Thursday, November 28, 2013

Swami

Last photo with Swami?


Swami is gone. We are heartbroken. It was my fault. He was riding in my shoulder bag and either fell out while I was climbing around the structure in the above photo or a pickpocket got him at the next temple. Either way, I feel absolutely horrible about it. The three of us have been traveling together for the last 14 years. We're really going to miss that little guy. I'm crushed. But... dare I say... he left us with this video? I wouldn't put it past him. I just happened to take it during a tuk tuk ride through Angkor Wat, about a half hour before he disappeared.



Tuk tuking with Swami and M. Lee through Angkor Wat

As soon as I noticed he was missing, we retraced out steps. We hadn't gone far but no luck. This evening, looking at photos from the day, I managed to narrow down the area where we lost him so we'll check around a bit more tomorrow because we can. I just have to.

Me & Swami at Angkor Wat


Good night, Swami. Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite. See you on down the road.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dog vs. saxaphone

We were walking on Kalayana Maitri Rd. in Bangkok the other day when we heard wonderful music coming from a small shop selling eye glass frames. Turns out a very jolly fellow was playing a very excellent bamboo saxophone for his perhaps not so appreciative dog or was she singing along?



Thai guy playing bamboo sax for his dog from ashabot on Vimeo.


We're at the Bangkok airport waiting for a flight to Seim Reap to visit the Buddha. At this point, it doesn't look like there are many fellow passengers on this flight which is a bit disturbing. Cambodia Angkor Air is known to cancel flights that aren't full enough.

"Woo-hoo! Let's go!"

But turns out we're in luck. Enough people showed up so we're on our way.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Koh Kood, hello and good-bye

Breakfast with Swami,
Mangrove Bungalow

I'm sitting at a table in the open air restaurant at Mangrove Bungalow. It's got a lovely deck which extends out over the mangrove lined Klong Chao and is a great place to start the day. The river is high this morning but that varies with the tides. It's basically the Alligator Creek of Thailand only, instead of flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, the Chao moves through the mangroves and palm trees on its way to the Gulf of Thailand.

Coconut boat on Koh Kood
Coconut boat - Koh Kood Thailand

The last 10 days we've been staying at a family run place on Koh Kood called Mangrove Bungalow. We're paying $30 (US) a night, breakfast included, which makes it all possible. There's one resort on the island where accommodations  go for as much as $17,0000 (US) a night but I wouldn't even want to stay in a bubble like that. Our cabin is 10 feet from the river. And it's a nice place. So what if nobody speaks much English? It gets awkward at times, but everybody is low key and we’re about a quarter mile from the beach so really. What’s to complain about? We point and smile and otherwise they ignore us. Here, in the land of smiles, a smile goes a long way, even when they're fake.

View from the cabin,
Mangrove Bungalow

Thailand has a lot to recommend it. The people are nice and the country itself is warm, colorful, exotic, beautiful and as lively or quiet as you want it to be. We prefer quiet and, other than the ringing of the cicada, (which I love) Koh Kood is not one of the party islands. It's quiet here. It's the kind of place people come to relax. It's a family destination. Beyond that, the tourists seem to be mostly Russian or Scandinavian. We haven't seen any other Americans. My theory is that, other than tours, most Americans are convinced the world is far too dangerous to explore.


Swami and Buddha on Koh Kood
Swami and Buddha on Koh Kood

The hard part for me is the food. There really is a food barrier and here in Koh Kood I hit it hard. It's like people have never even heard of anyone being a vegetarian. Forget about finding tofu. We haven't even been able to get beans. The other day we ordered kale at at restaurant and it came with huge chunks of pork. But we spend a good part of every day exploring the island and its beaches on a motorbike which, for me is kind of scary, but also a helluva lot of fun. The island doesn't have any wilderness but it's not overdeveloped ... yet.

