vic in thailand

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Sleeping Late Can Save Your Life September 29, 2007

Filed under: burma,thailand,travel — Trixie Friganza @ 12:45 am

Recently faced with the interesting challenge of creating a personal statement for my Anthropolgy class, I keep coming back to the fundamental question: “What am I doing here”? Here meaning, in a general sense, here in the world, more specifically, here at UC Berkeley. It’s a bit surreal to be walking these halls again after an absence of over 20 years, surrounded by students most of whom are half my age. But if I have to start somewhere, it would be…
Christmas, 1998. I’m in a small town in the north of Thailand, close to the Burmese border. It’s my first visit to the Kingdom, and I’m visiting my best friend A., who works as a health educator in refugee camps along the Thai/Burmese border. Most of the people in the camps are ethnic minorities, Karen and Karenni, forced out of Burma by the military dictatorship that has been busy destroying the country since the 1950’s. There is also a contingent of political refugees in the camps, mostly students who were involved with the pro-Democracy uprisings of 1988, and who face imprisonment or death if they return to Burma.
My friend and I are cruising around town on her motorbike, trying to decide which bar we want to spend Christmas drinking in, when we stop at 7-11 for cigarettes. My friend sees someone she knows “Hey, it’s Z.” my friend says, “He’s one of the ABSDF1 guys I was telling you about”. I perk right up – I’ve read about these guys in the New Yorker, they are definite badasses. He’s buying six-packs of “Spy”, a Thai wine-cooler drink. My friend introduces us, and he asks if we want to come up to the ABSDF “clubhouse” for their annual Christmas party. Hell, yes, we want to! But first Z. takes my friend aside and asks who I am and what I’m doing there. Once it’s established that I’m not a) a journalist, b) a spy, or c) politically affiliated in any way, we’re off on the motorbike, following Z. up a twisty dirt road that leads into the hills above town.
We stop outside a low stucco house, surrounded by Burmese guys playing guitars, drinking homemade rice whisky, and rolling around together like frisky puppies. Most of them are very drunk. The only light comes from several campfires, and the air is thick with smoke and the smell of grilled meat. I notice a longhaired guy wearing a torn flannel shirt and an angelic smile. He comes over and leads me to the ground cloth where the guys are sitting around strumming guitars. In clear though somewhat idiosyncratic English, the long-haired guy introduces himself as D., and proceeds to tell me his story. He’s a soldier, he says. He lives in the jungle. He hasn’t seen his family in 10 years, since the ’88 riots. He’s Shan2, from Taunggyi. His father is a farmer. He loves Bonnie Tyler. “Wait a minute,” I think, “Did he just say Bonnie Tyler? I proceed to endear myself by singing a few phrases of “It’s a Heartache”. Then my new friend points to a dark, Indian-looking guy3, who’s standing a little outside the drunken circle. “My overlord”, he says. “Overlord? Did I hear him right?” I think. I feel like I’ve stepped into some kind of time-tunnel, and emerged in a feudal kingdom (albeit one with Bonnie Tyler and wine coolers). He offers me rice whisky, which is lumpy and tastes foul. “We made this ourselves”, he says proudly. “We also made…” He trails off, and seems to be groping for a word. “Similar to…similar to…similar to cake!”. “Bread?”, I offer cautiously. “Yes, bread!” he beams. We drink some more, sing some more, and my friend gets somewhat thoughtful. He tells me he only comes out of the jungle once a year, for the party. That he’s very tired. That he will most likely never see his family again. That most of his friends are dead. I look up at the night sky, so clear the stars look like gemstones. I feel beyond sad for him and his friends, and helpless to do anything for them. When he stands up to say good-bye he only reaches to my shoulder, and he grips my hand like he doesn’t want to let go. Then A. and I ride back down the mountain and go to the disco under the Holiday Inn where we dance all night with a couple of transsexual sisters who run the local BBQ chicken shack.
Flash forward, to winter 2004. I’m taking a leave of absence from my high-paying, high-stress job at a computer-animation company to do a little traveling. I have a brand-new camcorder, and a vague plan to make a documentary. I want to get back to the Thai-Burmese border, and film my A. friend in action, with the goal of making a short film that she can keep as a record of her life in Thailand. She’s is now the head nutritionist for the entire border, with a big Toyota truck, an assistant, and a dog. Everything goes pretty smoothly, and I get some great footage of my friend at work, her colleagues, the office cat, the town where she lives, and the incredibly beautiful countryside along the border. We drive on some of the scariest roads I’ve ever been on, and make it to one of the camps in time for World AIDS Day, where there’s a battle of the bands going on. Karen rock, cool! There’s also a cooking contest to make dishes from fortified flour that my friend is introducing into the camps. The contest is rowdy and colorful, and the food is delicious.
