Friday, December 7, 2012
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
I think unforgettable would be the most accurate one-word summary of this trip to Indonesia.
Not because of the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, the emerald-green forests covering smoking volcanoes dotting the countryside, nor the general amiability of the local population.
In fact, if it weren't for these things, I just might have gone crazy. It was unforgettable because never before, in my entire twenty years of life (I'm getting so old!), have I ever anticipated being so irrevocably and inconceivably stuck in the situation that presented itself as I walked onto the archipelago that is Indonesia.
It wasn't really a big deal. I didn't even realize it until the second day I was there. But as I punched in my PIN number and selected my cash withdrawal amount at an ATM, I was presented with a message that nearly made me collapse had there not been a handrail to cling onto. I had forgotten to contact the bank to tell them I would be abroad, and consequentially my debit card was blocked from withdrawing money. So there I was, in a third-world country, with nothing but an inability to speak the local language and about twelve dollars to last me five more days.
Here is a surprisingly accurate reenactment of my facial expression when the news came crumbling down upon my unsuspecting self.
Now, luckily, I had already paid for accommodation for the whole week, and there was a free internet cafe near the front desk. I immediately emailed my mother about my situation, then went to the nearby Circle K to see if they had ramen noodles (a survival technique I learned when I first came to Thailand). I checked five different stores before I found one that had vegetarian noodles, and bought an economy pack for the equivalent of a dollar or so.
'This isn't so bad', I thought. 'I can eat the free hotel breakfast, use the coffee maker to boil water for the noodles, and be happy that I had enough cash to purchase something'. It's not like I was planning on eating crab legs and lobster in one of those touristy seaside shacks with neon lights and fishing nets strung across the walls.
In fact, I didn't even think of what I was going to eat before going to Indonesia; something that, admittedly, would have been wise. Alas, as is obvious since I am now writing this post, I survived until my card worked on the last day I was there on nothing but a hotel breakfast and dried noodles with mushroom-flavored MSG. Aside from that little adventure, here's what happened the rest of the time.
My plane left the Bangkok airport at 6am, around the same time my friend Zeta was leaving for Hong Kong at an adjoining gate in the international departures terminal.
We had to leave Rangsit around 3am and were able to split a taxi to the airport. An hour later we were standing in line at the AirAsia check-in counter, hoping they would not weigh our hefty carry on bags as we neared the clerk. I couldn't even fit mine in the little metal box where you can check to see if your bag is within the official carry-on dimension limits. I didn't have any checked luggage, you see, so I had to pack a lot of things into my little school backpack. When I came to Thailand last summer, I did not take any checked luggage either, and subsequently I did not have a suitcase to bring with me to Indonesia. You see? Not my fault. Luckily, the dreary-eyed AirAsia lady didn't even look like she would have noticed if the Buddah himself walked right past her field of vision, much less an overweight backpack from an over-excited American.
Six hours later my plane landed in an airport that looked like it's days were severely numbered. I'm convinced I've seen nicer outhouses than that airport.
After paying $25 for a visa (I was expecting to pay $10!) and walking outside to find transportation, a large conglomerate of taxi drivers swarmed me and offered to take me to all sorts of places. I bet I could have found one willing to take me to the moon. Of course, they had other modes of transportation for the more adventurous.
I quickly ran away from them and walked to the nearest road (the airport was that small!) to wave down a taxi, usually a good way to get a cheaper fare.
The taxi dude took me to my hotel for $8 (just like Cambodia, they accept American dollars!) and I was checked into my room.
If I could have shared the room rate with the number of ants that also inhabited the room, I could have stayed for an entire week for less than a penny. They weren't biters so I had no problem with them, as long as they stayed out of my bed (which, thankfully, they did).
I spent the rest of the day walking around trying to find the beach. The runway at the airport was practically on the beach so I knew it had to be close. To give you an idea, here is a Google Earth arial image of the airport:
After a couple of hours without any luck, I found a Thai restaurant and ordered two dishes and lemongrass tea. At the time I did not know about the money situation so I was happy to pay another $8 for my meal.
After eating I gave up on the beach and went back to my hotel to swim in the swimming pool and read.
The next day I settled to jump into a taxi and ask him to drive to the nearest beach, but first I needed to get some money and headed to the ATM. You already know what happened next. So after finding my noodles and stashing them in my room, I went back out to try and find the beach.
Of course, I could no longer take a taxi because of my money situation. I was very lucky to find the beach in less than two hours (it was hiding behind a mall and some trees...lol) so I spent the day walking up and down the shoreline, people-watching and enjoying the sun.
