A Little Bit of Nature

Short entry here. Was cutting down a tomato plant in my balcony garden as the growing season has ended. Amidst the leaves was a short thread that must have drifted down from someone’s laundry drying on a higher floor. How long the thread was stuck on the plant, I can’t say. What caught my eye, though, was that some sort of spores were growing from the thread, looking like eyelashes. I was fascinated at this example of how nature works.


After the Rains

It is rainy season here in Thailand and true to norm, September is proving to be the wettest month.  Almost every evening we have heavy rains here in Bangkok and we’re even having several days with on and off showers.  The air is cooler than normal, which is nice, but the humidity hasn’t been below 65% in two months.  Still, I prefer rainy season to the hot season.


Here’s an audio clip I recorded last night about midnight after the rain had stopped.  Various creatures are croaking and chirping in the background as the occassional drop falls from one palm frond to the next.


Trip to Chiang Mai Part 2

The highlight of our trip to Chiang Mai was a drive two hours south to Doi Inthanon National Park.  One of the largest parks in the Kingdom, this is the home to the “rooftop of Thailand”, Doi Inthanon peak.  Many people who visit Thailand stay in typically touristy areas, particularly the biggest cities and the beach towns.  As lovely as these are, they miss out on the spectacular natural beauty to be found in this country.


This park features several beautiful waterfalls including the impressive Vachiratharn Falls.  These falls are all located just short walks away from parking areas making them accessible to almost everyone.  Even several months after rainy season, these falls are going strong!


There are also hiking trails if you want to get more of a workout.  On our way to the top of the falls, which turned out to be less interesting than viewing them from down below, we found this interesting stand of dead bamboo.  There were also several disused picnic tables on the way up, all in areas that didn’t seem conducive to a pleasant picnic.


Near the summit of Doi Inthanon are a pair of chedis built by the Royal Thai Air Force to commemorate the fifth cycle (i.e. 60th) birthdays of their majesties the King and Queen of Thailand in 1987 and 1992, respectively.  These are beautiful chedis, both done in modern style.  They are very distinct with the King’s chedi having very dark stone and the Queen’s being built in with a violet hue.  Since my last visit in 2006 they have installed enclosed escalators to make the climb to the top easier for the thousands of elderly Thais who come here to pay their respects.


The hazy, cloudy view from the top of Doi Inthanon looking southwest towards Burma.


At the top of the peak (2,565 meters / 8,416 feet as marked by the small round metal plaque on the concrete pedestal in the foreground of the picture) is a small shrine to the memory of the Phra Chao Inthawichayanon, one of the last kings of Chiang Mai until his death in 1897.  During his 27-year reign, King Inthawichayanon was very concerned about the preservation of the forests and mountains in what was still an independent tributary Lanna kingdom.  Following his wishes, the king’s remains were interred at this spot on the top of what was then called Doi Luang.  The mountain was subsequently renamed Doi Inthanon.

It was also during his reign that the remnants of the Lanna kingdom were finally annexed into greater Siam.  One could argue that the political friction in modern-day Thailand (which has a very distinct north versus central split) has its roots in these ancient annexations. 


Part way down the mountain is the Royal Agricultural Station, a large garden area that has acres of greenhouses where different types of plants are grown.  The purpose of the project is to identify different species from around the country and also cultivate other species that may be well-suited to Thailand’s different climates.  As an example of some of the work done by various royal-sponsored agricultural foundations, opium production in Thailand (which once used to be the world’s top producer) has almost entirely vanished, being replaced by cash crops such as coffee and macadamia nuts.


Tiptoe through the tulips…


Reflection in the pond.  The sun kept trying to break through but it rarely lasted.


My personal favorites, the fuchsias.  The climate up here on the mountain is very similar to that of my childhood home in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We had fuchsias in our backyard that my father tended to with great care.  Seeing these in the greenhouse brought back many memories.  I used to snap open the flowers, enjoying the “pop!” sound they made.


Mae Ya Falls, Doi Inthanon National Park – Chiang Mai Province.  Our friend Kari is standing in the distance taking pictures.


Chris hoping that there isn’t a sudden flash flood!

I’ll continue tomorrow with the second road trip in Chiang Mai, up to Doi Suthep, along with some video.



Sakura – cherry blossoms – are one of the common images of Japanese culture.  The fleeting existence of the blossoms and their incredible beauty and delicacy have inspired artists of all genres and give good reason for the citizens of Tokyo to come out to the parks and celebrate the emergence of another spring.

