Thailand, The Land of Smiles

IMG 0491 225x300 Thailand, The Land of SmilesIMG 0538 251x300 Thailand, The Land of SmilesThailand is a beautiful place. Thai culture is so inextricably intertwined with beauty that one cannot mention the word Thai without thinking of lush exotic places and colors, ornate golden architecture, and richly satisfying cuisine. All of what means to be Thai is wrapped in a bejeweled package, where layers upon layers  delve into greater beauty and intricacy.

Walking around Bangkok’s, The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, -where foreigners go to awe at the beauty and natives go to make requests of the tiny golden Buddha- one can see the visual manifestation of the root of Thai culture. The palace, like the culture itself, is a smorgasbord of design, color, texture, and detail. Pairing both clean and curvilinear lines with myriad finials and finishes, there is so much to see that if you returned repeatedly for years you’d never see it all -a reality true of Thailand in general.

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Thai culture, like their rich food and ornate architecture, is indulgent, in a way. Yet it feels not like the bloated opulence of Western palaces, cuisines, and cultures. Thai culture is bejeweled and grandiose, yet has a grounded feeling that is one with the earth, a dirtiness, perhaps, that epitomizes its realness -as if it were built of mud rather than stone, or were a clean, beautiful girl walking through wet, dirty streets in a priceless gown that, with each step, colors and tatters the dress at its base, connecting the girl to the street and yet leaving the crown of her beauty unscathed, even providing tender contrast. Thai beauty is rooted in the culture of the earth and stands out against its surroundings, not as a starkly alien object, but as simply the earth’s manifested beauty.

IMG 0502 300x225 Thailand, The Land of SmilesLike a good Pad Thai -served garnished on top with a fresh cut lime, clean white bean sprouts, spritely green onions, red pepper, sugar, and vinegar, all the ingredients become mixed into what was the substance of the underneath noodled mass such that the lime is used up, the sprouts and onions darken and wilt, the red pepper stains all with its color, and the others simply dissolve with no visible trace. What you get from the amalgamation you taste in intricacy of flavor. Yes, the appearance changes and becomes something different, but the true gem is in the pleasure of the taste. Indeed, the recognition and appreciation of pleasure is what drives this creative indulgence, whether it be architecture or food. Thais, I believe at their core, truly appreciate sensory pleasure and happiness, whether it be visual, gustatory, or otherwise. Thailand is not called “the land of smiles” for nothing.

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Girls I Met Randomly in a Bathroom

Furthermore, in contrast to more westernized places where you feel from people a real sense of singularity -an independence of going about rooted in one’s own mind and experience- it seems Thais are always with one another, moving and experiencing things as a group -or you could say as a family. Friends are, indeed, regarded more like family, a family that spends all their free time together. Extrapolating this, one could say it’s proof of love and happiness for one another. People here go about not alone in the world, but with a myriad of caring others. There is this friendly humanism about Thai people that is as if everyone is either friend or acquaintance.

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Guy Helping Explain Things at a Market

Now I’m not saying that everyone is friendly or treats me like a family. Often, if not always, I’m charged more for things simply because of the color of my skin. And though everywhere I go people tell my I’m beautiful, perhaps they could also be speaking badly of me behind my back; but still, for me, Thai people seem generally nice and good natured -like they would rather help me than hurt me, even though they’d like also something in return. I just don’t so much see here the pissed-off, spiteful, lonely individuals who feel affronted by any small encounter that I’m so used to seeing in Western places -and particularly in America. And from this vein of closeness, it seems Thais believe in no such thing as personal space. Like a family, food, money, housing, and transportation are shared, and it is common for playful and pragmatic touching of one another.

In a platonic yet caring way, the sanctity of my physical isolation has been breached more times in two weeks than in the previous two years. Western people don’t generally touch each other unless prescribed by appropriate situations, such as greeting, parting, or special occasions of grief or gratitude. Yet touching ones hand or arm to lead in a direction or as an emphatic gesture feels thoughtful, genuine, and connected, like you’d be with family and friends. And touching strangers on the back of a motorbike or on a subway, is absolutely normal here as well; and perhaps it should be, being simply people moving about in unison with one another.

IMG 1843 300x237 Thailand, The Land of SmilesIn this place, where people are more naturally human, it’s only normal the Thai fascination and regard for beauty and pleasure. What is further natural, Thais do not create order out of chaos. They leave the disorder, uncleanliness and realities of the environment to build something, at their timely discretion, on top of it. If one can relax into patiently abiding the lackadaisical flow of progress, then one can rise above things seeming haphazard and thwarted, to see beautiful patterns and infinite nuance of the system. Like the thousands of crowded little streets, alleyways, inlets and corners of Bangkok’s sprawling city, Thailand and Thai culture is permutation after permutation billowing and folding unto itself with a grandiosity ever grounded in the muck of real existence. Thais know and accept what it means to be a human with bare feet on the ground, ever sweating, smiling, and surrounding oneself good food and camaraderie. Just like the architecture, it creates something beautiful out of the earth.

