Wednesday, October 13, 2010

No dirty title jokes, because this is a family website

I'm all for trying new food, and the stranger the better. Snake, durian, ants, cow tail, donkey, avocado milkshakes, and more have all found their way into my belly. (I am still a little disappointed that I passed up horse at that pizza parlor in Italy.)

So when we were at a steakhouse in Phoenix the other night and our server informed us that the "calf fries" on the menu were actually deep-fried testicles, the dish had to be ordered. (It was actually my brother who told the waiter to make it happen.)

They came out as well-fried pieces a little smaller than a golf ball, ten to an order with a side of cocktail sauce. They weren't bad: crispy coating on the outside and slightly spongy and juicy on the inside, but without any sort of off-putting flavor. Would I order them again? No, but they weren't horrible, and so far I've lived to eat another day.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bisbee and the bizarre

I'm now down in Phoenix. Despite being the end of September, the temperatures still regularly top 100 degrees. It hasn't bothered me too much, probably because I don't venture out of the house until early evening, when things have cooled down to a bearable 95 or so.

Last weekend, in a quest to find something to do, we decided to head to Bisbee, Arizona.

When we left, we didn't realize that the town was well over four hours away. Eventually we arrived, ate a quick picnic lunch, and then went to a tour of an old mining operation, where they've previously extracted copper, azurite, malachite, and turquoise.
After that, we wandered the town a little bit and did touristy things like eating ice cream and fudge (Why do tourists like fudge so much?), and ended up at the Bisbee Museum of the Bizarre.
Among the items on display were a cast of a Bigfoot footprint and accompanying hair sample, some dirt from Jim Morrison's grave, a vampire slaying kit, a fossilized fairy, a Fiji mermaid, a copy of John Dillinger's death mask, shrunken heads, and a two-headed squirrel. The room was smaller than most kitchens, but the admission was only $3, and I quite like random stuff like that.

We then piled back into the car for the long trip home, successfully making it through an immigration checkpoint en route. We thought about pretending to speak Spanish at the checkpoint, but those guys have guns, so we played it safe.

More photos from the weekend can be found here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Friends, fish, fire, and fun. And cold weather, beer, wine, and dogs.

I spent the long Labor Day weekend up at the lake. As with my previous trip up north, the weather was less than cooperative with my plans of spending lots of time in the water.

I dipped my foot in the water once, and then abandoned any ideas of getting wet. Fortunately, we had fire to keep us warm.

To fill the gaps in time left by not skiing, we played throwing games: ladderball (a.k.a. "testicle toss") and horseshoes. My friend also brought his dog with him, which provided some amusement.
I miss having animals around at all times, which is one of those things that makes me miss Alaska. Even at work up there, we had an office dog. Perhaps the animal issue might convince me to settle down and stay in one place eventually. Maybe.

Over the weekend, I also spent a decent amount of time on a boat not fishing. I didn't feel like buying an out-of-state fishing license for one weekend of trying to catch something that I'm allergic to.

I let everyone else do the fishing and instead took pictures and drank beer and wine. 

Easily the best part of the weekend was having the opportunity to reconnect with people I haven't seen in years. It has always amazed me how, with my close friends, I can be away for years (even the better part of a decade) and dive into conversation as if I had never left. I suppose it speaks for the quality of the people that I know.

It's almost enough to make me stick around. Almost.

More photos from the weekend can be found here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Go, Pack, Go!

In my limited time back home, I got the chance to do something very Wisconsin-ish: attend a Green Bay Packers game (that's American football, for any foreigners who might be reading this) at hallowed Lambeau Field.

Of course, we arrived early because we had to do some pregame tailgating: salmon in a homemade Caribbean marinade, grilled portobella mushrooms, and stuffed baked potatoes. And I may have had a beer or two.

The game, despite being just a preseason game, was fairly exciting, and the Packers won 59 to 24. And there were numerous cheeseheads in attendance.

I was impressed by how many people stayed until the very end, despite the lopsided score. Here's hoping the team has a great year; all of the dedicated fans deserve it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Uncooperative weather

I made it up to the lake last weekend after a three-year hiatus. I had a good plan: arrive late and drink some beer around the campfire, then wake up the next day and pummel myself with excessive time on the water getting dragged behind a boat.

