Dec 28

Since we prepacked a bit, we didn’t have much work to do before the 11 a.m. check out. Chris told us all about things we had to do on our last day in Bangkok, including going to a strange themed mall and getting McDonald’s for me.

We made a plan and double checked our train tickets. We had about 4 hours before we had to make our way to the station for a 5:30 train. Well, it wasn’t 5:30, it was 15:30. Poof, two hours and most of Chris’ list gone in a flash. Mere needed some clothes, so we headed to a mall where we indulged in Dunkin’ Donuts.

We made a stop at Chris’s funny mall, and it was really interesting. It was a seven-ish story mall with each floor having a different city theme. We started on the ground floor at the “Terminal” and went up and up. We passed through Rome, London, Istanbul, Paris, Tokyo, San Francisco, and Bangkok.  The layout and design of each floor reflected the city reputations. Rome had large open Plazas, Istanbul had narrow market corridors and whirling dervishes. San Francisco was a wharf and the bridge, Tokyo had samurai and sumo wrestlers.

The highlight for me, sadly, was going to the bathroom. The toilet was awesome! It had a heated seat (you can control the temperature), was self cleaning, and had a bidet (you can choose jet/fountain and control the direction and power) and it had a fan to auto dry yourself after the bidet. I contemplated missing the train and just hanging out on that commode for the rest of the week; I’m a simple man. I pulled myself out of that throne, it really was a throne, and Mere and I headed to the train.

We again, had supplies for the night, and the train left smoothly. We watched a movie and talked and everything was going fine until the man across the way told us there was an accident and we were delayed indefinitely. What can you do? We finished the movie and relaxed. We had about two hours of slack built into our trip so it wasn’t too bad. After three hours, I decided to try to have an adventure. I coaxed Mere to come with me to the market across the street, 50 yards away. We wouldn’t miss the train if it left. My argument was flawless, “Remember that time you ran and just caught the train in Thailand?”

We had a solid plan: we wouldn’t venture out of sight, and we’d always keep an eye on the train. If the train left, we had money and my cell. I could call the person waiting for us at our destination and he’d grab our bags. We’d lose a day on the trip, but we’d have a hell of a story… and fresh fruit! We got out, crossed the second pair of tracks, and made it another fifteen feet before we were flagged down by a man on the street and a steward off the train. “Go back! You leave now.”

I tried to explain we could run fast, but the absurdity of everything hit me, and we slunk back to the car, tails between our legs. So close! Well, as the train started up, 20 minutes later, I saw the acceleration. We had the length of the train to help us, but unless we were on flat ground and within maybe thirty yards, there’s no way we would’ve caught it. We had bad terrain, 50 yards, and we’d have to notice it leaving immediately.

The rest of the ride went well. We had dinner on the train, tasty normal food from a kitchen (not pre-made or airplane food). Mere got a huge banquet of three different plates, soup, and a slice of pineapple. She loved how sweet/ripe it was and that it was just everyday pineapple here. I was able to order my go-to ka-pow moo and kai daow (Thai basil minced pork with a fried egg) without a menu. I love ordering that dish by name. It just makes me feel like I’ve been here for a while that I can ask for something that a new person wouldn’t/couldn’t get. We called it a night and prepared for the early start tomorrow. We were scheduled to arrive in Hat Yai around 7 or 8 am.

Dec 29

Well, we were scheduled to arrive then. I got a call around 8:30 from P’Apple, a woman from work who helped me plan a lot of the fine details of our trip. She said the travel agent called her about the train being late and offered a few options. We could arrive sometime around 11 or 12, try to find the bus station, take a bus (if it’s not filled already) to the ferry, and take the ferry (if it hasn’t left already) to the island. The other options was to arrive and have a private taxi pick us up and take us to the port (definitely in time). The choice was obvious.

Getting picked up by your driver with a sign (granted, mine said “Timorty”) is something I could get used to. It was definitely worth it to walk off the train, cut straight through the wall of Tuk tuk drivers, “you! You! Go, go, where you go? eh? Where you go? Come come, here,” and be taken in a clean car straight to the door.

We got to the travel agent’s office next door to the ferry with enough time to grab a quick bite to eat (laab moo and kai tee-o on rice for me, ham ‘n cheese spring rolls for Mere (laab moo is a spicy citrus pork and kai tee-o is like an omelet made of only egg. Mere’s rolls were like some kind of faux Asian microwave snack you’d find in Sam’s Club, Asian Totino pizza rolls).

It hadn’t rained through the trip so far and the sky looked to continue the wonderful trend. We took seats in the bow of the oversized speedboat. We were cruising along and talking to our neighbors checking out the cool, rocky islands as we passed. The train delay and any other travel issues were a distant memory. We were going to Koh Lipe!

The island came into view and it was very, very obvious were were in for a great trip. We hopped from the big speedboat to a floating, plastic platform that functioned as a taxi stand (orange and blue below).

The water is not deep, so big boats can’t get to shore. The island is so small it’s not worth it to make a small port. All supplies (including gas for generators) can be carried in by small 25-foot longtail boats. We took a longtail from the floating “dock” to the beach and stormed the beach. We found our hotel quickly and regrouped.  With the delays, it was over 24 hrs of travel from Bangkok to the island. After settling in, we took a walk around to get a lay of the land. We tried to check some prices for snorkeling and scuba so that we could book in time. As it turns out, scuba is more expensive if you don’t have experience; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a scuba mask in person. We just wanted to see some fish so we put off booking. We were massaged ocean-side and ate dinner instead. Ten bucks for an hour is very doable. We were definitely going to get them every day we were here. We had a nice dinner and went back to the hotel to relax. It was a nice, modern hotel. After all the rain in Phuket, I didn’t want to chance being stuck inside a bamboo bungalow for days on end due to rain, so I went for a nicer place. Nicer meant HBO here. We ended one bad movie, something about dancing, and another one started, Jennifer Lopez was pregnant. With some poking and prodding, we found our feet and went out to see the nightlife of the island.

Lipe is a triangle/boomerang shaped island. The main beach is the concave south edge. There’s a northeastern beach called Sunrise and a northwestern one called Sunset. There is a main street that goes, more or less, from the southern beach northeast towards Sunset beach. Our place was near sunset. This main road was full of small bodegas, restaurants, and massage shops. We walked along the road, scoping out different places to check out in the future, and stopped at a bar. This wasn’t a bar, drinking establishment. It was much closer to a bedroom-sized roof with a three-sided bar underneath. The pillars were rough cut trees and the only “walls” were pieces of driftwood haphazardly puzzle-pieced together into a rough lattice. We the barman made us a pair of strong, complicated cocktails and we checked out the other patrons.

Mere and I quickly struck up conversations with two halves of a British couple. They were on Lipe about three years ago and they said the whole place was different, smaller. When they were there last, bars and restaurants were still the front rooms of homes. Outdoor bars were a few tables on the sidewalk and plastic chairs. The island was developed, but now it was polished. It’s amazing how rapidly islands are being developed. Lipe was put on the map about three years ago after being a “secret” for more than a decade. Within those three years it exploded, and it was still under heavy development when we were there. After a drink, we followed the couple, Neil and Leslie, to a proper bar closer to our hotel. We talked and made a general plan to possibly meetup and climb a nearby mountain the next day. We had only been on the island for a few hours, but we already established our routine.

Dec 30

We woke up and decided to hit the beach. We grabbed roti, a Thai crepe/pancake thing, for breakfast and decided to hit the beach instead of the mountain. The beach was magnificent, with fine, white sand. It was sand like small grain sugar or flour. The wet sand reminded Mere and me of butter and sugar mixed together for cookie dough. I’ve never experienced something like it in America or Thailand.

It was beautiful, but the beachfront was pretty developed and the shore was clogged with parked longtails. Mere agreed to go to Sunset beach, which is supposed to be less crowded. We walk across the island and saw more building on the way. The development timeline must be crazy there. We found Sunset beach and walked around, swam, climbed rocks, and tanned. It was beautiful.

Remember how I said we found a routine? It was simple: wake up, activity, hotel/movie/nap, massage, meal, hotel, and plan to go out. After getting burned at the beach, we went after the schedule. I had a great massge and Mere, toasted to a crisp, received an aloe vera massage. Mere wanted to try Thai-Italian so she had pasta for dinner while I had pizza for the third time since I’ve been here. I can’t wait to get pizza in America.

Back at the hotel, we sipped on homemade drinks while Jennifer Lopez was pregnant again. Earlier we bought tickets to snorkel on the 31st so we thought we’d go to bed early so that we had plenty of energy for snorkeling and NYE the next day.

Dec 31

Snorkeling started early at nine. This was the most standard scuba trip on the island, so when we showed up it wasn’t that surprising to see fifty or so people all ready for a similar trip. We were issued fins and a goggle/snorkel combo. Our longtail had the driver, his teen son, Mere and I, and three European couples. We headed off, driving for forty minutes when we came upon a buoy in the middle of nowhere. Four other boats were tied to the buoy with their snorkellers snorkeling. A fifteen or twenty feet tall coral pire rose from the sea bed to about five feet below the surface. When my co-workers found out I was going to Koh Lipe, they told me to go snorkelling, “You go Lipe? Very beautiful and in the sea, um, Nemo. They have all, all, Nemo.” They weren’t lying.

This was juse the first place and it was impressive. with schools of fish, anemones, corals and other stuff. This place was a bit overrun, so we quickly moved on. The second place was much more shallow in low tide. in places it was only 5 feet deep! The wildlife was much more active and there were some larger fish. I’ve only seen caught/prepared fish or small fish at the edges of ponds, so this was amazing. I tried staying still and seeing if they’d come close. At times, there were so many you would think you could catch one. Mere spent the day trying to slap fast enough to hit one. We had lunch on a national park island. I took a nap on one of the hammocks in the trees. It was fantastic to have the ocean six feet away and be rocking away with a light breeze. I don’t see what Tom Hanks was so upset about in Castaway.

When everyone had their fill of pristine beach (you can get tired of that?) we went back out. These places were equally or even more beautiful, but they were filled with tiny jellyfish that at first looked like floating flecks or debris. Every minute or so you would catch a sting on exposed skin. We couldn’t stay long this way. We made a small stop on an island composed entirely of smooth black stones. I didn’t see stones like this anywhere else, so it really was a mystery how they accumulated here. It’s good luck to try to make stacks so Mere and I took our shot at growing a stack. This quickly devolved into tipping towers and skipping stones. As we swam around our final stop, Mere shot me a glance, “Tim, I got one.” Mere slapped a fish. I didn’t know whether to congratulate her or or shake sense into her. I did the former and swam headlong into schools of fishes swinging wildly and singing “Under the Sea.”

Just as everyone was calling it a day, I clipped a fin and got my fish slap in. I was a regular Steve Irwin, communing with nature. It was so much fun to snorkel but I do see the draw of scuba. It would have been nice to drop down into the water and get very close to the action. being tethered to the surface made the deeper fish habitats look more like a fishbowl. I would do it again in a heartbeat. 18 bucks for 4 dives and lunch over six hours? Yep, that’ll do.

We went back to the hotel to shower and regroup. We found another massage place and ate a nice simple Thai meal, forgoing dessert to put funds toward a quality drink to ring in the new year. We had an early boat off of the island the next day, so we decided to do a little pre-pack again before going out that night. It was so wild to be at the beach, in shorts, on New Year’s Eve. Every NYE of my life has been in Pennslyvania, and almost every time at home in the cold. This was alien, and Mere and I frequently brought it up for the shear absurdity of it.

One of the three movies was on again, and we watched a little after we packed. We didn’t go straight out but we agreed we’d go out after a quick nap at 10. Soon we changed going out drinking to a drink to bring in the New Year. The swimming and late night were too much for Mere. I didn’t want to drag her out and Inception was going to start so we agreed to keep it relaxed tonight. I’d wake her up for the New Year, but that’s it. Inception is still a cool movie, and we wished each other a happy year while Lipe exploded with fireworks.

It was an enjoyable evening and a great trip. At any time, we only did what we wanted. We didn’t go in with a set plan, and we only had to get two people to agree so we did exactly what we wanted. Food, sun, massage. In BKK, we did some touristy things, (the palace and Siam), and some unique things (the hash and hookah). It was a fun time, and I can’t say enough of how perfect it was for us and what we wanted. Now we had to get back to Trang.

Jan 1

It. Was. Raining. We got a soggy ride to the beach, a damp ride to the boat, and a miserable, driving rain/splash trip back to the port. The boat was packed, so Mere and I were separated. During the ride, the rain picked up and zapped everyone’s enthusiasm. Before spirits were crushed, though, people were celebrating big waves and drops like middle schoolers. I couldn’t help but laugh that 80 percent of the boat was celebrating while 15 percent got sea sick. It was something else. We got back to the dock in one piece and eventually found our minibus.

Two hours later, it was time to introduce Mere to Yantakao. I had big plans with lots of things to do and see. The rain threw molasses on that plan though. We shouldn’t have complained after such amazing weather in BKK and Lipe, but it was raining and cold. I wanted to show Mere my neighborhood, market, friends, the club we go to, and work.

I was so excited to give mere a hundred baht and see if she could get us dinner at the market. I had plans but they got changed. We saw the factory and it was weird to see Mere by the presses and just at work in general. It was more jarring to see her there than in my house or Bangkok. I gave her the dime tour and offered to teach her to drive my motorcycle. Mere could do it, but she couldn’t wrap her head around the weight or the foot break. If she was slowing down she tried to stop the last few km/hr with her feet, which is impossible. The attempt made us laugh though, which made her mess up more and laugh more. Eventually she gave up out of fear of injury, though I must give her credit. It was much better than the first time I drove. I couldn’t understand the throttle, so the bike was either bursting with acceleration or slamming to a stop. No middle ground.

Mere really liked seeing the Thai version of normal things, so she kept trying Thai candies and even wanted to see the supermarket, Tesco Lotus. I’m not sure what she was expecting, but she was surprised it looked like a normal US supermarket besides the language.  We ate soup from my soup guy and it was fantastic. The cold (like 70 degrees) combined with the rain was chilling to the bone so the soup warmed us up. It’s not like we could get that with a shower here, haha. At six or so we had to call it a night. It was so miserably cold and wet that we couldn’t bear to go out again. We dipped into my reserve of movies and watched a few to slide into the night.

Jan 2

Luckily, on day two, the sky cleared up. I took Mere through town, and it was so much more pleasant to drive around. We went to the real market. My market is all prepared food, ready to be put on the table. This market is the one people go to to buy food and make it in their home. This is what they had before the Tesco came. I had only been in there a few times, so it was very foreign territory. Just like the first time I went there, Mere was surprised by the food just slapped on the table. The whole place is poorly lit and cramped. Sellers set up daily so items are displayed more for quick sale than presentation. The butcher’s stand had small pools of blood underneath the counter. I saw a guy holding a lit cigarette between is thumb and middle finger while he prodded a possible pork purchase with his pointer finger… Welcome to Thailand!

It’s a very different, strange place. We got some simple foods I like and brought them back to the house as a snack before Mere left. It was a 1:30 pm train, so we had to get moving. We took a very enjoyable drive to the train station and had lunch nearby. This felt more like the Trang I wanted to show her. A hot, beautifully sunny day and cruising around on my motorcycle.

We had about a half hour till the train, but we heard a whistle so we threw some cash on the table and ran. We were already wired because Mere was worried about being late. Just as we got there the train started going… the wrong way. Trang is the second to last stop. It still had to go to Kantang and back to Trang before it headed to BKK. That was pretty good food too, darn. We settled into the seats and talked with some travelers. The train came, and I set Mere up in her seat. We hugged, and she was off. It was kind of sad to see her go, but it was a fantastic trip. I think Christmas would have been really sad if I wasn’t able to spend it with her. The train was out of sight, and I looked around — back to the way it was. Tim, Trang, and Thais for four months. I’ll see you all soon!

