wander process


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A Story about One of the Strangest Days of My Life and a Good Beach Vacation

It’s a familiar story.

Girl goes to live abroad in Thailand, girl gets a 4-day weekend.

Girl gets dropped off in the middle of nowhere, gets caught in a freak monsoon and irked by a pig.

Alright, maybe I have your attention now.

This is how my first weekend in August started out. This trip to Koh Mak was, without a doubt, the strangest getaway I have been on to date.

For the amount of foresight that went into planning this trip (scanning the internet for routes of transport to the island, best guesthouses on the island, most beautiful beaches, the usual) nothing turned out right. At least at first.

Stephanie (friend & volunteer with the organization I work for), Adam (by now, a familiar face on the blog), and I decided on going to Koh Mak, a tiny island in far southeastern Thailand near the border of Cambodia. Koh Mak is known for being isolated, rustic, and free of the hoards of tourists that clog the beaches of the more well-known Thai islands. It sounded perfect. We made plans to take a overnight bus from Nakhon Ratchasima to Trat Province, where we would meet up with Adam.

Once again, I was shuttled onto an overnight bus that had oversold tickets and crammed people into aisles for the 7-hour journey. Luckily, Stephanie and I managed to get the last seats on the bus.

I popped motion sickness pills, not because I get motion sick, but because it’s an excellent way to ensure sleep on less than ideal, mobile sleeping environments. I’ve received sage advice that listening to the Planet Money podcast has similar effects.

I woke up around 4 in the morning, the bus having pulled into the Trat bus station. We crawled into a song taew packed with Thai and foreign tourists (everyone else was going to the popular island of Koh Chang). Half an hour later, Stephanie are dumped at what can only be described as a backpacker holding pen.

MY WORST NIGHTMARE.

Dreadlocked, wayward youths sipping beers, taking drags from their cheap cigarettes, and downing beef & basil at 5 in the morning. I looked around with contempt and got pretty disappointed in myself that I had ended up here (even though there was really nowhere else to go). We waited in line and bought ferry tickets to Koh Mak from a company that probably doesn’t even exist. We were given vague details of where to find the dock with our boat. I felt pretty duped, taken advantage of.

Stephanie grabbed some breakfast and I sit and cheerily seethe in a way that only I can imagine doing. I decided to go looking for the mythical dock, as the sun had started to rise. Stephanie and I walk for about 10 minutes and find could only have been our dock. There were a few people milling about, but no boat companies to speak of.

This whole time we had ventured outside, we had a conversation that will go down as one of the dumbest conversations I’ve had in my life. We walked along commenting on the sky – “Wow, the sky looks really weird right now!” “Oh, look how black it is over there.” “This is so strange. The dock and the sky. What are we doing?”

What the heck were we thinking?! LOOK AT THIS SKY!

Somehow, we did not manage to put 2 and 2 together to figure out that we would soon be stranded outside in a really intense storm, without shelter.

Really dumb, I know.

As you would easily be able to predict, we got soaked. Every inch of our bodies, our hair, our clothes, our backpacks. And there were no boats either. We were told to go back.

Cranky and wet, we retreated. I squeezed the water out of my skirt and warmed up with some instant coffee.

Then I noticed this pet pig who kept on wandering around and wiggling his piggy nose.

And as much as I insist that my life in Thailand isn’t very exciting, I had to admit that this morning with the dock and the rain and the pig, this morning that was going on forever was truly surreal. I had to stop and say to myself, “Okay, this isn’t normal. My life is strange.”

After some lounging and minimal drying out, we went back to the dock. And waited. We didn’t know what boat company would take our tickets, and none of them did. We watched boats come and go for 6 hours. And Adam still hadn’t shown up from Bangkok.

I was getting irritated at how unrelaxing this relaxing beach vacation was turning out.

And then I turned my head and saw Adam not 5 feet from me! “Adam!” I yelled.

He had taken a chance and gotten off his bus early. Had he not gone with his gut, we would have missed him entirely! 10 minutes later, we had all found seats on the crowded ferry. Tired by the morning’s events, I slept most of the way (sleeping on boats is a special talent of mine).

Like most islands, you step off the ferry and are greeted by touts and trucks taking you to their guesthouses. There was one guesthouse we wanted to stay, but for some reason the driver wouldn’t let us get on. We boarded another truck with the name of a guesthouse I had recognized from my online research – Baan Koh Mak or something like that. Since it’s the low season, guesthouses and accommodation can be harder to come by on the islands, so we had to take what we could get.

Driving through the island, sitting in the back of the truck, I could see how thoroughly off the tourist trail we were.

We were taken to a remote corner of the island. We were only guests on this beach, at this guesthouse. Our bungalow was right on the beach, the waves crashed right outside our doorstep.

