The Dead Space

 Daily Lief, Football, Life in the Kitchen, Travel  Comments Off on The Dead Space
May 272010

I woke up this morning next to my lovely lady and I was forced to wait on her awakening for what felt like hours. For reference, I just came back from a two week business trip to Pennsylvania and 10pm = 1pm (so I go to bed early) and 8am = 11am (so I wake up early). It was in this quiet time that my mind began to ponder the upcoming transfer window. For those of you who aren’t obsessed with the soccer world like I am, the transfer window is the period of time between June 1st and August I do get to freak out of every little rumor concerning my team (Chelsea Football Club), or a big transfer coup (the movement of a big player from one team to another).  For 3 months I get to wonder what the makeup of my team will be at the start of the next season. We they spend hundreds of millions of pounds to gain the services of several players in the hopes of winning the Champion’s League? Will they try and succeed with the players they currently have and save some money? Only the passage of time can tell.

One player to watch this summer is a certain Fernando Torres. He currently belongs to Liverpool Football Club. He also plays for the Spanish national team, and if he avoids injuries (he actually has one currently, so he must avoid injury and heal),  you will get to see him leading the attack in the World Cup. Great displays in the world cup often set players up for juicy transfers. The summer games allow coaches, club owners, and managers to see potential players in action while their wallets are “out” essentially. Imagine going to the grocery store hungry. When I do, I always spend way too much money. The same phenomenon seems to occur every 4 years during the world cup summer. Players avoid signing contracts until after the games because they wish to “focus” on their country teams. This often means ‘if I do well in the world cup, you are going to have to pay more to keep me.’ But I begin to digress. Torres is such a player. His team, Liverpool, have failed to qualify for the competition that Torres excels in, the Uefa Champions League. This is a double edged sword: Liverpool loses the revenue from these major games, compounding their financial troubles and making it more likely that they will need to sell players over the summer in order to stay afloat. Also, without Champion’s League soccer for Torres to take part in, he may begin to look whistfully at some of the other major teams which can actually compete in this competition. Fernando came forward a few days ago with the statement everyone was expecting to here: “he will not discuss his future until after the world cup.” Boom. He might be on the move.

There are lots of potential suitors for a beautiful player such as Torres. It just so happens that my girlfriend is numbered among them. Can you blame her? Torres is very very skilled as a forward. He has amazing ball control, speed, and an excellent footballing brain. He can read the game very well, and use that to outfox the defenders and score on a very regular basis. Potential teams that might come calling over the summer include Barcelona, Manchester City, and Chelsea. My team? Yes Chelsea. It is highly possible that Torres could move to Chelsea. I begin to wonder how I feel about this. I think I like the idea. My girlfriend loves Torres, and if he moved to my team, she would be buying a jersey with his name the very next day. I would love it if we could rock matching jerseys as well. How hot would that be?

No matter what happens, you can be assured to read about it here. I love the drama and the intrigue of the summer transfer market, and I cannot wait to see who ends up where. Maybe you might be interested as well?

 Posted by at 11:55 pm
Mar 112010

One of my favorite Magic: The Gathering cards of all time is called Balance. It has an incredible effect on the board, it is aggessively costed, and the art is iconic: a knight holding a tipping scale. The cards intent is to “Balance” the game state by equalizing lands, creatures, and cards in hand. But as the designers of the game soon discovered, Balance is a very difficult state to achieve. The card was eventually banned from most formats in the game for being incredibly overpowered, and just like the iconic card, even today, Magic designers have a difficult time balancing out the power level of cards.

Shift perspective to my life, and I find myself suddenly sympathetic. I work from home now, and I live from home, and I do basically everything else from home. I’m at a very homey stage in my life. I also share my home with Jenny. We live together. For the first time in my life, my work is now mixed with my normal life. When I was a waiter, I’d clock out every night and walk away, leaving all the troubles of work in some other mystical land to be forgotten until the next time I had to go clock in. Now the lines are very very very blurred. When does work begin? Basically, when I wakeup at sit at my computer. When does work end? That previous time plus about eight hours. BUT, sometimes we add nine hours. Sometimes seven. My work day is a sort of amorphous power struggle between deadlines and hours in the day.  This blurring of barriers has me very confused. Sometimes, at night, I watch TV with Jenny and mere feet away is work. Problem solving, deadlines, clients, coworkers, and programming, stress and satisfaction… all mere feet away. Two meters even.

But there’s more. Work isn’t as boring as it used to be when I was a waiter. Work involves problem solving, work involves math, work involves computers. We all know how much I like my computers, and how much I like problem solving, and how much I like my math. So sometimes I let the gaze of work distract me more often then I should. Sometimes I answer an email, I read up on a javascript technique, or I attempt to debug an error long after work hours have officially past. NEVER in my latter days would I have taken a mans order in the middle of my time off. It wouldn’t happen. But tonight I was caught out. I sat there, watching a funny, engaging show with my funny, engaging girlfriend, and without really thinking about it I lifted my Blackberry and responded to an Email. Shame on me! I need to get a handle on myself before I lose control. I’d hate to awaken from a daze years from now and realize I was one of those guys who ignored the real world to get a little more work done. That isn’t me! I need to come to grips with the constant invasion of technology surrounding me before my home life suffers. I aim to do it too. Just you wait and watch. I will not be one of those guys….


