Sunday, October 25, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Well, in this case I actually mean home in Chiang Mai, not home in Vancouver. 4 days of the beach....I wish I had something more exciting than that to report about my days but really, it was me, a beach chair, an umbrella, a book, my iPod and little else. Mind you it's not all relaxation as there is the never ending stream of vendors who even after their 20th pass of your chair still think you might be interested in their deep fried shrimp, designer sunglasses, useless trinkets and DVD porn. At least when you say no to the beach whores they tend to not come back again.

What's that you ask, beach whores? Oh yes, beach whores. For those of you who don't know, Pattaya has more prostitutes per square foot than probably anywhere else on God's green Earth. In the bars, the discos, go go bars and there are even streets lined with open air beer bars all of which are stuffed to the brim with prostitutes: male, female, ladyboy you name it. I'm not sure why some choose to ply their trade on the beach but hey, if you're ever in the mood for some afternoon delight it's readily available.

The evenings were not much to write about either, unless I start segueing into written porn. Pattaya boy (OK, he has a name, Jay) and I wound up spending the evenings together, out for dinner, we hit a few movies, one of which was a Thai horror film (the subtitles weren't really that necessary to follow the story) and then sleepovers on the nights he'd remember to bring earplugs. No, my snoring isn't that bad that someone needs earplugs! It's that damn karaoke place across the soi from my hotel. Some nights the high pitched screeching of the lady boys belting out Mariah Carey just drilled into your brain like some alien thing in a Star Trek episode.

Yet again, the travel to & from was the usual get there and wait and wait and wait. That and the haggling every time you try to plant your ass into a baht bus or taxi. I'm dying to find the tourists who actually agree to the prices they quote, someone must because they keep asking them. Quoted price for a taxi from the bus station to the train station - 300 baht. The price I paid last time, 100 baht. There are days I get tired of the haggling and I know it's only the difference between paying $10 and $3.50 but I didn't just fall off the turnip truck loaded with dumbass tourists so I have to get into the whole routine of scoffing at their price, counteroffer, they scoff at mine and counter again. On and on it goes until we settle to price I paid the last time. A price which I'm sure is still way too high but give me some credit, I saved $6.50!

I'm glad I scored the lower bunk this time for the overnight train home. It was the bumpiest train ride ever, I'm not prone to motion sickness but I was feeling queasy on this round. That top bunk probably would have killed me. It didn't help that there was recently a train derailment here so of course I could barely sleep because I was expecting every bump and jostle would result in us hurtling off the tracks. Sadly the only thing I could think of was, "I hope my laptop survives the crash". Needless to say, your reading about my trip here and not about it in the newspapers with a headline like "Canadian tourist dies in another Thailand train wreck".

On a good note my seat mate was a cute young British man who lives in New Zealnd. We wound up talking for hours and shared a baht bus into town this morning. We ended our brief friendship at my usual haunt, the Starbucks at Tha Pae Gate where I was warmly greeted by the staff, all of whom wondered where I had disappeared to for 4 days. I must say it was quite refreshing to speak with someone who is fluent in English. I love my Thai friends but fluent doesn't mean they are the best conversationalists. Mind you with a cross between a British and NZ accent there were still times I was like "huh?".

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Planes? Check. Automobiles? Check. Trains? As we speak my friends. That clickity clacking I’m listening to isn’t the keys on my keyboard, I’m riding the rails on the night train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok then hopping a bus down to Pattaya for a few days of sitting by the ocean.

I’m living in Chiang Mai and while it’s a lovely city it’s 1/ stifling hot and 2/ not a hotbed of gay life. So, as I friend of mine used to say when we were at a party not having much fun – “it’s time to hike up our petticoats and flee the premises.” So petticoats have been hiked, I booked a ticket on the overnight train, packed my new 5 litre knapsack with a few t-shirts, shorts and board shorts (oh and hair care products) and am heading off for a few days. Plus the cute guy I hung out with last time I was in Pats has called and texted, so I’m traveling by train for a booty call.

