To all my friends who I meet on exchange – so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu.
My, oh my, what a lush semester it has been; full of incredibly sassy experiences, a bit of shabu-shabu, and most of all, a lifestyle that makes returning home very hard. You know, today I had to hang my towel up myself? Can you believe it? Where was the maid? I also had to make my own breakfast, my own lunch and my own dinner. Unreal, isn’t it? And if that wasn’t enough, to make matters worse, my bed doesn’t make itself like it did in Thailand! How the convict Australians ever survived here long enough to breed Bogans, I’ll never know. Moreover, it was so cold here over the festive season, with some days only reaching as high as 25 degrees. Where’s Bangkok’s consistent 34? Well, actually, the day I departed Bangkok, the weather report said it was “cool’ – only 31 degrees. I knew then it was time to swaschbuckle out of there.
So, after 71 hours of flying, three complementary upgrades, seven over-night buses, a flood, five exams, 100’s of acquaintances, 10’s of friends, food poisoning and eight countries later, my overseas exchange comes to an end…. and just like that I ended up attending Christmas day at my mother’s boyfriend’s late wife’s sister’s house.
But what happened for the last month and a half?
Firstly, we had exams. Well… shoot me down and call me Charlie, but this period must have been the most chilled exam period I’ve ever had! You may think that sounds like the bee’s knees. Well let me tell you, bee’s knees are hard to live with 24/7. Gosh I feel dumb. I usually try to limit studying to 2-hours per subject per semester, but this semester I really had to force myself to cut it down to 30-minutes… in total. I really recommend doing your exchange in Thailand for the cultural experience, not the intellectual stimulation. For one of my subjects (with a take home, open book exam), the teacher thought you hadn’t understood the concepts if you paraphrased and wrote in your own words. So, I copied chunks out of the text book and sent it in. Her reply was: “There were a number of miss spellings in your exam. I gather you had a lot to write in a short period of time. Your grade is A.” Hit the nail on the head there, didn’t you sweetie! I’ve never copied a text book that fast in my life! I also got an A in Marketing Strategy from the best and most beautiful lecturer I’ve ever had. She was snazzy, noyce, diff’rent, un-ewes-ual. Educated at Stanford and a real people’s person, she had outstanding fashion sense. It’s amazing how much more effort you (well, I) put into a subject when you (I) like the lecturer. Nonetheless, I was disappointed with my B+ in International Marketing. Talk about no reward for no effort. Also, there was another subject called Current Issues in Finance, which you think would be really interesting during this period – with the looming collapse of the Euro-zone, a recent GFC and the speculation of a second one… but no. Students had to rename this subject “Random Issues in Finance” after the exam had questions about the price of race-horse breeding, the Thai wine industry and the salaries of football club managers. If you see the ‘current’ and ‘finance’ part of those questions, please let me know. Bearing in mind, this is from a lecturer who took no shame in asking his female students to come around to his house to “drink lots.” “I got such a vibe from him the other day,” the girls would tell me.
Anyway – with a quick trip home in the middle for my mummsey’s 50th, the exam period was over in a flash and it was time to say goodbye. Goodbyes are not my strong point. I hate them. Especially (slash only) when I like the people. But such is life, and on the bus to Thailand’s north I went. Having previously visited Chiang Mai, this time I went to Chiang Rai to go trekking. When telling the tour guide what I wanted, I emphasised that the trek had to be adventurous, hard (ish), and to not see any tourists in the Hill Tribe village we would stay in. Snaps for him – he certainly fulfilled all the criteria, apart from the ‘ish’ after hard!
A French girl and I set off with our tour guide and his local guide to a village 6-hours walk away. It was a nice walk, through bamboo forests, along rivers, through tea plantations and up mountains. Our hill-tribe village was really great, with only three houses (one who is usually occupied by an old lady who does nothing apart from smoke opium all day, but she was sadly in hospital at the time). There were lots of kids there who were thrilled to have us play with them, give them stuff to rot their teeth, and had energy way in excess of what I’ve ever had, which was nice. Although, come dinner time I felt the tables turned and we were suddenly the animals in the zoo, as the entire family and the tour guides sat in a circle around us watching us eat our chicken curry and vegetables and omelette whilst the children waited for the leftovers. Awkward.
