The Future of Koh Tao

It’s 5:50 on a Wednesday morning and I have been awoken by a “Dance for Peace” party up the road. As I laid in bed staring into the darkness, I began contemplating why I travel. I travel for adventure, excitement, food, new cultures, and to see beautiful or interesting places. I typically don’t stay too long in tourist destinations or hang out with groups of other foreigners. Meeting other foreigners along the way is definitely part of the experience, but I don’t want to see foreigners all the time. I want to see how the country I’m in really operates and moves, not the way the locals cater towards our different and sometimes absurd needs. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a travel purist. I’m sure none of this surprises any of you who know me though.

I’m not sure how this cacophony of idiotic European techno beats, loads of alcohol, and foreigners up the hill is supposed to help promote or further peace of any kind, but I’m pretty sure none of the proceeds go to a charity. I thought it would have been more of a hippie party by the title, but I should have known better. Where there are Europeans vacationing there will always be obnoxious techno music. Not that I have anything against Europeans of course, I just don’t agree with the techno “music” they find so amusing. The so called music barely changes for hours, it just fades, pauses, or kickbacks into a faster or slightly slower beat. That’s the music. I really don’t get it.

Since the music is this crap instead of reggae or something a little more peaceful, I’m thinking the only reason the party theme is peace is because they are either doing a lot of drugs up there or it was a way for people to justify attending a rave while in tropical paradise. It’s probably a combination of both.

All this venting is leading to a point, I promise. When I am traveling abroad I don’t get plastered. Part of it is because I’m a five foot tall girl and I would prefer having all of my faculties working so I don’t get taken advantage of. The other reason is because people usually lose money, passports, valuables, etc. when they are being stupid. And I think we all know that people are not exactly smart when they are drunk. So I prefer to stay sober when I am traveling around the world.

The other reason I have for not going out and getting hammered all the time or even just a few times, is because that’s not why I travel. I don’t travel to a faraway land because I want to party with a bunch of other foreigners. I really don’t want to spend money on events like the one going on up the road because money talks. If Thai people think that we would rather spend money on a party than going for a hike or snorkeling then they will build lots of bars and have zero incentive to keep forests or coral around the island healthy.

It’s really sad. I am sitting here listening to the crickets, song birds, and roosters competing with the music up the road and it seems like a frightening sign as to what the future has in store for this island. We all know who wins in the end. At this point I’m sure you’re thinking I’m a pessimist. But I wouldn’t be here trying to help with land conservation if I weren’t an optimist as well.

I’m just a realist. I know the fate of Koh Tao is set already. The only thing I can do is help slow down the destruction and try to protect as much of the island as possible. Koh Tao is on its way to becoming another hellish Koh Samui and although people like me will stop coming, there will still be thousands of morons who just want to party and get a tan while recovering from their hangover who would be happy to take my place. These people are not travelers. These people treat Thailand like their own personal Disneyland which is why so many people say Thailand is already ruined. I know that you the reader can’t do too much about this while you are sitting in your home reading this, this is just my strongly worded letter to the universe. Thanks for listening!

Thailand: Round 2

I’m back in Thailand again; only this time I don’t have an excruciatingly boring job in an equally as boring city. I’m doing Thailand right this time. Beaches, stunning views, and getting paid to help protect it all. Does it get much better than that?

Tourism in Thailand is an interesting animal. Anyone who has recently visited this wonderful country hopefully noticed that while an increase in tourism increases local incomes and makes the life of a traveler a bit easier since the road is already paved for you, it also comes at a cost.

While living in Khon Kaen last year, I got to live in a part of Thailand that has remained fairly untouched by tourism and learned an incredible amount about Thai culture. Unfortunately, most of my favorite things about Thai culture disappear upon arriving in popular tourist destinations. In Khon Kaen I never met an angry Thai person, but where there are tourists there is money to be made, which inevitably brings greed. We all know that money can’t buy happiness and greed seems to breed anger and resentment in some Thai folks, which goes against the general joyful Thai attitude that I love so much.

