Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Second Life

I'm about to embark on a second life - isn't that exciting!!

So far I have created a character (Avatar for those in the know - the photo shows some examples.....I'll need to work out how to take one of me so I can show you) called Iona Kyle (I wanted something that had a Scottish feel to it hence Iona and didn't have a lot of surnames to choose from so Kyle seemed like a good option!!) and last night I went online and met up with my Dad who, in his second life, is a PI (Private Investigator - He has a very very cool online (not sure if that is the correct term) office with a huge fish tank in it and everything!!). Thanks for introducing me to it Dad - I loved it!! It was right up my street - a combination of playing a computer game and roll playing (Yes, I have had a misspent youth and went through a rather long phase of playing a game called SLA Industries......no namby pamby Dungeons and Dragons for me!!)

I've mentioned Second Life here before (If you missed that post you can read what I had to say here or you can visit the actual website here) but last night was the first time I had actually been 'in world'. It's fab - you can walk up to people and actually have a conversation with them in real time, you can explore cities, you can go see a band......pretty much anything you want to do!! The best bit is that you can buy stuff both for your online character and in the real world too which was one of the reasons I was there.

My Dad's SL (Second Life) sister is called Leigh and she runs an art gallery. Well, after having a look at my stuff she has offered to display it for me in the basement of her gallery on a permanent basis - Isn't that exciting!!. I met her online last night and she is lovely, mad as a hatter, but lovely. Her character is absolutely gorgeous and I think she knows all there is to know about SL - I couldn't have asked for a better introduction. (Thanks Leigh). She also gave me a whole load of things to make me look less of a newbie......probably won't stop me walking into walls (The controls are very simple but take a little time to get used to).......but hey.....can't have everything!!. If you want to have a look, or purchase, some of Leigh's artwork then you can visit her website Twisting Art by clicking here. (I have to be honest.....the best way to see her work would be to go onto SL - it looks absolutely amazing in her gallery!!)

So that's why I'm excited - I will let you know how I get on and when my stuff is up and ready to be viewed.

Friday, 21 March 2008

I've been voted in for another year!!

The BWG had it's AGM yesterday and I've been voted in for another year - Yay!!! I had to do a round up of all things welfare and had to read it.......aloud.......into a microphone......which was practically up my nose it was so close!!. (I hate doing things like that!!). Anyway, I thought I would share my round up of the year with you cause I think we've done pretty bloody well!! (Oh, and do you like our shiny new logo that JJ and I designed?)

Guess how much money we have spent this year (I am so excited about this!!)........from March 2007 to March 2008 we have spent …….wait for it…….One million, twelve thousand, two hundred and forty four baht …..Isn’t that amazing!! We have been able to do fantastic things with the money that we have raised and it has gone to support 24 different charities and projects across the whole of Thailand.

I am not going to list everything that we have donated to (cause that would just be really really boring!!) but thought I'd give you some examples - We have paid for a Community Centre to be built, built a new home for a family after theirs was lost in a fire, bought shoes and clothes for children with nothing, paid for sight to be restored to the blind, smiles to be restored to those suffering from cleft lips and palates, bought medical equipment, have sponsored kids through school and university, bought fishing boats, built a bridge, paid for petrol and a van to take donated goods to those that need them most on the Thai/Burmese border, bought medicines and paid for a holiday for terminally ill children to name but a few!!

And it’s not just money we have given – I set up the Welfare Volunteer 'People Bank' last year and am chuffed to bits to say that 104 wonderful BWG ladies have donated their time!! I had someone ask me how we calculated how many volunteers we have had – it is calculated as one volunteer position per person. (So regardless of whether that person volunteers at a one off event or commits to going along to something every week they will still only be counted once - does that make any sense what-so-ever?)

