Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bangkok is Still Here


The fastest way to Bangkok is not to fly first to Beijing; going to Beijing would be like stopping for gas in Boise, Idaho, on your way from Vancouver to Calgary. Air China was the cheapest way to get to Bangkok, however, and Erin and I are extremely discourteous to our future selves when we’re pricing out flights, so we had a very long journey yesterday and the day before, and — technically — the day before that.

Everything here feels familiar. Even stepping out of the plane into the partially air-conditioned limbo of the jetway was familiar. The humidity of Bangkok made all of my clothes go limp and hug my body. The spiffy new airport I’d never been to before felt just like old Don Muang airport must have felt like about 40 years’ worth of entropy ago (and completely unlike the gargantuan unused mausoleum of air travel they built in Beijing — see Erin’s post at It was bustling, fairly efficient, and friendly.

We got to my old Bangkok haunt, the Nakorn Pink Hotel, at about 1:00 AM. Completely fucked from the fifteen-or-so time zones we crossed and the airplane beer and the snippets of sleep we managed, Erin and I were hungrier than we were tired, so we went and hit one of my favourite restaurants (the seafood place on the corner of Samsen and Soi 6 — some of you know what I’m talking about). Then we wandered down empty Bangkok streets in a happy daze and stopped for Beer Chang at Popiang House. At 4:00 AM we got to overhear conversation about someone who’d just missed his flight home for the second day in a row because he wanted “just one more beer”. I know the feeling.

I’m actually surprised at how happy I am to be back. I’m overjoyed. I’m giddy. I’m in Asia again. It’s been too long. I find myself wondering why I ever left. I’m sure there’s a reason, but I can’t think of it right now.

A few things have changed about Bangkok. There’s the odd new restaurant and guesthouse around, and the 7-storey ruins on Chakrabongse are in noticeably worse shape than they were four years ago (I wonder if anyone was hurt when all of those chunks fell off), but the feeling is still the same. The people are still friendly and if you go to the right places, the prices are still low. There’s a reason why so many people go to Thailand: because it’s fucking awesome.

Erin and I have been just wandering around, sussing out travel details and eating $1 meals out of the little street stalls. Erin, having quit her job just one weekend plus two long flights ago, is already coming up with ideas for stories she could write about Bangkok. I have forbidden her to go to work already. Tonight we’re going to go and watch Muay Thai boxing and get drunk and place bets, and tomorrow we’re getting on a bus for the beach. She’s going to take a week off and there’s not a damn thing she can do about it.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A New Journey


Everyone's favourite nomad is hitting the road again, on an uncharacteristically purpose-driven 4 1/2- month tour of (probably) 9 countries, from Borneo to Beirut and points in between.

I'd love to say that I have a gimmick, like, that I am walking across Asia as the title of this web-log implies, or that I am at least using only surface transportation to cross the southern end of the world's longest continent, but this new trip is much too objective-oriented to allow such symbolic frivolities. We're going to be taking a lot of planes, man, because we have got shit to do.

Yes, for a change, I am traveling for a reason. You'll be relieved to know that I didn't come up with the reason -- I'm drifting through life as aimlessly as ever, the same shiftless gadabout you grew to love so many years ago. I have, however, in the last few years, latched onto a lady-nomad, who is as driven as the pure snow (but definitely not the other way around).

The lady-nomad's name is Erin. I met her in Thailand about five and a half years ago. Loyal nomad-followers may remember from a disordered rant about swimming naked as a porpoise in the Gulf of Thailand. We kept in touch, and for the last couple of years, we've been fighting over the blankets and sharing morning breath with each other.

Erin's a journalist. For the last couple of years she has been writing for Maclean's magazine and editing their education website, but the time has come for her to pursue her dream of making less money and being paid irregularly. She is embarking on a career as a freelance magazine writer with a trip across Asia and I, characteristically, am just going along for the ride.

So what am I going to do? Hang out and watch her write?

Of course not.

I'm going to dust off the old bennythenomad writing-jockstrap and write; I'm going to write as though I had something to say, or at the very least, as though it doesn't matter that I have nothing to say. It's the internets, after all; nobody has to have anything in particular to say, just the will to say it.

Now anyone has a global forum where they can publish photos of their cat, (who is just the cutest little kitty in the world, doncha know?) their opinions on which vegetables are too obscene to be served whole, and their diatribes on which races of humanity must be exterminated. Every mouth-breather with an internet connection and enough manual digits to thrash out a page of unpunctuated invective against the drivers in their city now has access to an audience of billions, but fortunately, little chance of being read by an audience of more than three.

The very least I can do is add to this insipid stew the seasoning of my witty fart jokes. There is zero chance that I can lower the average quality of the content of this, the world's collective mental urinal, and maybe I can invent a new fart joke along the way.

So prepare yourselves! Fart jokes are coming!

I'm not sure what else will be coming, but here's my best guess:

Erin and I are leaving for Bangkok in less than a week. After about a week's worth of messing around in Thailand and Malaysia, we're flying to the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo to meet up with my brother Nate and his girlfriend, Linda, who happens to be from Sabah. Erin is writing a story about Linda's savage curry-eating people, and we're climbing a tall mountain. Then we're going to the Indonesian side of the island and going up a river into the jungle to research a story about a coal mine.

Then, we're getting out of the jungle and getting back to Bangkok so we can fly to India in mid-December. I'm not sure what we're going to do in India. We'll figure something out. Erin might need to take some time to write her Borneo stories. I'm sure we'll also spend a fair amount of time on the toilet.

Then in mid-January we fly to Beirut. We'll be hanging out in the middle east for about two months. Erin doesn't have any stories lined up for the middle east yet, but if she can't find something to write about there, she might as well eat her fedora-with-the-'press'-sign-in-the-hatband and her old-fashioned comedy camera and give up on being a journalist.

Sweetheart, I don't mean it. I'm sure you'll be a great journalist, even if you are a girl. No, I don't think you look fat in that jungle brassiere and that natty reporter skirt.

Sheesh, women. Nice to look at, but barely worth the work you have to put into them. They're always asking, "why don't you ever take me to Borneo?" You can always tell it's that time of the month and their hormones are going crazy when they ask stuff like, "why can't we ever discuss the impact of globalization on the environment as developing-world countries seeking foreign currency turn to large-scale resource extraction without the environmental oversight that exists in the developed world?"

Are you with me guys? Sheesh, right? Silly women.

(How long do you think Erin's going to let me use her as a comedic prop? Maybe I'll get lucky and she won't read this web-log.)

So here's your fair warning, internets: You have one week to delete every single photo of pet kitties playing with yarn and little doggies sniffing at wide-angle camera lenses, or I will unleash a torrent of obscenity-laden travel stories the likes of which you have not seen since 2005!