Bangkok Bargain Shopping App.

BBS2 Bangkok was recently rated as the second best place to shop in the world and visitors travel from all over to enjoy its delights. The choice is excellent, the prices good, and there are options of modern, air-conditioned malls, exciting markets or sophisticated specialty stores. The problem has been how to sort out where to go and what to buy. A new version of the popular Bangkok Bargain Shopping app, available for Android and Apple devices, has solved this problem.

Experienced travel writer and author, Len Rutledge, has produced an app which gives shopping advice about costs and prices, bargaining, VAT refunds and getting around. It then details the things to buy and gives descriptions of the major shopping areas of the city. There are then details of 16 shopping malls, the best markets and some specialty shops and shopping experiences. Newly added is a section on suggested hotels which can make your shopping experience smooth and efficient.

BBS3Addresses, telephone numbers, and web sites are given and each location is shown on a map. This truly is your perfect Bangkok shopping companion. It can save you a great amount of time and hundreds of dollars by showing you where to go and what to do. There are words, photographs, video and maps. As one regular Bangkok visitor said, “I only wish I had this advice when I first went BBS6to Bangkok!”BBS4

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Royal Bangkok

Some of the major visitor attractions in Bangkok are luxury hotels at great prices, glittering Buddhist temples, spectacular palaces, canal scenes, legendary nightlife and some of the best shopping available anywhere. If you forget the heat, the humidity, the traffic and the pollution, this is a truly great city. At the very least, it is a wonderful place to have a good time and sample some of the attractions of an amazing country. In my opinion, the best place to start is the “Royal area”.

The Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace and the adjacent Temple of the Emerald Buddha must be on every visitor’s itinerary. This complex rivals the very best European palaces and cathedrals in interest and architectural attraction. From certain angles, this represents all that is best about Thailand and Thai culture. It is a sight guaranteed to impress the most blasé traveler.

The huge white walled complex is in the center of ‘historic Bangkok’. The palace was originally built in 1782 by the first king who ruled from Bangkok. Since then almost every other king has added to it so that today the complex is an amazing mixture of architectural styles that somehow work together to create a very impressive feature. The Grand Palace is no longer used as a royal residence but it is used for state functions, the presentation of ambassador credentials and some other ceremonies.

The best part of the original palace building is known as the Dusit Group and the Phra Maha Montien Group. The main building is a splendid example of classic Thai architecture with its four-tiered roof and nine-tiered spire. Near the main building is a beautiful pavilion where the king alighted before entering the main audience hall. Please take a close look – it really is exquisite. You can see the reception rooms of what was once a royal residence.

The Chakri Group of halls was built by King Chulalongkorn (Rama 5) in 1882 in a style incorporating both Thai and Western architectural elements. The central throne room with its four canvases is a highlight. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha serves as the royal temple.

Admission to both the temple and Grand Palace is 250 Baht. Opening hours are 8.30 – 3.30. There is a strict dress code which my wife, in calf-length pants, did not meet. It appeared that about 25% of foreign female visitors (and a few males) were also pulled up. You need a shirt with sleeves, fully-covered legs and covered feet. T-shirts, see-through clothing, bare shoulders etc. are not permitted.

My wife had to borrow a sarong from the booth near the entrance gate and had to leave a credit card as security. The sarong was pretty and clean but was extremely hot over other clothing as we walked the complex. There appeared to be no water for sale anywhere inside. To avoid this problem, dress conservatively and try to visit early in the morning when crowds are less.

Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

This magical place is a temple purpose-built to house a Buddha image carved from a large solid piece of green jadite. Chaophraya Chakri, who went on to become King Rama I, brought the image from Vientiane when he captured the city in 1778. It is believed the image was previous in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand and was captured from Chiang Mai by the Laos. King Rama I built the temple and enshrined the Emerald Buddha there as a symbol of Siam’s regained nationhood. The temple does not house any monks. Rather, it is more like the personal chapel of the royal family.

The Emerald Buddha is housed in the main building of the temple – the Ubosot. It is difficult for non-Thais to understand fully the significance of this rather small statue, kept in a glass case ten metres above the kneeling worshipers, but you can sense the power and the role that this has played through centuries of Thai history by watching the locals. Three times a year, at the beginning of the cool, hot and rainy seasons, the king changes the Emerald Buddha’s robes in a simple ceremony of great significance to the Thais. You must remove your shoes before entering this building and silence and a strict no-photograph policy applies.