Hyde and Seek Gastro Bar & Restaurant

Lately, here in Bangkok, I’ve been feeling a bit lost in my purpose for being here, like I’ve forgotten my direction. So I decided to resume something I like doing and go out to eat good food and then write about it. So I’ll start with the best of what I’ve eaten in Bangkok thus far:

Hyde and Seek Gastro Bar and Restaurant
IMG 0362 300x257 Hyde and Seek Gastro Bar & RestaurantAfter reading some reviews I came to this place, as it was called ‘the hip place’ to go and to be seen. I wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like in a city like Bangkok, so I thought I’d check it out. Maybe Sunday night wasn’t the best time to do so as it’s a rather slow night in Bangkok. On this occasion there were a few ‘falangs’ (white or western foreigners) of the older white man varietal sitting outside eating casually, perhaps a bit sloppily as one seemed all too comfortable in the big comfy chairs without shoes and eating cheese from a plate he held in one had as he jerked about talking to another man sitting across the low table, laid-back smoking a cigar. There were a couple other people outside around the front as well. Inside there was a couple and two other small parties.

I opted to sit inside the clean, modern, cool interior. I sat at the long empty bar rather than the high tables behind the bar, a bad choice I came to realize because the bar chairs are so low that you could literally fall backwards, drunkenly or otherwise, by thinking that the mock-backs are high enough to prop up against, giving this false sense of comfort when you actually have to sit upright as if they are bar stools.

However, the food was better than expected. In what I’ve determined as a non-foodie city like Bangkok, I have come to lower my expectations of what to expect. Yet Hyde and Seek was perhaps the closest thing I could find to home. The food is classified as ‘International’ but it was more like American. The menu and many options had the kind of written-on-a-blackboard, farm-to-table kind of feel.

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I opted for the pork belly and tuna tartare. I asked for the tuna first and then the pork belly. But, surprisingly, they ended up bringing the pork belly first, shortly after the bread (two brown wheat rolls, nicely average size, with tasty clarified butter). The pork belly was great, like a nice piece of southern pulled pork. It was a nice size square cut of pork cooked fork tender, with a well paired, slightly creamy sauce. The fat of the belly was meltingly good, rather than chunky or obtrusive, and I ate all of it first and happily as the tartare sat to its side. (They offered to take away the pork while I ate the tartare, reheat the pork, and return it to me later, but I thought this rather unappealing as I don’t trust they’d not simply microwave it -as I saw a restaurant do with my samosas earlier in the day- and I didn’t want them to ruin the texture.)

So I had the tuna tartare second. It was composed of fresh deep red tuna, chopped in a rather minced fashion, laid out amply in a crescent, garnished with radishes and a bit of decorative sauce. Though quite a bit less flavorful by comparison to the pork belly, it retained the flavor of medium fatty tuna (not so buttery and rich as fatty tuna, but meaty nonetheless). Though I had one of the small rolls with the meal, I wouldn’t really call it a meal. Before ordering, I asked the bartender if the tuna dish was large, as I had planned to get a salad as well. She responded that it was rather large. And though the dish wasn’t fine-dining-petite, per-say, it was not large; and I wished I’d have gotten the salad as well. What I ended up with was two plates of meat, as neither had accompaniments, and two rolls. Some green vegetables would have been welcome.

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I was also recommended the ‘Secret Window’ cocktail by the bartender based on telling her I like drinks with whiskey or vodka, that are perhaps sour and not too sweet. This bartender spoke English well though the others there did not very well. Because the drink shared a name with a Johnny Depp movie, I acquiesced. It was composed of Gentleman’s Jack whiskey, dark chocolate liqueur, vanilla, bitters, and garnished with a large pretty piece of sugar Carmel on top. It was a tasty enough drink, though I’d not likely get another.

In all, food was rather expensive, though having paid near this for much lesser food, I was fine with doing so and actually left a tip (which is not necessarily required in Thailand because most places slap on a gratuity percentage, -and also I’m pretty sure the two other bartenders were talking about me the whole time -though unclear whether good or bad, which in a different mood could have swayed my decision to leave an additional tip). Also, the doorman asked if I had a reservation when I arrived, which I thought was rather pretentious as the restaurant was at least 75-80% empty. Yet I’m sure it’s simply what he was told to do as he led me amiably to my seat of choice. All in all, I’d recommend this restaurant as good quality food in Bangkok and would return. Though nothing further screamed my name to come back and eat it, I know that what I’d eat if I came back would probably be a solid choice.

