Posted by: pattiandben | June 18, 2008

Monks 4.0 and why Jack Johnson?

If I were Jack Johnson, I too might be the world’s “mellowist superstar,” as Rolling Stone magazine dubbed him earlier this year. Money coming in, he is already from Hawaii, his parents both surf, and he has an easy name to remember. Patti and I have noted that his music has pretty much taken over the bulk of SE Asia, along the main backpacker route. Not a big fan of his music, nor are my friends from Hawaii, but I respect the fact that he has created his own sound, albeit using essentially the same formula for most of his songs…not a “wrong” thing and what most musicians do anyway, but a bit redundant and annoying when I am forced to listen to him over and over again-especially when in restaurants like the one we found in Veng Vieng, Laos. The owners have actually modeled a theme after his music…all Jack Johnson, all the time. It is even named, “The Jack Johnson Bar,” on the town map.

And if you can’t get enough of two JJ CD’s shuffling and rolling 24/7, then head out on the streets and listen to the restaurants that are likely playing at least one of his songs at any given point in time. It quickly becomes a Jack Johnson Purgatory Park, not unlike Disneyland. No rides or castles, but the “It’s a Small World” drill-it-in-their-heads equivalent on a backpacking/drunken/happy pizza eating level. Who is this Jack Johnson guy? And how did he create this cult? Are people trying to convey that they too are mellow by playing his music non-stop? Seems like he kind of took the frat boy reigns from Dave Mathews, too. Similar formula-issue back in the 90’s when all of “Dave’s” songs sounded the same. Being asked to go to a DM show was like pulling teeth for me. I was once forced to go to a DM show in the mid 90’s and remember wanting to stuff a grapefruit into the saxophone player’s horn. Frustrating, really.

Enough already, Jack! We are listening to more and more of our own music collection on the road, and as much traditional live music as possible. One highlight, last week, came when we visited a temple in Luang Prebang, during evening prayer and “chanting.” Patti actually supplied one of the monks with matches we kept from a guest house, so that he could light the candles. Then the monk decided to flirt with Patti. This is when I came to the realization that this group of Buddhist monks was not all that traditional. So the chanting started and there weren’t really that many monks present at the onset. One by one, they would shuffle in, all laughing and looking pretty out of it-not all that focused on the prayer.

What unfolded was pure comedy. The younger monks in the back, who could not have been more than 10 years old, had started a rubber band war-while chanting-even though they really were not chanting. More like how I used to sing in Church school-mouth half open, humming the songs with a few full words or phrases here and there. Some time went by and a more serious wind passed through the temple as the chanting continued…and then it happened. A polyphonic cell phone echoing the sounds of Shakira’s, “Hips Don’t Lie” came rouring through the temple. I thought, “What stupid tourist forgot to turn their cell phone off?” The chanting continued and so did Shakira’s melody. Quickly, a young monk about four rows back from the front gets up. runs outside the temple, and proceeds to take the call. We were rendered speechless by this series of strange events. How could this be? This was not what is was like when I watched Baraka. How can these orange robes hold cell phones? And, why Shakira and not Madonna?

The chanting ended. The monks dispersed. We walked back to our guest house numb with confusion. I was just glad the young monk did not set his ringtone to Jack Johnson. Then I would have snapped.

Our trip since last entry has included:

  • Slowboat journey down the mighty Mekong River
  • Spelunking in Laos
  • Realizing that Laos massages are more relaxing than Thai massages
  • Eating as many baguette sandwiches as possible
  • Trek to and homestay with a Khamu hilltribe and inventing rock games with the village kids while the adults discussed village economics in the village long house
  • Exploring ancient Angkor Temples in NW Cambodia
  • Eating as many baguette sandwiches as possible
  • Getting our fill of Phnom Penh, Cambodia and meeting some of the coolest locals we’ve met on our trip-an incredibly unique culture exists in Cambodia and it is one that is lucky to still be around
  • Realizing at 10pm before a next day bus departure at 8am that we need to pre-apply for Vietnamese Visas
  • Camping outside the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh at 6:30am that morning to apply for our Visas (It pays to be REALLY polite to the guard at the gate)
  • Watching the same security guard stop massive amounts of  traffic to hail our oncoming bus to Vietnam so that we would make our connection (It pays to tip the guard at the gate)
  • Spending just 2 hours in Saigon and quickly realizing why tourists are not allowed to rent motos

More to come. Patti is still on deck for the numero uno block entry from her angle.

