Staying on Top of a Mall – The Last Hurrah!

The view from outside my hotel window at the Centara Grand hotel on top of CentralWorld in downtown Bangkok, Thailand

The big department store in Thailand is Central. It is basically like any other department store that you would find in any other mall across the world. When you enter one, you have the option of many different levels you can go to with each one designed to meet the needs of certain individuals. There are usually two levels designed for women, one for men, one for children, a combination of all three for sports gear and sports equipment, and couple more for toys and knick knacks, and another for kitchen supplies. Central takes it one step further with having some of their department stores adding one more level that features many fine restaurants that you can dine at like a five star food court including glass ware and fancy silverware.

Central also takes things one step further than many of the other department stores around the world. Though all of their shops are found in malls like many other department stores, unlike the other department stores, Central owns a lot of the malls that they reside in. They don’t only make money off of their own store, but they also make money off of all of the real estate that they rent out to the other stores in the mall. These big monstrosities are in all the big cities across the country with Bangkok having a few sprinkled throughout the city.

The biggest of all of these malls that I know of is the one in downtown Bangkok off of Sukhumvit, the main thoroughfare in downtown, called Central World. Just like any other mall, it is filled with a bunch of the biggest brand name stores, and tons of restaurants to eat at, both quick and sit down. It even has a movie theater. But what makes it stand out over all the other malls would have to be the luxury hotel that has been built on top of it.

Granted, this is downtown Bangkok, one of the places in the world where any piece of real estate is worth a small fortune. Add on to that, that this is the central part of this downtown area. It makes sense to make the most out of any space that is offered. Building huge, multi-purposed skyscrapers makes the most perfect sense. The CentralWorld Mall has done a great job of capturing this aspect with a large sprawling shopping area, a convention center, and a Centara Hotel to top it all off. It comes with its own outdoor pool and two full-sized tennis courts. It offers comfortable rooms with amazing views of the Bangkok landscape.

It is a little weird having to walk through a mall with all of your bags to get to the elevator that will take you to the Hotel’s reception, but otherwise, it has been a great spot to get done what I need to get done in downtown Bangkok. It is close to all of the places where I need to go, and it is connected to a BTS station so I can get to any other place quickly as well. I know it is not the craziest experience of my life, but under the current situation and the fact that this will be my last hurrah for my time in Thailand, I will take it and enjoy it while I still can.

The Last Hurrah! (Maybe)

It wasn’t planned this way. Of course, a lot of what happened over the last couple of years have taken all of our plans, thrown them out the window, put the car in reverse so it could run over them and drive them into the mud, and then had gotten out of the car so it could have the pleasure of smashing them further with the heel of its boot. The common phrase I have heard during this time is that we will have to wait to see what happens, and then plan for the worst. And the worst is never the worst; the last couple of years have always found a way to make it worse.

But I have tried to keep a positive outlook on life, and luckily I have found myself in a place that was not hit as hard by the Corona Virus pandemic, so at least I could travel around the country of Thailand and enjoy it beaches and beautiful sights. I just couldn’t leave. It led to me making the decision for seeking a new position in a new country next year, and as the days ticked closer to the last days in Thailand, I kept anticipating the last trip I would take in this country. It would be my last exploration of this culture, the last run through the tropics, the last hurrah of Thailand.

But then Covid reared its ugly head again. It has come and gone many times throughout the last couple of years, but it was never a huge threat. It would just shut things down for awhile and then open them up again so we can go back to life with a semblance of normality. But it came again as I was taking on that final stretch into the end of my time out here, and now, what my be my last hurrah is not as exciting as I thought it may have been.

One of the things I needed to get done before I left was to visit the police station in downtown Bangkok in order to get a background check for my time out here in Thailand. It wouldn’t take that long, but I would need to take a day off in order to go through the process and considering that it is so difficult to drive down to downtown Bangkok and back, we decided to get a hotel room to take care of it. We could get a nice meal out of it, and hit our favorite spots down here one last time. But considering that everything is closing up again in Thailand, it might be the last time that we are able to get out of the neighborhood before we leave. It is not as exciting as I was hoping, but it is all I am going to get, so I have to make the most out of it.

