Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I bounced north to the travel mecca of Chiang Mai, where nary a shop can be found without the stains of western influence, and enrolled in one of the famous jungle treks. This involves leaving the ranks of the round-the-world ticket troubadours, and associating myself with the two-week pleasure seeking bards. The different tune had me scrambling to find the right footwork to stay synchronized with some of these people, as I just couldn't grasp the thought process behind someone who comes all the way to Thailand, only to go, "Where are the burgers and fries? I absolutely MUST try one of those here, yes that would suit my adventurous pallet quite well." Sure, I think they can whip up some cheese to go with that wine in the middle of the jungle. Regardless, the trek was definetaly an experience.
We were led by two guides, Captain Jack Sparrow, and a man we just referred to as Monkey. Both men of deeply playful nature, Sparrow countered Depp's rum induced swagger with a whiskey tilt of his own, although he tended to take machete wielding a bit too liberally at times, making you wondering how whimsical his temperament really was. Monkey can't really be described. Probably one of the most colorful characters that I've ever encountered, he seemed to zip through life with a zest that came from god knows where...or just from whatever he was constantly smoking. Together, they attacked everything with a comical, yet twisted approach, which ensured that something out of the ordinary was sure to lay ahead when we awoke each day. From their campfire yodeling, accompanied with a serious thrashing of a guitar, to their scampering through the jungle and over dry rice paddies, which left us trekkers feel like we were running from a t-rex, they definetaly greased any rusty social interactions between our very international group.
On the second day of the three day trek, we found ourselves in a Karen Hill Tribe Village. I instantly bonded with my mother from another life, an old lady with the warmest of smiles, who sealed the deal on our past relation by physically going and getting scissors, in a seriously flawed attempt to cut my beard. Between vigorous hand signals, I made it clear that no such nonsense would occur. Still, I slept with one eye open, as I wouldn't put it past her, and that cunning grin she assumed with clippers in hand...
We closed out with bamboo rafting. Although the trek provided ample photo-ops and good times around the campfire, the adrenaline rush provided that initially filled me to the brim was drained by the guilt that consumed me, which was born from the elephant riding and Hill Tribe visit. There was a little demon running through my stomach, distributing the nauseous feelings of abuse and intrusion. The elephants lives consist of transporting tourists in circles all day long, their existence stripped to such a basic routine that the entire experience had a metallic, mechanical, almost robotic feel to it. As for the Hill Tribe, as much as I loved that woman, I still felt as though my presence was invasive. I'm sure that the money earned from tourists helps to modernize the tribe, but the double sided blade also requires that it cut away pieces of their culture as a tax. The rubbish strewn about the village payed testimony to this.
Some more pics...
It's extremely difficult for me to process everything, considering the scope of what I'm soaking through my pores consists of a lot more than exhaust fumes and particles of dirt. So this is going to have to be fairly black and white as far as any real description goes, as I'll try to swim through my own mental haze and illuminate a bit of this place for you.
Bangkok is the capital of Thailand, sprawled out like a lying Buddha, yet as dense as a market, with everyone on top of each other, the very western notion of a 'personal bubble' popped immediately by a collective 'your in my way' needle. A city of extreme contrasts, from the sickening poverty of the slums, where entire families squeeze into shacks the size of my room (the term 'family' in Asia is a lot broader than ours, both in literal size and in terms of a true bond), to the 5 story glitz of shopping malls, which tout 360 degree catwalks, as loaded Thai teens flaunt the designer's latest, courtesy of daddy's plastic card. Either way, there is a degree of madness all around that is difficult to detect any method to. Case in point: traffic and waste. Rules get tossed to the side of the curb in the same manner as anything that you no longer fancy posessing. People stop at traffic lights (sometimes), but other than that, the collective attitude goes as follows - there's really nothing that's going to stop you from getting from A to B. Mopeds zoom in between cars, tuk-tuks (three wheeled moped/car hybrid) bunny hop onto sidewalks, and you can scamper across the road whenever you damn well please. It's a beautiful thing to watch; there's a fluidity here that I've never seen before, and above all, there are no accidents. Ironic eh? We have all these rules in the west, yet I think that just results in people feeling 'safe' and losing concentration. If you lost concentration on one of these streets, I can guarantee that you would not be safe. I fear for both your limbs and your ears, as you'd invariably end up on a stretcher or go deaf from the cacophony of honks aimed at you. My favorite is watching a pack of motorists waiting for a light to turn green. Everyone is stamping their hooves, revving up an individual nebula of pollutant, and the air thickens yet more with the anticipation for the prize color that will, hopefully, provide some type of laxative to the congestion. When green finally shows itself, its off to the races, with a resounding symphony of the deepest, most guttural bullfrog mating noises you've ever heard, sending the clean air scampering, as the entire intersection gets devoured by a thick paste of gaseous fumes, which in turn beats at your lungs like they're toy drums. I forgot to mention the pollution. "Going Green" goes on the side of the road with the trash. There is nothing like zipping through all of this insanity on the back of a motorbike, the notion that half of the VA state police would in hot pursuit right now, when in reality nobody here even acknowledges such outlaw behavior. Zig-zagging between cars, my knuckles white with a grip that wonders if I'm going to be alive in five minutes, and if were going to make it through that barely existent gap. oooo, yep, well I guess we just did. I was left sleep deprived for much of my time in Bangkok, as the excitement found its way into my blood stream, shooting me to a level of inebriation that I have rarely felt before. Pure insanity.