A Slice of Japan in the Heart of Bangkok

Hunting for a short-term apartment or long-stay residence here in Bangkok has been a bit of an endeavor. There are so many options. There are different parts of town that I don’t even know about yet. There is a possible upcoming beach trip with my Thai family, for which I can’t seem to get exact dates or information and don’t want to pay for a room in Bangkok during those days.

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I’ve spent a couple days looking around at viable options nearby. I’ve yet to venture out of my current area, Sukhimvitt. And really, the farthest I’ve gone was a couple streets over! So I decided to stay at a less expensive place down the street, with a small kitchenette and more room, until I can get a better idea of things. Also, I still don’t have a solid clue about my plans for work or volunteering, but that’s a whole other beast I don’t want to get into here right now.

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The new place, Luxx, is a Japanese style residence hotel with a sushi bar downstairs. It all feels very zen. In a city that constantly wears me out and leaves me feeling hot, dirty, and threadbare, grasping for any semblance of cleanliness and tranquility, I decided to stay here, which is a bit down the road from the major hustle and bustle. I can even see a few trees outside my window. It’s a bit more like an apartment in a residential area, with cute small scale restaurants and shops near by, rather than high-rises.

But most of all, I chose it because it reminds me of Japan. Ever since leaving Japan I have missed it quite a bit. Though I was often frustrated by the language barrier, I started to develop a real fondness for the place. The simple way they do things, the infinite cleanliness and order, the civil and proper way of things was wholly endearing to me. Perhaps this speaks to my OCD need for control by such things as cleanliness, civility, and order, but I did like it very much. Japan, to me, is somehow effortless, both serene and bustling, quiet and yet speaking volumes, its impact seen and felt around the globe. Both deep and powerful, yet simple and graceful, much like their Samurai archetype, Japan is respectable as a country and culture. And there are so many folds to its consciousness that I was not even able to see in my brief visit, but can only sense. There is something intelligent about the place and people that I admire.

IMG 0275 225x300 A Slice of Japan in the Heart of BangkokAnd yet, Thailand is trying its best to grow on me as well. I do believe its a beautiful country, with beautiful people -both inside and out. Most everyone is both friendly and rather attractive. There is something about the way a smile affects people here that is so rewarding. You see people’s faces light up when you smile at them. You have no choice but to feel happy in so easily making others happy.  I’ve not yet seen much of what this great city has to offer, much less the country as a whole, but I know that it is vast. Much like the food on which Thais so pride themselves, the culture is rich, varied, and vibrant. It has depths,  layers, and nuances that I’ve yet to uncover but can sense here as well.

IMG 0278 300x225 A Slice of Japan in the Heart of BangkokFor now though, I’m going out to buy a piece of luggage. I did my best to live with only a backpack, but several new acquisitions produce more than my backpack can hold. And for simply staying in the city it has become cumbersome. So I’ll don my sun hat as not to disrespect my prized fair skin, and venture out onto the dirty streets to sweat and walk long distances because I’m too stubborn in needing to avoid the confrontation of haggling prices for taxis, motor bikes, or tuk tuks. Plus, I’m listening to my Pimsleur Thai while walking around so that one day here soon I actually can haggle for something and perhaps decrease my newbie status as aFarang/Falang (white person or simply western foreigner).  As I’ll need a deep cleaning after this outing and am looking at more places tomorrow, I’ll post something more in a couple of days.

 

Airports: Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur

Narita Airport

While sitting at Narita airport, having ramen and sapporo, I am scolding myself for not having planned things better. I just feel so utterly displaced here sitting in an airport ramen shop, slightly sweating, with a random mix of music playing, from country to oldies to jazz to rap. Indeed, there is rap music playing with explicit language -and loud- and no one seems to even notice or understand the cuss words and implications, I suppose. Amidst the slurping of noodles, the guilt about missing my flight, and the prospect  of spending a night in the airport, I cannot help but feel a little low.

Because of the typhoon my flight was delayed. Then, instead of taking the regular 40 minutes by train, it took nearly 3 hours. Some of the trains were not running due to flooding and so I had to say a random mix of trains that were out of the way and entirely time-consuming. Suffice this all to say that I stayed at the airport from my arrival there at 3 until the next morning at 10:30. There were no hotel vacancies available near the airport and I felt too bad about the whole situation to venture all the way back to the city and pay for another night’s room somewhere.

So, like quite a bit of other people there, I slept (or rather didn’t sleep at all really) in the ticketing area of the airport. Luckily, -which was something rather nice and  civil, as the Japanese so often are,- they came around and passed out sleeping bags, blowup mats, crackers, and bottles of water. It was kind of like a mini disaster relief effort there in the airport, and made the stay and the camaraderie there quite better than it might have been otherwise.

