29 December 2004

(Pink Journal Excerpt - Thailand: Part 2)

The next morning was my cooking class! At almost 9:30, I was picked up and driven to meet the rest of the group, all of whom were nice: Arjun (I think) from New Zealand, Yael from Israel, Mattheis from Switzerland via Italy, Benedict & Julian- a French couple- and an American girl whose name I've forgotten. We went to the market and learned about the ingredients we were to use, and our excellent teacher Wandee (which means "nice day") had fun and joked around with us a bit, too. For instance, after showing us fruits, vegetables, and tofu, she took us to the sweets table where black, sticky rice had been steamed until becoming a mush. In front of it was small, translucent balls which gained our curiosity.

"What are those," we asked.

"Fish eggs," she replied, and we nodded. Really, we would've believed anything she told us.

"Just kidding!" We all laughed pretty hard: they were only small tapioca balls.

So, we brought our groceries back in little baskets and started chopping away. We cooked and ate food until four o'clock, at which point we were completely stuffed from our five course meal. We were given these cute cookbooks to take home, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways. I found a massage parlor called "Let's Relax," and indulged in a one hour massage.

Back at the Rose Guest House, I met Ada and a new roommate named Karina- a Brazilian living in London who was traveling alone as well. Natasha had mistaken her departure time by 12 hours, so we had a proper goodbye in the lobby before Ada, Karina and I left for dinner at the night market. On the way, Karina and I had banana rotii: Indian bread filled with thickly sliced bananas, then fried and covered in sweet syrup. After getting lost in the booths of drek, we found a great courtyard where, for coupons purchased in advance, you could dine on the great variety of foods offered by the participating restaurants all along its perimeter. I settled on duck noodle soup and spring rolls, and washed it down with a delicious banana shake. We stumbled upon a massage stand offering an orgasmic half-hour foot massage for just over a dollar, then shared dessert of chocolate and banana waffles, all the while being entertained by traditional Thai dance interspersed with horrendous lady-boy lip-synching!

Early the next morning, I began my three-day mountain trek! The first person to join the ride was Chadi, a Colombian woman who recently re-located to New Jersey after divorcing her American husband. It soon became painfully obvious that this woman was going to be annoying and out of place, but I had no idea what was in store... The rest of our group was nice: Clara, Nadia, and Amy- all Canadian girls from the capital city of Ottawa- and a young, bland English couple, Tom & Leanne. We drove an open pick-up to the market to purchase some things for the road. I bought insect repellent, a bag of peanuts, and a bottle of water, taking in such sights as a butcher woman chopping away at an unidentified animal's rib cage, while another sliced the pink flesh from a pig's face. Nadia arrived back at our truck with toilet paper she acquired for eight cents, probably the most sound bargain of the day.

It was chilly, and we tried unfolding these filthy plastic covers to block some of the wind; it didn't quite work. Even worse, during the ride, Chadi became car sick, and asked that we pull over so she wouldn't puke; really, I think she just wanted to sit up front with a clear view of the road, and that was perfectly fine with the rest of us! We laughed about television shows, and I did my best Ali G impersonation for a while. For the rest of our ride to the nearby Mon village, I hung out the back, standing on the pick-up door, and watched the passing countryside with Tony- one of our tour leaders- and Tom.

Mon are Chinese who have maintained their way of life in the mountains of Thailand for over two hundred years, and their village was amazing and humbling to see. The children were adorable, and loved more than anything to see the digital photos we took of them. While dogs, cats, pigs, roosters, and chickens wandered aimlessly about the dirt roads, a huge group of people washed carrots in large basins of water, and women wearing headphones and colorful garb wove cloth on looms- sometimes with American brand names silkscreened on their tee-shirts.

We then followed a trail to a rigorous hike through the surrounding fields and woods, sometimes balancing precariously on constructed bamboo "bridges" to cross quiet, sun-dappled ravines. Beforehand, Chadi aka Miss Colombia was having some sort of trouble. She knelt on the ground fixing her sleeping bag within her backpack, and exposed her butt crack for the world to see. I can't recall if I thought first to take a picture, but opted instead to pour a little water into it. Don't ask me why. Maybe it was because she had already spilled a bit on her crotch and I thought I'd make her discomfort symmetrical; most likely, I just wanted to be an asshole. She hardly reacted to it- just a little "Ayi!" and that was it. She got angrier at Amy for laughing about it than she did at me for actually doing it! And this became a pattern: I would make fun of her- to her face!- and she'd get mad at Amy for laughing. Maybe it's because Chadi liked me- I don't know.

We had been walking for quite some time and she was already tired and complaining. She wanted me to carry her water bottle. She wanted to rest. "I deed not sign up for dees," she'd say, half-jokingly. Her voice was annoying, as was most everything she said. At one point, her bag opened and spilled all of her belongings onto the ground. Our guide Tony started picking things up for her and, instead of helping him, she got out cookies and started to eat! She was so clueless it was astonishing. I was embarrassed for her, and felt sorry she was such an ignorant primadonna, but wasn't sorry enough to let her escape from deserved, constant ridicule.

Upon successfully reaching a new village, we chose sleeping areas from a stilted house's floor; luckily, I claimed the one solo mattress and mosquito net "room" there. I had a beer outside with Tom and Leanne on the balcony, relishing in remaining stationary for one of the first times that day! And our dinner that followed was delicious: we even shared a water snake Tony had killed that day with his slingshot! It was tasty with a consistency somewhere between fish and chicken, but it was so riddled with tiny little bones that it was too difficult to eat! A dog was curled peacefully in front of the campfire burning below the bright, nearly full moon. Having already excused herself from the table, Chadi was having what she later referred to as a "deep conbersation" with him, chiding us for "interrupting" it when we, too, wanted to warm up.

After looking through Tom's binoculars at the detailed surface of our light in the sky, and pointing out constellations like Orion and the seven sisters, one by one, we retired to our sleeping bags. I had bizarre dreams. In one, I was going insane with true fear. Cars were zooming past me into a tunnel, burning red and white stripes of light into my eyes. I awoke and was paranoid: I realized I was in the middle of the woods with no one I knew, completely at their mercy. The villagers could have killed us all. We'd become slop for their pigs, ground meat for their dogs, and our bones the beams in a nearby spirit house. I was hallucinating quite vividly in my eyelids, and after a night's broken sleep full of rooster calls book-ending dreams bordering on nightmares, I'd blame it all on the snake I had eaten.

Following breakfast the next morning, we split up. Miss Columbia (who had moaned curiously in her sleep) and the English couple, who may or may not have had sex the night before (I still can't decide if the intermittent rubbing noise was within their sleeping bag or the made by pigs snorting beneath the floor, broke away from the four of us to finish their trek a day early. It was honestly a relief! I imagined only the worst for Chadi in her day of adventure to come- riding elephants and rafting!

We climbed steep inclines and side-stepped down their gravel and sand descents, singing, talking, or just concentrating on not falling in silence. On brief resting breaks, we used Tony's slingshot to shoot rocks at trees, and ate a lunch of fried noodles and tofu in a small village. A small puppy had taken it upon himself to be our guard at the table and, although he had not-too-ulterior motives (i.e., food!), he successfully barked at- or chased away- approaching cats and pigs.

Hours of walking later, we arrived at our next site for the night: a waterfall cascading into a frigid lagoon. Its water made my testicles feel as if they were in a vise, but bathing for the first time in a couple of days and washing my hair and arms with a peculiar all-in-one-soap-and-shampoo was ultimately refreshing. My clothes were filthy: my tee-shirt had a prominent brown ring around the collar and an unintentional camouflage of dirt and sweat stains, while my dusty pants were caked with mud from clumsy maneuvers on slippery bamboo. I stripped and changed into a fresh shirt, and lay down to write underneath the woolen blankets they gave us. I used my sleeping bag as a pillow, writing to the constant hum of the waterfall and waves of chatter and laughter until the sun set. With a couple glasses of rice wine and my watering eyes toasty from the campfire, I slept well that night.

I dreamt of my mom. Maybe it's because we talked about her as we sat around the fire, or maybe it's because she simply wanted to visit. She was folding laundry in the basement, and I had come inside after a long phone conversation in the cloudy dusk with Seven. I had gone downstairs to get my skateboard when the phone went dead- that's when I noticed her. I asked when she got home, but we looked at each other and acknowledged that she had been gone.

She smiled and replied, "Oh, just a little while ago."

"When is this?" I asked

"'92 or '93."

I would've just been entering high school; it was after she had cancer for the first time.

"You still smile at me like you used to," she said, folding laundry like she always had, and I started crying. We were together, downstairs, safe from the incipient storm outside.

I awoke in the dark and wanted to write everything down immediately, but I didn't have a flashlight and the moon wouldn't do. I tried to replay the dream over and over in my head so I'd recall every detail in the morning, and slipped back asleep. When the sun came up, I wrote it all down in the dream journal Sarah got me, then brushed my teeth in the stream with Tony while the other girls were just wiping sleep from their eyes. We ate breakfast: 2 hard-boiled eggs and four pieces of white bread with margarine, jam, and sugar, washing it all down with hot tea. I had run out of money so I poured boiling water from last night's fire into my bottle, and let it sit in the cooler as the steam didn't seem to work quickly enough.

We had an easy trek to our pickup, and drove to the elephants. Amy and I sat together on the smaller of the two, and we all switched cameras so we could photograph each other riding along. I couldn't afford bananas, and Amy didn't feel like getting out any of her money, so every time its hungry trunk coiled back to be fed, I had to softly kick it down. The elephants must've been hungry: the larger one which Clara and Nadia rode wrapped its trunk around some branches to eat some leaves, and literally bent the entire tree down to the path! It caused quite a commotion, and the driver couldn't really do anything about it. Continuing through the jungle and crossing through a river, our elephant dropped an enormous amount of dung with a splash. We were returned to our starting point as other tourists left for the same semi-circular tour, bunches of bananas in hand and cameras around their necks.

Next was our bamboo rafting experience. I was on the back, standing barefoot on the round chutes. I held a long chute myself which I used to help paddle, and pushed it against rocks and sand to navigate down the mostly placid river. Occasional currents crashed white against the rocks, and I managed to lose my balance less and less with each; Nadia, however, fell, bracing herself against Clara and left a wet, perfect handprint on her back, while Amy fell victim to a large and very low slung branch which knocked her backwards! I was able to duck in time.

We all slept on the ride back to our guesthouse and exchanged information. It was mainly done out of courtesy. but it's the right thing to do, I suppose. On the car ride home, Nadia remembered the Milli Vanilli song we had been stumped by for almost two days: "Girl, I'm Gonna Miss You."

