Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Heading south in Thailand

January 28, 2014 – Heading south in Thailand                    
Thailand border with Malaysia
Day 12 - Distance biked so far: (1,092 km)
I picked a good time to head south in Thailand as this time of year the winds come from the northeast and I am cycling south. That combined with the flat roads has meant a good introduction to cycling after a year off the bike.
As you enter most cities in Thailand large photos of the King greet you. Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej is now 86 years old and is the world’s longest serving head of state, having ascended to the throne in 1946 at the tender age of 19. The King has a residence in the City of Hua Hin, and this is the scene as you enter.
Entering town
I am travelling down the east coast of the narrow strip of Thailand and that means I am never far from the Gulf of Thailand. One of nice little towns on the way is Phetchaburi. Here is the view of the Buddhist Wat on the small hill as you cross the bridge. I think of it as the Buddhist version of the Temple on the Mount.

Temple on the Mount

Here is a view of the riverfront on the Gulf of Thailand.
Waterfront in Phetchaburi
One of the things I do every evening when I get the chance in Thailand is go out to eat at the night markets. They have an incredible variety of food and drinks that are both delicious and cheap. In every town you can see stalls set up with plastic tables and chairs nearby for people to eat. Most people in Thailand eat out every night so the markets are often bustling with activity. In Phetchaburi, I went out to the market and strolled around while a band was playing nearby and the Oceanside promenade was full of people sitting in small groups enjoying the evening. The atmosphere is similar to a fair but occurs every night. Here is the night market.
Night market
The serving sizes are small so to get a full meal after a long day of biking, I ordered 4 different dinners and some vegetables.

