Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Three Weeks of Thailand Part 2: Koh Chang

On the 26th we got in a minibus for 4 hours maybe, took a fairy to the island, then went to our hotel along the shore that was 1,200 baht a night ($40). While still cheap, Koh Chang is a bit more expensive than some other places, being an ‘underdeveloped’ area that it is. i.e. it’s not a tourist trap yet like its big brother Phuket. Our hotel was only about a 5 minutes walk to the beach too, where we went as soon as we could around 3:00. The tide was out, so we made camp on a little patch of sand that stuck out.

We were in the “white sands” area, further North from the beach I was at last year (this was where I ate the roast chicken for Christmas with Richard last year). Anyways, the water was more beautiful than I remember, and we played in it for hours. Anna was a bit sad that we couldn’t see fish immediately, but I didn’t mind so much. She still had fun finding the little crab things, and digging them out of the holes in the sand they scuttled into. She brought one to me, but it moved and scared her, so it got away.

We had BBQ supper that night watching the sunset over the water. I got “Cordon Bleu” chicken or whatever, but of course, mom’s tastes better. I still liked it, but I ate way too much. I had gotten used to ordering 2 meals again in Japan because they’re so small; I had some amazing creamy crab soup as well. That was a bad habit I fell on again, causing my recent weight gain.

Like I wrote before, I play a little joke with my students; I say I’m pregnant because of my belly, and they take turns naming my baby. Anna said since my name is “Tony” my stomach/baby should be called “Tonic”. I immediately thought of Gin and Tonic, but it was cute and became the running inside joke of the holiday.

The next day we started off at the beach again. After swimming a couple hours, Anna took a nap while I read “Memoirs of a Geisha” which I finished a couple days later. It’s a good book at first, but with so many of the people being so disgusting and horrible, it was a difficult read. Later the main character comes down with a case of being annoying and stupid that I couldn’t sympathize with her anymore.

After lunch, we rented a motorcycle and scooted around the island for a coupe hours. The bike was only 150cc or something (I know nothing about this stuff) so it worked fine driving along the road, but at a couple steep hills in particular, I had to get off and walk up so the bike could get to the top. Anna has a license so she drove the most, which is fine for me because I like to hang out in the back and take pictures of things we drive by.

Our first stop was the waterfall Rich and I went to last year. It’s still a beautiful place, and the water is still cold, but great to swim in. Again, things just weren’t as busy as they were last year, and we didn’t worry too much about finding room to swim. I can really feel the buoyancy difference from the salty ocean now compared to this fresh water stuff; I need to swim a lot harder to keep afloat.

We made our way to the same beach I was at with Richard, and I’m surprised how much it changed. I think they stopped cleaning it or something, as various things were strung out everywhere; I ended up wearing my sandals to stop from stepping on painful things. I discovered later that it wasn’t such a bad move.

With all the debris, came all forms of life. The crabs were much more numerous, the sand dollars, and even little fish. Anna would corner them along the shoreline, and try to whisk them up on the beach where they were easier to catch and pick up. One dude I saw from Germany had a home made little fishing apparatus, little more that a spool and a hook.

We hoped to make a big circle around the island, and made it half way, but the South-East section of it was closed off, being exclusive to rich grumpy people that didn’t want traffic on their roads or something. We cut our losses and headed back the way we came; I even drove for a little bit on a big long flat stretch. Once back, we swam/relaxed at the Hotel’s pool.

We went looking for restaurants that night, but in the end picked up a variety of different foods from different vendors like Banana Crepe, Roast Chicken, Sausage, Real (and weird) fruit juice, and more. They even had shark on display to be barbequed, but we had enough food.

The next day we went on an all-day snorkeling trip, not unlike what I did with Richard. In the morning it poured and was generally miserable, but by the time we got to our first island it stopped. Colorful fish swarmed the boat, and I was delighted to watch them go crazy over any bread thrown to them. Fins were available for $3, but I didn’t bite. In retrospect I should have just paid the $3 to rent the fins, but out of principle, I didn’t because I’m stubborn, and $3 is a fair amount of money in Thailand.

Anna had a bit of a guided tour around, hanging on a life jacket along with 4 others while a tour guide pulled them along, and showed them things of interest; swimming down and picking stuff up, things like that. I mostly did my own thing, but was still entranced by the colorful fish and coral everywhere. When I was falling behind once, one tour guide gave me a bit of a personal tour, picking up things like starfish for me to touch. All those nature documentaries about those monstrously poisonous and dangerous things underwater make me think twice before I do anything, so that was nice of him.

