Monthly Archives: April 2013

Greatest Hits?

I’m stitching together a bunch of my Thai Travelogue odds and ends into a collection of postcard non-fiction. So you’ve read this all before. But I am polishing it up, and I invite your feedback on how you think it’s working.


Step on a plane and get off two days later.
Shanghai stopover won the day, like flying into a garage filled with exhaust. Freighters, even-spaced, into brown forever. After, the plane just stopped on the tarmac, as if it had also reached its limit of screaming infants, and passengers with no prior knowledge of Gravol.

Zero degrees. We were loaded on a bus, then driven aimlessly around the airport for 20 min. Aysia, my friend, I wished you were there so we could have sung transit show tunes, the situation demanded them. Maybe some Queen.

Teens with expensive haircuts in pseudo-paramilitary dress at Shanghai airport security, whose answer to everything is “no problem.”
“Take my shoes off too?”
“No problem.”
“Computer out of the bag?”
“No problem.”
“Just put the Nuke in the plastic bin then?…”

Deserted, dungeon like hallways, and an escalator that spookily ground to a halt as as I arrived at its base, then resumed its grumpy ascent seconds later. STOP WASTING ENERGY signs. Caps Lock. Sterilized water machines that play little tunes as they dispense your 25ml portion into a paper cup.
China, what’s up wit u?


If you’ve come here to drink, you may drink Hong Thong. Specified only as “local Thai spirit.” Sold in 40 oz bottles for about 400 bhat ($14). At first we think the Hong Thong is stored in a milk crate in the sun, away from the other booze, like maybe it’s contagious. Then Zander tries to buy one, and is asked whether he actually wants to buy gasoline. Thai woman says they fill the empty Hong Thong bottles with gasoline to sell to motorcycles for only slightly less than the Hong Thong itself.

“Any difference in taste?” He deadpans.

“No,” she deadpans back. She’s heard all the Farang jokes.

This booze needs representation. A slogan. I’m thinking a booty-licious girl in a thong, leaning into a car window, shot from the back (of course) with some kind of slogan like “Hong Thong: Deliciously Cheap.” I’m open to suggestions though. One liners aren’t my forte.


We decided to save a few bucks. Checked into the Serene resort, very Buddhist, in that staying there constantly reminds you that life is suffering. I could go on about the bed, the mould, the ants, the bar that is open 24 hours a day and only plays the same 6 songs, including an inane big beat remix of “Signs” by The Who…but really, all I need to say are those three little words: broken sewage line. Keep in mind, it’s 35 degrees, and I’ve had food poisoning for the last two days. Keep it in mind, but try not to picture it.
Being in the Buddhist heartland, we practiced grim acceptance until about ten minutes ago, when I fucking blew my top, pulled myself together, because getting angry at people causes them to lose face, and politely asked the owner what could be done. Over and over again. With a smile.
Now we are in a loft above his massage parlour with no view, no bamboo ambiance, no mosquito net, and ABSOLUTELY NO FESTERING SHIT. And we are DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY.
Asia, I’ve got your number.
Watch out, motherfucker.


Very good day. We’re out of the Serenity Now and back at the lovely Lipe Beach resort, where we were greeted like old friends by the staff. Thais love to welcome you back. We’ve been on Lipe nearly a month, and people at the resorts we’ve stayed at and the restaurants we frequent wave and greet us when we walk down the street. “You’re like a local now!” people say, which of course is utterly untrue, but is the highest compliment an islander in any country can bestow on you.

There’s God, the gay bartender. Loves classic Trip Hop.

Some guy with a hatchet who is endured because he hasn’t chopped anyone yet.

The kebab guy is a Greek with a mohawk that’s usually un-gelled, so it looks like a hipster side-shave. He calls me princess and teases Zander because he always pays for the food-says if women want equal rights, they should pay up. Zander told him he has the money because he has the pockets. We didn’t tell him that all of the money is ours, because that wouldn’t be as much fun, but the last time we bought some kebabs, I pulled the money out of my bikini. You can imagine the reception that got.


