wander process


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Phuphing Palace

As with most blog entries, I have to backtrack a little with this one to explain how I got to be where I was at the time.

The Songkran holidays were nearing and I was looking forward to spending some quality time with friends in Chiang Mai. Due to my recent surge in traveling, I only had two days in Buriram between returning from Kanchanaburi and departing for Chiang Mai on an overnight bus leaving from Khorat. Unfortunately, in those two days, I was legally obliged to procure my visa extension for living in Thailand for the rest of the year.

This was the plan: go to Buriram the day I left for Chiang Mai. Pick up a document from Buriram city. Drive to Khorat from there. Procure visa. Get dropped off at the bus station in Khorat. Leave on my bus for Chiang Mai at 8:30pm.

This is what really happened: I went to Buriram and retrieved the document (this went as planned, phew). I rode along to Khorat, and went to the immigration department, took a number, and waited in line. Maybe I’ve had bad luck in the past when I’ve had to draw numbers, because drawing numbers and waiting in lines makes me pretty anxious and like I will meet some awful fate upon coming face to face with a bureaucratic, government drone. Guess what? That’s what happened! After patiently waiting among all of the dirty, STD-infested European riffraff, it was finally my turn to talk to the government officials. All of my documents were fine. Except one. One document. And it was addressed improperly. That was the only problem separating me from living legally in Thailand. The government official asked her boss and my visa application was denied.

My initial reaction was to start crying, mostly because I am very skilled and experienced with crying. Also, I was incredibly frustrated. My process to become a legal resident of Thailand has been long and drawn out and I’ve logged many hours between waiting in line at government buildings and on public transportation to get to these government buildings. I never really mentioned it while blogging, but it’s been a mentally and emotionally taxing part of my life since January. I wanted everything to be over with and end with a happy ending.

I tried to explain that I had a bus ticket to go to Chiang Mai that night. After that, government offices would be closed for almost a week for Songkran. After Songkran, I had one more possible day to try for my visa again. My margin of opportunity was scarily thin. Khru Shell, a teacher at the school and my helper for the day, decided that we would drive as fast as we could back to the school, pick up a new letter, and drive back to Khorat to get the visa. Unfortunately, Khorat’s about 2 hours from Lamplaimat, even if you’re driving quickly. We realized that we wouldn’t be able to make it back.

At this point, I had to make a decision – either I lose my bus ticket and lose the money I had spent on a hotel reservation in Chiang Mai, or I make sure that I obtain my visa and stay in Buriram one day longer.

I think we can all agree that the most practical, grown-up answer would have been for me to make sure I procured the visa. I, however, decided that I didn’t want to lost all of that money I spent. Plus, there would be no way that I would be able to get a bus ticket to Chiang Mai for the next day – transportation into and out of Chiang Mai was impossible to get so close to the Songkran holiday.

With all of my documents in hand, I hopped on the local bus bound for Khorat (my second trip for the day). I thought I would try my luck at the immigration office in Chiang Mai. And it is with this half hopeful, half terrified attitude that I started my vacation that I had been looking forward to for weeks.

To shorten what could be another long rant on waiting in government offices: I went to the immigration offices in Chiang Mai, waited for hours, only to be told that I couldn’t get a visa there. At this point, I was determined to put it at the back of my mind and enjoy the time I had with friends in Chiang Mai.

I hopped back into thesongthaew I had hired and went to my hotel. I had not been involved in booking accommodation for this trip. If I had, we all would have probably stayed in a fleapit without air conditioning or a flushing toilet. Since I wasn’t involved, we stayed in an extremely nice hotel with both air conditioning and a flushing toilet (and hot water! and a rooftop pool!). It was a welcome relief to come back to such a nice place after so much time in government offices and rest stops and public buses.

I freshened up, and we set off for Doi Suthep and Phuping Palace (getting splashed along the way, even though Songkran had not officially started).

We had to purchase plastic bags to keep all of our essential belongings dry.

P'Nutt, where we can always find her.

My friend and old co-teacher at DSIL, Nutt, wanted to see the flowers at Phuping Palace. I had seen a few signs for it around Chiang Mai and got pretty immature by pointing it out and laughing (Phuping is pronounced kind of like “Pooping” and what would I love more than a Pooping Palace? NOTHING.)