Anyway, to give you an idea of what our ladies are doing - we have volunteers who visit orphaned children, provide physio therapy, provide nursing advice, teach English to both children and adults, answer e-mails on behalf of Thai charities, write funding proposals, work on education sponsorship, help with environmental causes and help out at various parties throughout the year…..again I’m going to stop there cause but could go on (and on and on :-D)

What do you reckon - not bad eh!!

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Since I've gone on about it so much


I thought it was only fair to share this with you -


How to make Roti: (This should make 15 or 16)


Ingredients:

  • 1lb (450 g) unbleached white flour
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1 tbspn sugar
  • 1 egg (Beaten)
  • Between 3/4 and 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable oil or ghee
  • 1/4 cup of butter

For filling:

  • Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Ripe Banana (Optional)
  • Granulated Sugar (Optional)

Instructions:
Sift the flour into a stainless steel mixing bowl. Sprinkle in the salt and the sugar and mix thoroughly. Make a well in the centre of your flour mix, add the egg and then fold it in using your hand. Add the water slowly whilst still mixing the flour with your hand to form a sticky dough - when the dough is really sticking to your hand add most of the vegetable oil and knead the dough for a further 10 - 15 minutes until the dough is soft and elastic. Cover with a damp cloth and leave for about 10 minutes.

On a smooth, non-stick work surface (Preferably stainless steel) form a circle using your thumb and your first finger (as if you are giving the OK sign) and then push the dough through till you have a small round. Pinch off the round by bringing your two fingers together shape it a little then put it onto your work surface. Dip your fingers into the left over oil and coat the round then add a dollop (technical term) of butter to the top of it and smear it around till it is lightly covered. Leave the dough to rest. (I was told that if you are wanting the roti in the morning then it's best to make the dough the night before and leave the rounds over nigh)

Lightly grease the smooth working surface with a little oil. Place a dough ball on the greased working surface and press with the palm of your hand into a flat round. Dip a few of your fingertips in to the oil and grease both sides of the round. Then pick up the dough round on the edge closest to you (Your thumbs should be underneath it and your fingers on the top). Flip the dough over your shoulder (Don't let go!!) slapping the far end onto the working surface and stretching the dough. Continue to flip with the same motion and finger positions several times, stretching the dough with each flip until it becomes almost see-through thin. After the dough is stretched as thinly as possible, lift it at one point with two fingers in such a way that it drapes down like a piece of cloth. Using a circular motion, spin the piece loosely into a snail-like round and set aside on a greased surface. Do likewise with all the pieces of dough.

Heat a frying pan over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add about 1/4 inch of oil to the pan. Take a dough snail and press it with the palm of your hand into a flat round 4 to 6 inches across. Gently lift it from the working surface and drop it into the griddle. Brush a light coating of butter on the top side. Fry over low to medium heat until the bottom side is golden brown and crispy, then turn over and fry the second side, brushing a little butter on top. While frying the second side, press the bread down with the spatula from time to time so that its bumpy surface gets as evenly seared on the hot griddle's surface as possible.

Remove the crisped bread from the griddle onto a flat surface, lined with paper towels to absorb the excess grease. Then add your topping.....yum

If you do try it please let me know how you get on!!

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Andaman Trip - Our last day (and a bit)

Slept better on the second night.....this had nothing to do with the fact that the 2nd village was quieter (It wasn't) but had more to do with the fact that I found my ear plugs!! (This is what I get for letting Chris pack my stuff.....I couldn't find a bloody thing and had no signal on my phone so couldn't even ask him where they were!!). I slept better until 4.30am when the two cockerels that were living behind our house decided to have a fight - fighting cockerels are incredibly loud!! (I think someone must have separated them cause we heard some talking and then the fighting stopped.....bliss!!)

We didn't have a shower in this house - you would not believe how much nerve you need to take a bucket of freezing cold water and throw it over yourself......it's the second one that's hard, the first you can kind of kid yourself that it's not going to be that bad, there is no such luxury with the second one.....you know exactly how cold it's going to be!!! Anyway, the entire group got together for breakfast and, once again, it was roti. This time it was slightly different - we didn't go through the rolling into turd shape bit so these were a lot thinner, a bit like a crepe really, with the banana inside it rather than on the top (Didn't lose any of the taste though!!!).

