Monday, December 31, 2007

The land of Chaos

During the last week of 2007, I flew from Tokyo to Bangkok and spent 7 days traveling around Thailand. The first few days were very busy with traveling and getting used to the atmosphere. However, on Thursday, I had the urge to begin chronicling my journey. I have been meaning to transpose them into a blog entry as I am sure many of you would like to know what Thailand is like. Finally, the time has come.

Thursday, December 27th, 2007
I am writing you from Thailand, or what I like to call the "land of chaos". I am drinking and chainsmoking `round midnight beside the pool under the guise of getting more ice for my injured leg. My travel buddy, Chu, warned me against drinking, as it will probably cause me to bleed again. However, I am in pain, and these Japanese aspirin aren't helping much at all. I am at the mercy of Singha beer.

You see, about 2 hours ago, I fell off of my motorbike. Luckily, it happened at about 10 at night. I mention time only as an explanation of how traffic dramatically decreases once darkness falls. Had I the same accident during rush hour, I'd likely to have been pancake-ified. Allow me to clear up the next obvious inquiry---No, I had not been drinking. Crazily enough, I’ve remained sober 2 nights in a row due to motorbike riding. I broke my keitai (cell phone) in the spill.

I also have a gigantic gash on my knee, and I even managed to reopen the wound that I got on my foot yesterday while attempting to climb up the coral in order to sit upon a rock in the middle of the ocean. It was pretty stupid endeavor, now that I think back on it.

My reasoning was to appear as Jesus walking on water, as the rock was merely inches underneath the surface of the water. Anyway, for future notice, coral can be very sharp, and the current of the water seems stronger when you attempt to steady yourself onto a stable object. I failed in getting onto that rock, so I climbed one that was a little easier.

I blame my fall from the bike on my own ignorance of not knowing the proper procedures for stopping fast. Chu was ahead of me on our way back from eating at the food stands lining the Nathon ferry pier. Dinner was delicious, by the way. I had Pad Thai made right in front of my eyes, and I dare say, it appears so simple, yet I doubt I’ll be able to make it that delicious again. I bought some squishy yellow pastry stuff that tasted of banana and coconut, and of course, I washed it all down with fresh coconut juice in its original gangster husk.

So as I was saying, I was somewhat struggling to keep up with Chu, (as I was a bit scared of riding at full speed when my headlight was a bit dim and the street was so dark, yet I still tried) I saw something fly out of her basket and I had the urge (which of course comes from all the stupid action movies I’ve watched in the past) to lean to the side and catch it. Of course I didn’t do that, but I did begin to stop.

The bike I had rented before that one had very weak brakes, which I had to press really hard in order to get my bike to a full stop. However this bike, which I had only since that morning had one weak brake and one strong brake. As I was stopping I squeezed both as hard as I could. This made it lose balance and slide. I slid right along. As I was lying on pavement with my hands holding my bloody knee, I shouted “itai! Itai!”, which means “pain” in Japanese. However, they use it as “it hurts” and I’ve grown accustomed to saying this whenever I hurt myself.

Anyhow, the Thai couple, who was right behind me, had made it to me first. I was pretty disorientated and the guy had picked up the bike off of me, while his wife knelt before me squeezing me leg. Once I realized this, I kept saying “it’s okay, it’s okay”. I wanted her to stop squeezing my leg, but I guess she was just checking to make sure it wasn’t broken. At the time, I felt the only way I could get her to leave me alone was to stand up and prove to her that I was okay. So I did, but boy was it painful. By this time, Chu had arrived and convinced them I was okay and they left.

I wobbled over to some steps, sat down and smoked 2 cigarettes. I was very disappointed in myself, and worried how this was going to affect the rest of my trip. I was also worried just how injured I really was. However, Chu’s calmness regarding the situation made me a little less worried, however she did say something that hadn’t caught my attention before then.

Since that night I had left my helmet in the hotel room, she said that I am persistent in trying to take care of other people and make them safe, but maybe I want someone to tell me to be careful. The conversation ended there, however, you know me. A conversation with me never ends when the talking stops. If something’s interesting, I’ll think about it for a long time until I come to a conclusion about it.

