LESVOS,GREECE

Cover The Earth Before It Covers You.

LESVOS, GREECE

Everyone's Life Is A Story God's True Masterpiece Is Humanity

COFFEE COAST, SOUTH AFRICA

Travel is in our DNA.

MITILINI, GREECE

Who Says God Doesn't Love and Bless Gay People?.

SOUTH AFRICA, MDUMBI RIVER

It is not a struggle to be Gay! It's not my struggle it is yours. -CJ

NOSTALGIA: Visits to USSR and Russia and other places of excitement.

I remember my school trip to the USSR. I was at the heart of the "cold war", long before US president Reagan labelled it, " Evil Empire" and before the thoughts of "Perestroyka" or any of those ideas. 
After taking our school bus to the airport, I flew from London to Moscow with a bunch of classmates on Aeroflot. The plane was not one of the more modern planes used today, but an old Alushyn, which was a huge box shape ceiling. It glided like a large boat, making a grinding and humming sound as it slowly ascended into the sky. The flight service was uneventful as service is on the average flight today.
I remember how my feelings were the moment our plane touched down on "Soviet territory". My heart felt a tingle, ( again due to the misinformation which we were indoctrinated by our media)  My classmate in the seat in front of me started shouting, "queue, queue queue- No freedom"!! We were so young and silly. We did other crazy things clandestinely as well which I won't mention here.

Our hotel was in an area called "Kharhovskaya". I had my own room and I turned on the TV to watch Soviet television whilst laying in bed at night. Not understanding anything but enjoying the novelty.

                       me on school trip to Moscow

We had an INTOURIST tour guide which had a brusque way about her, which matched her frumpy uniform. We all knew that we were being shown just what they wanted us to see and went to all the tourist locations such as St. Basil's cathedral, Red Square, The Kremlin, etc. We tried as best as we could to get glimpses of "real life". We saw nothing in the shops and the fruit and vegetables were ones which we would not buy if we had them in our market. Since I am from Slavic origin the food was familiar but the quality was "so so" and the borshch ( beetroot soup) got monotonous as the tour went on.

A few Russian lads would approach us along the way during our tour. I traded my school pullover with one Russian lad for his Soviet military hat with Hammer and Sickle emblems on it. I felt like I made a small victory in world peace at that moment, as my classmates were watching us trade and they applauded happily.

We took the midnight train from Moscow to Leningrad. We stayed in cozy and quaint sleeping cars, and we occasionally peered out of the window to see the landscape and other towns pass by. I bought a small snack brown bag package from a "babooshka" older women who was selling them on the platform, and nibbled on it's contents whilst lounging on the top bunk in my sleeping compartment.

Leningrad had a  more "European feeling" and had a more grandiose air about the city. It was great fun experiencing what the West called behind the "Iron Curtain". At my age, I took pride at doing something"subversive", and made it a learning experience.  That feeling continued to grow inside of me as I travelled around the world, experiencing other "subversive" nations and understanding that people have similar aspirations worldwide.   In my own way, I attempted to break down barriers of misinformation, ignorance, fear, hatred; at least for my own heart. I hope that my learning and experiences reflected in some small way on others, as I learned about them.

I went to Moscow again in 2000 when it is the capital of Russia, several years since the Soviet Union disappeared. I stayed with a nice gay guy in his typical apartment. We did things the way local Russians do, and ate and enjoyed the way local Russians did ( but that time I had absolutely fabulous food made my my friend's colleagues as it was a New Years party- including extremely liberal amounts of very good vodka! ), and not with the tour guide as I had done the first trip with my school.  


Visiting "OTHER" PLACES

My family and close friends began to worry about me when I became notorious for visiting "those kinds" of countries. Their concerns put no damper on my visions.
I remember going on my first trip to Syria, and telling my family that I went there AFTER I had returned from my trip, so I wouldn't give them stress and so that I wouldn't feel their pressure based on misinformation from their society's media.



Travel continues to teach me to experience and live life to expand my own horizons as the world is a giant class room and it's inhabitants our teachers and friends.

