Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tropical Chop – Erich

If you've been following our saga, you have read about my experience with getting haircuts: first in Cape Town, South Africa; then in Istanbul, Turkey. Well, I have just returned from getting a haircut in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

I would like to apologize for the dearth of posts in the blog of late. In my defense, I have been working in August on the 31 Plays in 31 Days Project. It is a project designed to get playwrights writing. You write one play every day. It has to be at least one page long, and that's basically the only requirement. There is a submission location, and I have been submitting mine. But that really only exists as extra motivation for the writers. There are no prizes or productions for the best work.

Of course, I will pursue getting productions for some of the plays outside of this 31 Plays structure. Not all of the plays I've written so far are great, but some of them are quite good. At least in my opinion. Today is the 24th of August and I have completed 24 plays so far. So I am on track.

Fortunately, I'm not the only author of this blog, so there are others to pick up the slack.

Back to the haircut. Today's experience was much quieter than my others have been. My barber spoke enough English to communicate with me. That was no problem. But there was little communication. I asked the price. He told me. (12 Ringgits, which is about $3. That's less than I used to pay at the Atlas Barber School when I was a poor starving graduate student in New York City.) Then we stopped communicating for a while. In the middle he asked if I wanted him to shave my face, which I declined. And at the end he asked if it was good.

So notice what wasn't discussed: What style I wanted. I imagine if I had asked for a particular cut that would have been fine. But he didn't inquire, I didn't insist, and I ended up with a fine looking haircut.

In addition to the barber and I, there was a woman at the far end of the room. She may have been his wife. I don't know. During the first half of my haircut, she was watching something on a television. And there was no conversation. I imagine my barber was listening to the show as well.

Then it ended. At that point, the two of them began some discussions. They were speaking Malay, so I don't know what was said, but it is a very melodious language. I also noticed that several times the woman would reply with a long drawn out “eeeeeehhhh” to some sentence the barber had said. And once, he replied to her with a long “mmmmmmm”.

There was no electric razor here. Everything was done with scissors and a straight blade razor. It was no nonsense, no frills, and no delays. And I thought it was great. My family seems to think I look good. So this is a win all around.

Malaysia, like Turkey, and even South Africa, is warm. This is in the tropics, in August, so it is not a place where you always love having long hair. Well, maybe you would, but I am happy with my new short do. Regardless of the style, which is very nice, I am a lot cooler now.

And it shows. When I walk down the Jalan (the street) everybody says “Look at that cool guy.” Well, they say it to themselves, but I can tell what they're thinking.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Malay Day, Malay Day – Erich

Kuala Lumpur, simply called KL by everyone around here, is a strange foreign world in some ways, and a familiar metropolis in others. The flora is reminiscent of Florida with big leafy palms and lots of greenery. But this place is not flat like Florida. It is full of hills and even some cliffs.

But you know me. I like to get into some of the mundane stuff, the everyday stuff, but the totally different than I know from my previous life stuff.

I have received so many emails like this one: “Dear Erich. We are determined followers of your adventures. And like you we share in this bizarre fascination, dare we say obsession, you have with fire hydrants of many nations. Please, please, more hydrant pictures.” If you're one of those, good news. Here is a KL Fire Hydrant
Tall, narrow, and yellow, and t shaped is he. SpongeBob Hydrant!
Malaysia was once an English colony. So English is very commonly used here. Many people, though not all, speak English. But in most restaurants or businesses there is likely to be at least one person who knows English.

In some instances, however, their use of English may differ slightly from ours. Here is a sign we saw in a local shopping center.
They do not have labeled towels in here. They don't even have paper towels. That's what pants are for.
That wasn't the only unusual thing about the shopping center. Check this out:
Have you ever seen such a kiosk in a mall?
Strangely, I haven't seen many people walking around playing ukuleles. We did see and hear bagpipers on our first night in KL. Sadly, my picture of them did not come out.

But here's a strange sight in which my picture is fine.
Um, you're not doing it right
Why? Why didn't they just build the escalator all the way down? Maybe they ordered the escalators from a certain supplier and accidentally built the two floors a bit too far apart?

Many places, including a lot of the shopping centers, have parking garages. But when they don't, that's no problem. That's what the street is for, right?
Only about four of the cars in this picture are in motion in real life
It doesn't matter what angle you are at. It doesn't matter if your car sticks out into traffic. It doesn't matter if you've blocked someone in. You just find a place to leave your car, and you do. It's like a blood vessel being choked off by cholesterol build up. The cars in motion have to weave just to continue down the road.

