Monday, June 27, 2011

Through Death's Road Pt. II: In the Home of the Spider King

I want everyone to understand something: I do not like bugs.  Bugs scare the shit out of me.  I believe they were put on Earth with the express purpose of causing people discomfort and giving the kids who eat glue and have no friends in kindergarden something to collect.  But I have accepted them.  I understand that in this world, there must be creatures so despicable that even French Canadians seem alright in comparison.  But Jesus, there comes a fucking point...

So Jordan and I trek through dirt, grass, and broken glass to our loverly new home.  Truly charming, and again, one bed.  Now that's more like it.  But then I get a look at the bathroom.  Firstly, the shower just drains in a big hole in the floor that leads outside, which by the way is a jungle.  And the toilet doesn't flush.  I don't mean there's a failure in the flushing mechanism- it literally has no flushing option.  But all that seems like luxury when my eyes are able to discern that the walls in this place are not naturally black, that they're covered in something.  Something moving.  A fucking Ant Army.

I don't call them an ant army just because of their numbers either, although I can promise you the absolutely preposterous number of these little pricks probably doubled the entire world population, and maybe can't even be quantified at all by our numeral system (which goes to infinity).  No, I call them an ant army because they were fucking militant.  Honestly, I have to have respect for them on some level.  We could learn something from their hive-like dedication to stick together and fight to the death.  It's been a while since we humans believed in something so strongly.  The only problem is that what the ants believed in so strongly, was burying me in their misery.  I knew I'd need some serious reinforcements and at the very least a battle plan before I could leap into war against such a powerful, dedicated force, so I darted back into my room and slammed the door behind me, hearing the repeated thuds of what I believe was the ants forming a battering ram and trying to break through the door (thing must of been reinforced with steel to hold them off).  Overwhelmed and underprepared, I ran outside gasping for air, trying to regain my wits and think of where the nearest flamethrower store was so I could do battle properly.  Then, I saw it.

In Revelations, Chapter 12, Verse 3, a monster is described.  It is a creature so vile, horrific, and powerful that its very arrival signifies the end of the world.  Dear Old Apostle John describes this bad boy:  'Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, 4 with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems.'

Sounds like a little bitch compared to what was outside my bungalow.

First I saw the web.  'Oh no,' I thought, 'there must be a spider.'  But then I realized the web extended through what I'm pretty sure was the whole goddamned island.  And there was a spider.  Not just a spider.  The spider.  The Discovery Channel sometimes shows these things deep in the Amazon jungle.  First they interview local tribesmen who speak in some crazy click language and describe how they wrestle dinosaurs and eat poisonous frogs for fun, but still are scared shitless of these spiders.  Then they show these massive venomous fuckers and a few of the cameramen die bloody horrific deaths and some lucky bastard makes it out of there with just an arm missing and some footage to show.  I never thought I'd encounter one.  But here it was right before me: Eight legs spread out endlessly in diameter, attached to a body that easily weighed more than I did.  A color scheme of yellow and orange screamed 'Don't fuck with me.'  Suddenly I realized we were unwanted guests in the home of a much more powerful being.  "Uh... Jordan?"  He turned, saw the... ahem... gentlemen, and we both realized what we must do.

 "Dear Lord Spider, King of All Things, forgive us our transgressions!  We are your humble servants, refugees in your glorious home!"  We fell to our knees and began begging for mercy, but it was easy to see it'd take more than that.  We knew we'd need to make some sort of offering, so the next move was obvious: "Vicky!!  Come here!"  Unfortunately, she saw the Mighty Arachnid God before we could properly sacrifice her, so we needed to think of a new way to satiate the Beast Emperor and earn our lives residing in his abode.  Slowly and solemnly, like a prisoner accepting death, we realized what we had to do.  It was time to face the Ant Army.

Einstein once said of war, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."  Well I can't answer for WWIV, but I can tell you from a factual, historical perspective that World War III was fought four days ago with bug spray and a shower head.  Sometimes the horrors of war are so great that they should not be described, lest we all lose hope in humanity.  So let me just say in brief that thousands of ants fell in fist sized clumps to the floor, that blood was shed, incredible offenses were made, great generals were lost, wives were made widows, children were made orphans, Jordan and I watched each other cry, and the "complimentary" bungalow soap was actually kind of gross.

