Friday, February 27, 2009

Who wants to hear a funny story?

Well, it's not so much funny, as just ruefully amusing, and sadly indicative of the organization level present in the schools here. So I may have (or may not have) mentioned that I'm doing extra English classes at the elementary school this year. Basic (1st-3rd) and Advanced (4th-6th); two classes each per week. I'd done some research to find a suitable textbook to use. Dan, the teacher who was here before me, helped me pick out a good one: English Time, I think it's called. Nothing too complicated, just some fun activities and a decent phonics section, since I'd be working with disparate age groups and needed something to (try to) keep them all involved in the lesson. I emailed my coteacher about it a week ago, and I figured we'd start probably on March 10... not the first week when everyone's getting settled in, but, y'know, soon. School starts on the 2nd, by the way. Anywho, I'm just trying to give you a gauge for the amount of time and thought and whatnot I'd put into this little side project, which, keep in mind, the school specifically asked me to do. Not an immense amount, but enough that I felt prepared to get started whenever they asked me to.

Well, I'm at school right now for the start of the term teachers' meeting. Which, of course, I can't understand. I did introduce myself, and meet the new teachers... all 4 of them. In an elementary school with 8 teachers. K-6 plus one English teacher. Yay for turnover! Ha... anyway, we went through the whole dog and pony show of the meeting, me sitting there and smiling like a simpleton, which I pretty much am, since I don't understand what's going on when people talk. And after the meeting, my coteacher comes up to me and asks me how I'd like to schedule the English classes. Not the extra ones that I'd been preparing for, mind you, but the regular school classes. And I said, "mhu-huh-what-now?" Turns out, I have to keep doing those 6 classes a week with the new native English teacher, all on Mondays now. Since I have, you know, the job I was hired to do the rest of the week. Did I want to do two 5th grade classes in a row, followed by two 6th grade classes in a row? "Come again?" Um, this, my friends, is not my department. My qualifications to be setting your class schedule are spotty at best, right? Whoo-ee... what a morning. I decided that I didn't want to teach the same class for an hour and a half straight... the way I figure it, even in college I'd get bored sitting in the same room doing the same shit for that long, and these kids don't have near the attention span that your average college student possesses... I mean, I think. Right? Hell, I have no idea what I'm talking about. So now I'm doing on Mondays: 5th, 6th, 3rd, 4th, lunch, 5th, 6th. And then Tue-Fri at the Global Center. At least this will break up my routine a little bit, and (hopefully) I won't get so bored doing the same thing 5 days a week. You know, cause 4 is so much better. It's a solid foundation. Rooms have 4 sides. Bad things happen in 3's, and the pentagram is for the devil. So this is really the best solution. Besides, the tetragrammaton has 4 letters, so that's gotta count for something, right?

Oh, but this isn't even the best part. I got all caught up in that story and forgot what incited me to sit down and post this in the first place. So, the extra classes: after discussing the regular class schedule, my coteacher says, "Oh, and by the way, I think you will not have to teach the extra classes this year."

And that's the end of the story. All that work and research I put into finding a decent textbook: useless. All my worry about what I was going to teach these kids, and how I'd make it interesting, and what I'd do for 2 classes a week for an entire effing school year: needless. So, the bad news is that I wasted a lot of time and effort and stress thinking about something that I'm now not doing. The good news is that I'm now not doing it. And I can devote more time to working out, studying my own foreign languages, etc. Which rocks, when I think about it. I just can't believe that it got to this point with me in the dark, and them having no real idea what they were going to do... BOO! But whatever; every cloud has a silver lining... and this one's more like platinum. Everything works out in the end, I guess. At least, if I ever in the future need a decent textbook to teach English to small Korean children, I have one in mind. =)

Oh, and in case you were wondering why I'm not teaching the extra classes, it's because they'd have to pay me to do it. And there's a military base nearby who will provide an English teacher for free. Yay capitalism...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Korean school year

For those of you who don't know, which is probably everyone, except possibly for Emily, here's the breakdown of a Korean school schedule, as best I can figure it.

The school year starts at the beginning of March; this year, it's March 2nd. They have class from about 9-3 every day, with some recess time and a lunch period that we eat in the cafetorium. Most students then go to Hogwon after school. This is a private academy specializing in a certain area -- they have English hogwons, tae kwon do hogwons, piano howgons, math and science, and so forth and so on. Most students will therefore study from 9am till 7 or 8 in the evening most days. I think they also have half days of school on Saturdays, and some older (high school) kids have classes on Sundays too but I'm not really sure about all that, since it ain't my job to know.

