Saturday, August 29, 2009

First Day on Thang Nai Pan

I think it was 2:30 in the afternoon by the time i had settled into my bungalow and hit the beach. i got a table on the sand and ordered a coconut juice. I continued reading Hitchens, which made me laugh out loud more than once. I sunproofed, heavily, and got back in the water. An hour later I returned to my table and had a large Beer Chang (I should get sponsorship dollars).

As i sat there, a yellow kayak appeared around the far end of the bay. I watched it for a good 10-15 minutes. As it came ashore, the man, 40ish, dropped the oar and pulled the boat high onto the sand. The woman stepped out and hoisted a boy, 3 maybe, up on her hip. A little girl, around 6 years old, climbed out as well.

They stomped through the sand and sat at the table directly in front of mine. They were speaking German, I think, but that was the furthest thing from my mind.

I talked about this later with Victor, who I met an hour later and whom I will describe in detail very soon. It struck me, quite vividly, and as a validation to my ignorance, that a family doesn't necessarily adhere to my ridiculous assumptions. In my naivete and inexperience I have always felt that marriage and children were equivalent to concrete. And, it goes without saying, that that is not necessarily a negative. Yet, here i was presented with a reality that hadn't previously occured to me. They sat and ate and laughed and played in the surf. The scene was enough to jolt the hardest of hearts.

And perhaps I am avoid that, let me tell you about Victor.

Victor is from Norway (but has never read Knut Hamsun). He's 35, single, ripped to the bone, tan. Perfect teeth. "Been coming to Thailand for 15 years. This is my favorite beach in the whole world. It's perfect." He's all casual, unassuming, mellow. He invites me over for a beer, to his neighboring table, and we are both watching a pair of German girls a few more tables over.

Victor proceeds to tell me about their entire day although he hasn't spoken a word to them. He's been sitting on the beach all day taking mental notes. He tells me that they are staying at a group of bungalows a few places over. They arrived this morning, took a dip, and went shopping in the village. Now they are eating an early dinner at our place. He then predicts that they will have a post-dinner drink at the place just beyond ours (thus completing a full sweep of all the spots along the beach).

He plans out the duration of the evening. He suggests that we go to our respective bungalows, "power nap," meet at ten for another beer, and head into the 'village' (only 4-5 different little places along the road into the jungle hills behind the beach). He is certain that we will find them, half-drunk, and can "chat them up." His confidence is entertaining (if not staggering).

I had to laugh, and I did. Not since university had I encountered such carefully deliberated steps to seducing women. I, unfortunately, don't possess such motivation.

This was my first day on Thang Nai Pan and I have already heard two people say it is their favorite spot in the world.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't excited about it.

Boat to Ao Thang Nai Pan Noi

I am going to abandon grammar altogether. I hope no one minds.

I got up at 1, showered, checked out. Boat to Ao Thang Nai Pan Noi at one. Had a watermelon shake, which was ... fan-fakking-tabulous!

On the boat, I put on my MP3 player (for the first time since arriving). I listened to the Valley Girl Soundtrack (still superior 25 years later), Beck "I Think I'm in Love," Belle & Sebastian "Song for Sunshine" (which I am totally in love with), Doug Martsch "Gone," "Sea of Love" from the Juno Soundtrack (I think it's Cat Power), and a bunch of The Boy Least Likely To tracks (really fun stuff!!!).

While coasting along the, mostly, deserted eastern shore of Koh Phag Nan, I was reminded of the long holiday trips that my family made when I was a boy.

We would spend all day in an '85 Plymouth Caravan (or was it an '88??) It was white and had a woodgrain stripe along both sides (one of which was later removed by my brother trying to beat a closing apartment gate - but that's another story). on these trips we would spend hours crossing barren flatlands in New Mexico. It was always of interest to me that the homes we passed, homes seemingly removed from all semblance of civilization, everyone of them, had a satellite dish.

While passing along the eastern edge of Koh Phag Nan I saw the same thing. A house on stilts in the middle of jungle had a massive, what the Irish would call "fuck-off" in terms of size (a charming compound adjective that is dear to me), satellite dish. It was a "fuck-off" satellite dish.

After arriving at the beach, as quiet and secluded as promised, I went to book a bungalow and it took 10 minutes for someone to come over to the desk I stood at although they had seen me and didn't appear to be doing much.

Life is just slower here.

Or, according to Belle & Sebastian.... "Life is as soft as lace."

