Idea 1: The Useless Traveler

January 29th, 2013, 8:25 pm PST by Greg

[While traveling, I have thought of a couple of things that need to exist. This is #1.]

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this ideal of what would happen when I get to a new country: I would know a few words of the language, and be able say at least “yes”, “no”, “good”, “bad”, “the cheque please”, etc.

So, I end up buying a traveler’s phrasebook, and I hate them sooooo much. The southeast asian phrasebook beside me has, on page one “yes”, “no”, “please”, “thank you”, “goodbye”. Fine, but worth poor phonetic transcriptions. On page two it has “I am a businessman/businesswoman/doctor/journalist/manual worker/administrator/scientist/student/teacher.”

If I didn’t know “hello” a page ago, how is that useful? Even if I had to convey my profession, I wouldn’t say that: I’d point at myself and say “teacher” and everyone on the planet would understand. The extra grammar is just there to give me something to screw up, and the nine-way alternation makes it impossible to actually use the translation.

A few pages later, “Do you accept travellers cheques/credit cards?” Once again, nobody in the world needs that translation: hold up your credit card and see if they take it. Also, the translations use “krub/ka” without explaining that which you use depends on the gender of the speaker.

What I want is like a spreadsheet with columns like “English”, “Thai (written)”, “Phonetic”. I want to be able to select words/phrases to populate the page, and then print it so I can either study it our point to it, as the situation dictates. I might reasonably learn the words for “hello” and “thank you”, but I want “Can you please help me order?” written so I can just point at it and hope the waitress has a sense of humour.

Thus I propose a web site with:

  • Crowdsourced translations of words/phrases that users want.
  • A nice interface to select the columns for each user’s needs. For example, in Chinese I’d want a column “Pinyin” since “xièxie” is useful to me, but many english speakers would want a “Rough Phonetics” column with “shay shay”.
  • A similarly-nice interface to build a collection of phrases that you’re interested in.
  • The ability to export that as a PDF for printing.
  • A non-free phone app where you can export the table of translations for use electronically.

As far as I know, this is an unfilled niche. I do know that I probably don’t have the time to do it. Somebody make it for me, okay?

Markets, Monkeys and Man-Clothes

January 29th, 2013, 3:00 am PST by Kat

For our first day in Bangkok we took the Thai Fishing Village Tour with “Tour with Tong”. The tour started out at the Mae Klong railway market outside of Bangkok. The awnings overhang the tracks, and the products being sold are placed right along the tracks. Many of the stalls have their produce on wheeled carts. The awnings and the carts are moved back when the train comes through 8 times a day. Unfortunately, the train was running late, so we decided not to wait for it.

Our next stop was the Damnernsaduak Floating Market, where vendors in boats sell produce, snacks, and cooked, hot food from canal boats to (mostly) tourists who are either also in canal boats or are walking along the sides of the canal. Here I was able to do something I’ve always wanted to do – eat noodles that have been cooked and sold out of a small boat while I am also sitting in a small boat. We were also able to get away from the crowded market area and see the more peaceful part of the canal system that runs through a fruit farming village.

Our final stop was a Thai fishing village. Here we boarded another boat, which took us into a mangrove forest along the banks of the Gulf of Thailand. We got to feed a troupe of monkeys that live in the mangroves. When we exhausted our huge stock of bananas, we left the monkeys behind and headed out into the Gulf where local fishermen have set up oyster and cockle farms. For lunch we had a seafood feast in a fisherman’s bamboo stilt house in the midst of the cockle farms that stretched as far as the eye could see. This was definitely the best part of the tour, and we would definitely recommend this tour!

On our way back to our hotel, our tour guide, Mook, recommended a tailor where Greg could get a suit made. One fitting and 48-hours later, Greg’s suit, shirt, ties and sport jacket were delivered to our hotel room!