I miss you all,

Tim

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Dear everyone,

Whoa, What a trip! Mere and I had a blast in Bangkok (BKK) and Koh Lipe, and island in southern Thailand. I’ll get to what happened from Mid-November to now in my next email, but this is current and much more interesting, so I’ll tell you guys about our trip.

Dec 24
I didn’t have work, so I prepared some last things and packed. P’Aon played chicken with me. I came downstairs around 1 and mentioned my 5pm train. He graciously pointed me to Yantakao where I could get a taxi. Crappily, I tried to plan how this affected my schedule. He then asked me the same string of questions again: “You go Bangkok today? You take the train? And train go to Bangkok, o’clock?” I replied at every prompt, but when I said something about finding a taxi, he said, “No, no, I you in van.”

Now there’s no taxi, he’ll take me in the company van. You know that quote about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? That guy never came to Thailand.

I got to the station and set about getting some groceries for the trip. When I had taken the train previously, I quickly learned from Neung that there is precious little to eat on the train, and it’s a nice time to relax and drink. I got some snacks, water, sports drink, sprite, and whiskey. Last time I went on the train, Neung and I drank for a few hours, then called it a night around 9 in our respective bunks. Tonight, I thought similar would happen, substituting a few backpackers for Neung.

I got on the train and found my seat, one section over from a group of backpackers, close enough. I struck up a conversation, and we were fast friends for a while. The conversation faded, so I was ready to relax on my own when I was invited to get a drink in the dinning car. I was shocked the car even existed. A new drink and I was ready to go.

Some of the other guys filled their pockets with 12 oz beers, and we shuffled over. Six of us walked, drink in hand, to the small, six tabled dinning car. The waitress wasn’t happy that we weren’t buying, so the entertainment, a loop of twelve live songs from Jennifer Lopez to “Cilin Deon,” was first turned down, then turned off. When we went back to refill drinks, we found we couldn’t bring our supplies into the car. As the night wore on and our stock dwindled, we bought drinks and food from the quickly warming waitress. At eleven she turned the music over to us with our choice of karaoke. We belted out Thai favorites like Hotel California, Zombie, and It’s My Life and stumbled through unknown Davie Jones era songs. It was a lot of fun and we capped off the night by mumbling through Thai songs with workers and train porters who came in to drink after their shifts. It was a great train ride.

Dec 25
I got to Bangkok and smoothly got to the guesthouse Mere picked out. It was easy to find and the owner had a delightfully rapey vibe. His style was clearly lifted from the late seventies and not updated since then down to his orange tinted aviator-big glasses. The room was great and while I waited for Mere I got some cheap food pork and rice and napped. Mere called me to let me know she had landed. I didn’t think about how she didn’t have a phone until she explained that some kind soul had lent her a phone. She was about an hour outside train ride from our metro stop. Since it was night and her directions said to head west I thought I’d save her the trouble of possibly getting lost. I saw her come through the turnstiles and sneaked behind her from the lobby to street level. just as she passed a beggar I grabbed her arm quickly “Oy!” Mere jumped back, recognized me, and gave me a huge hug. It was so great to see her and actually have her right here. My sister was in Thailand!

I walked her back to the guesthouse and she settled down. Since it was Christmas we did a little bit of presents. I got a few presents and some American treats, everything was a great surprise. We chatted with America for a bit and decided to go explore before Mere passed out. She claimed she been up for about 44 hrs through her flights and layovers As Mere put it, we “checked the box” and went to one of the most touristy late-night areas in Bangkok, Khao San Road. Mere and I walked in the general direction of the road and sidestep, deflected, and stiff-armed our way past legions of tuk-tuk drivers. Tuk-tuks are golf card sized death traps on three wheels. When I went to Thailand originally I only had to watch out for ladyboy prostitutes and tuk-tuks. My buddy had his phone stolen by one and I’ve seen more than a few accidents from the other. You can choose which story goes to which.

We walked for about a half mile or so before grabbing a cab. To this point, I had only spoken a few words of Thai in front of Mere. I paid for a drink and said thank you, but nothing much. I made small talk with the driver since it’s a chance to practice Thai. At one point he was pointing out something and we finally figured out it was a “monument,” just the word. The cabby was trying to expand his English as well. I didn’t think much of it because often my coworkers try to figure out new words or tell me about something I don’t understand. I looked over at Mere and got a nice smile of respect. My Thai is pretty decent! We got out a block early and walked towards Khao San. I stopped by there the last time I was in the city though I thought it was really happening at 2 am but I was told it was comparatively dead.

Tonight I saw why. It was about 9 pm, and you were almost always elbow to elbow with the unwashed backpacker masses. Mere said, “it’s like these people got off the train and told the cabby ‘take me to the alcohol.’ They don’t want a bar or a particular drink, just the ability to drink.”

Khao San Road is a side street of a side street about four cars and two big sidewalks wide (though it is closed to traffic) with and maybe a quarter mile long. There’s all kinds of bars, restaurants, hostels, and ping-pong shows (Mom, don’t google that. It’s just two guys playing table tennis really well.) in the buildings. The side walk has t-shirt, bag, trinket, and food stands. With strange frequency, there are stands with all sorts of fake ID/diplomas/security passes. We walked around and got some food. We only stayed a bit, just long enough to check the box, before heading home to wash the hippy off of us. It was a long long day for Mere, so we called it a night early.

Dec 26
The jet-lag was still firmly messing Mere up the next morning. While I enjoyed my no-work sleeping in, Mere was staring at the ceiling, feeling like it was the middle of the day. The Grand Palace was relatively nearby and easy to get to. We left the room with a good plan in place. We would take the BTS (the subway in BKK) from here to there, then take a cab to the grand palace. Max, the owner of the guesthouse, had a better plan. We could take the BTS to the river and take a boat up the river to the palace. The boat was a large tour boat with space for about seventy people. Per Max’s instructions, we walked on without saying a word, prepared to pay the small fee. It was a resounding success. They took us up the river and actually had a guide pointing out interesting things in English and Thai. We saw a few historically relevant buildings (the first western hotel, the first embassy, the king’s old mansion, and temples aplenty).

Finally, we came to our stop. You could see the palace and the adjoining temple from the docks, two blocks away. We had an idea of where it was, but we ended up using our best lemming mentality and followed the herd. It worked out great as we found our way straight to the palace. A bouncer/guard at the door was checking to make sure everyone was properly dressed. Out of respect, no one is allowed to enter with bare shoulders or legs. Mere spotted this when we were planning, so we were all set. Many, many others weren’t so lucky, and there were a few industrious Thais selling clothes across the street and a gift shop right inside selling wraps, shirts, and one-size-fits-all pants. We paid (400 for foreigners, free for Thai) and walked in.

The place was nice from the outside, just a couple of interesting shaped buildings in good condition. Inside, you saw how ridiculously ornate everything is. There are whole buildings covered in mosaic designs, with few pieces bigger than a dime. One building had a nice wrap around veranda with a huge picture across a hundred feet. This too had small stones worked in with the painting. It was a bizarre depiction of life way back when, with giant monsters attacking parts of the buildings, merpeople fighting giant fish in the sea, dog-people trying to raid villages. All I could think was, “Thank goodness the white people got here to restore order.” Thai people must have been lost before we got here.

We walked around, saw extraordinary buildings, including a little bonus. As it turns out, this temple is one of the most famous in Thailand. One building looked like it was getting more deference than others. Everyone took their shoes off to go in it (unlike every other opened building) no one spoke in it, and people were praying. This was the temple of the Emerald Buddha. It’s this two-foot-high Buddha made of solid jade. Think of a 30 x 50 foot room with a giant, fifteen foot high ornate stand for something the size of a big Thanksgiving turkey. That’s what this was. The Buddha was underwhelming but the deference shown it more than made up for it.

Mere and I are a great pair for touring because we’re game for anything and able to go with the flow. At the same time, we’re a terrible pairing because I forget to take pictures (or think we can just do a google image search) and Mere knows she won’t look at her old pictures and if someone else wants to see them, well then they should have come themselves. For something as well documented as the grand palace, it’s a fair assessment. We did take this nice one though…


The palace side was fairly well guarded and we weren’t actually sure where the king stayed. There was the old summer palace, a museum-ish palace, a few government buildings, but nothing that said, “Hey everybody! Here’s the king!” A highlight of the museum of the king’s armory was a string of hilarious artifacts all labeled “the royal X.”

My favorite were “The Royal Colt 45.” I was hoping we could find a museum with similar funny things “the Royal Blockbuster Card” or “The Royal Spare Tire.” It was a fun trip and before we left we grabbed some lunch, Thai/Asian soup with noodles, sausage-ish thing, dumplings, and some veggies.

We had to get back in time for a Hash. In San Diego, Mere participates in a running/drinking club called Hash House Harriers. When she asked them what she should do in Thailand, and their only response was to do a Hash in Bangkok. That was the plan. We grabbed a taxi around 3 to avoid more walking and get back to the hotel faster so we could get to this other place by 4:50. Well, 3 is rush hour or something because the ten minute ride was more like forty. We called to find out what happens if we’re late, and it was grim. I was disappointed because I knew it was the only specific thing Mere wanted to do here. Just when it was looking bleak the traffic opened up and we were able to get back, changed, and to the other place in time.

Mere reluctantly wore a Hash shirt (she didn’t want to be the guy who where’s that band’s shirt to their concert) but it worked out great because it made us easier to spot by other Hashers, and at this chapter, you get penalized for not wearing one. We were told by the people who spotted us that this Hash skewed younger. Things must be grim because ‘skewing young’ meant an average age in the early fifties.

We met a few people and caught a cab to a far off district where the run was being held. The run would be through the rubber farms, back alleys, and side paths of this area marked here and there. We had a great time running with a few old ex-pats. The run took us all over and, not knowing protocol, we kept track of these guys crossing bridges and balancing on logs. After the run, we drank with them and had dinner. The drink of the night was beer, so Mere pretty much abstained. I didn’t want to offend anyone, so I had a glass or two (it doesn’t count as a new glass if it’s not empty, right?).

One of the guys we ran with had good whiskey I haven’t seen in Thailand. I’ve had all kinds of mostly bad Thai whiskey, but as for Western stuff they only carry Johnny Walker. This guy had a smaller brand and he was generous enough to give me a few draughts. Forget the Emerald Buddha, this was the highlight of my trip. Whiskey-man had a driver and was gracious enough to take us back to our place. Mere was a little tired and I was more than a little tipsy, so we called it a night. Day one in Bangkok was a complete success.

Dec 27
Mere woke up and felt awful, ridiculously questioning if she contracted malaria in her first 24 hours in Thailand. We decided to push through it and see Ancient Siam, an attraction featuring huge ¾ sized replicas of the wonders of Thailand. We talked to Max and got a plan of how to get there. Mere was putting her head down, looking like she drank what I did last night. At the door to leave, I offered a hour reprieve and she took it to grab a nap. I wouldn’t let her know but I was feeling terrible myself and was hoping she’d take the nap.

I fell into that mindset where since Mere is visiting me, I’m responsible for her happiness on this trip. Bad food? I should have picked a better place. Mere gets malaria? I should have gassed the country to kill the mosquitos. Horrible logic, but I think most people do it. We both felt better around noon but still stopped at before the BTS to grab some supplies. We got water, M150 (Thai Red Bull), aspirin, Sponsor (Thai Gatorade), and some food (deep fried banana slices and donut holes). Rehydrated, reenergized, and medicined, we were off.

We took the BTS to the end and walked a bit. Between Max’s ideas and our research we knew we had to take one of a few buses from that general area. Unfortunately, we were just on the street where the BTS stopped. We had no idea of the street name or how that related to the bus routes. Oh, we also did not know the street the bus route was on. We walked to a bus stop and lucked into it having our three options of buses. With many buses driving past we wouldn’t wait long. Well, many buses but none that we needed in that half hour.

We did see this guy. Mere loved how he was moseying along, pushing his cart, not giving a crap about the traffic whizzing by just two feet away.

We realized we had no idea what the bus schedule was. We grabbed a taxi and the driver and I labored over a the concept of Ancient Siam” or my butchered Thai “Muang Boran.” Our map showed that Ancient Siam was off the map, and I worried he thought it was on the map but only right where the text was on the map because, you know, he’s a cabbie but doesn’t understand how maps work.

After a a few minutes and a few honks from drivers behind us, the driver grunted, and I decided that was a yes. Either we were taking a tour of south Bangkok or we were going to get to our place. Mere watched for signs and excitedly pointed at them and told the driver, in English, that we were on course (he gave an “I get your tone” thumbs up.) At one point he said, “Muang Boran” so I let it go. Mere said we were on course, so there was nothing left but the waiting. We saw a nice temple and a giant, four-story, three-headed elephant in the car-ride. Both times, we looked at it amazed and when it left our view we said it would be a great picture. Next time.

He pulled in and went up the long driveway. The online account of someone’s visit said they hopped in a taxi in BKK and got there in a $26 dollar cab ride. We gave ourselves a frugal pat on the pack for our two dollar BTS and four dollar cab. One of the reasons we agreed on this place was because the night before, the Hash runners said it was definitely worth it. We paid and were given bicycles, you could also drive/tram/golf cart if pedaling was too much for you. I wondered how big this place must be if they automatically gave you bicycles. We got in and started.

It was filled with greenery and statues/monuments/buildings/temples every forty yards. Some were replicas or large scale models. Others that weren’t one-ofs (like markets or ships) may have been disassembled from their original location and brought here. It was really cool to see the detail in the sculptures and the scale of some of these massive things. It was impressive to think that few were actual size. The originals were even bigger and better! But, I’m lazy and can quickly be bored, so I happily sacrificed 1/2-1/4 of the scale to see them all in one place instead of each one being a 1/2 to full day trip each let alone how many aren’t in the same region. We investigated and took pictures of the first few, then realized there are upwards of a hundred sites and we didn’t want to camp there overnight. We decided to only stop when something was interesting. Even a one stop, concentrated version of Thailand’s prized sites was too distilled for us.

We felt bad again about not taking pictures, but we didn’t want to just snap photos of the statues when we could just search online for professional pics of the originals. What we can’t search for are pictures of Mere and I recreating poses from important Thai statues. To the camera!

We talked about how we didn’t take pictures.

“Whatddya want me to stand in front of it and yell, ‘hey look at this thing!’” We’re terrible tourists…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The map had numbers next to all the attractions. Number 117 was “Thai Junk” We joked that they were all junk but that’s just our opinion. Turns out a “junk” is a type of ship. Mere still thinks it’s junk.

 

 

 

 

 

Carved tree Buddha was sassing us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mere, three headed Buddha, and five headed dragon snakes. No big deal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mini Thailand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mere could be a giant in the right temples

 

 

 

 

 

 

Same same, but different

 

A rousing success! We got more street cart food (strawberry smoothies, chicken skewers, and mango slices) and retreated to the guesthouse.

For our last night in BKK, I wanted to go to the highest rooftop bar in SE Asia, but neither Mere nor I packed the necessary nice clothes for that. Instead, we took another Hasher’s advice for their restaurant and met up with a guy, Chris. I was in BKK in June for a mold/dye convention. One night after work I met up with some people from an internet site/community I like — reddit.com. I kept in contact with some of the people, and Chris was one of them.

