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Category Archives: Happiness

Premature Ejaculator? No Worries in Kuala Lumpur

Lights of KL

I was barely into my first big beer before some guy sat down at my table.

“Hello,” he may have said—“may” because his accent was so thick it was almost opaque.

This situation was exactly what I didn’t want: some possibly drunk and/or stoned boner twisting my ear in English more broken than his teeth. Besides, my friend and I were momentarily burned out on each other and, to exacerbate things, Chinese New Year in Malaysia was thwarting most attempts made at travel and lodging. We just needed some street noodles and beers to unwind. But while she was in the bathroom (and I was criminally eating her noodles), this stick of a man slithered into the open seat.

His black shirt, hanging onto his body only slightly looser than his skin, was tucked into his black jeans, at the front of which was an obnoxious, silver belt-buckle.

I have no fucking idea what he and I talked about before my friend got back. I was so peeved and pissy that I barely mustered the good nature to proffer one-word answers to his awkward chatter. It was during one of my space-outs into the fluorescent-lit streets of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown that I saw my friend returning. I quickly shook my head to hint that she stay away, but she was already annoyed with me (seeing that I had eaten her noodles didn’t help—at all), so she plopped down at the table’s third seat. I braced for the terse conversation I was sure would follow.

Consequently, I also have no fucking idea when we all started to have a great time.

Lights of KL, and some broad

All of a sudden, the three of us were cracking up. David went from a unwelcome, Johnny-Cash-looking pain in the ass to the remedy for our travel malaise. We had bought ourselves a round and were laughing away as the wait staff sat and watched.

David insisted they were jealous. I’m still inclined to agree.

Petronas Towers

He was thrilled when he learned we’re English-language teachers. He told us about his English lessons; apparently, he was at the top of his class.

“That’s right! Number one!” he said.

But what he said was much less memorable than how he displayed ‘number one’.

Whenever he’d get excited and need to emphasize something’s supremacy, David employed a very specific motion: his left arm would lift, his arm perpendicular to the ground before his elbow would rise away from his body, and his loose fist would flutter before his gangly index finger rose from the shaky mess into a rigid, erect indication of what he meant.

(He made us promise to bring his gesture worldwide. Now that you know about the motion, consider yourself implicated.)

“Number one!”

Why was anything number one?

“It has P – O – W – E – RRRRRRRRRRRRRR,” according to David.

Fucking everything was number one to this guy: English; our beer; his English; his shit-awful cigarettes; our English. The man was nothing if not enthusiastic.

More to the point, my sexual prowess was tops too—at least until my friend told him I was a habitual premature ejaculator.

Cat Nap, and other puns

See, David refused to believe that we were anything less than bang buddies. It took us three minutes to talk him down from marriage:

“You married, no?”

“Nope.”

“No? Don’t lie.”

“David, we promise.”

“But she’s your wife, no?

“Nope.”

And so forth.

City of Street Art

When he heard “friends” numerous times, he finally settled on ‘special friends’. It seemed like a reasonable place to end the shenanigans. It also opened a window for a joke:

“Yea, but David, she has many special friends.”

I forgot that sarcasm doesn’t translate across languages so well—damn beers—and that my friend can give as good as she gets—damn beers. I just had to wait for the revenge.

My friend and I started to fabricate how we became special friends. It eventually came about that I was the artist for her back tattoo (a gorgeous cherry blossom, so I was flattered), and after those four hours getting tattooed in my chair, she was hooked.

“Four hours?!” David exclaimed. His excitement, barely containable, eventually exploded out of his left hand:

“Number one!”

Thus, the stage was set for my friend.

“Yea, but David, he lasts only two seconds,” she revealed, tipping her head to imply he think about this statement.

He didn’t need to think; his eyes, once proud, shot back to me with disbelief.

“Two seconds? No!”

I got too excited. I saw a hook, well baited: an opportunity to continue the laughs and general revelry, even if at my expense. I couldn’t keep it in. Without control, I quickly blurted:

“Yes, David. Two seconds.”

His jaw dropped. His shit-awful cigarette nearly ended up on his obnoxious belt buckle. Sure, I could get a pretty girl in four hours, but I was finished after two seconds.

“But David, I can have sex, like, twelve times a day.”

He seemed impressed, at least for a bit. Then, I think, he did the math:

2 seconds x 12 sex-romps = 24 seconds of sex-romps. That number’s still far south of stellar. David, much older than myself, knew he needed to proffer some wisdom.

“Two seconds no problem. You know what you do?”

I did not, and I needed to know.

He removed his shit-awful cigarette so he could stick his tongue.

“Lick,” he coyly whispered, pointing to his, apparently, most prized muscle.

Shit officially got weird.

After we three nearly pissed ourselves laughing, we got back to our basic patterns of discussion: being number one, what does and does not have POWERRRRRRRRRRRRRR, the virtues of speaking English (David was a full-on acolyte), and the reported special friendship between my friend and me.

Looking back at our trip to Malaysia, all events—the 9-hour bus ride with one pit stop at a flooded bathroom; the undulating verdure of the Cameron Highlands; the self-inflated, giant, German doucher who tried to ruin said undulation; the expensive but rejuvenating hotel at which we stayed there; jelly-pla stings and non-overreactions in Batu Ferringhi, Penang; tremendously helpful cabbies all over Penang; the silence of Georgetown on the night of Chinese New Year—pass through and/or recall the memory of David. He picked us up when we were down, and continued to hoist us when we needed a quick chuckle elsewhere.

Overcast with a chance of awkward

Until, at least, shit got too weird.

My friend and I were two or three big beers deep and David had arrived already half in some bag, so things devolved kind of quickly—as they are wont to do—after the premature ejaculation talk. We two travelers were hitting a wall as David’s pronunciation was coming up to its own. These two events would have been enough to warrant an exit, but the lack of David’s topics expedited the shit out of the process: he kept returning to cuming early and going down on a chick afterwards.

The conversation had clearly peaked. It was time for a quick cleanup and for us to collect our things so we could bounce. There would be no conversational cuddling after the fact.

Nevertheless, once back in our room, David’s shadow had already begun to cast itself:

“Hey, tonight: number one!” we said with fluttering fists and indicative index fingers.

Yup.

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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Happiness, Malaysia, Misadventure

 

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“I Missed the Wedding?”: My Thai Christmas

To elaborate:

“Tor, what the hell do you mean they’re already married?”

“Man, they already married. Happen already.”

Tor, unable to escape his Thai accent, is in the habit of calling dudes ‘man’ with a quickly rising tone. It adds a certain idiosyncratic charm to the moniker, except when he tells you that you missed his sister getting married. At 6:30 p.m. on the day of her wedding. When you’ve been with Tor, his sister, and her family since 1 p.m.

The word already is normally translated from the similarly defined laew, except laew is reportedly used a lot more often in Thai than in English, so discerning exact past-tense time frames can be confusing.

Resting against the stand-up table, admiring the warmly-lit stage adorned with flowers and candles after further scanning the buffet for more vegetarian options—I had a mound of fruit and spring rolls in hand—I began to absorb what I had heretofore tried to choke with food: this was the motherfucking reception.

Kind of par for the course, really.

“Oh, that’s right. This is the engagement ceremony,” I said under my breath, simultaneously remembering my presence among the families.

At 12:57 p.m., I had run into the engagement ceremony at the Plaza Athenée in Ploen Chit, Bangkok. Thanks to traffic and a particularly slow-moving BTS train, I had to sprint from the sky train to the high-end hotel, thanking any and all Powers that I chose to wear a black, and therefore sweat concealing, shirt.

Luckily, the wedding was a wedding, so everything was running well behind schedule. I had to time to settle in as Tor performed last-minute duties and schmoozed with his family. I was told the wedding would be jam-packed with friends and family.

I’m no mathematician, but the seventy-ish other people there hardly packed the room, and certainly were not jammed.

As it goes here, traditionally, there’s an engagement ceremony sometime before the wedding itself. The couple is ‘engaged’ before the ceremony, but this event is a way to bring the two families together before the actual wedding—as well as maintain leftovers from the days of dowries.

(Please pardon the BlackBerry pictures)

This ceremony is pretty exclusively meant for the closest members of the families’ coteries. I, no matter how one sliced it, was neither close nor coterie.

They are family.

Indeed, my invitation to anything more than the reception was rather fortunate. Fortunate because my friend Tor is a damn sweetheart.