However, mother nature did not cooperate. It was raining and windy when we arrived, so no fire. The next day it was windy and cold, and the waves meant no waterskiing. Hopefully I'll have better luck over Labor Day.

I did get to teach my cousin how to play horseshoes, though.
They're heavy enough that we couldn't complain that the wind was affecting our accuracy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Life in a northern town

The last time I was home, shortly before Christmas, my stepsister mentioned that she thought I would have a better tan. I mentioned that I had spent the previous month in England, in winter, and then also mentioned that in Asia I did my best to avoid the sun. I've been burnt before, and I didn't want it to become a regular--or even an infrequent--occurrence. So I took precautions, and hopefully set the occurrence of skin cancer back at least a couple of years.

This past weekend, I went down to a lake north of Milwaukee. I spent a couple of hours out in the sun without a shirt and no sun screen, and did NOT get burnt to a bright red crisp. Gotta love summer in the north, far, far from the equator.

In which my mother is the technologically advanced one

I've been trying to figure out my cell phone situation. I looked at some pay-as-I-go phones, but most of them have pretty crappy or non-existent coverage in a lot of parts of the US, which isn't good for someone who doesn't know where in this great country he might end up. So I'll probably end up piggy-backing onto my parents' account, though I don't like locking myself into any sort of two-year commitment.

While poring over websites and good old-fashioned printed brochures, I said out loud that I don't know why I need a phone. "You need a phone," my mother replied sternly.

"You know, ten years ago nobody had phones and we survived," I replied.

"This isn't ten years ago, kiddo," my mom said.

I never thought I would be on the opposite end of that conversation with my mother.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Frugality and photos

Life back home has been good so far; I've had a chance to reconnect with people I've seen far too infrequently over the course of the past decade. Also, I have a little more of a mid-term idea of my plans: I'll be home at least through Labor Day. After that, everything is still in the "hmmm" stage.

I've been following a blog called the Frugal Traveler recently, where a man is exploring South America on a budget. In the most recent post, the intrepid adventurer's parents arrive, and he attempts to keep all of them on the same budget. This reminds me of the time I told my brother that some day we should go to Indonesia together and travel the way I traveled when I was there, and he looked at me and said, "At this point in my life, I don't feel like I want or need to do that." Then again, this was my same theory when I was in Dublin and avoided the hostels.

I guess my own theory while traveling would be to live to the very edge of my means, spending absolutely all the money I possibly can without doing long-term financial damage to myself. I know that when I put it that way, it seems a little dismal, but it does ultimately result in the most luxurious traveling possible, with luxury obviously being a relative term.

I finally got a new camera, so hopefully I'll start getting some new pictures up online. Now I just need to teach myself how to be a proper photographer.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I arrived at the Shannon airport and waited in line. When I got to the counter, the first thing I was asked was, "Are you traveling alone?" Followed immediately by, "Are you in a big hurry to get to your destination?" For the first time in my life, I was offered a bump. I said yes, but they were able to get everyone on the plane.

The flight across the ocean was good. The meal was better than most airline meals, and I got to drink some complimentary beer (Corona, and they even gave me a lime). Even the snack was better than most. Peanuts AND pretzels. And a slice of pizza. Apparently, they are obsessed with foods starting with the letter "P." The flight came into New York from fairly far north, so we followed the Canadian coastline for quite a ways, which was much better than just staring out at water.

After two changeovers, I finally reached Green Bay and eventually home. My mother, wonderful woman that she is, has stocked the fridge with a six-pack of Guinness and the liquor shelf with a bottle of Jameson. I told her I was a little Guinnessed-out for the time being, but I'll get to it eventually.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Songs of the south

We went to Killarney this past weekend, supposedly the most touristed place in Ireland. We were there to do some touring, but also to see Josh Ritter, who is one of my friend's favorite musicians.

Since Killarney is such a highly visited place, we had difficulty finding a place to stay. Midweek, we called a bunch of places but they were all full. This is why, at the age of thirty, I ended up spending some nights in a hostel for the first time in my life.

As we rolled south on the bus, my friend said that she just hoped the people were quiet and didn't smell bad. We walked into the room and were greeted by three boys in their late teens, maybe early twenties. As my friend told me later, they smelled sort of funky. I nicknamed them the funky bunch. And two of them snored. Loudly.

