Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mi Casa

Home. A four letter word, but not in the usual sense. It's hard to describe how it feels to be back. I was far more excited to return than I ever thought I would be. All of my life I have been waiting for my next big trip...planning another adventure. This time I was anxious to come home and ready to stay there. But, when the plane finally landed (24 hours after it left...ugh) I felt a mix of emotions...relief, excitement, and a bit of sadness that my life in Asia was now in the past. There were times where I hated living in Asia, I cursed their "backwards" ways and longed for a taste of home more than once. Now, I want to go back and I may just find myself heading to Chinatown as a refuge from the outside world.

Some things I've noticed since coming home:

1. People are loud. Everybody sounds like they are yelling all the time. There is no quiet calm anywhere it seems.

2. Serving sizes and the people who eat said serving sizes, are much bigger. I'm sure this isn't correct but I get the impression that everyone is a little overweight. Comparatively that is.

3. People here are very anal about personal space. This one is funny because when I first moved to Korea I would have said the same thing about them. There is no personal space in Korea. Here, there is so much that it seems everyone is forever calculating the greatest space to distance ratio in order to stand/shop/sit accordingly. Yesterday I stood behind some guy in line at the grocery store and had obviously miscalculated. I was too close and he let me know it with a look. I could have had my hand in his back pocket in Korea and he wouldn't have cared...or noticed.

4. There is a lot of stuff here and everybody wants it. Buy stuff, wear stuff, carry stuff, eat stuff, sell stuff, collect stuff, clean stuff and drive stuff.

5. On the upside, it's beautiful. I mean "take your breath away, shed a tear" stunning. We drove in from the airport and all we could see was a giant blue sky...like a blanket over the whole earth. The fields were turning from green to gold and the mountains were etched in the horizon in the distance. It really is the most beautiful country I have ever seen.

6. Everything is clean and well-organized. It lacks some character this way because every intersection has the same shops and stores as all the other streets but it's "nice".

7. The toilets flush. And you can sit on them.

8. People, for the most part, have no idea what Asia is like and cannot begin to understand what the last year of my life has been like. They also don't really care all that much. I'm home and that's what matters.

9. The public transportation here sucks compared to Asia. Taxis are expensive and everyone just drives.

10. And finally, but most importantly, it's home.

I have mixed feelings about being back but I'm here and I don't really have a choice. It's very nice to see my family again and it's really relaxing to be able to speak English and function so easily. I am going to give myself the time it will take to get "re-acquainted" and then see how I feel. But right now, I would kill for a bowl of tchenjon chegay and an hour at a bath house.

Monday, August 22, 2005

First Amherst...Next, the World

Way to go CFI. It's about time.


This is the funniest story I have heard in a while.

We got an email the other day from Brian's Mum, detailing the first few weeks of law school for Brian. Now, Brian keeps warning me that he'll be so busy at school and not to expect to see him much. (I know what professional school is like...I went to journalism school, remember? Sorry, just had to pick myself up from the floor...that was a good one.) In the first week Brian has a Welcome Lunch, a buffet breakfast, a bowling night, a softball tounament, a golf tournament and later in the month a dinner and dance. I want to go to law school...I love bowling.

Last night we flew home from Koh Samui. That's right - we flew...no more fourteen hour bus/boat rides for this girl. It took an hour to get here. The Koh Samui airport looks like a cross between "Gilligans Island" and a night safari. I hate flying, and let me tell you, seeing an airport made of cocunut trees without a roof made me a little nervous...but it was cool.

In a few days we wil fly home. I can't believe it...it's been so long and this year has been very eventful. Brian and I are starting to try and figure out where we are going to live and what we are going to do. Buy? Rent? Car? Bus pass? The difficult thing is that most of the answers depend on me and what kind of job I get. Gulp...a job. I have no idea what I want to do and for the next few years at least I am going to be the "bread winner". That's a lot of pressure. My two little brothers are both still in univesity and they have jobs lined up for when they finish...good ones. Brian will be a lawyer. What the hell am I? Part scientist, part journalist? Sheesh. My Mom keeps reminding me that I will need to get a job right away (like I didn't know) and the pressure is mounting. All I want is to go back to school (that's all I ever want) and Brian just wants to work. If only we could switch places...or win the lottery.