So where did I fit into all this noise? In the fine place of residence so accurately labeled "Sweety Guesthouse," which offered its luxurious accommodation for just north of three bucks a night. It was located right off of the backpacker city within a city, Khaosan Road (which is a sight to behold, a slew of street vendors selling food, clothes, pirated items, sex, massages, alcohol, basically anything that gets you rolling - for very cheap). I've already forgotten about the whole 'sweet as' thing, as I've now shifed to an affectionate "sweet eeee." My room consisted of a bed, a pillow, and...actually that's it. Shared bathrooms, cold showers, and the initially infamous 'squat toilets.' These beautiful contraptions took me three days to figure out, which speaks louder than the whine of a street vendor about my mechanical prowess, considering their bare simplicity. Genius over here didn't understand that you place your feet on the foot pads flanking the porcelain fishing hole, cast your goods down in, then instead of reeling back up, you take more water and send your 'line' to sleep with the fishes. Voualla. I grew quite fond of this form of existence, as it subtracts my hygiene from the list of worries, considering I am now on par with some of the locals. Guilt consumed me the next time I used a western toilet (it flushed itself! Are you kidding me?!?)
I was in Bangkok for the celebration of the Kings Birthday. Thai people treat their king with borderline deitic (that can't be a word, can it?) reverence, which is due to his lack of involvement in all things politically riskay, and his total involvement concerning anything that betters the life of the people. I've never seen such love for a monarch, as "long live the king" posters were everywhere, not to mention the fireworks display put on that turned the fourth of july into a lowly page for his majesty.
The real beauty of the city lies within the walls of the many Wats (temples). Soaring architecture is coupled with very anally detailed carvings and engravings to produce many a feast for a lens head such as a myself. Most house ornate Buddha images, and spawn a chedi (round pyramid type thing) nearby. The detail is stunning. A couple of samples for you to take a peek-see yourself...
I <3 the food
I <3 the people.
More on both another time though...There's a Wat hunt going on out there that I'm missing out on...
Monday, December 7, 2009
Melbourne really had its own vibe (unlike Auckland), and this feel of identity enticed, as the culturally diverse (at times I wondered if I was already in Asia) hub rotated constantly in a creamy swirl of traditional and indie, legato and stocato; the complexities of a fine wine mixed with the blunt jolt of an energy drink. All of this on fastforward, pressed down by a giant finger controlled by an omnipresent dollar sign from above. From the strange kooki-ness of the side shops, to the stunning graffitti epics tattooed on the walls of back alleys, to the crooked architecture, there was an underground affair going on here that wasn't being covered by all the tabloids. These uniquities (yep, just made up a word, deal with it) aside, I found that much of the city reminded me of America, so I spent much of my time trying to understand the things that did set it apart, mainly cricket and aussie rules football (aka aussie rules rugby), and a few guitar hero lessonse (...NOW, I feel cultured). Melbourne? Cool.
Sydney? Real Cool. From the perspective of a rising bubble, as I bobbed quickly from the floor where I slept in Melbourne, and burst to the surface on a king size bed. Forget the size. Bed. Period.
