Welcome to the American Southwest


Well hey there. How have you been? I’m back from my year long hiatus to bring you adventures from the American southwest. Now I know what you may be thinking, “What could possibly take you from Korea back to the states?”. A fair question my friends. A sheer lack of direction is the quickest answer and in my experience that’s the best way to start an adventure. That being said, buckle up. It’s a new ride with cars, Native Americans, green chillies, and a whole lot of route 66.

With that introduction out of the way, I’m currently sitting in the Amtrak station waiting for a train that’s two hours late to take me to Albuquerque. Why Albuquerque? Glad you asked. I’m working on getting back to Orlando to pick up my necessary belongings (laptop, external hard drives, cameras, and some more changes of underwear) and get my wisdom teeth ripped out of my head! Then next week I’ll be back to Gallup, NM hopefully with a teaching job and working towards a masters certificate.

But what of the past two weeks in Gallup? This small southwestern town of 23,000, situated along historic route 66, has a big personality. Navajo jewelers, trading posts, and bars line the streets of downtown Gallup. Trains blast their horns and trucks rumble down the road all hours of the day. There is a solid mix of Navajo, Zuni, Mexicans, and ex Peace Corps volunteers. Almost every home has a garden filled with fruits and vegetables. It’s quite a place for being in the middle of the high desert. It’s a place I came to visit and now want to stay, at least for now.

I’ll leave you all here, the train finally came. Now to look out the window and take in the rocky beauty that is the American Southwest.

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Feeling a little lost…


It’s been almost one year since I began this crazy journey.  I’ve changed so much and learned so many things, not only about people, but also myself.  When I think back to what I was doing this time last year, all of my hope, fear, and anticipations seem so misplaced. 

I haven’t gained direction, I’ve walked farther away from the path.  I’ve gotten so used to this state of childlike wonder, growing up seems that much harder. 

Can I come home?

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24 Hours in Taipei.


Finally it was time to leave work.  The lessons were planned.  Every one had instructions in front of them.  The clock read 12:00am.  In twelve short hours I would be on a plane taking a break from the grind of my students, work, and those whom I surround myself.  I hop in the cab and let out a sigh of relief.  Vacation is here. I am ready.

The alarm went off early and I groggily finish packing my backpack.  Slowly I start my journey towards the airport on a cloudy Thursday morning.  I think of my friends still in bed, only to go to work in a few hours, teach my classes on top of theirs.  I feel a twinge of sorrow, but then shrug it off.  They’ve done the same to me.

I ride the subway and transfer accordingly.  Each stop brings me one step closer to adventure.

Arriving at the airport I look for a few Korean treats for the people that will be housing me during my time in Taiwan.  I pick up some kimchi, rice cakes, and a few bottles of Soju.  I  can’t think of anything more Korean.  I board the plane, settle in, press play on an in flight movie and await landing.

The moment I step off the plane, the humidity hits me like a wall.  The air is so thick you need a knife to cut through it.  A smile crosses my face, I almost feel like I’m home.

I welcomed the humidity as Taiwan welcomed me

As I go through customs the woman at the desk begins asking questions.  I panic.

“Where will you be staying?”

“With friends”

“Where do they live?”

“Umm, I’m not really sure.  I’m just supposed to meet them in Taipei.”

“Do you have a phone number?”

“Well yes, but I have a Korean phone.  It doesn’t work here.”

“What is your friend’s phone number?”

“I don’t know.”

“Excuse me, do you speak Chinese?”

“No.”

“Okay, you don’t speak Chinese, you don’t have your friends address or cell phone number.  Can I ask you what you’re thinking?”

“I’m not worried about it.  Everything will work out.”

“You’re brave.  Enjoy you’re stay ma’am.”

After the inquisition I make my way into the city.  The bus takes over an hour.  I sleep, only waking when the bus stops to check if I have reached my destination.  Finally I arrive at the metro station.  I struggle for a while to find the MRT.  Finally, I find the right set of stairs and head underground to the station.

As I take a seat on the train, something that is incredibly difficult to do in Seoul, I look at the people.  A teenage boy sits in front of me.  Between his legs is a small terrarium with two sugar gliders.  The two creatures are fighting and making a terrible racket, really the only sound that can be heard other than the train rushing through the tunnel.  Their fight turns into fucking.  The man sitting next to me is just as confused and concerned as I.  We exchange wordless glances, but come to an understanding that what we are seeing is strange.

I walk off the train and head toward the hostel.  It’s about 100 meters from the MRT station.  I find it with relative ease.  I walk up the stairs and the manager greets me.  He gives me a tour and explains the rules of the hostel.  Simple things, clean up after yourself, check out is at 11am, don’t be a jackass.  I am expecting my friend to meet me soon, so I wait around the hostel.  I write my parents to tell them, “I’m alive.  The weather is nice.”  I check Facebook and talk to my co-worker asking how the day is going.  Everything is fine.  Nothing out of the ordinary.

