And so we keep ‘on-on’ — Hashing every week. Running through jungles, slogging up mountains and sprinting along beaches; it’s a little bit crazy, but a lot of fun.

Hash beach run

Hash beach run

And yes, we’ve been given our Hash names — we were baptised, complete with a ceremonial pouring of beer over our heads. Luckily, within the local bouquet of Hash names, ours are very respectable, so I am comfortable to reveal them at last:
Stefan fell heavily on one of the runs (a.k.a. a Hash Crash), so he was named Earth Trembler. I am Knee Trembler — make of that what you will? Anyway, together we known are The Tremblers.
After our naming ceremony, Stefan grinned, stood a little taller and puffed out his chest, then declared how proud he was of his new name.
I, however, was a bit disappointed, because I had thought of  a great Hash name for Stefan — ‘Buffalo Dropping’, which I picked up when his Hash Crash was described by the ring leader  ” …  like a buffalo dropping from heaven …”  But Stefan was not very impressed with my creativity  and threatened to come up with something far worse for me, and to reveal it to the elders before the naming ceremony. So in the end I kept mum about my idea, for the sake of marital bliss, although, admittedly, the fear of being stuck with a rude Hash name forever could also have carried some weight.

I christen you EARTH TREMBLER

I christen thee EARTH TREMBLER

Super Hero - Earth Trembler

Super Hero – EARTH TREMBLER

“It sounds just like a Super Hero!” Stefan exclaimed. “Earth Trembler … Earth Trembler … EARTH TREMBLER,” he practiced in a deep voice on the drive home. Next thing he’ll be arriving at the Hash runs with a cape and a mask, and I have to live with the man!

Hares - to set the next Hash Trail

Hares – to set the next Hash Trail

Hares being punished for using a truck to set the trail

Hares being punished for using a truck to set Hash Trail

As soon as we had we been named, we were given the task of setting a Hash Trail. (In Hash speak we were known as Hares and, because it was our first time, we were Virgin Hares.) This involves finding a new running route and marking it with shredded paper. This proved to be quite an ordeal; beating through impenetrable jungle, dodging dogs, stepping over snakes, avoiding dangerous-looking buffalo, being stung by nettles … trying to explain to local Thais what we were doing.

Hash 1 400

Trail to the right, I declare

Hash 2 400

Watch out for snakes … use Big Stick

Hash 6 400

In case of charging buffalo … drop Big Stick and run

Hash 4 400

Hashers go that-a-way

As little guidance is provided, apart from the requirement that the run must be longer than 45minutes, I decided to create a recipe to assist all future Hares.
After the run your trail is voted upon by the Hashers and a ‘thumbs down’ means that you become the next Hash Shit, condemned to wear a toilet seat around your neck for every meeting until another is given the honor. I think the longest stretch for an individual was running into a few months on end! (See if you can spot the poor sod in one of the photos)

HOW TO SET A HASH TRAIL: A Recipe to Avoid Hash Shit

INGREDIENTS

1 or 2 Hares (gullible Hashers are best e.g. Earth Trembler and Knee Trembler)
1 mature, well-marinated Hasher (select a devious veteran Hasher e.g. Leopard Piss)
1 large bag of Shredded Paper (blue and pink are the most visible, but throw in green and yellow for good measure)
1 Runners/Walkers Split Sign (created and decorated by you!)
1 Big Stick (straight and strong)
1 Truck
8 – 12 whole Coconuts
15 Coconut Palm Fronds (14 for decoration, 1 for whipping)
A sprinkling of Courage
A dash of Determination
A smidgeon of Madness

METHOD

1. Allow idea of setting trail to soak in mind for a couple of weeks. Do not freeze.
2. Source route
• Use Big Stick.
• Make forays into deepest jungle and up steepest mountain slopes at regular intervals. Do not follow existing roads, use Big Stick to carve and chop out new and exciting paths.
• Do not knead in too much concrete, as this could leave a shitty after-taste.
• Sprinkle in Courage, keeping a little aside for unforeseen events.
• Add Determination.
• For added texture saunter through the private back yards of local Thai’s and mash in some sweet smiles and fluffy waves.
Note: Big Stick is ideal for whipping away snakes.
Warning: If buffalo boils over and charges when walking through pasture — Big Stick useless. Drop Big Stick and beat a hasty retreat.
However, be sure to include pasture in route for added excitement.
3. Find new Big Stick. (straight and strong)
4. Mark Route
• Drop generous dollops of Shredded Paper along trail approx 30m apart.
Helpful Hint: Place Shredded Paper on right hand side of trail only. Do not be discouraged by competing local litter, this will assist in confusing and slowing down Hashers.
• Use Truck to speed up process.
• Form a cross out of 2 Coconut Palm Fronds at each intersection and garnish liberally with Shredded Paper.  Be creative.
• Toss whole Coconuts to the well-marinated Hasher, and instruct him to mix things up with False Trails. If he stirs in some Back Checks too, you know you have selected a well-ripened, devious bastard, through and through.
• Moisten trail with plenty of sea spray or river water.
• Paste the Walker/Runner Split Sign on any available tree. Do not maim or kill tree.
Helpful Hint: Blend in Sign, making sure it is barely visible.
Optional Extra: Heat up trail by dicing with barking feral dogs.
Warning: Do not skewer leg on barbed wire.
• Leave trail to stew overnight. Pray for no drizzle or crumby wind.

