Tag Archives: Thailand
January 30, 2012

Tonight’s Gonna be a Good Naaiiaaight

Tonight’s Gonna be a Good Naaiiaaight

The guy was looking at last night’s party pictures on his iPhone.

“Whaaaat thhhhhheeeee fuuuuuuuuuuuuu…..”

Hangover giggles dropped him to the deck. “Duuuuuuude, that – that chick – that chick – ohhhhh myyyyyy gooooooooood!”

He passed the phone to his buddy, who started laughing. The two girls at the table leaned over for a look.

The phone was handed back, and the guy’s laughter trickled off.

“Fuck, man.” His finger swiped at the screen. “I don’t – I don’t know if I really like the fact that these are on the internet.” He swiped some more. “I don’t like that at all.”

We’d never seen the guy before, but, having experienced that same night, the comment was no surprise.

We’d met Andrew at the (relatively early) hour of 5PM the day before, which was supposed to be right smack in the middle of a scheduled barbecue. The barbecue, we were told, had been postponed to 6-ish. So now we had an hour to do… what, exactly? I’d seen a huge beach party happening, so we headed toward it.

Something was in the air.

It’d been hot, but nothing that justified the immediate unstoppable frenzy of alcohol that was either consuming, or beginning to consume, all stretches of the beach. Drunken 20s-somethings were swimming with one hand, cradling a beers and cocktails in the other. Girls were draped on each other, guys were draped on each other. Two beach volleyball games were underway, and between them, on the busiest stretch of sand, a sponge-ball cricket game was somehow happening. Really danceable beach music boomed, and while Andrew and I were waiting for our happy hour mojitos to be crushed, the only baby-boomers in sight bought nine shots for their daughter and her two friends. The girls gave two to dad, one to mom, slammed the rest back, and chased it all with Irish cider.

Was it really 5:30? So was Thursday the big party day? And was it related to the spray of male pheromones that morning down the beach? Whatever it was, the alchemy of celebration had blended just right, the air was caffeinated, and it was happening on the very night we’d set aside for just such revelry, Antje’s midnight birthday.

Completely at odds with the mood, we passed the next half hour teaching Andrew and Inga a Scrabble-esque game called Bananagrams. By then it was time for barbecue.

Now, we Americans don’t have the most refined palate on planet earth, and most of the time an American will eat what’s put before it.

This was pukeable. Every dish was off, everything was bizarre and chemically, and even the beach dogs got fed up with it pretty quickly. Still, the scenery was fine: two girls had jumped in the water fully clothed, and were getting the attention they wanted by pretending to be mermaid lesbians. Since the entire island had run out of tonic the day before, we switched over to drinks with Thai Red Bull (stronger, Peter warned us), and, completely electrified, skipped toward the same beach-side restaurant as the night before. There we focused intensely on the mangled menu:

“Steam rice” (Don’t tell me what to do!)
“Fried in Curry Sauce with Vegetable” (Fried what?)
“Gaderade” (Gatorade)

It was almost as entertaining as the subtitles we’d seen a few nights before, and which completely changed the film Contagion for about half the audience:

L. Fishburn: “It’s gotta happen, and it’s gotta happen fast.”
Subtitle: “I am very happy, and very fond.”

Boldly, Inga selected “Fried Tofu Cashew with Oyster Sauce” – and it was by far the week’s best order. Part of our meal’s sound track was the buzzing of a tattoo parlor, where a Thai guy was getting his arm done, and the owner, who’d been doing the job with a cigarette in his lips, caught me watching his work. The buzzing stopped, he raised a hand to the ciggy, and then beckoned seriously in my direction with it. Did he mean me? He did, and I shook my head, “No”. Man, did he think I was impulsive, or what?

It was time for Lotus, a bar built around the flow of the beach. The tide was out, which meant more sand for sprawling, and some needed it. At Lotus $5 buys a balloon filled with laughing gas, and 50 euros a “Super Bucket”, a massive, see-through thing with a lot of mixer, more than a fifth of alcohol, and FLASHING LIGHTS INSIDE! Up at the bar a ladyboy was handing out free (small) buckets to single, tipsy men, causing each to go through the same sequence of reactions:

“Hey, thanks!”
“Wait a minute…”
“I’m outta here!”

Some hilarious dancing was also happening, but Andrew and I headed down-beach to examine the open sewage that was flowing into the ocean. When we came back, Inga flashed her watch:


Three minutes later Inga pulled out a cake she’d bought from 7-11, lit the candles, and we sang happy birthday to Antje. At that I embarked on a little adventure that involved a lot of short conversations with a lot of different people – most drunk, one on laughing gas, and the last a Thai tattoo artist high on life – which ultimately procured one of those lanterns that float up into the sky and hopefully don’t cause a fire somewhere.

We lit it, waited for it to tug, and, in releasing it, “Let go of our worries for 2012.”

We walked down-beach, over the sewage and back toward the Fishbowl. There we plopped down on bean-bag chairs and, for about an hour, watched the hook-ups happen. Weaving through, and sometimes dancing, were six Thai women dressed as… flight attendants, maybe? Or were they women? There was also a guy with long blonde ringlets who was too old for this game but was cruising it anyway, just drinking and being a lech. We debated his nationality for at least five minutes: was he Swedish, Dutch, or Kiwi? I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I walked over and interrupted his flirt:

“Hey, I know this is kind of a weird question to ask, but we were wondering – that’s my wife over there, if you can see her – and we were trying to figure out –”

When I finally got to the question, one of the girls burst out laughing. “I toooootally thought you were inviting him to have a threesome!” The Swede – he was Swedish – agreed, and snapped his fingers, “Aw shucks!” I also had to agree that it had sounded like that, exactly like that, but, yeah, definitely no threesome, but still, cool that you’re Swedish, so… have a good night!

“I’m outta here!”


January 29, 2012

This is the human male

This is the human male

After that somewhat disastrous false-birthday morning celebration, a refreshing swim was in order.

Our bungalow’s at the south end of Sairee Beach, which is, semi-intentionally, somewhat removed from the backpacker area. This is where the families and the 30+ stay, and where they swim. It’s also, unofficially, the part where it’s OK for the occasional female tourist to go topless.

Now, whether you’re for or against or indifferent to topless sunbathing, this raises some questions in Thailand. Because I’m pretty sure Thai culture doesn’t incorporate or really support or maybe even understand this phenomenon, which makes the question less about whether it should happen in a general sense, and more about whether it should be done here, in Thailand, where the locals would never, ever do it.

It happens regardless. And that morning, the bar was raised.

As I waded out of the water, two tall, blonde, busty Swedish women, one with braided hair, waded in. As they went past I did a reasonably good job of being Catholic and, er, respectful of their toplessness. But I also genuinely enjoyed the view the other direction. On the beach, the males, behind their sunglasses, were suddenly sitting up.

