Wednesday, March 24, 2010

So you better go back to your bars, your temples, your massage parlours

I'm back. Woohoo!! Can you feel the excitement? I feel like I should write tons of stuff about the trip. And I probably will. There's some small issues about not remembering exactly every detail. That's what happens when you drink a lot of 6%+ beer in succession. ANd besides, there's a photo essay on my FB that will give way more justice to the trip than my literary attempts.

The impression I get of Thailand is a very positive one. Sure, it's not Eden. They have their problems, but generally the people were always friendly and helpful, even if not speaking clear English. Which was better than my Thai by far. I don't feel that I was scammed or anyone took advantage of the "farang" on holiday. They do start high with prices in the markets, but usually come down to a fair rate. Or a rate that makes it harder to argue anymore (really, I can go back and forth over $.50?). But they start high because some people pay it. Can't blame them for trying to make a buck.

There is a sense of poverty in the country, and least in the western notion. On the trip to Koh Chang, we passed a lot of houses that looked a bit ramshackled and in disrepair. ANd some of the city blocks had the appearance of near shanty like. Through a westerners eyes, it's hard to think how can some one live in such places. But the more I think about it, the people seemed fairly content. I'm thinking they don't owe a mortgage that will take their lifetime to repay, or that they have no idea what Visa is and how bad it can be. Most transactions were paid with cash cash, since I'm guessing no one has a real business in the "licensed" sense we use here. They just have a cart that has whatever it is they peddle, be it food, clothes, or liquor.

Adam was telling us that most Thai live in one room homes. No kitchen really, since all the food is bought and prepared on the streets. It's delicious too. I never thought I'd be the kind of person to buy a meal and dine in a back alley, and live to tell about it. But it's the accepted practice.

I read an article about the average income for an individual. Seems there's a huge disparity between regions of the country. Of course, the more touristy areas have a much higher average (Bangkok for instance was around 290,000Baht a year (roughly $9000 a year). And that's the highest region in the nation. The northeast region ranked lowest at 36,500Baht annually (about $1100). That's incredible. But in the context of the prices there, I can see it possible. In general, I think the vast majority of the people aren't preoccupied with having it all. Unfortunately, having it all in the western world comes with a massive amount of personal debt, and then you become the indentured servant to a bank.

I can see the merits of the other way of living. I'll probably revisit this issue in the future, but now more about vacation.

The song says one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble. Well, try 2 nights. It'll make you feel like rehab should be in your future. I can't remember drinking that much, or the last time I came in just after watching the sunrise. And we pulled it off twice, without even knowing it. Well, I didn't know it, and judging from the pictures we had a lot of fun. The memories are still a little fuzzy.

One of the more amusing activities was watching the old men with their "friends." I'm not going to judge... well, yeah I will. I'll judge the guy with the 2 foot mullet, solely based on him having a 2 foot mullet, not picking up a prostitute. I was most amused how open and out in your face it was. Here, it's pretty much an activity for dark corners. There, you can proudly walk down the beach with your 20 year old Thai beauty in her thong while waiting for the viagra to kick in. And it's not like you're the only one.

Grace and I had the conversation about if there's enough business to keep all the girls working. Seems to be, but it's more that the working girls are charging a 2000Baht (we did a survey) for an hour. If you bring home one man a week, you've paid 3 months rent for your family back home in the northeastern provinces. That's why the girls are smiling when they're escorting the men around.

There's also the matter of it always being hot. Great for a tropical weather environment, though we did miss the rain season. The islands and beaches looked so nice. Not yet have most of hem been developed to the level of towering high rises destroying the natural beauty. Yes there were beach front hotels, and bungalows. But that's a lot less imposing on the landscape. I hope the "condo kings" don't find this p[lace and pull a Panama City beach on it. I like it the way it is, even if that means not having every amenity you can dream of. Besides, what more do you need than sun, sand, ocean, $6 massages under a palm, and good cheap food?

I think I'll go back someday, maybe find a different island to lounge on. I'd also like to get over and visit some of the neighboring countries (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia). Or maybe I'll just go back and buy the bar I've become so enamored with. Friends who come to visit drink free!

That's it for now, time to find food and run some errands and try and slip back into the world of the working man. Hopefully I'll get some word on my status at Brown for the next schedule year soon.

Friday, March 12, 2010

We are Siamese if you please.

Quick note from the far side of the world. It's day two here in Bangkok, and I gotta say it's an interesting place. Maybe it was the jetlag or the satisfaction of finally being off an airplane, but I've really taken to the place. Then again, it coule be the $2 beer. Tough to say.

I can't say I've done a whole lot since being in town. I'm waiting on my travel companion to arrive (should be here in a few hours) before doing a lot of trousity sightseeing stuff. I'm basically just sort of hanging around and meandering about. Not to say I have done some interesting stuff (and not the kind of interesting stuff that involves girls, ping pong balls, or worrying about STD's). But a few rides down the river and a couple of retail forays. Of course, there's been the eating. I'm being a little brave. Somehting looks interesting, I'll try it. Most my meals thus far have come off a street cart. I plan to coninue that trend.

