Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Thai Must Think They’re Under Attack – July 4th one day in hindsight

I waged war on the ants tonight. I’d given them more than ample time to leave my apartment peacefully, but they remained defiant. I couldn’t stand to watch my desk move with them anymore, so I took back the Raid from Ben and went to town. Those strip things would probably be more effective as new ants continue to pop up where the other ones had been wiped off the Earth just minutes earlier.
Yesterday was July 4th and a bunch of us attended the festivities put on by the US Consulate. It was a pretty surreal spectacle – some might even say a freakshow. Who knew that there were what seemed like a 1000 Americans in Chiang Mai? We also musn’t forget about the few pretty little Thai girls in attendance on the arms of various sleazy old Yanks. The shindig cost 50baht to get in and got you a raffle ticket to boot, but sadly I didn’t win anything – not the jade necklace, nor the 2 night stay at the Four Seasons, nor the airfare for two to Taipei or Laos, nor the membership to the American University Alumni library with books as current as 1950. Within the walls of the consulate, the party was held in the outside courtyard. The Thais walking along outside must have been completely confused about the weird patriotic karaoke blasting from inside and the fireworks display later on must’ve led them to believe they were under attack. If I do say so myself, the fireworks were rather impressive considering my expectations consisted of a solo firecracker smuggled in from Kentucky. Speaking of Kentucky, a lot of the people in attendance looked right out of the “Bluegrass State”. I still can’t figure out what so many hickish families are doing in Chiang Mai. Of course, there were the expected missionaries, some meatheads, disenchanted twenty-somethings from the NGO’s or fake Reuters knockoffs, and so many little kids that seemed to come out of nowhere. Many people had on patriotic shirts and donned flag-painted faces. One odd woman had cat whiskers painted on instead for some enigmatic reason. As for food and drink, there was Subway, McDonalds, Starbucks, and some other random stations, like the hotdog one that ran out within the first hour. If the food stations and Coca Cola sponsorship ads abound weren’t American enough, there was always the watermelon eating competition. Maybe it was the inner mom inside me, but I was worried that someone could easily choke on the seeds. On a side note, I just learned that “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “God Save the Queen” are the exact same song with different lyrics. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

Life of Pai (not that I even like the book), June 30th – July 1st

On Saturday morning the PiA crew took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Pai, a small little hippie town hidden in the mountains and unlike any other place I’ve been in Thailand so far. It used to be a mecca for all sorts of traveling artists and the sort, but according to modern cynics, it’s now a played-out getaway overrun with lame Farang. For me, while there were plenty of beer-guzzling Westerners abound and dreadlocked Thais who still act like Bob Marley is alive and well, Pai was an awesome weekend respite, though many of its occupants consist of once-travelers who never managed to escape the town’s laid-back allure.
We took a mini-bus to get there on a road that had plenty enough of dips, climbs, and curves to make me nauseous. Accompanying us in the bus was a quiet Australian and an obnoxiously affectionate and big-schnozzed Israeli couple who couldn’t keep their hands or lips off of one another. Ben and I had a good chat to help pass the time, though at one point the Australian said to himself but loud enough for us to hear, “Americans are funny.”
I turned around and went, “Huh?”
“You Americans are funny” he continued. “You guys talk so much and you talk so fast.”
He pantomimed with his hand some kind of yapping motion. Yet another remark that I just had no idea what to make of.
“In my town, we have this competition” he went on. “You know that show Gilmore Girls? Well we have to listen to this 50 second sound clip of Gilmore Girls and guess how many words were said. It’s always somewhere around 50 million or so.”
Go figure. People from four hours outside of Melbourne in the country must have a lot of time on their hands.

