A pointless introduction (if you know me already)...
Now then, have you been finding yourself lost and confused without the deep and soothing Barry-White-like-tones of Action Jackson parping on in yer lugs?!
Then fear no more pals for the first issue of Put Kettle On is (finally) here to supplement your lack of, well, ME!
Be warned though my well educated friends, family and/or southern fairies you’ll find this blog littered with my own flavour of Northernness, poor grammar and an annoying amount of dot, dot dots…and its for friends and family so...
Anyway grab a brew (Yorkshire Tea of course - you lucky blighter) and let’s time travel back to Thailand, where it all began nearly 4 months ago!
Why rush through these awesome experiences? Because its my blog and I want to, haha, and besides there is only so many ways to say things like “this was so much fun and this food was cheap and tasty”.
More tourist stuff? Ok, we got to explore some incredible temples in Bangkok. The one that sticks in my mind the most was called Wat Pho in the Rattanakosin district. Taking centre stage at the complex was a massive reclining Bhudda statue (15m high and 43 metres long). The 108 panels clad on this dudes giant feet depict the symbols by which Buddha can be identified like flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers and altar accessories. This and all the ancient art covering the walls took my breath away. The temple itself is also one of the largest and oldest of its kind in Bangkok and houses over a thousand Bhudda images. Cool stuff - that you could have googled yourself, like I did...
It was a novel introduction to the nightlife of Bangkok but it was short lived. By 2am the police arrived and shut the whole of Koh San road down. It was so surreal. They only had to arrive on their mopeds looking like Robert Patrick (the bad guy from the first Terminator film) and everyone scarpered.
On a serious note though the constant appearance of the police reminded me on a daily basis that Thailand, as awesome as it was, continues to be a place of political and civil instability. The threat of violence lingered in the unspoken opinions of the local people we tried to casually quiz about what it’s really like living under military rule.
In case tha doesn’t know here is a bit of background info I discovered. Most of the violence of the last decade seems to have started after some initially non-violent protests organised by the Red Shirts/The National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) in 2010. Members being mainly from the rural north of Thailand, working classes of Bangkok and some intellectual folk. From what I can gather ordinary folk were fed up of the military, judiciary and privy council (the elite) interfering in politics and messing around with their newly (1997) formed constitution... and so protested to have a re-election which sadly came a little to late for a lot of folk. The violence was unreal with the death of Thai civilians, military and government standing at around 91 in the space of 2 months (April-May) in 2010. This period of unrest was subdued (periodically) by the military stepping up the brutality on't 19th May.
After the military crackdown, arrests and murders, or "deaths" as the news would say, continued (I think) until it slowed down in 2011 when a re-election finally took place. So a new government arrived and then, well, more corruption was unearthed. Fast forward a few years and another dissolution of another government has given rise to martial law again. The army denied it was a coup whilst it ushered in its Chief as PM by May 2014…
Although the curfew has been relaxed from 10pm in May to 2am, allowing traders a little more time to titillate us travelers, the people of Thailand are once again at the eye of a political storm. Even during our short stay there was a bomb attack in central Bangkok. So I don’t blame local folk for being nervous of a daytime/night time whenever the police rocked up, or when pale faces like me started asking questions. They’ve a hard slog ahead in their battle to establish democratic processes that reflect the actual needs of working people. There is a lot to take notice of during all of this unrest but censorship is also a problem in Thailand so I’ll leave you to trudge your own way through the slim and dubious media offerings.
Moving swiftly on from my reductive and childlike report on Thailand's epic history of social change…
After declaring that we would rest our tired partying bones for the rest of this adventure, on the second night we went out for a tipple... where we stumbled upon a pretty cool beach party that had some awesome fire poi performances going on. The guys were mental jumping on each other, spinning fire wheels in't sea, and all whilst wearing these strange looking Jason X masks. The live sax player on the roof of one bar was a treat too.
Anyway, the point is if you go to Thailand never mind the pre-planned excursions get yourself a jeep! - or a moped if you’re braver than me. Its 800 bhat for 24 hours which is like 4 squiddles pp in a group of 4. Can’t go wrong, ey.
It was strangely peaceful to watch the monks meditating by the big gold buddha statues too. No pictures of that though, makes me feel like a perv. I wish I could sit undistracted for so long. I’m not religious, too skeptical for all that business, but I do respect a bit of spiritualism. I'm even partial to a bit of yoga of a morning. I also like a lot of the general principles of Buddhism. Though I draw the line at herbal teas guys - no milk?! Madness.
Oh and my eye sockets leaked on Koh Samui, apparently all it takes is one mega sad looking elephant to make me blub theatrically like Albert from The Birdcage. Don’t get me wrong I’m not criticising anyone that has done elephant riding or wants to do it, I say it was high on my list of activities, but maybe think twice if you come across anything like what I experienced is all I'm saying. (PS these people in't picture below are not me...)
Yes, yes I know this all sounds a bit hippy dippy but I did feel like that, OK.
Look I'm not about to condemn any Thai folk who are behind it. I actually reckon a lot of it happens because of poor access to affordable resources and knowledge of how to care for them properly. We travelers have to take some responsibility too though, we gorge ourselves on cheap excursions with little thought for how and why that experience is so cheap and its impact on the Frank’s of this world...
