chris vs. the arctic

chris: 72 // the arctic: 47


This past weekend I went to Osaka with my friends Sarah, Holly, Jamie, and Shelly. We took an express train from Takaoka City, Toyama to Osaka on Saturday morning. It's a 3.5 hour journey. Not that bad at all! I really like Japanese trains. You can turn the seats around to face each other, and they have vending machines. Expensive though.

Anyway, we went to Osaka mainly to check out The Shins in concert. The Shins are an independent band from New Mexico. The cool thing is that they are on the same label as The Constantines. Shonane Knife was opening for them. They are an American band comprised of Japanese expats. They once opened for Nirvana, and are on the same label -- Sub Pop.


One of our goals for the weekend was searching out a famed restaurant called "Christon Cafe." We think it's actually supposed to be "Christian", because the theme is Catholic dogma! After searching Shinsaibaishi for half an hour, we eventually found it. It was fantastic! It had a huge chandelier with dangling crosses, a neon-lit alter, huge gothic chairs, and Virgin Marys everywhere you looked! So sacrilegious and delicious!

Outside Christon CafeInside Christon Cafe


The highlight of the Osaka trip was drinking. We ended up stumbling around Osaka Saturday night, going to 5 bars/restaurants. The best one, by far, was this club called the Under Lounge. It was filled to the brim with Japanese folk getting their grind on. I could have sworn it was a gay club at first, because they had 2 male go-go dancers with bikini briefs and leather, and 2 drag queens. But, they also had a female go-go dancer. And there were just as many females as there were males. And all my friends were getting hit on. A really good time though!! We were so embarrassing at the restaurant afterwards though -- way too drunk and loud! Ridic.


So, after sleeping in the next day, we watch a movie to chill before the concert. I saw Ocean's Twelve for ¥1800. That is about $22 CAN. Yeah. That's right. Damn. Oh well.

The Shins were fantastic! The venue (Club Quattro) was intimate, so we were basically right next to the band. Most of the people who went were gaijin (foreigners), so it felt like I was back in Guelph! We wanted to meet and hang out with the band afterwards, but we realised we were much too drunk and embarrassing for that.

The Shins

We took the sleeper train back to Toyama that night. :( The seats were small, so it was hard to lie down. (They weren't proper beds.) Basically, I didn't get any sleep. Plus, I had to take another train to my town once I got to Takaoka. That meant hanging out at the train station at 04:30 for 2 hours. Man, work that morning was brutal! But, it was worth it!!


Gold Statues

I flew out of Osaka on December 22nd, and met up with Gillian and Heather in Bangkok. Upon my arrival to the guest house on Khao San Road (backpacker's ghetto in Bangkok), I was greeted by an old man, covered in blood, being yelled at by his transvestite prostitute. "He took my money!" I was too tired to even register the fact that this was weird and probably something I should be worried about. Welcome to Thailand! Anyway, the next day, we were supposed to meet up with Anita, but her Air Myanmar (what??!) flight had been delayed a whole day. So we toured Bangkok. Many pics available online. That night we finally met up with Anita in the airport (after waiting through 3 push-backs on the arrival time). Next day, we fly from Bangkok to Koh Samui (an island in the Gulf of Thailand). We took a ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan. This island was our destination for 6 glorious days. We started at an amazing resort on the northeastern coast, and made our way to another resort on the western coast. Our bungalows at the first place were high up on a hill, so we had a great view of the sunrises (I don't think we ever saw one though...). The beach was kind of secluded (a 1.5 hour 'taxi' ride through the forested mountains. The taxis were literally benches in the back of a pickup. Fun times hanging on!). All we did was eat, sleep, sunbathe, and swim. Great! We had planned on going to the full moon party (a very huge rave on the southeastern beach), but we got 'distracted'. We did make it to the same beach for the new year's eve party. A good time (despite Heather stubbing her toe)! We snorkeled on the west coast.

Gillian, Anita, and Heather

Anita's friend Sophie was supposed to meet the four of us on Koh Phangan. She was to fly from Pusan, South Korea, but, she missed her flight! Her friend, Janie, ended up joining us on the beach, but since Sophie wasn't there, we had no idea who she was. But it was cool in the end. Sophie came a day later, but could only stay a couple of days before heading back. It was a lot of fun hanging out with 5 people! We celebrated Christmas together (a couple days late) with a 'Furtive Fanta' (Secret Santa) gift exchange.


Yeah, so we had no idea there was a serious tsunami until maybe the 28th. I got an e-mail from a couple of friends on Dec. 26th about an earthquake/tsunami, but at the time, the death toll was 600+. No one knew of the extent of damage or death, so I wasn't concerned about informing my parents that I was okay. At the time of the tsunami, we were asleep in our bungalow on the other side of the Thai peninsula. We were relatively close to Phuket and Krabi, but news does not travel fast on an isolated beach on a tiny island. (Especially when power is on for only 5 hours in the evening.) When we finally understood what had happened, we tried to contact our family (stupid time difference). They were all throughly freaked out. Anita's family contacted Heather's and Gillian's families! I can understand the fear that CNN & Co. must have instilled in everyone back home. When you're not inundated with information, tragedies like these do not seem so overwhelming. (Even though they are horrible. It's more like a rumor than an event.) Looking back, it seems kind of surreal that we were continuing our vacation with milkshakes and swimming, all while 1000 km away, people were dying. But, c'est la vie. You can't control anything.



Janie decided to stay on Koh Phangan, and Sophie flew back home. That left Anita, Heather, Gillian, and I. We took a ferry from Koh Phangan to Surrattani (on the mainland) on Jan. 1st. From there, we straightaway flew back to Bangkok. Arriving in Bangkok kind of hit home the tsunami incident. (Because, honestly, we kept forgetting about it.) There were many embassies setup at the exit area of domestic arrivals. You were supposed to register with your country, but Canada's guy disappeared. (So random and irritating.)

Anyway, we left Anita in Bangkok so she could catch her flight back to India the next day. (She is working in India in a CIDA internship position, BTW.) So many goodbyes in one trip! Anita and I had managed to hang out in Bangkok together, and we got our caricatures drawn on the street! Sweet!

Heather, Gillian, and I flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (northern Thailand) on Jan. 2nd. We spent the next day walking around the city with Gillian's cousin, Tom. We had a good time! Enjoyed an amazing breakfast near our hostel, saw many wats (see pics), and went shopping at the night market (both at day and at night). In the evening, we met up with Tom's Thai friend, DJ A. This guy was hilarious! He drove us around the city on the back of a motorcycle. It was much less frightening than I had imagined! Tom had a bike too. They took us to the night market and to dinner. Good times.

The day after that, we took a local bus to Pai (pronounced "bye"), in the Mae Han Son province (bordering Myanmar). This place was a cute little village that has welcomed visa-running tourists with open arms. We got massages, rode elephants, rode motorcycles, drank, floated down a river on a raft, and basically did nothing all day.



After Pai, we slowly made our way back to Japan. We stopped in Bangkok for one last day of crazy shopping. I had to take money out twice that day! That eve, I flew to Nagoya, and the next morning, Heather and Gillian flew to Fukuoka.

When I went back to work, I had to give 15 PowerPoint presentations on my trip to the students. By the end of it, I was sick of Thailand! And I felt like a complete asshole talking about my vacation in front of my teachers who never take vacations. But, I loved it when the students freaked out at my elephant photos! I had one first year kid scream, "OH REALLY?!?!!" (That's one of their favourite phrases that they learned from the textbook.) So cute!