Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

Well I made it home safe and sound. Margy's wedding was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed my short time in Hong Kong. The actual wedding was great with the ceremony taking place on a boat in Hong Kong Harbor and then making it over to a delicious restaurant on the island. An excellent time was had by all. I wish I could've stayed longer but my flight home was the next day. I had no major problems during my trip although there were a few close calls. I thought Hong Kong was chilly but it wasn't close to the Logan parking garage at midnight. Yikes. Plus, my dad parked in Row Z so there was a fair bit exposure to the elements.

Since I've been back I've been able to see a bunch of my favorite people with many more still to come. This blizzard I wished for is certainly rad and I got in some sledding the other day(!) I've been asked this question a whole lot since I've been back so I'll address it here. My future plans are: Enjoy the holiday season with friends and family. I really haven't thought too far beyond that. I need to find a job. I would love to put my Intl. Relations degree to work and ideally I would like to land a job that would send me back to Thailand.

There really isn't a whole lot of culture shock coming back. I mean, I've lived here before. Things aren't that weird. I think a bigger shock is the transition from Bangkok to Chatham where there's only 2 traffic lights and places actually close at night.

I'd be lying if i said I didn't miss Thailand a lot already. It was an awesome experience and I know I'll go back someday. With that said, It sure feels good to be home.

much love
j

ps. my first meal back was a Steak Bomb and a coke from D'Angelo! I've also had a burger, pizza, wings, and all kinds of other tasty treats. I'm dreading the day I get a craving for some Thai food and have to shell out $7.00 for some Pad Thai that most definitely won't compare.

pps. Now that I'm back and have a fast internet connection, I can finally upload those videos I took so long ago. I didn't forget. I just need to find an adapter for my laptop and I'll get them up here asap. Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Phuket, dude

My recent trip down south was another success. My first stop was in Kao Lak where I met up with Ryan, Fern, and Kat. Ryan had been in the area for several days on a scuba trip so he knew the best places to go. After we rented the always necessary motorbikes, we zoomed down to a great little beach with a bungalow restaurant. There was a laxy river that emptied out into the ocean near us and Ryan and I took an opportunity to go exploring. There wasn't a whole lot going on except we saw some workers clearing land for a new resort. Part of their project was what looked like excavation of an old swimming pool. Ryan said he went down a washed-out, overgrown road the day before and got to the ruins of an old resort. It's been nearly 5 years since the Tsunami wrecked this part of the world and they're still not fully recovered. The restaurant where we were sitting held a staff vs guests volleyball game in the afternoon which was a lot of fun. They also had a giant soccer game later and the two of those really wore me out.

The next day we decided to go down to Phuket. It's the biggest tourist attraction so we figured we should check it out. Needless to say but it was very touristy. There were Farangs everywhere and the part where we stayed was pretty busy. We were right on the beach so the next day we went for a stroll. The bay where we were offered every kind of extreme water sport. Jet skis, windsurfing, parasailing, banana-boating, etc. A couple of us were feeling under the weather so we opted for a trip to what i could best describe as an aquatic playground. For 300฿ we could spend the day climbing on inflatable mountains, jumping on sea trampolines, and riding the "water-totter". It was a lot of fun and it was probably the nicest salt water i've swam in since i've been here. After that, we went to Fern's favorite place "monkey beach" which is a little beach restaurant that has a little gibbon. He would swing around and wrestle with his best friend, a pug. I loved it. After that we went down to the walking street where all the different bars were. It was pretty sleazy and a lot like Pattaya. Fern told us that it wasn't like this before the Tsunami, and that foreign investors rebuilt the area in a totally different image. We had a good time though and wound up at a bar that looked like a space station and had weird dancers in full body black and white spandex suits. Strange. The next day we went back to Kao Lak to return our bikes and catch a bus back. Aside from a small fever, a very successful trip.

much love
j

ps. my favorite band from Blues Bar is performing a concert at the Thailand Cultural Center tonight and guess who has a ticket!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Father's Day

The king of Thailand is celebrating his 82nd birthday today. As you may already know, the country is absolutely crazy about this guy and so the whole city has been set up with large pictures and displays to celebrate the king's big day. Normally, every citizen would be wearing yellow to show their love (that's his color) but because of the political situation they've changed it to pink. Since everyone has this special day off, I finally was able to go to the enormous weekend market in Jatujak park. It was really neat with varied shops that went beyond just the cheap t-shirts and handicrafts that dominate the other markets I've been to. They even had a couple pet shops with puppies, birds, and baby rabbits. Adorable!

In other news, my last day of teaching is finally upon me. Tomorrow will be my final day at ICR Sathorn. I was promised a pizza. This whole week I've had my replacement hanging around and observing my classes. He's an alright guy and I'm comfortable leaving my kids with him. I'm probably gonna let him do most of the heavy lifting tomorrow since my brain will likely be off in Phan nga. I'm taking one last trip down south with my friends which promises to be lots of fun. I'll let you know all about it when I get back.

As an added bonus to today being the king's b-day (or moreso because it's his b-day) today is also Father's day in Thailand. So a warm wishes to all those dads out there. Happy Father's Day!

much love
j

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Last night we went out to the Roadhouse for a big family dinner. They had a big Thanksgiving buffet but I opted for the bbq chicken and some ribs. Delicious. I hope everyone's having a great time and eating up on that Turkey/Potato/Stuffing for me.

much love
j

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An Early Exit

My work doesn't really have scheduled vacation days for me. Instead they gave me a handful of days and let me pick and choose when I could go. Well, turns out I still have six unused days-off left and not a whole lot of days-on in which to use them. I was gonna take a vacation the first week of December (wrapping my vacation around the King's Birthday on the 5th) but I Can Read wants to use that week to have me train my replacement so I'll be bumping it back to the week after. This will take my vacation all through my last day of work so it appears as though I'l be totally done with work sooner than I thought. This is good and bad. It's good because my departure from Thailand was so close to my last day that I was afraid I wouldn't have the time or energy to pack and make sure everything was squared away. Now I have plenty of time and give this place a proper goodbye. It's bad because Ryan and I had planned overlapping vacations to do some stuff and now we might only have a few days in common. Also because I have, a most, three more classes with some of my students. Bummer! Most of my kids are awesome and a couple are really sweet and I'm gonna miss them.

I'm still unsure what to do with my last week off here. I don't know if I should revisit someplace I loved, or try someplace new. I have some time to think about it. Just not a whole lot...

Much love,
j

Monday, November 16, 2009

Homeward Bound

My buddy Chris went back to the U.S. just a few days ago. We had a big send-off and Soi 8 isn't the same without him. Since his arrival in March he's been a good friend and a solid bud. The other thing about his departure is that it really opened my eyes to how soon I'll be leaving. It was recently brought to my attention that many of you don't know exactly when that is. Well, tickets have been booked and I'll be back on American soil on Dec. 17th. I actually leave Thailand on the morning of the 15th, but I'm making a little stop in Hong Kong so I can attend Margy and Justin's wedding (very cool). Then I go Shanghai->Chicago->Boston. According to my itinerary, the flight from Shanghai to Chicago takes -1 hour which will certainly be weird. I leave at 6:00pm and land at 5:00pm on the same day!

This isn’t gonna be a big retrospective post about my amazing time in the Thailand. I still have a lot of time left and a lot of living left to do. I actually just saw the Grand Palace for the first time last week! (Chris and I decided that if we both lived in Bangkok for so long, we might as well see it’s biggest tourist attraction.) This post is just to say that the idea of coming home is starting to build. Making mental lists of the first things I’m gonna do/eat; the people I can’t wait to see; and most of all who and what I’m gonna miss the most. When I left the U.S., I was pretty certain that I’d return before too, too long. Now it’s different. Now I’m not sure when/if I’ll ever be back here again and that’s not easy to handle.

Much Love
j

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pics

Here's some of those pics from my vacation down south. Enjoy!





Ryan finds his happy place


Family ride



Not pictured: More dogs



On our way to Adong



Refreshing swim after our journey up the waterfall



Our private beach



Just another day

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween!

