Thursday, February 16, 2017

Year of the Fire Rooster

January 28, 2017

Thailand is so happy to celebrate the new year, that they do it three times!  The first is the first of January, and the last is Thai New Year, Songkran, in April.  In between those two is Chinese New Year, this year on January 28th.  Many Thais have Chinese roots, nearly fourteen percent of the population, and are known as Thai Chinese.  The influences of Chinese culture is evident in many areas in Thailand.

I did my part to help celebrate by decorating our door with the Chinese lanterns given to us by our tour guide in Xi'an last year.



Tim finally returned from China a few days ago, and he and I took a walk in the morning, venturing into the Royal Cliff Group complex not far from our place.  This complex includes the Pattaya Exhibition And Convention Hall (PEACH), and some upscale hotels nestled along the gulf's edge.  I can't imagine they ever fill so many hotel rooms; it's never busy with people when we go by.  It does make for a nice walk, however, with lots of beautiful views.










You can see our condo complex at top right

In the afternoon, we visited Central mall to do some banking and pick up some more yarn for a crochet project I started while Tim was in China last week.   The mall is always decorated for some event or another, and today Chinese lanterns and roosters adorned the open spaces in celebration of the Year of the Rooster - although this looked more like a cute little hen to me.


They even hung red Chinese lanterns on the altar at church!



We had dinner at Sunrise Sunset in the Siam Bayshore hotel, where we were presented with traditional red envelopes, Hongbao.  They included a nice little description of the ritual.  Our friend, Steve, who lived in Hong Kong, told us about how they presented red envelopes of money to their employees for Chinese New Year.  These red envelopes are given not only for New Year, but also for weddings, etc.

always lovely presentation here (this is Nasi Goreng, and Indonesian dish)

It says:  "Giving Hongbao in red packets during Chinese new year is one of traditions.  A Red packet is simply a red envelope with money in it, which symbolizes luck and wealth and typically handed out to younger generation by their parents, grandparents, relatives, even closes (sic) neighbors and friends."  The coins are worth 0.5 baht each
(a little more than a US penny)
After dinner, we walked over to Bali Hai Pier to see the Chinese New Year celebration taking place on a stage that had been erected in a big empty lot.  Children were singing and a dragon dance was just beginning as we walked away.  Took a short stroll through walking street, where many were dressed in traditional Chinese garments.





 Some were unimpressed by all the excitement.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Musicophilia

January 20, 2017

I've lamented before about the cultural void in Pattaya.  Kind of ironic - now that I have time to indulge my passion for the arts, the opportunities are few and far between.  One little oasis is the private home of an expat retired lawyer not far from Pattaya.  His home is a compound of sorts, with one building dedicated to hosting performances of classical music.  It is called Eelswamp, which is the translation of the name of the village where it is located.

I'd been getting regular email notices of their programs for quite some time, but never saw an opportunity to go.  With Tim away in China, it seemed a good opening to make it happen.  Luckily, my friend, Mika, was able to join me.  Her sister was visiting from Japan, and was happy to stay with Mika's little one.

We arrived at Eelswamp a bit early, as word was the place was difficult to find.  We did make one wrong turn, but our trusty driver soon found the way.  The entrance into the place is lovely, looking a bit like an exclusive restaurant or small hotel.  We were asked to leave our shoes at the entrance, and came into a lovely courtyard with a huge, outdoor kitchen area.  Women were preparing food, and a gentleman was selling drinks.  We got a glass of wine and sat at a large table.

Other guests began to arrive, mostly older white men, and a few women - some foreigners, some Thai.  We chatted with a few at our table - gentlemen from Denmark or the Netherlands (I can never keep those straight), a younger Thai man who teaches at a language school, and a woman from Switzerland.  Sadly, when they learned I was American, the conversation inadvertently turned to Trump, as often happens these days.  I did my best Muhammed Ali moves (bob and weave!), and, gladly, talk moved onto the location of the best Danish restaurants in Pattaya.

When it was time to let people into the music room, we waited for our names to be called.  Once called, we stepped to the set of double doors.  Small groups were let inside the first door, and only when the outer door was closed, the inner door could be opened.  Reminded me of the bird or butterfly houses, where they need to keep the inhabitants from escaping.  Apparently this was a climate-control maneuver.

Inside was a cozy room with approximately forty chairs and a baby grand piano at the front.  We took our seats and waited for the sold-out crowd of forty to file in.  The owner of the place gave an introduction of the pianist and the pieces he would perform.  In lieu of a handout, the program was written on a blackboard at the front of the room.





