Sunday, November 23, 2008

Making my way back to Chonburi (Tuesday, 10/28)

Tuesday morning I wake up a little before the crack of noon. There is another hash today, so we try and find a place that will do our laundry before 3:00pm. We find a place that has a sign out front saying “3 hour laundry.” Sweet! We give her our shoes and nasty clothing, and we are told that it will be ready at 6pm. We try to explain that we need it in three hours and we are again told 6pm. We point to the sign that says “3 hour laundry” and repeat “three hours,” and are again told 6pm. Seriously, WTF! We explain as best we can that we need it at 3pm, and are told that it is impossible to have the laundry done by then. Now I am no industry expert here, but keeping in mind that there was an empty washer next to her, I believe it is possible to do laundry in less than six hours, and I think whoever made the sign saying “3 hour laundry” probably would agree with me. Screw it. I guess we are doomed to having wet shoes for a while.

I catch a taxi to the train station while Alcoholiday heads off to find a room for the night. My plan is to take the late train from Chiang Mai, thereby allowing me to get to the hash and then sleep on the train, arriving in Bangkok the next day, refreshed and well rested. I get to the train station and try to buy a ticket, but I am told that none of the trains except for the 2:50 are running today. Seriously?! I think about taking a train the next day, but being tired, broke, and defeated, I decide to just take the train and say screw the Tuesday hash.

After a couple hours of killing time, I start walking back to the train station. I walk fast in hopes that I can get to the train station without catching a taxi, but fifteen minutes later I am still a long ways away, and I only have ten minutes before the train departs. I hail a taxi and negotiate a price. Of course the streets are all one way, so we have to go away from the station before we can go towards it, and traffic is less than fantastic. I finally get to the station right as the train blows its whistle. I pay the taxi driver and start running, getting to my seat moments before the train pulls out of the station. I have opted for the second-class sleeper cabin, which should be a vast improvement over third class. I realize I have not brought anything to eat or drink during this seventeen hour train ride, so I hop out at the next station and quickly buy some food, jumping back on the train only a couple seconds before it starts moving again. The ride down from Chiang Mai is spectacular, crossing trestles over vast ravines, passing through tunnels, and traversing mountainsides covered in teak forests. I get to watch the sunset from the train while passing through the Thai countryside, and life is good… and then they convert the cabin for sleeping. In so doing, they close all the windows and put up curtains in front of your bed for privacy. The effect is that there is no longer a breeze from the window (but somehow, the mosquitoes still have no problem getting in) and the fan is no longer blowing on you from the isle. Suddenly the cabin becomes balmy and unpleasant with bugs biting you every thirty seconds. Add to that the shrieking child in the berth across from me, and you have an utterly unpleasant ride.

I somehow manage a few hours sleep in between swatting mosquitoes. I eventually get so tired that I end up swatting mosquitoes in my sleep, as evidenced by the piles of insect corpses littering my bed. I eventually make it to Bangkok at 6:15 in the morning, sweaty and sleep deprived. A couple rides on the subway and sky train (Bangkok’s metro rail system is fantastic), and I reach the bus station. As I walk into the bus station at 7:00 am, someone waves me down and tells me to get on the bus. I tell him that I am going to Chonburi, to which he informs me that it is the correct bus. What I don’t find out until later is that this is anything but the express bus. Chonburi is only about a forty-five minute drive, but we don’t get there until 9:30, two and a half hours later. Fuck me. Time for some sleep.

Rolling through the teak forests in the mountains outside of Chiang Mai

The plains between Chiang Mai and Bangkok

Chiang Mai Post Lube (Monday, 10/27)

The view at the rest stop on the way up to Chiang Mai
No job is too big for the ever-mighty pickup trucks of Thailand

Monday starts off with a three hour car ride up to Chiang Mai. After driving around for a while trying to figure out where we are, we eventually find the hotel that we are supposedly staying at. After asking the price, Alcoholiday and I (we decided to split a room to save money) decide that it is way too expensive and find out there is another cheap guest house down the road that some other hashers are staying at. It had started raining when we got to the hotel, but the rain had mostly stopped. The guy with the truck, “Lord Lucan,” tells us that it is only two minutes down the road, and to just hop in the back, so we do. About two minutes later it starts pouring rain. Great. About ten minutes later, we actually make it to where we are going… cold and soaking wet. We get a room and start changing into clothes that smell even worse than the ones we are currently wearing. After using a pocket knife and some string to tie the sole of my shoe back on, we head out the door to go meet up for the run.