On Saturday, we did a full-day tour of the area, known as the Ring of Kerry, because the region is somewhat circular in shape. Our tour followed the coastline for a great distance.After the tour, we grabbed some food (bangers and mash at an excellent little "gastropub") and then went to the concert. The opening act was local, and the best part of his act was when he started singing children's songs in Irish and the crowd joined in. I didn't know what they were saying, but it was pretty cool. Then Josh Ritter played for two hours and was absolutely amazing, putting on a great show. This was a pleasant surprise, since I hadn't heard any of his music prior to the concert. Live, he's sort of a mix between Ben Folds, Springsteen, Coldplay, and a dash of Radiohead.

We then went back to the hostel and tried to sleep through the snoring and the endless ringing of phones when one of our roommates' friends was trying to get into the room without a key at six in the morning, and they were too passed out to even answer their phones.

Today, we spent our third straight day on buses coming back to our home-base. I now have one more full day in Ireland before leaving these green hills for the other green hills of home.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My goodness, my Guinness

This past weekend, I took the five hour bus ride to Dublin. I didn't want to stay in a shared-room hostel, so I opened up the wallet and got a nice hotel room.

One of the main things I went to see was the Book of Kells, hosted at the renowned Trinity College. The book is an ornately made 9th century edition of the gospels. The exhibition was interesting, but perhaps overpriced. Also, no photos were allowed. Now, I understand that light can damage certain items, and I wouldn't trust people with cameras near the actual book. But why can't people take pictures of printed, new museum-type display posters? Or of the library?

After the College, I carried on to my main destination, the Guinness Storehouse.
Although the storehouse, which used to be part of the working brewery until 1988, is now very modernized, I still enjoyed myself. I wandered slowly through the seven stories of the building and had lunch at the brewery restaurant. I also took my complimentary pint at one of the in-house bars where they teach you how to pour a proper pint. (That's a Kevin-poured pint in the photo above.) Because I was at the Guinness brewery, I felt there was nothing wrong with having three pints of brew starting at noon. Somewhat surprisingly, the brewery had the cheapest beer I encountered in town.

I then staggered back into the sunlight to visit Kilmainham Gaol, an old jail that played an important role in the events surrounding the rising of 1916.The jail tour was quite informative, but not the most exciting of tourist attractions. Still, I felt like I needed to mix up some history with the more commercial tourist visits.

I considered going to the old Jameson distillery, but I had read mixed reviews online and it is no longer an active distillery.

Overall, I had a good, if expensive, time in Dublin. However, I don't know if I will get back to Ireland, so I felt it had to be done.

Photos from the trip can be found here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

To the cliffs

I was going to go to the cliffs on Saturday, but when I woke up it was so foggy that I could barely see the trees in the courtyard, which are only fifteen feet away. Instead I spent the day inside and then, somehow, ended up at the pub later. They had a musician playing and for the last song, she played the Irish national anthem. Everyone stood at attention and listened. I can't imagine this happening in America.

On Sunday, the weather was finally good and I made it out to the cliffs of Moher (pronounced "more," not "mohair," as some foreigners occasionally make the mistake of saying).
The views were quite stunning and the cliffs were free to visit, as I feel most natural attractions should be. (This one didn't have much staff or too much infrastructure to maintain.) Although it was drizzly, the visibility was good. I went for a decent walk past this sign.
I was going to turn back at first, but everyone else was doing it.


This sign was posted in the town square.
The price isn't as strange as it appears; it is the equivalent to 1000 Irish pounds. However, the Irish pound hasn't been used in eight years. Perhaps it's time to adjust the fine amount.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Weather and words

When I arrived, Ireland was in the midst of the "best" summer in forty years, if "best" can be defined as hottest and driest. However, I should have known that it couldn't last. It's now been raining for a week. I was going to head to the cliffs this morning, but when I woke up at 7am (on a Saturday, no less) I was greeted with approximately twenty feet of visibility. Hopefully it clears up later.


While we haven't had too many language difficulties here, since they do speak English, or something at least similar, I have encountered some interesting rough spots.

For example, the people from Cork: you just have to give up because you're not going to understand them. We have one acquaintance, who is not from Cork, but is also strangely the only person here I can't understand, even though I can understand his brothers and sisters.

Since we get transportation from other people, I need to make sure I call this service "a lift." To say "ride" has overt sexual connotations, and then people look at me weird.

