the Thai name Faa, which means sky. I liked that a bit, but thought it wasn’t quite right. While drinking a Sambuca at Coconut Bar on Ko Bulon with Chi (he told me Chi means brother of Che Guevara 🙂 and Rain (not Fon -Thai for rain – but Rain), they asked me my nickname. I said I’d been called Faa, but wasn’t sold on that name. I asked them what they thought might suit me better. We went through a variety of disagreements until we reached a consensus. A few names were immediately nixed. They suggested Manao, and I do like the way it sounds, but it means lemon or lime. I thought with Manao, people would squish up their face like they’d just bitten into something sour when they’d say my name, um, no. Finally, we all agreed on Bua. Bua or บัว means lotus flower. I am quite happy with this. I would like to be a blossoming lotus.

Whoa, there is a huge crowd of Thai tourists that just arrived for a New Year’s party on the beach. I’m glad I have my bungalow, but it will certainly be loud. Oh well, it’s New Year’s Eve and it’s not like a have anything to do tomorrow.

New Year’s resolutions: Be more creative and take classes – some ideas: art, pottery, painting, weaving, writing, improv even. Learn Thai. Continue doing yoga and go to more classes. Meditate. Create the atmosphere so my soul mate comes. It’s time. 2012 is the year, or Sabaii dii pii mai 2555 (Buddhist time). In Thai 2 is pronounced song, and 5 is pronounced ha. Now it’s year song ha ha ha – I guess it’s going to be a good year for music and laughing.

With my new nickname บัว (Bua), I welcome 2555, its resolutions and pleasant surprises from the Land of Smiles.


The Empowerment that comes from Being Bilingual

The Empowerment that comes from Being Bilingual

Having taught English as a Second Language in some form or another for the better part of my career, it is nice to know that what I do for my livelihood makes a difference. Like it or not, English is still the lingua franca in most parts of the world. It most definitely is here in Thailand.

I speak Spanish close to fluently, and because of that I have been able to communicate with Spanish speakers here in Thailand that did not know English or Thai. It’s been odd using my basic Thai to be the Span/Thai interpreter. Being able to speak in Spanish has opened doors for me in many countries in Latin America, and the US, but I was surprised to find that it helped me here.

Lisandro from Argentina - on the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

This is Lisandro from Argentina. We met on the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (back when they were still running before the floods). He had been working in New Zealand for a few years before heading to SE Asia. He and I mainly talked about Vipassana Meditation that he had just done, and I was about to do. He told me that learning English was hugely important for him and gave him a world full of opportunities  that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Atsuko from Japan - eating sushi in Chiang Mai

Atsuko and got her Masters degree in sociolinguistics in England. We met on the Vipassana meditation retreat outside of Chiang Mai. She has been teaching Japanese in several countries throughout the world and had just finished teaching in Vietnam. She told me the focus of her Masters degree was on the empowerment that comes from speaking Japanese. She was extremely humble because she said claimed to speak a little English, and but actually she spoke excellent English.

Paola from Panama - showing the kitsch of Thailand in a cafe in Chiang Mai

Paola from Panama spoke Spanish, German, flawless English, and some Thai. She was getting her Masters degree in some kind of International Studies in Bangkok. We also met each other on the meditation retreat. Paola could probably talk to anyone.

On our same meditation retreat there were two Russian girls who had very limited English and no Thai after living here 2 years. They worked in the tourist industry and kept  themselves in the ‘touristland’ of Phuket. I got the sense that they were missing a lot of what Thailand has to offer. That being said, good for them for doing the meditation retreat.

As citizens of the US, we are not encouraged to learn a second language, but this keeps us cut off from the world. This is disadvantageous to say the least. By learning language, we also learn so much about culture, as language and culture are inextricably linked.

Learning another language at a young age will help one better communicate with the world. This is one of the many reasons I strongly believe in bilingual education. Although, it’s never too late to learn a foreign language. I have to remind myself of that with the difficulties I have learning Thai. I guarantee that if you travel anywhere and try even the most basic words you learn it will be appreciated…but especially here in Thailand.