Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Frugal Traveler: 36 Hours in Tak Province

Lonely Planet: Thailand aka The Backpackers Bible, refers to Tak as "particularly uninteresting", only including it in the book because "you might get stuck here".

I first came to the city intentionally (if only to meet up with some friends), but ironically, did actually "get stuck" there my second night, after finding out the buses didn't go to Mae Sot on the King's Birthday. Fortunately, Lonely Planet's review of this city may be an unfair write-off of hidden gem in Northern Thailand. While it doesn't have any outstanding "sites" per se, it does have some scenic river views ...and frozen cocktails. Throw in some bicycles to scoot around in, and the company of 4 wonderful people, and this city is worth more than a night passing through....

Whatever reason brings you to Tak, be sure to stay at the incredibly character-building Mae Ping Hotel. You might recognize the bathrooms from horror films such as SAW I-V and Hostel, as I'm pretty sure they were all filmed within these drippy, rustic tile walls. * Also, it's good to know that if the villians from these films ever did show up here, the rock-hard pillows could be used as lethal weapons.... seriously.

Those late nights watching Iron Chef at 4am in America will pay off when you visit Hot Pot the next afternooon for an endless buffet of creative soup conoctions - boiled cow stomach, bok choy... maybe some sushi... then of course don't forget the redbean and corn desserts. If you can even bare to stand up after this feast , exit the back into ... the Arcade!!! Watch out for air-hockey pucks that come flying towards your face.

Later, use the rickety Indiana Jones bridge to cross the Me Nam Ping, drink some beers on the "beach", shoot some fireworks if you got 'em, and watch wild horses toss their trainers into the sand.

Steal some bikes from your friends apartment to visit lesser known sites such as the Shrine to King Thaksin, the nameless road-side vegan restaurant (!!!), and then sit by the river and watch the Thais play on the newly-famous Tak tree swing, or effortlessly catch gigantic fish for dinner without so much as a fishing pole.

After the sun goes down, wander around the Night Market for an authentic eating and shopping experience. And while every city in Thailand has a night market to peruse- not every city has the friendliest roti lady in Thailand, or a VW Bus serving mysterious coffee drinks out of its side door.....

When it comes down to it, I guess it's the simple pleasures, the hot food, and the good company that allows you to open up and enjoy an otherwise average , middle-sized city in the center of Thailand. But next time you're traveling to Mae Sot, Um Phang, or Sukhothai... forget what the Bible says... and make sure to "get stuck" in Tak.

Monday, November 30, 2009

send cash! and cookies!

My address until March:

Casimira Younger
Udomrat Residence, Room 403
11/10 Naresuan Road
T. Pratoochai
A. Phranakorn Si Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya, Thailand 13000

Sunday, November 22, 2009

welcome to sin city

Prostitution and "sex-tourism" are booming all over Thailand, but Pattaya seems to be the mecca for such a trade; it is still the Navy-boy hot spot that it was 30 years ago, and now excels at drawing old, fat, perverted men from all over the world (mainly Eastern Europe) to join the young soldiers in their sexcapades. Go-go bars and caberets line the streets, and overweight white men walk hand in hand with atttractive young Thais.

Prostitution is an ever-present evil that goes (surpringly) unchallenged in this country. Thai men and women [seem to] tolerate its presence, and even the farangs I work with claim it's "no big deal", saying things "are just different here"......

It's hard for me not to see the blatant injustice by objectifying, selling, and abusing women, not to mention its ties to the wider issues of third-world poverty and gender inequality, so I don't exactly accept the vindication of culturally-moral relativism. While prostitution is technically "illegal" in Thailand, anyone that takes a stroll down Walking Street will immediately recognize that not only is it legal, but flourishing, acceptable, and highly profitable.