When we learn and understand, fear disappears and, hopefully, love is shared. Love is peace, and peace is love.


A photo of me ( taken by my father) on a usual London visit.

The VAGAYBOND experience with Couchsurfing

THE VAGAYBOND EXPERIENCE IN COUCHSURFING

I have been doing my own version of couchsurfing with friends in places like:

Beirut  (staying in the Christian area;Achrafieh at my Druze friend's flat, where a Mother Mary statue stands by the front door of the building!)

Moscow: Experiencing Moscow as local as I could possibly can with my Russian friend in his flat. 




Syria: Staying at my friend's private home in a residential area of Damascus, being treated like a celebrity


Pakistan: I stayed with my Pakistani friend in a typical Pakistani village home in the male sector of the home.


Later, Chris and I discovered the organisation called Couchsurfing. (our profile is CJGUYZ). When we travel and stay with couchsurfing hosts, we usually stay with those who are gay.



ROME Italy-  Our wonderful friend, Raniero who lives just outside of Rome



 let us stay at his flat in his own bedroom for 6 weeks! He met us at the airport, shared wonderful Italian dinners, introduced his friends to us, took us on some fun day trips to exciting places like Florence and a local hot springs called Saturnia. We love him!

We are enjoying the warm waters at Saturnia

MADRID: We stayed with 3 fun guys in 3 different locations in Madrid to get a good feel of that marvelous city. Our first was with a gay couple who lived in a very bohemian flat. There were several cats, clothing on the sofa, bottles of wine on the table. I celebrated with them our new friendship by sharing the "peace pipe" around smoking 'something green' together!

Our second Madrid couchsurfing host experience was at a nice flat in a smart residential neighbourhood in Madrid. We nicknamed this experience, "the boy house", as it had an open door feeling which a stream of playful gay guys came through to partake in everything happening in the flat. (there were sticky condoms on the bedroom floor we slept in- whoops!) We bonded also by cooking together really fun dinners and going out together to LGBT rallies in the city centre. They are fun guys and we stay in contact with them.

Our third Madrid experience was with a really nice guy who lives in an intimate flat in the famous writer part of town, and also near an immigrant neighbourhood. Our host took us to try Senegalese cuisine, and I really loved strolling and wandering through the ethnic groceries through that part of the city.

Each of our hosts were wonderful to us and we stay in contact with most of them. We read the forlorn accounts from other couchsurfers unfortunately who didn't have good experiences about some of their guests who stayed with them. We must say, the hosts accepting you welcome you into their home!  Don't use your host like a hotel.  When staying with your host share a cooked meal together, share your stories about your life, your culture and your country with them. They may become friends for life with you!
Mostly, don't leave your mess behind for your host. Think of it as your place if you were the host and how you would expect a guest to treat you and your living place. It is common sense.

HOW  GAY COUCHSURFERS HAD A STRAIGHT EXPERIENCE

Whilst Chris and I were still in Rome, we received a message on our couchsurfing inbox from a couple who came to know that we were staying in Rome, and they welcomed us to stay with them for a few days. They were a heterosexual couple, and it was a first experience for us to stay in that kind of arrangement.
Guiolio and Angela were our hosts at their lovely flat in the town near Lake Nemi (the area where the Pope has a getaway palace for the summer). We stayed with them twice and shared wonderful dinners, magical homemade breakfasts

also  moments of"passing the "peace pipe" with "green" on their veranda, and stimulating conversation as well as visits to a nightclub to hear a local band play. They had a very liberal and progressive viewpoint, and I suppose, found us a novelty as we found them to be. We stay in contact and dream of travelling together to one of our favourite places, Morocco.

Staying with Giolio and Angela broadened our horizons and taught us not to limit our couchsurfing experiences to gay hosts but experience the whole couchsurfing community as much as possible.





My Nostalgia for Eastern Germany

My Nostalgia for Eastern Germany ( ex-DDR)
I experienced Eastern Germany for the first time during my longer weekend "getaways" when I was a student in the UK.

