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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Like a Tropical Jesus, I Walk between Islands

Although I’m working on less than five hours of sleep—I would set insomnia on fire if I could—I am here, at my keyboard, bringing you another installment of Suddenly Farang. That’s how much I care, people.

Besides, I figure you all want to hear about my long beach-weekend that was undoubtedly sandier and more picturesque, despite the monsoon season, than your typical-length weekend. So now that I’ve jammed my stomach with a minced shrimp omelet, it’s time to describe.

Last weekend was extended thanks to Wan Khao Pansa—or what’s translated as ‘Buddhist Lent’—which gave us off on Friday and Monday. The association with Lent seems like a mildly silly and denuding connection, but such cross-cultural borrowings are for a post where a four-day weekend isn’t involved.

The short teaching-week was much appreciated and fairly easy, since the bulk of my students had only in-class presentations. On Thursday, one level had to present a business plan for a predetermined type of company. Two of the more standout plans worthy of a blog were for a massage parlor and an airline company. The former named their business “Climax Massage Parlor” and began their PowerPoint slideshow with a picture of a woman with an especially red O-face. Their slogan: “Our Fingers. Our Palms. Your Climax.” I’m thankful these students are so good at English; otherwise, my lack of professionalism would have been very unprofessional.

The latter chose to make their airline company a luxury line, catering only to the wealthiest in Thailand. But, because of one student’s heavy-ish accent, I couldn’t quite make out his tag line. I could have sworn he said, “Our airline will get you high like Jesus?” I was rather proud of the oblique Beatles reference and sheer audacity of the statement, even if slightly confused. But, when I pressed the student further, I realized he said “high like a G6.” So much for my knowledge of popular music said through a heavy Asian accent.

Enter Friday, a day jam-packed with getting ready for the beach. I took the university’s free shuttle bus to Bangkok with my beach buddy to crash at another friend’s apartment close to the Ekamai bus station. Settling in, we got some amazing food at Coconuts, a place with an extensive vegetarian menu. And the food was about half the price of what I pay on campus. Bangkok definitely does have its upsides.

After a total lack of sleep (which is becoming a trend, apparently), the four of us

I'm on a bus

woke up at 6:30 a.m. to be to the station by 7 a.m. It took us about five hours to arrive at the pier, where we picked up a fifth member. Once on a ferry, it was another thirty minutes to reach the island. The whole trip was pretty easy—just a mix of interrupted naps, reading, listening to music, and vamping a playlist on which I’ve been working (cough NERD cough).

Cloudy Koh Chang

We left this early in the morning so we could eke out a day at the beach, but we were beach-blocked on Friday. About halfway through the bus ride, we began to drive into periodic and heavy rains—rains that didn’t stop until sometime on Monday, when we left. The rain didn’t preclude either time on the beach or awkward sunburns, but it did lead to a change of plans on Friday. Instead of a forced beach-day, we walked around our area—we ended up staying along White Sands Beach—and ate and ate and ate. Things could have been worse.

Because it was Buddhist Lent, however, obtaining alcohol over the weekend wasn’t a guarantee. I’m not a huge drinker—and have been described as a teetotaler—but I did want a beer or two on the beach. While most shops and restaurants didn’t mind selling booze, more regulated places—7-11, for example—had signs posting their refusal to sell alcohol because of the holiday. One wine store had its doors shut entirely. But if one could finagle and proffer a charming, demure smile—two of my specialties—one could enjoy an aforementioned beer or two on the beach.

The beach buddy and I rested in the same room all weekend: a 350B hotel room with an industrially powerful fan (I would wake up cold), two large beds, and detached-but-private showers that was across the road from the beach and our favorite place to eat, Cookies. The hotel was completely without frills, but for that it was perfect.

We all went to bed early—probably between 10 and 11 p.m.—with full stomachs and overwhelming exhaustion. We had big plans for Saturday, anyway.

But before the big plans could kick off, I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and was unable to fall back to sleep. DSLR in hand, I decided to walk around town and take night photos; I love dicking around with long exposures and insomnia lends the perfect excuse to do so. There were even potential sunrise shots in my future, at this rate.

