A Travellerspoint blog

The "lungs of Silesia"

I've landed in Upper Silesia, Poland, for Week One of a three-week journey.
Yesterday as I stared out of the plane on the approach I was astounded by thick forests around the Katowice and Krakow area. Of course, these thick, green forests are interrupted by nuke plants and loads of industries belching smoke into the atmosphere. However, because of these forests the area is known as "The Lungs of Silesia". Let's hope that all of these lush, treed areas are, in fact, filtering the smog from all of the industry, diesel busses and trucks and dust from unpaved roadways!

After landing yesterday I grabbed a taxi from Katowice airport to the city of Gliwice where I will be working later this week. The trip amazed me.
Every small village we drove through had older German architecture with Communist, mid-century, dull buildings. The traffic was horrible along the two-lane, paved roads. The taxi driver remarked, "The population of Poland was 18 million back 22 years ago. And, there were probably only 250,000 vehicles. Today, the population is 37 million and there are 18 million vehicles. No infrastructure has been built to meet this increase." I'll confirm that.

After checking in I realized that I was in the most luxurious hotel in Gliwice. That is not saying much. On this trip I had pledged to myself that I would not carry or pack anything superfluous. Used large, chain hotels with supplied shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, toothbrush, etc., I packed no shampoo. Well, life is different in Upper Silesia. No shampoo, very little soap, one towel, no washcloth . . . . The room is very tiny and Spartan. I checked again. It is the top-rated hotel in the area!

I have discovered the "rynek" (market square) of Gliwice. I can walk two blocks to the rynek every evening and choose the outdoor cafe of my choice and enjoy free Wi-Fi from the village office in the center (the one with the bright, red flowers draping out of every window box). The Gliwicians stroll around the rynek with baby strollers and, if female and teen-aged, dangerously high-heeled shoes and tight jeans. Tonight a bride and groom are posing by the Neptune fountain 20 feet from my cafe table.
Next entry . . . I rented a manual transmission, Chevy Spark and found my way to Auschwitz (Oswiecim) today. I will be thinking of all that I saw and heard for the rest of my life.

Posted by MaryCWright 22:42 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

My last night in Pattaya

Packing for Cambodia

sunny 90 °F

I have had a leisurely day in Pattaya, my last. I must say that I chose to stay in the neighborhood, swim and read. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in Pattaya lures me to spend my sweet tourist bahts. I don't want a tattoo. I don't seek a sex partner. I don't possess a compulsion to drink relentlessly. Although I am sure that the performances are amazing I am not going to buy a ticket to an extravagant cabaret show featuring drag queens. I don't feel I need to para-sail over the Bay of Bangkok with unlicensed, uninsured speed boat drivers. Except for inexpensive massages, manicures, pedicures, seafood and good Thai cuisine I am seduced by little in Pattaya.

Dusit Thani Pattaya

My evening has been spent taking a last swim in one of the incredible pools at this resort. All are beautifully designed with bridges, squirting features, swim-up bars, great cabana guys who set you right up with towels and more towels and more towels and drinks. The plumeria cutifolia drop exotic blossoms on you while you swim and look out over the beaches, beautiful ocean and the islands of the Gulf of Thailand. Pretty dramatic!


I am off to find a good Thai dinner and return to packing. I leave by bus early tomorrow to return to BKK and stash unnecessary luggage for the Cambodia trek. Tonight, my king-size bed is separated into two zones: 1) Goes to Cambodia in backpack OR 2) Stays locked up in Bangkok airport hotel (business attire, cosmetics, teaching materials. . . ) I am trying to weigh whether to take the laptop. or risk storing it at BKK. Is it reasonable to lug it when I am literally going to be walking through the border into Cambodia and finding a tuk-tuk or share taxi to take me to Siem Reap?


In Cambodia I could simply use an internet cafe to blog and Skype. Hmmm-m-m-m, I'll see if the laptop fits in my backpack. As I recall my guesthouse offers Wi-Fi in my room. I can't help it. . . I'm addicted. Traveling alone gets old fast. I am so delighted to hear from family and friends through email, Skype and FB. Okay, that's it. The laptop is going with me. Please write. I'm lonesome.

Tomorrow: 2 hours by bus to BKK. Then, two hours to stash luggage and find bus #390 to Aranyaprathet. 4 hours later and I'll be at the Cambodian border. I printed out my eVisa at the business center today at the Dusit. With luck all will go smoothly at the border. I plan on a share taxi from the border to Siem Reap. I hope to check into my guest house in Siem Reap by midnight tomorrow.

I'm nervous and very, very excited!

