31 July 2009

Confusing Photo of the Week #3

Oh, the wonders of Asian toilets...

I remember reading a study once about people's aversion to eating/drinking out of containers normally used for gross or toxic contents. Even though the subjects in the study were assured that the urine sample jar/cat litter box/windex bottle was brand new - fresh from the factory and never used, the same plastics as say, a tupperware container - most would not eat or drink from it. Those who did reported high levels of discomfort when doing so.

I have recently learned that there are other instances where this aversion applies. When I confronted this bucket of water (meant to be used in lieu of toilet paper) labeled "Klenco Chemical" I fished in my purse for a napkin instead....

I am willing to bet that this was not a new bucket, unused from the Klenco factory - I think that at some point it was filled with the commercial, industrial and laundry chemicals it advertises, and no amount of water can remove all "safety solvents".

Maybe my feet, maybe my hands- but in order to prevent my own high levels of discomfort, you can bet that I did NOT splash my gens with this water.

*NOTE - I love squat toilets, have gone in some terrifyingly filthy ones - and I have no problem with the dipper and bucket....usually. Just not when the water is in a chemicals bucket.

30 July 2009

Monkeyin' Around Part 2 - Nosey Beasts

Of course this schnozz is impressive.....

Malaysian Borneo is package tour hell. For an independent traveler such as myself who is used to chartering boats and arranging trips by myself Borneo has been a rude awakening – everything here must be arranged far in advance, through a travel agency and paid way too much for.

And just my luck – I have headed from the lowest of the low season in Southern Thailand to the peak of high season in Sabah. That means that every single thing that we want to do is not just only possible with a package, it is also sold the fuck out. Full. “Finish” as the locals say. We can't just stroll over to the famous turtle hatching island near Sandakhan and try to hire a local boat to visit it – under Malaysian law it can only be visited with a tour. And that tour is 200 Canadian dollars. A DAY. It's also booked until October, consarnnit.

I am used to hiring my own guide, grabbing a share sawngthaew (pick up truck taxi with benches in the bed) and doing things independently and on the cheap. But that's just not possible in Malaysian Borneo, not if you want to catch a glimpse of the abundant wildlife for which Sabah is famous. That is how we found ourselves in a lodge surrounded by middle aged European package tourists, drinking expensive beers and eating bland buffet food.

When I think “3 Day Jungle Trek” images of small villages, local dishes cooked over an open flame (see how my brain goes right to the viddles?) and water splashed over my layers of sweat from a hand pumped well. Not so in sanitized Malaysia. Our trek consisted of 2 nights in a comfortable dorm, 4 boat trips and 3 small treks.

But, despite my irritation at being nannied while I traveled – it was really good.

Kinabatangan is located in the centre of Sabah and is home to a huge area of protected jungle. While a few of the elusive Orang Utans still roam in the wild here, the main attraction are the Proboscis Monkeys – strange furry primates with huge fleshy noses and thick unibrows. We declined a visit to the Proboscis Sanctuary near Sepilok due to its high entry fee (nothing can be done on your own here!) and were worried that we has missed out.

Umm...yeah. You guys kinda got me at a bad time....yeah.

We needn't have worried. Every one of those 4 boat trips (2 in the evening, 2 at dawn) was packed with Proboscis sightings. This strange monkey is endemic to Borneo and is endangered (surprise!) due to poaching and loss of habitat.

Thorough grooming? Anyone? Anyone?

We also saw a lot of long tailed macaques and silver leaf monkeys - they didn't seem to understand that they were not the stars of this show...

Let's just hug.

The Proboscis males are more impressive to spot, as they have the long flappy noses - but seeing a mummy and baby animal is always cute. I like how these guys are hugging.

Rough, ready and booted up.

Two of the three jungle walks were held at night when the animals and insects are more active but for some reason on the nights that we walked the wildlife was a bit underwhelming. We did get to wear rubber boots though, and as a homesick Vancouverite this was pleasant...

Artax, you're sinking! Come on, turn around, you have to! Come on! Artax! Fight against the sadness, Artax!