 It was then called East Germany or DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). I travelled around places like East Berlin with an Indian woman who was also a student with me.


It wasn't until re-unification that I accepted a free lance job in Halle,near Leipzig, in  the Saxon Anhalt region.


I would be teaching English as a Second language to "Arbeitzampt" students (unemployed people preparing for English usage at a new job) in a small,quaint but famous language school. I had a class with 4 students who were over 55 years of age. We met a few times a week for three hours. After my first class with them, the remaining classes were all "lubricated" with 2 bottles of champagne,and plenty of sweets and cake. Each class was great fun and all of us learned immensely, and with plenty of laughter!

Another arbeitzampt student was planning to open a wine shop in Leipzig. She practiced her speaking by telling everyone in class
about the kinds of wines she would sell, and brought in several bottles for our taste testing, explaining the differences in the wines.
We all floated out of that class on a mist, and luckily it was at the end of the day.


A part time at another small English Language school, where I had very lively conversation classes, mostly about how difficult their lives were during the DDR years. I would play with the very pampered Yorkshire terrier whilst waiting for my students to arrive. Sometimes I would be entrusted with the key to the school to lock up after class was finished in the evening.

My usual Sunday morning ritual would be to take the trolley which runs throughout the town (a few times I would ride without getting a ticket, to be naughty and daring) to the centre of town, still Sunday sleepy, where a cafe with a nice view of the town would be. I would try different cafes around town.



I would have "kaffee und kuche", choosing my cake and coffee for 1Euro each, and would sit in a place with a good view.

I also really enjoyed the  fully stocked supermarkets with  tantalising food items from all over Germany and other parts of Europe to taste, and also trying all the local beers as well as
beer from other parts of Europe,many of them cheaper than bottled water! Believe me I tried them all! I especially love smoked sausage with beer!





My friends would include a colleague from my school from Czech Republic and his wife, who lived upstairs from me, and some other teachers from my school. On occasional weekends we would take trips to Leipzig, and other small quaint towns and villages in Thuringia and other regions. 








Taking in the local colour, culture ( we saw a manor of a famous compusor, whose name escapes me at the moment, but his manor was in a dilapated state), as well as tasting the local cuisine. That was all great fun.
Leipzig was a place where I felt a vibrant energy of the arts, history and excitement hidden in the back nooks and corners of roads.


I went with my friend there a few times, and I recall sitting in a park having a picnic and falling asleep next to the bust of Bach.

All of these people were heterosexual, and had their own partners, and our conversations had a different agenda to them.
I found it very difficult to meet any gay people. I didn't speak the language, and I didn't know the local gay culture or ways of doing things. Coming from wild and gregarious Bangkok where I had many fun friends, I felt like a monk in Germany.


There was a German lad whom I met because of his interest in practicing English. His father was a strict pastor. When my friend came to know that I was ignorant of the Bible, he would teach me, but in a very peculiar way. I had to name the books of the Bible in their proper order. Each time I said a name in the wrong order, or forgot a name he would take me over his knee and spank me with his hand. Another name in wrong order would get my jeans taken down, until he took down my undershorts and spanked my bare buttocks,harder each time I had forgotten some name, or didn't pronounce it in the German way!

Some weekend jaunts to Berlin were fun as I got to see a cosmopolitan cultural feel; hearing Arabic, Turkish, Farsi, Vietnamese and Polish among many others being spoken.
I went around famous places and not so famous places again mostly alone. I found myself going to places where I felt a more familiar connection with the culture like Arab coffee shops, Persian grocery stores and the like.

Although the walls of the DDR came down several years ago, the scars of it stayed in the local people's "Osties" mentality.
Many people were suspicious of "others". There was always a frown on people's faces.

I hope as time goes on, the (still) two German peoples will be more one.

My Nostalgia for the Middle East

The Middle East has been like a long time friend of mine. Having lived and visited most of the countries in that region, with Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, and Egypt being among my favourites, and cities like Beirut, Cairo and Shiraz being among my top ten favourite cities in the world.



