Posts Tagged ‘family’


Things can only get better, they say…

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Well after a horrible day the day before I was pleased to wake up to a bright sunny day with little wind. Today was going to be much better. Chris had found a beautiful feather lying on the floor the night before, by our camp spot and gave it to me. I decided it was going to be a good omen for us.

We picked up the new road again which is a bit easier to cycle on. After 8km, making good progress uphill, Chris got a puncture. He does seem to be getting a lot of punctures, 1 or 2 a day – it must be the weight!? As it was hot, I decided to carry on. Chris cycles faster than me so I knew he would catch me up. The town of Tsaagandorvj couldn’t be too much further now.

After Chris joined me again, we arrived at the top of a hill and in the distance we could see a number of yurts. I wondered if this was the start of the town. Excited, we pedalled in that direction. As we got closer we could see a yurt near the road and headed over to say hello and see if they could tell us where the town was. As we pulled up, a small family came out to greet us, Mum, Dad and a little girl. They told us the town was 7km ahead, hurray. But first they wanted us to come inside and have some tea with them. So, delighted to be asked, we stepped inside our very first yurt!

We had tea and were impressed at how big the yurt seems inside. It was also pretty modern and had everything from a little dressing table, a teddy bear, sofas, rugs, TV to cooking utensils, cups, plates and of course a wood burner. It was very comfortable and the family were very welcoming.

The little girl was playing with her kitten and then brought a puzzle over to Chris for him to try and solve. It was too hard for him, but a good icebreaker and sweet to watch the little girl giggling when Chris got it wrong. The Dad told us he mines precious stones and he had a handful of small stones and insisted on giving us each a stone as a gift. Rocks from the Gobi!

We were both taken with the yurt, and the decoration on the roof slats and the door was very pretty and flowery. Quite similar in style to Romany Gypsy caravans. I asked if I could take a photo – they were more than happy for us to take photos and proud to show us their home.

After a few group photos outside and some questions about our bikes, we said goodbye and cycled off to find the town.

It’s so nice to meet local people and as most cycle tourers will tell you, the best thing about travelling by bike is the people you meet and the welcome they extend to you, despite you being a foreigner, unknown, dirty and smelly (not always but quite often!) and unannounced. It really is amazing and I can’t help wondering if we would be as welcoming to foreigners arriving in our country in the same manner, as we are generally more fearful of ‘strangers’. I hope that in the future we will have the opportunity to welcome people in the same way to our home; this experience has certainly made us much more open-minded and less judgemental about other people we meet.

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Ben the rice farmer, Ben the teacher…

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Most of us only have one day job, most of us don’t have to produce our own food. In the west at least.

Ben has a farm about 2km from his house. It is a rice farm, with paddy fields stretching for 500m down the hill. If you are like me, you’ll find yourself drawn by paddy fields, mesmerized by their lush greenness. As you pass by the sea of green, you realise that it is an optical illusion, only revealing itself on closer inspection. Rows and rows of baby rice plants are sat reflecting in water, placed in a seemingly symmetrical fashion, growing and growing, eventually ending up on our plates as fluffy grains of rice.

Ben's Farm - Rice paddy fields

Ben and his family eat rice for every meal. Ben was shocked to hear that at home we only eat rice maybe once or twice a week. He knew that potatoes and wheat are our staple food, however I don’t think he realised just how little rice we eat by comparison. In fact the Thai translation for ‘are you hungry?’, is really ‘eat rice?’. Often Ben is happy to eat just rice and chilli, washed down with black tea.

So the farm feeds the family. Ben, his wife, his grandson and Ten, plus any guests they have staying. I looked around and imagined that the rice here would be enough for 1 or 2 years perhaps. However the rice here is only enough for 7 months of the year, they buy rice for the other 5 months. The rice is harvested once a year, usually in October. After being milled, it is stored in the rice house.

Liz eating freshly picked and cooked cornAs well as rice, the farm has a variety of fruit and vegetables growing: corn, banana plants, chilli plants, tea, herbs, cucumbers, lime, little sour oranges, guava. All are picked, taken home and eaten, or collected to be sold.

Ben, Ten and his wife go to the farm most days to work, often leaving around 7am. The rice fields need constant attention. If it rains very heavily then the walls of the paddy fields can collapse.