Dinner time

As I continued south I ran into a travelling Monk on the side of the road. The Monk was foreign (he is from England) and was in the midst of an 8-month walk to the north of Thailand. He explained to me that 2,500 years ago Monks did not sit in the local Wat and smoke cigarettes all day but would travel around the country and meeting people. It’s interesting to note that in the Christian world, Jesus and the disciples did the same, walking to the people instead of waiting for the people to come to them in our present day churches. The Monk was pushing a cart and most of the contents were books. He explained that Christians have the bible, Muslims have the Koran and Theravada Buddhists (the form of Buddhism in Thailand) have 45 books making up the Pali Canon. Pali is the original language the books are written in so he also carries 2 dictionaries allowing him to translate between Pali and English. He is carrying 47 large books in his cart so I was going to suggest that he buys a Kindle to cut down on his weight but thought it inappropriate. Besides, it is unlikely there are Kindle versions yet.
He stops when he is tired and carries a western style tent to sleep in or just enters a Temple or Wat. Monks in Thailand do not carry money and receive food from the public on their morning alms walks and he is no exception. He receives food from the public as he walks. He has been walking since October and will end in May and will be barefoot the entire way. Those Monks are tough.
Marching Monk
There was a few times while cycling that I could swear someone was watching me. Here were 2 large statues staring down on me for miles.
Someone is watching me
Someone else is watching me
I often take pictures of signs that have been loosely translated from the native language into English. In most cases I can make them out but this one was a little tougher. The funny thing about this sign is that the first 9 Rules were well written and easy to understand but Rule 10 had me a little confused. It reads, “Prohibit lead the thing departs a waiting room by break off to torn, if, arrest 3 times of thing that price.” I just made sure I didn’t break or tear anything.
Reading between the lines
I stopped my bike one day to eat a snack at a roadside stall. Here is a typical lunch and they always come with a side helping of vegetables, particularly cucumbers and limes. Delicious.
Snack time on the road
I pulled up to a small truck on the side of the road and nearly had my head slapped. I hadn’t noticed these 2 guys who were waiting to inflict damage on anyone keeping their head down.  The owner talked to me and said to be careful they will bite and to prove it rolled up his pant leg to show me a series of large bite marks that had been repaired by surgery. There is a Monkey Training School nearby so maybe they failed out and now have to be sent home. I told them both that they should be in school but they just hissed at me.
Monkeys on board
In 2012, I spent 10 days at the Suan Mokkh Buddhist retreat to learn a little about their beliefs. It was a silent retreat where we could not speak for the entire period. The 4:30 am wake up calls, sleeping on cement with a wooden pillow, eating 2 vegetarian meals per day and absolutely no contact with the outside world took some getting used to but the experience was wonderful. The retreat is located in a beautiful and peaceful setting and they allow people who are not part of the retreat to visit and stay overnight. I stayed for 2 nights and set up my tent beside a small pond.
Camping at the Monastery
The founder of the retreat is Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, who died in 1993 at the age of 87. He is revered in Thailand for his wisdom and his teachings are the cornerstone of the retreats.  When I was at the retreat a recurring theme appeared to be the potential dangers the world was facing in terms of its constant chasing of material goods. He felt that the attempts to seek happiness through the acquisition of material wealth are going to lead to many problems in the world. In Thailand, if you spend time in the flashy malls of Bangkok or witness the constant chasing of the latest i-phones and i-pads you can see Buddhadasa’s message falling on deaf ears. In America, the prosperity preachers that are so popular today are also teaching against the bibles clear commands. The idea that God wants you to be rich is certainly a stretch and requires more than a little tweaking of the bible but it is a message people want to hear because it fits in with their desires. I think that in terms of materialism, both Buddhadasa and Jesus would be disappointed in the direction the world is heading.
Here is a sign at the front gates that summarize his teachings and give a small insight into his thinking.
Buddhist retreat
The first resolution is to understand the heart of your own religion. By this he means the substance and not the form. Going to church, bowing before statues or crossing yourself are the outward signs that have nothing to do with the heart of religion. The outward signs of religion are easy to follow and look good but if you don’t understand the heart of your religion it is of no use.
The second resolution is to try and understand the main principles of other religions. Buddhadasa clearly understood that if people understood the true meaning of their own religion and the basics of others, it would lead to less conflict and more acceptance of others. He then places the warning about materialism and rates that as one of his 3 most important resolutions.
The Suan Mokkh retreat is an active Wat with many Monks living on the grounds. In the morning I would hear the bells ringing at 4:30 which for them was a time to get up and for me, a time to roll over, go back to sleep and be thankful I was just a guest. The Monks have daily chores like everyone else and here is one picking up his dry laundry.
Monk hanging clothes
Near my campsite was a Suan Mokkh style toilet. It was just a round building with a toilet inside but it had an interesting sign in front. The toilet was large enough to allow Monks to spend some time in there “meditating on the abhorrent.”
Toilet at Suan Mokkh
Sign in front of toilet
The grounds are beautiful at the retreat and there are different meditation halls surrounded by forest that make for a very peaceful setting. Here is a typical building.
Meditation Hall
On Saturday January 25th, the 11th day of my trip, I passed the 1,000 km mark when I was in southern Thailand about 100 km from the Malaysia border. I hope to take a photo and state my location every 1,000 kms.
1,000 km
The Angel House orphanage in the Philippines received a new child a short while ago. This baby boy was abandoned at birth and sent to the orphanage. Boy A is a temporary placement right now as David and his team is required to search for one or both of the parents. If they cannot be found or do not want the child, he will be put up for adoption. In the interim, Angel House will ensure the boy gets medicine, food and a lot of love and attention. As we go about our busy days it is easy to lose sight of the kind of work places like Angel House accomplish every single day. David and his staff care for the children every single day.
If we can reach out and raise awareness of the Orphanage, we can help to ensure this little boy gets a chance at life where no chance existed before.  If any of you belong to a church or know of anyone who might be interested in adopting a child from the Philippines, please forward the link to Angel House Orphanage and get in touch with David. You can also help by just spreading the word to as many people as you can because someone out there would love to care for him or one of the other children desperately looking for a home.
Boy A