Malaysia Airport

After staying up all night in Narita Airport, Tokyo, I’m a bit less than enthused that I have a 5 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur. However, it’s a cool airport, so that’s something nice.

As I first entered the terminal I was greeted with the kind of humid tropical smell that you might find in Mexico or the Caribbean. With palm trees out the window upon arrival and flat looking marsh-type land as well, you could tell it was subtropics. All around the glass windowed terminals there is lush tropical plants. The most significant feature, though, has to be the mini tropical oasis in the middle of the main terminals, replete with wooden walkways and waterfalls.

It’s a rather small airport, but they have a tram that moves between the main two buildings of the airport. And the general vibe of the place is very Malaysian, like the Malaysian resort in disney world, with curved bamboo or teak roofs -and even with the monorail.

One thing I didn’t realize about Kuala Lumpur is that they have a large Muslim community here and that comes through the airport. So for dinner, rather than having satay, I opted for lamb briyani and samosa-like curry puffs with potato, boiled egg, and onion.

But aha I can say about food is that my enthusiasm for the food in Thailand is waning. The farther from home I get and the more novel or questionable food I eat, the more I feel kind of sick and less I want to ingest.

Yet, again, when I lax back into my ways, it feels both guilty and comfortable. Yet that is the rub, if I feel quilt, I will get weird and be a glutton -not to mention I will be miserable to myself and to be around others. Yet, if I’m simply cool with what I’m doing, and happy with it, then all will be well and good. It is something about my guilt, the simple fact that I possess it, because what it is, in essence, is self-doubt. It is doubt that what I’m doing is right. And if I have doubt about what I’m doing, then either I shouldn’t be doing it or simply not being hard on myself about it. All things are a choice, after all; and either I choose to do something and do it, or not. And even if it is “bad” to ones logic, or feelings, or external value judgements, it is all simply a choice.

Sushi Zanmai, Tokyo

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Sushi Zanmai is an awesome, popular place for sushi in Tokyo’s, Tsukiji Fish Market. It is a bit touristy and has a long line out the door, but it’s worth going here as the fish is great and the prices are fairly reasonable. I went to their main restaurant, but they have also another, smaller restaurant within the market as well. I also had a line, albeit a bit shorter.

I had read about this place in guidebooks and that it’s one of the best sushi places in Tokyo, that it takes hours to get in, but that it’s worth the wait. So I decided to go check it out and endure the wait, even amidst the random fish smells and despite the throngs of people.

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My wait was only about 25 minutes at 11:00am. Again, I must emphasize how awkward it is to not speak the language, have people yell at you as if you understand what they’re saying. and then, assume you understand what they’ve just told you. In addition, there are all these customs and rules in Japan that you’re supposed to go by; and you are partially expected to know them (like not poring your own beer or sake, which is something one cannot help if they’re dining alone). All the while, people constantly stare at you, as an obvious tourist, which cannot help but feel judgmental at times. And I’ve been told by expats and various others that the Japanese are a rather elitist group when it

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comes to tradition: that they do not think anyone but themselves can truly master their customs properly. I cannot justifiably speak to this assertion, all I know is that I did not know nor abide by all of their customs properly, though I did try.

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I had a sampler of the various kinds of fish offered, along with a few extras that I had in addition to the set sampler that I chose from the menu. There were several set options of various fish, but I tried to choose one that would give me the most variety. The one I chose consisted of: scallop (which was soft, light tasting, and excellent consistency), fatty tuna (which was delicious. The texture was spot-on, with a deep, buttery meaty flavor that could almost be filet mignon. I could eat a plate of it.), broiled fatty tuna (also very delicious. It is the fatty tuna that has been seared on the outside, so you get the best of the flavors both raw and cooked. It tastes a bit more salty the raw version. It being cooked, the texture is even softer and more moist, as the juices of the fat begin to come out), sea urchin roe (which literally tastes like a half-melted dollop of fresh farm butter dropped into the the sea), salmon, shellfish, egg, sea eel, albacore tuna, sweet shrimp, red snapper, salmon roe, and yellowtail (all of which were among the best I’ve ever tasted).
IMG 1553 300x225 Sushi Zanmai, Tokyo My meal was also accompanied by staring off with miso soup and ending with a slice of asian pear and two plums. Though basically gorging myself on fresh, delicious fish, I did not feel a bit guilty or gluttonous by comparison to everyone around me, as they all seemed to me eating just as much in course after course. Moreover, I was only able to go here once on my visit to Tokyo, so I had to make one visit count.

All in all, Sushi Zanmai did not disappoint and, rather, left me feeling more satisfied than I had expected to feel, as I had somewhat doubted all the hype surrounding this place. Despite waiting nearly 30 minutes and spending over $50 on lunch, IMG 1558 225x300 Sushi Zanmai, Tokyoit was worth it. It was a great experience and I would not take it back or alter it in any way.

