Avisha and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I awake with a start to the feeling of rough arms shaking me. Reluctant to leave the blissful world of slumber, I slowly open my eyes, only to behold the face of a frantic stranger.

“Dey ahh he-ah dey ahh he-ah!”

My first thought in such a situation is pretty understandable:

“Huh?”

“Who are you? What’s going on? Why are you touching me- wait. Uh oh.”

As I gradually return to the world of the waking I realize that this is not in fact some weird Hostel Molester but instead is the Hostel Director, and that he must be talking about the bus I booked the night before to take me from Koh Samui to Bangkok at 7:45 this morning. If I miss the first leg in my 3-part, 12-hour trip I will not be happy.

Suddenly there’s more than one frantic person in the general bed-area.

Flinging off the piece of scratchy tissue paper that passes for a blanket in this place, I hop out of bed and take a brief moment to gaze mournfully at my scattered belongings. It seems like Past Avisha made the brilliant decision to leave all of the packing to Present Avisha. Typical. Sometimes I really hate that guy.

I glance down at my watch to see just how late I am and how mad the driver will be, and I see that it’s already 6:47 AM.

Waaaait a minute. Maybe this isn’t Past Avisha’s fault after all. I distinctly recall him setting an alarm for 7AM, which should have been plenty of packing time for the 7:45 bus.

Cramming my assorted belongings into my backpack with all the speed and organizational ability of a chipmunk in an espresso factory, I go to grab my shoes and-

In any situation where multiple people are required to take their shoes off and leave them by a door, it is a given that someone’s footwear will mysteriously disappear. In this case the rule has decided to apply itself to me, or more specifically to my flip-flops.

I can already tell: this is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The Interminable Journey

1. The Van

By the time I make it down to the van it turns out that it’s already left to pick up other people first. So much for my frantic rushing.

After several minutes of waiting around bemoaning my lack of breakfast the van returns. Great. The only problem is that now the whole thing is full, front seat included. Good thing there’s one of those delightfully cozy pull-down platforms in between the driver and passenger seat. Time for me and my large backpack to work on that contortionist act we’ve been practicing.

The driver is not completely without remorse. While stopped at a traffic light (which, by the way, seem to be more like “rough guidelines” in Thailand), he pulls out a little box containing a stack of large leaves. He takes one and starts munching on it, then hands a second to me.

Already feeling my lack of breakfast, I of course accept. What could possibly go wrong?

Strange Leaf

It tastes a bit bitter, and, well… leafy.

Definitely not a good breakfast substitute. I think I’ll stick with my soylent.

On a totally unrelated note, why is my mouth suddenly going numb?

2. The First Bus

I had thought that the van was supposed to pick us up and take us straight to the ferry. Would that it were so simple—instead it first has to take us to a separate coach bus. In keeping with my previous experience with coach buses in Thailand, this one is outrageously decorated. I decide to dub it the Pretty Princess Bus. If only it smelled like a princess instead of that pervasive, slightly nauseating bus-smell.

They make us wait on the bus for almost half an hour as it slowly fills up with people before finally, daintily, rolling out.

Pretty Princess Bus

3. The Ferry

The ferry is surprisingly nice. It’s a giant boat, large enough that even my already slightly upset stomach barely even notices the waves. It takes half an hour to load up, then an hour out on the water.

4. Back on the Bus

Hellooo Pretty Princess. Apparently they loaded the bus onto the bottom level of the ferry, which is fairly cool. Now for some more “waiting to fill up” time. I mentally begin to prepare myself for a really long bus ride up to Bangkok.

Foolish me.

5. The Rest Stop

Rather than just go straight up to Bangkok, they decide to unload us at an innocuous-looking travel agency for some more of that glorious “waiting” stuff. It takes several minutes of pestering the staff before I find someone who speaks English and can inform me that my bus will arrive in just one hour and “why don’t I order something to eat in the meantime.” Suddenly the motive behind this particular stop becomes clear.

Innocuous Travel Agency

I sit down next to a couple of German guys headed to Koh Samui and proceed to gloat about how my bus is supposed to leave half an hour before theirs. Their eggs and toast remind my stomach that it’s been neglected of late, so I quickly procure myself a pair of bananas for 20 Baht (a price which is clearly a ripoff as it is more than 1/5th of what I would pay back at home. I’m Thai now and expect Thai pricing!).

