Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 16, 2008


Hi all,
Sorry forthe silence. WordPress is firewalled in China,, and all my babelfish sleuthing could not help me get past the firewall. Someone at Trent university did a thesis about walls in China, )Great ones, internet ones…)
Today I am in Tokyo. Last night I stayed in a capsule hotel. You don:t get a whole room, just an enclosed bed. Some say it is like sleeping in a coffin. I;d say more like a refrigerator box. I could sit up in it no prob.
I ate at a japanese restuarant full of smoking businessmen in their suits. Two came up and chatted me up (to practice English? TO talk to a girl?) They had asked the waiter about me, and they work for Saputo, which sells cheese in Canada. They are both married but don:t go home for supper. Weird. They say Asians don:t like Japan, becuase of history adbn because it is rich.

This morning I went to Kabuki theatre. Odd, all male actors, stylized, interesting. Beautiful maidens. Old stories.

I played Pachinko. It is like a video gambling game – like Plinko on the Price Is Right. You shoot a marble up to the top and make a wheel spin. If three matching symbols come up, you win more marbles. VERY noisy, and full of sounds and colours. THemed like a pin ball game.

I:m trying to do a flower arranging course.

Only allowed 30 mins so have to go. Cheers, Martha

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 16, 2008


Coming soon

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 16, 2008



Sometimes I call this my “Eat, Pray, Love” trip. Liz Gilbert, the author, goes to countries without a guide book, and just sort of finds her way. It was a little odd landing without knowing where I would sleep that night. I had learned that the best way to get from the airport to the city is the KLIA ekspres train, so I took that to the train station in the city, and chose Swiss Inn, in Chinatown. It was very nice. The taxi driver who took me from the station to my hotel taught me how to say thank you, “Sah-wah Sah-wah” (I think if I am not mixing up my countries), which as always proved to be a very helpful phrase.

Now staying in Chinatown felt a little odd, eating Chinese food when my next country is actually China, but it was near the station and the Night Bizarre. It seems that tourists go to look at sights all day, and (many countries agree) that a night bizarre is a great way to sell stuff to tourists after their day of sight seeing. All the Asian countries have had night bizarres. I like the night bizarres, even though part of me says that they are not the “real” Malaysia. Locals don’t go here. Locals don’t need jewelerry, table clothes, wooden frogs that sound like they are croaking when you run a stick down their back or art.

I had another Martha whirlwind day of sightseeing in Malaysia. I woke up and planned my day. I went to the Petronas Towers to get my free but limited in number ticket to go up to the skybridge connecting the Twin Towers of the forth tallest building in the world. Professor Hosain at the U of Saskatchewan taught me about tall buildings, and one of the most difficult things is building the elevator that will go up these tall buildings. As I didn’t arrive at the crack of dawn, my ticket was not till 4:45 in the afternoon. I did some shopping. Apparently, Kuala Lumpur is a great place to shop and has lots of malls. But I don’t really do shopping for recreation, like pricey clothes shopping, so I got one shirt from Naf Naf, which was my favorite store when I was living in France, and I was happy to see it again. It’s like Club Monaco, but French. I got a white layered t-shirt.

Then I went to the craft complex. At first I thought it was only a bunch of stores selling expensive, NOT my style of clothes clothes, which was a downer, but I looked around. Then I found the textiles museum, which was cool. Then I found the best part, there were lots of artists making stuff in little buildings around the complex, and my favorite part was the little buildings where you could DO batik or other crafts.

I met a great guy, named Zorro, but he also goes by ‘The Nose Man’. He is a wood carver, and he mostly does owls and noses out of petrified wood. He had a gallery of noses. It was odd. He showed me traditional noses and western noses. Then he said the most interesting thing. He said that this generation has lost their nose. I didn’t understand; I thought something was lost in translation. He explained that most young people today have lost their traditional, i.e. flat and broad, Malaysian nose, and traded it for a Western protruding (how do you describe a Western nose?) nose. They don’t think about the traditional ways, or elders, they are too interested in speaking English, and buying things and western culture. Once I read an article called “Westernize/ Western eyes” or something like that, about the cultural implications of a kind of cosmetic surgery that some Oriental people get, where they change the corners of their eyes to look more western. I hope people will keep their traditional cultures. That’s a bit complicated, because often learning English and doing business with the west brings poor people more money, and I don’t want to see people stay in poverty. No easy answers.

