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The Culture And Customs Of Thailand.

January 20, 2009

One of the most interesting aspects of travelling and one of the main reasons I enjoy it so much is the fact you learn so much about the customs of different cultures. Discovering the ways of other people around the world is truly fascinating and at times very different from what you may consider normal.

 

I recently travelled to Thailand and during my month long travels I learnt so many Thai customs and traditions. The most notable custom was the way the people greeted each other. Instead of shaking hands, or waving, which is common in the west, the people would place their hands in the prayer position and bow their head. This form of greeting is called the Whai and the most common way of performing such a greeting is for the person to place their prayer formed hands so that the tips of their fingers reach nose level. 

 

The height to which the hands are raised is an indication of the importance of the person to whom the Whai is made. If a person of a lower status meets a person of a higher status, the former will place his hands by his forehead and the latter by his chest. This is a clear sign of respect. The Whai looks dignified and can be considered more hygienic as no physical contact is made.

 

The people of Thailand believe that the head is the highest, most important part of the body and should never be touched. It is deemed highly disrespectful, particularly if someone younger touches their elder’s head. Along the same lines the feet are the lowest part of the body and are therefore given the lowest esteem. It is considered very rude to point the bottom of your feet or toes towards another person.

 

Travellers should respect these traditions so as to avoid offending people. Indeed, particular customs can be difficult to remember if you are not used to them. The Thai people are likely to understand if you do slip up, however, you should make a specific effort to be polite at all times. 

 

Before embarking on a Hill Tribe Trek in Chiang Mai, we were warned that we should ask the permission of the locals before we took photographs of them, their houses or village. This is due to the fact that some of the Hill Tribe people still maintain old beliefs that a camera takes away the soul of the being, or object that is photographed. I personally did not come into contact with anyone who did mind their picture being taken, but it is polite to ask.

 

When travelling on public buses, you are allowed to sit on the back seats so long as a Monk or Monks are not sat there. Even if a Monk boards the bus after you, you must leave the back seat, as they are reserved specifically for Monks. Similarly, a Monk is supposed to have no contact with the female sex, so if you are walking along the pavement and see one coming towards you, politely step out of the way. this is a sign of respect towards a group of people who symbolise much of Thailand’s religious culture and beliefs.

 

In Thailand the Royal Family are very highly respected and loved. In fact even at the beginning of many cinema production they give a short overview of the Royal Family and play the National Anthem. It is a terrible crime to say anything derogatory about the King or his family.  In fact another person’s head must never be higher than the King’s or any member of the Royal Family.

 

Thai traditions can be very different to English traditions. The more you travel, the more you notice that each country has it’s own different traits. My advice for fellow travellers is to read up about each country before you visit it, to find out what is expected of you as you enter their culture. This could save you a lot of embarrassment. Furthermore, keep alert at all times and try to adopt their way of life as much as possible. The people will not expect you to hide your national identity, but they will expect you to respect their own, especially when on their soil.

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Trip to Limassol

January 19, 2009

I have just booked a holiday to go and visit my parents in Limassol Cyprus. I will be going from the 12th April – 22nd April and will have access to a car. I was wondering if any travel fanatics, or Cyprus fanatics can give me any advice on what to see and do over there?? What is the weather like? I hear it is sunny in the day but a little cold at night, does this sound right? Has anyone else been out there at this time of year and did you brave the swimming pool? Any information i can get will be fabulous. Thanks.

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Why I Didn’t Make A New Year’s Resolution.

January 13, 2009

Eat healthier, eat less, lose weight, give up chocolate, save money, don’t watch as much tv, be nicer to siblings, make your bed. Yes, the month of January, a month of making new year’s resolutions and a month to watch them fade into oblivion.

I have tried and tested many new year’s resolutions over the years, havn’t stuck to them and have made the same ones, and some, the following year. I am not going to say i “failed” the goals i set, because the matter of the fact is, i simply did not even try. In all honesty I like food, especially chocolate, I don’t want to go on a vigorous cruel weight loss plan, I relax when i watch TV, sometimes my brother annoys me and my bed will just get messy again anyway. Some things are just part of the way I live and although they may be considered  “vices” i don’t care. What’s more I have stopped making new year’s resolutions just for the sake of it.