I love Halloween. This is my second in Thailand and, if you remember, they don't celebrate it nearly as much (mega bummer) I spent most of this week in class reading scary stories and doing halloween activities. It's great because I remember teachers in elementary school really getting into certain holidays and now it's come full circle.

Just wishing everyone an awesome Halloween.

Have a spooky one!
j

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trang

Trang
Oh man. Trang was a righteous vacation. We spent 3 solid days of jungle exploration and beach relaxin’ in a relatively uninhabited paradise. This is one of my longer posts so proceed with caution.

(Precursor)
I’m not gonna say we came close to not going, but things were definitely more difficult than anticipated. When we last left our hero he was on the precipice of a tropical vacation but a train strike threatened to “derail” his holiday plans (sorry). Well, the strike did indeed quash our hopes of riding the night train down to Trang, but there is more than one way to get there. We decided to take a bus from the South Station. The only problems with that idea? Tickets have to be purchased at the station, can’t do it online; The station is an hour from the apartment and I don’t get off work till 5:00; It’ll be packed with travelers whose train tickets are now also no good; Also I still hadn’t packed… When we finally got to the South Station all the tickets were gone. This did not come as a surprise. We quickly busted out the map and started setting a new course. We weren’t sure where we were going but we knew we had to leave that night. Waiting for the next Trang bus in the morning would’ve cost us a whole day (it was around a 12 hr drive!) Dozens of options presented themselves. Phuket? Krabi? Where?! We decided on a town called Phattalung which was way East of Trang City but about equidistant to the scenic highway we planned on taking. Perfect! We’ll just rent motorbikes there instead of in Trang City and the itinerary will hardly change at all! We boarded our bus and besides the mandatory 3am stop at the roadside diner/snack shop/bathroom we had a pretty smooth ride.

Day 1
During the bus ride, we discussed how our trip was similar to some sort of ‘amazing race’ reality show: “Alright teams, you have 24 hours to get to a tropical beach in South Thailand BUT the train workers’ union just went on strike, AND there’s no more bus tickets to Trang tonight!” Well when we arrived in Phattalung, it kept getting more ridiculous. Phattalung is actually a pretty quiet town which receives almost no tourists. Thai or Farang. That said, they didn’t have a single place that rented motorbikes. Everyone we asked said that we had to go to Trang to rent anything. That’s not entirely true. Everyone we talked to began searching the train station for someone who spoke any English to help translate (AND there’re no motorbikes in the whole city, AND no-one speaks English (or cares that you speak Thai)) We eventually found out that our only option was to take a bus to Trang, but that bus left from a different bus station 10 minutes away. Only then could we get our bikes and start our trip. Luckily it was only 8am so we were still doing pretty good as far as time, and we were all still sleepy enough that this nonsense wasn’t fully soaking in. I’ll spare you the finer details of what happened next, but let’s just say it wasn’t much easier to rent the bikes once in Trang. We finally got underway and backtracked to the scenic road that took us south past tons of natural wonders. Aside from the already beautiful sky, mountains, and rubber tree farms, there were dozens of caves and waterfalls to see. We had big plans to get to the pier in La Ngoo before nightfall so we didn’t stop for everything but we did make two very radical stops. The first one was an unmarked cave that totally surprised us. From the road it just looked like a really cool little mountain so we went to check it out and the other side had a sweet little cave and running water. The second one was an enormous waterfall. Enormous. It wasn’t the big, freefall kind, but the kind that runs down a long steep cliff face. It was enormous and it as not easily accessible. Just like everything we explored, some trailblazing was required. The path was all washed out and swallowed up by vegetation on more than one occasion and we made most of the ascent within the riverbed itself. Scrambling on rocks and along tree trunks was a very cool way to get to the splash zone and made the view that much more enjoyable. As we stood in awe of the roaring waters and swan around in them, a giant cloud formed and descended down washed out part of the mountain until it sat right over us and preceded to soak us with one of those biblical rainstorms. We were already wet from the swim and our stuff was already sealed dry so we could just enjoy the storm as we made our way back to our bikes. We ended up spending a while at the waterfall and it was apparent we wouldn’t make it to La Ngoo that night. We opted to stay in a little town right on the coast called Pa Lian. It was already dark and we stumbled on a little place that had a couple bungalows and also cooked us dinner right on the water. We were pretty lucky because it’s still low season and lots of places to stay aren’t operational yet. The fact that we were Farangs traveling in remote places of Trang province was already weird enough that it blew most people’s minds, but it was compounded by the fact that it was the rainy season and they didn’t normally get tourists of any kind. Anyway, I had no problem falling asleep after such a busy day…

Day 2
I awoke to nice, fresh country air and a great enthusiasm to get back on the road. The pier at La Ngoo was still a fair drive and we wanted to catch the ferry as soon as possible. We oriented ourselves and were able to get aboard the noon ferry to Koh Lipe (lee-pay). Lipe was awesome. A handful of motorbikes and a tractor were the only land vehicles I saw. We spent the earlier part of our afternoon exploring the island, swimming around, and hanging out with a cool dog who joined our group somewhere in the forest. In all seriousness, the island is actually inhabited by Sea Gypsies who fish, hang out, and generally live a gypsy life. Chris brought a soccer ball and the gypsy kids around our bungalow loved it. When we got hungry, it was time to move. The whole island only had three interconnecting footpaths to get everywhere and our map looked pretty much like a treasure map. It even had treasure-map-quill-scrawl font. On our way we passed by a sign for a temple but to get there we had to go up some rocky stairs in between two huge boulders. That part wasn’t foreboding. The foreboding part was that both boulders had a giant black dog on top giving out a low growl. It was a lot like that scene from The Omen. We went up anyway and were treated to a very different scene than the temple’s guardians had projected. The place was FULL of baby animals. There were two litters of puppies, one of kitties, and a whole bunch of little chicks. Very adorable. It was tough to leave but hunger called. We began our search for restaurants by asking the question “Where’s the pool table” and were eventually pointed in the direction of a place that had very excellent pizza. This vacation was already unbelievably righteous and we hadn’t even started day three!

Day 3
Our trip had already gone Bangkok>Trang>Pa Lian>Koh Lipe. We had whittled down our contact with people to almost nothing. It was time to reach the ultimate. We contracted a fisherman to take us over to Koh Adong, an adjacent island that was almost all national park and had practically no one on it. The one guy we saw all morning was the guy who worked for the parks dept. and he just hung in his office and read charts. We decided to check out the waterfall on the island and began a cool hike up a mountain trail that had a view of crystal blue water almost the whole way. One thing that I kinda didn’t like was a big black hose running along the trail at times. I didn’t like it until I realized that the ‘trail’ we were walking along was actually more of a service road for the pipe that brought fresh water down from the top of the ‘fall and that made the path that much more genuine. We got to the top and did some more scrambling. The trail actually just went to the top and didn’t run along its path so we had to explore more. After a fair bit of exploration we headed back down to the beach to eat our lunches. We had a healthy picnic lunch of tuna fish sandwiches and chips and proceeded to lounge around on our beautiful private beach. We did a little swimming with some cool, florescent, pet-store fish and tried fishing with a reel we rented for the day from some guy on Lipe. Not a whole lot of luck fishing with the butt-ends of our loaf of bread but fun nonetheless. Upon all of that, we were treated to one of the all-time coolest sunsets I’ve ever seen. It was one of those where you can tell it’s gonna be awesome like 45 minutes before the sun even gets low so we just planted ourselves and soaked it in. No-one wanted to miss a minute of it so we didn’t go about finding a way off the island until it was dark. Luckily, one of the few people who live on the island was out fishing and actually placed a call to a guy with a boat who took us back to Lipe (he actually had his back turned to the sunset as he fished like it was no big deal!) After we got all cleaned up we went back for another shot at that delicious pizza and then went over to reggae bar (every island has a bar called reggae bar) where they had a beach performance. But instead of a guy twirling fireballs around to tribal drums, pretty standard on these southern islands, there was a guy swirling orbs of tranquil light in tune with the reggae. Very cool. It went very well with the sky which had more stars than I’ve seen in a long time.