I wait about an hour for my friend to arrive, it’s now 5:30pm.  I grow impatient and decide to take a walk around the block.  As I step on to the street, I’m greeted by the sounds of cars buzzing on the road, a foreign tongue I can’t begin to understand, and the smell of food cooking.  If there is one thing my mother and travel shows have taught me, it’s to follow my nose and the longest line.  I walk a few blocks and find a street market full of vendors and admire the different fare at each cart.  Some are only fried food stands, others have meat on a stick, and others have fruit.  I come to the end of the street and decide to walk the block again.  This time around, I stop and buy some mango.  The sweetness explodes in my mouth.  I cringe with delight.  All is right in the world.  I finish the mango and continue walking down the street wondering what all the food tastes like.  I don’t know how to order.  I need my guide.

I stop at the 7-11 underneath my hostel and grab a few beers.  I’m not sure if my friend is upstairs or if I will continue waiting.  I walk back upstairs to find the staff having a conversation.  I ask if a girl with long brown hair had shown up.  They shake their heads to say no.  I pull a book off the shelf, Lonely Planet’s Guide to Taiwan, and crack open a beer.  I’m about half way through my beer and she walks in the door.  A figure from my past; a long lost friend.

We both squeal a little as we see one another.  It has been about seven years.  I offer her a beer and give her the Korean fare from the airport.  It’s a nice reunion.  We finish our beers and head out into the city.   It’s about 8pm

The first place we go to is the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial.  We step out of the subway into the muggy evening.  The courtyard is dark, but the buildings are magnificently lit up.  I try to take pictures, but I only have my handi-cam.  Justice isn’t served.

Quite a gate

She begins to tell me about how the Taiwanese love their dragons.  “You’ll see them everywhere”, she says.  We walk around the courtyard, discussing the difference between her life in Taiwan and mine in Korea.  We are more similar than different.  We walk toward the actual memorial, where Chiang Kai Shek sits and overlooks the city.  Unfortunately the doors were closed.  I stand in the square, take the scene in, and leave.

We rode the MRT to Longshan Temple.  The architecture is stunning.  As I look at the ornate pillars, I think about the people who have rebuilt this temple time and again over the centuries of war, earthquakes, and fires.  How has it changed, I wonder.  I try and take pictures, but the cover of night veils the beauty.  We walk around for a little while and I begin to get frustrated with the pictures I take.  We leave and head out into the night to try and find Snake Alley.

The alley way is supposed to be close to the temple.  I had read and seen on the internet where people go to this alley and are able to watch snakes be drained of their blood, bile, and venom.  The aforementioned liquids are then mixed with alcohol and consumed by tourists and people looking to cure an array of ailments.  The tourists boast of hallucinations.  I was a bit wary of the idea of drinking snake blood, bile, and venom. However, when you’re in the moment you just got to do it.

My friend and I walk down an alley.  We think, certainly this has to be it.  It looks like the picture we saw online.  We walk down the alley.  There are no snakes, no people, only chickens and geese, unattended in cages.  We spend a fair amount of time searching for this snake alley and then give up.

With the Snake Alley a bust, we head toward one of Taipei’s most famous night markets, Shilin.  We walk out of the station, back into the night.  There is a cool breeze coming from the East. I can’t complain.  We see no signs for the market, so we wander into a small restaurant.  We take a seat and order two plates of pork noodles with cabbage and local beer.

First "real" meal in Taiwan. Pork noodles with cabbage and the salty red sauce.

The noodles themselves are bland, the pork salty.  I take some of the red sauce on the table and plop it onto my plate.  I hope for spice, I get salt.  Overall I think it’s a fine meal.  However, not much to write home about.

We leave the restaurant and continue to wander. We find alleys where one would expect life.  We mostly find prostitutes with their customers.  It’s only 10:30pm.

I feel a bit of defeat.  I suggest we head towards the hostel,

“I saw some street food around the corner, we can drink some beers.”

It’s agreed that we should just head back.

We arrive at our station and walk down the street to find only a few vendors still open.  She immediately begins ordering.  She asks my opinion about a few items, but does all the work.  I wait for the food and she runs to 7-11 to grab some beers.   As I wait, a man orders.  I look at what he gets and it looks divine.  I politely ask the woman running the stall, “what was that he ordered?”  She laughs a little and says, “It’s a Taiwanese hamburger.  It has pork belly, peanut powder, pickled cabbage, and parsley.”  I look at my bag of fried food and then order a hamburger.   My friend arrives with the beer and we opt for an al fresco meal.  We walk into an alley way and take a seat.  I take a bite of my “hamburger” and my taste buds explode with joy.  The parsley turned out to be cilantro.  The juicy pork belly melted in my mouth and the peanuts popped.  Every bite is like heaven.