I can understand the attraction of reflecting on the the year before, making changes and striving for a better new year. If you have genuinly taken time to think about your life and have decided that 2009 is the year you really want to do or achieve something, then good for you. I am not going to knock this so long as it is what you want personally and try hard to make it happen.What I am going to do, however, is state my aversion to those people who on January 1st go “oh yeah i’m not going to eat any chocolate this year” and yes this was exactly what I used to do.

Why would you suddenly decided, because it is January 1st to give up chocolate just for the sake of it. If you have chronic weight conditions, or want to improve your health and will stick to this resolution then fantastic. However, I simply made something up so I had a resolution and this attitude is exactly what annoys me.

I am not saying I have all the answers and therefore don’t have to make changes to my life. The way I live is far from perfect. However, I try to make changes as i go along if I am unsatisfied. You will not find me waiting until January 1st to implement my life changes. There, said with no apology. I do not make new year’s resolutions. I can understand how January can give people the kick start into action they need, but I personally believe thought and dedication is what is needed to improve your life. It doesn’t make sense to make hasty decisions or erratic actions simply to fit with the resolution “trend” if you like.

If like me you have made resolutions which you simply have not stuck to over the years and have found yourself making the same new year resolutions year upon year, knowing they are not going to change anything, it may be time to rethink why you make them. Try to establish if there is anything you really want to change and if there isn’t anything inparticular, or practically possible then don’t fret. Don’t forget you have the whole year ahead of you to make changes.

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Fancy a holiday on Mars?

January 2, 2009

by Sarah Jane

It’s named after a chocolate bar, which has got to be a point in its favor. 

But even if it really was a whole world of caramel, chocolate and nougat, I’m not sure I’d want to holiday on Mars.

Why am I even thinking about this? Because it may not be too long before the 136-million-mile trip is possible, according to scientists. In 2001, Daniel Golden, the director of NASA, told the National Geographic: “In our lifetimes, we will extend the reach of the human species onto other planets.” So in 10 years or so, are we all going to be swapping our annual two weeks in Benidorm for a fortnight’s self-catering on the red planet? 

Well, you’d have to have a lot of annual leave owing, for a start. Using the rockets we have today, a trip to Mars would take six months – and would require an enormous amount of fuel, so much that the rocket wouldn’t be able to carry enough for the journey home. Annoying if you realise halfway there that you’ve forgotten your passport. Plasma engines, which use super-heated gas as fuel, would be quicker and safer, but are still being developed.

And making such a long trip – Mars can be up to 500 times further from Earth than the moon, depending on its orbit – would cause huge health problems. We’re not talking getting a bit dehydrated because you don’t want to use the toilet on the train. You’d be weightless for the entire mission, causing your heart, muscles and bones to degenerate. Unless you adopted a punishing exercise regime, your heart would probably be too weak to pump blood when you got back to Earth and its gravity. A holiday to die for – literally. 

You would also be exposed to a huge amount of radiation in space, without the protection of the Earth’s atmosphere. NASA said four years ago that a healthy 40-year-old non-smoking American man had a 20 per cent chance of dying from cancer, but that if he took a trip to Mars, that figure would probably increase to about 23.4 per cent, and could rise to as much as 39 per cent. For a woman, thanks to the fact that she has breasts and ovaries, the risk would be even higher.

As Frank Cucinotta, from NASA’s Space Radiation Health Project, put it: “We can’t yet estimate, reliably, what cosmic rays will do to us when we’re exposed for so long.”

All this and you haven’t even got there yet. And frankly, Mars doesn’t sound like a very welcoming destination. Its atmosphere is 95 per cent carbon dioxide, and less than 0.5 per cent oxygen. There is ice, but water cannot exist in liquid form due to the low atmospheric pressure. The surface temperature varies from a pleasantly warm 20 degrees C to a terrifying -140 degrees C during the polar winters. Mars’ gravity is about 38 per cent as strong as Earth’s. In other words, the question isn’t whether you could survive there without artificial assistance, it’s whether the suffocating atmosphere, the debilitating cold or raging dehydration would kill you first. And even if you did have an oxygen tank, a bodywarmer and a bottle of Evian, Mars’ year is 1.88 times as long as Earth’s, so you’d only get half as many birthdays as you do here.

