Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year's

Friday December 31st, 2004 2:31PM - Chicago, IL

With only a few hours left in 2004, every news organization has ben relfecting on the past year. I'll choose not to do the same.

I'll be posting photos of my trip as soon as I get my computer out of the shop. I had an unfortunate deletion error and decided to upgrade my machine to a larger case and have my DVD ROM player re-installed, so that will start to occur during the upcoming week.

What's on tap travelwise for 2005? February, I will go back to Thailand and find out how difficult it will be to get a tourist visa for my girlfriend (wish me luck, since that's all you have against bueracracy)

If I can get Tan to the states, that will probably sometime in May for a month or so.

I'll probably have a return trip to Southeast Asia sometime in the fall, with a trip to Vietnam, Laos, and hopefully the north of Thailand (Chaing Mai and Chaing Rai).

This is of course dependent on the employment prospect in Bangkok. If the job front changes, then I'll be able to make these trips on my leisure. Anyway, I'm off to get my computer and start cocktailing.

Happy New Years, have a great 2005...

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Wednesday December 29th, 2004 - Chicago, IL

With the death toll at 80,000 plus lives and climbing, the affected areas of Southeast and Central Asia are in a real crisis. The major issue at hand now is the eventual and impending epidemics of disease that are due to follow in the wake of such a disaster.

I've been asked by several people if I had been to this area. I hadn't, but if I had stayed in Thailand after my return date, I probably would have traveled to Koh Phi Phi (the island on which the movie the "Beach" was filmed). Koh Phi Phi from reports was completely destroyed with a lot of those on the island being washed out to sea. Scary.

My condolences go out to those who have lost family members or that have missing family members. I hope those that are missing turn up alright.

This is the kind of natural disaster that will affect the Thai tourist industry for several years to come, not only from lost rooms, but from incomes lost from cancelled reservations and destroyed properties. For those thinking about cancelling your trips to Thailand, don't. Go and help out the economy with your tourist dollars.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Epilogue part 2

Tuesday December 14th, 2004 8:11AM Chicago, IL

The icy wind hit me square in the face as I walked off the porch of my house and up the sidewalk. It was still dark out and wisps of lake effect snow were in the air. Why was I up walking to the train this early? Jet lag. My body thinks its 6PM in the evening and I can’t sleep anymore.

Walking on the sidewalk all I hear are my footfalls. I’m alone with my thoughts and they run wild at this early hour. I’m not exactly sure what the exact thoughts were, but they revolved around the same thought. I need to get out of here; it’s too damn cold here; and why didn’t I put a little more effort into my job search.

So what did I learn on this trip? Anything? I guess a couple things.

Once immersed in a culture you have really two choices – adapt or die. I did a fairly decent job of adapting to eating solely Thai food with only a couple days of eating falang (foreign) food. Honestly after now being back, I'd rather just eat all Thai food. Fresher. Better tasting. No preservatives.

My language skills need to improve rapidly. I need to start getting more Thai language study into my day, at least an hour or two a day before I go back. In seven weeks. I could pick up about every 20th or so word when I would hang out with Tan and her friends. I need to improve this quickly.

I guess the final thing that I learned is that there are a lot of Western influences that I could live without. Would I miss watching sports at a normal time? Of course, but there is such a thing as DVR and VCRs. I figure that if I do pack it up and go to Thailand permanently, the Cubs will wind up winning the world series (this might be a good thing considering how the neighborhood degenerated during the 2003 playoffs. I really don't want to have to face that anytime soon). I'd miss the variety of food also. Getting a good burger or steak would be tough, but I think that the positives by living in another culture like Thailand far outweigh a few minor inconvienences that I'm sure I could overcome.

The return trip to Thailand is now officially scheduled for February 16th, 2005 to the 27th. I'll have updates as they warrant.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Epilogue - What's next for our foolish traveler?

Monday, December 13th, 2004 2:45PM - Chicago

So what's next? Where do I go from here? Jet lag gave me the wonderful opportunity to wake up at 2:30AM. I hate this part of travel. All I wanted to do was sleep and go into work for as long as I can, but waking up that early makes it difficult. It feels like its 3:45PM in BKK on Tuesday.

