Death on the Kwai

In December, we were given the gift of a three day weekend, and, eager to see more of this strange country we now called home, three teachers from my school (Mikayla, Logan, Anna) and I, decided to take a trip to the town of Kanchanaburi, famous for being the home of the Bridge on the River Kwai.

images.jpgWe arrived at our rented bungalow, located on a small back road and standing in a garden with three others like it. It was owned by a short and incredibly softly-spoken Frenchman and his Thai wife. The bungalow had two double beds, and I found myself bunked up with our male companion, Logan. Or really, I should say, he found himself bunked up with me.

“I sleep right on the edge.” I assured him, which in all honesty, I do. Thai beds are not things you want to spread out on, to sink in to. They aren’t to be luxuriated in. They are to be endured. I sleep cat-like. Ready to awake at a moment’s notice and drop to the ground.

The journey from Bangkok had taken longer than we’d intended, and everyone agreed we should try and do something quickly to make the best use of the remaining light. The softly-spoken Frenchman informed us that we’d arrived on the weekend of the River Kwai festival. Imagine our luck. I say that – I assume he informed us. I heard everything from him second-hand through my compatriot, because I couldn’t hear a damn word out of his mouth. He suggested activities we might be interested in.

Now, if you’ve read anything I’ve written previously, you might have started to build a picture of me in your mind. In case you aren’t aware, I’ll make this important point about myself again: I. Am. Lazy. I’m a watcher, not a doer. I listen. I am sedentary. I had come on a trip with three people who were most certainly the opposite – young and active and healthy.

It was decided we would go kayaking down the Kwai. I agreed with some apprehension. The Frenchman rang a lady with a kayaking company, who promptly picked us up, and drove us down to the banks of the river.

“You get boat off now!”

I began to drag a kayak off the back of the van and toward the water.

“Don’t drag! No, no, no! Wrong way!”

“I’m doing my best.” I assured her, frazzled and red-faced.

“NOT LIKE THAT.” she said.

“I have never moved a kayak before.” I said, as if that wasn’t abundantly clear to everyone.

With some difficulty, we got the boats into the water. I decided to sit at the back, it seemed like less responsibility, and, after throwing our phones and valuables into a “waterproof” bag, we set off on our way. A leisurely cruise. My partner and I couldn’t get in sync. I chanted “left, right, left, right”, but we didn’t seem to be able to get the rhythm together. It’s like when you meet someone new, and you go for a handshake because you’re a terribly stunted human being, and they go for the hug and cheek kiss, and you find your hand jabbing impotently into their stomach, as they grasp towards you, you stuttering in their ear all the while. Not that I speak from experience, or anything.

“At bridge three, you see a beach. I meet you there!” shouted the woman as she waved us off.

We moved down the stream. Three bridges. The final bridge would be the famous one. The Bridge over the Ole’ River K. Easy. This was the sort of thing I’d be telling my nurse about in fifty years.

We took turn after turn and pushed on through largely deserted waters. Lots of water. Lots of turns. And big stretches of straightforward river. And yet, we still hadn’t reached the first bridge after an hour and a half. Maybe all the bridges were squashed very close together, we mused. It was the only way to keep ourselves sane.

More time passed. And more time. And still no bridge. My arms were hurting. Everyone’s arms were hurting. I was starting to lose coordination, and I hadn’t had much to begin with. I accidentally hit my boat partner in the face with my oar. At least, I think it was an accident. We spun around uselessly in the water, listing towards rocky clusters and wide expanses of weeds.

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Jesus, take the wheel.

“Shall we ring the woman and say we can’t make it?” I asked.

“No, I think we should push ahead.” agreed the group.

Shit.

Three hours in, and things were getting ridiculous, and, not to mention, dark. The sun was fast descending and we were starting to get a bit worried. We saw a boat that seemed to be hosting a party, and decided to pull up alongside, as Anna, my fellow kindergarten teacher, and Logan, both needed to make use of facilities not commonly found on kayaks. A Thai woman very graciously clung onto us, as they clambered aboard to relieve themselves. I considered abandoning everyone and refusing to get back in my kayak again, but I did the honourable thing and, upon the teachers’ return, we carried on into the unknown, pressing ever onward.

Logan decided to stop and check his phone to see if we had been missed in all this time.

“I have three missed calls. I think the woman’s been trying to get in touch.”

“She’ll think we’re lost. We’ve been ages.”

“Why would she drop us so far up the river? Doesn’t this happen literally every single time, unless she happens to rent exclusively to professional kayakers in every instance except this one? Did she not see us? Do we look like professional kayakers?” I asked.

Logan called her back.

“Hello, we have not reached the bridge yet.”

“WHERE ARE YOU? I AM ON BEACH!” shouted the woman.

“Yes, I –” said Logan.

“YOU MEET ME ON BEACH!”

“We –”

“WHERE ARE YOU?”

“I’m trying to –”

“IT GET DARK, WHERE ARE YOU?”

“Just put the phone down.” Anna interjected, “What’s the point?” And he did.

The next hour continued in the same fashion as the previous three – the occasional fit of exhaustion giggles and generally slow progress. We moved down the Kwai until we eventually passed the first two bridges. It was pitch black and the only light came from riverside restaurants.

