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I love Indonesia because Indonesia loves me: Last round

A final batch of the smiling faces that brought me such joy during a month in Indonesia:

Yogyakarta, while my ice cream melts

Yogyakarta, while my ice cream melts

and another

and another

Brain Urlacher, Indonesian edition

Brain Urlacher, Indonesian edition

Wolfed most of my ice cream down by this point (and was licking it off my fingers)

Wolfed most of my ice cream down by this point (and was licking it off my fingers)

Semarang: I got caught in the rain. Then Ivan invited me under his shelter. We all talked for over an hour. They fed me too.

Semarang: I got caught in the rain. Then Ivan invited me under his shelter. We all talked for over an hour. They fed me too.

Semarang:  as mentioned before , my Grab driver brought me to his home and introduced me to his family. This is his lovely and engaging daughter Fauzia.

Semarang: as mentioned before, my Grab driver brought me to his home and introduced me to his family. This is his lovely and engaging daughter Fauzia.

Jakarta: I had to catch a bus back to my room by the station was spiral and confusing. An off the clock driver stopped, told me how, continued on. I did another loop. He saw me again, laughed at me a little. Then said "Get in" and took me to my destination for free. Here we are no doubt violating numerous regulations.     How I love Indonesia.

Jakarta: I had to catch a bus back to my room by the station was spiral and confusing. An off the clock driver stopped, told me how, continued on. I did another loop. He saw me again, laughed at me a little. Then said "Get in" and took me to my destination for free. Here we are no doubt violating numerous regulations.   

How I love Indonesia.

I love Indonesia because Indonesia loves me, part 2

More friends I've made during my month here:

Palembang: I was walking across a bridge and they ran up, no hesitation. They knew what they wanted.

Palembang: I was walking across a bridge and they ran up, no hesitation. They knew what they wanted.

Palembang: even the police love me here

Palembang: even the police love me here

Palembang: tattoo shop owner. Think we have anything in common?

Palembang: tattoo shop owner. Think we have anything in common?

Palembang: we all fit. Kind of.

Palembang: we all fit. Kind of.

Yogyakarta: I love the smiles and styles

Yogyakarta: I love the smiles and styles

Yogyakarta: peace

Yogyakarta: peace

Yogyakarta: he wanted my sunglasses

Yogyakarta: he wanted my sunglasses

Borobudur Temple: think I am the Same Same?

Borobudur Temple: think I am the Same Same?

I love Indonesia because Indonesia loves me

Some friends I've met during my first week in Wonderful Indonesia! :

while walking down the street in Medan

while walking down the street in Medan

at breakfast, Lake Toba

at breakfast, Lake Toba

celebrating  the Batak people  in traditional clothing, Lake Toba

celebrating the Batak people in traditional clothing, Lake Toba

she insisted on one of her own

she insisted on one of her own

in Lake Toba a couple of Dutch girls and I crashed a family naming celebration (kind of like a family reunion): he is the local gov't leader's "right hand man." 

in Lake Toba a couple of Dutch girls and I crashed a family naming celebration (kind of like a family reunion): he is the local gov't leader's "right hand man." 

Bingo is his name. o. Lake Toba.

Bingo is his name. o. Lake Toba.

I've still got what it takes to satisfy your hunger

Food porn**, Malaysia edition:

Pan Mee, Restoran Kin Kin Kuala Lumpur. Delicious soup with noodles, egg, meat with crispy and soft textures--and plenty of chili. As I left the manager politely told me I ate it wrong--you're supposed to keep the broth separate.  It was still good. 

Pan Mee, Restoran Kin Kin Kuala Lumpur. Delicious soup with noodles, egg, meat with crispy and soft textures--and plenty of chili. As I left the manager politely told me I ate it wrong--you're supposed to keep the broth separate.

It was still good. 

Bean paste cakes, Kedai Sin Hua Bee Kuala Lumpur. Tasty--for a dessert made from beans that aren't cocoa.

Bean paste cakes, Kedai Sin Hua Bee Kuala Lumpur. Tasty--for a dessert made from beans that aren't cocoa.

Stingray asam pedas, Asam Pedas Pak Man Melaka. My driver from the bus station to hotel told me to try this local specialty and was I glad. Rich stew, very tasty and spicy--too spicy, in fact, for the woman behind the counter, and she was surprised I liked it. This made me like it even more :)  

Stingray asam pedas, Asam Pedas Pak Man Melaka. My driver from the bus station to hotel told me to try this local specialty and was I glad. Rich stew, very tasty and spicy--too spicy, in fact, for the woman behind the counter, and she was surprised I liked it. This made me like it even more :)  

Pandan kaya puff, Jonkor Street Melaka. Flaky pastry with just the right amount of filling and sweetness--was an excellent snack when I was flagging. 