After breakfast we met up with the villagers who run the Tsunami Soap Co-operative and learned all about how you actually make soap. They had all the ingredients laid out for us to see and most of the smells are mixed by hand - they had cinnamon, cardamom, saffron, lemongrass and loads of others that I can't remember. It was fascinating - first you have to melt palm oil pellets in a large pot - this takes a surprisingly long time and you end up with something that looks a little like very lumpy porridge, then once it's the right consistency you add the 'flavour' and stir it through to make sure it is all absorbed into the palm oil mixture, it's then poured into large trays and left to dry for up to four weeks. Once it's dry all the way through it's shaped, using what can only be described as cookie cutters, and then sold. We all got to have a go at making the actual soap (the stirring is really hard work) and then we all got to make two lots of soap on a rope - it was really good fun but boy did we make a mess!! (We were told that the leftovers will be re melted and used)

After lunch it was time for four of our party to head home - they had only been able to come for three days which was actually a real shame as they missed out on the tour of the mangroves and planting the mangrove trees which, for me, was one of the highlights of the trip. After saying good buy the seven of us that were left headed down to the village pier and got ourselves organised into two little boats for our tour. It was amazing - the mangrove trees themselves are just phenomenal.....their root system is like nothing I have ever seen before in my life!! (Lots of photos were taken and I think they may make an appearance in the odd drawing or two!!). It was really interesting talking to our guide (one of the villagers) as he told us that the Mangroves not only protect the coast from erosion but their massive root system is really efficient at dissipating wave energy so the villages that had not cut back a lot of the Mangrove forests in their area were not as badly hit by the tsunami as others. (The scary thing is that despite numerous re-planting programs over half the world's mangroves have already been lost). Anyway, the boat moored at a mud bank, we all clambered out, got our gloves on and got planting - between the seven of us we managed to plant 80 mangrove trees.....not bad for an afternoon's work eh!! We then got back into the boats and were taken to the site of the old lower village where 46 women and children lost their lives.......here.......words fail me.


When we got back to the village we learned that, since it is cashew nut season here, we were going to get the opportunity to see the villagers harvest some of them. Now I don't know about you but I have never really given much thought to cashew nuts and where they are grown or how they are picked (I just know that I absolutely love them.....oh, and according to Tracey, they make you perky!!) - They grow on trees and here is a picture of a freshly picked cashew nut still attached to its fruit. The fruit (yes I tried it) was....erm.....well, it was incredibly juicy but managed to completely dry your mouth out at the same time - a very odd sensation!! (For those of you who live here or have visited - it tasted a little bit like Jack Fruit......but even that's not really a good comparison!!). Anyway, then you have to separate the cashew from the fruit and leave it to dry (during the drying we had dinner) and it gets roasted. This involved some sticks, two bricks and a large square (iron maybe?) container. The fire was lit and once it got going the cashews were put into the container which balanced on top of the bricks.....I never knew roasting cashews could be so dangerous!! When the oil in the nut is released the fire grows huge and the pressure inside the nuts makes some of them go pinging out so you have to watch out for low flying, bloody hot, cashew nuts!! (Now there is a phrase you don't hear every day!!) A piece of wood was then brought out and we got down to the business of cracking the black shell off the nut, peeling the poisonous film off it and then eating it. OMG OMG OMG they were sooooo good!!!

The following morning we had a light breakfast (was slightly disappointed that we didn't get any roti) and then visited the final village where we had lunch and watched pared being re-cycled to make cards. Then it was time for home.

