1.19.2012

sunburns and monkeys and buddha and coconut milk: the very long thailand post

Hey guess what: I just dripped some beet smoothie on my blue jeans. Action figure Spock is doing push-ups next to the Hanakuh guy toy Rachel gave me. Turns out I'm Polish on my mother's side, not Russian. Joe Montalex is a nickname I invented for Niners quarterback Alex Smith. One of the people who invented the essay was a Sumerian flood survivor. Nobody is ever going to fix the water in this apartment. One thing I probably won't ever be able to say sincerely is "Smoke 'em if you got 'em." One thing I can and do say sincerely, if only occasionally, is "Consider the source." Also: I went to Thailand!

That's right, I went to Thailand to visit Carrot Cake Zaikowki. We had a grand time. I will now recap our time in a hella extensive blog post I've been kind of dreading because I know it will get very long. For once the pictures are really pictures I/Carolyn took. Gross! There's also a whole other blog post in the wings full of misc. writing related stuff. I will inhale the jet fumes of this blog post to follow up with that one. First let's see how much I can remember about Thailand.

My flight from San Francisco to Beijing was eleven hours. The only movie I got really into was Source Code, which was one of those Hollywood movies that's full of amazing scenes to look at but once you turn the sound on is incredibly stupid. Also I ate like six Cliff Bars. To get the internet in the Beijing airport I had to scan a copy of my passport, so now my face is in the Chinese ether. Finally I got to Bangkok, hugged Carolyn for a million minutes, and then we went to our guesthouse and I ate some chicken-on-a-stick and learned how to use Thai toilets. The next day, we visited some temples and saw how high the river had risen. An old lady lavished approval on Carolyn's tattoos and command of Thai language. At some point I ate delicious things in curried sauces with coconut milk. Also I drank some fruit shakes because coconuts, mangoes, bananas, and other such fruits are all fresh in Thailand, which is amazing to experience in a mouth way.

One thing that happened in Bangkok—though I can't remember if this was the first time we were there or the second—was we went to a temple where we had to take our shoes off. There was a place you could buy candle things to light a thing, and Carolyn bought one. But she dropped the little foil wrapper of the candle stick on the ground, and a monk came by and said something in Thai and picked up the foil and dropped it in a large communal foil pot.

Even butter tasted like coconut. I got some mosquito bites and freaked out about them for no reason. Boxing is very big in Thailand, as is the King. The King, in fact, is literally big on all the posters he's on. Tourists in Thailand have completely demolished the credibility of that Red Bull shirt with Thai lettering, the pink version of which I own and used to think was cool before I went to Thailand.

After Bangkok, we went to this island called Ko Phi Phi. It's where they made the movie The Beach with Leonardo DeCaprio, which is a movie I've never seen and now strangely feel like I must resist, like it is somehow an enemy of me, like it will try to find me and make me watch it randomly and I'll have to carry a special tigerskin blindfold for such occasions.

We took a boat to get to Ko Phi Phi, and the boat was filled with bro-ish Australians, but that might not be fair because every time I saw somebody do something bro-ish or obnoxious I nudged Carolyn and said "Look at that Australian" without checking whether they really were Australian or not. Ko Phi Phi was insanely beautiful, like the beautiful level of the video game, the one everybody on the team is like "Let's let Carole design this level because she's more attractive than any of us and she knows what the deal with attractiveness is." We saw monkeys on Monkey Island, and some jerks fed them instant coffee. One of the people at the guest house we were staying with said he was born in Stockton, California. We asked him if he ever got tired of how beautiful Ko Phi Phi was and he said "Yes." He said Alaska was more beautiful, but I dunno.

We tried to go to a mosque, but it was closed. At the highest point of the island, a gardener kept trying to speak Russian to a Polish lady, even though he knew she was Polish, which I and everybody else thought was hilarious. I drank coconut stuff out of a huge coconut! We ate twice at this place called Papaya, which had amazing massaman curry that took apparently eight years to make. The place is ran by a former Muay-Thai boxer who seems super gay in a good way. There is some spice that happened during some of the pad thai frying that caused everybody in the room to cough. An Asian mother filmed her pantsless child peeing on the Monkey Island beach. The child peed for like ten minutes straight I swear. We met a Norweigan lumber speculator who said he'd always wanted to go to the redwoods. On a boat Italians and Spaniards talked together in halting English about how fun it was to vacation in some island off the North African coast. In the Phuket airport, there was a store that sold cashews, and there was a huge video in the store of how hard it was to work on the assembly line in the cashew factory, but this seemed like it was intended to impress you into buying more cashews.