The photos, as you can see didn’t turn out so great. Because it had been so rainy, there were few surfaces on which to rest my camera. Sunrise pictures were phased out as well since I was beginning to remember that it was 5:15 a.m. and my ass was actually tired.

All was not for naught, though, since I got to enjoy a 7-11 breakfast on a plastic chair outside of the store while bathing in the luminescence of the storefront sign. There was a weird kind of serenity to it, my probably strange tableau.

Back in bed by 5:45 a.m., I grabbed three more hours of welcomed sleep.

Rejuvenated, I squeezed in an ass-kicking hill run, glorious shower, and second breakfast, this time done right at Cookies with a soothing view of the beach.

Remants of a morning well spent.

Once again, I had the privilege of traveling with Tor, my friend’s Thai boyfriend. Another benefit of Tor I discovered regards travel: in Koh Chang, while other people were renting and wrecking motorbikes, we got to rent a badass pick-up truck. Aside from allowing a sequel to farang truck, our car proved to be much more reliable than the motorbikes on the switchbacks from hell, regularly slick with fresh rain puddles.

Thailand should begin training a bobsled team.

 After negotiating the often unbelievably winding and mountainous roads, we ventured into Bang Bao, a quaint—albeit touristly expensive—fishing village with cool piers to walk along and explore. There’s not much to be said about Bang Bao that isn’t conveyed better in pictures, so indulge below.

We wondered if we could buy this for 300,000B

Piers ventured, we drove to Khlong Phlu Waterfall. Thanks to my university ID, which somehow makes me a resident of Thailand that somewhat compensates for my skin-tone-and-language-based farang status, I paid only 40B as opposed to the 200B mandated from foreigners. Cha-ching.

The 400-meter trek to the waterfall would have sucked if it wasn’t kind of funny. All of us were wearing sandals and the ground on the way to the falls was muddy, mossy, wet, or all three—making the steep drop to the left all that much more comic. I was happy we pressed on, though, because what was at the end of the 400 meters was pretty motherfucking spectacular.

Khlong Phlu Waterfall

Although I didn’t like sharing the Khlong Phlu Waterfall, the crowds eventually faded into the background. All I really remember was taking the first jump into the water and floating around for not nearly long enough, the sound of water crashing down behind me.

Metaphor?

The waterfall was a huge victory, but Saturday had another surprise in store. Who goes shopping for prescription eyeglasses while on an island vacation in a tropical climate? Cool kids, obviously. Beach buddy needed eyeglasses something fierce and a shop on the island was having a 2-for-1 sale. She felt bad for taking up a portion of my night with eyeglasses, but I was perfectly content—and she would have been stupid to pass up the sale. Besides, I was treated to free juice and a sedate feeling of atemporal presence: high and relaxed. The eyeglass shopping was, oddly enough, as good a part of the weekend as any other.

Sunday was another early morning; two of our friends were leaving at noon and we had to walk to an island from our island.

Walkable island, from Koh Chang

Fo’ real.

Once on Kai Bae beach, it was probably a quarter- to half-mile walk to a nearby island, accessible by foot only at low tide. One of those in the group had been to Koh Chang a month or two earlier, so she told us about this walkable island on the bus. Needless to say, all of us had been excited about the possibility of marching to an island from the start.

Setting off.

Don't slip.

The walk itself took about twenty to thirty minutes and, once we hit the coral, became like walking on stilts—underwater. Much like the waterfall, the walk was a pain in the ass, but, unlike the waterfall, watching the island become increasingly closer was a persistent motivator.

Pii krap ani koh tao rai krap?

Once on the island—which is for sale, if you’re interested (although non-Thais can’t own land in Thailand)—we kind of traipsed around the shore, taking photos and climbing on driftwood. I wish I could better convey what it was to walk to island from an island, but I think that clause conveys what we did quite nicely:

We walked to an island from an island.

And while a ton of people tried to follow us path, maybe only a handful made it. Poseur wannabe bitches.

An offering?