After registering, one of the girls from the bar asks me if I wanted a beer. Sure, but I don’t have any money. I ask if beer at this place was included in registration, I am told that it is, so I order a good import. A few minutes later and someone comments on how expensive the beer is at this place. I turn to the guy who originally told me the beer was free, and he tells me that in fact it is not free. Fuck. Now I am drinking a $5 beer and have no money to pay for it. I manage to get someone to spot me the money, the buses (which are actually covered pickup trucks with benches) gets there, and we all pile in. After getting lost several times and going off-road, we finally get to the designated place.

The run starts off easy enough, running along the road, but that only last about fifty feet. We quickly veer off the road and start running through the bushes and briers. After that, the trail takes us through a creek and up a steep mud bank. We start traversing the mud bank through a bamboo forest, trying not to impale ourselves on the natural pongee sticks sticking up everywhere. The trail dumps us back into the sludge-filled creek, where we start walking upstream, knee-deep in industrial runoff. Whoever set this trail was a sadistic bastard. We finally get out of the creek, only to be walking through another marshland full of briers. Fucking-A. While in the marsh, I almost step on a huge freaking snake. Back in the states, I generally like snakes, but here in SE Asia, there are many more venomous snakes and I don’t know what any of them look like.

We eventually make it to the beer-stop, legs all cut up, and feet covered in industrial sludge. Five minutes later and it’s time to keep going. Yippee. The second half of the run takes us through progressively deeper mud ravines… something that is quite difficult after heavy rains, all the while trying not to spill your beer. We eventually make it back well after dark, I am greeted with a cold beer and some hot food, and life is good. After the hash circle (which includes a pig head frozen in a block of ice), we head back to the hotel and wash out our shoes. The water coming out of my shoes looks like hot chocolate, but without a pleasant aroma. Alcoholiday decides he is going out again, but I am tired, sore, and broke, so I call it a night. Again, no pictures except for the ride up to Chiang Mai… I know, I know, but my camera is too expensive to get messed up by a bunch of drunken idiots… I mean very intelligent hashers.

Getting a Hash Name (Sunday, 10/26)

Sunday started about like Saturday: breakfast and allot of water, followed by going back to sleep. I woke up at around noon to join the hasher’s pool party going on behind the hotel. So there I am, peacefully eating lunch and drinking my beer, when I get called into the hash circle. Fuck! I already know what is about to happen. They call me in, start telling the story about me impersonating a Canadian on Friday night, and then decide to name me based on that. After some liberal discussion and long and intentionally drawn out deliberation (the whole while sitting in ice water), they ultimately decide on “Mount-Hee”… not so bad until you find out that Hee is Thai for cunt. Wonderful, so now I am permanently named Mount-Cunt. Fuckers. Naturally, more drinking, singing, and general debauchery ensue until the beer runs out at around 5pm.

I find out that there is another hash going on in Chiang Mai on Monday, and that one of the hashers has offered to drive people up there. Sweet! A bunch of people jump in the back of the truck, and we drive a couple blocks to a really cheap guest house. Naturally, more drinking, singing, and general debauchery ensue (noticing a pattern?). I was so out of it most of the day that I never pulled out my camera, so no pictures… sorry.

