July 19, 2010

For those traveling to Thailand

I have been asked by many people what I suggest doing in Thailand. So here you go. To anyone going to Thailand, this is what I recommend doing:

   Learning about the best places in Thailand really depends on what part of Thailand you plan on visiting and what it is you want to do.  So first, I suggestion picking up a Lonely Planet travel guide.  I have found that to be the best the guides.  You can expect the exchange rate to fluctuate between 26 -22 baht to 1 USD.  Not quite sure where it stands today. One word of caution, avoid the government sponsored tourist agencies (Tourism Agency of Thailand aka TAT).  They over charge for everything (nearly 80%) and don't guarantee what they offer.  If you are wanting to set those types of trips they set up; such as elephant rides/visits, canoe trips, indigenous village tours, etc... it's better to go directly to the companies that are offering the tours. Your best bet, when arriving in Bangkok, is going to Khaosan Road (the travel/tourist section of Bangkok), and simply striking up a conversion with the hostel owners and other visitors there.  Traveling throughout Thailand is really easy. I suggest taking overnight sleeper trains. Simply go to the train station because they have people there that speak English to help you get where you want.  And it is cheaper than buying from the hotels/hostels or the TAT, hostel owners are very helpful too.

There are a few places I recommend visiting:

Of course, you will be seeing Bangkok.  That is where the international flights fly into.  It is crazy, hectic, loud, and has an amazing night life (mostly around the Khaoson Road area).  You will be tempted to spend all your money and time in this amazingly wild place - do not do it!  There is so much more.  Do, however, take the orange flagged boat taxis up and down the river, visit the palace and some of the temples, and eat anything crazy and exotic you find.  They are usually good.  Oh, and to see most temples you will need to have either long pants or a long skirt and they frown on sleeveless shirts... don't worry that goes for men as well.

Chang Mai is a must. Be sure to be there during the weekend markets, and rent a scooter to drive up the mountains! It is absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!!  And if you are thinking about getting custom dresses or clothing Chang Mai is the best place to do it.  I recommend a gentleman named Mr. Somboon.  He owns a shop called S.B. Tailor in the old city.  His e-mail is sunny_sbb@thaimail.com.  He is wonderful, funny, and very very good.  Just an idea of the cost: I got 2 full suits and 5 shirts for under $200ish USD.  All custom made and my girlfriend got a beautiful silk dress, 2 suits, 1 skirt and shirts for about $250 USD. That was a little over a year ago.

Kanchanaburi (romanized in many different ways) is the same location as the WWII story Bridge Over the River Kwai.  It's a charming and beautiful little town.  But the real treasure is what they call the 7 tiered waterfalls of Erawan National Park.  Be careful of food and valuables though.  The monkeys will steal it and throw them down from the trees!!!  The water is the most beautiful I've ever seen anywhere in the world, and you can swim in it.  The only problem is getting there.  You can take a tourist bus, but again, I recommend renting a scooter and driving there.  It's a beautiful drive though a bit long.  It makes for a great day trip.  Suggestion: find a travel buddy at the hostels or on the train.

Sukhothai and Ayutthaya are two ancient temples that you must go see.  Sukhothai was probably my favorite temple to visit.  much of it was destroyed during the many invasions, but the parts that remain are beautiful.  On my first trip to Thailand, I visited Ayutthaya.  It is still a fully functioning city with remnants of the ancient Ayutthaya temple everywhere.  Although it is a bit better preserved than Sukhothai, I recommend this as a day trip on the trains from Bangkok rather than staying over night.  To get here, take the train.  Then you'll walk a very short distance to a small ferry (fits maybe 10 people and a few bicycles).  This ferry takes you across the ancient moat which is only a stones throw wide... it isn't recommended to try and swim across it.

Pai is a very tiny little village in northern Thailand past Chang Mai and only accessible by bus.  The only reason I would recommend this place is because it is rustic, tiny and quiet... unlike most places you'll probably see.  There are amazing food/bar places.  One such place is the Bamboo bar off the river and built partially over the water.  Everything here is walkable and very safe.  The other reason I recommend Pai is because it is the only place I found that allows you to go from one city to another using the scooters.  So when going to Chang Mai, see if there is a hostel that will let you stow your luggage there while you go to Pai.  Catch the bus to Pai and scooter back to Chang Mai.  It was the best part of my third visit to Thailand (and the best part for my two other friends who did that drive as well).  It is about a three hour scooter ride, with sweeping views of mountains and jungles, and small villages.  One down side of Pai is because it is so small, tourism is Pai's main source of income.  You'll find that the night life is very tourist centered. 