Tam biet nhe,

-B & P

Posted by: pattiandben | May 30, 2008

Elliot, Sir Charles, Apollo and The Masons

Howarya?! First, Patti apologizes for her bloglessness (new word). This has become a bit of a weekly routine for me, and since we have free Internet at our guest house in Chiang Mai, it makes it even easier this week-plus I can’t sleep this morning for some reason and I woke up early! I assure you, the Patti Debut will be grand when it happens! Also secured howarya.wordpress.com, which will eventually replace this blog and will include more content from those affiliated with howarya and howarya-related activities. Howarya?

I am now 33. As mentioned last week, I wanted to spend my birthday on May 25th fulfilling a variety of activities-one cause related, one beverage related, one relaxation related, and all related to spending time with Ms. Patti. Amazingly, all of these birthday wishes came true.

Our first mission: Assist the Ko Phangan Animal Clinic (PAC) in their extraordinary effort to better the lives of animals on KP and rid the island of animal cruelty and mistreatment by accepting patients and promoting better health and population control through education and treatment. What we encountered last Sunday was incredible. We arrived at the newly relocated clinic after getting lost trying to find the old office. As walk-in volunteers, we were greeted with open arms by the entire staff of both full time technicians and volunteers and learned about their mission, the problems they face as a foreign run, not-necessarily-accepted foundation, and the animals they treat and have treated over the years. The new facility will have a new, open air kennel, a main building that will house the clinic and the treating rooms, and a more groomed landscape for walking the little ones. Our task for the time we were there was to spend time and care for three new born puppies (one week old) who were recently rescued from a Buddhist monastery-where most locals often drop puppies they cannot care for. Once acclimated, Patti and I noted the puppies features for records, fed them, and disinfected their pen-then pretty much played with them until they passed out. We were also asked to name them, which we were happy to: Elliot, Sir Charles and Apollo…names that came from the personalities we found most striking in them.

Fortunately, it was a slow Sunday at the clinic and there was not a whole lot to do. I say “fortunately” because the clinic seems to have put a lot of control in a seemingly uncontrolled domesticated animal environment that was KP before PAC arrived. There were not a lot of patients that day, and the animals that live there full time are cared for with enormous hearts everyday. Upon our check in visit the following day, we learned that one of the pups had been adopted, along with another, older patient we had the pleasure of spending time with. This made us smile. In Thailand, there is a saying we learned from a friend, “If there is trouble, meet the trouble with a smile.” I like this saying.

For more information on the KP Animal Clinic, visit: http://pacthailand.org/index.htm

Our second mission: Following our time at PAC, I was craving some Guinness-due in part to the predominant Irish influence at the clinic (founded by an Irish vet and we worked closely that day with another woman from the emerald isle. The Irish brogue is a contagious one-even in Thailand! So, we headed to the Mason’s Arms-a Pub on KP that serves some of the best Anglo staple food I have encountered, anywhere. Plus, they have the word “Mason” in their name!!! For some reason, I have always been infatuated with secret societies and the like-The Masonic Order being one of them. Not saying I would ever join one, but they are really interesting to me and to spend my birthday drinking Guinness at an establishment that carries both the name and iconography of society that kind of creeps me out…was kind of cool. The stout was top notch. Poured and tasted better than most places in the States. To top it off, Patti was able to secure a Mason’s Arms “Staff” shirt from the bartender while I was in the rest room-later presenting it to me as a present. Nice. Thanks, Sweet P! Even creepier and to support my interest, my 33rd birthday lunch was spent at the Mason’s Arms. The highest level in the Masonic order, in the form of “Degrees”, is 33. (Enter manic, piercing violin music)

For more information on the Masonic stuff, you better start your own research on Wikipedia. I don’t want to freak anyone out with my independent research.

