More Hello Kitty, and the Deaflympics.

Back in Taipei. Last time I was here I tried to exchange money at a machine and instead bought a Taiwanese phone card. Somehow it survived my time in Thai and I gave my parents a call. Same old, same old, really, but it had been a while since I heard their voices and it felt great to talk to them. I can't believe I'm going to be back in Canada in a month. Crazy.

Speaking of crazy, some of you may remember me mentioning the Hello Kitty! gate at the Taipei airport. Yep, still here. Yep, still scary. I actually really want to visit Taiwan properly someday, because at this point the airport has both terrified and entertained me to a degree that you just can't get on network television these days. I noticed that next to the gate, there's a painted balloon that says "Hurry up! Last five minutes!" next to Hello Kitty! (For the record, these exclamation marks are hers, not mine.) Now I think that's fucked up shit. Why would you permanently emblazon something as full-pants-inducing as that at an airport? Think about it, people are exhausted. How fair is it to all of us walking zombies to freak us out with false warnings of missing a flight? And in TAIWAN? I'm not sure what would happen if I missed my flight here, but the lady on the plane read a warning that "Smuggling illegal firearms or drugs is a capital offense." over the intercom before we landed, so I bet they'd at least take a hand or something.

Ok. Haven't slept much, try not to take me seriously. I know, I know, nearly impossible.

So the second part of the airport, the entertaining part, is this incredible display they have up for the Deaflympics, which after some careful research I have discovered starts in Taipei in 4 days. Now, some of you may think, as I did, that this is some sort of contest between DEA agents in who can catch the most smugglers in Taiwan. It's not. It's the Olympics, for deaf people. Get it? Deaflympics. RAD.

Now, before I go on, I wanna say I think it's awesome that the Deaflympics are around. They started in Paris c.1924, and they've given athletes who might not be able to compete at that level an opportunity to compete against each other with the support of the international community. That's cool. I'm not a dude who's big into competition sports, but I've got nothing but props for people who dedicate their lives to something when they're up against that kind of adversity. What's also cool is the incredible comedy GOLDMINE that combining something as touchy as disabled athletics with the self-seriousness of Asian competitiveness gives us. The coolest "disabled" (or whatever the PC handjob word we use is now) people I've met have had a wicked sense of humour about themselves, so if I offend you, blow me.

Now, the display. Life-size (possibly larger than life even, they are Asian after all) photographs of different athletes in the midst of their particular sport. Under each athlete is a quote, an animal-themed nickname, and on the back of each 3-D display a little "story-of-life" blurb. Reading the quotes, I couldn't help but think of some responses to the hardcore shit these people were saying. I only had a bit of paper to jot down some notes, so I don't have the actual names, but if you click on the title of this post, it'll take you to the website

First up, two dudes who look like they could kick Forrest Gump's ass at table tennis. Their nicknames, "The Snake" (oooh) and "The Butterfly" (huh?)
The Snake: "I can move faster than light!"
(That's incredible, after Einstein, Hawking, String Theory, Quantum Physics, etc, all we really needed to break the unbreakable barrier was a deaf Taiwanese ping-pong player.)
The Butterfly: "I already see your weaknesses."
(Ah, sorry buddy, my weaknesses cannot be seen, only heard, so you're shit outta luck. heyo.)

Next we have a ripped mofo throwing a Javelin. For some reason, they gave him "The Bear". Javelin=Bear? WTF?
The Bear: "I know not where the limit is."
(......really, no one's gonna say it? Uh, I can think of one for ya. Sound.)

The dude throwing the massive kick into the air is a Karate fighter (Karatist?) they call him "The Killer Whale" next to him is a woman gripping a tennis racket like Paris Hilton driving stick, known as "The Leopard."
The Killer Whale: "My fists will break waves."
The Leopard: "Precision is my only way."
(I have absolutely nothing funny to say to either of those. They are both hardcore to the max sentences and I want to see these people in action. For real.)