I decided that making a few phone calls would be a good way to kill some time. I called Kan to say hello since the last night I saw her, I was carrying her to a cab hoping she wouldn't get sick. We talked for a couple minutes and I tried Tananchanok. She called back and we talked for a few minutes. I'll call her later in the week. We have to figure out some kind of reasonable schedule where we can talk during the week. Looks like a lot of early morning calls will take place in the future.

With nothing else to do, I decided to go to the gym and work out. It would kill some time and I wouldn't miss my 9AM meeting. I hate being late for those and 9 out of 10 times, I'm late because of some CTA snafu.

Walking out into the cold and freezing my ass off within minutes, I quickly realized what's going to transpire. I am going back in February. Not just to escape the cold, but to look for a job in Thailand. I needed this trip to see if I was love with a country and a city and not a woman. I found out that I was in love with all three.

I've got a lot of challenges coming in the job search and with this newfound relationship. I'd say I'm more worried about the job search. I sent out my resume to a couple people I met in the bar after I had explained my lack of any response to job ads online in the months prior to my trip and have had it forwarded. I suspect that I will have to make a career change in order to find a job. Is it worth it? Will I be able to make the same amount or a comfortable amount of money and be able to stay in Bangkok?

I'm a bit tired right now, so I'll have to put more in part two of the Epilogue - What have I learned, if anything?.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

My shortest entry ever - flight home

Sunday December 12th, 2004 Bangkok; Tokyo; Chicago

I'd like to give info on the flight but can't. I woke up with 15 minutes before I landed in Tokyo; dragged through a 2 hour layover; and slept the majority of the flight back to Chicago (waking up about an hour before touchdown).

My only regret was not being able to get a hold of Tan before I left. It's going to be a very diffucult struggle for us (distance, culture, and language barriers), but I'm looking forward to getting to know this beautiful and amazing woman and as we had said "give it a chance".

Next up: Epilogue - What's next for our foolish traveler?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Last Day: Where the hell did the time go?

Saturday, December 11th, 2004 Bangkok

Last day. How can it be the last day? It feels like I just landed. I'm kind of sad today, I don't want to leave, but I have no choice (no job, can't come back).

I started out the day with breakfast in the hotel. Its included in the price of the room and most mornings I make it prior to the 10AM deadline and today is no exception. I order an omlette with ham, red pepper, and green pepper; grab a couple slices of white toast; pineapple; and a little bacom (mmmmm bacon).

Worst thing about eating food with a cold? Nothing tastes right. Two days ago, the eggs would have teasted great, the pineapple flavorful, and the toast..(ok, its toast, nothing to get excited about here) I eat as much as I can stomach and go back up to the room. I need to finish packing my stuff.

Oy calls me a little after 10 and is waiting in the lobby. I run down to see her and wait for Mam and Kan. Mam arives around 10:30 (right on time), but no Kan. We give her about ten minutes to arrive and then go to the weekend market. I picked up a couple things (nothing too exciting and since most of them are gifts, won't list them here). The advantage of going shopping with two Thai girls - they tell you if something looks good, and they are able to negotiate prices for you with both parties coming out with no hard feelings.

After an hour and a half, its starting to get a bit crowded. Time for me to pay for the personal shoppers. The price - Japanese food.

We hop in a taxi and go to MBK (Mah Boon Krong) the same place where we went bowling earlier in the week. This is my first experience with an actual Japanese restaurant outside of the states, so the biggest eye opener is taking off my shoes before sitting down (well, not that eye opening, just never done at the sushi place here in Chicago).

I'm in the mood for sushi, Oy and Mam want fish. We proceed to order about 15 dishes of sushi rolls, whole fish, partial fish, miso soup, water, sake (hot), and chicken. The bill was only about 1,600 baht (about $40). This is what I will miss. The same meal in the U.S. for people would have easily been over $100 without tip. Why am I going back?

Stuffed on enough food for a small army, we head back to the hotel to drop off my shopping bags with the plan to play some pool. Didn't work out so well as we sat around and watched a movie and let the food digest. We did make it for a few games of pool and then it was off to the bars to say goodbye and go out for the evening.

