wander process


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Night Settles on Rishikesh

Like any new place, it took awhile to feel comfortable taking pictures in India.

But I remember the comfort settling in though, in Rishikesh, one night after having dinner.

I walked and walked by myself for a long time, looking at the empty places once buzzing during the day and I felt an overwhelming since of calm, grateful that the comfort had come at last.

rishikesh at night ganga ganges river india uttarakhand travel yoga

rishikesh night india yoga ganges paint bright uttarakhand empty space chair

rishikesh night india uttarakhand yoga ganges ganga welcome garland door curtain

rishikesh night india yoga green llight orange light travel uttarakhand

 


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19 Weeks of Freedom

What on earth does 19 weeks of freedom look like? 19 weeks without a job, sometimes without a home, sometimes without a purpose, sometimes without friends. 19 weeks of no new posts.

The first and largest chunk of time was spent decompressing in Bangkok and traveling by myself through India and Nepal. These are the stories that will be forthcoming.

The middle chunk was spent at home, in the company of my family and mostly crying from laughter every day. That, or dealing with leftover medical woes from India.

And this last chunk, this closing chunk, has been spent searching for employment in a city that isn’t new but isn’t exactly old news either. This period of liminality is now coming to a close. Things are falling into place and it feels good.

I promised, however, that I would update my blog with some of the time I have left now.

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December 17, 2012, I rose early. After discarding the last of the dingiest clothing and jamming spices, tea, and yak wool songs into my trusty backpack, and layering in thermals and fleece. I was unaccustomed to the Kathmandu valley cold and slept under six layers of down blankets – I’m sure my subtropically-adjusted body could take no fewer than six.

I passed through Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport for the third (out of four) time that year. (Remember my first time?)

And many, many hours layer, I made it to Bangkok. I shed multiple layers upon my arrival into Suvarnabhumi. Five weeks was a long enough time to develop a strong craving for Thai food, even if I had had it each and every day for over a year. So with my craving in mind, I sat on the skytrain with plans to meet friends for a big Isaan feast in Bangkok’s Ari neighborhood.

With thoughts of som tam (papaya salad) and khao mu yang (grilled pork neck) in my head, I lugged my luggage off the skytrain and through Ari’s soi-side dinnertime crowd. Let me tell you, I was so happy to see a table of smiling faces waiting for me. I was there, with kind and fascinating people, eating food I can’t get here in the US, and feeling dewy and more than a little ripe after a day of international travel and an evening of navigating the Bangkok heat with a giant backpack. I remember gushing about the past five weeks and everything I’d just been though, because really, other than my journal and conversations with strangers here and there, my stories and experiences hadn’t had a chance to come forth yet.

Immediately upon relieving myself of my backpack and sitting down, my friend Kyle asked me, “So, did you find yourself?”

Half-jokingly, half-seriously I snapped (the literal kind of finger-snapping, not the angry speech type) and replied, “I was never lost.”

“Finding yourself” in India has become trite, to say the least.  But I wasn’t lost before going to India and I’m not now. So while I can’t speak to India’s life-orientation skills, I can say that my time in India was as personally enriching as I had hoped (and I hoped for a lot, believe me).

I feel like this a bad, privileged thing for me to admit, but after being in India, I felt like it was the first real place I had been to. I can’t even describe what I mean. All of humanity is on display and it constantly requires attention.

So with time and with photos and with a few words too, I hope to share with you what I saw.

rust and teal paint job wall jaipur india chipped


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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!).


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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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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.