And the last guy is kinda lame, he's a bowler, although his concentration looks pretty intense, something about bowling just doesn't have the same impact as Karate for me. I just like him because he has no animal nickname, after all the most badass animals were taken, he went with "Lefty".
Lefty: "I'll show you the real curve ball."
(Pretty sure this has some vague connection with the east Asian love of baseball, which is redonkulous.)

And of course, no Asian games (or Asian anything, for that matter) would be complete without some kind of strange little mascot. In this case, we have two. They stand amongst all the hardcore athlete picture boxes, although about half the size. A boy and a girl. How forward-thinking. They're frogs, and their names are Peace and Love. Awesome. I love it.

Seriously though, I'd like to think that these people themselves would see the humour in this, and I'd also hope that anyone feels free to take the piss out of me any time they want. Rock on, deaf people.
Who knows? If the Deaflympics are televised in Korea, maybe I'll even check out those wave-breaking fists. Sounds rad. In the meantime, I'm really glad this little display was here to entertain and, dare I say it, educate my tired, silly mind. Peace out.


Sesame Street was brought to you today by the letters HOLY SHIT. And the colour Bangkok.

Ah, Bangkok. The city that never showers. Or perhaps the city in which you never feel like you've taken a shower. Seriously, take a shower in Bangkok, I dare you. You'll probably be at a guesthouse, much like the one I write from now. You'll go into the slightly skanky shared bathroom, turn on the showerhead, and exhale in sweet, cool, relief.

Until you turn the shower off. As you dry yourself off, you realize it's not working, you're still wet. In fact, skin that was dry a moment ago is now wet again. This is because you've not been 10 seconds without cold water on you and already you are a sweaty beast. Gotta love it.

I really do love this city. Last time I was here, I was here for around 9 days. This was great, but too long. I think about two days in Bangkok is probably perfect. Khao San Rd is one big sordid party (which having watched "The Beach" recently, I can say with great certainty that the director who put that scene together SUCKS), the royal palace is beautiful, and the juxtaposition of modern skyscrapers, ancient architecture, and poverty is staggering. My preferred mode of transport in Bangkok is the local bus, because it's cheap. Dirt cheap. As in 17 baht for an hour long ride from the bus station to Khao San. However, when I can't be arsed to wait for/find a bus, the Tuk-Tuk is an option of immeasurable radness. Despite being given the runaround a couple times (see earlier post), I still love these things. Sure, cabs have air-conditioning (and doors), buses are cheaper, and the river taxi is great, but the Tuk-Tuk allows you to see the city up close, real close, 3-inches-away-as-you-swerve-past close. You're in the open air, not only seeing, but being seen. Thais stare or smile as you go by, other tourists in other Tuk-Tuks laugh with you as your driver passes theirs or vice-versa. And the possibility of you dying in a fiery crash just makes it all the more titillating. Bangkok traffic is fast and mad. I remember how terrrified I was the first time I took a Tuk-Tuk. (hehe...tukatuktuk) It's funny how you get used to things. Now I only tense up if I actually think I'm going to die in the next 3 seconds. I learned how to approach a Tuk-Tuk driver from Joel, the Aussie I have written about earlier in my Thai time. You walk up, state your destination, and your desired price. When he tells you his price, you walk away. If he doesn't stop you, find another driver. When you find one who does, congratulations, you've just learned how to haggle. I had a great driver today. As he took me to Chatuchak Market, we talked about my family, his family, money, how he hates driving a tuk-tuk and is getting an office job soon. He finally invited me to his place in the north if I'm ever back in Thailand, for some special chicken soup, with special ingredients. The kind of ingredients I don't touch in Bangkok, but certainly enjoy on the beach. Nice guy.

So, after spending the day souvenir shopping and spending waaaaaay too much money but getting sooooo much stuff for it, I'm packed and off to dinner and then Khao San. May meet up with a couple of mates from Ton Sai. I've got a cab picking me up to go to the airport at 3am, so I figure I might as well get lightly roasted. Until next time sports fans, Adios. See you in Korea.


Cuando estas bien, el tiempo vuela.