Whenever I come to the Middle East it always feels like I am "coming home",as there are many things which attract me and I get a sense of being lured back each time, especially if I hadn't been back for a while.
I will attempt to share just a few of the enchantments which keep calling me back again and again.

 The neon signs at night illuminating in Arabic writing while wandering around at night.
(internet photo)

Enjoying local comfort food with friends. A place which stays open until late and has a men's feel to it serving simple, uncomplicated fresh hummus and warm "eysh" or خبز (bread) and tea!
http://www.vagaybond.com/2013/06/funkie-foodie-3-jims-funkie-foodie.html


Smiling and flirting at handsome guys who are sitting and having coffee in a Sana'a cafe, and watching them smile and flirt back!


Driving with a bunch of local guys out into the desert, far from the city lights and watchful eyes enjoying the immense power and peace of the desert, frolicking around the way fun guys do, and either camping out under the stars at night, or returning back to the city    
 internet pics




Call to Prayer (Adhan) sounds in stereophonic symphony at night throughout huge cities like Cairo, (enjoying the sounds and the feeling without adhering to the responsibility and obligation attached to it)

Enjoying sheesha with local friends, whilst listening to old favourites from Umm Khalthoum or Warda in a ramshackle looking sheesha cafe until very early in the morning.

 internet pic
internet pic

Following behind the coattails of my friend into a lavish lunch at the villa of a royal family member.


(internet pic) 
Going wild in a gay club in Beirut until late at night and spending the night at your Lebanese friend's place.

Hamam party anyone? I have had fun experiences in hamam in Morocco, Yemen, and Istanbul.

A certain male to male "connectedness" feeling, from the checkout man and the baker who knows what you are going to order immediately as you enter the supermarket to fun loving friends who stay with you and snuggle up and lying with you together sharing a cozy sofa and making you feel like you are precious.

Experiencing ancient Persian splendour in a journey around Iran, and tasting different foods!
 camel curry ( my pic)




Being called out by my friends to go with them cruising around together in their flashy car, late at night. Driving wild, carefree, and going no where in particular, but just being together.



I've never been to Israel. I need a new passport to go there I suppose, ( unless I should enjoy being in the interrogation room to explain my passport stamps)


We all know that the Middle East is changing and so is the rest of the world.  It is my wish that through all the changes there will continue to be good, good food, good long lasting friendships, and an openness to welcome in the new as well as embrace traditions which are cherished, and remain nostalgic throughout life!
We should all share respect, and kindness to whomever we meet, as kindness is love. Love is peace and we need to spread this worldwide.

FOODIE FUN in IRAN: CAMEL CURRY STEW

Yazd:  Foodie Adventure in Iran.  Yazd is a big town in the desert. I suppose one might imagine finding camels in the desert, and according to different traditions, camels are part of the local diet. Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to try a very good local specialty. I had been invited by my friend in Yazd to have dinner and he suggested that I try the camel curry. I agreed and enjoyed it very much. Camel meat when cooked in a stew with potatoes looks and resembles beef from a cow, but the taste and texture is a bit different. I think I like camel meat better! I know it is much healthier than beef, as it is leaner and it has a good source of protein. The curry spices were expertly prepared and didn't overpower the taste of camel.




A natural yoghurt drink with some herb which tasted very similar to the Indian beverage "lassie". The yoghurt was made from cow's milk.

When I was living in the Gulf countries, I tried camel's milk. It was fresh and still warm. I found it tasted gamy but delicious. Camel's milk has much more vitamin C and also iron. I wish we could find camel milk and camel meat available outside of the Middle East.

Living in Thailand

IN THE BEGINNING
I first visited Thailand in 1992 where  my two Thai soul mates, Pete and Lek took my hand and showed me Thailand. I felt it was a carefree and fun time! I was blessed that Thailand and Thai culture was introduced to me not from the tourist traps, not from the notorious night life which has a niche of its own, but from living how a Thai would. I remember vividly arriving past midnight and Ms. Lek collected me from the airport. Riding in the backseat of the car, I felt a strange sense of "fear" looking at the Thai writing on buildings and signs and couldn't read it at all.  Although through much listening, patience and practice my spoken Thai improved enough to be functional and conversant  and my reading of Thai also improved. I believe this helped in a small way to open doors and communicate, although I feel I am far away from being an "expert".

