Saturday, August 12, 2006

Thailand - Food

Before I went, I was told that the food there is totally completely amazingly AWESOME! I expected that, and was really looking forward to it...

Now I am back, and I say the food was good. Thai Green Curry & Red Curry are awesome, and the Shrimps with asparagus and garlic is also very good. I enjoyed it, until I met with something called Gastritis. It's a disease, you know, of the stomach, which is well food poisoning. One day of sheer nausea, vomiting and passing outs was what it gave me, but that's it. One low point, but the food is still good, not totally completely amazingly AWESOME, but good - so enjoy it when you/if you go there, but don't over-expect.

Well one highlight of the trip was that I tried snake, and it was not that bad, pretty good actually. It's like chicken, but really chewy. Apart from that, I did try some sea food. We ordered fresh fish, and got it fried. We did get it fried. It had fried head, fried eyes, fried teeth, fried body, fried fins, and fried bones, and the fish itself was okay, but it often makes me sick when I envision something like that, and now I am off that sort of fish for eternity.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Thailand - Phi Phi: A Conversation With A Tsunami-Surviving-English-Speaking Thai-Scuba-Dive-Master


He is only 26 years old.

He started scuba-diving at the age of 13, and is now a renowned Dive Master (the highest Scuba Distinction)

He survived the Tsunami. What could be worse is that he witnessed it.

He, along with his friends saved 3 lives, from the rubble. Here's the fascinating story...

It was a 26th December, the day after Christmas. Half of Phi Phi (which basically means all the foreigners, which means all the back-packers from the west) was hung over from what was probably a drunken, late, late "Celebrating Jesus" night. Aeg was one local included in that list.

Aeg worked as a Scuba Diving/Snorkeling Tour organiser, and was damn good at his work. He was so good, that the local people held mini-rebellions to stop him from doing well, and taking away all the 'business'. Business there is tourism. It is the only source of income, and Aeg was taking most of it away. So the Village Chairman called a special meeting comprising all the locals and they reached a conclusion - Aeg needed to cut down on his brilliance to allow others to reap at least some benefit. He followed orders, and won the respect of the town, and well everyone knew him.

However, 26th December, 2004 was a day off for Aeg, and God indeed blessed him with that.That day, at approximately 10 A.M. two monstrous waves, one 12 metres high, the other 4 metres high crashed, crushed and crunched the neck-like heart of Phi Phi. Imagine, these two beaches were like two boomerangs stuck together forming a holy-grail-like structure. Both the beach-sides were exposed to the ocean, and hence both sides were exposed to this monster. But the 12 metre wave got the lion's share of the spoil as all the rummage it caused was transferred towards the other end. Imagine, again, you are sitting on the beach, calm, observing the waves. Then, quite out of the blue, you see, this large unorthodox wave from a distance, and get amused. It then processes and this confusion turns to nervousness, 'What the hell is that wave doing?' and then sheer panic engulfs you, just as the wave is going to engulf you. You run, but there is no where to run. You cry for help. You start looking for help. You see the wave coming at you. You try to hide? Ha Ha. For 4 minutes this monster hunted its prey. Aeg was not on the beach, he was asleep, in his house, on the hill, away from this. Thank God.

But when something like shakes the hell out of your island, you don't sleep for much longer. This earth-shattering Tsunami opened Aeg's eyes in more than one way. He stepped out into the open, and what he observed shook him up just like the Tsunami had shaken the life out of the village. He saw dead people hanging from trees, lifeless, but with eyes wide open, with glaring death written all over them. There were piles and piles of wood, beneath which, lay people, with their hands, ears and feet sticking out. The wave sucked bodies back into the ocean, and it was no longer a salty blue ocean, but a bloody reddish one. People mourned the loss of their loved ones. Shrill cries that can tear your ear-lobes open not because of the sound, but because of the agony that comes in chorus, resonated in the air. Aeg saw destruction at its prime. Trauma, rage, anger, distress, sorrow, pain, hopelessness, helplessness, defeat and death buzzed in his mind. He couldn't take it. He rushed back home, one place that was safe. He needed to recollect himself, needed to find his friends - he needed to know what to do. After locating his friends, they started a mini-operation of their own. Pull out any damn thing that breathes or moves from the rubble! This was not easy. Aeg, along with his friend, saved two human lives. They gave two living, breathing souls another opportunity to live.

But he lost almost everything. 4 of his close family members were missing and still are. His shop, his work all taken away by the wave. As he was a Professional Dive Master, he had videos and pictures of his exploits. All of it was taken away in those 4 minutes. His laptop, his scuba-diving gear which is shit expensive - everything the wave took away. 3,000 people lost their lives that day in Phi Phi, and a major chunk of that number were foreigners.

From that day on, Phi Phi was almost deserted. There was no major help coming in from the Government. Yes, some World Aid did drift in, but that takes time, and Phi Phi wasn't the only place affected. Aeg, and his friends started a recovery mission. Everyday they went to Phuket, got some medical supplies from the hospital, mainly gloves and masks, and started the ‘cleaning’ process. What Aeg found most useful, was not the Government, but the international contacts he had made from his Scuba Diving clients. They came from all over the world, and donated large sums of money to help Aeg set up his business again, and to restore some order in the chaos that the Tsunami had left behind.

It took 6 months for Phi Phi to recover from this disaster. The problem Phi Phi was facing was that, due to this catastrophe, none of the locals wanted to do business there. So Aeg and his friends, started building shops from scrap, to forcefully welcome these locals back on to the island. This recovery was a done collectively by all the people of the islands. It was a time of mourning, but also a time of unity and fraternity among the people there.