As not to turn everyone off from this blog with my bizarre fraternal order intrigue, I will end this abruptly. The rest of my great birthday was spent hanging out by the pool at our guest house. Had the place to ourselves in the low season. Met some folks who work there who are from Burma. Beautiful, kind and strong people. Told us of the disgrace their current Junta government is and how they they earn money in Thailand to be sent back to support their families in a more challenged Burmese economy. Also influenced some British friends we met to volunteer at the animal clinic. Was simply a very rewarding day for us.

Other recent activities have included:

  • Diving at the renowned Sail Rock off of KP-incredible marine life and corral cities
  • Kayaking, snorkeling and trekking in the Ang Thong Nat’l Marine Park in the Gulf of Thailand
  • Bargaining for instruments at the Chiang Mai night market-snagged a Thai-style xylophone
  • Thai cooking classes in Chiang Mai (Adam K. > Look out. I am going to incorporate into my BBQ style)
  • A day at the National Thai Elephant Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Center-So not a zoo and I can see why the founder was awarded a “Time Magazine Person of the Year in Asia” award for her work there
  • A visit to a country-style Thai jungle farmer’s market (roasted crickets and beetles galore)
  • Temples everywhere-including the “Forgotten City”, outside of Chiang Mai

Talk soon. We are headed to Laos on Sunday, via the Mekong River. I hope to get my Southeast Asia Twain-influence on!!! Riverboat time!

-B and P

Posted by: pattiandben | May 23, 2008

Coconuts and Rush

I used to have to lift weights and exercise a lot in college, playing sports and all. Was not a big fan of the weight room scene and decided that after the mandated program ended, I would find a new, more customized, routine that suited my style a little better…or, just stop exercising altogether.

After some years without the “routine” in place, I realized that I needed to maintain some muscle integrity. Push ups, sit ups, pull ups, etc. These all were good enough for me. You can do them anywhere and they actually work. There is basically no equipment involved and you can do everything in the comfort of your own home. No public weight room politics or antics. Nothing worse than a set on a sweat drenched bench-someone else’s sweat. Holding back a lot of comments on the locker room scene, too. Although, I never understood why some guys shave in the public locker room. This seems like such a home-based practice. Shave at home, you’re hogging the mirror.

Enter the water-logged coconut, or as I like to call them now, “my own tropical soloflex”. Sitting on the beach the other day, Patti and I spotted two large, very over-ripe coconuts lying beside our little beach spot. They were heavy, about 10-15 pounds each. Probably gained a bunch of weight drifting in the sea, though one should be mindful of coconuts growing in the palms above, as gravity wins when they decide to break free and unfortunate is the poor soul whose head breaks the fall. As my friend Paul Giese mentioned, “Trees are dangerous…and can kill. Never ever sit under a coconut tree.”

Okay, so I have these two coconuts and I am feeling inspired to exercise. I pick them up, do some arm curls, maybe some triceps extensions, a couple dips here and there to keep the legs in the game, and them some flys to work on the chest. In the weight room, one would use the clock as the time meter to watch between sets. Since I have not worn a watch in three weeks, I needed something more primitive. So I turned to the ocean…throwing both coconuts as far as I could into the incoming tide. My inner clock had each arriving back on shore about 2-3 minutes after I threw them. Perfect for my break between sets. After I had enough with this new program, we then named our coconuts, “Ben and Patti”, and decided that they needed to race each other back to shore when I threw them in. We broke even. Each taking two victories. Winning coconut was determined to be the one that rested most firmly in the sand before the other.