I finish my “burger” and we take turns stabbing at the different fried bits inside the bag.  There are mushrooms, green beans, pigs blood cake, and chicken butts.   All of it is tasty.  We both finish one of our beers and head back to the hostel.  She has to work in the morning.  I have to get to Taichung.  We both have had full days, it doesn’t hurt to just chill.  I do have five days in Taiwan.  We sit on the couch in the common room and put on the TV.  There is a Kung-fu movie playing.  Our attention moves from the TV, to our beers, to a card game, mostly in that order.  The movie is great.  I don’t have television in Korea, so it’s a nice treat to be able to sit on a couch and just watch a film.  The movie ends, our beers are empty, we decide to go to bed.

I wake up with sweat on my brow.  For a minute I forget where I am.  My friend packs her belongings and we say good bye.  She needs to get to work and it’s going to be a commute back to her town.  I know I will be seeing her in about 30 hours, so it’s an easy good bye.  I take a shower and scrub the night off.

After the veil of night is gone, a minor buzz still rings in my head.  I push on into the city of Taipei.  This time I’m alone and move at my own pace.  I take my time looking at the different buildings and shops.  I walk all the way to Taipei 101, the second largest building in the world.  The walk is about 30 minutes.  I notice there isn’t much in the way of architecture in the surrounding area.  However, Taipei 101 doesn’t need any help standing out; it towers over the whole city.  The observation deck can’t be seen through the early morning fog coming down from the mountains.  I can’t help but be impressed.

Morning fog covering the spire of Taipei 101

I walk inside the building.  Like any other piece of human engineering the building boasts about itself.  The walls are covered with explanations of innovation and genius, even the elevator has a placard.  “This elevator was designed by the Toshiba Corporation.  This eleavator reaches speeds of 60km/h, making it the fastest in the world!”  Clearly they hadn’t yet changed the sign.  The current title holder for “World’s Tallest Building” is Burj Khalifa in Dubai and its elevator maxes out at 64km/h.

I ride the elevator to the 89th floor and walk toward the glass.  I notice the designs of gardens and rooftops.  It’s obvious the neighborhood surrounding 101 knows they are being watched.  A good amount of city planning was done to ensure the city is beautiful from above.

Looking down on the city.

Swirl gardens and Pagodas.

A quick digression:  Tall buildings, why do people love them?  I’ve been to quite a few towering structures in my short life time, the Empire State building, Namsan Tower, L’Arc du Triamphe and others I won’t take the time to mention.  All these places are the same, tourists taking pictures while waiting in line to get to the top, a few screaming children, and a ticket price that should include at least a beer when you reach the top.  People rush to the observation deck to snap the “Hey, look where I am!” picture, stand around for a few minutes reading whatever placards are present, look at how far away they are from home, and then leave.  I’m certainly guilty of doing this, but I wonder what is the reason people are drawn to these structures.  Do we need to look over the land that we have tamed to the best of our abilities, see cities and suburbs sprawling out, knowing that everything the light touches belongs to us?  There is a moment of possession which occurs while we are on top, it feels good, to look at what human ingenuity and engineering has created.  However, we can’t stay on top that long.  We must come down back to the reality that we are small and will fall one day, just like the buildings.  After going to Taipei 101, I don’t think I need to stand “on top of the world” again.  I just find it depressing.

I reach my limit in the clouds and head towards the MRT station.  I am bound for Taichung.

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Forced to write…


“We’re going to be at Anna Maria Island, on the bay side for the weekend.”

“Please go on.  Tell me about how you’ll be at my favorite place in the world with palm trees, blue sky, and the crashing of waves on the shore.  I’ll just be on the other side of the world where the sky is green and acid rain is destroying everything in sight.  Oh and on top of that, I’m confined to a shoebox with a leaky faucet and busted ankle. So you guys have a great time.”

“Now that’s funny, LeeAnne.  You should take that and just write two paragraphs and see where you get.”

“Thanks Dad.  I’m sure it will end up on my blog.”

Low and behold everything is written above.

I’ve done a shit job of keeping up with my online persona.  That just means I’ve been too busy living to stop and write down all my misadventures.  Luckily for you, last week my world came crashing down and I’ve been forced to sit and ponder all too much.

