Borrowed Umbrellas

Almost everyday in Nakhon Sawan it rains, and it rains harder than anywhere I have ever experienced. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, it will go from sunny and hot to dark and dumping rain. After the rain clears the city glistens with little beads of water clinging to everything it can. Water continues to drip from all the rooftops and the air has a fresh wet smell to it. I love our afternoon storms, and being caught in one on my way home from work left me soaking wet (even with an umbrella), but I didn’t mind at all. The air is warm, the water is warm, and the pressure pushing down on my umbrella reminds me of just how helpless we truly are against the elements.

 

 

The sky before the storm.

477 Stairs Later…

Yesterday I woke up before 7 am, showered, grabbed some fruit for breakfast from a street vendor, and made my way toward one of the temples in Nakhon Sawan. Why so early, you ask. By noon it is unbearably hot to be outside, and by three in the afternoon the rain clouds approach, ready to release the floods. If you want to do anything active in Thailand, you need to do it first thing in the morning or in the evening, if it isn’t raining.

The temple sits on one of the mountains nearby, and overlooks the entire city. To reach it you must climb almost 500 stairs which are built at an incredibly steep incline.

(Thailand’s Temple Dogs)

A view over looking the park and lake across from my home

There were temple dogs everywhere.


By far, the greatest flight of stairs I have ever climbed.

Wait, what?

From here on out this blog will follow the life of an individual living outside of their home country for the next year. It will focus on the total and utter confusion I now call daily life. These past few days I have come to realize that I no longer have any idea what is going on around me.

It all began Tuesday night, around 11 pm when my plane landed in Bangkok. After traveling for about 27 hours I was happy to finally be off a plane and eager to leave the airport. I quickly realized how difficult communication was going to be, when my luggage did not show up and none of the airport staff spoke English. Finally, I was able to meet with the claims office for my airline, and they told me that although my luggage had been delivered to the wrong place, they would have someone drive it out to me the next day. To hear that was both a relief and an annoyance, because I had been in the same clothes for two days, but at least they knew where my luggage was.

(Appreciation of simplicity when you don’t speak the language)

I met my boss, Mike, at the airport, and then took a three-hour car ride to the town that I now call home, Nakon Sawan. He checked me into a hotel that was completely decked out in Hello Kitty decorations, and I quickly passed out, exhausted from traveling.

(Self portrait, first night in Thailand)

The next morning I sat outside my hotel, drank some tea, and was attacked by a litter of kittens that happened to find me as I was waiting to meet up with Mike.

Mike came and met me on a motorbike, gave me a tour of Nakhon Sawan, and took me to lunch and then to find an apartment. For lunch we went to Kup Kup, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that had about four tables, and is notorious among the foreigners living in the city. My first meal in Thailand, Pad Kapow Moo (fried basil pork), was incredible.

These past few days I have quickly come to learn that Thailand’s food is nothing like America’s Thai Food. Not only is it much tastier, but also it is so intensely spicy, even the breakfast dishes. The menus are all in Thai, which makes ordering somewhat of a challenge. I am trying to learn the names of what I like so I can order without a menu, since I have no idea how to read Thai. I have found that the easiest way to eat are the street carts. They have huge bowls of different dishes, and pointing and smiling seems to work. The only problem with this is I still don’t really understand what I am ordering. Lets just say I am learning to expand my taste pallet. Most people in Nakon Sawan don’t speak English, and since I don’t speak Thai as of now, everything I do is a game of trial and error. Yesterday as I was ordering a girl came up next to me in line and she happened to speak a little English. I was about to order what looked like a super yummy veggie dish, but noticed some type of meat in it so I asked her what it was. She asked the woman working the cart and then replied, “liver.” I decided to pass.

After lunch I found a place to live, in the heart of the city. I am renting a room in a hotel, which is much too large for the amount of furniture in it. My place is similar to a studio, except that I don’t have a kitchen, only a fridge. I am on the fourth floor, so my balcony has a decent view of the city around me.

(Mid-afternoon storm weather)

All the floors are tile and the walls are cement, so every sound I make echoes and bounces off of the space around me, which has made me very conscious of how loud I am. The other girl I got hired with, Danni, lives on the floor above me, which is really nice. I have never lived alone before, but having her upstairs reminds me of college and campus housing.