The boots, it turned out, were not just evening apparel. The mud that we slogged through during the day was almost over the top of them. The streaks of mud all the way to my waist and the leech socks (we passed many, but avoided getting sucked on) made for a lovely fashion statement.

The spider man is having me for dinner tonight.

The day trek was a lot more eventful than the night treks - we saw this guy right out of the gate.

I really do not care what breakfast cereal you eat.

Normally I do not get excited about birdwatching, and I find it strange when people do. (Birding? Why is that a thing?) But a Rhinocerous Hornbill is a different matter - this guy reminds me of exciting tropical Toucan Sam.

I'm just gonna relax here and watch TV.....

Despite the other animal sightings, the Proboscis monkeys were really the most fascinating guys on the trip. I love their big pooched out bellies (a result of gas, believe it or not) and huge feet - when they sit there up in the tree I think they look like dudes home from work, relaxin on the couch. They just need little pants.

Please stop poaching me.

Seeing all of these rare monkeys in the wild was a great experience, and even though it was expensive it was completely worth it.

While I relish the chance to get into a country, roll up my sleeves and get dirty, Sabah has been interesting. What the Kinabatangan trek lacked in small tribal villages and strange foods it made up for in nature sightings, friendly guides and a relaxed lodge. If I have to do a package, this was a good one.

I think the monkeys liked it, too.

25 July 2009

Monkeyin' Around Part 1 - The Jungle Men

Better than Disneyland, but just as touristy....

When our friend Brandon started planning his trip to Malaysian Borneo and Indonesia to meet us, I asked him what his priority was – what did he want to get out of this trip? Was it culinary tourism? Culture and architecture? Ruins and beaches? “Monkeys” was his answer. “Lots of monkeys.” We decided to visit two wildlife reserves in order to see as many different kinds as we could.

Brandon joins our crew - them's be Orang Utans back thar.

After a few days in Kota Kinabalu we headed to Sepilok, home of one of the five Orang Utan rehabilitation centres in the world. The centre is a located on a large chunk of protected jungle and is home to over 20 of the lovable red guys who have been abused, injured or rescued from bad zoos and irresponsible owners.

The Centre is famous for its feeding times – at 10 am and 3pm hundreds of people crowd onto raised wooden platforms to watch the handlers dole out bananas. We arrived to the platform half an hour early to watch the daring long tailed macaques lunge and steal handfuls of the fruit, growing in numbers from one brave monkey to over a dozen.

Hey - whatcha got there?

One of the handlers approached the feeding station and held up a small sign that read “Silence.” Within moments a collective gasp escaped from the crowd - my own lungs included. An Orang Utan, hairy and muscled with long arms, big round head and long jointy arms swung into sight and snatched a bunch of the bananas. With big sad human eyes and and a sweet demeanour he ambled over in his strange Frankenstein way to crouch next to the blue bucket, surrounded by grabby macaques.

Room for one more?

Over the next thirty minutes four more “Jungle Men” (the Bahasa translation) came into view to collect bananas, including one mother and baby. She tried to teach her funny little babe how to swing on the rope using just his arms, but he seemed to be afraid and insisted on using his feet to help his balance.

Overseeing the learning process. If only there were training wheels for this....

Mummy and baby.

It was an amazing experience to sit and watch the bizarre mythic primates just hang out, play and nosh, knowing that unlike a zoo, they were free to leave and go back to their business (ha! Monkey business!) at any time.

Hee hee - he looks like he's wearing a toupee!

My awe and magical feelings dissipated only for a short time, when one of the big boys decided to swing his way over to the viewing platform right next to all of us tourists and our unrelenting cameras. Despite stern warnings from the British handler, her calls of “No Flash. Do Not Crowd. No Flash!” were ignored as moronic photo-hungry families surged forward and shoved flashing bulbs in the Orang Utan's face.

That's right, crowd around.

That moment made me scared. Are we all just heading toward a planet of these small conservation pockets, places that seem like a good idea to visit until you get there and realize that all of these other people with poor intentions are also there? People so desperate for a snap of the perfect vacation memory that they think that using flash photography in an animal sanctuary is okay?

Hey - I'm just a poster. Feel free to ignore me.

