Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thailand day 3

Day 3:

I have to start the third day kinda in the very end of the second day. You see, I came back nicely intoxicated, fell asleep for an hour, then that's when the noises started. Around 3:30AM, a dog directly under our hut started barking. Not only did this dog bark, but it barked consistently for 2 hours straight without missing a beat. We all were tired and semi-grumpy so we of course talked about how it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to eat a dog. As the dog slowed its barking, a rooster chimed in with consistent annoyance. At this point it was pitch black, yet the rooster was crowing. Must have been retarded. Anyways, at this point I thought it was just funny. Then came the pig, the crying baby, and the last was the idling truck outside. It was the worst night of sleep I've got in a while, but it was a great experience.

In my groggy state, I climbed down the bamboo ladder to get to my shoes, which were now wet from the over night rain storm. I headed down to breakfast, bought some last minute trinkets from of the villagers, and we bid our new friends farewell and headed back to the Vdara Resort to get our bags and get some lunch. The ride from the village to a paved road took FOREVER! It was like being in the slowest bumpy wooden roller coaster you've ever been on for about 60 consecutive minutes. This time, we had the presence of mind to shut the side windows on our drive back to the Vdara, so we avoided at least 50% of the water thrown at us. But, 50% of 2000 gallons of water is still 1000 gallons. We got soaked anyways. At lunch, Russ filled us in on the political uprisings in Bangkok and assured us that we shouldn't worry about it. Honestly, I didn't have a single worry in the world, but apparently a lot of the parents at home were freaking out a little.

We refilled the water guns and made our way into downtown Chiang Mai for our two night stay at the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel. After sleeping (or lack thereof) in the village it was heavenly to get to my single air-conditioned room. I took a brief cat nap, then met some 13 of my group downstairs to go get my first Thai massage. A Thai massage, like all my other experiences in Thailand, was an experience. We all walked into the same room with 13 mattresses to accommodate our gang. We changed into the most ridiculous outfits consisting of a shirt that reminded me of the frilly pirate shirt on Seinfeld, and these one size fits all silk pants. For 300 baht (about $6.50 US), I got the most intense hour long massage of my life. At various points in the massage, the masseuse was yanking on my leg and opposite arm while sitting on my back. Like I said. Intense. I came out of the massage with mixed feelings. I felt like i just played every minute of a football game, yet I've never been that relaxed in my life.

We boarded the buses and headed back to the hotel to prepare for the REAL Sangkron water festival action. We changed into our bathing suits and immediately went to buy bigger water water guns. I learned my first lesson in haggling in that i didn't try, and paid 60% more than the girl next to me who bought the same gun. Oh well. I think i lost $3.00 in the deal. So, we are already soaked by the time we fill our guns, but we have experienced nothing yet. The city of Chiang Mai is actually surrounded by a moat, and the area inside the moat is called Old City which is the area we were headed to. Within 10 blocks of the moat, I could begin to hear the madness. Once we arrived, I couldn't do anything except stand there drop jawed. Picture a medium sized city like Pittsburgh shutting down completely, and 200,000 of its residents (plus people from all over the world) stopped working and just joined in the largest Super Soaker battle of your life. Well, welcome to Chiang Mai. Within seconds, i was barraged by a British man and a guy from Siberia. Each wielding a bucket of icy cold water, they nailed me. After spitting out as much of the water as I could and wiping my eyes, I looked up to seeing them smiling and laughing. I couldn't help but do the same, so we wished each other a happy Sangkron and good luck for the New Year. Repeat this process several hundred more times, and you had the next hour of my life. I ran into my friends Ben, Scott, Carrie, Diana, and Christian near the moat, so we all teamed up and attacked as many people with our super soakers as possible. The best way I can describe it is that I actually remembered what it felt like to be 6 years old again. We were just constantly smiling and laughing, not a care in the world, having the water battle of our lives. The bars were leaking into the street, cars couldn't get through, techno music was blaring. All of us stopped at a bar on the corner to watch a Thai lady boy grinding up on a 60+ year old white man who was too drunk to realize what was happening (all the while, just getting completely soaked). We even stayed to dance to the techno version of "The Final Countdown" in the middle of the street. With all of us squirting each other with dirty moat water, singing at the top of our lungs, and dancing and jumping around, it was one of those moments I won't forget as long as I live. It was the most fun I had in Thailand.

