Tag Archives: vegetarianfestival

The Vegetarian Festival

Less than 24 hours from my previous post, and I decided to write again. How’s that for predictability?

Last night I went to the Vegetarian Festival right after publishing my previous blog, and I think it’s crucial to write about it now, before I head to Malaysia tomorrow.

I realized that the major factor that was preventing me from going to see the events in Phuket Town was that I didn’t want to drive through the madness and traffic. I realized I was being silly, and I hopped in a taxi and made it over there. I have recently discovered the app GrabTaxi, and I’ve found it has saved me a ton of time and money. This isn’t a plug, but they should definitely be paying me as their promoter. The app allows you to set your pickup and drop-off destinations on a map, it estimates the fare, and shows the metered taxis in the surrounding areas.  If you’re walking down the street in any part of Phuket, it’s normally very time consuming to find a metered taxi. All of the taxi drivers, tuk tuks, and motorbike taxis set their own rates, because they know they can make far more by ripping you off. For example, I was once charged 350 baht for a normal taxi to take me from my place in Kathu to Phuket Town. Yesterday, it cost me 180. That’s a difference of about $5, and $5 goes a long way here.

imageAnyhow, I was incredibly relieved that I hadn’t driven, because the traffic was out of control. The taxi driver dropped me off at the apartments that I used to stay in, and I met up with Michelle, a friend from my TEFL course. We walked to the festival with plans to grab dinner along the way. The streets were packed with food stalls offering an overwhelming amount of food. It was funny to see that although it’s a vegetarian festival, a few of the stalls had managed to make imitation hot dogs, and other food that looked like it was meat. As I usually do, I bought a little bit of everything, and then only ate about 1/3 of it. I get really excited to try new things, but then I’m way too full to eat all of it. My favorite of the night were some super spicy deep fried seaweed fritters. Everything tastes good fried.

We walked down to the end of the street where the Jui Tui Shrine is. The online schedule said that the fire walking was supposed to start at 8, and we made it there at 7:30 to secure a good spot. The festival is so noisy due in part to the sheer amount of people, but definitely the major contributor is the firecrackers being set off everywhere you look. I’ll get to the fireworks in a bit. We were standing out front of the Chinese temple, with a pretty good view of what was going on in front. There were about a dozen imagetattooed men standing in a circle, showing only the whites of their eyes, chanting and shaking their heads back and forth. They were all barefoot, and wearing white pants and multicolored bejeweled aprons. There was one elderly woman in the circle, and she was wearing a bright pink outfit that looked exactly like a graduation cap and gown. I’ve read online that the men in aprons are the mediums, that they are the ones who channel the gods during the ceremony. I have no idea about the woman, though. Man, I wish I knew.

The mediums are highly respected- any time a person had to walk past one of them, they gave them a wai (folding hands in a prayer position at the chest, and bowing the head). The height of the hands during the wai changes with levels of respect, and the people were giving them the highest version of the wai, which meant they were holy figures.

Michelle and I were taken back just watching the chanting and the head shaking. There was a lot going on, and then one of imagethe mediums turned around and yelled super loud and motioned for everyone to sit down. There weren’t any chairs or anything, everyone just plopped right down where they were standing. Shortly after we had sat down, another man yelled and pointed and there was a type of panic set off. He motioned for everyone to stand up. Michelle and I just went with whatever the crowd was doing, even though it was somewhat alarming. When we stood up, two men walked through carrying a wooden sculpture. Another man yelled at us again to sit down. He was holding a long wooden stick with long blonde hair at the end, and was waving it in the air. I made a joke to Michelle (she also has blonde hair) that it was the hair of the foreigner who didn’t follow directions. The whole ordeal was confusing and intense.

They lit off some fireworks in the center of their circle, and then they left the shrine and walked down the street in a procession. Everyone was following them, so we did too. At this point, I realized that maybe we had gone to the wrong shrine for the fire walking. This was intensely cultural, though, so we followed along with them. We quickly realized that it is protocol for the bystanders to chuck fireworks into the crowd. There were pregnant women, small children, and elderly people throughout the crowd. Nobody seemed to bat an eye.

Everyone thought it was especially funny to throw them at the foreigners. When we were near the shrine, it was impossibleimage to escape them. The narrow alleys left us really no choice but to run through them. Once we got to the bigger street, we were able to stand behind the people who were throwing the firecrackers. It was so intense that we both had our head on a swivel, and we ran at even the sight of a single firework. I remember looking up and seeing one coming straight at my face. I wasn’t sure if waving a white flag would be a sign of surrender here. The whole crowd was dressed in white, and everyone seemed pretty cool with having fireworks thrown at them.