I checked into a new room- number 112- after finding the bed in 107 to be completely bowed. I booked a day trip to Chiang Rai, hot springs, villages, and Burma to get my visa extended, and went next door with a Beer Chang to check my email and share my adventures. Ironically, Anna had written me an email and included Ethan's information. He had been in my dream the night before. And, for a second dose of irony- when I was writing my dad about my trek and the horrendous Miss Columbia- guess who walked in and sat next to me? She had fallen off the raft twice just as we had foreseen, and I felt sorry for feeling happy about it. She gave me her email and phone number after declaring the internet connection to be "too eslow." I had another beer and sat for another hour before wandering outside, starving and drunk.

I stumbled into a parade along Chang Khlan road among farang and Thais, all transfixed at the noisy procession. Passing by a Mexican restaurant called El Toro, I was invited to sit with a table of Thai women evidently visiting one of the cowboy hat-donning waitresses. I made small talk with the round-faced one to my right, Rai, as I ate a burrito, but switched my attention to the quiet girl in front of me when asked to buy her a drink. She spoke better English and was younger- I was surprised to learn she was my age (surprised because- to me- she looked old). I was again glad to have a baby face, but my grey hairs are starting to blow it for me.

I continued to walk- mostly in circles- and was taken by the hand into most of the "same same... but different" bars decorated in hanging lights and overflowing with Thai girls excited to flirt with western men. Of course I refused all of them, even one who was bold enough to grab me and start dancing as I was pushing my way through, trying to leave. Eventually, she gave up, and gave my penis a light pat as some sort of consolation prize! Again, I was suckered into a go-go bar, this one called Spotlight Bar, and took a seat next to a Belgian named Harvey at the stage. The girls looked bored, and so was I. I finished my Mekhong whisky and slid out.

I woke up early today and waited outside to be picked up. After 15 minutes, I climbed into a van and was shuttled to a fancy hotel where we picked up an old woman with alien-eye sunglasses and a horrendous hat. She told our tour guide it was good for sun, rain, or whatever; the truth was, it was good for making her look like a moronic gardener and an estranged housewife who happened to be traveling with her homely daughter and cheesy son-in-law, and they'd gladly pay 10 baht to pose with a villager. Luckily for all of us, we switched vans, and I was put with a Dutch girl named Krista, whom I had no desire to talk to. Then, a second switch, and Krista and I were put in a full van with two European couples and an older Asian aussie male. Throughout the day- except during lunch- no one spoke.

We went to a large temple in Chiang Rai, hot springs and their adjacent tourist market, and the "Golden Trianger" as our guide Kai pronounced it. After the trek's highlight- my five minutes in Burma to get a visa extension- we visited two very depressing villages to walk around, buy souvenirs, and take pictures. At least the boat trip to Laos was nice- in between docks, at least! This trek was pure "tour group." Even the villages were nothing more than booths selling the same garbage, and though the villagers smiled at you, it was mainly to pose for a photograph they'd attempt to charge you 10 baht for later.

I began losing trust in people. If everyone just wants your money, or to bring you somewhere where someone else can take it, how could you trust a simple exchange? "Hi" is already such a loaded word; "where are you from" means small talk, unlocking your wallet; "welcome" means come to my bar, or my restaurant, and pay for something you can get anywhere, up and down the street! The whole "same same" thing was not so funny anymore: it was just a fact of this whole newly capitalist scenario, and it's the westerners' fault! We've made a circus sideshow out of these people, and- deluded by their self-fulfilling prophecy- they themselves sell tickets to it, complete with souvenirs to remember it by. How sad was the woman who couldn't speak due to mutation, who held onto the Dutch girl, smiling so wide her teeth could've exploded? She seemed genuinely happy, yet was it all just for you to take a picture so she could badger you for 10 baht? I can't tell what's behind these smiles; tonight, I didn't trust any of them. I felt relucantly catered to by servants who hate their master. I felt unwelcome, even with the sawadii-kas and smiles. The "hello, sexy man"s made it all that much more obvious and, aside from my Sagittarian desire for adventure, I preferred to just ignore everybody.

I got dropped off at the night market, and ate dinner at the food court again. This time, I watched the Thai dance and music show, and was entertained to the point of laughter. A lady-boy pretended to play percussion on clay pots as the women gracefully danced. In his hot pink shirt, head wrap, and cemented smile, he was completely in his own world. Meanwhile, the band was almost punk rock in its sloppiness, and after every song, the guitarist initiated the "shave and a haircut, two bits" theme.

At the cheap parlor near the rock climbing wall, I got a neck and back massage, then drank Mekhong and watched phony Muay Thai in an arena circumscribed by identical bars with pool tables, Thai girls and lady boys, and at least one farang with his hands all over them. So many people had lit Santa hats on, and seemed happy; is that why I was so sour? Because I was lonely on the holidays? Or was I freezing up to this crap and ready for the next stop? A little bit of both, I think. It was a long day, and I'm tired. It's after two, and I’m coming down from my drinks. It's time to go to sleep, and wait for the new day that awaits me only hours away. It's already begun....

*

My headache is phenomenal right now as I sit for my last breakfast at Rose restaurant, the tuk-tuks and mopeds seem a little louder whizzing by. Yesterday was wonderful, and squelched my negative feelings and loneliness from Christmas Eve.

I rented a motor scooter, and was quite nervous about it. I remembered the first time I rode one in India: how I careened out of control in front of the renters (one of them had to run and press the brake for me!), how scared I was to ride, how I had a hitchhiker drive it for me, and finally, how I gave it way too much juice and slammed into a fucking wall when I tried unsuccessfully to turn around. While the girl was showing me how to operate it, I was considering getting a bicycle instead... But then I hopped on, took it slow, and got the hang of it. Magically, I made the right turns and found the road to Doi Suthep, stopped at the lights while other moped riders squeezed by on the sides, and even pulled into a Shell station to get gas! Oh, how the simple things impress me....

Up a winding road I went, where I parked just past the zoo. I wandered around it for hours! The zoo was enormous and attached to an arboretum, and I was able to navigate its steep, long roads by following signs and arrows- everything, of course, written in Thai! I became completely lost, but it was all relative: there were still lots of beautiful animals and birds to see along the way. After taking too long to find the exit, I got on my bike and headed north, stopping along the way at Montathon Falls. It was so much fun to ride now that I was starting to get the hang of driving!

I made it to Doi Suthep, apparently one of the most sacred temples in Thailand. Since I was having laundry done, I only had my bathing trunks to wear. I saw a few other people wearing shorts, so at least I wasn't the only asshole there; I even pulled them down as far as they would go to cover my knees! The temples there were beautiful and golden, with constantly sounding bells lining the walkways between them. Down the seemingly never-ending entrance stairwell, guarded by dragons whose green-scaled bodies stretched all the way to the top, the sun was beginning to hide. I ate a banana wrapped in a waffle drizzled with chocolate, and said my goodbyes.

With the scooter's headlight playing the part of my guide, I wound down my tree-lined road home, the wind watering my eyes and cool against my bare arms and legs. I was almost giddy with refreshed excitement and traveled too fast into the turns, but I wasn't scared anymore. I felt in control; we always are, even when it seems the least apparent. We can do whatever we want and, as I watched my soft, small light illuminate the approaching street and forest just beyond it, I knew it. It didn't prevent me from getting lost upon reaching the bottom, but I found my way through trial and error- and by following a girl I had asked directions! Reaching Taphae Gate, I parked in front of a row of food stands lit yellow, red, and white, and recognized two girls from my guesthouse who invited me to join. With them I had my cheapest dinner yet: Chinese kale with fried pork and rice- for fifty cents! It was delicious, even after I spiced the hell out of it with the super hot chili sauce and crushed red pepper.

Again I made some wrong turns, but I eventually found my guesthouse. I panicked- I couldn't find my passport! I then invented a place I had left it: at the waterfall with the gate attendant! The crazy thing was that I actually believed this fake memory! I told Pai, who remained calm and collected as always, replying "It's no problem, no problem... Tomorrow, you go." But, grabbing my laundry, she soon had it figured out: I left it with the scooter rental place, and suddenly the "memory" that had scared me before seemed ridiculous. Relieved, I put my clean and fragrant laundry away in my room, and left.

Up the street at a little shop, I bought a small bottle of Mekhong rice whisky (what they call rum here) for a dollar, and proceeded past bar after bar of Thai girls- donning Santa hats and trying to pull me inside- to a free concert at the night market happening on three separate stages. I was taking healthy swigs from the Mekhong and, by the time I reached the pink stage, the bottle was empty. And so, I bought another one- a larger bottle of a different brand, this one called Sang Som- and was already feeling a little drunk.

The band was playing what sounded like riffs lifted from Jimi Hendrix while the singer belted out lyrics which, at points, seemed to be in English, and I was happy to see it was mainly Thais celebrating in the streets with very few farang. At the middle stage was what I soon realized was a beauty pageant: "Miss Madaga," evidently the name of the festival. One by one, the girls came out to address the crowd wearing skimpy, sexy outfits, and a small, round pin attached at their breast, bearing their contestant number. The whole procession was being filmed; thus, their smiling faces were projected on a large screen to their left. "Sawadii-kha!" they'd begin, followed by a 20-30 second speech in Thai about God-knows-what; all I understood was "Chiang Mai" and their closing "kapun-kha!" They were each young and beautiful and, without comprehending what they were saying, it was easy to tell who was confident, who was nervous, and who was trying too hard.

A group of around ten guys dressed in Adidas tanktops and baggy pants were breakdancing nearby, and had attracted quite a crowd with their acrobatic spins on the naked concrete. By this point, I realized I was drunk. I rode a tuk-tuk back to Thanon Moon Muang, clenching a flyer for a "rooftop party" in my hand. As my luck would have it, there were maybe five people there, and in my hasty process of leaving, I slipped down the stairs, slicing open my shoulder pretty badly against the wooden railing. I stumbled in and out of a few more nightspots drinking my bottle of Sang Som until it fell out of my back pocket and shattered on a bar's floor. I had the spins. For fear of throwing up- I avoided getting a massage, and just wandered alone on that eve of Christmas Day, smiling at everyone around me. My last stop was a bustling hotel restaurant next door to my guesthouse. My stay there wasn't long- maybe five minutes- and I retired to bed after two that morning with a horrible taste in my mouth.

The cook must've had the day off, because Kay [one of the guesthouse owners] cooked me a pancake with butter and honey herself for my hangover breakfast the next morning. Pai had arranged a tuk-tuk driver to follow me as I returned my scooter, then take me to the bus station. It was almost sad to leave. The 12 o'clock bus was full, so I had two hours to kill before the next one at 2. I walked around looking for a phone- no luck. One guy even drove me on his motorscooter to a mini-mart near the station, explaining that I could call New York from there. It came as no surprise that- even though the phone said "international and domestic"- the store's one employee let me know it wasn't possible. So, I found a little internet cafe where I wrote for about an hour, shat in an eastern-style toilet, and boarded the bus to Pai.

