Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nothing exciting happened today.

I tried to go to Ko Samet today to give snorkling another go. However the weather was not cooperating. It was suspiciously cloudy when Bunny and I left the apartment. We made it out to Ban Phe before the rain started... and it was quite a storm. So we hid out in Christie's Pub lingering over breakfast, writing postcards and reading. Not exactly what I'd planned, but altogether not a bad way to spend the morning.


The rain did stop, but the sun never fully emerged from the clouds. So we're hanging out in a little cafe...unfortunately for my weightloss hopes, we're starting to find all the cute little coffee shops and cafes hidden around town. It's actually Bunny & Bobby's last week. Their six month contract is up at the end of the month, then they'll be heading out on a three month backpacking tour through Asia & Europe. I'm a bit jealous....but mostly I'm going to miss them.


TAG: Code Sweet Chili Sauce

Friday, April 24, 2009

Songkran Holiday: Koh Phi Phi

On our last morning in Phuket I discovered that in my adventuring the previous night I'd managed to break my glasses. It was just the arm, but it was snapped clean off. Fortunately there was a glasses shop not far from our hotel. I wandered in and, looking pathetic, asked if there was any way they could fix my glasses. Alas no. For those of you who are counting, that's two pairs down, and my last back up pair was sitting in my apartment in Rayong. Fortunately the shop was able to recreate my prescription from the lenses I had, and an hour or so later I had a brand new, sturdier, pair of glasses. Can I just say though... one should never be forced to pick out new glasses while hung over, or in my case, possibly still drunk. Ugh.

Me and my new glasses cruising around Phi Phi Ley


Eyewear crisis averted, we hopped on a ferry to Ko Phi Phi. I was still in a bit of a funk, but the ferry ride was the perfect antidote. There were plenty of seats inside the cabin, but I went out on deck sat down with my feet over the side and just enjoyed looking out over the water and feeling the sun & wind on my face. Every once in a while we'd hit a wave cross ways so I'd get a nice splash. Seeing the Phi Phi island growing closer was also really cool. I can't do justice to it with words... so here are some pictures.

Phi Phi Don

Long Beach - Phi Phi Don



Possibly Phi Phi Ley


We'd planned to go snorkeling while on Phi Phi, as it's supposed to have the best diving in Thailand. And once on the island you couldn't toss a speedo without hitting a dive shop or an advertisement for a snorkeling excursion. Back in HS I'd nearly gotten my Scuba certificate, but wasn't allowed to do the open water exercise due to my asthma. But the temptation to try again was overwhelming. And... as this is Thailand, little things like health restrictions don't really matter. So I signed up, and the next morning I was on the boat headed out for a discovery dive.




Sitting waiting for my discovery dive to begin.




The other first-time divers and I got a quick lesson on Scuba safety on the way out to the first dive sight. I was the only native English speaker in the group, so the instructor had quite a time making sure everyone understood all the important things. He had the patience of a saint and the calm demeanor you would want from someone you're about to trust with your life. As we got suited up and ready to go, he told me. "I think you're going to be my star student." Feeling nervous, all I could say was "We'll see."


You guys know how much I love the ocean. I spend as much time as I can at the beach, I'm a solid if not a particularly fast or graceful swimmer, and thanks to a couple years of taking water-aerobics I feel like I can tread water indefinitely. I am NOT afraid of the water. But once I had all the gear on me, and my glasses off (couldn't wear them under the mask) I felt, ironically, like a fish out of water. Nevertheless, I did the 'big step' off the end of the boat, put my regulator in my mouth and gave the all clear signal - textbook. The instructor told us all to swim out to a buoy not far from the boat... and honestly, by the time I got there I thought I was going to die.




Between the wetsuit, inflated vest, and tank I could barely move my arms. I could see less than squat through my now fogged up mask, and trying to breathe through the regulator felt like sucking air through a tiny straw. And once we all got to the buoy, the other new divers and I kept knocking into each other. I thought I was going to die. I tried desperately to calm down, but nice big deep breaths were impossible. The wetsuit and vest were like a vice grip around my not particularly strong lungs. I panicked. I remembered vaguely from my brief experience in high school that after the initial shock, breathing underwater felt really cool. But I could not catch my breath, thoughts of an underwater asthma attack terrified me, and knew there was no way I was going to get through this dive. The instructor joined us a moment later, and I immediately swam up to him and told him I was freaking out.




"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I can't breathe." I gasped.
"Yes, you can, you're on the surface." he replied.
"Honey... I'm freaking out."
"Ok... do you want to get back on the boat?" he asked. My brain locked up. I didn't really want to get back on the boat, I wanted to scuba dive. But I wasn't sure if I could calm down properly. I thought maybe if he gave us a few minutes to chill out on the surface first I might relax.... but I also knew that I'd lied about my asthma when I signed the release form, and had smoked a cigarette or two over the past few days. It wasn't a good combination. In all I only paused for about 10 seconds but it was enough.
"I'm putting you back on the boat." He stated firmly then turned and called the boat back. Honestly, I was glad he made the decision for me.




As we waited for the boat to come back, he asked if I wanted to try again one-on-one at lunch time. I gave a vague assent, then got back on the boat feeling like a total wash-out. Some star student! I hung out on the boat with the girlfriend of one of the divers. She was scared to even go swimming in the ocean, so she made me feel a least a little better.




