Saturday, April 30, 2011

Korea 2011 - I wish I knew how to read...

We all know about 'culture shock', and that initial period where everything is new and foreign and takes a while to get use to. There's different degrees as well...a kid from Arizona lost in the streets of San Francisco, or jumping into a country where you can't read or speak the language. I've done both, and I can say with some force that you have no idea what culture shock is until you've done the latter...

I don't know if it was me hyping everything up in my head on the 11 hour plane ride to Seoul, but from the moment I stepped off the plane I felt out of place. Japan was a bit different: although you were bombarded with the language, you could find your way around. Korea, on the other hand, tries to knock you out by forcing you to accept the fact that, in this land, you don't know a damn thing. The lone English voice I heard in the entire airport was the voice on the escalator telling me to stay to the right...which was the female voice from the Microsoft Voice program. Yeah, my first friend was a computer. Don't judge...

That was very short lived, as the minute I got out of customs I met Masao, one of the gentlemen from Hands Korea. He greeted me with a coffee and a smile, and helped me get to my apartment in Suwon.

My apartment is 72.6km from Incheon airport, and I know this because South Korea is an electronic juggernaut. Masao's Hyundai is equipped with a 'standard issue' super GPS capable of the following:

  • Getting you from Point A to Point B
  • Playing a selection of streaming music
  • Telling you the weather
  • Detecting toll roads and how much they are depending on the time that you are driving
  • A primitive form of police radar, detecting speed traps and telling you to slow down
  • Phone calls
  • DVD's
  • Surf the internet
  • Restaurant and their prices depending on the time of day
  • Up to the minute traffic details
I'm sure there's a ton of features I'm missing, but this thing was ridiculous. I didn't pay too much attention to it, as most of the hour and a half car ride was spent talking with Masao and trying to overcome the language barrier. He's the Japanese liaison for Hands Korea, so his English isn't the best. Regardless, it was very easy for us to talk about movies and life and whatever suited our fancy. He taught me some Korean as well, for when I meet my co-teacher and principal the following morning.

We pulled up to my apartment, which was nestled in a mess of other apartment and bright streets in a suburb of Suwon. Everything is cramped together, including my apartment. The place is the size of a master bedroom, with a small kitchen and a literal 'water closet' for a bathroom. I was able to make it feel like home. Pics to come later.

The next morning was a bit nerve-wracking. I was scheduled to meet my co-teacher and tour the school that morning, and so around 11am my co-teacher came to pick me up:
Her name is Juhee, and she awesome. I kinda got blessed with a really nice co-teacher, and the hospitality her and her family have shown me this weekend has been nothing short amazing. She has been critical in helping me settle in, and it didn't take me long to feel like I could call this place home.

The tour of the school was fast-paced, and I struggled to keep up through it all. We met a majority of the teachers I will be working with, as well as a handful of students that will be in my classes (to a flurry of girlish screams and boys running around). My classroom is equipped with everything I could possibly need, Juhee is going to help me so I don't suck completely as a teacher, and the school is very friendly and nice. Once again, I got blessed to be place into such a wonderful school. And, as scared as I am for Monday morning, I'm actually quite excited to teach. 

I got to spend the rest of the day with Juhee and her lovely family near their apartments (to spare me the embarrassment, I won't use official locations. I'm still figuring out how neighborhoods and everything work). We went into this crazy-huge mall nestled underneath 4 sixty-five story apartment complexes. I had to buy some shirts for school, so we picked up those as well. I also played hopscotch on the colored tiles with Juhee's daughter, who is the most rambunctious and silliest kid I've ever met (save for Hayden and Tatum). Her energy helped me kick the jet lag a bit.

We all sat down at a Korean restaurant, and it only took me 24 hours to have my first Korean meal. I was completely lost the entire time: between the flurry of 10 or so dishes, drinks I can't even recognize, and getting use to using chopsticks again, I was just focused on enjoying the meal. Juhee's husband would pass me something tasty, and once I finished that Juhee would give me something else. It was a bombardment on the taste buds, and I loved every minute of it. I will have to do a post on Korean food, as the way they prepare, serve, and eat food is nothing short of an art form.

The jet lag finally caught up with me, and they took me home sometime around 5pm. I took a quick shower and passed out for 12 hours, and now I'm here.