My greatest fears in fourth grade, when I wrote a little speech about the destruction of the rain forest, have been realized. We have so few of the big fascinating mammals left that even when they are ostensibly in the 'wild' we still crowd around them, desperate to get our moment with them before they are all gone, killed off by poaching and slowly starved by deforestation. And the desperation, the crazed attitude that they are first and foremost a tourist attraction and secondarily creatures with as much right to this land as we have (alright, I'll stop just shy of an “Oh Gaia Mother Earth” hippie sentiment because as we all know – I hate hippies) drives people to do stupid things.

I'm comin to get ya!

When I was in Nepal's Chitwan National Park, I witnessed a group of tourists feeding a baby elephant Oreos, waving the cookies around to lure him closer in order to take photos with him. The mahout's (elephant dude) back was turned, and I caught his attention and tattled on the group (I had already asked them to stop but they looked at me blankly and kept flinging treats) The mahout repeated the sentiment, watching them with a hairy eyeball, but the moment his back was turned they resumed feeding him Oreos, and also some Lay's potato chips, snapping away with flash the whole time.

Me, with said baby elephant, in Nepal.

While this made me seethe, this ignorant behaviour pales in comparison when I think about animal poaching. While I understand the economic factors that drive people to murder endangered species, this understanding does nothing to diminish the near violent rage I feel when I think about the people responsible for a) driving the market with demand (“ooooh, honey look! Rhino Horn tea! I know that there are only 200 left in Borneo, but my wang-o sure is lacklustre lately!”) and b) doing the hunting. My little fists ball up and I my face heats up and I wanna go out there and find the monsters myself.

Yes, it is a few steps from feeding elephants cookies and flashing cameras in monkey's faces to poaching – but there seems to be the same sort of disassociation between right and wrong and the same desperate urge to exploit the animal for your own selfish reasons.

I was na├»ve and thought that no one would kill threatened animals in this day and age– no one would dare even think about harming an elephant, a monkey, a sun bear. As a child (and even up to a few years ago) a poacher to me was a nameless, faceless monster who lurked only in news stories and my imagination. But now I have been to too many places affected by rampant killing to try to see the good in people and earnestly believe that it will stop.


Orang Utans are being poached to snag the babies to keep as pets, and to fill the market for so called 'bush meat' – the consumption of large primates and other endangered species. I have seen them up close. They look like us, and I'm just gonna put this out there: if you eat the great primates (gorillas, chimps, baboons) you are a bad person. I'm not even putting in a qualifier like “unless you are starving.” Nope.

As long as poachers exist, sanctuaries like the one at Sepilok are necessary and the people that keep them running are practically saints. But.... while the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre was amazing and interesting and a really good cause, maybe they could enforce a mandatory sitting-only policy? A no-camera policy? They could sell video and stills from the feeding time that you attended and make even more moolah for the centre.... They could also employ me (and let me hug the Orangs all I want to) to stand and look disapprovingly at the crowd.

I have a very effective stern look......

Just let me at the poachers with it.

Please don't eat me. Or put cameras in my face. Thx.

23 July 2009

10 Things About My Blog and Me.....

Blogging away, even on a boat in Ha Long Bay.

There I was, laying in bed in my hostel dormbed, relishing the free wifi that every single guesthouse in Malaysia seems to have. It was midnight (9am PST) and I checked my blogger account and noticed that I had a new follower. This brought me to 23, so I was pretty excited. I went about my business and checked the gossip websites, the news and facebook, and checked my blogger account one more time before going to sleep. I now had 29 followers.

It took me months to pester my friends and family to actually sign up and follow me (go through steps?! Register?! No way, best friend!) - accruing my 22 followers was hard work. And now, magically, I had 29.

A notion began tickling my brain. "Maybe the tweet you sent to Blogger worked. Maybe you are Blog Of Note....." As I was clicking to check I saw it: a comment in my inbox.
"Congratulations on becoming Blog Of Note!"

I woke S up (he was bleary eyed and confused but happy nonetheless) and began watching my followers and comments amass. I was giddy! I still am!