This was all fun and games and kind of interesting. And then, from behind, came the sound of girly giggling.

The Swedish girls were frolicking in the water.

Oooookay. So these girls knew EXACTLY what they were doing. And it was effective.

Their frolicking exposed a biological flaw in the circuitry of the human male, and, like a Windows blue-screen, the men simply crashed. 50% of the beach… just… stopped… moving. Books were lowered, mouths were opened, and the secret sixth sense of the human male caused all to be drawn magnetically toward this one thing that was happening in the water at that one moment without any one person having announced that it was happening. Had their girlfriends/wives started punching them in the nose until they bled, they would have have felt no pain, for a circuit-breaker, when it is off, is off.

This was a very interesting thing to witness from the other direction, to the point that it felt wrong that the Discovery Channel wasn’t there. The series would have been called, “This is the Human Male.”

They weren’t there, though, so I can only guess at how much testosterone spiked through them in those moments, or how many of their pheromones instantly polluted the air.

Good work, Swedes.

Antje writing: This could also be called:The dumb hihihihi-I-am-so-dumb human woman


January 28, 2012

A birthday surprise

A birthday surprise

It was 7PM, and, as we made our evening plans, there were more than a few stifled yawns. Andrew’d been diving all day, we’d been in the sun all day, and Andrew had to be up again at 7AM for two more dives and a PADI test.

“I’ll definitely be more into going out tomorrow,” he said. Antje added that we could then celebrate his (knock on wood) upcoming PADI certification.

At this Inga smiled and said exactly what I’d been about to say. “Antje also has something to celebrate tomorrow.” Antje playfully rolled her eyes.

Antje’s not big on birthdays – and neither was Andrew, as it turned out. He’d had his 30th two days earlier, and, though we’d been with him, hadn’t mentioned it.

We ate on a beach-side, bamboo table, and afterwards walked down the only real “street” – bigger than a golf-cart path and a one-lane road. It’s kind of annoying, this street: motor-scooters putter by all the time, and it’s too small for that to be comfortable; when the Thais go by on their motor-scooter + side-buggy contraptions, you have to physically step off the side. Also, about a third of the tourists, and all the Thais, walk/drive on the left; the others walk/drive on the right. A whole lot of weaving.

On the plus side, though, it’s almost impossible to walk down this street without receiving three different coupons for various “TONIGHT ONLY!” drink specials. They’d always seemed to good to be true, so we usually trashed them. This time we tried one out.

“Are the drinks really 3-for-1?” we asked.


“So we can, um, get 3 gin and tonics for [$3]?”


Oh my goodness.

The only problem was that there were four of us, not three. But that wasn’t a problem either!

“Six gin and tonics, please!”

I watched him pour, waiting for the half-shot screw-over. He did the opposite, 2 parts gin to 1 part tonic. Yikes! But maybe the gin was watered down? A sip confirmed it wasn’t.

So this was going to be something of a night after all, and – on cue – FIRE!

These guys were even better, with chain-ball flames that they did amazing things with, like lighting their cigarettes, or making an angelic halo of fire above Andrew’s now motionless head. We clapped a lot and tried to tip, but they didn’t want the tips, just the clapping.

Somehow Inga’s drink had migrated my way, and in the middle of this amazing situation it reoccured to me:

Antje’s birthday was tomorrow! I had a gift, but now that I thought of it, I could do better.

Under the guise of buying another round, which I did, I snuck out of the bar and jogged toward our favorite breakfast place. They were still open! Why were they still open? It didn’t matter! I explained about Antje’s birthday.

“Would you be able to deliver breakfast to our bungalow tomorrow?”

The two guys conferred with each other in Thai for some time. They didn’t seem TOO happy about the request, but it seemed they’d acquiesced. One of them turned to me.


Oh. OK!

I jogged back to our bungalow place. They were open!

“Would you be able to deliver breakfast to our bungalow tomorrow?”

“Of course,” she smiled.

[note: This woman, whom I earlier implied might be a cockroach in her next life, had already, before this moment, redeemed that initial lie many times over through other small niceties. So I take that comment back unconditionally, and hereby change my Buddhist wager to her becoming, in her next life, a butterfly, seahorse, or giraffe.]

That completed, I jogged back to the bar, bought the drinks for a song, and delivered them to the table.

No one had noticed!

Emboldened, I left again ten minutes later, when Andrew went home, and accomplished errand #2.

This time they noticed the absence, though, and I had to lie (cockroach?) about where I’d been, what I’d been doing, and had to pretend to not be so sweaty. A half hour later, as we prepared to leave, Antje went over to the fire twirlers, hoping, this time, that they’d accept a small tip. Inga and I were alone, and as quickly as possible and in my suddenly really bad German I tried to explain what was planned for tomorrow. Inga looked very, very… confused. I repeated that Antje and I would probably meet up with Inga at around 4, that we’d be doing other stuff until that point. Somewhere in there the content seemed to get lost, or something got lost, but Inga said that she’d already picked up a card, and that we could all sign it–

–Antje was back.

All in all, things had worked out well, surprisingly well. And, the next morning, at 9AM sharp, someone knocked on our door.

The knock had ripped Antje out of a dream, and she sat up blinking, “Who’s that?”

“I have no idea,” I smiled. Then, tray of food in hand, I said, “Maybe it’s just a birthday breakfast?”

She was shocked, or maybe confused, or kept blinking at me. And, as politely as she could, she said:

“But it’s not my birthday.”


“Yes it is.” I checked the calendar.

It was…

…one day before her birthday.

What the hell?


How was that even–


“But Inga said –”

“She meant at midnight,” Antje clarified.

Oh yeah. They do that in Germany.

But how had I lost – or gained – an entire day?

Goddamnit, KO TAO! This could only happen on an island!

Depressed, I settled into breakfast in bed. Antje found it funny, even though German culture generally forbids pre-birthday celebrations as an omen of bad luck. Verboten! “Come on,” she said, “t’s funny. Or did you have other things planned?”

I didn’t tell her that the wheels were already in motion. I didn’t mention that things were happening that could no longer be stopped. Somewhere on this island there was a woman cracking her knuckles and preparing special ointments for Antje’s massage. And that could not be stopped, now. It was beyond my control, and I reclined in bed.

Antje took a shower. Really, the timing was perfect. She was dressed by 10AM, when the masseuse was supposed to arrive.

Luckily she was still keeping busy when 10:05 rolled around, then 10:10. Come on, masseuse! By 10:15, Antje’d had enough, though. “Aren’t we going?” she asked.

I did the kinds of things that people do in movie when they’re clearly stalling. I unpacked and repacked my backpack. I walked into the bathroom and pretended to be doing something in there. I took my wallet out and opened it. Oh look, 5 euros. “Something’s weird,” Antje said. I gave up.