Things are going to be tough at first. I have to overcome the teaching challenges, and learning Korean will be interesting as well. I knew it wouldn't be easy. I didn't know that I would have a support system already placed when I got here. Everyone I've met so far have been such wonderful people, and my time here is shaping up to be an incredible experience. 

I keep telling people that I didn't come here for the money: I came here to meet people and learn about a new culture. I came here to be a good teacher, and to share my culture with others. That attitude is helping me out tremendously. People, in a way, are the same everywhere: we all want to, in some fundamental way, lift each other up and bring happiness to others. As I travel this world, I have yet to find anything that says otherwise. Our world is turbulent, violent, and has definitely seen better times. It's nice to know that I can still place my faith in humanity. 
Here's to another year of living. I know it's going to be a good one.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Korea 2011 - At the Airport....yet again

So it's literally been a week since I've been in the SFO International Terminal. I recognized the gentleman at the currency exchange, and the guy at the sushi bar asked me where I was going this time. I fly too much...

This one feels different though. I mean, I'm going to be gone for an entire year. I had to pack differently, say goodbye to alot of people, and just overall approach this trip with an open mind. Strangely enough, I'm very calm through all of this. The only thing I'm really kinda freaking out about is the whole idea that I'm a teacher.

Let's tackle that for a second. I'm teaching Korea. What?! Are you serious? I went to school to be a filmmaker. Contrary to popular belief, I don't always know what I'm doing. I firmly believe in the whole process of 'trial by fire', but this is taking that theory to new extremes. I hope those kids don't eat me alive.

To add to the list of stuff I don't know about, here's a quick bulletpoint of things I'm still 'in the dark' about:

  • Where exactly I'm living
  • Who I'm living with, or if I'm living alone
  • When my first paycheck comes in. (I'm living off of $500 at the moment)
  • Transportation
  • Where my school is
  • Who my co-teacher is
  • If I even have an orientation
  • What 'level' of English I'm teaching
  • My dress code
  • The Korean Language
Yeah....I may be pushing it. Not only that, but I did have to check in my precious Pelican with all my camera gear in it. I know Pelican's are ruthless in terms of protecting gear, but I still don't trust baggage handlers. Say a prayer for my L-Glass...

Anyways, I'll get you guys all updated when I get over there. Everything always works out. Pictures to come once I get all settled into the apartment. I'm ready...let's do this.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thailand 2011 - To Be Continued...

We passed the International Date Line about 5 minutes ago. It's Thursday again...yeah, weird right?

This is the 5th time I've crossed the Pacific, with my 6th journey coming a week from now. Each time is different, yet feels the same.

I stare out my window and can see the stars. Bright stars - the brightest stars you've ever seen. Sometimes I like to get closer to the window, blocking the light of the televisions and late-night readers. Everything is still. My only indication that time is still moving is the blinking light at the end of the wing. I wonder if a boat down there sees the same blinking light. We're miles away but sharing the same experience. It's a good is very dark outside.

Coming home is always a special trip. If you stay up long enough, you can see one of the most brilliant sunrises. It's not beautiful because it paints the sky red and orange, but how it sneaks up on you. One moment it's pitch black, and the very next you're greeted with an almost blinding light. An endless ocean stretches across the horizon, and the waves twinkle with the morning light.

It's always a time for reflection, on the experience I just had and the future that awaits me. My head is going a mile a minute with thoughts of relationships, friends, my sporadic career, and what this life has in store for me. A familiar song starts playing on my iPod, reminding me how much living I have yet to do.

I am a lucky man. At 22, I have a college degree, have worked in my field on a multitude of domestic and international projects. My Passport is already half-full of Visa's and stamps from countries around the world, and have friends in all them. My path is wide open, and I have no signs of slowing down.

At the same time, this kind of life has deprived me of some luxuries that I miss dearly. I miss having friends, and regularly seeing them. I miss what it's like to have a routine, or what it feels like to share these experiences. I can blog all day about them, but at one point my adventures are simply words on a page. I can travel the world, but if I don't have a soul to share my stories with they're all selfish adventures. It's lonely sometimes.

Looking back at the past two weeks, however, reminds me why I do this. The job we had to do was important, yes, but the cultural experience and being human again was what I needed. Humanity never fails to teach me.