And this must just be standard practice. So far, we have never seen any Malaysians getting upset about this situation.

But the true treasures of those looking for the same but different are often found in the grocery store. Let's take a tour, shall we?
I can never figure out which aisle to look in for my cuttlefish in the States
Welcome to Aisle 8, where you can get your snacks, your nuts and seeds, and your seaweed and dry cuttlefish. It's such an important product, it's one of the three on the sign!

It's kind of like our Aisle 8 in the U.S., but not quite. And there are several products of that almost but not quite nature.
Mentos in the U.S.? Yes. Lychee flavor? Not so much.
We bought these, and they're good-ish. They taste kind of like lychees in much the same way that grape candies taste kind of like grape, but really much more like that fake grape flavor that we have come to expect of grape flavored anything that isn't an actual grape.
Can full of tuna. And more!
Now this is convenient. You don't even have to buy the mayonnaise to mix with your tuna. Because that's already in the can for you. Why hasn't anyone thought of that in the west? You'd think when the brand name is John West, they would have it... in the west.
These are bell peppers, yellow and red and green (not pictured.) Or are they?
The individual wrapping of vegetables was something we first noticed in Japan. But in addition to that, apparently they don't call bell peppers bell peppers. They are capsicum. And I have no idea if that is singular or plural.
Did someone hit this leprechaun with a de-aging ray?
I haven't purchased Lucky Charms to see if they are the same magically delicious flavor as in the States. But I was struck by how young Lucky the Leprechaun looks here. This must have been from his early days. And check out those thin little stick legs. It is a good thing he has wee folk magic to transport him around, because walking would likely break his bones.

Apparently, when it comes to cereal, youth sells. Check out this familiar or almost familiar brand.
Crispy bubbles, perhaps?
Snap, Crackle, and Pop look like they haven't yet been weaned. And you know one thing that toddlers love? Bubbles! Krispies are so Western Hemisphere!
You want a can of Coke? Will that be import or domestic?
If you want to buy cans of Coke, you have two choices. You can buy 330 mL of Malaysian Coke for 1.48 RM. (RM is Malaysian Ringgits. Each ringgit is about 25 cents in U.S. money.) Or you can buy 375 mL of imported Australian Coke for 4.13 RM. Now, I admit 375 is greater than 330, but this is not a good deal. Yet, I can only assume there are people who want their Coke from abroad, or why would the grocery store continue to carry it?

Let's get into the things that aren't really like items we can buy at home. Here's a good follow up to Coke. Of course, most grocery stores sell toothpaste. But perhaps not in this flavor.
Does it reassure anyone that Food Grade Ingredients are used? Would there ever be a chance that they weren't?
Mmm, cola! Because who doesn't want to think he's drinking pop and cleaning his teeth at the same time?

Here are some canned fruits that we've never seen as options before.
Rambutan are dark pink with these tentacle like hairs sticking out. Well, not when they're canned.
I strongly suspect this is about as related to coconuts as seahorses are related to horses.
Of course, the produce department is a great place to make new discoveries. Let's start with green beans. We all know what green beans are, right? Okay, here's a few varieties I've never experienced before now.
When three angles just don't satisfy
My picture doesn't quite capture the majesty of the four angle bean. But each one looks something like several serrated Swiss Army knife blades clustered around a flat central plate.
Aren't lady fingers like a missing link between cookies and cake?
The full name seems to be Lady Finger – Kacang Beans. I wonder if the Malaysians just call them Kacang Beans, but the English friendly grocery store felt some translation was needed.
I think my favorite part is that these are not from Pakistan
I don't know that I have ever seen a green bean quite like this Pakistan Bean. It is very dark green and wide. Kind of like a dark colored snow pea, which I suspect is to what it is more closely related.
You have to admit, it's an appropriate name
That whole package of Long Bean really is one long bean. It's coiled up like you might coil an extension cord.

Ginger is an important ingredient in the cuisine of many cultures. But exactly what age is the best for a ginger?
It almost feels improper to be shopping for any sort of young ginger
Not sure this is a lot more proper
Apparently unlike wine or cheese, but just like cars and computers and most other things, age does not increase the value of ginger. I don't know why you would use one versus the other in your recipe, nor which one is the ginger we all know and purchase back in the States.