After a couple of weeks filming along the border I meet my boyfriend and we spent some time in Cambodia. It’s close to Christmas, and our plan is to spend the week leading up to New Year’s on the island where they filmed “The Beach”. We fly down to Krabi, a resort area in Southern Thailand. It’s Christmas day, and for some reason I’m crabby as hell. The buffet dinner we’re forced to attend is over-priced and tasteless, and the resort doesn’t serve alcohol (there’s a lot of Muslims in the South). The “entertainment” is a troupe of “ladyboys” parodying Thai temple dancers and a terrible Philippino singer who belts out Celine Dion off-key.
The next morning we’re booked on the ferry to Ko Phi Phi Island, about an hour away. We’ve opted for the later ferry, because I hate to wake up early. That morning I have dream so vivid it wakes me up. I look at my watch – it’s 7 am. I shove my boyfriend’s shoulder. “Hey, I had a weird dream4”. He grunts and rolls over. I eventually fall back to sleep. At 8 am my boyfriend gets up and goes out to take pictures in the morning light. I’m lying there dozing when the bungalow begins to shake. In my semi-conscious state, I think it’s someone having sex in the room next door. But there is no “next door”, it’s a freestanding bungalow, not a hotel. Then I think it must be the wind. But when I look out the window, the palm trees aren’t moving. The bed continues to shake. “That’s weird,” I think, and fall back to sleep. Later that morning the tsunami hits southern Thailand, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Somalia. We were on the beach when it happened, waiting for the ferry. We just had time to save most of our luggage and our cameras. After spending the night on top of a mountain, we were evacuated to the mainland the next day, and by January 5th we were home.
Naturally, I was enormously relieved to get home, and resume my “normal” life after all our adventures. But part of me was stuck back in Thailand. It was hard to leave knowing that so many people had lost so much. I held a benefit dinner, raised $1700 for Burmese migrant workers in Thailand who lost their jobs when the big resorts were destroyed and were stranded without work or access to healthcare. But it didn’t seem like enough – something in me had changed. My job no longer provided the same adrenaline rush that had kept me there for 12 years. I started thinking about doing something else, something that would bring me into contact with people, instead of computers.
In 2005 I quit my job and went back to Thailand. I worked for four months as a volunteer for Thailand Burma Border Consortium, the same NGO where my friend A. works. I was brought on to create an archive of photos, films and documents that had been collected over 20 years. Some of the stuff I saw gave me nightmares. Some was really beautiful. It was a great experience, and afterward I felt inspired to change course and pursue something that would have meaning for me, even if it didn’t pay as well as my old job. I enrolled in a teacher-training course for English as a Foreign Language, and spent the summer teaching at a language school in San Francisco. I resolved to return to UC Berkeley (which I had abandoned 25 years earlier for reasons too numerous for this piece), finish my under-grad, and go for an M.A. in education. Ultimately, I want to work with recent arrivals (refugees, immigrants), helping them with their language skills and also with adjusting to life in the US in general. While in Thailand I learned that “resettlement” is all the rage in the refugee camp world, and I couldn’t help but think, “Great, they’ll get out of the camps, but who the hell is going to help them once they arrive?”
So here I am, trying to make sense of the world and my place in it. I’m convinced that when all is said and done, people are all that matter, and communication is the glue that holds us together. If I can help smooth someone’s path, even slightly, then my time here won’t be wasted.
1 All Burma Students Democratic Front
2 An ethnic group who has been struggling for independence from Burma for many years
3 This turned out to be Sonny, the then leader of the ABSDF rebels
4 This was my dream: I wake up in the morning and step outside the bungalow. There on the grass, stretching in a line towards he beach are dolphins, seals, small whales, all kinds of marine mammals. “Wow”, I think, “There must have been some kind of natural disturbance to make them all beach themselves like that”. I see a ranger, and go over to ask him what happened. “Careful!”, he says, and pushes me out of the way of a lion, who walks by seemingly without seeing me. Then he points to the roof of the bungalow, where a leopard is poised, ready to pounce. “Watch out!” he yells, “It’s a killer!”, and I start to run.