We found him at the bar and had a few drinks. Mere attempted to get this drink she likes, a black and tan with cider instead of beer (half pint of hard cider with a distinctly separate layer of Guinness beer on top). I’ve seen her order it before and the waitress didn’t understand at all resulting in a horrible mistake. Of course it would work in Thailand. Mere attempted once in English and got a throughly mixed Guinness/cider mashup.

For the next round, we asked Chris to ask. With his twenty years of living in Bangkok I figured he could explain half cider, then pour Guinness onto a spoon so that it pours lightly and does not mix. When Chris asked me what the word for spoon was, I knew we were in trouble. Turns out that there are some simple words you just don’t need to know. The second glass was better, but still comically terrible.

We relaxed and talked. It was fun to shoot the breeze and feel, for an hour or two, like we were in a bar back home. We stopped by a sports bar for a few drinks before heading to this Lebanese place I went to last time. The place has great hummus and hookah and, hilariously, has a Russian menu that only kicks in after midnight.We ate delicious schwarmas and hummas, smoked a bit of hookah, and 3 a.m. snuck up on us. Chris helped us get a taxi to our place and that was that.

Family!
Finally, here is that second half of the email I sent 3 weeks ago. It is resplendent with pictures of crazy Thai festivals. I hope you like it. I miss you guys a lot but I’ll see Mere in a short six weeks! Looking forward to seeing you all in six months, haha….
———————-

Part 2: Days 145-180 (Sept 26 to Oct 31)

Every few weeks, when I ask Neung what he did with his day off, he says, “search shell.”

Oh, sounds like fun.

“Really? Next time, you come search shell with my family me?”

Sure, why not.

“Shuea? (some word, prounouced sure-a that means really or sure, I don’t quite know)”

Yeah, next time, you tell me, and I will go.

Now, I love to stay up late, try to connect with America, and sleep in till God-awful hours. Neung knows this and countered skillfully: “I talk with Toto (his brother) and we go search shell on Sunday.”

Great, awesome. I’m down, let’s do this.

“Saturday, you come my home me and drink Hong Thong. You sleep with me and Sunday we go, 6 AM.” He’s one crafty SOB.

Saturday after work, I went to Neung’s and had a lovely dinner of unrecognizable food and very recognizable Hong Thong. It was enjoyable and relaxing. Since I was keeping with Neung’s schedule, we called it a night at 10 pm. I slept in Neung’s bed with him, a huge, king sized bed that was still the same hard Thai style. It was pouring rain as I was getting up, so I was hopeful that this horrible 6 am idea would be scrapped.

I walked out to the kitchen and saw Neung already with coffee and a packet and cup waiting for me. I greeted him “sawadee, krab (good day).”

He greeted me, “krab, Lab sabai dee mai? (acknowledge, did you sleep well?) You drink coffee?” Sidenote: Questions in the language are basically statements with “mai” on the end, indicating a question. The best explanation I’ve heard is: “You want to do this.” vs. “You want to do this, don’t you?”

I got coffee and sat down, saying, “Oh, wan nee fon tok so bai mai dai search shell. (oh, today rain fall so cannot go to search shell).” Neung laughed, “oooh, no problem. We go.” Crafty indeed. At this point, I still figured “search shell” would be rolling up my pants and walking along the low tide beach looking for mollusks. I’ve never done it, but I assumed it would be like what I imagine a Cialis commercial with clam digging is.

Neung’s father, mother, brother, and sister, along with Neung, Choon, a family friend and I piled into their pickup. A thirty minute drive into the backwoods got us to a marsh. Earlier, I found out we were going to a river, not the ocean, so this was understandable. We walked down a silty, wet sandy path to an outcrop of mangroves. These are trees with roots that shot out from above my head in all directions. It looked like someone took the upper half of a thirty foot high tree and mirrored it so that limbs were flying out from every angle down to be roots and up to the branches. Here’s what it kind of looked like from Google images

While these are spaced far apart, the ones I was walking through were dense, like a forest. We were walking along a small creek, and even then, it was winding through all these trees. It was spooky and I can only imagine what it would look like at twilight. It was really a place made for horror movies. It was awe inspiring at 8 am, but at 2 am?… uh uh, nope.

We cleared the tree line and were fifty yards from the river. I thought we’d start looking, but we kept walking closer and closer to the water. The young guys dropped their shoes and walked right in while Poo-ee, Neung’s sister, was clam digging like I expected. Toto and Choon had taken the protective wire cages from two fans and had makeshift screens. Choon was digging up swathes of river bed and sifting out the shells. Toto attached a pole to his and was in neck-deep water doing the same. I thought maybe I’d roll my shorts and go up to my thighs, then maybe just my shorts. Well I’m bent over to get shells, so my shirt is already wet, bam. I’m in as far as I can be without dunking my head to grab shells. This was practically swimming. It was funny watching everyone try to find shells because they would walk around a little, stop, wiggle around with a little dance and bend over to pick up their bounty. In reality, they were walking to a new spot and digging their feet in a few inches to try to feel out a shell and work it up to the surface. The shells were freshwater clams and ranged in size from about an inch to two and a half inches across.

I didn’t know what volume we’d be collecting, so I kept count, figuring I’d maybe get fifteen or twenty and until I found out about digging my feet in, I was right in that range. Then I found the secret and rocketed! I am very proud to report I found 68 clams. I was pretty content with my rate until I noticed Neung repeatedly clearing out his bag. Toto emerged from the depths of the river to show his own bag full of two gallons of shells. These guys were beyond counting. I can still hold my head high. Poo-ee finished with… six. She didn’t go in the water but I’m still counting it as a win.

Later that day, I went back to Neung’s to feast. Toto and Poo-ee put some of the clam meat in batter and deep fried it for hoy tod (fried shell). I helped Neung’s mom make pak hoy (cooked shell). We started with a little oil and minced garlic then added a gallon or two of closed shells. As they began to open we added fish sauce, chili sauce/goop, and oyster sauce. As served, they were open shells with garlicky, salted, spiced clam meat inside. Very successful. I now know how to make good clams and (in theory) how to cook that dish I like, thai basil chicken. I’d ask for recipes but from what I’ve seen I think I’d be laughed at for such a concept as “so how many teaspoons is that?” Oh Thailand, you’re so crazy!

As I said, I’ve been hanging out with this guy Gordan. He’s about my age and a nice kid so we get along well. As hesitant as I’ve been driving far away, he’s gone right after it. He just got to Thailand, so he likes to explore. We drove out to the beach where I thought my friend lived (I still haven’t found him) and took a wrong turn into a sea of rubber trees. It’s like Iowa and corn. I’ts just field after field of rubber trees in neat little rows. Another person from couchsurfing.com contacted me about stopping through Trang. She was taking a year in Australia and in a drunken night took a bet that she could get from Australia to Egypt without flying. A year and a half into the bet I agreed to meet up with her and I brought Gordan along. After a beer and some talking she said she had heard good things about the night markets here. Gordan said he knew where a big one was so we followed him. It was huuuuge. The markets I’ve seen have been a single street and about a block long. This wasn’t standard, definitely a festival or something. We walked down a long third mile of shops, food, and shops in tents. It seemed a lot more like a bazaar with tents selling clothing, knick knacks, and food rather than the normal markets with food carts. We walked, and I got a small tray of pad thai for 10 baht. We reached the end of the street and saw a pair of lantern/balloons flying up perpendicularly across the street. Gordan was like a moth to the flame. We had to check it out.

This became our best decision of the night. We walked behind one of the tents and stumbled upon a huge gathering I learned was called chak/chok/chalk pla. Before finding this though, Gordan and I settled on a way better, descriptive, possibly religiously insensitive name “Awesome Buddhist Boat Night.” It was a sea of people in a half circle of thirty ornate boat floats. There was a takraw competition, a band playing, games, and more food. The boats were ten feet wide and thirty or forty feet long. In front of each boat was a monk throwing water into the crowd and a small dish for donations. Check out how wild these boats were:

We checked out the boats and walked around. For as fun as the boats were, Gordan really wanted to find the lanterns. We waited to see another go off and finally tracked down the source. For 80 baht we were able to light and send off a huge lantern. They really were big, about the size of a 55 gallon barrel. We unfolded the paper bag with a wire hoop and a 5 inch candle ring.


Gordan lighting a lantern

As the candle burned the smoke and hot air filled the balloon. After about ten minutes the lantern was full enough to rise. But at the second you release it is just barely buoyant. It hovers for a terrifying moment when you think you’re about to have a burning ring of fire fall on your head but it starts to move. It rises on a five degree angle up and drifts towards the tents, boats, and power lines. It looks like it will hit something, tip sideways, and touch the fire to the paper walls for a glorious fireball but it gains altitude. Everyone is spared that spectacular, and we’re left with the big paper sack doing a gentle float into the night with a sense of awe way cooler than a lost balloon.

Last Saturday, there was a celebration (possibly related to Awesome Buddist Boat week. It’s something about the monastery either opening after or closing for 3 months. Everyone makes trees made with money leaves and present/give them to the monks. The good people of PT made one and I was part of the delegation to deliver it. I was dilly-dallying in the office early in the workday and Bua came in the door. “Teeem, P’Sunpet say you will go to the temple.” P’Sunpet is my new supervisor. I didn’t know this thing was happening, so I was completely confused. Was he inviting me to go to his temple? Did someone else tell him I would go with them? “Now, now, you go to HR, and go to temple.” Even less sense. I went over to HR, and I learned about what would happen. There were about fifteen people heading over.


Which of these is not like the other?

We put our tree on display and made small talk. I was introduced to someone who spoke decent English and given a small string bracelet that they assured me would bring me good luck and keep bad things away. It’s a simple, white string with a knot in the middle that the monks had prayed on. Unfortunately they tied it tight so I have to adjust it every now and then. I don’t know what the rules say about cutting off the inch long loose ends or untying it and retying. I figure it can’t last more than a month or two of wear and showers/sweat/rain. I’m at a week now so we’ll see. After the small talk everyone took their trees and walked around a building three times praying. It was like this:


Waldo goes to our temple.


You can see my head between the trees, sprouting out of that guy in the striped shirt’s forehead.

At the end of the last lap, we walked to a pavilion for a prayer. There was a bit of music, and suddenly the crowd went crazy. People were throwing candy and blessed “lucky” coins. Adults, grown adults, were pushing and scrambling for the candy like little kids grabbing Dubble Bubbles at a parade. I wanted to step aside and let them go at it, but people were ushering me to reach for more. It was chaos! The whole event was interesting, but not really understandable. I’m not sure what was going on, but there was still food, and Neung’s parents were there, so I was taken care of with full plates and bottomless drinks. It was work, so I was getting paid to boot!

Just to complete the trifecta of Buddhist/Thai festivals, last night, I went to Loy Krathung (Sidenote: I thought the name was something close to “Reggaeton,” because Thai people often switch letters in pronunciation L/R, K/G, Th/T, and drop letters at the end of words).

Loy Krathung is a festival where you put a small dinner plate sized raft into the river to send away bad thoughts with a wish or a prayer. I was told it would be very beautiful and fun, and it didn’t disappoint. Whenever I hang out with Gordan, we’re in the city. I was going to Loy Krathung with Neung out away from Trang or Yantakao, so I thought Gordan might like to have a taste of something different. I invited him to come, and we drove over.

We drove passed rubber farms and through “real Thailand.” I feel it’s like thinking America is all Texas and New York City, and getting here and seeing the suburbs and mountains. We drove a bit and came up to a misplaced night market. There were booths and food carts like I see in Yantakao every night, but out in the middle of Bumblef– in the middle of nowhere. In the thick of this market was an entrance to the grounds, a fifty yard in diameter circle of tables with food tents around the outside and a stage at the front. We saw Neung’s mom working at Toto (Neung’s brother)’s small drink cart, said hello, and got a seat.

It was interesting to see how well or poorly Gordan was able to interact with the poor English of Neung’s family. Gordan is a teacher but doesn’t really interact with the normal (non-fluent, non-student) Thai people, so it was a feather in my hat when I was able to do a little translating for them. They mentioned they were going to do lanterns, and Gordan and I mentioned we had done it before. Before we finished making our point, however, Neung’s cousin Am had one, and we were set to light it off. We lit the circular candle and waited for it to rise. It was just as exhilarating as the last one. That first second when you let go is really, really cool. Like you know it should fall but it just refuses. As it was filling it up, others were letting off. The sight was spectacular, and I have some pictures of it below.


Just about to let it go


It really reminded me of an armada assembling. Slowly each lantern would join the group floating away

Loy Krathungs are beautiful rafts. A two inch high, one foot in diameter disc of wood with leaves and flowers pinned on top. To top it all off, some incense and a candle are added. Choon, Neung’s friend/cousin, helped me find a stand selling them. I picked a nice one for twenty baht, lit it, and carried it down to the water’s edge. I said a little prayer and handed it to the guy who was stationed in a boat, setting all the loy krathungs off. I’m not sure it if it’s a Buddhist or a Thai thing, but it was the only one sent out that night with a Christian prayer. Seeing one after another go down the river was really beautiful as well. Good job by the Thai people. Excellent festival.


Me, the photogenic Choon, and my Roy Krathung (float thingy)


All of the Loy Krathungs floating down the river

Sorry this is so delayed. I was waiting on the pictures from my friend for a while. Good times all around though. I hope you guys are doing well. We’re on the downslope!

I miss you all,
Tim

Days 145 to 180 (Sept 26 to Oct 31) Part 1

Hi family,

It’s been awhile, but here’s an update/summary of what’s been going on. There are less new happenings occuring than the first few months, of course, but it is nearly the half way point! Whether they call my end date May 1 (like I agreed to in America) or May 9 (like I signed in Thailand) I’m very very close. I know it’s more likea 2/3 point because the second half will most ceritainly fly by. I especially now have friends, the weather will be better, I know how to and want to explore- Well, you see what I mean. Fun times are coming, at least I hope so. Anyway, I hope you enjoy these. There’s a part two with a bit more coming in the next day or so. Sorry this has been so long coming — it may or not be interesting.

I love you guys,
Tim

——

Hey everybody!

Oh, what a difference a month can make. A few weeks ago, a guy from couchsurfing.org contacted me about meeting up for a drink in the city (Trang or Tab Teing) since he was passing through town. We met up and compared our field notes about living among the natives. While we were talking, a white guy at a table nearby overheard us and asked if we were teachers. Small talk was had, and we got back to our drinks. As we planned to go, I went over — and this sounds strange saying it- to ask this guy for his number. By this time, he and three of his friends were relaxing, and I said something to the effect of, “Hey could I get your number? I’m heading out, but it’d be fun to do something sometime.”

Looking back, it sounds like I was hitting on him. Fortunately, he overlooked this, and after talking a bit more, my friend and I joined the other table. They were teachers in the city, and we ended up talking with them for the rest of the night. The guy who initiated the conversation has been in Trang for five years, and he was showing a new teach, Gordan, around. The other two were Selena and Ilpha, teachers who had been here for about a year. Native English speakers! I’ve hung out with them a few times since then, and it’s been a revelation. They’re fun people, and it’s been really great having having non-flaky friends who like to hang out. Gordan just got to Thailand, and the teachers are on break right now, so we’ve gone exploring a few times. More on that later.

Around the start of October, I had a bout of stomach distress. It was just a 24-hour thing, but it left me dehydrated. At work the next day, I was working on drinking more fluids but was being unsuccessful and had a headache. Anytime I mention the slightest discomfort, everyone asks if I need the (on-site) nurse or the hospital. I can’t tell if they’re just overly cautious or trying to call me out for complaining, “you’ve got a tummy ache? Whaddaya need the nurse or something? Get back to work, boy!”

