New as of March 5th, 2006 (Phuket, Thailand)
New as of March 10th, 2006 (Bangkok, Thailand)
This is just a general curiosity of who and how many people are reading this. I know there are six people who use the automatic update thing, but I donít know who all of them are. I know a lot of you donít necessarily read this regularly, but still drop me a note even if you read this months after I post it. I am curious who reads this, outside of my parents. (You can also leave an anonymous note at the Guestbook / Comments Page.)
The one regret about how I have done this journal is that I didnít use some kind of blogging software to have little comment buttons after each post. Next timeÖ.
February 13, 2006
Itís nice to get back to a nice clean calm quiet city like Bangkok. Actually Iím not all that kidding. After Vietnam this is so laid back. Even though Cambodia had some of the tranquility of Lao it, Siem Rep, had some of the peskiest moto drivers known to man. I just went and had supper and wasnít asked if I wanted a tuk-tuk, moto, drugs, boom-boom, or anything else. I was amazing. I have gotten so used to fending off moto drivers at every street corner I donít know what I will do with myself.
There are other signs as well, first off we are back to people driving on the left side of the road. Well itís not as if there werenít people driving on the left hand side of the road in Vietnam and Cambodia, but now itís what their supposed to be doing. There are other things that sort of surprised me as I watched the country side roll by after the border. Gas stations for one.
I think I had gotten so used to the normal way of buy gas was in plastic soda bottles at the side of the road that I forgot about regular gas pumps. I mean, in most of Cambodia a fancy gas station means a person with two drums of fuel with old glass gas pumps. By the time I got to Siem Rep the typical gas station was a bunch of two liter Fanta bottles and a bunch of 750 ml Johnny Walker bottles. Partly I suspect this system only works in a land where the normal vehicle is the motorbike rather than a car. Less fuel needed so they serve it up in small containers. In Phnom Penh it was not uncommon to see them selling one liter bottles of gas. Here it Thailand the gas stations along the highway are big shiny things that would be at home in the U.S. I suspect there are some differences, but right now the similarities are huge compared to the last three months are miniscule.
Itís also fun to know my way around town. Like when I went back to San Francisco and San Diego. I already have maps and landmarks and even on the way in I recognized one of the bus routs and knew exactly where I was. I have a bit of exploring I want to do before I head south, and if nothing else it feels a bit homelike not having to think about where I am and just knowing my way around. My parents used to say that a house becomes your home about the time you know what all the light switches do and can find them in the dark. I guess there is probably something similar for a city.
February 17, 2006
Have I recently mentioned how strange my life can be? I havenít really been doing much here in Bangkok as much as just drifting around and letting things happen. Not an all bad plan, especial when you have room costs down to 5 USD a day and food is cheap. (Not as cheep as my last place in Cambodia of 2 USD a day, but way fewer mosquitoes.) AnywayÖ
A couple days ago while crossing the major street at the foot of Kho San Road, the main farang (gringo) hangout, I made a comment to him about traffic and traffic laws and we ended up chatting and walking over to a park he knew of. Somehow before this trip, I donít think I ever met someone by crossing the street with them, let alone chatting with them for some time.
He has been on the road, this trip, for about four years, and hasnít been back to the US for something like fourteen years. I whish he would keep an online journal so I can hear about his return to the U.S. (He is soon, relatively speaking, to return to his native Seattle.) It will be quite a culture shock.
I am quite indebted to him for showing me Phrasumain Park as it is fast becoming my favorite place in Bangkok. Itís a bit like Pevey Plaza back in Minneapolis. No cool fountain, but there is a fort and more green space. Itís right on the river and has some nice lawn space. Also it is a place where the Thais do things in the park that I can connect with. For one thing people are just sitting around and maybe chatting. There is a group aerobics class just after 6:00pm in one part and in the late afternoon there is a juggling club of sorts in another part. Itís like having my favorite parts of home here. (Thinking about it now, some people might say that open juggling in a park is weird back home, but I guess itís my kind of weird.)
I had planned on pricing air tickets and making arrangements for my trip to Southern Thailand today. First step was to pick up a guide book for New Zealand, which I did with little problem. Then I went to the park to read up and see if New Zealand in March is a bad idea or not. I got some reading in and after picking up a fruit smoothie from a vender for the equivalent of 25 cents US I took a break to watch the juggling.