Then I decided to take a cab all the way out of the city to The Batu Caves. I had thought I couldn’t do it because it was a far trip, and usually people do it for a day, but most people aren’t Martha. Earlier a cab driver offered to take me there and back for 300 ringgit ($100) which made me think it was very far. I told the cab driver I got that i would only pay the meter, and it only cost 20 ringgit! Sheesh. Oh before that I ate a cafeteria, and got pineapple juice in a baggie with a straw, and a takeout container of amazing rice and curries for under $5. Soo good. And they threw in some tasty deep fried banana bites. I also bought some sliced “coo-cum fruit”, which was a bit too sweet for my taste, but I -LO V E- trying new fruits, so it was delightful.

The Batu Caves
This is a site of many Hindu pilgrimages. It rained. I guess it rains everyday, but I didn’t think to ask that. It was torrential. I was stuck 272 steps up, in a cave. I waied for a while, with some Indian guys who take tourists photos with snakes etc, and then just went out anyway. Glad I didnt wear the white shirt I bought that mornng! In moments I was soaked, I was barefoot, laughing and happy. At the bottom I was knee deep in water.

Weird treatments
I had cupping done one night, and fish spa another. Cupping is when they put sucction cups of glass on your back and run them up and down. Fish spa is where fish eat the dead skin off your feet. Not for the ticklish!

Things I miss
toilets that consistently have free toilet paper
drinking tap water (we’re so lucky)
soft beds (Asians have very hard mattresses)
a familiar bedroom
driving standard. Despite my international driver’s license, I haven’t driven in two months.
not being seen as a Foreigner
being able to eat salad
consistent internet access and fruit that you don’t peel, but I’ve been breaking that rule lately.
watching the show Chuck with Kevin and Kara on the blue couch in the living room.
playing with kids who know me.
heating all not just some of the indoor rooms in a building, and keeping the windows closed.
being able to cook in my kitchen
sofas. hotel and hostel rooms don’t have sofas.
the beach in India
having more than four outfits choose from
the CBC, I could listen to the live streaming of the overnight programming when I am awake
clean air. The Beijingers would never say it’s polluted here, but they really remarked about how clean the air was in Saskatoon. It’s winter and the smog – you can’t see too far when you are up high. It’s not quite grey, but an orangey white, like Toronto on it’s worst day, but even worse.
chocolate. I have gained a reputation for liking sweets.
a sense of being of more service to humanity
knowing that my hard working friends are being well compensated for their work. A university teacher here makes 3 000 RMB/ yuan ($600) a month
far fewer blackouts. They’re short, but it made for awkward showers
dancing. I haven’t gone dancing once. Maybe with Brent.
german board games, but playing mah Jong was pretty great
cheese – once I found La Vache Qui Rie, but that’s France’s version of cheese whiz in triangles, and I don’t like it. Mmm, A little Friutilano, oh that’ll be a January treat.
not being so exceptionally and remarkably tall.
having deeper conversations, and with old friends
people to do yoga with
a little bit, I miss having a predictable schedule
reading, I’ve hardly read this trip
knowing what’s going on in the news in Canada

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 16, 2008


coming soon

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 3, 2008

to Malaysia

I saw the Water Puppets, ate spring roles and Pho noodle soup, say the lake in the middle of the old quarter and its temple/ pagoda, and the museum to the revolution in Hanoi.

Off to the airport again!

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 2, 2008

Slow boat on the Mekong

After seeing Chaing Mai,
Chaing Mai temple. I spent two days on the slow (still motorised) boat down the Mekong. It was quite pleasant The scenery was amazing. Lush forested hills, sandy beaches, thatched huts, fishers with nets, limestone outcroppings. I met a fun guy named David, who shared a bench/ seat with me. His boyfriend is working on a Croatian reality tv show being filmed in Bangkok, and he had some time to travel.

Kam had taken me to the market, so I had lots of food to eat on the boat. I got some interesting looks with my dozen oranges, more little bananas, a coil of pork sausage, two deep friend pork shops, cashews, deep fried pork rinds – like potato chips, sliced papya, a pack of rice krispie square-like cookies, water, red sticky rice, and a purple jelly candy thing in plastic (a bit bigger than a creamer)- I’ve eaten Chinese ones in Toronto. I shared a lot on the boat.

Oh at the market I ate a bug. It was like a white garden grub. It was deep fried, so all bubbly and crispy. It was salty, and fine, but I didn’t eat the brown dot/ ball head or eye part. Not eating bugs, eating bugs, it’s just cultural. Eating horse, eating goat, eating frogs, it’s all good or bad depending on culture. In France, Jean-Baptiste’s Gramma was mortified when I proposed cooking corn for her. Corn is for chickens! and poor people I guess.