Referring to “Rush” in the title…Our dive master in Ko Tao, Nils, was recently given 160GB worth of mp3 files from a friend in Norway. Not sure if it was my mention of Toronto at one point, but upon an afternoon visit to the dive shop to check in, Nils decided to pay tribute to me in playing “Tom Sawyer”, the classic opener on Rush’s 1981 epic album, “Moving Pictures”. Let it be known, “Tom Sawyer” was actually the first big performance for me as a vocalist in 8th grade. The band was “Demented Youth” and I had not yet learned guitar and was delegated as the high pitched Geddy Lee of the band. The middle school auditorium was our stage, and we rocked it. Followed an all female performance of “Eternal Flame”, by two co-eds. Again, on a beach in Thailand, my musical past had come full circle.

33rd birthday is in two days. Patti and I are volunteering at a local island animal shleter to bring some good karma to my family dog in NY, Little Bear, who is going through some tough times with her aging back. We love you Little Bear!!! Need to protect the innocent ones, these animals. We have befriended many on our trip and even had two dogs guard our bungalow all night, last night. Unsolicited. Just scratches and pats on the head and they were there to serve.  

Till next time. B & P

Posted by: pattiandben | May 19, 2008

Ko Tao

Based on all of the stories we’ve collected from locals, natives, and travelers, we feel pretty lucky to be on Ko Tao right now. It seems that the growth on Ko Tao moves at a rate that mirrors the rate at which my head expanded during my developmental years (For context, refer to post entitled “Farley Bravidson”). Right now Ko Tao would wear a size six or so in a fitted baseball cap. I think it may need a size eight in five years, if the resorts these people speak of come riding along. A lot of this information forthcoming will come as old news to those who have been here, but I would like to touch on a few highlights and occurrences.

We like it here.

This is really one of those “filler posts”, not unlike the mid-season episodes from Battlestar Season Three. Really looking forward to and waiting for Patti to take the reigns on some posts coming up. She is throwing around some ideas and will be at the helm shortly.

We love it so much on Ko Tao, we are not sure if we want to leave for the time being. We have even secured canine escorts in the morning and evening hours. Front door to main road and vice verse. They come with the territory and only demand head and body scratches as they lounge on the beach all day. The food in every direction is also out of control and costs about $10 U.S. for a big meal. Mornings start with noodle soup with vegetables and hot tea. Then late lunches of salads with local fish, veggies and maybe some curry. Throw in the fried apps, garlic cheese bread, and banana fritters with ice cream and you are looking at a more Buddha-like Ben profile. High metabolism provides for a different degree of Buddha belly each night-as I stare, in a comatose from food and heat, into the rock formation across from our deck, commonly known to locals as Big Buddha Rock.

Now, some more highlights from our stay here.

  • Received a Thai massage. My back cracked for the first time in about 12 months.
  • Went scuba diving with a self proclaimed legend of Ko Tao’s diving industry-A Norwegian who celebrated Norway’s independence Day with us after our dives.
  • Met a Friend of ours from Montreal for sunset drinks. We happened to find out we were both here through Facebook.
  • Swam with a school of Parrot Fish for an hour or so.
  • Got a flat on our moto and left it be for a night.
  • Guest DJ’d at the reggae bar for Patti, the owners and the ocean. They all seemed to like it. Closed the set with “Hella Good”.
  • Found that great late night snacks are 10 baht bags of shrimp chips.
  • Muy Thai prize fights promote themselves via mobile billboards that wind down dirt roads. Bull horn style.
  • I am not a good soccer, kick-around-in-a-circle-by-the-street-with locals-type guy, because my legs do not bend inward. Instead, they bend out-making it look as if I broke my leg, or hip, when I try to kick. Could never sit “Indian” style either. Remind me to provide a 1:1 demo of this when back in the U.S.

More to come. Thanks for reading and hope Patti can provide a dash of spice next time.