When you enter the temple compound on the west side, climb up to the upper terrace before proceeding around to the entrance to the ubosot. North of the ubosot is an elevated platform with three large buildings in a line. Originally, the temple’s main library, the Ho Phra Monthien Tham, was on this spot, but it burned down in a fire caused by fireworks later in the reign of King Rama I. He decided to have the Phra Mondop built on this spot. King Rama IV added two other structures to the upper terrace. He also commissioned the model of Angkor Wat. This is a truly spectacular area so allow time to see it properly.

Don’t rush your visit here. You are in the most holy place in Thailand and you need time to appreciate it. Apart from that, it is just a wonderful place assaulting the senses from all sides. The entire temple is enclosed by a covered arcade, the outer wall of which is painted with elaborate scenes from the Ramakien epic. Each entrance is guarded by a pair of huge demon statues.

Wat Po

Wat Po is located just south of the Grand Palace. It is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok and is often called Thailand’s first university. The temple complex is so large, yet so crammed with buildings and other structures that it is initially somewhat overpowering. To help you overcome this problem there is a guide service available at the main gate. This can help you get the most from a visit.

The main attraction for most visitors is the gigantic 46-metre long reclining Buddha, entirely covered in gold leaf. The huge feet are marvelously inlaid with mother-of-pearl with the 108 signs of the Buddha. Rama III is responsible for the construction of the reclining Buddha. The building housing the reclining Buddha is just barely big enough to hold the statue, which is why it is almost impossible to take any wide photographs of the whole thing.

Next to the Reclining Buddha wiharn is an enclosure holding the four largest of the temple’s 95 chedis. All of the chedi at Wat Po are square, rather than the round bell shape generally preferred at the time. They are decorated with ceramic tiles and three-dimensional ceramic pieces which form intricate floral patterns. The center of the three chedi in a line is the oldest, having been built by Rama I to hold a Buddha image bought from Ayuthaya. Later, Rama III built the chedi north of this to hold the ashes of Rama II, and the one to the south to hold his own remains. The fourth chedi was built by Rama IV for unknown purposes.

To get to the ubosot, the main building of the temple, you need to walk round to the south side of the cloister and enter through one of the doors on either side of the pavilion on that side. The cloister is a double-ringed affair housing nearly 400 Buddha images, with the ubosot in the middle.

Among the many other features, it is fascinating to see the traditional medical practitioners who still dispense treatment daily at the wat. Also the massage school is open to the public so you experience the pleasure of this art form. Remember that the early kings regarded the temple as the primary source of public education so objects were placed in the compound to instruct people. Many of these can still be seen today.

Thais can enter the complex without a fee but foreigners are charged 100 baht at booths just inside the north or south entrances. You can reach Wat Po by boat, bus or taxi. I like to take a river boat to the Tha Thien pier then walk through the market and up the short street.

 

For more information on Bangkok see Experience Thailand an ebook available at www.amazon.com/kindle then search Len Rutledge.

New Bangkok Shopping App

Visitors travel from all over the world to shop in Bangkok. In recent years Bangkok has become the best place in Asia to shop. The choice is excellent, the prices good, and whether you want modern, air-conditioned malls, the hustle of its famous markets or the sophistication of its specialty shops, Bangkok has it all. The problem has been how to sort out where to go and what to buy. I hope that my new app, Bangkok Bargain Shopping, available for Android and iphone/ipad devices, has solved this problem.

During the writing process I investigated the highs and lows of Bangkok’s shopping options. The result is an app which gives shopping advice about costs and prices, bargaining, VAT refunds and getting around. It then details the things to buy and gives descriptions of the major shopping areas of the city. There are then details of 16 shopping malls, the best markets and some specialty shops which can complete your shopping experience.

Addresses, telephone numbers, and web sites are given and each location is shown on a series of maps. I believe that this truly is your perfect Bangkok shopping companion. It can save you a great amount of time and hundreds of dollars by showing you where to go and what to do. There are words, photographs, video and maps. As one regular Bangkok visitor put it, “We only wish we had this advice when we first went to Bangkok!”

