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Thailand – Part 1 March 30, 2010

Posted by jorkat in Koh Phangan, Koh Samui.

After scrambling to reach our connecting flight in Bangkok on time, we arrived at our initial destination of Koh Samui. Aside from that, the only real stress we had to deal with all day was trying not to spill our beers (yes, plural) in the warm refreshing water.

Koh Samui is the largest island in Thailand. Formerly, a backpackers haven before becoming very commercialized.  It still has some of the nicest beaches and an eclectic mix of tourists and locals.

We started off our trip with Darren and Kirsten who had their respective brothers from back home along with them. This was Darren’s fourth trip to Samui as he met his girlfriend here the first time he visited.  He has taken every opportunity to go back and see her. This obviously worked out well for us as Darren was familiar with the territory and having Waan (his girlfriend) with us was an ever greater asset. Everything was a little bit cheaper and we didn’t have to deal with any language barriers or locals taking advantage of tourists. Waan is 5 foot nothing and less than 100 pounds but nobody messes with us when she steps forward. I told Darren the other night that it would be ideal if he had a girlfriend in every country we were visiting to make our lives a little easier, and the experience more authentic. He liked the idea and said he would get back to me.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for was being around so many caucasian’s again. There are tons of tourists here and for the most part, they are of European decent, which means two things. Lots of speedo’s, and no longer being able to openly comment about other people as they might be able to understand English. We took this for granted in Korea and most parts of Asia. If some old guy with a funny hat was staring at us on the subway in Seoul, I could turn to Katie and say aloud “I’m having a staring contest with that fossil in the stupid hat”, and he would be none the wiser. Now, I have to whisper when some guy in a thong walks by on the beach, “Psst…did you see that guys balls?”

As expected, everything is cheap. Dinner for seven on the beach was less than $100 CAD including copious amounts of beer. The only downside to everything being so affordable is that you don’t think twice when buying something. Imagine the dilemma I faced when I ordered my first vodka-Red Bull and was asked “glass or bucket?” This was the easiest and worst decision I made on Day 1.

I’m also pleased to announce that Thai women have easily jumped to number two in my hottest women of Asia standings, trailing only the Koreans. I knew they were going to be a contender, and it’s still early so they could still supplant the Koreans for top spot. But I wanted to see them in person and spend some more time here before passing final judgment. As you can see, I take these ratings very seriously.

Highlights from Day 2 in Samui included $8 massages, lying down, and three Heineken’s for under $5. On our last night in Samui we went to one of their famous Cabaret shows. Darren had attended the same show on a previous visit and hadn’t stopped talking about one of the performers. Commonly referred to as “Lady-Boys”, Webster’s dictionary defines them as…well, they aren’t actually in the dictionary but if you can’t figure out what they are from the name, this picture should help.

Below is Darren’s favorite and may or may not be mine as well. I wrote this sentence at least four different ways before settling on that one and immediately had a cold shower. Just three guys out for a night on the town.

Check out the meat-hooks on that chick…er, dude…um, let’s just move on.

There was a variety of beaches we wanted to visit in Samui, so on Waan’s recommendation we decided to rent a small jeep instead of taking cabs everywhere. Being the only one who could drive standard, I volunteered to drive a vehicle for the first time in over a year. This might not seem like a big deal until you realize that the wheel is on the other side and therefore I would be shifting with my wrong hand. No problem, I was up for the challenge and looking forward to having the lives of 5 other people on board in my hands. Oh yeah, they also drive on the left side of the road and have no such thing as street signs, lanes, or what I like to call “rules”. It’s a freaking free-for-all with scooters buzzing all around and passing you on both sides while oncoming cars veer into your lane to pass cars and scooters in their way. A little intimidating at first, but once I got the hang of it, I was in heaven. Not sure if my passengers shared the same sentiment.

As one would expect when renting a car, I brought my driver’s license with me to the rental place in order for them to process the paperwork and give them piece of mind that I was a licensed driver in another country. The license never left my pocket, but they did show me how to use the air conditioning.

