Sunday, February 20, 2005

Guns and Go-carts

Well here we are in the epic city of Phenom Phen (not really). The city itself is not much to look at. At one time the city was one of the hippest French occupided cities in SE Asia. But after losing almost half of its population due to the genocide a few years back, it is still trying to finds its way. The water front has a few beautiful French style buildings left over from the occupation, but the rest of the city has less character than Al Gore. Anyway, we booked a tour to see the sites of the city which actually sounded rather interesting. We set off in the early morning (Of course 7am) to go see the killing fields, which is were the Khmer rogue systematically killed and buried over 20,000 people. For all of you non-history majors, the Khmer rogue were a communistic rebellion in the seventies led by pol-pot. Basically, the Khmer rogue (KR) killed all citizens of Cambodia who were educated, or in the least bit offensive...so almost half the country ( up to 3 million people). The site was about 15kms out of the city, and the first thing you see when you pull up is a glass building holding over 8,000 skulls. I was pumped. The mass graves had been dug up, but they found less than half the bodies. Going to see tourist attractions in SE Asia is a lot more rough and in your face than in the cushy USA. When we were walking to the excavated sites, I tripped over some human bones that were still sticking out of the ground. In case that was gut wrenching enough, their were piles of clothes from the bodies all over, and bone piles for children to play with. The don't pull any punches when telling the tourists about the KR methods for decapitaion, or slaughtering of infants. I'll save you the details, but the KR were meaner than my girlfriend when shes tired and hungry. After the guides let us touch and take whatever we wanted we headed off to the KR interrogation facility, which was a converted high school in the downtown area. The prison was what you expected it to be, heinously brutal. They showed us the torture devices, holding cells, and pictures of the victims and guards. The most unsettling thing in the prison was actually a series of portraits done by one of the seven people who lived through his captivity (out of thousands). The paintings showed the everyday life of the prison, which included brutal beat downs, water torture, and my favorite, putting snakes in women prisoners pants to make them talk. After seeing these horrible atrocities, we headed to the next logical event, shopping at the Russian market. Im not sure who designs these tours, but the order of events is interesting. The Russian market is a giant tourist trap that sells any pirated item, or knock off piece of crap you may ever desire. We deferred our souvenier shopping for a brighter time and just ate in the food vendors. The second half of the tour dealt with uninteresting museums, and the cambodian palace. The only highlites were the beautiful silver pagatota, with its over the top collection of ornate objects, and the imported monkey at the hill top temple. The monkeys were brought in to liven up the scene, by fighting and through their feces at each other. It was the first time I really missed my friends in New York City. After seeing all phenom phen had to offer, we had a few drinks and watched HBO. The next morning we booked our bus to Vietnam, and decided to give the city one more day to impress us. In our new found tradition, we sought to find what local people do for fun. We needed someone who had their finger in the local pusle, so we tracked down a tuk-tuk driver and asked for advise on our activities. The tuk-tuk driver's name was Jake, and he spoke English, as if he were from Australia. Jake told us that he thought we should head to the north of the city, and visit the army base were the will let tourists shoot guns on their firing range. I am not a fan of guns, but could not dismiss the (hopefully) once in a lifetime opportunity to fire machine guns like rambo. Our tuk-tuk driver was a master of swerving in and out of traffic, as we sped past entire families on one moto (6 People on one bike was the record). When we arrived at the army base, we felt like we shouldn't be there, due to the armed guards and very forbidding gate, but the guards just smiled and waved as we flew by them. It begged the question, why bother to guard the gate at all? Anyway, naked children began to run after the tuk-tuk yelling hello. this was the first time people were trying to be nice without actually wanting money, and it was quite refreshing. As we pulled up to the firing range, which was marked with an American Bomb painted as a sign, we saw a few Caucasians toting around large machine guns taking pictures. I couldn't believe how causal the whole thing was. We just strolled in picked out whatever gun we wanted on the gun racks on the wall, and they led us to the firing range. Christine opted for the more modest Russian style pistol, while I went straight for the M60 (the gun Rambo used in the First Blood). The gun was huge and after negotiating the price, I picked up my belt, thats right belt of ammo, and went into the private sound proof shooting range. The gun was huge and scary. It made Christine not even want to be in the room, but I had already agreed, so it was on. I tried to use the sights on my first shot, but didn't want to put my face that close to this huge gun, so I just fired to see how powerful it was. The M60 is used for cover fire, which is to say it is too powerful to aim in normal situations, and is used to keep all living creators from moving, in fear of getting cut in half. This gun was no joke. The recoil felt like a punch in the shoulder, and when you kept the trigger down, it would let off at several bullets a second with a deafing thunder clap. It make my stomach turn when I realized that the gun I held's real purpose, and opted not to purchase another belt of ammo. When I got the target back, I realize that I fired too many warning shots, and had too much sympathy for the thug painted on the target. When I did hit the target, The hole left could fit a roll of dimes through it. I shuttered when I realized what this gun could do to a carbon based organism. After being gently teased by Christine about my aim, I bought one more clip for the same pistol she used and took no mercy on the paper assailant. I was just trying to scare him at first, but after he refused to move, I was forced to shoot to kill. When we compared targets, I had clearly better aim than my girlfriend, but she still claims it was a draw. We declined to keep firing, and rejoined our tuk-tuk driver for some consoling words. He recommended go-carts to take our minds off of the idea of shooting large weapons in a war-torn country, and we were excited about the idea. Christine has had some success with go-carts in the past, and claims to be the best. The last time we faced off(At Goodtimes,Boston), my go-cart was broken and she lapped