Finally, we saw the last bridge. The Bridge. Our elation was palpable.

As we approached it, we realised we were passing lots of floating objects in the water.

“Those are fireworks for the festival.” someone pointed out.

“There’s quite a lot of them.”

“We’re surrounded by them.”

It was then I realised that we were going to be blown up. People were gathering in a large seated auditorium on the bank to see the impending display. Nobody seemed to be paying attention to the two kayaks floating between the ten tonnes of explosions laid out, and seemingly, our kayak lady had not risk assessed the situation we’d be finding ourselves in. We moved around trying to find our appointed meeting beach, but, and I cannot stress this enough, there was no beach. A police boat on the horizon began jetting our way. Finally, I thought, something sensible happening. It whizzed right past us and out of sight. Brilliant. Eventually,  slightly panicked, we travelled a bit further and to a docked boat.

My friend dialled the kayak woman, and handed up her phone to a Thai woman stood aboard, who managed to be heard over the incessant shouting on the other end of the line.

“Go to the beach.” said the Thai woman.

“There is no beach.” we said.

“There.” she pointed. We strained our eyes through the darkness. She was pointing at a small patch of dirt on the bank.

We thanked her and piloted toward our final destination, back as quickly as possible through the fireworks. We saw the kayak woman standing on the “beach”, clearly unhappy at our poor timekeeping, as though this were all somehow our fault. Still, I was happy to see her. The nightmare of exercise and potential firework-related maiming was over. I clambered back to dry land and, upon instruction, began dragging the kayak up a hill. I must have “work-donkey” tattooed on my forehead. Kayak woman then drove us back to town so that we could rent motorbikes and get back to our hostel.

The town of Kanchanaburi is surprisingly seedy. We hopped off the back of the van, and were greeted with the sight of a hundred white men, with greasy hair and straining shirt buttons and leering eyes. The bike rental place was closed. The kayak woman motioned to a bar down the street and said we’d find bikes there.

We approached. The bar was, in fact, a brothel, but they did have four bikes to rent. Mikayla, very generously, left her passport with the owner as insurance, and we drove away. My bike was rather rattley, though looking at the three others, I could have had it much worse. We found a restaurant right opposite the bridge and sat down to eat. As we did, the fireworks began to explode. Hopefully, there were no other late kayakers still down there. We finished up and drove back to the hostel.

That night, I awoke to near-paralysing pain in my arms. Everyone else was asleep. I sat bolt upright. You know when you get a cramp in your leg, and it’s the most excruciating pain, but at least it’s over fairly quickly? Imagine that, but it goes on, and on, and on. A bit like kayaking down the Kwai. There was no relief. I crawled out of bed and went and sat in the garden to let my mother know I wasn’t long for this world.

“I think I’m having a heart attack.” I said.

“It’s probably just from the kayaking. It’ll be OK.” she replied.

I was found dead the following morning, stiff on the lawn, phone clasped in cold, lifeless hand.

…Well, maybe not, but still.

I awoke on Saturday morning thinking that the hard part was over. How wrong I was. Quite frankly, I think it was thoroughly unethical of my fellow teachers to drag a fat woman around doing all these active things.

Our plan was to head to Erawan Falls. Not, as we had originally decided, on our bikes, but on a bus. Our bikes were too shit and we didn’t want to tempt death a second time that weekend.

The plan was to hike up the seven levels of waterfalls in the park. I assumed this would be a gentle hike; a gentlemanly stroll.

I have a recurring nightmare about having to climb a very steep slope. It becomes almost vertical, and I’m scared, and I’m slipping and hurting myself, and it feels like I’ll never get home. Sometimes, it flips, and I’m suddenly crawling upside down, with the sky below me. Steep things fill me with dread. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

The hike started easily enough. We passed Thai people enjoying picnics and splashing around in the natural pools on the lower levels. It was, at that stage, a simple forest walk. The weather was hot, but I had brought water, and I could deal with it.

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Notice how much redder I am than everyone else, including Satan.

Mikayla was in front of me, and she turned to say “You have to take your shoes off here.”

I couldn’t see ahead of her, and assumed we must be about to step onto some sort of holy ground. I was in the Thai temple mind set.

“Shall I take my socks off too?” I asked.

“They’ll get pretty wet if you don’t.”

It was then I realised we were shedding shoes because we were about to traverse a raging current, covered in rocky outcroppings. I dutifully complied, tied my Converse to my backpack, and made my way like a ninety year old woman over the rocks and stream. Things got tougher from then on out. I climbed and jumped and pulled and scrambled my way up, slipping up wooden ladders with missing rungs, and making all sorts of unhappy, uncontrollable noises and faces as I did so.

Had I been alone, I definitely would have given up and stopped at maybe the fourth level. With my friends, however, I made it all the way to the top of Erawan. Not a bad achievement, I should say. I’m really very grateful to them for dragging my ass up there. To celebrate, we stripped to our swimming costumes, and dipped into the pools. It was time to have our photos taken standing under the raging seventh-level waterfall.

I got into position. The temperature and ferocity of the water immediately took my breath away, and I couldn’t stand up straight. There’s no getting used to that feeling.

