Thursday, May 29, 2008

Day 13: Last Day in Thailand

On day 13 I woke up, and bid the guys farewell as they rode off to the
docks. I packed my bags, then sat, ate fruit, and talked with Tory as
I waited for my ride to take me to the Krabi airport.

They were to pick me up at 1pm. 1 came and went, then 1:15, 1:30. I
was getting worried. My flight was at 4:30, and the airport was over
2 hours away. Finally, shortly before 2, Porn and Tucta showed up.
They were my ride.

I got into the car, and began the most terrifying car ride of my
life! Porn drove as fast as the car would go. Given that Thai
traffic is terrifying to begin with, I'm just glad I didn't shit
myself on the way. Every once in a while, Porn would peek at me
though the rear-view mirror, see the frozen scream plastered across my
face, and laugh.

An hour and a half later, Porn screeched up to the airport, and I,
trembling, got my bags and thanked them. Tucta laughed that Porn
drives like that all the time. I remembered my previous motorcycle
rides, pictured Porn sharing the road with me, and felt the blood,
(what was left of it) drain from my face. At least I had plenty of
time before my flight!

One uneventful plane ride later, I was in Bangkok. Armed with a
little knowledge from Tory, and the ability to count in Thai, I felt
like a seasoned veteran in dealing with cabbies, pushy vendors, and
all the others that prey on clueless foreigners.

I checked into my hotel, then went out into the humid night to score
some comfort food. Just around the corner was pizza. I ate by
myself, watching the Bangkok night parade by outside the window. I
planned to go souveneer shopping a bit later.

I took the rest of my pizza to go, and gave it to an old beggar lady
on the sidewalk. It was a drizzly, humid, melancholy night. I was
sad to leave this place, and exhaustion was creeping up the backs of
my eyelids.

Back at my room, I typed on my blog for a bit, one finger, one letter
at a time, in my heavily cliched writing style, as my iPhone
"corrected" every other word, making it take twice as long.

Soon, all plans of going out faded away as I fell asleep. My time in
thailand had come to an end.

Day 12: The Siren's Song

On day 12, I woke up early, and made breakfast for the crew.
Mangosteen pancakes with rambutan topping, and scrambled eggs.

Then, for the rest of the day, just kind of bummed around. I had been
running around so franticly for most of my trip, I needed a day to
just do nothing.

Actually, I did laundry. I did it by hand in a trash can, while the
guys played "name that tune". Then we just sat around and talked.
About books we've read, movies we've seen, life experiences and
lessons. We practiced counting in Thai, and went swimming in the
world's smallest swimming pool.

That night, Will and Matt talked about their upcoming sailing class,
and how I should come along. This was the siren's song. It happens
everytime I trek about, and this was no exception. The siren's song
always comes just before I have to leave, at the cusp of rejoining the
mundane, workaday world.

There are times I've listened and stayed, trying to extend my fantasy
of being a globetrotting adventurer. I've done it and had great times
and unforgettable experiences, running my career aground on the rocks
in the process.

The old battle in my mind began anew. Could I actually stay, if even
for a little while longer? How would I get access to my money? Would
I have to buy a new plane ticket back? Would my parents understand
why I wasn't coming to visit them next? This time, my responsible
side won out.

I (a bit begrudingly) decided to part ways with the guys in the
morning. At 8AM, they would ride to the docks to begin their sailing
class, and I would start the long journey back, and finish out the
last leg of my trip in Kansas, where I grew up.

Also weighting my decision, was the fact that I had so many people
depending on me when I returned to Los Angeles. I remembered that I
undertook this journey, not to escape my job, but to renew my love for
it. The fact is, I quite enjoy what I do, and gain a great deal of
satisfaction from my work. I have an awesome boss and co- workers,
and it would take more than a sailing adventure to throw it all away.
It's the only reason I continue to make my home in LA.

When I left the U.S., I felt my well had run dry. The sameness of
sitting, staring at a glowing screen 2 feet from my face, for the bulk
of my waking life had let a complacency settle over me like a thick
dust, dulling my mind.

But anything is like that when it's all you do. Life is yin and
yang. Being away makes us miss and appreciate home. Being home makes
us dream of fawaway places. Too much of one or the other is not
good. They need to be balanced. Too much office can feel like
prison, but too much running around can feel like exile. But the
right mix can optimize everything.