It was less than an hour before the other divers started getting picked up and as I started talking to them, they were all very encouraging. They confirmed that yes, breathing at the surface was really difficult, but once at depth, it felt as normal as breathing on dry land. One gal in particular said that on her first dive, she freaked out a bit, but she was one-on-one with the instructor and he did a good job of calming her down. So I began to look forward to giving it another go. It was just uncomfortable on the surface I reasoned... I'd be fine once we got underwater.





At lunch time my instructor came up to me and asked if I wanted to give it another go. I told him I did. Unfortunately, however, he would be doing some life-saving drills and handed me off to a different instructor. Instructor #2 was more of a no-nonsense kind of guy. And while I'd been hoping for one-on-one attention (hand-holding), there were two other divers who'd been unable to complete their dive who were also giving it a second chance. I got suited up again, he fairly shoved me into the water and there I was... in the exact same panic scenario from before. Only this time I knew that Instructor #2 would not be interested in calming my fears or giving me a few minutes to relax. Less than a minute in the water and I knew it just wasn't going to happen. Back on the boat for me.



Yes, I felt like a complete failure. Working and hanging out with a bunch of cute 23 year olds has been fun, but it also makes me feel old and lame. Up till now I've been able to shake the feeling with a few drinks... but this was undeniable confirmation. I am old, out of shape and I have bad lungs, some things are not just an issue of mind over matter.




I spent the afternoon (while everyone else on the boat was on their second dive) snorkeling around the bay. I'd never actually been snorkeling before and it was amazing. It occurred to me that it might have been a good idea to try snorkeling before, literally, jumping off the deep end. Breathing through a snorkel was weird and at times I freaked out a bit. But I could just lift my head up and take a second to sort myself out before putting my face back in the water again. After a while I was able to breathe through the snorkel for what felt like 10 or 20 minutes at a stretch. It was amazing.




There were a ton of other boats in the area - at least three other snorkeling groups.





There were an incredible number of fish, and while I might not have been seeing them in all their glory (with my glasses back on the boat), I was impressed with what I did see. There were huge schools of yellow and blue striped fish - they'd swim right up to me, look at me and just kind of hang out there. I saw trumpet fish, eels, and all manner of tiny schools of fish. There were also bigger fish, black with neon green 'eyeliner', blue with pink cheeks, leopard spotted yellow fish, and I swear I saw one that looked plaid! In addition to the fish there were giant patches of coral, purple and green and brown. I saw huge purple & green anemones, and what can only be described as a giant purple coral vase. It was really amazing, and actually really relaxing. I could have stayed in the water looking at everything for hours. And as wonderful as snorkeling was, it only confirmed my desire to try scuba diving again.






Back on the boat I talked to a couple of the other divers a bit more and had my ideas confirmed. One said she'd gone snorkeling the day before, and admitted that there's no way she could have gone scuba diving if she hadn't done that first. And another said he'd had two days of pool instruction before diving in the ocean. So while I still felt like a grade-A wimp... I also felt like maybe I'd been a bit overly ambitious and underprepared.




Compared with this adventure the rest of the trip was a bit anti-climactic. Bunny, Bobby and I went on an afternoon cruise around the island. It was *very* touristy... but, well, we were tourists. We got to do a tiny bit of sea kayaking, and a bit more snorkeling. We also got to see the beach where they filmed "The Beach" - it was beautiful, but again, absolutely covered in tourists such as ourselves. The water was warm, nearly hot, and very shallow. All you could do really was lounge around in it, so that's what I did. Koh Phi Phi was every bit as beautiful as the pictures suggest... and fun in it's own way. That night we went out for a couple drinks and ended up talking with some Swedish boys. No proposals or mind-bending conversations... just silly fun.





Our last morning, Friday, was spent between the beach and the bookstore, soaking up the last bits of relaxation before our ferry/taxi/flight/taxi back to the daily-grind: 8 hours of classes starting at 9am on Saturday. And here it is one week later... 9am Saturday looming at the other end of this night's sleep. A week and three very long-winded posts and I'm still only beginning to sort out this whole experience. But here's what I think I know.




1. The protests/riots, and the potential for more in the future are a big black mark against my moving to Bangkok.


2. After splurging for a week and being surrounded by obnoxious tourists, I have a whole new appreciation for sleepy little Rayong, its 35 baht fried rice my blue collar students.


3. It was really good to see the Brit again, and that just reinforces how much I need good friends around me.


4. As much as I've changed, there are still some things in my core character that are just not going anywhere. I hate being kept waiting, and I just can't deal with ridiculous people who cannot take care of themselves.


5. I really wish I could be as friendly, outgoing and uninhibited sober as I am while drunk... because sometimes 'drunk and fun' dissolves into 'sloppy drunk' and that's not fun for anyone.


6. I really want to try scuba diving again, so I'm going to get serious about taking care of my lungs & looking into a serious course where I get a little more preparation before being dropped in the middle of the ocean.



7. I am so fucking glad I'm here.





TAG: Code Sweet Chili Sauce

Monday, April 20, 2009

Songkran Holiday - It's pronounced Pooo-ket

The second leg of our Songkran holiday was a trip to Phuket. Bunny, Bobby and I stayed in quite a nice hotel near Patong beach. Big soft beds, dark curtains, clean bathroom - not a cockroach or gecko to be seen. It was a a bit of an upgrade from our apartments, and not especially expensive. Marie and LeBlond had lucked into a sweet flight/resort deal, and their hotel was on the other side of the island. This proved to be a bit of a logistical nightmare, and I wasted a fair amount of time and money with tuk-tuk and taxi rides back and forth across the island.