The irrigation system allows water from the top to pour down along channels to each paddy, but again during heavy rain the water needs to be diverted away, with the help of miniature makeshift dam walls so that the fields don’t flood. Other threats are pests, insects that strip the rice plants, eating all the goodness away. If the rain doesn’t come then the fields dry up and the plants can die. It all seems like a finely tune balancing act.

makeshift dam

Some of us are farmers, some of us have allotments, but very few of us are responsible for growing our own food and providing for our families in this way. Yet in Thailand and may parts of Asia, subsistence farming is a way of life and an important part of village life. Thailand also supplies rice to many parts of the world, yet at home I believe we have little or no idea about how rice is grown or what is involved, or how it ends up, as if by magic, on our plate. It’s fascinating to see the magic first hand.

Ben explaining to Chris about the Farm

In the evening after a long day at the farm, Ben and Ten spend two hours teaching English to approx 40 students. By 8.30pm they can stop and relax. No more rice, no more kids to teach, for today anyway.

Did you know?
Rice is a staple food for nearly one-half of the world’s population. In 1990, the crop was grown on 145.8 million hectares of land, and production amounted to 518.8 million metric tons of grain (paddy, rough rice). Low in sodium and fat, rice has no cholesterol and is easy to digest. (source: The Cambridge World History of Food)

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Bridge over the River Kwai – 18th July

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

We’re finally leaving Bangkok. Travelling by train (yes to avoid the Bangkok highways and for speed – we need to get to Chiang Mai) from Thonburi Station, Bangkok Noi, we planned to catch the 13.35 to Kanchanaburi, home of the bridge over the River Kwai. As we approached the station, it looked more like a train graveyard than a station, I wad doubtful that trains ever left here! However as we got closer, we saw a platform and people waiting, so that was a step in the right direction. The train was at 13.55 and cost 100 Baht each, plus 180 for the two bikes.

At thonburi station

Already engrossed in my book...

So off we go, with a few snacks from the roadside stall in hand, at a slow pace. It’s a 3rd class train so I’m not expecting it to fly, but this is a little slow. Ah well relax and enjoy the journey. We are due to arrive at 16.20. After 45mins, the train stops and sits, then after lots of loud jolting and banging of metal, the train begins to go backwards! Not so good. We end up back where we started an hour ago, at Thonburi station! Hmmn cue Thomas the tank engine music. It appears that the engine train is ‘bloken’. A new engine,that Chris now nicknames Thomas, arrives and after more banging and jolting we set off again. Only now we are going really really fast, should… er… a train go this fast??

'Thomas'

Stopped again. The main in uniform is on his walkie talkie, strolling up and down the platform outside. There isn’t much in the way of information round here, so no one has much idea what’s happening. Chris informs me that it might be a box junction and that because the train is now running late, we may have to wait for another train to pass. I have no idea how he knows this.  Now resigned to a long journey I open my book, the excellent A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson and lose myself in the rather entertaining world of the sub-atomic, particles with strange names that only exist theoretically ( no one has actually seen one) oh and Flash Gordon. Chris meanwhile is writing an article on choosing a touring bike, on our laptop. A few minutes later a train comes from the opposite direction, passes us and we set off again. Needless to say, I now know what a box junction is.

So our 2 and 3/4 hr journey turns into 5 hrs and we arrive in Kanchanaburi about 7pm, both feeling weary and slightly bewildered – where exactly did the day go?  We load the bikes and head straight to the town to find a guesthouse and some food. We end up going to the main drag to No Name bar, with the rather charming slogan of ‘get shitfaced on a shoestring’ – primarily because they serve bangers and mash. Anyone who knows me well, probably knows that I love mash potato. Thai food doesn’t really feature potato very heavily, so I had to seize the opportunity. It was very good and came with fried onions and gravy! We ended up having a couple of beers and talking till late about the planets, chance, fate, witchcraft, how unlikely it is that we should even exist at all, how lucky… all the usual topics you might expect in an evening down the pub, ha ha!

Next day, a scorcher even by Thai standards – 36 degrees at 11am – we head to the Railway Museum to learn more about the story behind Kanchanaburi and the bridge. It’s air-conditioned, 100 Baht to get in and free tea/coffee at the end. It was well worth the entry fee and an excellent place to start. The exhibition is very well presented and helps to re-create the conditions that the POWs were living and working in. It also explains the Japanese involvement in WWII and their prolific advancement through SE Asia. The well known film concentrates on the bridge and depicts British POWs, however the Japanese project here was on a much bigger scale. The men were building a railway from Thailand to Burma, cutting through the mountains and building several bridges, and they were not just British. Prisoners from Australia, Holland and America were there too, plus of course the Thai people, Burmese, Malays and Indian workers (mostly drafted by force) who often get forgotten. They were subject to horrific conditions; near starvation, dysentery from unclean water supplies, disease from mosquitoes, injuries and sickness sustained from working, the heat and the brutality. It was truly horrendous and 100,000 men died in 3 years at various camps along the railway. One board explained that ‘food rations were withheld from those who were sick to encourage them to return to work’. Most of these men were dying or seriously ill, many due to lack of food and nutrients ( medics prescribed marmite as medicine)! Shocking.

