Tag Archives: thailand

..and her name was Katie Taylor!

11 Aug

Katie Taylor 

Check out this amazing video of the ‘Thai Tims’, kids from a school in Thailand, singing loud and proud about the legend that is Irish Olympic Gold medallist Katie Taylor.

Absolutely love these kids, such an inspiration for all.

 

Guest Post 3: “What a life!”

1 Jul

This is part 3 of a 3 part guest post series by Samy Amanatullah.

Find Post 1 HERE and Post 2 HERE.

“What a life” was something we’d say when there didn’t seem like anything else to say.

“What a life” was something we’d say when there didn’t seem like anything else to say.

The first time I thought this phrase the way I’d think it for the next few months, I was sitting across from a Thai cowboy. He wasn’t a real cowboy though he wore the hat. Cowboy is the name of his bar.

He sat with his wife, sipping and constantly refilling a glass of whiskey and soda, his wife sometimes going for more ice.

He left home at a young age and found work as a chef for theU.S.army, where he’d learned to speak English and cook western. Decades later, he opened a bar tucked into one of those smaller passageways that fit into the streets of Chang Mai.

It wasn’t the travel or the family or the decades of stories that put a “What a life” under my breath. It was his daily schedule. He woke up, cooked for the kids, opened the bar, closed it when he was tired, got drunk in the in-between. He considered himself a content man.

What a life.

The only other person in there was an old friend of the Cowboy’s—English, old and bald, speaking nonsense. He’d come to the table where we were sitting, try to speak, and be shooed away by Cowboy who was having none of it. He cleaned furniture for a living, and even if the booze hadn’t done him in that night, the decades working with chemicals had mushed his mind. He visitedThailanda few months every year. He didn’t have anyone back home. What a life. In a different way.

There’s a tendency to be shocked by what you see and also by what you don’t notice anymore. “What a life” was a recurring thought, a response to the incredulous. The kids on the beach who build a bracelet on your wrist on the spot? What a life. The tour guide who points out his house and, without skipping a beat, points out the adjacent killing field where his family died? What a life. The tuk-tuk drivers, men in as many industries as they have fingers—pimps, drug dealers, tour guides, drivers, police informants, whatever else might be paying at the moment; the motobike taxis, who take the tuk-tuk drivers’ ambitions and prop it on a suicidal weave through big city traffic; their counterparts on trishaws, motos, and cyclos. The bar girls, young and thin and glossed with make up, looking for sugar daddies. The old men, fat and pasty and tall, looking for Thai “wives”. The women dressed to find a john. The men dressed as the women. The guys they let screw them and then rob. What a life.

The old man in the sleepy tourist attraction town in Myanmar whose job it is to unclog my friend’s toilet, whose age suggests he’s lived through not just Cyclone Nargis, the riots and shootings of his country’s recent history, the release and many arrests of Aung Sang Suu Kyi, but also the inception of his country, its partition from India, even World War 2, who walks into my friend’s room, bucket in hand, ready for shit duty, and smiles. What a life.

The old toothless woman who distills rice moonshine out of a shack and sells it for 50 cents a bottle. The Lebanese painter who describes this jetset “as his life” and then tells me about places I saw as a child and will never go back to. The journalists dancing on the riverside, on a brief vacation laughing, dancing, tripping when a few days ago they were inEgyptwhenEgyptwas ousting its president. Mr. Lao Lao’s son, serving the hard drink on the river, his entire body drawn on with magic marker and dancing around the dock as the water rises, intoxicated foreigners all around him. What a life.

The Mustache Brothers (deserving of a blog post of their own), resigned to house arrest, performing the same show every night, its host smiling on cue, looking tired and weary when the spotlight’s on his brothers, who spent seven years in work camps doing hard labor for telling jokes (“Do you think,” my friend asks later, “that they ever just get the urge to go outside and dig a ditch?”), and the people you see from your bus window as you leave building a new pagoda in a country that uses forced labor and believes that building pagodas can offset bad karma. What a fucking life (apparently to be reincarnated in).