Posted by MaryCWright 06:41 Archived in Thailand Tagged pattay Comments (0)

A perfect breakfast

How to eat a rambutan (ngor).

sunny 90 °F

This morning I am really lazy. It is early Saturday (07.00) and the beach is empty. The Dusit Thani gardeners and swimming pool doctors are busy under my balcony preparing for a sunny day with lots of guests enjoying the pool and gardens.


When I mention the gardeners at Dusit Thani Pattaya I am not talking about amateurs. The gardens at this resort are amazing. I think the head gardener's mother worked on a golf driving range when he was in utero. Every shrub or tree has been topiary-ed to look like a fancily-clipped French poodle. I can't help but think of my good friend, Dave Sheren, back stateside, who must have trained under the same prunemeister. Dave has always tried to convince me that shrubs should be perfectly round or perfectly square. Dave, you would swoon strolling around this place.

Thai_Aug_6_023.jpg rambutans_008.jpg

I am treating myself to a scrumptious breakfast on my balcony. Rambutans!! If rambutans are not my favorite fruit palate-wise they are certainly my favorite fruit visually. So elegant. They look like they were designed by Philippe Starck -- a bold red with one hundred + green/yellow spines covering a golfball-sized orb. (I know, lots of golfball references this morning.)


Rambutans have a slightly sinister beauty like a rose -- gorgeous but suspiciously evil with those threatening thorns. The spines on the rambutan are all show and no problem. The only caution I have learned is that the fragrant sweet fruit is loved by all animals not just homo sapiens. So the growers use pesticides to discourage rambutan-rustling. You simply wash your hands after handling the husks.



Actually they are similar to a lychee but their wild, spiny, husk might make you think it is a lychee on drugs. They are grown right here in southern Thailand and their peak season is NOW! I am able to find a kilo + for 20 baht (around .80 USD).


I am trying to perfect a husking technique where you simply twist quickly so that the shell/husk breaks at the "equator". I find that slitting around the equator with the foil cutter on a corkscrew guarantees a tidy outcome. And, there you have it -- a glistening, satin-like, white, fleshy and very flavorful meat with an obvious stone that is easy to spit over the balcony. However, I am sure that Dusit management would prefer I use the trash can.


Now and again we will find rambutans in our Vietnamese grocery back in Detroit at a precious price. I am enjoying my gluttony this morning.

Posted by MaryCWright 22:09 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Happy Mothers Day

The Queen's Birthday is today -- a national holilday!



Happy Mother's Day! Today is an important national holiday in Thailand -- The Queen's Birthday. Thais celebrate it as Mother's Day. Mothers are being treated to lunch, dinner and special excursions. It is a very big deal in Thailand. Even at the GM Assembly Plant the President of GM Thailand awarded prizes for a singing contest during lunch hour yesterday. (One of my students won 1st prize!) All of this in celebration of Mother's Day. GM distributed free postcards with jasmine flower photos on them (the Queen's favorite blossom) so that workers could write a message to their mothers. Then, the cards were dropped in a large mailbox. GM mailed them for everybody.

In the middle of the main hallway in the GM commons/cafeteria building a portrait of the Queen with table, chair and a reception book was set up so that workers could wish the Queen Sirikit, "Happy Birthday" and sign their names.


Thailand loves its monarchs. Large portraits are displayed on buildings and along roadsides.


In the Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate large manufacturing plants proudly display their ISO Certification banners (as they do in North America) AND a large portrait of the monarch/s AND a spirit house -- within yards of the security house at the entrance. See the King's portrait on the facade of GM's Headquarters in Rayong.


According to Wikipedia: "The current monarch of Thailand is His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The king has reigned since 9 June 1946, making him the world’s longest reigning current monarch and the world’s longest serving head of state. Most of the king’s powers are exercised by his elected government in accordance with the current post-coup constitution. The king still retains many powers such as: being head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, the prerogative of royal assent and the power of pardon. He is also the defender of the Buddhist faith in Thailand."

And the Queen? Her full name is Somdet Phra Nang Chao Sirikit Phra Borommarachininat. Try fitting that on your driver's license! She answers to Queen Sirikit.

Queen Sikirit

Today's Bangkok Post printed an editorial, "Mother's Day message to PM". Only last month a female was named Prime Minister of Thailand: "Today is a historic Mother's Day. Forget the usual practice of yesteryears when male prime ministers made lofty speeches to glorify motherhood on Mother's Day, without any concrete policy support. At long last, Thailand has its first female prime minister. Not only that. She is also a mother. A working mother. There are thus high expectations of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in honouring Mother's Day not only with a deeper understanding of working mothers' double responsibilities, but also with policy commitment to make it easier for working mothers to juggle between work and motherhood. . ."

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (She beats out Margaret Thatcher in photogenic category.

As I write the celebratory fireworks have just begun out over the bay. Gotta' go join in the fun.


