Wednesday, 3 October 2007

total:spec: Hostel life

Brisbane at three in the morning. I’ve been asleep a few hours, having booked into a backpacker hostel for the first time ever in my life. It’s already been an interesting experience. I’d walked into the room and nearly laughed at the cliché of it all – four bunk beds hidden somewhere behind a confusion of creased up clothes, battered rucksacks and draped towels, the latter the only concession to organisation. And the smell… It’s like being in Halls at university again, but worse. At least you had your own room there.

But anyway, at three in the morning myself, the grumpy Frenchman, the friendly Swede and the quiet, unassuming Asian guy (this is a world where all clichés are reality) are all woken up by two Englishmen crashing into the room and turning the light on. They slur apologies but fail to rectify their gaffe. Instead they start shouting at each other and us, possibly in a vague attempt to enlist us in their party mood. It doesn’t work. Eventually they crash out of the room again, forgetting to turn the light off as they go. Frenchman turns to Swede next to him and says, “Fucking English.” Despite myself, I believe he may have a point.

This was my first experience of hostel life; it wasn’t to be my last.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and criticise the hostelling experience, on the contrary, I’ve never had so much fun in my life. At any other time I might have found this annoying, but as a backpacker who hasn’t got to get up for work in the morning I found this amusing, slightly embarrassing that the French had got one up on us, but so unimportant that I fell straight back to sleep.

You need a sense of humour to stay in a backpacker hostel. They are full of a myriad of different people, all of different nationalities, ages and backgrounds, but all with one common goal – to have the best time they have ever had.

Plus you need that sense of humour because there is no such thing as five dollar rooms on the Australia and New Zealand leg of a backpacker’s journey. If you’re on a budget then sharing a room with seven other backpackers (they can be the opposite sex, you do get mixed rooms) is pretty much your only option.

Sharing is what it’s all about. You share your bedroom, a bathroom, a TV room, and the kitchen, where everyone helps each other out with ingredients as well. Forgot to buy some milk? No problem. But the real way to make friends is by sharing your goon.

It may sound like a sexual analogy, but goon, in Australia, is actually the more innocent (but only slightly) boxed white wine you can get from any good ‘bottle-o’, or bottle shop. That’s an off-license to us. The name goon came from the Australian habit of shortening words to one syllable wherever possible, in this case the word flagon - the large bottle that was used before flasks.

Goon is the staple diet in hostels, usually drunk out of the mugs found in the kitchen - wine glasses wouldn’t last five minutes in a hostel, quite frankly. And much as drinking does at university, goon works as an excellent social tool.

Of course it’s not as civilised as just sitting round a table sipping delicately out of your mug and appreciating the bouquet. No, goon requires drinking games for people to truly appreciate its (lack of) subtleties. One particularly memorable (and ridiculous) one I experienced was the bag of wine being taken out of its box and being passed around the table. Each person had to slap the bag as loudly as they could (it really does sound like a hand on skin) and then drink some goon. How much depended on the volume of your slap – the quieter it was, the more you had to drink.

Whether this beats wine-tasting in the Hunter Valley as an Australian cultural experience is down to the individual, of course, but it’s certainly a quicker way of making new friends. And sometimes you really do need friends in a hostel. They’re good to have around when, as is the way with hostel life, you’re hit with the unexpected.

Take for example the time when, during my tenure in a Sydney hostel, the guy on reception allowed a homeless drunk to stay in our room. He’d shown up with a plastic bag rather than a backpack, and yet here he was in our room, chewing my ear off about “fuckin’ Poms” (until he realised I was one) and how no one in the world listens to the Australians, just the Americans and the British.

He may have been making a good point, but it was difficult to discern through the slurring and the stench of booze. After he pushed a German guy out of his bed, then pissed on his trainers we decided some action needed to be taken and the police were called.

And what did we do while we were waiting? Cracked open the goon of course.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

total:spec: Australia

Australians are bloody lovely. I say this not because I have another month in their country and I’m trying to further the already perfectly healthy and don’t need any help thank you very much Anglo-Australian relations, but because they really are genuinely nice people.

I put it down to the weather. It might be a bit gloomy in Sydney at the mo but that’s probably as much to do with the presence of George Bush for the APEC meeting than it is to do with the grey clouds. Australians don’t let a bit of grey cloud and rain (or a bad day, or a grumpy English tourist, or really anything) bother them, and with good reason. They know that pretty much the rest of the year they will be basking in glorious, unfettered, unadulterated sunshine, lucky, lucky people that they are. They know that no matter how bad a day they have, they’re going to have a nice one tomorrow.

An Australian friend of mine gives a different reason for the easy-going nature of his fellow countrymen. He feels that my experience of cheery conversations and warm demeanours in shops, on the phone and even on the street when I look a bit lost is enhanced because I’m British, and all the Aussies love a Brit. He reckons they’re almost grateful when we decide to come and pay them a visit. They’re so remote out here, so far away from the rest of the world, that it’s a pleasurable shock when they meet someone who has ventured this far into the outer reaches of Western society.

I think he’s affording Australians too much humility. In my experience meeting Aussies around the world, they’re just as happy to shout about the calibre of their nationality as we Europeans and those Americans are. But there is a difference – no other nationality travels the world with quite the sense of wonderment and enthusiasm than Australians. For example, Australian travellers are ten a penny in London. There are loads of them there, suffering the rainy weather and high rents for the two year stint their visa allows. Coming here to their country I have to ask why they bother. Why forgo this easy-going lifestyle for the stress of going to work on the Tube?

Well the fact is, by leaving their home far behind, they’re actually on a hunt for some roots. Australia, as the society that it is today, is a mere newborn in comparison to much of the rest of the world. Even the youthful America stopped using nappies a long time ago (though they still like to throw their toys out of the pram, it seems).

It’s this infancy that strikes you when you first arrive in Australia and start to look around at the architecture. I mean, they don’t do themselves any favours - it’s apparently common in most parts of the country that if a building is older than 10 years then it gets knocked down and a new one built. This might have been a jokey exaggeration on the part of my Australian friend, but his point is clear. That is very much the attitude of Australians to their surroundings.

The same friend went on to tell me that to have a look at some old buildings and get some historical culture, most Aussies head to Sydney. I found it hard to stifle a chuckle at this. As pretty as Sydney is, the closest they get to historical landmarks are the Harbour Bridge (completed in 1932) and the Opera House (completed in 1978).

Older buildings are there – I myself have had a look at Hyde Park Barracks, which now makes a very interesting museum but is certainly not a noticeable landmark, and Cadman’s Cottage, which may be the oldest house in Sydney but is a cottage like any other you might find in Britain. I was distinctly unimpressed.

But then, even those two examples were only built in 1810s. The cement is barely dry by British standards. Of course I’m guilty of exhibiting that British arrogance and slightly condescending manner that comes out in various forms in Brits abroad. Don’t get me wrong, there’s more than enough to see here – probably more than you could pack in a lifetime, it’s such an immense country. Australia has some breath-taking natural sights for a start, such as the Rock formerly known as Ayers (now called by its Aboriginal name of Uluru), the haunting rock formations at Hanging Rock, and Australia’s own Grand Canyon in the form of the Blue Mountains, to name a few. Plus they do man-made sights with a sense of humour – the Big Banana, Big Prawn, and Big Pineapple you see on the way up the East Coast are more entertaining than they have any right to be.

But it is true to say that it is our history and culture to which Aussies look for a better sense of their roots. They’re mostly descendants of Brits after all, and it’s our history they’re taught at schools. Talking to an Australian friend of my Dad’s I was visiting about her interest in British history, I asked whether she’d ever felt a bit deprived when it came to Australian history. She just laughed and said, “Not at all! We’ve got yours!”

Friday, 3 August 2007

total:spec - Indochina

Three countries. Five currencies. One month. It all adds up to one exhilarating, exhausting and totally enlightening trip around the Indochina peninsula.

As Thailand becomes as popular a holiday destination with Westerners as, say, Spain is for the British, it in turn is losing its appeal to more hardened travellers. Now, those looking for something a little more exotic are looking further a field.

There’s no need to look far either – the country formerly known as Burma (now Myanmar) lies to the west, and there’s Malaysia if you head south. But many travellers are now doing what any good explorer would do – heading east.

The round trip through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam (the countries border each other in such a way that you can visit in any order you wish) is slowly becoming a well-trodden path. As Thailand loses its exotic feel, its neighbours are proving to offer more to those willing and curious to dip yet more of their extremities into Southeast Asian culture. That’ll be me, then.

With just a month to do the trip, I factor in a couple of flights. While Southeast Asian public transport is probably more reliable than its British counterpart, it is a whole lot slower. And so I visit all three countries comfortably in the time I have, and discover three completely different worlds. Despite continually shifting borders throughout their history, and occupation and invasion by a number of world powers, the three countries have each retained a powerful sense of their own identity.

Laos is my first stop; a beautiful country seemingly unmoved by the presence of humans. The miles and miles of lush greenery and striking limestone peaks hide a dark secret however: the estimated quarter of a million unexploded land mines that still litter the country from the Vietnam War.

But as these are slowly cleared, so tourism grows in this country. That the Lao people have learnt a lot already from their Thai neighbours is quickly apparent. Head to backpacker hotspot Vang Vieng (popular for its caves and tubing down the river) and you’ll find the small town littered with internet cafes and bars showing Friends and The Simpsons much as you would in Thailand’s islands. But that the Lao people are still getting used to Westerners is also obvious. While many Thais now greet typical Westerners abroad behaviour with rolling eyes and a supermarket checkout grimace, Lao people are still flashing genuine smiles as you get your wallet out.

Vietnam, on the other hand, is a whole different net of fish. Laos certainly doesn’t prepare you for it. Not even some time in Bangkok, crazy as that is, can prepare you for it. With a population of 83 million, Vietnam squeezes more people, culture, history and beautiful natural environments on to that thin strip of land than you could have thought possible.

