Tag Archives: culture

Ghosts of Indonesia

I didn’t realize how many ghosts there are in the Indonesian culture.  But I got to learn about them first hand one Thursday night with Faisal, Misba, Aput, Andre, Ucok and Iswan.  The conversation first started when I was warned about the hypnotizing thieves at market places.

Hypnotizing thieves???  Though not so common anymore, the boys did warn me that if someone tapped me on the shoulder or put a hand on me, to never look them in the eyes.  The reason for this is that there apparently are people so talented in the art of hypnosis that they can literally cast a spell on you.  It starts with a hand or tap on the shoulder.  If you look the person in the eyes the “spell” is complete.  They then instruct you to give them all your money and to return home.  It’s only when you get home that the spell is broken and you realize you have just been robbed!!  Again, the boys insisted that this rarely happens anymore, but that it has happened quite a lot in the past.  However, since I almost always went to the market with Mama, it was never an issue:)

So this interesting tidbit eventually moved into the topic of the many ghosts in the Indonesian culture.  Once the “story telling” (I put that in quotes because they don’t believe them to be simply stories, but rather real events) began, it went on long into the wee night hours!  I learned first that Thursday nights are considered the night with the most ghost activity, and that was one reason why Friday’s are considered their holiest of days. Also it should be noted that with the dawn of electricity there haven’t been so many sightings of each ghost as light keeps them away!

Mind you, what I’m writing below are stories of each ghost as given to me by the six men.  They talked rather fast at times and often over each other trying to find the correct words while telling me about the ghosts, so below are my best scribbles about each one.  I hope I’m going to do them justice!

Doti (aka Santeh or Dooken): Voo Doo, wicked black magic.  These people can insert an evil spirit into a body essentially possessing them.

Tuyul: half human, half spirit that steals money

Babi Ngepet: half pig, half human.  Can only turn into a pig on Thursday nights.  There is a keeper of this creature who can turn the human into a pig when he lights a special candle.  IF the candle is extinguished, the pig turns back into a human.  Once in pig form however, it goes out and searches for money for its owner (the candle bearer).  Babi is stronger and faster than Tuyul as it can instantly send the stolen money to its owner.  If the candle bearer notices that the flame starts to flicker, that means that the Babi (pig) is in trouble and may have been noticed.  But the pig can turn back into a human.  So if it’s being chased and can get into a dark corner or alleyway, the keeper can extinguish the candle flame and turn it back into a human to get it out of trouble.

Poppok: A human, but in the night he can fly.  He is naked.  Can be a man or a woman.  They go to the sea and bring fish for the house.  If you meet and annoy them they will tickle you to death.  But if you hit it with a native palm leaf one time you scare him.  Hit him twice and you make him stronger.  ONLY for South Sulawesi, but may be elsewhere under different names.  This is a genetic trait.  Starts as normal person.  Seeks knowledge to become paranormal.  If he does the steps right, he turns paranormal.  If they do the steps wrong, they turn into a Poppok.

Longga: Very tall human.  He eats people.  Only at night.  Can be in the jungle.  A past problem.

Parakang: Human sometimes around us.  Can be a man or a woman.  At night they go to dirty ditches looking for frogs or fish to eat.  He/she can suck the blood out of newborns.  They will come to newborn baby homes.  They come from the roof, open the roof and come in.  Even in the day.  If it rains with sunshine this is bad.  Sometimes the eyes are red.  If you are suspicious a person is a Parakang, you can test them by throwing salt at the body.  If they thrash about they are a Parakang.  It is a genetic disease.  Can cure them with an exorcism using the Koran.

Pocong: One of the scariest and most famous ghosts in Indonesia.  He has many films made about him.  Happens when a person dies.  During a Muslim burial, they put a white sheet around the body and tie the sheet at the top of the head.  This tie is called Talipocong (tali = line/sting).  After the corpse is covered, it is carried to the grave.  If the talipocong is not removed once the body is put in the grave, the dead person will become Pocong.  They come in the night only and hop around in their sheet that is still tied around their head because they are trapped in the sheet.  Pocong comes around asking to be freed.  People in the village can’t talk, they must be silent or they will attract the Pocong.  But they can help the Pocong or essentially send them away for good by digging up the body and taking off the talipocong.

