illegal drugs in Thailand

One thing you should know about Thailand is that it has little patience for drugs and even less for drug smugglers. Here’s a picture of a message left on a bulletin board in a Bangkok hostel that explains it better than I ever could. It’s an open letter asking tourists to go visit an Englishman imprisoned for life at Bangkok’s notorious prison nicknamed the Bangkok Hilton.


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It’s pretty easy to find drugs like marijuana down south around Thailand’s beaches and island (and other things if you know where to go and who to look for) but the country has a really strict policy overall; heaven help the foreigner caught trafficking in Thailand.


Lila Thai Massage Shop and Cafe, courtesy of Chiang Mai Women’s Prison


Something I forgot to mention in my last Chiang Mai post… There’s a female prison that, thanks to one of Thailand’s princesses, has an education program that gives the women skills to use in the outside world. What skills, you ask? Well, they’re trained in the art of Thai massage—kind of like yoga and a massage combined—and waitressing. There’s a massage parlor you can visit where the inmates give foot and full body massages—and are very chatty with you. Plus, just up the street, there’s a little cafe with delicious food and most of the employees are prisoners. Definitely something interesting to check out if you’re ever in Chiang Mai. Both the cafe and the massage are located right across from the Chiang Mai Women’s Prison.

Unfortunately my Thai language skills don’t extend beyond ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘one more beer’ so I was unable to communicate with the prisoners. For a more first-hand write up on the prison, check out this blog post.

live crab vending machine

There is a vending machine that sells live crabs.

Yes, you read that correctly.


The man who installed the machine in the Xinjeiko subway station had a simple dream, a dream that every man, woman and child in China—or those that at least passed by the machine—would be able to get an affordable crab to cook and eat or maybe name and keep as a pet. Whatever strikes their fancies.

I am sort of only making up half of that.

Anyway. The crabs are kept at a certain temperature so they go into hibernation until they’re bought and woken up before they’re killed and eaten. Sort of like Walt Disney.

…that’s what they did to Walt Disney, right?

Maybe I’m thinking of someone else.

Also included in the machine are a few sauces and you receive the complementary stares of passersby if you actually purchase one. And if it’s weird to Chinese people, then you know it’s really odd.


I think I saw one of the big ones on the top rack trying to escape. He blinked at me.

At least he doesn’t know where I live.

tales from the English abyss

One of the things I do in my class is pretty standard; hold up a flash card with the Chinese word for something, then ask a student to give me the English word. Fairly simple, right? So I hold up the flash card for 海滩, which is ‘beach’.

Me: What does this say in English?

Student: I know!!

Me: Yes?

Student: ‘Asscrack.’

Me: …

Student: Ass-crack.

Me: What.

Student: Ass. Crack.

Me: What.

Chinese teacher: *explains something to the student in hasty Chinese*

Student: Oh. Beach. 海滩 means ‘beach’.

Me: ….yes, good job.

Desk, meet forehead.

Earthquake in Japan

As I’m sure everyone’s aware of… Japan was hit by a huge 8.9 quake, followed by a series of tsunami waves that decimated many towns around Tokyo. And there’s the issue of radiation as well. Luckily, all of my friends there are okay for now and will hopefully be safe in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, in Nanjing…

We’re pretty far away, so we didn’t even feel the quake here. I still have the awful expat tendency to live in a bubble and missed the news about the quake until a friend phoned me about in two hours later. China has sent aid to Japan in the form of a rescue team.

The majority of people I’ve talked to here have been keeping Japan in their thoughts, worried about the lives lost and long term damage. On the internet especially, people have been voicing praise about how orderly Japanese civilians have been during the chaos. Unfortunately, there are a few people (Particularly some of the younger kids that can’t quite explain why they hate Japan) who are cheering for Japan’s misfortune; Nanjing and Japan have a pretty sketchy history, in case you didn’t know. But the most heartening thing is that for every person who has reveled in the destruction, many more have told him or her to more or less shut up and grow a heart.

However, there has been some fear going around the city in regards to the radiation, particularly between tech-savvy 20somethings. A text message went around today about not going outside in the ‘acid’ rain without a rain coat, lest you get radiation poisoning.

Allow me to give you the rundown I gave some Chinese pals today:

1) ‘Acid rain’ comes from the use of coal, not radiation.
2) Regardless, a rain coat won’t protect you from the amount of radiation that you’d want to evacuate a city from anyway.
3) If people in Tokyo aren’t being evacuated, surely Nanjing is okay.
4) Weather usually hits China BEFORE Japan and moves in a west-east motion anyway.

We’re too far away to feel tremors, but for the most part everyone is keeping an eye on the news.

floating market

**All of these pictures were taken by Casey using my camera as I couldn’t be bothered and he’d forgotten his anyway.**


So if you stay at a guesthouse in Bangkok, there’s a chance the guesthouse has a few organized tours you can pay a bit of extra cash to go on. The one I’m going to encourage you to avoid is a trip to any floating market. Sure, on the postcards it looks like a sleepy little market where the locals hop on their boats to sell vegetables to one another. And to be fair, on the outskirts of the markets, the quiet canals and residences are lovely.