A general invitation to the reception was extended to all farang in Tor’s social circle: this wedding needed a party, and no one should be excluded from a party. The engagement ceremony and reported wedding, on the other hand, were another matter entirely. These two were by invitation only.

But this was a Christmas wedding and I planned on fishing for a Christmas miracle—or, you know, a Christmas invitation to a wedding.

Before the wedding, all of my friends were working on plans to go to a hotel for a lavish and entirely too-well stocked food and booze buffet. Their plan sounded great, but the buffet ended at 3 p.m.; I’ve been hungover before dinner and that shit blows. Besides, I hadn’t been to a wedding in six or so years, and I didn’t want my Christmas in Thailand to drunkenly pass me by.

Drunkenly pass me by before 8 p.m., at least.

The Christmas miracle proved easy.

“Yea man, come to engagement party,” Tor said.

Easy.

So there I stood, clutching Tor’s camera while a woman with a microphone, the planner, narrated the proceedings, seemingly down to the tiniest detail.

I felt like a dick in a yard.

The family was wonderful and hospitable and affable and charming. I thanked them endlessly for allowing me to come to the entire day’s events. They didn’t hesitate to shut me up and say, “Of course,” “No problem,”or“ It’s a pleasure to have you.”  They were nothing if not affirmingly delightful.

But still: dick in a yard.

Exhausted

The engagement ceremony went about ninety minutes too long. The gift-giving, picture-taking, and tireless MC made sure that the whole schedule would need to be adjusted.

People were getting antsy. They waited for the appropriate time to spill out for the coffee-and-snack break, but they nevertheless did spill out. Tor and I separated from the crowd, concocting what to do between now, 3:45 p.m., and the alleged wedding at 5:30 p.m.

In the end, we did what any two guys would do while waiting for a Bangkok wedding to recommence on Christmas Day.

Mexican food and beer.

Delicious

Three-quarters deep into my rice bowl and at the bottom of my Heineken, Tor looked at his watch.

“Shit man, almost 17:15.”

We hurried back to the hotel and sauntered into the large hall.

Motherfucker, this doesn’t look like where a wedding happens, I thought.

There was food laid at both ends of the long room. People, now approaching packed but not yet jammed, had their ties loosened and dresses shortened. The stage, which looked like a chode version of the letter T, had an eight-tier cake at the end and was topped by Ken and Barbie. On the room’s three screens was a looped video of the bride and groom: a campy narrative, set to music, of how the two doctors met and fell in love.

Tor and I still had time to shoot the shit before the other farangs arrived. We nursed watered-down whiskey and sodas—a Thai specialty—as he introduced me to members of the family.

Why not cut the cake like pirates?

I felt comfortable here. There were no (always acceptable and understood) sideways glances at my unexpected and maybe displaced farang body. Old ladies smiled and little kids didn’t give a shit. They were here for a wedding and I was of no consequence, except to be greeted and welcomed.

Tossing the bouquet

The groom rockin' out

At some point the other Americans showed up. At some point the whiskey and sodas got stronger or coordinated a bull rush. At some point there was a lot of group dancing—but only the farang group—to the only English-language song the band played. Don’t ask me what song. Before that, though, all of the old people had left. After that, though, a Thai man almost 100% fluent in English tried to right my vegetarian wrongs. He even used the word paradigm, albeit incorrectly. During this talk, he almost tipped backwards. I did my best not to register any notice. After those, my friends, who booked a room in the hotel, had two ice blocks that were used as decoration brought to their room. Somewhere there, I exchanged BlackBerry pins with Tor’s cousin whose name I remembered thanks to the pin. During this, we almost ran out of whiskey. At the end of the scare, Tor came in with four boxes of Johnny Walker Red. After refueling, there was a dance fest with the bride and groom. Towards the end, two of my friends had absconded—can one abscond if I’m too drunk to notice?—and worked the ice blocks into ice luges. After doing one, I faced a bottle and did a lot of drunk texting.

After it all, I was involved in a rolling brownout in the back of my cab, whose driver was asking for directions.

“I’m sorry. I’m a little drunk,” I told him in Thai.

That room, those hors-d’oeuvres, Barbie and Ken, belied what was to come.

Scanning the place, figuring out when I’d hear the I Dos I hadn’t heard in so long, I didn’t realize I hadn’t grasped it yet.

Don’t get me wrong: I was loving the food; I was loving the crowd; I was loving the couple’s music video; I knew I was about to love the whiskey and sodas that were to follow the one in my hand. But something was amiss. If nothing else, we were an hour passed the reported hour of the wedding.

“Tor, when do they get married?”

“Man, they married already.”

Did I miss something?

“Tor, what the hell do you mean they’re already married?”

“Man, they already married. Happen already.”

Nope.

Langauge barrier?

“What do you mean ‘married already’? Are they husband and wife yet?”

“Yea, man. That what I said.”

Nope.

Fucking with me?

“Tor, are you fucking with me?”

“No man, not fucking.”

Nope, although a direct object would have been comforting.

“How did we miss them getting married? Why did we get Mexican food if they were getting married?”

“Man, you can’t see that. After engagement, parents say, ‘Goodbye,’ and Oat and Pueng [groom and bride] go to their room together. They marry then.”

Oh.

“Oh.”

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Happiness, Thailand

 

Tags: , , , ,

Pai II: Muay Thai and Motorbike Accidents

It’s rare that I handle a blog post while still in the midst of an experience. But I’m in my favorite café in Pai, carrot shake in hand, taking notes in my Moleskin (#stuffwhitepeoplelike) about my time here, and digesting 45 THB worth of strong coffee and jok, a traditional Thai meal reminiscent of porridge but loaded with a ton of fixin’s. In short, life, as it currently stands, is good. Besides, tonight I depart for Chiang Khong, a border town between Thailand and Laos, before bouncing into the latter for seven to ten days. So, while I may still be in the midst of an experience, it’s a good time to take a breather.

Besides, I just finished a grueling—and mainly enjoyable—week at a muay thai camp in Pai.

Muay thai, also sometimes called thai boxing, is a combat sport that combines striking with one’s fists, elbows, knees, and shins along with upright grappling, called the clinch. While definitely not the most popular sport it Thailand, it is still the national sport, and it seems like many males I’ve come across here have some, even rudimentary, knowledge of it. At its highest level, muay thai involves brutal ass-kicking, tremendous stamina, and impressive will-power. At every level, though, it encourages supportive and productive camaraderie.

On Thursday, September 29, I boarded an overnight bus to Chiang Mai with a new friend who’s set to live in Thailand until December 23. I considered myself lucky to have some company because I thought I’d be spending the next twenty-five days—my break between semesters—alone. I wanted to do a muay thai camp before I left Thailand, which precluded me from joining friends’ trips to Vietnam, Malaysia, or elsewhere. I don’t mind traveling alone—or at least I didn’t think I would—so I dived into planning and coordinating Pai and, afterwards, Laos. Needless to say, though, I welcomed the company, especially from someone as chatty, enthusiastic, and fun as her. She’s a great travel-buddy, as far as I’m concerned.

To take advantage, I of course fell asleep for the majority of the bus ride and left her to enjoy bus-ridden insomnia. Don’t blame me; I was exhausted from grading and packing frenzies. Besides, chivalry is dead.

From the bus, we hitched a van to Pai and arrived by 1 p.m., allowing me to partake in the afternoon training session. (Most gyms have two-a-days. The one at which I trained, Rose Gym, trains for two hours at 8 a.m. and again at 4 p.m.) Since I had a tiny bungalow at the camp, we found the friend a guesthouse and chowed down on a massive mess-plate of vegetarian food for 35 THB, including some of the best roasted pumpkin I’ve ever had.

Blow me.

When I called one of the gym’s proprietors to coordinate getting to the camp, I discovered some terrible news: the bridge that conveniently lead to the gym from town had been washed away after Myanmar lifted a dam to avoid flooding, causing waters to rush south into Pai. One of the main reasons I chose Rose Gym was because of that fucking bridge; it would have allowed me to easily enjoy Pai in between training sessions. Now the goddamn thing was gone and, upon recommendation, I needed to rent a motorbike. Shit.

The first day, though, I got a ride in a pickup from some lovely people associated with Rose Gym. There, I threw my shit in my bare-bones bungalow, changed, and got right to training.

Shower;

Pooper;

Sleeper.