Kuntilanak:  Only a woman who is pregnant.  Story is from when the Dutch came here to colonize.  A Dutch pregnant woman came and killed herself when she arrived here and she then became Kuntilanak.  Sometimes the story is that she committed suicide, sometimes the story is that she was killed by her boyfriend.  She takes revenge on people by taking other children.  She had her baby in the grave after she was dead and buried.  She picked it up and cradled it.  She takes revenge on her ex by luring single men home.  She appears as a beautiful woman in a white dress, though the feet don’t touch the floor.  She gets the men to take her home, which appears at first to be a beautiful home, but once there it turns back into a gravesite.  The lured man is giddy with love but is stuck in the grave.  She is only happy if she can kill the new girlfriend of her ex-boyfriend.

And there you have it.  Some of the many ghosts of Indonesia!

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Koh Tao Island

After leaving Bang Saphan I headed directly to Champon to catch a catamaran over to the very beautiful island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand.  Only 21 sq. Km, Koh Tao (turtle island) has surprisingly a lot going for it!  It boasts 2 of the top diving schools in the world and is considered one of the top spots in the world to dive, has several volunteer opportunities from being a “Trash Hero” to helping at the Animal Clinic and even some Marine Conservation programs as well.  In addition, it has 2 Muay Thai Kickboxing training facilities: Island Muay Thai (where I’m currently training and will write more about in another post) and Monsoon Muay Thai Gym.

The island itself is lush and green with a large variety of foliage and critters all around.  The beaches are breathless with clear blues and greens and abundantly diverse marine life to boot.  Sadly, the island does have a dark past as it is the site of the very unfortunate murders of a young British couple just last year in September that made news world-wide.  There are even websites dedicated to the “dark side” of Koh Tao, but so far I haven’t witnessed or felt any dark side to the island.

Like the two neighboring islands to the South of Koh Tao, Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Tao also parties it up every full moon.  They call them “Full Moon” parties, which is really just another excuse to do what people do nightly here (party in bars) but apparently kicked up a notch.  Before coming I had heard the Government is trying to put a stop to them because of the drugs that also surface during the parties, but so far all the islands are still celebrating the moon phases.  The other two islands apparently also have half-moon parties and even new moon parties!  I haven’t experienced the Full Moon party here (the first one I will be present for is tomorrow night) but honestly have no interest to join the crowds at the bars for it.  See, while this place does have a huge party scene to it, my purpose here is to train in Muay Thai and get involved where I can in the available volunteer opportunities.  Guess I’m growing up a bit… Just a bit though;)

The expat community here is also huge!  Most are in their early 20’s and have come here originally just for vacation and ended up getting jobs and staying.  I would say honestly the population of people from the UK or Australia is possibly more than that of Thai’s and Burmese.  It is legal to get a job in Thailand as an expat if it’s in an area of expertise that a Thai local wouldn’t necessarily have, such as teaching English or in the case of Koh Tao, diving instructors.  One of the bummers in my opinion about having so many expats on the island however, is that the Thai culture seems lost a bit.  Many of the locals speak better English than most native speakers and while they may view it as a benefit for them, it’s hard to find locals who only speak Thai.  Hence why I wrote my other post on “Talking Thai” so I wouldn’t forget what I’ve learned so far!

As the island does boast some of the best diving in the world, there are dive shops absolutely everywhere!  You could probably throw a rock in any given direction while walking, and within only a few meters (depending on your location) could hit anywhere from 3-5 of them!  They really are everywhere you look, which makes it tough when trying to pick one to go with.  Everyone has their opinion on which is the best, and so far each person I’ve spoken to has named a different one as “the best”, lol!!  Though I do have my open water certification, I have yet to have done any diving as it’s been so long since my certification and I would have to do the refresher course AND for this month at least, I am tapped out financially on my extra-curricular spending.  It’s all about the budgeting!  Perhaps next month I’ll get into it, but for now, I frankly enjoy going to the beaches and simply snorkeling!  It’s free to snorkel on your own (though there are snorkel tours available too) and the variety of marine life seen snorkeling is impressive enough to me to stick with that for now.