When I first travelled and stayed in the "land of smiles" a nickname Thailand gives itself in tourist promotion, the immigration policy still  had a very liberal attitude for Western travellers, and I was able to pop in and out of the country on a "visa run". This is an an uneventful thing which travellers must do when the date stamped on your arrival  in your passport soon expires, we would just take a small trip to cross the border into Malaysia, and return with a new stamp giving us with a longer time  again in Thailand! I would do this every time with little or no effort for several years. Soon, too many people were doing this routine too and the rules got gradually stricter and until very recently, more difficult, with the process becoming involved.  I suppose it might be also due to reciprocal immigration policies from our nation towards Thais too.

THE "FARANG" FACE
A Farang, originally coming from the word "Farangset" meaning French, is a term used to classify Western people. Quintessentially the "blue eyed" and "European" looking foreigners.
Thai people, in my opinion, admire the technology, history, and the material things of Europe and USA. They are interested in Western culture, and try to emulate the positive aspects of it in their own society, and until very recently avoiding the less flattering elements of the West. 

 I think they admire the looks and features of Westerners, especially hair colour, nose shapes, and, funny enough, wearing winter clothing in Thailand's hot climate! I see many Thai young people wearing bottle blond hair, a heavy jacket, hats and winter clothing in blazing heat in Thailand. Not because they are feeling cold, but because of how the Chic and fashionable clothing looks on them. I saw a Thai woman walking with a huge fur coat in an up scale part of town, but I begin to feel sweat just looking at her! (not to mention the disgust in my heart of all those animals who lost their lives for her). When Western pop stars have Bangkok on their tour, Thais flock in droves making their tour sell out quickly.

On the negative side, I believe Thai people think our manners are rude and inconsiderate. We are very aggressive, we openly show our anger in public, raise our voices loudly. We are also seem as morally permissive, and dress too casually in a formal situation. (I agree with them on most of these points too!)
In Thailand, getting impatient and raising your voice, only slows things down more, and causes a loss of face. Sometimes it is difficult to forgive a loss of face.

Many Westerners coming to Thailand are not used to the climate. Most of the time the weather is sultry blend of being very humid and hot, and in the long rainy season, combine rain with the heat and thick humidity.  The Western diet also causes the aroma in sweat to become very strong, and body odour is frowned on in Thai society more than our own. Westerners are recommended to shower more frequently in Thailand than they would normally do in their own country. I used to shower three times a day, just to rinse off the sticky feeling on my body as well as the dust from outdoors.

 I felt, in the beginning when I was living in Thailand I felt I would be somewhat of a celebrity, as "farang" (Western people) were in fashion and everyone wanted to have a farang face seen with them, to have a farang boyfriend, or to have their Western face photograph somewhere in  the media. It was popular to have part times jobs as models for advertisements, and especially trendy if the person was เด็กครึ่ง which was half Thai and half Western. Now there is an abundance of Western faces in Thai media and around the country and the celebrity status for "Western looks" reduced quite significantly.

GETTING A JOB

I can remember getting an English teacher job very easily, almost overnight any time I applied. I tried it in different kinds of schools, private as well as government, and around the country.  I taught at an all boys' school which was the same school my Thai friend graduated from, so I felt a connection there. That school was huge, very dirty, and the classrooms were stifling because a few  ancient ceiling fans were the source of air circulation with almost 50 sweaty noisy boys in the classroom, coupled with the Bangkok humidity. I recall one especially sultry heat day in the classroom that I vomited on the floor in the classroom! I couldn't survive doing that my whole life in those government schools!

