That Bangkok Year

“Part of the urge to explore is a desire to become lost.”


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Myanmar feat. the Parents

I didn’t mean to stop writing. A broken laptop, a draining job, and law school applications have been sapping my resolve. Obviously that ends now! This will be the first of a few posts that catch you up on the last 6 months of my life.

In early May mom and dad came to visit for a week. The plan was to stay in Bangkok for one day, go on to Myanmar for five, and then back to Bangkok for 2 more days. To prepare for their arrival, I decided I’d try out a new look.

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I was going to have to shave the beard I’d been growing for the duration of our 2.5 month break from work anyway, so I figured I’d try the father/son dueling moustache thing for a day or two.

We spent the bulk of our first day exploring the city, specifically the Royal Palace area. To get there we took a ferry down the Chao Phraya River.

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Once we got there we saw the royal temple, Wat Pho home of the the resident giant Reclining Buddha, and some other touristy sights.

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I bet you can all guess which of those statues is my favorite. I wonder if you have to go to extra school to get a hermit MD.

The next day we got on a plane for Myanmar. We spent two days in the former capital of Yangon, and then three more in the famous city of Bagan, home to thousands of pagodas rising from the desert.

Myanmar was the fourth Southeast Asian country for Kara and me to visit. It’s prized by travelers as being untouched by the eroding effects of westernization on it’s culture due to it’s repressive government’s history of isolation policies post-British colonization. Tourists have been pouring in looking for an experience they can’t get elsewhere before everything changes.

The city of Yangon, formerly Rangoon, is being hailed as the next Southeast Asian city to explode economically. While the fuse has been lit, I wouldn’t say it’s booming quite yet. Walking around the city felt similar to the way I imagine Bangkok 40 years ago. Old brick buildings, dirt roads, no chain restaurants. Women and children still cover their faces with thanaka, a paste derived from tree bark. The men wear Longyi’s; skirts that wrap-around your waist and are held up by a tight knot.

On our driving tour of the city, we drove by Nobel Peace prize winner and heroine of freedom Aung San Suu Kyi’s home. She was imprisoned for 15 years before being released in 2010.

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That afternoon we visited the jewel of Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda. Every foreigner I know living in Asia has the same attitude about temples. They’re amazing, beautiful, impressive, and basically all the same and a bit tedious. Thus I was totally unprepared for the 320 foot tall pagoda.

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Its tiers are plated in gold, studded with diamonds and capped by an orb bearing 4,500 diamonds and a 76-carat diamond on top. Burmese people come from all over the country to worship; many wearing beautiful traditional outfits. My mom, Kara, and our guide posed for a picture with a woman from an old tribe visiting from her local village.

The incredible wealth on display is shocking when juxtaposed with the poverty of Burmese people. The majority of Burmese citizens have an annual income of less than 200 American dollars per year.

The next day we got up early to beat the heat and visited a lakeside park.

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In some of the photos you can see the Shwedagon Pagoda in the background. I was particularly fascinated with the water Zamboni cleaning up all the lillypads. We also saw Burmese supermodel Moe Hay Ko doing a photo shoot, complete with fan girls giggling a short distance away.

In the afternoon we visited a monastery and school for young novice monks, as well as the one for nuns across the street.

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After the monks and nuns we visited another reclining Buddha.

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In between our planned events we wandered around the city, perused street markets, and relaxed at the historic Governors Mansion Hotel.

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The peaceful looking man above gave Kara a card that promised her good luck for a whole year! So you know she’s got that going for her, didn’t help with out NFL Pickem’ pool though.

Early in the morning of our third day in Myanmar we boarded our small plane to fly to the original capital of the Burmese Empire, Bagan.

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Getting off the plane the first thing about the Bagan region that jumped out at us was the heat. March – May is the hottest season in this part of the world, and for the three days we were there temperatures reached 110 degrees. However, a dry 110 was not nearly as unpleasant as a muggy Bangkok 97. The area is arid, dry and flat producing a hauntingly still atmosphere.

After getting settled into our picturesque hotel along the Irrawaddy river, we went via van to the local market. Unlike markets in Thailand, there was no focus on providing silly chotchkies for tourists. It was cramped, loud, and pulsing with life. Everyone in the small town visits the market daily to get food and supplies.

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Kara and I couldn’t help buying our own Longyis. I swore I would wear it again but it hasn’t left my closet since returning to Bangkok.

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That’s some type of dried blood. It’s commonly found in soups both in Myanmar and Thailand.

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We came prepared with some whistles, tops, and balls to give away to kids we met. This little guy loved his new toy.

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This cute woman ran up and insisted on giving Kara a hug and taking a picture with her. This was the most authentic market I’ve been to thus far, and my second favorite only to the one in Luang Prebang, Laos.

After the market we were taken to see some historic buildings, including this temple known for it’s intricate wood carvings.

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I don’t remember the story behind the creepy guy hanging on the wall.

We spent a lot of time walking, horse carting, and motor biking around the area marveling at the several thousand pagodas.

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We painstakingly captured some magical sunrises and sunsets.

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We rode motorbikes around the area and had some delicious local cuisine.

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Burmese food is a little less visually appealing than Thai, but it tasted very good. I especially recommend the quail eggs in brown sauce.

At one point we narrowly escaped a stampeding herd.

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The family in the cart bringing up the rear generously and completely unsolicited gave my dad some fresh mango, which we promptly devoured.

We took a day trip to Mount Popa, a peculiar mountain topped by a Buddhist monastery. On the way we stopped to eat lunch and gape at the geological marvel.

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How anyone could possibly build a monastery up there is beyond me. To reach the monastery, we had to climb the 777 steps and dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge the locals.

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The monkeys live on the steps, dependent on people to buy food at the bottom of the steps and feed them. They look adorable, and they were, but they were also vicious. I tried to get a little too close at one point and was lunged at in an “I’ll rip your face off” kinda way.

At the top, the views were predictably awesome, although the monastery itself was a little mundane. (ultimate nitpicking)

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On the way back to Bagan, we stopped to see how Burmese people make their ornate lacquerware products.

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The secret is pretty much hard labor. The items are layered with different paints and glazes approximately 20 times over the course of several months. In between layerings they sit in a cool underground room and harden. All of the intricate images are hand drawn and unique. I was a little concerned about all the fumes and toxins the workers were essentially living in, not that I have any solution.

Here are some final Myanmar pictures.

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Lacquerware Technology College.

 

 

 

 

 

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Kid who helped me with my bike.

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Five days isn’t nearly enough time for any country, let alone one as diverse and untamed as Myanmar. That being said, it made a hell of an impression on us and there’s nothing I would change our time there. Except maybe not try duck brain.

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We returned to Bangkok early in the morning with two days left in my parents trip. The first day we took a canal tour of Venice of the East. The trip was highlighted by a temple with an unusual color scheme…

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A floating market…

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An orchid farm…

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Feeding the fish…

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A traditional puppet show…

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and of course the canals themselves.

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The next day took a Thai cooking class.

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That’s our final product above. Oh man can we cook when given the exact right ingredients, tools, and close supervision. I’m praying Kara and my mom truly learned something so I can reap the benefits someday.

At night we had some fancy dinners, one of which was at the number restaurant in Asia according to some random list I found on the internet!

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It’s not pictured but the first night we had the best Chicken Tikka Masala anyone could ever have. The second night “best restaurant in Asia” didn’t quite live up to the hype.