But eventually, the Battle of Shower was won.  Whether it was worth the terrible cost is for history to decide.  But as a scarred veteran, I can only say that I did my part the best I could, that I fought hard with my fellow soldiers (re: Jordan), and that I paid the price of war with a fragment of my soul.  But in the end, the winner was clear.  As millions of my respected enemies lay dead or wounded around me, I crawled back with my last scrap of energy, and caught a glimpse of the Master of the House.  Lord Carlos (I decided his name was Carlos) was content.  I knew then I'd be safe in his house.  That he respected me as a servant, and that I had earned safe passage on his island.  Now, a sweet reward lied ahead of me: a reward that the Ancient Phoenicians referred to as "lemon shakes."

Part III: Redemption to follow.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Through Death's Road: A Melodramatic Journey to Kho Samet

DISCLAIMER: The following is extremely exaggerated for comedic purposes.

Getting to Kho Samet (I still don't know how to spell the damn thing) was one of the most profoundly dark moments of my life.  With zero prior sleep, I packed my bag and was out the door by 4 am.  We told our cab where to go and he politely nodded his head and started driving as though he knew where to go.

LIAR.  He did not know where to go.  We had to call another cab who knew what the hell he was doing to explain to this fraud in native tongue that he had indeed fucked up and needed to back track.  Now I'm a reasonable man, and I know people make mistakes, but the problem is he was running the damn meter this whole time, meaning he was profiting from his mistake!  Like Billy Ray Cyrus! (the mistake in that case being Miley).  

This might seem like an overreaction, and sure, maybe it is.  But it's not like we were going to Candyland- we were going to a damn bus station.  Thai bus stations are just like American ones, but even smellier.  And naturally the bus was over an hour later than we had planned for, but no problem.  Who would complain about sitting next to diseased animals (and people) at five in the morning in the middle of downtown Bangkok?  (I would).

A solid hour in I couldn't wait to finally get on the bus.  I now realize this is like being on the river Styx  and counting down the minutes till you finally get to Hades (there's the world's most obvious mythology allusion in case anyone is a big Classics fan).  By now I'm used to things being too small for me, as they tend to be designed for Thais who borderline on being a race of midget people.  But my seat was designed in such a way that my ankles were partially dislocated and any attempt at getting some neck support forced my spine into a right angle.  I swear this is the kind of chair they would have used for prisoners in the Spanish Inquisition.  And the bus coordinator puts Jordan next to me.  "Jordan?!" I'm sure some of you just exclaimed, "What a douchebag!  You poor thing!"  Well, first off, shame on you!  Jordan is a spectacular human being!  But he is not without his flaws, mainly, that he twitches in his sleep.  In this case, the twitch manifests itself as a flying elbow striking the face of whoever's next to him. So yeah, that was going on too.
After what could only be described as a purgatorial length of time, I was released from my prison and allowed to stretch my legs.

 Naturally after four hours on the hell-bus I needed a quick stop in the gentlemen's room. Unfortunately, no such thing was available to me. This bathroom was the opposite of a gentlemen's room. The rake's room would be more appropriate. I realize that every bathroom is quite literally a shit-hole, but I thought by now we had advanced enough as a society to cover up our shit-holes with tiles and plumbing and things that make the actual deposit somewhere far away. You know, technology. But no. Here, you have a rusty metal thing on the wall. You're supposed to pee in it, and from there, it goes down a hole, where it falls..... to the floor. Where it is supposed to go from there I cannot say, but I can tell you where it actually does go: fucking everywhere. This place broke every sanitation law there ever has been- I'm pretty sure even laws of physics had to be defied to create a place so vial. And here's the real kicker: They charged me to use this. 3 baht! I know that that's only ten cents, I know that. But think of the fucking principle here! I paid to pee on my shoes. That's like being raped by a prostitute, being forced to pay her anyways, and then finding out she had herpes. In other words, I paid for herpes. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Should any poor soul be reading this, I imagine he/ she is now cringing in sympathetic horror, gripping a stuffed animal in a failed attempt at comfort and thinking “It has to get better, right Professor Snuggles?” (that's my stuffed animal, at least. Feel free to substitute yours). Well son, if you prefer to live in a fantasy world where every dog has a home, where Friends never aired, and there's no such thing as Avril Lavigne, and your girlfriend didn't leave you for a Walmart manager who could offer her free coupons, then that's your choice, and I'll leave you with this ending: After that, we got ice-cream and road flying hippos to the peanut butter mountains where Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake were waiting to show us their newest movie that wasn't a complete rip off of No Strings Attached and we all had an amazing time. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Everything was beautiful, nothing hurt."