Phuping Palace is place for the royal family to stay when they are in northern Thailand, and it’s beautiful! Perched atop a mountain and covered in greenery and flowers, I had no problem imagining my life if I had a chance to live there.

Adam kindly holding Nutt's hand to protect her from her fear of heights.

fern love.

3/4 of the Songkran crew: Joy, Adam, and me (I still have bus ride induced cankles! oooh, sexy)

Someone carved this with a toothpick. Daaaaang. (no, not really)

If I need to find Adam, I often need to locate the dogs first.

An actual chedi and Wat Doi Suthep. I'm in the practice of calling everything Buddhist and unknown to me a "chedi." This includes all creatures and architectural features. But this is an actual chedi. I looked it up.

More to come from my wild, northern trip soon!

 


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A Night at the Thunder Castle

And no. This is not a title to a porn film. At least to my knowledge.

A few weeks ago, a coworker and friend of mine, Nat, came into my office with an announcement: “There is a Buriram United game tonight and some of the teachers are going. Let me know if you want to come so we can get tickets for you!”

I hesitated for a little bit, but then I agreed to it. I generally operate on the principle that if something is a new experience (and especially if something has the potential to be a window into a part of culture I haven’t seen before), I should, by all means, participate. So I said yes!

Buriram United is a real big deal in Buriram, the Thai province where I live. They’re widely considered the best soccer team in Thailand and have won different championships that I’m not even going to pretend what they are or how much they actually matter (can you feel my apathy towards sports?). In the political turbulence and riots in 2010, the iconic Buriram jerseys even gained a place among the red shirts and yellow shirts and wearing a jersey was a political statement itself (to some people). Now, I think it’s just symbol of team and province pride.

I learned more about Buriram United while evading the advances of a Cameroonian footballer in the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh. “Oh, I know Buriram, I have played there! They are a very good team. You can come and see me play sometime. You can be my guest. Here’s a picture of me with my shirt off. Here’s a picture of my bed. I would like your phone number and email and facebook and skype, please.” Ick. No thanks.

So that’s about all I knew about Buriram up until this point.

Let me tell you, I was actually really regretting my decision to go to the game all afternoon. As I mentioned above, I incredibly apathetic when it comes to commercialized athletics. I decided to go anyway, since (I thought) my ticket was already purchased.

And so, after school, 7 of us piled into the cab of Khru Shell’s shiny new pickup truck. Inhuman squeezing into vehicles is a weekly occurrence here.

We traveled the 30 or so kilometers to Buriram proper and as we did, the sky grew increasingly darker, thunder cracked, and fat drops of rain began to fall. We considered doing a rain dance to make the rain stop.

No luck there.

We approach the stadium of Buriram United, the Thunder Castle (which has to be one of the best stadium names ever).

We had some pictures taken of ourselves (this is one of the few posts that proves my existence as a human).

Nat, Shell, Ad, Duk, me (Jordan)

We wait in line for tickets because, in fact, the tickets were not purchased like we thought they were.

I waited off to the side next to people who I’m pretty sure were scalping tickets.

Lines to get into the Thunder Castle were loooong.

Since we arrived late, we could only buy tickets for the seats without an overhang. Commence more getting wet. People were reluctant to find their seats.

The Thunder Castle’s capacity is 24,000 people. The night I went, it was announced that over 23,000 people were there. The Thunder Castle-dwellers were a diehard group – they had cheers and a fan club section and vuvuzelas and 2 drumlines (that didn’t really pay attention to each other).

You can't see this, but it says "BREATH OF BURIRAM" which I thought was the greatest thing.

Duk and Shell were getting into it. Okay, even I was getting into it.

That night, the Thunder Castle hosted the Jeonbok Hyundai Motors team from Korea. I had the privilege of sitting very near the Korean team’s designated fan section, which was about 9 people strong. Buriram United tried their mightiest, but they were ultimately no match for the Jeonbok Hyundai Motors. The game ended with a 2-0 score.

Nat and I. I'm looking more than a little slimy from sitting in the rain and mist and the fans behind me are looking disappointed.

Mark, Nat, and I.

in all its glory.

We took our last few minutes at the stadium to take even more pictures of ourselves next to various things that said “THUNDER CASTLE” on them.

Duk, Mark, Nat & Ad next to the THUNDER CASTLE bus.

Me next to the ASTLE. Do you see why it's hard for me to trust people to compose pictures well?