I had forgotten to bring sunscreen (recommended for equatorial countries, by the way) so I got a nice tan on my face and neck that day. And by 'tan' I mean 'burnt to a crisp'. I was wearing a hat so it helped somewhat. At least that's what I'm telling myself.
The next day I had not received an email reply from my mom, so I sent my brother Jeremy a message on facebook and told him about the situation. He said he would take care of it asap (thanks again, by the way!). I then went back to the beach, and it suddenly started to pour. Not just a little sprinkle of rain, mind you, but a full-blown tropical rampage, complete with thunder and lightning. From my position on the beach, as well as the position of various other objects on the beach and at sea, I figured I was an unlikely target for lightning and kept on walking. After about 15 minutes, I saw a westerner emerging from the sea with a surfboard. I had been wanting to rent one, but given my lack of money I was hesitant to ask for the price from a vendor. He told me he rented it for two hours for the equivalent of $15, and that I could probably find a cheaper price. I ended up being able to rent a board for an hour for only $6! I loved surfing, every minute of it. At first it was difficult, never having had instruction, but I got the hang of it and was actually pretty good, if I do say so myself ;)
The next day I checked my email and my brother Jeremy said he had unblocked my debit card for me. I was so happy! After eating lunch, I went back to the beach and hired a surf instructor named Iwan. He taught me surfing from about 1pm until sunset, and I was so tired afterward I wanted to collapse! For the last hour, after I was able to surf without falling for about twenty consecutive waves, he taught me some tricks like doing a 180 and surfing with two people on the same surfboard. It was so much fun! It was really cheap too, about the equivalent of twenty dollars. If it hadn't been my last day in Bali, I would have gone surfing every day until I left.
The next morning I packed my things and was off to Bangkok. It was quite an exhausting trip and I was glad to be back in Thailand.
There will be another post before I leave for America next week, so keep checking back, it should be a good one!
Posted by Adam Stratz at 12:24 PM
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
It was hot. The hottest day in the past month or so. Combined with the ever-present cloud of smog covering downtown Bangkok, the effect was uncomfortable, to say the least. It was on this hot day, on the 5th of February 2011, when the annual Thammasat-Chulalongkorn Soccer match was held at National Stadium, a sports complex that plays host to the country's most important sports events.
Thammasat University and Chulalongkorn University are the two top schools in all of Thailand, and effectively have a huge rivalry that transcends most American teams. This is the biggest and most anticipated sports event of the year for university students, and was quite possibly one of the best days I have had in Thailand.
Along with my friends Buck, Mae, and Ekk, we left Rangsit in the early afternoon in order to arrive in Bangkok around game time. When we arrived there were rituals of all kinds, the most strange of which was the faculty of Architecture banging on drums and chanting as they were crouched near the ground slowly walking in a circular path around what must have been the leader of their group. It was a little unnerving, to tell you the truth.
|These are all the different 'faculties' in our University (nursing, engineering, etc.) Mine is the purple flag|
Once inside the stadium, we found some seats near the top row with some more friends (on the Thammasat side, of course. We are students there after all). The bleachers were absolutely packed. On each side of the stadium behind the goal nets was a cheer group from each university taking up the entire section of stands. Throughout the game they would all held up a colored poster, and together all the posters blended together and made a picture or a taunt to the other team. They wrote some really clever stuff! To understand some of them though, you need to know that Chula is a really rich school, and they often use that to 'look down' on Thammasat (playfully, of course). Some of the signs insinuate that Thammasat is a poor school. See below ;)
|CU - TU 67|
|Thammasat is Red/Yellow, Chula is Pink/White|
|YouTube[ตูบ] - doobp (ตูบ) means 'hut' or 'shed' (they're saying we have old technology)|
|I can't make out this writing, can you??|
Altogether there were probably about 30 pictures and signs from each team throughout the course of the game. Some of the ones not listed here that I remember were 'Do you have 3G yet, Thammasat?', 'TU Farmers', and 'That was a fluke' (for when someone scored a goal).
|ยูงทอง - This is the name of the Thammasat song (Yoong Tawng)|
|ธรรมศาสตร์ - (Thammasat)|
|Picture of the king|
Thammasat scored first and the crowd went wild. I think the entire student population from both Universities was there, the energy was brimming. By the end of the game we had lost 1-3 and a lot of students were quite upset. But after the game was over, each of the cheer groups made condolences to eachother with their signs.
|We are Friends Forever :)|
Even though the game was over, the ceremonies were not. The cheer squads from both Universities lead their students in their respective school chants which was really awesome to watch. I did not know the words but it was really a spectacle. Then there were songs lead by each choir, and amazingly everybody was singing, boys and girls alike. After that there were a few ceremonies to honor the king and then the bands started playing. After everything was done, we were allowed on the field. We took a lot of pictures and talked to a lot of new people. It was absolutely the most exciting sports even I have ever attended.
