CSCT2k8: Pai, Thailand

2:55am 3rd March 2008

So it's been a while since I last updated my blog. Apologies to all. I will try to summarise the last month as best I can.

I arrived in Thailand on the 10th Feb to work with the admin/tech team of CouchSurfing.com. Having landed in Bangkok, I took a domestic flight up to Chiang Mai. As luck would have it, I arrived on a Sunday, just in time for the Sunday Night market. I decided to delay a night here to sample the sights and sounds of this town that I have never been to. Chiang Mai is an ancient city that used to be the capital of one of the northern Siamese kingdoms. Founded around 1296 by King Mengrai, it was originally named Nopphaburi Si Nakhonping Chiangmai. After being captured by the Burmese, it was finally incorporated into Thailand in 1774 when King Thaksin recaptured the area that is now Chiang Mai province. Since then Chaing Mai has become an important local economic hub in northern Thailand, where locals come to engage in trade and work. It is also an important destination in the Thai tourism industry. It is a fascinating city, and I highly recommend that any visitor to Thailand make the effort to visit it.

I arrived in Pai on the 10th Feb. Weston and John met me at the bus stop after a long, stomach churning minibus ride down a windy road driven by a maniacal driver. I immediaely hired a motorbike to get around town, as there are no taxis or other forms of public transport. I spent the first day exploring the area in and around Pai, and taking lots of photos. I haven't uploaded them yet, but if you check the gallery soon they'll be there, as soon as I get to a fast internet connection. It is an incredibly serene piece of countryside, lush with vegetation. I have taken many photos of this trip, all of which are available in my Twerl gallery.

There are many rural villages nearby where the tribes people live very traditional lives, more or less untouched by the dramatic social changes modernity brings. Pai, on the other hand, is a whole different story. It was clearly conquered long ago by armies of backpackers searching for authentic foreign experiences. While not westernised in the almost tasteless manner that Phuket or Koh Samui have been, Pai has been transformed by the many people travelling through it. All the foreigners there say how they prefer the authentic experience that Pai represents, which has taught me something fundamental about how societies interact; they cannot see reflections of themselves in others, they only see the differences. This may seem obvious, but in Pai, this property of human behaviour was demonstrated to me from the reverse angle; Instead of looking at another society and searching for something familiar as most people do, the travellers to Pai are looking for something different, they want the "authentic Thai experience". Over the years, Pai changed. Its society re-modelled itself to suit the backpackers flowing through it. The economy changed from selling farming tools and produce to selling handicrafts and souvenirs, the primary wealth generating activity changed from producing goods and trading them in nearby Chiang Mai to service based endeavours catering for their guests. The fact that the ex-pats living there did not recognise this and insisted that Pai represented "Thainess" as opposed to the regular tourist traps illustrates to me that they were unable to see those parts of themselves that were being imbibed by the locals, they only saw the differences that remained, which kept them believing that Pai was still truly authentically Thai. In my view, nothing could be further from the truth.

Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad thing, Pai has retained a very pleasant, highly social community spirit, with local townspeople, foreigners and nearby Lesu tribe members mixing together in as close to perfect harmony as one will see on 21st century Earth. I merely make the point that this demonstrates the truism that observation without intervention is impossible. Backpackers are famous for their low-impact travel nature, they strive to leave as few footprints as they can and assimilate into the places that they go as invisibly as possible. However, Pai is an example of the ultimate impossibility of this effort. It is a macroscopic societal manifestation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The backpackers' money is the metaphorical photon to the the momentum of the local economy's particle, and I feel that this very interaction, this cross osmosis of human experience, ultimately enriches the lives of everybody it touches. Economically, fair trade always results in net gains to both sides. So too in societies; respectful trade in ideas, experiences and knowledge allows all who engage in it to gain from their expanded pool of wisdom.

The CouchSurfing collective was for me quite productive. While I did not get as much real coding done as I would have liked, interacting with the rest of the ream and meeting the other people who up until then I had only known by reputation or by email was great. The CouchSurfing team are great people, with a wonderful sense of common purpose and a genuine desire to have a positive impact upon the world. If only more groups could look past their implementational disagreements and concentrate on a shared vision, then there would be far more positive results from human interaction. Great work guys, I look forward to working with you in the future.