Back in Bangkok, we saw a dude with a lot of face tattoos at Carolyn's favorite Thai vegan restaurant. We talked a lot about whether you choose to get all those face tattoos or you get addicted to tattoos. Speaking of skin, I got an infected sunburn on my leg and had to visit a pharmacist. The pharmacist said it was okay to let my pants down. She gave me some antibiotics and patches that cost under $30. "You will take care of him, be his doctor," she said to Carolyn. Later I thought she'd said "nurse" but Carolyn firmly corrected me. We took a cab to the bus station and the cab driver laughed at a passing train.

We took a bus to Ayutthaya, which was the capital of the kingdom of Siam for 400 years. Back in the early to mid 1000s. It used to be called the "Venice of Asia." Was allegedly one of the most beautiful and bustling cities of the ancient world, and I believe it. Nowadays it's very weird because it's sort of a working class/factory/university city whose infrastructure and city blockage is occasionally interrupted by these amazing and crumbling ancient temples.

We saw a three story golden Buddha and somebody sat in the Buddha's lap, which you're not supposed to do. We took a boat ride, and fishermen made their kids wave at us. We walked around a lot and met some Germans and Carolyn posed with some giant chickens. We refreshed ourselves after our walk at a Hello Kitty themed coffeeshop where one glass table was decorated with a bunch of cell phones under the table top. We played trivia in an ex-pat bar sort of against our will because the owner kept aggressively giving us questions like "What are all the American states that start with New?" When we forgot something or got something wrong, he'd say "Don't you speak English? I was born in Seattle. Just kidding." We met a very nice middle aged Thai man who said Carolyn would make a beautiful Thai woman. He said that in Thailand women are rated from 1 to 4 (this doesn't seem corroborated by, like, anything else anywhere, but let's roll with it) and that Carolyn was definitely a 4, even though she didn't seem as tall as other Americans. He also said Carolyn's style would make her a beggar if she were Thai, but because she's American it made her a cool hippie.

After Ayutthaya, we went to Kanchanaburi, which was my favorite. I made up a song that went "Baby baby don't you worry. Come on down to Kan-chan-a-burry." Kanchanaburi is where the Bridge Over the River Kwai/Kwoi/Kwahe is. At sunset the bridge lights up in a disco way, even though hundreds/thousands of prisoners of war died to make it. Just one of those things. In the nice museum with the nice bathrooms, the wax statues were very graphic and scary and depressing and informative, and so was the overall experience, even though there were cool lights you could press to make different areas of the mine shaft model light up. Mostly Kanchanaburi was a river town, and I know river towns. For example, we went to a restaurant owned by a guy who probably owned the coolest pair of eyeglasses in Kanchanaburi, and he was very anxious to please us, and meanwhile some teenager was playing guitar there for what looked like the debut of an open mic series, and the teenager had brought his two friends with him, one of whom was very dopey and encouraging, and the other of whom was a girl who looked bored but also kind of like she had a crush on either the dopey kid or the guitar kid, not sure. River town drama, y'all.

Also we saw some Russians making muscle arm poses under a waterfall. We got involved in a three act play at a Portuguese restaurant where I ate some cake and a husband said "Spicy women they make the sweetest food" and a wife yelled at the husband for being drunk and turning up the music and she yelled "What are you, drunk with power?" There were kids and dogs and motorcycles and a long lost friend from Copenhagen and sangria and chess. This episode merits a lot of discussion, actually, and Carolyn and I agreed we would each write our own version at some point in our lives. Mine will be a three act play, definitely, and hers will be something more interior monologue-ish.

In Kanchanaburi I finally broke down and bought a souvenir: a t-shirt of an elephant playing soccer or "SHOWING OFF" as the shirt says. I ate some cashews flavored with coconut cream, some mango with sticky rice (actually, wait, I didn't eat that until I got to the airport, but I kept wanting it the whole time I was in Kanchanaburi) and the best pad thai of the trip at a place where the waitress was like the Thai Janis Joplin: she swayed around and kept trying to read her own handwriting through white sunglasses that clearly didn't have corrective lenses. I ate some red curry that came with rice in a heart shape. Some old British guy had a bookstore with very anal policies. A toothless dog gummed my ankle. I ate fried bamboo. I drank a kiwi shake made by a woman who Carolyn accidentally called beautiful even though she was trying to call the town beautiful, or she did accurately call the town beautiful but the woman misunderstood, but nonetheless the woman demurred and said "Oh no you are beautiful" in Thai. Some things I learned how to say in Thai, spelled phonetically, are "Sa wah dee krap" (Hello), "Kap gun krap" (Thank you), and "Arroy maa" (Very delicious). At some point I ate a fried banana, but I can't remember where. I never ate a grasshopper, but the cart for fried grasshoppers in Bangkok charged you 10 baht to just take a picture of somebody else eating one. Luckily it's like 30 baht per dollar, but you know what they say: "smoke 'em if you got 'em."