 Posted by at 12:04 am

Time Alone

 Daily Lief, Romance, Travel, Work  Comments Off on Time Alone
Jan 192010

It is strange how a place can change when one of its primary denizens has nipped off to some distant place. In my case, her shadow seems to linger on the walls looming over me in silence. It doesn’t matter how fun I suspect my boy time will be, the lack of laughter and life in the apartment seems to drain all desire from my soul! I am certainly reminded of my reasons for moving here. Hopefully she remembers her reasons for asking me to stay forever, and returns to me soon.

To while away the hours, I do have work to focus on. Seeing myself referred to in emails as a “Senior Developer” on multiple projects gives me the willies.  However, it is nice to feel like some manner of adult. Especially when a year ago I was beating myself over the head for motivation to apply for graduate education. I’ve come full circle back to the programming career I thought I wanted, and I want it again! Amazingly, in a year’s time I’ve achieved a financial stability unknown to me for 25 years. I now have a structure I can build on for the future, a prospect I’m finding very exciting. As long as I knock my next few projects into oblivion I’ll be doing great.

I respect the frigid blustery rain that has been pelting our small city in such a sinister and purposeful manner. I told my fair lady I wish it not to leave until she returns, as its parting would then coincide with the parting of all the clouds in my heart. Delicious. However, during such inclement weather we must remember to beware all the evil creatures that go seeking empty homes to hide in! We wouldn’t want to have our soul consumed for lack of better preparedness!

 Posted by at 11:43 pm

The Final Leg

 Daily Lief, Travel  Comments Off on The Final Leg
Aug 292007

I’ve been lazy lazy lazy…. But I’m sleepless at 3:30am, jet lag is terrible. Time for stories!

When we left off, I was heading across the Burmese border into Tachilek. Burma, for me, was a fantastic experience based completely on fortune. It took 1 hour in the immigration to fill out the paperwork, acquire travelling papers, and recieve a temporary Burmese passporr. It was mandatory for my passport to be left at the immigration office in Tachilek, to insure that I left by the same way I entered. At the bus station I observed a Burmese fellow I thought to be some kind of drug dealer. His rings, necklace, bracelets, tatoos, and sunglasses all contrasted with the burmese around him and lent to his affluency. Since one of the few ways to gain such affluency was the afformentioned trade, I wondered! The bussride was quite eventful. We stop at no less than 10 military checkpoints in the course of our 6 hour busride to Kentung, all of which required copies of my travelling papers. We stopped at a travel stop type of restaurant on the side of the road where nobody seemed to speak English and I was terribly confused as to what to do. Then a voice yells out “Do you want something to eat? Come join me!” It was the affluent looking Burmese boy! I sat down, he ordered food, and we started talking.

Wow. Meet David, he’s 21, and Burmese of Akha tribe descent (identical tribe to one of the ones I visited in Thailand). It turns out he’s not a drug dealer, but something quite similar. He’s a hip-hop musician. He left Yangong, the biggest city in Burma, to visit his father who happens to be a political prisoner in Kentung. He spoke excellent English, and I spent the remainder of my time in Kentung with him. David taught me everything about Burma. He explained the politics to me, and taught me that most people will say Myanmar in public and Burma in private (they don’t like the evil government renaming the country). He taught me all about the music scene of Burma, which is rather amazing. He took me out to eat at several ‘unlabeled’ resteraunts that were so feared by my Burmese guidebook, and the food was phenomenal! We went on a craftsman tour, which was incredible because the craftsman had litterally never been visited by an American and they were very excited to see me. I saw laquerware, pottery and knives all being made in very old fashioned low-tech ways. As a side note, I was the only traveller I saw the whole time I was there. He introduced me to his Ahka tribe friends, and we drank Burmese tea at a tea bar and he did all the translating. Its hard for me to describe how impressed I was by David, with his English, his political views, his passion for his music, and his complete willingness to help me and teach me. It was amazing. I promised him we would meet up again someday, and he agreed.

After a few days, David helped arrange with the immigration office for me to move on to MongLa as I had originally planned. I was sad to go, and I wish I had just stayed a few more days in Kentung. Mong La turned out to be complete hell. It was abandoned, impossible to get by on English, overrun by joyriding Chinese, and just had the appearance of being completely run down. Everything was shabby, and faded, like the hayday had been 20 years ago. The animal market had seen better days too, i  was now 4 guys with cages of snakes and weird muskrat like animals. There were a few shops with tiger skins on the walls, but they refused to let me inside. I guess the failure of the animal business is a good thing however. I tried to eat at 2 different restaurants and failed. The language barrier proved impossible for these people to work past. I ended up eating wannabe oreos and watching subtitled Hong Kong action movies in my hotel room. I looked around the next day for a bit, was completely crushed by the depression of the city, and left immediately.

Over the next 24 hours I did nothing but retreat to the city of Chiang Mai again… The immigration officer in Kentung was quite friendly to me on my departure, but he said he knew   would hate Kentung. I didn’t see David again, but I have his Myspace! There’s no internet in that region of Burma however, so I won’t have a chance to express my appreciation to him for another few weeks, he was planning to stay in Kentung for 6.

