I’m singing in a band? I’m singing in a band.

•April 3, 2010 • 5 Comments

As I mentioned earlier this week, my blogging has become less frequent for a variety of reasons, but principally, because I’m just a bit busier living life here. The western community in Kaohsiung is fairly small (relative to, say, Taipei, or Cleveland). I know it’s not the case, but it seems like almost every Westerner here knows each other; throw in the fact that we all have the same basic schedule (teaching from 1-9 or thereabouts), and what you have is a community rife with opportunity for going out, hanging out, meeting even more people, thereby further enhancing the situation. I’m not gonna lie – it’s a pretty fun existence , honestly.

But yeah, so that’s been the main reason for the unannounced hiatus. But there were others, as well. I was taking Chinese classes four hours a week in January and February, with moderate success. I can now fight my way through ordering a tea. But put me in the passive chair and have someone start talking to me, and watch my eyes grow wide and the blinking start in earnest. I’m hopeless, really, unless I’m ordering tea or boasting that I’m from America or I’m calling someone retarded. It’s a work in progress, I suppose; but if you were going to rank fluency at 100, we’d be ranking me right around one.

Also, a dear friend of mine came and visited in the second half of March, thereby nullifying any chance of blogging then. We traveled up and down Taiwan’s east coast for a week, and it was fantastic. I’ll tell you about it one day.

But the most significant thing that’s happened in my life over the last few months is this: I was randomly recruited to sing with a cover band, and we’re now actually one of the more popular live bands in Kaohsiung. It’s amazingly fun, insanely ludicrous, completely unexpected, and wholly flattering.

Now, anyone who knows me well knows that my sister is the singer of the family. She’s got the chops. She was harmonizing with the radio when she was three years old. She attended the same performing arts high school as Norah Jones and Erykah Badu in Dallas. She’s the star. Me? I’ve always considered myself to have a decent enough voice, and that’s about it. I’ve always loved to sing, though, and used to dream up scenarios where I was the lead singer of a rock band. But these dreams, as well as the fact that I enjoyed belting out a note or two, never made it out of my own head. Even in the car, I sang like Michael Bolton raps in Office Space – I’d rock it out pretty hardcore until I stopped at a light and people might stop next to me and see. I was embarrassed to sing in the car, next to complete strangers.

But then a couple years ago, I completely embraced my inner-dork and joined a… wait for it… a karaoke league. Yeah. That’s not a misprint. A karaoke league. But it was fun, and I realized that was was ok at this singing thing – at least, I was ok at singing songs with ringtone music being piped in and the lyrics bouncing along in front of me. But that little league is where I got a bit of confidence to sing in front of people.

When I moved here to Taiwan, however, singing was the last thing in my mind. I’ve done KTV here a few times – KTV is the Taiwanese version of karaoke, where you basically just karaoke in a private room with your friends – but never did I once consider the possibility of a band, or anything of that nature.

Perhaps you remember me speaking of the Canadian couple, Mike and Chelsea, that I befriended immediately when I moved Kaohsiung and stayed at 202 (the hostel). They had gotten here the day before me; Mike accompanied us when we partook in the World Games. Well, Mike’s a pretty accomplished musician – he was in a band back home, and he wrote real original songs, and they did some actual tours and stuff. He’s also played some of his solo stuff around Kaohsiung.

(Ok, honestly, can I just say, I kind of feel like a tool posting this. “Hey look at me! I’m in a band! I’m so cool!” I waited awhile to write about the band, because it’s hard to write about yourself singing in a band without coming across as completely arrogant. I hope I don’t here. It’s completely random and unexpected and surreal; but at the same time, I’m really loving every second of it. So if you’ll indulge me…)

Here’s what happened:

It was Thursday night. Thursday’s my long day (teaching little kids straight from 1:30-9:30), and after going out on Wednesday night, I was completely exhausted. But, Joe asked if I wanted to go to gambei (greatest thing about Taiwan, which I will tell you about soon – outdoor restaurants with good food cheap, and very cheap beer) after work. It sounded like heaven to me, but I only planned on being out for an hour or so. But as we were finishing up, Mike called me, and I answered. He asked what I was doing, and I told him. Then our conversation went something like this:

Mike: “So, I’ve started jamming with a cover band, and we need a singer. Would you be interested?”
Me: “Um, yeah, I think so. What kind of music?”
Mike: “Pretty much just rock – Chili Peppers, Hendrix, Cream, …”
Me: “I’m in.
Mike: “Cool. We’re playing an open mic night at Brickyard in 20 minutes. Can you be there?”
Me: “Ummm… yes?”