A common Irish word is "craic," pronounced "crack." If someone asks why you're at a place, and you mean you're just there for a good time, you would say, "I'm here for the craic." Our Irish friend informed us that he got some strange looks when he used this phrase while visiting America.

Here's the breakdown from Wikipedia:
Craic or crack is fun, a good time, good company, good atmosphere and conversation. If you are enjoying yourself, it is good craic.[30][31] The word may also be used to refer to events, news, or gossip, as in the phrases "What's the crack?", "How's the craic?", "Any craic?" or "It was good crack." It can also be used in a negative context: "That was some bad crack there last night."
Hopefully my trip continues to be good craic.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Freedom, feudalism, and festivals

The Fourth of July has come and gone, and we did spend the evening at a friend's house. The aforementioned Frito pie didn't materialize, but there was a cake made with mix brought all the way from the states. And ham and cheese sandwiches, which I suppose aren't overtly American, but delicious nonetheless. Overall a pleasant evening, if not exactly overwhelming in American-ness.


On the 3rd, we had a good day. A long hike through the limestone-ridged hills and ending up at a castle, or more specifically, a tower house.We then settled our weary butts onto some bar stools for an extended period of Guinness consumption, but because of the many miles hiked earlier, did not do any damage to the favorable mile-to-beer ratio.

This weekend, I hope to check out the fabled cliffs of Moher and also to venture into a nearby town to check out something called road hurling, which is a traditional Irish sport moved to the road for the local festival that will be taking place.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

From the papers

Last weekend we walked into the nearest town and then caught a bus into another town basically because that is where the nearest ATM is located. While we were there we stocked up on groceries and also bought a newspaper.

The paper offered some interesting information on the economic situation here. One article compared average prices in Ireland to prices in the rest of the European Union. Some (mildly depressing) facts:
  • Food here costs 32% more than elsewhere in the EU, despite the fact that Ireland produces quite a bit of its own food.
  • Alcohol costs a whopping 67% more than the rest of the EU. And again, a lot of it is produced here.
Another article gave a breakdown of how the Irish spend their money. Last year, the Irish spent 2.3 billion euro on tobacco and 6.5 billion euro on alcohol, for a total of 8.8 billion. Their for-home food purchases only totaled 7.5 billion euro. Even when factoring in 2.2 billion for eating-out expenditures, the total is 9.7 billion. Which means that the Irish only spent 12.5% more on food than on tobacco and alcohol.


Last night, on the eve of America's independence day, my friend had to vocally restrain me from singing Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" at midnight in a bar filled with Irish folk. She then told everyone that I am absolutely the worst singer in the entire world, which I thought was a little harsh.

Anyway, today we'll be celebrating the holiday with the other Oklahoman, who will be making us some Frito pie with ingredients she brought from America. Go USA!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Wings and walking

Today I took a walk down the big hill to one of the local tourist attractions: the previously mentioned cave. While the cave was a dud (not to sound overly cynical/critical/etc., but I haven't been in too many caves and this one still probably doesn't crack my top ten), there was an excellent birds of prey center and show.I've put up some of the photos here, which is also where I'll be adding more photos of my adventures as my stay progresses. So keep checking in.

Lastly, here's a photo of the view from the front of the apartment complex.Somewhere beyond those cows lies the sea, just past the nearest town, which is five or six miles of fairly uninterrupted nothingness away. Since I've been here, I've probably walked about 25 miles. Which means my miles walked vastly outnumbers my beer consumption. I did not foresee this happening in Ireland.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Settling in

I haven't had a shower in two days. The gas at the apartment complex ran out late Saturday, no one would deliver on Sunday, and they told us we'd have some today, but it's approaching dinnertime and there is still no hot water. Since I am no longer in the tropics, an unheated shower doesn't really sound too pleasant.

Otherwise, things here are going well. We met some good people the other day (my friend Amanda is from Oklahoma and there is another Oklahoman in town, go figure) and hung out with them Saturday night. Other than that, I've just been hanging out around the apartment and reading, writing, relaxing, and watching football. (And drinking, but just a little. I've also made friends with some good folks called Guinness, Smithwick's, Beamish, Jameson, Black Bush, etc...)

I'll be starting work in the near future, hopefully, but not for a few days at least. I may go check out a local cave.

