The real up north

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This past weekend we traveled to the farthest northern point of Wisconsin.

If you aren’t familiar with our state, we are located in the northern mid-west of the United States. We are surrounded by bodies of water on each border of our state, except our southern border which has Illinois. To the west, we have the Mississippi River. To the north, Lake Superior. To the east, Lake Michigan. With so many lakes, it is a wonderful place for fishing, sailing, and water sports of any kind. The diehards even go fishing on the lake’s ice on the coldest days of winter.

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Most of our population lives near our biggest cities of Madison, Milwaukee, and Green Bay. It takes approximately 8 hours to drive from the southern most point to the northern and 5 hours from the farthest west to the east. A lot of our lakes are practically deserted…peaceful, serene, and quiet.

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Wisconsinners are very hardy folk by nature. We have to be to survive our winters. We are known for the Green Bay Packers, the Great Lakes, brats, and beer. Unfortunately, we are also known for being one of the drunkest states hosting some of the drunkest cities in the nation, if not world. Drinking is a huge part of our culture.

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The far northern portion of our state has a lot of wildlife not related to drinking. I captured a picture of Paul fishing. But in doing so, I may have gotten a little too close to an otter den. I was chased down in the water by hissing otters. I can’t say that ever happened to me before. We also saw deer that were too numerous to count. This part of our state tends to get the largest snowfalls and coolest temperatures.

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I love taking pictures of our state’s beauty. The northernmost part of our state is rugged and wild with the lowest population.

On the way home, we stopped for brunch at what was rumored the best restaurant in the county. It was almost a 2 hour wait, so we decided to skip brunch and headed towards home. It took us over an hour to find another restaurant. Was it the only restaurant in the county?? Gas stations and restaurants are scarce. But even rarer is good cell reception. You might be in trouble if you run out of gas on a snowy winter night without cell reception. Even the highway traffic is minimal. I think we saw more deer than cars.

But I would have to say, even though I’ve been to many beautiful places, that Wisconsin is still on the top of the list. I wanted to share that beauty with you.

Vegas, part 3

The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane were the slot machines at the airport. There were slot machines everywhere…not just in the casinos. There were slot machines in restaurants and in the hotels, pretty much everywhere except the bathrooms. TV screens with rows of sports games were open for bets in the casino. Everywhere we went was filled with bright lights, the ping ding of gaming machines, and the smell of stale cigarette smoke.

I decided that I would do something different in Vegas. I didn’t gamble. It’s not that I am opposed to it if it is done in moderation. Frankly, gambling doesn’t interest me. Plus I spent a lot of my time in LV with my daughter and her friend who were both underage.

We did walk the strip a couple of times. Las Vegas reminded me of a mix of Denver and Times Square in NYC. I know that is a descriptive cop out, especially since I am not posting any pictures today. My pictures of the strip did not turn out great and after all of the bad news I didn’t feel like being a camera toting tourist.

It was hot the whole time we were there. Hot as in 100 to 110 degrees…the highest temperatures that this Midwestern girl has ever seen. We watched the volcano at The Mirage and you could feel the heat pouring off of the fire. We saw the fountain show at the Bellagio and longed to take a dip in the water. We went to the Venetian for a nice Italian meal. They even had gondola rides, but I am saving that for when I really go to Italy.

The strip was bustling with people. I linked arms with Angel just to get through the crowds without getting separated. There were more lanes of traffic on the strip than there are in Milwaukee. Motorists in cars were honking at tourists trying to cross the street in hordes. Greasy men were handing out business cards with mostly naked women on them. Scantily clad showgirls were asking men to take pictures with them.

I saw what I was expecting to see…glaring neon lights…young ladies in short skirts and high heels…old men gambling…a few tourist parents with children in tow…young scruffy men smoking pot…a few homeless begging for spare change…men in expensive suits…hookers…foreigners.