For Aeg, it was one of those major events that occur in our lives, that changes us completely. The Tsunami changed him, for the better. Before the Tsunami, yes he was married, but he had this youthful exuberant arrogance, which he admitted openly. But the Tsunami taught him responsibility. It taught him to look beyond materialism and money, and into the people around him, to care, to love. It made him, in his words, a 'man'. That, to me, says a lot. Experiences like the Tsunami can be devastating, but the education through something as colossal as that cannot be taught in school. Also, it's how much we suck or draw out of these experiences that shape our entirety. Aeg is still some what recovering from trauma. At times when he thinks about it, he can't sleep for days. After the Tsunami, Aeg could not sleep for 2 days, not because he did not want to, but because he couldn't. Could you have?

Aeg was our Phi Phi Island Sunset Tour guide/organiser/leader/boat-owner. He is a lovely guy, my mum fell in love with him, and wanted him as her second son. The service he and his crew gave us was excellent and genuine.

Thailand was great because of people like Aeg. The people I met, taught me so much, and fascinated me and opened my eyes to different aspects of life. It made me realise that I live in this bubble, this bubble in which I have a bunch of good friends, but that's not all. Those are not the only people. There is so much out there, so much to do, so many people to meet, almost 7 billion. The back-packers I met were all young, between 18 and 25 years of age, and not one was Indian. All of them were fascinating and had so much to offer. It exposed me to this other side, which I had never been properly exposed too, which I knew existed, which I yearned for, but never really got. It's true isn't it; most of us Indians don't do things like back-packing. Most of us end up with paunches to be proud off, if we don't already have one. Yes, there are numerous complications and parent/permission issues, but it's high time I burst out of this bubble. I don't know about you.

Thailand - Phi Phi Islands

Phi Phi Islands are these 2 small islands constituting the southern part of Thailand. They are only reachable by a ferry. Secluded – yes, totally. Only two years ago, the devastating Tsunami knocked the life out of this little town, but today it is back on track, buzzing with an outrageous number of tourists. Back-packers, largely from the west (actually all, I could find not one Indian backpacker there) flock to this island like sheep, to perceive the breath-taking marine life that the ocean around the islands has to offer.

It sounds pretty laid back, well it's not. There is an 'ADSL High Speed Internet Service' connection every 2 metres, yes every 2 metres. Fake Movie DVDS/Music DVDS/Music CDS are rampant, with availability of movies which have not even been released in Thailand. 'The Devil Wears Prada' was available on the streets before country-wide release, for 10 Dhs, or 3 Dollars only. INSANE!

Apart from all that, and considering the fact that I, nor my parents, were seasoned scuba-divers, or snorkeling enthusiasts, we felt that we had almost wasted our time at the islands. But no, one evening made all the difference. We took the 'Sunset Tour' which allowed us to explore almost all of the Phi Phi Islands. It just happened to be, that in the tour, we were the only non-back-packers there, and my parents the only people over the age of 35, and I, only below the age of 20. That however did not matter, as our Phi Phi Island trip burst into life. The tour was hard core. We canoed and snorkeled in the open sea. Hell, I am proud to say that I swam in the rough sea in the middle of nowhere. After the canoeing and the snorkeling, we had to swim from our boat to a near-by cave. Then followed, a little bit of trekking against the sea, which was not surprisingly, rough, that evening (the whole full moon thing). This cave that we entered opened up into a pretty lagoon, and I felt I had entered into this new world, this world that had formed within a blink of an eye. The joy of seclusion and beauty did not stop there, this lagoon further opened up into the whitest of beaches. Clear, pure, but salty, the water gushed onto the purest of beaches, with a valley-like view of the setting sun. A spectacle of its own, an almost coliseum-like experience, it was We soaked in every inch of the beauty, and cursed all that we could when we found out that our darned camera batteries were dead.

We laboured back, swimming back to our boat in the open sea (don’t worry, the amateur swimmers were given life jackets), where a slip of the toe could result in skull-cracking action against the hard but slippery stone. Yeah it sounds dangerous, and yes, to a particular extent it was, but that danger itself made it even more fun. Along with that, the tour organisers, a bunch of young 'lads' (as the Brit back-packers called them) were such hard-working and genuine people, and the made the evening even sweeter. They helped the poor swimmers, and the old, which only consisted of my parents (sorry mum, sorry dad) and were really really sweet, and with great bodies (that's for you girls :P).

All in all, that one evening made Phi Phi - WOW. I want togo again, and when I do go again I will learn Scuba Diving, get my license and enjoy the islands even more. Romit, remember our promise - if not Thailand, some place similar, definitely!

Thailand - Foreward

What will precede (and not follow, due to the publishing-policy of blogspot) is basically to serve as a collection of memories, which will be near dear to me for a long time to come.

Thailand - I didn't know what to expect from this country. Some said it was like a well, "cleaner" India, others framed Bangkok as Bombay-ish, but all of that is rot. Thailand cannot be compared to India, in fact it puts my country, and retrospectively me, to shame. It is simply beautiful. The white sandy beaches and the coral islands of the south, littered with the most colourful of aquatic creatures, along with green outback and the beautiful "trek-able" forests of the north, and a brilliant mix of modern and ethnic cultures, with the friendliest of people, with the greatest of kings, plus a 'Keane' concert - Thailand rocked, and I need to/want to go there again.