Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Milkman Always Bathes Twice

For the past four months or so there has been a sign outside a luxury spa near my apartment advertising a special "Milky Bath" for 190 Baht. I had been wanting to take the spa up on this special ever since I saw the sign, as I love both baths and things that are under 200 Baht. I had been casually asking people about the milky bath, too, investigating, finding out if anyone had any information about what a milky bath might be. Some thought that it would be a pool of milk, and that perhaps there would be a milk lady there to pour pitchers of milk over my body; others thought there would be no pool, only the milk pitchers. Everyone agreed that it was true the milky bath would be good for my skin. Everyone agreed it was also true that only women take milky baths.

Correction, friends: it used to be true that only women take milky baths. This morning, roused by a 930 A.M. wakeup call from a wrong number, I set out to bath-a-torium for my milky bath, to detox, relax, and other five letter words ending in X. Uh, Lorax. Yeah, I speak for the trees, so long as the trees are saying that I love to take baths.

I arrived at the spa and announced that I would be purchasing one milky bath, please. They asked me what else I wanted, besides a milky bath--a-ha, there's the catch! They lure you in with the cheap bath, and then they try to sell you the massage ON TOP of the cheap bath! Well, I've got bad news for you, Spa With The Milky Bath--I don't want to buy your 300 Baht massage, or your oatmeal rubdown--all I want is a milky bath, whatever that may be, and I want it NOW. Milk me up, Milky Lady.

I was told to sit in the lobby and wait as the milky bath was prepared. After about five minutes, I was led to a the back of the spa and into a bathroom--sink, toilet, shower, and, yes, bathtub, where a murky, milky solution filled half the tub. A dozen rose petals floated on top. Four scented candles burned at the four corners of the tub. The Milky Lady turned on the hot water and explained that I could fill the bath all the way up to my desired temperature. She handed me a towel, dimmed the lights, and piped in some relaxing music. Then she left me to my milky bath.

So, there was no Milky Lady pouring pitchers of milk onto my naked body, as I laughed until I cried, as I foresaw in my imagination. It was just a bath in a scented milk solution, a soothing 25 minutes (suggested Milky Bath duration) of bathing in Ovaltine. After a nice relaxing, detoxing, Loraxing soak in the tub, I strode out into the dry late-morning Chaing Mai heat, my skin guarded by a subcutaneous milk layer. The sky was clear and so were my pores. I was ready to attack the day, to milk it for all it was worth.

Then I took a three hour nap and woke up wrapped in dry sweat. I wonder if the dog at dinner tonight thought I tasted like salty milk.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No, YOU'RE the Piano Man (Audience Participation Requested!!)

Anyone who has ever heard me sing knows that it is just one of those things, like Sudoku and having a conversation with anybody, that I am not good at. When I sing I sound like a dying cow, if that cow happened to be singing "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" while it was dying.

Also, the cow was vomiting.

The upshot is, I am very embarrassed to sing in public, except when I'm drunk and/or surrounded by friends. This fear is about to be put to the test because, in approximately two weeks, I am singing two songs for my ENG 205 class. Let's rewind and see how this certain catastrophe came to be:

About a month ago I was wandering through the Naa Moh market with a visiting PiA fellow when I saw a five-person band playing some tunes for cash. Two of those students--Wall and Choke, both guitarists--were members of my ENG 205 class. I smiled at them and brought it up the next day in class. I asked them if they would play a song in class on the final day.

"Yes," Choke said. "And  you will sing a song too."

I said sure, and no more mention was made of either the final day band performance or my singing.

Fast forward to last Monday, when Choke and Wall approach me and ask me which two songs I would like to sing on the final day of class.

"Uh..."

I asked them which English songs they knew. They listed a few that I had never heard before, and then Choke named "You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All" (that's the Meat Loaf version of the title). I know this song quite well because roommate/acapella wizard Frederick often sang the song, in alto, or whatever girly part he was, in the common room of our suite. I believe it was junior or senior year when his a capella group added the song to their repertoire. The song holds a special place in my heart now as a reminder of Princeton and my best friends from back home; and now, apparently, it will hold a special place in my heart for Thai reasons as well. SO MANY REASONS TO BECOME WISTFUL OVER THIS SONG

The real point of this post, though, is Song #2. Choke assured me that he could learn any song that I wanted to sing for my second song, and I told him that I would let him know on Thursday which song I wanted.

