BKK Interkhraptional

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We’re sitting in an internet cafe at BKK International airport. There is a gaping hole about 6 inches in diamter in the center of the floor where people walk with no markings or warnings.

We started our journey home at 3pm local time…it’s just after 8pm now. That’s 5 horus of travel so far; leaving 27 hours to go before we drive our one way rental car into RI. 32 total hours of travel with sleep wherever we can get it. So far we’ve had cold Pad Thai, Dairy Queen and M&M’s. I spent more on two magazines then I did for a night in a hotel just because they were imported from the US. Eric is getting his pent up energy out by yelling SAWADEE KHRAP at all the Thai people working here. He’s even been muttering it to himself while I’m trying to get him to respond to conversation.

Eric would have posted on his site too, but while we were trying to make a whirllpool in the two foot deep kiddie pool at the hotel this morning, he somehow sliced the tip of his left middle finger off on a broken tile….so he can’t type. The blood was horrific and it was a tragic end to our trip.

The next 27 hours should be interesting….

Stay to the Left

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After one day of just lounging around and relaxing, we were ready to do something else. Yesterday we set out to rent motorcycles again. We figured we would jsut get one and take turns driving. The first place we went didn’t have a insurance. They said “Nobody inThailand have insurance. Please, your passport!” Hmm, that’s funny. The place we rented motorcycles in Chiang Mai had insurance. We went back to the hotel to get our passports, which we would need to rent anywhere and the guy at the hotel convinced us to rent a car. “Much safer, much safer”, he assured us. Considering it was raining and onlyUS$20/day to rent the car, we went for it.

About 37 seconds after we said yes, a man in dress clothes wielding a notepad and pen pulled up and jumped out of a small 4wd Suzuki Carribean. We paid him cash, he took my pasport (yikes), and he gave us the keys. I was going to drive first, so i went to get in the drivers seat. The hundreds of times i’ve envisioned myself getting into the car on the correct side the first time i drove in a foreign country didn’t matter. As I was trying to get into the left side of the car Eric and the guy yelled at me to go to the other side. The rental guy was already nervous because i was asking him how fast it went and if it could pop wheelies….now he was really nervous.
When i opened the door i saw that it was a standard. Nothing like a challenge.

He started to go into wghat we should do about parking and getting gas…good thing eric was listening because i was just staring at the 3 pedals and the shift stick and the wheel all being on the other side of the car.

Then, seemingly much too quickly and with much too little preparation i was turning the ignition over. The cool air conditiong hitting my face put me at ease a little. I got the car in first gear, too the parking brake off and turned the wheel ready to pull out and merge into the left lane. We we parked right after a side street, so everytime i was about to pull out a motorcycle would zip by out of nowhere. After about 3 minutes, the rental guy came back over and suggested i use my directional. Although they do drive insane over hear…the widespread use of directionals adds some order to the chaos.

Finally i was on the road. Eric’s job was navigation and to remind me to “watch the left”, which proved to be very important. I had a natural tendancy to drift to the left, probably because it felt awkward to be driving while sitting on right side fo the car.

The best challenge was yet to come. Oncoming traffic…

So on the roads in Thailand, they have lines painted just like home…except that they’re a bit more confusing and nobody really notices they are there. They have the normal A and B lanes (see above), but they also have this extra C lane, which is for motorcycles travelling in ANY direction. I have actually seen arrows painted on the ground in this lane that point directly at each other! SO we’re driving forward in lane B and it’s scary enough when motorcycles in lane A and lane C coem right at you, but VERY OFTEN cars in lane A decide to pass the motorcycles while you’re coming towards them in lane B. The mess shown in the diagram above seems funny and outlandish, but it seriously happens like every 5 minutes.

It is a good thing we rented a car instead. They say the rip tide here is deadly, but i’d put my money on the roads.

We drove around the 80km island of Phuket for most of the day, stopping off at different beaches to swim and take pictures. We found some awesome spots that made renting the car very worthwhile. I’ve decided my next trip should be France, because we saw a topless French girl bouncing around in the waves at one beach. She definitely knew we wern’t checking out the scenery!

