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Sunday, August 1, 2010

First Look - Thailand

I have been in Thailand for over a week now (Chiang Mai only), and this story has already been minimalized in my mind by other experiences over the last few days but I thought it was an interesting night and will tell you about it anyways.

My flights from Berlin to Bangkok and Bangkok to Chiang Mai went fine overall. I forgot to mention an old German man dropped a 25 lb carry-on on the top of my head. I was sitting there looking straight ahead zoning out when I heard a woman scream. The next thing I know I feel a cut on the top of my head and it feels like my neck is being pushed into my chest. It wasn't a glancing blow, it was a direct hit. I just wanted peace and quiet so when everyone freaked out I told them it wasn't a problem and not to make a big deal about it, although I was a little afraid to fall asleep in case I had a concussion.

The second night in Chiang Mai I started craving some food at 8:30pm. The great thing about Thailand is that there are tons of street vendors outside almost all the time, no dirty dishes and time spent in a kitchen here, only sifting through traffic and crowds on the street to find what smells good.

Diagonally parked mopeds line the streets and a constant stream of traffic in both directions provides much of the light for the crowds.

At this point I really have no idea what my options are. My Thai is completely non-existent and I need to walk around and take a look at what these guys are cooking up before I begin to decide what I want.

Both sides of the street are lined with vendors and small plastic chairs. I am navigating through a slightly denser crowd, walking on the edge of the sidewalk and the road when I hear a tire squeal. Ah, here we go again.

This time I didn't have to turn to see people flying in the air, all I had to do was look up a little. A moped was backing out of the diagonal parking when it cut off another moped that was coming down the street. I'm not sure which moped was carrying two people, but three people were thrown to the ground.

The strangest thing I noticed was that everyone was completely silent.
After the squeal, crunch, thud there was nothing. Well that's not completely true, the moped's hot engines/mufflers were making slight hissing and ticking noises.
When they fell down none of them moved or groaned, and no one made a move to check on them and do damage control. I looked at the crowd of people on the sidewalk, then the people in the street, then back at the sidewalk. By now one man made a move towards the heap in the road. I set down my plastic bag with yogurt and water from a nearby 7-11 (they are everywhere) and joined him. Two of the people in the street had these hissing/ticking hot mopeds on top of them. We gently pulled the mopeds off and collected their sandals (the furthest one went only 10 feet, they don't have the weight to carry momentum like shoes). I look back towards the sidewalk, I see 80+ people frozen mid-stride, traffic both ways has come to a halt. Still silent.

One guy is still laying on his back in the road, I spot him slowly slipping his hand into his pocket. He delicately pulls out an Apple iPhone and checks the screen for cracks, taps it and begins to send a text message-- still in the position he landed-- still in the road. It seems like a good time to make an exit so I silently walk away, I'm almost across the street when I spot a nice calculator. Aw, I would have guessed these were all college kids. I picked it back up and gave it to one of the students in the crash that had a backpack and some text books under their arm, either I guessed the right owner or they decided to take the "free" calculator.

Earlier I was checking for pictures on the signs hanging above each little restaurant when some of the workers started talking to me. I gave them the typical "I'm just looking, I'll come back in a little bit" bullshit hand motion with no intent of eating there. Before the moped crash I had scoped out most of the places, so I decide to go back to that place as it was on the way back to my room. I guess I'm not a liar after all.

At this point I'm starving and tired of looking at restaurants. I say something like, "Hello, I'm not sure what I want but some chicken and noodles would be great" to the three people cooking in the front of the "restaurant". The two younger guys look towards to older woman, she says, "cheek-en and rye?" (chicken and rice?). Me: "Yes!" Older Lady: *Motions for me to sit down.

I see her shout at a worker across the crowded table section in the other kitchen (there are two areas, both in front on either side of the entrance), he nods, looks at me, looks back and her, nods again, and turns around.

I sit down on a wooden stool at the first open spot I find. I start to take in my surroundings and realize I'm the only Westerner in the packed restaurant (it has a tent you would see as a carnival for the majority of its roof, so "restaurant"). A beefy Thai guy who looks like a muay Thai boxer looks at me and then takes the open seat to my left. At first he sat a few tables away, but moved to my table after a few minutes. Was he tempted to try some English on me? Did he think I was into muay thai too because of my size? We'll never know because I didn't say anything to him, and he never said anything to me. I was too tired and hungry to be Mr. Social.

A plate with chicken, rice, and greens ends up on the table in front of me, and man is it good. Now I have no idea how much this thing costs, I have a few baht in my hand when the server tells me an amount almost half of what I was predicting on paying.

