I thought about ending the Sunday Salon meme this week as the original purpose was to serve as a summary of the preceding week. Now that I’m writing on an almost daily basis, recording my much more frequent activities soon after they occur, such a wrap-up no longer seems necessary. But this week there were a few events I failed to write about; I’ll try to make it a bit more photo-rich, at least this time around. While I love to include my photos on this blog, I’m not a fan of the process of uploading and captioning particularly as I’m almost always on a slow connection so it can take an hour or two to get all the pictures ready to post on a mid-sized gallery. Once I am once again financially stable I might look into the island-wide 3G wireless services announced this week by TOT and AIS.
The week was bookended by a pair of lengthy walks through Phuket Town. Most of the photos I took last Sunday will accompany a series of posts I’m planning to write about various roads in the Old Town district, giving a walking tour along with historical tidbits. I’ve already published similar articles about Wat Phuttamongkol Nimit and the various canals that run through the area. I’m also accumulating pictures of the many local guesthouses, hotels, and apartments as I’d eventually like to compile a more-or-less complete guide to the accommodations in this part of the island (which ones are good value, which ones to avoid, which ones charge by the hour).
This photo shows the intersection of the diagonally-oriented Narisorn Road as it connects with the north-south Suthas Road, looking north towards Ton Sae Hill. Not far to the south of this intersection, Suthas becomes Montri Road at the crossroads with Deebuk Road (Seng Ho Books being on the northwest corner) which becomes Luang Po Road to the east of the intersection. Montri continues several blocks further until it ends at the Surin (Clock Tower) Circle, bisected by Phuket Road. In the photo you can see a bit of Wat Wichit Songkram as will as the minarets of a Sikh temple with a very long name (it’s labeled “Sixth Church” on several maps I’ve seen). There’s also a small Tamil shrine (labeled “Wat India” on local maps) and an even smaller unmarked Chinese shrine — just a little red shed with a couple of carved elephants sitting outside. This temple sits under the “19” billboard seen in the photo (advertising egg tarts available at KFC for 19 baht) which is directly across from the turnoff to the lane (soi) on which I live.
One of my goals for last Sunday’s walk was to seek out The Cookies House at the end of a small lane that used to be the entrance driveway for Luang Amnat Nararaks’ mansion. Walking down Soi Soon Utis one first encounters several food vendors including the stall of Pae Eng which is considered the “original” place to eat o aeo. This is a local jelly-like dessert made from banana mashed with aeo seeds imported from China. It’s served with syrup and topped with ice. You can also get a bowl of mee hun or Hokkian-style noodle soup here. Nearby is the rear gate into the Hongyok family’s home which features a Moorish arch adorned with fresco cupids. Next door is the rear yard of the building which housed Phuket Thai Hua School, Thailand’s first Chinese language school established in 1925. Before the school was built, there was a shrine to deities here. The gate on Soi Soon Utis is almost always padlocked — the main entrance to the current museum is on Krabi Road. Finally, the second-to-last house on the left houses the Lim Po Iam bakery. The young Takuapa woman living here with her husband and daughter bakes very good tao saw — a Chinese bun-like cookie made from pulverized almond paste, egg yolks, and butter — in three varieties: sweet, savory, and mixed. A box containing around fifteen of the cookies will set you back 40 baht. They are well worth the journey!
Most days of the past week fell into somewhat of a routine, despite Monday being a holiday. Now that I’ve discovered the Tops Market below Robinson’s Shopping Center this has become my go-to place for most food supplies. While I can obtain items at a lower price at 7-Eleven, Family Mart, FreshMart, or Big 1 (convenience store variety within walking distance!!) the selection is much better at Tops. Plus, I’m once again earning points on my long-unused Spot Card (I updated my address so they could mail my coupons and they signed me up for the 1 Card which entitles me to a 5% Expats’ Discount at many other Phuket shopping centers). I’ll walk down there every other day or so to buy a few items — I don’t have a refrigerator in my new apartment, nor is there room for one if I could afford to buy one. Basically, I just try to keep supplied with bread, and either peanut butter or tuna spread to make sandwiches. As long as I have some soda to wash that down with I’m doing good. Early last week I discovered the best deal at Tops was the 3.1-liter bottle of Big Cola. I’d switched to drinking this brand several months ago as a bottle costs several baht less than a can of Coca-Cola and lasts me a bit longer. The 3.1-liter bottle is priced just five baht more than the 1.5-liter Coke bottles I used to buy. Of course, it’s huge and heavy to carry so I wait until I happen to visit Tops with a friend driving. I happened to find myself in the area of Tops during my Sunday walkabout today and didn’t even go inside as I was still stocked-up from Friday night’s visit.
