1

My Time is Running Out

Cue the Muse!!!

Sidenote: this song has nothing to do with this post, except the title. But it’s a good song. So there’s that.

So here we are, a month into second semester, and this is when I begin freaking out.

This is what I feel like:

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This is what I WANT to feel like:

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I have only three months until my contract is up, and my time in Thailand comes to an end. THREE MONTHS?! Where the hell did all the time go? Back in February, I was thinking, “Oh, if I don’t get to it now, I’ll just do it second semester.” Well, second semester is rapidly going away.. we’re already near midterms! There’s still so many things I want to do and places to see, and I get anxious thinking about not being able to do it all. I have to keep reminding myself to be realistic and that there’s no feasible way to see everything in Southeast Asia, or even just Thailand, that I want to this time around. I have to prioritize what I really want to do, and then the rest I’ll just have to save for a return trip.

Despite this reality check, it doesn’t help me not feel depressed about it. I’m sort of over the whole teaching thing already, and I’m totally stoked to go home and see my friends, family, and the East Coat (Beast Coast for life!), but I’m not done traveling yet, dammit! I MUST SEE IT ALL!!! When else am I going to be so close to so many places? The Malaysian beaches, the Singaporean nightlife, the Laotian rivers.. they’re all within my grasp! I imagine this conversation playing out when I get home:

Random person: So did you get to see XYZ while you were there?
Me: (getting sad again) No, I didn’t, but I really wanted to!
Random person: Oh man, I can’t believe you were so close and didn’t go!!!
Me: >>>>>:(((((( (shoots lasers out of my eyes at random person)

This is where I am mentally right now, a big ol’ mess of alternately wanting to go and wanting to stay, and it’s driving me bonkers.  I’ve been keeping pretty busy with school, aerobic dance class (my knee despises me right now), Game of Thrones binges, and weekends in Bangkok, so the time seems to have gotten way from me. We have a 4 day weekend coming up in July, and then I think we will have another one in August, but then at the end of September, I’m done! Time certainly does fly by when you’re having fun. And not having enough time to jetset around this beautiful corner of the world is not a bad problem to have. Nothing that a massage and a gin and tonic can’t solve, anyway…

1

The CamBROdian Experience

The G.S.E.A.S. adventure continues.. 

After Saigon, we hopped on yet another bus, prepared to leave Vietnam, and headed west to Cambodia. Country #2!

Cambodia was the poorest out of all the countries I visited. I thought Thailand was dirty, but Cambodia definitely takes the cake. The amount of poverty around you is so blatant that it’s astounding. There’s just a huge lack of infrastructure, especially roads. In Thailand, when you take an overnight bus, they make fairly regular stops, and they will even wake you up in the middle of the night for a pit stop. In Cambodia, we took a sleeper bus (beds, but no bathroom!) from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. At some point as we went bounding over the unpaved rural roads, I realized we were’t stopping, probably because there was nowhere TO stop. Around 2am, I couldn’t take it any longer, so I made my way up to the driver to ask, “Toilet?” What does the man do? Pulls the bus over to the side of the road, which is surrounded by nothing. I think I’m the only one who’s hopping off the bus and squatting next to the road to do my business, but it’s only when I’m standing up that I see other people (mostly guys) also getting off to relieve themselves. Hi, nice to meet you, here’s me peeing. That’s probably an experience I won’t be forgetting soon.

How are Southeast Asians so crazy?

How are Southeast Asian sunsets so crazy?

Anyways, we ended up calling it CamBROdia because we were reunited with our travel buddies from Hanoi, and let’s face it, a lot of ridiculousness went down in this seemingly lawless land.

Downtown Phnom Penh.

Downtown Phnom Penh.

Our first stop was a brief one in the capital of Phnom Penh, with a visit to the Khmer Rouge killing fields at Choeung Ek. This is one of the most heart wrenching and moving places I have ever been to. Read about the atrocities of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979 here.

Schoolkids on the way to Choeung Ek (the killing fields).

Schoolkids on the way to Choeung Ek.

They tried so hard to bike and catch up to our tuktuk.

They tried so hard to bike fast and catch up to our tuktuk.

One of the mass graves at Choeung Ek. This place is heartbreaking.

One of the mass graves at Choeung Ek. This place is heartbreaking.

The Killing Tree, which is how many children died. To think that a place that is now so unsuspecting was the site of so many horrific acts is just unfathomable to me.

The Killing Tree, which is how many children died. To think that a place that is now so unsuspecting was the site of so many horrific acts is just unfathomable to me.

They are still finding bits of clothes, bone, and teeth coming out of the ground nearly 40 years later.

They are still finding bits of clothes, bone, and teeth coming out of the ground nearly 40 years later.

Victims of the Khmer Rouge. They are arranged by age and gender.

Victims of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. They are arranged by age and gender.

The next day, we headed south to the beach at Sihanoukville, or as we like to call it, Snooky. Because it is that kind of place that deserves to be named after a Jersey Shore character. This is like the Jekyll and Hyde of Cambodia, if not all of Southeast Asia. Literally, the two sides of Sihanoukville are night and day.