Anyway, the first semester goes from March until the end of July. Then, about a month off, starting up again at the end of August. From August until Christmas is the 2nd semester. After Christmas, there's no class again until this weird little weeklong pre-graduation thing near the beginning of February. So, basically, we have January, most of February, and August off.

Now, this gets a little more complicated, because we also have to do English camps during the vacations. Some schools had their camps at the end of December; ours ran from January 5th-16th this year... two weeks, mornings only, of extra English fun. Whoo-ee. In addition to that, we had some teacher training thing for one week; we brought in teachers from area elementary schools and demonstrated what we do with our students at the Global Center, and showed them some things they could do to incorporate English into their own classrooms. I will have to do this again in the summer, although I'm not sure if it's the same amount of time, or what. I'm sure they'll give me plenty of notice, because that's how things work over here... Get it? Sarcasm is good... yeah.

So, I hope that helps.

My whole body hurts from working out. No pain, no gain, right? It's just funny when like, the muscles you worked out 4 days ago haven't stopped hurting, and then you compound the new muscles hurting... so it hurts to do everything. Stretch my legs out? Yup, that hurts. Bend my knees? Oh yeah... Pick something up off the ground? You betcha. Open the door? Close the door? Stir a pot of pasta? Sit up? Lie down? Turn my head to the left? Anyway, you get the picture. At least I can say it's that good kind of pain, that comes from having done something. As opposed to say, I dunno, bedsores.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


From me? Whoda thunkit, right? Ha... So, yeah. I'm having a productive Tuesday, so far. Let's see, I did sleep in, a bit, but I'm on vacation. It's ok. Today, I went to the gym and had a really nice workout... I dialed back a bit on the weight so I could lift for more than 20-25 minutes. Good choice, on my part. I made it through all the exercises I wanted to do, except this lower back one that I had to short a set, and my last set of bicep curls didn't really get, y'know, finished. But I tried, and I feel pretty good. It's warmer here today than it's been since, I mean, winter started. I also got my haircut, washed my dishes, cleaned out my fridge, bagged and prepared all the trash for recycling, and now I'm onto laundry. Whoo-ee! Oh, also, I got some Korean books from Jill, so I've started studying Korean, for real now. Like, grammar and stuff. So yeah, there's still a chance that I'll actually be able to converse in Korean by the time I get out of here, and it's no longer necessary! Go me...

All in all, it's been a good day so far! Tonight I got no plans... I'll probably just chill at the house, read, and rest up so I can hit the gym again tomorrow. :)

Oh, and it turns out it was a good thing that I didn't plan an extra vacation during this "time off," because my coteacher called me around 12:30 today and informed me that I have to work on Thursday! Like... really? Just like that, huh? So when you told me a while back that I'd have 2 weeks off, and then pointed to March 2nd on the calendar and said this is when you'll have to work again, you were just kiddin, huh? Guessing? Approximating? Guesstimating? Anyway, this is a fairly common meme here in Korean, and I'm not angry about it. Amused, yeah... bemused even. But whateva... no harm, no foul. I just have to work, is all... I guess I can handle that.

So, I've been trying to follow the American news as much as possible, and from what I can tell, things are bad, mmkay? But the Korean economy must be in much worse shape than ours, because the exchange rate has gotten ridiculously bad in the past week. Well, good if you want to come here and spend dollars, but bad for those of us cursed with the Korean currency. Not sure why, but I really hope this turns around soon... and especially before I have to come home with all this Korean money.

I really am going to finish the Scuba diving tale, I promise. Keep looking for it. One day, when you're ready, it will reveal itself to you.

I think I'm gonna check out the DMZ tour this weekend (thanks for reminding me, Emily!). I'm not really sure what all that entails, but I think we get to see some old military installations, walk around a bit, and from what I hear, I may even get to set foot in North Korea! :) Yeah, I know, bad idea, right? Well, that's probably true, but word is that you enter this building that straddles the border, and inside the building you can run over really quickly, wave, get your picture taken, and then jump back before they have a chance to shoot you. Or something like that, but probably not quite as death-defyingly awesome. I'll be sure to let ya'll know.

