Ashley Zoch

Monday, September 26, 2005

I'm such a nerd

I came in half way through a radio interview with guitarist Nick Charles where the interviewer said that he was doing 28 gigs a month.

I thought "That's a lot of data."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

BOOM (boom) (boom) (boom) TSK (tsk) (tsk) (tsk)

I seem to be surrounding myself with greatness at the moment. The grandfather of Dub Lee 'Scratch' Perry was on my plane yesterday.

I just got a haircut and I think it must have been a bit 80's because I walked out humming The Swingers' song 'Counting the Beat'.

Two, three, four, five...

Monday, September 12, 2005

Hellfire Pass

On Sunday we woke mid-morning, a little worse for wear (I'm attributing that to the heat) and checked out. We jumped in the car and headed north in search of Hellfire Pass - the largest cutaway on the Death Railway and so called due to the ghostly shadows cast upon the rock by the POWs working by firelight.

Chris relaxing.

After an hour's drive through some beautiful moutainous countryside it became apparent that we might have been going the wrong way. We stopped at a couple of service stations and received various conflicting advice (basically arms pointed in both directions along the road). We decided to head back to Kanchanburi and seek further directions. We discovered we had failed to take a turn off in town but we were both pleased with the detour for some unplanned scenery. None of the travel books I read make much mention of the surrounding countryside, but it's really one of Kanchanburi's best assets.

Monkeys Crossing.

We found the right road and made it to Hellfire Pass about an hour later. We took a walk through the really nicely laid out museum and then walked the track. The pass itself has quite an impact when you have some idea of it's history. The rail track itself is gone (I'm not sure why as it's metal and wouldn't have perished) but a few sleepers dot the path. We were lucky to have the place to ourselves.

Hellfire Pass.

We headed back to Bangkok as the sun set. We joined a convey of at least 20 enormous tourist buses complete with police escort. We couldn't work out why they were receiving special treatment - they ran every red light with a motorcycle cop holding traffic in the other direction. The bus drivers communicated to each other by flashing their hazard lights and indicators. I think this might have been warning the others about when they might have to stop. My only theory is that all these bizarre components fit together to reduce traffic congestion. In any case it was more like watching a well oiled bank heist than a bunch of Thai holiday makers coming home.

A fisherman on the River Kwai.

We managed to stumble onto the right road coming back into Bangkok and took the most direct route back to Chris' place.

River Kwai

On Saturday we hopped in the car and headed 130km west of Bangkok to Kanchanaburi to visit the river Kwai. I had expected a pretty rough drive, but it was fine once we'd untangled ourselves from the mess of city roads. Unfortunately we didn't have a decent map (if such a thing exists of Bangkok city) and no compass, so negotiating the roads out of Bangkok was a little tricky.

The River Guest House

We stayed in a couple of amazing $10 raft bungalows on the river. The River Guest House was operated by a cheery Turkish fellow (one wife in Thailand, one wife in Turkey) and consisted of a web of bungalows floating on the river and a bar (with a pool table). A wonky series of walkways connected everything up.

Bridge over the River Kwai

We headed up to the 'Bridge over the river Kwai' and walked across. Chris' great uncle had been a POW here so the place held a special significance for him. On the far side of the bridge we sat with a family who owned a couple of elephants (a brother and sister) and talked shop. We fed the elephants some fruit and took a few photos.

On the Bridge

In the afternoon we visited the Allied cemetery. I was quite effected by the thousands of graves of men younger than myself and the inscriptions left by their families.

Feeding the Elephants

We finished the night at an Irish Bar (the Irish part is a bottle of Jamiesons Whiskey - but it's mostly a bamboo and thatched roof affair) kicking back with Jen, the owner and her friend. A couple of girls from Denmark joined us and then a bunch of Israeli backpackers. We swapped some travel tales and drank a good amount of beer. By the end of the night I was working the bar and Chris was playing Jenga with one of the Thai girls. An insane Swede drifted in and out of the bar all night, dragging along a wife with a violent toothache and a young daughter. I tried to get her to rub her painkillers on the affected area, but I didn't have much luck between the language barrier and her crazy husband popping two pill for every one he gave her.