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My, what a lovely beach town we have come upon..

The beach at Sihanoukville had some of the best shells I have ever seen. A beachcomber's paradise.

The beach at Sihanoukville had some of the best shells I have ever seen. A beachcomber’s paradise.

During the day it looks so peaceful.

During the day it looks so peaceful and pleasant.

Beachside in Sihanoukville.

Beachside in Sihanoukville.

It looks so innocent, but deep down, this place is just raw and unfiltered hedonism, and it’s dangerous. Lovely beach during the day, but at night Snooky will suck you in and crush your soul/liver, so it’s better to not linger too long.

Snooky sunset.

Snooky sunset.

We arrived in Snooks on St. Patrick's Day, so clearly the green beer was flowing.

We arrived in Snooks on St. Patrick’s Day, so clearly the green beer was flowing.

At night, this is what the beach in Sihanoukville turns into.. just one grimy beach bar after another.

At night, this is what the beach in Sihanoukville turns into.. just one grimy beach bar after another.

After a stay in Snooks that saw me get 603 bug bites (yes, we counted) on my legs, we headed up to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. The temples are beyond belief, so that will have to be for another post.

When you get 603 bug bites, a diagram is necessary.

When you get 603 bug bites, a diagram is necessary. #603 represent!

4

Live Through a Coup? Check.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in Thai politics; this is merely a summary of the current state of affairs as I understand it as a foreigner living in Thailand. This is not my fight, so I do not endorse either side. I am a mere observer. 

As I write this, it’s Friday around noon, and I’m at home, not at school. Why? Because yesterday around 5 PM, the Thai military announced it was taking over the government. A coup! How exciting. But how does this affect me personally? Well, there’s a countrywide curfew in place from 10 PM – 5 AM, and they closed all of the schools until Sunday. So uh, thanks for the 3 day weekend? In Salaya, life goes on as usual. I am safe, and my friends who live in Bangkok are safe as well. As a political science major, it’s a pretty interesting time to be living here.

If you’re new to Thai politics, you may be wondering, “WHOA GUY, what do you mean there’s a COUP? What the deuce is going on?!” To answer that, let’s back up a little, to when I was brand new to Thailand. Almost the entire time that I’ve been here (6 out of the 7 months), there have been anti-government protests (the yellow shirts) going on, mostly in Bangkok. They believe the government, led by now-ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, is corrupt (read more in detail — older articles but decent background info: PolicyMic, CNN). Her brother is Thaksin Shinawatra, a business tycoon and former PM who is in self-imposed exile abroad because he was found guilty of corruption charges. This is a very simplified version of what’s going on from a farang, but essentially the Bangkok elite have accused the Shinawatras and their political party of buying votes (among other abuses) in the rural provinces (especially the northeast) of Thailand, which is where they get all of their support. They are protesting the corruption, and they want to set up a new government.

Protesters in Bangkok a couple months ago.

Protesters in Bangkok a couple months ago.

Meanwhile, the pro-government supporters (the red shirts) have their own counter-protests, and so for months now they have been demonstrating back and forth trying to change the government. Usually, the protests are peaceful, but there have been incidents where it has turned violent and people have died. Then, earlier this month, Yingluck was ousted from her post by a court ruling, and a caretaker PM stepped in. This past Tuesday, we woke up and found out that the military had imposed martial law overnight, claiming that it was necessary to “restore order” and it was not a coup. That lasted about 2.5 days, as yesterday afternoon, they announced that this was in fact a coup, and the military had taken over the government.

Not long after I found out about the coup, I went to dinner with my next door neighbor, who is an officer in the Thai navy (another story for another time). The dude likes to talk, and he couldn’t stop talking about the coup, understandably. What was interesting was his perspective on it, especially as part of the Thai military. He said that the coup was a good thing, that the military guys are very smart and “will fix everything.” He said that the problem was the “uneducated” people who were corrupt and accepted money from Thaksin. “The educated people know better, but the uneducated people do not think, they do not know.” He also said that coups were normal in Thailand (?!?!), which actually isn’t too far from the truth, since the last one was in 2006. The US State Department and other Western countries are issuing statements condemning the coup and its effect on democracy, but this naval officer, a highly educated Thai person, was in support of the coup, and firmly believes it will help solve the country’s problems, and prevent a civil war. Just goes to show that there are always going to be widely different opinions on how to go about solving crises. It remains to be seen where this coup will lead the country, but I’ll be here, watching and listening.

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0

GSEAS, Part 2: Vietnam – Nha Trang & Saigon

After just over 2 months on the road, I am finally back in Salaya, and just beginning my second semester of teaching. Instead of trying to sum up most of the trip (post-Hoi An), which included trips to southern Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong, I’ve decided to take more of a photo essay approach using some of my favorite shots.

Let’s take a peek at the rest of my time in Vietnam, from Nha Trang south to Saigon and the Mekong River Delta..

Nha Trang at sunrise.

Nha Trang at sunrise. Nice, big boardwalk.

Nha Trang beach!

Nha Trang beach!

A delicious Italian dinner (that I still dream about) with good people.