This was no different. I was low energy (from no food) and had a headache. Bua finally convinced me to go to the nurse and on the way there, she blindsided me by taking me to HR. There I got berated about going to the hospital by P’Pao, P’Apple, and Bua. I later found out P’Pao said something to the effect of me being childish or a baby and everyone in the room agreed.

P’Aon told me the story as “Pao looked ::folded arms and head cocked to one side:: ‘baby’ and all say “::folded arms, head cocked to the other side nodding:: ‘ok'”. An instant classic. When they explained how there was no way I would have to pay, I decided I could use it as a dry run for when I’m actually injured and went.

Since P’Aon wanted me to go the whole time, when they called him about driving me, he was Johnny-on-the-spot. They gave him a hard time about not taking me the day before, but he explained that I didn’t want to go then either. We drove to the city and to the private hospital there. It was impeccably clean, and I was overwhelmed at how there were so many staff for so few tasks. It looked like a hospital, so I’m not even going to bother with that.

Trying to check in was easier than expected, because the ladies in the office relayed all the fun details about my rough adventures with the toilet to P’Aon. He told the lady at check-in what was wrong, and she looked at me. I nodded let her know, “Pom mai sabai (I am not well).” She started asking some questions, and I just laid out all my medical information: 3 cards saying who I was in Thailand, what my insurance was, and something else. I poured the cards out, and the lady figured it out. She ushered me to a prescreening where I was asked about allergies, current medication, etc. She gave me a regular thermometer that didn’t have a cover on it. I wasn’t sure if they cleaned it before, but as I took it I luckily hesitated. In my hesitation, she indicated to put it in my armpit. Wait–what? Thank goodness I hesitated…

I was given a ticket like a deli counter and waited. The waiting room faced about seven lettered doors with a flat screen monitor above it all saying what the queue was for each. Fittingly, I was a G. Each door had a receptionist/helper. People were moving through impressively quickly. My number came up and I went in.

After she checked my breathing, I gave a thirty second explanation of my ailments and answered thirty seconds more of questions. Yes, I’ve been here a while. Yes, I can eat Thai food. No I don’t drink the water. The doctor had heard enough. I clearly had an infection and she gave me medicine. I was with the doctor for four minutes tops.

I was sent to the pharmacy and waited with P’Aon. We laughed, as we often do, that I was the only foreigner. The woman called for “Mr. Vincent,” while looking around. Her eyes lingered on me, but I shook my head letting her know I was not Mr. Vincent. Vincent is pretty western, so everyone else was looking around for the foreigner, me.

“Mr. Vincent.” Louder, more insistent. She didn’t even bother pretending to look around. She was looking right me. I saw her and she waived me up. “What is your name?” “Burns, Timothy Vincent Burns.” Good enough. She gave me all sorts of medicine. Back in the car, I saw that I was “Timothy Vincentburns.” That’s definitely a thing in Thailand. Middle names don’t happen. I remember when they booked my ticket to come here, it was under the same fake name. I thought it was a typo they didn’t correct. Now it showed up again. When/if you come, don’t mess around with middle names. They don’t get down like that.

Remember Mr. Long? The new dog that snuck into P’Aon’s van and was accepted into the family? Yeah, he’s gone. It’s back to me, P’Aon, and Cooper (the original dog). Mr. Long jumped the wall after about a week and hasn’t been seen since. Quitter.

Speaking of Cooper, I’m down 2 pairs of shoes because of him. I had my boat shoes out because I tried to go to church and Cooper chewed the back of of them. P’Aon consoled me, “oh, hahah, Cooper chawb (like) leather. And, ah, sorry.” Yeah, we’re totally even. For months, Cooper hasn’t touched my shoes on the rack outside. He might have knocked them off, but never chewed on them. I came downstairs for work a few days later to see P’Aon moving the shoe rack inside. “Tim, and shoes you, ah, sorry.”

I’m thinking “yea, I know. Your dog sucks, but we covered that last week.” He picked up my leather sandals. They were leather/rubber planks with no straps. Cooper chewed them off. So I’m out two pairs of shoes, but P’Aon assures me it’s ok because now the shoe rack is inside. I’m glad we all learned our lesson…

While sitting outside after work, P’Aon asked me “and Tim, you go America and, ah kuhn tam arai (what do you do)?” “Tam ngan (work)?” “Yes, yes.”‘ If P’Aon is asking me about my plans for work after PT, I’d better get moving on networking and the like. It’s a bad sign when your Thai host is more career oriented than you.

When I eat with the men at my Muay Thai camp, there’s a clear pecking order, or it’s about respect/manners. There’s the children, then the younger women, then the old lady, then the younger trainers, then the men, then Put Lorlek (a famous Thai boxer who happens to live here), and finally the camp owner. You can tell the order from who tries to sit at the table, who clears who’s old dish, and most telling, who gets up for other people. For the record, I have no idea where I stand, because I’m young and try to be respectful, but they’re nice to me since I’m new and I’m white.

Most times the order is only obvious when everyone is eating and the owner shows up. Quickly, old dishes are cleaned, and his spot at the table. The children leave the table to eat in the small locker/utility room, out of sight. His truck pulling up is like a silent alarm going off. We now have ninety seconds to prepare for his arrival. One night we were sitting eating, and an unknown SUV pulled up. No one recognized it, but once the occupants got out, chaos reigned. These were fight promoters/schedulers/broadcaster guys from Bangkok. Everyone, outside of the owner, got up and cleared the table, put out fresh glasses and generally retreated to the locker room. The owner was gushing over them, a huge change from his normal “king of the castle” attitude. Apparently there’s always a bigger fish.

I got to watch another episode of my Thai Soap Opera. From what I can tell, a woman from the office got in a fight with her husband. Well, he was fighting — she was just falling. She was punched in the back of the head and pushed to the ground. This may or may not have occurred at PT, I’m not sure. She called P’Aon, and they went first to the hospital to treat some scrapes (I swear they’ll go to the hospital for a papercut if you let them), and then the police station. That was a Saturday, and on our day off the next day, she moved all of her stuff here. This wasn’t a just a dufflebag and a toothbrush; she moved her washing machine and boxes of crap. I know it’s domestic abuse, and that’s not cool and everything, but she was entirely moving out of a house they just bought. I was happy to have a new housemate. P’Tom Tam, the woman, is a lot of fun when we can communicate (she speaks as much English as I speak Thai). I had a few talks with P’Aon about the situation, and how hitting women makes you less of a man. It sounded like P’Tom Tam would be here for a few weeks until she got an apartment or something. Instead, she was gone the next weekend. I came downstairs to see her husband moving boxes back into their truck. They had made up. That evening was spent repeatedly agreeing with P’Aon that she made a mistake, and it was wrong to hit women.

As you guys have seen, I got a haircut. I waited for about 3 weeks to spot this girl at PT to ask her to cut my hair. When we finally agreed on a day she forgot her scissors. Finally she quit. It was a sign I needed to move on to another source. P’Aon told me he would take me to his friend who is “hair cut, number one in Trang.” This is promising. I had, as P’Pao called it, a bird’s nest on my head, so any haircut would be ok.

Worst case scenario, I could just buzz it short. After work P’Aon drove me over to the barber. As he cut my hair, he spoke with P’Aon. Something prompted P’Aon to jump up and ask me if I wanted a shave as well. After one pass with cutting scissors and another with thinning shears, he dropped the back of my chair. I was going to get a straight razor shave. I was hoping for a big to-do with a fluffy brush, maybe a hot towel, etc., but I got about the same shave I give myself. That said, it is really relaxing to have someone else do it and it makes the haircut feel even more transformative. The best part? It was only paying 60 baht (2 dollars) for everything. Shave and a hair cut, two bits.

A few months ago, everyone at PT was getting excited about petanque, a game like bocce, because there was a tournament going on in the company. These days, there is a takraw tournament happening. Takraw is like volleyball, but only using your feet and a small wicker ball. The guys here can do some really cool things like this:

Each team has their own uniforms, and there is even a pair of guys doing what I think is play by play and color commentary. I’m not sure what they’re saying, but one guy is up on a judge’s chair giving out score with a megaphone. Across from him another guy talks excitedly into his own megaphone about the game. It’s only a company-wide tournament, but I like how they’re getting into it. I’ve been trying to play in some pickup games they have at each break. They play 3 on 3, and if you mess up you get subbed. Most people make a bad pass or get beat by a good attack from the other team. I touch it and it flies away. If this were America I wouldn’t even play due to the talent disparity, but it’s not. In Thailand they love me playing, actively pushing me into line to substitute in. Somehow when I play it lacks the flair and excitement of the Thai guys’ aerial attack. The next sport sensation will be a tournament for 5 on 5 soccer. The guys in prototyping, my default friends at PT, recruited me for their team! There will definitely be more news from this, haha…

I’m finishing part 2 now, which has two Buddhist event/festivals. I’m hoping my friend posts pictures of it so I can include them. If not, I’ll be using some Google image searches…

I miss you all,
Tim

I haven’t updated in over a month. I mean, I got back from Koh Phangan on the 15th and that’s the last I wrote. You guys know the macro things that’ve happened (nothing major), but the aggregated small stories have been largely missing. So it’s another installment of a collection of small experiences that remind me as normal as it gets here, it’s still quite different from America.

This is today, the 19th as I’m sitting down to write. Bua came in and said she had migraines and the doctor told her to take time off. She said she got migraines from stress, “Have migraine from serious and uh season change.” Wait what? There are no seasons here. I almost slapped the Asian off her. I burst out laughing because she tried to explain it as “In my home, ron mak mak (very, very hot) and here, fon tuk (rain).” The change from 95 and 80 percent humid to 85 and 90 percent humid is miniscule. Sack up.

A few weeks ago I had lunch at Neung’s house. I arrived, said hello, and was informed of the meal plan. Ka-pow gai, kai dow, and kaow. Minced chicken with thai basil, a fried sunny side up egg, and rice. My favorite! Apparently I get it so often at lunch Neung and his sister, Poo-ee, noticed and told their mom. At the canteen there are three places to get food: the Muslim one, the one with the engaging large lady, and the one that usually has bad food. The Muslim place is my favorite. I rarely get there in time, but whenever they have ka-pow gai the lady smiles knowing and goes for that spoon before I open my mouth. I’m a creature of habit. I don’t think this will surprise any of you to hear me admit I have simple tastes. I’ve been told this dish is the kind of easy thing Thai people just whip up in a pinch.

I was immediately pressed into service. Neung’s mom called me over to a chopping block of chicken breasts and handed me a cleaver. I started methodically chopping in a perfect grid at clear intervals. She was having none of that. She took the cleaver back and told me, “no no no no, Tim, bok-bok-bok.” and went to town on the chicken, mincing it haphazardly with quick, wild chops. I saw the malice in her eye, took back the clever, and hacked up the chicken as if it hacked up my family.

Five minutes later, she came back and said, “Okay, Tim! Dee dee (good good), stop,” and took the chicken sludge away. I relaxed for a few minutes before being pointed toward a tree: “Tim, you can get rambutan?”

“Erm, what? Yeeeees, I can get, but um, high, big um tee noon [there (far away as opposed to tee nan- there close by)],” pointing twenty feet up to the rambutans at the top of the tree. Neung smiled and walked over, “No problem.”

Out of the weeds, underneath the trees, he picked up a 25-foot pole with a knife tied to the end. The knife was positioned so that the knife and pole create a small angle to pull and cut the rambutans. From 25 feet away, this is roughly as difficult as strapping a pen to a broom and writing your name from six feet away. It’s not impossible, but it’s clear this is part of what keeps Thailand in the third world.

Six or eight sad rambutans later, I was sweaty and everyone felt bad enough to tell me not to worry about it. Do you guys remember the coconut I tried to eat? I bought a coconut and had a heck of a time trying to cut and saw into it with the kitchen knives. Neung’s family had a gaggle of coconuts and Choon, Neung’s little brother’s friend, chopped them open. Fresh coconut juice is great. A sharp cleaver definitely helps though, and we sat with coconut juice and meat, as well as rambutans until the food was finished. We ate merrily and relaxed afterward. Neung disappeared with Choon to go look at puppies at the Temple. Apparently, they were getting puppies to “guard” the house, since the new house doesn’t have a fence. All non-shack houses have fences so Neung’s mom wanted a dog or two to bark at invaders. The cute puppies were, in fact, cute.

Remember how I didn’t know P’Won’s name was actually P’Wat? Well, add the other trainer P’Pak to the list. His name is in fact P’Poke. I swear if I find out P’Aon’s name is actually P’All, I will choke someone out.

Okay, it isn’t that bad, but I have thoroughly misunderstood his family. P’Aon has two kids and was dating their mother Mrs. Sao (they’ve since broken up), remember this for later.

Boy got a job in Phuket, and I was talking to P’Aon about it. He’s sad, of course, since his son is living away from home for the first time. More on this later. Boy’s friend Bert comes around on weekends to hang out and play video games. I was really confused how Boy was friends with this teenager, Bert but I decided it was just a weird Thai thing where age matters less, whatever. I mentioned something like, “Oh, Boy go Phuket, Bert mai ma tee nee (not come here).”

What followed was a confusing explanation of Bert and Boy being P’Aon’s sons. I thought he had a son and daughter, both of whom worked at Mrs. Sao’s (their mother’s) karaoke place. Turns out Boy and Bert are his sons who he had with some lady in Yantakao. Boy works for Mrs. Sao, P’Aon’s ex-girlfriend. Glad it only took us four months to straighten that out.

So Boy is left for Phuket. He’s going to work for a bakery there and make at upwards of three times what he’s making at PT within a year. Can’t blame him for that. The plan, best as I reckon, is for him to work at this bakery in a hotel for a year, learn the trade, and open a franchise in Yantakao. P’Aon was sad, and we commiserated in how quickly a year can go. Also, it helped that Phuket is 300km away. Boy only went from Yantakao to Phuket over there, tee nan. I went from America to Thailand. I had to tell my parents I was going over there, tee noooooooon. I was surprised it got to me a little that Boy was leaving. I barely talk to him, but I suppose the familiarity is enough. He’ll be back every month or so. No problem.

A week or three ago I went to a Muay Thai thing; it was pretty cool. After practice on Friday, I was eating with the men and P’Won. P’Won asked if I was going to practice the next day and did I want to go to a fight. Over about four iterations of the same conversation I figured out that there was going to be a night of children’s Muay Thai somewhere in Yantakao. I was going to bring my practice clothes to work, go straight to practice, practice for a bit, and go straight to the fights with P’Won after. We did exactly that.

Thank goodness I went with P’Won because it wasn’t where I thought we were going. Also I barely figured out the cost for parking or admission. The whole shindig was in a field about the size of a Little League baseball field. There were some carnival-esque games like throwing darts at balloons, a few food carts, and this big ring with ten foot walls. In America, this same setup would be in a parking lot with overhead lights, some picnic benches, and maybe a tent or two for rain but this isn’t America. It made the whole thing seem very last minute. A food cart said, “What? People are coming? Sure, I could show up if business is slow;” it felt like that. We hung out and P’Won showed off his foreigner. The other fighters from my Muay Thai camp were there. It was actually strange to see them dressed up like people instead of their short boxing shorts (actually different from boxers). It was like seeing your teacher out of school. (Note: Not you Dad, I’m used to seeing you outside of school.)

