Friday, March 31, 2006

More about food because it's something that we encounter so often in our lives.

Food is a necessity in life. We eat in order to stay alive, to fuel our bodies for day to day wear and tear. We eat as a way to be together, as a social gathering. A huge memory for me of my years has been all of those family meals filled with laughter and discussion lasting hours. Thai culture is very similar. One rather noticeable difference is that I have never seen a Thai person eating alone. As always I am stared at when I go somewhere and eat alone. So many nights I get my soup in a bag and return to my room in order to scarf it down in utter privacy. Other nights I wait to eat until about 11.30 when Non has finished work and doesn’t want to eat by himself. Some nights we have Som Tom in a bag with sticky rice and fried chicken if he’s really hungry. Other nights it’s chicken and rice with some chocolate pudding looking square of something unmentionable. He will eat it as I observe in awe.

Now most nights if we eat together whether it’s after work or coming back from a night club and it’s soup. There are about forty different soups in the Thai cuisine. Combinations of type of noodle, meat, seafood, vegetable, and broth make each soup delicious and individual. Throughout the city there are movable and permanent noodle soup stands. The most popular are a glass noodle soup with brussel sprouts and pork, and a flour noodle similar to ramen with barbeque pork and pork filled wonton dumplings. This is my favorite and there are two stand about a hundred yards away from my room that operate every night from about nine until the wee hours of the morning. They know me now because I often show up alone asking for soup in a bag to take home.

This soup is very tasty because the broth has been broiling for hours and the pork cured longer than that. The noodles are fresh and the vegetable, a leafy green for which there is no translation, still crunchy and slightly bitter. It’s a spicy soup with a hint of salt and pepper. One the table at the numerous stands are typical Thai condiments including a bottle of fish sauce, a bottle of chili sauce, a cup of chili oil, some chilies, a cup of crushed red chilies, and a cup of sugar. To my already flavorful soup I add half a spoonful of crushed red chilies, my upper lip and forehead breaking a sweat by the time I’ve finished my soup. After I have spiced my soup and eaten most of the vegetables, a persistent childhood habit, Non is still adding things.

The first is a few spoonfuls of sugar followed by a few spoonfuls of crushed chilies. He tips in some fish sauce and sometimes some of the chili oil. As I gaze at him with my doubtful look he tests out my broth and tells me it tastes like nothing. His broth tastes sweet with a hint of chili powder and merely a trace of the pork flavor. I don’t know how he can eat it; it’s like ice cream mixed with celery chunks and Ramen noodles topped by a sprinkling of paprika. He can plow through two of these sugary bowls before I need to wipe my brow if a few droplets of perspiration from the first.

Thais do this to everything! Standard condiments the same as those described above, reside on every table where Thai food is served. Fried rice suffers the same sweet fate as that soup of Non’s. Their ice tea is as sweet as Southern iced tea and the desserts made from pure sugar cane are ridiculously sweet. I have heard a Thai say that something was too sweet, though I can’t place what it was. I will never cease to be amazed at the Thai use of spices; it’s nearly at the caliber of Indian food. I understand why they don’t eat much farang food, because it’s tasteless to them. I am frightened to ever cook for a Thai because they would probably think there was no taste. And then I’d be left eating alone. Eating non-flavored food alone, the worst nightmare of a Thai!

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006
well off of a nice weekend and a catching up Monday i'm ready to work. alas there is little work, so i attempt to convince recent job searchers to do some work now so that i can get their observations in. it's funny work this TEFL and Languagecorps stuff. simple, yet time consuming and rather frustrating. i have decided that my future career will be in a field that does not directly rely on the motivation of other people in order to get work done. research, meetings, and group work with people who are not on perma-vacation is the goal here. any suggestions or jobs you know of? it could be the slowness of the culture here or the increasing need for my brain to be challanged, but this is not enough for me. it does give me a lot of time to think and reflect on a great many things.