I had been away almost two weeks, but it felt like a a good
way. The well was filled and flowing again. It was time to go.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Day 11: Riding the Pink Rocket

On day 11 I visited Tucta, the unofficial, "village ambassador" tucta
was a Thai woman in her 50s, who along with her husband, Porn
(pronounced without the "r") ran the local Internet/copy shop, booked
taxis, rented motorcycles, and owned a large portion of the village.
Tucta also spoke a lot of English, so she helped out the local
"Farang" (Thai slang for foreigners) in getting situated.

Will had spoken with her earlier, and when I arrived, there was my
ride...a Barbie-Pink 125cc moped with a basket on the front! Yeah!
It was later explained to me that pink is not a feminine color in
Thailand. In fact it's on par with sportscar red in the states.
The reason for that being, the King, who the Thais adore almost to the
point of worshipping, went into the hospital for heart surgery a few
years ago. When he emerged for his first public appearance after his
recovery, he wore a pink shirt. That week, pink clothing sold out
across the nation, and has been a popular color with thai men since.
When Matt saw the bike, he instantly dubbed it "The Pink Rocket",
which had us all cracking up.

We rode to a local curry stand for some breakfast, then I bought 4
kilos of fruit for later. We rested a bit, and that afternoon, we
took off for Patong.

Patong was a good 80 km away by highway. And we had to pass a police
checkpoint along the way. It's against the law to ride without
helmets, Thai drivers licenses, registration, and Insurance. We had
helmets, at least. I had not seen one person on a motorcycle wearing
a helmet on Phuket, but laws here are sporadically enforced, and the
police love to bust farang on things, because they can "fine" them on
the spot.

The checkpoint turned out to be no big deal, as the cops were either
napping or smoking a cigarette as we were waved through. So on we
rode, Will leading the way with Tory on the back, Matt on the second
bike, and me following behind.

We maxed out the bikes as scary highway traffic blasted by at top
speed, and an almost total disregard for the lines on the road. This
was a lot different from riding around sleepy Little Koh Lanta a
couple days before!
We passed scooters sputtering along with sidecars made to accomidate
an entire family as we narrowly avoided massive oncoming trucks filled
with durian and lumber.

After riding for what seemed like close to an hour, we stopped to gas
up, check the map, and let the feeling come back into our numb hands.
Matt and I drank soymilk as Will and Tory checked the map. Patong was
not far! We continued our journey. Out if the gas station, the
traffic began to get heavier, and crazier. It was a game of follow
the leader thru an obstacle course. We had roundabouts to navigate,
cars backing up, trucks parked in our lane, and construction. Then
the road got hilly, and curvey with hairpin turns linking up with each
other. Traffic got faster on the downhill, and I hoped that I
wouldn't hit any gravel or a pothole.

Finally, at the bottom of the hill, Patong!
It was a crowded, touristy area, bustling with busses, tuk-tuks,
motorcycles, and pushcarts. Will deftly navigated these streets and
back alleys with ease as Matt and I strugged not to lose him in the
madness. After all, he had the map!

Going down one side street, a gaggle of bar girls hooted and hollered
as Matt and I passed by. The street dead ended, so we had to
backtrack. This time, one of the girls jumped out in front of Matt
and grabbed his handlebars. Some of these girls are persistent! Matt
was definitely flustered, but I could tell he enjoyed the attention.
Personally, my ego was a little hurt that girls weren't throwing
themselves in front of MY motorcycle. (although I did have gangs of
girls in bangkok mob me as I walked past. I don't really like being
grabbed, but I do like the attention! Except when the kathueys, or
"lady-boys" do it. They don't let go, and freak me the hell out!)

We decided to visit the mall, as Will needed to purchase a few
things. We drove to an underground motorcycle garage, navigated it's
small, labyrinthine aisles, and parked.

Immediately upon entering the mall, girls once again grabbed at us,
begging us to buy their overpriced tshirts and sarongs. We tried to
negotiate, but to get the bets price, you have to walk away first. We
made our way to the upper levels, had some ice cream, and watched
through the doors as it began to monsoon outside. We decided to wait
it out.

We wandered around, til it began to get late, and Matt and I were a
little bored. (A mall in thailand as still a mall, and I tend to be a
little mall-adverse) we left, to got to the Lotus-mart, the local
supermarket. As soon as we got on the road, we instantly ran into
rush hour traffic. And it was on the same hilly area that brought us
here! As we weaved through the gridlocked cars, there were a couple
close calls, but all the motorcycles tend to clump together for
safety. We followed the swarm out of the worst part, and soon arrived
at our destination.