We waited for about an hour in this field, a crowd gathering around the entrance of the high walled, hundred feet in diameter circle. P’Won shrugged off the idea of paying for a ticket and a few minutes later someone handed me a ticket. I was urged to follow one of the fighters from my camp into the arena. Inside there was a lighted boxing ring, judges’ and announcer/timer’s tables, a small grand stand, and a few small tents for the fighters to prepare. Since I went in without P’Won and stopped to look around, was quickly abandoned. I walked around getting a sense of the area and the event began. They announced the judges, played the national anthem and got to the action. I sidled up to a barrier and watched the first bout. A pair of six year olds went at it. Though they were trained, it was still clear they were little kids. They were either slow to attack or over ambitious and wild, closer to dancing than grappling, etc. Still entertaining and some shots were landed. I thought I was in for a night of mild amusement with the youngins, but the next bout had 12ish-year-olds. In Thailand, kids this age have been at it for a few years, training once or twice a day for six days a week. They were fast and serious. The fights went back and forth for a few bouts with smaller kids and barely teenagers. Pro fights have five rounds of five minutes; these had three or four rounds of three minutes. In the minute or so between rounds, a crash crew of three people lunged in to each fighter’s corner with water, advice and ice. The kids were massaged with ice, given a sip of water a drink and advised with quick bullets of info. They were speaking Thai so they could have been told fun anecdotes about kittens, anybody’s guess.

I watched a few bouts and P’Won found me. He ushered me over to a tent of fighters and prep people. We had someone fighting that night. P’Won asked for my bag and gestured that I would go in the ring to be a corner masseuse-man. I was happy to do it; it would be a fun adventure and a quick shot of adrenaline. Our fighter was a seven-ish-year-old I recognized from camp. One of the two youngest kids we train. He was getting rubbed down with Thai icy-hot gel. His hands were wrapped and quickly gloved, and they put on his cup and shorts. They were taking their time when– “ooooooh!” First round knockout in the ring behind us. Apparently the final prep would be hurried.

I wasn’t charged with any prep, so I made sure to stand around and look pretty.
Mission. Accomplished.

Our group consisted of me, 2 or 3 teenage fighters, 3 or 4 of the men, the actually little kid fighter, and P’Won. As we waited at the base of the ring to get in our corner for last second prep, a bottle of Hong Thong appeared. There’s a small concession stand with drinks, eats, and alcohol, and it wouldn’t be Thai friendly bonding without good ‘ole HT.

I took a sip and passed it. When it came back to me again, I was about to take another, and it was grabbed, “Whoa, you up up (::pointing to the ring::), no mao (drunk).”

Excellent point gentlemen.

We hopped into the ring, and I looked at the other guy to see what I should do. I’d never paid close attention to the corner men between rounds, and now I was one. He was grabbing appendages and massaging. I did the same. Thighs, calves, forearms, whatever seemed appropriate. I threw some water on him, and the bell rang. The other corner guy did a last stretch, and I hopped out, grabbing the water cooler. As I hit the ground, the fight started. Our guy looked sharp, but was overmatched. No way was that other porker in the same weight division. I decided we were giving up pounds. If I had some knowledge of the other kid I might have made a wager. I saw a bunch of guys waiving papers (presumably baht) in the stands and pointing at each other; 75% chance they were placing bets.

Round one ended quickly at the bell. My partner jumped up the stairs and into the ring, literally picking up the young fighter and carrying him into the corner. Splashing water and spitting drinks can make the canvas ring slippery. Fight organizers address this by putting down a pie tin four feet in diameter. The chair, fighter, corner men, and water all go inside. I chased my partner up the stairs, and by the time I was inside the ropes with the cooler, the tin was down and the fighter was being put down. One of the old men from camp was behind just outside the ropes giving advice. I grabbed handfuls of water and a massaged them into the young fighter’s muscles. I didn’t know how much time we had or how much had been lost. I didn’t even know where my responsibilities ended; I mirrored the other corner man and tried to stay out of the way when he massaged the torso or head.

The bell rang and I hopped out, carrying the cooler. A last stretch and we were out. It was exhilarating and chaotic. We had a few more rounds, and though our guy was more skilled, his chubby opponent was able to keep attacking. We lost by decision. We shuffled out of the corner and back to the tent; it was unfortunate, but not too serious of a loss. I’m pretty sure the purses for these contests were pretty minimal.

Work has been going. Days really mesh together here, but I’m getting more involved. I’m asking people what I can do and if they need my help anywhere. I’m aided in this search by a new internet cap. I can no longer play online all day, because I’m limited to an average of 3 hrs per day at work (75 hrs over 25 days). That’s plenty to get me out of the office. I go to the Eco-line to try to help out or stick my nose in whatever problem is going on that day, looking for a pickup game of problem solving. I’m practicing my Thai and learning a little bit every day. One of the guys on the line wants to learn English, so we are trading info. Remember when I told you guys about the sense of humor here? The guys love learning… a certain type of term and yelling them at each other:

“Tim Tim, Dome mai dee (smell, not good),”
“Mein (smell bad)?”
“Ahh, yes yes, mein. Passe Ankrit (English language)?”
“Stink.”
“Ahh haha, you you you! You stink! Hahaha!” while pointing at a friend.
It’s the cradle of humanity here. They also wanted to learn “sex,” “gay,” “he is a woman,” and “ugly.”
Awesome.

Last weekend, P’Aon drove some people to the airport. He left the door to his van open as he said goodbye, and when he turned back, there was a dog in it. He tried to shoo the dog away, but it didn’t budge.

Now, a normal person would nudge the dog or grab it by the collar. P’Aon? No, no no. He told me, “I see dog in car, and I, ‘What? No no no, you get out! No? Hmmm, ok, ok you live in my home me, ok?’ And dog and sleep ::sleeping motion:: and I ‘ok.”’

Flawless logic. We now have two dogs. The scruffy, yipping Cooper and Mr. Long, a yellow short haired dog that is incredibly relaxed. I don’t know why he’s called Mr. Long, P’Aon just told me he asked the dog three times what his name was. Unsurprisingly, the dog stonewalled him. This is the name he came up with. I guess he just looks like a Long. I like the dog a lot. I’ve decided we’ve both been thrown into this crazy situation with P’Aon. It doesn’t hurt that I don’t like how Cooper yips and is long haired. Long is quick to come near me and paw at me if I’m stationary. It’s me and you, Long, me and you.

I know P’Aon keeps an eye on me and is a nice guy, but I really got a bit more understanding of it the other night. P’Aon and I were invited to the birthday party of someone in the office (as opposed to my [the R&D] office). About two months ago, I went to a house warming party at P’Tom Tam’s and this was her birthday party. It was more self-cooked barbecue like last time, but that’s beside the point.

At one point, it came up that I have been training with a relatively famous fighter, P’Nola Sing. P’Aon told everyone how on Saturday, he waited for me to come home from work but I didn’t. It got to be nine or ten, and he started wondering where I was, did I go to eat at the trainer’s house? Did I go to drink with Neung? Where was I? and I came back at ten thirty.

First, it’s kind of him to be concerned when I didn’t come home. I actually went straight from work to training. We trained for about an hour before going to see some little kid muay thai fights (more on that soon). The second and cooler thing from P’Aon’s story was that it was totally in Thai, and I got the gist of it. Don’t get me wrong, I understood 20 percent of what was said, but I was able to piece together proper nouns, gestures and a few words into a story. We’re going to count in the W column.

I actually had another reaffirming experience in my limited knowledge of Thai. Remember Cornu, the South African teacher in Yantakao? Turns out he didn’t ditch muay thai completely, he just got depressed and was keeping a low profile for a few weeks. He came to practice, and after, P’Won invited us to sit and drink a bit. Nothing unusual, but it was the first time I’d done this with another foreigner around. I was actually a bit of a translator between Cornu and P’Won. I was able to communicate, more or less, the very simple conversation they were trying to have. It’s not earth shattering, Cornu clearly doesn’t practice because he’s been here for four months without learning the word for spicy, but again, another W for the team. Pretty cool right?

Also, I’ve gotten back into actively practicing my Thai. I’m not just relying on what I know, but I’m trying to expand my vocabulary. I finally learned now- tam-nee, Work- tam-man, and a few other things I’ve been missing like forget- leum. Slowly and slowly, it’s getting better here. It’s been a good few weeks. I’m happyish, trying to be more involved at work and learning Thai, and eventually I’m going to stop putting it off and learn programming (working up some momentum, Charlie). Not too shabby.

You may have noticed (or not) that I left out my three day trip to see my friend Matt in Phuket. That’s just because it rained. It rained every day and every moment we were there. That’s not true, it was infuriatingly beautiful the last morning we were there before they left for a 9am plane and I got a noon bus. It was really cool to see Matt, since he’s one of the few people I’ve seen from college since I’ve been out. He came to Asia for a startup competition and took a detour to Phuket for a few days. It was a fun trip, but since we were in a place built around fun in the sun, it was a bit unfortunate. We asked a travel agent, “what can we do here if it’s raining?” She stared blankly at us and said she didn’t know. So we reverted to hanging out and drinking a bit. The highlight of the trip was supposed to be overnight camping on this beautiful island (featured in the movie The Beach, but got rained out. Matt got groped against his will and pick pocketed in one fell swoop by a prostitute with a viselike grip. Our weekend felt a bit doomed after that one.

We ducked into a restaurant during a downpour. That’s not fog, that’s rain. Also, Matt’s profile:

Now imagine a clear sky and a clean beach. It was a cool place even without those things

I hope you guys are well. I know it’s been a long time since I emailed you guys all at once, but these are the highlights of most of August and September.

I miss you all,

Tim

Overtime!
P’Aon absolutely loves the idea of me emailing pictures of Thailand to America. He made food a few days/weeks ago, and before we ate, he said, “Oh and you and camera? Send to America.” There’s a 20 percent chance he thinks I email the entire country, so tell a friend.

Ka-pow gai (everyone knows I like it). Everyone’s is a little different based on a bit of seasoning, how much spice or peppers they add, how finely they chop the chicken. The Muslim ladies make the best with chicken-like minced meat, tiny peppers and everything dark tan to almost brown. Some restaurant tried to get cute and put spicy peppers, sweet peppers, and onions in there. P’Aon’s was good with larger bits of thin chicken, sweet peppers and large pieces of Thai basil. Thai basil is the ka-pow in ka-pow gai.

Boiled Pork, simple

Pak Wan, A sweet, red curry with fish. P’Aon said it was an Indian dish his mom taught him. I have no idea if that’s Indian like the country, or some kind of native Thai Indian that I’m unaware of. The sauce was watery making it almost stew-like. The leaves were spinach or the Thai equivalent.

The table set for P’Aon, Boy and I (right to left) the tiny dish has some spice and fish sauce (kind of like soy sauce). We’re almost a little Thai family sometimes. Boy left, so we’re almost a little Thai broken home sometimes.

So I told you guys I was going to go to Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party (FMP). I’ll start by saying it was great, but I think it’s better to let the story tell itself.

Just so you know, I had little to no planning for this. I only knew the name of the island I wanted to get to and when I was departing and when I wanted to arrive. Things could have been cheaper. Also, I wrote this over a few days. I forgot what tense I was writing in a few times. Sorry…

Aug 11

I left work at 3 to head to the bus station. I had a figured out that I could get a van to take me to the coast (Surat Thani) and take a ferry to the island (Koh Phangan). The last ferry left much the Surat Thani around the same time I was leaving work, so I’d have to stay for a night there. P’Aon graciously drove me to Tab Teing (the nearby city) to get a van. We show up at the bus station, and P’Aon moseys over and in three lines he knows what van and how much (160 baht) for the three or four-hour drive to Surat. These are vans about the size of those large 1980’s cruisers with the large top, curtains, and maybe a VHS player. This is bare bones and packed with seats.

Four passengers across the back, three rows of three in the middle and three up front with the driver. Sardines have it better. It’s a long drive because my knees just barely fit, and I have my backpack on my lap.

People had been getting on and off so when everyone got off and others back on, I was confused. I saw one person standing outside. Do the math, Tim. There was a hockey line change here. The bus driver is looking around the passenger area, there’s one person standing outside the van, and you’re confused what’s going on.

A kind soul looked across to me, “Where do you go?” “Surat- Surat Thani.” He smiled, “Surat? Tee nee (here).” Ooooh, the bus giggles, and I get off. The bus is now full. I’m looking around because I’m on a random street in an even more random city in Thailand. I have a plan. I’ll go to Surat Thani, then to the pier at Don Sak and finally go to Koh Phangan. Awesome, part one — check. Part two- erm… right, somewhere in the middle of Surat Thani. The bus driver, sensing I was in for a rough evening, comes over. “Where do you go?” “Tonight, Surat, tomorrow, I go to Don Sak and Koh Phangan.” “Tomorrow? ok, ok,” and he ushered me over to some guy. Turns out he’s my friend and can set me up with all travel.

“My friend, where do you go? You need hotel? You look here, you pick what kind hotel you want.” Giving me a laminated sheet of options from 320 one fan
to 1500 western style with a/c. I’m my parents’ child, so I took the cheapest he had. “Where you go? Koh Phangan? I can get you there 8 am ferry 400 baht.” His speed brought skepticism to my face. “My friend, 400 baht is very good price. Normally 450 but for you I take 50 baht off.” I should have walked away. I should have known i was getting ripped off (I could make out baht amounts that he was talking about on the phone and to his runner. I was getting ripped off to the tune of 100-150 baht per transaction) but I took the easy way out and took his offers.

I decided it was a stupid-tax for my poor planning. I hopped on the provided scooter and was taken three blocks to my hotel, the Thairungruang. My room looked like this with a lovely view of… nothing.

It was about eight o’clock by now, and I was a little hungry, but knew no one and nothing in the area. The women in the office gave me a nice pizza birthday before I left, and I had a loaf of garlic bread as “dinner.” I took that down with water and decided to walk around a bit. Maybe I’d find a market, maybe just have a beer and sit in a restaurant. With luck, I’d spot other tourists and talk to them a bit. I haven’t had much luck in that department in about three months so I was more expecting some solo drinking to relax and be excited for my 8 a.m. ferry.

I ventured out in the four (relative) directions: left, right, front, and back. No sense getting lost if I didn’t have to. I set out from my palace and went left… nothing. The right had similar. Surat Thani was apparently average in every regard. I didn’t see anything very touristy or markety. On my third pass, I found a food cart. I walked through a mini market of about fifteen carts. When I got to the other side, I saw the makings of a real market. It was about two blocks long with two side streets. I got one of my favorite Thai deserts, fried banana pancakes (I found out today [8/19] that they’re Muslim). I walked around a bit more since I wanted to find a tourist. I couldn’t find any, so I decided to grab a beer and head home. Beer, banana pancakes and maybe a show on my computer. I walked. And walked. And walked. I had my cardinal direction (the hotel is behind me and one street to the left) but the area was getting darker and darker. Less open shops and less street lights. Each turn that looked like it’d yield something promising became less well-lit. After a string of poor decisions like this, I came upon a small bodega with an old man drinking outside.

“Kuhn mee bia yen mai?” (do you have cold beer?) He answered in English, and I bought a beer. He asked where I was from, and where I’m going. We ran through the standard questions in English, and when he got up to get my beer he made a comment about being a little drunk. He had soda water and Hennessey next to him. We talked about what American whiskeys he knew, and before long his wife had pulled up a chair, and I was poured a double of Hennessy. If my time in Thailand has taught me anything, it’s that Thai guys like to drink with the foreigner.

Cheers! He had good English, and we spoke about how he was too old and busy to go fishing in Trang. A half-hour later, I had finished my drink and moved on.