Had we arrived a week earlier, we would have seen them in their fullest stage, but per Masakazu’s recommendation we headed directly to the park on our first day here to catch them while we still could.  Thankfully, we did, because the breezy weather had pretty much stripped the trees by our second day here.

Ueno Park is nearby our hotel, home to the zoo and several museums, and adjacent to Tokyo University.  This is one of the popular places to come see the sakura.


Everyone was out, even in the midst of a weekday morning.  Business men, pre-schoolers, retirees.  And lots of people had cameras.  So much appreciation for nature.


Who wouldn’t be inspired to write a poem?  The brown stalks are lotus.  In the summer, this whole lake it filled with chest-high lotus blossoms.


Some of the sturdier types of blossoms were still out in full force, giving us an amazing display of colors.


The park was full of vendors, visitors, and recycling bins to sort out the rubbish left by the sakura-viewers.  Not the sheets laid out in the shade.  Different groups staked their claim to viewing spots for after-work parties.  We were amazed by how many groups of office workers came out in the evening to sit under the trees, drink, and socialize.

Above, a Thai monk poses for a picture with the sakura.  Below, sakura in the setting sunlight.



Ueno Park also has a long line of tori gates, which mark the entrance to a shrine.  Their orange-red hue is amazing and the repetition of the gates makes for a meditative walk through them.


In the evening, the crowds came to the park, taking their reserved spots and enjoying the pleasant weather and the remaining blossoms.  Dozens of vendors served favorite snacks and everyone was drinking.  So far, I’m of the opinion that the Japanese are a pretty heavily drinking population, at least those who live and work in Tokyo.


Above, a view of the vendors lining the path to one of the shrines.

Thai Sakura

The longer I stay here, the more aware I become of the changing seasons.  This requires a much higher level of attention because the changes are more subtle than in regions further from the equator.

Expats in Thailand often jokingly refer to the three Thai seasons as “hot,” “hotter” and ‘damn hot”.  This year we enjoyed the coolest winter in a decade and so the transition into ruuduu rone,  literally “hot season”, is more pronounced than in the past few years.  Likewise, the springtime burst of blossoms is more noticeable, too.

Above is an example of dtonmai chompoo pantip.  They are everywhere in Krungthep this week.  While less delicate and refined than the Japanese sakura (flowering cherry trees) that blossom each March and April in the land of the rising sun, these Thai sakura give us a week or two of beautiful and festive color.  Our soi is littered with pink blossoms.

In other news, we have a neighbor somewhere in our condo complex – a few stories above us, I think – who seems to really like stinky tofu.   Once or twice a day they start frying it up, turning on their kitchen fan to vent the smell, which then pushes it into our kitchen.

To say that it is overpowering is an understatement.  While I appreciate that everyone has a different sense of taste and I don’t claim to the be arbiter of what should and should not be prepared, every day is a bit much.  Tawn has climbed the stairs to try to figure out who the offender is.  But the problem is, since the smell is vented into a central air shaft, you can’t smell it out by the front doors of the units.

So the mystery remains.  Might be time to go talk to building management and have them post a “no durian or stinky tofu” memo.

Tawn and I are off to Kuala Lumpur this weekend for a few days, our first time.  May not have a lot of entries over the next few days but I’ll update as soon as I can.

An Auspicious Sign?

Leaving my Thai lesson early Monday evening, Khru Kitiya (my tutor) and I noticed a smiling face low on the western horizon: the conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and the moon. 


Here in Thailand, text messages were being sent between people almost as fast as rumors of a coup.  “Look in the sky!  Look in the sky!” Tawn’s father called and told him.  Many said – and the newspaper captions Tuesday morning accompanying pictures of the event agreed – that perhaps this was an auspicious sign pointing to a bloodless end to Thailand’s political difficulties.

This pairing of the two planets will happen again in February 2010, but will be too close to the sun to see.  According to National Geographic, some historians think that a similar conjunction between the planets in 2 B.C. may have been the source of the “Star of Bethlehem” in the Bible.  The pair of stars would have been so close together, they may have appeared as a single source of light.

My father is a moon-watcher.  For as long as I can remember, he’s written the full moons on his calendar and knows the names of the different moons.  When my oldest niece, Emily, was just a few years old he would show her the full moons.  Now she is a moon-watcher, too.

Let’s hope that this conjunction is an auspicious sign.