Brendon Kearns

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Month: December 2013

Laying low in Bangkok

Posted by Katie

News of the political protests in Bangkok in the days before our departure from the US had us feeling pretty nervous about this leg of the trip, but reassuring advice from a few locals via my indispensable friend Ilse put us a little more at ease. After an epic flight out of JFK we arrived in Bangkok early on Sunday morning. In the course of our research we had read numerous horror stories about Bangkok taxi drivers taking jet-lagged tourists on circuitous routes through the city, pretending not to understand hotel addresses while racking up the meter. Expecting the worst, instead we found an efficient system where you give your hotel address to a translator who explains it in Thai to the driver, hands you a receipt with the driver’s details and a number to call if you have a complaint, and sends you on your way. Our driver dropped us at our hotel in Phrom Phong and we staggered inside to check in. The girl at the front desk said she had no record of our booking. After five minutes of confusion she worked out what the problem was – we had booked to arrive on Saturday the 7th, but it was actually Sunday the 8th. She giggled at us as we tried to make the necessary mental adjustments. Then she checked us into our room.

The area we’re staying in is a little out of the city along Sukhumvit Rd – apparently a lot of ex-pats live around here. It’s perfect for us as it’s a little more chilled than the other popular tourist spots. There are street food vendors in the alley out the front and a few Japanese restaurants and bars in the alley to the side. The BTS station is right round the corner so it’s really easy to get around but also quiet to come home to.

Due to the protests we’ve mostly stayed out of the city but we’ve still found plenty to explore. Banjasiri Park is right near our hotel and is full of cool sculptures, Thais doing tai chi, kids playing and turtles and catfish chilling in the pond.

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We’ve enjoyed checking out all the sois (alleyways) along Sukhumvit Rd. The sois are numbered – as the numbers increase you move further away from the city. Sukhumvit Soi 51 in Thong Lor is awesome, with plenty of street food, a delicious vegetarian Thai restaurant called May Veggie Home and great coffee at Full Stop cafe. Sois 4 and 11 in Nana were seedy as hell though – at 11am they were full of greying beer-bellied western men and their accompanying Thai prostitutes. The streets were lined with bad English sports bars and brothels. The inventively named ‘Dr BJ’s’ was a highlight.

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Sukhumvit Soi 31 in Wattana has the best Thai restaurant we’ve been to so far – Baan E-Saan Muang Yos. We were the only whiteys in there so we had high hopes. We had a delicious herb-stuffed grilled salted fish, seafood hot pot and a large Leo beer, all for 480 baht. So good!

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Siam Square was also very cool – mostly a shopping and eating district that I guess is something like Surry Hills in Sydney. We checked out the sculptures and the Xmas display at Central World, tried our first som tam (green papaya salad) and then looked around for somewhere to grab a beer, to no avail. I’ll admit we ended up sitting in an Outback Steakhouse… at least it had a good view to go with the ‘Australian’ delicacies and fake didgeridoos.

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The snowmen in jars seemed a little creepy.

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We finished the day at the Imchan food cart on Sukhumvit Rd, where you can watch the world go by while you eat a 40 baht pad thai.

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On Wednesday night we caught up with Brendon’s friend Wade, who happened to be in Bangkok too. Wade and his friend Kathryn were staying at Lebua Tower in Silom, as seen in The Hangover II. It was a pretty impressive contrast to our digs – there was a dedicated staff member on each level to press the lift button for guests. Their room was huge and you could see all across Bangkok from their balcony. We had a couple of Changs, then Wade asked the concierge for a bar recommendation – he directed us to Maggie Choo in the basement of the Novotel. We walked in, pulled back a curtain and found a darkened room with a Thai girl on a swings and more crawling around in a curtained cage on top of the bar. Hmm. A waitress wearing what looked like a military uniform came over to take our order. We each grabbed a cocktail and then left to find somewhere a little more normal. Down the road we found a bar that played hilarious Thai cover versions of songs like Piano Man and Nine to Five and a good night was had by all.

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Bangkok has really exceeded our expectations. It’s a beautiful modern international city with loads of character. There is so much contrast here – on one corner you’ll find huge shopping complexes that facilitate the most obnoxiously conspicuous consumption, then down the alley are brothels and ping pong shows and 10 baht street food. Everyone we’ve met has been incredibly helpful and polite. The language isn’t exactly coming easily to us (apparently Brendon is supposed to say ‘krap’ at the end of every sentence to make it more polite?!) but we’ll keep working on it.

Today we’re catching the train up to Ayutthaya for a few nights before heading further north for Xmas and New Years. Hopefully we’ll make it back to Bangkok at the end of our trip when things have calmed down – there’s so much more to check out here!

