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Tantalizing Thailand 2010

Blogs from our time living in Chiang Mai, Thailand


Meeting a Bat -- August 2010

It was to be my first night home alone since we had moved to Chiang Mai. Dan was going out with the boys. I was looking forward to a night of peace, quiet, and finishing the final chapters of a book I was reading. But before I settled in to a long night on the sofa, I had a few emails to send. As such, I was in my office when Dan left.

Minutes after Dan shut the door I heard some clicking noises. I thought perhaps Dan had come back in so I shouted out. There was no response. I popped my head out to take a look. No Dan. No nothing. No worries.

Shyla in her Office I went back to my desk and continued my business. I then heard a rustling noise. This time I assumed it was papers being blown around as the wind outside was picking up and I knew our deck door and a few windows were wide open. I was not concerned, even when I heard the rustling noise and clicking a few more times. I was almost done with my work, and then a night of reading was mine.

I was just about to hit send, when a black whir came racing past my head. It reached the window on the far side of my desk, turned around and came back at my head. I flung my arms around as the object veered past me turned again and then came back to my desk.

It landed and instantly compressed itself, but not before I saw the arm. Up until this point I assumed it was a moth, a very very large moth. Since moving to Thailand I had encountered the biggest moths of my life. The first time I went running around the room screaming. This just caused Dan to laugh as he kept telling me that moths do not bite. In future encounters with large moths I had tried to keep my cool, as I was doing now. No sense running around like a little girl if this was a moth.

But moths don’t have arms.

It was strange the way this one feature of the black object stood out -- a very thin stringy arm controlling a nearly translucent wing. And in less than a heartbeat the image was gone, but then so was I.

The flying creature had landed on my desk and folded in its wings to become a black square the size of a pocketbook. If I had walked into the other room and seen it on the table I may not have known what it was without prodding it. But in the split second that I saw the winged arm, I knew it was a bat.

It was in this moment that my girlie instinct kicked in. Okay, maybe I have stopped screaming at moths, but no one has told me to stop screaming at BATS. So I let it rip, and screamed all the way out of the office through the dining room and to the far corner of the living room. All the while my hands were flailing in the air making the international sign for ‘small unwanted moving animal in my vicinity.’

Now hiding behind the sofa I managed to muffle my scream and control my breathing. Then I realized something had to be done. Something, but what? And more importantly by whom?!? Surely I was not expected to do anything with a bat. This was not women territory, at least, not this women’s territory. Certainly bats qualify as man’s work.

But my man was off having a beer. Suddenly that seemed very unfair. Perhaps I should text him and tell him to come home immediately – it is only fair that this bat ruin both our nights, right?!? Right. Now I had a plan. I instantly felt better. I was going to do something about the bat; I was going to text Dan about it. It may seem like a small thing, but it was a first step. Although then I realized that the actual first step would be to come out of hiding. Hmmm. I was not so comfortable with that. But after a few more minutes I was not so comfortable crouching behind the sofa so standing up did seem reasonable.

Once up, I actually found the courage to come out from behind the sofa. I started walking around the apartment looking for my mobile phone. I keep it in my handbag, and now that I was calming down I could actually think through where I had my handbag last. Let’s see, I had it… at my desk. With that realization my stomach lurched. My phone was in the office, in my office with that bat. Not good. Perhaps I can get the bat to text Dan. But that would involve talking to the bat or at least looking at it, and I never ever planned to do that again. So much for Plan A.

At least now, I was no longer cowering in the corner. Instead I was standing in the hallway looking at my closed office door. I had a vague memory of slamming it shut when I went running out. Good job girl, I thought to myself. The bat can have my office, and I will keep the rest of the apartment. Hopefully this would not be a permanent arrangement, but it seemed like a reasonable first separation agreement.

Now I can go back to just having that nice quiet night on the sofa. Me and my book. My book… hmmm… where is my book. My head spun around several times looking on every possible surface. Funny how that is, for I knew exactly where my book was, and yet still my head kept looking for it somehow hoping that perhaps, just perhaps my book had like me run out of the bedroom when the bat entered.

Stupid book. It obviously had stayed behind. And now the bat was probably reading it. My book. My phone. My office. The bat seemed to have made out pretty darn good. I on the other hand, well, I had the sofa.