Now I need to go cook some potatoes. This is Ireland, after all.

Friday, June 25, 2010

At last in the land of leprechauns

I've made it to Ireland, finally, after an entire day on a bus, an entire day on a plane, and some other minor misadventures in between.

The place I am staying is very nice: it's two bedrooms, not a studio like I had initially been informed. So plenty of room. It's in a beautiful location. But in the middle of nowhere. The towns in either direction are two hours away by foot, so I should be in pretty good shape by the time I leave.

There seems to be a lot to see in the very near vicinity, so I should have enough activities to occupy myself, and I'll probably also take a trip into Dublin to see the Guinness and Jameson factories.

I'll be here about a month, and then it's back across the Atlantic and home again.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Leaving Asia

You roll through the Malaysian mountains and your eyes try to take in every crevice, every hollow and dip in the cliffs. The mountains are nothing like the mountains in Alaska, but nonetheless they remind you of that place you once called home. You had talked about those mountains the other day with a friend, had remembered how every day the view as you came down from the hill where you lived took your breath away, and asked if the ocean still did the same for him day after day, and he said it did.

The father of another friend had asked about your travels, about the places that most amazed you, if there was a place where you said to yourself, "This is the place; this is it." And you thought about it, you tried to find an answer.

You had said no, had said that if you felt that way, you would still be in that place, wherever it was.

But here you are again, on the move. You've put one woman onto a boat heading north when you were heading south, the same woman who knew where she was going but also told you don't follow. You've said goodbye to your friends and said I'll see you again. And you believe it, really you do, because, well, you sort of need to.

And those hills rolling past, they are beautiful, truly, and you know there's so much more to see out there, and you know you will keep moving, because that's also something that you sort of need to do.

The world is probably the same as it was a week ago. You were younger then, slightly, still lingering in the end of your third decade. The world's the same now but maybe you feel a little different, feel like you need a plan, right, something concrete. But all you can really think about is what next? You've haven't always been the greatest at moving on, but you're getting better, because that too is something that needs to be done. And the road keeps opening up in front of you.

And that what next is waiting somewhere down that road, a road that, to you, is as much a real road as a metaphor, and you'll deal with that when the need arises. And for today, at least, the road ends with a night's sleep, but you also know that when you lay your head to rest the next night, your world will have completely changed again. But you are ready.


I'm in a little guest house in Kuala Lumpur called the Bird Nest. They've named all of the rooms after birds. It's not the greatest place in the world, but it's cheap and will do for the five hours of sleep I'm going to try to get tonight before heading to the airport. I've spent all day on buses and trains, and tomorrow I'll be in the air all day, but hopefully there is a delicious Guinness waiting for me at the end.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Meeting the neighbors

One of the neighborhood monitor lizards. One of them is almost as big as me (seriously) and scares the living shit out of me every time I see it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The shack

I haven't put up many photos on the blog lately, but here's a link to some of the few I've taken on the island. And here's what $7 a night can get you on the island.It looks okay in the photo, and let me assure you that it's worth every penny. (But not much more.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Can I get the snack pack of friendship, please?

I stayed up past 4am last night watching the US-England soccer match. There weren't many Americans in attendance; the crowd was definitely pro-England. Actually, I haven't met many Americans on my travels--a weirdly small amount given the ratio of the American population to other countries. I've met far more Canadians and Irish than Americans, for example.

As I was talking to a friend from the dive shop (he's Austrian-Serbian, but was favoring England in the match), the guy in front of me turned around and said, "Is that an American accent I'm hearing?" When I answered affirmatively, he gave a loud "Right on!" and clenched my hand firmly. He and his friends were Irish; they were rooting for America more out of their dislike of England than any affinity for America.

We chatted awhile and they poured me a shot of Jameson they had acquired at the duty-free. Partway through the night, I was reminded of a scene from Fight Club where the protagonist meets a man on a plane and brings up his idea of "single-serving friends," people you interact with amiably for a short period of time and then never see again.

This happens a lot when traveling. I haven't really gotten used to it; but it is something some travelers are good at and thoroughly enjoy.