Ball-Breaker Run (Saturday, 10/25)

Giving my fucked up shoe a little smooch

Saturday morning I woke up at about 9:00, and went downstairs for some breakfast. Much water drinking was in order. After breakfast I returned to the room and went back to sleep. I woke up at 11:45 to the sound of my alarm, threw on my running shoes, and headed out the door to catch the bus. We had the choice of four different runs: short, medium, long, and ball-breaker. You can imagine which one I chose. I was told that the ball-breaker would be about 23k and pretty heinous. As it turns out, it was about 23k and pretty heinous. They first started by running us across the steep hill over a lake, while trying not to slide into the lake, or impale ourselves on any of the bamboo pongee sticks sticking up everywhere. After that, they ran us through some farmers’ fields and back yards, before turning and sending us straight up a freaking mountain. They sent us almost all the way to the top, at various times climbing a forty-five degree slope while clinging onto tree roots. Once they got us to the top of the mountain, a couple thousand feet above where we started, they turned the trail and took us straight down the other side. Of course the trail was nothing but lose rock and mud, so everyone was falling on their asses. At one point the ground gave way underneath me and I almost sprained my ankle. After getting to the bottom of the mountain, they decided to run us through underbrush and gullies until finally getting to our water stop… right next to an ancient 30’ tall statue of the Buddha.

Thirty minutes later we were recharged on watermelon, peanut cookies, and dried fish snacks, and it was time to knock out the last 10k in . They first took us through vast landscapes of thorns and briers, including some tumbleweed-like plants that would wrap around your leg, forcing you to stop and untangle the spiny mess before continuing. After that they dropped us down a steep embankment, into a creek, and started running us through tall grasses and marshlands. After that, they decided to make us run, hunched over, through dense jungle before dropping us into the rice patties, trudging through knee-high mud. We eventually made it to the party at the end of the trail, and I must say, that beer never tasted so good. They had the fire truck there, spraying down all the nasty, nasty hashers. My socks looked like something from a horror movie, my shirt was completely fucked, and the sole of my right shoe was about half way peeled off. All in a good day’s work. A hash circle, dinner, and of course more singing, drinking, and general debauchery ensued. Most of the time I was just sitting there tired but contented with a thousand yard stare, somewhere between zoned out and planet zargon. By midnight I was fading fast, so it was back to the hotel for me. I am pretty sure I was fully asleep before I even got to the bed.

Making it to the Hash (Friday, 10/24)

The light and sound show at the ancient capital of Sukhothai

For those who have never ridden in a third-class train car for nearly eight hours through a tropical, mosquito-filled country; let’s just say I don’t recommend it. It was crowded and the benches were almost as soft as concrete. I managed to find one bench that was empty and managed to get about an hour and a half of sleep while laying on my side, folded in the fetal position. While on the train, I met another hasher from Bangladesh named “Rail Jerker” (hash name that is), who also got stuck in third-class because it was the only thing available. We decided to combine forces to try and get to our destination.

We arrived at our station at 5:30am, almost an hour behind schedule. Once there, I decided to wait on the platform for a few minutes to see if I could spot any other hashers. My theory was correct and we found four other hashers trying to make it to Sukhothai, so we combined our forces to help get us there. We were all half awake and only one guy spoke enough Thai to communicate decently, but somehow we managed to get a taxi to the bus station, catch a bus to Sukhothai, figure out where we were supposed to go, and catch another taxi to the hotel.

We arrived at the hotel at 7:00 and found out that registration did not start until 9:00, so we decided to get some breakfast. We went to an open air restaurant for some traditional Thai breakfast. After that I went back to the hotel and pretty much passed out in one of the chairs in the lobby. Rail Jerker woke me up and let me know that he had managed to get a room at the hotel with two beds if I wanted to split a room. At this point, sleep deprived and exhausted, I was quite thrilled at the idea of somewhere to lay down, so I happily accepted the offer.

I woke up about noon and decided I needed to register before I fell back asleep. I walked across the street, registered, came back to the hotel, and passed out again. I woke up about 4:30 and fumbled around the room trying to wake up. By the time I managed to get a shower and actually read through the schedule, I realized it was almost time for dinner, so I grabbed my camera and headed out the door just as people were loading up in the busses. These were of course open-air truck busses: the staple transportation for many Thai. I had seen people riding on top of the busses before, and this was one of the ones with a small railing around the edge, so I decided to give it a try. Driving to the ancient capital, I got the chance to watch the sun set over the Thai countryside with a nice warm breeze blowing in my face… ah, such serenity.
The view from on top of the bus

We arrived at the ancient capital to find large woven mats laid out with short tables on them and dinner already prepared and waiting. I looked around for some native English speakers so I could be included in the dinner conversation, and wound up sharing a table with a guy sitting near the front. After talking with him for a while, I found out that his hash name is “Alcoholiday,” he is from Vegas, and he is six months into a year long hashing vacation around the world. Kick ass. We ate dinner, and told stories about our traveling experiences, all the while being entertained by some traditional Thai music and dance on the stage… all this while having huge statues of the Buddha and the ancient Thai capital as the backdrop, and you have for one amazing evening.