Damn, son, it felt good to be back. I expected a hell of a time getting my body acclimated: I trained in muay thai for a year—more than two years ago—and have had only a smattering of training sessions since then. Plus, Pai is at one ass-end of the Himalayas, and I was worried about training at a higher altitude since I have a history of asthma, even if it’s been mainly dormant for the past eight or so years. Anyway, I did just fine. My stamina held—probably thanks to my irregular triathlon training—and the trainer and I immediately had a rapport, as I mostly understood how he held the pads. Of course, I was rusty as shit, but not so rusty as to be useless.

A fellow student, an Australian, generously took me back into town on his motorbike so I could meet up with my friend. She and I spent the night walking around Pai and bar hopping (but no booze for me). We stayed up pretty late talking about absolute bullshit, but thankful bullshit, since it meant I wasn’t talking to myself. I also had to sleep in her room, since I didn’t have a motorbike and walking to the camp was out of the question.

Why was it out of the question? On a bike, the camp is fifteen to twenty minutes away, half of which is along a very hilly mud/dirt path riddled with trenches. The trip fucking sucks on a motorbike, and would probably be just as bad—and slower—on foot.

I woke early so I could rent a motorbike and find my way to camp before the morning session. Here, I made two wise decisions: to rent for only one week and to buy insurance for 40-THB-extra a day.

“Does this insurance cover everything?” I asked the employee at the motorbike-rental place.

“Yes,” she assured me. Considering I had been on a motorized two-wheel vehicle only once before, I thought the insurance-for-everything was a smart move.

Suspicion confirmed.

Smart move, Suddenly Farang.

Around twenty or thirty minutes after I rented the bike, I motherfucking crashed it. I took a wrong left onto a wrong dirt road, turned around, and skidded from dirt to gravel—all on steep inclines. My touchy accelerator got the best of me and the back of my bike went right as I went left—and down. I opened up my left elbow and foot and scraped my left knee. Plus, I shattered the left side-view mirror and maybe cracked the front bumper.

Small, but it bled for weeks.

Again, smart move with the insurance, me.

All said, the wounds, however bloody, were pretty superficial; the crash was mainly a blow to my ego. However, the planned two weeks at the camp took a big hit: because of the scrapes, I could no longer kick, knee, or elbow with my left side without immediate searing pain.

The walk.

I treated the wounds with alcohol at least three times a day, but I was still worried about them, especially the one on my foot. As I said, the walk to and from the camp involved mostly mud—luckily, mainly dried dirt by the end of the week—which meant that four times a day (leaving and arriving from the camp after each training session), I dunked my open wound in mud.

Holy hell did I want that bridge.

The cuts stop oozing a day or two ago—five or six days after the accident—which is a good sign? It still hurts to walk, since the one on the foot is at the upper end, and thus stretches open with the first steps after a rest.

Most of all, though, I was pissed about training. I came to Rose to kick the ever-loving shit out things (and have this action returned), not to be forced to wear a shin guard and worry each time I cranked my left leg.

After the morning training, I was really discouraged and angered. I wanted to go back into town for much needed food, but it fucking began to rain, and the last thing I wanted was to deal with were those hills, freshly muddy. Instead, I did what any sensible angry person does: nap.

And I napped again after lunch, because life was just that paralyzingly boring.

Thus far, my choice to train in Pai was backfiring: in one day, I had as many naps as meals, was bleeding like a stuck pig, limping all over the place, and hating my requisite mode of transportation.

An appropriate fucking metaphor: a view from my bungalow.

After a few harried hours of consideration, I decided to do only one week at Rose instead of the planned two. There was no way my leg would be fine enough to kick as hard as I needed to in two weeks, and I was overly frustrated with my other conditions.

Thankfully, I found balanced contentment by the end of the week. But we’re not there yet.

A more complete view, metaphor.

Afternoon practice normally ended by 6:15 p.m., and the sun is pretty much set by 6:35 p.m. Consequently, I had to use the flashlight on my cell phone—the main perk when I bought it!—to navigate the five minute walk to my bike through somewhat-footpathed fields. I mentioned the stunningly clear Pai sky in my first post about town; the wonderful blackness was no different this time. Unlike before, though, I now had to find my way to my motorbike on foot in order to get into town—all in a blanket of goddamn utter darkness.

Once in town, though, things got better—as they tended to do while my friend was in Pai. She had signed up for a two-day mahout training course at Thom’s, per my recommendation, and wanted to relax after four hours on an elephant’s back. We ate and chilled with another student from Rose who was leaving for Chiang Mai the next day. We finally landed at Nancy Bar, an over-the-top reggae and weed themed bar with—as if it needs saying—a 100% relaxed atmosphere. I once again stayed with the friend—she was lodged at Thom’s, in the same bungalow I had—because driving back was wholly unappealing.  Besides, Sunday was my day off from training.

And what a day off it was.

The friend persuaded—well, slightly coerced—me to do another tour at Thom’s. I was pretty reluctant since I had done the walk once before and enjoyed it mainly because my best friend in Thailand was so affectively joyous. However, it was the elephant or be bored off of my balls, so I chose the elephant.

Smart move, Suddenly Farang.

Pom Paem

The two of us shared Pom Paem, the elephant that my elephant-loving friend spent her time loving my first time at Thom’s. This elephant is smaller than either that I rode, making this second experience much more comfortable—no ham problems. Additionally, the entire vibe was different: the tour was just me, my friend, the mahout, and Pom Paem; we didn’t have the large group that I had the first time. She and I just sat and bullshat, looking forward to the river and rodeo, which was exactly as fun as it was previously. The current was hella strong, though, so making one’s way back to Pom Paem after being thrown off felt like a light workout.

Soaked, giddy, and back at Thom’s, we ate lunch with two couples—one from England by way of Slovenia and one from Denmark—whom my friend had met the preceding day. The two couples are extensive travelers, and the Slovenian one was in the middle of a ten-month tour of Southeast Asia. I was impressed by their intrepidness, as they were set on not blazing through the region, but instead spending as much time in each country as they could, absorbing as much as possible. The pair has a pretty awesome blog, Rice Capades 2011 – 2012, as well. You should follow them as they make their ways through the region—and tear out toured countries from their Lonely Planet in the process.

Next: hot spring, nap, shower, and riding with my friend back into town on my motorbike. The same group met for dinner and headed to Ting Tong, another relaxed bar that also had couches and was showing some (reportedly) important soccer game.

Although I had completed only three training sessions, I was nevertheless fucking exhausted. Sunday, with all of its relaxed and subtle glee, was a complete rejuvenation.

From here on, I hit my stride with training. My energy levels remained mostly high and I was even put in charge of stretching. Also, two new trainees arrived on Monday—a Dutch girl and a Swiss guy—and stayed for three or four days. Both had a year-and-a-half of training under their belts, including short stints at camps in Thailand. The two were pretty good—definitely better than me—and the guy got me pretty good in two bouts of sparring. For better or worse, I was the only one who trained both sessions every day, so I think I milked the most out of the lead trainer, Lon—who had yet to be joined by Em, who didn’t arrive until Tuesday. 

Em and Lon

A watchful eye

The French friend left Monday afternoon, leaving me to my own devices. The Slovenian couple were in town for another day, however, so I met up with them while the guy was getting the eye of one of the elephant’s from Thom’s, Ot, tattooed on the inside of his left bicep. I met them for final hour of his two-and-a-half-hour session, and was blown away by the final product. After much shopping, they went to Cross Tattoo, whose artist and proprietor was finishing his fine arts degree—a qualification that was entirely evident in the final product.

I also hit my stride with life in Pai. I enjoyed old favorites—smoothies at Baan Pai Restaurant; falafel at Mama Falafel; coffee at Cake Go O @ Pai (where I spent too much time blogging and reading)—while exploring even more of the city. On a few occasions, I purposefully wandered off of the two or three main roads and into the surrounding area. Wandering like this in Pai is like driving ten minutes off the Vegas strip: shit changes. As a result, I discovered awesome and cheap noodle places, a small Vietnamese restaurant, and a carnival that seemed to pop up from nowhere. Much like the salted fish that my good friend and I discovered in Pai the first time I came, there is a surprising amount this town has to offer beyond conspicuous hippie hideaways, picturesque scenery, and waterfalls. Indeed, there is a Thailand up here.