You get a genuine Asian experience in this country as well. While its neighbours are welcoming Western capitalism and its companies with open arms as they strive to encourage more tourism, the only fast food joint you’ll find in Ho Chi Minh City is a Korean one. For hundreds of years the Vietnamese have been expelling outsiders who’ve come knocking – the Chinese, the Mongols, the French and, of course, the Americans –with varying degrees of success, but always with the fiercely nationalistic pride that is still apparent in the people today.

That said, their tourist industry is the slickest you’ll come across in this part of the world. All the tourist spots can be seen via well-organised trips that are suitable even for the budget traveller like me. I went in to a travel agent to organise one trip and came out with my whole stay in Vietnam organised, not because I’m an easy sell, but because that really is the best and easiest way to see this awesome and overwhelming country. A downside to this? That it’s so slick, it feels a bit conveyer belt.

No chance of that in Cambodia, however, where it’s back to the more Thai style of tourism – milking you of cash at every opportunity and shoving as many of you into a minibus as possible. It says a lot about what Cambodians have been through in recent times that their main source of national pride is some (admittedly mind-blowing) ruined temples built nearly a thousand years ago.

Said temples, situated at Angkor, may have made Angelina Jolie fall in love with the country, but the unabashed desperation of the people, still reeling both emotionally and economically from the horrific regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ultimately makes it a hard place to love.

I suppose it depends on how you look at it. Maybe you can’t blame teenagers trying to sell you bracelets you don’t want for repeatedly using the ‘No money, no school’ line on tourists (the first time is heart-breaking, the 15th time it just feels like a lame con). And maybe you can take the relentless sellers that greet you in your face at the entrance of each sight if you think about how much they depend on the money they earn from doing it.
But when you hear from those charities and organisations that have come to help that Cambodians actually hire children from parents to go and beg from tourists, you begin to wonder which ones are the genuinely desperate and which ones are hiding a more greedy nature.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

total:spec - Bangkok protests

It’s a typically hot Saturday night in Bangkok. I’m walking down Ratchadamnoen Klang Road with a Thai friend as we head towards a bar for the night. As we approach the appropriately-named (I will later discover) Democracy Monument, we see that hordes of people are clambering around the four stylized angel wings that reach up into the polluted city sky.

My friend hangs back, telling me the people are a ‘mob’ protesting about the military government and there might be trouble. But I’m curious and we slowly ease closer as the mob heads away from the monument.

“They’re heading towards Government House,” explains my friend, as we reach the monument. There, another mob, actually more frightening than the first one, is gathered. Their tight brown uniforms betray them as Thai police, but their chanting grunts make them sound more like a bunch of football hooligans. These are men ready for (and can I say excited about?) some trouble.

More of the first mob trail past us, waving banners and shouting uproariously in Thai. I ask my friend what they’re saying. He almost blushes. “Some very rude words,” he says, “and that the military government should get out.”

They walk past the police with no trouble, moving on to catch up with their fellow protestors. Apart from the swearing – a highly unusual thing to hear a Thai person doing in public - it seems this protest will be a peaceful one. For now.

Bangkok has taken on a slightly different atmosphere in the past few weeks. I could liken it to the weeks after the bombs went off in London in 2005 – instead of everyone ignoring each other and getting on with their lives, bigger events gave people something in common and created a tentative camaraderie. It’s a bit like that in Thailand now as the country wrestles with the challenge of returning to democracy after last year’s military coup.

At the end of May Thai people were crowded around televisions and radios as a constitutional tribunal gave its verdict on whether Thai Rak Thai – the party that was ousted from government back in September – and the opposition Democrat Party were guilty of electoral fraud. The verdict meant a lot to Thai people – if both parties were found guilty they would be left with a huge political vacuum. If both cleared, people would start to wonder whether a coup was necessary.

Even the King of Thailand spoke up, saying he was concerned about the country collapsing. While, like our Queen, the 79-year-old monarch has little political power, he is much revered by the Thai people, and his words are always taken on board by political leaders

As it was, the Democrats were cleared, while the popular Thai Rak Thai party was found guilty and all its 111 members, including ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, were banned from Thai politics for five years.

British people will be familiar with Thaksin. Currently residing in London, he’s been in the news as Manchester City Football Club’s potential new owner, despite his assets being frozen as he is further investigated for corruption during his tenure in government.

But despite police demanding his presence in Thailand to be questioned in the investigation, in other quarters he’s still very popular. When the tribunal verdict was broadcast police had expected demonstrators to hit the streets of Bangkok in protest. The tribunal, however, had timed its announcement well. The following day was a Buddhist holiday, meaning that people were more concerned with marking the religious occasion than they were with the political situation.

This inherent Thai personality trait – that, as long as no one loses face, they’ll take any excuse to avoid confrontation, and especially violence, and have something to eat instead – has meant the demonstrations have so far been peaceful, and I’ve been able to get up close and personal with them.

One Friday night the same Thai friend who’d followed the ‘mob’ with me previously sent me a text to say their might be trouble tonight as he’d seen a heavy police presence moving onto and around Sanam Luang, a scruffy park area that often holds Royal ceremonies. We decided to go down and have a look.

The park was about two-thirds full of Thais, each wearing a yellow headband and waving red and white flags, both of which demanded in bold Thai lettering: ‘Military government get out.’ My friend explained to me that the people present were from two groups that formed an uneasy alliance. One was pro-Thaksin and wanted him back in power, the other just wanted rid of the military government and a return to democracy – two groups of people with ultimately different goals; surely there’s going to be trouble.

But no. The protest had more of a festival feel than of something that might turn violent at any second (though if we’re talking about Reading or Leeds festivals then it could turn violent at any second) - food stalls circled the park area and everyone was sat down, listening to what the opinion-makers on stage had to say. And for the most part they laughed at what they had to say, which, according to my friend, was particularly crude stuff about those currently in power. It was like being at the comedy stage at Glastonbury.

So no chance of seeing the Thai people flex some demonstrative muscle that night. But that’s not to say it’s not going to happen at some point soon. With an election not scheduled until November at the earliest, my boss at the language school feels that the protests can only get more fervent, and escalate to some more extreme action on the mob’s part.

She recalls the trouble that followed the last military coup in 1991, and the extreme violence that occurred the following year. After Army Commander Suchinda Kraprayoon overthrew the government of Chatichai Choonhavan, he wanted to make a constitutional amendment that allowed him to serve as Prime Minister for the life of that Parliament. The Thai people responded in huge numbers, 200,000 people filling the streets of Bangkok. Suchinda declared a State of Emergency and soldiers eventually shot and killed 52 people. That was the official total, anyway.

My boss recalls going out the next day to join the protests, disgusted at the deaths, and at one point having to hide behind a car when shots were fired. Protesting is a serious game in Thailand.

But whatever happens, I won’t be around to see it. It’s time for me to move on and explore new ground. There’s the rest of Southeast Asia to see yet, and I’m keen to immerse myself yet deeper in this strange part of the world.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007


Time for the last round-up of the life and times of myself in Bangkok. This entry is brought to you by the month of June.

This month I have mostly been…

As is always the way when you’re leaving a job, you start to really enjoy it again as the date of your departure looms. The month at work flies by because I get really into it, but is also pretty sad as I realise (as do some of my students) what a bond has grown between them and I.

Mine and Muang for example, who always seem so despondent and disinterested when I visit them, actually show an emotion when I tell them I’m going. We’ve developed a relationship where they pretend to learn a bit of English if I don’t make it too boring, and it seems to work. So news of my going elicits a bit of shock and a grudging admission of their enjoyment of my company. Which makes me a little proud.
My kids class on Saturdays finally becomes something of a success on June 2 when we make it through two whole pages of the book (with some of them actually learning something from it) enhanced by a game that they LOVE. It’s so bloody simple as well. I give them flag outlines. They have to locate them on a poster and colour them in, writing the country’s name on the bottom. Brilliant.

The next class, with terrible twosome Nail and Nenny, is a relative disaster. Nenny treats me with such ambivalence and contempt that I’m at a loss as to what to do with her. I moan about it to some of the teachers and Wasan tells me to have a word with her. I wonder if it would work, what with the language barrier…

Vas and Ice, the brother and sister I have on Sundays are much easier to deal with and teach. They’re actually keen to learn, and, even better, show off in front of each other. It’s a funny relationship though. He’s just 10 years old, an exuberant 10 though; I imagine he dominates his class at school, and she’s 16, yet he dominates her. She’s quite shy and a bit scared of getting things wrong cos he will bellow at her if she does. To get all Disney about it, he always brings to mind a little boar, while she’s a little deer.

I fill in for Jason on one of his one-to-ones, a girl called Pin. She is AMAZING at English. She is proof, to me, that some people just have a natural aptitude for language and can pick it up very easily. I’m not sure that I had to explain myself at any point, she understood everything I said. It was fantastic.

I also teach the incredibly cute five-year-old Tod. He is the first child I’ve come across in the school that doesn’t like colouring in. I give him some to do; he scribbles a bit and goes, ‘Finished!’ ‘Finished’ is his favourite word. He is easily bored and will shout it at every opportunity. I know how he feels.

I suppose the same could be said for Game, the impossible 30-year-old woman I teach on Sundays. Each lesson is a tense affair as I try desperately to engage her. I’m not sure whether her obvious desire to be somewhere else is a lack of confidence or her being a bit thick and unable to engage with it. Amazingly she starts giving me presents as our time together comes to an end. The first one is a Thai mermaid pen holder, which is probably the most disgusting thing I have ever been given. The following week she gives me a dice type thing from Vietnam, which is weird but a bit more interesting than the last gift. But then the last lesson is the worst. She is so unwilling to try things that I become incredibly frustrated. At one point I lose my composure and a dark look quickly flashes across my face. Unfortunately she looks up in time to register it and the lesson goes downhill (yes even more so!) from there. She is one student I will not miss.