(The entrance of my building)

On my first real night here I went out to dinner with all of the teachers I work with. There was a group of about ten of us and we went to a restaurant where I got a taste of how different this country was going to be. For starters, the buildings are not enclosed like ours are. It’s more of a giant room with a roof, but no front wall. Almost every restaurant is like this, and I assume it’s because it’s too hot to keep the buildings closed up. As I was sitting at my table, I noticed something you don’t normally see in American restaurants… cats. There were cats strolling around everywhere and no one even glanced at them. They just cruise around the tables and wait for leftovers. I am surprised that they are able to handle such spicy food, since I don’t believe their natural diet would include so many chili peppers. I have come to assume they are mutant Thai Kitties. I let the other teachers order dinner for the group of us, and we are shared a bunch of dishes. Some things were kind of similar to dishes I had tasted before, and then others were unlike anything I had ever seen in a restaurant. One dish was a big fish that had been fried and cut open, and then stuffed with peanuts, shrimp, and a bunch of veggies and some things I had never seen before. The fish still had its face on and I’m almost positive they fried some of its organs. In Thailand it is illegal for them to sell booze at a restaurant, but not illegal to drink in one, so we brought all of our own hard liquor and then they mixed it for us and served it back to us. However, it is not illegal for them to sell beer, and oddly enough beer here is served over ice. This is because the air is so warm that the beer doesn’t stay cold if you pour it in a glass. It sounds funky, but the beer and ice they serve isn’t as bad as you would expect.

After dinner we went to a bar called Container, which is exactly that. The owner, God (the coolest guy ever), converted a giant old storage container into a bar. Most of it is outside patio seating, and then the actual bar is in the container, which has been reconstructed in some way to function as a building.

The Container is somewhat of a foreigner’s spot, and we were the only people there, other than God and a few others who work there. We stayed into the early hours of the morning, drinking whisky, exchanging stories, and getting to know each other.

The following day Danni and I went to breakfast at Mercy coffee, where we recuperated from the night before. Danni found Mercy, and I have a feeling we will be spending a decent amount of time there, since their menu is in Thai and English, and one of the owners, Tee, speaks a little English. Mercy reminds me of a hipster spot, with its bicycle frame art structures, vintage camera decorations, and the old-fashioned typewriter on a stand by the door.

After breakfast we spent the afternoon exploring some of the area around our hotel. Although I have only been in Thailand I can say with certainty that they are obsessed with four things-

1. Cats

2. Mustaches

3. American flag print clothing

and…

4. Hotdogs

Every store I enter has both a cat inhabiting it, as well as cat clothing. There are cats everywhere.

And next to the cat shirt is the shirt covered in little mustaches. And next to that is the denim shirt with American flag trim on the sleeves and collars and pockets.

Danni and I went in a 711 to pick up a few things and I have never seen more hotdog products in my life. Everything here is made with a damn hot dog. Hotdogs on pizza, pre packed mini hotdogs in buns, hotdogs in pastries, and they even had bacon wrapped hotdogs spinning on their hotdog grill. And their hotdogs are not like the ones you see in America. These are extra long giant dogs. I’m talking like two feet of processed meat the color of my skin. Creepiest hotdogs I have ever seen.

The snacks they sell all come in really odd flavors as well, such as spicy lobster Pringles. Danni and I probably spent a half hour in 711 checking out all the weird food and funny labels and trying to figure out what things were.

(At least some stuff is in English)

On our way back from 711 this lady started yelling at me from across the street, ran up to me, and delivered me a piece of paper with an email address on it and a note that said, “Hi, my name is —, nice to meet you.” It was from the day before, when I met the girl who told me what the liver dish was. Our encounter had been brief, maybe only three minutes, but I was told this will happen often, and soon I will have tons of friend requests from Thai people on facebook, who I have only met once, yet they managed to track me down. One of the other teachers told me she had received a message on facebook from someone she met the night before, that said “Hi, it was nice meeting you, I miss you.” I have had people shout, “I love you” multiple times as I walk down the street, or they honk their horns as they drive by. It is a really uncomfortable feeling how much they like Americans, but I was told to expect this, seeing as there are very few Westerners in this area, maybe only fifty in a city of half a million Thai.

Being cut off from communicating with those around me has been the most difficult part of this week, since it makes every interaction really confusing. Throughout the day trucks drive around the city, either blaring pop music or some sort of announcement from their roofs, and I have no clue what they are talking about or why.

I immediately learned to laugh at myself as I attempt to speak basic Thai with storeowners and those at restaurants. I have come to accept that they are either laughing with me or laughing at me, but either way were both laughing so it seems to be going ok.