Posted by MaryCWright 05:55 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Detroit of the East

Last day of business in Rayong - rest and prepare for more adventure.


Since Monday I have been the guest of General Motors Thailand and have spent many hours in class with buyers, supply chain managers and business process specialists. All are Thai nationals and certainly prove that Thailand is the "Land of Smiles".


When first approaching GM Thailand I was expecting to see a few vehicles (assembled here in Thailand) displayed at the entranceof the HQ.

IMG_0937.jpg IMG_0942.jpg

What I did not expect was the huge portrait of the King of Thailand unfurled just right of the front entrance of the Administration Bldg. and the Spirit House (shrine??) on the lawn just left of the entrance. I have a lot to learn about spirit houses and the connection of Buddhism to Animism and Hinduism. There is a bit of all three religions in the Spirit Houses of Thailand seen throughout the cities and countryside. I will blog about this as I learn more. I am fascinated!

IMG_1030.jpg IMG_1031.jpg
As in all other regions where I have taught I find the students to be well-educated, skilled speakers of English and notable assets for their company

(NOTE: left of the projection screen is a huge Chevy logo. Left of the Chevy logo is an altar for prayer!)

This is a first for me -- an actual altar or shrine with kneeling pads in my training room. I never did observe anyone kneeling or praying in the classroom this week. But, I truly enjoy the juxtaposition of the "shrine" with the poster of the Chevy Colorado. It would seem to be apropos in Thai culture.

IMG_1038.jpg 2IMG_1039.jpg

In Thailand folks are devout Buddhists (97%), but they also worship the pick-up truck. I have noticed housing along the roadside where the pick-up truck was probably larger than the residence!


Although the business culture may differ from that found in China, S. Korea or North America certain characteristics are constant: the continual drive to improve processes and skills, the awareness that the automotive industry is fiercely competitive, especially in Asia-Pacific, and the high value placed on a job that offers meaningful work for good compensation. The Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate on its website:

Recognized as "Detroit of the East", The Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate (ESIE) in Rayong Province is the auto cluster . . . The industrial estate covers a vast area of 8,621 rai (3,448 acres).

3IMG_1026.jpg (Pardon the electrical lines!)

ESIE is home to over 109 automotive supply-line companies. This includes 9 of the world's top 10 automotive suppliers and over 25 Toyota group companies. General Motors manufactures Chevrolet sedans and one-ton pickups as well as Isuzu one-ton pickup export volumes. This industrial estate is a manufacturing base for export to more than 206 countries. Since created in 1995, ESIE's development has been a resounding success with USD 5 billion investment. At present, there are 25,000 employees working with over 218 international companies.

And, all of those 25,000 employees are on the road trying to get into the ESIE every morning. I am amazed at the skill of my fine driver, Mr. U-Thai. The workers who move along most quickly and creatively are those on motor scooters (sometimes detouring into parking lots of roadside markets, riding the dirt road shoulders and often resorting to the outback). It is a wild scene.

IMG_1013.jpg 70Thai_Aug_11_038.jpgThai_Aug_11_007.jpgIMG_0925.jpgThai_Aug_11_030.jpg
It is not unusually to see three workers on the same scooter and the majority of them without helmets. Scooters are used by parents to take the kids to schools near the EISE. One mom was "scootering" her three children to school on Tuesday and passed my van on the left by resorting to a dirt shoulder and weaving around buses, trucks and scooters.

The traffic is simply awful and, at the same time, fascinating. I never heard a horn honking or a driver yelling. Very quiet people, these Thais. Unlike my experience in South Korea there is no road rage. No one cuts another driver off. They simply seem choreographed to move in and out of lanes and around buses. I am in love with Thai bus art and will be blogging separately on the subject.

The songthaew/pick-up truck is ubiquitous.

Thai_Aug_6_020.jpg 5IMG_0920.jpg
(No, Mom. They are not wearing seatbelts!)

Then, there is the Toyota commuter van, usually silver and professionally driven with three rows of seating for middle management, executives and guests (like me!). There are hundreds of these silver Toyota vans. I have had the luxury of sitting back with my cell camera and letting Mr. U-Thai, my driver, manage to safely navigate our way to and from work each day.


When I said, "Goodbye" to him yesterday I calculated that we had spent over 12 hours together this week. I guess that's longer-lived than many relationships! Always, he was on time, never lost his cool and made sure that I had a bottle of cold water when I stepped into his air-conditioned van.


I gave Mr. U-Thai an orchid corsage to give his mother for the big holiday that begins today. (See blog: The Queen's Birthday/Mother's Day. I will post shortly.) Good-bye, Mr. U-Thai and thank you.



Posted by MaryCWright 21:51 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 8) Page [1] 2 »