Now, for those poor souls who feel compelled to know the the truth: Read on, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Ferries sound good. They are homophonous with fairies, and everyone knows fairies are wonderful wish granting hot girls with wings. So how could something that sounds good go so horribly wrong? After stumbling en masse with dozens of the grossest Europeans ever, we scrambled for seats on this massive wooden death trap disguised as a boat. Side note: It seems to me that all the Europeans in Thailand are the ones who got kicked out of Europe for being too gross. Europe is pretty damn lax when it comes to hygiene, but apparently even they have their limits when it comes to those who refuse to shower, shave, wear fitting clothes, and not have their cartoon-saggy boobs hanging out. Meta-side note: Saggy is never used to describe anything good.

So here I am shoved on a conglomeration of warped, splintery wood with filthy hippy europeans. Thank GOD (or what was left of him at this point in our faith shattering journey) I got a seat next to the darling Amanda Hale and the ever-lovely Jasmine Ramirez. We proceeded to have a lovely conversation about sea sickness, which strangely enough, was exactly what we were all feeling as this boat rocked violently- not the cool kind of rocking, but the way I imagine douchebags do at a Nickelback concert where all you're doing is making everyone sick and it'd undoubtedly be better to die than to continue rocking in such a way, which really isn't rocking at all, but simply being a douchebag. So basically, this boat was being a douchebag.

After successfully not throwing up on this vomit-inducing monstrosity, but still wanting to overdose on dramamine, I was ready to not just kiss the ground, but fully make out with it. I assumed that soon my hardships would be worth it, that in just minutes I'd be relaxing in a posh beach side house, sipping on a lush tropical beverage and waves crash over beautiful women swimming in the sea. I dared to hope. What a fool.

First we had to walk. We had to walk over dirt hills, on jagged rocks, and through fiery sand (or was it magma?) before we could even think about resting, all the while lugging everything we owned in our backpacks, watching Thais in pickup trucks blow by us (secretly wishing one would just hit me and put me out of my misery) with sadistic delight, laughing as we burned slowly under the sinister sun. “What did I do to anger you, oh great and powerful Sun?” I asked in defeat. “Fuck off,” The Sun replied with contempt, heating up its rays and burning my back even further just to be a dick. (That's how I think it happened, at least. Maybe I was dehydrated.)

After a trek that made Frodo's journey to Mordor look like a walk through the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese (not that that isn't terrifying when the homeless guy wearing a dress is watching you) we finally made it to where we'd be staying for the remainder of the weekend. Finally, something good happened: Rooming with Jordan, and we're sharing a bed! Cuddle fest like you've never even seen. I knew it would all be worth it. Finally, I could rest my head, and not only that, but for just 600 baht and rooming with one of the chillest bros this side of Jersey, I thought I couldn't lose. I was wrong.  Wrong as a 6 pound ultra venomous spider and an army of ants that makes China's population look lacking.

To be continued.....

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's been a while

I haven't updated this in almost two weeks so there's a decent amount to write about.

Despite a solid effort on my end, my birthday happened.  I was a little hesitant that it would be strange having a birthday away from all my close friends and family; I've never made a big deal out of it in the past, and in a different country with new people I thought skipping it was the best option.  Well congratulations, Universe.  You win.

By that, I mean my birthday turned out epic.  And not in the overused, nonsensical slang of the word: if a celebration like this happened in Ancient Greece, Homer would have written about it.

The first half of the day was wonderfully misleading.  It was devilishly hot out, classes were more boring than The Sound of Music (if that comparison was confusing, it may help to know I hate that movie), and apart from a couple of slaps on the back (thank Buddha this was before I was sunburnt) my birthday was passing comfortably under the radar.  The sun went down, my head hit the pillow, and I thought I had stealthily slipped through.

A knock on the door and some serious harassment later and I gave into the festivities.  My group made me a card, which was truly appreciated (Happy Birthday Pussycat), and we had a fun pre-game here at dear old ABAC.  But what followed was legendary.  We bar-hopped every place in the area, causing chaos and confusion everywhere we went.  Frenetic dancing, copious drinking, jumping on furniture, getting crazy with the Thais, it all happened.  None of us are entirely sure how, or when, but we know it did.  I think I bonded a little more with everyone that night, which is what made it so memorable despite the hysteric confusion and unbearable hangover that followed.  That part I'm way less a fan of, and I doubt I'll ever experience it again, but my birthday here in Thailand- well I gotta admit it was a hell of a night.