It was an amazing experience!! Those people live very hard lives but they have something very special that I think we've lost......every house door was wide open all day, neighbours popped in and out to borrow things, they all worked together to make the most of what they had and to help each other - it was very humbling. I went with, and I'm ashamed to admit this, the idea that I might be able to help them and, in actuality, it was them that helped me!!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Andaman Trip - Day 2

Whoever talked about the peace and quiet of the countryside has obviously never tried to go to sleep on an Island off the Andaman Coast of Thailand. I have never experienced noise like it!! There were creatures that hummed, buzzed, flapped, croaked, rustled, hooted, clucked, squawked, bleated and there was even something that sounded like two really pissed off ducks, one at either end of the house, having an argument!! (They weren't ducks they were gecko's - how can something that small make a noise that big??). Oh, and that was just the noise outside.....Mum talked in her sleep and Dad snored like a drain!!. Honestly, when the cockerel started crowing at five in the morning I was ready to go out and shoot the bloody thing (I did mutter 'roast potatoes' at it when I passed it later that morning but, don't worry, that was as aggressive as I got).

The chicken thing. So there was a very odd noise outside our window that didn't sound like your bog standard animal noises......after listening for a few minutes I had to ask what the noise was. I never in a million years expected the answer 'That is the chickens getting ready to go to sleep in the trees'. Now I don't know about you lot but I have always believed that Chickens can't fly (has anyone else seen Chicken Run?) well, apparently they can....and they sleep in trees!!! My gast was well and truly flabbered - well done Dad you got it spot on!!. (This explanation had just been given when we heard a very loud thud - I can only guess that it was one of said chickens falling out it's tree......does anyone else find the image of chickens sleeping in trees a funny one or is it just me?)

Aherm.....moving swiftly on - We were in the only house on the Island with a shower, a freezing cold shower but a shower none the less, so we all took turns under the icy blast (I tell you a cold shower doesn't half wake you up in the morning!!) and then went downstairs to help with breakfast. OMG......hot roti with chopped banana and condensed milk......a dieter’s nightmare but boy does it taste good!! So not only did we get to learn how to make the roti dough we were then taught how to make an actual roti!! The dough was retrieved (I'm sure Noi had attacked it once we had gone to bed - there were a hell of a lot more rounds there in the morning than there had been the night before!!) and then a large stainless steel saucepan was put upside down on the floor and smeared with oil. You put your roti ball in the middle of the saucepan and spread it out into a thin square shape with your fingers, then you pick it up, flick it over your shoulder and flip it back down onto the saucepan where you then scoop it up, twist it and then make, what can only be described, as a turd shape with it. It is then taken over to the stove where it is flattened and fried in butter. I was crap at the whole tossing it over your shoulder thing (as you can see) but it still tasted divine!!


After breakfast we helped feed the goats and, once the other group came and joined us, we set about the task of constructing pots out of bamboo to house the baby orchids we were to plant. Blimey those things are not easy to make!! Round green bamboo and small nails are not a good combination - there was much muttering under breath being done as bits of bamboo were sent spinning into the air, nails were bent and fingers were bashed!! Still, every one of us managed it and it was with great pride that we planted our orchids inside and painted our names on our pots!! A quick freshen up and it was time to go on our jungle hike. The hike was fab.....now who would have thought I would have used the word fab when referring to physical exercise!! We saw an eagles nest, were shown a plant which leaves are famous for curing headaches, were shown a tree who's sap is used to waterproof the fisherman's boats and we got to see the Dragon Egg Plant's flowers - aren't they beautiful. (This plant is only found on the Island and it only flowers once a year so we were really lucky to see them). It took just over an hour to do the whole hike but it was well worth it!! We had lunch and then packed up our stuff and headed back to the mainland to go to our next home stay in the village of Ban Talae Nok. (I was quite sad to be leaving the Island - we had got on so well with our host family I would have loved to have stayed another night!!)

