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It seems like every day brings some new clarity to my surroundings.  Sometimes, that comes in the form of a very simple realization or understanding.

For example, a few days ago I first noticed a small folding table alongside the main road just outside of our soi ("soi" is a small side street or alley). &nsp;This table had a dozen or so whiskey bottles atop it, filled with a liquid that I assumed was either pale whiskey or sugarcane juice (you see A LOT of the latter at the various markets, but usually in old soda pop bottles).  I didn't really think much of it until we were leaving to drive into Patong last night and Tim pulled up to this table.  I didn't think she was thirsty as we'd just easten.  Since she was getting off the motorbike, I followed suit.  Tim then lifted the bike's seat and removed the gas cap after which the vendor uncapped one of the bottles and poured it into the gas tank.  Apparently, each bottle holds 30 baht of gasoline as the man poured two bottles into the tank and then Tim asked me for 60 baht (approx. USD $1.60).

So, now I know what the late night drivers do when they need to fill up as all of the "real" gas stations I've seen usually seem to be closed and cordoned off when we pass them as early as 9:00 or so in the evenings.  Every once in a while, you do see a small vendor stand that says "Gasoline" but those never seem to be manned.  Now that I know what the "whiskey bottles" really are, I've been noticing more of these tables in the area.

As Tim pulled away from this gas stand, she laughed and told me that the vendor had commented that he thought the motorbike was brand new because it was so clean (she and I had spent a couple of hours washing and detailing it yesterday afternoon).

For the second night in a row, we had gone down to Patong to "party" with Tim's friends last night.  The night before, Tim and I spent an hour at Che-Ra-Hut — a bar on the last hill before you come in to Patong from the southern highway — waiting for La to get off of work.  It was a nice enough place but the bottle of Singha we shared wasn't very cold and I noticed a distinct soapy flavor (influenced, I'm sure, by an online critique of Thai beers I'd read earlier in the day).  After La arrived, the three of us journeyed to a karaoke bar in the middle of nowhere on the northeast edge of Patong.  It was a place geared more for Thai locals than for tourists and was basically a shack with some tattered sofas & tables and a single karaoke machine that had definitely seen better days.  The hostess kept filling our drinks even though we weren't drinking; when I noticed we were being charged even if we didn't drink the bottles brought, I tried to let Tim know we should leave.  I stopped drinking my Coke but still the hostess kept putting ice cubes in the glass (the bill listed each cube at 25 baht) which began melting all over the table.  Plus, she was charging us for whiskey that she was drinking.  By the time we got out of there, we were 1,300 baht (approx. USD $40) poorer although we probably drank 200 baht worth of beverages in total.  An example of the infamous two-tiered pricing where the "rich Westerner" is charged way more than the Thai locals and expected to pay for everyone else's drink as well.  Mai pen rai...

Last night was a lot less expensive.  We met Jum at the Patong Shopping Plaza and hung out there for a while with Lek and Ja (who were both working their jobs as motorbike taxi drivers).  After a while, we walked down to the beach front road and then along the various shops and stalls towards Bangla Road.  It was the first time I'd been down there among the touts since arriving and the severe shortage of tourists caused virtually all of them to try and sell me something.  I happened to be wearing one of the shirts I'd bought at Bangkok's wholesale clothes market the previous January and several of the Indian suit hawkers commented that it was a nice looking shirt.  I thought this one was fairly original:

"Hello, boss.  Nice shirt.  You want to buy some more?"
Close to the intersection with Bangla Road, there was a large open-air bar (I didn't see a name, but it was near the WB Studio Store and Molly Malone's) featuring a Thai Elvis impersonator.  I captured a bit of "Viva Las Vegas" on video to send Keith (his friend Chris — married to Marilyn's best friend Vickie — does some Elvis impersonations himself); most of the verses seem to be sung in Thai while the choruses are in English.  We also stayed to hear "Suspicious Minds" and the finale, complete with MC saying "Elvis has left the building" at the end.

