Thursday, 7 January 2010

Camping at Pak Meng, sleeping rough at Seabreeze, Ko Lanta and machine guns at weddings.


Four years ago I was working on my MSc at Newcastle University. I was excitedly planning the initial stages of this trip. I was fretting over Russian / Mongolian visas and looking into Icelandic ferry schedules. Three years ago I was taking my first tentative steps into exotic Borneo. I remember watching the cartoon-like Proboscis Monkeys foraging among the mangrove swamps that separate the dense jungle from the surf. Two years ago I was helping Zi Ting serve food from her small stall at Salt Mountain near Jiali in Tainan Province, Southern Taiwan. I would serve the ‘Er R Jian’ – a kind of slimy squid omelette - to the hungry tourists. They were amused to be served by a Westerner who had a loose grasp of Chinese. Last year I was hanging out in Islamic Kota Bharu in North East peninsular Malaysia. I was beginning to hunt for work in China. The China thing was aborted due to the obstructive and unhelpful Chinese embassy staff in Kuala Lumpur. That is how I find myself sitting here one year later teaching Maths in a High School in Thailand. Life? What an adventure.

Swedish Eric turned 60 on the 20th of November, one day after I turned 36. Since our ages have a Highest Common Factor of 12 (that’s the maths teacher in me) we decided to have a small party on Friday the 21st of November. We met at Baan Yindee (Welcome home) for a western dinner and a few beers. Stefan’s wife Cat even bought us a small cake with a candle in it. We watered down the beer with Eric’s Swedish vodka and enjoyed a great party. I have some smashing friends here in Trang.
My school had its 73rd birthday in the same week and this was yet another excuse to cancel all lessons. One gets the impression that the Thai curriculum takes second place to anything else that crops up - however benign. We’ve lost so many classes this term that I’ll be lucky to get through half of the Ministry of Education’s recommended material. This week is Mid Term Test week where our students get to show how little they’ve learnt over the last few months. I had a laugh yesterday watching the junior class do a ‘fill in the blanks’ English test. One question was “We eat chocolate cake for _______”. Presumably the answer is dessert but ‘Boy’ - who has trouble writing his name in Thai let alone English - decided the best answer in this case was ‘fish’. We eat chocolate cake for fish? What is going on in this lad’s brain? Perhaps the synapses that connect his neurons are wired in such a way that the words ‘fish’ and ‘chocolate’ are symbiotically linked in a perfectly logical relationship. MMMmmmmmm?
Rooftop sunsets
Eric (originally from Guidepost) and his wife have set up a new private language school. They live above the school in a large building. Eric often takes in a tropical sunset while enjoying a beer or two. I sometimes join him and we chat about how lucky we are to be here. We imagine what our lives would be like if we were at home in Englandistan. We shudder at the prospect. All those laws, all that weather…..urrgghh. On News Years Day I was in a 5 Star Hotel’s outdoor swimming pool in hot glorious sunshine reflecting on how there’s two foot of snow in Englandistan. I finished off with a coffee in the tremendously ornate reception area. All this for £1 - scandalous.
Since I’ve had the bike I’ve fallen off it four times. Luckily I have never been hurt but the bike has. On one occasion I dropped it whilst drunkenly attempting to mount it – that cost me the windshield. Next time the port wing mirror (sorry - left wing mirror – that’s the old submariner in me) came off. I still have the mirror but I’m waiting on a part from Bangkok. Apparently this can take anything from 6 months to two years. Meanwhile my vision is impeded as I cruise around with only a starboard (sorry – right) wing mirror. I’ve probably knocked 10,000bt of the bike’s value in the last 3 months but I don’t care. Interestingly, on my way back from the mountains last weekend I noticed the clock tick past the 10,000km mark.
One day I went to collect my motorbike from a dodgy area of town since I’d decided to leave it there the prior night. I had a quick coffee with some Kantang fisherman blokes who are friends with a local Hotel owner. I chatted with them all for a while and it turns out that ‘Rat’ the Hotel owner is something of a millionaire. He had just returned from Dubai where he met exiled ex-PM Thaksin. He had a signed photo of them together shaking hands! Rat won me over by paying for my coffee!
King’s Birthday