It turns out that it was Tory's birthday, so we took her to a hot-pot
restaurant, stuffed ourselves with fish balls, exotic fungus, spicy
salads, and fried rice, them went shopping.

We had to be careful not to buy more than we could carry. Not a
simple task, as we had to buy enough for 4 people.
A little over an hour later, we had everything on our list, and
amazingly managed to tetris-pack it all into the bikes. Thankfully
the pink rocket had a small trunk under the seat, in addition to the
front basket.

By this time, though, it was dark, and another monsoon was moving in!
I hadn't planned on riding in the dark, much less the rain. Just
getting here was hairy enough in broad daylight,
And we were still nearly an hour from home. There was no turning back
now, though.

We steeled ourselves for the journey, then hit the road again. Soon
after getting in the highway, it began to rain...hard. Giant,
lukewarm drops pelted my face like hail, and the road began to flood.
Water on my glasses, obscured my sight, but without them, the wind and
rain stung my eyes.

Memories of my motorcycle accident flitted through my brain, the fear
amplified by the fact that I was in a developing nation with no more
access to money than I had in my pocket.

At that moment you have to make a choice. You can listen to the fear,
let it tense your muscles and second guess yourself. Or you can laugh
in fear's face, despite the danger all around you, and dare to
actually enjoy the experience. I knew that to get through this, I
would have to suspend all conscious thought, remain hyper-aware of my
surroundings, and eliminate all hesitation from my actions. And as I
drove through the puddles containing hidden obstacles, wiped the water
from my glasses, and roared on at 45 miles per hour, a giddy grin
spread across my face. Uncontrollable giggling followed soon after.
I hadn't felt this alive in a long, long time. I thought my soul had
died while I sat, atrophing in front of a computer for years, like
human veal.

But after years of fearing motorcycles, I was remembering how fun they
were. All I needed was a little danger, a little uncertainty to wake
my spirit out of it's complacent slumber, to remember, again, what
truly stimulates me. No risk, no reward. And the risk, this time at
least, was absolutely worth it.

We drove back through the checkpoint, then home again, where we
whooped and hollered out of unrestrained glee. Soaked to the gills,
with cramped hands and numb asses we toasted our safe return with
Singha beer a bottle of sweet Thai rum.

A shower and a comfy bed would round out the day. I was asleep as
soon as my head hit the pillow.

Jason Phipps
Art Director
Big Boss Creative

Friday, May 23, 2008

Day 10: Fuck it, I'm going to Phuket!

I checked out of the hotel early, and wandered down the road to find
some breakfast. On the way I encountered a marine iguana the size of
a dog crossing the road. As I fumbled to get my camera, this
seemingly slow moving animal jumped into the ditch and disappeared. I
stopped atbthe first food stand I came across. The woman running it
spoke no English, so I motioned "eat" with my hand, and she served me
a heaping bowl of yellow coconut rice with chicken, and a cucumber
salad. That hit the spot! I paid her 25 baht, and was back in time
to see my transport to the airport show up. I got in the van with a
Chinese couple, an old man of about 60, and his young wife of about
25. A few minutes into the trip, she leaned over and started
frenching him. I smiled to myself and thought, "Good on him!". I
figured that old guy must be loaded. I whipped out the iPhone, and
busied myself with my blog.

There was a huge traffic jam at the ferry on the way back to the Krabi
airport, so it took a good 3-4 hours to get back. We arrived at the
airport, and I immediately caught a cab going to Phuket. But first, I
stopped at the western union to finally pick up the cash that Bank of
America had sent me days ago. I bought my driver some lunch, (For
some reason he thought it was hilarious that I got him a club
sandwich.) and we were off. I was on my way to meet up with William,
an American I met in Bangkok. Will was renting a house on Phuket
island, (Not to be confused with Phuket Town) and he had invited me to
crash there, and maybe learn a little kiteboarding.

On the way it began to monsoon, hard. The combination of being in the
back of a car and the sound of the rain and thunder, totally took me
back to when I was a kid, and I just passed out. Car rides always
make me sleepy, as does the sound of rain.

I awoke to see jungle-capped limestone mountains looming all around,
shaped like tall eggs. It was a rock climber's paradise! We finally
arrived at the beach restaurant Will and his brother were eating at.
Will came out to greet me, jumped on his motorbike, and guided us the
rest of the way to the house.