Back home again – for now March 13, 2007

Filed under: australia,laos,thailand,travel,Uncategorized,widllife — Trixie Friganza @ 7:31 pm

i’m back home in berkeley, and VERY happy to be here! my last week in bangkok was incredibly fun – but almost TOO fun , resulting in me getting some nasty bug that had me flat on my back for a last week or so. i was scrambling to get all my work done, and at the same time attend all the parties! so i was wiped out by the time i got home…

needless to say, phat, max and pancho are very happy that i’m back, and i’m so glad to be with them again. phat did such a great job of holding down the fort while i was gone, and he took such good care of the critters. what a guy! so life is grand, although now i need to think about the next chapter…my experience at TBBC was great, though. i learned so much and really had to rely on my own instincts and creativity to come up with solutions and get things done. i ended up creating a photo archive using digital asset management (DAM) software (iview mediapro), creating a documents database using filemaker pro, coming up with a new layout for the space using sketch-up 3D software (from google), and purchasing new digital cameras (canon powershot 530) for field staff. i feel good about the work i did there, and especially about the friends i made. i miss them all!

i took two trips towards the end of my stay in thailand – the first was a long weekend in luang prabang, laos, partly to sightsee and partly to get my visa renewed. not too much to say about luang prabang, except that it is a very beautiful place, and incredibly well-preserved because it’s a world heritage site. the town is perched on a fork of the mekong river, and is full of old colonial architecture and beautiful old temples. the people were incredibly nice and mellow, and the whole place felt like going back in time. no billboards, no neon, no powerlines (they’re buried). people seem to spend most of their free time sitting around campfires playing guitars and singing, or playing games like baci ball and badminton. so sweet! also, thanks to the french, there was great coffee and baguettes. one thing, though – it was FREEZING! here’s some photos, that describe the place better than i can in words:

old woman weaving outside her house
old woman weaving outside her house

big beautiful rooster

temple door
temple door

temple offerings
offerings outside temple

little owl
a sleepy little owl

old temple building
old temple building

french colonial architecture
example of french colonial architecture – all the old buildings were being restored

old citroen – another souvenier from the french

villa santi
the villa santi – one of the most charming hotels in town (notice the monk – they were everywhere! luang prabang has more temples per capita than any other town in laos)

creepy old house
not all the buildings were restored – i wanted to buy this one!

old woman with betel nut
this woman was preparing betel nut to chew

beautiful old hotel
a lot of the old villas have been turned into hotels…

…or guesthouses – so european!

temple at national museum
temple outside the national museum

view from the hill
view of the town from the top of mount phousi – 300 steps to the top!

girl weaving
laos is known for it’s beautiful silk weavings – i went nuts! the work this girl has done so far took her two days.

sticky rice cooking
sticky rice cooking – the staple of the laos diet

water buffalo
photo of water buffalo at an exhibition about sticky rice production

i took a boat ride up the river to the pak-ou caves – the caves are filled with hundreds of buddhas that have been left there over the centuries. the ride up the river was beautiful, and yes, freezing!

boats on mekong
the boats waiting to take us up river

water buffalo along the mekong
water buffalo on the riverbank

on the mekong river

outside the pak-ou caves
approaching the pak-ou caves

pak-ou cave budhhas
buddhas inside cave

life along the mekong – gardens and baci ball

chillin’ out (literally) by the river

this old temple across the river haunted me

man knife sharpening a knife

plumeria tree outisde temple

yong monk (hmong)
a young monk i met (he’s hmong, as are many people here)

some locals

the flag of lao p.d.r.

my next-to-last weekend in thailand, mark, yee, their friend sparky and i drove down to petchaburi, about 3 hours south of bangkok, where mark’s friend edwin runs a wildlife sanctuary. edwin, who’s dutch, uses land donated by the local temple, and collects and rehabilitates animals that have been damaged, orphaned by poachers, or otherwise mistreated. some are released back into the wild, and some are permanent guests. the enclosures he’s built for them are truely luxurious, and he’s doing more work all the time to expand their space. volunteers come from all over the world to work there – and they PAY him for the privilege, which is partly how he keeps it going. here’s some of the inhabitants we met:

mark with edwin’s photo (i didn’t get to meet him – he was out of town)

gibbon (hey, can somebody scratch my back? anyone?)

the bintarong – my new favorite animal. about the size of a medium-sized dog, and still growing!

big kitty
meaow (which means cat in thai) – the star of the shelter. he likes to go swimming with edwin.

the otters – two different species, but they are inseparable.

elephant bathing
elephant taking a bath in the lake

dusky langur
the dusky langur – the cutest monkeys ever! we were to see more of these guys in the wild…

bears snoozing
there are about 15 bears – two different species living in apparent harmony

baby sun bear
baby sunbears are really, really cute. this one is eating a coconut. later he licked my hand!

some of the gibbons have their own private islands where they live as families.

gibbon keeping watch
keeping watch – the males won’t let anyone enter their space, so food has to be delivered to the island via a system of buckets and pulleys. these guys may look fuzzy, but they can be very fierce.

after the sanctuary, we drove to a cliff where bats come out of a cave every sunset. amazing:

just a few at first…

more bats
then a ton more!

they continued to come out for a good 5 minutes…

that night we stayed at a beautiful resort on the river, called the petchvarin:

our guest house

floating flowers
the grounds and gardens were lovely

ginger plant

mark and yee

the next day we went to kaeng krachan, thailand’s biggest national park. we drove high into the mountains, then hiked along a river, listening and looking for wildlife. we saw many birds, including two hornbills flying through the jungle (amazing), wild gibbons high in the treetops, and a troop of dusky langurs, eating berries in a big tree. it was so lovely to get out into the forest and see some animals in their natural habitat. although we didn’t see any, evidence of wild elephants was all around, and the ranger told us he’d seen a tiger the night before! so that was encouraging to hear. thanks to the efforts of people like edwin, and mark (who is creating a comic book for thai schoolchildren to raise awareness about animal conservation), thailand’s wild inhabitants will stand a fighting chance. good luck to them!


the wild forest

that’s about it for now – phat is wrapping up work on pixar’s next film “ratatouille”, and when he’s done, we’re taking another trip – since he’s never been to europe we’re going to france and italy for two weeks in april. we fly into paris, then take the train to venice & florence. i know, i know! how lucky can one girl get? more later…


Learning to say “G’Day!” January 14, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Trixie Friganza @ 5:14 am

Happy new year! I made it back safely from Australia – and I loved it! It’s a huge place, and of course I only saw a tiny portion of the country and it’s people, but what I saw was great. The scenery was beautiful, the people friendly, and the food and wine DELICIOUS. Who knew? Here’s how it went:
We arrived at Melbourne to find the weather chilly and damp (um, hello? it’s summer, right?). We drove straight to Healsville, about an hour outside Melbourne in the wine-growing region…it looked just like Napa valley! Same rolling hills, eucalyptus trees, vineyards, horses – it was all very reminiscent of northern California. We arrived at “Yumbunga” the home of Tim’s parents, Graeme and Noni Moore. It’s a historic site, the name means “camping ground”. It’s an absolutely beautiful spot, with horses, ducks, geese, and cockatoos making themselves at home.