DIVAS and THE "THIRD SEX"

 Some of the really obvious future "divas" in the class enjoyed being the centre of attention. There were a few in every class of mine in that all boy school, who wore lipstick, had pretty hair and would come together with the other giggly boys. Some boys always came late on purpose, and I had one boy who played with a key ring which had a small rubber penis toy connected to it. When I past down the isle near him he would squeeze the penis and a white fluid oozed from it and he giggled. The school uniform for the males was a white shirt and dark blue shorts. The divas's always managed to make their shirts faintly pink, and their shorts tight and very short! I found it difficult to control a classroom with fifty boys, yet alone charmers who were vying for attention on themselves.

ALL GIRL'S SCHOOL

At an all girls' school in a remote up country town in the northeast of Thailand, the classrooms were all air conditioned. Even though that school had a more privileged feel and the parents were paying a high fee for their daughter to study, I must confess, the girl's school had some real competition with the boys' school in terms of noisiness, dirt, as well as it's share of female upon female fights!
 I had an old wooden three room house, all of my own, on the school campus which I rented for $75 a month including all utilities, and fully furnished. Sometimes local male friends of mine would also spend the night if it got too late for them to go back home or if the school campus gate had already been locked for the night before they could leave.

This girls' school I taught at also had a few boys attending it for the English programme it offered.  The thing I remember most vividly about that school was the huge imposing Buddha statue in the campus grounds and of the nosy guards at the gate who would at times snitch on me to my director about the "kinds of guys", local Isan guys, whom I had associated with. This nosy guard was overly attentive as these guys would be always leaving the campus at night on motorbike, with me sitting at the back of the motorbike.

 I also taught for a while at a very upscale 'privileged' school in a Bangkok suburb. It was surrounded in beautiful gardens, and the classrooms where in a traditional classical Thai architecture. This school was for students with  dysfunctional learning abilities. I was not completely qualified to teach there as I wasn't a psychologist, but since I was a native speaker with a teacher's certificate I was hired.  
If I wanted to,  I am sure I can return and get a job teaching English and even conversation, and private tutoring in Thailand whenever I wanted to. Each time I return to Thailand I always get the urge to stay there.


THE THAI FACE

There are many intricate rules, some written, many are unwritten and even unspoken about Thai tradition, rules of behaviour, what to do and what not to do. Gestures, expressions and "ways of doing" and politeness which are acceptable in one culture might not work, or be an insult in another especially in Asia, and Thailand is no exception.  A smile or laughter in Thailand has many meanings and it doesn't always mean "happy". Saving "face" is very important in Thai culture. Being direct in any way is like a sharp pointed arrow, it shoots, punctures and hurts. Concern and respect for elders is very important. If someone is older than you are, your head can't be higher than hers/ his. The head is where the soul is, and one mustn't touch someone else's head, ( ie. we have a habit of touching the head of children in an endearing way when we meet them or greet them). Our feet and lower part of our body are not as pleasing as the upper part. We should n't put our feet up anywhere. I had a friend who, when doing his laundry, would not mix his socks and under shorts along with his shirts! He would even separate them when hanging his clothes to dry!  There is a concept called "greng jai", which is a concept Westerner's don't have, but is similar in a sense to "consideration", but this term doesn't exactly fit. Thai's have a joke, " Farang mai me greng jai"  (Westerners don't have greng jai).  I can't explain this concept thoroughly, but understand how to use it, as I have learned to master it to save face and to have things go smoothly.

EXPERIENCES ON TRANSPORT I enjoyed travelling on local transport, i.e the train, local buses ( air con and non air conditioned buses) as that is a great way to get to know local people and to interact with them. Some fun adventures would also occur on transport too! 
I would take the local "rot Tdoo" (mini bus ) which is a van shaped like a box, very often overflowing with people, and usually the driver has precarious driving skills ( once, near the end of the route, he allowed his 6 year old son take the wheel and drive the remaining part of the route by himself!). The fare for riding this would be just a few coins. Most of the time people stood as the seats were limited. When I had to stand, I would stand in front of a cute man who was seated. When the van popped over an uneven part of the street or a hole in the street, which caused the van to shake, mixing everyone and everything about, I would pretend to lose my grip and would "accidentally" fall into the cute man's lap. Both of us laughing, he would put his arms around my body to assist me, still both of us laughing. It was a fun way to flirt!