The bars on Soi 13 are a victim of progress. The entire complex is a Quonset hut with bars right next to each other, a internet provider, tailor, and a kitchen and hong naam (bathroom) in the back. The bars will be closed down in February, torn down and built over by condominiums. The women that run the bar have already purchased a permanent replacement on the other side of the street in the Times Square building. The new bar is much larger than the other bar and features comfortable seating and two pool tables. You could have placed this bar in any city in the world and not have felt out of place.

With a 7AM flight, I wasn't in the mood to sleep. I stayed out the entire night, put Kan, Mam, and Oy in a cab fairly late and went to the hotel to check out. This time, no rip offs with the staff.

The cab to the airport is always a bit of a pain in the ass for me. As a traveler, you have two options, take one at the hotel which is pre-negotiated (i.e. you're going to get bent over) but you are loaded down with heavy bags; or drag your bags to the street and flag down a cab at 4:45AM and hope that you can get there in time. I took option 1 (400 baht), but just wanted to get there and get on the plane. Next up: My shortest entry ever - flight home

Friday, December 10, 2004

How does one get a cold in 80 degree temps?

Well, I stayed out entirely too late and this cold has not gotten any better. I hate being sick. I wanted to go to Wat Po and Wat Arun today and get a few photos. Not going to happen this time.

After a quick trip to the convenience store to get some green tea (the stuff rocks) and a newspaper it was time to go back to bed. I later went to Subway (just a break from the Thai food) and then to the bar to see who was there. Oy and Fern were working and I stayed just long enough to have my sandwich and nam plao (bottled water, non-carbonated). Told Oy that I'd stop back later and see if she, Kan and their third friend Mam would want to just hang out at the hotel and play cards. We had said we were going to do that and save a bit of money for a night. I hope that they don't know how to play poker.

I met up with the girls around 8:30PM and we went to the hotel after a convenience store run. Since I invited, I'm the one who's paying. I don't mind though, I feel like garbage, don't want to drink and would really like the company for a couple hours.

We played blackjack (not for money, I tough them the game a week ago, but neglected to add the betting aspect). Everyone had a good time with that, with the occasional break to watch whatever movie was playing and me using all of the toilet paper to blow my nose. Kan had ordered Som Tam which is a papaya salad. Here's the recipe:

1 medium dark green papaya/pawpaw
4 garlic cloves (kratiem)
6 green Thai chilies (prik khee noo)
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/2 cup chopped green beans, in 1-in (2.5-cm) pieces
2 tablespoons anchovy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sauce
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) lime juice or tamarind juice (ma-kaam piag)

I tried it a couple times, its hot as hell and the version Kan had contained some type of crab. Dead, very dead crab, but I don't think it was cooked. Kan offered me some, but I declined. I lucked out because an hour later, she got sick from it.

With Kan out of commission, the three of us played rummy (not sure of the Thai name, but once the rules were explained, I knew exactly how to play and actually held my own going on a streak of four or five wins - Whoo Hoo for me).

Around midnight, it was time to call it an evening. We made plans to hit the weekend market in the morning (early) and to meet up at 10:30AM. I knew everyone but Kan should be there (she tends to sleep in a lot), and I needed to finish packing. Till tomorrow - Last Day: Where the hell did the time go?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Getting a cold

Thursday, December 9th, 2004 Bangkok

I'm starting to get a cold. I need to get to the pharmacy, get some water, and try not to get too sick.

The pharmacy wasn't too big a deal. At least I knew what to get in a decongestant (something with pseudo-ephridine) at least it does pay to read the labels. I think I was given Clarinase which will dry me up without the drowsiness. I'm meeting everyone out tonight for frinks, but I'm not too sure how late I'll stay out.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Bowling - Thai Style

Tuesday December 7th, 2004 Bangkok, Thailand

I'm writing about this much after I returned from Thailand, but still needed to get it down...

We were sitting around the bar deciding on what to do. I don't think that any of us wanted to sit around the bar all evening, so we kicked around a few ideas. I thought that bowling would be pretty fun. MBK (Mah Boon Krong) one of the shopping centers which is fairly close to the hotel has both a movie theater and a bowling alley in the upper floors ( the mall has at least 7 floors). We went off in a taxi to MBK. It didn't really matter whether we took a taxi or the sky train as the cost was about the same. One of the girls covered the taxi and I decided to cover the cost of bowling.