While parts of it were undeniably beautiful, there wasn't a lot that Phuket had to offer that I couldn't find on Koh Samet for a lot less money and a lot less hassle. Phuket is much bigger of course, so there's just more... more bars, more restaurants, more beaches, more hotels, more markets, more drunken farang all over the place. Yours truly included, naturally. I haven't been to Koh Samui or Koh Chang yet... but I'm guessing they're both a good middle ground.


Bunny, Bobby and Marie enjoying the exculsive resort beach.


Rebel - tropical paradise edition



On our second night there, after a wild goose chase of trying to find a cool bar somewhere between our respective hotels, I decided to ditch everyone and go back to Patong Beach. I walked along the beach, watched people set off khom fai (lanterns) and just took in the sights. I walked up the main bar street and got myself a drink*. Between the markets and the bars and the people from all over the world walking around - there was a lot to see. Eventually though I just wanted to sit down and chat with someone. The bars are all pretty open, so there's not much of a distinction between the street and the bar. I saw a couple of English guys playing connect four so I went over and made a comment.


We started chatting and one of the guys asked how long I'd been in Thailand. Between the booze and the earlier transportation frustration and just an acute case of 'living in Thailand' something snapped**. I nearly burst into tears when I said "I've been in Thailand for eight months." The one guy replied, in a very calm and charming British way "Don't worry darling." and soon enough I was having another drink and playing connect four with them. No deep connection or insightful conversations... we just played and I felt a bit better. And when they left an older Swedish guy came by and I played with him for a while. It was nice.




Eventually I decided to call it a night and began wandering in the general direction of my hotel. Now, those of you who know me can testify - I have no sense of direction whatsoever. I knew we were on a side street off a minimally paved road***. But as I wandered down it, I just wasn't sure - I turned and walked a block in the other direction, but nothing looked very familiar there either. There were a bunch of Thai security guards outside a half-finished building and they asked where I was going. I told them the name of my hotel and they waved in the general direction I'd come from. I went to turn around, but they pulled up a chair and invited me to sit down for a minute. "Slowly slowly" they said, which I think is the direct translation for the Thai expression "wait". They were drinking beers and I figured - why the heck not.






We started chatting, 90% in Thai and it was really fun. It was amazing, really, how much we could communicate with a minimal amount of shared vocabulary. We talked about the situation in Bangkok. I told them what I saw: Color red (point to shirt), S-Soldier - muay Thai (Thai kickboxing). We talked about religion. He asked "You Christian?", I replied "Yes, you like Buddha?" We talked about family and relationships, I told him I didn't have a boyfriend or a lover, he told me he'd been alone for 10 years, but that he had two kids, a daughter and a son.







At some point I took out my camera and made him look at nearly every picture on my memory card, pointing out any and everything I knew the Thai word for. Showing him a picture of an elephant "Chang", a cat "Mao" and repeatedly "Puen chan" (my friend). After a couple hours my new friend told me I was a good woman with a good heart, mimed putting a ring on my finger and more or less proposed to me. It was sweet. It's all a bit silly in retrospect, and a very alcohol inspired interaction... but at the same time, it's exactly the kind of thing I want out of this trip. Just to sit and chat with people, to try to make some kind of connection, make some memories.







When I decided to make another attempt at going home, he offered to drive me. I got on the back of his motorbike and we drove all around town, far from where I knew my hotel was, and to a different hotel of the same name. I had him stop and ask for directions to my actual hotel, which he did. When we got there, it ended up being no more than a two blocks from where we'd been sitting and chatting. He asked for my phone number... but, no. Impossible. Some things are better left as crazy hazy memories.




* and by 'a drink' I mean a pint of vodka and a bottle of Pepsi.


** In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy there's a line about how, in a moment of crisis, every sentient being gives off a signal of exactly how far away they are from where they were born.... it kind of felt like that.


*** Much of Patong beach was damaged by the tsunami of 2004, I think it's 90% rebuilt... but there's still a lot of rebuilding going on.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Songkran Holiday - One Night In Bangkok

When Bunny, Bobby and I planned this trip back in January and February we didn't know the exact dates that our school would be closed (yes we asked... I don't want to talk about it), so we made our best guess and bought tickets to Phuket for Monday the 13th and home again on Friday the 17th. Then two weeks ago we learned that classes would be canceled for the weekend before as well. We decided to spend the extra days in Bangkok... and that proved to be a very interesting way start to the week.




They left on Friday, but I had class until 7pm so I came on Saturday. I took a van from Rayong and on the way in I noticed one spot on the opposite side of the freeway where a bunch of Red Shirts had stopped traffic. I think the police or the army were also there and it was unclear what exactly was happening as we drove by. The last time I was in Bangkok I'd also seen some protesters riding by in a pick-up truck waving flags and playing music. Thus far the protests had been non-violent and easily avoided... this did strike me as a bit more serious... but we kept on going. Eventually the mini-van dropped me off at Victory Monument and I hopped on the BTS sky train to meet up with my friends at Siam Square - the big mall complex with MBK & Paragon and just tons of shopping.




All thoughts of the protesters were driven away as we ate a little lunch then had the extreme pleasure of watching Slumdog Millionaire in English in a plush theater nearby. It was amazing. Not only is the movie incredible (I'm in love with lead actor), but the theater was old school elegance, a big crystal chandelier, carpeted floors, ushers etc. Quite a nice treat, for only about $6 US. Oh, and did I mention the movie was in ENGLISH!? Speaking English and having people understand us was so nice.




