Diesel Guide to Italy

*editor’s note* This was originally written months ago while the Yellow Shirts of Thailand were attempting to “shutdown Bangkok”. Before I was able to post it my computer died. Eventually I was able to recover my files and after weeks of procrastination I’m finally posting this. Since the time of writing the military of Thailand has overthrown the government and is now running the country.


The interesting thing about flying from Florida to Thailand is it doesn’t really matter if you fly east or west; it’s still going to take about the same amount of time. Earth is a pretty big place and I just about picked the farthest place from home on Earth to live. It’s not that I want to live so far from home it’s that Thailand is awesome. I enjoy Thailand more than Hawaii. I work significantly less and despite earning significantly less, my quality of living has increased. Needless to say the extra distance is worth it. However, when my adoring mother wants to see me the distance poses a bit of a challenge; that and guessing when complete mayhem will break out in Bangkok.

The Yellow Shirts don’t like the people in power here in Thailand and unfortunately for them they are the minority. Unable to win an election they’ve decided to take matters into their own hands. Overall they’ve mostly blown whistles but stopped too short of attacking the Red Shirts head on. There has been some violence but you’re more likely to die in a typical road accident than at a protest. There are peaks and valleys to the unrest and it’s difficult to predict 3 months down the road if things will be calm or if the Thai apocalypse (aka Thaipocalypse) will be upon us. That said, my mother and I decided to meet approximately half-way between Florida and Thailand, destination Italy.

Whenever travelling, it’s always important to be aware of the dangers that lie within your destination. If you want to visit Thailand be mindful of mass protests and aggressive lady boys. If you want to visit Mexico, be mindful of drug cartels. If you’re a woman travelling in Kyrgyzstan, be especially careful, for you’re at risk of being kidnapped and forced into marriage. So goes it on this strange treacherous planet of ours. Shadows can never be trusted and exploring unfamiliar territory can be tricky, like negotiating a turn on a gravel road going 90 in a Cadillac Deville or figuring out which cop to bribe and with how much. A slight miscalculation can spell disaster. More often than not it’s better to cautiously figure out what lies ahead rather than barrel through like Lindsay Lohan can a bottle of Vicodin and an eight ball of cocaine. For some reason there are those that prefer to throw caution to the wind but I’m here to tell you, “proceed with caution my friend”.  But what does one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations offer in the way of to be avoided dangers? Well, if you want to visit Italy be mindful of one of the most dangerous creatures on Earth, gypsies!

Yes, gypsies inhabit every square mile of Italy. They have no natural predators and after being introduced to Italy by the Nazis in 1944 as part of a clandestine operation to destabilize the region their numbers have grown exponentially. The possibility of eradicating the invasive species is slim to zero. The only thing the Italians and tourists can do is be aware of the danger and stay vigilant.

Typically, gypsies are only after your wallet but will bite when confronted in an aggressive manner or backed into a corner. Adult gypsies have a 1”-2” set of fangs that are able to deliver one of the most painful bites in the animal kingdom. Hundreds of Italians and tourists die from gypsy bites every year but it’s rarely the puncture from the fangs that kills. One drop of gypsy saliva contains billions of deadly bacteria. The saliva dissolves flesh and usually after 2-3 days of excruciating pain caused by the ensuing infection the victim is dead. Scientists have stated in journals that gypsy saliva is far more potent than that of a distant relative on the evolutionary chart, the Komodo dragon.

Despite looking rather human they are easy to spot by the trained eye. Most gypsies hunch forward just slightly and have a small but noticeable hitch in their step. The hitch comes from a deformity in the hips; a trait that all gypsies carry. Also, you’ll never catch them smiling as doing so would reveal their fangs. Gypsies prefer to be discreet and act as human as possible, the goal being to blend in amongst large crowds and remain undetected.  They can act incredibly human but when the conditions are right, hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary instincts kick in and they make a pull for your wallet.

Crafty bastards they are. One minute you’re enjoying a double-decker bus sightseeing tour through Rome and the next you’re on the phone with a loved one across an ocean asking for a Western Union money transfer. A book thicker than a dictionary can be written about all the tactics gypsies deploy in order to steal your wallet without attracting attention. Whether you’re getting on a bus, tying your shoelaces, or helping someone in need you are never safe.

As I mentioned before the best thing you can do to avoid them is stay vigilant. However, gypsies do have one weakness, a sort of gypsy kryptonite if you will. Back in the early 1960’s when it became apparent to the Germans and Italians the gypsy attack had gone awry they started looking for ways they could get the gypsy population under control. A couple infamous German scientists developed a unique form of synthetic crystal. It was a hybrid of ionic and molecular crystal infused with a very rare chemical unknown by the public today.

Gypsies are highly allergic to what is commonly known as gypsy crystal. It causes their skin to burn and just a small whiff induces severe inflammation and burning of the ear, nose, and throat. Gypsy crystal is harmless to humans but deadly to gypsies. Ingesting as little as 10 micrograms is likely to be fatal. The Germans encouraged people to keep a bit of the crystal hidden inside their wallets in case they were attacked.

The problem was the chemical used in production was rare and the production process itself was expensive. The gypsy population was growing exponentially and there simply wasn’t enough of the crystal to stop them. After just a few years the entire gypsy crystal program was shuttered. What’s left today is a limited supply still floating around on the black market. If you’re lucky enough to find an authentic crystal it’s usually too expensive. Not to mention all the counterfeit gypsy floating around makes the whole idea of acquiring the crystal for protection on a short trip more of a fantasy than a practical defense. I never imagined the possibility of getting hold of some gypsy crystal, nor was I going to try but as luck would have it I came across some the very first day.

My mother and I were sitting outside the original thunder dome, the Colosseum in Rome, severely jet lagged, and on the lookout for gypsies. I was trying an overpriced and overhyped Gelato while taking in the scenes unfolding in front of us. It was just before the high season so the crowds weren’t terribly bad. Tourists were taking pictures of the famous structure while Bangladeshi merchants were milling around offering cheap goods to anyone within sight. “Welcome to Italy, now buy some cheap crap.” I’m not sure when, but at some point in time buying cheap crap started going hand in hand with traveling. I casually brushed off most of them but one individual did not keep walking when I told him I wasn’t interested in his scarves. He stopped, stood in front of me, looked around, and then subtly reached into his left coat pocket and presented me with something I would never have expected. An authentic gypsy crystal! There was no doubt in my mind it was the real thing.

You see, in order to combat the rise of fake gypsy crystal, legitimate dealers had to figure out a way to prove their crystal was authentic. If a customer was suspicious of the authenticity they couldn’t just walk around looking for a gypsy to burn. The successful dealers understood the power of branding. The top crystal dealers started encasing a small piece of gypsy crystal inside a piece of glass with their brand name or logo etched into the glass. This made it much easier for buyers to know whether or not they were buying real gypsy crystal. Also, just a small piece of Gypsy crystal is needed to ward off gypsies so encasing it glass made it less likely to lose.

Despite my luck I knew the crystal would be too expensive and simply not worth purchasing. A teaching salary in Thailand is plenty to live comfortably but only in a cheap country. Exchanging Thai Baht for Euro is like trading old sweaters for gold it’s not going to get you much. That is unless your gypsy dealer doesn’t know the value of Thai Baht. I wasn’t willing to pay what he was asking but I made a counter offer. I presented him with a crisp green 20 Baht note with King Bhumibol Adulyadej prominently displayed on the side facing him.

“Where this come from?”

“It comes from Thailand”, I said.

“Thailand”, he repeated with a look of interest. “How much this worth?”

“I don’t know exactly but it should be worth your crystal.”

He motioned for his friends and within seconds all three of them were inspecting the money and speaking in there in native tongue. I could tell his friends were no help as both of them just shrugged their shoulders. He looked at it some more and decided he wanted my exotic money. Just like that I had some gypsy crystal and he had what could be exchanged for less than half a Euro or the sleeve off a dirty sweater.

I knew my gypsy crystal would be extremely valuable to us in Italy. Not only were we protected against gypsies but the crystal could also be used as a bargaining chip in case we found ourselves caught in a sticky situation. At that moment I had the power to bribe cops, pay off a local mafia member, or pay for an emergency taxi ride. The next morning we would be heading by train to Sorrento, a small coastal city in southern Italy. Train stations are hotbeds of gypsy activity but now there was no need to worry.


When visiting Italy you’re supposed to see certain sights and try certain foods. I gave Gelato a shot in Rome and now that we’re in the land of Limoncello down in Sorrento it was time to give the popular lemon liquor a shot, or take a shot I should say. Limoncello is liquor made from lemons. It is mainly produced in southern Italy and quite popular. I’m not sure how popular it is among the locals but the tourists certainly have an appetite for it. Most of the gift shops in Sorrento are 100% lemon themed. Plates, eating utensils, decorations, etc. are all centered around the lemon with Limoncello as the main attraction.

