Friday, July 2, 2010

From this....BOS-SFO-BKK

From this...

To this....
Has much really changed except for the scenery?

Where do I begin...made it to Bangkok with virtual ease.  Stepping out of the airport, any airport really for me, brings a great sense of wonder, adventure and nervousness.  Though I have been through the Suvarnabbhumi Airport many times, this time was different.  I was not coming as a tourist but instead to as a new resident.  Maybe not of Bangkok or Thailand even, but someplace in this vast area called Southwest Asia.  Pardon my French, but fucking crazy!  I know my family loves me but I also know they must think I'm nuts.  Who would have thought that the youngest of the six kids reared by Tom and Mary Beatty would bounce from West Roxbury, Massachusetts to San Francisco, California to Southeast Asia?  And why, I often ask myself, do I continue to move on?  Running away from something or running to something?  I guess only time will tell.

After a night in Hua Hin, a little beach town two hours south of Bangkok, with my friend Sunee and her family, we all got into her sister Meow's (I know...I know) car and drove to Chomburn to catch the ferry to the serene island of Koh Tao for the weekend.

After lazing on the beach for a couple of days, Sunee (in green) and her family went home while I stayed on to catch up on some reading (Crime and Punishment), some swimming and some sun and seafood.

Five days later, I took the ferry to Koh Samui for a night.  That day, I watched online as my beloved Celtics lost to those damn Lakers.  Grrr....but it was pretty cool watching live.  The only thing that was missing was my cooking and my friends since we all would have been at Casa De Cornwall for the big game.

From Ko Samui, I flew back to Bangkok, probably one of my favorite cities in the world.  There is always just so much activity, diversity, delicious food and generally just unpredictable craziness.  And, with FIFA World Cup 2010 in full swing, I knew it might be trouble.  The games here start at 9 PM and 1:30 am.  Yikes!  And I want to live here?

The past two weeks or so have been hectic and fun all-in-one.  Amazing street food for about a buck a plate, great people, new friends, fervent Thai soccer fans, condo hunting, job hunting, and Thai language school searching.
31 baht (less then 1 USD) bowl of fresh noodle soup with sprouts and basil

I have not yet decided that Bangkok will be my home but since I have time, I want to make sure I do my due diligence.   Cambodia is itching at me and I will satisfy that itch when my good friend B-dub shows up on this continent on 8 July.

But, I have signed a short-term lease on a one bedroom condo in Bangkok.

 I have also enrolled in a three-month long Thai class so I can better communicate with my new peeps.  :-)

Until then, take care, my friends and Happy Fourth of July.  You all deserve to relax and enjoy your friends and family.  I only wish I was there to enjoy the festivities and my dear friends.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Back in the States but Flying Tomorrow

Well, I have returned to the United States until 9 June.  As much as I love this wonderful city, San Francisco no longer feels like home.  I  have been counting the days until I return to Asia and find a teaching position.

In March, I completed the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL:) certification course in the small beach town of Ban Phe, Thailand.   After traveling throughout Southeast Asia for two months, the transition to school was not an easy one.  Two weeks of 8-4 instructional classes followed by two weeks of actual teaching in Thai classrooms to kids ranging from the age of 9-18 was exciting and challenging.  Writing lesson plans every night for presentation on the next day was time consuming but time well spent.  Our teaching class had 12 other individuals from all over the world.  One other American, one guy from the Phillipines, girls from Belgium and England, guys from Kenya, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The students are amazingly respectful and well-mannered.  Each class is opened up by the students standing and saying "Good Morning, Teacher" (my new ringtone for my cell).  The students display an enthusiasm and an appreciation for learning that I have never seen before.  It's just really encouraging to go into that type of environment and to feel like you can make a difference in these kids' lives.

After completing the course, a friend asked if I would help out her friend who runs a school for musically-gifted Thai children.  Sangtein opens up her home during the school vacation and invites 15 children to live with her and practice their music, singing and dance for one month.  I was asked to come in for two hours every morning and afternoon and help the children improve their English skills.  In return, I was given a four bedroom house in which to live as well as breakfast. lunch and dinner every day.  Not bad!