Another example of the deterioration of Thai culture in touristy places can be seen in the food. Thai food is truly exquisite. I have yet to meet someone who can disagree with that statement. When it comes to food, Thailand knows what it’s doing. Yet in tourist destinations they alter their cuisine to what they think the farang (foreigner) wants, which is not nearly as yummy and really disappointing for the hungry farang.

I could continue complaining about the changes tourism creates in Thai culture, but that is not what brought me to Thailand. This time I will be working with an organization called Save Koh Tao. I am the project coordinator for the land conservation projects that the organization arranges to help prevent and reverse the environmental degradation on the island of Koh Tao that has come with the ever-growing number of tourists.

Cultural deterioration in popular tourist locations is sad, but in this day and age it can be argued that we all are suffering from that and eventually globalization will cause some kind of global homogenization of cultures. I’m not sure what can be done about this. I studied how to help the trees, birds, fish, etc. and in my opinion, those creatures which cannot help themselves need our help more right now. If we don’t protect our environment, then cultural homogenization doesn’t matter because we won’t have a very enjoyable planet to live on in the first place.

This blog entry is getting a little more philosophical than I expected. Where I originally intended on taking this topic was to the grand possibilities that come with my new job. If the permanent residents and visitors of Koh Tao don’t start treating the island with more respect then it won’t remain a beautiful island for much longer.

Many people come here just to scuba dive, snorkel, and enjoy the beaches. If these are destroyed or polluted not only will the world lose a wonderful example of nature at her best, but also the tourists will stop coming and Thai people will lose quite a bit of money.

This is probably obvious to most of you, but you would be incredibly surprised by how many tourists and business owners don’t seem to care. I have a massive task ahead of me and I’m very excited to finally put my degree to good use. I have the opportunity to do some really great things for this island and I can’t wait to see where it leads me. There is a lot to be done here which is a great distraction from the fact that I miss my wonderful family, boyfriend and friends, all of which are constantly in my thoughts. Pictures of my new home will be coming soon. Stay tuned!

A Vietnamese Massage With A Not So Happy Ending

In my last blog entry introducing the concept of saying yes to the situations you encounter abroad, I mentioned a Vietnamese massage that went rather poorly. For me it was just an incompetent massage, but unfortunately for my good gay friend, it turned out to be life scarring. So I would like to add a footnote to my yes policy: learn from the things that happen to you after you say yes. This being said, I was rather new to the yes concept a few years back and did not learn from my first inept Vietnamese massage, and naively walked into another massage parlor three days later.

I had spent the past couple days trekking in the Cat Tien National Park which resulted in some muscle soreness. My friend Tyler and I decided that a massage was in order so we ventured over to the local karaoke/massage parlor. The fact that there was a karaoke bar in the front of the massage parlor should have been a big tip off that we were not in for top-notch massages, but like I said, we were naive.

We each paid three US dollars for what was supposed to be an hour long massage. Tyler was then escorted directly to a massage room and I was thrown into a storage room to change. When I came out of the storage area there was no one there waiting to show me where to go next, forcing me to timidly journey back to the karaoke bar in my towel.

I proceeded to the woman who I had paid earlier, pointed at my neck and asked for a massage. She then angrily ordered me into another small room and closed the door behind me. It was a sauna. I’ve never really been one for saunas. I get bored very fast and in a country like Vietnam I don’t feel the need to sit in a hot humid room. If I wanted to be in a sweltering environment sweating my ass off I could just go outside where I would at least have a scenic view while doing so. I figured that they were just trying to loosen up my muscles though, so I patiently waited… and waited…and waited.

After ten minutes I was bored out of my mind and uncomfortably sweaty. Nobody had come to retrieve me, so I decided to go back into the karaoke room and ask for a massage again. If they thought they were going to get away without giving me an hour-long massage they were wrong. This time instead of bringing me to a massage room like I expected would happen, the irate Vietnamese woman threw me into a shower room with a door that refused to stay shut.

I rinsed off quickly and was exasperated that Tyler had been getting a massage for at least fifteen minutes while I was being shuffled between rooms. I marched into the karaoke bar again and asked for my massage. The third time was the charm and I was led to a small dimly lit very beige room. The satin sheets were a washed out seventies floral print that may or may not have been washed since they were first thrown onto the bed a few decades ago; it was impossible to tell.

