A Holiday Delayed – Khao Sok, Thailand

It was supposed to be the last hurrah during the holiday season, and we were supposed to be wowed by what we were going to experience. But then the Thai government threatened to close down the boundaries between the provinces, and because we were worried about being stuck in a part of the country and not being able to get to work, we cut our vacation short and cut out the couple of nights at Thailand’s national park, Khao Sok. We were lucky that they told us that we would be able to reschedule our trip for a later date when the Covid crisis had calmed down a bit. Not every place we had booked had been so generous, and I am glad that this place in Thailand made this concession.

It wasn’t necessarily the best time to leave work, but my time in Thailand is starting to tick down and this was one of the places that I wished to visit before we left. So considering I have not really taken much time off from work while living out here, I took the day off to enjoy what I now consider a mini Spring Break.

Khao Sok is a remote place in southern Thailand where the connection to the grid is a little spotty. It is part of the reason that many people book a place down here. There are a few resorts dotting this huge lake surrounded by jagged peaks. The only way you can get to one of these place is by boat, and once you arrive, there is nothing else around. They supply all of the meals and subject you to an itinerary of hikes, and boat rides that will introduce you to many of the amazing sites around as well as the wildlife that inhabits this location. I have already seen one of Thailand’s famous hornbill birds soaring over our resort, and we have not even gone on one of the tours yet.

When not hiking or visiting the sites, there are many other things to pass the time at the place we are staying. They have a whole fleet of kayaks that we can borrow at any time to do a little exploring on our own, and the water is warm and clear. It is the perfect place to float around in and see the mountains that tower over us. I have not done a lot beyond travel to the place and unwind from the last couple of months of work, but I am looking forward to the adventure that this place will provide. I am happy that I will be able to enjoy the holiday that almost didn’t happen, and I am excited to squeeze in this corner of the country before I have to go.

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.

The Holidays in Thailand

Thailand is definitely a Buddhist country. Yes, there are hints of other religions represented in this country, but most of the citizens give their faith over to the man under the bodhi tree. The image of Buddha is everywhere and might even be more prevalent than images of Christianity in America. I like to point this out because it has come to me as quite the surprise when the Christmas season came around and I saw all of the decorations that were being brought out to prepare the people of Bangkok for this great holiday.

It is weird to see how much the people in Bangkok really get into Christmas. They obviously do not celebrate it for the same reason that many Christians supposedly celebrate the holiday, but they like the idea of giving each other presents and getting together at the end of the day to have a meal with their family. It does not matter what religion it comes from, it just matters that it gives them another reason to celebrate.

Of course, the Thai people put their own little spin on it. I still have run across the usual snowflakes, and pictures of Santa Claus. They have even brought out the big fake plastic pine trees to decorate them with lights and little baubles, but they have also added a menagerie of animals all painted in pastel colors that I do not usually associate with Christmas, but it does not really matter because it is still festive in its own special way.

I am not really sure I know why it happens out in Thailand. It could be that the companies like to promote the holiday to pack people into the malls so they can make a little extra money, or maybe it is there to respect the cultures of other countries around the world. It could be a combination of both of these things, but I think the real reason is that they just want to celebrate, and this gives them a reason to do so. It is a lesson that the rest of the world could learn from. Does it really matter why we celebrate Christmas anymore, or is it more important that we do celebrate? Should we discourage other cultures because they do not celebrate the same holiday that we do, or should we join them in their celebration? It might mean that we might get fatigued by celebrating too often, but in the long run is anybody ever really sad when they celebrate these holidays? We might be a happier world because of it.

I know it is the beginning of the holiday season, and no matter holiday you celebrate, I hope you have a happy one, but please take the time wish everybody else the same thing. Share in that kind of joy.

The Best Movies of the Year 2018 – The Holidays Day 7

It has been awhile since I have done a list and since it is the end of the year, I thought that this would be the perfect time to put together what I considered the best movies of 2018.

