deep freeze

i sit writing this while staring out of ice clad windows. crystals swirl and intersect making it impossible to see whether it it still snowing outside or whether the sun has finally woken from it's slumber.

most days i rise to find the temperature below zero, in fahrenheit, with the temperature rising on warmer days to 15. it's a whole new world for this texas boy. but i love it. i just have to get used to wearing long johns every day and wrapping my face in a scarf to avoid frostbite as i wait for the bus.

the city is quiet too. it's like business and commerce went into hibernation. as i walk into the market to buy fruits and veggies i encounter huge mounds of burlap covered tables and only when i stop does a stay-puffed marshmallow looking woman come out to see what i want. early in the morning the streets have that windswept, abandoned street feel from a movie, with only a few brave souls scurrying across.

but like i said back in october i love cold weather. the romance of it still holds me captive. it's like conquering something every time you go out and huddle among the shivering masses. like hushing the voices of any fears that would say to stay warm and comfy inside. perhaps, too, it let's me live out the inner fantasy of living like a nomad on the great plateau; my breath rising to the sky like incense to life, wrapped in a yak skin blanket, reliant upon little but that which is necessary. i guess that is part of why i love the cold, it is so deeply tied to my romantic visions of life. i am blessed that i get to live those out, even if only partially.


route 1095

a few days ago a friend and i woke up early one morning rode over to the scooter rental shop and picked him up a hot pink yamaha. we wanted to ride from chiang mai out to this hippie village called pai. i already had my day glow green honda wave and all that was holding us back was finding him a suitable bike.

we rode off at about 9 in the morning without much expectation, other than we would see some beautiful scenery and would encounter a horde of grungy backpackers in pai. as we turned from highway 107 to route 1095 we sensed the change, from heavily traveled city roads, we turned onto a country road with small villages dotting the hillsides.

we passed rice laden patty's, small chalet-like resorts sitting up on mountain sides, small villages with larger populations of dogs than humans, and many road-side coffee shops. who knew thailand was so addicted to coffee; well, maybe they aren't, but the bazillion tourists are for sure. guilty as charged.

about 30 minutes after making the turn onto route 1095 we would encounter what makes this such a famed journey. up and down we wound our way through 120 kilometers of squiggly lines. it took nearly 3 hours to cover that distance. but it was well worth the nearly crawling pace we were sometimes reduced to. as i road i could not escape the sense that it was an extreme blessing to ride through such immaculate terrain, knowing that among the mountains dwelt elephants, monkeys and birds beyond my imaginations. the forests ranged from low land tropical rain forest, with banana trees out the wazzu, to pine forest in the upper reaches of the mountain passes. there is little that smells better than pine trees.

in all we road 762 curves over 125 kilometers. working that out with a calculator we figured that there was a curve roughly every 500 ft. sitting in pai i doubted this claim of 762, but on the ride back i realized that it had to be true. a shirt for sale in pai summed it up best with a picture; imagine a squiggly line drawn in the area the size of a sheet of paper with the lines intersecting and crossing a hundred times. in other words, to drive 5 kilometers as the crow flies you had to drive 30 of curves up and over mountains, where it seemed you were doubling back on yourself constantly.

pai, itself, was less than spectacular. it certainly wasn't the horde i had expected, but their aftermath was widely visible. it seems there is little else besides restaurants and guesthouses to serve the needs of tourists. there were at least 100 of each in this town of 1000-2000 thais. we only stayed one night, as there was little to do other than eat, drink and sleep near the river. i've always been amazed how little communities like this can have great western restaurants of every sort, while big asian cities can struggle to produce even an adequate pizza. it's weird how supply and demand works. but for all its excess of touristic kitsch, it was a relaxing little hamlet--at least that is the way i will remember it.

on second thought pai did have something that shocked me, an incredible sense of self awareness. it had that 'keep austin weird' or 'i heart ny' style self identity. there were t-shirt shops everywhere selling trendy little t's with distinctly local designs. i bought two. apparently all the good t-shirt designers live in pai, because everywhere else the shirts are horribly tacky.

during the ride back i realized another aspiration for my life, to travel by motorbike across some great distance. this was a great little trip, but it was only 2 days. i now want to do a month or two my bike following some classic route. the silk route is too long, but perhaps the ancient trade route linking delhi to afghanistan, or maybe an easier and safer tour of europe on two wheels would do. anyway, i've got the bug to travel by bike.

finally, in totally unrelated news, i've picked up a copy of charlie wilson's war, the book the movie is based on, and have thoroughly enjoyed it. the story is very little like what i expected. and its 'true.'



i'm reading it again--cormac mccarthy's the road. my mother gave it to me for christmas last year and i finished it before the final scraps of wrapping paper were found and discarded. compelling and frightening, that is how i would describe it.

i was walking through my hostel in bangkok and saw it sitting there. so i picked it up and started reading. just like the last time i find myself negotiating for one more chapter before putting it down for some sleep. it's so beautiful because, like the phantom of the opera, the reader is put in control of the imagery. mccarthey paints just enough to start you off, but the reader fills in the shades of gray.

this time through i am struck by something i barely saw the last. the fathers conversation with the Almighty. it's a brutal conversation.

"he woke before dawn and watched the gray day break. slow and half opaque. he rose while the boy slept and pulled on his shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. he descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched and he coughed for a long time. then he just knelt in the ashes. he raised his face to paling day. are you there? he whispered. will i see you at the last? have you a neck by which to throttle you? damn you eternally have you a soul? oh G od, he whispered. oh G od."

i am not sure why i like this conversation. maybe because it's truth from the inner most of the father's soul. perhaps it is because i see the beauty in such a threadbare soul pouring itself out before it's Father as though there should be nothing to hide. faith. confidence. understanding, that in a world where hope is a rumor long lost, this man still sets his face heavenward. if you think about it you'd like to say you'd act like job. but would you really? the psalms teach me that an unleashed and free-to-speak heart is what is most faithful. so, i suppose i like this conversation because it is the one i would speak. not out of denial of Him, but out of a desperation for Him.

howdy y'all

'nough said.

never mind, that has to be one of the best looking stashes ever!

my thai

so, i am in my second of two nights in bangkok. hot. humid. not very attractive. mostly full of westerners acting out their most carnal desires. but i knew all of this. then why did i come here? i have exactly enough space for one more country's visa stamps in my passport. so, i am here to visit the u.s. embassy and get more pages added to my passport. this will be my first time too. i am actually kind of excited. i am thinking of running up to the gates, pretending that someone bad is chasing me. then i can stand safe behind the guards, who will man up and protect me. you know, like in the movies. it will be cool though--until i find myself filling out forms, walking through security checks, and waiting in lines--to actually make use of the embassy.

the two weeks previous i have been laying myself on some of the best beaches the world has to offer. the pipeline and waimea bay on the north shore of oahu, and all over krabi province, thailand along the andaman sea. man, all i can say is, i am blessed. no doubt about it.

so, here are a few pictures. none of them represent the beauty i saw. i was amazed, utterly amazed phi phi island and bamboo island in thailand. heaven on earth. lush. silky sands. fishes of every color. and cheap beach side bungalows.

the view arriving at viking resort's private beach.
my bungalow is out of the picture on the right.

secluded bay where the film the beach was filmed. full of tourists.

circling one of the islands looking for our dive spot.

bamboo island. one of the most amazing, totally spectacular,
heaven on earth places i've ever been. breathtaking.

after our first dive of the day.

these limestone cliffs rise from the water like there's no
such thing as gravity or time. spectacular.

sunset my last night on phi phi island