The scene upon arival

Traditional Thai dance with traditional costumes

After dinner we were invited to move to some chairs that had been set up for the “light and sound show.” Whatever. I was expecting something more along the lines of music and a laser show, but what we got was much more interesting. They gave us a large scale performance that had several hundred kids from the local high school re-enacting the history of Thailand, from the beginnings of the empire through the moving of the capital to Bangkok (a period of several hundred years). Probably one of the coolest parts was when they had sword fights with real swords, and were hitting so hard that they were throwing sparks. Over all a pretty spectacular production, and something I am glad that I got the opportunity to see. After the performance, we were invited to take pictures with the actors.

Floating lanterns flying above the ancient capital

Alcoholiday posing for a picture with some of the actors

Me being beheaded by one of the ancient kings

We loaded up on the bus and were driven back to the hotels, where the kegs were tapped and the beer was flowing. Much drinking, singing, and general debauchery ensued into the wee hours of the evening. Eventually a crowd of several hundred dwindles down to about a dozen and we run out of beer. Someone suggests that it would be cool if we had a tap and could re-tap one of the kegs. I walk over to investigate and realize that they have left the taps in the kegs and just turned them off. Sweet! The beer starts flowing again and the few of us who remain sit around talking until no one even knows what time. Eventually, some how, I end up making it to bed for a good nights sleep.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trying to get to Sukothai (Thursday, 10/23)

The Four Faced Buddha shrine in the middle of Bangkok

(across the street is the site of one of the 2006 new year's eve bombings)

The next morning I wake up to my alarm at 7:30am, decide I am not going to try and make the morning train with a bunch of the other hashers, and fall back asleep. I wake up again at noon, and stumble into the kitchen half-awake to find Gift in the same condition as myself. I find out that she normally wakes up at 5:30am, but today is a national holiday and she must have needed the sleep, because she only woke up a few minutes before I did. I decide that I am going to take the 2:30 train, so I have some time to kill. We sit around eating breakfast, talking about ourselves and the world, and just generally chilling at her place for a while. After a while I look at my watch again and realize it is already 2:15. Shit. Oh well, I guess I will take the 5:30 train.

We both decide that we are done with sitting around inside, and Gift offers to show me around town so I accept. We walk down the street to one of her favorite restaurants and she orders for us. She orders some spicy foods because she wants to see if I can handle it. Ironically, one of the dishes is too hot for her, but happens to be one of my favorites. While we are eating, a monsoon rolls through, but luckily it finishes up by the time we leave the restaurant. After lunch we wonder down to big park in the center of the city (similar to central park). One of the lakes in the park is swarming with Monitor Lizards like we might see geese back in the states. Some of the lizards are massive and while I am squatting at the edge of the water trying to get some good pictures, one enormous lizards surfaces right in front of me for an up close encounter.

The huge monitor lizard that surfaced right in front of me
(The picture does not do it justice; this thing was huge)

After wondering around the city for a couple hours, we get to the train station. Gift helps tremendously in translating for me, but I find out that the 5:30 train has been canceled, and unless I want to buy a first class ticket on the 8:00pm train, the only other option is to get a third class ticket on the 10pm train. I opt for the third class ticket and we leave the train station determined to kill some more time. We unanimously decide that ice-cream is probably the best course of action, so we start walking towards a place she knows about. We end up in a section of Bangkok famous to the locals for having good street food. We are on a desert mission, so we pick up some fried Chinese pastries from one cart, and head over to one of the shops for some ice-cream. Of all the choices of ingredients, I decide upon candied mango, jellied coconut, and sticky rice. I am expecting them to be mixed into the ice-cream in some way, but they just plop them in a bowl and throw a couple scoops of ice-cream in on top. Whatever. Surprisingly, the candied mango is my least favorite of the three ingredients. After that we wonder around some more, getting pastries, and going to the four-faced shrine where a bomb went off a couple years ago. After that we were both feeling pretty lazy, so we decided to grab some snacks at a Seven-Eleven, and head back to her place to watch a movie. I am determined not to miss the last train of the day, so at 9:15 I say goodbye to Gift and catch a taxi to the train station.