Holidays and end days

Posted by Katie

Some of my favourite nights out on this trip have been in Mystic, CT. Brendon’s childhood buddy Joel lives down there and we love to visit him and hit the town (actually I’ve just discovered it’s a village, but still). It’s a little, pretty place with an historic drawbridge that I have yet to see open. There are great bars and restaurants and the streets and houses are all very picturesque and lovely. Apparently it gets pretty touristy over summer but during the cooler months it’s been a great spot to eat, drink and be merry.

We usually get something nice for dinner from the Oyster Club or Anthony J’s, then stop in to DPI for a few bevvies.

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Next we’ll cruise around to Margarita’s for cheap cocktails or to the Harp and Hound (or both, let’s be honest). We wrap things up with a trip to John’s, a dive bar that’s as fancy as it looks on its Facebook page. Last time we were there an older lady had taken over the jukebox and was rocking out to 80s metal ballads while a group of local kids played pool. The drinks are cheap and strong and they stay open till 2. Win.

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The night tends to be closed out in Joel’s loungeroom, listening to the record collection he’s gathered from various relatives and garage sales. A few visits ago we were all surprised to find ourselves enjoying Neil Diamond‘s greatest hits and drunkenly pondering what went wrong with Sonny and Cher.

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We also spent a little time catching up with Brendon’s friends Kurt and Brittany from Calgary Canada (via Montana). We went to RI with them and Matt and Dillon and spent the day down at Misquamicut beach – it was cool seeing them so excited to see the ocean – then went out to the bars in Westerly.

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Brendon’s mum Linda also took the two of us out to a cool bar in Matunuck RI that does breakfast. They play loud soul and funk while you eat, their breakfast nachos make two meals and saying no to a $3 Bloody Mary with your breakfast just doesn’t make economic sense.

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Halloween has been quite the spectacle over here – I’m finally starting to see the point of it and even got into the spirit via a ‘Witches and Tombstones Tour‘ of Wethersfield with Chris, Cait and Flan. Wethersfield is ‘Ye most ancient towne in Connecticut’ and hosts an annual Scarecrows Along Main Street competition so we got to check that out too.

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The witches tour was pretty hilarious. We were taken to two different houses and invited in by women in historical dress who told us tales about the previous inhabitants. The woman who opened the door to the Buttolph-Williams House was all flustered and trying to mop some lunch off her apron when we arrived. She then told us some meandering anecdotes about some suspected witches from the town. None of the stories ended in an actual witch-burning and halfway through her second story she started calling the protagonist ‘Katherine’ instead of ‘Mary’. The woman at the Isaac Stevens House was much more with it though, and talked us through a 19th-century wake complete with creepy child-sized coffin. We also visited the cemetery before stopping in for a drink at Lucky Lou’s, where everyone ended up after Chris and Cait’s wedding the year before.

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The Halloween festivities culminated in some badass pumpkin carving under Linda’s expert guidance.

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In early November we headed up to Montreal for a weekend away with Ben and Laura. I didn’t know much about Montreal except that they have poutine – a sort of classier version of the chips n cheese I remember from Glasgow. Well, I guess if they can make chips n cheese into something gourmet I shouldn’t have been so surprised by how beautiful it was. Even the dirty stuff looked pretty.

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IMG_4306Everyone addressed us in French, which was a bit of a spin-out. But despite that Montreal still felt more like Sydney than anywhere I’ve been in the US. Everything we ate and drank was absolutely delicious (and expensive), from pho to crepes, Unibroue to Les Trois Mousquetaires. On Saturday night we went to Reservoir for dinner and drinks and as we left it started snowing. We walked up Saint-Laurent Boulevard and stopped into a few more bars, and I introduced Ben and Laura to Pimms and ginger ale (though perhaps snowy nights are not peak Pimms-drinking times). There were whole shops dedicated to ‘frites’ – my kind of place. On Sunday afternoon we went to explore the Jean-Talon market and stocked up on vegetables and exotic cheeses and breads for dinner. The holiday peaked for Brendon when he came across a stall selling pickled quail eggs – apparently another French-Canadian delicacy. He bought three jars and barely managed not to open one on the walk home. We went back to our apartment and cooked up a storm. Ben and Laura invited friends over for dinner and they went home with enough leftovers for a week.

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On Monday morning when we drove home the US Customs officer looked at me like I was some kind of creep when I pulled two jars of quail eggs out of my handbag. But they passed inspection. Ben and Laura dropped us back in Albany and we caught a train down to New York for a short visit.