I think the greatest pleasure of teaching at what I coined the "Thai Summer Arts Workshop" was getting to know the kids and being able to enjoy their interpretations of Thai culture.

From Ban Phe, I journeyed on to Cambodia to volunteer at the Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC), an NGO in Siem Reap where I volunteered two months earlier.  The Cambodian children have smiles that can light up any room.  My first day at JWOC, I was asked to help with the Sunday arts class.  Seems easy, right?  Try corralling 64 Cambodian kids and helping them make Easter baskets and participate in an Easter egg hunt.  As difficult as it was, it was absolutely hilarious.

After Siem Reap, I traveled back to BKK but the political turmoil led me to decide to head back to some beaches.  I selected Ko Lipe, a small island in the Ko Turatao National Marine Park.   The 14 hour train ride followed by a van ride and a 90 minute ferry actually proved incredibly worth it once I arrived on the island with my friend Archy.

We found a bungalow on the beach for 500 baht per night (or $17 USD), ate fresh seafood each night at a quaint little place on the small road that leads from the beach.  A whole fresh seabass, grilled with Thai herbs and spices for 200 baht.  Mmmmm...and, BYOB!

Some of the best snorkeling I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing sits among the various small islands surrounding Koh Lipe.

One of the small islands is inhabited by thai monkeys.  As soon as a boat pulls ashore, they come scampering out to see what's going on.

I flew back to the States on 29 April.  Since then, it has been a happy and busy time though I have been longing to return since I got off the plane.  Activities this past month have included a trip home to Boston to celebrate the college graduation of two of my sweet nieces,

attended the obligatory Giants game at Pac Bell Park with my good friends Ted and Joe

went snow camping and backpacking in Yosemite with my BFFs

celebrated my birthday

and went white-water rafting on the South Fork of the American River.

And, I got to see my wonderful ex-wife's new baby girl, Betty.  :-)  Congrats, Linda and Justin. You will be wonderful parents.

All in all, an enjoyable trip back, but now it is time to finish packing for my flight to Bangkok tomorrow.  Two more months of traveling before going to Cambodia to shop my teaching resume around to secure a teaching job hopefully in Siem Reap.  If not there, Thailand here I come to teach.

Thanks to all who shared their time with me this month.  And, my sincerest apologies to those of you who I didn't have a chance to see.  I will travel abroad with all of you in my heart.

Hsan - Take care of my apartment and don't throw too many parties.
B-Dub - See you in five weeks.
My family - I love you dearly.
My friends - Come visit me.

Goodbye and see you again.
Lia Sunh Haoy (Cambodian)
Laew phob gan mai (Thai)
Tam biet (Vietnamese)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bangkok Red Shirt Protest UPDATE

Because I have received many emails about the current political situation in Bangkok, I thought I would pen a quick blog telling you my thoughts.

I just spent the last five days in Bangkok April 6-12.  During this time, the anti-government red shirt protesters stormed the Parliament, lost control of and then regained control of their supporting television station, caused a lot of tourists and Bangkokians to be inconvenienced by closed shopping malls and the shut down of public transportation stations, but also were involved in a violent push back by the government on Saturday night when 21 people were killed and 80 people injured.  

