Sunday, February 28, 2010

My last post

Tomorrow, I complete my service. Today, I write my last blog entry.

This final post is coming straight from my personal journal.

I'm traveling again. There are times in which I feel like the page has turned and a new chapter has started, or is about to start. This typically happens when I'm on the road and I'm waiting for a bus, a van, a train, a plane, a donkey, whatever. I feel the motions that constitute a change of pace or scenery or life. I look out across the road, tracks, tarmac, trail after getting dropped off by the last person I'll interact with for that chapter and feel a sense of accomplishment. I'm growing. Every time I feel like this, it is essentially moving on once again. There's always something ahead. The next chapter is on the horizon and that's what helps me feel like I do. The feeling is often sadness combined with joy. I am sad to be moving on from the past and my experiences within that chapter but I'm also joyful to be able to experience the future that will await me once I get in that van, climb onto that bus, sit on that plane, saddle that donkey.

Thanks for following my blog.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Next two months

Because I suck so much at keeping people updated here, I figure why not talk about the future like some time traveling philosopher. So now, let me take you on a journey into...the year 2010!

Tomorrow, I have a job interview at the International School of Bangkok for a full time substitute teaching position, starting Fall 2010. I'm also currently waiting for my application to be processed at Michigan State, where I would start Fall 2010. Do you see a conflict of interest, or is it just me? I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

At the end of February, I get to hang out with the new volunteers who just arrived to take our place (group 122) and feed them all sorts of lies and propaganda, filling their heads with nonsense. No, that's not true. I'm going to be honest with them and give them as much encouragement as I can without losing the true value of experiencing Peace Corps Thailand. They gotta know it's rewarding when their counterparts are finally able to complete a lesson on their own but that they'll still answer their cell phone no matter when it rings. I will be at their pre-service training for about a week, so it should be a productive little stint.

Thennnnnnn, I COS. March 3rd, I'm officially not a Peace Corps volunteer anymore. I'll be around, ya know, just sort of hangin' out 'til May 1st when I fly to Europe.

How's this for tearing the fabric of space-time: I will be in Chicago, USA on May 14th. You may be asking yourself, "How can Tony see into the future?" Well, for anyone who is reading this, I only have one thing to say: wikipedia.

Ohhhh Thailand, you rice farming country you.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Email to Loki

The following is an email I sent to a Peace Corps volunteer in Azerbaijan. She asked me some questions about Thailand and I decided to do a Lonely Planet-like write up. Enjoy.


All right, I'm sitting down to write you what we should have talked
about months ago. I will assume that you can get a map of Thailand
and will try to explain the locations of provinces (jangwat) and
cities (ampur) in as easy to follow terms as possible. The spelling
of the locations will be the transliteration that you will find on
most maps - everything in parenthesis will also be Thai
transliteration. Here we go.

1. What are some cool places to visit and see?

If Bangkok is the center of Thailand, the geography of the following
locations uses Bangkok as it's focal point - eg. "the south east"
means, south east of Bangkok.

The tourist trail in Thailand stretches from the beaches in the south,
to the mountains in the north. Most people that come here visit the
islands (koh) of Phuket, Samui, Tao, or Phi Phi. Seriously, take your
pick. They're all beautiful but hold different surprises on each.
For example, Phuket and Samui are the most traveled, but Phi Phi is
the most expensive and Tao is practically just for SCUBA diving.

The mountains (phu kao) in the north, centered around the city of
Chiang Mai, are also a nice place to visit and carry many advantages.
If you like trekking, waterfalls, and riding elephants, you may want
to spend some time tooling around the north. Just north west of
Chiang Mai is a popular tourist town called Pai that gets mixed
reviews from volunteers. I've personally never been there, but I've
heard both sides - that it's too touristy and has lost it's culture,
but also that it's in a beautiful location and has all the amenities
you would want while on a vacation. I refuse to go because I know
I'll be put off by it but if you like spending money and hanging out
with tourists, go check it out. Sukothai, which is also in the north,
was the first capital of Thailand and contains an ancient city that
history buffs in your group might love. Farther south yet is the
second capital of Thailand, Authiya, which in my opinion is much
prettier and contains better examples of ancient architecture than

The northeast (Isaan) is by far the largest but least traveled place in
Thailand, and of course, where Peace Corps stuck me. I live in Ubon
Ratchathani, up along the Mekong River. My favorite town in Thailand
is in Leoi province because it is sleepy, contains almost no tourists,
is cheap, has excellent temperatures, and is absolutely beautiful. As
far as the rest of Isaan goes, there's really not much to see other
than some national parks and temples but if you wanted to come
visit me waaaaaaaaaaay out east, I'd love to put you up.

