Sunday, February 8, 2015

Losing It In Phi Phi (Pee-pee)

Source: Phi Phi Party Crew (The Shangri La)

This past October, I took my first trip to the islands of Thailand. I want to specify that it was my first, and not last trip because it's a place that never really leaves you. It infects your soul like a virus. For some impressionable early 20-somethings, it inhabits them like a gold trimmed wide grinning parasite. And everyone wants a bite of everyone else.

There are two rows of islands along Thailand's long southern strip. One row on the Andaman Sea and one on the Gulf of Thailand. The island where I spent the most time was on the Andaman Sea side, and it was called Ko Phi Phi (correct pronunciation: Pee Pee).

Thailand has a reputation for being a massive country to party in, but I had no idea how common it was for visitors to literally drop their entire reality and stay on the islands indefinitely. Surprisingly the sexy film about big Leo dabbling in a bit of island infidelity and then going absolutely out of his coconut shell brain via SuperNintendo-meets-acid-tripping-with-baboons, was not far from what actually happens.

While there are no secret island camps (not that I saw anyway), Phi Phi and surrounding islands are littered with young adult-lets from all major English-speaking countries who have come to escape the square dullness and yucky sensibility of the Western world. On Phi Phi, life is a hooping hoorah with drug-laced candies and alcohol served in sandcastle buckets, and, by god, you better get on board.

Among the endless personal accounts I heard of lives being abandoned in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, America, South Africa, and Ireland, a few in particular stood out. I probably shouldn't name any names, but I'll make up some for the sake of storytelling. Here are a few selections (I can only put up a picture of one of these people for the sake of privacy):

Narcissus  I hate to say that I really liked Narcissus. He was a spunky kid who's eaten flesh from a living snake and has had intercourse with most people he's met. He spins fire and had to rescue an old sailor from a Viagra overdose. This guy's reason for abandoning The World is that he's what I like to call A Memory Collector. He does everything and says "no" to nothing. He wants to devour life and will succeed in doing so--if it doesn't swallow him first.

Captain  This wonderful character is actually the same old man whom Narcissus rescued from the Viagra overdose. His story is that he bought a ship from England about 30 years ago, set out for Thailand, but had to stop for 20 years in the middle because he found a Croatian wife. Now, after 5 marriages and a 30-year trip from the UK to Thailand, he spends his days getting his picture taken with beautiful half-nude women, having his belly button used for shots, and influencing lovely dirty habits on the impressionable youth.

Blondie  This girl was an absolute riot. She chronically falls in love with obscure foreign men. Blondie only likes guys who scream, light their boxers on fire, have gauges in their ears, and convince her to travel half-way around the world for a date. I accompanied her to a bar where her newest love affair was serving drinks. He was a native Thai with hair like Rufio and a smile like the devil. He gave us a big piece of chocolate that looked like a French truffle, but tasted like mud. It was weed with something else, but I don't remember what the something else was.

(This actually is Big Love. 
Postcards of Phi Phi locals are sold at shops.)

Big Love  I call this lovable lumpy fella Big Love because his favourite song is "Big Love" by Chicken. I know this because at the nightclub/streetside hut that he owns, he really starts to boogie when the live band plays this song. And it's entirely epic as he looks like the sun when he dances. Every cell of his being is in ecstasy to be a part of him.

While there are many other very interesting characters who come and go and stay on Phi Phi, this is just a sample of the most impressionable ones I met. I would encourage anyone to gain their own personal experience on this island of neon lights, spinning fire, and alcohol served in fruit or kids' plastic toys.

In honour of Big Love, and the rest of the nameless Phi Phi lot, let the following song be the soundtrack of your day:

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Tea, Father? And Other Bits Of Irish Life


Ireland - the land of Bono, Father Ted, pints, and "the craic". And for the past three years, and counting, it's been my home. 

Only a few non-Irish residents that I've met here know what I mean when I say that you just can't get this kind of silly anywhere else. The quirkiest things seem to happen here and it's the only country I've been in where the people actually get on board with the whimsical nature of everyday life. 

To begin a new series called "Tea, Father? And Other Bits Of Irish Life", I would like to share a short, yet profound experience I had with a woman in an elevator:

I enter an elevator of a 3 story building. An older rather squat woman with large glasses follows in behind me. I press the button for the floor below me.

"Oh, beejayzus!" she screams as she braces herself with both arms in a wide-V in the corner of the elevator.

I stare at her. Stunned.

She gulps and asks, "Is this going down," and then, gathering herself says very matter-of-factly, "Oh, it's supposed to do that."