After dinner at Nahm I surprised my parents by taking them to the famous Skybar featured in Hangover II for unparalleled urban views and one last moment together.

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Needless to say it was a great week. Despite all the activities some of the best moments were spent just playing cards or catching up by the pool. It’s been about 6 months now since I’ve seen the ‘rents and writing this post been a reminder of what’s waiting for me at home!

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As usual photo credit to Kara and not as usual to my mom. More updates to come soon!

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Enough About Me, Let’s Talk About Coup. The 8 Biggest Challenges About Living Through a Military Coup

The military has staged a coup in Thailand. We are now under martial law, and have a 10 o’clock curfew for an undetermined length of time. This is a historic crossroads in the history of Thailand, and has so many political angles to it that it would be a waste of time for me to go around in circles discussing it at you. You might be more interested to hear about the most challenging hurdles and questions my foreign friends and I living in Thailand are facing right now, so that’s what I’m going to address with you in list format.

#8: Coup Puns

If there is one thing that I know has been keeping my friends and me up at night since General Prayath Chan-Ocha pulled the trigger a few days ago, it’s that we haven’t come up with the best possible Coup pun. Here’s what I’ve got so far: Coup Let The Dogs Out?, Coup and the Gang, If the Coup Fits, Coup! There It Is, Coup Do You Think You Are?, Coup Done It?, One Flew Over the Coup Coups Nest, Coup Chip Stocks, What I Like About Coup… and something about coupons. Please comment below or contact me if you’ve got one you think is a winner. I coup really use some help.

#7: Having Enough Beer

Due to something Buddha said thousands of years ago, alcohol is not sold at stores from 2-5 o’clock here in Thailand. Coupled with work and other life stuff, that leaves us a small window to make sure we’re prepared to party on our rooftops deep into the night. Living in Thailand, it’s almost guaranteed that your fridge isn’t nearly big enough to rise to the challenge of holding a significant amount of beer. This used to be a problem easily mitigated by going to a bar, or frequent 7/11 runs. Speaking of 7/11…

#6: 7/11 Being Closed

This is a multi-faceted issue. Everyone takes it for granted that Thailand is the land of smiles. But are Thai people truly as naturally friendly as they seem, or is it just because they’ve lived their whole lives with four 7/11’s within a five minute walk from their homes capable of catering to their every need? I’m afraid to find out. To be clear, they only close from 10PM – 5AM, but that’s like 7/24ths of the day! And forget Thai people, what if I need a toastie at midnight! How am I going to satisfy my late night craving when 7/11 is closed and my fridge is crammed with beer! If the serious riots some are predicting really do happen, we’ll know what the real underlying cause was…

#5: Where Am I Going to Sleep Tonight?

Imagine this scenario: You’re having some drinks with your friends after work friday afternoon. You teach some of your buddies how to play your favorite card game, you shoot a few rounds of pool, you go get a delicious hamburger, and then you glance at your pocket watch and it’s 9 o’clock! Well shit, the BTS train to take you home has already stopped running. Looks like your either taking a cab home and missing out on the rest of the night, or you’re going to have to answer the title question. Luckily everybody is in the same boat, and most people aren’t opposed to offering up a couch, floor or a spot in their precious bed. We’re all in the same boat, so I encourage all foreigners to do the right thing and share your bed with a stranger. For the good of humanity.

#4: How Many Days Off Work Are We Going to Have?

When the Coup happened, all Thai schools were immediately cancelled from Friday May 24th through Sunday May 26th. As a teacher I was excited to not have to teach Friday, and I doubt any of my co-workers felt any differently. But are three days off school really enough? Especially when two of them are Saturday and Sunday? In January lots of schools cancelled school over a several week span, and that was just due to some measly protesting. I’d really appreciate it if the schools I teach at coup let me know now when they are going to reopen. That way if it’s going to be awhile, I can try to escape all these hardships with a bucket in my hand on the beach of a tropical island.

#3: Mixing Up Martial Law, Marital Law, and Marshall Law

This one might only apply to me, but come on this stuff’s confusing. A few days ago when my mom texted me at 6 in the morning Thai time asking me about martial law, my sleepy response was: “I’m not applying there”. And when you think about it isn’t Martial Law basically just imposing unwritten marital law on everybody? You think there isn’t a 10pm curfew for married people? Imagine you’re married and you try rolling in after 10pm when your spouse is at home; you better have a damn good reason for being out or you will be severely punished. The smart money is on this whole mess thing being a passive aggressive response from General Prayath Chan-Ocha to having to sleep on the couch because Mrs. General was angry about him getting home from poker night half an hour later than he was supposed to.

#2: Is It Inappropriate For Me to Wear My Army Football Jersey?

Army Football Club is my hometown football (soccer) team. We’re on a roll right now, just a few points out of third place and having our best season since 2009. I’ve got my sweet forest green jersey and I want to show off my team pride, whether it be on the pitch or just strolling around the city. But the last thing I want to do is make a political statement, I don’t want people thinking I have opinions about things. Especially angry Thai red-shirts.

#1: Getting The Best Possible Selfie With the Thai Army

Oh man is this a tricky situation. There are soldiers posted all over the place, and boy do they look intimidating with their armored vehicles and machine guns. But they’re still Thai, so they’re much nicer than you are. On top of that, they’re standing around doing nothing, basically just there to remind you the army is in control. It’s the perfect selfie storm. Don’t believe me? Check out this article from the Bangkok Post:

http://www.bangkokpost.com/most-recent/410781/thailand-martial-law-gives-rise-to-selfie

I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the only one without a badass selfie with a soldier to show off to all my friends back home. Do you think if I brought him some mango sticky rice he’d let me hold his gun?

 


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To be wet or not to be wet? Shut up you have no choice

I’m not going to shy away from making a bold claim: Songkran is the very best holiday. America take notes. For 3-7 days in April, depending on who you ask and where you are, Thailand shuts down in order to celebrate the Thai new year. If you’ve been following along with this blog, you may have noticed that there seems to be a new years celebration every two months or so. It’s true, and while it’s a little silly, I think it’s great that the Thai and Chinese haven’t felt like they have to give up their arbitrary start date to the year and accept ours.

Songkran is rooted in Buddhist tradition but for the current generation, it’s not about going to temple but rather about taking to the streets with water guns, buckets, hoses, and clay. The world’s largest and probably longest annual water fight is held all over the country. Musical performances and DJs provide a soundtrack to the mayhem, and the usually conservative Thai’s can’t help but dance. The tradition of throwing water is meant to be a symbol all of the badness of the previous year being washed away. I think they’re got the right idea. There’s something so freeing about running around the city, absolutely drenched, laughing and spraying anyone and everyone you see. I was shot frequently by 4 year olds wielding Hello Kitty guns who would ask their mother’s permission before shooting, and I had a bucket of ice water dumped on me by a woman well into her 70s. Once in order to refill my water bucket a group of guys asked me to dance with them and I made some instant amigos. It’s a kind of anarchy, with the violence and destruction replaced with hilarity and togetherness.

From the moment we stepped of the property of our apartment building the first day, we got a taste of what was to come. There was a group of Thais dancing and throwing water onto incoming traffic right across the street.

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In order to get to our first day destination, Khao San Road the hostel capital of Bangkok and one of the epicenters of activity, we had to take a water taxi across the river.

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We could hear the madness and feel the electricity in the air before we could see the party. After a short walk from the river, we finally found ourselves immersed in the action. As you can imagine, carrying in your pocket let alone exposing anything capable of taking photos was extremely dangerous, but we did our best to capture some of the event.

