Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thailand

   What started as a plane ticket to Thailand would soon turn into a lifelong trio friendship. Myself, Brett, and Steve flew to the second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai. We were to do a tour of the country, North, Central, and South. After a few days of exploring Chiang Mai, visiting night markets, local watering holes, late night cricket snacks and funny hats, and even a festival celebrating a burning temple, Brett got the bright idea to rent motor bikes and drive 6 hours (while carrying our oversized, overpacked new backpacks) on one of the curviest roads in Asia to a small town in the North of Thailand. Neither Brett nor Steve had ever ridden a motor bike before, so I spent about an hour giving them a beginners lesson on the street outside of the rental shop.

  We started the journey in the unbelievable Chiang Mai motor bike traffic and finally, somehow through the alignment of the stars, got on the back roads. After the first hour, my back was throbbing from the weight of the backpack. As we drove through the mountains, I saw a sign for a "waterfall and swimming hole." We stopped and took the short hike, expecting a tourist trap. What we found instead, was the most beautiful, perfect waterfall I had ever seen. We went for a swim. The water temperature, Perfect. I could have stayed at that waterfall for days.



  After our swim, we were feeling fresh and on top of the world, ready for the trek ahead. Steve was feeling comfortable and decided to forego his helmet for a set of headphones. We rode on. Soon the road curved and twisted more and more. The embankments became steeper and steeper. Brett was leading and I was in the middle. After about 20 minutes, I realized that I hadn't seen Steve in quite a while. I started to worry. I passed Brett and stopped at a roadside pull-off to wait. We waited for quite a while and finally decided to go back and look for Steve. We had no means of communication, no back up plan, and no idea what we would do if we had lost him. Luckily the road was with very few turn offs. About 10 miles back, we found him sitting on the side of the road, his bike in the ditch, headphones smashed. He had laid the bike down in a small ditch, glasses flying off his eyes. Luckily he was ok, only scratched up. Even more luckily, his bike still worked and his glasses were in tact. It would have been a damn long ride with two of us on one bike, and three backpacks on the other. (And probably would have resulted in another wreck). Steve put on his helmet and we continued on. 
We finally pulled into Pai (pronounced Bai) a few hours before sunset. We found an amazing bungalow retreat set to a beautiful mountain backdrop and rented three side by side. 


  Pai was a beautiful and enchanting village. We stayed several days and met some lovely people. One night we were walking to get dinner and passed by a pig farm. It was the first time I had really seen an animal being slaughtered. The noise of the pig squealing was awful as its owner beat it to death with a baseball bat, blood splattering on his clothes and face.  Soon after, we ran into a pack of viscous dogs. They ran at us, snarling and barking as if they were rabid devils. I thought we were in for a serious hurting, but we were able to slowly back away and return the way we came, my heart in my throat. As we passed back by the pig stable, all of the pigs lay dead in their slots, sans one young pig. It was the first and hopefully last time i'll ever have to hear a pig cry. We christened the road "Evil Street."

  We bought floating lanterns and decided to send them off at our bungalows. I lit one and sent it up. I quickly realized that apparently I didn't hold it long enough (they need time to heat the air so they can float) as it floated right back down onto the roof of my bamboo bungalow. I was able to grab a stick and push it away before the whole thing went up in flames. 

  After several days in Pai, we started our ride back to Chiang Mai. About three minutes before we were going to leave, Brett decided it was time for HIS motorcycle wreck. He had run to the store and on his way back, slide about 30 feet, covered with raw bloody elbow scars and pissed beyond belief. Breakfast would come before the ride. 

  We flew to Bangkok and would take a bus/ boat combination to Koh Tao, a beautiful island off the Southeastern coast of Thailand. We had almost a whole day in Bangkok. We visited the famous backpacker section of Koh San Road. Due to the peaceful tranquility of Northern Thailand, we were quickly over the pollution and crowded atmosphere of Bangkok. 

  Koh Tao immediately brought all of the feelings of a picture perfect postcard running into my eyes. It was absolutely stunning in every way. Crystal clear water, beautiful women, hawkers walking around selling fresh cut mango and pineapple, the life. We took a taxi boat to our first hotel, Mango Bay. It was nestled away in a beautiful alcove of the island, hardly accessible by any normal means of transportation. 

   We spent the next week exploring the island, hanging out with our other co-worker Mo, getting bamboo tattoos, and relaxing. We found the most amazing bar in the world and moved in (literally). We spent Christmas sitting in the calm water of the Gulf of Thailand. New Years was celebrated on the back patio of our new home, watching the stars, drinking mango shakes and coffee, and watching the world go by. 

   Our trip to Thailand was magical. It was absolutely amazing and it changed my life forever. This is only a small portion of the experience we had together. If I wasn't ready for the world beforehand, this is what really did it for me. Time to explore. 
  

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hong Kong

   Hong Kong is the place I wish I lived when I was in Macau. According to my passport, i've visited Hong Kong 30 times. And honestly, I regret not going more. It reminded me a lot of New York at times. I saw Eric Clapton (amazing) and a terrible production of "Chicago." I enjoyed some absolutely incredible food from every imaginable corner of the world. I turned down more watches and custom tailored suits than I could ever imagine. I took the cable car to the giant Buddha. We went with local friends to Hot Pot and pushed our gastronomic boundaries.

   We spent Halloween in the city in 2009. I have never see anything like that before. Imagine 30 asian frat parties on one street. McDonalds is always open. Then we stayed at the Chung King Mansion. Look it up, and if you ever make it to Hong Kong, do yourself a serious cultural shock favor and stay there.