The crap police informants you notice following you, and the better ones you don’t notice. The kids hawking cheap wares and making rational arguments in your language as to why you should buy. The girls learning to balance baskets on their heads by practicing with bricks. The makeshift family that doesn’t sell anything and lives in a shack and plays their music on the beach. What a life.

There’s the foreigner at a random train station. A volunteer English teacher in smalltown Thailand, younger than me, who’s almost on his way out, who will next walk the Camino de Santiago and follow that up with Burning Man, who admits that while it’s awesome that he’s based the rest of his year around festivals, what’s seems most important, most exciting is doing things with the people in his life he’s been off from.

And let’s not forget the animals: the monkeys and birds in cages and chains, doing the dance so their owners get money and they get snacks; the stray dogs wandering in packs, begging, roaming the car parks, the sole thing you see against the moon on the streets at night, battling amongst each other for turf, for fun, for a stick; the horses—the poor horses—marching through the heat, carrying at least two fat foreigners and the driver, in some towns the main source of transport and no other way about it but miserable. “What does the horse get out of it?” my friend asks as it steers us towards a semi-famous ruins site. Maybe something at the end. Maybe some sweet, sweet hay.

Then again, as someone suggests after a day spent wandering a village and drinking a tea-whiskey concoction that’s supposed to make us tired and healthy, what about us? What about we who go from place to place without any particular reason, acclimated to the long bus rides, the winding roads, the stenches and bathrooms that will never see porcelain? A little thing I found out was that almost every foreigner I met going through SoutheastAsiakept with them sleeping pills for the long bus rides. So much so that in conversation it stopped being a question and became more of an assumption, something you’d compare or share as the novelty of going somewhere else faded into the reality of a bumpy, disorienting ride.

There are people who live in countries of tremendous beauty who have never gone the50 milesbetween their home and that incredible beach or mountain because they can’t afford to, and we do it in a single run and we tell them about it and ask questions, and they smile and at least act like they’re happy for us. We who go just because we can, spoiled for travel, eating and drinking whatever and whenever we want, jumping out of planes and onto buses, living lives that are equally strange and infinitely more charmed, doing nothing as people ask, incredulously, as if they don’t understand, if we’re actually just going until we run out of whatever, no phone, no travel insurance, no plan. What a life.

But, of course, it can’t last, and a little later, I can’t help but ask my friend if, when he returns to the states, he’ll just get the urge to go off and take a 14 hour bus ride. Imagine him seeking out the shittest bathrooms and the worst bus seat and soaking in the smells of being sandwiched between someone throwing up into a bottle on one side and someone spitting betel nut out the window on the other, thinking contently before the sleeping pills kick in that this, indeed, is the life.

Guest Post 1: “How much does your life weigh?”

30 Apr

Thanks to Samy Amanatullah, for this great guest post!

How much does your life weigh?

“How much does your life weigh?” is the staple question of George Clooney’s motivational speech in Up in the Air. It’s a springboard for inviting his audience of slack-jawed hangers-on to try and fit all their STUFF–their possessions, their fixtures, their relationships—into a backpack. And its end result is the condemnation of long-term relationships (girlfriends, mortgages) and, for our purposes, STUFF.

Go look in the mirror, take a look that can be short but make it hard. There is either some part of you that agrees with this statement, that has contemplated dumping everything, walking away, or you just don’t dig it. Anyone who’s been backpacking has answered this question at some point, even if they don’t realize it. STUFF, if we’re being honest, is a pain in the ass. When I said goodbye to South Korea (as well as the lovely and gorgeous host of this blog) to travel around Southeast Asia, everything I thought I’d need had been (over)stuffed into a bag. 

My plan was to travel for a little, celebrate the solar new year, then look for work in Cambodia, maybe Thailand, possibly Laos—someplace where snow wouldn’t be an issue and I could get a decent sandwich (Full disclosure: this plan was amended from an earlier plan). Everything went into that travel bag—warm weather clothes, two sweatshirts, two flasks, underwear abundant, socks, clothes that could be worn for job business, a pair of sports shoes—clunky clunky sports shoes. This thing was overpacked, bursting. I got it closed, but opening it again, as the dicks at airport security made me do was the least pleasant thing in the world. Turning up nothing of concern and seeing that they’d opened a storm, security personnel pushed the bag towards me and looked towards the line that wasn’t behind me or anywhere. Deal with it. 

