Living History

In every town, in every city, there are buildings that are being reclaimed by nature. The trees, the roots, are eating what man has made. The fingers reach out and grab a hold of the bricks, of the wood, and they wiggle their way into every little crack. The roots push through the foundation and pull on the ceiling, until floors rise and roofs collapse. Vines have wrapped their arms around window frames and have snaked around shattered glass. Years of rain have left tear marks running down the faces of these ghosts. The earth is taking back the space that man attempted to claim. This is nature’s territory and we are just visitors. Other buildings go up around those that crumble to their death, a never-ending story of birth and decay.

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No Reservations

Yesterday morning I awoke at the exact time that a motorcycle taxi was supposed to arrive at the hotel I live at. It was a few minutes past 6:30 am, and I rushed to put on a T-shirt, leggings, and throw the rest of my clothes into my duffle bag. At 6:40 I rushed down stairs, only to find that he hadn’t arrived. My first thought was that he had grown impatient, waiting on a late foreigner, but I it occurred to me that at the cost I was being paid to be picked up and taken to the Malaysia border, he would most likely wait.

My reason for going to Malaysia is that I need to get my visa stamped so that I can remain in Thailand. This is the second time this month I have been on a “visa run” and each trip in transportation costs me 1,500 baht. It sounds like alot, but in USD it’s really only about $45. My last visa run turned out to be unsuccessful, when I arrived at the border after a seven hour minivan ride, only to have my visa extended for fifteen days. When I pushed my passport back through the immigration window, shaking my head as I said, “No, no, no, thirty days.” It was pushed back at me with the reply, “No, fifteen,” followed by a nice smile.

This time I am going to the embassy in Malaysia, which requires at least a two day trip. Somehow for me it has turned into a four day getaway, and I am in Georgetown until late Monday.

Once my mototrcycle taxi did arrive to pick me up, it was almost 7:00, and he took me straight to the minivan station. I was loaded on a minivan, that to my surprise, was filled with foreigners. This NEVER happens. The last few times I have been on a minivan, which is one of Thailand’s main forms of public transportation, I have been the only “farang,” a word coined for foriegners. I have ridden for fourteen hours without speaking or hearing a single word of English. While the minivan was packed to capacity, with overstuffed traveler’s backpacks falling over on passnegers, and legs cramped against seats to small for western bodies, I was happy to know that I would have conversation on this trip. When you spend ten plus hours in a van cramped next to other people, you underestimate how imporatnt conversation is to passing the time.

Along the way we stopped multiple times, sometimes for gas, food, or bathroom breaks, but mostly we stopped to switch transportation into another minivan or for immigration/border issues. Our seating arrangement changed a few times, and I was able to have different conversations with other travelers. From what I gathered, some people were at the end of their journeys, having traveled for the past eight months, while others were just beginning what would be a half year of traveling. I spent the most time talking to a gentleman from Germany, who had won his traveling funds from a recent win on a German television game show. We talked about travel, literature, and the secrets to finding happiness in life.

This being my first time traveling with a group of other foreigners, I also quickly realized the behavior in a farang that I don’t want to model. Yes, the trip is long, and the van is uncomfortable, but no one wants to hear about how miserable you are, or how hungry, hot, or tired you are. Yes, traveling can be frustrating and there are often unexpected hurdles along the way, but making generalizations about a country’s people, based on a few negative experiences is ignorant. Discussing how ineffective a country’s education system is and the relationship between farang teacher and Thai teacher is uncalled for, especially when you are only a tourist, and have not taught in the Thai school systems. If I have my criticisms of Thai education, it is because I work in a school everyday and I see first hand the pros and cons of their educational practices. I also try not to make judgements or jump to conclusions about their education system, because I am not a certified teacher, nor have I been here long enough to even begin to think I understand Thailand or its culture.

At around 5 pm our minivan finally arrived in Georgetown, Malaysia, which is the capital of the island state Penang. The city is the second largest metropolitan area of Malaysia, and is more modern than anything I have seen since arriving in Thailand.  Crossing a giant bridge to reach Penang, I gazed out my window at a city skyline with high-rise after high-rise. This is my first time traveling by myself and I was excited to get into the city and see what it had to offer.

The first hostel the group from the minivan went to only had a few empty beds, so I split ways with the rest of the group and joined my german friend and his best friend in finding another hostel. We ended up getting a room at the nicest place we found, a guesthouse by the name of Banana. We all split a room to keep costs down, and found one with a double bed and a single. They insisted they didn’t mind sharing a bed, so they gave me the single bed, we threw our luggage down, and went out to find a much needed dinner.

In the minivan the German and I had shared our love of Indian food, after he told me about his travels in India earlier this Fall, so we made our way to Little India in Georgetown. We stopped in the first restaurant we got to, and when we asked for a menu they replied that they did not have any. Instead they placed giant banana leafs in front of us, and came around with different pots of curries, rice, and meats, and spooned helpings of it onto our leaves. I looked around and saw everyone eating with their hands, and realized no one was using silverware. I felt silly eating with my hands, in front of two people I had just met, but we all dug in and had a great dinner. They were super friendly, really funny, and we all swapped stories of home as well as from abroad. They shared their stories of adventures in San Diego; how they’re never had a better hamburger and how they surfed in Ocean Beach.

After dinner we went back to Banana, where we sat in the common area, chatted some more, and I had a Guinness. My Guinness was the equivalent of $3 USD, and was the most expensive beer in 711, but I decided to indulge, this being my vacation as well as the first time I have had a western beer since leaving the states.

The boys both left early this morning to catch a boat to their next destination, so once again I am on my own to explore and hangout with myself. Before coming here I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” so I have a slight idea of where I want to go, what I want to see, and what I want to try eating. There are farang everywhere, so maybe I will be lucky enough to meet more people tonight, who were as genuinely nice as the Germans from last night.

I am a newly turned 25 year old, living in Thailand, visiting Malaysia, with a whole weekend to myself, and two days off of work.

Yep, life is good.