10. Deadpool 2

It was not as fun as the first one, but this story still made me laugh, and took superhero movies into a new region that they needed to go into for a long time. The introduction of new characters and the story added just enough to the story, and of course the fact that it does not take itself too seriously make Deadpool one of the best superhero franchises out there.

9. Crazy Rich Asians

Yes, it is a totally predictable romantic comedy, and you know exactly how it is going to end even before it begins. But there is something more here that makes this movie worth watching, especially if you live in Asia. There are satirical jokes in this movie that point to some of the truths of Asian culture that an American audience might not get, but I thought were hilarious.

8. Bohemian Rhapsody

Even though I am over hearing Queen songs wherever I go (Give it a break Seoul), I still loved watching Freddie Mercury’s story. I do remember watching his iconic performance during the Live Aid concert, but I did not know all of the moments that led up to this performance. And speaking of performances, Rami Malek delivers a spot on one of this legendary rock star.

7. Isle of Dogs

I love Wes Anderson’s directing style. He creates this great cartoon feel with his cinematography and tells some of the quirkiest stories ever. This works even better when he makes cartoons. I loved the fact that he set the story in Japan so we would never be able to understand what the humans were saying, but could completely follow the reasoning of the dogs.

6. The Avengers: Infinity War

I heard that there were over fifty cast members in this movie, and I wondered how they would be able to pull off a coherent story with that much going on. But Marvel has always known what it was doing when putting together their universe. Since I had spent ten years watching various movies, I got to know all of the characters, and it was not hard to follow all of these various story arcs in the movie. Then they placed the focus of the story directly on Thanos which gave the whole movie unity. Nothing like this has ever been done in movies before, and the sheer scope of it is amazing.

5. Annihilation

I first was introduced to Alex Garland when my wife handed me a copy of his first book, The Beach. I have ever since followed his career as he moved away from writing books, to writing movies, 28 Days Later, to directing them, Ex Machina, to doing his first adaptation. He is just starting to find his stride, and I expect amazing things in the coming years. This is a tour de force that will keep you guessing and stick with you long after the final credits have rolled.

4. Hereditary

Last year’s Get Out showed how the horror genre was capable of making social commentary, and this year’s Hereditary shows that this genre should be taken seriously. First of all, this is a creepy story. Secondly, it takes from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft, never really showing you what is going on, and making you guess if what you are seeing are actually in the minds of the characters or if they are really happening.

3. Black Panther

I will be honest. When I saw that this movie was coming out, I instantly thought this would be one of the Marvel movies I could easily skip. I was sick of the formula, and I did not think that the creators could bring anything new to the Hero’s Journey that I had not seen from them before. Plus, I did not need to see another villain that I would instantly forget about. I was drug to this movie, and was blown away by it. Marvel fixed all of the problems that they had with their storytelling in this story, giving a blurred line between what was good and bad, a villain who had a reason for doing what he was doing instead of just being bad, and an ending that was significant for more than just the title character. To date, this is the best Marvel movie out there.

2. A Star is Born

From the opening bluesy guitar rift, I was hooked into this story. Yes, it surprised me because I thought I would watching more of a folksy singer-songwriter going through his missteps, and was not expecting music with a little more power behind it. And even though this story has been told a few times before in Hollywood, this update of the story was great. Bradly Cooper did not only do a great job of acting, but directing as well. And Lady Gaga, whose music I am not a big fan of, showed off some acting chops that I was not ready for. This movie was a big surprise this year.

1. BlackkKlansman

Spike Lee has made some great movies. He has also made some movies that I could have easily skipped. I loved the premise of this movie, but I had no idea if it would be one of his better movies or one that I should have turned the other way for. I am glad that I watched this movie, even though it gives my home state a bad name. But this movie calls back the reason that he was a force to contend with when he released Do the Right Thing. It made me think about the tension caused by race relations in the United States forty years after the action in this true story movie have taken place. I especially loved the digs to modern politics that were snuck into the movie. Spike Lee should be considered for best picture with this movie, and it will be a travesty if the academy once again snubs him.