When the elevator door opens and she exits, she looks at me with a blush in her cheeks and says, "Don't mind me, I'm just dizzy."

As she gets off, I clutch my hands to my chest and beam at the wonderful absurdity of life in Ireland.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Sleeping With SCOBY

SCOBY : Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. Also known as a gelatinous honey-coloured disc used to make the pro-biotic drink Kombucha.

While travelling with my family through the north of Italy over Christmas holidays, my aunt, a naturopath, potter and recent crochet-er, told me that she was missing her SCOBY. 

"What is that?" I asked.

"It's my bacterial friend that I use to make Kombucha with. Really, he's helped my hair so much."

"It's a HE?"

"Well, obviously."


Now, my aunt has been known to entertain some far-reaching ideas in her lifetime. But when it comes to health, youth, and beauty, she's spot on. She's nearly 50 now and has the skin of a 20 year old. I've never seen a wrinkle on her face.

When she told me how much her kombucha concoctions have helped her health, I knew I wanted a SCOBY of my own. But the trick is, she told me, you have to LOVE it. I mean, dote on the SCOBY. Talk to it, give it a blanket, let it watch you bake a cake. Growing a SCOBY should be like giving birth, but without all the hormones and an entire person emerging from your groin.

Conceiving a SCOBY:

1/4 Cup Castor Sugar
1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Quart/Litre Water
2 Tea Bags Black or Green

Make sweet tea.

Remove tea bags and pour sweet tea into a mason jar. Add apple cider vinegar.


Place a breathable cloth on top of the "womb" and fasten with a rubber band. My SCOBY jar just happens to be a man who just travelled through the Middle East. Like Paul Coelho's Alchemist, I've name him Santiago.

Santiago sleeps by my bed. He LOVES being warm, which is why he has his scarf wrapped around him like a blanket. He also likes to watch birds. Sometimes we sit by the window together to see the seagulls flying around Dublin. He likes just a bit of light. He's sleepy most of the time. If there's sunlight, he likes to look at it, close his eyes, and have a nice dream. But in a dimly lit bedroom, by a warm fire, or with blanket are some of his favourite places to fall asleep.

Most of all, he LOVES bedtime stories. Because he sleeps so much, about 5 "bedtime" stories a day is the norm. Stories are a big part of his life and he considers dreams to be on par with good books.

It will take about a month for Santiago to become a real SCOBY. Stay tuned for more updates. Pictures of the birth are soon to come!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Gate 37: Como La Flor

This is a story that I published through Gate 37, a new online journal publishing writers who have a hard time answering the question, "Where do you come from?"

Como La Flor

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Abruzzo, Mi Amore


I am in love with Abruzzo. I've seen many places in the world, but only now can I say that I'm in love.

I was staying with friends in a small sea-side town called Cologna Spiaggia. Their economy is run by tourists, but there are few to be found. The bathers on the beach are nothing but locals who walk or cycle two minutes from their homes to greet the sea. I sat on the back of a rusted bike while my friend pedalled and waved at everyone we passed by. There are many words that could describe this gem of a place, but what sums it up is: family.

August 15 is Farragosto in Italy. It was introduced by emperor Augustus just a few years ago... in 18 BC. But it's still celebrated in Italy today because, well, why not? Accompanied by 40 of our closest friends from Cologna Spiaggia (about a quarter of the population), we boarded a bus to a nearby town that was hosting a festival, passed around bottles of Campari, and started belting classic songs of Abruzzo. 

When you drink Campari, apparently this is the kind of night you can look forward to:


But I was with a bunch of sincerely wonderful lunatics and it was a bit more like this:

The night turned into a blur with many bottles of wine, dancing, singing, and finally ending up on the beach of Cologna at a Jurassic Park themed party at sunrise.

It was magical.

The next afternoon, we ventured to the beach with heavy heads and sore throats. But, it was necessary to be at the beach for the annual and cruel tradition of being in a delicate state, sunglasses on, possibly falling asleep to dreams of red Campari bottles clanking their glass necks on your skull, and a friend pouring a big bucket of cold water all over you.

This madness ensued for the day until my friend, Alberto, and I drove to his grandmother's house for a meal of spaghetti, lasagne, and meatballs, followed by shots of flourescent-coloured Limoncello and espresso.