Frank learned bar stool
Trip for collective signs
wind renders ears deaf

Crevices sulk grey
Icicle axe slides sideways
tarred with hungry hand

O, tinder box blue
To fold souvlaki sharp, I
suspend space like flame



A Hua Hin night out, music in the center of town. Ex-pat Jazz band is shoved off the stage early to make room for a long ceremony with a 50 000 baht novelty cheque. Before he leaves the mic, the singer says they’ve never played to an audience who wasn’t dancing. Silence. 200 white people sitting in chairs with white seat covers. Behind them, a statue of Pone Kingpetch, flyweight champion of the world in 1960.

The cheque is presented to a Farang so tall he could be standing on the shoulders of a Thai. The leader of Biggles Big Band, all the way from Amsterdam. Last year they were rained out after playing only one song. He speaks Thai to polite applause. Asks if anyone is from the Netherlands, and most hands are raised. So he switches to Dutch.

Then it’s time to play: Henry Mancini and Glenn Miller, and compositions by the King himself, ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช. Two pieces: Blue day and Hungry Man Blues. Christmas lights over the heads of the Biggles Big Band, 200 Farangs, and the flyweight champion of the world. Kingpetch has one gloved hand raised in victory. Thais selling Heineken. Children and crippled Thai women selling roses, we shake our heads “no.” Thai lanterns in the canal that carries waste to the sea.


So, pesticides are generally a way of life here, and I’m trying not to judge, since I’m only a visitor. But the bees. An open air house that gets sprayed for termites, and the bees fly through and are almost instantly incapacitated, but not killed. At night they are on the floor, sometimes one or two, sometimes a dozen. Sweep them up and whisper an apology.

I’m getting to the part of my novel where the bee hives were coming into the honey house faster than our little team could keep up with. Stacks on pallets every day, and yeah, the bees were supposed to have been blown out of them, but many weren’t. And by many I mean hundreds. Bees everywhere, now exhausted or injured, crawling on the floor, the walls, the ceiling. Pieces of bee from the honey comb-filled frames gone through the de-capper, mixed with splintered wood and wax. At the end of the day, I swept them into piles, and down the drain. Our tiny co-workers. Expended. When I left that place, I didn’t ever want another bee to die by my hand.

Last night, in the open air house, I stepped on one of them. It surprised me how that indignant why me?  feeling, a sense of having been bullied by nature, stung far more than the stinger itself.


Of course, every moment here is a “Thai” moment by default, as authentic as it gets. But there were the promises I unwittingly turned into expectations: the serene Buddha-moments, marigolds strung into the stories of earnest young Canadian travelers, awarded prizes by Canadian journals for their gritty but delicate portrayal of Thai life.
Well, there’s no shortage of grit. But where the hell are the marigolds?
Then it’s four in the morning and I’m banging away at the laptop and slapping at the noseeums and I hear the monks. Chanting? That’s what it sounds like.

Pad over teak floors to the window. There’s the call of cicadas and rooster zealots, and yes, definitely chanting but no- this is wrong, I need a gauzy dress and a “steaming mug” of ginger tea in my hands, I need to be on a breezy porch, or on the beach. But the air is thick and tepid-I can’t hear the chanting from the porch, and there’s no beach, so I’m catching my Buddha-moment through grimy glass slats, cement and overgrowth in my view, noseeums watching from the other side of the net, and still it’s okay, it’s only me here. And it’s right now.


Three hundred and nine steps up Doi Suthep, Theravada monks are wondering what we’re up to in the city. Terracotta under their feet. Don’t be bamboozled  by the robes, or statue likenesses outside the chedi of the monks as cartoony infants. If they could see Chiang Mai through the summer haze-farmers burning fields-they’d be peeking. Sure, there are bells to ring in Wat Phrathat. There’s Farangs to ask the Buddha’s view on Cancer, and whether he’ll be there for the Rapture. A white elephant transport, for the Buddha’s shoulder bone. Climbed Doi Suthep, trumpeted three times, and died. This was a sign. Leave your elephants at the bottom of the mountain. The first chedi was built.


Teaching English in Chiang Mai in exchange for room and board. The kids probably think I’m weird, but it’s because I love them, like, I’m really crazy about them. I can’t stop smiling at them. It’s got nothing to do with biological clocks. I still don’t want a kid of my own.

But these kids.