Nell, Alexis, & Leah

Once in Pai, we set out for our guest house, which turned out to be located on the main river in town – the kind of muddy river that you think of when envisioning a stereotypically bucolic Asian landscape. While walking along a quaint little road, we passed a sign that read:
I was confused, but not for long. As I turned my head around, I came face to face with a baby monkey tied to a post and looking me in the eye. It scurried around within the available slack, futilely reaching for bananas that must have seemed within range to the tortured soul.
We rented motorbikes and set out exploring. We were gonna go with bicycles, but the guy at our guest house advised against it, saying that the roads would be too steep. Sure enough, he was right. There was no way we would’ve made it on bicycles.
In Chiang Mai, Ben and I don’t really find it necessary to own motorbikes because of the availability of song-taews, not to mention we’re both little woussies, but riding on the motorbike for the first time would be like a paraplegic one day waking up to discover a newfound control of their legs(not that I can say what that's like). It gave us a new found mobility previously unfathomable. And let me tell you, it was exhilarating – riding out of town into the countryside of fables and zipping around on those little death traps of ours. It was probably the act of riding the motorbike itself that proved to be the highlight of my trip. It reminded me of going out on Jetskis when I was younger and rules didn’t exist on the wide-open seas (or in my case, semi-contained lakes). When you ride on a jet ski, there isn’t really a destination, it’s just the act of speeding aimlessly around that makes it so much fun, and thus was the case with the motorbikes, except we had super cool destinations available as well (like the waterfall and Temple on the Hill). Did I mention that Ben was my passenger? There wasn’t really much debate as to who would be the driver. Sounds eerily like a metaphor for our relationship…
After an afternoon of motorbiking in and around Pai, we’d seen ourselves a Chinese village, the waterfall (at which only a chubby nine year old Thai boy had enough balls to go down the ad hoc waterslide created from a section of smoothed out rock as an entirely all Western audience looked on in amazement), and the solo landing strip in the middle of a field that is officially known as Pai’s airport. Oddly enough, there were a few times I turned my motorbike on and it would then turn off immediately (yeah yeah, I was giving it enough gas). Luckily this was during the downhill portion of the journey, so I was able to coast even with the engine off like Kerouac in “On the Road.”

Retardedly spelling out PiA in the countryside - a sad attempt to make the newsletter

As darkness settled, we grabbed dinner at an Italian restaurant, making it something like the fifth time in seven days that I was gorging myself on pizza. The restaurant didn’t seem to be doing so well on this particular night as every party that came in after us subsequently wound up leaving within a few minutes. Maybe there was some correlation between that and the fact that they never got around to bringing us the goat-cheese salad that Nell ordered (note: Nell is one of the PiA girls). They did wind up bringing out Leah’s goat-cheese salad though, and ironically enough, their goat cheese tasted like nothing of the sort, but rather more along the likes of Mozzarella.
With our stomachs full, we moved onto a bit of boozing, first at some entirely Thai afterwork-type hangout blasting a dubbed version of “Bean” on TV, and then a series of entirely Farang infested watering holes, several of which request taking off your shoes before entering. While that’s all good and nice, it didn’t seem like particularly shrewd policy after I accidentally shattered a glass and everyone was precariously walking around barefoot.
My buzz didn’t actually kick in until we got ourselves a bucket of SangSom and coke. SangSom is this cheap Thai liquor that tastes pretty similar to rum. At some point while in transit between bars, someone drunkenly rode their motorbike into a ditch right in front of us. There were plenty of people around to aid in his rescue, some of whom we got to chatting with. They were a crew of British kids, and after the girls headed back for bed, Ben and I were left in their care. Most of what I remember involved ranting about my cultural inferiority complex that tends to spill out after a few drinks whilst in the presence of people with seemingly fancier accents. I’m pretty sure Ben and I also offered up our best Cockney impersonations which were passé even before we began.

Cut to scene: Ben and I made it back to our room and the conversation went something like this:
“Whoa” I said, laying my head down on the pillow. “I think I’ve got the spins.”
“Really?” he responded. “I don’t really feel that drunk.”
“I didn’t either, but now that I’m lying down I feel it a lot more.”
Ben hit the lights. A few seconds passed.
“Ok” he said. “I’ve got the spins now too.”