COOKING INSTRUCTIONS

1. Sweeten trail with lies and coat with false information.
2. Flavour with a hearty helping of On-On’s.
3. Rub in the smidgeon of Madness.
4. Bake for a minimum of 45mins to avoid a guaranteed flop and the resulting Hash Shit.

Hash 7 400

This-a-way, if you please

a

Keep left, no shortcuts here

Hash 3 400

Over bushes and go around the bend

Hash 8 400

Walker’s and Runner’s to split right here

SERVING SUGGESTIONS

1. Serve with a truckload of ice-cold beer.
2. Supplement with side-dishes of fruit provided by a bevy of generous Thai ladies.
3. Scold all transgressors with 1 coconut cup of beer. (real or imagined transgressions count)
4. Whip up serious offenders with the Coconut Palm Frond.
5. Ice all short-cutters.
Helpful Hint: Do not admit to using Truck while marking route.

For best results follow all instructions with no deviations, and you will be sure to avoid Shit Hash. Good Luck!
The Tremblers.

KOH SAMUI, THAILAND: 27-07-2015

There are some beautiful sunsets on this island and, if you move up to a more elevated position, your vista expands, and the sunsets are even more spectacular. This is where I found a small yoga studio; located halfway up a hill, looking out across the sea to the mainland of Thailand. How idyllic, I thought.

View from the yoga studio

View from the yoga studio


Don’t ask me what type of yoga it is, I don’t know. I have only dabbled in yoga in the past, a class here, a stretch there. But in a moment of enthusiasm I committed to (and paid for) a month of yoga classes. ‘They’ say the benefits of yoga are huge, especially for an inflexible, aging body like mine. And so I joined three, sometimes four, Thai ladies, where we are put through our paces by a fine-looking young Thai instructor.

We start with a short stretch and then it’s time for ‘salutations’ and we turn to face the sunset.
Oh that sunset … just gorgeous; the red-pink sky, the distant islands, the mainland a hazy purple …

“Take a big step forward.” Three dainty Thai feet step silently forward.
“KER-KLUNK!” My large foot lands with a thud on the wooden floor, the instructor’s head jerks up.
“Who made that noise?” Small smiling faces look towards me. “No noise, CONTROL YOUR CORE.” I concentrate harder.
“Look at that sunset tonight,” he says.
But it is our fifth ‘salutation’ and I can no longer see; my eyes are blurry and the sweat is pouring in great puddles onto my mat, my muscles are crying out. I DON’T MUCH CARE FOR SUNSETS RIGHT NOW!
By the tenth salutation, in a never-ending series of salutations, I HATE all dogs and their upward and downward poses.

Then we ‘hold the pose’ and I see his feet approach me from my awkward sideways angle.
“So this is how it is meant to feel,” he says as he pulls my arm straight, twists my hips around. “Now hold it here.”
“Err-aarg!” I moan.
“I know, I know it hurts. It feels just like a knife through your butt, doesn’t it?”
“AAR-GUG!” I reply.
“Good! Breathe into the pain … deep breath in.”

yoga pose

yoga pose – personal interpretation


But I don’t have enough breath, I pant, feeling the pain spread into every musty corner of my body. Pain is everywhere, everywhere. Around me thin, lithe bodies twist and turn, stretch and hold, hardly a drop of sweat on their pretty young brows.
“Now we are going to have some fun!” come the dreaded words. For this means extreme body twisting, or balancing on two fingers, or turning upside-down, or a mixture of all three. The only memory my muscles have of ever being in a similar position, if you can call it a memory, is from the time I was in the womb.
“No Cathy, left arm around left leg, right elbow under right knee then twist it behind your back, then push down and pull up.” I look up bewildered, little laughs twitter behind tiny hands.
“Aah-huh, aah-huh! You see the blood will rush to your head – that’s why people who do yoga look so young.”
Oh yes, yes … the benefits of yoga … but all of that is just a distant memory. All I can focus on right now is balancing on a part of my body that has never been balanced on before.
yoga pose - extra stretch

yoga pose – extra stretch


“Right, now for some strength exercises – ‘burpies’.”
“Plink, plink, plink.” The Thai ladies land as softly as small birds.
“BE-DOOF!”
“Cathy?!” The class comes to a standstill, my neighbour giggles, my face bright red.
“No sound when you jump! In yoga you keep control, at all times. Now … jump higher, reach up. This will get your pulse up.”
My pulse up? Where to? My heart is already beating in my head, my whole body is pulsating!
“And we’ll end off with some very fast (incomprehensible Indian word) breathing. Use your abdomen to push the breath out, PUSH-PUSH-PUSH.”
I don’t get this breathing business? I really don’t – the air rushes in and my head feels dizzy, but at least I know that we are coming to the end.
Oh great, he’s bringing out the ‘golden bowl’ for our ‘AAH-OOOMMMMS’. We close our eyes, sit up straight and say three ‘ooommms’ in unison and a Thai prayer. I am full of gratitude, that I made it through another session and pray that my wobbly legs will reach the car.