“Something’s supposed to happen,” I said. “We have to stay here.”


“It’s a secret.”

Ten minutes later, nothing had happened.

I left and walked to the massage place. My request the night before – a morning massage for Antje in our bungalow – had caused something of a scandal in that establishment that I never really understood. When I’d left, the four masseuses and their clients, all Thai women, were tittering and looking my way. [note: now that I re-read that, or re-think it, I wonder if the words "for my wife" were lost in translation, and they thought I was brazenly asking for a special morning bungalow session. At the time, though, I thought it was related to sweatiness and gin-reek.]. Anyway, the staff recognized me immediately.

“1 o’clock!” the woman confirmed. “Massage, 1 o’clock!”

What? I’d written “10:00AM” on a piece of paper, and even underlined it. But this was good news.

“We come now,” the woman said.

“No, not now. Tomorrow? Tomorrow, 10AM?”

“Yes, yes.”

“OK, good. So tomorrow, 10AM?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Great. Tomorrow. 10AM.”

At least that was settled.

Happy fake-birthday, Antje!

January 27, 2012

Koh Tao

Koh Tao

Ko Tao

Sairee Beach faces west,
and for sunsets that’s best,
But come morning it’s deep in the shade.

But a coffee milkshake,
Make the Farang* awake!
Yet at noon, she’s still in the shade

Come 2PM,
and the sun, like a hen,
lay’s an egg on westerner’s head.

And so he must plop,
And remove a flip-flop,
And make,
that beach,
a bed.

Once he is brown,
or red, with a frown,
It’s time to roll in a wave.

And then take a shower,
To smell like a flower,
But still smelling,
Like a cave.

Next comes a dinner,
Where tourist is winner!
For it isn’t about the food.

It’s the film shown for free,
Between your two feet,
Which truly sets the mood.

(Especially when it’s Contagion.)

* Falang = Gringo



January 26, 2012



The alarm went off at the unholy hour of 6AM. We managed to lift our legs and drag them to the dive-shop.

A lot of divers were standing around outside, everything feeling… disorganized. Steve, the shaggy English manager of the divemasters, filtered through. “Has anyone seen Luke? Hey, has anyone seen a man named Luke? He sort of looks like… a bear.”

The gear was loaded onto a shuttle-boat, and the divers afterwards. Steve explained who’d been diving with whom. “That’s Ant right there, and if you’re diving with him, I sure hope you’ve got insurance.”

Ant was our dive-master. He was sweating in the morning heat, and had the recessed under-eye circles I’ve seen in a whole lot of dive-masters. Part of it, I think, is related to the compression/decompression of diving, and the other that you can party really hard and still be a dive-master the next day.
On the main dive-boat, Steve introduced Milo, as well. “That’s Milo, he’s also one of our dive-masters.” We all looked at Milo, who was waiving. “Milo’s the one smiling at you right now, and looking kinda waivy.” Milo kept smiling and waiving. “Yep, that’s Milo alright,” Steve nodded. “Good work.”

Just before breakfast, Steve talked about the bathrooms. “If you have to poo, please poo while the boat is moving. If the boat’s stopped, it just bobs around in the water around the boat.” He paused while some “Ewwws” were let out. “So please poo while the boat is moving. Unless there’s an Open Diver course nearby, of course. Then poo all you want.” The subject shifted to breakfast. “Please do NOT throw away the plastic utensils. We wash those, we re-use them, it’s part of our whole ‘sustainability’ thing. And I HATE going through the rubbish to find plastic utensils. So please, please, do think of my hatreds.”

The boat stopped at pinnacle of rock jutting out of the water. We’d reached Sail Rock. Nearby, as in a few hundred yards (meters) away, was a fishing vessel. We were assured and then reassured that no errant hooks would, er, hook us. Still, it was odd, like going on an African safari and having a carload of hunters pass by.

The dive, itself, was mediocre. The visibility hovered around 10m, and the thermoclines dizzied up the rest. 18m down (60 feet), my chief concerns were my cramped feet (stupid fins!) and my cramped bladder (why the second cup of tea?). There was also a current, which Antje and I were somewhat allergic to. Our previous dive had currents that felt like a hurricane, so we were ready for something non-currenty. The only non-currenty part had been a hollow, rock chimney. That was fun.

Onboard for an hour, we got to know our dive-buddies. Burt is a shaved-headed Australian who’d quit his job in England after 10 years and was traveling back home; Mary, who we’d thought was his girlfriend but wasn’t, hailed from Austin, Texas. She’d fallen for a Swede on her travels, and when she asked how Antje and I had managed that transition, her questions began, very charmingly, with “Ya’ll.”

Later, we happened to be sitting next to the dive-masters as they discussed their next move. The current was supposed to increase. Another option was on the table, a rarity, the White Whale of Ko Tao diving.

“Are we seriously doing Samram?” someone asked hopefully.

Steve stood up and looked at the horizon. He was the decider, and a decider, when he’s deciding, squints. What he was looking at was the calmest ocean water I’ve ever seen.

“Yes,” he finally said. “If we can find it.”

The dive-masters whoop-whooped.

Samram was great. The underwater pinnacle was covered in torn nets, buoys, and ropes which, though not beautiful, are different. Also, the current was zero, the visibility a touch better, and our group of four had learned how the other swam. It was the sort of dive where you can slow down, find neutral buoyancy, and focus on how weird fish are.

Back onboard, divers sunned themselves warm. Lunch took place. Some, including me, napped.

Suddenly Antje was shaking my shoulder. Dive three was happening.

Something like a rock-rake came up at us as we descended, and we swam over it, around it, and over it again. The visibility was poor, and for some reason the groups of divers kept criss-crossing. That was too bad. The confusion drove the attention away from the fish and coral, and more toward following the dive-master and finding your own buddy. Not the best dive, and luckily the shortest.

Onboard, we were spent. Antje’s eyes were hazed over, my teeth, squeaky; somehow I’d polished off three Coca-Cola’s, a superabundance.

Steve showed up, looking drained and even shaggier. “Everyone up here will get on the [shuttle] boat first,” he shouted. “But WAIT – UNTIL – I TELL YOU. OK? Again, YOU will be the FIRST group down. But please wait until you hear us say, ‘COME DOWN.’ Wait for us to TELL you.”

I happened to be next to him, and when he finished I shot up, as if to leave. “So I go down now? Like RIGHT now?”

He laughed, completely exasperated. “You say that, but I tell you, three or four people always come down. ALWAYS. Then they just get hit by the gear, and nobody wants that, not even divers.”

