Thursday, April 15, 2004

April 16th, 2004

Hello everyone. I am now at the Bangkok International Airport about to take my flight to Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma). I am very excited to make this journey to Myanmar for I expect to find what I have been searching for there; a country still untouched by heavy Western influences. I have been looking for the "Asia" that is still being preserved and I expect to find that in Myanmar. I feel very blessed and lucky to have this opportunity to travel in, experience, see, feel, smell, hear, and touch the traditions and culture that is still "Asian" as opposed to the Western/Asian mixes that I have found and have been finding in Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. For example, in my 24 hours in Bangkok I have seen more 7-11 mini-markets than I have ever seen in my life. There is literally one every block. Not even Starbucks can compete with the number of locations they have here. I even saw two 7-11's directly across the street from each other. My friend and taxi-driver (I will write another story about him) - his name is F - told me that about 6 years ago there was no 7-11 in Bangkok and now it is everywhere. Western influences in the shape of pop-music, clothing, food (Burger King, etc.), and forms of thought are penetrating heavily into the Asian countries I have already traveled through and lived in (Japan). As a result of all this I have been in search of an "Asian" country that has still been unmarked from heavy Western marketing and influences. I expect that Myanmar is the closest I will come, after Laos, to finding that "preserved Asia".

We shall see.

I am behind in my journal but I will be writing everything down on hard copy while in Myanmar and once I return I will bring my digital journal up to speed.

Just to keep things in my mind for when I get back to a computer to update I will need to tell you about my last morning in Hat Ton Sai (which is not a separate island - I thought it was an island), my 14 hour bus ride to Bangkok and all the interesting people I met aboard the bus, my day in Bangkok and how I got repeatedly drenched in water from all the water-wars all over the city - Songkran. To elaborate briefly on that I was in Bangkok for their last day of celebrations for the Thai new year (Buddhist new year) called Songkran. Literally, for three days, people crowd into all the streets of Bangkok and either on foot or in pick-up trucks throw water at anyone in their path while also splatting talc-powder on your face and clothes. I was a mess by the time I got back to my guest house last night. My shoes, shirt, shorts were soaked and my face and hair was caked in talc-powder. Songkran is an old tradition in Bangkok. It is a very fun way to purify yourself with water and white talc-powder for the new year. It is literally one BIG party in Bangkok. I took as many pictures as I could during the Songkran without risking my camera from gettin soaked.

Okay, I have to run.

In Myanmar there is no internet so I will not be able to update this until I return to Bangkok on the 27th of April.

See you then ;)

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

April 13th, 2004

I'm on an island, a pleasant and very isolated island about an hour west - by boat - of Krabi, Thailand. The name of the island I am not sure of but the name of the beach I am on is called Hat Ton Sai - look it up in your Lonely Planet travel guide book. Yesterday I escaped Hat Yai - finally - by mini-bus. This bus was packed with 15 people. I chose - very unwisely - to sit all the way in the back so that when the driver stopped to pick up another person and would open up the back door I could keep an eye on my bag that was crushed between that door and my seat. The car ride was over 4 hours and boy was it a long ride. The guy next to me - almost on top of me cause it was so packed in that mini-bus - had strong body odor. Luckily I had a tiny little fan pointed at my head just above me. It was able to kind of keep the odor away. The driver was fairly sane in his pursuit for Krabi. We didn't hit any thing or go flying off the road. But, he did like to speed which I actually enjoyed. As we would drive at Mach 4 down the road trying to pass the car in front of us the bumps in the road with send all of us in the mini-bus flying above our seats. I was caught laughing like a kid because I was enjoying the speed demon adventure so much. But, most Thai's- in the mini-bus did not approve of the speed and bumps.

I got off right at a pier in Krabi and was immediately approached by a young Thai named Shat. Before I continue I should mention that I arrived in Krabi around 6:00 p.m. so I was loosing sun light fast. I was desperate to get to one of the islands off the coast from Krabi - I had no desire to stay on the mainland. Shat explained that it was too late to catch a boat to Krabi. Most people take the boat in the morning and afternoon. So, we made a deal. Probably a great deal for Shat. I hired him to take me on his boat to Hat Ton Sai. The ride was about an hour and I loved it. I had the boat to myself and loved feeling the warm ocean winds on my face as I was being sprayed by the ocean waters - Id lick my lips for that pleasant salty water taste. The sun was setting so the scene before me was glorious. Scattered islands of all sorts of irregular shapes in the distance.