It’s been three-weeks; my body is sore and aching in places that I forgot were part of me somewhere in the 1970’s.
“I hope I’m going to lose some weight with all this exercise,” I say to Stefan as he rubs my back with arnica oil, brought with us all the way from South Africa.
“Oh no,” he scoffs. “If you want to lose weight you will have to do some REAL exercise.”

KOH SAMUI, THAILAND: 30-05-2015

It is 6.14 am; it’s warm, humid but not yet oppressive and we’re going for our morning walk. We have a number of routes to choose from, but prefer the quieter roads that cut through small villages and farmland.

Cath in neon

Cath in neon

Stefan in headband

Stefan in headband

We start off slow, working out the stiffness from our aging bodies, but soon pick up the pace and start sweating from our exertion.  The way of life here has a pattern that is now becoming familiar to us.  We know to look out for flattened frogs and snakes (and the occasional rat) on the concrete road and, depending on their freshness, step around them, and to avoid the huge (as big as an African elephant’s) droppings of the water buffalo.  We now recognise the noise that sounds like an early morning sprinkler system, as the cicadas that have started their daily vibrating calls.   And we know that birdsong and the raspy-throated crows of the cockerels will accompany us whichever route we choose.

scraggly chickens

scraggly chickens

We will probably meet a slick, mud-coated water buffalo, usually accompanied by two men; one to pull the rope attached to his nose and the other, with a small stick, to tap his enormous rump.  He is being moved to a new field where he will be tied to a coconut palm to graze for a few days.  And there comes that clever coconut monkey, sitting on the top railings of a truck, a chain around his neck.  He’s off to work with his master; to climb the highest palms and twist off coconuts.

man and buffalo

man and buffalo

buffalo and man

buffalo and man

Then there are the dogs; temple dogs, jungle dogs, shop dogs, street dogs.  Most of them are free to wander as they please, and they do just that, ignoring us while they make their rounds.  Occasionally they join us, with wagging tails, for a part of our walk but sometimes they bark at us.  These are the ones I don’t like; you see I have been bitten twice by dogs.  Once on the behind in Portugal (6 stitches) and once in Kuilsrivier, on the right hand (5 stitches) and was out of action for a few weeks.  So you can honestly say I am beyond being once bitten twice shy.

shack dog

shack dog

jungle dog

jungle dog

“I don’t like that dog, I don’t like that dog, I don’t like that dog,” I say in a small voice as a black dog comes bounding at us from out of the jungle.  “Did you hear me? I don’t like that dog!” I say to Stefan, sheltering behind him, making sure to keep his bulk between me and the barking dog.

“Well then, you should give a better warning, like; DOG! AT THREE!”

“Dog at three?  If I’m scared of a dog, I’m not going to be able to work out from which direction it’s approaching!” I objected.

“Well you saying quietly ‘I don’t like that dog, I don’t like that dog, I don’t like that dog’, doesn’t serve as sufficient warning.”

“Okay then, how about I shout DOG! And point?  And I still use you as my shield?”  You see it’s all about compromise, compromise.

street dog

street dog

yard dogs

yard dogs

Now people are stirring; yawning men, still in their silk pyjamas, sit in doorways drinking tea, a woman is sweeping, sweeping, sweeping.   A small open-air ‘restaurant’ is open for breakfast and an old woman is doing brisk business serving unidentifiable foodstuff to customers from her corrugated iron shack.  A scooter carrying four school children sitting astride whizzes by, and a man is tinkering in his motorbike repair shop.   We turn for home and a woman passes on a motorbike, her side trailer laden with fresh produce, perhaps on her way to the market?  Watch out for that minibus approaching, it is on its way to pick up tourists and we know it doesn’t slow down, even on these narrow roads. (Maybe a distant cousin of the South African taxi?)

sweeping, sweeping

sweeping, sweeping,sweeping

scooter and side trailer

scooter and side trailer

Buddhist shrine

Buddhist shrine

We hear chanting as we pass a local beach restaurant, a prayer meeting in progress.  A sweet-smelling aroma drifts our way as a man lights incense and, holding his palms together, bows towards the decorated shrine that stands guard at his entrance.  A friendly smile and a “SAWATDEE-KHA!” from the woman sorting through a pile of dried palm leaves has us waving back.  We are on the home stretch when we are passed by a rush of scooters, with Thais in smart gold uniforms, making their way to work at a nearby five-star hotel.

on the road

on the road

home stretch

home stretch

As we round the last bend we pass a bent-over old man, shuffling slowly along with a walking stick.