Now when I think of bowling alleys, I think of decrepit, run down bowling alleys with chain smoking men and women and a dingy bar and a seldom used jukebox in the vicinity. The bowling alley at MBK was clean, airy, and played club music and Thai pop. We had several options on whether we wanted to pay by the game or rent an alley for a set period of time. Doing a quick bit of math, renting by the hour was much more economical. (It actually worked out to about $50 for the four of us for two hours with drinks)

After getting our shoes, we were directed to a private area where our alley was located. It was very posh, to say the least. We had drinks brought to us and a private jukebox with karoke. The bowling was fun, I sucked, only breaking 100 one time. Maybe next time. After the bowling, we hopped a taxi back to the bar and hung out for the rest of the evening. Fun night.

Coming up, dating Thai style.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Shave and a Haircut...350 baht

Monday December 5th, 2004 Bangkok, Thailand

I usually cut my hair myself every three weeks or so. I had cut it about two weeks prior to leaving, so my hair was getting all shaggy and needed to cut it. I spoke to a woman that ran the hair salon next to the bar whether she had clippers to cut my hair; she did, so I finally stopped by in the afternoon.

I guess there isn't anything too special about getting your hair cut and in Bangkok it was really no different. I did make the slight mistake in having my hair cut with the wrong guard which made my hair much shorter than I'm used to. One interesting thing from the cut was the use of a straight razor to shape the back and the sides. Scary.

Next, I got a shave which wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I kept my eyes closed because I thought the straight razor was coming out. I do believe that a new disposable razor was used (whew, no Hep B scare). I'd say that the shave was as close as I could get by myself.

Total cost for both 350 Baht.

I also decided to get a full body massage since I had never had one. I decided to get a traditional Thai massage which lasted for 2 hours. I had a 50 kilo girl just beat me up, but felt as relaxed as I could when she was finished. The massage was 500 baht and since I didn't know if I would get back for another beating later, I tipped her 300 baht. I hope this place lasts until I get back in February, because I'd really like to get one the day after I return to Bangkok. Guess I have to keep my fingers crossed.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

Sunday December 5th, 2004 1:40PM Bangkok

I don't really have much to report; well, a couple things, but I'll get to them later.

Yesterday, I slept in and went to the Chatuchak Market in the northern part of Bangkok. The market is right off the Mo Chit terminus of the skytrain, so it only takes about 15 minutes to get there. I got a late start and got there because I was waiting on my friend Kan to get ready, so I finally got there around 2. Not a problem, except that it was completely PACKED! I hate crowds, always have, so going to places like Taste of Chicago, Summerfest, and the like are not my cup of tea.

The market itself has thousands of stalls selling everything imaginable from food, to housewares, antiques, plants, jewelry, animals (there are stories of illegal trade in animals, but I haven't even seen this part of the market), and clothing. The market encompases an area of at least 5 football fields and is just alive with activity. (Just got bit by another damn mosquito, god I hate those damn things) We only stayed for a couple hours as some of the aisles are only about three to four feet wide, so the crowd was really getting to us. I'll go back next Saturday morning and try to beat the rush.

Also, from what Kan was saying its better to go early to secure better prices. Negotiating is key to any transaction there, but you have to make sure that both parties make out. Offering a ridiculously low sum for an item is a bit insulting to the stall keepeer, so you have to keep a little tact, smile and try to get something that you and the stall keeper are good with. I'm not so good with it and usually will accept their second price unless I feel really strong about it. Plus, you always have the option of walking away which I have done from time to time.

Last night, I went out to the Hollywood disco with Kan and a couple of her friends. The place was packed to the gills, but the music (a combination of tech house and hip hop) was good. Toward the end of the evening, the recorded music ended and there were Thai musical acts performing live. It was pretty cool to see, but its still difficult to understand the lyrics (I'd say right now, I'm picking up about every tenth word). The club also offered bottle service (most of you are familiar with this, but for those who are not... You buy a bottle of your choice; ours was whiskey, for a set price with mixers and you keep the bottle. In some cases, they will store the bottle on premisis for you if you don't finish, you can pick it up and use it at a later date.) On the way back, Kan and her friends invited me to go to Pattaya for the day. I had to take a pass because I'm meeting Tananchanok this evening for dinner when she gets back to Bangkok and didn't want to miss her.