Chiang Mai! My favorite Thai city! The layout is so pleasant, and there is a plethora of travellers and friendly Thai people. I spent the next week hanging out with Am, the nanny for the little boy from Florida that I had met at the Elephant camp. She took me to all the real Thai resteraunts, and the markets, and we did lots of normal things too like bowling and watching movies. She’s a huge English soccer fan, so I ended up staying longer than expected so we could watch the opening games of the season together. I spent alot of time reading and relaxing here. I really did absolutely nothing but relax and burn through Tolstoy’s major works: War and Peace, and Anna Karenina. Good job me! Eventually I decided I’d leave for an island in the south, and relax in the sun a bit. I was sad to go, I’d spent in total almost 2 weeks in Chang Mai, and I really liked the city. I new it well, I could navigate on a motorbike without problems, and the food was excellent! I said goodbye to Am, but she may come to America and visit sometime, I promised her a wonderfully friendly reception in San Francisco.

24 hours of busrides and I arrived in Koh Pahgnan as a zombie. I found a bungalo guesthouse by the sea and took up residence for a week. I had a porch with a hammock facing the sunset. What more could I ask for! The sea breeze was strong enough to keep all the insects away from my bungalo, and on several occassions I took advantage of this by sleeping in my hammock, the swaying caused by the warm ocean breaze was delicious! I met a Finnish fellow named Sauli, and we explored the island together on motorbikes and had a pretty fantastic time. We didn’t do much of anything however. We snorkeled a fair deal, but I spent a good majority of my day drinking fruitshakes and reading (I moved on to Dickens). It was exactly what I needed to end my trip.

After 7 days of island sun, I returned to Bangkok for 3 days of shopping and movies. On the bus I met two excellent British girls who were eager to employ my mastery of Thailands shopping district. This makes more sense if I explain: The big place for backpackers to stay in Bangkok is the region of Khoa San road. But its a bit of a blackhole, you stay there and you don’t leave much. I prefered staying in the shadow of the 8 story malls and skytrain tracks, because it was more conducive to my interests: The movie theatres were 5 minutes away, and the skytrain helped me avoid overcharging cabbies! So they listened to my advice, we stayed downtown, and went shopping for a whole day together. Such fun! Bangkok is very good for shopping. In the evening, I convinced them that the Kathooey Cabaret was the best way to end our trips in Thailand (they were leaving too), and so we went. It was a song and dance show acted out by some of the most convincing transvestites (or lady-boys as they are generally called there) I had ever seen. Thanks to the magics of surgery, its impossible to tell the difference between a good lady boy and a real lady. I will have pictures to prove it in the future! My final two days were spent at Chatuchak market, the massive weekend market full of amazing deals. I bought everyone presents, bought myself a fiew goodies, and had a good time with my bargaining skills!

Alas, on August 27th at 6:50am, my stay in Thailand ceased. I met Erin at the airport in Oakland yesterday, and I’m now faced with Jetlag for the first time in my life. My body wants to sleep and eat at all the exactly opposite times it should (damn you 14 hour difference). If the quality of this letter differs from the previous ones, it can be blamed on my lack of sleep!

So I’m home, sort of. I don’t have a home. I don’t have a job. I don’t have any money, and I don’t quite have the planned out future I had before. I’m a bit frightened by the overwhelming amount of things I have to deal with immediately. I don’t really want to go back to being a waiter, but I might have too…. Ugg! There’s just not much for a zoologist to do in San Francisco that covers the rent… I’m working on it though. If anyone has any ideas, or information on server vacancies, let me know. In better news, my best friend Cassidy has waited patiently for me to return, so that we might find our housing together. If there’s anything to be positive about, its knowing for sure I have a good roomate :)

All in all, my trip was an excellent one. It changed quite alot from what I thought it was going to be, but I learned alot. Now I just have to sort out my future, but I think it will work out! Thank you to everyone for your responses to my letters, I’m sorry if I didn’t respond often enough, but I appreciated being able to read your letters! Thank you!

Signing off

 Posted by at 3:56 pm

Belated Travelogue of Length

 Daily Lief, Travel  Comments Off on Belated Travelogue of Length
Aug 062007

Hello Hello Hello!

It has beem quite a while since I’ve written anything, but my mother inspired me into action thanks to an earlier conversation we had. So here goes…

We left off and I was in Chiang Mai for trekking and elephants and that sort of thing. That was about two weeks ago or so. As far as trekking goes, I did that, and it was a little unspectacular. Basically, a ‘trek’ in Chiang Mai is a 3-7 day adventure in the surrounding countrysides consisting of several miniature adventurous episodes. I decided on a three day trek because I had nothing better to do until I went to the Elephant Conservation Center, and it seemed like fun. At first it seemed like quite a lot of fun. We climbed up a waterfall that had carved its way into stone and was very grippable when barefoot. I took some pretty pictures and got excited about the rest of the trip. Sadly, this was the highlight of the trip and it happened within the first 2 hours. Thereafter we did a lot of hiking in countryside completely devoid of wildlife. The hilltribes of the area, roughly equivalent to the native tribes of the USA, had hunted every huntable species to regional extinction. It is also worth noting that the definition of huntable species in Thailand extends far beyond the range of huntable species in America; the land was truly devoid of critters! Other activities of the trip included visiting hilltribe villages, riding elephants, and a river trip on a bamboo raft. Each of these endeavours was a new low in my trip.