Friday the 4th of December was another day of cancelled classes. This time it was for the King’s 82nd birthday. เรารักในหลวง Rao rac nailuang. We love the King. This is a hugely important day here. Everybody wore pink at school, even us Farang teachers. Ian gave me his old pink polo-shirt that’s now too small for him! It has a picture of his dog ‘TongDeng’ (Red Dog) on it. I’m under the impression everybody wears pink because the King wore a pink suit when he came out of hospital recently. People believe pink will bring him good luck. I had many photos of this amazing pink spectacle but I’m unable to post them – more on that later.
Old Richard is 61. He’s a teacher in Panuit School on the other side of town. We’ve become good mates since we have identical motorbikes. We decided to take a camping trip to Hat Ratchamongkong near Pak Meng. We loaded our bikes with tents and all manner of camping paraphernalia. However, I carried the essential item, namely the heskey. A heskey is a small polystyrene box full of beer and ice. We loaded up, started our engines, and were on the road again, free. As we arrived we noticed an island in a lake that turned out to a be a refuge for gibbons. We had a few beers while watching these fascinating primates. One of them walked on his two legs and with his outrageously disproportioned arms we concluded that he resembled old Russel, the Aussie who runs the Farang bar in Town. If you’re ever in Town be sure to go to Pri’s Place so you can meet Russel. Also be sure to ask him if he’s an old Hippy and plan to stay for the next hour of your life.
So after the gibbons it was off to the beach to erect our tents near a huge impressive aquarium. We collected wood and made a fire ready for sunset. We then did what any two English lads would do and proceeded to drink the Heskey dry. It was a good night gazing at the stars, listening to the surf and talking drunken bollicks. In the morning the fire was still hot and Russel cooked an awesome English breakfast. What a class idea.
After the camping I went home and had a shower. I hooked up with Paul, the Aussie with the Honda CBR150 and headed to Ao Nang near Krabi. Paul headed off to a remote beach to do some photography and I met Richard my mate from Edinburgh. It’s high season now so the room I stayed in previously for 200bt is now going for 600bt. Bollicks to that. We headed back to Krabi Town and found a room for 100bt! We spent the evening touring the town’s watering holes and realised that although the town is near many Farang infested tourist areas, the town itself is remarkably similar to Trang. I spent the night trying to sleep with a load of young pissed backpackers having a party the entire night. Paul and I were annoyed but I suppose you pay for what you get.
The next morning I rode, no cruised, up to Phuket. Paul was meant to follow me but he either got lost or bottled it and went home. I passed Phang Nga and found myself taking pictures from the middle of the bridge that connects Phuket Island to the mainland. I headed down to Patong beach and witnessed a daft Welsh tourist crash his scooter about 1 meter from where I was having a tab. A car pulled up and a black window slewed down electronically. A young girl shouted Teacher Steve from within and I was shocked to see one of my students – small world! I decided Patong was not the place for me and jumped on the bike and headed South past Karon and Kata beaches. I started climbing large hills and arrived at a spectacular viewpoint. Again I met Keow my student. This time I met the whole family as they had a photo with a huge sea eagle perched on their shoulders. I hing out with this family for the remainder of the day. We went to ‘Prom Thep’ Cape together and then shared a somtam dinner at Rawai beach. They headed to Phuket Town to find a room and found one nearby for 300bt. My room was in a complex known as Pussy Towers because many bargirls live there. I wasn’t complaining.
I went to a bar called ‘The Islander’ run by one of Richard’s old mates. It’s always nice to have connections like this so although I was there alone I didn’t really feel it. I quickly settled in with the local expat scene. I spent the next 4 days exploring Phuket, drinking, being over charged for everything and generally chilling out. The most memorable thing was a Geordie lad from Wallsend walking into a bar and taking all his clothes off and drinking naked! I also remember contemplating buying a bar although this idea was quickly laid to rest during the cold, sober light of day.
Kipping rough
I went to Pri’s Bar and got very drunk. I walked over to my motorbike and decided (sensibly) there was no way I was going to be riding it. So I slept on the wooden deck of Seabreeze restaurant for the night. I was woken by gay Sakda as he was opening the next morning. It was then I realised I’d lost my cell phone. This means I’ve lost all the photos of the events I’ve been describing. I’d also lost all my numbers of friends and family since I have no back up. Bugger.
For the record I fried my laptop also by using a incompatible charger since my original charger went kaput. Bugger. A good phone and laptop gone in 1 week. Bugger.