Day 4
Ryan and I got up early to get the ferry back and start our long journey home. No problems except that we initially boarded the wrong 9am ferry and had to sprint 100 yards down the beach to a different 9am ferry that was already pulling away from the beach. (again!?) Luckily they saw us and we were able to get on. Once back on the mainland we had to get back to Trang to drop off the bikes so we set a course to head up the coast. We made one quick stop at another waterfall. This one had an elevated walkway to traverse the swamp and reach it, but the walkway was rotted out in a lot of places and a couple times we had to climb down and proceed on foot. We were pretty used to that by then. We returned the bikes with no problems and found our way to the bus station in plenty of time for our 5pm bus. The newspaper headlines in the station informed me that the train strike was now over (no joke) but we were pretty much already on the bus so we didn’t bother changing. It wasn’t a big deal anyway, I was so exhausted that I slept just fine, I just thought the timing was particularly funny. We got back to BKK around 4:30am Friday where I happily enjoyed one last day-off to readjust.
……………………………………............

That was my Trang trip. Sorry it took so long to get this up here but I was waiting for pictures which aren’t all in yet. I’ll upload them in a second post soon. For now, here’s a pic of that sunset as a tease.

Much love,
j


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trouble with Trains

If you recall, my Songkran trip to Chiang Mai coincided with massive protests in the capital and we just barely made it out of here on the last train before the blockades went up. Well, something similar threatens to ruin another holiday of mine. Ryan, Chris, Matt, and I had planned an awesome trip to Trang province way down in the south. It’s a tropical paradise with lots to see and do and it receives almost no farang tourists. Needless to say I was super excited for a 5-day vacation there. But now, not even 6 hours from my departure, the train worker’s union has staged a strike and it looks like there won’t be any trains heading south for a while. Bummer! It’s still the early stages of the strike and there’s a chance a few of the lines are still operating. But most people seem pretty pessimistic that it’s shut down completely. Worst case scenario we could just head North or East where trains are still running, but I’ve had my heart set on Trang for a while.

Here’s a link to the article. (Feel free to skip over any mention of “deadly derailments”)

Whether we manage to leave to Trang or not I’ll probably be off the grid for the next few days so don’t worry about the radio silence on this end. I come back on Friday arriving Saturday morning.

much love
j

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Balls of Fire

There is a strange phenomenon that happensevery year in North-East Thailand. During the first week in October, around the final day of Buddhist vassa, small fiery orbs shoot up out of the Mekong river and disappear into the night sky. The cool thing is that no one is really sure what they are or why this happens. Explanations range from combustable river sediment, to tracer fire, to the belief that they're caused by a great snake in the river. (That's how they got the name naga fireballs). I read about this a while ago and really wanted to get up to see it but by the time I noticed it again in the paper there wasn't enough time to take the train out to Nong Khai before the festival ended. Bummer. So anyway, here's a youtube clip of the fireballs in action. Enjoy.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Believe it or not

Today marks 1-year anniversary of my trip to Thailand! Of course I spent the first 3 weeks of my stay in other countries, but this day was the very start of my trip. A lot has happened in my life since then, and it’s kinda strange to think back on all of it. Oh, what a year it’s been!

Much love
j

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lopburi

My weekend trip to the monkey town was a success! I left by minibus late on Sunday and got in around 8pm. I left to wander the streets and find a place to stay which was more dangerous than I had expected. Lopburi is famous for it's mischievous monkeys, but when the sun goes down the streets are filled with angry dogs. They're very territorial and will not only growl and bark but will get up and chase you. Frightening! I eventually found a hotel and got some sleep on a very uncomfortable mattress.

I woke up pretty early and set out to see the big Monkey temple, also known as Phra Prang Sam Yot. This is the temple you may have seen on Discovery channel or Animal Planet shows. It’s a giant Khmer temple up on a little hill with the city all around it and it’s crawling with Crab-eating Macaques. I got there super early so it was just me and my guide on the grounds. The guide told me a little about the temple as well as point out the oldest, fattest, and youngest monkeys. She also had a slingshot with her.

The ticket I bought gave me access to a couple other sights around the city so I also went to see the Ban Vichayen, the remains of the official ambassador’s residence. It was actually three large ruined buildings with lots of green space around which was great for walking in. Then I went to the Phra Kahn Shrine, “the site of a small shrine, the remains of a Khmer prang, a few stalls and lots of monkeys. The stalls sell offerings to be dedicated at the shrine, and food and drink. The monkeys eat the food, drink, offerings and anything else going. Good for a few photos. There are signs warning of purse-grabbing by the monkeys, but they appear docile if not provoked.” This was great because as I got there a guy was unloading a bag of milks for the monkeys and they had a big milk party. After that I took a motorbike far outside the city to Kraison Siharat which was a temple where King Narai went to watch lunar and solar eclipses in the 1680’s. By the time I got back from there, it was almost 4pm and time to meet up with Alex.

Alex did the languagecorps program with Ryan and me and has been teaching all semester in Lopburi. He just finished his classes and is gonna travel a bit before he goes home at the start of October. He was grading papers at school so I got to walk around the grounds while he finished. He taught at a gigantic high school and had 19 of his own classes. Yikes! I have 18 but they’re not nearly as large as his. We had a dinner at his usual after-work restaurant and I was back on my minibus to the city.

All in all, Lopburi was a very cool place. Aside from the monkeys, it was a lot like other smaller Thai cities I’ve visited. One thing I really enjoyed was the late afternoon before I got back into the minibus. I was able to soak in the last rays of sunshine on a clear day instead of the sun disappearing behind skyscrapers and into a massive dark cloudbank. One thing I feel I should mention is that..yes, I was bitten by a monkey. I took my eyes off a big ugly one for one second and it jumped up onto my plastic bag of monkey food and, in an effort to bite through the bag, got the tip of my finger. I’m currently being treated for monkeyitis and getting a series of injections at the hospital. I would be lying if I said this didn’t add that extra something to my trip that makes it extra memorable.

Much love
j



I went a couple different places before the monkey temple, but let's be honest, this is what you came to see




Relaxed



So many monkeys



The youngest monkey. Only 2 days old!



Later I went inside the prang and got some close-ups






At the old ambassador's residence. Considerably fewer monkeys.






At Kraison Siharat where King Narai went to view the eclipses.



At the Phra Kahn Shrine where this woman was constantly hitting pesky monkeys off the top of her souvenir stand. This is also where the monkeys had their milk party.



The milk party



The sun setting on another great day in the kingdom.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Upon further review..

I've been researching more and more about my trip to Lopburi and certain quotes have only strengthened my resolve to visit this "Monkey Town"

"Lopburi is very laid back, and its convenient location less than 3 hours from Bangkok makes it a good place to escape the stress and pollution of the capital"

"Lopburi is famous for the hundreds of crab-eating macaques that overrun the Old Town, especially in the area around Phra Prang Sam Yot and Phra Kaan Shrine, and there's even a monkey temple/amusement park where you can buy snacks to feed to them. "

"Depending on your preference you can choose a place with lots of monkeys running around, or opt for somewhere with low or no monkey presence" (lots of monkeys, obviously)

"...Prang Sam Yot, a Khmer temple north of the train station. Entrance is 30 Baht and you are given a stick that will help you ward off over inquisitive monkeys."

The whole time i've been typing this, my co-worker Tara, who lived in Lopuri for a 4 months, has been telling me great war stories about monkeys snatching lunches, and monkey/dog rumbles in the streets. I'm very excited.

much love
j

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jim Thompson

I took a little trip last weekend to one of the city's main tourist destinations, The Jim Thompson house. Jim Thompson was a very cool dude who did a lot of things but is most known for his work in the Thai silk business. He's the guy who really reinvented the industry and opened it up to the world. The reason his house is so cool is because he built it by connecting 6 small traditional Thai houses together. Aside from that he was an avid collector of Southeast Asian art and so his house is full of ancient artifacts which he basically had up as decour. He also has a giant jungle garden which is really neat because his house is in the middle of the city. His house is about a 5 minute walk from the skytrain down a small soi and is astoundingly quiet amidst all the hustle and bustle. I just liked how his house is a museum now. Even his table settings are prized chinese porcelain. Pictures weren't allowed in the upstairs parts of the house, so I took a bunch of the garden area.