The cottage at Yumbunga


Flowers at Yumbunga

The highlight – Graeme came in from the bbq and asked “do you girls want to see some kangroos?”, and sure enough, there were 8 – 10 big greys just hanging out in the field beyond the horse pasture. They let us get a little closer, then slowly hopped away through the fields, using their giant tails for balance. So far Australia was totally living up to my expectations – my first day and I saw wild kangaroos! The first two nights we stayed at the Valley Farm winery, as the guests of Greg and Louise Dunnett – and their farm dogs Sox & Toby.


The cottage looked out on the vineyard, surrounded by a forest of gum trees (eucalyptus to you non-aussies) that was filled with wild birds. I sat on the veranda with Sox at my feet and listened to the strange cries of the bell bird, kookaburas, magpies. Some parrots flew by, and alpacas grazed in the field nearby. It was one of the most beautiful and peaceful places i’ve ever been, and if you’re ever down Healesville way, i strongly reccommend it. maybe you’ll get lucky and Sox will decide to spend the night in your cabin, like he did in ours.
andrea and sox

Christmas decided to pour with rain – and HAIL. It was absolutely freezing, and we felt severely underdressed. Nonie had to loan us windcheaters (sweatshirts) so we wouldn’t freeze! We had breakfast with Tim’s brother Gregg, and his wife Jodi, and their family, then headed over to Graeme and Noni’s for a sitdown dinner for the whole family. Did I mention that Tim has a huge family? There were close to 40 people there, and Andrea and I were the only two that weren’t related by blood or marriage. Only one neice didn’t make it, and was sorely missed. Nonie did the whole dinner, and it was delicious. After only a few days in Oz, i’d already had the two best steaks of my life – and the wine! move over, California, you’ve got serious competition. I was also introduced to “Bundy”, or Bundenburg rum, that comes conveniently pre-mixed with cola in a can. mmm, very nice.


Australians have a funny way of adding “y” to the end of everything, and I learned some new vocabulary words. In addition to “Bundy”, there are “Blunnies” (Blundstone boots – i bought some), “stubbies” (short-shorts that all aussie men seem to wear – disturbing!), not to be confused with “stubbies”, meaning a can of beer, or a bottle of beer with a short neck, and thus “stubbie-holder”, for the foam thing your beer goes in to keep it cold. A girl could get confused! tasmania is “tassie”, and Victoria University is – i kid you not – “Vicky Uni”.

Some locals we hung out with at the Healesville Wildlife Sancutary:



The Ichidna

The Emu



On Boxing Day we headed to the city itself and hit the sales for some warmer clothing for our upcoming trip to Tassie. We stayed at the Grand Hotel, an old railway hotel right on the tracks, and overlooking the new Docklands development, which will expand Melbourne considerably.
The Grand Hotel

View from our hotel window

Melbourne is a lovely city, a mix of old Victorian buildings and modern quirky architecture. There are wide tree-lined streets for walking, lots of sidewalk cafes serving delicious food and excellent coffee, beautiful gardens, interesting museums. There’s even a free tram that circles the city, which makes it really easy to get around and see the sights. Melbourne has elements of some of my favorite cities: Paris for the sidewalk cafes and gardens, London for the museums and Victorian buildings, Portland for the river that runs through it (the Yarra, to be exact), Seattle for the proximity to the sea, etc. But of course, this being Australia, there is a huge immigrant population, which may account for the excellent Vietnamese and Italian food, and the largest Greek population outside Athens. It’s a really multi-cultural place, which makes it all the more unique and interesting.

flinders street station

on the tram

modern architecture, old tram

federation square

Vic and friend

After a couple of days in Melbourne, it was off to “Tassie” for the next leg of our adventure! We arrived in Hobart, the capital, and immediately felt like we were in a different country (but don’t tell the Tasmanians that). For one thing, it was absolutely freezing. (a side note here – this was SUMMER, remember? We were expecting 100 degree weather! And that’s what we packed for! In fact, it didn’t matter what I packed, I didn’t even have the right clothes in my closet in Bangkok! We’re talking icy COLD winds blowing in from Antartica) We stayed at Hadley’s, dating from 1834, and the oldest continuously-operating hotel in Australia, where we indulged in high tea.

High Tea at Hadley’s hotel

That evening, we made our way down to the harbor, where the annual Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race was supposed to be coming into port, but we found out later that the seas were so rough that a couple of boats were lost, and several people were severely injured and barely got out of the ocean alive. Sounds like fun! Fortunately, there was a huge food and wine festival going on down on the piers, so we spent both nights there, trying one delicious wine after another, and if you’ve never had Tassie oysters, well, you haven’t had oysters. I didn’t even think I liked oysters that much, but these were melt-in-your-mouth fresh and bursting with flavor. YUM. (here’s an example of the DRY Australian humor: I was down by the harbour, freezing, looking at souvenier t-shirts. I asked the t-shirt vendor if he had any with long sleeves, and without missing a beat or cracking a smile (and in a broad Tassie accent), he answered, “Na. Don’t need ’em. It’s summer”.)