These kids with their polite gooood mahhning teachuuh Ka-Lee and the way they let their little hand rest on your leg when they show you their drawings. Their Angry Birds themed, over-dressed, long-sleeved bathing attire, and matching bathing caps. And their smiles: shy, semi-toothless, genuine. I don’t know how to talk about smiles without getting all cliché on you, but I’d heard there was something special about the Thai brand of smile, and I heard right. It’s not just a routine tightening of facial musculature, it’s an event. A little bit of good passes into you. And you can give some back, if you remember to be present while it’s happening. This isn’t easy for me. I often forget to be present during hugs, too. I had a friend who used to get me into hug position, and then remind me to pay attention to what was happening. Hugging. He was a good friend.



Q: When is a Yoga retreat not a Yoga retreat?

A: When it’s a gathering of business professionals in a yoga-based industry, who have come together from both fitness and entertainment fields to offer you, the quiet couple from Canada who just wanted a weekend getaway in the mountains, this amazing one-time offer complete with free yoga classes, the pained general camaraderie that comes with being a sales professional and surely guarantees a slow and painful death due to diabetes or heart failure, AND a chance to test our products AT NO COST TO YOU and OH MY GOD- this is going on Facebook the moment this three day “internet cleanse” is over.


One more backpack trudge back to a cheaper hotel in a better part of town. Greener grass. Songkran water-festival scrubbed the alleys clean. Back to My Mum guesthouse, where three generations of women will greet us. Polyester tight-perm grandmothers will give up their chairs for us, and there will be nothing to do but sit. Green smoothies on the corner at the end of the alley, girl picks the basil from a pot at her feet. Avocado omelettes for breakfast. The sun’s going to be too hot, but we’re not going to sweat it any more. The street’s going to smell like shit, but we’re not going to notice. The mountains still won’t be there, not visible.  Next time we pack up, it will be to catch the overnight bus to Bangkok. Overnight flight to Shanghai. Morning flight to Vancouver. We’ll arrive nearly before we’ve left.

Thai Travelogue. Songkran: A Report From the Frontlines.


It was just a trickle at first. A few drops from a Super Soaker, an understated splish against my leg by a man who looked more apprehensive than festive when I turned to face him. His expression relaxed a little when he took in my grin. A young girl actually ASKED Zander if he’d like to be splashed. He declined. “Well if they’re going to ask…” he huffed. He prefers his soakings to be more… spontaneous. A group of guys that reminded me of when the media was trying to make Asian Youth Gangs a Thing, watched us pass in silence. One of them tossed a few drips my way and his friends smacked him. Bowed a little when I turned around. Awkward.

Only slightly moistened in a cafe filled with chattering, soaking wet Thais, we discussed possible reasons for this. Do white tourists have a bad reputation? (about this in particular i mean. I know we’re dicks about most things.) Is it an age thing? Am I too old? Thais are way respectful to elders, please god, tell me I’m not in THAT category yet. Are we unapproachable? Yep that’s right, only a couple of Canadian tourists would worry about whether they’re likable enough for the locals to toss dirty water at. We resolved to look more soakable on the walk home. After some fried rice and a cappuccino, we set out again, affable smiles firmly in place.

The number of Songkranners had increased significantly in the two hours we’d been at the cafe. Hello Kitty motorcycles scooted out from alleys and roamed the streets in tight packs, with passengers working rear squirtgunner, black hair plastered against knockoff Ray-Bans. Tinted window pickup trucks cruised at parade speed, lean shirtless dudes with beach pails taunting the poor saps with nothing more than a garden hose. The real high-rollers of Songkran. Kings of the alley.

We’d only gone a few steps when a girl put down her Super Soaker and approached us with a small bucket. A mug, really. “Excuuu meee!” she called out, polite to the end. And…splash! Delicately Songkranned.

We laughed. She laughed. That was all the neighbourhood needed to see.

The high-rollers, the rear gunners, dudes sitting in the street bars, 7-11 employees, little kids, big kids-we got soaked. Knowing smiles at the hotel front desk as we squished past. Sweet, wet acceptance. Thanks, Thailand.

Ten minutes after we got back to the hotel, showered and clothes hung to dry, the sky opened up to give us a Songkran display of its own. Wind shrieked, rattled the windows and monsoon-size raindrops flew sideways. “What do you think?” Zander said.