One neat thing about the free for all juggling is it is a mix of locals and of foreigners. Itís something they can share with little language in common. After thinking too much about wanting my stilts so I could join in with them, I decided to do what I do. So I pulled out my brightest catís cradle string and started messing around. Soon one of the jugglers came over and I showed him some stuff then a couple Thais came over. At one point a Finish couple joined in as well as a French guy. Every time someone came along, I pulled another string out of my bag and had them join in. The Finish woman knew Jacobís Ladder (although in her language it was some kind of hair net like thing) and tea cup and saucer so I taught her and her companion the two personís catís cradle. The Thais knew catís cradle, with a couple of variations they showed me, so I taught them double-diamonds, Jacobís ladder, and Exploding House. There was also a Swiss juggler, who also got Jacobís Ladder and Exploding House, who I ended up having dinner with. He also introduced me to a couple of the other jugglers. Too bad my juggling is so awful, but maybe tomorrow I will go back and work on it. As is, I gave away all the spare strings I had on me and I will add to my to-do list to get more string. (I have been keeping to my idea of giving a string to everybody who plays with me.) If I keep going I will have to go online to learn some new figures to keep up with them.
Some of the fun is also once you get a few people going, they all start teaching each other. While I was working on Catís Cradle with the Thai guy who had no English, the Finish woman was helping one of the other Thais with Jacobís Ladder. You can look up and see new groups forming and playing and teaching new things. I am also getting used to teaching this stuff without common language and how to show things clearly. As I show things I still always say what I am doing as I figure if people have some English they can understand more than they can speak, and if they want to get better in it the more they hear it the better it will be. Not that string figure instructions like ďdrop thumbs, thumbs over to get far index, returnĒ are very common in everyday conversation. Well, at least if you arenít me.
What else have I been up toÖ. Yesterday I was off doing a bit of shopping or more exploring the modern shopping district. When I was here four months ago I wandered around Siam Square, but there was a lot of construction going on and I wasnít really into the idea of exploring fashion centers. Well after Lao, Vietnam, and Cambodia, shopping malls are about as foreign as you get. (Last time I had just come from California so malls were a major part of the landscape.) One of the buildings I visited had still been under construction when I was here last and is now just being finished. It is an impressive structure. Much of it is normal mall, but somehow the design of it is turned up louder somehow.
Part of it is that it simply is louder. Where as stores in malls in the U.S. all have recorded sound tracks as part of the concept, they donít try and drown out the competition. Something about the design was very aggressive. These stores donít just gently lead you in; their sound tracks come out into the hallway and drag you in. Each one pulls at you to be stylish in that peculiars stores way. And Iím not talking clothes here, I am pretty much immune to that, these are dťcor and knick-knack stuff. A lot of these stores, and part of why I was actually interested in the first place, were high end designer furniture. Really cool chairs and the like.
As much as I enjoyed it all there was a point I started to feel the character in a book I read back in Na Tran about a woman who was allergic to trademarks. The whole mall was geared up to more, more, more. I had to retreat to a cafť for water and a simple green salad. Not that the cafť wasnít carefully designed with back lit Lucite walls, monochrome table tops, and especially hefty flatware, but it was a design of simplicity.
Not that this was all bad. I did enjoy looking at all the stuff. Although maybe the best part of the building was the entertainment level. This is nothing like the Mall of Americaís tacky top floor. This one the movie theatre multiplex was very stylish with lots of room, with comfortable couches to lounge on. In the lobby at least, there are no plastic up holders, but beautifully finished wooden trays set in the center of low settees, with a soaring double story ceiling. The Cineplex at MoA or in Block E will be hard to swallow after this.
In another wing of the entertainment floor will be the Bangkok Opera house. Not a bad idea of putting your high art in a fashionable mall. Makes me wonder if our way of building theaters back home out in what could almost be considered a bad neighborhood is all wrong. We complain and worry that our audience is getting older and that the young people donít come to the theatre, but then why donít we put the theatre where they are?