Prostitution's presence in a society that is not only devout Buddhist, but also prudish and conservative in many respects , is one of the many paradoxes that keeps Thailand interesting. For this reason alone, and because I didn't want to be downer all weekend, I swallowed my liberal snobbery and heavy judgement, and became an accepting observer in the City of Sin this weekend.

they don't call it "International Meeting Street" for nothing

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

3,000 lanterns, 1 night.

these are fire lanterns, not stars.

As we watched 3,000 of them get released at the same time from the temple grounds, it was hard to remember what exactly reality was, where we were, and how we got there. Perhaps we had been transported into some astronomical dream on another world entirely. It was something inbetween outer space and lower levels of ocean floor: a dark place only visited by strange, bright and tiny creatures, glowing and scattered like stars, jellyfish, or Christmas lights, but with melodic Buddhist chants humming in the background. The lanterns, some attached with their own set of fireworks, caused them to skyrocket, mirroring shooting stars, but only feet away; beautiful, sparkling, and incredibly dangerous. The lanterns rose with grace, sent with blessings of hope and thanksgiving, and drifted towards other realms of the atmosphere, taken into Other hands. You could see the mass of them rise together and change directions, pulling west, then some, having already lost their fire, slowly floated down again.

Me: I think I've figured it all out. This ceremony is just symbolic of the cyclical nature of life and death, of karma and samsara. Of our beauty and yet our individual insignificance.
Brandon: Oh, really? I thought it was just about man's obsession with lighting shit on fire.

Either way, it blew my mind.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teaching English in the Old City

When I told people I was moving to Ayutthaya, reactions came from all ends of the spectrum. Some insisted it was the “Must-See City” of Thailand, while Joe called it “the loneliest place” he’s ever been. David at least tried to hide his concern when he said “Don’t worry, if you hate it, I can find you a job in Chiang Mai in no time… But,uh, I’m sure you won’t hate it.”

But so far I haven’t had too much to complain about. My apartment is perfectly situated between “Soi Farang” on one side -overrun with backpackers, bars, and white people - and to my west lies an array of eerie, silent, ancient ruins. I have air-con, my own balcony, and even a big girl bed – something that I’ve desperately coveted after 4 years of dorm and community living.

Not to say I haven’t already noticed some differences between Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai. The sun is stronger here, it’s not overrun by temples– and there’s no omlette lady on my corner to serve me a 12-baht breakfast (perhaps the saddest thing of all). Also, the people don’t seem quite as intrigued by farangs. Meaning: theyre not interested at all. Menus are only in Thai, and when I ask for my som dtamm at a road stand vendor, it feels like I'm bothering her. Chiang Mai definitely holds a special place in my heart. I’ve spent the past 2 months experiencing Northern Thai culture and attempting Chiang Mai dialect (different from Thai), which proves useless in Central Thailand. Today at lunch over som dtaam and sticky rice, my school's administrator told me that I “eat like a [Thai] Northerner”, and although I don’t know if she meant it as a compliment, I took it as one.

Also, yesterday was my first day teaching English (officially). I got through the day without crying, freaking out, or scaring any children – so I’ll call it a good day. I have P1 through P5 (about 1st through 5th grade) and today my P2's were just a bundle of energy, and pretty fun to hang out with. My schedule is crazy easy compared to my other farang teacher friends, so, again... somehow, I lucked out.
Ayutthaya: so far so good.

I haven't taken any good photography of this city so far, so, just for kicks, here is a picture of me spooning a tiger. And Hannah, don't worry, the tiger was only slightly better at being "little spoon" than you. :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

my new life

Ayutthaya, my future home

Instead of writing about the emotionally and heart-wrenching goodbyes I had at Ban Chang Thai, (which I'm sure I"ll get around to expressing sooner or later) ... Here's a quick life update:

I've been in teacher-training class for the past 4 days, and it isn't as much of a nightmare as I thought it would be. It's a pretty good group of kids.

And despite all the mystery that has surrounded the program up to this point, I got my school placement yesterday.

