Downtown Bangkok

Entrance to one of Chinatown’s various market streets

I have been in Bangkok for over two weeks now, and I have spent most of my time comfortably in my little suburb, Samakorn. I do really enjoy this place. There are some great restaurants, and great neighbors. I have still a lot of exploring to do in my own neighborhood, but I thought it was about time to fight the traffic of this great city and take in the sights of the downtown area for a night. I landed in Bangkok’s busy markets of Chinatown, and started to see some of what makes this one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world.

A water bus on the Chao Phraya River

The easiest way to reach Bangkok’s Chinatown is by hopping on one of the many boats that move up and down the Chao Phraya River and getting off at the five stop. The vast sprawling markets and street food is directly down the street from the station. You can also grab a cab but expect to sit in traffic a lot of the time, and be patient before you get to where you are going. I have found that this is just the way of life in Bangkok. If you fight against it, you will always be stressed out, and you still make it to your location at the same time as if you just went with the flow of traffic and quit worrying about it.

Artwork on the wall outside of the Tep Bar in Bangkok

During the day, the markets are the most interesting things to see. The small alleyways of this part of town are packed with shops filled with all of the cheap plastic, and junk that you never really wanted to have. But it is an interesting place to people watch and the shop owners are not pushy. It is also another place where you just need to go with the flow because you will find yourself within a stream of humanity as it winds its way through the various stalls, and every once in awhile somebody will stop to check something out, stopping the flow. When this happens, there is nothing you can do but wait it out until it starts flowing again. If you are looking for fresh vegetables, and fruit, there are great sections of the market where vendors are selling these as well as making various forms of street food.

Live music on a Sunday night in the Tep Bar.

At night, the shops close up and people head inside to the various restaurants and bars that can be found. A lot of these places offer entertainment, and even on a Sunday night, I was able to find a live traditional Thai band playing for the amusement of the patrons there.

The view from the roof at Wallflowers

The places are wildly decorated as well. My favorite that I saw on my short visit downtown was called Wallflowers. During the day, it is a cafe and flower shop, but at night it transforms itself into a five story eatery. The tables and chairs are a collection of whatever they could find which would make it seem like a chaotic mess, but actually gave it some charm. I had to walk up five flights of narrow stairs to get to the roof where I was able to enjoy the night’s sky and the atmosphere. The food was good, but nothing fancy. It was more just a place to avoid the bustle of the city down below. It was not one of the famous rooftop bars that I have heard so much about from Bangkok, but I think it was the perfect speed for me on my first venture out to the more exciting parts of the city.

I know I will make it to this part of the city again soon because I do not live that far away, but I am glad to finally get out and experience why Thailand is on a lot of people’s bucket lists of places to visit. I know I didn’t hit the touristy spots yet, but I will eventually get down to those place as well. Until then, this was the perfect adventure as I ease myself more into this city’s lifestyle.

Until next time.

Graduation

Has there been so much change these last four years,
Or is it a matter of perspective?
No one can prognosticate where life steers
Because it does so without a motive.
It does not play against out deepest fears
Even though we may believe it is so.
It does not care about our shedding tears
Because those feeling don’t cause it to slow.
It does not listen to our grateful cheers;
It considers it nothing more than noise.
The troubles of man do not reach its ears;
It won’t even move its elegant poise.
Yet these four years have tumbled on past,
And the first day was diff’rent than the last.

The Arrival – The Move Final Day

The living room in my new place as I start to unpack

I know that a lot of people move everyday, and I don’t want to sound like I am complaining because it is a stressful situation no matter how big or small the move might be. My goal is to empathize with those people that are going through with the process because I understand how many trials and tribulations they need to go through until they can get to that moment where they find themselves in the new place and can start unpacking all of those boxes and bags and start living their lives in their new location.

My process started way back in early December when I finally said yes to taking a job teaching at a different international school in Thailand. I started to pack up my stuff while getting together all of the paperwork to get a visa so they wouldn’t kick me out of the country when I finally got there. The list got pretty long with all of the stuff I needed to accomplish along the way, and it seemed like it would never end, but after all the steps forward intermixed with occasional setback, I finally landed in Thailand, signed my lease on my new place, and started moving in.