IMG 1552 300x225 Sushi Zanmai, TokyoThe woman beside me, and really all the people around, seemed to basically  be writhing in excitement to eat this sushi. It seemed to me like it was like a genuine treat and experience for them also, knowing, perhaps, it was going to be the best sushi they would ever taste I their lives! I had the feeling that some of the people around me had come from other parts of Japan or had

saved up money to come here, and that this was actually a life event for them, just as it was for me. All of this made me feel glad that I decided to come here, thankful that I had the

IMG 1551 300x225 Sushi Zanmai, Tokyoopportunity to do so, and vow that I would come back again in the future. I also had the distinct feeling that, because I had tasted such superb sushi, I would never be truly satisfied with sushi below this level of excellence. Alas, the double-edged sword of indulging in excellence!

Also, randomly while I was here, a family sat next to me, of which I struck up a conversation with the father who told me that he went to the University of Alabama in 1974-5, as a sports photographer for the football team! This is so ironic because it is exactly the same time in which my father was at the University of Alabama. It was so random and beautifully ironic. Once again, I am struck by feeling that life is such a funny, ironic place.

Harajuku & the Material Mind

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On my second day in Tokyo I visited Harajuku. I was told that Sunday is a good day to go there because the young people who dress up in crazy outfits and cosplay gear come and and stand around for people to watch, take photos, etc. So I headed out, intent to see the spectacle.

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What I didn’t expect was to go there, spend several long hours, and not even see it. When I arrived at the station I moved, piecemeal and gradual, with the crowd’s procession pinning me on all sides. If you want to see group mind at its finest unison, then you must come no further than here. Where bodies sway with the movements of the mob, where from above we’d appear as one organism, writhing and swaying as if kelp in the ocean, you cannot help but feel a distinct sense of mindless oneness.

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From out of the station I looked around, was unsure of exactly where to go, and so, I did the thing on which I’ve come to rely, and let the mob move me. I joined in the direction of the mass and moved with them. It took me down what must have been the main shopping street of Harajuku. Tons of people were there, young and old, tourists, locals, nearly everyone carrying a shopping bag, people pulling little, hard-sided suitcases that must have housed their shopping.

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Everyone seemed to be there for some acquisition. The tourists hungrily witnessed the New Orleans, Atlantic City, Venice Beach, type kitschy-ness, where wares and neon lights, cheap clothes and sunglasses, souvenir shirts, greasy street foods and good times seemed to abound. As the throng pushed rhythmically down the little street like a gesticulating colon, all eyes are accosted with so much light, color, and variety that, like binging on food, makes your head feel dense and foggy, beckoning the odd urge to steal away in an alley and vomit, purging this encumbrance supplanted on your mind.

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But this is a hard view of it. It was not all bad. In fact, the farther along, the more I enjoyed my mindless journey along the river of sights. At all times, and now looking back on it, it was like drifting through a valley of temptation, where at every corner something yells out to be bought or consumed.

What had started as a simple journey to see novel things had turned out, inevitably as it does, to be a test of my will to hold under external pressure. And let me be the first to say that I am not perfect. As I so often do, I indulged myself a little too much, and awarded myself more than I probably deserved, all in the name of living experience, or “yolo,” as the kids say, I suppose.

So, yes, I did break down and purchase a few things and eat some indulgent treats. But still, as much as I want to feel guilty or chastise myself for not having an iron will. I think, rather, that my will speaks more clearly to me; and it is a good thing that I listen. Maybe, as has repeatedly been the case in my journeys, that by listening to my will and voice, I am continually led to places I want to be and to people I care to meet. And because I trust my inner guiding voice, rather than the voice from without, I believe I’ll be lead to somewhere great, even if it means buying unnecessary jewelry and eating too many sweets along the way!

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Red Bean Paste Ball

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Pork Bun

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Cat Rings

Tokyo Days 1-2

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My first day in Tokyo was challenging. I spent all day basically walking around aimlessly, frustrated, hot, and a little bitter at the fact that I had underestimated the communication issue of absolutely no one speaking English. Yes, I was, indeed, lost in translation. I suppose it was naive of me to think that everyone took English as children in school like they do in Europe. I had no desire even to speak to the native English people in my hostel. I imagine they thought me rather antisocial, if not rude, because as they were hanging out and being friendly, I simply came in the side gate of the

Ryokan and went to sleep early the two nights I was there. And then when they were all having breakfast together the second morning, talking, laughing, and close as a family, I felt rather like an outcast intruding on their personal space. But I had to leave early that morning anyway because I wanted to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market and Harajuku. And my reservation was up there anyway, requiring me to move on to my next accommodation.