If you are heading for Bangkok in the future you need this app. If you know someone who is going to Bangkok, make yourself a real friend by recommending this app to them, or better still, make a gift of it to them. The app is available from the app store (Apple) or Google Play (Android) or you can click on the logo on this page to get your copy immediately. It has been considerable work to put this together so I hope that everyone takes the time to explore all the many ins and outs of this app.

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Point to Ponder:

Success is just a matter of luck. Ask any failure.

Unknown

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Two Bangkok sightseeing attractions

Bangkok is certainly not one of the world’s most beautiful cities but it must qualify as one of the world’s most exciting. A city that is flat, low-lying, polluted and crowded is unlikely to win any beauty contests. But if you add some of the world’s most enterprising and attractive people, a flamboyant architectural style, a diverse economy and a natural love of life, you will end up with variety, excitement and, believe it or not, style. That is Bangkok today.

Bangkok, known to the Thais as “Krungthep” (City of Angles), was established in 1782 by King Rama 1 as the capital of Siam. Since then, it has developed into a city of some 10 million with an intriguing mixture of East and West, the traditional and the modern. The city has a number of traditional tourist attractions that every visitor must see but you also need to wander down some back streets to see life as many Thais know it. Traditional pastimes and attitudes are very much part of many people’s lives. Here are two contrasting suggestions for all visitors to the city.

Jim Thompson’s House

I have been here at least six times and I never tire of the place. It really is something quite special. This was the home of Jim Thompson, an American architect who settled in Thailand after World War 11 and turned his energy to reinvigorating the Thai silk industry. His efforts were highly successful and in the process he made considerable profit. But he disappeared in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia under quite strange circumstances in 1967 and has never been seen since.

For his contribution to the development of the Thai Silk industry, Jim Thompson was awarded the Order of the White Elephant, a decoration bestowed upon foreigners for having rendered exceptional service to Thailand. Thompson’s success story in Thailand has become one of the most popular postwar legends of Asia.

Since his disappearance in 1967, little has changed in the home that was the ‘talk of the town’ and the ‘city’s most celebrated social center’. Even today, the charming Thai style house continues to be a key stop for visitors to Bangkok.

The house consists of a complex of six traditional Thai-style houses, teak structures that were purchased from several owners and brought to the present location from various parts of Thailand. Construction of the Thai house was completed in 1959.

The house is at the end of a narrow soi off Rama 1 Road (there is a sign post at this corner), in a small tranquil garden which is a world apart from Bangkok’s normal traffic and noise. The house is a great example of real tropical luxury. I would love to create such an atmosphere for myself. The house contains a splendid Asian art collection together with personal belongings from Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and China. The garden and its several buildings are also worth some of your time.

Inspection of the house is only by guided tour and this lasts about 30 minutes. The guide tells you about the objects in the house and shows how Thompson was able to improve the traditional Thai architecture in several ways. Afterwards you can wander the garden by yourself and visit the shop and restaurant. Opening hours are 09:00 to 17:00 everyday with the last guided tour at 17.00. Admission is 100 Bt for adults and 50Bt for students. The address is 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

This has been a Bangkok ‘must-see’ for years and it is still thriving. A few years ago a new air-conditioned high-rise building called JJ Plaza opened close by and although some stalls relocated there the old market is still operating and the adjacent Chatuchak Plaza still exists.

The scale of it is unbelievable. It covers 35 acres, contains more than 15 000 shops and stalls, and has over 200,000 visitors each weekend day. The range of products on sale is extensive, and includes household accessories, handicrafts, religious artifacts, art, antiques, live animals (which unfortunately are frequently caged in cruel conditions), books, music, clothes, food, plants and flowers etc.

Chatuchak has in theory been segregated into areas depending on the types of goods sold, and there are maps available for the market which detail the various sections. You’re as well to just forget them and just wander wherever takes your fancy, as it is an extremely disorientating place of many narrow alleys and trying to follow a map around can prove very frustrating.

Chatuchak always gets very hot and humid during the day, and it’s far from the most comfortable shopping experience but for most people the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Going early in the day when it is a bit cooler is recommended. When it becomes too much, head for the airconditioned JJ Plaza (but expect prices to be higher).