“Sawatdee Khap,” says Stefan.

“Khap,” replies the old man with a toothless smile.   He looks up at us in surprise and laughs in delight.  We are not too sure what he finds so hilarious.  Is it Stefan’s pronunciation of the greeting or my bright, matching neon shirt, cap and shoes?  Could it be Stefan’s headband, a throw-back from the seventies, squeezed tightly around his big head, his hair sticking up at all angles?  Or could it simply be that we are just altogether so strange we make him laugh?

are we really so funny?

are we really so funny?

Koh Samui, Thailand: 30-04-2015

It started with chanting from the Chinese temple next door and, as New Year approached, so the chanting became more intense and the fire-crackers more frequent. They seemed to go off at random times of day or night causing me to jump out of my skin. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these fire-crackers, they consist of a long string of crackers, with the biggest and loudest one saved for the very last BANG, leaving your ears ringing.

Chinese temple, Nathon

Chinese temple, Nathon

The night before Chinese New Year we drove to the market place in Nathon to watch lion dances, acrobats and a dragon dance, all with the accompanying chanting, cymbals, drums and gongs. The lion dances consisted of two people under a large colourful lion mask and body; one controlled the head and the other the tail and they act out a story. The acrobats proceeded to stand on each other’s shoulders first two, then three, then four then five! Right on top of this human tower stood a little girl; she could not have been older than four and was completely fearless as she waved to the crowd. The same acrobatic trick was repeated, but this time from the top of a bus! Then a long palm pole was brought out, the little girl was strapped to the very top, and the pole was raised. She was joined on top by an adult acrobat and (of course) stood on his shoulders and waved. From there he pretended to lose his grip sending her little body  tumbling down, as the crowd gasped in horror, only a long cord strapped to one leg, prevented her from crashing into the ground! (Please note this was all performed with no safety gear of any kind.)

Chinese acrobats

Chinese acrobats

Dangling girl

Dangling girl

The evening ended with the dragon dance; a large golden dragon that required about twelve people to operate it. It was lit up with flickering coloured lights and it twisted and twirled magically among the crowd. At the end of the performance people gathered around, and offered money for a strand or two from dragon’s beard. (meant to bring good luck)

Lion dance

Lion dance

Dragon dance

Dragon dance

The next morning we were back in Nathon, where the festivities continued. This time there was to be a parade from the Chinese temple along the main street of Nathon. When we arrived it seemed as if the parade was ready to go; a predominance of red and gold, small children dressed in traditional Chinese costume and holding banners waited, idols on litters were lined up and ready to be carried, two colourful lions were prancing about and a long golden dragon was shaking and shimmering in anticipation.

Children with banners to lead the parade

Children with banners to lead the parade

Ready to go

Ready to go

Girls in pink and gold

Girls in pink and gold

Girls in pink

Girls in pink

Girls in gold

Girls in gold

Children with banners

Children with banners

But there seemed to be a hold up in the temple where a crowd had gathered. We entered the temple complex to witness the most bizarre spectacle; devotees were working themselves up into a trance, with clashing gongs and moaning, shaking and rocking, so that skewers of different dimensions could be inserted through their cheeks, and they wouldn’t feel a thing. The whole process was quite chaotic and difficult to make sense of. Eventually, with drums and cymbals, and holding the idols aloft, the parade set off.

Going into a trance

Going into a trance

Two men skewered through cheeks

Two men skewered through cheeks

Each skewered devotee was accompanied by a small posse of minders in white, who directed them to the Chinese shops and held a small jar of red paint for the devotee to bless people by dabbing a spot on their forehead. They also made sure that all the bank notes offered were secured onto the skewer going through the devotee’s cheek. There were some devotees whose shirts were splattered with blood as they continually rasped and slashed away at their tongues with razor sharp tools. It was not for the feint-hearted.

Parade sets off

Parade sets off

Carrying idols

Carrying idols

Collecting money on his skewer

Collecting money on his skewer

A blessing with a dab of red paint

A blessing with a dab of red paint

All the way down the street the Chinese shops were decorated with red and gold Chinese lanterns. Decorated tables, laden with flowers and food offerings stood in front of shops and hanging outside were strands and strands of Chinese fire-crackers.

Chinese offering

Chinese offering

Street scene

Street scene

As the parade progressed down the street so firecrackers were lit, littering the street with shreds of red paper. Just when I thought I had secured a ‘safe spot’ to stand and observe the proceedings, a devotee ran down the centre of the street, dragging live fire-crackers behind him which he hurled down the street, right in front of the ‘safe spot’, where I was cowering!

Safe space?

Safe spot?

Creepy mask

Creepy mask

Once again there was no regard for safety, as some crackers set a stall alight and another shot so hard into Stefan’s stomach it left him black-and-blue. (He was so brave and had not taken cover, and now had the battle wounds to show for it.) I was just recovering from my shellshock, wondering if my hearing would ever be the same again, when I was startled by an over-sized mask with red cheeks and a creepy grin, the kind that induces nightmares. Luckily Chinese New Year is only an annual event!