Here are some pictures from the other beaches we visited including Crystal Bay and Lamai. The Mojito’s at Lamai were staggeringly delicious.

As planned, we spent three nights in Koh Samui before taking a ferry to the island of Koh Phangan for a couple of days. Darren, Waan and his brother Kevin joined us for this leg of the trip while Kirsten and her brother, Nils headed for a separate island, Koh Tao.

Koh Phangan is a much smaller island than Koh Samui and has a much more laid back atmosphere. We stayed in a small rustic bungalow right on a small beach. The beach wasn’t as nice as we had hoped but we were able to visit the other nearby beaches and spend some time with Darren, Kevin, and Waan who were staying on the much nicer, Haad Yao Beach.

I wasn’t petrified enough from driving a jeep in Samui so we decided to rent a scooter in Koh Phangan. My experience on motorized vehicles outside of cars is limited and when I say limited, I mean none, zero, nada. Fortunately, they have an extensive training program that involves me giving them money and them handing me the keys. After a few minor hiccups, I managed to get the hang of it.

Much like the Thai women, I’ve quickly become a huge fan of the Thai cuisine. My past exposure hadn’t been much aside from the occasional fast food and homemade Pad Thai, so I was anxious to venture outside my comfort zone and add some new dishes to my repertoire. After playing it safe on this first morning and ordering a western breakfast and immediately regretting it after seeing Darren’s Pad Thai Goong (prawn), I vowed that it was going to be nothing but Thai for every meal henceforth.  It was a decision I would not regret.

Back in Korea, I remember asking my kids what kind of food they had for breakfast. After receiving mostly blank stares I managed to coax some answers out of them and the responses were surprising, at the time. They ate the same types of food for breakfast as they would for lunch and dinner. This struck me as odd at first until I thought about it some more and discussed with others. It seems as though westerners are the only people/species on the planet that have a more defined type of cuisine for one meal that differs from the other two meals of the day. Think about it. Do you think Lions have second thoughts before hunting a gazelle because it’s more of a breakfast food? Anyway, my point is that I was all over eating almost any type of Thai food regardless of the meal or time of day. Now, I won’t be eating filet mignon for breakfast any time soon, but I think this is also a testament to overall quality of Thai food as I now consider it #2 in my international cuisine rankings behind only the Italians.

Yes, it was quite a week for Thailand. Both the women and food have emerged from nowhere to #2 status in my prestigious “Hottest Women of Asia” and “World Cuisine” rankings. I will not confirm nor deny if an actual spreadsheet exists.

Now I know what most of you are thinking. How come we haven’t heard any stories about Jordan racing? Has he retired? Is he out of shape?

Well I’m pleased to report that I am grossly out of shape but I haven’t officially retired from competitive drunk white dude racing. I don’t know when it started but in the past few years, I’ve developed an affinity for racing people on foot when I have had a couple drinks in me. It got to the point where I was challenging complete strangers in bars when none of our friends would oblige. Fortunately, I’ve been able to reign in my obsession and focus on finding worthy opponents to challenge under the right circumstances.

Ever since Darren crushed my spirits at 3am on the streets of Seoul back in late 2009, I’ve been dying for a rematch.

With his brother now visiting, I knew this would be a prime opportunity to instigate a little sibling rivalry and make fools of ourselves in public. The trash talk reached epic levels over our first few days, but as time progressed I became worried that it was all talk and that no one would actually take action. Finally, on our last night together in Koh Phangan, with a long stretch of empty beach sitting right in front of us, I challenged Kevin to a duel. Darren was reluctant to participate at first, partially because I think he was afraid of losing his crown and partially because he thought we’d look like idiots in front of his Thai girlfriend. Both were valid points. However, once he saw by how little Kevin defeated me in the first heat, he immediately wanted in on the action.

Darren won the first race comfortably, but kudos to Kevin for his effort at the finish line. There was some debate over the grade of the beach and which lane had the advantage so we did the race again and had them switch lanes. At this point, I had completely lost interest in racing myself and was now fully invested in inciting a brotherly brawl.