-B

Posted by: pattiandben | May 14, 2008

Wish You Were Here

Stop. Before you judge this entry by its title, go to your music collection, or the music collection of someone who listens to Pink Floyd, find “Wish You Were Here” (the studio version, from the album of the same name), listen to it, and then come back to this blog post-that is if you have nothing better to do.

For some background, I have been playing guitar for 22 years now and this song was one of the first I learned and eventually one of the first I performed with my great and long time musician friend, Brent Cole (www.woodenghost.com) It was a talent show and I was on lead guitar and Brent was on back-up. Though, if you know the song well, the difference in these parts is really a solo in the beginning, a solo that if you play differently than David Gilmore played on the album, minimizes the song’s essence. I love this song. Never get sick of hearing it. It is a classic through and through.

Fast forward 22 years. Patti and I are holed up in a bungalow in Ko Tao Thailand. Our view in the morning and before we rest is a crystal clear, quaint little cove viewing the Gulf of Thailand, rocky cliffs and corral reefs. At the beach below, there rests a thatched roof bar built into the rocks that is run by three Thai locals who LOVE reggae music. Having played in a reggae band for 4+ years, I had plenty to share with them, including some guitar tricks. After our first night there, I promised them I would come back the next day to give them lessons in exchange for free Chang or Tiger (beer).

So it came. The following day, a fierce storm swept through our community and drenched the area with heavy downpours and high winds. Patti decided to stay in for the night, following dinner, to catch up on some historical reading we are both into re: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge atrocities. I needed to follow my promise and walk down to the beach bar for my Tuesday night guitar lesson.

So, there we were, a westerner who knows very little Thai, teaching my Asian musician counterparts, who know even less English, how to play guitar in the cool coastal breeze. It was seamless and incredibly rewarding for everyone there. Smiles, laughter and moments of realization for how music is interpreted and understood by anyone who takes the time to listen and learn-for anyone who wants to learn. And when the winds picked up and the rain started to come back down at 9pm and I needed to get back to the top of the cliff, they looked at me and asked me to teach them one more, “Wish You Were Here”, before I left. We all knew the words and with the storm as our band, we sat there and all sang the song in English, a song that has been with me for close to a quarter of a century.

We are probably going to stay in this place for a little longer. Our hearts and thoughts are with our friends, our families and those affected by natural disasters as of late, namely the victims of Cyclone Nargis (Damn the Myanmar Government) and those affected by the China Earthquake. Thank you to our parents for keeping us safe all of these years.

-B & P

Posted by: pattiandben | May 12, 2008

Farley Bravidson

Kind of a combination between the feeling one must experience when riding a Harley Davidson and admitting that you look silly on the scooter you’ve rented-not unlike Chris Farley when he dawned sweaters that were too small for his large frame.

We have found a new love in riding scooters together-Ben at the wheel and Patti hanging on for dear life on the tail. Probably would not be as fun in Berkeley on streets that we recognize, but it provided two days of laughter for us and avenues of adventure in Koh Samui. Most of the laughter came in my fashionable style of how I presented my helmet to the general public.

You see, it’s like this. I was born with a huge head. Just over a 7.5″ size for a fitted baseball cap. In a country like Thailand, where the natives have smaller frames than me, I am not sure they import helmets fit for mellons like mine. Patti’s looked great, snug fit, maybe even a little too big. My helmet looked like I was being filmed for Reno 911 in Thailand. It sat on my head like a sphere on a cube of the same general proportions, as if I had a growth on the top of my head that prevented the helmet from fully encapsulating it.

Yeah, the hotel attendant who handed us the bike keys was making fun of me in Thai-and Patti in English. If you wanted to find me in Koh Samui in either of these days, all you needed to do was walk to any curb on the major roads and I would the tallest motor bike rider in the stream of commuters-topped with a big red helmet. A shining cherry…photos to come shortly if you’re lucky.

Regardless, and over it after a few hours, our little bike got us around and within the great island of Koh Samui. Waterfalls, temples, food stands, ATMs, beach side dinners, Laundromat, off the beaten path and back again. Headed to Koh Tao for diving and more beaches.