To top this day off I decided to see a move, not at the very stylish place unfortunately. I had been hemming and hawing about seeing Brokeback Mountain while I was on the road. From what I had been hearing about it, either in the news or friends journals, it is a move I wanted to see. I figured there would be a good chance that I would get very emotionally involved and wouldnít mind being at home for it. Part of what changed my mind to see it here was that I realized that here is as much safe and worry free as back home will be when I get there. And I wanted to see it in a movie theater with a real audience than at home on video.
As is I thought the movie was OK. I cried a bit, but not much and I cry at movies easily, even really bad ones, so this is not great mark. Itís not my story, thank god, but a good story. I guess I am not quite as willing to blame the characters for their own mess as much as some people I have read. It is more along the line of a tragedy although maybe with less pure intentions. Yes, they screwed up, and they are (and some others) paying for it, but Iím still sorry for them. Maybe it is just the Midwesterner in me. I wonder how the movie is going down back in Wyoming where my parents live.
Probably the way it most affected me was to remind me that one of the reasons I am getting tired of being on the road is that to a good extent I have been in the closet most of the time. Itís not that if someone asked me or it was an important part of what we were talking about I would hide being gay, but I have avoided bringing it up where I might not have at home. One time I have noticed it is that two of the standard questions that must be in English 101 are ďAre you married?Ē or ďDo you have a girlfriend?Ē A lot of this is just a cross cultural difference on the importance of being married. (They are often horrified that I am thirty years old and not married and donít have a girl friend. I do mean that sometimes they are honestly embarrassed for me.) Itís not as if I have a boy friend for which I could say, ďNo I donít have a girl friend, but I have a boy friend.Ē Just some how I let it get glossed over more than seams quite right.
The other side of this is with other travelers. Here I donít have the language and as many of the cultural differences to contend with. But also I feel a bit more vulnerable as sometimes it is chat with these people or nobody at all. It may be easer to not know if they are ragging bigots. Also some of the living arrangements are a bit more communal then I would have with casual strangers back home. Someone being uncomfortable with my being gay is one thing, but sharing an open dormitory is an entire different thing, maybe. The other is when I am sharing a room with someone I may have just met on a bus. It feels like either I come out for no good reason right away, which would be silly or I worry about if they feel awkward if it comes up a few days later. None of these issues are new to people who came out in university while living in the dorms have, I was just lucky to never have those problems. I guess I am making up for it now.
The one other layer here is that in some countries I have been in it is illegal and dangerous to be openly gay. Thailand is not one of them, nor are any of my current travel plans. In light of this, I am going to keep my eyes open for a nice rainbow flag patch for my bag. It will feel good to be out by default and to let other people deal with problems they may or may not have, rather than it being mine.
Speaking of travel plans I have new options opening up, again. When I was chatting with the jugglers I found out about a total solar eclipse that will be heading across Africa and into Turkey. One of the guys is working on a festival in the path of totality and I have wanted to be in a total eclipse so now I have a new idea for the end of March. It would certainly be a way to finish up the trip.
February 21, 2006
Well today was my first Morris practice of the season. Down at the park it was just me and about 60 Thai women and two Thai guys, and someone in a pink leotard up in front saying a lot of stuff in Thai. It was a long hard hour. I am exhausted.
I'm not sure the rest of the people knew that this was a morris practice, but I got my aerobic workout in so I won't be totally knackered when I finally get back to my morris side. After all they should be on their third dancing practice by now and getting over some of the initial soreness.
February 26 to March 3, 2006
Hat Ton Sai, Thailand
Well although my goal was to know where I was going next before I left Bangkok, I gave up and moved on anyway. I figured it was better to get some beach time and a bit of diving in for sure rather than hold out for plans that may or may not come to fruition. So here I am back to the land of sun, sand and hammocks.
Oh I have been bad about writingÖ Not that I have really been all that busy, but let's see what I have been up to. I've meet the crazy guy, been back into tidal waters, hung out with climbers, heard from the raft builder and been diving.
The crazy guy is impressive. I was eating dinner and he sat down opposite me and started talking. I so wish I had some way to record him. I could have transcribed it up and had a nice little Fringe festival show. Actually I half kept expecting him to come kind of resolution and turn back into a normal person like an actor at the end of a show. But no, his brain really is that addled by what ever drugs he is / did do. He would make a great poster child as to why to not do weird drugs, if you could get anybody to believe he was real. Fiction has to be plausible, real life has no such limitation.
