hotrod south-east asia
2001.03.02, segamat, malaysia
last week my college friends and roommates mike, tom, and joel visited asia for the first time. together we represent the known surviving members of the hotrod house (dave's whereabouts are currently unknown). the name hotrod is historical. it has VERY DEEP MEANING, but we don't know what that meaning might be.
we started out in singapore, crashing for a few days at yasu's place: I would've loved to host them at my old place above mohammad sultan road, but I was not about to shell out a month's rent for three days of comfort: besides, the trip to thailand would make up for the initial discomfort. but I am getting ahead of myself.
(if you live in singapore, bear with me for the next couple of paragraphs.)
the guys landed around midnight and were out of the airport around 1 am. I started off their first night with dinner at a hawker center: mee goreng, kai lan, baby sting-ray, beer. (beer features prominently in every meal we ate.) the food melted their murderous rage at having been made to sit for 29 hours in economy class, so I was able to convince them to go to a party in a penthouse apartment. there was a great view, and I think this gave a pretty good idea of how different singapore is from, say, manhattan: most everything is growing vertically, usually around 10 or 14 stories. manhattan is no slouch when it comes to tall buildings of course, but the apartment blocks seem to be about 4 stories on average... perhaps it is just a younger city. and of course there are the patches of tamed jungle which sprout around the city. very different from central park.
at this rate, I will never get to describing thailand: let me try to be more brief. the next day we went through the little-india portion of serangoon road, and got an excellent banana-leaf lunch (with beer). we walked over towards the central shopping district, orchard road, where mike was finally able to get his internet fix. after a brief evening nap we got a quick dinner (vietnamese noodles and, yes, beer) and went to a club to see a DJ (dave seaman). the night ended with another trip to newton circus for more hawker food.
sunday was more relaxed, but we did manage to visit the raffles hotel, where we could not have a drink because we were not all wearing long pants or shoes. that evening we ended up at one of my favorite restaurants, lao beijing, for some excellent shanghainese food. this time, we also had chinese wine: yum yum.
on monday we flew to bangkok: all our hotels for the thailand portion of the trip were already arranged, along with airport transit. we checked in and went back out on the town almost immediately. the hotel was really close the the elevated rail system (which is very modern and clean), so we decided to see if we could find our way around on that. it turned out to be an excellent idea, and we later learned that taxis and tuk-tuks are a comparatively slow way to get around given bangkok's horrible traffic.
we went to patpong and thaniya, the european and japanese nightlife areas, respectively. this is where all the nudie bars are, about which one hears so much, but it was very early evening at that time. we had drinks at an open-air beer garden and then got back on the skytrain to search for a restaurant I'd been told about across town. it really is amazing how quickly we oriented ourselves on the map. we found the vietnamese restaurant without problems; though it looked empty they served us and later some other people also came in. the food was good: I am looking to more when I visit vietnam.
later that evening we went back to patpong and it was pretty much what I expected. our brief foray into a bar was awkward: disinterested girls in bikinis pole dancing in the center of the bar: we decided we were really not very interested in it all and turned in relatively early.
part of the package we'd gotten was a tour of one of the palaces, the name of which totally escapes me at the moment. it was a huge wooden structure, build for king rama IV who had something like 215 wives and children. the tour was nice, and the building impressive, but we had a large group of chinese tourists behind our group who seemed to be going through everything much faster than we did: it was difficult to hear our own guide much of the time.
the rest of the tour was crap: they took us to a jewelry factory, which the factory obviously pays them to do; and then wanted to take us to planet hollywood for lunch. also, tom was starting to feel increasingly sick, so we bailed out in favor of some local food and tom went to bed. after a siesta, we went for traditional thai massages, which my friend steph pretty accurately described as 'passive yoga.' it was a great deep-tissue massage, if a bit painful at times. afterwards, more beer (yes, dr. b, I know I should drink lots of water after a massage), and I lost my handphone which SUCKED. tom went home to sleep. mike, joel, and I checked out a neat hipster bar across town, the Q bar. very modern, good music, good drinks. the DJ was from san francisco: he does flash programming during the day.
the next morning tom was obviously sick. I blame the bangkok air: it is really really polluted, at least as bad as madras and mexico city. the rest of us took a taxi (bad idea) over to Wat Po near the river. the temple was closed, and we were too frustrated after our 45 minute trip through chinatown to get into another one. we walked around, and did see some temples, but many were closed for some special event that is still unclear to me. we decided to walk over and at least look at the chao phraya river, which turned out to be an excellent idea. we met an american student there who explained the river taxi system, and we saw that we could go downriver and hook up to the skytrain again to get back to the hotel. what's more, the river view was excellent, with a lot of temples, old riverfront warehouses, new hotels, etc. we stopped at the orient hotel on our way back and had a few drinks. they inspected us closely before letting us in--there is a sign that refuses entry to backpackers--but we were all wearing pants and shoes so we were able to sit on the verandah and have various tropical cocktails.
that afternoon we flew to ko samui, and got to the hotel in lamai (east coast of the island) around dark. we all (tom included) went out to dinner and had our first really excellent thai food: it does not seem that different from what we have in the states, but of course we were on an island geared towards tourists. tom zonked out in the hotel, with joel taking care of him. mike and I got beers and waded into the ocean in front of the hotel. we spent our evening getting very drunk, waist deep in the warm south china sea.
with all the beer I now remember drinking on this trip, I am amazed that I did not gain weight.
ko samui was really, really fun: we had no responsibilities and so the days blended into each other. we ate, laid on the beach, swam in the ocean and the pool, drank beers and foofie drinks, got massages on the beach, checked email (particularly mike the addict), were propositioned for "massaged" at dubious looking shacks in town. at some point tom realized he was not getting any better, so we (joel, actually) called in a doctor who eventually put him on some antibiotics. the rest of us also took a boat to ko tao and another island to do some snorkling, which was probably the highlight of the trip... except that I had to pee on the trip back, worse than I can ever remember. the boat was jumping over waves and crashing back down. I felt as though not only my bladder but also my kidneys were about to burst. at one point, they slowed the boat so I could go off the back, but stage fright reared its ugly head and I ended up gritting my teeth and humming the longest song I could remember until we got back to port. I could not stand up straight for a while.
the next day, our last, tom was actually feeling somewhat better. what's the secret to comedy?
we had one more night in singapore, but we ended up packing things for the guys to take back to the states for me and just ordered food in. and, yes, beers. the guys left early early the monday morning.
life since then has been relatively mundane: I got a new handphone, closed almost all of my accounts, got travellers checks. I was able to have some great dinners and drinks with friends, and sort of say good-bye to singapore: ben and deena did their best to keep me hungover and in singapore. one thing I did not do, however, was decide where I was heading. eventually, I decided to get on a boat for batam and from there take a ferry to sumatra. as I mentioned, I went out drinking and dancing and was in no shape to leave the next morning; and I changed my mind. I figure I won't really have enough time to see cambodia and vietnam if I don't start heading north now.
so this morning I left on a train for malaysia. in classic form, I missed the express train to KL by 10 minutes, so I took a passenger train to a midway point: segamat. I actually thought of staying here for the night and exploring around: I found a small hotel, but after lunch when I returned I realized it is not really a hotel (or at best, it is an 'hourly' hotel). I decided to forego my 30 ringgit (about US$7) and get on the evening express train the rest of the way to KL. on the other hand, it was about worth that to have a quite, air-conditioned place to sit and finally write this all down--and keep my batteries charged, at that. maybe the flophouse owner should consider switching to an internet cafe.