Despite the insupportable conditions, however, scientists have not ruled out the possibility that life could or did exist on Mars. The Viking probes of the 1970s carried experiments designed to detect microorganisms in Martian soil, and some had apparently positive results. However, these were later disputed, and the debate continues today. Scientists have even considered the possibility of terraforming the planet – altering its climate and surface to make it habitable by humans and other species – a possible solution to the problems of population growth and demand for resources. CFCs, which are greenhouse gases, and special mirrors could be inserted into the atmosphere to make the planet warmer, and algae and plants could be brought in to produce oxygen. 

But for now, if I want a freezing cold holiday destination, I’ll stick to the family home in the north east of England. At least you can buy real chocolate there.

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My New Year’s Resolution: To Stop Celebrating New Year

December 30, 2008

by Sarah Jane

It’s the morning after the night before, and what a let-down THAT was. 

You built it up for weeks, it was going to be the best night ever – but now you’ve just got a hangover and vague memories of being kissed by someone you wouldn’t normally let near you. Yes, I’m talking about New Year, the worst night in the calendar apart from Valentine’s Day.

I find the whole thing so annoying that I’m usually tucked up in bed at midnight, though I can hear my parents getting excited downstairs as they prepare for my dad to be the ‘first foot’. He goes outside just before midnight and comes back in just afterwards, carrying a piece of coal to bring us warmth in the coming year, a coin to bring us wealth, and a piece of bread to bring us food. Or at least that’s the plan. Once he forgot them and my mam had to hand them to him through the letterbox, since for him to come back in empty-handed would apparently have meant certain repossession of our home that year. Another time, our rarely-used front door got stuck, and only opened after a good five minutes of pushing and pulling by my agitated parents, ensuring a less than harmonious start to the new year.

I’m no killjoy. I adore Christmas with a still-childlike enthusiasm, I get excited about my birthday a good three months in advance, and friends’ birthdays almost as much. But when it comes to New Year, I just cannot see the attraction. There are no presents, no cards, no family get-togethers, no special meal, no Yule log, no Christmas carols, no decorations. It’s an evening of drinking, except three times as expensive as normal.

And after all, why should there be anything more? What exactly are we celebrating? The day someone close to us was born? A national religious festival? No – a change in the date. Call me cynical, but doesn’t this happen every day? Should we have a party 365 times a year because, ooh, it’s April 4 today and tomorrow it’s going to be April 5?

I guess the attraction of a new year is that people see it as a new start. That’s why we have new year’s resolutions. But does anyone actually ever keep these? I used to make loads, resolving annually to be a better person, stop being late, stop singing at all hours of the day and night and learn how to use a microwave. I have since concluded that I have an innate inability to be on time or to stop myself singing, and although I did learn to use a microwave, we don’t have one, so I’ve forgotten again. But what is the point of trying to change yourself for the sake of it, just because it’s January 1? If there’s something I want to do, or change about my life, I’ll just do it, regardless of the date.

I also think the idea of each year being a new start is rather sad, because it implies that you have not been satisfied with your life up till now. At New Year I am always tempted to dwell on the bad things that have happened, but I realise this is very negative, so this year I am going to make sure I look at them positively. Losing the job I loved was a major blow at the time, but I was incredibly lucky and found a new one where I’m very happy and work with absolutely lovely people. I felt I’d been let down, but I also gained a massive confidence boost from the way my friends and colleagues supported me. 

My Gran’s illness was a worrying time, but I’m grateful it wasn’t anything more serious and that she’s better now, and hopefully feeling healthier than she was this time last year. Another close friend has also been through the mill, enduring two operations, but I hope she’s finally on the road to recovery now. 

And so many positive things happened this year, I can hardly list them all. My brother made our whole family incredibly proud by graduating from university with a first-class degree – and I was even more delighted when I saw what lovely friends he’d made at university. My friend’s twin daughters, who suffer from acid reflux, became well enough to have their tubes removed. Another friend found the strength to end an unhappy marriage. Others have been promoted, got amazing jobs or made plans to travel the world. I saw Madonna in concert at Wembley Stadium and had a lovely week visiting my best friend in the Cayman Islands. I’ve made new friends, strengthened existing friendships, been to three weddings, and enjoyed more fun days and nights out than I can mention. And I hope there are going to be plenty more to come in 2009. 

So although I won’t be out buying into the new year hype, I won’t be dwelling on the bad stuff either. I’ve only one new year’s resolution: to make sure I appreciate what I have.