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Don’t miss the excellent photo bomb in the one of me and Kara. Props. These are all taken from the roads just outside Khao San, because once we made it in there it would have been suicidal to take out our phones. Along with water, many Thai’s were walking around with bowls of a wet clay-like substance. They would walk up to me and smear it all over my face, I have no idea what that is supposed to symbolize. Khao San was packed DJs, parties, and three beers for 100 baht deals. There are no container laws in Thailand, and I think every single person, White or Thai, on the street was taking advantage.

After taking it relatively easy on Monday, we met up with friends and went to the Silom area on Tuesday. The atmosphere was generally the same, although maybe a little less music and and maybe a touch less enthusiasm. I think the third straight day of partying was starting to slow some people down. Still we had a good time, despite constantly getting separated and then having a helluva time finding each other. Here’s a vertical shot at a tiny fraction of the madness.

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At some point a V for Vendetta mask was passed around, I have no idea where it came from but I rocked it for a while.

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The beard didn’t fit.

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The people supplying the water refills at Silom were really into ice water. It was mostly people selling drinks sitting in ice water who would give you/whoever water. Thus, getting wet meant freezing your ass off. More on that in a moment.

A few pro-tips for anyone who plans to celebrate Songkran someday in the future. Any time you leave your residence, you are fair game. If you don’t want to get wet, too fucking bad you’re shit out of luck. One time early on Monday Kara left to get us lunch from down the block. She came back soaked and not in the best mood; she kept the food dry though thank goodness.

On Tuesday night we had the foresight to leave some dry clothes at our friend Chase’s apartment to change into before taking the train home. What we didn’t take into account was the 10 minute walk from his place to the train station. We dodged, ducked, dipped, dove and dodged most of the way there, before running into these two clearly wasted Thai guys who we just couldn’t get away from. Despite our protests they doused us with ice water buckets and completely smeared us with clay. Bangkok overcompensates for the intense heat by air conditioning the train down to what feels like about 45 degrees F.  On the half hour BTS ride back to our stop, I seriously thought I was going to be the first person to freeze to death in 90+ degree weather.

Despite some mild complaining, there is no experience in the world like Songkran. The best way for me to describe it is the Mifflin Street block party in Madison, but expanded from a block to the whole country, with water guns and less emphasis on being drunk (though it’s still a major priority).

The other thing of note that needs to be discussed is the 25 Degrees burger challenge. A restaurant in Bangkok has a Songkran themed ongoing burger challenge. The burger is 2.2 pounds of beef, 200 grams of mushrooms, 500 grams of cheese, 100 grams of onion rings, and 350 grams of crispy bacon. Anyone who can finish it in half an hour gets to enjoy free burgers from 25 Degrees for an entire calendar year. If you fail, you pay 1200 baht, roughly 35 dollars. Obviously, I took a shot at it.

I took the contest seriously. I went out of my way to eat huge dinners the two nights before my attempt, and chugged about a gallon of water 6 hours before the event to enlarge my stomach. I arrived feeling good, and was downright cocky when I saw a picture on the wall of the last person to succeed: a tiny Thai girl. That feeling evaporated instantly when they put the monstrosity down in front of me. It was roughly the size of my head. Before I began they made me sign a waiver that basically said if the thing killed me they weren’t liable.

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The waiver was probably a good call on their part, because I can definitely see how someone would choke. The moment the timer started I began shoveling fistfuls of beef into my mouth. I figured I’d get all the beef and bacon down and then go back for the carbs to keep them from expanding in my stomach. I started strong; at about the 20 minute mark I was 2/3 of the way done with the beef.

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Unfortunately, at about the 14 minute mark I hit a serious wall. My stomach just isn’t large enough to contain that much food. I finished all the beef and bacon, but could only get through about 1/3 of the bun before running out of time. Despite my desire to keep shoveling away the food, there was physically nowhere for it to go. I don’t think I could have done it without puking even with a gun to my head. What didn’t fit:

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After forking over the dough, they gave me a card that gives me 25% off any food there for the month of April. It felt a bit like an extra slap in the face, because that waiter and I both knew that I wasn’t going to even be able to look at a hamburger for the next month. Still, I would have regretted not trying at all.

As I finish this post, my parents are arriving at Suvarnabhumi airport to see me and whisk Kara and me off to Myanmar for a few days. I can’t wait to experience another country and show them around Bangkok, that’ll be the main focus of the next post!


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Elefancy

Sometimes it takes a couple of days of alternating between feeling like being trapped in a furnace and a sub-zero freezer to appreciate how good it feels to be alive and well. I’ve spent the last couple of days battling the red-headed step child of malaria and bird flu. If you consider lying in bed whining and sleeping to be battling. Thankfully I am fortunate enough to have a girlfriend who took excellent care of me, parents full of doctorly advice, and a sister who the night before the Prom took the time to make and send me this card.

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That probably took her five minutes because she’s supremely talented but it meant a lot, especially when I was genuinely concerned I picked up Malaria in the jungles of Laos. Technically the symptoms of Malaria can wax and wane at will so I could still have it; if I start feeling sick again I’m headed straight to the local shaman.

Since we got back from Laos we’ve been living a fairly Spartan existence, occasionally springing for Indian food. We live paycheck to paycheck. Kara and I adhere to a fairly strict budget that we can’t really afford to ignore, at least if we want to eat on a daily basis. And I’m perfectly happy, we knew when we moved here we wouldn’t be sailing caviar and eating yachts. That being said, it’s fun to experience how the other half lives. Kara’s parents and younger brother came to visit for a week in early April, and allowed me the honor and privilege of joining them as they bounced around Thailand. We started with a full day in Bangkok, followed by three days at the Anantara Golden Triangle  resort outside Chiang Rai at which you have views of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar outside your bedroom window. Next we stopped for two days in Phuket, and then looped back to Bangkok.

I always forget that to most of you readers these city names don’t mean anything without any context, so here’s a map. I’ll try and do a better job of this in the future.

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Their one full day in Bangkok Kara’s family spent the day sightseeing, taking a look around our neighborhood, and then going out to dinner. One of Mr. Warschausky’s business associates was kind enough to take us to a fabulous restaurant for a 8ish course meal.

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Kitti and his two daughters were very kind and went so far out of their way to show us a good time. After dinner we found a nice outdoor lounge to have a drink and smoke Cuban cigars Carl had brought from home. I felt like Don Draper, sitting there with a glass of Macallan in one hand and a cuban in the other. The next day we began our jaunt in earnest.

There were two pretty clear themes for the trip, one of which is a Warschausky family staple: food. Over the course of a week I had at least three of the best meals I’ve ever had the pleasure of cramming into my face. Thai food gets elevated to another level when its coming from masterful chefs, and it was at a pretty impressive level to begin with. I’m no food critic so I’m going to spare you all the gritty details about the individual meals, but I ate so much I was starting to feel like an elephant by the end of the week.

Hey, speaking of elephants (transitions!), they’re theme number two! At the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort we spent three days riding, watching, and generally just hanging out with man’s other, larger best friend. The elephant sanctuary is home to elephants rescued after losing their jobs in the recently outlawed Thai logging industry. As you can imagine it is extraordinarily difficult and expensive to care for an elephant, so these creatures that were being used to carry huge amounts of cargo out of the jungle would have nowhere to go. At Anantara, each elephant is given to a an individual mahout (elephant whisperer) to be cared for drawing from the resources of the Resort. They were well cared for and seemed very content. The stereotype is that elephants are smart. They mourn their dead, have complicated heirarchies within their herds, have distinct personalities, and have wrinkly skin giving them a wise aura about them. I imagine Pacadermetologists are very in-demand (I know while everyone else groans at that terrible terrible joke my Dad is laughing and thinking about professional Sneeze-guard scrapers, Kenny Blankenship, and Vic Romano.)