me (as did everyone), but in typical Ian fashion I put her in the wall so hard she actually bruised her back. It was a humiliating defeat, and the people gave me another car, which I won the race with. This time I used all my mercy with the paper targets, and pledged victory. After a warm up lap we lined up in our polling positions and waited for the green light. The go-cart were fast, and Christine hesitated to really push the machine. After the first lap we were under the yellow flag, because Christine broke her car. As a gentleman I waited for her to pass me and proceeded to still win a decisive victory. After posing on the podium for a moment for all of the staff to admire, I goated the tuk-tuk driver into taking us for a victory lap in the tuk-tuk. The owners were not impressed, but Jake certainly clenched a better tip with the move. On the way home Jake drove us to the lake district, where we could relax and watch the sun set over the lake. We had a lovely dinner, a few beers, and some heated political debates. It seems everyone in the world is very curious how we let George W get re-elected. I hung my head in same, but was amused to see how almost every foreigner we meet knows more about US politics than most US citizens. I digress. We wanted some take out, so we stopped by pink elephant pizza (a famous establishment), and went home to watch HBO and prepare for Vietnam tomorrow. Cambobia was an enchanting place. The scars of its recent genocide are everywhere, but the people are as nice as anywhere. I don't know if I'll come back here again, or at least not until the Im arranging the next great bachelor party. With Guns, Go-Carts, And Hooker Watching, Cambodia is the Coney Island of SE Asia, and you don't even have to pay to see circus show.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Highway to hell

The next morning Christine and I got into a cab at about 9.15 am to go to the bus station, but due to some giant grade school protest, yes that's right gradeschool, we did not arrive until 10.30. The hour delay was almost worth it to watch 8 year olds picketing in the streets, while their 5th grade friends beat on drums chanting like hippies. Christine was stilling feeling the effects of the fucky show and growing more car sick by the second. We managed to divert a potential disaster by blasting some fine Thai pop music to set our minds free, but that started to make me sick. At the bus station, I took full advantage of the lax pharmacy laws, and stocked up on much needed meds for relaxation and motion sickness. After almost forcefully removing some surly, dirty man from our bus seats, we set off for the cambodian border. The ride was easy, but the public bus (cheapest way) drops you off 10 km from the border. We had to hire a tuk-tuk to take us, but I still have nightmares about my old stalker on Koh san, so Christine has to negotiate. The Thai-Cambodain border is not a pretty sight. The moment a Caucasian approaches, they are enveloped in a human cloud. At first all of the grabbing and gentle prodding is sort of flattering and alluring, but soon it grows tiring knowing they won't call you tomorrow. We literally had to fight our way to the visa department, while being trailed by people offering their services. Luckily we had been tipped off of this madness, and had arranged a private car to transport us from the cambodian border to Siem Reip (Where the Angkor Wat temples are). At the visa office, there was a board with our names on it, and a man waiting to take us through the bureaucratic steps. On the cambodian side, the level of squalidness when through the roof. My bags where heavy to begin with, but pulling three shirtless small children on both arms was the true strongman style competition. We got into a Toyota camery and were off. Every car in Cambodia is a camery, and I mean every car. We had been warned of the roads in Cambodia, but they didn't seem that bad at first. The roads were pavement that abruptly ended every 50m or so. The most fascinating thing was that there are absolutely no traffic laws in any sense, only Darwinism. Our driver, who was a 20 something local guy, drove like we were in a stolen car. He had no problem driving into hundreds of oncoming motorbikers forcing them to scatter like flies into the dirt shoulder. When our driver was feeling a bit cheeky, he himself would voluntarily drive into the dirt shoulder, and ever into the fields if he felt the urge. I have never been so terrified in the back seat of a car before in my life, and we hadn't even left the city limits yet. As we reached the city limits, we were stopped for a impromptu police check, which was really just a racketeering scam, so we paid and were on our way. Now our driver really started to shine. He fearlessly passed cars while forcing others off the road. As he fishtailed all over the "road", which had now turned into hard dirt with bits of pavement chunks, all we could see was a dark cloud of red dust rise up from the road to engulf all that we passed. The sun began to fall in the sky, and the villages that we entered into glowed red from their perpetual red dust covering. Nothing escaped the red storm, and the visibility of the road was now no more than few meters. All I could see as we passed through some of the most impoverished accommodations I have ever seen, where hordes of small naked children playing in or around the road. We swirlded around these poor imps, all of which were painted head to toe in red dust, at breakneck speeds, even forcing some of the more agile ones to leap out of our way. Our driver was not fucking around he wanted to get to Siem Reip before it was too dark to see anything at all. He proceeded to race every other car on the road in an attempt to jockey for visibility. The loser was literally forced to eat red dust. Just as I thought the road couldn't get any worse, the road ceased to exist. We were now driving on nothing more than what appeared to be a bombed out field cleared of most debris. As I started to truly feel like we were in Satan's chariot, the setting sun began to glow red, and the fields around us were ablaze. I guess they were trying to fertilize the fields by burning them down, but driving over bombed out road with a red cloud surrounding you, in the middle of fields of fire...I don't know you tell me. After two more hours of driving hell, we arrived in Seim Reip. It was crazy, the moment you cross into the city, the roads are perfect and lined with posh 5-star hotels on both sides. After what we had been thorough I was tempted, but we stuck to the hostile we had already booked with. That night we hired a tuk-tuk driver named Mr. Chan for the three days we would be there(20 bucks + tip) and head off for dinner. The center of Seim Reip is all old French architecture turned into nice cafes and bars. It was a complete surprise after what we had been through, but a welcome one. We dined, had some libations, and went to bed early, so as to catch the sunrise over the temples.