When we got back to the mainland Kelly left our group and we were joined by Tui who was taking her place as our translator. Ban Talae Nok was very different to what we had just experienced at Tung Nang Dam - it was a proper village (The Island just had houses dotted about). Before the tsunami, the village was divided into two, an upper and lower part. The lower village, located by the beach, provided easy access for the fishermen to go out to sea - the tsunami destroyed all 20 houses in the lower village. Ban Talae Nok lost 46 villagers in the tsunami, 16 of whom were children.

The first place we were taken was the local community centre which was right in the heart of the village - The BWG had paid for it to be built and I have to say that it is used to it's full potential!! Can you guess what this is a photo of? They are bamboo piggy banks!! Every child in the village is given one to decorate, they are encouraged to save up any spare change that they have and then once every three months the banks are broken, the change counted and the child that has saved the most gets a prize (The money then gets put into a bank account). I thought they were a brilliant idea!!

After dropping off our stuff we walked up to the new section of the village (Built just past the old upper part of the village) to learn how to make Batik with the Batik Co-operative. I had so much fun - it was completely and utterly my sort of thing!! I think our little group were the last to arrive cause when we got there they only had two cushion cover sized pieces of fabric left and one sarong size which was HUGE!! (Guess who was given the large piece!!). So, first you draw out your pattern using a pencil, then, when you’re happy with it, you go over your lines using hot wax and then you colour it in using fabric paints. We had so much fun - the villagers from the area all came out to say hi and to have a look at our creations - I ended up with four or five people all helping me finish the background of mine (If they hadn't I think I might still have been there!!) . There was such a lovely feeling of community.....I really felt honoured to be a part of it!!

After Batik we walked down to the beach to watch the sunset. OMG it was absolutely stunning!! (I made a wee friend on the walk down - a little girl called Noot latched herself to me......it turned out that her Mum had told her that people with Tattoo’s were sinners.....I think 'Mum' had thought it would keep her away from me but it had the complete opposite effect - she thought I was wonderful and spent the rest of the time I was there following me around and holding my hand!!). We were lucky enough to see the fishermen bringing in their nets and I think we all managed to get some stunning photos. After the sunset we had dinner and then we dressed up in Muslim dress. It was an absolute hoot - I will let the photo's do the talking......








I have a question

Before I post Day two of my Andaman adventures I have to ask you all a question. (It is a serious question)

Where do chickens sleep?



*whispers - I really hope you don't all show me up with your knowledge of all things chickeny*

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Andaman Trip - Day 1

If you want to experience real Thai life then you must MUST go on this trip!!

Everything ran like clockwork (I was so worried that van's wouldn't turn up on time, that we would miss the flight etc......I guess it's always like that when you organise things for other people) and we arrived on time at Phuket Airport where we were met by our van and truck (The truck was for the bags......no I don't mean us!!). Three hours later we arrived in a small town called Kuraburi where we met up with our translators Tu and Kelly (Kelly runs Andaman Discoveries) and then travelled down to the pier to get our boats over to the Island of Tung Nang Dam. (When I think about it we must have provided much amusement to the locals - 11 farangs with large bags wobbling around trying to get into these little boats......Happily no-one fell in!!). A 20 minute boat ride through the mangroves brought us to our destination and to the bridge that the BWG donated money to have built after the Tsunami (It was lovely to hear about the difference the bridge had made to the lives of the villagers - we saw what was left of the old one......there was no way I would have set foot on it!!!).




Tung Nang Dam Island is absolutely beautiful - there is not a hotel, bar or other tourist in sight (well, apart from the ones that came with us). We were split into two groups and I was lucky enough to be one of the ones staying in a traditional Thai house which was owned by Noi and her family. We were introduced to the family and then shown to our rooms......well, I'm not sure I can actually call it a room.......I may be done under the Trade description act!!. We were in a sort of long corridor blocked off from the rest of the upstairs by curtains - 'C' and I shared one double mattress which was separated from 'A' by a mosquito net which was separated from 'A' & 'C' by another mosquito net. If we didn't know each other well at the beginning of the evening we sure as hell did by the end!!! After getting settled we headed down to the beach where some of the more enthusiastic of us did yoga and the rest of us admired the sunset. (I was rather taken with these - they are lovely aren't they.......I know they are from a crabs bottom but I don't care!! I think they will be making an appearance in a drawing or two).