Brian is out filming his movie today and I am hanging out in Bangkok solo. No worries...I know this place like the back of my hand now.

In more random news:
1. What the hell is with this blogger/comment spam going around? It's seriously pissing me off.
2. Way to go out Mr. HS Thompson. I like it.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Down With Conformity...Do What I'm Doing!

At breakfast Brian and I decided to blow this popsicle stand and head to Koh Samui. We kept trying to deny it but we both really hated Koh Phagnan. We were starting to think we really sucked and had horrible attitudes until we started talking to some other people. The Dutch couple who we met yesterday were also leaving and had come to the conclusion that the island was crap. They had been to Koh Toa and Samui and much preferred both. Now, remember that today is the day of the full moon party...an event that draws thousands of people to the island, and that we were going the opposite direction. We felt like traitors and then we felt like rebels and then, as the day went on, we just felt smart.

On the pier we were surprised to see a lot of people leaving (even more arriving mind you) and met a guy called "Irish" who was a character and a half. Sporting an upside down American flag on his back pack he was making a point of insuting everyone on the pier...loudly. He had been beaten up the night before (can't imagine why) but had managed to convince the Thai police that he was an Irish policeman so they, as their brotherly duty, went and pummeled the two guys who had beaten him. The poor Thai guy selling drinks for 10 baht was offered 20 baht to "let me shove the drink up your arsehole" and as we were walking past the crowds arriving on the island, he jumped up and decreed on high that this place "is a shithole" and to "Get back on the boat if you've an ounce of brains in your thick skulls". Compared to him, Brian and I are a puddle of sunshine.

Koh Samui is fantastic. I will never go to Koh Phagnan again but I will gladly return here. The people are nicer and the island is prettier...it's got more to do and of course, it doesn't hurt that we went all out (after weeks of paying 200 baht a night for hotel rooms) and booked a room at the Peace Resort for 2,500 baht a night. The last place we were staying at was called Cookies and although the gardens were nice, the bungalows were crap. Dark, damp and with walls weaved from palm leaves it was a dingy place all in all. The bathroom was entirely concrete and host to several families of bugs...no flush toilet and no hot water. The Peace Resort is fantastic...it's easily the nicest place I have ever stayed. A private bungalow near the beach, with fluffy towels and a bathtub! The toilet flushes and there is even a TV and a mini bar. It didn't take five minutes for Brian to declare his new life philosophy: "Screw Cookies. I'm done with Cookies."

We had been really torn about leaving before the full moon party and felt like we should go because everyone goes. As I sat in the beach front restaurant tonight, drinking my red wine and eating my roasted duck, I could hear the party from across the water. I felt like I had escaped by the skin of my teeth. It's pretty ironic that a party that started as a counter culture movement has become so packaged...I felt like a social freak for leaving.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The proud owner of a jeep and TWO hotel rooms

The last few days have been good...yesterday we had a beach day and chilled on our our little private beach. The water was blue-green and a warm as a bath. The sand was nice and I walked around topless...that's the good life. It's also a good thing about Thailand...most of the tourists here are European, where topless is just normal. (The French even have a word for it...a "monokini". Ha! I thought that was so funny!) We had lunch, played cards, swam, read and dozed under a plam tree. In the evening we watched the sunset over the water...it was beautiful.

I was so tired this morning...Brent's girlfriend (the one with the limited vocabulary) showed up and they retreated from the restaurant about the same time we headed for bed. Then the music started. Brent's bungalow (shack is more ike it...but what do you want for $4?) is right next door to ours and the music was loud. We tolerated it for awhile but when the same Jack Johnson CD went on for the fourth time we had to put our foot down. We didn't want to be the heavy-handed-pro-capitilist-anti-freedom-corportate borgs but we were tired.

We rented a jeep today and took it out around the island...that was very cool. We picked up a couple of Dutch hitch hikers and toured all the beaches. We drove through the mountainous jungle roads and saw some really cool things...giant coconut trees, waterless waterfalls, mountain villages and about 1,000 stray dogs. After having our brains rattled for a few hours on the bumpy roads, we headed home.