We saw more Tsunami damage at some of the less travelled areas on Phuket, but they really have done an amazing job cleaning up and rebuilding fast. We made it to this place called Promethep Cape to watch the sunset. Its a popular spot. There’s a parking lot, a big scenic lookout, street vendors and 8 year old girls selling whistles for 10 baht (25 US cents). One girl kept follwing me around. When if inally agreed to buy one she said 6 for 60 Baht! Hah. I said what the hell am i gonna do with 6 whistles? I gave her 10 Baht and she left me alone.
The sun was about 30 minutes from setting. Figuring i had plenty of time, I left eric up at the lookout and I walked back to the car to get more money so I could buy some food. When i was walking up the stairs i saw hords of people walking towards me. I wondered where evryone was going…didn’t they want to see the sun set?

Well i must have missed the overcast sky in the distance, because as i climbed the last step i caught about one second of an orange flash as the sun tucked itself into the clouds. Eric got a few shots of the sun and a few shots at me for missing it. It wasn’t a total loss. I still got some nice silouhette shots just after sunset. We walked down the hill a bit and got a seat the the Promthep Cape Restuarant. We sat outside, on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean, an island, and a beach below. This is the place…

Today it’s raining…a lot. So we’re going to the movies. Tomorrow, hopfully we’ll get some more sun before our commute to the Phuket airport, 2 hour flight to Bangkok, sit in the airport for 5 hours, fly 17 hours to new york, rent a car and and drive to RI. If i don’t post again before that, then i’ll see you all when i get back. We should be home around noon on Thursday.

!!!

Tsunami

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Phuket is beautiful. I can tell it was more beautiful before the tragedy this spring…..but it’s still beautiful. We went to the beach yesterday for hours. The waves were pretty good…powerfull and persistant. The water is as warm as the air.

As we walked up to the beach…it appeared there was seaweed along the waters edge…much like at home. But there is no seaweed here. When we got closer we saw that it was actually clothing and other household items washing ashore. We were having fun in the water, but getting a coat hanger stuck in my toes and bumping into a floating ink cartridge was a stark reminder of what happened…and how many people died. As I stared out into the waves and then looked behind me at the new field, where the many small huts had been, the fear people must have felt crept up on me more than a couple times. The remaining evidence shows the massiveness of the Tsunami. Things too high to reach, and blocks from the beach, were smashed from by wall of water.

This morning we took a boat to PhiPhi sland. First we snorkeled on the coral reefs. They were beautiful and we saw tons of bright tropoical fish. I couldn’t stop thinking about the movie Finding Nemo. Next we went ashore and were fed a great lunch at a local restuarant.

After eating eric and I set out to fill our two hours of sightseeing with photography. We went along the shore and took pictures of the small amount of damage that remained. We thought we’de seen it all. We were impressed with how much clean up had been done, so we headed away from the beach to find a set of stairs that suppossedly lead up the mountain for some good scenic shots. PhiPhi is two giant mountains with a smal strip of flat land between them. That’s what’s built up..the flat part. There are bays on both sides.

As we walked away from the beach…I noticed the destruction was getting worse…not less. Finally, we came to the last block and it became apparent what we were seeing. The Tsunami had come from the other side…we had only been seeing the back of the island.

Total destruction. It looked like a war zone. Palm trees uprooted. Entire buildings gutted. Cement foundations torn apart. Piles of trash everywhere. Nobody standing where I was standing this afternoon could have lived through what happened. It was a place where many people stood. There were hotels and park beyond the beach. It was quite. All you could hear today were the waves and the sound of people working, not talking.

Just beyond the tattered and trash covered park was a Thai man sitting on the empty beach with a rown of about 10 chairs and umbrellas. He had a cooler full of drinks and a sign saying he was open for business. It didn’t look like he’d had a customer or would for some time…so i bought a drink and a smile from him.

I felt guilty for doing only that, while there was so much more to do. I felt guilty taking pictures instead of swinging a hammer. But mostly…I felt the pain that somehow lingered in the air. Maybe it happened too fast and more people needed to feel it.

On the 90 minute ride back to Phuket, I thoguht about life, the people i love, what my future holds and whats important to me. The reality that tragedy is man’s best reason to live burns brightly today. I hope it reaches you somehow.