How about some grains? Well, everyone like potatoes, right? We've mentioned before buying sweet potatoes that were not an orange hue, but more like regular potato in color. Well, here we have a new option.
Because really, do we ever get to eat enough purple food?
Yes, purple. And Japanese. Except from Vietnam. (It's my Pakistan Bean humor all over again.)

If that's not enough purple for you in one meal you can also buy this.
Chili and Lime was not the only available flavor, just so you know.
I'm not even sure what the below pictured item is, though I'm guessing it's a spice or an herb.
The name Ubi Kayu sounds like the sequel to the Kobiashi Maru is Star Trek
And let's end with a melon. I don't have a real good reason for that, we're just going with it.

It's about the size of a cantaloupe, but has a rind more reminiscent of a watermelon. But you know what it doesn't have?
Cue the Jaws music
I looked all over this thing, and I could not find a single dorsal fin. Nor teeth, luckily.

So there you go. Some of the unique elements of Malaysia. I hope you enjoyed it. And I know there's that special subset of you who are saying, “Erich, you had me at hydrant.”

Sunday, August 14, 2016

No, No, Noparrat – Erich

In Krabi, there is a beach called Noparrat. There are a few of the limestone islands out in the water, and we are told that during low tide, one can almost walk to them, and can certainly swim to them.

So, naturally, we decided to try. Now, it wasn't exactly low tide when we made the attempt, but it was lowish tide. And I was able to walk a long way toward the island. Eventually I couldn't touch bottom anymore, but no problem, we could swim.

Syarra and I were out front, with Carver and Alrica making the second line. We were doing pretty well, probably three-quarters of the way out to the island.

But weather in Thailand during the rainy season is a fickle thing. With a surprising suddenness, our beautiful sunny day became dark, overcast, and windy. A storm decided it was time to strike.

The wind made swimming hard. First it was blowing against us, and second it was really making the waves much more vigorous.

It soon became apparent that Syarra and I were in some trouble. It was the moment to turn back and we did.

It's funny how much our bodies respond to solidness under our feet. For several minutes there as Syarra and I swam hard to get back to shore, we had no ability to feel that. Alrica was making her way to help us and Carver was following orders to get himself back to shore. Though he wasn't in too deep, we were hearing thunder. We knew that getting out of the water was the right thing to do.

There is a panic that goes through you. I mean, I know how to swim. And while my arms were tired, it wasn't as though I was out of steam. I also could float on my back to rest if needed. I knew I had learned the proper skills for the situation. I knew Syarra had learned them too. And yet, there is still a creeping fear that infiltrates your rational mind in situations like this.

It would be overstating it to say I was sure I was going to die. I had no intention of dying. But it was a time that I thought to myself “you have these ideas sometimes that get you into pretty dangerous situations!”

Let me say, Syarra was a little engine. She never stopped swimming and she did great. We all made it back alive, obviously. It wasn't even a near death experience. But it was a good adrenaline rush and a reminder that nature can be pretty capricious.

So we must admit we never made it out to the islands of Noparrat. No Noparrat for us.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

On, Near, and In the Water – Erich

Sometimes the only way to really see some of the best views, terrains, and landscapes is traveling by water. And sometimes, you are the engine. Or at least we were.

The other day we traveled to Ao Thalane, another beach area in Krabi not too far from where we were staying. Here, we got the chance to kayak. There was a quick training, though there wasn't a lot that had to be learned before one could head out on the water. Then, with a pair of two man kayaks, we departed.

Krabi is a beautiful area with its nearly vertical limestone peaks jutting out of the water. And we got to paddle our way among these and at times between them.
Family in the cove
We visited a small cove totally enclosed by high cliffs. This little sandy area went back to where long vines hung down and some of the others on our trip climbed halfway up these. In a back corner there was a rise over which one could see a pass. We imagined that if one were to climb up and over this, it was the secret entrance to a lost area where dinosaurs still lived. At least, it looked like such a place, if movies and cartoons are to be believed.
It's a lost world beyond that point. A lost world, I tell you!
Another destination was a mangrove forest. Here we could only go so far, because the water in places would be too shallow. But you could see the mangrove roots all around, sticking up out of the water.