This all might have felt perfect, but because of the day’s events, it just felt a little creepy.

We spent the afternoon reading aloud to each other on the porch of the bungalow and played cards and drank lao pun. We wanted to eat fish given that, you know, we were on an island, but for some reason, there were no fish to had on the entire island. This might have been the weirdest thing of all.

The night was stormy and we slept unsoundly thanks to the cracks and gaps in the walls, our proximity to the sea, and the fact that all three of us were crowded onto a bed that was definitely not built for 3 non-Thai-height people.

The mosquito net was kind of dreamy though.

It was quickly decided that we would look for more centrally located accommodation the next day.

Our first full day on the island shook off all of the weird vibes we had accumulated from the day before. The sky was perfect and the sea was clear and it was exactly what we needed. We easily found a new place to stay. We shared our new guesthouse with a group of high schoolers on a tour and we spent a great deal of time watching them and speculating about them.

We coated ourselves in coconut oil, not for better bronzing, but because it’s a natural sand flea repellant. I learned that sand flea bites don’t hurt but will leave a small red dot that fades quickly.

Much laying out and lounging in the warm gulf waters was done. It was finally shaping up to be the beachy vacation we were all hoping for. We laid down on the sand and let the water lap the backs of our legs, our backs, our arms.

Rosy cheeked and tired from the sun, we spent the afternoons curled up in hammocks, reading. This is all I ask of any vacation, ever. Copious amounts of reading time.

At night, we lay under a different mosquito, reading more stories and having hours-long conversations.

For all of the strangeness, it turned out as peacefully and restfully as I had hoped.

Except, really, how could an island not have fish? Tell me, please.

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day & sunset from our favorite view of the ocean from Koh Mak:


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summer weekend escapes

Living in a very remote area has necessitated several weekend getaways. With one of my dearest friends living there, Bangkok was an obvious choice. Sometimes all I need is a wonderful city with good food and great friends to enjoy it with.

The best food I have had in Thailand at Chote Chitr. Also, the crankiest lady I’ve ever met in my life. Twice, I have been to her restaurant and twice I have come away feeling simultaneously so pleased with the food I’ve had and emotionally destroyed by her manner of service.

There’s a lot to be said for the beauty of ceramic tile work.

The rainy season strikes in Pahurat Market. Vendors act quickly to cover their wares in plastic.

This is my favorite soi (alleyway) off of Yaowarat Road in Bangkok – the main drag of Chinatown. It has live chickens for sale, quiet temples, grouchy tea vendors, and the most colorful salabao (steamed buns) I’ve ever seen. I stop by to get a salabao every time I roam Chinatown.

PEACE TO ALL WHO ENTER HERE

 

 

 

 


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Love, Thai Style

News of my coworkers’ impending wedding came in April or so and knowing that it would be in bad form to not invite coworkers, I eagerly awaited my invitation.

When the invitation finally came, I could not have been more pleased. Getting the invite was great enough. The greatest part, however, was the realization that I was about to attend a Hello Kitty-themed wedding. Hello Kitty holding a bottle milk (that conveniently read “MILK”) was emblazoned all over the background of the wedding invite. It was like a bad stereotype come true.

Thai weddings are reserved for people close to the family, so all of the coworkers met up at the wedding reception, which was held at a large building on the edge of Lamplaimat. I slapped some make up on my face and put on my fancy beads that weigh roughly as much as a small child. I met up with Stephanie, an intern at the school for the summer (you will see more of her in the coming posts), and we set off to congratulate Ouey and Op and celebrate their nuptial bliss.

I gave Ouey a big hug and told her how beautiful she looked on her special day. Some things don’t change across cultures. I also slipped them a little money. Wedding gifts in Thailand are almost always money. And money that you give has to be an even amount, otherwise it’s bad luck or something.

We strolled into the reception hall and were confronted with what might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve even seen at a wedding. A larger-than-life-size banner of Ouey and Op in their wedding clothes, looking all cutesy and pointing at each other.

It seems like elaborate table set-ups are a given, no matter what country you go to a wedding reception in. This one, I was told, was Chinese-style.

All of the tables were provided with cheap, flat, watered-down alcohol. I was sitting around a table with my coworkers, and we saw that some of our students were also attending the wedding reception. They bashfully came over to our table, said a quick hello, gave us the alcohol from their table, and promptly left.


For the next hour or so, there was a lot of sitting around and enjoying/trying to identify the food. Here are some shots of my lovely coworkers:

Bell, Kum, and Oi

Nat, Nim, Nim’s boyfriend, Add

Ty, me, Stephanie

At one point in the night, I was coerced into trying to catch the bouquet (I was surprised they even had the bouquet toss). There were not many single ladies attending the reception, so it ended up being me and a handful of the other teachers. I didn’t want to be the strange, bouquet-snatching white girl at the reception, so I hung back a little and let my coworkers battle for the bouquet. Oi emerged the victor.