So, loyal readers of This Land Is Thailand, what should it be? What song should I sing to wrap up my time as a teacher in Thailand? Is there any realistic choice besides Total Eclipse of the Heart? Should I make Choke learn Comfy in Nautica on the acoustic guitar? How would an unplugged version of "Pizza Hut Taco Bell" sound?

Let me know in the comments section, friends.

Monday, January 25, 2010

How Are You Feeling?

As anyone who has ever been in (or near) Monkey Club knows, "If you're feeling up, it's Monkey Club." But apparently, per my experience there on Saturday night, if you're feeling like throwing a full mug of beer at someone else's face...well, that's Monkey Club, too.

I was sitting at the head of a large table against one of the back walls of Monkey Club--I was at the head not out of respect, but because that is where the fewest number of Thai people have to talk to me. There were about 9 people at the table, and I guess we were all pretty drunk. At one point, two girls came over, from the table behind us (about three feet behind us)--a cozy set up--and said something in Thai to the people in the middle of the table. I didn't catch any of it.

My friend and Charles and I got up to order some drinks at the bar. We were there for about ten minutes, and when we turned around to walk back, everyone at both tables was standing up, hollering at each other, pounding their chests and whatnot. For some reason, my friend Van kept on saying "Jason, sit down. Sit down. Sit down." Not in any hostile way, but he was just saying that everything was all right, and that I could sit. Meanwhile there are 20 Thai people not two feet from my chair all beating their breasts and shouting. So I didn't sit until everyone else did. Cooler heads prevailed.

At least I thought so. About two minutes later, while I was still trying to figure out what the argument was about, another guy, who was still very upset about something, suddenly turned around from where he was standing, being consoled by a friend, and threw his full mug of beer at my friend's head. It missed him by inches and shattered against the wall. He was led out by security. Everyone stood up again, and shook hands. No one seemed that alarmed that someone had been nearly murdered by a projectile drinking glass--the mug was thick, fake-crystallized like a beer mug, and the speed at which it was thrown combined with the distance was enough to do lots of damage. Luckily, Thai people like soccer and not baseball, and he missed.

No one was ever able to describe to me what had happened. Something about ex-girlfriends and jealousy. I didn't catch any of the Thai, except for one phrase--one of the girls from the other table said to my friend Frame, "Yim arai? Yim arai?" -- what are you smiling at? I asked if he knew this girl--she was a friend of a friend, he said. That will teach Frame to smile so much. Jerk.

About an hour after the ruckus, when I was leaving, my friend Van wanted to know:

"Jason, if there was a fight...what you do?"

I assumed he wanted to know if I had his back, if I would have thrown down. This being the only country in the world where I am even close to being an intimidating size, I assured himt hat I had two years of schoolboy wrestling experience and that I was ready to rumble for him, because he was a good friend.

"No, no," he said, "I mean, you are a teacher at the university. You have to go."

Apparently I am too respected in Thai society to be involved in a brawl at a nightclub. I don't ever feel respected or revered--Van spends much of his time, in fact, whispering to me about exploits with girls and how much he likes to drink and smoke, which I would never share with any professor (besides, of course, Joyce Carol Oates, who I could share anything with under the assurance that she A) was not listening and B) would forget about it in 10 minutes). And yet, here I was, at a nightclub at 2 in the morning, with tequila shot glasses and large beer bottles and mugs in front of me, hanging out with the same potheads I hang out with every weekend--and I was too respected to fight with them! They were worried about my reputation! To be seen with them was no problem, these red-eyed hoodlums, these skirt-chasing, foul-mouthed no-good-niks, that was okay--but to be near them, even during the build-up to a fight that never happened, was totally injurious to my person and unbecoming of a professor.

Not that I wanted to fight, mind you, or that I would have thrown a punch--though the process of beraking my nose for free is tempting. But man, what a strange society this is, to be regarded, after all of these months of friendship and debauchery with those guys, Van and Frame and Sit and Tie, to still be regarded as one who is deserving of respect--ah, how did I feel. I was feeling strange , I was feeling conflicted, I was feeling bemused, I was feeling needlessly honored.

It's Monkey Club.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Everyone I Know Would Be A Fob. Dot Com.

I was just made aware of this website:

http://mymomisafob.com/

Literally every single one of these could have happened in any one of my classes or during any interaction in English that I have with any Thai person I have ever met.

UPDATE

As if to prove my point, I just experienced this conversation gambit:

 (2:20:22 PM) jogilber@princeton.edu: how are you?
(2:21:05 PM) Kyo: i'm find
(2:21:29 PM) Kyo: and you ??