Jess and I don’t see Ekachai and Fon for a while, until Ekachai comes back and explains Fon was sick. It seems he won’t come if she doesn’t! We end up meeting up with them one bored Monday off. It’s pouring with rain and after a couple hours playing cards in Jess’s room we head to Khao San to meet them. I’m keen to go elsewhere in Bangkok, get them to take us somewhere we’ve not been before, but after meeting them in Burger King we end up going to a bar on Khao San. Jess tells me she sees my shoulders visibly slump as we step on to the road. Yes, I’m that bored of the place.

They take us to a bar called Tom Yum Gung and we order some food – ostrich with chilli and basil, fish balls, spring rolls and rice. Jess, amazingly, loves the fish balls. And the ostrich. Man, if she was staying a bit longer I could really get her trying new stuff. But she’s not. But at least she’s trying.

I have a drink but no one else does. I thought Ekachai would get on the beers with me but even this legendary drinker is tee-total today as he’s driving. Goddamn. We play pool and chat but they soon head off, disappointingly.

It’s the last time we see them. They cancel the next few lessons and we’re both gone before they come back. I’m a bit gutted. Having spent so much time with them I’d have liked to say goodbye.

My adult class continues to be a joy up until June 12. I have an excellent lesson prepared going over the exam paper and revising things they were weak on. I go in. In the classroom my students seemed to have doubled. There are a good 15 people in there. I walk out again and have a go at the girls on the desk. They tell me my new class was due to start today. I tell them no, it wasn’t. We to and from like this for a while. Turns out one of the recent public holidays has caused some timetable confusion. I have no choice but to knock my lesson on the head and start with the book. It’s a pain cos it’s a new class and I’ve not gone through the book myself yet to prepare extra stuff. So I just wing it, as I’ve proved adept at. But it doesn’t work brilliantly. Some of my previous students are in the class and one of them, Dao, says, ‘Will not like new students.’ I explain to her what happened but it’s clear my grumpiness has been way too obvious and not very professional.
But they still love me. My long term students hang around after my last lesson a few days later to say goodbye and give me a present – a fluffy monkey toy – and a card. I’m gonna miss them. We had fun.

Another student I don’t get to say goodbye to is Max. A couple weeks before our last lesson I tell him I’m going and his face drops. Again his despondent teenage attitude has masked an at least slight enjoyment of our lessons. He may be frustrating in his inability to remember most things I teach him, but he’s one that has taught me a lot and has been great company as well. It’s the rain’s fault we don’t get to say goodbye. His folks phone and cancel the lesson cos they’re stuck in traffic due to the bad weather. Once again, I’m a bit gutted.

Saying goodbye to Nop is a pleasant experience. We got on well in the end. He’s driven me hard as a teacher and we were finally getting somewhere towards the end of it. He really made me think about what would be good for him as an individual and taught me to treat each student like that. It really isn’t a job where there’s a set way of doing things. Sure there are guidelines you follow but you need to take each case as it comes and go from there.

In Karn’s case that was easy. He drove me hard as a teacher as well, but in a way that was enjoyable for me. He just saw me as a resource and tried to get all he could out of me, rather than leaving all the work to me like Nop did. Our last lesson we go over by 20 minutes cos chatting so much. At one point he does describe gays as abnormal but I let it go. I’m leaving and I can’t be arsed to get into that with him.

My last lesson is with the teenagers on the Sunday afternoon. Again there’s a whole bunch of new students with the old ones. I’m in can’t-be-arsed mode and just go through exercises in the book with them. I see Kung, Mark and Mew passing a note and confiscate it from them. (I’ve never ‘confiscated’ anything before in my life, it’s quite god fun.) I take it to Maew to translate. She tells me it says the lesson is boring (oops, sorry kids), and that the new guy in the baseball cap looks quite cool. I take it back and have a laugh with them about it.

…saying goodbye to Vanda.
Vanda’s a wanderer. She’s been travelling, or at least away from the UK, for the best part of a decade. Now she’s off to Oman, of all places, to a teaching job there. She’s been an interesting character to meet – her initial (and continued, actually) elusiveness making those moments when she reveals something all the more interesting. She’s another one running away from a broken heart, not really realising that she carries it with her. I wonder what will finally make her stop and settle – will it be falling in love again? We have dinner together on her last night – a greasy Pad Thai at a local place (I promise myself not to eat here again, it’s not great food). We chat about her plans and mine. She tells me her folks are living in New Zealand and says I might be there when she visits. We make loose plans to meet up if we can. Our meal is brought to an abrupt end by Shanthi, a friend of mine from London, calling and announcing her presence in Bangkok. A swift goodbye and Vanda is gone.

…seeing Shanthi.
(See separate entry.)

This month I hang out with the Thais a fair bit. On June 2 I meet up with Aom and Aor and a friend of theirs in Gulliver’s on Khao San. Sai isn’t out because she doesn’t drink. Sensible girl. We have a good time in there, chatting, eating chips (Aom screws her nose up at them though), dancing and gossiping as much as we can through the language barrier. Their friend has a German boyfriend who isn’t out tonight. She gets embarrassed when I ask about him and I can’t get much out of her. I ask about Aom’s love life. Aor says Aom doesn’t have a boyfriend cos she’s too fat. I’m not sure whether this blunt reply is a Thai thing or a sibling thing. I’m thinking the latter. We watch the pool players but soon the tables are moved to make a dancefloor and we have a bit of a dance.

Shanthi and Tim show up for a quick drink but don’t stay long because they have an early start tomorrow to get to Cambodia. After awhile at Gulliver’s I persuade Aor and the others to come along to a housewarming party Joey is throwing for her new flat. We get a cab over there but the party seems to have died when we get there. Xavier is there, Robbie, a gay Irish guy who I’ve met briefly before, and some other people I don’t know. I’m a bit embarrassed, having dragged Aor and the others away from Gulliver’s. But I’m a bit drunk now so don’t care too much. I’m in piss-taking mood and start ribbing this blonde girl about her dress. It looks a bit like it was made from cushion covers or something. I tell Joey she’s nicked the curtains. Luckily the blonde woman finds this funny. The same doesn’t go for an Irish brunette with large breasts who doesn’t take too kindly to me talking about said Irishness or breasts. I retreat before she gets physical.

Robbie and Xavier are flirting outrageously, and I become convinced they’re gonna end up doing stuff tonight, Xavier’s heterosexuality notwithstanding. I tell Joey as much and she’s intrigued. I tell her about my own experiences with straight boys. During our conversation she somehow convinces me to go to a club in Silom with her (I imagine the conversation went something like, ‘Do you want to come to a club in Silom?’ ‘Okay then.’). Work tomorrow is far from my mind obviously.

The club’s called Tapas but that’s about all I remember of it. I remember having a long chat with Joey about her new lesbian love – Xavier’s ex-girlfriend Mary no less. God it’s all so confusing. She’s big in love but unsure it’s gonna go anywhere cos Mary’s showing some reluctance to throw herself into it. I remember banging on about how if it all goes tits then she shouldn’t let it overshadow any other relationships she has after. I think her relationship with a straight/unsure girl hit a bit of a nerve.

Thank God Aor and Aom are with me because their departure prompts me to remember I have work the next day and I leave with them. Joey apparently gets home a few hours later. God I’d have been in trouble if I’d stayed!

The next day after work I manage, despite not feeling my best, to attend a t-shirt fair with Maew. It’s at JJ Mall, a big shopping centre near Chatuchak Market. (A quick note – there are few definitive spellings in our letters of places in Thailand; words are just spelt phonetically so you find many differences in spelling. Chatuchak can sometimes be spelt Jatujak, hence JJ Mall.) First though we go for soi food near work. My hangover renders me incapable of using chopsticks and Maew laughs at me without sympathy. She does show me a better way of holding them though, and eventually I get through my noodle soup, albeit dignity in disarray. The bus to Chatuchak takes a while and we chat loads on the way; she’s going to Australia to do a course in graphic design, and wants to start her own business eventually. I ask her how her parents feel about her going so far away and she paints me a picture of her home life – her the sheltered daughter who’s never washed her own clothes before, or cooked her own food, them the doting and constantly worried parents, who work hard (they’re both executives in a phone company) to make sure Maew is well catered for. Maew’s a bright, interesting and funny girl and I can’t help thinking our relationship might become quite intimate were it not for my lack of romantic interest in women.

We get to the market and Maew calls her friends to find out where they are. As we walk through the market I take a lot of pictures as we go through the pet section on the way to the mall. Never have I seen so many different types of fish – hundreds of them, all in water in plastic bags just sat on the floor in front of the stalls. We also see baby turtles and tortoises, insects for feeding, frogs and lots and lots more fish.

At the mall we meet Maew’s friends - a boy and a girl. I’m friendly but they’re very shy and say little to me. We pack ourselves into a tiny lift and go up to the 6th floor where it’s very busy. A corridor leads to a big hall where all the stalls are. Hundreds of trendy-looking Thai teens mill about and I ask Maew if she thinks I’m the only farang here. She quickly spots a couple but we are very much in the minority here. We have to shuffle to each stall – it’s absolutely rammed. The t-shirts are okay – all one-off designs – but nothing really grabs me. Maew points out the odd Thai pop star manning a stall. It explains the popularity of this fair with the Thai teens. It’s in aid of some charity apparently, though Maew is unable to explain any more than that. The Thais crowd around the pop star manned stalls, making them impossible to get to, but as they are unrecognisable to me I’m not overly upset.