On our only full day in Tassie, we drove down the coast to Port Arthur, the site of the original convict settlement, and unfortuntely, also the scene of a Columbine-like massacre in the 90’s. The drive down the coast was beautiful, again similar to the Sonoma coast, with bays and inlets and oyster farms (of course we had to stop and eat some!).

Tasmanian coastline

One of the highlights was the “Tessalated Pavement”, a grid-like rock formation where the sea has formed strangely symetrical shapes in the stone, filled with tide pools and sealife. It was fascinating, and we spent some time there exploring.

Vic at the Tesselated Pavement

Art & Tim at the Tesselated Pavement

Port Arthur was a bit strange, and while I was glad to learn some local history, it reminded me of Tuol Sleng prison in Cambodia. Not a happy place, but of course, since it was founded by the English, the gardens were amazing.

Church at Port Arthur

Mouth of the Port Arthur harbour
The mouth of the Port Arthur harbor – nothing between here and Antartica.

But for me, the highlight, the goal, the holy grail of the trip, if you will, was the visit to the Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary.
Sign at the Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary

I think I had to drag the others there, but I was determined not to miss it. The Tasmanian Devil’s reputation, helped by Warner Brothers, is somewhat unfair. While they are Tasmania’s only carnivorus marsupial (which is weird enough), and DO have a nasty set of choppers, and make a noise like Linda Blair in The Exorcist when angered, they’re actually harmless creatures, who are tragically being wiped out by rare communicable cancer which only affects them, is highly contagious, and 100% fatal. The sancutary is breeding a cancer-resistant strain of Devils, in hopes that the disease will play itself out. In the meantime, we got up close and personal with some of the little, er, devils, and their buddies, the kangaroos. Lest you think all this was a bit touristy, let me just say that the two animal sanctuaries we visited in Australia were wonderfully designed, and seemed completely devoted to protecting their unique inhabitants. We even got to see a baby platypus. Come on! How cool is that! (fellow animal-geeks will know what i’m talking about, the rest of you, tough).

Devil in the Flesh

Vic and ‘Roo


Back to the mainland, and New Year’s eve at the home of Simon, another of Tim’s brothers, his wife Julie, their two beautiful daughters, Erin & Bridey, and their friendly dog Maurice. Simon and Julie are renovating a beach house in Rye, on the Mornington Peninsula, which is a hook of land that juts out right below Melbourne, sort of the Riveria of Victoria. (here’s how Australian’s are different from you & me: New Year’s dinner was eaten on Simon & Julie’s deck. The all-seafood dinner started with scallops that Simon had collected himself – right out of the ocean. The next morning, when most sensible people were just dipping into their first coffee, Simon announced that he was sorry, he had to go be in a sailboat race. On New’s Year’s day. ok……) We had a lovely evening, only marred by the disturbing news of bombs in Bangkok. We were able to get in touch with someone who confirmed that there were relatively few casualties (thank god the festivities were cancelled in time), but it did give a somber feel to the evening and I kept waking up with a start all night, feeling that something was amiss. (So – the verdict seems to be that this was a political statement by the still-active supporters of the recently-ousted prime minister, but it seems to have had some effect. The streets of Bangkok have been very quiet ever since we got back.)

After New Year’s it was back to Melbourne, where we stayed at the Windsor, Melbourne’s grand old hotel, right across from the houses of Parliament. The highlight was a tramride out to St. Kilda, a lovely beach-front neighborhood where we ate at La Cicciolina, a fabulous restaurant with the best cocktails i’ve ever tasted (now if i can just remember what was in them…). We had tassie oysters (yes, again) with gaspatcho, (a flavor explosion) more delicious Aussie wine, rissotto with truffle oil, steaks (again, the BEST EVER)….ok i have to stop, i’m starting to drool. Our co-worker Justin’s younger brother Stephan runs the bar and if you’re ever in Melbourne you have to go to this place. I only wish there was something like it in Berkeley!

Circle Tram in front of the Parliament house

Fitzroy Gardens

That’s about it really…our last day in Melbourne we went shopping on funky Brunswick street, then we headed to Fitzroy Gardens for a river-side bbq in the old boathouse. So charming, so old-fashioned. People were rowing boats on the river, the sun was blazing down (finally! a real Melbourne summer’s day!) and our stomachs were full of meat. Again. So that’s Australia in a nutshell. Now let’s all get some sleep!


The End.


Mr. Black Bonus Photo December 21, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — Trixie Friganza @ 3:02 am

As a special Xmas treat for all you Mr. Black fans out there, here’s the big man himself chillin’ at the TBBC Mae Hong Son Xmas party.  Apparently he stayed in his chair all night, just hanging out, chattin’ with Jae.   Note he has his own plate, no doubt prepared by Kai.  Merry Christmas, Mr. Black!