Finally, if you are looking for beaches, Thailand has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  I have only been to the east coast beaches of Thailand.  Here the water tends to be calmer and less visited by tourists.  Chumphon is a beach protected by the King, and has probably the most beautiful sand and relaxing atmosphere I've ever experienced.  However, Phuket is supposed to be very nice but heavily visited.  There are beaches and islands near there that are stunning and are typically the source of beach photos on tourist web sites.  These other places are harder to get to but much calmer than Phuket.

May 29, 2010

Bridge over troubled water? Where is that bridge...

    Sometimes I feel it necessary to re-assess my life.  I find that when I stay stagnant, I begin to lose a bit of my sanity.  Stagnant, according to Merriam-Webster, is exactly my state of existence.  I know what must be done - I need to go out and explore the world do something.  I to working out a bit more and eat a little less, study some philosophy or at the least flex the gray matter upstairs. I should read something new, play some guitar, I should...debate the finer points of life. 

    This list is daunting.  As one can tell, I have a plan for change.  I know what needs to be done.  But sometimes simply knowing is not enough.  I need inspiration.  I need a drive to accomplish those goals.  Alas, I have been left here in D.C. to my own devices with close friends too far away and motivation for change even farther.

May 14, 2010

Death is the Road to Awe

It has been a while, and I apologize.  There has been a lot happening in the past few weeks:

     I got into Grad School for an MS in Environmental Science at American University.
     I left many good friends behind to move to Washington D.C.
    I saw my grandfather (Lolo) just days before his death.
    It was recently mothers day (the day we buried my grandfather) and then my mother's birthday.
    I saw my family almost whole, minus one member due to pregnancy, for the first in many years.
    Started job searches that have been fruitless thus far.
    And I recently found out that I may not be able to afford to go to Grad School.

So yes, I have officially moved from Salisbury NC to the D.C. area.  Was the move worth it?  To be with my girlfriend and go to Grad school, yes - to find a job and become a productive member of society??? I guess time will tell.

As I said above, my grandfather recently died.  I am torn - on one hand I am happy and on the other I feel the family and the world has lost a wonderful man.  In the last few days of his life, he suffered pain so server that he one could read in his eyes that he wanted it to end.  And yet, he was still lucid and fully mentally there even at 89 - just days away from his 90th birthday. So I am glad he is not suffering any more, however, I am saddened.  He left behind a wife of over 20 years (his second because his first passed away over 25 years ago).  He left behind daughters, grandchildren, friends, and a wonderful legacy.  He's a WWII vet, VMI graduate, influential Chief State Engineer,  avid musician and tennis player, and the creator of many recreational clubs in Richmond.  He lived a life worth remembering.

Clint Mansell composed a song called Death is the Road to Awe.   In any faith system death is a journey.  And although we can not understand fully where this journey takes us if anywhere, it is important, for me at least, to celebrate the life lived rather than the life lost.  

I hold my own beliefs about what happens upon death, one that is a bit of Eastern Theology met Western meet uniquely my own.  This is probably similar to what many people will find when their own belief structure varies slightly from their general institution.

I won't explain what I believe, not here at least, but I will say this, death is indeed the road to awe and a celebrated life is worth remembering.  

You will be missed and remembered Lolo.

April 14, 2010


    Where does one begin when recounting a story? Do I first start with our food exploits? I could talk about how we feasted on locus, grasshopper and a local fruit called durian, a fruit that is illegal to eat on trains in Malaysia due to its smell and has been likened to skunk spray with a hint of sweetness. I could start with the elephant rides through the jungle. About how some places take great care of the magnificent creatures and then about how some places don’t. I could begin with the train rides. Here is where we met the only two American travelers on our entire journey and wonderful globe trotters from Holland, England, and France. Maybe I should start with the beautiful scooter rides through the mountains. Or I could begin with the riots, the violence that sprung up, and a country buckling down for the “Red-shirt” confrontation. No - I will start from the end. We flew to the States via Tokyo Japan. This was an adventure unto its own, never before had missing a flight turn into such good fortune.