It was then I realized that my heart was still racing and I was breathing like I was running a marathon. I best sit down. I sat on the sofa with no book. No nothing. I began a vigil of staring at the clock waiting to see when Dan would come home. I knew right off though that this game was going to lose its appeal fast. It was still more than two hours till I anticipated Dan’s return. Two hours of staring at a clock is boring, but then two hours of being chased around the apartment by a bat is a worse option.

In time, when my heart beat regained a normal speed and my mind cleared the image of the bat for at least a few minutes, I again tried to think of something I could do. Finally it came to me – the internet. You can find anything out on the internet. And the bat may have access of my computer, but we are a two lap-top kind of family.

I went to Dan’s computer and typed in ‘how to get a bat out of your house’. To my amazement lots of websites appeared. I started reading site after site. There seemed to be three things that all the sites had in common. First was the suggestion not to panic. Ha, I blew that one a long time ago.

The second, was all the sites wanted to make out how great bats are and that they should be our friend not our enemy. Okay, so they eat mosquitoes, there are lots of animals that do that and I don’t plan to let any of them move into my house. No, as nice as these websites tried to portray the bat out to be, I had no intention of making friends with the creature.

The third point had to do with towels and how easy it was to actually catch a bat and then gently release it outside. I don’t know if you see the flaw in this, but I instantly did. To catch a bat by gently placing a towel over it means actually getting up close and personal with the bat. I was really looking more for a suggestion that had to do with using a net with a 20-foot pole. I tried to envision myself being this nice friendly bat catcher. But somehow each time I thought about it the vision ended with me once again screaming and flailing my arms in the air.

The other problem with the towel advice was that I did not have access to a towel. My bathroom, with my towels in it, was off of my office. This was now in sole possession of the bat. So unless the creature wanted to toss me out a towel I had no way to get one. And truthfully, I did not want to envision the bat going through my bathroom items.

Luckily, all this research took time and finally Dan came home. I instantly told Dan about the bat. He got a sly smile and asked me if I went screaming out of the room. Sometimes it is like he can read my mind – I hate that. Admitting nothing, I simply told him that what was important is I had been smart enough to trap the bat in one room. “But, was the window in that room open?” Dan asked.

“Perhaps,” I answered. “I mean come on, how was I to know I was running for my life.”

“For your life? Bats don’t attack humans you know.” Before I tell you what Dan said next, I will point out that his first comment was correct and appropriate. But like most men, he does not know when to stop, for the next thing he said was “In fact, bats are nothing more than rats with wings.”

Rats. Rats with wings. Rats in my office. Why would a rat in my office be better than a bat in my office? His comment sent me into a spontaneous ‘girl seeing a mouse’ dance. And as my entire body convulsed into the air, Dan offered to go check the status of the window.

As he headed to my office door I repositioned myself behind the sofa, cowering right down so the bat couldn’t see me in case it escaped. But after just a few minutes Dan returned. Yes the window was open and he had not seen any bat at all. Was I sure I was not imagining it. Oh, no chance of that, I assured him while still hiding behind the sofa.

“You can come out,” Dan said. “I didn’t see the bat, but I did leave the door closed and I opened the window wide just in case. I think we should just leave that room off limits for the rest of the night.” Once again he was reading my mind.

But with the office off limits, so was my adjoining bathroom. Now I had no phone, book, or toothbrush. I took one more look at the closed door before I headed to bed. This had not been the cozy night of reading I had planned, but at least it was over. And I figured any dentist would agree that a good excuse for not brushing your teeth is a bat in the bathroom.




TIGER KINGDOM-- what American Health & Safety would never allow

All around Chiang Mai there are signs, posters, and brochures advertising the Tiger Kingdom. There are beautiful tiger eyes staring out of every tourist agents’ office. The tigers beseech you to come visit them. To come pet them.

Yes, you read correctly … PET A TIGER. This is something you can actually do in Thailand. Some people call this the Land of Smiles… but I call it the Land of NO Safety Laws. Perhaps it is good to operate outside of the dictates of “Health and Safety.” Perhaps it is good to let people decide for themselves what they should and should not do.

