Monday, February 24, 2014

Everyone loves Thailand

This month I went to Thailand.
Thong Nai Pan Yai
The rumours were true. All winter long I heard about Thailand from the other teachers who had gone during Spring Festival in previous years, a tradition at our school. I heard about gorgeous beaches, fun nightlife, and amazing food (including the best hamburger in Asia). It was all true.

We went for two weeks and apart from one night in Bangkok, spent our time on Koh Phangan. This adorable little island isn't the most popular, developed, or expensive of the bunch, so it offers plenty of beautiful scenery and opportunities to chill out. The island is famous for the Full Moon Parties it hosts, and while we weren't there during a full moon, we were just in time to catch a Black Moon Party. It still offers the same body paint and peeing in the ocean experience, but with no moon. Fantastic night!

Here's my highlights from the trip:
1. Night swimming at Yai beach
Shortly after sunset
When heading into the water after midnight here, I was met with the most incredible surprise: glowing plankton! I found out later it's called phytoplankton (check out some amazing photos). With the stars twinkling above, and the water glowing around us, it was absolutely magical. I also may have been naked; apparently that's the best way to enjoy glowing plankton.

2. Scooting around Koh Phangan
Once you drop off your bag at the hotel, scooting is easily the best way to get around the island. It also happens to be the most fun. It also happens to one of the most dangerous activities Thailand offers (see here). So that's fun! But forget the danger and just focus on how those scooters can really move (over 75 km/h), there's tons of hills to bomb, and renting a scooter happens to be cheaper than taking a taxi in most cases! And yes, the optional helmet comes free with the rental.
Scooter rules: 1) Safety first and 2) show plenty of leg.
Photo by Matt B.
3. Muay Thai
Oh goodness, the muay thai fights. I went to two evenings of fighting and really enjoyed them. We saw plenty of exciting action, and some breathtaking knockouts. Competitors were as young as 12 years old (and were downright ferocious, making it the first time I've ever feared a tiny preteen), to the more seasoned mid-thirties (one with over 300 fights on his record). Hopefully the health care on a Thai island is alright, because some of these guys went to sleep in a BIG way.
They're just kids!
I really only had one problem with Thailand. Known for its natural beauty and carefree atmosphere, Thailand attracts every piece of Euro-trash that happens to set foot inside Asia. If you love house music and are currently wearing a backpack, then chances are you'll wash up on a Thai beach at some point in your life. Come on white people, don't ruin it for the rest of us.

Friday, February 14, 2014

It's a Lovers' Day Spectacular

Today I experienced Valentine's Day in China.

Over here it's called Lovers' Day, and this year it coincides with the Chinese Lantern Festival, which marks the end of Spring Festival. I'm not saying that China has perfected love, and who knows, perhaps there are a few marriages based solely on class, but I will say that China does V-Day better.
Taken at Century Square
All day long the city has sounded like Pearl Harbour under attack. And I really mean all day... I was woken up at 8 AM this morning by the bangs and pows. It's after 11 PM now, and the booms are still ging strong. Everyone and their only-born child has been lighting fireworks, or the machine gun sounding strings of firecrackers, and it reached a climax this evening. The sidewalks were full of people, the food carts were out, and there were plenty of treats and heart-shaped balloons to buy. Best of all, there is constantly something going on to look at. Everywhere you look, fireworks are exploding. People were also releasing Chinese lanterns, which are basically hot-air balloons made up of a flame and some highly-flammable paper that together float majestically to the heavens. The air was bright and smokey, ringing with explosions echoing through the city.
Be careful there sir!
In this environment, everyone was free to explore and enjoy the sights (and devastating sounds). Groups of friends, families, and couples of all ages were out to set off sparklers and snap, crackle, and pop the evening away. I find that often Valentine's Day can feel forced and fake, but this atmosphere seemed to create genuine happiness. And really, how can you not be happy when you're a nine year old setting off fireworks so loud that all the car alarms nearby start up too?

Happy Chinese Lantern Festival, Lovers' Day, and Valentine's Day. Just have a good day.