    We sat on the runway waiting to be taxied into our off loading dock. We sat, and we sat and we continued to sit for well over an hour and a half. When we got off, the flight attendants were busily trying to find us new flights and we were joined by two very disgruntled fellow travelers. The two travelers were adamant about getting a flight within the hour – full or not. Having just arrived from Thailand, Joe and I took a different approach to the matter at hand. We insisted they take their time. After all, we were in Japan. Twenty minutes later, we suggested a flight leaving the next afternoon. They were pleasantly surprised and offered to give us free hotel stay, three free meals, a free upgrade to business class, and then because we looked cold, they gave us free fleece jackets. This was by far the best missed flight.
    When Joe and I left Thailand, we left behind life-long friends. Renee, Amy, and Audrey were people we met on our second day and we continued to travel with them during our stay. Like us, they were only visitors in that beautiful land.
    We also left behind a country on the eve of chaos. The red-shirts, the military, the police all massed together right beside the tourist district. Gun fire could be heard. Propaganda echoed down the alleyways. Blood filled the streets. And every few blocks, we were reminded of the ensuing confrontation by blockades and groups of protesters.
    Somehow, with the world crumbling around the Thai people, they still managed to inspire a great sense of awe. In the face of utter political disaster, the people continued to believe in the “soombai soombai” way of life. This is their version of go with the flow. That is exactly what we did. As the world behind the walls got crazier, we simply moved on from city to town and town to village. The chaos seeming to follow in our wake.
Although we were seasoned travelers, we returned changed. We gained a deep respect for the Thai people. To be as happy as they are in the situation they live in shows they have figured something out; something worth striving towards. And like any traveler, we cannot help but feel the longing to return, at least for a moment, to a place so majestic. As my friend would say “Saudade bate na coração.”

March 23, 2010

    We are only visitors on this floating island amongst the stars. This mortality, it seems, has always driven people of different eras and places to travel. The earliest people sought food for survival, others looked for the infamous fountain; still others ventured out to guide lost souls or find themselves. I am no different. I have realized my mortality. My moment upon this earth is indeed brief, and so I take my leave yet again. I do not seek survival. I do not quest for the fountain. I do not claim to save souls or even search to find myself. Instead I hope to strengthen old friendships and create new memories with my two companions: One, a fellow Catawba Alum Joe Brooks and the other, an old high school buddy, Ben McCreary. My next stop: the mysterious and beautiful Thailand.
    Be it the lush tropical jungles, quintessential beaches, or the under rated Thai cuisine; Thailand is by far the most impressive country I have come across. Situated just above Malaysia and in the heart of South East Asia, Thailand is a favorite destination among my once fellow foreign teachers. Eleven months ago I found myself departing South Korea three months earlier than my teaching contract said. A little miss communication between my school, headquarters, and the ROK Government (pronounced rock by the local ex-pats) lead to an expedient exit. A few days later I found myself spending nearly 30 days backpacking the country of Thailand. I traveled by boat, train, bus, and tuk tuk. I stayed in everything from hostels to bed bug infested shacks. And yet, Thailand still holds that special something in my heart.
    What is it about Thailand that makes me go back? Maybe it’s the architecture – the old world meets new look. One could find magnificent Buddhist temples towering above houses and local eaters or dives. Maybe it’s the “Thai spicy” food that surpasses any eatable heat rating of the Americas. What about the melting pot of culture Indian, Malay, Burma, Chinese, Filipino - the list goes on and on. Maybe it’s the attitude in which much of the county seems to live its life – what the French would call “c'est la vie” or the Costa Rican’s “pura vida” attitude. Could this be it?
    I just don’t know, but one thing is true. Whatever the reason, Thailand somehow satisfies the urge to travel and see the world. After all, I am only a visitor here, and there is still much to see.