I leave a tip (uncommon here) and try to say thank you to my new mother figure as I walk towards the front (which is also the entrance and exit). A guy that looks to be her son (around 20) gets brave enough to say "have a good night" in English, she isn't about to be outdone and says semi-brokenly, "hope to see you again".

She did.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Beginning : Thailand

I.. live.. in Asia..

The Asian thing didn't become very "real" until the airport in Berlin. I constantly felt like a foreigner in Colombia because often, my appearance didn't match the local complexion (other than in Medellin). I sure as shit won't be blending in where I'm about to go anytime soon. My gringo status can now be changed to Farang status, or even foreign devil status, your choice.

As I checked my luggage in at the Air Berlin stand the presence of South East Asians became quite pronounced. At our departure gate the ones on either side flew to Paris and Geneva, and another to Madrid = European looking folks surrounding a mass of tan colored Asians.

An unorganized crowd begins to form as people make the move to board the aircraft. I see 6 white family members wearing matching white polo shirts with "Thailand 2010" written on the front in black marker. On the back they have "Pops" or "Mum" or "Robby" written on, below is a giant 1.5 foot diameter smiley face version of themselves..

How cute.. A families first vacation together.. except the kids are over 30. They're probably the kind of people that have a dresser full of _ _ _ _ _ _ 200/6/7/8/9 shirts.

To board the plane we walked through the normal metal thing that connects the terminal to the plane, only there is no plane. There are however, ghetto stairs leading down onto the tarmac. Walking out to the plane in Germany? Really? I thought that was reserved for tropical or extremely poor locations.

My seat is located at the back 40% of the plane so I'm steered towards the second entrance to the plane. They have created a funnel out of caution tape, similar to the finish line of a cross country race. As I near the mobile stairs a worker up at the top starts waving to the worker lady at the bottom and she stops anyone else from going up the stairs. He locks the plane door from the outside, runs down the steps, runs around to the driver seat of the mobile stairs, we hear a motor rev but don't see any movement.

He jogs back around to our side of the stairs and pulls out one of the extend-able "don't walk here" ribbon thing and attaches it to the other hand rail, then bounces back around the vehicle to the drivers seat, while we bake on the tarmac on a blistering hot German summer day.

He reverses the mobile stairs a foot or two, inches it forward again at a slightly different angle, repeat, repeat. Still sweating on the tarmac.

Finally he decides it is right this time, run back around and undoes the ribbon at the bottom of the stairs, runs up to the top to check the gap again between the stairs and the plane, re opens the door and gives us a thumbs up.

I'm now walking with my carry on through the cramped plane counting down from the 60's to the 50's looking for the 40's and seat G. I spot it and set my bag in my seat and being to look for room in the overhead compartment when I realize who I am sitting next to.

The family of 6 is in my row and the one in front of me, sprawling over the seats taking cutesy "oh em gee we're in an airplane" photos they'll probably use for Christmas cards this year. Kill me.

Shortly after take off I noticed there was a hand with highly polished nails resting on his inner thigh, most likely on his dick, slightly stroking. Maybe that's not his sister to the left then, and thankfully this is a short flight, only 10.5 hours...

Friday, July 9, 2010

A well stocked kitchen

Sweet Baby Ray's

Friday, July 2, 2010

Leaving Medellin

My last hours in Medellin were a little chaotic. When you arrive in a city with the intent to hang around for a while you take your time visiting the tourist sites... 5 weeks in and I had only ridden one cable car and visited Parque Arvi (Dutch and I had planned to return with the girls [L, his girlfriend and her roommate] to do some horseback riding but it never happened, plus we fled Medellin for a few days after L's baby-daddy put a hit out on Dutch, that didn't help). 1 different cable route, Pablo Escobar tour, day trip to El Penol, many museums, Jardin Botanico, etc all still on my To Do list.

I scurried to El Penol on my 2nd to last day, bolted across town to the other metrocable, and squeezed in a stroll around the botanic gardens before sunset as it began to rain. I decided the Escobar tour was kind of bullshit. Not sure how I feel about someone making money off one of the most violent people in human history, I'll look up pictures of his shit on Flikr and google images instead.

Dutch and I often talked about "the future", future plans to finance further travels, what we were going to do when we got home, if we would ever go home, how he was going to get to Caracas for his flight home in the next few days. But we never directly talked about my leaving, even on the day I left. We had cooked up some fish for dinner at the guest house, our conversation just the same as any other day. I bought one last $1 DVD off the street for some evening entertainment, Prince of Persia--only... the street people fucked up, the disk really had a 40 minute Assassin's Creed mini-movie marketing/promotion thing on it.. at 8pm it was too late to find the vendor on the street and threaten him with physical harm.