So the slow boat. You can take the fast boat, and wear a helmet, and bounce on hard wooden seats for seven hours, ugh, no thanks. It’s also pretty dangerous.

We stayed in Pakeng the first night. It was pretty rustic. No hot water rooms were left when we arrived. I shared a room with a German girl, for 200 Baht, so my part cost 3 bucks. I had a delicious Laotian sweet and sour fish curry with fish from out of the Mekong. Which is very local, but the Mekong was a milky thick tea colour, so I hope Mr. Fishie was healthy. A nice engineer working in Afganistan let me was my burn with his warm shower.

I am starting to double over at just the thought of putting my pack on. I keep shopping in all these places, and now I have my giant 60 litre pack, my big bookbag back pack, a fabric shopping bag of food, and my black purse. I don’t move fast, and I don’t like to go far. Today the post office is closed, bummer – I want to send half of this home. I am almost done with warm weather clothes, so I should be able to lightened up soon.

Posted by: marthacoolcat | December 2, 2008

Chaing Mai family

My friend Rebekah studied for a year here, and lived with a host family. She set me up with them, and I lived in Rebekah’s old room for a few days. She told me about Khun Mae and Khun Pa, so that’s what I called them, which must have been a bit odd when the tuk tuk (taxi drivers asked me who I lived with and I said “Mommy and Daddy’ confidently. I did learn their real names as I was leaving.

Khun Pa, Khun Mae

Khun Pa, Khun Mae

They were some of the kindest people I’ve met. Khun Mae would hug me to her breast and say she loved me, because I reminded her of “Leebekah” because I laughed a lot. Their daughter whose (nick)name is Kam (which means cheek) was also home, and we went out together to see the town on Saturday.

Khun Pa does the cooking, and it was so good. “Alloy alloy” was a very handy phrase (= Delicious delicious). He made me a pad thai on my first night, and fresh fried salt fish. and noodles and rice and meat. The second night we had fish, and an interesting “expensive” vegetable soup. The vegetable was something I have never eaten before, some kind of little balls on twig branches, and you boil and eat the whole thing, in a delicious broth. His cousin came over the third night and made a spicy glass noodle dish.

One night Kam and I hand-washed our clothes. It takes a long time. I enjoyed sitting in the … middle of the house for the evening, and watching the stars come out ( that part of the home has no ceiling). I hope someday I can open my home to visitors the way they do. They were really so very very kind.

On the night I was leaving, it came up in conversation that Khun Pa likes to sing. “When the girl in your arms, is the girl in your dreams…” “Silent night” It made me really happy. Then they put on a tape of 50-s Christmas music. I suppose it is coming to that season, but it was strange. I really liked it. I could imagine living with them for a few months. They host Trent year abroad students, and many of the students only stay one month and then go get an apartment on their owns. How dumb!!! What an amazing family! What a great opportunity! Khun Mae is a retired Thai teacher, and I learned lots of words from them in just my short short time.

From abundant family to no family
I also got to visit wiiht an amazing inspirational woman named Sewigaa. She runs an orphanage for children from hill tribe villages. It is sad/ odd interesting/ noteworthy that the issues facing indigenous people here are similar to those in Canada. Kids come while their parents are too sick, or not handling alcohol ro drugs, or in jail – so the kids aren’t necessarily “orphans” and don’t always stay for th rest of their childhood. They also do a dog rescue, which is so needed here. No human e society, adn all the countries I have been in have had stray dogs everywhere. The kids do some work, ( no more than an hour a day, no child labour says Sewigaa) in the gardens, and the kitchen buys the produce from the kids so they have some spending money.

Often families don’t bother to educate girls, because they’ll just get married and become the property of the husband’s family. Seewigaa’s organisation teaches girls to read.

She’s looking for a volunteer to come help write reports in English, and be involved in various things around. Ideally some one who studied native studies, women’s studies, social work, sociology, peace and conflict studies, development – something like that who would understand the issues. Three months woudl be the shortest stay possible, a year would be great. The organization is secular. Sewigaa is Christian. She’s very active wiht many human rights issues. Chaing Mai is a great place to live. The centre is a 20 Bhat ($0.80), 20-minute minibus ride out of town. There’s so much to do. If you know someone great, get in touch with me.

On my trekking trip, I shared my elephant with Mr. Shin from Korea, who wanted to be my “Father for the day”. It’s very interesting to me, the people you meet when you travel alone.