The bride and groom made their way through the guests, stopping to take pictures with everyone. Then came time for our crew.

And then it was time for the final picture of the night before the jet-legged Stephanie and I made our way back to our rooms. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the reception, but I suppose like all wedding receptions, it depends on the company you keep. And my coworkers were a blast to hang out with.

 

 

 


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get yer goat

No trip to the DC area would have been complete without visiting my friend Casey at her family’s house right outside of DC. I wanted to see their land, their goats, their house. Even though they live so close to the city, when we were at Casey’s house, all the signs and trappings of city life were noticeably absent.

It was just us and the goats.

what interesting pupils!

Amber, your fur is so luxurious

It was neat to be able to see the home of one of my best friends, especially since we both grew up on farms. (Fun fact – one time, when I was in Thailand and Casey was keeping an eye on all of the pregnant goats at her home, we were skyping, and mid-skype, unbeknownst to Casey, a little kid was born!) Her family’s house and land were so beautiful and lovingly cared for – like something straight out of HGTV (the surprising cable TV channel I never step watching when I’m home). It was a truly great way to while away an afternoon.

 

 


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brioche kind of days

Some day in the distant future, this blog will once again post timely pictures and anecdotes about what’s going on in my life.

But until then, you get to look a pretty, mouth-watering pictures of fattening food that I took over a month ago.

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I knew that when planning a trip back home to the US, a trip to some cool city where my friends now live would be requisite. Without much hesitation, I settled on Washington, DC – chosen city of many of my dear friends. While I was sad to say goodbye to my family (who I rarely ever see anymore), I was delirious at the thought of spending quality time with some of my closest friends.

One of the things I miss the most about living in a city in America is the constant access and availability to free cultural events. Before making it to DC this time around, my friends and I had already made plans to participate in the Post Hunt, which is more or less a downtown-DC-wide riddle/puzzle/scavenger hunt on steroids designed by Dave Barry, run by the Washington Post and for the overeducated. Definitely my kind of thing.

Thanks to a lot of DC-know-how, my team made a good showing. We successfully found the answers to the 5 main clues of the day but we weren’t quick enough to snatch the final prize. As the Post Hunt was coming to a close, our brains were tired. I was supposed to be counting over 600 words on a page, but in my head, I have given up.

I was only thinking about one thing.

The Luther.

As I am wont to do, while at home, I was scrolling through one of my favorite foods blogs, Serious Eats, and found a picture of a glorious sandwich from the ChurchKey in Washington DC.

In food legend, the Luther is the monstrous combination of a cheeseburger sandwiched between two doughnuts acting as buns. Without having tasted it, the sandwich haunted my time at home and haunted my time in DC. It was always at the back or my mind until I knew that it would be mine.

ChurchKey took that idea, and instead of one-upping it, they 3,000x-upped it. Crisp, tender fried chicken breast filled the space between fresh, glazed (and dare I say, bordering on cakey?) brioche. The sandwich was drizzled in maple syrup and festooned with walnuts. As if this sandwich wasn’t cool enough, it wasn’t even on the menu. We were a table of cool kids with doughnut sandwiches and the diners around us wanted to know what magical creations we had ordered.

I know I can die a happy girl.

If that wasn’t enough brioche for a day, we decided to hit up DC gelato mainstay, Pitango, for some dessert. If there was ever a meal that didn’t deserve dessert, the Luther was it. But I do love me some Pitango and it would’ve been a shame to go to DC and not go to Pitango.

The Pitango we visited in Logan Circle offered brioche-gelato sandwiches. Apparently this is an Italian tradition? I know that in Thailand, I can easily buy homemade coconut ice cream nestled between two slices of baby-sized white bread, but I figured that Italy was too classy to mix their starches and sugars in such an offensively tasteless way.

I was already beyond stuffed at this point, but I went for the brioche sandwich anyway. I carefully selected  dark chocolate and Earl Grey gelato.

I’m afraid nothing could compare to the perfection that was the ChurchKey Luther brioche. The gelato was tasty (and the flavors were refined and subtle), but the brioche was too dry to enjoy the sandwich. I wouldn’t order it again.

Did I learn anything through my overindulgence of brioche? Yes. Never order two in the same day. One is bound to be dry. And it’s usually best to keep your breads away from your cold desserts.


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high school food

Sno cones are high school food, my friend Hamm and I decided while I was home. Nothing says high school like numbing my tongue with cold sugar and babbling on like a fool. I made sure to go twice when I was home, I love sno cones that much. So ice deli-cious.

Aaron, one of my oldest friends, spoon to his eye

I like a mix of flavors and as syrupy as possible.

my sisters and Aaron. This makes me so nostalgic for mid-American summers!