Filled up my memory on the blog. No funds to buy upgrade. Keep following me at
Please and thank you.
Filled up my memory on the blog. No funds to buy upgrade. Keep following me at
Please and thank you.
Work was mellow, and went by quickly. One of my classes got cancelled so it was a pretty easy day. After work I found out that we were having two more couch surfers coming to stay with us, this time from Hong Kong and Japan. Nick, Kay and I went to the market to buy food and kitchen supplies, so we could make a big dinner for our friends.
Kay is going to slowly teach me how to cook Thai food, so I watched her shop and helped her in the kitchen. We had a bunch of our friends over and they brought alcohol, which saved me having to purchase my own for the evening. For dinner Kay and I made a big pot of Tom Yum soup with goong (shrimp) and Kao Pad Gai (chicken fried rice). Afterwards we went down to the riverside, walked around and then I split ways from the group and met up with some friends at a new club called Cool Club. I didn’t have to purchase anything at the club since I had a small bottle of whiskey that a friend had brought over and I drank it on ice, which I almost never do. We danced and danced while getting stared at by all the Thai people around us, and had a really good time. At one point I was definitely rocking out to Bon Jovi “It’s My Life.” It was one of those moments when I reminded myself…. when in Thailand. I left sometime around 2 am after I had drank my fair share of whiskey, and went home to pass out in my bed.
Around 7 am I was ripped from my much-needed sleep by firecrackers exploding all around my neighborhood. For some reason people felt that was an appropriate time to start the new years celebrations, but my head did not agree. It sounded like a battlefield outside my house, and made going back to sleep impossible. Instead I went out to breakfast at Kay’s café, with Nick and the couch surfers, and Kay made me breakfast and iced coffee for free.
After breakfast, Nick suggested we go to the monkey university, and offered to pay for me since I was close to running out of money. The monkey university is a training college, where monkeys learn to collect coconuts. They got to the university for three months and then get their coconut farming degrees and can go back to the families that they work for.
After spending the afternoon at the monkey college, I came back and tried to get some sleep before going out for the evening. Around eight I went over to a friend’s house to pre-drink before going out for Culture Shock. Culture Shock is a monthly event put on by another teacher, who throws a big party at a bar and has different DJs and it’s more or less a huge party for Westerners. The three-dollar bottle of whisky I bought, along with mixers and putting gas in my bike, left me with less than five dollars (USD) to my name. When I got to GM, the bar where Culture Shock was being held, I realized that I had left my bottle of whiskey at my friends, and so another friend shared her unlimited drink wristband with me. Thats one of the most wonderful things about Thailand. The community I am is generous, giving, and always looking out for one another. I’m realizing that as much as Thailand is my own experience, a big part of it is those you surround yourself with. Good company is essential to enjoying your time abroad.
On Sunday I ended up going over my budget by about $5. I went and picked up a loaf of bread and peanut butter, which is the most expensive thing I normally buy. A bottle of Skippy extra chunky (of course) costs more than a bottle of whisky and mixers. I also had run out of water, and took all of my water jugs to fill up for the week. I hung out around my house ad was really lazy and slept till after lunch, and then watched a movie and did small things around the house. It’s starting to get hotter in Thailand and so my motivation to be active is declining. The temperature is in the low nineties and its only going to head upwards for the next few months. I relaxed and killed time until our couch surfer arrived, ad then I decided to go for a bike ride and invited him to join me. I had wanted to watch the sun set from the top of the city, so he and I went to one of my favorite places in the province. At home, in San Diego, we have this point that I used to go to in high-school, appropriately nicknamed Top of the World. The park I took him to is my Thailand Top of the World. You can see the density of the city that quickly fades into a denser tropical jungle. Pictures do not do the view justice. We watched the sunset and then fed fresh fruit to the monkeys that live there (in cages). We ended the night with dinner at a soup cart which cost me a dollar, and then drinks out with a group of friends, that once again, I was treated to.
Had I not hosted couch surfers three times in one week, I don’t believe I would have gone over my budget. But at the same time, one of the points of this eight day challenge was to demonstrate how much you can do with a ten dollar a day budget. I still went out almost every night, and didn’t really have to cut any concerns. However, I am surrounded by very generous friends who al treated me throughout the week, and I could not be more grateful for the awesome people in my life. It was hard to stay as detailed as I would have liked to have been, but i hope this offered you a small picture of what life is like living and working in Thailand. It is far from any experience you would have traveling here as a backpacker, but I love everyday of it and look forward to all that is still yet to come.