*

I am completely cramped in this seat. My knees are jammed against the metal backing of the seat in front of me where two out of nine Israelis are sitting. One just told me there was an earthquake this morning in Phuket! I hope if people died, there weren't too many... It's all a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time: you can't prepare for that, and that's the one time we are not in control....

*

It was much worse than I imagined. On the small, thatched-roofed restaurant's television, I watched footage of Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, and Thailand flooded wildly, and rescue teams already aiding the wounded, finding more and more bodies washing up on the shores and streets. 2300 dead in Sri Lanka so far, 1300 in India. I thought of Shvetha, and hope her family is OK in Madras- it got hit pretty hard.

Anyway, Pai is a beautiful little place. I split off from the Israeli clan on the bus immediately, and got a scooter ride for the two blocks it took to Charlie's Guesthouse. My room is cute and only 70 baht a night. There's a courtyard and the added bonus of an adorable kitty! I was going to email Ada, but wound up seeing her in front of the 7-11 only five seconds after leaving my guesthouse! This trip has been like that; I have had amazing luck. Ada was with a German friend Krista, and we walked together to see their bungalows. I may have to pay and extra 30 baht and stay in a little hut my last night!

I went searching for Nong Bia restaurant- apparently the oldest eatery in town according to the Lonely Planet- but went completely in the wrong direction; however, I noticed something along the way: people here say hi to you with no other motive than friendliness! It's so refreshing. I fucking hate being the rich tourist, but it's not my fault. I'm guilty just because I'm a westerner with a backpack? But, I understand. I know they see dollar signs in our eyes and, honestly, how could they not? We come to their country and stay for months, and blow in a day what some of them make in a week- or even a month! And we're smug, and take pictures of them doing everyday activities, thinking it's the coolest thing in the world, as if they're zoo animals. But, on the flipside, we are all guilty: guilty of being different from one another, and of being fascinated by those differences. I know I am.

Although initially I had hoped to run into the Israelis again, when I did, I became incredibly frustrated with them. They seemed nice, I thought, so why not share dinner together? Well, to begin with, half of them wanted to eat a kosher meal, and needless to say, that was the least of my concerns. Next, they didn't want Thai food, and seemed thrilled that there was pizza and- even worse- fucking falafel around! You fuckers practically breathe that shit in Israel- why don't you try something new! So, I stood there stupidly while they argued in Hebrew, and finally, the two girls with whom I had spoken the most said they wanted to join me. OK, fine. But, they didn't want Thai, and I did. And then they ran into some tour guide they knew: an Asian who spoke Hebrew! Come on!

These people travel in herds, speak almost exclusively to other Israelis, stay at Israeli-run guesthouses and go on Israeli-run tours. I realize I am Jewish, but that's not what I am talking about here. Israelis seem to be bizarre separatists, all living in a small country constantly at war, a country most everyone- except themselves and other Jews- hates and blames the world's problems on. It's almost scary. They are... I don't know. I am angered by fanatically religious people of all kinds, but Israelis seem more myopic and stubborn as a people. They are cultural isolationists. I felt great traveling in Israel, absolutely, but when I am anywhere else, Israelis sort of piss me off, and these two girls were no exception.

The tour guide told them the whereabouts of one of their friends from some trek they had taken. Now, earlier, both girls- Eyat and Inat- had been starving; now, they couldn't wait to see their friend! "Do you want to come?" they asked. Whatever- I went. There were thirty Israelis hanging out around their tour's Jeeps. The two I was with found their friend, didn't bother to introduce me (nor was I introduced to their tour guide), then stood around gossiping in Hebrew for ten minutes. "I don't mean to be rude," I began, "but I am going to dinner." That statement got both of them somewhat motivated for five seconds, but then it was back to babbling; I took off.

While sipping some tasty soup, I overheard some farang mention an art exhibition and concert happening up the street! It was at a Thai and Mexican restaurant and bar called Happy Yim's. There were nice paintings by some of Pai's artists hanging on its walls, and outside in the large courtyard was belly dancing while a young man swirled circles and figure-eights with fire. Soon, an adorable young girl sat next to me with piercings on her upper lip and labret. Her name was Leila, and was traveling with her mother Mandy, her brother Oscar, and his friend Jack. We talked for a bit, and she, too, was on her way to the concert. The venue, called Roots Rock Reggae, had just opened that night. I was almost done with my Beer Chang when one of the belly dancers, a girl who couldn't have been much older than I, took a seat next to me and told me about her plans for a year-long dance tour of Asia. Then, she and the other belly dancer- along with her German boyfriend who was celebrating his birthday- walked me to an internet cafe.

"Where are you calling?"

"New York," I said.

Hearing this, a woman turned and said I was the first person she had met from the east coast. She was scouring the internet for new Asian destinations: five of her girlfriends were stranded at JFK with plane tickets to Phuket. I left messages for Sarah and my dad explaining I was OK, then found Roots Rock Reggae by following the sound of Bob Marley songs being sung with a Thai accent.

Smoking and drinking around small tables within the large bamboo hut, people relaxed near heat lamps and the few raging bonfires, where skewers of vegetables and potatoes wrapped in tin foil were cooking for all. The band was sloppy- and I am amazed that the humor of a northern Thai, Bob Marley cover band went over most of the attendees' heads- but I got a beer and joined Leila and an English girl she had met there. I reclined in a hammock to write, then talked with the two of them until we all traveled to "Bamboo Hut," a popular 24-hour restaurant raised on stilts above the ground. It was quite cold outside, but I kept warm with chicken and rice soup, finally retiring to my guesthouse after three.

I awoke at ten the next morning and wandered around, finding a temple where I knelt to pray for those affected by the tsunami. Olia had already emailed me twice, and I was finally able to contact her by phone. I don't know how- maybe through Stuart- but she got in touch with my dad, and he played her the message I had left for him. Her parents are bugging out and so is she, and now she doesn't know whether or not she is coming; so, now everything is even higher up in the air for me, luckily safe outside the epicenter of an absolutely horrendous natural disaster.

My lunch was too spicy. I went to Somtam Na Amphoe, directly across the street from the district office, and ordered sticky rice, barbequed chicken, and a mango salad. Unfortunately, we didn't share the same idea of what constituted "mango salad": theirs was colored brown from fish sauce, topped with tiny, dried shrimps and, besides being spicy-as-all-hell, was absolutely vomitous. Being a farang, I got away with sending it back, using the white lie I was allergic to shellfish. She made me another. It was palatable, but so spicy I was continually blowing my nose- it was just too much!

Leila, Mandy, and the two boys were eating at a restaurant nearby, and invited me to see a waterfall with them that afternoon. I rented a motor scooter and was soon on my way. Taking photographs did nothing to capture the beauty of the fields, the autumn trees on hazy mountains, and villages dotting the countryside; half of it was found in the sun and the wind, the speed, and the way it all passed me by in a blur. The roads started getting a little rockier, and I began driving slower, using low gears. Villagers were coming out of the woodwork, trying to sell me opium: women and men- alone and in groups- were motioning "smoke" with their hands, bringing fingers to their lips. And all the while, I was losing balance over the now ominous terrain, my tires spattering fresh, wet earth all around me. I was a little afraid I'd wipe out, but managed to keep my cool and pull in to the small lot where others had parked their muddy scooters.

The waterfall proved to be a pretty hard climb: it was just huge, rocky land with very few spots to use as steps. Ascending was hard, but going down would be worse... A few girls were up top in a pool, and I walked around the sponge-y forest floor to join them at the white and grey "poolside." I stripped, then literally slipped in, falling down the slick rocks and forced to feel the icy water all at once! I lay refreshed on the rock where the water fell, allowing it to massage my back.

Leila and her family arrived soon afterwards, and Jack was clearly pissed after falling twice in the mud. To add insult to injury, on his third spill, the strong current swept his necklace into a deep pool far below, and he started to cry. As bad as I felt, seeing this eleven year-old with his Wu Tang shirt, shorts, and even his face thickly covered in mud, I couldn't help but laugh. I swam for a while longer, and was soon left with a strange-looking Canadian to share banana chips and talk about the tsunami. A younger boy approached us and tried to strike up conversation, asking what there was to do at night. He claimed to have slept with some girl who was traveling alone, "so last night wasn't all bad," he added. He seemed like a bad liar. Maybe I'm wrong- and God knows I really couldn't care less- but it seemed more than a bit implausible: he was a geek. Regardless, he was a good guide, and led the way back through town and breathtaking scenery to the hot springs.

A little dirty with floating leaves and their disturbed, dark sandy floor, the springs still felt delicious. And though I stayed in too long, the fatigue made our return motorcycle ride at dusk that much more euphoric as I followed his tail-light to an all-you-can-eat buffet back in town. I am still there now, resting and writing in a hammock, listening to the crackle of a nice fire and watching BBC World News' coverage of the Asia quake. It's a loop of the same awful and scary footage: waves crashing violently through palm trees on Phuket, people standing on tops of buses in Sri Lanka, and brown surf washing away thousands of people in Madras. By now, there's 11,000 who have lost their lives in Sri Lanka, 3- or 4,000 in India, and 23,000 dead or believed dead in total.

*

Now, the death toll is at a staggering 60,000. I am back in Chiang Mai at the place to be: Rose Guest House. The rest of my time in Pai went something like this...

I left the buffet, and rode to Bebop Cafe where I sat alone and watched live music. The band had an impressive guitarist and wasn't half-bad, but played pretty cliché cover songs: Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and even Neil Young! I sat and drank tea with milk, and read my Lonely Planet book. Earlier that day, Olia informed me she wasn't going to come after everything that had happened, so I thought I'd plan ahead. I was joined by an American named Lance who I learned was only 17 years old. He ran away from his mother at 14, and is now a drug dealer in Chico, California. He told me about his experiences with designer drugs, DMT, and the daily realities of being a dealer and living in a very communal house where people come and go.

Out of nowhere, three Thai girls carrying bottles of Sang Som, soda, glasses, and buckets of ice came and sat with us. They poured us drinks and flirted, and at least Lance was flirting back. One of them made it clear she had an extra room; they were most likely prostitutes. Hey- as long as you're giving me free drinks, I don't care what you are!

After a couple of drinks, we began a game of pool and continued to talk. He left a special girl behind in California knowing he'd be gone for six months, and has already cheated on her. When I told him I was trying to remain faithful to my girlfriend, we got into a discussion about trust. Like me, he really trusts no one. Of course I'd like to think there are more people I trust 100%, but there are few: I only trust simple things will happen. It's hard making yourself completely vulnerable to someone else's whims- especially a stranger whom you've known for less than a couple of hours- but that's exactly what I did when I climbed on the back of my motor scooter, allowing him to drive us to the 24-hour restaurant we wound up not being able to find.