More Dirt and Sweat

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After talking with Mai late Monday night, I crawled into the bamboo hut where the others were sleeping beneath misquito netting. The misquitos here aren’t any worse than home, except that some of them cary the deadly Malaria virus. Eric and I both took a vaccine that is supposedly very effective at defending against Malaria; but not 100%. However, the misquitos were the least of my problems. I’ve slept on wood planks before, but never on bamboo. Round wood hurts more. It was impossible to get comfortable. The heat was still swealtering. There were animals moving below us. There were still tribe people up talking. I fell in and out of sleep. At one point i woke to a dog barking. A small dark. It was barking and barking..and barking. Non-stop. I’ve never heard a dog bark for that long. Eventually everyone in the hut was awake. People started yelling to do something. Suddenly there was a sound of someone moving, the dog made a very loud screaching sound for about 30 seconds and then it stopped. The next morning the others said they had heard a gun shot, but there were too many stray dogs in the village to know whether one was missing.

Mai was our guide the next day for our trek. He took us through trails that hadn’t been used in some time. Our guide Eddy was marking the tree with his knife by chopping three nothches into them…so he could find his way next time. Mai brought his daughter with him. She was probably 5 years old. She wore yellow rubber rain boots and he wore flip flops….Eric and I had our Gortex high top REI Hiking boots on. We had our camel pack backpackis with 3 liters of water…they didn’t carry anything. They hopped skipped and jumped up and down the trails…we sweat and dragged our feet. They live in these mountains….so obviously it’s easier for them…but i couldn’t believe it.

We swam in more waterfalls, we walked through rice fields and we came to the second hill tribe at about 4pm…dinner was to be served at 7. This place was a disaappointment. We were sat at the picinic table,confrotned with jewelry and clothes for sale…and then given chips and water to buy again. The “tribe people” had a somewhat modern and very newly constructed house next to their bamboo hut. It seemed they spent their time in the Bamboo place, but slept under the metal roof and behind the glass windows. It was a small family. I saw them twice for about 5 minutes. I think there were 3 of them Eddy cooked our dinner, which wasn’t too good…but we ate lots because we were hungry as hell from climbing the hills all day. At dinner the group asked Eddy when we were goign to see the “longnecks”. He looked confused. “Longnecks in the east… we no see longnecks my friend. Ha ha. ” We all instantly knew we had been screwed by the travel agency that we would see them, but we wern’t going to. I was pissed for about 2 minutes, until Tristan said…”we’re toursists, that’s what happens to tourists here”. I chalked it up as a leson learned. Get everyting in writing.

The bamboo sleep the second night was a bit better, because we had 1 inch mats to put down. The walk back on wednesday was uneventfull except for us stopping to watch Eddy eat a bird and frog that some tribe guy was cookin in a pot in a small hut near a rice field. I’m so perplexed by these people that live in the woods, hunt and farm everyday, but wear watches and drive motorcycles.

When we got back to civilization, a downpour started. We had a quick lunch of rice, chicken, veggis and pineapple, which as we found is the staple hill tribe trekking meal. Next we were driven about an hour to the river where we boarded the bamboo rafts. This was a pretty touristy thing, but it was super fun. The rapids wern’t too big, but going down a class 1 rapid on eight stiks of bamboo is quite an adventure. THe setting was pretty awesome too. Neither of our guides spoke english…which made it more interesting becayuse we had no directions at all on how to stear the raft or anything. Just a lot of pointing and yelling.

Overall the trekking adventure was well worth the money and time. Yea i’m pissed we got sold something we thought was soemthing else, but i’m smarter for next time. I got my first experience in third world conditions. I apprecaite what i have a lot more. And Eric and I have made two good friends from England now…Tristan and Ben.

Tpyos

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Please padron m y typing. im’ paying for internet so i just type type type and post. i’ll proofread when i write to publish.

!!!

Hello Sir! Shoppiiiiing! Shoppiiiiing!

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Stage 1: Listen to what the street vendors have to say to you..answer their questions and even look at their merchandise.

Stage 2: Acknowledge the vendor’s inquiries and politely say “No, thank you” repeatedlty until they get the point.

Stage 3: Politely say “No, thank you” and keep walking.

Stage 4: Just shake your head, making brief eye contact, and keep walking.

Stage5: Completely ignore the street vendor’s audible and visual existence. Act is if you don’t know they are there. Do not make eye contact or change facial exressions.

Stage 6: Continue Stage 5, but when in the mood for a laugh, use the street vendor as the axis of your humor.