Kat’s bite count: 3

Being Kneaded

January 25th, 2013, 3:30 am PST by Greg

We spent most of the day walking around the old walled city in Chiang Mai. I feel the same way about wats here that I feel about temples and churches everywhere: I never know the etiquette; it’s always awkward to be walking around like an idiot taking pictures, when there are people trying to have an honest religious experience; if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

This afternoon, we got traditional Thai massages. If you happen to be in Chiang Mai, The Peak was excellent. (800 baht ≈ CDN$27 for 90 minutes) But, here’s a quiz…

Imagine lying on your back. (I could try to draw this, but it’s more fun imagining you all trying to picture what I’m talking about.) Bend your left leg so your knee is pointing up. Move your left foot over your right leg so you’re making kind of a “4”. Now twist your body so your left knee is pushed toward the floor.

Now, have a small Thai woman put her right hand on your left shoulder and push down, and her body weight on your leg, pushing it down. How does this process end? (1) Your hip joint pops out, (2) your back snaps, (3) your left knee hits the floor to the right of your body, (4) you fart.

Trick question. The correct answer is that you make a sound in between a giggle and a gasp. The masseuse whispers “okay” in a kindly way and stops. But of the options above, I think the order would have been (4), (3), (1).

That aside, it was awesome.

Elephant kisses and Garra fish nibbles

January 24th, 2013, 7:34 am PST by Kat

We’ve spent two fun-filled days in Chiang Mai so far.

Yesterday, we took a full-day cooking class at Siam Rice cooking school. They brought us to the market where we were shown how coconut cream and coconut milk are made. We were also introduced to some of the local produce like tiny eggplants, Thai holy basil and fresh tumeric. At the market, we bought some of the local Northern Thai sausages and chicharron (fried pork rinds). mmmmm…. pork! Afterwards, we spent the day cooking up a storm and eating all of our tasty dishes.

Today, we took a half-day tour up to Chiang Dao to see the elephants. We got to feed them and got elephant hugs and kisses. There was a lot more slobber and a lot more suction than either of us expected! As we were leaving, Greg spotted a sign that said “Elephant Nursery”. I’m glad he did because we detoured and got to feed a 16-month-old baby elephant and her mother and to see a 10-month-old baby elephant! 🙂 Our tour then took us to Tiger Kingdom, where we posed for pictures with “big” and “small” tigers. Finally, our tour guide brought us to “the” Khao Soi restaurant in Chiang Mai. There was a long wait, but it was totally worth it (and it only cost us $1 a bowl!).

Kat’s bug bite count: 2

The Hong Kong pitstop

January 21st, 2013, 1:52 am PST by Greg

We’re in Hong Kong, briefly. The plan for this visit was to ease in to Asia, get over some jetlag, and drop off a bag.

Since I need long-term stuff (more clothes, work stuff, etc), I had a lot of luggage to bring over. But, I don’t want to carry all of that through a half dozen airports over the next month.

Because she’s a genius, Eunice suggested the Hong Kong stop and suggested that we leave a bag at her cousin’s place. The cousin agreed, and we dropped the bag off today. We’re coming back through Hong Kong at the end of the trip to collect it and go our separate ways.

Today we dropped off the bag and wandered Hong Kong island a bit. Nothing spectacular to report. I’ll try to get some pictures up in our gallery tonight.

We’re off to Chiang Mai tomorrow morning. Most of the day is in transit, since we have to fly through Bangkok.

Yet Another Travel Blog

January 16th, 2013, 11:23 pm PST by Greg

As seems to be the pattern, this blog consists of long breaks, followed by being used as a travel blog. We enter one more iteration of that: before I start teaching in Hangzhou, Kat and I are going to do some travelling.

The ZJU semester doesn’t start until after the Chinese New Year which is quite late this year: classes start February 28. That leaves January and February open for me. Kat’s boss is in the field, so it’s a good time for her to take a vacation.

We get about a month unaccounted for, where the University is paying to get me to Asia. So, we are taking this opportunity to see some of southeast Asia. We leave on Saturday the 19th. The itinerary is:

  • Thailand: Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
  • Singapore.
  • Malaysia: Kota Kinabalu.
  • Philippines: Manila and some resort or something.

At either end, we’re staying in Hong Kong for a couple of days. This is partially a decompression, and partially a chance for me to leave some luggage with somebody there, so we don’t have to carry longer-term stuff around a half dozen airports.

We’re going to try to be good about posting here and getting some pictures in the gallery as we go.

Edit: We have opted out of “some resort” in the Philippines, instead lengthening the Manila and Hong Kong stays on either end.