You guys are some of the only people to recognize how awesome it really - the average person is like 'Blog of wha....? Is that on the internets?" Thank you so so much for all of your amazing comments and compliments - they mean a lot to me!

So, I guess I had better introduce myself a bit better to all of you new readers. My friends, family and longterm followers have gotten used to my idiosyncrasies, quirks and foibles - I have many.... Here are 10!

Ten Random Things About Me and My Blog

1) I am currently backpacking around Asia, and have been for 10 months. I have no set date to return home, though it looks like late Fall.... On this trip I have traveled to: Thailand (North and South) India, Nepal, Maldives, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Brunei and Malaysian Borneo. On the agenda? Indonesia, Philippines, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

2) Most of the older posts here were written just as personal essay stuff that I posted on facebook....I reposted them here (in the correct date order), but that is why they are:
b)Have few or no photos
Also, I often mull stuff over and write about it months later....that is why, even though I am here in Borneo I might post about the Maldives or Nepal (which I visited 7 months ago.) I'm non-linear, ladies and gentlemen!

Creepy third pupil close-up shot.

3) I have a third pupil in my left eye. My opthamologist claims it is a cyst, but I prefer the other explanation.

4) I know the capital of every country on the planet. This is the result of many long bus rides (the longest was 26 hours) and a pocket sized atlas that I bought in India. It may also be because I was a travel agent for two years - a really good one (modesty be damned...)

5) You will read my references to my partner (S) and see photos of him, the handsome devil. I always write him as a "Dave Foley in News Radio" straight man to my "dizzy Lucy you so crazy" comedienne, but in reality he is much funnier than I am. In fact, he should write his own blog, or take this one over occasionally. We have been together for 3 years and it was either buy a house or come on this trip. Voila!

My Mum and I at the Taj Mahal. I promise it's there, behind all that mist.

6)I inherited my love of travel from my Mum (sappy family moment alert!!!!) who has defied teenage mum odds (she was 17) to have a great career and backpack the world. She and I have traveled Czech Republic, Netherlands, Mexico, India and the Maldives together - and it is her fascination with art and culture and willingness to try new things while on the road that taught me to "just try it once."
Her sentiment "there are worse places to die" echoing in my ears encourages me to try a whole host of adventurous things (jumping off of waterfalls, motorbiking in Vietnam, crossing the street in India...) that I may have passed on otherwise.

7) If you ask me questions I will try to respond asap - usually below the list of comments so you will have to check back to see (sorry!) I will answer travel questions, post-related questions and even silly irrelevant questions (I like some of these :D) but it may take me a long time as I am traveling and I don't think that Indonesia will have much wifi. Prove me wrong, world's-largest-archipelago, Prove me wrong!

8) Yes, I went to University and took English courses (and did very well, thank you). Yes, I am aware that my punctuation and syntax is..... unorthodox. I am an unrelenting fan of the dash, the bracket and the dot dot dot - even the asterix. Sometimes it even annoys me, so I can imagine how you might feel..... I have tried to break the habit repeatedly - and failed. (I am also never sure if the period should go inside or outside of the bracket, so you'll see that bounce around too.) ?

9) I am entered in this thing (*looks at the ground sheepishly with big sad eyes*) to blog my way to Antarctica. It is not going so well (the leader has like 2000 votes. I have 117)ood but my brain won't concede defeat. So, maybe you could vote? Thanks!

At a table, about to eat food, surrounded by a cat and a dog. happiness.

10) I am a foodie. I love food. I fantasize about food. I dream about food. I am also a vegetarian (who eats fish - so really a pescetarian, but when I use that word people are like "Pesce-what?")
I also love animals - trying to help them out is a passion in my life, so the two things are kind of related. I will be starting a cheese blog when I get home (because here in Asia? Not so much with the cheese unless it comes in a plastic wrapping) with one of my besties....until then I will be sure to take lots of food close-ups and tell you what I am eating.

Thank you again for reading, subscribing and commenting. I will try to read as many of your blogs as I can! I am heading off for a three day trek in Borneo's Kinabantagan Jungle - I will be back then with photos of orang utans and proboscis monkeys!

Violet Dear

22 July 2009

"That is the promise?"

