Saturday, July 30, 2005

Full Moon

Last night we had some great Mexican food (I know...we're in Thailand and we're eating Mexican food. What can I say? It's been a long year) at a little place called El Toro. While we were sitting there we were approached by a little boy, about ten or twelve..."Hey brother! Hey sister! Buy some gum...20 baht! You kissy, kissy long time." (this was followed by pursed lips and a long smooching sound). We had to laugh. We bought his gum (because we've been buying everything we're offered) and noticed that he was also carrying around a game of Connect Four. We asked him what the deal was..."100 baht. You win, I pay you 100 baht. I win, you pay me. Come on brother!" We laughed and talked with him for awhile...he was very entertaining and obviously clever. I tried to scare him off by telling the boy that Brian was the Canadian Connect Four champion. "If he champion, why him so scared?" He was very quick. We finally gave in and signed up for what we were sure would be a quick match. It was...he whooped Brian's ass.

Eventually we ended up talking to a young British couple next to us and had a few drinks. We ended up at their table and closed down the restaurant. They (Felicity and Simon) were really neat and we were having a great time. The bar had closed, the lights were out and we were still sitting there, chatting away. As the night progressed we ended up returning to their hotel pool for a skinny dip. It was so much fun. We swam for what seemed like ages and by the time Brian and I hauled our soaked selves home it was nearly 6:00 am. We couldn't figure out why people were going to work until we realized what time it was.

By the end of the night we had made two new friends, helped out a sizeable group of Chiang Mai's street kids, Brian had been solicited by a topless hooker and we had swum butt naked under a Thai moon. Not a bad evening.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Everybody Grab Your Ankles!

Brian has gone to watch Muay Thai boxing for the night and I decided to stay home. So here I sit at our guest house in Chiang Mai. After one night in Bangkok (cue 80's music here...) we decided to head north. As luck would have it, Bangkok had one more in store for us...

You know that feeling when you know you're getting screwed but you don't really know what to do about it (anyone who has taught English in Korea will know what I mean)? Yah, that was us at the tourist agency in Bangkok. The pushy sales lady told us it would cost 890 baht to get from Bangkok to Chaing Mai. Too much. "For you, special price...790 baht." she says. Still too much. We knew it was too much. This greasy lady had an easy answer for every question we asked...

"Why are those French people paying 700?"
"Oh, they go tomorrow...tomorrow special price. You go tonight, more expensive."
"Hmmm...well, maybe we should go tomorrow too..."
"Bangkok very expensive. You stay here one more night it more expensive than to stay in Chiang Mai. They pay cheap price plus hotel tonight. You get better deal."
"Maybe we can go in the daytime tomorrow..."
"Sleeping all night is cheaper because you don't have to pay hotel."

"But I won't see anything if I go at night..."
"Nothing to see."
"Isn't Chiang Mai in the Northern mountains...lush cool green forests and all that?"
"You can see later. More leg room if you go on night bus."
"OK, that's just a bold faced lie."
"Thanks. You have bold face too."

Anyway, she won. Not because we are suckers and we didn't know what we were doing but because we wanted to get the heck out of Bangkok. So we paid 790 baht. Then we checked with the other ticket office once we got where we were going and they charge 400 baht. Just what we figured.

So last night we rode the bus all night to Chiang Mai and arrived at 6:00 in the morning. We paid 150 baht (the snake lady tried to get us to book with her "sister" for 450 baht. Ha!) and went straight to a guest house to sleep. In the afternoon we found our "permanent residence" (in Chiang Mai at least) and booked for a few days. We've been having a rough go of things and we are both feeling tired of travelling. We feel like this trip is the opportunity of a lifetime but piggy backing it on to the end of our time in Korea may have been a bad idea. We are tired and perpetually unenthusiastic it seems, which is a real shame. All I want is to go where a store is a store, a restaurant is a restaurant and a street is for cars. The melee of curry, tuk-tuks and hawkers is quickly losing its charm.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Roach Motel

After a 13 hour bus ride, made longer by a broken down bus and the subsequent vehicle switch, we arrived in Bangkok. We went to Wendy House which we had heard was a really clean and nice guest house in Siam Square. We wanted to stay away from Kao San Road, for tonight at least, and were willing to pay a little more for the nice part of town. Wendy House was really cute...and really full. We asked if she could suggest another guest house and she sent us down the road to Muehpol Mansion (Ha! I haven't come across a bolder misnomer...). By this time it was late and we were exhausted. We went to the front desk and asked if there were rooms available. There were...for 700 baht. Now, this is way more than what we have been paying, in fact it's nearly three times more than what we have been paying. At that point though we didn't care. I was sick (bad chicken) and we were too tired to go anywhere else. We paid and even broke our rule of "check the room first, pay second".