After the sunset we headed back to Noi's house to help prepare the dinner - that was an experience in itself!! One of the dishes we were having was fish in a coconut curry sauce so we had to make the coconut milk (no namby pamby tins for us.....ooooh nooo). So out comes this old wooden contraption called a 'Rabbit' - the only way I can describe it is to say that it is like a very small bench with two short legs at the back and two long ones at the front and wedged in at the front is a piece of round metal with lots of teeth (hence the name). Well, you sit on it (Guess who slid off the first time she tried and ended up on the kitchen floor with her legs in the air.....very dignified!!), hold the coconut at the front and then in a kneading motion use the metal bit to remove the coconut from the husk (Mum of the house made it look easy......it wasn't!!). Anyway, once that is done the coconut flesh is steeped in water and, ta daaa, you have coconut milk. The other thing I made was Morning Glory - that was much easier and involved picking off leaves, chopping garlic, chopping chilli and then frying it altogether.....that I could do!!! (nae toher a baw) (erm...sorry.....family phrase which means no bother at all!!).

What an amazing evening we had. The food was absolutely divine - we spread mats out on the floor, all the dishes were put in the middle of the mat, rice was dished out and we sat in a circle trying all the different things. (My fav was the morning glory...I would say that wouldn't I!!). After dinner we helped wash up and then brought out our photographs. (One of the things we were asked to bring with us was photographs of our family, where we grew up and other things that might be of interest). It was great - I have never seen people so interested in photographs before and it was great to be able to share them. I took a couple of Straiton, where I grew up, some of my family (Mum they all thought you looked incredibly young. Sorry Dad - they giggled at your hair!!) and a couple of scenic shots of Scotland (including one of me by the sea). It was at this point in the evening that Dad of the house decided to come out of his shell - blimey that man can talk!! He asked so many questions it was unbelievable - I did roar with laughter at one point......we was staring at the picture of me by the sea.....he looked at it....frowned.....looked at it some more then asked 'Where is the blue sky?' which was rapidly followed by 'Why would you want to live there?'. 'A' had some fab photo's of when she had stayed at the Ice Hotel in Sweden......he just couldn't get his head around that at all and kept asking 'But why would you want to do that?'. Then they showed us loads of photo's of their family at various celebrations and it was our turn to ask them loads of questions about their culture. It was just amazing!!!

We were then told that we were going to make the dough for out roti in the morning. For those of you not in the know, Roti are a kind of flat bread made from flour, salt, sugar, egg, water, butter and oil - in Thailand you have them fried in the morning with condensed milk and sugar (very healthy but OMG they are good!!). You mix all the ingredients together with your hand and you do it for about 10 to 15 minutes - it's bloody hard work!!! Once it's mixed you leave it covered for an hour then shape it into balls - we were not very good at this.....the mixture was supposed to make 50 - we made 26!!!

That evening as we crawled under our mosquito net (Sorry 'C' but I have to share this) - 'C' and I had a conversation that went along the lines of

C - 'When you use the squat what direction do you face in?'
Me (Slightly baffled) - 'What do you mean what direction? Erm......I face the door.......what direction do you face?'
C - 'I've tried both ways......does it depend on where you aim?'
Me (giggling like a loon) - 'I have no idea!!!'
pause
'After sitting on the floor all evening my legs were sore.....there was no way I was going to be able to squat.....so I just sat on it' (In my defence I did clean it first)
C (giggling too) - 'OMG that's a great idea!!'

at this point 'A' and 'A' & 'C' all burst out laughing too - kept waiting for 'Mum' to come in and tell us to shut up!!! (and all of us in our 30's and 40's too!!)