“I guess we’re going back out there.”

It was on. It was SO on, now the water sloshed up to our ankles- a back alley flash flood-and motorcycle gunners had no choice but to become foot soldiers. They concentrated their efforts on the guys in the back of the trucks, also forced off the road, but still in a tactically superior position above the fray. Instantly soaked in warm rain, I got big laughs for mugging about how cold the hose attacks were. Another guy with a Super Soaker pretended he wasn’t going to shoot us as we walked by, and then pow! Right in the ass. He was probably about nineteen or twenty years old, but not in that moment.  Pure nine-year-old warfare.

We lasted as long as the rain did, and then trudged home. Again. “Hey you, stop!” A chubby guy holding a tiny squirt gun in one hand and an umbrella in the other barked at me.  I had to move closer so that the gun could reach me.

A German woman was smoking cigs on the hotel front steps. “You’re brave to go out there” she said in a thick accent.

“Thank you, ma’am. All in a day’s work” I said, tipping my helmet at her.

Okay that last part didn’t happen.

Love letter.

I fucking LOVE Fernando Raguero. Love him. If I had an alter ego, my alter ego would do sexy battle with Fernando Raguero in titanium mech suits that shoot lemon jelly, while listening to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ greatest hits, as played on ukuleles by Bonobos.

If my cynicism had a shape, it would be an enormous boner, escaping though a hole in a distressed pair of totally-not-ironic acid-washed jeans, and fucking rights those jeans would be tight-rolled at the bottom. And that enormous boner would be pointed directly at Fernando Raguero.

If my opinions were like assholes, everybody would have one. But the only asshole that mattered would be Fernando Raguero.

I’m not totally sure what that means.

But goddamn, can Fernando Raguero ever put words on paper.

And then read them in monotone.

If my sense of humor had a corporeal form, that form would remain as close to Fernando Raguero as it possibly could at all times without incurring a restraining order. It would keep detailed notes, and take photographs. It would publish a tell-all expose AND a book of madlibs based on its findings.

If my actual corporeal from was in Vancouver, I would buy it a corsage and a bottle of wine, and take it out to see Fernando Raguero’s show at Havana, and then we would have killer sex afterwards in the back seat of a Datsun. A brown Datsun. Uninsured but parked on the street anyway, zero fucks given.

I don’t know if you’ll feel the same way about Fernando Raguero as I do. I tend to be surly and difficult to please when it comes to slam poetry. I tend to be surly and difficult to please in general. But the show only costs $5, and gives you an excuse to start drinking early on a Friday.

Go see him at the Havana Theatre, 2:30pm – Friday, April 12. Go.

Thai Travelogue. Q: When is a Yoga Retreat not a Yoga Retreat?


A: When it’s a gathering of business professionals in a yoga-based industry, who have come together from both fitness and entertainment fields to offer you, the quiet couple from Canada who just wanted a weekend getaway in the mountains, this amazing one-time offer complete with free yoga classes, the pained general camaraderie that comes with being a sales professional and surely guarantees a slow and painful death due to diabetes or heart failure, AND a chance to test our products AT NO COST TO YOU and OH MY GOD- this is going on Facebook the moment my three day “internet cleanse” is over.

Teaching English in Chiang Mai was not difficult, but it was exhausting. Maintaining the socially prescribed “keep it light or everybody’s gonna lose some face” countenance while wrangling a bunch of unruly kids who only really listen to things people say to them in Thai. Getting them to sit through lessons and bake things your grandmother would call tricky: “Okay, Plim, knead the pastry dough, but only a little, just until the moment the butter kind of crumbles, or else the dough will… Oh, okay then, you just go ahead and knead the shit out of it, because you’re eight, and that’s what eight-year-olds do.”

Seriously, pastry dough? That’s what Pillsbury is for. And don’t get me started on deep fry day. Hello, lawsuit! Sorry Mrs. Boonliang, we deep-fried little Pun’s hand. He’s over here, soaking it in a sweet chili sauce, and I’ve got some sesame seeds here if you need them.My respect for teachers, already sky-high, increased exponentially. Next jerk to begrudge teachers their right to job action gets a kick in the junk.

