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The past couple of days have been relatively quiet.  We did go view the sunset Sunday evening at Promthep Cape, the southern-most point of Phuket.  I had thought that Tim and I were going alone but just as we were leaving (the motorbike was started and I was locking the front door) Jum, Ja, and Lek showed up.  Tim turned off the motorbike and the four of them disappeared into the kitchen where her friends raided our refrigerator for things they wanted to take and eat.  We then proceeded to the viewpoint where we watched the people and scenery while having a picnic (I ate one of my Washington green apples while the four of them consumed the rest of the food).  The sunset was kind of a dud but I enjoyed looking at the ornate lighthouse, a large statue of the founder of the Royal Thai Navy, and the many monks and novices walking about.

Before returning home, I'd wanted to stop off at the Internet cafe to check e-mail and send a blog entry but Tim said her friends wanted to watch the video we filmed at the party the night before.  We arrived at the house and her friends watched me hook up the camcorder to the TV.  As soon as this was done and the video was playing, the four of them returned to the kitchen and began cooking another feast.  Once this was prepared, they retreated to the side patio where they settled down to eat the food and helped themselves to our stockpile of beverages.  At times like these, I feel like I'm buying groceries for five people rather than just the two of us.  If I point out that I purchased these items to last Tim and I for an entire week I get the "okay for Thailand" mumbo-jumbo.  Although some of her friends have — occasionally — purchased small amounts of food to cook at our house, it is the items we buy for ourselves that invariably disappear.

A case in point:  during our last visit to Big C I was very happy to find my favorite green apples available, imported from Washington (Thai apples just do not taste "right"), so I bought ten hoping to make them last for a couple of weeks.  I even bought some peanut butter so I could introduce Tim to peanut butter apples.  I only managed to eat one before the remainder disappeared into the stomachs of her friends.  At least they have yet to discover the ice cream!  I'm seriously thinking about buying a small refrigerator to put in the master bedroom in which to hide my special food purchases.

At least this has contributed to my rapidly increasing diet.  In fact, I haven't been eating much on any given day.  Tim cooks for herself rather than adjusting the spiciness level to my palate (despite her promises to do this) and the few times she has offered me something I've been reluctant to eat it having seen her cooking and cleaning methods (more on this a bit later).  I've become determined to lose weight (although Tim has said she doesn't want me to, that she likes me fat) and I've been subsisting mainly on fruits and salads.  I really like the pineapple and watermelon here, and now that I know that "good" apples can be found at certain places nearby I'll get more of those (and keep them under "lock-and-key").  Packaged salads are also easily found and I fell in love with a salad bar at Central Festival yesterday.  I estimate that I've lostt a little over five pounds in the two-and-a-half weeks since I returned to Thailand.  Tim, in contrast, probably gained a bit under ten pounds but now seems to be eating a bit less — the three or four meals a day are (mostly) down to two per day and it seems like she's making smaller portions.

My many years spent managing restaurants taught me a lot about safe food handling (in fact, my last position in the food industry — in 2001 — sent all management staff to take an intensive two-week course in food-borne illness on which I scored a 97% on the final exam).  Thus, I have genuinely cringed at some of Tim's food preparation techniques.  She seemed to think nothing about leaving such things as raw chicken and pork on the kitchen counter for lengthy periods of time (one night, I awoke to get a drink and found some chicken that she'd taken out after I'd put it in the refrigerator).  It's taken me a bit of time to explain to her about bacteria forming and the need to refrigerate such items — I think my analogy that sickness doesn't know what country it's in quieted her "okay for Thailand" song-and-dance.  I've also succeeded in getting her to put items in plastic containers (I bought a bunch last week) before putting them in the fridge rather than just setting them on the shelves by themselves; they don't always get in there with their lids but at least it's a start.  She's made quite a bit of progress in wiping down counters after spilling things — this was only after I'd follow her cooking by cleaning and she not wanting me to clean.  In fact, a lot of what she does in the cleaning department comes after I beat her to it; I'm more than happy to sweep, mop, wash dishes, etc. but she doesn't want me to do such things as she feels it's up to her to take care of me and the house.  The cooking methods still have a little ways to go (I don't think she'll ever stop pulverizing food on the floor with her mortar and pestle) but at least she's now aware of the importance of cleanliness and refrigeration when it comes to food.