Turns out for the next five months I"ll be living and teaching elementary school in Ayutthaya, the Old Capitol of Thailand.

So much for sticking around Chiang Mai, but I really can't complain. I'm not in Bangkok, and I don't have 7th graders. So that much I'm very thankful for.

Everything this week has been kind of overwhelming... leaving my Thai family, adjusting to new people and places, and discovering what this new chapter in my life is going to look like for the next 5 months.

Needless to say, there's been a lot of som-tam [papaya salad] and lao [whiskey] consumption this week to cope accordingly.

I'll post some videos later this week, but until then I added some more pictures to my facebook album about my last weeks at Ban Chang. (see link below)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pretty Pictures

As my last week at Ban Chang Thai wraps up, I thought I'd finally share some photos.

The link to my facebook album is some everyday life at the camp and of Chiang Mai City, while the ProThailand flickr account is of our Tree Planting Day with the school kids, and of a cultural dance and traditional Chiang Mai dinner this weekend. Enjoy!

ALSO, here is the website I "made" that is finally online. Not everything on it was created by me, so all the stuff that looks ugly or is poorly written is most-definitely not mine.

Friday, October 2, 2009

this has nothing to do with thailand, but....

A Eulogy for my favorite Cafe

For anyone who knows me, you know that Lake Side Cafe has been my second home, as well as my employer, for the past 2 and half years. That's why it deeply saddens me to announce that Lake Side will be closing at the end of October. (!!!) I recieved the news through an email a few days ago and have been in a state of shock ever since.

There are few places in the world where I felt more comfortable than on the floor of Lake Side Cafe, where the staff was a close-knit second family, and the customers became neighborhood friends. This vegan-organic oasis in a city of hot dogs and deep dish pizza was a true gem of the Rogers Park/Edgewater area. Lake Side made my appreciation for these dynamic neighborhoods grow in ways that even my ownuniversity could not.

It breaks my heart to think I will be returning to Chicago without the chance of scoring a vegan chocolate chip cookie, or to say hello to anyone of the number of my favorite customers with whom I became so close over the years.

Lake Side Cafe - you will be missed!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Best Meeting Ever??

The plan on Tuesday was a full-day meeting on Sustainable Tourism in the MaeTaeng District. It is a topic I"m really interested in, but I also knew it would be all in Thai, so I wasn't expecting anything exciting.... Turns out their definition of "meeting" here is quite different than the American version.....

We had a quick discussion on what the website should look like, then ate a fanatastic lunch together. After lunch, we took a long-boat ride to a floating house in the middle of a huge lake surrounded my mountains.

After another 30-minute conversation about nothing important, trays and trays of food came out and were placed in front of us. I was confused because we had just eaten lunch not even 2 hours ago... but the food kept coming. Then someone busted out 2 cases of Leo (a Thai beer) and another full case of whiskey.... This was all before 3pm.

After a little bit of eating and drinking, any more discussion of Sustainable Tourism was clearly closed. Someone turned on kareoke at the other end of the table, and then another round of food was brought out. It was like Thanksgiving.... but on an island-house in Thailand with government officials, pretending to have a meeting. The Nayok sitting by me took a liking to me and made sure there was always a Leo in my hand, clinking glasses with me every 5 minutes.

Here's a view from our table.


Nayok Satyien... a friendly but distant man, usually found in a suit, talking on his cell phone or meeting with important people, was the first and last to kareoke at our s0-called meeting.

We drank and kareoked until dark, then took a long-boat ride back to mainland under the stars, and ... as if we hadn't drank and eaten enough that day.... Nayok took us to a bar to get snacks and more drinks. Needless to say... I love my job.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

the jungle component

What a week. I guess I'll start from the beginning.

We arrived at the elephant camp last Sunday just in time to see some election results. Nayok Satyien- a local government official (and kind of My Boss) was running for re-election. He has been in office many years and is (apparently, but also quite obviously) loved and trusted by nearly the entire province. BUT his opponent is a slimy devil and paid off two entire villages to vote for him.