We arrived at Anantara very late due to airplane troubles in BKK, in which we had to board, deplane, reboard the same plane, deplane AGAIN, and then finally get on a new plane and GTFO of there.  It felt like a 4 hour long SNL skit, especially when the airlines answer to red-faced business men was to timidly hand them dinner vouchers for the food court.

After a good night sleep and a delicious breakfast, we set off for our morning elephant ride. Before our training we had the pleasure of meeting the 1 month old baby.

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Being 1 month old, walking was still a skill to master. He spent the whole time we were there stumbling around his cage  from person to person trying to get his head scratched and banging his head into the wall like an adorable roomba.

After sufficient coaxing from our Aussie trek leader, we moved on to the very much fully grown elephants. We quickly learned how to mount, dismount and communicate with our elephants. After a half hour I could get up and down, tell the her where and how fast I wanted to go, and get her to roll over. Of course, this is all with the help of lots of bananas, bamboo, and mahouts whispering the commands to them that we were all undoubtedly butchering. We were now ready to begin our 2 hour trek through the jungle.

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The trek was exhilarating. It was much easier and more natural feeling than the first time Kara and I did it in Laos, although the elephants definitely had a mind of their own. They would frequently stop to eat, rub themselves against walls, and do random mischievous things like spray Kara.

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At one point we stopped and bathed with them.

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The elephants definitely had a sense of humor. Mine would not stop trying to spray me in the face, which is why in the last photo I’m ducking.

My favorite thing to do on the trek was to get my elephant to stop and fall behind, and then get something approaching a light jog going to catch up to the pack. I think she was very annoyed, as I would be too if somebody was trying to get me to jog with someone on my back, but overall we had a great time together.

At the end of the trek, Ryan’s elephant tried to swallow his head.

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After the trek we all relaxed for a while before getting massages at the resort, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed but barely remember because I was in a trance like state. The next day we got an early start to meet Teacher Witt and go to an expansive market to get supplies for our cooking class. The market was full of exotic fruits, vegetables, meats etc.

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That soup contains pigs blood and was allegedly very tasty although believe it or not I passed. We bought two of those fish to bring back to class and grill. We made an obligatory stop at the local temple, where we ate a quick breakfast and Witt taught Carl how to pray.

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Everyone stuck a little gold leaf onto that Buddha statue for good luck. Next we moved on to the kitchen. Where under the supervision of Witt and his wine pouring assistant who’s name who’s name escapes me, we prepared massaman curry, sour green mango salad over fried sea bass, tom yum gung and tom kha gai (sour shrimp soup and sour chicken soup). I’ll admit to being more of a supervisor while the Warschausky clan really took the reigns on this one, but we made some seriously delicious food. Witt definitely pulled his weight by keeping us on track and pumping us full of interesting facts that went in one ear and out the other.

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After subduing to a food coma in the afternoon, we took a second shorter elephant trek up a mountain to see the sunset with some wine and hors d’oeuvres. We got chairs for this one, but I much preferred sitting on the elephant’s head because the swaying motion of the chair made me nauseous. The clouds kept the sunset from being spectacular, but our little photo shoot yielded good results.

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The elephant seemed okay with doing it’s version of bicep curls and she was handsomely rewarded with dozens of bananas for her efforts. As the sun went down we rode our elephants back to the resort and hopped in a van to take us out into the dark countryside for our dinner at Anantara with… you probably guessed it! More Elephants!!!

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After another terrific dinner we were surprised with lanterns to write our wishes on and release into the night sky.

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For some reason I really enjoy the picture of us all watching the lantern and Kara looking goony. After one last look at the elephants we were back to the resort. After spending the better part of our trip building emotional connections with them it was sad to say goodbye. The mahouts got them to roar wistfully after us as we drove away.

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The next morning we flew to Phuket, uneventfully thank god, and arrived at our resort. This part of the trip was more relaxing and uneventful . We spent the next two days lounging around our two private villas, the beach, and the massive pool. Laurie and Kara went shopping one day while Carl, Ryan and I swam in the ocean and had drinks at the pool bar. The waves at the beach were of a respectable size but not big enough for a serious surfer.  We enjoyed two phenomenal dinners, one of which included the best cut of beef I’ve ever had hands down.

I think we were a little sick of taking so many pictures, so remarkably all I really have is a picture of the beach and a couple of us at dinner.

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All in all our couple of days in Phuket were relaxing and pleasant vacation days, but won’t be as memorable as Anantara. Elephants have a way of taking up a lot of space in your brain I suppose.

After flying home and one more incredible dinner, it was time to say goodbye. It was sad for me to see them go, but it was very hard on Kara. I think in our situation it’s not that hard to put memories of friends and family on the back burner when they’re far away, but seeing them up close and personal and then watching them leave reminds us of all the things we miss from home. Sometimes it’s hard to be so far away.

I know you got tired of hearing it from me but Carl and Laurie thank you for letting me tag-a-long on your Thailand vacation. I had a blast and am so grateful! Ryan if you ever read this I hope Prom was fun and congrats on graduating! I’m gonna ride out on a water buffalo.

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Bring A Deck of Cards

Whether it’s conscious or not, people as a rule are judgmental creatures. We can’t help comparing the places we visit to the places we’ve been, the places we’ve lived, the places we know. The easy question to ask is what don’t we share. When things are strange and new we’re wired to take note and be wary. For most of humanity’s time, our collective survival depended on it. Not noticing meant a saber tooth tiger gnawing on your leg. Not being able to communicate with others meant they might be trying to kill you. There’s an infinite number of things we don’t share, and the further one journeys from home the more obvious that becomes.

In my humble opinion, to transition from a vacationer to a traveler one has to ask the harder questions. What do we all share? As human beings what is it that binds us all together? On the surface there isn’t much. I think we’re all familiar with feeling like our neighbors, co-workers, and friends are clearly from another planet. And those are people with similar upbringings; people who speak our language and share our Zeitgeist. It was a whole different animal backpacking through Laos. In a country much less affected by Western development, the barriers that separate “us” from “them” were tougher to break down. I of course don’t have many answers, but if I were to give another would be traveller one piece of advice that I don’t think he/she would receive anywhere else, it’s this. Bring a deck of cards. Learn a few card games that you can teach and be open to learning new ones. It’s a great way to bond with fellow backpackers you’ll meet on your trip, and it might be the only way to bond with locals living on the outskirts of so-called civilization. Not everybody speaks English, but everyone can play Durak. And to follow this train of thought to it’s logical conclusion: if you hate card games, you are not human and I don’t know what to say to you. Maybe you should get that checked out.

Our trip started with a quick and painless flight to Chiang Mai, the most prominent northern city in Thailand. A lot of people love Chang Mai and see it as a nature loving, friendly, and cheap alternative to Bangkok. I was also warned by the ‘rents before arriving that a close friend of there’s hated it. I fell somewhere in between those two perspectives. It reminded me of an American college town, one long strip packed with bars and restaurants and then not much else of interest. It’s in a beautiful spot, nestled in the northern mountains surrounded by jungle. Our budget didn’t allow us to do any of the many excursion options outside of the city but I’m sure they would’ve been lovely. It was a nice place to visit for 2 days, but I wouldn’t want to live there. It doesn’t that edge that comes with living in a big city, and it was packed with tourists.