In Thailand, there are no barriers keeping you from walking under construction. If a brick falls, then you should be paying attention and get out of the way. There are no judgments against restaurants for serving coffee too hot. In fact, street vendors regularly have vats of boiling oil sitting out. There are no requirements to put children in car seats. If a family wants to ride a motorbike, with the mom holding a baby and an infant standing between dad’s legs, all without helmets, well, that is up to that family. And how are they supposed to get anywhere if they don’t?

You do as you like here. And if you want to pet a tiger. Well go for it. Go ahead and climb in a cage with a flesh-eating animal. Why not? There are no laws against it. There are no rules. If it is not regulated, then it must be okay… right?!?

I will say Thailand is not the worst country for health and safety laws, not by a long shot. For developing nations regulating day-to-day activities is pretty far down the priority list. These countries are working on things like sanitation systems and tap water that won’t kill people. They are not focused on smooth sidewalks, even pavement, or well-marked roads. This means simply crossing the street can be an adventure. Heck, we have been in countries were cars don’t have seatbelts. More than once, we have been happy just to learn the car we were in had breaks. And no one in these places has even heard of air-bags. Honestly, you ride at your own risk.

America, “Land of the Free”, is far from it in this respect. You simply don’t realize how regulated life is there until you live in a developing nation. Seat-belt laws. Leash laws. Food handling tests. Noise ordinances. Zoning. And what is really wrong in doing a U-turn if there is absolutely no traffic? Some neighbourhoods even dictate if you can or can’t paint your house, and what colours you can choose from. And then, of course, there is the litigious nature of Americans. This has made businesses so worried about lawsuits that they serve warm coffee.

So where is that middle ground between chaotic-anything-goes-risk-your-life-crossing-the-street and big-brother-is-watching-you-plus-plans-to-sue-you society?

I am not sure, but Thailand is definitely closer to chaos. There are some laws here, such as a helmet law for when riding a motorbike. However, few people bother wearing one. We also recently discovered that a few businesses, such as the main hospital in town, are worried about law-suits. A patient there had a room on the 10th floor, with a balcony. But before they would unlock the balcony door he had to sign a release to say the hospital was not responsible if he jumped off it.

Still, there are no government regulations about climbing into a cage with a full-grown tiger and taking a few photos. Not sure it the States actually has a written law against this either. But I can’t imagine there is a single zoo in the U.S. that would go along with this.

Perhaps that is what made me so curious about this tourist attraction. So when a couple from Norway that we were home-hosting said they wanted to go, I jumped at the chance to go with them.

My plan was to just watch our friends do it, to take a few photos from outside the cage. I am too smart to actually get in a cage with a tiger. I mean, I have seen the nature shows. I have watched “When Animals Go Wild.” I know that tame animals can suddenly turn on their handlers. I had also been told that since the Tiger Kingdom opened two years earlier, there had been three “incidents”. No details of how bad these had been, but I have to assume any “incident” with a Tiger will require more than a band-aid.

I knew all this. I had the facts. And yet, I must have left my brain in the parking lot. Or perhaps more accurately, at the ticket booth. “You mean to go into the enclosure is only 320 baht?” I asked the saleswoman several times. “And you can pet the tiger and take photos and it is all totally safe?”

“Yes”, she assured me. “It is very safe.”

“How long have you worked here?” I asked.

She simply pointed to her badge. TRAINEE.

Hmmm. That did not instill me with confidence. But still, there were lots of people doing it. The photos around the lobby looked amazing. And it did only cost 320 baht. So for only TEN American dollars I could get some awesome pics. I could see the tiger-striped scrapbook page already…

And with that, I handed over my baht.

There are four different sizes of tigers to choose from. Surprisingly, the bigger the cat, the cheaper the price. And since I was doing this entirely on the premise that it was a really good deal – I went for the big boys; the full-grown two-year olds. After this age, they are “retired” from petting for reasons that were not disclosed, but I can only guess has something to do with their desire to eat people increasing as they age.

Nevertheless, the four of us prepared to enter the bigger cheaper tiger cage. You will be pleased to know they do have rules about etiquette in the enclosure. The list was posted by the door. It was pointed out to us when we arrived, but they also pointed out where we were to leave everything but cameras. I got wrapped up in making sure my handbag and sunglasses were safe (don’t want them to get nicked by another tourist while we were in with the tigers!) when they announced it was time for our group to go in.

