Monday, February 14, 2011

The Sound of Silence

America is silent - some hollowness in city building walls, something lost with the mufflers on car engines. When I flew in the sun was still hidden but the horizon leaked colors like a lover's bruise, red, yellow, green, aquamarine, blue. When the plane wheels hit, my stomach fell through and I just felt like something was gone.

Closing down the blog. This is probably the last entry. Had a few things I wanted to write about, but the more I try to finish them the less they seem like things that should be said.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Culture and Traditional of Koh Phi Phi Island

Facts about the culture and traditional of Koh Phi Phi:
  • It is culturally acceptable to walk around half-naked on Phi Phi if you are white.
  • Only about one in three bicycles on Phi Phi has a bell. Therefore, if you are in someone's way they will say, "Bring-bring" or "Beep-beep."
  • One man on Phi Phi has installed a custom horn on his bike. It goes, "Hu-wai! Hu-wai! YaGiGiGi!"
  • The traditional foods on Phi Phi are Pad Thai, various types of meat shish kebabs, pineapples carved into spirally shapes, and hamburgers.
  • An event of great historical significance and civic pride, The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed at Phi Phi.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Thailand: Perilous Dreamscape

Some of the young women really were attractive, and many were accompanied by what would pass for attractive men. However, for each partially naked attractive woman, nature demanded a balance. For each beautiful flower, a dead wolverine that had been mauled by an alpaca. For each lovely sunset, a horrible dust storm. For each right, a wrong. Action and reaction, if you will. Or, as Yeats said, "In balance with this life, this death." As I sat wondering how nature might exact her revenge for the lovely ladies, I was witness to one of the most horrific scenes I have ever witnessed.

I was in chest deep water, minding my own business. It was about 1:00, and I had just come back to the water. There were small bait fish schooling around my feet. There were perhaps another two or three dozen or so people in the water with me, some topless, others not. The water was beautifully clear. There were perhaps a hundred people along the two hundred yards of beach we had for the resort. Few were prepared for what would happen next, and it will haunt my dreams, likely for the rest of my life.

Lurking just out of sight was nature's equalizer. Those who have been to remote areas or spent much time in the ocean have perhaps seen one of these, although they are mercifully rare. Others have only seen the results: people fleeing the surf, racing for help, screaming for their spouses, hiding their children's eyes. The lifeguards, powerless to stop the carnage, often just sit, wide-eyed and helpless, wondering what to do. But, of course, by then, it's too late. These nightmares often seem above nature, as they are the product of a long, hard-fought evolutionary process. The apex of their world. None of us in the water or on the beach were prepared. We had no warning. There were no waves. The surface of the Caribbean was a smooth as glass. No birds flew overhead. Near-total silence. Then the first scream. I turned away from the open sea, the playground of barracuda, moray eels, sea snakes and sharks, and I froze. Moving up the beach, without regard for others, was the ultimate beachgoers' nightmare: the MANKINI.

My head swam, and I thought I might vomit. There, for all the world to see, was a full grown man wearing what appeared to be a solid black mankini. A speedo. A man who'd normally wear pants with a waist of 34 or 36, wearing approximately three square inches of material. Certainly not enough to make a respectable thong. I could feel my lunch churning. Everyone on the beach now knew this guy better than his own doctor did. The lifeguard tried to clear the beach, but it was too late. Strong men fainted. Women screamed and children wept. The mankini ruled the beach. We were all but subjects to its foul power. I tried sticking my head underwater, but I could only hold my breath for so long...

- Sean Cole

We landed at Railay Beach about 9:30 in the morning.

Jazmine, being a rock-climbing instructor, left to go find a private instructor to belay her, and I, being broke, went off to find a nice beach. After about fifty minutes of searching around between restaurants and mini-marts, resort entrances and private resort pools, I managed to find the secret alley to Pranang Beach hidden between some limestone caves and a resort's walled-off AC complex, behind the Railay Rock Climbing Club's snack bar. I did some exploring in the caves, found a mattress and a pile of take-away containers and decided the beach would be more fun.