Almost there, Kyo. Almost there.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is This Thing O

It is really rather absurd that I haven't updated in so, so long, as at least two interesting things have happened to me in the past ten days. One of these interesting things was quite lovely; the other interesting thing was about as bad as finding hidden in your dresser a decomposing squirrel corpse which leaves a pungent smell in your room for four days afterwards.

1) Sometimes the metaphor is the story.

I had been going into my dresser for a few days and noticing a light odor like sawdust, but I figured it was, uh, sawdust, and so I didn't pursue it any further. My apartment building is constantly under construction, getting paint jobs, lighting fart bombs on fire, etc., and so I figured that the cause of the stench was the condo team's stink crew stinkin' it up in the lobby again.

And so I went to Phuket for a week, and returned, and didn't have occasion to open the dresser doors for a couple days; and when I did....well, let's just say that either the sawdust had been replaced with manure, or something pungently horrible had happened in my dresser. I began pawing around in there and, after lifting up a pillow and some newspapers I had kept in the bottom corner of the closet, I saw it: the decomposing body of a small squirrel, surrounded by flies.

With the pillow lifted and the newspapers removed, the smell became almost unbearable. I quickly shut the door, but it was too late: standing within ten feet of the closet meant getting a whiff of rotting squirrel corpse.

I began to think back: How in the hell had a squirrel gotten in my closet? (This morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas). I could remember, vaguely, these scratching sounds I had started hearing coming from my closet at night--every few hours for a couple of nights before leaving for Phuket I would hear these three-second bursts of what sounded like claws on wood. I figured it was my next-door neighbors moving furniture, or that maybe they owned a small, rat-like dog. I never considered that a squirrel was trapped in my dresser, clawing desperately to get free. Though that scenario is, with all due respect, Captain Rabbit Hugger of PETA, pure speculation.

I went downstairs to tell my landlady that I had a tiny, dead-squirrel-shaped problem in my room. This would have been a delicate issue anyway, made even more delicate by the fact that I don't speak Thai, and my landlady barely speaks English. The conversation went something like this:

ME: I have a problem.
LANDLADY: A problem?
ME: There is a dead squirrel in my closet.
LANDLADY (in Thai): What? [She didn't understand]
ME: Have...a dead animal...in room.
LANDLADY: Oh, no, no, no...not allowed to have animals in the room.
ME: Animal is dead. Dead.
LANDLADY: Dd..det?
ME: Dead. Dead. (in Thai) I can write.
LANDLADY: Okay, okay, you write.
[She gets me a piece of a paper and a pen]
ME [written]:

"There is a dead animal in my closet."

LANDLADY: OH!

She called up the super and a janitor to come to my room, and she came, too. The janitor and the super certainly didn't speak any English whatsoever, but they spoke of the international language of being totally disgusted at seeing a dead squirrel in an apartment. My landlady, for her part, stood outside of the room, sticking her tongue out, amazed at how disgusting the smell was. The janitor removed the corpse with a plastic bag while the second janitor disinfected the tainted area with the hand soap from my bathroom. Not one hundred percent sure that was the best cleaning material, but it was all I had. He swept up the shed fur into a paper bag and used a sponge I had (hey Mom, look, I owned a sponge!) to mop up the blood stains. The flies dispersed as the janitor then sprayed the area with Orange Scented Air Freshener for about 45 seconds.

A security guard was summoned from the bottom floor to bring another can of spray, as the Orange Scent did little to overpower the Dead Squirrel Scent. This new scent looked to be one of those cans used to get rid of the smell of cigarette smoke; I suppose that Dead Squirrel Odor Removal would be a bit too specialized to manufacture, though, in this case, by the way my landlady was moaning and fake-retching outside of my door, I believe she might have sprung for a can.

After about twenty minutes of sprays, soaps, sponges, and dry heaves, the area was pronounced satisfactorily cleaned, even though the smell still lingered. The closet doors were ordered open until further notice. All of the shirts and slacks that I had hanging in the dresser now smelt of dead squirrel and had to be sent through the wash. For the first night, I considered pooping in the closet just to smell something other than the sickening, sour stench of dead squirrel, which I will maintain smells like sawdust, mixed with the vomit of someone who has just eaten a lot of limes and lemons. A week removed from the incident, and after investing in a lovely potpourri candle set, I am happy to say that my room now no longer smells like the drying innards of decomposed squirrel. It again smells like old towels and my body odor, which is what my rooms generally smell like when a squirrel hasn't decided to crawl under one of my possessions and die there.