Me next to another one of the various THUNDER vehicles.

All in all, I got totally nasty, witnessed where all of the gross sexpat white men come for their liver football fill, got to participate in a part of Buriram culture, and became a Buriram United fan. I suspect I may make another trip to the Thunder Castle.

 

 

 


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Thankful, Quiet Weekends

After so much traveling lately, I am thankful for a quiet weekend.

I am thankful for talking to family and friends (for they restore my sanity – how would I live without skype?). I had a chance to see la diablita and be reassured by both family and friends that at 22, I’m not supposed to have everything figured out just yet.

I am thankful for obscene amounts of time to read (I finished The Corrections). And time to watch movies (The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Beginners), although I still don’t like that I watch so much TV.

I am thankful for still enjoying my nightly walks and for the fact that it’s often too dark for people to see me mouthing along to the words of songs.

And although there are three accepted seasons in Thailand – hot, rainy, cold – I am thankful for the advent of the most important season…

Rambutan season!

In other food-related news, seaweed has become my new favorite snack and I’ve already started thinking about piling some away to snack on during my upcoming multi-continental (and probably seaweed-less travels). If there’s no seaweed though, that’s alright. I’m already putting together an extensive mental list of Midwestern delicacies I can’t wait to tickle the taste buds with.

I think that my computer charger has gone totally rogue and works roughly 2% of the time, due to having weathered an obscene amount of power surges and sparks. My challenge for the next week is to find a new charger. And then crank out more picture-laden updates.


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Thoughts from the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre

I’ve had to spend a lot of quality time in government offices across 3 different provinces lately. A LOT of quality time. One such office is in Bangkok, which meant that I usually went to Bangkok over the weekend to enjoy all of the pleasures of city life and friendship, and went to government offices first thing in the morning on Monday before heading back to Buriram Province later on in the day.

As most people are wont to do, I find myself operating within the comfortable patterns of things I know I love to in Bangkok and did frequently when I lived there. This usually means eating at the same restaurants (we found legit Mexican food in Southeast Asia and couldn’t contain our joy!), frequenting the same shops, ambling about the same markets.

With time to kill one weekend, I decided to hit up somewhere I had always wanted to go but hadn’t before: the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. I cannot hide my love for art museums and have frequented quite a few in my time at Brown and while studying abroad. The BACC is the premier exhibition space for contemporary art in Thailand. Located downtown (right at the National Stadium BTS stop and right across the street from MBK), the BACC is like a little Guggenheim copycat (right down to the spiral layout) right in the heart of Bangkok. Admission is free and exhibits change regularly.

I lucked out when I went because two of the three current exhibits were right up my alley. One, entitled The Upside Down Work of Phillippe Ramette was chock full of wonderful surrealist photography carried out by a sculptor. (Fun fact: the photo below by Phillippe Ramette was also the first thing I posted on my tumblr!)

The second exhibit was entitled You Are Not Alone and featured artists from many nationalities  showcasing work that promotes greater understanding of issues surrounding HIV/AIDS (the exhibit was curated by ArtAIDS, a transnational organization). I felt like I was back on IHP, and I found the exhibit interesting and definitely worthwhile of a visit if you’re in Bangkok now. Some of the exhibits called to me more than others and I found two particularly effective.

Walking into the exhibit, you are confronted with this piece, by Elmgreen and Dragset:

The first thing you see when you walk into You Are Not Alone, I thought that this piece was all at once excellent and terrible, but only terrible because it’s true. It was a stark reminder of the reality of today’s screwed up pharmaceutical industry and the subject of a lot of my intellectual pursuits during college. This artwork more or less encapsulated why I spent a good part of my sophomore year of college thinking about becoming an intellectual property lawyer.

Further into the exhibit is a room of photos taken by famous South African photographer, David  Goldblatt. During the darker days of my final year at college, I would often find myself curled up on my old stomping grounds on the fourth floor of the Rock, with a big photo book in my lap and another huge pile of books at my side. Photography was one of the only things that could truly, really soothe me and was a way for me to momentarily escape. One such photographer I poured over the work of was David Goldblatt. I admired his striking, honest portrayal of life in South Africa. It was a treat to be able to see his work displayed in Bangkok.

Goldblatt’s work displayed at the BACC depicted the ubiquity of the red ribbon as a sign of HIV/AIDS as a “stale advertisement for an unwanted product.”