So when we were done with teaching, we decided to treat ourselves to a few days at a nice resort out of town. Tharnthong Lodges is on a huge property with gardens, a river, nice-looking cabins, and most importantly: bunnies.

They appeared to be everywhere, running free on the grounds. SOLD. The reviews on TripAdvisor were mostly positive, and the price was right. Reportedly, the internet reception was terrible, which would give me the chance for a bit of an internet detox. Prim—the proprietress—told us they were hosting a Yoga retreat for the days we had requested, but she had one room available for us. “How lovely!” I thought. An entire resort full of happy, bendy people cruising around a magical, bunny-filled garden. And us, riding the coattails of their Zen. “Maybe we’ll even get to do some Yoga!”


Prim is there to greet us the moment we step out of the cab. She’s one of these super-swanky older ladies who has had everything nipped and tucked and micro-dermabraised, but still manages to look down-to-earth. She probably drinks spirulina and virgin blood smoothies while working out in the sauna. All smiles, and really very lovely, but she makes me uncomfortable. I decide to try and give her a wide berth, which shouldn’t be a problem, since the grounds are expansive and our cabin is pretty secluded. She hustles us in with promises of mushroom and bacon omelettes, but not before introducing us to Christopher, a handsome and very friendly (Everyone’s so friendly!) American man who exclaims “OOO! The most beautiful city in the world!” When we tell him we’re from Vancouver. Well, it is. So, Okay. But we’re still not sure who Christopher is, and why we’ve been introduced. I assume he’s one of the Yogi’s or something. Then he mentions a Yoga class at 2 that afternoon.

“You should come!” he gushes, giving Zander the eye, but maintaining a slightly flirty bearing toward me as well. “It’s going to be great!”

“Okay. Maybe,” I reply, in a way that I hope sounds as non-committal as I feel. No offence, Christopher, but we’re a little bit hung over and maybe not ready to get bendy with your swishy, charismatic self just yet. He reminds us once more before we’re finished breakfast.

At 2pm, there’s a knock on the door. We’ve been dozing; Zander rushes around to find pants and opens the door to a young Thai guy with a nervous smile. “Hello! You go Yoka?” This takes us a moment to decode. “Oh! No, thanks” Zander replies, unable to keep the edge out of his voice. What is this, camp?

I’m not sure, but I think I hear Christopher’s voice right outside our cabin seconds later. “Oh no? Okay.” Maybe it wasn’t him. I imagine the class standing outside the door, waiting for us. No no no. Right? What do they care if we go?

At dinner, Sgt. Prim asks us why we didn’t attend class. “We fell asleep?” I offer, wondering why I’m feeling so guilty. It’s not like we signed up. She smiles and nods, a vein pulsing lightly in her forehead. Christopher and his entourage are gathered around a table eating tofu steaks and steamed greens, locked in venomous conversation about how terrible it is when people don’t show up for Yoga class. I am not shitting you. Zander and I–the only other people in the dining hall–sit as far away from them as possible and tell ourselves that this is all a hilarious misunderstanding. They couldn’t possibly be talking about us! When the topic switches to a venomous discussion on how disgusting super-size McDonald’s meals are, I relax a little. We have no choice but to pass them on the way out. Christopher, all nonchalant, tells us there will be a class tomorrow at eleven. Prim reminds us of the class as we leave and the next morning at breakfast.

The only other person in the dining hall at 7am is a big, affable-looking guy, who greets me enthusiastically as I come around the corner with my muesli. “How did you sleep?” he bellows, and I almost look behind me to see who he’s addressing. I assume he’s mistaken me for one of the retreat’s official participants, but I answer him back with as much gusto as I can muster. He and several other members of the group don’t really look like Yoga retreat people. These are not hippies, or even the flowy-but-urban Namaste types that Vancouver is full of. They don’t really seem to be relaxing. Everyone is brandishing an Iphone, Ipad, Iwhatever, and bitching about the reception.

“Just wait until I get back on Facebook,” I tell Zander. “This is getting a full-on blog post for sure.” The choice to write about it makes the situation suddenly seem more fun. I decide to gather some material.