I also saw what I wasn’t expecting to see…I thought that the prostitutes were going to be drug addicts and maybe on the seedy side. I didn’t find that to be true. We saw some prostitutes leaving a hotel room when we were on the way to our room. One of the women walked out putting on a cover up. The prostitutes (and even the showgirls) were some of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. Maybe things were seedier on the other side of town, I wouldn’t know.

It was nice to take in the sounds and sights of Sin City for a day or two, but this country girl could never live there.

 

The wrath of Evelyn?

I wasn’t going to write about this, but maybe it’s a sign.

I am rather confused on how to read it.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence.

I’m not a very superstitious person.

Ah, who am I kidding?? I get all bent out of shape from a bad fortune wrapped in a crappy tasting cookie.

It started last week on the evening of the first snowstorm in April. We scheduled an appointment for our realtor to come out to get some pricing together on our house. A distant cousin of mine is interested in buying our house before we put it on the market.

The snowstorm prevented the realtor from coming out on the scheduled night.  

I jokingly said to my husband that maybe we weren’t meant to sell the house to my cousin.

After the realtor came out, we scheduled a meeting with my cousin for this past weekend.

This past weekend we got hit by Blizzard Evelyn, the biggest snowstorm our area has seen in over 100 years.

Now Evelyn was my grandma’s sister and my distant cousin’s grandmother.

Another sign, perhaps?

I was fairly close to my Aunt Evelyn. When my kids were little, I often visited her with my grandma.

I felt like I had a lot in common with Evelyn. She was a thin wispy woman that always seemed to worry. Her house was always clean. She had a hard time sitting still. She loved visiting with the kids. Sometimes when we were ready to leave, she would open up the door to a side room with a waiting 10 course homemade meal. She was a lonely widow. How could we say no?

I miss my visits with my grandma and her sister. They have both been gone a long time now. I have remembrances of both around my house. My grandma helped plant the trees in my backyard and I have my aunt’s paintings on my walls. It was soothing to think that maybe a relative would buy our house and the memories of these sweet ladies would live on.

I always envied my cousin. She was the only child born to her parents after over a decade of infertility. She was a miracle baby, a beautiful princess. Her parents spoiled her rotten.

As a child, I wanted her life. I would’ve given anything to be her.

Looking back, I’m glad that my hardest years in life were my childhood. It gave me strength, made me tough, and built my character. If the best years of your life are your childhood, everything else is downhill. How can you be happy when you’ve had it so much better before?? But, of course, I want my children to have a great childhood unlike my own. What is disservice!

I don’t want my cousin’s life anymore. Maybe now she wants my life.

She got married and started a family a couple of years after I did. But, unlike me, she left her husband and children behind for another man. Her family was devastated. Since then several years passed. She is now living with a much older man who just left his wife of many years.

My cousin’s story is not all that much of a rarity anymore. Staying married for a long time to the same person is.

My grandma and her sister married young and stayed with their husbands until death. It seems easy, ideal actually, to have that one true love that you stay with through thick and thin.

No one I know really wants their children to marry young. Finish college first. Then be out on your own for awhile. I am guilty of wanting the same thing for my children. Yet we want them to find that one true love that they stay with for their whole entire life like our grandparents did. It’s not practical.

Last week, Paul and I ran into an acquaintance who told us she just got divorced after over 20 years of marriage. Right now I can think of only one other couple we are close friends with that are on their first marriage and have been married longer than us. That is sad.

Something is broken in our society and I don’t know how to fix it. The only thing I can do is be a good example of marriage.

But sometimes I feel like my marital bliss is smacking the faces of those who failed.

Ha ha, I finished the marathon but you dropped out of the 5K. Is that how they view us??

It’s hard to get good marriage advice. It’s just as tough as getting good parenting advice. Sometimes I feel like people are giving me marriage advice similar to parenting advice…they tell me how to raise toddlers when I have teenagers. I am beyond those years now. I want something meatier than just make time for each other or communication is important. I’ve searched, but haven’t found. Good luck, you’re off the charts now. After 20 years, how do you take it to the next level??