Life, in between

In between training sessions, I didn’t do much of anything worth discussing. I plowed through, and loved, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, blogged, walked, drank coffee, opened William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury for the third time to begin research for a hopeful article, and ate and ate and ate. This final activity may have been the best part of the camp. I feel the healthiest I have in awhile (minus all of the lower-body pain), but I also ate my face off to ensure I had necessary energy stores for pad work. I even regularly indulged in sweets (well, baked goods and large amounts of roasted bananas), which is normally uncharacteristic of me.

During the week, my feelings on Pai wavered—typically in rhythm with how much my body hurt. Looking back at my Moleskin, there is an entire section beginning “*Less in love with Pai,” but which was later punctuated with the city’s better points in the page’s nearby margins. Yes, the city is sleepy and quiet and small, but that’s why I came. Yes, the city has way too many hippies and other farangs—so many that I’d wager the center of town has as many foreigners as Thais at some hours—but this presence has encouraged a wealth of food and drink choices, including outstanding vegetarian fare. Come to think of it, I think I’ve maintained a vegetarian diet since I arrived (save the occasional overdose of nam pla, or ‘fish sauce’, which I’ve also consciously avoided). In retrospect, Pai and Rose Gym are ideal places to train, as your mind and body stay focused while still being allowed to wander and relax. (Plus, Lon is awesome for someone who isn’t quite refined enough to get in the ring.) Someone shouldn’t come here if he/she wants to train and live it up, but definitely if he/she wants to train, do some personal work, and relax in between—and maybe explore less-trod paths.

Friday, October 7, was my last day of training—and training was training. For thirteen sessions, Lon was committed to making me better and ignored the fact that I was at Rose for merely a week and was not going to fight. Naturally, I wanted to say thank you, and figured buying Lon and Em dinner was as good a choice as any for someone living on the baht. The three of us, along with two other (new) trainees, enjoyed heaping plates of Thai food at Buffalo, a dusky outdoor bar/restaurant on the outskirts of the main part of Pai. Dinner was quiet, thanks to the language barrier, but it was good.

In between silences, I calculated a rough estimate of the work done during my thirteen sessions. Here are the estimates:

  • 8,000 reps on the jump rope
  • 780 right kicks
  • 520 left kicks
  • 390 elbows
  • 650 jabs
  • 500 crosses
  • 900 front kicks, both legs
  • 910 pushups
  • 1,625 reps of ab work
  • 13,000 swear words

I’m pretty sure I’m low-balling these numbers a bit, since I’m only calculating what was done on the pads and bags, and not during shadow boxing or warm-ups.

And Rose doesn’t even have organized morning-runs.

It’s crazy to think that some people do this—train twice a day—as a career. The main trainer, Lon, started muay thai when he was 8 years old. At the time of this blog, he was 22.

Friday was also when I stumbled across the carnival. The other four returned to the camp, burdened with morning practice. I chose to freely stroll after enjoying my first beer in a week—and quickly saw all of the same shit I had been seeing for nearly seven days. For a moment, I considered driving back to my bungalow—until, that is, I spotted what I thought was a muay thai ring two blocks away from one of Pai’s main roads.

Beyond curious, I decided to walk to it.

Muay thai ring, no. Tiny town-carnival with janky rides and enough sweets to give a dentist a stroke, yes.

Smart move, Suddenly Farang.

Enthused carny

I had just finished reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, which was good until the final quarter, and thoroughly enjoyed Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, so potentially creepy carnivals set in clearings have a weird, literary allure for me. Plus, they’re just kind of fun. I milled around with my point-and-shoot for a bit before being grabbed by a carny who demanded that I take photos of her and myself with her.

Later, while watching a pair of pétanque games, a clearly drunk guy pulled me over from my lonely spot on the grass, offered my whiskey (which I declined), and proceeded to talk to me in Thai while introducing me to his friends. In Thai, I kept saying, “I’m sorry. I don’t have Thai language”—verbiage which itself indicates a lack of proficiency—but Pipers whiskey and hospitality had taken over and he didn’t give damn, thankfully. I stayed for ten minutes or so, making the same hoots and hollers at good tosses, but decided to leave before things got too drunk. (I wasn’t drinking since I had to drive back to camp.)

I began the cruise back to my bungalow pretty elated. I had just capped off my week of training with a dinner with new friends, dug deeper in Pai to avoid its hippie caricature, and was now pretty comfortable on the motorbike, even on back roads. I had gone so far as to begin constructing mental sentences for this blog about how goddamn pro I was.

Until, you know, dharma upended my bike from between my legs as I proceeded cautiously down a steep hill.

Yup. I got into a second fucking accident. This time (I think), my bike went strangely over a rock or other unseen terrain, causing it to jerk forward and left just enough to twist the throttle under my braced right hand. The bike therefore accelerated out from under me and went straight and up. I was going downhill, so had been rearing back to compensate for gravity. I fell off and to the right.

The injuries weren’t nearly as bad this time (except those to the ego, which were exponentially larger), but I did fuck up my right leg a bit, which was already fucked up from so many kicks. After twenty minutes or so, the leg, from the top of the shin to the beginning of my toes, swelled up pretty good but with little to no pain. Dr. SF’s diagnosis: nothing broken. Prognosis: return the fucking motorbike.

Indeed, I counted myself really lucky: the awkward terrain could have easily created a fulcrum around which my leg could have broken, I could have had my dSLR with me, I could have had my netbook with me, or I could have left my helmet behind as my trainer encouraged me to do (but I wouldn’t have fucking dreamed of). Besides, I think my head slammed on the ground, so score one for me and helmet companies.

Accidents considered, I wasn’t afraid of the bike; I know traveling around Pai is unique because of the road conditions. But I also know when to throw in the towel and take a break—and the second accident, however mild, was enough of a signal for me. So I shit-canned my plans to cruise around to waterfalls and other sites in favor of working in my café, Café Go O @ Pai, and kicking back.

Smart move, Suddenly Farang.

Saturday morning, I got the photos of training I’d been putting off all week—and was blessed with proper lighting. Afterwards, my plan was to grab a so-called Vegetarian American Breakfast—a veggie omelet and toast—an idea I formulated to console myself as I fell asleep the night before with a throbbing right leg. Once in town, though, I scrapped that idea in favor of jok with coffee stronger than motor oil, the second best breakfast I’ve had in Thailand. Until then, I’d been eating and loving instant jok, but the sodium therein was making my teeth chatter. Now that I’ve had the real deal, though, I don’t know if I can ever go back.

For lunch, I had the aforementioned Vegetarian American Breakfast. It was more than twice as expensive as the jok and coffee, didn’t taste nearly as good, and, most importantly, reaffirmed what I and so many others have already discovered: eat local, dumbass.

Play it cool, boy. Real cool.

It’s Monday and I’m still in Pai. I have been super productive here and dived pretty deep into the street food. Plus, I had been hanging out with a South African guy I trained with for a couple days at the camp, so I haven’t been utterly alone and talking to myself. I just bought a minivan ticket to Chiang Khong and I don’t need to be back to work until October 24, so there’s still plenty of time to explore Laos.

As of now, I’m relaxed, industrious, and sated.

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2011 in Happiness, Muay Thai, Thailand

 

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Ayutthaya, Part 1: The Lone Nerd

It’s been more than two weeks since my trip to Ayutthaya and I’m still talking about it—and not just because I’m currently typing this post. I took the trip somewhat on a whim and totally by myself, but it proved to be one of my finer times here. Although the time lacked some of the spark afforded by a travel buddy, I was relaxed and free. For two days, it was just me, my camera, and unholy amounts of sweat.

(The city is full of wats. Therefore, I assumed that one needed to wear clothes appropriate for wats: pants and covered shoulders. My ass melted in the 90-something degree heat as I watched jerk-off tourists saunter around in shorts)

Ayutthaya, once called Siam, was the capital of Thailand for four centuries until the Burmese came in the middle of the eighteenth century and showed the Thais who’s who. During that time, Ayutthaya flourished, both locally and internationally. Lavish and expansive architecture is everywhere, hinted at by impressive ruins. Also, there are numerous European records of the city, many of which compare it to Venice—both because of its grandeur and its situation among a pair of rivers, including the Chao Phraya. A handful of international communities and settlements still exist; the Portuguese settlement, the Japanese settlement, and a large population of Thai Muslims are all features of Ayutthaya. As a result, tasty food abounds (because who gives a shit about superficial stuff like culture and customs?). And while the Burmese melted much of the gold adorning Buddhist statues in the city while the Thais fled to present-day Bangkok, the remaining sights are breathtaking, even if somewhat denuded.