This weekend I meet my different groups of students, and then Tuesday I take over my classes full time, and I couldn’t be more exited to start work. From what I have been told I have total and full creative control over everything I do, and no one ever supervises me or tells me how to teach. I get to work with all different ages so the variety of what I will be able to plan is exciting.

I couldn’t be happier to have finally made the move here, and I can tell this is going to be a life changing experience. I am looking forward to the amazing adventures that this year will hold.

(Girl in 711 with her cat)

Countdown

In exactly 48 hours I will be on a plane, on my way to Hong Kong and then Bangkok.

Let the madness begin.

A Weekend in the City

Last Thursday I departed on a last minute trip to San Francisco. Two of my close friends were driving up for Outside Lands, and I decided to ride up with them to spend a much needed visit with one of my best friends from college. We hadn’t seen one another since April, and this friend was someone I had spent almost every day with my last year at Santa Cruz. There was no way I could leave to Thailand without one last weekend in his company. So, how to sum up Thursday through Monday….?

Left town around ten-ish Thursday night. First stop- alcohol. Sitting in the back seat with a Four Loko while me and my friend passed the ipod back and forth. DJs taking turns makes for an interesting playlist. Dubstep to Ludacris. As we both made progress on our drinks the car ride got sillier, while our driver, of course, remained sober. Drove until we had to eat. Stopped for pizza sometime around midnight and ate an extra meaty pizza. Wrecked our stomachs. Only guests in the pizza place. Totally creepy. Drove for about another hour until our driver had to sleep, so we parked and passed out in a hotel parking lot. Hot air and a car full of limbs sticking out the windows just to cool down. Two of us slept with sunglasses on to keep the street lights out of our eyes. I thought it was clever, but our other friend laughed at us. Sleeping behind a steering wheel is not the best night of sleep.

With a few hours of sleep, we were on the road again. Driving under the rising sun that would make the Central California drive miserable. If, it weren’t for AC. Stopped again a few hours later so our driver could take another nap.

That time my friend and I played in the parking lot and entertained ourselves. I sat on the curb and wrote as he sat on the ledge of the trunk and played guitar. He skateboarded, I scootered. We wandered through a Pea Soup Andersons giant tacky gift shop. And I used a restroom that was decorated with more fairy statues that I have ever encountered. Literally, an army of them.

Once we could no longer fight impatience to go, we woke up our driver, who said we were making too much noise for him to really even sleep.

Ok, Dad.

We stopped to get lunch in a town where everyone goes to get drunk or die. I am not kidding. It was either a hospital, or a bar. There was even a dive bar across from the hospital called The Waiting Room. My friend couldn’t find a bathroom so he peed in the corner or its wall. After that last stop we were off to San Francisco.

We got to my college friend’s house and dropped off all of our stuff and then drove into the city. From there I split ways with the boys so they could go to the show, while I killed time to meet up with my friend. I wandered the city until he got off work, admiring fountains, stopping for coffee, and walking the water front. I met him in his office, which was 36 stories up, and had a view of the Bay. His big boy job. We went out for drinks and tacos and caught up on months worth of events in one another’s lives.

Nothing better than sitting across the table from one of your best friends and seeing their face as you talk to them, while being so appreciative of them in your life. Friendships that will stand the test of time will be the greatest gifts in life.

After drinks, sneaking on metro, back to his house, meeting housemates, drinking beers, getting fresh, off to a night out, more sneaking on metros, hopping around in the Mission District, meeting people and having instant connections, sneaking off together and sitting on the stairs of row houses giggling and talking, meeting up with more friends from college, off to more bars, all cramming in one car, back to the house, partying on the roof, over looking the city, rows and rows of houses and lights, passing out.

The next day we all woke up a little worn out from the night before, and decided at noon to get some breakfast. We took the bart back into the city and spent the afternoon in the Mission.

Bloody Marys- essential, diner lunch, Goodwill shopping, more Bloody Marys, Dolores Park, laying in the sun, hippy hill, surrounded by more people I have ever seen just hanging out in a park, people walking by selling drugs, selling alcohol, selling whatever it is that got you high got you low, wherever you needed your mind or body to go, people in hula hoops, people practicing for fire spinning, minus the fire, people playing sports, all different kinds of music playing, all different kinds of people, some dancing, some sitting, some sprawled in the grass like me, drank our beers as we joined a three man baseball game, hit a home run, returned back to our spot and layed under the sun with the group I was with, ended the day with a Chinese food dinner. Passed Out.