The red shirts, composed mostly of poor Thais from the rural areas of Northern Thailand, are protesting the control of the current government supported by the "yellow shirts", often described as being the Bangkok "elite".  In 2006, the "yellow shirts" staged protests leading to a non-violent takeover of the government by the military while then Prime Minister Thaksin was overseas on a trip to New York.  After a year of military rule, the yellow shirts were surprised when Thaksin's  supporters regained power in Parliament after nationwide elections.  In 2008, Parliament decreed that the 2006 elections were wrought with fraud and appointed the current, yellow shirt supported government.  Since that time, the Parliament has found Thaksin guilty of major corruption and seized billions of dollars in his and his family's assets.  Now, I don't pretend to know everything yet about the Thai government, but if one believes in conspiracy theories, the theory that the government (or is it the military?)  is manipulating things (i.e. installing a government, calling elections fraudulent because they do not produce the desired outcome, finding the PM guilty of corruption), all would warrant further investigation.  Personally, I don't believe it.  Thaksin is a crook who pays for votes and embezzled billions of baht while prime minister.  Period.  End of story!  Most people agree that he is bankrolling the current protests to the tune of 1,000 baht per day per person.  Now, what does that mean?  Well, I am in the uppermost reaches of northern Thailand right now.  My friend's family owns a nice Thai restaurant and her staff, all smart, friendly and skilled, make 3,000 baht per month.  They work hard and they are happy with the work and the pay.  They think this is good money.  Thaksin, while on the lam, is paying unskilled farm workers 10 times this just to have them agree to be trucked down to Bangkok, fed small plastic baggies of rice and pork and stir up the situation on his behalf.

Now, I understand that the right to peaceful protests is an important part of the democratic process.  But most of these people have little idea what the protests are all about.  They are blinded by hero worship, food and cash and support Thaksin and the red shirt cause blindly and without comprehension.  

Most of the activity has been extremely isolated.  I actually went in search of some action and only on one day (Saturday before the violence erupted) was I even able to locate anything and that was merely about 200 red shirts all standing around listening to one of the leaders speak from the top of a truck while alternating with taped broadcasts of previous speeches while he has a cold towel and a smokebreak.

I don;t blame the government for finally getting frustrated at being badly embarrassed by the red shirts, but there also seems to be apathy among the ranks of the police and soldiers.

Why else would the soldiers leave there tanks behind after retreating from the violence on Saturday?  It just seems so weird and utterly unusual, but maybe they know something that I don't.

Well, time to leave Bangkok on Monday and head up to the northern town of Chiang Rai to celebrate the Thai New Year festival of Songkran.  Thais celebrate this holiday by going off to their villages, spending time with their families and throwing water on each other.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and Teaching

Well, I left the good energy of Phnom Penh to head to the temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  The four hour mini van ride was uneventful which is usually a good thing while traveling.  No accidents = good trip!  Upon reaching the town of Siem Reap, I made my way to Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) Guest House.  I heard about JWOC from my friend and former client Leroy Morishita who, upon hearing about my Asia plans, strongly suggested I go check out JWOC.

JWOC is a not-for-profit NGO run by a charming couple from (where else?) California that helps the community of and around Siem Reap.  Some of their projects include a water cleanliness program to help the less than fortunate Cambodian locals by bringing cleanliness and sanitation to the many groundwater wells used for drinking, farming and bathing.  JWOC’s signature project is their Community Education Center.  In the Ed Center, JWOC staff teach everything from basic English to children and adults, computer skills.  They even teach less technical skills like sewing.  All these classes are amied at improving the chances of the Cambodian people,children, man, women, being successful.

The proprieters, Andrea and Brandon, are very helpful and arranged for me to have a driver and a guide at sunrise to go see the temples of Angkor Wat.  During ouor conversation, I asked if JWOC ever needed volunteer teachers.  Andrea sais “How about after your tour tomorrow?” with a laugh.  I agreed that I would help teach the next day at 3 pm.  

The next morning I awoke at 5 am, rewadied myself quickly and walked to the inn lobby.  The driver was waiting with the guide, Sen.  

Sen was a happy, smiling man who was also working at a resort and studying English (which he had nailed) and also French.  He wanted to be able to make himself more marketable to a larger group of clients and he thought learning French would help meet that goal.  After a 30 minute drive through roads populated by small family-owned restaurants, we arrived at the tourist center where I bought a three-day pass for $40 USD.  In Cambodia, the US Dollar is the currency of choice.  Unlike Vietnam and Thailand, the ATM machines spit forth USD.  On the short drive from the tourist center to Angkor Wat, we sped past the King’s Lake, a ginormous manmade body of water built exclusively for use by the Cambodian King. 

Surrounded by a moat 190 meters wide, Angkor Wat has been safely protected for centuries.  As Sen and I approached the temples before sunrise, we walked among hundreds of other “early-rising” tourists. 