EXAMPLES:

  1. If they say “Watch for you“, take the watch saying “Thanks” and keep walking.
  2. If they ask you a question, simply repeat the question back to them…stare into their eyes and play the copycat game until they give up.
  3. If they ask you where you are from (typical gem scam and fashion suit scam intro), tell them New York City and ask them if they know where you can get a deal on any Gems or High Fashion Suits. When their eyes light up, pretend to follow them…then once they’re not looking book-it in the opposite direction.

Stage 7: Punch them in the face. We haven’t reached this stage…but I can’t say I’d be surprised if it happened.

Ladies, Boys & Lady-Boys

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Ok first let me say a lt has changed over the years and i’m totally comfortable with people’s sexuality, whatever it is. But until now, I had never met a “Thai Lady-Boy”. These people are transvestite homosexuals who are maliciously out to trick unsuspecting straight men into hooking up with them. Some of these lady-boys even get their shit cute off!

So the newest flaw I’ve learned about myself, is that I’m easily fooled by lady-boys! It began last night at a bar with Tristan, Ben and Eric. We were talking to the excess of waitresses and bartenders at the bar we were at,…When I saw what I thought was a (gulp) hot girl walk by. I said to Tristan…” Hey…Look left!” He did and he responded “That’s a bloody bloke! He’s got a @%*?!” And that’s where the jokes began. At that point I thought it was an honest mix up…Just because I wasn’t relay paying attention. Hmmm…I wish that was true. The place we were at was like a food court at a mall, but all the eaters were different bars. There were enough tables for maybe 20 at each place…And there were about as many girls working as customers. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this or not, but every place of employment in Thailand has way more employees than home. Every store and restaurant has workers just standing around doing nothing. I guess it’s a result of the cheap cost of labor. SO these bars were wierd enough that the girls basally grabbed us and dragged us there to drink with them. Yes, the bar staff sits with you and drinks too. But there was also a staged Muay Thai boxing ring in the middle and a bunch of kids and stray dogs walking around. When i say kids, i mean 5 year olds trying to sell roses and necklaces. It was freaking 10 o’clock at night and there were 5 year old Thai boys and girls poking me and trying to sell me things! Wierd. We left that bar and went to a club called Bubbles. I managed to fend off all but a few of the REAL ladies looking for an American to whisk them away. All i’ll say is that now i know how a girl must feel when she goes to a club in the US. I didn’t think it would bother me…but damn.
Ok..so we’re walking back to the hotel after we leave the club and we head through a small park. I spot two (gulp) hot girls hanging out near their motorcycles. I walk towards them and yell to my friends to come with me, but they just keep walking. I say “Hey give us a ride to our place!” My friends keep walking and yell “come on john, lets go”. Almost at once the girl looks at me and says “only one”. As soon as I realize the voice is too deep to be a girl, Tristan yells “Look left”. The wheels turn in my brain as (S)he reaches for my arm. Everything clicks and I turn and run…sprint…as fast as i can. Past my friends and straight through the chaing mai gates…out of the town, past the mote and towards our hotel. No lie. I think the reason i was so freaked out is that i was tricked. I’ve been hit on by gay guys before and it doesn’t bother me. I think it was the fact that i thought it was a girl. In any case…i’m over it and my eyes are a lot wider when we go out now.

We’re off to get some food with Tristan and Ben. Tomorrow they head to Australia and we head to Phuket.

Trekking & Hill Tribes

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We’re back from two nights and three days trekking in the northern mountains of Thailand. There were a few disappointments, but overall the experience was awesome and well worth the relatively small amount of money it cost us.

We woke up Monday morning to a terrential downpour. The kind you only see once in awhile, where there is so much rain that things flood in a matter of minutes. It was a good thing we each bought a raincoat for 200 Baht the night before. There were two English guys at our hotel going on the trek as well, so we met them in the lobby at 9:30am. Our ride showed up on time. It was a pickup truck with two seats bolted the long way in the back and a cap on top. We loaded 5 more people in making a group of 9. Me, Eric, the two English, a Canadian guy, an Isralie couple, a Japanese girl and really wierd japanese guy who kept his headphones on and eyes shut the whole one hour ride to the elephants.