There weren't very many people strolling up Bangla Road (we were there rather early in the evening — between eleven and midnight).  There was a light scattering of farang DOM's (dirty old men) in the company of young Thai women wearing skin tight (and very short) dresses plus various families out gawking at the spectacle of it (most of these seemed to be Scandinavian and German).  There were also a number of Japanese couples.  We bought some wine coolers (blueberry and raspberry) at the Big 1 Supermarket under Ocean Plaza and then sat across from Thai Thai Restaurant.  At the entrance to the soi neighboring that restaurant, there were several lady boys from a cabaret bar called Katoeys R Us ("katoey" is the Thai word for ladyboy) holding a banner advertising free "family-oriented" shows.  They were dressed in some pretty elaborate diva-styled costumes (think Cher as Las Vegas showgirl). &nsbp;One I thought was pretty hilarious looked like one of those "bad mamas" in the 1970's blackplotation movies such as "Shaft" (she even had the requisite Afro hairdo).  Whenever a family or strolling couple came close, they would give a little dance in the hope these unsuspecting people would want to take some photographs.  If a photo was taken, then they would "demand" money for the privilege (the other ladyboys would cut off the "victims" escape) — I've heard the ladyboys can be very dangerous with their tempers so it's best to pay without arguing.  Luckily, I'd heard about this scam before so I know to steer clear of such gatherings...

We also witnessed one farang who had clearly thought he'd picked up a strikingly tall Thai girl from one bar or another.  We'd seen them walking hand-in-hand earlier and I'd commented to Tim whether he knew the "she" was really a ladyboy (the height was one giveaway, the Adam's apple another).  We got our answer as we saw them again with him throwing a fit.  Again, in Thailand it's never a good idea to show anger as it causes you to lose considerable face; he should have just found a calm, cool, and collected way to remove himself from "her" company.

A little after midnight, we turned down Rat-U-Thit 200 Pee Road to head back down to wear Tim and Jum's motorbikes were parked.  We made a stop at Mick's And Matt's Bar (where Jum used to work) and I talked a bit with Matt — I'd been introduced to him on my last night in Patong back in January and we'd become friendly.  He told me about how slow business had been all week (we had noticed a severe lack of customers at every bar we'd passed that evening and the one before).  I wasn't too thirsty but I ordered a Leo beer for me and Tim had a Tiger.  Jum went and purchased some papaya pok-pok which they ate while I had some sliced canteloupe.  Just as we were getting ready to leave, some Thai friends of the waitress showed up armed with some bottles of Thai white wine (made from rice instead of grapes!).  They offered me a glass and I found it surprisingly good; it's called Siam Sato and only 25 baht (approx. 60 cents U.S.) a bottle.  I plan to seek some out at the earliest opportunity.

We left Jum at her motorbike with a friend of Lek's and Tim and I began the 35-minute journey back to Ao Chalong via Karon/Kata.  As we began up the first hill outside of Patong, I felt rather cold so we stopped and I retrieved my jacket from the motorbike's seat compartment.  This was the first time I'd worn it since buying it and it felt very comfortable.  I'm still surprised that I felt cold enough to wear it though.

I awoke around 7:30 this morning and worked at uploading some more photos.  I'd hoped to be caught up before leaving on our northern trip but I ran into a couple of days where I'd taken a lot of pictures.  It's 7:30 Thursday night now so I guess I'll have to wait until we return.  I also burned some music CD-R's (Marillion) and a photo DVD-R to make some room on the hard drive (I'm taking the laptop on our trip).

Tim didn't wake up until late in the afternoon (she began her period last night and had cramps).  We spent some time packing and then Jum came over to do laundry and to eat a late afternoon meal with us.  She'll be checking on the house while we're gone (as will be our landlord and next door neighbor) so we gave her a key and the combination to the mailbox.  She'll come around every two or three days which I like better than having someone stay here (don't want to waste the electricity or worry about them making a mess).  This evening, we cleaned out the fridge and moved the motorbike into the second bedroom.  I'm finishing up a few things on the laptop and then we plan to turn in fairly early.  I can't wait to get "on the road"...