The south east, has gems, but it's also got coal. Let me explain.
Thailand is know for it's sex tourism. It's a booming industry here
and because it brings in so much money, the authorities have sort of
embraced it. As a result, the city of Pattaya is Thailand's sex
tourism hub and that's all I'll say about it. I've been all over the
country, to nearly every province, but I've never been to Pattaya so
that tells you just how much you need to see it. There is however, a
large island in that region butted up against the Cambodian boarder
called (Koh) Chang which is absolutely amazing. It's cheap, relatively
unknown, and absolute paradise. My best friend and I stayed in a
bungalow on the beach for 100 baht per person per night - that's
like 3 dollars American! I totally recommend it.

Finally, you've got the west. Kantchanburi is basically the only
thing west of Bangkok and it has a seven tier waterfall (naam tok)
that you can climb and is very pretty. If you're really into wanting
to see Burmese culture, there are two popular boarder crossings, one
north west of Kantchanaburi called Three Pagodas Pass and one in the
northern province of Tak called Mae Sot.

2. Do you know of any cheap (but nice) hotels in Bangkok?

Peace Corps volunteers stay in one of three guest houses while in Bangkok:

Suk 11 Guest House: Sukumvit road is the "main drag" in Bangkok. The
BTS Sky Train runs above Sukumvit and the alleys (soi) that branch off
of Sukumvit are numbered 1 to 150 - odd numbered alleys on the north
side, even numbered alleys on the south side.

Buri House: This is my personal favorite. The Buri is on soi
55. It's a little south of town, but still on the sky train so
transportation is not a problem. I like it because it's quiet and
doesn't contain any tourists - you may begin to see a pattern with how
I like to travel.

Thara House: Thara House is near the infamous Khao Saan Road, but
not directly on it. Thara House is just west of Khao Saan on a road
called Phra Atit. This is the most popular guest house amongst
volunteers because the rooms are cheap and it's in a location that
is accessible - the river taxi is literally across the street. If you've
got a big group with you, I'd stay at Thara.

3. What are cool bars/ hang outs/ interesting things to see in Bangkok?

Honestly, I could write a thesis on this question but I assume by now
you're probably like, "Holy shit, this guy is writing me a novel." I
love Bangkok and I know Bangkok. Volunteers in the city will call me
for transportation questions and recommendation questions like the one
above. I'll try and answer without going into too much detail.

Bangkok is full of interesting things to see. As a result, I will
limit my answer to the top five "must see" tourist sites in Bangkok.
This list is reduced to just tourists stuff and is in order of,
5. Royal Palace and Wat Pra-gaow - The quintessential tourist stop.
You almost have to go if you're going to be in Bangkok. Be sure to
cover your shoulders if you're a girl and wear long pants if you're a
4. Chinatown - morning market and evening dining. During the day, it
looks like any other neighborhood in Bangkok. At night, it glows.
3. Jatujuk (JJ) Weekend Market - I've been told it's one of the
largest markets in south east Asia. You can find almost anything here
but it's only open on the weekend.
2. Chao Phraya river taxi - even if you don't need to go anywhere,
jump on the water taxi and go for a cruise. The boat with the orange
flag is the regular taxi that will stop at most piers.
1. Lumphini Park - I'm a bit bias here because I like city parks. In
the morning and in the evening, it's an excellent place to people
watch and wander around. On the north west corner of the park is a
hot pot restaurant that sets up on the sidewalk and is great for large
numbers of people.

Shopping in Bangkok is centered around the Siam BTS Sky Train stop.
The top shopping centers are MBK, Siam Discovery, Siam Center, Siam
Paragon, Siam Square, Central World, Central Chitlom, Gaysorn,
Pratunam, and Platinum Fashion Mall. I could give a description for
each but that would be overkill. If you want to go shopping, just get
off at the Siam stop and you'll find yourself in the middle of
marketing mayhem.

Once the sun goes down, Bangkok turns on the neon. Instead of telling
you about individual bars, I can just tell you about specific
neighborhoods since all of the bars in a certain neighborhood will be
similarly themed. RCA is a walking street full of clubs. Sukumvit 11
also has dance clubs. Sukumvit 22 and 33 have bars for foreign types.
Sukumvit 55 (Thonglor) to Sukumvit 63 (Ekamai) is full of Thai bars
where high society people like to hang out. Khao Saan is where all
the dred-lock hippy tourists drink. Soi 2, Sukumvit 21 (Asok) and
Patpong are where the naughty things happen. Sathorn and Silom
are the business districts and has rooftop bars as well as posh street
level bars.