Searching for Snow

Growing up, one of the things I enjoyed the most about the holiday season was the blustery, wintery days of Colorado. When I moved to Korea, I was not able to enjoy this as much. Yes, for all of you worried about the Winter Olympics, it does snow in South Korea, but not nearly at the same level that it does in Colorado. I am lucky to see a snow that is over three inches in depth once a year, and it turns into an icy mess that slowly disappears over the next couple of days. I do live in Seoul which is close to the Yellow Sea, so it does not experience the same snowy weather that a landlocked location like Colorado does, but if you go further inland to the mountains of Korea, it gets the cold and snow necessary for a big event like the Winter Olympics.

When Winter Break came around in my school, I decided to do something a little different than I had during my other two years of living overseas. Instead of taking a long vacation to a country that was far away and I had never been to before, I decided to go back to the place where I grew up because I knew that I would be able to find snow there. There was an added bonus to this, I would be able to experience a Christmas like I had grown up with, cold chilly nights, presents under the tree, and family to share the experience with. That is not to say that the other countries I traveled to did not know what it is like to celebrate Christmas; it is just that the warmer climates I had been for the last couple of years gave me a different holiday experience than I am used to.

I know that I can’t expect the world to celebrate Christmas the same way that they do in Colorado, especially considering that they have their own cultures and their own climates, and because of that, they are going to view their world in their own special way. It is funny to see the banners with pictures of Santa or Frosty the Snowman on a sunny day in Australia. It is even weirder to hear Christmas carols in New Zealand that praise the hot weather. But I should expect those things when I fly to the other side of the world during their summer months. I can’t expect snow down there.

That’s why when I landed in Vancouver and started to get closer to my destination, I started to get excited about what I would find in Colorado. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy spending time in hot, sunny climates, but I appreciate them even more when I get to experience a serious snow event every once in a while. Vancouver is not one of the places in the world that can really boast about its annual snowfall because of its proximity to the coast, but I could feel the nip in the air as I wandered around the airport, and I knew that it was only a few more hours before I got to see that snowy climate.

When I finally did arrive in the land of my youth, a strange occurrence happened. The snow I was hoping to see was not there. In fact, it was nice and sunny outside. It wasn’t as warm as it was my two previous holiday breaks in Australia and New Zealand, but it was warm enough where I could walk around outside with nothing more heavy than a hoody on. I had apparently forgotten about one of the main factors of Colorado, it is not always cold and blustery there.

Many people, when they think of Colorado, think of it the way that I had thought about it during the last couple of months before I got to return to it, snowy and cold all of the time. But there is a secret about Colorado that many of its citizens do not like to let out into the public. Colorado has more sunny days a year than Los Angeles. I know most people would call me a liar when they hear this fact, but it is true. Colorado has weather where one day it is cold and blustery, and the next day it is sunny and warm. In fact, when I first arrived back in Colorado, I was experiencing temperatures in the mid 60s. People have asked me that if this was the case then why don’t more people move to Colorado, and even though there are a lot of people moving there right now, there is still a good reason why they do not come. Denver is a really ugly place to be at during the winter if there is no snow around.

Unlike places that have mild temperatures during the winter and do not get to as much sun, they do get a lot of rain during those times. The only moisture that Colorado gets during the winter months is from the snow, and this snow is completely different than the kind that is found on the coastal regions. It does not contain a lot of moisture in it, so it is light and fluffy creating that amazing skiing powder that Colorado is famous for. Because of this, the trees out in Denver do not get a lot of much needed moisture during the winter months, and so the grass grows brown in it dormancy, and the trees look like bare stick protruding out of the ground. It makes for a desolate scene that can only be saved by snowfall.

This is in stark contrast to the other place in America that I visited during my trip, the Pacific Northwest. This part of the country does get snowfall from time to time and I was told on our trip that last year Oregon experienced many days of snow around the holidays. It did not get that much snow this year though. What it did get was more typical of a Pacific Northwest winter, rain. Even though it is cold outside, it is still really beautiful because the trees are getting the moisture they need to remain green giving the landscape a beautiful covering that looks as if life stills breathes through it.