A couple times it would just be Anna and I lazily floating along the surface holding hands while schools of fish surrounded us. We wore lifejackets because it’s easier to be lazy that way. We reached out to grab fish and pointed out beautiful underwater flowers or whatever. I thought it was magical anyways; the tropics are so pretty. One place was shallow enough for Anna to stand up right on top of the coral. She’s pretty brave with that stuff, like when she goes and catches those weird Geckos and makes friends with them.

We went to 3 different islands, 2 different beaches, and visited the monkey island before going back. At one of the beaches, I got the courage to jump off the ship a couple times. I love to make cannonballs, and because of my size and weight they’re pretty impressive. Anna watched me do one from underwater, then told me not to do it anymore because she thought I’d hit one of the many spiky sea urchins down below. The tour guide picked one of those up for me; they’re crazy little spheres!

We had supper on the porch of the hotel, watching the sunset. The room was so nice, and it had a gecko in it. I didn’t know it, but they make loud chirping noises that woke me up confused and scared in the middle of the night a couple times. I thought it was a bird at first, but you could have sworn it was in the room with you… Sure enough the next day Anna checked behind a wall decoration and found the gecko hiding on the wall.

Well that was my short-lived, but amazing beach adventure. We thought it might be best to celebrate Christmas and New Years in Bangkok, so we came back on the 30th. We relaxed all morning, I read more of my book, and then around 2 or 3 the bus took us back to Bangkok. It was dark by the time we arrived, but we still were able to play “Setters of Catan”, that amazing game I packed up neatly into my suitcase. Anna loves it, Lily did ok, and Peter had to leave early but had fun too.

It was fun teaching them the game, then have them almost playing their own separate game as I didn’t know Thai. There is resource trading involved, so sometimes cards were exchanged without me being able to offer my lot. We had good talks too, my new hair is a hit. Lily went over again how she thought I was lady boy before, and the one guy plainly said he thought I was gay when he met me last year. Later he made a comment about wanting to eat my big pink head like a hot dog with mustard and ketchup, which was odd. He’s and odd guy though, which is probably why it’s fun to talk to him. I was bright pink from the sunburns for a lot of the trip.

Lily also got me, Anna and Richard presents from her own little holiday while we were gone. She got me a shirt of Saturn, and dangling from the rings are various astronauts like they’re at a carnival. I really like it, she’s a sweet lady.

On New Year’s Eve, Anna wanted to go home for a little bit to see her friends, who were calling her now asking if she was still alive. I wanted to go too, and she insisted to wash my clothes, which I didn’t really object to. It was a long drive out into the suburbs or wherever it was. It was funny that as we drove down one road and saw a pile of garbage in the ditch, she pointed it out and said, “That is Thailand.” I have noticed many people usually just throw everything down wherever they are. There’s no shortage of little plastic bags either with all the street vendors handing them out.

When we arrived, most people were feeling the effects of a party the night before. Regardless, it’s a cozy little town house maybe with many roommates, and a nice eye-opener for me. For example, their burner for cooking was a torch/ring burner thing on top of a propane tank.

Soon after arriving, Anna got busy with laundry while I met some of her friends. The one guy was drunk from last night still, and started pouring me whiskey drinks right away. I like to mix with coke or a carbonated beverage of the sort, but they like to use carbonated water in Thailand; a drink I quickly discovered I really don’t like. We talked a little, but not much with the language barrier.

I met many interesting and fun people. One girl had her husband from Sweden visiting in a couple days, and handed me the phone to talk to him in his thick German accent. Another girl was hung over, and hid in the house from me until she showered and had makeup on later. After saying “hello”, one girl right away said: “I want a boyfriend!” Didn’t I just deal with this when I met the fortuneteller? Atleast this time she was young and pretty. This came up later on the trip too: random girls would talk to Anna asking her “how to get a foreign boyfriend.” I don’t know how to answer that other than “Learn English.”

Anna’s English is not too bad, and I notice it getting better all the time. I guess it helped that I corrected her occasionally, and even picked out some good English study books for her at a bookstore; Thailand has a huge and amazing collection! I only wish half of those books were available for me to study Japanese with; especially the readers. Now that I passed my test, I’m not sure if I want to study it anymore.

With Anna talking in Thai to me all the time, suddenly I have more reason to study Thai than I do with Japanese anymore; and that is simply to have someone to talk to. I learnt many words from Anna, and it was fun to drop them into conversations, like calling Anna crazy (peabaa) or saying I’m hungry (youcaow). The funniest was later finding out how to end a sentence like a lady boy.