Evening on the River Kwai

Barges dragging floating discos trip up and down the river during the evening blasting out karaoke for the Thai holiday makers. Fortunately they stop pretty early so I managed a good night of sleep (helped by a good dose of liquid muscle relaxant).

Friday, September 09, 2005

Buffalo Boat Tiger

I probably should have been visiting temples and traditional Thai houses and museums and junk over the past couple of days, but instead I've been goofing off playing guitar and pretty much just kicking around Bangkok.

Cat prepares the Khao Pat Kai...

We've found a nice little stall down one of the side-streets where the lovely lady (her name is Cat) cooks us dinner, teaches us some Thai and has a few beers with us. There's a tiny little restaurant inside with karaoke, but we've yet to venture in. Sitting out in the open is much more fun. Her signature dish (or perhaps the only one we can say in Thai) is Khao Pat Kai (Fried Rice with Chicken) and it's not bad at all.

Ash helps to cook...

Chris has picked up some odd allergy or virus or something so we're experimenting to find the cause. Funnily enough he appears to have picked it up after eating a hamburger at a shopping centre - not from a hawker stand on the street. The number one suspect on the list at the moment is egg. That makes two of use sick from food courts - no street food casualties.

Chris takes the taste test...

I read an amusing quote in Edge magazine a while back that I keep forgetting to mention. They described playing World of Warcraft as 'being locked in a newsagent with an infinite supply of scratch lotto tickets'. Most of my guild buddies have overtaken my character now, so I'm looking forward to some serious catching up when I get home.

He's still standing.

We're going to see My Squared Circle (an indie band from Singapore) at Noreiga's tonight and then we're off on a roadtrip to Kanchanburi for the weekend - home of the river Kwai.

Villa la Moore.

I've included a couple of photos of Chris' apartment as there were a few folks interested in seeing how the other half lives. It's pretty lush.

Moore Villa la Moore (sorry).

Blogger's spell check recommended 'hangover' when I mispelt 'hamburger' in regard to Chris' illness above. I wonder if it's trying to tell me something...

Monday, September 05, 2005

Red Dingers!

I'm renown for pointing out lookalikes (or as David Brent's agent would call them - Lookylikes) at any opportunity. I'm not particularly good at it, but they just pop into my brain constantly. I get a fair bit of flack from associates when I relentlessly whip out an "I think I know that guy" or "Doesn't that look like Andrew Pate's mum". Actually that last one was Chris, not me.

It reached the stage with one guy where he would yell out the person's name as they walked past to confirm whether I was making it up.

When I was at Angkor Wat in Cambodia I walked past a long haired scruffy looking fellow wearing a business shirt, pants and sandals and carrying a rather hippy-ish satchel. I thought to myself "That looks a lot like *identity witheld for the sake of a good tale*". I was so sure that I seriously considered approaching him, but the opportunity passed too quickly and I didn't want to look a fool.

I remembered the spotting tonight and mentioned it to Chris. I thought I'd have a look on the web to disprove my sighting and his blog and other sites showed no information so I considered it a lookalike and we had a chuckle. On a whim I did a search for his name and Siem Reap in Google...

I saw Richard Stallman at Angkor Wat in Cambodia!

(Richard Stallman is a folklore hero amongst the computer nerdy Linux community so I don't expect most folks to understand this or find it funny. I'm kicking myself that I didn't get a photo with him!)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Krama vs Krama

I was 'templed out' by Friday so I spent the day kicking about town in Siem Reap. It's a dusty but burgeoning town since Cambodia has opened it's door to international visitors again. The French influence is apparent in the architecture and the delicious bread that accompanies meals. Glamorous hotels are springing up everywhere but fortunately most are a little outside town.