As it started to rain we saw a hotel by the pier. We had the jeep for 24 hours and I couldn't face another night (especially a wet one) in our bug-infested "bungalow". We managed to get the last room and paid for two rooms tonight. I didn't care...this room has pillows (white ones as opposed to the usual grey) and sheets! Better yet, it has real walls. I am living in the lap of luxury.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Crawlies in the Weave

Maybe it was the hair...maybe it reminded it of its long lost mother...either way, there was a giant spider on my head today. As big as my hand. It ran across my face and at first I thought it was one of my braids so I brushed it off. Then it ran right across my face again, over my eye and its body blotted out the sun for a fraction of a second. Long enough for me to realize what it was. I screamed and swatted at my head. Eventually it jumped off (leaped maybe) and ran under the back tire of a jeep. I'm not really scared of spiders in general but I was a little jumpy for the rest of the day!

Ko Phagnan isn't exactly what I expected (are you surprised? I wasn't.) It could just be the full moon party at the end of the week, but there is an entirely different cast of characters on this island. Brent is a good example...we met Brent this morning on our way up the hill from our guesthouse (which is a shithole, but that's another story). Brent is from Washington D.C and has been travelling for 3 months..."It's been a total mind trip ya know? I forget English all the time now and like, talking to fellow Americans (Canadians, but why be petty?) it's like totally blowin' my mind..." Ditto.

Brent has a shoulder that he can't move because he drove his rented motorbike into a ditch while trying to ride down a mountain drunk. Brent has lost 15 pounds because he stopped eating a few weeks ago and now only drinks beer. He has two Thai "girlfriends" (and an extra at home but "she's Indonesian so she understands what it's like"...hmmm) one of whom can only say two words in English - "Yes" and "fucking". How appropriate. Brent is a 4.0 student in an honours business program at the American University...or at least he was, until he started doing drugs all day long and now says he needs to go home and get tested for every STD known to man. Nice. Brent also says we "should totally come out and party at the Amsterdam bar tonight...I guarantee you (this is said with a very earnest expression) it will blow your mind."

I am reading Are You Experienced? (by William Sutcliffe) right now, it's about a young guy traveling India and the things he sees and the people he meets. Brian read it too, passed it to me when he was done and said "That's how I feel" I thought the least I could do was read it. It's quite good and pretty funny...and the character, Dave, is acidic if a bit sad. He's lost and isn't buying all the hippie BS he encounters from fellow travelers, who are all carrying around the book (Lonely Planet). At one point his friend throws the book out the train window and Dave nearly has a heart attack..."But, how will we find all the other travelers?" My favourite part is when Dave goes running up to the only other white face on a train platform...it's a journalist from Reuters. The journalist berates him: "Your kind of travel is all about low horizons dressed up as open-mindedness. You have no interest in India, and no sensitivity for the problems this country is trying to face up to," and ends up shouting: "DON'T FORGET TO PUT YOUR BIG TRIP DOWN ON THE CV!" I thought that was pretty funny.

Monday, August 15, 2005

MADS (Me Against Drunk Shopping)

After getting so annoyed with Bangkok that I could do nothing but sulk in a hot and smelly road-side bar I decided to put said establishment to good use. I started drinking. I kept drinking all day...beer for lunch and then for pre dinner drinks. Cheap cold Singha beer to dull me to expensive, hot Khoa San Road. It actually did the opposite...it endeared me to it! That's when I realized that this whole time I was complaining it was my fault. I was just too sober to appreciate the finer subqualities of the road's culture.

I did all the things a drunk person should do on KS. I shopped and bartered like a crazy person (probably more like a drunk person), I bought a fake international press card, complete with my picture (valid for ten years...that should give me enough time to actually do some journalism) and got my hair braided down my back...bubble gum pink. Now that was an experience in bladder control...three hours spent sitting with people yanking on your hair and a husband feeding you beers and no bathroom in site. When I did finally go I was a good looking blur of pink tendrils, let me tell you.