Bebop Cafe's driveway was an incline to the street, and I still can't really tell whose fault it was: was it mine for leaning back and not holding on tightly enough, or did I lose my balance because he went way too fast and wasn't steady to begin with? Either way, much to our embarrassment, we wiped out in the middle of the street. Neither of us was hurt, and we just hopped back on and shot off in front of everyone standing outside.

Our failure to find Bamboo Hut took us on some interesting detours around the dark streets at 80 kilometers an hour, a speed which felt too fast when not being in control myself. Meanwhile, the whole trust issue kept coming to mind: here I was on the back of a motor scooter, shooting down back roads with a complete stranger. I was scared, but more occupied with having it actually be fun and a lesson- or maybe just a test- of my trust.

At four in the morning, well after Lance and I had said our goodbyes and were safe and sound in our separate guesthouses, I awoke with nausea and stomach cramps so bad I thought I was still dreaming. I figured if I fell back asleep, they would go away or, like having to pee, I would just hold off until it grew brighter and warmer outside. My room was freezing, but considerably warmer than it would've been had I been staying in a bungalow. I was using the bedding provided for the other double bed as well, so I was bundled in four blankets. The cramps remained strong, and I tried to make myself believe they were going away. I thought of my mom telling me everything would be OK, and that helped temporarily; however, after maybe ten or twenty minutes, both my cramps and nausea increased to a point where I knew that if I didn't get up immediately, there'd be a problem.

Dressed in a sweater and boxers, I brought one of the thinner blankets and- more importantly- my toilet paper, and stumbled to the outdoor restrooms, slamming the tin door behind me. I think I tried vomiting first, but only dry-heaved. It was only after I smelled my own diarrhea that I was compelled to puke into the bathroom's trash can, squatting over the eastern-style toilet and gagging. I brought another trash can into my room, and made good use of it a few hours later. At seven that morning, I bought juice, Gatorade, and water from across the street, and other than returning my scooter and emailing friends that afternoon, I was in bed pretty solidly all day. I was fucking pissed, more so because my last day in Pai was an utter waste than that I felt like shit but, as I had explained to my friends, "it's all part of traveling" (with the sort of pathetic "I guess" stapled on the end).

I absolutely had to eat something, but showered first. I was in outer space, and accidentally took someone else's towel that had been hanging to dry where I had left mine. It was only after I turned on the water that I realized my error, and sighed. "Can I help you find something," the guy asked. Clearly, it was his towel. My towel- and bathing suit- had been moved to another rack for some mysterious reason.

Walking down the street, newly cleaned, I stumbled upon a spot where some people were fiddling around with guitars. I saw they had bongos and a tambourine as well, so I figured I was in for some entertainment... Well, while I ate plain steamed rice, some hack tried improvising in an alternate tuning for twenty minutes, and then I was really in for it: this older, English hippie started strumming away, singing "I hate the white man, I hate his politics, blah blah blah [I wish I was still in my twenties, but now I am washed up with kids who couldn't care less about me, my shit music, or my expatriate lifestyle]." He had this really bad, pseudo-Bob-Dylan voice, with tremelo! I just ate and tried my best to applaud in between songs. He played something by the Doors, Dylan, and Neil Young- does every stereotypical hippie in this town share the same fucking five CDs? I was almost mad by this point, and then some older guy in the "audience" had joined in on backup, which proved to be more embarrassing musically than it was for his teenaged kids nearby trying to focus on puzzles. Jesus!

I politely thanked him, paid the eight cents for my rice, and promptly left. A little restaurant called Movie House was to play "Snatch" at 7, but they started nearly an hour late due to the full house of backpackers glued to BBC news. I sipped ginseng tea, trying to settle my stomach, and slowly ate white bread with a strange chocolate sauce they mistakenly called Nutella. I mainly slept- covering my nose trying to avoid breathing cigarette smoke throughout the movie- but I followed along for the most part. I just didn't want to be in bed. I went home at ten and awoke at half-past-eight, so at least I had a nice sleep!

19 December 2004

(Pink Journal Excerpt - Thailand: Part 1)

I've already tired of listening to dialog from a seemingly horrendous Korean television show- five minutes of which included a boy pissing, being washed in his underwear, and a woman slurping noodles and trying on shoes- and have since moved on to the exhilarating world of J-pop. This may not last long either: it's a really crappy ballad right now. I am on Korean Airlines en route to Seoul, and am sitting next to a very talkative fabric salesman named Jerry. The stewardesses are gorgeous and are wearing the cutest 1970's Jetsons dresses with matching scarves. I brushed fingers with one as she handed me a small, plastic cup of pineapple juice and got a special feeling. Just kidding. OK, this music is bordering on fucking unlistenable right now- let's see what else we can find, shall we?

Right now, I have the lingering taste of the salmon bi bim bop they fed me, and I have exhausted the music programming, settling on the safe classical station- number three. I'm 32,000 feet high and the stewardesses are selling chocolates, cigarettes, and colognes. I am somewhere over Canada, watching a computerized image of our plane stretch its red line from its origin to our destination. Most people- including my neighbor- are asleep with eye covers and neck pillows. It has become dark outside, a pretty shade of wintry twilight glowing like ocean water from the oval windows. Someone in front of me just bought a cognac I have never heard of. I am thirsty...

*

This chair is not as comfortable as it looked. I had just emailed my dad, sister, Sarah, and Olia, and am now at gate 14 sitting on a grayish-lavender seat. A guy around my age just said hello. His name is Jung, and he just had a baby with his wife who is off shopping at the duty-free stores in Seoul's brand new Incheon Airport. He spoke English well enough to have a conversation with me for about an hour! He has never left Seoul, and this trip to Thailand will be his first. He is traveling with his wife (a shy 24 year old), his father, aunt, cousin, and of course his daughter, Jeesoo. He gave me a couple tangerines. Ironically, he works in music at a company called MNet, and does production for Korea's version of MTV. I asked him, "if your daughter grew up to be whatever you wanted, what would she be?" and he replied "a pianist." I said that I, too, would want a child in the arts, but that it's a hard life- not much money. He smiled and said, "but, much happiness. It's the simple thing and most important." And, he's absolutely right.

We boarded the plane and my new neighbor- whose name I never got- was a little too talkative and had a very odd smell about him; it was as if he wore rubbing alcohol as cologne to cover his halitosis. But, he was helpful and genuinely nice, and I managed to sleep for most of our five hour flight, curled up awkwardly with both feet on the armrest of the seat in front of me. We are now only ten minutes away from landing. There's an interesting, fresh smell in the plane- sterilized and moist like a light rain pumped through its cabin. I dreamt I had wandered in an airport and fell asleep on what I didn't realize was a plane and, when I awoke, we were already moving. They wouldn't let me off yet we were winding down the streets of Chicago... They took off after gaining speed on a highway bridge

I see the landing lights and the wheels are down. We are approaching. I am awake.

*

I knew not to pay 500 baht for the taxi, but I still went in and did it. My driver's name was Two, but probably doesn't spell it that way. I got dropped off at Khao San Road- a main drag in Banglamphu- and started walking among Thais and tourists, all of whom were around my age. A tout took me to a guesthouse that was too expensive, and I went out looking on my own, winding blindly down dimly-lit streets where everything was closed. Apparently, most businesses don't stay open after 1:30 in the morning- what a surprise! Anyway, I saw a Chabad house and figured it was a sign. When I turned the corner, I found an awesome guest house named "Green House" that was jumping. There were thirty kids drinking, playing pool, or surfing the internet, and the girl at the desk- Dao- said there was indeed a private room available- room B2: a very small room with a fan, a window opening to a back hall and a bathroom with a toilet and shower (no sink). For 200 baht a night- including free internet and amenities such as laundry, travel agency, pool, and a restaurant and bar- I think I am doing just fine, thank you!

I was so awake- and still am- so I walked to Khao San Road. I am already pretty disgusted with the amount of tourists I am seeing, most of whom seem fucking obnoxious, drunk, and white, but what can you do? Nothing. I went into a convenient store and bought green tea (beer is not sold after midnight) and found a very busy restaurant: Khao San Center, open 24 hours. I asked to see a menu, and set my tea down at a table seating two Thai girls, one looking mysteriously like a boy. I have seen a ton of lady-boys, but was stumped by this one. I asked for a table and the waiter pointed at the table with the girls. The one who was definitely a girl smiled at me, and I refused. I asked again for a table and again was told to sit with them, so I figured, why not?

The girl-girl's name was Jennie, and she studies classical Thai dance here in Bangkok. Her friend, the mysterious one, spoke very little and ate an enormous plate of shrimp and rice within two minutes of me sitting down. Another girl showed up with enormous fake breasts, flanked by two men my age, and it was soon clear that they were all friends. My food came and we all sat together: Nanni, a quiet Thai; Casey, a seemingly gay Thai who now lives in Stockholm; Natasha, the girl with the implants and blonde hair (also from Stockholm) who arrived today for a three-month holiday; and Jennie and the girl who looks like a boy. I mainly talked to Jennie, but asked Natasha what she does for a living. I wasn't surprised to find out she's a stripper and does private parties. She, too, was Thai, but spoke the best English. Jennie was very flirtatious yet shy, and smiled goofily at me every so often, pursing her lips. I'd laugh at her, or make jokes, and she told me I was crazy. So, I put my hands over my face and opened them as I said "cuckoo" with the sound of a clock; this seemed to be very entertaining to them. She repeatedly said "cuckoo," and laughed. She seems very sweet. Apparently, she is going to northeast Thailand to visit her mother, and invited me to go with her. We exchanged information and I think it'd be nice to have a friend here with whom to go to the market or perhaps dancing.

I left at 3:45 and went to the guest house, speaking with Dao for nearly an hour. She, too, is very nice, and recommended places for me to go. I am so awake and so excited! I need to get on a normal Thai schedule, so I will try and sleep now. Much more to come...

*

I slept a bit- slept well, in fact- but awoke just before 8 to pee and then slipped into "I'm too excited and not tired enough to sleep" mode. I lay in bed, thinking hard, then tried not to think hard and berated myself for not being able to think of nothing; then I felt legitimized for not feeling tired because my schedule is completely flipped, and just gave in to it. At 9:45, I brushed my teeth once more standing in my shower/toilet/all-in-one bathroom, and headed out. It's sunny and beautiful, and there are so many fucking tourists that I want to gag. I bought soap and shampoo at a cute little convenient store (the same one I bought green tea in last night) and walked away from the main drag's barrage of guesthouses and restaurants catering to backpacking farang (westerners) just like myself. It is hard, cause I realize they are no different than me, really, and mean no harm, but it's nice to get completely away and fall into the real pockets of this city and culture.