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I’ve come to really love train travel, especially with views like this. It’s a nice way to see more of America, with the added bonus of recliner chairs and free wifi. When we got into New York we met up with Brendon’s friends Reed and Kristina, who fed us and put us up for the night. They are quite the wine aficionados so we got some good tips for CT wineries to check out and enjoyed putting a small dent in their extensive wine collection. We were worried we were keeping them up until they explained that they go to bed at midnight as the average working day in New York doesn’t start till 9:30 or 10am – some people even drag it out to 10:30 or 11. Sounded great to me till they added that it doesn’t finish till somewhere after 7, often more like 9.

We spent our day in New York exploring Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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A friendly New Yorker offered to take our photo with Balto – Brendon and I immediately started wondering how we could get jobs that allowed us to spend our days walking our dog through Central Park at 11am on a Tuesday. Apparently Balto contributed to stopping a deadly diptheria epidemic in the 1920s.

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The ice-skating rink was set up in Central Park already – made me think of Catcher in the Rye. You could look down on the skaters from up here.

We didn’t have a huge amount of time at The Met so we focused on a few rooms. My favourite collection was the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. IMG_4280

After The Met we went for lunch at an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet called Tiffin Wallah (thanks to Ben for the recommendation) – it was amazing. They had Brendon’s favourite coriander chutney and I discovered savoury doughnuts. Afterwards we caught a train back to Westerly for a few quiet days.

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Someone in Westerly had this fantastic idea – but unfortunately the pocket was empty. Maybe they weren’t refilling the compliments often enough. Or maybe Pocket Koala Bear just had a hole in his pocket.

After a few days chilling we headed out to Boston to catch up with a few people and see Cut Copy at the House of Blues.

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I was surprised by how stringent all the bars and venues in Boston were about ID. I left my passport at home and was using my Australian photo ID card – this resulted in security drawing two big black Xs on the backs of my hands at the Cut Copy show, which meant I couldn’t buy any drinks. At a number of bars I got lectured by managers and waitresses about how lucky I was to be getting served. WTF?! For any overseas visitors to Boston my advice is take your passport, even if you’re old!

After the Cut Copy gig (which inexplicably finished at 10pm, again, WTF?!) we checked out the Yard House in Fenway, which had a great selection of beers and midnight snacks. Other notable Boston spots this trip were Grasshopper vegan restaurant in Allston and Dok Bua Thai (an old Brendon favourite) and Shawarma King (an old Joel favourite – they have halloumi shawarma – you had me at halloumi) in Brookline. We also checked out Common Ground on Sunday night and witnessed ‘Band karoake with B11’, where punters get to perform their chosen song with a live band. Worst? An absolutely tuneless butchering of The Cure’s Friday I’m in Love. Best? The bartender closing the night with a rousing rendition of Creep by Radiohead.

Our next stop was a trip back to Portsmouth with Brendon’s mum Linda. We spent the morning wandering around the town and then headed over to her cousin’s place to check out some old photos and great 1960s family home videos.

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IMG_4371Old barn and houses at Strawbery Banke Museum.

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In the past week we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Eve is one of America’s biggest bar nights – everyone heads out to their local to catch up with everyone they grew up with. We hung out with Matt and Ben for the day, then headed to the Sports Bar with Brendon’s brother Dillon and his mates before adjourning to a house party for a few rounds of beer pong (America’s national sport).

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 I can see the appeal of Thanksgiving – it’s like Christmas in terms of the festive eating and drinking, but without the stress of Christmas shopping, trees and decorations. We had a massive Thanksgiving dinner with Brendon’s family then headed out to the bars (which all stay open) to catch up with friends.

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Since we’ll be in Thailand for Christmas we also squeezed in a visit to a Christmas tree farm with the folks. (I thought Christmas trees came from the supermarket??) Linda surveyed the trees on offer and selected the right one to be sawn off and dragged home.

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When we arrived in the US back in September 90 days seemed like such a long time. Now suddenly we have 3 days left in the states before we fly to Thailand. We’re running around buying our last minute supplies, hoping the Bangkok protests ease off, and trying to spend as much time as we can with everyone before we go. It’s been an eye-opener. I feel like I’ve started to understand the American mindset a bit more, though I definitely don’t always (or even often) agree with it. To me things are a lot harder over here, though America seems built on ‘convenience’. We’ve gone from 30-degree (Celsius, mofos!) days to -6 and light snow. I’ve got used to cheap alcohol and servings that could feed a family. We’ve got to spend proper time with Brendon’s family and friends and I’ve come to love them and know them and appreciate all the time they have taken out of their normal lives to hang out and have fun with us. I’ve seen Brendon’s old hangouts and found places that I love too. But by God I’m ready for Thailand!

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