~ Jon Rhodes
Catawba Alum 2008

March 11, 2010

A Promise Made and Not Forgotten

    There is something different about my friends tonight.  I can see it in their eyes, afire with life.  There is a glimmer of apprehension and exhilaration.  I notice the change in the way they speak rapidly -  excitement pushing forth words faster than their thoughts.  I can see it in the way Joe's fingers rhythmically tap the steering wheel. A nervous twitch made noticeable only today? And then there is the sudden prolonged silence of my ADHD, fast talking, easily excited, surf buddy Ben - a rather unusual change.  This was odd indeed!

     It is not often that one sees such changes to those so close.  I have been witness to such a change before, when first time travelers return from epic adventures.  They have the same giddiness as they recount tales of voyages to far away lands, as they describe mythical creatures they encountered, and cultures strange but wondrous.  This must be the difference I have noticed.  This is the reason they walk so swiftly onward to the airport check-in lines.

    You see, the farthest from home Ben has ever traveled is Florida, a trip from my freshman year.  And Joe is still fairly new to this international traveling.  He has South Korea and Costa Rica under his belt.  But what makes this trip so interesting is how it all came to be; a promise from long ago...

    Ever since I've known Ben, he has expressed incredible desire to experience the world.  He is smart, very friendly, and open to new things.  But, he lacked something, he didn't have the desire, the motivation to change his world.  So, I made him a promise.  I said, "Ben, I'll make you a deal.  If you ever get the courage to acquire a passport, I'll stop what I'm doing and join you."  That was three years ago.  I got a phone call in late January, Ben got his passport and fate came a calling.

    In less than a month we decided a destination and added another friend.  In my typical international travel preparations, I waited until the last moment to pack.  I throw enough clothes for 3 full days (a 10 day journey), the list of items my girlfriend requested, my wallet, and food.  On the way out the door, I realize a missing necessity, and run into the house for my passport.  Yes, my typical travel preparation...

   What was even greater is we arrived at the airport at 2 AM.  A message from earlier that day indicated we were leaving at 4.  I assumed this meant the flight.  However upon arrival at the empty kiosks I soon realize my error.  Our excitement peters-out when we learn that our flight is actually at 6:10 - a whole 4 hours later.  Well, at least we are on time...

    What a start, what a journey this will be.

March 02, 2010

The plight of two teachers

A deeper look into the plight of two once upon teachers...

    The teachers’ room was adorned with our usual school colors, bright greens, light yellow gold strips, blues, and whites. Our desks were a cacophony of class materials, language books, novels… the usual paraphernalia expected for an English teacher. The two Korean Teachers had already arrived preparing their class’s lessons and organizing the report cards that our limited Korean could not contribute to. Even our third Korean teacher had arrived early, supposedly getting in hours to avoid staying late. The only thing missing - us the two native English speakers.
    Oh yes, on this beautiful spring day – we were in a meeting. It was not the typical meet with the director pep talk, nor was it this is how you need to improve. This meeting was something else. With an artificial calm and transparent composure our director confronted us with a situation. He said, “I think we have a problem. Immigration needs to talk to you.”


     Wait a second Jon, take a breath things are ok.  Well, I guess he is calm should I be? I wondered to myself: how soon will we need to see them? After all, we have class in 15 minutes; maybe tonight after work or probably tomorrow.

    As if reading my mind the director said, we must go… NOW. That’s when it hit me. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. Suddenly all the horror stories of "Locked up Abroad" flickered through my mind like a whorl wind. I would not end up like that… or at the very least, I’ll have a book, my cell phone tucked away, and my I-pod with me.

    With little time, Aileen and I went to our apartment grabbed our essentials, a book, a change of clothes, tooth paste, toilet paper, the usual things one might require if thrown in jail. Oh yeah, and we empted out our entire Korean bank accounts just in case we needed to show we meant business - and by business, we meant the ability to purchase a ticket outta there, and by the ability to get outta there, we really meant bribery if it came to it. 