Here are a few more snaps from the BACC:

A secret message is built into the colors of these flags.

A view from the BACC

For more information about the exhibit, you can read this article from the Bangkok Post. The Phillippe Ramette exhibit is on display until April 29 and You Are Not Alone is on display until May 20. The exhibits are well worth a few weekend hours.

 

 


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Biking and Hiking and Reading: A Weekend in Kanchanaburi

Dear friends,

I have been wholly negligent of my blog lately. This is due to a few different and related circumstances: lots of work, and thus, not much else to report on besides work. Then, there was a huge personal surge in travel. Let me illustrate:

Do you see this?! Do you see all of this in its equivalent in hours on public transport? I sure do. This all happened within the span of a week, more or less. Keep in mind that Thailand is more than twice the size of Wyoming, so these weren't short distances I was covering.

 

Lucky for me, there was a 4-day weekend last weekend. Chakri Day, I think. Everybody knows that 4-day weekends mean trips galore!

I’ve been carefully keeping a mental note of an unofficial Thailand Bucket List. Luckily, I’ve hit up a lot of what I’ve wanted to see in this wonderful country, so the places I want to travel to are getting more and more obscure (i.e. cave-canoeing on the border of Burma, sleepy Mekong towns in the far northeast, crystal clear beaches that no one talks about). One such place on my list was Kanchanaburi. As far as obscure places to visit in Thailand, Kanchanaburi is about as far from obscure as it gets. The province is located about 2-3 hours from Bangkok, so it makes a nice day trip for travellers who don’t have multiple days to devote to the area.

The town of Kanchanaburi is located near the border of Burma and is famous for one thing.

When I was little, my family couldn’t go anywhere for vacation that didn’t have some relic of modern warfare nearby. The only way we could drag our dad to the beach was if that beach had a battleship located conveniently close to it. For my 22 years, I’ve been on a lot of battleships and submarines. Going to Kanchanaburi felt kind of like my childhood vacations. I wanted to see for myself the famous Bridge on the River Kwai.

As always, little foresight went into planning my trip. Luckily, a work van was making the trek to Bangkok on Friday. I rode along with colleagues and made it to Victory Monument, the headquarters for minibus travel to and from Bangkok. By 7pm, I was on my way to Kanchanaburi. As I mentioned earlier, it’s been far rainier than I expected for the hot season. It was still drizzling when I made it into town. I stepped off of the minibus and into the drizzle.

Let me point out that this is usually the point of trip when I remember that I didn’t make any plans at all. Usually, I’ll glance at wikitravel to figure out basic layouts of towns and average prices for accommodation, but I usually do nothing further than that. I can usually count on a songthaew to take me somewhere close to where I want to go.

I took in the sights of nighttime in Kanchanaburi (not strikingly different than any other Thai town).

I let the driver take me around to different guesthouses until I could find one that wasn’t full. The guesthouse I ended up at was cheap (200 THB/night) and had a wonderful lawn full of hammocks and chairs for lounging around in and was right next to the river. That’s about all it had going for it though. The place was crawling with nasty old men who were on the prowl for Thai girlfriends. Men with mullets, men with unfortunate tattoos, men who are so old they can barely walk. If you’ve spent any amount of time with me, you probably know how impassioned and upset I get because of the scummy sexpats here. Kanchanaburi seemed to have more than the usual number of these creeps. For that reason, I didn’t fully enjoy my time in Kanchanaburi.

Determined to keep away from the nasty men who bring my mood down, I headed out the next day with few plans.

I took a little time to admire this modern house close to my guesthouse. I'm loving all of the windows.

Due to work these days, I’m a pretty early riser. I set out by 8 and wandered around the town before deciding to do something a little more active. There was a bike rental shop across the street from where I was staying, so I rented a bike and spent the morning cruising the city.

First, I pedaled my way to the bridge.

I confess, I downloaded The Bridge on the River Kwai to watch before my trip to Kanchanaburi. Because I spend too much time on the internet, my intention span is embarrassingly low and I could not pay attention for more than 30 minutes of the 161 minute movie. I’ll save it for a rainy day (mostly because I got the blu-ray version and it would be a shame not to watch a classic on blu-ray!).

