Sunday, January 31, 2010

Post 199 Live Blogging Extravaganza

Fantastic! I just crashed and had this whole post wiped. I mean sure it was just in the starting phase, but it was ridiculous enough that I quite miss it being gone. Now I'll have to start all over!

So here we are at post 199. I don't really know how I've decided that's what number it is, through my system of some posts counting during this trip, and others not so much, but there you have it. This is number one ninety nine and there's no way around it. And so because of that I'm bringing you this very special, very fantastice live blogged extravaganza!

I'm going to save right now in case we crash again. You may ask why did I crash, and I will tell you – because this netbook is a little piece of... look it does the job normally. But this time I was trying to download episodes of co-op, unfortunately I let them load too far before trying to save them, and everything went to hell.

But that's that. It's time to start the live blogging as I see fit. I should note that today I also created Excalibur in Facebook's Castle Age. I can't believe how long ago I started playing that. Back in Oslo. Remember Oslo? Of course you do.

Once Cid Meyer creates his Civilization for Facebook we'll all be doomed. And that Farmville game will no longer be the dominant strangle hold.

Well – here we go.

12:33 – just recovered from crash, rewrote the intro, and started to download the two epsiodes that led to said earlier crash. Starting to watch Co-Op season 2 episode 1 (201) sweet.

12:34 - remembered what I wrote the last post about. I wrote about how this morning I headed out for breakfast with the girl who sleeps in the bed opposite mine, and grabbed the best pad-thai ever, covered in sugar and spice and everything delightful. Also bought some spring rolls for 10b each from the spring roll lady. And then grabbed some beverages at the 7-11 on the way back. Discovered a sweet short cut too that led me to 10b pineapple.

Alright. Here we go.

13:35 - I tell you, I really do miss video games. There are apparently some really good ones that have come out lately too. But the real question - 360 or ps3? And then the iPhone has some lovely treats too.

In other news, I'm starting to jones for those spring rolls down the street.

14:07 - you know, the more I watch about games, the more I am completely sure that getting the Wii for my spec. ed. class two years back was a key idea. And the more subtle rage I feel at quasi-nemesis that argue something not based on what it is, but whose idea it is. You know the people - the ones the react one way if one person says it (as if it's stupid and terrible) and another way if it's someone else who says it (as if it's a great and wonderful idea.) Those people? No time. I hope the Wii is still getting used these day. And as for quasi-and full nemesises? (the ones thinking right now, "the word is nemeses") Meh, they'll do what they do.

14:24 - need for spring rolls too high. must escape hostel and devour

14:43 - spring roll lady saw me coming. She held up two fingers. Only two were ready - and I was set to buy five. Her deep fried chicken was piling up. I wanted to tell her that if one item sold out, and the other piled up, maybe she should change her strategy, but words failed me. I went to 7-11 to buy more beverages. But apparently my beverage of choice right now can not legally be sold until 17:00. What's up with that?! Apparently you can buy as much as you want before 11:00 but after that, it's heathenism to buy before 17:00. So I bought some from the hostel fridge. Success was mine. I'm watching you clock. And when will Spring Roll lady have stocked up agian?!

16:20 - Spring Roll lady had no spring rolls! No! I will have to check back at the convenient 17:00s. I can't believe she's making more chicken for her chicken pile - but no spring rolls. On the plus side, I bought giant chunks of pineapple for 10b. So that's good too!

17:20 - Spring Roll lady has provided! Yes I may have had to be woken up through the window by opposite bed girl, but that is neither here nor there. And as that napping has told me I need no more beverages, I was free to allocate those resources to sweet sweet spring rolls! She had a mountain of them! A mountain!

I said - six please, and though she sells four things, she knew what I wanted. She had seen me sulking earlier. And I got a bag of sauce. I don't know what's in this sauce but it's very magical! And now all is right in the world. I've sent two others off on a quest to obtain said deliciousness!

17:38 - off to see the weekend market with opposite bed girl (whose name happens to be Bex and who lives about 25 minutes, on foot, from where I lived in Toronto.) and another girl.

20:21 - So... much... stuff... girls do love their clothing shopping, don't they? I just felt sick over all the food I saw. Too many spring rolls. I did have a popsicle though (3 baht) fantastic! Just what I wanted - combining so many flavours and textures and wonders. So I stand behind that.

21:48 - Bex has discovered the laundry stole her shirt. This does not make for a happy her. I continue to watch co-op on the interwebs and learn about games. Also, I will continue to drink much delicious water.

23:25 - Games I'll need to buy and play when I get back:
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Fallout 3: GotY
Oblivion: GotY
Final Fantasy XIII
Halo 3
Halo: ODST

and it's not like there aren't more... A good baseball game, the modern warfare games, and the big chunk that come out in the next six months. Ugh.

Parks, Video Games and Shot Glasses

I'm not going to hide anything. I did a lot of nothing today. Welcome to Thailand. I'm beginning to be okay with that.

I started off by wandering the city perimeter for three hours. This walk would justify the rest of my wasted excuse for travel. I headed to the south west corner along the base and height of the triangle, rather than shaving ohh a fair percentage by walking the hypotenuse. But the hypotenuse was not direct, and probably would have led me to all sorts of terrible places. Plus I'd yet to see the South Gate. I didn't expect anything from it – but I wanted to see it, just to say that I had, should it have turned out to be as wonderous as the East Gate was.

It was not.

But the park hidden away down there was quite great. Lots of rivers, and bridges, and flowers, and places to sit, and shade to enjoy, and tra la la la la.

It as a great place to while away the day. But I could last only so long under the heat. I keep telling myself it's winter and that this is as good as it will ever get – but my goodness, that doesn't make it not hot now.

I wandered back, grabbed some food, another fantastic lemon shake, and then tucked into my hostel to watch hours of video game news. Yes, I was catching up on all the episodes of co-op. Theme song by Jane Pinckard. Sigh.

I managed to devour all of season one and catch up with the video games from six months ago. If you can't play them, you can at least watch media about them. And I quite enjoyed it. And I will have you know that I did spend three hours exploring, so back off! 'kay?

When the night hit I went through the East Gate and headed straight on to the night market to see what they had to sell there. Lots of t-shirts, fake bags, and little trinkets. But did they have any shot glasses? Just one, perhaps? No. What type of country doesn't sell shot glasses. It's a standard. A go to. But no, there were none here.

So despite the enjoyment of the bright lights, and the big city – there was nothing there for me.

Starting to head back home, I stopped in the middle of the street when I saw hundreds of little explosions in front of me. A man was throwing fireworks blowing up like flash bangs juggled by some sort of twisted mini-boss. And behind him a parade of people started to scream and cheer.

Something was amiss.

I followed this entourage, as they screamed and whooped their way along the road into a gate, towards a wat. Some people had trees loaded with money, others had chairs held high above their heads. Monks dressed all in orange ran around with the most expensive digital cameras you'd ever seen, while a camera man sent a live feed to a big screen t.v. affixed to the front of the temple.

If I had to guess, I would say that I just crashed a wedding. There was traditional dancing, and excitement, and many many drunken elderly people. Yes, this could only be a wedding.

You see, that was some more cultural experience for the day. It's like I say – life happens outside. All you need to do is head out, and the world will surprise you. It always does. You may go out looking to kill time, and see nothing but perhaps a shot glass for sale (or not) and then come across something like this – something you'll most likely never see again in your life.

Travel. Neat.

Trekking: Day Two

At six in the morning I wake up to the sounds of people walking along the bamboo beside my head. I had chosen a bed right next to the door for just this reason. I wanted to make sure that I would wake up whenever the earliest others started to stir. I would not miss the sun rise over the mountain.

And I did not. My plan? A great success. The three French girls were all standing on the porch when I dragged myself out. The sky was glowing orange, and the mists in the valleys created depth perception through the receding gradients of hills. The morning was beautiful, as the sun pulled into the sky, casting warm light on the people, places, and piggies running around. Off towards the fire from last night's celebration little pops could be heard starting up once more. No doubt another little child is trying to blow off a few fingers.

The drums start up again.

They must have stopped. I know they must have – but two hours earlier they were going strong. Did they take a forty five minute nap to recuperate? Enough of this. With the sun high in the sky, I went back to sleep.

The next time I heard a stampede of feet it was my call for breakfast. Which was lovely and delicious. Then... time to head back down the hill. If it took three hours coming up, well it wasn't going to take that much less heading down.

The steps were not carved nearly as well as they should have been, and the sound of slipping feet behind me was terrifying. I would not fall on my own, but being bowled over by someone behind me? That was not the best way to start a day.

An hour into the walk we ended up at another waterfall. And as much as I wanted to jump into it and splash around, I had learned from yesterday. The next hour and a half of hiking would not be a great delight after soaking in the freezing water. So with a sigh I stayed on the rocks looking at the water cascading down the cliff face.