One morning on our way to the island of Capri we stopped in the Limoncello factory and sampled the ubiquitous drink. The lady working there told us all about the factory and how their brand of Limoncello is superior to all others. I took the information into account as I swigged the yellow concoction. My lips puckered instantaneously and my taste buds were overwhelmed by sourness. The experience was identical to biting straight into a lemon. The first thought that came to mind after getting over the initial shock was wondering who would drink this crap. Imagine how your stomach would feel after eating 10 bags of skittles for breakfast. If you can’t imagine the feeling go drink 4 shots of Limoncello.

After my second overhyped must have Italian treat we headed down to the docks to catch a 30 minute ferry to the island of Capri. The ticket booth is where the hustlers roam.

“If you’re going to Capri it’s very important to pay for a taxi here with me. When you get off the boat a Mercedes-Benz will pick you up and take you all over the island so you can see all the sites. But I want to warn you, if wait you until you get there to buy a ticket it’s going to be very expensive. In fact, it will cost three times as much”, said the nice old man before presenting us with his official tour guide license.

Gee thanks buddy! You’re so kind to save us the cost of transportation around Capri by a third. Do you have any other wonderful services and products you can save us a lot of money on? Here, here’s my wallet. Just go ahead and take out whatever you need and then give it back to me. You licensed tour guides are so nice to offer us such great deals!

That’s how it goes in this world. The most valuable commodity isn’t diamond, silver, or gold, it’s information. There is no greater opportunity for profit than capitalizing on a person’s ignorance. David Hannum said it best, “there’s a sucker born every minute.” I’d never been to Capri before, but unfortunately for Mr. Pagolo this wasn’t my first rodeo. I sensed his aura of bamboozle and brushed him off.

Despite never having been to Italy I still knew how the game was played because the game is universal. Yes, there are adaptations from country to country and city to city but it doesn’t really matter where you go. At the end of the day if you’ve met one hustler you’ve met them all.  You don’t have to know the intricacies of their scam; you just have to have a nose for the bamboozle. Just ask the polite cab driver who offered us a ride from the train station in Rome to our hotel for a flat rate. “Only €45, it’s a good price”, he said. 15 minutes later, outside our hotel, my mother handed a taxi driver using the meter €6.

After getting clobbered on Limoncello, hanging with senior citizen hustlers, and getting yelled at by the police for driving a motorbike down a pedestrian walk-way on Capri we were back on the train. Florence was the destination and we were anticipating our next “must see” attraction: Michelangelo’s David. Word to the wise, if you want to see the statue of David, go to the front desk and purchase a ticket to see the statue at a specific time. Otherwise, you’ll spend hours upon hours waiting outside in a God forsaken line. After 2 hours of moving towards the entrance at a snail’s pace from around the corner my mom decided to inquire about tickets at the front desk. Ha! If only we would’ve known we could’ve bought tickets to see the statue at a specific time period rather than waiting in line to see it right then and there. Information my friends, it’s the world’s most valuable commodity. After buying “authentic” Italian leather goods from Bangladeshis we returned 2 hours later to see David, no lines, no hassle.

“Whoa, whoa, wait a second! I came all this way to see David and you’re telling me I can’t take a picture of the damn statue? Okay, no problem I will follow your rules. I always follow the rules. Although, I do like to think I go against the grain some times. Know what I mean? No? Okay just forget I said anything.”


After a few days of must sees and must eats in Florence it was time to go home. Italy is a peculiar place, over hyped and overpriced, but a history buff’s dream no doubt. I enjoyed my time and it was especially good to spend time with my mom catching up on all the things happening back in Florida. After arriving in the Rome train station for the second time I just had to find the train that would take me to the airport. Noticing my search for the ticket booth I was spotted by a gypsy.

This was it, the final showdown. I’d made it the whole trip under the gypsy radar. Not once did I ever have to use the crystal but now I was standing face to face with a gypsy.

“Where are you going? Can I help you,” said the gypsy.

At this point I started to wonder. The gypsy was close enough to where she should’ve sensed the crystal in my backpack. Why wasn’t she reacting? Maybe my crystal was fake? Why else would that man be willing to trade something so valuable for exotic money? Everybody knows exotic money isn’t worth anything. Well, if it was fake maybe I could convince the gypsy it was real?

“No thank you, I know where I’m going.”

She knew I was lying and took one step closer.

“It’s ok, I can help you.”

“You can help me see if it’s fake”, I said as I causally lifted my right hand and placed it over the zipper of the side pocket on my backpack.

“I don’t understand.”

“Understand this!”

Quicker than Pistorius with a 9mm I grabbed the crystal and shoved it right in her face!

Instantly her eyes welled up. Fangs bared, she started hissing loudly as startled bystanders watched in horror. I knew I was taking a huge risk with the unproven crystal. If it were fake, I risked a hellacious bite. Had she bitten me I would not have caught my flight back to Thailand. Instead, my next destination would have been an Italian hospital where a large dose of powerful antibiotics and a morphine injection would be waiting. Luckily, the crystal was the real deal. The moment her eyes welled up I knew it was real. That first sign of an allergic reaction was clear as day.

The gypsy quickly turned and started to run, almost knocking over a few onlookers. It was a proud moment for me. I successfully navigated the black market, avoided the scammers and hustlers, and then defended myself from a gypsy attack during my final hours in Italy. With my swag turned up to maximum level, I felt like Dolemite as I passed through the impressed, albeit startled crowd. A couple hours later I would be waiting in the terminal of Rome International airport.

With 45 minutes left until boarding time I looked up from my Kindle e-book reader and noticed a gentleman being pushed through the terminal in a wheelchair. I normally don’t give wheelchair bound citizens more than a passing glance but this fellow attracted my attention for a few seconds longer. He was young, large with broad shoulders, and totally hip. He wore hipster glasses and a 59FIFTY baseball cap. I even noticed the stylish lines shaved into his temple and sideburns. I wondered what happened to him. Was he in a car accident? Maybe he was in a motocross accident? A few more possibilities ran through my mind but I’ll never know. I might ask a stranger how he broke his arm but I’ll never inquire about one’s paralysis.

As I was boarding the plane I began to dread the fact that I’d be stuck in the capsule for the next 8-1/2 to 9 hours on the way to Sri Lanka. Maybe one day I’ll be able to afford the comforts of first class but until then I’ll always be seated in coach. When flying economy the best seat you can hope for is an exit row seat. An exit row seat offers a considerable amount of leg room. It’s the best seat on the plane besides business or first class. I slowly meandered up the aisle while being repeatedly pushed from behind by an Indian fellow in a hurry. It took every ounce of restraint I possessed to stop from shoving his 5’6”, 140lb Indian frame to the ground. Every time I stop to let a passenger in front put his or her bag in the overhead compartment this guy behind would bump right into me. For some reason 2 inches of space was more than he was prepared to give me. Over and over as I made my way towards the middle of the plane he would bump into me. I stopped counting the number of flights I’ve been on when I reached 30 but not once have I ever experienced so much physical contact from a single passenger while boarding a plane. The bizarre behavior coupled with the long flight I was about to take really got on my nerves but instantly everything changed.

There it was, my window seat, on an exit row behind the bathroom. The trifecta of coach seating. There was enough leg room for Gheorghe Muresan. I was elated. While relishing my super seat I caught site of the wheelchair man yet again. They pushed him right up to my row and then turned him around. Hmm, I instantly started thinking about the moral dilemma I was about to be placed in. I thought the stewardess would soon ask me, sitting in primetime real estate, to give up my seat for a paralyzed man. It would be another 9 hours until we reached Sri Lanka and this extra room was extremely important to me. Immediately they asked the gentleman in the aisle seat to move. Without hesitation he moved to a seat that clearly wasn’t as good as the one he was sitting in.

How could he get up so easily? Am I jerk for even considering this a moral dilemma? People help disadvantaged strangers on the street without having to think. But this isn’t picking up someone’s dropped crutches or opening the door for a wheel chair. This is a 9-hour commitment. I become thoroughly uncomfortable on any flight over 5 hours. When I don’t get the extra leg room afforded by an exit row or bathroom row seat my knees turn to fire. Falling asleep on a plane is a fantasy. I won the seating lottery and I won’t give up my prize as easily as the benevolent man sitting in the aisle seat. Fine, I’ll give up my seat to a paralyzed man but not without requesting I be moved to a seat of equal or greater value.

“Woah! Woah! Woah! He can’t sit here! This is an emergency exit seat”, said the flight attendant.