Ko Lanta
Richard and I headed to KoLanta on Saturday 19th of December for a night. We rode up together and enjoyed two short ferry crossings. First to Ko Lanta Noi and then onto the main Island Ko Lanta Yai. We rode off the ferry and rocked into town. We found a room behind all the girly bars for 300baht. This was probably as far from the beautiful beaches as you can get but it was cheap. We then parked the bikes and proceeded to get drunk. I can honestly say I have seen virtually nothing of Ko Lanta. The next day we headed back to Trang with heads like Birkenhead.
Christmas Day was spent at work although we did have a party where all the classes were cancelled again. I don’t like xmas at the best of times so I was disappointed that we had to organise all manner of dances and songs. I can’t stand this stuff. With relief, I headed down to Pri’s and enjoyed a few chilled out beers as the sun was thinking about going below the yard arm. The rest of the festive period has been spent in Trang.
New Year and family
I spent the 2010 countdown at Pri’s place with a load of Trang long termers. Nothing special. A nice evening but nothing special. I can’t believe 10 years has gone so quickly. In 2000 I was in Pegswood Ex-Serviceman’s Club with my Dad after deliberating how to spend the millennium for the previous 6 months. I had 4 days off last week but I didn’t go anywhere as I want to save my cash for when my brothers arrive which should be next week. I haven’t seen any family since June 2006. I am looking forward very much to seeing Mick and Bobby. I am going to ask for time off school. I have no idea what their plans are but I’m sure they’ll have a great 3 weeks during their first trip to Asia.
You’ve heard the phrase: All roads lead to Rome. Well, it’s bollicks! Why? Because all roads lead to Cork. Cork in Ireland that is. I’ve been hanging out with Tom and Krate lately. Tom’s a great lad who speaks with that soft, rolling, almost therapeutic Irish brogue. He’s a good laugh and he had me in stitches one drunken night as he somehow managed to steer every conversation back to Cork. By the end of the evening I was beginning to perceive Cork as a Shangrila/Nirvana type place. A mythical paradise where one’s wishes are granted and leprechauns serve your Guinness. Unfortunately I’ve never been thus I can’t verify my perceptions.
That reminds me, I don’t think I’ve mentioned Nat’s bar before. What a place. Soochat is the dynamo in the outfit. Legs Eleven is the chppoer-driving girl who brings your beer. Nat is the closest member of staff who can speak anything slightly resembling English. Soochat used to work in Phuket but decided to come back to Trang and follow his dream of running ‘Paliao’ - a little karaoke bar/junkyard. He can sing classic English songs but, strangely, can not string an English sentence together. If you ever want to sample the unique ambience here you’ll have to squeeze past a derelict washing machine to enter. Then you can perch yourself on the scrap office chair / swing / bunjee jump contraption. You can take a leak on the waste land at the gable end of the bar or alternatively go through a ridiculous swinging roundabout door to use the posher urinal. It’s a quirky place down a quirky street in a quirky town called Trang. Tom and I love going there.
Washing Machine and guns
The school had a staff party last week but I didn’t go. If I had have gone I would have won a new washing machine because my name was first out of the raffle. Never mind, I went to Swedish Eric’s in Nayong instead to attend his stepson’s wedding celebration. Here I met a drunk Thai policeman who had a pistol stuffed down his jeans. He kept shouting “YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU” at me while downing shots of vodka. The vodka was a bad idea. Thais and vodka don’t mix. He drank 13 shots in 30 minutes and then staggered off. Later I heard some shots and the party music stopped. The music resumed and a Thai lad came and told us the copper was slouched behind the stage drunkenly firing his gun at the moon! Eric has since told me that the copper had the next two days off work – must’ve been one hell of a hangover!
My name is no longer Steve. It is Sateeb. That is how Thais pronounce it and it makes me laugh so I have adopted it. Another good one is Tesco. In Thailand Tesco goes by the name Tesco Lotus but Thais merely use the word Lotus. However, they pronounce it LAWTAAT which again makes me laugh. If you ask a taxi guy to take you to ‘Tesco’ or ‘Lotus’ he will have no idea what you’re talking about. If you ask him to take you to LAWTAAT he will smile and escort you like Royalty. If you say SATEEB CHAWB LAWTAAT he will smile but think you’re a prick.

Guep - nearly

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