More jungle, the likes of which I'd never seen before – but quickly accepted as a normal part of the scenery (easy adaption being something that I think really detracts from my travel experience, as nothing stays “magical” for long.)

And then we were at the bottom, and at the river. It was here that our group of ten would split into teams of five and board white water rafts. My helmet hardly fit, and I questioned the safety of the life jacket. But this is Thailand and speaking up will do you no favours. So mouth shut, I learned the five commands: forward, backward, all left, all right, stop. And then into the boat.

The water was low, and so the river was only a class 2, as opposed to the class 5 we were told it becomes in the summer's rainy season. A few times we were trapped on the rocks, but more often than not we were heading down at a good clip. Passing the elephants tramping through the bush on a safari was quite the moment as well. Seeing the world from a different perspective can change everything. My mind was dragged back to the river raft section of Jurassic Park (the novel – in the movie that ride wasn't yet complete. Although they created said ride at one of the Universal Studios. The one in Hollywood... I'll be in Hollywood this March! I must go! I must visit Jurassic Park! My god, why have I not thought of this before?! research... research... research... No! The ride is closed for refurbishment! Surely it will be nice and furbished by mid-March, right?!)

Just take a moment to appreciate all that I've seen, and all that I will see – and it's Jurassic Park I'm worried about missing out on. Well, at least it's clouding the very real fear that Machu Picchu will still be closed when I am supposed to be visiting it.

At one point we stopped to swim from our rafts. I may have swam too far into the current. The less said about that the better.

And then we finished our float down the river on a bamboo raft which rested nicely about two inches under the waters surface. We polled ourselves along, like a giant flat macorro. And then ended our journey, and headed back for the city.

It was a fantastic way to spend two days, and very inexpensive as well. It is highly recommended for anyone planning to visit this city. As much fun as temples are day after day, this is a beautiful way to break away from that.

When I returned I was knackered, and settled down to rest and relax and comfortably do nothing. Perfect.

It should also be noted that I've started reading Red Rabbit now – Shopaholic has been returned to the wild.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chiang Mai Trekking - Day One

It should be stated that I love music. I do – I love it. And I often wonder what I'm missing out on by wandering the world without an artificial soundtrack.

I battled with this thought many times. But apparently I don't need one. No, because i just hum the Spider-Man theme song at random, or – you know – in front of a group of nine other people I'd just met, whom I will spend the next 38 hours with. Some people would have the courtesy to look embarrassed. Not this guy!

And that's how it all started. We were an eclectic group of ten. Most of these end up being seven Aussies and three Brits, or something like that. We were three french, one Canadian, two Dutch, two Germans, one Romanian, and an Aussie for good measure. We had a good load of the world covered here.

To be honest, I didn't really know what I had signed up for. I just knew I wanted to do something, and for 1100B I was willing to take any risk. I mean, that's what? Two Pizzas?

After a good long time in the truck driving ever further away from Chiang Mai we eventually stopped at or first destination: An elephant farm. Who knew that elephants were the things one would farm? But they are. And they're lovely. And they seemed to be in much better condition than the ones in Cambodia, or even at the Bangkok Zoo. These were happy well treated elephants. And that's what I'm going to keep telling myself, even if evidence to the contrary presents itself.

So what did I do? I rode the elephants. Because that's just what I do. That's just how I roll these days. You had to climb up a ladder to a wooden platform, which reminded me of a zepplin tower. From there, you just stepped on the elephants back, and made your way to your seat. Then you strap yourself in and hope for the best.

I can say with all honesty, elephants? Not the most comfortable thing to ride in the world. But, interesting enough. We went down to the river, up some trails, down some trails, around some bends, and then back to the wooden towers to get off. All in all, I spent about an hour on the back of this animal.

One of our group didn't feel secure in the seat, so he sat on his elephants neck, feet locked behind the ears. Apparently he'd been trained to ride this way. You know Germans, they're all trained to ride elephants barebacked, right?

It was strange to think that these were the breeds that would have been sent off to war. Can't quite picture it – though even since watching 300, I've found war elephants old and busted. War Rhinos are the new hotness. Though I'm not sure they were ever used in the real life.

After the elephant ride there was some delicious food (a rice dish with a seemingly bottomless resupply for seconds, and then thirds) before we headed off to the trail head. Ahh the trail. Three hours of up up up into the hills. I can walk forever in a straight line, but once you add the incline, it gets dicey. Am I fearing the trek to Machu Picchu? Yes, yes I am. Though with all the flooding there as of late, I'm worried it might not be cleared by the time I get there two weeks from now.

The trek started fine, and for the first hour and a half it was. I was in the head of the pack, waiting a good five minutes for others to catch up at each break. And it was these breaks that started to kill me. We would walk twenty minutes, then rest for ten. This is not the way to get anywhere, and it destroys your momentum. But that wasn't the worst thing. At the midway point there was a waterfall. A beautiful delightful waterfall that called to me. So down i went to jump into it, and stand underneath it. And the water was freezing, and wonderful, and refreshing. The perfect way to escape from the heat of the Thia day.

Until we started to walk again. The cold water had told my legs to seize up, and that they should do no more walking. And had I thought about it, I would have realized this would have happened – but I wouldn't have cared, because, you know, waterfall... Still – it made the last hour and a half, the last five minutes in particular, hell. I was still at the mid point of the five of us, but I was good and ready to die when I got to the top. I started thinking of what it would be like to be a soldier fighting in hills, carrying your pack all the way to the top, just to be shot there. It must be so annoying – not that you got shot, but that they didn't just shoot you at the bottom. Yup, that's what their great concern would have been, I'm sure.

But once you get to the top, and you're looking out at the sun setting over the jungle, you start to forget the trek up. And then there's dinner being place in front of you, and you forget even more.

We slept in a bamboo hut, on bamboo floors that felt like they might break with every step. But they did not. Underneath all the mosquito nets it reminded me of the parachute room scene from Pearl Harbor, although a little less scandalous.

As we lay in bed we could hear fireworks shooting off in the distance, and then a banging of drums. Off we went to investigate. It turned out that tonight was the final night of the hill tribe's new years eve celelbrations. And as such little four year old children were firing off rockets, while the older children danced in circles around the fire, while the still older got trashed on whatever alcohol was available. New Years – for seven days. How anyone can survive this is beyond me.

And seeing little children waddling away in a hurry from the three second fuse they just lit? Somewhat of a frightening thing. But then these guys have open fires inside their wooden houses, so they know what's what.

The best part is that when the fireworks explode, little pieces rain down on your head. Yes, that is the best part.

After an hour of circle dance watching we headed back to our huts. The music, and explosives would carry long into the night. The last time I woke up and clocked them it was for twenty in the morning.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I'm Sick. I Know.

I woke up this morning to the Australian's friends shouting her name over and over. My bed was shaking.

At one point they started smacking here screaming her name. I could pretend to sleep no longer. The image of her worming under the bed from last night still terrified me. But now all seemed to have worked itself out in the great cosmic way. She was dead.

They smacked her for another two minutes, before accepting my claim as to her no longer being in the land of living. With the bed no longer shaking, I could get up and put on some pants.

Then her leg twitched.


And that was it. That was my day. It ended at nine in the morning. And do you know why? Because I watched – that's right: Torchwood.

But I'm done with it now. The habit is broken. Well that's not right. More like I ran out of episodes. But I've seen the full series now. And it's done. So now I have no more media to consume.

Except for HIMYM and Big Bang Theory that still comes out every week. And Lost will be starting up soon. Oh and True Blood – that will eventually hit the air once more. And then The Pacific (follow up to Band of Brothers) starts in two months.

But – nothing else pressing.

Except Smallville. I'd like to catch up on that if only because I've sunk so many years of my life into it. And this year they say it's really ending. Although that's why I've stuck with it since season 4 when it was supposed to end. But no more on this.

I did nothing all day.

But I thought about travel some. About how going to a new country, or a new city doesn't really hold anything for me anymore. I've seen cities in the Orient, I've seen Europe, I've seen North America, and I've seen Africa. Within a few weeks I'll have seen South America. And I know Australia will be different – but I'm squishing Namibia and North America together, and assuming that's about right.

Soon enough I'll have seen most natural landscapes. I'll have seen everything. When I hit Antarctica in March there really will be few secrets left to me. And I'm already starting to feel that.

The world is becoming Rome. And Rome, if you recall, is just a museum.

It's no longer about going to see the majesty of the museum. It's not longer about seeing surprises behind every twist and turn. That's fun for a while, but after the first hour or so, you're lucky if a piece in one room of of seven catches your eye.