Sawatt dii Kah and Krahp,

B & P

Posted by: pattiandben | May 9, 2008

The Cardboard Commodity

We’re six days into this, and we have amassed several great fireside stories already. After awakening from a food coma this morning in Koh Samui, Thailand, we thought we’d share a snippet from one of our days in Hong Kong…one of my new favorite cities.

When Patti and I set out on this trip, we wanted to find some re-occurring themes we could latch onto to make our journey a bit more interesting. One of them would be to collect an indigenous instrument in each country we visit. Another theme was good food, but that’s a different entry altogether. Actually will be more like a coffee table book. Hong Kong was the number one stop and we decided to purchase a Chinese Mandolin, or Liuqin, after an incredible day of sight seeing with her Uncle James. He took us to an instrument shop in the Wan Chai District where we spent about 30 minutes exploring sounds and quality of craftsmanship. I finally found my gem and made an offer.

Now, I needed to make a fast decision. Do I keep these instruments in my arms for the entire trip, or mail them back to ‘Cuse to grab when I return state-side. I opted for the latter, as SE Asia is very muggy and I did not want to compromise the wood and tonality. Easy decision.

Post office located…check. Train to post office and jook breakfast…check. Watching a restaurant worker clean his feet in the same area where my dishes were being cleaned…check. Cardboard container that will fit my oddly sized Liuqin and case…ummmm, not so easy. In a city of millions, I could not find a box that would fit this properly, or safely. So, I reverted to street tactics.

What would seem like curb-side recycling in the states, in the form of piled cardboard, is actually corrugated gold in Hong Kong. As I was sifting through a pile of seemingly great options for my packaging, along came a local woman screaming to me in Cantonese, “Get away from those, those are my boxes, you cannot have them, get away!!!” This is what Patti interpreted. It was probably worse. So, in our best Cantonese, we decided to bargain with her, which at first went over like bomb jokes in an airport. She was not having it.

Then I flashed some coinage. Turns out, Patti and I are not bad at bargaining and ended up getting the box I needed, and one for back-up, for about $10 HK, or about $1.33 US. Kind of an impromptu two for one. The deal was struck and I was the white guy on the streets of Hong Kong toting around two very large pieces of flattened cardboard and a Chinese mandolin. Patti got her fill of humor for months.

Now in Thailand and with my Liuqin on route to Syracuse, we are settled into our Samui hotel and look forward to greeting more people with bows and hand gestures. It is a nice way to start, spend and end the day.

Sawat Dii Khrap and Kah – Ben and Patti

Posted by: pattiandben | April 30, 2008

Newlyweds or Cylons?

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We are happy newlyweds. Rest assured.

Why is it that people thank from the “bottom” of their hearts? I am going to thank everyone who has blessed Patti and I with love, friendship, laughter, etc. from the middle of our hearts. This is where all the action seems to take place.

Party in the Aorta!

So this is our first entry. It is likely over-thought and poorly written.

For those who have been wondering where we’re headed, here is a list of all the places we are traveling to over the next few months. If you can make it, we’d love to share some time with you in any one of these destinations 🙂

  • May 4th: Hong Kong
  • May 7th: Thailand
  • June 2nd: Laos
  • June 9th: Cambodia
  • June 16th: Vietnam
  • June 27th: Sri Lanka
  • June 28th: Maldives
  • July 4th: Athens
  • July 8th: Barcelona
  • July 15th: Scotland
  • July 22nd: Iceland
  • July 25th: New York
  • July 29th: Syracuse, New York (Howarya?!)
  • Sometime between July 29th and August 26th: Berkeley, California
  • August 26th: Black Rock Desert, Nevada

Keep in touch and if you know of any tips and tricks in any of these places, let us know. Here are some for you, as we enter the summer travel season: When in Syracuse, go to the Dinosaur BBQ. This is really all you need to know for any summer travel planning. Anything else pales in comparison.Keep in touch!

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