Category Archives: Thailand

Continued travels in Borneo!

Well I’ve got some more time to update things, so let me continue. I’m currently in Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah, Malaysia, but I’ll talk about that after I finish Kuching.

So our first full day I already covered. We woke up the next morning thankful that our experience with a local malay man, Kayrol, was pleasant and short – his kindness had just something a bit off about it – but we survived! Thanks to Rich’s social connections last night, we found out a few things.

1. The park we had planned to visit, Bako National Park, was best done in an overnight or a few nights spent in the park. Rich and I had planned to do a day trip, but his new-found friends at Mr. D’s  (A hostel right up the road from ours with a rather lively crew at night) told him it wouldn’t quite be worth it. In fact, a few had just attempted to do our exact journey and had come back alive but not satisfied with the experience.

2. The two guys who traveled to Bako and didn’t love it were leading an expedition to the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Center the next day and offered to let us tag along.

So this made the choice between the two rather easy when we realized we could save a  good bit of money and have an experience that sounded just as interesting by checking out the Orangutan’s. We left around 1pm from Mr. D’s with the two europeans that Rich made friends with, a Botswanan that Rich and I met the other day, and three other people from England. We split a minibus and negotiated the price of 10RM a piece round trip ($3). Not too shabby. We arrived at the facility around 2PM and we hung around for an hour waiting for feeding time. Yes, it’s a rehabilitation center that continues to feed the animals… I don’t get it either.

When the Orangutans showed up, they did so royally. We couldn’t go into the park right away because one was camping out really close to the path to the feeding electrified. In any American park, there would be high walls, electrified fences and Jurassic Park style tranquilizer men at every turn. Oh no, not here. In fact, we got a talking to by the park ranger before going in. It went something like this: “Orangutans are very temperamental. They don’t like loud noise or fast movements. If you have a baby it will need to stay quiet otherwise it might get taken or hurt by the animals. In addition, the biggest Orangutan hates objects being pointed at it, so be careful of pointing fingers, sticks, or umbrellas at it, it will probably attack you. Also, there’s this one girl in there, we call her ‘Hot Mama.’ We call her that because she’s a hot head and sends at least one person a year to the hospital. If you bring food in that she wants to eat, or show her something shiny, you could get hurt or killed. Yep, so enjoy the tour!”

The actual speech was much longer and had many more examples of the Orangutans hurting people in the past few years. Needless to say, Rich and I were really excited to put ourselves in a dangerous situation and we giddily walked in as fast as we could, following the guide of course.

We were met with something like 10 semi-wild animals about twice our size swinging through the trees, howling at us, eating bananas and coconuts. It was awesome. We got some amazing video and pictures of the whole thing that I’ll try to put online in my album from Kuching. The whole experience was beyond words, knowing that in all reality, if they decided they didn’t like us watching them eat, we’d all probably be dead in under 5 minutes. And people like to think they are at the top of the food chain…. ahaha

We got back, thanked our European trip organizers, and headed back to our place to get cleaned up and relax. We did so, ventured out for some food, and headed back to Mr. D’s to celebrate the night of Rich’s birthday. The beginning of the celebration actually started down at the Kuching waterfront as we all sat on the banks of the river and reflected on our lives. Pretty deep conversation really and it was an interaction that I hand’t seen in a while. When is the last time anyone asked you to sit and relax next to a slow-moving body of water and talk about important things? Kinda cool. We then grouped at Mr. D’s and headed out to a local bar. Not just any local bar, but the local’s local bar. The Bornean’s knew it well and it served local rice wine, something they told me would be all but forgotten in a few years as only a few people made it because the demand wasn’t high. We had a blast for a few hours, gave Rich a manly yelling salute (Borneo tribal style: AHHHHHHH – AHHHHHH – AH!) and I headed home shortly after midnight because I’m a party pooper. Thus ends the day.