It doesn't matter what you do. Even if you read or doze or chat animatedly, when you lay on the beach in Anjuna, Goa you are interupted by the question“You like see my shop?” repeated again and again by passing young women, as if it is their capitalist mantra. I'm particularly good at a gentle “No didi*, but you have good luck with other people” used with varying degrees of success. Gia, however, did not take this hint and did not continue down the beach, away from me and my relaxation as I hoped she would.

The world's best salesperson.

“Yes, you see my shop. Nice things. All 50 rupees only*. What is your name?” When it gets to this point I am always weakened with an inborn Canadian politeness that prevents me from leaving posed questions unanswered lest I appear rude.
“Jessica” I responded, sighing. I knew that this exchange was going to last at least a few more minutes. The little girl proferred a tiny mehndied hand.
“Jetseeka. I am Gia. And what is your name?” Sean looked up from his book, warily. It is uncommon for me to let things get to this stage with touts and vendors, and he knew something was awry here.
“Sean.” He replied, also shaking her hand.
“Shann. Are you married?” She directed this question back at me, small eyes piercing me as she asked the most common of all questions in India. The answer would determine her level of respect for us – if we were decent human beings.

“Yes....um, no. He is my boyfriend.” I stuttered, figuring in this of all swinging liberal hippy places, that she would know what the term boyfriend meant (in a tiny village in Nepal the girls didn't. They thought I meant Sean was my brother when I said boyfriend, as that is the closest thing they could conceptualize to unmarried partners of the opposite sex. In order to save face once it was explained to them I had to tell them we were engaged. They still weren't happy.) She looked at Sean with consternation.

Working her magic on Shann

“You make marriage together soon, ok? That is the promise?” Sean, now laughing at the cheeky 9 year old, agreed. She looked at me “You too. You make marriage. That is the promise. OK?” I also agreed to keep the promise. She edged closer to me still. “You have very black hair. You are very white. Are you from England?”
“No,” I told her “we're from Canada.” She nodded approvingly.
“I like Canada people. You have very black hair. Now you see my shop? Everything 50 rupees. No buying, just looking.” Her shop turned out to be a tupperware container filled with sparkly trinkets and baubles, and she was fast opening it next to my head. I quickly tried to nip this in the bud.

“Nahee, didi. I don't want anything today. Maybe tomorrow....” I trailed off as she was already unloading her wares. She held a glittering little box up to my eye for inspection.
“See, all 50 rupees. You like this? I have pen, box, necklace, toe ring, anklet -” She stopped dead as she saw me hesitate at the mention of the anklets. Just that morning I had been admiring a Russian girl's silver ones, telling Sean that I wanted some just like them. “Anklet! See, very beautiful.” Before I could stop her, the jewelry was being fastened around my foot. “50 rupees just joking.” She said, smiling at me angelically.

I eyed her suspiciously. “What do you mean just joking? How much is this anklet?” She looked at me gravely.
“No business for me today Jetseeka, this anklet is the best quality, 250 rupees, how much you give me?” I looked back at her, deadpan.
“50 rupees.” I countered. She debated me with gusto, highlighting the quality, her lack of business and the fact she had just been joking about the price each time I told her 50 rupees only was all was I was willing to pay. We eventually settled on 100 rupees, and I was laughing openly at this point.
“You know didi, 'just joking' is the same as lying. '50 rupees only' is lying.” She looked at me nonchalantly and nodded.
“Yes. I have no business, so I say 50 rupees.”
“Also, this isn't real silver.” She giggled and shook her head.
“And I paid too much because I like you, Gia.”
“Good!” She exclaimed, and proceeded to start the whole sales process over again with “Shann” despite me having figured out her ruse. She quickly realized that it was going nowhere, and as she packed up her “shop” she looked at me and squinted.

In the end, it is a very nice anklet....

“I like your clip.” I reached up and felt my hair – I had a tiny black barrette holding back my bangs, the kind that are a dollar per dozen at home. I unclippped it.
“Here. You can have it.” I said, handing it to her. Her eyes got wide.
“Yah?” She took it from me and immediately pulled her hair back, using it to secure her wispy ponytail. “OK, bye bye. I miss you soon!” She ran down the beach, and shouted “You do the promise!”
over her shoulder.