Gotta go be more productive! Peace.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sorry about the mess in here...

It's been a while since my last post, but there has been literally nothing going on. I while away my hours and days as best I can. Of course, I have this immense luxury due to the fact that the school system here isn't big on scheduling things up front, or if they are, then they're certainly not big on telling lil ole me about it. I had an extra two week vacation after approximately 4 hours of teaching spread out over 5 school days from Feb 4-11... but I didn't know that I had all this time off until like, 11am on the 11th. So yeah, not much time to plan anything. Plus I've got other obligations in the evenings, so this all adds up to a lot of time of time spent sitting around my apartment, staring at walls, watching paint dry, watching grass grow. Slowly, because it's... you know, winter.

I've cut the language learning down to 5. Korean, German, French, Italian, Portuguese. I figured the Spanish could wait, seein as how I sort of already speak it. And the others, the Russian/Chinese/Japanese/Arabic... well, I was getting all confused. It's not really a good idea to try to learn 5 alphabets at once, I've decided. I have enough trouble with the umlauts and accents and funny-sounding letters in the European languages...

It's cold here. It snowed a few days ago, after a wintry mix (I always liked that weather terminology) fell for a while during my walk home Thursday night. It was this stinging biting rain that turned to little flakes of ice falling from the sky. Not pleasant.

I joined a gym -- it's been a long time since I worked out, as my pecs and triceps can attest today. I was trying to open the suddenly-heavy sliding door that leads to my terrace/washing machine yesterday... ha. With an armload of clothes leaving only my right hand free, and the need to pull the door from right to left, I almost gave up. I struggled with that door for at least 20 seconds... it never occurred to me to drop the armload of clothes. I was going to defeat that door in a fair fight. Well, it turns out I needn't have scrupled to fight clean; the door had its own dirty tricks. My cheeks burned in shame and humiliation as the door taunted me mercilessly, saying things about my mother it would be heinous to repeat in polite company. Door: 1. Sean: 0. After I finished crying, though, I realized I had forgotten to unlock the damn thing. You don't have to be the strongest to win the fight, just the smartest. My long and arduous journey to the washer was complete. Ha...

By a random confluence of events, I ended up staying at my friend Jill's place near Icheon last night. She's out of town, so she said I could crash here since I was planning a night out in Icheon. That ended up not working out as well as I'd hoped, but at least it was a quick trip to her place afterwards. So this morning, thanks to her generosity, I've had a breakfast fit for kings! Or at least, fit for IHOP. So far, in the hour and a half I've been up, I've had coffee, gone to the store for milk and eggs, and cooked banana pancakes (with syrup -- yum!), fried eggs and sausage, and then eaten like a fat American champion! And God saw that it was good.

And that's really about it. Au revoir! Auf Wiedersehen! Arrivederci! Tchao! Annyong-hi gaseyo!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Some Totally Random Thoughts

I get to go to my 6th graders' graduation ceremony on Wednesday. I'm supposed to wear a suit; regardless, it should be fun! I'll try to take some pictures for you guys.

Tiger Woods' wife Elin gave birth to a son today -- anyone wanna lay odds on this kid's chances to win the Masters within the next 30 years? I mean, hell, I'd take 10-1 on his daughter winning it...

I'm really nervous about this teaching gig I got starting in March. I will have two extra classes (Basic: 1st-3rd, and Advanced: 4th-6th) twice a week for the entire school year... anyone out there believe I'm qualified for this? Because if you do, I'd like to hear about it! For one thing the difference in skills and classroom behavior, not to mention activities that might appeal to these kids, is huge between 4th and 6th grades. And 1st to 3rd grade, come on. These first graders won't know anything -- I'll have to start with the alphabet! That's gonna be really exciting for my 3rd graders who've had a full school year of English already plus extra classes! I feel like I'm being set up to fail, and I'm not really sure what to do about it. Any suggestions?

A lot of my friends are either pregnant or have just had a kid... when will I find my baby factory? Er... I mean, you know, beloved bride?

No one's commented on this blog in quite a while. Except Emily -- thanks, honey! That's not really why I'm doing this, I guess, but it sure was nice to know that people were interested in what I had to say... Or, at least cared enough about me to give the appearance of interest! I'm not picky about which of those is true, frankly, but I'm feeling a little low on the self-confidence meter. So, ya know, step it up, bitches!

