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.

The Best Laid Plans – Siam Summer

Waiting for sandwiches outside of Holey Bakery

Yes, she is smiling.

How do I know?

She told me so.

She is smiling even though I made a mistake for lunch. There is an amazing bakery and sandwich shop in downtown Bangkok that is a little off the  beaten path, but during the year I have lived here, it has become one of my favorite places to visit. It is called Holey Bakery and they make maybe the best Cubano sandwich. It is kind of a pain in the butt to get to from our house in Samakorn, so I really only eat here while I am staying downtown. One of the things that I really wanted to do on this trip was having lunch there, and even though it still took a fifteen minutes cab ride to get there, I still made the effort to go there. Sadly, when we got there, their dining room was closed and they were only serving take out food. Considering there are no real locations around it that I know of to picnic, we were left no option but to order the food and head back to the little apartment we are renting. So we grabbed another cab, and returned back to where we started from. It made the trip feel like it was all for nothing.

Don’t get me wrong. We still got sandwiches and had a great lunch, but it was not the same experience as dining at Holey Bakery. I guess I should have expected such things during this age of Covid, and I should not be disappointed when things do not go the way I hope for. It is just life right now and at least I am allowed to go out on these expeditions in the hope for a great sandwich.

A more traditional version of pad thai

And for every thing that does not go my way, there is another experience that goes better than I expected. We have been going out to eat almost every night since we have been on this little vacation, and it has been nice to enjoy a meal delivered to you again. Yes, the restaurants are quiet because of the social distancing and they are still not allowed to serve a drink while you dine, but it is still great to have that option.

Most of the food we have gone out to eat has been from various parts of the world, sushi, Mexican, and Italian, but considering we are in Bangkok, it seemed only appropriate to go to a Thai restaurant. I know that many people would consider that counterproductive considering Thailand is known for its street food, and anything I could find in a Thai restaurant could also be found from a vendor. There is some truth to that. Many small carts will serve pad thai, curries, and grilled chicken strips, but it will never compete with the food and service we were able to get at a restaurant. And we found a great one, Soul Food, just off of Sukhimvit on Thong Lor. It is a tiny place on the right side of the street, but once you find it, it is really worth the journey.

A great northern Thai treat, khao soi

We enjoyed the tamarind ribs for an appetizer before diving deep into a pad thai platter, and some khao soi. The pad thai was better than anything that could be served at a street vendor. They wrapped the noodles and spices in an omelet that exploded with flavor with each bite.

But the real treat was the khao soi. This is a traditional northern dish which I am not aware if any place outside of Thailand actually prepares it. I was really excited to see it on the menu. Even better than that, my dish could easily compete with the recipes that they make in Chaing Mai. It was definitely the best version of this dish I have found in Bangkok, and should be one of the reason that people visiting Bangkok should hunt down this place.

It just proved that in this new time that the world is going through, we don’t always know what we are going to get when we leave the house. But we should not let that discourage us. It is just an adjustment that we will have to make. Sometimes we will be disappointed by what we find, and sometimes we will run into something that was unexpected. The point is to continue to live life and not let the small things drag us down. If everybody takes on this attitude as we wade back into the waters of society, it make it a happier place for everybody involved.

A Toast to the End of the Semester

It is now time to put the books away
To celebrate the semester’s ending.
We have emerged clean from the learning fray
And we can work on our spirit’s mending.
So I open this bottle of champagne
And take for myself only the first taste.
There will be no need for me to explain
That the rest of it should not go to waste.
I’ll leave it here at the base of your feet.
Consider it a humble offering
That I hope you will find time to complete
When you finish the book you are reading.
I will check back with you after the break,
Hoping, eventually, the drink you’ll take.

Where Have All the People Gone?

Remember the days when they were around,
Clogging up our paths with their noisy cars.
No matter where, they could always be found,
Way more numerous than the nighttime stars.
The dog have now gained control of the soi
And we may roam wherever we may please.
There’s no reason for us to remain coy
As we strut down the streets with perfect ease.
No more being chased away by a broom,
Or to growl and bark at the passersby.
The weak among us claim that it is our doom
That without the humans we may all die.
But I tell those dogs that they had their chance,
And it is our turn to take on the dance.