“So, uh, you’re here for the Yoga thing then?” I say, articulately. “Yes!” he roars. “My wife and I are actually the representatives for the entire Saskatoon area!” Not: We’re really enjoying the peace of mind and increased flexibility Yoga provides.

“The Yoga representatives?” I stutter. Carleigh Baker, ace reporter.

“For Anti-Gravity Yoga,” he replies proudly.

Then I remember the pamphlet in our cabin. People in these Cirque De Soleil stretchy hammocks, doing yoga moves, upside down. Terrifying. And there, on the back of the pamphlet, looking like a handsome gay swan wrapped in a microfiber sausage casing, was a man named Christopher. THE Christopher, who apparently works with Broadway stars and Madonna and probably the Pope, too. Who wants everyone to try out this revolutionary new path to flexibility, enlightenment, and FUN!

So. This is the king of Anti-Gravity Yoga, and these are his sales minions. Not that this necessarily makes the gathering some kind of evil, Jonestown DRINK THE KOOL-AID hostage situation, but let’s be honest. Sales people—good ones at least—don’t usually know when to turn off the sell. So even if Zander and I are being given the opportunity for some free Yoga, we’re also going to get a free cup of coffee and the opportunity to purchase an amazing, newly-renovated timeshare condo on the pristine banks of the Anti-Gravity River. But we still have two nights left at the resort, a resort populated entirely by anti-gravity sales people, and owned by an obvious disciple. “See you in class!” Prim waves as we leave the dining hall. “Eleven o’clock!” The Muesli is already cramping in my stomach.

Back in the safety of our front porch, I broach the subject with Zander. “How much could they really be trying to sell us, really? A fancy hammock? I’ll just say I don’t have anywhere to set it up.”

“That’s the thing with these people though, they’ve got an answer for everything.” Zander shudders. He’d been sucked into a multi-level marketing seminar once, and spent an inordinate amount of time extracting himself. “I just don’t think hanging upside down for an hour and then being given a sales pitch is very relaxing.” He’s right of course, but my curiosity gets the better of me. Tell myself (stupidly) that going once will satisfy everyone. I suit up in my most yoga-friendly attire and head for the pagoda. I’m shaking a little. Maybe it’s the cappuccino.

Well, I’d love to tell you that there is some kind of baby eating ceremony or that I break my neck while swinging upside-down and am getting a massive settlement or something equally exciting, but the class is…okay! The acrobatic style certainly doesn’t provide much relaxation. And as I learn, this is also a teacher training seminar, so the girl who is leading the class has NEVER TAUGHT BEFORE. “How is your body?” She asks me, deer-in-the-headlights.

“Not good, very tight hips, and I have menstrual cramps,” I answer. I see the panic register, and she mumbles something about periods not being the best time to do Yoga. Great! Now let’s get in that harness! But there is an unsmiling older man there who seems to know what is going on, and he keeps an eye on me. The loud guy and his wife are there too, and they spot me through some of the more challenging poses. While getting into the positions is a bit of a bitch, some of the hanging and flying poses are actually fun. Really! The adrenaline kind of fun though. And doing the post-class guided meditation wrapped in a sausage casing is not as relaxing as lying on the floor with a folded blanket under your head, arms spread wide. Traditional Yoga’s got you beat there, Christopher.

After the class is over, the older man  is suddenly all smiles and asks us to sit in a circle “for just a minute.” Here it comes, the pitch. But there are at least fifteen other eager-looking Thai women in the class who look like they have baht, so I tell myself I might get off without too much hassle. But all he talks about is hormone levels and stress and the benefits of relaxation. Total soft-sell. It appears that getting people to attend the class is paramount, but the follow-up is mellow. It was pretty fun. They probably don’t have much trouble selling those bendy hammocks. People love to buy things.

I do get a bit of a follow-up high-five from Christopher later on. He wasn’t in the class, but says he heard I was a “superstar.” If only these people understood how creepy it is to hear they’ve been talking about me at all. He throws “Alexander” some shade for not going, which Z shrugs off easily. We are now resigned to the never-ending pitch that is going to be our vacation.  It’s annoyingly earnest, but that’s all. “See you in class tomorrow?” Christopher asks. A resort bunny in his lap, luxuriating in the attention.

“We’ll give you a definite maybe.”