The elephants were the first thing we did and the first disappointment. We had been shown elephants trekking people through rivers and it appearded as part of the trek, but we were taken to an elephant petting zoo of sorts. We did get to ride the Elephants (in the pouring rain), but we did a loop through the woods where the elephants were kept. The ride was pretty cool. The elephants were very mild, but they are so huge…if they decided they didn’t want to do something…they didn’t have to. We rode the elephant in pairs and evryone had a guide on the elephant too…except me and eric. For some reason they just tied a rope to our elephant’s ear and hooked it on the elephant in front of us. About half way through…while going up a 10 foot almost vertical cliff, our elephant decided to stop moving. The line went taught and i though his ear was going to rip off. He roared and the 1/4 nylon line snapped. Nothing was happening yet, but all of a sudden me and eric were sitting on a pissed off elephant with no guide. Luckily the elephant listened to the yells from the other guide and stayed while he retied the line. When he was yelling at the elephant in Thai (wuk Yuk Baaa naaahhh tah gaiii blahh blaahhhh), i had no idea what he was saying and i relaised that neither did the elephant. But i could tell from his emotion and his hand movements what he wanted the elephant to do…and probably so could the elephant. The rest of the ride went without a hitch and as soon as it was over, the rain stopped.

Next we were driven an hour into the hills. They call them hills, but where I come from…they’re mountains. We set out on the first day’s trek with little directions or expecations except that we were goign to hike, swim in waterfalls and stay with hill tribe people. The first waterfall was about an hour into the hike. It was a pretty awesome jungle like setting. The heat was pretty intense and the hike was a lot more difficult that we expected. That wasn’t a bad thing, we were just surprised. After the swim we hiked a couple more hours. On the way our guide eddy showed us a plant whose stem you can break and blow bubbles with. He also showed us another plant that if you rub the leaves in your fingers, a red dye comes out. The tribes used those leaves to paint their faces. The last 30 minutes of the hike on Monday was the hardest. It was a steep climb andthe mid afternoon heat was making it almost impossible. It seemed like we were stopping every 5 minutes for water and rest. We had hiked miles as we came over the hill into the first village. The place was so picturesque. Like the places i’ve only seen on TV and in National Geographic. People wearing donated or hand made clothing, houses and fences made of bamboo, open trenches carrying water and sewage, small gardens and farm animals everywhere. We were shown where we were goign to have dinner in a couple hours and then set free. We wern’t introduced to the tribe people at alland it was a bit uncomfortable at first. It was immediately obvious they didn’t like our cameras, however it was also obvious that the trekking tours are somewhat a part of their life now. Some of the females immediately brought out jewelery and fabric they had for sale. I ended up buying some bright colored fabric for 200 Baht so i could take this ladies picture. It wasn’t a deal we struck in advance…i just asked her after i bought it. As the night went on, things became a bit more comfiortable.

I took my first shower in a third world environment. It was a pipe with an unknown water source just continuously pouring out of it…day and night. It was set about 4 feet from the pig pen…when was on stilts and set above a pool of water that collected the pigs crap and piss. I was sure that if i was going to get sick…this was the time. Even though the shower was cold, as far from private as you can get, and probably left me with more bacteria on me then when i started…it was still refreshing.

Dinner was a plentiful heaping of chicken curry and rice. I ate a couple servings. We had to pay for drinks, but at 20 Baht per, it wasn’t much of a bother. After dinner the group sat aroudn and played cards. I was somewhat disappointed there wasn’t more intereaction between us and the tribe. We just sort of arrived there, they tried to sell us stuff, then they cooked us food and cleaned up. They didn’t eat with us and pretty much kept to themselves.

While we playing cards, our guide eddy did a magic trick for everyone. SO obviously i had to do a few of mine. I think i got 2 out of 3 of them off ok. As the card games got tiring, people started going to bed. Eventually it was just me and Eddie and i showed him some more magic. Then one of the tribal people sat down…his name was Mai. The tribe people have their own language, but they also speak Thai…so Eddy was able to translate. Eddie ended up leaving to, so i Sat with Mai and we tried to comunicate. He new a small bit of english, probably from all the toursits coming through. He asked me about my family and their ages. I asked him as well. He was 42, had a son and daughter. His son showed up soon thereafter. I showed them some magic. I’m not sure if they know what cards are or not…they stared blankly at one of my tricks and then smiled. They liked the one where i made the card appear out of nowhere. They liked learning english, teaching me their language….

There is mush more to write about…and i will. But for now i’ve got to eat and hang in chiang mai with our new friends from the trek.

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