Sunday was my last full day in the city, so I wanted to explore a little more than the Mission. I have been to San Francisco so many times that I was surprised that the Mission was really the only place I had never been to in the city. We took the bart into Chinatown and climbed the hilly streets. In and out of shops, looking at weird things, smelling weird smells, buying pounds and pounds of gogi berries and taking pictures with people in dragon costumes. Chinatown was my last bit of American Asian influence in my life before I move to Asia. After Chinatown we ended up in City Lights bookstore and I could not put down the most amazing book I have ever found. Every picture and every word explained things that I have felt before and the exact way I think. It was eerie looking at a book that I felt I could have written. I will buy it, when I have money again.


After City Lights, Vesuvius Café next door. More wandering led us to Dolores Park again, but today it was just the two of us. More catching up and sun basking. Back to the house to relax and then off to Golden Gate park for a game of glow in the dark ultimate Frisbee.

BUT WAIT, I FORGOT SOMETHING.

This is kind of a big thing, well for me at least. I went on my first real motor cycle ride, through the streets of San Francisco, in the evening, where fog was beginning to wrap itself around everything. It was one of the most exhilarating feelings I have ever had, as well as one of the most magical. It never occurred to me how much I would enjoy riding on a bike, even if just on the back. The feeling of the cold bay air on face, just that one band of unprotected skin across the front where the helmet didn’t cover. The way the bike leaned and so did our bodies. The vulnerability that you feel, unprotected, racing down streets, with only the sound of air rushing past you. I fell in love.

Glow in the dark Frisbee was so much fun, and the park was so thick with fog it was amazing we even could see the glow sticks. Mine were green. I wore them on both wrists and as a head band. After the game I went back to the house to cook dinner with the boys, and we had the most amazing meal I could have asked for. A whole baked chicken, lemon tossed kale salad, sautéed potatoes, quinoa, and bacon wrapped shrimp. Wine and Cheese. Delicious. Watched films made my friends as we ate dinner, and laughed until our stomachs hurt.

Check out- Scare Cabin of Uncle II.

The next morning I was back on the road again with my two home town friends, and was sad to say goodbye to my San Francisco pal and the city. As soon as Thailand is finished and I am done traveling to wherever else I end up, I am moving to San Francisco. It is the final destination. It’s such a unique city with so much life and spice and flavor. I want to call it home. I will call it home.

The Problem With Packing

 

In five days I will be on my way to Hong Kong, and from there I will fly to my final destination- Bangkok. Two giant suitcases occupy too much space in my room, and not enough of my belongings occupy the space within them. My stuff is thrown everywhere, in a chaotic way that is organized only for me. Packing clothes has been the easy part. It’s going to be brutally hot, so I’m more or less planning for yearlong summer. Which, in reality, isn’t difficult considering I have a Southern California wardrobe. The part of packing that is difficult for me, are the things to take that are not clothes. I’ve packed my favorite art supplies in hopes of having more time than in college to spend developing my style. Everyone keeps telling me how living there is going to influence the things that I am interested in drawing/painting, and I can’t wait to see the subjects that appear in my work. I’ve also packed my favorite posters and prints to make my apartment more like home, but not too much like home.

This year in Thailand is a year for me to clear my head. Part of packing is the process of all the things I need to purposely leave behind. The cardboard stencil paintings I love, but that he made. The box of Nag Champa that releases the best smell when burned. The wicker ball lights that cast shadows all over the walls, the fiber optic glow in the dark night-light, and the journals.

I was planning to work on a book while there, and much of the writing I am pulling from are writings and ideas from the past. After skimming through notebooks today and yesterday, I realized that I am not ready to go back and read through our history just yet. Being able to cut about 8 journals out of my luggage helps with the weight limit, but it hurts the progress I could make writing. But the last thing I need are these notebooks strewn across my bedroom floor, filled with the written memories of the person that I am trying, unsuccessfully, to forget. The first time his name ever appeared in my writing was February 8, 2009 and ever since then his presence has been overwhelming. Reflection, confessions and thoughts about him have occupied my mind for over three years. Going back and reading the first few months of our time together was like a self administered slap in the face. A reminder of the first instant connection I’ve ever had with a person. A comfort that existed that often takes years to build.

So the difficulty in packing has really come from making sure I don’t pack a list of specific items, rather than the inverse, which is how normal people function. Every object that makes it with me to Thailand has to be detached from him, so that I may be too.

 

 

I saw this quote the other day that said, “you never really fall out of love with your first love.”

American Beauty

“It’s hard to stay mad when there is so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much- my heart fills up like a balloon that is about to burst. And then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude, for every single moment of my stupid little life.”