Truth be told… while there are several beaches around the island I’ve so far only made it to two!  Sairee beach and Hin Wong beach.  Hin Wong beach is teeny and is privately owned so the owner (Mol of Mol’s beach bar) asks that each visitor either pays 50 baht (equivalent of just over $1.50) or buys a drink from the bar.  The snorkeling is unbelievable there and I keep returning for it’s absolute beauty and range of marine life!  Every time I go I see something new!  There are irradescent clams, blue-spotted sting rays, parrot fish, all sorts of damsel fish, christmas tree corals, anemones, puffer fish, and on and on!  Every time I go I also wish I had an underwater camera so I could share the beauty under the water!

Since I don’t have a motorbike however (the roads are absolute crap on the island and the other drivers are nuts to boot!!) I walk there, which is yet another way I get my exercise.  It’s a literal pain in my rear to scale the wee but very steep hill to get to the other side of the island, but it’s well worth it once there!!  While I do adore going to that beach, I also try to space out how often I go because inevitably I end up having some drinks at the bar then curse myself as I have to make the trek back over the hill, sweating my rear off (and hopefully some of the booze) to get back to my place.  Mol herself is quite the character too!  She is a native Thai but speaks English perfectly and even has a cockney accent when she drinks, lol!!

When I first arrived, I walked my way in the blistering heat from Mae Haad (where the boats all dock) toward Sairee and found very close to the Wat a place called Happy Bungalows.  For 400 baht a night I got my own bungalow with a bed, bathroom and little fridge.  When I first arrived I wasn’t sure honestly how long I’d actually stay.  My plan was to check out the two Muay Thai gyms and if I liked one, I would stay for a month to train.  If not, I would hang about for a few days to a week then head elsewhere.  Within 3 days I’d decided to stay and found a monthly rental with a kitchen through Bua Management.  Now almost 3 weeks in, I’m planning to stay for another month.  There are two reasons I came to that decision: first, I’m really enjoying the Muay Thai training and want to give it another month and second, one of my friends will be popping into Thailand to see me.  Since she is interested in diving, I figured I may as well stay put so at the very least she gets to do some diving in one of the best spots! 🙂

Eating Bat and The View

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The ‘Squirrely’ Side of Thailand

I thought it only fair since I posted ‘Things to Love about Thailand’ that I should also have a little ranting page about things I find squirrely about the country as well.  Again, they are in no particular order 🙂

#1: Whitening
Ok, now I understand that this is 100% a culture thing.  Unlike many people in the Western world and many Europeans, Asians want white skin.  White skin is a sign of wealth.  For if you are wealthy, you spend most of your time indoors and don’t have to work or labor outdoors, hence you stay out of the sun, hence you have white skin.  On the flip side, having dark skin is a sign of poverty.  So ok, I get people here want white skin, but what I’m not a fan of is the whitening products and not having a real choice outside of it.  Deodorants, body washes, lotions, basically any product for your skin has chemical whitening agents in them.  As a falang who prefers a little color to my skin, and as a person who doesn’t want unnecessary chemicals put on my skin, it’s really, REALLY hard to find any skin products without whitening chemicals in them.  They are all “whitening”, “extra whitening”, “white and firm”, etc….  What’s worse to me is so-called skin care product experts like Nivea, Oil of Olay, Dove, and so on are on the whitening bandwagon.  They are just out to give what the culture wants despite what damage it may do.  All about the $$$$… Again, I get it’s a culture thing to want white skin, I just wish there were options that didn’t have the whitening chemicals in them, that’s all 🙂
#2: Electric Lines
I don’t know why it is exactly that electrical poles have what sometimes looks like hundreds of lines coming off of them stretching along every road and side road.  It’s as if they had poles with a few lines at first, then as demand for electricity increased they just added more and more and more.  It’s sometimes scary as when you walk by many of the poles you can hear them literally buzzing with electricity!  And between some of the poles the electrical lines stretch from the top of the pole to at least half-way down allowing the lines to sag almost to the ground.  Now, I’m not an expert in electricity by any means, so I may be way out of my depth here, but I would think there would be a “neater” or more organized way to get electricity where needed without just adding more and more to already congested poles… Hmmm…