I leaned back on my beach chair, Sean and I both laughing. Tears sprang into my eyes and I looked down into my lap and read the title of the book I was reading, an anthology of travel stories each with a common theme.

The title was The Kindness of Strangers.

It seems apt.

*didi means sister in Hindi
*50 rupees is 1.25 CAD

Fast friends. Thanks, persistent little girl...

Confusing Photo of the Week #2

This gem was taken about 10 months ago near Chiang Mai in Thailand. At a government run site.

I looked at this sign, my eyes slowly widening with horror as I realized that they meant "Disabled Toilet." Sean likes to focus on the "totlet" part of this photo, but I actually think that that sullies the joke, diverts your attention away from the fact that they are calling them "Lamers."

Engrish is everywhere in Asia, poorly spelled or bizarrely articulated English translations that you sometimes have to sound out loud to decipher their meaning. But this? Come on.

Maybe an office drone on the planning committee was like "Hey, um, do you think that we should consult a native English speaker for this one? We are the government afterall, and I'm sure that the guys down at the British Consulate (or the pub) could help us out..."

To which his boss replied "Connsarnit Santichai, we have had this cotton pickin' conversation too many times - quit trying to bamboozle me! Stop flapping your gums! I'm the Big Cheese around here, and I'm going to keep using this Insensitive 1920's Old-Timey English/Thai Dictionary until the cows come home- it's the bee's knees. That's enough tomfoolery! Scram you cad, or I will beat you until you are a lamer yourself!"


19 July 2009

Bandar Seri Begawhaaaaa?

Some languages make me laugh - Bahasa is one.

I will be honest. Until approximately 2 years ago, if you had asked me to point to Brunei on a map, I would have squinted my terrible eyes and flipped to the Middle East section of my atlas. So it is one of life's little quirks that I found myself on a plane heading from Kuala Lumpur to Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei's capital.

The Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam. A mouthful of words, words that evoke gently swaying palms, smoke filled souks and robed men on camels. Except not at all. Brunei is actually a teeny little country sandwiched between 2 chunks of Malaysian Borneo, a strict Islamic nation awash in oil money. Ruled by the Sultan of Brunei, one of the world's richest men (and friend of Michael Jackson's, until he sued him and claimed songwriting credit for many songs....) it was once a very powerful state stretching across much of SE Asia, was then incorporated into British Malaysia until winning its independence in 1984.

We arrived at 9pm and checked into the Pusat Belia (youth hostel) the only affordable place in a town where most visitors are oil barons staying at the Sheraton. July 15th is the Sultan's birthday and a weeklong celebration normally occurs - but not this year.

Every country we have been to has screened us for swine flu at the border, but Brunei was like, unreasonably scared. Every second person wore a holier than thou 'do not infect me with with your porcine flu breath' face masks (another Michael Jackson reference - Brunei is rife with them ladies and gentlemen!) and businesses have large posters in their windows reminding you to not contract H1N1.

This was at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, a Western coffee chain. There were signs on the door letting us know that it was safe to come in.

It is the IMMINENT THREAT OF DEATH by H1N1 that led to the cancellation of the Sultan's grand bash of 2009, but the streets were still carnival-esque, glittering with candy coloured lights and huge posters of the man himself. We headed to the night market for some hawker food and fresh orange juices (no beers, remember?) The sizzling sounds of sates and fish hitting the grill filled our ears and the meaty smelling clouds of smoke from the barbecues (a bad time to be a vegetarian) wafted into our noses. BSB seemed quaint and charming.

And it was, I found out the next morning as we toured the streets of the tiny downtown area. After a big Indian breakfast of roti and channa masala, we wandered the streets, which took us about 10 minutes... Once we had seen the grand mosque and the colourful stilted village that lies beyond it we were kind of at a loss of things to do. Brunei has a wealth of exotic wildlife, dense rainforest and traditional tribespeople but as we were set to explore those things in Borneo (for cheaper) we settled into a coffee shop (again, no beer) and watched the world go by.

