Out The Gate

To begin with, two stray photos from Thailand. The first, from my last day in Trat, pushes many of ye olde buttons: Street-scene, black-and-white, motorcycle helmet, probing eyes, interesting “business” (the rain-slickers), to borrow some terminology from the cinema. Dig it.

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And this one, from De Talak, captures my feelings precisely.

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I decided to opt out of the erstwhile third-class-rail-from-Bangkok-to-Hat-Yai-followed-by-minivan-from-there-to-Penang route to arriving in George Town; and instead spring for the so-called International Express: the Thai/Malaysian tag-team, 22-hour Bangkok-to-Butterworth extravaganza. Friends had sung its praises; and also I had heard from some fellow-travellers that the Thai/Malay frontier is particularly unsafe right now – the multi-year irredentist campaign of the Muslim population in southern Thailand having ratcheted up since my visit two years ago. Seemed like the train might be the safer way to go – though it put me an extra $15 out of pocket.

The fucking A/C was cranked up so high — for the entirety of the trip — that it may just as well be called the “Polar Express”. Other than that, I’ve got to agree that it’s an utterly fabulous way to travel: so much more comfortable than the third class option that I can’t deny it’s quite good value (though I’ll nevertheless, come future rail passages, in all likelihood return to my penny-pinching, third-class-slumming, ways). Heh, a very cool man wearing a very cool uniform even came around and issued a 20 Baht discount – I never did quite figure out why. He joked that we could spend it on an extra coffee in the morning. (Turned out to be not such a joke after all, as the morning-time coffee-hawker was rather insistent.)

My berth-mate, a Thai Journalism student who wants to take post-graduate studies in an English-speaking country (or possibly in China), is as whip-smart on-the-ball ambitious a person as you’d ever wanna meet. Not ambitious in the fucked-up sell-one’s-soul-to-commerce sense all so common, but rather in the right-on-righteous fight-the-powers-that-be sense: desiring to advance Women’s Rights; to oppose Capitalism, Buddhist conformism, and the Thai Monarchy; and possibly to pursue Travel Writing (she’s a true backpacker at heart).

This is an A-#1 example of the kind of person I’m thinking of when I remark — as I’ve been occasionally given to do in this space — that the young travelers I’ve been meeting out here on the trail are so cool, so smart, so with it, so interesting, so accomplished that it makes me feel like a complete wasteoid by comparison.

The conversation provided me some nice insight into the perspectives of the College-aged Thai as well — though bursting a few bubbles along the way. I mean, on a certain level, I always knew that the King must certainly be nekkid as a jaybird, and that the Ancien Thai Regime must in all likelihood be as counterproductive as any other state’s. But, knowing the frequency with which I pronounce my undilutable love of Thailand and Thai culture…you can see that solitary say-it-ain’t-so tear trickling down my cheek, can you not?

When we parted ways in George Town, I told her that I felt like she was my little sister – and that I, accordingly, hoped she’d from here on in endeavour to take good care of herself. I got the feeling the little-sister bit may have offended her; but, well, I guess it’s the truth.

Waiting to board the ferry from Butterworth to George Town, I met a Frenchman who, when learning of my provenance, declared that he had once been a big fan of Gary Payton’s. Which declaration so flabbergasted my dimpled ass (I, of course, had dutifully steeled myself for the inevitable European Travelers’ paean to a certain Mr. K. Cobain) that I couldn’t help but request a photo-op. The fucking Glove, man. That’s goin’ back a ways.

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Found a room, and hustled over to Times Square to see what was what at this year’s Durian Fair — only to find that it’s almost infinitely lamer than it had been two years ago. There’s only one vendor there – and it isn’t the irrepressible Durian Cap Landak crew. But I’ll tell you what, that one vendor was rocking some great Mangosteens. They’re on the expensive side — but I was able to finagle a volume discount, knocking the price down to not much more than it’d been when I first arrived in Chanthaburi. And the dud ratio is even smaller than it had been in Trat — in fact, it’s almost non-existent. So, it was pretty decent value. The reality, though, is that it’s just rather difficult to calorically satisfy oneself on Mangosteen for any kind of reasonable pricetag. But, god dammit all, they’re so fucking delish, mang.

I opted to take my evening Durian from a roadside vendor with whom I’d chatted briefly while making my way toward Times Square. Ordered up a Capri — one of my favourite varieties from two years ago — which they immediately cracked open and brought to my table. Truth be told, I’d rather open them up myself; but Penang’s Durian vendors are pretty territorial when it comes time to execute the Durian-cracking – like as though it’s a form of witchcraft handed down generation by generation to only the select few acolytes worthy enough to enter the practice. At any rate, I spied my first glimpse…

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…and let out a little squeal. I (naturally enough) then proceeded to take of my first bite — and thought my head would fucking explode. Maybe it even did.

Penang Durian. We are off and running.

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