It is very awkward, by the way, walking around with a huge backpack in subways and on the streets when regular people pull around rolling suitcases in crowded areas such as Harajuku (a major shopping area) or Tsukiji Fish Market (market with infinite different foods and cooking accessories) simply to house their shopping. They do a ton of shopping here! So much so that it puts my shopping habit to shame and makes me feel a little better, yet also worse in that everyone at all times of day and all areas of town are dressed up immaculately. Not to mention, everyone here is so very thin, like sickly model thin, both males and females! I imagine they thought me an insane, disheveled, chunky white person.

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So, on the second day, I put in my earphones, donned all-black attire, stifled my insecurity about being the fattest and worst dressed human around and made a better plan. Yes, a plan is almost necessary in Tokyo, if you speak no Japanese and can’t just ask directions or you have no cellular capacity and can’t just look at google maps. Much of the time the street signs are not even in English, so you can’t even navigate by them if you wanted. Whereas my first day I simply walked around going whichever way suited my fancy, my plan the second day was to ride the subway to stops of notable name and simply move in the direction of the crowd, gravitating with them towards bright lights, like moths to a flame. (This plan worked out pretty well.)

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Perhaps I should have befriended the British, Lebanese, or Australians from my hostel and either asked their advice or went around with them. But something about them was not a feeling of freedom and independent open-mindedness that enabled them to venture around the world seeing exotic places, what I felt from them was a slight sense of desperation. It’s as if there was something wrong about each of them. Either they were a little old or single, a little young or awkward, or possessed some over flaw that rendered them abnormal and thus outcasted in their own society. As if they were here not by choice, necessarily, but because they couldn’t stay where they were and just had to go somewhere. Now, even if this is the case, I commend them for venturing out in the world. And, normally, these are my kinds of people. But, I don’t know, here it had the opposite effect on me. I could feel their longing for connection. It was something in this neediness, I suppose, that kept me from connecting with them, as if they wanted something from me that I couldn’t give. And me, being here only a few days, and purposefully unhinging from connectedness in life right now anyway, simply stayed distant with them and remained alone.

A lighter bag, a nice shower, and listening to music helped me to get around on Day 2 without feeling too overwhelmed. There’s something bolstering about being alone, a free radical, unnerved or swayed by anyone. There’s something dangerous and powerful about it, about being able to go anywhere and do anything without help from others. There is something about having confidence in oneself, even if that confidence is wholly or partially unfounded. Simply having the courage to go at things alone, possessing assurance inside you, and wanting for nothing external is liberating. You are what you think you are. And when you lose yourself and your sense of confidence and direction to do things alone, with only your own mind, then you’ve lost all. Having a firm grasp on one’s own visage, desires, and direction is the goal and purpose of a meaningful life. Anything other than that is simply to live a life with no home or soul.

10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380-800

My flight from LA to Tokyo was on Singapore Airbus A380-800. The Airbus A380-800 is the largest airplane made, which holds about 470 people and caused airports to have to rework terminals to fit them, and Singapore Airlines is the number one airline in the world. So basically I flew on the most awesome plane in the world! This is weird to say, but I actually wouldn’t have minded a flight longer than 11 hours.

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These are some of the awesome things about the flight:

  1. Suites: I passes by a door leading to “Suites” when I boarded. I don’t know what they look like, but I imagine they are amazing.
  2. Ambiance: Walking on to the plane they were playing classical music, and as we arrived, flying over a glittering patchwork of dark land, they played nice smooth jazz. It was classy and relaxing.
  3. Roomy: It was very roomy inside. There was plenty of room in the seats and between the seats and windows. IMG 1149 225x300 10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380 800 IMG 1150 300x225 10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380 800
  4. Food & Drinks: There was a whole booklet with a menu for drinks, dining, and snacks. And everything was free. The flight attendants walked around with bottles of red and white wine though out the flight, even, offering to refill those who had wine!IMG 1163 300x232 10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380 800IMG 1156 300x225 10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380 800IMG 1151 240x300 10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380 800IMG 1153 225x300 10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380 800
  5. Tech Friendly: There are tons of electronic outlets and hook-ups on the back of the seats, as well as electrical outlets in the arm rails that didn’t even require adaptors for US electronics.                                                            IMG 1161 225x300 10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380 800IMG 1155 300x225 10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380 800
  6. Entertainment: There were about 100 pages of  TV, movies, and music entertainment options. I was able to watch two movies and half a Season 3 of Downton Abbey, make a playlist of classic music to play between entertainment.
  7. Education: In addition to entertainment options, there was a novel “Education’ option with things like travel guides all over the world from Rough Guides, dining reviews from Zagat, and language learning software that enabled you to practice any of a large number of languages. I practiced Thai and it was rather fun.
  8. Hot Towels, Socks and Toothbrushes: When we were first seated and then later before our second meal, they came around with hot scented towels to wipe our hands and faces. They also gave us these personal Givenchy bags with socks, toothbrushes, and tooth paste.                                                                                   IMG 1162 300x239 10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380 800
  9. Flight Attendants: There were ample fight attendants. For instance, there were two for just our section of the back left of the plane. And they were very friendly and attractive, with pretty outfits.                            IMG 1157 256x300 10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380 800IMG 1166 215x300 10 Reasons to Fly Singapore Airbus A380 800
  10. Internet: There was internet capacity for $15, which is not so bad for airlines.