4. If I wanted to take a Thailand cooking course for a day or two, do
you know of any place?

I'm sure you can take cooking courses in Bangkok, but I know for
certain that Chiang Mai has cooking courses. Just ask around.

5. Any Thailand travel advice? Words to learn?

Traveling in Thailand is extremely safe. The Thai people will
genuinely want to help you. Trust them until they give you a reason
not to.

One tip while in Bangkok: only hail taxi's that are lit - there will
be a red light in the bottom right hand corner of the windshield when
they are driving towards you; that means the taxi is available. Make
sure when you get into a taxi, the driver presses the big wide button
on the meter on the dash. The meter will start at "35" and it will
be displayed in bright red numbers. If you don't see anything on the
meter because he pulled away and didn't press the button, INSIST he
does or get out and find another taxi. Don't be the unsuspecting
tourist. The word for meter in taxi is, conveniently, "meter."

Helpful words:

Thank you - Kawp khun
Sorry - Kaw tote
I want to go to... - Bpai...
Yes - Chai
No - Mai
Little bit - Nit-noi
I don't know - Mai loo
Water - Naam
Eat food - Gin kaao
Bathroom - Hong naam
White person - Farang
Guava - Farang
Ladyboy - Guh-tuey
Give me my underwear - Ow gan-gaeng kang nai ma hai

My fingers hurt. I hope this information is helpful but not too
dense. If you have any questions or if you want to call me, I'm
straight chillin. Stay in touch and lemme know when you get in.
Take care.


Sunday, November 22, 2009


That's not my official time, but that's what was on the clock when I crossed the finish line.

Ps. If there's anyone in group 122 that's reading this, what up? You got questions? Ask away and I'll post the answers. Might be kinda fun.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dedicating Miles for the Marathon

A month ago, my friend Catherine and I were sharing running stories and she told one about a friend of hers who dedicated every mile of his Ironman race to someone he knew. I though this would be a great idea to keep motivated during the race because if I don't finish "this" mile, I'm letting down "this person." On my bus ride into Bangkok, I wrote down the people I wanted to dedicate my miles to and then I put them in order. Here's the list:

1. Mom - She created me. I mean, come on.
2. Uncle Mike - He's always been close.
3. Paul & Cara Jacobson - They've earned their fair share of karma by sending me the trifecta of magazines.
4. Geography - I know it's not a person but it's my favorite thing in the world!
5. Gary and Kylie Rafaelli - They helped make my experience in New Zealand amazing.
6. Co-teacher Wassana - She's been by my side this whole time I've been in Thailand.
7. Co-teacher Dtieu and family - They've been more than generous.
8. Dtak and family - My best Thai friend and his family.
9. Wuttiya - She taught me Thai, and put up with me; incredible!
10. Jared Diamond - He's the best geographer the world around.
11. Anna - She's my sis.
12. Phil - He's my bro.
13. Myself - Half way. Run that same distance, one more time.
14. Uncle Jim, Auntie Claire, and family - They've always supported me.
15. Uncle Tom, Auntie Mary, and family - They seem to be growing but I'm including them all.
16. Grandma and Grandpa Barnes/Beauparland - I miss them.
17. Jeremy Hare - My best friend.
18. The House on College St., Marquette - I spent a large percentage of college here.
19. The Red House - I spent the remaining percentage of college here.
20. Benny, his girlfriend Norah, and their unborn baby - For health.
21. Every other one of my friends - You've influenced me in ways you'll never imagine.
22. Peace Corps volunteers - Some of the smartest people I've ever met.
23. Max, Kran, and family - Hands down, the most giving people I know.
24. Dtong, Nit, Frame, View, and Wan - They are my Thai family.
25. Dad - Thanks for the genes.
26. My future - The last .3 miles are dedicated to everything I've got ahead of me.

I won't let any of you down.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nearing the End


Tucker finished teaching around 4:00 and we didn't get back to his house until 4:30 which means we didn't start running until 5:00. The sun was just barely setting over the bubbly hillside as we began our run down the dirt road that connects everyone's farmland. The trail took us through a valley, but even the valley was full of highs and lows. Both sides of the path were surrounded in the distance by monolith hills covered by jungle and just inside of those were wave-like mounds half the size of the panoramic mountains. Corn is the main crop near Tucker and the mounds are almost all treeless to make room for agriculture.

By the time we hit the half way point it was already dark. We didn't care though. We walked and jogged the final six kilometers home, all the while talking and telling stories. The stars were out, brighter than I had seen in months and had we not gotten stuck in the dark, we may not have spotted them from Tucker's brightly lit village.