“FUCK!” I shouted, involuntarily. Several concerned onlookers snapped to attention. “I’M SORRY FOR SWEARING,” I shouted, “FUCK! FUCK THIS! FUUUUCK!”

My friend began to snap photos. I stood for a while, attempting to pose, trying to look as normal and picture-ready as humanly possible, and then waded out to get my breath back.

“Oh, I don’t think we can keep any of these, Jade, it looks like you’re being taken from behind.”

I looked. Every photo seemed more obscene than the last.

“You should probably delete those.” I said, in-between gasping for air in the frigid pool.

We lingered for a little longer, the others getting their photos taken. They looked like they were in FHM photoshoots. I looked like a sort of damp, frightened Judy Finnegan.

Of course, the ordeal was far from over at that point, as I now had to climb all the way back down the seven levels. And this time, it was personal slippery. I remained permanently around twenty metres behind my group, making small, careful advances down the wet rocks, allowing young children to skip on past me. I have never felt quite so relieved, as when I put my foot down onto solid earth, knowing that now, all that awaited me was a simple, relatively level, downhill hike.

The next day, Monday, the three others had been planning to wake up at 5am to ride on the Death Railway. Could do that, I thought, or I could go back to Bangkok and order a big-fuck-off burger and chips. After some discussion, we all decided to return back to the city together, at a reasonable hour, and spend our remaining cash on a nice meal.

What keeps me awake at night, is that I’m going on holiday with two of these people again in two days. No doubt I’ll be being pushed out of a plane by Sunday evening.

Chachoengsao Fried Phone: The Colonel’s Secret Blend of Moisture and Circuits

Week two at my new job is over. I’ve survived that big bad batch of six-year-olds once again. I have also, in chronological order –

  1. Narrowly avoided disgrace and death to rescue a water damaged iPhone 5
  2. Welcomed a visiting friend from England to Chach
  3. Been in a motorbike crash

I went with a couple of girls from school to an army base on Tuesday evening. I know that’s not a standard recreational activity at home, or not so far as I know anyway, but your options are quite limited here. We entered, saying hello to the soldiers at the gate as we went, and proceeded to walk around and around the base in a loop. It was great. It’s right on the banks of the Bang Pakong river and it’s all quite beautiful. You can hear the monks chanting from the big white temple next door. The scene was seemingly set for a lovely evening. Then, for the second time in two weeks, I slipped. The earlier time had been at the resort pool in town.

EXT. CHACHOENGSAO SUNTARA WELLNESS RESORT AND HOTEL – DAY

JADE emerges from the pool like an enormous, glistening slug. Hesitation and well lubricated floor tiles abound.

JADE

I think I’m going to slip

BANG.

JADE

I slipped.

My pride was hurt more than my body; I’m bruised but not broken.

Back to the army base. We were walking and I slipped in a mud puddle. We laughed, I pulled myself up, and we carried on.

248971.jpgThe girls and I decided we had done enough walking, it was growing dark, and so we decided to return home. We walked out of the gate, shit-flirting with the soldiers all the way. I do quite like soldiers. I mean, I probably wouldn’t get on very well with your typical soldier IRL, because they love discipline and I love waking up in the afternoon and being unemployed. Also, these ones didn’t speak English. I’d just watched Full Metal Jacket and was in a military frame of mind. They even had platoons (is that the right word?) at this base running around behind us chanting. Probably the Thai version of “I don’t know but I’ve been told/ Eskimo pussy is mighty cold”.

“Goodbye,” I said to them.

“You beautifur,” they replied, “[Something in Thai, probably filth]”

Lots of laughing, waving, I get on my friend’s bike. We drive home.

I get to my apartment lobby and reach into my bag for my purse, which contains my key card. I’m sure you can see where this is going. It’s not there. I rummage for my phone so I can ring my friend. Oh, no. I turn to the women sat in the apartment office.

“Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Excuse me, excuse me, sa wat de ka, hello, has anyone handed in a lost phone?”

Confused faces. Nodding. Me growing frantic yet trying to maintain a veneer of cool and calm collectiveness.

“Yes, erm, a phone,”

I perform the internationally recognised mime for a phone. “I have lost my phone.”

“Ahhhh”. The sound of Thai recognition. The woman behind the window reaches into her desk. My heart soars. Some good Samaritan has found my stuff, which I must have dropped on the car park, and has handed it in.

She pulls out a business card with the apartment’s phone number on it. She smiles as she underlines with her pen.

“You can call.”

“Thank you, thank you so much,” I say, as I mime for her to buzz me through. She does, and I barrel through to the lift, to get to my laptop to get on Facebook messenger.

This isn’t the first time, I’m sure you’ll have guessed, I’ve had such communication issues in Thailand. I know, I know, I should learn the language, but I feel I would only just have mastered the most basic stuff by the time I’m leaving to go somewhere else. And because it’s tonal, even if you know the words, they still won’t know what you’re on about. I have to ask motorbike/tuk tuk drivers every morning to take me to school, and I’ll say it ten times and they won’t understand, then the security guard will come out and say it once in the exact same way, and the driver will be like “OHHH!”. I suppose it’s like how my kids can’t hear the difference between R and L (“It’s a bunny labbit”).

Ordering food poses similar problems. I pretty much have the procedure down now though.