This must be the place



The house was raised up on stilts in the tradional style of 'not wanting to get flooded'



Located right here











This was at the Skytrain station. Whee!

Those are the inages from my trip to Jim Thompson's house. I hope you enjoyed them. I'm thinking of taking a trip to Lopburi this coming weekend which could potentially be my zaniest trip yet. Just so you know, Lopburi is also called Monkey Town and I intend to find out why.

Much love
j

ps, I went down to Molly Malone's on tuesday morning (the pub where I watched the Super bowl) and was able to catch the 4th quarter of the Pats game! Very cool. I'll be able to see all regularly scheduled MNF games and I think I might make Tuesday morning brunch at Molly Malone's a weekly thing. 100฿ for a big english breakfast and a football game. C'mon!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Be Careful

There haven't been too many strange points of Thai culture to point out as of late. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough, or maybe what was once weird has become so common that I don't even think to mention it. It's like when one of us has a visitor and they stop to take pictures of the little spirit houses outside every building, or of the man peddling his fried bugs. I don't even think twice about those now. Well the other day I heard a Thai belief that instantly struck me as weird..

Apparently if you sing while you're eating, a very old woman will fall in love with you. Either that or you'll fall in love with her(i'm not sure which). Frankly both are strange. I was trying to think of where/when this possibly could have originated and all I know is it would've been funny to be there. Hopefully more posts to come soon. Ryan's birthday is coming up next week adn there's talk of going to a classy rooftop bar. suits? suits.

much love
j

Friday, September 4, 2009

Vietnam

My vacation to Vietnam was great. I took a week off from work and flew to Ho Chi Minh City for some sightseeing as well as friendseeing. I think I mentioned this a couple times but the initial part of my teacher training in Phnom Penh was in a large group that eventually split into three smaller groups (Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.) The Nam crowd has been here a couple times, most notably Songkran, and it was high time I go to visit them and their city. I was expecting the city to be dirty like Phnom Penh but I was pleasantly surprised. It was about as clean if not cleaner than Bangkok, or the parts I saw anyway. (I should say that any observations made were made in just that short week.) The big difference between HCMC and BKK was the traffic. The Vietnamese were almost entirely on motorbikes which I loved. I took a motorbike taxi almost everywhere and really enjoyed the ordered chaos of countless motorbikes rushing through the city streets like a river.

I spent the early part of my trip just hanging out in my friends’ house. It’s actually more of an apartment building but when the Languagecorps program finished there was enough people to get all seven rooms in their building. So I spent most of the first part hanging out (hey, I was on vacation) and seeing the sights around the city. The War Remnants Museum can really bum you out but it’s definitely worth a trip. My friends all worked different hours. Instead of working a steady salary job like me, they cobbled together a few part time jobs around the city which was kinda cool, ‘cause you get to teach a wide range of ages, except that they’d be motorbiking all over town on some days to get to all their classes.

Let me tell you now that a week in Vietnam is not enough. With my timeframe I was only able to check out relatively close things and didn’t have a real chance to get up to Hanoi, Halong Bay, or even Da Lat. That being said, I was still able to see some very cool sights. I took a trip up to the Cu Chi tunnels which was the intricate tunnel system the Viet Cong constructed. There was a lot of history there and it was really interesting. I climbed through one and they were unbelievably tiny, even after being widened for Western audiences.

Next I took a trip up to Mue Ne which is known for its nice beaches and giant sand dunes. I paid for a package deal that would take me to all the ‘sights’ around the town which was great. I was the only one who’d signed up for it this week so it was just me and the guide cruisin’ around on a motorbike. First thing we did was head up to the big red sand dunes for sunrise. The dunes were actually quite a ways up from the waterline so I had a really nice view of the road winding down into the village and the boats coming in. There were lots of Vietnamese tourists on the dunes enjoying the sights and sledding down the dunes on big sheets of plastic. Of course I did it too. One time I came to an abrupt stop and flew over the front into a big facefull of sand, much to the delight of those watching. After the duning, we headed to the fishing village where all the boats who’d been out fishing all night came in to unload. It smelled like diesel and fish and reminded me a lot of home. Except instead of pulling up to docks, the fisherman would anchor off shore, load the fish into large bowl/boats, and row them over to the craziness of buying/selling/packing/moving that was going on for 200 or so yards of beach. It was really neat to soak in the hustle and bustle of the fish market. Giant baskets of bait fish being loaded onto wagons pulled by oxen as fully loaded motorbikes zoomed around them. After that we went to the “fairy stream” which was a little brook that ran from the hills down to the sea and left a neat little gorge with high walls of groovy sand and mud. Groovy like it had grooves. It was still very early in the morning so I was the only one walking in the stream, which was really nice. Apparently it gets pretty crowded later on and even as I was leaving, a group of four or five was just starting. From there, I went back to my bungalow packed my things, and got on a bus back to HCMC. I spent my last little bit of city time biking around and picking up gifts and things for people at my work. I sampled a bit more of the local food. I definitely ate my fair share of bread and cheese which is a little more elusive in Thailand (except for pizza of course). I was really big on Bahn Mi which were egg and cheese breakfasty things on mini baguettes. Yum.

I really enjoyed my stay in Vietnam and learned some things along the way. It was strange to be in a south-east Asian country and all of a sudden not speak the language again. It was like going back to when I first got to Thailand. I could tell I was being ripped off in the market place but I couldn’t haggle my way down. I was powerless! It was also strange to go on a trip which contained sights and smells that reminded me so much of the cape, but then to feel a sense of relief when I finally got “home” and heard the familiar “Sawatdee kaa” of the stewardesses as I exited the plane.

Sorry for taking so long to get this post up!

Much love
j

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Martial Arts

Bangkok is proud to be hosting the 1st annual Asian Martial Arts Games! It's pretty much like the olympics with countries from the area coming and competing in various events. The only event I've been to see is the Muay Thai which is taking place down the street at the National Stadium. We walked in about half an hour before it started so we got to walk around and explore the grounds. The fights weren't the same as the ones I saw at the Lumphini stadium some months ago. Here there were all kinds of officials and people in uniform and even though we were in the front row of the stands, we were still fairly far from the action. Also, instead of having a rowdy "3rd class" section that was shouting and gambling, we had Student Sections. High-school kids would come in droves and occupy large sections of the crowd. It was neat because the all sat together with their different groups in their different uniforms. Every now and then between fights, the PA announcer would say something like "Hello Jawatana High!!" and then that school would scream as loud as they could, and then the announcer would move on to the next school and get a good screaming contest going. There were also lots of screams whenever a Thai national competed. One thing that I'm glad was the same was the crazy snake charmer music during the fights. It makes it so much better.

Since it's the first ever Asian Martial Arts Games, the committee of course had to come up with a mascot. They came up with this guy:


His name is Hanuman which is a character from Ramayana, a great Asian epic. This is from the official site "Hanuman is a white, creamy, super monkey and considers it as the God of the ape which has every kind of fighting skill with strong determination of great success. Being the Mighty Ape, “Hanuman” often shares in the traditional flower festival as a gesture of warm welcome and inspires friendship and unity for all the Asian peoples." It's really neat that the committee chose to hold the games in Thailand with all the political turmoil and the recent disaster of the ASEAN summit a few months ago. Thailand's had some troubles recently so for them to host the games is something postive and maybe a vote of confidence form its neighbors.