Today is the last day of my, "volunteer visit trip." My original goal was to only stay with other volunteers, in order to save on accommodation, to see some other sites, and to get to know my peers better. Over a span of almost two weeks, I was able to stay with volunteers all but two nights. I left Tucker's village this morning and right now I am in Nan. My bus for Utaradit leaves at 1:45 where I'll meet my friend Jeff and in his village for the night. Tomorrow I am going to the American Women's Club English Camp, which will pretty much signify the end of my trip.

Its been great being able to see some of my friend's villages and to share their experience with them. I often caught myself comparing my own experience to theirs but I realize this is unfair because every single person is dealt a different hand. A couple of times on this trip, I had to remind myself that even though another volunteer may have it better in so many ways, I played the hand I was dealt, not the hand they were dealt. Everyone's experience is unique. Your own experience is what you make it.

I don't know if anyone is reading this blog besides my parents, so I was planning on stopping after I get to Jeff's. If you are following along and you want me to keep writing, please comment or email me ( and it will motivate me to continue posting my experience. Otherwise, I'm going to get lazy if no one is interested in what I'm doing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Northern Extent


Eli and his "father" - Eli is dating his co-teacher's daughter - picked me up in Payao and drove me the final 45 minutes to Eli's village in the dark. He's the only person on this entire trip that I'm visiting that isn't in my Peace Corps group. I'm in group 120 and Eli is in group 121, but as you've already read, Peace Corps love spreads far and wide. We got to Eli's and played Super Nintendo games until I was too tired to keep my eyes open. He was an excellent host.


In the morning, I woke up to the loud speakers announcing someone in the village had died, so that was pleasant. Eli and I drank coffee and ate oatmeal before heading out at around 7:30. I was informed that a bus would take me half way from Eli's village to my next destination, my friend David's village about an hour away. Just as I was sitting down on the bus stop bench, watching Eli turn the corner towards his school, an old man walked by and said, "You just missed the bus." Now it wasn't like this road was desolate, in fact the traffic was quite regular so I was certain another bus would pass by.

To pass the time I made some phone calls. I called my dad, my uncle mike, my friend Benny, and a friend of mine in Bangkok. I watched the road intently, planning on waving down the next available public transportation. Before I knew it, it was 10:30 and I realized all hope was lost. So, I started walking. The next intersection where the traffic would be heavier was only 9km away and I decided to hitch while walking. About two kilometers down the road, a man picked me up and gave me a ride the final seven kilometers. I only had to wait about ten minutes for the next bus.

Two hours later, I was in the town of Bpong! I add an exclamation point to the sentence because that's how you must say the name of David's town or the Thais wont understand what you are saying. You literally must exclaim the name. Bpong! is located in a flat plain with mountains and rolling hills surrounding the outer limits. My plan was to visit a couple of volunteers even more northern than David, but I was two days behind on my original itinerary and had to cut a good portion of my trip short. David's town would be the extent of my northern Thailand bumble.

I met David at his office and played on the internet while I waited for him to finish work for the day. Once he got off work we went for a run because David was originally planning on running the marathon too but has run out of money and can't afford the entry fee. After our run, we rode bikes over to a house where he tutors twin girls and ate dinner with their family. I enjoyed talking and playing games after dinner, but I especially enjoyed the desserts the girls made for David and I in their brand new oven. On our way home, we stopped at the house of a counterpart David brought to the youth conference I mention in an earlier entry who remembered me and wanted to see me again. We stopped by her house and watched a movie while helping her put fresh passion fruit juice in containers she sells in the local market. I had never eaten passion fruit before, so it was nice to have a taste and drink some juice. Once it got late, we rode home and crashed hard.


David and I woke up to the sound of his neighbor smashing food up in a mortar. We decided to go for a run, just as the sun was coming up over the hills. We ran through forests, fields, and pasture. Once we got back, David's neighbor, the one bashing food with a pestle, prepared a breakfast for us of traditional northern Thai food. The food was amazing. It wasn't spicy, but maybe I'm bias because Isaan food is some of the spiciest food I've ever eaten.

I caught a bus out of David's site towards my next destination, Nan province. My friend Tucker is nestled in the mountains of northern Nan. The ride from David's to Tucker's is only about 100 kilometers, but it takes almost three hours because of the switchbacks that climb and descend the hills. The views along the route more than make up for the road-sick inducing bus ride with mountain vistas that rival that of Guatemala and New Zealand.

I got off at the post office in Song Kwae and Tucker rolled up five minutes later. I ate lunch and now here I am at his school. I helped him with two lessons this morning because we both agree, our students get too used to our own accents and it is good to hear another foreigner speak sometimes to break that habit. I can't wait for our run tonight - Tucker was also going to run the marathon but has since decided to just do the 10k - because we'll be able to run mountain trails to peaks overlooking shallow valleys and jungle laden hillsides.