Best of times, worst of times

Lessons learned from traveling so far:

1) Do not change into your swimming attire, then lock all of your clothes in your suitcase with a cheap lock bought from a back-alley market in Bangkok. The lock may stop working, and you’ll be stuck in a swimsuit until you can find someone to break the lock.

2) SPF 50 is no match for pristine white sand beaches and the Cambodian sun. Even when you re-apply every hour, and after swimming, you will end up looking like a lobster (although, after a day out of the sun, I’m not so red). I’m also a pale midwesterner out of the sun most of the year, so there’s that.

2a) Don’t walk down that same 4km long white sand beach in your wet swimsuit. This will cause discomfort that will require you to strip out of said swimsuit and fashion a sort of sarong/diaper out of your towel to make walking bearable.

3) It can be the best of times, it can be the worst of times, at the same time. In a 24 hour time period I managed to get extremely sunburnt, knock an open bottle of coconut oil onto my bed (oily sheets are slippery!), have a thermos of whiskey/coke explode in my bag (sealed thermos + carbonation = explosion) and soak my travel journal (a travel journal should smell like whiskey, right?), iPad, charging cord, Khmer phrasebook, and money, then while rinsing out my bag discover that my camera was in fact still in the bag and now thoroughly waterlogged (I still have hope, it was off).

However, in the same 24 hours I swam on the most beautiful beach and clearest water I’ve ever seen, found a great breezy room with a balcony for $8, ate a fiery, but delicious Kampot pepper crab, took a sunset walk among rice fields, and mud bathing cows on top of a dirt berm on my way to the beach where I ate generous portions of fresh scallops and clams ($2 each plate).

4) An addendum if you will… Traveling sometimes takes an, um, digestive toll. After eating street meats, and food off of a beach you may encounter some digestive discomfort, and find every toilet on the beach lacking a seat and toilet paper (as well as a sprayer, common in S.E. Asia), and resort to stealing small squares of the thinnest tissue ever (lovingly referred to here as napkins) from an adjacent beach bar so you can relieve yourself.

Traveling is an exercise in patience, happiness, sadness, and realization that no matter what, life isn’t so bad.

Boarder Towns, Boarder Crossings, Bored Towns

A lost post… intermittent wifi, and a reliance on technology. Things on this trip abroad that are so very different than past ones. Typically to be in contact with home you’d pay to sit in an internet cafe with a slow connection to write a quick email or two, maybe upload a photo. But, with changing times, comes changing habits.

Just as I was about to hit submit on this very post my wifi connection at my hotel went down, and my post was lost. Now, as the cool Lao morning turns to a sweltering afternoon heat on the Mekong, I start over, more succinct, as a day of wandering awaits.

When you set out on a travel journey you start by looking at how much time you’ve set aside. On this particular trip I have two months, the longest continuous travel I’ve had aside from living in South Korea. However, as soon as that first day passes, you start to see the time slipping, and the hour glass as half empty, wanting to see more, and more.

10 days was spent in Bangkok, long early morning walks, late nights with Sangsom whiskey (rum) in hand, afternoon beers on ice, musicians met, local Thai friends made, questionable car rides to parts of the city previously unknown. It was starting to feel very comfortable, and it would have been easy to spend the entire two months there, making friends, getting gigs, relaxing. But, the x’ed out days of that calendar made my legs itchy with anticipation of cities to see, places to go.

On Monday my girlfriend and I boarded a night train to Nong Khai from Bangkok. Night trains are great as you don’t “lose” any time to travel, instead setting up camp on a bunk in a train car only to arrive at your destination the next morning.

Nong Khai is a boarder town on the Mekong river, and most often just a stop over for travelers extending their Thai visas, or people traveling on to Laos on their circuit of southeast Asia travel (which I guess is where I fall). We decided to stay a day/night in Nong Khai to see a less traveled Thai town.

A sleepy destination, it looks like it formerly had, or expects more tourism traffic. Bars line the Mekong river, and street carts and night markets dot the side streets, however, upon night wandering we only saw empty restaurants and dark streets. It was, however, a Tuesday night. During the day we walked to Sala Keoku, an interesting nod to the regions religions and concrete sculpture. Aside from that landmark, there was not much more to see in this town.

After an early evening, and cold sleep (believe it or not) we headed to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, got our exit stamps from Thailand, boarded a bus, and paid $35 for a Lao visa on the other side.

A short tuk-tuk ride later, and we were in Vientiane, the Lao capital.

My girlfriend first came here in 1994, when it was more of a provincial colonial town with very few cars on the roads, and full of colonial architecture. Now, sadly, the little wood huts that formerly dotted the riverside (as I’ve been told) and served beer are gone, and in it’s place a new road, big plaza, and a contrived night market. It seems like every corner I turn there are giant modern buildings being built, shopping complexes advertising “Hermes” coming soon, and a feeling like I missed something, or that something is missing here.

Yesterday I borrowed a bike from my hotel and rode through the city for a few hours. Odes to communism, capitalism, vast empty plazas, your standard temples, and a smattering of backpackers were the real highlights.

The real beauty of this city so far, is being able to lounge the day away with a cold beer, watch the slow flow of the Mekong, and let your mind wander.