The next day, I bought a $7 backpack off the street to split the load. I still felt conspicuous. Jam-packed, but with what? I described my load earlier, and I’m still not sure. So it was that as I got further from my plan, I shed.

In Up in the Air, Clooney is a frequent flying loaner, gleefully forsaking conventional relationships to jet set around America, proudly living out of a backpack the whole while. Desert island questions (as in, If you were stuck on a desert island and could only take 5 books/items/etc…) are designed to gauge one’s personality via their possessions. Forsaking the comfort of STUFF, paring down your possessions, evokes a simplicity associated with Buddhism or Zen. 

At the very least, it impresses people. “I quite admirable that he travel with simple luggage,” my couchsurfing host in Taipei wrote of me (this was much later). A Swedish guy I met in Myanmar remarked at how little my friend and I were carrying. His pack had room for a midget and a half, and when it unzipped, spilling out over the usual suspects was the useless—a mug, a cup, a bottle of whiskey nearly empty but tiny enough to leave a titmouse or Mormon sober, a sleeping bag and a hammock, a drum, a book (Burmese Days) among many others that he bought not out of interest but because that’s what people read when they go to the country formerly known as Burma. It sometimes becomes a thing to judge people by what they’re unwilling to do without. We are what we think we need. 

It was before dawn on the Mekong. At one of those stops that exist only to sell foreigners crap breakfast while the border opens, the bus from Bangkok to Vientiane unloaded its cargo (older men getting away from their Thai “wives”, itinerant trekkers going north, farangs working in Thailand on visa runs, backpackers, tubers-in-waiting and a small group looking for work at the tubing bars, Travelers i.e. people for whom travel has ceased to be a vacation and is now a way of life) who then lined up for coffee and toast. 

Between wafts of cigarette smoke, steam pouring off coffee, and the hazing pre-dawn, they compared bags. An older English guy who’d traveled Laos before and with whom I’d end up spending much of my time there carried with him a square pack, adorned with patches of countries visited, consisting of about four shirts, two shorts, a pair of trousers, underwear (‘pants’ as the English say,), and shoes on his feet. Books weren’t an issue because he had an iphone with the Millennium Trilogy on audio. No jacket. No sweatshirt taking up half his bag. When people asked what he did on bus rides when the air-condition blasted, his response was, “Oh, it’s not that cold.” His country count was in the fifties.

A middle-aged Irishman showed off his bag, also with flag patches and not much bigger than my laptop. By his standards, that bag was large. His friend, he said, who’d made a mission of going to every country or territory and had pretty much succeeded had two shirts, two pants, a pair of shoes, socks, and no underwear. Later, when I told a travel companion about that last bit, he took it to heart and went commando, an unfortunate move as the waistband to his shorts bulged in the back, leaving a view to his crack. I was taller than he, so I made a point of not walking behind him.

As they talked, I thought of my bags. I was glad that they weren’t with me at the time, but I didn’t feel self-conscious anymore. Yeah, they were clunky mothers—the red mingled with dirt that would cling to my black, the strip of blue drooped over my shoulder making every narrow crossing a bit awkward. They were more than I needed. But I wondered why it was that these older people could get by with less while these teenagers and twentysomethings lug 50 or 70 pounds behind them. What’s the point? What’re we preparing for? When we think travel, we tend to think of freedom, the open road, adventure, but when I see travelers I think turtle, snail, crustacean laboring over the dunes, trying in vain to keep its home on its back. We are what we think we need? Maybe.

It’s hard for girls. Girls are expected to dress for every occasion,” says a Belgian woman as we discussed this very topic at a bar overlooking the river. And it’s true, especially in the age of social networking, traveling is so many things—tourism, party, adventure, cultural exchange, culture shock, status update, profile picture—that we get caught up in being prepared for anything instead of what we’re facing.