My cousin wants to move into my house to be closer to her children. How can that be a bad thing?

But then the biggest blizzard ever recorded in over 100 years hit the weekend we were supposed to show my cousin our house…BLIZZARD EVELYN!!

Is this some sort of sign?? Did we invoke the wrath of Evelyn?? Is someone else supposed to buy our house?

Evelyn, I don’t care if I sell my house to a bunch of satanists as long as I sell my house!! Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit. But weren’t you when you dumped all of that snow on us?

Now if we get another snowstorm this weekend when we rescheduled the visit with my cousin, I am really going to start worrying.

Maybe the whole thing is a coincidence, but it all seems rather bizarre.

Or maybe I’m reading it all wrong.

Maybe it’s a sign that we should move to Florida.

A little green

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Yes, I am Irish. I even know the name of my ancestors that came over from Ireland.

I love corned beef and cabbage, but apparently that is not how the Irish celebrate the holiday according to some WP friends that live there. I even heard that St. Patrick is not a real saint. But I am not here to talk about Irish culture because I haven’t a clue. I know how the people in Wisconsin celebrate. Most people wear green and get drunk. Kind of like a Packer game, but in March. Except this year St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday calling out every drunk, moderate, and light drinker.

First of all, over half of America’s most drunkest cities are in my state. There probably would be more if we had more cities. I live near one of the top 5 drunkest cities in America. I might go as far as to say that I live near one of the drunkest cities in the world…a fact I am not proud of, but it is what it is.

I saw something on Facebook the other day about state motto’s. Ours was something like, ‘It’s too cold to be sober’. Here I sit on the first day of spring and our high temps are not going to be above the freezing point.

This year my friend Lisa was in town for St. Patrick’s Day. Our mutual friend Cori invited me out. I kind of had a hankering for corned beef and cabbage with green beer, so I said yes. We haven’t had the chance to get together for 6 months since Lisa moved away. Apparently, Cori and Lisa started celebrating before going out. Then Lisa said she had a tall margarita on the ride there.

Cori told the waitress that when she saw her finger up she was supposed to bring over 2 beers. It seemed like her finger was up about every 15 minutes. Cori told me that she was worried about her adult son. He drinks too much and has blackouts.

The one thing I respect about Cori is that she never drives drunk. She has been bringing her daughter out with her since she got her driver’s license. This is where I have the moral dilemma. Cori told me this past weekend that she created several fake ID’s to get her daughter into bars. Her daughter doesn’t drink. She drives people home that should never get behind the wheel of a car.

I am torn. I am totally against the whole fake ID thing, having someone in high school hang out at bars…What kind of example is that?? But I am for a safe ride home. It’s not like an Uber is easy to get.

I didn’t stay out late that night. I left before things got too crazy. There was a creepy older man dressed in black that kept coming around checking out the women on the dance floor. A woman tapped my arm and said, “You are beautiful” three times. She was young and had green hair. A wig? For a fleeting moment, I felt happy to hear the words spoken by a stranger that were never spoken by my father. I want to be beautiful forever. I grip onto her words vainly as time slips them back through my fingers. I am afraid to get old. The creepy man’s finger nail scratches my back as he steals by.

As I was leaving the parking lot, I saw the creepy old man leave with the nice girl with green hair. Did they arrive together? I feel sad. Is this her life? Why didn’t I say something kind back?

Late the next morning, I had some errands to run with my daughter. Less than a mile from home, we almost got hit by a drunk driver…probably still drunk from the night before. She swerved from the ditch into our lane…slowly weaving in and out as we pulled aside and watched her parade through.

That is St. Patrick’s Day in Wisconsin.

 

Thailand, parting thoughts

This is going to be my last post about Thailand…parting thoughts…general observations and comparisons..

Really, though, comparing the culture in Thailand to that of the US is like comparing apples to oranges. We are all fruity in different ways. Seriously though…there are so many ways that I wish we were more like Thailand, and other ways I am glad we are not..