The weekend of August 12 was a long one, as we had Friday off for the queen’s birthday/ Mother’s Day. A bunch of friends went to Koh Samet, a nearby island with reportedly beautiful beaches, and the others were broke as a joke and/or sick. I wasn’t in the mood for either sand or Bang Na, so I opted for a solo venture to Ayutthaya. The plan had been to spend two full days and one night in the city, but I didn’t leave my apartment until 1:30 p.m. because of my hellish Chiang Mai and Pai post. (Technical difficulties can lick one.) Finally done with the post—which easily took six hours, net—I was in a ballsy cab that weaved and darted me to Victory Monument, where I took a sixty-baht minibus to Ayutthaya. The vehicle was cramped, but I spaced out to Frank Ocean’s nostalgia, ULTRA and Coltrane’s Lush Life. I don’t know why, but R&B and soul are turning out to be the best soundtracks to these long drives in Thailand. The two-hour ride was a long one, especially since I was alone, so the music was crucial.

The amended sign at the Ayutthaya Guesthouse

Once in town, I roamed aimlessly. This was my first trip alone, and I wasn’t about to waste it by having direction and shit. After some general strolling, I ended up at the Ayutthaya Guesthouse on Th Naresuan, Soi 2. It was a bare-bones place meant for your ass and little else. At two hundred baht a night, the price was right, but it would have been nice to have received a free towel and soap, as well a sheet for my bed. Oh well. At least they had a Western toilet. Room secured, I ate some tremendous pad thai goong—shrimp pad thai—before intrepidly trekking off again. Well, maybe not intrepidly, but definitely adverbly.

The closest thing I saw to a wat on Saturday.

I walked around U Thong Road, which circles the old city of Ayutthaya, until 7 p.m. I expected putz about and happen upon 1,000 wats, but had no such luck. Instead, I walked along the perimeter of a city circumscribed by a pair of rivers that merge to form a loop and watched people close shop. Before arriving, I figured a UNESCO World Heritage site—which Ayutthaya is—would have wats coming out of its wats. Once there, though, it dawned on me: “Of course there’s a fucking city here, asshole. It’s not like people leave a historical landmark uninhabited just so you can take some photos.”

Refusing to despair, I switched modes: time to check out the night market. I bought some shorts and shoelaces, relying on my haggling skills to knock down the prices. It’s consistently awesome to pleasantly surprise vendors by knowing Thai numbers well enough that they’ll knock the price even lower. I may be Suddenly Farang, but I’m not totally ignorant or dick-face farang.

Below are some shots from Saturday, including a collection of Ayutthaya’s colors that I adored.

The best part of Saturday, however, was the night. After dropping my stuff off in my room, taking a cold shower, and donning my new shorts, I went to at a nearby, open-air bar for food and a tall beer. My table faced the street of the bar and, behind me, a guy whose guitar proficiency well outweighed his English proficiency played hits by the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. I rested, graded, and listened—and became, accidentally, a bit drunk. Whoopsy.

Then it was back to Ayutthaya Guesthouse and another quick, cold shower before passing out. It needed to be an early night since I planned on having an early morning. I had shit to see, you know?

The sun woke me up around 7 a.m., after which I got ready and found a place with a fantastic breakfast. I ate a crêpe with fruit while sipping on good coffee and orange juice—pleasures rarely enjoyed since coming here. (I should note too, that I’ve lived here long enough where I don’t feel the need to absorb the country by staying limited to its food. I absolutely adore Thai food and often choose it over other options, but I have been here for more than three months and have many more ahead of me; it’d be silly to eat only Thai food.)

I must have screamed tourist: translucent skin-tone aside, I had a camera bag and, worst of all, bright orange Lonely Planet guide that I was studying to plan out my day. Such beacons, though, were the best things that could have happened to me: they attracted Wanchai, my beloved tuk tuk driver, right to my table. Before him, I planned on limiting my day to a few sights before heading back to Bang Na. Thanks to him, my day blew up with things to see—and in an organized way. For 500 baht, he took me around to some of the best wats and structures the city has to offer over the course of three hours. To boot, he spoke great English and surprised me with some pineapple. Naturally, I got his number at the end of the day and will use him again when—yes, when—I return.

I took 1,024 pictures between the two days, the bulk of which occurred on Sunday. (Thank you, autobracketing.) Below is a collection of my photos, organized—as best as I can recall—by location.

Wat Yai Chaya Mongkol

Wat Panan Choeng

Wat Chaiwatthanaram

Wat Phu Khao Thong

Wat Na Phramane
Here’s where I made friends with some of the local kids. They were hanging out outside of the temple and we shared our shitty language skills with each other. Thanks to the camera, few words were necessary.

Wat Lokayasutha

Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

Whew.

My day finished around 3 p.m. and was capped off by one of the best bowls of fried rice I’ve ever had. Lovely woman who operates the khao pad cart, I will marry you—just as soon as I make my way back to Ayutthaya as a shameless tourist. I do, after all, have a whole bunch of sights left to see, hopefully on the back of a bicycle.

P.S.: You may have wondered why this is Ayutthaya, Part 1. Well, Part 2 will feature the birth of my nascent acting career and a free cruise. Goddamn, I love this city.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Happiness, Thailand

 

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Not the “Bachelorette,” but Chiang Mai and Pai

It has been a frustratingly busy several weeks. Among midterms, quizzes, and daily assignments, grading has been successfully punching me in the stomach. But, some of the work came from freelance copyediting for my uncle, which led to a pretty nice payday. Shwing.

Several weeks ago, on Thursday, 28 July, I got back from a fiveish-day trip to northern Thailand, namely Chiang Mai and Pai. If you watched the most recent season of The Bachelorette, they shot in Chiang Mai—or so I’m told. It’s where they, reportedly, filmed the human meat—er, contestants—riding elephants.

Chiang Mai

Leading up to my trip to Chiang Mai, I was super excited. I remember sitting on the beach in Koh Chang and buzzing about the upcoming trip north—even bragging to my friend about it. In fact, I think I bounced a little from anticipation at one point. Everything I heard about the city made me thing it was exactly what I was wanted out of a location: good, eclectic food; tons of music options; English-capable but not English-centric; and a slow, easygoing feel. Moreover, the city is situated near beautiful mountains and has a mix of old and new, as it was a central thoroughfare and trading post centuries ago. Inside the larger, new city is the remnants of the old city, complete with defensive walls. I even researched jobs at Chiang Mai University, which has an English program (presumably literature, my love, and not as a second language, my vehicle).

Thapet Gate

By the time I was on the van to Pai, I was pretty disappointed by Chiang Mai. I think it was more our fault than the city’s—my group and I tried to jam ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag while there—coupled with a collection of frustrating misfortunes. Nevertheless, I figure a warning is in order in case my ensuing tone isn’t ultra excited.

Pai, on the other hand, is in my top five favorite places on earth. But we need to get there first, don’t we?.

Chiang Mai is, at the least, a nine-and-a-half hour bus ride from Bangkok. Consequently, an overnight bus is the best option.

Get on. Read. iPod. Sleep. Get off.

The group—four people, including me—took an overnight bus on Saturday, 23 July, that left around 11:30 p.m. from Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus terminal and cost 615 baht. I read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin—a fucking excellent book that I recommend to everyone, ever—and vamped a forthcoming playlist, Because of Thailand, to perfection. Around 9 a.m., I woke up in Chiang Mai. Score one for my sleeping abilities.

Around 9:10 a.m., the frustrations began. I didn’t have enough money to cover breakfast, so I walked to an ATM associated with my bank. It was having “troubles communicating with bank. Try again later.” I walked to two more ATMS, one of which was another belonging to my bank. Both were having “troubles communicating with bank. Try again later.”

Bullshit.

There must have been some problem all-around, since my friends and other people on whom I spied were having the same issue. The ATMs weren’t back online until sometime around noon. Thankfully.

But, also, bullshit.

We found a recommended guesthouse, Malak House, which was a ten-minute walk from of Thapet Gate at the eastern end of the old city. Split with a friend, we paid 200 baht a night for perfectly bare-bones accommodations: cold shower, squatter toilet, and a near mattress-less bed. Honestly, I’m not complaining. As far as simplicity goes, the Malak House was a great place to stay. The owners spoke fairly good English and were incredibly helpful without being obnoxious. More importantly, its location was great: cafes, restaurants, food carts, sites, and everything else were within a short walk of Malak House.