As I made my way back, I was about a street away from my sign, and I saw a foreign couple. When I was getting hustled by the travel agent guy, a German couple came up. The people I saw looked similar. I decided to be a creep and follow them. I started about a half-block back and covered the distance quickly. Another block and a half and I was stepping on their heels. It’s nighttime, you’re in a foreign country and someone closed quite a bit of distance without making any attempt to pass you. What do you do? Act super friendly? Absolutely! They stopped at a street and I asked, “Hey, are you the German couple I saw earlier?” They were actually French and quite confounded. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I saw a couple earlier who looked remarkably similar. Sorry again. Hey, I’m sorry, but I’m here on my own, do you mind if I walk with you?”

Liam and Marie were from France and very friendly. They wanted to go to the market, and I followed along. I still had my beer and pancake waiting for me, so I was happy to coast. They browsed and stopped at a soup restaurant. We sat, and they ate. I pour us beer, and we talked through dinner about travel and our backgrounds. I mentioned it was my birthday, and Liam said I should have a cake. I laughed, but later when he went to get more beer, he came back with corn/coconut waffles (think coconut waffles with cooked kernels in it). “Well you have to have cake on your birthday, I hope this can make do.”

I was very pleased with how my evening turned out. They were very interesting, engaging people. I headed back to my room around midnight, pleased that travelers are a friendly folk.

As it turns out, just having a fan is horrible. I slept across the foot of my bed because that’s directly under the fan. Tossing and turning, I got up at 4 a.m. for a shower. I had the saddest little shower water pressure I’ve ever had. Stace, the pressure in your Alexandria house is quite easily five or eight times this. I actually had to use the bidet hose sprayer to get the shampoo out of my hair. I’m tired, cold, wet, naked, and soapy trying to lean over the toilet to get access to the sprayer. Not my best showing…

Aug 12

Up at 6:45, waiting for the bus at 7 to take me to the pier for the 8 a.m. ferry. They showed up at 7:30 to take me to another agency where I got on a full tuk tuk to go to another agency. By five of 8 I’m on the bus headed to Don Sak. A lovely Canadian woman is next to me via London. She is a third wheel for her sister and boyfriend and I’m solo, so it works out that can talk for the hour bus ride. I’m feeling great about the nature of travelers and traveling on my own. The only thing that gets me is it’s clear that I’m made a huge mistake bringing my laptop.

This isn’t the US, hotels get broken into much more easily here. Besides that though, everything is gravy! We arrive at the pier, and it’s chaos. There’s a sea of white people sunning and waiting for the ferry.

I lost the Canadians, and it’s a bit more intimidating to go up to a group out of the blue. Maybe I should have stuck to who I know…

A Thai guy calls for Koh Phangan, and the herd lurches forward. On the walk to the pier, I meet two more people, and we have nice talks. One or two people are much more approachable than the mass. Right, gotta keep this in mind. I follow one of the new people into the inside of the ferry, and we take pleather seats in the VIP section. We’re going to wait until they kick us out (it costs fifty or so baht to travel up there). I don’t trust the workers, so I get out before we’re approached and head downstairs to the regular inside. I see the Canadians and take a seat in front of them next to a pair of brown guys from London. I strike up a conversation with them, and soon I’m talking with Daan and Neil about American football and basketball and how the draft works compared to the international football (soccer) development programs. We talk the whole way and I’m happy, but I know the chaos of the post-bus and don’t want to get that for post-ferry. It’s also abundantly clear to me that everyone has booked hotels now, and I’m a bit of an idiot for winging it.

Getting off the ferry is more chaos, but with beautiful scenery.

I consider heading out on my own but knowing I have no idea where I am or how to meet people again, I decide to wait for Daan and Neil. I spot them and they agree to walk around a bit before finding a place to stay.

We walked a bit before knowing we had no idea how far it was to their place or where exactly we were. We got a taxi — every taxi is a pickup truck with benches on either side of the bed and a roof with some handles. We got a taxi and called out their place. We thought it’d be about twenty minutes, but it was about five because we had the wrong pier. Their place didn’t have any rooms.

The lady at the desk said no one around for about ten kilometers would have anything. I mentioned I just wanted a night because I would try to meet up with people from couchsurfing.com and she brightened up. She knew of a place nearby that could get me a small room in my price range (300-500 baht/night). I can still use the pool there if I’d like, too. One taxi later, I’m talking to Ak, from Holland about staying above his music venue, Sound. He can only give me 3-night minimum with 400 Baht/night for fan, 500 for a/c. More stupid tax for no booking ahead. I also don’t want to make that fan mistake again so I take the 500 a/c. My room is all walls and bed,
but it’s not touristy, so it’s not a target for break-ins. This can be insurance for my laptop. Ak is really accommodating. I think he knows he got a huge deal from me, because he seems like he’ll bend over backwards to help me.

“If I’m headed your way, maybe I can give you a lift. If you’re really stuck, and it’s 4 a.m. and you’re in trouble, call me. I’ll get you. Please don’t waste my time asking where the nearest 7/11 is; I just don’t want my guests in danger.”

I get a call from Daan and we make a plan to hang out by the pool at his place maybe hit the ocean. Before I go there I stop by the picturesque bungalow resort, Two Rocks, next to me. Check out their front porch pictures
compared to mine
.

The people at this place have stereotypical wooden bungalows with hammocks on the railings and a stone’s throw to the ocean. Nice.

I figure there’s a solid chance I’m not coming back before the end of the night, and I have no idea if I’ll see Daan and Neil again after this afternoon so I leave my camera in the room (Shhh! It’s under the mattress with my laptop and itouch. They’ll never look there!). Their beach is just as amazing as Two Rocks. We go into the ocean and are out 70 yards before the water is over my knees. It’s also about 80 degrees. I keep looking around and saying, “This isn’t natural. This isn’t right.” I have to keep my hand out in front of me. I’m waiting to run into the wall like in The Truman Show. It’s amazing.

We plan to meet up with some of their friends who are also on the island. After some pool time, they get showers. I’m in my soaking wet boxers and shorts. It’s Thailand, whatever, I’ll be fine. Daan asks me if I want to grab a shower. “Oh, well, I didn’t bring a change. I just have this.” “Yea but still, you want to get clean?” I agreed and he showed me to the shower, offered me shampoo, a towel, body wash, spray deodorant. Think about it, I met him like 6 hours ago. And he’s letting me use the shower and use of his stuff. These guys are friendly.

They’ve already eaten, but need cash, so we head down the street. They get cash and I get soup. Daan is Muslim and doesn’t drink (this is very, very important later) so Neil and I share a small bottle of whiskey on the taxi to Haad Rin (the beach where their friends and the party is). From the ferry to here, everything has been fairly flat, this all changes about five minutes into the drive. The taxi is jamming on the breaks before shooting down steep hills. The road goes back up almost before it’s finished going down, creating huge swings.

We’ve never been on this road before so we have no idea. It’s terrifying and spectacular. Just the right mix that makes you hang on and laugh. Every half-mile, we pick up another person or two. By the time we’ve arrived, we have a full taxi and an empty bottle. We asked to get dropped off at the hotel but got a street corner instead. We decided to just walk and hope for the best.

At this point, I didn’t realize that I had the only phone in the group, and we were unsure of the real name of the hotel. By chance, we turned a corner and found them. We talked and grabbed dinner. It turns out all six, Daan and Neil along with Amar, Vincent, Elaine and Arian (Are E On, not arian), were all dentistry students from the UK. They’re all very fun people with similar senses of humor to me.

We joked through dinner and went along the main street on Haad Rin beach. It’s full of the kinds of shops you’d expect for tourists. Shirts and clothes for the FMP, 7/11s or knock offs (24 Mart, 7/0 Mart, etc), clinics for small injuries, restaurants and bucket salesmen. For 200-300 baht, the bucket is the drink of choice at the party. It’s a small, quart-sized sand pail that you add a pint of liquor, a can of mixer, and a small energy drink of choice. For example, I usually got cheap Thai Sang Som rum, coke, and Red bull. You have to understand there are tables selling these buckets eeeeverywhere. You can’t throw a punch without hitting a guy selling you a bucket. We walked the street for a lap and got buckets. It was time.

We headed down to the beach, and I was taken aback. The weekend was supposed to build up to the full moon on the 14th. We were two days away, but it was still a really big party. Haad Rin beach is about a half-mile long, and while it wasn’t packed, it was certainly crowded on the first night. Every beachside plot had a bar or restaurant cranking dance or party music. It looked like was going to be a great weekend.

What put it over the edge you ask? Stumbling upon a group of people watching fire spinners. These are Thai guys spinning flaming broom handles and unnecessary speeds like this
(not my picture or even from Koh Phangan but it looked exactly like that. Twice as awesome live).
They twist and turn, throw them up and catch them. Sometimes they use chains with flaming balls on the ends called poi

(again, not my picture. Again, twice as awesome live).

I do the same thing with keys on lanyards sometimes, but it’s never as impressive.

We were pretty close, so I took my shirt off. My shoes followed because they were tripping me up in the sand. We watched for a bit and walked around. A little dancing and a free cab ride later found us at a pool party. Some place had free taxis driving along the street corralling drunken revelers to their bar/pool party.

We danced more and someone pointed out how thirsty I was, “Tim! Where’s your bucket? You need a bucket!” Great point, off to the bar we went.

Now that I had a bucket in hand I was better able to dance on the table. I saw we were a bit raised off the beach but it was very accessible. I danced my way close to the ledge that leads down to the beach. Seeing an opportunity to explore, I handed my bucket to the nearest person and jumped the ten feet to the beach. Down there I found a small floating platform and went to check it out (of course). There were a few people out there, and we were having a grand old time rocking the platform and passing around a bucket.

Forgive me, from here on out the details are a bit hazy. I saw a boat attached and thought I’d continue the adventure. I got on the unsteady boat, and just as I got my footing, I had a light flashed on me. Definitely, definitely a “get off my boat” light.

I got out and swam to shore. I didn’t hurt the boat — I was just trespassing, so when a Thai guy called to me, I kept walking. He grabbed my arm, so I ran. I didn’t want any part of it, and I was drunk, so I thought this was the logical thing to do.

They caught up and someone threw an arm around my neck/shoulders in a light head lock; I threw them away and stood my ground. They started berating me, wanting to know why I was on the boat (reasonable request) and that I pay 2000 baht for ruining the boat (unreasonable request). I did nothing wrong and just wanted to get out.

I was a bit undermanned but had more than my fair share of luck on my side. I was right in front of the club and my friends and a few others had been watching me. Sober Daan came to the rescue and said, “Hi can I help you? … He’s drunk. Don’t talk to him. Talk to me. What happened? … No, he didn’t ruin your boat. He’s sorry. What do you want?” They decided to call the police. The Thai guy dialed a number and talked in Thai, then gave it to Daan: “Why did you ruin the boat?”

It’s clearly not the police. They hung up, and Daan said he wanted the police to come here. The Thai guy said the police can’t come till morning, asked if we want to wait till morning. This was clearly just trying to get paid by drunk kids. They walked away a bit to talk more.

I’ve been silent, watching this happen around me, and started to think about it, “My friends didn’t do anything wrong. I’m the problem. What if I… remove the problem?” No one was looking and I just walked away, disappeared into the crowd.

It worked! I looked back once and no one was following me. I jumped into the nearest taxi, which happened to have the other British kids in it. Fantastic! My friends asked, “What happened? Where were you? Where’s your shoe?” Great questi-

What? My shoe?

I looked down. My shirt was lost to the night. Apparently so was one flip-flop. I jumped out of the cab (not moving yet) and crouched like a secret agent. Swept left, right, nothing. Back into the taxi. “I just had the strangest experience. Just go, go.”

We started driving, and I considered my flip without its flop. Well this isn’t going to work. I took it off and chucked it out of the back of the taxi. Again, it wasn’t my finest evening. We got back to their hotel, and they went for the key. I sat off to the side and started considering the evening. I was in the middle of Thailand with new people, almost had a very bad experience with an angry Thai guy, lost my shirt, my shoes and… yep, my phone.

Shirtless, shoeless, phoneless, and I had wandered away from my friends again. This night is going downhill. I’m not sure how much time had passed, and I didn’t know their hotel room number. I was still freaked out by the angry Thais, so I decided I just wanted to be by friends. I grabbed a taxi and headed to Daan and Neil’s. I just wanted to be by friends, to know someone had my back. It was the middle of the night; obviously, they didn’t answer the door. I tried the window, which opened.

Looking back, this whole story is ridiculous, and this is even worse. I was leaning in the window of two guys I had met that afternoon. They were sleeping so I tried to wake them. “Daan, Daan! It’s Tim,” I whisper-shouted. I shook Daan’s knee. (I’m leaning in over his bed). His head inched away from the pillow. I’m so surprised he didn’t kick me in the teeth or shout or something.

“It’s Tim, can I come in? Can I sleep here tonight?”

“What? yea, hold on.” He got up and walked away. I got up and sat on his window ledge and fell backwards into the room. He came back, “What happened to you? Why are you here?” I was speaking a mile a minute. “I don’t know, I’m not sure. Can I stay here? I’ll tell you tomorrow. Promise.”

He agreed, the poor guy. I laid on the floor. He was definitely bewildered and tried to get a pillow among other things. The manners on this one! I just kept up a mantra. “I’m fine. I’m fine, just go to sleep. Go to sleep.” Within minutes, the night mercifully ended.

Even now, a week later, I feel terrible about being such an ass that night. I’m so grateful he was kind to me.

Aug 13

What the hell happened? Daan, Neil and I got up and recounted our nights, Daan was able to fill in some gaps in the timeline. At some point Daan knew there was water in my future and asked for my phone. What a guy. Now I had a phone. We shook off the night and decided parted ways to clean ourselves up. I had to go search for my dignity. It’s about a mile plus to my hotel and I was pretty obviously having a walk of shame. It was a hot day, cloudless to match my shoe/shirtlessness. I grabbed a pair of cheap sandals and made my way back. Ak spotted me outside Sound, my accommodation. He made me some food and I grabbed a shower. Apparently Daan is a glutton for punishment because he called me with an invitation to hang out. I met up with him at the other guys’ hotel down in Haad Rin. We went to the pool and had a lazy afternoon.

As I said, before I came to Koh Phangan I found some people on couchsurfing.com at 6 p.m. there was to be a meetup. I left the Brits and walked to the beach bar where the CS people were meeting. Many of the group arrived that day and hadn’t walked the beach much, so we walked around. It was a very eclectic group. An American who traveled and made money along the way (he still thought dreadlocks were a good idea as he neared thirty, c’mon now), a Polish guy who similarly hopped from city to city every year or three, a Swiss couple who worked remotely so they could travel as they wanted making great money, a woman from Trinidad who lived in Istanbul on holiday before returning to the homeland, and a pair of American college girls to bring the group from normalcy. We drank, talked about common things: “Oh you got here today? Cool, cool, how long are you staying?” rinse, repeat, or what to expect from living away from home. We also got into some uncommon discussions like the bad rap Nigeria gives black people internationally or similarly strange topics. It was fun and I’m glad we met up. Around ten or so, I tried to meet up with the Brits but couldn’t locate them at a predetermined spot. I ended up losing both groups and wandering around, meeting new people and losing them again. I eventually met up with Amar and some classmates he found and had a blast. I got to watch the sunrise from the beach and grabbed a spot to sleep in Amar’s hotel room around 7:30. A friend of Amar’s and I were talking about breakfast places while a representative of a group of sleeping girls was shouting for silence from us. Apparently they had a 9:30 ferry to take. It was a funny situation after looking around the room for a minute or two, I counted six people, none of which lived in that room. The angry, sleepy woman did not find hilarity of our circumstances. A few naps later, I was ready to head back at 12:30. Sometime in my sleep Amar had returned, his friend had left and the angry women were nowhere to be seen and Vincent was still MIA.