But Lo! I have been doubly fooled. First—the travel agency. It’s innocuousness was a devious trap; somehow, in this tiny little room, they have managed to pack more mosquitos than in the Itty Bitty section of a vampire convention. Even my lightning DEET reflexes aren’t quite enough to save me from “unwilling blood donor” status.

To add insult to blood thievery, while I’m in the middle of doing my best Bill Murray from Ghostbusters impression with my little spray bottle, the Germans get called up. It’s only been an hour, but apparently their bus is the one that’s here and mine still has another half hour.

Another half hour passes and, while I’m inside complaining to the guy behind the desk, a van pulls up and calls for people headed to Bangkok. Several of the groups that were there pile in, and as I try to join them the guy looks at me and asks, “You alone?” to which I respond in the affirmative.

“You wait for next van then.”

How long? Oh, just another one and a half hours or so.

Delightful. More bonding time for me and Casper the unfriendly Skeet.

I think I’ll move to Australia. (Which, conveniently enough, isn’t too far away from here.)

6. Van #2

The next van arrives just in the nick of time. I was about to order a third pair of bananas—and let’s face it, nobody needs more than four in a sitting (unless they happen to be chums with bears and panthers, in which case all bets are off). Van #2 takes us to our bus in short order.

7. Bus #2.5

Again with the weird upholstery, crowded seating, and lackadaisical regard to departure timing. At least we’re finally on our way.

Or at least I think we are, until the bus stops again a little while later and some guy tells the Bangkok people (me and two others) to get off. Apparently this bus is heading towards Phuket.

8. The Truck

Yeah, you read that right. We get off the big coach bus and are told to climb into the back of this thing:

Sketchy Truck

It’s like someone had a spare pickup truck lying around and decided to nail on a roof and some benches, but decided that a back would just be overkill.

Which of course means that only now is when we reach a highway and the driver starts booking it. It would be fun if I weren’t so focused on desperately holding on to my bags to make sure they don’t fall out the open back.

At this point I’m thoroughly sick of the “stop and switch transport methods” routine, but I really hope that they have one final one planned. I don’t think I could handle this all the way to Bangkok.

9. Stoppo el Pointlesso

Pulling off the highway (I’m not sure if any road here could be called a real “highway”, but I’ve decided to base my terminology on observed traffic speeds), we stop at what looks to be a little shack in the middle of nowhere. The driver gets out and goes into the shack, leaving us to wait in the truck for a while.

We wait a while more.

Eventually he comes back out and puts a little sticker on each of us, because if we didn’t have a sticker how would we know where we’re going? Then again, maybe if I had had a sticker a bit earlier I would have been able to skip a few of these delightful little detours.

Still on the exposed-to-the-elements truck, we get back on the highway. At which point my sticker promptly blows off.

This stop: big success.

10. Bus #3.5

Thankfully, it turns out that we won’t be going all the way to Bangkok in the Thai-Redneck-Mobile. We stop and get onto yet another coach bus.

I take back what I said about that first bus: THIS is the real Pretty Princess Bus. It’s like they stole those curtains straight out of a 1980’s update of a Victorian romance novel.

Pretty Princess Bus

Asking around, I discover that, at long last, it seems like everyone else on this bus is also headed towards Bangkok. I’m almost there!

I recall ever thinking of a nine hour drive as “almost there” before. Congratulations Thailand, you have successfully managed to completely skew my worldview on transportation.

Now it’s time to relax and get comfy with a nice book (and when I say book I of course mean Kindle). All this bouncing around between different conveyances has started to make me feel a bit sore.

Unfortunately, this guy seems to have a similar type of idea. At least with the getting comfy part.

An Unwelcome Busmate

This is going to be a long nine hours.

Did I say nine? Just because that’s what Google told me? This is Thailand. I should know better.

Make that twelve.

Trouble in Bangkok

We made it! 5:30 AM, 22 hours and 45 minutes after my rude awakening, I finally step off the bus at Khao San Rd in Bangkok. Given the combination of seats that didn’t lean far enough and a bus companion who did, I still haven’t slept at all. And so my ‘day’ continues.

First order of business: I know I haven’t slept, but why do I feel so achy and out of it?

Scratch that.

First order of business: find somewhere willing to make me a smoothie at 6 o’clock in the morning. Nuts, dried fruit, and soylent just don’t quite cut it some days.