Back on land, while we paid, the cashier/dive-master shook her head. “I can’t BELIEVE you went to Samram. I’ve been waiting two years to go to that site! And you do it today, without me!” The comment received a “What can a ya do?” shrug from a girl dive-master nearby. “I’m not gonna say that it was cool,” she said. “But it was really, really cool. Like, really cool.”


It was a good dive-site, but nothing to posture about. And, as Antje later said, it’s funny how status symbols evolve in very enclosed communities like this one.

Altogether we’d spent more than two hours underwater, and that was enough.

After dinner and a (free) movie with Andrew and Inga, we went to bed for eleven more.


January 25, 2012



On one of our Ko Tao layabout days, we had a very difficult decision to make.

“Are you going for a swim?” I asked Antje. “Because I am, in a few minutes.”

“You can go.”

A few minutes later I was still there, and she asked why.

“Just relaxing.”

Ten minutes later I hadn’t managed that swim, so we left together, and Antje came down to the beach. “Are you going in?” I asked. “No.” She began to draw. I guess I was watching her draw, since she asked, “Aren’t you swimming?”

Oh yeah!

I swam, which was really like sitting in the water. Then I went back for a bungalow shower, which is more like standing under a weak raincloud. By the time I met Antje on the beach again, a small miracle had happened. Sitting across from her was…

… Aaaaandrew?

Andrew from Louisiana?



His hair was a bit shaggier than a month earlier, and his relaxed nature showed that he, too, had enjoyed many relaxing experiences in his time away from us. As Antje’s drawing attests, though, it was definitely him and not an imposter angling for our friendship.

For the first ten minutes we laughed more than we talked, kind of like crazy people. But the situation was crazy!

We’d last seen him the night before we did the Tongariro crossing with Mt. Doom; he’d done it earlier that day with Khan, who taught us the “Bunny Bunny” game. (Or “taught” us.) From there Antje and I had gone to Napier, New Zealand’s seaside “Ashland”, and he’d jumped one step ahead to Wellington.

He’d also left New Zealand a earlier than us. Back when we were celebrating New Year’s Eve with Robbie and Rebecca in Wanaka, he was watching people eat spoonfulls of worms from a bucket at his “Reggae Mansion” hostel in Malaysia’s capitol city. (Note: Andrew does not recommend “Reggae Mansion” to anyone.) So he’d gotten to Ko Tao island via Singapore, Malaysia, and south Thailand; we’d come from the north, from Bangkok. Strange. These things tend to happen while traveling, but usually within one country, or in a region – not New Zealand and Thailand. Something told us that we were meant to do something very special together, that it was perhaps even fated to be so, and suddenly we knew what it was:

Eat Thai food!

We did just that, and things were feeling celebratory. It was Chinese New Year’s Eve, which we’d been aware of since 8:30AM that morning, when firecrackers exploded outside our window, and Inga texted Antje, worried about pirates.

So when our waitress walked up, Andrew and I ordered big beers instead of small ones, and Antje and Inga ordered margaritas.

Five minutes later, the beers arrive. Ten minutes had passed, then fifteen, and still the girls still had no drinks. Hm. Had they forgotten? Just as we were about to stand up and ask – somewhat difficult with cross-legged eating – the waitress walked up with someone else’s food in hand.

I said, “Excuse me–”

And, much to our confusion, she set two pizzas before us.

“Not our pizzas,” we said/pantomimed.

The table-numbering system is hit or miss here, so this sort of stuff happens a lot. Usually the waiter/waitress moves on immediately.

But this time the waitress gave us a long, hard stare that said, “I am 100% sure these are your pizzas.”

And in a way, she was right.

It was Antje who figured out the riddle, and since the answer was so pleasingly logical, such an “Ah ha!” moment, for now I’ll let you figure it out for yourselves, so that you might feel that pleasure, too. [Answer below]

When that was resolved, the girls got their drinks. A dog wandered under our table, and stayed. A seven-year-old boy cleared our dishes, smiling proudly.

Antje went to the bar and ordered two more margaritas, and got charged more than I had. She wasn’t pleased by a Margarita price-structure based on a customer’s sexual anatomy, and said as much to the bartrendress.

Later the bartendress came to our table, though, handed back the change, and apologized.

From there we walked up the beach, which was covered in beached backpackers. They were reclining in various positions on various reclinable articles belonging to beach bars, and unfortunately for us, our plastic mats were wet with moisture. We wiped them off with our hands as best as possible, sat down, and soaked up the rest with our butts – just in time for the waiter to come over with towels. Oh well. Antje and Inga ordered something with cranberry juice. Andrew and I stayed with beer.

A few minutes later the waiter came up with two beers and a bucket. The bucket was sloshing with cranberry juice, ice, and an entire flask of vodka.

I was impressed. “Did you guys seriously order a bucket?”

They hadn’t. They’d ordered “cranberry juice,” and now they had a bucket.

The waiter laughed, took the bucket away, returned with their cranberry juices, and left.

Antje sniffed hers and wrinkled her nose, “This is NOT cranberry juice.”

I smelled it, too, expecting alcohol. Instead it smelled sweet, sickly, sickly sweet. “Smells like grape bubblegum,” I said.

Andrew smelled it next, and immediately solved this, our second riddle. “That is DEFINITELY Kool-Aid,” he said. He was absolutely right.

Antje and Inga frowned at us. “What’s Kool-Aid?”

Andrew and I were stunned. “Kool-Aid? You don’t know Kool-Aid?”

They didn’t know Kool-Aid. Un-effing-believable. We were speechless, physically speechless. How do you explain Kool-Aid? How do you explain something that is so integral to your childhood, to your summers? It’s something an American has never had to think about, let alone articulate, and for a while we could only look at each other and laugh, waiting for the other to begin.

Andrew began. “So Kool-Aid’s like this big… guy who busts through walls.”


Is that what Kool-Aid means in Louisiana?

I mean yes, it’s completely accurate and 100% true to say that “Kool-Aid” was in fact a cold glass pitcher with a smiley face fingered on who likes to break through brick walls or anything else that stands in his way of refreshing those thirsty children. That is exactly what the advertisements show him doing. But I never would’ve started there – that’s not the first association I make with the word “Kool-Aid” – and this tremendous gap in MEANING between his understanding of “Kool-Aid” and my understanding of “Kool-Aid” was one of the more hilarious experiences of my life. Andrew laughed at himself, also realizing the explanatory hole he’d dug by starting a description of Kool-Aid with a “guy who busts through walls.”

I tried, and mostly got the idea across that it’s an artificially flavored, artificially colored sugar concoction that you mix with water, and that parents only give to their children on special occasions, since it literally turns them rotten.

Antje sipped at her terrible drink. “Bleck.”

So this was maybe “cranberry Kool-Aid,” but definitely not cranberry juice – meaning the girls were 0-for-3 that night with their drink orders. But that was OK, because…

…in front of us were five young Thai guys with their shirts off doing crazy things with FIRE!