   I'll go back any time. Unfortunately I find it harder to write about a place the more time I spent there. It was like a second home. Just take my word for it and go.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Macau 2009-2011

   What can I say about Macau?  Spending a few days in a place, getting a feel for it, and then moving on is a lot different than moving somewhere for two years. Macau was my home, and for better or for worse, it's a special part of my life. "And now for something completely different." And it was.

   It was, by all definition, everything I hate in a city. Overcrowded, polluted, no nature, tons of superficial lifestyles, and not much charm. It takes a long time to find the charm in a place like Macau. I'm not exactly sure that I ever did. When people ask what my favorite part about it was, I say Hong Kong. Or that it's only two hours from the Philippines.

   But along with the bad times, there were some fantastic times as well. I met some very special people that will forever be very good friends. We had laughs and we learned to bond as if our lives depended on it. Without these few friends, none of us would have lasted as long as we did.

   I could go on for hundreds of pages about Macau. But I think i'll keep that stuff for myself. I'll just say this. It changed everything about my life. For the better. It opened me, changed my goals, and showed me my direction in life. Out of a smoggy, grimy city, not recognized for a long time, I found my purpose.  

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New York City; February 2009


   But before I went home, I decided to hit up New York City. Why not? I had been several times, loved it there, and always loved going back. I had a friend named Allyson to stay with and the extra trip wouldn't cost much. It was good to see some old friends, and I had a great time. I got to visit with my cousin who was pursuing acting at NYU. Later, I went to a cast party. John Waters and some other famous actor types were even there. I always have, and always will love the theatre world. I hadn't told anyone that I was coming home, so I decided to plan my own coming home party without anyone knowing. It pretty much worked.

   I've always loved NYC. Every time I go, I have a great experience. And it always stays unique. I see, hear, and enjoy something new every time. I always try to go to a new neighborhood, new restaurant, new scene every time I make it up. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Taipei, Taiwan; January 2009


   There has never been a time in my life where I was more relieved by the weather. I could not have asked for better during the Taipei setup. Leaving the frigid north of (South) Korea and stepping into the warm sunshine of Taiwan felt like a God send. The city was buzzing and frantic with life. I certainly enjoy and appreciate a nice clean environment, but sometimes the grit and grim of a city like Taipei makes me feel much more at home. Sometimes I could be damned with the Ritz. Motel 3 and 79 cent street food on a plastic bench in the middle of a crowded street corner is so much more real and gratifying. Taipei brought that grime full force. This kind of intensity ensures you that you're alive, that you're real. Turn your back on Applebee's and other comforts and dive in. You'll never regret it. There is nothing wrong with being uncomfortable. It's impossible to grow without it. 

   Some people rented motorcycles while we were there and drove to work every day. I didn't, but I always kind of regretted not doing it. 

   I visited snake alley, and spent lots of time at night checking out the amazing street stalls and markets of the city. The food was incredible and daring. I started to push my limits. I also enjoyed the tourist parts of the city. I visited the Taipei 101, a gargantuan masterpiece of engineering and architecture. 

   I didn't realize until now that I visited (in my opinion) the three best food cities in the world, all in a row. Tokyo, followed by Taipei, followed by New York City. And boy did I eat good in all of them.

   And just as fast as my career with Cirque Du Soleil started, I rolled the dice, quit my job, and turned my back on a certainly successful career. I would move to China to develop a new resident show at a super casino resort on the island of Macau. The original creative genius of Cirque Du Soleil had left to start his own company, and I was going with him. Franco Dragone was always the love, passion, and creativity behind Cirque. And now, as they begin to fall without him, I know more and more that I made the right choice. And despite the success or failure of the new project, why not be part of something fresh and new?  I flew home to Tennessee to take a sabbatical from entertainment and prepare myself for the new adventure. 

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Tokyo! December 2008

   What 23 year old American is lucky enough to get paid to go to Tokyo for a week? And then go back a week later for another week?  This guy.

   I planned and booked a vacation to Tokyo and then the next day at work, I was called to the Technical Directors office. I had to leave Korea for a week to renew my work visa. I was getting an all expense paid vacation to Tokyo. Disappointed by my double booking? Far from it.

   As you can imagine, the two trips aren't very distinguished in my mind. I knew I would love Tokyo, and I was right. I took as much advantage of the city as I could. One night I went out and met some ex-pat bartenders. It was one of their birthdays. He invited me out after he got off, and obviously it turned into a shit show. You should never go out drinking with bartenders. We had one of the best meals of my life. I wish I could remember what it was called, or where we were. It was an incredible soup/ noodle dish. I'd give a lot of money to eat that meal again.

   When I departed from the bartenders, they gave me simple directions on how to get back to my hotel. Three hours later, I was still wandering around the city aimlessly, lost as i've ever been. I had no money so I ended up jumping a turn-style and taking a few subway trains until I found my way home. I walked in around 6:00AM. Couldn't have been happier, or more tired.

   On the second trip, I went with a friend from work named Grant. We were there over New Years. We went to see Zed, the Tokyo Cirque Du Soleil show. We took a tour of the theatre and got an invite to the new years party. We barely found it, tucked away in a tiny corner of the city. I got a glass of champagne about 30 seconds before new years. I'm shocked to say that not much was going on in Tokyo for New Years. Maybe we were in the wrong place.

   The next morning, we went to the Tsukiji fish market. I think the only day of the year it happens to be closed. We were able to get in anyway, and walked around what is normally the busiest fish market in the world all by ourselves. A very very cool experience.

   Tokyo grabbed my heart right away, and i've loved it ever since. What a wonderful city. I can't wait to go back. My favorite city.

   And on to Taiwan.

   Oh yeah.  Best Sushi ever.