Thailand is a very interesting and beautiful country. In one area, you have Phuket: this island paradise with white sandy beaches, jungles and rolling hillsides, and a small town feel that makes you feel like a local. Then you move to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Air pollution plagues the skies. Poor civic planning makes navigation near impossible. Trash litters the streets, and mosquitoes are always itching to nip at your ankles.

There was never one point, however, that I didn't feel safe or at home. The people of Thailand are truly wonderful, and I'm starting to notice this trend with 3rd world countries. They have, by all Western standards, a tough life. They live in shoeboxes, make very little in terms of income, and don't have access to the 'quality of life' that we have.

Things are so much simpler, however, and that's where humanity flourishes. They can admire the rows of rubber trees and the sun peaking through the canopy. They can take the time to sit at a table at the local restaurant and talk about whatever topic that seems to grace them at the time. We were interviewing one of the gym owners, and when we asked him to compare the Western world and Thailand, he had this to say: you guys invest and bet on the Stock Exchange, and we bet on singing birds. (Twice a week everyone takes their birds to a local convention to let the sing, with the winner taking a cash prize)

I like my complicated life. I like the internet, going to the movies, and debating politics with friends. The Thai's and the Kenyan's, however, taught me to love the birds chirping in the morning and strolling down the street with a friend.

It allows me to love the stars shining outside my airplane window. When I think about how I have to fly to Korea next week and start a new life, I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that my travels have given me the gift of humility and appreciation. I can enjoy this journey for all that it is. That takes alot of the stress of my shoulders. I'll be ok, and that's all anybody could ask for.

Thailand's story isn't quite over yet, as I still have a couple thousand pictures and just as many video clips to sort through. Those images and sounds tell a story that I can't tell with words alone, and I intend to share them with you.

This blog is making a transition, however. I will be in Korea for the next year, living in a culture much different from my own. It'll be a different kind of adventure, but a much more in-depth one. I'm not sure how to structure a life based around a new experience, but it should be fun to figure out, right?

This is also a growing period for me, and I intend to take advantage of it as much as possible. I hope you stick around and continue to follow the adventures of me and my orange sweater. Better yet, I hope you get the chance to experience what I'm doing right now. If you get bored and have a spare $1000, come visit! My couch is always open, and I'll show you around. Thailand was only the beginning...

The moon is just setting beyond the ocean horizon. It'll be morning soon. I can't wait. Adventure is out there!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thailand 2011 - Don't Be a Tourist

This is a pretty heavy entry, so for those who are more interested in the adventures and excitement of travel please feel free to read another post. 

I am a traveler, not a tourist. After today, the term 'tourist' leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Today was a hard day, not as a filmmaker but as a human being. We were witnesses to a horrific car accident coming down a hill in Phuket that killed 5 people and injured 15 more. Among the deceased were two girls: an 11 year old and a 3 year old. They were all paying respect to Buddha at the end of the Songkran and collided with an Australian bus heading up to the Big Buddha.

I won't be describing what I saw or what it was like seeing someone dead like that for the first time. I will say that I will never forget that image, and the anguish that only death can bring.

I'm here to discuss the plague of being a tourist. As the Big Buddha is a huge destination here in Phuket, many vans and busses filled with tourists were backed up on the hill as paramedics and police attended to the scene. We were stopped for nearly an hour, and everyone was crowded together on the road. Everyone wanted to know what was going on, which is natural when there is an event like this.

What disgusted me to the point of rage was how the tourists reacted to it all. To many, it was a spectacle. Anybody with a camera was snapping pictures of the bodies laying on the ground, and the people with DSLR's acted as if they had media passes and were getting close-up shots of these people on the ground. 

Unfortunately, I've seen this kind of behavior before. It is a tourist mentality. When they are on vacation, everything and everyone is out to cater to them. Laws do not apply, and neither does morality or ethics. They treat each and every event as if it's an attraction in a theme park…as part of the story to share with their friends when they get back home.

As a photographer and filmmaker, I understand the concept of visual storytelling. I also understand that images are sacred. You are taking an image of an event in time: whether it be a flower on a tree or a tragedy on a Thailand highway, that image immortalizes that moment forever. You should take images for the following reasons: as a keepsake for yourself, to share with others, or both. People do make money, yes, but that falls under the category of sharing with others. 