To do a quick fast forward of what happened, I was leaving my friends apartment to go grab something from the convenience  store.  En route, I called a friend to see where their Friday night took them.  In a matter of seconds I find myself on the ground, my right ankle crushed under the weight of my body.  I missed a step in the courtyard.  Immediately I noticed my ankle was the size of an orange and it hurt like hell to walk on.  Some obscenities were uttered not only at myself, but at the inanimate object which I missed.  I waited out the night, thinking, “perhaps it will be fine in the morning.”  Of course it was worse, so I ended up at the hospital.  After one x-ray and some man handling by the nurse on staff, I had a boot on my foot and a pocket full of pain pills.  The rest just involves me living my daily life, with a more difficult time getting around than normal and a head full of drowsy drugged thoughts.  Thank god I didn’t have any classes this week.

My students are currently taking exams at their real school, so I opted to take some of my sick days and sit in my apartment in order to heal.  This of course ended up being a fantastic decision since there is currently a tropical depression’s outer bands having a field day with the weather.  It’s made for good company during the solitude.  The tapping on the window and clothes lines blowing in the wind.  Sometimes it’s the simple stuff which becomes a muse.  This is just the first in a series of posts which came together due to my accident.  Some of it was written by a progressively drugged out writer, who when reading the writing, couldn’t re-write.

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Komodo Dragons, Cheetahs, and Island Spirits, oh my


So Thailand part deux is in the works and just about wrapped up.  However, there are things happening now that are just too funny to go unsaid. This past weekend has by far been one of the most ridiculous.

Ever since the weather started reaching temperatures above freezing I’ve been itching to explore.  About three weeks ago Erik and I decided it was an absolute necessity to get out of the city and into the rugged outdoors.  We found a website with a list of camping areas close to Seoul.  We found one on Ganghwa Island that is just 90 minutes outside the city, where you could rent tents for cheap.  Now we for some reason decided that we wouldn’t tell anyone else our plans and we would just escape the hustle and bustle of our friends and surroundings and venture forth into the unknown.  We originally had planned to go two weeks ago, however Erik caught some form of deathly cough that wouldn’t have been fun to share a tent with so we postponed until this past weekend.  Here is how our adventure unfolded…

After work on Friday night I met up with a few people and decided to do a night hike on a mountain close to work.  So at 10pm with a few beers, a guitar, and a flashlight, four of us ventured up the mountain.  Once we reached the peak we found a few chairs set up which overlooked all of Gwangmyeung.  On a clear night one can see Namsan tower and a few other landmarks throughout Seoul.  Unfortunately we were up there on a foggy, smoggy night so we couldn’t see much aside from the faint light of Namsan in the distance.  As we sat atop the mountain, we decided that we should start a fire.  The men folk took on the task and I sat happily in my chair being unproductive, waiting for the sweet warmth of a fire.  Four of us sat around the tiny campfire talking about nothing things, like ourselves and things we liked and disliked about our experiences here in Seoul.  At one point, someone picked up a guitar and started playing a blues riff.  From there he played and I made up a silly blues song on the spot.  One of our comrades became too much of a burden on the group so we had to close up shop on the mountain and head back to safe ground.  Unfortunately the said individual ended up hitting me in the face as I tried to help him up from falling down, only to run away into the darkness afterwards, like a weasel on crack, to be heard from a distance shouting ridiculous things like,  “Fuck your couch” and one of my personal favorites, “You’re a princess and you’re a bitch!”  Needless to say we were glad to be rid of the burden.  I made it home at a decent hour as to be raring to go for the camping trip.

Saturday:

Erik and I met at the bus stop and headed out for a quick peek at the cherry blossom festival downtown before escaping the city.  We ended up walking along the Han river in the opposite direction of the festival.  Ending up at the 63 building, one of the more famous buildings in Seoul, we figured out we had made an error and headed back towards the subway.  Being lazy we tried to hail a cab, but not many were willing to pick up two waygooks trying to go across the river.  We finally hailed a cab and headed to Sinchon station.  From Sinchon station we were supposed to to find the bus terminal.  We looked for a while and found no such bus terminal, but merely a big bus stop in the median of the road.  The directions I found on the internet were quite misleading.  Once we got to the median we had to try and figure out which bus would be able to take us to Ganghwa.  This proved to be an incredibly daunting task due to there being about 50 different buses that came to the “terminal”.  Finally I asked one of the bus drivers that was stopping and he pulled us onto the bus and took us to the next stop and told us which bus we needed to be looking out for.

For all future travelers to Ganghwa Island you can take bus 3000 or 3100 to get to Ganghwa.  The 3100 bus will take you to the south end of the Island near Mt. Manisan.  The 3000 bus will take you to the Ganghwa bus terminal near the Northeast corner of the island.  Erik and I were waved off from the 3100 bus and jumped onto the 3000.  For a mere 4,000 won we were on our way to the island.