I had a hard time with the young Thai girls with braces in the clubs. Technically, there is no pimp in prostitution there. If a customer would like to borrow a girl for awhile, he needs to pay the club owner a ‘fee’ to take an employee from their work shift. It bothered me to see young girls in this position.

In America I think most prostitutes would fall into the category of drug addict or runaway. In their culture, they view it as a girl (or lady boy) providing a service. A lot of these young folks take the money they make and send it home to support their families. I could never accept money from my children that was made in that way, but I also was never in a position that I had to.

Our tour guide gives some of his paycheck to his elderly father. The father spends a lot of the money on the lottery. Again, that would not fly in America.

The Thai people also think that putting a parent in a nursing home is a big no-no. The Thai people are very family oriented. Divorce is not common. There seems to be a cohesion of the family unit that is quite lacking in America.

The people dressed and acted very similarly to one another. The school children wore uniforms. The men and women dressed very plainly and modestly by our standards. Most wore monochromatic light colored clothes, not bright clothing with wording. They didn’t have dyed or crazy hairstyles. The women didn’t have tattoos nor shaved hair. They didn’t have gauges or seem big on piercings. Even the prostitutes looked very similar to each other. In America, we take individuality to the extreme.

The culture is very peaceful and relaxed. The people are not at all rude, hurried, or unfriendly. I suppose it is a little easier to deal with life if you strongly believe in karma or that someone you don’t like will come back in the next life as an insect. I personally think that Christians could learn a lot from the Buddhists in how to get along with each other. Here we squabble and fight over ever little issue. How are we going to handle an eternity in heaven together?

The people of Thailand did not generally beg for money. They took pride in bargaining and selling their wares at the market.

In Thailand, if people talk negatively about the king, they could face incarceration. I love the freedom of speech. But, geez, don’t Americans take it too far sometimes?? All we hear is fighting about religion, politics, and practically everything really. There is no respect anymore for someone that has a different opinion and yet we tout ourselves as being tolerant. We try to teach our children to respect authority, yet we dis people left and right. Enough already.

I think all schoolchildren should see what life it like in another country. Heck, maybe everyone should travel. Not only did I get the opportunity to see another culture, but I got the chance to see my own beliefs and culture differently. It enriched my thinking. I learned something about someone else and myself in the process.

Some of the things I thought were important really don’t seem all that important anymore. I don’t even care if the toilet paper faces up or down anymore. I am now happy to have toilet paper. I have a new appreciation of western bathrooms, even the crappiest ones.

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The restrooms in Thailand were quite different from ours. The hotel rooms had a regular toilet with what looked like a kitchen hose sprayer next to it. How were we even supposed to use it? We were a day into the tour when I experienced the first bathroom without toilet paper. I started carrying some around with me after that.

This was a public bathroom that we stopped at. I really didn’t even know what I was supposed to do. Plus there wasn’t any soap to wash your hands with. The public school bathroom was very similar. The western bathrooms there were tiny in comparison to ours. We had to pay at times to use the restroom. One of the perks of paying for the bathroom at the floating market was free internet. Seriously? The bathroom wasn’t wonderful enough that I wanted to hang around for the internet.

What a fascinating place and culture. I’m sad that our journey has come to an end. But I have a lot of pictures, all 750 of them, to remind me of our travels.

Thailand, Day 9

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We left the hotel early in the morning to take a speed boat to the Coral Island beach. Today we were going to spend most of the day on the beach. I couldn’t wait. The water was a brilliant color of sea green with a white sand beach. The water was a perfect temperature. Every few minutes we felt a slight stinging sensation on our skin. We thought that it might be from tiny jellyfish. A couple of times we saw hundreds of small fish jumping up out of the water being chased by a bigger fish.

We set up our towels on comfy lounge chairs before the other hordes of tourists started pouring in. It was close to the Chinese New Year and there were many tourists in the area on vacation from China.

