wander process


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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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pomelo, persimmons, papaya & postcards

I think I’ve gotten to a point in my life where if someone asked me for an adjective to describe my perfect weekend, it would be restorative. A time to relax, to sleep in late. A time to share with friends, reflect on the past week and scheme about the future.

Not all weekend days are like this, but today was one such day for me. I sliced up some fruit (all conveniently beginning with the letter p) and plopped myself down outside to send postal service love to friends and family and enjoy the mid-day sun.

Pomelo – the sweeter, fatter older sister to the bitter grapefruit. I sprinked my pomelo with a mix of sugar, salt and chili seeds. Pomelo’s in season now in Thailand and I thought I’d enjoy when I can. Living in Thailand has really influenced the way I buy fruit in season.

Persimmon – a mellow, orange-colored delight. I think that persimmons rep the color orange better than actual oranges do. Every time I enjoy or even see a persimmon, I think of my friend Kirstin, who loves them more adamantly than anyone else I know.

Papaya – this fruit is so stinky and cheesy smelling to me, but I love it. I love, love, love it. I buy one or two every week, slice it up, and enjoy it for lunch or supper. Plus, it does wonders for digestion.

The ever-present nuisance/amusement of my life, The Big Lug (this is name my dad and I gave to all surly tomcats) limped over to get a little affection and see if I had any food to give him. I didn’t share my fruit, but he hopped up on my bench anyway and I shared his company as I scribbled over my homemade postcards.


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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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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.