To reach the mangroves and to return from them, we had to pass through a beautiful lagoon. It was like being in a canyon. We did not see a great deal of wildlife. Our guides explained that in certain seasons there are many monkeys about, especially at low tide. But we did not hit that season apparently.

On the return trip, the wind picked up. Sadly it was blowing into our faces rather than at our backs. As we passed out of the lagoon, we had to travel between two pillars of limestone. The guides made us go one at a time so that the wind wouldn't blow any kayaks into each other. Carver and I were nearly blown into one of the sides of the pass, but with strong paddling we made it through.
Paddle hard!
The rest of the way back was quite tiring. Kayaking had seemed so easy, so it was impressive how much impact the wind could have. Whereas in calm water, the kayak seemed to respond readily to my every touch of the paddle to the water, in the wind, it was as though my paddling were of little effect. The kayak said, “Nah, I'm unconvinced Erich. Paddle a few more times and maybe I'll get the hint.”

Don't fret, dear readers. The fact that I am writing this means we must have successfully made it back.

After our adventures on the water, we had adventures near the water and in the water. We went to lunch at the Ao Thalane Resort. It was a delicious meal of three dishes served with white rice. The first was a curry of some sort, not spicy, almost sweet. It had chicken legs, onions, and potatoes in it. The second dish was sort of a sweet and sour fried tofu with pineapple and carrot. And the last was a salad, but not really a salad. It had cabbage, carrot, and other salad greens, but they had all been lightly cooked and sauced. Everything was excellent.

The Ao Thalane Resort has a beautiful beach on the Andaman Sea with views of several limestone islands in the distance. There were long wide benches one could lay upon and just enjoy the sun and the shade.
The view from Ao Thalane
The final part of our adventure that day was swimming. We headed to another resort where a fresh water river passes through. Here there was a swimming hole, complete with wooden decks and a rope from which one could swing out into the water.

The river was all natural though. Much of it was too deep for us to stand, but throughout there were large rock outcroppings on which you could stand, but more likely bang your foot as you didn't know it was there. Some were so high that if I stood on them I was only in water up to my knees. Others were deep enough that I could barely keep my head above water on them.

It was a fascinating adventure with many great sights and activities. Thank you water!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Eating across the world - Alrica

One of the best parts of seeing the world is sharing in the way each new country and culture eats. As we enter each new country, we do our research and spend the first few days trying out delicacies of the region and as we leave, favorite food items are ones of the common themes of what we will most miss.
Though we didn't make it to Ethiopia, it was fun to sample their food at this place in Cape Town.

South Africa had amazing Boerewors (sausage) and the best calamari ever but we also learned to love pap, starking apples, breakfast porridge (filling and so easy – just add hot water), and Muesli. In Namibia we tried a variety of game animals including kudu and springbok but we especially liked ostrich. Our next stop was Morocco where we discovered incredible fresh-squeezed orange juice and other juices and loved grabbing snacks like the Moroccan panini in the medina. We also followed the stream of locals to the Tangier boatdocks where we ate platters of fresh fish, calamari, and shrimp straight out of the Mediterranean.
Love the adventure of eating things like snail soup in Marrakesh. Too peppery though!

We tore into this fried fish and shrimp straight off the boat in Tangier.
In Morocco we found ourselves to have both the money and time to do a family cooking class and didn’t regret it. From the trip through the medina with our local guide to learning about how spices and herbs are combined to form the authentic flavors that we have been eating on the streets and in the restaurants, it was an eye opening experience. And we do so much of our cooking in our rental homes, these techniques and recipes have expanded our repertoire. 
Silly hats were part of the costume but we loved the cooking.
As we headed into Europe, we were confronted with a whirlwind of flavors. Tapas in Seville – especially espanacas y garbanzos and arroz negras y calamar - were delightful. Portugal take their bread and ice cream very seriously and it shows in the quality we found. France, of course, was the place to get cheese, bread, and crepes! Italy had amazing pizza and all sorts of pastas.  In Greece, we dined three times a week on gyros at the local Lagonissi take away joint that were healthy and delicious and frequently enjoyed fresh feta and tomato salads – so easy to make! We also learned to eat yogurt the Greek way, with local honey drizzled on top. 
Arroz Negro con Calamar in Seville, Spain is made with squid ink and so good we ordered a second plate.
We arrived in Budapest to sample goulash soup and other forms of amazing “peasant food,” the UK had fish and chips and English labeling which was nice, Berlin had schnitzel and currywurst, Paris had fancy dinners that defy description as well as macarons, Istanbul had döner, baklava, Turkish delight, and tavuk, and in Bulgaria we got to test whether their yogurt is indeed superior to Greek yogurt (we didn’t think so, but it was delicious).  
Sirloin Strips in Budapest, Hungary is simple and delicious.
Pizza is something we have eaten in nearly every country but it is always a bit different. This is from Turkey.
Turkish Delight on a moonlit night!
Dried Fruit shops like this in Istanbul are a favorite place to grab snacks for Carver.
Cheese Fries in Bulgaria come with sirene, an almost sourish flavored cheese. Delicious!
Crossing into Asia presented us with a whole new set of flavors and unfamiliar cooking methods. In Osaka, Japan, we especially liked tempura, sushi, ramen soups, and gyoza and discovered that 7-11 has the world’s best corn dogs! Who knew? 

