Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On a beach in Thailand...

Ahh, the power of the I am, not ten metres from the beach, and still able to post about my goings-on. The road to this small beach may be non-existent, but the internet is fast and ubiquitous. This is where I'm staying.
View Larger Map It's pretty much heaven on earth, white sandy beaches, delicious restaurants of all kinds right on the beach, many people of all different ages, and a relaxed and easy-going island atmosphere. Today it's been raining and windy, but otherwise the weather has been picture perfect. The moon is so bright at night that you can see as clearly as day. I don't have any pictures for yout yet; my camera is up at the bungalow and I don't feel like walking up to get it.

The trek to get here was a slog. After taking the train into Sapporo on Thursday night, there was a mixup, and I couldn't get into my friends house. I ended up sleeping in an internet cafe near the station (although that's not the hardship it sounds, cafes in japan have private booths, showers, free drinks, and reclining chairs..they're meant to be slept in by people who missed the last train home. If they didn't leave the lights on, or play soft-jazz all night they would be perfect) which ended up being a good move. I had to take the first train out in the morning to make it to the airport on time, but even being so close to the station I still missed as I took to long showering at the cafe. In any case, it didn't particularly matter, as it only takes 10 minutes to check-in, go through security, and board your plane in Japan. It's sooo much nicer then the endless lines and security rigomarole of home.

I arrived in Bangkok in the afternoon, and the weather was absolutely stiflingly hot. I took the bus into Banglamphu, the backpackers district, which was an adventure in itself. As you leave the airport, you climb onto the elevated freeway, and shantytown's and slumbs spread underneath you, until in the distance, highlighted by the blood-red sun, (which is red because of the smog) you see the skyscrapers of downtown. The vista aggressively highlights the economic disparities here, and it was the first time that I really felt that I was journeying through Sout-East Asia.

The drive through Banglamphu was similarly gorgeous, as the whole area was lit with lights, and the streets teemed as the Thai election, the first since the bloodless coup in 2006, was taking place two days later. After more than in hour in the inner-city traffic, made worse by cars parked in the street, and scooters weaving through the crowds oblivious to cars, pedestrians or sidewalks, we made it to Th Khao San, the backpackers street, and one of the major places of residents for tourist in Bangkok. The street was completely packed with people of all nationalities, going into and out of bars, restaurants, go-go dance halls and a thousand other places. I wandered around, somewhat lost, for 20 minutes or so, until I manges to find the ferry company to Koh Phangan. I caught the bus, which took around 12 hours to reach the port town. And from there, I took the ferry to Koh Phangan. It was similarly sweltering in Thong Sala, the main port city of the island. As soon as I stepped off the ferry I was assailed by taki drivers, offering to take me where I wanted to go in their songthaew. The songthaew is basically a pickup truck, with benches put along the sides in the back, and an open but covered roof. They are the main transportation around the island, if you don't take a boat, or rent a scooter.

After a harrowing hour long journey through the jungle which could optimistically be described as "roads," but which are in reality so washed out as to be dirt and rocks slopes, I finally arrived at my destination, the small beach of Au Tapan Nai Noi.

Since then, I've been lolling on the beach with the friends I've made here. Sleeping, swimming, and suntanning during the day, partying at night. It has been so idyllic and relaxed, that is, except for the crazyness that is the Full Moon Party.

The Full Moon Party has to been seen to be believed. It is an absolute madhouse, quite unlike anything I've been to before. It outdoes any rave, any rock festival that I've ever seen. Jen and Jackie, two Canadians who now live in Kenya, started the night off with me quietly enough. First, we made our way to one of the beach resorts down at the south end of the beach, as they had happy hour, and 100 baht cocktails from 5-7. Afterwards, we walked down to the other end of teh beach, and had a large thai barbecue at a different resort. We absolutely gorged on seafood and other treats, (I had sirloin steak and mussles with thai curry, which was unbelievably good) as we knew that we'd be drinking a lot later. We had a couple of large bottles of Singha, (a thai beer) but I took it slowly and paced myself, as I knew it would be a long night. Finally, at 11pm we caught the longtail boat down the coast of the island with some other friends of ours, and arrived at Had Rin, the site of the full moon party.