I wonder what kind of effect us tourists have on the children’s development… it must be strange having these white people come and stay with you all the time, be nice to you, give you stuff, play with you, take hundred’s of photos, and then leave never to be seen again… it must be even worse if all those strange white people do is smoke opium. In fact, I think the same about volunteers working in orphanages for a few months; the child finally has someone in their life who shows them love and kindness, only to leave them soon after. From the child’s perspective, I’m sure it feels like constant rejection and neglect from people you love.
The next morning we were up at the crack of sparrows, wishing we’d taken something to make sleeping on the hay-mattress less hay-fever inducing. The tour guide said, “Today is easy. We’ll stop lots along the way, as we only have about two hours of walking.” Boy was he wrong. After half an hour, we stopped to switch local guides to someone who knew the area better (apparently). In reality, we should have been suspicious from the start when we saw him drink half a bottle of rice whiskey (horrible stuff) at 9 am as if it was water and he’d just spent thirty days lost in the desert. So we inevitably took a wrong turn, which, you know, would have been fine if we got back on track straight away. But we didn’t. We spent two hours CLIMBING up a mountain – get that: climbing, not walking. I have to tell you that we were definitely off the beaten track; the road could not have been anymore less travelled. However, rest assured knowing multiple tracks were definitely beaten with a machete during our short time in the area. Once we reached the top of the mountain, our guide announced that we had walked up the wrong mountain. Great. So we started walking down, only to realise 30-minutes later that we’d walked down the wrong side. So we tried another side. And another side. And another side. NO JOKES. Each time, after walking quite far down, he would announce that we would need to walk back up. So, in the end we went back to where we started at the bottom of the mountain and walked up another mountain. Now I know why the Vietnamese ‘won’ the Vietnam war. The jungle is a very confusing place, especially when you are drunk or cannot see above the two metre grass! So, again, it was no surprise when we walked up a second wrong mountain (Again, NO JOKES). By the time we got to the bottom of this mountain, the sun had set and we were not so wrapped that the tour guide was now sober enough to know where we were and said the village we were visiting was in fact on top of the third mountain. “TAKE US HOME,” we said. And he did. Thank Buddha for that. I was knackered.
I then took a two day boat up the Mekong in Laos to Luang Prabang. Laos is so lush. So many beautiful mountains (that you don’t need to walk up), full of jungle and barely any development. I had to keep reminding myself that this was in fact real life, as after seeing so many ‘tribal’ huts and boats in museums throughout my entire life, now that the authentic thing was actually in front of me it didn’t seem real. After visiting Luang Prabang which reeked of nothing but French colonisation, tourists and croissants, I stayed two nights in a village 7-hours away from civilisation –it was cool to be among local Laos people. But there were still tourists, so a German chick and I walked to an even more remote village. However, we got lost along the way and ended up in a harvested rice field somewhere. We said, “All we need now is someone to come up to us with a shot-gun and tell us to get off his land.” And as if he had heard us say that, an angry man with a shot gun arrived and told us to get off his land. We were quite scared at the coincidence (or something more mysterious) that we didn’t hesitate to obey his orders. Luckily, we soon found a local from our destination and helped him carry the five huge bamboo logs he had cut down to build a house (which were so heavy I wish I never offered!). But, as a result, his father insisted on giving us countless shots of homemade Lao-Lao whiskey. I couldn’t really understand why he was giving us so much. He kept saying “Later, later,” and we kept saying, “okay, yes, later” and then he’d force us to do another shot. It turns out he was actually saying, “A little, little,” and we kept accepting. Stupid us = drunk us. Nevertheless, we were grateful for his hospitality. I also visited a different village and ate a soup. There was a type of meat in the soup I hadn’t seen before, which made me wish I had seen the following sight five minutes before eating and not five minutes after…
I then went to Vang Vieng to meet my friend, Stefanie. If you are a bogan, you would have without doubt heard of this as the home of tubing (floating down the river in a tire-tube, stopping off at bars along the way and doing death-inducing activities like the “slide of death”). If you are not a bogan, it’s a real sassy place… not! Every restaurant and bar plays a different season of Friends or Family guy all day with classy tourists lying there watching, and I wish I was able to tell you about the outrageous things people had painted all over their bodies, but I can’t as QUT would get quite angry. Let’s just say drunk people and pens don’t mix. Nor do drunk people and swings. My Dutch friend had been there a week earlier and belly-flopped from quite a height. After lying face down in the water for a minute, people started to realise that he wasn’t joking and was in fact unconscious. Luckily he was revived, but considering the number of people who die here each year, it was very scary! But it was a really fun time – like the full moon party but during the day, so you can see how trashy it is. The highlight would be 50-year-old Chinese man and the 60-year-old Australian man with a broken arm enjoying themselves amongst the teenagers. Why they thought it was okay for them to be there, I do not know. Please promise me that will never be you. Also cool was the outstanding number of hunk’a spunks around the place. I felt ravished just looking at them. People-watching here is a must! There are many more activities to do near Vang Vieng, my favourite being cave visiting. Have you ever walked 800m into long narrow cave with no one else in it and turned the light off? If you haven’t, don’t. It’s really, really scary. And you’ll realise you aren’t alone after-all.
