September 3, 2017

One more about massages

Filed under: bangkok, thailand — cohn17 @ 5:08 pm
This is a thing, apparently. Draw your own conclusions.

Despite all of the reflexology charts used to advertise foot massages, the massage places here don’t actually do reflexology; they just do foot massages. Having tried three different spas, I’ve learned that not all foot massages are created equal. Since there are seven different massage spas in the immediate neighborhood – at least six of which seem legit, I’m not so sure about the seventh – I have plenty of opportunities to find one that I like.

Speaking of feet, today I wandered into the backstreets off Sukhumvit (one of the major streets in Bangkok, and the closest to our apartment), and found myself on the grounds of the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly Company. The Thailand Tobacco Monopoly is a state-owned enterprise that, until the conclusion of the ASEAN free trade agreement, had the monopoly on the manufacture and sale of tobacco products in Thailand. Thailand now imports foreign cigarettes as well, but the company is still in business and the air is heavy with the smell of tobacco. That said, the place seemed deserted and there was little to see that wasn’t fenced off or closed up tight, until I came across this bunch of workers playing a feet-and-heads-only version of volleyball.

Tattoos are a big deal here. Zoom in for a better look.

Next: something that isn’t about massages.

September 1, 2017


Filed under: bangkok — Tags: — cohn17 @ 9:21 am

Thai has words that are similar to collective nouns in English, but they involve more precise rules of usage, they exist for more commonplace words, and they apply to singular as well as plural nouns. You might never need to refer to a pride of lions, but – depending on the context – you do have to refer to a lăŋ of bâan (one house or two-plus houses), and I couldn’t tell you what a “lăŋ” actually is, except in reference to “house,” just as I couldn’t define a pride without referring to “lions.”

Phaasăa Thai yâak kwàa (Thai language is more difficult) every day,” I said to my teacher and her colleague as I was leaving, using the word for “more” (kwàa) that I’d just learned. They smiled politely and paused before my teacher said, “Almost correct. We use kwàa only when we compare two things at the same time. If we’re comparing the same thing at two different times, we use a different word. Have a nice weekend!”

August 31, 2017

Let’s learn Thai!

Filed under: thailand — Tags: — cohn17 @ 6:25 pm

I’ve taken a few days of Thai lessons now, and I’m already using it to get around town. When I was studying Greek, I complained about how difficult the grammar was, particularly the declensions and conjugations: that the word for “dog,” for example, was either “σκύλος”, “σκύλο”, or “σκύλου” depending on whether I meant “the dog” as a subject, “the dog” as an object, or “the dog” as a possessive noun; and “work” was “δουλεύω,” “δουλεύεις,” “δουλεύει” and so on, depending on whether I work, you work, or he works. Thai has none of those problems: regardless of who is working, the verb is งาน, which is pronounced “tham”, with an aspirated “t”. (The script is complicated, but I’m not learning it yet.) I “tham,” you “tham,” we all “tham.” Also, “I” and “me” are the same word, written in Thai as ผม and pronounced “phŏm.” “Dog” is always หมา regardless of where it is in the sentence.

Where Greek has an advantage, however, is that all the first-person forms of the verbs end is “-ω”, with or without an accent, so it is easy to know which words were verbs: “μπορώ,” “κάνω,” “δουλέυω,” “καταλαβαίνω,” and so on: they all end in an “o” sound. Those same words in phonetic Thai? “Dâay,” “mii,” “thamŋaan,” and “khâwcay.” (“ŋ” is an “ng” sound, and the c is closer to a j.) Worse, the language utilizes tones and elongated vowels, so that “kháw,” “khâaw,” and “khăaw” mean different things – he, she or it; rice; and white. Moreover, “khâaw khăaw” means “white rice,” “klɔ̂ŋ” means “camera,” but “khâawklɔ̂ŋ” means “brown rice” and not “rice camera.”

August 21, 2017

First impressions

Filed under: bangkok, thailand — cohn17 @ 8:30 am

Don’t squat on the seat.

We have been here for a little over a week, and I’ve been slow to start photographing in earnest. Instead of exploring the city with my camera on my own, we have been settling in at the Embassy, we’ve moved to the permanent apartment and begun to set it up, and we’ve done some shopping; meanwhile, I’ve also started Thai language lessons and yoga. Which is not to say that I haven’t photographed at all; in fact, I’ve already joined one of the photography clubs in the city. It’s just that I haven’t photographed a lot yet (and what I have photographed has not necessarily been all that sophisticated. Sometimes I’m still a six-year-old.)