But my favorite part of Kanchanaburi by far was the crazy Thai museum they called a WWII museum but was actually a hodgepodge castle maze of amazeaballs. This museum seemed to have a joyful lack of organizing principles. Some ceilings were illustrated proverbs. Some walls had cutouts from fashion magazines. One wall had a bunch of kitchen equipment. Elsewhere there were a million guns under a glass case. A Korean War soldier corpse in one room. One hallway featured very unrealistic wax statues of key WWII players, all described in very weird ways. The Mussolini statue had an extra placard that was actually just a note to revise the original placard. Among the items up for revision: "Make sure to mention his time spent working in a chocolate factory." In the middle of the "courtyard square" area of the museum was a 1970s looking space age Buddha temple capsule. On the tops of the towers the views were amazing. At one point there was a train engine with an old Rolls Royce on top of it. Carolyn said "This must be what it looks like inside your brain." In a basement room, a placard explained that the museum itself was protected by earthquakes by a specific mysticism. There were a lot of signs with hilarious English translations. One of the outside areas just had some clothes drying. One of the inside murals was of fighting elephant gods. All in all, this museum was probably my favorite thing humans have ever got together and done.

We took an amazingly harrowing van back to Bangkok, and Carolyn and I had a tearful re-departure goodbye at the Bangkok bus station after I was too afraid to eat the bus station food and Carolyn forgot to disinfect her fork in the boiling water station. It was awesome to hang out with my lovely and amazing and talented Carrot for two weeks, especially after having not seen her since September, and it was very sad to have to leave her again. After we parted, she took a sixteen hour bus to the far northern reaches of Thailand where she now lives in a grass hut with snakes.

In Beijing I couldn't meet up with my friend Luke because I couldn't leave the airport. The authorities kept telling me it was "too late." I thought they meant proverbially, but really they just meant it was 2AM. So I paid too much for a bed in a weird airport hotel place, telling myself it was worth it for the experience. I guess what I meant when I told myself that was the hotel clerk picked her nose in a really interesting way right in front of me. On the plane back to San Francisco, a kindly Chinese grandmother type tried to speak to me in Chinese and helped me find my pen when it fell between our seats. Back in the Bay Area, my first re-acclimation impression was everybody in America has too much space and quiet to themselves.

That was Thailand! Let me know if there's something I left out that you really wanted to know. Most people want to know if I ate anything weird, which I guess I didn't, in the common sense of what might be weird to put in your mouth and think about digesting, but Carolyn at one point bought a bag of potato chips that came with a packet inside them of weird sugar and chili flavored ketchup. Now I will end with a quote from Baudrillard's The Transparency of Evil:
"Travel was once a means of being elsewhere, or of being nowhere. Today it is the only way we have of feeling that we are somewhere. At home, surrounded by information, by screens, I am no longer anywhere but rather everywhere in the world at once, in the midst of a universal banality—a banality that is the same in every country. To arrive in a new city, or in a new language, is suddenly to find oneself here and nowhere else. The body rediscovers how to look. Delivered from images, it rediscovers the imagination.”

7 comments:

Dreadymoongurl said...

Excellent summary of your trip Mike! I will have to send you the Island sometime Bahamas that was supposed to sayhaha but I'll leave it like that. Anyway sounds like you guys had a grand adventure together! I like traveling because it's like another world in a way, outside the "real" world.

carolyn said...

!!!

But you forgot to write about the water-bobbing!

melissa b said...

really dug this post! it was tender and funny

Mike Young said...

thanks holly and melissa!

carolyn, ack, the bobbing. the bobbing will have to be mysterious!

Jeremy Bauer said...

that was great!
good luck to you guyses. good luck always sounds weird though, so i guess i just mean you guys seem nice and hope the world is nice back or somethin.

Mike Young said...

thanks jeremy! i hope the world is nice to your back and the rest of you forever.

sky3rsgold said...

Excellent summary of your trip Mike! I will have to send you the Island sometime Bahamas that was supposed to sayhaha but I'll leave it like that.

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