Then, after a few minutes, you round a corner and your little canoe almost gets run over by one of the motorized long boats that, frankly, has no reason to be zipping around a market. And that’s when the illusion of a sleepy little farmer’s market starts to fall away.


Tourists almost seem to outnumber the ‘locals’ and traffic jams with the boats happen frequently, essentially log-jamming the canals with canoes and motorized boats. And suddenly it dawns on you that you’ve stumbled into a tourist trap. And the fact that you can’t get out of the boat until the woman paddling is good and ready for you drives home the trap part. So while you’re trapped on the boat, you’re steered around to each stall that sells the exact same thing as the stall next to it. Which sells the exact same stuff as every other tourist stall in Bangkok. A few boat merchants sell snacks and vegetables, but the vast majority of stalls are a trip of deja vu. “Didn’t I just see a (Choose one: dress/vase/necklace/tiny wooden elephant) just like that…?”

The Thai merchants have a funny habit of calling foreigners stingy. I wonder if they realize we just don’t need six of the same salt and pepper shakers in our house.


Eventually you’ll be let off the tiny prison vessel canoe and allowed to walk around the land-lubber part of the market, which is what they had in mind when the phrase, “Same crap, different day,” was invented. Frankly, I’d suggest giving any floating market a miss–unless you know for sure it’s one that is legitimately a market used for commerce and not trapping tourists.

And, as a disclaimer, all of my other Thailand stories are upbeat. I just chose to start with the least enjoyable aspect because it’s snowing outside and I need to forget how pleasantly warm I was in Thailand just two days ago… See the rest of my market pictures here.

snow and ice fest in harbin, china

The Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin, China is one of the biggest winter festivals in the world and probably the most likely to make you feel like a penguin on an acid trip amid leviathan ice sculptures lit with neon.


Zhaolin Park is in the city, towards the river and a nice place to start the festival. The ice sculptures are smaller than the ones in Ice and Snow World, but just as beautiful. And it has the added benefit of being the place where ice carvers come from all over the world to compete. A stroll through the park doesn’t take more than an hour, but can last you a while if you stop to take a picture of absolutely everything. More pictures.


During the day it’s nice to visit St. Sofia, an old Russian Orthodox church. Harbin has a rich history of both Russian and Chinese influence, so it’s not difficult to find buildings with a Soviet or Russo decor. St. Sofia itself is now an architecture museum for the city. If you’ve seen a lot of Orthodox churches, it probably won’t be too impressive, but for someone like me who’s never seen one it was lovely. More pictures.


If you’re on Harbin’s Central Avenue, be sure to stop at this eclectic restaurant. The menu has more pictures of the owner dressed in cowboy costumes than food selections, but it’s worth it just to feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone for forty minutes. Anthony Bourdain was there a few years ago for his TV show and can give you an idea how insane USABucks really is.


At the north end of Central Avenue, you can go out onto the frozen river and putz around. Or, hop in an carriage or snow buggy.


Then to the north of the river–about a 20 minute drive outside of the city–there’s a tiger park where visitors can hop into a bus Jurassic Park style and watch dozens of tigers. There’s even an option to get raw beef, live chickens, and other tasty snacks to feed the tigers and other big cats. A lot of people get squeamish about that, but there’s something to be said about seeing the animals up close and putting you in a state of awe when you notice that just one paw is as big as your face. More pictures. For the kid that wrote down this in fifth grade;

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?

A: “A tiger.”

…this was the highlight of the trip.


Between Zhaolin Park and the tigers is Ice and Snow World, where the HUGE ice sculptures and ice slides are. It’s nice to get there just before the sun sets so you can avoid crowds and see the sculptures in daylight and at night. Tom and Cass have more pictures of this attraction as the cold killed my camera battery pretty quickly…

ANYWAY. If you are in China during January or early February, this festival in Harbin should be at the top of your list. Two nights are needed at least to see everything I mentioned here, and three would probably be even better.

Xuanwu Lake

Xuanwu Lake is situated about ten minutes from where I live in Nanjing, just outside the ancient city wall. Islands and bridges dot the lake, and you can easily take two hours to explore all of them and then get lost and end up crawling through a fence to get to a bus stop. Regardless of fence crawling, it’s a beautiful spot. There are small paddle boats for rent, little vendors with food–some of which, on the outskirts of the park are of the Uighir minority and not really supposed to be there. But their sweet potatoes smell so good that the average citizen doesn’t seem to mind.







Note the odd effect the mix of evening and smog has on China’s sky…



bear bile and tiger bone

Hopping on the internet to steal a picture from my good friend–the man, the legend–Casey. Here’s a collection of alcohol we found last month:

“These alcohols are genuinely infused with Deer Heart, Bear bile, & Tiger bone. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes deer heart helps against heart disease; bear bile cures tumors, arthritis, & improves eyesight; and ground Tiger bone can cure impotence.”