October was one of my more active months in recent memory despite the fact that I didn’t work at all during the majority of the month. I’ve been an hourly employee for my teaching agency the past three-and-a-half years so I don’t earn any income if I don’t work. Luckily, my savings cover those rare lean months of the between-term school breaks but that tenuous existence is about to change in a big way. More on that in a bit. As my “forced” holiday coincided with the annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival, I took full advantage of the time off and participated as much as I could. Both during and following the festival, I finally started exploring the many interesting cafes and restaurants that have been sprouting up all around the Old Town area.
Term 1 of the 2015-16 school year ended on 30 September and my seven weeks of substitute-teaching in the high school at Plukpanya was finally over. I was both relieved and sad at the same time. It was a great experience but also filled with demoralizing incidents. After turning in my timesheets and grade records at the teaching agency on the first day of October, I prepared for a lengthy holiday. During term-breaks, there is usually a small trickle of private (one-on-one) and small group classes that come into our language school but this year has been quieter than others. Towards the end of the month, I was offered two new courses (and a third just yesterday) and so started working again following twenty-five days of no income. Thank goodness for savings!
One of my new courses is with a young brother and sister. The book we’re using focuses on a different country each unit (they will have traveled the globe by the time they finish the course); the first unit dealt with Mexico. As Halloween occurs this weekend, I took part of the first lesson to tell the kids about Dia de los Muertos. I had printed masks of sugar skulls on card-stock and we had a nice activity coloring the skulls and wearing them. The kids got a kick out of learning about “Mexican Halloween”.
However, the big news is that my status as a teacher will change effective 1 November. I’d been offered the position of Assistant Head Teacher a month or so ago with vague promises that it “might be possible” at some point in the future. As with most things in Thailand, I adopt a “wait and see” attitude as nothing is ever certain. One language school I once worked for completely vanished once; we arrived to collect our salary only to find a locked and empty building (which was demolished a couple of months later). When I arrived for my class on Thursday afternoon, the Head Teacher called me into his office and told me that my salary would begin on Monday and that my contract would be ready to sign in just a few days. So, it is going to happen. I will be in charge of in-house organization and English Camps as well as additional duties that arise. It will be nice to have a guaranteed monthly salary once again and not worry about the huge number of national, royal and Buddhist holidays that occur in this country.
Usually, the “Around Phuket” section of my monthly wrap-ups are easy to write as I usually don’t go out too often! This October was the complete opposite, particularly during the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival (this was the 180th annual series of festivities). Not only did I attend a number of the morning processions but after each the “RAE” (recently-arrived expat) I was indoctrinating invited me to try a different restaurant each and every day.
The month started with a few days of pretty intense “bad air” from the huge slash-and-burn fires down in Indonesia. It was considered very dangerous to even step outside but that cleared up in time for the start of the festival, although it returned for the final day.
Phuket Town often sprouts brand-new eateries and drinkeries (most often of the caffeinated variety) virtually overnight and it’s a challenge to keep up with the many changes on the local scene. Within the course of a short period of time, I made first visits to places as diverse as Super Sandwich on Th. Deebuk, Pancake Corner in the new Limelight mini-mall, Bo(ok)hemian Art Café and Eleven Two & Co. on Th. Thalang, Phuketigue opposite the “water-sprayer” roundabout, Rider Café on Th. Yaoworat, Chicroom at the interction of Th. Phuket and Th. Ratsada not to mention return visits to the venerable Kopitiam by Wilai on Thalang. Eleven Two & Co. became a particular favorite and Rider deserves numerous repeat visits in the near future. I’m sufficiently motivated by the diversity of these places to attempt to write a few reviews in the weeks (or months) to come. We barely scratched the surface…
I’ve given a great deal of thought about how to write-up this year’s Vegetarian Festival. I’d originally planned for a series of reports following each activity I attended but quickly lost steam after just one (which gives some interesting background details). I did cover a number of the morning events via Facebook updates while they were occurring and uploaded large albums of photos each afternoon. We attempted to view one of the fire-walking sessions one evening but it was extremely unorganized and crowded.