Thanks to a cruisy biological travel agent (Uncle Mark - big ups for the connection), I was in a Champagne bubble, staying with a wealthy family of five overlooking the Sydney harbour. I was tip-toeing along the upper crust of society, peeking back down into the pan and laughing at what I had come from. This was a different type of cultural immersion, as I spent my time trying to master the nuances of the ritualistic approach to Gatsby-like social interactions and the intracasies of the acceptable, so dominated by small talk, formalities, and the finer things in life that one can only find in aristocratic situations such as these. It was all grand. At times I felt a bit awkward, and not just because I was operating on different hygienic standards than these people, but mainly because the only thing I really forgot on this trip was my suit and tie. Now though, I definetaly see there's space for an ironing board on the back of my pack. On the real though, I had to exit the sea of facades at times, just to go have a gander with the kids (who are completely ignored at functions, much like the dog under the table trying to score a fallen block of bleu cheese) on the beaches of immaturity, and restore some sort of sanity to my life. The seed of homesickness planted in Melbourne sprouted, and bloomed in full on Thanksgiving, as the western lifestyle did little to deter my mind from my favorite holiday. Home has been on my mind, but this was the first true bout I've had with thoughts of return, and it was no thrilla in manilla. I'd go with Tyson vs. an infant. I can't complain though, between drink, food, and a bed, my yellow brick road to oz (may I emphasize the fact that it was a single brick) ended on a note of comfort that I don't think I'll experience until I return home.
this is long. grab a cuppa and throw your feet up people.
i said that time was in freefall, but i dont think that i really understood the gravity of the situation until recently, and ironically, while i was lying flat on my back, not moving at all. my muscles were spent, stretched and pulled one way or another until i was reduced something similar to 'flubber,' only minus all the bounce - which had decided to take residency in my mind. it was the very end of the yoga session (Jankowskis - save the gay jokes), where everyone lies down in a dark room, and just relaxes. my body was praising the mercy of the instructor, but i let my mind wander for a feed, grazing in the pastures of images from my recent escapades. it was in this state, with my mind sucking its memory thumb, that i started to become aware of the pangs of attachement that have grown within me since my time here. NZ has been an exceptionally choice time. ive grown a lot during my time here, and not just my waist line from all the mean feeds that ive received. honestly, apart from the tread on my shoes deteriorating to the point of zero recognition, everything has expanded, from the holes in my socks, to the beard (or weak attempt thereof), pushing its way outwards, to my eyes, expanding as the blinders of pre-conditioning are bent outwards. as much as i look forward to future endevours, its sad to think that i have to leave so soon, and is safe to say that i have felt at home here. the reason for the ease of my travels, and subsequent reading of a constant "10" on the fun meter, has laid within the people that ive shared my path with, if only for a few kilometers on the highway. the outlandish hospitality that ive received from complete strangers has made the last 2.5 months seem unrealistic. people have shouted me meals, a place to stay for the night, and the promise that there will always be the same outstanding offer if ever i should come around again. durr i will. ive been spoiled to the point that i expect it out of people. im the biggest self-admitting mooch ever. the only meal that i bought at a resturaunt in NZ was sushi. half a roll at 2.50$. NZ dollars. granted, my peanut butter quota has been more than filled, and my grape expectations met (2 litres of 'wine' for 10$ - cruisy eh?), but the only way i feel i can get close to thanking these characters fully for their charity and knowledge is to spread the word of their unconditional compassion. Unfortunetaly there are two many to throw out, but I would like you to meet one very large fish in the sea of hospitality...