OK -- that's all for now. I'm going to try to get back to posting as regularly as possible, so keep on clicking!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My first SCUBA dive!

Some observations...

The first breath is, to beat a dead cliche, something you'll never forget. It's like equal parts anticipation, fear, nerves, excitement, wonder... with a little detached amusement at the rush of other feelings coursing through your body. I'd already tested the equipment, repeatedly, at the dive shop as part of the assembly ritual I'd just completed, but.... That first breath through the hoses, that metallic, almost sweet flavor, the cold, condensed quality, even the texture of the air. It's just so freaking cool to be breathing. Underwater. Even just thinking back on it now I'm getting chills.

The waves on the beach make things much more difficult than I'd expected. I learned later that when you're out in open water, you're really pretty stable on the surface, and much more so when you drop even a couple meters. But close to the shore, it's difficult to stay close to the instructor, the movements of the water shove your body around and make completing our required skills an exercise in frustration. We have to practice removing our weight belts and putting them back on. Now, you don't think about it much, but when you're floating in the water with just your head above, your center of gravity can be changed quite easily. Taking 5kg of weights and holding them away from your body, even just a few inches, throws you completely sideways and threatens to drag your head underwater. Just trying to hold onto the weights is hard, but trying to maneuver a belt of them around your waist while staying upright in the water is seriously complicated the first time. Then we have to leave the weight belts on while taking off our BCD's, the jackets we wear that fill with air and allow us to control our buoyance: Buoyancy Control Devices. This is actually a little easier, because once you get it off you can use it like a little life preserver and hold onto it -- it still floats, obviously. Then you flip it underneath your butt, and sit on it while getting the shoulder straps in place. Finally, you just kinda slide off it, letting it ride up your arms and settle in place on your back. No worries. =)

Finally, after proving ourselves (relatively) proficient at these tasks, which are necessary in case you become tangled or caught under the water and need to be able to remove your equipment to get free... after doing that, we got to make our first (small) descent to the shallow sandy bottom. Now, years of experience teaches you that if you want to go down into the water, you flip over, go head first and swim downwards, right? Well, it turns out that's the suckers way.... In scuba, you do just the opposite; you descend completely upright, and just relax. No swimming necessary. Instead, you deflate your BCD and slowly exhale; as the volume of air in your BCD and your lungs decreases, you become less buoyant and you start to descend. It's this sort of creepy, smooth feeling as you slowly feel the water slide over your face, your ears, and finally close over the top of your head. My first reaction was to begin breathing, immediately, quickly, almost panicky I guess. This is ... counter-productive. When you do that, your lungs fill rapidly and you just rise back to the surface... thanks for playing! please try again! So you have to make a conscious effort to take normal breaths and exhale completely, always getting rid of all the air in your lungs so that when you next inhale, you get fresh, oxygen-rich air. This is more efficient for your body and greatly reduces the amount of air you'll go through when you dive. Needless to say, this takes constant self-reminding, not to mention some practice.

When you're descending into water, as I'm sure you've all noticed, the deeper you go the more pressure you feel in your ears. This can get really painful quickly, and cause serious damage if you don't listen to your body. I was worried about this at first, because I've always had trouble even going to the bottom of the deep end of the pool; flying is often a problem for me. When you dive, you deal with the pressure changes by adding more air to your nasal/ear passages to "equalize" the external and internal pressures. Basically, you pinch your nose, close your mouth, and blow. You're supposed to do this every meter as you go down and start more or less immediately, before you feel any discomfort. It's just hard to remember to start immediately when you've got so much other shit that's pressing on your mind. So, after some starts and stops and a little discomfort, but nothing too serious, we eventually made it down to the bottom, I think about 4-5 meters deep.

The first thing I noticed was that the force of the water moving around down here was much less than the surface, but still noticeable and still making it difficult to remain in one place. At least, for Greg and me it was; Walter, our instructor, seemed to have no problem just kneeling on the bottom all calmly and shit. It's sort of like meditation, in that internal stillness has to come first and then the body sort of finds its own motionlessness. The more you move, the more you change your center of gravity and the more likely you are to have to move the other way to counter the first movement. What you need to do, I think, is find a center and trust that you'll stay there without extraneous or unnecessary small corrections. Once you believe that, and tell your body to stop doing things of its own accord, it becomes much easier to manage. This is true, not just when you're dealing with surf and currents, I found out later; even in the most peaceful still waters I'd still get urges to use my arms to move or turn, when in a more or less weightless environment any slight extra motion gets magnified and leads to a lot more motion trying to correct and overcorrect and recenter yourself. It's a real balancing act to become still in the water, but a helluva lot of fun to practice.