How did it go? Can I sing or not? Were tomatoes thrown at our heads? Find out all that and more, after the jump! Also, Gallery Goodness!

Continue reading ‘I’m singing in a band? I’m singing in a band.’

It’s a good thing I’m not paid to blog

•March 30, 2010 • 6 Comments

"Lord, grant me the strength to write more."

Perhaps you noticed that there was a little gap in there between posts recently. Like, almost two months. Uh, whoops. You have my sincerest apologies. Apparently keeping this here blog updated on a regular basis isn’t as easy as I once believed.

When I first got here, you see, it was much easier to write regularly – I didn’t have that many friends, didn’t have that much to do, and everywhere I looked there was something new or strange or wacky or mind-blowing to my little American brain that I just had to tell you all about.

Well, nearly nine (nine!) months have passed since I first arrived here in Taiwan. And, as will happen with these sorts of things, I somehow got a little life going on here. I’ve become friends with a few more people, and as such, know about more things to do at more times – and these things preclude me from sitting in front of my computer and coherently spitting out the self-serving drivel you’ve become accustomed to here.

Also – and it’s surreal to even think about this – I’m alarmingly settled in here in Kaohsiung, and I somehow seem to be accustomed to everything around me these days. All the things that seemed crazy or ridiculous or odd or cute eight or nine months ago, are perfectly normal to me now. The entire families on scooters, the singing garbage trucks, the temples everywhere, the night markets, even the Engrish (gasp!) are all just peripheral pieces of my life here at which I no longer even bat an eye.

BUT, this is a crime – a crime, I say! – to you, the dear reader. I started this blog for both of us, not just for me. People wanted to know what it was like to live in Asia, and I have failed you in this regard lately. Again, I am sorry.

I know I’ve said this before, but I vow here and now to be better at this. I’ll make time to write, and I’ll try to keep you up-to-date with things going on here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself, “Oh, I need to write about this in the blog.” And then I never do. It makes me angry at myself.

I’ve missed writing. I’m gonna hold myself to this. Now, it may only be once or twice a week, and I hope that’s ok with you. It’s better than once every two months. You dear readers deserve to see what I see, even if it’s only through my poor prose. And so, I will show it to you.

Even the singing garbage trucks.

Beaches, Christmas, Mountains, & Snake Shows: Thailand (Pt. 3)

•March 25, 2010 • 1 Comment

Let’s re-set the scene, shall we? It’s the evening of December 24th, Christmas Eve. Darkness has just settled over Bangkok, and I have just realized that, for the second time in two days, I have no money. This time, the money my mom had wired to me the day before – well, the 7000 baht I had left – has just vanished (stolen, in all likelihood). I’m about to board a bus to take a 12-hour trip to meet my friend Joe near Krabi, a nice beachy area on the western coast of the Thailand’s southern peninsula. I have 80 baht (about $2.50 US) jangling around in my pockets as I climb the stairs onto what would best be described as a luxury bus from the 80s that had been beaten down by time. I have no way to get more money, other than begging Joe (whom I barely know at this time) to help me out once I meet up with him in 12 hours.


The bus ride was long but not altogether unpleasant. After an hour or so, I stopped worrying and poking myself in the eyes and just realized that this was what had happened, and as crappy as it was, there was no way to change it. Things would work out in one way or another – Joe would be kind and able enough to lend me a few bucks for the week, or he wouldn’t be. And if he wasn’t, well, at least I’d already given some thought the day before to what kind of dress I’d look best in.

As moonlit Thai farms and villages raced past me, I leaned my head against the window, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and vowed to myself that I was done worrying about it and complaining about it. I listened to my ipod (This American Life often has a way of calming me down), I read a little bit. About 5 hours into the trip we stopped at a roadside place that specialized in selling halfway decent food to weary bus travelers at all hours. I bought a water for 40 baht, quickly shaving my meager fortune in half.