After the movie, we met up with LeBlond (who now works in Bangkok) and went to dinner. We had amazing (and expensive) Indian/Middle Eastern food, between the four of us we ate two plates of hummus and four orders of naan... it was wonderful. Then we wandered over to Soi Cowboy for drinks. Soi Cowboy is very much a tourist-oriented street... lots of strip clubs and bars, lots of noise and some weird street food. It was fun and interesting in it's own way... kinda like Las Vegas - you have to judge it on it's own merits in order to enjoy it. We were lured into one bar by a fun little band playing outside, but immediately created a log-jam in the doorway as we came face to face with full frontal bouncing nudity.





After that we made the decision to only go to bars that were open air - so we could see inside them. We found one on the end with pool tables and settled in there for a while. A few games later and we headed over to Soi 11 - another touristy area where Charlie Brown's (completely awesome) Mexican Restaurant is. I'm glad we did because we'd intended to go there the next day but then found out it would be closed =( we all grieved for a moment then went to the British pub next door - The Pickled Liver - and chilled out a bit watching football before going home.




On Sunday we spent the morning at the Jim Thompson House. Jim Thompson was an American architect and import/exporter who came to Thailand and reinvigorated the silk industry. I'm still a bit unclear on what his deal was... but one thing he did was to take several traditional homes from different parts of Thailand and join them together to make one very big very nice house. He used traditional building methods to put it together and furnished it with a blend of European, Thai and other Asian furniture and artifacts. The effect is that of the "authentic" Thai house that every foreigner would love to have.




At some point he donated his house to his foundation so people could come take tours of his home and antiques... but then he went to Malaysia and disappeared. It's all very mysterious. In any case, visiting his home is a nice way to spend the morning looking at beautiful things. Oh... and the silks in the gift shop were gorgeous. Expensive, but gorgeous. But I decided not to buy anything there because we were going to spend the afternoon at Chatuchak Market.




Chatuchak was huge, hot and crowded. Portlanders can imagine the Saturday Market on steroids. Lots of arts and crafts, but also tons of t-shirts, jeans, touristy stuff, food, CDs and even pets. Lots and lots of pets... rabbits, dogs, birds, turtles, fish, and squirrels. Yes, squirrels. This was such a satisfying experience. Chatuchak is someplace I'd seen on Globe Treker when I was back at home still just dreaming of traveling. They did a think on shopping in Bangkok and they highlighted Paragon Mall and Chatuchak market... and now I've been to both places!





We wandered around for a good long while, got some decent pizza, stopped for drinks at a cool cafe and I bought a couple of silk scarves to tide me over. I swear I can't leave Bangkok without at least one scarf in hand. I've been a bit capricious about my purchases thus far, but I really think I need to start envisioning a plan for my future home and what kinds of things I'll actually want in it so I'll have a little more of a plan in mind when shopping.




For dinner we went in search of Mexican food. And here is where I express how much I love the internet. I LOVE THE INTERNET! We were disappointed about not being able to go to Charlie Browns and LeBlond failed dramatically in finding us an alternate. So I thought to myself... if only I knew someone in Bangkok who loved food and spoke English I could ask them. But I do! I phoned Cate from Cate's World Kitchen (an awesome mouth-watering blog btw) and she was able to give us directions to not one but two different Mexican restaurants near BTS stations. Yay! My first Ceasar Salad in months was so authentically American I wanted to cry. It was a beautiful thing. Thanks Cate! =)



Technically the big Songkran celebration didn't start until Sunday... but people were already in the streets splashing us with water. The first time it's kind of fun, but after a while it becomes a bit hard to maintain a good attitude about it. I quickly determined that the main problem was that I was defenseless... so I had to just smile and take it as I got splashed or sprayed.

video

In addition to splashing, people put clay on each other's faces to protect against evil spirits.

Fortunately, this is Thailand, so there were about a dozen stalls per block selling water guns and bottles of water. Once properly armed, I fully joined in the fun. Even though I got SOAKED I felt good because at least I could squirt people back a little.



We went to yet another seedy/touristy street and found an open bar to hang out in for a while. This was fun, it was near yet another street market so there was a lot to see. I'm finding that I need a lot of visual and mental stimulation these days. I think it's because I'm a bit starved for it in Rayong. There are just not a lot of interesting places to go here... and it's a small town so the chances of running into new people are pretty slim as well. Like right now I'm back at the coffee shop, and I'm looking over at the market where I eat ... watching the lady who said I looked like a fat Filipino set up her restaurant. Every once in a while people from the petroleum plant ride by wearing their uniforms. I may not know them personally... but it's all the same, very normal... no farang, no tourists, no chance of running into a random gardener from Sweden or anything like that. No excitement beyond what we can generate on our own after a great deal of whiskey consumption. The other teachers and I are literally the most exciting & exotic thing going on in this town. That is a very new and interesting sensation for me.





Now allow me to express again, how much I love the internet. I LOVE THE INTERNET! I've been keeping up with some of my friends from the CELTA course via Facebook. Usually it's just a one liner back and forth, but occasionally we'll exchange an email about what's going on. Having moved at a few critical times in my life, and having no concrete links back to the places where I grew up, I feel very sad when I get to know people but then they just slip away. I have no friends who've seen me from childhood onwards. So I LOVE that via the miracle of Facebook I can maintain at least some level of contact with people I've known different stages of my life. I like it a LOT. Anyway... some of you may remember the Brit, with whom I shared many beers and philosophical chats while on the course. Well, he's still living in Chiang Mai with his girlfriend and he posted that he would be in Bangkok the same time that I was. I was so excited you can't even imagine. We agreed to meet up on Monday before our respective flights home.