Aug 14
At this point I had two ‘nights’ totaling 8 hours of sleep. Saying two of those hours were in a bed is generous. Saying any were in my room is lying. I meandered back to my hotel and got some more sleep. Sleep, shower, change and back at it. I hadn’t seen Daan or Neil since 6pm the previous day so I headed to the others’ hotel down by the beach. I hailed a taxi as I had become accustomed: see one coming and waive it down. Say where you want to go and get in back, expect to pay a 100 baht. I followed procedure and as I went to the back I was waived to the cab. I actually made small talk in Thai with the guy. I’d say I used closer to 70% Thai in that conversation. Whoa!

We got there and I didn’t have to pay for the taxi, perfect! I took a walk to appreciate the beach and got these pictures of the post-day/pre-night beach

I headed to the hotel. Amar was there and awake: “Hey man, where’d you go? [Did you] head to your place?” It was funny and comforting to see he thought I needed a reason to go back, like his the next question would ask why I didn’t just bring my bag there and save some time. These were really good guys. We grabbed dinner and a torrential downpour came through the area for a few hours. We were getting worried that it might ruin the big party tonight, but it broke. Fat and lazy from dinner, we lounged and decided we weren’t ready for the hard night of revelry coming at us from the FMP.

Amar and I tried to grab a pair of twenty-minute naps. Five minutes into the sleeping, ferry girls arrive. They needed money to pay the clinic for a shot because the angry one got stung by something and… I have no idea. I was half asleep and confused that they just took a ferry somewhere but were here again. They sent the money along, and as I looked I realized they were dressed wildly. The FMP would be in techincolor.

I compared my wardrobe to those around me and saw that in stark contrast to fluorescent yellows, oranges, and hot pinks, my black and dark grey weren’t going to cut it. As I noticed this, Amar offered me a bright blue and gold cricket jersey (Go Mumbai Indians!) “Here, you wear this. My gift to you. Don’t worry about it; it’s a knockoff. I bought it before I found the real thing.” These are generous, good guys.

Clad in my shiny new jersey, we met up with the ferry girls again outside of the clinic where they were putting on body painting clinic (see what I did there?). They were going crazy with designs, pictures, sayings, everything. I intended to be a no-paint stick-in-the-mud, but soon I was given my name on both arms because someone had extra paint. Then someone wanted a hand print, so I painted my hand to give the print. Then I spread paint on other hands so my other hand was painted. Someone wanted a yellow hand, and I agreed to get a hand print “slap” on my face. It’s a slippery slope.

We got buckets and approached the beach. Just from walking out a few steps, it was clear this was a very different beach. Each sidewalk entrance to the beach looked like an open floodgate. Bodies were streaming onto the beach in preparation for the night ahead. The beach was easily at least five times as crowded as the previous nights. There were more fire spinners, more signs made of fire and even a thirty foot flaming jump rope for partiers to jump over and, occasionally, into.

I’m sorry I couldn’t get better shots, here’s the best I managed

Everywhere was lit up, and you can see the rows of bucket sellers to the right in that first picture. There were other signs like the Full Moon Party one, a few made of fire. I tried to get a picture of the lights from far away, but well, you see how well that turned out.

The people dancing and partying took the form of a sixty-foot wall stretching from the bar towards the sea with maybe twenty feet by the water slightly less packed. It was like this for about a quarter-mile. Nowhere in that quarter-mile were you farther than arm’s distance away from the next person. Nowhere. We simply walked around and found a bar with great music and boogied. Somehow Daan and Neil found us, and it was like a reunion tour. Good music, buckets, quick friends, it was simply a glorious night. All I had to do was get to my hotel by 11:30 and be at the ferry for 12:30. I was already booked.

Aug 15
Awesome night, woke up in Vincent’s bed (again). Vincent’s gone (again). At least it was early it’s 8- It was 11:30. Crap. I grab my crap and give Amar a shake. I wish I could give a proper goodbye to all six of my British friends, but no luck, “Hey man, thanks for everything. I had a blast with you guys.” “Yea mate, we should do it again.” And with that I was gone. Up the street, caught a taxi, grabbed a shower and my bag, and Ak gave me a lift to the ferry. Way less drama than I expected in the waking seconds of my day. For all the excitement and merriment of the ferry in, this one looked defeated. Everyone clearly partied through most of the night and stumbled to the ferry. Many still had body paint on, it might as well been war paint at this point. FMP 1 Partiers 0.

I got back safely, soundly, and uneventfully. P’Aon picked me up at the minibus station and even made me a nice late dinner of a Thai omelette (kai tod) and rice. All in all, it was a great weekend that only cost me about six thousand baht (200 dollars), a shirt, an old pair of sandals, a toenail and some dignity. Well worth it.

So that 700 baht P’Won owes me, I don’t think I’m going to see it again. That said, he’s definitely trying to make it up to me in dinners. When I look at dinner as a 60 or 70 baht affair, he’s nearly there. I told you guys, he’s not good at poker, but he loves it, God bless him. He told me he lost two thousand baht the other day. He plays with friends; how do you lose that much playing with friends? He gets 7k a month as a fireman and 3k a month from boxing. One day — no one afternoon and he’s out one fifth of his monthly salary. You’d think he’d have a limit or something, I clearly don’t get gambling.

Anyway, as I said P’Won has been having me to his house for dinner nightly. The whole thing is quite an experience, I thought I’d share. Every day at practice I’ve been running or skipping rope, working on the bag for a bit, and then training with P’Won or grappling with the other fighters (fighting for position and trying to knee the other guy in the ribs). As everything is winding down and we’re stretching or shadowboxing, P’Won emerges from the makeshift locker room saying, “Tim! Eat rice, go home I.” (Tim, come have dinner at my house). A nod and an “ok, ok” and I’m getting a rinse shower, throwing on my backpack, and heading out to P’Won’s. We cruise through the small neighborhood for about 45 seconds and stop at “house, my mother, my friend I” (the house/shop of his friend’s mother). It’s a small bodega and we sit outside and pass a shot glass of ya dong back and forth. Most nights we have a pint, some nights, just 8 oz. We talk, say hello to whoever drops by and head to his house. Most of our conversation is very simple, comments about training or being tired. Very very generic. P’Won likes to throw in comments saying how he doesn’t like money and how another guy, a famous boxer named Put Lorlek, is a worse trainer, but commands hefty sums from farangs because of name recognition. He really likes to hammer on P’Put for being a bad trainer. “I you, no money. No. Put Lorlek, farang farang, farang. Neung dueon farang give Pur Lorlek eight nine- nine thousand. Neung dueon farang five Put Lorlek nine thousand.” (foreigners give Put Lorlek nine thousand baht for one month of training). “Put Lorlek one two three four :with accompanying punches: neung loy (one hundred). No, no, mai dee.” That’s also the cadence of our conversations. It’s frustrating at times, but comforting knowing he’s trying. Sometimes the difficulty in speaking makes it frustrating I forget it’s nice to just get conversation.

We drive our motorcycles to his house and sit in his living room. It consists of an open ten by twelve by twenty room with mostly bare walls (save one corner plastered with pictures of the king, queen, and various monks), a few bird cages, and a bed. The bed is where you can always count on seeing his P’Wat’s grandfather Pooh (the Thai word for grandfather). I think I’ve described him before, but he’s just an interesting character. He’s got a full head of grey hair, the wrinkles and tiny face that makes you think if stereotypical super old Asian men. He’s always in an oversized t-shirt with a cloth wrapped around his legs like wearing a towel after a shower (that’s a traditional SE Asian thing). He apparently has great site still, horrible hearing (he’s never heard a thing I’ve said to him at any volume from five feet away), and a bum hip. He’s 89 years of ya dong drinking, hand rolled cigarette smoking glory. P’Won is hilarious in how he celebrates every time Pooh finishes a cup. Pooh typically drinks one shot of ya dong mixed with some water and P’Won says “ahhhh grandfather I very strong, good good. Haha, very good. He no walk but very strong.” I want to have a drink and have Tige celebrate like that. I come in wai to Pooh and sit down. Wai is the term for the closed handed bow. P’Won goes in the back to say hello to his wife Mee-ya (Thai word for wife or his wife’s name, I’m not sure). He sits and pours a drink, within ten minutes Mee-ya and his 7-year-old son bring out three or four plates of food and two dishes of rice. I’ve had all kinds of delicious food there: curries, tom yum, clams, chicken innards, fried eggs, fruit platters, and more. P’Won doesn’t eat because he doesn’t to eat when he’s drinking and a parade of his family come through. I’ve met a set of parents, a brother and sister, and his kids. I have no idea if the adults are related to him or his wife, but there they are. We talk about nothing more and sometimes his son sits with us. We practice some English and sip on ya dong. P’Won tells me parts of his back story, I understand parts of story about having a chance to teach in Phuket, but Mee-ya was pregnant and didn’t leave family. I now know that Mee-ya is ok with him going to boxing, drinking and not eating, providing food to me, no problem — if he gets another woman though she’ll hit him and yell and cry. I just shake my head and laugh. Abruptly as we start, It seems the second I have a clean plate P’Won says to me “ok, thank you very much, you go home. Good luck. You drunk, you drive slow slow. See you tomorrow.” He’s halfway through his line sometimes before I realize he’s giving me the boot. Impressive really.

I’ve been going to eat with P’Won for a bout a week. Well, when no one was looking I broke a hundred. I’ve been here for a hundred days. Don’t get me wrong, I know I know I’ve been here for each and every one of them, but they are starting to add up. Another email another milestone. I think the days are going faster partly because I haven’t been counting them. I know you guys like a bit of emailing, but I think reflecting on each day made it tough. How much longer is five minutes when you’re staring at the clock? It’s a bit of that. Every week I get a bit more embedded in how this year will be is. I’m not on a yearlong vacation in hammock on the beach paradise; I’m in a factory working fifty hours a week. That said, I do have opportunities here that I won’t have back in the states so I’m trying to travel when I can. I have a three-day weekend coming up and will be going to Koh Phangan all of it and then some. I’m going to try to meet up with internet people from CouchSurfing.com, hopefully make some fast friends and have a great weekend.

I’m getting a little comfy here and had some moments that made me feel accepted or at least acknowledged as part of the scenery. Yesterday I skipped practice to take care of some things for my trip and I had the chance to go to the market for the first time in a while. I walked by a few of my normal places and the fried chicken lady said she thought I went home. She’s not so lucky. I’m here for a year. The lady who made me bad curry once is very nice to talk to. She asked where I’d been. Her cart neighbor gave me a sweet that I think are Thai monkey balls. Doughy balls rolled in a sweet sauce and covered in coconut shavings. P’Ton, the guy with pad thai who I’m very friendly with, asked where I’d been and we talked a bit. I mentioned I relaxed today instead of practice and his friend told me to come play soccer with them.

On a similar vein, I was homesick and a little hungover last weekend. Sitting outside trying to let the breeze blow away my headache, P’Aon sat down by me. He said he noticed I was homesick/miss home (kit ting baan). We talked about how I miss America and will go back in a year. He misses his family in Bangkok and goes back about once a year. We talked on that vein a few different times this week and it was just nice to kind of relate to someone. There’s not much to say, but the sympathy was nice.

One last thing: it’s my birthday (you thought I’d ignore it all email?). I didn’t expect anything at work because for the most part it seems like the Thai people aren’t big on celebrating them. They may go out for a meal, which the birthday person pays for, that’s all I’ve found. I wasn’t expecting anything, since everyone knew I was heading out after work. Just before lunch I got a call from Apple saying not to eat much because there would be a small get together for me from the main office. Just after lunch I went over and they had pizza! It was touching and funny that they got the most American thing they could think of for me. The last time I had pizza with them was just after I arrived and I remarked how much I missed it. It was nice of them to remember.

Wikipedia says birthdays are recognized in the time zone of birth, so I’m combining my Thai birthday with my real birthday for 35 hours of birthday glory. To celebrate, I’m going to Koh Phangan and something called the Full Moon Party. Supposedly it’s 30k people on a beach with dance music. Wish me luck… (This has since happened, but I didn’t get a chance to send this email before I left. The whole Koh Phangan email is coming soon)

I miss you all a lot,

Tim

Yep, just some assorted quick notes. Nothing much in the way of actual plot here:

Language is a tricky thing. Neung got transferred to a new office, as I said a few weeks ago. Ra started sitting in his desk to be out of direct fire from the A/C unit. She was poking around his desk and found condoms (HR gave them out after someone attended a seminar on AIDS). Ra said “Ooh, P’Neung has a kingdom!”

“What?”

“P’Neung, he has a kingdom. Arai, na? (What is it?)” She held up a strip of 3 condoms.

“Condoms. Those are definitely condoms, not kingdoms. Veeeery different”

“Oooooh, condoms :giggles:”

The absurdity of finding condoms in the office desk was lost on absolutely no one.

I was working at the EcoLine press and standing next to one of the project leads. I know he’s about average height, a nothing-special kinda tall guy man. Then I realized I was about an inch or so taller than him. Oh, yeah, this iiiis Asia isn’t it? Twenty-three years, short years, have been somehow erased by a few kind-of tall months. Switching from an inch or two above normal height to almost an inch below is going to a little like Gulliver’s travels and possibly send me into a depressive spiral. I’ll be forced to overcompensate with good whiskey, better food and great people. I think I’ll manage.

It’s rambutan season. You know how I know? I practically swim through them to work every day. They’re universally 10 baht per 1 kilo (or bag) and eeeeveryone sells them. Thailand is a ‘throw your garbage on the ground’ kind of country, so the skin/shells are everywhere. It’s like going to a church baazar/festival and seeing those little lotto tickets everywhere. Rambutans are pretty good, but it’s also durian and mangosteen seasons. I showed you guys mangosteens before in an email, they look like plums but are structurally oranges with thicker skin. Mangosteens are the best of the group. I thought there were no fruit seasons here because it’s the same weather all year, so discovering seasons made me want to investigate. I now know that the green oranges are in season in Novemberish. They’re green, not orange, a little bigger than tangerines, and not acidic. They’re basically super oranges. Mango and pineapple seasons are in March and April climate, so I’ll take them as going away presents. I can’t wait for the mangos, easily the best of all Thai fruits.

I’ve actually been productive at work this week; it even started snowballing to a small degree. Monday I had a conversation about a new mold ejection method, brought it up with the higher ups. In my ongoing struggle against the Goliath that is the sawdust feeder, I have been working with the machining R&D guy to develop a new tool. The last two days we tried a few plans unsuccessfully. It’s been frustrating, but the good kind of frustrating where you know there’s a solution, and you just have to find it. It has really reminded me of my design work from college. It’s made this week very enjoyable at work. We don’t converse much as we’re working, but it’s fun work, and that’s half of the battle in enjoying work. I’d venture to say I’ve enjoyed work this week, and if I can keep up this level of involvement, we’ll be ok for the rest of my contract. Next week we’re going to prototype another method or two, as many as I can dream up it seems till something sticks. Also, the new press came in for the ecoline. The opening between the top and bottom is only about 18 inches high. This will barely be acceptable for small molds and straight up not work for larger ones. I can’t wait to see who has to bite the bullet on the $30k mistake. Not it!

Speaking of the remaining portion of my contract, we’re quickly approaching P-Day. I’m not talking about my birthday (B-Day) which is also coming up, this is P-Day. The day when I have nine months left and can get a girl pregnant and leave the country before it’s ever born. Who else is super excited? Show of hands?