Brian is going to be an extra in a movie next week! We walked past this big sign calling for actors and stopped to check it out. Next thing we know, he's being measured for a costume...he's a natural.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

How Bazaar

All I've ever heard about is how great the shopping is in Bangkok. I call bullshit. From what I can tell, it's lousy. Yesterday we went to the weekend market (the famous "if it isn't here, it doesn't exist" market) and it sucked. The stuff was the same I've seen everywhere but the quality was worse. The prices were ridiculous and the stuff was just crap. The shopping in Kuala Lumpur was ten time better than Bangkok, and that's what is so frustrating. We were in KL and bought nothing. We had heard nothing but how Bangkok was the place to shop so we left empty-handed. Even Chiang Mai was better than Bangkok and guess what? We didn't buy much there either.

From what I've seen, China has the best shopping. The markets had everything under the sun, the vendors were fun and were good at bargaining and the products were fairly good quality. Here, the vendors don't really bargain (today we had a lady take shirts out of our hands and put them back on the table because she didn't like our counter offer!) and when they do it's half-hearted. I feel disgruntled and dissapointed.

I can't wait to get out of Bangkok. It's pretty bad when the best deal going are the spring rolls on Khoa San Road.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Appreciation in hindsight...

When I lived in Korea I used to get really frustrated at the lack of attention paid to tourists. There were no English signs or pamphlets, no posted bus or train schedules and nothing in the country was organized. It was really frustrating. Here in Bangkok, the opposite is true. Everything is geared for tourists and I hate it. It's so cliched to not appreciate what you have when you have it but I'm afraid that's what I have done. Korea is one of the least toured countries in the world and is only just opening up to the tourism industry. Every festival and market we went to was for Koreans...we just happened to tag along. In hindsight, it is a refreshing and novel way to travel.

I constantly feel like I am being processed here. It wasn't as bad down south (funny enough, as that's where the beaches are) but Bangkok is really bad. Everyone is dressed the same and they're carrying around the same Lonely Planet as though it's their cult Bible...and in a way it is. The clothes at the market are all the same. The food at the restaurants is all the same. Everything is over priced, poorly made and nothing is unique or personal. Dreadlocks, which have usually been as a rejection of society's norms of beauty and style, can be bought on the street for $25. They're weaving them in for God's sakes and people are eating it up.

I never thought I would say this but right now, I would love to get that "You're white! What the hell are you doing in my country?" stare I used to hate so much.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Thai'd in Knots

Thai massage isn't quite what I had imagined. It was more like, I don't know, pleasant torture. I had a killer foot massage the other day so I decided to go back to the same place for an hour long massage. It started out pretty normal. I put on some comfy pyjama looking clothes (only later would I realize this was for easy transport from massage mat to operating table) and lay down on the massage mat. A large Thai woman came in and did a little bow and started rubbing my feet. Ahhh...

The next thing I know, she was using her elbows to pummel my calf muscles. I was being kneaded (after all, isn't that what everyone wants?) like pizza dough. I thought about saying something but kept quiet. I knew Brian was in the waiting room (hates being massaged...says that strangers touching him is creepy) so if I needed interference, it was available. I decided to just relax and try to enjoy the experience. I got pulled, twisted, stretched and cracked. The woman climbed on my back and walked all over me...and it didn't even hurt! It was like passive yoga meets chiropractics meets massage. I really started to enjoy it at some point and by the end I was feeling very relaxed and my muscles were like jelly, which after all, is the point.

A full hour of this and an awesome experience all for five bucks. What a deal.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Hey! Nice Thai!

Thai food has always been my favourite "ethnic cuisine" (if that term still applies these days) and today I learned how to cook heaps of it. We took a cooking class at Pad Thai Cookery school and learned how to make curry pastes, carve vegetables (for some reason, my carrot "Man looks over bridge contemplating his existential self" didn't fare as well as some chicks tomato rose...what can you do?), make soups, stir fry's and some very yummy deserts. I am excited to go home and cook up a big Thai meal for my friends and family. Maybe I'll open up a restaurant and call it Thai, and Thai Again. Groan.

