Wednesday, October 31, 2007

(By Joe)
Hey Everyone,
Its been a little while since we wrote. We are now in Thailand, on the South Eastern coast. The little town we are in is called Ao Nang. You know all those movies and photos you see where monoliths of vine topped stone rise up from neon green rice patties and jade colored seas? That's where we are. It is raining off and on here right now, with brief periods of sun peeking through, so we have just enough time to get our suits on and get half way to the beach before it gets cloudy again. This does, however, make for a beautiful sunset.

Earlier today we went for a run together and came across a creaky, raised wooden path that wound through a mangrove forest and out to the mouth of the sea. It was such a great feeling to be running past these giant termite nests and over brightly colored mud crabs through what is more or less a deadly swamp with no real ground. We also saw a KFC on our run. KFC is THE restaurant to eat at here in Asia. Unlike in the US of A, where it is considered the bottom rung of the fast food ladder, here is is more on par with TGI Fridays or Cheesecake Factory. It is a culinary experience to be savored and taken advantage of whenever the opportunity arises.

Malaysia was a pleasure to travel through. Again we spent much of our time in Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown haunting the Little Indias. We also stopped by the Golden Triangle Mall in the base of what what were the 2 tallest towers in the world until 2004. We saw a Bollywood movie there called Journey of a Woman about a young Indian woman forced into prostitution by her family. It had some stunning cinematography, great acting, and dazzling dance numbers. If it makes its way to the states, pick it up. Picture, if you will, a scene...
A mother holds her oldest daughter in her arms as her younger sister stands by. They all cry, for they know the older sister, who has become a prostitute to help her family financially, is now being ostracised from the very family she sacrificed so much to help. The music is slow, the tragedy of all this tears at your heart. Then the double doors behind the three of the burst open and a dashing, young Indian man rushes over to them and, thrusting his head back and forth much as a chicken would peck for grain begins rapping in 80's style English, "Uh here we
GO now, uh here we GO now, Uh Uh uhuh Uh here we go now!" A full dance number featuring about 100 traditionally dressed Indians follows, jumping between English and Hindi, but always maintaining that 80 rap style beat. Awesome!
The theaters here are years beyond our own. You pick your seats in advance from a computer screen so you have assigned seating. This enables the theater employees to deliver your freshly prepared food to you while you watch the film! Be it popcorn or a black pepper chicken sandwich with a side of potato wedges. Also, if you put your food on the floor, a RAT will EAT IT! RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU! The hardest part then becomes choosing whether to watch the movie or the rat.
Kuala Lumpur was in many ways like a very friendly New York City. Everything was completely modern and in almost every way similar to what you might expect to see in a large city in the US, the exception being the people. Bipeds from all over Asia proudly show off their cultural dress and customs, speak in their own languages, practice their own religions. It wasn't uncommon to see a group of girls, half wearing head scarfs and conservative yet colorful dresses, and half wearing straight up tight fitting western clothes all hanging out together.

Georgetown was another great place we visited. We quickly befriended a man named Ang who ran a Buddhist temple. The place was an artistic masterpiece, with works done by artisans he had imported from all over Asia. Ang imparted a large amount of wisdom upon us using a mix of western and non western ideas. "If you need to relax, stare at a candle. If you are all like F**k, Sh**, Fu** my life, you know? Just stare at a candle. Try to see more blue in the flame, relax." He also explained to us that all the ceremonial practices and strict ways of doing things is BS and they only do it to keep the old people happy so that they don't have heart attacks. He said none of that really matters, and when the elderly aren't around he doesn't even bother with it. It led me to wonder whether the old people were doing it to please THEIR grandparents, and how many generations have been needlessly going through religious ceremonies they think are bogus just to do what they think their elders want.
Ang took me to a Chinese parade and festival at a temple built over 200 years ago. It was pure pandemonium, with people lighting regular sized incense sticks by the 100s and, when they decided hundreds of tiny ones wouldn't do, buying incense sticks the size of a mans thigh and setting those ablaze. Through all the smoke could be seen thousands of people carrying yellow flowers, carrying earthly representations of saints, people banging drums, bonfires, dragons, and a whole lot of other goings on that I didn't really understand the significance of because I couldn't hear Ang's explinations over the drums. Of note was a woman who had huge cages of tiny song birds packed so tightly that the birds couldn't move. She sold these birds by the handful to people who would then set them free right there in the courtyard. We couldn't decide if it was a good idea to pay to return these little birds to the sky (where no doubt this woman had somehow forcefully snatched them from earlier in the day) but then risk supporting a woman who cages and crushes tiny song birds? In the end we just watched and took pictures, coming soon.

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