I’m in my bunk right now, the upper one unfortunately. Luckily on the trip back I snagged the lower bunk which is larger and also closer to the ground. I’m not really trusting that the 2 leather straps they have to keep you in your bunk if you roll will hold. Just saying. Speaking of larger, the upper bunk might be fine for a small adult but seeing I’m 5’9” I’ll be generous and say it’s length is 5’9” and a smidge. Not a quarter inch or a half, a smidge.

This is traveling 2nd class in Thailand. Aircon and at some point attendants come around convert the seats into a lower bunk, lower the upper bunk, make the beds up, sweet deal and all for $50 round trip.

The swaying of the train is both nauseating but lulling me to sleep…………..

Friday, October 16, 2009

I really loathe Tom Hanks....

but you know that awful movie where he's stuck on an island alone and befriends a basketball? I totally get that. I've had almost no human contact as I'm on day 4 of not dying from the worst head cold ever. I wish I had something exciting to report, well, outside of the not dying part, but I've turned into that guy. The one wearing boxers, laying in bed eating brownies, drinking orange juice, the bed littered with used kleenexes watching movie marathons.

I suppose I could be annoyed with being sick but I don't have the energy to get riled up about it. On the plus side I'm all caught up on "The Vampire Diaries", just watched Zombieland (2 thumbs up!) and for some reason downloaded not 1 but 2 Jodi Foster movies, Panic Room and Flight Plan. This is what I've become.

Luckily what has saved me is the Lotus Tesco store 5 minutes from my condo. And by 5 minutes I mean I drive to the end of the soi on my scooter, park it and then walk 4 buildings down. Why not drive all the way you ask? Stupid one way street. So off I go twice a day to load up on orange juice, a delectable frozen dinner and those delicious brownies.

The good news is that as of a few hours ago my head stopped feeling like a helium balloon, I can breathe out of one nostril so I'm thinking things should clear up soon. Because really, I don't want to be one of those people we make fun of.

And yes, I've showered....every day. Please don't think things have gotten that pathetic.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chiang Mai at night

My Favourite Things

Julie Andrews can suck it with her "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens". Some of my favourite things are $6 mani/pedi's, $2 to get your laundry washed, ironed and folded and $27 to get your teeth cleaned by a dentist who graduated from UCLA. That's the great thing about Thailand and I'm sure one the reasons people love it here, it has all the modern conveniences we expect but the prices are a steal.

Another thing, toothpicks. I know, right? They actually have them here at every restaurant. What with all the various vegetables which seem to get stuck in your teeth along with stringy beef and well to be honest, all the meat is kind of stringy, it pays to be able to do a bit of dental hygiene every time you eat. You go one meal without and go out afterwards and you'll be driven insane feeling like there's a popcorn kernel stuck in your tooth for the rest of the night, it tends to be a bit distracting.

It funny how quickly you can become adapted to a place, after a little over a week I've settled into a routine and while I won't say it feels like home, it feels like I live here. I was walking to pick up dinner the other night and it popped into my head, "I'm actually in a foreign country". It sounds stupid but once you're not in vacation mode and you're off to Starbucks in the morning, racing to school, meeting friends for a drink, you settle into a regular life. The only difference is they speak a different language, the money is a different color and they're a hell of a lot more friendly than the surly service we're used to in Vancouver.

School is finally starting to pay off, while I have a hell of a time saying the words at least I can understand a little bit more. Whether it's my manicurist looking at me and saying "rawn mak mak" (very, very hot) or the vendor where I buy my dinner saying the price. The only downside is when it comes to numbers I still have to start at one and count my way up til I hit the number in my head, but hey, it's progress not perfection.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Conjunction Conjunction, what's your function....

So school started yesterday, I wish I could say I'm jumping for joy at the thought of another 13 days of class but I'm not. I was thinking walking in that maybe there would be some people I could hit it off with, but man, they were a stone cold bunch yesterday. I'm not known for being the most outgoing, social person but I'm really making the effort on this trip or else it will be 3 of the loneliest months ever. Anyways, it was a bit better today but I'm not really holding my breath thinking I'll even really make anything more than passing acquaintances.