Swami looking over the bay
Buddha looking over bay

Nothing I say today, no photos I may post, guarantee Koh Kood will be the same even a year from now. Progress. Sometimes it sucks. But, for today, Koh Kood it still kind of sleepy and rural and clean. If this were Mexico, the rivers would be choked with plastic bottles and bags and foamy with soap and sewage. Not so here. They are all remarkably clean. And we’ve biked just about every road on the island and hiked a bit and there is no litter along the side of any road or in the forest. Some homes have litter around them but it's contained. Wake up, Mexico and Central America.

Swami and Buddha on Koh Kood 03
Swami and Buddha on Koh Kood

In the morning we return to Bangkok for three days then we're going to Cambodia to visit the World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat. I have to clear some hard drive space before then. I'm nearly out of storage.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Biking Koh Kood

I took this shaky cam video from the back of a motor scooter on Koh Kood, an island in the Gulf of Thailand.


It is not dramatic. There is no music to spice it up. There are no amusing annotations. It's just six minutes/sixteen seconds of Koh Kood from the back of a motor scooter. Sorry, but due to a combination of having very little time online and excruciatingly slow upload speeds (it took three days to upload) this video must remain, at least for now, raw and uncut. It is, as they say, just for the record.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Three photos of Thailand

Swami in Thailand

Koh Kood fishing village

Buddha watching over the village

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thai etiquette

M. Lee and the Coconut Lady

Before we left China, M. Lee emailed me this link to help me prepare for Thailand. Worth a read if you're ever planning to visit the place. The main thing to keep in mind is that, though petty scamming is second only to tourism in the Thai economy, Thais still very much appreciate courtesy and a smile from visitors. Now M. Lee is not above using manipulation when sharing a word to wise but he told me that recently some tourist got rude about an inflated taxi fare so the driver leaped out of his cab and killed the guy with his machete.


Getting a drink of tasty coconut milk in Thailand.

Whatever the case, at least two days in, I like Thailand a whole lot better than China. For one thing, even in a big nasty city like Bangkok, there are birds chirping away outside the window. And, instead of peering through a suffocating cloud of highly toxic, ground level pollution, I can see the sky. And yeah. People do smile a lot.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

News at 7:01 PM (CST)

Qihelou Jie street

We've been staying in a small hutong house off Qihelou Jie street just across the moat from the Forbidden City. Tomorrow we leave for Thailand and M. Lee's mom returns to the States. We are just three weeks into a 10 week trip and I've already taken about 5000 photos, around 24 GBs worth. I don't know if my camera will last. It's on the verge of expiring. I must be insane.

Little white cat in the hutong

I find it very hard to write anything here. I don't have the time to organize my thoughts which are, by nature, impressionistic. As usual, the prospect of leaving tomorrow fills me with dread. 


Monday, November 4, 2013

Hacking the Great Wall

Hacking the Great Wall.

Yesterday we hacked the Great Wall. It began with a very vertical hike on a forested mountain trail out of a remote village. When we got to the wall we climbed a handmade ladder to get into a decrepit beacon tower. It was all downhill from there and much of it over surprisingly rough, sometimes dangerous, terrain. It was wonderful. We ended at what is the usual starting place which was, of course, choked with souvenir stalls spread out over a nice wide rebuilt walkway.

So...rushed as usual. M. Lee has sounded the five minute bell. Gotta go but more photos to follow.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dirt Market


Swami and Vincent at Art Zone 798

Today, and very soon, we are leaving for the Dirt Market, Beijing's giant, stupendous, "world's largest" outdoor flea market. Luckily, pollution levels are down from yesterday's extremely hazardous levels in the 300s to a lovely 50. Well, it's up to 55 now and climbing but that's still better than yesterday.

Another day, another 300 photos

We were out all day. I'd like to post better notes about this trip for future reference but every day, by the time we get home and I finally, finally wind down enough to get around to it, the details of the day are lost or faded into irrelevance the way things do. We went to Art Zone 789 but I did take photos. Lots of photos. And posted more to the Beijing album. And tomorrow we'll get up early and launch out again. This time to a massive street market. It will be interesting. Again, I will take far too many photos to properly manage. And the day will fade again, like this one has faded.

Maybe I'm depressed. Maybe it's the air. It's been at the extreme hazardous level for the last two days.