Somewhere along the road after that, I fell asleep; and the next thing I remember is waking up to sunlight warming my brow through the window. I checked my ipod – it was 8:09 am local time on December 25th. Merry Christmas, everyone! I felt weird right then, but in a good way – as I’ve said before, I love Christmas and I missed home and family and friends more at the holidays than any other time; here I was, on Christmas morning, in a strange country where I didn’t know any of the language, and I’d just lost all my money. But somehow, when I looked at my ipod, I was happy. I thought of my mom and sister and family at Christmas Eve mass (we’re 14 hours ahead over here, you see), and the Christmas Eve party that would go on back at my mom’s home, and all the goodness of Christmas Day. I missed them and all of that goodness, of course, but more than that, I was just happy for them; and I was happy for me. Because I was on an adventure; I was in freaking Thailand over Christmas! Who cares about the money? Life is what you make it.

Around 9, the bus arrived in Krabi, and I was immediately shuffled into a smaller van that would take me to Ao Nang, the beach town where Joe was presently. We made it to Ao Nang about an hour later, and I started walking around – you see, the directions he’d given me to the hotel were written down in my now-departed notebook – when I heard someone come up behind me and asked, in a high-pitched tone with unsettling bass, if I wanted a massage. I turned around to politely decline, and there was Joe. He’d found me, and thank God.

He asked how the bus trip was, and I said it was ok. And then I told him about the money situation – the ATM card fiasco, the money wire, the theft, the sweat, the panic, the rage, the tears… and then I asked if I could maybe borrow some during this trip and pay him back in Taiwan. He said of course, and that made me happy. Joe and I have since become quite good friends. And I did pay him back.

On Christmas Day, we toured around Ao Nang for a bit. We found a nice little room for 400 baht ($13 US) and headed down to the beach. It was a resort-type place, a big tourist hangout, but it never once felt overcrowded or annoying. Joe got a massage that afternoon, while I just took a nap on the beach. On Christmas day. Pretty great. Let me tell you this – beach naps are the best. If there were a award ceremony for naps, the beach nap would sweep it. You wake up refreshed, the smell of this tropical beach tickling your nose, and if you should desire a swim, well there’s the ocean, good sir. Have at it!

After that we had some dinner, played some cards, and hung out on a tiny side street lined with bars, which is apparently where all the hookers hang out, too. And said hookers are quite aggressive – we were just looking for a place to have a beer and play pool, and we were getting grabbed, groped, and solicited by just about every girl around. It’s a tad unsettling. As someone who enjoys the “thrill of the hunt,” a lot of the fun is lost when the duck casually flies into your blind, shakes your hand, puts the shotgun barrel in his mouth and your hand on the trigger. Now I’m not saying it wasn’t oddly entertaining, but I had no interest in taking these ladies up on their offers. So now you know: Nick’s not a fan of hookers. Write it down.


The next morning, Dec. 26th, we packed up our stuff, headed down to the beach, and got on a longboat headed for Railay Beach, where we intended to stay our next few days. Leading up to my trip, I had several people tell me how amazing Railay Beach was – the sand, the water, the limestone cliffs, the atmosphere. Ao Nang had been ok, but we knew there were better beaches to be enjoyed. So we hopped on the longboat and took the 15-minute trip to Railay. Here’s what my research staff (Wikipedia) was able to find on Railay:

Railay Beach (Thai: อ่าวไร่เลย์) is a small peninsula located between the city of Krabi and Ao Nang. Accessible only by boat due to the high limestone cliffs cutting off mainland access. These cliffs attract rock climbers from all over the world, but the area is also popular due to its beautiful beaches and quiet relaxing atmosphere.

On the boat trip, I started chatting up this cute Swedish girl named Elsa – turns out she was here working for six months, at a tour shop, and so she knew all sorts of places we could stay, including cheap ones. Score.

There are two main parts of Railay Beach – East and West – and only a ten-minute walk separates the two. West Railay is where the beautiful beach is, it’s where you can go kayaking, and it’s where the nicest resort is. East Railay is not nearly as pretty, but it’s where the shops and bars and most of the hotels/hostels are. Elsa told us about this place on East Railay that was an Indian restaurant in the front, but had a forest of bungalows in the back, for cheap. We said that sounded good. So she led us there, left to go to work, and Joe and I checked it out.