The next morning we awoke at the chimper hour of 5.30 am so as to be at the temples to see the sun rise behind them. A few words on Angkor Wat before we proceed. Angkor Wat is the most impressive collection of temples in the world. The actual structure of the main temple, Ankor Wat, is the largest religious structure in the world, it makes the pyramids look like Ovieis after warriormania. There are more temples than you know what to do with scattered over something like 50 kms. You get the idea. After negotiating our breakfast from 100 usd to 1 usd, we took our spot to see the glorious yellow dwarf star do its magic, but to no avail, it was cloudy. Demoralized, but not defeated we toured the temples, I won't go into to much detail about each temple we saw, there were too many, and my words would not be able to capture how truly awesome these accient temples are. The only downside of the whole affair, was the relentless beggars and solicitors. At first we had pity, and after carefully making sure no one was around gave a small child a few coins, but everything went to hell. The kid yelled something to another kid across a lake, and Im not kidding when I say 8 other emerged from shady hiding places and underground tunnels. We were being chased by a small army of filthy swamp children, and forced to run screaming out of the temple gates into the safety of our tuk-tuk. Our tuk-tuk driver spun the wheel and we were off to the next group of temples. As I said, there is too much to tell about each site we saw (over 150 pictures...Thanks to mike ray and my aunt who both hooked up the digital capability), and Im no Byron, Whitman, or Frost (though I do have the grammar of Cummings). If you get the chance drop what your doing and go see the temples before they inevitably restrict the publics access. As of now you can climb all over them, even though they are falling down all around you and eroding quickly with all of the tourism. The temples are also one of the holiest places for Buddhist monks, who I have a penchant to harass. I met many monks who spoke very good English, and most had good sense of humor (I even got a monk hug). I thought about trying to pull a monk cawlken, but no ne would line him up. After one full day of tomb raiding (it was filmed here) we were pooped. We headed back to the hotel, had dinner in the French quarter again, and went to sleep early. The next day we were going to try again for the sunrise, but my partner wasn't having it. So, we regrouped and headed out again around noon. It was amazing that we hadn't seen half of all of the temples around the proximity, but since we saw all of the notable ones, we took it easy. We sasshayed through a few more temples, and avoided the crowds this time by seeing the sun set on a distant temple while sipping coconuts. We headed home bought our tickets for the river boat to Phenom phen (the Cambodian capital) for the next day and had some more fancy drink in French cafes. We actually met a nice Australian man,who lived locally, and worked for a NPO. He had moved to Seim Reip 8 yrs prior to help the farmers of this war torn country, and ended up falling in love with some 18 yr old girl (He was 40 at the time) and remarried with kids. Oh, the life of an ex-pat.
The next morning we got up at our usual hour of 6am to get picked up for the boat. When we got into the pick-up we were snuggly packed in with 5 others making the total 8 including driver, and not including everyone's huge packs, then we proceeded to pick up 4 more people. It was a spectacle. They fit 5 people in the cab of the truck, and 2 guys had to sit on the tailgate for the 30km drive on bad roads on the way to the fishing village. The fishing village smelled worse than you could image. It was a hybrid mix of sewage and rotting fish, but seeing the sun peek over the horizon in those thacket hut villages was a Kodak moment. Unfortunately, our camera wouldn't work, so you'll just have to image. When we finally arrived at the beginning of the river(its dry season, so its a lot further than other months), we climbed aboard longtail transports and were shuttled off to our larger speed boat. Imagine an entire village built onto the banks of coffee colored river with trash and other debris floating along. In this river was a cluster of longtail boats, now only a slight shade of their once brilliant yellows, blues, and reds. As we pulled the boat along with long bamboo rods (too shallow for a motor), we passed canoes filled with beautiful little cambodian children in pressed white uniforms on their way to school, which had the look of an old western main street building, but floating atop of bamboo stilts. The children captained their own boats, even though some looked too young to even be in school. Every child we passed on their way to school, smiled and waved, like they had just seen a movie star (I didn't know internet films traveled so quickly). The smell of rotting fish almost became charming as it was perfect for our early morning cruise through this sleepy floating village. We reached the larger boat, collided into two other transport longtailed boats, and finally after some gruff pleasantries got on the boat. We secured a spot in the hull which had AC and plush wrap around cushions. I took this time to begin lite read in the "Counte of Monty Crisco" (1250 pgs of bliss). I didn't even notice the 5 hr boat ride, because I was too busy being a nerd and reading. We finally reached the banks of the Phenom Phen and the swarm of waiting moto drivers and begging children. Getting off the boat was a tricky bit of business, but we managed and got into a shuttle to be whisked away to the Capital Guest House. We checked in, took a nap, and went to the FCC for drink and hooker watching, a great pass time in Cambodia. You just kick back and watch them lure in their prey. Its very similar to animal planet. There is the hesitant approach, the initial song and dance of courtship, followed by pleasureless sex (except dolphins), and than the female devours her mate (in this case financially). I smell a documentary...or is that still my clothes from the boat ride.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Catching up...