Ah yes! How could I forget! Disabled people aren’t allowed to sit in emergency exit seats. Even if you appear to be without an ailment the flight attendant will ask if you’re capable of operating the emergency door. Thankfully my moral dilemma was avoided. Unfortunately, the hipster would soon remind me how awful I was for even thinking about not giving up my seat.

They moved him to the seat on the other side of the isle but it was obvious that seat would not work. Within 2 minutes he was screaming and writhing in pain. Tears were streaming down his face. He was in a lot pain and moments before I was reluctantly deciding whether or not I would give up my seat. He was moved elsewhere on the plane and I never saw him again. I was sitting there with the realization that I need to work on being a better person. But hey, maybe he broke his back trying murder a nun? Maybe he wasn’t in any pain at all? Maybe he was faking it in order to be moved to first class? If dramatizing an injury will put me in first class you better believe I’ll be rolling on the floor in pain. Oh yeah, I need to work on being a better person. 😉


The Ride to Koh Samui (for immature audiences only)

Taking advantage of the time off from work I decided to leave the secret town of Nakhon Si Thammarat and head north past Khanom to Thailand’s premier island destination, Koh Samui. I saddled up on the Blue Dragon just after noon and headed north on the 401, but the trip to Koh Samui nearly began in disaster before I even got out of Nakhon.

I decided to eat lunch before heading out and thank God I chose the restaurant next door to my apartment. Right in the middle of lunch it felt like lightning struck my abdomen. It came so suddenly I was incredibly lucky to be sitting only a hundred feet from the elevator to my room. Just minutes from disaster I quickly got up and scampered to the elevator like a wounded dog. After successfully taking the Browns to the Super Bowl I set out for Koh Samui and thought nothing of my mini emergency at the restaurant. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t out of the woods. While waiting at a traffic light lightning struck again. I felt my stomach clinch like an angry fist and I feared my worst nightmare was coming true.

My biggest fear use to be not death, but old age. Since moving to Thailand 4 months ago, over active bowels are now what I fear most, or more specifically, over active bowels with only one of those dreaded hole in the ground toilets around to service my needs. Thailand is a modernized country still in the grips of old world technology. There are plenty of modern day toilets to be found in hotels occupied by tourists but most other places feature a simple porcelain hole in the ground. I’ve yet to use such draconian facilities but my first experience with them happened last year during my first trip to Thailand.

Luckily the night before I left for Thailand for the first time in October of 2012, I visited a friend who had just come back from a 6 month study abroad program in Bangkok. Among other things she explained how the toilets work, or the lack of working parts for that matter. Rather than sitting on the throne you have to stand over a hole. After doing your business you find the bucket of fresh water nearby and grab the small pail floating inside the bucket. Finally, you use the pail to pour water down the hole. Rather than a tank emptying its contents and refilling itself, the user flushes the toilet in a more manual, rudimentary manner. Unfortunately for the friend I traveled to Thailand with, the importance of explaining this process to him didn’t dawn on me until it was too late.

It was just our second night in Bangkok and we were eating dinner with some friends we met earlier that day. The locale was an outdoor market with various stands offering traditional Thai cuisine. The restrooms were located nearby and a lady charged 5 baht per entry. The restrooms offered a far different experience than your typical western facility. A dual purpose trough served as urinals as well as a toad ecosystem. Holes in the ground served as toilets. I can’t imagine how awful it would be to have to drop a deuce in there, but right in the middle of dinner my friend felt a prairie dog bobbing in and out of its hole begging to be set free.

He paid the 5 baht fee and entered the restroom. Confused by the setup, he first decided to lock the bathroom door; not to an individual stall, but the door to the entire bathroom. This made the bathroom attendant outside very angry. Next, he looked behind the curtain and spotted the hole in the ground. After viewing the setup with contempt he decided to release the kraken straight into the trough. Now my friend was in serious trouble. Not only did the trough not provide adequate means for disposing of the mud torpedo, but the lady outside was pounding on the door demanding (in Thai) that he open it. Unsure of the best course of action, he succumbed to panic and hastily decided to use his bare hand to scoop out the excrement from the trough and toss it into one of the buckets of fresh water!

Meanwhile, I was at our table enjoying dinner with our friends. After a short period of time had passed my friend returned, sat back down in his seat, and said to us, “Man that lady is really mad.” The story he told brought me to tears I was laughing so hard. It was one of those laughs that hit you so hard you can’t even breathe. I was amazed he was brave enough to grab poop with his own bare hand. Not only that, but of all the places he could’ve tossed it he chose the bucket of clean water! I would be struck by random uncontrollable bouts of laughter for the next 6 months every time I happened to think about that night. Unfortunately though, that event has manifested itself into a very real fear that I have now.

I’d been struck by that gut clenching pain before. Having come down with traveler’s diarrhea twice while in Thailand my fear is that I’ll be caught in a place where the only facility available does not offer the traditional toilet I’m so accustomed to. I’ve never had to stand over a hole in the ground. Even with an above average ability to spatially reason how processes in motion will play out, I just can’t figure this particular situation out. I can’t figure out the intricacies and body mechanics required to hygienically drop brown napalm over such precise coordinates. These to me are unanswerable questions:

  1. Am I supposed to take my pants completely off?
  2. If I leave my pants on how much debris could get on them?
  3. If I take my pants off will there be a place to hang them or do I throw them over my shoulder?
  4. If I throw them over my shoulder what is the likelihood the contents of my pockets will spill out and fall into the hole?
  5. Do I stand directly over the hole?
  6. If I’m standing directly over the hole how far apart should my feet be spread?
  7. Do I stand in front of the hole and assume a squatting position?
  8. If I’m squatting, how many degrees of squat do I take?
  9. Should I go 90 or go as low to the ground as possible?
  10. If I go too low what are the chances I fall backwards?
  11. How difficult is it to be accurate?
  12. Is there any chance of taking out a leg or a foot?
  13. When you spray water the coverage area gets larger the further the distance it travels, so how risky is a stool that is more of a liquid consistency?
  14. If it’s rock solid what is the potential of splash back?
  15. What if there is no toilet paper available?
  16. What if the bum gun has low water pressure?
  17. If the bum gun has high water pressure wouldn’t the ricochet be catastrophic?
  18. What’s the learning curve?
  19. How many tries does it take before you get good?

These are very serious questions that I wish I had answers to, but I know knowing is not enough. There’s still the painful learning curve that has to be suffered through and soon enough I would learn.

The gas station was just a few kilometers away and I knew I my nightmare was about to become a reality. My hands started to shake and I began sweating profusely. Anxiety and fear blended with the stomach pain that had now traveled down my intestines and was rapidly approaching the event horizon. As in the wild cosmic frontier we call space, once an object crosses the event horizon into a black hole total destruction is the only outcome. I just hoped I would make it in time to destroy the bathroom and not the Blue Dragon.

I made it to the gas station without mishap and glided over to the restroom. I was trying to come to grips with my demise like a death row inmate on execution day when a small blue sign caught my eye. It was the sign for a restroom designated for handicap people. I opened the mystery door and my eyes fell onto magical a scene. It was like the Pearle Gates had opened, clouds begun to roll out, and a beam of light illuminated a fantastical land. There it was, inviting me to bequeath it with a golden surprise; a spotless restroom with a normal toilet. There is a God!

It felt like I was in there for days, the violent pyroclastic flow left me bewildered for nearly 15 minutes after exiting the restroom but I survived. My worst nightmare almost occurred but I avoided it like those contestants avoiding tennis balls being fired from those brutal American Gladiators; well, avoided it for the time being.

About 20 minutes later I arrived that the Raja Ferry port in the town of Don Sak with perfect timing. I paid 200 baht and rode right onto the ferry. We set sail immediately for Koh Samui and I collapsed into a large chair. I tried to stay motionless for the entire hour and a half ride. I thought, if I really did contract another episode of traveler’s diarrhea it would be good to slow my metabolism down. I thought the restroom at the gas station was going to be bad but the notion having to go on the boat was inconceivable. Thankfully, everything turned out to be fine. I checked in to the Verticolor Hotel on Chaweng Beach around 7:30. I was officially settled in and decided to take it easy that night. I had plenty of time to conquer Koh Samui. Tomorrow let the adventures begin!

Race to Khanom

It was Sunday morning, December 29th, 2013 and once again I found myself with an entire day of nothing to do. In fact I didn’t have to return to work until Thursday. With that much time to kill the thought of spending an excess amount of time in my apartment at the Wasana Mansion seemed upsetting. I’m not a hermit. Just because I don’t know anyone or know of anything to do in this city doesn’t mean I’m going to hunker down and wait until I have to work again. That’s the choice a World of War Craft player would make. I heard rumors about a beautiful beach just over an hour’s drive north. A beach where the water was that crystal clear green you see in travel magazines. Supposedly women strolled along the beach topless and there was an endless supply of ice cold Leo beer for just 30 baht each. Besides, my brand new Yamaha Mia 125 had been purring for me to take her out onto the open road ever since I bought her.