While at the beach especially, and in other places, I noticed something different. I noticed that the Asian people at times walked around with parasols. They wore long sleeves and pants even on the hottest days. Where they not hot? I thought maybe they were more modest than the rest of us in bikinis and shorts.

Our tour guide said that the Thai people do not want tan skin. In their culture, having tan skin means that you are out in the sun a lot working like the poor people. In fact, they have a big market for selling skin bleaching products. The only thing I bleach is my hair.

Where I’m from, if you are tan it means that you have time for leisure. I went to the tanning bed before my trip. I was quite the contrast to the Asian women who have dark hair and light skin. There was a single girl in our tour group that was getting hit on because she had pasty white skin.

It really made me question my own standards of beauty. I personally believe that having bleach blonde hair and dark tanned skin is beautiful. I want a -10 inch waist and the body of a Barbie doll. Thank you Mattel for creating an unattainable masterpiece of beauty perfection. Now being in my mid-40’s and having 3 C-sections, I am not going to be too hard on myself. But I honestly feel like crap about how I look when my summer tan starts to fade. I would go to a tanning bed year round if I didn’t feel like it was unsafe.

Most teenage girls in the 1980’s spent a lot of time slathering themselves in baby oil or dark tanning oil and laying out. At that time, no one ever told us it was unhealthy. Paul and I went to the tanning bed before this trip. We didn’t go because we thought it would make us look nice. We did it because we are very adventurous outdoors and didn’t want to burn. We did get a little pink on the day we spent at the beach.

We had a glorious time at the beach. We got back to the hotel in mid-afternoon. Paul really had his heart set on getting another massage. Our tour guide told us that if we wanted a massage that we needed to look for a Thai massage and not a body massage. If you went to the body massage place, you would be entering a brothel.

We went to an upscale massage parlor, but they were booked for the day. We walked around town until we found a place that offered Thai massage. They had one opening for a massage bed and one for a chair. I took the chair massage. Paul was led to a massage bed that was separated from 2 other massage beds by a curtain. I was seated out in the main area. My masseuse only knew limited English.

While I was there, I watching the bugs climb up the wall and saw a girl at the bar next door curling her eyelashes for the night. It didn’t seem like they spraying down any of the tables or chairs between clients. I did feel some comfort when a courier dropped off a see through bag of clean towels. A new masseuse came in and changed her shirt in front of Paul because there was nowhere else to change into her work clothes. She jokingly told him if he looked, she would charge him.

After the massage, we walked down to the end of the street. There were rows and rows of bars with at least 50 girls lined up waiting for a man that night. They were scantily clad, some dressed in sexy school girl outfits. It was early in the evening and they were just sitting there waiting watching as we passed by. We walked by a body massage place and saw signs of 3 for the price of 1. I really don’t know the difference between the prostitutes in the body massage parlor and the girls waiting at the bar.

The 2 nights in Pattaya, we saw some very young attractive Thai girls eating fancy meals with corpulent repulsive old white men around 40 years their senior. Although totally acceptable in their culture, I had a really hard time with this. What two (hopefully) adults consent to do should really be no concern of mine… I kept thinking of how I would feel if my teenage daughters went out with a man older than my husband. I couldn’t get past it.

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This was our last picture of our view of the city in daylight. Tomorrow we are heading home.

Thailand, Day 8

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We left Ayutthaya this morning and were heading to Pattaya. After breakfast, Paul decided to stay downstairs. It seemed a little out of character for him. The elevator was old, small, and rickety. It would not go anywhere at all if the weight limit was exceeded. A big guy could almost feel a little trapped.

I don’t know how many times I tripped going into the bathrooms of our hotel rooms. The bathroom floors in most hotel rooms were lower than the regular room floors. If it was dark and you were trying to make your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, chances are good that you might have to catch yourself from falling. In this hotel’s bathroom, the shower was built for someone 5 ft tall. Paul wondered how he was going to fit under it.