The second thing I noticed was that even though this was our skills training, and we were on a public beach, and not far from the shore, and yada yada yada, there were tons of amazingly beautiful tropical fish swimming all around us, over us, between our legs, everywhere! Most of them were pretty small, with vivid iridescent stripes running down their backs and sides; my favorites were bigger (but still only 6-8 inches long) and bright lime green. They reminded me of those hypercolor shirts we used to wear back in like 5th grade; I had one in lime green the exact color of these fish. Anyway, it was really beautiful down there, almost mesmerizing. It was kind of a shame we were practicing those required skills the whole time. But, as I found out the next day, it was nothing compared with the sheer knock-you-on-your-ass beauty just a few meters below the surface at the reefs around the other islands.

Then we had to do more skills -- the weight belt again, which you drape over your knee to keep you from floating away; the BCD again, which you have to hold on tight to keep it from floating away; letting your mask fill up with water and clearing it by tilting your head back and blowing through your nose. Taking your mask off and swimming around to simulate getting it knocked off underwater, then putting it back on and clearing it again. Walter said I didn't have to open my eyes underwater, because of the contacts, but he also said they wouldn't go anywhere if I did; only moving water actually causes contacts to come off underwater. So, I figured what the hell? If I actually did lose my mask underwater, I'd have to open my eyes to see it and put it back on, right? So, I gave it a whirl, and no problems! I mean, the salt water stung like the dickens the first time, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Then we practiced "low on air" and "out of air" scenarios, where you find your buddy, communicate via hand signals, and then grab his secondary air source to breathe -- easy stuff, as long as you don't panic and remain calm. We also had to practice a true out of air situation; Walter shut off our air one at a time, and made us breathe until the pressure went all the way down to zero, then look at him and make the proper hand signals while blowing a small stready stream of bubbles (you never hold your breath while scuba diving -- this is very important!) before he turned it back on. Again, no panic, no problems. We did "fin pivots." This is a fun little exercise where you lay flat, face downward, on the bottom, spread your legs wide to maintain stability, and then use your breathing to move your body up and down, pivoting on the tips of your fins. Inhale, your head begins to rise while your feet stay put, thanks to your lungs being located where they are; exhale, you begin to sink back to the bottom. It takes some practice to not hit your face on the bottom... you have to finish breathing out and begin breathing in quite a bit before you get to that point. I enjoyed this one... I was cracking myself up, thinking I was in control until I kept exhaling too long and landed (gently, of course) on the sand. Good times... then we practiced the controlled emergency assent, where you take a big breath and swim up from 6 meters, slowly, while making an "ahhhh" sound to allow the ever-expanding air to escape from your lungs and ears. This prevents, you know, air expansion injuries, ruptures and shit. Very important. It should take, I guess, about 30 seconds if you do it right, which is a long time to be looking up at the light through the water and saying "ahhh..." Finally, we did some "tired diver" tows and then packed up and headed back to the shop. Where, after lugging all that heavy (now soaking wet) stuff through town, I was indeed a tired diver. I showered, ate some curry :) and laid down to rest. But it was certainly an exciting, exhilarating, exhausting experience! Thanks for sharing it with me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I just realized I had forgotten to link to pictures! I mean, you're all smart people, so you probably found them anyway, but just in case, here you go!

For the day trek (elephants!), go here.

For random Chiang Mai pictures, click me.

To see my guesthouse, go to this one.

To get punched in the kidney by some truly awful pix from the fights, try this.

For a few shots of the place I stayed in Phuket, go here.

And for a sample of the island living, check this out.

There we go... I think we're caught up now. Enjoy!

Thailand -- Ko Phi Phi

I've been feeling generally anti-writing lately. It's been sort of a struggle to keep up with this, hence the more sporadic posting, but it's actually kind of important to me to keep writing, so here we go. Also, I can smell my dinner cooking and it's driving me nuts -- I'm frickin starving... so I'm trying to distract myself and quell the hungry noises emanating from my tummy. Round 4. Ding.

