This time around Thailand taught me about the home, the heart, and the hospital.
18.01.2009 27 °C
As the holiday season rolled up on us, more and more Christmas decorations could be seen around town and there were more and more events to attend.
One such event was held by the international club in Mimasaka about an hour and a half outside of Okayama. My friend Jeff lives out there and invited us to come and participate in the club’s first annual Christmas dinner party at his high school.
Though it took us several hours and several wrong turns to get there, it still turned out to be one of the highlights of the season for me. All the people in the club (mostly students and a few teachers and people from the area) were very curious about us and our holiday traditions.
We sang songs, watched The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and ate and awesome meal.
Afterwards the organizers of the club brought us foreigners out to a really hip little Thai restaurant in Mimasaka where the English conversations continued with me wowing them with horror stories of minus 35 degree Canadian weather.
One day, just for kicks. I showed up at one of my schools dressed up as Santa Claus. I remembered I had a Santa costume in my closet that had been given to me by one of the outgoing English teachers last summer. The kids went mental when they saw me. I taught three classes that day. The combined grade 5 and 6 class thought the whole thing was hilarious and they interviewed me with questions like, “Santa, what’s your favorite sport?” and “Santa, where do you live?” Can you believe they thought Santa lived in Norway? I had to draw a picture of the North Pole on the chalkboard. The 4th and 5th grade class thought it was really fun but they had one eyebrow raised the whole time trying to figure out why I was sticking to the charade.
The 1st and 2nd grade class just went off their heads. They saw me in the hallway and told their teacher excitedly that Santa Claus had come to the school. After the class was finished I had lunch with the 1st and 2nd grade class, as myself, who proceed to drill me about my relationship with Santa and why we had the same shoes. They also wanted to know why Santa spoke English. Smart little cookies those ones!
And then the Christmas season was upon me and I had bought myself a ticket out of the cold classrooms of Japan and onto the warm beaches of Thailand.
Unfortunately I, and my entire board of education, sat apprehensively on the edges of our seats watching the government protests unfold in Bangkok. A mere 18 days before I was to leave, protesters had closed the international airport in Bangkok. Small-scale violence had been reported in the news and so, in true Japanese fashion, my co-workers figured it was WWIII in Thailand and tried to persuade me not to go. I told them if the airport was open I would go and if not I would go to Okinawa in Japan. That seemed to relax them a bit, but in the end things settled down and the airport was opened in time for my arrival. Thailand was pretty quiet though, not like the last time I was there. The big touristy street in Bangkok, Koh San Road, didn’t seem the same throbbing lain of debauchery as the last time I had seen it.
I chose to go to Thailand for Christmas and New Year not only because of the nice weather and the cheap flight but also because my good friend Brad was living in Bangkok at the time, playing in a hotel nightclub in Bangkok. So when I arrived in bangkok I stayed for a couple of days in the amazing, five-star, Grand Hyatt Erwin hotel and soaked up some of the lovely perks Brad and his fiancé, Pam, enjoy.
After that it was right off to Koh Phangan. Five years ago I had spent about a month on Koh Phangan and I have always wanted to go back. So away I went! The first couple of days the weather was gorgeous and I was able to take some beautiful pictures, rent a motorbike, and get out.
After a few days though the weather dropped out and it started to rain from time to time. A few days before Christmas I met a lovely Irish girl and we planned to do a day long Christmas snorkeling adventure to the marine park a couple of hours out into the ocean.
On Christmas Eve, though, I started feeling a little sick and by Christmas morning I was fully down for the count. I couldn’t move; my muscles were too sore. I was hot, cold, nauseous, headachy, and restless and the only thing I had to read was Trainspotting by Irving Welsh, which is all about sick people with Scottish accents. It was horrible. Not the way I had imagined my Thai Christmas adventure to turn out.
After hours spent in my bungalow I had to get out so I grabbed my sleeping bag and wandered over to the restaurant. It was empty, as it had been ever since I had arrived (as I said, things were pretty quiet after the airport closed). I built a little nest out of the Thai pillows and searched for an English movie on the TV. I wandered in and out of consciousness until the owners of the place came over and asked me if I was OK. They had noticed I hadn’t come out of my bungalow all day. I told them I was pretty sick. They asked if they should take me to the hospital but I refused saying I didn’t want to go to the hospital on Christmas day. So they nursed me themselves with water, orange juice, painkillers, and some crazy Thai pork soup concoction I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep down. By the time I went back to my bungalow, though, I was feeling much better.
I was renewed but not cured, and though I still felt terrible on Boxing Day I worked up the strength to get on my motorbike and get myself over to the hospital. I was worried it was going to cost a fortune because I hadn’t gotten any additional medical insurance on top of what the school gives me. In the end it took twenty minutes and eight dollars to be diagnosed with a throat infection and intestinal infection. The antibiotics were included. A few days later I was on the mend and I was able to fit in a little more time with my Irish friend before she had to take off for Australia.
I stayed a total of 11 days on Koh Phangan and unfortunately the weather never really improved and I was miserably sick but I still had a lovely and unforgettable time on the island.
