BLACK THAI AFFAIR

The Movie

March 21st 2002, Boston Massachusetts:  The American economy winced in pain, tenderly licking the wounds inflicted by the biggest crash since the Great Depression. Hundreds of thousands of Boston IT professional found themselves without work and on the government dole.  Layoff after layoff, many prayed for a light at the end of the tunnel.  Only knowing 80 hour work weeks and fat pay checks, many career oriented intelligent (and not so intelligent) professionals were searching for a new meaning in life. 

Our story begins with two such fellows, Kevin Vonasek and Josh Schaertl.  After four years of devoted service to a local internet company, the axe was handed down from above. Like so many friends before them, their office was suddenly terminated. Not sure what to do next, the two men looked towards the skies.   They dreamed of experiencing new cultures and living in lands so very different from their own.  Single, jobless and having no children that they knew of, the two men resolved to embark on the experience of a lifetime.  Looking to recapture numerous holidays and weekends spent slaving away at the office, the two purchased roundtrip airfare to Thailand.  This time there were no stock options or IPO’s. No objectives, milestones or deadlines. This time the two were only equipped with the crazy idea of spending 5 weeks on a random adventure.  On March 22nd 2002 the two men landed in Bangkok. They stepped off the plane and one thing lead to another.  Five months later they figured it was time to come home.

Thailand proved to be a gracious host.  The people of Thailand opened their houses, their cars and more importantly their minds.  Though completely foreign, the two Americans began to recognize the fundamental similarities in all people of all types.  By experiencing the lives of others, these two men learned more about themselves than they ever imagined.  The American dream they knew was all about climbing to the top. But slowly their adventure made them question the true meaning of the term: Quality of Life. Was it about having more money, nicer cars and summer houses on the beach? Was it worth exchanging 80 hours a week for extra luxury?  Perhaps the truly precious commodity in life was time itself.  Isn’t there always more time to make more money? And once time has passed, isn’t that time lost forever?

Upon their return to the States, their friends asked them the predictable, “So how was it?”  Josh and Kevin looked at each other blankly, thinking the same thought. How does one explain 5 months of life changing experiences?  How does one share thousands of photos and 40 hours of video tape while still keeping their friends?  How does one begin telling a story that could take days or weeks to tell?  Well it’s easy. You spend another three years in front of a keyboard and monitor and presto, you make a movie!

This feature film has little bit of everything for everyone. There are cultural and educational pieces that may be boring to some. And then there are segments containing drunken mischievousness that others might label as stupid and immature.  But what this movie aspires to do, is to show anyone who hasn’t spent a lengthy time outside of America, that there is a whole different world out there.  And if you ever, ever, ever ever, ever… have the opportunity to travel outside of America, we promise you will be handsomely rewarded.  There simply is no other education quite like it. 

This movie by no means tries to label or explain the life of every Thai citizen. Like America, Thailand is filled with creative and diverse population and one story can’t possibly do it justice. This movie attempts to record the experiences and comments of two travelers.  And if it opens your eyes just a bit, then we’re happy. If this movie convinces just one person to travel, then it’s been worth every ounce of sweat we put into it. We truly hope you enjoy our creation and looking through our eyes as we invite you to experience our Black Thai Affair.

The Trip

Opening

Bangkok (Krung Thep)

The capital city of Thailand is called the “The City of Angels” in its native language.  Whether you’re looking for angelic or devilish activities, this city has something happening 24 hours a day. Depending on which suburbs you include, this city is home to 7-12 million Thais.  Traffic can be ridiculous at times and the exhaust from millions of taxis, motorcycles and buses can sometimes be a little overwhelming.  However, if you like shopping, you can buy anything you could possibly think of in Bangkok. In fact, you can find anything you see in Pier 1 Import for one tenth the price. Don’t be afraid to barter at the various legal and illegal markets found around the city. Bartering is an accepted part of the culture. Though Bangkok is a must stop on any visit to Thailand, we recommend spending no more than a week in this city prior to continuing on to the more beautiful areas of the country. 

Lop Buri

Possibly the craziest place we’ve ever visited. This town is overrun by tens of thousands of monkeys. Seriously, we’re not exaggerating here.  There are literlly monkeys every where.  Buildings even have a protective layer of fencing to keep the inquisitive monkeys out.  You have to see it to believe it.  And if you love monkeys as much as Kevin does, you’ll really enjoy this part of the movie.