We walked in to find a giant cockroach, in its last spasms of death, in the middle of the floor. The place was a dive. Any other day I would have marched downstairs and demanded a refund. Last night I cried a little and pulled out my portable sheet bag (like a sleeping bag but made of cotton) which I reserve for the more questionable accommodations.

This trip has had some wonderful moments but there have also been some low points...but that's traveling. We are over budget and running out of time. After a lot of discussion we have decided to change the itinerary and skip Vietnam. This breaks my heart because it was one of the main places I wanted to see, but it can't be done. We booked our airplane tickets last week online, only to find out that they will only issue paper tickets. What is this, 1985? Anyway, that means that we have to stay in one place long enough for my Mum to courier us the damn tickets. We decided that instead of quantity we would go for quality and really get to know Thailand. Not perfect but at this point in the game I would be up for a week in a five-star hospital...give me all the antibiotics, blood work and de-worming that modern medicine can muster.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Back in the Vortex

We are back in our new "hometown" of Krabbi. We've used this quaint little place as a jumping off point for our beach trips and have fallen in love with the people, the town and the pace. We have met some really wonderful people and will be sad to leave tomorrow. We are leaving on the 7:00 am bus to Bangkok which will take 12 hours, then we hop on the overnight train to Chang Mai. So we should be there by...oh, I don't know. We'll be there.

We headed out to Ko Phi Phi a few days ago (don't expect specific days or dates, I stopped counting a while back) and the boat ride over was horrendous. I have never really had sea sickness before but I got introduced to it in a big way. The water was really rough so I ended up puking for the whole hour and forty minutes. I must say I was quite discreet though and nobody seemed to notice. Although at that point I wouldn't have cared anyway.

All the sick was worth the view. Ko Phi Phi is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I wanted to take a picture of everything I saw...bright blue-green waters, white sands, palm tress and bright blue skies. It looked like a postcard. I can easily see how you could come to Thailand and just never leave (and let me tell you, we met plenty of people who have done just that!)

On Sunday night Brian and I were lying in bed and I felt it shake (insert sex joke here). I said to him, "Did you feel that?" "Feel what?" he asked. I insisted several times that the bed was shaking, and Brian basically told me I was imagining things. Turned out I was feeling an earthquake. The quake, which measured 7.3 on the Richter scale, hit about 650m off the coast of Phuket in the Andaman/Nicobar Islands. It spurred the Thai government to declare an official Tsunami warning which sent people into a panic. The restaurant where we had eaten dinner that night was evacuated about half an hour after we left. Apparently people's cellphones just started ringing like crazy and the Thais took off for the hills...literally. So there was a mass evacuation and guess where we were? In bed. Oblivious. I heard someone going door to door knocking gently "Hello? Hello?" but assumed that it was someone looking for their friend. Trust the Thais to be their typical sweet, quiet, gentle selves during an evacuation. Evacuations don't work if people don't know about them! Anyway, nothing happened and no tsunami showed up. It's a good thing too because Ko Phi Phi still looks like the tsunami hit last week despite an ongoing cleanup effort. There are a lot of questions that need to be asked about where the aid money has all gone and why there is no permanent medical facility on the island...but I'm on holiday. I don't ask the tough questions when I'm on vacation.

Yesterday we spent the day snorkeling (fortunately we met a lovely couple from New Zealand who supplied me with sea sickness pills...thanks guys!) all around Ko Phi Phi, Phi Phi Leh and Bamboo Island. It was awesome. I had never seen so many beautiful fish and coral. It was warm and the water was so clear...I felt like I was a mini- snorkeler in the world's largest aquarium. We spent the day diving off the boat, laying on the beach and swimming to our hearts content. It was awesome. We also rented sea kayaks one day and paddled all around. We had such a good time. It took a lot of will power to get aboard that outbound boat today. A lot of will power and some serious medication.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

2 Minutes and Counting...

Speed blogging...the extreme form of communication. There are eleven minutes left on the internet ticker and I have five days worth of catching up to

Spent the last few days in Railay beach (near Krabbi). We stayed in a cute little bungalow in the jungle...Brian, myself, a few geckos and an unidentified animal in the roof. We ate delicious food (often delivered to us on the beach) and I got a killer foot massage. We played with macaques (those are monkey-like animals for you urbanites). Brian went climbing and I did a lot of reading (Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" - highly recommend it). I relaxed and I swam in the ocean everyday. We invented a new card game called "Piss Off" which is a lot like Go Fish except it's more complicated and far more therapeutic.