This massage was very similar to my first Vietnamese massage. It was wimpy and careless. She prodded my back like a six year old touches raw hamburger meat with disgust. On top of the mediocrity of the massage, my masseuse, a term I use loosely, kept leaving the room every ten minutes or so. At the time I had no idea why. There would be a knock on the door, she would have a quick talk in Vietnamese and then she would leave. These mystery talks apparently were revolving around the topic of the man in the next room, my friend Tyler.

To put it simply, he just wanted a massage and they wanted to give him a little something extra. After his straightforward refusal of a happy ending, his masseuse decided the problem was that there weren’t enough girls in the room to satisfy him, which is why my masseuse kept getting called back to duty in the room next door. Poor Tyler.

After my masseuse returned for the fourth time, she started forcefully talking and pointing at my back. I figured that she must have been asking if she could rub harder so I nodded and said okay. Boy was that a mistake.

She left the room again and when she came back she poured tea tree oil on my back. That wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the severe pain she began to inflict on me next. She had brought with her some kind of torture tool and decided to dig it into my back as hard as possible. The tool craved outlines around my shoulder blades and vertebrae. I wiggled and writhed under the pressure she exerted with her torture tool, but she refused to relax.

When the abuse was over, she yelled at me in Vietnamese which I took as a cue to roll off the bed and escape. As I slid off though, something metal fell to the floor. We both reached for it, but I got there faster only to find that the terrible torture device had been a dog tag! Yes my friends, it was a dog tag, the kind the US army gives our soldiers. She grabbed it quickly out of my hand and shuffled my confused and horrified self back into the storage room.

I was still connecting the dots in my boggled mind so I couldn’t defend myself when the indignant madam barged in on me half dressed and stole three whole dollars from me for a tip. My ongoing shock from the dog tag discovery prevented me from fully realizing what was happening at the time, but shortly afterward I was furious. I had given the masseuse a 100% tip for a massage that left my back bruised for a week!

Tyler was nowhere to be found when I was leaving because he had left early due to his sexual harassment. I was worried because our guide had warned us that the women in our group should not walk alone around the grounds at night because the male monkeys might attack us. According to him, male monkeys are attracted to female humans and have no problem showing their affection. Tyler had left me to walk home alone so I sprinted as fast as I could back to the cabins because I didn’t want my terrible massage hour to end with a monkey rape.

After I got back to the cabins I showed my battle wounds to my fellow travelers and Tyler told me all about his own disturbing massage. We have no idea why my masseuse attacked me with a dog tag. It could have been her idea of a good way to exfoliate, a release of some pent up aggression against Americans, or maybe she was just having a terrible day and decided to take it out on me. What I do know is that I should have learned from my first massage in Vietnam, but I didn’t.

YES.

The most enchanting concept regarding travel is the idea that absolutely anything can happen. And the most wonderful thing about that is that you will never cease to be surprised by what ensues. I think that’s why so many of us travel and also the reason why so many of us don’t. One of my favorite quotes of all time was told to me by one of my least favorite teachers of all time during my Semester at Sea three years ago. He quoted John A. Shedd who said “A ship in harbor is safe — but that’s not what ships are built for.” This describes my travel style perfectly.

I believe in the word yes. It’s fairly universal and if the English version fails you then a head nod, thumbs up, or smile should get the message across. When you say no you don’t take chances. You are stuck in a safe harbor. But when you say yes all sorts of interesting things happen. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not telling you to go to Thailand and say yes when someone asks you to smuggle drugs to Sweden for them. That’s just stupid. Say yes, but don’t be an ass-hat about it.

When you say yes in ‘reasonable’ situations there are all sorts of things that can go wrong, but the stuff that goes wrong is the stuff of great adventures. Sometimes those adventures are risky and I suppose deadly, but you get over that and then you become addicted to the possibilities of what happens when you take a leap of faith and say okay to whatever comes your way.

When you are riding on the back of a motorcycle in Ho Chi Minh City and the fifteen year old Vietnamese boy who is driving makes a wrong turn down a busy one way street, you realize that you are staring death in the face. In this case, death happens to look like the largest truck you’ve ever seen about to hit you head on at full speed, but as it blares it’s horn at you, you realize your body has not become silly putty that some poor soul would have to peel of the pavement.