Anyhow, the reason she said that may have come from the events that happened at the full moon party in Ko Pan Ngon.

Christmas Eve, 2007

Ko, I learned on this trip, means island in Thai. Yes, this island hosts a huge dance party on the beach every month on the full moon. It just so happened that my trip coincided with these dates, so of course I went. I had a few beers at our hotel while getting ready for the party. The night view from our room’s balcony was magnificent.

The reflection of the moon onto the water made a line on the ocean, illuminating the entire sea. After cabbing to the ferry dock, I was surprise to find that we would be taking a speed boat to the island. It was quite exciting. By the time I arrived at the party, I was sober again. Upon Chisa’s recommendation, I bought a “bucket”.

A bucket consists of just that, a plastic beach bucket with a 5th of booze, a mixer, and an energy drink. I chose a blue one which accompanied rum, coke, and a Thai red bull. They mix it for you when you buy it and there I began the night’s journey. Walking toward the music, it was about midnight. My friend, Dave, has this term he uses to describe crazy drunken parties. I had never heard it before, but it really is the perfect description of what the Full Moon Party on Dec. 24th, 2007 was: a shit show. By the time we arrived, everyone was already wasted.

During my late teens and early twenties, I used to frequent giant, rave-like events with then raver friends Kenny, Janine, and Daniella. The full moon party was a slight reminder of those times, however the atmosphere was completely different. There was intoxication, but it came in the form of hideous drunkenness instead of love drugs. There was musik, but it came of shitty DJs playing radio station hits instead of dancey electronicky stuff. There was love, but it came in the form of sex on the beach instead of people helping those in trouble on their tummies with their face in the sand. There were booths and vendors, but in the form of Senor Frogs, and the local Thai venders selling their food, obvious to everybody that they hated these kids on their beach.

I saw a girl trying to drag her drunken friend away from these guys trying to take her shorts off, and when I asked her if she needed help, she told me to go away. When we were leaving the party on a speed boat, and this young kid couldn’t awake his buddy, and left his friend behind, I slapped the boy awake and forced him to climb out of the boat to find his friends. When we were on the open back taxi trucks on the way back to the hotel, I suggested that someone hold onto the drunken stranger hanging off the back of the truck, and I was told to mind my own business.
(a daytime photo of the truck taxi)

Seeing these things under the sensitivity of the full moon left me in a puddle of reminiscence for the old times when friends were friends and even the youth felt compassion for their fellow kind. Perhaps I wasn’t drunk enough to drown out my ability to notice the things around me, or perhaps I’ve grown up and turned annoying, or perhaps things really have changed. I can’t be sure.

Anyway, this was why Chu had made that comment as we smoked our cigarettes and prepared to make our way back to the hotel. When I managed to get myself back on my bike, I was terrified. I knew there was no choice but to ride back home if I wanted to avoid any further hassles. So I rode slowly through the dark.

Tears began to form, and I felt a great surge of emotion, of helplessness, dependence, loneliness. I felt like a child, and I did what any child would do in this situation, I cried. I sobbed, letting my feelings surge, and I yearned for the comfort of my mother. I fantasized that she would be waiting at the hotel, come with me into the shower and wash my wounds. She’d insist that I move my hands from the cut so she could pour antiseptic. She’d let me squeeze her hand if it hurt too much. She’d help me into my pajamas and pull the covers and talk to me until I fell asleep. I also allowed in the childish thoughts that tomorrow is ruined. I can’t ride the elephants, or see and swim in the waterfalls, or explore the island and get the tattoo I’ve been wanting (a tree and a moon for my owl).

As I turned onto the street of the hotel, I wiped my tears away. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry and I reminded myself that I am a big girl and that I can take care of myself. I got myself into this situation, and now I must get myself out of it.

At the front desk, I asked for some assistance and they gave me some iodine and bandaids. I also ordered 2 beers and they brought them up for me as I wobbled my way up the stairs. As so here I am now, finished with my shower, sitting in front of the beautiful pool, shooing away mosquitos and indulging myself in beer and writing. I’ll let you know how tomorrow goes.