Thursday, January 16, 2014

January 17, 2014 - Ready to roll

Bangkok, Thailand
Distance biked so far: (183 km km)
It has been 2 months since I decided to delay my bicycle trip around the world and now it is time to start. I spent a few days in Bangkok to buy a few last minute items and also to see some of the political demonstrations. Things have been boiling over here for the last few years and large demonstrations have been held in Bangkok to oppose the current government. Here is a scene from one of the 7 main intersections where the groups gathered.
Anti-government protests
I joined the group for a brief period to show my support.
Whistle blower
On January 15th I was ready to go. I had all my gear ready so laid it out before allocating the weight to the different panniers. Here is the gear waiting to be packed.
Gear for bike trip
I loaded all the bags on my bike and set off from the front door of my condo. This is my home for the next 2 years.
Ready to go
I had a bit of a chuckle as I rolled through the streets of Bangkok. A small group of people were piling into a van for one of the cooking courses that are popular here. Thai food is fantastic and a lot of the visitors enjoy taking classes to learn some of the secrets to the spice combinations they use. The sign on the back of the van works here but I’m not sure it would attract as many budding chefs back home. Is that the secret to their spicy food?
Lost in Translation
The ride out of Bangkok was uneventful and straightforward. It’s not always easy leaving a city of 10 million people but I only had 4 turns to make and within a few hours was clear of the traffic.
The riding was easy with flat roads, a slight tailwind and surprisingly cool temperatures. I stopped at one point for a coffee and sat outside, slightly cool in my t-shirt and shorts. I know it was cold for the Thai people because a lady stepped out of the car near me wearing a full winter coat. I don’t think they make clothes warm enough for Thai’s if they ever ventured to Canada in January.
I managed to complete 80 km on my first day, not too bad considering I spent at least half the time getting out of Bangkok and I hadn’t actually been on a bicycle in over 15 months. My legs certainly felt the fully loaded bike. I am carrying full cooking and sleeping equipment as I will be going through some remote areas in the next few months. The problem when you start bicycling after a long time off is the pressure points between you and the bike. Specifically, your hands and butt take a lot of the weight. Your shoulders also have to get used to the forward leaning position and of course my legs felt tired. Apparently, sitting in a coffee shop reading newspapers isn’t the best preparation for a cycling trip.
I had been on this route a few times before so just sat back and enjoyed the passing scenery. You can’t go too far in Thailand without seeing a Buddhist temple, or Wat. There are over 40,000 Buddhist Wats in Thailand (not all of them in use). Here is a typical scene with the majestic building rising above a rural landscape.
Buddhist Wat
One of my goals on my bike trip is to try and stay away from soft drinks. When I lived in Thailand for the past year I could count on 1 hand how many times I had a can of coke but for some reason, I will bike for about an hour and get a sudden craving. There is clearly a lack of something in my diet when I bike so instead of reaching for the quick sugar fix that is counter productive in terms of supplying energy (you get a quick surge in energy followed by a decrease within a few minutes) I want to increase my fruit and vegetable servings to hold off the hunger and thirst. Here is a good example of what I will eat instead of a can of coke. Water, watermelon and oranges found in one of the many food stalls along the road.
Snack time
One of the great things about bicycling in Thailand is the number of coffee shops along the road, far more than anywhere I have ever been. Even in the most hectic traffic, they go out of their way to create a comfortable setting to enjoy a cup of coffee. This chain is found at all the gas stations. They are always surrounded by trees and running water and give you an oasis from the busy roads.
Coffee shop
Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles and for a very good reason. Even the toilets are happy.
Land of Smiles
On my second day I made it to the beach resort town of Cha am.
Cha am beach
It is about 180 km from Bangkok and is a popular destination for locals and foreigners alike. One of the things that has always bothered me is the foreigners perception of Thai women. They talk about some of the questionable behavior of some women and apply that to the entire population and nothing could be further from the truth. The Thai people are for the most part far more conservative than their western counterparts, something people who live here understand. For example, if you go to a Thai beach, the only ones wearing skimpy bathing suits will be the foreigners. The Thai people go to extremes to cover themselves up when they go in the water. If you want to start a bikini business, best go to a western country. Here is an example of the attire found on Thai females at a beach.