Sigh. I just had an incredible few days. Went over to Railay Beach a few nights ago to check out the social scene over there (more people+more money=bigger party?). We'd been talking about going for weeks. Met a wicked English dude named Tristan (who, on account of his Indian/Chinese heritage, everyone thinks is Thai and greets with a strained "Sawatdee Krap") and a couple of Germans, Manu and Patrick and we all went over together. One of the few lamentable things about Ton Sai (and the only one you hear with great regularity) is that in low season, a very high ratio of the population is, how you say, male. This may or may not have influenced our decision to check out Railay, I'm not at liberty to say. [As a matter of fact, more than one tourist has come over to Ton Sai, seen the shirtless climbers rippling with muscle, taken a head count of guys vs. girls, and inquired, "Uh...is this the gay beach?" Heh heh, no.) In any case, a party it was. Thai boxing, fire shows, dancing, and (It's true! It's true!) a few more people of the female persuasion in the room. Met some cool Finnish ladies and spent some time drumming on some congas with a Spanish woman I can only describe as luminous.
(Before this goes any further, get your mind out of the gutter, I can tell you now that our time together was 99% platonic, save a cheeky kiss I stole when saying goodbye. So if you're looking for smut, check out http://journals.worldnomads.com/stonesamurai and see what that cad Greg is up to.)

In any case, Ines, the luminous Spanish lady, and her friends took off, we all got supertrashed, and slept above the bar in a loft. Pulled out of a fitful sleep by noises of heavy construction, awoke with that "Where the hell am I?" feeling, along with "Oh god, how much did I have to drink last night?" and some sort of ballpeen hammer battling in my head. We went to get breakfast and headed back to Ton Sai, where I spent the next few (and last few) days hanging out with Ines, her friend Marta, and Tristan. Tristan is a relatively new climber and we had a great few days together. It was good fun to "show someone the ropes" and he wasleading a 6b by the end of his time here.

Ines and I did Humanality (4 pitches, Awesome 6b+ crux pitch) last night. At 6pm, we packed some head torches and an extra rope, took a look at the guidebook, and started up. Climbing in the dark is scary fun. Routefinding becomes a bit of a game, looking for bolts and slings with a circle of light about 4 feet across. At one infamous point on the crux pitch, you have to transfer from the main face, onto a stalactite behind you, then back to the main face. I had heard about this move from many many people. Climbing up on a bit of slippery, runout slab, just after clipping a bolt, I found myself at a loss for where to go next. I looked behind me to see the tip of the stalactite hanging down to about the level my head was at. I think I actually said out loud, "What the f@ck am I supposed to do now? Jump?". Well, I leaned over with one hand onto the stalactite and found some tenuous feet with which to chimney up, left arm and leg on the big piece of hanging rock, rights on the face. Once I had successfully moved over, I started looking for another bolt or sling. Nothing. Look behind me at the face, nothing. Look up into the group of stalactites, nothing. Shit. I couldn't see anything on the face behind me, so I decided to climb up the easy moves into the stalactite and look for a sling or bolt. I had no idea how long I was supposed to climb the stalactite before moving back onto the face, so I figured, go up. I climbed and climbed into this group of stalactites on big jugs, feet stemming from one hanging spire to another. Before I knew it, I had climbed much further than expected, still not finding a bolt or sling to protect myself. I looked back down at my bolt, which was on the opposite wall about 7 meters below me. My first thought was "14 meter fall" and I tried not to think of the words "pinballing off the rock". This was just nerves though, as the climbing was quite easy in the stalactite. Still looking at my bolt, I was debating on what to do next when I saw the next bolt. It was meters below me, on the main face, maybe two meters above my last bolt. How I didn't see it, I don't know. Downclimbing onto the stalactites nearest the wall (SCary!), I reached behind me (really scary!) and clipped the bolt, still clinging to the stalactite. Looking over, there were only two holds on the rock, a side pull and a small ledge. Matching my hands on the ledge, I reached waaaaaay right to catch a flake that turned out to be the floor of the little cave where the next anchor was. Whew. Awesome fun. As I was belaying Ines up, watching her work the moves out, she yelled out:



"Wan Mon kay!"


"I see.... Wan Mon kay!"

"Huh? You okay? You want me to take [the rope tight]?"