  1. Say the name of the food you want
  2. Point to a picture of the food
  3. Google Translate the food
  4. Make a detailed sketch of the food
  5. Perform an interpretive dance based on the food
  6. Write a postgraduate thesis on the food
  7. Go into the kitchen with your waiter and have him stand next to you as you prepare the food yourself
  8. Bring a sample of the food with you and shove it into the waiter’s open, screaming mouth
  9. Give birth to the food and raise it with your waiter
  10. Physically embody the food, become your food, exemplify everything about the food, become the precise essence of the food
  11. Receive wrong order, act delighted, “Thank you, thank you!”
  12. Eat

Anyway, I’m getting off track. I get one of the girls to come, pick me up on her bike, and she takes me back to the army base to find my purse and phone. She was so kind to do it. I am such a humongous idiot.

We get back to the front gate at the base and she tries to drive her bike in. The soldiers don’t like that. So, we park up around the side and walk in. We are only two minutes down the road, in complete darkness, might I add, when we hear a male voice shouting. We turn around and see an important looking older army man. I have no idea what he was. Let’s say a colonel because that sounds very dramatic. The colonel is shouting at us in Thai, obviously telling us to get out, which is fair enough, because we’re trespassing at night on a military base. I don’t want to go though. I want my shit back. I start bowing a lot and saying “please, please,” thinking he might know that word. Everything at this point seems fairly hopeless.

I mime jogging, a phone, a phone falling on the ground. I show him my empty bag. He brings me his phone, confused. This goes on and on. He calls for back up – “These manic white girls won’t piss off”. My face is red and I’m sweating. I feel so close to potentially locating my precious objects and yet so far. I try to show him I need to carry on walking a bit further, but he doesn’t like that at all. Two other army men arrive. We stand around some more. They clearly want us gone.

I think to myself, if I find my purse and phone tonight, there is a God. There is a God.

And I just start running. Down the road in the dark. This is it, I think. I mean, really, what am I doing? I’m a strange, erratic foreigner and I could be up to absolutely any number of nefarious activities. They could shoot me in the back right now. I keep going.

I run down the path. I keep running and running. It seems to take forever. It’s dark and I am not athletic. Huffing and puffing.

It just goes on and on. I start to give up hope. I am just about to turn around and admit defeat when I see a couple of objects sat in a large mud puddle.

JESUS IS REAL. FATHER JONES WAS RIGHT. MY WEIRD REMNANTS OF CATHOLIC GUILT ARE VALID. PRAISE HIM.

My stuff is right there – my purse and phone! I pick them up and turn back towards where I came in. I can see someone waving a torch in the air at me. I pick up my phone and light up the screen and begin waving it.

“I’ve found it! I’ve found it!”

I start to run back and SLIP AGAIN. I keep going. Two soldiers on motorbikes drive up. Lots of deep waiing and ecstatic “kap khun kaaaaas”. My very patient friend and I both hop on the back and we are driven out of the base. I leave for the second time that night, much more bedraggled this time around.

 “Goodbye! Goodbye! Thank you!”

Strangely, nobody thought to call me beautifur on my second exit. I think I’ll leave it a few weeks before I go back there. About twenty minutes after I got home, a torrential downpour started.

Still, phone is fucked, I think. Water damaged. It’s sat in a bag of rice at home now so we’ll see, but I’m not too hopeful. So much for Jesus.

Point number two. My friend is here. Yay, etc. I’ll barely get to see him as I have to do a visa run to Laos on Sunday, and I have to be at work, but it’s still nice, and surreal, for him to be here. I think this is probably the only visitor I’ll ever get in Asia, so I must make the most of it.

Number three. I was in a motorbike crash this morning. And just when my confidence was building and I was getting blasé about the whole thing. We were pulling to the end of my street and just about to get onto the main road when we slammed into the back of a Land Rover. I was in shock and I’m not sure what happened exactly, but the bike started teetering whilst the driver and I both struggled to stay upright and not let it fall on top of us. I managed to get both feet on the ground and stabilise myself. His leg was trapped under something on the bike, and he was wobbling about. He put his hand on the side of the car, which drove away without so much as a second glance, or an “are you alright there?”. He began to pull out onto the main road, the bike still going everywhere.

“No, no!” I said, still in shock, “Are you OK? It’s OK. Stop. Wait.”

He was speaking in Thai and wobbling all over the road. He didn’t give himself even a second to recover. I should probably learn the Thai for “pull over”.

We continued down the road, or should I say, we continued all over the road. The guy kept beeping, as though that would help him to steady himself. Every few seconds, he would sound the horn. This is probably a good time to mention that I drove with him yesterday, and we were literally an inch away from mowing down a young female student. He had slammed on after zooming up behind her on a little alley, and they had both giggled together about her near-death experience, whilst I was sat behind wide-eyed and shaking, repeating “Oh, oh my God, Jesus, oh dear”.

Because he was completely shaken and all over the road, we went on to almost hit another man, who, in all fairness, was just stood like a demented person in the middle of the street, but still. I can’t even imagine what face I was pulling. Thankfully, we managed to pull into school without dying. I gave him 30 baht and staggered off in a daze to the staff room.

