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JohnJack_Crestani


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Trips:

I Meet the SouthEast

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Dreadlocks and Ladyboys (Bangkok Part 2)

Bangkok, Thailand


Through all the dazzle and glory of Bangkok's economy and culture lies massive amounts of pollution and Western influence. The photos above were taken from a longboat on Bangkoks main river, Chao Phraya. Los Angeles has nothing on this! The taste of pollution and raw sewage in many places are enough to give the average person headaches.

Although the boat tour through the city led us through some of the most pollution infested areas of town (Chinatown and industrial areas), once we got towards the suburbs of the city I was able to experience scenes, normal people living, that you would never get in the touristy and city areas. Interestingly (to me at least), the suburbs of Bangkok are surprisingly integrated in their mixtures of social classes, especially up against the model of US cities. Rich estates and their gardens reside next to farms, peasant shops and makeshift housing peacefully. An upper-class house averages around $200k, about half is the land. Their gardens sit right next to subsistence farmers, who live almost completely unaffected by modernity, and only sell meager amounts of their crop to the market if they have extra left over.
Riding my bike through the elevated sidewalks/roads which snake around the suburbs, kids would shout friendly 'Herro's to me, as I am guessing they don't often see white faces, something completely different from the city. Life is calm here, and not much seems to have changed over the centuries in these parts.

Western influence has affected full-force the high-society and upper/middle classes of Thailand, and although I am standing in front of a special walk for chinese new years, it is a part of a megamall that is perhaps the greatest symbol to Western influence in Thailand. Siam Paragon, a recently built megamall features multiple McDonalds, Dolce & Gabbana, Quiksilver, H&M etc, etc, etc. It is completely and absolutely indistinguishable (creepily so...) from a USA mall scene...except all the people are Asian. From flirtacious and gossiping teenagers, to desperate housewives, to young adults on dates at the movies, to prep students finished with school, and every other mall stereotype, it can be found here 5000 miles from Los Angeles.

This was the only place where I felt really awkward, like I didnt belong. My school group was not part of the actual makeup here, this was no tourist site, and they didn't specifically need our money. The art installations and center-mall galleries were absolutely stunning on a scale not seen in America. Hands down nicest, cleanest, richest mall I've ever been to...and I am in a 3rd world country. (Side-note: I actually walked into the mall during a Thai movie premier happening there which added to the feeling of being in my native Los Angeles, very glitzy)The one quite different aspect from American malls is the presence of many white-Thai couples here on dates.
The amount of prostitutes in Bangkok (in the downtown area near the nice hotels, not where the other backpackers and I were staying) is absolutely insane. Tens of thousands of women come from all over SE Asia to be sold for about $30 to Western customers coming from mainly around Europe, Australia, America and the Middle East. The amount of creepy old white men walking around with their Thai 'girlfriends' is stunning, mainly because it is such a common sight. Places like Starbucks, mid/high-end hotel lobbies (nice hotels are around $100-600/night) and street promenades are very populated by such dates. Although it is sad that women feel the need to sell their bodies, I feel it is also an equally bad problem that generations of men have been raised unable to successfully bed a woman, or achieve a happy relationship, that they must resort to a 3rd world country for a relationship.

Overall, Bangkok has been quite a trip, it is a fast-paced, multifaceted city full of delights, joys, beer, women, tourist attractions, culture, cheap goods, and something for anyone and everyone. I highly recommend a visit to Bangkok for all, it is an incredibly safe city (the laws protect foreigners more-so than the native Thai), and I never at once felt at unease.

At the same time, I am glad to be out of the smog, traffic, sellers and commercialism and out in the country now.


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 25, 2009 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Temple, Buddha, Thailand, Bangkok, Watpho and Dreadlocks

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Dreadlocks and Ladyboys

Bangkok, Thailand


Finally completing the intensive traveling (and jetlagged) part of my trip is a godsend, and being able to relax without having to necessarily go anywhere or do anything has been great. That being said, many interesting things have happened, from my Ringat-less, fraud-protected-credit-card scare, to a longboat/bike journey through the city, to excursions throughout the diverse megaplex of Bangkok.

I have seen more dreadlocks on white-people and more ladyboys in Bangkok than I have ever seen in my entire life. As a sprawling megaplex (I Like that word), Asia's #1 backpackers hotpoint, and the center of Thai Art, entertainment, and high-society, Bangkok is a youthful, exuberant city with something for everyone. It is a more dynamic city than I have ever seen, and on every street there are people struggling, living, cooking, caring, flirting, selling...everything.

