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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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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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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Last night our brand new friends that Kara and I met on our Koh Chang treck, Allison and Jessica, invited us to go to Lumphini Park to sit and listen to the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra perform. They apparently do a free concert every Sunday night which is pretty cool. Lumphini Park has a lot in common with Central Park in NYC: big, green, surrounded by sky scrapers,  a great place to go spend a leisurely evening. The orchestra and accompanying vocalists were impressive, musical ability is definitely not lacking on this side of the world. They performed quite a few songs, notably Mozart’s 40th Symphony in G Minor, and the theme to Harry Potter.

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We’ll be back every week, it’s so nice to see some green every once in a while. I’m going to leave you now with a couple of things. Here’s a log of my trip so far so you can put a map to my context-less travels. Whenever I make a move I’ll update it so if you’re too lazy to tolerate my ramblings you can skip ahead to this.

http://trackmytour.com/r9j4M#405832

A few days ago I sent my friend Questlove off with a bunch of music from my collection. This got me thinking about getting back to improving it, an endless pursuit of mine. This playlist is specifically for Emily, as promised. Sorry I can’t burn you a CD Em but it’d cost me over 100 dollars to send it to you so you’re going to have to find the songs yourself. Of course all are welcome to enjoy, we could all use a little more music in our lives. All the tracks can be found on youtube.

1. Stay Alive by Jose Gonzalez

2. Rabbit Song by Boy & Bear

3. Those Streets by The Silver Seas

4. Skinny Love by Birdy

5. Sleeping Sickness by City and Colour

6. Run River by Jon Swift

7. Far Away by Junip

8. Venice by The Lighthouse and the Whale

9. Step Out by Jose Gonzalez

10. Frank AB by The Rural Alberta Advantage

11. To Build a Home by The Cinematic Orchestra

12. Sunset by Avalanche City

13. Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by Jack Johnson

14. The Wolves and the Ravens by Rogue Valley

15. Don’t Let it Pass by Junip

16. Jungle by Emma Louise

17. o0Oo0Oo by Oberhofer

18. Lady on the Water by Blitzen Trapper

19. Tangle in this Trampled Wheat by The Tallest Man on Earth

20. Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm by Benjamin Francis Leftwich

21. Atlas Hands by Benjamin Francis Leftwich

22. Lake Michigan by Rogue Wave

23. Stranger in a Strange Land by Blitzen Trapper

Em if I learn the piano parts to the Skinny Love cover and/or To Build a Home, will you sing them? We could be the next Angus and Julia Stone…

Here’s an Ad that I thought was cool but can’t fathom what it’s for. Goodbye ’til Next Time, I’m off to bar trivia!

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