wander process


Leave a comment

A Year’s Difference: The Buddhist Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok’s Chinatown

I’ve been falling into this habit: when anything happens, when I do anything of note, I think to myself, ‘what was I doing, where was I exactly a year ago?’

In the case of this past weekend, the answers were more or less the same. Last year, I made this video of my first time at any festival in Thailand.

This year, there was also lots of wandering around Chinatown to explore the Buddhist Vegetarian Festival. While I am perfectly content to mill around dark alleyways and crowded intersections by myself for hours, I couldn’t help but wish that I had friends to share in these experiences with. I’ve learned so much of the lay of the land in Bangkok and I wonder what will happen to all of this knowledge once I’m not in Thailand anymore. Will my sense of direction get fuzzy? Probably.

I suppose I had better enjoy it as much as I possibly can for now.

Isara Nuphap, one of Bangkok Chinatown’s most quintessential sois (sidestreets). Filled with dried foods, sketchy jewelry, and noodle shops. Always be on the lookout for motorcycles trying to make their way through!

There are small communities tucked away in each of the sois. This particular soi had an abundance of cats. I met this momma cat, May Lee, her kittens, Nueng, Song, and Sam (which translates to One, Two, and Three), and their kind, smiling owner who was willing to talk a little bit about the cats with me (in Thai!).


1 Comment

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.

+++

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


1 Comment

Suan Thon: Analog Memories

Whatever Bangkok tourism propaganda may want you to believe about there being an abundance of parks in the city, it’s more or less not true. Bangkok is a heaving, concrete behemoth of a city and my guess is that if you had to poll residents of Bangkok, far more would be interested in shopping malls and food stalls than jogging paths and quiet places to picnic.

That’s why I’m glad that I lived where I did in Bangkok. Right next to Suan Thonburiram (or just Suan Thon, as my friends and I called it). Unlike many other parks in Bangkok, it was a place for people in our neighborhood to gather – clean, secluded and set away from the main road.

It was the perfect place to be around people and be in my own world at the same time (a feeling I love). I could head home from work, throw on some workout clothes and jam to Beyoncé in my quiet, local, urban jungle. And I miss it.

I used to walk by this pond every day on the way to work and I always secretly adored the way this look, with the algae belched out onto the sidewalk.

The benches were a good place to read, provided it wasn’t rainy or excessively hot/humid or there weren’t mosquitoes out (I’m guessing you can now see why there isn’t much of a park-going culture in Bangkok).

squirrels:us::dogs:thailand


Leave a comment

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

 

 

 

 


1 Comment

One Year Out

Oh, what a year it’s been.

One year ago day, I had another typical, feverish 3am packing frenzy. I stuffed equal amounts of comforting things I loved and crazy thrift-store clothing I didn’t care about getting trashed into a medium-sized suitcase and a backpack.

I cut off all of my hair, partly because it was something I always wanted to do and partly because I needed to leave things behind.

I bid farewell to my friends. I said goodbye to my family. It was the first time I ever hugged my sisters and parents goodbye without knowing when I would see them again. Before there was always a return date in mind. When I set out for Bangkok last year, there wasn’t.

People always tell me how brave I am, to do something like move across an ocean, but I don’t know if I can understand that. It’s not bravery that I have as much as a desire to see the world, at any cost. And to not chase this desire while I’m young and unattached would be soul-crushing to me. This wanderlust I have is innate. It drove me as a young girl just as much as it drives me now.

I made this trip. Over the Pacific once more, nary a plane cankle in sight. And let me tell you, on that plane from Chicago to Hong Kong, I cried. Just because I do things doesn’t mean they aren’t scary to me. Quite the opposite, really. From constant challenges I grow, learn more about myself, learn more about the world. The only thing scarier than challenging myself is becoming complacent with shelving my dreams for another day, another year, another decade. Plenty of real adults I have met at home, in Providence, in Bangkok, in Buriram, have told me that they wished they would have done something like this when they were younger. And I am a firm believer in regretting more the things I don’t do over the things I have done.

My permavacation in Bangkok was magical. So much exploring, so much getting acquainted to do. Except this time, it was with a city. This was a year for falling in love with places. My heart will always burst for Bangkok.

And then I moved. I have met wonderfully kind, fascinating people in the middle of nowhere. I have had the chance to try and become wonderful and kind myself, but it’s hard. I thought I’d start immediately soul-searching. As much as traveling or living or working abroad is often equated with “soul-searching,” it shouldn’t be. Far-flung locales don’t facilitate soul-searching, it comes from within as a response to an outside conflict. And I don’t even know if soul-searching is a good phrase. It’s more about personal development and self-knowledge. But soul-searching and personal development are not why you read this blog.