A delicious Italian dinner (that I still dream about) with good people.

Not too shabby.

I could’ve spent a lot longer than 2 days here. The water was so warm (but the waves were a little crazy).

Waiting for Saigon, making turkey commitments.

Ladies waiting for Saigon, making turkey commitments.

Hello, Saigon!

Hello, Saigon!

Communism is alive and well.. no irony here.

Communism is alive and well.. no irony here.

Outside the War Remnants Museum.

Outside the War Remnants Museum.

The fancy part of Saigon.

The fancy part of Saigon.

Panorama of Saigon at sunset, from the Sheraton rooftop bar.

Panorama of Saigon at sunset, from the Sheraton rooftop bar.

Perhaps THE cutest animal I have ever seen with my own eyes.

Perhaps THE cutest animal I have ever seen with my own eyes.

Drifting down a canal of the Mekong River in small boats.. hope you're not scared.

Drifting down a canal of the Mekong River in small boats.. hope you’re not scared.

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Yes, people actually wear these hats in rural Vietnam (not so much in downtown Saigon). Works really well at keeping the sun off your face.

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It’s quite picturesque and peaceful.

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On the actual Mekong River, near the Vietnamese version of a floating market (which actually floats), there’s tons of shanties that line the banks. It still amazes me that people actually live in these.

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One of the vendors at the floating market. You know what they sell by seeing whatever is stacked high on their boat, or sometimes they have a little sign with a picture of their produce.

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THIS KID. His name was Woo, he was (I think) 12 years old, and his English was really good. He’s an excellent salesman. He came up to our boat more than once trying to get people to buy bananas or pineapple, and by the third time, I couldn’t resist, and bought some delicious pineapple. Keep on keepin’ on, Woo.

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We stopped at a place in the Delta where they make rice noodles. First they crush up the rice so it’s in a liquid form. Then, they take this mixture and spread it over a hot flat pan like a crepe or an omelet, then and using this special bamboo stick you see here, they pick it up off the pan and put it down on these bamboo platforms to dry out in the sun. They do it so fast and so skillfully. Once they are dry, they take these big, flat, rice crepes and put it through the cutting machine, which cuts them up into the long thin strands we know and love as NOODLES!

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Totally necessary picture of a totally adorable kid at the noodle factory. Hard to believe the guy holding her is her dad, he looks so young himself.

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If there’s a hammock around, I will lie in it.

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Our time in Vietnam has come to a finish. This is at the border, crossing into Cambodia. You were a joy, Vietnam, and I’ll come back for you later.

Next up, country #2 on the G.S.E.A.S., Cambodia..

 

1

Great Southeast Asian Sojourn, Part 1: Vietnam

March 1 marked the beginning of our summer vacation, or what we in the Salaya Club have dubbed our “Great Southeast Asian Sojourn.” We had a few bumps on the way (missed flight, lost baggage, lost credit cards), but somehow we made it to Hanoi. And what a city! I seriously love that place. The vibe is totally different than Thailand, and more what I was looking for when I moved to Asia. I could feel a certain buzz and energy in the air that I don’t sense when I’m in Bangkok, or even Chiang Mai really. The people were super friendly; more friendly I think than in Thailand. Land of Smiles, Schmand of Schmiles! Also, I enjoyed the food a lot more. Maybe I’ll move to Vietnam in October?? 

Since this is Vietnam, the city has a bit of a French influence which you can see in the architecture, which is very pretty, and the presence of bread! The cool rainy weather was a nice break from the insufferable Thai heat, though our feet were pretty disgusting after walking around in flip flops all day. Vietnam is also cheaper than Thailand (hooray communism?!), though using the Vietnamese dong makes for some good jokes. 20,000 dong is about one dollar. Seriously, the jokes write themselves. Since it is communist, you will see that red color all around (the Vietnamese flag is red with a yellow star), propaganda souvenirs, and bars shut down at midnight, or rather the whole city seems to, but there’s underground bars and clubs that rage all night, if you know where to find them.

Also, the cultural drinking experience in Hanoi is the “bia hoi,” which is local beer that they brew daily. There’s a small street/corner in the city that has all of these little streetside bars (bar meaning a 10×10 patch of sidewalk) that brew their own cheap beer (maybe 5,000 VND per drink) each day. The batch is new everyday, and has to be drunk that day. It was an awesome way to experience Hanoi nightlife, and mingle with locals. I only wish that I had made it there more than once. 

What it all comes down to is that I love Hanoi, and would live there in a heartbeat. Do I really have to go back to Thailand? Thankfully not yet…

After Hanoi, we overnight bused it to Hoi An, a sleepy beach town. It was cute and quaint, but I didn’t find much there to entertain me. I think it’s going to be hard for each successive place to live up to the standard that Hanoi set. After two nights in Hoi An, and another overnight bus, we are currently in Nha Trang, where my grandaddy Lillard was stationed in the war, and near where Autumn’s dad was at Cam Ranh Bay. Tomorrow we will leave for Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, where we will spend a couple days before heading for Cambodia. One country (almost) down, three more to go!