And then once you've been to the museum, you rarely go back – maybe every now and then to see a piece you really enjoyed. Or if there's a special exhibit on somewhere. Or if they've redone a wing, perhaps, or made new acquisitions. But it's rare that you go back. Oh sure some people love the museum, and when I had a free pass I used to go to kill time, because why not? It's neat, and it's not costing anything – but when they slapped on the fifteen dollar price tag, that was that for me. I'll probably go back every few years just to remind myself what it was all about. But that's it, unless I become rich and fifteen dollars for a wander through things I've already seen (or things that are so identical to things I've already seen, that I couldn't care enough to fictionalize why this pot is any different from the one I saw last year.) And if friends want to go with me, well then I'll head back and wander those same halls with them, because then it's a fun social thing and the pieces are more the backdrop for your socializing. And different views bring different appreciation. Your friend likes Egyptology, so that room is a highlight this trip, rather than a quick scan through. You even stop bringing your camera after long enough.

And this is travel to me now.

Don't get me wrong – still awesome. Think of how cool it would be to get locked in the museum, and what not. But, this is what travel is to me now.

The Shopaholic Book is Stupid (X- why is it stupid? Y - Because it's dumb. X - Why is it dumb? Y - Because it's stupid!

I do not like the shopaholic books, I do not like the shopaholic books, I do not like the shopaholic books!

But if that's true then, why I have just read the last one hundred pages without stopping? And why is the first break I've taken specific to write about how much I dislike the books? But, come on – lets be honest. No one reads these books and relates to the characters right? Thinks she's anything but insane? I mean I know there are a bunch and I'm just on the first – just going to read the first. I'm reading the first. You know, I'm travelling. You read what you can access when yo travel.

But then I didn't really leave with this book, and in fact I traded a book I'd not yet read for this book, so...

But I didn't want my first Sherlock Holmes books to be one of the modern texts, that would be oh so insulting to ACD. So I just couldn't read it and that was that.

But then there was this book, and so a trade was made, and there you have it. But I don't like it. At all. I might finish it tonight.

But now that I'm connected to the internets... Luckily there's nothing left to watch, and I have to sit on the floor to access a plug socket, and it hurts my back and blah blah blah ON WITH THE NEWS!

So I woke up today, and packed all my belongings, then realized I was exhausted. After such a busy, full, and active day yesterday I couldn't possibly be expected to remain alert. So i lied down on the couch and joined in the watching of Inglorious Basterds. This was actually quick wonderful. I mean such all of Qts films are essentially the same and terribly formulaic, but that doesn't stop them from being good. It just lets you know what's what.

But then that ended and it was time to leave. So leave I did, grabbing a tuk-tuk into town, and right to the door of my new hostel. My new hostel that was one third the price (3USD a night, rather than 9) and settled in. Just as I was unpacking I noticed I had no towel.

This was because my towel was hanging in my old hostel.

This was because I was an idiot.

Having lost one towel already, I was in no mood to lose another. And this one was still within reach. I would need to return the forty minute, maybe an hour, walk back to hostel the first. But not before dropping 1100B on a trekking trip for the next two days.

So back at the old hostel, I looked the fool, grabbed my towel, and started heading back. This would pass me by Pizza Hut. Ah, what the hey? Why not – yeah? So in I went, had a double pizza (a chicken supreme pizza on top of a pizza with chicken and spinach) and proceeded to feel sick with myself. As one rightly should after Pizza Hut. But I was no longer craving it. And it was not delicious. And it cost the same as staying in my hostel for the night I'm here. Still – had I not eaten it, it would have been the most delicious thing in all of creation. Plus, on my walk there, and sitting in the restaurant I finished my book. No more Heinlienian Incest for me – not until I read another Lazarus Long (or should I say Captain Jack Harkness?) tale.

Just as I was tossing one book aside, I saw staring at me, a Tom Clancy novel. All 900 pages of soft covered glory. I didn't really want to add to my pack – but, Tom Clancy. I'd never read any before this trip, and his grade three reading level makes for some interesting writing. And this one takes place in China – where I'll be going soon enough. So why not, right? I should be done my current book sooner than expected anyway.

It should be noted that I don't like the shopaholic book. Just one more time. So my protesting too much becomes beyond obvious, and rather quite tedious.

Well that's about it. No great tale, no tangent I want to bust in on. But that's probably because my U key is even more obnoxious than usual, sitting on the floor, and I really do want to get back to reading my book. Which I do not like.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fight Night

I did nothing today. Absolutely nothing from the time I woke up, until 5:00pm. Aside from devour the free breakfast I just hung out in my room watching Torchwood. Many hours were killed this way. And at one point it went from being delightful watching it to driving me insane. And I wonder what I would have done had I not bought these earphones. Still – My day wasn't set to start until late afternoon, and I still spent a good seven hours out and about. As I mentioned yesterday, I had a fight to see.

I wandered down to the town, passing a mall that I'd not noticed earlier. Seems that they have a Sizzler and a Pizza Hut there. What fun! After looking at the pizza and considering going in to buy one, I finally pulled away. True I've been wanting a good North American style pizza for some time now, but is Pizza Hut – full of greasey greasey grease grease – the best way to get it? It is probably my only choice out here though, and as such I will succumb soon. But not just yet.

Leaving the mall behind me, I began to walk to town once more, just in time to see a couple drop their camera, lens first, onto the sidewalk. It was a crushing blow and made me cringe. They picked it up to assess damage. I had to look away. Onwards towards the city.

Once more I played real world Frogger, Once more I succeeded.

The moat that surrounded the city so elegantly yesterday was dry now. Who can say why? Maybe it's a weekend moat? Seems a little odd – but so many of the decisions that they must think of as rational here strike me as peculiar, so what's a little mud? Crossing over, I once more entered the city.

Dawdling I had managed to kill a good hour in this process. It was now 6:00. Hunger had been getting the best of me. Toast in the morning, and 7-11 in the afternoon does not make for a happy tummy, all be it full. I found a restaurant right in the North East corner of the town, pulled up a chair, and sat down. Menu was delivered, and after a few moments I had decided on Bamboo shoots, noodles, veggies, and pork. And a lemon smoothie.

The food was priced similar to that which I was eating in Cambodia. Except for the smoothie which was twice the price. But all was forgiven when said smoothie arrived, and it proved to be at least thrice the size. I ate, and I ate, and little by little the world became a happier, more colour place to live in. When the meal was finally done, I was no longer trapped in the mindset of one who had been watching television all day. I had been transformed, reborn, ready to embrace the world around me. And the world around me was good!

But more than anything, I just wanted to read. It was seven by this point, and I wandered the streets looking for a place to sit down. There was an internet cafe where 15B would secure me an air conditioned room to read in for an hour. True, I've paid more than that to use a toilet alone (free with price of entry here) but if I paid to use internet, I'd probably end up using it. And that wold defeat the purpose of going there to read. So I pressed on. And out of the east gate. I was guided by a glowing sight in the heavens above.

Two golden arches led me home. Yes, to McDonald's I went. They would have toilets, and places to sit, and be free of biting bugs. And I could even justify my time there by purchasing a cone for 7B. Now that's value and savings people. And also the exact amount of change I had jangling around in my pocket. So no real loss there.

From the balcony (ah yes, this McDonald's had a delightful balcony looking out towards the east gate.) I could see people working on cheerleader routines. The area in front of the east gate becomes a sort of public square. One section had the cheerleaders, another had kids shining up their friends scooters, while their friends were perched atop flirting. Down more kids were tricking with the bikes.

This one are of town seems so different from everything else I'd seen thus far. Almost as if a little piece of Tokyo had fallen through to this specific place.

And there I sat, and read – until the bugs got too bad, and I could no longer stand listening to Cline Dion play over and over again (a curse worse than that of pop music) - at which point i went inside and continued to read. At 8:40 I left, and headed for the boxing club.

Turns out my ticket was legit, and all was alright. So I headed to my fantastic seat, checked my name written on a slip of paper placed under the ashtray, and sat down.

I was reminded why I don't like fights. There ere eight in total. The first was with wee kids, the next was with older ones, three had decent fighters, four was a womens match, for five they blindfolded four guys threw them in, and let them go at it, six was by far the best with two guys of equal skill who knew what they were doing, seven was alright, and eight was an international match with two bigger guys.

Now, aside from fight six (after which half the crowd left) let me tell you why I hate fights. Either the fighters are no good, and it lasts the full five rounds in some sort of god awful bore fest, or the fighters are good, in which case the fight ends in round one or two. So you're either bored, or it's over right as it was getting good.

The blind match? Well that was kinda fun – but ridiculous. And while I do enjoy that I have now seen Sagat's Tiger Knee performed in person a few times (add that with Guile's Moon Kick which I've also seen in the real life and I'm on my way. Now where's the hundred hand slap when you need it?) I still found myself somewhat – yawn. The final match looked as if it could be worth while. The fighters were bigger, they gave it their all, and – it was over in 45 seconds. I don't know why it ended. One fighter was hit by a flurry, but stayed on his feet, looked like he was ready to go, but that was it. It was called. He was done.

And two hours were gone. In retrospect it will be a lot better, as I can focus on the little flurries of action between the posing, and waiting for an opening. I found that when I was recording the fight all I could focus on was the downtime, while when I wasn't those little moments mattered. There's probably a far more reaching message there – but I'll leave it as is.