Pandan kaya puff, Jonkor Street Melaka. Flaky pastry with just the right amount of filling and sweetness--was an excellent snack when I was flagging. 

Roast chicken meal and strawberry float, Kenny Rogers Roasters Ipoh. Allegedly there's still one of these in The States (Ontario California) but I hadn't seen a KRR in decades. Meanwhile there are 87 of them out here so imma call it Malaysian cuisine.  

Roast chicken meal and strawberry float, Kenny Rogers Roasters Ipoh. Allegedly there's still one of these in The States (Ontario California) but I hadn't seen a KRR in decades. Meanwhile there are 87 of them out here so imma call it Malaysian cuisine.  

Skewered snacks, Lok Lok street cart George Town. Lots of food on sticks plus sauces for cheap--how can you go wrong?

Skewered snacks, Lok Lok street cart George Town. Lots of food on sticks plus sauces for cheap--how can you go wrong?

Tandoori chicken and garlic cheese naan, Restoran Kapitan George Town. George Town has a bustling Little India, so of course it has excellent and affordable Indian restaurants--very helpful, as Malaysia was the most expensive of SE Asian countries I've visited thus far. 

Tandoori chicken and garlic cheese naan, Restoran Kapitan George Town. George Town has a bustling Little India, so of course it has excellent and affordable Indian restaurants--very helpful, as Malaysia was the most expensive of SE Asian countries I've visited thus far. 

Steamed rice and soy sauce chicken, Tai Tong Restaurant, George Town. My last dinner in Malaysia and it was lovely--simple and flavorful. A nice way to say goodbye.

Steamed rice and soy sauce chicken, Tai Tong Restaurant, George Town. My last dinner in Malaysia and it was lovely--simple and flavorful. A nice way to say goodbye.

**Which may be the only kind of porn Malaysia would allow. Not that I went looking for it, of course of course.

Back on the farewell tour: things I knew I wanted, things I didn't

New Year's Eve--four days left in Krung Thep so down to last boxes for checking. I'm a fight fan so I knew I wanted to take in a Muay Thai event. Three options in Bangkok:

IMG_1127a.JPG
  1. Rajadamnern Stadium. Home of the biggest shows, and the biggest prices to boot: 1500 baht and up. Too paeng for this farang.
  2. Lumpinee. Most tickets are similarly priced as above. Also I'd heard some (possibly unfair) criticism of the venue so didn't give it much of a second thought. Especially when there's:
  3. Channel 7. Live televised shows every Sunday afternoon. And the price? Free.

Dii mak!

And everything I'd read was that this was real Bangkok, a real local experience. So I get to rub shoulders with those I've lived among for the last nine months and...

oh.

oh.

Well, it's about the fights--and they were exciting for sure. Sample: 

Two young men giving their all to take care of their families and put on a show. How can you not smile? 

Serious, y'all--how can some of you not be smiling? What are you watching, big beard? Not impressed? Then get on down there!

Serious, y'all--how can some of you not be smiling? What are you watching, big beard? Not impressed? Then get on down there!

Important to note, however, that gambling is NOT allowed, as all these signs attest:

IMG_0881.JPG

And Thais are a rules-following sort, so...

oh.

oh.

And we saw a title change hands. At least, the back of it:

hope I made good smiling background for the Channel 7 viewers

hope I made good smiling background for the Channel 7 viewers

After this the plan was a quiet, introvert-friendly New Year's celebration: order a pizza, drink cocktails, watch the fireworks.

But dating a Thai isn't always simple. Because she has family, and they have get-togethers for holidays, and they invite you. And you can't say no, because that would be rude (and even though you are rude, you don't want them to know that).

So before long I'm sitting in the soi, struggling to communicate my appreciation for gracious hospitality. "Dii!" Smile. "Chai." Smile. "Aroi mak!" Smile. "Khap khun khrap." Smile.

just how we do it in Krung Thep

just how we do it in Krung Thep

And how gracious is that hospitality? Check the prawns:

That's a Thai pointing at things.  It's a thing .

That's a Thai pointing at things. It's a thing.