The bus ride took a solid 90 minutes.  When we arrived on Gangwha Island, Erik and I were in a giddy state since we had made it to our destination.  We headed over to the tourist information desk so that we could get directions to the campground.  The campground we had found was called Ganghwa Humhuh Camp and the woman at the tourist desk had no idea what we were talking about.  Thankfully I had written down the phone number to the camp, however when the woman called there was no answer/the phone number didn’t exist.  Erik and I searched the English map and found a place called Ganghwa Humheo Camping Grounds.  The woman gave us the bus number that would get us down to the Southwest corner of the island (the 41), but it wouldn’t be departing until 7:10 or 8:30pm.  At this point it was around 5pm.  We had missed the bus that would take us there by about 15 minutes.  Major whomp.  We inquired about taxis and the woman, kept telling us “anniyo, anniyo, anniyo!”  Feeling a bit defeated Erik and I left the bus terminal in search of food since we had about 2 hours to kill before our bus would arrive.

As we left the terminal, we saw a huge line of taxi’s.  Clearly, there was a misunderstanding at the tourism counter, we thought, and hopped in a cab towards the campground.  20,000won (why the woman had told us not to take a taxi) and 30 minutes later, Erik and I were in the valley, looking at Mt. Manisan and getting really excited as we passed the main campsite.  As we walked up the hill we began to ask where we could rent tents. Everyone looked rather confused and waved us on to the next post.  When we finally got to the park entrance Erik and I had already programmed the words “rent” and “tent” into our Korean dictionaries.  As we showed our respective phones to the clerk, he simply laughed, shrugged, and said, “uh, no”

We couldn’t believe it.  We had been looking forward to this for three weeks.  I had done research, how could everything be wrong?  Erik and I decided we would just get a hotel room and get to the destinations we wanted to see on Sunday.  We walked away from the campgrounds hungry, sad, and ready to put our backpacks down.  We walked down a winding country road, knocking on door after door, like Mary and Joseph being turned away from every place we tried.  We stopped at one motel and began going down the list of places on our tourist map, only to be hung up on and receives answers of “No vacancy”.  Finally I found a place called Blue Motel that had a room available for 50,000won, but it wouldn’t be ready until 8pm.  Note it was about 6:45 at this point.  Feeling like we had a tiny victory we stopped at a restaurant and got some dinner.  We ended up eating dumpling soup, which was mediocre at best.  However, it was a warm meal and we were in dire need of some comfort.  We made a plan to go to the hotel and then try and find a beach so we could look at the stars.

As we were leaving the restaurant we asked our waitress, who actually spoke English, if she could call us a cab.   When the cab arrived outside the restaurant, he took us to the local bus station, Erik had accidentally told the waitress we needed to go to the bus station.  All we could do was laugh. We were both really fed up with the island at this point after being beaten down all day long.  We accepted our defeat and headed back to Seoul after accomplishing nothing all day long.

A little note about Ganghwa Island and why I think the island spirits cursed us. Ganghwa Island has been a key area of fortitude for the nation of Korea from as early as the Bronze Age.  Anytime the Korean peninsula was under foreign invasion, Ganghwa became the area from which the Korean government carried out business, this includes the Mongol invasions (the Mongol’s of course were deathly afraid of water) and French and Japanese attacks.  The Koreans are a homogenous nation and this island has served as their place of fortification against foreign influence.  To make a long story short, we weren’t welcome.

Sunday:

After a disastrous Saturday, I asked Erik on the bus ride home if he wanted to attempt and adventure again on Sunday.  He agreed to doing something and I decided that I wouldn’t tell him what I had in mind, but we should meet around 2:30 at the bus stop.  Meet we did and headed out towards the Southeast corner of Seoul, a little South of Gangnam.  We went to a place called Seorae Village, which is where about half of the French population of Seoul lives.  The sidewalks are blue, white, and red.  The signs are in French and Korean.  There are wine bars a plenty and bakeries with real French bread.

I owed Erik a decent meal since he has a bad habit of sneaking around and paying the bill when no one is looking.  I researched the different restaurants through out Seorae and found a tiny Italian place called Gran Piatte de Firenze.  We had dinner there.  The house red wine is an Italian Cabernet and it’s absolutely delicious.  I went with the course 3 meal, which included a tomato seafood soup full of mussels, clams, shrimp, and maybe octopus/squid; a greek salad with mixed greens, walnuts, and a balsamic vinaigrette; fried shrimp with artichoke sauce as an appetizer; a cream sauce spaghetti; and the dessert of the day.   The soup was stellar, the broth was hearty with a little kick.  The seafood was practically falling out of the bowl, that was the star of the show in my opinion.  The greek salad was a bit weak, I would have been happier with a few crumbles of feta or a few more greens on the plate.  The appetizer consisted of two whole friend shrimp, but the artichoke sauce was either invisible or forgotten.  A simple “sauce” of olive oil and balsamic vinegar with two capers and maybe a piece of fried garlic was what accompanied the dish, a little disappointing since I’ve been missing artichokes lately.  The creme spaghetti was like something my mom used to make.  Tasty, but needed a good bit of pepper to give it some flavor, perhaps a bit of salt may have helped too.  I’m still not too sure what the dessert I received was.  What I can tell you is that it was delicious, but odd.  It was a white, thick, vanilla flavored custard? with strawberry jam, served in a teacup.  Erik got some kind of pasta with an olive oil sauce, he raved about it, so I imagine it was good.