Friday, December 28th

This morning I could barely walk to take my morning piss. It took me about 10 minutes of mini limps to get to the bathroom door. I went back to bed and was very grateful that Chu had brought me up breakfast and ice for my knee. I was severely disappointed that my last day in Samui was to be spent in the hotel room. After watching the end of some horrible Mel Gibson-in-a-boat movie, then a British drama called Kinky Boots (about the son of a shoe company owner who befriends a black drag queen in order to save his failing business), I decided to flee the room. Keeping Beatrix Kiddo in mind, I willed my leg out of entropy, got dressed, and rode off on my motorbike.

I drove to the waterfall, but became disappointed when I learned that it required a 2km hike through rocks. I wasn’t hardcore enough to continue seeing as how I could barely make it up a flight of stairs. I got back on the bike and began my journey around the island. It had been one of my goals. Right now, I am still about 20Km from completing the circle, but I thought I’d stop by the one gay bar on the island.

I’m almost finished with my Singha, and I’ll be heading back to the hotel. I could really use a Thai massage about now.

Thailand does have its charms. I am attempting a travel piece, but only come to talk about myself. For this, I apologize. I know my thoughts and memories grow tiresome, so I will try to get into objective mode.

On this 7 day trip, I’ve seen Bangkok, Surat Thani, Ko Samui and Ko Pan Ngan. I spent 5 days on the island of Samui, and I’ve found it to be a tourist island. Everything seems to be geared towards tourism. The reason it attracts so many foreigners is its absolute island paradise-ness.

This photo was taken at the Coral Cove Bungalows which we quickly renamed "Chu's Beach". She loved this place. I did too. We shared a bungalow here on Tuesday. The bungalow was about 20 feet from the shore. In fact, here is the view from our balcony.

Chu loved this bungalow even though it was a little lacking in the cleanliness department. The shower had only cold water, and I had found some dirt and some crawly creatures on the bed, so I was a little suspicious of the place. However, this probably was the best of all our hotels since you could hear the sounds of the ocean as you slept, and could drink your morning coffee overlooking a magnificent sandy beach.
The next day, however, we parted ways for a night because her friend, Ileana had an extra room at the Coral Cove Resorts, which we parked our belongings on the night of the Full Moon Party. I stayed in that room which had a hot shower, air conditioning, and running electricity. I spent that night relaxing in luxury and writing postcards to family and friends. That night, the sunset was absolutely amazing.

On our first night in Samui, we met a couple in a cab who used to come here back in the 70s. They said that at that time there were only 2 hotels and all the streets were made of dirt. This island was originally used as a coconut plantation and the beautiful beaches were untouched and a crystal blue. They said the elephants, which they now exploit for riding and photo taking were trained to drag coconuts onto boats meant for export. The husband said that he brought his son to one of the 1st full moon parties which was composed of a bunch of hippies smoking pot. He and his son enjoyed smoking pot together.

Thailand is the first country I’ve been to that is ruled by a king. There are pictures of him everywhere.

His name is Bhumibol Adulyadej and I’ve been told that defacing his image is punishable by prison. The currency used here is called a baht. There are about 30 bahts to a dollar. A full course meal such as this one cost us about 200 bahts each. A fresh coconut cost about 30 bahts.

This is probably the best meal that I had while in Thailand, and this is the one I am referring to in the said example.

I bought about 10 of my favorite movies on DVD as well as 2 seasons of Nip/Tuck for 500 bahts. I probably could have bargained him down since that’s the norm here, however I’m terrible at it. I can’t help feeling like a jerk trying to bring down an already low price.

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

It’s amazing how much time the land of chaos provides one. Here I am now sitting outside the Surat Thani Airport at 9pm.

Here I am in front of the airport during our arrival. I can guarantee that you would not see me smiling had this photo been taken on the day of our departure. Air Asia sucks!!!!
My flight has already been delayed 4 hours, and the estimated departure time is half past midnight. It is amusing to watch how this small airport has been completely overtaken by the 100 or so pissed off passengers. I watched one British tourist threaten to “break every goddamn thing in this bloody airport” if she misses her flight to Beijing. The guards have turned off the baggage X-ray conveyor as everyone began ignoring them and passing through beeps and all. I can see a group of children inside having rolly cart races near the check-in counters, and I have plugged my Ipod into a speaker set I bought here, some Aussies have hijacked all the TVs and set them to the football game, and most of the adults have beers in their hands. I am aching for a shot of the whiskey that the group beside me are pouring themselves, but I’m too shy to ask.

