January 23rd, 2005

Secret Asian Man

I'm about 4 hours south of bangkok in a town called Hua-Hin. Its a beach town. Not as nice as some of the ones further south, but not affected by the tsunami (other coast), and not pattaya (aka the world's largest brothel). Its been very pleasant. A nice get away from the hustle of bangkok. There are a lot of europeans here. It tends to be an older crowd than the backpacker party islands just a few hours away.

Its been a few days since my last entry, which means there has been too much to do, to allow much time to tell it. I've been keeping a written journal, but its difficult to find time to capture everything there. Internet access, while plentiful, is a futher distraction from the first hand experiences. In short the trip gets better by the day. I wish you could all be here to join me.

The flight in was as easier than I could have asked for. Since the backpack I'm using unzips into a big bag and a smaller separate backpack for day trips, I was able to skip checking baggage, and only do carry on. I blew through security in a fraction of the time it takes for domestic flights. O'Hare has an underground moving walkway with ever changing neon lights and music clearly inspired by Brian Eno's 'Ambient 1: Music for Airports' (listen to a sample from track 2. I was dancing on clouds, even before I stepped on the plane.

The guy next to me while waiting at the gate ended up directly behind me for all 17 hours of flying time. At immigration we talked and discovered we were both heading to the same area of Bangkok (Khao San Road, no surprise there). Since we arrived at 11:30pm, We ended up sharing a double room, with the intention of scouting for something more permanent the next morning.

I knew what I wanted, a dormitory style shared room. That means sharing a room with several total strangers. Its cheaper, but more to my interest, it puts you in close contact with folks who are coming and going. With stories of what was great, and what was a waste of time. Finding this mythical room took 3 days, and during that time we continued to share the same room. However our schedules drifted apart, and by the last day we were only seeing an hour or so of each other each day.

I've ended up in Apple Guest House #2. Its a few blocks off the main drag, which for my tastes is perfect. Its a real house, with a real family. I pay for my room to grandma, who also made my toast this morning. The kids watch tv. The oldest son keeps the place clean. 3 old men were playing cards when I first arrived.
This morning it was 3 french speaking travelers around the breakfast table. I haven't yet spent more than one waking hour there, but it drips with charm, and bodes well. Plus for $2 a night how could I possibly go wrong.

Perhaps here is how, each place has its perks and drawbacks. Getting to the current place requires a 2 minute walk down a dark alley. There is no ac, and the bathroom is an asian squat toilet, which is brutal on my knees. The last place was $4.50 per night and was directly across from a monastery. It had a restaurant, bar and travel agent down below. While these were wonderfully convenient, the downside was that late at night the sounds of the open air bars required ear plugs. In fairness ear plugs are just part of my travel kit. Even if it it isn't music and bar noises, roosters are common in both neighborhoods.

For those not in the know, quick summary of an open air bar: a bottle of whiskey or rum, a small bucket with ice and mixer, and some straws to share with others. Plastic chairs if you're lucky, but probably a blanket on the ground. Your bartender is usually a transvestite. Total cost for the bucket of liquor and an evening's conversation with folks who've spent the last 6 months traveling the globe ... about $2. Putting it mildly, its not everyone's cup of tea. But it is an experience not be be dismissed without due consideration. For those of you in DC - its scarily similar to Dan's 'Dirthole' Cafe in Adams Morgan, but outdoors.

I make it a rule to find someone to talk to each evening. Often much more often. Tonight was a couple from denmark, just shy of 60. Yesterday was a french woman who's been on the road continuously for 13 years. Along the way contracting hepatitis and malaria. She still looked like she could do laps around me. 2 hours with a belgian project manager for a telecom, who is nearing month 6 after india, nepal, and tibet. Frank was just in from india, and had the ipod like device from i-river, a company I am too fond of. Amy was off to Sri Lanka for some tourism, followed by helping setup a tent city for refugees. Forrest was from SF, but seemed like a bit of a space case. But he was talking with (name forgotten) my first tsunami survivor. He was in Ko Pi Pi when it hit and was now hobbling on crutches, with a foot that looked like it had been run through a trash compactor. Needless to say he was damn lucky. There is a dozen more of these I could share.

There was a line in the movie 'Fight Club', lamenting 'single serving friends'. People you meet on plane, talk to for an hour and know you'll never meet again. It does get old eventually, I remember that. But after 2 years of people you either see every day, or pass by and never talk to, its refreshing to be able to talk to someone and need no more introduction than 'Do you speak english?'. For now I need this, and the many other things this double life has to offer. To those of you who thought I was nuts for doing this, don't worry. This doesn't feel any better than the life I've left behind. But its a refreshing change. One that will get tattered and worn -- just like the old. When the time comes I know I can restart the old life. And given our short time on this planet, living two lives seems like a valuable gift.

I've failed to touch on half the stories I had hoped to put in this post. But there are new stories to learn and create. Pardon me while I do just that.