I got sunburnt as hell on the ferry ride over to Ko Phi Phi! I guess it was pretty dumb to sit on the top deck, you know, in the sun... with a sleeveless shirt on and no sunblock. I didn't think it would be that bad... I had my towel draped over me and I wasn't really feeling too much sun, so I made the asinine assumption that it would all be ok. I guess what I forgot is that we're on the water, not to mention about 5 degrees north of the Equator... (actually, I just checked -- it's 7, not 5).

Alright... dinner's over, dishes are washed, and I'm wearing underwear. That's a pretty successful night, in my book. Now, further up and further in...

So the sunburn was pretty bad, but I've had worse... the first day I went directly to Moskito, the dive shop where I was staying, to check in and dump my bag. I took a quick walk around Phi Phi Town, which doesn't take long at all... this is a place with maybe 20 streets and no motorized vehicles of any kind, which totally adds to that whole "tropical paradise" feeling. The only thing you have to watch out for is the handcarts and bicycles that the locals use all over the place. You usually get some kind of warning, in most cases, it's a handy verbal one: "Beep beep beep beep!" That means get the hell out the way or I'll run your white ass down in Thai. No, seriously. I looked it up. It was bloody hot though, so after getting the lay of the land and seeing a couple beaches, I headed back to the dive shop for a little siesta time. It turns out that most of the divers and employees spend all their non-diving time hanging out at the dive shop and talking about diving, so I ended up hanging out with a group of Americans who'd been there for a few weeks and getting some pointers as to local hotspots. There aren't many, really... I mean, it's a small place. I had some dinner at Lemongrass, this nice little restaurant across the street from the shop. And by "across the street," I actually mean about 8 feet away, and local etiquette seems to dictate that you don't really wear shoes for such meager crossings. So, barefoot and well-fed on green curry chicken, I walked down to the little store and picked up some beer and then sat and chatted with the divers for a while. They invited me to join them to watch the video of their dive, so I went along, curious to see what I'd gotten myself into. The video was amazing! Yas, this Japanese chick, has some awesome equipment, not to mention a whole host of editing skillz... they had sharks, a seahorse, and 3 ghost pipe fish, which meant nothing to me apart from looking really cool, but the divers were in ecstacies watching... apparently they're pretty rare and Yas had gotten some exceptional shots. Next, it was off to Carlito's beach bar, for awesome cocktails (I'm just guessing really, but I think rum, coconut milk, chile, lemongrass and ... some sort of juice. I mean, wow...) All courtesy of Rob, who'd just had a nice payday and insisted on hooking me up! Thanks buddy! We drank, watched the firedancers for a while, chatted up the waitress, a hot little Swedish girl! Yowza... :) There are lots and lots of Swedes on Phi Phi -- it's a little strange, it's like their own little tropical playground. I mean, they're all nice folks, so no worries, just a bit odd. Then it was shots of some Italian liquor with the owner (Carlito? Perhaps....) and then off to Tiger Bar. More beers, people coming and going, dancing and drinking, laughing and crying... well, not so much, but you know. Finally headed out about 3, I think. After all, I had diving school at 9 the next morning -- I needed to be fresh! =)

Morning comes, I shower up and it's off to work I go! Well, not so much work, but studying, anyway. Reading a book, watching some DVD's and taking quizzes. But before I go on, a note about the shower situation in Thailand. They don't do the whole "heated" water thing there. I mean, it's not a big deal; it's really warm there, and the water is by no means uncomfortable. It's just strange to realize how much you take for granted sometimes. I didn't have a hot shower for 2 weeks... but I gotta say, there's something invigorating about that cool shower in the morning, and refreshing after a day spent in the sun and diving in the ocean. It's actually quite nice. OK, moving on. After a morning of book learning and a lunch of pad thai, we started the practical stuff in the afternoon. Walter, my dive instructor, showed us all the gear, how to put it together, how to test it all and make sure it's working, and how to take it apart. Then it was our turn. "Our," in this case, is Greg and I. Greg's an insurance broker from Brussels, and travelling with his adorable Belgian girlfriend, Emilie. She was supposed to be diving with him, but she got scared and bailed... I tihnk he was a little bitter at having to do this whole class with me instead of his girl, but who could blame him? Poor guy...