Cleaning, as I mentioned, has also required a few changes on Tim's part and we still have some ways to go.  We are very good at keeping the house in tip-top shape with daily sweeping and mopping (the tile floors throughout our home tend to attract dust), Tim has learned all about the use of coasters on the glass-topped coffee table, and the laundry is getting done on a regular basis (I have a lot of fun setting up the washing machine — carrying it to the back porch, running the outlet hose into the water tank, etc.).  It's little things that still need work and sometimes Tim forgets from day-to-day.  For example, last night I found her outside washing dishes with the garden hose.  She was rinsing the soapy water into the landscaped rocks that constitutes a path around the exterior of the house.  I was more concerned about the soap and the food particles mixed in with the rocks than I was about cold water being used to wash with.  When I asked her why she wasn't using the sink in the kitchen to wash dishes, Tim said she liked to have them dried by the sun and that the sink wasn't big enough for her biggest pan.  I noticed this pan was next in line to be washed; it was filled with greasy oil.  Luckily, I managed to get Tim to understand it was not good to have this soap, food, and especially the grease just poured into our back yard area where they wouldn't drain away.

At times it does seem like an uphill battle to explain that we need to work hard to take care of our home because we are renting.  If we owned it, some of these little things wouldn't be as much of a problem.  I still like to live in a clean environment, however, and treat the things I own with pride.  Thus, I cringe when I see her friends using the ground as an ash tray (Tim and are are constantly providing empty Coke cans for them to flick their ashes into); I've repeatedly told them that there is to be no smoking inside the house (and I know Tim has stressed this as well) but everytime they leave I find some little pile of ashes somewhere inside.  After they left Sunday night, I actually found a black streak on one of the bedroom doors which some careless person had rubbed up against with a lit cigarette.  Although I have Tim on the right track of taking care that our house remains clean, her friends have a long way to go.  (Another example:  when they began cooking when we returned from the sunset the other night, Ja wandered into the living room with a spatula that was dripping grease.  When I pointed this out to her, she just said "okay for Thailand" and began fiddling with the remote control — my party video was playing on the TV at the time.  Tim said something to Ja, however, and she went back into the kitchen while I hurried to find the mop.)

Anyway, Sunday night after the sunset — armed with their newly-prepared feast — it appeared that Tim's friends were settling in for a lengthy visit.  They began opening the leftover beer from the previous night's party and I was tired of being a "gracious" host.  I asked Tim if how long she expected her friends to stay and she said she didn't know.  I couldn't very well ask them to leave because it would make Tim lose considerable face among them (keeping good face is probably the single most important aspect of Thai culture).  But I was no longer the laughing and smiling Mark that they were all used to.  I just sat at the table, inwardly wishing they would leave soon.  Jum asked if I was feeling alright and I said that I was "okay" but that it was my "religious day" and couldn't drink alcohol on Sundays.  Tim seemed to pick up on this and said something to her friends and they quickly gathered their things and left.  Later, she managed to explain to me that she'd told them it was against my religion to entertain guests on Sundays after 8:00 in the evening and I was worried about breaking a taboo.  This is the first time I've known Tim to tell a fib but it worked good because it did get rid of our unwanted guests without causing her to lose face.

Yesterday (Monday) was a fairly active day for the two of us.  We left the house very early for us (shortly after 9a.m.) and first spent an hour at the nearby Internet cafe where I managed to upload another day of photos to my Webshots albums.  We then went in search of the closest post office (which turned out to be at Rawai); Tim needed to send some money to her daughter to pay a police fine (she'd gotten into a fight during the New Year's celebrations and punched some other lady) and we also purchased some stamps and "Long Live The King" bracelets (it's the 60th anniversary of his rule on May 5th).