As the sun peeked out from behind the spires, the beauty of the location came quickly into view.  The sun behind the stone monoliths, the reflection bouncing off the moat in front, the distinct stillness that the place exudes (despite the throngs of tourists), all of these things have been seen by so many different people since they were constructed by slave labor in the 10th century.  

After a morning exploring, climbing and enjoying Ankgkor Wat, Sen and I travelled to Angkor Thom (khmer = Great City), built in the 12th century and lies on the Siem Reap River. Thoough not as old or as famous as Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom is equally beautiful.  Hundreds of faces carved into sheets of sandstone guard the various gates to the place. 

That afternoon, I headed back to the JWOC for an afternoon volunteering in the classroom.  Fifteen children and one 30 year old monk were my first class. 

How ironic that there would be a couple of folks from the East Bay also volunteering at the same time.  The students were so appreciative to hear actual english-speaking people teach their class.  Their full-time instructor is a charminng young man but definitely has a thick khmer accent.  It was so much fun for me that I chose to extend my stay another day to teach and change my plans and plane ticket to Bangkok.
Children in Cambodia go to school either in the morning or in the afternoon, six days a week.  Most ride bicycles to school wearing their blue and white uniforms.  The children all seem to have happy, smiling faces while their parents and older peoples’ faces seem creased with the hardships that this country suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.  Cambodia, even a tourist spot like Siem Reap, is very affordable in Western standards.  $60 USD a month for a one bedroom apartment.  $5 dollars a month for cell phone service.  $10,000 USD for a large, seemingly well-constructed house. 
The next morning, it was off again to see some more temples.  This time, Banteay Srei, “Citadel of Women” and Ta Phrom, of Lara Croft “Tombraider” fame, I was told.  Bantay Srei was beautiful, with its red limestone and small scale when compared to the larger site of Angkor Wat. 

That being said, it was so overcrowded with touorists that I had to get out of there pretty quickly.  I was starting to feel a bit “templed out”.  

Ta Phrom was absolutely stunning to see.  The 10th century structures have been taken over by the force of nature for centuries.  Mammoth trees have imbedded themselves in the structures with roots growing up through and around the stones.  

This is the site that was used for the filming TombRaiders.  Sen and I decided to call it a day and finished off with an delicious khmer meal by the roadside.  Fried rice with Khmer sausage, a Siem Reap product, and undoubtedly the most tasty sausage ever made.

Another day of teaching, then a morning bus to Phnom Penh to catch a plane back to Bangkok.  TEFL course starts in about ten days, so time to start getting focused.

Focused...on what exactly?????

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Fresh, Fabulous and Fun

Well, I arrived in Cambodia from the Mekong on the evening Friday 12 February with my new UK friends, Ben and Sami.  We got settled in at the Sky Park Hotel in Phnom Penh (PP).  I decided to venture out and try to find an ATM machine.  PP appears to have no traffic rules which can make it quite adventurous to try and get anywhere on foot.  Pedestrian safety in PP compares greatly to that in Boston.  Needless to say, I never was able to find an ATM (or cross a busy street for that matter).  We all decided to take a tuk tuk to find a place Ben had read about in "The Book" aka Lonely Planet.
Romance was in the air for the charming couple (and the third wheel wasn't feeling too bad, either)......Until, after assuring us that he knew where we were trying to go, the driver proceeded to drive in circles and stop at least four fellow tuk tuk drivers for assistance.  We did not find Ben's restaurant.  But as has happened through out this journey through Asia, things always seem to work out for the best.  We found a local's place that was BBQing some amazing meats out front and decided that we would give it a shot.  We got what could only be described as a vat of Angkor Beer with a big chunk of ice in the middle and a spout on the side for easy pouring at the low, low price of $4.25 USD.  The BBQ was unbelievable, the waitresses amazingly shy, cute and giggly that three whiteys were in their restaurant.