Settled-in and understandably exhausted, the lot of us still wanted to absorb Chiang Mai. We knew we wouldn’t be in the city for long, so we had little choice but to drain it dry if we didn’t want to return disappointed (wakka wakka wakka, indeed). We did an aimless walking tour of a few wats and their contents.

At one—I believe it was Wat Bupparam—was a woman selling birds-to-be-released for forty baht. As a hangover from my (missed) vegetarian days, I hated seeing these birds in cages. Also, could you say no to her smile? Of course I bought a cage and released the three birds therein. Later, a friend told me that these birds are trained to return to a trainer so that they may be caged and sold again. Paint me duped.

Flight.

And we walked some more.

Flowers.

Monked.

By this day, 24 July, 2011, I had been in Thailand for more than two months without a Thai massage. Aside from the eight-week long class I took in undergrad and any friendly gestures from friends, I had also been without a massage for my 24 years on this planet.

Things needed to change.

Near Malak House was the Muan Parlor, a massage parlor with really cheap rates and a really talented masseuse. I’m pretty sure they gave me the biggest girl in the place to contort and kick my ass, all of which were entirely necessary and welcomed. I opted for the one-hour massage for 170 baht, knowing I’m hard-pressed to focus on anything for more than thirty minutes. After dim lights, a pair of over-sized pajamas, and a big-boned woman trying to rip my legs out, I left the Muan Parlor feeling like a brand new, if not slightly bent, human being. While I don’t think they’re not the mythic gift from the gods some people tout them to be, Thai massages are a great break from the tourist-stroll.

Next on the agenda was the Sunday market. Lonely Planet makes a big deal of the weekend night markets in Chiang Mai. Taking their often not-totally-misleading advice, we grabbed some roadies at the 7-11 and walked to the Sunday night market, conveniently located just inside Thapet Gate.

In short, swing-and-a-miss, Lonely Planet. The market was chock-full of the same, ultra touristy, tchotchke nonsense and totally bereft of redemptive street food. I had no intentions of actually buying anything; I merely wanted to walk amid a sea of human beings who were bartering, buying, selling, and capitalisming. The Sunday night market ended up being a bunch of farangs paying whatever was pitched to them. The place had no character, despite the roadies’ best efforts.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not even sure Thailand has an expression to cover ‘open container laws’, so drinks are drank.

We came back to the Malak House sometime around 11 p.m. and, as for myself, somewhat deflated. After a final nightcap on the guesthouse’s rooftop bar, we went to bed. After all, we were getting picked up for an all-day trek at 8 a.m.

The all-day trek that would firmly plant its foot on our throats, press, and twist—somewhat to my pleasure.

Monday was our friend’s birthday. The day prior, we scheduled a hike through some of Chiang Mai’s jungle-y mountains. The birthday girl is admittedly not-outdoorsy and had never been on a hike. By 9 a.m., we were off on our trek, led by our 19-year-old, nimble, and somewhat crazed tour guide, Tom.

Tom, the guide

It’d be ridiculous to describe the whole hike to you in minute detail. Basically, we were mobile from 9 a.m. until 4:30 or 5 p.m., two hours of which were spent hanging out in and around a tiny waterfall. In fact, it’s probably more appropriate to call the site an elevated waterroll.  The walk itself was grueling: a full day spent negotiating often-narrow footpaths wide enough to fit one and half humans across it—sometimes less—hoping you didn’t slip and eat shit down the side of a rocky mountain overlaid with jungle.

Actually, aforementioned shit eating almost happened about an hour into the hike. We were making our ways up and down a slippery fucking mud pit of slippery mud while holding onto a janky bamboo-handrail—a certifiable miracle in the middle of this jungle—when my friend lost her footing and almost fell down the side of the mountain, breaking every bone in her body and probably dying a couple times as well. If it weren’t for my ninja reflexes and paternal awareness of others’ safety, I’d have one fewer friend and one more memorial group on Facebook.

Unfortunately, my camera stayed necessarily buried during the entire walk because one hand on a camera was one fewer hand available to balance and save friends’ lives.

After three hours, we stopped at the waterroll: a chilly and welcomed respite from the trek. While we swam and shot the breeze, Tom foraged and cooked. We ended up eating instant noodles and cabbage out of bamboo cups with bamboo chopsticks: wild style. I think I ate two or three helpings simply because I could.

Tom's bridge to lunch.

Refreshing waterroll, up which I climbed.

Chef Tom

Tom’s foraging abilities didn’t end with noodles. Four times on the trip, he surprised us with fruit, both picked and found/maybe stolen. The fruit sucked most of the time—Tom had a difficult time distinguishing between ‘sweet’ and ‘bitter as a jockstrap’—but it was fun to have him pop out of nowhere with something to eat.

Tummies full, it was back to walking and not dying. After more jungle walking, we ended up navigating a wide expanse of rice fields. Here are the few remaining pictures I have from the trek. [pics of rice fields/ whole trek]

By the end of the hike, we were all exhausted. Most of us thought it was fun, however, despite the more treacherous aspects: Tom’s nimble and experienced self hauling ass like it was some kind of race; intermittent rain, especially at the end of the journey, making the already slippery fucking mud pits of slippery mud even worse. While I enjoyed the trek and appreciated the strain, our not-outdoorsy birthday girl didn’t mince words, “Fuck this fucking shit. I’m never going on a hike again.”

Remember when I said I didn’t think I could handle a two-hour massage? Times have changed, my friend; times have changed. After getting back to Chiang Mai proper and getting a little bit of food, I allowed Miss Big Bones at Muan Parlor to harass the shit out of me for two hours—and loved every second of it. Afterwards, the masseuses invited me outside to eat some fruit with them—not even kind of a euphemism—while my two friends finished their respective massages.

Motherfucking goddamn victory.

After some truly delicious Mexican food at Miguel’s, it was time for bed. Monday sucked the life out of me (also not a euphemism), but it was rewarding.

Tuesday began well enough. I found Nice Kitchen, a tremendous cafe place with delicious coffee and huge, reasonably priced breakfasts. Over a caffe americano, eggs, and a fruit place, I graded midterms and anticipated our 2 p.m. van to Pai. It was marvelous.

And then I lost my motherfucking ATM card.

While the others strolled around the old city, I frantically retraced my steps, looking for the debit card—with no success. I had just enough money to get back to my dorm, so I called my friends and told them I was heading back. To be honest, I wasn’t too bummed about the prospect of returning to Bang Na; Chiang Mai proved to be a letdown and truncating the trip was somewhat tempting. My good friend, however, told me she’d fund the rest of the vacation—an idea I hated for so many reasons, but one for which I owe her significantly more than baht. (The final tally was 2,923 baht, by the way.)

Pai, like I said, rocketed to my top-five list of favorite places. It’s tiny—the entire town can be walked in 20 – 30 minutes—but loaded with things I want. It was sleepy, full of food, and scenic. There were, lamentably, a few too many culturally irresponsible hippies—aren’t they all?—but Pai wouldn’t have been the same without this dirty presence. Actually, if I could somehow have the city extricated of its Haight-Ashbury tumor, I may return and never leave.

I had been warned by several people about the van to Pai: it’s impossibly winding; I’ll get sick; the drivers are nuts—so I was a little curious about what the journey had in store. Luckily, I didn’t vomit, but there were puke bags hooked on to the seat in front of me just in case.

Pai bus station

Three hours later, we were at the bus station in Pai, where we waited for our escort. While in Chiang Mai, I booked an excursion at Thom’s Pai Elephant Camp. Elephants are thing to do in the North, but they tend to run about 2500 baht in Chiang Mai, which is way too rich for my blood. My good friend, however, loves elephants; she even has an elephant-shaped birthmark on her hip that she insists is a tattoo. (Liar.) So, not riding elephants wasn’t an option. After we sussed out the situation and discovered that elephant tours in Pai cost less than half of those in Chiang Mai, she and I agreed that Thom’s would be the best choice—and we were effing right (if one can audaciously announce a ‘best’ without experiencing any others).

Thom—a welcoming, friendly, and helpful woman—picked us up and drove us twenty minutes south to the camp, a beautiful collection of guesthouses and rooms tucked away in a tiny, residential area.