Now class itself......uhmm....yah. Let's just say I won't be taking level 2 next month. The teacher Aom is pretty awesome, great energy and is good at drilling it in but I honestly don't think I have enough functioning brain cells to hold more than a few good phrases. Not that I think it's going to be a waste of time because these are some key phrases we're talking about: where is the toilet, where is the bus station and most important, what is the name of that handsome man?

Long, short, the more you know the more the people here think you know. You get into these dicey situations where you say a few phrases and wind up with a deluge coming back at you. You can only have that happen a few times and shrug your shoulders saying "Thai nit noi" (Thai little bit) before you think I'm better off just knowing the basics because I'm starting to feel incredibly stupid.

In lieu of level 2 I'll just do a bit of traveling instead. I had my heart set of volunteering at this elephant rescue camp but the school schedule would have made it a bit tight schedule wise. I'm going to apply to get a volunteer position and see if I get accepted, I don't know when I'd ever get a chance to do something like that again so, in the end, it might be a good idea as opposed to one I had.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Food Porn

Bags from road side restaurant, turn into soup!

Dessert you ask? Banana and egg roti drizzled with condensed milk.

This is the reason I might be gaining weight.

Strange Fruit

An Ugly Tourist Moment Averted

It was another stinking, hot day so I hopped on the scooter and went on another tour around the city. Once you travel the roads enough the pattern finally emerges from the chaos. You learn what lanes to stick to, how to dodge the tuk tuks and baht buses and you get the added pleasure of whizzing past those God forsaken tourists who thought walking around town during midday under the hot, blazing sun would be a good idea.

School starts tomorrow so one of the things I needed to accomplish today was doing a little recon to figure out where I had to be for 9:00am tomorrow. First stop, checking to see what time my Starbucks opens at. 7:30! Sweet. They already know my order there, say what you will but there is a time and a place for drone-like corporate culture. Next stop, the university which turned out to be a much longer drive than I had anticipated. No worries, arrived and then needed to find the Language Institute. This is when things get bad, I approached 5 people as I drove around this huge campus trying to find someone who spoke English, someone who might understand "Language Institute". After an hour of driving around and around, neck sunburnt, sweaty head from the helmet I almost just parked roadside to lay in the dirt pounding my fists screaming "For God sakes, English is an international language why can't YOU speak it!".

Thankfully down the road I spotted salvation, the library. You can't go wrong with asking a librarian for help, it's in their blood. In no time flat I had a map printed, arrows drawn, X's marked and I was off. Even better I found a shortcut that will shave some time off my commute when I head out tomorrow morning. Now I just have to figure out how to McGyver a cup holder for my scooter's basket so I can get "to go" and not "stay" from the baristas tomorrow.

Sunday Around Town

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pretty fly for a white guy

There are moments when I'm out and about running errands when I look around and realize, "hey I am like the ONLY white person as far as the eye can see". I know you're thinking, well genius you are in Thailand, but in certain areas of the city, notably in the area surrounding Thapae Gate there are hoards of tourists. If you stayed in that area, which I think many tourists do, you wouldn't experience the actual city of Chiang Mai. It's the area where staff actually speak o.k. English, the signs are in both languages and you can actually get your latte at Starbucks and a Whopper at BK.

I stumbled across the local market earlier this week and went to stock up on the basics for the condo, you know, that dish you have by the front door for your keys and change, some vases that sort of thing. It was there I looked around and realized, damn I actually am in Thailand. I have 2 Thai friends here so far and they were both amazed that I found that market. They both exclaimed "farang never shop there, how did you find it?". Little do they realize I have a sixth sense for 2 things: the nearest Starbucks and a bargain. It's the kind of market that you can get 3 pairs of boxer shorts for 150bht, outfit a Buddhist alter for your house and get dried pig snouts.

Speaking of, not the pig snouts but the house. I finally got settled into my condo today. Sweet deal, furnished, 1 bedroom, 2 bath and a pool. It's nice to finally unpack, I have a limited tolerance for hotel living and I had officially hit my breaking point yesterday. It's nice to have a coffee table to put your feet up on, plates to eat off of and a microwave. Not that I'll actually be cooking, I'll do what everyone else does, get take out from the multitude of roadside restaurants that set up shop at 4 every day.