Monday, October 17, 2011

All Grown Up

It took me two years after leaving Thailand to start a new blog, but I've done it. Head over to for the latest from me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Final Countdown

Monday was my 366th day in Thailand, and my first day as an ex-employee of Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures. Time sure has flown.

I've got about 2.5 weeks left here in the Kingdom of Thailand before heading West to kick it with Mr. Ryan Corces-Zimmerman and his lady-friend Jessica Jean Casler for 3 adventure-filled weeks.

In the meantime, I've got some loose ends to tie up (a motorbike to sell, a few suits to buy, stuff to ship home), and some fun stuff to do (motorbike trip, unseen sights, lots of climbing!).

The new PiAers arrived last week, and they joined a bunch of my friends on a fun night out last Saturday. They even joined in on some Gob-inspired dancing as Europe's greatest hit came on at Fabrique at 3am.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Most. Productive. Reunions. Ever.

Unlike all of those lucky alumni who actually went to Reunions, I got three things done today (and one of them was not "Sleep off a raging hangover"):
  1. I went bamboo rafting
  2. I saw Terminator: Salvation
  3. I wrote a post for the Princeton Class of '08 blog
Most fun? Bamboo rafting.
Most explosions? Terminator.
Best written? I have to say my post, although with the Canne-worthy screenplay of Terminator, others might disagree.

"I'll be back."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

It's Time

I've been desperate to blog lately, but simply have not been able to. For once, it's not a lack of content, a case of writer's block, or a discontentment with life.

In fact, there has been quite a lot to write about. There was Songkran, which like any three day festival involving water fights and day drinking, came with a never-ending list of highs and lows; absurdities witnessed and mistakes made. The first day was definitely the best: sort of like a lawnparties gone right. A couple of good friends and I walked around the moat for hours, drinking beer and throwing water at smiling strangers, and ended the day by dancing with thousands of Thai kids in front of a mall in the middle of town.

In general, I'd say these last few weeks have been my happiest in Thailand. I've really come to appreciate my friendships with people here (even though a couple of them have left!), I've been climbing and bouldering a lot, and have seen some new, beautiful places and met some new, beautiful people.

The reason that I have been desperate to blog, and haven't just written the way I've wanted to, is that there's an elephant in my cyberspace. Normally I like to write about things that are, at heart, trivial, unusual, and fun; for the past two weeks, though, the thought of committing to e-ink the trivial happenings of my daily life seems wildly inappropriate.

But then again, using my blog or Facebook to address something significant, while tempting, is uncomfortable and seems utterly profane. Is it noble to dedicate this space to the life of someone else? Or selfish and unnecessary to broadcast across the web what Evan meant to me? In any event, it's time to say something:

Ten days ago, a childhood friend of mine died suddenly and unexpectedly. I have no doubt that in his short life Evan affected thousands of people with his smile, laughter, and presence, and that the world was a better, happier place with Evan in it. I consider myself lucky to have so many fond memories and won't soon forget Evan Witty.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bureaucracy in Person

I went to visit my host family yesterday and spent the night for the first time in a few weeks, and it's amazing how different things are! My host Mom has a new motorbike, the neighbors have a new garage and kitchen on the side of their house, and my Thai is actually at the point where I can kind of understand what's going on a lot of the time.

Last night was especially fun, because everyone was in a good mood. On Friday, my host brother drew a black card, so he doesn't have to spend his next two years in the military. Let me explain:

In Thailand, every male is eligible for the draft when they finish their education. They have two choices:
  • Enlist for one year (six months for college grads)
  • Enter the lottery, and if you lose, be drafted for two years (eighteen months for college grads)
The lottery is quite the spectacle (which I got to watch as a video on my brother's cell phone). A large group of young men sit in an auditorium, and get called up one-by-one to a table in front, where there are a bunch of military guys. One of the military guys holds on to the kid, and he draws a card out of a box. The video quality was bad, so I couldn't tell if the kids were being held in the endearing, reassuring way that Asian men hold other men's arms, or in the rough ("Don't run away or I'll take you down") way that cops hold people who are handcuffed.

Anyway, if the kid picks a red card, he's drafted. If he picks a black card, the crowd goes wild, the kid smiles and pumps his fists, and he's free to go. Gawp celebrated especially enthusiastically.

Compared to the way America did the draft (assigning numbers by mail and then reading them on TV), this seems shockingly personal and horribly inefficient. But that's how the Thais like their bureaucracy.