That night—about which I will describe more below—we hung out with the mahouts, or elephant trainers, who invited us to chill out at their table. These dudes were bat-shit crazy, but in the good way. One was obsessed with hair and white, blonde women. As soon as we walked over, he put on a country music TV station and drooled over Taylor Swift. Then he started to joke about his name with the others. One was hahm yai while another was hahm lek: hahm big and hahm small. The mahouts were dudes, so it didn’t much insight to glean that they were talking about their dicks.

Vocabulary word scored.

The antics were fun, but the serene intensity of that night will stick with me for a long time. Forgive the upcoming cliché, but that night was the clearest sky I have ever seen. The stars actually provided illumination. I wish I had pictures, but without a tripod such shots would have been a mere cock tease. So I left my cock unteased and kept my camera away from my face, enjoying what was above.

Wednesday morning, we were going to walk with the mahouts at 6 a.m. as they went to gather the elephants and bring them back to camp to be fed and bathed before we jumped on them for the paid portion of the tour. I stupidly set my alarm way too early—5:15 a.m.—and violently swung at my phone when it went off. It was a little too violently, however, as I rotated myself off of the bed and my face onto the edge of the metal shelf ten inches away. I had a welt on my face for two days—and chagrin in my soul for three.

This was my first time on an elephant and I was rather surprised by their texture. The top part of the elephants—especially mine, 52-year-old Phanom—is covered in coarse, thick hair, which, coupled with their abrasive hides, took a couple layers of skin off of my inner thighs. Riding them is pretty difficult too, especially if you have a pair of dangly man-bits, which I have been rocking since I was born.

The crazy, Taylor Swift-loving mahout saw my discomfort and asked me, “OK?”

“My balls. Ow!”

The mahout gave me a quizzical look.

“MY BALLS HURT.”

“Back?” he  said while pointing to his lumbar.

“Hahm! Hahm yai!” I said while pointing to my dangly man-bits.

The mahouts loved the shit out of that and nearly fell off of their elephants. Dick jokes: transcend language.

The pain was well worth it, though.  Our ride was bisected by a romp in the water with the elephants, which had been trained to spray their riders and buck them off by shaking their massive heads. Trying to hang on was futile, so it became a game of who could hang on the longest. I beat out my mahout, who ended up in the river while I hung on to the animal, screaming, “Farang!” with my fist in the air.

On the way back, when everyone was on an elephant high on an elephant, I looked back and saw my elephant-loving friend loving her elephant, Pom Paem: she was tucked up on its head and behind its ears, bent over and hugging the creature. It was pretty great to see her so gleeful, and that image is probably my favorite of the excursion.

The group checked out of Thom’s and went into town for well deserved falafel, which was as good as I’ve ever head. The four then split in half; two wanted to return back to the dorms while me and the elephant-hugger wanted to stay.

After renting a room at Charlie’s Guesthouse, a centrally located and cheap place to stay in the middle of Pai, I took a long nap while friend read. We then took to the road for food—thanks to which I had my favorite meal in Thailand.

She and I sat on the sidewalk and ate roasted, salt-cured fish and khao niao. It started to fucking pour, so we sat and ate a little longer. It was tremendous.

Next? Beers and bed, of course.

As if Pai hadn’t been supplying enough superlatives, the best part of the entire trip was Thursday. We slept in—something I never do—and got breakfast before renting motorbikes. The first place from which we tried to rent denied us because we told them I had never driven one before: truth. The second place from which we tried to rent permitted us because we told them I had driven one before: lie.

I normally try to avoid lying, especially such gratuitous and silly ones, but how the hell am I ever supposed to ride a motorbike if each place requires me to have previously ridden one? I just needed to circumvent the law this one time.

Of course, I was a little reluctant hopping onto a two-wheeled motorized vehicle for the first time. And, of course, I almost crashed within my first ten minutes of being on the bike. But reluctance quickly turned to (somewhat responsible) comfort as my friend and I travelled farther away from town.

Again, I need to fall back on the trope of inexpressibility. I know motorbikes are hardly comparable to motorcycles, so spare me any patronization or condescension. Simply, it was amazing to get on something open to the world and with wheels, able to pull over at any moment to snap a photo or look at the horizon.

For two hours, we cruised around and explored some of the outer expanses of Pai, opening up a big-ass world of photo opportunities and memories. Thankfully, my friend enjoys interrupting the flow for photos more than I do.

I even found my dream bike, which was for sale, mockingly.

Wet dream, and currently my desktop image.

By 2:30 p.m., she and I were on our way back to Chiang Mai, giddier than children on Christmasbirthdayhalloweeneve.

I’m going back to Pai; you can bet your ass on that. Yesterday, I e-mailed a couple gyms there about training muay thai for a couple weeks in October when I have a break between semesters. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my time. Maybe I’ll even get some shots of the night sky.

Next: an overnight trip to Thailand’s former capital, Ayutthaya, and photos of things much, much, much older than myself.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2011 in Happiness, Thailand

 

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Saturday to Saturday, Shrimp Omelet to Jack & Ginger

Who knew that a perfect Saturday morning breakfast would be a shrimp omelet with a side of rice, sweet chili and fish sauces, and a salty lemonade? Not this guy. And yet here I am, two weeks later, bummed Zapp, the restaurant where I bought it, wasn’t open this morning.

That meal kicked off a wonderful week of mostly good class experiences, teacherly moments, an outdoor market, strange yet often reviving workouts, and a drunken resuscitation of my opinion of Bangkok.

The Saturday of the Omelet was otherwise highlighted by a trip to Chatuchak Market (also transliterated Jatujak and abbreviated JJ), which is self-reportedly the world’s largest weekend market. The venture was brief and hurried as the group was there to find only a specific item for a daddy’s birthday, but nonetheless pretty enjoyable. I even got to rock a sweet tank-top tan for a couple days because it was so sunny out.

I was broke as a joke, having only about THB 1,000 to my name—around $33—so the trip was mainly for the sensory experience rather than the shopping one, which was totally fine with me.

The crowd at Chatuchak

The thing is ginormous. According to the market’s Web site, the market spans twenty-seven acres (Wikipedia says thirty-five acres) and is subdivided into twenty-seven sections. To fill this expanse—and it is filled—are around 15,000 booths peddling everything from Big Lebowski t-shirts to traditional Thai wares to—or so I’ve heard—fucking crocodiles and baby tigers. Every weekend day, 200,000 people supposedly come to the market to check out the awesome Buddhist medallions and investigate if tigers really do hate cinnamon.

Street musicians

(For better or worse, the market has received some scrutiny over the years for the availability of illegally trafficked animals, which are often seized in Suvarnabhumi Airport. These reports, while probably accurate, should not taint the otherwise wholly enjoyable and differently wholly taintable aspects of JJ.)

Women working

Eat shit, Steve Martin.

From women tucked into a recessed shop or a dude killing it on the banjo, the market is full of sights and sounds. There is a main vein that runs through the entire place, off of which is a dizzying array of narrow covered paths that lead to more shops and vendors. You will get lost here, but you will probably love not knowing where you are. Finding the best price seems like a total waste of time, anyway, because haggling appears to be the general ethos of JJ—and another reason I really need to be studying Thai more diligently.

After my friend found the birthday gift for her father, our group of seven sat down for a much-needed beer before heading back to Bang Na. I traveled back knowing that I will be returning to JJ—and soon, as July is the month of birthdays for my family and I’d love to get them some fun Thai gifts.

The week of teaching went well enough. It had its ebb and flow, as does anything, so it oscillated between obnoxiously trying and appreciatedly rewarding. In particular, I taught my (mostly) sophomores how to write an essay. I had to rely on the standard four to five paragraph rubric taught (and handicapped) in high school around America, but I made sure to encourage the possibility of freedom within the schema—of being able to use the rubric for effective communication rather than a rote process. I even got to break out a trick taught to me by a high school history teacher who set me on my path as an expository and academic—i.e. not creative—writer. (You’re reading my blog; take that last statement as you will.) I’m currently grading an essay they wrote in class on Friday and I’m thoroughly happy with their ability to organize and explicate their arguments.

Things in the classroom are now past the easy and improvisable get-to-know-you stage; I’m lesson planning, grading, making decisions about grading, and doing all of the other rigmarole that goes into molding youngins’ minds. Shit’s getting real, son. Every day proves to be a large test run and reminds me that plenty of tuning is still needed. That being said, teaching is going better than I expected; all I need to do now is be better.