One story worth telling was the tale of The Nameless Cat. While on one of my exploration trips, I came across a cat starving and near death. Given its distance from any livable area and the fact that it was obviously highly domesticated, I could only conclude that it had been dumped as a nuisance cat by an annoyed ex-owner. Being the animal lover that I am, I bundled it up in my shirt and took it back into town. I must have looked a little odd, being topless with a half-dead cat wrapped up in the bike's basket. We got back to the Mango Tree (the main guest house where we all worked) and gave her some water. It seemed, however, that she was unable to drink. I went back into town to fetch some chloromycetin drops, syringes and latex gloves. John helped me wash her up, put some drops in her eyes which were caked over with dry sticky secretions and syringed some water down her throat. We attempted to feed her, but she wasn't interested. We decided to let her rest, and give her fluids every few hours until she got her strength back. She responded very well to handling, purring very strongly and seemed to welcome the syringed water. Unfortunately however, she just wouldn't eat. More disturbingly, maggots appeared at her nostrils and mouth. We spoke to a local vet, who suggested killing it with a shovel. I decided to get a second opinion. I took some photos and called an emergency centre in Australia who gave me some care advice. After assessing the photos, it was decided that the most likely result would unfortunately be euthanasia. I had neither the time nor the resources to give the cat the several weeks of intensive care that would be required to give it a chance, and even that would be a slim chance. The only other option was to put the cat back where I found it, which would only prolong her misery. We decided to wait and see what happened. 24 hours later, she was still unable or unwilling to eat, which, along with the ever-present maggots, was an indication that her condition was unlikely to improve. We euthanised her that day, using carbon monoxide asphyxiation, as it was the only non-violent means available to us. We buried her under a tree.

CouchSurfing was nice enough to pay for a collective outing to go bamboo rafting and elephant riding. It was great fun, we all got to float down the river on bamboo rafts, and then ride elephants. I really enjoyed the rafting, but the elephant riding was a bit boring. I enjoyed it for about 15 minutes, and then I realised just how slow the things moved, and just how hard their backbones were. I had a sore butt by the time we had to get off. Afterwards I sat in a hot spring that smelled of sulphur, which was great, as I was starting to get bad gas due to stomach problems.

Now I have not vomited since I was in primary school. However, during the course of the collective, I got such a bad bout of food poisoning that I vomited every hour one night. I was much better the morning after though, the whole episode lasted about 12 hours only, thankfully, with only minor belching issues for a few days thereafter.

After about 3 weeks I decided that it was time to leave the collective. I left with a friend of mine named Diamond from London, and headed down south for some sun and sand. We stayed in Koh Lanta for 3 days, which was absolutely stunning. The Thai south is beautiful, and I'm just sad I didn't spend a few more days there, as I didn't manage to get any scuba diving in. After that, I jumped on a plane for home, which brings us to the present. I hope you're not all too upset with me for keeping you in the dark, I'll do my best to update more often. Until the next time folks!

Long overdue update

8:58am 8th November 2007

Well it's been a long time since my last entry, I don't have much time to write a whole lot so I'll make this a short summary.

After getting back from Brazil I was just grinding away at the usual work stuff. About a month later my family all left for a holiday in Bali and Thailand. I took my parents around Thailand which they loved, and then in Bali I took everyone on a scuba diving trip. All in all, the family holiday worked out as a roaring success, everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly and we've pretty much decided to do it again in January.

Since they left about a week ago, I've been travelling around Thailand with Rap going to places we haven't been to before and generally being travel bums. We've been to a small town called Chaiyaphum, which was quite nice. Nobody there spoke English, and we were given frequent curious looks by locals wondering what a couple of farangs were doing so far from the usual tourist trail. We just smiled back, said a quick "sawasdee kaap" obviously with funny accents as they usually giggled when we said it.

We've also been to Krabi. I've spent a day there and in Ao Nang checking out its suitability for the upcoming CouchSurfing Collective. From what I see, we won't have any issues. Internet access appears to be easy to source, with ADSL being available throughout the town and surrounding area, there's plenty of shopping (although I didn't see any of the large bargain markets like the ones in Bangkok and other major tourist spots) and finding things to do will be no trouble at all with rock climbing, scuba diving, jet skiing and a bunch of other cool things being very close and affordably priced. The local infrastructure is not as developed as in larger towns such as Phuket, Pattaya or Korat, but it's developed enough that I don't see us running into any problems with taking care of the collective's needs.

I'm really looking forward to the CouchSurfing Collective, it'll be great to be staying and working with a group of amazing people and I think that it will be of great benefit both to the individuals involved as well as for CouchSurfing as a community endeavour.