You are alive without a scratch to show for the terror that happened seconds ago. You release your iron grip from the boy’s sides and in that moment your life changes. After that everything is less scary. After that, saying yes becomes much easier and you find yourself saying yes to getting a massage at a sketchy Vietnamese parlor. And then you can find it funny when it turns out to be a brothel which would explain the bad attitude, extra large terry cloth shorts, and why your gay friend asked in a panicked voice from the next room how to say “I’m gay” in Vietnamese.

Saying yes to things you don’t fully understand can be dangerous, painful, beautiful, and most of all funny. No matter how terrible the experience you will always either learn something new, gain a new lease on life, have a hilarious story, lose your dignity (which isn’t as bad as it sounds, trust me), or all of the above. These next few blog entries will be about just that. Stay tuned.

A Trip (or a Dream) to the Roof of the World

I’ve been in Laos for a day back from Tibet by way of China, and as I flip through my pictures from Mt. Everest I still can’t believe I was there! I can’t say that it’s been my lifelong dream to go to Mt. Everest because it only occurred to me a few months ago that I could and should go to Tibet — and that if I was going to be in Tibet I couldn’t miss visiting such an infamous mountain. Once I thought of it, I just had to see the massive giant that has lured so many climbers, taken so many lives, and inspired so many people.

It’s cheaper and reportedly easier to visit Mt. Everest from its Nepali side, but I don’t like to do things the easy way. The roads in the National Protection Area of Mt. Qomolangma (Mt. Everest’s real name) were reported to be terrible. I was expecting the worst and happily found the roads to be in better condition than many of the Nepali roads I’d been on two months ago. It also helped that Tibetan drivers are also a bit better. Because of the ease and popularity of visiting the gargantuous mountain from the Nepali side, there aren’t many tourists who venture to Mt. Qomolangma from the Tibetan side, which made me even happier with my choice of route.

We spent one night in Shigatse before making the long trip to Everest. We arrived at 5pm, which left our guide Samdup one hour to get our permits because the Everest permit office closed at 6pm. He returned from the office with our permits in hand, but apparently we were quite lucky to have them. It was a holiday, Buddha’s day of birth and death to be exact, so the office had closed very early that day. Fortunately, someone who worked in the office arrived at the same time as Samdup and he luckily convinced him to give us the permits.

Instead of feeling nervous and then relieved as Samdup relayed the story to us, I was overcome by the feeling and thought that there was not a chance in the world that I would not have gotten my permit. Somewhere during the course of my recent journeys I’ve acquired a bizarre sense of confidence and optimism. I knew that I would get to base camp and I knew that it would be stunning when I arrived. There was not a single doubt in my mind that it wouldn’t happen.

Our next obstacle occurred at the army checkpoint where we had to present our permits and passports to enter the area. One of Samdup’s documents — permit, tour guide license or something else important — had expired, which meant he couldn’t go any further. Muni, one of the other three people in my tour group, had a Lonely Planet China which warned that foreigners can’t go past that point without a guide. This caused some worrying among us as we waited for the verdict, but my confidence or absurd optimism kicked in and I knew we would be able to go through. Like I said before, I was going to make it Everest Base Camp and it was going to be beautiful when I arrived. After much talking the soldiers let our driver take us into the area, leaving Samdup to find his way back to the closest town.

We had originally planned to stop at Rongbu Monastery before settling in at the Everest tent camp, but because it was so late in the day we decided to skip it and pop in for a visit on our way back the next morning. After many hours of driving we finally arrived at the tent camp. We put our bags in a tent, quickly added more clothing layers, and set off for the original base camp. The current tent camp is three kilometers below the original base camp because there were problems with human waste disposal that forced them to move the camp to a lower elevation. Other than some Chinese soldiers, nobody stays at the original Tibetan E.B.C. these days.

The other three members of my tour group –Muni, Marco, Ed — and I were joined by a Swede named Henrick whose guide decided not to hike to base camp to see the sunset with us. We were told that the three kilometer walk would only take 30 minutes, and that they would let us in upon arrival even though our guide wasn’t with us. Both of these statements were wrong.

