I poke your eye out!
So this is it. Right about now, the sweet memories of my vacation to Thailand are almost completely pushed out of my day-to-day consciousness, so I decided to post my best photo in an effort to fight off the effects of the grind.
I got to close to this silly bird at an ostrich farm located only 15 minutes from Nam’s house, adjacent to a riverside restaurant where we were invited to lunch. I leaned over a rail while looking through my camera’s viewfinder and got a bit too close, and realized I had entered within striking distance just before I hit the shutter release… I hastily stepped backwards and accidentally took this shot as I raised my arm in self defense.
Of course, the ostrich never actually took a nip at me, he just psyched me out and then did this weird victory dance… I still have to look over the video we took to see if that came out or not, and if it did, I’ll post it later.
There’s nothing like an overgrown bird mocking you with a victory dance.

Magical Beaches, Whole Roast Chicken, and a Girl Named Magnum

As time passes and the memories of the vacation I just came back from slowly fade away, it gets harder and harder to write about it. Well, there’s nothing like paper pushing to stifle one’s creativity, as I always say. Still, I have a few more thoughts and photos to share on the matter, so I shall push on…
In a previous post, I wrote about mucking about in the temple ruins at Buri Ram. We finished there early in the afternoon and had lunch with Nam’s family at a nearby outdoor restaurant.

It was pretty hot and I was in meltdown mode after running around like an idiot in the midday sun (or maybe it was more like an Englishman; must consult w/Ben). I wasn’t the only one, either: T started going aggro at Nutty (did I mention that they used to date when she was living in Japan and BOTH thought it a really good idea to go on this road trip – before it started, of course – together as FRIENDS) partway down the road, mainly do to the fact that we couldn’t find a roadmap to buy ALL DAY. As a consolation, we did find many other things…

As I was saying, we stopped at many, many roadside stores and gas stations throughout the drive and couldn’t find a single map for sale. We eventually came to the conclusion that Thai people are either:
(A) Born with a good sense of direction, or
(B) Wont to ask those along the road “which way is the road to [INSERT DESTINATION]”
Since we were personally witness to Nutty getting lost in her current hometown of Bangkok on multiple occasions, we figured (A) perhaps was not the correct choice, and decided to go native and try (B) out for a while. This resulted in me nearly getting gored by, respectively, a water buffalo, and a decidedly non-Holstein dairy cow.

But where was I? Oh, yes, I would be amiss to allow this post to be published without listing a couple of the things T felt it pertinent Nutty should know, while she was driving:
– When driving someone to Bangkok airport during rush hour, the highway is preferable to surface streets (a reference to his last trip here)
– Passing on a two-lane highway (in a two-ton turbodiesel king cab) is dangerous
* (especially at night)
** (unless you turn off the A/C first)
*** (turning off the OD is not the same as turning off the A/C)
– High beams can be a nuisance to incoming traffic, so use them carefully
High beams? He’s lecturing about headlights? Nam and I giggled about this in the backseat. Finally, Nutty reached her limit after a couple hours, pulled over to the side of the road, and asked me to drive.
I drove.

We reached our destination, a resort at Chao Lao Beach, and decided to have dinner at a beachside cafe . Having been subjected to popsy Thai music for the duration of the trip, we were aghast when the German owner of the cafe turned on a huge karaoke machine that happened to be pointed directly at our table. It rattled our teeth and made my beer glass dance even more seductively than the token ladyboy at the bar, until T decided to speak up and asked them to turn it down. Awesome! Usually, I have to be the bad one and tell people to do shit they don’t like, so it was fun watching T use his irritation, to achieve the desired effect, this time. And it worked! German owner guy turned off the Karaoke Deathbox and flipped on a boombox behind the bar instead, much to the consternation of aforementioned ladyboy.
We finished eating and went searching for a place to stay, only to find that most of the rooms at the various resorts had filled and front offices for the most part, had closed. In the end, we resorted to an ancient Jedi mind control technique, and, at the most promising place, made the guard at the (barred) front gate find the manager, open the office, and rent us a room. There was only one left, but it was large, so all four of us fit into it. While the girls took showers, T and I drank beers on the front porch and swatted at fat mosquitoes lazily cruising through the humid air. Our two-day beach respite had begun.