Mr. Black’s Xmas


It’s Beginning to Feel A Lot Like Xmas (Not!) December 20, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — Trixie Friganza @ 3:19 pm

Hi everyone! Ok, Ok, I know it’s really late, but what can I say? I’ve been busy! A couple of trips, a lot of work, a big party…about the work, it’s going really well, I finally feel like I’m making some progress. BUT – there’s still so much to do, I’m actually thinking I may have to stay a little longer than I planned. (Just a little longer – I promise!) So far, I’ve created a documents database, and I’ve gotten all the videos and DVDs catalogued. Next, I start on the huge task of scanning and cataloguing all the slides – some of which date back to the early 80’s – which then also need to be catalogued. After much research, I selected some software that I think will be a great tool for cataloguing and searching for photos. I now know more about Digital Asset Management (DAM!) than I ever wanted to. And if you want to know anything about it, send me an e-mail, cause I’m not taking up any more blog-space talking about it!

Bangkok is trying to get in the Xmas mood by stringing up as many electric lights as possible – we’ve also been blessed by a week of cool weather – as I sit here typing in my pjs, I’ve got the windows open and (gasp!) no A/C on! I love it! Walking to work this morning I found myself swinging my arms – for my usual walk I keep my whole upper body as still as possible, and only lift my feet as high as absolutely neccessary, to avoid undue effort and hence sweating. I’m sure I look like a dork, but hey, there’s nothing like starting your work day with your makeup sliding off your face and your skirt sticking to your legs. So it feels really, really good this week, but still not very Xmas-y.

At the beginning of December, Thailand celebrates the King’s Birthday, a huge holiday. Since I had a long weekend, I headed back up to Mae Hong Son, and Andrea and I took an overnight trip to Pai, a small town way up in the mountains, halfway between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. We drove over the highest point between the two towns, and the view was spectacular.


Pai is a funny place, kind of like a beach town, except with no beach. It was absolutely crawling with tourists, both Thai and farang (the Thai word for us whities), but we still had a fine time. We found a fabulous Italian restaurant, run by a real Italian (go figure!) and had a great meal and way too much wine. Then we headed to a nightclub, where we discovered DANNY! – a half-Vietnamese kid with a pink Hello Kitty guitar who would not have been out of place in a lower east side club and rocked the house with Jimi Hendrix, Lou Reed, David Bowie, and um, Michael Jackson. The kid was a star! I was ready to ask him if he needed a manager, but he hopped onto his motorbike and sped off into the night before I had the chance. Thailand, always a surprise waiting around the corner. The friendly bartender also shared his stash with us, so now I can say I’ve had a Puff in Pai (my attempt at a Thai joke: Thai airlines serves on-board pastries which proved so popular they opened a chain of bakeries called…Puff & Pie. Who ever heard of going to a STORE for AIRLINE food? Anyway…). We woke up feeling a little fragile, only to find that the power transformer for the whole valley had blown up the night before, so not only was there no hot water, the water pump wasn’t working. We washed our faces with bottled drinking water, and Andrea (always resourceful!) fixed her hair with the water from the toilet tank (the TANK, not the bowl!) Slightly rough around the edges, we headed for the nearby hot springs, thinking at least we could at least have a soak, only to find them (of course!) mobbed with tourists. The Thais buy little baskets of eggs and boil them in the hot water. Then they eat them. Oh…kay…don’t try this at Yellowstone, folks!

Egg for Boiled

Tuesday was the King’s Birthday so we headed to the refugee camp for a big celebration. Here’s some info about the camp – it’s about an hour outside Mae Hong Son, only 4 km or so from the Burmese border. There’s about 19,000 people living there, mostly Karenni (an ethnic minority from Burma). They’re there because of ethnic cleansing by the Burmese military, and some of them have been there for many years. Entering the camp after a long drive through dense jungle is like going into another world.

everyone’s dressed up for the King’s B-day

Padaung girls posing

Karenni women in traditional dress

The highlight of the day was a cooking contest, sponsered by TBBC and featuring AsiaMix, the fortified flour that Andrea has spent the last few years introducing into the food allotment that gets distributed to the refugees. Her research in the camps showed that while the refugees were getting plenty to eat, they were missing some vitamins and minerals, and that was causing the children not to grow enough. The good news is, recent surveys have shown that the flour is helping the children stay healthier. The bad news is – the refugees don’t cook with flour. So there has been this whole campaign to introduce the flour into their diet (there’s even going to be a cookbook pretty soon), which leads me to…the cooking contest! The theme was food for children, cause that’s who benefits the most, so 20 different sections from around the camp got their best chefs together and had a cook-off. AND I got to be one of the judges! There were some really yummy dishes, and some VERY creative ways of serving them that would appeal to any child (like little ice-cream cones made of fried dough and banana leaves, and an Ovaltine-like drink made from toasted flour and sugar). The winner got some cooking supplies, and a special dress that Kai, (Andrea’s office manager) made from an AsiaMix sack!

asiamix snacks

Kai and the special dress

After the winners were announced there were various games/sporting events, and Kai boxed with a local girl while sitting on a log! She lost, but only just. Then, the NGO workers got challenged to a tug-of-war with the Karenni Women’s Organization – guess who won? The NGOs got their asses kicked – TWICE! It was a fun day.

kai brings it


kwo team

Ok, are you still with me? The next weekend, Tim, Art, Andrea and Tim’s friend Jane and I went down to the beach near Bangkok for a typical Thai getaway. We arrived, ate lunch, swam in the pool, went out for seafood dinner, sang karaoke, slept, ate breakfast, swam in the pool, had lunch, and went home. Oh, and we shopped for tacky souveniers and looked at some monkeys. I don’t think my feet ever touched the sand. But fun was had, none the less! You can’t NOT have fun with Tim & Art – they’re swell.