There are a few recurring themes so far. First is the sheer quantity of food vendors. They are everywhere, at all hours of the day, especially in the area where I live.

Admittedly, I’m not always sure what the food is.

The other thing that is everywhere are massages. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a massage parlor in the center of town or anyplace else the tourists frequent.

Generally, the massage spas are legit, but some of them aren’t. How can you tell?  If there is a mix of younger and older ladies in matching shirts sitting outside, and they show you a menu card with items like “foot massage” and “traditional Thai massage,” and you can see people getting massages inside through the front window, you know you’re in good hands.

Conversely, if you can’t see what’s going on inside, and the young girls (always young girls, not older ladies) out front show you a menu card where the first item on the list is “ball massage and hand job“, then it’s best not to go in.

Next: more early impressions.

August 17, 2017

Arrived in Bangkok

Filed under: bangkok, thailand — cohn17 @ 9:08 am

Not much to say today, after 24+ hours of travel. First impressions, leaving the airport. It is the rainy season.

There will be much more to come …

July 7, 2017

climbing mount olympus

Filed under: general — cohn17 @ 9:49 pm

for our final weekend in greece, we climbed mount olympus. mount olympus, the highest mountain in greece at 2,918.8 meters, is the legendary home of the greek gods (zeus, hera, poseidon, demeter, athena, apollo, artemis, ares, aphrodite, hephaestus, hermes, and dionysus. the god of the underworld, hades, stayed home). according to the mythology, the jagged peak of olympus, stefani, was zeus’ throne, and the gods threw up obstacles to keep mortals from reaching the heights, but we were not to be dissuaded.

the view from litochoro village.

scenery on the way up.

our group started our ascent on friday from the “village” of prionia, which consists of nothing but a cafe and a bathroom and which sits at approximately 1,000 meters above sea level. the initial day’s climb was 6 kilometers long, but with a gain of another 1,000 meters – definitely a challenge. we were carrying backpacks that included some cold weather gear (because the temperature can be very low at the summit, even though it was in the 80s at the start of the hike), as well as about 2 liters of water each, and i soon realized that, despite having run two marathons this year, i was in no shape for this. somehow, my pack became heavier at each step, and by the the time we reached the hostel at the midway point, i was exhausted. were the gods telling me something?

the hostel is one of many that dot the mountain area, and it was ready for the 100 or so hikers that were on this part of the mountain. (the mountain was also host the next day to the olympus marathon, a 44 kilometer race up and across the face – but not the peak – of olympus, so there were a lot of red cross personnel staying that night. good for us, just in case …)  the kitchen was serving up heaping plates of spaghetti and meatballs, so we ate, drank, and went to bed exhausted and well-fed. we should have dropped off immediately, but the food gave me indigestion that kept me up all night, and abby tripped getting out of the top bunk of the bunkbed and fell face-first into the next bed, giving herself a serious shiner. again, perhaps the gods were suggesting that we were in no condition to continue. nonetheless, undaunted (and armed with a newly-purchased pair of hiking sticks), we set off early saturday to reach the summit.

this time, although the climb was 800 meters, the distance was only 3 kilometers, meaning that the path was much steeper.

how hard could it be?

at the top of the hill, we dropped our packs and found the path leading to the peak: a class 3 free climb down, followed by climb of the same difficulty back up. “class 3” means that the route is steep and requires using the hands as well as the feet, but if you fall, the injury is unlikely to be fatal. (“hi, mom! nothing to see here.”) the way to negotiate it is to keep at least three points of contact – two feet and a hand, two feet and a butt, a full body lean – against the mountain whenever there isn’t a flat path.

upon reaching the top of stefani, we looked out and saw that we in fact were not at the summit of olympus, but that there was one more peak, called mytikas, which served as the pantheon where the gods met and argued about the affairs of men, and that was still one more free climb down and back up. so that’s what we did.


looking back at it, it is amazing that we scaled the mountain. we were scaling the mountain at angles greater than 45° at some points without ropes, clambering hand over foot and using muscles that none of us knew knew we had. and we finished just in time, too: just as we completed the final stretch back to our packs, the mountain vanished as the clouds rolled in, the thunder began rumbling, and big fat raindrops began to fall.

and with that, our greek adventure ends. my next blog post, most likely, will be from thailand, and i even might start using capital letters.

