greetings from phuket -an area now famous because of the tsunami; but previously legendary on the backpacker trail for beautiful beaches..of which I will be seeing tomorrow (and the next day). We arrived from Chiang Mai in the North which looked a lot like my trip to south Yunnan in China last Summer. In fact it sounded similar to since the hill-tribes we stayed with seemed to speak similar dialects to those i met last july.
it was an enjoyable hike across rivers and in 'jungle' (in the dry season it is quite tame), on elephants (very slow creatures!) and rafting on some (slow) rapids. We witnessed a stupid french couple handing out sweets to the local children, and then an even more stupid australian idiot do the same before threatening to punch us for complaining 'behind their backs' at what he was doing. We (6 of us) were all very chuffed since we knew we had the moral high ground. The french couple later came over to talk to us to admit at their stupidity -i have more respect for the french now!
[the sweets were in wrappers which would cause litter; they were not found locally so the kids would end up desiring something they neither find again, nor afford; they are obviously not healthy -especially for kids brought up on rice and vegetables; it created a fight/scramble for the sweets leading 2 kids lying on the floor crying]
we've found some people here speak chinese which is nice, since once you get off the beaten track (ie. 15 minutees walk from main strips here in phuket) noone speaks any english -but most people don't -which is even nicer, since thailand is so toursity! however being able to speak chinese (or french, when we knew there were some chinese speakers nearby) with Evelyn (my travelling partner) has been very useful in terms of agreeing prices for bargaining and making decisions...aah the joys of languages.
thailand's economy is very dependent on agriculture and tourism -most of the tourism does not seem too bad so far; many of the tours are good and the guides are all locals, so they try to protect their own country -however there are so many scams its a joke. today when we were told to changes buses, everyone was so suspicious we said no, even before listening to the reasoning. i felt sorry for the lady afterwards -but it goes to show that we all suspect 'guilty' and need to be convinced of 'innocent' later!
From the news it is interesting to read about China and Russia supporting the 'west' in their Iran/IAEA discussions and about China and India both competing at the World Economic Forum for attention. It is also intriguing reading the english language Thai papers; since they are so outspoken about the PM here who is under fire in a big way for some dodgy dealings. Not the kind of stuff found in China that is for sure.
Just a few days backpacking has reminded me how little you can learn about a country from backpacking. you can have fun, for sure, but you won't learn much about the culture or much about the language or history. I am much more keen to continue exploring china where i cna try to communicate and continue to build up my knowledge of the country. having said that, we have made the most of our tour guides, quizzing them about their lives (95% of thais are buddhist and most men do a few months as a monk) -we even attended 'monk chat' at a temple recently (great idea) to learn more.
Before I return to Shangahi (and then shortly to Beijing) on Sunday night I'll be listening to 'from our correspondent' on bbc website and downloading the recent and back episodes as podcasts onto my mp3 player since i cannot in china, but find the show fascinating. Meanwhile i must prepare for the snorkelling trip tomorrow and start to realise that soon i'll return to freezing beijing...but at least it might snow there!