So that was a pretty lengthy birthday summary; other things that have been happening:
We took a boat ride today through some riverside towns around Old Campus.  The boat ride went on for far too long thanks to some classic Father Kelly mixups.  But the warmth of the people- expressed simply through waves and smiles- was something I haven't felt since Uganda.  Those who know me well know that this is something I've missed terribly since my stay there; I know it's up to me now to make sure I maintain that connection with the people here and seek out that warmth.

I've found a couple people here that I'm starting to become more comfortable with.  I don't think I've been coming off nearly as shy as I actually am, which I suppose is a good thing.  If I can walk away from this trip with just one or two people I feel genuinely connected to, I'll be happy.  That said, everyone has been very nice and open so far and I'm sure it will continue to progress that way.  It can be difficult sometimes because a good portion of the group came with a large number of friends, but this is an accommodating and open bunch of people, and admittedly not what I expected.

Classes are easy.  I'm averted to work in a pretty unhealthy way, but ABAC seems to understand that.  Perhaps that's why we watched South Park in Ethics class and some caveman special in Thai Civ.  And I can't forget to mention that 80-100 is an A.

I am probably going to miss comedy/ the Nevergreens the most from Loyola.  I find myself talking about it too much, trying out bits and stories that could become sketches or standup, and just overall trying to find the humor in every situation.  I'm sure it's incredibly irritating for all the people on this trip with me, but I hope everyone can tolerate it long enough to survive this trip.

Thai food can absolutely beat the hell out of me sometimes.  But I'm learning to fight back.  Sometimes it's just intolerable though.  Also, I have an all too real addiction to McDonald's.  The first step is admitting you have a problem.

I've often been asked by friends what Thailand is like, to which I respond 'crazy.'  I think that's indicative of how different it is, and yet intangibly so.  I had an easier time describing Africa- I could rant for hours on it, especially given the radical and instantaneous differences.  But when asked to describe Bangkok, I find myself hesitating, stumbling over generals and fumbling around particulars.  One way I've found to explain the differences is by describing how typical and essential daily functions happen:

Let's say I want to go to the mall.  I probably take a motorcycle taxi, which weaves precariously around traffic, allowing me to brush with the cars on either side of me as well as Death Himself as I let go of American Inhibition and accept I probably won't die (but I might).  The taxi would drop me off at the river for around a dollar.  The docks of this river are shanty and not exactly stable.  The smell is putrid and the humidity is kind of amazing in its ability to discomfort.  Eventually, the Klhong, which resembles a giant speed boat, arrives and dozens if not hundreds of Thais cram on.  I wiggle my way in (if I'm lucky I grab a seat), and pay my 60 cent travel fee.  The boat drops me off at a similar dock in the middle of a sprawling city.  I weasel my way through a thick sprawl of street vendors and climb the stairs to the 'skywalk', an elevated sidewalk type deal.  This leads me to the mall, which is about 8 stories tall, and actually has everything.  I have to remind myself to use these details and descriptions because to me, they are becoming perfectly normal and unremarkable.

I miss my closest friends dearly.  I hope they know and reciprocate.  Keep in touch, loves.  You know I'm always here.

This was a lengthy one.  I hope it satiates both of the people who read this (ha).  Class requirements make you do silly things....

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Let's keep this one brief.

Well my school looks remarkably like a palace, it's a little disconcerting honestly.  Not that I don't appreciate the painted dome ceilings or rooms made out of gold, it's just a stark contrast to how people live in the real Thailand.  I've seen a pretty decent chunk of the world, and I can't help but wonder if a little modesty could have freed up some resources for more scholarships and grants for students who otherwise could not afford tuition.

It's also a bit strange to receive so much special treatment as an American at this school, particularly a Loyola student.  Guards and attendants tend to look the other way at misbehavior, the school goes out of its way to do extra for us- everything is just made a little easier.  I love and appreciate this, but again, I hope this doesn't instill an undeserved sense of privilege in me that I probably have enough of from being male, middle class, and white.

I'm getting a bit closer with my group, which is good.  I think I've been moderately successful at overcoming how shy and disassociated I naturally am, although I haven't made enough of an effort with the Thais.  I'm going to try to change up my schedule to take more classes with local students to force myself out of my comfort zone more, and try to take initiative to get things going myself.