i was hitching out the recommended location of castle point, without the faintest idea of the remoteness of my target. thats when a mamssive man picked me up, talking even faster than he was obliterating his footlong sub. warren. the big dub, as ive affectionately, and without his knowing, nicknamed him. after a few go rounds on the conversation circuit, he drops the holy grail of a phrase for a hitchiker - "oh you can just stay at my place tonight." Cha-Ching. The gang (his dog Zach made moves with us too), made its way to Castle Point, which reminded me of portugal, specifically the rugged western coast thereof. massive whips of water reared and lashed the rocks, pulverizing them at a metronome-like rate. how there was anything still standing there, i dont know, but the boulders took it like some champs. to the point that im surprised jay-z didnt shoot his entire 'dirt off your shoulder' music video at this location. Big D provided the wheels, zach provided the photo ops, and i provided the little kid awe. i felt so insignificant, so tiny in the presence of nature. we then returned to the newly built, wooden beachouse that overlooked the water from a sureveillance point of not more than 300 metres. he had spokeny keenly about diving for paua, or 'ebelony' as most american blokes dub it, and my shown intruige resulted in his finding of a wetsuit that i could just squeeze into. skin tight does no justice. my cramming accelerated as i heard the engine of the fourwheeler emerge from its cave of hibernation, roaring loudly. the hunt was on. we sped over the sand, the wind hurtling toward us from the left, and continuing past and on toward the sea, where it combed back the crest of each wave, sculpting everest-like plumes of spray from their peaks. at first appearance, the waves seemed angry, but when closely observed, one could see the pretty girl, hair streaming behind as it danced steadily forward, or maybe a wedding dress as it made its grand walk toward the shore. everything was set - the tide was low, the wetsuits were tight, the wetsuits were really tight, and the seal was utterly confused by our motives as we did donuts around its awkward flopfest of a return to the water. we meant no harm, rather we were caught in the raw excitement of the moment, of adventure, one that is so often accompanied by such a proximity to the swells, and of being on a primal mission to gather ones own sustenance. either that or the pure level of badass that comes from trumping rocks on the beach with a fourwheeler. pine trees smiled and waved their branches on the left, but no time for small talk as we flit past. as we rolled to a stop, the previous domination of the growling motor melted away to reveal many more subjects in the arena of sound, as the collision of the waves on rocks, linebacker to offensive lineman, took center stage. we made our way clumsily over the heavily encrusted rocks, each one supporting an individual eco-system on its back. but we were going for the kill, and the soft underbelly was our point of attack, as paua latch onto the very bottom of rocks. the lack of visibility through brackish water demanded we use our hands as sensors to pry the creatures off with knives. think of these badboys as scwarzenegger mussells, as they dominate the palm of your hand easily, and sport a beautiful shell, a tourquoise and silver swirl, with patcvhes of red fighting to peep through its superiors. schwarzenegger and beautiful dont swirl together too well, but i assume theres enough intelligence out there to decipher a bit on your own. the trouble isnt finding these buggers, but staying on your feet long enough to pry them loose from their mooring point. the waves didnt care where they threw us, as long as it was away from the deep, as if they were the bouncer for the dark unknown. we didnt bother with any of that though, clinging to the rocks like seaweed ourselves, oftentimes grasping the strands themselves. final count = 12.
man hungry. man hunt food. man catch food. eat food. good.
i copped the 'guest' bedroom, which would have passed for 'master' in my book any day. so, warren and i, both completely comatosed after a monster feed and a decent side portion of some red splash, pulled the classic crash at 9:30 routine. that night was the best sleep of my entire nz experience, as my cocoon decended deep into the sheets, my mind even deeper, a warm ball of good food, soft dreams, and a great appreciation for the man in the room next to me. even if he snored.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
the three musketeers, all fighting for some type of purpose, a deeply personal request to the world that it grant us asylum into who we really are; im pretty sure that well all say the magic word. in plenty of different indigenous tongues, if that scores brownie points. jeff, the thom yorke lookalike with a scientific eye for choice pics, smoked a cigarette at every beautiful scene that we rushed towards, slowing our collective pulse with each very french, and very picturesque inhalation on his chill sticks. there was something real emotional about this fella, but nothing that made you feel like he was trying out to be cast in mean girls 2, only that he had a sense of commitment toward others feelings that drew me toward him. i thought it was incredible how he asked me to help him construct one of his many amazing shots, drawing an x in the sand for every time that he had thought about his sisters back home. we littered the beach with those badboys, and even the waves couldn't wash out his compassion, as the faded x's still lingered after their time had come to pass. i appreciated his overflowing appreciated for the beauty in his life - every time that he said that something was 'perfect' or 'amazing' in that very distinct french quip, i had to smile, because it felt good to be around someone who gave a shit, who saw what was in front of him and didn't get bored, his eyes perpetually open, soaking in every amazing and perfect thing. then there's eggie, a real tigger. a human pinball with the curiosity that would make even george the monkey seem like an uninterested little runt, there wasn't a tree left unclimbed, a flower unpicked, a bird unnoticed and subsequently catcalled. it was like letting little kids out of the car when they get too roudy - you just had to let him get fresh air, watch him run around and do roundhouse three sixty kicks at the air, throw water on you and run off laughing, or throw a rock in a random direction and see the consequences. we were all bound together by the gorrilla glue that is the concept of travel - we were all very different, yet so similar, in that we found realness in similar pursuits, and enjoyment in them too. we were all on personal missions but our collective group essense was defined by our roles - jeff the 'seasoned veteran' (at 26, he could be considered the grandfather of our ragtap supergroup), eggie the sparkplus (and at 20 the second in command). and me, whatrever the hell i brought to the table. our individual crosshairs often found the same targets. from jeff and i's love for the photo, to egg and i's love for PB (he might even have given me a run for my money), to all three of us digging some mean sounds (bumping eddie vedders "society," and collectively wondering out loud if society would be lonely without us). i think that our short time together can be summarized in the most popular of our poses, one where the hands are thrown up to the sky, legs slightly spread, evoking some type of pride in the fact that we were all living the dream.