The game ended in the early hours of the morning with the score tied. The crowd was weirdly silent and dispersed quickly. (An article I read about the game interviewed an English bartender who said that when England wins, people keep drinking. When they lose, people keep drinking. When they tie, people just go home.) I went back to my room to catch some sleep for the next day, which would offer up more soccer and possibly the next serving of transitory friendship.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The cup runneth over with excitement

As you may be aware, the World Cup has just started. Apparently, this is a very big deal outside of America. The dive shop installed satellite TV yesterday basically for the purpose of watching the football (soccer) games.

Several of the employees have already given in to the fact that they won't be sleeping much for the next month. The main problem: because of time differences, some of the games start very late. I'll be watching the US/England match tonight, and it starts at 2:30am.

I've been doing my best to get up to speed on the whole concept. (Slate has some decent coverage for us ignorant Americans. Of course, ESPN is also a great source.)

Even if America fails to go far, I've decided to root for Spain. My reasoning: 1) They are one of the favorites in the tournament; and, 2) I've actually seen some of the players live, when I watched FC Barcelona in Spain.

So even though I'm on the opposite side of the world, I'll be rooting for America to score some GOOOOOAAAAALLLLLSSSSS!!!!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Certifiably capable

I finished the dive course today, so now I'm a certified scuba diver. I'm still not the most graceful creature underwater, but I feel like I'm getting quite a bit better.(I'm on the left; my instructor is on the right. And here's a link to the shop where I took the course.)

I've decided my budget can handle about five more fun dives (single dives that aren't part of a course), so I'll spread those out over the next ten days. I won't have an instructor watching my every move anymore, but hopefully I'll be alright.

Now I'm off to get dinner and a beer with my instructor. I got 100% on all the tests, so hopefully this equals a free drink. But then I'll buy him a drink for being a good instructor, so it all evens out, I guess. But I've had enough of salt water for one day, so another beverage will be good. Selamat minum (happy drinking) for me, and hopefully for you, wherever you are.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Making a splash

I'm currently in the midst of a scuba diving course. I figured it would help fill the large amounts of free time I have right now. And since I'm not spending money on much else, why not? (Even though there are no ATMs on the island, I can pay for the course with my credit card, so it's not dipping into my limited cash supply.)

The course is going well. It's just me one-on-one with an instructor, and he's a good guy and a good teacher. I'm doing okay on the skills I'm learning, but I'm pretty bad at swimming underwater with the fins and gear. This bothers me slightly, since I'm used to just being instantly great at everything. But hopefully I'll get better with practice.

The dive shop is right next to where I'm living, so I've spent some time hanging out and getting to know the people who work there. This should make the time pass a little more smoothly when my roommate, Rob, leaves for a week, and I'm left with no one I actually knew when I arrived.

In exactly two weeks I head to Ireland. Interestingly, tonight I'm about to visit to a going-away party for two Irish people I've met at the dive shop. Unfortunately, we can't celebrate the Irish way with good beer and mountains of potatoes (and pots o' gold and rainbows), but I do have some of my high-quality imported Thai rum/whiskey with me, so we can do a wee bit o' celebratin'. (Because of the high cost of alcohol here, the only drinks I've had in Malaysia were the one night when Rob and I drank the other bottle I brought with me from Thailand.)

And then in the morning I get to do some swimming endurance tests for the scuba course. Excellent.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Finally there

I made it to the island in one piece. The "fast boat" was exactly that; the front of the boat jumped about five feet when we hit some of the waves. The Malay girl across from me looked alternately like she was going to cry or vomit. Her boyfriend laughed at her, but he was the only person on the boat wearing a life jacket. The Indonesians and Malaysians (and Asians in general, I guess) are notoriously bad swimmers, despite living near the ocean. Go figure. (I've linked to this article before, but it's good enough to repeat.)

I met a friend on the island, and we are sharing a dingy little bungalow. My half of the cost is $3.50 a night. I figure I can try to save as much money as possible; I have about $500 in cash and there are no ATMs on the island. Cash advances cost 10% plus the $10 and foreign transaction fees from my credit card company. So budget living it is.

Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to go swimming in the cerulean blue water.

Traveling non-adventures

I’ve spent the last couple of days doing some marathon traveling. I had about five hours on a boat, then another hour-and-a-half on a bus. This put the time at about 4:30 pm. I then had to wait until 2 am for my train. The wait was fairly uneventful, but I did get to try wild boar stir fry. The meat was flavorful and not too chewy, but the chef decided to include many chunks of skin and fat, which detracted from the experience a little.