Exhausted and looking too pruned to even be considered prunes, we walked back to the hotel dripping wet. The hotel staff knew what was up, and they were waiting for guests at the door with towels to dry off. I went upstairs and took a nice hot shower, and before I knew it, it was time to head to the Walking Street. Unlike some of the other gimmicky rip-off/look alike markets in the streets of Thailand, the Walking Street is a local market where local artists and vendors bring handmade, unique crafts to sell every Saturday and Sunday night. Many of the local people come out to this market for cheap food, nice clothes, and nice souvenirs. In a really obscure way, it reminded me of the Lewisburg Farmers Market. This night overlapped with the Thailand Group #1, so I got to hang out with Laura, Sydnee, and Amy in the market. I bought 5 t-shirts, a bunch of stuff for my family, a 20 baht dinner ($.50 US), and Laura and I shared squid on a stick at the end of the evening. Somewhere in the middle of the evening, I picked up a large Singha beer from a little shop. Again, it was one of those cool surreal moments where I was walking in a crowded arts market in Thailand with good company, sipping a Thai Lager beer. It felt like a movie. I was waiting for one of the food carts to explode as James Bond drove his Aston Martin through the crowded streets while being chased by 5 men on motorcycles. Go ahead, make fun of me...I am just stating it how I feel.

Most of the people went back earlier in order to go to the Chiang Mai bars, but me and my crew were having too much fun at the market, so we just wandered around the area checking stuff out. We saw a play of some sort going on in the street, so I watched that for a minute or two. Laura and Sydnee had been on a quest all night to find the lady who sold them mango smoothies earlier in the night, and we finally came across her stand. The hype was real. Although it was only mango and ice, it was one of the best drinks I've ever had. We took our smoothies and started walking back to the hotel. About half way home, we saw two guys walking an elephant down the sidewalk. It was like walking down South Street in Philly, except there was a freaking ELEPHANT on the sidewalk. Apparently this is normal, but we were all pretty excited and took a bunch of pictures. I was going to go out, but I was straight up exhausted, so I said goodbye to the people from Group #1, and went to bed. This is one of the most fun days i've ever had.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Thailand days 1 and 2

This will by far be the longest post of my blog. I have been writing for about 40 minutes and realize i am only 2 hours into the second day, so this will most likely come in different installments throughout the day. I am sick today and not going to class, so I couldn't think of a better way to kill several hours than by logging my thoughts on Thailand. The following will be a day to day account of my 8 days in Thailand. But if you aren't dedicated to reading the whole thing, i will sum it up in a sentence or two here. This was my first experience in any Asian country, and i don't think I could have had a better time. The people, the places, the traditions, the food (and the list goes on) were all 100% amazing, and I can't wait for my next chance to go back.

Day 1:

I don't think it would be fair if i didn't start this entry at the airport, as it is a pretty big part of traveling. I made my way to the Sydney airport at 5:45AM to catch my 9:00AM flight with Tom and Danny, who were heading to New Zealand for the week. After killing mulitple hours loitering in the airport gift shops, I ran into Regan, Lindsey, and Ingrid (my traveling buddies for the week). We boarded the plane and took off for Bangkok. We flew Thai Air, which was the nicest airline i've ever been on. there were great movies on demand, video games, and LEG ROOM. Anyways, the 9 hour flight flew by, and we landed in Bangkok International Airport. We had a small lay over, so Regan and I split a chicken sandwich and water for 400 Baht (at the time, 35 baht = $1 U.S.), and this was expensive food. We then got on the 5 o'clock flight to Chiang Mai and got there around 9. Upon landing we regrouped and boarded the buses for the Vdora Resort and Spa. After several wrong turns we reached our destination to find a 5 course traditional Thai dinner awaiting our arrival. I had several dumplings with green chili, green curry chicken, and deep fried bananas with honey and went to bed (in my single suite, may I add).

Day 2:

In the morning, we woke up for yet another good meal at the resort. We all bought water pistols in preparation for the day's battle. See, we arrived in Chiang Mai at the time of the Thai New Year, called the Songkron Festival. It all started when people used to put drops of water on your head to wash away the bad luck and spirits for a good new year. Over the years, it has just turned into a massive water battle where no one in Chiang Mai (the capital for the water fights) is dry for three days. We put our belongings in Plastic bags and boarded the open back taxis/trucks to get to the elephant camp. The drive took about 2 hours and we stopped half way to go to an open air market for water and some snacks. It was here that I experienced the first water battles of Songkran. This one little kid had a hose and buckets of cold water, so we battled for a good twenty minutes until we had to leave. Good times. As we continued the drive to the elephant camp, the onslaught of water continued to soak me and the 6 girls i was with. People stood every 200 yards or so along the road JUST to throw water onto unsuspecting people in pickup trucks and vehicles like ours (and this was the countryside...just wait until i get to the city).