Long before I'm saying "Im lau im mak!" I realize this is what I most wanted. In my last days here, one more real Krung Thep experience. Because while weather, topography, architecture, and attractions all contribute to a given location, I've found it's always the people that truly make a place. And in a city full of kindness, the family I spent New Year's evening with was among the most. Still, I wanted to show my appreciation beyond poorly articulated Thai and crooked smiling. Thankfully, I get that chance after I push away from the dinner table, full and happy, while others in the family have yet to be fed themselves:  

What's shakin? Bacon.

What's shakin? Bacon.

And I still got my fireworks:

Like so much of Krung Thep, pictures don't do it justice.

Like so much of Krung Thep, pictures don't do it justice.

Sawasdee bpii-mai! Happy 2561!

Back to boring Bangkok

 

It’s easy to become cynical about where you live, whether you were born there or just moved four months ago. Even in Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, a place I never imagined taking for granted. Yet here I am, thinking: 

‘Sure they’ve got cheap and tasty street food everywhere. But remember the bahn mi in Saigon? The most ama-aazing sandwich ever--and less than a dollar!’

‘Big deal, another gilded wat. Remember the temples in Laos? So much darker, with all those violent murals!’

‘Yeah, a moto almost ran me down on the sidewalk. But in Cambodia, everyone drove the wrong way. Death lurked around every turn!’

Yep, boring old Bangkok. But there’s still much The City of Angels had yet to reveal to these farang eyes, and I got to see a few this week. Now you do, too.

 

BANGKOK BOAT TOUR

then when the tourists are gone, some food cart owner comes along and stocks tomorrow's menu

then when the tourists are gone, some food cart owner comes along and stocks tomorrow's menu

When traveling, if you’re open to it, you intersect with people who will pop in your life again. Such was the case with my sacred tattoo tour guide. Long story short, he needed guests willing to be photographed to come on one of his newest tours. And I’m an attention whore so was happy to help out. In exchange, I got to see a different side of sights I had seen, and new ones I hadn’t.

Bangkok by boat is especially fascinating--it’s called the Venice of the East for a reason.

Along the way we hit a couple of lesser known destinations (Wat Paknam Bhasi Charoen) and well-known sites in unusual ways (Wat Pho at night, after all the tourists have been kicked out).

AIRPLANE GRAVEYARD

how do  you  think they got here?

how do you think they got here?

Since entering the Ghost Tower is verboten and the Fish Mall has been torn down, there isn’t much urban ex weirdness left in Bangkok. But the Airplane Graveyard remains.

How did dilapidated passenger jets end up in a field not very close to either of the city’s airports? Seems no one knows. But if you’re willing to pay the homeless guy 200 baht you can climb around in the old planes yourself. Don’t expect hand rails or safety cordons, however.

Snapping selfies at sacred sites: Angkor Wat

I get it. You're at a special place, and you want to share your excitement with the world/get lots of facebook and Instagram dap. So you know it's not enough to just take a picture of the site--how will people know you were really there? They might accuse you of stealing from shutterstock. I'm sure you're not just a narcissistic millennial with low self-esteem.  

these faces just aren't good enough

these faces just aren't good enough

There are two problems, though:

  1. When you make it about yourself, you miss the whole point of the experience. Are you even enjoying--do you even recognize--what a special moment you are partaking in? This is a treasure--a world wonder! And
  2. You're in my way, pissing me off.

But after a while, you inspire as much wonder in me at this sacred station in the Kingdom of Wonder

And I wonder if you wondered what I was taking pictures of.

A greener shade of Bangkok

Last weekend, following the recommendation of Evo from the Bangkok Podcast, I visited Bang Krachao. It's a massive park within Bangkok's borders also known as the Green Lung, since it may be the only place you can go to breathe. Or it may be the city's only oxygen source left. Or it's kinda shaped like lungs--opinions vary, as they so often do here.

no street food, no streets--this is still Bangkok?

no street food, no streets--this is still Bangkok?

I'm not so foolish as to think I've seen all BKK has to offer--not even close--but even so, this was a surprise.

The area in and around also has a weekend floating market and other fun discoveries you can really only see by renting a bike.

lots of people shopping. Okay, still Bangkok.

lots of people shopping. Okay, still Bangkok.

roadside  Ganesha

roadside Ganesha

And speaking of renting that bike, they have bike paths. But not like the ones back home.

straight-ish and very narrow

straight-ish and very narrow

It might not be clear just how tight this path is--two bicycles could pass each other but handlebars would be scraping railings. That is, where there are railings--and they disappear at points with no warning, where a shear drop-off awaits.