Around the world in 18 days

12:20am 5th July 2007

Well I'm back home, finally. After perhaps clicking up the most number of miles in a single trip ever, I arrived home to a welcoming family and much relieved mother.

It's been a great trip, I've met some interesting people and discovered many wonderful new things. I've gotten involved in the CouchSurfing project, and spent a night out in Zürich getting to know the Swiss locals. I've been the see the famous Bridge on the RIver Kwai in Thailand, and patted an enormous Tiger. I've been to a music festival in The Hague where I met some fellow Aussies. All in all, I've done heaps this trip.

It occurred to me that I parted company with Rap in Bangkok airport on the 16th of June, and arrived in Melbourne on the 4th of July. In that time, I'd left Bangkok, flown to Frankfurt, taken a train to Rotterdam, taken a bus and train to Amsterdam, flown to Basel, taken a train to Zürich and then back to Basel, another train back to Frankfurt, flown back to Bangkok and then finally flown to Melbourne. So, I can say that I really have been around the world in 18 days. Well, except for the Americas, they're still on the list of places to go.

Planes, trains and automobiles. And trams!

7:42pm 30th June 2007

So I decided to leave Rotterdam and instead of going home as planned I thought I'd take a detour and go to Zürich with Casey. We left Rotterdam, taking the 1049 bus to Rotterdam Alexander station. We go to Rotterdam Centraal at about 1116. We took the train to Amsterdam Airport, arriving there at 1216, giving me just enough time to buy a ticket for the 1310 flight to Basel, Switzerland, and was lucky enough to be able to organize a seat next to him for the flight. After arriving in Basel, we found a train to Zürich which took about an hour. When we got to the Zürich station, we were met by Jelena, Casey's girlfriend, who took us on a tram back to her house. After the mad dash across Europe, we were quite worn out, so we sat down for a while talking to Jelena and her mother.

They made dinner for us, a delicious vegetarian spaghetti bolognaise, after which we sat down, chatted and recuperated. I took a shower before we headed out for our guided tour of Zürich by night. We walked around some very quiet surburban streets on our way to the action and on the way we came across a bit of an obstacle in the form of a construction site that blocked the walking route that Jelena usually takes to the city. So, like the socially irresponsible rebels that we are, instead of going around it we jumped the fences. Once we got to the city proper, Jelena showed us the night spots where the locals sat drinking coffee and eating ice cream at trendy cafés while watching people go by. I have many photos of Zürich by night, so be sure to check out the Europe 2007 album in my gallery.

After enjoying a great cup of coffee and a banana split with Swiss ice cream, we moved on to a typical European bar, small and intimate where you can tell the barman knew everyone there by name and what they liked to drink. We spent a few minutes and then moved on to another bar where Jelena's friend, as chance would have it, was meeting her after for the first time in 2 years after spending a long time in Australia. We stayed there for a few hours while they caught up on all the developments in each others' lives. By the time we were ready to go, we were all too tired to walk the distance home, so we took a taxi for 15 Swiss francs. Jelena's brother was nice enough to sleep on the couch, so when we walked in at 2am I found that I had a nice comfy bed to stay in. I must remember to send a big thanks to Jelena and her family for their generous last minute hospitality.

Which brings me to this morning. The mad dash back across Europe. Right now, I am sitting on a train from Basel, Switzerland to Frankfurt, Germany. I left Jelena's house at 1529 hoping to make it to the station in time for the 1602 train from Zürich to Basel. I got to the station at 1551, but got stuck in the ticket queue behind an old German idiot trying to pick up the cute ticket clerk. I got a ticket and ran to the platform just in time to see the train pulling away. It was just like in the movies, the train slowly starting to move and there's this guy (me) weighted down with bags running next to it yelling "Nooo! Stoooop!" only to get to the end of the platform and fall off looking very comical and stupid. Well, that last bit didn't actually happen, but you get the picture. So I went downstairs to the pay per use bathroom, freshened up and got ready for the next train in an hour. Because of that extra hour, however, there is no way that I will make the 2115 flight out of Frankfurt, so I'm going to have to find a place to spend the night in Frankfurt and take the 1500 flight tomorrow. I got on the train to Basel, where I met a bunch of Australian teachers living in Basel, who were nice enough to give me a pointer to the next train, the one to Frankfurt, which saved me a few minutes of running around trying to find my bearing. Thanks guys! Right now I am on the train from Basel to Frankfurt. I have no idea what I'm going to do when I get to Frankfurt, but I'll work something out. Don't worry, I'll keep you all posted!