Los Angeles

IMG 1143 225x300 Los Angeles

Flying over miles of flat, grey-brown squares and rectangles of existence, seeing no greenery or other symbol of beauty, I felt instinctually that I would be in for a challenging time in LA. It would be challenging, I thought, in that it would force me to grapple more directly with realities of wealth inequality, superficial values, material living, and jaded minds.

IMG 1103 300x300 Los AngelesIn a place where people visit simply to glimpse a celebrity or touch the pulse of fame in the air, I felt myself being pulled into a state of cynicism. Brief nausea waved over me, which I felt was a premonitory sense about the place, (though perhaps it was due only to the doughnut I ate for breakfast). I felt pride in that I was wearing no makeup, my hair was disheveled, and I was smelly and mismatched from a hectic departure earlier in the day. I felt, in contrast to my surroundings, abnormally real in my homeliness.

IMG 1110 240x300 Los Angeles

For such a supposedly nice city, LAX was not very nice. (Or, at least the domestic arrival terminals were not. I later found out that the international departure terminal was rather new and nice, replete with boutique and designer stores.) The terminal in which I arrived necessitated taking a bus simply to get to the main airport, like Heathrow in London, something you don’t see in newer and better airports with rail systems. But it sufficed, and I moved on to tackling the more formidable endeavor of getting around the city in long hours of traffic.

On appearances, other than the presence of a large Hispanic culture, which you see less in other places of the country, what struck me was that many people, especially girls, look much like they do back in the South. They are blonde and dressed cute, with a bit of sexiness. People have often asked me if the rumor is true that people in the south are more attractive than average; and, yes, I do believe this to be true. -within the US, anyway. And, from my experience, I also think this same stereotype holds for Eastern Europeans and Brazilians as well.

IMG 1096 225x300 Los AngelesIMG 1171 225x300 Los AngelesIMG 1107 225x300 Los Angeles

IMG 1101 225x300 Los Angeles

To be honest, when I arrived I hoped they’d lost my bag and I could simply be reimbursed and start over, having all I need on my person and in my electronics. For me, the bag and its 36 lb weight had become a reminder of my American indulgence and overbearing material attachment. That, and my recent indulgence in doughnuts, ice-cream, and chowder (see my posts for Voodoo Doughnuts, Fifty Licks, and Pike Place Market), felt rather gluttonous, to say the least.

I thought, on arrival, that LA would be horrible. I had many preconceived notions about the people, the culture, and the general theme of the place -like LA was a club and I knew for what it stood, and didn’t want a part in it. However, I realized after seeing most of the general areas of the city that this was closed-minded of me. LA is much like many other cities in the country. I suppose it took me walking around, driving around, and interacting with people to see that it is just people living in a place.

IMG 1097 225x300 Los Angeles

IMG 11051 225x300 Los Angeles

My first night I stayed in Santa Monica at Hosteling International, which was only about a block from the ocean and from many restaurants, shops, and attractions. I stayed in an 8 bed bunk room with two Scottish girls and a Brazilian girl, all of whom were in their early twenties. I’m not sure what I thought the Hostel would be like, exactly, but it turned out to be similar to my Freshman dorm dwelling, albeit quieter and more civilized. Everyone was nice and respectful of others’ space, seemed to clean up after themselves, and the halls were quiet by 10:00pm.

Now, the Scottish girls weren’t big talkers, so I spoke to the Brazilian, Maria Alice, and we became friends. I came to find out that many of the people staying there, like her, were going to an international language school about a block away. They were there for a month or so to study English in the states. I have seen many of these types of programs online and actually considered some abroad myself. So, Maria took me around to Santa Monica pier and to a good Mexican restaurant she had found previously. And it was nice, for a change, to have a shared experience.