Museum

I found it a very moving exhibition and made me very glad (selfishly) that both my brother and partner  – both of a similar age to many of the men who died here – were not alive during WWII.  I know that my Grandad was in Burma during the war, however I know nothing of his time there or the horrors he may have encountered.

Final resting place

The cemetery opposite marks many graves of the men who died here. It is beautifully kept and there were people tending to the plants and grass around the headstones whilst we were there. So far from home, I’d be glad to know that so many people visited and remembered.

At the bridge

From there we cycled to the Bridge, which was a little underwhelming. It isn’t a wooden trestle bridge as seen in the film, in fact it’s concrete and steel. The surrounding area is now filled with restaurants and shops, with lots of people milling around. The river has floating Kareoke bars going up and down. No matter how hard i tried, I couldn’t imagine it as a POW camp.

The railway

As we cycle on, I can’t help thinking that even on the hardest, toughest days that we might have cycling, I’m pretty sure that none of them compare to the days endured by the prisoners of 1940-1943.

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Sailing around the world with kids

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Anne and Rea - Sailing familyFollowing on from our interview with the Parker family, we have the second of our travelling family interviews, with Caroline Leakey, who is currently sailing round the world with her husband Nigel and 2 children, Anne and Rea.

So far they have visited Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand on their catamaran Murungaru, after leaving New Zealand in April 2008. Caroline tells us what life on board is like…

“It can be quite intense, but I think we have learnt to sense each others’ moods and know when we each need our own space.”

Caroline is homeschooling and we can safely say that they are getting a full and rounded education – how many 4 and 5 year olds do you know, who can tell you what Mangroves are, can swim, snorkel and scramble competently, oh and drop the word ‘erosion’ meaningfully in a sentence?

Caroline on homeschooling…

“What they want more than anything else is to succeed in what they are doing – so being able to help as much or as little as possible so that this is achieved is important.”

Read the full interview here.

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Funny English couple on bicycles (2/4/10)

Friday, April 9th, 2010

After a hot day of cycling we found ourselves in a massive wet thunderstorm. The rain came down and we both let ourselves get drenched in lovely cool water. It was sooooo nice to be cool. We’d cycled 98km and with the rain still going and the light starting to fade we stopped to camp. We turned off the highway down a little side alley, in the hope that we might find a spot to put the tent, however we found ourselves in a village. We asked the ladies if there was anywhere we could out our tent for the night, after showing them a photo of a tent they understood. I think the concept of camping is very alien to them (well the way we do it anyway) so even though we can say the correct words in Indonesian they still don’t get it without a picture. Plus we are European and maybe they expect that we would only stay in a hotel.

Well one lady said that we could camp next to her house, in the garden and took us there. We explained what we were doing and had a brief conversation about money and the fact that we are on a tight budget. They said we could camp for free. Then a few more people appeared and after a brief chat they all seemed to think that we should sleep inside – it was raining and too cold outside they said. We went inside and before we knew it half the village turned up, wanting to see who the people on bikes were. I was ushered off to have a shower and Chris set about cooking some food for us. I came back to find Chris with an audience of about 30+ people watching him cook rice and vegetables. It was like live Masterchef, better than TV said one of the men! All the children were sat cross legged on the floor watching his every move. It was very funny because the rice took ages to cook and Chris kept trying it and then putting it back on the stove. Rice is eaten everyday here, at most meals, so they were watching with interest. One lady seemed to be saying telling Chris how to cook it, Chris replied wittily ‘Ah Rice Ingriss’ -  English Rice and she seemed happy with that.

Nobody spoke much english and we had a handful of phrases that we had learnt, but we managed to communicate well. We said the words Terima kasih and bagus a lot (thank you and good) which they found highly amusing, to the point of giving Chris the nickname of Terima kasih!

The family and their community made us so welcome, we felt like guests of honour. Someone appeared with some mineral water for us and then tea and coffee. They gave us pillows, towels and flip flops (our shoes were soaked)! After we had eaten we got everyone together for a photo, they were very excited about this and afterwards i went round with the camera showing all the children and older ladies the photo, zooming in so they could see themselves – they were pleased as punch. Funny thing is none of them look very happy in the photo – so serious, but they were a very friendly, jolly bunch… so you’ll just have to take my word for it :)

Bangil village

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