It certainly wasn't what I expected, and I think because of that, I didn't take full advantage of it. We disembarked from the boat, and made our way up the beach to the drink stands, where a hundred different stall where all selling the standard Full Moon drink, a plastic bucket, into which they poured a bottle of thai whiskey, a can of coke, and a bottle of Thai Red Bull. The whole thing went for the equivalent of $8. Now, to some of the more hardcore among, that may sound somewhat large, and yet tame, but let me assure you it is not. The Thais invented Red Bull, it was first made here, and it is quite a bit different than the stuff back home. Thai Red Bull is rocket fuel, as there are no legal limits on the amount of caffiene, guarana, and (I suspect) pseudo-speed. I was already half-cut when I arrived, but promptly bought a bucket, drank it, and went into a trance, dancing to ear-splittingly loud House music for 6 hours straight, till the sun burst over the sea. All in all, I have perhaps 15-20 mins of memory of the event, the rest is a blur. I didn't move around, I didn't see my friends, but I did acquire several mysterious bumps and scrapes.

Unfortunately, I missed the boat back to my beach, and was hence stuck on the beach at 8am, as the music continued to pump and people variously, threw up, took drugs, passed out, had sex, and went swimming in the garbage and piss-filled water. Although the party was set to continue until 6pm, (at which point the Christmas Full Moon Party was to begin) I desperately wanted to leave. As I am staying at a small and distant beach however, the taxi drivers wanted a princely sum of over $40 to drive me back home. I decided to take the taxi back to Thong Sala instead, hoping that the ferry would arrive with new tourists who also needed a ride to the beach. Unfortunately, no one arrived who did, except for Jen, but I never saw her, as she was passed out not 20 metres away in a different taxi. I gave up and paid the money, arriving back at the beach around noon. I stumbled home, striped down in my bungalow, and passed completely out.

Finally, around 6pm I woke up, and headed out for dinner. My Christmas night was fairly quiet, but after the crazyness of the night before, that whas undeniably a good thing. Today, I've been calling home, browsing the internet and taking it easy. I still have more than a few days here, which I am very thankful for, so in the next couple days I will probably do some scuba diving, snorkelling and hiking, that is, if I can peel myself off the warm sand and away from the embrace of the beach bar...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On the Way Out...

Wow, crap, it's been awhile since I posted! Errh, in my own defense however, I have been busy with other matters. Look, I finally finished another video! It's called Episode 3, but really, it's more of a mini-episode. Catch it here.

It's footage I shot of a hike that a bunch of us did back in August. Yeah, August. My current editing speed is about a minute a month, which is beyond pitiful, and into the realm of not even trying. But I have been filming quite a bit, and I promise that, come January, and the students being on break, I WILL get a little more done.

Well, with the self guilt out of the way, why don't I update everyone on what's been going on? Basically, since my last post, and with the exception of last week, I've been doing a ton of traveling.

The first weekend in December, I headed to Sapporo on Saturday, the 1st, for the Sapporo Mid-Year Conference. This once-a-year business trip is paid for by the Board of Education, and while the seminars range from moronic to useful, it's simply a great way to catch up with friends who don't live close to me. The parties were off the wall, (including the trippy karaoke bar pictured) and by the time I returned on Tuesday, I was exhausted. The best part of the trip however, was that both my Junior High Japanese Teachers of English, and the Elementary teachers came as well. 8 in all came with me, which was very unusual, as there were only about 40 Japanese teachers from all of Hokkaido invited, the vast majority from Sapporo. I was really proud to see my teachers really going at it, trying their hardest to understand all the English around them! And of course, it was a lot of fun going out in the big city with them.

The weekend after was another Musical rehearsal weekend, this time in the Southwestern town of Toyako. Toyako is quite famous for it's hot springs, as well as it's volcanoes. One mountain near the town is called "Showshinzan" because it erupted out of a farmer's field fifty years ago. We went to it, and smoke was boiling from the top. (Video coming soon.) Progress on the musical has been slow, and our lack of a pianist to play the parts is really REALLY frustrating, but I think we are still making progress. Actually, one of my Junior High School teachers has said he may be able to play the parts for a recording, and may even be able to come to the rehearsals, which has really lifted my spirits a lot.