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That last photo is a great short story explaining why the statue of the fat pink guy is so fat and pink. I recommend clicking on the picture and giving it a quick read, it’s in English.

After a couple days in Chiang Mai we were picked up in a van to take us northeast to the Thai/Laos border where we would board a slow boat to take us down the Mekong to the Laos city of Luang Prabang. The van ride was cramped and long but we were lucky enough to meet a great group of cretins (and Megan), who made the slowboat trip a blast. We chatted and listened to Jack’s ridiculous stories all day, with a quick stop at a really amazing temple in Chiang Rai. Generally speaking, temples are like churches: they’re beautiful, magnificent, inspiring … and all kind of the same. But I was glad we stopped to visit Wat Rong Khun, the White Temple.

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Don’t ask me why the heads of Batman, Hellboy and Freddy Kruger are hanging from the tree. I have no freaking clue.

After we arrived at our surprisingly nice hotel at the tiny border town of Chiang Khong and got a good night’s sleep, it was time to cross the border into Laos. When we booked this leg of our trip I was under the impression that we got on the boat in Thailand and the border crossing was going to be quick and painless. I was so so wrong. It was a long bureaucratic nightmare, so pretty much a typical border crossing. Eventually though, we made it into Laos.

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The Mekong River forms the Thailand-Laos border for a while before it turns east and flows into Luang Prabang. The trip took 2 full days, split up by an overnight stay in the small town of Pakbeng. We spent our time playing cards, drinking, listening to music, marveling at Zach’s brand new tattoo, and most importantly soaking in the views.

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That’s Max, Bjorn, Jojo, and Zoe from left to right in the photo inside our boat. The German and 1/2 of the British contingent of our crew. Our stop overnight in Pakbeng was strange. We witnessed a huge dance party and were offered Opium, among other highlights. It was a small town that had pretty clearly sprung up overnight just to support the slow boat business and everything was a complete rip-off.

We eventually made it to Luang Prabang, “the jewel of Laos”. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang was everything it was cracked up to be. It sits at the intersection of the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers, and features northern Laos culture. We all checked into a hostel and had a lot of fun exploring the city for the next 2 days. One night Kara and I went up to the temple on the top of the hill overlooking the city to enjoy the sunset.

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Luang Prebang also featured the best market I’ve seen so far so we bought a few things, including presents for a few lucky people.

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That may or may not be a dead body, and Max playing with hand puppets.

Because Luang Prebang is a laid back town, all of the bars closed at midnight. After that there’s only one place for backpackers to go out, and that’s the bowling alley. The place is designed to be a shit-show. They’re open all night, sell drinks for an inconceivably low price, and are the only business in town. We ended up there both nights. Fortunately for everyone who has ever been there, there don’t seem to be any pictures to share. Just imagine partying in a bowling alley stuck in the ’80s with basically free alcohol and you’d be getting close to an accurate mental picture.

The next part of our journey was definitely my favorite part. Kara and I signed up for a three day trek into the wilderness. The first day we woke up early and biked into the mountains to an elephant sanctuary, then in the afternoon hiked to a remote village and stayed the night. The second day we resumed hiking, stopped in a Hmong village for a break, and then continued to hike to a second village. The third day we treked a bit more until we met the Nam Khan river, and then kayaked back to Luang Prebang. We showed up expecting to be a part of a big group, but it turned out it was just going to be us and Fong, our guide.

For an expert biker the first leg probably would’ve been fine, but for us it was tough. The 17 km were mostly uphill. About half way to the elephant sanctuary the roads went from paved to dirt/gravel, which didn’t make things easier. I should’ve gone to Jojo’s spin class when I had the chance. That being said there’s nothing like the wind blowing in your face gliding down mountains, that made it worth it.

The elephant sanctuary was really cool. I’ve heard some bad stories about the mistreatment of elephants, but these bad boys seemed to be well cared for and content. We were allowed to ride an elephant.

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Then we got to feed her.

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She was playful and fun, we had a great time together. All of the elephants at the sanctuary are female, apparently male elephants are prone to fits of rage.

After a quick lunch we began our hike up into the mountains. On the way to the first village we met some water buffaloes and some terrifying spiders.

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The village we stayed in the first night was my favorite part of the trip. About 300 people lived there, and I swear 280 of them were kids under the age of 10. Nobody spoke a word of English, they had just very recently gotten electricity for the first time ever. We spent all just about all our daylight hours there playing with all of the kids. At first, they were afraid of us. Seeing white people was definitely a novel thing for them, understandably frightening. But we grew on them quickly, and soon we were all best friends. I learned that there’s no reason to buy kids expensive toys, video games etc. We had a riot with them and all we had was a small ball, an old tire, a crummy water gun, and whatever nature provided.

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Their favorite thing to do with me was to have me throw a bunch of those petals up in the air and then they would all try and catch them. At some point this devolved into them throwing the petals into my face. We couldn’t talk to each other, but we found ways to communicate and have fun. Kids are kids all over the world.

After dinner we whipped out our cards again and played a few different games with Fong and some of the older villagers. We taught them how to play Crazy 8s, and Fong taught us a couple of Laos games called Guay and a variation of BS.

Once the sun was all the way down it was pitch black so we went to bed. As much as I enjoyed the experience of being there during the day, I think we could’ve gone without sleeping there. We had our own room with a mosquito net, but the net had tons of holes in it. There were big spiders and bugs all over the walls, and with the lights off it made it hard to sleep knowing those were all around us. Not to mention horrible clicking noises coming from inside the room all around us, and the mice on the roof being hunted by cats and screaming when getting caught. Yup, mice scream, and it’s blood curdling. We didn’t sleep much.

The next day we resumed our hiking and got up to the top of the mountains. On the way we stopped at a cave whose walls were full of these odd holes. My guess was that animals lived in them, but it turns out when the French were chased out of Laos they had tons of money and jewels that were too heavy to carry with them. The French dug holes in the caves, told Lao people to keep their treasures hidden (which they had robbed from them in the first place), and then promised the natives that when they returned they would share the treasures with them equally. Of course the moment the French were gone all of the caves were looted by Laos people, hence all the little holes.

Anyway this was the most gueling part of the trek, but also the most rewarding. We stopped at a tiny Hmong village with more animals in it that people, and rested outside an animal Shamin’s house. Unfortunately he wasn’t home but his wife was working in the “kitchen”.

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Lao farmers rely on a method of farming where they burn different sections of the forest, use it for farming for a year, and then let it grow back. The area of forest directly behind the burn section in some of those photos has only been growing for 5 or 6 years. It’s amazing how fast it regenerates. This is also why it’s so hazy in all of these pictures, we were there right in the middle of burning season. They’re preparing for the incoming wet season.

We finally arrived at the 2nd village, which was a lot bigger with slightly less friendly people. Still very interesting though.

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After a much better nights sleep we finished off our 30 km trek at the Nam Khan river, and spent the Third day kayaking back into the city. This was a nice end to the trip, especially once Kara gave in and let me steer the boat. It ended a little early when our guide poked a hole in his kayak going over a rapid and we had to walk up a steep hill to the road and get picked up by car, but still we weren’t disappointed. I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything that culturally rewarding again.