let me start with the arm wrestling competition i watched with Non on saturday afternoon at the mall downtown. there were two classes, the over 100 kilo and between 75 and 100 kilo. because of his position at the gym and the fact that he pretty much sees everybody who comes and goes and especially those who work out with free weights, Non knew most of the foreign and a few of the Thai participants. we watched match after match and elimination after elimination until the final rounds. the man who beat, for the gold, a well known Thai boxer from the Pattaya area was a man from Finland named Jerry. he works out at Tony's everyday. i took their picture with Jerry holding the huge cup and flexing his ridiculously muscular upper body. Non has decided to enter next year's competition. throughout the competition this man smiled and joked knowing that he had the strength to be the champion and not even removing his sunglasses from his closely shaven head. he was fascinating to watch and i'm glad somebody with a good personality won.
last year's champion, who lost to Jerry in the semifinal, is a boxer from Bangkok who wears healed shoes to appear taller. he was very proud and brutishly vocal upon each victory. the Thais are known to be a vain culture, and this man fit the stereotype superbly. alas, he was silenced by Jerry and hastily made his exit. in presence were also a few individuals who are 'famous in Thailand'. one was an actor who we had seen perform a small role in the movie 'FEARLESS' the previous week, and another was a man who i've seen in movies but couldn't tell you his name. he was holding the hand of a very blond, very artificially enhanced facial featured woman in strappy high heels and a cream silk dress. his entourage fascinated me. she ended up arm wresting the first actor and created quite a raucous of laughter with the antics that ensued. it was altogether a rather entertaining afternoon accented by fantastic iced coffee.

Sunday morning I spent at the beach in wonderment of most everything. I got a little sunburned and had some Som Tom Thai. It was a good day complete with cooling pool swim in the evening and leftover pancakes with peanut butter for dinner. Today it’s peanut butter and banana sandwich! Yummy.

AND! i spent a few hours in confusion about my origins. here's the unfinished page of thoughts.

Nationality means something different to each. For some identification with origin greatly defines who they are and who they will become. For others nationality is merely a place on a birth certificate, a heritage some may spend a lifetime trying to escape. From nationality stem stereotypes which can be true but also hurtful. Americans are stereotypes as overweight, emotional, and pig-headed. Around the world people are both disgusted and intrigued by Americans. As a population we are universally questioned and detested, but as individuals we are a chance to know the true story. I have had people sneer at me and openly laugh at my nation, to my face. I have also had people so interested in what life truly is in the USA that I can’t escape an interrogation.

For me being an American is a privilege and a curse. Growing up I have had every advantage. There has always been food on the table and a solid roof over my head. As a people we have, for the most part, the resources to ensure comforts in life. My education was from a world renowned university and continues to be from the advantages I have in being able to travel the world. It is in those travels that I have encountered the curse of being American. Over the past few weeks especially I have endured the contempt felt towards my motherland. With my entire being, including all of the reasons I love and hate my country, I try to smile and ignore the comments, remembering to never take anything personally. But why is it that those who feel distain for my nationality also feel the need to take it out on me, merely one member of a multi billion population? And obviously I must be slightly different than the masses because I have vacated the land mass and made a life for myself in another culture. I have my opinions about other cultures based upon the behaviors of governments and individuals but would never personally attack another simply based on his or her nationality.

Minding my own business while sitting the sauna the other week, two French men entered and sat down. The inquired after my origin, my relationship status, and proceeded in informing me that they were related to Osama bin Laden and Sadam Hussein. They seemed to think this was hilarious, not noticing my non-reaction. I exited the sauna for the cold bath wondering what they had hoped to gain from their immaturity. I am but one voter who cannot change what has already been done. It is immediately assumed that because I am an American, I agree with the government’s international policy and have been continuously brainwashed by biased media sources.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

First I want to congratulate the Michigan State Hockey team and all of their associates for their recent CCHA Championship Title. And I want to wish them luck and give my support for the upcoming NCAA tournament being held in Milwaukee, WI. Go green, go white, GO STATE!