The next morning we rushed to the beach, which was fairly decent sand-, water-, and wave-wise, only to find that they were building a new swimming pool along our stretch. Ogling workcrews and the cacophony of jackhammers do not a relaxing beach day make, so we immediately decided to try our luck at our next resort destination, Rayong.
I knew nothing of Rayong to this point, except that it was more popular with Thais and less so with farang (foreigners), which seemed as good a reason to go than any after being absolutely turned off to the Obnoxiously Hip World Traveller crowd in Pattaya and the Pedophile-in-Lederhosen Heaven that is Phuket on past trips. This single piece of hearsay turned out to be completely true – all the foreigners I saw in Rayong were holed up in the lobby of the single touristy hotel on the strip, playing cards next to the minibar and watching CNN on the poolside TV! The irony killed me, even before the sunburn. But I am getting ahead of myself.
One of the coolest things about travelling Thailand by car is the roadside foodstands. Let me state this simply: I am a chowhound of the first order (gold fruit clusters). I have had very few bad foodstand experiences (one involved fried cockroaches because I felt adventurous, and the other involved something my memory doesn’t allow me to remember as far as taste, smell, or appearance goes) in Thailand; for the most part, I think most foodstands, regardless of location and assuming they are serving something you want to eat, rock. I know this is an overly Japanese/American view of things, but where else can you eat a delicious bowl of steaming hot ramen with full garnishes at three in the morning for a measly 30-50 cents?

The really cool thing about roadside stands is that the food they sell changes from region to region. The road to Rayong was lined on both sides with stands that looked just like this:

That, my friends, is the most delicious roast chicken I have ever eaten, bar none, and I might add that my roast chicken credentials include growing up on authentic Huli Huli chicken and having tasted the delectable Volailles at La Tupina. The entire roast chicken as well as a bag of sticky Isan rice cost only 110 baht (chicken: 90, rice: 20), around three dollars at the current exchange rate. I couldn’t even do the math to figure out how little a chicken’s life is worth in Thailand, since it must cost something to roast them on a spit all day, etc. The old lady at the stand pulled out a seriously well-used butcher’s knife and chop-chop-chopped the bird into manageable pieces, and included a couple different sauces in baggies for us. The smell of roast chicken, in the hot confines of Nutty’s truck, were overpowering. It made me so happy to be in the car with that smell, I started singing! In Spanish! And I don’t even speak Spanish anymore!
I must warn you that from this point on, I took no more photos. I was too happy and sandy to screw around with a camera.
We drove down the entire length of Mae Ramphueng Beach (which may not sound too impressive unless you can imagine 12 whole kilometers of continuous sand and a narrow band of shade trees on one side of the road, and resorts, shops, and condominiums on the other) before finding the hotel which caught our fancy. It had very reasonable prices posted and looked very new and clean, which in sand-encrusted buttcrack speak means “probably has decent showers,” and that is what I look for in beachside accomodations. It also had a guarded parking lot, which would allow us to leave Nutty’s truck for a day if we decided to go to Koh Samet (visible in the distance and less than an hour by boat) without her having to worry about it. Haven’t you ever wanted to walk into a decent hotel and ask for their best room? That’s what we did, and after hearing the cost of the UberPoshDeluxe suite (about $55), we sprung for it. It was huge. It had industrial size air condititioners. We were happy, and then we fell upon the helpless chicken.
Note: I will attempt to describe the chicken in a subjective manner so as not to start drooling upon the workstation I now sit before. Oops.. too late. This is one powerful memory.
Imagine two plastic baggies, each containing a delicious sauce, and each sealed at the end with a red rubber band. One sauce is the traditional Thai sweet & spicy “orange with red chili flecks” sauce used for roast chicken and fish (Mae Pranom is the most common brand). The other is a Hoisin-based sauce with large clumps of herbs and long green chilies marinating in it. Both baggies are opened and each sauce is poured over lateral halves of the chicken, which is resting peacefully in its glistening styrofoam container home. It may only be your imagination when the sauce sizzles as it hits the crispy skin, and this does not bar you from grabbing the nearest piece… The tender parts of the chicken literally melt in your mouth, and even areas with dense meat that are usually quite dry and tasteless – are moist and flavorful, a product of skillful marination and slow roasting over charcoal. The sweet stickiness of the orange sauce runs down your face and coats your fingers, then is burned off by the fiery following of the Hoisin. Paradise.
Appetites sated, we spent the remainder of the day and a good part of the night, as well, at the beach. Going to the beach consisted of leaving the hotel, passing by the outdoor bar (the Bob Marley Bar, complete with scanned and enlarged Legend cd jacket on the signpost), and crossing to the other side of the street. Outdoor foodstands lined the road on the other side, and we dealt with the one directly opposite our hotel. We ordered drinks and used their beach chairs, and the proprietor’s little sister, a girl of about 11 or 12, took an instant liking to Nam. There was something instantly likeable about this girl, who told us her name was Magnum, but didn’t really explain the reason behind it (I strongly suspected her dad was some kind of asshole, as opposed to a harmless Clint Eastwood fan).
She was like, Nature Girl, and she had befriended a pack of stray dogs who patrolled the area, and knew every little fact about her surroundings there was to know – Nam was really tripped out anytime she started chatting about this and that, like what creature had dug this little hole in the sand, and when the rising tide would cover those rocks, and what constellation that one is, and….. Sometime after it got dark and I had tired of swimming in the surprisingly warm yet refreshing ocean, I collapsed out on the beach and fell asleep.
I awoke to a sky full of stars, and an earful of water since the tide had come up. Nam, practicing for future roles as professor and mother, was sitting in the sand close by and asking Magnum about her life, her future, her dreams. In answer, the little girl pointed at the long streak of a shooting star…