So - long story short - the election results were close - but Nayok Satyien still won. :)

But his opponent is causing a big ole' fuss about it and there's some legal drama going on at the office.... so needless to say, I wasn't working for Nayok this week. Instead, I stayed on the elephant camp all day and night, riding, washing, playing with elephants, inbetween creating a new website for Ban Chang Thai (Thai Elephant Home).

OK SO - riding elephants - awesome. It's quite easy, but pretty rough on your body. Ban Chang doesn't use wooden seats or whatever on them - you just ride bareback. Pretty intense, and definately bum-bruising.

I was SO exhausted after my first night, so I was completely conked out by 9pm. When I awoke in the morning, I was in bed surrounded by a mosquito net - and looked out my bedroom window to see elephants wandering by mountains and jungle. I had no idea what was going on. It was amazing.


I've definately had to make some adjustments to the "jungle factors" of living here.
This includes:

- waking up to hungry elephants trumpeting every morning at 6am.
- constantly hearing the call of some animal, whether it be an elephant, cow, dog, rooster, bird, or just a motorbike
- a variety of critters in my bed/bathroom including but not limited to: spiders (big and small), cockroaches (I like to think theyre grasshoppers), ants, and small lizards.
- beetles the size of my face
- the fact that my legs look like i have chicken pox from the variety of mosquito/bug bites on them. honestly, multiple people have commented with looks of awe.

But honestly, it's been so great. A very limited number of mahouts speak English at the camp - so more often than not it's pretty boring and the nights can certainly be dull. But ever since I've arrived, I've been so grateful and happy to be here. I'm looking forward to many adventures ahead....

Next time I'll hopefully have some picture of my host "family" - Joe, (the manager of Ban Chang)- his wife, and their baby!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Baby Oishi is probably my favorite thing at the camp.... yes, more than the baby elephant. He's 9 months and unbelievably adorable. Unbelievable.

more soon. much love

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Arrival in Chiang Mai - It's so hot in the C!

Sawat dee Kaa from Chiang Mai - a quaint little town full of ex-pats and coffee shops. Nothing like the insanity of Bangkok, but with all the kookyness of Thailand.
Here's my first meal in Thailand - iced coffee and mango sticky rice. If anyone's heard me say anything about Thailand , they've heard me talk about mango sticky rice. On my last thrip to Thailand, it quickly became of my favorite things on the planet. Even though its more of a dessert, I couldn't help but eat it first thing in the morning. It's been too long.
I arrive at my placement tonight - a sustainable elephant camp in the mountains. Apparently theres a serious lack of internet and cell phone recpetion, but I'll try to have videos of elephant as soon I can. Until then, here's a video of a "famous" blind-band that plays at the Night Bazaar downtown Chiang Mai. There're actually really good. (Although this vid may not prove it).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Khob Khun

hey friends,

first of all, i am anti-blog. i'm not going to blame you for not reading this blog, even if you gave birth to me, so don't pretend like you have to care. but, because i know exactly what i hate about blogs... i've decided to be anti-those-other-blogs, and pro-MyBlog, because i'm going to make it awesome.

also.... its taken a bit of work for me to get to thailand. i've put in a lot of time writing fundraising letters, working overtime, and eating nothing but the leftovers my roommate brings home from Panera. 10 pounds and a few hundred dollars later... I find myself with a ticket to Chiang Mai and a lot of people to thank.

you are probably one of them. whether you contributed financially (thank you!) or with your own words of encouragement, love, reccommendation or motivation... thank you. you are so important to me, and you are the reason why i am here.

in order to show graititude towards all those who brought me here in some form, the only thing i have to give at this point is pictures and some updates on life in asia. one day, i'll pay you all back, somehow.... but until then... here are some words and photos.

i love you. please enjoy my blog. (ugh!)