I also understand the nature of journalism, and the obligation a photographer has to covering a story without censorship or bias. These kind of images tell a very powerful story, and you do what is necessary to tell that story. But even then, journalists know how to cover a story to respect and protect the families of the victims involved. It is treated delicately, with a journalist covering a story in the most respectful manner possible.

These people….these tourists, they were unintentionally vindictive. This isn't their story to tell, yet they feel entitled to snap photos because of the DSLR hanging on their neck. Do you honestly think that the father cradling his dead daughter wants pictures taken of him so you can share that with your network of friends? This message is for everyone who owns a DSLR: just because you have a camera doesn't make you a photographer. 

The worst part is I cannot blame them for doing this: they are only tourists after all. When visiting another culture or country, they entitle themselves to do what they please. They are on vacation after all, and are spending their hard earned money to come to this place. 

This isn't a black and white issue, and there are other people who are tried and true travelers. When they visit a foreign culture, they immerse themselves. They talk with the locals and treat them as equal, human beings. They are polite. They leave a small and positive footprint on the community that they are a part of for this short time. A traveler knows how each and every thing he or she does has an affect on the local community, and that they must be respectful and conscious of their habits and self at all times.

I've noticed that humans tend to believe in some kind of hierarchy. One group of people is better than the other. There is always a superior and inferior demographic. As an American, a competitive culture like the one I live in seems to demand a winner and a loser. If you don't go to school, you are inferior to those with a degree. If you graduated with honors, you are superior to your peers who just managed to make it through. If you're married and rich at 30, you are better than the guy who volunteers for a living and is broke and single. 

Notice anything wrong with this? If you have a soul, you probably do. Now I challenge you to do something about it. Most of us accept this reality and play that sick and twisted game. I know I did…for a very long time. I was a tourist: going through life as if a degree, a job, a wife and 2.5 kids was entitled to me. 

Entitlement…that's what it comes down to. You aren't entitled to anything in this life. Life is way too turbulent to think that way. We're all here for such a brief existence, and it is your job as a member of humanity to make that experience wonderful for not only yourself, but for everyone you encounter. It's also your job as a human being to recognize the precious gift of life, and to respect that gift. Simply put:

Don't be a tourist - be a traveler. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thailand 2011 - Muay Thai

I have always taken pride in the fact that I am a very level-headed person. Sure, I get passionate and worked up about things. Everyone does. But I have never physically wanted to hurt another person or lost it to the point where I wasn't in control. I understand on a social level why we as humans, and especially as males, have the urge to fight. It's something immediate that we can do to alleviate a situation, and the competition becomes survival of the fittest. The stronger man (or woman) wins, and they take the spoils.

So when I learned that the documentary we're doing in Thailand was based around the fighting culture of Muay Thai, I wasn't exactly emotionally invested in the project at first. I never watch UFC, and I often don't understand the need to fight. As it turns out, it was a simple case of not understanding the other side, and once I immersed myself into that culture I learned to respect and even love the sport and spectacle of Muay Thai Boxing. 

As this is a documentary on fighters, an integral part of our time here in Thailand is spent at boxing stadium. Where we are at, there are two stadium: Patong Boxing Stadium and Bangla Boxing Stadium. I have yet to go to Bangla, but we'll be going there for Championship Night tonight. For the purpose of this blog, I'll be talking about my experience at Patong.

The Stadium

We arrive via Tuk Tuk (an open taxi) about 20 minutes or so before the fights begins. The trip to Patong Boxing Stadium is not for the skittish, as the 'stadium' is well off the beaten path. You drive through narrow alleys and unlit roads to a place that looks like a refurbished warehouse. The parking lot is packed with Tuk Tuks and scooters, and a congregation of Thai's and Westerner's are outside the stadium smoking cigarettes and drinking.

Most of the people are in line for tickets. There are 3 sections in the stadium: Ringside, VIP, and Stadium. The prices are 2000, 1500, and 1300 Baht respectively (our exchange rate is 30:1, so the VIP section runs about $50). We had a bit of an inside-track, so we got our tickets with ease and into the stadium ahead of the crowds.

When you enter the stadium, you realize why it looks like a warehouse from the outside. All the 'stadium' consists of is bleacher seats, recliners, a ring, and some lights. I felt like we were part of some secret society, and that for some reason all of this was illegal. It stunk of sweat and beer, and the 'air conditioning' was a series of fans drilled to the pillars holding up the roof. We're sitting in a comfortable 85F, enough to sweat but not hot enough to dry off. 