Our last full day in Kuching was Rich’s birthday. We hadn’t really decided what we were going to do but one of our friends, Jeremy, from Mr. D’s was a professional tattoo artist. What makes him special is that he’s a native Borne-an and is familiar with the traditional Borneo tribal tattoos, both how to do them and their significance. Rich and I talked to him on and off the past few days, exploring the world of tribal tattoos and were absolutely fascinated. Each tattoo had a special meaning, certain conventions had to be followed, and each was done in a special way. The style and meaning was so tribally protected that Jeremy didn’t even know what many of them meant anymore and there’s only one book that’s no longer in print that details how to make any of them. Jeremy invited Rich and I to come check out his studio and look at some of his work and it seemed like a decent way to spend the day.

His studio was in an unmarked building about 20 minutes out of town. Honestly, we couldn’t have found it again if we tried. Jeremy took us upstairs, showed us around (it was one huge room with all sorts of memorabilia and examples of his work) and Rich started to check some things out. As it was his birthday, and this was Borneo, he decided to get a traditional tattoo, given to travelers as a sign of safe travels and hopeful attainment of wisdom, in the traditional style – hand tapped with needles and a hammer.

I watched for two hours and Rich was inked and it was fascinating. We got to listen to one of the last of a dieing breed of people that live in Borneo and still remember the old ways of living in longhouses and practicing ancient traditions. It was quite an experience and it really made me  want to come back to Borneo before the culture really leaves – a point that Jeremy says is only 2 to 3 years away. Sad. Such is the price of modern civilization.

After Rich’s tattoo we headed back home, shopped around for souvenirs for the last time, and packed up. Sadly, we had to leave Kuching the next morning.

The Land of the White Rajas…

It’s been a long time, far too long in fact. I haven’t blogged in months, two to be exact, and work is to blame. College kids have, for generations, swore that as soon as they graduated and had no homework to do ever again, they would have so much more time to do everything else they had ever wanted to do, ever.  I can say now that this is a long-perpetuated fallacy and that anyone in college should stay there as long as possible. That aside, let’s continue!

So, work got crazy and I didn’t blog. The cliffnotes of those two months include going to Koh Tao, twice, and getting both Basic and Advanced Adventurer certified with SSI so that I can now dive up to 100 feet down. In fact, I enjoyed SCUBA diving so much I am thinking about becoming a dive master, but that story is for another day.

The real good stuff starts about a week ago. My first semester of teaching ended last Monday and so that night I went with my friends Rich and Cole to Koh Tao (This is the second of the two times that I mentioned earlier). It was the first part of an elaborate travel plan that I’m following for the next month. We spent one week in Koh Tao (Details might follow, might not, we’ll see how tired I get here) and got back to Bangkok on Friday. Saturday was a day of packing and cleaning, and Sunday I left with Rich for Borneo.

Borneo, for those who are now reaching for a map, is just east of Peinsular Malaysia, south of the Phillipines, and is generally situated in what can be called both Southeast Asia or the South Pacific. It’s one of the largest islands in the world and is composed of the Sultanate of Brunei (Country), Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) and Indonesia (No idea on the provinces here, but it’s one of Indonesia’s many island holdings). Our trip (Fully outlined at http://dickmarks.com/?p=241 ) brought us first to the Malaysian city of Kuching.

Getting here wasn’t easy. We left Bangkok at 10AM on Sunday, got to Kuala Lumpur at 1:30 local time ( 1.5 hour flight time, there’s an hour time change in there), chatted with an Australian couple for an hour or so (hello Neil and Freida!) checked back in for our flight to Kuching, got on the plane a little after 5PM and landed around 7PM. It was dark when we landed but the taxi took us downtown to Kuching where  we stopped at a hostel listed in our Lonley Planet book as a decent place to stay. The owner wasn’t around but we talked to two very nice girls sitting at the computer in the lobby (from England) and they seemed lukewarm about the place. Hearing that the owner wouldn’t be back for another 10 minutes, we decided to walk around and see if anything else presented itself. Thankfully, within 5 minutes we had found a new place in a better location with much less expensive prices – in fact it was brand new!

