Footnotes from Thailand

Now that we’ve departed for Laos, here are some remaining observations and thoughts from our visit here.

Tiger balm
Our hill village guide introduced us to tiger balm, an all purpose cure in a small can. It acted like a vaporub menthol for colds when applied to the nose and along the arteries of the neck. It also made a heck of a cure for mosquite bites; Barry got one that was swelling up, but it  disappeared in minutes with the application of tiger balm. Got to get us some.

Light and dark:
According to our guide, many Thai people, particularly young women, use certain creams on their skin to make themselves lighter in complexion; we pointed out to him that many of us go to tanning spas and beach resorts just to get our skins darker. It seems that in all cultures people try to become happier by transforming themselves into something else.

Thai Massage for two
Our guide arranged for two top notch masseuses to come to our room so we could both get the full Thai massage experience. He had recommended we get all three forms of Thai massage, reflexology (foot massage and pressure points), body massage (deep tissue) and oil (more deep tissue and a lot of oily rubbing). So that’s what we did. For the requisite two hours, they clambered all over the beds and wandered around our limbs to give us a very soothing and at times a quite sensual experience. We had never had so much foot manipulation and kneading; but oh so good.  We’ve had joint massages before but these were unusual for a few reasons. First, they were completely synchronized, even snapping the caps of the oils at the same time and rarely more than a few seconds apart in their actions, such as the three slaps that indicated a shift of attention or body section. Second, they did not seem overly fastidious about nudity or moving hands near the groin or breasts. They avoided the most private areas, but touched pretty much everything else. All in all, they made the hurt parts of our bodies better and all the rest so relaxed and released, so we arose pretty well healed. And it only cost $30 each including tip for the whole 2 hours.

The Royals
Not only are images of the king and royal family everywhere, but the extensive signs of gratitude – as if everything from the government comes from the king – seem to border on propaganda. The concluding section of the National Museum’s display of Thai history follows the Rama kings and their vaunted exploits. But it goes a bit overboard with fulsome expressions of respect and admiration for the wonderful things that they did, particularly the most recent ones like the long-lived current king Bhumibol. Thais do respect the royals, also perhaps because they aren’t as difficult to like as those in England.

Ashes to ashes
Buddhists don’t bury their dead, at least not as westerners do. They cremate the dead, divide the ashes into threes, put one portion in a chedi or funerary tower, put a second portion in a vessel in their homes and the remaining portion is scattered outdoors as one sees fit. So you see no cemeteries, but lots of chedis in temple areas.

The landscape you expect to see
When you travel toward the Mekong river, the landscape is extraordinary and the kind of vistas you expect to see here. Golden rice fields stretched out in all directions to the wooded fringe of the valley. There, blue-tinted hills seemed to rise magically above the fields out of wreathes of fog.

Musicality
Thai is tonal and so there is a lilting singing quality to much of the speech. But what a linguistically tone deaf westerner hears all over the place from the female voices is the polite phrase ending, ka, in a lilting up and down tone. Whether they’re greeting you or trying to get your attention to their food stall, the impact on the ear is as if they were singing throughout everyday life.

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