It was so wonderful to see him again. We met up for coffee, went to lunch, and just wandered around chatting. I just love him so much. We ended up talking a lot about the current political situation in Bangkok. We'd planned to meet up at Siam Paragon mall, but it was closed... and he showed me a picture from the newspaper - a bunch of Red Shirts climbing on an Army tank right outside Paragon. The day before while I was at Jim Thompson's house and Chatuchak Market the army had clashed with the red shirts right around the corner. He gave me a little insight about why this is all happening, but I don't feel comfortable going into it here. (Americans reading this - go hug the Bill of Rights for me, I miss it dearly.)




I still have enough money for an emergency ticket home, and he basically advised me - when XYZ happens, that's when the shit will hit the fan, and that'll be my cue to go home. I mean, Thailand has gone through a number of revolutions and coups in recent history and it's been surprisingly non-violent. So I still don't feel like it's unsafe for me to be here. But it was good to get the opinion of a Farang who's lived here for several years and actually pays attention to the news. We talked about a bunch of other things too. He told me I seemed a lot more confident than I had been even just a few months ago - which I know - but hearing it from someone else made me feel really good. It was soooo good to see him again.



All too soon it was time for us to head for our respective flights home. I met up with the girls at the hotel and we got a cab to the airport. Let me tell you, I have had some pretty ... special... taxi rides since coming to Thailand. As we drove around we realized that we hadn't really seen any cars on the streets all day - only taxis and tuk-tuks. Then it occurred to us that this wasn't necessarily because of Songkran... but that the police or the army had restricted access to the city.




As we drove down one street we could see smoke in the distance. That was unnerving to say the least. Further down the street we saw a whole crowd of people (normal citizens) standing around looking towards the smoke in the increasingly closer distance. They saw us and started waving at us to turn around and go back. So we did. And then we went down another street... and saw another crowd of people, this time a guy on a motorbike was driving up and down the street telling cars to turn around... he spoke with the taxi driver for a second... and of course we didn't have a clue what they were saying. I just held hands with Bobby in the back seat and tried not to freak out too much.




The next street the driver tried was fine and we were eventually on the freeway headed to the airport. I saw a LOT of police officers at the on ramps supporting the theory that they were limiting access to the city. We made it to the airport safe and sound (after having to call one of the girls at the office to have her explain to the driver *which* airport we wanted to go to). I called both my mom and sister and told them everything was fine, we were all fine, in another part of the city etc. etc. etc. But the fact was I was far closer to the action than I would have liked.




That night in the hotel in Phuket I got to watch a little BBC and saw footage of the Red Shirts and the Army having a stand off at Victory Monument. I had been right there the day before... there were pictures of the Red Shirts wandering all over the BTS station I'd been at etc. And the smoke we saw was more than likely from the bus the Red-Shirts had set on fire. I mean, honestly, I was never in any danger - but man I never want to be that close to another country's revolution again!




Two and a half days in Bangkok = enough excitement for a year. Next up Phuket! It's not pronounced how you think it is... but it probably should be. ;)


TAG: Code Sweet Chili Sauce... (extra spicy)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Untangling everything

I'm finally back from our rather eventful Songkran holiday, and I'm just starting to sort everything out. I don't even know where to begin. Well, that's a lie. I'm a pretty sequential kinda gal, so I'll begin at the beginning. But man... the past week has been intense in so many different ways, I'm still mentally processing a lot of it. Hopefully by unloading it here I'll come to some kind of clarity. I just wanted to let everyone know that I'm home, I'm safe and I'll be posting a LOT of pictures and stories very soon. =)


Phuket




TAG: Code Fish Sauce

Friday, April 10, 2009

Songkran

Next week is the Songkran festival... I think it's the Thai New Year. From what I understand the tradition is to pour water over your elders/superiors as a sign of respect and in return they will bless you with good luck.


Naturally, this deeply religious holiday has evolved into the mother of all water fights, and you can't go anywhere without being doused head to toe with buckets of water. Most importantly though, I will be getting all of next week off of work! Bunny, Bobby, LeBlonde, Marie, and I will all be going to Phuket for a few days. Unfortunately, the school didn't actually give us the holiday schedule until a couple of weeks ago, so we'd only planned to go for the 5 days we knew we would have off... but actually have a full 7 days off. Which I guess I can view as a little bonus... except that we'll be spending those two extra days in Bangkok - which we can (and do) visit any time we feel like it, instead of in Phuket or Ko Pi Pi... some of the most beautiful places in Thailand. ANYWAY! All this means that I will be on vacation for the next week.


You know me, and you know I'll be popping into internet cafes at every opportunity... but if I don't, I'm probably okay.
But before I go... I require some assistance.... flip-flop assistance! I never would have thought that I'd have a whole flip-flop wardrobe, none-the-less a flip-flop wardrobe crisis. Which ones should I bring to Phuket?
Bling-less but practical


Mini-bling, but not so much waterproof
Bling-o-riffic... possibly waterproof, but also ... you know, gaudy as hell.



I'm packing light, so I only want to bring one. What do you think?


Oh, and in case you've seen anything on the news, the yellow shirted protesters of a few months ago have been replaced with red shirted protesters who are trying to oust the PM who the yellow shirts like. I really don't give a geckos behind who's in power... but this is getting to be a bit annoying. I'm safe and these protesters have vowed not to close the airport. But then, they'd also vowed not to interfere with the ASEAN conference... and today they broke through the police barricade. So.... well, so far so good... I don't feel like I'm in any danger and I'll be avoiding the Bloods & Crypts as well as I can while in Bangkok. Wish me luck!