2) My student Nim gave me an arm-band tattoo of a rose, one of those that you make wet and then stick on. I can't wait to see the look on her face when I show up with the tattoo applied right across the bridge of my nose and on both cheeks. I also can't wait to get fired from CMU for having an inappropriate face tattoo.

Also I'm gonna be naked.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Mending of My Gown

Those of you who have seen my apartment, or my past dorm rooms, know that I am a slob, a sloppy, sloppy slob. Some of you have wondered how I could live in such squalor when said squalor was so easily remediable ("just a little elbow grease!")

I suppose that I have a higher threshold of dirt tolerance than most of you--I am simply not grossed out very easily, by wet towels on the floors, by old food rotting on the counter-top. But tonight I discovered that there is still one barrier, one cleanliness-taboo I have not overcome:

I can't eat with my shirt off.

Even if there is no one around...even if it is only for a bite or two. I tried to take a bite of Rotee in my room tonight, after having taken off a rather uncomfortable T-shirt--and I found that I couldn't bring myself to take that first bite. I had to put down the toothpick, find another T-shirt, and then eat.

By the way, this goes for underwear, too.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Long National Nightmare etc

I just want everyone to know that the dead squirrel in my dresser has been disposed of by the janitorial staff and that the matted fur and blood marks it left where it died have been satisfactorily cleaned and disinfected.

That is all.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Few Updates

As you could see, I came back from Phuket with some strange feelings; it was not a rosy paradise, surprisingly. But I have to say I am thankful that I did not suffer the same fate as my travel partner Charles, who not only had his wallet stolen on Koh Phi Phi, but who was feeling sick on Saturday morning ( we thought from an incredibly powerful hangover), but who called me today from the hospital, with an initial diagnosis of Malaria. 

Ouch. Some strange feelings, indeed.

I got a New Year's Present from my student Nim. It is a box of "Mao Jee," which appears to be biscuits of some sort. I find myself strangely touched by it. Also, Nim Chimpsky, hahaha.

Also, I am now what the Thais call "tduhm," or "dark," after coming back from the beach looking like an Italian. Don't worry, Thai people--give me three days of seclusion in my bedroom and I'll be back to the pale Farang you know and tolerate.

Oh, and I just searched through my Gmail contacts and added all students from last semester as friends. God I'm excited to see their profiles. 

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Disconnected Thoughts on Phuket

I am back from Phuket a.k.a. Whore Island.

No, that's not fair. Phuket is such a complicated place. It reminded me, of so many ways, of a geographical representation of One Eyed Jacks, the club in the Twin Peaks television series, the shady underground whorehouse on the borders of an idyllic, unassuming town. Of course, One Eyed Jacks is a singular representation of something sinful, and Phuket as a whole is not that. Patong Beach, maybe, but the surroundings:

Karon Beach is beautiful. The hills from Kata to Rawai are breathtaking to drive. On my motorcycle, pedal to the metal, so to speak but only going 30 kms up a certain hill, I felt the way that I believe an astronaut must feel when floating in space, the way it is represented in the Right Stuff (movie): and in fact I kept playing Claire de Lune over in my head as I ascended, through the trees and the bushes, no other vehicles in sight (most tourists seem content to live in the ribald, irredeemable sexual stewpot that is Patong (Charles: "God tried to smite this place for its sins with a tsunami, but they built it back and made it even more disgusting"). And then on your right near the top of the hill, the trees clear away and you can see Nai Harn Beach and Lake below, water impossibly blue, sand impossibly white, sky impossible clear, impossibly pleasant sun. You have to stop and take a picture, even though it won't capture what it is that is so capture-worthy about the moment: not the view, but the feeling of awe, and the disappointment that this feeling is not possible to have at all times, that the sensation in your body, the squeezing of your heart, is fleeting.

At night Phuket is different. I am sure that some of the girls enjoy being prostitutes. There are certain girls that must enjoy nothing more than drinking and smoking and flirting and dancing and beckoning and kissing and living comfortably like that. There are others--many more others, I would gamble--that are not so happy. Do you ever see them late at night? Alone, tired, hanging head? Rejected? For how many nights in a row now? For how many hours of every day? For how long will it last--both the feeling of rejection, and the lifestyle?

These are all general impressions of Phuket, one of the most fascinating and confused (not confusing) cities I have ever been to. I am sad now thinking that I had to leave it. But I don't know what I am more sad to leave behind--the beautiful views, the lifestyle, or the incipient sadness, the swelling melancholy that begins to mix with the beach air late at night.