Awoke the next morning, Saturday, to the quietness and beauty that PP exudes.  For a large Asian city, it is amazingly calm and clean.  Ben, Sami and I headed out on foot to do some sightseeing.  We stopped by a beautiful  oasis of a temple in the middle of PP, amazed at the beauty and serenity hidden safely within the old stone walls.

Fun and frolicking in the streets of PP ensued with Playa Ben and SmileySami stopping to pose for some not-so-candid shots to commemorate the day.

We ventured down to the city's unfortunate looking (Thanks, Aunt Marie for use of the term) river view.  The walk caused us to have a thirst quenching stop along the river where we were entertained by a cute Cambodian girl.  At ten years old, she spoke 4 languages but was hawking books and DVDs to help her family.  Her smile was genuine and beautiful.
(Note the disapproving look from the fellow bookseller)

One thing that I will take a way from this trip is how genuinely happy so many people are despite their lack of  those things that we Westerners seem to feel necessary to happiness.  Most work seven days a week but don't seem to mind.  they go home to (or even work with) their families and the tightknittedness (is that a word?) of their families is amazing.

Anyway, after spending 30 minutes talking and bartering with the cute girl, her co-worker got frustrated and a genuine Cambodian turf war broke out.  Happily for us, cutie prevailed!

Seeing this as a good time to make our gracious exit, we moved on to finish off our sightseeing day with stops at a bookstore, and a few other temples.

After heading back to Sky Park to freshen up, we decided to browse the city for a place to have dinner.  Stumbling upon no-name places has become thing I seem to have perfected on my journey and tonight was no different.  For a quiet, pre-dinner drink, we stopped at a quiet place which unbeknownst to me was a "karaoke" bar.  For those unfamiliar to the phrase, Asian "karaoke" bars are drinking establishments where women provide company to the patrons.  Luckily for me (and Ben, I would imagine), the girls took a greater liking to Sami than to either of us. Go figure!

Peeling the girls away from Sami was harder than you can imagine, requiring the brute strength of Ben and me.  Nevertheless, we ventured down the streets of PP and happened upon Cambodian popstar's mall concert.  Very funny and impromptu.

After the show, we settled into a place, again filled with locals, that proved to be a wonderful find.  Cheap, delicious, Cambodian food and wonderful, welcoming people.  One of the unexpected highlights was a young boy who proceeded to dance through the night while watching the music played overhead.  Ben took most of the photos while Sami and I relished the unexpectedness of this wonderful night.

Alas, it was time to call it a night and rest up for our Sunday in PP.

 Sunday, my last day in PP for now, started out slow for all those involved.  I think we all felt like this guy.

Sami, Ben and I headed to the Royal Cambodian Hotel for some poolside rest.  A beautiful swimming pool was just what all of us needed and this place fulfilled the mission we asked of it.  On the way back from a day poolside, we were driven by a wine bar that seemed to call out to us all.  After getting cleaned up, we headed back and found it to be quite enjoyable.  We shared a bottle of nice red wine while watching evening set upon PP.

Again deciding to just wing it and try and find a place that looked good for dinner, we walked by someone's home on the same street as that of the wine bar.  Out front were about 15 people drinking beer and singing karaoke with their television.  When I asked if I could take a picture, a few of them waved us in.  Not being shy, we walked over only to have cold beers placed in all our hands and engaging in a toast.  What ensued can only be described as unbelievable.  Dancing, karaoke, very little English mixed in with one man showing us his badge and ID card and telling us that he was the PP Chief of Police.  He followed this by pulling up his shirt and displaying a rather large silver handgun, laughing, and cheers-ing us.  Only in Cambodia!  Though surprised, none of us were scared.  After too much beer and participating in a few karaoke songs (in Cambodian, mind you), we knew that we had to get something to eat.  After saying our lengthy goodbyes to each and every one of the people, we were finally able to leave.

Dinner again turned out to be a lucky and delicious choice with wonderful, happy people and incredible food, including frog legs. last night in PP, for now but not forever, because the wonder in this City is its beauty, its people and its laid-back atmosphere.  Thank you PP.

Next stop.....Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat!  Be well, my friends.