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Celebrations and Coincidence on The Slab

Dull but efficient.

There are hardly any worse words with which to begin a post, I’d imagine.  Sounds like a lecture on German public toilets, or something.

However, it’s the only way I can describe Thai Highway 41 (also known as Asian Highway 2).  And it’s dominated the last few days.  It’s a pretty flat, very smooth, unnecessarily wide and interminably long lump of tarmac that runs all the way up peninsular Thailand.  It’s got me pretty much all the way across to the east coast.

But it’s crushingly boring.  And it’s hot.  And it just goes on, and on, and on.  I’m calling it ‘The Slab’.

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Thankfully, other events have taken my mind off it in the last couple of days.

To start with, I stayed up too late on Sunday, and had an extra drink.  Or two.

I should know better than to have too much beer on a school night (especially now that ‘school night’ implies that the next day will involve a vast amount of sweating).

But it was a momentous day, as I’m sure you’re all aware.  Bristol City were playing Walsall in the FA Trophy final (now named after an otherwise obscure paint company) at Wembley Stadium.  I spent ages trying to find a live stream.  I ended up listening on internet radio.  Not quite the same as being there.  Still, City won 2-0, and will now forever be the first team to win the trophy three times.  So you can hopefully understand why a small over-indulgence was called for.

An entirely predictable consequence was that I didn’t get enough sleep.  But, given no obvious hangover (and more importantly, a tailwind), yesterday became a low effort, high-speed rush along The Slab for 90-odd kilometres.  I even had enough time to grab a picture of the one interesting thing I saw; a huge, lonely Buddha waiting on a huge building site for a temple to be built around him:

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The lack of sleep (and, just possibly, a touch of delayed dehydration) caught up with me this morning.  I felt abysmally rough, and failed to get out of bed with anything approaching enthusiasm.  It was baking outside already, so I did some emergency re-planning, and settled on a much shorter day to give myself a chance to recover.

I was, therefore, only about 60km down the road by three o’clock this afternoon, and nearly finished for the day.  I saw a loaded touring cyclist, decked out in Thai flags on the other side of the road.  He didn’t notice me, but I noticed a cafe behind him.  I trundled over for a drink.  And saw another loaded bike hiding in the shadows.  It belonged to Colin.

And, get this…  Colin is from the UK.  From England.  From the West Midlands.  From Walsall.  What are the chances?

Bristol and Walsall meet twice in three days.  Once at Wembley Stadium in London, and once (with bikes) in a cafe in southern Thailand.  And all because of that extra lager on Sunday.  Isn’t that remarkable?

No?  Well, it’s as remarkable as this post’s getting, anyway.

The only other vaguely remarkable thing to happen to me in the last few days is my discovery of the range of room quality that you get in Thailand for more-or-less the same price.  A few days ago, my room had an improvised washing facility involving (spotlessly clean) dustbins.  Yesterday, I was in a brand new motel unit.  With (slightly alarmingly) mirrors on the ceiling:

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That picture looks odder the more I see it…

Now, the sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that the title of this post implies that more than one celebration should have been featured.  The second has nothing to do with me, at all (not sure that the first one had that much to do with me, either, come to think of it).

But it’s still well worth celebrating.  My cousin Jess, and her husband Jay (though I’m guessing he’s getting less of the credit), have just had a baby girl!  Congratulations and love to all three of you, and I’m looking forward to meeting Winnie when I get back home.

And that seems like a good place to leave it for now.  My dependence on The Slab should lessen from tomorrow onwards, as smaller coast roads link the various seaside resorts and hotels along the shore.  There might even be something interesting to write about next time.

The Future?

It’s the year 2558.

Mankind has evolved away from using letters.  People make do by scrawling impossibly long lines of runes on incredibly detailed signposts.  Nobody can drive very fast, as they need so much time to decipher the signs.  Oh, and there’s very little cheese in the shops.  Although there’s plenty of everything else, including sweet – very, oddly sweet – shredded chicken buns.

Yup, that’s chicken.  Sugary chicken.

Normal life appears impossible.

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Or maybe I just crossed the border into Thailand.

I did check, you know.  They said it was an hour behind Malaysia.  Nobody said anything about Thailand being five-hundred-and-odd-years ahead.  Less the hour, of course.

But it really is 2558 here.  I know, because the date is one of the very few things you can understand after putting the Thai language through Google Translate.

A quick example.  I’ll give you all the help I can.  This is part of the first (almost infinitely long) text message I received from the mobile phone company (True Move) after putting my shiny new Thai SIM card in.  I assume it’s a welcome message of some sort, but it might as well be in Martian:

‘Heard good Shepherd get to True Move H.  K or the 3G a fire 1 to have actually cover cover all over the United States number means of you is [phone number], use of work has to day at 18/04/2558′.  It goes on for a while longer, then the truly enlightening: ‘the First 99 Star Link to Bora Nasser the call Bt 20 use has long 60 day pin scrap!!’

While it’s good to know that we’ve managed to develop a Star Link to Bora Nasser by 2558, the rest of this makes very little sense to me.  Even allowing for Google’s less-than-legendary grasp of language, it should be easier to understand than this, shouldn’t it?

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Anyway, despite the language issues and the future shock, the first couple of days in Thailand have been promising.

I’m really in the deep south of the country at the moment; it’s very rural, and with very few tourists (I’ve heard that most of Thailand is over-run with them).  The roads are nice and smooth, and the drivers are civilised, not unlike Malaysia.  The weather’s hot and humid.  Again, not unlike Malaysia.  The countryside’s a bit more interesting here, though.

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The biggest difference on the road is that there are hills on the Thai side of the border.  Not especially big ones, and with space between for the road to snake through with minimal climbing, but hills, nonetheless.

And the biggest cultural difference is that I’ve moved from a majority-Muslim democracy to a majority-Buddhist constitutional monarchy under military control.  They take their royals very, very seriously here.  I think there must be some sort of significant event or anniversary on at the moment, as the place is festooned with flags and portraits.  I’ll probably work out what the fuss is all about while I’m here.  I’ll let you know if I do.

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Well, there’s your first bulletin from the future.  I’m off to check on the next few hundred years of football results, so I can get some bets on, if and when I make it back to 2015.