Art and Andrea at the “beach”

at the seaside

Last Friday was the TBBC Xmas party, the second one I’ve been to. This one was at the British club, which meant the turkey dinner buffet was scrumptious and there were miniature mince pies and plum puddings for dessert. Yummy! We all danced to Madonna and one of the field coordinators got out his guitar and we sang songs. Again, a great night out. And I got to wear my fancy dress! I’m really going to miss this group of people when I leave – they are all so much fun, so nice and also hilarious.
Here’s some pix:
Me and the girls

Tim, Andrea & Num


Friday Tim, Art, Andrea and I leave for Melbourne and Tasmania. I have no idea what it will be like or even what to pack because apparently Melbourne at Xmas (their summer) can be blazing hot one day and chilly the next. All I want to do is see a Tasmanian Devil. The rest will have to be a surprise – but with this bunch, I bet it’s going to be great.

I miss everyone, and I’m sorry I won’t be home for Xmas – but here’s wishing everyone a nice, relaxing, time. Here’s to a peaceful 2007!
Lots of love.
my little tree


Thanksgiving in the Big Mango November 25, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — Trixie Friganza @ 6:27 am

I spent Thanksgiving at Mark & Yee’s house – it was a great night! Yee put together the most fabulous feast – turkey with all trimmings! Ok, with a little help from Siam Paragon (a fancy shopping center), but STILL. A good time was had by all. Everyone there was connected in some way with animation or the CG business – a mix of Thai, American & British friends. One guest, an American called Aaron, even knew someone I work with at TBBC, and had met my friend Molly’s mother in Israel (they’re both Bahai) – so it really is a small world after all. Most of the Thai folks worked on Thailand’s version of Toy Story – the first 3D CG feature ever produced in Thailand – about (what else?) a little elephant. They’re now all working on the companion TV series, and as one of the animators, Champ, said “Enough elephants – I think my ears are growing bigger!” So it’s time for a new theme, I think. Anyway, it was such a nice, fun, interesting group of people, it made the fact that I wasn’t with my family much more bearable.
Here’s some photos for your amusement (or not):

Mark and Yee’s building – the Baan Chao Praya – taken from the little boat that takes you across the river:
Ban Chao Praya

Here’s Mark’s cat Kitty looking regal before he had to be locked in the bedroom to keep him from jumping on the table and eating everything:

King Kitty

The beautiful turkey – before!:

Turkey - Before!

Everyone’s Hungry! Nok and Champ, Tu (ready to pounce), Mark and Bu:

Everyone’s hungry!

Mark is a little stressed out about the carving process, so….
Mark Stressed Out

…Nok takes over!
Nok carves the Turkey

The final result – a mountain of meat!
Vic & Turkey

Yee (center), with Nok & Pom – good job, gals!
Yee w/Nok & Pom

A Happy Thanksgiving indeed.


Funny Furry Friends November 20, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — Trixie Friganza @ 1:24 pm

It’s Monday, and Bangkok is awash in a sea of yellow. Ever since the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Ascention to the Crown of His Majesty the King, the good people of Bangkok have taken to wearing yellow polo shirts embroidered with the royal crest as a show of support and loyalty. Everyone wears them, all the time, but especially on Mondays. This is because in Thailand, the days of the week are assigned a color, and since the King was born on a Monday, and Monday is associated with the color yellow…uh, something like that. When I say everyone, I mean everyone, from noodle sellers to bank clerks, male or female, young or old, the Yellow Shirt is the new uniform of Bangkok. The effect is quite startling, especially at lunch time on Silom Road – sort of like the entire population of the city suddenly decided to join the same volleyball team. I’ll try to get a photo of this phenomenon, it’s pretty amazing, and I can’t really picture it on, say, Market Street, but it’s been RAINING lately, so I haven’t been able to take any good snaps. About the rain, it’s quite unusual for this time of year, which is supposed to be the DRY season, ahem. I blame global warming.

Saturday night I had a great visit with a former Pixarian, Mark Oftedal, who’s been living in Thailand for the last 6 years. He and his wife, Yee, live across the river in a huge apartment building, and they came across to collect me in the building’s private boat! We tried to go on a dinner cruise (on yet another boat), but before we could cast off a huge rainstorm blew in which left us sitting at the dock with only a pitcher of beer while we waited it out. Eventually the rain stopped, our food arrived, the boat cast off, and we had a lovely time. Mark is starting his own company developing software for animation, but he’s also creating a comic book in partnership with a Thai animal sanctuary to raise awareness among Thai children on the importance of protecting Thailand’s animals in the wild. Unfortunately there’s a huge industry here in trafficking wild animals (with predictably disasterous results). You go Mark! I don’t know what’s cooler, the comic he’s creating or the fact that he taught his cat, Bucky, to sit on command. Yes, I saw it with my own eyes. His other cat, Kitty, a huge grey Persian, will only drink water out of a glass, and prefers fresh fruit to cat treats. Only in Thailand.