For a more positive view of New Year, read my colleague Laura’s blog at http://airportshotelsandparking.wordpress.com

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OCD: The monster that lives in my head

December 29, 2008

by Sarah Jane

It’s because of the monster, I told my friends. You can’t stay the night at my flat because of the monster.

No, I wasn’t talking about the one who lives in the wardrobe. He’s scared of strangers. I’m talking about the monster in my head that makes me wash my hands dozens of times a day because I’m terrified of germs. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD if you can’t be bothered to say the whole thing. There, I’ve said it. I’ve admitted it, I’ve named him. The dark secret I carry around with me, that I joke about so you don’t guess at the real nightmare behind it, there it is. 

OCD is the reason why I have the face of a girl in her late twenties, but the hands of someone who’s spent the past 40 years as a scullery maid. Why when you see me washing my hands in the ladies’, using more soap than a surgeon, I’ve not been working down a sewer – that’s just how I wash my hands all the time. I get through bottles and bottles of handcream not because I want baby-soft skin but because if I don’t use it every time I wash my hands, I can’t even bend my fingers comfortably.

So I’m a crazy weirdo with no friends and no life who should crawl away in shame and hide under a stone, right? Wrong, although that’s how some people appear to make me want to feel, and that’s often exactly how I do feel (OCD doesn’t exactly do wonders for your self-esteem). But my condition, which can take many forms – such as compulsive checking, compulsive hoarding, repeated actions or an obsession with order – is shared by as many as three per cent of the population. If you don’t have it yourself, you probably know someone who does – and just like me, they probably have a job, family, friends, interests and everything else that a ‘normal’ person has. I put ‘normal’ in quote marks because I actually don’t believe there’s any such thing.

I don’t know what caused my OCD. It is known that the brains of people with OCD are different from the brains of people who don’t have it, and some scientists believe people are born with a predisposition to the condition. Some also believe that life experience plays a part. All I can say is that I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have it, to some extent. It wasn’t very bad when I was little, but I was always worried about germs, and I washed my hands often enough and thoroughly enough for the other girls at school to sneer.

When I moved away from home, it worsened, because I had to deal with situations I hadn’t dealt with before. Having been brought up to adhere to strict hygiene standards, and being the sort of person who tends to follow instructions to the letter, when others failed to obey those rules I assumed catastrophic consequences were inevitable. And I thought it was my responsibility to put right their ‘wrongs’ by disinfecting our student house to within an inch of its life, getting through several bottles of Dettol a week. How my housemates put up with me is anyone’s guess.

But it was when I was alone in the south of France, working as an English language assistant, that OCD stopped making my life difficult and started to make it hell. With no friends around me and nothing in my life except a job I loathed, I found one other thing I could focus on: keeping clean. I hated the place so much I became convinced it was crawling with lethal germs, and as my unhappiness and loneliness grew, my craziness spiralled out of control until I was cleaning, washing and disinfecting from the moment I came in from school until, during the final few weeks, two or three o’clock in the morning. I barely ate or slept, my weight dropping to less than seven stone (and I’m supermodel height). I was a wreck when I came home, mentally, physically and emotionally, and on the verge of becoming seriously ill.

But since then, though it’s been a long, slow road and there’s still a long way to go, I’ve walked it back to some kind of normality. To the outsider I’m just the crazy girl who screams and runs when she sees a dog because she thinks they’re so filthy, but to me, I eat, I sleep, I have friends, I have a job, I have fun, I have a life. As time passes there are always more and more things I can do that I wouldn’t or couldn’t before. My OCD sometimes stops me doing things, but not that often. It makes my life more difficult than it needs to be, but it no longer makes it impossible.

You want to know, of course, why when I can see my behavior is unreasonable, I don’t just stop it. Because I’m afraid to. Terrified to. There’s a part of my brain that tells me that if I don’t devote all my energies to being clean, terrible things will happen to me. It’s got a really loud voice, so loud that all the logic and reason in the world can’t drown it out. I’m afraid not only of being ill, and having myself to blame, but also of not living up to my own standards. If I don’t keep myself scrupulously clean, my brain tells me I’ve been lazy and dirty, that I’m unworthy, that I don’t deserve to enjoy myself or be happy. I guess it’s the same voice that tells me I’ve failed at everything I do if it isn’t perfect, that I can never deserve the friendship or love of others, but that’s another story!