Instantly the amount of Westerners, the cheapness, and the hip-ity of Khao San Road overwhelms most travelers as they sprawl out on the promenade, weaving the complex maze through tourists, shops, sellers, masseuses, and tuk-tuks. Khao San Road(above) is the first stop for travelers and the #1 backpackers hotpoint in the world. The amount of westerners in this area is overwhelming, and between the run-down bohemian style of the area, added to the warm scents, alternative bookstores, wacky t-shirts, hip hairdoos and casual strolling, you get a wonderfully wacky cross between Greenwich Village and Venice Beach, creating a dynamic entrepot of culture and life.
The cheapness of everything too is overwhelming, something giving way to a particularly different feeling of being a king or queen or such. 2hour massages for $12! Dinner for $2-5! Cool t-shirts and books for $5! Exchange rates are (once-again) wonderful.

Although Bangkok is cheap, their history and culture is as rich as gold. This golden Reclining Buddha, is the largest Buddha in the world in terms of length, and it is absolutely MASSIVE. It is hundreds of years old and part of the larger Wat Pho Temple complex, which includes hundreds more golden Buddhas, some of which contain the ashes of noblemen. The three great pillars pictured above are markers for the tombstones of three kings, and their is immaculate ornamentation, stone-work and gardens all throughout the temples acres of grounds.

Some particularly cool statues of lions I saw...

I must take my leave for dinner now, but I will post the 2nd post pertaining to Bangkok shortly, hope you enjoy!


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 21, 2009 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Buddha, Thailand, Bangkok, JackCrestani, Khaosan and Watpho

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Hooray for Malay!

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


So begins backpacking/busing up the Malay Peninsula to the ultimate destination (and where I start my semester abroad on the 23rd) in Bangkok. Malacca for 2 nights then one in Kuala Lumpur.

Malacca is known as "The Historical City" because of its rich heritage involving being taken over by first the Chinese, then the Portuguese, then the Dutch, then the British...if that is something really even to brag about.

I was able to see the entire city in a 2hour run around in the morning and to the best of what I saw, its a pretty drab city. Lots of small museums and some old buildings, but otherwise the city is fairly dilapidated and impoverished with few Western tourists. A good proportion of population in Malaysia is Muslim, as is evidenced by a number of Mosques and a large Islamic heritage Museum, shown to the right.

I love exchange rates! I was able to stay in a hostel (actually Malay family's spare bedroom) with two Canadians from Banff for $5 each per night, great deal. One surprising thing is that although food and rooms are incredibly discounted in Malaysia, beers and hard alcohol are still expensive, and roughly equal to what you'd expect to pay in the US. In fact it is much harder to find liquor in Malaysia; I speculate this is due to government taxes on the sale of liquor because of the high Muslim population.

We found this out during our (the Canadians and I) Friday night out in Chinatown. A pitcher of beer for $12! Chinatown is the one happening part of the town, and receives the largest share of tourists who come mostly from China. It is very dense with shops and people selling things, and highly decorated with these paper red balls ) for the Chinese new year. Friday night was very crowded on the main promenade (walking street) in Chinatown; Sellers on the each side of the street hocking their cheap toys/sunglasses/hats/food/desserts/etc, Malay teenagers were walking with their girlfriends, families dining in the restaurants, tourists ogling at the sights, and crowds watching various street performers, singers and otherwise.
The picture above is of a me and Ms. Canada with the McDonalds Mandarin, get a picture with him and get a McDonalds token of good luck for the new year. (Mandarins are what the Imperial Chinese ruling-class and their silly dress is their traditional high-class clothes). I would wake up the next afternoon and travel 2 hours north through Kuala Lumpur, where I would have to take the plane the next morning to Bangkok. I stayed on the couch of some friendly Finns (pictures below) and luckily made it to Bangkok (and am loving it) despite a scare of waking up and realizing I had absolutely no money to make it to the airport. But that story next post, all this writing has made me tired, and I'm off to get a $10 2hour massage, and maybe a $1 fruit smoothie as well.

The Chinese use these red paper balls as symbols of luck and fortune, typically meant to be used at the beginning of something such as the opening of a new store or a new year. They are used very liberally though, and can be found in many shops, new and old, and many times hang year-round in Chinese shopping areas. (Malacca)

This is a statue in Malacca of Mr. Universe 2008, who came from this area. It is right out front of what is his weight-training center.

When partying in Malaysia, shoes come off at the door. In many countries in Asia (maybe all, I'm not sure), it is customary to take your shoes off upon entering a residence. Thus, you can usually figure out how big a party is by just looking at how many shoes there are!

This is me posing with some Finns and a Malaysian friend on the balcony of the condo I "couchsurfed" at. I guess its the new cool thing to do, people offer their couches for poor travelers to stay at for a night or two all across the world. Although I actually met them randomly on the street, I have been formally initiated into the couchsurfing society. ( Couchsurfing.com )

And here is a picture of me happy I made it to Bangkok! Although I had a little scare of getting my checking card canceled because of a fraud alert, and only 8 Ringat (2 dollars) in my pocket, I managed to make it to Bangkok, story coming up on the next post!