TAG: Code Sweet Chili Sauce












Thursday, April 9, 2009

Coffee Shop and Fon Tok

The other day I had the morning free and lugged my computer over to the coffee shop. I had a nice time sitting, writing up my post about the weekend, and drinking entirely too much cha yen (Thai iced tea). Then, it started, the winds picked up, there was an unholy crack of thunder and BOOM the rain started.




video



I realize it's not all that spectacular if you live in real thunderstorm territory... but I still find it impressive that so much rain can come down so quickly.


Oh, and the area across the street from the coffee shop is the big food court area where I eat dinner most of the time... just a bunch of food stalls, although I generally alternate between two. Then as I pan right, you'll see the mini-vans that go to Bangkok. And a blue songthaew (modified pick up truck) goes by too. So it's just a little taste of Thailand in the rain.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Amazing Thailand

This weekend was one of the reasons I keep this blog. So I can have a place to record some of the amazing things that happen here. I'm so afraid I'm going to forget everything, that two weeks after returning to the States it'll all just be a big blur.

Monday, was a Thai holiday, and Sunday is my normal day off work. So I had an actual 2 day weekend, and more than that all the other teachers and I had the *same* day off. And believe you me, we all made the most of it.


Friday:

On Friday Bunny, Bobby and Jeb all went to Bangkok for various errands. Even though I'd been to Bangkok earlier in the week, I was jealous because - being the only one with Sunday off - I'd spent the better part of the trip alone. In any case, on Friday I taught a morning kids' class but then learned that my normal evening class was canceled. I called Bobby to see if I could meet up with them in Bangkok for dinner, and it turned out they hadn't left yet. They were at the mini-van station set to leave in about 10 minutes. I got there just in time and had the pleasure of having people to talk to on the 2+ hour drive. Once we got there, we split up for a bit - I went shopping and found some cute shorts that actually fit - yay! Then we all met up to do some more shopping at MBK. I found a scandalous shirt to wear on our trip to Phuket... then we all went out for Mexican food for dinner.

It was AMAZING. Yes... that was just the beginning of the amazingness of the weekend. Our enchiladas took on nearly mythic proportions of deliciousness once combined with two pitchers of fresh icy limey margaritas. Heaven. The ride home was slow... but having friends around makes all the difference.


Saturday:

Saturday was the one less than amazing interruption of an otherwise amazing weekend. We all had to teach. But it was Jeb's birthday so afterwards, we all went out again. The margaritas were swapped out for whiskey sodas...and enchiladas swapped out for garlic shrimp and cashew chicken. No complaints. Then, as we were sitting there I got an unexpected call from the boy from last Sunday's post. As dinner was ending and our party was disbanding, Bunny, Marie and I decided to meet up with Mr. Maptaput and his friends at the club down the street.

We had fun... it was interesting to hang out with new Thai people our own age. Usually the only Thai people I hang out with are Jeb's girlfriend or the office staff (and then only at work). There was a fair amount of awkwardness... I'm not good at meeting new people in the best of circumstances - let alone with a language barrier thrown in. But their English was good enough, and Bunny's Thai was adventurous enough to keep the evening entertaining if nothing else.


Sunday:

But the real fun came on Sunday. One of the teachers, Rex, lives with a family near the ocean, and he'd invited us all over for a party in honor of the holiday and Jeb's birthday. Also this was meant to be an informal, but highly authentic Thai cooking class for Bobby and I. Since everyone had the day off... it was going to be quite the do. Even LeBlond came in from Bangkok to celebrate.

I puttered around in the morning, and actually picked up a cute Thai-style dress (modern & cute ... not traditional silk or anything) to wear with my new shorts. I was excited to start blending in a bit more fashion-wise, I even have blinged-out flip flops & a Micky-mouse purse. Then in the afternoon we met up with Rex and his girlfriend Tiny (it's her family that he lives with) at the market. They'd already picked up veggies and meat but I decided I wanted to make my own specialty dish for the party and started gathering up ingredients for salsa. Tiny tried to dissuade me from getting more tomatoes (we have some already) and peppers (we have many at home), but I was not to be deterred. I take my salsa seriously. Thailand is mysteriously devoid of lemons, but they had limes aplenty so we finished up our shopping and headed to the house.


My camera, naturally, is broken again so forgive the extra thousand words as I describe the place. I say they live near the ocean, but I guess it's more precise to say that they live *on* the ocean. The family owns a series of three or four houses in a row (I think they rent two or three of them out)- from one at street level to one clear out over the ocean (currently empty). It's on stilts, low tide = sand underneath, high-tide = ocean below. The houses are Thai style... not western. They're pretty bare - and look a bit more like a rustic cabin or tree-house than anything that would pass building codes in the US. But there was running water and electricity, plenty of fans and even a CD player. There were two clean bathrooms - but both unfortunately had squat toilets.


In the main house there's a big open area downstairs for living, gorgeous wooden couches, a TV, some cabinets that sort of thing. Then there's another big open area for cooking. In the kitchen there's a counter with a sink and prep-space and one gas range with a big wok on top. Then there are a whole bunch of small ... I don't know what to call them... like a good sized terra-cotta flower pot, but you put charcoal in it and use it like a BBQ to grill food or stick another wok on.