However, as I passed by 7-Eleven I thought I’d dip in and see what they had in the way of snacks I could take on my upcoming visa run. I must have been feeling very good as I ended up spending 89 baht on a variety of items, some old favorites and a few I’d never tried before. In the latter category were a couple of flavors of Pretz-brand “bread sticks” made by the Thai branch of Glico (a huge Japanese candy company). Pretz are a thin pretzel stick, approximately five inches long. In Thailand if a package states a certain flavor you can be certain that it will taste very close to what is advertised. While I’ve seen these in the stores since moving here, I’d never purchased any — those I’ve eaten before were given to me at various school parties and were the more “normal” flavors such as Pepperoni Pizza or Cheddar Cheese. But those were nowhere to be seen at this 7-Eleven. The first box of Pretz I came across was Ham and Cheese. Sold! I skipped over the Corn flavor but was intrigued enough to add Larb to my basket. Larb is a spicy fermented meat salad. It’s kind of the meat version of som tam (papaya pok-pok), usually made from pork but there are also beef and chicken varieties as well. I believe it’s indigenous to northeastern Thailand, the large region commonly referred to as Isaan. There’s no indication as to what flavor of Larb this Pretz box represents and I was a bit nervous about trying them when I got home but it was quite good; it generally tasted like a regular salty pretzel with some sort of unidentified spicy seasoning. I haven’t tried the Ham and Cheese flavor yet.
Other than my food-search wandering, the other daily routine is, of course, teaching. While I do enjoy my schedule — on most days I don’t start until 10:15 and I finish at 1:15 — I am on an hourly rate so I don’t make a whole lot of money on those days; Monday is my sole long day with six lessons in a row but I’ve only taught one Monday thus far. While I’m not that money-driven, I do have a few small debts to repay and other expenses. My upcoming visa run will also take a big chunk out. And late in the week I was informed that there wouldn’t be any classes on Friday (something related to the school’s Sports Day) so I’ll miss another three lessons. Because of this I won’t even clear 10,000 baht on my first paycheck meaning I’m going to have to budget severely for a while longer. The August income (which will see at least three days of lessons canceled due to Mother’s Day and Science Day, probably at least one more for Sports Day) will have to be stretched as the end of the term comes on September 15th so I’ll only be paid for half-a-month in October. It’s a good thing that I know how to live on nothing…
My other daily routines include writing and reading — sometimes a lot of each, sometimes just a little bit. Since finishing The Kite Runner last week I’ve had a difficult time getting started on something else. I’ve read just three chapters in The Wrecker by Clive Cussler, finished a small volume called Dispatches From A Public Librarian self-published by Scott Douglas on Feedbooks, and portions of several other books including The Hobbit. While walking today I spent some time browsing at Southwind Used Books in the middle of Phang Nga Road (not to be confused with the original, Southwind Books, closer to the corner of Phang Nga and Yaowarat Roads) with the goal of finding something to read during my long bus journeys this coming week. Soon after entering the store I came across a well-worn paperback by Michael McGarrity, The Big Gamble, sitting in a circular rack out front. McGarrity was my second-favorite New Mexico-based author after Tony Hillerman but I haven’t read anything by him for years. This book was published in 2003 so there’s a distinct possibility I’ve read it before — the title sounds familiar but neither the back cover blurb nor the first couple of pages of Chapter 1 rang any bells. Priced at 80 baht I couldn’t resist buying it anyway. I then spent a very hot hour trying to find a second book I wanted to read priced at no more than 120 baht (200 being my book budget for the month). While I found several likely candidates, most were much too covered with brown spots to be comfortably read — this type of foxing is quite common on pulpy paper in tropical environments; I like my books to be fairly “clean” when I read them. In the end, I decided on Amit Gilboa’s Off the Rails In Phnom Penh which supposedly humorously covers the expat scene in Cambodia’s capital city. This was also priced at 80 baht so I came in under my budget which always feels good!
The only other things of significance to happen all week were my journey to Central Festival on Wednesday in order to see the final Harry Potter movie, my very long walk home that evening which was quite enjoyable but something I’d rather not repeat, and the arrival of sporadic wireless Internet service in my fourth-floor apartment. That online connection only works for a few hours each evening and is at best frustratingly slow. But I have been able to publish blog entries each of the last two or three evenings, along with photo uploads, so I can’t complain too much. I just won’t be able to use it for much in the way of downloading right now — if there’s something I would like to download there’s plenty of internet cafes within walking distance.
I was actually prevented from walking a couple of days recently because of the heavy rain showers we’ve been experiencing; my small umbrella had been ripped to shreds by the wind a week or so ago and it took me a while to get my larger one out of storage. When I returned from my walk this afternoon, the sun was starting to peek out from the clouds so I did a batch of laundry and hung it out to dry. Of course, now it’s pouring again so my clothes came off of the balcony and are now hanging on various fixtures and door knobs in my bathroom. Such is life during the rainy season in Phuket…
As for my blog-publishing schedule this week, I do plan to include a photo gallery of more Phuket Town photos either Monday or Tuesday morning. I’ll probably catch one of the earlier buses for Hat Yai on Tuesday afternoon, following my last lesson, as I’m currently thinking of staying in a guesthouse there for one night rather than sleeping in the bus station again. I’ve seen several recommendations for Cathay Guesthouse which is near the Hat Yai Railway Station, with rooms going for 250 baht per night. Supposedly, the Penang-bound minibuses are less expensive when booked through the travel agency downstairs from this guesthouse. I hope I’ll be able to post something from Penang on Wednesday or Thursday as I’d like to keep to my present daily schedule. We’ll see what the situation is once I get there…