Thoughts from Three Birthdays Abroad

September 24, 2010: Tokyo, Japan

“By the way, it’s my birthday.”

Unsure of how to bring it up, but knowing it was absolutely necessary to excuse the belligerency which would inevitably occur, I say it in passing as we walk into a discount sushi joint. After unloading such weighty news, I decide not to mention the fact that I don’t even eat fish. I don’t want to overwhelm him.

As I grab small plates from the revolving carousel of Japanese cuisine, I flick off pieces of raw salmon and tuna. I watch him send mass texts from his outdated cellphone.

Birthday celebrations. Shinjuku station. Get here.

We follow him through the streets of Tokyo. I feel relaxed because I no longer need a map. I feel comforted because I trust his local knowledge and know he’ll take us to the grungiest of bars. I feel fortunate to be celebrating my birthday with people I have known for longer than my nine days in this country.

I spent the day record-shopping. I find the Japanese release of Forever and Counting by Hot Water Music. Without even trying to convert the yen, I know I can’t afford it.

I try not to reminisce. Having only left Canada a month earlier, it’s probably too early to be doing that sort of thing. But I’m technically a year older, so I do it anyways.

We sit drinking at the intersections of Lost in Translation. We go to a bar where they yell at me for flash photography. We go somewhere else and allegedly, I try to steal the bartender’s cat. We go to another bar and I scream Pearl Jam lyrics while simultaneously lecturing both old friends and absolute strangers on the pointlessness of relationships. Drops of Asahi hit the group as I flail my arms and sound like a lonely conspiracy theorist when I rant, “Trust no one.” None of them agree with anything I’m saying. But they listen because it’s my birthday.

We never made it back to our hostel that night. They charged us one night’s stay, anyways.

September 24, 2011: Koh Samui, Thailand

There’s a jar of Nutella and a box of granola in front of me. I grab a spoon from the hostel, dig out a scoop of hazelnut chocolate, and swirl it around the mix of raisins, cranberries, and steel-cut oats. I let the chocolate rest in the corners of my mouth for longer than is socially acceptable. I root the bits of almond out of my teeth with my un-brushed tongue.

She hands over a TESCO bag full of other completely un-Thai foods. A baguette. Brie. Another jar of Nutella. I clap my hands and then feel selfish for hoarding all that hazelnut-chocolate spread in the first place. I offer him and his sister a slab for their toast. They both prefer Vegemite. I wince. I don’t bother to offer up the brie.

We hire a long-tail boat to take us fishing and snorkeling. We exchange stories of camping with our dads and learning to hook a lure. I catch something which looks like a  rainbow trout from Southwestern Ontario. It’s obviously not. I’m the only one to even get a bite all day and am convinced that our boat driver was in on it and had set up the whole thing beforehand. But they’re fish, after all. You know how they are. The driver smiles a silver and gold grin and wades his feet in the water.

At night, we walk across the beach. Flip flops in one hand, Chang beers in the other. I plead with a group of Aussies to lend me some of their fireworks. They tell me you can’t lend someone fireworks. I tell them I don’t have time for pragmatics. I ask again nicely for a Roman candle. I let if off too close to her feet. She screams at me predictably.

We scrawl Sharpie messages onto paper lanterns and light them off over the island. We each keep our wishes a secret but when no one’s looking, I peak at what they have written.

My wish?

Travels full of fireworks and free of injuries.

There, now I don’t feel so guilty.

I had cut my ankles on the shallow reef earlier that day. I iced my scrapes with melting cubes but hoped the scars wouldn’t actually fade. They haven’t yet.

September 24, 2012: Seoul, South Korea

I’ve already spilled a beer on myself and its only 8:00pm. She claims it to be typical. Everyone else nods in agreement. Most of these people have known me for less than six months. But when your nights become routine, so does your behavior.

We eat Mexican food outside. I hate the fact that it’s Monday. I had to celebrate a fake-birthday the weekend prior. We sit on the patio of my favourite bar and write song requests on the back of chocolate candy wrappers. People kept leaving to buy chocolate. Consequently, we kept requesting songs.

She needs to catch the last subway home. The others soon follow. With only two of us left, we finish everyone’s lukewarm beer and vow to find somewhere without so many fluorescent lights, or any lights at all. Before leaving, we steal posters for beer we will never be able to afford.

We mix Soju and Powerade on a curb outside 7-11. I clench my teeth a little because it’s harsher than expected. I don’t feel any older. It’s past 4:00 am. We zip our hoodies higher and clutch our paper cups.

A young Korean guy stops to open conversation. Both of us, in the thick of things, try hard not to engage.

He comments on our drink of choice and asks a bit too seriously for this time of day, “Are you joking?”

I’m not sure how to answer.

The Time with Becoming a Cliché in Thailand: It’s Easier than you Think!

The mid-jump-on-the-beach shot. Biggest cliche of them all.

Thailand= budget. backpacker. big time.

(Sorry, I should have really given you a heads up before I just start diving into those kinds of sweeping declaratory equations.)