I normally bought my dvd's from the same guy near Parque Berrio, 2 blocks south of the metro line about 20 feet away from the corner near a bunch of fruit and vegetable stands. One day I was flipping through the flicks when I thought I felt water (or something) land on my head, as I reach a hand up to feel my head the guy responded with the Spanish equivalent of 'aww shit, those fucking kids are at it again', a few kids lived on the 2nd or 3rd floor of the building and would periodically spray people with squirt guns. So we all lined up with our backs on the brick building wall hiding behind a slight ledge between the 3rd and 2nd floor, and continued our conversation for a few minutes before poking a head around the ledge checking if the coast was clear.

This guy didn't have the best selection of DVD's but he had the worst limp I have ever seen (probably hit by a car or motorcycle accident). Plus when we talked he didn't treat me like a cash-cow gringo nor was he hostile towards me. Normally a single dvd would cost about 2 mil but after I talked to him a few times he would sell me one for 1 mil (.50 cents). If the DVD didn't play on my laptop I could come back and switch it without and grief or fear that he wouldn't be there. Honestly, it was just nice to come around the corner and see a familiar face-- give him a wave, stop by and say hey, chat about the day, pick up a movie for the evening, and continue my stroll. Plus if I was giving my money to a shady guy on the street I felt better about giving it to him than a perfectly healthy young male who could be working in construction or something, or maybe it was just white guilt.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Global festival list

My unemployed self has been lurking on travel sites/forums like crazy for the last few weeks. I have never, ever, evverrr seen such a comprehensive layout for "things to do" / "what country is gud" in a list or graphic layout such as this.

I suggest everyone takes a look at a few of these pictures to understand just what they are looking at, and how much effort GlobalNomad !!XMTpdWLTIMZ on /trv/ put into this.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The People you Meet : Part 1

This will be one post of many detailing someone I met in hostels in Colombia and Venezuela. During my time there I wondered why I spent so much time agonizing over my destination, when the most influential factor of your trip is the people you meet.

Profile 1: J

I knew J for 2-3 weeks before I knew his name. When you meet 5+ new people everyday you eventually forget to introduce yourselves, or you hear them say their name but it never sticks in your mind. I never found out his last name, but maybe that is for the better.

J is an American expat living in Colombia on and off for the last 15-20 years, he has spent the last 7 years in Colombia (other than little trips).

His Colombian experience begins in Bogota, where he ran various small businesses and managed his stock portfolio. He made a few hundred dollars a day with his stocks in the early 90's, this allowed him to live in extreme luxury as Colombia was extremely cheap at the time.

When he went to top-tier Bogota restaurants, he would often tip more than 50 USD (possibly more than the weekly income of a typical waiter), so when he occasionally showed up without a reservation on the busiest nights, the employees would run into the back and bring out a table just for him and his guest.

Eventually his small businesses attracted (his "baller" lifestyle was also to blame) the kind of people that required him to pay a monthly "you want to do business here, you pay us" fee. The perks of shelling out to these people that threatened physical harm was that they periodically asked J if anyone was hassling him. One time J said yes, these guys are hanging out front and follow me after I lock up.

The next day was the last day on Earth for the "leader" of the thugs giving J a hard time. No one ever heard from him again, and a body was never discovered.

The thugs either completely avoided eye contact with J or called him by the nickname they used to call their leader--kind of awkward for J as he thought the leader would be beaten or maybe just threatened.. not whacked. Oops. From this point on he was a little more careful what he said to the guys he was paying for protection.

J was(still is) also subject to money grubbing women asking for some cash to tide them over. Nearly everyday we sat in the lounge area of the guest house talking for an hour or two. Every conversation was always interrupted by text messages or phone calls from different women asking to borrow $$. He had it worse than I ever did, although the girls I was talking to were from 19-27 while his were 30-45 (he's an older guy), so maybe that has something to do with it.

I cannot remember the name of the popular drug/mix that is often used to rob people in Colombia. Once the chemical is on your skin you will experience a rohypnol-like reaction, this is when the robbers either clean out your pockets or take you to an ATM for some withdrawals. Instead of putting it on a business card and having J touch it, he is pretty sure he had it sprayed in his face (and subsequently breathed it in). He remembers walking down a street, and then he wakes up in the hospital a few days later. For the next few months J experienced periodic memory loss, yikes.

One night J was out with some friends at a small mob-run casino. His possibly drunk/buzzing/doped up buddy got into an argument, pulled a gun and actually shot and killed a guy. A small crowd developed on the street in front of this casino/bar, a crowd containing J and his friends.

Normally.. if you just killed someone in public.. wouldn't you leave the scene?

"When the cops came they didn't touch us, they were paid off. Do you know how I know they were paid off? -- I paid them off."

There's more, I'll continue J's profile later.