Henrick and I took the lead and after many shortcuts we reached E.B.C. an hour and fifteen minutes later. There was a red gate like you find at the entrance to a parking structure next to an army tent where we figured we had to show our permits, passports and visas. I was starting to get sick of handing over all of my documents at this point. It was just becoming silly. I can’t believe that the Chinese government actually thinks there’s a chance that I snuck into China without a visa, made it into Tibet and had the nerve to go confidently traveling around and crossing checkpoints without the proper travel documents. But I digress.

Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that Muni was carrying all of the permits until we reached the soldiers guarding the entrance. I asked the soldiers if we could come inside their tent since my hands were frozen, it was windy and I didn’t know how far the rest of our group was behind us. Surprisingly they agreed and as I explained that we needed to wait for my friends he made it very clear that if our guide was not with them then we wouldn’t be able to stay at the base camp to watch the sunset. We were already at base camp, 15 meters away from the sign that says “base camp”, but we weren’t allowed to go any further based on the fact that there wasn’t a guide to watch over us! It’s not like we were going to steal the mountain for god’s sake!

The view as we approached E.B.C. that evening.

Since I had nothing to lose, I pleaded with the guard while making up lies about our poor sick guide who stayed at the tents. After a while, he excitedly told us his great idea: He would kick us out of the tent and allow us to wait outside for 10 minutes after which we would have to leave. He kept proudly repeating that this was his idea. I couldn’t figure out why he thought it was so genius since it didn’t actually help us, until the fifth time I made him explain it, which is when he added that his general was in the next tent watching TV with the door open and everyone would be in big trouble if he saw us wandering around without a guide. So Henrick and I exited the tent, where we found the others arriving. We told them we couldn’t go in and that we would have to come back for sunrise with Henrick’s guide to hopefully get in.

When we got back, Henrick had altitude sickness and went to bed. And I started seeing things. The altitude was affecting us more than I thought it would. Every time I moved something, I could see a trail behind it. When I woke up I was still feeling this side effect, but by the time I got to base camp I was fine. I had no idea that that would be my reaction to the altitude. After all, we were only 500 meters higher than the elevation I had no problem trekking at in Nepal.

When we arrived at the military tent in the morning, Henrick’s guide Nyima took care of everything and we successfully ventured past the red gate. We took a few hundred pictures, and after 20 minutes the one cloud that was obscuring our nearly perfect view of the mountain disappeared and it was beautiful! It was exactly what I knew it would be like. This time of year you have to be very lucky to get a view like that, but for some reason there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that Everest would show herself to me. The sunset had been crystal clear as well, so why wouldn’t the sunrise be as beautiful, if not more so? According to the locals though, many people make the same trip as us only to have the mountain view completely obstructed by clouds.

Our view from the original E.B.C. where everyone hangs their prayer flags.

I wrote the initials of everyone in my family on a set of prayer flags and hung them on a hill in front of Everest for good luck (writing full names was too difficult with the pen I had). Then Henrick and I built a little rock pile like the Tibetans do for good luck.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect trip to see Mt. Everest, but lucky for me it got even better on our way out when we decided to stop and visit the Rongbu Monastery.

On Buddha’s birthday the monks at certain monasteries in Tibet wear masks and dance for the public to watch. The tradition goes back hundreds of years when a Tibetan king needed to raise money to build a bridge, so he danced around in a mask and costume. I’m not sure if this is exactly the story, but it’s what I understood from Nyima.

A few spectators at the Rongbu Monastery.

The celebration was supposed to happen the day we arrived at Everest, but the Rongbu Monastery celebrates and dances on the last day of the 15-day Saga Dawa holiday, which happened to be the day we visited the monastery. So at the highest monastery in the world we arrived five minutes before this beautiful, once-a-year dance began without us planning it. Like I said before, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip to Mt. Everest.

I can hardly believe that this was a part of my life. Luckily, I have plenty of pictures to keep reminding me that it wasn’t all a dream.

A 4,064-Kilometer Chinese-Style Train Ride From Beijing To Lhasa-

I first read about the Beijing-Lhasa train — officially the Qinghai Tibet Train — about five months ago, and have dreamed about it since.