CSCR2k7: CouchSurfing Collective: Rotterdam

8:55am 21st June 2007

So it's time to leave Rotterdam. The CouchSurfing Collective was a HUGE success for me. I have definitely decided that CouchSurfing is the way to travel, and I doubt that I will travel and stay in hotels any more, at least most of the time. Make sure to check out the album!

We were a very mixed bunch, Me from Australia, Chris, Casey and Jim from the USA, Duke and Weston from Mexico, Tiina from Finland and Walter from... err... I don't know where Walter's from but he speaks Dutch so I guess he's from Holland. He lives there in any case. Big thanks guys, you all made me feel very welcome and comfortable and I wish you all the very best. Big hugs and thanks also go to some people who didn't stay there but still helped me have a great time and were generally awesome. Aldo, Paul, Diederik, Nicco and Femke, you will all be missed. Oh, and everyone make sure you keep a couch spare, because I travel a lot and if I'm ever in your area you can expect me to show up and ask for a couch to surf! Special thanks go to Chris, without whose encouragement and nagging I probably wouldn't have ended up coming to the collective. Thanks mate! I'll miss our daily strolls around Rotterdam.

I was supposed to be heading home, however Casey is heading to Switzerland, and has invited me to come along. It didn't require much arm twisting to convince me, I will be joining him. Thanks for the invite mate, this should be a fun trip!

So that's where I'm up to, dear readers. Be sure to stay tuned for more exciting new from the world of Naz. I'm sure you're all on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next! Until next time, peace!

An Epic Journey

11:36pm 16th June 2007

So it was time to leave Thailand and head to Rotterdam to meet the CouchSurfing guys. I left most of my luggage with a friend in Pattaya, as I did not feel like hiking around unfamiliar territory with 50kg of large bags. So I put 5 days' worth of clothing and supplies into a backpack and headed off into the great unknown.

The flight was terrible. It was an older 747 with no entertainment system at all. I'd forgotten to request a window seat so I was in the middle seat of an aisle row, between a stern Japanese guy who scowled at me every time I fidgeted, and some weird kid who fidgeted even more than me. Sleep was impossible thanks to the elbow he kept jabbing into my ribs. Needless to say it was a relief getting off the flight at Frankfurt. The entire airport is blanketed with a T-Mobile hotspot, which made getting online to check email and get a map easy. If only all airports had that.

I booked a long distance train ticket valid for 2 months from the travel center in the airport, it cost EUR200. I found out afterwards that I could take a local train to the border for EUR21 and then a local train in Holland for the same price, but oh well, now I know for next time. The train went from Frankfurt to Utrecht, taking about 3 hours, and then I changed to a local train for Rotterdam, taking about 40 minutes. It was a pleasant ride, the long distance train had a restaurant, as well as power plugs for laptops in every seat, however my plug didn't fit.

I got off the train at Rotterdam Centraal and walked around for a few hours. By now I was thoroughly grateful for my foresight in leaving my bags in Thailand, having to lug 5 bags around would have been a nightmare both in Frankfurt and in Rotterdam. I had a bite to eat in Burger King, bought a SIM card for my mobile phone and found an internet cafe in which to get online and grab the address I was supposed to be at.

Eventually, at about 7pm, I arrived tired and bedraggled at Jacob van Campelplain, only to discover that the number I had been given was wrong. As I had changed my SIM card since calling Walter, the number was no longer in my phone's recently dialed list, and there was no internet cafe in sight. So I had to call my Mum to look up Walter's number for me on the CouchSurfing web site. Thanks Mum! So I finally made it to Walter's place, tired, hungry and smelly, where I met Chris, Jim and Weston. More people should be arriving soon. I'll keep you all posted how my stay here goes, so stay tuned, dear readers. Until then, bye for now!

The Waiting Game

2:51am 31st May 2007

So I arrived in Bangkok airport a few hours ago. My flight came in at 7am, and Rap's is due in at mid day, so I have a bit of a wait. Plenty of time to find and internet cafe, check the email, read Slashdot, write this journal entry and lots of other really geeky things.