The stadium hasn't filled up since we've been there, but the seats are generally full. About 400 or so people can fit into the place, often segregated with the Westerners sitting on the ground and the Thai's in the stadium. This isn't out of class as much as the Westerners tend to book tickets with agents, and those agents set them up with ground seats. It is an intimate space that allows everyone in the stadium to take part in the fight, so the stadium isn't at any disadvantage. 

The Fights

Every night of the week the gyms in Phuket switch off between Patong and Bangla, and when I mean there's a fight every day of the week I really mean it. Every day in town there are new posters with the line-up for the night's fights, and there's a truck with giant billboards that drives the beach with a megaphone screaming 'Fight Tonight at *insert location here*'. 

A standard ticket usually has 7-10 fights, with the main event saved for last. The one that frightens most people is that the first 3 or 4 fights are children.

When I say children, I really mean children. The youngest are the first to fight, which are usually 7-8 year olds. Instead of playing soccer or swimming, these kids fight. Here's the kicker: they earn money for these fights as well. Don't worry, I'll touch on the morality of all of this later on in the post.

Every fight begins with a ceremonial dance, where the fighters 'rid the demons and bad energy' from the ring. Traditional music is played live via some mix between an oboe and clarinet and a series of drums. Both fighters are in the ring performing the ceremony together, and so that stereotypical pre-fight animosity rarely exists in Muay Thai.

After the dance, they wipe gloves and fight. Each round is a couple minutes, with 5 rounds in a fight. In between rounds the stadium is flooded with American music. In one night, I noted the following artists on their playlist: Black Eyed Peas, Miley Cyrus, Kesha, Usher, Eminem, and Metallica. During the fight, however, traditional music is played.

A winner is determined either by KO or to decision, then immediately after the next fight is prepped. There are no stretchers or carts, and there is no intermission. If a guy is KO'd, they revive him as best they can and walk him out. See the video below for a fine example of the brutality of this sport.

The Culture

After watching two nights of these fights, I started to understand the mentality behind this sport. It isn't a 'let's kill the other guy' kind of sport. Every fight ends with the opponents embracing (to a degree), and in between rounds they smile and touch gloves as a symbol of respect. Everything they do is deliberate, from the bows to the audience to stepping over the top rope: everything means something. It is a very symbolic ritual to fight.

This is also why I was ok with seeing these children fight. They weren't breeding mindless warriors who despise each other. They were teaching them that fighting is a privilege and honor, and that respect for one's opponent is critical. It's a rough sport, but even during training these kids are getting knocked around. But they always get right back up and jump in that ring again. That strength is a lifeskill, and these kids are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. There is no hate or anger in them, and they aren't being exploited or forced to fight. This is an honor for them, and there is bond between fellow fighters because of it.

It all comes back to that respect for competition and each other. Is this a brutal sport? You betcha. That's why you can't afford egos and that UFC mentality here: people will get killed. They don't know how to pull back punches when a guy's already out. Muay Thai uses knees, elbows, and take downs extensively, and this sport is very violent. The majesty in it all, however, is something to marvel.

This sport does have it's problems creeping in. Betting is extensive on these fights, even with the kid fights. Money is consistently flowing, and anytime that money is involved with a fight the credibility is questioned. These fighters do get paid, and so there is an incentive to win. That money often goes to their families, however, because training for these fights is a full time gig. Western culture is capitalizing on all of this, and I hope that this sport doesn't get exported to America or Europe for the sake of preserving the respect of this culture and the Thai people's bond with fighting.

There is one fight that stood out in my mind that put most of this into perspective for me. An older guy and a young, big fighter were in the 4th round of an amazing fight.  The older guy was a bit stocky, but he was holding his own against the onslaught of kicks and punches from the younger guy. Every time we thought he would go down, he would hold his own and land some more punches. By the 4th round the  entire crowd was emotionally invested in the fight, and the cheers started to grow as the fight progressed. The younger guy finally landed a perfect strike to the older guy's head, and he was out before he hit the mat.