After settling in, Rich and I went to grab a bite to eat on the Kuching river walk. It went from right in front of our hotel all the way down past a Hilton hotel at the far end. We walked the whole way and ended up getting food from a sidewalk stand near the Hilton for all of $3 USD. It was delicious. Then we went back to the hotel and got to bed with no trouble at all.

This morning we woke up around 10:30AM local time. This was about my normal time but it was a bit early for Rich (9:30AM thailand time). We took long, hot showers, got clean, and headed out with our cameras to explore the city. It was dead when we came in last night and it was nice to see people out and about. With no real plan, we walked towards the Sarawak national museum and wandered around there for an hour or so. Then we made our way to the Divisional Mosque (it was pink!) to take some pictures and see inside a mosque for the first time. It was rather uneventful, people were sleeping and praying and good times were had by all.

As we walked towards the waterfront that would bring us back to our hotel, Rich bummed a cigarette off of a local guy that was relaxing on a bench. He proceeded to chat with the guy and get a recommendation for a local place for us to have lunch. We found the place without much difficulty and sat down to a nice lunch of chicken and rice with an added bonus of roti and curry sauce.

While dining, we struck up a conversation with a man who sat right next to us. Kayrol (pronounced Carol) was quite friendly and spoke good enough English that we chatted with him most of our lunch time. Our meeting ended with an exchange of phone numbers and the idea that we could get together later to have dinner. We didn’t think much of it at the time.

After lunch, we finished our walk, found a place that made business cards (Rich had wanted a calling card for a while. These were a good price and so he bought 100 of them for $10), and made it back to our hotel to use the internet and check out this Kayrol character that had given us his facebook page and told us we could have dinner with his family if we called him later. Agreeing that he looked like he was a real person and not some fake persona created online and manifested during our lunch hour, we met him and went to a local place for dinner.

Dinner was, as meals often are in Malaysia, amazing. Kayrol dazzled us with crazy stories, interesting questions, and big smiles as we met his friends at the local restaurant and we talked everything from politics, to girls to what to do tomorrow! He was exceedingly friendly and willing to go out of his way to accomodate us and show us around, which of course came off like he was going to feed us then leave us stanaded in the middle of a jungle with nothing in our pockets except our empty palms. Yet, he did nothing more than treat us to  dinner, make sure we got back to our place safely, and bid us farewell for the night.  Crazy.

Rich and I ended up having a celebratory drink after surviving our first full day in Borneo, and I just got back to the hotel while he stays out a bit longer and does what Rich does best – socialize.

A few more comments on Kuching so far:

  • The city has an amazing array of antiques and wood craftsmen making it a necessity that I come back here one day to furnish my house
  • The arts here are wild and beautiful
  • The city has more than 20 ‘local’ dishes, at least according to the locals
  • Everything closes at 5:30pm. Not a few places, not half the places, almost every single place is closed by then. The exception seems to be a few food stalls and hostels that cater to tourists and wanderers

For now, I’m exhausted and it’s time for me to go to bed. Tomorrow is either an orangutan center or a trek through the forest, who knows! Anyway, the people in Kuching are obscenely  nice and it’s made for an amazing trip so far.

Learning to teach Thai students: A crash course

Well, this post is long overdue. In fact, it was meant to go out at the end of last week but due to me being exhausted (this heat is killer) and this past weekend being the 4th of July (yay!) I haven’t had the energy to update. I currently find myself awake at 1:30AM BKK time (I guess this is what happens when I go to bed by 9PM instead of 12AM) so I figure now is as good a time as any to catch up!

This post really starts last Thursday on the 1st of July. If I remember correctly, I was just a bit more tired than usual so I decided to go with a hearty 20 baht breakfast (about 75 cents – I get this delicious fried pork and white rice. Just what you want for breakfast, right?!), a coffee-flavored milk (so tasty) and a Red Bull. It was enough to fill me up and give me much more energy than I’m used to in a day of teaching.