Luckily this place is full of tourists with weird hours, so I eventually manage to locate a hostel / restaurant with an active blender (one great thing about Thailand: almost every single food establishment also makes fresh-fruit smoothies). Why not throw in some coffee while I’m at it. That’s better than sleep, right?

Second order of business: why do I feel so achy and out of it? Is it also getting a bit hard to breathe? Time to find a thermometer.

Sick in Thailand

On the plus side, I’m able to locate a pharmacy less than a block away. They seem to be everywhere in this place.

On the downside, for some reason the only thermometer that it stocks is this thing:

Armpit Thermometer

Yeah, we’re doing things old-school. It says “clinical” on it though so I’m hoping that means it’s actually accurate.

Popping this little guy under my arm for five minutes ends up giving me a reading of 100.4˚ F (no, just because I’m in Asia doesn’t mean that I’ll use celsius). According to the all-knowing internet, I have to add 0.5-1.0˚ F to account for the difference between armpit temperature and the under-tongue value. That leaves me with somewhere between a 100.9˚- 101.4˚ reading. That’s not too bad, right?.

A quick search of my symptoms online, alongside various terms such as “Thailand” or “traveler sicknesses,” leads to me reading a bunch of articles about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). I was even in Abu Dhabi not too long ago after all.

Primary symptoms are a fever, cough, and shortness of breath, with the possible inclusion of various gastrointestinal difficulties. Check, check, check, and I can’t be quite sure yet but I think that’s at least a half-check.

Then there’s this delightful little tidbit, straight from the CDC website:

“About 3-4 out of every 10 people reported with MERS have died.”

I am having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The Hostel of Doom

Several hours and many medical journal articles later I decide that A. Odds of my imminent death are relatively low (hopefully), and B. I should probably go and check into my hostel. Time for another bus. Hurray!

I get there and go through the usual routine of getting my keys and towel, finding my bed, logging into the WiFi, and storing my valuables.

Placing my laptop and passport into the security locker and locking it with one of my nice little locks, I then go to lock up my backpack (one of the nifty features of the Tortuga backpack) with the remaining two. This is when I realize that in my rush to leave my last hostel I also managed to leave one of my locks there. Oh well.

Oh, and did I say WiFi? I think I meant “WhatFi?”

Typical.

At this point I’m starting to feel like a store mannequin that somehow got drafted as a NASCAR crash-test dummy, so I decide to go take a hot shower.

As it turns out, my definition of “hot” is radically different from that of the hostel. One tepid deluge later and I’m right back where I started, with an added dose of shivering. It figures that the one thing that works really well in this room is the AC.

At least one good thing came out of my shower: I killed a grand total of seven mosquitos. If only that had been all of them.

Next week, I say, I’m moving to Australia.

When A Monkey Ties a Pretzel

The shower didn’t work and I still hurt everywhere. How to fix this? Time to start taking advantage of the whole “being in Thailand” thing.  Cheap massage: here I come.

Thankfully I don’t have far to walk—there are even more massage parlors here than there are 7-11’s (weirdly enough there seem to be more 7-11’s per city block in Thailand than there are Starbucks in NYC). Strolling along the main street by my hostel I spot no fewer than five massage parlors from where I’m standing.

I pick one at random, go in, and ask for a 1-hour Thai Massage.

For those of you who don’t really know what a Thai Massage consists of (my past self being included in this category), just imagine a monkey with extra-boney elbows and delusions of being a chiropractor. Now imagine that monkey trying to give you a “healing sports massage.”

A tiny little Thai woman leads me to a dimly lit room in the back with a series of curtains sectioning off small cots. She hands me a loose change of clothing and leaves me to change into them.

Did I say loose? I’m fairly certain that there is some law here that any “one-size-fits-all” clothing must also be able to accommodate the Buddha.

Massage Room

The masseuse comes back and has me lie down on the mat. She then proceeds to climb on my back and alternate between trying to tie me in a pretzel, and trying to press my muscles through my body and out the other side. Occasionally she also tries to crack or pop some part of me and gets frustrated at how I seem to bend but never crack.

I am like a willow in the wind. Being tormented by a crazy monkey.

By the time it ends and I exit the massage parlor I feel like I have been at least partially successful. I am now less focused on how I am going to die a painful and phlegmy death and more focused on how much my back hurts.