Bargaining is expected, if not mandatory, at Chatuchak and the prices are generally substantially cheaper than the shopping centers and street stalls on Silom and Sukhumvit. Chatuchak is a particularly good place to buy all sorts of Thai handicrafts, as there’s a huge range, and competition keeps the prices low. Be careful when buying antiques though, as a large majority of these are fake and telling the difference between the genuine and the copies can be extremely difficult. Genuine antiques require a permit to be taken out of the country.

The published opening hours for the market are from 9.00am to 6.00pm on Saturday and Sunday, though many of the stalls actually open sometime between 9 and 10 and close around sunset. Parts of Chatuchak open on Friday while JJ Plaza and Chatuchak Plaza are pretty much open every day.

The best way to get here is on the Skytrain to Mo Chit station which is only about five minutes walk away from the market or by underground to Kamphaeng Phet station which has an exit directly to the market. Take plenty of cash (but ATM’s are there), comfortable shoes, bag(s), a good sense of humour, and don’t forget to drink water.

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Thought to Ponder

When reviewing her early years in Brooklyn, singing superstar Barbra Streisand said, “We were awfully poor, but we had a lot of things that money can’t buy — like unpaid bills.”

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For more information on Thailand see Experience Thailand an ebook available at www.amazon.com/kindle then search Len Rutledge.

Koh Samui Sightseeing — Thailand

Koh Samui was once a backpacker’s paradise. Now it is a paradise for those wanting a luxury beach resort experience. When visiting Koh Samui, however, you don’t have to just stay in your resort. There are several sightseeing attractions and things to do. While not spectacularly interesting, they provide enough variety for visitors. Here are three suggestions.

Elephant ride.

The elephant is Thailand’s national animal – a symbol of royalty and strength. Koh Samui has tropical rain forest in its centre and to travel through this verdant lushness on elephant back is to experience Thailand at its most natural. You will pass exotic fauna and flora, stop at refreshing waterfalls along the way and discover Samui in the most regal way possible.

You can meet the elephants near Namuang One waterfall. Many different tour operators organise guided elephant treks through the island’s tropical forests. Treks can last 15 minutes, half an hour, one hour or half a day, and each elephant has its own handler (“mahout”). These skilled “elephant drivers” are in charge of training, feeding and taking care of the animal, as well as riding the elephant with the “passengers” during the trek. A mahout normally stays with the elephant for its entire life and they form a very close bond with the animal.

Elephants are no longer used for work in the forests of Thailand and, therefore, for many animals, trekking guarantees their survival. It is always important, however, to make sure that the elephant looks healthy and seems well taken care of. If you don’t wish to ride the elephants, but simply want to spend time with them, buy some bananas from the handlers and feed and stroke the elephants. You may even be lucky and see a calf!

Asian elephants are smaller than the African ones, but are still quite large when fully grown. Usually there is a seat on top of the elephant, where one or two people can sit. The guide sits on the elephant’s neck. It’s a pretty bumpy ride and quite slow. Often the guide will let you sit on the elephant’s neck for a photo, and my wife was able to ride on the neck while the guide walked. The whole experience can cynically be called ‘touristy”, but I believe it is a good experience for all visitors who have not done this before. We took a 30-minute ride and frankly this is probably all most people need.

Several companies around the island run elephant ride operations and many can be booked through travel agents, often in combination with all day tours of the interior. Over fifty elephants call Samui home and all work in the tourist industry. Some companies take visitors up into the hills for magnificent views over the island, others go through waterfalls where riders run the risk of receiving a cooling shower. Chaweng Elephant Trekking (Tel. 077 231 210), Living Thailand (Tel. 077 418 680) and Island Safari Co (Tel. 077 230 567) are three companies that are well-known for tours but if you just want an elephant ride and you have your own transport you can make your way to the base near the Namuang 1 waterfall and negotiate a price there.

 Monkey displays.

On Koh Samui, the monkey undoubtedly qualifies as man’s best friend. This isn’t surprising, since for centuries the people here have used monkeys to do the hardest part of the work climbing to the trees to “pick the nuts” on their coconut plantations. Until the advent of tourism, coconuts represented the main industry here, so these industrious little animals were greatly prized. Whether man qualifies as the monkey’s best friend is another matter.