The Mia moped is 125 cc’s of piss and vinegar. Let open the throttle and a thunderous roar whips through the streets and alley ways of the city making even the most die-hard Harley Davidson aficionados question the choices they’ve made in their lives. To be honest the Yamaha Mia scared me to death when I saw her at the dealership but she had to be mine. The locals fearfully refer to her as the “Blue Dragon”.

The choice became obvious, at noon I would set out to find Khanom beach and see for myself if the rumors were true. Thailand’s roads are fraught with danger but successfully navigating them can bring about the greatest of rewards. Vicious packs of dogs waiting to rip you to shreds at stop lights, pot holes the size of small cars, and worst of all those damn kamikaze mini bus drivers all contributing to Thailand’s number 3 ranking as the deadliest country to drive. No need to worry though, with the Blue Dragon as my steed I was sure to reach the promise land. After a quick bite to eat at a roadside restaurant I was headed north on the 401 towards Khanom.

In Thailand there is a strict vehicle hierarchy that has been established for some time now. It’s very simple; the largest vehicle has the right of way. Motorbikes aren’t even given the courtesy of being allowed to travel in the slow lane. No, they are relegated to the shoulder. Motorbikes caught traveling in the middle of a lane are usually given a 1 second warning honk before being run off the road.  There is one exception however. That exception is the Blue Dragon.

Within moments of entering the highway I was ripping and roaring up the fast lane with reckless abandon. I had total disregard for my safety and the safety of others, women and children included. I was blowing the doors off vehicles and flying past them as if they were moving in slow motion. Who was going to stop me? I passed several police checkpoints along the way but the cops didn’t stand a chance at slowing me down. By the time their minds were able process that the blur was actually a lunatic farang traveling faster than the speed of sound it was too late; the sonic boom ricocheted through their tent turning their whole operation upside down in a matter of milliseconds. Hell hath no fury like the Blue Dragon on the highways of Thailand on a Sunday afternoon in December.

Top speed burns gas fast so after a couple stops to refuel I made it to Khanom in just over an hour. Were throngs of topless Asian beauties waiting for me with that ice cold Leo I so desired? Much to my chagrin I quickly realized the rumors were well, just rumors. Khanom is an okay beach but could be a really nice beach if those dirt bag bastards wouldn’t leave their trash in the sand. I don’t get it; a beach is the most valuable terrain we get to enjoy yet shit heads have no problem destroying it with garbage and all the locals are too apathetic to do anything. I shouldn’t have been surprised though, less than pristine beaches are much too common here.

Other than the hazards to watch out for in the sand the beach really is quite pretty. At the north end is a small green mountain with a large ship at its base. The ship was there as some sort of industrial operation was going on. At the end of the road well before you reach the mountain there is a long concrete wall too high to see over so I wasn’t sure what kind of work they were doing.

At the south end of the beach there is another small green mountain jutting out into the Gulf of Thailand forming a bay. Several low rate “resorts” are scattered about along with restaurants that have tables placed right in the sand.  I stopped at one spot that had live music and enjoyed that Leo I’d been craving the whole wild ride up there. I polished off a plate of fried rice with squid and determined Khanom beach had nothing to offer my over indulged Hawaiian senses.

2013, The Year in Review

It’s 8:45 in the morning and I’m sitting at my desk in the foreign language department of my school in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand. I’m wondering how I let Christmas pass two days ago as the most non-eventful holiday of my life. I spent it alone and did not give or receive a single gift, although I did get to speak to my family over the phone for a brief moment which was nice. I’m not surprised at how little attention I gave Christmas this year. I just moved to a new town, started a new job, looked for a new place to live, acquired a new mode of transportation, and battled a streptococcus infection merely a week before.  There was simply no time to worry about Christmas. What was I supposed to do? My family lives 10,000 miles away and once again I find myself not knowing a soul in a new town.

Thinking about past Christmases I remember reading Christmas letters sent by family and friends. They’re usually just a hello, have a merry Christmas, but some letters are more in depth. They’re sort of like a family’s state of the union address. They let you know the major events of the year and what each member of the family is up to.  Considering this is the end of 2013 I figured it wouldn’t hurt for me to do the same. Writing is a new hobby I’m starting and after all, it’s been a whirlwind year ending so many chapters and starting so many new ones. It wouldn’t hurt to let everybody know what’s been going on. Maybe this will be interesting to read 20 years from now? So here goes my 2013 recap…

I’ll remember 2013 as “the year of the nomad”. I would estimate I’ve woken up in 30 different beds and visited 13 cities in 3 different countries. Counting the number miles I’ve flown or flights I’ve taken would take far too much time so I’m not going to attempt it. The highlights of the year:

-Ended a 4-1/2 year reign in Hawai’i

-Ended a 4 year run with the Fastenal Company

-Moved to Thailand

-Started working as a Science and English teacher

Sometime in 2011 I started to formulate a plan in which I could take my life into a new direction. I desired to be free from the boundaries of an island that sprouted from the depths of Earth’s largest ocean in a location more remote than any other in the world. I needed to be free from the constraints of schedules and quotas imposed upon me by my company. I put myself in that cage and it was up to me to get out. I needed to stretch my legs a bit, roam around for a while, and grow. I decided teaching English as a foreign language would allow me to do all of the above.

May 31st, 2013 was when I started executing my plan. That was my last day of work for the Fastenal Company and I headed to Florida just a couple of days later, but not before winning a flag football championship and saying goodbye to my Hawaiian ohana. Florida was fantastic. In 2 months I spent more time with my family than I had the last 4-1/2 years combined. The 4th of July at Jacksonville’s beaches is something to behold, an experience that should be felt by anyone capable of making the pilgrimage. Parading around on bicycles, drinking Budweiser, firing water guns, and blasting bottle rockets is how I express my patriotism and that day turned out to be one of the best. After visiting family and friends for 2 months I left my home in the Deep South yet again to experience life in another faraway place. Thailand, labeled the “den of iniquity” by my Dad was where I would begin my quest.

The first stop was in Chiang Mai where I took a 120 hour TEFL certification course that lasted about 6 weeks. Chiang Mai is surrounded by mountains in the north of Thailand. It’s a large town that some call the “Bangkok of the north”. Despite its relative size Chiang Mai is still a pretty quiet town. Too quiet for me though, it didn’t take long for boredom to set in and I left as soon as I completed my course. From Chiang Mai I headed to Pattaya, a city about 2 hours drive south from Bangkok. I had a couple friends living there and one of them thought he could get me a teaching job at his school. With schools and friends close by it seemed like it would be a good base to look for work.

This plan did not work out as I’d thought it would. My friend that thought he could get me a job at his school was arrested for working without a permit and overstaying his visa by several months.  Unfortunately for him that was just a minor problem. He remained in jail for a few weeks before getting deported to Sweden where he was “wanted” by Interpol. It never ceases to amaze me how much of peoples’ past they can keep locked up in the back of their minds, not letting out the slightest hint to others that there’s more to their story. I spent those few weeks helping out the best I could, bringing him food and supplies and taking care of his apartment and bills. I’m not sure if we’ll meet again or if I’ll ever hear from him.

After a while I grew restless of the stagnation that was grabbing hold of me in Pattaya. I’d turned down a few teaching opportunities because they were in less than desirable locations or came on too short notice. A contact I’d gained was confident he could get me a job in the south as he was aware of several opportunities opening up. He threw a couple of opportunities at me that were once again too short notice. He’d call me on a Friday night and tell me about a position that needed to be filled the following Monday. I decided to pack up and move to the south so I’d be ready when the next job came.

My traveling companion that attended the TEFL course in Chiang Mai with me was living in Ao Nang, not far from my contact; she told me she knew of a couple schools that were hiring so I booked a flight from Bangkok to Krabi and arrived early December. What initially sounded like bad news turned out to be good news, my contact who seemed so confident in his ability to get me job left Thailand because some things had happened back home that he needed to take care of. Initially I felt a little deflated but he put in a good word for me at the school he left and they ended up hiring me as his replacement.

After a week in Ao Nang I traveled 3-1/2 hours west to Nakhon Si Thammarat. So far I’ve seen two tourists and just a handful of farangs here. One thing I’ve noticed about Thailand is there seems to be a direct relationship between the presence farangs and price. Nakhon Si Thammarat is very cheap compared to the rest of the places I’ve visited.