Update (18/11/2016): The phone is restored. All praise the mighty rice. All hail the iPhone 5.

Professional Give-a-Shit-er: Bad Coverage of Two Months in Thailand

It has been far too long. Over a month. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t possibly imagine where to pick up the threads of this blog and start again. So I’m just going to have to suck it up and do it.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s happened since last I posted. Please listen to this whilst you go through the list. As you do, I want you to imagine, if you actually know what I look like, my slightly worn out and annoyed face. And I want you to read each point very quickly.

OK, GO:

I have

  • Left Samuii
  • Spent several hours in a house in a satellite neighbourhood of Bangkok, in which time, I closely studied the poster for Return of the Jedi and decided it definitely has something on it, hovering around Jabba the Hutt, that strongly resembles a penis
  • Got a temporary job at a school in Chachoengsao (a town 50km outside of Bangkok)
  • Been nipped at by potentially rabid dogs
  • Been driven at ninety miles an hour down the wrong side of the motorway in a rickety tuk tuk and paid for the privilege
  • Been taken on as a permenant English teacher at the same place in Chachoengsao
  • Sweated all over the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya like a big red and white hog
  • Gone back to Samuii
Capture.PNG
No wonder Bib Fortuna looks so startled there

Oh, so many rip-roaring adventures to be lost to the annals of time, because who could possibly give a shit. I mean, I could explain the Bangkok house story, but really, isn’t it better we all just use our imaginations? But, this is supposed to be a travel blog, isn’t it, so I suppose I should really make some comment on the things I’ve seen over the past few weeks. I’ll have to save speaking on the topic of my new job for another time, or I fear, much like a nineteenth century lady, I might collapse from sheer exertion and probably sprain my dainty ankle. I simply daren’t try.

The problem is, to take yet another unwanted detour before I get into the travel stuff, I’m feeling quite tired at the moment. It’s not so much from lack of sleep, as from the absolute exhaustion that comes from the, to me, mammoth amount of socialising I’ve done since being in Thailand. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve been sharing a room most nights. I’ve been speaking, a lot, every day. I’ve been listening, a lot, every day. And Jesus, I’m worn out. Don’t get me wrong, everyone has been nice, and to resort back to that well-worn phrase, it’s all my own madness. My ability to keep up the appearance of being fine to talk is slowly breaking down. By next week, I’ll probably be found naked in the bushes, having joined the feral dog pack of Chach, scavenging discarded chicken sticks and chasing down frightened pedestrians.

It all feels very self indulgent to talk about. I’m that stereotypical introvert who wants it both ways – I want people to be available when I need them and to piss off the moment I need to be alone. I want to hide in my room for three days without making a sound and then emerge to rapturous applause and instant social gratification. It’s never going to happen. I’m definitely too much of a moody shit, and you need to be broodier and more handsome than me to be able to carry that off. You need to look like a confident and mysterious “professional-doesn’t-give-a-shit-er”, not like a “mad recluse who’s sat in all weekend marathoning cartoons and ordering from Pizza Company”. I’m saddled with the paranoia that everyone sees me for the bastard I really am.

I’m currently on half term, but will be going back to work on Monday, which may go some way to relieving my current social issues. I suppose we’ll see. What I wouldn’t give to be naturally extroverted.

Well, enough with that, let’s get to the meat.

Ayutthaya. It’s old. There are temples. Recommend. We cycled about like healthy young dickheads, masquerading as though we had any health and/or vigour in our Chang-ed out husks of bodies. I think I might be slowly dying. I have weird scabby elbows and a cough I haven’t been able to shake in a month.

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Ayutthaya. Nothing witty to say about this. Old, innit.

Bangkok. It’s a city. The capital city. There is a cinema there that does delicious nachos. I like it. The taxi drivers I like less. 13 baht (about 30p) on the train from Chach, where I live, so no doubt I’ll be there a fair bit to get my fix of food that isn’t rice or noodles.

Chachoengsao. My new home town. Not many foreigners here. “FALANG” and “HAHA! WHITE PEOPLE!” in common parlance. Bit of a problem with stray dogs that get very ballsy indeed in the dark. There’s a KFC in one of the supermarkets.

That’s that covered then, and quite efficiently too, if I do say so myself. What more could you POSSIBLY need to know?

Four of us from the TEFL course decided to head back down to Koh Samuii for a little break over half term. It was like a completely different place to the first time around. Very quiet; quite overcast and grey. I mostly sat in the pool and listened to the soothing noise of both German and Thai being spoken at the same time. Yeah, think about that. We got overnight coaches both there and back. Twelve hours. Vaguely nightmarish.

No. Let’s not beat around the bush here. Quite harrowing.

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Lady Boy Excitement

But, here I am. I’m sat in my own little room in Chach. I have two soft Oreos and half a packet of crisps and an HDMI cable. I’ve been in Asia for over two months now and I’m OK. There’s no humour in writing “I love everything and everything has been fine”, but most things have, so far, been straight forward. It’s better than being at home. I’m looking to the future though, to the end of term in March, and thinking about where my next step will take me. Somewhere quiet. English Language School for Hermits?