People had set up shrines in front of their restaurants that were in the path of the procession. As everyone was walking, some of the mediums would come over and bless the shrines. The children lined up on the side of the streets in a wai position, and the mediums would come over and bless them. All of my pictures turned out blurry, because I was taking them while dodging fireworks.  image

After it was clear that it was the end of the procession, Michelle and I headed back to the temple to see if maybe it was time for fire walking. I was pretty sure we’d missed it, but part of me was holding out hope that we’d get to see some. They had some projector screens setup, and they were showing clips from the face piercings earlier in the day. Upon seeing them, I realized that seeing them on a screen had been overwhelming enough, and I felt okay that I hadn’t seen them in person. I wasn’t even too concerned about seeing the fire walking anymore.  At this point, my ears were ringing so hard from the fireworks that it was painful. Next year I’ll bring earplugs.

We walked back to the temple on a side road, as to take a break from the fireworks. The ally was quiet, and we walked past a sweet old man sitting on his porch. I nodded my head and smiled, and just as I looked up, the old man had a lit firework in his hand. Before I could finish a “what the….?!” he started laughing and tossed it right at my feet!!! Of course I screamed and started running, but he got me good. I didn’t get burned, but I did feel the pings of them hitting me.

With enough excitement for the night, we decided to head home. I walked with Michelle back to the apartments, and then decided to walk a little ways out of the street to try to catch a taxi. I walked out and down a road that I knew had enough imagetraffic to have a taxi, but figured it was far enough away from the excitement. I was wrong. I walked straight to a different Chinese temple, where they were using the big boy fireworks to shoot them at each other. I quickly ran into a narrow alley for shelter, when I heard too little boys giggling. I looked down and saw both of them looking up at me with their ears covered, one of them with a lighter in hand. What the….. boom. These two little boys were all by themselves in a little alley, lighting off fireworks of their own. There was literally no escaping the boom.

Instead of waiting for a GrabTaxi, I walked straight up to a motorbike taxi (yes, they provide helmets), accepted his overpriced fare, and got the hell out of there. I actually got what I paid for with this guy, though. He is in a reggae band, and he loudly sang reggae the entire drive home.

I slept like a baby last night.

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Downtime in Paradise

I am starting to feel a little restless. “How is that possible?!” You ask. “Aren’t you in a top notch tourist destination? Why don’t you go to the beach every day? Go ride an elephant! I would kill to be in your position!”

I’m not saying that it’s anything short of awesome to be here, but my personality doesn’t like downtime. There’s always an something inside of me that feels like I need to be contributing. I’m not good at lollygagging. Also, I’ve had to stretch my budget to fit 3 months without income. I had planned for 2, hoping to get a job right after the TEFL course. As it all worked out with my poor timing, the schools are on vacation until November, and I won’t be paid until the end of the month. I’m stuck between wanting to keep busy and trying to be cheap.

The food and accommodation here are ridiculously cheap, and for that I am thankful. To put it into perspective, I can stay full on less than $4/day. Gas cost also goes a long way when you’re renting a motorbike, so I have no problem getting around the island. My ultimate downfall is when it comes to the endless range of activities for tourists on this island. If money weren’t a factor, I could start my morning on an elephant trek, then go sea kayaking through mangroves, see a imageladyboy cabaret show, and then throwback some Singapore slings while listening to live music on the beach. It sounds AMAZING. Unfortunately, that kind of day would cost me about 25% of the salary I will be making come November. For now, I’ve been trying to tackle all the freebie tourist attractions that I can. It may sound silly, but I can’t wait until school starts in November.

I must say there are still a handful of attractions here that are free and noteworthy. The first, as mentioned in an earlier post, is Monkey Hill. Now that I think about it, I think I could take a backpack full of bananas and spend an entire day there. That would sure create a sense of purpose in my life. I could become the monkey version of the crazy pigeon lady. That being said, I’m not sure I’d be able to make an escape once I ran out of bananas.

There’s always the beach. I can’t get enough of the gorgeous beaches here. I won’t go into too much detail about how awesome the beaches are here. They’re fantastic (see above). We’ll leave it at that.

Another free attraction in the area is the Kathu Waterfalls. The waterfalls are about a 2 minute drive up the road from the school I’ll be teaching in- they’re both on the road “Waterfall Road.” Last Saturday I decided to go check them out. The entrance to the park is a parking lot with a few local residences and restaurants nearby. Kathu is outside of the super touristy areas, so the place isn’t marked with a whole lot of obnoxious signs. The place was definitely constructed for tourists, though.

The climb is a long concrete staircase, with intermittent rest stops with bits of information. I’d read online that there are three waterfalls throughout the journey to the top. I climbed up a little ways and found the first. To my disappointment, it was man made. It’s my own fault for setting my expectations so high. It’s actually a beautiful park, and there were quite a imagefew local boys playing in the water.