It’s December 27th and the adventure continues. I’ve got a new city to explore and a new job to master. As I mentioned earlier, writing is becoming my new hobby and I look forward to getting better at it. Hopefully sooner than later my blog will gain an audience and be something worth reading. 2014 has new adventures in store and I’ll be sure to write about them. Happy New Year.


Diesel Guide to Ao Nang

Ao Nang beach is located in Krabi province in the south of Thailand about 4-1/2 hours drive from Malaysia. The bustling beach is a peculiar place even for Thailand. A strange mix of farangs, Thais, Muslims, and salesmen from Bangladesh, India, or Pakistan inhabit the area creating an atmosphere likened to that of a twisted carnival filled with cagey clowns and clever game operators.

The carnies are always in hot pursuit of a sale. Their relentless quest for your baht is on par with the monkeys that will accost you for your belongings on the beach. Let your guard down for a second and next thing you know you’re the owner of a 3-piece suit or duffle bag full of “I Heart Krabi” t-shirts and other cheap trinkets made in China.  There’s nothing like commemorating your trip with a Thailand key chain made in that depraved communist country up north.

I grew tired of my repetitive robotic interactions with the fast talkers perched on their stoops like gargoyles. After passing just a handful of gift shops and tailors I figured out their script and decided to see how they would react to a curve ball. Unfortunately they just stuck to the script and moved on the next question. It starts with “how are you” followed by “where are you from”. After that I’m not sure what comes next because by then I’ve made my escape and moved on to the next swindler. When the panderer asked how I was doing I emphatically informed him, “I just shit my pants!”

He didn’t even flinch. Just moved on to the “where are you from” section of his script. I told him I was from his father’s urethra and that we were brothers from another mother. He didn’t believe me. I can’t imagine any of these guys wanting a customer with fecal matter sloshing around in his underwear inside their store trying on pants and getting measured but so be it; if there’s baht to be had then there’s work to be done!

To be honest the salesmen don’t bother me it’s the Muslim women that really freak me out. Gallivanting around town on their motorbikes sporting that mysterious hijab; letting me know they live under different rules than the rest of the women in Thailand. The hijab really is a sinister garment. Surprisingly I don’t see them out with their husbands much but I suspect they receive a reminder of the rules every time they leave the house. With eyebrows lowered their authority figures look them in the eyes, wave a clinched fist, and slide a thumb across the throat just to say, “You know the rules.”

I can’t help but notice how similar the words “Krabi” and “crappy” sound because most of the food in Krabi is well, you guessed it, crappy. Every other restaurant on the beach road claims to be Italian. Apparently Italian is Thai for coprophagic. It took visits to three separate “Italian” restaurants to arrive at that translation. Rosetta stone not needed. After repeatedly suffering through their maligned attempts at cooking I imagined what the kitchens must look like. Most likely run by a pack of cigar smoking chimpanzees hopped up on 4-loco and dulcolax. Their tiny hairy fists passionately yet indiscriminately pounding the pizza dough until the alpha male thrusts it into the oven with reckless abandon. Note to self, “Never eat pizza in Ao Nang again.”

The music scene in Ao Nang is predominantly Reggae. The Rasta influence is easily spotted as most bars display portraits of Bob Marley and those official red, gold, and green colors. This is comforting to me. I love reggae. Bob Marley has been practically non-existent in my travels throughout Thailand but he can be heard every night in most establishments in Ao Nang. If they are not playing an original track there is a band or single musician performing a cover song. Strangely enough, the other night a band was doing its best to play Metallica but I could not get over the fact that the Thai singer’s heavy metal voice was eerily similar to Grover from Sesame Street.

Easily the best part of Ao Nang is the beaches and islands. Once you get through the throngs of banana hammock clad Russians the beauty of the sand, water, and terrain is truly incredible. For a small fare there is a large fleet of long tail boats anchored on the beach waiting to whisk you off to a more remote location just minutes away. For just 500 baht (less than $17) I was picked up from my hotel and spent the day snorkeling and touring 4 different nearby islands. Even lunch was included. That to me is unparalleled value. Back in states $17 won’t buy you a trip to the movie theater. Here I enjoyed white sandy beaches, crystal clear water, and schools of colorful fish swimming around coral reef. Only a handful of those dastardly Russians were around to flaunt their ramshackle bodies, certainly not enough to ruin the trip.

      This tropical destination in Southeast Asia likely won’t satisfy your palate but the ocean, surrounding islands, and beaches certainly will overload the rest of your senses. Avoid the menacing grins and smooth talk from the salesmen and head straight to the beach. Explore on a kayak or long tail to experience the true uniqueness of the nearby beaches and skank all night to the reggae vibes. Ao Nang is a peculiar beach town but its experience is worthwhile and unforgettable.


     There is this idea that since we have only this one short life to live we should maximize what gives us pleasure throughout the entirety of our lives. If you died leaving some pleasure on the table then you didn’t live your life to the fullest.  We’re only on this earth a short time so why not enjoy it the most we can? I think most people would agree to this idea on at least some level. Most people though, go in completely different directions. This is my prescription for those that want to live life to the fullest.

     “YOLO!” (you only live once), “live each day as if it’s your last”, or “we only walk this rock once” are things you’ll hear people who adhere to the maximum pleasure philosophy. “Live each day as if it’s your last” is without a doubt the dumbest saying of them all. The consequences of making decisions based on the notion that this is your last day alive when indeed you have many more to live would be absolutely devastating to yourself and society. Thankfully, no one really does this and if they tell you otherwise chances are they are full of it.

     My focus is on the people who don’t know when they’re going to die but like to throw around phrases similar to “YOLO”. Their idea of maximum pleasure is doing things that are wild, crazy, spontaneous, fun, and dangerous all while ignoring consequences and repercussions because ultimately, consequences and repercussions won’t matter when we’re dead. Dangerous things are fun. I love doing them. Danger is like bacon, it makes everything better. Some people pay the ultimate price and die too early for living life on the edge. Dwain Weston, Charles “Mask” Lewis Jr., Mark Wolford, and Chris Benoit all took YOLOing too but far but that’s not what this is about. It is so much fun to throw caution to the wind and live life on the wild side.  The problem is these moments are short lived.  There are 168 hours in a week and it is unrealistic for a majority of your week to be filled with these spontaneous pleasure maximizing activities. The people that put too much emphasis on this type of behavior ultimately discover the dark side of too much YOLOing and I’m not talking about dying.

     A personal friend of mine used to live the good life. With plenty of money and the YOLO mentality he went all out on maximizing his pleasure. He travelled the world, ate the finest foods, drank expensive champagne, frequented the best parties and hottest night clubs, and bought whatever things that made him happy.  A couple of months ago he was talking to me because he was having trouble with his finances. I gave him my advice and his response was he believed that because life is short you should have as much fun as you can. At the time of this writing he is bankrupt and locked up in jail facing 8 years in prison. I’m probably not going to know what it feels like to own jet skis or buy Dennis Rodman a bottle of champagne at a Las Vegas night club but I don’t imagine those experiences are comforting him in prison.

     The point I want to make is that there are other facets of life that require attention in addition to maximizing pleasure. So many people ignore the finer points because they don’t directly maximize their pleasure and they fail to see how they do in fact indirectly maximize your pleasure. Sometimes in order to climb to the top of the ladder you have go down a rung before going up 2 rungs. What are these finer points I’m talking about? My vision for YOLO is living a lifestyle of good habits but for this post I’m narrowing the scope down to 2 specific habits. If you’re not doing them already, these 2 habits will dramatically improve your life and allow you to YOLO it up with the best of them. I’ll explain the most important one first in case you’re ADHD kicks in or “The Walking Dead” is about start and you can’t read this post in its entirety.

     First and foremost, get your money right! Finances should be your number one priority. There’s no stress like money stress. I can’t tell you how many people (because there are too many to count) I have known personally who pay off the minimum balances on their credit cards every month, have no savings but plenty of debt, and live pay check to pay check. I don’t care how much fun you have, this is no way to live. Do you work for your money or does your money work for you? Do you want to never have to worry about money again? If you’re a rational person I’m guessing you’d rather not worry about money. Alright here we go. I’m going to break it down step by step for you for free.

1.       Know where your money is going.

     This sounds easy and sounds like common sense, but can you answer any of these questions? What is your total amount of fixed costs every month? How much did you spend on gas last month? How much did you spend on food last month? How much did you spend partying last month? If you can’t answer these questions I suspect you think if you had just a little more money every month things would be a lot easier. What would make things a lot easier is if you would count your pennies. Yes, all of them!