The flight was pretty good. The guy at the check in counter at Tullamarine was nice enough to move two blocked seats next to me so that I had the whole row to myself, allowing me to sleep. I didn't think I'd be able to, but after watching 20 minutes of the cinematic garbage can that is the movie Aragorn I was out like a light. I woke up 15 minutes before landing, which is fantastic.

I'm going to be here for about 2 weeks until I fly on to Rotterdam for the CouchSurfing collective, which I am really looking forward to. It should be a great opportunity to meet some great people. I will be flying in to Frankfurt, and from there taking a train to Rotterdam, so it'll be a bit of a Eurotrip really. While I'm here, I'm hoping to be able to do the next two units on my PADI course, as that will take me all the way to Divemaster! It'd be great to go home with a Divemaster cert, as then I can do some really nice extra things I am currently not qualified to do, such as wrestle sharks with my bare hands and hunt giant squid with a bowie knife between my teeth. Well, maybe.

So that's about all the waffling I can do from an internet kiosk, so rather than continue rambling on I think I'll go now. Bye.

CouchSurfing!

5:11pm 2nd May 2007

Some of you may not have heard me talking about CouchSurfing. If that is the case, then go there now and check out the site. Those of you who have not been under a rock for the last 6 months, I have been invited to join the development team. Today I received my SVN access credentials as well as access to the back end goodies so I can acquire and build a local copy of the CouchSurfing system that I can hack up.

To the CoushSurfing developers: Thanks for inviting me onto the team. I hope I am able to give as much as I am sure I will gain from working with you.

In other news, the web site redesign is coming along nicely. Those of you who read this regularly (who am I kidding?) should see that the layout is far nicer now. What you can't see is the huge amount of work that's gone into the back end code, most notably, I've cleaned up both the markup and the CSS, modularizing the markup and breaking the CSS up into separate sections. The markup has been greatly improved, and is now far more semantically valid than it was before as opposed to just syntactically valid. The upshot of all of this is that the entire site is now themeable. By swapping out the CSS files, I can change the entire look and feel of the site without touching the markup. What's more, the themes, which comprise of some CSS files and images, can be uploaded and stored right in the database, meaning I can save multiple themes and switch between them on the fly. I've also gotten the comments working as well as the user access level handlers so comments should work as well as the rules set for them.

My second CouchSurfing experience!

3:10pm 29th November 2006

A few days I met up with another couchsurfer, Lineke, at a cafe called Cats Pyjamas. I met her and 3 of her friends there, and we had a snack and coffee and it was very pleasant. She and her friends were happy to spend the evening chatting with me and teaching me all kinds of swear words in Afrikaans.

Lineke has the coolest old school VW bug I ever! It even has swivel windows and an engine that putt-putts when it goes uphill. I want it! Lineke don't sell it before I come back to buy it from you!

This is the second cool person I have met from CouchSurfing and I think it is safe to say that it is a great way to meet people. I recommend it to everyone! Thanks Lineke, Xanthe, Roux and Yeben for a great evening and I hope to catch up with you guys again soon! Naz out.

My first CouchSurfing experience!

10:59am 15th November 2006

CouchSurfing is the coolest thing ever! I discovered it the other day. It's essentially a network of travellers who don't mind allowing other travellers to sleep on their couches or in their spare rooms. You register on the website and enter in your profile, what city you live in and if you are willing to have people stay at your house. Then they contact you, exchange a few emails to get to know you, and if you are comfortable with each other and have spare space, you can invite them to stay at your place. It's a great way to meet people and travel the world on a shoestring budget.

So I registered, you can see my profile on the site, and yesterday I met my very first couchsurfing buddy, Phia, here in Johannesburg. She and her friend Heidi picked me up from Mayfair and took me around the city. I met her Mum, Betty, who is about as sweet as you can imagine, made me tea and biscuits and told me some funny stories. They had two dogs, Muffin and Snooker, who were very personable and didn't seem to mind having a crazy Austrlaian invading their territory. After that we went to visit a friend of hers in hospital, did some more driving and then went for a coffee in a chic little shop in Melville where we met another one of her friends by the name of Bettina, who is actually the second Bettina I've met from Germany. Hi Bettina (both of you).

Overall, my CouchSurfing experience was about as positive as could be. I will definitely be travelling this way from now on and I hope to meet many more interesting and exciting people. Thanks Phia, Heidi, Betty and Bettina for an awesome day, I'll definitely keep in touch whenever I'm in Johannesburg.

That's all for now, dear readers, but stay tuned for more wild and whacky adventures!