I entered the cool water, floating in the shade of a giant rock. All the islands in Thailand are giant blocks of harder rock that managed to not be worn away when the ocean moved in millions of years ago. Consequently, they are mostly giant pillars, smaller at the bottom than at the top due to erosion, and it is only sheer luck that some of them have enough sand piled around them to build fly-traps for tourists on. What this means it that almost every beach around here is a lagoon surrounded by giant bluffs topped with tufts of trees. Staring up into the sky, the clouds flow distantly over the ridges and you get the distinct feeling of hanging from a stony zeppelin soaring through the sky. I floated around through schools of tiny fish, enjoying the scenery, when disaster struck: several silverback mankinis strolled onto the beach and started a landscape-razing battle for dominance of the troop, whereupon I fled for the cliffs.

Nestling myself in the safety of the cliffs, I resumed my earlier cave-exploring ways. Following the sound of a pounding bass, I found a foot-and-a-half wide rabbit-hole reaching into the stone. I crept in, the sound of the waves compressing the air at the far end of the hole growing deafening. Suddenly the suction became quite intense and I had to haul myself back to the entrance, the words BAD IDEA BAD IDEA BAD IDEA suddenly a litany in my head.

I again fled into the ocean, willing to take gibbering madness over a bashed head and a lungful of brine. I felt a sharp prick in my leg, peered in the water and found a sea flea there. Clearly this was my Maloyaroslavets. I swam over to a bunch of boulders in between a break in the cliffs and did some exploring (gingerly stepping on the bloody sharp rocks) of the stalactites melting out from the overhangs. After passing some distance into the quasi-canyon, I emerged on the other side, where a man was drilling holes for climbing bolts. I stared up at the sky, streaks of white and blue mineral deposits melting down from holes in the rock face like angelic shitholes. The driller and I briefly acknowledged each other, and I decided to take a plunge. Spotting an island about a half-mile distant, I set out for it, thinking of how cool it would be to carve FOOD = LOVE into one of the caves located about five feet above the waterline.

About halfway there, I heard the buzzing of two boats. Knowing I was not in a traditional swimming area, I tried to hide my head between the waves, then figured I would rather be sent back than be run over. Fortunately no one did, and no one cared that I was there, and as the boats sped into the distance I resumed my swim. When I made it there, I made the shocking discovery that the rocks at the island's base were just as cruelly sharp as the rocks at the base of the island I had left. Plus the crabs scurrying around seemed simply opposed to my presence. So I set back, and about halfway there I remembered that the last time I swam a full mile, it was summer camp and there was a lifeguard around.

Unable to change my location without more swimming, I ignored the pain in my shoulders and arms and doggy-paddled back home. With the diminished pace, I noticed something I had shockingly been unaware of when I set out for the island: cactus trees. Growing from the tiny rock islands dotting the ocean's surface were tree trunks that, about halfway up, suddenly became cactuses. I simply did not know that could happen. At any rate, I made it back, crawled past and over five-foot-wide blocks of rose quartz till I made it back to the domain of the mankini. My mind has erased all events after that, but I appear to be having no lasting mental disturbances.

Welcome to the Jungle

I’ll post a link to the leech video Jazmine took once she puts it on YouTube – nasty little buggers, just one gets a taste of you and then they all can smell a feast. Got a fat one in my sock, and every five minutes after that I would find a few more sucking at the blood-soaked fabric.

Things we saw in Taman Negara: ants marching in highways unfollowably long, bats, snakes, monkeys, a yellow-tailed chicken-like bird, and an abandoned tourist resort. There, done with that.

The things I found most interesting in Taman Negara: the riverboat restaurants. The only restaurants in Kuala Tahan float at the juncture of the Tembeling and Jelai rivers, conveniently located just across from the entrance to the park. In addition to their food services, all the restaurants support a population of river taxi drivers sitting around and smoking cigarettes who will ferry you across the river for one ringgit.