Of course there’s still miles to go, and whether I can achieve this without help from a therapist is another question. I know that my OCD will never go away entirely, but I accept that. I can’t imagine what life would be like without it anyway. It’s part of who I am, as much as the colour of my hair – and it can be a force for good as well as evil.

That may sound crazy, but over the last few years I’ve learned that no-one is okay. Everyone has their issues, and some are deeper than others, but whether it’s nervous breakdowns, eating disorders, depression or something else, there is no-one on this planet who won’t see mental health issues affect them or someone close to them. Unfortunately, people can also be incredibly judgmental about mental health issues, and if my own experiences have helped me to be more understanding of others then I’m grateful for them. I don’t enjoy standing at the sink washing my hands for the hundredth time that day, but if it’s a choice between that and sneering at or getting angry with someone else with my condition, hurting them because I don’t understand it, I’ll choose the former every time.

At least I’m keeping soap manufacturers in business. And if you come to my house for dinner you can be damn sure you won’t find a fly in your soup.

For more information I recommend you visit http://www.ocduk.org or read Toni Jordan’s amazing novel, Addition.

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When In Rome…

December 12, 2008

Last September, me and one of my best friends from school, decided to go on a spontaneous trip to Italy’s famous capital Rome. Together we had already conquered Belgium, Russia, Spain and Thailand so we decided it was time for a new adventure.

As is the norm, we booked the cheapest flight we could find and before we knew it the plane was speeding down the runway at an incredibly unsocial hour.

When we arrived the sun was shining and it was hotter than any summer in England. We transferred by bus to the Termini station and followed the map to where we thought our booked hostel would be, wearing our favourite, over sized sunglasses.

Navigating our way to what looked like a block of private flats we were very confused and loitered around on the street. Where on earth was our accomodation? Had we been stitched up and conned out of a deposit?

We asked a man who was working in the vegetable shop next door if he had any idea where our home for the next 3 nights would be. In full flowing Italian and a few hand actions, we concluded that he wanted us to buzz into the block of flats that we were stood outside.

Starring at over 20 buttons, we looked at each other with a smile and thought- when in Rome. We then pushed several of the buttons hoping for a reply but this did not seem to work.

Finally, an old man opened the door, wearing very old winter clothes. He looked uncomfortably hot, but informed us in good English with the enthusiasm of the Italian accent that he had “seen us in the street” and that he was “expecting us”.

Naively, we followed him into a lift best suited for faulty towers and headed up to the 5th floor. At least me and my friend were together. He then led us down a corridor which smelt strongly of urine and our hearts sank. Oh god. 

He then opened the door to our bedroom and let us in but continued to tell us how he had not yet reopened for business that afternoon. Entering the room we found two bunk beds with ladders sellotaped onto the sides. Glancing round the room i starred in disbelief. We really had not even got our moneys worth, despite paying just 20 Euros a night. 

On the wall by the chipped wooden door, was a ripped note asking us not to shower for more than 5 minutes. It must have been for water bill issues. Having visited the bathroom a few minutes later i was relieved to get out of there and thought 5 minutes was actually enough to intoxicate my lungs so badly i may not survive any longer. I was thankful for this time limit, even if i could have drawn the conclusion myself.

I survived falling off the toilet due to the cracked toilet seat and also survived the smell. However, i wondered if i could make it through the rest of the nights.

Pulling ourselves together, we decided that we had braved worst in Thailand and that we would just spend as much time as possible out of the hostel.

We agreed to save ourselves the delight of a shower and felt we would remain fresher by just changing out of our travel clothes into something cooler and heading out to see the sights. That is what we did.

We attempted to hurry out of the hostel to avoid the old man, however, we were soon beckoned into a small room, which we soon realised was his bedroom. A very old TV with a huge areal was playing in the corner too loudly for comfort and over the top he was shouting out directions he had marked on a map. 

This old man turned out to be sweeter than we first thought as we talked about the places he recommended we should visit.

I had previously seen letters of thanks and children’s drawings lining the corridor thanking him for a wonderful stay. Admittedly, i thought they had been written by him, however, as the conversation continued i started to warm to the friendly guy and felt bad for thinking he had decorated his own walls with messages of thanks.If only he cleaned his bathroom.

With map in toe we had survived the first few hours of our Rome adventure.