We walked up a mountain of stairs and stepped onto a flat plain of slate – on either side of us were short tables with pillows all around them (the seating for the Indian restaurant), and in front of us was a tall reception desk. We asked the guy if there were bungalows available, and he said of course. 500 baht a night together – about $8 US apiece.

Our bungalow was resplendent in its simplicity – one 12’x10′ room with two mattresses on the floor and one little wicker bookcase; and behind that, one wide bathroom with a sink, a toilet, and a shower nozzle. And outside, on the front porch, was the prized jewel: a big, lovely, red hammock, with an amazing view either way you sat. I could not have been happier.

We spent the next four days relaxing, swimming, reading, kayaking, playing cards, eating delicious food, and enjoying everything else Railay beach had to offer. The beach itself was amazing – off-white sand that was finer than any I’ve ever seen or felt before, and the water was radiant blue and crystal clear. It seemed that no matter how far out you went, you could always see the bottom. Having grown up sloshing in the dark and dirty waters of the Gulf of Mexico, this place left me in awe.

After the jump, witness the glory, as Joe and I conquer a mountain and dance with snakes! (Not really, but there are snakes.). Also, a wondrous gallery of Thai fun! Join us, won’t you?

Continue reading ‘Beaches, Christmas, Mountains, & Snake Shows: Thailand (Pt. 3)’

Engrish / Chinese Insanity #8 – A Shirt for the Ages

•February 2, 2010 • 2 Comments

Asia in general is known for its… amusing… ways of translating things into English. Store names, product slogans, t-shirts… you name it. I’ve been trying to document all the “Engrish” I’ve seen in Taiwan for my own amusement, but it occurs to me that you, the good strong reader, might want to be amused as well. And so this is a semi-regular installment here on Nick in Asia – not to poke fun, mind you, but belly laughing a few times is always good for the soul.

"My grandson is an idiot."

This particular piece of Engrish was not spotted by yours truly. In fact, it wasn’t even spotted in Taiwan. It was captured in Japan by the eagle eyes of my dear relative Gary. (I’m not sure what I should call him exactly – he’s my dad’s cousin’s husband.. third cousin? second cousin twice removed? Baldie? I don’t know these things… Holy crap, I just went here, and my head started to shake violently and my brain began to liquify. Anyway, you get the idea. Gary and I are kinda related.)

Gary and my dad’s cousin Marcia have been living in Yokohama, Japan, for the last few years. Gary sporadically keeps quite the interesting blog about his experiences over there, too. Since I’ve been here in Taiwan, we’ve exchanged some stories back and forth regarding the Asian cultures all around us. Some are educational, some are amusing. But yesterday, Gary went and passed something so wonderful along to me that it would be wrong of me NOT to share it with you.

What you will see today is but a simple shirt – a shirt with such a confusing mess of Engrish across its front, I can’t make heads or tails of the message it’s trying to convey. The ironies of life? The value in rebellion? The deliciousness of blueberry pancakes? Or is it simply a rumination on throwing your own poop off of your apartment in New York?

Here’s what we’re gonna do. After the jump, you can see this wondrous shirt. I will provide a transcript of the words. And then, in the comments, I want you to give it your best shot – what is the deep, soulful message this shirt yearns to pass on to us? Tell me, dear readers! Tell the world! Best caption wins something!

Continue reading ‘Engrish / Chinese Insanity #8 – A Shirt for the Ages’

Palaces, Boat Tours, & Theivery! Thailand (Pt. 2)

•January 27, 2010 • 2 Comments

After a decidedly up-and-down Day 1 in Bangkok, I was ready for a more traditional Day 2, with fewer possibilities of human slavery and more smiles. It was Christmas Eve, so I guess “traditional” may have been the wrong word to use there – I was in Thailand, alone, wearing shorts and soon to board a bus for the beach. Not very Christmas-y at all. But still, I was quite happy and quite excited to continue the rest of my trip without incident. (Oops!)

I woke up around 10 and made my way downstairs to Rambuttree. About 30 yards down the road was a little outdoor restaurant. I took up residence at one of the tables and ordered me some breakfast and coffee.