I found a small street of sorts- really more of an alley- whose entrance has a restaurant with tables under an awning that stretches down about 20 feet against a concrete wall. A kitchen is against the wall, and they fry the food right next to you. A beautifully ornate green and gold fence runs along the other side, framed by potted plants and hanging foliage. A boxing school is just past, and I had walked in to be greeted- well, loosely, speaking- by a half-naked man who had been sleeping above, inside a wall facing the ring! There's a fight tonight in Lumphini Stadium. Damn, I spiced the hell out of these noodles! I gotta eat- pardon me.

*

Ah, thank you. Sorry for the line interruption. I am sipping a large Singha back at my guesthouse. I finished lunch at my alley gateway restaurant, and saw a cat (barely a cat, more of a young kitten) catch a bird in its mouth and run away. He got laughs from my chef and the others sitting nearby. I made it to Wat Pho and walked around the beautiful premises, snapping photos with my brand new digital camera. I knelt and prayed in front of the incense billows giving fragrance to golden Buddhas and flowers. I prayed for my friends, and prayed that my trip would continue to be wonderful. I saw other images: images of my mom, images of Sarah, images of my midnight-on in Bangkok, and I can't believe how it's been such a short time condensed into what feels like... Well, a week? A month? A lifetime? I only got two hours of sleep last night and eventually gave up. I am so glad I did.

As I walked in search of a massage, I saw the first tourist I wanted to talk to. I don't know what it was about him, but he seemed like me: he seemed like someone who wasn't a fucking retard and wasn't a jersey-wearing rugby fan, or a drunk blonde sorority dud like Katherine now behind me- talking to a Scot and an Asian who are both either being too nice, or actually believe they'll sleep with her. His name was Chris, and we wound up getting simultaneous massages that, although painful, were magnificent. For $7.50, I got an hour long massage that truly opened me up. It was not so much a treat of feeling as it was a necessity for my knotted limbs and back. The girl who gave it was a determined student who stood maybe five feet tall at most. She was good, and I was trying to breathe in and out- breathe the pain in, and blow it out. Chris and I would spend the day and night together after he waited for my masseuse to finish.

We walked to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, amazingly ornate buildings adorned with gold flaked glass and Buddhas in infinite poses. There were stoic guards dressed in green and white. The ones in green were menacing and carried machine guns- they spoke to you if you approached an area you shouldn't- and the ones in white were sad objects for tourist photography with children, mannequins who had been more than humbled with camera clicks of unclear intentions. Finding it difficult to leave that large castle-like enclosure, we made our way to the riverboat and to fruit vendors who sold us the mysterious and unique jack fruits, which tasted like a blend of banana and mango. We rode to a stop where Australians joined us. They were looking for a tailor who was making them three Armani suits for 800 dollars... Are you sure?

The Dusit Zoo sucked so fucking hard that I couldn't stop laughing. Most of the animals were statues for Christ's sake! And there were four lethargic tigers, one lion, and a few panthers. That was the disappointing highlight! Yet, the true highlight was laughing together and exploring the pages of our travel guides as they were translated into parts of a city.

We went to a Thai boxing match where- like many of the attractions we visited- held different cover charges for locals than it did farang. The fights were intense, and the eager crowd shouted what turned out to be code for different types of moves against the opponent: a knee to the ribs, for the crowds choice of victor, was "E!" Otherwise, there were "O!"s and other noises made while hands and arms waved fingers and baht frantically. I guessed incorrectly on every winner except for the one fighting in the main event, a guy in red shorts named "Rungrat." Finally, after moving around Lumphini Stadium and sitting too close to a drunk fan's vomit, we left and made our way via metro to the famed Patpong: an area full of sex shows which bordered on sad, pathetic, embarrassing, and unfortunate, while still hinting at a multitude of their own uniquely negative adjectives.

We entered maybe four identical places all promising the same vaginal feats before deciding on "Super Pussy." Immediately, we were accosted by four girls each. Some were attractive- others were hideous or lady-boys- and they began massaging us and making the blowjob motion with their hands and mouth, only to be repeatedly denied. It felt like Epcot Center: diluted culture offered to a large audience, none of whom appreciate nor fully believe it. I could've gotten head; I could've fucked any of those dancers pulling strung needles and cottonballs from their vaginas, but it would've been like fucking Minnie Mouse. I didn't know if I was more turned off by their harassment for tips and attention in general, or by the Australian and English people who were giving them exactly what they wanted and expected.

I went back to my guesthouse and checked email. I drank another large Singha, and smoked a couple cigarettes; I decided I'd get some air outside. An older-looking guy was walking my way from a nearby guesthouse, and opened conversation with "hey creature of the night." He had just arrived and was as wired as I was the night before- unable to sleep and out on the prowl. He was going to meet his wife whom he hadn't seen in months due to a glitch with citizenship paperwork, but had a while to kill. I immediately thought of Khao San Center, the 24-hour spot where I had met Jennie and her friends that morning, and told him I'd join him there.

His name was Brigham Moberly, but he initially introduced himself as Simone. He was twitching and shaking as we smoked, and the intensity in his eyes was not healthy. He admitted he makes designer drugs and that he had made himself a little pill cocktail; I was not surprised in the least. Meanwhile, there were two gorgeous girls sitting at a table directly behind him. I struggled not to stare too much and pay close attention to what he was saying. When they left, I was totally in the zone with his conversation- porn, the occult, designer drugs, being jailed in Mexico, and a yellow scorpion bite which sent him into convulsions- but then they returned and sat within plain view. I got eye contact with the brunette first, and stuck my tongue out at her. We smiled for a while, and I finally turned away. I did the same with the blonde, but again brought my attention back to Brigham's bizarre ramblings. Eventually, they were joined by a guy who had been seated nearby; when he got up to use the bathroom, I took the chance and went over.

As I expected, they were European- English, to be exact- and were very sweet. The brunette was named Sally, and was being very flirtatious, telling me she had a knot in her back and guiding my hand to it as she turned her body into mine. She'd grab my arm when she'd say something or want to see a photo I had just taken, and we were sharing cigarettes and lip balm. I became a super cock-block for the guy sitting with them, a Californian named Richard. Ruth, the blonde, was funny and talkative and, when Brigham came to sit with us, she paid him more attention than she did Richard as well. We hung out together until six in the morning, when the sun was beginning to rise over Khao San Road. We said goodbye without exchanging information, and I hoped would see them again. I got home and crashed hard.

I awoke at 11:45, showered for the first time since Saturday, and decided to go to Chinatown. I ate at Grand Restaurant on Khao San and sat in the sun until I was fed up of sweating and the "hello, where you from? where you going" from the tuk-tuk drivers. I finished up my shrimp and rice soup, then boarded the riverboat. Once in Chinatown, I tried my best to get lost in the labyrinths of Hello Kitty, dried fish, and textile shops, walking down the dark and narrow passages to find myself completely- and thankfully- away from the other westerners. And then, through an afforded glimpse between food stands and an open passage, I spotted a colorful temple with dragons and other designs on its roof. Inside were candles crackling as they burned, monks sitting silently in front of a television, and flowers, golden gods, and photographs- all equally motionless.

Then, back into chaos: motorbikes sharing a three-foot lane with passenger consumers, tourists, workers, and people just trying to get from here to there. Finding myself, I made my way to Wat Traimit and the Golden Buddha. It was impressive only in its history, to be honest. I followed sounds of drumming and children playing to a schoolyard, where a hundred or so students in white shirts and blue shorts were engaged in after-school activities. A professor invited me to sit and brought me tea. We sat talked about music and Thailand. It was nice to connect and learn more about Thai life.

I boarded a bus which was going in the wrong direction, then switched to another and rode for what seemed like forever until reaching Baiyoke Sky Hotel. I didn't come across it immediately, though; it took walking through one confusing hallway after the next in a mall in the midst of closing, and I was becoming frustrated. When I finally did get there, I found there was a fucking 120 baht admission fee. Fine. The observation deck was cheesy with a hot air balloon or rickshaw you could pose for pictures with, and the bar on the 83rd floor was over-priced as hell (well, actually it was slightly cheaper than it would've been in NY!). The rooftop deck rotated and that was cool... Worth three dollars? Well....

I again had bad luck with taking a bus going in the wrong direction, so I threw caution to the wind and took a taxi. I was dozing off in the car just as I am dozing off now and, once back out on the street with my poor map skills, it took someone pointing out I was completely turned around. I found a totally dead restaurant that didn't have the drinks I wanted, and I accidentally knocked over a chair as I left! The place I went to afterwards, called "To Sit," was full of Thais, so I incorrectly assumed it would be good. Nope! I had "spare ribs" which were really like pieces of pork popcorn, a noodle dish that was painfully bland, and my waitress fucked up anyway, bringing out my appetizer at the same time as my entree, including an additional item I didn't even order.

On Rambutri road- the same street as my guesthouse- I found the bar I had been looking for (called Deep) and was upset I hadn't done so sooner! There was a great band playing Thai music, and the crowd- all Thai except for one white girl- was all dancing and singing along. Earlier, before my detour in the wrong direction, I walked into a bar above Khao San Center called Shamrock. As I walked up the stairs, a passed-out Thai girl- who had either vomited or was about to- was being carried down to the soundtrack of drunk westerners inside: "Jump" by fucking Van Halen! Except, it wasn't a CD: it was a live Thai band doing a pretty great impersonation- especially the singer, who had all the Singha-drinking whiteys bopping about and hitting on ugly tourists. I got out of there in seconds flat. And, only a block away from all the buffoons traveling halfway around the world to be with people just like themselves was a fantastic, two-story bar with a Thai band, Thai clientele, (all of whom were welcoming and very nice) and Thai art on its walls. It closed only ten or fifteen minutes after I arrived, leaving me no choice but to stroll once again along Khao San Road for anything that was still open.

The girl who worked at Deep was very nice, and asked me to come see her again. I was introduced to her outside by a very funny gay boy. I was going to say something about the benefit of hanging out with only people indigenous to the country you are visiting, but of course that's not entirely true. It's obviously better to avoid the Disney Worlds of countries: the Shamrock bars with Van Halen cover bands, the guesthouse eateries serving cheeseburgers to those too timid or ethnocentric to have something as "exotic" as curry, and the markets selling small Buddhas alongside Bob Marley tapestries and tee-shirts emblazoned with Che Guevera's face or not-so-subtle drug references. Yet, in or around these places, you can sometimes find people like Chris, or Ruth and Sally whom you ran into last night on the street. Or Brigham, the kind of guy who is perfect company for one night- especially between 2 and 6 AM when everything is doubly interesting anyway.