The hilltribe visits are interesting to say the least. What is supposed to be a glimpse into a less technological society is instead a disinterested song and dance number providing a reasonable cover for the massive drug operations carried out by the tribal villages. As far as I can tell this isn’t a gross generalization either. To the delight of my trekmates, the opium was as readily available as the handicrafts. I could care less about the drugs, but I’m not a fan of the completely hollow cultural prostitution. The Elephant ride was more like the ‘watch your elephant get screamed at’ ride. I like being around Elephants, but I don’t like watching their abuse. Oh right, and the raft ride was just a 30 minute trip down a sewage pathway. Summary: Chaing Mai treks are good for people who want to experience th  greatoutdoors in the form of prepackaged tourist garbage. On to better things!

The low point of my trip thus far was immediately followed by the high point. Go figure. The Thai Elephant Conservation Camp is the most amazing place ever. It is a sanctuary for all the elephants of Thailand, situated an hour from Chiang Mai. They have free veterinary facilities for any elephant, they do free veterinary checks ups every year on elephants in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, they have shows for tourists to learn about elephants and get close to them, and they offer courses that give one a glimpse into the life of an Elephant trainer, or Mahout. I went for the latter! I arrived at the center at 8:45 am in the morning, and by 9:00 am I was climbing onto the bareback of an elephant. They launch you right into it there. My elephants name was Wanalee, she was 10 years old, born at the center, and her Mahout’s nam  was Tuim. He taught me all sorts of commands by which I could communicate to the elephant what I wanted to do. For example, by a slight tug on the ear and the words Song Soom (or something like that spelling), my elephant would bend her front leg, forming a sort of step that would allow me to climb on or off her unassisted. There were directional commands for right, left, forwards, back, commands to pick up objects, pull on things, commands to sit, stand, kneel, and bend foward (so that I might slide down off her head). When riding on Wanalee, I was instructed to sit with my butt on her neck and my knees up and sor  of resting behind her ears. By the end of each day my thigh muscles were jello. Each of my three days at the center involved putting on a show for the tourists (and demonstrating my new elephant mahout prowess), bathing with the elephants several times, training and practicing commands, and taking the elephant to and from their resting place in the forest. Bathing was by far the highlight. Basically, Wanalee and all the other elephants crash straight into a lake with riders on their backs, and proceed to submerge and play. Tuim often conspired to get me soaking wet in several ways. The first way was telling Wanalee to stay submerged until my jellowy legs gave  way (I would be crouching on her back above the surface) and I would fall into the water. The second was sneakier and took me a long time to figure out. There was a command that sounded like Bong Boom, and its utterance would cause Wanalee to inhale water into her trunk and fire at any target I pointed at. I would often do this and point at fellow trainees in the water, bu  she would often fire the water at me instead. I thought I was doing it wrong, but later I noticed that every time I said Bong Boom, Tuim would tap my elephants rear in a characteristic pattern. He had trained her to shoot the rider when he tapped like this, and thus I kept getting drenched to his great amusement. After I discovered this however, I took matters into my own hands and aimed Wanalee’s trunk at him manually. This involves just reaching out and grabbing her trunk and pointing it at him. It was fantastic. The end result of my 3 days at the camp were extremely sore smiling muscles and a really deep respect for elephants. They are so smart and majestic and pretty, and strong! New paragraph!

Some examples of the extreme intelligence of elephants: When Wanalee was thirsty on the training grounds, she would walk up to the faucet, turn it on, drink, and when she was done drinking, she would turn off the faucet. All this was accomplished with her extremely dextrous trunk. Before bathtime, I would drop my shows on the ground at the edge of the lake. After bath time, she would return to my shoes and hand them to me. Anyone who had their sandals fall off while riding always found them promptly returned as well. Another highlight of the elphant camp was the baby elephant, named AI. He was 4 months old, and the first elephant in the world born of Artificial Insemination (hence his name). 4 month old elephants are the cutest things in the world, both in looks and manners. I could not stop adoring little AI. Little is a bit innaccurate though, he’s quite big and strong already. At 4 months old, a game of tug of war (trunk instead of rope) resulted in my being smashed into his fence (his strength is probably the reason for the fence). I took quite a few pictures, and there is a link to them at the end of this letter! I could go on and on and on about how amazing the Elephant center was…. I would fly to Thailand JUST to go there. I want to go back someday. I would say it is the best thing to do with one’s time in Thailand, and well worth the expense.

After the highs of the Elephant Conservation Center, I decided to returnto Chiang Mai and relax for a bit while I decided what to do. The food, and atmosphere of Chiang Mai is perfect for that sort of thing. I spent a fair bit of time with a 9 year old boy from Florida that I met at the Conservation Center. He was visiting his grandparents, who were more than happy to let me go bowling with him and goto the movies. Sadly, I embarassed myself a bit when a bad reaction to Doxycicline caused me to throwup in their planter box outside their apartment. Sorry! I guess it was fate however, because on seeing my reaction to the cheap Malaria medicine they aquired some Malarone for me, the expensive medicine unavailable in Thailand. They were really nice people. The malaria medicine relates to my newest plan, Burma. I’m at the border town of Mae Sae right now, and I plan on crossing into Burma tommorow. My interest lies in the northern city of Mongla, which lies on the Chinese border. It is basically a Chinese city, few Burmese live there, and it caters to the Chinese across the border with casinos and markets of illegal goods. Here is reputed to be one of the worst wildlife markets in the world. This is the sort of place where baby leopards and rhino horns and other rarities are sold to the detriment of the environment. Its the kind of place I need to see with my own eyes. Just thinking about it makes me sad, but I’m resolved to do it. Getting there will be a bit of a pain in the ass however. Foreigner travel to Mongla is regulated and requires paperwork in several locations. Should be interesting!