June 28, 2017

a visit to skopelos

Filed under: greece — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 2:38 pm

during my three year stay in greece, i managed to visit at least one island in each of the six major groupings, plus crete and evia, two large islands that stand on their own. after tinos, i had been to five of the six – the ionian, the dodecanese, the argo-saronic, the northeastern aegean, and the cyclades – so the next weekend, i went to the sixth, the sporades, choosing the island skopelos as my destination. skopelos is known, among other things, as the island where part of the film mamma mia was shot, so if it was good enough for meryl streep and pierce brosnan, it was good enough for me.

the trip took about four hours by ferry.

the water was incredibly blue.

skopelos town is a typical greek harbor town: built into a hill, a prominently-featured church, and lots of narrow pedestrian alleys (lined equally with local-serving businesses and tourist shops) and stairways flanked by houses, all leading down to the main road along the harbor.

the view from my hotel room.

in many respects, the photos that i took over the weekend all show the same thing – brilliant blue skies and water, dramatic ocean views, cute villages – so let’s cut to the chase: the church of agios (saint) ioannis kastri, which was featured in mamma mia. visitors to the sporades are somehow obligated to see the church, or at least are subject to incredulous gasps of horror from abba fans if they don’t, so i went on a drizzly sunday morning.

the church itself is not particularly interesting in terms of either architecture or decoration; in fact, it doesn’t even appear to merit its own wikipedia page, and that’s saying a lot. instead, it’s the setting that’s the attraction.

next: ye gods

June 26, 2017

more exploring tinos

Filed under: general — cohn17 @ 3:14 pm

we took a long hike on the second day we were in tinos, using a guide that abby found on the web. the guide incorporated the marked hiking paths on the island, but also included byways that the author had found on his own excursions.

when i remembered to start taking pictures, we had already climbed a great deal.

tinos is dotted with dovecotes, buildings that shelter pigeons. the venetians introduced pigeon-breeding to tinos and other cycladic islands, for the meat. especially during the second world war, pigeon meat was very popular. the majority of them standing today are from the 18th and 19th centuries. some of them are well maintained while others have been left to fall to ruin. inside, they aren’t very interesting and, unsurprisingly, they smell like bird poo.

we went through some dramatic scenery, but we also went through some hellacious weeds. the hillsides were filled with thorny bushes and undergrowth, and at one point, our guide mistranslated the word “right” as “left,” so we ended up plowing through knee-high scrub, taking much of it home with us in our shoes and socks.

obstacle course. weeds as designed by dr. seuss. there’s no real path here.

it was a hot day, and – with the hills – the hike was brutal, but ultimately we were treated to a pretty spectacular view:

next: onward to skopelos.

June 13, 2017

exploring tinos

Filed under: greece — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 3:10 pm

we spent three days exploring tinos. after visiting panageia megalochori, we went off in search of cute villages – one day by driving, one day by hiking. tinos does not disappoint.

falatados steni kardiani smardakita  smardakita again

we also climbed the hill of exombourgo, which was a venetian fortress in the 15th century and now has a war memorial at the top.

venetian ruins at the base the mountain intrepid climbing (ahead of me) the view from the top

a good end to the day – the village of panormos.

next: more hiking

June 7, 2017

tinos – part 1

Filed under: greece — Tags: — cohn17 @ 4:08 pm

our time in greece is nearly at an end! for our last weekend trip to an island together, my wife and i chose tinos, one of the cycladic islands that we had not yet visited. the cyclades include andros, mykonos, paros and santorini, among many others.

the main town of tinos is called chora, and it is best known for the church of the virgin mary, or panageia megalochori – at least, that is the name according to the map. according to wikipedia, the church is called either panacea evangelistria, the all-holy bringer of good news, or megalochori, she of great grace. wikipedia goes on to say

the complex is built around a miraculous icon which according to tradition was found after the virgin appeared to the nun pelagia and revealed to her the place where the icon was buried. the icon is widely believed to be the source of numerous miracles. it is by now almost completely encased in silver, gold, and jewels, and is commonly referred to as the “megalócharē” (“[she of] great grace”) or simply the “chárē tēs” (“her grace”).

wikipedia further notes “by extension the church is often called the same [megalócharē], and is considered a protectress of seafarers and healer of the infirm.” due to this latter role, one frequently sees worshippers crawl on their hands and knees from port up to the church. there even is a carpet laid at the edge of the road for these pilgrims.

photography is not allowed inside the church, presumably to protect the icon. no one seemed bothered by the visitors using their cellphones to take pictures of other parts of the interior, however, so i discretely took some shots as well. naturally, the altar screen is fantastically carved and beautifully decorated, but the church also features hundreds of votive lamps with figures of boats, houses, tools, even body parts hanging from them. a woman working in the church explained that these were tammata, or vows, representing the objects of worshippers’ prayers or promises to the virgin.

next: exploring tinos

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