Though the situation is quite shit, and our entire Saturday has been wasted on traveling early to the airport, then waiting a millennia, I can’t say that I'm not amused. I think it is time for another beer. Cheerio mates!

Okay, now I’m pissed. The snack bar (beer stand) has closed. God fucking damn it!

As for some of the other activities of the trip, I will describe through pictures.

Perhaps it was Wednesday night when Chu and I explored the area around Chawang Beach. We walked down the less touristy area of town and stopped at a couple of marketplaces. Here is a fruit stand where we found many kinds of produce which we couldn't identify. Chu purchased a couple, which we tasted, and we found that there was nothing that wasn't delicious.

After visiting the shops, we heard some music and decided to see where it was coming from. We found a stage where a local band was performing, so we found ourselves a table, order a beer, and danced. I enjoyed the music, and I wish I could have bought their CD. I enjoyed that night. During the 2 hour ferry ride from Surat Thani to Ko Samui, you could roam around the boat and relax with both locals and tourists as they passed the time.

We had found one family who settled in one corner, indulging in their premade Thai delicacies.

The boat ride toward the island of Samui, was ridiculously beautiful. Despite the tourist atmosphere of Ko Samui, I would recommend visiting this island to anyone who asks for my travel opinion. The ferry ride alone, is one the most alluring sunsets that I had ever seen. In fact, my photo does it a bit of injustice. I apologize for technologies' inability to mimic a memory.

Upon arriving in Bangkok, we were new to everything that Thailand would offer. Our first day, we walked around the area of our hotel and found a beautiful temple. I was amused by the glasses. Do you like? On this particular walk, we discovered what the locals did on a Saturday morning. I ate the most delicious coconut ice cream and fried platanes that I've ever tasted. We encountered mangey dogs, a train station, and even a 7-11.

Here is Chu and Liz, two girls I've met through my good friend, Chisa, who used to be a JET in my prefecture. We had all wanted to come to Thailand, and just so happened to be going at the same time, so we coordinated plans accordingly and explored this strange land together. On this trip, I got to know both of them better, and I was happy that I had ventured into the unknown with them.

Our last day in Bangkok was spent visiting the massive market square, of which I forgot the name, but I bought most of my おみやげ (souvenirs) there. I also got a chance to drink a freshly made Thai iced tea, which was made by a very talented man who made quite a spectacle of it.

After that, we went took in a Thai massage. Actually, I found it quite painful. In fact, after the massage, I was quite sore. By the end of the night we had found the girl bar, Shela (photographed below).

At this place, we watched an awesome all-girl band performing covers as well as their own original Thai indie rock music. I was greatly impressed. One of their covers had me beneath the stage singing the lyrics to "Zombie" as it was performed quite genkily. (元気ーgenki-energetic)

Should you ever want to visit this bar in Bangkok, please consult the map that Ileana left for us.

In conclusion, I will say that Thailand is a wonderful country. I recommend everyone to visit this place at least once in their life. I often referred to it as "Mexico Jr", as it certainly a 3rd world country, yet offers an array of beautiful scenery, friendly, yet cash-yearning locals, めちゃうまい(supremely delicious) dishes, unique shopping experiences, and an exquisite language and cultural experience that entices one to want to visit again and again. I certainly plan on exploring this country once again.

The weather is always warm. We happened to visit during a peak season, when the rest of northern Asia (including Japan) grows cold and desolate, and Thailand becomes the beacon of warmth and relaxation. Since it rests near the equator, the summer (I've heard) is unbearably hot, yet the winter cools down to the perfect 85-90 degree F weather that is perfect for laying on a sandy beach. Who doesn't love a warm, pristine beach at Christmastime?

I'll tell you, nobody.

Should you want to see more pictures of the trip, you can visit this link on facebook.

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