Before our trip, the one food category that I was really looking forward to was Thai and it hasn’t disappointed. From Northern Thai with its soups and noodles to Southern Thai barbecue and satays, the food here has been amazing. And the common element has been fruit, particularly mango, whether in a smoothie or served with sticky rice and a drizzle of sweet coconut milk. And given how much we are loving the Thai food, we decided to take a class to learn to make it ourselves. We highly recommend Calm Cool Cooking if anyone is in the Chiang Mai area.
Chiang Mai restaurants serve pineapple fried rice in the original pineapple.

We have all milked a cow before but never a coconut!

Carver and Erich took on the tricky task of skewering the pork satay.

Syarra is taste testing her pad thai. YUM!

On Thursday we head into Malaysia for new culinary adventures. I’d love to hear about your favorite international cuisines?

Kat Rin Kham - Carver

This post is about Chiang Mai. I'm not sure why I haven't been posting for a while but I haven't and so I am going to now. We are no longer in Chiang Mai now but I can still write about it. We were staying near the Maya Mall. It was less than five minutes to walk there. And we ate there many many times. In the basement is a place called Take Home. It also has tables and chairs. And there is traditional Thai food there for Thai prices. And the food is good but not great.

Location of Maya Mall

But outside on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights there is a night market called Kat Rin Kham. I never knew why it was called that but I never really cared until… There is an intersection next to it. And in Chiang Mai, the intersections are named. And guess what that one was called. Rin Kham. So Kat must mean something like market. Then it would be the market on the intersection of Rin Kham. But anyway, I'm getting off topic.

Kat Rin Kham is great. There is a part with stuff (by stuff I mean not-food.) But even better, there is a part with food. I have only been to a few shops because there were certain places I always went to for my dinner every night. But I will tell you about the shops as I make recommendations to anyone who goes there. The Kat Rin Kham food section is two rows of food on each side of a walkway. It is pretty packed in the aisle between the stands. There are benches there on parts of the left side coming from the stuff section. But they are almost always full. We always took the food home. Right at the start of the row on the left (all of these I am doing as if you are coming from the stuff section) is a green mango stand. It says “Guava - Mango” on it. The green mango is 25 baht (about $0.75.) There is also green guava. These are unripe mangoes and guavas. I never got green guava because I liked the green mango so much. I think the guava is also 25 baht. There is also something else. I think it is ripe mango that costs 40 baht. But the green mango is incredible.

As you continue walking look on the right for the fried chicken stand. There is a sign there that says ”fried chicken 10 bath” but it actually means 10 baht (about $0.30.)

Continue walking and you find a sign that says “potato ball 20 bath” though it might have said baht. I forget. It isn't as good as the fried chicken or the green mango and I only got it on the days that the fried chicken stand wasn't there.

Continue walking and near the end on the left is a stand that says “Berry Smoothie”. Of course, they do more than just berries. They do all sorts of fruit. There is also a smoothie stand in the basement of the Maya Mall but it isn't good. They put too much water in them. But the one in Kat Rin Kham is incredible. I got a green mango, two fried chickens, and a smoothie every time the Kat Rin Kham was there. This ended up costing me 75 baht for my whole meal. This is the equivalent of $2.25. When the fried chicken stand wasn't there (which it wasn't for three days in a row), I had to find other things to replace my fried chicken. I went to a stand with pieces of meat skewers on it. They had chicken and beef. That one had only meat on the skewers so don't confuse it with the one Syarra kept going to next to smoothie person. However, if you go to the one I went to when I couldn't have fried chicken, don't get the beef. Half of it is inedible fat. Syarra loved the skewer one next to the smoothie stand so it must be good.