However, the real difficulty came during the final night when all shrines have huge fiery processions through Phuket Town when the Nine Emperor Gods and cast back to the Heavens and Sea. In year’s past, this was the single event I touted as “must-see” to any newcomers and often took people out to my favorite viewing spot (Surin Circle where every procession converges on the numerous streets circling around the center clock). I didn’t attend last year but I certainly HEARD it from several kilometers away. The sheer nastiness I encountered during this year’s grand finale soured my entire experience of the Vegetarian Festival. (Check out the “Miscellaneous Meanderings” section of this article for my rant on the final night…)
As a Phuket-based blogger, I do feel a responsibility to report on the largest of the island’s many festivals. I decided I would let pictures tell the story and thus have selected sixty of my favorites out of the more than 900 I shot between the 12th and 21st of October 2015. Enjoy…
Despite a valiant effort the past couple of days to finish another, I only managed to read three books in October – just as I had in both August and September. My year-to-date total is just 36 books which is trending to be the year that I’ve finished the least number of books since I began tracking them five years ago. Those annual reading totals are:
2010: 119 books read
2011: 101 books read
2012: 50 books read
2013: 77 books read
2014: 61 books read
The difference with the first couple years was that I was a reading teacher then and counted the children and young adult books I was reading during lessons (but only counted one time per book). Still, they are much shorter than anything I’ve read in quite some time!
I used an Android app all month called Readlist which tracks my reading activity (when I remember to turn on the app when I begin reading each day). According to the app, I had 43 “reading sessions” in October and spent a total of 34 hours, 54 minutes and eight seconds reading (although sometimes I did forget to turn the app off for short periods of time when I was finished reading). The pages read – 2376 – matches my “old-fashioned” Excel spreadsheet so that’s pretty good, I guess. Anyway, I tend to love such useless statistics.
The books I finished were Lawrence Block’s A Walk Among The Tombstones – the tenth in his Matthew Scudder series and made into a movie starring Liam Neeson last year that I still haven’t seen; A Night of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin, a republishing of the pre-Game of Thorns adventures of Dunk and Egg and the first time in a while I’ve finished a book in the first month of publication; and Bangkok Noir, a collection of short stories set in the underbelly of the Thai capital city edited by famed local author Christopher G. Moore.
I only received a handful of cards this month — two via Postcrossing (from China and Germany) and two as a result of my blogs. The most interesting of the latter arrived from Mauritius. I’ve written a few times about how I’ve recently begun collecting the stamps of that Indian Ocean island largely as a result of reading the interesting Blue Mauritius: The Hunt for the World’s Rarest Stamps. I may have mentioned that I’d never received a card from Mauritius and so was pleased when I saw the card in my stack of mail. However, when I turned it over, my pleasure turned to amazement as it was from the author of Blue Mauritius, Helen Morgan herself. She visiting the island for the first time in nearly a decade and had come across my blogs via Google Alerts.
My only other postcard activity during October was covering a few with Chinese handstamps provided by the local philatelic museum during the Vegetarian Festival. However, I have yet to mail these….
To borrow a phrase from Postcrossing, my mailbox was happy only four days in October. Still, I was able to add 42 stamps to my collections, including a bit of classic U.S. and some nice postal stationery (pre-stamped envelopes, letter sheets or cards). I started the month designing a few more album pages and trying to add some of the backlog of stamps into my preferred PC inventory program (StampManage 2015). I also managed to find an Android app which allowed me to create databases for such things as stamp inventory and tracking eBay auctions; this is handy in that I will have a highly portable catalogue of my stamps should I ever travel to another big stamp exhibition or dealer. I worked on adding stamps to that throughout October as well.