The ref rushed to him as well as his trainers. We all applauded the young guy for the win, but the concern grew as the older guy didn't get up. His leg twitched, and the crowd quieted down a bit. Once his gloved moved, we knew he was alright. His trainers started to move him out of the ring, but before he stepped out of the ropes he returned to the center of the ring and paid respect to the audience in center ring. He was welcomed by a thunderous applause before he left towards the locker room. The 4th round of the fight is in the video blog below.

These fighters are people, and very respectful and honorable people at that. They fight for more than just themselves, and it's that reverence that validated our documentary's hypothesis: that Muay Thai and the culture of Thailand are deeply interwoven, and that modern fighting cultures could learn more from authentic Muay Thai culture. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thailand 2011 - Songkran

When I was growing up, every summer me and my friends would each get a Super Soaker and have water fights with each other. It would be about 4 or 5 of us, and the fight would always end with us getting yelled at by the parents because we squirted the window or accidentally hit dad's car. Super Soakers were a toy that all our parents loathed, and if you grew up in 90's like I did you probably can relate.

Now what if I told you that, somewhere in the world, there was a place that not only let you Super Soak everyone and everything, but that the culture and even the government itself encouraged the water play?

I'm not making this up, that time and place exists beyond all my expectations and dreams. It's Songkran in Thailand, also known as the World's Largest Water Fight.

The Songkran Festival itself is the traditional New Year in Thailand, with the dates coinciding with many other cultures in Southeast Asia. It is usually a couple days long, with 'New Years Day' taking place around the 13th of April. It is a time when people clean their houses, visit the wat (a Buddhist monastery) and give food to the monks, give thanks and clean their Buddha images, and all around a time to spend with family.

The water during this festival came from the act of cleansing their Buddhas. This is a holy practice, and the water used during this act is blessed. The people would take the water running off the statues and pour it over their family and friends to bring them good fortune for the year ahead. It just so happens that this festival occurs during the hottest month in Thailand and also ushers in the wet season, so the evolution from a gentle water blessing to a full on no-rules water fight was natural.

Yes, you just learned something from my blog. Congratulations. Now for my first-hand experience.

My Songkran celebration started pretty dull. Like a little kid waiting for Santa, I had my Super Soaker prepared early in the morning and was anxiously waiting for the day to start. My expectations were very high, and as we rolled out on our scooters around 9am I was excited beyond belief. What I didn't take into account was the fact that the Festival itself started last night, with the water festivities taking place today. Therefore, many people were still asleep recovering from the night before and the streets were dead as we rolled through town. Yeah, you had the random group of kids dousing you with a hose, but it wasn't anything major. I was disappointed.

That was very short-lived as we made our way through the hills around Phuket. Although there is a big city here, in the hills the towns are very small and 'authentic', with a couple bars here and there and maybe a gas station. These people were the heart and soul of Thailand, and they showed me why as I turned the corner coming into the hills.

Every 50 feet or so were these giant buckets of water, and around each bucket was about 10-20 Thai's and foreigners with Super Soakers, bowls, and just about anything that can hold water. In the distance I could see the splashes and the water flinging across the road. We later deemed this road 'The Gauntlet, as we went on that road 3 more times and didn't get out dry (not that we wanted to in the first place). The Gauntlet is a skinny road, barely two cars can get by. Therefore, as we were on scooters, there was no escape from the water. People were flinging and gunning from every direction. Within seconds, we were soaked and would remain that way for the rest of the day. The best part was watching people actively try to stay dry. If you're at Songkran with the intent on staying dry, the only way you'll succeed is if you stay in the hotel room. I'm not kidding, every man, woman, and child young and old, rich and poor is out to get everyone else as wet as possible. There are no rules, so play the game or go home. Oh, and the entire country is participating. Good luck.

A lot of the time, it was just people flinging water at you with all the strength they can muster. Occasionally, however, you would get a group of Thai's who did it the 'proper' way. They would stop you on your scooter and the whole group would swarm you. Some would have water, which they would pour over your head and back gently. The others would have this chalk that they would dip their hands in and touch your face and body with. Apparently in Buddhism you aren't suppose to touch people like that, but during Songkran it was permitted. It sounded weird and creepy at first, but once I did it the first time I felt this sense of belonging and love from them. They smiled and laughed as they doused you in water and chalk, and you couldn't help but laugh yourself. This is a celebration after all, so if you aren't smiling by the end you did something wrong.