Such an achievement meant it was time for street food. Admittedly, though, I’ll be goddamned if I know of an hour when it isn’t time for street food in Thailand. This meal was particularly tasty: a whole fish grilled on a skewer with two sides of sticky rice, or khao niao. I ordered the whole thing in Thai before hopping back into the truck and sharing the feast with my beach buddy. She and I sat in the bed of the truck eating moist, smoky, grilled fish and khao niao as we drove back to our beach—and loving the shit out of life. By noon, I was rocking a super-sweet tank-top sunburn, but whatevs. There was no opportunity to stress.

After some time in a café with coffee, tomato juice, and pineapple fried rice with my beach buddy, we spent the rest of the day hanging out, watching Fashion TV—it was really rainy and/or overcast out and we were effing exhausted—and taking pictures of the sunset over wine, the beach buddy and I met with the third friend for dinner, as the other two had since left. Once again, I ordered street food—two orders of som tom and two of sticky rice, all for 80B—completely in Thai. Ego inflated, we sat down to dinner with our third and were treated to an impromptu fire show. Check out these shots of the sunset and fire dancers.

And then the Apocalypse happened

Monday morning was spent on the beach—laying out, running up and down the shoreline, and romping in the ocean. (Walking into the waves, I said, out loud, “This is so irresponsible,” a fact for which I was thankful.) Plus, although I spent only a few hours on the beach, I was able to soften my awkward tank-tan into an overall redness. Score one for me? Hell, the whole weekend was score-one-for-me.

The bus ride back sucked—100% sucked—but I was able to play back the entire weekend in my mind. Not bad, kids. Not bad.

Next up: a trip to Chiang Mai, an area I’ve hyped up so much in my mind that I expect nothing less than a haven interspersed with elephants, vegetarian food, and colorful tapestries.

See you all then.


 
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Posted by on July 22, 2011 in Thailand

 

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Unrelated Floating Markets and Near-Flooded Bathrooms

Today, the stomach’s acting up and I just got back from the gym. Ahead of me are grading,  a shower, and Crazy Heart on Star Movies (our HBO, which mostly accommodates lovers of Nicolas Cage and Over the Top).Until those things, however, it’s time to get back on the blog horse.

Last Saturday was more new-teacher-orientation rigmarole in Bangkok. I’m currently going into my sixth week of teaching, so a fifth lesson on what I should do on my first day is appreciated—but totally goddamn annoying. To top off the whole experience, the new teachers were taught classroom management skills by a woman who couldn’t even manage the new teachers. By then end, my frustration so palpable I had to go to the bathroom just to take a breather from the overwhelming stupidity. During the whole process, I played a lot of Would You Rather, comparing various situations to my current predicament. I think I landed somewhere just past sandpaper to the forehead but before boxing a kangaroo.

Amphawa Floating Market

Part of the reason the orientation was such hell was because of what was next: a trip to Amphawa Floating Market with some great friends. Located in Samut Songkhram—which is about sixty minutes southwest of Bangkok, depending on traffic—the market traces the banks of the Amphawa Canal on a dock of varying widths, along with boats moving up and down the canal with wares, food, and passengers. But more on those later.

From Bangkok, seven of us jammed ourselves into a station wagon equipped with an iPod and hauled our asses to Samut Songkram. Four of us occupied the back seat and I ended up sharing indistinguishable sweat with the friend next to me. By the time we got to our bungalow, our arms that had been touching looked like twin Slip ‘n Slides.

Our bungalow's porch

Yes, I said bungalow. There was an added bonus on this trip: a pair of Thai guys, Tor and Tak, who were (and still are) dating two of the girls in our group, making our excursion much easier and more delicious. Thanks to them, we ended up driving to Amphawa rather than paying for a bus, haggling 500 baht off of the price for the bungalow, buying 3kg of remarkably fresh seafood, and plenty of alcohol—although this last part I imagine us farangs could have managed on our own. A resourceful bunch, we are.

We dropped our stuff off at the bungalow and went directly into town, riding in the back of Tak’s red pickup. Needless to say, a bunch of white people in the back of a pickup was thoroughly enjoyed by the other Thais driving around. Our group was smart enough to recognize the novelty of a farang truck.

Ridin' farang.