We also went to see The Island. It's funny being all the way over here because we end up missing all the hoopla and buildup to a typical Hollywood movie. We end up watching it through naive eyes and I can tell you, it makes a difference. I have never been a huge Hollywood fan but lately the movies are worse. Fight scenes that go on for hours, car chases that break the rules of physics not to mention the laws of good film making. The dialogue is horrendous and the plots, predictable. The Island wasn't so bad (it had the sci-fi element of science and ethics which engaged my brain a little bit) but there were definitely some laughable scenes. Like when the two main characters fall 70 stories off the side of a building (hanging onto a billboard for safety) and manage to escape unharmed.

As contrast, I offer my most recent read The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester (also the author of another favourite, Krakatoa). What an interesting book. It tells the story of Dr. Minor and James Murray, two men responsible for the Oxford English Dictionary. Sounds a bit boring, but it's not. A true story, full of madness and murder, about something we all take for granted. I had never really thought much about dictionaries until I read this. Can you imagine not having one? Shakespeare apparently did not have access to a dictionary...he couldn't check to see if he had used a word correctly or check its spelling. He couldn't even "look up" a word or a thing (like "elephant"...how the hell would he know what an elephant was!?) because the concept didn't even exist. There was no where to look. In a word like ours where we can find out anything about anything in a few minutes, that blew my mind.

A big Happy Birthday to my not so little, little brother...wish I was there kiddo!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

From Grey to Black and Blue

Yesterday we went on a one day trek through the jungle. We visited the Hmong hill tribe at their mountain village and spent time walking around and seeing how they live. Like many of the hill tribes in Thailand, the Hmong are allowed to gro opium for personal use. The people there were really friendly and I felt lucky to have the opportunity to see such a different way of life. We also visited the a Karen hill tribe and watched them weaving their traditional cloth. It's so beautiful...silks and fine threads all woven together in the most stunning patterns. The Karen are Thailand's largest hill tribe and are still engaged in constant conflict with the Burmese government. They are technically from Burma (Myanmar if you insist) but are being pushed out of the country and are being forced to live in refugee camps along the border. The Thai government has clued in to the fact that the Karen are a tourist attraction (a lot of them are known as "long neck" since they wear gold loops to elongate their necks) and are setting them up in "traditional villages" in Thailand. The ones we visited were far from the border and were living a closer approximation to authentic tribe life but you still have to wonder.

We also spent some time on a back of a big elephant and rode him through the jungle. I was bit reluctant to support the whole "ride an elephant" thing but at the same time, they are a huge (s'cuse the pun) part of Thai culture. It was cool but I was satisfied with the 45 minute ride. I wouldn't have enjoyed anything longer. I did love feeding the elephant some sugarcane when we were finished and I whispered an apology into its ear. Elephants eyes always look a little sad (even in the wild) so I'm not sure if he understood me.

After the elephants we went to look at a waterfall. We hadn't been there more than two minutes when I slipped on the rock and fell right on my hip. Boy did that hurt. It meant the bamboo rafting was out (Brian went and loved it) and I spent the rest of the afternoon in the van. Bummer. Oh well, at least it happened after the hill tribes and not first thing in the morning.

We've collected two really impressive bruises so far this trip, although Brian's story is far more heroic.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Let's Meat in the Middle

Before I left for Korea I was a vegetarian. Shortly after I arrived in Korea I realized that maintaining that lifestyle was going to be very difficult if not impossible. I started eating meat, telling myself it was the culturally sensitive thing to do, and promised myself that I would return to being veggie as soon as I could. Chiang Mai is a vegetarian's dream. Every restaurant offers vegan, vegetarian and macrobiotic options and I haven't had a single one (not entirely true...we had some great fallafels). I have found that I really love eating meat. I used to always tell people how easy it was to replace meat with non-meat alternatives and how usually you couldn't even tell the difference. That's true. But I have yet to see a decent soy replacement for a big juicy steak. What am I to do? Part of me thinks that I should go back to being veggie and do what I know is the right thing for the environment, the food market and the third world. The other part of me can't wait to get home and bite into my Mom's famous roast chicken and some Tim Horton's chili. So, I've decided to launch a campaign. Well, David Suzuki launched it...I'm just advertising it. Eat one meat-free meal a week and help Caroline live guilt free. I figure if I can convince six other people to eat veggie for one day a week then that should equate to one full-blown vegetarian and relieve me from duty.

That way I can have my steak and eat it too.