We would also pass these bars with music blaring and people dancing, and these were the best places to stop to get your dousing. It was always some kind of party music blaring in the background, everyone was dancing, and they would hug and kiss you and laugh some more. Being a blatant foreigner (I have a camera strapped to my helmet during all of this), they would take great joy getting me wet and spreading the joy. Also, for some reason, all the local girls loved me. I don't want to sound cocky or conceited, but whenever they would come up to me the whole group would giggle and kiss me and even hop on my scooter to see if I'd take them with me. The foreigners would laugh too because here's this kid looking like he's 16 with a bunch of grown women (and Lady-boys at one point, which was interesting to say the least) fawning over him. Yes, even the moms and at one point a restaurant owner was a part of the women coming after me. I liked the attention, I mean what guy wouldn't? You just have to enjoy it for what it is, because there's always the chance that you'll never be back.

Most of the day was like that: we would ride, stop a lot, get wet a lot, get chalked up, hug and kiss some locals, then ride some more. By noon all the roads were drenched and the traffic was ridiculous. Trucks with 20 or so people in the bed would be blaring music and dancing as they threw buckets of water at you while you sped by. It was a party atmosphere wherever you went, and it went non-stop till 4pm.

Now that I'm dry and in the room resting, I can really appreciate what I just experienced. I was part of one of the world's greatest parties, where you didn't need to know the bouncer or pay a ridiculous cover to get in. Everyone was accepting and loving, and you could feel that love during the entire festival. You don't have parties like that …in fact, you don't have that kind of love for a stranger anywhere else in the world. Everyone's so shielded, yet once we're giving the opportunity to let loose we really let it go. Race and money don't matter here, only that you're a person who's willing to kick off the shoes for a little bit and participate in the fun. It's an experience I won't soon forget, and I hope to find that kind of love and joy that I felt today and share it with as many people as possible. Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thailand 2011 - 4/11 Video

Thailand 2011 - Monday Night Fights

It's about 11:15pm on Monday night here, and we just got back to the room from the Patong Boxing Arena. I'm not a big UFC or fighting kind of guy, but seeing a Muay Thai boxing ticket in Thailand should be a stipulation of your Visa here.

You hear about Muay Thai and see the American version of it all, but it's a completely different beast seeing it in the stadiums in Thailand. The culture and the sheer speed and tenacity involved with each ticket is astounding. Seeing 10-year olds fight at a caliber that would put most of my friends to shame really solidified the hypothesis of mine that Thailand is a fighting culture. More to come on the culture of Thailand in a later post.

As you drive around Thailand (especially in Phuket, where we're at right now), you see these camps everywhere. People are training constantly, and there are fighters from around the world that come here to train. There's nothing like training in this hot and humid environment with a culture that embraces the discipline.

Songkran is in 2 days, and I anticipate having more time to put together the blog I filmed earlier. This has been one hell of a ride, and we're only on day 3. I'm pumped to share this part of their culture with you, as I am not a fighting person and found this sport utterly amazing. Pics to come, so stay tuned!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Thailand 2011 - Japan Layover

Our Thailand trip started with an unexpected delay. During takeoff from San Francisco, our plane engine had a malfunction and we had to go back to the gate and wait 6 hours for a new plane. We ended up missing our connection to Bangkok, so we had to spend the night in Tokyo.

This is where the fun begins.

I've always wanted to go to Japan, and I was slightly bummed that I wasn't going to see anything outside the airport. Thanks to United and their killer guest services, we ended up getting into a pretty awesome hotel and enjoying 16 hours of Japan. Here's a jubilee of observations from my short time here:

Organization. Everyone and everything is organized, and the efficiency is spectacular. Nearly 50 baggage handlers unloaded our luggage, and everyone was ready for us. The entire process from getting off the plane, customs, and getting our hotel room took 45 minutes. Amazing.

Customs. They have the high-tech toys, and it took us less than a minute to speed through and enter the country. They, of course, have high-res pictures of all of us, so there's not a lot to worry about on their end.

The food. We ate at the hotel and even the low-end buffet was delicious. Everything is cooked to the highest caliber. I could do less with the fish-oil in everything though.

Beer in a vending machine. See picture:
It's beautiful
Yes, this is self-explanatory.