Soon enough we arrived and there I was on this Hat Ton Sai beach. There were a whole host of litle bars and out-door restaurants along the beach. I grabbed my bag and went to get a wood bungalow. It was already dark and after grabbing my key I had a bit of difficulty finding my bungalow. Then I found it - number 406. My bungalow was a shot-gun bungalow - I say that because you could take a shot gun and blow the whole thing away in one shot. All there was was a bed and a mosquito net - which was cool because Ive never slept with a mosquito net before. The toom was tiny and after I found and turned out the lights I could see the ground between the cracks of the wooden planks that composed the floor. Then I opend the door to the back and found my wonderful bathroom - my father would not last two minutes in this place. There was a western toilet with no seat so if I even tried to use it I was pretty much assured that I would fall straight into it. Again there was no flush button - just a bucket to fill with water and to dump into the toilet. The bathroom was surrounded with concrete walls but there was no ceiling, just all the wonderful leaves and trees of nature watching me from above. The shower was simply a shower head that - when turned on - would spray everywhere.

After I got myself configured in my little wooden bungalow on stilts I went back to the beach to get some dinner. But, first I walked up and down the length of the beach. Dinner was good . . . again Green Curry and a Coconut milk shake - which was very, very yummy.

Then I called it a night and returned to my wooden palace for a shower and for a good night's rest. Since it was early when I went to bed I decided to listen to music. When the entire Dream Theater Awake album had finished I awoke and found that my useless little electric fan had stopped. I then tried to turn it on but had no luck. I then tried the electricity and again had no luck. I was in darkess. Was I being hunted? Had someone cut off all my electricity and phone lines - there was no phone line, just trying to make this sound very dramatic - to stalk me and kill me??? I was a bit scared but then I realized after look out my window that no one had lights and I could hear voices of people inquiring loudly as to what the hell was going on. Then I heard and saw two Thai's with flashlights approaching the bungalows saying, "Sorry, accident - sorry, accident."

Then our power was back and everyone was at rest. Thinking back. As a joke when all the power was off I should have started screaming for my life trying to make everyone think I was being killed just to freak them all out . . . hee hee hee . . . that would have been a cruel joke.

Today I woke up early - 6 a.m. - and took my shower and then went for a walk which led me through a forest and to another beach - Railay Beach that is. There are a ton of mountain climbing little shops and guides and fanatics here. At Railay Beach I saw sign after sign of rock climbing tours and adventures awaiting me. I simply passed them. It was hot enough and I had no desire to put myself through a brutal challenge to conquer a rock just so I could sweat more.

Later on I had breakfast right on the beach back at Hat Ton Sai. I had banana pancakes, toast, and another coconut milk shake. I sat just under a tree filled with cicades (spelling) that were all spraying me with either their piss or water. It was funny. I kept looking up trying to figure out what the hell was spraying me. As I looked closely at the tree branches I could see these thumb long insects shooting out some kind of water. So I sat there and had my breakfast as I got sprayed.

I then booked my bus to Bangkok for tomorrow and then upgraded myself from a wooden bungalow to a concrete bungalow. BIG difference. Still aint got no air-con but at least I have a very nice bathroom with a toilet that actually has a seat and I can actually flush it without using a bucket!

I hung out at the beach after that and then went back to read at my bungalow and here I am now. Im going to grab some dinner now. Tomorrow Im off by overnigh bus to Bangkok.

May the Force be with you . . . always,

Sunday, April 11, 2004

April 12th, 2004

I'm still here in Hat Yai killing time until my bus to Krabi leaves at 1:00 p.m. It's 10:48 a.m. now. Im looking forward to buying another bottle of soy milk and 7-11 over here. I have become a soy milk junky over here in Southeast Asia. From Singapore, to Malaysia, to Thailand I can't get enough of the stuff. They sweeten it so it tastes better than milk.

After I finished typing my story last night I went back to my Guest House and watched a bit of TV but they were showing a football (soccer) match that I didn't really care for. Then I walked down the long hall back to my room and saw a Thai step out of his room. I smiled and said hello and then he pointed in to his room and asked with a whisper, "Sex? - Sex?" "What?" I asked not believing what I was hearing. "Sex?" he said again. I was so angry at that point. I wanted to punch him in the face and tell him to go, "@$!# himself!!!" What they hell is up with these people? Keep your dicks in your pants and get a life or a real job. That experience is only adding to my already strong dislike for Hat Yai.