It feels so universal, the romanticization of lives of friends and acquaintances and strangers abroad. I am more than guilty of this. I click through facebook, enviously clicking through pictures of friends’ trips abroad, wishing I could also travel. And then I have to snap out of it, because I remember that I’m abroad. This isn’t me bragging, this is me telling you that my life isn’t as exciting as it seems through a blog and facebook pictures. There are lots of things to overcome that wouldn’t exist if I was working at home. There are days when I have thought only about how green the grass must be in an alternate, America-dwelling life I would have had.

It’s hard, but it’s good. It’s rewarding in a complex, sometimes backhanded, sometimes straightforward way that nothing has ever been before.¬† I can’t always articulate it, but you know it if you’ve been here, if you’ve felt these same things. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made here, I’m grateful for the friends and family who have clocked in many early and late hours on skype. I am grateful for everything I’ve learned in this year, because it’s so much, it astonishes me. I am grateful for myself, for persevering and making it here in Thailand one whole year. I can only hope that my next year of life will bring so many adventures and insights.


Leave a comment

Bad Spelling

Sometimes I wonder what kind of friend I am. I mean, obviously, to most of my friends, I’m “the friend who’s living in Thailand.” And what kind of friend-who’s-living-in-Thailand could I be if I don’t provide people with many pictures to drool over?

More than pictures to velvety rice paddies, lushly dense jungled mountains and pristine beaches, people seem to go nuts over bad translations and unfortunate spelling. And I see them all of the time! I should stop holding out on all y’all.

This comes from a walk down the vegetable aisle at Tesco Lotus. I go to “Lotuh” twice weekly, mostly to stock up on apples, yogurt, and yogurt milk. If I’m lucky, there will be some sugar snap peas or cherry tomatoes. Yesterday, there were no peas, but I did find these translations (right next to one another):

I’m realizing that I don’t share enough the charms of my everyday life here. There are some really great, silly, crazy things that happen to me here. They might not be exciting, but they also might not be a part of everyday life in America. So I’m thinking I should document more of them.


Leave a comment

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.

 

 

 


Leave a comment

The Pad Thai Pros: Thip Samai Pad Thai

There are a great many reasons why I loved living in Bangkok and while I still anticipate every single trip of mine to the City of Angels (the non-LA City of Angels).

A lot of these reasons have to do with food. Talking about how Bangkok is a foodie’s paradise is like beating a dead horse. It’s as if everything that needs to be said about the city’s food scene has already been said.

But I’m going to share my trip to Thip Samai anyway.

Located in the fun, old-school Krung Thep area of Banglamphu, Thip Samai is a behemoth of a pad thai purveyor.

I remembered being totally blown away by my first pad thai. And in comparison to what Thip Samai has to offer, my first pad thai sucked. Pad thai is one of those specialty dishes that most restaurants in the US manage to screw up and make gloopy. And to make the dish at home, with all of the unique, fresh Thai ingredients (tamarind paste?!) is unthinkable. Execution and ingredients are everything, so I believe it’s best to leave pad thai to the pros.

So to the pros I went.

Imagine your plain-old, everyday chicken or tofu pad thai. Now imagine it sliding off the table and having it replaced by the most amazing pad thai topped with sliced green mango, cuttlefish, crab meat, shrimp roe, and the classics – chili, bean sprouts, fish sauce, sugar. Whoa. So good. At THB200 (USD6.30), it’s about as pricy as pad thai comes, but savored among 3 friends, it was more than worth it. Thipsamai’s been around since 1966, so they know what they’re doing.

The restaurant is nicknamed “Ghost Gate Pad Thai” due to its proximity to Bangkok’s Ghost Gate (Pratu Pi), the location of the burial of people who perished during a cholera epidemic.

Luckily, we didn’t get cholera, we didn’t even get indigestion.

Probably because we took a nice little neighborhood walk after our heaps of pad thai. And this nighttime walk was especially great because of the views of nearby Wat Ratchanatdaram.

Thipsamai Pad Thai is located at 313 Mahachai Road, Phra Nakorn, Bangkok.


Leave a comment

working in multiples.

I am tired from a multi-hour baking session with Summer (Baby Girl is graduating from high school tomorrow! Where did the time go? How is she not 3 anymore?). Right now, I’m as happy as a clam in my family’s Spam apron, making cupcakes and singing along to my favorite records with Summer.

quality sister time. also, I finally got a decent haircut. thank goodness! i was getting pretty mangy.

I am also dealing with spending quality time in 4 radically different time zones in the past week. And shoveling 4 radically different cuisines in my system (Thai, Indian, French, Midwestern). More or less, my body hates me right now.

I am trying to get the energy to edit pictures from Paris and write a few posts, but I lost a little heart after Facebook wouldn’t let me publish a great album full of film pictures I took last December. Hopefully they’ll let me put up my Paris pics.

In the meantime, here are a few pics of Bangkok. There will be more to come. As expensive as it is to have film developed these days, I love the excitement of forgetting about the pictures I’ve taken and falling in love with and/or being disappointed with how they turn out. And I love the grain. I think of my film photos as things that I love more than anyone else, but nevertheless, I shall post them.