Bunny and I were put to work washing vegetables while Tiny started showing Bobby and Marie how to make fish cakes. Too many cooks spoil the soup and all... so I decided to stick to my salsa rather than crowd around the wok. It was really nice. I feel so incompetent so much of the time here... but salsa... this is something I know I'm good at. And I was really excited to share it with the Thai family. Most Thai people have never tried Mexican food, and while I'm hardly an authentic representative... I felt like I could give them a taste, literally, of something new.



Tiny's mom was really friendly, directing us to do this or that and chatting with us in a mix of English and Thai (Tiny speaks English really well actually). And I had a fairly hilarious exchange with her as I made her taste the salsa. I started telling her what it was in English but she said "Poot passah Thai!" (Speak Thai!) aaah! She asked "What do you eat it with?" (or something) and I explained "Put on 'chips', don't have 'chips', put on rice... eat with rice - can!". "Is it delicious?" she asked very slowly and clearly "Yes." I replied "You like to make it?" again, slowly and clearly "Yes." Then smiling happily"Qeld adsflkp oidsfu adl foi e aoiuw alklu t alkwe utahn ldfa doit jalkdfout." "Uh.... uh....don't understand!" And we had a good laugh.

With Jeb's girlfriend's help (I can't remember if I gave her a nickname already... let's go with Gum.) I roasted some peanuts and cashews using the fire-pots. At one point Tiny's mom came by and gave us some mango slices. You know from the mangoes that grow in their garden. Amazing! Bunny, Bobby and I ate the mango with my salsa... it was really good. I really really enjoyed the camaraderie of being in the kitchen with all the women, you know... one of the universals again - sharing food, working together, laughing, it was beautiful. Of course the boys were all upstairs drinking already... it didn't so much bother me that we were doing the girls work - boys have fun thing until they came down and were reluctant to help us carry stuff back to the beach house. "In a minute..." Gah! What are you, like 12??? When a bunch of women have just spent hours preparing an awesome feast for you the least you can do is offer to help set it up. It's a little too easy for guys to develop a sense of entitlement here.



With all the cooking done we headed over to the beach house, eventually bullying the boys into helping us. There wasn't much in the way of furniture in the beach house, just several mats and a table for the drinks & CD player. But honestly, the fact that we were literally *on the ocean* watching the tide come in and feeling the sea air blowing on us more than made up for anything we lacked. We put all the food in the center of the mats and sat down to eat. Oh man... it was amazing. You know, if you've ever cooked a holiday feast how awesome it feels to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your collective labor. And I told our Thai hosts, repeatedly, that "Wan nee mee quam suk... mak mak." (Today I am very very happy.) Everything was delicious. The farangs devoured my salsa, and even Tiny's aunt ate some with her rice (which I feel allows me to now refer to my salsa as 'world renowned') ;). Rex and Bunny invented a new drink - essentially a Mojito but made with Thai brandy instead of rum... we called them Mosquitos of course, and they were the perfect compliment to dinner.

After dinner we played "two truths and a lie" a game I suck at, but still thoroughly enjoyed. We even managed to get some of Thai family to play along. There were two little kids there, running around and climbing on everyone...adding to the overall silliness of everything. Just being there was amazing, and it was amazing to be with such incredible people. I just couldn't stop acknowledging how amazing everything was. And moreover couldn't stop saying "We're in fucking Thailand. We are in fucking Thailand!"

We talked and listened to music well into the night, then the Thai family went back to their house while 6 of us farang teachers all piled into one bedroom. There were a lot of blankets and mats just laid out on the floor so we all just lay down and had a giant sleepover. You know, in a cabin over the ocean!!!!! There was silly chatting and giggling and playing 20 questions well into the night, and if you've ever been to a sleep over with me, you know you can hear me finally breaking down and begging "PLEASE... go to sleep! I need to go to sleep now!!!" which, of course was ignored... so I played along for a while and finally we all went to sleep, or tried. I couldn't sleep, just lay awake listening to the sounds of the people around me. For someone used to living alone, it's difficult for me to actually fall asleep with other people around, but I do still like it. I like being in a big group of people like that.


Monday:

Roosters started crowing at around 7am, as the sun came up over the water. The sun got up to window level around 7:30 and I could no longer pretend to be asleep. I got up and got dressed. Bobby was already up taking pictures of the ocean. Eventually Bunny and Marie got up and joined us. The boys, naturally stayed in bed (after their hard night of not cooking). Before long Tiny's aunt came by and asked "Gin coffee mai?" Bobby's Thai is probably the weakest of all of us, but even she could understand "Do you want to drink coffee?" and we all followed her back to the main house. She'd set up some coffee on the table in front of the house... I told her I didn't drink coffee and she brought me some milk. So we sat there, enjoying the amazing hospitality of our host. The houses across the street all had little shops out front - selling seashell 'curtains' you know, you can hang them up over a doorway, or maybe as a shade block on your patio. The ambiance was incredible. So warm, so Thai.


Shortly after our coffee, Rex and Tiny came out and invited us to go look at the family's garden. When I'd heard they had a garden, I imagined a small plot on the side yard or something. No... what they actually have is an orchard. We piled in the back of Tiny's pick up truck and headed out there. They have a nice sized field, a grove of mangoes, bananas, and jackfruit. There were passion-fruit plants and even a thai-pumpkin vine trailing around the ground. Again, I'm just wandering around an orchard thinking... this is Thailand, this is amazing. Then hop back in the back of the pickup truck (an amazing way to travel when it's hot out... getting all of the breeze, seeing everything) and off to a beach I hadn't been to before. I think it might be my new favorite beach. There's a longer stretch of sand between the restaurants and the ocean.... which makes it significantly cleaner... and the water was so clear it was unbelievable. I hadn't put on my swimsuit, so I just walked along the waters edge, soaking my feet in the calm warm water. Amazing! A-mazing people. Amazing!