I am having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The Icing on the Metaphorical Mud Pie

I’ve had enough. And it’s getting late—again. Time to go back to my hostel, finally get some sleep, and just hope that everything feels better in the morning.

Right outside my hostel I spot a street vendor selling some swanky souvenirs for possibly-even-believable prices, so I decide to treat myself to a few before calling it a night. Checking my wallet, I discover that I’m almost out of Baht so I’ll have to go in and grab some USD to exchange.

I plod up to my room, unlock the door, and open up my backpack. Digging to the bottom, I pull out the wad of cash I had stuffed there, only to discover that someone has stolen $400 straight out of my bag.

Why wasn’t my bag locked? Well, remember that startling wake-up way back when and the subsequent lost lock? Yeah.

Why didn’t I lock the cash away along with my laptop and passport? I’m gonna blame the potential life-threatening disease, and my ingrained habit this trip of spreading out my valuables, ‘just in case.

On the plus side, they only stole my USD—the thief oh-so-generously left me my 50 rubles and 1 Bahamian Dollar. Thanks.

It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. But some days are like that. Even in Australia.

 

7 Steps to Having an Awesome Full Moon Party in Thailand

“It’s not that I have a problem licking your cheek, it’s that I don’t want paint on my tongue ” my friend while body painting a hostel-mate

What is the Full Moon Party?

Koh Phangan, one of the larger islands off the east coast of Thailand, is brimming with beautiful beaches, forested mountains, hidden waterfalls, and ancient(ish) temples. Each month the island attracts tens of thousands of tourists. Almost none of them come for the scenery (primarily at least).

Over the course of my first two weeks in Thailand I discovered that almost 50% of the other travelers that I encountered would be on Koh Phangan at the same time as I would be.

As of 30+ years ago the island’s beauty would have been the main reason for their visit. These days, almost all of the younger tourists are drawn in by the promise of something totally different: the Full Moon Party.

With roots in ancient celtic rituals, kiddush levana, or 1985 tourists (depending on who you ask), these days the Full Moon Party draws upwards of 30,000 tourists each month to the sunrise beach of Haad Rin on the southeastern tip of the island. With each beachside bar competing to draw the largest crowds via music, dance floors, crazy lighting, and outrageous performers, party-goers have a plethora of options to choose from for a party that doesn’t stop until morning. At which point the after party begins. Followed by the after-after-party (but actually- there are even fliers for it).

But how to best enjoy the experience?

You have to treat it as something different, not just as a larger-than-average party that happens to take place on a beach.

Everyone has their own way that they like to party, but here are some guidelines that should help give anyone an idea of how to do the Full Moon Party right:

1. Don’t go at the start of your trip

The Lone Ranger never had as much fun at parties as Peter Pan. Why? Because a crazy game of flip cup with the Lost Boys beats 1v1’ing Tonto any day of the week.

The Full Moon Party took place two weeks into my trip. And as I said before, almost 50% of the other travelers that I encountered in those two weeks had told me that they were planning on being in Koh Phangan come party-time. This meant that by the time I got there I already had a bunch of people to pregame with (emphasis on “game”), paint with, and dance with. This really was the single biggest contributing factor towards my having an amazing time.

full_moon_party_group
The amazing crew at my hostel

2. Get to Koh Phangan Early

Once again, it’s all about maximizing your chances of having a great group to party with. The best source of like-minded people to easily party with are those that are staying at your hostel. I arrived on Sunday when the party didn’t start until Tuesday night. This gave me a few days to really make friends with my hostel-mates (not everyone got there early but we added people to the group as they showed up). It also let me explore the aforementioned beautiful parts of the island during the day and enjoy the lead-up parties in the evenings (including one mega-jungle-party).

This one is less important if you think that you already know enough people, but even then it can be difficult to coordinate logistics. Trying to coordinate meet-ups in crowds of tens of thousands of people can be a nightmare. It helps when you start off in the same place (and have a home base, but I’ll get to that).

Haad Rin Beach Volleyball Tournament
A beach volleyball tournament that I played in the day before the party

3. Pick a Hostel on Haad Rin

You might be tempted to try to avoid the high prices and crowds that go along with staying right where the party is. Don’t.

If you really want to explore Koh Phangan, switch hostels right after the party and stay for another few days. But for enjoying the party itself, having a place to stay right off the beach is amazingly useful.