    Now we were set. We had our supplies, we had our money… nothing else in the room were REALLY necessary. We had practice thinking this through just in case the nuclear threats from Kim Jong-il ever came to fruition. Yes, we were as ready as one could expect from a 15 minute notice. We were officially wanted by the South Korean government, we were renegades, outlaws. I felt like Robin Hood, wanted by the state, and a hero to the people… and I still didn’t know why we were headed to immigration.  All I knew; this was going to be one hell of a bumpy ride.

to be continued…

February 22, 2010

    My roommate walked in and told me of something crazy. Something so inspiring I cannot do justice by writing much about it. I have to show you. The potential it has to change the world – I mean WOW! Now, before I show it, please realize the technology is still first generation; like comparing the Mark I computer (the size of a room with capabilities of a squirrel) to that of a modern laptop.  This game was displayed at the 2009 comic con.  Rundown,:you put on head set, concentrate on the ball, headset reads thought theta waves and turns fan on depending on level of concentration, you control the direction of fan with knob. Okay - enough said.

    Ok so maybe you won't find it as cool as I hoped. But just think, accessing the ability to move objects with the mind. What next, accessing the internet? downloading information directly into the brain? This is Matrix stuff here. Paradigm shifts in all fields - education, science, social networking, communication rather than e-mail you have t-mail (thought message). Ok, I’ll stop being so dramatic…

But what if????

February 16, 2010

'Ailuropoda mellanoleuca'

    One of my regrets from traveling was missing the chance to see China.  I don't mean Hong Kong, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, or fields of never ending rice patties.  No no no, what I missed out on was hunting for the elusive creature of China!

    Now, I don't mean bang bang with a huge spark and projectile.  I'm talking a grand expedition, an epic adventure, a quest to the mysterious hidden mountains.  The living spaces of the wondrous Ailuropoda melanoleuca, which by the way means "cat-foot black and white".  Oh yes, this vicious creature stalks its pray on quiet feet likened to a cat, and it's powerful jaws capable of tearing through the tough, chewy, fibrous parts of... bamboo???

    Well folks, I don't need China!  That's right, rather than a safari into the wilds of Asia, one simply needs to learn how to navigate a concrete steel jungle, looming towers and spires of apartment buildings, winding river-like subways and dangerous metallic creatures with bright white lights.  After an unknown amount of subterranean travel time, one would reemerge from the bowels of the Earth to find oneself a few blocks from Starbucks - a most important stop for warmth on these cold snowy days.  Then onwards across the street to the National Zoo in Washington D.C.

    I have tried to see the pandas many a times.  After the nth attempt during the warm months, I finally tried after a snow storm.  Huzzah! Who knew that pandas needed snow to encourage them to romp outside!!!!!   And here he is... Tian Tian

February 10, 2010

Another Tribute to Korean food

The other day, I introduced a group of friends to the wonderful world of Korean style food! And then today, I swooped in again to add another item to their foreign foods repertoire.  The first was rather simple to make.


This one was simple too, it just took an epic amount of time and some really large pots!  Oh yes, that is a river of cheese (which was hard to find in Korea) and yet, that is Korean red pepper paste!

dalk galbi

The beauty of this style of cooking, at least this is how I have come to find it, all i have to do is find things I like, and put it into a pot. Although there is more to it than that, this hap hazzard method seems to work out fine. Believe me they taste better than they look.

February 09, 2010

ninja sucker punch (1) - Cerebral cortex (0)

    Lately, I have found myself wanting to write.  There was no particular topic I had in mind, no defined purpose really -simply an incredible urge.  So I sat down, put together two quick pieces and WAHM!  I’ve risen to the ranks of many a men and women before me.  I am now officially a blogger!  New to this secretive world of blogging, I have found myself exhilarated by the potential to make a difference, or make a smile; in some way I hope to invoke some deep emotional reaction to what I have to say.  

    So I sat… and I sat… and I sat… I would type a sentence then delete it.  And follow the same procedure again and again; the monotony clearly showing in my desire to introduce fist to lap-top screen.  What to say - wanting to write is grand but without content I’ll have a really poor attempt to record the happenings around me.  What I need is inspiration. There is a small college here; I’m bound to find something.  How about my friends?  They are funny... I think.  But putting those into words is much harder.

    How about other people’s blogs?  I can get inspiration from there.  Two blogs that I follow, Lamentations of Matome and The Life of Lyn, have great content.  They are wonderful writers but their thoughts aren’t mine. 

    Then I realized, I must read everything I can.  I must write as much as I can.  And then, I'll eventually find my groove, the potential that slumbers deep in my soul will awaken... waiting for the right inspiration to ninja sucker punch me squire in the cerebral cortex.