The street view of the new place

Even though the square space in the house is not much more than what I had in my apartment in Korea over the last four years, it is nice to find myself on a street with my own driveway, my own small front patio, and my own mango tree. I love the fact that I now live in a neighborhood and not a complex, and all of the charms that come along with it. Just this morning as I stood out on my front patio and sipped from my cup of coffee, I was able to wave at the father and his young daughter as they walked down the street this morning. It gave me a sense of community that I never really felt when I entered my apartment complex every evening. I never got to know my neighbors there because they were packed so close together that I never really saw them more often than once a month. It might just be the optimism of living in a new place, but I do not believe that I will have that problem here.

A vegetable vendor on the street market

The neighborhood has a lot more to offer than just neighbors, too. There are tons of new restaurants I am going to be able to try out with a bunch of variety to them, and also a street market every weekend if I would prefer to get some fresh produce and make my own meals. It is these cultural experiences that I am also looking forward to in my new home. The first few weeks that I live in a place I feel like I am always wandering around exploring all the nooks and crannies until I can find out everything that the place has to offer. The weekend market alone should provide me with enough corners that I won’t get bored with it for a couple of months.

Some interesting tile work in the bathroom at my new place

And of course with any new place you move into, there are always a couple of strange surprises that you never thought you would encounter. Mine came in my new bathroom. Behind the toilet, painted into the tiles is this wonderful piece of artwork. It is not small either. It is a good three by four feet, and it is ready to greet me every morning as I get ready for work.

For the most part, it feels very nice to start to put things away and make those small adjustments so we can make the place feel more like home. Of course, it will take a little bit of time before we get to the point where I won’t have to rearrange furniture and try out new locations for all of my stuff, but it is nice to know that when I unpack something, I don’t have to put it a suitcase again because I have not reached my final destination. I have finally arrived, and I can start to quit living in the limbo between two places. I can now take in the sights and start to enjoy my new home.

What I Will Miss from America, the Beer – The Move Day 26

The new Jackass Hill Brewery in downtown Littleton, Colorado

One of the things I love about coming back to the States is the fact that every where I look there is another microbrewery, or place that serves craft beer. The selection is so great especially in states such as Colorado and Oregon where the craft beer revolution started, that sometimes I have a hard time deciding on which one I will pick to enjoy. Most of the time I just pick the most bitter IPA because that is usually my favorite, but lately I have enjoyed a few porters because I have had a hard time finding them lately, and every once in a while when a brewery get ambitious and make a triple, I jump on that opportunity. The craft beer revolution has sunk its claws into the fabric of the American culture and it will not be going away any time soon. The bigger domestic breweries are even feeling the sting of this shift in American tastes that they are not making the profits that they once did, and I am under the mindset that I would rather spend five dollars a beer on a couple of these craft beauties than spend it on three of the flavorless mass-produced lagers that give money to a large corporation that does not care about its craft.

This flavor explosion can also be found in many cities in Europe, especially further north, but the rest of the world has not yet caught up yet. Korea was getting better every year that I was out there to the point where I was able to find good beer even in the neighborhood that I lived, and the convenience store across the street even started to stock IPAs on the week that I left. They still had a way to go to reach the same level of even the states in America just starting to understand this revolution, but I could see that it was on its way. Japan had also had a few places that was making its own beer, and I have really enjoyed those small little brew-pubs that I have found out there, but I do not know if it has gotten to the point of have beer festivals, and having certain beers on tap no matter where you go. But they also have a couple of other drinks out there that compete with the typical beer, and it might make it a little harder for the craft beer revolution to make stronger in-roads there.

I am a little worried about Thailand though. The domestic beers are huge out there, and they are so cheap that people just consume them at a regular pace without ever worrying about finding something that might have a little more taste. I have been told that there are a couple of places that produce their own beer, but they are further downtown, and will require a bigger effort to make it there if I want a good beer. I have seen them for sale at the grocery store, but the selection is still relatively small. The revolution is still trying to find a foothold in this part of the world, but it is at the same place that Korea was at four years ago. I will just have to be patient, and eventually I will see more and more options made available, but it won’t be at the same level that I see in my home state or in Oregon where breweries are basically across the street from each other and trying to compete for your business.

It is the small adjustments that I will have to make as I make the move, but it is only a small concession. The bonuses will far outweigh this small disadvantage, and I am sure that I will still love all of the other things that I find out in Thailand.