"NO! Wan Mon kay in the cave!"

"OHHHH a MONKEY! One Monkey, I get it. Ah, cool. Is it angry?"

(Laughing) "I don't know. I don't want him to bite the rope!"

The image of the monkey, sleeping alone in the cave, no doubt for some outrage he committed against the other monkeys, chewing through the rope in revenge for disturbing his sleep, was at once ridiculous and vaguely terrifying.

"Okay. Well, Venga Venga!"

Suffice to say, we didn't see the monkey again, just kept a nervous eye on his cave on the rappel down. Speaking of rappels really cool turn of events, facilitating my first problem solving session 100 (or so) metres off the ground. So the route is four pitches, but with two ropes the rappel down can be done in two rappels. The route moves to the right as it moves up, so you can't rappel straight down, otherwise you won't reach your belay station below you, and may end up stuck on the end of a rope for the night with nowhere to clip in. Standard procedure is to "back clip", meaning that the first climber rappels down on both ropes (now tied together to make one long rope), clips the rope into the bolts on the way down, and thereby follows the diagonal nature of the route. The second descender then raps down, unclipping the bolts, while the first holds the rope to pull them in the direction of the lower anchor. (If this is too confusing don't worry about it, just replace these couple of paragraphs with "blah blah blah, climbing blah blah I'm awesome blah blah) To facilitate this process, however, you need both climbers to have a rappel device that can work on two strands of rope, for instance an ATC. Turns out, I have an ATC, but Ines only had a Grigri, which for those non-climbers out there is a belay device that you can use to rappel on a SINGLE rope. We had known this going up, but had not realized the necessity of back clipping, planning instead to simultaneously rappel on on strand each side of the anchor, equalizing each others weight and going straight down. Now, we knew we could not go straight down. Long story short, sort of, we discussed a few complex possibilities of incorporating the grigri into a back clipping scenario, and decided, finally, to just rap straight down at the same time and hope that the full 60 meters of rope would get us to an anchor. Some anchor, any anchor, who knows. Stopping to take a photo at the top, we smiled nervously at the lightning hitting the water below us, smiled nervously at each other and with a "Okay, come on.", started down the rope. The coloured pattern on my rope changes at the halfway point, this is useful for determining how much rope you have until you reach the end, so I kept an eye on that and about 10 meters past the change, we found an anchor. Hallelujah. After what seemed like ages of coiling and managing rope, we started down the second rappel and made it slowly to the ground. Smiling constantly, looking up or down at each other to check that progress was going smoothly, we finally made it to the ground. Cheering and embracing, we jumped up and down with glee at the fact that in our hungry, exhausted state, we managed to make it down. Incredible time.
This morning Tristan came to my bungalow and woke me up, bearing the bad news that his plan to move his flight had failed, and he had to leave today for Singapore, where he would catch a flight to London. Sad to see him go, but happy we met, we said a long goodbye on the porch and promised to meet up sometime, somewhere, soon.
After having breakfast with Ines and Marta, I walked with them over to Railay and we caught a boat to Ao Nam Mao, where I'm writing from, they took off for Koh Thao and barring the possibility of a quick visit if they come back this way in a few days, I'll probably not see them until I head to Spain.
I've become very used to saying goodbye to people here. Being here for two months, you see so many people come and go, many of them wicked individuals with whom I've formed fast friendships. There's lots of acquaintances, and "see ya when I see ya's" but for every couple dozen buddies, pals, and chums, there are individuals that it really does hurt to say goodbye to.
Wistfulness is probably a character flaw in me of some sort, I often look back with a certain heartache at people and places I've been or been with. But I also try to keep my head from going to that place for too long, preferring to move forward, eyes [and heart] open to the infinity of new and beautiful experiences on their way. It can feel cruel sometimes, this "gift" we all have, of loving people, but this cruelty is born out of the most important kind of connection we have. It's through connecting with people, friends, family, and especially strangers, that we can learn and grow and change and not stop dancing till the music stops. So to everyone I've said goodbye to recently, I hope I see you soon, but if not, I'm glad we did what we did and now have what we have.