Wednesday, April 25, 2012

First Day in Thailand

I posted this at my other blog with pictures, but I feel like it has the misenthropic voice of NES/NAS so I'm running it here too. If you want pics, check out jaehak.wordpress.com

It seems I've overkicked my coverage a bit. I didn't really plan to be in Trang yet, the plan was to head to Langkawi, Malaysia to spend the last of my ringet on cheap beachside beer. Unfortunately, getting to Langkawi from Penang turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. There are two ferries between these islands (conveniently at 8:15 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Way to spread out your ferries, Malaysia) that I never intended to take. I planned to go overland, but apparently this is an unreliable way to get there and I likely would have had to spend the night in Alor Setor or Kuala Kedah. That, or I could have stayed another night in Penang and taken the ferry the next day. Neither of these options appealed to me, so I called an audible and caught a minivan to Thailand.

And so I got in a van with a 24-year old Aussie chick (named Sheila, no shit) who had been traveling for 4 years, a leftist Spanish girl who felt that nobody should have to work ever and that people who participate in Amarillo-style eating contests deserved to die, and a few Chinese businessmen. I opted for my headphones.

In Hat Yai, I had to change to a local Thai minibus. It was full to the brim and quite different than Korean, or even Malaysian transit. On a Korean bus, everyone, literally everyone on the bus pass the time with smart phones or tablets. On this minibus, everyone just rode in silence, looking at the back of the chair in front of them. I felt it would be douchey to whip out the iPad to watch a movie, but fortunately I had a long Carolla podcast to burn.

Other than a tip from a buddy of mine that Trang was a good place to start in southern Thailand and a cursory glance at Travelfish, Wikitravel, and Lonely Planet, I knew nothing about the town whatsoever. Thailand is a whole different animal than Malaysia. English ability is much lower, and the script is indecipherable to me. Malaysian is written in Roman letters, so even if I don't understand the signs, I can read them and make out a few loan words (kompleks, motorsikal, stessen, sentral, bas, feri, etc). I was the last passenger on the bus, and I told the driver to take me to the train station (which is basically the only word in Thai that I know). I knew from my quick research that there was at least one guesthouse by the station.

Despite the fact that I pretty much felt like I fell off the turnip truck, the train station proved to be a good choice. Lots of guesthouses and coffee shops, near some cool markets. Best of all, I found a nice cafe with good-for-Indochina wifi to write and do research.

Trang town is nice, but there isn't a whole lot to do other than researching places further afield. It's the landlocked capital of a southern province known for it's beaches. I imagine my current situation is similar to that of an Asian backpacker visiting Tallahassee.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

'Merica



As I'm sure you've noticed, I've been kinda lazy on this space. Fear not, I am launching a new blog dedicated to my current backpacking trip, filled with tons of pictures. It's called Jaehak's Megatrip, and it's at jaehak.wordpress.com. There's already two posts! I'll still post non-travel related stuff here from time to time, but the Blogger app doesn't work very well and I have no laptop, so most of my work over the next few months will be elsewhere.

I recently broke up my Asia-centric life with a trip back to America. With the exception of the airport and one lunch, I spent the whole of the trip within the limits of the great state of Kansas, and happened to be in town for the state to display its best (KU beating Carolina to get to the Final 4! Rock Chalk!) and worst (Ricky Assjuice winning the Kansas Caucus) idiosyncrasies. These examples don't teach us any new information. We already knew that Kansas Basketball is awesome and that Kansas voters are ridiculous. I suppose I was further reminded why Kansas, and America will always be home, but I don't think I'll be living there anytime soon.

Some thoughts:

Sometimes I forget what a car-culture the U.S. is, to the point of inconvenience really. Most banks don't have a walk-up ATM, just a drive-up. These banks also have 4 lanes of drive-thru banking with tellers, but only one lane of ATMs. Who uses these drive-up teller lanes anymore? I haven't used one since at least the mid-90s, and I don't think my friends do either. Older people like my parents used to use them, but I don't think they do anymore. C'mon banks, get rid of these dinosaurs and add more ATMs.

I don't understand late-nite drive-thrus that don't serve pedestrians. Shitfaced at 3 a.m. and hungry for Taco Bell? Sorry chief, no Gordita for you, unless you want to drive.

My first day in the States, I walked down to Target. I got lots of strange looks from drivers for, y'know, walking. Target itself was a wonder to behold though. Korea has big-box stores, so it's not like I'm not used to those, I'm just not used to being in one that has so many products that I would actually want to buy. Still, I kinda shook my head at the tastes of the masses when I saw that, in the DVD Section, there was only one copy left of "According to Jim." Season Five. People actually spend money on the fifth season of horrible shows. The number one selling book at Target was called "Heaven is Real" or something like that, about some kid with a near-death experience who met Jesus and whatnot. Filed under non-fiction, of course.

I was surprised and impressed and/or shamed with some other than matters than my newfound love of Best Buy and Home Depot and, fuck it, Wal-Mart. Most everyone I know in Kansas suddenly knows a great deal about DIY and home repair and gardening and that sort of thing. One night, while I sat with a couple friends, the main topics of conversation were weddings, kids, and mortgage rates. The fuck? Somehow while I was out becoming an Old Asia Hand, people back home were just becoming old. Or maybe I'm just Peter Pan. Hell, what other 30 something douchebags do you know traveling around Malaysia by bus?

Now I'm on the road, as I said, traveling the famed Banana Pancake Trail. Americans in these parts are hard to come by, likely because of our short vacations and our massive distance from Southeast Asia. Fortunately, there are plenty of people talking about it.

I'm no patriot, of course. I'm not proud to being born in America anymore than I'm proud of being born white or being born male or being born devastatingly handsome. I had nothing to do with any of these matters, so it seems to be a foolish thing to be proud of. That said, while it's fine for me to continually insult my friends or my family members, that doesn't make it okay for everyone to do so.

The world is less anti-American than you think, at least this part of the world, and in general everyone I've met has been cool, other than one particular group - Euro (usually British) girls. I can pretty much promise this - if I end up in some horrific Laotian jail cell (and I'm sure a lot of you are betting that I will), it will be for punching an English girl in the face.

Anyway, don't forget to check out the new blog!
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