The pianist for the evening had quite an impressive CV.  His biography from the Eelswamp website:
Daniël van der Hoeven (1985) was born in Amerongen, the Netherlands. He studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, Netherlands and at the Conservatoire Superieure in Paris.
In 2013, he was the winner of the International J.S. Bach Competition in Würzburg, Germany. In October 2015 he won second place at the Seattle International Piano Competition, competing against 88 other pianists. Other prizes include the YPF National Dutch Piano Competition in 2010 (1st prize and Gold Medal), Lagny-sur-Marne International Piano Competition in 2015 (2nd prize), International Bach Competition Leipzig in 2014 (Bärenreiter prize), as well as finalist diploma at the international piano competitions of Gorizia (Italy) and Malta.
He has performed in Carnegie Hall, New York, the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam and in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Romania and Poland. He has recorded two well-received CDs with works by Prokofiev/Bartók and J.S. Bach. Currently he teaches at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. This is Daniel's second visit to Eelswamp. 
This evening he would be performing seven Toccatas by JS Bach, composed in his early twenties.  It was a technically impressive performance in a lovely setting.  Delicious hors d'oeuvres were served  at intermission, and the second half was even more impressive.  I must say, I would have preferred a more varied program, but the evening was lovely and enjoyable nonetheless.  I am anxious to return for more of this food for the soul.





After the concert, we stopped at a place where we knew Inner Soul would be playing - a five-piece Motown, funk and soul band from the US we'd enjoyed before.  A perfect "dessert" after our "main course" at Eelswamp.  Very nice evening!



"don't make me dance!"



Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Travelers

January 17-19, 2017

I was kept well-entertained while Tim was in China for three weeks.  Our son, Mike, has a good friend who was traveling in Thailand with his sister and her husband.  The sister and husband were actually on a year-long trip to see the world.  They saved their money and left their jobs, embarking on the trip of a lifetime.  You can see their travel blog HERE.  How nice to be able to do this while you still have the stamina of your youth!  Mike's friend met up with them in Bangkok, and after a few days there, they came to stay at our place in Pattaya for a couple of nights.



They took a bus from Bangkok to the stop in South Pattaya, not far from our place.  Once they were settled and relaxed a bit, we went to dinner at Hopf Brew House on Beach Rd. and enjoyed some home-brewed wheat beer and pizza.  I know this isn't Thai food, but I figured they'd get enough of that on their own.  We then walked down Beach Rd. to Walking Street - can't come to Pattaya without experiencing that - street entertainers, scantily-clad women trying to entice clients into their establishments, and invitations to "ping pong shows" every fifty feet.  (I don't know why they think that, after you've said "no" to the first ten invitations, you would suddenly say "yes" to the next one?  Always amuses me.)  After reaching the end, we cut over to Second Rd. and stopped in a few shops before heading back to the condo.  Best part of the night for me?  Playing Euchre, like only four mid-westerners can - a nice little taste of home!

The next morning my guests took to the hills for some exercise, jogging and trying out the equipment at the outdoor gym park just up the road.  We enjoyed a relaxed breakfast, and I provided some samples of teas from our favorite Tea Village.  Late morning our driver took us up to the Sanctuary of Truth just north of Pattaya.  I never tire of this place, and always see something different.  We caught the end of the cultural show, then took a tour with my now-regular tour guide, Bubbles; she never fails to entertain.  Saw some pretty amazing sculpting happening in the artists' area - a model first being conceived in clay, and a dome being constructed piece by piece.





We had lunch at Baba Eating House, one of my favorite places to go when we lived up at that end of town.  Stopped in to Tea Village, and Lita treated us to some nice tea.  We tried some Pu-erh tea, a fermented, aged tea from China.  This tea comes in tightly packed disks, and is labeled with the year and region of its production.  It has an interesting bite, one that grew on me after several sips.

Tea Village website - they do quite a good mail-order business
We had the driver drop us up at the top of Buddha Hill, where we enjoyed the view before heading back to the condo on foot.  Cooled off with a swim, then treated my guests to a home-cooked meal.  More Euchre and some Chinese Checkers finished off the night.  The next morning we said our good-byes and Mick took them to the airport for their flight to Chiang Mai where they would continue their adventure!




Here are some pictures from Tim's trip to China.  It wasn't all work - he was able to get to Beijing one weekend to see the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, and a co-worker took him around Nanjing.














Tim and his guide





Snow on the Great Wall!






On to Nanjing...











Back to work...