Some had sticks, others fireballs on chains. All were professional, or semi-professional. Two were stand-outs.

“He’s the best,” Antje said of the skinniest. “Look how fast he is.” It was true.

“Yeah, but he also makes the most mistakes,” Andrew said. And on cue, the guy dropped the stick.

The next guy came up, built in a way that was almost military. “This guy’s good,” Andrew promised. And he was. He was ALMOST as fast as the other guy, but never made mistakes. He was methodical, technical, perfect. You got the feeling he practiced a lot more, focusing on where he was weak.

Skinny guy came back and started twirling. For all his mistakes, though, he was still far more fluid, flexible, rhythmic. He was a natural. He did make more mistakes. But he was a natural. He had his own style, like the rest of them, his own “go-to” moves, his own clothes and tattoos. They were like skaters standing around a skate-park.

It’d been going on so long that no one was clapping anymore, which felt weird. These guys were busting their butts, burning themselves, and the backpackers? The backpackers were yawning. They were leaning back on the beach, chatting it up, sometimes watching. What was the point of all this fire if no one cared? What does it imply when dangerous fire-twirling isn’t exciting anymore? What did the backpackers REALLY want, if not fire-twirling? “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!” There was a tip-box made of wood, and no one tipped. What would make them tip? I got the feeling that if a Thai guy had self-immolated and jumped in the ocean, they would’ve tipped. “Now that’s entertainment!” The Thai guys felt it too – but this happens every night for them, and it wasn’t really about the foreigners, anyway. They were there to trade tricks and trade jokes and twirl some fire.

It was time to go home.

We tipped.


January 24, 2012

Overheard on a breakfast deck, 10.30 am

Overheard on a breakfast deck, 10.30 am

Or, “Globalization, it’s effect us.”

“If oil go down,” a Russian said, “Russia, it has nothing. The last 20 years, everything supported from oil. If there no more money from oil –”

“I don’t think oil prices are going down, mate,” an Australian said.

“Yes, but if Europe stops using so much, and America stops using so much, and China stops using so much?”

Two of his three tablemates nodded. The third was studying a PADI book called “Open Water Diver”.

“In Russia, the people don’t… respect themself. The country don’t respect itself. The Soviet Union did some things, like education and health system. Now government is private, and if government is private, there is people, people who is tibs.

“Tips?” both guys said.

“Tibs,” the Russian nodded.

“They take tips? Like bribes?”

“No. TIBS.”

“Hm. I’m not quite–”

He was getting annoyed. “Take things, stealing things.”

“THIEVES,” the Australian announced.

The Russian looked at them like they were idiots. “Yes, thieves. Now the health is gone, the education is gone. They’re learning only just to go to United States. And they learn not because they like to learn.” He shrugged. “The Soviet Union lost the cold war.”

The PADI guy looked up. “How can you LOSE the cold war? It wasn’t even a war.”

“We have collapsed,” the Russian/Soviet said. “Completely. And the United States tooks the scientists, the best Soviet scientists. And now America starts some revolutions in Egypt, in Tunisia, and now, what is it –”


“Yes, and they try everything, clean the countries away. Iran is the country. They want to fight with Iran. And they take away the friends first.”

“Because Iran’ll shoot for Israel,” the Australian agreed.

The conversation tapered off. “I have read, in newspapers,” the Soviet said, “that last time, Australia creates military, starts to enforce military.”

The Australian pulled his legs up. “So yeah, there’s no conscription or anything. But they’re pushing the idea through the schools now, yeah. There’s a lot of funding for the navy and army to pay for university.”

The Australian went on to explain the tuition reimbursement + payment structure for military service in Australia, that for many people it was a good thing, in the end. The Russian thought Australia was preparing to fight China.

“No, we’re pretty friendly with China, actually.”

The Soviet shook his head. “Just want to secure oil.”

The conversation stopped.

“I believe we will survive,” the Russian said. “But we need time to start respect ourself.”

No one responded, so he said, “Globalization, it’s effect us.”

The Australian said “Yeah” in a way that meant, “I don’t wanna keep talking about this crap.”

The coffee arrived, and the Russian said, “Drugs is a problem.”

He had their attention again. “What, like cocaine?”

“No, no, cocaine too expensive, people can’t buy. Glue and some medicament, that makes some terrible drug. Destroy body in two years. Is cheap, extremely cheap. Cheaper than buy vodka.”

The food arrived.

Breakfast on Ko Tao.


January 23, 2012


Approaching us was a large yellow t-shirt with a short, unhappy woman inside. The dreaded trip had arrived.

“Ticket,” she demanded.

We gave three tickets.


Antje had the receipt.

Without further ado she turned and walked to Khaosan road.

I asked Antje if we were supposed to follow. Antje had no idea. I turned to the ticket-office. “Should we…?”

She pointed at the departing woman. “She take you.” We heaved up the packs and made after her.

Luckily our yellow-shirted leader was walking very… very… slowly. It wasn’t even walking, really. More like shuffling,

And it wasn’t really “leading”, either. When you lead someone, you sometimes make sure they’re still following. But she only looked at trinkets, or at t-shirts, or straight ahead, in an angry way, or up at the clouds, in an angry way. But backwards? Never.


“Does she even know we’re following?” Antje and Inga weren’t sure.


Don’t buses have schedules? This lady didn’t. How stressful and boring! On the plus side, at least we could check out Khaosan road one more time. All those DVDs for under $2! Maybe one more fruit juice?

“Are we even following her?” Antje asked.

Good question! Where’d the ol’ gal go?

But there she was, a yellow blob, bobbing ahead, shuffa shuffa. It was like a video-game where you have follow a slow-moving character from point A to B but, but aren’t allowed to interact with that character.

Our character reached a hotel, and yelled at it, “Ko Tao? Ko Tao?”

Some lounging backpackers shook their heads. She walked off.

A minute later, Antje grabbed my arm. “Aren’t we supposed to follow her?”

I looked for the woman. She was gone.

“I hope not. I have no idea. She would’ve said something, right?”

She hadn’t said anything. Or wait, Inga thought she’d said something. It’d sounded like “wait”.

We waited.

After a few minutes I asked the backpackers if anyone knew anything about going to Ko Tao. Of course not. Backpackers rarely know where they’re sleeping that night.

Antje asked if she should walk back to the ticket place. “And if she comes back?” I said.

Two minutes later, off in the distance, a yellow blob appeared.

“There she is. Awesome. We’re good.”

From there we shuffled another 200 yards (meters) or so and dropped our packs like the others had done. Mosquitoes swarmed us immediately.