After one more night in Luang Prebang we took a bus to Vien Viang, the tubing city. It’s a small little town that features the chance to sit in a tube and float down the river. There were four bars along the way, and it was basically just a big party scene. It was fun, although I was expecting a little less rowdiness and a little more serenity. I can’t say it matched my river tubing experience in Utah down the Colorado river. We made friends with  some Irishmen and a Brit though and had a good time.

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After Tubing we moved on from Vien Viang to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Unfortuantely, Vientiane is just about the most boring city on earth. It’s nice enough, but just extremely dull. We were supposed to be there for one night and then move further south to do a motorbike trip. Sadly the morning before we were going to get on the next bus, we discovered that half our remaining money had walked off from Kara’s bag. We don’t know when it happened, or why somebody would only take half of it, but it forced us to cancel from that part of the trip and come home instead. We were trapped in Snoozeville for 4 days while we worked out our visa situation with enough money to eat 2 very cheap meals a day and do nothing else. It sucked pretty hard. Here are the Vientiane highlights.

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That’s pretty much it. That building is the Presidential Palace, we called it the Slate House. After eventually getting a new Thai visa we took an overnight train home and have been scrounging on roughly 7 dollars a day for the last week or so. We get paid on Monday, and I’m really looking forward to it.

One of my friends had a camera stolen as well in Vien Viang, so clearly Laos is not somewhere to trust everybody with your stuff. Not that we did, we have no idea how the money disappeared. But it doesn’t diminish the trip, I had a blast and had my eyes opened in a lot of different ways. I would recommend a visit to Laos to anybody, just don’t forget that deck of cards.

Here’s a way to visualize my route through Laos, and a few extra gems for you.

<script src=’http://trackmytour.com/static/embed/tmt.js’></script><a href=’http://trackmytour.com/r9j4M&#8217; class=’iframe trackmytour’>Click here to TrackMyTour!</a>

 

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A goat. We had a stand off.

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Snake Whiskey at our hostel, I had to try it.

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World’s most terrifying spider. That’s taken from like 10 feet away, no zoom.

 

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Rubber trees

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And of course, a dog selling jewelry.


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The briefest of updates

So many people probably think the reason people become teachers is that they can never let go of summer break. While I don’t necessarily live by that sentiment, man do I understand it. 2 days ago, at 4:07 PM, the term ended and me and co-workers/best friends were temporarily set free. Unlike a lot of my peers I’ve yet to have to deal with the idea of a 12 month work calender; summer break is a luxury I value above almost anything else. Maybe I should scrap my legal aspirations and plan on teaching forever because I love summer break.

The next 3 weeks Kara and I will be boating, bike riding, motor biking, tubing, bussing, hiking, kayaking, and I’m not sure what else all over Laos. I’m so excited. Living in the Bangkok metropolis is amazing, but it does occasionally make me wish for some rustic greenery. Laos has 3 bowling alleys in the whole country, and since we all know how bowling alley per capita is the best measure of overall development, nobody reading this may hear from me for 3ish weeks. Do not panic. I’m only poor and off the grid, not in danger. Let Liam Neeson rest.

My last few weeks have been pretty standard, working up a storm etc. but it’s been really fulfilling. The more I do it the more I  sincerely love working with kids. Perhaps more importantly in the last 2 weeks I’ve gotten so close with people who have fulfilled their contract and will be moving on with their lives, which is a bit heartbreaking. Life is usually harsher than we, or at least I, want it to be. If you’re reading this: Sam and Craig you guys have been like big brothers to me since I started at Fun Language. You’re gonna kick ass wherever life is taking you next. I feel so lucky to know you and I know you won’t be shocked when I show up at your doorstep someday, probably in South Korea, the UK, Mars or wherever you the next step might be. I know I’m being more than a bit sappy but I feel good about it.

Sorry the pictures are lacking in this post, I figured at some point you get sick of seeing photos of the city. If the next post doesn’t more than make up for this one visually, I’ll have failed as a traveller. Feel free to hold me to that. It’s 4:30am here and I need to be up way too soon, so be well. Cheers Mates!


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Year of the Horse

Sa wa dee Krap everyone! On January 31st you may or may not have observed that the year of the snake ended and the year of the horse began.

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Being born a colt in November of 1990, I can only hope that my numerous and powerful Chinese ancestors have a fantastic year set in motion for me! Thailand is home to the world’s largest, oldest, and most integrated population of Chinese people outside of China. 14% of Thailand’s population is at least partially ethnically Chinese. As a result the Chinese New Year is more than a novelty here. As an example of it’s importance, it was an easy week of work that week as many students were pulled out of school for the whole week. The night of the Chinese New Year was a Friday night right before the election, and we were slightly concerned some protesting might get out of control so we stayed away. However on Saturday Kara, my friend Zach and I ventured to Chinatown to see what all the fuss is about. We were greeted by raucous protesting, huge crowds, a city within a city, and SO much food.

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I never felt unsafe, but the protesting was really intense. It was like a parade with people screaming at you through a megaphone. I wasn’t there, but I liken it to the Vietnam War marches, with less hippies and more sticky rice.

After our 2.5 hour dimsum lunch, we wandered around and saw the sights.

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The swastika symbol was originally Chinese in origin and borrowed by the Nazi’s. It means good fortune and can be found all over in Chinese cultures, even on Buddha’s Chest. Also can you believe they had true blue American Texas goat meat?!?!!!

Shortly after the Chinese New Year celebrations, the election took place on February 2nd. Since that day the protests have stopped all over the city, it’s all quiet on the eastern front. Those who are invested seem to be waiting with baited breath for the results. In America everyone impatiently waits on pins and needles and it only takes a few hours for us to know election results, so I can only imagine how the Thai people must feel.

On an more personal level, work is pretty solid. I’m getting the hang of the teaching thing and am becoming friends with both my Western and Thai co-workers. I love talking with my Thai Teachers and learning everything I can. It turns out that most of the Thai teachers have big dreams. A lot of them are getting their masters degrees while they work a full-time job. Others are preparing to move to another country for work or to continue their education. It’s all very impressive.

On Mondays and Thursdays a bunch of the guys go and play 5 on 5 indoor soccer at the place around the corner from the office. It’s a shockingly nice facility and it’s great exercise. I had almost literally not touched a ball since high school so I started off a bit rusty, but I’ve been quickly improving. A lot of the guys are from the UK so they’re pretty good but I like to think I hold my own. Last Tuesday we went to the park and played basketball. It’s a pickup game situation so we were playing against Thai’s, who were shockingly pretty decent. I think basketball is a sport that, generally speaking, works against Thai people. Most of the time they’re short and non-aggressive, but the guys at the park break that mold. It was such an interesting experience because the court was made of some odd slippery material. The result is that it’s a bit like playing basketball on ice. The Thai’s are used to it and take lots of quick short strides to keep their center of gravity, it takes some getting used to.

A few days prior to our Chinatown adventure Kara and I visited Chatuchak market, one of the most famous markets in Bangkok. We went with the goal of finding things to decorate our apartment. Once you enter Chatuchak market, you are engulfed in… stuff. It’s hard to wrap my head around just how much physical stuff there is there. It actually makes me a bit sad, the rampant consumerism taking place in a country with Buddhist roots. That being said it was damn impressive. The best way I can think to describe it is as a labyrinth.

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I’ve heard rumors that there is a part of the market designated solely to the trading of any and all animals. Disappointingly we couldn’t find it, I would’ve liked to buy a shark. We did however make it home with several cool things to hang on our walls, picture frames, and a rustic lantern.