We left the restaurant with full bellies and happiness.  We decided that since we were in a realm where people cared about wine that we should find a wine shop and spend our evening enjoying everything we could.  We were treating ourselves, damnit, because Saturday had kicked our butts.  I had heard of a wine shop called Tour du Vin, which is known for their extensive wine list, however we had some difficulty finding it.  I found a resident of Seorae Village, a Frenchman of course, and he helped us find the shop.  Unfortunately they were closed at 6pm on a Sunday, but I did get to speak quite a bit of French as we wandered the streets of the petite village.

Erik and I ended up in a Jazz bar. Over the course of three more bottles of wine, we decided that when talking about our weekend we would tell tales of epic battles and courage.  These stories included me beating a cheetah in a race and Erik fighting a Komodo dragon.  Clearly we were of sound mind.

On the way home we actually ran into some of our friends and tried to tell of our mystical battles, however we crumbled into giggling fits.  Our friends walked away confused and a little scared, but we went home finally defeating the weekend.

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Bangkok- Thailand Day 1 and 2


As some of you know the beginning of February signaled the beginning of the new lunar calendar.  In the Western world you’ll probably be more familiar with the idea of the “Chinese New Year.”  The Korean New Year, “Seolnal” often coincides with the Tibetan New Year, know as “Losar”, the Chinese New Year, the Vietnamese New Year, “Tét”, as well as a few other countries that are around North Eastern Asia.  What it means for us Expats is a few days away from work and a chance to explore this region of the world.  Now way back in November I told you, the fine readers of this here blog, that I would be traveling somewhere, and travel I did. After three months of holding my breath and about a month and a half of seasonal depression, the Lunar New Year arrived.

Tuesday February 1st:

On the evening of February 1st a few of my co-workers and I decided to celebrate by grabbing some Chinese food and drinks in Cheolsan.  We had gotten paid unexpectedly early, which was a phenomenal gift since most of us had been sustaining ourselves on ramyeon in order to save for our individual trips. Finally, there was no more concern of budgeting our respective vacations.  Erik was heading to Japan on Thursday, I was going to Thailand in the morning, and Tonya had enough money to actually book a trip.  She was a bit apprehensive towards spending the money, but after a good amount of alcohol there was enough badgering and assurance of later regret if she didn’t just do the damn thing.  Luckily for Tonya, Erik and I are the devil and she bought a plane ticket to Japan.

Wednesday February 2nd:

Now it’s fairly common for me to drink too much before I need to be traveling, my thoughts of course being, “I can sleep during the transportation.”  En route to Thailand proved to be no different.  I was to meet my fellow travelers at the bus stop at 6:30am.  Mind you I made it back to my apartment, barely, around 4am.  After several missed calls, I finally was roused from another dimension and realized it was 6:40am and I needed to be moving.  So in a matter of five minutes I finished packing my bags, got dressed, and ran down the street to barely catch the bus to the subway station.  Still drunk and now full of adrenaline, I thought to myself, I’m going to Thailand.

Living the dream, waiting on a plane

As you can tell from the photo above, I was fairly nonchalant about almost not making it to the aeroport, and panicking my fellow travelers.

After about 8 hours on a plane we had a layover in Malaysia, then another two hour flight to Bangkok.  As we landed in Malaysia I saw fields of palm trees and pineapples.  My heart fluttered.  I could feel the sun.  I was starting to feel good; really good, despite the throb in my gulliver and twangs in my gut.

From the moment you step off the plane in Thailand you can’t help but be over joyed.  The smell of incense wafts through the air, along with spices like curry, ginger, and garlic.  It’s intoxicating.

Upon arrival in Bangkok, we took a cab into the city and headed towards our hostel on Khoa San Road.  Khoa San Road is a sleezy backpackers paradise; full of hippies, pingpong shows, STRONG drinks, street food, performers, and souvenirs.  We arrived to our hostel around 9pm and after a long day of travel, the only thing to do is get begin drinking.  Rebecca, Abbey, and I hit Khoa San Road with money in our pockets, cameras in hand, and bellies in dire need of food.  There are a number of al fresco dining settings on Khoa San Road where one can enjoy a beverage and street food and watch the cavalcade of bohemian tourists stumbling down the street.  We chose a place that was simply and accurately named STRONG drinks.  Rebecca and I sat drinking in the balmy weather, eating pad thai and pineapples until the wee hours of the morn.