Today, to see the monkeys at work just watch out for signs at the roadside which say “Monkey work coconut” or go to the Monkey Theatre which offers shows in which the monkeys display their dexterity, and not just at picking coconuts.

What you think of the monkey show at the Monkey Theatre will depend on your attitude to animals. Some people will find it amusing and clever while others will be horrified by a male and a female monkey being made to carry out ridiculous demeaning tasks which are an insult to these creatures. The monkey show is followed by a coconut picking performance followed by an elephant show. For a small fee you may even ride bareback on the elephants. The Monkey Theatre has 3 shows each day — 10:30 to 12:00, 14:00 to 15:30 and 16:00 to 17:30. The theatre is located on the left, one street from the main road, when leaving Chaweng on the way to Bophut.  There are signposts pointing the way.

Even if you like the ‘show’, I think you will be disturbed to see the conditions in which the monkeys are kept. The monkeys are held in painfully small bare concrete cages that obviously hadn’t been cleaned in a very long time. Further down the line of cages were some older monkeys each in individual cages that were nothing short of prison cells with thick iron bars, concrete walls and a carpet of excrement. A couple of monkeys showed clear signs of distress by continuously rocking back and forth. As you approached each cage the monkeys would retreat to the back of their cages and cower, which suggests that they’re used to being badly treated. Frankly, this was enough for me and I would recommend that you don’t visit here.

If you decide not to go to the Monkey Theatre you will always be able to visit one of the numerous small “Monkey shows” which you will find on the roadsides for a few tens of baht. These mainly consist of monkeys trained to climb coconut trees and pick the coconuts. It is a pity to see these animals chained up but this is the way that they were treated when they were working the plantations. I’m sure that they would be much happier to be nowhere near here and free to live and play in the trees as they wished. Whether they have retained the instinct to gather their own food if they were free is something I don’t know.

Mummified Monk.

This is a well visited site which some people will consider rather strange. The body of Samui’s most famous mummified monk, Loung Por Daeng, is on display at Wat Khunaram, in a specially constructed building. When he died more than 30 years ago, he was sitting in a meditation position. He is still in that same position and his body shows few signs of any major decay.

There are several versions of his life story but I believe this one is basically correct. Loung Por Daeng was born in 1894, and was a well respected family man within the local community when he first became ordained as a monk when he was in his early twenties. He spent two years in Wat Samret before exiting and marrying a local lady with whom he had six children. Upon reaching fifty years of age, once his children were all grown up, Loung Por Daeng, decided to dedicate the latter part of his life to Buddhism and returned to the temples where he felt so at peace. He was ordained as a monk in 1944.

He then travelled to Bangkok where he spent some time studying and learning more about Buddhist texts and meditation, one of the great passions of his life. It is believed that upon returning to Koh Samui he went to meditate in a cave. Later he moved to Chaweng and was one of the first monks to stay in the location that nowadays is known as Wat Pang Bua. Following this, he decided to return to his family home, which was located just behind the current Wat Kunaram where the temple school is located.

It is said that two months before his death, at the age of 79 years, he requested the company of his students to inform them that he felt his death was imminent and wanted to instruct them as to his last wishes. He requested that should his body decompose that he be cremated and his ashes scattered. He went on to request that should his body not decompose, he would like to stay at the temple and be placed in an upright coffin on display as a symbol to inspire future generations to follow Buddhist teachings and be saved from suffering.

In his final seven days of mortal life, he no longer spoke to anyone or ate or drank anything, concentrating solely on his mediation and the path to enlightenment. He died a week later in the same position that we can see him sitting in nowadays. He’s in amazing condition considering he died about 40 years ago. The sunglasses he wears were placed on his head by the present monks when his eyes fell into his head, some years ago.

Wat Khunaram is on the coast ring road between the Na Muang waterfalls and Hua Thanon. Admission to the temple is free, but visitors are reminded to dress in modest clothing. There are souvenirs to purchase and meditation spaces.

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Something to Ponder.

Harry Truman, ex US President once said: I studied the lives of great men and famous women; and I found that the men and women who got to the top were those that did the jobs they had in hand, with everything they had of energy and enthusiasm and hard work.

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For more information on Thailand see Experience Thailand an ebook available at www.amazon.com/kindle then search Len Rutledge.