I quickly glanced at the list and managed to read the first two rules – always approach the tiger from behind and never touch its head. The list went on, but I was sure the trainer would tell us anything really important once we were inside. So in I went.

Gulp.

GulpGulpGulp.

It was amazing how quickly my body responded to danger. My mouth had gone dry and my heart was racing. And to think I had been trying not to tell my body that this was anything different than at a normal zoo. I mean I have seen tigers a zillion times at the zoo and my heart has never raced. And all I have done is just lowered that little Plexiglas barrier. Not a big deal, right?!? This is still safe, right?!?

GulpGulpGulpGulpGulpGulpGulp.

And then the handler was there greeting us with a big smile. Ah, yes Thailand is the Land of Smiles. Looking at our leader for strength, I was a bit surprised to see an animal prod in his hand. But my body decided that was a good thing and my heart rate started to lower. A prod meant the guide could take on the tiger, if need be.

Then I took a second look. That was no electric prod. It was a reed. A reed -- that is it?!? Here we were in an enclosure with three tigers and the man in control has a blade of grass.

Okay, my heart really was racing now.

As the trainer led us to the first tiger, I remembered the instruction list that I had missed so I asked, “Is there anything we should know about safety or the tigers?”

“Yes,” the trainer said. Then he pointed to the fence “It is electric, don’t touch. And more important, tiger likes his belly rubbed very much.”

I stared at the fence. We were locked in an enclosure with flesh-eating animals and if we attempted to climb out we would be electrified. Not the most comforting of realizations. Still, I now knew a little tummy tickle would calm the beast and we would all be fine. That is, if any of us had hands left to tickle him with.

My knees wobbled.

The guide told Ida and I to approach the first tiger while Dan and Adam got the cameras ready. In trying not to step on the tiger’s foot, since although I had not read the list of rules I assumed “do NOT step on the beast” was on it, I lost my balance and steadied myself on the fence. Zap, Yooza, Owie, Yikes… I jumped away from the fence. Okay, so the trainer was correct when he told us NOT to touch the electric fence.

On my second attempt I made it to the back of the tiger. Ida was already petting it and being smacked around by its strong tail. “You are not petting hard enough,” the handler said.

“It thinks you are a fly,” he continued while flashing us with a big smile.

Hey, a tiger thinking I am a fly is much better than it thinking I am dinner! I thought as I too barely touched the tiger and so was thunked with its tail.

We all did the required photos and then quickly moved on to the other tigers. I can honestly say there was never a moment in the enclosure that I felt safe and secure. We all did calm down and did our best to pet harder and to get in closer for better photos. But really feeling safe, no that definitely did not happen. Especially whenever a tiger moved. Even if it only flinched, a move from the tiger always made me uneasy.

The third tiger was the one that got my heart racing the most. By then we were all feeling as comfortable as we were going to get. We had grouped in for a team photo and I was closest to the head. Suddenly the tiger turned its head to take a wee look at us. The entire motion took just a hundredth of a second, but my reaction was to pat the head to calm the animal down, just like you would pat a dog at home to comfort him. My hand got a hair’s breath away from the head when I remembered the rule – UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE TOUCH THE HEAD. I pulled back, and well, that was enough. We had got the photos; it was time to get out before I broke a rule and became tiger food.

It is strange being in a situation where the one thing that comes natural is the last thing you should do. I read an article about a tiger attack at a different place in Thailand. A lady touched the tiger’s head so it bit her. They think her sleeve hit the tiger’s eye and it didn’t like it. And if a tiger doesn’t like something, well, it results in a hospital visit and 57 stitches.

Still, our group made it out okay. Plus we got the most amazing photos for just US$ 10. Can’t beat that price in the States. But then again “Health & Safety” would never even let you try this in the States. And perhaps when it comes to getting into cages with wild animals that is not such a bad thing.

There are many more pics of us and the tigers in the Photo Gallery (or click here to see them).


*People have asked about the care and treatment of the tigers and I do not have a definitive answer on that. I have been to “petting zoos” before where the animals have open sores from over touching. This was not the case here. The tigers were beautiful and seemed to be in good health. Nevertheless, were the enclosures the same as life in the wild? No, of course not. There did seem to be some big areas in the back and I can only hope that at night the tigers get to roam around a bit, but honestly I do not know.