Paul found black marks on the wall near the outlets from sparks. “This whole place could burn down at any moment and we are on the top floor!” exclaimed Paul. Surprisingly, I didn’t worry all that much about anything, which is a big role reversal for Paul and I. I thought the hotel, although old, was charming. It was hot in the hallway when I was waiting for an elevator down. I noticed that the window nearby was wide open without a screen and took the picture above without falling.

The first stop of the morning was to a public grade school. In general, the kids in the public schools are poor. They don’t need to get a high school diploma and sometimes leave before reaching high school to work. The tour group we used has a foundation that helps support the public schools by covering extra expenses such as computers. We were encouraged to bring school supplies, but not to give the children money directly. After the anthem, flag raising, exercise time, and morning meditation a child would take our hand and bring us to their classroom. We read a story in English to them and they read to us in their language. It was a very moving experience.

Our tour guide said if someone is born poor that it is very hard to leave their station. If they get married, the man has to pay a dowry to his future bride’s family. Our guide had to pay $30,000 US dollars to marry his wife. A poor man cannot afford to marry a rich girl. A very attractive poor girl has a higher dowry than a poor girl that is plain. People rarely divorce, they marry the family.

After the school, we visited a gem factory. We went on a small tour ride then were taken past the workers making jewelry. Soon we entered the biggest jewelry store I’ve ever been in. I bought Paul a new wedding ring with a Topaz gem. He broke his first ring and lost his second. The third time’s the charm. Right?

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We got into our hotel rooms in the late afternoon. Pattaya was not at all like I was expecting. It was a bigger city than I imagined it to be. We decided to sit by the pool for awhile. I ordered a drink that I thought would be like a bloody Mary. But it was more like unsalted tomato juice with vodka, very different.

That evening we were invited to go to a restaurant with another couple from the tour. They said that it was supposed to be the best in the city and it certainly was. If you are ever in Pattaya, you have to go to Bruno’s. Paul and I thought it was one of the top restaurants we’ve ever been to. The food was out of this world. The service was unbelievable. They even transported us to and from our hotel which was quite a drive through traffic.

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Tomorrow we will be exploring Coral Island and Pattaya.

Thailand, Day 7

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Today we left paradise and headed to the city of Ayutthaya. On the way we stopped by several street vendors. The first place was selling chickens and rats. They were out of snake.

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Our tour guide purchased a rat and said that we could sample some for lunch after it was cooked some more. These rats were from the patty fields, but with the accent of the tour guide it sounded more like pedophile rats. I did not try this Thai delicacy, but Paul did. He said it tasted like beef. I wimped out after watching the documentary about rats not too long ago. But I assume there is a big difference between NYC sewer rats and Thai rice patty rats.

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I did try the sticky rice made with beans. When I think of rice and beans, I typically think of Mexican food. This tasted like an extra sweet rice pudding.

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We also sampled a burrito with what looked like my hair wrapped inside. It was almost too sweet.

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We watched the vendors make the burritos and hair by hand. Our tour guide said that it was their version of cotton candy.

A few things happened today that are worth mentioning. First, our tour bus almost got hit by a semi. I wore my seat belt on the bus every time after that. The tour guide said that the country has a problem with the drug speed, especially with semi drivers. They take it so they can work long hours. When they get into accidents, they run off. Not too long after our close call, we saw an abandoned semi tipped over on the side of the road.

Also, when we went to the rat vendor, there were birds and a squirrel locked in cages. The squirrel was really agitated and wanted to get out. I thought that was peculiar. Was it next in line to be cooked? I mean, they eat rat. Why not squirrel? Our tour guide said that the Buddhist people will come and pay money to set the caged animals free. Then at night, the birds fly back into their cages only to be sold and set free again the next day.

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The next stop on our trip was to the Summer Royal Palace. It was a breathtakingly beautiful place.

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This is where the royalty stayed in ages past. In the middle left of the picture is an area where the royalty could see who was coming by looking through the slated windows, but no one could see in.