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Best – June 22, 2007

There was an earthquake here a few days ago, a 4.5 on the Richter scale, but I seem to have been the only one completely oblivious to its occurrence. My first earthquake and I didn’t get to feel it at all. It was small, so most people just felt a little tremble, but I missed it and don't know how.
As it turns out, my dad isn't closing down his office, I just happened to have slightly misread the email from my aunt. He's just closing it down on Wednesdays to try and cut costs. Auntie is now in search of another job for that one day and inquired about working at BRL. I let her know it was probably the worst idea I’d ever heard.
This afternoon I worked for two hours in the self access center on campus sitting in an air conditioned room waiting for students to approach me with questions. Nobody did, so I just read and wrote for two hours and got paid the same as what I get for teaching; easiest money I ever made, though it was hard not to fall asleep. My stomach was grumbling, so I grabbed a bite to eat at Boat, a diner just down the road from CMU. The club sandwich served to me was undoubtedly the weirdest club sandwich I've ever had. I don’t know if it could even be considered a club sandwich. Instead of turkey and ham, it contained egg and hotdog and some other questionable ingredients. Luckily I was hungry enough that it didn’t matter too much.
Back at Baan Thai, “Best” came to pick me up on his motorbike before heading off for Muay Thai practice. Several weeks back Song-Si tried to set me up with someone knowledgeable about Thai boxing, and through a series of completely random introductions, “Best” and I were introduced.
“I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” I asked struggling to understand through his accent.
“How do you spell that?”
“B-E-S-T. The best.”
“Wait, your name is Best? Are you serious?”
“Yes. My name is Best.”
“Best” is obviously his English nickname, but he doesn’t even pronounce it properly. So after several weeks of failed attempts to coordinate a training session, today was finally going to be the day. We drove back to the university gym and he introduced me to this 40 something year old Italian guy who's supposedly sweet at Muay Thai and happens to be earning his Bachelors Degree in philosophy from Payapp, a Christian university in Chiang Mai where the other PiA girls teach. It made me a little curious wondering what a 40 year old Italian man is doing studying Philosophy at a Thai university, but I decided to let it go. As I later learned, there are even English-speaking Europeans that come over to Thailand and major in English.
I tried to put such nonsense out of my mind before Best and I entered CMU’s gymnasium replete with badminton nets, a corner designated for the ping pong team, and another corner occupied by a boxing ring. We proceeded to work on fundamentals, which somehow I never seemed to have learned back in the States – things like upside down push-ups against the wall and various leg strengthening exercises while maintaining proper hand positioning. These proved quite challenging as anyone who knows me has seen my rare breed of chicken legs. I tried to make a few excuses and attributed my lack of balance to being flat-footed. That didn’t stop me from letting loose on the punching bag when Best asked me to demonstrate my skills. Everyone in the giant gymnasium watched as I threw a mix of coordinated and uncoordinated jabs, crosses, uppercuts, and wild kicks.
Best was nice enough to give me a pair of hand wraps to keep for good, and we practiced the ancient art of “Bong, Bat, Bit, Bo”, which roughly translates into something along the lines of block, move, something, something. We finished up with some general stretching, more bizarre push-ups, and some weird spider-man crawl type thing in order to "rid the chest of its lactic acid." Afterwards we went into this kid's room who lives in the back of the gymnasium and watched bare-knuckle Muay Thai matches on dvd until Best's girlfriend arrived with his motorbike and he took me home. Before saying goodbye, he mentioned that for next time I must gather together three lotus flowers, three sticks of incense, and a candle – something about an offering for the Muay Thai spirit. (note: It’s now a week and a half later, Best has since been AWOL, while the three lotus flowers, three sticks of incense, and candle are all still sitting in my fridge)