It was something I am glad that I did. I might even go back again. But it wasn't that fantastic. As I said though, I don't really like fights. It probably has to do with video games. Like when you see a skateboarder do something impressive today, you don't really see it as such – because, you know, in Tony Hawk you could do that grind for twenty seconds, hit up a flip trick, go into a wall ride, and then vert (defying all physics.) Still – Sagat's Tiget Knee? Pretty sweet.

At some point the temperature dropped ten degrees, and a sound like fans called through the entire building. It took us all a few moments to realize what had happened – rain. And, of course, as it had not rained lately I did not have my jacket on me. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's packed at the bottom under all my things, back at the hostel. I could just feel the price of tuk-tuk rides going up.

As luck would have it, the rain was over by the time the fights finished. And as I went outside I was hounded by a group of drivers. I walked a few meters down the street before stopping to talk to any. Pointing out where I was, I asked how much. 100B he said. I was looking to pay 80, but was I really going to haggle over 20B at this point? No. It was late. Nearing Midnight, and while I was thinking of walking home, low hanging wires camouflaged in the night, and the threat of rain kept my thoughts more clear.

I did wonder why he started off with 100 when in was thrice the distance from where the guy quoted me 80 yesterday.

As we got underway I was quickly asked if I wanted marijuana. Oh good – maybe it's jail time again. I said no, definitely not, and hoped he would just keep on target towards my hostel. He did. As we neared the hostel he was quite surprised when I wasn't interested in any of his offered “pretty ladies” that were right around this area. He was even more shocked that I wasn't interested after he assured me that they “gave good boom boom.” No thank you sir. Just the hostel. You know what? Just here, here's your 100 and I'll be running away thank you very much.

And I did.

And then watched more Torchwood. I know – I know! It's an addiction.

At four in the morning I was woken up by an Australian girl on her hands and knees with her head shoved under my bed. It was weird. She normally resides on the bunk above me, but getting in absolutely trashed she had dropped something (so that's what hit my head, causing me first the stir.) She had dropped her back pack. On my head. It was now trapped under the bed. After trying for a minute or so, and drunkenly failing she gave up. And was soon snoring. Of course I was now wide awake. To the internets!

At some point I was sleeping again? I must have been. I definitely woke up and it was morning.

Wandering the Walled City

So out into the world again, is it? It's another day – one of those days where you say, self, you are going to sweat. And when you sweat it will be gross. And odds are you're gonna wear that same shirt tomorrow, because that's just how it works, so get used to it and try to make the best of it. And self said ok.

But, you know, that didn't happen until about two hours after I'd woken up. I got up, checked my email, and saw that some people were on skype. I was dragged into what turned out to be a two hour planning session. And it was really quite delightful. April – Japan – was planned out. Casting all of my work done months ago to get myself ready, aside. But this is alright. Just a few deposits here and there will be lost. And it was during this planning that you really marvel about the technology we have.

There are my friends, back in the Greater Toronto Area and I'm talking to them in Chaing Mai Thailand. The wonders of skype Video Chat are just beyond... And I've not used it so much as to think it normal, and just another part of technology. It still exists as magic to me. And that they an see me walk around, background changing, as I move to reconnect to the wifi signal is fantastic. I imagine a world where free wifi (have I mentioned lately that other people pronounce this as wee fee instead of Why Fie? It's weird...) blankets a city, and you can walk around showing off the entire area, from thousands of miles away. Honestly, how is that not magic? Its time will come soon.

So with April planned, and made marginally more expensive, but potentially cost saving as I'll now be using a JR Rail pass, I headed out for the day.

This had nothing to do with my netbook's battery finally running dry. Not at all.

So, with that done, I started my walk into town. People look at me as if I'm crazy for walking. The walk is one kilometer. I return the look.

I don't get all that far. I make it to the gates of my little ex-pat community, in which the hostel is situated: Located just out of town allowing you to see the real Chiang Mai that we love. Uh huh – if real Chiang Mai is all ex-pats, then sure.

I make it as far as the gates, and there a taxi driver offers to “give you a ride? Cheap.” I ask how much for this one kilometer driver. “Only 140,” he replies. Oh iis that all? For a ride that would come up to about 39 on the meter? No thank you sir. I'm willing to pay 20. He tells me to take the red bus. I have no idea how this red bus works. And there's no one to explain it. So I start to walk. It will show me the area, so why not, yeah? The walk is mostly shaded, and there's a two meter wide sidewalk. I've never felt so safe and secure moving around in Thailand. Still – the intersections are adventures by the minute. There are no walk signs here. There are no pedestrian crossings. There are eight lanes of traffic, constantly moving in a cluster flux that you must navigate. Two lanes are constantly turning never stopping, three one way stop while the three the other are given the signal to go.

It's like Oregon Trail. You almost feel like hiring a ferry to float you across (pay a tuk-tuk 10B or so to drive on through) but even still... accidents happen. So you run throgh the stream, wait for the three lanes to stop, stand in the middle of moving traffic, wait for the next three to stop, and then run through the final stream, before the cars start up again.

Perhaps you think I'm over selling this. I am not. I have seen locals engage in just the same activities which makes me feel better, and also terrifies me that this is a culture that thinks, “sure, this is fine. What's wrong here?” The best part? You need to cross this gauntlet before you can walk through the city gates. Right before, infact.


But, once inside, the world is yours. The cars have slowed, the mad tuk-tuks exist only on the outer right, and you should have no problem making your way around. And where will you head? The temples of course. This is Asia. There's always another temple, or a shrine, or a place of past and future worship. There always is.

And I just think, thankfully I went to Angkor Wat before here. Yeah - Angkor Wat was more impressive, but these temples are pretty spectacular in their own right. More impressive, taller, different, than the ones in Bangkok. Had I seen these first, Angkor Wat would have been amazing still, but – maybe a little less so?

I don't know why people bill Chiang Mai as the anti-Bangkok. A more authentic Thai Experience, you're constantly told. It is not.

Bangkok may be a city full of tourists, but Chiang Mai is a city built for tourists. That's all it is. Every restaurant advertises their “American Dishes” and many sell them for 600B a meal. That's about 20USD. Sure that seems normal for us. You could probably eat a month for that as a local. The temples are flooded with beaded white guys (look, I know – but these are the short cropped Riker beards that say “I am sophisticated, or a hippy not willing to fully invest”) with their baggy clothes, and their girlfriends with dreadlocks, and all sorts of other nonsense. No – ok maybe they understand the religion and aren't just holding incense because they were pushed upon them by woman who then guilted them into “donating to her.” But this is what you see –

and as #71 on the terrible racist website Stuff White People Like ( we do so hate our cultural experiences being trampled upon by others who may so look like us. (indeed it is a racist, and I still can't believe the book is sold in the humour section at Chapters – Canada's evil near-monopolizing bookstore, that I love so much, for some reason. Don't get me wrong – the website is pretty genius, and it's bloody funny. But that's the internet. You take that and throw it off the internet, and try to justify it by putting it in the humour section? I don't know. Not worth it I guess. So many words wasted already. Still – full marks for accuracy!

So there you are wandering temples, feeling just as much a part of real Thailand as if you were on Koh Samui getting drunk and burning yourself on flaming skipping ropes. But hey, there's some neat stuff here. So you look around, you take your pictures, and you find yourself amazed by what you see. Still – this is about as authentic as Brugge, and Tallinn. Quite similar in many respects too. Each of those sums up what you'd expect to see in Europe, Eastern Europe, and South East Asia. But none are real. People lock up their shops at night, leave the city, and go to their real homes in their real communities. But we rarely look that far, do we? Who has the time.

After the temples, I wandered my way through the streets, and coming across a boxing stadium. Apparently there'd by a match tomorrow. 400B. How could I refuse? People keep saying that you can't go to Thailand without seeing a fight. Mind you, they also say you can't go without riding an elephant, so it's all really up in the air, isn't it?

Anyway, I bought my seemingly legit ticket, and then found a place to go sit myself down by at the three kings monument. It's strange watching people pass by here. They stop, they bow, they pray. It represents those that created the city. But people bow to it, palms pressed together. Imagine that. Imagine if every time you walked past city hall, you really thought back and appreciated the formation of your town. I don't know if that's what's happening here – but something certainly is. You need only watch a few moments to see it play out.

When I see my city hall it just makes me watch to watch Resident Evil 2 again, so I can see it blown to bits at the end.

But that's me. North American cultured. Kaboom.

It may also sadden some of you to know that I did not blow up a cow with a rocket launcher, nor shoot a rocket launcher, nor any high powered weapon. Yes I had the chance. In a few countries. But – paying equal to a months wage for ten seconds of depressed trigger – it just seemed wrong some how. I would pay that much to do it in Europe, but not here. I don't know where the money is going, and that leaves me feeling somewhat under informed. Too much so when dealing with weapons.