The day was nearly done and nearly anything was making me laugh. Alberto's parents were trying to practice their English, and his father had found a new favourite word. Olive. And he'd say it randomly, with emphasis on the "O" like it was a big piece of cake going into his mouth, and breath the "live", finishing with a chuckle of pure satisfaction. And I could relate. Because it was was indeed a time of complete satisfaction, contentment, and experiencing a group of people who I now consider a second family.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dreams of Salt and Sandy, Sandy Earth


I'm in Ireland. The month is May. And I've had so little sun that my skin actually aches from lack of vitamin D. I would eat sand right now just to have some semblance of parchment. 

My first solution to this problem was calling my friend Paul and getting him to repeat his story of when he and his friend, Roger, accompanied a Dutch man on a camping trip near Dubai. As you would do, they drank for the entire evening and fell asleep in the chilly desert night, only to wake up inside a tent nearly 45 degrees Celsius! But it wasn't the heat that woke them up. It was the sound of the hammered Dutch man "yipp-yipping" on the back of a wild camel he'd bare saddled. 


The Dutch man had lived in Dubai for 5 years at that point and was well equipped to handle the ensuing head pain mixed with the heat, while the two Irish lads, Paul and Roger, barely remembered their own names.

The story seemed to seemed to have a knock-on effect in aiding my lack of sun. But I needed more...

For anyone who hasn't seen this video, watch it now and also look up other car tricks that men do in Saudi Arabia. It's kind of the only fun there is to be had there.

I also mean "car tricks that men do". Women aren't allowed driving licenses in Saudi, and they'd be in big trouble if they got caught behind the wheel. Even if you Google "fun things to do in Saudi Arabia," the second item that will pop up is an article from, "Top Ten Everyday Things Banned In Saudi Arabia."

Unfortunately women will have to be like the Dutch man and stick to the camels, while avoiding happenstances like this:


Alas, I was able to calm my frustration with the Irish weather and come to terms with milk being my only vitamin D source. I should have taken heed, though, when Liam O'Flaherty said, "I was born on a storm-swept rock and hate the soft growth of sun-baked lands where there is no frost in men's bones."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Keripik Paru Ketchup Bath

They called it "crackers" when five grey and yellow-dusted medallions were placed on my plate, half-covered with abandoned rice kernels and a large dollop of ketchup. It was Keripik Paru, or fried cow lung. I specifically did not use the ketchup. No one else used the ketchup and I was the only non-Indonesian at the party.

I was invited to learn a dance from Betawi, or the original name of Jakarta, Indonesia, called Yapong.

The dance is performed to a traditional gamelan orchestra who chant Ya-Ya-Ya-Ya in celebration of Jakarta's birthday. The dance was originally performed in 1977 for Jakarta's 405th year.

I thought the party would be full of flitty wrist movements and delicious tea. I thought it would be something like this:


But it was something more like this:

There were kids running around, women dancing on tables in the middle of the afternoon, and a small dog humping anything he could get his underside onto. Nobody really gave a shit. I was having a great time... until they brought out the Keripik Paru. 

I'll preface by saying that I'm quite adventurous as eaters go. But when I tasted the fried cow lung, I felt like I had put an old piece of leather that had been soaking in snake blood for ten years in my mouth. I probably turned green in front of my host, which is something I'd never done.

The woman who invited me smiled as I swallowed and said, "It is good, yes? Go on, eat it all!"

As she turned away and began dancing with the ladies, I felt horribly ill. I began to wonder where the cow lung was on its journey down my esophagus, and how I could stop it. I came to terms with the fact that I couldn't prevent it from entering my digestive system, but I had the power to stop any more from making the invasion.

I took a seat in a corner and stared at my plate in horror. There was no place to go. Just four medallions of cow lung and a dollop of ketchup.

The ketchup. Yes. That was the answer. My escape. I slowly pushed the lung toward a red sanctuary. As it reached the edge, it seemed like it would make it through. The ketchup was able to cover nearly all the evidence! I had saved myself and my social reputation.

"Mommy says not to play with your food!" a child voice shouted at my side.

She was a small one, not older than three, and she had caught me in the act. As she stared at me with black, gaping eyes, I laughed and said, "Oh, you silly. I LOVE putting cow lung in ketchup!"

She continued to stare as I grabbed all four marinated pieces and placed them on my tongue. A huge grin came across her face and she kissed my cheek before running off like a wild-ling.

I had been caught by an innocent bystander and there was nothing I could do but swallow. And I did. In one, thick, ketchup-y, gulp. 

The rest of the afternoon became a hallucination. Maybe it was the cow lung or my loss of inhibition. But I believe the Harlem Shake did commence and we all performed our own dance for Jakarta.

(A recipe for the Indonesian cow lung crackers can be found here at