THE CHERRY BLOSSOM TREE
“No, honey, over there.” “Where,” said Mark impatiently? “Over there,” said Deborah pointing to a distinct spot on the lawn. “Three steps to your right and a step closer to the bird bath.” Mark, in no mood to argue, took three deliberate steps to his right, stopped, and took one full pace toward the bird bath, like someone pacing off steps while reading a treasure map. Deborah, not amused with this unnecessary bit of theatrics, said, “that’s fine.” Mark leaned on the new shovel, part of the garden tool set I had given him as a house-warming gift. He stepped on the edge and watched the sharp, clean blade disappear into the Virginia soil. His soil.
That was soon after I first met Mark and Deborah. They moved into the house next to me and seemed like very nice people. After years of renting in the busy hubbub that is Alexandria, an upscale city near Washington, D.C., Mark and Deborah finally had a house of their own in Stafford Courthouse. A real home. A long commute for Mark, but with a commuter rail station not far, not too bad at all. Although, it wasn’t looking that way to Mark right now. He felt like he had a million other chores to turn to on this forty-year-old house, and planting this tree today was not high on his priority list. But he knew better than put up too much of objection to Deborah, or Deb, as he called her. After all, it was he who was captivated by the beauty of the Japanese Cherry Blossom trees after first seeing them when he arrived in Washington, D.C. nearly twenty years earlier.
Mark was an attorney right out of law school when he saw an entry position in D.C. Born and raised in the farm country of eastern Ohio, this seemed like a wonderful opportunity in life – too exciting to pass up. After all, if things didn’t work out, he was only a day’s drive from his hometown. He could always return and start his practice close to family and friends. But things did work out for Mark. He landed a nice position at the Department of Agriculture and started his career.
The summer of his second year, a young co-ed came to intern in the office of his department chief. She, Deborah, was a senior at Georgetown University. At first he did not pay much attention to her. Presumed she was the privileged offspring from a wealthy family from Connecticut or Boston or such. Spend a summer doing pedestrian service before launching off to grad school. But he was wrong. Deborah wasn’t just mingling with the working class, as he thought. She flat out needed the money.
Deb was raised by a single mom; not by choice, but by death. Her father was killed in an auto accident driving back to Silver Spring, Maryland on the New Jersey Turnpike one December evening. Hit a patch of “black ice” according to the police report, and ran his Oldsmobile right through the guard rail and into sign post. Deb was eleven. Her mother never let her use that as an excuse or to feel sorry for herself. Quite the contrary, she used this tragic event to drive and motivate her daughter to excel. Never settle for good enough she told her. And she didn’t. A stellar student through school, getting into Georgetown was not the hard part. Paying for it was. So the summer internship was not a growth experience – it was a job.
As the summer passed, Mark took an interest in this impressive, and pretty, girl. Toward the end of the summer a group in his office was going out for drinks after work and Mark thought it the perfect opportunity to ask Deb to go along. Not quite a date, just an office social he thought. By now, he was really taking a liking to her and had wanted to ask her out. This occasion seemed tailor made. When she declined his offer, he was more than a little deflated. But, she quickly countered with the offer to take a walk, a “stroll” as she called it. He was relieved and amused; “stroll” was a word he would have heard in rural Ohio, not Washington, D.C. It turned out that she was more than a little interested in this tall, young lawyer and she did not want to be disturbed by the predictable office chatter from co-workers. She wanted his undivided attention. She suggested a walk around the Tidal Basin, a tree-lined body of water by the Jefferson Memorial, not far from their building. A cherry tree- lined body of water. Mark tried fondly to remember that moment, their first date, as he dug the hole for new tree.
That was Mark and Deb’s first summer in the house. Our friendship grew, the cherry blossom tree grew, and five years passed. I was the first to notice it, in the spring. Not terribly obvious, but there it was just the same. After five years of flourishing and healthy growth, the tree showed signs that something was wrong. The yearly expansion of new growth on the branches seemed noticeably less than in years past. And the stunning explosion of the cherry blossoms, while still spectacular, was again less than before. Priding myself in more than a little knowledge in gardening, I logically tried to figure out the cause. Too little water? No, we had had a wet spring. Soil lacking in nutrients? No, Mark had fertilized his plantings in the fall, just like the book says. I looked around the rest of his yard and viewed healthy azaleas and dogwood trees that were so beautiful that they adorned his lawn like jewelry. While somewhat stunted, the cherry tree grew on and I never mentioned my observation to Mark.