Down at the end of the hall there is a stage where the singers and bands are taking turns performing. It’s impossible to get near it but you can hear it perfectly clearly – it’s the usual MOR stuff I’ve been hearing on the radio, nothing particularly upbeat, which seems typical of the more trendy Thai pop music.
We lose Maew’s friends fairly quickly. But we luck out in terms of popstar spotting when we pass one manned by a guy from hip hop outfit Thaitanium. Maew gets very excited and asks me to take a picture. He strikes a typically hip hop pose and I snap away. Unfortunately the flash isn’t on and the pics come out blurry. By the time I sort out the problem, Mr Thaitanium has turned the other way and our opportunity has gone. I go find Maew and she’s a bit gutted. So I go back and see if I can get another picture. Being unable to communicate my problem to him, I just kind of stand there and wait for him to face my way again. When he starts looking at me like I’m some kind of stalker I leave and go and make my apologies to Maew.
I eventually find a stall with some tees that I like and buy a green tee with a cassette and headphones on. It’s 250 baht. Amazing. We wonder around a bit more, mainly waiting for a singer Maew likes to come on. Eventually she gets bored of milling through the heaving crowd and we head out of there. My hangover is grateful. We get the Sky Train down to Victory Monument where we get some KFC for dinner. Maew amuses me with her primness – she uses a knife and fork to eat hers. Then we get the bus back up to Pinklao. It takes ages to leave and we talk some more. Maew tells me how her parents have worked their way up from nothing. Both came from very poor backgrounds and made their wealth through good old-fashioned hard work. The whole story is quite sweet really, not least cos they’re kids have turned out so well – Maew at least. She’s totally unspoilt, no airs and graces about her at all, very down to earth, yet obviously quite well-off in terms of Thai society. I really like this girl.

Otherwise I spend much of the month hanging out with Beer (see separate entry), Ark (see separate entry), and Jess (see below). Jess and I do manage to catch up with the rest of the gang on June 18 though, the evening of our uneventful day with Ekachai and Fon. We find ourselves in Gulliver’s 2 and I find myself chatting to a girl from Leeds called Jo who the others know well. We’ve not met before because she’s been down in Ko Tao (a smaller island near Ko Pha Ngan) volunteering, teaching in local villages. She can’t find the words to describe how much she enjoyed herself, and her enthusiasm is quite contagious. Yet she’s about to go home. As she talks it becomes quite obvious she’s far from ready to go home. She has been and still is having the time of her life. I ask her why she’s going home and she tells me she’s been here a year and needs to go back to work. Her sabbatical is done. She seems quite upset. I vow to myself there and then not to go home until I’m absolutely ready. The evening is otherwise uneventful, a bit of a catch-up session. Though I do discover that on a recent trip down to the islands Irish Karen and Canadian Xavier got together. I press her for some details but she becomes coy and says nothing. Not knowing her well enough, I don’t push it. How different I’d be with a friend back home! But seeing them canoodling (an old-fashioned word, but appropriate in this case) in the corner later confirms that, yes, they are together.

…hanging out with Beer.
(See separate entry.)

…worrying about my father.
It’s the traveller’s worst nightmare – a relative becoming seriously ill and having to go home to be with them. I start to think I’m going to have that awful situation when my Dad calls on June 5th. I’m sat on my own in Oh My Cod on Khao San when he calls. I just really fancied fish and chips. When I tell him I’m out eating he curiously asks what. He laughs when I tell him. We organise Catherine’s birthday present, then he starts telling me about a recent visit he had to the doctor’s. For some time he’s had what he calls a ‘growth’ and ‘rupture’ on his inner thigh and Mum finally got him to go to the doctor about it. It’s all very fucking worrying and it’s all I can do not to say the ‘c’ word. He doesn’t say it so I refrain. I realise it’s such a big word when it’s used in relation to someone you love that I feel there’s no need to use it unless we need to. Dad seems very calm and reassures me with his tone. He says he thinks it may be an old rugby injury that has suddenly flared up. He says he does remember getting a bad blow there during one game. The doctor told him he’ll need an operation, an overnight job in hospital. It’s all a bit scary but it’s hard to know what to feel. Dad is calm to the point of nonchalance, but that’s very much his personality. I decide not to worry too much until I have to. Promising to call him after his operation, I say goodbye.

A couple of days later I call him. He sounds very tired but okay. He’s quite upbeat really and shows off that they sent him home after the op – no overnight for him. On paper my Dad might be a 70 year old man, but on meeting him the doctor’s realised he was more robust than his age might suggest. Now all we have to do is wait to find out what on earth it was in his leg.

I call him again 10 days later for Father’s Day. There’s no news but he’s much better, sounds just like he normally does. It’s hard to worry about him when he sounds so well.

…finishing Prison Break.
Wow, that was good. Could any more have gone wrong for them? It has to be the most disastrous prison break ever and yet, somehow, they still got away! Or did they? Brilliant, gripping television. Being the TV snob I am though, I still find it too trashy to think of it as a properly amazing TV drama. It doesn’t have the intricacy of Lost, the insight into human relationships of Six Feet Under, or the same consistence of excitement as 24. But it just goes to show that, even when they’re not trying very hard, the Americans can currently knock out the best TV drama in the world.

…hanging out with Ark and seeing Bangkok get angry.
(See separate entry.)

…hanging out with Jess.
Myself and my Bangkok companion pick up just where we left off after her visit to the islands. She tells me about her amusing Full Moon Party experience (being a woman she immediately had male companions for the evening) and gave me lots of tips for Samui and Pha Ngan.

We hang out with Joey and Anna at the Hippie Bar and tell Joey, who has just been dumped by her lesbian/unsure lover, to wallow a bit but not for too long. The rest of that evening we spend trying to work out who the seventh dwarf is. No one is convinced there’s a Sleepy!

At Bangkoknoi we watch some Thais feeding the massive fish in the canal and I have yet another meal that makes me cry – it is spicier than anything ever made in the history of the world, it is actual agony on a plate. And yet I leave too spoonfuls. Get in.

I discover that Jess has secretly got a tattoo – “I made the decision and just had to do it. I never would have done it else.” It’s beautiful – the flame design you see on all the temples in Bangkok surrounds the word ‘Thailand’ in Thai lettering. I love it.

One evening, before going to see Fantastic Four at the cinema, we go to Maccy D’s for dinner. I get chatting about a book I’m reading called The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which is about a man who dies and has to talk to five people from his life before he can move on. We wonder who we’d meet in heaven. Jess immediately says she knows who one will be – a lad who used to play pool in the pub where she worked. Just 18, he was very shy – ‘wouldn’t say boo to a goose’, as Jess puts it, but loved playing pool and practiced all the time, becoming something of a pool player. Jess is out clubbing one night with her best mate Jade when she sees the lad with some girl. He’s drunk out of his mind, stumbling all over the place, hanging off this girl’s shoulders. Jess thinks, that’s not like him, not like him at all. It’s almost like he’s been drugged. She turns to Jade and says, “I’m gonna take him home, he’s trashed.” Jade tells her not to worry about him, he’s not her responsibility. And anyway, he’s with someone, he’ll be all right.

The next day he’s found drowned in a river. My hand clamps over my mouth and I say: “Oh Jess.” Tears well up in her eyes. I tell her it wasn’t her fault. Jade was right, he was with someone. But I can understand how she feels. She says she understands it wasn’t her fault but she can’t help but think, what if.

We forget film, we’ve been talking too long, and instead we go home and play cards.
A few days later we’re watching a dodgy DVD of Fracture – a psychological thriller with Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins – which is as entertaining for its plot as it is the unwarranted laughter that comes from the audience in the cinema where it was secretly filmed. Scenes are missing due to the camera being switched off at points. But most annoyingly the DVD fucks up during the last 10 minutes, so we don’t get to find out how, or whether, Anthony Hopkins gets away with murdering his wife. Bollocks to dodgy DVDs!

So yeah that’s me and Jess – lots of dinner, cards and dodgy DVDs. I’ll miss hanging out with her a lot.

…watching some films.
Jess and I watch Freaky Friday – the Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan one, not the old one – and it’s actually not bad, quite funny. One of those films that’s rather like eating a McDonalds – you know there’s nothing good about it but you enjoy it anyway.

We go and see Ocean’s 13 – out of lack of anything else to do rather than any keenness to see it, though the trailer did look quite good. And it is quite good. Much better than the bloody awful second one. This one actually has funny bits, and exciting bits, and a good-ish plot. We like.

We also go and see Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer. I’m quite excited about this one because I quite enjoyed the first one, plus the trailer looks awesome. They do actually show most of the good set-pieces in the trailer but it’s still fun to watch. It’s actually better than Spider-Man 3!

Then there’s Fracture, which I mentioned earlier. Apart from the disconcerting and distracting fact that Ryan Gosling is the spitting image of my ex-boyfriend, it’s good fun in a trashy way. Anthony Hopkins riffs on his Hannibal persona so is suitably menacing, and Gosling is also good, playing the charismatic lawyer with aplomb. I liked it a lot. So much so I saw it twice. (See below.)

…getting a tattoo.
(See separate entry.)

…reading some books.
After hearing about it for so long I finally get around to reading We Need To Talk About Kevin. It’s awesome, and I can barely put it down the entire time I’m reading it. One of those books you look forward to picking up again the moment you’ve put it down. Told from the view point of a mother, the story unfolds via her letters to her husband about their son, who is in jail for killing some fellow students and a teacher in one of those infamous American high school killing sprees. Totally fictional, it’s given a fearsome bite of reality by the topical nature of the subject. It’s absorbing despite the unsympathetic characters of both mother and father, and the startling ending is the ideal pay-off for such an involving story. Read it, it’s brilliant.