Koh Pangnan

This island, little known to Thais and well known to traveling foreigners, is in itself and oxymoron. It’s fairly large in area, only slightly smaller than the popular destination of Koh Samui, but much less populated. Much of the island is forested and untracked, but the many beaches are dotted with bungalows and restaurants. The very southern tip of the island is home to Haat Rin, sunrise beach, the location of a monthly Full Moon Party. Party here is an understatement, as the event is more of an unplanned possibly chaotic rave. Youngsters and a few elders find their way to this beach every month by the thousands to further disgrace the already plummeting reputation of the falang. After the party ravers depart en masse for Koh Samui or another location on Koh Pangnan for a few days of rest, more beach relaxation, and in many cases a detoxify program. Spend one night pushing your body to the limit and abusing it beyond recognition and then stumble to a tropical paradise to restore whatever being remains. It’s the full package. Meanwhile, there are plenty of amazing restaurants, nice shops, and a variety of activites (mostly involving a long tail boat (traditional Thai economic boat) trip to another part of the island.

My trip was scheduled to a be a five day, three nights with two more traveling, with the night of the full moon smack on the middle. I planned to meet a friend on the island and we would relax on the beach for a few days and enjoy Thailand. I left on a Saturday without a train ticket to the port town thinking that I could slip onto the train. No luck, so I bought a bus ticket for the following evening and returned to Pattaya. Despite the four extra hours of travel, it was significantly cheaper than spending the night in my most detested city of Bangkok. So Sunday I set out again, buying tickets for the return trip and hanging out at the bustling train station for several hours before boarding the bus. Now the trip from Bangkok to Surathani, where the ferry leaves to go to Pangnan, ended up taking eleven hours. It is a distance I could have driven in probably six. Oh well I thought as I transferred from bus to bus then to boat for another four hours. All told from Pattaya departure to Pangnan arrival, the trip was 26 hours. Needless to say, I was exhausted and smelly upon arrival.

Post shower and delicious fried rice with cashews we walked to the beach. I chose a bungalow that was about ten minutes by foot from the town in hopes that while ravers were bumping at 5 am I could be snoozing. It was a hike to the place, but it was fabulous. On the beach we watched the foreigners make fools of themselves and discussed what might be in store for the following evening. For dinner I had a toasted mozzarella sandwich and for bedtime reading an old Dave Berry book I found at the bungalow’s reception. Refreshed and rejuvenated from a night’s sleep we headed to the beach early day to see the sights and soak in the rays.

Much of what one sees on a beach in Thailand that has been overrun by foreigners is disrespect. Not only for the environment via litter and long tail exhaust fumes but to Thai culture and expectations. Thai women don’t bathe in suits, they don shorts and t-shirt. A majority of the white skinned sun bathers were topless. This is hugely offensive to Thai custom and has become hugely offensive to those falang who have made a home in this nation for any amount of time.

Now comes the time when we party. In the evening, the beach became a sea of people. Lights and banners lit the beach for Sangsom-in-a-bucket drinkers. Bars lining the shore came alive with music, dancing, and bucket vendors. There was hardly space for walking and the fire twirlers were extra cautious with their flame. This sort of event is really not of interest to me, though perhaps for the anthropological value I was interested. I have never seen so many stupid drunk people. It was really quite embarrassing. Drunk and high white people everywhere were letting lose their inhibitions and allowing the drugs to take over body and mind. After a few hours of wandering around and meeting people from all over the world, I left my friend to her devices and headed up to the bungalow for some sleep. I sincerely believe that when I hit the pillow at about 3am I was the only white person in the town asleep. I wanted to hike over a mountain the following day.