Also, if you go there, don't miss the fountain in front of the mall. Of course, how would you miss it? But I made friends with the green mango and fried chicken stands (not actually the stands but the people who ran them.) In fact, the fried chicken person even gave me an extra fried chicken for free. And I was sad to leave them. But we will go find more night markets and basements of malls. Maybe not that last one.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Railay and Up She Rises – Erich

Railay, the beach, peninsula, the legend.

The beaches in this part of Thailand are disconnected. It's not like broad stretches of the United States where there is continuous beach for town after town. In Florida you could probably walk from Miami to Jacksonville on beach after beach. (I know, in reality there are rivers that break through to get to the Atlantic, so that's not really true. But you can get from one city to another in some places.)

In Thailand, or at least in this part of Thailand along the Andaman Sea, each beach is completely cut off from the others. The landscape here is such that these tall mountains jut out almost vertically. Many are covered in jungle like growth. But when you are on a beach, there is such a mountain on one end and on the other. So to get from one beach to another you either have to go inland or you have to go by boat.

The geography: Krabi, Thailand is a karst landscape. This means the bedrock is all limestone made by coral reefs that lived millions of years ago. Over the past hundreds of thousands of years, this limestone has been eroded by carbonic acid, a relatively mild acid caused as rainwater picks up carbon dioxide from the air. Many famous cave systems in the world are made in karst formations. This is one of only three places on Earth where such karst formations extend into the sea.

So where a beach exists, this is a low part that was carved out by acid. The remaining mountains on the sides are the not eroded parts left behind.

We are near Ao Nang beach. But just beyond that beach is a peninsula called the Railay Peninsula. This peninsula is cut off from the rest of Thailand by one of these steep limestone mountains. There are no roads crossing into it. So the only way to get to Railay is by boat.

We took a longtail boat there yesterday. A longtail boat is a long narrow high-sided boat with a long bow. It has an outboard motor at the back, but the motor connects to a long shaft and the propeller is on the far end of that long shaft. This is necessary in the waters of Thailand because the water is so shallow. The beaches drop off so gradually that they must have boats with very little draw, including their propellers. So the pilot of the boat can lift the propeller partially (or completely) out of the water if needed.

So let me describe the Railay Peninsula. It has three beaches. Again, each is separate because of the limestone formations between them. But there are paths that allow you to walk from one to the other. The three beaches are Railay West, Railay East, and Phra Nang.

There is one gigantic resort on the peninsula. It stretches between Railay West and Railay East. If you are not a guest of the resort, they prefer you to stay on the beach or on one of the paths that connect the beaches.

It was high tide when we landed at Railay West. The water was so high, it was topping the sea walls built to protect the resort. There was no beach visible at Railay West, it was all underwater. I was amused by a sign telling us that in case of a tsunami we were to move inland or to high ground. That wouldn't be easy in Railay. You would more or less have to rush to the limestone cliff and try climbing its almost vertical surface. Plus, you would have to weave through the bungalows of the resort to do so. If you were on Railay during a tsunami, I think you'd be doomed.

We walked the path to Railay East. Here the beach was also underwater. But we continued on the path toward Phra Nang.

This is a pretty amazing walk. If nothing else, you will be amazed at the monkeys. There are many macaques living on the Railay Peninsula. And they are right there, on the path, on the fence next to the path, or in the cliffs and caves on the other side of the path. We saw macaque babies clinging to their mothers' bellies as the mothers crawled along. We saw macaque juveniles trying to run away from their mothers only to be pulled back to her side by their tails. We saw macaques get into fisticuffs, nimbly run along the top of the fence, or stroke their chin like contemplating the meaning of monkey life. And this is all just inches away from you. Just don't tease them and they won't tease you.

Along one side of the path you walk is the limestone cliff. And it is carved out with many caves. You can climb up to get into some. Others you have to crouch or crawl through. There were a few tunnels where Alrica and I were not going to fit, but the kids were able to maneuver through. And it's allowed. There are no guide rails, no prohibitions, no guards. Just go explore and don't get yourself stuck or killed and the Thai are fine with it.