It gives you a place to:

  • Pregame
  • Use the bathroom without paying 20 Baht. (This is the go-to price for all places off the beach. It really can add up over the course of a long night of drinking)
  • Safely leave supplies that you need for portions of the night but don’t want to bring to the beach, e.g. bottles of alcohol, paints, nicer cameras, wallet, etc.
  • Use as a home base to both invite others to and just to go back and forth from over the course of the evening

I stayed at the Pirate Hostel. The facilities weren’t all that great, but that’s not the point. The hostel was also a bar focused on games. Every night at 9PM they had a happy hour with 100 Baht buckets (the best price I saw anywhere in Thailand) and a free drink for anyone staying there. They have a table / supplies for beer pong-type games and rules posted for card-based drinking game such as Kings, Spoons, and others. They even host bar-crawls for non-full-moon nights. The night of the Full Moon Party they offer free body painting.

The games + happy hour made it that everyone staying there stuck around, participated, and became friends. This made for loads of fun each evening and served as perfect preparation for the big night.

Koh Phangan Pirate Hostel on Haad Rin

4. Get Your Paint On!

Maximizing your enjoyment of the evening is all about really getting into the spirit of things and embracing those bits that make it different from your standard house party or night out. A large component of this is the body painting.

The standard dress code for the evening is shorts / bathing suit + neon tank top, then body painting to-taste. I’m not a fan of tank tops in general, but with the body painting I say go all out! Why show skin when you can show paint??

There are always tons of booths set up in the streets by the beach where you can pay to get fancy designs painted, but why spend the money?. The point is to have fun! Make it a group activity. Get your own paints and paint each other (please excuse the mirror selfie- it’s hard to get good quality full-body shots at night).

Full Moon Body Paint

5. Don’t Drink Too Much

I know, I know. “But this is a kraaaazzzzy party!” you whine. “How can I not get hammered??”

Well, do you want to make it a night to remember? Then best not to black out. And while vomiting is certainly memorable, I don’t think that’s the type of memories we’re going for here.

The key thing to remember is that this party goes ALL NIGHT. If you start pregaming at 7PM (the time when things typically start to kick off there), that leaves you with ~11 hours of partying to plan for. Pacing is key. As is water. LOTS of water.

I actually ended up having less than 5 drinks over the course of the evening, and none after midnight. This was perfect for having fun with the pregaming, but once I get started dancing I really have no need of alcohol to enjoy myself.

Thailand Drinking Tip #1 – Save money and buy a bottle of hard liquor at a 7-11 or other local mart. Split it a few ways and you’ll be set for the night at a fraction of the cost of drinking at the bars.

Thailand Drinking Tip #2: BEWARE OF BUCKETS – Buckets can be a lot of fun. I like them way better than beer because they taste better and are more monetarily efficient. The problem is that you never really know just how much you’re getting, which makes pacing difficult. Three buckets going down might necessitate a fourth bucket as a receptacle.

You don’t want to become the Drunken Rooster.

What’s a Drunken Rooster you ask?

Drunk Rooster at a Party

That should teach you to ask questions.

6. Thou Art Not a Witch

Do not be burned like one.

Lots of bars have people outside performing with fire. Watching a professional do their thing is really cool.

You are not a professional (unless you are, in which case as long as you’re accustomed to drunk performances then go for it).

They often offer fire-limbo or fire-jump rope. Stay as far away from the jump rope as possible, and only do the limbo if you are really confident in your abilities. I was extremely tempted to give it a try, but seeing a girl burn her chest in a most painful fashion was thankfully enough to deter me.

Playing with Fire

7. Stay Safe

Pick-pockets are a thing in Thailand. In an atmosphere as packed and chaotic as the Full Moon Party, it’s best not to take risks.

I would recommend bringing only your room-key, phone, and a couple hundred baht out to the beach (yes the phone is a risk, but let’s face it- I think most of us would rather leave behind our pants). As I mentioned earlier, this is way easier when you have a hostel right by the beach.

Finally, make sure to wear shoes.

Over the course of the night the beach slowly fills up with broken bottles and cigarette butts. There are usually people going through and cleaning even while people are dancing, but it still accumulates. Before the party people were telling me to wear closed-toe shoes for fear of glass. I didn’t want to deal with those on the beach and so decided to risk wearing just flip-flops, which ended up being totally fine. But going barefoot would have been a mistake.