New year celebrations

New year celebrations

Golden dragon

Golden dragon

NATHON, KOH SAMUI, THAILAND: 21-02-2015

It’s taken three weeks to write about our joining the Hash House Harriers running group on Koh Samui.  This is because the first one left me dumbstruck and the second, although less confusing, was still pretty incomprehensible.  If I tell you, that on the internet, the club is described as ‘a drinking club with a running problem’, it may go some way to illustrate what it’s all about.

This group of about sixty international ex-pats get together weekly, at different locations on the island, and set off on a 6km to 10km run or walk, along narrow jungle paths, through buffalo territory and local backyards, setting off all the dogs in the neighbourhood.

The setting

The Lager site

Ready to run

Ready to run

The first thing to try to understand about the Hash is Hash language; this includes general repartee, drinking songs and Hash names.  Apart from your usual name, everyone has a Hash name too. I am not yet sure how you are given a Hash name, but I think it is assigned once someone in the group comes up with the rudest thing they can think of to call you.

Then there is the trail itself.  It is laid out by the ‘hares’ who don red and black wigs at the beginning of the run and describe the route to the hackling Hashers. They are the ones who drop dollops of shredded paper to mark the route a couple of days before the event.  The problem with this approach is compounded by a number of factors:
1. These back trails are often so littered, that it is difficult to distinguish a HHH paper dollop from the local litter.
2. Parts of the trail often thread through villages, where well-meaning local residents sweep up the HHH paper dollop mistaking it for litter.
3. Resident buffaloes may consume this sweet little dollup of shredded paper as a welcome reprieve from their usual boring diet.

The complications of the trail does not end there, however, for what you will also find are check-points. Check-points consist of two crossed coconut palms with a dollop of shredded paper placed on top. This indicates that you need to search for the on-going trail, somewhere within a hundred metre radius of the check-point!  And it is not quite as simple as that, for those sneaky ‘hares’ try to trick you, by laying out a few false trails too.  After making you travel some distance they mark a false trail with a coconut on a dollop of paper.

Coconut palm check point and coconut false trail marker

Coconut palm check-point and coconut false trail marker

As you can imagine, there is chaos and confusion at each check-point with everyone running in separate directions to try to find the right trail.  I quickly learnt that the sensible thing to do here was to hang around the check point, pretend to search, but actually just catch my breath and wait for someone to shout “ON-ON” which translates to “I’ve found the friggin trail!”

The Hares

The Hares

The Enforcer

The Enforcer

If you are lucky enough to make it back to the lager site, you can get yourself a welcome cold beer and hang around to ‘circle-up’.  The circle is a time of reckoning for those who have dared to infringe on any ‘rules’ during the run. Yes, spies run and walk among you, and your every move (and word) is noted.  The punishment consists of either downing a beer from a coconut shell or, in severe cases, downing a beer from a coconut shell with your bottom in a bed of ice.  All of this is accompanied by coarse drinking songs, the kind of which I have not heard since my student days.

Down-down ... 'Here's to you ...'

Down-down … ‘Here’s to you …’

Bottom in the ice

Bottom in ice

Those standing in the circle are patrolled by ‘The Enforcer’, a fierce Thai lady in hot pants, big sunglasses and ‘Hello Kitty’ ears, who wields a huge water pistol and squirts anyone who is talking and not paying attention or, to my surprise, for standing like a teapot (i.e. standing with your hand on your hip).  I suspect that that is to show contempt for tea drinkers?

So far we have completed each run relatively intact and only had to endure one down-down because we were ‘virgin’ Hash runners and this is the manner in which you are welcomed.

On our most recent run I lost Stefan towards the end of the trail and found out later that ‘The Enforcer’ had stopped him and asked him to pick her tamarind from a tree next to the trail.  True to form he obliged, but quickly brokered a  no ‘shoot-shoot’ pact with her, before handing over the desired tamarind fruit.  He was unforthcoming as to whether this arrangement had included me!

It remains to be seen what our Hash names turn out to be, but if they are anything like some of those we’ve heard, they will not be revealed in this blog.

KOH SAMUI, THAILAND: 15-02-2015

There are a number of ‘British-style’ pubs on the island of Koh Samui and some of them hold a weekly quiz night where the ex-pats get into teams, put some money in a pot, drink a few pints and answer ‘general knowledge’ questions.  Last week we were invited along to join our host’s team.  It sounded like fun.  I had good memories playing ‘General Knowledge’ with my children, where you rolled a dice with letters and had to think of an answer to a question beginning with that letter.  I was pretty good at it.