Oh, Thailand – your food was so amazing, and for so many reasons. The fare itself is wonderful. And it’s everywhere. And it’s cheap. No matter where I was, it seemed I could walk up and down the road and see little food stands and restaurants everywhere, cooking up fresh Thai food, frying up Thai pancakes, blending fresh fruit shakes. There was also an abundance of Western food wherever I was – way more than in Taiwan – and that’s always a welcomed blessing. Plus, the food was very, very, reasonably priced. I’m sure there are expensive restaurants to be found, but there was so much cheap, fresh goodness all around us, we never needed worry about it. My breakfast that second morning – which consisted of eggs, ham, toast, potatoes, muesli and yogurt, and coffee, came to about $3 US. Simply fantastic.

My plan for the day was simple – drop off my bag at the tourist shop where I’d booked my bus ticket down to Krabi, then go check out the Grand Palace, then maybe a boat tour, then grab some dinner, make my way back to the tourist shop and board the bus at 6 pm.

As I got ready to head to the Grand Palace, I remembered that visitors aren’t allowed to wear shorts or sandals there, out of respect to the king or something-or-other. I needed to change out of my shorts, but this left me with a conundrum – I had all of my extra money that my mom and sister had wired me the day before in a hidden little pocket in my shorts. I would have to put my shorts in my pack, which I was going to then be leaving unattended with strangers in Bangkok – did I really want all my money in there? I decided that no, I did not, and so I took the 7000 baht I had left and stuck it into my little black notebook that I carry around in my right front pocket at all times (foreshaaaadowiiiing…). Satisfied with myself, I walked over to the tourist shop, dropped my bag off, and headed out for the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace is a magnificent, ornate complex of gold towers, bejeweled buildings, beautiful wall murals, and other impressive structures, all sitting on a wide tract of perfectly manicured land. I was told by several folks that I needed to see it while I was in Bangkok, and so I obliged. It was indeed stunning and beautiful, and you can see more pictures in the gallery below. (The chillin’ buddha from Pt. 1 was at the Grand Palace.) But as far as important information and details regarding the Grand Palace, I won’t pretend to know too much about it. I’m downright ign’ant. Here, let’s see what my research staff can drag up:

Built in 1782 – and for 150 years the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government – the Grand Palace of Bangkok … continues to have visitors in awe with its beautiful architecture and intricate detail, all of which is a proud salute to the creativity and craftsmanship of Thai people. Within its walls were also the Thai war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.

From there, I walked along a few roads, exploring a couple street markets, where I saw everything for sale, from shoes to rocks to peanuts to dentures (seriously). Along the way I came across one of the saddest things I saw on my trip. A little dirt-faced girl pulling along an old blind man on a string as he played a little coconut string-instrument. In her hand, the girl held a tin cup to accept donations. Nothing too exciting or too terrible, but it yanked my heartstrings pretty hard nonetheless.

I walked along the Chao Phraya river until I got to the place where Joe told me I could buy a boat tour ticket for 18 baht. I did, and it was excellent. Again, nothing too exciting or surreal, but it was neat to float along this great river and witness another town with a completely different look and feel from anything back home. We went up a few miles, then turned around and came back. It was beautiful, in a tropical, natural, poor yet proud kind of way. I found myself riveted by all of the dilapidated houses and businesses along one side of the river on the way back. I took way too many pictures of them all.

When that was all finished, it was nearly sunset and time to wind down the day. I walked back to Rambuttree, ate some excellent sweet-and-sour pork (for about $1), and headed to an Internet cafe to get the exact directions to where I was to meet Joe after the 12-hour bus ride to Krabi. I took out my little black notepad and jotted them down. I emailed a few people and then headed out to the tourist shop, where the bus was picking us up at 6. On my way there, I headed to the 7-11 on Khao San to stock up on munitions for this epic bus journey. And then, at 5:45, I walked into the tourist shop. I chatted with a few of the other people who were there waiting for the bus. At about five to 6, the workers told us to grab our bags and head to the bus. It was at that moment that I noticed my front right pocket was a little light. Empty, in fact, save for about 20 baht.

My notebook!! It wasn’t in my right front pocket!! Where was it??? And more importantly, where was the 7000 baht it contained?? I checked every other pocket in my jeans. Not there! Looked in my bag from 7-11. Nothing but water and peanuts and chips and aaarrrrgggghhhhhhh!!! Where in the name of all that’s holy was my notebook?! I was immediately in panic mode. I looked all around. It wasn’t anywhere! Christ! I used it back at the Internet cafe!! I dug into that pocket for change at 7-11!! Did I leave it at one of those places??? I hastily told the workers at the tourist shop that I’d left something very important back on Rambuttree, and they said I had enough time to go back and get it.

