International

Until They Bleed

By Eli Toast

When I left Ralph at the bus station his mien was one of resigned disappointment with the way things had panned out. He was going back to a different part of Asia and I was boarding a train heading south the same evening. I took a rickshaw to the train station and enjoyed a pleasant conversation with the driver about our families and life trajectories. At the train station I sat and waited like everyone else, all of us looking nauseously green beneath the platform’s droning sodium bulbs.

Standing there on the platform as the train arrived I looked down at the tracks and noticed a cinnamon colored splat of diarrhea on top of a used maxi-pad. It was demonically gross. I watched as the skeletal mongrel pups that lived off the meager scrapings of a South-Indian-train-station-diet tried to focus their muzzles in on the invisible skein of effluvia that was no-doubt coiling upward from that sickening  stack of waste.

I boarded the train rattled and lonely, longing for the familiar stupidity of home.

Inside the train was stale and close. My bed for the night was the middle berth, easily the worst one. Another fresh bruise on my abused morale. No sheet, blanket, or pillow, merely a vinyl cushion en-slickened with involuntary night-sweat and be-smirched with the type of compacted grime that collects under one’s fingernails. I slept poorly and awoke to the unnecessary banter of a set of superfluous Australians; my feet ravaged by bed bugs. By 9am nearly everyone on the train had disembarked at Bangalore. I sat alone in my cabin reading a Harper’s magazine Ralph had given me, occasionally staring out the window only to see old men taking shits and dead horses covered in carrion fowl.

At some point a weird, gay, Indian kid slinked into my cabin and started talking to me about some stupid shit; I don’t know, some gay-code thing, clearly trying to get fresh with me.

“I don’t mean to be rude man, but I just wanna read this,” lifting the magazine, “here, by myself.”

He left, which was good, because I despised him.

When I arrived in Mysore I allowed a rickshaw driver to take me to a hotel of his choosing (major rookie mistake, but I was a bit out of sorts) that paid him a commission. I accepted a lousy room, for double what it was worth, that stank of reluctantly agreed upon sodomy.

It was hot when I stepped out for lunch. On my way a small Indian man wearing a belt that wrapped around him one and a half times approached me offering some friendly advice. I tried to ignore him by walking faster and making graceless walking choices: one foot on the curb, the other in the gutter, weirdly passing a group of women by skipping sideways… Finally, the nice man barked: “Why are you running from me? We are not dogs! Indian people are not dogs! You don’t need to treat me like that!”

“Look man, I got shit to do. My job is to take care of that. Your job is to not help me do it!”

And I left him in my dust (I feel ashamed about how I treated this guy. I didn’t get the sense he was trying to scam me, and even if he was, it’s hard to begrudge a man for trying to make a few ducats).

I sat down at some shitty Cafe mentioned in the Lonely Planet called the Parkland (or whatever) and ordered–get this–the “Chicken Macaroni” off the “Continental” section of the menu. It actually wasn’t that bad, but the heat of the first spoonful triggered a gnarly toothache in a problematic molar. No fucking way am I getting dental work done here. I ordered a large Extra-Strong Kingfisher beer and when it was finished I had splitting headache.

I went back to my hotel room to take a nap but the racket from the overhead fan in concert with the bedlam from the street below didn’t allow it. So I ended up just staring at the ceiling and scratching my feet until they bled.

Five Things I’m Telling Myself to Feel Better about not Going to Thailand this Winter

It’s that time of year again, when expats in Korea either head to Thailand to lounge in hammocks and drink rum, or stay behind to freeze our asses off and read the facebook updates of the assholes our friends who did go. I love Thailand, but this winter I’m not going, so it’s more important to remind myself of all the things that suck about it. In no particular order, these are the 5 things I’m telling myself to feel better about not going to Thailand this winter.

The runs

If you stay in Thailand for any length of time, you’ve got coin-flip odds of getting diarrhea. Thai food is great, and often it’s even prepared under sanitary conditions, but it’s probably very different from WC helpwhatever you’re eating most of the time. Along with anxiety, allergies, and an odd microbe or two, this may cause you to suffer from common traveler’s diarrhea, so-called because you could have avoided it by staying the fuck home.

If you’re unlucky and ingest some E. coli or campylobacter, you get what might be better termed sick person’s diarrhea, which is caused by contaminated food and water in some of the shadier establishments dotting the Thai culinary landscape. In most cases, antibiotics will clear it up, but in the meantime you will crap yourself silly for days or weeks.  The thought that my friends are right now squatting over a toilet for the 10th time today is something I hate to consider – not because my friends might be suffering, but because thinking about people shitting is gross.

The Chinese Hordes

Move over Ugly American and nouveau riche Korean – for a few years now, there’s been a new tourist asshole on the scene. As China’s economy has gained steam in the past decade or so, phalanxes of camera-toting Chinese tourists have descended on places like Phuket, Koh Samui, and Pattaya, and woe to you if you stand between them and their itinerary objectives. Thanks to this phenomenon, I now know what it sounds like when one hundred people smash crabs open with wooden mallets at an otherwise mellow beach resort; I’ve learned that a beach bag, hat, and towel left on a poolside chair does not signal “occupied” in some cultures, and I more fully understand that the capacity for tourist ugliness is universal.