Thirty minutes later we were allowed to board, and for the next thirty after that we sat on the bus, waiting, doing nothing. The doors were open, and for every one passenger approximately 10 mosquitoes also boarded, along with wafts of cigarette smoke from the smokers. The interior lights were green – who chose green? – making everything feel like a casino and everyone look like death. An American couple got on, hoping to find two seats together. Not only could they find two seats together, they could only find one seat total! The guy yelled for the bus-driver, and when the driver arrived, he surprised me by having a bowl-cut. “We have BUS TICKETS,” the guy pantomimed. His khaki shirt was soaked, especially under the arms. “There are NO SEATS.” The Thai driver got the message, walked through the bus, tapped a few shoulders, and somehow rearranged things so that a seat opened up.

At that the bus doors closed, locking us in with a few hundred mosquitoes. I swatted a good dozen of them – no buddhist, here – until the green lights went off.

The darkness invigorated the two Germans behind us, a guy and a girl who’d just become best friends. They talked about everything they’d seen and everywhere they’d traveled and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. I think they were attracted to each other, and therefore nervous, and with the darkness adding to the romantic potential, and probably some inadvertent-but-possibly-intentional knee-touching, they simply could not maintain 12-inch voices.

It had gone on for more than two hours – straight. This was seriously hardcore conversation, just pure unbroken strings of human language, and now that everyone else was clearly trying to sleep, including us, I decided to end it.

“Hey, would it be possible for you guys to talk a little quieter?”

“Oh yes, yes, sorry!”

So they were nice, in the end.

At midnight, after a few hours of fitful upright sleepiness, the bus pulled over. “Food! Last chance food before Ko Tao!”

At midnight? That’s not how life works! I wasn’t having any of it, and neither were Antje and Inga. The rest of the bus ate, though, with the male half already jockeying for the two Danish girls traveling together.

At 12:30AM we took. Up front the American couple were now sitting next to each other, and had befriended a pair of German guys. They too were engaged now in very loud conversation, and the word that kept floating back was “communism”. Why here? Why now?

One of the German guys turned around and shouted, “Now we’re talking some fucking politic, man! Now we’re talking some fucking politic!”

Two minutes later they weren’t talking “politic” anymore, though, which was good.

At 3AM the bus stopped again. We were “here.”

“Here” was the ferry terminal, our ride to Ko Tao. Somehow I’d understood that the ferry was to leave at 4:30AM or so, something in that range, but the schedule said differently. The first departure was at 7AM, or four hours from now.

So let’s… settle in!

They had a few tables with chairs, some drinks and snacks, and a flat-screen TV with an awful made-for-TV American movie about asteroids. Antje and I shared a beer. We all ate crackers. Inga fell asleep, then I fell asleep. Antje stayed awake. She shook my shoulder. “The ferry’s here.”

On the ferry we re-inflated neck pillows and rearranged ourselves in various sleepy-like positions. The water was calm, and then my shoulder was being shaken. “We’re here.” 2 hours had passed, and as we took a taxi to our bungalow place, and I was getting nervous.

Reservations are sometimes taken in Thailand, but they’re not taken seriously. Peter explained that there’s a cultural reason for this, that Thais will reserve six different hotels for a single night “just in case” they want to go to them. But as it’s high season, and as it’s our honeymoon, and since we’re also traveling with Inga, we had Peter call ahead and “book” something, anyway.

Sure enough, there was a problem.

“You supposed to come last night,” the woman said. “Room was empty.”

Not true, lady. That’d been our original booking, but Peter had called to change it to one day later.

She never received a call, she said!

At this point we couldn’t prove otherwise, so this went back and forth for a long time until finally we got into a slightly more expensive room, and Inga into a place next door.

[Peter did call. The woman lied, increasing her chance of reincarnation as a cockroach.]

Solve the riddle and win a T-shirt :)


January 22, 2012



It was evening, and Ethos was starting to fill.

Behind us, an older, caucasian expat was on his cellphone.

“I mean that’s what they’re paying for, that’s what they wanna see, isn’t it? Just say something like, ‘That’s tiger shit,’ and let everyone take a picture.”

At this he went quiet, listening to the response. He was a long-term expat with an accent that could’ve been from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, or somewhere in England.

“It could be cow shit,” he explained. “it doesn’t matter.”

He listened for a while, then said, “So on the 13th I’m taking some white people up to [Lampun?]. So if you’re free you could come along.” I looked at him again. He was white.

A short while later the conversation ended, and he left. His table was filled up by five guys, all mid-40s, all hippie-ish and kind of weird, and the subject of international finance came up.

“Gold,” the only non-hippy said, “is just a byproduct of iron.”

He explained that x amount of gold is found every time a mining company goes for iron. [no idea of this is true.] “Like I said, gold is just – when you mine iron, you end up getting gold with it. It’s – you’re always gonna get some gold in the – I’m from Minnesota originally.”

“But how much gold is actually out there?” A Swiss guy asked.

The guy repeated the gold-iron relationship, and added, “Minnesota has some of the biggest open mines in the world.”

This hadn’t answered the question, and the Swiss guy said again, “But how much gold is out there, in people’s hands? I have heard that some of the gold is, like, hidden, to increase the value.”

The Minnesota guy repeated the information about gold and iron, not answering the question. No one cared anymore. He’d usurped the conversation, the whole table, and whether or not it was bullcrap was now irrelevant.

The group left. The table refilled again with two men and a woman, and somehow, as if the table had an economic theme to it, the group started talking international finance bullcrap again.

Minnesota guy walked back into the restaurant, stood listening for a minute, and walked up to the table. “Did I hear you talking about the Federal Reserve?”

“I don’t think so,” the guy said. “We were–”

“Because the thing about the Fed is…. so, the government gets bigger and bigger, and the taxpayers… so it’s, uh, eventually they’re gonna starve off all the private banks unless your’e one of the, unless you’re so huge, but then, like AIG, which is basically just a huge conglomerate with a government share. And what this means to you and I, and I’ll get to my point, but let’s say these three glasses [on the table] are the big banks, and these businesses are the small banks. And what’ll happen is these small banks will get established in some sort of market, or some sort of service, and they might merge, and they really – and as far as the entrepreneur is concerned, these small banks…. But this small bank grew from a 6.2 million dollar bank to a 12 BILLION dollar bank. So you have this idea, ‘I wanna buy this vegetarian restaurant, or I wanna buy this bank in Thailand,’ but you can’t really do that when it comes time, it ends up being like communism. You gotta have a relationship with the czar. But this is what – it’s a mathematical equation, it’s called the mark-to-market equation. It wasn’t the sub-prime crisis. It was the rating of those mortgages, it was all those banks saying, that’s not our asset. And the government was like, we want you to go and reappraise everything on your banks. And that’s OK when you’re talking about general commodities, but the main thing that’s interesting is the treasury, because for you and I – I mean, China’s looking at the long term, and – sorry if I’m like –”

“No, no, it was very interesting. Thank you.”

