The Hog: A Harley By Any Other Name Would Be A Moped


At the risk of offending, let’s imagine there is an organization of Little People. Actually, I’m sure that part is true. What we’re imagining is that they’ve built an entire city specifically to accommodate Little People. And you’ve been transferred there as a [your profession] for a few months.

Imagine the doorway to the home you’re going to rent being just a bit too low. Envision the way your knees will be higher than your belly button when you sit on the toilet. Realize that many chairs you try to sit in won’t be wide enough for your hips. Recognize that the shower head won’t be mounted high enough for you to stand underneath it. Practice keeping your elbows tucked into your body, lest they hit someone in the face. Remember that your feet are going to hang off the end of your bed. Prepare to hit your head at least once a day. Think about how you’re going to get to work: you can rent a car that’s difficult to drive because you have to cram yourself in, or you can buy a bike that’s hard to pedal and harder to steer (because the handle bars will run into your knees when you try to turn).

Maybe you think I’m describing what it’s like to be a non-Asian in Asia. No. It’s not quite that bad. This is, however, what it’s like to be a Swedish-Nordic-Hungarian descended person with an extra-tall gene in Asia. I know one personally. His name is Pat, he’s 6’7”, I love him, and I’m often present for his “miniature” moments.

A typical day in the life of a "big and tall" man in Asia

Let me tell you about one. It all began with our rental of “the hog,” as Pat likes to call it. The agent/proprietor gave us her little half-English, half-gestures mini-lesson on the features of the automatic scooter. Since I was short an ankle needed to balance, I became the default rider. Pat took the bike for a test spin to the end of the alley and back. Then we were issued our helmets which made us dead-ringers for characters in a popular 90’s Jim Carrey film featuring two idiots who spend a memorable section of the movie on a moped.

Gas was goal #1. We missed the turn, and that was the final ingredient for a mini-disaster recipe. Other ingredients:

  1. No experience driving “the hog.”

  2. No experience driving “the hog” with a rider.

  3. Day two back in a country with left-hand traffic.

  4. Pat being ten sizes too big for the tiny scooter.

Even in first-world countries, he's not safe (our van in New Zealand. Which, actually, was imported from Japan. So maybe nevermind.)

We pulled over and prepared to turn around. I gave Pat the all-clear on traffic. He began the turn and discovered his knees blocking the handlebars and the over-sensitive throttle at the same time. As the bike launched us toward the opposite curb, he did the only thing a panicked person would do: he poured on the gas while over-steering. Thankfully, neither of us ended up under the bike, and the only casualty was a hard tweak to my injured ankle.

A few days and lots more moped practice later, we were off on a day trip to Erawan falls. The countryside had me dreaming of summers in the Black Hills and inland Humboldt County. The smell of scorched dusty grain fields, pine trees boiling under the sun, green cool river lazily making its journey through the watershed… even that bittersweet, late-August, sub-conscious, preemptive nostalgia that accompanies the end of another beautiful season of freedom and fun under the bright blue sky.

Beware of elephants crossing!

Cruising along on the back of “the hog” with adventure threatening at every turn thrilled me. My favorite (nerdy) refrain of the day was to see one of endless road signs in Thai and think “Caption This.” I giggled at all the “elephant crossing” warning signs – the same silhouette on yellow diamond we use back home to warn people about deer. I adored the sweet locals who stopped as we rested our saddle-sore bums on the side of the road to make sure we were okay.

The falls experience had changed a bit since the last time I was there. First, there were WAY more western tourists – especially the Eastern Europeans (most of whom seem to have zero knowledge of environmental stewardship). An increase in farang (white western tourist) numbers by default increases the number who ignore Thai custom and have no qualms about parading around the park scantily clad. The water was much much lower – no surprise given the parched, “late-August” countryside. Because of the increase in folks who value a unique photo opportunity over preservation of ecosystems, the monkeys had become impossible. If before they were amateur thieves, now they are top-level Chicago gangsters.

Pat on the rockslide falls at "Pool #5"

But we still had a nice time. The hike through the jungle was a good rehab challenge. (I bought a brace at the pharmacy for the occasion and the owner told me, “I have never met anyone who has this **gestures to my ankle** and wants to do hiking.” She thought I was nuts.) The swimming hole we chose had fun rock slides that Pat got to try out while I swam (my personal heaven) and fended off fish nibbles. Yeah, they eat your dead skin. At some markets you can actually pay money to plunge your feet and calves into a tank and let the fish “exfoliate” you.

Snapshot from the end of our day - loved this moody, melancholy vista

The return journey at sunset was relaxing. Well, as relaxing as riding 60 miles on a motor scooter can be. Back “home” we introduced ourselves to some amazing sausage at the night market – lemongrass, lime, chilies… truly a mouthful of summer. And, dare I say it, better even than bacon. Dessert was Pat’s first jackfruit. Pungent, meaty, shot through with hints of melon and mango… in a word – yum!

After a few fancy drinks and some live music, we ambled down the quaint brick paths at our hotel to finally give our pleasantly exhausted bodies the rest they demanded. ♣

This album includes Pat’s Jim Carrey costume, skin-eating-fish, monkeys, and “the hog!”



4 comments

  • February 10, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Hey Jema I just wanted to tell you that I so like this travel blog. Keep up the fantastic work.Enjoy!!

    • February 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

      Glad you enjoy it! Comments like this keep me writing when it would be so much easier to “surf the internet like a squirrel addicted to PCP” for hours on end. (Quoting one of my favorite bloggers who writes at hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com Constructive criticism is also welcome from y’all who invest reading time. i.e We have my friend Amy Lodholz to thank for blogs that no longer go on for more than two word-processing pages. 🙂

  • January 31, 2012 at 1:21 am

    I am so enjoying your blog and emails! Sounds like the two of you are having the time of your life! Hold out for as long as you can – the states are still the states!

    Love to you both~

    • February 1, 2012 at 9:04 am

      Laurie! So good to hear from you! Thanks for the motivation. Pat says “Hi!” Take care and enjoy the gorgeous Redwood Coast for us!

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