Im several weeks behind real time, so im going to try to recap a bit faster. After the full moon party, Christine and I slept off what fatigue we could, and relocated to a recommended resort on the other side of koh tao. We found a more secluded beach on the far side of the island, with a resort that had beach bungalows over the water. The three days we spent after the fullmoon party, were just hanging out on the beach, watching movies in cafes, and drinking all day. The only highlite I can remember is finishing my book (Howard Zinn Peoples history, which I donated to some street kids to resell). We had some Brazilian style steaks while watching the sun set. Hung out with a few Swedish folk. I beat some ass in volleyball again a bunch of Israelis, and actually hurt one of them. The only semi-good story is renting another motor bike, and taking it on the worst roads we have faced yet. I decided it would be a good idea to try the back way to the resort, which is at the bottom of mountains. After having a lovely dinner, and watching yet another cinema classic (lemony something), We passed a fallen down sign for our resort. I pulled down this dirt road with confidence, feeling a new mastery of our machine. The road proceeded to get worse and worse, to the point where we thought it may have been a cruel joke. I made Christine get off and walk a dozen or so times, just to get it up the ridiculous terrain. It was darker than a steers hide at midnight, and Christine started to panic at the strange half abandoned house we saw in the distance. Needless to say we aborted and head back. After passing a motley crew of young drunk vocal local yokels, we were pursued by a pick-up truck for a reason unbeknownst to us. We pulled a get away move, but the scooter only goes 30 mph, so we slammed on the brakes and ran into the closest resort for a drink. The Nipponese bartender, gave us a flashlight and bless us for our journey. The pickup was still there, but fled after a few more minutes. We hopped on the steel chariot, and made it to the beach, where it was another 10 min. Walk. We half ran home, and upon entering the beach bungalow, scurrying around on a boulder, was the largest spider I have ever heard about. I ushered Christine in the house, afterthought Christine says was a small girlish scream, and went back outside to verify it was not some giant crab. The spider was hairy and the size of a football. I slammed the door after I believed the spider to look straight into my eyes. I hardly slept that night because of this strange weird chirping noise, which I thought was the spider trying to scare me me, but was actually a large gecko. We departed koh tao to go back to Bangkok to get our passports, which hopefully had visas in them for the next three countries we planned to visit. We decided overnight train was the way to go, departed our beloved island in the wee hours of the morning. Early morning travel is a new thing for me, but its the only way. We headed back to koh pgan gon, to actually see the island instead of just party like sissy rockstars. I booked a place on line while waiting for the ferry. The place ended up being fantastic and cheap. We stayed on Layla beach, which is isolated and beautiful, but an easy 10 min walk to Hat-rin (full moon party beach). We went out the first night in an effort to regain some of the respect of the island, but the beach that had previously been overcrowded with drunken donkeys, was nearly abandoned. We met a nice couple from Jerusalem, and their friends at a hip-hop bar. The bar was quit, but we decided to drink like it wasn't. Soon we took to the dance floor, and I tried to show the island what it had been missing on my previous appearance. I think I only fell down once or twice, but was with grace. We drank a lot. I don't know exact figures, but we fell for the bucket trick again, and ordered more drinks than our friends were ready to drink. After making fools of ourselves, like every else, but intentionally, we went home, and slept. The hangover the next day may have been the worst to date. We did not leave the hotel that day, but sat on the beach and drank water. We decided it was time to head back to Bangkok, and get our visas and passports that were overdo. We agreed upon the overnight train and set out the next morning after some of the best fahitas I have ever tasted. The boat was late, the bus later, and so when were had arrived at the train terminal, we watched as our train pulled out of the station. We waved our hankies and cried as we realized that we were stranded in the middle of nowhere, but we were not alone. We joined forces with a group of college students from Brisbane. All of the gents were twice my size and rugby players, and with them were their special lady friends. We collectively decided to go eat and get drunk while we waited for the next train 5 hrs later. I made friends with the cutest little old Thai lady you have ever seen, while the rest of the team recruited another Swedish girl to come eat with us. We ate 7 large piazzas for 10 people and drank a bit as well. I liked these aussies, and we made vows to meet up again in Brisbane when we make it there. After some negotiation with the locals we all piled in a pickup (Nine large people...The Swede could take no more), and hit the town. The town was as boring as any middle of nowhere town could be, so we headed back to the station. They were not in the same train car as us, they had a bottle of rum and I had a deck of cards, and we were excited about that. When we got on the train the corridors of the cars were locked for security, and I wept myself to sleep thinking about what fun we could of had. Team Australia got off the train before we did, so at 5.30am I got off at there station ran down a km or so and bid them farewell. I explained what they already knew about the train doors, and a rain check was issued for Australia. Christine and I met a nice older brit who shared our cab to koh san road, and told us all about her trip. We parted ways with the usual formalities of hospitality, and found ourselves a nice little ratshed to sleep in for the evening. We did not like being back on Koh San after coming from our