No one wants to find themselves at the top of the mountain with a dead camera, or in an excrement-floored squat bursting out the behind and suddenly without toilet paper. On the other end, you don’t need a cocktail dress to go out for drinks. A hammock and a sleeping bag is probably over-doing it. It’s easy to judge, so I had to wise up. That’s why in some bungalow on the 4,000 Islands, there’s a blue travel bag filled with all the STUFF (shoes, socks, pants, dead camera, wires, water bottles warm and plastic-tasting) I didn’t need.

That’s why 2 months later wandering round Taipei, my STUFF collection was a passport, carton of Bamar (i.e. Burmese) cigarettes, a fifth of apple vodka, two MP3 players, 4 books (3 for trading, 1 used tour guide), three pairs of pants (one of which was always worn), 5 shirts doing double duty as towels, board shorts, a lucky pair of Obama socks that I’d kept because they were a gift (from the lovely and gorgeous host of this blog) and because wearing them at night stopped me from scratching the mosquito feeding farm, and sweatshirt that took up half my bag, because my Southern Californian ass doesn’t handle the cold well. Also, toilet paper, though that had also been a gift from a Bamar guesthouse. My STUFF was like my trip—random, disorganized, endearingly chaotic, and indulgent. 

But most importantly, my STUFF was disposable. I could dump it wherever. I’ve left and lost and broke things in every country to which I’ve been. If you look in Janet’s apartment, you’ll find the random remainders of my life in Korea. Some Thai guesthouse has that lime orange sweatshirt that made me stick out wherever I went. In Laos, there’s a pair of shoes that climbed mountains, hiked jungles, forests, and walked through some of the biggest cities on either side of the world. The time came for my grey cargo pants twice burnt-on-the-crotch and mysteriously stained with Full Moon party paint to make someone else look like a chic hobo. 

My relationship with STUFF has always been strained as an adult. Moving from house to house every year in university, I came to hate it. STUFF was a symbol of oppression, of being unable to just get up and go, of being tied to one place or thing. The people I lived with swore by STUFF in one way or another. But it’s different when you’re traveling, the temptation for STUFF comes in many forms, but souvenirs are the best way to hemorrhage space and money. Obviously, what we need is defined by where we’re to end up and how long we have till we get there, but souvenirs are for Mantle Place People, folk who have a mantle on which to put their souvenirs. I met one person whose philosophy towards souvenirs was the most agreeable I’d heard. He went by a get one/toss one rule. Every time he bought a t-shirt, he threw one out.

“How did you know you didn’t need a bigger bag?” a travel companion asked me. He wasn’t a Mantle Place Person either, maybe less of one than I am. When we met up in Bangkok, he looked at my knock-off Lowe Alpine bag, limit 50 pounds. How did I know? I didn’t. I assumed my life would shrink or grow with the backpack, kind of like a goldfish. How much does your life weigh? It doesn’t. It depends.

Where to go, where to go….

31 Oct

So I was told this week I could take a 10 day holiday from work the end of January (perfect timing as that’s when I shall turn a quarter of a century (25 years old…ancient I know). The only thing I need to decide now is where to go and am in desperate need of suggestions/inspiration or even somebody to make the decsion for me so I can book those flights!

At the moment I’m debating between Thailand or the Philipines. Or maybe even China. Except come the end of January, if I have not already turned into an icicle, i’m guessing I shall want to escape to warmer pastures and not icy cold China. My friend and fellow teacher here in Korea, has been to both places and says they are both equally awesome.

Gah decisions decisions. If you have been to EITHER place please comment with your advice as to where to go/what to do!

The Philipinnes…

Amazing scuba diving, stunning beaches and fun resorts. Everything, including flights, seem to be super cheap and I have heard nothing but good things about how friendly the people are.

I could see myself here...

Thailand….

Who hasn’t heard good things about Thailand. Super cheap, awesome beaches, full moon beach parties, thai buckets, amazing sunsets, elephant trekking, bustling Bangkok and no doubt much more.

Mmm buckets of alcohol...

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Shots and Sauces on the Tongue of Korea

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