If you are interested, elephant pictures are to be found here:

I think they are pretty self explanatory :) That’s all for now, I hope you are all well, and I promise to write when I return from Burma!

 Posted by at 3:55 pm

Back from Cambodia

 Daily Lief, Travel  Comments Off on Back from Cambodia
Jul 212007

Hello Everybody!

When I left off, I was about about to see a soccer game in Bangkok… I’ll continue from there! The soccer game was a blast! It rained the whole time and I left the stadium drenched to the bone, but my seat was fantastic! Australia beat Thailand 4-0 which was a little sad for all the Thailanders around me, but I was close to Thailands goal in the second half and got to see 3 of the 4 goals in great closeup detail. What a rush!

The next morning I left for Cambodia, on what would turn out to be the ride from hell. The companies working the transportation did everything in their power to take the passengers money, often outright lieing about various things. I’m sad I fell for some of it, but its hard not to when you don’t know anything about the country you are entering! The trip lasted about 5 hours longer than it was supposed to as well, making it difficult to not stay at the hotel they tried to force on us. All in all, I left my hotel at 7:30am and arrived in Siem Riep, Cambodia, at 11:40 PM… ouch. The road between Poipet, the Cambodian border town, and Siem Riep, the Ankor town is literally the worst major road in the world. The pictures I took hardly did it justice. I think I’ll do better describing it in person. So anyways, lessons learned here: Get yourself to Cambodia. Don’t charter with a travel company.

Cambodia itself was fantastic! The ruins are countless, and all amazing. I watched every sunset, and forced myself awake for 2 of my 3 sunrises because they were just tooo good to miss! The hard thing to see was the effect of all this tourism on the people. Outside of every temple is an army of children trying t  sell you the same stack of things you don’t want, and everytime you say no it almost seems like they take it personally. I learned that the kids only go to school 4 hours a day, in shifts, so there are always children to sell things at the ruins. The older merchants aren’t any better. The drivers everywhere harass you nonstop about rides, the women yell and fight over the right to sell you a bottle of water, and it all adds u  to one big headache. The only way to overcome it really is to block it all out. Its a shame, but the ruins made it worth it. One thing I really enjoyed was hiring a driver for the day. At about 8 dollars for a whole day, my driver zipped me about on the back of his motorcycle to anywhere my heart desired. He knew all the ruins and planned out oy itinerary perfectly. Afer the second day though, I ended up sharing a motorcyle dranw carriage (seriously) with 2 people I had met at the border and continued to meet throughout the first and second day, until we decided to join forces. In summary, the detail of the ruins was spectacular, the scale immense, and the heat harsh. My pictures will do the place a lot more justice I assure you.

A few other activities caught my eye as well: The floating village of Tonle Sap was quite interesting… Everything you can imagine, floating on the water. Fish farms, schools, houses, bars, churches, stores, resteraunts, and even a pool hall were to be found floating in that river town. It was fascinating to see that, even out on a river with no electricity, every house had a TV (run on a car battery). In Siem Riep proper, I joined my two companions in giving blood at a children’s hospital. They were very happy about foreigners coming in to donate, and it was perfectly sanitary and acceptable (so don’t worry)!

I left Saturday morning, and annoyed my hotel to pieces by refusing the return bus trip (they were one of the organizers of it). Instead, I booked a car with a friend of the motorcycle carriage driver belonging to my two companions. For $25, he drove me to the Cambodian border in 3 hours. Compare that to the 9.5 hours it took the bus from the Cambodian border (that cost about $15-18ish), and you can see how I learned that sometimes spending a little bit more goes quite a long way. In Thailand, I booked a bus to Bangkok hoping to make the Vietnam vs Iraq soccer game (Not a game you’d see held in the U.S.A. I suspect), but the bus I booked had a few problems. It wasn’t an express bus, and somehow my backpack got placed on the wrong bus. Uh-oh. I ended up waiting at the busstation for another 2 hours until my bag showed up, and I had missed the soccer game. Considering my situation, I made a quick decision, and hopped on a VIP bus to Chiang Mai. VIP busses are great, they are hugely comfortable, include pillows an  blankets and seats that recline extensively. So rather than staying in Bangkok for a few days, I found myself arriving in one of Thailand’s northernmost towns at 5am. Phew. I think I’m going to settle down for a few days…

In fact, I have a mighty plan. There’s an Elephant sanctuary about 2 hours away. Not only do they harbour and care for abused elephants, they offer free veterinary care to all Elephants, give tours and educate tourists, enrich the elephants with things like music and painting (I may have mentioned my desire to see this place in person before), among other activities. Well, I learned a bit more about them and I think I’m going to spend the rest of my time and money there. They offer a ‘mahout training program,’ which is in essence a sampling of what it is like to be an elephant mahout, or trainer. He is the guy who lives with and cares for the elephant from birth. So, for as many days as you like, they will teach you how to talk with elephants, ride them bareback, lead them around, bathe them, play with them, and everything else involved in the captive elephant life. I’m thinking of going and experiencing this for 9 or 10 days. Its expensive, enough so that it will burn through the rest of my money, but I’ve thought a while about it, and I don’t mind trading a few weeks travel for this experience. It’s going to be worth it!