I'm gonna try to get out of work early tomorrow to go watch the gold medal Muay Thai matches. I might be able to but I don't think it's gonna happen. I have lots to do in the coming days because next Monday I'm taking a week vacation to Vietnam. I'm pretty excited. I've been asking around about what to see/do there and if anyone out there has any suggestions, I'm all ears.

much love,
j

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Koh Samet

A couple weekends ago I took a little trip down to Koh Samet which is a little island only about 2 ½ hours away from the city. It’s a great place to get to for a quick little vacation. Koh Phangna was really nice but it took forever to get there and back. I was able to leave Bangkok on Monday morning and be on the beach at Samet by lunch. The island was beautiful and had lots of rocky coast on which I could scramble. The entire east coast was just bay after bay after bay with rocky outcrops and jungle dividing them. We spent almost our whole first day walking around the island and swimming in the different bays. It was great. It started to drizzle at night so we didn’t move around too much but we went to a place that had a reggae band and Chris and I got on stage and played the conga drums and sang back-up. The next day, the rest of our group arrived and we did the same thing as the first day, except that we hiked farther and went through the jungle trails instead of the rocks. It was great to be reminded that I live in a tropical paradise. Believe it or not I forget this from time to time.

Much love
j

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Movie, Movie

I just signed up for membership at the movie rental place down the block and have been renting movies at an alarming rate. It started when Chris and I decided to watch "In The Name Of The King" which was that movie that was mistakingly labeled "Wire: Season 2, Disc 2" when I bought it. We checked out the cast and the general plot and it seemed like it would be moderately enjoyable. Well not only was the disc mislabeled, but it was a bum disc and would freeze then skip over large parts of the movie. At that point we were so invested in the movie that we had to go out and get it.

So far I've got "In The Name Of The King" (surprisingly enjoyable), "The Assassination of Jesse James" (Very cool, and visually appealing), and "12 Monkeys" (Loved it, something I should've watched a long time ago). If there are anymore suggestions as to newer movies that have come out since I left, or reminders of great movies from the past, I'd love to hear them and I'll try to find them. The movie store is horribly disorganized. Occasionally there's grouping by genre here, or actor there but I might as well be sifting through a bin of dvds.

And I already bought a Thai copy of Tokyo Drift so no need to mention that one.

much love,
j

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Attack of the Swine Flu

Giant flu epidemics aren't that serious in America. SARS, bird flu, and most recently swine flu never really appeared to threaten the existence of humanity. The drastic reactions and precautions taken to avoid it seemed more silly than necessary. Southeast Asia gets hit a little harder by these flus-du-jour so their reaction to them is far larger and it's not entirely without reason. There's been over 4,000 reported cases in Thailand so far and the death toll is up to 24. Granted, that's a very small percentage and the people who've been dying already had health issues, but it's enough to send the country into a panic. Seeing students with face masks is becoming more common. Even people on the street are wearing them. My classes are about half full now since most kids are either sick or their parents don't want them exposed any more than they need to be. The Thai ministry of public health has ordered that tutorial schools and other after-school programs be shut down for two weeks. I was super-excited to hear that but then it turns out we're staying open because it doesn't apply to us. Bummer! Anyway, it's bad and it's gonna get worse before it gets better. My friend Mike who's teaching in Japan has had to wait until now (school vacation in Japan) to come visit because he has to go through a one-week quarantine/sterilization procedure upon his return and he couldn't take the time off. The good news is that he's finally coming this weekend which is gonna be very cool. It's been 'quiet' here for a while after our initial onslaught of visitors.

If you're worried about me contracting the swine flu, don't be. Actually I'm pretty sure I already had it and got over it in about 2 days. Maybe it's my American upbringing but it doesn't seem like a big deal to me.

much love
j

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Fourth

Happy 4th of July everybody!

Another one of those days with a little extra sense of homesickness but I was able to counteract it throughout the day. Since it was Saturday I had a very busy day teaching but I was able to slip in a little July 4th here and there which was fun. We even read a story called "Hot Dogs". I explained that it was a big holiday in America and a time to have fun with friends and family. That evening we had planned to go to a friend's house for a rooftop bbq, which I was super excited about, but threatening rain derailed that idea. Instead we ended up going to The Roadhouse which is a steakhouse that we've had designs on going to for a while now. The Fourth seemed like a perfect day. It was so good so good. I got a beef brisquet (sp?) sandwich with some potato salad. We ate on their third floor which was like their pub floor so there was all sorts of entertainment. Pool, darts, foosball, golden-tee, and a really fun shuffleboard/curling type game that i'd heard about but never seen. We ended up playing that for a while and watching the Williams sisters' finals on tv. It seemed like an appropriate way to spend my Fourth. I've written about this before but I'll say it again. It's been nice since the election. I'm not sure how much has really changed, but now when I saw I'm from America there's a feeling that I'm received differently. And for the better.

Much love
(and bbq)
j

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Tiger Temple

A while back I wrote about a trip I took to Kanchanaburi with my dad, Margaret and Justin. It was a nice town and had a lot of history but all the tuk-tuk drivers wanted to drive us to a “tiger temple” some 14 km away. Tiger temple, you say? Well I was certainly intrigued but we just didn’t have the time. That’s why when I was given the opportunity for a return trip with the sole purpose of visiting the tiger temple, I was totally on board.

I first imagined the tiger temple as a giant temple where tigers roamed free and you had to sign a waiver or something to enter the grounds. It wasn’t. Instead it was a wildlife conservation area that had lots of different animals roaming the grounds. There were water buffalo, deer, peacocks, and I saw one boar. The tigers were all down in a gorge lazing about. We got there in the early afternoon and most of them were just chilling. We got to walk around and take pictures with them which was really neat. Easily the biggest cats I’ve ever touched. I would’ve said seen but I saw that liger at King Richard’s Faire. Then we moved up the hill to where the tiger cubs were. These guys were very active and a lot more fun. There were monks walking around and leading them around on leashes which was super cool. A couple times they would get close to each other and wrestle which was great for photos. I actually took some pretty neat ones which you can see below. We spent a long time there just walking around and watching them play. Then it came time for the big tiger bath which was where they romped and frolicked in the water and would’ve been really cool if the tickets weren’t so expensive. The money all goes to keeping the park open which is nice, but we couldn’t have seen the water show and still had enough to get home so we decided to pack it up and head home.

The bus ride back to Bangkok took forever because instead of taking the highway like we did on the way up, we went through every town and made something like 30 unscheduled stops to drop people off at their homes. It was a nuisance, then absurd, then it just became silly. On top of all the stops we made, we were the last ones on the bus and they didn’t even take it to the bus station. We told them we were planning on taking a taxi home from the station so they let us off at some random place just inside the city limits that, I guess, was a great place to get a taxi. We were all starving so we ordered pizza. All in all a very good day.

The valley of the sleeping tigers


Naps


One of the FAQs was "Are they drugged?" The answer surprisingly was "No"


Playing around


I'm gonna have to put out a calandar


The Monks were pretty inked up


and finally, a tribute



much love
j

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Songkran

Let me just start this by saying Songkran is the funnest holiday I've ever experienced. Many months ago I promised a post about this fantastic holiday only to leave you all on the edges of your seats. Well now I'm back and while a few of the finer details of my holiday in Chiang Mai have faded, most remain as clear as ever and ready to be told. Here they are..

So. We get off our bus and make it to our guesthouse at around 8:30am on the first day of Songkran, Monday the 13th of April. Our guesthouse was probably the coolest guesthouse I've ever stayed in(more on that later) but we had gotten there well before check-in and so most of us napped or threw the frisbee around. It was situated in a quiet residential neighborhood which was refreshing after the seemingly constant noise of Bangkok. The guesthouse was called Spicy Thai and was pretty much a just a house but it had 25 or so backpackers hanging out in it. It was run by a cool Thai dude named Noom who would had organized activities for each day of Songkran. Day one was a trip just outside the city to Noom's town for lunch with his family and a lesson on how to make a traditional Thai dessert. After breakfast (we each got our own bowl and could help ourselves to fruit and corn flakes) we loaded up in the back of Noom's truck and headed off. Getting out of Chiang Mai wouldn't be an easy task. By the time we left, Songran was already 'starting' and people were sitting roadside with buckets and hoses. Not only that, but there were other trucks filled with water banditos looking to soak us. I use the word banditos because that’s exactly how I felt. We were hunkered down in the back of the truck with super soakers and 50 gallon drum. We made it to the village but not before getting pretty wet. There were two trucks in our caravan and there were a few long stop lights that prompted skirmishes between the two teams. When we got to the village we emptied out and enjoyed the noodle lunch as well as the karame. It was a dessert made from brown sugar, cashews, and sticky rice stirred around in a giant wok. It looked kinda gross but it tasted really good and was served on banana leaves. After that, most people hung out and talked while a few of us got engaged in a water fight with the local children. It was great. There were advancements and retreats and one full-on offensive to capture the hose. Later we joined forces and stormed the rest of the village wreaking havoc. After the long lunch and a discussion on Songkran and the ongoing protests with Noom (he sat on a stump and we all sat around him like he was some old storyteller) we headed back to Spicy Thai and prepared to enter the town.