Today is the King's birthday, so there aren't a lot of places open. I ran and bought a couple more Thai language books to continue my studies and will probably just lounge therest of the afternoon until my phone rings.

Coming up: Time for a haircut and a straight razor shave...wish me luck

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Floating Village

Wednesday, December 1st, 2004 8:30PM Siem Reap, Cambodia

After seeing all of the major temples of Angkor, I decided to take a day to see a little more of Cambodia. Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in all of Southeast Asia. During the dry (cool season, but it has been in the 90's all week), season the lake will reduce down to a depth of 1 to 1.5 meters (yes, Cambodia is on the metric system, but I think it translates to about 3 to 4 feet) and during the rainy season will get to around 5 to 6 meters (if you want to know how many feet that is calculate it in your spare time).

The trip out of Siem Reap gave me the opportunity to see a little of the countryside. Rice paddies with storks stalking their prey; water buffalo grazing in other fields; as we approached the village, fishermen out with nets, and children playing and bathing.

As I've said before, this is a real poor country and some of the homes; set on bamboo stilts with palm leaf thatching are the barest of accommodation.

We traveled along the paved road for about 15 or so minutes before I had to stop and get a boat ticket (the driver told me to get one at this stand. This was going to be a big issue later, so stay tuned). The ticket was $20, a bit pricey by Cambodian standards for a 1 to 1.5 hour round trip. We then proceeded from paved road to a dirt road.

The road, or dirt track as I would call it was pockmarked with huge potholes (honestly, it would have made any road contractor in the city of Chicago salivate) and every kind of obstacle imaginable: dogs, cats, chickens, children, bicyclists, moped riders, busses, and other cars all at various points are encountered. After bouncing up and down for about 1/4 of a mile (usually not a problem, but something I ate either yesterday or the day before was not agreeing with me, so I really was just trying to hold my shit together).

We arrived a minute or two later and the boat driver took my ticket and led me to a large longtail boat powered by a auto engine. The floating village itself is a combination of homes in the water (i.e. "Floating"), large fish traps, and boats of various sizes and power (man powered or engine powered). Now one thing that I found interesting about the inhabitants of this area was that several are ethnic Vietnamese and not Cambodian. They relied on fishing, although there were many fish farms set up. The area is slowly being fished out, so the people here have to rely in raising fish in captivity for their food. At one stop we made, there were three examples of preserved fish that had only been caught years ago which were at least 2.5 feet long (big, big fish). Most of what I saw being caught looked like slightly better fed bait.

So after a couple hours out, I went back to the Red Piano bar and restaurant (its a short walk away, but the driver dropped me off there). The castoff the driver for the afternoon was $25 as listed in the price structure, I handed the money off and reconfirmed the pick up time for Thursday as I go back to Bangkok. At breakfast in the Red Piano, I struck up a conversation with the owner of the place as the restaurant used to be the guesthouse and they were putting the finishing touches on making it exclusively a bar and restaurant.

I had told him of my plans for the day, so as we talked about my trip out there he asked me how much I paid. I told him $20 for the boat (he told me I should have paid no more than $10) and $@5 for the cab at which point he lost it. The main reason is that this kind of activity drives up prices for all and he was especially unhappy that it was one of his drivers that was part of the conspiracy. Now as I had told him, I had no issues with paying a bit more, my driver had done a great job and was patient enough to wait for me all day as I trekked around the temples for the past two days.

So the owner calls the driver and proceeds to read him the riot act on what prices to charge (keep in mind that for all day at the temples the cost was $20, and I dropped $25 for about 3 hours); he then told the driver to get back and drop off my $25 dollars to me. Harsh. Real harsh. The driver did drop off my money at the guest house, which I happily averted a bit of unpleasantness and a loss of face on his part, but I now have an appointment for 5:30PM for my ride to the port. Should be a real fun ride.

That's all for today. I'm wiped out and my stomach is really bothering me. Time for a Pepto Bismol smoothie and bed. I'll start work on the Angkor part of the trip on Friday. Till Friday...