     First, list all of your fixed costs. These are you costs that are constant every month. They include rent/mortgage, car insurance, cable, phone etc. These are usually the costs that don’t change from month to month and big burly men show up at your door when you miss paying them. Second, create a list of categories for your variable costs. Variable costs are things like food, gas, entertainment, clothes, and cleaning supplies. Every dollar you spend must be accounted for so make sure every type of spend can fall under a category. Now the hard part, every time you spend money take out your phone, go to the calendar app, and enter in the expenditure as an event. Once a week you will open your calendar app to review all the events you entered *. Every spend gets allocated to the appropriate category and your costs get totaled. At the end of the month you will know where your money went. By the way, don’t forget to make a record for every time you receive money from things like paychecks, birthday cards, or your local sports betting house. You have to know exactly how much comes in and how much goes out, just like a business. No business that doesn’t have its accounting intact succeeds. Why would your life be any different?

     Counting your pennies is the most difficult habit but the most important one.  It took me a long time for this practice to become habit but once it did my life became substantially easier. Habits are hard to break but the difference between good habits and bad habits is good habits are hard to start. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort (at first) to record all of your expenses and you’re not going to succeed first try. You’re going to miss a few, tell yourself you can no longer accurately total this month’s spend, and try again next month. This is exactly what I did, over and over and over, but I never stopped trying. Eventually, recording each transaction on my phone became a habit and doing so was second nature. I didn’t have to think about doing it, I just did it.

     * I record all my transactions with the calendar app on my droid phone and then manually enter all the information into spreadsheets on Microsoft Excel. This process is tedious and time consuming. If you know of a more efficient method then by all means do it and please share it with me.

2. Set goals

     Now that you know where your money goes every month you must set goals in order for that information to be useful. Here is the number 1 rule of thumb. Save 15-20% of your income every month! It doesn’t matter if you make $1,000 a month or $100,000 a month. If you can discipline yourself to live off 80% of what you make you will eliminate money stress quickly. If you think right now you don’t make enough to be able save that much you’re just making excuses. I used to tell myself the same thing until one day I told myself that I was just making an excuse and to try it. What I did was opened up a savings account and had my employer automatically direct deposit 15% of my check into the account. I didn’t have a checkbook or debit card for the account so if I ever wanted the money I’d have to physically go to the bank to make a withdrawal. I soon realized that I barely noticed I had a little less money to spend every month.

     The 2nd rule of thumb for saving is to have 3-6 months living expenses saved as cash. This is also known as a rainy day fund. Imagine your car breaking down, your hot water heater exploding, or even losing your job. With 3-6 months worth of cash attached to your debit card you can take events like these in stride and not even blink. Talk about living stress free.

     In order to reach the 1st and 2nd rules for saving you’ll need to manage your expenses. Some ways to lower your fixed costs are renegotiating a loan payment or getting rid of premium cable channels. Extreme cases may call for trading the BMW for a Honda or moving into a house with one less bedroom. Set goals for your variable expenses. If you spend $150/month on gas try getting it down to $110/month. I bet there’s room in every category for improvement. Soon you’ll find yourself not taking unnecessary trips in the car and eating more meals at home instead of a restaurant.

     Okay things are really starting to look up! You paid off your credit cards and you’ve got a nice rainy day fund set aside. Where do the extra savings go? In order to achieve financial independence when you get older you need to invest. Just remember this; consistently saving a little money over a long period of time is much better than saving a lot of money over a short period time. The earlier you start the better. The 1st two investment vehicles you should consider are the IRA/Roth IRA and your company’s 401K plan. If your company has plan to match your contribution then do it! Even if your 401K goes down in value chances are you’re company’s contribution will be more than enough to make up for it. An IRA or Roth IRA is also a great way for your money to grow over a long time.

     If you can get your finances under control most of your stress will vanish and you’ll be able to YOLO like never before. Here is a simple list to guide you on your effort to making money work for you.

1.       Count your pennies

2.       Get rid of your debt

3.       Set Goals

4.       Save 15-20% of your income

5.       3-6 months of cash

     Okay last but not least, the 2nd most important habit to reduce stress and live YOLO. You might laugh when you read this but I swear by it. I have a theory, if your house in chaos your life is in chaos. That’s right, the 2nd most important habit to living life to the fullest is keeping your house clean, especially your bedroom.  There is an immeasurable level of comfort that a clean house provides and an immeasurable amount of stress that a messy house adds. There’s just something about coming home to clean house that makes life more comfortable. A clean house even allows you solve problems easier. Try finding lost car keys, doing homework, or brainstorming ideas to improve your career in a messy house. Now try those same things in a clean house. Tell me the clean house thing wasn’t a good idea. You don’t have to go crazy clean freak style with it but make sure your bed is made and room is clean every single day. Always put things away before you leave a room. Keep the bathroom clean, floors vacuumed, and counters wiped as necessary. I’m telling you you’ll have a mental clarity and lower stress lever than you ever would living in a dirty house. Besides, cleaning with your favorite music playing and an ice cold beer nearby is a stress reliever in and of itself.

     I firmly believe the best way to live life to the fullest is living a lifestyle based on good habits. Everything of importance that you do on a regular basis should be done in a positive habitual manner. Taking care of your finances and living in a clutter free environment are two of the best habits you can have. Good habits are hard to form so never give up. Keep trying and eventually they will become part of your persona.

     Now you can go out and do all the crazy things you feel like. Drive 150 mph on your motorcycle, hit the strip with your friends this weekend and go ape shit, take a trip to Mexico City, or go alligator hunting. All these things are super fun and are what make life worth living. Now that you’ve got the other aspects of life taken care of you don’t have to stress when the adrenaline wears off.


Thailand Becomes 1st Country To Ban Distasteful Swimsuit

Ergonomic beachwear or fashion faux pas? Amidst turmoil and threat of being removed, Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra finds time to declare a ban on wearing speedos at the beach. The revealing swimsuit also known as the mankini, grape smuggler, and banana hammock cannot be worn at any of Thailand’s beaches beginning 2014. Violators will be asked to leave the beach and issued a fine of 500 baht.  When asked why she is so hell bent on getting rid of the speedo Prime Minister Shinawatra said, “I feel that you have the right to enjoy the beach without throwing up in your mouth a little bit.”

Most Thais have reacted favorably to the ban but Thailand’s most notorious tourists and unofficial speedo aficionados appear to be extremely upset. Shown below walking along Thailand’s popular Ao Nang Beach, Vladimir Dochenko had much to say.                                                                                                                                                 .

“I don’t see what the problem is. Russian man built like ox and this suit keeps me aerodynamic at the beach. Besides, the ladies love it when Russian man wear speedo. We cannot wear them back home because it is much too cold but here the weather is perfect for showing off our superior build. Thai men are just jealous they do not look as good as us in this type of swim suit.”

Vladimir also went on to say he’ll stop coming to Thailand if he’s ever fined and the ruble is the backbone of the Thai economy. Banning speedos would do more harm than good.

Proponents (mostly Russians) of the odious article of clothing feel they are being singled out and Shinawatra has an unexplainable vendetta. Perhaps there is a sinister undertone with the ban? One thing is for sure though, these shameless men from a strange land with a dark past where their power rested on the symbolism of the ominous hammer and sickle will have to yet again change their ways. The mankini is today’s Berlin wall and tomorrow’s new dawn may bring forth a new era of attire at the beach. You be the judge…



Freedom vs Religion

     I sought to write out this entry because freedom and religion are concepts that frequently permeate my consciousness and the end result is always conflict. Rather than continuously allow my mind to swim in circles contemplating these doctrines of enormous complexity I realize the only way to come close to settling the debate is to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard I guess) and map everything out. Dawson Trotman said, “thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through your fingertips.” I think he was right and what you read below is the outcome of that process. I’m not actually trying to settle the debate. I don’t think any debate involving religion can ever be settled until you die and see what is on the other side. Once my thoughts are mapped out and explained, I can move on to other mysteries of the universe like why people in Thailand drive so fast but work so slow. I’ll explore the basic underlying concepts of freedom and religion in America and then detail the questions that arise when asking how the two can coexist.

     America is supposed to be a bastion of freedom. I know that’s kind of funny to say as there are plenty of examples that say otherwise.  Just ask the blacks, Native Americans, Japanese, and gays. Freedom is the idea at least. On July 4, 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. I believe the most powerful and important sentence in that document is, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is because of that statement that blacks were able to overcome slavery and any other minority in the United States today will be able to overcome discrimination they may face. Not everybody has been free since the adoption of the Declaration of Independence but thankfully freedom was written in as the endgame. That sentence is what makes any minority’s battle for freedom within the United States a winnable battle. I am not making the argument that America is the perfect country but the founding fathers set up a system that allowed this country to become the most powerful and profitable country in the world to benefit of all its citizens. A strong work ethic and relentless pursuit of your goals will get you farther in the United States than most other countries in the world. I really believe that. Americans aren’t better than anyone else but our system of freedom and liberty is the main reason we are where we are today.