So, we got everything prepared. Not without a little difficulty -- there are several steps which after you've done it wrong and see why you have to do things in a certain order, seem like common sense. At first though, it's all a bit trial and error. Then we took everything apart. Then put it together again. And took it apart again. Then put it together again, and so on... When it was finally starting to feel fairly natural, Walter stopped us, told us to leave everything on, we were going to the beach! Time to actually dive in (or in this case, walk in) and, you know, breathe underwater! I was really excited, but anxious, nervous, and jittery would also be good adjectives to use here.

So, geared up and ready to bounce, we grabbed our masks and fins and strolled to the beach. Let me just say that a canister filled with 200 bars of compressed air, along with a BCD (buoyance control device) and wetsuit is really quite heavy, and not at all pleasant to go walking through the streets in, dodging carts and tourists and bicycles and shit along the way. But we made it, trudged down through the sand and headed out into the water. And then everything went wrong! But I'll save that for next time... a little suspense never hurt nobody.

Well, sorry, but I just can't do it. I don't want you all worrying yourselves into a frenzy, so I'll admit that I lied. Nothing went wrong. At least, nothing, you know, life-threatening... Cue the scary music! Cue it!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Thailand, Vol. III

I'm feeling lazy and rather dull today, like a donkey... not clever and determined, like the noble burro. But I'm gonna sit down and write for a bit anyway, lucky for you!

Let's see, where did I leave off? I know, I know, it's a fairly simple matter to just go look at the blog, but I'm going to sit here and try futilely to remember for a bit first, so bear with me.

Meh... never mind. I know this is all happening immediately in your imagination, but there was about a 6 minute break just now where I stared blankly at the wall and drooled on myself... ok. I'll be right back.

There we go... we had just had dinner with the Thai who owns the guesthouse, and we were on the way to meet the Aussies for drinks before the Muay Thai fight. I'm using the royal "we" here, for no good reason... I'll stop. I went to John's Place (the name of a bar, not the house of a guy named John). Anyway, when I got there I sat down with Gaz and Jess and their Irish friend... we'll call him Seamus. That's not his real name, but due to the prolific amount of beer I drank and his wonky Dubliner accent, I know absolutely nothing about this guy... except that he can drink like a whale. We had about an hour and a half before the fights started, so we got down to some serious drinking, and by the time 9:00 rolled around I was already feeling pretty loose. We had plans to meet the "Aussie sluts" at the ring, so we kinda strolled around this indoor/outdoor arena, consisting of a few bars, a boxing ring, and lots of like, picnic tables surrounding the ring. The Aussie sluts are actually 3 British girls who had been out the night before and had an older English guy walking by look over at them and mutter, "Aussie sluts." Curiously, the part of this they really took exception to was the "Aussie..." not so much the other half. Yeah, so Gaz, Jess, Seamus and I found them right by the ring, sat down, and ordered 3 more rounds of drinks, to be delivered whenever we needed them. This made the paying situation easier, but didn't turn out as well for me, in the long run. I guess that's how they roll in other more alcohol-friendly parts of the world... I dunno.

The fights, what I remember of them, were pretty sweet. One weird thing: they start learning fighting when they're really young, and by the time they're 14, they're professional pummeling machines, weighing about 105 pounds of solid writhing punchy-ness. So the first couple fights were actually training matches, like 11 and 12 year old kids just beating the living shit out of each other... it was really bizarre. Then there were a couple of lady-fights, with chicks who could probably wrestle a jackal with their bare hands and live to wear his skin home as some sort of trophy. Then we got to the real professional matches. This isn't like boxing as we're used to it; these guys can kick, elbow, knee and punch to score points. The elbows and knees, if I remember correctly, score more, because they're harder to land. A good chunk of these fights (they're pretty short -- 3 or 4 rounds, usually) consist of jabs and straight kicks to find your range, then backing the opponent into the corner and repeatedly jamming your knees up into the other guy's abdomen (which he blocks with his forearms and/or knees), followed by an attempted elbow to the side of the head. It's pretty entertaining to watch actually, and I'm not much of a violent-sports kinda guy. Then came the ... halftime show, I'll call it. I didn't remember this until I saw my own pictures of it... ha. But it was this tall Thai (what I assume must have been a) ladyboy with giant fake boobs, wearing nothing but a veil and a thong strutting around lipsynching to (what I assume must have been) popular Thai music. I'm pretty hazy by this point, but that's the gist I get from the photos. Finally, the headline match... between a Spanish guy and an actual Thai professional Thai fighter. We figured the Spanish guy would be SOL, but he freakin dominated... knocking the other guy out in the first round with (as I recall) a lock against the ropes, a series of knees, and a crazy spinning kick to the head that just dropped his opponent. It was nuts...