Like anywhere in the world, there are written and unwritten rules about courtesy and culture, and Thailand was no exception! There are unwritten rules that pregnant women, old people, and monks take priority for seats on public transport.


EATING 

Food and sharing of food is part of Thai culture. Almost anywhere and any time one would be able to see some food being prepared, sold, shared and eaten. If some people were about to eat together and you happen to pass by them, the polite invitation of "geen kao" would be said to you. If you wanted to be polite back, accept a small token sample of what they were eating. Many times this rule included drinking too. I would encounter men drinking together in a small party as I walked in the street, and they would gesture for me to drink too. I stopped and had a small shot of whisky with them. They offered another but I made a  playful gesture like I was drunk which released me from the obligation from having a second shot.

At work many times lunch is served and the whole office comes together and eats together. The lunch served is almost always local food which I love!
If it is someone's birthday, everything stops in the office and a cake is cut and served, just another reason to have a party and socialising. Every town has a market to buy local food, noodle shops, outside vendors selling every kind of food which is fun to eat and the cost for eating at these places is very cheap! Out of all the years I lived and ate in Thailand I never once got sick from the food. Thai people have a serious sweet tooth and make absolutely wonderful desserts with coconut creme, as well as other inventions which contain fruit, rice, etc. An eating paradise!

Each region of the country has a very different style of food, which at times is completely different. Isan ( Northeast ) style being the more adventurous in culinary tastes. Bangkok has it's own specialties and also has a Chinese influence in local specialties as well. I know I will always enjoy the Thai eating style traditions and food!

SHOPPING
I think it is a favourite past time, not only in Thailand but throughout the East and South East Asian countries to have a penchant for shopping. I personally dislike shopping, but my friends and I always found ourselves meeting at one of the ubiquitous shopping malls throughout Bangkok and in every major city. Most of the time we found ourselves going there to cool down and stay out of the elements of the South East Asian weather, albeit rain, 38 degree C ( 100 F )  temperatures and 99 % humidity, or a combination of all three. Having an ice cream and people watching is fun when you are with your friends. I however did enjoy shopping for fun foods at the huge grocery stores in the shopping mall. Their prices were at times higher than other stores, but had specialty foods which couldn't be found in other places.

PATTAYA

This once lonely fishing town grew up to be Thailand's answer to Las Vegas, complete with the flashing lights, and even the illicit situations which both cities ( drugs, syndicate crime, murders, etc) which gives it a lassez fare atmosphere, including in anything dealing with sex, of any persuasion. One could find heterosexual "lady" bars, and a whole neighbourhood of gay entertainment called "Pattayaland" complete with gay hotels and restaurants.
There is a gay beach which is huge and is cordoned by a border of rainbow flags to alert others where they are entering. Many guys will be just wearing a thong or g-string as beach wear, and more than half of these were "boys for hire" if you will. Other guys will go around and hawk ready to order food, fruit, trinkets, as well as themselves! I had a fun 4 hand massage by some nice guys on that gay beach. If you wade into the sea and stand around for a while, you might be met by a new friend who comes up to you, will begin to initiate "activities" with you in the sea!

RENT/ REAL ESTATE

Rent in my experience could be very inexpensive, even in a major city like Bangkok! For the most part I stayed in our condo or in my friend's home ( she owns four!) but when I did have to rent, it was good value for money. 
Foreigners are not allowed under Thai law to own real estate like land or houses, but could own them together with the marriage of a Thai spouse. (afterwards, she/ he loses the opportunity to purchase more after they are married!) Foreigners could own outright a condominium though.

THAI ROYAL FAMILY
The Thai royal family is revered and highly respected in Thailand. It is illegal to mention anything derogatory, even in the smallest sense about the royal family as prison sentences are liberally given out for this, including foreigners.  No matter what one's opinion is, the best rule of thumb is to say nothing at all about them and don't even mention their name. Even if speaking about any of the Royal family in discretion among Thai friends, the atmosphere will feel very uncomfortable and they will say thing with unease or some "I love the King! He is my King! He is the King of Kings! I will always love my King! as if it is the appropriate thing which they were taught to legally say.