Last week there was some kind of tax refund (economic stimulus?) thing going on, where Thai people who paid for health insurance and social security but made less than 15,000 Baht per month were paid 2,000 Baht (about $60US) by the government. Again, in the States, they just mail you a check.

In Thailand, you needed to go to the local government office last Wednesday to collect your money. Economically, this means that your free money really isn't free, since there's a time and transportation cost associated with it. That means some people won't bother, which I guess saves the government some money.

Of course, it also means that the poorest people with the worst jobs (who can't take half a day off) can't go get their check. Oh well.

I was talking to my roommate about getting her refund check, and she said it was pretty miserable, since there were so many people, and because she had to stand in two lines. The first line was to get her check. The second line was two stories down at the Cashier's office, which was where everyone had to go to cash that check. Because really, why not?

So on this tax day, just remind yourself: at least the IRS has a good relationship with the Postal Service.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Tribute to St. Patrick: He Makes It Rain

Call it luck of the Irish, or whatever you will, but a true miracle has happened: it rained in Chiang Mai.

On Tuesday night, as I was on my way to the U.N. Irish Pub for a celebratory pint of Guiness, an unseasonable thunderstorm hit Chiang Mai.

The result: clean air! It's amazing what several hours of rain can do for air quality. Tuesday night, I slept better than I have in months (I know what you're thinking, and it wasn't the Guinness). Wednesday was cool (even chilly at night), and I saw a blue sky for the first time since Sam and I were in Krabi three weeks ago. I actually feel like exercising again.

Today the heat is back, but the pollution isn't! Thanks, St. Pat, for a little reprieve from Na Rawn.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Joys of Na Rawn

I returned home to Chiang Mai on Saturday, and was excited for a full day of climbing the next day that I'd arranged over email from Laos. I set my alarm for 7.30am.

Instead, I started my day with a 4.00am sprint to the bathroom - an unfortunate trend that I continued for another 24 hours. Needless to say, climbing was off, as was reading, eating, drinking, being upright, etc.

Dao, my housemate and the only real witness to my first bout of Thai food poisoning, commented when I'd recovered that it's na rawn (hot season) now, as if that explained it.

To Dao's credit, all illness in Thailand is blamed on the weather, especially changes in temperature and moisture. This winter, I caught a cold, and concerned coworkers asked me "Ted, do you have a good blanket?" or, "You need to wear a hat; it's cold at night." Clearly this time my stomach bug was caused by my abrubt return to unrelenting dry heat.

The next day at work, this exchange happened three times:
Kind and gracious coworker: sabaii dii mai, Ted? (How are you feeling, Ted?)
Ted: Mai sabaii. Meua wan nii tawng sia (Not great. Yesterday my stomach was really upset.)
KaGC (with a smile): Oooh. Na rawn ma laew. (Oooh. It's hot season.)
Ted (laughing inwardly and a little depressed): Chai. Na rawn. (Yes. Hot season).

Luckily, the last such exchange, Phi managed to salvage a little of my respect for the Thai departments of Health and Education. He explained to me that in hot season "You have to be careful, because there are more flies and rats and things, and you have to only go to the clean restaurants. Farang (white people) don't have very strong stomachs and get sick a lot this time of year."


My hypothesis - that my Laos airlines meal was left to fester on a 110-degree tarmac somewhere for a couple of hours before it was served to me on my flight back from Luang Prabang - may seem similarly absurd to those uninitiated to Pasteur, so I try not to judge.

So yes! It's na rawn here in Chiang Mai, and man, is it hot. It also hasn't rained since October, so it's dry, which makes the leaves fall off everything and the crops shrivel up. The natural response to all this yard rubbish is to burn everything, which causes major, major problems for air quality.

When my plane was landing on Saturday, I was gazing out the window so I could watch Doi Suthep, the mountain to the west of town, as we came in. The airport is only about 2.5 miles from the summit, so the views can be great. Except I couldn't see Doi Suthep at all. It was like it wasn't there. It was afternoon; the sun should have been at least silhouetting the mountain through the haze. It wasn't. I panicked for a moment and thought I must have gotten on the wrong plane.

One of the few things I noticed on Sunday, as I was briefly conscious between bouts of restless sleep, is that a couple of very industrious spiders had built massive webs in the upper corners of my room. And then I noticed that those spiderwebs were black. The air here is that bad.

The only redeeming feature of na rawn, as anyone will tell you, is Songkran, the week-long Thai new year, also commonly referred to as "the largest drunken water fight in the world." Songkran starts one month from today... can't hardly wait.