Korat

Korat is the first major city you reach from Bangkok when heading to the north eastern province of Isan.  Korat can bed reached via a 2 hour bus ride.  In the summer this can be brutal if the air conditioning is not working properly on your bus.  The bus Josh and I were on actually got into an accident with a pick-up truck. We had to wait for the next bus to come along.   Many areas of Isan are very poor and rural. In some places it only rains two months of the year.  The farmers then grow as much rice as possible so they can eat for the remainder of the year.  Here the Thai culture is often mixed with Laos and Cambodian influences.  The dialect, culture and food are slightly different, but equally enjoyable.   Here we visited Mai’s childhood home. Josh and I played soccer with the village children and taught a few of the locals how to speak some English.  As always, these people were extremely friendly and generous with what they had to offer.  This was also where we first experienced a Thai toilet.

Don Khun Thot

The funny part about our visit to Aye’s house in this tiny village was that after coming from Korat, Josh and I both thought we were really “roughing it”.  That was until we arrived at Aye’s house and realized that a house didn’t necessarily need to have walls or doors. But once again, this was one of our most interesting and favorite parts of our trip.  We met a great cast of characters, visited a famous Thai monk and sampled the region’s moonshine rice wine, “Satoe”.  It was also here that we ate the best food in all of Thailand.

Kanchanaburi

About a two hour drive north east of Bangkok you will find the city of Kanchanaburi. This city has a very dreary historical significance as it contains a landmark better known as the “Bridge Over River Kawaii”.  Made famous by that movie title, this bridge was constructed by Allied POWs and Asian laborers as part of the Death Railway, a Japanese supply route aimed at expending their occupation into India and Burma.  Just north of the bridge is an area called Hell’s pass where many laborers were killed trying to dig a pass through the mountainous terrain.

61,000 prisoners were used during the construction of this supply route.  About 12,000 allied prisoners in total were brutally tortured and killed during the construction of this railway.  Today you can find an Allied WWII cemetery where the bodies of many of these young men now lay.  The bridge was destroyed and rebuilt many times during allied bombing. Pieces of the original bridge can be found in the WWII Museum located near the new bridge. This region also contains a myriad of limestone caves tucked behind numerous mountainside Buddhist temples.  Kevin also acquired a job as a lounge singer here at a local night club known as the Apache Saloon.

The Great Barrier Reef

Josh and I spent one month discovering the amazing sights and sounds of the Great Barrier Reef. Traveling on chartered live-aboard dive vessels in addition to our friend Jack’s sailboat, we logged over 40 day and night dives including one dive surrounded by more than 30 feeding sharks.  We have some amazing underwater footage that we and our friends took during this trip.  If you like to scuba dive and haven’t visited this area of the world, put it on your list of things to do before you die!!  If you don’t know how to scuba dive, then you should definitely learn.  You are missing what it’s like to see life on a very big piece of this planet.

Koh Phangan

This tiny island found in the gulf of Thailand is a complete paradise.  The island has some of the nicest beaches in the world and it is inhabited by some of the nicest people in the world to boot.  One stretch of beach on this island hosts some of the world’s most famous full moon parties.  Once a month about 20,000 tourists descend upon this quiet beach and dance for two straight days.  Many can be seen stumbling around with their “Buckets Of Joy”, a powerful concoction comprised of a pint of whiskey, one coke and one red-bull  filled with ice and served in a children’s beach pail.  In addition to partying, this island is great for rest and relaxation as you can find a secluded beach and learn to cook Thai food, practice yoga or even do a two week diet and full body cleansing. 

Each year this island becomes slightly more commercial, but as of 2004 it still had a quaint tropical charm about it.  We still have a lot of great friends from this beautiful island and you’ll just have to come watch the movie to see it.

Tokyo

Unfortunately, Josh and I were only able to spend a few days in this mega-metropolis.  Though I’m sure there is a lot more to tell you about this city, we’ll just give you these quick pointers:  

  1. Learn how to use the subway. 
  2. Be prepared to stay out until 6:00am (when the subway starts running again).
  3. Try the sushi and do Karaoke with your friends.
  4. Buy a beer from a vending machine on the street.
  5. If you need to use your ATM, you have to find a CitiBank branch.