Bonus – Be Crazy!

Let loose a little bit! Talk to some strangers! Go up on stage! Dance!!

This type of environment was designed for crazy. Even if you’re not normally the type to really let yourself go in a party, I suggest giving it a try. I don’t mean that you should do anything stupid, just that you should have fun and use the anonymity and energy of the crowd to propel you a little bit out of your comfort zone. Nobody is judging because all 247 million other people on there are doing the same thing!

It’s actually pretty funny to walk through the beach during the party, observe all of the craziness going on, and imagine what those people would be like if you sat next to them on a bus during the week. Most backpackers are pretty chilled out. But sometimes the crazy must let loose.

Oh, and don’t get your hopes up for the sunrise. Apparently they’re not always so spectacular (or sometimes, even visible):

a disappointing sunrise

Overall I had a great time at the party- I met some really cool people, got painted like a pirate, and danced until my feet were floppy cantaloupes.

Have any of you ever been to something like this? If so, what were the secrets to your success?

 

Traveling Alone: The Crazy Stranger Challenge

Monkey Me
Making friends is easy!

Traveling alone is awesome.

Traveling alone sucks.

I plan on writing a more detailed overview of my experiences as a solo traveler when I finish my trip, but for now I wanted to share a quick thought that I had today and then to ask you all for some help.

Feel free to read the background thoughts or just skip to the bottom for the challenge.

Approach Anxiety

We’ve all been in situation where, for whatever reason, we want to talk to a stranger. They could be some attractive member of the opposite sex, a celebrity you see on the street, or just someone who you find interesting for whatever reason.

We want to go over and talk to them, but it’s difficult.

The degree to which this is the case varies based on the person- e.g. introverts might have a harder time with it than extroverts (although that’s a totally different can of worms that I won’t get into right now- shyness and introversion have been shown to be fairly disparate), but almost everyone has this feeling to some extent.

But what is this feeling exactly? Why is the simple act of talking to someone difficult? Isn’t it something we do every day?

I would posit that this anxiety is really just the fear of being judged. We want to go over and talk to them, but what will they think of us? Will they think it’s strange? Will they think I’M strange?

There are three main workarounds that I have found for this problem.

  1. The hard way: change yourself. Keep telling yourself (perhaps in the 3rd person) that the world won’t end if you go and talk to someone, and maybe you’ll start to believe it. Or at least you will after enough practice. I’ve been working on this for years but still have a ways to go.
  2. The easy way #1: do something to artificially ensure that they won’t think you strange.
  3. The easy way #2: do something to yourself to artificially ensure that you won’t care if/when they do.

The latter two are the ones that I want to focus on right now.

The second can be accomplished by putting yourself in situations where starting a conversation would seem totally normal. This is how something like speed-dating works: they are able to mostly eliminate approach anxiety by imposing a setting where you are required to talk to someone, so at least the act of you starting a conversation won’t be judged (what you say is of course a different matter).

One way that I have found this method be applicable while traveling is in the difference between meeting someone during the day vs at night.

If I happen to be staying one bed over from someone at a hostel or sitting next to them on a bus, it’s quite natural to start up a conversation. Hostels tend to be very friendly environments where everyone is open to meeting people. If I have to sit next to someone for an extended ride then saying a few initial words is just polite.

Now fast-forward a few hours. I’m now at a bar by myself. Like a creeper™. Suddenly that same girl who would have been totally friendly when chatting back at the hostel will think I’m weird if I just come over and just start talking to her at her table (or at least my instinct is to assume that to be the case).

Thankfully I’ve so far been able to avoid the above situation by just making friends during the day or arranging to meet people at night, but not every day can be a winner.

This brings me to Method #3.

The easiest example of this method the Costume Phenomena. Put yourself into a crazy enough outfit and suddenly it’s not you that they’re judging anymore.

Everyone wants to talk to a gorilla:

GorillaSuit

Even for less full-coverage costumes where your face is visible, you can still effectively hide behind the alternate persona.

But while this method is loads of fun, it’s hard to really apply in too many different situations.

Instead, a lesser version of this method involves changing not other people’s perspective of you, but your own perspective of the interaction. When someone dares you to go and high-five a stranger, you may feel a bit nervous, but it’s not too bad because at least YOU know why you’re approaching them. It’s someone else’s fault. Any judgement should really apply to them.