The people. Everyone is very nice and professional, and there's a sense of pride in everything that they do. From the custodians to the officers, the people of Japan are a beautiful and amazing people, and the fact that they're still dealing with a national disaster sets them apart from most other countries.

The size. Everything is miniaturized. I mean everything. The cups are small, and even the hotel rooms are tiny.

Earthquakes. Yeah, we were in that 7.1 aftershock. In the middle of the night, the building starts to sway. It took us a minute to realize we're in Japan, and we promptly prepared ourselves for a timely escape in case things went bad. They didn't, but it was scary nonetheless.

And finally, this picture:

The humping USB dog. Ridiculous.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thailand 2011 - Currency!

So our currency sucks. I'm not talking about the strength of the dollar, but the color of the dollar.
Yeah, I'm awesome
Seriously, why does every other country have pretty colors on their bills and we have plain old green? And not only that, but this stuff is rugged. You wash a dollar bill in the washer and it's gone. You wash one of these, and the bill just seems to gleam and sparkle even more.

Eh, it's nothing to get angry about. I'm sitting in the San Francisco International terminal with my cash converted over and ready to hop on a plane to Japan. See you guys there!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Thailand 2011 - Leaving Home

I am a careful and calculated person. Yes, I am adventurous. I take risks. But when I do, I have a vague idea of what I'm getting into and prepare as such. I'm usually packed a week prior to a trip, and everything has a place to go. For some reason, though, this time was different...

I had dedicated most of my week to packing and preparing my room for storage, yet somehow all of that fell on my shoulders last night. I always found a reason to see my family and play with my niece and nephew, or escaped to see my little brother's baseball game and even an emergency paperwork trip to Phoenix and a night with friends. Procrastinating is in my soul, but this was not the week to do something like this.

A couple days ago, I learned that I would not be coming back home after Thailand. I would have a turn-around journey to San Francisco to get my visa, then I would be off for a year in Korea. I had to pack for a year...I had to say my goodbyes, just in case.

Yet last night, after spending time with my family, I found myself at the bar spending one last night with friends. We ended up in a hot tub at the Best Western with some random friends from the bar talking about our youthful angst and what life had in store for all of us. Maybe it was the extreme exhaustion and the 3am hitting me, but I was pulling something from this one wonderful night that might set the tone for things to come.

As we were talking, I re-confirmed how similar we all are, and how we all grow up whether we're ready for it or not. If you remotely know me, you know how much I hate staying put. I love my family and they mean everything to me, but being in Kingman for so long without a job or direction was getting to me.

Purpose shifted for me, and I learned the value of humanity. We're all striving to connect with one another. All the things we do in life don't mean a damn thing if we don't have someone to share it all with. Conversations are easy and making friends is natural, and it was a trait that I learned from traveling abroad. Genuinely enjoying someone's company without any motive whatsoever is and should be easy, yet we complicate things. We have a mission that we want to accomplish, and that track has limited seating. We're quick to not let people into our lives, and even quicker to cut them out when the relationship gets tough. Luckily, nature prevails over social normality every time, and overcoming this hesitancy is as easy as changing your state of mind.

What I wasn't ready for was growing up and all that it entailed. I had to say goodbye to all the people I love for a year. I had to pack my earthly belongings into one suit case, accounting for every obstacle that I might face. That's why I was out in a Best Western hot tub at 3am when I had to fly out at 6: I knew that I was growing up, and that I had to say goodbye.

I do have one incentive, however. The people that are meant to be in your life will find a way to stay in your life. Whether it be a conscious decision from you or fate, a true friendship stands the test of time. Those that don't shouldn't be mourned...they should be recognized for what they were and exist as a happy memory. Some of these people in this hot tub I will never see again, yet I should cherish the time spent with them. The others are friendships that are meaningful and strong, and I know we'll find a way to keep our friendship alive.

I wasn't afraid anymore, and I left Kingman this morning ready for my biggest adventure yet. When you keep raising the stakes, it becomes harder and harder to take that first step out your front door. When you finally do, however, you're instantly stronger because of it and ready to live your life. I'm fortunate to be young enough to do these kind of adventures, and I vow to never waste another minute hesitating because of complacency or fear.

Thanks for coming along with me, because I do need you in my corner. After all, what good are pictures when you don't have someone to show them to? I hope you enjoy the content that's soon to come, and know that I love each and every one of you. Let's go create some stories together, shall we?