Brian's leg is bruised from the ankle to the knee and is all sorts of technicolours from his stint in the mosque fountain. But in better news he won a big scholarship for law school...well done babe.

Tomorrow we are heading to Ko Phi Phi (where they filmed The Beach) for a few days. The tsunami devastation was evident in Railay but we have heard it is far worse where we are going. Will let you know...

That's it. Two minutes left to publish. Just the bare links and all that fancy jazz. To my friends and family I miss you...write me some emails.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Brian Earns 72 Virgins...maybe

It's been raining in Kuala Lumpur for the last few days so we're off to Thailand tonight on the overnight train. We had a good time here, although KL is not exactly what I imagined.

Yesterday we went to Petronas Towers (which some people claim are the tallest buildings in the world...personally I don't care about tall buildings but for those of you who do...) and walked around the area. We ate good food, took pictures and tried our best to dodge the raindrops. Which was hard since they were falling in thick, heavy sheets. Then we went to the Central Market which was sort of a disappointment. After spending some time in the Night Market, haggling over a difference of 5 ringgits, the Central Market was tame and a little boring. The stuff was nice but it was all indoors and clean. There were no smells, nobody was yelling and the merchants didn't bargain. How in god's name does that fit the description of an Asian market I ask?

After the market we headed to Masjid Negara, Malaysia's national mosque. The dome of the mosque is adorned with 18 points - representing the 13 states of Malaysia and the five pillars of Islam. It was all really beautiful and peaceful. I, of course, had to be fully covered and I was feeling pretty cool in my full length robes and hijab (headscarf). I felt Muslim...well, sort of. Not long after we arrived at the mosque we had quite an incident. I heard a woman yelling and turned just in time to see her running up to one of the large pools that divided the main floor. As I watched the mother run towards her, a little girl tipped over head first into the pool. The mother started screaming and tried to reach her but the ledge was too far above the water. We ran up and the little girl (who was not even two) was struggling under the water. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. Before I knew it, Brian had dropped his pack and had jumped into the pool. He scooped the girl out of the water and held her up to her mother. She didn't breathe at first but we were all very relieved when she started to cry. I will never forget the look on her face as she came out of the water...her eyes were huge and she looked absolutely terrified. The mother, who I think was in shock, took the baby away and Brian climbed out of the pool. He was drenched head to foot and had cut up the back of his leg on the pool edge. My adrenaline was racing and I just wanted to cry...I don't really know why. I was so proud of Brian and so relieved that the little girl was okay.

The mother and the girl came and found us later and thanked Brian. The mother had calmed down by then and the little girl had been dried off and changed. The mother thanked Brian profusely and the little girl, cueing from her Mum, shook Brian's hand. She was cute but looked thoroughly confused.

It was all just such a strange situation...there I was in Muslim robes, at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur, watching Brian save a drowning baby. If I'm wrong and there really is a God, and if half the world is wrong and Allah is the one true God, then I hope he has a very good memory.

Just as we were leaving the mosque we met two women sitting on the steps. They called us over and we sat and chatted with them for about an hour. They were so kind and friendly, and obviously very passionate about their faith. They talked with us about Islam and we had a long chat about Sharia law...that's not entirely true. They had a long talk about Sharia law and I just listened. This is not because I agreed with them, it was because I wasn't about to get into a religious debate with two nice Muslim women on the front steps of Malaysia's national mosque.

Which brings me to this: Why is it okay to tell people that you believe in God but it's not considered okay to say you don't? On our way to the Malaka train station a few days ago the taxi driver asked us if we were Christian. We told him that we aren't. He asked us why. We gave him the PC answer...about everyone just getting along and how you don't need religion to be a moral person. He then proceeded to tell us that he knows Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world and that God loves us, ya da ya da ya da. Now why is it generally unacceptable (and usually considered rude) for me to reply with "I know that Jesus Christ is not the saviour of the world and I believe that God is a convenient excuse for a lack of personal accountability"? And why is it okay to be referred to as a "non-believer". I don't call someone who prefers showers a "non-bather". I believe in things...just not the same things as others.

Part of me wants to start telling people what I really think (only after they ask of course, because I certainly don't run around asking strangers if they believe in Santa Claus and then grilling them as to why or why not) but I know how that would be perceived. Crazy athiests...always trying to justify their lack of faith. What I will probably keep doing is smiling and nodding and saying "thank you" when people tell me they are praying for me. Or maybe I'll just return the comment with "and I'm chewing ju-jubes for you" because to me it's all the same.
Sorry about the rant...