Koh Samuii: The First Ten Days

TEFLing and Touristing

Chloe and I woke up in our Bangkok hotel, grabbed our stuff, and off we traipsed to our next destination – Koh Samuii. Our airport driver, Moo, graciously allowed us to experience the oldest tourist con in the book, forcing bracelets onto our wrists as we looked on bewildered and too tired to protest. We dutifully handed over a “tip” and left him waiing and smiling. That seems like a million years ago now.

An incredibly short flight later and we were on the island of Koh Samuii. We quietly hummed the Jurassic Park theme as we descended into the tiki hut that comprises the airport. A man named Jack picked us up and drove us to T-Phak Phink, our hotel. We were dripping in sweat and bright red. I was overly excited to see a Charlie Chaplin restaurant/massage parlour on our way down the winding road; nothing here makes much sense.14068193_10154475790217238_6522383116008226739_n.jpg

I could go into detail about all the things I did on the first few nights here, about how I met people on the same TEFL course as me, how I drank a lot of 89baht (£1.96) cocktails, but I’m sure you can imagine how it went, and it wouldn’t make for particularly interesting reading.

I should probably speak about the TEFL school I’m attending – Samui TEFL. I prefer “Samuii” with two Is but I suppose we’re all allowed to make our own stylistic choices. The class is tough. Turns out I know next to nothing about my native language. Did you know that the word “him” can be an adjective? I mean, I always knew my education was pretty shit, but Jesus, I don’t know what on earth they were teaching me at home for twelve years. As I write this, it is the Wednesday of week two of the course, with two weeks to go until it’s over, in which time I’ll deliver lessons to primary, secondary, and adult classes. God help them. God help us all. I’d definitely recommend Samui TEFL if you’re considering training as an English as a Foreign Language teacher as its incredibly thorough, but I won’t lie, it’s difficult and I’m absolutely knackered.

There are five other British people on the course, and we are naturally drawn to each other like incredibly pale moths to a flame. It is inescapable. I find myself making eyes at them in the classroom. There have been discussions as to how we might access The Great British Bake Off while we are here. You should have seen the reaction when it was revealed that Thailand has its own version of Tesco. Pandemonium. Joy. A physical need to return to some semblance of the mother-supermarket.

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The class has around twenty people in it. Majority American, then us, then some South Africans, one Australian, and two people are half Thai. We are at that point where we’ve sort of figured out basically what we’re all like, as much as you can figure people out in ten days. Originally, I was putting on a bit of a posher accent when I spoke to the Americans because I kept getting blank stares back when I would say things. I’m losing it though; it’s too hard to keep up. The Boltonian in me will always win out.

How’s the social aspect of TEFLing, I hear you cry. I’m naturally introverted. I wouldn’t say I’m shy, I like pretty much everyone on the course, and I think I’m lucky to have found myself with such a good group, but I still need a few hours a day to withdraw and to sit with Netflix on my own. I think the key to not going completely insane when spending so much time with the same people every day is to try and maintain a strong sense of your deeply sacred personal space. Swing your arms around at all times so that nobody can ever get too close. That’s my best advice.

Americans, on the whole, are very earnest and genuine. They make trivial things seem like serious business and are, and please remember I’m speaking in gross generalities here, very eager and sweet. I hope if any of them ever read this, which seems a bit unlikely, they won’t mind me having said that. We Brits seem both reserved and constantly bemused by comparison. We like to discuss the weather and other such nonsense whilst the Americans get into the minutiae of what it means to be and to live. Not all of them, of course, and it’s not like it’s a bad thing at any rate – it’s just different to what I’m used to. The Brits are all seemingly well-versed in our national, unspoken, enshrined code of conduct – keep things light and don’t talk bollocks.

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Aside from a bit of drunken night-swimming (probably not advisable), we hadn’t really been able to spend much time at the beach because we’d been so busy with school, and so come the first Saturday, we were all up early to lay out on towels and catch some rays. Chloe and I had a lot of catching up to do. We were [are] incredibly white. Glowing. That’s actually a rather coveted thing in Thailand, as it turns out. All the beauty products, deodorants, lotions, all have whitening agent in them. It seems everyone wants what they can’t have.

We are no different. We want to be brown. Eager to get my transformation into bronzed goddess underway, I dove in at the deep end. I lay flat out under the sun like a fool. Don’t get me wrong, I was covered in my factor fifty, but I was fully aware that I was basically cooking myself. After a few hours of sitting like a lizard on a hot rock, I went along with some of my fellow TEFLers to a shady beachfront restaurant for some food and a drink. When I stepped back out, a couple of people began to look me up and down and I watched as their expressions slowly changed.

“Fuck!”

“Shit!”

“Oh fuck!”

“Stop shouting fuck and shit at me,” I said, quite confused about what was going on.

What was, in fact, going on, was that I’d turned bright pink and was radiating heat like the elephant’s foot at Chernobyl. I was promptly sent home to sit indoors and to apply aloe vera. I literally took a step back when I caught sight of myself in a mirror. I looked like a wet, burnt witch. I would’ve sent tiny Thai children running from me in terror. I left the hotel again only under the cover of darkness. The burn has now settled into a faint, dull red. My shins are still shockingly white. I don’t want to sound entitled, but when do I get my colour? I feel I’ve really put the effort in and I’m not seeing results. 