Also there is a pretty big debate on if these tigers are being drugged or not. The Tiger Kingdom says NO. They claim the tigers are simply docile during the day because they are naturally nocturnal. I couldn’t tell you for sure either way. They did act pretty sleepy, but they did open their eyes at times and move around. The younger the tiger, the more playful they became. So people in with the six-month old tigers actually did tug-a-wars and the like. Personally, I was quite happy that the tigers in my cage did not jump around.*





Christmas Newsletter 2010

Sawatdee Ka

Last year in our holiday letter, we announced that we were going to “settle down”. At that point we knew we were ready to un-pack the backpacks and stay in one spot for a bit, we just didn’t know where...

We began 2010 in Buenos Aires, a magical city. After a month there, we travelled to the wine region of Argentina where we found magnificent vinos. But all too soon, it was time to leave South America and return to the States.

Our first stop in the US was Florida where we rented a house with Dan’s sister, Debbie, Marc and Taylor. Our place was near where Dan’s Mom, Betty, and Step-Dad, Jim, were spending part of the winter. We had a great time with the family and were so happy to find Dan’s mom in improved health. The chemo had knocked back the cancer, and our time together was a celebration of life.

Our next stop was the Pacific Northwest, where we divided our time between Seattle and Portland. We had so many special meals and fun days out with family & friends; it was great to reconnect with so many people. Thanks to everyone that met up with us and made our time at home so wonderful. To my Sister, my Bro, the Slipperns, Carol, Julz, & the Fitzwaters we send hugs for giving us beds to sleep in.

In April, while I stayed in Seattle with my family, Dan made a trip to Michigan to see all of his family. He had a great week there.

While in the States, Dan and I debated where to “settle”. We decided on Thailand. It is an amazing country with natural beauty, fabulous food, spectacular temples, and a distinct culture. As soon as we got our one-year visas, we booked our flights and started dreaming of life in “the land of smiles”.

We left for Thailand at the start of June, although we did not go the most direct route. Our first flight was Seattle to New York, so basically the wrong direction. But we choose to fly this way in order to see friends. In New York we stayed with Eliot and Marcy. We were thrilled to once again attend a Weinstein family celebration. This time it was Juliana’s Bat Mitzvah in Massachusetts. It was a wonderful event and we had loads of fun.

Our next stop was Scotland, where we stayed with Karen & Ken. Our time was filled with special outings with our many friends there. Plus we got to watch the opening of the World Cup. It was fun to watch the England v USA match – all the Scots were cheering for the US!!

Then we went to the Netherlands, where we stayed with the Dutch Eskos. We enjoyed meeting the newest Esko – Peter’s daughter Sanne. Plus, we had fun playing with Lucas & Lisa and spending time with all our friends & family in Leusden.

Finally, we flew to Chiang Mai and instantly entered a new and exotic world. “Settling in” is different from travelling through and we had to relearn how to do everything – even fruit at the local market took us weeks to identify. Luckily, we found a wonderful home – a 19th floor flat in a central riverside location. We love our condo and our view of the city is breath-taking.

After being home-hosted around the world, we have enjoyed sharing our flat with friends travelling in Thailand. Our first visitor was Emine from Turkey. We have also hosted Adam & Ida from Sweden and Shauna from Portland. It has been fun to explore the wonders of Chiang Mai with our guests.

In our six months here, we have developed a terrific group of friends. We have had numerous fun days and nights out. An especially memorable evening was when we hosted a party for Loi Krathong. It is an amazing festival in Chiang Mai and the night was filled with fireworks, floating lanterns, and good friends. Lots of photos of Loi Krathong and our life in Thailand can be found on our website at www.eskobare.com.

In November, Dan and I celebrated 10-years of marriage. We love life together and are looking forward to spending Christmas week in Hong Kong & Macau. Then it will be back to our Chiang Mai home for New Years and another six months of life in Thailand. After that… well, as always, who knows?!? But for now we are happy, healthy and enjoying life to its fullest. We look forward to a wondrous 2011 and wish everyone the same!

Happy Holidays – Shyla & Dan Bare




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