Speaking of animals, we stumbled onto an authentic Thai pet shop the other day while looking for a new lunch place.

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You’ve gotta love the fish in the shallow water buckets. The ducklings were so cute but it was a little bit sad, there were definitely way too many of them in those cages. The animals I was really impressed with though were the sugar gliders. I briefly had visions of them free of that awful cage and flying around my apartment. My old volleyball coach had them as pets so it’s definitely possible, but now isn’t the time.

Speaking of being trapped in a cage, I recently had to go to the immigration office to renew my visa (it’s a metaphorical cage). Imagine the DMV, but with 3X as many people, and nobody speaks English. To make matters worse the regular office was closed down because of the protesting so there was a temporary one set up far away that I can only imagine was extra disorganized. There’s nothing like Thai beauracracy. The one little interesting silver lining of that trip was that on the floor beneath the immigration office I stumbled onto the first ice rink I’ve seen in Thailand.

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My French Canadian friend Justin plays hockey once a week at a different place, so there are at least two more ice rinks in Bangkok then I expected.

For our rooftop Tuesday last week we went to Above 11, on the 32nd floor of a building overlooking Soi 11 a notorious party street. Of course at that level you’re actually overlooking everything. It was great to kick back, relax, and soak in the city on a Tuesday night. Along with a couple of drinks we ordered some spring rolls and potatoes with amazing dipping sauces.

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I can’t defend those pictures, I’m not sure what I was thinking. Dr. Evil?

One of my favorite experiences so far in Thailand happened last Friday night. Everybody from work, like 30 people, was going out to this new bar that was opening near work that had a crazy promotion of free food and 9 Baht beers (30 cents). While we were there ordering rounds of 60 beers at a time, our waitress asked if anyone wanted to play in the poker tournament they were holding in the back. Gambling in Thailand is completely illegal. I thought someone else would speak up, but I ended up being the only of my friends to write my name down. An hour later I found myself playing in a totally illegal back of the bar room poker tournament with 20 or so Thais. I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun. It was an intense, competitive atmosphere but everyone was friendly and fun to be around. The tournament started at 9 o’clock and was still going when I left at 2:30am. With 7 people left I was the big stack at the final table, when this guy went all in. I figured I had him beat with my trip 10s after the flop and called for about 3/5 of my chips. I was way ahead and then the jerk runner runner’d me to a flush and doubled up, it was physically painful to see all that money unfairly slip away. From there my luck changed and I eventually went out in 4th, one place away from the money. I got a free T-shirt, made a lot of new Thai friends, and had a blast so I considered myself a winner that night anyway. I’ll definitely be back there again soon, to Kara’s chagrin.

All in all it’s been a good couple of weeks. I have time to write this today because it’s Makha Bukha Day, a Buddhist Thai national holiday, so we’re off of work. It also happens to be Valentine’s Day, so even though you’re not seeing much of me try to remember I heart you from afar. I said that in the creepiest way possible, but seriously I hope everybody is well. Here’s a cute Asian baby and some more ducklings.

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Transitioning

Approximately three weeks ago, I first heard about the plans to shut down Bangkok until the current government resigns. On Monday January 13th, tens of thousands of protestors took to the major intersections and parks with tents, signs, and iron resolve to make their voice heard by a government that is notoriously corrupt. 12 days later, very little has changed. The protests are carrying on, and a few days ago the Thai Government issued a State of Emergency which allows the military to enforce a 10 PM curfew, strictly control the local media, and other various measures. A few years ago I was living in Madison, just a 15 minute walk from the massive protesting against Governor Scott Walker undercutting the Teachers Unions. Despite the geopolitical differences, I can’t help but draw comparisons between the events. The people feel that they’ve been wronged and that their only viable course of action is to take to the streets. Both took/are taking place right before another election: the recall election and the elections scheduled for February 2nd here in Thailand. And like with the Walker election, my gut tells me that ultimately the incumbent Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her government will hold serve.

While this is all very exciting and I would be lying if I said didn’t enjoy being in a place in the world where things of historical and political significance are happening, another excellent comparison between the Walker/Union protesting and the current protests here is that they have virtually no effect on my life. The doom and gloom attention grabbing headlines would have you believe that Bangkok is a dangerous place to be. When I read the news I can’t help being bothered by the tone of the stories: the subtle implication of superiority to the 3rd World countries going through their typical political turmoil. The truth is that other than slightly increasing the already horrendous traffic, the World’s Most Visited City in 2013 carries on unperturbed.

In step with Thai politics, my role in Thailand has been transitioning. In my last post I briefly mentioned how I was looking for a job and as soon as I was employed I would find an apartment. Two days after that post Kara interviewed with Fun Language International, and was hired. When she was hired I decided I would apply on a whim, despite the fact that I was hadn’t yet given up on my desire to catch on with a corporation as a Business English teacher. The next day I got a call from them saying that if I came to the office in the next 2 hours they could interview me and from looking at my resume I was a “likely hire”. Of course I was out and about in a T-Shirt, shorts and flip-flops, so I felt ridiculous rushing in for a job interview. I had a heated internal debate about whether or not I even wanted the job. The pay is decent, enough to live comfortably and do some traveling, but only about half of what I could potentially make with the other jobs I was applying for. What ultimately got me to show up for the interview though was the fact that Kara and I would have about 4 months of perfectly synced vacation time. We have from March 1st – May 12th off for summer break, three weeks off in October, and 10 days off around Christmas time.  The interview went well, I am employed. Huzzah!

Fun Language is technically not a school. Instead it is a business that employs teachers and sends them to a different school everyday of the week. Many Thai schools cannot afford a full-time Western English teacher and so only pay to have one once a week. The result is that I go to a the same school every Monday and teach the same kids, and then a different school every Tuesday, every Wednesday etc. It’s kind of nice because I get to experience the full scope of Thailand’s education system, and can’t get bogged down with one class I really don’t like.

Like all jobs it has it’s ups and downs. I’ve learned quickly that sometimes teaching can be the worst thing in the world. Kids don’t always want to listen, and they know that I don’t have any authority to punish them (unlike their regular teachers who often will, corporal punishment is still common). I have to wake up at approximately 5:30 AM to get ready and commute to the home office, from which I am taken in a cab or company car to my school for the day. I generally get home some time between 4:30 and 5:30, and still have to write lesson plans for the next day; another 1.5 hours of work. All in all that’s a 13-14 hour day dedicated to work.

The flip side is that working with kids can be so rewarding. It’s a wonderful feeling when a lesson is executed well and the kids are having fun and really learning. My classes are anywhere from 5-13 years old. The younger kids are pretty stinking cute and the focus is just for them to have fun singing English songs, playing games, and maybe get a few words drilled into their head in any given lesson. With the older kids, they are getting to be decently competent in English and you can joke around with them which can be fun. They do have a tendency to get a bit lippy though so I find myself having to occasionally be stricter than I’d like to be.

The other nice thing about this job is that there is a built in group of friends for Kara and I to merge into. There are about 60 teachers working at Fun, and everybody is so friendly and welcoming. About 2/3 of them are British, there’s a few French Canadians, a couple Scandanavians, and several other Americans. A bunch of the guys play football on Mondays and Thursdays after work, as well as basketball on Sundays which I can’t wait to get involved in. I need to purchase some “boots”, apparently calling them cleats is heresy in the UK.