In a few hours we are heading up to Thailand on the overnight train and will be in Hat Yai by morning. I can't wait. Malaysia has been fun, but to me Thailand is where it's at.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Land of Spices

I didn't even know that Melaka existed before today, and now here I am, loving every inch of it. This small coastal town (I say small...the population is 650,000) used to be the port to South East Asia back in its heyday. It has been ruled by the British (who hasn't?), the Dutch, the Portugese and the Sultans of Indonesia. The result is a beautiful mix of cultures, tastes and architecture. The quaint and colourful streets are host to Mosques, Chinese temples, Christian churches and everything in between. It's awesome.

Today we took a trishaw ride (think rickshaw with more flowers and "hood" ornaments) with a Portuguese man named Sebastian. Sebastian (whose Chinese name is Lek) was raised by a Chinese family, speaks five languages and took us to all the historical hot spots of Melaka. He was informed, genuine, and so sweet - I wanted to hug him. He really made the day for us and we ended up spending a lot more time with him than we originally anticipated. That's the luxury of not having a schedule I guess - life just kind of grabs you and takes you where it wants.

Today was a real scorcher so we headed for somewhere cool in the late afternoon...and cool is exactly what we found. Geographer's Cafe is the oldest cafe in Melaka and is a multicoloured, open-aired corner cafe with all of the character I could have ever wanted. The beers were cold, the food was divine and the atmosphere was perfect. They played classical Malaysian music and I could have spent all afternoon watching the people go by. In fact, I nearly did.

We are staying at a really neat little backpackers not far from the centre of town. The owners (who, being Muslims, have some intense rules on pork products in the house) are so friendly and the guesthouse is really clean and full of character. Off to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow!

In other news, my new camera is freakin amazing...

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Korea? What Korea?

From Singapore...the land of all things delicious. So far our trip is going well, if a little more expensive than we planned. The flight over was good but not mind blowing...which is what I expected from the "airline all the other airlines talk about." The food was good and the women were beautiful but South African Airways is still my gold standard.

I booked a hotel near the airport a few months ago, knowing how tired we would be when we arrived. The hotel ended up being really fancy and it started our trip off right. We slept in a big comfy bed (the online reservation even allowed me to specify "No feathers" much to my relief) and awoke this morning to a beautiful view of the ocean framed by palm trees and tropical flowers. Perfection. We had a big breakfast buffet and then went for a swim in the roof-top pool. We had set aside a few days of relaxing before our real backpacking trip began. It was nice to live in the lap of luxury for a day.

This afternoon we headed into the city and booked into our more reasonable hotel the "New 7th Story Budget" in the city centre. It's run by this really nice Indian family and the mother has a crazy lazy eye. The grandfather is the elevator man (never actually been in an elevator with an elevator man before...too bad he doesn't have one of those little organ grinder monkeys) and he's a little jerky on the stick. Every time he bounces us to our floor he says "Rough landing! Just be glad it wasn't a crash landing!" and then he laughs at his own joke. It's really cute and he's so sweet.

Tonight we are heading out for a crab dinner...a free one I might add! An inflight magazine ad promised free crabs to visitors, although I'm sure most people don't actually ask about it. We asked and after showing the proper ID and our boarding passes and a lengthy discussion we "passed" the test and became the proud owners of two chili crab vouchers. Looking forward to that.

Will probably head to Malaysia in a few days...will try and keep you posted. I must warn you though, I can feel myself slipping into that heady traveling existence where time and borders cease to exist. On second thought, that might just be the Carlsberg.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Goodbye to the Land of the Morning Calm

We did it! We finished our life in Korea and we got paid for it! Yesterday was our last day at work and although it was sad at times (my preschool kids and I were all in tears) it felt good to walk out those doors for the last time.

This week has been a long one. It's hard to say good-bye to people, especially when you know you may never see them again, or if you do it won't be for a long time. I have met some incredible people here and made some life long sucked saying good-bye. The hardest had to be Susie. I spent a lot of time with Susie (doing private lessons which I can now discuss openly without fear of being found out and deported) and I grew to love her. It's strange that I would find my kindred spirit in Korea and that she would be nine years old. Susie is the sweetest, funniest and coolest kid I know. I will miss her like crazy. Her mother is great too. They were so kind to us and so generous.

I will also miss Jon, one of the other foreign teachers at our school. Sometimes you meet someone and you feel like you've known them much longer than you actually have. That's Jon. He feels like my brother and I've only known him 6 months. I can't wait to see him again, after he gets out of Korea of course, and hang out. Hang in there buddy.

So, cheers Korea. Cheers to cheap taxis, cheap food, getting bumped into everywhere you go, DVD bangs, bathouses, the orange restaurant, Mr. Lee and his convenience store, kimchi and the hundreds of kids I met here. I never thought I would say this, but I will miss you..."Have a good time."