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Meanwhile, Back in Surat Thani

February 10, 2010 2 comments

“Temple!  Temple!  Temple!  HA–34 POINTS!”

I couldn’t determine the accent of the couple next to us, but they were definitely speaking English.  Crammed in the front of the bus from Khao Lak, scoring one point for every bird-house like construction that they saw standing in front of a house.  They’re not exactly temples, I kept biting back.  They’re actually called “Spirit Houses”, and are used to keep any and all ghosts/poltergeists/demons sheltered and out of the house.  The more people who have died in any given spot, the bigger the Spirit House.  They come in bright colors, and are gilded in the clawed style of Thai Temples.

“SPIRIT HOUSE!” may’ve been a difficult thing to shout, though…every time they yelled “temple!”, a drop of water from the leaky air conditioner landed on Brian’s shoulder.

“Temple!……Temple!”

The final day and a half in Khao Lak was beautiful, but we’d gotten antsy again.  After our wade across the lagoon, one of the workers of the Sunset Bar rushed from the beach hut to summon Nop, who brought us a tray of 4  squid.  They’d just been pulled out of the ocean, and their skin was flashing from purple to white and every hue in between.  Nop told us that’s how we could tell it was fresh.  He cooked two for us with lemony spices with sauteed cabbage, onion, and carrots.  We could barely finish.

“Three people on a motorcycle!  46 points!”

Saddlesore yesterday, we left the bikes beside the Amsterdam Resort workers, who were cracking open shells on the bricks outside the computer room.  We walked two blocks to the International Tsunami Museum.  It was little more than two skinny stories with a few presentation boards with facts and photos, a small laptop with seismic readings and a horrifying video of the wave coming in, but it was extremely effective.  It’s been six years already, but the memory is still poignant, and the results are observable in the sparse population, the construction outlets, and the under-utilized, but beautiful beach.  Most of the facts about the incident can be found online.  One thing I didn’t know, that I think is worth sharing, is that the earthquake that set the waves in motion also moved the North Pole by an inch. 

I realized that I was more shaken by the visit to the Tsunami Museum than by my visit to Auschwitz two years ago, which was confusing.  But then, for something like the Holocaust, one can focus anger on the evil people who were the cause and the perpepuation.  I can’t hate the ocean, or fault lines, so the feelings are a little more conflicted…

“Temple…Temple….MONKEY ON A MOTORCYCLE!!!”

We lurched forward to look as the bus passed a man riding a moped down the left side of the road, literally with a monkey clinging to its back. 

Our train will get here after midnight.  We’re sipping fountain drinks in the internet cafe surrounded by Thai teenage boys playing computer games.  We’ll arrive in Penang, Malaysia tomorrow morning at noonish.  Before that, though, we’ll try to squeeze in one last Pad Thai.

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Thailanding

February 3, 2010 3 comments

So what brings me to the biggest tourist magnet this side of the equator, complete with crowded temples, gem scams, commodified everything and ambiguous cultural genuineness?  Well…I’m just a TA getting paid Chinese wages.  What did I expect–the glitz and expense of Tokyo?  It’s my second night on the tourist circuit of Thailand/Malaysia, I’ve seen more white people here and heard more English than I have since I was in Hong Kong during October.  It’s got its merits, some of which I’ve really enjoyed, and some of which I’m still trying to figure out.

So here’s a breakdown on Bangkok so far:

A.  I’m traveling with my friends Jim and Brian, and we’re staying at what has turned out to be the gayest hotel in Bangkok.  There’s a twenty four hour internet cafe with art deco windows and amazing pad thai on the bottom floor.  Working boys are sitting at every table that a leering white man is not.  One of our Chinese friends met up with us today–Jimmy–my age and incredibly bright and cute–and he was trying to ignore the wrinkled stares.  Or at least laugh it off.

B.  We hopped a package trip today that was arranged by the omnipresent concierge at our front desk.  We should have known by the diamond shaped diagram on the back that we would be rushed through all of the colorful tiled spiers and solid gold Buddhas (including the 5500 kg and one 46m long reclining, and one in a temple made of Carrara marble) and shuttled through a gem shop.  Every guidebook I’ve ever read from Thailand has sworn me away from these places…but here we were, uncomfortably trying to shake off the overeager saleswoman and find the exit.  We just grit our teeth, waited for a shuttle and stared at sharks as they circled a tank in the center of the showroom.

C.  Our new Thai friend, Ken, has been accompanying us everywhere and helping us with translation.  He’s a chef about 100km south in Pattaya, and today he took us through a knot of street food stalls into a teal lunchroom, complete with stacks of Pepsi crates and posters of the King in his smart glasses and side part.  We had plates and plates of chicken livers, duck meat and fats, bean sprouts atop spicy noodles and coconut milky soups.  We’d been canistered inside of the Gem-scam van all day with no food, and we were happily sated.  Walking amongst the buckets of steaming ingredients, the soup pots, and the barbecue stalls, I felt like I was in the middle of an episode of No Reservations, complete with local “fixer”, dark dining rooms, and offal.

D.  Last night we went to the red light district.  I don’t want to make this too graphic, but I definitely saw some things that I never want to see again, and got a ping pong ball shot at my leg from a place a ping pong ball should never be.  Chandy (what we’ve been calling our co-workers Chad and Andy) who had been staying at the same hotel as us, sat next to me in silent horror.  Our mutual friend, my travel mate Brian, managed to violate most Thai tabboos, lifting his legs up and showing the bottom of his feet, laughing and dancing so uproariously that he was the first one accosted by tip jars (which didn’t confuse anyone but him), and attempting to take a picture as he stood, quite literally under the “NO PICTURE.  NO DVD.” sign in blacklight paint.  The photo was blurry, but it would’ve shown us all with our mouths in the shape of “NOOOO!”

So that’s it for now.  I’ll try to blog every few days so as not to get too behind.  If you have any advice for what to do while I’m in Thailand, let me know.  All I really know is that I’m heading South from Bangkok, and want to be in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia by Chinese New Year to see my friend Usha 🙂