Kevin ended up winning the second race by a considerable margin and it was on. The much younger and mouthier Kevin was now brimming with confidence and thought he could beat Darren in the slower lane. In a shocking upset that could be heard up and down Haad Yao beach, Kevin emerged victorious in the rubber match, much to Darren’s and my chagrin as I had been backing him for days.

Some would say that Kevin was the big winner that night, and he probably was, until he got back to his room and realized he would be sleeping alone in his little single bed. Congratulations to both brothers on a fine showing and for both demonstrating nothing but class in victory and defeat. I’m still convinced, as is Darren that he would win on a proper asphalt track with running shoes.

On our last night in Koh Phangan, Katie and I came to back to our bungalow after spending the day at Haad Yao and watched the sunset on our beach. We then enjoyed a nice quiet dinner and caught up on email before packing for an early morning departure back to Koh Samui en route to Bangkok.

I haven’t made as much of an effort as I typically have in other countries to learn at least some of the language, mostly because Thai is just so damn hard. We’ve also been spoiled having Waan to translate everything and help us with our pronunciations. The following video captures an impromptu Thai lesson at dinner one night including the only sentence I learned, “chow fart pad fuk” which means “I eat green pumpkins in the morning”.

Stay tuned for Thailand – Part 2 which will feature our 24 hour experience in Bangkok.

Saying Goodbye March 4, 2010

Posted by jorkat in Seoul.

Back on New Year’s Eve 2007, Katie and I stood in a friends kitchen a few minutes before the stroke of midnight. As the clock turned to 2008 I told Katie that we should go for it. We should uproot our lives, sell everything and live abroad for all of 2009. After Katie finished accusing me of being drunk and slurring nonsense, I managed to convince her that I was serious and agreed to revist the topic in the morning (read: afternoon). From that moment on, we started planning for this journey and made good on our goal to move our lives overseas.

Katie had actually been wanting to do this for years. Ever since we started living vicariously through the Mulloskey blog and discussing their adventures almost nightly over dinner. After months of internal debate, I started to give it serious thought and decided this was the best time in our lives to do this.

Back in December 2007 a few days before my fateful proclamation on NYE, I had gone for lunch and beers with a close friend. We both acknowledged that we were comfortable with the direction our lives were headed, but that we wanted more. We both wanted to see more of the world and were prepared to make major changes to make it happen. We had different motivations and knew that sacrifices would have to be made, but the calling to do some different and drastic was too strong. I will never forget that day, but mostly because it’s the same day that I bought a sick Tom Brady jersey at a boxing day sale.

From my perspective, I wanted to do this for a number of reasons. As I mentioned in the inaugural post on this blog almost of year ago to this day, I wanted to embark on this journey as a tribute to my brother who always wanted to travel the world in search of knowledge and enlightenment. I also wanted the ultimate bonding experience with my wife. If we can handle living and traveling in a foreign land, after everything we’ve overcome in our personal lives, our marriage would be stronger than ever. We were both young enough to still be bold, adventurous and in my case, somewhat reckless. But we were also old enough to appreciate how lucky we are to have this opportunity to travel together. To realize what a gift something as simple as the English language can be and the places it can take you. To experience and appreciate the freedom of not being tied down by a mortgage or lease payments, or children. To live frugally and not even have a cell phone. Holy $hit I miss my blackberry.

Saying goodbye to our kids and Korea has been easier than expected. Mostly because we’re now on vacation for the next 3 months and we’ll be visiting 15 different countries across Asia and Europe. But also because we were able to establish contact with some of the parents and will hopefully be able to maintain communication as our kids grow older. I’ve already exchanged emails with one of my favorite students’ mother and had a nice conversation with her father on the last day of class. He was grateful for the impact I’ve had on her life and would make best efforts to remain in touch through the years. I hope one day we can visit Korea again, or even better, they visit Canada and I can see what kind of person Jessica has become.

Here’s a picture taken from the first day of class…

…and one from our last day of class together.