The streets were packed. There were tons of people selling water guns, buckets, and water blasting rods, as well as food and drink. We pushed our way further into the crowd and were eventually surrounded on all sides by big concerts playing some of the more rockin’ Thai pop songs. A lot of them were familiar from the radio and I feel like those were probably the actual artists which is kinda cool. It would be cooler if I knew for sure..and also if I knew their names. I was separated from the group within minutes of the concert and looked around for them for a few minutes before realizing it was hopeless. I could either spend my first Songkran day trying to find them for hours or I could go off and have some fun by myself. Yes! Totally dismissive of the fact that my friends had all my money, my phone, and were the ones who knew how to get home, I set off through the crowd making Thai friends and getting by on my charm, and on the novelty of a farang who could speak Thai. I eventually encountered a dude with a motorbike who knew where the guesthouse was and would take me there but not until later when there weren’t as many water throwers. I saw his reasoning and so I stayed and had dinner with his friends.

Day 2: Day two was widely agreed upon as our finest day. The first day we were still getting used to Songkran but by the second day we knew what we wanted to do. Noom had planned a walking trip to one of the malls where there was a foam party. We were pretty into that idea and so we all saddled up. We were walking down the same stretch of road as before with all the concerts but miraculously held our group together. Sorta. The other people staying at Spicy Thai pushed through to the foam while we stayed and danced in the streets to some groovin’ jams. Then we all made our way to the moat. Yes, the moat. Chiang Mai was originally a walled city with a moat around it. It has since sprawled outwards but the main action still happens close to the center. The three-lane roads that run along either side of the moat were totally jammed. Cars were inching by and almost everyone was a pick-up with a party crew in the back. We were kinda jealous but still enjoying the festivities. Then, right before our eyes, a flatbed with two giant drums, numerous buckets and, most importantly, no people crosses the bridge and rolls around the corner. Without hesitation we jump into the back and make it our own. The driver kept inching along with the traffic so I assumed he didn’t care or might not of even noticed. I had no idea he was super excited to have us. He later got out and hung out with us in the back. He gave us KFC and a bottle of whiskey and was genuinely thrilled with what we had done. It was awesome. When our water reserves ran out we were forced to jump into the filthy moat to retrieve more. There was probably a good six feet between the waterline and the top of the wall so at first I stayed topside to help with the hoisting, but eventually I had to take the plunge. The water was pretty gross. We were heroes amongst our traffic mates because they were also running low on water and flocked to our barrels to refill. By the time we had traveled two blocks, about three hours had passed and it had started to rain. It was a weird sensation to be outside with thousands of other people in a thunderstorm, and have no one really care. It kinda took the fun out of splashing people but I got over that. The sun started to set and we eventually met up with some of the girls from Vietnam who were staying in a different guesthouse which was more miracle than careful planning. A very good day.

The final day: I won’t say we felt bad on the morning of the last day, but nobody felt great. Most of us were horribly sore from jumping into the moat and hauling out those barrels while jumping in and out of the flatbed and into neighboring trucks and then dancing the night away. Farangs who had done Songkran before had told me that I’d be sick of it before it was over. They were half right. I was in No Way sick of Songkran, we were just in rough shape and would have had a tough time keeping up with the madness (also a couple of our warriors now had some battle damage from the day before) On this day we decided to see the other side of Songkran. There’s generally two warring parties during Songkran festivities: those in the vehicles, and those on the side of the road. We went to Mike’s which was a hamburger stand we had frequented since arriving. They had giant barrel outside and a little water so we parked ourselves and started dishing out the water on cars passing by. More accurately I started dishing water while Tom and Charlie took a seat on the steps and gave moral support. Eventually a few more of our crew joined in and we really got it going. The manager came out and took pictures of us and brought out her hose for us to use. Very awesome. We teamed up with a Japanese family who had a restaurant across the street and made sure no one who was unworthy passed by with out a little water. Some people were on their way to the temple (it is a religious holiday) or warned us about their phones so we refrained but we made sure others picked up their slack. Working as a team we were quite devastating. My favorite was the fake-out with the empty bucket then, as they laughed at our trickery, have someone else nail ‘em for a double laugh. Also when traffic was backed up from the stoplight down the block (rare, maybe 4 times all day) I would sneak in between the idling cars and hit unsuspecting cars coming up the other side. My best moment might’ve been when I hit a guy mid-bite of his sandwich. Yes! The day seemed to last a while but eventually we had to pack up and head back to the guesthouse. Ryan, Tricia, and I had to work the next day and were taking the overnight bus back. The bus was super uncomfortable mostly due to my aching body but I got enough sleep that work was alright the next day. What a holiday. I'm prety sure I'll have to be in Thailand next time Songkran rolls around.

Now, presenting a new feature of JamesAbroad, the pictures section! Here’s some choice material that tries to (but never could) capture the Songkran experience.

Getting in the Songkran mood


Dessert is served!


Karame


Banditos on the move


Our battle wagon


Traffic neigbors


Going in for another refill



Hope you enjoyed the Songkran post and that it was worth the wait. It’s good to be back!

Much Love,
J

The Return!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the trimphant return of JamesAbroad! After much scrimping and saving I found a quality computer that can do everything I really require. That is to say it connnects to the internet, plays music, and runs dvd's. I won't get into all the specs (sorry jp) mostly because I don't know them all, but it's a Toshiba L310 with a pentium dual-core cpu. If you want to know more I can find it out for you. One of the coolest things about it is that it came with a webcam built in! This means I will be able to add a video component to the blog and include things like a virtual tour of my apartment as well as other updates that really require a visual aide.

I got the new computer at an electronics mall called Panthip Plaza. It's pretty cool and has just about everything you'd want, electronically speaking. Tons of knock-off ipods and pirated music as well as several legitimate stores. Since my new computer had no music, I went to a booth to load up on some tunes to get me off the ground. Instead of buying some music cd's, I bought cd's of raw data which had like 10 times as many songs on them. I'm not advocating music piracy here but it is pretty cool to buy a cd with 10 Doors albums on it for 100฿ (~$3). When you buy them, the guy has to leave for like 10 minutes to go get it from his car or wherever they store them. It's pretty silly. You also have to be careful about it not working. All my music worked great but before I went and bought te second season of "The Wire" (a very, very righteous show) only to find that disc 5 only half worked and disc 2 was actually a copy of "In The Name Of The King" with Jason Statham which was kind of a let down.

This time when I went, they had a booth on the ground floor that was selling a pc adapter for Guitar Hero which I was very excited about. I hadn't played since the summer and even then only sparcely. I won't lie..I was pretty rusty, but I was able to shake off the cobwebs and truly perform for a couple songs. I legitimately had a crowd around me watching (applauding?) which was cool but at the same time kinda weird. One more thing about my new computer is that it can write in Thai!

สวัสดีครับ

Monday, April 20, 2009

D'oh

Well when we last heard from me, I was promising a huge post about Songkran. Believe me that would've arrived, but that night my computer crashed. I think I might've lost all my music and pictures which would really stink. Ryan has hope that perhaps it's just the operating system that's messed up and the files inside might be salvagable if I could boot up and get to them. Anyone with computer knowledge have any insight?

I want to write about the big Songkran but I don't want to rush it and I'm on a friend's computer right now so I don't wanna be on it forever. (Also her compuer doesnt' have a spell check liek mine so this post migh have some mispellings) Let's compromise, I'll write a little about before Songkran so later I can cut straight to the chase.