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 18, 2009 from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged CouchSurfing, Malaysia, KualaLumpur, Malacca and JackCrestani

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Wo Ai Taiwan!

Taipei, Taiwan


Translation: I love Taiwan! When I learned, during my 10 hr layover in Taipei, that the gov. gave out free tours of the area, I was ecstatic. Me and a few Assies got a 1st rate tour of a small town outside Taipei, and got to see how they make porceilin, a grand Buddhist temple, and some street scenes in the area. The guides engrish was very good, and he taught us a great deal of Chinese animal symbolism and how so many small things in their world are done to ward spirits, create luck, bring prosperity, increase health, etc. (Among the most interesting, Frogs=Lucky, Dragons=wealth, Turtles=Longevity, and ALWAYS remember to rub the top of the Stone lions heads who are guarding the temple). The lions are a very important symbol in Taiwan (they refer to themselves as China), as it is their national animal. Lions holding balls are men and lions holding babies are women. Their towns are very dense and multi-storied, all clustered around a main area, usually with windy streets. The Chinese build up, not out, as is evidenced by farms coewxisting mere blocks away from 10 story buildings. But by far the wackiest thing I saw in Taiwan was their version of a funeral. Firstly, they also use Hearses for their funerals, Ifound this an interesting borrowed aspect of our culture. But every other part they get completely mixed up on. Immediately following the slow-moving Hearse is...get this...a hired band of scantily clad women wearing Hooters-orange marching outfits, banging away on their instruments, and badly. For what is supposed to be a serious and solemn occasion, and they do look at it as such, these girls are completely out of place! And following these very un-solemn looking band members are the mourners wearing white Ku Klux Klan hoods with their heads bowed. I didnt know whether to laugh or cry. Overall it was a great (and free) way to spend my layover, getting to see an entirely new country. Wo ai Taiwan!

permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 16, 2009 from Taipei, Taiwan
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Temple, Taipei, Taiwan, Funeral and Porceilin

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Singapore: The Hong Kong of SE Asia

Singapore, Singapore


Touchdown! 36 hours of traveling, 1 book, a tour of Taipei and 3 awful airline meals later, I finally landed in Singapore. The airport struck me at first with its clean, modern lines and gorgeous flower displays.
That being said, Singapore is a very modern city-state with an incredibly developed economy. It used to be a part of Malaysia, but detached and formed its own country because the ethnic Chinese majority in Singapore didn't feel they were represented under the Malay government.

The first thing tha struck me was how cheap everything is in Singapore. After my flight I was relieved by a 2hour massage for....30 bucks. And Singapore is the most expensive city in SE Asia. After that, sleep, I would go exploring the next day.

Singapore itself is a drab city, a business town so-to-speak, but carries a rich colonial history mixed with loads of striking, modern architecture. Although located on the Malay Peninsula, the population is mostly Chinese, because they were most eagar to profit after the British started developing the island into a major port. There is no such thing as an ethnic Singaporean, the other races there include Malays, Filipinos, and Indians. After staying in a great hostel (Inn-crowd), chatting, and throwing back a few beers with some fellow English and Australian backpackers, I would take the bus north towards Malacca.

A few pictures for everybody...


The Cannonball Tree is a sacred Hindu tree with a maze of branches sticking out of its base with produce the most beautiful flowers.

Due to being almost spot on the equator, foliage grows EVERYWHERE, as seen on the lush environment growing on this tree. There are plants sprouting out of sidewalks, drainage ditches, buildings, and even walls.

Its is almost chinese new year, the year of the ox, so there are a great many signs announcing planned festivities and the sort. This is signage outside of one of the many malls located on Orchard Road.

A nice cotrast between downtown and greenery seen from Cannery Park, Singapores central park. The park used to be an esate for the citys founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, and later became home to a British fort. (Singapores signature hotel, The Raffles, is where the drink the Singapore Sling was invented)

The OTHER SMU, Singapore Management University. A very highly regarded university for Chinese in SE Asia.

Development is everywhere in Singapore, although who knows what will become of the literally hundreds of new buildings now that the world econmy has collapsed.

Trade is not as regulated in Asia, and this real Tiger pelt goes for about $1000 in this high-end furniture store. Other pelts included bear, fox and leapord.

A beautiful golden painting of lotus flowers floating in a stream found in the same high-end furniture store.


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 16, 2009 from Singapore, Singapore
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Singapore, Skyscraper, SMU, Colonial and Raffles

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