And then we drank some more at the ring, I chatted with these two French guys in Spanish for a while, and we went back to John's Place (just around the corner) for round 2. And this is how, in a previous entry, it came about that we ended up drinking with Mr. Victorious Spanish guy... who was actually really cool. I finally took my leave around (I'm guessing) 3am, and started to head home. Now, here's the fun part. This bar was on a main street, just across from the canal. All I had to do to get home was go out of the bar, take the first right, and walk for about a half-mile until I saw my guesthouse on a corner, on the right-hand side. Somehow, I managed to fuck this up royally. Maybe an hour later, when the worst of the alcohol haze starts to fade, I'm starting to wonder how much farther I can possibly have to walk, when I realize I'm in a completely unfamiliar neighborhood. Now, don't be worried, because by this point I was fortunate enough to have no phone, no watch (both of which I had left at the guesthouse for just such an occasion), and no money (left), so the chances of getting robbed were exceptionally remote. I take stock of my surroundings, see nothing whatsoever that might be of service, so I figure I'll just pick the direction that feels right and keep on truckin. This seems to be going fine for a while, in that I wasn't bored or anything, but it certainly didn't help me find my way home. Finally, I see a policeman standing guard outside of some gate. I ask for help... but by some unhappy coincidence he doesn't speak English, and I (to my surprise) don't speak Thai. He did manage, however, to track down a cab for me and I told him the road I needed. I neglected to mention, of course, that I didn't have any money. I figured we'd cross that bridge when we came to it. And that's the way it worked out... when we got there, he named some ridiculously high price, and I, being at this point sober enough to bargain, offered him half. He said ok, and I made the international sign for cash (rubbing my thumb against my first two fingertips back and forth, and pointed upstairs. He waited while I woke up the guesthouse lady, went upstairs, found an absurdly large denomination of Thai money, and he still made change for me at the price I had requested. They're good people, these Thais, I tell ya.

The next day, I slept late, ate spicy Thai food for breakfast to kill the hangover, drank a boatload of water, got a massage, ate more Thai food from a street stall, and went to bed. My flight the next morning left at 7 am, so I figured I should leave the guesthouse by no later than 5:30 to get there on time. Had to walk for about 10 minutes to find a tuk-tuk (like a motorized tricycle with 2 little seats in the back and a small roof) to take me to the airport, but it's only about a 10-minute ride, anyway. Caught a flight to Bangkok, then another to Phuket, an island in the south of Thailand on the west coast. I had heard that Phuket was kind of shitty, and it turned out to be more or less true, but I needed to go there to get a boat to Phi Phi, so I figured I'd spend a day there and take a look around. In retrospect, I'd say this was a poor decision... nothing bad happened, it just really is a shithole. I was couchsurfing though, so at least I didn't have to pay for a room for that night. Plus the guy I stayed with had a kick-ass house and took me to his favorite restaurant for dinner, and we had amazingly spicy and good food (laab ped and som tam, I think, plus some sticky rice and a couple different kinds of sausage. The laab ped (I seriously doubt I'm spelling that right, but whatever) is duck, ground and cooked and mixed with vegetables and Thai chiles... the som tam that we had was a cold cabbage salad with raw crab legs and Thai chiles... I was later told that it was awfully dumb to eat raw seafood in Thailand, but it was actually really good. Sweet and juicy and spicy all at the same time. Then we went to a nearby bar for a beer, but he had to work the next day so we headed back to his place and crashed pretty early. Next morning I got up, had a donut, read and interneted for a while and then he took me to a nearby hotel where I could catch the minibus that would take me to the pier and the ferry to Ko Phi Phi.

Wow... that was a lot of writing... sorry to put ya'll through that. I mean, no, it's good, right? You're still with me? Yeah, you're still with me. Well, don't turn that dial, because the next installment of Sean in Thailand is coming up right after this message from our sponsors.