On Saturday May 30th I anxiously waited for day to become night so I could finally go to the station and catch the 9:30pm train to Lhasa. I left for the station much too early according to everyone I had dinner with, but I couldn’t stand the wait any longer. I didn’t want to chance it that I’d run out of time if I hit traffic or the taxi driver miraculously got lost.

Once I arrived at the train terminal I felt the excitement really start to kick in. I was so close to starting my 48-hour train ride to Lhasa!!

The instant boarding began I became engulfed in a sea of running and pushing Chinese people, making me wonder if there would be other foreigners aboard. I didn’t quite understand why everyone ran because there were assigned seats. I saw no reason to rush, especially as I was weighed down by my backpack and bags of goodies: apples, mangosteens, dragonfruit, bread, peanut butter, jelly, toilet paper, and water.

Walking through the train the next morning uncovered the reason why everyone ran: they wanted to be the first in their train-cars so they could put their luggage in the storage areas before they filled up. The last to get seated got stuck with their luggage under their feet or on their laps.

I was lucky to be in a soft-sleeper car with cabins that sleep four people and have front doors. The cabins in the hard-sleeper cars sleep six people and don’t have doors. And the cheapest cars have just chairs. I can’t imagine sitting for 48 hours straight with luggage on my lap. Some people get around this by laying beds of newspapers on the spaces between train cars. Only two people fit in these nooks, so you have to be either very lucky or quick to get a spot.

My first impression of my cabin was that it was way too small for four people and their luggage, but then we found the overhead storage bins which solved the space problem. The two lower beds were occupied by two Germans, Georg and Chris, with whom I chatted with for the entire ride. Among other things, I learned important German phrases like “Kiss my ass” and “The machine is broken”, which became indispensable later when things started getting a bit  rough. The fourth bed — eye level with me — was taken by a Chinese man who, after 20 hours, we realized was a policeman. He was rather odd, sleeping in his tidy whities, and staring at us and in particular at me.

The Georg and the Chinese policeman who slept in his tiddy whities and stared at me whenever he was in our cabin.

The train spent the first part of Day One mostly driving through cities, and the second part driving through countryside and farms. For most of the day our car was quite warmer than the others, reaching about 80 deg F. We complained to a train officer, who promptly suggested that I go to a different car, an infuriating idea because there wasn’t anywhere to sit in the other cars.

This was right along the general service on the train. Everyone was genuinely pained if they had to deal with you. God forbid one of the 20 train employees sitting around chatting actually had to do any work. The trash-pickup service was timely, though, as was the bathroom cleanup for the first day. This said, I don’t recommend using the squatter toilets at any time because the floors are perpetually covered in a centimeter of urine. That being said, I also don’t recommend wearing pants that drag on the floor.

When the altimeter hit 3,000 meters on the second evening, my Germans cabinmates and I shared some Budweisers and watched a lightning storm in the distance before going to bed. I was slowly waking up the next morning when I felt a slight tug on my blankets. I looked down to see Chris pointing out the window to gorgeous snow-capped hills. I flew out of the cabin, pulled back the left hallway’s curtains, and there they were: huge snowy mountains!! I was ecstatic!

And then back to Chinese reality. The first clogged toilet happened mid-morning on Day Two, which wasn’t much of a surprise after seeing the kitchen staff pour buckets of food remains down there. It started getting really bad a few hours later when they disabled the flush buttons on all toilets. We didn’t have any stations where to unload the waste, which probably was the reason for the problems. This quickly became very inconvenient because you are supposed to drink plenty of water after the train reaches an altitude of 5,000 meters to prevent altitude sickness and dehydration. But with the toilets nearly overflowing you don’t have much of an incentive to stay hydrated…

When the toilets were just about to overflow I began wandering the train hoping to find a decent bathroom. The train officers have emergency flush buttons, but didn’t use them until it looked like they might otherwise need to do some nasty clean-up. So I hoped that by walking the train I could either find a toilet that had been recently emergency-flushed or ask an officer to use his almighty flushing powers to help me out. I just couldn’t bear the idea of urine and puke from at least 15 other people splattering back at me or sloshing onto my shoes while I peed.