Unlike the dying soldiers and ruthless war criminals of the first 30 minutes of the movie, the modern-day bridge was packed to the gills with Thai and foreign tourists. If I were to redo my trip, I might’ve bought a train ticket to travel the length of the Death Railway to see exactly what the prisoners of war had to build.

The view from the bridge, however, was pleasant and confirmed my wishes to travel to Kanchanaburi in the first place.

I made it to the end of the bridge, where the tourists had thinned out, then made my way back. I bought a few cheesy postcards to send to friends from one of the many shops surrounding the bridge and hopped back on my bike to get away from the throngs of tourists. I biked away from the bridge, away from the guesthouses, away from town (except I stopped when I came across a jewelry market because shiny jewelry has always,always caught my eye).

My trusty steed.

I came across the usual things that make my heart flutter: abandoned buildings, mountains, and fruit.

Being a child of the corn, mountains hold an extra-special allure for me. In Springfield, it was a big deal that there was one big hill that we could roll down and cover ourselves in grass stains (as high-schoolers). So real mountains, those are a big deal. The ones in Kanchanaburi are every cliché possible: majestic, rolling, verdant. I would take these beauties over the creepy men back at my guesthouse any old day.

I pumped my way back to my guesthouse around noontime, only to realize how horribly sunburned the morning’s adventures had left me. Not having much of an agenda for the rest of the day and having my energy zapped from the bike ride and the sunburn, I purchased some fruit and spent most of the afternoon in a hammock, reading. This trip was as much a trip for me to get away and relax as it was for me to do anything else. I ended up reading 3 books in the 3 days I was in Kanchanaburi. The reason I don’t have an awful lot to report on from Kanchanaburi is because, like my entire childhood, I spent most of my time there engrossed in a book.

Besides reading, I decided to find the WWII cemetery while I still had my bike for rent. It was a short ride from where I was staying. I had never been to a WWII cemetery (or any war cemetery) before, and it was an interesting experience.

The messages, written by family members, were sobering and made the experience of being in Kanchanaburi and seeing the bridge more real. The graves were unadorned and left me to wonder if any of these men and women had family left. Thailand is a long way to visit a grave. The cemetery was mostly unshaded, so I didn’t stay too long, for fear of my burn getting worse.

I can always appreciate a good sunset, especially one over a river.

In addition to the Bridge, Kanchanaburi Province is famous for another tourist attraction, the Erawan Waterfalls. I decided that this would be my trip for day 2 in Kanchanaburi.

The falls are located about 90 minutes from Kanchanaburi town and most people reach them by purchasing tour packages that cost upwards of a pricy 1000 THB. Not wanting to organize an expensive day trip, I found the local bus, paid my 50 baht, and enjoyed the scenery of rural Kanchanaburi Province while rattling along in an ancient, tiny bus.

I got to the falls and, I’m sorry, neglected to take any nice pictures of them.

I spent the morning climbing and hiking and sweating and dipping my toes in the water. The falls were pretty, but I suggest that if you go, go with a friends so you have people to jump off of the waterfalls with. I wasn’t about to leave my bag with my camera and wallet in it while I removed my clothing and jumped off the waterfalls (I honestly don’t think anything would’ve happened to my stuff, but I decided to play it safe).

I spent the rest of the day, as you can guess, reading. Eager to steer clear of the bars packed with obese men and rich-white-boyfriend-hungry women, I dined at Mangosteen Cafe both nights I stayed in Kanchanaburi. I can’t say enough things about the friendly, chatty service (Thai people always get a kick out of me when I tell them I live in Buriram) and wonderful smoothies. I tried the blue rice with Thai herbs pictured in the link and I’m still thinking about it.

Early the next morning, I boarded a minibus back to Victory Monument. After a little bit of grocery shopping at Siam, I went to Mo Chit and took my usual route of Mo Chit > Khorat > Lamplaimat, making it back to my place at a decent hour. My time back at my place in Buriram Province was short-lived because the immensely important and festive Songkran holiday was coming up and I had major plans underway.


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Rain in the Hot Season

April in Thailand is notorious for being completely miserable. The oppressive heat of the hot season swarms everyone and leaves us living in a sort of daze. Lately, however, I’ve been experiencing afternoon downpours like I’m used to during the rainy season. These days, my leather computer bag for work often doubles as an umbrella. It makes me look forward to coming rainy season.

Here’s the rain on the lotus pond right outside my office.