For me the best part about finding a job has nothing to do with the job itself, and everything to do with leaving the hotel/hostel life behind for now and finding an apartment. After a few days of searching Kara and I met Koi, our real estate angel sent from above. She showed us an apartment she had that was absolutely jaw-dropping. A beautiful fully-furnished 26th story, 1 bedroom corner apartment with an awesome pool, a great gym, half a basketball court, a playground, and a mini-soccer field! Despite the 45 minute commute from the building to Fun Language’s home office, I was instantly sold. I mean, who wouldn’t be with these views…

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There’s nothing better than sitting out on the balcony after a long day with a book and an adult beverage reading the evening away.

Our building, called The Base, is about a 10 minute walk from the On Nut (pronounced Own Noot) BTS train station. The area provides a desirable blend of Thai culture and Western comfort. There are food carts everywhere, cheap, convenient and delicious. We have a Big C kitty corner from our building, which is basically a Walmart stacked on top of a Dominick’s (R.I.P.). We’ve been able to find anything and everything we’ve wanted there so far, even peanut butter, mexican salsa, and mustard.

We also have a great little market located next to the BTS station. It’s packed with food stalls, Thai bars, cheap clothes off the rack, a stage for live music, even an unsterile looking outdoor tattoo parlor. We’ve been eating dinner there about 3 or 4 times a week.

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The market has this smoothie place that puts Jamba Juice to shame at about 1/5 the price. I know where the majority of my paychecks will be going.

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Last week Kara and I went to see Inside Llewin Davis at this massive inexpensive movie theatre in the Siam area. This is where a lot of the biggest shopping malls are, and are always very crowded. Honestly not really my style, but we got off the beaten path a little bit and found a beautiful street decorated with lanterns.

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It also happened to be National Children’s Day, and outside one of the malls there was this place showing off impossibly ornate sandcastles.

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We were pretty psyched to meet Dumbledore.

 

Kara and I have devised a financial strategy that I think is pretty brilliant. Between us we’re making 74,000 baht per month. 14,000 of it goes to rent (roughly 425 dollars). Our goal is save as much money as possible to travel during our time off as well as eventually come back to America flush. Luckily we’re both pretty minimalist people so I think we’re going to do okay. Food at carts costs somewhere between 25 and 100 baht, so it isn’t too hard to be frugal. So basically we try to spend as little as possible 6 days a week.

However, on Tuesdays we have decided we are going to class it up and alternate between Rooftop Tuesdays and Restaurant Tuesdays. Rooftop bars are a staple of the Bangkok experience, and I would like to experience every single one while I’m here. Last Tuesday we went to our first one, The Garrett Secret Bistro Bar. We chose this one in honor of Garrett Forbes’s birthday, the best high school chemistry teacher in the world not named Walter White. Happy belated birthday Mr. Forbes!

 

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It’s called the “Secret Bistro Bar” because in order to get there you have to walk around behind the building that’s first 6 stories function as a Mini Cooper dealership and go up in a private elevator. Being only seven floors up it definitely serves as a bit of a warmup to the more impressive places to come, but it was a pretty swanky place. We each had a drink, split an appetizer, and enjoyed the unrestricted view and interesting trees seemingly growing out of the concrete.

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My drink was Johnny Walker Gold mixed with honey, some type of sour mix and some bitters. I forget Kara’s but it was a little fruitier and equally delicious. The appetizer we split was an avocado soft shell crab roll topped with some kind of fish eggs. We wisely ate dinner before to save money so it was more than enough food, although they were so good I probably would’ve welcomed about 15 more.

I’m about out of interesting things to say for now so I’m just going to photo dump some interesting photos for you to enjoy. You can expect more regular weekly posts again now that I have an apartment with reliable internet. On that note I’m also now regularly available on a daily basis to Skype, message, or even talk on the phone if you download the handy dandy Viber phone app so please contact me I want to catch up!

Our pool, on the 6th floor.

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Victory Monument. Now one of the major centers of the protesting.

 

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Things that made me chuckle.

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Look closely, those are mustaches on her shirt. I felt a bit creepy taking this picture while waiting to get on the train but it had to be done.

The Istanbul floor of Terminal 21 Shopping Center, a huge mall in which each floor is tackily themed after a major city. The other floors were New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, and Tokyo if I remember correctly

 

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Something delicious for lunch.

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And one more of the view from my apartment, because I love it that much.

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And last but not least, a visual list of things you cannot do in the back of a Bangkok Taxi. No Sea Monsters or eating Durian fruit allowed.  Cheers!

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Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

Bangkok. A city of over 8 million people spread out over 600 square miles of land (twice as many as NYC). Arriving here is akin to being swallowed alive by a whale. And like Jonah must have in the belly of the beast, the first couple days I  experienced some doubts and did a whole lot of thinking. Do I really belong in an urban jungle or a real one? It was hard to leave the beauty of Koh Chang, and my friends from the program who moved North to Chaing Mai and East to Vietnam seem on Facebook to be having a great time. I was thinking about whether this is the right place for me. Honestly the first couple days I wasn’t sure, I was overwhelmed (overwhalemed?). But then something happened, a turning point. Kara and I were out and about looking for an affordable alternative to street food, and we wandered into this small restaurant called Sit and Wonder.

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Ars Longa, Vita Brevis: Art is long, life is short. The wall was plastered floor to ceiling with photographs of important Thai figures, events, and memories. This message was humbling and hit home. I had been bothered by the idea that Bangkok seemed foreign and alienating to me, and instead of striving to learn I was turning away. Along with seeing the beautiful and inspiring film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which I highly recommend to anyone who’s feeling a little down (in theatres now!!!), my desire to travel and learn has been reinvigorated.

While all this soul searching was happening, my friends Zach, his girlfriend Katy, and Side-Show Bob were visiting for New Years Eve before continuing to travel. On New Years Eve in Bangkok, the cool thing to do is to make a reservation for dinner, drink too much, and enjoy an unrivaled view of the fireworks at midnight, all from a swanky rooftop bar. Of course being unemployed and highly unprepared, we only accomplished one of those three tasks. You can guess which one.

On Soi 11 off of Sukhumvit, one of the notable roads through the city, there are a ton of bars to go to. More interesting though, is what sits outside these bars.

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Old VW Hippy Vans open up and are stocked with an impressive array of drinking options, assuming you aren’t a little too classy. They sell drinks by the bucket that are a lot more affordable than anything you can find in a bar or club. It’s a great place to spend a night, a really fun atmosphere. The tradeoff is you have to listen to some of the worst music on earth, Miley Cyrus mixed with Dubstep etc. But that’s not that different from most bars for young people so… our taste collectively sucks? Sorry? Anyway we had a pretty good time here.

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Take note of how Tina Turner doesn’t understand how straws work. And that’s the menu of all the buckets the place serves, it was about my height. Some guy asked us if we wanted to see the menu, without knowing what that meant we said sure, and he picked it up from down the block and plopped it down at our table. Great service, although I’m not sure how they haven’t figured out the concept of multiple menus like the rest of the world. From there we ran to a bridge to try to get a view of the fireworks at midnight, which didn’t really work but it was a good effort.

The rest of this week has mostly been devoted to working on finding a job during the day, and exploring the city at night. No job yet MOM, but I’ve got some a few promising leads, these things take time.

True to the unofficial motto of Bangkok now tied to in my head, this is a city filled to the brim with art and beauty. A few examples…

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Anyone else reminded a little of I-Robot?

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