Some Chinese pastries being cooked by a street vendor

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hashing in Bangkok (Wednesday, 10/22)

Some anonymous wankers in the circle

I found out about a hash going on in Bangkok on Wednesday, and another big one going on over the weekend, so I decided to see if I could make it. I went to the bus station and got a ticket from Chonburi (where we are staying) back to Bangkok. After that it was back to the hotel room to “pack” for the weekend. Of course my packing consisted more of craming my camera, a change of clothes, and a hotel soap inside my manpurse, or murse if you will (, and tying my running shoes on the outside. Since I already carry around most everything I need on a daily basis in my manpurse anyways, this was a perfectly reasonable packing job for what might turn out to be more like a week long trip. I headed back to the bus station, caught the bus just before it turned onto the main road, and I was on my way.

About an hour later and I am off the bus, running up to catch the skytrain ( I manage to figure out where I am going and get my ticket. I decide that I should first go to the end of the run so I can drop my bag, and then go to the starting place. After riding on the train for a while, I look at my watch and realize that I am running pretty low on time. Nana is where the run is supposed to start, but I have to go past that to get to the place where the run is supposed to end. I am doing pretty well on time, so I decide to go for it. After another 20 minutes I get to the station where the finish is supposed to be, but I can’t find the bar. I only have about twenty more minutes until the run is supposed to start, so I decide, screw it, I will just run with my bag. I get another ticket on the skytrain, hop on, and head back to the place I was twenty minutes ago. I get to Nana with only five minutes until the run is supposed to start and try to follow the directions to the meetup. Eventually I find the correct street, and after walking down it for a couple minutes I find a huge group of people gathering around for the run. I get registered and start throwing on my running shoes just as they start explaining the run. At this point they inform everyone that we can leave our bags at the restaurant and they will be waiting for us at the end of the run. Brilliant!

I finish tying my running shoes just as the pack is leaving, throw my bag on the pile, and start running. They take us through some of the back alleys of Bangkok, through the slums, around parks, through crowded streets, and everywhere else you could imagine. After about five kilometers, we end up at the beer stop. I hand in the beer ticket I was given at registration, and they hand my a nice cold Heineken. Ahhhh, the refreshment. About this time I happen to notice that they have stopped us clearly in the middle of the red-light district. We are surrounded by such fine establishments as “Cat House” and “Pretty Lady,” all of which have women lined up in front. What can I say, this is Bangkok.

After about thirty minutes of drinking beer and shooting the shit with fellow hashers, I have finished my beer so I decide it is time to start running again. I round up some other people who are also out of beer, we grab some bottles of water, and start running the second half of the trail (which I am told is about 5k). On, on.

The second half of the run takes us through much more “interesting” parts of town than the first, including running along some underground walkways in the really, really back alley parts of Bangkok. We eventually reach the finish at Noriega’s bar, and we are greeted with cold beers… tasty. Snacks, beer, music, a hash circle, some singing, much debauchery, and much conversation ensue. As the night winds down, I start asking around to see if anyone has some floor space I can sleep on for the night. After a few minutes one of the other farang ( hashers gets my attention and tells me to sit down with him and a few Thai at a nearby table. They tell me they might have a place for me to stay, but they need to get to know me first. That’s cool. We end up talking for several hours and eventually they tell me that one of them, a girl named “Gift,” actually has a guest room I can stay in. Sweet! We get back to her place, I have the foresight to set my cell phone alarm, and I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.

Some interpretive dancing at the on-after

Gift and one of her friends