beach paradise, so we protested by not talking to anyone, and drinking at the cafe next door. The people of Koh San had changed. It was now 30 something year olds and young cppls, not the droves of barley legal euro nymphs, and euro frat boys. The bars were quiet, and the streets calm at night. I didn't care either way, we were just here to collect our visas and move on. We decided to take in some local culture, and booked ourselves some ringside seats for the Mui Thai fight at the stadium. There are fights every night, but good fights on Tuesday and Friday. We caught a cab downtown and headed into the stadium, where we sat in the fourth or fifth row next to the ring. The fights had started, and the fans were going crazy. The stands were full of old fat men throwing their hands in every direction trying to place bets, and chanting along with every devastating blow delivered by the young fighters. Many of the fighters were no older than me, yet had fought a couple hundred times, or every week. The fights were brutal and intoxicating at the same time. The second fight a kid got punched in the throat then caught an elbow across the face. He was knocked cold. I jumped up to see if he was ok, but the place went crazy because he must have been the favorite. The ringside seats were all western tourists like Christine and I, and there wasn't anyone who was or knew how to bet. I was determined to place a bet on the fight, especially after being correct 4 out of 5 times. The main event was boring compared to the less skilled boxers killing each other, but the fight after the main event was the heavy weight fight, and involved a jacked white guy against a rather tubby Thai guy. The fight was great. The white guy had no balance, but was as strong as the local redbull. In the final round the white guy went crazy and beat the shit out of the Thai guy, in the most ungraceful highschool fight style, but he knocked him out cold. After the fight, we found some night bizarre which was an endless line of shops, which Christine needed to escorted out off. We entered into this giant stadium, which turned out to be a beer garden with beers from every corner of the earth, except USA. The best thing about the beer garden was the choreographed, multi-costumed dance troop on a giant stage with a laser light show. They were belting out the disco classics, with the thickest Asian accent Diana Ross has ever heard. We could take no more, so we retreated back into the bizarre. We passed a runway model show going on in the middle of a restaurant, a car dealership restaurant, and another stadium, which I needed to know what was going on. After using my farang (that's what they call us here) charm, I found out it was a gameshow. I tried to find a way in, but gameshow security was better than the airport's. Feeling a little worked up about the gameshow, Chrisitine and I decided to embark on finding what many travelers had recommended as a must in Thailand. (People who still respect me please stop reading here....) Now that your all reading on, we set off to find the go-go bars of downtown. Sons are told about these by their fathers, who learned about them from there fathers. This is a right of passage in Thailand, and since it was culture day we decided to go. We got in a little old toothless man's cab and asked to go the "dance clubs" on Pattaya street. He giggled like naughty catholic school girl, and in a high pitched squeal yelled "You want fucky show..HeeHeeHeeHee). We looked at each other, shrugged, and replied "yeah, fucky show please". This pleased him terribly, he was all shits and giggles after this. He was singing songs, tapping beats on the wheel, and rocking back and forth in his seat. We arrived down a dark alley, where a large group of Thai men were hanging around outside of a painted black door. A man approached our cab, and said you want fucky show huh?...10 dollars each. After seeing Christine give a very disapproving glance,I said "there is some mistake, we were looking for the go-go bars." The man smiled with gold cabs on his teeth, and said " this is the only show like this in town...its the stuff no one else will do. Its not even legal. Don't worry I'll give you a look first." We were about to leave when I saw 3 white women older than my mother emerge from the club. Thats all I needed, and we entered into the black door. There was a little old man behind a desk, and another door. Behind the other door, looked like any strip other seedy strip club (I can only imagine, since I don't freqeunt such places), but with middle aged, rather homley looking women on stage hopping around. We took our seats and waited. I'll make this part brief, in case this isn't your bag, but some of the stuff was unbelievable. I don't know how the Ripley, or Guinness people have over looked these clubs, but shooting darts out of your love flower and hitting moving balloons 10 M away has got to count for something. Some of the "acts" were nauseating, like pulling a string of razor blades....well you get the idea. I don't know how many acts we saw, actually I do but my parents read this, but we had all the culture we could handle, and after I gave out some business cards to the aspiring talent for American representation, we went back to koh san. We had to get ready to leave for Cambodia the next day. I came to these foreign countries to gain a different perspective of these exotic cultures, and meet new exciting people. I just didn't expect to be able to do all of this in less than an hour.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Turtle Island