Two things that I did not accomplish during my holiday was to purchase Thai new issues at the philatelic museum nor did I work on my planned “philatelic commemoration” of my upcoming 50th birthday. The former will have to wait until my next day off that is not a national holiday (perhaps a bit of a wait given my new promotion) while I’ve more or less run out of steam for the latter. I’d thought to put together an album displaying “My Life in Stamps” alongside some photographs taken throughout my childhood and travels as my birthday gift to myself. I also thought to create a set of Muang Phuket Local Post labels but I became frustrated with Adobe Photoshop; I’d wanted to design the stamps to appear like classic engraved issued but the learning-curve proved too steep. I may try to put something together still but time is rapidly running out…
My blogging activity was a bit more than during the previous two or three months but I was still nowhere near as prolific as I was back in May and June. A slow-down is good sometimes as long as it doesn’t die out completely. I took to marking several holidays with image-only posts on all three blogs which resulted in nine out of the fifteen total entries I published in October. The remaining articles were “Today’s Mail” postings on Philatelic Pursuits and last month’s edition of “Monthly Meanderings” here on Asian Meanderings. My priority for November will be to resurrect “Please, Mr. Postman!” with some new postcard write-ups.
I’ve already mentioned the author-penned card I received from Mauritius so that will be the first postcard I blog about in November. I also hope to resurrect my “Stamp Issuers” series which I enjoy but involves a great deal of research and piecing-together before I’m satisfied enough to hit the “Publish” button. Now that I am eating out more, I will attempt to put together some local restaurant reviews starting with my current favorite – Eleven Two & Company in Old Phuket Town, highlighting the wonderful chicken Caesar quesadilla.
In one of those strange moments that occurs from time to time, I was recognized on the steps of Jui Tui Shrine the final night of the Vegetarian Festival by a reader who was visiting from Bolivia. He’d arrived in Phuket a couple of days before and was about to commence on a journey repeating my Cambodian trip via bus and train in April 2013. He praised the details and photos I’d accompanied the series of write-ups I’d published about the trip, rather embarrassing me but I am always pleased by such encounters. And it always nice to be greeted by somebody other than one of my past students when out on the town!
When I choose to include this section in my monthly wrap-ups, it’s usually because I have something to rant about that doesn’t fit well in any of the other categories. This month is no different but first a bit of “good feelings”:
Between 1977 and 1994, I lived in northeastern Kansas in the Kansas City metropolitan area (which bleeds over from the neighboring state of Missouri). While living there and after moving away, I supported the local baseball team – the Kansas City Royals – and football team – the Kansas City Chiefs – through decades of heartbreak and misery. As I write this, my Royals have just won the Series (for the first time since 1985) and the Chiefs slaughtered the Detroit Lions in a game played at London’s Wembley Stadium last night. Make me proud to be a Kansas Citian.
And, now for the rant. Feel free to skip to the end….
Only one of the religious precepts to be honored during the annual Phuket Vegetarian Fesitval’s run involves the abstinence of eating animals. Most of the others adhered by faithful residents and tourists alike involves ways to be kind to others through pure thoughts and actions. This does seem to be at odds with the throwing of fireworks at the “possessed”; the reason for the noise-making is to scare away the evil spirits.
The final night during the past few years has seen this extended to throwing these unregulated (and often powerful) firecrackers not only at the participants but at all passers-by including motorbike and car drivers, pedestrians and police officers. This year, for the first time, I saw a number of people openly drinking alcohol while throwing their fireworks into the large crowds standing around them (alcohol is not supposed to be consumed at all during the festival’s run).
There was additional violence too close for comfort: A young Thai man began threatening me for no reason trying to get me to fight him. This occurred while just across from us an ambulance was attempting to load somebody on a gurney into its rear compartment as people lobbed fireworks into the open doors! There was a gangland-style shoot-out not far from where we were standing.
Much like Songkran before it, I fear that the Vegetarian Festival is rapidly losing sight of it’s original meaning as more youths see it as a “acceptable” forum to act out the violence they view in movies and see as “honorable” or “fun”. Mayhem is not fun and has awful consequences. The “Land of Smiles” is becoming increasingly violent (and it was always a violent place just under the surface) and I am certain will descend into total anarchy in the next age of the Tenth (umm, text me if you don’t understand this reference…).
Next year, I will avoid the scariness of the procession routes and find a nice group of locals in one of the clan shrines with which to say my farewells to the Gods.
I hope that in the November edition of “Monthly Meanderings”, I can say only positive things about what has always been one of Thailand’s most beautiful festivals – Loy Krathong. It occurs on 25 November this year.
See you next month.