Jess lends me Welcome To Hell, a real-life tale written by ??, which tells of the author’s experiences as an inmate in Bangkok’s horrific prison ??. It’s not well-written, ??’s written the book without the help of a ghost writer, but it’s absorbing enough thanks to the fact it’s a true story and because I’m in such close proximity to the actual jail. The moral of ??’s tale seems to be don’t do business in Thailand, you’ll get ripped off, and if you do and you need to go to the police, make sure you bribe them more than the person who ripped you off.

I also read a historical novel about Hannibal, which was quite good. I learnt a lot about Hannibal I didn’t know. Before it was just travelling through mountains on elephants. Little did I know that this excellent general used this ingenious method of travel to help kick plenty of Roman arse, before the shocking rape of his wife by Roman centurions takes the wind out of his sails. It’s quite a sad story really, as the bad guys win in the end.

…going on a date.
I’m a bit of a sneaky boy with this one. Another Thai bloke contacts me via MySpace and he seems quite intriguing so I agree to meet up with him. It means blowing Jess out though, which I feel bad about because we’ve not got much time left together. But blow her out I do, telling her I’m meeting Ark, and go and meet this guy, name of Bas.

We meet at the swanky mall Siam Paragon, and go and get some food in the equally swanky food hall there. He’s tall and big built – not a Thai build at all – and his English is extremely good. That said, I do most of the talking; he seems a little nervous. He’s in marketing and works for a swish hotel on Sukhumvit. The conversation flows okay but only cos I’m making all the effort. When he suggests a film I gratefully say yes but also think, God am I boring him?? We have a Starbucks while we wait for the start of the film and I’m chatting away again. The only time he gets animated is when he talks about his hotel.

We go and watch Fracture, which I don’t mind seeing again because of the cuts and missing ending on Jess’s DVD. It’s much better second time round, what with it making more sense, and has a satisfying ending. He holds my hand through the film, which I find a bit weird given him being so unenthusiastic otherwise, but go with it. Then we leave and get separate cabs home. All a bit odd but I can’t say I’m bothered. It’s a classic case of their being a complete lack of spark. What a waste of time.

…saying goodbye to Bangkok.
(See separate entry.)

Thursday, 21 June 2007


Shanthi is the latest in a series of unexpected visitors to Bangkok. Tom, Jessy, Sean, Paul, Shereen, and now Shanthi – all of them are either acquaintances or friends that are early on in the relationship. But it’s great to see them all, and out of context. Shanthi and I used to work together back in the day, when I got my first job for PA – subbing TV listings.

Since we both moved on we’ve kept in irregular contact, and very rarely our busy London schedules would allow us to meet up together with other PA Listings alumni. Now she’s here in Bangkok with her long-term boyfriend Tim (they’ve been together 11 years, which is very sweet) who, incredibly, I’ve never met.

After having dinner with Vanda I head to Khao San and meet them outside their hotel Buddy Lodge, the same place Paul stayed at. We have some beers and a catch-up. Tim is a nice bloke, a photographer, and he claims to have met me briefly once. He’s probably right. After awhile they tell me they’re pretty hungry, do I know anywhere good to eat? I’d assumed they had and apologise for not taking them somewhere earlier. We head to my favourite cheap and cheerful little restaurant where they eat ravenously. The heat is too much for them however (I’d forgotten how overwhelming it is when you first get here) and they ask me if I know anywhere with air con. I can’t think of anywhere but remember that Gazebo has fans that also blow sprays of water, so take them there. We smoke shisha and drink mojitos and I have an absolute blast hanging out with them, but it’s Saturday tomorrow and I have to work. Eventually I unhappily knock it on the head.

I meet up with them again briefly the following night – my night out with Aom and Aor and Joey – but they’re off to Cambodia then Vietnam and so I don’t see them for well over two weeks. When they return on the 19th they are changed people!

I meet them in Soi 4 in Silom, which Shanthi discovered earlier and yet has no idea it’s full of gay bars. The bar she suggest we meet in is right at the end of the soi and dead quiet when I walk in. It’s like some kind of piano bar and there’s a man playing acoustic guitar and singing badly on the little stage to people who I assume are the staff, it’s so dead. I walk out again cos there aren’t any customers in there, let alone Shanthi and Tim. As I walk back down the soi they are walking up. Their clothes are looser, there are less of them and they both look a little more ruffled than when they left. They look like travellers.
Shanthi apologises for her unstraightened hair, but I tell her it actually looks nicer all wavey and natural. She looks great. We go to another bar – too quiet; we go to another one – too expensive; then we go to The Balcony. I’ve not been in here before but I know it’s a gay bar. Despite this being apparent from the clientele, Shanthi still doesn’t realise she’s in amongst the gay bars until I tell her. We have a laugh about it.

They tell me about Vietnam and Cambodia - Hanois in Vietnam is lovely, Ho Chi Minh City not so; they went to Halong Bay which was beautiful. I’m overwhelmed by the stuff they did and wonder how they manage dot pack it all in. The answer is flights. They flew a lot to get to the places they wanted to see.

In Cambodia Tim was trying to uncover more about a story regarding Angkor Wat and the alleged subsidence there. It’s a good place to get away with taking pictures I guess. They met some crazy characters as well – one highlight was the very gay staff at the Golden Banana in Siem Reap (near Angkor Wat).

After getting me all excited about my own trip to these countries, they suddenly have to leave. Their flight is at one am and so they make a move. I’m a bit gutted, they’re such fun to hang out with.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

total:spec - Thai boxing

Thai boxing is to the Thais what cricket is to the English – nowhere near as popular as football (man, the Thais love English football) but as much a part of their cultural history as papaya salad and Buddhism.

Televised matches are some of the highest-rated programmes on Thai telly, but ask your average Thai what they think of their national sport (muay Thai as it’s more properly known) and you’ll get much the same reaction as if you ask your average Englishman about cricket - for many it doesn’t even come on their radar, but for others it’s either a passion, or a damn good excuse to gamble some money.

Head into a local boxing stadium (there are two in Bangkok , and other smaller ones dotted about the country) and you’ll see throngs of excitable Thai men hovering around the cheap seats at the back, betting away their wages and chanting riotously for their fighter to win.

Down at the front, in the expensive seats (about 30 quid a pop – a fortune in Thailand), you’ll find the tourists – British, American, Japanese, German, everyone, basically. But very few Thais, if any. Here is where most ‘farang’ will have their only experience of muay Thai – what is considered one of the most extreme martial arts in the world. And most are shocked at the hard as nails Thais that get up in front of them.

The first bout on my visit to Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok features two 15 year old lads taking each other on. The Californian woman sat behind me can hardly believe it. I can almost hear her processing all kinds of child protection regulations as she tries to take it in. The fact one of them gets knocked out in the third round doesn’t help her any.

But these guys train from about the age of six. They’re more than used to it and know exactly what to expect and how to combat it. Although the guy in the first event is stretchered off, a near-knockout in the second event sees the stretcher rendered useless when the guy (a little older this time) gets up and walks off himself.

Altogether 10 bouts take place each evening at the Bangkok stadiums and each one throws up its own entertainment. Just when you think one fighter has the upper hand, one expertly placed move from the other one can destroy his confidence and swing the balance of power the other way.

Also interesting is the little Buddhist ritual that takes place before the fight. This is called the Wai Kru and it starts with the two fighters walking around the ring. This is them symbolically ‘sealing’ the ring, to say that the fight is only between them. They then go through various moves and stretches, such as kneeling on the floor and touching their head to the ground, or stretching their legs in various positions. It’s almost like a normal warm-up, but a little more intricate and thoughtful.

Even more entertaining, though, are the gamblers up on the third tier. Even in a half-empty stadium, their loud and infectious chanting can make you feel like you’re at the biggest sporting event in the world. You can tell when there’s a lot of money on a bout as well – the chanting gets louder, and the atmosphere much tenser.

The days when muay Thai was a national pastime, however, are long gone now. Despite its continued popularity, it’s much less a part of the cultural landscape than it has been in the past.

Not much is known about its origins. Most of Thailand’s historical records were destroyed when the Burmese sacked Ayuthaya in the 18th century. But the best known of the early fighters is Nai Khanom Dtom, a hardcore fighter who, having been captured by the Burmese won his freedom by defeating 12 of their soldiers in unarmed combat.

King Naresuan, a 16th century monarch who recently had a trilogy of Thai films made about his life, used muay Thai as part of military training, and later, when the kingdom was at peace in the early 18th century, the sport became a national pastime. It was during this period that they started wrapping hemp rope around their hands dipped in glue to harden it. With the agreement of both the fighters, the glue was sometimes mixed with ground glass. Nice. At the beginning of last century, muay Thai was taught in schools – until 1921 that is, when too many serious injuries and some cases of brain damage forced its prohibition. In the 30s the sport took on the international laws of boxing (weight divisions, groin guards, fighting in a ring etc) and modernised dramatically.

But it wasn’t until the 70s when it gained notoriety on a world stage. A host of martial arts black belts from Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong took on their Thai counterparts in a massive tournament. None of them lasted a full minute in the ring with a Thai boxer. The problem? None of them were used to being kicked in the face.

Despite this fearsome reputation, for some foreigners (like me) just watching isn’t enough. There are a few places you can train, either going along to a gym each day, or attending a training camp where you spend each day for a number of weeks. Having work to consider (and being a bit of a wimp) I opted for the former and started attending a foreigner-friendly gym by the name of Sor Vorapin Gym in Bangkok.

Four years of kickboxing training and one year of kung fu in the UK did very little to prepare me for the intensity of muay Thai training. (Factor in the humidity of Thailand and you have an interesting challenge on your hands.) They say it takes about six to eight weeks to reach the level of endurance you need for muay Thai, and that’s with constant training every day. Attending twice a week on my afternoons off I’ve never got near it. But I keep going, mostly because it’s fun, and I also get to hang out with Thai people for a couple of hours.