The place was sweet! It was one of the first places built after the
typhoon, so it was pretty brand new. It stood out from the
neighboring buildings with it's ocean-blue tiled roof. Inside, the
décor was reminiscent of a YMCA pool. All the floors were the same
smooth, blue ceramic tile, and the railings were a polished, tubular
aluminum. It was 2 stories tall, with an enormous second-story deck
and 4 bedrooms.

Soon Matt, Will's younger brother, showed up. Matt stands close to a
foot taller than Will, so Will jokingly introduced him as his "little"

As the monsoon returned, Will informed me that we had been invited to
a neighbor's home for dinner. The village we were in was pretty
small, and as foreigners we really stood out. It just happened that a
pastor from Los Angeles lived a couple of houses behind ours, so it
wasn't long before introductions were made.

The three of us ran to the pastor's house, showing up less than a
minute later, soaked to the gills. There I met pastor Dana, and his
wife, Cindy. They were a couple in their 50's with an easy manner and
warm smiles.

Cindy had prepared some spagetti with meat sauce and cheese. We ate
with gusto around their kitchen table, then sat for hours, sipping
fragrant iced tea, and talking about living as an expatriot in
Thailand. Both of them gave us some excellent tips on communication,
as they worked closely with the community, and cindy taught English.
It seems Thai English is very different from American English. The
words are spelled the same, but pronounced radically differently.

After dark, the 3 of us departed back to the blue house to await the
arrival of "Care Bear", Will's Thai girlfriend, who was flying in from

As we drank huge bottle of Singha beer, and passed around a flask of
sweet rum, we shared tales of our lives. Will was and ex-cop from
Hawaii, now working in Afghanistan as a mentor of sorts. He must find
the local chief of a region, and teach them to budget, along with
other things. Matt is a full time student, living in Fresno. He
studies chemistry and astronomy, and has been in college for close to
8 years.

So we sat, the Warrior, the Scientist, and the Artist. It's amazing
how when television is removed from the equation, and replaced with
beer, the art of good conversation comes alive. Still, towards the
end of the night, we entertained ourselves by whistling themes from
80's tv shows, movies, and video games, and trying to guess what they

Soon, Care Bear arrived, and our party was complete. We drunkenly
snacked on rambutans as she introduced herself as Tory. Care Bear was
her hash name.
A hash club in Thailand, by the way, has nothing to do with drugs.
It's a running/drinking club. You run and drink. Everyone in a hash
club has a nickname, hers was Care Bear, and it's were she met Will.

It was late, so we all turned in for the night, tomorrow we were going
to explore Phuket.

Jason Phipps
Art Director
Big Boss Creative

Day 9: Alone in the Jungle

On day 9 I decided to forgo the hotel breakfast, as I realized how
expensive they were. (650 baht, or nearly 20 dollars! Yikes!) I'm
kind of a frugal guy so paying 20 bucks for breakfast when I can get a
local meal for 60 cents hurts me in the worst wallet.

So I jump on the bike, and head down to the beach Gor some local
breakfast...sweet smokey sausage on a stick, with sliced cucumbers.

I continue riding alongside the beach towards the national park. Once
again, the road degenerates into a rutted and rock-strewn path. I
push on until I reach the southernmost tip of the island.
To my left, the beach, to my right, a sign reading "waterfall".

The beach was beautiful. I small stream emptied into the ocean
nearby. Waves crashed over a small outcropping of rocks nearby. And
behind me, a huge resort stood silent. It was closed for the low

I remained there for a few minutes, cooling my feet in the ocean.
Then I got on the bike, and headed toward the waterfall.

This was probably the scariest road I'd been on yet. It got so bad I
had to ride the brakes, both legs spread out to catch me of the bike
should slide out from under me.

At last I arrived at a little house. A sign proclaimed "parking 20
Pay parking in the middle of jungle was a liitle strange. But the lady
sitting nearby, drinking an orange soda was watching me like a hawk,
so I paid her, guzzled some water, and set off in the direction she

The jungle air was hot, and stuck to my skin like honey. Remembering
yesterday's jungle trek, I peeled off my shirt, and stuck it in my
belt before it got soaked thru with sweat. Camera in one pocket,
water bottle in the other, I strided up the hill.

I passed an empty village of rustic It seems that almost
everyone leaves this island in the low season. The path began to
parallel a small stream, then crisscross it, before disappearing
altogether. I wondered if I was even going the right way as I jumped
from rock to rock, trying to stay out of the water. The stream
looked clean, but my imagination swam with giant leeches, water
snakes, and horrible parasites that rot your feet off.