Posted by: marthacoolcat | November 29, 2008

Less chaos is Laos?

Hello teaming millions,
Tonight I am taking the night bus to the border, to wake up tomorrow adn get on teh slow boat on the Mee Kong river. Tomorrow I will tell you the correct spelling.

I have had an amazing far too short time in Thailand.

I rode an elephant. I trekked (i.e. hiked) in the jungle/ forest hills. I met people from teh Karen and Hmong tribal villages, and saw their homes. I was the “gondelier” of our river rafting bamboo raft, and we went through some little rapids. So much more to say about that day. I shared my elephant with Mr. Shin from Korea, who held my hand and said he’d be my father for the day, and wanted me to come stay with him in Korea. I hope to visit him.

That morning Mhun Mae, my “mom” (that’s my next story), gave me sticky rice for breakfast. Mmmm it was so good, possibly my favorite thai food. I had two today!. Anyways I felt very not-touristy when I saw the same banana leaf packaging for sale at the “store” in the Karen village. I greated the guy in Thai, adn bought the “sticky rice”. When I got back in our van and opened it, it was raw pork! What am I going to do with raw park? The americans wanted me to through it out the window. (Oh I have met a dishertening number of American who don’t support Obama. Makes me cringe a bit. It wasn’t a landslide win, I am increasing aware). I brought it to the bar near my house, adn a nice Vietnam war vet (a translator) told me it is pickled pork, delicious fried with egg, so I had them fry me up an omlette., and my new friend, 74 year old Tawee told me about his life, adn traveling in Vietnam, california and Thailand.

Oh-uh bus!!!

Posted by: marthacoolcat | November 27, 2008

Thai temples

I read how bad things are in Bangkok and Mumbai, and I am glad I am out of there. I’m lucky.

Today I went to three beautiful temples, and at the last one, from the 12 centruy, I talked to a monk.

What’s the meaning of life?
Imperminance of everything.

What of love between men and women?
There are two loves, love for family, friends, teachers, and love for sex. Love for sex is a form of greed, one of the three desires, (greed, angry adn delusion).

What kind of work should I get?
“If you have a job without aggration, you don’t have a job”

Will you be a monk forever?
Have to live in the present.

Why did you become a monk?
I thought it would be fun.
Is it?
No, have to live within the rules. Usually I am happy to be a monk.

Posted by: marthacoolcat | November 26, 2008

Thailand nov 25

So I arrived early early, napped at the airport, ate at a crazy marche mover pick style restaurant. You exchange cash for coupons and then go around to any counter and buy the Thai food you want to eat. Kind of cool.

I did a bus tour of the city sights. Good news it was super cheap, the travel agent told me 1000 baht, but it only cost 30 bhat (1 $). Bad news it was completely in Thai. I could follow on my map where we were, and so I knew what stuff was.

I walked around a ?? ceremonial palace built to the honour of a deceased Thai princess of-very-long-hard-to-memorize-name. Man the Thais looove their royals. It says on taxis Long live the King, Man that is so 400 years ago! Another taxi said We love the King, we love Thailand. They make the Brits look like amatuers.

I decided that there were many many adventures I wanted to have in Chaing Mai, so I looked for transportation up there. They wouldn’t sell me a ticket for the train because the two-person room has a man in it. They are pretty trad about gender here. Makes a girl happy to be a canuck, I tell yah.

So no trains, unless I boarded really late, and missed a half day of Chaing Mai fun, so I checked out the reclining seat bus. Okay, I take it, with a hotel, and they arranged my Thai coking class for the next morning and my trekking in the jungle for the day after that.

I got picked up and driven somewhere weird, and there was a forty minute wait, so I wandered around and then got a 30 minute massage.

Thai massage
Now some Thai massages can be dodgy, like they include “extras”, but I liked this place because you got your massage in a room with other people and a big window to the street. I was the only person who had a male massage therapist. I said I wanted a back massage, so he told me to sit on a little round banana leaf? stool, and he sat on an ottoman. I was wearing my toga top, and he put a towel over my back. Okay I am used to oil, but not terrycloth. Neither Indian nor Thai women show their shoulders much, maybe I should have kept my t-shirt on overtop of my widestrap yoga shirt??? Well, he had strong hands so I didn’t care. He did this thing where he leaned his lower arms onto my shoulder, and then put a lot of weight on me. I was a little concerned when my bamboo stool was creaking so much. It was a great destressor after carrying my big over-full pack around the city all day.