Fortunately, when I got astride a family and rode a bit too close to them and to avoid them overcompensated there was a railing waiting to catch me. That was a comfort. Less comfortable was the slow-motion crash and the bicycle kicking back into my exposed shin, but hey, what's a little hematoma?


KANCHANABURI

Later in the week I took a bus 120 kilometers (75 miles) west to Kanchanaburi Province, an almost entirely rural, farming area of Thailand, as different of a world from Bangkok as one could imagine. 

To see this beauty, however, you have to board the Terror Train.

Terror Train is not the official name, just one I found appropriate--because over the Wampo Viaduct the drop-off is...significant

But there's more than fear and beauty in this place. This is the Burma Railway--aka the Death Railway built by Japanese-captured POWs in WWII. To stand on the trestles, to touch the steel laid by tens of thousands of Allied soldiers--men working against their will to benefit the enemy. To think of the 12,000 of them who died--along with a 100,000 or more Asian laborers--it staggers the imagination.

surreal

surreal

After, we visited one the museums containing many artifacts. This was the most shocking of all: 

beyond surreal

beyond surreal

Why these bones aren't interred somewhere, I do not know. Given DNA testing today, I would figure they could be returned to their families. This left far more questions for me than answers--is it a cultural thing? Do "authorities" just not know this is here? Are these "just" Asian laborers, and thus somehow "less important"?

Kind of a dark way to end the post, I know. So here's the pretty sunset we saw before leaving. 

ahh, pretty. let's forget the war atrocities we just saw.

ahh, pretty. let's forget the war atrocities we just saw.

I've got what it takes to satisfy your hunger

I know what you want.

And you've been waiting so patiently...

So now it's time for me to give it to you...

That's right, baby. Food porn, SE Asia style.

You like it spicy? I know I do.  Slow-cooked pork, Rot Fai night market, Bangkok

You like it spicy? I know I do. Slow-cooked pork, Rot Fai night market, Bangkok

Simple and delicious.  Stir fry chicken with basil, egg, rice. Random street food stall, Bangkok

Simple and delicious. Stir fry chicken with basil, egg, rice. Random street food stall, Bangkok

If there is a perfect sandwich, it's banh mi. This may be the best I've ever had. Price: 20,000 dong ($0.88 US)  Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa, Saigon

If there is a perfect sandwich, it's banh mi. This may be the best I've ever had. Price: 20,000 dong ($0.88 US) Bánh Mì Hồng Hoa, Saigon

The street food fried chicken in BKK is second only to Popeye's (your grandmother's homemade doesn't count).  Sutthisan MRT street food market

The street food fried chicken in BKK is second only to Popeye's (your grandmother's homemade doesn't count). Sutthisan MRT street food market

Y'all really think this is what we eat?  American fried rice, Mexican iced coffee, Black Canyon Coffee, Bangkok

Y'all really think this is what we eat? American fried rice, Mexican iced coffee, Black Canyon Coffee, Bangkok

Delicious soup, but I paid for it twice (the second time and way we will not discuss).  Pho 2000, Saigon

Delicious soup, but I paid for it twice (the second time and way we will not discuss). Pho 2000, Saigon

Prepping the most polarizing fruit in Asia.  Durian vendor, near Victory Monument, Bangkok

Prepping the most polarizing fruit in Asia. Durian vendor, near Victory Monument, Bangkok

Be glad you can't smell it--worse than durian, even.  Hard-cooking eggs in sulphur hot springs, Chiang Rai province

Be glad you can't smell it--worse than durian, even. Hard-cooking eggs in sulphur hot springs, Chiang Rai province

Probably not coming to a 7-11 near you.  Green tea Kit-Kat, Bangkok

Probably not coming to a 7-11 near you. Green tea Kit-Kat, Bangkok

Simple is still best.  Omelet, rice, watermelon juice, Chiang Mai

Simple is still best. Omelet, rice, watermelon juice, Chiang Mai

And the money shot--because only an ice cream chain originating in San Francisco but now significantly more popular in Thailand than in The States could come up with this: 

Seeing Saigon in the rear view

I left Saigon yesterday, though I don't expect it will leave me anytime soon. I still have much to say about it (including a nominee for The Most Embarrassing Moment of My Life in the Non-sex Category), but here are some final shots. Because, as my mother said when she first looked at my blog, "nice pics!" (never mind that I'm a writer, here to write).

So you gotta give the people what they want.