Speaking of cats and other critters, here’s some photos:

Some inhabitants of the bear sanctuary outside Mae Hong Son:
Asian Bears at Bear Sanctuary

A young gibbon at the bear sanctuary:
A Young Gibbon

Mr. Black, Senior Staff Motivator at TBBC’s Mae Hong Son office, and one cool cat.
Mr. Black on Motorcycle

Mr. Black and the Other One, engaged in “Muay Meaow Thai” or Thai Cat Fighting (note the demonic “laser eyes” power):
Mr. Black and the Other One

And so to bed…


Full Moon Over Bangkok November 8, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — Trixie Friganza @ 3:00 pm

Well here I am at last getting around to updating my blog – and there’s a lot to tell! I arrived over a week ago in Bangkok – and I’ve been on the go ever since. My first few days in the city were spent getting oriented, and picking up my nice new (loaner) laptop and (loaner) cell phone. All equipped, I headed up to Mae Hong Son in the far north of Thailand to stay with Andrea for a few days. It was as beautiful as ever up there – it’s one of my favorite places in Thailand. Andrea was getting ready for the yearly TBBC donor’s meeting, so I used the time to get used to Windows and also to sort through a big box of her photos from the last 6 years. We didn’t work too hard, though, and made time to catch up with friends, eat some great Northern food, and take a drive out into the countryside to visit the bear sanctuary and get a foot massage! Mae Hong Son - the Little Geneva of Thailand
I got back to Bangkok Sunday night, which was the Loi Kratong festival, held on the full moon every November. Everyone makes (or buys) little baskets made of palm leaves and decorated with flowers and candles. Some simple, some quite ornate. Then, whether in city or country, you head for the nearest body of water, in my case, the lake at Lumpini Park, just down the street. You light your candles, then float your basket with all your good wishes for the year. It’s a sweet ritual, and the lake looked beautiful with all the candles floating on it and a fat full moon hanging over the water. (an note about Lumpini – i went jogging there my second day in Bangkok. Here’s what I saw: In addition to a fund-raiser marathon for cancer research, there were people doing tai chi, kung fu, japanese sword fighting, ballroom dancing, jitter-bugging, and working out at an outdoor gym complete with blaring television. A typical Sunday in the park).
A note about where I live – The hotel/apartment “Sunrise Residence” is on a very narrow side street, called a soi, lined with large houses behind high walls, and two Chinese temples, one ornate, one plain. Despite being in a very busy neighborhood, it’s quiet and peaceful, and I can hear the birds twittering outside my window in the morning. Best of all, the office is only a 10-minute walk away.
My Home Away From HomeMonday was my first official day on the job, and it’s already proving to be quite challenging. There is a huge amount of material to gather, but my current concern is figuring what kind of software makes the most send to use for the archives. I have some technical support, and everyone in the office is very nice and helpful. I am spending this time doing research and working on the notes for my proposal. Tomorrow is the big annual meeting for the donors, who come from all over the world. It’s an all day affair, where each section of TBBC makes a presentation on what they’ve done for the year (and what they plan to do the following year), so it should be a great learning opportunity for me. On that note, I shoudl sign off as tomorrow is going to be a long day!


Vic’s upcoming Thailand Trip October 17, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — Trixie Friganza @ 8:38 pm

hello friends –
i know some of you may be wondering what i’m up to for the next few months, so i thought i’d make it easy and start this little journal of my adventures in thailand. hopefully, it won’t be *quite* as exciting as last time! i leave on october 27th, and i’ll be gone for three months or so.

here’s the backstory: when i left my job at pixar i knew one of the things i wanted to do before entering the next phase of my life was some more volunteering. i wasn’t sure what or where, but when i mentioned it to my friend andrea (who has been living in thailand for the past 10 years) she said she might have an idea. it seems her boss tim at TBBC (thailand burma border consortium) was interested in having me come over and be their “Resource Library Coordinator” for three months. TBBC is the organization that andrea has been with the past six years. they are a humanitarian organization (or ngo – non-government organization – check out who coordinate aid to the many refugee camps located along thailand’s border with burma. these camps have been around for many years, and the people living in them are mostly ethnic minorites who were forced out of burma by the miliatry regime (similar to ethnic cleansing). TBBC has been around for 20 years, and they needed someone to organize their photo and printed archives. they thought i’d be the right person for the job since i am already familiar with their work. i’ll be creating an on-line as well as a physical library at their headquarters in bangkok, and i’ll also be travelling to their field offices along the border, to collect photos and documents. it should be really interesting and fun, the people who work for TBBC are awesome, and i hope to learn a lot.

so there you have it. i’ll send mail when i update this blog, or just check it – i hope to update every week or so. here’s snap phat took of my in the courtyard of the new deyoung museum. at the deyoung museum in sf