Thursday, January 10, 2008

thailand, in brief

I'm back.

I successfully navigated my first-ever christmas with not a carol sung, though I did enjoy the fairy lights of Odori park, as well as the dinners and secret santa's with friends. Christmas day was an odd day - it never really felt like the christmas season - because I had to go into work for half a day and give one more class their last speech test for the term! Fortunately, thanks to the time change, I was able to talk to my family as they held their Christmas Eve dinner. The day after Christmas, we left for Thailand.

Thailand was a great time, no doubt. The whole country was rather filthy and littered with debris, buildings mostly rundown looking, all restaurants with kitchens of questionable cleanliness. The toilets were often drop toilets with no toilet paper, and no sink or soap. Of course, we stayed in inexpensive places and purposively avoided the more developed touristy areas. However, other than one mate almost dying from a peanut allergy, nobody got sick and, so far, nobody seems to have acquired malaria.

Ok, those were all the negatives. The temperature was perfect - a delightful 35 degree improvement from dear Sapporo. Bangkok was insanely busy. I was quite intimidated at first, by the hawkers and hookers and peddlers and taxi drivers and beggers and... all of it. The markets are sprawling, packed and endless, and unlike anything at home or here in Japan. On the up side, after a day in the city I felt far more comfortable navigating the streets, and after two I wasn't afraid to haggle and I didn't feel intimidated by the hectic press of the city. The day before we returned home we spent doing a bit of sight seeing around the city, and I realised that I no longer had all the same negative feelings I had toward Bangkok at first. I had fun! (Still, I'm glad we only spent two days there!) Wat Poh Temple in particular was awesome, including the Giant Reclining Buddha (see flkr).

We also went to a quiet villa of resorts in the Kaoh Sok National Park. The people there were unbelievably relaxed and friendly relative to those in the city. We stayed in these cute little bungalows, spent the days walking through the forest and swimming, or tubing down the (somewhat dessicated - ouch, rocks, ouch) river with beer in hand, or hanging out at the chill restaurants enjoying the music, the mood, or the monkeys fornicating across the creek.

The forest included some awesome vegetation, which I suppose you have to be there to enjoy. There was also this crazy huge spider that someone almost walked into, as well as the maggot-like leeches that we all pulled off our skin at some point (Far Right: the leech dance).

After that, we headed down to Koh Phagnon, the island of some fame. We stayed in this incredible bungalow on a hill overlooking a beach. Thans Sadet, our bay, was barely developped and so extremely quiet. We had electricity a couple hours a day, no shower or sink, and we shared the room with giant spiders and hordes of ants. I'm not complaining about all these things - the place was amazing! Best of all was the water. Imagine jumping into lukewarm ocean! Every time I went in, it was hard to come back out. Even when the ocean was choppy as hell (we had some wind and mediocre weather) and the day grey, we played in the surf and were reluctant to emerge.
(There are cats and dogs and roosters all over the place ).

Also incredible was the food. I don't have pictures of all the dishes we enjoyed - because that would be stupid, and because my friends already snapped at me for taking too many photos! Massaman (sweet red curry) was possibly my favourite. (But the green curry was delicious too, and the yellow curry not half bad). The pat thai, fried noodles and vegetables was always tastey. The prawns were always tastey. I got myself addicted to fruit shakes and I think collectively we got addicted to the banana pancakes. As an example of our lethargy, one fond memory witnesses us enjoying a smorgusboard of options at one restuarant before walking to the end of the bluff to enjoy a smorgusboard of deserts at another restuarant. Of an inconceivable deliciousness to price ratio, the food kept coming and the booze kept flowing the whole trip, and I don't know how we didn't all gain ten pounds.

Here is a random monk we met in the forest on the way to an ancient inscription. He gave us some tea, teachings, and led us in an hour long meditation-walk.

We went to the famous New Year's Party at Hat Ryn (don't trust my spelling, as a general principal), where all the Full Moon Parties are. There was lots of drinking, probably lots of drugs, general debauchery, scum of the earth kinda feeling at times. But dancing with friends on the beach till the wee hours and ringing the new year with thousands of partiers did have a bit of flare to it. I didn't take my camera, for obvious safety reasons and to prevent any incriminating evidence.
This post (as always) presents a family friendly, entirely PG recount of my doings. I am fairly morally upright, so it's not that I'm hiding a dark underside, or anything like that. But surely you can't be a youth living abroad without, you know... well, nevermind. Suffice it to say, over the whole trip, a good time was had by all, and nobody was arrested for anything they may or may not have done that they possibly, sort of maybe technically should not have done.

I can't sum up the whole trip, not even close. It was my first time in Southeast Asia, first time in a less developed country (to use a vague and loaded term). I realised that I have no idea what most of the world is like. Maybe Thailand is Asia and Japan is Asia, but they seem to have next to nothing to do with eachother. The people in Thailand are almost the opposite of Japan, often jumping on you forcefully (in the city at least) and making you work for any respect they might give you, whereas in Japan, ultra politeness and a huge smile are prereqs for any greeting (not that this means they are more genuine). Even the more relaxed people in the smaller places like Thans Sadet didn't just automatically greet you with smiles and easy friendliness; they seemed slightly more guarded. It took some convincing before we earned bigger smiles, deeper friendliness and any real connections with people. A lot of tourists do filter through, so maybe that guardedness is a feature of other tourist destinations as well. Don't know!

The pace of life, the people, the values of what is necessary and what is not - all so very different from what I'm used to. As I said, debris, dirt, and ramshackle houses seemed tolerated; as long as people had the basics, walls and a roof, they were happy. Yet, time, food, and financial opportunity seemed abundant, so it seems that different values, rather than (say) poverty, were the cause of this. That's a wholly inadequate and inconclusive stream of thoughts there, sorry.
As well as having a really relaxing time, I realise that, Man, there is a lot more world to see, and a lot more eye opening that has to happen for me.
I definitely have to go back to Thailand some day, and do way more sightseeing, fun activites, and less lazing about. I understand a little bit better now the way travel and accomodation and spending work there, so hopefully I'd be well prepared for a second trip.
One more full day's travel brought us home to Sapporo. The first night home, it was -13* celcius, compared with 33* in Bangkok. More of a shock was returning to the pace and people of this world, so very different. I've yet to return to my school, and I am a bit nervous to do so. I feel distant, disconnected from my livelihood (if not life altogether) here, even though it was that job that let me splurge on a whim and take the trip to Thailand. I have to decide very, very soon whether I wish to recontract and stay in Japan for a second year. Though I didn't make any new years resolutions, I hope to make that decision and live generally without too much moaning, pondering, obsessiveness (etc). We'll see.

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