But now, I'm on a train to Ayutthaya, escaping lady-boy prostitutes and dread-locked didgeridoo players (OK, OK, I did indulge last night on Khao San- don't shoot me!). I checked out of my home at Green House and was happy to see Dao at the front desk once again. I waved goodbye to Khao San and saw Ruth and Sally from the window of my metered-taxi. It's either a small street, a small world, or the most obvious option of all: ironic.

Arriving at the Huamphong train station, I found I was two hours early for the next train, so I wandered into Chinatown once more. I went to Wat Mahkong, the Chinese temple I wanted to see yesterday. There were amazing offerings and incense burning in prayer to the many gods, some of whom were dressed in flowers and gold. There were apples, bananas, and even chicken in baskets left for them, and many visitors were still putting other gifts down as monks wandered peacefully about. I am going to close my eyes for a bit, and not just because I'd rather not watch the old, barefoot man seated next to me blow his nose and cough into a dirty, pink washcloth.

I took a boat across the river from the train station and found Tony's Place- a guesthouse that luckily had one bed left. This Irish guy who walked up behind me got shafted and I felt kind of bad, but it's a dog-eat-dog world. Tony's Place seems hip, and got a great write-up in the Lonely Planet, so there you go. I put my dufflebag in the dorm with a Japanese guy who spoke little English, and walked through the markets to the main road. It's so fantastic being out of Bangkok- this place has such a different feel! I don't feel constantly badgered. I feel like I am within a more legitimate, pure, and older culture.

I found a little restaurant with a menu all in Thai, and did my best to communicate "chicken" and "rice" to the woman taking my order; it didn't quite work. She said "pink rice" which sounded a little suspect, so I figured she meant "pig rice," which would've worked fine for me. I asked "pig rice and vegetable," and then she picked up a small wooden menu that had English items and prices! We both laughed, and I had a yummy lunch of noodles, pork, and greens.

A 50 baht tuk-tuk ride got me to the elephant krall where Colin's ex Mary-Jordan lived for six months, and mentioning her name got me a 30% discount. I mounted an elephant and rode to see three ancient temples, then was able to travel by foot and see each up close. One elaborate building held an enormous brass Buddha that apparently was just plated in gold. And, the whole time, I wondered about the voice I heard over a loudspeaker, mixing with spinning lights and music in the distance. I soon came upon a festival!

Christmas lights hung low from the trees, and there were windmills with pink, blue, green, and orange blades, bordered by purple, yellow and green suns. Enclosing the large grassy space were booths selling food, candy, beer and soda, and the tables within it were full of celebrating Thais watching live entertainment on a main stage. I bought a Beer Chang and walked around smiling from ear to ear before finally sitting down to see the show. What will I do now? I can do anything. Life is so full of beauty and possibility. I feel my head being emptied in a sense: all of my worries and concerns disappearing, creating a new space for emptiness- if such an idea is possible. Maybe emptiness uses more space than things, because emptiness- or a lack of thought- is so pregnant with possibility, while things have already been defined and cataloged by our minds and hearts. When we are emptier and open, so are our minds and hearts, and thus so is the space they occupy. And, if this is so, maybe it means we are just more connected, more whole, and more human: human without the things which get in the way of our being one with other energy, and human only because of our bodies- not our minds and egos.

OK, I can't tell if it's this Beer Chang talking or if I am inspired by being completely alone halfway around the world, and wondering why it's so easy and natural. I thought today of the idea of being "lost," and how it has changed over the years for me. I know technically where I am- I can look at a map, or try and ask someone how to get somewhere I do know- but I think by definition, being lost is attaching fear to not knowing where you are! It's not being unable to discern your location in relation to where you want to be, it is being afraid of not knowing how to get there.... And I realize this applies to everything. I feel unafraid to be lost right now, lost in anything. Lost in a town, lost in a thought, lost in love. I am always somewhere I can define: I am here. Then, I leave, and I am still here. Although here changes from one there to another, it has little impact in the end because, as I've realized before, "here is from there, so nothing is lost."

And I am still sitting in this chair at the head of the table, listening to Thai singers right in front of my eyes- bathed in lights from the stage, the adjacent windmills and the moon- yet my here has changed because it's brought me somewhere else. You can travel and not leave: your thoughts can progress and mature into deeper realizations, changing what you thought was your "here" to a "there" before you realize it; you just smile in the new now, the new here. OK, it's time to change physical location. Let's go explore....

*

I got some squid with a spicy pepper sauce and didn't give too much attention to the other vendors' wares; I just spaced out and smiled as I slowly floated along from the large Beer Chang I had. Again, I allowed the noise and lights coming from afar to lead the way through families, couples, and children all seeming to be on top of the world. I passed a garden growing jack fruit and many other greens, a restaurant where everyone sat on mats underneath a large tent, and the lights and sounds were getting brighter and louder, shooting beams into the sky and exploding orange. I reached the entrance to an enormous park guarded by soldiers and surrounded by people. I was allowed through, and entered an elaborate sound and light show celebrating the history of Ayutthaya! The huge crowd stood transfixed at the 40 performers singing, riding elephants, and broadcasting the city's story through loudspeakers on either side. The left and right signals were inadvertently delayed just enough to make the whole experience psychedelic and almost unearthly, like we were watching a complicated show from an extra-terrestrial ship that had just landed, still illuminated from it's long trip. At least, that's how I felt at the time: just utterly amazed.

I peed in a restaurant nearby and returned to Tony's Place for dinner. I sat a few tables back from a group of Thais, and noticed they were passing me glances. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I used the "bumming a cigarette" ploy to take a closer look. One of the girls was adorable, and we gave each other a lengthy smile. I sat back down at my table and, over the course of the cigarette, she continually looked over her shoulder at me... So, I invited her over.
Her name was Boom, and in speaking to her I realized she had to have been very young. She was smiling at me, rubbing my red pen against her lips and face as she listened to my questions.

"How long are you in Ayutthaya?" I asked.

"It is up to you," she said.

She invited me to her home in Saraburi, telling me she wanted me to meet her mother and that her mother would cook for me. She seemed to have fallen in love with me after five minutes, and wrote her phone number in my Lonely Planet book. I felt strange about the whole thing, and kept mentioning Sarah and smiling uncontrollably. How could she have been 16? And although talking to her was totally innocent (it couldn't possibly have not been for many reasons), something felt undone and unsaid. Maybe that's why I was smiling so much: knowing what I could've said had everything been different in that moment, and knowing it was so beyond me and fairly ridiculous to even think so. It was this battle between one side of me that lived for experience, and the other that had the heart and mind to know that experience would remain only in the depths of my imagination. She asked if I wanted to see her, and I said to come tomorrow night and watch a movie. Maybe that would make her happy...

I awoke early the next morning and ate breakfast at Tony's Place: a delicious banana shake with soup of rice and pork. I rented a bicycle across the street and was on the road to see Wats [temples] by 9:30 or so! I was proud of myself! The first place I pulled into had an interesting graveyard. Some of the graves were tiled in mirrors, while others had small photographs of whom they held inside, circled in wreaths of flowers. An older man, also on a bicycle, rode towards me and said hello. His name was Alastair, but he introduced himself as John: his tourist alias in Asia. "It's easier for the natives to pronounce," he explained. After a quick conversation, we locked up our bikes and decided to "have a wander around" together.

Alastair is a landscape designer who works six days a week for nine months out of the year, and has a three month holiday. He's been to Thailand five times, and knows his way around quite well. He's been divorced for seven years and has two children, one of whom is my age and manages a bar, and the other who is 33 and will soon marry. He is sixty years old, balding, and of medium height; more importantly, he made a fantastic traveling companion that day.

We biked up the roads with scooters and cars passing us on the right and pedestrians on our left. Our second stop was a monastery, and inside was a startling and unique room. Facing the entrance was a painting of a smiling monk, balanced within a bed of lotus flowers in full bloom, and resting atop it was a glass display case with the most curious thing inside: the monk's actual body, dressed in a red robe, and slowly rotting away. I have never in my life seen such a thing, yet at the time, it really made perfect sense. For a people who have let go of suffering (or who aspire to accomplish that goal while realizing life itself is suffering) the body of their teacher is only that: a body- not a reminder that he is gone, and not a cause of suffering. A tangible way to hold on to what he meant to them and celebrate his life and teachings… In a country where stray animals are not killed and are even cared for by the monks, life means something much different, and so should its casing! That explains the abundance of cats and dogs roaming the streets and sleeping on the steps of temples and ruins, and the corpse resting on the lotus flowers- a flower that represents peace. A Buddhist's life is peace, and letting another have life is maintaining peace.

That day, we saw what I'd imagine was every temple and ruin in Ayutthaya- both by bike and later by a riverboat which encircled the city. We saw people placing flakes of gold onto a small image of Buddha, and monks dressing an enormous Buddha behind it in yellow robes. Similarly, many of the ruins have yellow cloth wrapped around them; a body is a body.

Our riverboat tour wrapped up at the night market, but it was only 5 PM by then. I got a strawberry slurpee to drink out of a bag, and we walked up U-Thanon Road to pick up our bicycles in the parking lot of a large shopping center. The sunshine in my head was making me dizzy, and my sunburn was already starting to tingle uncomfortably.

I went next door to the guesthouse and sat at a computer to check email- I wanted to write Sarah and my dad about my travels. A girl I had seen earlier at one of the temples was walking by outside, and we began talking. She's from Boston and was collecting unemployment: her parents were depositing the checks into her account every two weeks she was away. Our government was paying for her bills in Thailand! Pretty brilliant, I'd say. She, too, was traveling alone, and would be for quite some time. She was staying at Tony's Place as well, so I figured I'd see her later.

I got on my little purple bike and rode to Pae Krung Kao, a floating restaurant on the river. I felt sort of bad that I was not going to meet Alastair at the sound and light show- and that we possibly wouldn't meet again- but I had already seen enough of it and wanted to do something different with my last night in Ayutthaya. Biking down the streets with traffic- the air, the horns and voices I passed and that passed me- I felt so exhilarated. I was traveling fast, thinking about safety and the guesthouse manager Rain telling me to take care, and just pedaling all of my fear away. It's too bad that my dinner was not the greatest, but the ride to and from the restaurant was worth it!

Returning to Tony's Place sweaty, sunburned, and a little buzzed from the Singha I had with dinner, I noticed Etta sitting on a couch in front of the television and drawing, waiting for the movie to begin. There was a half an hour to wait, so I showered and changed clothes. But, when the movie began, neither of us cared: we were too busy talking. Besides, it was fucking Heath Ledger in "A Knight's Tale." So, she and I walked over to the lounge area, and I reclined in the hammock- where I'd stay for the next six hours talking to her and listening to music from headphones hanging over the arm of her chair. I was amazed. She had Diverse, Push Button Objects, Prefuse 73, and a thousand other things in her mp3 player. I love how music brings people together.