Even if you take into account the Frank’s that are treated well now you can’t get away from the fact that to handle your ass on their back their spirit has to be broken when they’re little ‘uns. Phajaan, or “the crush” involves isolation and torture until submission is achieved. I’ll not parp on about it tha can youtube it if you want a more graphic picture.
Well, maybe a bit more... So over the last few decades THOUSANDS of elephants have been poached, captured and kept in captivity. The elephant population is down to around 2 thousand and over half of all Thai elephants now work in tourism. Its not all doom and gloom though. There are really cool ways to get close to giants like Frank whilst at the same time helping change the way they’re treated in the more rural parts.
For example, haha, there is this woman called Sangduen “Lek” Chailert from Northern Thailand who is proper into Elephants and has basically spent her entire life building the Save The Elephant Foundation. Its awesome. They work tirelessly doing local community outreach, rescue and rehabilitation programs, and educational ecotourism operations - not really sure what the last thing is but it sounds like a good thing!
Anyway, you can check out Lek’s work. Or don’t, I’m really not preaching I just had one of them frustrating feelings after seeing Frank, and being confronted with the blank faces of the staff, that I needed to write about it… Like Rimmer from Red Dwarf! You know when he gets his anger sucked out by a polymorph and suggests that they defeat it by hitting it "hard and fast" with a "major leaflet campaign...And if that's not enough, then I'm sorry, it's time for the t-shirts". (Umm, yeah I love Red Dwarf)
We got a mad tuk tuk taxi deep into the forest to check out the “half moon festival”. Great psy-trance but was a bit of a let down vibe wise. Though I did get drunk of 2 drinks leaving me unable to communicate in any known language before (allegedly) falling alseep outside of our hut, ON MY KNEES?! Madness. A night discovering a strange bar nestled into the rock faces was a surreal but fun adventure too. We also did the Full Moon Party which was ... hmmmm .........
There in't much else I can disclose about Koh Pangnan on 'ere to be honest, haha. It was a grand place where you could chill out in as many places as you could party.
"The gay scene"
So first we sent out a carrier pigeon to find the location of Phuket's gay scene and, as is the case with everywhere I’ve been, it returned with a message to warn that it was just another vacuous meat market for men. We still went of course, because who listens to pigeons?! I loved the folk we partied with, and all the shows, but I felt deflated. After a few hours of skipping around half empty bars that are situated far away from the "normal" bars I was done in pals.
The young boys pranced about awkwardly with numbers on their pants ready to be selected for a private dance - or more - by the middle aged white men lurking about. The lesbians were... not there, apart from me of course, who is ALWAYS THERE. The music and vibe, as is usual for mainstream venues, was all sparkles and spunk with a one direction soundtrack. All over the world "the gay scene" rolls out parodies of 80s style gay bars that only seem to cater to one small section of the gay male community. I'm not even convinced the men who do jive with me in these bars are happy with the setup, they often tell me so FOR MANY HOURS, so then I'm left thinking: who are these spaces really catering for?
Before you come back at me with a list of awesome venues and lesbian nights, not lesbian venues because they are like trying to find a unicorn in Barnsley, I'm not having a go at anyone and I'm not ungrateful for the spaces we do have. I spend enough bloody time in them. I even know folk who are carving out alternative scenes (in the EU at least) to address this lack of, well, anything relevant. Basically I'm not being a dick about this, I go to all kinds of gay bars all the time... blah blah don't be offended, or do be offended... I won't mind (I will).
I understand that everyone is different, lives under different economic and social conditions, and so different scenes emerge and so on... but it seems to me that the only scene that really gets the attention and financial support are the one that present the populace with a particularly flamboyant, effeminate image of gay male culture...
Why is this? / Who does the maintenance of this image benefit?.... is all I'm asking.
Overall I loved Thailand. In’t 70s I can imagine that it was a patchwork of beautiful, isolated, self-sufficient island communities relying on exporting locally produced goods for income. In’t 80s tourism started to replace this and changed island life forever. I’m sure you can imagine the impact of decades of western influence on’t landscape and culture... and so the Thailand I got to know was not the picture perfect postcard you might have in your head, but I loved it all the same.
Even if the food wasn’t as cheap as chips the culture alone could keep you well fed for over a month. Its rough and ready charm, highly skilled citizens and awesome food makes for an experience like no other. Whilst I won’t miss sweating from my eyes to my arse, or being EATEN ALIVE by many bugs, I will miss the people, the culture and the landscape.
Reet then, other than sharing some pretty wild toilet experiences that’s it for Thailand. I've got more pictures on Facebook if you're interested. Oh apart from saying that if I had to pick a track for my Thailand adventure it would be this: Arts of Exit by Xploding Plastix. Warning: if you’re going to listen to it… it has no words and will make your ears bleed if you listen to it too loud!
I’m on with reflecting about Australia now so hopefully I’ll get that posted before the end of time. Nearly 4 months out of reality and I’m still the same ole Emma, parping on about stuff I don’t know enough about and longing after a nice brew.
Kob Khun Ka - thank you in Thai - for reading and until the next issue: peace, love and grand times to you! X