We were all soaked, but an hour later, we arrived at the elephant camp. I rode my elephant with our group's guide, Christian. Nobody was "steering" my elephant, so I took the liberty to sit on the elephants neck and guide it through the forest. It was pretty surreal...riding an elephant through the jungle in thailand while the elephant guides just followed closely behind smoking their banana leaf opium cigarettes. We spent about 45 minutes on the elephants until we continued our soaken car ride to the village we were to spend the night in. However, before we left, i wanted to go take some more pictures of the elephants. There was a 2 month old baby elephant in the mix, and I made up my mind that i was going to pet it. At first it was kind of scared of me, even though it weighed 4 times what I did. I got down on its level and, apparently in the elephant world, that means "let's play". The baby playfully charged at me, knocked me over, and stepped on my foot. It didn't hurt too bad, but it didn't really feel great. We played for a little longer, then we hit the road.

Our caravan arrived at a small Christian Church (on easter sunday, mind you) in the middle of the jungle. This is where we started our 4 hour jungle trek to the village (which i will name later when i get the right spelling). We met La, our guide, and walked to the waterfall to swim and get some lunch. Some locals at the waterfall played music on some thai string instruments and smoked opium while we all jumped off the cliffs into the water. On our 4 hour walk from there, i heard about 3 hours and 45 minutes of complaining from the girls in my group. In group #2 of the thailand trip (my group), we brought 90% of the JAPy (Jewish American Princess) population of Long Island and North Jersey. There were only several instances on the trip that I didn't want to strangle at least one of them, and those moments usually came when i was either sleeping or alone. Yet, I digress. Me and La were at the front of the group and he taught me all about the various ways people farm and live in the area. Our conversation would be cut short when he would decide to climb a tree and jump out and scare the unsuspecting stragglers of our group. He was the man.

We got to the village in the mid-afternoon. This village was amazing. It was run on the principles and ideals of community. People helping people. All the homes were made of bamboo and strawgrass. La's uncle was generous enough to let myself and 6 others to share his house for the evening , while the rest of the group spent the night in a kind of bamboo warehouse. Even as one of the groups more cultured people (yeah, i am bragging, so what?), I was pretty shocked at our accomodations. We literally had wool blankets made in the village and a tiny pillow. The rest was a single room completely made of bamboo. The only decoration was a picture of the King and Queen of Thailand on the wall.

On a quick tangent, the King of Thailand can literally be found within 100 yards of you at all times. In Thailand, it is a criminal offense to say anything blasphemous about the king or queen. Their birthdays are national holidays, and people must pay tribute to them at all times. Just think if we didn't have that political freedom of speech. I'd say about 70% of the US population would have been jailed during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Anyways, we headed down to the camp fire for dinner, a mini market, and songs with the locals. It was during this time that I met, Dai, Len, and 'Bob Marley'. These guys would be my entertainment/friends for the night. Right after dinner (best red curry i've had) Dai busted out the acoustic guitar and started playing some Hotel California and "take me to your heart", Thailand's current ballad hit. Soon the guitar started getting passed around and we all started jamming. Before I knew it, we were a few beers and a few shots of moonshine rice whiskey deep and just chillin around the fire playing music. I stayed out there with Dai and Bob Marley for quite some time, teaching them some english slang and talking about thailand. it was the first time since i left the states that i could really see the stars, and it was a very welcome sight. Christian and I drunkenly stumbled back to our hut and fell asleep in the draftiest building i've ever slept in. This concludes the first full day in Thailand.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Newtown, Surf Camp, and me loving life

I will apologize ahead of time for the spelling errors in this entry. I haven't been this tired in Australia (maybe ever). But, i will get to that in a second.

I will start by talking about my last week. I actually had an academic life, believe it or not. I had two papers and a presentation due last wednesday, so I was hard at work on tuesday. My efforts to procrastinate actually led to one of my favorite discoveries in Sydney. After class, me and chris made our way to Newtown, a small section of town just outside sydney uni. It exceeded all expectations. There was great (CHEAP) food everywhere, but had all the quaint independently run shops that a small town would have. If anyone reading is familiar with Baltimore, I would kind of compare it to Fell's Point. Anyway, it kinda hit me when I was sitting on the outdoor deck of Thai La-Ong waiting for my $6 Chicken Pad Tai that I had my moment of clarity: life really can't get a whole lot better for me. I was sitting in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, reading my hand-me-down copy of 'In a Sunburned Country' on a breezy, but sunny April 1st. Being independent in a totally new place is such a cool feeling. Anyways, i will stop before i get too much more sappy.