Abbey, being the sensible one, went back to our hostel so that she would be ready and raring to go for our tour of the floating market.

Thursday February 3rd:

I awoke feeling as though someone hit me over the head with a ton of bricks.  I stumbled my way into the bathroom and splashed a bit of cool water on my face.  This of course did nothing but leave me now wet faced and still miserable.  There was a mini-bus waiting outside our hostel and I was about to miss it.  Running down the steep stairs, with the alcohol still sloshing in my belly, I made it into the bus.   I made a valiant effort to sleep during our hour or so ride to Daemunsudak Floating Market, however the driver managed to hit every single pothole from Bangkok to Pratchanburri, making it impossible.  Still having the alcohol surging through my veins and now being subjected to Mr. Toad’s wild ride, I got lucky when the driver stopped to get some gas.

I politely asked the driver, “Excuse me sir, may I please go get a bottle of water?”

His reply was, “No!”

The situation wasn’t looking good, so I very honestly said, “Well, then can I please get out off the bus to puke?”  To little surprise he obliged my request.

I came back feeling like 1000 Baht and continued with the gang to Daemunsudak Floating Market.

The Floating Market:

We had all been warned about getting scammed when wanting to tour a floating market in Thailand.  Sometimes there will only be stalls of scarves, coin purses, and other useless knickknacks that overwhelm the canals, leaving little room for the boats of fresh fruits, vegetables and spices.  We arrived at the market a little later than we had hoped, but were placed on our own private boat and sent off into the market.

Traffic jam at the floating market

Daemunsudak has the equivalent of New York City rush hour going on at all times.

There are shops on the banks of the canal as well as boats functioning as small specialty shops.

Epic spice rack

I was more interested in buying the fresh mango and spices that were being offered by the passing boats than the silly knickknacks being forced into my face.  Some boats were small floating restaurants where old Thai women were frying batches of chicken in the biggest wok I’ve ever seen.  Other boats were specifically for mangos and pineapple.  Other still specifically sold spices.

Mango merchant

Pancake merchant

Probably the most epic way to fry chicken

Hats hats hats

I purchased a plate of fresh mango, unfortunately it was over ripe and had been sitting in the sun for a few hours and later made me incredibly sick, however I didn’t let that hinder my experience.   I purchased a spice kit that I have been enjoying that included dried birds eye chilies, curry powder, ginger powder, kaffir lime leaves, coconut powder, lemongrass, coriander, saffron, and a few things I’m still not sure of.  Our driver manuvered through the canal traffic and eventually took us on a 30 minute tour of the neighborhood.  The river was lined with homes and small shacks.  Some of the homes had old men and women dangling their feet in the water, enjoying the early afternoon; others had young children waving at the boats passing by.

pots by the waters edge

River view

Finally, we made it back to the dock where the tour ring-leader scooped us up and herded us into the mini-bus.  We made it back to Bangkok around 1:30pm and there was a general consensus in the group a nap was in order.   I dozed off for about an hour, then pulled my life together and went out onto Khoa San Road in search of a banana pancake and a few souvenirs.

Bangkok:

A note on the banana pancakes-on the Wednesday evening it was my mission to eat pad thai on the street, as well as a banana pancake.  Apparently there is only one banana pancake street vendor on Khoa San Road and he moved all the fucking time.  Excuse my language, but drunk or sober, it’s incredibly frustrating to find this banana pancake vendor.  It took me a good 30 minutes to track him down.  When I finally found him I happily ran up to the cart and asked for one banana pancake.  Now this isn’t your Bisquick pancake with slices of banana on top; this “pancake” is more reminiscent of a French crepe.  The man slammed down the fresh roti dough, stretching and spreading it until it was as thin as paper.  He then put the dough on a hot wok and sliced bananas into the center.  Following this step he scooped up this electric orange butter and let it begin to fry the under layer and sides of the pancake.  He wrapped it up in a neat package, flipped it a few times so the outside was golden brown.  He then plopped it down on a paper plate and cut the pancake with his spatula, gave me two toothpicks and told me to enjoy.  ENJOY I DID.  It was amazing…I’m sorry I didn’t eat 10 of them while I was there.

I made it back to the hostel feeling accomplished just as Rebecca and Abbey were waking from their naps.  We decided it was time that we went to the National Palace and Wat Pho.  We quickly exited the hostel and made our way to Bangkok proper.