We left Koh Samui with the early morning sun still peaking over the horizon, We were then informed that there had been a boating accident, and the boat we were to catch, had dropped its engine in the ocean. This news seemed to ease my soul, knowing how seasick I get on long boat trips. Anyway, we found some other boat later that was going to koh Tao, or the island of the turtle. I did indeed get nauseous, but held my ground, or I should say my breakfast burrito, until we hit the land. We had met some kids for The USA on the boat, two which lives in the small California town Christine grew up, and the rest from NYC. We ended up following them to the place they had booked for their diving course, and happily found they had some extra spots in the certification course. The place was called big blue, and is highly recommended for anyone going to the koh Tao area. The highlight of the day came when we met our Thai diving instructor, named Jude. After he introduced himself, he walked us through the course, and than talked about himself for a while. He boiled his existence down to diving, marine biology, and smoking huge joints on hammocks. His English was good, but when he spoke to you, he always kept his eyes closed. He gave the impression that he was teaching you some ancient oriental secrets of the deep, the way a master kung-fu teacher may. Anyway we parted way with our master, and headed out to chill on the beach for sunset. The ocean comes right up to the deck in the day time, but in the evening (low tide) the ocean recedes some 50M. The local bays than scurry along the beach putting up citrenella candles and plants for decor. We rendivou with our all American team, and adopted a cppl for Amsterdam, and two Swedish guys. We started off slow with a few beers, but soon we moved over the infamous "bucket". The bucket is a Thai thing. It consists of half local rum, some coke, and a redbull on top. But, the red bull is not your average USA redbull...No,no,no. It is the stuff that FDA wouldn't allow into the country, it is literally liquid crack. As the evening proceeded, our group began to grow restless, charged up with this crack elixer. We decided to go to the clubs down the beach to check out the scene. It was rather mellow, except for a few Asians lurching about, and one Caucasian girl, who had obviously studied African dancing, and fused it with bad boy band moves. It was stunning, this girl attempted some of the most ridiculous motions I have ever scene. Mind you not in a demonstration of grace and poise, but in a she watched the African anteater dance one too many times, and really believed she was good. Needless to say we needed to know what her deal was. Turns out she is from Wisconsin, and told us that everyone knows she's American by the way she dances. I have never felt so ashamed on a dance floor before. Christine and I went home soon after questioning what the world must think of America.
The next morning, we awoke early to start our scuba instruction. We talked a lot about the equipment..ect,ect, than finally went into the water. We waded out to about a 5ft depth, so we could stand if there was a problem, there was. Christine two deepest fears are drowning and sharks, so you can see scuba is a natural fit. Our instructor (Jude, real name unpronounceable), calmed her with all the skill of a horse whisperer. Before the afternoon was over Christine was underwater diving. Diving kicked our ass, actually it was the night before, but anyhow we retired early. The next day was a lot of the same. We talked, than dove a bit...yada yada yada. The day after that came our first dive. The weather was overcast, and the visibility was as clear as pea soup. These were perfect conditions for my beloved Christine. Her ears wouldn't equalize as we reached about 12m deep, and I as here dive buddy try to help bring here a bit higher to relieve the pressure. It wouldn't work, and before you know it, Christine and I ended up on the surface, which is the best way to die in diving. Luckily we were not very deep, and we acceded very slowly, so our lungs didn't burst like balloons, but she was pretty scared about the whole thing, and we still had another dive that day. The second dive went perfectly, with the assistance of our instructor who is a mad man underwater. Because he is a marine biologist, he feels the need to mess with every aquatic life we come across. This includes throwing cushion coral around like basketballs, playing fetch with clownfish, and continually poking a stonefish, which if attacks you, you can count the seconds to seeing Jesus. We celebrated our first dives with dinner at the nicest resort on the island, and again went to bed early. The last day we dove again in the morning, but due to success of previous dive had more freedom, and were even encouraged to go crazy. I was doing backflips, let Christine ride me like a bronco (not like that, Im not that good yet), and yes even attempted a halfway successful underwater Caulcan. It was a good day, but the night was the crazy part...That night was the legendary full moon party on the next island over, koh pgan gan. Christine and I washed up and loaded up on liquor and Dramamine for the party boat ride over. We had of full crew ,11 deep, ready to take on the most famous party in Thailand. The party boat was hilarious. We had to climb over two other boats to get on a ferry that had giant trash cans filled with beer, and 4 PA speakers arranged around the deck of the ship pumping out the worst techno Europe has to offer. Though tired (first dive was at 6.30), I was fired up. The boat ride took to long to get there, and we missed the sunset, but it ended up that was the boat's plan. The boat was way over capacity, and worried about the police giving them trouble, so in the veil of darkness they made hundreds of wasted kids sit down and hide. It may have been the largest peek-a-boo game ever recorded. The rest of the crew was hoping to find accommodations on the island, which we were told is like renting a midget dancer on memorial day weekend. So, we parted way with our crew, and planned the rendivous for later that night. Christine and I had dinner, and than headed over to see the grounds before the full brunt of the chaos hit the shore of Hat rin (the beach were the party is) There were over a dozen bars lining outcove of a beach that would other wise be beautiful, each pumping music as loud as they could in a futile effort to be louder than there neboirgh less than 20M away. People had already begun to congregate on the beach pregaming for the madness. Christine and I secured a table in the designated meeting area, and began to wait for backup to arrive. We prepared a proper Thai liquor bucket and took in the scene. I don't know in my many years of debauchery I have ever seen anything