I also saw an old man walk doubled over like a hunchback past all of the people waiting for the trains, asking for money as he went along. But as soon as he was about twenty meters past everyone, he stood up and walked away completely fine.

My train was quite late, so I didn’t end up leaving the train station until almost 4 am. I caught a few hours of sleep, but it was the most unstable train I’ve ever been on and on several occasions I actually feared that the car might tip over. The train took about ten hours, then I hopped on a motorcycle for the last kilometer to Malaysia. Security ran all of my stuff through an x-ray, but they said nothing about the two bottles of whiskey I was carrying. I couple I met later had picked up a kitten somewhere on their travels, and when they got to the x-ray the guy just said, “Um, I have a cat in my hand,” and security just waved them through. (Moral of the story: Hide your illegal things inside your kittens.)

Once through passport control, I took two separate slow and un-air-conditioned buses to the pier.

Because my train was late, I missed the last boat to the island. I got a room on the mainland that is really, really cheap ($6), but while I’m writing this I get to hear the guy in the next room try to cough up all his bodily organs and it sounds like he is actually in the bed next to me. The walls may actually be built out of several layers of construction paper.

So tomorrow I take a short boat ride and I will finish a trip that began almost exactly 48 hours previous. Hopefully I can find reasonable (quality and price) accommodations over there, and unless I get really bored I’ll stay on the island for my entire time in Malaysia.

Lastly, I no longer have a camera, but I might borrow my friend's so I can get up some photos of the island.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The way we roll, island style

We went to the busy side of the island yesterday. Although there are a lot more food options (we had pizza at a Mexican place called El Gringo; the place featured a dessert called "trio delight," which consisted of a scoop of one type of ice cream), the trip made us realize we had made the right choice staying on the quiet side of the island. The beach is better and there are a lot fewer people.

We did have fun in town, though. We went to a place featuring "island style" bowling.
The floor was made of cheap laminate wood which had warped in the heat, and the pins were hand set every time by a guy waiting on the end of the lane. It definitely wasn't first-class bowling, but it was fun.

During the lazy days, we've been passing some of the time playing cards.
But the other night, our deck was destroyed when they got left in a puddle of condensation from a beer bottle while we ate. So in town I went in quest of a new deck. Gambling is illegal in Thailand, and card playing isn't very popular. I searched about six mini-marts for cards; prices ranged from $6 to $9 a deck! Finally at the seventh place I found a deck for $3. It constantly amazes me how some things over here can be so much more expensive than back home. (Except for things like cheese; I understand why that's expensive, even though the prices make me sad.)

We have a couple more days on the island, and then I head south to Malaysia. A friend who is already there says alcohol is really expensive (it's a Muslim country), so I'll probably bring a couple of bottles of Thai whiskey across the border with me.

To get to where I'm going, I have a seven-hour boat ride to the mainland, then a nine-hour night train to the border. Then I cross the border and take two buses to the pier, then I get back on a boat to head to Pulau Perhentian Kecil. But then I get to stay in place for several weeks before heading off to a different island on a different continent.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Photos and milestones

I got some photos up from Khao Sok; check them out here.Also, the previous post was the 100th post of this blog, which fired up on July 2, 2008. So the two year anniversary is also coming up. I'm averaging about a post a week over the two years; not too bad considering the giant gaps that occasionally appear in the narrative.

Thanks to all of you out there who are still reading, and hopefully I'll keep traveling to interesting places and keep writing about them. Gracias, grazie, terima kasih, and ขอบคุณ (kap koon kap), everyone.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The hiking sucked, literally, not figuratively

In Battambang, we constantly followed the situation in Bangkok. We had purchased train tickets south from the city, but the civil/political unrest in the city was approaching its crescendo. And the train station was only a kilometer from where the protesters had dug in.

But we decided to take our chances. The bus would enter the north side of the city. We would taxi down to the south side to grab the backup camera to replace the one we had lost, and then into the center of the city to catch our train. We made it out without incident. The next day, the situation in the city climaxed. The protesters left their stronghold and parts of the city burned. We were safely south, but hoping the best for everyone back in the city.

We arrived at Khao Sok national park, which one of our friends had said was his favorite place he had visited in Thailand. We managed to find a reasonably nice and cheap resort ($8 a night and a hot shower!) and spent two days hiking. The first day we did a hike that was about eight kilometers each way. The first six were easy, but the last two heading in were a constant battle against gravity, friction, and leeches. We had to keep pulling the slippery, slimy little things off of our legs and backsides.