Dumb? Retarded? You, too, can become an Immigration Officer!

I picked up Nam at Kansai Airport after work on Friday and she told me of her plight coming through immigration. Apparently trying to crack down on the number of overseas students completing doctoral studies at Japanese universities, Immigration decided to single her out for questioning.
Considering the number of drug smugglers and Thai nationals about to enter Japan as sex slaves on tourist visas, on the same flight, it is remarkable that Immigration can single out one of the few with legit credentials, like Nam.
Even more amazing is the intelligence of the questions asked:

Immigration Officer (leafing though Nam’s passport): I see that your student visa has expired…
Nam: Yeah, you see, they stamp “EXPIRED” on the old one when you renew it. The current one is on the next page.
Immigration Officer: Oh.


Immigration Officer (noticing that Nam lived in Nara prefecture last year, as evidenced by her student ID): So, is Osaka University located in Nara?
Nam: Uh, no. Osaka University is located in Osaka.
Immigration Officer: Oh. OK, you’re free to go.

I don’t know about you, but I:
A. Feel safer already, and
B. Am sure happy to see my tax yennage being spent to keep geographically-challenged fucktards employed by the government instead of, say, McDonalds, where they might screw up my order of large fries and a shake.

Random Cattlecar

This is a fairly common sight on the dusty roads of the Thai countryside:

Men riding on the top or other exposed areas of a vehicle often wear full bank robber hoods to block the sun; the heat underneath is apparently preferable to the killer rays of the midday sun (I can attest to the discomfort caused by prolonged exposure).
Another shot:

It’s hard to tell how the cows feel about it all. Maybe it beats grazing in some hot ass ditch on the side of the road; who knows?

Warning Signs

Here’s a couple of interesting signs I found on the trip:

This is actually the best “slippery when wet” warning illustration I have ever seen. Seen outside a public restroom at a highway rest stop on the way to Mahasarakham.

Likewise, this is the best “Caution: Falling Durian” illustration I’ve ever seen. I came upon this sign in the middle of the jungle at the backside of a roadside fruit stand/cafe. Awesome.

The Ruins at Buri Ram

On the return trip from Nam’s hometown of Mahasarakham to Bangkok, we made our first stop at Buri Ram (the “City of Happiness”). It’s located in a quiet province which was an important district of the Khmer empire during the Angkor period, and contains numerous Khmer ruins. There are three of four very well-preserved Khmer temples, and we visited one at the Phanom Rung Sanctuary. It was built during the 12th century and is set on top of Phanom Rung Hill. According to the pamphlets I picked up at the museum, the sanctuary is dedicated to the God Shiva and symbolizes Mount Kailasa, the heavenly abode of Shiva.
Unfortunately, we did not make a full tour of the ruins and limited our excursion to an hour because it was ridiculously hot that day; the air was dead still and my brain went into meltdown. As such, I didn’t take any serious photos, which is good, because I suck at those anyway. Here are a few shots I took with one hand on the camera, and the other wiping sweat from my brow (click on photos to enlarge):

Nam taking a break on an ancient Khmer windowsill.

Taro kicking it on an ancient Khmer stoop.

That’s me practicing ninja jumps over ancient Khmer walls.

Me and my baby… in front of ancient Khmer ruins.