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Koh Samet! The first weekend I’ve spent outside BKK

Well, it finally came. This past weekend was the first time we got out of the city and boy did it feel good. The teaching job was starting to wear on me and the weekend away was very much needed.

We all got out of our classes a bit early on Friday so we could catch the first bus back to Hua Mak. We ran from the bus to our rooms and packed feverously. I pakced a bit the night before, but of course I didn’t put everything together until getting back. I got changed, threw anything I could find in a bag, and ran out the door. We had chartered a bus to pick us up right from Hua Mak (well, 5 minutes down the road) and bring us to the pier in Rayong where we could catch a boat to Koh Samet (Samet Island).

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Restless in Bangkok

I should have updated yesterday but I was just wiped out. Thursdays are always long and so I opted to head to bed instead of update – a choice that my few followers surely lamented but I really needed sleep. I slept for 12 hours on Wednesday night and got at least 8 last night – the fact that I can sleep that long means I need it. Once my body has enough, I only end up needing 4-6 per night.

So, anyway, yesterday I found myself quite restless. This weekend marks the end of the first month of teaching here in Thailand. I woke up as ready as ever  to teach but I found myself thinking more about how to make money elsewhere than at my current job. Not that I’m not satisfied with my pay, it’s not bad for Thailand, but I feel I could be doing more with my time and getting paid more because of it. Either starting my own business or teaching somewhere where my skills in politics, history, or computers are put to better use seemed like a better idea than going to class at ABAC. It was, in some respects, disheartening to think I was going to the same classroom I had been going to for about a month now, and the kids (at least to me) were no better at English than the day I walked in.

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This post courtesy of The Shawshank Redemption!

I’m having my kids watch a movie this week so they can hear some faster, more realistic speech than the slow, dumbed-down English that I use in the classroom. It’s nice for a few reasons. One, it gives me time to work on getting attendance sheets up to date in class. Two, it gives me  free time to do things like blog.

So I think last night I was blogging before dinner, tutoring, etc, so I may as well fill y’all in. After getting a bunch of work done, I went with A. Chai (Ajarn Chai, Ajarn means teacher but it’s a title of rank like Mr. or Dr. is in the States), my friend from a few years ago, to Central Bang Na – It’s the nearest Central department store and mall near the Bang Na ABAC campus that I was staying at last night. We went with many purposes, the first of which was to get to the bank for A. Chai. We got there right before the bank closed and Chai got his banking done which was good so his mother didn’t get mad at him ahaha! Then we wandered around looking for something to eat. My first inclination was to head right for some sushi but my better judgement got a hold of me and we hit up the Thai food market in the mall. It’s funny, in the middle of a modern super-mall, bigger than most malls I’ve ever seen in the States, there’s a little food court of independent Thai food cooks and vendors. Chai guided me through the chaos and we ended up getting some deep fried Chinese crab sausage, some spicey northern Thai sausage, some sweetened and pressed Mango, some fermented pork pocket things, and a few bags of these strange pretzel like chips that I’m still snacking on as we speak. All in all, it cost mabye 200 baht in total – not bad at all but pricey for Thai. As of Monday I’m on a new personal budget of 200 baht a day ($6 USD) so I split it with Chai and we moved on to get some more substantial food.

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At Bang Na or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being at the Other Campus

Well! I’ve got a new nifty blog, I may as well use it! I’m behind, as usual, but I’ve got a pen & paper journal that has been keeping me up to date with things. I’ll go through that and update the backlog of late entries as I can. For now, let me lead in saying that I’ve been here in Thailand for nearly a month now and teaching Basic English classes is much more difficult than I ever imagined.

One would think, ‘Oh, teaching English? That’s got to be a piece of cake! You’ve been speaking it all your life!” Wrong. Imagine this: You don’t know a word of Russian but you’re but in an entry level Russian class. The thing is, the Russian teacher knows no English. So you don’t know Russian, they don’t know English and you spend an hour every other day talking right past each other but trying your hardest to make sense of something. This is what teaching English in Thailand is like.

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