...And then I went to surf camp where life somehow becomes even cooler. I not only got to meet some really cool people from all over the world, but I finally feel like i got a solid foundation of knowledge to start my surfing career, haha. Saturday was a dream day. I got the crap kicked out of me all day by the waves, but I fought back and won occasionally. Afterwards, we had a great Barby with chicken, sausage, fresh salads, etc. then all headed up to the pub for a few drinks. After a few more beers, the band got better and we all danced up a storm for an hour or so. Charlie (my new english friend who is also Andrew Charles, but refers to himself as Charlie...crazy, right?) and I decided that since the band was not playing 'sweet caroline', it was a better idea to get a six pack and some people to head down to the beach to chill. Myself, charlie, Jason, Jahn, Andy, Michael, Liz, and Rich went down to the beach. In order to protect Rich's pride, I will just say that he really wanted to go skinny dipping and "get to know Jason better", haha. Rich was a highlight and we all had a good laugh. However, a full day of surfing and a few beers make you want to sleep, so we called it a night and went to bed.

The next day we did it all over again (minus the beers). Hence, that is why this has taken me over 50 minutes to write. I am so tired that I don't think I will even try to go to my bed. the couch might have to do.

Oh, and on a side note, a week from now, I will be in Bangkok, Thailand. How sweet is that?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

More Aussie Culture

As i sit here with my friend matt pereira, i thought it would be cool to do another post regarding aussie slang/culture. here are some new vocab words for you:

boagan = an idiot (but more derogatory)
wog = racial slur for "the soccer countries"
"they look camp" = flamboyantly gay
pissed, off your face, maggerd = drunk
polm = brittish person
sepo = american that is full of shit (like septic tank)
goon = boxed wine (especially fruity lexia)

And here's the winner...a sweet australian drinking song!

Here's *insert name*
He's true blue
He's a piss pot through and through
He's a real bastard, so they say
He tried to go to heaven
But he went the other way.

He went DOWN DOWN DOWN *Start chugging*

if i remember more or find out anything else that is cool, i will post it soon.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Beer List

Alright, this one is as much for you as is it for me, but instead of bringing 30 different bottles home so i know my favorite beers, I will just post them here. I am only posting the beers that i completely recommend, so take note:

1. Beez Neez - my personal favorite. a light beer with a pretty strong hunny flavor
2. Lucky - you've seen the buddha bottle
3. Toohey's New - the "budweiser" of the country...straight up beer
4. Carlton draught - closest to yuengling i have had
5. Barefoot Radler - Lime infused beer perfect for the summer/beach
6. Lowenbrau, Stiegel, Hofbrauhaus, and the other German beers - straight up beer, german style
7. Victoria Bitter - great on the tap, alright in the bottle
8. Toohey's Old - great dark beer that goes down easily! if you like Killians....
9. Toohey's extra dry - crisp and light (notice the toohey's trend)
10. Skinny Blonde - an alright beer, but as you drink it, the girl in the bikini on the bottle slowly becomes naked

and for now, i will end with Skinny Blonde. if by now (especially after the last beer) you don't know why i have fallen in love with this country, you may want to take a closer look at our friendship. enjoy responsibly!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Taming Impala Show

so this week was, yet again, a really good one. I handed in my first paper of the semester in my music class. before you start feeling too sorry for me, my paper was on Snoop Dogg, so it was actually pretty fun to do. during the week, i asked my music professor for some good venue suggestions, but before he could answer a kid named Tim spoke up and told me about an indie show at the Beach Road Hotel in Bondi. He invited me to meet him and his friends, so i took him up on it. We got to the show, and the bands were really good. Sherlock's Daughter opened for Taming Impala. Check them out.

Anyways, the bands were good, but during set up time, I SWORE that i saw Gareth Stehr (professional skateboarder) at the bar. so i went up to him and asked if he were Gareth. Turns out he wasn't but he was the australian team manager of birdhouse, analog, and gravis. While talking to Sparks (fake gareth), Dylan Rieder, Shaun Gregoire, and Sean Eaton all came over to join the conversation. Just one of the small world kinda deals that made my head spin.

Regardless, the bands finished and Tim had to leave, but he told me to go back with his friends to chill and hang out for the night. Me and two of my roommates went to our new friend's house in Coogee. We played guitar and drank some beers with Max, Pete, Gene, and Pip for a few hours then called it a night.