Quiz Night at Cassidy's

Quiz Night at Cassidy’s

Now I’m not sure whether the quizzes on the island have been going on for so long, that they have run out of ‘normal’ general knowledge questions, or that the term ‘general knowledge’ implies something very different to the typical British or American ex-pat, or simply that I have never made much of an effort to retain this kind of information, but I have never heard such obscure and complicated questions in my life.  It wasn’t just the answer I was having a problem with; I was battling to understand the question.  I could not answer a single one, and that is no exaggeration.  And I was not the only one who was floundering, Stefan contributed one answer, and it was wrong!  Luckily we were at a table of super-smart retired Brits (and one Canadian) and, although we came last, we did not slip too far behind.  Well that was that, we thought, it was over for us, after all who would want us on their team after our dismal performance.

But we were wrong; our host kindly invited us back a second time.  Unfortunately by the end of the first round we were once again lagging behind.  It seemed I knew nothing at all, and I had resigned myself to simply drinking my cider and agreeing wholeheartedly with anyone who came up with an answer.  We paused half way through the quiz for a Pad Thai supper and things were looking pretty hopeless.  But that was before we were handed a sheet with 20 African flags on it, that had to be identified.  Our advantage was not so much that we could identify the flags, but that we knew a lot of the names of African countries and could guess.

You might think that 8 out of 20 was pretty bad, but when you consider the other scores; 2, 3 and 3 … we did okay, in fact we did well enough to overtake all the other teams, piping them at the post, and taking first prize!

BANG KAO, KOH SAMUI, THAILAND: 09-02-2015

After being turned away from the magnificent 5-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel, for not being appropriately dressed, we decided to find another restaurant on the banks of the Chao Phraya River for supper, so we piled into a taxi, with our friends Chris and Maureen, and headed for Asiatique.
taxi-1
Stefan, being the largest, sat in the front passenger seat.  The taxi driver was a small, friendly old man with thick-rimmed spectacles and a very loud voice.

“WHERE YOU FROM?” he asked.  Stefan was so excited by the opportunity of answering in Thai, as we had been practicing for this particular question for two days, that he forgot his words.

“What do I say again?” he asked turning to me.

“You start with ‘pom’,” I helped.

“Pom …” Stefan looked back at me again.

“Maa-jaak,” I promted.

“Pom maa-jaak pra-thet aef-ri-gaa dtai.” Stefan completed proudly.  (I’m from the country South Africa)

“OOOH … AEFRIGAA!” repeated the taxi driver. “YOU NO …” he rubbed the skin on his arm.

“Yes, me Aef-ri-gaa dtai, South Africa,” repeated Stefan.  “We need to learn the words for ‘white tribe’,” he added to me in the back.

At the next robot the taxi driver turned to Stefan and said, “YOU VERY …” he gestured towards Stefan’s broad shoulders. “VERY … POPEYE!”

“Popeye? Me Popeye!” repeated Stefan, liking this idea. He flexed his muscles. “I eat spinach, I’m strong,” he said to the taxi driver showing him his bicep.

“STRONG?” said the taxi driver pinching Stefan’s bicep, “NO-NO, YOU PLUTO … I POPEYE!” laughed the taxi driver.  Then he turned up his music which was playing a church-like rendition of Amazing Grace and started singing along. “AMMMAZZING GRACE …”

As the song came to an end the Taxi Driver took out his nifty little remote control and held it 2cm from the dash-mounted player.  “YOU LIKE ELVIS PRESLEY?” he asked.

“Yes, Elvis the King,” said Stefan.

“Graceland,” said Chris.

So the taxi driver switched to Elvis who sang Amazing Grace with his audience.

“HOW SWEEEEET THE SOOOUND …” sang the taxi driver.

“So here we are from Africa, sitting in the back of a Bangkok taxi, with Pluto and Popeye up front, listening to Elvis sing Amazing Grace,” remarked Chris from the back.

At the next stop the taxi driver turned down the music and said excitedly, “JOHN WAYNE AEFRIGAA! ELEPHANTS, LIONS, TIGERS … AEFRIGAA! DUM DEE DUM TEE DEE DEE DUM TEE DUM.”  He sang out a little tune. “HATARI! … DUM DEE DUM TEE DEE DEE DUM TEE DUM.”  He repeated the tune.
Hatari-1
“John Wayne, old movie?” asked Stefan.

“OLD … THIRTY YEAR!” said the taxi driver holding up three crooked fingers.

Stefan took out his phone to Google it. Then he read to us;
“Hatari (1962) John Wayne: A group of men trap wild animals in Africa and sell them to zoos.  Will the arrival of a female wildlife photographer make them change their ways?”

Elvis finished singing Amazing Grace with his audience but, without pause, was followed by Elvis singing Amazing Grace solo.

“Aaaggh!” I heard Chris’s agonised voice next to me, “I can’t take any more Amazing Grace.”

“I ONCE WAS LOSSST …” sang the taxi driver.

“But now I’m found …” Maureen sang next to me.  I think Stefan was humming along in the front seat. Finally Elvis sang his last note, but we were not quite done with Amazing Grace yet, oh-no, for what followed was a country version of Amazing Grace by Tammy Wynette.
Elvis-1
“No more!” shouted Chris ready to throw himself from the moving taxi.

