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.
This dude's real name is "Let", and he's my main instructor for the three-day climbing course that I'm doing here at Ton Sai. When I told Let that my name was "Jeremy", he had a lot of difficulty pronouncing it — the closest he could get was "Jet Li", and so that is now my official rock-climbing pseudonym. Let's a really nice guy: he's only been rock-climbing himself (let alone instructing!) for the past six months; before that, he spent ten years as a chef in a glamorous hotel restaurant in Phuket. His ability and his fitness levels are remarkable, considering how new he is to the sport; and after only six months of working with farangs, his English ain't so bad either.
There are divers. And then there are fanatical divers. And then there's Flav. Originally from the Netherlands, Flavius is one of the longest-serving instructors at Ban's: he's married to a local woman, and he's been living here on Ko Tao for no less than 14 years! Hasn't even gone home once, in all that time. Flav's a part of the furniture around here, and diving is his life. I was lucky enough to have Flav as my instructor during my Open Water course this week: and despite my utter lack of natural suitability for the submarine world, he did an amazing job of getting me down and of bringing me back up.
Like other places in Thailand, Ko Tao is also home to the delicious late-night street snack roti (pancake). Ko Tao's roti is no different to the roti anywhere else: but in this case, it's how you cook it that makes all the difference. Ko Tao is home to the legendary Pancake Ninja: this guy can be found in his little stall on Sairee most nights; and no matter who or what you've witnessed previously, you ain't seen flippin' til you've seen him in action. In 30 seconds flat, pancake cooking meets Kung Fu. Check out the video.
I'd heard that instead of just giving them money, it's a much better idea to give the kids in hill-tribe villages some stationery that they can use at school. This is similar to the custom for tourists in other parts of the world, such as on the islands of Peru's Lake Titicaca. So before I left Chiang Mai on Tuesday, I bought a few pens, a few pencils, and some blank exercise books. Didn't get a chance to offer these to the kids last night; but I cornered two little boys this morning, and they eagerly accepted the precious educational gifts. I Hope they get put to good use.
As well as the smiling, joking *Cluck" — whose favourite sayings are "oh my Buddha" (ostensibly because they believe in Buddha, not G-d), and "no money no honey" — we also have another guide on this trek. I don't know his real name, but I call him "Mr. Baht". He's the accountant of the tour. He enjoys telling us repeatedly, and well in advance, whenever there's an additional cost coming our way, and exactly what the amount will be. And he takes great pride in keeping a drinks tab for all of us, every night, and in meticulously tracking our purchases and in chasing down our money every morning. Mr. Baht like his money.
For the second night of our Doi Inthanon trek, we're staying at the Karen "hill-tribe" village in the area. I say "hill-tribe" with inverted commas, and for good reason: this is actually well-known as a "fake" village — unlike the real hill-tribe villages further north in Thailand, it's quite literally just kept here for the purposes of tourism — and this is fairly obvious when you visit the place. They get tourists staying here almost every night (especially during peak season), and they're neither awkward nor intimidated around us. We saw the hill-tribe school, where the local kids are taught to read and write; we were shown the villagers' humble houses; and we observed the various animals that roam freely around the town. Our accommodation for the night — like last night's — is a simply affair of bamboo huts, which are once again rather uncomfortable, but which are something rough and different.
Nobody ever found out his real name; but when asked, the loud and comical leader of our Doi Inthanon trek make a loud *cluck* noise with his tongue. Hence, he became known to us as *cluck*. *Cluck* is a real character. He enjoys introducing his tour groups to the wonders of bamboo bongs, of rock-sliding on waterfalls, and of fresh BBQ pig. He's a bit chubby, and he takes great pride in being able to make the rolls of fat on his chest "oscillate" in a way that most likely measures on the richter scale. Plus, he claims to own the largest house in the village where we had lunch today. None of us will be forgetting this bloke in a hurry.
I found a little semi-street-vendor restaurant for lunch today, in downtown Chiang Mai, where they serve a delicious 20B Pad Thai. When I sat down and tucked in, a local kid sat down at the table next to me. He indicated that he was hungry and that he hadn't had lunch, and he asked me for 20B. I sympathised with the poor kid being hungry; but I know the rule: "if someone says they're hungry, don't give 'em money — give 'em food." So instead of giving him the 20B, I gave it to the restaurant lady, and asked her to cook up another Pad Thai for the kid. He didn't seem very happy about this — clearly he wasn't hungry, and he wanted the money for something else — but stuff that, if he wants lunch then a plate of noodles couldn't do him any harm.
Mr. Miller is an 84-year-old, Polish-born Munich local, who shamelessly (but not regrettably) interrupted our tour of Munich today in the Marienplatz. He staggered up to Ozzie, totally wasted on Glühwein (waving his Glühwein mug around); and wouldn't leave us alone until he'd told us his life story (at times, in surprisingly passable English), and sung us a few songs in G-d knows what language. You gotta see it to believe it: so check out the video below.