So I may be coming back rather soon, in less than 3 weeks probably, but I don’t mind one bit. I’ve done so much and seen so much in the past 2 months, it’s been incredible! I’m very excited about this intimate elephant experience, perhaps it will be the inspiration I need for the future? We’ll see!

 Posted by at 3:53 pm

I’m Travelling!

 Daily Lief, Travel  Comments Off on I’m Travelling!
Jul 142007

Hey everyone!

Sorry if you’ve written me and I haven’t gotten back to you! I didn’t realize how tough it would be to write and respond to everyone! I’ve been keeping busy though, let me tell you about it:

So I think when I left off, I was in Bangkok and was going to depart for Penang, in Malaysia. Had I planned ahead a little bit, I think I would have gone to visit more of Malaysia, because Penang kinda sucked, but the rest of the country looked awesome. Fun was still to be had in Penang however: We spent one night in a fishing village called Teluk Bahang, and hiked through a nearby national park to reach Monkey Beach, my first tropical beach! Hurray! It wasn’t spectacular or anything, but swimming in a warm ocean contrasted greatly with my experiences in the northern California pacific. We went to the local night market that evening where the food was fantastic and cheap! For about $3 I bought a massive dinner. It’s definitely nice to see the positive effects of relaxed food regulations for once instead of the drawbacks. After getting a new tourist visa for Thailand, I returned with my coworkers to Bangkok and spent the 4th of July watching Die Hard 4 on the big screen here. I figured Bruce Willis and explosions were the closest I could get to fireworks and celebrating the USA.

The next day I said goodbye to my coworkers for the last time and hopped on a train to Ayuthaya, a city built on the ruins of a much older city. I took a train, and splurged on a room with AC, satellite TV, and a hot shower. Splurging in this country however involves paying $10 a night instead of $5, so its not really the biggest problem! I got to catch up on the Copa America with the TV in the morning, and in the afternoon I explored the city. Ruins are cool, very ruiny. I took some neat pictures, saw the famous Buddha head in the tree, and met two very nice girls from Holland who were doing the same. We ended up chatting for the rest of the night, and they asked me to join them on their trip to Khao Yai National Park. They suspected my training as a Zoologist and my previous employment would be useful… they were right!

So the following day, we took a train to Pak Chong, the city nearest the national park, and found a lodge with a swimming pool that gave guided tours of the park. We signed up for the guided tour, and it was seriously one of the best tours ever. The guide and I got along great, we had the same camera and we traded lenses often so I could take long distance shots and he could take close up shots. He found all the monkeys and birds, I found all the frogs, lizards, and bugs (I would have made my Herpetology teacher proud). To the group of people I was with I ended up being a second tour guide, I answered lots of questions about ecology and life webs and the behavior of many of the nearby animals. It was fun to employ my degree, I’m not used to it, most of the time I’m surrounded by people who know as much as I do! The coolest animal sighting for me were the two Draco Lizards I saw out of the corner of my eye on a tree. They are basically little lizards with wings on the sides of their body. Attached to the rib cage, the bones bend outwards and the lizards can glide from tree to tree. I was fortunate enough to see one of the lizards fly and practically died of nerdy zoologist joy. It was like watching an Animal Planet special right before my eyes. The rest of the tour involved fantastic views (almost unrealistic seeming), swimming in a gorgeous waterfall (apprently made famous in the movie The Beach, I haven’t seen it), and learning to hold an enormous scorpion (you’ll see). We spent the night in rented tents in Khao Yai, and I ran all over the place in the night finding different kinds of frogs and toads. It was heaven.

The next day we decided to hitch hike out of the park, stay and the previous lodge one more night, then move on to the island of Ko Chang. Interestingly enough, my sense of direction failed me for the first time in a while, and i hitchhiked us the wrong direction, which we discovered on exiting the wrong entrance to the park! Whoops! Luckily for us, the Thai people (all 7 of them) were incredibly friendly. They’d already taken us to a waterfall on our way out of the park, and I’d given first aid to one of them who had a nasty burn on his hand (thanks for the first aid kit Shane!), so they were very interested in helping us out. They didn’t speak any English, so I pulled out the road map of Thailand my mom gave me, and proceeded to discover that the Thai people were headed to Catchanaburi, a city only 1 hour away from Trat, the port city leading to the island of Ko Chang. So, rather than head back through the park to the resort, we decided to head towards Ko Chang with our nice drivers. So 5 hours were spent laying down in the bed of their pickup truck watching the Thailand sky fly by. They took us to lunch too, which was totally fun because we had a massive language barrier. They ordered for us and everything was delicious. As we figured out, all 7 of them worked for LG, the electronics company, and were on holiday in the National Park. Using gestures and a map I was able to discern that they thought Japan was going to win the Asian Soccer Championship. In the end we made it to the bus station of Catchanaburi rather late in the day, but a whole day sooner than we expected. We took a bus to Trat, and the next morning hopped on a Ferry to Ko Chang, but not before I stopped at a bookstore run by a Frenchman and bought a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. Cassidy would be proud.