#3: Sugar
I learned very quickly that sugar is super popular here in Thailand.  They put it in EVERYTHING!!  It’s even a condiment on the table for your meal!  They have the chili pepper powder, fish sauce, a vinegar sauce with sliced chili in it and sugar.  Nope, that’s NOT salt!  I’ve heard that Thailand is way up there for diabetes and obesity, though to be honest I haven’t noticed that many obese Thai’s, so while that part came as a surprise to me, after realizing and tasting that yes, everything does have a ton of sugar in it, it’s not so shocking after all.  Bread, coffee, “all natural juices”, potato chips, the list goes on!  If shopping on the street at the various vendors, if it looks like it may be tart or not have sugar in it, you really won’t know for sure until you take that first bite.  As someone who is trying to watch sugar intake for personal health benefits, I literally have to read every ingredient on what I pick up in the store to check for sugar.  I’ve done this action so often now, I even recognize the word in Thai (since the majority of ingredient lists are 100% in Thai).  Such a bummer!

#4: Visas
If you enter Thailand via air, you automatically will receive a tourist Visa for 30 days.  If you want to have a Visa for a longer period of time, you can apply before going to Thailand to the nearest Thai embassy for a 60 or even 90 day Visa.  It is possible to get a year Visa if you are doing some sort of education while in the country such as learning to speak Thai or Muay Thai training.  If you arrive in Thailand via land (bus or train) you get a 15 day Visa!!  Seriously???  What in the world would anyone actually be able to see of Thailand in 15 days!?!?!  I understand that there are many expats and travelers that get jobs while originally just visiting Thailand and aren’t being legal about it (paying the appropriate taxes and such) so the government is trying to limit the amount of time people stay in the country to make it harder for those who get jobs and aren’t legal about it.  I get that.  It’s just unfortunate from the perspective of regular travelers who just want to explore the country without having to leave every 30, 60 or 90 days (yes, even 90 days is a pain to have to do!!) especially with some borders being closed (well, you can leave, but you can’t come back).  I’m spending my saved earned money in this country… Wouldn’t they want me to be here for a longer period of time without having to leave?  Then again, maybe that’s part of it too… Paying for transport in and out of the country to be right by the Visa is also stimulating the economy… Hmmmm….  The rules do change quite often apparently and many expats who have been here legally for many years simply say that “that’s what happens when the government is ruled by the military”.  (Sigh)

#5: Thai’s Don’t Sweat!
Ok, this one is obviously just meant to be humorous… It simply astounds me how the Thai people never seem to actually sweat!!!  Seriously, if I’m sitting indoors without a fan directly on me I start to sweat profusely!  And even then, while the skin being hit by the fan is dry and cool, my backside is not!  Walking anywhere and well forget it, I’m drenched in sweat so often just walking about that my clothes change color from being sweat soaked.  I’m constantly peeling clothes off soaking wet clothes and setting them outside to dry after my walks and when they do dry they are streaked with white marks across them (from the salt in my sweat) so into the wash they have to go.  Yet watching Thai laborers in the sun constructing a new building, carrying materials and such, not a single drop of sweat anywhere!  Their skin isn’t glistening with any sign of stress!!  Ok, now of course this is a teeny bit of an exaggeration because of course they sweat, otherwise I’d think that was a major health issue, but seriously compared to how I and other falangs sweat, it’s night and day!  What is their secret???  I’m off for my third shower of the day now to rinse off the sweat from simply writing this post. 😉

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Things to Love about Thailand

I’ve been traveling in Thailand now for over 5 months now, so I thought perhaps now is the best time to break out with a few things I love or at least find the most interesting about Thailand:)

It will be a working list and isn’t in any particular order with the exception of the first one.  🙂

#1: NO SHOES!!!
I absolutely adore how before entering any building, home or place of work you must first remove your shoes!  This goes for just about every place, with the exception of some grocery stores (though no one would squawk if you didn’t have your shoes on) and with some restaurants as well.  But for the most part (including in the vet clinic where I volunteered) you have to kick off your shoes before entering.  I will admit sometimes it’s a pain to do so (if you are wearing anything other than flip  flops) but otherwise, the no shoe rule is my favorite cultural behavior and one that I will be using wherever I end up for good:) I love, love, LOVE it!!