It is a typical way of looking at what has been happening to not just me, but all of the people all over the world. The expectations we have had over the last few months keep getting put on hold, and we have to make these adjustments to allow for life to continue. Of course, it is not the ideal, but it is also not as bad as I thought it might be either. It just a lesson in being flexible and making the most out of what life gives us. It might not be the last hurrah, the amazing blowout, that I had hoped for, but I am still getting the opportunity to have a last hurrah. I should be happy that I am getting that because there are many people all over the world that are still stuck in their homes and haven’t had much to hurrah about over the last months at all.

And who knows? Thailand may get this outbreak under control quickly, and I will be able to have that last hurrah I was hoping for. Either way I will be ready for it.

Camera Play – Koh Lipe, Thailand

I have been told that it is no the camera, but it is the photographer that makes the picture. And to a certain extent I agree with that assessment. It is about the knowledge of how to use light and composition, and if you know those two things you can take some amazing pictures even using a disposable camera if you can still find one that is.

And I don’t claim to be an expert photographer and there is a lot that I still need to learn about the craft, but I think I take some pretty good pictures using an iPhone6. It has treated me well during the six years I have been putting together this blog, but I am starting to see some limitations with the device. The zoom features does not work great and cause me to get some pixilated pictures if I zoom in too far. When the sun goes down, the hope of taking a good picture gets thrown out the window, even with its flash feature. And when I am close to water I am afraid of getting it wet, and let’s not even talk about trying to get a picture underwater.

But I have reached a place with my phone that I am willing to take more risks to push the limited capabilities that it does have. Being in Thailand, there are many photo opportunities I did not try for because I didn’t want to ruin my phone. But considering the last time I took my cracked screen to an Apple genius and they laughed at me before changing their expression and saying, “Oh, you’re serious,” I think that it might be time for an upgrade.

This means that I went out and purchased my first ever accessory for my phone, a Dry Dock camera case. It is a camera case that seals up my phone airtight, and allows me to take pictures underwater. It doesn’t have the greatest capabilities and claims to only go down 30 meters. Considering that I don’t plan on going that far underwater ever, and that I will be going on a snorkeling trip to see the coral reefs off of the coast of Koh Lipe, it seemed like a safe purchase to make. I would still a little nervous about how well it would work, so I went out to take it for a spin in the area by my hotel.

The first time worked well. It take a little effort to take a picture, but it seems like I will get a couple of great pictures and my phone my survive for another year of taking pictures for my blog. So here’s to crossing my fingers and hoping for an amazing photo shoot as it becomes more about the camera and less the photographer.

The Path of Suffering – Koh Lipe, Thailand

According to Buddhists, the only way to achieve nirvana is by traveling down the path of suffering. There is a lot that can be learned during traveling down that path as long as we are willing to sit down and reflect on those moments and think about how they have affected us. In principle, this sounds like a beautiful thing, but it is really hard to reflect back on those moments and think about how they have changed us or what lessons we are supposed to learn from the experience. Sometimes this is just something we wish to forget all about.

My travels to my Songkron Break location, the island of Koh Lipe in southern Thailand, was one of these experiences that I would love to forget about and I don’t know if I will ever want to revisit the experience to see if I can come up with a lesson that I have learned from the experience. There were a lot of steps that I needed to take on this commute, but one of them hung everything up and turned what should have been nine hour travel day into one that took a little over fourteen hours to arrive at our destination. We scheduled a driver to take us to the airport at five in the morning, and we had plenty of time to get on our seven o’clock flight which left on time. It took a few extra minutes to find out driver to take us down to the pier where we were going to catch our ferry to Koh Lipe, but once we found him, he did a great job of getting us there on time.

It was when we hit this part of our travels where things came to a grinding halt. After a year and a half of getting hit with low tourism, the industry saw a sudden surge in travelers this week. Some of them took advantage of this fact by overbooking certain services. The ferry was one of these services that was overbooked. We were a little late for the ferry we booked a month ago, but it didn’t matter because they were running so far behind that we were not able to get on a ferry four hours later.

There is nothing like sitting on a crowded dock during a pandemic with dreams of a sandy beach dancing in your head. I looked at the people not wearing their masks and wondered if they were going to be packed in my ferry, and I wondered if I would ever get off of this concrete slab protruding out into the sea. It didn’t help that the only shops in the ferry building sold either expensive jewelry or coffee drinks, neither of which would satisfy my grumbling stomach. I might have left to go to another restaurant close by to get a quick bite to eat, but we had to wait around in the hopes of getting on whatever ferry they deemed us worthy enough to join.