The language is divided between genders, with boys saying “clap” and girls saying “ka” at the end of the sentence. Ladyboys finish with a feminine “Haaa”, and the first time I said “Hello” like a ladyboy, Anna’s expression was priceless. It’s fun stepping on harmless culture barriers; I like to say silly things to get people responding with emotion. To me it means hardly anything, but she quickly warned me if I said that to her mom or friends, they wouldn’t let Anna talk to me anymore haha. Some words just carry a lot of weight compared to others.

My tutor Kayo talked about her Australian friends going back because they’d have more opportunity speaking Japanese there than in Japan. I understand their sentiments. I remember when Xiao told me for the first time ever she was happy to speak Japanese because with it she could talk to her friend in South Korea; they met in Japanese class. I guess this is why you go on holidays, to escape that which ails you. A lot of bile came up about Japan again, but hopefully I got it out of my system.

Back to the party, her friend didn’t miss a beat after the boyfriend confession, and asked if I knew any guys that wanted to go out with her. I could think of a number of them; people in Japan, Canada and so on, but I don’t know if they want to start something so long-distance. Again, it’s the culture thing, I remember Richard talking about some Canadians he met on the plane to Bangkok, going on their once-a-year visit to see their Thai wives.

So there I was drinking outside meeting new people while Anna did laundry. The wash machine was full (and even overflowed onto the floor at one point, no harm done), so the remainder she washed out in basins outside. I think this was my first time seeing laundry being washed by hand, and it was really interesting. After letting it soak in a soap-filled basin for a while, she would rub pieces of it together and rinse 3 or 4 times over. It was hard to describe, but I could see pieces of the wash cycle on the machine coming together.

I was fairly fascinated, and it worked really well. Here she gave me another scarf and toque that she made as presents, these ones are red and blue this time. She couldn’t make the maple leaf, so the colors would have to do. Here little place was simple but cozy. She loves coffee, so on my last trip I got her a “Hello Kitty” coffee cup and toy that she displays on her dresser.

After laundry Anna got a coconut ready to snack on. She picked up this huge cleaver that was about as big as her torso, and hacked away on this thing for a while. It was really odd to see this little girl with such a big blade. I’m surprised how much coconut is useless too, as she peeled many layers away; it was really cool.

Later on the drunk guy was passed out and we took out the Settlers game to play it again. We played for a couple hours until I was one point from winning, but the drunk guy woke up and simply put a bunch of food out on the table, effectively wrecking the game. Soon after the girls scattered to get food ready. Oh well. They made all sorts of dishes, from BBQ fish to clams to chicken and so on. The table was full of great offerings, but after putting back snacks and pop for hours I couldn’t eat much.

One girl rolled out her computer and the neighbor came by to set up speakers. They played music for hours while videos played in the background. A lot of it was Thai, but the English songs that did come on were of the girl variety; ie “you’re beautiful” and so on. It was still a lot of fun, everyone was dancing and singing along, and this big dude kept topping my drink regularly.

It was getting late and Lily called, saying she was at the world trade place ready for the countdown if we wanted to join her. An hour in the cab later, we were both exhausted and I wasn’t feeling too good for drinking pop for over 12 hours (mostly pop and not enough alcohol maybe), so we just went back to the hotel. I went to the countdown last year, and figured I wouldn’t do it again anyways. We got there around 11:30 and watched it on T.V, which was far superior as I imagined. Half the channels had different events from Phuket to Chiang Mai to Bangkok, and most of them the audience looked bored while being packed like sardines as unknown artists played songs I hadn’t heard of before on stage.

Finally the time neared. You never know the delay from the T.V. to the real time, as last year’s numerous false starts taught me. At 20 seconds left, fireworks were starting to fizzle around the area, then when the time came the sky exploded. From the large hotel windows (it was an amazing room) we had an amazing view of fireworks lighting up the city. Buildings nearby even had them shooting off the various floors. You could see people come out and stand on the rooftops for a better view, and we stood there with the big windows open, enjoying the fireworks for well over 10 minutes. This was so much better, as after you could just get some sleep after instead of fumbling through a mob for hours.

Well that was the end of my decade. I thought back on all that happened in the last 10 years, with milestones like my first girlfriend in 2000, finishing High School in 2001, moving to Regina in 2002, living in China in 2004, graduating again in 2006, coming to Japan in 2007, and the plethora of experiences that followed that opportunity.

I wonder what marvels the next decade holds for me. Happy New Year everyone.

"It is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich." -
Henry Ward Beeche


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