Centuries ago, no one was allowed to touch royalty. Then one summer day, the queen had a boating accident. The people watched her drown because if they touched royalty generations of their family would be killed. The king was so heartbroken that he abolished the law.

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This lizard found his way inside by the other animals.

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I don’t have a lot of pictures by the Royal Palace. Today was the hottest day (over 100 degrees). I was not allowed into the palace with the shirt I was wearing. I had to buy another shirt to wear over my shirt. I already bought the pants I was wearing. First of all, all of the wild pants I bought were not worn by locals only tourists. I think it boldly proclaimed that I was an idiot that didn’t bother to pack pants or acceptable clothing.

To tell you the truth, I was getting very irritable at this point. I never wore so many clothes on such a hot day before. I felt overheated, sluggish, and weighed down by all of the crap I was carrying. Don’t let my smile fool you. I think I was suffering from WAT (What, another temple??) syndrome. At this point in the journey, I was starting to feel a little templed and palaced out.

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In the evening we went to see the ruins of the former capital. It was beautiful at sunset.

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Look at the back of my shirt. The back has a knitted material that you can see my skin through. Oops. At least I had something that matched the wild pants though.

If you look to my right, you can see the statues of the Buddhas with their heads cut off. The heads of the Buddhas were made of gold and were stolen when the city was raided.

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We loved visiting the ruins, but for others it was their backyard.

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Thailand, Day 6

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We started off day 6 by hiking through Hellfire Pass.

This was the actual location that the POW’s from WWII and general laborers from Burma worked day and night to build a railroad through rocks and jungle. They were forced to work very long hours with very little sleep or supplies. If the men were too sick to work, they did not get fed at all in the attempt to get them back to work. Many men got sick with various serious ailments due to the harsh conditions. Many died of starvation.

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The workers were treated poorly and punished severely if they didn’t work fast enough. One hundred thousand people lost their lives building the railroad. The fires lit at night made the workers think of hell, hence the name Hellfire Pass.

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We took a train ride on a part of the Death Railroad that was still in use. We left the train and explored a cave that was set up as a medical aid station during the war. A shrine is set up there now. If you explore the cave past the shrine, there are a lot of bats in it.

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We stopped at a waterfall. It was a slippery climb, but I didn’t see anyone fall.

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In the afternoon, we visited the elephants. This was not included in the trip. It used to be included as an option, but the tour company got flooded with complaints saying that it wasn’t humane to ride an elephant. Unfortunately, the elephants survival depends on tourists dollars.

Many years ago the elephants were not treated humanely. They were given amphetamines to work long hours clearing brush and doing heavy lifting. After this was outlawed, the elephants could not be released into the wild. They would die. They created a sanctuary for these elephants and their families. Tourists can go to the sanctuary and pay to feed the elephants. Or they can ride the elephants, go on a river cruise, and swim with the elephants.

I was very nervous about riding an elephant at first. Look at them! They are huge. I was worried about falling off. The little seat on top of the elephant was held up by a couple of ropes that I was concerned wouldn’t hold our combined weight. Going up and down hills, I felt like I was falling. It was big time out of my comfort zone, but I decided to do it anyway.

After riding the elephant, we took a ride on a bamboo raft up the River Kwai. On the way back down, we jumped in the water and floated down the river. I couldn’t see or feel the bottom with my feet. When we got back, the elephants were waiting for us in the river. I had a hard time standing up as the current was fairly strong and the rocks under our feet were sharp. The elephants themselves are very gentle but whiskery with rough skin. They were only soft on the tip of their trunk.

I was a little nervous in the water too just from the sheer size of the elephants. Paul had an elephant fall in love with him. The elephant kept touching his bald head with her trunk. They gazed into each other’s eyes. Animals love him. The elephant seemed to sense my nervousness.

It certainly was a remarkable experience. I’m really happy I decided to go there.