It might not have been the worst suffering that anyone had to endure in their lifetimes, but I did feel like I was on Buddhism’s famous path, and I should meditate about the moment in order to reach my Nirvana. And now that I have finally reached Koh Lipe and have a whole week to do nothing but enjoy the beauty of this small island far away from the hustle and bustle of my regular life. Yes, it was a painful day and some of that pain seemed a little unnecessary with a little more organization, but in the long run I made it to Koh Lipe. I am safe. I have a comfortable hotel room. I am surrounded by kind and caring staff. I have choice of excellent restaurants to eat at. I have options of many sea activities to entertain me during the next week.

Maybe there is something to that path of suffering.

Maybe I have reached my Nirvana.

Chinese versus Lunar

I am probably making a bigger deal about this than I should, but there is something about Chinese New Year that bugs me. It is a day that is celebrated all over the world, and it is based upon the waxing and waning of the moon. It is so popular that people in Thailand even celebrate the Chinese New Year, and I am sure that there are other countries in Southeast Asia that celebrate it as well. But South Korea does not celebrate the Chinese New Year. They have their own celebration on the same day that focuses also on the waxing and waning of the moon, but they call it Lunar New Year instead.

All of these countries get excited about this day, and it is often considered one of the biggest holidays of the year. They decorate the malls, and have many places where you can get your picture taken to prove that you were alive when it became the Year of the Bull. So my problem comes from the fact that it is called Chinese New Year in countries that are not even China. I get the fact that some holidays are specific to certain countries, and the celebration of them should hold the title of the country that they come from. But this is a holiday that is based upon legends that are shared by many of the countries of this region and is based upon a single day in February that changes with the moon. I agree with Korea that the title of the day should be Lunar New Year and not Chinese New Year.

I am pretty sure that it is a big party in China every year on this holiday. Though I have not experienced the same level of excitement associated with it in Thailand, I think part of my experience might be because the current state of the world which has probably toned down the celebrations in China as well. The point being is that there is no one holiday that is celebrated around the world that has the same kind of association with it. We don’t call it America’s Christmas even though there might be a few people who think that this is a more appropriate name. It isn’t the Celtic Halloween even though this is the place where it originated. We don’t even call it the Vatican’s Easter even though the history of this event has been distorted throughout the years and does not look like what it did when they first celebrated it.

I have no qualms with China continuing to call the day Chinese New Year either. I am just surprised that countries that wish to retain the autonomy and their own culture are so willing to give into the pressure of calling it the same thing even though that has nothing to do with the way they celebrate it. When it comes down to it, I believe it is a great holiday to celebrate, and I enjoy seeing people come together to ring in the New Year. I just hope in the future they look towards the day and recognize it as a part of their own culture and not some import from a different part of the world.

Sorry about the rant, but I hope you had a wonderful Lunar New Year, and that you find luck and happiness in the Year of the Bull.

The Sushi Attraction

One of my favorite things about getting out of the house and traveling is trying amazing food from all around the world. There are some really great places to eat in my neighborhood, but there is something special about trying places in other neighborhoods and countries. Heading to downtown Bangkok gives me this opportunity to try other worldly cuisine. Of course, there are many Thai restaurants downtown, but I probably have the better examples in my neighborhood that is not toned down to meet the tastebuds of millions of tourists who visit this city every year. Rather, I like to look for the other world cuisines that are not as present in my neighborhood, and one of the types of foods I always look for is a good sushi restaurant.

This is something that is harder to find in Southeast Asia than you would think. There are a couple of places I have found outside of Japan that are able to do this dish well, and one of the better ones happens to be off of the Phrom Phong BTS station down Soi 39. It is a small place with only six tables, but it does a great job of getting fresh fish and creating artistic bites to eat. It is by far the best sushi restaurant I have found in Bangkok so far. It does not rival the places that fill up during lunch time in Japan, but it would do really well in that country and hold its own against the people that created this cuisine in the first place.

My favorite part of eating sushi, besides the taste, is the presentation. I am not one of those people that take pictures of their food very often, and maybe I should be better at doing that considering I write a blog about my travels around the world. I know that people want to see those pictures, but usually when I go out to a restaurant, I am so excited to eat that when my food comes, I forget to pull out my phone and take a picture. But when I ate at Masu Maki, it was really easy to remember that this was something that I should do. They did such a beautiful job of presentation that I had to take a picture in order to remember it. I won’t give you the picture of what it looks like after I have finished because it isn’t as pretty, but when this gets placed in front of you, it is easy to get excited by what you are about to eat.