The bulk of the day was spent at Central Festival in Phuket Town.  This is quite possibly the nicest shopping mall I've been to (and Asia has some really spectacular ones).  There are five levels and most of the shops are geared towards Westerners.  The biggest surprises came in the form of the restaurants where I found a Swenson's Ice Cream Parlor, Auntie Annie's (pretzels), KFC, Pizza Hut, even a Sizzler!  Also of great interest to me was the largest Office Depot I've ever been in (although their computer supplies left a lot to be desired) and a huge electronics store in which I found a nice variety of standalone DVD recorders at good prices (I've been wanting to buy a new one as it will be easier to use a standalone to archive my filmed videos rather than setting up the laptop to do this).  I also found a nice set of Creative brand computer speakers with subwoofer that I intend to buy later this week.  We stopped in a music shop and purchased several karaoke VCD's for Tim and a DVD (a version of "Sahara" dubbed in Thai with English subtitles) for me.  I also saw several large bookstores but didn't go in (I told Tim that I would probably spend a couple of hours in each one so we'd have to wait until another day).

By this time, Tim was getting hungry so we decided to buy a few things for lunch at a very nice supermarket in the mall.  The prices seemed comparable to Big C (but not as low as the outdoor markets) but the selection was amazing.  I saw some choice-cut steaks as well as ground beef along with many familiar Western brand names of packaged food.  I thought I was going to pass out as we walked through the bakery as the smells of breads and pastries danced through my nostrils.  The salad bar was superb and I filled one container with a fruit salad comprised of just red and green apples and another container with regular green salad fixings.  The setup for buying weighted items was the same here as at Big C:  You fill a bag or container with items (i.e., the salad is sold by weight, as are vegetables and fruit) and take it to a weighing station where they weigh it, shrink-wrap the container, and affix a bar-coded price sticker.  You learn very quickly that you can't buy anything that doesn't have a price sticker as on previous visits to Big C we forgot to get certain things weighed and they just put them aside rather than calling for a helper to come and get a price for us.  I do like this set-up once you get used to it.

We took our purchases back home where we had a nice little lunch.  Tim ate rather lightly and I shared some of my salad with her.  The remainder of the afternoon consisted of us watching some of her music VCD's while she sang along to the karaoke.  In the late afternoon, we decided to get some barbecued chicken for dinner (I had some excellent barbecued chicken from a stand almost two weeks ago and we haven't found any since).  We set out in search of a local market but found out the two closest to our house are closed on Mondays.  Tim tried to take a shortcut which soon had us hopelessly lost in some remote soi's and moo's (a small soi), and we found a large wat (temple) that Tim hadn't known about before.  In all, we spent about an hour on the motorbike (I'd previously taught her Dad's phrase about "bees in the butt" which she said she had when we got back home) before giving up.  In the end, Tim ate the leftovers from her lunch and I cut up some Dutch cheese and slivers of sandwich ham which I covered with leftover salad dressing.  It was a tasty, if simple, dinner.

Last night, we watched the DVD of "Sahara" which I thought was better than what the various reviews of the movie would have had me believe.  I've been a fan of Clive Cussler's adventure novels for many years and thought I'd be disappointed in this particular adaptation.  While not always a believable story, it was well-done and enjoyable.  It certainly kept Tim entertained for a couple of hours.  I did find it amusing, however, watching Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, William H. Macy, and Steve Zahn dubbed into Thai when I know perfectly well what their real voices sound like.  This particular version of the DVD has two options:  Thai-dubbed with English subtitles or English with Thai subtitles.  I think I'll watch it again at some point with the English original soundtrack turned on.

We don't have any real plans for today.  Tim is doing some laundry while I write this blog entry.  We may go over to Central Festival later to buy those computer speakers (at 3000 baht, they're about $25 less than I could get them for in the U.S.) and I'll probably talk her into going to the Internet cafe.  It looks to be a very hot day so it might be nice just to stay inside and read, but I'd rather get out and see some places on Phuket I haven't yet seen.  And, if we're out driving around, we don't have to play host to Tim's friends...