When we arrived at the Palace, it was closed.  To our great disappointment we arrived 30 minutes after it had closed, mind you it was 3:30pm at this point.  We were convinced it would be open until at lease 5pm.  Unfortunately we were wrong.  We hung our heads in shame and went exploring around the are surrounding the palace.  We stumbled upon a pier where boat tours of Bangkok were available.  The three of us decided it was either do this or waste the whole day we had set aside for exploring in Bangkok, so we hopped on a boat and were shown all the different river neighborhoods of Bangkok.  We saw the slums, the mansions, and the cozy homes all along the banks.

succulents infront of a slummy house

A Chinese house

I'm on a boat!

There were young boys swimming in the river, splashing and waving to all the tourist who stumbled into their backyards.

Boys in the river

More boys in the river

We even saw a Komodo dragon sunning himself on some bamboo reeds. The tour lasted about an hour. We were lucky enough to watch the sun set along the river.  It was glorious.

Wat Pho at sunset

After our tour it was decided that a meal was necessary.  Maybe 200 feet from the pier was a small market selling meat on sticks, various soups, spices, knickknacks, as well as small al fresco restaurants.

Market near the Grand Palace in Bankok...by the way those fruits are called mangosteens and they taste nothing like mangos

Meat on a stick!!!!

We sat down at one of the first restaurants and ordered.  I had an amazing red curry with rice, Rebecca had an amazing black bean noodle dish, and Abbey got fried rice.  Our meal cost us $3 and that included the ice cold bottle of Coca-Cola.

heaven on a plate

With full bellies we made our way back into the streets and found ourselves confronted by a “tourist police officer”.  This man wanted to know what we were doing with our evening and offered to make sure we had a good night.  We were all a little wary of taking the man’s help since scams are abound in Bangkok.  However, finally we agreed to let him help us after many “Okay, you see the 53 meter Buddha.   You see him, very big.  53 meter! It’s free today, you are so lucky!  Oh you see my friends they make you beautiful suits!!  Then you go to China Town.  You know it Chinese New Year?!  You see fireworks!  You trust me, I get you good deal”  Who could argue with logic like that?  The man hailed us a tuk-tuk and we were off into the balmy Thai evening.

As promised we ended up at the feet of a massive golden Buddha.  The Buddha rose above the buildings overlooking the city as to bring a sense of peace and harmony to the bustling city below.

That's one big Buddha

I wandered around the temple, looking at the creation myth murals that  ornately covered the walls.  There were statues of small Buddha’s all through out the open courtyard.

Ornate temple walls

A few people were anointing themselves with oil and water, placing wreaths of gorgeous yellow and white flowers, or bowing at the Buddha’s feet.  I put some money in the offering box and placed a flower at the feet of the Buddha and placed some gold flakes on my forehead.  I wanted to stay around the temple for a while, however my fellow travellers grew bored rather quickly, due to their lack of interest in architecture and Eastern religions.  So we left the giant Buddha and went back out into the bustling city.

Our next stop was at a tailor shop, which was pretty funny.  The men were really trying to get us to buy suits for our “boyfriends, fathers, brothers, or sons.”  Clearly we didn’t go all the way to Thailand to buy suits so we politely bought some ties (get it?) and left as quick as we could.

The final stop on our tuk-tuk tour of the city was to China Town.  To little surprise the place was absolutly packed.  We pushed our way through the crowded streets that were lined with people selling everything you could imagine from fresh fruit to jewelry, t-shirts-childrens toys.   They had everything.  We spent around 2 hours in the crowds, being able to witness the Chinese dragons chasing out the bad spirits, as well as some traditional music.  It was pretty amazing, but we had to get out of the crowds.  I know I felt like I was suffocating.

So we made our way back to Khoa San road, knackered from our day. We decided to go one street over from Khoa San to try and get some food and drink to bring us back to life.  We ended up at a cute little al fresco restaurant where peddlers came to your table to sell you whatever they had (pagoda hats, bracelets, frog noise makers).  We saw a little boy arguing with the men at the table next to ours.  He wanted them to buy flowers, but they were just arguing with him saying they didn’t need any flowers.  Finally the 10 year-old bitch slapped one of the guys and left.  I just burst out laughing, I mean really what else can you do in that situation.

The three weary travellers didn’t make it very long that evening.  We were in bed at  a reasonable hours since we were heading down to Dolphin Bay early the next morn.

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In the works


Ok so I have three posts in the works.  I’m not happy with any of them at the moment, so you don’t get to see them.  Sorry.

It’s taken a bit of time for me to edit and choose the photos from Thailand that really encapsulate the moments where words just don’t do justice.  Thailand is broken up into two parts.  The third post is from my trip to the DMZ.  I should have them up by the end of the week, depending on how many essays I get graded over the next few days.

Hope everyone is enjoying the tip of Spring.  We’re getting teased over here, for sure. I’m ready for the whole thing to just burst open, so I can revel in the warmth and escape from my state of hibernation.

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