The hike is increasingly difficult as you ascend up the stairs, but nothing too intense. It’s easy to forget that it’s man-made, because you’re surrounded by lush green jungle. Just as your mind escapes into “jungle trek” mode, you look over and see the trail of trash that’s left behind by the previous tourists. It made me really sad, because it was an absolute mess.

The 2nd waterfall was gorgeous. I’ve heard from Mr.B (my favorite taxi man) that the waterfalls are better now because of the monsoon rains. It’s not a huge waterfall, by any means, but it was serene to sit next to.

As I hiked up to the 3rd waterfall, the concrete stairs stopped and the path turned narrow, with stepping stones as a path. I have to admit, I walked about 10 feet in, and turned around and went right back out. For some reason, I got legitimately scared. I was by myself, nobody knew that I was there, and I had no idea what was tucked away inside that gorgeous rain forest. I thought about snakes, and freaked myself out. I was out.

In hindsight, I really wish I would’ve given it a chance. I was already 2/3 of the way up, and I turned back. Oh well, at least it’s just up the street, and it’s free 🙂

Another option for free entertainment is to check out a temple, or a “wat.” The architecture is incredible, and they exist on every stretch of the island. I’ve been into a couple, and have definitely been impressed. It’s required to wear a shirt that covers the shoulders, and pants that cover the knees. It’s 89 degrees and 90% humidity here, so I’ve only been into temples on planned occasions.

The Kathu Shrine is between my place and the school, so it’s very close. Yesterday was the start of the vegetarian festival,image
and I decided to go see what it was all about. The mortifying body piercings don’t happen until a few days into the festival, so I just cruised up for some dinner. I was incredibly excited for the opportunity to eat whatever was in sight without having to worry about it being strange street meat. There are tons of food stalls, but I soon found out it’s important to pick one that has posted prices for their food. I saw some fried corn & chili fritters, so I indicated that I would like to purchase some. I watched every person in front of me pay 10 TBH, and when it was my turn, the lady asked me for 20. There wasn’t a sign advertising they cost 10, so I didn’t have any ground to stand on. I smiled and thanked her. Even though she ripped me off, the difference was about 25 cents. I knew the 25 cents meant more to her than it does to me.

During the vegetarian festival, attendees traditionally wear all white. I completely forgot, so I was in normal clothes. I was worried about standing out, and then I laughed and realized that I stand out no matter what I’m wearing. I did see quite a few Thai people that weren’t following suit. Nobody was sticking to the “sleeves” rule, so I felt okay.

I saw a Thai family struggling to fit themselves into one selfie with the shrine. I walked over and acted out that I would take their picture for them, and they were super happy. I took a few, and then one of the men grabbed his camera and indicated that they wanted a picture with me. They took quite a few. I thought it was hilarious. I even got my camera out and insisted that I have a copy of the same picture. Look at how adorable we are:image

Being the only foreigner with all of the chaos of the festival was pretty overwhelming, and I felt a huge push of culture shock. The small children were lighting off fireworks and throwing them into a pit. I watched a little boy (maybe 2 years old) wander into the pit when nobody was watching. Right before another boy threw a firework into the pit, another boy ran into it and dragged the 2 year old out. Everyone was laughing about it, but it scared the crap out of me. The festival is fantastic for people watching.

I could’ve stayed longer, but I was pretty overwhelmed. I’ve got 8 more days to check it out, so I have plenty of time until I leave for Malaysia on the 20th.

About that….

Today I received a call from Steve, one of the directors at the school. He is my contact for work permit/visa issues while Bronwyn is back home in South Africa. Steve is from the UK and to be honest, sometimes I have a hard time understanding him. Yes, we both speak English, but sometimes I feel like British English is a whole new language. Regardless, Steve had some bad news.

Apparently the application process for a work permit can be a pain in the ass. The timeline to get my work permit, visa, and teacher license is a stretched out process, and there are definitely setbacks along the way. I was initially told that my paperwork would take less than 2 weeks to process, and I cleared it with my supervisor that it was good timing to set my flight to Malaysia for 2 weeks out. I have to go to Malaysia to get my visa, and I have to have my work permit before I have my visa. I have to have my work permit and visa before I can get my teacher’s license. Steve got a call today that there was some issue in the review process, and my work permit won’t be ready for 3 more weeks. It was a bunch of political jargon that Steve was describing, and he basically just said, “I’m horribly sorry. I know it’s a pain. Welcome to Thailand.”

My tourist visa runs out on the 31st, and I have a nonrefundable ticket to Malaysia. It sounds like I’m going to have to go to Malaysia to renew my tourist visa, come back into Thailand, and then leave the country again at the start of November so I can re-enter with a Non Immigrant B Visa. It’s all a huge headache. Because it pertains to my personal visa, I have to pay for everything myself. On the bright side, maybe I’ll try Cambodia or Vietnam for my 2nd visa run. Who knows. I’m not complaining about the traveling part. A round trip ticket to these countries runs about $50. It’ another stamp on the passport!