In town, we had one mission in mind: seafood. Mission completed. We came back with a wonderful mix of squid, little shellfish things that tasted like a tangy BBQ sauce, and big-ass prawns. It was beginning to get dark, so we returned to the bungalow to refrigerate our food and beers and reserved a long-tail boat—a typical southeast Asian boat with 8 – 9 rows and a lengthy outboard motor that looks like a weed-whacker—to take us to and from the market, with an added bonus on the return trip.

Amphawa Market itself was pretty cool, if not startlingly touristy. There were a good deal of white faces and it seemed like almost ten percent of the people there had dSLRs. Normally, such a scene would make me a little snarky, but Amphawa struck me as one of those places that should to be touristy—if that makes sense—and would probably have been less charming if it wasn’t. The things vendors were selling either sucked or were too cumbersome to carry around on a dock, so the trip proved to be more of a sensory experience than commercial one, which was totally fine with me. I did have a nice banana-leaf bowlful of grilled corn while watching food vendors in boats sell bowls of noodles to people sitting and eating on steps over-looking the canal—a pretty cool scene (that I’m pretty sure is in an episode of No Reservations). More than once, there were odd moments of picturesque serenity amidst the absolute mayhem of shoppers.

Solicitors

Bridge over

Crowd

In fact, I wish I had my dSLR at the market, but the lighting mostly really sucked and trying to take a good photo in a sea of bodies moving along like cattle in a chute is not my idea of fun.

Our long-tail took the scenic route back to the bungalow after promising, vaguely, fireflies. Most of the East-Coast Americans in the group were skeptical, as fireflies are a regular occurrence for our American summer nights. After speeding away from the stores and to the residential part of the canal—a mix of plush houses, tiny shanties, and other bungalows—and getting worrisome water splashed in my mouth, we hit the fireflies, which proved a pleasant surprise. They were like tiny Christmas lights, hidden deep in the over-hanging brush and blinking slightly out of sync. The sight wasn’t spectacular in itself, but provided a scenic backdrop for in-boat conversation.

Grillin'.

Once back at the bungalow, around 10 or 11 p.m., the grilling began. All of us sat around the picnic table telling jokes, playing Catch Phrase, drinking beer, drinking whiskey, eating grilled seafood (of which I definitely had more than my share), having guitar sing-alongs, enjoying sparklers like a group of six-year-olds, and probably being rowdier than we should have been after sundown.

Fire eater

Beginning at 2 a.m. people began to slither back to the bungalow in waves. It was humid as Thailand outside, so I got in line to take a shower. As like many showers here, there is no division between it and the toilet and toilet: the bathroom is an open room with a drain in the middle of the floor. I jumped in the shower, quickly rinse off, and turn the valve to shut off the water. Suddenly, things became very confusing. I looked at the valve in my hand, then at the piping, then at the valve, then at the piping.

I had broken the handle the off of the piping, causing a steady geyser of water to shoot out of the shower and onto/into the sink.

I tried to reattach the handle, but with no luck; the valve had completely corroded, allowing for me to rip it off with my unforgiving man-strength. Moreover, because I broke the valve, I couldn’t shut off the water from inside the bathroom, either. Tak ran and found the owner of the complex, who quickly came over, took one look in the rapidly flooding bathroom, and went outside and shut off the valve. The Fire Hydrant of Shame, as one of my friends called it, was put to rest.

Tak singing

I fell asleep by 4 a.m. but woke up around 8 a.m., sunlight coming in through the window and kicking me right in the eyeballs. I went outside and hanged out on our porch while listening to Iron & Wine before being joined by a friend. We then went out to the dock, where Dak was relaxing and playing the guitar. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t have asked for a better morning to a better night.

Through the bush

All in a row

Across the water

Go for a dip?

On our way back, we ordered a feast at a nearby fish restaurant, which was located directly on the water and guarded by monkeys. The meal felt like a splashdown after a grand weekend, and therefore filled its role perfectly.

Back in my apartment after a quick jaunt to Jatujak for gifts for the family, I saw this on my Facebook wall from the weekend’s prime organizer: “We knocked the socks off this weekend.”

Yup.

Sun on the rise
 
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Posted by on July 3, 2011 in Misadventure, Thailand