of this flavor. At first, the scene seemed one of chilling out at a huge beach party and causally drinking and listening to loud techno, but soon things changed. As the time grew closer to the witching hour, the numbers on the beach began to swell and the noise grew like thunder, I knew something strange was amidst. People started to appear in dayglow paint dancing around like maniacs. Small Thai children began to light staffs on fire, and began to twirl these flaming weapons like the colourguard from hell. The attendees of the party, which was now well over 20,000, started to look more like some sort crazy dada movie from 1920. Soon our reinforcements had arrived. The were already slightly intoxicated, and quickly made up more buckets to consume. Invigorated by their arrival, I decided it was time to give the madness a go. I upped my intake my alcohol, I sped up the rate of my dancing, and gave any future ideas of finding a suitable bathroom, and used the ocean like everyone else. The night continued to gain momentum, and more shady Thai characters began to emerge to offer different illegal substances, judging by our surrounding more of my fellow revealer were starting to partake. The level of intoxication of the people around me started to distract me from having a goodtime. Christine began to be approached by random bug eyed, shirtless euros. They didn't want to speak with her, just poke her and see her reply. My favorite story of the evening, is the story of our new friend john. John decided to go down to the ocean to relieve himself, when he felt a crushing blow on the back of his head, something like being hit with a coconut, but when he turned around to see his assailant, all he could see was a girl with golden hair running off in to the distance. Just when he started to convince himself that, maybe he had fabricated the idea, the young lady turned, and began to run at him full steam. He was frozen. She than did something that can only be described as a crossbody splash into him. John is a reasonable man, and refused to hit a women, so he slipped free. The golden haired girl retreated, but only to run at him again this time trying to push him into the ocean, and wrestle him down. She was as strong as a mule, but John was a formability opponent. He managed to get on top of her and yelled "who sent you," but the girl squirmed like a politician, and John let her go free. She ran into the crowd never to be seen again. It was early morning, and I started to feel ill. The tiredness was beginning to overcome me, and without any chemical enhancements, I was no match for the rest of the early morning imps. Christine and I found our friend Felix (Koh Samui), and was certainly not going to bed soon, so he offered us his room until our boat left in 2 hours. It seemed if I had just rolled over when the alarm signaled it was time to head for the docks. We found a bench in the cabin, and started to drift into sleeping bliss, when a commotion from the deck sounded from above. It seems some aussie was not done partying, and had jumped dove overboard to head back to the shore, which was several hundred meters away, maybe a mile. The boat than circled back to pick him up, but he refused and swam on. We had to wait to make sure he reached land (he did), and then continued back to koh Tao. I never found out what happened to the rest of the crew, since in the madness we went our separate ways, by I feared for their safety after seeing what the dreaded buckets had done to me. I left koh pgan gan, feeling slightly cheated and defeated at my performance, but vowed to return to defend my honor.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Bring on the Beach...and not that punk in NYC

We left koh san behind with tears welling up in our eyes, and hire the first taxi we saw for the airport. We flew out of Bangkok to koh samui, which is an island on the east coast of Thailand. Now, a few words on Bangkok airways. I was expecting what many of you might suspect, a flying cattle cart with chicken in the aisle, but I was wrong. Not only did Bangkok airways plate and clear the best airline food i have enjoyed thus far in 45 mins flat, they also have all you can eat pastries before and after the flight. The airport in koh samui was ridiculous. The pick up the passengers in an over sized golf carts, and bring them to the baggage claim, which is a wooden platform with a conveyor belt run by hampsters (it may be monkeys). On the flight, I met a brit who lived in Boston, named Felix. Felix joined Christine and myself in the effort of finding a place to stay. After getting ripped off by the cab (no other choice at 9 pm), we headed to the chaweng garden bungalows. They had one left, so we took it. It ended up 20 yards to the beach, and had ac, hot water, and a mini bar. Needless to say, we got lucky. To celebrate, we decided to do what any reasonable person would do...We got shitfaced and headed to the closest drag queen show, after all the thais are rumored to be the best. I will not go into the days when Thai transvestite used to party all night at my apartment...thats another story (isn't Mr Ellis). The show included small Thai boys in hot pants, more beautiful transvestitism than a call girl service, and of course one big fat Thai drag QUEEN. And when I say Queen , I don't mean the waiter I had last night queen, I mean the bitch owned the place (literally). The pictures will tell more, but moving on. We than went to the dance complexes in the heart of chaweng. The dance plex was blasting hip hop, techno, and local all at the same time, as well as broadcasting the pats-indie game on the giant movie sized screen. The music was overpowering and after inspecting the newest of the euro dance moves, I decided to unleash some old school classics of my own. Christine and I decided that it was time to show these rythymless donkeys what was up. Felix, taking great pleasure in our skillful display of grace and poise, decided to continue getting us drinks until we were close to blacking out. The night continued on for many more hours, but since this site is monitored by more people than just my close friends ( who are well aware of my antics) we'll end here.