I get asked a few questions wherever I go. “Do you drink whiskey? Do you like Thai food? Do you like Thai girls? Do you have a girlfriend?” Without fail, I’ll be asked at least 3 of those questions whenever I have a conversation longer than two lines. I’ve started to take it in stride, as well as the plan of any male to find me a Thai girlfriend.

P’Aon actually took action last week, though. I was at practice and got a call from P’Apple saying that my P’Aon called her and my Thai friend was at the house and should they wait for me. Now everyone I know is either from the factory, Muay Thai, or the market. The market was going on, and I was at muay thai so it couldn’t be them. P’Aon knows everyone I know at the factory. I raced home because I thought it might be important. That sly dog, he told Apple that to get me home.

As I got in the house, P’Aon pulled me aside, “Tim and uhh, I and you and lady friend for you, Yeah? Haha, lady friend and uhh, perfect ::waving hands at his face::. Yes, and uhh lady friend for you, haha. You, no problem?” He was giddy.

To mention how tired I was, or how creepy this seemed would be like kicking a child before taking their candy. “Erm, yeah sure P’Aon. No problem. Pom mai roo. Sabai dee (I don’t know. I am good)” I had little idea what was going on, I just wanted to put my bag down. We went inside, and P’Aon had his friend and his friend’s female cousin over. This was his ‘lady friend’ for me. We were introduced, and I grabbed a shower.

I have no idea what he told her, or what exactly was happening. I went down, and Aon and his friend quickly reshuffled so that the only open space was next to the girl, May. How convenient… P’Aon was tittering at the other end of the couch as I introduced myself more formally and talked to May. She is Thai, but spends much of her time in Singapore, so she knows English fairly well. That last part, the English, that’s the extent of what we have in common. She is in her late-twenties or mid-thirties and works in Singapore doing some kind of reception work, she doesn’t do anything in Trang, and we have no idea about each other’s culture. Oh, she does know America has black people, and that scares her. Like P’Aon said, perfect.

We talked for a bit, and the four of us went to a western bar to listen to music. With how much we didn’t have in common, it was great to have the loud music as an excuse. It was a fun night overall; it was hilarious and extremely creepy to see P’Aon throw his eyebrows up and nod every time I looked at him. He kept shooting me, “Tim, you uhh, ok? You and lady friend, yeah?”

Sure, P’Aon, no problem.

Sidenote, we brought some whiskey (actual whiskey, Johnny Walker Red) to the bar. In Thailand, the wait staff refills your drinks and makes money off of the number of soda waters and waters you use. After my second drink I was basically drinking whiskey flavored water. I held it up next to a glass of water and had trouble distinguishing them. I’m sorry, Mr. Walker. Having the wait staff circle like vultures was unsettling. As soon as I was 1/4 through my drink, –plop– ice, a drop of liquor and water to the brim. I figured out their game, and for my last drink, finally poured myself an actual Johnny Walker on the rocks. Ahhh, that’s what I remember from America.

I almost got in trouble at work. The big boss came to the ecoline to see how it was coming. Apparently he wasn’t impressed. Bua told me that he “wasn’t excited about our progress on new ecoline, and he not happy with the Tim-work of the project.”

Oh crap. I have one job here. I need to impress him so I can have a stunning rec for my next job. He’s singled me out. I needed to confirm, “He doesn’t like the Tim-work? ::pointing at myself::” “What? No, no, the teamwork, T-E-A-M.” Some days it’s harder to understand her than others, but at least I’m still in the big boss’s good graces, haha…

I have a cool couple of weeks coming up. I think I’m going to pick clams with Neung on Aug 1, Neung is opening his new house with a party on the 8, I plan to go to the Full Moon Party in for the 12-15th, and my friend Matt is tentatively coming to Thailand for the 26-30. I’m really excited. They’ll be my first attempts at traveling in Thailand. I’ll have a better understanding of what the bus system is like and grabbing hotels. The other foreigners I’ve talked to in the area said they do a lot travel, so I’m assuming that’s a fair bit of what I’ve been missing. I’m excited to see what’s out there.

There’s a phenomenon in Thai culture called a kik or a keek, something like that. I’m not sure if there’s a male equivalent, but for women, it is a male friend that is more than a friend but not a boyfriend. Younger people do it, so Ra at 22 has a kik or two along with a boyfriend, but Bua at 28 only has a 5 yr boyfriend. Ra gets like presents and little tokens, favors, all sorts of things. I’m trying to decipher what’s going on, but Bua and Ra think it’s just business as usual. I think it’s like an emotional/non-physical boyfriend. These are strange people in a strange land. Daren, do you have any insight on this one?

I thought I lost a lot of weight being here, 12 lbs at the peak, but I think it was a combination of 2 months of diarrhea and basically going on an Atkins diet + Rice. Now that I’ve started to eat crackers, cereal, and delicious carby sweets, I’m back to a more normal weight and less emaciated.

So I loaned money to P’Won. He was supposed to pay it back yesterday, but didn’t. He’s invited me to his house the two of the last few days, and keeps mentioning how I don’t have to pay him for training. I can’t tell if he’s gesturing at maybe we’re friends and he doesn’t have to pay me back (not true), or he’s saying it as a dig on another guy at the gym who just took on a foreigner to train for a month for a large large fee. Either way, I’m out 700 baht. He gave me 300 while playing poker last night (Sidenote: cards are illegal in Thailand because apparently the only thing you can do with them is gamble). Yes, I got 300 of my 1000, but it turns out P’Won is really bad at gambling. He explained to me one dinner that he lost four grand earlier that week. Watching his style of play, it’s no wonder. He kind of drowns losses and celebrates each win with a mini shot of ya dong (Thai whiskey/moonshine).

It was fun to spectate watch P’Won make horrible decisions in this weird game. Each player is dealt five cards. Each turn, you put down high cards or pairs/triples in an attempt to get the lowest total (Ace is 1, numbers are numbers, Jack/Queen/King are ten) and can call for a count at any point. Each hand is worth sixty baht, unless you call a count and are wrong, in which you lose the amount you would have won (60 baht x 4 other players). As a fun little extra, whenever you can match the card of your predecessor (he throws a jack, you throw a jack) they give you 20 baht. There are some intricacies I know I don’t know, like maybe automatically being ranked better for having fewer cards, but that’s the gist of it. P’Won was really bad at knowing when to call.

That’s my collection of thoughts for this period. Like I said, there’s no plot because that’s the week — it’s been a plotless week.

Please send me emails. It’s always great to open a little window into your lives. I G-chat or video chat most of you, but there’s nothing like a pure five minute feed of what you think is important for me to know about what’s going on. I miss you guys a bunch, see you in a baby gestation period!

Tim

These’ll be in no particular order and meander quite a bit, but that’s how the days have been going. Also it’s been so long I’m not sure of the timeline. Last note, sorry for the typos. I don’t really proofread and don’t feel like starting now, haha.

I might see a buddy from Duke! My friend, Matt Byrne, is gong to Singapore for a week in late August, and he’s coming to Thailand for a weekend. I’m going to meet up with him! I’ll stay realistic and not be definite till he has a ticket and I have my days scheduled off, but holy crap, it’ll be cool to see him. It will be so awesome to have a friend here, and Matt is a very good one. I haven’t seen him in about a year, so I’m very excited. Also, when I’m homesick I can just say, well it’s only x till I see Matt. And once he comes and goes, it’ll be four months. Crazy right? Time flies.

I injured my toe, as you all know, so I took off from Muay Thai for a bit. My toe got better, but some people were in from BKK to test a new mold, and I pulled some OT. From sitting in front of my computer to standing around and working with the presses, I was too beat to do even an extra hour or two. The time away from training was welcomed though. I had felt like I was in a rut of mindlessly working and working out. I just relaxed and vegetated, sure, but it felt nice to do it. I was able to accept any invitations that came along or just relax. I found a small piece of wood from the factory and have been (very, very) slowly trying to turn the square profile into a circle. I’m pretty sure I”m going to end up with an octagon and a dull knife. I’ve been slowly reading up on some meditation and may head over to a temple this weekend to see if they have meditations or anything I can jump in on them. I’m not quite sure how that’ll work or if they speak English there. If they don’t I’ll smile and bow and pretend I took a wrong turn. My plan is flawless!

I spent a lot of time troubleshooting new molds last week. Often I would be ‘part’ of a group attempting to use the new mold to make new pieces and working on issues as they came up. This is standard fair for new tools/machines in an engineering environment. I was ‘part’ and not part because as these issues came up, the men would discuss them. There was me, Neung, the Dir of Operations, a few sub directors, head of maintenance, the overall boss of the factory, the MD, the big boss, etc. The Ecoline (sawdust project) is arguably the future of the company, so we we get closer to production they want to keep an eye on it. Issues would come up and we would huddle around whatever we were talking about (the mold, a drawing, a completed piece, etc). They would jabber on in Thai, and I would try to make out what they were saying by gestures. If I was lucky, Bua might be there and she would say “ok, now we talk about X” with X being a subject, not a line by line translation. After I digested the subject, I would try to interject a solution. Great, ghostface, we talked about that idea ten minutes ago. There’s no I in team. It makes me feel incredibly impotent. I just try to absorb all I can and knock the projects they do give me out of the park.

As for being part of the team, I heard back from Green Toys, the company I’m hoping to work with after my year here. The guy is still very nice and his response to my email was somewhere between tepid and warm. I crafted this lovely email, and he more or less said, “Enjoy your time there, contact me when you’re closer to the end date.” It was the expected response, but it just makes me think. If I want to work for a startup, like GT is, I have to accept I most likely won’t lock up a job till the end. So much can change so quickly with them, plus there’s so little bureaucracy that he can make a decision, and I could be working the next week. Pretty understandable that a company of six people isn’t focused on the next recruiting cycle. They’re booming, so there’s even a chance they could be bought in the next year or two. Wouldn’t that put a damper on my employment prospects?

I’ll continue to sculpt an email for gauging interest with other companies… since my top prospect isn’t much of one right now. Oh! Sam, my roommate through 3 years of college is taking a job in SF next July, he contacted me the other day, and we made jokes about getting an apartment together! I know it sounds obvious, but it was cool to actually hear it from him that it was a possibility. I mean, it’s still a dream to get a job in SF, but at least I know rolling that into living with my best friend isn’t off the table if I can manage the first part. It’s just a pleasant thought to keep with me…

I don’t have much to say often, which is why there’s now huge lapses in my emails. My physical experiences are fairly lacking now as I said in my last email, so I’m left to introspection. I figure I didn’t want to fill you guys up with strange observations and personal insights I’m having, as well as the large flow of just mental things (how I feel about adjustment, the weird mini epiphanies I have, etc). Besides, there’s only so many ways to say you’re homesick, right? When I’m at home and can write I’d often rather be chatting with friends/family than still be locked up in my head writing. I know I complain a lot; Stacey has told me that some of my emails just sound sad. You guys hear the worst of it, because when I write I get more introspective. When I’m having fun and am out doing things, I don’t have time to write, so it’s usually after all that has worn off that I email you. I apologize for that. It’s a legitimate part of the experience, so I feel I should record it and share it with you, but how many times can you hear about how it’s tough here? I complain, but I don’t do anything about it. I usually get homesick at work, and by the time I get home, it has lessened. I just want to relax and not deal with language lessons or finding other foreigners. I’m strangely apathetic to my own concerns.

I’ve noticed the longer I go without music or podcasts, the clearer my resting train of thought is. It’s like, if I listen to music and podcasts, shows, my mind races around with half clips of songs and strange scenarios from the show/podcast. Once that stuff leaves my head, it settles down, and I can think about more complex things. It’s really interesting and has helped me relegate my ipod to the times when I’m homesick and need to stay out of my head. I get to make these little epiphanies from thinking through things. For example, I realized I can be good at some things, but not everything. I can’t have a strong interest in everything and do everything I want. People who are good at things sacrifice expertise in others. Part of having a happy life is picking the right things to focus on. It’s obvious once you think about it, but those are the kinds of things I’m realizing.

I saw my second major city in Thailand. I went to the land of the Daren, Hat Yai, to meet with a professor at Prince Songkla Univeristy about the sawdust. It was a good-sized city with many schools, and PSU is huge. I can see how Daren had such a great time there. I didn’t get to walk around much, but I went to a market, and it was pleasant. I’d be interested in visiting for longer at some point, maybe getting some pointers of what to check out from Daren.

Do you guys remember that Peace Corps guy Daniel who I met at PlanToys about a month ago? We were going to meet up and do stuff, but he was really flaky? Well, turns out he wasn’t flaky, he just had dengue fever and was laid up in a hospital for a few weeks. Friday night I found a pair of text messages from him about meeting up in Tab Teing Saturday night. He even assured me there would be white people! Who could pass that up, right? Haha.

He let me know we would be getting a hotel in the city since there’d be some drinking, and they can’t drive anyway. The Peace Corps kids cannot use motorcycles (not even as passengers), so they rely on tuk tuks and busses to get around. I got there around six Saturday night, and we drank a bit and grabbed dinner. I had a ham baguette, which was hilariously just the saddest ham sandwich I’ve ever seen on a hot dog bun. I kid you not. Daniel and his friend Tanner (also Peace Corps) got burgers, which were about 2 inch diameter patties on a full sized bun, less sad than my baguette, but c’mon now… At least I know where I can get something close to a burger if I need it. After dinner, we remembered it was a holiday, and no one would be selling alchohol openly. We could buy from small shops, but would be unable to go to a farang (foreigner) club or drink at bigger restaurants. (I also met up with the Redditers on a no-alcohol holiday. Coincidence?) That put a slight damper on the evening, but we found walked around the Tab Teing market before heading back to the hotel.

They had the most specific pizza marketing I’ve ever seen there. This pizza box touted “The number one Muslim pizza in your local market in Thailand.” This pizza was just great, really the best… muslim pizza I’ve ever had… in a local market anywhere… in Thailand. How much more specific can you get? It was hilarious to see, but just bizarre when you think about the marketing meeting where they decided that line.

It was a lot of fun to hang out with Americans. It was three Peace Corps members and me. They were intimidating when we were talking about Thailand because their level of training (cultural and language) really came through. They’ve been here for six months now and had training for at least 2 of them (maybe 4). The level of immersion they were at was really impressive, but even they thought they were miles from being a part of the community. It was strange to see just how far I am from fitting in here but comforting when they thought I was doing well for just being dropped in with nothing. Their training makes them able to interact better, but it jaded them because they see the “oh don’t worry about it, it’ll be fine” attitude many Thais have. They jokingly suggested that maybe I was better off not knowing what it was like. I think I’d take my chances after learning the language, haha. Oh, fun fact. The 3 twin bed hotel room we stayed in was 600 baht for the night, that’s about 7 bucks a person. Thailand is fairly cheap, yeah.

Lastly, I broke one of the main rules I read about Thailand (and international non-western travel) and loaned a thousand baht to my trainer, P’Won. He caught me off guard, and I know he’s had some unexpected travel this month. He said he’d pay me on the 30th, which makes sense, because everyone gets paid at the end of the month. I mean, I know where he lives and works, it’s not like the guy can dodge me. I won’t loan to anyone else, but I hope he doesn’t make the one time a bad decision. I like him, and it would really make me question the muay thai gym if he effed me over on this. I think it’ll be fine, but it’s an interesting thing to consider. Loaning 35 bucks to get him through the month, sure. If I was making 60k a year I think this would be the equivalent of a 140 dollars or so. I’d loan someone that. We’ll see if I regret it, or worse, open the flood gates for others to ask me. At least now I know it’s a possibility and I’ll be prepared to say no.

I miss you guys a lot. I know that’s obvious but it doesn’t hurt to say that I think about you often.
Be well,
Tim

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Adventures in Thailand

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