Marketing for meat in Siem Reap.

I looked through a couple of markets and picked up some Kramas (a versatile checked scarf that the Khmer people use for everything from a towel to a headdress to a sarong. Internet cafes are scattered throughout the streets but access was pretty unreliable and functionality was limited. I took a few shots of some local landmarks and popped into The Dead Fish to escape the heat and enjoy a quick drink. I'd hoped to have a Lazy Fish (Coke, Rum and Red Bull) but we had some language troubles so I ended up having a Sprite.

Dusty streets of Siem Reap.

The Dead Fish is a little like a stilted village shrunk into a bar. Ladders link levels in every direction. It's a bit like something from Mad Max 3. Hand painted signs proclaim that they "Use no Dog, Cat or Rat" and the menu explains that the service might differ from what you're used to and to be patient.

3 on a bike - No chance for the title.

I've been having a little competition for the most folks on a motorbike while I've been away. Siem Reap now holds the potentially unbeatable record of 5 people on one bike. I also saw a chubby white ex-pat on the back of a bike clinging onto a TV.

Inside The Dead Fish.

I took a mid afternoon flight back to Bangkok and funnily enough it felt very much like going home. I felt like an old hat going through the customs procedures and I even managed to help a few folks in the taxi queue with directions and some suggestions for sight-seeing. My suggestion to visit the kickboxing and "just eat on the street" didn't get much of a response from the cheery English couple but they were happy to discuss the cricket. Cricket seems to be the new favourite sport in England. Cheeky buggers. I even remembered enough Thai to tell the taxi driver where I was going. It was a marked difference from when I first arrived a couple of weeks ago.

Relaxing back in the 'kok.

Mr Sok & Mr Zoch visit Angkor Wat

On Thursday I hooked up with an (official) Temple Guide Sok and my buddy with the Tuk-Tuk and headed out for a more structured trek. We started at the South Gate of the fortified city Angkor Thom. Sok's family runs one of the vendor stalls so we sat with them for an hour and had some chicken and quite a few cups of Angkor Beer (one of Sok's brother in laws works at the brewery). I met a great many relatives and enjoyed a few jokes with Sok's cousin.

Gods at the gate of Angkor Thom.

The birds in Cambodia say "cheep cheep". The birds in Australia say "expensive expensive".

Hanging with Sok's family.

Once the midday sun had lost a little of it's sting (and we'd taken the edge off a little) we headed to Preah Khan. It was wonderful to have someone who could explain the history of the temples and the stories told by the various frescos and statues. I recommend anyone visiting to make use of a guide on their first day and then spend time alone to go over the smaller temples and revisit any favourites. We looked in some detail at the different Hindu and Buddhist sculptures (the Angkor Kings changed from Hindu to Buddhism during their reign) and he gave me a good understanding of where the temples I had previously visited fit in.

A Garuda outside Preah Kahn.

We visited the world's largest temple Angkor Wat late in the afternoon. Angkor Wat is Cambodia's pride and joy and it's heavily visited by locals and travelers. We took a few shots of the famous "Angkor Wat reflecting in water pool" (with everyone else) and then wandered the inner wall frescos with Sok explaining the stories depicted on each. There's some really interesting stuff when you understand what's going on. I climbed a more impressive set of really steep stairs to the top of the temple and took in the views of the surrounding country-side.

Mr. Zoch at Angkor Wat.

We only had a couple of language mix ups. My favourite was me mishearing a description of a statue of an Apsara (dancer) as having a "smile and tits" rather than a "smile and teeth" (which is apparently not the done thing). Fortunately I kept my trap shut and it clicked in my mind a little later on. In my defense the statue was more voluptuous than it's closest neighbour.

A monk studies at Angkor Wat.

We finished off the afternoon at the Phnom Bakheng temple atop a hill for sunset. 200 or so other visitors joined us, but it was peaceful and surprisingly quite serene. Fortunately Sok had another stall at Phnom Bakheng so we downed a few more drinks and rested out weary legs for a bit.