When I finally asked an officer about the bathroom problem, he grumpily instructed me to use it anyway. Like I said before, the service was certainly unpleasant — making my newly learned German phrases very handy.

So I started day-dreaming a public announcement that went something like this:

Dear passengers,

Thank you for traveling aboard the China-Tibet Train.

If you need anything please DO NOT ask us because frankly we don’t give a damn. We have decided that the dining car and the car with all the foreigners will not get air conditioning for the first half of the trip. If this makes your trip uncomfortable don’t bother telling us because we won’t fix the problem.

You will notice that at the front of your cabin there are volume, light, temperature, and service buttons. Only the light button will work for you. If you need something, do not press the service button. Your best bet in this situation is to take out the net that you should have brought with you and try trapping a train officer. If you forgot your net then you are out of luck.

As you know, we will be traveling to an elevation of 5,072 meters. To assist your acclimatization we will pump oxygen through the air conditioning systems, that is, if the air conditioning is working. You will also notice that each seat is equipped with a plug for an oxygen mask so you can have your own personal oxygen supply if need be. Should you require this source of oxygen, we regret to inform you that we don’t care and we don’t plan on passing out oxygen masks so go f*** yourselves if you want one. If you get really desperate, try sucking the oxygen straight out of the hole where you would otherwise plug in your mask.

During the last leg of our trip you will no longer have access to bathrooms that aren’t covered in urine, feces, and vomit. If this is a problem for you, we suggest you stop drinking all liquids immediately.

Thank you for choosing the Beijing-Lhasa Train. Please come back soon, but don’t misunderstand and think that we want you to travel with us again because we like you, we really just want your money.

Despite the Chinese-style travel amenities, I’m delighted I did it. The views were stunning and coming into Lhasa by plane wouldn’t have been nearly as thrilling!

Goodbye Beijing, Hello Lhasa

I’ve spent the past week in Beijing, and tonight I leave for Tibet.

I’m taking the train to Lhasa which, I have been dreaming about for the past five months. It’s the highest train in the world, reaching an elevation of 16,640 feet (5,072 meters). It takes 48 hours if you start in Beijing. Because it reaches such high elevations, oxygen is pumped into the train cars and each seat has its own oxygen supply. Check it out at chinatibettrain.com.

In Tibet I’ll go to Everest Base Camp along with many other wonderful places over a 10-day period.

Unfortunately, I’m starting this leg of the journey with a bit of a head cold, but hopefully by the time I get off the train on June 1st I’ll be better and ready to explore Tibet!

That’s all for now!

P.S. I’ve learned so far that my Thai nickname DeeDee means good good in Thai, older sister in Nepali and younger brother in Chinese!

P.P.S. Simon, Catherine and Daphne: Many thanks for your wonderful hospitality!

Dinner That Fights Back

I don’t like tomatoes. My dad constantly makes fun of me for this. I also don’t like salad or avocados. Hard boiled eggs and Mayo are two foods that I actually fear. The smell of canned tuna turns my stomach instantly, and help me God if you put ranch dressing on my plate. The silly thing about this list is that the foods I hate and fear aren’t very exotic or threatening. They are ordinary foods that most people have probably never given much thought to. It’s all rather funny because I can’t seem to stomach eating these perfectly normal foods, yet I purposely sought out a restaurant that serves live octopus here in Korea once I found out about it.

Last night my friends and I went to a makgeolli restaurant in hopes that I would get to try the special octopus dish they serve. Makgeolli is a type of Korean rice alcohol served at specific restaurants in large teapots along with a few dishes of food that they choose for you. The bigger the group, the more exciting the food. We made a point of inquiring about the chance of getting a plate of live octopus and ended up getting three!

The live octopus was cut with scissors above a plate with seaweed, green onions, and tasty oil. The tentacles still wiggle and writhe after being cut, and turned out to be quite difficult to pry off the plate.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUNfnD0BZow]

Surprisingly, it wasn’t very weird having a moving piece of octopus in my mouth. One piece attached to my tongue briefly, but other than that most of the octopus tentacles stopped moving upon arrival in my mouth. My friends seemed surprised by this. I guess I have a good mouth for eating octopus. You still can’t get me to eat canned tuna, though.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sh_w1ErNIIw]