“Very good!” said Stefan encouraging the taxi driver.  “He likes your music, Amazing Grace!” he added pointing to Chris in the back.  The taxi driver promptly turned up the music.

“AAAMAZZING GRACE …” sang the taxi driver.

“How sweet the sound …“ sang Maureen.  Chris squirmed in his seat and asked for his head phones.  When the song ended we all held our breath.

“Don’t let it be Amazing Grace,” said Chris looking quite worn down.

“I WAS DANCIN’ WITH MY DARLIN’ TO THE TENNESSEE WALTZ …” sang the taxi driver.

“I remember the night …” sang Maureen.

Yes, it certainly will be a night to remember.

BANGKOK, THAILAND: 23-01-15

Darling Daughters picked us up, on time, to take us to the airport.

“Do you want music?” asked Darling Daughter Two. “I’ve got Disney for you Mom,” she added digging around in her bag.

Aaah, how sweet! Anyone who knows me, knows that Disney is my favourite kind of music.  Yes, yes I know you are all gasping in horror and shaking your heads, but it’s true … Beauty and the Beast, “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid, “I will show you the world, shining, shimmering, splendid … la la la …” from Aladdin.  Followed closely by those old musicals … Singin’ in the Rain, Oklahoma and not to forget my all-time favourite; The Sound of Music.
But I’m getting carried away …

The music was duly switched on and Beauty and the Beast was selected.  But, before I could even open my mouth to sing along, Darling Daughters had burst into song; they knew all the words and even sang in parts and harmony.  They were so taken up with their own performance that I could not get a musical note in edgeways.
So I sat back and listened, thinking of the days when I was banned from playing a Disney song, or even saying the “D” word; Darling Daughter Two controlled all the car music and only sometimes allowed me to sing Aladdin (when we were nearly at home).  And Darling Daughter One complained that when I was waiting for her in the school car park, everyone could hear my Disney songs playing.  I was such an embarrassment!
And here they were now, knowing every word (and action) and, by the sound of things, enjoying every moment.  It was a miracle!

Good-bye Darling Daughters

Good-bye Darling Daughters

After this entertaining car ride, Darling Daughters joined us for an airport coffee and breakfast, and then, still in good time, we headed for the departure gates.  With a few photos and hugs we said our good-byes and joined the end of an very long queue.  Forward and around, walk left, walk right and repeat, at a snail’s pace.  Finally we reached the front.  The ground hostess squinted at our boarding passes.
“This is the Domestic queue, International is on the other side.”  She pointed.

I called up Darling Daughter Two.
“You won’t believe it; we were in the wrong queue!”
“You are so silly Mom!” she sighed. This was quickly followed by the beep-beep of an SMS.
“Kels says you have been travelling for over a year now, you should know how to do this by now.”
Ja-ja, I suppose …

We made our way through Security and Passport Control and had just settled into some seats outside our departure gate when I got a call.

“We can’t find the car Mom. We’ve been looking all this time.”
“It was near the lift,” I said trying to be helpful.
“We’ve looked there.”
“Are you on P1, the red level?”
“Yes, it’s gone Mom.”
“I really don’t think anyone would want to steal your car Darling One, too many dents and scrapes you know.”
“I suppose …”
“You’ll have to ask security to help you find it,” I suggested.

Fifteen minutes passed.

“We have looked everywhere Mom, it’s not here,” said Darling Daughter One somewhat out of breath. “Rix!” I heard her shouting, “Did you go the whole way to the end?”
“Yes,” came the echoed reply.
“Go to security,” I said.

Ten minutes passed.

“Mom, we’ve been looking in International Parking.  We think we parked in Domestic, we are going there now.”

Ten minutes passed.

Beep-beep, I received an SMS:
“Found it!”
“So you are sillier than us!” I SMSed back.
“Haha, no I’d say we are pretty much even.  And Kels says her car is lighter without you guys … and your bags.”

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA: 13-01-2015

I breathed a sigh of relief after our Police Clearance Certificates arrived, and I thought to myself; now we are ready for Thailand.

But that was before Stefan announced: “Maybe we should get our motorcycle licences for Thailand.”

I have come to learn that Stefan has many grand ideas, but somehow they always tend to sprout forth or be implemented at the very last possible moment.  But he phoned around and managed to book the last available slot of the year to write our Learner’s Licence, in the small town of Malmesbury.  We bought a K53 book, brushed up on the road signs and the rules of the road, drove out to Malmesbury and both passed the written test.  But, having never been on, or driven a motorcycle before, I knew my difficulty was not going to be the written test but the practical one.  And, once we had our practical test booked in January, three days before we departed, I realised, with horror, that we had less than one month to practice and no motorcycles to practice on!

My nightmares of being arrested on arrival in South Africa, were now replaced with nightmares of motorcycles, clutches and brakes, all accompanied by my father’s voice, warning me of the terrible dangers of driving a motorcycle.