BANGKOK
Bangkok. GrungThep Mahanakorn - "City of Angels"  is a huge metropolitan city which resembles Los Angeles with its sprawl, traffic, ozone and air quality, and population. It is a cosmopolitan city with modern areas which co-exist with ancient areas like Banglampoo, Pahurat or Chinatown. The very affluent areas might have a slum right on its border. Mosque, temple, and Church exist next to each other in harmony. 
When first arriving in Bangkok and wandering around for the first few days, feeling the combination of heat, humidity and smoke, and dust, breathing in the smoke, humidity and dust, one begins to wonder what made them come here. After really living in Bangkok, living with the local people, and experiencing Bangkok under the very thick veneer at the surface, one begins to understand, enjoy and find themselves being pulled back to that city and its ways, its sounds, aromas, tastes and senses, even if one left and has gone abroad again. Bangkok as well as other places in Thailand will always be in my heart.

THE TOURIST INDUSTRY
I find myself very very lucky to have been introduced to Thailand and experienced Thai culture and way of life not through the tourist industry but through their eyes, held by their hands, and safely having a good experience and in happiness! 
The tourist industry in Thailand is huge and has it's claws in almost every aspect of the tourists life in Thailand. It is like a hoover vacuum cleaner with the turbo suck feature designed to make the tourist part with her/ his money in every way possible. Prices for foreigners are many times higher than the locals would pay, (would you believe, I lived in Thailand for 6 years and I never entered the Grand Palace? neither some of the other famous tourist "traps" .
 One should have good negotiating skills before agreeing to pay for anything which the price is not clearly posted on first, especially at places like "Pat Pong" which is a notorious area where one can go shopping as well as see dancing women sliding on a pole. 

If I had gone the other direction and arrived under the care of the tourist industry, my experience and my opinion of Thailand would probably be very different than the one I have now.
Thank God for my two angels, from the city of Angels! 

ISTANBUL: Staying and eating locally with friends!

When I was in Istanbul I didn't stay at any of the clever boutique guesthouses or hotels nor at one of the many hostels, but stayed locally with two different friends in two different locations around the city. I got an opportunity to experience a window of everyday life in Istanbul. One from the perspective of a Turkish chef who opened his kitchen to me where I would be an apprentice/ student of Turkish cuisine. The other perspective came from a South African/ Australian expat working at an International School in a more prestigious area of Istanbul. Visiting him brought back nostalgic feelings from my past life as an expat in  prestigious contracts with overseas jobs.


My generous South African/ Australian friend named Prags is also of Indian origin, so he shared a wonderful interpretation of South African-Indian curry, and invited some of his expat colleagues to join us in a small dinner party. He was very conscious about some facial blemishes and always avoided me when my camera came out. He is not shown among his expat colleagues in the photo below.


My very charming and wonderfully generous host in Istanbul, welcoming me to his kitchen and showing me how to make Mendi- a Turkish "ravioli".



I love to sample local pastry and sweets. The cleaver looked ominous but quaint in this window scene.

ISTANBUL: Catching some local colour around Taksim


Istanbul: Catching some local colour around Taksim

Having been to Istanbul several occasions in years past, each time I visit this city of the crossroads between Asia and Europe, I get a different impression and see her in a new way.
I have taken some photos which caught my novice lens which I feel describe the feeling of Istanbul I was experiencing during this last trip.






I love Turkish coffee and especially sitting at coffee places which are lively- good atmosphere! This one is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Istaklal through some winding back streets.



Turkey had recently experienced some rather tense demonstrations. I felt the tension in the air somewhat, and the police in riot gear seemed to add to it more.


I wandered into an old Catholic church in Istanbul- It is a great feeling to experience a church and knowing that Turkey is a predominantly Moslem country.