There is a good chance that I will be going with Gene to his beach house this weekend in Cronulla Beach, about an hour south of sydney. Should be a good time.

On a side note, traveling is really coming together! I just booked 5 days in cairns for a week on the Great Barrier Reef, skydiving, and jungle hikes. I have surf camp next weekend, i leave for thailand in 2 weeks, and i am booking my coross continent roadtrip this week. Monetarilly permitting, i will be going to New Zealand in late June, and Byron Bay sometime in May. And, let's not forget the mandatory Great Ocean Road weekend.

Even though I still have 3 whole months left, it's not enough. I never want to leave. For those of you reading, take the next statement with a grain of salt: I've been having a recurring nightmare where i just wake up from a nap and I am at home. I am just so upset everytime i realize I am not in Australia, but then i wake up and happily see my roommate danny snoring in the bed next to me. I never thought i'd be that happen to see a snoring puerto rican, haha.

PS - don't get me wrong, i do miss you all!

Friday, March 20, 2009

ok, i am lazy so i haven't updated in a while

the title says it all. if it weren't for the efforts of Dennis Apker, this post may not have made it, so i thank him exclusively.

so, i left off at the famous (or famoose) mardi gras festival. since then, my life has been a combination of beach, school, skating, going out at nights, and cooking food. You can put them in any order and I'm sure at some point you will have correctly described an actual day in the life of me.

some of the highlights include Beachball party at Manning Bar, St. Patrick's Day, and my trip to Manly Beach. Beachball was a huge party thrown by the university of sydney at Manning Bar (the bar in the student union on campus). They had local bands from sydney, good specials, but more importantly 3,000 other people to celebrate. I got the chance to meet some cool people, but i later found out that 50% of the people i was talking to were tripping on ecstacy. At least they were nice, haha.

This by far was the best saint patrick's day ever. I got back from class around two, went to the gym, and was out to the bar by three with my roommate, Sean. We went to an irish bar up the street called 'cock and bull'. This place was pretty small, but they somehow managed to squeeze about 500 people, an irish band, and a whole lot of Guinness in the Cock and Bull. We were only planning on staying for one beer and going to another irish bar, but we ended up staying for about 3 hours listening to the music and having a few more beers. We finally left the best bar in australia to meet up with people and have a much less fun time at other places. Eventually, we ended up at the Argyle (one of my favorites) only to find that it was practically empty. We accepted defeat and went to an american pancake house called "Pancakes on the Rocks". I ate the Devil's Delight, which is chocolate pancakes with strawberries and chocolate syrup. I'll just say that it was worth leaving the bars.

Yesterday, me and a few other study australia folks decided to dedicate a day to Manly Beach. Manly is a suburb of sydney, but it is most easily accessed by taking a ferry across the Sydney harbor. At first, i was kinda bummed that i had to pay $12 bucks to take the ferry, but the ride in itself was worth it. we got phenomenal views of the city from the water and enjoyed a nice 20 minute boat ride to the beach. once we got there, everything got even better. manly is a nice, quaint little beach town with a great atmosphere. The water and coast line was beautiful, and it wasn't quite as crowded as Coogee or Bondi beach.

In other news, I have my first paper due on tuesday. I don't feel like a student anymore, so this might be a pretty difficult task to handle. And it's really sad because the paper is about bob dylan and a cover of Highway 61 revisited.

I think the most exciting news i have to offer is the news of a trip that me and some friends are planning. In june, me and 3 other guys are flying to the northern most part of Australia called Darwin. From there, we will be helping the airlines in taking a van back to adelaide (southern most part of Australia) where it needs to be. They charge us $1/day, give us $200 in gas, and a 3300 km driving limit. Although we will slightly exceed this limit, we will be doing a 7-day cross-continental road trip through the outback. We will stop as Ayers Rock in Uluru (if you don't know what this is, google's pretty epic), along with a few other national parks. for those of you that don't really know anything about the australian outback, it is quite possibly one of the most difficult dangerous expanses of land on the planet. On our driving directions, we start in darwin, go .3 km on elbert rd, then continue 2791 km on stuart highway. In this stretch close to 2100 miles, there are no cities, a handful of towns (population 100 and below), and a whole lot of desert and kangaroos. I really can't express how excited I am for this trip. I have said it a million times, but i am so blessed to have all these experiences and opportunities.

That's all for now. Again, thanks to dennis for inspiring me to write about the past two weeks. I will hopefully get better about keeping up with the blog.

- Charlie