No Shoes
No Shoes

#2: Nature
The diversity of the landscapes here are extraordinary!  From the beaches to jungle to islands, mountains, rivers and lakes, Thailand seems to have just about every kind of terrain one would want to find.

#3: House Geckos
I just adore these creatures!  They are simply a much larger version of regular geckos and they are quite beneficial to have in the home since they take care of the majority of other insects in the home (including spiders, yay!!).  They also make the cutest and most interesting sound.  They start off with a quick series of chitters, then make a series of staccato sounds in repetition.  When I first heard their sound I thought I was crazy because it sounded like they were saying “F you” in slow repetition.  However, I’ve come across many other travelers and very-well-spoken-in-English-locals who have also pointed this out, so I guess I wasn’t as crazy as I thought, LOL!

#4: Animals
I know I just wrote about the geckos, and they technically would qualify in the animal section as well, but I just love those little buggers so much that they got their own section.  However, I do also adore the large variety of other kinds of animals here in Thailand.  From elephants, street dogs and cats, variety of monkeys, flying squirrels, regular squirrels, lizards, birds, the diversity is so rich!  You just never know what you are going to find!  The sea life is also beautifully diverse and lush!  From corals to sting rays, sharks, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, and a huge variety of fish, it’s amazingly impressive!

#5: Kind & Honest People
The people are generous and kind, patient and welcoming.  I have yet to run into a rude local here and though I’ve heard from other fellow travelers that it all depends on where you go, in my opinion and experience the people have been nothing but kind.  In addition to the generous and kind nature of the people here, they are also very honest.  In particular when it comes to money.  I’ve been other places where I’ve handed over too much money (from being tired or just not thinking the correct exchange rate) and they’ve gone on their way with the extra money in hand.  Here, there have been several occasions where I’ve handed over too much and they immediately return whatever over I’ve paid, even if it’s just a single baht!  I’ve gotten so comfortable with their honesty that there have also been several times when my mind wasn’t working properly to understand how much I owed in Thai that I’ve simply held a bunch of bills and let them pick what they needed.  I love that kind of honesty as it makes one feel more comfortable in their surroundings!!  Now, that’s not to say some people won’t try to overcharge you for something (cab ride, etc) but if you ask upfront what something will cost, they stick by it.

#6: No sleazy men
Traveling in Latin American countries, one thing I had to get used to that also really annoyed me at times, but just had to learn to ignore, was the cat calls, whistles, stares and hissing sounds (they literally sounded like snakes to be honest) men would constantly make toward any female as you walked by.  Here, no such behavior exists!  The men are much more respectful in that way and even to the point where I sometimes wondered why I wasn’t getting any looks from locals, and it simply is because their culture, unlike others, is to not display emotions of affection in any way in public.  Hence, no cat calls, uncomfortable stares or hissing sounds!

#7: Packaging with plastic bags
This one I personally struggle with from the environmental perspective and really wish they would cut back on their use of plastic bags, but I do also find it interesting and entertaining how they package to-go food or drink items.  Coffee, sodas, rice, soups, and more are packaged in a plastic bag tied off with a rubber band for take away.  Other items like rice and pad thai are put in styrofoam containers, so it’s one evil for the environment versus the other… While I can understand the simplicity and ease of using plastic bags, I wish in general they would cut back because they insist in using a ton of bags for very few items.  I’m always refusing bags (as I generally bring my own or just don’t need one) but you really have to be on the ball to say you don’t want a bag as they are very quick to snatch one out.  The straws also drive me nuts (though technically from the hygienic perspective it’s better) as they will give you one for each can or bottle purchased (including for beers) so if I walked in and bought 2 bottles of water and a soda they would put in 3 straws!