Ko Chang was an interesting place. It was a much nicer island than Penang. Cleaner, clearer, better beaches, and very catered to backpacky tourists. We rented beach bungalows and had breakfast, lunch and dinner on the beach every day. We took a snorkeling tour in the Gulf of Thailand, and I saw real, natural coral for the first time in my life. Swimming with fishies is fun. Manik, one of the dutch girls, found a Leopard Gecko in her bungalo that was enormous. I failed to catch it several times, it was very fast. Burgers in Thailand are quite bizarre I’ve discovered, I’m not sure I like them. As a group, Manik, Eres (the other Dutch girl), and I decided that all resteraunts were to be rated on the amount of dessert they had avaialable compared to the amount they offered on their menu. Most resteraunts failed, and considerably low marks were given to the resteraunt that offered me Chicken Pie over the unavailable Apple and Blueberry pies. The best resteraunt was the Irish pub (as is usually the case anywhere), which had an amazing apple crumble, and pancakes with coconut milk and mango. Yummy!

After 4 days in Ko Chang we returned to Bankgok. Manik had to return to Indonesia, Eres left for Ko Samui, and I’m waiting ’till Monday when I have tickets to see the Thailand soccer team play the Australian soccer team in the AFC Asian Cup. It should be good! Until then I guess I’ll let my sunburn heal, send out emails, watch Harry Potter, and try to survive. I bought some books, Watership Down and Gulliver’s Travels. I thought Gulliver’s travels would be appropriate, and I’ve never read Watership down. Books are priceless here on trains and busses! Bangkok is much to big of a big city for my tastes I think hehe. After’the game on Monday I’m thinking I’ll go to Cambodia and see Ankor Wat, or goto Chiang Mai to see Elepants. I haven’t decided yet. both things are going to happen, the only thing I don’t know about is the order.

So in conclusion, goto this link for pictures:

(Someday this will be in the gallery instead)

They aren’t sorted, I haven’t had time, but they should be enjoyable!

 Posted by at 3:52 pm

A Bit of a Change in Plans

 Daily Lief, Travel  Comments Off on A Bit of a Change in Plans
Jun 302007

Hello friends and family,

I’m in Bangkok at the moment, and I need to announce a sort of radical shift in direction. I am currently on a trip to Malaysia with the rest of my co-workers which I had already been confirmed for, but when I return, I will not be returning to the jungles of Phu Khieo. I’ve spoken with several of you on the phone about this already, but I’ll reiterate for clarity and those in the dark.

Basically, my job in the jungle was god awful. It was not what I wanted to do now, in the near future, or ever. It may have seeped into my writings before, but I I’ll say it clearly now: I hated observing those monkeys. I realized that if I wasn’t going to love it, or even like it, a year of it was a bit beyond optimistic. It was dellusion! I came to Thailand to gain future experience, gain life experience outside of my usual haunts, and see a bit of the world. I was very little of any of these things in the Wildlife Sanctuary. The animals were wonderful, and the Thai people were wonderful, but I saw more of Thailand from the hospital. A big factor was my discovery that in a years time I would get a single vacation of 7 days. By the time I finish with the project and have unlimited time for travel, I know I will be extremely homesick. I’ll end up returning immidiatly, negating the bonuses of a paid for ticket.

So I’ve made my choice. Rather than waste the next 6 months hating my job and growing bitter, I’m going to leave with smiles and handshakes, and find my fortunes elswhere. My thai ticket will not be wasted. For the next 4 days I will be in Penang, a small Island in Malaysia where I will update my travel Visa with unlimited re-entry, and then back to Bangkok. From there I will chart out a course, which I suspect will begin with the ruins of Ayuthaya, the city of Ketchaburi, and the “Bridge over the river Kwai.” I am very open to suggestions as well. I plan on going to Cambodia to see Ankor Wat, Myanmar to see who knows, and possibly Singapore just for the hell of it.

I guess you should know that I don’t regret this decision, even in the slightest sense. My boss even agrees. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong position. I can help my future along soon enough, I’ve helped it along for many many years up to this point :)

If you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them when I get back from Malaysia. Until then, stay tuned, these letters are about to get more interesting.

PS: Tonight, on cousin Joey’s advice, I’m going to splurge a bit and go see The Transformers film on Imax at the Siam Paragon (The biggest mall I have ever seen)…. I’m excited!

 Posted by at 3:52 pm

Interesting News

 Daily Lief, Travel  Comments Off on Interesting News
Jun 262007

Hey Folks…

So A few days ago I was showering after a jungle excursion and I got the chills. Sometimes this is acceptable when taking a cold shower at 8pm, but these chills were a little too ‘chilly’ if you know what I mean. A few hours later I was alternating between chills and heat attacks with a fever we later discovered was 104. I spent the whole night hallucinating and sweating, but I was a little too stupid to tell anyone. The next morning, my coworkers came to investigate my absence from our mutual day offs hiking adventure and found me half asleep with the worst headache of my life and the afforementioned uber fever. They took my temperature, gave me water, and we thought it would pass, until my boss got back from his trip, heard my symptoms and rushed in with a questionnaire! After a series of steps, he concluded we had to go to the hospital in Khon Khaen, a large city about 2 hours away. Apparently 104 + Headache brought me into the realm of Dengue fever, Scrub Typhus, some kind of water fever, or the slim possibility of Malaria. No matter what he said, it was better to be in the hospital before it got worse (if it did), rather than after, because of the distance. So off to the hosital we went, me in agony in the backseat of the truck, and my boss driving like a madman (or a Thai, same difference).