This finally leads me to the real point of this post.

The Stranger Challenge

I’ve started to play little games with myself both to give me an added kick to go meet people and just to make the interactions more hilarious.

Last week I played the accent game for a few days. One night I successfully convinced two Irish girls that I grew up in Dublin, but they were able to guess that something was off and that really I also had one parent who was British. The next day I kept it up and thoroughly confused a newlywed couple at Chabbad visiting from Canada.

I have plenty more ideas for things to do that are successively more crazy, but I think it would be way more fun if the challenges were actually externally imposed. I am therefore throwing down the gauntlet to all of you: post a comment(s) with some type of challenge for me to do involving strangers, and up/downvote other peoples’ suggestions. I’ll see how many of them I can manage to do over the next week.

Let the craziness commence!

A Journey to Thailand: The Day that Wouldn’t End – Part I

“AH AHM DA KING OF KHAOSAN! NOW BRING ME MORE KETCHUP!”

As the echoes of this magnificent declamation faded away, I could hear clapping from the group of Australians behind us. The Thai waitress was slowly backing behind the counter and I could see the three Chinese girls in the corner looking on in apprehension. Intrepid traveler and linguist that I have become I still couldn’t make heads or tails of their sing-song whispers to each other, but their meaning was clear: “Who’s the crazy Lithuanian dude in the tank-top, what’s he yelling on about, and why did he steal Jinjing’s crown?”

The rest of us sitting around the table, at that point expecting if not quite accustomed to Franz’s antics, just looked at each other. Nobody said it, but we were all thinking the same thing: “That guy needs more ketchup like King Tut needs another roll of toilet paper.”

-Bangkok, a random Burger King, 55.5 hours without sleep-

Will you take a look at that. Pretty pathetic, huh? Well, you’ll never believe this, but that llama you’re looking at was once a human being. And not just any human being. That guy was an emp-

Wait. Wrong narrator again. Sorry guys. But as long as I got that far I might as well skip a bit.

Look, I tell you what, you go back a ways, you know, before I was a llama, and this will all make sense…

Tuesday, Feb 9th – Silver Spring MD – 8am 

Brrrring! Brrring! Brrring!

Well, actually it was more like a ” bzz bzz bzz.” I use an app called Sleep Time for my alarm that wakes you up by a specified time based on your sleep rhythms, and starts with a very soft buzzing before getting more annoying. Thankfully I tend to sleep about as deeply as a ferret with a cocaine problem so the buzzing’s all I ever get.

But anyway.

I woke up feeling… excited. Odd, I know, for the day I was leaving to Thailand. But for me it actually was a strange feeling. I almost never get excited. I’ve been on tons of great trips in the last year, and I certainly looked forward to all of them, but for none could I truly have described myself as “excited.” Especially not enough to at all impact my sleep the night before.

In fact the last time I can really think of that I felt a similar way was right before I left to study abroad in Israel for a year. Right after high school. When I had just turned 17. Over 9 years ago.

So what makes this trip special? I’ve thought about it, and settled on the “?”.

“?,” you ask?

?. The Unknown. I’m going all by myself, have made almost no plans, and as such have almost no expectations. I have no idea what could happen, and therefore anything could. For every other trip, I knew that it would be fun. I could anticipate the fun. But fun is fun. For this, who knows?

But back to the narrative.

I’ll do a more detailed post about my packing / preparation adventures later, but for now suffice to say that I managed to fit all the manner of clothes, food, electronics, and a small kitchen sink into my brand spanking new (why is that even a phrase?) 40L Tortuga travel backpack. All packed up it weighed in just under 30lb. Not too bad I thought.

Note to self #1: trusting “thinking” is dangerous.

Tuesday, Feb 9th – Dulles Airport – 6:30PM – 10.5 hours since sleep

All right! My flight was scheduled for 9:10 PM.  Plenty of time. And not a single person in the security line. Go me! Now let me just mosey on down and show them- wait, what’s that? You want me to weigh my innocent little backpack?? But… it’s a backpack! This never happens to me flying Southwest:( Goodbye cool American startup airline. Hellooo Emirates, official airline of the United Arab Emirates.

Apparently there’s a 7kg weight limit on your main carry-on, with an added 5kg personal item allowed. Let’s see, 7 + 5, carry the 1, multiply by that number… that’s something like 26, 27 pounds? And I had weighted in at almost 30? So much for my awesome packing job.