#8: Built to last
Another thing that really impresses me about Thailand is the construction of their homes and buildings.  Yes, there are several homes that are made entirely from bamboo and other wood (though bamboo is a very highly resilient wood to begin with!) but many homes, stores and general buildings are built to a very high quality standard and are built to last!  It’s amazing watching them construct a home or other building because their scaffolding is simply rickety looking pieces of wood that you wouldn’t think would hold people walking or working around them, yet the finished product is brick and concrete with tile throughout.

#9: Muay Thai
Whether it’s enjoying an evening out watching fights or joining in training yourself, Muay Thai is entertaining, engaging and a real real-kicker!  Granted not all fights are created equal as some are much more entertaining or gruesome than others, but all the fighters have a real sportsmanship about them that isn’t as easily found in countless other sports.  What I love the most is the fights where it’s evident that the competitors are friends.  They encourage each other between fighting rounds but when the bell goes off, all bets are off and “may the best fighter win” kicks in.  Another thing I love about Muay Thai is the sense of tradition and culture.  The fighters respect the ring, the judges, their opponent and their God.  The more I train in Muay Thai, the more I understand the fights as I watch and questions I had before while watching fights are now answered because of my own training.  I won’t go into that here, but will in a future post for sure!

To be continued…

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Laughs from Around the World

One of my favorite parts about traveling is learning about the differences in culture and ways that people express themselves.  From the friendly “buenas” greetings you encounter daily in Central America to the bows and prayer position hello’s given and received in Thailand, every culture has ways of defining themselves that makes them beautiful and unique.

Perhaps my favorite difference, yet similarity, in expression however is the laugh… And not just the physical laugh but more specifically the written or ‘text’ laugh.

In the States, to express laughter in a text we use a variety such as LOL, LMAO, LMFAO or the most basic: hahahahahahaha!

It’s the last of those “text laughs” that you find variations for around the world, yet the sound is just the same.  For example, in Spanish text they write “jajajajajaja” for a laugh because the”J” makes an “H” sound, so the resulting sound is the same as “haha”.

Just recently I’ve learned another form of text laughter in Thailand: 5555555….  Now you may wonder as most do when first coming across that as to what in the world that means.  But once you know that the word, or rather the sound that the word makes, for the number 5 in Thailand is “ha”, then it all makes sense!  Repeated 5’s in text literally reads as “hahahahaha!!”

Just love it!  I’m curious how many other variations there are out there to express laughter in text form from different countries… If anyone knows of any more, I’d love to hear about it!

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Italy

I was born in Italy and lived there for the first 7 years or so of life.  Obviously, it will always have a tender and warm place in my heart:)  But that doesn’t stop me from recognizing things that drive me crazy about the country either!! 😉

First I will start with the positive: Italians in my opinion have mastered the art of enjoying life!  From the meals with friends that take hours (and almost always several courses) to complete then always end with a shot of liquor, then an espresso, followed by another shot and another espresso, lol!!  They really have a passion for life and the enjoyment for it!  They don’t really have personal space, which for some is really hard to accept, and they express themselves very passionately with their body language.  This is another aspect that is hard for non-italians as while it looks from an outsiders perspective that a fight is going on (from their flailing arms and raised voices) they are simply discussing the weather!!  Lol!!

The driving in the country makes me absolutely crazy, as in my opinion all drivers in Italy are absolutely crazy!!  The country is so diverse for being so small and each section has a very strong and individual culture (sometimes to a fault as there are many rivalries between regions that sometimes break out in violence which again speaks to a different kind of passion).  I do love the country and of course recommend it to all travelers!  However, do be aware of petty thieves and pickpockets… They are quite talented in Italy!!  That’s all for now- enjoy my most recent experiences in Italy:)

Oh and by the way- Ice cream and gelato are NOT the same thing… Gelato is to die for whereas ice cream I could pass on:)

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