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Chinese swimming pool. No, really.

Part of me sincerely cheers the hardscrabble rise of the Chinese middle class and recognizes it as one of the great economic success stories of the last decade. But it gets hard to maintain that enthusiasm when they swarm like sunscreen-slathered locusts on the beaches of Southeast Asia, turning once-spacious strands into the crushing mass of humanity I went there to get away from in the first place. I’m genuinely happy that tens of millions of Chinese George Jeffersons are finally getting their day in the sun; I would just rather not witness it from a deck chair.

Isn’t there, like, a coup d’etat or something brewing?

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Who you calling a bumpkin, motherfucker?

Politically, Thailand is fucked up. In case your travel agent neglected to mention it, the story in a nutshell is that a coalition of urban elites and middle class (called the People’s Democratic Reform Committee) are trying like hell to oust the current prime minister and to suspend democracy in favor of appointed councils of smart, rich people, because they argue that the elections are too easily bought in the countryside, where the people are ignorant and unsophisticated. This of course doesn’t go over too well in the countryside among the “Red Shirts”, the aforementioned bumpkins who are in the odd position of upholding democracy by electing members of the same oligarch family every few years in exchange for pork-barrel projects and basic social services (which doesn’t sound terribly unlike the normal functioning of many Western democracies to me, but I digress).

During the last election on February 2nd, PDRC members obstructed voting in some places, and the results of this compromised election are still not finalized as of this writing one week later. There are still whispers of a coup, and if the democratically-elected government is overthrown, the Red Shirts have promised to raise holy hell as they did in 2010, when they rioted for several days and burned down buildings before being brutally squelched by the army.

What does this mean for travelers? Not much – for now – though it’s probably wise to avoid large gatherings and flammable buildings, which is to say, Bangkok. And if some major shit goes down in the capital, you may be a witness to history in the form of stray bullets, disrupted air travel, and the mall you are shopping in being burned to a husk.

Half-naked Europeans

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Ja, diese are mein arsche und balls, ja.

I admire the liberal European attitude toward exposed flesh. They’re much more comfortable in their own skins than us puritanical Americans, and they love to let it show. But there’s a price: for every chiseled Adonis or 22—year-old Swedish bird sunning her rack there are twenty porcine German men in Speedos with their junk framed in such detail that you could pick their willies out of a police lineup with embarrassing certainty.

The women are no better. There are lots of breasts in this world that I don’t need to see; and some, like the flaccid, sun-freckled udders flapping on the ample bellies of 70-year-old French schoolmarms, that I would pay money to un-see. The scars run deep.

Mosquitoes and friends

In Thailand, every season is mosquito season, though some places are worse than others. Many otherwise fine evenings outdoors are marred by the little bloodsucking beasts, especially if you’re caught outside without repellent. If you’re really unlucky, you might be one of the tens of thousands of people who get dengue fever in Thailand every year.

And dengue transmission rates are getting worse.   In 2012, 70,000 people contracted dengue fever in Thailand. In 2013, the number was more than double that and was the highest figure for dengue fever in twenty years. The good news is that you probably won’t be one of the scores of victims who will die mosquito2howling in agony as acute dengue causes your gastrointestinal tract to hemorrhage, plasma to leach from your blood vessels, and your vital organs to shut down. I mean, what are the chances?

You can also take some comfort in knowing that it’s relatively difficult to get malaria or Japanese encephalitis, both of which affect thousands of poor saps every year in the Land of Smiles. Those diseases are mostly limited to the border areas near Cambodia and Myanmar, though, considering that much of Thailand lies on a narrow isthmus it shares with Myanmar, that’s effectively a third of the country.

Still, it would be a shame to let that stop you from having a fantastic time in Thailand this winter. The best thing to do is cover up with DEET, sleep under a net, and pray for bedbugs.

Dookie Diplomacy: 7 Acceptable Places to Defecate in North Korea

Dennis Rodman… oh dear.  His attempts at basketball diplomacy–while perhaps initially springing from a good place—have totally backfired. Like Kim Il-sung’s ill-fated crossing of the DMZ, Rodman’s antics up North have resulted in some serious blow back. The only people who’ve seemed to benefit are late night talk show hosts and writers for Korea-centric blogs such as this one here.

We can forgive Rodman for the first trip–after all, he thought he was doing the world a service, didn’t he? Between oaths of brotherly affection and whiskey love shots with Kim Jong-eun, Rodman thought he was chipping through the concrete of the last wall of the Cold War. He was the new American peacemaker–a 6’7″ Jimmy Carter with 5 NBA rings and a pierced cock. 60 years of hostility and intransigent ideology would melt before his magnificence. He alone would put the whole shitty situation in rebound.

The first visit to North Korea was indeed bizarre, and while we laughed, some naively hoped that just perhaps some good would come from it. By his last, however, the delusional multi-car pileup that makes up the man had become self evident.

