wander process


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India Legs

Though I’ve never been out to sea, the only comparison I can draw to growing accustomed to getting around in India is growing a pair of sea legs, but for India.

India legs.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been born with a spirit for adventure and an insatiable desire to see the world (and the willpower to save the money I’ve earned, only to spend it on travel). Even after five continents, after roughly two years of living abroad, nothing was ever going to prepare me for this.

With a very thorough and infinitely helpful introduction to Delhi from a friend and a willingness to get lost, screw up, and spend a lot of time wandering, I found myself growing my India legs in time.

Interspersed with observations from my journal, here are a few pictures of growing India legs in Delhi.

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delhi, old delhi, india, crowds, asia, travel, jama masjid

the crowded streets of Old Delhi

…the smells waver between completely mesmerizing and revolting. But they are mostly the former.

delhi, old delhi, india, market, shopping, streets, crowded, chandni chowk

I considered myself a market pro until I met Chandni Chowk

chandni chowk, palm reading, palmistry, india, henna, rickshaw, delhi, old delhi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the day of Divali, while looking for leather jootis (leather shoes) in Chandni Chowk, a large man, having taken an interest in me hopped into my rickshaw and professed to know exactly where I needed to go. En route, he proffered a business card explaining his palmistry skills. He told me that I had a very good heart (a common theme I heard countless times in India), that I would develop a health problem within 1-10 years, and something about my mind and power that he couldn’t fully explain and I couldn’t understand.

As the ride continued, he put his arm around me, making me feel extremely uncomfortable. I shoved it off and told him to stop it.

I tried my best to evade him once the rickshaw ride was over. The alleys of Chandni Chowk are twisting but we both had distinctive features that made us stand out in a crowd – me, my height and my white skin, and him, his red Sikh turban.

He then proceeded to follow me around the glasses shops and the shoe shops of Ballimaran for the next 20 minutes or so. I kept on telling him I didn’t need his help, but he insisted.

While I’m used to doing things that other people might consider brave, it was scary being followed by an older man in a country I’ve spent less than a week again. India was full of painful and unsettling reminders of power and gender. More on this later.

I ducked down smaller passages, stopped into shops where I had no intention of buying anything. I quietly slipped into a shoe shop, intending to buy a pair of shoes for Divali that night. Luckily, this threw him off my trail. Watching him from afar, I noted his confusion, wondering where I could have disappeared to.

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delhi, old delhi, jama masjid, india, rickshaw, streets, rickshaw-wallah

rickshaw ride through Delhi

It was here, in Old Delhi, where I had the chance to bring back my pay-and-dash skills I had perfected in Hanoi. Whenever I know I’m being cheated, I figure out how much I should actually be paying, pay that amount, often get the driver riled up, and then dash off before anyone has a chance to do anything.

delhi police, delhi, old delhi, india, pedestrian

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I  consider myself so lucky to have the friends that I do, friends that are still willing to sit down and talk with me about this. One in particular, Kirstin, spent three months in India when she was 18 and knows what I’m talking about when I babble on and in. In talking about India, it’s easy to resort to generalities – India is an overwhelming place! There’s no place like it on earth! It’s crazy and intense!

Kirstin told me that when she was in India, people often told her, “For every generalization you make about India, the opposite is also often true.”

So take all of these generalizations with a grain of salt.

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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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Off Again

And I’m here again. It’s the eve of the continuation of a big adventure and I’m not quite packed up this time (though I’m getting better and better about it, I promise).

This time, I’m not even going to pretend like I have coherent thoughts formed about what I’m undertaking (because I don’t know and haven’t planned) and what I’m leaving behind (because as much as I get made fun of for it, Thailand’s got a funny way of ingraining itself in my heart). My brain and heart are all over the places and are thrown to all different corners of the globe.

I had a week to remember what loving life is like again, and oh! have I found myself at peace.

So thank you. THANK YOU. To everyone who helped me get through this year.

Tomorrow, I am going to India. For awhile.


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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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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.


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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.


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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.