February 06, 2010

A look at the last 10 months

 10 months ago:

I used to ask myself "what would it be like to take a dart and throw it at a map - then pick up my things and go to where ever it had landed." Although my trip through South East Asia wasn't what I had in mind, it was one hell of an adventure.

Ten months ago I was working full time in South Korea teaching English to over worked, extremely exhausted children. My girlfriend and I woke up to the typical sounds of horns, children walking to school, and farmers blaring advertisements from their megaphones that were connected precariously to the truck. By the time the fog of sleep lifted the sun was already fast approaching the 10 o-clock position. I looked out the window down the road to the SK gas station. It was busy with its Thursday morning visitors and the mountain in the distance looked beautiful bright green from the newly grown buds of spring. It was a rather typical morning. We took our time eating brunch, walking to school and preparing for class.

Then, things changed fast. I was presented with the most interesting situation - DEPORTATION. Who would have known that work visa's are to be issued by the city one intends to work in. Finally after a week of interrogation we were told to leave the country. As it turns out we were not officially deported, it would look bad on the country, so instead we had an exit order to leave the country in 30 days.

So, there I was sitting in a hot tub in the gorgeous city of Malacca (aka Melaka). The city was beautiful, and the owner of the hostel was wonderful. His name: Howard and he was in his late 30's or early 40's. He was a long distant biker and his personality was something of an energetic child. His hair looked as confused as the construction of the city.

If you've seen Malacca, then you know what I mean. Buildings are constructed around old housing. Rather than tearing down and building up, they simply add walls and turn the outside walls into indoor rooms. There are modern buildings up against ancient ones, incomplete concrete pours and re-barb hanging out everywhere. This pretty much sums up Howard,the biker, the tour guide, the party friend, the hostel owner.

So, there I was... sitting at the Hostel in Malacca, wishing I had a dart and a map. But you know what, this was good, real good. Instead of a dart, I had Aileen's adventurous spirit guiding me and the Lonely Planet my map.


    Oh South Korea! You are a land of many splendors and surprises, a land of exciting culture, beautiful scenic views, fond memories - oh yeah - and a little thing known as Kimchi.  For those who don't know what kimchi is, it is this delightfully spicy, slightly vinegary, mildly fishy tasting concoction of fermented cabbage, or radish... or anything a Korean can pickle.  I highly recommend you go out and buy some from your local Asian market.  Also include on that list, lots of toothpaste, breath mints, and a sign that says "YES that is kimchi you smell on my breath and yes I tried mouthwash."
    Typically as a foreigner when one thinks of South Korea, the things they love and can't live without; Kimchi is not usually the first on the list.  Now hold on all you avid Kimchi fans.  I know what you must be thinking. "Kimchi is the greatest thing Korea has offered the world!"  But, for a moment, we need to consider those things that transcend mere tantalizing of one's palette. We mustn't forget all the other wonders of South Korea: Jim Jil Bangs (huge saunas), noribangs (karaoke), the beaches, the mountains, the plethora of festivals, the never ending night life - the list could go on and on and on and on... Well, you get the point.  But none of these things ignite those emotions so closely tied a full happy stomach. 
    Kimchi is a very versatile food, it can stands out like the platypus or be like a chameleon.  It can hold the center of attention or fade into the subtleties of flavor playing the harmony notes.  Often, one would find it simply as is ready to eat warm or cold.  Sometimes it is the main ingredient as in kimchi dumplings or kimchi soup, but other times it is the spice added to a porridge or broth.
    I have a love hate relationship with this food.  On one hand its smell permeates all open spaces, and the fermented acids can have a burning sensation to the nostrils that leaves the innocent light headed and nauseous.  Not to mention the smell one carries for the rest of the day after eating it.  But on the other hand eating kimchi, at least for me, always meant some good memory was to be had.  And the taste can vary so widely that no two kimchis are exactly the same and each happy memory can be associated with a particular kimch.
    Ok, maybe the last thing was only quasi true, but a lot of my happy memories are associated with eating… and being that kimchi is hard to come by in the States I do find myself craving it.  Every time I get a chance to sneak a bite, I know that that day will be the best kimchi memory to date.