He chose to arrive shortly after Kim the Younger purged his uncle, senior party official Jang Song-thaek (along with most of the man’s family). One report passed around Western press claimed that Jang was stripped naked and fed to starving dogs, which if you think about it, is pretty much the most ironic way for a hardcore ajeosshi to go. Eaten by dogs. Karma’s a bitch, literally. This story later turned out to be just a vicious rumor, however. The more credible version of events is that Jang was merely shot with an ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUN, which probably left less of him intact than if he were indeed served as dinner for Fido. At least we can take solace in the fact that the poor man went quickly.

That Rodman chose to visit in the wake of this horror show tells us all we need to know about both his hubris and the self-constructed bubble he must live in. In these aspects he is just like Kim Jong-eun. No wonder they get along famously.

The trip turned out to be a disaster for The Worm; first his basketball team fled the country after “losing” to the North Korean national team 39-47 in a game more rigged than a Harlem Globetrotters/Washington Generals match up. Then came Rodman’s spontaneous rendition of Happy Birthday, sung to the young dictator in front of a stone-faced crowd of Party apparatchiks. Right after that, an obviously hammered Rodman appeared on CNN, where he bellowed and raved while defending Kim. It was obvious, at this point, that the plot was lost. Soon after he boarded a plane to America, where he is said to have entered a treatment center for alcoholism.

But, as reported in today’s Korea Times, things got even worse. According to their source up North, Rodman reportedly spent the whole week catastrophically drunk, culminating the binge by vomiting and emptying his bowels in the hallway of the Koryo Hotel. That’s right, South Korea’s English-language newspaper of… um… note, is accusing Dennis Rodman of laying a deuce in the hallway of a Korean (North) hotel. And I’ve been telling people for years that there’s a difference between ‘drinking’ and ‘Korea drinking,’ yet they refuse to believe me. Look to The Worm, folks. Look to The Worm.

The best part of this (probably bullshit) story is the alleged warning given to Rodman as he was shuffled out of the country: “You will never be welcome here again without the completion of your alcohol abuse program.” Does he have to show them a certificate of completion?

Whatever the case, I, for one, refuse to judge . Anyone who has spent any period of time hard drinking in Korea has probably laid at least one brown coil in a dubious location–whether in your pants, in an alley, or on a friend’s floor. But the opportunity to squeeze an errant shit–drunken or not–in NORTH Korea is just too attractive a concept. However, we are respectful bloggers and wouldn’t want to run afoul of the authorities, so we at Sweet Pickles & Corn have contacted our own source North of the DMZ to let us know more acceptable places than the hallway of the Koryo Hotel to crap in the DPRK. Here’s what she told us:

1. ON THE DREAMS OF THE PEOPLE

2. ON THE PLANS OF THE BRIGANDISH AMERICAN CHARLATANS AND THEIR PERPETUALLY-FONDLED SOUTHERN LACKEYS

3. IN MARSHALL KIM’S MOUTH (no really, he likes it)

4. ON ANY EFFORT TO HAVE KENNETH BAE RELEASED

5. ON ANY SURFACE EXPOSED TO DIRECT SUNLIGHT (to be dried and used later for fuel)

6. ON THE CHESTS OF THE BEAUTIFUL LADIES OF THE ‘PLEASURE SQUADRON’ (locally referred to as the “Pyongyang Steamer”)

7. ON ANY FIELD REQUIRING FERTILIZER (pretty much all of them)

Puke

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by Eli Toast

My first poignant memory of the day almost made me puke. I was eating breakfast as I watched a homeless Southeast Asian man limping down the street. He was all matted hair, missing teeth, blackened skin from collected street filth, a humpback bulging beneath his rotten black jacket, scrawny, with an angular face, puckered in the way years of alcohol make some people’s faces look as though they’re slowly imploding; balls of white foam eddying in each corner of his mouth. An insult to death, really.

In his hand he held a lime green drink in a plastic cup. We were in Northern Thailand, where that kind of drink was served at all hours of the day. I noticed him, trying my best to size up the entirety of his destitution, which was nearly complete. Death, I suppose, being the whole shebang. I imagined the life trajectory that brought him to such a nadir; the complexity of his filth. If you let yourself go too far you’ll get to the subject’s undercarriage, the balls and ass and in between. This was not your average cookie-cutter bum. I couldn’t decide if my devoted study of him was a symptom of compassion or callousness (still can’t). Either way, doesn’t matter.

I was sitting there in a café , having just finished breakfast, drinking coffee and watching this guy lope down the street, when he takes a drink of the lime green jungle juice and a second later vomits. A heavy slap of nuclear-fusion-green refuse from the guts of an old vagrant. A hot burp: “blurg”—”fwap;” thin and green with soft chunks of bread or tofu. He seemed unfazed as he carried on, scuffing a soot laden foot through the acrid slurry. THAT’S what got me! Watching him drag his foot through it. He carried on, flexing his lips once or twice over his upper teeth in recognition. It was really gross, so I decided I’d write about it.