I’d recommend it to anyone – the Thais are happy to show off their national sport to any passing ‘farang’ – but keep in mind they still take it very seriously. I wore muay Thai shorts one afternoon and they saw this as a sign I wanted to be treated like a proper muay Thai fighter. I went back to football shorts after that.

Friday, 1 June 2007

May days

Time for another round-up of the life and times of myself in Bangkok. This entry is brought to you by the month May.

This month I have mostly been…

As the month begins so the trauma (and I use this word accurately) of having to get up early six mornings of the week comes to an end with the summer season. This actually makes me a bit sad as I’ve developed a bit of a bond with my students as we’ve gone on our little journey together. I have no idea if they’ve learned anything. Their test results suggest they have and they all do well. Their departure prompts me to take some photos, something I’ve not done at work yet as I wasn’t sure it was appropriate. No one seems to mind.

Mine and Muang (well, Muang anyway; I don’t think Mine loves anything) discover a love of Cluedo. Muang gets the hang of it straight away, quickly learning to monitor our moves as well as consider his own, and winning every time. He’s gonna do well in life that boy. Whether it’s in kosher business dealings or otherwise, he’ll definitely do well.

One evening after heading out to the house for our ‘lesson’ (it might be better to call it a session), Binnie calls as I’m walking into the house to tell me the session has been cancelled. Brilliant.

As you may remember I have to get a bus and a bike to the house as it’s out in the sticks. So here I am stuck at the house with my bike not due back for an hour and a half. I try and communicate with the home help that I need them to call the bike peeps to get them to come back early. They have other ideas. One of the women decides that it would be a much better idea to take me back to the main road herself – on the back of a push bike. Quite frankly I’d rather have paid for a bike but she is most insistent and so I climb on the back.

I search for somewhere to put my feet. There is nowhere. Instead, as she starts to cycle (with such a great effort that I feel incredibly ungentlemanly), I find myself hanging on to the back of the seat with my legs flailing out to the side, putting great pressure on my inner thigh muscles. It’s bloody agony. This is before we get to the uphill bits.

She tries her best bless her but half way up each hill we have to disembark (much to my relief) and walk to the downhill bit (much to my dread). We soldier on like this until we reach the bike shelter where the bikers look torn between confusion and amusement. I thank the woman profusely and shuffle off to catch my bus, wondering what on earth just happened.

Bas, the 12 year old lad I have on Saturday mornings, becomes something of a chore. After missing his lesson I have to do extra time to make it up. I prep loads but it only just lasts because, while he’s very good and uses English perfectly competently, he has no imagination (or at least he’s afraid to use it) and is difficult to get talking for any length of time.

My class of 10 to 12 year olds continues to be bloody hard. They have the attention span of goldfish. But I do come up with one good game which they love – I place large laminated pieces of card on the floor, each with a letter of the alphabet on. I split them into two teams and tell them to spell a word with the letters. The first team to pick out the right letters and hold them up together in the right order wins. It’s amazing fun.My frustration with Nenny of Nail and Nenny fame reaches its limits. During one lesson I wait for a good 15 minutes for her to give an answer to a question. She just will not talk in English. Even though she knows it. It drives me mad!

Towards the end of the month I hand in my notice and start telling my students I’m going soon. Some of them seem quite perturbed by it. I’m not sure why, I sometimes wonder how on earth I get away with working here. But at least they’re having fun eh?

...doing some muay Thai.
(See separate entry.)

…getting BORED.
Early in the month I notice a growing sense of boredom developing in me. It’s been weeks since Songkran, there are no big events to look forward to, and life feels like it’s become a bit routine. Work, the cinema and Khao San Road seem to be all I do. I start to think that this year was supposed to be more exciting than this.

I come home one Saturday and am at a total loss as to what to do. There’s nowt on at the cinema, and Jess has gone to Khao San to meet Lisa. Should I join them? Can I be bothered to sit on that road again?

I get a text from Jess telling me that Paul Oakenfold is playing a club in Bangkok the following week. It’s like a gift from God. Finally something new and exciting to look forward to. I say as much to Jess and she calls me straight away, telling me to come down and join them. I figure I have nothing to lose.

We chat about life here – the good things, the bad things. We all have aspects of Bangkok that bug us. I wonder whether I should quit even earlier, give myself more time to explore the rest of SE Asia. They tell me if I’m not happy I should. It’s my trip, my year; I can do what I want right?

But then we’re interrupted by an American guy who comes to our table and asks if he can join us. None of us seem able to think of a reason why not so he does. He’s tall, with red wavy hair encircled by a black bandana patterned with white peace signs. He claims to be 19 but his red beard makes him look 15 years older. He’s drunk as hell.

We ask him polite questions to make conversation. He starts talking and doesn’t really stop. He tells us he grows cannabis for a living to which we’re immediately derisive. He gets out a Californian ‘license’ which, he claims, gives him permission to grow cannabis for use to combat his ‘back pain’. It could be real, or he could have bought it from the fake ID guy that sits on Khao San Road. I suggest he’s done the latter, Redbeard is insistent that’s not the case.

He orders two large tequilas but doesn’t have enough money. He discreetly looks to us but all three of us just sit there and watch his dilemma stoically. He’s come to the wrong table if he’s after free drinks.

He tells the waiter he’s going to get some money. We laugh at his idiocy and try and pick up our evening where we left it before the interruption. We should have moved really because before long Redbeard is back, stressing out that he’s lost his ATM card. All of us smell a rat, and none of us have to say anything to each other to know what we’re all thinking. We’ve been too long in Bangkok, on Khao San particularly, and have become too cynical.

He starts freaking out but his apparent stress has no affect on us, or anyone around. Everyone just sees a drunken idiot, disrupting the peace of the bar. Eventually he pays in dollars. He complains to the waiter he’s paying over and the poor waiter just takes his money, even though there’s not much you can do with such a small amount of dollars in Thailand. We do the conversion after and he actually paid under for the drinks.

Redbeard sits back down with us and downs one of the shots. He looks upset and says nothing. We talk as if he’s not there. He does another shot. Lisa moves towards me as his face turns green. “I think he’s going to vomit,” she says. I ask him if this is the case. He shakes his head but doesn’t look convinced. The verbal diarrhoea of earlier has now ceased, possibly to make way for something else to come out of his mouth.

He sips on Jess’s Coke. It seems to make him feel a little better but all he can talk about is his missing ATM card. His story changes a lot as he speaks – no money in his account one minute, loads the next. Eventually we lose interest and leave him there.

At least he killed my boredom for awhile.

This mostly involves going to Khao San Road. I don’t know why we’re so drawn to this place, probably because it’s so familiar. Despite all of us being somewhat adventurous spirits – we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t – there is obviously still some deep-seated need for a piece of home.

To an extent we find that on Khao San. It has Western beer, ice cream, pizza and any other food you might miss from home (apart from pasties of course, what a Thai pastie would be like actually hurts my brain to think about). The bars play Western music, Western films and all the staff speak English. Enough to understand rude English drunkenness and speed up your exit from a bar anyway.

And yet it is like nothing at home. Khao San has more in common with a holiday resort on some overrun Spanish island, or the nightlife of a surf resort on the East Coast of Australia. And yet it`s nothing like them either. It has a unique Thai spin that sends you in a spin, never sure whether you’re being ripped off or not. Least you know for sure you’re being ripped off in Majorca.

It’s that Thai spin that make it as comfortable an excursion for the Thais as it is the Westerners. Much as we come to gawp at them, they come to gawp at us in this tiny little world so different to the rest of the city. They come here and get drunk and eat (comparatively) expensive food in their own little weekend holidays from daily life in Bangkok.It’s a weird place. Predatory stall-holders watch out for the newbies pulling their heavy backpacks out of taxis, unable to hide the shell-shocked look on their face that everyone has when they first arrive. The stall-holders tend to be less pushy when that shell-shocked look has been replaced by the cynical one we all don.
Bemused Thai visitors mix with hippified travellers who think they’re experiencing life in Bangkok when they barely wander past the Burger King at the end of the road. And then there’s us – the weary Westerners who hang out here laughing at the hippies for want of something better to do.

It’s this unimaginative socialising that contributes to my boredom (see above). But we do wander off this beaten road occasionally. Often it’s to Patpong in the south of the city, where the market stalls loaded with fake goods face off with the titty bars. Walking down that road is an experience that only the brave should tackle. Unless you’re a shopper. Or a perv. When you’re not having fake Tiffany jewellry dangled in your face on one side, you’re being offered a ping pong show on the other.

But it’s not all tits and tat. Along the road there some pretty nice restaurants and the odd bar aimed fairly and squarely at those not in the mood for a perv, at least not early in the evening anyway. Western music-loving Thais and the more permanent Western residents are drawn to the likes of Twilo, a bar that has a resident band performing current R&B and hip hop hits.
May 10th seems like it’s gonna be much like any other Thursday here when it starts. Jess and I finish work and head down to Silom, grabbing some food at one of the comparatively expensive places along Silom Road. It’s a good restaurant though as it has an open front and you can watch the crazy Bangkok world go by as you eat some crazy Bangkok food.

We meet up with Anna, Vicky, Fliss et al at Twilo. The usual shenanigans occur – Anna storms the stage as usual when they play Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. Even though she’s not drinking tonight she can’t resist the rumba rhythms! Fliss is hanging out with a new girl who’s joined the school – an Irish girl called Karen. She’s great fun, remarkably at ease is this crazy atmosphere and surrounded by a bunch of people she barely knows. Like a good Irish girl should, she parties harder than the rest of us put together. Rather than fazed, she just seems genuinely excited to be here. As she should be.

Vicky’s ex-boyfriend is here as well, visiting her for a holiday. Later on in the evening she decides to take him to ping pong show, as every good Bangkok host should, and their departure prompts a discussion between the rest of us about going to a gay sex show. Jess’s sensitive nature to such things means she bows out immediately and heads home alone. But Anna, Joey, Louise, her boyfriend Sky and I decide it would be hilarious.