Once upon a time, I was a fatty. At thirteen years old, I weighed 210 pounds—and not good pounds, but solid A- or demi B-cup pounds. Come college, I invested in a pair of running shoes, bought Men’s Health magazine (sometimes trite but often very helpful), and get my ass in gear. I have no idea how to characterize or evaluate my fitness, but I can say I’m committed. Coming out here, I was a bit worried that it’d be difficult to work out. Luckily, the school’s weight room is equipped enough to get the job done, the stationary bikes work, there’s a lap pool (huzzah!), and I still have trusty running shoes. I’m able to keep up with my, albeit mild, triathlon training and get my skinny-boy swell on with the same kind of frequency that I’ve come to crave. My friends are varied enough, too, to satisfy a number of workout buddies: one for swimming and one for biking and lifting days. I prefer to habitually run alone when I’m not with my brother, but I’ve found a partner who wants to do some triathlons in the area and train together, which is goddamn fortunate for me.

The week was peppered with workouts, two of which stand out. The first, an outdoor group aerobics class, was on Monday. I just got done a heavy gym session when a group of my friends roped me away from grading and into an experimental aerobics class.

I’ve often made Jane-Fonda-workout jokes, but I hadn’t ever lived one until this class. From the outfits to the kicks to the syncopated dance steps, I felt almost naked without leg warmers and a unitard. Aerobic classes are for some people, but for Suddenly Farang, they certainly are not. I’m gonna keep that shit in my VHS drawer.

Contrastingly, Wednesday, I was reunited with my long-lost love, muay thai. I trained in it for only a year during college before an empty wallet, jujitsu, and grad school interfered. Of course, it’d be a waste of extended time in Thailand if I didn’t take up Thai boxing again. There’s a fantastic school near my campus, but until I get the feel of how to be a teacher better, I’m sticking to the free class offered on Wednesdays.

The class is led by X, a guy who works in the school’s gym but who has obviously trained somewhat. It runs for ninety minutes and is mostly geared towards conditioning, but for now it satisfies my cravings. This may sound strange, but there’s something redemptive about aching shins, red knuckles, and the musk of muay thai. (There is a musk. Trust me.)

A quiet Friday out was an appetizer for Saturday, or a much better-tasting Kok.

A huge group, which fluctuated between eight and twenty people went into the city for a twenty-fourth birthday party. Dinner was at Bongos, a place not actually called Bongos but simply deemed it by other farang teachers. The food was cheap and filling and the beer was cold. But you’d never go to Bongos for the fare. Instead, the vibe of the restaurant is tremendous. It feels like what Applebee’s and Rainforest Cafe try to capture in the US. The walls are either minimally stained wood or corrugated metal panels. Along them are collections of elementary school achievement trophies and old lanterns, which also light the place. The whole restaurant is tied together by shitty and mismatched tables. The food was OK, but it’s a great place to have a beer with friends.

Next was a stop-over in Baba, a nearby bar with hookah and outdoor seating. I met up with a really good friend and was introduced to her awesome boyfriend, both of whom made me incredibly happy. While I was gone, the group was growing and congealing, and after I returned we all went to Narz, a club to be seen and not reported.

But this is a blog, so we don’t have much of a choice, huh?

Narz is four stories, and each floor corresponds to a different theme. I only remember two themes: the trance room, which evokes ecstasy trips never had, and the hip-hop room, which is where we spent most of our time. Like any good club, the drinks were severely over-priced, the clientele was shit-hammered, and the only lighting came by way of strobes and lasers. I’m famously down for the occasional club, and Narz fit the bill to a T. It was also the first time I danced on a stage, onto which I was pulled by both friends and random locals. Everyone was there to have a good time—and it was contagious. It proved hard to care when the birthday girl jammed me with the cherry of her cigarette or spilled a Jack and Ginger on me. Maybe it’s because it was her birthday, but Narz was nothing but a fun.

We didn’t get home until after 3 a.m. via a cab that seated four but was jammed with six. By the time I went to bed, I was fucking drained—but completely content. It was a hell of a week.

P.S.: I’m getting used to the heat! The humidity is still kicking my asthmatic and sweaty ass, but I regularly go whole days with just the assistance of my fan and forsake the A/C. It’s definitely a conscious choice to keep the air off, but for me, there’s some silly piece of pride to be had in it. Maybe I can thank all of the banana cheese I’ve been eating.

Banana Cheese. Everyday.

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2011 in Happiness, Thailand

 

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A Long Day’s Journey of PowerPoint into an Ideal Night

Wednesday, May 25, I started an improptu 8 a.m. wet t-shirt contest before smoking hookah alongside feral dogs. In case there was any doubt, I am, in fact, in Thailand.

Still trying to handle the jet lag, I was up at 3 a.m. with little to do aside from a trip to the mini mart, 108, and watching TV. I dicked around with my camera to try to get good night shots, but nothing came out like I would have liked. Three hours later, I was still goddamn awake. Time for a run, right? Right.

I ran outside of my room just after sunrise, which was beautiful. Unfortunately, about fifteen minutes into the run, my dormant asthma kicked in because of the weather and my sweat glands began unloading their contents like a sinking ship does its ballast. Back in my room and swimming in sweat, I checked the temperature: 89 degrees and 94 percent humidity—at 6:30 a.m.

Showered and fed, it was time for an all-day marathon of meetings and orientations, which apparently is how one translates ‘death’ in Thai.

I walked across campus to get to the meetings, which isn’t a bad walk under normal circumstances. Alas, I got lost and was in a shirt, tie, pants, and dress(ish) shoes with a messenger bag draped across my chest. By the time I got to where I needed to be, my white shirt was soaked through; if you looked hard enough, you could probably see my nipples. I don’t even think the shirt was white on my back; I have a feeling it was completely clear because of the wetness.

Trying to put the body monsoon behind me, I settled in for the first half of orientation. The school president talked, and then an ASSISTANT professor from the Philosophy and Religion Department, followed the president for a second time.  From 8:30 a.m. to noon, the pair talked about new quality assessment measures in response to Thailand’s federal push to better its school system via internal and external evaluation processes. Admirable, no doubt, but not something the entire faculty needed to hear about in depth. The whole thing panned out like a bad corporate retreat: PowerPoint, buzzwords, vague and unannounced acronyms, flow charts, redundant flow charts, repetitive flow charts, and PowerPoint slides with definitions—all in Thai-accented English. What should have taken fifteen to thirty minutes each lasted more than three hours for these windbags. I probably would have burned the whole school to the ground if it wasn’t for the president’s philosophical aside on “The 9 Things that Will Die in Our Life Time,” which included postal mail, books, checks, newspapers, music (seriously), and privacy. I tried to control my giggling, but was only moderately successful in the face of his unexpected doom and gloom.

Lunch was a goddamn feast. Ten big courses, easily, shared by a table with the same number of people using a lazy Susan. I’m a pescatarian who prefers to be a vegetarian, so I didn’t have many choices from the smorgasbord, but I still ate until I felt murmurs of satiety. (Did I mention I have a bottomless pit for a stomach? Think Star Wars, but with fewer hovering vehicles.)

After the food came the meeting for the English language department, which took as much time as the morning session but was more candid and to the point. All of the teachers—new or experienced—seem pretty great, so aside from the fact that this was an administrative meeting, no complaints here. I even may get to milk the department for some funding to do research on pair of papers I need to polish and maybe even an overnight stay in a Bangkok hotel for a conference. Academic holla.

To decompress and exorcise the trauma of the orientations, I went to the gym for a bike session, ate SPECTACULAR pad thai with an iced coffee—necessary food-redemption for the previous day’s all around gustatory shittiness—and took a cold shower.

At night, a group of us, maybe eight total, headed out to a bar called Oldderns for a version of my ideal night. The place is just dive-y enough without being grody (a word we should bring back) and has inexpensive beer towers and hookah with all the flavors of a Skittles bag—and all just ten minutes away. We sat around a low, shoddy wooden table, simply bullshitting and laughing and talking about Thailand. There were even a few feral dogs running in and out of the bar. It was the perfect low-key night—exactly what I needed after the frustrating Bangkok Blowout. The small, local bar with good friends and low, wooden tables is one of the reasons I came to Thailand.

Going to bed after Oldderns, I began to feel less like a person who just got off the plane and more like a person who isn’t just off the plane.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2011 in Disorientation, Happiness, Thailand