Rising before ten only a few minutes after my friend returned from the previous night, I prepared for the day. The bay just to the north of Haat Rin is claimed to be very beautiful and much quieter. The guidebook described a great hike to this beach, so I decided it would be a great way to unwind and escape the drama of the morning after. I did have to walk through town to reach the trailhead. People sleeping on the beach and stumbling around were commonplace amongst the heaps of bottles and other trash. The trail began with a steep climb over rocks and tree roots to a plateau from where the town procured its water. I followed blue water pipes for most of the climb and some of the descent. This hill top was devastated by wreck less excavation to reach the water below ground and the machinery it took to complete the work. A road leading to nowhere had been cut through the hills and jungle. It actually made me sick to my stomach to think of how Westerners are a cause of it all. Falang come in with their money and their demands forcing Thais to take whatever means necessary to meet consumer needs. It’s a truly a disaster. The Thais know it, too, but are powerless to take action. They are driven by the money they will make from the falang.

The descent was exhausting. Carefully planning each step I clambered my way down the back of the mountain attempting to avoid any spiders (the size of crabs) and their webs. The trail here was marked by empty water bottled stuck on branches. I left my mark by chugging what water remained in my bottle and stuck it on a branch. Maybe I will feel guilty about this, but at least some poor soul will not feel hopelessly lost in the jungle on a strange island as I did at a few intersections in the path. The urge to turn back was overcome by desire to reach the destination. It I had the will to succeed in every aspect of life as I did with this hike, I would be Delia Trump by now.

The beach where I spent the afternoon swimming, sunning, and sifting through coral shards was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. From a rocky outcrop only a few hundred yards up the trail from this beach I gazed out at the view and was reminded of a thousand places I have been. Untouched, natural, and waiting for the cautious rambler was this portion of Pangnan. I cannot describe in words this beach. It was perfect. The water was clean, the beach was small pebbles (I don’t really like sand very much so for me, this is far superior), and there were only a few people dotted along the shore and seated at the restaurant. The place served any kind of food one could imagine and made great cheese and tomato sandwiches. After spending the afternoon there I did not want to leave and was even reminded why I came to Thailand (actually not really because I don’t really know in the first place). The long tail trip back to Haat Rin was short, but great for snapping a few shots of the shoreline from a new perspective. It’s a wonder this place is popular because it’s nearly too amazing.

That evening my friend and I ate dinner while watching a movie at one of the many restaurants packed with falang. A few drinks and some more dancing in the sand under the nearly full moon later I was again asleep. This night was much more my speed with about one tenth of the people and more Thais sitting about. It was an after party that I enjoyed vastly more than the actual party. Drifting off to sleep I could still see the view from the rocks.

Morning brought clouds and eminent departure. I spent a few hours sitting down on the rocks watching crabs fight for a spot clear of the crashing waves. Life is so simple. How does it become so complicated? The journey home spent in dread of the city I deem ‘home’ reminded me that being in my room is a haven from the city. Motivation to find a new haven mounts.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006
Such a week. I have a thousand things to say. I will wait and say them in a well composed bit rather than hurried writing at an internet cafe. It was a great week though. I hiked over a mountain and watched crabs fighting for a spot on a rock. Just wait, and it will be good, I promise!
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Saturday, March 11, 2006
well, it's a hot day here in Pattaya. things are really beginning to heat up. the next few months ar the worst in the year. yipee. the air is dripping and unmovable. it's really rather disgusting.

today i'm embarking on what might be the only trip i take that's not for languagecorps. i am going down to the southern part of the country to an island famous for full moon parties. i'm meeting Jill, awesome girl from Ireland, and one of my teachers, i think. it should be a fun filled few days and a lot of travelling. i'll be leaving this afternoon and don't expect to get there until this time tomorrow. i miss driving! travelling on your own schedule is fantastic! it's going to be a few days on the beach with a huge party one night, should be interesting and fun. we are staying at a place that shows movies at night in the restaurant.