Well, all that destressing went down the drain when I went outside and the bus had left. Someone from the tour company told me some guy could take me on a motor bike to the bus station where the bus was. That was my second “xe om” ride, like a motorbike that taxis people. It was pretty crazy, sometimes going 100 in the city, weaving through traffic, driving between lanes, driving on the wrong side of the road. It was also exciting with my 18 kilo pack on to just stay on.

Getting off the bike, I had to lean funny to shift the weight, and my calf .. touched? pushed against? the exhaust, which was quite hot. It looked scraped, but I had to run to catch the bus. When I got to the bus it was throbbing, so I got a bottle of cold water to put beside it, thinking it might be burned. I currently have a fried egg egg yolk sized blister on my calf, and it was hard to sleep on the bus. My Dad’s girlfriend Betty gave me lots of medical stuff, and now I am glad I carried it all over. The pharmacist told me to by a cream with silver in it for after it pops. Is that safe? Don’t people turn blue from silver? She says it will leave a scar, the burn not the silver. Oh well, it’s a story.

The Bus
At midnight we stopped at another moven-pik place. Indecisive Martha looked at everything and decided it was almost time to go. I bought a yoghurt (coconut flavour with cubes of jelly) and lays chips, Nori flavoured, don’t yah know? That’s the black seaweed they wrap around sushi. Now, I’ve been out of the country for a while, but last I checked, we didn’t have that flavour at home. I didn’t get how it worked. The bus, like buses and “goods carriers” here and in India are all colourfully decorated, and often have religious parafenila. Weird. Makes our cars look pretty bland.

The bus got in at 7am, not the 5 am they told me it would arrive. The hostel let me check in early, nice, and I crashed.

I had vivid dreams that I missed waking up for my cooking class. I was stuck at the hostel all day, and Tim and Sara where there. I kept on being really bummed about missing the course.

I woke up in lots of time in real life.

“The Best Thai Cooking School”
Our teacher, Hat, picked me up in .. a pickup truck with to benches and a roof in the back, and 6 others and we went to the market to buy fresh ingredients. Cool, I learned how to buy eggs. Dirty is good, because then the air can’t get in. Long fun educational day short, I made, sweet sticky rice with mango, papaya salad, tom yum soup, spring rolls and dipping sauce, chicken with cashews, paneng curry, we made green curry paste from scratch, and pad thai. Sooooo good! We also got to taste rose apple (never HEARD of it before), jack fruit and dragon fruit.

It ended kind of early, so I came back to the hostel, planned my trip to Laos. Yes, that’s right, I am adding a country to my overstuffed itinerary. Peter E from the co-op in Waterloo told me about taking the slow boat down the Mee Kong, and it sound great. Moreover, I will have to sit still for two days and watch the world drift by, and high octane Martha of late needs that.

I still had some time, so I found some peeps who wanted to come with me to Tiger Kingdom, to pet tigers. It was a bit of a sham – they quoted 300 on the phone and then said 500 when we got there. They said the newborns are feeding so we couldn’t see them for a half hour, and, contrary to what they dais an hour earlier, we could only see the babies b/c the older age groups where too active at night. On the phone we were told we couldn’t see the biggest cats because they’d be sleeping. Because of the display, you have to kill time, eating the not good over-priced food in their restaurant. Sigh. I had pork soup, not a piece of pork in it.

I had had it with them when the final thing was unveiled – the 500 bhat, and I said fine, show me the 3-4 month olds for 300! So they did. You can sit in the cage with the four of them and pet their backs but not their heads or faces. They had four guards in with me and they kept the tigers from getting to close to me. No flash photos, so I have a bunch of shots of me with a tiger-blob.

The most fun part was the end. They had to move the tigers to another cage, in a wheelbarrow/ bin/ cage. The three workers were all keeping the pesky naughty girl tigers in the bin. One jumped out so the guy grabbed its tail and manouvered it in the right direction, then another got out, and the girl chased it. That left the guy pushing and me, so I kept, sort of playing wack-a-mole and pushing down the tigers’ heads till we got to the cage. Like I am a trained zookeeper! It all felt a bit laissez faire, but (criseses averted) it was an adventure.

Then my two Swedish co-adventurers and I went to the Night Bizarre. Kind of like India, selling to tourists, many products from the prolific Factory of Tackiness. They don’t barter as hard here, and they don’t come down as far.

MUST go to bed – I am jungle trekking in the morning, six hours from now.

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