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I should talk about some of the stuff I’ve done. I feel like I’m going down a checklist right now. My brain is mush. Temples. Markets. Bars. Riding in the backs of trucks. Apparently, it’s absolutely essential on any whistle stop tour of the island to visit the Grandmother and Grandfather rocks. These are big rocks that look like a penis and a vagina. Yeah.

The food has been mostly fine, although I can’t convey how much I’m missing stodge. I want something to bite in to. You can’t bite rice. I want a big fuck off burger. I woke up last night with a churning stomach, feeling freezing cold, and sweating like some kind of demented bear. I’m fine now but I think my body is in total Asia-shock. I suppose it’s the new food and a form of “freshers’ flu”.

img_0084.jpgFinally, I feel something would be terribly amiss if I didn’t talk about the turlet hose. The Americans are all calling it “the bum gun”, but I don’t like that. It seems wrong for an American to use the word “bum” for arse. I nominate “turrrrlet hose” (toilet hose) as the official nomenclature and that’s what I shall use. The turlet hose is a hose attached to Thai toilets that you use to clean yourself after you’ve been to the loo. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but I’ve got to say, I’m a full convert to the church of the holy hose. Let’s put it this way, if you had shit on your arm, would you want to dry-wipe it off with a bit of tissue, or would you want to give it a good old wash? I don’t know if I can ever go back to my old self. I haven’t had to use a squat toilet yet, thank God, I think I’d rather just hold it in until I quietly died in a corner. I asked around if other people were using the hose and the group seemed quite divided. A memorable response was “I don’t want shit-water on my balls”. Fair enough, I thought. You can’t convert them all.

Touch Down in Asia

Well, I’m here.

It’s Sunday morning now in Bangkok. Half seven. My travelling companion, Chloe, is asleep in the bed next to me. I was woken up about forty minutes ago. It might have been the bird outside cawing. Or maybe I was startled awake by my nose dropping off because it’s minus twenty in here with the air con on.

The trip from Manchester was stressless enough. Aside from a few last minute jitters, I really haven’t felt worried about the whole thing. I think people have expected me to, and have projected that expectation onto me, but everything has been calm and has gone well. No fuck ups. No drama. No arguments between me and Chloe. All was harmonious. I don’t want to count our chickens before they hatch, but I think we might actually be rather well-suited to mutual friendship after all.

We had a brief layover in Abu Dhabi and then onwards we went.

We arrived in Thailand at about 7am. I’d had, at a generous estimate, approximately five hours sleep in about twenty four hours. On the first plane, Chloe had sat in the middle of the three-seat row and found herself next to a nice man who’d instructed us on how to do various basic tasks. I can’t remember exactly what now, how to put the TV remote back in the seat holder and so forth. We were very giddy at that stage. We switched half way, her taking the aisle seat, and I suddenly found myself next to a double-denimed Thai lady who was probably around our age, even though it was difficult to tell. What’s become immediately apparent is that Thai women, on the whole, are very glamorous and image-conscious. Fifty-year-olds look younger than me. Everyone wears make up, even in the thirty five degree heat. This lady next to me wore heels for her flight.

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Realised after quickly scanning this post before publishing that the only photos I have are of stupid things. So here’s a photo of Koh Samuii that I didn’t take to liven things up.

She started our exchange with a kind offer of some After Eight dinner mints. Apparently people in the UAE have a very sweet tooth.

“Are you sisters?” she asked us, in her thick accent.

We were both in super polite mode. No, no, no we said. We were not, and indeed, are still not, sisters.

“I think you sisters, you look very alike. Same!”

We look nothing alike. Oh do we, we laughed, knowing this to be bullshit of the highest order. Or maybe she really couldn’t see the difference between us. Who knows.

She went on to tell us many little titbits about her country, which she wasn’t looking forward to returning to, as “everything take two hours” to do, and she had a six hour bus ride up north to make after landing. Her English was excellent. I know only two Thai phrases and really can’t criticise many people on the language-learning front. It was just her accent that was a trifle difficult. I don’t know if she was telling me about “sheep shearing”, it seems somewhat unlikely, but something that sounded incredibly like that kept coming up, over and over again.

“Haha, yes,” I said. Yes, so true, always with those bloody sheep, I know them well, always shearing them, haha. 

I made loud and obvious verbal plans with Chloe about how I was going to try and sleep. I put my mask on and readied my “Make it Rain” rain-sounds playlist.

“You need help in Thailand, you call me, any time.”

“Thank you,” we said, eternally grateful, “That is so kind.” We never exchanged numbers.

In the interest of fairness, I should note that Chloe did have a difficult encounter too. We suspected during the first flight that an Indian Dracula might be sat in front of her. She told me that when she was little, her cousin told her that vampires hid in aeroplane toilets, actually in the toilet itself, waiting to bite people and suck them down (oo er) the pipes. After I returned from a visit to the cubicle, she asked if I’d seen any in there. Lucky for me, no. Perhaps they had already taken their fill of blood, or I was entirely too sweaty and unappealing for them to even bother with. The man in front reached his arms behind his seat and began to drum his long fingers on Chloe’s entertainment screen. This is a screenshot of what I wrote to her.