Channa Dahl - one of my favourites.....

Malay women in colourful headscarves, Indian men in Muslim skullcaps, young Chinese guys with fashion haircuts - it was a varied mix of Bruneian life on the streets. As night fell, the muted celebrations picked up once more and scores of children flooded the huge football pitch in front of the grand mosque. The evening seemed to be about family fun and the children's enjoyment, and with no alcohol or 'nightlife' to sway it otherwise the people seemed happy. So was I... a bit bored, but happy.

Palm trees and Islam - the comparisons to the Middle East are many

I had been expecting BSB to be filled with glittering skyscrapers and the hustle of a fast paced oil economy, but the streets were sleepy and modest - impeccably clean, but sleepy. People were friendly and cars stopped -they actually stopped - at crosswalks (the fact that there were crosswalks at all baffled me - this ain't your mama's Southeast Asia.)

The standard of living is incredibly high compared with the other Asian countries (bar Singapore) due to all that fancy oil money, but I couldn't help but wonder at what cost? The streets, sanitized to the point of sterile, seem to lack the vivacious life and chaos that I love about Asia. That, and the relentless Sultan worship kind of rubbed me the wrong way (just gotta rearrange a few letters there....)

That is a lot of Sultan photos. Happy 63rd, dude.

So would I recommend a stay in Bandar Seri Begawan? For one day, absolutely. There is always something special about seeing a new country and how its people live - it's what drives us all to travel. But any more than one day, and you'll probably be craving excitement right along with that prohibited beer....

18 July 2009

Zen and the Art of Dog Walking, or "Our Time at Lanta Animal Welfare"

This little dude was a new arrival when we got there, and was sick. By the time we left he was healthy and happy.
A lot of backpackers arrive in Asia, see the poverty and dire conditions and want to volunteer. Unfortunately, most long term volunteering opportunities need to be sorted out well in advance and require minimum time commitments and even specialized knowledge/education. Not so with Lanta Animal Welfare.
Lanta Animal Welfare is run by a Californian born Norwegian woman named Junie who runs an extremely successful Thai fusion cooking school and
restaurant on Klong Dao Beach. After many years of living on Lanta she decided to do something to help the myriad stray, sick and injured dogs she saw running up and down the beach. She started a kennel and sterilization program with her own funds.
There is no veterinarian on the Ko Lanta, and so each time she comes across a sick or stray animal she or her volunteers (the amazing Adam and Carolyn) must transport them to Krabi (3 hours away) for treatment - but they do it with a smile! When asked how she manages to run a busy restaurant as well as helping all of these animals she replied with a shrug. “It has to be done!”
S and I just spent two weeks helping out, and in our time there we walked the dogs on the beach, spent time with them in the evenings (to give Junie and her other longterm volunteers a rest) and even helped to socialize Joey, the rescued pet monkey (if by socializing you mean letting him hump my head).
Junie's ambitious plans for the new year include building new spacious kennels allowing her to take on up to 50 dogs at a time, as well as hiring and boarding the island's first vet to look after them.
Junie is doing a great job but she needs help - if you want to help she would love donations and willing hands and even potential adoptees (you can take these animals back to your home country with relative ease – if you are interested be sure to ask!)
So get in there, enjoy the beauty and laid back attitude of Lanta and get your hands dirty. Junie, the dogs, cats and yes – Joey the monkey – would love to see you!

Mai Tai, always reaching through the cage. A sweet old lady.
I wanted to start off with this photo, even if it is a bit fuzzy - this is Mai Tai. She is an old lady, and just HATED it when she had to go back in after walkies. Junie used to have her out all of the time, but once she got 20 dogs it became impossible. Mai Tai is a darling. However, she knows how to get off of her leash and it can be a pain to tear off down the beach after her.....

From left: Belle, Lanta and Joey.
Oh Joey. Joey was in the process of humping Lanta's (the white dog) leg. Unlike Deng, Lanta really did seem to mind. The brown and white dear is Belle, and I think that that S and I want to bring her to Canada. (It is really easy to bring one to Canada!)