Half-Moon Party

Forgive me, I wrote about the Half-Moon Party in verse (I just can't help myself)

'The Things I Do For Poetry'

black lights
in the palm fronds
make every
appear purple

silouette behind
big screen
dances to the DJ

every other
male shirt
phosphorescent painted
faces chests backs

mad mushroom ecstasy
trance mob

arms flailing

heads swiveling

all bikinis and navels

thai whiskey red bull

sit and watch

talk with French girl,
who likes words like
but none of that here

her younger sister
brought a bucket
of vodka

red bull

and the brutes were chasing her

girl in corner
arms around knees



Ludivine laughs

I laugh

the night thrashed
until strobe
turned to sun

but I left

Keith Anthony Francese

Friday, August 28, 2009

30+ hours of bus travel (in two days)

The bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok was 12 hours. I slept for a few hours, ate phad thai, and browsed through a half dozen bookistores. At six in the evening I got another overnight bus to Suri Thani. At ten to six the next morning, the bus dropped us all off at some dilapidated bed and breakfast in the middle of the countryside. Not one of the road-weary travelers knew where we were. Morale was "low," at best. One girl in a beige tank top fell asleep on a picnic table on the front lawn as the sun came up. An eager-to-drink young Brit, named Neil, started calculating in his head and figured we couldn't be far from the pier we needed to be at to catch the boat to the islands.

To make a long story short, a large passenger van came at 8:30. Everyone jumped excitedly to their feet and scrambled for their oversize backpacks. For it was unspoken that the capacity of this van was fifteen, maximum, and there were twice that number of us.

When the driver approached, he said, "Kho Phag Nan."

Many of the faces frowned in disgust, and disbelief. Only a portion were going to Kho Phag Nan. The others were headed to the neighboring island, Kho Samui.

Inside, my heart was doing gleeful little somersaults, but I didn't want to gloat. As flatly as I could, I shook hands with Neil and told him I looked forward to seeing him at the "full moon party." the following Friday (when he would be on Kho Phag Nan).

It's amazing how quickly strangers can bond during trying experiences. And, needless to say, those two hours of clueless waiting as the sun rose and began to get beat-hot were extremely trying (one indistinctly Scandanavian couple lost their collective "shit" and were giving each other the silent treatment). It also says volumes about one's character who can endure such events without any noticeable signs of disturbance. However, such a character was absent that morning.

So, I got to the boat about 9:30. Then I waited some more. I sat with a Kiwi (from Christchurch) who has been living in Melbourne for the last five years. He confessed that he felt like Melbourne was his "home." I told him I felt the same way about Seoul. There was a young Korean man, with two Korean girls, on the boat as well. Once I heard them speaking, I said, "Hello," in Korean. Though visibly surprised, they didn't seem eager to talk.

At ten o' clock another van of passengers boarded the boat, and in came Neil (with a big shit-eating British grin). The boat dropped him and the others off at Kho Samui first. This time he feigned nonchalance at the fact that I had another hour on the boat and he would be having a "bucket" on the beach.

Although my initial plans were to get a longboat to take me around to a quiet, secluded beach on the northeast, I struck up a conversation with the aforementioned Kiwi and a Scottish girl, named Claire. It was brought to my attention that there was a "half moon party" that evening. The decision was clear: get a room on the loud, popular beach, Hat Rin, go to the "half-moon party," and search for quiet and secluded on the morrow.

Although that last bit is in the past tense, as I write this in my little notebook, it is 10 p.m. and I am heading to said party shortly. Details on that to follow.

Additionally, it should noted, as soon as I hit the beach I spent three hours in the water. I am pink all over and my skin is unusually warm. I fear the shower in the morning.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Foot Massage Addiction

As promised, here is a short description of the harrowing tribulations of one foot massage addict.

Imagine a world wherein a massage parlor exists every fifty yards. These are not the massage parlors of North America, mind you. These massage parlors employ only the most well-versed, trained, consummate professionals. These professionals have mastered pressure points, oils, foot reflexology and a whole other slew of stuff I don't have the vocabulary for.

Imagine in this world people do an average of three to four hours walking every day. the climate is tropical, the sun is much more intense (because it is actually nearer)...the sweat is profuse.

Imagine a world with tuk tuk crowded streets, exhaust shooting into the air, horns beeping, dogs barking, peddlers shouting...

Inside each and every one of these massage parlors is a fan, an air conditioner, and soothing exotic music.

The average foot massage costs around 180 baht, or $5 U.S. dollars.

The oasis of calm and relaxation that is offered is more than the average human can bear (man and woman alike). The event is so serene that snores are not uncommonly heard.

Therefore, I am on a foot massage tear to rival that of any Brooklyn/Dublin junkie (and his/her preferred substance of abuse).

Catching up on my reading....