Eventually I left the city, walking back to my hostel. When I'd less than a kilometer to go, I asked a tuk-tuk driver how much a return trip would cost. I was told 80B. I laughed, saying no no too much. Stone faced, as if he'd offered me the deal of my life he repeated the number. I offered forty. He walked away.

For the first time I was honestly offended. Offended that we would even suggest such a price, and offended that he would not budge. If anything points out how touristy this place is it's that in late January there are still enough tourists for a tuk-tuk driver to turn down a fare, knowing someone will be along to pay the high priced one. It should also be noted that he could have dropped me off and been back to his spot within about three minutes. It was a straight shot, no lights, no traffic. The ride would have started at 50B and been negotiated down to about 25 in Bangkok. He was that sure that someone would be by within a few minutes that he could afford to not even try to negotiate with me. Chiang Mai? It's nice. But if someone tells you it's authentic – just remember this.

Back at the hostel I set to devouring more media. It is my mission to complete Torchwood before I leave this city.

Hey, I have time. I have two more nights in this hostel, and then five more in one across town. This is a three night city. Four tops. There's trekking and that's a good reason to come here – but like I said, I have many more nights to fill. Can't rush it all at once. Just give yourself one mission a day.

Tomorrow it will be the fight. If my ticket is legit. It must be – there's a stamp on it.

And I wrote my name on a slip of paper, placed under a cigarette tray!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Off to Chaing Mai

O.K. O.K. Wake up, pack up, grab a taxi to the airport. Who needs the bus, I say? Sure a few people refused to pick me up because they didn't want to drive out to the airport on the meter (they could more easily scam tourists this way) but eventually someone let me in.

We jumped on the highway – 70B toll extra – and zipped along at 130 kilometers an hour passing everyone we came across. Sure it cost a bit more than last time, but the ride was twenty minutes instead of nearly an hour. So – you know – it's all good.

At the airport, I checked in, and discovered the Thai lounge was for business and first class only. Sigh. But that was fine, with head phones, I could plug into the wall and watch some more Spider-Man. You know, now that I can consume media again, I wonder if I'll ever catch up on my reading? And I quite like my book too.

Up in the air things happened fast. These intercontinental flights in relatively small countries are somewhat silly. Just as you reach your cruising elevation and have a little box of food on your tray table in front of you the message is played to return your tray table to its locked position, as you're beginning to descend.

On the ground I watched as the bags were thrown from the trolley to the baggage belt, and wondered, wouldn't this be more efficient if he just left the trolley and let us grab our packs? Probably not. But mine was right on top of a pile that he kept avoiding, so it was frustrating. I used this time to grab my taxi chit, and then watched as everyone was offered a free sim card – with, it can be assumed, terrible rates that tourists wouldn't know were terrible. Everyone but me. No sim card this way. Do I either look a.) like someone who would see through the silliness, or b.) someone who can't afford a phone, when even the ultra poor in 'middle of nowhere' Africa had them? ...they probably had to have them, there being no land lines, but still.

Back to the tourist airport scam things. You could pay 3000B for a one hour massage at the spa, the taxi would take you right there. I cringed at this. How many people fell for this? They had a full menu of options, not just for the body massage. All the prices, though, were just as silly. When I finally got taxied into town I checked to see if my assumption was correct, and yes indeed. All the prices were exactly ten times higher than you would be charged anywhere else. Ten times. Ten! Ai ya.

So I got to my hostel easy enough – delightful 120B airport bus. And then once there I tried to check in. Of course they said I hadn't made a booking. I said I had. they checked their files – oh, I had. But they checked their book – nope I wasn't there. Eventually it was decided that I was Michelle and that I could stay. This was just one of the many fun organizational issues you can see here at this hostel. Lovely hostel – but... organizationally? It's not so hot. I've heard a few people pay 300B deposit for keys, but as deposit is only 200B that's all they get back when they leave. And many times people have come into this room to find their beds already taken. There are other rooms, so all is well – but...

Still, there's two tvs, hundreds of DVDs, three guitars (which is how I amused myself until I was named Michelle), and a drink store where you just put your name on a list and check off what you drink. In theory you could steal them, but the honour system works well. I wonder when I'm supposed to pay?

Anyway, I wandered the streets as the sun was setting. I wanted to head to town. I've been told I should just take a taxi but I don't know how. There are taxis that cost too much, tuk-tuks, which are, you know, tuk-tuks. And then there are these red buses. They're probably the thing to use, but I have no idea how.

So I wandered the road to town, checked out the 7-11s (just as many here, of course), and then I checked out all number of other things. Like restaurants made for tourists, and priced to match. Just as I was nearing town I thought I should ask a local where I was to confirm I wasn't all screwed up. She told me I was somewhere way far away from where I thought I should be. I knew she was wrong. Well I thought I knew. Well – she was wrong. But not before making me think, as it was getting dark, that I should probably just leave exploring until tomorrow, lest I really did wander into the middle of nowhere.

So that was that, I headed back to my hostel, and crashed in for the night. I started to watch some movies with the other folks, but my goodness are there a lot of mosquitoes here. I couldn't deal with them. Too much slapping and scratching. So I wandered into my dorm, shut the door, cranked on the aircon, and set to catching up on How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory.

These headphones... a blessing or a curse? Time will tell. But I am entertained none the less.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Walking to the North - of Bangkok

Well, here I am back in Bangkok, looking to get rolling. Looking to get on out there. Looking to explore the great wild city once more for my own pleasure and amusement.

So of course I sit down, take out the netbook, and hit up the wifi. You know, in the era before computerized travelling people must have made a lot more friends, and read a lot more books. Just sayin' is all. After responding the email, making my way around facebook, and posting some messages here and there – not to mention navigating my way through some gChats from people in time zones 12 hours different – I was finally ready to, oh I don't know, explore the option of exploration.

So into the locker goes my gear I don't need for the day and – oh, it's raining. I thought I'd left that behind in Cambodia, when the first percipitation began as I boarded the plane. You know, not that I'm complaining, but I bought a swanky rain coat that I praised with much love in the early days of this blog (my recent feelings have been altered some) just for this part of the world. And it's heavy. And it takes up space. And if it's not going to rain, then explain to me why I have it? And let us be Frank shall we? (Hello Frank. / Oh hi Frank.) It's hot in this part of the world. Even when it's raining. You would not be putting on that raincoat. You'd let yourself get soaked, and then be a wee bit happy that you won't need to sweat for the next few hours. Though you'll feel clammy and gross. But even with the coat your pants would get soaked, so you still wouldn't be that much better off.

Don't get me wrong, there are alternatives for the whole pants getting wet thing. For one, you could put on some rains pants – or a rain skirt. You know the rain skirt is a brilliant idea, and I've often considered making myself one. That's right – but I'd not call it a rain skirt, I'd call it a rain lungi and that way any genderized problems can be – dare I say it? - skirted. Skirt. Skirt. Skirt.

O.K. that's out of my system. Look, I know these things do exist, but they run around two hundred dollars American. That's a lot of money for a sheet of plastic. True story.

[editor's note: it has come to my attention, by the author of the following link, that there is a free how-to guide to create your own rain skirt. I approve of this! Danke Diane.]

Even still – you probably wouldn't have wanted to put that on, and so you'd be wet. So here's the thing – why do I have this rain coat? It makes no sense. I've worn it sure – but has it ever really helped? I'd have to read my posts from Interlaken, and see the videos in order to really figure it out.

You know one day I'm going to sit down and watch all those videos that have been going up, and I'll probably thing – wow... I've done some neat stuff. Stuff is always more awesome after the fact. You get to add it to the great narrative that is your life, and context is important. It is. I swear this is true. I seem to recall not finding Angkor Wat all that impressive when I first saw it (hence the title of the post) but the more I thought about it, the more fantastic it became.

Enough of this Tom Foolery! Eventually I set out. And the rain stopped. And so I needed my coat not, and did not take it from my pack. I did go to the 7-11 though and eat some baked goods, and drank some drinks in order to take my malarial pill with food and beverage as the doctor so prescribed. I tell you, won't it be fun remembering this pill all the way to Antarctica? Three and a half months of tiny blue pills. Great. Some people tell me they don't prevent malaria but just push back when you get symptoms. My doctor said this was not the case – but everyone else seems to think it is. I ask only because I will be in the middle of nowhere (a ship in open waters, crossing the Antarctic circle) when the pills run out. And if I get malaria then? Well – I don't want to. Although using that million dollar evacuation insurance I've been paying for and being heli-lifted from nowhere would be pretty cool too, yeah? Anyway – I take doxy. If you think that this will lead to me dying let me know, eh?