The guy didn’t leave, though, and the other, forced to fill the awkward emptiness, re-engaged him with a general financial comment. It was like my stupid trout situation. Once baited, the Minnesota guy did his thing. “Newt Gingrich, he has a list of 10 things he would change. And number 7 is –”

I hope this is frustrating to read, because it’s sure frustrating to listen to, especially when it happens again and again and again.


January 21, 2012

Bangkok 3

Bangkok 3

For all the restaurant misses, once in a while there’s a big ol’ stinkin home run.

I’d been looking for an adaptor the day before and found a place called “Ethos”. The name, if anything, was a turn off, but the inside had floor pillows and cross-legged eating. Had the food been bad it would have still been a huge improvement on the day before. The food was delicious. Peter was working, so the “Ethos” owner gave us instructions to “Siam Square”, a place Peter had recommended. It required a walk, a canal boat, and some more walking, and we were two-for-three when we stepped off the boat.

We were on a bridge and under a skytrain at that point, and, with the heat and the noise of the cars, things got confusing and pretty stressful. A western couple was walking to the right, and so we followed. “They’re probably going to the same place,” we reasoned. When they stopped and pulled out a map, though, I approached them.

“Any chance you’re going to Siam Square?”

“Excuse me?

They were European, or maybe Russian, and not friendly. “Siam Square?”

“No,” the guy said, consulting the map. “We are going to Khaosan road.”

I wanted to tell him that he was off – that he was way, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay off – that their entire day, and maybe week, and maybe relationship, would be ruined if they tried walking to Khaosan road in that heat, with that noise, and with their packs on.

But at that moment a Thai man walked up, smiling. “Where you going?”

“Siam Square.”

“Aaaaaah!” he smiled bigger. “Siam Square. I just there! This way,” he pointed happily. “Is closed!”

We asked again what he meant. “The queen,” he said. “She go to Siam Square. Closed, 1 o’clock.”

“It’s closed now?” I asked. Inga’s watch said noon.

“1 o’clock, closed. Queen at Siam Square.”

“So it’s open now? Or it opens at 1 o’clock?”

“1 o’clock,” he smiled. “Closed. Queen of Thailand.”

It was pidgin time. “Close now? Or open no, open to 1 o’clock?”

“Where you want to go?” he smiled. “Shopping clothes?”

Suddenly everything clicked, the oldest trick in the book. “Point A is closed, so come with me, I take you point B.” Duh. Thailand’s not as bad as other places, but still, I should’ve known. No thanks, buddy.

We turned away, this time in the right direction. The European couple were gone.

We found Siam Tower, and Siam Discovery, but no “Siam Square.” We asked a few people, and everyone pointed vaguely to an outdoor area that looked pretty crappy. Instead of going there we walked in Siam Discovery, ate some Häagen Dazs, and asked again. Indeed, the crappy-looking area was Siam Square, but once there it turned out to be filled with boutique – and often cheap – Thai clothing.

Back on Khaosan road we drank fruit juice and watched four guys – I think Australian – walk down the street with their shirts off. It was amazingly inappropriate, it drew the attention of the whole street, especially since one of the things had muscles so huge it looked like his skin would rip. At that we went for Thai massages.

Inga and Antje had women; I had a guy; he hurt me.

I kept telling myself, “This is good for you, it’s a good pain.” And maybe it was. But the massage felt like it was from a professional carpet installer. Some of these masseuses, Peter had warned, aren’t trained. He was not trained.

We showered and headed to Peter’s place, and from his 25th-floor apartment saw the beginnings of our first Bangkok sunset. The smog turned it pink, letting you stare right at it, perfectly fitting my stereotype of a Bangkok sunset. We drank wine beside the building’s pool, ate street food, and caught a cab to the place we’d been told, quite mysteriously, to dress nicely for.

I haven’t seen Hangover 2, but if you’ve seen it, you’ll know this building. It’s called the State Building, and has a Skybar on the 65th floor, and there’s a prominent scene with Bradley Cooper where he’s sitting on the steps. Stepping outside gives immediate vertigo that can only be countered with a drink.

Antje was somewhat freaked, and asked the same question I’d asked Peter in his 25th-floor apartment.

“Does Thailand have earthquakes?”

The answer is no, there really aren’t. But I think any scientist worth his salt would say that Antje and I still have some residual freaky-deakies from Christchurch going on.

The drinks were Peter’s wedding present to us, he said – a Martini for me, a Margarita for Antje, and a “Hangovertini” for Inga – and though I’m not much of a Martini judge, it was the best of my life, and the best drink + view of my life, and the kind of experience that makes you feel like the possessor of an entire city, someone of old world privilege and new world power, and the owner of your life. Peter and I had gotten separated from Antje and Inga, and by then a group of American had douchebags gotten between us. They were behind me, and had backwards hats and kept comparing everything to Vegas. One of them, a 40-year-old with a beer belly, announced loudly to his younger friends – right next to us – that he was gonna pick up “those girls” at the bar. “Those girls” were Antje and Inga.

And so he walked up to the bar, got close to Inga and Antje, and froze.

Presumably he heard them speaking German, his non-native language, and, working out his next move, instead did nothing.

At this point Peter explained to me what was happening and I turned around.

The guy’s friends were watching him, and yet still he stood there, gathering up his courage, sipping at his drink, doing nothing.

Every guy’s been there at some point, so there might be some sympathy pangs. But for Peter and me, this was a very beautiful thing to watch. Knowing the outcome beforehand we leaned back against the rail and watched what was bound to fail. It was a miserably stalled attempt, a FAIL of FAILs, but for us was the purest of pleasures..

Eventually the guy turned away, having never spoken a word, and went back to his friends, who didn’t comment.


January 20, 2012

Bangkok 2

Bangkok 2


After a gross, lame breakfast, it was time for our first massage. With our backs cracked and legs walked upon, Antje then went to the airport to pick up our friend, Inga. Peter met me at Khaosan road.

I met Peter at UW, and more recently he visited Antje I in Cologne. It was a blast and we had great weather, and we’d been looking forward to seeing him in Bangkok.

We walked to the river, took a boat downstream, relaxed at a cafe, and made our way to Chinatown. Amongst the spices and the strange fruits and the starchy bulbous bell-shaped things came an entire section of flowers. When it came time to buy exactly two of them, one for Antje, one for Inga, they turned out to be bundle-only affairs of 100+ flowers. Peter explained the predicament in Thai, and after a few clarifications, the woman nodded, extracted two white orchids, and, after handing them to me, refused any payment.