Here is a list of countries by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in order by size http://databank.worldbank.org/data/download/GDP.pdf. The United States is at the top of the list by a huge margin over China, which is listed number 2. A country doesn’t reach the top by restricting its citizens’ freedom. I’ll hold the China vs. America debate as it relates to economics and democracy vs. communism for another entry. The point is, in America, economic and educational opportunities are limitless and if you are a citizen you have the freedom to pursue any of those opportunities. Our GDP is directly related to our system of freedom and liberties. Besides, China’s huge economic growth has been the result of shifts in policies and granting more freedoms in the marketplace.

     One of the freedoms we have in America is the freedom to practice any religion we choose. The majority of Americans have chosen Christianity as their religion of choice. This Gallup poll shows the break down of religions practiced by population in 2012 http://www.gallup.com/poll/159548/identify-christian.aspx. The religious concepts I will explore are prevalent in each of the major religions but they are coming from my Christian background.  I grew up attending church every Sunday and attended services in a wide variety of Christian churches. I’ve been to churches that were Methodist, Baptist, and non-denominational. I’ve been to mega churches and small churches located in traditional buildings, strip malls, movie theaters, school cafeterias, and trailers. I’ve seen just about every variety of Christian church you can imagine. Luckily, I never attended a Westborough Baptist type church. Westborough Baptist practices brain washing not religion. There were differences in each type of church but the message was the same.

     When you die, you go to one of two places for all eternity, heaven or hell. The only way to go to heaven is to surrender to the Lord and give your heart to Christ. God has a plan for each and every one of us and it is our duty as Christians, faithful servants of the Lord, to follow his plan. God is miraculous, he has the ability to heal and bless us through prayer. He also puts us through trials and tribulations to test our love and devotion. We cannot question or test him ourselves.  

     Without going into the concept of Christ dying for our sins, that is essentially the premise of Christianity. Summarizing the Holy Bible in one paragraph doesn’t do it justice but that is in fact the fundamental concept of Christianity as I interpret it. I could stop here and I’m sure you could begin to see where conflict between freedom and religion arises but I will explore the all the conflicts that I see and struggle with.

     I grew up in a single parent household but was lucky enough to have a mother who made it clear to me from the very beginning that with an education I could grow up to be anything I wanted. I also went to church every Sunday with my father and it was made very clear to me that there is one true God, King of Kings, Lord of lords. What never occurred to me at the time was I can’t be whatever I want. I have to be what God wants me to be. I never saw any conflict between the two ideas. As I got older, gained a more in depth knowledge of the Bible, and greater capacity to critically think I began realize how I and others may struggle.

     First off, which religion do you choose? Most people choose the religion that dominates the region they are in. If you live in America chances are you chose Christianity. If you live in Jamaica there’s a good chance you went the Rastafarian route. Most people here in Thailand are Buddhists. There are lots of Hindus in India. The Middle East is the ultimate clash of religions. Do all these people think they made the right choice and are just lucky that everyone else in their region practices the same religion? I’m from the Deep South, so naturally I decide to be a Christian.

     Anybody who knows me knows that rules, authority, and conformity are pretty low on my list of priorities. I have a tough time with anybody telling me what to do. Asking me to surrender and submit to the will of someone else is going to be really tough. I’m American, and we bow down to no one! Oh wait, I’m supposed to surrender not to a person, but to a greater being. For many people this seems to come easy. I have been to the Holy Land, Israel, as well as countless number of churches and have witnessed people get touched by the hand of God. Hearing pastures speak in tongues and watching people laughing hysterically and convulsing on the ground is intense. They lose complete bodily control and have to be caught by a group of people so they don’t get hurt when they hit the ground. This didn’t happen at every service I went to but some services were out of control. The preacher is literally walking around the room touching everybody on the forehead, sending their brains to outer space. I went to Israel on a Benny Hinn tour a few years ago. Every religious site we went too ended in practically every person on the tour convulsing on the ground. Eventually I found myself saying silently, “God damnit not again!” As you can tell, God has never spoken to me (if he has I didn’t hear him) and I’ve never physically felt his presence. If he has sent me signs I’ve missed those to. I’ve seen plenty of rainbows but no burning bush. If God had spoken to me or I physically felt his presence I wouldn’t be writing this today.

     I govern my life with logic and analysis. There are so many questions about God and life that don’t have answers. I have been told we are incapable of knowing, I must have faith. That blind step is what is so incredibly difficult. Billions of people on this Earth past and present have taken that blind step called faith and it’s resulted in a lot of chaos. How many wars have been fought and how many lives have been imposed upon because of religion? I don’t understand how a person capable of independent thought can just go along with doing what they’re told and not ask questions.

     This is an enormous question with multiple answers that evolve over time. Looking back at the history of civilization I see an absolutely horrible existence. Just imagine not having any of these great technological advancements that make our lives so much easier today. The things that people have died from historically are absolutely insane to imagine by today’s standards. The brutal rulers, wars, slavery, and disease are unimaginable. I think religion is a coping mechanism many people use to deal with horrible surroundings.

     Another reason is how impressionable we are as kids. When you’re young you don’t have the capacity for critical thinking and can be easily taught to believe and do anything. Fear is also a huge reason people become religious. Who wants to suffer in hell forever?  Whatever the reason may be, millions of people in this country have decided to forego a level of freedom in exchange for the gift of everlasting life in heaven. They consciously decided that for the rest of their lives they are going to please God and do whatever he asks them. Most of those people would disagree with me and say they haven’t lost any freedom whatsoever but here is a group of people that lost their freedom because our country was founded by Christians.

     There is supposed to be separation of church and state in this country but that hasn’t happened yet. All greenbacks feature the words, “In God We Trust” and every day at school I recited the pledge of allegiance which meant saying, “one nation, under God”. Some laws were enacted based on biblical scripture. Here is one example of a small minority of people who lost their civil liberties because church and state were not actually separated.  The Bible is very critical of homosexuals. Homosexuality is a serious act of immorality. Homosexuals are not to get married and are not to enter the kingdom of God. For most of American history homosexuals have not been legally allowed to get married because of what is written in the Bible. Freedom and religion are contradictory and gay marriage is a perfect example. But as I stated previously, freedom is written in the rules as the end game and every battle for freedom is a winnable battle in this country. Write now at the time of this writing, Hawaii just became the 15th state to legalize gay marriage. Religion has prevented gays in America from getting married but religion in Iran is causing gays to be executed. There is a large group of people who are honest about their religion and explicitly state that freedom is a western ideal and not compatible with religion.

     There are large numbers of Muslims who say you can’t have freedom of choice and simultaneously carry out the will of Allah. They don’t have to deal with the conflict that I’m writing about because freedom isn’t an idea they believe in or try to live by. The way they practice their religion is really scary though. Most of them don’t accept a modern interpretation of the Koran or the Hadiths. If you are a non-believer, female, or gay in the Middle East good luck hoping to enjoy any of the freedoms we have here in the United States. Their belief in the afterlife is so strong they will attach bombs to their persons in order to carry out the will Allah. That is conviction on an insane level by rational people. I mentioned earlier about religious wars in the past, but at this very moment America is fighting a war of freedom versus religion. Islam is not going to win the war against freedom. As passionate as Muslims are about their religion and establishing a global caliphate, sectarian fighting will prevent them from making huge advancements.

     My intent is not to criticize religion. I’m merely trying to discover the right balance between faith and self-reliance. On one hand you’re supposed to leave it up to God and on the other hand you’re supposed to make your own decisions and do the things you’re capable of. Most Christians have the balance figured out perfectly and live happily serving the Lord while enjoying American freedom. Sadly, some Christians have gone way off the deep end and make people like me question everything. I remember talking to one of those Christians who have that balance figured out and he was openly criticizing the absurdity of the behavior of those who have gone off the deep end. He was telling about something he witnessed after Church one day.  

     After attending a Sunday morning service, one of the members of his church was unable to start their car. Some other members came to help. They circled around the vehicle, joined hands, and prayed to God that he would get the car started. Their prayers went unanswered. Eventually they got the car started by putting gas in it.

I remember this elderly gentleman of faith laughingly telling me the true story. Unfortunately there are some really sad stories of religious people unable accept reality and instead relying too much on faith. In 2009, a couple in Pennsylvania was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the death of their 2-year old son. After becoming sick his parents opted to rely on faith and prayer instead of modern medicine. Had they taken their kid to a doctor he certainly would have lived. Just this year that same couple lost their second child under almost identical circumstances.