The Death of the Record Store – The Move Day 25

Many people will look at this post and laugh as they download another song on their Apple Music or Spotify app. They either look back on the days of Tower Records and San Goody with either fond memories and just shrug it off as something from the past that they will no longer regret the passing of, or they are not even old enough to remember how these store dominated the landscape and the culture of every young person from the 90s. But it was also the height of what I would consider the best era for music ever that these stores slowly started to disappear. At first, it wasn’t something that discouraged me because if one went out of business, there was usually another one across the street that was better and probably not a part of some huge franchise that overcharged for the music they were selling.

The stores themselves were an explosion of expression. My favorite ones were the ones that would plaster posters of the bands that loved and who had a new album to sell over ones that had passed on to obscurity. The latest record that the employee behind the counter felt like playing that day would be blaring over the speakers, and sometimes it would become you favorite new album. Random strangers would talk to each other about the albums that they were looking over. It was a community, and there were many of these places where I felt at home. I never thought that they would eventually disappear.

But like Blockbuster, they slowly disappeared until only a few remained. For me it felt like the passing of something important with music and there would be a whole generation of people who did not understand the importance of these stores or why finding the deep tracks on an album showed a true love of the genre. Music, a thing that was always meant for disposable income, had become even more disposable because the music now came at you as something easily downloadable from some service you paid a monthly fee to online. No longer did somebody have to search long and hard to hold that album in their hand. No longer did they have to collect the music, and listen to it constantly as the jewel case cracked and the artwork faded to prove to those who saw it that this was that person’s favorite album. Music no longer became something to treasure. It was now just something to quickly consume and dismiss on the tablet as it shuffled off to other songs that you might appreciate.

Even though it looks like the cd will go the same way as the cassette tape, there is hope on the horizon. Steadily, over the years, vinyl has made a comeback in this arena. It is still not at the same level that it was at during the 1960s, but more and more of the younger generation is finding out about the joy of this medium. First of all, it sounds better than any other medium, giving the music a richer, warmer sound. But more importantly, it makes the playing an album an event again. People need to gather around a turn-table and listen as the needle pops into the groove if they want to listen to the album. It will give people the opportunity to once again share music instead of hiding away behind the earphones with it. And the surviving record stores recognize this.

There aren’t many left in America, but when I find one of them, there is a joy that runs through me because I know that I am going to get an experience from my youth that I thought had died. There is Ranch Records in Downtown Bend, Oregon, Rasputin’s in San Fransisco, and Boogie’s West in Castle Rock, Colorado. The owners have added space to sell records, and it is fun flipping through them to once again see the beautiful artwork, and hold in my hands that amazing moment that I know will happen when I open it up and listen to it. My two favorite record stores are something that I look forward to every time I am in those cities. The first is East Street Records in West Seattle who has some deal with Pearl Jam and they sell a bunch of their bootlegs there. They also have a breakfast place that is always packed and helps to supplement their true love, music. And the store that still has the crowds and the love that I remember from the 90s is in downtown Denver, Twist and Shout Records. At this store, people come in to dump their old record collections, not knowing what they have, and they resell them to the public in packs of ten where you don’t know what you are going to get. It is a lot of fun, and sometimes allows you to find something new.

So even though the record store is harder to find anymore, I do not think that the last ones left will go away. I am glad that they have survived, and I hope more and more people will realize that this is a better way to enjoy music, and continue to visit them when they come across them.

The Things I am Excited About – The Move Day 24

I have spent a lot of time this summer talking about the place where I came from, and mentioning the place where I am moving to, but I have not really talked about it, and why I am excited about moving there. So I thought I would give a little time to talk about the things that I am looking forward to about the relocation to Bangkok.

First of all, I am looking forward to the food. I know that Korean food is the trendy thing worldwide, but I have never been a fan of this kind of food. I like the spices and I do enjoy the community spirit that is created by going to a Korean bar-b-q, but it has nothing that I have ever craved. I do enjoy what they have done to fried chicken, and I do not think that any culture can compete with this improvement on an American staple, but I cannot eat that every night unless I want to end my life by exchanging cholesterol for the blood in my veins. Basically, for the last four years, I have struggled eating.

My wife and I would always talk about our favorite foods in the world, and if there was one type of food that we had to eat for the rest of lives what would it be. Of course Italian always comes up for me because it has always been my favorite style of food, and my wife always talks about Japanese food because of the variety and the unique flavors that they explore in that country. And even though we both agree with each others’ main choice, we both agree whole-heartedly with Thai food. On my recent trip out there to scout out places where we would end up living, I even experienced new flavors that I did not know existed with this cuisine and it turned into one of my favorite Thai dishes. This just means that I have not tried everything that Thai food has to offer. I am excited to explore these options even more.