With Suvarnabhumi International Airport seeing hoards of self-declared nomads, appropriately-insured adventure-seekers, and a whole bunch of people on those gap year thingys, there isn’t much to write about that hasn’t been covered already.

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The Time with the Costco…and other Tourist Attractions in Koh Samui

Somewhere along the way of glossy brochures, all-inclusive organized tours, and some unrelenting need to build the world’s largest squirting clam, the term “tourist attraction” got equated with the word “fun.”

I don’t know how it happened, but it did.

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The Time With the Tips on Sleeping at the Airport

So here’s the dilemma:

You’ve got an “early” morning flight that leaves around noon. You have barely enough local currency left to cover your next meal, let alone those ridiculous transportation costs to the airport. (An airport which for the record; isn’t even located in the city of its name but misleadingly placed on the outskirts of a small, small suburb some 45 minutes away.)

You’re also fairly confident that there was a massive bed bugs convention in your dorm bed the night prior. A convention which obviously didn’t just end with some keynote speakers but instead, concluded with hoards of carrier pigeons being sent out in all directions to notify all their bed bug buddies that you (yes, you! But in this case me…) are an all-you-can-eat-buffet that offers jaw-dropping discounts for first-time diners.

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The Time With A Healthy Dose of Shadow Puppets in Nakon, Thailand

Don’t ask me how I ended up in Nakon Si Thammarat, Thailand.

I wouldn’t be able to tell you if I tried.

Bouting some common cold-like symptoms, coupled with a night of you-have-try-it-because-after-all-you’re-in-Thailand Sangsom, and ending with being transported 35000 feet in the air, I landed in Nakon Si Thammarat with a heavy case of delirium-induced exhaustion, catatonic muscle aches, and an upper respiratory cough which sounded similar to an old man’s hack caused by countless years of smoking 35 packs a day and yelling at kids to get off his lawn.

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The Time I wasn’t Lonely at Lonely Beach

How does one go about renaming a beach?

No, seriously. What exactly is the protocol here?

Do you write a letter to the mayor? Do you need loads of people to sign some sort of clipboard petition? Or, do you just go around the beach guerrilla-style, spray painting the new name everywhere? I mean, would that even work? Or would that just end in a jail-term…and fingers smelling of aerosol cans?

The reason why I’m asking is this;

Lonely Beach in Koh Chang, Thailand should seriously consider a name revision.

Or at least give me a couple cans of spray paint and I’ll just do it myself.

 

Because when it comes down to it, Lonely Beach isn’t really that accurate of a name.

I mean, I spent a WHOLE WEEK on this beach and not a second went by where I felt alone. Not a minute passed where I didn’t feel like I could talk to just about anyone and they would at least act a little interested in what I had to say. Not an hour passed where I was horrendously bored or thought “What’s next?” Not even a day went by where I worried about the perfect opening liner with hostel strangers in an attempt to find a common shared interest. An interest that was undoubtedly related to fruit shakes. Or drinking. Or drinking fruit shakes.

Anyways, you get the idea.

When I was on lonely beach for a WHOLE WEEK (that’s like, a really long time…), I was far from lonely.

But then again, that probably had a little something to do with the company I kept.

And I’m not just talking about any kind of friend, here. I’m talking about those kinds of friends which motivate me to the brink of vandalism. The kind of friends which make a future in a Thai prison seem like sort of a good time. The kind of friends made pre-travel. The kind of friends that already know I like fruit shakes. And drinking. And drinking fruit shakes.

Yeah, those kinds of friendships are a really special breed.

Like travelling with the kid you sat next to in kindergarten. The basis of a friendship which had little to do with shared interests and a lot to do with alphabetical-ordered seating arrangements. And the fact that he shared his snack-pak with you when all you could offer were some lousy ol’ grapes.

Like travelling with your pals from university (not predetermined by your last name but valued all the same), or your friends-of-friends which were only really your friends-of-friends for like, a second before they became your friend-without-a-connector-friend-friend.

Like travelling with your prom date. But without the awkward slow dances and awkward corsages and awkward everything else related to prom that makes most people feel nostalgically ill.

Yeah, those kinds of friends are definitely the exception.

Anyways, what I’m getting at is that Lonely Beach is far from lonely.

And if I had my say, the name “Lonely Beach” would be out the window all together. Instead, that Koh Chang beach at the far far FAR (it was really far…) end of the island, would probably be renamed something like a-place-to-reunion-with-all-your-childhood-friends-and-your-friend-of-friends-now-real-friends-and-your-university-friend, beach.

Okay, so maybe it would be kind of a pain to spray paint that on every sign.

But at least it would be a little more accurate.

Talad Rot Fai in Bangkok (Or maybe, Reasons Why Abandoned Stuff is the Coolest)

Geoje Island is South Korea’s second largest island.

And until this whole toothbrush thing really started, it was also my “home” for a little more than a year.

But beyond that silly lil’ quotation-marked italicized h-word, Geoje Island had something that only a few other places could list under their “must-see attractions” category.

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