So off we go to Soi Pratuchai – a strip of road very similar to Soi Cowboy, just with scantily clad boys running around instead of girls. It’s pretty late and we’re concerned that we’ve missed the shows. Inexperienced as we are, our cynicism is well-honed and we know they’ll try and drag us in there, even if the show has finished.

Assured by the doorman of one club that the show is still in full swing (as it were) we enter and are shown to our seats. There’s nothing going on on stage but Louise points out that there are two guys fucking over by a table on the other side. Slowly they make their way around the room, stopping by each table to fuck for a bit before moving on. It’s so bizarre.

Eventually they make it to us and stand (and bend) right by Sky. Louise tells us later that Sky nudged her and pointed to his leg where the guy being fucked’s penis was lying. Sky is remarkably unfazed by this, finding it all quite hilarious. In fact I think I’m the one most uncomfortable with it all. None of the people I’m with are at all aroused by this (though Joey seems totally absorbed by the naked go-go boys when they come on for a “big cock show”), and though most of the go-go dancers are way too skinny and girly for me, a couple of them are, you know, quite fucking hot!

I pretend not to notice these ones and have a laugh with Anna instead, until she says to me, “God some of these guys are quite hot aren’t they?” I breathe a sigh of relief and feel a little more comfortable.

We have a bit of a discussion about whether it’s a demeaning job or not. I put the argument that it’s the sex workers who have power over the punters; they’re the ones in control and reaping the most benefit. I’m not sure if I agree with this, I’m just playing devil’s advocate and, as such, it raises some debate, albeit debate punctuated by some squealing and giggling as a go-go dancer notices the ‘tourists’ by the stage and comes over and waves his cock in our faces.

We go back to Twilo. Anna, Louise and Sky go home. Joey goes off on her own adventure. Vicky and Mike come back. Mike is reeling after suffering the attentions of some female go-go dancers. “Vicky told them something about me and when I went to the toilet they came in to have a look,” he tells me. I can’t imagine what he’s talking about, but I appreciate Vicky’s wicked sense of humour.

Soon it’s just me, Fliss and Karen, both of whom are fending off a crazy Thai lesbian who’s having the time of her life, dancing like she’ just got out of prison. Maybe she has.

We end up in Maccy D’s. Karen tells me that she had to take an English test because, as she’s Irish, the Thais wouldn’t believe English was her first language. Insanity. But we don’t stay long; they have to be up in a few hours for school.

A couple of weeks later I’m venturing beyond Khao San with Fliss and Karen again. We bravely leave the safe confines of hippyville to check out the Thai version of a rock pub.

It’s Saturday night and I’ve been at work all day. Jess has departed and I call her to discover she’s in Chinatown with Fliss, Lisa, Karen, new girls Rachel and Jenny and an American lawyer guy called John that Jenny met on Khao San (of course).

When I get there I end up sitting next to him and chatting to him a bit. He’s an interesting fella; he got a job here recently and, much like us, left his life behind to check out a new one.

The food is gelatinous, expensive and pretty gross, but we soon depart. Most of the table goes home but Fliss, Lisa, Karen and I decide to check out a “rock” pub down the road at Ratchathewi. It’s actually pretty good. Decked out with band posters on the walls and the odd guitar dotted about the place, the only way you’d know you weren’t in London or wherever is the presence of the Thai staff.

A Thai rock covers band is playing. They’re quite hilarious. The female singer is pretty awful, and the band does an odd selection of covers ranging from The Cranberries to Ashlee bloody Simpson. They have a slightly different idea of what rock is here. Even Avril Lavigne gets away with it.

Between bands they play a learn drumming DVD, which is all a bit surreal until we realise the drumming teacher is the drummer form the second band. We all hope that he didn’t notice us ripping the piss throughout the entire thing.

The second band is quite good. Covers again, but more proficiently done and better song choices as well – they lean towards classic rock and heavy metal. Lisa loves it, being the big metal fan that she is, and becomes absorbed in the music. I become drunk and start playing air drums on Fliss’s head and breasts. I think I’m quite good. Fliss isn’t so keen.

When we start trying to pop unpopped popcorn seeds (the grammar in this is amazing, no?) in the candles it becomes clear it is time to leave and we pile into a cab home.

…going to the cinema.
The thought of Spider-Man 3 elicits much excitement in Jess, Lisa and I. We are sorely disappointed. Too many villains, too much misguided and unsuccessful ‘comedy’, and dance routines. No one wants dance routines in a Spider-Man film. Come on.

Pathfinder I go and see cos it’s raining and I don’t want to walk home in it. Walking home in the rain, however, would probably have been more interesting. A dull movie that doesn’t even have any good-looking people in it.

28 Weeks Later is amazing. Visceral, shocking and totally thrilling it hits the ground running and doesn’t let up for a second. I was fucking terrified the whole way through. Predictable ending though.

Pirates 3 is good fun. Maybe a bit too long but, as it’s tying up all the loose ends, makes so much more sense than the second one, which left me clueless. And it’s funny as well. That scene with Jack Sparrow at the bottom of the sea is hilarious.

…witnessing racism.
Karn, my chatty 18-year-old student, is a bit racist. He sits there chatting away quite interestingly when he’ll throw something quite racist, usually about Indians – Thai people have got a real thing about them, and are always slagging off Indian food as ‘disgusting’ – or homophobic. I bite my tongue, mostly. Though I do gently suggest in a roundabout manner that maybe they have the wrong opinion. Unfortunately it’s not the right place to be disputing such things. Jess experiences similar. She comes out of a one-to-one lesson one evening fuming after her student says she doesn’t like Indian food. “Why?” Jess asks. “Because I don’t like Indians,” is the answer. What do you say to that? We do what we can instead – go for an Indian on Khao San Road.

…having fun with Paul.
Now that James has gone Paul becomes a slightly different, more enjoyable person to be around. Deprived of an audience that listens attently to the sometimes amusing but mostly uncomfortable macho-fuelled tales of his sexual adventures, he becomes a bit more normal and fun. Jess and I take great pleasure in mocking him (there’s a running joke about the presence of Gabrielle on his iPod and his total lack of awareness about how uncool this is) and on the way develop something of a bond with the fella.

…joining Facebook.
Which results in the death of my blog. Sorry blog.

…getting ill.
Not very interesting. Working six days a week for up to 12 hours a day for a month takes its toll and I get man flu. I sleep in a lot and get over it. But damn I miss a comfy bed and a sofa and a TV – they would have cured me a lot quicker.

Sometimes you just need to right? I’m not a big shopper really, I usually just buy what I need and go and do something more interesting instead. But very occasionally I have an urge to just go and spend some money and hang out in shops and browse. Rather boringly, when the urge arrives this month, I go and do this in book shops. They are my new CDs. But then I go and buy some CDs as well. They are my old CDs.

…playing the field.
(See separate entry.)

…hanging out with Ekachai and Fon.
Last month Jess and I were given a couple to teach – she got the girlfriend, Fon, and I got the boyfriend, Ekachai. It’s an interesting experience, us teaching them, because we get to compare notes and talk about how they learn and use English differently.

They come in three times a week for ‘conversation practice’ for an hour and a half each time. It’s bloody hard teaching Ekachai because he’s not very chatty. I do lots of grammar with him because even though he told Binnie he doesn’t want to do that, his grandmother told her that he needs to. So I kind of throw it in with other stuff, try and make it as interesting as possible.

Jess has it the other way – all she does with Fon is chat – and between the four of us we develop something of a friendship. This results in Jess and Fon arranging for the four of us to meet up one Monday. I’m well up for this idea. Any chance to hang out with Thai people I jump at because ultimately that’s why I’m here – to learn about them and their culture. I didn’t come here to just hang out with a load of English people.

The Monday we meet follows a Sunday night (which has become my Friday night these days) out with Beer (more of that in a separate entry) and so I’m hungover and very late for our meeting. It’s Beer’s fault as well. He drags me to get something to eat...

...and then to a shopping mall for something or other. I take him with me to meet Fon and Ekachai; I figure it will add to the mix and be good to have another Thai English speaker to help the conversation flow more easily. It turns out to be a good, and entertaining, idea.

Jess and Fon have arranged to go to Pratunam market so we meet nearby. Because Jess is starving we decide against going there and head to Siam Square instead. Fon and Ekachai take us to MK – a Japanese chain restaurant where you basically cook your own food. A big pot is brought to the table along with lots of ingredients – egg, meat, green vegetables – which the pair proceeds to chuck into the pot, seemingly indiscriminately.

Just as the food is cooking the whole restaurant grinds to a halt and the waitresses each stand by a table and do a little dance routine. It’s bizarre, and in my hungover state I’m more confused by it than bemused. Then they stop and carry on as if nothing has happened. I’m not even sure it did. Yes, it did, I have a photo look:

Beer and I have eaten, stuffed our faces in fact, so we’ve just ordered drinks. Of course I try the odd thing that Fon throws my way, wanting to see my reaction. But it’s Jess who is really entertaining for them. The girl is not a big fish fan and there are a few things in the pot she’s not sure about. But with Thais present she’s more willing to give different foods a go, and even ends up liking some of them.

We go shopping around Siam Square, where I buy some shorts. Fon and Ekachai tell me they’re expensive, that I should go to Chatuchak market. And blimey I’d love to, but I work weekends and never have the chance. Besides, the shorts are still so much cheaper than in the UK. Jess chides me for thinking in pounds rather than baht, just as I did her when she first arrived. Point taken. But I love the shorts so I’m happy.

We go to Starbucks. What proceeds is one of the most amusing conversations I have during my entire time in Thailand. We talk about words and how sometimes if you say a word in a different way it means something different. I complain that the word khao in Thai has five different meanings depending on how you move your jaw. Beer tries me to get to say all five. Everyone’s in fits as I try. Then the Thais point out various words in English that can have different meanings depending on how you say them and I have to shut up. English is as hard as Thai after all.