Right, so now that we have the matter of my impending doom covered, lets take a moment to discuss 7-11 once more, shall we? They really are everywhere. EVERYwhere here. I had forgotten them in Cambodia, and then – bam! - they're back. I bet you there is one 7-11 in this town for every giant image of the King. Or maybe one giant image of the King for every 7-11. It's hard to say which came first, and which is just trying to keep up.

This king, here's really out there. I see his image a good six times an hour when I'm walking? From billboards, to signs, to posters, to framed images you can hang on your wall at home, or place on your office desk. He is there, and he knows how to wear yellow. It's a skill possessed by few. Dick Tracy had it, April O'Neil had it, and the King? Well he has still got it!

Not only do you get the privilege of standing up to watch his biography before every movie (I wonder how the film holds up on IMAX screens) but you are also blessed by his presence with every other step you take. He just becomes a natural part of the scenery here.

It didn't help that I chose to walk North today, leading towards the Royal Residence. Every ministry and academic institute of whatever was on this road. Each of these had a few banners and posters for his Majesty. Of his Majesty?

As I drew closer and closer to the end of the road I heard shouting. Cheering. Men on bullhorns. Hurray! A protest! And there were police around. You know, as much as I have been proved to not listen to this, protests are a very foolish thing to be part of outside your own country. And in this part of the world? Well I had no desire to be anywhere near it. Luckily the protest happened to take place just outside the main gate to the zoo. All I needed to do was hop over seven (seven!) downed high tension cables laying on the sidewalk, and I'd be there. I don't know much about electricity. We once dared a friend to grab a low hanging wire back in high school – but stopped him right before he as about to. Later we were told he would have died had he grabbed it. Birds, it was related to us can survive sitting on wires because they're not grounded. Once again – I'm not sure how these things worked, but it sounded alright. So as I tip-toped, and hopped, and hoped, my way around these wires I was doing it with fear that I was in a life or death game of hopscotch. In all reality would I have died if I stepped on them? I don't know. But I wasn't about to test my luck.

A quick google search has provided me with a quick video of a man in India standing on the roof of a train that would seem to suggest that I would, indeed, have died after momentarily looking as if I'd been hit by a blast of Yoga Fire. I do not recommend that you repeat this search. Thailand! (said in the way a lama might say the word Karl) What are you doing letting these things just lay in the middle of the side walk, outside the zoo?

With that excitement behind me I paid my 100B and into the zoo I went. It was there that I saw some Asian Elephants. They were hanging out, eating their straw, doing their thing. Booooring, I thought. I've seen elephants before. Real elephants. Wild elephants. Not elephants cooped up so long that they've gone insane, and resort to putting hay on their head for lack of anything else to do. And then I felt sad for the elephants. This would be only the beginning of that.

I walked on, and found myself in a part of the zoo that during the busy days would be full of kids. It was an amusement park. Currently abandoned. Not creepy at all. Nope, seemingly abandoned amusement parks are always a fun part of everyones experience. And when they're motion activated so all the games spring to life in a cacophony of sound and music, mirrored by an epileptic light show, well that's just all part of the delight, am I right?

Then came the birds. All the small cages of birds. I mean, at least you could see them, yeah?

And then I got to the bomb shelter.

Wait? What? The bomb shelter. Yes, the zoo used to be a public park, and during dubya dubya two bomb shelters were built up in pubic areas to prevent, as the sign put it, accidents. I walked through it, becoming only slightly distressed when I rounded a corner and found a family of manikins, which didn't process fast enough that they were manikins, hiding there, curled near the ground.

With that shock and awe behind me, it was off to see the hippos. Seen in. Then the lions. Got closer in Africa. There were Zebras. Yawn. Giraffes. Oh I remember you when you didn't have a fence surrounding you. Tigers. Tigers! Cool! I felt like Calvin, getting close to the glass, snapping away madly with my camera, and then I ran over the the white tigers. I remembered the smell of these animals. Strange that they can be associated with smell. Well maybe not so strange, as that's how most animals tell territory.

[authors note: Listening to Stop Making Sense again. This album has got a lot of millage.]

After seeing the tiger I was confronted with the fact that zoos might not be the same for animals I've seen in the wild. It's like when I pass the deer pen at the Toronto zoo. What's the point of even turning your head to look when you can see a wild one run in front of you on the walk to the African pavilion?

Still – were the beasts not in concrete pens, it might have held more interest as well.

As I neared the end of my animal rounds I noticed that for an extra 40B I could see the Kenya Boys Acrobatic show. How could I resist the Kenya Boys? I could not. So ticket purchased, I found a seat. Within five minutes I was surrounded by hundreds of Thia teens in their school uniforms. This was not strange at all. No more strange than the “Real Africans” jumping through hoops, and posing on stage though. So it was a wash.

The show? Not all that bad honestly. It was interesting stupid human tricks which culminated with the limbo. Whatever. Worth my buck thirty, anyway. Then they past around a hat at the end of it all (but I didn't have a penny to pay.) Kind of tacky for a show you need to pay to see, but that's just how it is.

But wait! The show wasn't over, oh no. It was just beginning. Well that's not true – it was half over. But what came next... terrible.

The saddest elephant you've ever seen. Sure it walked on its front legs, and then it walked on its back legs, putting a hat on a girls head (so it must have been happy, right? I mean, heck, at one point it was even dancing. You don't dance if you're not happy right? Like those bears you used to see on tv!)

This part of the show was – awkward. And then the elephants collected money for tips at the end. This was the most terrible part. Standing in the vats into which they'd been trained to urinate on command, you had to walk by them. All the Thai kids loved it. I was terrified. These are not happy animals. These are not safe animals. I thought that I should be standing hands over head clapping and shouting, or sitting down cross legged (these being the ways to not be killed by elephants, you must understand. The first pre-charge, the second during.) But no, they were all taking pictures with the elephants.

Every now and then they would creep closer, at which point they'd get a smack from their controller. And then they'd step back. One girl reached out to touch the truck. Her had was grabbed, and painfully squeezed. After some further smacking it as released. Seriously – don't touch the giant ill-treated animal!

And just for fun, after the show, you can go outside and see them tied up to trees with their mental chains. Metal chains too. But I do believe the mental ones are stronger – as I'm pretty sure the elephant could have knocked over the tree or broken the chair if he wanted to. But no, he simply paced, back and forth, tugging the metal taught, and then stepping back. Forward. Back. Over and over.

Cultural differences.

As I was leaving the zoo I saw one thing that I'd not expected in my wildest dreams to see here. I saw – yes, my most favourite bird – seen for real for the very first time – a cassowary! The Australian bird of death! It has razor sharp claws that can rip apart humans. And they do!

I wanted to get closer to the cage to take better pictures, but the closer to the fence I get, the closer it gets. I was not willing to be the stupid tourist mauled by a starved man killing bird. But to see its brightly coloured plumage – blues, and reds – and the horn on is head... it was fantastic. I still love emus – but the Cassowary? Definitely Emu2.0. Wonderful.

Alright – zoo time was over! I was walking down to the river to take the boat back down south. I'd been told it was the only way to travel. On my way I passed the university students getting out of class, buying street food en mass, and then I found what I'd been searching for for some time: juice in a bag! Yes, finally it was mine! For 12B I had 500ml of green beverage poured from the glass bottle into a bag, with ice from the cooler housing the bottles (perfectly clean and sanitary, I'm sure) added in for cooling. And – it was awesome. People looked at me weird for taking pictures of the juice bag. I mean, to them, it's normal and natural. Love it!

The purpose? So the vendor can collect the rebate from the glass bottle. Hey – 12B, you can't beat that price.

Then I hit the river, and yes – the boat is the only way to travel. Four kilometers for 13B. And it was a lovely time. And if the opportunity presents itself again, I would like to ride up and down the length of the route. Because, why not? It wasn't so fine as Oslo's experience... but Oslo's experience wasn't forty cents. And I'm not in Oslo – so I'll do what I can while I'm here.

I got off near the Royal Palace. For once I was wearing long pants and could go inside to explore it. This, of course, is why it was closed today. So then I simply walked back to the hostel, felt good about myself for getting back out there, and sat down to watch some well earned movies. And email. And facebook. And forum post.

Travel without computers? I wonder...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Only a damn fool would fly from Siem Reap to Bangkok.

I am a damn fool. But I've learned. Next time will be better, honest and truly. Let me tell you why it's stupid. The route it monopolized by Bangkok Airways. As such it is one of the most expensive flights, for time in air, in the world. Yay for me. Now let me go on to further explain why it's stupid, and why I almost tossed my return ticket.

There is a 25USD departure tax for flying out of the country. A bus ticket is less than this tax would have been. A return bus ticket is less. A Tuk-Tuk costs five dollars to the airport. I have paid 30USD to fly out, when I could have paid 11 for a bus ticket. This is, of course, on top of the hundreds spent on the ticket itself.

But hey, who's counting, right? I'll know better for next time.

Sure the bus is 11 hours, but it's air conditioned, and they give you food. And the seats recline. And at the boarder you're provided a taxi for connections.