Tonight is Friday night, however, so I’m not losing hope that I’ll be able to get in some trouble with my saxophone somewhere (other than my hotel, where the young man at the check in desk, and who runs everything here at Villa Manoly will serenade you with his guitar and Beatles tunes).

Tomorrow we’re off from Laos, and Vientiane via plane to Cambodia.

I’m still having difficulties uploading pictures to my website with slow internet speeds, so I’ll add as I can.

One week in Bangkok

Mild weather, early mornings, street food, and markets. That just about sums up the first week here. In that time I’ve also met some new friends, connected with friends of friends from Chicago, and played saxophone with three different bands.

It’s amazing how upon return to this city (my 3rd time here) you find yourself back in the swing of a big city, but always stare in wonder at the sheer size of the city, the number of markets, and the rampant consumerism that consumes not only the tourists, but the locals. Where in the US you wouldn’t debate paying $20 for a decent shirt from a department store, here you agonize over paying $6 for the same shirt off of someone on the street (I did, and I bought it).

Everyone in this town is selling, scheming, working, virtually 24 hours a day. Whatever you want, you’ll find it.

One of the blessings of jet lag this time around has been the fact that I’ve been waking up early. My girlfriend, Suzanne, and I have been up around 5AM almost every day, which has lead to some interesting adventures.

Chinatown in Bangkok is a giant maze of consumerism on its own, however, before 7AM enterprising sellers set up shop on the streets and alleyways in front of those Chiatown shops. Selfie sticks (Suzanne bought one), electronics, jewelry, motorcycle patches, clothes, backpacks, all the things you find on the street elsewhere are here, for 1/2 the price. Just as fast as these merchants set up, they tear down. Once the sun starts coming up they pack up and leave, only to start over the next day. It’s one of our favorite spots to walk, buy and sightsee so far.

We’ve also been logging some miles on the streets.

One of my favorite ways to see a new place is by attacking the pavement on foot. No tuk-tuk’s, no taxis, only subways and busses when the legs get too tired. This way you get to see what’s down that dark alleyway, stumble upon a street filled with nothing but adult novelties and electronics, and walk down a 1/2 mile stretch of alleyways with thai men taking apart, greasing, and re-assembling decades old car engines.

Aside from the wandering I’ve also been seeking out the music opportunities mentioned above. I’ll dedicate a complete post to that later – music is strangely intertwined, and separate from these travel adventures. As a musician you can almost completely remove yourself from the context of where you are once the notes start flowing.

I’ll post pictures and add links to this post when I can, slow internet is plaguing me so far, but I wanted to send a quick update and some introductory activities and thoughts.

On Arrival

It takes some time to get the beat, feel where you’re going, and escape the jet lag here. I want to create a great narrative that’s informative, and intriguing to anyone who wanders this way, so bear with me as I get the rhythm of my own writing going here.

Despite being here for just a handful of days I’ve played two gigs, had my share of thai whiskey (enough for the trip), slept one day away, and seen the sunrise twice.

Photos are uploading, thoughts are churning, and more details and stories will come your way soon.

Small Time, Big Time

It’s been a long time since I’ve written in this space, but it won’t be too long before the next entry… More about that later.

This year has been the most active in my life as a musician. If you’ve checked up on my gig calendar (one part of this site I’ve kept up with, for the most part) you’ve seen that most weeks I’ve fit in 2-3, sometimes 5+ gigs in a week while working a 9-5. It’s not the easiest schedule, but pursuit of passion and happiness… It does pay off sometimes.

This year I’ve played the regular clubs in Chicago, I’ve played basements and bars, I’ve played the Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, and last night I played to an almost sold out crowd at the House of Blues. Through years of studying music, and jazz, I never in my wildest dreams envisioned a night where I would look out on around 1,000 people bopping up and down and watching the stage with awe (maybe a little inflated). 45 minutes of adrenaline, smiles, and one of the highest highs I’ve experienced on stage.

One of the most surreal, and quite frankly weirdest experiences from the evening was after I left the stage. Gear packed, I headed to the main floor to find my girlfriend, and had about 10 people recognize me from the stage, asking to take pictures, deliver compliments, and seem entirely too enthused about meeting me, TK, from an opening band. Attention from girls who I would have never sought out, guys who wanted to know about how long I’ve studied… Maybe I’ve become a bit jaded about being a local “jobbing” musician in Chicago. I’ve played sold out shows at venues like Lincoln Hall here, walked off stage to grab a beer and had nobody even give a second glance. It was flattering.

Friday night I played a storefront theater, Saturday morning I taught a saxophone lesson, Saturday night I was playing House of Blues.

Big thanks to Band Called Catch for having me, letting me write some horn parts, and jump around like a fool. A dream I didn’t know I had was realized last night. Amazing.

With that, on to my next adventure, which will be travel! On Wednesday I’ll be heading to SE Asia for two months, saxophone in hand, looking for gigs, collaborators, and taking the opportunity to reset after a hectic 2014. In this blog of sorts I’ll be posting musings, photos, videos, and generally anything on my mind.

I don’t know what I’ll be saying, but I hope to keep you informed weekly on what it’s like to be more adventurous, take risks, and throw caution to the wind. Revisiting spots I love, seeking out new adventures, it will all be right here.