Another aspect of Korea we will miss and have been meaning to write about since our arrival is something called “Matchy-matchy”. Korean couples love to buy matching outfits and wear them in public as a display of their devotion to one another. It’s not just matching shirts either. Just like everything else, when Koreans do something, they go balls out. We’re talking hats, socks, underwear, pants, jackets. You name the item and I’m pretty sure you can buy a “couple-set”.

Add matchy-matchy to the list of things I will miss about Korea. While we’re here, why don’t we take a quick look at some of the other things we’ll miss about Korea and looking forward to when we get home.

Things I will miss: No sales tax. No tipping. Drinking anywhere. No last call. Cheap baseball. Everything always being open. $5 haircuts in complete silence. $2 beers. Waking up at 8:40am and arriving at work by 9:20am. Airports and public transport in Asia. Being a minor celebrity and stared at in public. $25 dinners for two. Yelling at waiters and not being considered rude or ringing a bell to get their attention. Sour cream. Mart drinking. Having food on your table as soon as sit down in a restaurant. Not having a cell phone.

Things I’m looking forward to back home: Filet mignon on the BBQ. Hearing people call it a BBQ instead of a grill. The cottage. Cheap golf. Our bed. Family and friends. HNIC on Saturday night instead of Sunday morning. Not being stared at in public. Football all day Sunday instead of 7am on Monday. A dryer. Fresh towels from the dryer. Larger napkins. Urinals that flush when I’m done. Driving a car. Golfing. Playing hockey. My blackberry. Being back in the country with the most gold medals and best hockey players in the world.

Speaking of the Olympics, I’ve been thinking about these games and who would be on the hockey team since it was announced that Vancouver would be getting the games back in 2003. I made a pact with my friend Josh that we would attend the Gold Medal game no matter what, but with him in Europe and us in Asia, it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe we can push back the pact for the Gold Medal game to Sochi 2014. When weighing the pros and cons of coming to live in Asia, not going to Vancouver for the Olympics was a major con. In retrospect I don’t regret the decision whatsoever as we now have our own unique story of where we were when Crosby scored the golden goal.

Here is some video from inside Canada Hockey Place by a friend of mine who intentionally scheduled a stop over in Vancouver, en route to Montreal from Hong Kong in case Canada made the final. When everything fell into place he was also fortunate enough to have a client with an extra ticket for him. I hate him.

This first one is from the pre-game when Canada first comes on to the ice.

This one is from shortly after the first goal by Toews to make it 1-0 Canada.

It was also pretty cool being in a foreign country when the Olympics are being held, not to mention when they’re in your native land. Anytime we tell someone that we’re from Canada now, their immediate response is “Vancouver?” For anyone who paid close attention to the games, Korea actually fared quite nicely. They finished 7th in overall medals and 5th in gold medals awarded. They are a short track juggernaut, but they also garnered some attention on the world stage thanks to their new national hero – Kim, Yu-Na.

I haven’t been this into figure skating in my life, nor will I likely ever be again, but the entire country shut down for her short program and free skates and she didn’t disappoint. She makes more money from endorsements than any other Korean in history and that number is likely to increase from the rumored $8 million per year she was making prior to the Olympics. Her face is everywhere and rightfully so. She skated perfectly in both programs with the weight of a very proud country on her shoulders. You could tell that the moment that her record-setting performance was over, the sense of relief that overcame her. Not bad for a 19-year old.

Every hockey game that Canada played was by far my highlight of the Olympics. But Kim, Yu-Na and Joannie Rochette’s performances weren’t as far behind as you would think.

I’ll leave everyone with one final video that was taken just a couple weeks ago. I think it’s a fitting way to say goodbye to Korea and acknowledge how much fun we had here. This exhibit was set-up as a promotion for Korea’s bid for Seoul to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. We ran right into it on our way to dinner and Mullin and I didn’t think twice about stopping to give it a whirl.

The sound of the goalie almost being decapitated attracted quite a crowd. They told me not to shoot so hard or raise the puck. Mullin never got a chance to try as they immediately shut down the exhibit.

Thanks for the memories Korea. This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later.