I was getting more and more sleepy, and would even hallucinate when I closed my eyes. At two in the morning, we said goodnight, and I promptly passed out. Right now, I am sitting in Lopburi at San Phra Kan, a shrine to the Hindu god of Kala who represents time and death, watching a monkey sitting on a pool of water's edge, staring at his reflection and then losing interest. Another monkey sits nearby on the grass slowly eating food, and a crowd has formed around him. From the looks of it, this guy couldn't care less.

I left Ayutthaya today and almost felt a little sad to do so. It was a wonderful place and I really had an amazing time, but there's so much more to do and, like so many other things, my time there had to come to an end. I said goodbye to Rain and the other girl at the guesthouse desk, and imagine this: I saw both Etta and- almost more surprisingly- Alistair! Etta had been doing some research in an internet cafe nearby, and Alistair was sitting alone at the train station reading. Again, it's ironic that I see people with whom I had made a connection and not really said a proper goodbye or "see you soon." We traded email contacts and I boarded the train, eating egg, rice, and pineapple.

There's a beautiful breeze right now, and the monkey at the pool has laid his head on his arms to sleep. It's time to keep moving.

*

I walked across the street to Prang Sam Yot, a Hindu-turned-Buddhist temple with three towers that were absolutely flooded with monkeys! I walked inside and down a walkway connecting them. Through jail-like bars, monkeys swung or sat, climbed or lay being preened, but all suddenly stared at me. It is remarkable how much their faces resemble ours, and it was eerie to stare in their eyes. It was also interesting to see how their expressions change: I'd bark or otherwise try to startle them, and they'd get this look of momentary surprise that would soon turn to apathy. My camera strap was hanging as I took a photograph, and one of the monkeys grabbed and tugged at it! He actually smiled when I pulled it away!

While outside wandering the towers, I realized there were a lot more monkeys than I saw initially from inside. They were a half-friendly, half-threatening infestation, and you never knew how close you could get to them before something would happen; yet, it didn't seem like they wanted to harm you as much as they wanted to do something out of curiosity- probably the same curiosity we have in regards to them. A little girl was posing for her mother near one when the monkey- completely unprovoked- decided to jump onto her back! Needless to say, this Thai girl (who couldn't have been over five years old), flipped out. Her mother rushed to grab the monkey from her, and the monkey then returned to his business of staring blankly at nothing, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened; the girl smiled nervously and stood close to her mother. I've never seen such an innocent photo opportunity go so awry until I walked around the temple to take some snapshots myself.

There were a number of monkeys laying about, and two were slowly on the move down a staircase, facing me as I held my camera to set up the shot. When one left the frame, I didn't bother to see where it went until- all too soon- the fucker had wrapped himself around my right leg! Without so much as even a thought, I karate-kicked to send him flying off, and he regained his bearings four feet away; I don't know what I would've done if he had held on tighter!

Across the street was a winding market selling random silkscreened tee-shirts with phrases like "I partied at McDonald's" above Ronald McDonald and the whole crew, or "Oh my God!" to describe a picture of a peeing little boy who just had the toilet seat crash down on his penis. I did, however, contemplate buying a 500 piece Britney Spears jigsaw puzzle (!!??) as well as a cute little toy keyboard slightly longer than my hand.

Weaving in and out of tacky wares and the shoppers buying them, I discovered the ruins of King Narai's palace: Phra Narai Ratchaniwet. It was huge and enclosed within a large wall. This king had begun trade with the west, and was homies with Louis XIV and others from Europe. There was a museum on the grounds which held artifacts ranging from Buddha heads and images such as "Buddha Subduing Mara" or "Buddha with Hood of Naga," all the way through weapons, currency (cowrie shells and bullets), and copies of the king's handwriting.

I was getting a little museum-ed out, and needed to eat. For the life of me, I couldn't find this fucking "Chinese-Thai" restaurant mentioned in the Lonely Planet, so I settled on the White House Garden Restaurant where I ate- with great and unwarranted difficulty- a Chinese-style steamed crab. What a waste! It took nearly an hour to get what little tasty meat was inside the thing, and most of that was devoted to removing its shell-shards from my sticky fingers and tongue.

On my way back to King Narai's palace later that evening for a performance, I stopped at a small place for a face massage! This was pretty wild: as I lay on a long bed draped in towels, goop of an unknown origin was rubbed on my cheeks, chin, forehead, and eye sockets. It was a strange and almost uncomfortable sensation until I finally relaxed- at which point it was just plain strange. When her fingers reached the area between my eyeballs and their sockets, I started enjoying the tingling; I suppose, in the end, the slime-fest wound up being worth the 99 baht it had cost. And suddenly, I was speaking to a stranger on someone's cell phone with the shit all over my face and laughing hysterically [this is when the girl seated near me took my picture]. The guy on the phone wanted my address and email, and I wrote it down for him before I left.

A couple hundred people were already seated in chairs on the grassy palace grounds, and I found a space next to a small woman in her twenties named Sputnik. She was nice enough to offer me fruit similar to a nectarine, telling me it was "very expensive," and we moved closer in towards the action: a Thai ensemble that sounded like gamelan and, behind them, the set-up for the National Symphony Orchestra! Much of the music following the smaller ensemble was corny bordering on plain bad, but I loved every note of it. By then, Sputnik's friend Pichamon had joined us, and she spoke English well enough to explain things about individual songs and even their history. Both Sputnik and she were nurses, and really made me feel welcome; not to mention their enthusiasm for the music- they kept calling it "so bootiful" or "so nice!"- deepened my appreciation for it.

Classical Thai dancers, singers (some of whom really sucked), and an amazing instrumentalist who played something similar to a xylophone were all followed out-of-nowhere by a very non-sequitur Christmas medley including "Silent Night," "Joy to the World," "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," and a couple others I've thankfully forgotten. A flute player whom Sputnik had seen the week before- and who'd raised her excitement to schoolgirl levels- provided the show's anti-climactic finale. It was like a pan flute- or that flute sound in Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On"- and made the audience go bananas! From this guy's first cheesy note, hands came together like gangbusters. When Pichamon and I went to try and get a picture of the guy walking along the audience's front row, he grabbed my finger and put it over one of his flute's holes. And then, holding the note but not circular breathing, he motioned for another person to do the same. Three more people- including Pichamon- made the note go lower and lower until his final breath and flourish, and the ensuing cheers were deafening, the smiles even louder.

Sputnik and Pichamon walked me to a noodle shop up the street from the train station where we shared a late dinner together, and I even got a ride from Pichamon's husband the twenty-or so meters it took to reach the gate and our goodbyes. A guard helped me find my train car, fast-walking with me all the way to the end, and I found my berth: number 36. I couldn't tell if it was the air-conditioning or the outside night's air making it chilly inside but, in between dreams, I put on a sweater and used my towel as a second blanket, falling asleep once again to the rhythmic clacks of the train taking me to my 27th birthday in Chiang Mai.

The next morning, I walked off the train and directly into the land of touts and tuk-tuks: everyone had a deal, everyone knew of "the best guesthouse" in town, and they definitely wanted me to know all about it. I pride myself on my ability to ignore people, and the guy following me seemed to find the same satisfaction in his persistence; so, I found it easy not to care, winding through the streets of Chiang Mai on the back of his scooter towards a guesthouse which didn't have vacancies anyway. He did a good job, and I hadn't been on a scooter yet!

Julie's Guest House said to try the Whisky Guest House up the road, but they only had a double room available. So, I did what I don't do best: remember. I had seen Rose Guest House from the scooter and knew it had to be nearby- "where" was the question. And thus began my search, and it was a short one: only a block away. The catch was this: no vacancies yet, but they were expecting them within a couple of hours. I spent the time on breakfast up the road of Pad Si Ew, a mixed fruit shake, and some tea. No single room did open up... I sat on the guest house's roof with Martha- a 20 year-old independent traveler from Holland- and a guy from France whose name I soon forgot. I eventually returned downstairs to learn they had a dorm bed available, and that was fine with me. I am staying with three women: Ada, Natasha, and one I haven't yet met.

I spoke with Pai- the Thai employee at the help desk- and booked a trek for Tuesday and a cooking class for tomorrow, then cleaned up and joined Ada and Natasha to try and see a movie at the university. It was more difficult than I thought it would be. Initially, we were taken to what may or may not have been the wrong location- no one inside the food court had any idea what we were talking about! Ada was pretty frustrated and tried to expedite the process by having them write the name of our destination in Thai, but we had only ten minutes until the mystery movie began. We took another cab to the university art gallery, and asked if there was a movie playing. The girl seemed confused so she went to ask someone else; then, a second girl appeared and told us the movie had been cancelled. We asked if it had been cancelled just for today, and she replied "forever," which gave us all a good laugh. At least there was still the gallery to see.

And it was great! For the most part, the downstairs front room was full of students' paintings and drawings of the king and queen doing various things, and some of them were laugh-out-loud amusing. It is amazing how enamored the Thai people are with the royal family; it sucks to live in a country where everyone except ignorant hicks and uber-rich conservatives hate our president. Shit, everyone in the world hates our president! It angers me to think of the retardation required to vote for such a blathering imbecile, yet I've always sort of known, so I shouldn't act so surprised all of a sudden. Anyway, the paintings were adorable. Some had people giving their hearts to the queen, others shown people being festive, smiling while she was somewhere in the picture, and still others had very surreal and almost bizarre themes only a child could imagine. There were other paintings in the back, some of which were very impressive: a pencil drawing executed in exquisite detail of five or six children, and a likeness of the queen done in red mosaic. Upstairs was an exhibit of recent German video work- mainly conceptual or installatory pieces from the last twenty years- and strangely, Nam June Paik had a number of works; does he even live in Germany?

We went to the sunday market and had Pad Thai from a vendor. The conversation was nice; everyone I've met today has been very nice! Unfortunately, my stomach has not been too nice. I have (thankfully) mild diarrhea, and I can only be grateful it's not worse. I am sitting on a riverboat dinner cruise- paranoid that my ass is going to burst- and I don't want to deal with the embarrassment, the uncomfortable tuk-tuk ride back to my guesthouse, nor laundry tomorrow! It is a very serene ride, though, and I'm glad I took it. I ate something resembling a cobb salad (I could've even ordered a cheeseburger if I wanted), some sticky rice, and took a double shot of Mekhong rice whisky. Music plays from either side of the river, and the water is completely still except for the wake our boat creates. It's chilly outside, but by no means is it cold. Oh shit, my stomach is bothering me a little more. I fucking pray we will pull in soon! I am going to try and ignore it... I want this cramp to go away. Why, on my birthday, do I have to deal with this?