Now, I’m not in what one might consider “good” shape, but I tell you, I bolted out of that place and sprinted the half mile or so all the way to the Internet cafe on Rambuttree. I went back to the computer I was at – no one was there, but neither was my notebook. Anywhere. I asked the people working there if they’d seen a little black notebook. Their English poor, one of them casually walked over to a stack of magazines, picked one up, and handed it to me. As if I’d sprinted half a mile to their humble cafe because I so yearned to read last May’s Golf World. I tried to clarify, and after a couple minutes, I think they had the general idea of what I meant, but one of two things was clear: either they had definitely not seen my black notebook or anything like it, or they were tremendously skilled in the art of team lying. Being Thai, I wouldn’t put it past them, but I had no time and no choice but to believe them.

After the jump: Discover if I find the money, see a fantastic gallery of Bangkok during the day, and figure out what all of this has to do with Arrested Development and Charlie Brown

Continue reading ‘Palaces, Boat Tours, & Theivery! Thailand (Pt. 2)’

See ALL my Thailand photos!

•January 21, 2010 • 4 Comments

This is but a simple public service announcement, dear readers. I have been peppered with questions over the last few days, asking where one can see all of my Thailand pictures. Well, it just so happens that you can see them all on my Flickr page. It’s free and easy, just like those Thai girls. Hey-oh! (No, that’s not true. Well actually, I have no way of knowing this. The women of Thailand were nothing but nice to me, but I am neither insinuating nor endorsing any level of whorishness or bargain-basement priceyness.)

Anyway, I went and set myself up a Flickr account. My goal is to upload any travel pictures and videos to said account; and maybe some day, put up a bunch of my Taiwan pictures, as well. A man can dream. For now, please enjoy my Thailand collection. You can see larger photos if you choose the “Slideshow” option. I highly recommend this.

Now, despite my monetary difficulties, I will tell you that Thailand was amazing, and except for those couple of nervous moments, I absolutely loved every second of it. It was spectacularly gorgeous, and I tried to capture as much of that as I could.

Peruse at your own leisure, and feel free to leave your feedback, good or bad. Bad feedback will be deleted immediately and mentally repressed. I hope this is ok with you.

More tales of Thailand are coming soon. For now, click here for the photos…

Cockroaches, Whiskey Buckets, & Getting Broke: Thailand (Pt. 1)

•January 19, 2010 • 4 Comments

Ok ok, I realize we’re now more than halfway through January. Don’t get your underwear in a knot – this will (probably) be the last Christmas-related post I put up here. At least until next holiday season.

I also realize that my Thailand adventure concluded more than two weeks ago. I would have written about it sooner, but what with the backlog of other stuff I wanted to get to, and with work always getting in the way, we’re just now getting around to it. I hope that’s ok with you, dear readers.

Anyway, as most of you know, I set out for Thailand on Dec. 22nd. I was to spend a couple days in Bangkok, getting a teensie flavor of this town that has quite the worldwide reputation for beauty and sleaze wrapped into one. Of course, I lived and worked for seven years in the belly of a town with a similar reputation. But I’ll just say it now – New Orleans is like the JV to Bangkok’s varsity squad. Bangkok’s so much bigger, so much stranger and seedier, and I was only there two nights. I won’t go into graphic details, but I will say this – the muffalettas and oysters are replaced with cockroaches and scorpions, and you don’t have the option in New Orleans of seeing a ping-pong show or other coital acts on stage (I didn’t partake in those in Bangkok, btw – there would just be something strange and a little creepy about going to one of those shows by myself ).

This post could be super long, or not, so we’ll just see how it goes… knowing me, I’ll talk too much and it will turn into a two-parter. I hope that’s ok.

After Bangkok, I took a very long bus ride down to a town in the south of Thailand called Krabi, where I met up with my buddy Joe. We spent the next few days on beautiful beaches in this area enjoying every single minute of sunny, relaxing goodness. But we’ll get to all that later. For now, let’s focus on my two days in Bangkok, and how exactly I found myself completely broke not once, but twice, in the span of those days.