I woke up periodically during the night to noise from the noisy streets or discomfort for feeling all sticky and gross from the humidity. I don't have an air-con in my room, only a fan at the top of a high ceiling that does absolutely nothing for cooling me.

Well, Im going to buy that soy milk and wait for my bus. Let's hope that Krabi will be pleasant.


P.S. I added more to my story about Avi and Hat Yai for my April 11th entry so if you're curious have a re-read.
April 11th 2004

I'm in Hat Yai, Thailand. I really don't care for this place at all. Especially after all the beautiful cultural diversity I saw in Malaysia. Hat Yai is just a town that travelers like me are passing through. Im going to Krabi tomorrow. It is a beautiful little place north of here right on the beach. Im looking forward to it very much.

Since I dont feel like "reporting" on this place I thought that I'd let my imagination go and type a little story. The story is dark but when I write fiction I tend to write about dark things, so no suprise there.

The Story of Avi and Hat Yai
This is a work of fiction by Domenico Italo Composto
It is inspired by what I know, have seen, and think about Hat Yai, Thailand and some of the foreigners I have come across during my travels.

My name is Avi Lukason. I live here in Hat Yai, Thailand. It's in the south, the way south of the country. On the tip of its tail you could say. It's the biggest city in the south of Thailand, which really is sort of a joke for a guy like me - I'm from New York City for Christ sake. So what the hell am I doing here? I knew you probably were thinking that. And it's going to surprise you when I tell you that I've been here for God knows how long - What? Two years now. No, more than that. Let's say two years and a bit. "And a bit"? Who the hell says that? The Ozzies say that. Oz for Australia that is.

I came here to Southeast Asia to take a break - a deep breath you could say. Simply wanted to get away. "Why?" you ask. Well, to cut to the chase. My wife cheated on me and I wanted to forget her and all that stupid shit in the States. I used to work on Wall Street. I used to make BIG bucks thinking that it would get me everything. A beautiful wife, a lovely apartment on 5th Avenue, a Porche. And it did. I had a beautiful wife, a lovely apartment on 5th Avenue, and a Porche. And now here I am with nothing. Actually I shouldn't really say that. I have tons of cash back home sitting in a bank. But, I haven't touched that dough for over a year and a half. I live like a pauper here in Hat Yai. This dump of a place. I guess I'm seeking to be like some kind of urban monk hermit. I'm in Southeast Asia for Christ sake so I might as well do the old Buddhist thing. That is the problem though for a guy like me and for most Americans I come across here on their travels. Americans are so fascinated with the exotic. They think exotic faiths and practices like Buddhism or Yoga or Tai Chi or whatever has all the spiritual answers that they have been looking for. Why is everything exotic for the American the "in" thing? That is the problem with us Americans. We go from one exotic fad to the next. What is our obsession with diets? How many freaking different kinds of diets are there advertised in the U.S.? For Christ sake it's so insane, it's a joke! The Atkins diet . . . didn't he die of heart failure due to being obese? Now it seems, from what I read on the net, that Americans are into fasting? They are catching on to these Muslim and other faith traditions of fasting believing again that it will bring them health, clean out their system and what have you. It's a joke. Next year it will be something else. People who fast around the world do it every year but Americans just try it on for size for a few months and then throw it out until some other fad has hit their TV commercial.

Well, I think it's very obvious here that I ain't ready to return to the U.S. You can obviously see that I'm venting and angry about the U.S. When in fact I'm still trying to get over the fact that my wife cheated on me and never really loved me. She just married me for the money and boy did she get a bunch of it when I filed for divorce.

Here in Hat Yai I live at the Cathay Guest House. And let me tell you this. It's never over-booked. All the touts at the train and bus stations will tell any tourist that it is booked, in fact booked straight on for three days. They are all liars and never pay any attention to them. The Cathay Guest House sits on the corner of Thanon Niphat Uthit 2 and Thanon Thamnoovithi. Its only a three block walk from the train station. Im in room 356. All the way in the back down a dark old staircase. The Guest House is alright. I was a bit disgusted with it when I arrived though. But Ive been living there for so long its simply home now. The hall hosting the majority of the rooms is wide and seems almost like an old high school hallway. But everything is falling apart. I guess it most looks like the way I'd expect a Cuban prison to look like. My room is away from all the noise that the other "guests" can be caught making - if you know what I mean. My room is appropriate. Not big or small. The bathroom is descent by Thai below the poverty line standards. There is a squat toilet that I have mastered and no button to press to flush it. There is a bucket though that I must use. I simply fill it up and dump it into the toilet and "wal-la" a flush toilet. My bed is a very firm matress on an old bed frame and boy is it full of bed bugs. There ain't a morning that goes by where I dont end up scratching all the bites that I got during the night.