My flight is only thirty five minutes in the air but you need to get to the airport early, and wait for baggage claim. All in all my total transport time from hostel to hostel will be about five hours. Less, but not three hundred dollars less, is all I'm saying.

When I meet noodle lady, and get a bowl of her delicious food, all will be good and right in the world once more. Though I'll now pine for the sausage rice that will forever be absent from my heart. Oh G5,6 on road No9 I'll miss you so.

And to make matters worse Boidna (who I am now sure is not named Boidna, but the Bo is part of it) was busy today. So he sent a replacement driver for me. No parting picture! No ability for me to tip him for a week that would have been lacking without him! I couldn't leave the tip with the hostel, or with the new driver. I was sure he'd never see it. I was quite disheartened was we drove through the streets one final time.

Yes I had saved some money by not tipping – but it was an upsetting windfall on my part.

And then into the airport. Look – Siem Reap airport is sweet. You'd not believe it. Free wifi, free internet terminals, clear, well lit, lots of neat shops, good food (though kinda pricey compared with the world outside) but if you have a beard – watch out. You will be touched. A lot!

The first touching came when I was going through security. The girl manning the x-ray asked how long I'd had it, “ohh so long, so long! Nice sir.” And then she requested to touch it. Sure, why not? Appease the security people. Every now and then I get this at airports, or in 'real life' so it's all good. But then customs control, the uniformed official there responded in much the same manner. Sure give it a tug you delightfully armed man you, and yes I do shampoo it. Conditioner too, when supplies allow.

But then I went into a shop. And there I had a third run in. The employee, absolutely drunk (wreaking of booze) came up to me. He too wanted to touch, and almost didn't ask. But then caught himself. For how drunk he must have been, he was still rather well composed. Good on him.

Questions were asked, more so than my two previous sober gropers. “I don't want to ask you personal question sir... [beat] ok – but how does you apply for a job with it?” And then we talked about teaching for some time.

Everything I said he was incredibly interested in. I wonder how his manager felt about these shenanigans, or if it's just protocol to have a few glasses of scotch (from the duty free, perhaps?) before going on shift.

When I asked if his store sold earrings he was profoundly apologetic that they did not, but “thank you so much for coming here sir. Thank you so much for looking through our shop! Sorry we do not have those. But thank you. And nice long beard sir!” I will miss him and his drunken antics. And sadly, having vowed never to fly through this airport again, I know in my heart our paths will never cross paths.


And then I waited for my flight to board. More reading was involved. And hoping that my Thai Visa allowed for multiple entry. Things could get very interesting if it didn't.

Well the flight went well, and as it turns out, I was allowed back into the country. So all was right and well in the world. I have a brand new purple triangular thirty day tourist visa. Which actually confuses me. Did they mess up? Or do you always get a new thirty days if you leave the country? There's no thirty days a year thing going on here? I'd like to come back to this art of the world, so I'll need to check up on visa regulations, and not just leave it to chance like I did this time.

But – back in the country I am, and I took the familiar bus back to the hostel I stayed at where I was greeted warmly, an with confusion by the staff who claimed I had made no reservation, only to then find a print out on the counter with my name on it, that they had clearly got out earlier in the day. Good times were had, and noodle lady was visited.

It was a return to the world of 7-11s and late night dvds. Rather than bed by nine or ten.

In related news I'm not sure if I love or hate 500 Days of Summer.

It's strange coming back to a place you know – and having it be so similar but different from where you were. Walking through 7-11, I saw a child and immediately tried to look away, but it was too late, eyes were locked. And then I realized that it wasn't to be a problem. This child had nothing to sell me. Then I went eating my dinner at the noodle lady table, and reflected on how nice it was to have a peaceful meal – only to have my outstretched leg run over by a scooter. How soon we forget.

Tomorrow I hope to accept that I will sweat, it will be gross, but so be it – there's so much more to this city that needs to be explored.

I'll have to set my alarm too – no work site to get me up anymore.

Cambodia Kids and Geography Skills

Have I mentioned the Geography skills of the Siem Reap children? If I have, I'm sure I didn't do it justice. These kids are fact retaining geniuses. And it's all part of their game to sell you postcards, photocopied books, or bracelets.

By this point in travelling I've gotten over my annoyance at them, and I've started to have some fun. The same type of fun that I intended to have with the gypsies in Europe if ever they came back to me once I'd made my own informative postcard for them (check my France posts for more information on this.)

The wee little darlings (back to the Cambodian Kids, not the Gypsies here) will come up to you and try to sell you things. If you don't respond they'll ask where you're from. I'd been told this was a trap, but at some point you just need to know how it plays out.

Kid: Where you from?
Mistah Bee: America
Kid: America, capital – Washington D.C., president – Barak Obama
MB: Actually I'm from Australia
Kid: Capital – [insert capital here, you know, the boring one? Starts with a C I think?], president [hell if I can remember], population [sounded right].
MB: What if I told you I was from Germany? Canada? Sweden?

And so it went on, with this child being able to tell me oh so much about oh so many places.

At the end I refused to buy from him. When he asked why, I told him – because then you won't go to school, and you'll have no life outside of selling. The more people that buy from you, the more you'll be entrapped. He'd heard all this before, of course, and changed to the “I don't have money for school” line – but this is a lie. School is free. Then he admitted that was true (this is a rookie mistake – never admit you were lying if you plan to continue) and told me that he would be going to school tomorrow, there was no school today.

I saw him the same time the next day, “Would you like to buy a postca... oh it's you?” and then he ran away.

But these kips – smart as whips, if whips are to be considered smart. And yet here he is, retaining knowledge that would win him thousands on North American game shows, but will do nothing for his life. What are his choices? To make enough money selling trinkets for his family, so he can – do what with his life?

It's a hard choice. I didn't buy into his, “you buy me food then?” line either. But if you do anything, choose this option. He will eat with you, you know your money goes to something worthwhile. Just be cautious, as he has friends around the corner that will try to come and join. “Just a dollar more, just a dollar more.” Still – it's not so bad?

It's these little street scenes that I think I'll miss most about Siem Reap. But I know that I'll be back here. And maybe sooner rather than later (though I need to know how long I need to be out of country before I can enter with another tourist visa.) There is so much more to this country that I think two weeks, three even, would be required to properly explore. Having spent my time at the temples already, Siem Reap may only be worth a couple of nights, to share the experience with whomever travels with me then.

Odds are most people won't stand for three days of temple crawling. And this will fit my finances perfectly.

I shall miss the tuk-tuk drivers yelling at me to jump in their cart, so as I can be transported far away... right as I'm sitting down in a restaurant. I mean, really people, has this ever worked? And oh how I would have liked to have been there when it did.

I'll miss the people in the markets humming and hawing over all sorts of ridiculous clothes that they'll probably never wear outside their one week abroad. Think of the people who buy kilts in Scotland and wear them while they're there – thinking it makes them blend in? How many more chances do you reckon they'll have in their life to don it again?

And I shall miss Blue Pumpkin, which waned in the final days – but was still a delight that I was glad to have come across. That an Ice cream cost more than two meals still rubbed me wrong. And I shall miss the meals.

I left the hostel but once today, and it was for the purpose of nourishment. I spent the morning into early afternoon reading – finishing The Two Towers, you'll be glad to know. And then I headed out to grab fried rice with sausage, and friend spring rolls, with a mango shake.

For mango shake, think smoothie. And the spring rolls? It wasn't that they tasted good, as much as the sauce, of which I have no clue how it was created, was amazing. And the fried rice with sausage? I have had this three or four times this week. And I will miss it sorely. It is the best fried rice I've ever had. If it were laid down beside Combo C – well... I'd have to think about it. Combo C would win my heart at first, being so long from my belly, but after a few meals of it, I would switch back to the rice with sausage. Combo C would no longer be the clear winner than it had been for the past many years.

Combo C...

This sausage is the most delicious pork I've ever had. And I've had pork in many delicious forms, I'll tell you what. To this point the best pork came in the form of a pulled pork burger created by none other than world famous (well city famous (well... house famous)) Matty P. But on the day I bit into this one dollar fifty cent meal – all that changed. It was a paradigm shift of flavour explosions. A new challenger had appeared, and from Cambodia it reigned.

With my belly full, I retired back to the hostel, where I began reading my next novel (To Sail Beyond the Sunset.) Any novel that begins with someone waking up, having found a dead body beside them is aok in my book. And being written by Heinlein, who wrote my favourite book (Starship Troopers – I make no excuses here) I was quite delighted to finally break into something else that he'd written.

At five thirty I closed the book, grabbed a balcony pack, and sat down in the hostel to watch The Killing Fields.

It seemed a good place to watch such a movie. Is it wrong that I found it somewhat boring though? Having little to do with the Khmer Rouge and more to do with an American journalist, I felt that I was missing out on some of the education I had expected from it. Was it a good movie? M'eh, it was alright.