Disposable Lighters

The following has been transcribed from a crumpled paper napkin that I found the pocket of my jeans when doing laundry from the trip:
Disposable plastic lighters pass from hand to hand, borrowed, stolen, sometimes even purchased. You might think that you can tell a lot about a man from the color and type of disposable lighter he buys. For instance, the piezoelectric “clicker” type lighting action could very well be more appealing to lazy people than the old-school flint roller-type mechanism. Also, transparent plastic construction might be more suited for control freaks than solid colors since butane levels are always visible.
However, even though a red plastic Mini-Bic may very well indicate a proclivity for raunchy anal sex with French sailors, it may just be all that the liquor store had on the counter.

What was I doing at the time? People-watching in a musty cafe filled with disgusting Europeans (and by disgusting, I mean sweaty, hairy female underarm disgusting) and unbelievably obnoxious Americans. I couldn’t help but sneer a bit. Ah… it was truly an awesome trip. I simply refuse to accept that I am sitting at my desk at work again… That should get me through today, at least.

Campuchean Border

I started viewing the photos I took last week in Thailand and didn’t really intend to start editing yet, but this one sparked a memory. I took this shot out the window of our truck as we passed by – the little boy was washing off the sidewalk and brandishing a mysterious ping pong paddle.

The Thai-Cambodia border was really just too hot to be pleasurable this time of year, and I was glad we put off our trip to Angkor Watt until next time, preferably in December or January when it’s cooler.

I’m finding the few pictures of me quite entertaining because my trademark black t-shirts are all encrusted with salt rings. No wonder all those fuzzy forest animals were so friendly… I’m a dependable source of iodide! Ah, but that’s a different story…

a damn good trip

My friends, I just came back from a most excellent vacation. It was so good, here I am writing about it instead of answering the 1,106 e-mails in my inbox, for fear I will forget the highlights before having a chance to write them down. Just a note before I start: Between the auto-downloaded TV torrents I previewed last night and the ever-dull CNN feed before work today, it is apparent that the only significant news I missed during my respite is that JACK BAUER HAS SINGLE-HANDEDLY INVADED CHINA (presumedly to direct attention away from historic Japanese atrocities by creating a new American one), and that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
OK, so the big news for this trip is that the girl and I got engaged!
I went shopping for an engagement ring and T (who I met up with on Khaosan Road) introduced me to the shop where he bought his a few years back… To make a long story short, I was able to buy a totally awesome ring without having to mortgage my left nut, via my superior skills of mental ninja persuasion (“These are not the droids you are looking for…. now give me a 70% discount, imperial scum, and there shall be NO VALUE ADDED TAX, EITHER!“). I proposed to the love of my life the very same night, and the facts that we were completely hammered on cheap cocktails and that she said “yes” were completely separate issues, I assure you. I awoke the next day a very happy man, greatly relieved that being engaged to your girlfriend of twelve years is much like having a girlfriend for twelve years, except with a really nifty ring (although to cover my bases I should probably acknowledge that there may be a bit more to it than that). Hey, I have to leave a few nuggets of wisdom for the shorties, so that’s that.
After a couple of days in Bangkok we (me, the girl A.K.A. Nam, T, Go-kun, and Nutty A.K.A. “T’s ex”) went on a roadtrip to Nam’s home province of Mahasarakham. We are planning on moving there next year, so I was mainly there to do two things, scope out business opportunities, and to ask for Nam’s hand in marriage.
We arrived on the night of her father’s birthday party, so I held off on having the big talk for a few days since things hadn’t gone so well when Nam tried to talk to him alone previously. I decided on a head-on, no-holds-barred strategy early on and just decided to wait for the right moment. Also, luckily, I had the foresight to present him with not one, but two bottles of single-malt scotch for his birthday, so everyone was quite amicable when the moment came. I know by now I must seem like a real bastard for solving all my problems with booze, but what can I say? Alcohol is legal, beeeyotches (Note: Kids, do NOT try this at home or without parental supervision. The intentional misuse of alcohol is for RESPONSIBLE ADULTS ONLY.). And, more to the point, her parents agreed to our marriage! (Note to shorties: Wuteva works, works. Wut. Eva.)
Photos shall follow in the days to come. During this trip, I took one of the best photos I have ever taken, and I’m extremely proud to admit that I took it completely by accident (the miracles of modern technology and worn out shutter releases, et al). And now I must return to my unread e-mails, which from the look of it are fornicating like fuzzy rabbit-monkeys on crack, in heat.