Traffic here is insane, so are the dirvers. And I think one of the most amusing things are the power lines running in a knotted, tangled mass. If a wire went out You'd never figure out hoew to trace it back. I'm sure there's a fire hazard but they seem to be too concerned. I'm thinking its a world without lawyers here... and people seem to live.

Tomorrow comes the task of deciding when to move on and where to. We kind of have no set plans and are just winging it. I like it.

Last night Adamw as able to come out and meet up for a few. OK, more than a few. He's looking well and doesn't seem to be itneresting in returning on a permanent basis to the States. Can't say i blame him. I'm hoping to see more of him while I'm in the neighborhood. On a scale of 1 to Badass awesome, I gotta rate travelling roughly 9000 miles to hang out with a friend as defeintely badass.

If you ever want to see pure capitalism at work, travel to a market in a developing nation. You can buy anything, from almost everywhere, and theprices are always negotiable. This isn't heading to the mall to pick something up. Imagine going into Walmart and buy9ing a DVD but haggling with the cashier over the price. I'm not big on haglgling, and I find it hard to argue down the price of something that's selling for roughly $1.50.

I've kind of had this perma-grin since I got here. Just nice to be doing something so out of the norm for most the population. I suppose it's not for everyone to spend 30 hours in planes and airports (though getting a buzz on witgh 2 Cathay Pacific pilots at the airport bar was a good way to spend the layover, they promised they weren't flying anymore that day) tog et to a place where you can't read 98% of the signs and don't speak the language. And yeah it's a little dirty and hectic, but it's all part of the adventure. I'm glad I have such opportunities and wish I could exlpore more often. People who want to just stay home all the time.. I don't get it.

Well, I'm off. The time is running down on the clock here and I'm thirsty.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

It's becoming a Sunday night ritual. After a day of sleeping not nearly enough, I wake up groggy and debate with my internal voice the merits of staying in bed for a few more hours instead of getting up and hitting the gym. I usually decide on the gym. Then the hour of so of treadmill/elliptical/bike time i followed by catching up on the DVR from the past week. Once boredom sets in there (usually takes about 45 minutes) I walk the three blocks to Heine Bros. and have a cup of the coffee of the day (today is Rwandan) and pontificate on the world.

It's not Starbucks's, but more unpolished and little more funky. Part of the fun is watching the variety of people I pass on the street. No one seems to fit into the same pigeon hole that you can say this is a neighborhood of (insert adjective here). I pass by emo-esque twentysomethings with their envelop of darkness, hippy types with long dreadlocked hair and flowing peasant skirts, middle aged doctor types couples out for dinner at one of the plethora of dining establishments, and to cap it off.. the guys on Harley's and custom choppers riding down the street.

The neighborhood has quite a cross section on humanity meandering about. I even get to see something nefarious from time to time (tonight it was young kids, 12 maybe, paying an older unkempt gentleman to for something they probably shouldn't have). But it's still a funky little neighborhood and I'm happy to be staying here another year (for now).

It's looking likely that I'm not going be demoted to the ass. dispatcher this year. But instead, I'll be given a relief position. It's an uncertain schedule that changes at the whimsical, if not totally illogical, desires of the company and the admins. So, this could be fun sometimes (long stretches of off days) or miserable (long stretches of working varying shifts). Oh well. Il est ce qui est il.

In other news, I have a new pair of glasses, which I'm currently not wearing. I was somewhat disappointed the first day I got them, I couldn't tell any improvement. However, now I can as I type this without them one. I suppose once I get used to them they'll be OK. I'm not a fan of having something else to keep up with me.

The gym thing is ok, though I see to be on a plateau for the moment. Granted, I shouldn't be to down about since the plateau is around the -90 lbs mark. That's well ore than I thought was possible when I started this endeavor a year ago. I'm hoping for a few more pounds so I can fit better in the shorts I bought the other day. I suppose when I get back from vacation I can be more rigid about things. I've hit a certain lack of discipline of late. But the improving weather makes it easier to get out of bed and go outside. Let's hope it keeps up.

And most importantly, tomorrow I'm off on holiday. Two weeks and then some away from work!!!! Add to that the bonus of a short aunt to the far side of the world. THis should be very fun! Well, once I get there. The 30 hours of transit is probably going to be a pain, but like all good journeys, the end justifies the the trials and tribulations of getting.

It's the 30+ hours coming back that sucks worse, since there's no fun mystery waiting when you land. instead it's back to work. I only have a few specific goals for this trip. I want to spend an unreasonably copious amount of time on a beach doing nothing that doesn't involve lounging with a cocktail and more importantly, I want to ride an elephant. I think I can make this work.

Well, that's about it. My eyes are hurting and I'm getting hungry. The short walk home passes several fine dining options I pass up all the time. I need to eat at more of these places. I'm kind of in the mood for Thai food... i suppose that can wait a couple days thought :-)

Look forward to occasional dispatches from over there. I'll have my phone with me but don't expect me to answer. If anyone needs me, texts will work best (since that are a fraction of a phone call charge). Now I just gotta get through one more night of work...