School has been normal and routine, if occasionally frustrating, which is pretty much par for the course. Most of my classes are working on long term projects right now, and are not learning new grammar etc. so I have very little to do inside or outside of classes. This has been perfect, because I've spent most of the time preparing for my trip to Thailand, and getting Christmas stuff in order. I left a bunch of stuff, (like my transportation in Thailand) to the very last minute, so I was relieved today when it all finally came together. From Bangkok, I take an all-night bus, then a high speed ferry for 6 hours, then a jeep through the jungle for an hour, or a Thai long-boat around the coast of the island for 1 hr, so it should be quite the adventure. I'm really looking forward to it, and have already kind of checked out from my work responsibilities, but that's also partly because I just have so much other stuff going on right now! I'm really trying to prep a lot of the musical stuff for when I get back in January, I'm thinking about running for the Hokkaido JET President's Council, I've still got Squash going on, Gregory wants me to take up Kyuudo, or Japanese Archery, I really REALLY need to buy a snowboard and hit the slopes, and my Adult Conversation classes start at the end of next month! Busy times in Japan...but I wouldn't want it any other way.

Anyways, last weekend was supposed to offer a bit of rest and relaxation, as I wasn't travelling, but it ended being just as busy as any other. On Friday I was finally able to convince the elementary school JTE's to go out for a night. (Several of them are pictured in the top picture, which was taken at our party in Sapporo.) We were supposed to go to Torisei, the local fried chicken, sushi, beer etc. izakaya in town, but it was packed with companies having their "Bonenkai" or "Year-Forgetting-Party." The schools are having them too, but unfortunately I will miss them while I am in Thailand. On Saturday I went for one of my very rare shopping trips to Obihiro, in order to pick up Christmas presents for my family. I failed my saving throw vs. shiny! however and was literally FORCED to pick up a new digital camera. It's a Canon IXY 10, and is quite purty, quite good, and very very small (It's about the size of a pack of playing cards.) It's 7.1Megapixels, and I bought two 2gig SD cards for it, ($15 each, each one hold 700 pictures) and the whole package cost me less than $280....It's at a very nearly commodity price point, and it's a really awesome and small camera, far, far better than my measly 2 megapixel cell phone camera. So all the pictures after this point were taken on it.

Saturday night was especially busy, as I had two different parties in different towns to attend. First up was my Squash Bonenkai, at the Western (All-you-can-eat-barbeque-with-candy-and-sushi-and-ice-cream-and-all-you-can-drink-beer) in Otofuke. Don't believe for a second that Japan is a land of rice, and fish and healthy diets all the time. :D It was quite delicious, but wrapped up around 9 pm, when Chris picked me up to drive back to Shikaoi, for another "Pure-Malt" party.

These, put on the by the Pure Malt center in town, are designed to bring the 20-something girls who stay at the center together with the farmers of Shikaoi. It sounds weird I know, but what ends up coming out of all this is a great, nowhere-else-in-japan party, with live DJ's and Bands, an incredibly cheap all-night all-you-can-drink/eat (less than $10), and more young people then I knew even existed in Shikaoi. I rolled out of there around 2AM, and stumbled home early, because I had to wake up at 8AM the next morning.

Sunday, I had a special squash day. I originally thought it was a tournament, but it turned out to be an open-house for the club, so we had a lot of first-timers there. (Video Soon!) I didn't get to play as much as I had hoped too, but overall it was still a fun time. I got to play the club-founder (an ex-army officer with great English) in a match twice, beating him twice, and so winning the bet of "two beer."

And of course, Sunday night, I went to the Onsen with Chris which has become a bit of a weekly thing. Sunday is actually perfect, because nothing is going on, and I can sit in the hot water, rest, and get ready for the next week. I made great plans to clean my house, etc, none of which I've followed through on. Meh, that's what January is for!

Have a Good New Years!