Days before the big departure we started accumulating guests who would make the trip with us. All in all there were 18 of us who made the trip. 18! So we really took over the apartment building. The day of our trip we had a big pool party which was very cool. It was a throwback to pool parties of old including the pizza delivery(!) Then we went to the Hua Lamphong to catch our bus. We were a litle late in booking our trip so we were stuck with the bus which is less desirable than the sleeper train.. but it all worked out. The Red Shirt protesters had blocked all trains from coming and going into Hua Lamphong but the buses were fine. Because of all the delays, the station was a total zoo. Songkran is equatable to Thanksgiving in terms of Thai traveling so the backup of passengers was extra bad. Our bus left on time but it wasn't really from the station. Instead some guy ushered us out a back door and down some dark streets where we had to wait for a little van to take us the rest of the way..to another, wider, alley where we eventually got on the bus. It's good to be laid back, especially in Thailand. We arrived in Chiang Mai around 6:00 the next morning where our adventure started...

to be continued!

again sorry for the major fake-out about posting. I don't feel sick anymore and actually feel better than I have in a while. :)

one lvoe,
j

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Happy New Year! Again!

Well Songkran certainly lived up to the hype. I had been thinking about it for months and it didn't disappoint. I know there's been some conflict in BKK and the term "state of emergency" has been thrown around but I was safely in Chiang Mai by the time any violence started. I'm just posting quickly to say that I'm home safe and sound. I took the overnight bus home last night and didn't get much sleep. I'm at work now and don't really feel well. I'll put up a nice big Songkran post tomorrow.

much love,
j

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spoke Too Soon!

No sooner had I put up that last post when the news breaks that the PPP demonstrators have created a massive traffic jam by blocking off all entrances to one of the main rotaries in the city with some taxis. Whoa! I think it's the rotary around the Victory Monument but I have a tough time telling which rotary is which. It messed with travel so badly that the phone was ringing off the hook with people saying they'd be late to class or that they were just gonna stay home. Then they even canceled my last class for the day! Again, don't worry about me. The protests are very peaceful (one truck/protest-float even has a big banner that says 'Non-violence'(in english))The parents calling in weren't scared of the protests, I'm sure they just didn't want to deal with the hassle of getting here. So I guess the protests have finally impacted my life. There's even talk of canceling school tomorrow(i doubt it) which would be really neat. I'd get to start my Songkran break a day early! If that happens, I'll take the skytrain over to Victory Monument and snap some sweet pictures. The fact that 'non-violence' was written in English makes me wonder if this is making any major news in the Western World or really anywhere outside Thailand. Is it?

one love,
j

EDIT: here's someone's running diary on Thursday's events I found in the Bangkok Post online.

"11:55 The weather is quite hot at the rally sites and, as usual, the number of protestors has dwindled considerably. They will return, however, a bit later in the day. Expect a big crowd for when the 24-hour ultimatum expires. The prime minister has firmly rejected the UDD demands and says he does not expect the protestors to surround his house.

12:30 The latest UDD plan appears to be to send groups of protestors to the Supreme Court, the Foreign Ministry and the Democrat Party headquarters. There are also threats to disrupt the Asean meeting in Pattaya tomorrow, but that might not be a good idea if the protesters want the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra back in power.

14:00 The UDD have started their march on the Democract party headquarters, but more importantly to the people of Bangkok, taxi drivers have blocked off roads around Victory monument. The taxi association is threatening to block all Bangkok roads if the ultimatum is not met. That is not going to make them popular among Bangkok residents.

15:50 Only about 10 minutes to go before the UDD's deadline. There have been reports that the protestors would enter Government House if their demands weren't met, but core leader Nattawud Saikua denied that a few minutes ago.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is in Pattaya where the Asean summit is scheduled to begin tomorrow. He remains adament that it will take place and that he will not dissolve the House.

Meanwhile, the traffic jams continue.

16:25 Although it was taxi drivers who closed off Victory monument, it is the UDD that has taken it over. Several large mobile stages have been moved in. There is a big hospital there, so they better be careful. At the moment, ambulances can't get through.

19:15 The prime minister is scheduled to address the country shortly, the first time we have heard much from him today. He is supposed to do this at channel 11, but there are reports red-shirts are on there way there to stop him. We'll see. Meanwhile, traffic has come to a stop in much of the city. I was lucky because I could go much of the way by underground and the skytrain. I got off at Ekamai and walked the remaining two kilometres to my home. The traffic was moving but I could walk faster. The last time I looked outside, traffic travelling away from Sukhumvit toward Petchaburi, Rama 9 and Lard Praw was at a complete standstill. The main reason of course lies with taxi blockades by pro-Thaksin drivers in key locations in the city, particularly the Victory monument area. The UDD quickly took advantage and the have completely taken over the Victory monument and its surroundings. This is a risky strategy and it is still not clear how it will work out in the long run. It won't win many supporters in Bangkok, that is for sure.

22:00 Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva spoke a short time ago. He was his usual calm, confident self and he explained in detail why it was not appropriate or useful to give in the UDD demands. I'll have more on what he said in the morning, but there were a couple of points mentioning now. First, he said that 70 percent of the 100,000 plus protestors that showed up yesterday had gone home. That was a big reason why the protestor leaders change tactics today and become more aggressive. The needed to provoke a violent response from the government to gain support. They didn't get it and, thankfully, things are still calm. The PM said they will separate out the genuine protestors from the trouble-makers. Those creating problems for the public will face legal action. (UDD groups are still closing roads, incidentally. The latest blockage is at the entrance to Rama 4 at Sukhumvit 71. That's not far from where I live.)

The PM ended by saying that he and his government would never benefit personally from the actions they take – a clear reference to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Meanwhile, the UDD is preparing to send a big group to Pattaya to try to disrupt the Asean summit which begins tomorrow. That could create a difficult situation for the government that wants to avoid violence at all costs."

So that about sums up where we are right now. Obviously the UDD is the group I've falsely been referring to as the PPP. The Bangkok Post online is a good way to stay abreast of the situation and I'll keep you updated on any new developments that the papers may miss. Good night!

Here We Go Again

I'm sure you remember the big protests the PAD(yellow shirts) had late last year. Where they took over the airport and forced the a change in PM's. It was big news. Well now the opposing faction, the PPP (red shirts), has started some protests of their own. It's starting to gain attention but let me just say now that there's nothing to worry about. Much the same way the earlier protests had no real impact on my life, these too have yet to bother me. I'll keep you updated on any major developments.

Friday is my last day of work before the big Songkran break and I'll be heading up north to Chiang Mai for the festivities. Songkran is a dangerous holiday but only if you're a fool. Rest assured that I've read up on my safety tips and I certainly won't be riding a motorbike anywhere.

The north is seen as the heavier PPP area, much the way some see the Midwest in the US as more GOP. I'm eager to see if the the ongoing political unrest and the Thai new year celebration mix in some way this weekend. Should make for an interesting trip!

So in conclusion, don't worry. I'll be fine. Thanks for the concern though!

one love,
j

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Joy

I can’t keep you sufficiently updated on my life in Thailand if I don’t mention my new girlfriend. Relationships usually aren’t something I openly discuss so this is sorta weird for me but, then again, what is a blog really for? The very integrity of my blog would suffer if I failed to mention something as big in my life as a new girlfriend! So anyway, her name is Joy and she works at the Suvarnabhumi Intl. Airport. Not a stewardess but a different job for Korean Air. She was born and raised right here in Bangkok and lives on the northern rim of the city. It’s actually past the farthest Metro station and really close to Bangkok’s other airport, Don Muang. She actually gets to work by taking the shuttle between airports! We’ve been going out for around 2 months and have been meeting up whenever we can find the time. Our work schedules are completely opposite. She works the graveyard shift from 10pm – 4am and goes to bed when she gets home. Since I have work most days until 7ish there’s not a lot of overlap in our free time. We usually meet for dinner on her one night off (Saturday. Coincidentally the night before my earliest and longest day) and then again either Monday or Tuesday night before she goes to work.