The next day we were fairly exhausted, but did test our luck by venturing far beyond a “Do not enter” sign.

We then went to a giant lake that was created to generate hydro power. The guides told us there are villages down at the bottom that were covered over when the lake was created. We stayed in some quite interesting but quite rickety raft houses; I was a little surprised that I never fell through the floor of our bungalow.

The highlight of the trip was a hike in a river that cuts a couple of kilometers through a mountain. We had to wear headlamps to provide light in the complete darkness. We spent most of the time in the mountain in the water, though only a few stretches required swimming. We saw huge numbers of bats and spiders, as well as toads, frogs, crabs, and catfish.

After the park, we climbed aboard a night boat to the island of Koh Tao, about seven hours from the mainland. The boat featured a sleeping space for each passenger, but we were amazed at how narrow they were. Lying on my back, my shoulders were wider than the mattress. Fortunately, it is low season, and the boat was far from full.

I am now typing from the deck of our bungalow, which is also quite cheap ($12 a night) and features a completely unobstructed view of the bay. Sinead will be scuba diving for several days, and other than that it is nothing but relaxing for the next week.

Beer is expensive here, though. Just thought I’d let you know in case you thought my life was completely perfect at the moment.

Angkor what?

After the camp’s closing ceremony, we walked out to the road and flagged down a bus headed towards Bangkok. After one night in the city visiting friends, we headed out to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to see the temples of Angkor Wat, the remains of the Hindu and Buddhist influenced Angkorian empire.

Cambodia is similar to Thailand in some ways, but it is also a much poorer and more scarred country. The effects of the Khmer Rouge regime can still be seen. Landmines left behind from the country’s civil war still litter the countryside, and Siem Reap is filled with a generous share of the victims, who have come to the city to seek the charity of the tourists drawn in by the temples.

We spent several days touring the temples. It was an interesting experience: the temples seem almost otherworldly at times. The temples have often served as movie locations when ancient ruins are needed; Tomb Raider had large portions filmed here. (Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures because we managed to misplace the camera in the next town.)

After the temples, we headed to the town of Battambang for a change of pace. Battambang is the country’s second largest “city” with a population of about 100,000 people. The only real city is Phnom Penh, the capital with about four million people. In Battambang, we toured the countryside and also took a cooking course. (The restaurant's name was "Smokin' Pot. From a distance all we could see on the sign was the word "Pot" really big. Somewhat relatedly, they serve "happy soup" there.) Next time you see me, just ask and I’ll whip up Cambodia’s well-known amok curry for you. (Any protein can be substituted for the fish.)

After that, it was back into Thailand.

Some final thoughts on teaching in Thailand

Students in Thailand are fairly different in some ways from students in the States, some good and some bad. For the most part, the students are very well-behaved. Respect is very important in Thai culture, and if a student isn’t behaving properly, we would usually just tell them they were being disrespectful and they would straighten right up.

But the students are also weak.

One day, three of my students weren’t in class. I asked one of the teaching assistants where the students were.

“They’re in the nurses’ room,” he said.

“So they’re sick?” I asked.

“They think they might get sick,” he said.

“So they’re not sick?”

“No, but they might get sick,” he said.

We also had a series of students rolling around in wheelchairs.

“Why is Frank in a wheelchair?”

“She has a fever.” (Yes, Frank is a girl.)

“Why is Jena in a wheelchair?”

“She’s menstruating.”

One day, it was raining lightly in the morning. Our academic building is about 250 meters from the dorms. All of the teachers walked to the academic building. The students refused to walk in the rain, so the teaching assistants had all of the students shuttled to the front of the building in a van so the students wouldn’t get wet.

One of the big events at the end of each camp is the class and teacher performances. For the first camp, the teachers made a version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” This featured most of the teachers dressing up as zombies and our math teacher dressing up in drag. (Sorry I couldn't upload the video; the internet here is slow and wouldn't allow it. I might try again later.)

The second camp, we did a mockumentary about Lady Gaga visiting the University. Again, it featured our math teacher in drag.

Overall, the camp experience was worthwhile and interesting. I’ll have to see what my situation is next year; maybe I’ll go back.