Down here I am back to the sea. The water is salty and it is tidal. I'm not sure what the Andaman sea is normally like for tidal range, but this is some of the more dramatic I have had for a while. At low tide it is easy to walk among the various beaches, but at high tide you have to know the steep overland paths as the tide is up maybe two meters. Some of the variance is that we are coming up on the New Moon and the next new moon involves a total eclipse of the sun so it wouldn't surprise me to discover we are near a leap or neap tide. It's just interesting to have to think about the tides when deciding what to do. The beach I am on turns to mud and rocks at low tide and you would never go swimming, not to mention it would be a long walk to the water. One night before I found the overland path, I got stuck at the wrong beach and ended up taking a boat back. (At least I am in a country where thing are cheep and even if you take the overpriced boat because you messed up the tide schedule you are still only out a USD 1.25; same as bus fair back home.) I don't know, maybe it is special for me because I grew up in farm country, but spend a happy time in Jersey with 30-40 foot tides so I have found memories of tidal charts.
This particular area is known for its rock climbing. Probably about 90 percent of the people staying at this beach are climbers. It's been ten years since I have done any climbing, but it's fun to be back around it. When I though about coming her I figured I might do a bit of climbing. Unfortunately I pulled something in my neck and it really doesn't want me to climb. I tried a little boldering down on the beach just to check it out and my neck let me know that rock climbing was not part of its definition of rest. It's a little disappointing that I am not doing any climbing but OK, I have other things to do. The place I have been a regular at for lunch has a good climbing clientele so I hear about all the climbs they are doing and what is good. If I was here another week or so I could probably chat with people about specifics and have them thinking I had actually been on the rocks.
There is also one group of climbers I have ended up hanging out in the evenings with that are fun. One guy is a 58 year old Brit who is some what famous in climbing circles and been climbing for longer than I have been alive, a couple of woman from Colorado about my age who are good climbers, and a younger couple from Canada, one of whom has only been climbing for about two weeks now. It's and interesting group and I'll miss running into them in the evenings. The Brit has great stories and just has a great approach to life. He has some buddies staying at the rich person's beach next door, but he is here at the backpackers' beach with a hut in the jungle that gets raided by the monkeys during the day. He like us, can't understand why pay at least eight times as much for a place to sleep if you spend all day out doing stuff? (Of course he points out that his friends aren't doing as much climbing and what not, so they probably spend time in the air-conditioned bungalow with 24 hour electricity and probably a TV.) He thinks they are a bit silly and they probably think he is crazy, but all works out for everybody.
I got e-mail from Christian the raft builder in Cambodia. He is not dead and had quit a trip, although little of it in his raft. I won't go and retell his story here as he has it in his Blog at http://christianstarr.livejournal.com/3977.html. I had just been working out sceams to find out the story via Ted Mann Concert Hall and the Bergen ensemble when he wrote. Now this only leaves me to wonder about the guys in Central America who were going to do the Darien Gap.
And lastly I finally got around to doing some more diving. I was happy to discover I hadn't forgotten everything. I ended up diving with a partner who had pretty much exactly the same experience as I did. It was nice because it meant no one was holding anyone else back. On the other had it was interesting actually diving with other divers (rather than instructors) for a change. Since I got my certification during the low season back in Vietnam, I had two teachers all to myself. (Student to teacher ratio of 1:2, not bad.) And for my 'fun dive' I was the only one doing it so I had a Dive Master, who was qualified as a Master Instructor, all to myself. This time was the first time I actually had to share any of the smart people on the dive. Not that it mattered but it does remind me why I chose there and then to do my dive instruction.
I have gotten to know my dive master a bit more since the dive as we have chatted at his office. What partly surprises me is how different we are of people. He had been a military engineer and at time of things like the gulf war would live in hotels near airports waiting to be sent off into the war zone and be paid hundreds of dollars an hour. He has a three bedroom house, a racing boat, and all sorts of toys and gadgets, and is one year younger than I am. But right now he can't do his old job due to a back injury and is in the process of rearranging his life. Nothing wrong with his way of life, just an entirely different point of view.