Zip was also the name of my childhood dog, so I am biased.
Kissy Kissy with Zip, one of my favourites. I really love this dog. She had a sense of humour, y'know what I mean? I love funny dogs.

Moments later she abruptly stood up, walking away from the confused kittens and sat on my lap to be petted.
The resident mummy cat (Junie rescued her with the kittens- she has since been spayed.) Want a sad story? A Swedish couple were staying here a month ago, fell in love with one of the kittens and went through the whole process of taking it to Phuket to get its shots and papers. At that point, an animal needs to remain in Thailand for 2 more months, get one more vet check and then they can be sent to Canada, no problems. They went home and begin counting down the days - and a few months before the date the kitten was run over by a Sea Gypsy on a fast motorbike. :(
It was named Lanta.

Ahhh! So many kitties! So many cute kitties! (I am kind of like Lenny with bunnies....)
The cat area - about nine of them live near the restaurant (so amazing, btw - the aesthetic alone is worth going for dranks.) I love nothing more than watching the sunset with an icy beer and having a little cat jump into my lap.

Joey, with his hands away from his genitals. A rare photo, ladies and gentlemen.
I wish I could say that Joey was a sweet little guy and we bonded, but it was more "Hey Joey, stop humping my head" or "Hey Joey, please take that wriggling frog you caught from out between your legs" or even "Ewww. Joey, no." He was found on the beach after he was attacked by dogs and Junie footed his vet bills - he has bad manners but I have been told he is a sweetheart. When he is not humping you.....

I started calling him Clint after a while - he reminds me of Clint Eastwood in "Gran Torino"
Red is a grumpy old man, a curmudgeon of a dog with a missing ear. He reminds me of the old man in "Up!" but he does have a good heart - he LOVES Junie (they all do.)

Look at that handsome man! S isn't bad either.....
Sean walking Bubble, the most difficult of all of the dogs. I maintain that Bub would be a great dog with a little personal TLC and a stable forever family, but in the meantime he can tire out even the strongest forearms.

She has a pretty severe medical issue (involving enemas) otherwise I would adopt her. Sweetie.
Sara is sweet lady, missing her tail. She hated going back in - the minute I would turn around on the beach and start heading in she planted her little feet and said "Uh Uh." I had to run and act like a giddy fool to get her moving again.
The Doodler.
Noodle (Noodler, Noodley Doodley, Noody) has a nervous disposition and stays up on these stairs a lot of the time to avoid the other dogs.

Did not matter where I stood, this dog muddied my shins.
Owen, a nice guy with a love of kicking his feet behind him and spraying you with mud, dust, sand, dirt, water - whatever was on hand. It didn't matter what direction you moved to, he could sense it and would re-direct his kicks. I tried to get Sean to take him after a while....

He looks so noble staring at the sea.

Long, Zip's cage mate. Long has a heartworm and the vet has determined that surgery would be really risky, so he is living out his days here at Lanta Animal Welfare. It's really sad, because he is sweet guy, and he and Zip are so happy playing together.

Doggie Deck is a sweet guy.
Doggie aka Doggie Deck aka Deck Dog. Doggie has a wonky eye as a result of a fight, and lives upstairs (hence the deck part of his name.) He was incredibly sweet but also a real pain as he loved to flop down in the grass or sand and refuse to get up. Such cheek!

Oh Pooey, you got the shittiest name.....
Pooey. He was really sweet and slow and I always walked him first, so it was a nice start to the dog walkin' time. A really really nice dog.

I was like "Leg? Are you sure there isn't something wrong with his head?" I kid because I love.
Deng Deng. I assumed that Deng's strange sideways shuffle was due to hip dysplasia, and so did Junie. That was before the vet in Phuket did an x-ray and determined that Deng has been shot and there is a bullet lodged in his leg. That does not keep him from tearing after you at the strangest times and once catching up, grooming your legs or the dog you're walking or the monkey. He's a strange guy.

S's loving display: brought to you by Archa Beer.
Sean showing Lanta some love. She is a genuinely awesome dog - anyone would be lucky to have her as a pet. She doesn't lurve cats, so Sean and I cannot adopt her.... but maybe you can?

Hey you! Bye!