On the other side of the stream, a faint path emerged. I wondered if
it was made by some animal, or was in fact, the path I was supposed to
follow. The path disappeared into darkness after. Just a few meters.
Given that my other option was following the stream through
potentially vermin-infested waters, I chose the path.

Almost immediately, I realized my the jungle was so dark. The path
led straight to a huge cave! I wandered around the mouth of it for a
few minutes, before cautiously proceeding in.

Ahead of me was pitch black. I turned on my iPhone, picking my way
along in it's dim light. The tunnel made a turn, as I wondered if any
animals lived inside. I took a few more steps, stopped, listened, and
strained my eyes to see dimly illuminated stalactites. And beyond, in
the dark, who knows?

Checking my phone, I saw that I had less than. 20 percent battery
left. I figured that if I got injured, probably no-one would find my
carcass for months at the soonest. I reluctantly turned around and
headed out.
And by reluctantly, I mean as fast as possible. That cave was fucking

I continued down the stream. I couldn't tell if the crawling on my
skin was perspiration or insects. It was probably a bit of both. I
saw a sign nailed to a tree, written in Thai. I tried to figure out
if it was directions, or a warning. Since I can't read Thai, I
figured I just shouldn't think about it.

I hopped along, deeper and deeper into the jungle as all signs of
civilization faded father and farther behind. I was worried. I
hadn't seen a soul. Where was the path? Would this treat lead me
there, to an early death? In the distance, I could hear children. My
heart jumped! Hope was not lost!

Within minutes, no less than seven Thai children and their mother,
came singing and jumping along, right down the middle of the stream!
They waved and smiled as they passed. The last child, a boy of about
6, stopped, holding a up a plastic bag of water containing some
creature he had captured, grinning from ear to ear as he showed off
his prize. He pointed upstream, and said "Warerfall!" before running

I was overjoyed! One, the water probably wasn't full if leeches, and
Two, I was on the right track! I raced ahead, through the water. In
five minutes, I reached it...a rock wall with a trickle of water
coming off it. It was all dried up!

I sat on a rock in the middle of the "pond", drank my water, and
admired the tranquility of the jungle. I sat about 15 minutes,
looking around and resting. Then headed back.

I got back, and the lady was still sitting in the same place, holding
a smiling baby. I dazedly waved, a strange, half-naked pale guy
emerging from the forest.

I started my bike and slowly retraced my way back to the main road.
Rutted paths became dirt roads, and the pavement came back again. I
was starving as I passed closed restaurants and bars. I came upon a
cute open-walled place called "cook-kai restaurant", it was open!

The family running the place only spoke a smattering of English, but
they knew what I was there for. I ordered a coconut smoothie and pad
thai. The back of the menu told the story of 4 brothers who build the
restaurant, and all the furniture in it from scratch.

An Australian couple sitting behind me asked if I was alone, and if I
would join them for a beer. They introduced themselves as Sharelle
and Alad. They were on their honeymoon, and passing the hot day
enjoying a few drinks. As I ate the best Pad Thai I've ever had in my
life, we shared stories of travels in Australia, our mutual love of
afternoon breakfasts, and debated the merits of bread crust. The two
of them encouraged me to visit Perth one day, and I said I would.
(And I meant it)
There's a lot of australia I haven't seen yet, and that continent
still holds a special place in my heart. I bid them goodbye and left.

I picked up some rambutans, and durian from a fruit stand next. I've
never tried durian before. It looks like a giant pine cone, and
smells like feet. Inside are seeds the size of an avocado's,
surrounded by a slimy pulp. The ladies running the stand laughed at
me as I shoved a whole seed in my mouth and tried not to gag. As my
eyes teared up, I managed a clenched "It's good!" so they cut up
another one and gave it to me for free. I thanked them and left with
my fruit. Now I had 2 whole, giant, stinky, slimy durians to eat
before tomorrow.

In short order I was back at the hotel. I stashed the fruit in the
fridge, and went out for a sunset swim. As I floated by myself in the
ruddy orange light, a hazy moon hung in the palm trees like a paper
lantern. I simply floated, motionless, and thought about how I would
be leaving this island paradise in the morning. I glanced over at my
robe, laying on a deck chair, and saw that a towel had been
thoughtfully left for me.

Later, as I opened the door to my room, the overwhelming smell of
durian rushed out to meet me. I took them to the back deck and
scarfed them down. (they taste much better cold)
Thus ended my time on Koh Lanta.

Jason Phipps
Art Director
Big Boss Creative

Chillin' in Phuket