Anyway, we duly set off for Billy’s Motorcycle School in Bellville.  There were twelve beginners in the class and we all started on scooters, driving around and around the parking lot.  Then we practised starting and stopping and even weaving between traffic cones!  I felt relieved that I could manage this and, after a short break, was ready to get back on that scooter to practise some more.  In my mind, I had decided to just learn how to drive a scooter, to avoid the intricacies of gears and clutches.  But Billy had bigger aspirations; he wanted us all to immediately progress to motorcycles.

“Come,” he grunted at me pointing to a huge, black bike.  “Get on.”

“I’m not ready,” I replied, my mouth turning dry with fear.  “I think I’ll stick to the scooters,” I suggested in a small voice.

“No, come, get on,” he insisted, not at all interested in my feeble objections.  He quickly showed me the gears, but fear made it hard to concentrate.

“Okay now … GO!” he said walking beside me.  “CHANGE GEAR!” he yelled after me, as I moved off.   And there I was, put-putting around the parking lot on a big, black motorcycle, going only just fast enough not to stall.

Stefan whizzed by.  “Hey! go faster,” he called out.   I did not respond.   I sat transfixed, not looking left or right, not wanting to go faster or slower, not wanting to change gears … not knowing how to stop.

Stefan whizzed by a second time.  “Accelerate, I can’t go that slow,” he called.

Then he made a third pass.  “I’ll topple over if I go so slowly,” he encouraged.

“Do you know how to stop???” he shouted the fourth time around.

“No,” I finally squeaked, taking my first breath in twenty minutes.   I had been desperately trying to recall the drawing of the motorcycle controls in the written test.  I knew there was a brake that I should never touch if I was turning the handlebars, but which one was it?

“Use your foot break. Do you know where it is?!” Stefan yelled the next time he passed.

And so, finally, I stopped.

“You know, you were not the worst,” Stefan said afterwards, trying to bolster my confidence.  “I had to help one girl when she rode straight into the pavement and the motorcycle kept going without her, and another girl’s bike fell on top of her twice, and she burnt her leg.”  Oh? I had not noticed, maybe I was not so bad?

“You were only the third worst,” he added.

Thanks Billy!

Thanks Billy!

Passed!

Passed!

LEFT and RIGHT for the test!

LEFT and RIGHT for the test!

POSTSCRIPT: We both passed!

FRANSCHHOEK, SOUTH AFRICA: 26-12-2014

We have decided to take a year’s “sabbatical” based in Thailand; learn Thai, experience a different culture, explore the neighbouring countries and write.  So our first priority was to obtain the correct visa for our stay and, after much debate, we finally settled on a retirement visa, as the main requirement is for one of us to be over fifty.  One of us is, and it’s not me!(yet)  This means that we can stay for a year without having to do a visa run every three months.

We also needed a Police Clearance Certificate and, never having run afoul of the law, this would seem to be a simple process.  But, I did not factor in Darling Daughter, who I had left in charge of changing her car into her name before we left South Africa for our extended travels last year.

It came to my attention, just before I was due back in South Africa, that I had six warrants out for my arrest and thirty-two unpaid traffic fines against my name.  Sister informed me that she no longer needed to fetch me from the airport as the police would be picking me up as I came though passport control.  But she did kindly offer to visit me in jail and bring food!

Fine extra smallFine extra smallFine extra smallFine extra small

You see, on opening my post box, Sister had discovered this large pile of notices and summons for me.  She knew that these were not for my old car, so she raised me urgently on Skype (as I was in United States at the time) and we were both incensed by the fact that someone had stolen my identity.  We devised plans and schemed how to catch the bugger, and the second-hand car dealership, where I had sold my car, was deemed to be the culprit.  It was only by chance that Sister mentioned these fines to Darling Daughter a little while later.

“Are any of them for me?” Darling Daughter sweetly asked.

And why did Darling Daughter not pay these fines, you may well ask?  Well, a student friend told her to just ignore them, and throw them away, (students can be very helpful in this way) and she happily did just that – for a year!  And, because she received none of the follow-up notices, (of course she wouldn’t as her car was still in my name) she thought she was in the clear.

But by now it was late in the day, and Darling Daughter had final exams to prepare for and massive projects to hand in.  It was no longer a simple task of just paying the fines, but required her going personally to more than one venue and queuing for a very long time, and time was a commodity in short supply.

In the meantime I needed to sort out our Thai visa, and could wait no longer, so I went ahead and applied for my Police Clearance Certificate, having sleepless nights that instead of getting Clearance, I would get Caught.

In the end the warrants and fines were all paid, the exams were passed and the Police Clearance Certificate obtained.

And, the upside of this story?  Yes, there is an upside; you see in severing all ties with Darling Daughter’s car, I managed to snatch some valuable hours from Darling Daughter’s hectic schedule, meeting up with her at the local municipal offices to stand in long queues.  Although this may not have been the quality time I had envisaged while travelling around the world, any time spent with Darling Daughter is always appreciated.  And, for once, the lethargy of our S.A. Police was very much appreciated.

FRANSCHHOEK, SOUTH AFRICA:  19-12-2014

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