IMG 1168 300x239 Los AngelesIMG 1100 225x300 Los AngelesIMG 1124 225x300 Los Angeles

IMG 1106 300x225 Los AngelesThe following day, while Maria was at school, I visited an old friend in Burbank. There is not much to do in Burbank, so we decided to go have coffee and then so walk around and have lunch at the shopping complex of Universal Studios. Something of note is that it was a peculiarly cold day in LA, one of which necessitated wearing a jacket! It was colder here than it had been a few days before when I was in Seattle. On this, the second, day, I had determined it is necessary to rent a car in LA. And once I was in and driving on the freeway, I felt liberated and knew it was definitely the right choice. Ironically, the Fiat I chose ended up nearly breaking down from some sort of engine malfunctioning later in the day when I had picked up Maria and was in traffic near Hollywood Blvd. I had to go back 15 minutes the opposite way in traffic and swap it at a nearby rental office for a Hyundai. It was a harrowing close call, as we almost did not make it there.

IMG 11152 768x1024 Los Angeles

My friend Andrew at Universal Studios

 

On another ironic note, it was really cold on this day in LA, and a little rainy in the morning, colder than the previous 3 days when I had been in Seattle and Portland. Seattle was actually the warmest and sunniest of the three!

IMG 1170 300x225 Los AngelesIMG 1169 300x225 Los Angeles

I cannot say that my stay in LA was too eventful. I spent most of my time driving around. But in doing so, I was able to see many different areas of town – and in LA there are so many different and district areas of town. There are typical downtown streets that smell slightly of garbage and habitation. There are, of course, the mansions of Beverly Hills and Hollywood, the quirky and trendy areas of West Hollywood and Silverlake, the beaches and boardwalks of Santa Monica and Venice. Driving around I felt at some point or another I could have been in any place, from Florida to New Jersey to Texas. Although much of what I saw had a distinct American, Southwestern, and Hollywood feel, most everything was something I’d seen in one capacity or another in other cities of the US.

IMG 1117 225x300 Los AngelesIMG 1131 225x300 Los AngelesIMG 1140 225x300 Los Angeles

The one thing I can say for LA, though, is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite that depth and breadth of a mix, as if all big sites in the US were put together and stretched out over the sprawling city of Los Angeles. For that reason there is a uniqueness to it and a sense that there’s something for everyone, if you’re willing to drive around in traffic for hours to find it!

Therefore, I can say that my perceptions of the city were changed by experiencing it face-to-face, which makes me think this logical progression of feeling would likely apply to many other things for which one feels an instinctual aversion. Therefore, I think I’ll return to LA one day. After-all, there are so many different things to see and do that one could live there decades and not indulge them all. There is something to say for this, even if it says a smorgasbord of existential and experiential indulgence.

Getting a Double-Entry 120day Thai Visa

Before leaving, I went by AAA to get an international driver’s license. All I had to do was bring a couple passport photos and I had it in about 10 minutes. Online I read some misleading blogs and posts on forums that said getting the 120 day Thai double-entry Visa was much the same, that I could just go in and get it. (If you can’t go to a consulate in person, you must send in your documents and wait for the visa to be sent back to you.)

However, you cannot just go in and get the visa in a day. You must go in with all your documents, leave and come back to get it the following day. This is something I should have known before going to the Thai Consulate’s office LA at 11:00am before my flight at 3:45pm that afternoon!

Anyway, I was very lucky to have the office manager happen to approach me and ask if I needed help filling out my form. I responded that I did and so he sat down and basically finished filling out my form for me. Then, when he said to come back the next day, I explained that I was flying out in less than 5 hours.

It took about 5-10 minutes of me explaining that I read online that I could get it upon arrival, that I’m sorry, and that he’s really nice to help me out. And so he did help me! They processed it immediately. If not for this act of kindness, I’d have missed my flight entirely and would have cost me at least $300+

In simple form, this is what you need for the 120 day Thai double-entry Visa:

  1. Visa form (which you can fill out there or bring with you)
  2. $80 Money Order (not a cashier’s check. you need cash to get the money order and can get it at post offices and most gas stations)
  3. Your passport (must contain a blank page inside) and a paper copy of the passport
  4. Two passport photos (can get them at post offices, fed-ex/usps, many other places. You should not smile in the photo)
  5. Copy of your flight details to Thailand (they might not always require this)

Also, just to explain, the Thai 120 day double-entry visa allows you to stay for 60 days before either leaving and reentering or going to the consulate and paying for a 30 day extension and then leaving and returning after the 30 day extension. Then you can reenter and start another round of 60 days, extend it another 30 days (or not) and then leave when either your second 60 or 60 plus another 30 day extension  is up. To note, you must either leave and reenter the country after the first 60 days or get an extension for 30 more days and then leave or you will lose your second round of 60 days because you never left in order to make the reentry visa valid.

About Me

I'm a recreational artist and writer who is moving from the US to work and travel in Southeast Asia starting in the Fall of 2013. I'm keeping this blog to share my thoughts and adventures. Thanks for being here. Feel free to follow my progress, post comments, and share in my adventure.

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