…dancing to Oakie.
(See separate entry.)

…saying goodbye to Vicky.
(See separate entry.)

…seeing Shereen.
Another month, another random friend turning up to visit. Rather than being on her way somewhere, Shereen is on her way back from somewhere. My former colleague has been on a press trip to Vietnam as part of which she is making a brief shopping stop in Bangkok on the way back.

I’m working ’til half eight so there’s lots of texting as to where they are. By the time I’m finished Shereen is in Patpong Market shopping for handbags. Amazingly, considering she doesn’t know her way around, we meet up with little trouble. Amusingly she is with a bunch of the poshest journalists I have ever met. They are from newspapers like the Telegraph and wedding magazines and all talk in plummy voices. It’s most amusing watching them turn their noses up at the fake bags on offer at Patpong. Too cheap looking, apparently. Well, duh.

They filter into a shop, where the bags are more realistic, and inevitably more expensive. As I help Shereen decide on which bags are a good price by translating into pounds for her, one of the journos comes up and questions the situation. It soon transpires she thinks I work for the store and am trying to scam Shereen. God, do I really look THAT Asian?? It’s all quite amusing.

Once she’s bought some bags, Shereen and I go and get some food while the others head back to the hotel. We have a good catch-up about my old work, what’s been happening since I left and how certain ‘difficult’ colleagues of ours are behaving. All has carried on much as it was before it seems. Amusingly I keep saying ‘we’ and ‘us’ when talking about PA, as if I still work there. Old habits die hard it seems, despite the fact I’ve barely thought about the place since I left.

We go to Shereen’s hotel, the rather swanky Millennium Hilton. It’s weird to find myself in yet another swanky hotel in Bangkok. I never imagined that would happen as often as it does. We have a drink with the journos, most of them are completely drunk, one older woman in particular. It’s her birthday apparently and she certainly seems to be marking the occasion. But she’s not a good drunk and keeps throwing her money everywhere.

Eventually they all head to bed and Shereen and I go for another drink in the swanky bar over-looking the river. We talk about certain colleagues again and she’s surprised at how candid I am. She tells me I’m good at pretending to like people and asks if I like her. I tell her I prefer to call it being diplomatic, but it does make me think. Am I two-faced? I don’t think so. I certainly don’t go out of my way for people I don’t like and my actions will certainly always guide my relationships with people the way I want them to go. I’m not ‘friends’ with anyone I don’t like, but on the other hand, particularly in a working environment, I just don’t believe in causing a scene or making a situation any more unpleasant than it already is. I just think that being diplomatic, two-faced, whatever you want to call it, makes a lot of situations easier to deal with and helps the world go round a bit better.

All that I keep to myself, by the way. Shereen and I just carry on gossiping and before long it’s two in the morning. She kindly offers me a bed for the night which I gratefully accept. A comfortable bed is a luxury these days. I sleep like a log.

The next morning is quite amusing. We have to get up early as Shereen has an early departure and the expressions on the faces of the PR people as Shereen comes down with me in tow are a picture. She texts me later and tells me I’m not gay enough - I’ve given her a reputation!

…reconnecting with the Thais.
Some chance meetings in the shopping mall above which I work bring me back into contact with the Thai friends I first made upon my arrival. I’ve not seen Ting, Sai, Aom or Aor since Mengly left, despite my best intentions. I bump into Aom a few times as she works in the mall, but her limited English and my even more limited Thai makes it difficult to proceed beyond hello.

But then I bump into Sai with a male friend of hers. At first I think she has a new boyfriend, a new haircut which makes her look much sexier only adding to my impression. But she tells me this is not the case. She even thinks he might be gay. I shrug and give him a glance. He could well be, but my gaydar is terrible.

We arrange to get together the following Friday and after my session with Mine and Muang I go and meet them at the Swensens ice cream joint in the mall. This is a Thai treat – a Western idea that they have taken and made their own by treating the whole thing as quite an event. I suppose compared to noodle soup on the street it is.

Aom’s there waiting when I arrive, which is a bit disconcerting, but somehow we manage to communicate, much better than we have any right to, given the language barrier. Soon Sai, her male friend and Aor turn up and we order some ice cream balls with chocolate fondue. Amazing.

We chat about Mengly. None of us have heard from her since she left. I put it down to her having a bad experience in Thailand and wanting to forget about it. I certainly don’t take it personally. She was a strange girl, with that slightly different take on the world that Americans have. I don’t think she was ready to venture out into the world either; she certainly had a fair few issues back home which she needed to sort out first.

After Swensens we head to the soi for steak and chips. It’s been awhile since I’ve done that as well. I enjoy spending time with these girls again. I’ve no idea what they’re saying half the time but there’s enough of a level of communication there to know that we like each other and have something to offer each other.

We go back to Sai’s to watch a DVD. Forrest Gump is the choice. I’ve not seen it since it was at the cinema so it’s good to watch it again; it’s a clever and enjoyable film. Aor wants to watch it with English subtitles – a lot of Thais learn and practice their English this way. But Aom is adamant it has to have Thai subtitles. Aor makes up for this by asking me the odd question throughout the film. I’m teaching even now and I really don’t mind.

Aor and Aom walk home with me, which is a relief cos it’s late and the soi dogs are out in force. They bark a lot but stay away from the three of us. I make it home with everything intact.

…reading some books.

I speed through The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. It’s an ingenious little novel about an old man who is killed saving a little girl in an accident at the fairground where he works. He then finds himself in heaven where he meets five people he has an adverse affect on during his life, whether he realises or not. It’s quite a page turner, not least because of the stories each person tells, but also because you’re dying to know who he’s gonna meet next. It’s a thoughtful little piece as well with the message that, no matter how insignificant you think you are in life, there are always a host of people out there whose lives you touch in often extraordinary ways. Beautiful.

I follow this with Spartan by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, a historical novel set during the times of the warrior race. It tells the tale of two Spartan brothers separated at birth due to those people’s policy of discarding the weak in favour of the strong. But the ‘weak’ brother survives and grows up to reclaim his destiny, etc etc. It’s all pretty predictable, but violent and exhilarating fare, though I expect my enjoyment of it was partly fuelled by my love of 300 as well.

And I soldier on with and finally finish Anne Frank. The end is, of course, devastating, despite the lack of sympathy I had with any of the ‘characters’. It’s the senselessness of their predicament that really gets you. And no matter how annoying a teenage girl is, reading about her early demise is made no easier.

…filling the Jess-sized gap in my life with Michael Schofield.
Jess, rather inconsiderately, goes on holiday to the islands. Something about not having seen the sea yet or something, I don’t know, who cares. All I know is that I’m being deserted without a second thought. I’d never do that to her. She’s so selfish.

Thankfully she leaves her computer behind along with the entire first series of Prison Break. I’ve never been much interested before but Jess and Paul and Fliss and others keep banging on about how good it is (hearing macho man Paul making camp shocked noises as he watches it in the computer room at work is most amusing), so I take a look. By taking a look I mean watching the entire series from beginning to end. You’ve got to be thorough haven’t you? I must admit, as TV shows go, it’s mildly diverting.

…having a most random day.
It’s the final day of May. I’m hungover from a night cavorting with yet another Thai lad (see separate entry). It’s a Thursday but I have no work today thanks to Visakha Bucha Day, a Buddhist holiday that commemorates three important anniversaries in the life of Buddha: his birth, his enlightenment, and his death.

To celebrate this I go and get a McDonalds. I’m sitting there feeding my hangover when Aor walks in. She says she saw me as she was walking past. She’s out shopping. We chat a bit. She asks my advice about her English degree and where she should study further. I know little about foreign students studying in England or America but tell her a bit about the relative expense of living in both places. She goes off to shop while I head back to the flat wondering what to do next.
I bump into Vanda and Ricky on the way. They’re off to have a coffee at Starbucks. I join them. We’re so Buddhist.

We sit and chat about the big news from last night – the constitutional tribunal’s verdict on whether Thai Rak Thai – the party that was ousted from government in a military coup back in September – and the opposition Democrat Party were guilty of electoral fraud. The verdict meant a lot to Thai people – if both parties were found guilty they would be left with a huge political vacuum. If both cleared, people would start to wonder whether a coup was necessary. As it was, the Democrats were cleared, while the popular Thai Rak Thai party was found guilty and all its 111 members, including ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, were banned from Thai politics for five years.

The three of us sit there trying to untangle the intricacies of the politics here, which of course are mixed in with a culture and way of thinking that are different to our own. It’s nice to have some intelligent conversation occasionally. I can’t do it too often, but every now and again it makes a nice change, don’t you think?

Vanda is leaving on Tuesday to go to Oman, of all places, to start a new teaching job there. We talk about our future plans; she very kindly offers me a place to stay at her folks in New Zealand. Then we go for a wander.

As we walk around the mall our intelligent conversation is forgotten and we marvel at a strange fairground-style attraction. It’s a plastic woman dressed in some S&M-style gear at which you throw balls. A small child is enjoying this contraption when we stumble upon it. We consider whether this is appropriate or not. But this is Thailand, who cares?

We then go into Central department store and head to the magic counter in the toy section. There we spend an hour or so watching magic tricks and playing with toys. Both Vanda and Ricky buy tricks but neither is able to pull them off with quite the aplomb the assistant did.
They then head off to the cinema to watch Wild Hogs or something equally unappealing. I’m not THAT hungover, I decide, and go back to my room to watch Prison Break.

Jess calls. She’s not spoken to anyone yet. She’s been there a few days! She has the same problem as me – it’s all groups or couples. But she has high hopes for the Full Moon Party tomorrow. I wish her luck.