I have done more reading over the past 8 days than I have in the previous two months (which makes me feel incredibly satisfied). I reread Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground (for the third time). I think that will forever remain one of the most powerful, and important, works that I will encounter in my lifetime. I am far from expert, and some of the concepts are still difficult for me to comprehend, but it never fails to have a significant impact. I plan on rereading at least once more in the coming weeks.

I have also reread Fante's 1933 Was a Bad Year. His stuff never gets old. It hits me emotionally as well as makes me laugh incessantly.

As of this afternoon, I am halfway through Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great. The fact that one man can have such a vast knowledge of all of literature, be it philosophical, fictional, or historic, absolutely blows my mind and makes me wish I had completed more schooling. His achievements as a war-correspondent are equally impressive. He does come across as brash and arrogant, but I think he has earned the right. This book should be mandatory reading for anyone living today.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Exiting Chiang Mai

The next two days I spent riding around town and checking out Chiang Mai. It is a really small town compared to Bangkok or Seoul. There are a lot of travelers, but they usually only stay for a day or two and then are off on a trek through the jungle or to Laos.

Tuesday night Katy took me to a Jazz open-mic night and I couldn't believe how crowded it was. People of all ages and all races swarmed on the place and the mood was one of exuberance. People just happy to be around, and in, a place they know is special.

Wednesday afternoon I said good-bye to Chiang Mai with another foot massage and the promise that I would someday return. I took an overnight bus to Bangkok (which was nightmarish due to the horrible road conditions). Sleep was impossible because of the constant dipping, shaking, swerving, bumping, and creaking: a twelve hour bus ride, overnight, with no sleep...

Upon arriving in Bangkok at 6 a.m., I booked another "overnight" bus to Surathani and then found a room to catch up on my sleep.

Apparently it is going to take four business days to get a China Visa. Getting to Tibet may prove to be an ordeal, albeit a worthwhile one.

So, tonight it is another 12 hour bus ride for me. Following that, a two hour boat ride, I believe. At the end of this trek, I will be on the beaches of Koh Phag Nan and, hopefully, not going anywere for a while.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Huay Tung Tao

On Sunday, I got over my fear of motorbiking and rented one. Katy and I drove 12 km north out of Chiang Mai and went to a lake called Huay Tung Tao. The bike ride was thoroughly enjoyable, especially once we got away from the city traffic and onto the highway. Once we arrived at the lake it was cloudy, but honestly one of the more beautiful places I have seen in Asia. Her friend Quentin came along and I could not pronounce his name correctly, in French, for the life of me. We all wanted to swim, yet I was the first one who actually went in.

Afterwards, we went for mexican food and it was quite good.

It was all quiet and quite relaxing. Good day!

Chiang Mai & Julie's Guesthouse

I arrived in Chiang Mai on Friday afternoon. The first thing I did was take a tuk tuk to the guesthouse I wanted to stay at. The one most highly recommended in the Lonely Planet was Julie's Guesthouse. It is by far the most inviting place to stay (aside from some expensive hotels) within the city center. Chiang Mai's city center, or what they call old city is surrounded by a moat and has four entrance "gates." As soon as I got my room, I dropped my stuff and went exploring on foot. Inside the city center there are over 60 temples. Unfortunately, the majority of them are currently closed for maintenance.

Friday night, I met Katy, an old friend from Korea who has been living in Chiang Mai for 6 months, and she showed me the town. Showing me the town mainly consisted of meeting some of her friends/co-workers, bar-hopping, and dancing until 4 in the morning.

Saturday it rained. I met Katy again in the afternoon. Neither of us were in the mood to do much so she took me to a shopping mall on the back of her Honda. Considering Asian traffic, I have never felt comfortable driving a motorbike within city limits and this was no exception. By the time we got to the mall she was laughing at me and how nervous and rigid I was. We wandered around the mall and she showed me a massage menu at one place where they had, and this is not a joke, a "Golden Finger" massage. The "Golden Finger" massage is a massage of the male sex organ is supposedly good to maintain a healthy urine flow. Katy dared me to get one, but after careful deliberation I couldn't bring myself to do it.

We walked past the cinema and discovered that the new Tarantino film, Inglourious Basterds, had just opened. We bought two tickets for a show starting an hour and a half from then. Then we went to get massages while waiting for the movie to begin. I got a foot massage at a place where all the proceeds went the nearby retirement home. More on my foot massage habit later.

Inglourious Basterds was truly a treat! It was my first experience in a Thai movie theatre. Before the film began, a one and a half minute tribute to the king was played on the screen and everyone in the theater rose and stood for it (much like the national anthem at a ball game in the states). That was a unique experience. About the film itself, both Katy and I loved it. It was equally as violent as most other Tarantino films, but there was a maturity within it that I don't think I have seen in his other stuff. I am greatly anticipating where he will go and what he will do next.