Dinner with Sok's Family.

Sok invited me to join his family at their home for dinner. We sat on a mat with his uncle and a few other relatives and enjoyed a meal of fish with soup and a variety of Camobodian dishes - beef, curry, rice and shrimp. We joked around and enjoyed some beer with ice (which works surprisingly well for keeping it cool). It was great.

Angkor What?

I flew into Siem Reap, Cambodia early on Wednesday morning and was met by a Tuk-Tuk that took me to the Shadow of Angkor Guesthouse. I reserved a $10 a night room with a fan and a bathroom that was up the steepest set of stairs I've seen yet. The guesthouse had a great French colonial style bar next door where I spent a few lazy evenings listening to the Australian Ex-Pat radio DJ and enjoying an Angkor beer or two.

Entering Bayon in Angkor Thom.

Cambodians drive on the right side. It took about 30 minutes on the road for this to become apparent.

An unofficial guide inside Bayon.

I Tuk-tuk'ed straight out of the guesthouse to the Angkor temples - home of the largest religious building in the world Angkor Wat. The temple gates are populated by stall after stall of local wares and cold drinks ("Mister, You want Cold Drink?"). Kids swarm every visitor with postcards and wooden flutes. Somewhere around 70% of the Khmer people are under 14 years old due to the violence Cambodia has been subjected to over the past 30 years or so. One of the Lonely Planet guides says to keep in mind that they're "pretty young" and I found it good advice. They're a lot of fun to joke around with and they smile constantly.

An Aspara dancer at Bayon.

I took a pretty random trek through some of the temples. Ta Prohm was the most impressive as it has been left to fend for itself against the savage jungle and is being ripped apart by enormous tree roots. The temples all have scally-wags who sidle up to you and start an impromptu tour with the expectation of a few dollars at the end. One fellow who attached himself to me at Ta Prohm was really quite helpful and showed me a few good photo locations. He also introduced me to the temple guardian Mr. Nim who appears on the cover of the Lonely Planet Cambodia guide (it's hard to get away from those darn Lonely Planet books - especially when kids are selling knock-offs for $3 outside every temple). Ta Prohm is also the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed in 2001.

Chewing the fat with Mr. Nim at Ta Prohm.

I finished off a hot day of walking around at the guesthouse bar and exchanged some English and Khmer lessons with one of the waiters. I only got as far as Hello and Thank-You in Khmer, but he did a better job than me trying to explain the difference between the words No and Not in English.
Tree roots ripping Ta Prohm apart (slowly).

Our friend Lau's business ventures seem to have made it as far as Cambodia already, albeit with a slight variation on the name (presumably from conversion to Khmer).

Beer Lao.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Angkor, Cambodia

On a bit of a whim I took a flight on Wednesday out of Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor (just north of Siem Reap) is home to a spectacular group of temples including Angkor Wat - the largest religious building in the world. I booked a few days here at the Shadow of Angkor Guesthouse ($10 a night - no air con) and headed out to visit the temples.

I'm in a little internet cafe in Siem Reap with a wobbly connection so I'm going to hold on the updates until I'm back in Bangkok.

Ah Gordon! There you are.

It was a quiet last few days in Bangkok. Poor Chris developed something viral and I got a bit coughy myself. We got a little less adventurous and spent free time shopping and just kicking around. Chris bought himself a copy of Half Life 2 and become addicted, despite my efforts to encourage him down the Vice City path. I suspect he's close to completing it now.

I went for a wander down Kao Sanh Rd, which is a bit of a freakshow of dirty travellers. It's like an intensified little Bangkok in one street of bars and hair braiders. It's far removed from my experiences there, but it looked like fun for a while. I also visited Silom Rd which is one of the main shopping precincts and picked up some necessities for the next blog entry.

A pretty uneventful couple of days but a nice rest and a good chance to catch up on some 'doing nothing'.