On New Year’s Eve it was time for me to make my way back to Bangkok to watch Brad’s band play and enjoy the New Year’s celebrations with them. I was worried about having to spend most of the evening by myself and the band would be on stage but luckily they had huge one-hour breaks so we were able to get out onto the street and really enjoy the crazy Bangkok scene. It was a really fun night!
Thai people love taking pictures, so out on the street they had all these cut outs that you could pose next to and I found this one of Himeji Castle.
Two days later I found myself back in the Koh San Road area again. Looking around for something to do.
I wandered around some beautiful temples in the area and then found myself on the main road feeling lonely and just jonesing for a bit of chitchat with someone interesting. So, in true lonely traveler’s style, I wandered up and down the road examining the people sitting in the sidewalk cafes for someone who looked friendly, or open, or just someone who might be looking for a chat too. So, three times I went up and down the street before I spotted this guy with fiery red hair just smiling out at all the people passing by. I also noticed he had two huge empty bottles of beer in front of him and one more on the way so I knew he was a perfect candidate. So I went over to the café and checked the menu which was right behind him and asked him if he had tried the food. He said he had. He said it was good. I said, what are you just by yourself? He said, I am. Sit down if you like. And that was how I met Niall. Later, I was telling someone how I met Niall and that person called me something of a stalker. I argued that stalkers usually had a specific subject in mind. The enlightened person reminded me that jungle cats don't care, specifically, who they stalk. Hmm. Jungle cats, eh?
So, Niall and I proceeded to chat about everything from pink leisure suits to the Irish social system. A few hours later he announced that he was going to go to Koh Chang and he invited me to join him. I had been planning on going to another island called Koh Samet with my friend Brad on his day off and it seemed the trip would be about three hours. Niall insisted that Koh Chang was closer so I thought what the heck, it sounds like a great idea. Then Brad could meet me there and I would have more time to enjoy the beach. I agreed, and Niall ran off to buy the bus tickets. We decided to meet up at 7 the next morning. Niall had drunk a lot and I was staying across town so all the odds were against us making that bus in the morning but we did it. I got back to the hotel and had to wait until 1 a.m. for Brad's set to finish before I could talk to him about "the plan" during which time I was accosted by a 70-year-old Israeli man who wanted to dance and would not take no for an answer. I gotta admit though,I had fun and he was a great dancer. And on the other side of town, Niall stumbled into another bar before heading back to his hotel. It is amazing we both showed up the next morning. Niall even did it despite having no windows in his room and no clock. He turned up in the morning with a lovely story about sitting bolt upright in his bed alarmed he may have missed the bus, and then wandering out onto Koh San Road at 6 a.m. to ask someone on the street what time is was. It's amazing either one of us made it.
The bus left an hour after we expected it to and we were both feeling the early morning crankies.
An hour and a half after leaving Bangkok we stopped at a rest stop and Niall said he figured we were half way. But, about two hours later we stopped the bus and let people off who were destine for Koh Samet, the first island Brad and I had planned to go to, the one that was supposed to be farther away than Koh Chang where we were headed. After the bus started moving again they put on a movie, which I had seen on the plane and happened to know was three hours long. I knew at that point that we had a longer journey ahead than we first anticipated. What was worse, Niall had eaten something bad at the rest stop and was feeling pretty crummy. Indeed the bus ride took us six hours, the ferry ride 40 minutes and the taxi to the bungalows was another 40 minutes. The whole day was a full 8-hour journey and when we arrived we discovered there was only one bungalow with one bed. Well, we just had to laugh and luckily Niall was a perfect gentleman, although he had a strange habit of sitting bolt upright with a start at the littlest of noises in the night. It was delightfully comedic. He was a sick gentleman when we arrived though, so he went straight to bed and slept for 15 hours, sitting bolt upright about once every four hours. Needless to say, Brad decided to take a rain check on the whole trip to Koh Chang idea.
That night I enjoyed the sunset on my own again.
With no one to talk to again, I struck up a conversation with a wide-eyed high-spirited young guy from New Zealand who was in Thailand with his uncle. I think he was starved for a little company his own age too, so we chatted away the evening and I invited him to come along with Niall and me the next day as we had planned to rent motorbikes and tour the island. So, that’s what we did.
The three of us tore up Koh Chang on motorbikes all day long. It was great! We visited a couple of beautiful beaches and the weather had finally smartened up into the sunny Thai weather people dream about.
The day was just spectacular. We chilled out, went swimming for hours, and ate the best Thai food ever and closed off the day with an herbal spa. Just what I needed!
The day totally made up for my sicko Christmas and every other crummy day of weather I had had since I got to Thailand. That day was the best day ever!
It is amazing how if you just let yourself be open you can meet the most amazing people and have the best time with them. You may never see them again but they will remain your friends for life.
The next day it was back to Bangkok for some last minute shopping, and I had to pick up a suit I was having made that didn’t end up fitting right. Ho, hum!
And then back I went to Japan, ready to start the year all refreshed. I came home to find my bike stolen so I had to walk across town, but that’s a story for another blog.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you lovely travelers I have met and to all my friends in Japan, and, of course, to all my friends and family back home. I miss you terribly!