Even though it is really pretty, it still did not give me the Christmas feeling I was looking for. Where were the piles of snow that would indicate that the holiday was right around the corner? It made for some nice chilly walks, but I still wanted to huddle inside a home with a warm cup of coffee as I watched the sky dump white stuff everywhere. But I should have expected as much when I came to the Pacific Northwest. Snow is not that natural of an occurrence out there.

But it was while I was traveling through the cold paths of the Pacific Northwest, that I started to find something else that reminded me more of the holidays than the snow I longed for. It was a little subtle at first, but the more I moved around the area, the more I was able to discover it.

It was with me, even in the darker corners of the bars and restaurants I went to. It was a warmth that was created by the holiday season that the lack of snow could not contain.

It was really strange to find this thing in bars, because there is a weird vibe that can be found at these places during the holiday season. It can be a group of friends gathered together sharing a good time, but at the same time, it could be a group of individuals huddled around their separate drinks, drowning their pains and sorrows in the moment. If you are having a hard time deciding which type of bar it is as you stroll outside, just listen to the music playing inside. If it is 70s Christmas music, then the bar is filled with the lonely because there is nothing more depressing than hearing “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” in a bar.

Luckily, the bars I wandered into were of the second kind filled with good beer, and good friends. This was when I started to realize that what I should be looking for shouldn’t be snow, but reconnecting with a world of people I had left behind, and a culture I had not gotten to experience for a couple of years. I needed to soak in the absurdity that is Americana, and enjoy it for every moment I was there.

When I started to look at my trip through this lens, the world began to change drastically. I quit searching the ground for flakes that would never arrive, and instead started to see the changes that had taken place over the last couple of years. By the way, the free water you get from the tap is better.

I also started to see the ever-present trends presented in a new way but which I could still embrace because of its comfortable familiarity. I know that C3PO has become an international symbol, but I believe only America could find him as a lawn decoration in celebration of Christmas.

It showed me the other really cool things that Americans did. Walking through a neighborhood, I came across a couple of the give one, take one libraries that bring a neighborhood together. Even though this is something that happens year round in these places, it did show me the true meaning of the holiday spirit. It is about the bringing together people under a single idea instead of isolating them behind the warm doors of their homes, protecting them against the cold that was piling up outside, but excluding them from society.

I spent a lot of this trip looking for something I had missed when I moved abroad. I wandered down many paths and looked in many crooks and crannies to try and find it. The sad thing was that what I was looking for was not what I should have been looking for in the first place. There was something bigger that I was missing from being away from America and when I came across it, I found that this is what I should have been looking for all along.

I wasn’t going to find it in the desolate landscape of Colorado, or the piles of driftwood found on the beaches of West Seattle. I could only find it in the place where I already was, and it was the greatest thing I could have taken away from this trip.

The warmth I wanted huddled inside while watching the snow fall to the ground outside a frosty window was already there. That warmth comes from my loved ones, and being able to spend quality time with them. It is these moments that I took with me as I came back to Korea. Being able to enjoy the company of a dog again. Dinners with family.

The next generation of my family enjoy Christmas the way I used to as a kid. It didn’t matter to them that there wasn’t any snow on the ground; they were just happy to be with their other siblings and cousins in the celebration of the holidays. It wasn’t about what they got, but who they spent time with and how they could be goofy around them. It was the tiny moments like this that made the holidays worth the long voyage.

We need to keep this in mind, especially around the holidays. We usually get so wrapped up in the commercial aspect of what the holiday season brings that we forget about what makes this season so great, spending time with the ones that we love. Too often we become like the salmon swimming upstream always pushing for that final destination without bothering to look around at the people around us and seeing that this is what is really important in the first place. I came to realize that I shouldn’t expect the holiday season to be a certain way, but instead just enjoy it for the way it was handed to me.

When I did that, the snow I was hoping for finally came. It made for the perfect trip back home, and one that I will treasure for years to come.

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