I would have liked to know more about the Khmer Rouge rise to power, and their downfall, and the economy of a country that quite literally has no currency. What I did learn was the USA bombed Cambodia, a journalist stayed, as did his Cambodian counterpart. USA evacuated, the journalist and Cambodian stayed. They hid in the French embassy. Due to the inability to get a fake passport photo, the counterpart was sent away. The American won an award. After three minutes of seeing the Cambodian toil in the Khmer Rouge fields as a slave labourer he escapes, and is reunited with his family.

It was this toiling that I would have liked to learn more about – and what I really do think should have been the focus of the movie, more than the American writing letters, and winning prizes. But there it is, there you have it. Any movie then that showed Americas war crimes was going above and beyond for the time. So one can't complain that much.

And then I read some more, and headed to bed. My final night in the country. And my stay? Enjoyable. I really do wish I'd managed to see more of the country. But that time will come, I feel quite sure of it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Floating Village of Chong Khneas

A few miles outside of Siem Reap floats the Vietnamese village of Chong Khneas.

It's a short tuk-tuk ride through the more inhabited, less marketed, part of the city to the docks. On the way you'll pass house after raised house. I've often wondered why some of the houses are on stilts. I assumed that it was for when the rainy season brings the water levels up, significantly. But you soon notice that while some houses are elevated, their neighbours are not. This is reason enough to give pause.

Villagers pass through the morning motions, hanging laundry to dry, and setting out for their daily grind, whatever it may be. Dogs lay with their heads on the pavement, for reasons that are beyond me. The move not even at passing vehicles. They would appear dead, if not for the slow rhythmic movements from their breathing. And their still-three-dimensionality.

Buildings fade away, replaced by farms where men toil in the fields, often bending down behind the tall grasses for stretches of time, before returning – seemingly victorious. Then the farms give way, as waters overcome and a fishing village begins to enter into view.

It is there that the tuk-tuk will stop, and you will get out and head down to the docks.

Let us just say, that it is a good thing I have given up my penny pinching ways here in Cambodia. Were this Bangkok I may have argued, pretended to walk away, been huffy, and eventually refused to buy a ticket, were I met with the price I was met with here. But, what is an extra seven dollars, really? Here it's three days worth of meals, but honestly, what is it to me? So I handed over my ridiculous fee to hire a boat, and climbed on board, hopping from concrete dock, to floating tire, then from the front of one boat onto the next, until I had come to the brightly painted monstrosity that would be my ride for the morning.

A wooden shell, with chairs set on the floor inside. I was offered to drive for a moment, but I looked at the steering wheel, connected to ropes, which eventually connected to dragged out coat hangers, which controlled the directionality of our movement. I wondered if this was one of the tourist scams – let them drive, have it break, and then they must pay to fix it. So while I would have liked to, I stayed away. I had been warned about this village so close to the tourist centre.

Some people will tell you that you're not getting the full experience at Chong Khneas, but I think that they're just elitist snobs, and not worth paying much attention to. It would be like saying you didn't see Victoria Falls unless you saw them from Zimbabwe. True, they are lesser in Zimbabwe, but you're still seeing the same waters cascading over the same rock. You're just not being splashed.

So, while there are other floating villages with less tourists, you need only wake up earlier and beat the rush. 7:00 put me there just as the light was filling the sky, and just as the other hotel dwellers were setting up for their morning shower, still an hour from reaching this location.

We boated out of the harbour to the village's beginning. Not very clad men were fishing with nets at the water's edge. Then the floating houses came into view. From the water you can see just through their doorway, in what will turn out to be over an hour of slightly distressing voyeurism. It's said that your boat ticket price feeds into the local economy and gets distributed through the village, but...

The houses have electricity either from generators, or from lines. This electricity is used to power their tvs that the locals watch while lounging in their hammocks. Clearly life is not all that different floating on the water. Some people will be out on the edge of their dock, property, or what have you, going through the same motions as those on dry land. Still – the act of hanging clothes to dry, while precariously positioned on a foot wide plank of wood is slightly more interesting than the same actions anywhere else.

The tour continued, as we past floating pigs (“look, look,” my guide said, smacking my arm – an action that would happen far too many times, and become slightly off putting, and potentially bruising, “floating pig! Floating pig!”) His excitement was genuine, and as he pointed out every one we past, with an arm smack, I assume these are his favourite things to see on the water. A floating pig is very much what you'd expect – a pig floating on the water. Not swimming, mind you, but kept afloat in its very own floating pig pen. It will be, not long, before he's turned into some delicious floating sausage. I can say, without a doubt, that Cambodia has had the best sausage I've ever had anywhere in the world. Sorry Italy.

This very much is a floating village. Everything here floats – there is a floating Korean restaurant, a floating basketball court, floating markets, floating schools.

We headed to one of the floating markets where a little girl was paddling around in a bucket with a three foot long water snake. It is official, little Asian girls can be far more terrifying than little Caucasian girls (wearing white dresses or not.) And when they're paddling around in buckets with snakes, not talking, only staring... Well I'm glad it was dawn and not dusk. That's all I can say.

Crocodiles were being farmed on this floating market, “they make great boots, and bags! You want to buy one?” It also housed some pythons, for similar purposes, I'm sure, and had detailed explanations about the fishing industry. I bought an overpriced soda to compensate for this floating experience. And then we carried on.

The place we reached next was the only scam that I came across on this trip. The mysterious boat breakdown that doesn't get fixed until you buy something from the nearby shops never occurred, but here was most definitely a scam. Before heading to the floating school, you stop at another floating market which sells school supplies – the idea being that you buy some and give them to the teacher.

Here's the thing – I saw a bundle of twenty notebooks, and when I asked how much it was to buy them, I was told it was fifteen dollars. Fifteen dollars for twenty notebooks. I laughed, I couldn't help it. And how much for the pencils? Five dollars for ten, indeed? So I emptied out my Cambodian currency – which equated for about two dollars and fifty cents. It bought me five pens. What I want to know is how this scam works:

When the school gets the goods, do they only get what you buy them, or do they return the objects for a cut of the profits? Or is this one market getting rich off of tourists thinking they're helping a school? Because here's the thing – I could have bought those notebooks for a third of the price back home. I could have bought the pencils at a significantly reduced price, and the pens for much cheaper as well.

When I'm in South East Asia paying more for something than I would back home, I try to discover what's going on. My driver was encouraging me to, “just buy one pack of books, and twenty pencils. Would bring much joy, I think.” Yeah – no kidding. To the shop keepers that would get twenty five dollars of my money. Twenty five dollars is enough money to feed someone for a month here, if not longer. It's long enough to feed me for two weeks, eating at restaurants.

So the scam – I would really like to know what is going on. It pains me to think that the school only gets what they are given, and that this shop is making more money than anyone in this part of the world has any right to make off of such false pretenses. It's worse, I think, than the children who are rented out by orphanages here... Not as bad as the special needs babies that are rented in China though to help with begging. That's the worst I've heard about.

But I moved the ball to their court. “Ten thousand, that's all I have. What can I get for ten thousand?” I asked, holding out the bills, and then adding the words that were passed my way so often during these last few moments, “after all, it's for the children.”

But the shop keeper would not budge. I received five pens.

And then off to the floating school. There I presented my five pens to the teacher who got up to receive them, and took two pictures of the students. Some dove out of the way. And I wondered just what school must be like for these children, constantly interrupted. Still – it must become part of their concept of school, not knowing anything other.

I also did a quick glance around the room for the notebooks that where for sale at the shop. They existed nowhere. Now there will be boats of ten people each coming to this shop and then this classroom. There will be dozens of them a day. People will fall for the trap and buy the notebooks. But they were nowhere to be seen. Which makes me think, hope, that the goods are returned, profits are shared, and the same items are sold and resold constantly.

But I do not know.

If one was just to say to me, “look, we need money for the school, and here's how it works,” I'd be a lot more likely to give. But I assume this is the best method, otherwise they wouldn't do it. And like I sad – two dollars and fifty cents is quite a lot in this part of the world, so... hopefully the children see something from it, aside from five pens.

And then we made our way back, my arm stinging with reminders of how many more floating pigs we came across.

The way back would also give insight into how the village moves with the seasons. When the water level is down, houses make their way further out into the lake, and when the water is up, they come closer to shore - to avoid the rough seas that can cause havoc to their living space. On the way back four houses were being pulled by boats to a new location. And two more were on the move just past them. It makes you wonder if they keep their neighbours, or keep their plots when they move back and forth with the rains? Their life... It's different than mine.

And with that coming to an end Boidna took me back to the hostel. Ten in the morning, and my day was at an end. Internetting would occupy me until three in the afternoon when I would head out for lunch and then off to the Blue Pumpkin for some further internetting. And then back to the hostel to grab a Balcony Pack, and read some more of the Hobbit adventures.

All in all? Not a bad relaxing day.
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