After we left the field, a few of us went to a Pakistani/Indian restaurant and ordered curries, nan, and hummus. It was a really satisfying meal. It was a little pricy but totally worth it. Afterword we took a taxi back to Rangsit.
If you ever get the chance to attend the Thammasat-Chula game, do so immediately! Do not miss out!
Posted by Adam Stratz at 10:46 PM
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Midterm exams are over! Though making frequent trips to the library was fun while it lasted, I can't say I miss it.
Four out of five of my midterms went quite well. The only one I was concerned about was Hydraulic Engineering, namely because I made a few small mistakes that significantly altered the final answer (the dam I designed was about four meters short of what it should have been!). There were only three problems on the exam but it took the full three hour limit to complete. I talked to my professor afterward about it and he said not to worry.
Other than that life has been great. After my midterm on Christmas, I went to Bangkok to see the Christmas lights at a place called Central World with my friend Goi (the same place that was largely destroyed by a fire from the protests in May). It has since been refurbished, and only one department store still bares the charred walls and ceilings from the fire. I filmed a video for my family there too.
Also, I helped with a Christmas party for children living in a slum in Bangkok (where I used to teach English on Sundays). We had a lot of fun, and here is a video I made afterward to share with you (push ctrl while you click the link if you do not want to leave this page)
For some reason my blog won't let me upload the video directly, so this is a link to the video on my facebook page. If you are not friends with me on facebook, feel free to friend request me. And just in case something goes catastrophically wrong and you cannot view the video, or if you do not have a facebook page, or if you are altogether computer illiterate, here are some pictures from the video you can see without following a link.
I think I forgot to make a post on my trip to Kanchanaburi, either that or I was too busy studying for midterms! About a month ago I decided to take a day trip to Western Thailand to Kanchanaburi province near the (don't look mom!) Myanmar (Burma) border.
I went by myself and was gone from 7am until 11pm. I only got to spend two hours at my destination - Erawan National Park - where there is a spectacular display of waterfalls in the middle of the jungle.
I have to say, it was quite difficult finding my way there, but luckily I knew enough Thai to find my way around. I took a passenger van to a hub in Bangkok (Victory Monument), then took a bus to the Southern Bus Terminal. There I took another bus to Kanchanaburi province, then a song theaow to the National Park. The whole day I was wishing I had done some research on how to get there so I did not have to keep asking for directions. I think my Thai improved a lot that day.
Anyhow, once I arrived at the Park, it was totally worth it. The scenery was amazing and the water was surprisingly turquoise blue. I will likely be heading back sometime in January with my friend Buck and maybe a few other friends. Here are the pictures I took that day:
Gorilla the hedgehog had fun chilling out with his cat food in his little yogurt cup.
It was much easier getting back to Bangkok after leaving the park since I simply took all the transportation in reverse. Even when I was a little hesitant on which bus to board, it was easy to just say bpai groong taap, literally 'go City of Angels' (aka Bangkok) and they pointed me in the right direction.
I had planned to go to Laos for New Year's but ALL the transportation going North was booked. This is the most traveled weekend in Thailand, and since most people do not have cars they rely on the already well-used public transportation system, meaning unless I had booked a train ticket two months ago I had no chance of leaving Rangsit (the city I live in). So I'm stuck here on a perfect five-day weekend for traveling with nobody to hang out with. I think I will practice my Thai and make good use of facebook :)
A couple more things worth mentioning:
My University finally installed clocks in the classrooms!
I just went swimming. On January 1st. In an outdoor pool. (I know, I know, you hear this every month. But it's possibly my favorite part of Thailand LOL)
Santa Clause is pronounced exactly the same in Thai. So is Christmas. And Halloween. But Valentine's day sounds more like "Wahl-lane-tai day" because the 'V' sound is so hard for Thais to pronounce. And they do not like putting 'S' on the end of words so they removed it.
I'm going more for quality on these posts rather than quantity - as you can probably tell from the lack of posts lately. Either that or I'm lazy, you can decide for yourself :P
There is some type of animal living just on the other side of my ceiling. I think its a mouse or a snake or something. But it makes me cringe when it moves...
Did I mention last time that my shower exploded?
Have a great holiday!
Posted by Adam Stratz at 2:48 AM