Koh Tao, Japan and a Crazy 72 Hours

My story begins in Koh Tao, Thailand, where I vacationed for two weeks and got my open water scuba certification. What a magical place. The main part of the island is a single strip of beach with dive schools and restaurants scattered evenly. They say it’s the Mecca of learning to dive – and the cheapest place to do it – which piqued my interest. I dove every day, ate Thai food by the beach, met fellow vagabond travelers and perhaps played a little too hard…

After the last day of diving, some new friends and I decided to celebrate. There’s this thing called the Koh Tao Pub Crawl where you buy a ticket, get a matching tank top and meander with a huge group of people to the best bars in town. The most interesting of these is called the Queen’s Cabaret, a Thai Lady-Boy show. It’s honestly not a strip club, more like a transgender dance or a drag queen performance. I’ve never been to anything quite like it, I’m still a bit confused by what’s going on with their gender, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to call these women? but it was one of the most interesting experiences of my journey. They are certainly loud and proud.

It was getting late after the show and since my ferry was leaving the next morning at 6:00, I decided I would stay out all night. Poor choice Daniel. Although I never did these things when I was 21, I discovered that I am no longer 21. I didn’t drink enough to go too far past tipsy and I did manage to get about half an hour of sleep before catching a taxi to the ferry, but the next day was rough regardless. I caught the ferry+bus to Surat Thani Airport, took a plane to Bangkok, hopped on a shuttle for an hour from the domestic to the international airport, waited all day for my red eye flight to Korea, and met my friend Cory in Seoul. We chatted about the future, ate Kimbob and watched Jurassic World before I endured my final flight to Japan. I’ve done some long trips in my life but dang. Did I mentioned that I caught a mystery cold during this time and felt like crap?

I recuperated the following day in Tokyo, going in the evening to pick up my bag from a coin operated locker where I had left some things I wanted to keep safe. There I discovered that I had gone past the allotted number of days you can leave a bag in a coin operated locker, the office shuttered for the evening. Since I was leaving early the next morning to go to a work seminar in Kyushu, I wouldn’t be able to pick it up for another 5 days… Refusing to concede to this unfavorable development I changed my flight to Kyushu, visited the coin locker office early the next morning and claimed the bag.

The coin locker office guy was hilarious. He took 20 minutes to process my bag recovery, giving me a rehearsed but “I don’t actually give a crap because I only get paid $7 an hour” lecture about reading the information on the lockers. He also went through his procedures list several times to make sure he had taken out the bag correctly. I apologized profusely and left as quickly as I could, thankful that in Japan you can trust complete strangers to take care of your stuff. At this point, I realized that I needed to leave some other things in the locker that I didn’t want in Kyushu. Hanging my head in shame, I returned to the locker dude, asking him timidly if I might be able to put the same bag he had just taken out back in… He agreed to keep it safe.

My final interesting experience occurred on the way to Narita Airport. A Japanese family got on the train next to me. There were parents, a kid and what I assumed were grandparents, an aunt and a cousin, everyone speaking Japanese. Suddenly the kid starts talking perfect English. He must practice his pronunciation a lot, I thought. Then he started joking about the glasses made of grass and making fun of his aunt for not knowing the difference, which I found humorous. At that point I noticed mom’s Golden State Warrior’s shirt and her – to put it nicely – unJapanese body. They probably lived in California. Then I thought, “this kid is exactly like me – only flipped… two sides of the same coin!” Or were we? While his aunt spoke to him in Japanese, the kid in question would only reply in English, all in second grade potty humor. If he said the word toilet one more time I swear I would have slapped him. I was mortified as a kid to ever speak Japanese in front of my aunts and uncles and hope I didn’t think calling myself Mr. Toilet a thousand times was funny. Maybe that’s what growing up as the only kid that sticks out in a society of conformity does to you. In a final twist, the aunt told the kid in Japanese to cut the English potty humor because someone was sitting next to him (me) that might understand… Little did they know that their secret language was my secret language muhahahaha

That was my last 3 days. Now I’m in Kyushu at a company seminar and in Japan for a total of 10 more days. More of that in a future post.

Thailand

I came to Thailand a few days ago, mostly to get away from Japan for a while and to relax. As my previous post suggests, I was a little tired after walking the amount I did and as the Japanese would say “using my care” (気を使う) with customers for so long. I thought I would get away, do yoga, dine like a king on my favorite food and get my scuba license. Here are some thoughts and observations of my time so far.

The largest pile of Pad Thai I have ever seen at the Chiang Mai night market

The largest pile of Pad Thai I have ever seen at the Chiang Mai night market

I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but there are way more tourists here than I ever imagined. There seem to be two primary types: the long-term residents/retirees who soak up the sun, get daily massages and find Thai girlfriends (lots of old white dudes with Thai girls) and the young migrants who travel Southeast Asia for 3-6 months, party and stay at backpackers. There are a remarkable number of Americans, at least half of the people I meet. I’m not blaming them. Compared to Africa this is a ridiculously accessible place. It’s actually cheaper than Africa, it doesn’t have the stigma of disease and poverty, the food is better, the roads aren’t littered with potholes, it’s safe and it’s easy to meet people because there are so many backpackers doing exactly the same thing. I’m not surprised that people choose Southeast Asia.

Africa (at least the part I visited) does have English going for it though. For a country that relies so heavily on tourism, I am surprised at the lack of English ability. Everyone speaks a few preset phrases, but beyond that it tapers off to zero rather quickly. When I mentioned this to some German teenagers, they ridiculed me as a typical American tourist who expects the rest of the world to be like them. Now this bothered me because I think I have some credentials that distinguish me from that stereotype. I don’t expect the world to look or talk like me, I just mentioned that learning more English would only help Thailand. Even places like Japan and China with far more advanced economies understand the value of learning English.

For some reason this led me to looking up dominant world languages. English currently has 400 million native speakers vs. Mandarin’s 850 million, but English has over 2 billion non-native speakers and students, whereas Mandarin only has 1 billion. Mandarin is just too mono-cultural and hard for non-native speakers (tones and Chinese characters), which is why English, not Mandarin will continue to be the world language. This is only my opinion of course but because it’s my blog I can state it confidently as fact 🙂

Last thought, I never thought I would say this, but the young backpacker crowd is actually restoring my faith in travelers and to an extent in humanity. The ones I have hung out with completely reject and are repulsed by the sex tourism industry. They want to learn about the culture. They care about the humane treatment of elephants they ride on. Sex tourism especially is a huge issue in Thailand, but it is encouraging to know there is a strong movement against it.

But I digress. I’m enjoying Thailand but for some crazy reason Africa still holds a place in my heart. It’s now my measuring stick for comparing all other places. I’ve been in Bangkok and Chiang Mai so far, and tomorrow I fly/bus/ferry to Ko Samui where I am going to get my scuba license and check off an item from my bucket list. So excited. More stories to come from there I am sure.

Apparently I have only taken pictures of food so far! This amazing meal cost $1.20!

Apparently I have only taken pictures of food so far! This amazing meal cost $1.20!