Ah, luckily, I made it. I got off the boat and walked comfortably to the bathroom for pure diarrhea excitement. When it ended and I was confident I had gotten the last of it out, I set out by foot, ignoring the tuk-tuks and smiling in relief. I didn't necessarily want to go out, but I didn't want to return to the guesthouse quite yet. I walked through the night market which wound up being five or six varieties of booths exploded out on block after block: Diesel & Von Dutch knockoffs, crappy scarves and bags, wooden animals and masks, candle holders and lanterns, stuffed elephants, and Beer Chang/Beer Singha shirts. I wove in and out of people as I tried to get the hell out of there.

I came to a crossroads: ahead of me were more booths and an endless array of "same same- but different" vendors, and to the right was a bar called "Foxy Lady." Here we go again... You know, it was my birthday: I knew nothing would happen, and why not have a couple drinks- which I wanted anyway- while having something pretty to look at? As I approached, I second-guessed myself. I just wanted to go home and not deal with it. I took out my Lonely Planet and tried finding a map. Two lady-boys next to the club tried talking to me, and I edged closer to Foxy Lady as I looked at numbers and roads of Chiang Mai.

"Hello, come in! Pretty lady!"

"No- I am trying to figure out where I am and find my guesthouse."

I put my book down on the table in front of Foxy Lady and a young girl came to help me look. It didn't take too much more coercing for me to enter and, although I wasn't thrilled when I first sat down, it wound up being fun!

I can't remember whom I told it was my birthday, but the girl who had helped me outside came up to me and offered me her cheek: "give me a kiss, it's your birthday!" She said they'd play a birthday song and that I could have cake; I skipped the cake, but said a song would be fine. She went to tell someone upstairs, and I was brought what I thought would be the only beer I'd order. I had no idea that, in a matter of minutes, I'd have a huge colored light shone on me to reveal my birthday secret to everyone. I blushed and smiled embarrassedly, but was suddenly comfortable when people around me began shaking my hand and wishing me a happy birthday! It was actually nice. There was no nudity at the club; instead, the dancers wore bikini tops and bottoms for the most part while they danced to predominantly crap dance music with a dash of hip-hop added for good measure.

A couple minutes passed, and she sat next to me, smiling as she put her hands on my thigh. Her name was Sue, and she had a cute smile with buck teeth. And it was more than just her front two: her canines on either side stuck out as well, giving her almost a spherical smile. She spoke English surprisingly well and, when she wasn't dancing on stage for me, I learned about her life- and the life of a dancer. The conversation all began because of the rose tattoo she wore on her upper arm.

She got it when she was 16 and in love; that first love gave her a child who is now eight years old and lives with her parents in Chiang Rai. Sue only has a two day holiday per month that interrupts her 7:00 PM-1:00 AM, six-night-a-week schedule. For a month's work- which can entail her going on a date or back to someone's hotel for sex- she gets paid 7000 baht (roughly $125 US), excluding whatever fees she works out on her own with her john. For his part, the john pays the bar 500 baht ($12 US) if she agrees to leave with him; she doesn't have to. And, when I asked if she gets scared when she's out or at a hotel room with such a man, she shrugged and simply said no. There was one time when a guy wouldn't pay her because he didn't come. Apparently, she was getting sore, so she became fed up and left. But, no one has gotten violent with her- at least, not yet.

I had a few more drinks, and walked back to the guesthouse, stopping at a 7-11 to get nori seaweed flavored potato chips. A girl on a scooter offered to take me home: "you walk slow and I go fast," she smiled. So, I hopped on and rode the two blocks I had left.

01 November 2004

[DISCOGRAPHY] GB: Nocturnal Tribe (Caural Remix)


GB: Nocturnal Tribe (Caural Remix)
Appears on: SIC Green 12" (Sound In Color, 2004)
SIC12094
Format: 12"

18 October 2004

[DISCOGRAPHY] Take: Circle Square (Caural Remix)


Take: Circle Square (Caural Remix)
Appears on: Colossal vol. 2 (Buttermilk, 2004)
BMR 09
Format: CD & 12"

12 October 2004

(Turquoise Journal Excerpt 2: North Carolina)

I was so happy I was giggling and talking to myself, walking across the road to the American Airlines terminal to meet James & Michelle. It was at least 75 degrees outside in the North Carolina sun and, no matter how tired I was from the night before at Sketchbook, I was on vacation: my first wedding of a close friend. Now inside the terminal through the sliding glass doors, I looked down at my phone to call James. Instead, I saw him and Michelle approaching me and smiling. Jordy soon drove up in a black Mustang convertible wearing his now-signature hipster aviator glasses, and we peeled out blasting his new mix of bad electro disco-punk, down the green highways and into our journey's beginning.

We got to the Holiday Inn Express, our home in Hillsborough for the weekend, and relaxed in the lobby with apples, waiting for Ben. After getting situated in our rooms (I shared room 320 with Jordan), we met Ben and Stephanie at their house on Leak Lane: a gravel road winding through the woods, with old fashioned post boxes at its entry. They sat on the steps of their little red house, eager to see friends who had come to celebrate the beginning of the rest of their life- together. The house was probably smaller than my apartment in NY, boasting a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom and a back porch. It was adorable! Their cat walked about, and the sound of silence outside was deafening.

I drove with Martha (the last friend of theirs to arrive), Moque, and Michelle to a potluck dinner at a commune to which Stephanie's step-mother used to belong. According to Stephanie, it was a group of socially inept families who had built these 30 homes around a pedestrian-only walkway, and held weekly meetings to discuss community issues and invent guidelines for living. The dinner was held in the communal house, a large place in the center of it all with a big kitchen and guest rooms. It was a delicious meal, and the company was very nice. I saw the families of the bride and groom, and met new people such as the father of a one year-old named Owen- a child with a scar on his cheek that looked like a kiss. And there was Sarah, an older woman with a daughter named Elsa who would host the wedding at her property days later. Adele was there with her quiet, bordering-on-mute boyfriend Thomas, and a 4 and a half year-old Maddie (Ben's niece) who had completely forgotten me from our Phoenix Inn Christmas dinner two years before. Jordy went to a meeting, and got lost on the way to Ben's afterwards.

Moque, Martha and I walked in the pitch darkness, through the suburban commune to Martha's car, and quietly discussed how different a community it was. On the wall of that house was a class picture of sorts, labeled "Arcadia 2001," with photos of children aged six through thirteen. It was so random it was almost mysterious, and stood out amongst rules on bulletin boards about buying paprika, and maps of gardening plots.

At Ben & Stephanie's, we drank red wine, talking politics and listening to the Young Marble Giants. Jordy finally returned after being hopelessly lost on the highways, and he and I went to pick up Wil for his post-midnight arrival. No matter how tired we were, we still managed to watch senseless television until two that morning in the hotel room. A man had rigged a street luge with rockets to attain a top speed of 98 miles per hour, and we were told by a cheesy host of an even-cheesier children's show, entitled "Getting Along," to tell people how we feel.

The rehearsal was the next day. After scarfing down lemon-garlic chicken at James Pharmacy restaurant on Churton, we got dressed up and headed down poorly-labeled country roads to get to the spot. Some woman had lost her gold wedding ring, and we combed the grass for it with metal detectors and eyes. The rehearsal itself was short and, before we knew it, we were at Tupelo's for the dinner. Moque and Mike sat at another table, as did Jordy, James and Michelle, so I sat with Adele, Matt (Jordy's roommate who had arrived that day) and Sarah Gellin and her husband, Joaquin. It turns out they went to Lincoln Park high school, and Christy-Claire was at their wedding! How small of a world.

We went to M&M's billiards afterwards- everyone except for Stephanie who was still setting up- and played pool. With dwindling pitchers of beer, we interspersed our musical requests on the jukebox with the horrendous barrage of country music the townies had chosen. And as Depeche Mode's "Never Let Me Down Again" blared on the system to a room full of incredulous hicks, we raised our glasses in cheers to Ben's last night as a single man. He looked happy and simultaneously blown away, humbled by it all. Any of us would've been.

Back at the hotel lobby, a little drunk, we sat watching the presidential debate re-broadcast and laughed or screamed at the television, marveling at how surreal it actually was. And, meanwhile, it was more than just the debate: it was us, friends since high school, with some new additions, now in out mid- and becoming late-twenties, sitting as adults in a hotel lobby and preparing for another election, another four years, and another monumental change.

There was very little time to eat before the wedding the next day, and Wil and I walked along the grassy highway shoulder to Wendy's to grab something fast- the laminated menu at the Waffle House was a bit of a turnoff. A double cheeseburger later, Wil, Jordan and I were dressed up and ready to go. We sat and did nothing but watch television at Sarah's house, wondering why we had rushed! But, Ben was nervous, drinking Yerba Mate in his Benetton suit as all the bridesmaids got ready upstairs, and we were his willing support team.

The Bulgarian bagpipe player started his serenade, and the guests all turned to look up at us slowly descending the hill in between poles, topped with red fabric. The ceremony was very quick, but I bet for Ben & Stephanie, it felt like an eternity. They looked so deeply in each other's eyes I felt Stephanie's stare through the back of Ben's head!

After pictures, we had food and wine. Jordan delivered a touching speech, and sparklers danced around the in dark night, both in- and outside of the tent. I couldn't believe it, but everyone wanted to go back to the hotel and watch a movie! Well, there wasn't much going on, I suppose. The high school girls that had been do-si-do-ing around with Moque were going to some high school party. They were all 17, and that means trouble. Yet, no one even wanted to go and explore Chapel Hill! So, we said our goodbyes, and went to the hotel, stopping along the way for a pack of Newports. We piled up in my room and flipped channels, ending up on "Talk Sex with Sue." It was definitely entertaining, though.

Returning to NY, I ate a chicken gyros in Jackson Heights and took a nap before going to Olia's. We watched three depressing episodes of Sex in the City, which I am convinced I am supposed to be watching right now. Why? Because I feel I am being prepared. I feel I am going through a shift romantically, maybe it's because something is going to happen, maybe not. Whatever it is, I feel like things are culminating, and I am learning lessons and changing my attitude. I am more and more interested in love rather than sex, less and less interested in meaningless things, and I am becoming more sensitive to the differences between them.

Tonight, Jamie reminded me that the universe has perfect timing, and I definitely believe that. Whoever/Whenever/However any of this happens, I am becoming ready for it, and I also have friends who are there for me through it all. Seeing Ben and Stephanie this last weekend- seeing how they looked into each other's eyes- I realized how much I want that in my life. I want love, and don't need anything else. I need to stop looking for it, yet I feel I already have. I will let it come to me, just as she will let it come to her, whoever she may be.