After our trip through the orchard and stroll along the beach we learned that Tiny's aunt had finally gone in and woken up the boys to go eat breakfast. We headed back towards Ban Phe and met the boys at Christie's Pub... the place I love to go to on Sunday for my weekly western food fix. Again, it felt like I was back in college, with all my friends heading to the cafeteria for breakfast. It was so good and we lingered forever, some of the guys having two breakfasts - you know having worked up an appetite *not* hiking through the garden and not swimming. =P Regardless, a good time was had by all and we decided to call it a day... an amazing day... and go back home.


But it wasn't even over yet. We still all had the day off, so after showering and changing and attempting to nap, I met up with Bunny, LeBlond, Donny & Marie at a coffee shop, followed by an early dinner at the German restaurant. It was so nice. Soooo nice to all have a full weekend together. And getting to eat dinner when it was still light out was such a treat(we usually get dinner at like 8:30 or 9pm when we finish classes). Bunny and I enjoyed a leisurely walk home in the twilight and I was in bed by the time night fell. I was asleep before 8pm I think, and slept hard! Exhaustion from amazement is a good feeling.


Today:
It's Tuesday now, and my first class is at 6pm, so I've been lounging around at a coffee shop, listening to the rain and catching up with old friends on Facebook. I feel so good right now. I know it won't be long before the day to day rigours of Thailand catch up with me again... but for now... I feel amazing and am so full of happiness I'm overflowing and am so glad to remember why I came here.


TAG: Code Mango. Life is good baby, too good to be true!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Dream Interpretation anyone?

Really strange dream last night: I was in .... Oregon? and was going to Seattle with a friend - not a particularly close friend btw, G-man for anyone who remembers him. In order to get into Seattle, we needed to cross a bridge. We didn't have a car, there were no buses, and we didn't want to pay for a taxi. There was a new 'ride' that could get us across the bridge.

Basically, it's just a little flat car that goes along on some kind of train track. The thing is, there were no seats, there were no seat belts, there were no handles, you just sit down one behind the other - motorbike taxi style - and go. For some reason, the bridge was insanely steep, like roller-coaster steep. And we start going and suddenly I'm laying back practically upside-down, holding onto the car & my friend for dear life. The car goes up up up, then down down down - I'm terrified the entire time. Then we land in Seattle, and there's a little gift shop with glittery head-bands. I can't remember what, if anything we did in Seattle. But when it was time to go home, I had the same quandry.

Having been on the rollercoaster, I didn't want to do it again. My friend was a big fan and really wanted to go again. I asked if there were songthaews around, or a taxi... but there was nothing. I hemmed & hawed for a while before asking if there wasn't a subway. There was a subway.... but it went to NJ (because suddenly Seattle was New York or something) and we'd have to take a bus back to whereever it was we were trying to go... presumably Portland. Hmm... there was some issue with money at some point but I don't even remember what it was. But finally we decide to take the subway, we go down and there are these nice comfy couch-like seats (ala the BART in SF) and in addition, the staff came around with pillows.

Eventually I got 'home'... although I'm not sure which city it was, or where my actual home was. Then I woke up.

Anyone care to hazard an interpretatin? I guess, in the interest of full disclosure: I was operating on maybe 3 hours sleep over the previous 3 days, and had had a beer then took a benedryl before going to bed. So maybe not a purely spontaneous dream there.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Shut up and smile

One of the more surreal aspects of living in Thailand is hearing American music in different venues. A lot of restaurants and clubs have live music and while they primarily sing Thai songs, every once in a while they'll throw in a golden oldie from the states. I've heard a LOT of the Carpenters - ugh I can't remember the name of the song right now, then there's the standard dance mix I hear on Ko Samet or in some of the other clubs.... Sean Kingston: Beautiful
Girls, T-Pain & Flo-rida: Low, and Kardinal Offishal & Akon: Dangerous.... oh there's a couple others I hear a lot but I'm all out of google-fu for the evening.

The one song though, that I hear constantly is "When You Say Nothing at All." (written by Paul Overstreet & Don Schlitz - I have no idea which version I'm listening to here) I'm sure this song is meant to be a sweet and sincere expression of love and affection, but I just can't stand it. I lump it in with "I knew I loved you before I met you." and "Girl, you'll be a woman soon" as one of the all time worst sentiments conveyed in a love song. "You say it best, when you say nothing at all." seems all the more appropriate when sung to people who don't actually understand the lyrics. And it just typifies what little I've seen of the Farang man / Thai woman relationship. More often than not, couples in this dynamic speak very little of each other's languages and must therefore communicate through the language of 'love' (aka - sex & money). I hear this song, and all I can think of is who needs actual communication or intelligent discourse... all you need to remember for a relationship to work is "shut up and smile baby, shut up and smile." Gah!

Hmmm.... I thought I had more to say about that in this post. But it turns out I just wanted you all to know how much I hate that song. That's all.


TAG: Code Watermelon



edited to add that I went out tonight and sure enough the 'shut up and smile' song came on again this time with a woman singing it... good lord! I got excited though when "I will survive" came on and started to sing along, but was quickly informed that in Thailand this is a classic katoey (transexual) song. Lovely.