Note to self #2: find out how to procure a proper Bag of Holding (how many of you had to google that? Prove your nerd-cred!).

Soo. I could either leave half my stuff behind, ooor…

Repacking

Hurray for the little drawstring bag I brought for day-excursions! After stuffing all of my heaviest compact electronics + foodstuffs (I blame you Mr. Soylent) into it, as well as loading up my pockets a bit, I managed to bring my big backpack down to 7kg on the dot, and the small one a precise 5kg. Whew.

You won’t get rid of me that easily Emirates! But perhaps I should hold off on such premature declarations. They’re not done with me yet.

Wednesday, Feb 10th – Somewhere – 2:46AM – 18.77 hours since sleep

Alright Emirates, you’re not too bad. They asked me about my kosher meal before we even took off, I got to plug in my various devices at my seat, watch Daniel Craig be all nice and manly-like, and now I’m doing my best caterpillar impression with the complementary fleece blanket and neck pillow while getting my กลายเป็นนักภาษาศาสตร์ on. 20 hours on the plane should be enough to learn a foreign, asian, tonal language right?

Out the window is a pretty fantastic sun-sky-thing:

Sun Sky Thing

Just a quick note: I actually had a plan for this trip. It was to start Tuesday evening and end Thursday morning, crossing 12 time zones with one 12.5 hour flight and one 7.5 hour flight. I know that I’ve always been terrible at sleeping on planes, but the quality of the flight here actually gave me some hope. I would spend the first flight learning Thai, then the 4-hour layover, then the second flight would be Wednesday evening. If I could make use of my sleep deprivation by that point to even sleep a few hours on the plane then that would get me nicely on-track for being jet-lag free. Silly, silly me.

Wednesday, Feb 10th – Abu Dhabi – 6:30 PM

Hellooo United Arab Emirates. I’m going to be trapped here for 23 hours on my way back so I better get my Dora on.

First stop:

20160210-1834

Well slap me silly and call me Ahmed. Aren’t other cultures fun?

And, speaking of other cultures, I don’t think I’ve seen any of these in any American airports:

Smoking Area 1

But at least it’s empty right?

On to the better parts of Middle-Eastern culture:

Bazaar

Don’t worry, I’ve been training for this moment for my whole life. I touched nothing but the lamp(s).

I thought about getting one, but first I need to locate some old woman willing to trade her old lamp for my new one.

Onwards!

Hmm… what’s that smell… seems like I spoke too soon.

Smoking Line

Some of them were even there with kids.

But wait- not all is lost! There is still what that is good and pure to be found in the Middle East!

Star Wars

Thursday, Feb 11th – Somewhere – 4:00AM – 35 hours without sleep

Emirates, I take back every nice thing I ever said about you.

I miss that last plane. I really do.

Did you ever play the game “sardines” when you were a kid? You know, it’s like hide and seek, but you start with only one person hiding. Then each person who finds the first guy has to squeeze in and hide alongside him. Last person to find the rest loses.

Whoever designed this airplane must have had a great childhood full of these sort of games, accompanied by a very unfortunate nostalgic streak.

BMI is a joke. Really, a totally useless metric. I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life where it didn’t deem me anorexic.

So when I can’t sit in an airplane seat and put my arms down next to me, you know there’s a problem.

Unfortunately, the larger fellow next to me found a great way to solve said problem. I’ll give you a hint: it didn’t involve putting his arms down next to (or on top of ) him. Somehow he managed to fall asleep within 2 minutes of sitting down, way before takeoff. He also turned out to be great at impressions. In this case, he spent the next 8 hours doing a fantastic one of an industrial rotary saw with a head-cold.

To top it all off, the nice stewardess Anna (actually nice- she was really the only good thing about the flight), after some back and forth with the captain, informed me that those power outlets cleverly hidden beneath most people’s seats (not mine for some reason) were actually just there for show.

And, to NOT top it all off, here’s what I got when I ordered coffee:

Plane Coffee

That was before I started drinking any of it.

You can guess how well my brilliant jet-lag avoidance plan went.

————

I know you’re all probably thinking “All this travel stuff is boring! Tell us more about Franz!!” Well, I had to spend several days going through it so I feel no remorse about making you spend 2-3 minutes. Stay tuned next week for Part II – Thailand.