Thailand swimsuits
As most of you know, I spent the last 6 weeks in the Philippines helping a few families in the long rebuilding process after typhoon Yolanda. It was during my time there that I decided to continue with my bike trip to try and raise funds for both the Angel House Orphanage and the relief efforts in Tacloban. In honor of the Philippines I will be carrying the Filipino flag on the back of my bike and will often wear the t-shirt that translates to “Stand Tacloban.”
Flag of the Philippines
The Angel House Orphanage was started in 2009 when David Donaldson set up a private foundation to help children find a new home. The children at Angel House were abandoned, usually at birth, and David is offering them hope for a brighter future. The home can accommodate up to 20 children up to the age of 6. I was so impressed by the work David is doing to help the kids that I asked permission to help him raise funds to support the operating costs of his foundation. Angel House is funded solely by individual donors and does not receive any support from government. As I bike around the world, this is the image I will recall as I struggle through some of the obstacles that will arise. I hope that with effort of bicycling 50,000 km in just less than 2 years, we can help David with his valuable work.
Angels of Angel House
Please help spread the word to friends and family that may be interested in donating to a great cause where 100% of the funds will be used to support the ongoing costs to house, feed and provide health care for these little Angels.
Donations can be made by contacting me at bouwmanfred@yahoo.com or directly to David at his website at www. http://angelhousephilippines.com. You can also see some photos of the children on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/angelhousephilippines. I invite everyone to share the link with friends.
After spending 6 weeks in Tacloban and Cebu I realized that the rebuilding process would be a long one. As I noted earlier, there is a pattern during disasters that tends to repeat itself. Foreign donors willingly give when the devastation is shown on the nightly news programs. In the weeks following a calamity, funds rush in and then the world’s attention gets preoccupied with other things. The problem is that the immediate onslaught of funds provides only short-term relief in terms of temporary shelter, food and medicine. These are vital to save lives but when the aid stops, the people are left without permanent homes and usually without jobs. In a very small way, I would like to stop this cycle so will also be raising funds for the ongoing relief effort. I want to continue to ensure the families we helped are not forgotten as time goes on. They face a very uncertain few years in Tacloban as it is estimated that it will take another 6 months just to get electricity back. The people will live in tents for at least 6 months and then temporary homes for about 2 years after that. Many were struggling to make ends meet before the typhoon and I want them to feel that they will not be abandoned like so many in the past.
This is the other photo I will reflect on as I make my way around the world. It is the area where most of the children I know were living and all of them are now in tents. This picture will certainly humble me during my own self-inflicted struggles over the next few years.
Angelina and the twins lived here
It is not easy for me to ask people for donations and I am very grateful for all the support that so many of you have provided. I am hoping that over the next 2 years, that people can think about Angel House and Tacloban if your Company, church, social organization, school etc., is looking for a fundraising event. It can be something as small as keeping a donation jar at your work site to remind people that the situation in Tacloban is not over. It would be a shame if once again, the worldwide goodwill provided to people is lost in the months following a disaster.
Here are a few photos of 2 of the families that were helped thanks to the generous donations made by so many.
The twins family
Michael’s family
My plan now is to continue heading south towards Malaysia and then cross by ferry to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. I want to visit the Orangutan rehabilitation Center in Sumatra and then continue to Bali. From there my plan is to cycle down through Australia and New Zealand and then fly to South America and make my way home to Canada. That will be the first half and after a break at home will continue to Europe, Central Asia, China and back into Bangkok. My trip will end in the Philippines. I will bike through Tacloban to see the progress made in rebuilding the City and then end my trip at the orphanage. My goal is to be a part of the annual Christmas Party at the Angel House Orphanage during Christmas 2015.
Thank you for reading and I hope you continue to follow along. After only 2 days on the bike, I am already realizing the long and difficult task ahead.