Stefanie and I then made the last stop on our tour together – to The Plain of Jars. It was a six hour drive away, over and around the Laos mountains. ‘twasn’t a great time to have food poisoning, and I really hope people on the bus knew it was in fact food poisoning and not a hang-over, as I already felt embarrassed for asking the bus to stop twice, allowing me to chunder everywhere outside and not inside. Regardless, the highlight was when Stefanie asked, “Sam… stupid question, but what is a jar?” I was impressed she had agreed to come to such a place and bought the ticket without knowing what a jar was. It was a beautiful area, with thousands of jars scattered around the place. Archaeologists say the jars were used as graves for people to decompose in before they were cremated. The locals say they were used to store Loa-Loa Whiskey in. Stefanie and I came up with a few of our own explanations: 1) used to catch water in during the wet seasons, and store it during the dry season. 2) a place to put naughty children in. The smaller the jar, the naughtier the child must have been. 3) a pre-hearing aid invention. You put an old person in the jar and then talk to them. The echo helped them hear. 4) a pre-telephone invention. Each cup was connected to another cup in another village with a string. 5) Most likely of all the ideas, a brothel. The size and shape of the jar signalled the size of the person performing the service and the type of stuff they might enjoy e.g. large jars on their side signalled there was enough room to use whips. If a person was occupied, the lid would be on to intensify the sounds. Otherwise, they would sit on the jar’s edge. What do you think their purpose was?
In my personal opinion, the coolest thing about Laos is what you see when you drive from city to city. There are many, many villages along the highways, which provide an excellent opportunity for perving on locals. I just wish the shutter speed on my camera was faster so I could show you pictures! There are woman washing themselves in the rivers whilst wearing sarongs, children carrying buckets of water up from the town’s well, men sitting around now that the rice harvest is over drinking too much whiskey for 9am, three year olds collection road gravel from the middle of a ‘highway’, little girls carrying stacks of fluffy grass for their mattresses, women standing there doing nothing but standing there, workers tar-sealing the road using a bucket, motorbikes with 20-30 three-dozen egg trays strapped to the back, countless cows and buffalo just crossing the street, babies playing on the side of the road, neglected looking buses broken down, motorbikes spread across the road having been hit by a truck… and the list goes on!
But all good things have an end, except a sausage which has two. In other words, that brought me to the end of my travels and I went back in Bangkok! Luckily many exchange students were also there, so I got to see them again! Man they are groovy! The cool thing about living in such a city is you can go to really fancy places and afford it. So, we spent the last two nights at sky-bars, one of them being from the Hangover II. Not only do you get 10 people bowing when you arrive, there always seems to be a different, really beautiful Russian girl in a really short dress each time I go to one of these bars. Of course, the only natural thing to do then is accidently drop your card and see what coloured underwear she’s wearing. Pink polka-dots.
Thank you to all my wonderful Thai and farang friends that I meet on exchange. It doesn’t make a happy ending to say goodbye to you… You were chic, classy, crazy (!), sassy and tastey. I hope life is good to you, that you stay naughty and remember to go to the doctor for a check-up when you get home!
You know I love you,
P.S. I went to a restaurant the other day. Do you know what was on the menu? Dried shit-ake mushroom soup. I went mad, didn’t I? Dried shit-ake mustrooms. You don’t want that in soup, do you? You don’t want that in anything! I’ve eaten a lot of things, from guinea pigs to haggis, but I am not eating anything with dried shit (ake) in the title!
P.P.S. The last story isn’t my story, but I thought it was funny. Catherine Tate is very funny.
P.P.P.S. Who’s the lady boy?