At the hospital I was subjected to all kinds of tests and pokes and prods and things, but I wasn’t very aware of them. Eventually my boss had me graduated from the emergency room to the hospital proper, awakened enough to try and call the few numbers in my phone, but nobody picked up. Apparently I left some pretty awful sounding messages. Throughout the night I remember being attached to a tube, recieving several xrays, blood tests, tests of other bodily functions, a mammogram like thing with jelly and a ray gun pointed at my belly, and lot of prodding and my organs while the doctor inquired if it hurt. It hurt often.

I awoke in the morning to a huge room, a big IV, a TELEVISION, and a massive headache. The doctor told me I inquired a water infection somehow, and possible theories involve accidental shower water ingestion,
or maybe rinsing my toothbrush in the sink once by mistake. I spent the next 2 days in the hospital on medications and anti-biotics, with daily organ jousts from the doctor involving the same “Hurt: yes or no?” query, and lots of television (they have 3 old soccer games a day on ESPN… yay!). Anyways, I’m out now, and all is well. I feel alot better. Interesting observations were as follows. Thai nurses ask you if you spea  Thai so they can talk about you and laugh when you say no. Thai nurses also laugh when they try and put your useless form into pajamas and see the harriest legs they’ve ever seen. Thai doctors say wee-wee and poo-poo. I’m dead serious and its always hilarious. “How many wee-wee today? How much poo-poo?  What color pee-pee? What color poo-poos?” Priceless. I neverheard any clinical terms for any of those bodily functions, or their organs of origin. I’m keeping the organ names to myself …

Thai nurses also like to harass you constantly all night long with 3am tests and 4am blood checks, and then ambush you at 6am by asking you if you wont sprong or something of that sound without clarification  Obviously, like I was, you will be too asleep to even understand what is happening, much less
make the huge translation extrapolation. So you say yes to shut them up, like I did. then you fall asleep, and wakeup to the most shocking and awful attempt to spongebath you at 6:20am, while you still just want to sleep. I could barely fight them off. I insisted on taking a shower. They pointed at the IV and said “no work”…. I took the IV into the shower like an old friend and proved my point. However, this did not stop them from trying again the next day (but at least I was prepared this time). So, all in all, I was a bit scared, but this ending up being a bit of a fun experience anyway. It gave my Mother and Erin a chance to call me with phonecards too, since it costs them $5 for 4 hours, unlike $10 for my 30 minutes.

 Posted by at 3:50 pm


 Daily Lief, Travel  Comments Off on Greetings
Jun 142007

Hello to everybody!

So it has been about two weeks since I have left, and I am firmly settled in the Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary. Today is my day off, so I have gone to the main office where an extremely slow internet connection is available, good enough for email it seems! The sanctuary here is gorgeous, and I will have pictures to send out in about 2 weeks time (I need to be in Bangkok to send pictures, elsewhere the internet is to slow).

I’ve settled in, and gone out into the jungle almost every day now for a week and a half. The jungle is hot, and full of insects that want to suck your blood, your sweat, or leave you with an unfriendly rash. However, seeing animals in their natural habitat rather than the zoo is pretty awesome. I’m pretty sure the Langurs we are studying are the ugliest monkeys I’ve ever seen, but yesterday a pair of gorgeous Yellow-Throated Martens ran across our path and that definitely made my day. The work is a little trying. It involves angling your head 45+ degrees into the air with binoculars and trying to discern whic  monkeys are doing what. Apparently it gets easier with time, but 7 hours of fighting off insects and straining my neck is not something I am yet accustomed too.  Other than that I am doing well, my coworkers and the thai rangers in the site are very friendly. They have been teaching me Takraw, a game that must be seen to be believed. It is a bit like soccer and volleyball crossed together. The rules are similar to volleyball, except the ball is small, woven, and hit only with the feet an  body (no arms allowed). The result is a spike maneuver that defies logic. Maybe there are videos on youtube, look them up!

I think I will end today with my updated contact information. I bought a satellite serviced cellphone in Chum Pae (2 hours away from our sanctuary), and it gets a bit of reception scattered throughout the main camp. I suspect calling me won’t often yield an answer, but I have a voicemail box setup, so you can certainly leave a message and I can try to call you back! To dial me I believe you have to dial 011661 first, the international code for a Thai cellphone.

My number is 0856070689
So in full add 011661-0856070689 to your phone books!

The address at which i can be written is as follows:

Kyle Tobener
Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary
PO Box 3
Amphoe Chum Phae
Khon Khaen 40130

Apparently the mail arrives here with decent speed, though my responseswill be incredibly slowed down because it seems I can only get to a post office once every 2 weeks at the most!

All my thanks to you all for the good wishes and excellent send off

 Posted by at 3:49 pm