I may be the last Aussie on Earth to have visited; but now, at the grand conclusion of my world trip, I've finally visited Thailand. And let's face it: Thailand is the no. 1 budget travel destination in the world, and no true round-the-world backpacking trip would be complete without it. The Land of Smiles is home to sunny beach paradises, steamy tropical jungles, curry that redefines curry, a Buddhist religious heritage of great richness, cheap shopping to please anyone... and more. The only thing that remains a puzzle: what took me so long to get here?
Upon the advice of my cousins — who are seasoned veterans in the field — today I headed over to Bangkok's Pantip Plaza shopping centre, and perused the extensive movie, music and computer-related wares on offer there. Three hours and several thousand Baht later, I was satiated. I've been waiting a looong time for this opportunity, and there's no way I was going to let it pass by un-seized. Should be enough DVDs to fill up every sleepy Sydney night and boring long weekend for the next year or so. Plus, enough music to make a year's worth of never-ending bus commutes and long queues fly right by. Attention all friends back in Sydney: you know I owe you, so please grab and burn at will when I return. Amazing how they keep the prices so low here in Thailand, and yet manage to sell nothing but 100% genuine, legitimate MPAA-endorsed goods :P.
Fuckfuckfuck FUCK FUCK. Fuckity fucked-up fuuuck.
All year, I've made a big effort at keeping this blog clean, and at beeping out rude words that might offend people. Well, I'm fucking sick of it — I'm nearly home, and it's time to say FUCK THAT SHIT!!! Censorship is FUCKED. Fuck you, Google: rank me the fuck down for this if you want, I couldn't give a ladyboy's willy about it. Fuck you, Office of Film and Literature Classification: rate me MA15+, warn against strong coarse language and adult themes — do whatever the fuck you want, you cocksuckers — everyone knows you're fucked anyway (and guess what, Bittorrent doesn't ask for ID, so go fuck yourselves). And fuck you, profanity filtering software: you're discriminating against people with [cuntlicker shagfag pimpdiddy asshole titties motherfucker pieceofshit sonofabitch wankmeister turdface dirtyassho sissypoofta stingyjew stupidnigga hijodeputa] Tourette's!.
I'm saying it loudly, and proudly: FUCK YOU!!!
During my far-and-wide travels the past year, I've been (like my ancestors long before me) "a stranger in a strange land", and I've been dwelling amongst all manner of strange and foreign people (many of whom were also far from home). It's no secret that I'm an Aussie; and naturally, "where you from?" is one of the first questions that gets asked and answered, when meeting new people while on the road. But until this trip, I never before realised just how strong and widely-known the stereotypical Aussie image is, or how much of a preconceived view this could implant in people, before they've even spoken two words to me. I've never really considered myself to be anything remotely close to the "quintessential Aussie bloke"; and having now been an ambassador of my country in the big wide world, I feel that I've done a dismal job of representing patriotically. Unfortunately, I've discovered a sad but undeniable truth about introductions: it's not who you are, it's what you are.
It's been a sun-soaked, adventure-packed, super-chilled three weeks I've had here in southern Thailand: first in Ko Tao, and then in Ton Sai. But now, unfortunately, the time has come to say farewell. In just four days' time, I'll be flying home to Sydney; and as such, it's time that I made my way back up to Bangkok. This morning, I said adieu to Ton Sai beach, hopped on a long-tail boat around to Ao Nang, and then caught a sawng thaew (pickup slash shared-taxi) back to Krabi. From there, I was lucky enough to purchase the last ticket on a bus back to Bangkok (via Surat Thani) this evening (my last dodgy Thai "tourist bus"). And after only a few hours of waiting during the day, I was soon on my way, and the return to Bangkok was happening. When I woke up the next morning, familiar (and still overwhelming) Khao San Road was there to greet me.
Karen and Nick are a super-chilled Canadian couple: Nick's been here on Ton Sai for a few weeks already; and Karen just rocked up today (not sure if they're together, or just friends, or what-have-you). Nick is apparently "extremely short on cash": as such, he's sleeping in a tent instead of renting a bungalow (can't afford $7/night — ouch). I met the two of them while having dinner this evening, and I later went out and had a few drinks with them, at the Chill Out bar on the beach. Saw plenty of other folks at the beach bars tonight as well — great, pleasant way to end my time in Ton Sai.
Today was the third and final instalment in my three-day climbing course, and it was one hell of a daunting conclusion. The main topic of the day was multipitching: that is, learning to ascend walls that are too high to climb with a single rope (such walls are more than 50m), and/or that consist of multiple sections, each of which has a different "pitch" or angle. Multipitch climbing is an extremely complex procedure, as it involves a pair of partners taking turns at belaying each other up and down (multiple times, depending on the number of sections that the wall has), switching yourself between various ropes, securing ropes in such a way that they can be switched, and learning a whole heap of new knots and rope configurations. It is, in my opinion, far too complicated to learn in one day; and it's also quite unnecessary to learn, unless you're already a strong and experienced enough climber to actually tackle multi-pitch walls. I barely remembered a quarter of the details of what I was taught today; but nevertheless, it was worthwhile being exposed to some of the more advanced techniques in rock-climbing, and it was interesting to learn how the pros do it.
Yu's an interesting guy: his heritage is 100% Thai, but he's been living in Canada for the past few years, and he's planning to go back there, in the hope of obtaining residency. As such, he speaks much better English than most do most Thais (it's quite rare for Thai locals to have travelled internationally). As my buddy Let was away today, and as Yu just arrived back in Ton Sai (and in Thailand!) this morning, he was my instructor for the final stint of my climbing course today. He's strict and extremely thorough, but he's a great guy and an excellent climber.
After two full days of rock-climbing, today I decided to pause my three-day course, and to relax and have a rest day. Three days in a row is simply too much: I'm tired and aching all over just from two; and I can't go on without a bit of time to catch my breath.
As anybody who's visited this country should be acutely aware of, Thailand is still a kingdom. A constitutional monarchy, to be precise: much like Great Britain's setup, where the king (or queen) is still technically the head of state, but where said king / queen actually retains very little power. In Thailand, however — unlike in most other surviving 12st-century monarchies — it's virtually impossible to not notice the fact that they have a king. They absolutely ADORE him! The king's photo is on every street corner, framed in gold and lit-up like a superstar. Speaking ill against the king is highly inadvisable: not only is it illegal; it also has about a 99% chance of pi$$ing off any local that you may encounter. All hail the king: he's pretty hot stuff around here.
As I approach the end of my massive world trip — I now have exactly one week to go, before I touch down back in Sydney — I can't help but think about what it's going to be like returning home. And one thing that keeps worrying me, is that after a year of travelling, my English language skills have become somewhat eroded! I never expected I'd ever be saying this: but I'm really concerned that my spoken English has deteriorated during my travels. I believe that it's been caused by a combination of my intensive Spanish study; of the significant amount of time that I've spent in non-English-speaking countries; and more than anything, of the amount of conversing that I've done, in English, with non-native English speakers.