Which brings me to the next thing I am excited about, the street markets. There is a big one right next to the place where I will be living. It is not as big as the Chatuchak Market in central Bangkok, but it will still be a nice addition to the neighborhood. Apparently, it is only open during the weekends, but it will be the perfect place to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables. And the amount of fresh fruit that will be out there excites me a lot. I was able to get fruit in Korea, but it was heavily dependent on the growing season. When I arrived in the summer was when I could get green apples, but they disappear soon after I got out there. Berries would not be available until late in spring, and yes, I could get a watermelon, but I would have to spend up to $30 for it.

The fruit should be more readily available in Thailand, and the variety should always be there available at the markets and delivered that morning from the groves. I look forward to going to the market and searching for the perfect fruit and vegetables of the day and creating a meal with them later in the evening. I will not always have to wait until the weekend to make this happen either. Where we are moving has a mango tree in the front yard, and twice a year I should have a supply of fresh mangoes in which to eat and cook with. I see myself perfecting the best mango salsa by the end of the first year.

A lot of this is due to the thing that I am having a love/hate feeling towards, and that is the weather. It is going to be hot and humid, and this will never change. My two favorite seasons in Korea were autumn and spring. If you are ever visiting Korea, this is when you want to go because the weather is perfect and the changing of the trees, whether it is the shedding of the leaves or the blooming of the cherry blossoms, is spectacular. I will really miss that about Korea.

What I will not miss about Korea is its bitter winter. I have seen my fair share of bitter cold winters, but I have never experienced anything like the ones in Korea. The temperature drops and stays there. I used to look at the outside, not wanting to venture out because I knew it meant bundling up so my skin would not be ripped away by the dry frigid wind. It wasn’t even pretty because it rarely snowed in the winter to hide the dead tree and lawns. It was just cold. I will not miss that.

But I am not also a fan of extreme heat. I am a runner, and trying to run while it is hot and humid is harder than when it is cold and bitter. It just saps all of the energy from me, and I feel like I am wading through the air rather than slicing through it. I know I will eventually acclimate to this because it is never going to change, but I will miss the colder times of the year. I know this even before I make it out to Thailand  because as I said earlier, the milder times of the year are my favorite. It is still not enough to dissuade my excitement for this move, and it is this weather that makes all of the other things I am excited about possible. It is just a minor thing, and I know that I will be able to make the adjustment.

So as the time pushes closer when I will finally get make that last leap, I am starting to get excited about what the changes will be for me, and I can’t wait to share them with the rest of you.

Another Word about Black Butte Ranch – The Move Day 23

Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon is a strange blend of a lot of things that combined together make for an amazing vacation place. There are houses and cabins that are for rent, each one unique and comfortable in their own way. There are many things to do away from the commercialism that some vacation spots tend to throw in your face. And there is this harmony on the ranch with animals of all kinds. I believe that it is these animals that make the ranch a unique place to spend time at, no matter what season you decide to come here.

Underneath the shadow of the looming Black Butte in the middle of the ranch is a huge working field where workers move them around to make sure the fields are not destroyed by their grazing. There is a bike path that runs through the field that allows you to get closer to these animals and watch them as they go about their lazy day. The horses are also used to go on rides through the forests that surround the ranch, and during weddings, they will let them out in the fields giving photographers the perfect picture of the horses running free after the ceremony has taken place.

But the animals that inhabit this corner of the state are not always domesticated. There are a lot of wild animals that make their way through the grounds. Besides the squirrels, chipmunks, and various types of birds, I have heard coyotes howls in the middle of the nights, and have spotted so many deer that it become commonplace. Just yesterday, as I left the place I was staying, I saw a deer grazing on the wild grass in the front yard. It quickly bounded away when he saw that I was there, but they have also found shade underneath decks, and I came across this one off of the bike path near one of the gold courses, just enjoying an early afternoon munch.

But the animals are also brought in by the residents of the ranch. Early in the evening, you can always see people out walking their dogs and there are even more lounging on the decks that overlook the various bike trails. Some of them have even become staples of the people that come to visit on a regular basis. They are probably the most friendly of the residents of the ranch and are always willing to get to know a stranger a little better.

Overall, it is the animals of the ranch that transform the place from a mere vacation spot to a place of fun and surprises. It is one of the main reasons that I love this place so much.