My flight out of Taipei was delayed – only three hours, so nothing ridiculous, but instead of landing in Bangkok at 10 pm local time, we arrived around 1 am. Needless to say, I was a bit more tired than I had planned on being once I finally passed through customs and got into my cab to take me into the city. Joe had actually stayed in Bangkok the two nights before I got there, and had already made his way down to Krabi. But he’d been nice enough to book a room for me at the place where he’d stayed; this proved quite wonderful, as I was in no mood to try to find a room in this strange, unknown city at 3 in the morning.

I drowsily watched the outskirts of Bangkok zip by, and after about 45 minutes, the cabbie dropped me off at a busy corner bustling with drunk people. “Khao San Road,” he said. I thanked him, paid, got out, and slung my pack over my shoulders. Khao San Road is the main road where backpackers stay and party in Bangkok. There are bars, clubs, ladyboys, prostitutes, and shops all up and down Khao San. It reminded me a lot of Bourbon St., actually. It’s like the Thai, backpacker version of Bourbon. I felt right at home.

My hotel was around the corner from Khao San, and I found it quickly. After some difficulty with the front desk guy, I managed to finally convince him that I was the person who had requested room 406, so it was, in fact, not occupied, because I was its occupant. I went upstairs, dropped my pack in my room, grabbed a couple hundred baht, and set out to get a few beers and enjoy the atmosphere.

Now, here’s where we get to an important detail. I didn’t bring a lot of money with me on the plane. I could have, but I figured I didn’t want to travel with a whole bunch of cash on me. I have an ATM card from my Taiwanese bank account that (in theory) works overseas, so I figured the easiest thing to do would be to just withdraw money in Thailand as I needed. Oops.

So when I dropped my pack and headed downstairs, about 800 baht (roughly $25 US) was all the cash I had. I enjoyed a couple beers that night, had a bit of breakfast in the morning, and then headed to a nearby road called Rambuttree to start my day, refreshed and excited. Decidedly low on cash, I went to the ATM. And that’s where the fun started.

Coulda been me...

There are two pin numbers that my ATM card has – a 4-digit pin for ATMs in Taiwan, and a 6-digit pin for ATMs in other countries. That morning, I did realize that I was not in Taiwan, and I entered my 6-digit pin and the amount of money I wanted to withdraw. The ATM promptly spit my card out and told me “Incomplete data.” I had no idea what that meant, but I was sure that whatever data this machine needed was indeed complete. So I put my card back in and went through the process again. Again, my card was fired back out at me, and I was told that the “data” was “incomplete.” Now I was starting to worry. I walked along Rambuttree and found another ATM. Again, “Incomplete data.”

It was at this point that I was punched in the stomach by a combination of panic and dumbfoundedness. Was there something wrong with my card? Was there something wrong with me? With the ATM? I started to question myself and wonder if perhaps I had the number wrong. I went to another ATM and punched in a different number, and I got the same message. And then once more. Now I was in severe panic mode. And severe pissed mode. I had no way of getting any money. My bank back home in America had accidentally canceled my check card, and my credit card company had mistakenly revoked my abilities to use my credit card outside the US. (I have excellent luck.) I did not get these things fixed before I left for Thailand. Looking back on it, that was a bit of an oversight. Now what was I to do?

I found an Internet cafe. It was 20 baht per hour, and I had 60 baht left. I got online, posted a desperate Facebook status message, and then got on Skype. Miraculously, my beloved sister was online back home, and we chatted for awhile. I relayed to her my plight. She said maybe she and my sainted mother could wire me some money. I told her to look into it, but that I was going to try to get ahold of my bank.

Of course, no one at my bank speaks English. So I called Cynthia, the head of the Chinese staff at my school, and told her the situation. She called the bank. I called her back 20 minutes later, and she said that they had locked my card, because someone had been trying to use it in Thailand. Great. She then told me that the situation couldn’t be remedied until I talked to my bank, in person, face-to-face.

My chest cavity nearly imploded right then and there. Visions of human slavery, of drug trafficking, of prostitution raced through my head. Perhaps I’d be forced into all three if the cards fell just so. Would I have to wear a dress? Would I have a choice? No, no dresses. I would refuse. But what if it was the only way to survive? Ok, fine, one dress, but it would have to be to my liking and not too tight, something that might bring out my eyes…

Continue reading ‘Cockroaches, Whiskey Buckets, & Getting Broke: Thailand (Pt. 1)’