It's well and time for me to move on, so today, for which I meant to move on, will be a little laundry and getting packed and ready to go. I am thinking of a bit more time along the sea and maybe a bit more diving or snorkeling and then on to where ever is next. Currently all the people here are pushing for Turkey, which appeals to me as much because I wasn't really expecting it. But who knows where I will end up. I don't.
March 6, 2006
Karon, Phuket, Thailand
I have always figured that being in the right place at the right time and knowing it is one of the best things that can happen. Of all the other permutations like right place and time but not realizing it or wrong place right time they arenít all equal. Oddly enough being in the wrong place at the wrong time but knowing that that is the situation is actually peaty good. Here in Karon is not the right place or time. This is a package tour town. Rich people vacation here. They take day trips over to Krabi and Hat Ton Sai where I spent a week. The beach is covered with very well tanned out of shape people.
OK I'm not in great shape, but all the people around here are on vacation and are here to do NOTHING, and doing it quite well. I may be ready to go home, but I'm not ready to do nothing. Off hand I'm not sure I have really ever been ready to do that, at least for long. I can't imagine wanting to stay in a place like this, sure there is an endless white sand beach and if you are blowing way too much money at once you have a nice hotel room with AC and TV and what not, but I wouldn't trade it for my bungalow in the jungle with a beach that is mud and rocks at low tide. Not to mention that rock climbers running around without their shirts on are way cuter than these people.
Anyway, it is freeing to know that it's not that anything in particular that wrong, it just isn't right. I will be off to do a little more diving tomorrow and then I will be out of here. Cheaper diving is why I came here in the first place; I see little reason to stay afterwards.
Well I appear to be cutting down on my use of parthentiese but am making up for it in HTML formatting tags. You win some your louse some.
I have to decide if after this I will do some snorkeling or head on to where I am going nextÖ
March 10, 2006
First off, the seemingly weirder thing. I am off to Turkey tonight. Not what I was really expecting to be doing, but then again that's often the best part. Here is how that ended up being reality.
I had been having the hardest time trying to decide where to go next. To some extent I still don't feel I have decided, but that airline ticket says otherwise. After doing my diving (more on that latter) I tried heading about halfway back to Bangkok to maybe visit another island for snorkeling or at least break the sixteen hour bus journey in half (or take a train half the way.) I hadn't decide on which town I was going to go to, so I sat at the bus station until I just missed the last bus to where I wanted to go. Oh well.
I checked into the Phuket Town place I stayed before going to the way touristy beach town. I figured I could use the cheep internet access to try to make a decision. That evening I sat down at one of the better internet places I have been to and spent three hours researching and trying to decide. Having not decided, I went to bed.
The next morning I realized that all the research I had been doing was about Turkey, not New Zealand, so that must mean that is where I want to go. I got going and went to buy my airline ticket. I had found the best ticket price I could (it routs me thru Cairo but costs half of a direct flight) and start the on-line purchase process. Up comes a little friendly window that tells me that an e-ticket isn't available so there will bee an extra USD 30 fee to send the paper ticket to my billing address. Well I don't really mind the $30 fee except that one FedEx doesn't deliver to P.O. Boxes and two I'm flying in less than two days and I'm no where near my billing address in downtown Minneapolis.
Oh well, I guess I will just head towards Bangkok anyway. I had also realized my visa expired in five days so I head to be moving on regardless of which direction I was going.
On the way to the bus station I passed a big shiny travel agency that had computers. I figured I might as well see what they can do. I stuck my head in and had them pull up the itenery I had found on-line and yup, they could generate the paper ticket on the spot and it was even going to be a bit cheaper than online! (Actually it has generally been true that travel agents almost always do a better job than I can find on-line, although these people were just using my research.) By then it was the 9th of March and my flight is at 1:20am on the 11th. So it is on an overnight bus to Bangkok to arrive the morning of the 10th, a day to organize my stuff and then on to Istanbul! (I did decide to "splurge" and get a hotel room for the day to make things easer and have a place to shower.
It always seams to move fast once I make a decision. It was the same back in Panama when I decided to make the Midwest Morris Ale. I'm not quite getting the same buzz I did after that decision, but such is life.