The first night we got in, we ate at a cheap (about average for Bhutanese standards, Malaysia’s an upscale place) restaurant with a bumbling waiter and a “crazy” clock which merely showed an odd time. I ordered Tom Yam soup (“Yes, it’s Malaysian” said our nice but misinformed waiter (It’s Thai)) and Jazmine ordered something she couldn’t remember the name of. I can’t speak for the quality of her soup, but mine was deliciously Tom-Yammy (a flavor I lack the culinary chops to describe) and was chock-full of chunky vegetables and chicken and was the first meal in Malaysia I feel like I couldn’t have gotten in New York or India. Most of the food in Kuala Lumpur was street Chinese food (might have had something to do with the fact that we were staying in Chinatown) and our breakfasts, though authentically Malaysian, were all roti somethings – roti canai, roti telur, etc. – varieties of of spun flatbread with various sauces and curries, and never anything I felt was qualitatively different from the roti you’d get in India.

So we came back the next morning and, not remembering exactly where our previous restaurant was, went into another joint. My meal was unmemorable enough that I just don’t remember it. We boated off to the park, spent two days hiking and sleeping in a house on concrete stilts, listening to jungle as the noises changed at various times of day. Once we returned we were ferried across to “Family Restaurant.” Figuring we'd give it a shot, I ordered Kadung fried rice. This was a mistake, as it turned out to be bleh fried rice at an inflated price. We spent a bit trying to figure out exactly where our original restaurant was, only to conclude definitively that it was not where we had left it: turns out, the restaurants aren’t moored anywhere, and periodically the taxi boats have to push them back to one of the parking spots across from the park entrance. And in addition to the confusing wandering, they all have bland and indistinguishable names, so when we returned for dinner we had to spend a good thirty minutes going to each one before finding our baby. My fourth and final meal was a delicious Bundun soup – somehow they made the cuttlefish tender and juicy, something I had never seen anyone make normally-rubbery cuttlefish be, and the clock was still off by a random amount of time. Quite charming.

So, to sum it up: I can't give you directions to the place, but the orange restaurant is the one you want.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Where in the World is

Quick post, for all those people who are afraid I've made an Apocalypse Now-esque jaunt into the heart of darkness: I'm in Krabi, after hiking in Taman Negara and then a 2-day-long series of bus rides up through Malaysia into Thailand. Got some posts on tap, but I want to polish them until they shine. Until then, enjoy life in that city on a hill and your humble narrator will be enjoying his by sipping 10-baht real Red Bull and watching the muddy walking fish they got over here. Tashi Delek.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I am a Nephilim

Zeb: Do you have this cheap shoe in a larger size?
Malaysian Shop Keeper: No, the cheap products only come in small sizes. Perhaps you would like an expensive neon green hipster basketball shoe?
ZEB: No thank you, I happened to look at that shoe earlier and it only comes in American size ten. Do you have a shoe that could fit me?
MSK: No sir, no one has ever had a foot as large as yours.
ZEB: Perhaps you could check in the back?
MSK: Unfortunately I am checking in the back and nothing will fit your monster giant feet. Let me climb up into the ceiling and look there.
MSK: Oh no, no one has left any large shoes in the ceiling where I apparently keep all my specialty merchandise.
ZEB: That's fine, I am not going to go check somewhere else because I have had this conversation already three times.
MSK: Okay, thank you!


Look! This agricultural product comes pre-packaged!

Look! Chain restaurants!

Look! It is 3:30 a.m. There are people out drinking! Restaurants are serving them! One of them is a woman!

Look! Lamps that light the streets at night!

Look! A variety of types of the same product!

Look! A condiment that is not chili sauce!

Look! No haggling is there!

Look! The food preparation area is sanitary!

Look! A public display of affection!

Look! These tourists do not have tour guides!

Look! This image took me only five seconds to upload!

Look! Cave roosters!

Look! Jazmine Da Costa!

Look! A city growing out of the jungle!

Look! Distortion of space and time!

First five pictures by me, sixth by Jon Feyer, all else by Jazmine Da Costa.