late next week will be back to actual work. i have a few teachers doing some summer english camps and things, so i'll be able to get their observations finished. the job search is still on. preceeded by research on different cities i would consider for living. the best way to describe my life right now is 'in a funk'. it's pretty slow with lots of time to think and consider options and worry about the future. i have to be very careful what i saw around the boss, and am making friends with these two men that hate him. :) not because they don't like him, but because they are real people and are fun to hang out with and chat.

ok, i have to get to the store before i catch the bus up to Bangkok to get on a train. it's going to be an exhausting night, especially if the sleeper trains are sold out! eek.
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Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Well, it's been awhile since I've just sat here and written about something in the blogger box thing. Honestly I cannot decide what to say. A lot has been going on lately, but not much that is fit for printing. The bar is closed because it wasn't making money, and the cashier was taken to the monkey house a few weeks ago for playing Thai music. The police wanted 30000 baht to release her, but she talked them down to 20000. They also said they would not deport anybody who is here illegally (Rick's wife's brother was here illegally at the time) or shut down the entire building. It would have meant no more school, no more TEFL. That would have been fun. Then about a week later a friend's business was raided because he has an English guy working without a work permit. They spent the night behind bars and were only released because a 'very powerful' friend has connections somewhere. Needless to say, I have begun the search for jobs stateside.

The past few days have been spent reading a lot and searching the internet for suitable jobs in a nice place. After all of this running around and moving I might finally be ready to choose a town and a job and get a dog. The options are pretty much unlimited, but I think I'll try to find a ski hill and go from there. Being in the land of heat and smiles has caused me to realize what I think I might want in a home. Skiing is a major factor; so is snow in general. I like being able to go out for a walk and not sweating to death and having to put on a coat and hat. Amazing how these things become important. My mom said to me at Christmas that she can picture me here, but thinks I fit more into a ski lodge, rosey cheeked and nose running from the last run before lunch break. I agree entirely. I am made for the outdoors, but nice UP outdoors, not this tropical crap.

Anyhow. Here's a note on Thai hospitality. This country is meant to be one of the most friendly and hospitable in the world. I couldn't disagree more. It could be that I can't speak enough Thai to strike up a conversation with people, but it could be that many Thai's are resentful of our presence. It could also be that I live in Pattaya where the worst of all the world come to raise hell. The Thai sense of a 'cool heart' is often violated by the drunken falang. Nonetheless, they are also some of the least helpful people. Everyday at the gym I notice a lack of enthusiasm and efficiency in the employees. The girls at the reception desk are not effective, and the creepy looking management staff (overbuilt grumpy falang men) loiter around not noticing the congregation of cleaning ladies in the women's locker room all assessing themselves in the mirrors and gabbing on about something. It seems to be a flawed system. They want to have too much power, therefore undermine themselves by causing a need to rebel. It could be that the staff is paid so little that they really do not care. There are a lot of complaints of boredom as well. Many days the trainers sit about all day doing very little, maybe helping a customer or two with a weight. Another flaw in the system. So much can be done with the time workers spend doing nothing.

The most friendly person I have encountered here is the lady who I buy jackfruit from at the street market. I haven't seen her for a few weeks, but used to get some fruit everyday and she would ask me questions. Her English was amazing, without even an accent. She was very interested in where I come from and why it was that I was sweaty everyday. The reason was that I would walk down to the market for dinner immediately following a workout. It amazed me that she thoughtI have nice skin (on my legs because that's all she could really see and touch from her short stool positioned over her work) because Thais have the most beautiful skin. They do spend a lot of time and money to look good though. It seems that they are some of the most vein people I've encountered. I mean all people want to look their best, but here it's rampant. The motorbike taxi drivers on the corner can often be caught admiring their complextion in the tiny review mirrors on their bikes. Incredible.

This blog was all over the place, but it's what has been on my mind. My mind has been all over the place trying to think about what I should do, where I should go, and how on earth I am going to get there.
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