That’s all I have for now! I’ve uploaded some more pictures of the waterfalls and veg festival in the pics section.

Someone eat a bagel with cream cheese for me. I’m salivating like a dog just thinking about one.

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I apologize for the lack of updates! Everything has been crazy busy lately.

On Sunday I met up with my property manager and the owner of my apartment to sign a lease. The apartment is actually much cuter than I had remembered. I’ll be moving in on Friday, so I’ll make sure to put together a video tour!

I had to bring 27,000TBH with me in order to pay for first & last month’s rent, as well as a deposit. It’s about $750 USD, so I was feeling some heavy anxiety between withdrawing money from the ATM and showing up at the apartment. The lease conditions were all on par with what they would be in the U.S. It was much shorter, but it was written in English and I didn’t see any tricky language.

I was glad that I got to sit down and talk to the owner of the place, Emmy. She is probably in her early 30s, and is super nice. She knows very little English, but enough to communicate basic ideas.  She found me on Facebook and added me in case I needed to message her with any concerns about the apartment. She offered to rent out her motorbike to me at 2,000 Baht ($55) per month, which is a killer deal.  I would need to get a Thai driver’s license after I got my work permit in order to rent it, but I appreciate the offer. Emmy and the property manager were speaking in Thai for a while and I kept hearing the name of the school I will be teaching at. When I asked the property manager about it, she said that Emmy was asking about what I’m doing in Thailand. The school I will be working at has a great reputation on the island, and she was excited for me. She admitted that she was nervous to find a new tenant because the previous tenant she had was a 14 year old runaway from Saudi Arabia. He didn’t tell her that he was 14 or that he was on the run. 3 days after he had signed the lease and paid the fees, the cops broke into the apartment and arrested him. She just wanted to make sure I wasn’t in any trouble.

After I signed the lease, I was going to find a taxi home, but the property manager offered to drive me. On the ride home she told me about how she and Emmy have been good friends since they were young. She told me, “I knew her back when she was a little boy.” I was super confused. The lady laughed and said, “yeah, she’s transgendered!” I’m 100% cool with that, but I was so shocked that I couldn’t hold it in. Without any ability to control it, my mouth dropped wide open and I shrieked, “WHAAAAT?!!?!!” I hope she didn’t take it offensively. I was just really surprised! The property manager, the owner, and the apartment are all great. I’m super excited to move in.

Tomorrow is my final day of the TEFL course. It’s hardly a day of class, either. It’s more like graduation day. I have to go in and fill out a course evaluation, and then I’ll receive my certificate. This week was packed full of assignments, teaching lessons, and studying for the exam.

Monday night I decided to study a little extra for the final. I was so exhausted that I panicked and thought I wasn’t prepared enough. On Tuesday morning we took the exam, and it was harder than everyone was expecting. It was a 100 point exam, with 72 points for the grammar portion and 28 for the phonetics. It seems silly to worry about passing an exam about my native language, but I don’t usually think in terms of grammar and phonetics on a daily basis. Not everyone passed.

I was nervous when I asked the instructor to see the results of my exam. He laughed at me and asked if I was truly worried about how I did. He handed it back, and I scored 97/100. I AM SO HAPPY!!!!

Now that it’s over, I’m free to sit back and be on vacation until November. I might try to find some freelance online jobs for extra cash, but I’m relieved that I am now a certified TEFL instructor.

imageAll around Phuket Town they are starting to decorate for the Vegetarian Festival, which lasts for nine days in mid October. The extent of the decorations remind me of how towns decorate during the Christmas season. There are Chinese lanterns all through the streets, yellow flags with Chinese writing, and some stores have decorated their entire storefront with painted wooden structures.The heart of the festival is a block away from my current apartment. Unfortunately, I won’t be within walking distance, but I’ll only be 15 minutes away. It is celebrated throughout the island, so there will still be some festivities happening closer to my new place in Kathu.image

The festival is a Chinese ritual, where for nine days the participants will abstain from meat, sex, and alcohol, because they believe it will bring them good fortune. Additionally, people participate in self mortification rituals to evoke the gods. I’ve read that the events are not for the faint of heart, because they’re very gruesome. People walk on fire and pierce their cheeks with large sharp objects.  I read a warning on TripAdvisor that said “Pregnant women and menstruating women should not attend the ceremonies.” Naturally, I’ll be going. My curiosity is uncontrollable at this point. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about it once I see it.

I booked a flight to Malaysia today. I have to leave the country in order to process my 1 year visa, and I guess Malaysia is the easiest place to do it. I know nothing about Malaysia except for the fact that I’m going there on October 20th for 4 days.

That’s about all I have for now! 24 hours from now I’ll be starting my vacation. WOOHOO!!

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