The next day, Felix was off early, and Christine and I walked the beach end to end (some 10 km) and lazily soaked in the Thai sun. The ocean in Thailand is the temp of bathwater, and color is a mix of turquoise and every other shade of paradise there is. This was the first part of the trip, that it began to sink in that we were in paradise the other side of the world. We read our books and bronzed, or in my case burned, our bodies all day. The only breaks we took were to eat at the endless beach bars and cafes. I don't know if I have touched on the service in Thailand, but at the risk of sounding redundant, I'll reiterate. When one sits, the server swarms you and assumes you know what you want immediately. If you ask for a minute, you may never see them again (I think it translates into calling their mother a whore). When you order, it doesn't matter that you ordered together, or if you ordered appetizer. You will receive the food in any order, at any increment they feel like doing. Christine had finished her food, before I received mine. Shortly after we received the appetizer we assumed they had forgotten. Then when your ready for something else, or (gasp) the check, you must allow at least half an hour then go find them. In this case, even though there were only one other table and six severs, I had to go around the side of the building to plead for a check. Once delivered, The sever will watch you count your money, and stand there until you pay them. This is the service everywhere, with one or two exceptions. We enjoyed our meal and strolled the beach as couples do. We entered into the poshest of bars on the beach for a quick beer before going home, and after ordering realized we were short on funds and 2 km away from our beach bungalow. Luckily, I had been chatting the couple next to us up (sassy brits) and they paid for the rest. The brits, two newlyweds, then proceeded to recount all of their adventures with drugs and travel at our age. At some points even surprising their new spouse with old stories of ex-lovers. Christine and I excused ourselves and agreed to meet them later (hopefully to freeload some more). We were late (I had to curl my hair and put on my face) and missed them, but had drinks in their honor instead. At dinner we ran into the group of aussie lesbians who sat behind us. One of them had performed on stage with the rest of the men for the grand finale, and here she was again taking over the microphone from the Asian coverband. Christine had to restrain me from trying to out karroke her onstage, but again the night was hers. Sad and defeated we went home.
The sun was rising, the gekkos were singing, and I decided today would be a good day risk my life. Christine and I decided to rent a motorcycle and see the island the old fashion way, on a rusty piece of shit death machine. My mother made me promise her at a young age not to ever buy a motorcycle, but I was only going to rent one. After paying about 3 dollars for the day, I got the first sensation of straddling my hog, my steel chariot, my Honda dream. After a few failed attempts of starting it and almost crashing in the first 10 seconds, we were off. A little shaky at first granted, but in no time I was a natural. I even brought along my aviator sunglasses ala tom cruise in top gun.(que Take my breath away) With the wind running through my Mohawk and my lady's arms wrapped around me (more of a python grip screaming in my ear) we were off. The scenic vistas of koh sumia were spectacular. We were on top of lush jungle covered mountains starring into endless crystal blue lagoons, but we had to get up the mountains first. Our motorbike, Dream Machine, (yes, it had a pink decal on the side of it) had some trouble getting up the inclines, or even over speed bumps. More than a few times, Christine would be asked to kindly jump ship in order not to crash, and I would have to kick my legs like fred flinstone to get up some of the "roads". That was the other thing, some of the "roads" were more like hiking trails up mountains (more later). Undetered by our setbacks, no mountain was too high (except the real steep ones), and no path unexplored (except the real scary ones). We stumbled upon one particular lagoon that was pure bliss. Christine and I spotted some people well off the shore seemily walking on water. After making sure we were hydrated and sober, and no bushes were burning, we proceeded out into the water. We walked for 200 meters and were still only ankle deep. It was perfect, tropical outcove of waist deep to ankle deep water with no one around. I decided I would go euro and went topless while frolicking in the water. The sun was growing lower in the sky, so we left our private oasis and headed towards home. We watched the sun set atop of a cliff on the north side of the island, and I almost killed us trying to get up the mountain, but we're ok except for the large abrasion on my big toe. We stopped for dinner, and I finally found a curry that made me want to cry. Not because it was good, but it was one of the hottest flavors I have ever eaten. My mouth tingled and burned for hours. I have written too much but there is some more I may include later. The next day we were leaving for koh toa, a smaller island some 3 hrs away by boat. Koh Sumia was beautiful with its long streches of white sand beaches and jungle water falls, but it also had crazy nightlife with thumping techno megaplexs, and a beach bar within 10 ft of every inch of sand. Someone compared it to a beautiful girl with too much makeup, and I can see there point koh sumai is a bit overdone, but who cares if you not in it for the longterm relationship...just kidding Mr. Campbell (christine's dad).