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There are a few elephants that live in the wild. Some people on our tour bus saw one as we were driving through the jungle.

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We stopped on the way back to see some wild monkeys that were fed leftover food from the market.

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We were not allowed to touch the monkeys. The tour guide had to close the doors on the bus so they wouldn’t get inside and raid our food. It was unbelievable seeing hundreds of monkeys out in the open so close that I could touch them.

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We arrived back at the hotel in the evening and decided to eat outdoors at the romantic table. It was gorgeous outside. The average high temps were in the 90’s and it didn’t rain once the whole time we were in Thailand.

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Nearby was a table with a large extended family. Two little girls from their table danced to American music that played through the speakers. Either we didn’t hear any music at all or it was remade American hits from a few years back made into elevator music sung by a mediocre female singer. She even sang a song by Nine Inch Nails elevator style. I wonder if they even understood the words. I don’t specifically recall hearing any Thai music on our whole trip. I thought that was rather odd.

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Today was our favorite day of the trip.

Thailand, Day 5

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The morning of day 5, we left Bangkok early and started making our way to Kanchanaburi.

We stopped on the way to visit a market set up next to the railroad tracks.

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We were there when the train went through. What an awesome experience!

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Our next stop was the floating market of Damnoen Saduak. Before I visited the floating market, I had a lot of misconceptions. The biggest one was that people were selling items from a boat and we would have to take a boat to be able to buy things. That was not true at all. The market was bigger than I expected, but totally accessible by foot.

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One of the things that Paul did at the market was pay to hold a snake. He said it felt cool and refreshing on this hot day. Paul bought himself a silk shirt for about $7 and I bought a pair of dragon pants and a couple more shirts. I bought some mango sticky rice for lunch.

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Then we visited the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. We also stopped at the war museum and cemetery. I won’t go deep into the historical significance today. The bridge was rather long. We didn’t spend all our allotted time walking across the bridge and back, although the thought did cross our minds.

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This isn’t a great picture, but I wanted to show you the tree with the ribbons around it. I mentioned a few days ago that the Buddhists believe in reincarnation. They also believe that loved ones can come back in the form of a tree. When a loved one comes back as a tree, they wrap ribbons around it and the tree cannot be cut down. They also have a little shrine set up which is not an uncommon sight outside of homes.

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Here is the view from the bridge.

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We arrived at our hotel by suppertime. It was very remote and downright beautiful. This was our view from the front of our hotel. Today was the first day I had the feeling that I was very far from home. This was my favorite hotel stay on the trip. I wished we could’ve stayed longer, but there really wasn’t anywhere to go or anything to do in walking distance. The employees of this hotel spoke very limited English. They wanted to charge us for ice to be brought to the room. It was hard to communicate.

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The hotel swimming pool was breathtaking. We went swimming the first night we were there. I wish we had more time to spend there. The next day was going to be filled with sightseeing. We were told to wear mosquito repellent at all times, but surprisingly it was not very buggy.

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That night Paul ordered fried fish. He got a fried fish alright. He said that it was excellent. I was craving Western food. I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich with fries. The sandwich came out on white bread with the crust cut off. The ham was the cheap sandwich meat kind, the cheese was the cheap processed kind. Let’s just say that all of the American or Western food that I ate out East wasn’t all that good. I don’t know what I was expecting.

The service at the restaurants was unusual too. The servers seemed to have a hard time picking up our cues that we wanted another drink or that we were finished with our meal. We never had to wait for a table and never felt that we were rushed out of anywhere. I mentioned before that the servers also would not drop off menus and come back. They would stand at the table and wait until you ordered something unless you told them to come back.

All of the meals had a gratuity of 10% added to all of the bills. That made it easier converting dollars to bahts. However most Americans only tip 10% if they receive poor service, crappy food, or go to a buffet. For an excellent meal and service, most Americans happily tip between 15% to 20%.

We went back to our room exhausted from our long day and fell asleep to Thai boxing that came in poorly on the TV.