     These stories aren’t representative of most of the Christians I’ve known in my life but they do make me wonder how you balance piety with self-reliance and freedom. America is still working separate church and state. Marriage laws are changing and people are fighting to remove prayer from schools and nativity scenes from public places during Christmas. Many Christians are fearful these are signs this nation is a taking a turn for the worse but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The founding fathers knew in order for there to be freedom there should be a separation between church and state. That process is merely being carried out today. When that process is complete and there is no legislation based on scripture, all groups of people from atheists to religious fanatics will be able to live freely and harmoniously. 

There’s Just Something About Home

Wanderlust is defined by www.dictionary.com as “a great desire to travel and rove about”. Some people have it and some people don’t. Some people are born in small towns and spend their entire lives in the same places, rarely venturing out. I’ve heard of people in Hawaii not leaving their island even once in their lifetime. I can’t put a finger on it but there is something about your home that provides a level of comfort that many people are unwilling risk. Even when there are opportunities for something greater, the comfort of home is not a sacrifice worth making.

I could certainly be fitted with the wanderlust label. After four surf trips to Costa Rica, an excursion to Israel, and a 4-1/2 year stay in Hawaii I have no desire to settle down. I’m currently living in Thailand and it is only a matter of time before I decide to take a long stop in another country. Something about “long-term” doesn’t sit well with me. Case and point: Hawaii.

I was making decent money and saving for retirement in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I had a large group of friends and some of them were the absolute best type of friend you could ever ask for. Even though I was building a career and opportunities to move up the ladder were in front of me, the thought of staying put for the rest of my life made me sick. Being successful in a large corporation requires a tremendous amount of commitment and time. When it’s new it’s great but eventually it turns into a cycle. The daily grind begins to feel dreadfully repetitious and you become robotic. Once you become robotic you really start to look to the future and ask yourself if you would be comfortable in it. Three factors come into play here: money, passion, and family.

Does the money make it worth staying? Are you passionate about what you’re doing? Do you have a family to support? It only takes one yes to stay but when it’s a resounding no to all three and you’ve got wanderlust burning like a conflagration in your mind the decision is easy. Once the machine (Pink Floyd reference) wore out its welcome I had to pack my bags and seek out the next great adventure.

Now, new sets of questions pop up like that damn whack-a-mole game. Where do I go? How long will I stay? How long will I keep roaming the earth for? What is the end game? There is so much uncertainty in the life of wanderlust and most people would never put up with it. For me, it’s no problem. I thrive in uncertainty and challenging situations. Part of it is because there is a comfort nestled in my psyche and I am always able to find peace. I grew up in the best home and no matter what happens I can always go back. I have nothing to help me predict the end game but something tells me it involves home.

The more I travel, the more I see, the more I grow, the more reaffirmation I get that home is the place to be. I don’t understand how someone can stay in the same place their entire life but actually, on a certain level I do.

Prostitution in Pattaya is like Life on the Serengeti

While taking a break from a few games of pool at a bar in Pattaya, Thailand, I’m watching some ladies of the night stationed across the street working on their craft. I can’t help but notice the parallels between prostitution in Pattaya and the African animal kingdom. Between Animal Planet, Discovery channel, and National Geographic, I’ve watched enough footage of the African Serengeti to notice the similarities. In the world of hookerdom in Pattaya you’ll find apex predators, scavengers, seasonal highs & lows, and great migrations. I’ll explain the animals first and then move on to the seasons and migratory patterns.

I don’t know how Pattaya came to be home to such a massive sex industry but at one point the conditions were ripe and it grew from there. The line isn’t always clearly drawn but I’ve noticed that typically there are two types of girls. Here you will find practically an unlimited supply of scavenger and apex predator prostitutes. The scavenger girls are just like they sound, they feed on leftovers and the leftovers aren’t pretty. The leftovers include but aren’t limited to the poor, ridiculously old, morbidly obese, and smelly Indians. That is because, well, they themselves are not very pretty. With an abundant supply of girls, competition is fierce and these girls just don’t have what it takes to go up against the apex predators. Scavengers can be young or old. Common traits are obesity, jacked up teeth, misaligned facial structure, unibrow, inability to communicate, or just plain crazy.

For purposes of this observation, obesity is a relative term. Obesity here is completely different from obesity in America. On the average, males and females in Thailand are much thinner than their American counterparts. A girl here that would be considered average sized in America is actually considered to be on the thicker side in Thailand. Rarely do you see a girl that looks like she’s packing enough meat in the freezer to make the cut for a Snoop Dogg video (I think he’s Snoop Lion now but you get the idea). Typically the men here are looking for the thin legs and tight frame that is common among Asian girls.

Many times you’ll find a girl with a great body that so many farangs (foreigners) lust for. You’ll fall in love with her beautiful exotic face but as soon as she cracks a smile you notice that prominent affliction I call the Gator Grill. Yes, it’s sad to see her teeth are so jacked up it looks like she could tear through a soup can or that pesky plastic packaging small electronics come in.

One aspect that prevents girls from establishing themselves higher up the prostitute pyramid is the ability to communicate. Some girls don’t speak a word of English and that skill by itself has a tremendous effect on the amount of tricks they can turn and price they can charge. Yes, there are plenty of cavemen that strolling down Walking Street that could care less what any girl has to say. They’ve got one track minds and all they’re looking for is a piece of meat to ravage. The knuckle draggers represent only a portion of potential customers. There are lots of guys that like to relax, have a drink, and discuss the quandaries of their lives. To them, working girls act as filthy little therapists. If a girl can’t speak English she loses a lot of potential customers as well as the opportunity to negotiate a premium price.

The scavengers certainly don’t do as well as the apex predators. These hyenas with their awkward movements, spine tingling voices, and ominous smiles rove for scraps or wait like bridge trolls for an equally retched looking customer to wander by.  Watching them walk away with the customers they do catch can be really uncomfortable. This is when you see huge disparities in age and/or size.  A common sight in Pattaya is what appears to be a 90-year-old man who escaped from hospice holding on tight to his prized possession, an 18-year-old Asian girl. The other couple you might see is the ugliest guy in the world with a weight problem to match, waddling down the street (wishing he had a scooter chair) flaunting a tiny 98 lb woman. She could easily be crushed if she were to be the unfortunate victim of a rollover. A rollover being similar to when a mother sleeps with an infant and accidentally smothers it when she unknowingly rolls over in her sleep.

The apex predators, the lions, are the girls who hunt their prey with precision, stealth, and ferocity. They are built to take down big game and earn big pay with beauty, elegance, and power that is unmatched in the hooker kingdom. Some girls run alone bust most work in small packs of 3-6. Many bars in Pattaya sport prides who’s numbers swell well into double digits during the metaphorical rainy season.  Not only do they have looks that will make a man sweat, they have the wits to melt his heart as well. Men travel from the ends of the earth to Pattaya because these exotic creatures don’t exist in their home countries or they would never have a shot at mating with one.

The sad fact is these girls are such skilled hunters not because of their unrivaled beauty, but because they start at such an early age. Many girls start criminally young and quickly hone their skills. By the time they reach 18 years of age they are seasoned veterans making kills with ease for many years before having to worry about their looks fading.  As with the African Serengeti, life in Pattaya for the ladies of the night is feast or famine.

Rain is the fruit of life for animals on the Serengeti as money is the fruit of life for the scarlet harlots of Pattaya. Throwing cash at women is called making it rain and every year from November to March thousands upon thousands of whore mongers descend on this modern Sodom and Gomorrah and flood the city with cash. Men from all over the world leave their depressing jobs and families at home to enjoy the finest quality guilty pleasures for prices so low their biggest complaint is not having enough time to enjoy the sultry delights. This time of year is actually known as the dry season because of the lower amounts of precipitation but when the unit of measurement is switched to money it’s like a category 5 hurricane of Thai baht filling call girl coffers to the brim. This seasonal fluctuation in “tourism” triggers the great land of smiles migration.

Not every red light girl lives in Pattaya year round nor do they work in the “tourism” industry year round either. The making it rain season does not coincide with the actual rainy season. During the summer months when actual rainfall is heavy but the river beds of cash for sex dry up, lots of girls leave Pattaya and travel many miles back home to the northern provinces to work on their families’ rice farms. That’s right, Thai hookers are like crab fisherman (no pun intended) in Alaska, they fish only in season.  According to www.pattayacity.com there may be around 300,000 people living in Pattaya  at any given time but this number may grow to over 500,000 during peak season.

So tonight the pickens are slim, the scavengers and lions will most likely go hungry. Fear not, there are whore monger clouds on the horizon and soon life will thrive in Pattaya for another cycle.