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He definitely was goading us. He’ll probably be at my window tonight. This is just like Fright Night. 

We landed in at Suva… Suvarna… I’ll check the spelling later (Edit: Suvarnabhumi) airport and caught a shuttle to our hotel, The Floral Shire. I picked it because it’s easily commutable. It’s clean enough and not bad at all. The sheets smell a bit farty and are quite grey, but otherwise, good. £8 each for the night so you can’t really complain. I am lying here in the semi-darkness now, typing this on my iPad, listening to the sweet and melodious sounds of an angry Thai man shouting, and a bored woman saying something that sounds like “now” repeatedly back to him. We checked in, watched some TV, slept for three hours, got up, and went for a wander. Thai TV, as a side note, is as I imagined it, except scarier. Within half an hour, I saw a suicide, a murder, and three, yes, three, ghosts. I don’t know if that’s standard. I managed to get this snapshot of our fatback TV.

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Horrifying

Floral Shire is down a higgledy-piggledy street lined with houses, hostels, and strange little shops that all seem to predominantly sell huge boxes of eggs. There are stray dogs everywhere and that makes me sad, but I try to put it out of my mind, because there’s nothing to be done about it. They weave dangerously in and out of traffic. There’s a strange, narrow sort of fish tank right outside our room on the street that’s filled with huge koi. I think they’re changing the water now because there’s a lot of splashing going on.

We make our way to a Seven-Eleven to buy snacks. Chloe finds a Kinder Bueno, causing much rejoicing and happiness, and it doesn’t even have that ingredient to stop it melting that makes chocolate taste like vomit. I buy a Coke, a packet of crisps, and a water bottle. I spend about 60 baht. That’s £1.30\€1.50\$1.70. We can’t quite believe it when we hand over our money and feel we have committed some daring daylight robbery.

(Chloe’s just got up. The shouting man disturbed her).

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Brown hotel towel – suspicious?

We then go on to a cafe and order some chicken and fried rice and a cocktail each. Then the cocktail comes, loaded with ice, and we remember that the water might have an ill-effect on us. Chloe hasn’t had her Hepatitis shots yet. An awkward and long conversation ensues with the waiter which results in him misunderstanding and bringing us a glass of ice. We feel awful about the whole thing and eventually just sip from water bottles and ignore the cocktails altogether.

(Chloe is going to play some Pokemon now and has reminded me to mention that our hands, legs, and feet all swelled horrendously whilst flying. I have a photo but I genuinely don’t know if it’s too upsetting to share here).

After that, we moved on to the hotel bar and ordered beer so we knew we’d be safe – no ice. We’re probably being overly cautious but we don’t want to get diarrhoea on our first day and become completely incapacitated.

I think that’s it for the first twenty four hours. In about five hours, we’ll be flying again, to Koh Samuii. I’ll post this later on when I have more time.

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Sweet Bandannas brah!

PS. A few months ago, I received a mysterious shipment of bandannas in the post. I have no idea who sent them or why. It’ll probably always be a mystery. I received several, and in many colours. Well, I thought it was about time to put them to good use. Chloe is pink and I am yellow. We are now the Bandanna Boys. Don’t fuck with us.

Update: 22.43, Sunday 21st 2016, Koh Samuii

I’m in my hotel room at T Phak Phink. I no longer need my ambient “Make it Rain” playlist as it’s absolutely pissing it down. It’s incredible. I’m sat on my bed with the door to the balcony closed and it’s still roaring. I think it really means something for a British person  to say they never really knew rain before. This is something else.

Anyway, starting teacher training at 9am tomorrow. Met a couple taking the same class and had a few drinks tonight. Nothing more exciting to report for now.  Apologies if this is a jumbled mess. I’m still a bit zombified.

Here’s a photo of Chloe before and after
a “Happy Moment” toilet at Bangkok airport. I dread to think what goes on in there.

Prep for the Hep: Getting Ready to Travel

I have sixteen days until I leave for Thailand so I’m doing all the last minute jobs I need to do. The prep. I’ve consulted the “what to pack” websites. I’ve bought DEET. I’m thoroughly aware that I own only one bikini, which I don’t fit in, and that my sole alternative is a fairly ratty Speedo costume I used to swim lengths in last summer. I’m thoroughly dependant on getting fairly severe intestinal problems to squeeze into half the shorts I’ve bought. Shit is starting to get really real. Despite this need to shed about three-quarters of my body weight, I’m going to have to be very careful not to become terribly ill while I’m abroad, just a little ill, because it turns out jabs are really, really expensive. I went to the nurse the other day to get all the free travel injections I could get my hands on. I was practically running through their supplies, arms flailing, letting needles prick me from all angles.

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I’m Going to Thailand

downloadI’m going to Thailand.

I know it’s not the most original plan. It’s probably on the top ten millennial to-do tick list, but I’m thinking maybe that’s because it’s a good plan, and if I were the originator of such a good plan, I’d be a much more clever and original person than I actually am. Make sense?

In May of 2015, my ex and I decided to part ways. I left the house we had been renting together. I had to leave my [almost brand new] refrigerator, washing machine, and various other pieces of furniture as part of my exodus. I might never get over losing them.

Continue reading “I’m Going to Thailand”