Ang Thong Marine National Park

Ang Thong National Marine Park is made up of 42 islands featuring limestone massifs, tropical rainforests and deserted beaches. This fascinating group of islands, within sight of Koh Samui, is a very popular day-tour destination for tourists. The area became a national park in 1980.

The typical Ang Thong National Marine Park one-day tour consists of ‘bits and pieces’ of activities and sightseeing. There is snorkelling, kayaking, sunbathing and sightseeing including a trek to a lake, a fisherman’s village and of course the beautiful scenery of the marine national park itself. Tours are operated by many companies, but from what I can tell, all do something very similar. Here are our experiences.

Snorkelling: Generally this was disappointing. The first place we went to was crowded with hordes of tourists. After we complained to the operator he moved to another place but the coral was not very colourful. There was some marine life including many kinds and sizes of fish, and some big sea urchins. The water depth around our boat was 3m to 6m so it was good for viewing. The snorkelling masks they lent us were well kept and not dirty or worn out but the life jackets were mouldy.

Sightseeing: Cruising through the national park itself was wonderful. The islands are fascinating and some of the beaches are spectacular. We also did a bit of climbing to see the view of the marine park from a hill then later climbed to see a beautiful lagoon surrounded by steep rain forested slopes.  This was the most crowded place we went on this tour. The climb to the lookout was steep but stairways had been made for tourists. This is where you need good footwear. Sandals are OK but those with straps are highly recommended.

Beaches: This was the setting for the eponymous ‘perfect’ beach in Alex Garland’s book so it was no surprise to find some really great stretches of sand. Most were clean and some were completely deserted.  Ang Thong was once home to a group of travellers who’d permanently dropped out of society. They’ve now moved on to Koh Pha Ngan, but Ang Thong remains as stunning as ever. Leonardo di Caprio, star of The Beach has probably never seen this place himself, since the movie was filmed in the Andaman Sea at Phi Phi Island rather than here because of technical reasons.

 Guide: The guide on the boat spoke English with a heavy accent and those who were not native English speakers found him hard to understand. Some of the European guests said they have the same problem in most places in Thailand.

Booking: You can book a tour on the internet before you leave home and some people said this was cheaper than booking it in Ko Samui. It is from 1700B for an adult and half this for a child on the net but this does not include the admission fee to the marine park which is 200B for an adult and 100B for a child. You can buy 1900B tours when in Ko Samui and this gives you the flexibility of seeing the weather conditions before you go out.

When: The better times to visit Mu Ko Ang Thong are between February and May inclusive as this is a period with no monsoon so the seas are calm for boating, yachting and diving and the water is clearest. From June to August it can be good one day but rough the next. In the monsoon season it rains regularly and heavy seas are often dangerous. We were there in September and the weather for part of the day was not great but the seas were not bad. I was told the National Park office closes during 1 November — 23 December every year.

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Thought to Ponder.

British philosopher Bertrand Russell was never one to mince words. He said, “The degree of one’s emotion varies inversely with one’s knowledge of the facts — the less you know the hotter you get.”

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For more information on Thailand see Experience Thailand an ebook available at www.amazon.com/kindle then search Len Rutledge.

Experience Guides — Thailand

Experience Travel Guides is a new series available in digital form. We plan the series to be unique in that each book is designed to be read in the same way as a novel. They are a valuable early-planning resource for those looking to visit a destination, a source of information for those just interested in finding out more about a country and a pleasure for those armchair travellers who just enjoy a good read.

Experience Thailand is the first Guide in this series. Initially published in 2011, it has since been updated twice so that it contains the latest information on the constantly changing Thai tourist scene.

We capture the personality and the underlying cultural and historical significance of the cities, regions and holiday destinations. We explore the wonderful beaches, travel the majestic northern mountains, meet hill-tribe village people, buy fascinating handicrafts, eat tantalizing cuisine, and enjoy fabulous massage. Each is put into context by chapters on Thai Life and the country’s History.

To purchase this book or see other books written by Len Rutledge go to the Amazon books web site and enter Len Rutledge.

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Point to Ponder.

A Thai husband whose wife no longer worked, came home one evening and found the house a complete mess. He exclaimed, “What happened?”

You’re always wondering what I do all day,” his wife said. “Well, here it is — I didn’t do it today.”