One fun thing is the place in Phuket town reminds me a bit of home. It really shouldn't as it is a bit of a dump and was apparently used as the set of a Kho San Road flop house in the movie The Beach but they use this shiny brown paint to paint all the woodwork and floors. It's the same color and texture of a paint my parents used a lot in the house I grew up with. I actually never really like the paint as much as they did. It was good on the floor and maybe the baseboards but it was too much on the doors and upper woodwork as well. Really the place I didn't like it was on the really neat loft bed my dad built me.
The bed had this neat cantilever that hung out and a great desk and dresser. I loved the room and bed, but not that color. I even tried to convince them to do the bed part in a different brighter color and wrapping the band partly around the room. I was eight or so at the time so I probably wasn't able to explain what I wanted well, and now I suspect they would have gone along, but then it was their brown phase. (They have gotten better; their current house has a blue wall in the dinning room, and a great mustard color on the living room walls. Even the kitchen floor gives some people vertigo and I am looking forward to seeing some of the tile detail the have put up in the bathroom.)
Anyway I sat down in my room first night in Phuket and wondered why I was getting a friendly home feeling off the place. Then I remembered that it was the white with brown woodwork from my early childhood. Funny how things go.
On to the divingÖ It was good. I ended up doing a three dive set rather than the two I had done before. (Actually come to think of it my first fun dive was a single, the second a double, and now my third a triple.) I think three is definitely better than two. The first part of the first dive I am still getting used to being underwater and having to work on things like getting my ears cleared. By the second dive I am totally thinking of enjoying it without lots of work, and the third dive I am relaxed and ready to just explore.
I have a lot more to get down about how to plan a dive. I have been doing dives with a Dive Master and although it is nice to have a person playing guide I really don't want one. It's a bit like being stuck on a group tour. I really like sitting and watching little things. What I need is a good dive buddy that is equally happy to deeply explore one area and watch fish groom and eat each other for a bit. What seams to be happening so far is that we have a several strangers grouped together so the guide goes to the lowest common denominator of "lets see a bunch of stuff," rather than let's see how this fish/slug/clam lives. Oh well that's learning. I finally know how to explain how cold I can get and how slow my ears are to clear so it getting better.
This dive company reminded me a bit of how diving is a rich man's hobby. Part of it is just that even here where it is relatively cheep; it's still expensive for me. (About USD 25 per dive including gear and meals while on board) Also this group had all sorts of 'upsale' offers. During the dives a videographer was also filming us and he did a quick edit after the last dive and so we could watch it one the way back and buy our own copy for only USD 50. My dive master also had a digital camera along so he would photo graph the things we were looking at as well as us underwater. I could have gotten a CD of the pictures (plus a bunch of other good shots he had been collecting) for USD 25. Had it been cheaper I would have been tempted, but I figured I was willing to pay about USD 5 for it. Oh well. They even had beer for sale on the trip back to port for only about twice the rate at places I go to.
Ultimately the company was good and it was fun to watch the video and they werenít pushy so I didn't mind it, but you do notice that they are offering impulse purchases of about your daily budget that you may be among people with more money to blow. Although I suspect I have been traveling more than anyone else on the boat so there are tradeoffs. Vacation is one thing, long term travel is another. (The dive people do know their market. Of the two groups diving, clearly the other group was the one with money, and some of their own gear, and oddly enough they were the ones most featured in the video. They also were the ones who, in the end, did buy the DVD so it all works out. I'm not offended, it is just smart business.)
One thing about diving is that you can't really talk and there is nothing to listen to so you sort of end up talking to yourself, or at least I do. My internal monologue runs wild while diving. It's both nice and annoying, but I have learned a bit about myself. One of the things is why I don't quite get bird watching.
On the dives I have done, with three different companies, I have been impressed with how everybody gets into the lists of names of the fish they have seen. It's a bit like a birder having a check list of birds they have seen. Now I can understand some of it, but I would rather concentrate on how it all goes together and seeing individual fish. Rather than running after the greatest variety. (I wonder if underwater sketching would work, of course you don't have unlimited time.) Sure clownfish (the movie Finding Neamo) are common but I would love to watch a few hang out in a sea anemone for a bit. I guess if I was a birder I would be watching crows all the time. To each their own.
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