It is a great place to eat sushi in Bangkok, and if you have any other suggestions, please let me know because I love to find hidden gems like Masu Maki, especially when it comes to sushi.

Eternal Summer’s Version of Christmas

It is that time of the year again where the night sky is lit up with tiny lights and images of people bundled up against the cold get plastered on the side of every established business. Songs about melting snowmen and chestnuts roasting over a fire play over the lobbies of hotels and speakers at gas station all around the world. Kids bundle up in new pajamas as they make their lists for toys that they would love to have from the jolly fat man from the north, and parents fight holiday crowds and their bankbooks to make those dreams come true.

It is truly a magical time of the year.

I will admit that when I was younger that this was my favorite time of the year, and probably contributes a lot to my love of snowy days. One of my fondest memories growing up involved a Christmas Eve blizzard that trapped us in our house on Christmas day. I was very young at the time and I always thought that it had to snow on Christmas Eve and the light flurry of flakes that fell that evening as I walked outside in my new Christmas pajamas to pick up the night edition of the paper confirmed this belief. It started out innocent enough, but when I woke up on Christmas morning there was a big surprise of a couple of feet of snow that had not been on the ground before. I don’t remember at all what I got that Christmas because the snow was the greatest gift we could have ever recieved.

I have since grown up and after many brown Colorado Christmases, I now know that snow on Christmas Eve is not a guarantee. In fact, there are many places in the world where seeing snow on Christmas would be considered crazy. Some of the more memorable ones I have spent in recent years have come while I have been on the other side of the globe in Australia and New Zealand. It was a strange feeling enjoying the holiday in a place where I knew that it would never get cold.

I am soon discovering that this year will also be one of those years that will not have a chance of feeling like the picturesque holiday season. It won’t be completely bad because Thailand loves to celebrate this holiday just like any other country in the world. The malls are packed with people and deals, and they tend to pump Christmas carols everywhere you go. The stores also try to outcompete each other to show who can make the brightest of all of the holiday light shows. I wasn’t expecting it much, but I did feel that magical spirit start to bubble up inside of me while I walked around downtown and viewed all of the Christmas displays wherever I went.

The only difference is that I will never feel that cold that I so cherish this time of the year. I won’t even feel a cool breeze that might hint at a chilly Christmas evening. The closest I will be able to get will be to turn my air conditioning on high so I can bundle up under a blanket and watch some Christmas movie where they get to experience a white event. Despite this small problem, it will feel more like Christmas than a lot of places around the world. There will still be the people taking the time to spend with each other, the children excited about the arrival of Santa Claus, and the endless celebration that takes place during the month of December.

I know I am looking forward to it either way, and I hope that wherever you find yourself this holiday season that you are able to make the most out of this month as well. Have a great holiday season, and I will let you know about what is happening in the land of eternal summer as I enjoy mine.

Black Friday

Ever since I have moved overseas, Thanksgiving Day does not mean as much to me. It is not that I do not appreciate the holiday. It is just that the holiday is a very American experience and other places in the world do not celebrate it or even acknowledge its existence. Because of this, I have had to work on the past six Thanksgiving Days, and after the sixth time, it is hard to get excited about this day.

It fills me with sadness when I recognize this fact because for a long time it had become my favorite holiday. It was the one day where we stripped away all of the pretentious behavior of our daily routines, and get together with family to share a delicious meal and make memories. There was also the looming consuming beast of Christmas looming right around the corner, but we could put that aside for a moment to just enjoy being with the people we love. I know that other countries have holidays that are comparable to this, but it is hard to get into the spirit of them when they jump out at me from nowhere and I am expected to understand the traditions of these days. The traditions of my past are the ones that stick with me and which I yearn for every year around this time.

There are other Americans at the schools I have taught at that help to keep this tradition alive. I have had one Thanksgiving dinner already and I will be experiencing another one this weekend, and I appreciate that people take the time to make sure that this holiday makes it across the ocean. But since I have moved to Asia, I have started a new tradition that makes me just as happy. It involves the day after Thanksgiving which in the United States is one of my least favorite days of the year. It is not because I am working off my turkey coma or I am depressed because I find myself without my family again. It is because I believe that this day brings out the worst of Americans as they push and shove to get crazy deals on crap that they really don’t need. It is fodder for the television news broadcasts and every year it gets just a little worse. Hopefully, with Covid ravaging the land, people will take it a little easier this year, but the current state of things has proven that many people would not let this tradition pass them by no matter what danger may loom in a crowded room.