That summer when was when Deb was diagnosed with cancer. I remember being stunned when I heard the news. She was only in her forties. “Thank God they caught it early,” I said to Mark awkwardly. I really didn’t know what to say. She immediately started her chemo treatments and everything seemed normal again. Deb looked the same and, if anything, seemed more “alive” than before. No one ever brought up the topic for it was as if she refused to even acknowledge that she had cancer. Over time, however, in a casual conversation she would slip in an occasional reference to her “markers” being better than expected. Deb was not used to losing and in the winter proudly proclaimed that she would beat cancer. We all wanted to believe her.
The next spring, the little cherry tree was clearly in distress. It was only half itself from previous years. I could not help but to see the struggle in this beautiful tree. Normally, I would have spoken to Mark about it. You know, “Hey Mark, what’s going on with the cherry blossom?”, as if we could take some action to rescue it. It was too nice a tree to lose. But given the circumstances, I never addressed it with him. Poor Mark was now knee-deep in the cancer battle that Deb, for the first time, appeared to be losing. At least, that’s the way it looked to me. Now, Deb barely let on that she was sick and Mark never much talked about it. I guess that’s part of our human defense mechanism; when something is too traumatic to address, we don’t.
The seasons passed from spring through summer, and in the fall, the little cherry tree lost its leaves for the last time. Before Christmas, I visited Mark and Deb. It was too late to deny the obvious. Deb was now very sick and the seriousness of the situation seemed to finally hit her. It had started to snow, and as she sat by the window overlooking her front yard, she revealed that today was the day her father had died. She looked at the snow falling, falling on the cherry tree, and she started to cry.
I never saw Deb again. A few days later, while shoveling snow from my sidewalk, Mark came out and told me that they were stopping all medical treatments. I felt so sad I couldn’t move. Just frozen, standing in the snow. Three weeks later, Deb died at home.
I feel guilty now, because a year before her death I fostered this theory that when the cherry tree died, Deb would succumb to the cancer. I obviously could not share my morbid theory with Mark, and felt a little ashamed of myself for even thinking it. I don’t know why, it wasn’t my fault, but I felt it just the same.
Sadly, I don’t see Mark much anymore. I’ve asked him to join us a couple of times for drinks or a cookout in the two years since Deb’s passing, but he always feebly declines. He is truly living by himself now and I feel sorry for him. But there is one thing I will never forget, and it troubles me to this day. It was only a week after the memorial service. That spring, when life renews from the dormancy of winter, the little tree produced no leaves or sprouts at all. And on a Saturday morning in early March, in a soft and peaceful Virginia rain, Mark went out to his front yard and cut down the lifeless cherry blossom tree.
Today as I was leaving campus a bunch of kids kept shouting at me, “Hello! Hello! Hello!” As they always do.
One of them ran up to me and asked, “Teacher, how are you?
I repeated the robotic reply we have taught them, “I. Am. Happy.”
I turned around and kept walking and realized I had the hugest smile on my face, because what I told her I really meant.
I am happy.
I am tragically bad at poetry, and this is my first attempt at piecing together fragments of memories spent with my best friend.
Spent in your company
Late nights, early mornings
Wire curls around a feather and across from me you sit
You knew me when this was my childhood bedroom
After years of school we are finally home
We are still in our youth
But from the kids we once were, we have grown
And now I am living as one
My best friend
The narrator’s voice
Helping me navigate through life
Windows rolled down and his sea of hair
Indian summer is about you my friend
It’s about people who need not be lovers
Dive bars and backyard beers
Indian summer and the Southern California breeze
A story where our bodies bake under the never setting sun
Bronzed shoulders greased in sunscreen
We passed our long afternoons on worn out towels
Sleeping hours on beds of sand
It is the sound of the waves.
A constant, like you, I can always fall back on.
Rely on, shout out to, stand tall with.
Too much time on our hands.
All those days we thought of everything,
All at once.
You are my heart, my soul and my memories.