As for the shower. I got cold water and only that, and with this humid heat that is all you need. I usually shower in the dark. The broken window in my bathroom has no curtain - never bothered to put up one - and some of my Thai friends have a thing for peeping into other's hotel room like it's a hobby, which makes me paranoid. So I shower in the dark.

When I first came here I used to take two to three showers a day. Now only one. You get used to the humidity after awhile. You'll soon find that you don't mind to wake up anymore with a sweety, greasy, sticky face.

I got a an old table and a mirror and a few posters put up in my room. I like to buy Guitar magazines because its the only thing of interest that I can find in English here. The magazine are expensive though by Thai standards. About 350 baht which pretty much covers two nights at my Guest House. I tape up the pictures that I like from the magazine on my wall. When I have guests come over to my room they usually ask if Im a guitarist when these see these "posters" of mine. I tell them no which leaves them a bit confused. I used to play keyboard but there is no keyboard magazine in English here so Guitar magazines are simply the next best thing.

As for food Im a regular at a place called The Ballad. I quaint little place. The waitress used to be my girlfriend. She is actually Vietnamese. Cute girl, but a little insecure and in serious want of a husband . . . no thank you. In any case I usually get the green curry and a Thai ice coffee over there. I always order three Thai ice coffees. The green curry is a serious "lip kicker" - I'd say ass-kicker but it ain't kicking my ass, it's kicking my lips. It is seriously spicy but it will cure any clogged-up nose.

So, what the hell do I do in Hat Yai? To be honest this place is really nothing special. Everything you need to know about this place you can discover in an afternoon. Hat Yai seems to be, for tourists anyway, a "passing through" kind of place. No foreigner ever really stays here - except for me. They are either coming from Malaysia or on their way to it. Malaysia, from what I've seen is fantastic. I've only been to Pulau Penang. And on that island I was shocked to see Indian Hindu's and Chinese Buddhist and Taoists and Muslim Malays living so well together in such close proximity. The buildings there, kind of like here, are falling apart. Most are 100 years old or more I would say and probably infested with termites. All the buildings are in serious need a of a fresh coat of paint. But that is the charm of the place I guess. These old two storey buildings housing a Mom and Pop shop on the first floor. For the Chinese living there you will always see a hexagon - I think that is the shape - kind of mirror thing hanging dead center into the entrance of their establishment of home. Its to ward of evil. And its always peculiar to look into these Mom and Pop shops and to usually see a Chinese shrine in the back lit up with incense sticks and candles. Some of these shops are a sight. I came across one shop that sold electric fans. It was insane. The entire shop was littered chaotically with fans all thrown together forming massive piles. You could see that some of the piles had not been disturbed in God knows how long due to the amount of dust and filth that had been collecting on them.

Well, here in Hat Yai we get quiet a few Muslim Malays on the weekends. Most of them are men. Can you guess what they do over here? Well, they partake in the flesh trade that Thailand offers all sex tourists. When I arrived I was quiet disgusted with the tour agencies offering sex tours of Thailand. Its a big hit with the Japanese, although they'll never admit it. What a hypocrisy for the Muslim Malays. They stay in their country and are obedient to their faith and then they cross the border thinking that their faith does not apply anymore - like its in suspended animation until they arrive back.

I said before that I haven't touched my dough back in the U.S. for a year and a half. Can you guess what I do here? I prey on these sex tourists and introduce them to the sex tourism agencies here in Hat Yai. I make good commission and after doing this for so long I have a great eye for those Muslim Malays, Japanese tourists, and whoever else that are looking for a good time. Yes, I am apart of this sinful trade. I don't care anymore. My wife cheated on me and I can careles now of encouraging love at any level. To me its all a lie so I scout the streets looking for men, who are probably married, and help them find their one night stands. I don't expect you to like me after learning all this about me. And I don't expect myself to like me either. I guess Im in purgatory. Giving myself reasons not to like myself or my life anymore.

So, if you come across me - a 40 year old, beer belly New Yorker - on the streets of Hat Yai you are now warned.

That is what Hat Yai can do for you. Throw you down a filthy, pitiful spiral of self-loathing. No Buddhism or enlightenment have I found. But I never really made it out of here. I'm sure if I went further North I would have turned out different.


Alright that is my story. Time to go ;)
Domenico Composto