I really hate blogging: this still feels rather self-indulgent.  So I'm just going to cut to a couple observations to round it out:

-Finally getting Mcdonald's was a miraculous meal that may have rivaled The Last Supper.  I can already see a new Dan Brown book about this.
-Contrary to what The Hangover II shows you, no one rides elephants down town.  Everything else was pretty spot on.
-Our National Anthem gets totally blown out of the water by the Thai anthem.  We need to do some new composing and step our game up.
-I think we should have a king.  Everyone loves the Thai King.  Just makes the whole country feel cooler.  I nominate Justin Timberlake.  Anyone who brings sexy back must be some kind of royalty.
-In an hour, I'll be 20 here but only 19 to my friends back home.  Sweet contradictions.
-No matter where you go, you cannot fucking escape fucking Nickelback.  I'm usually going to try to avoid that kind of diction in this blog, but holy balls they suck.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

a few days in...

A sixteen hour plane-ride is long enough to turn The Green Hornet into an incredible movie.  It's long enough to make a bed of rocks feel like a temperpedic mattress.  It's long enough to make the Rosie O'Donald look alike six rows ahead look like an 8/10 with just two glasses of wine.  But it's not long enough to get to Bangkok.  We needed two plane rides for that.

Sometimes in cities you walk over a sewer grate and feel a sticky, humid heat that you don't want to know the source of.  The source of it is probably Bangkok.

Asian languages and their accompanying accents cannot be exaggerated or characterized.  Anyone who says otherwise is overly sensitive or lying.  The squeaks and curves blend vowels and consonants together in such a way that Lil Wayne sounds articulate in comparison.

One dollar is about 30 baht.  I'm terrible at arithmetic, but I'm getting really good at multiplying and dividing by 30.

Bad music in America is still bad music in Thailand, arguably made more annoying by the fact that one would think several thousand miles would be enough of a distance to hide from Lady Gaga's new single or whatever else is hot with the kids right now.

You can make yourself more attractive by changing countries.  I haven't been hit on by this many girls since I pretended to be the Macaulay Culkin in the Amsterdam airport pre-Africa.

 KFC in Thailand is sort of like KFC in America: It's still sketchy as hell.

Peanut Butter is a hot, expensive commodity, but it comes with a free soy milk- juice box.

In theory you drive on the left side of the street in Thailand, but the truth is no one seems to really care what side of the street you're on.

Thai beers are bigger.  Bigger is better, everywhere in the world.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

One Day Away.

I'm not much for blogging.  In the Xenga craze of 7th grade I thought it would be cool to give it a shot; I think I made it through about half a post before I felt too self-indulgent to continue.  In high school I was too preoccupied with the daily dramas and chaoses that occur when you lock a thousand hormonal teenagers into one barely air-conditioned building.  And in college I never felt I had time for such things, even though all four of the writing teachers I've had thus far have recommended it.  So I think it may be a challenge to actually keep up with this thing, even when I have the strangest parts of the world to fuel my posts.  But it's a course requirement for my travel writing class, so I guess that's one way to motivate an infamous slacker and introvert into sharing his feelings and experiences with the online "community", whatever that is.

Everyone keeps asking me why Thailand?  Isn't that a little crazy?  Don't most people go to Europe or something?  That essentially is why I picked Thailand.  I wanted to go wherever people usually don't, wherever things would be most strange and unfamiliar, wherever I'd be most uncomfortable.  All signs point to Thailand and its neighboring countries being the perfect destination.  This could very well be a mistake, but I think the dangerous aspect of it makes it all the more exciting.

I'd be lying if I said I was ready to leave.  I have no idea what's going to be there, so I can't exactly prepare myself for it.  But that is not the cause of my hesitation.  The strongest piece of my current apprehension isn't what's there, it's what's here: I love my friends.  Some of them I'm worried for; I feel I'm leaving them at the worst possible time.  Others I know will be here when I get back, the same as they've always been.  The hardest are the friendships I've begun to doubt: people I love dearly who don't seem to reciprocate the efforts I put in.  I hope things won't feel that way on my return.  Regardless, I will miss them all terribly.

My family will be equally missed, but are less a cause of apprehension: I know they'll be the same, amazing source of love and support I've always had, no matter where I am in the world.

I sincerely hope I can bond with my group.  Most people don't see this, but relating to others is often very difficult for me.  I don't really know any of my fellow travelers, but I hope I come to value and trust them the way I do my closest friends now; we'll all need each other before long.

I could continue for quite some time to list my hopes, fears, and expectations: I hope I get some comedy material out of this, I fear burning to a crisp under the hot Thai sun, I expect a few hundred "oh shit" moments, etc.  But again, none of these things are really going to matter once I step foot on that plane tomorrow.  It's like the best of roller coasters: each twist and turn will be wild, new, unexpected.  I might at times feel like I'm going to die, or at the very least, throw up.  But when the ride comes to its all too soon finish, I'll just want to get back on.