The way I have avoided the pain of this day is to take in the meal that I usually miss because I have been stuck at work during Thanksgiving day. I have had the fortune to have the next day off, and the Asian countries though they ramp up the shopping experience during Black Friday, it is no where near the insanity that can be found in the United States. The restaurants are still open and this is a great day to hop from one to the next as I indulge in a little bite at each one. It allows me to get out there and see a bit of the holiday spirit as it takes over the community while not fighting with people over a bunch of stuff that doesn’t really matter in the long run. This is the tradition I would like to see take off for this holiday. We need to step back from this idea that stuff will make Christmas perfect and look back at the holiday we have just enjoyed. It is about family, and all holidays should take Thanksgiving’s tradition to heart. This is what my new tradition would be about because you do not go out to spend money on people, but you meet up with them at various restaurants to enjoy their company.

I hope you all found yourself in a wonderful spot on this holiday and that you are taking the precautions to be safe during the next month. Be thankful for those people you have in your life no matter where they may be.

Drive on the Coast

We have made the afternoon for a drive
Over the wooded hills along the coast.
It feels good to get out of the hive
To chase away the collected year’s ghost.
Others are not willing to venture out
And reclaim the civilization’s shore.
Taking their time is what it is about,
And I should not coax them out of their door.
Until then, I am alone on the road,
Breathing in deeply, the wafting sea air
Where, at one time, my memory had stowed
What it had once been like to have been there.
This idea of freedom is fleeting,
But at any chance, it is worth repeating.

A Little Road Trip – Siam Summer

Locals enjoying some fishing on a small beach in Pattaya, Thailand.

Summer has always been a time to travel a little and see friends, family and a little bit more of the world. Things are a little different this summer. People are stuck in their part of the world and because of that, the world has once again grown. We are not able to be the same small world community that we used to be by hopping on a plane and traveling to the various points in the world. We are now forced to explore the little corners of the world in which we live. Luckily, I have found myself in Thailand. First off, I have not explored much of this country and I am excited to see what it has to offer. Secondly, they have done a pretty good job of getting the Corona Virus situation under control and things are starting to open up again. The bars are still closed and the national parks start opening on the first of July, but the rest of the country has returned to back to a semblance of normal. Yes, there are more people wearing masks than normal, but it is a country that is trying hard to keep things under control so they can be prepared during the height of their tourist season and not let the economy slip anymore than it needs to.

The view from my hotel room at the Birds and Bees in Pattaya, Bangkok.

Considering it is summer and I have not traveled outside of Bangkok since the pandemic gridlocked the world, I thought this would be the perfect time to see more of this country I have found myself living in. There was only one thing that an American facing this situation can think of, road trip. There are many towns, islands and cities within driving range of the big city, and the roads are not hard to travel on as soon as you get out of the city center. Even though I do own a car, I thought it best to travel by hiring a driver this time out, and we made our way to the first city on our list, Pattaya.

The small beach on the edge of the Birds and Bees in Pattaya, Thailand

This city is one of the bigger tourist destinations because it is close to Bangkok, boasts some nice beaches, and has different levels of experiences depending on what you are looking for. We went thinking this would be a great place to meet up with other people we are traveling with, and get in some beach living before we make it to our final destination on this trip, Koh Samet. It would have been the first place we went to, but this island is a national park, and we had to wait until the first of next month before we could enjoy this spot.

The view of the Birds and Bees from the beach

Despite this, we were able to find a nice resort on the quiet side of town, Birds and Bees. It is a great hotel with comfortable villas looking out over a small beach with a pool and great restaurant attached to it. Our plans have not been anything more than hanging out at the pool while we are here, and enjoying some good food before moving on to our next destination, but it is nice to get out of the city and travel again. It reminds me why we made the jump overseas in the first place, and even though the first day was a little overcast, I have been able to unwind a bit and enjoy this summer. It just shows me that travel has changed for now, and if we are going to participate in this rewarding activity we need to think about learning more about our local terrain instead of exploring the various parts of the world. I’m sure that no matter where you are, there are those little corners that you have always meant to explore. Now is the perfect time to take advantage of it.