From there we picked up Inga and Antje at the hostel, and, as we made to leave, a shock of stress ripped through me. I couldn’t find the small backpack I’d been carrying around all day with Peter. My iPad was in there, and half our Thai budget. We’d just had a beer at a sort of nearby bar, and, completely panicked, I ran back to it. The Thai waiter said he hadn’t seen one, but I wasn’t sure if I believed him. The people who’d been sitting right next to us also hadn’t seen a red backpack, though. As I jogged back I ran into Peter, Inga, and Antje. Peter went to the same Thai bar, and made the waiter promise “on his soul” that he hadn’t seen one, a very meaningful thing in Thailand. The waiter hadn’t. Meanwhile I’d run back to the hostel and torn it apart. Still nothing. Then I noticed the pile of clean laundry Antje had dumped on the bed ten minutes earlier. A backpack strap was poking out.


From there we motorcycle-taxied our way to a canal, during which Antje’s hat flew off, and was scooped off the road by a dexterous Peter. Next we took a noisy, splashy boat through a filthy waters, and hopped on more motorcycles.

Antje and Inga were on one motorcycle, and Peter and I had our own.

Immediately my 20s-something driver guy turned 180 degrees, revved it up, and proceeded backwards into oncoming traffic. Behind me, Peter and the Inga-Antje motorcycle presumably did the same.

Five minutes, and a whole lot of weaving later, my driver said something in Thai.

I shouted, “Only English!”

Smiling, he repeated the words in Thai.


He said something else, all of it unintelligible, but it seemed like he was confirming, or maybe asking, where to go. I shouted, “I DON’T KNOW,” and he grinned like a naughty boy.

He pointed to a building. We weren’t going to a building.


He grinned and pointed at the building.


He said something in Thai and laughed like, “Uhhhh ooooooh! We have a prooooooooblem!”

What? Had he seriously not heard where we were going?

I began making plans. Peter had a smart phone, so I’d email his smart phone and say, “We’re lost, where are we meeting?” and at that point Peter would – 

– pull up next to me on his motorcycle Taxi.


Antje and Inga came next, and we stopped at the park.

The grass was green and manicured, the lakes clean and filled with fountains. It was in the middle of Bangkok’s financial district, and the most beautiful park we’d seen in Southeast Asia. It also had lots of joggers, which is rare, and something that, for a westerner, looks funny. The government sponsors outdoor aerobics sessions, and hundreds jump, kick, and sweat their day to an end outside.

Two westerners pushed past us as they jogged – as in they actually pushed us with hands – and Antje frowned at what she was sure were very rude Germans. They were Americans, though.

Dinner was a communal, plate-sharing affair, with a waiter who watched us eat and refilled our beers whenever they were two gulps lower from the top. Every dish we’d ordered was pretty darn spicy, and yet Inga had also eaten a pepper without a problem. We were confused how she’d done that.

“Wasn’t that really spicy?”

Inga shook her head.

“Those are supposed to be really spicy.”

Inga shook her head.

So I ate one, and Inga ate another one, and it was one of the hotter things I’ve eaten in my life. It also got her that round, and we spent the next ten minutes being spicy.

The bill came a few minutes later, and our shared, four-person meal, with four big beers between us, came to 15 euros. Ah Thailand. I’d hoped this was still possible.

From there we taxied to Cheap Charlie’s, an outdoor bar, and I should mention here that there’s a different relationship to beer in Southeast Asia. In colder areas of the world it’s certainly refreshing, but here the patrons are like hot, sweaty babies crawling their way towards a teat.

We had a table, and next to the table, at the bar, was a single, 30-ish girl, alone and smoking a cigarette. She watched us talking for a long time – Peter and I, Antje and Inga – and after 15 minutes approached.

“Habt ihr Feuer?” (“Got a light?”)

We didn’t, but it occurred to me then that she’d been listening to Inga and Antje all the while, certainly lonely at the bar, and maybe also missing Germans on that night.

As the bar was outdoors, we suddenly wondered about the bathroom. When I asked, the owner looked at me seriously.

“Only for pee pee.”

I agreed to the terms.

Before Peter left he let us know that the taxi home should cost about $3.00 (100 baht). It was good he said that, because the first five taxis refused to start a meter, and claimed it would cost double.

Finally we found a very nice and honest cab driver, one who blasted the air-conditioning so powerfully that I’m sure it contributed to the problems he had with his nasal passage, namely their drying out entirely.

Our small tip made him very happy (not necessary in Thailand), and we all went back to Donna’s Guesthouse for some air-conditioned sleep on perfectly hard mattresses.

January 19, 2012

Bangkok 1

Bangkok 1

We’d forgotten to reserve seats, landing us right in the middle of the airplane. Dumb. Very dumb on such a long flight.

Suddenly Antje jumped up, totally alert. “I think no one’s sitting there!” Wait! What! Where? There!

The row in front of us was free!

In a flash we were there, and as the plane took off, we realized with certainty that we’d be flying for the next 12 hours in the Coach equivalent of First Class: the center emergency center. Antje stretched her legs, but couldn’t touch the wall. We were giddy.

By the end we were tired, of course – there’s no faking 12 hours of flying – but, unexpectedly, the humid air rejuvenated us. It felt electric somehow, and it might’ve been from the fact that we knew what we were getting into. It was time for a beer on Khaosan Road.

In Backpackia land, with its shifted values and passport credentials and organic vegan marijuana everything, it’s alright to like Khaosan road, but certainly cooler to find problems with it. The street’s been so overrun by backpackers for so long that its entire economy is based around the wants and needs of… what exactly? That’s hard to define. It’s mostly young backpackers, but there are enough middle-aged weirdos and rasta-residents to make it a pretty colorful swath of hot bohemia. It goes all night, every night, mostly outdoors, and smells like Thai food mixed with warm sewage and barbecued squid and god knows what else, all of which makes you kind of dizzy, and kind of sweaty, and once you start sweating, you don’t stop. Music blasts out from all directions, ill-considered quasi-buddhist philosophies blast out from all directions, and, in one of the newer developments, you can now pay a few dollars or euros and have any and all of these directly downloaded to your smartphone or iPad.

Antje and I had been there before, and the same (same) t-shirts and tank tops are still floating around, with the addition of Amy Winehouse prints and Steve Jobs RIP shirts and a woman snorting cocaine that reads “Facebook”. The most popular is a tank top that reads “Run DMC”, and I feel like there’s an in-joke I’m missing. These shirts are cheap by western standards, expensive by Thai standards, and according to my friend Peter, who lives in Bangkok, there’s an elaborate kickback scheme that goes from vendors to organized crime and back to the police, who protect the whole operation from idiot terrorists. A beer starts at $2.50, a one-hour massage, $7.

Overall it’s a sweaty death-trap of a time-warp for lazy western weirdos, young and old, and for reasons we can’t really define, Antje and I love it, absolutely love it.