When you reach the end of the path you are at Phra Nang Beach. It's not a huge beach, but has a nice walk into the Andaman Ocean. And there is more.

This beach is a major rock climbing destination. There are vertical walls of limestone here. There are even some parts you can climb where you are in a negative grade, you have to hang basically from a slanted ceiling to get to the next bolt. The bolts are already pinned in the rock. We saw some serious rock climbers with lots of their own equipment make some serious ascents. There was also a man who was letting the general public climb with some ropes he had already placed. We didn't choose to participate ourselves, but enjoyed seeing so many impressive climbs.

Also at this beach is Phra Nang Cave. Now the cave has some beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. But that's not the thing you notice about it.

Phra Nang means Princess. So this is literally princess cave, and the beach is named for the cave. Supposedly the cave is the home of a mythical sea princess. And you leave offerings for the princess to ask for luck with your fishing expeditions. But more importantly, the princess is associated with fertility.

So the proper gift to leave in the cave is a phallus. There are hundreds of carved phalluses (or phalli, either is correct, I looked it up.) Most are made of wood. Some are painted to look more like actual penises. Some are painted to look nothing like actual penises. And some are not painted at all. Some have the accompanying testicles, but most are just the penis alone. Most are bigger than life size, but some are as tall as I am. Some are taller.

It is a sight one does not get to see everyday or everywhere. But it is a sight to have seen!

After playing in the water and watching the climbers, we walked back to Railay East and then across to Railay West. Now the tide was flowing out and you could see the beach! We caught a longtail boat back to Ao Nang beach.

Where the boats land and let passengers out is so not American. We climbed over the side of the boat, walked through the water over jagged sharp rocks. Then we had to climb up a bunch of similar rocks and pieces of broken concrete to reach a cracked cobblestone path. Following the cobblestone path back toward the street required you to navigate through the branches of a fallen tree, ducking under the highest parts and climbing over others.

In America that would never fly. The tree would be removed. A pier would be built. But in Thailand, it's all okay, man. It doesn't kill you, so hey go with the flow.

And we did go with the flow. And it was great. Railay truly is legendary.

Friday, August 5, 2016

What's New? – Erich

Yesterday, I swam in the Andaman Sea. A few weeks ago, I had never even heard of the Andaman Sea. Now I have heard of it, seen it, and been in it.

The Andaman Sea is part of the Indian Ocean. It stretches between India and Southeast Asia. And it is warm. It's not like swimming in the Atlantic. Even in the summer, the Atlantic is cool if not cold when you first enter it. Not so here, this ocean is warm.

So there I was swimming in the Andaman Sea. And it got me thinking. This was new, a whole ocean I had not been able to swim in before. (Though I had stuck my foot in the Indian Ocean at the southernmost point of Africa, Cape Agulhas.)

And what occurred to me was that I have had so many new experiences in the past year that new isn't in and of itself new. And yet, even with the sameness of newness, there is still something wonderful about newness. I am still learning every time. I am changing and becoming more. And the exposure to new is a big part of that.

I have been to the southernmost point in Africa. That was new. I have wandered the narrow canyon like streets of Moroccan medinas. New. I have taken care of horses in southern France. I have seen the Acropolis and then within a couple of weeks seen the pieces of the Acropolis in the British Museum. I have spoken to Europeans in the days leading up to the Brexit vote, hearing many sides of the affair. I have lived on the steep narrow streets of Istanbul. I have spent months being woken each morning by the pre-dawn call to prayer, almost a competition of calls from all the nearby mosques. I have eaten coconut milk with chicken and galangal root soup. I've had fresh, warm bread from a Turkish bakery as well as a Portuguese one.

The world is amazing. There is so much new!

And so as I was thinking, I cast back to my life in the States. You know, there were a lot of opportunities for new there as well. Maybe if I didn't get as much newness, it was partially because of me. Of course, I had a job and other commitments. This naturally imposed a certain routine and sameness in my life. But there were still chances for me to get out there, to see something new, to do something new, to eat something new. Did I take full advantage of it?

Do you?

If we all stay as eager to try new, as willing to go outside our comfort zones, and as curious as we can be, our lives will be richer. And we will understand one another more. And we will see the greatness that the world has to offer.

YOLO, right? Everyone commit to L the H out it! Try something new today, you might not like it, but you will be at least a little bit different because of it.