(Click on pictures to enlarge)
"trick or treat!" i still don't know why i said it, some part of my deep seated intuition just stood up, made me blurt it out, and as he laughed and wandered over from his car on that hallowed halloween night, it also commanded: "thou shalt roadtrip with this man." and so it was.
the man? matt mcduff. im going to get out my crayolas to give a stick figure portrait of my man: matt is beauty and beast all rolled into one. from the ancient viking stature, punctuated by the wicked goatee and pony-tailed locks, to the compassionate fellow being, who cares deeply about, and constantly seeks to connect his essence to those around him, in an attempt to grasp at the greater meaning in life behind each small event that takes place within his realm of awareness. the constant contextualizer, from the smallest mote of dust wandering on the dash to the greater ideals that man has always struggled with, there is an attempt to understand everything in his environment for the way it is, not by some smeared report from a third party. matt burns, if not in the kerouakian sense, then close to quite literally due to his proximity to my bumbling early attempt at a celebration of guy fawkes using my cooking hardware.
now ill let him whip out his easel and rock a self-portrait oil painting for you: "I'm a wanderlusting juggler of the worlds of the mind, the page, and the heart that lubricates the swirl with a musical montage. This may be my first attempt to present a lyrical snapshot of myself in a white box and I want you to know that I love life, have an insatiable appetite for new experiences, and will never be able to collect enough beautiful conversations to reach a point of overflow. I live to move and life moves me. I can only hope that I never come to a point where I feel the world is moving around me, I always hope to be moving around the world. I'm enamored with music. It is how I relate to my world and to the universe. Its the pull that moves me forward and takes me back. I love things that are beautiful. I love people. I love people who are willing to share themselves, even if for brief moments. I love smiling. I love indirect moments that yield depths of understanding and connection with unexpected individuals. I love expression, and avidly seek to create and consume it." raphael, anyone?
introductions aside, the the next four days were filled to the brim with classic roadtrip: music coming from every angle, botched attempts at shortcuts from the atlas, stopping randomly on the side of the road only to find a world famous rock garden, hiking to mt cook, strange conversations at gas stations concerning the nature of kiwi skinheads at halloween parties, relieving ourselves wherever we damn pleased, a random pop in on parrot, and conversations that stretched wider than the plains we crossed and higher than the mountains we passed through. but the highlight had to be an unofficial couch surf for two official pros, as we jammed out (matt slays with an acoustic axe) on an abandoned couch on the shores of lake tepako, letting the wind run through us, trying to carry away the tunes before they reached our ears; the ultimate theft. but we sang louder. for those of you who've heard me sing, don't picture this, for those of you that havent, it was b-e-autiful, i can assure you. beautiful sunset, good meal of beans (85 cents - mine) and pasta with tuna (more than 85 cents - his), then choc covered pineapple and, of course, what were you thinking, a bit of PB. i sat, no, was plastered to the couch, as i felt my pulse slow down, my body attempting to do something with the newly created child held in my PB womb, but really only wanting to listen to the creative flow gushing from source right now next to me. from 'wagon wheel' to various chili pepper favs, to his personal gems...even our own blues song, which resulted in the mantra-like phrase of 'follow your beard,' we chilled hard, watching the ember-like lights of the town across from us dance and flicker about, as if they were about to fade. we would have kept any fire going that night, not just from our camping-food induced rocket fuel, but rather with an energy that can only be produced by two vagabonds with the same mission: to follow your beard. a pact among wrestless beings who just cant stand the monotomy provided by a sedentary life, and any thoughts of a razor that come with it. and when there is no wind to rustle our facial man-rugs, then we will create one through our movement; 'around the world, not it around us,' espousing a zephyr of curiosity toward all things foreign behind us. and up its warm and unregulate waves, a faint hint of baked beans and peanut butter will casually hang a ten.
i cant begin to quantify how much of an impact soaking up matts sunny rays of disposition toward life had an impact on me. therefore, i feel sincerely lucky that our beards both flowed in the same direction on the road to our individual somehweres.