Most recently we went out on Monday night to a place called MK which was really cool. I think it’s called Chinese bbq style or something. Anyway, there’s a big boiling pot in the middle and you basically order slices of meat or vegetables to dip in and they’re cooked in like a minute. Then there’s all kinds of sauces to dip them in. Maybe they have restaurants like this in the states but I’ve never seen one. You can also just load up the pot with other vegetables and things to get a good flavor. I ate a veritable smorgasbord of delights that included things like pig liver(good) and jellyfish(nah). Also with your bill you get a printout of the nutritional information for your meal, but I ate so much that the numbers were all skewed. Delicious!

After that we took a ‘dern len’ through the market and bought some English/Thai movies. This brings up two things. The first is my love of the word ‘len’ in Thai. It literally means ‘play’ but if you put it after another verb it pretty much means to do that activity leisurely. ‘Nang’ means sit but ‘nang len’ is more like lounge, also ‘dern’ is to walk where ‘dern len’ is to stroll. The other point to bring up is how incredible a foreign girlfriend is for learning a foreign language. So far our dates have been about 95% Thai. Joy understands English very well but has a hard time speaking it which is totally fine with me since I get a major reason to study Thai before our dates and then get to practice with her. There’s no way I’d know what I do now without that which is neat because just today I was complimented on how well my Thai has progressed! So if anyone’s thinking of visiting... try to book a flight that gets in between 10pm and 4pm :)

International Relations jokes and Joy-related inquiries welcome in the comments.

one love,
j

Saturday, April 4, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours

Since I'd been so busy at work I'd originally planned to sit down and type up my blogs at home in Microsoft Word and then just copy+paste when I got to work like JP suggested, but my time at home as been pretty busy too! Margy and Justin made their final appearance in Bangkok earlier this week so I'd been spending my time with them rather than typing alone. It was great to have them back again even though we spent most of our time hanging around. The rain has returned and has made it difficult to really plan to do anything outside. The plus side is that there's been some righteous thunderstorms. One of the corridors in our building is open-air on one side and has a great panoramic view of the West. (The sunsets are wicked. The actual sun is usually behind a forest of skyscrapers but there's a flat expanse south of it that really lights up with some cool clouds.) Anyway, this is the perfect place to watch a lightning storm cruise through, especially one with so much activity like the ones we've been getting.

In addition to Justin and Margy, we also picked up another new roommate. Ryan's friend from home has recently finished the Languagecorps Thailand program and has moved in with us. He's pretty cool and we're looking into a three bedroom place for when our lease runs out(May) And then on top of that, we also have old Languagecorps friends who've been in Vietnam coming to visit tonight! I was worried that maybe this chain of guests would slow down eventually but it seems to be picking up steam. It's even gotten to the point where I've unfortunately had to turn some guests away! (Sorry again:) Hopefully we'll have more room when we switch places but the house-hunting story will have to be for another time.

one love,
j

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I'm Back!

Well I know it's been a long, long, long time since you've heard anything from me and I feel terrible about that. I said it would never happen again and it did. I had two solid weeks of pretty much nothing and right on the day when I was gonna post about how there'd been so little, I was overcome with things to post about which ironically took up any time where I could!

After work one day, Yu the manager here said she was going to a friend's birthday party and asked if I wanted to come. Of course! I was warned repeatedly that this was going to be a 'Thai' birthday and would be nothing like what I'd expect..I'd probably be bored. I figured that was pretty weird thing to say, but I was willing to take that risk. After all, it had been a pretty mellow two weeks and I figured if nothing else, this would be something I could write about later. Anyway, it turned out to be very cool. The guy was super nice and very accommodating of Tara and me. Tara is a co-worker who also came. The party was a huge Thai dinner in a private karaoke room. They brought out plate after plate of food and you could scoop what you wanted. It was like Thanksgiving. I spent most of the time talking with Yu and Tara but occasionally I would speak with a Singaporean or a Thai who spoke English very well. My conversational Thai is improving but I'm still not at the point where I can chat about things in a loud crowded room. In fact my ability to speak has far outpaced my ability to listen and comprehend. I can sorta say what I need to say, but I still lack the wide vocabulary to understand everything said to me.

So the food keeps coming. More and more people keep showing up. And the Karaoke is starting. Perhaps I posted about this before but Karaoke is a little different here. It's a lot closer to the 'Japanese style' where instead of performing for strangers in a barroom, you and a group of friends reserve a private room. You even have personal attendants who help you with the song-picking machine. You really need a good sense of humor for that job, 'cause you gotta sit through some truly horrendous performances on a nightly basis. So anyway, not only is the venue different, but so are the t.v. screens. In 'western' karaoke, you stand up in front of a monitor and face the audience while words come up on the screen. Here you stand with your back to the crowd as you sing off a giant t.v. that is simultaneously playing a music video for the song. Rarely is it the true video for the song. Almost all of them are bizarre with a 'home movies' feel to it. They all revolve around an attractive farang female walking around and posing in some location. Mostly it's a pier or beach but occasionally it's the park. That's it. The song plays on and you watch a girl look wistfully out over the water. Then a scene of waves. Then maybe a close-up of crabs scuttling under the dock. Then girl walking. That kinda thing. You really get the feel that each one was made over the course of an afternoon. There also very interchangeable since the video has nothing to do with the song. I'm pretty sure I've seen the same one twice on different occasions. In any event, they're hilarious. My favorite was one where there was shot of a woman walking and behind her you could see kids rollerblading in the park (the videos also have an early 90's feel to them) and right as it cuts to a shot of her between two trees you see one kid totally wipe out. I'm sure he was fine.

So we left the party after a while and thanked our gracious host. I gave him a proper wai, then turned to the other guests still seating and wai'd them. In an informal setting like this you're allowed just put your hands together and sorta sweep a line of people with a couple nods. So I mowed them down like Commando and was on my way.

The next week at school I was hit with three more classes and haven't even bothered bringing in my computer most days. On top of that, school's out in Thailand and a lot of the kids are coming in for make-ups before they even have the class so they can go on holiday somewhere. I typed holiday in the previous sentence in place of vacation and that's definitely from being here and finding out which words Thai people know over others. I'm afraid I have also started calling the elevator the "lift", the period the "full-stop", and the bathroom just the "toilet".

I also know I said earlier that there's really only one sound Thais make for everything (the 'oooeee') but that's not true. There's also a sound that's sorta like 'aw' that I guess is the equivalent of 'oh?' or maybe 'huh?'. Mostly you hear "jing aw" which is "true, oh?" and is like asking "really?" also you can just repeat what someone says with an "aw" at the end to show your incredulity, ask for clarification, or lazily perpetuate a conversation. I don't think it's technically a word but that's more or less how it's used. There's more to talk about including more visitors(!) but I gotta get ready for my next class! I'll see if I can get more done at lunch tomorrow but it might be tough. Maybe a small little one? It seems, in my observation of other blogs, that shorter ones with one focus are best rather than 4,000 words on all kinds of stray thoughts that I tend to produce. I'll try to be more succinct later and perhaps even get out multiple posts in a day.

To reward your extraordinary patience for this post, I'll show you around my neighborhood:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Soi+Suan+Phlu,+Thung+Maha+Mek,+Sathon,+Bangkok,+Thailand&sll=27.486269,-82.53022&sspn=0.008871,0.013647&gl=us&ie=UTF8&ll=13.721474,100.537648&spn=0.002428,0.003412&t=h&z=18

The link doesn't work but you can copy+paste it into the web address to get a view of Suanphlu. The big white building near the arrow is where I work and my home is just a 5 min walk south onto soi 8. It's the building that looks sorta like an "H". If you look closely you can see our pool! Keep this link in mind 'cause there's more to show you in the area. I really like it and will try to use it as much as possible. Now I can show you my favorite place to get pad thai, my favorite pad si-yew, the best place for khao paht muu, etc. On top of that I just got new batteries for my camera so maybe I can get some street level shots for the total experience!

One love,
J