Mistress of the Moon
Did 6 days really just go by?
Thursday night- Got off work and rushed to buy my first pair of heels in Thailand. Big New Years Eve party for staff at the school I work at. Must dress up. Cannot wear Tom’s to this event, let alone Tom’s with holes in them. Went straight from tutoring to a banquet at a hotel, which was also the tallest building in the city. Everyone who works at Anuban Surat was there. Only farang were me and two of the boys I work with. Hung out with all the Thai teachers and got to know them more personally. Food kept coming and coming in courses, some of the best Thai food I have had in the country. Free booze. Got up and danced with a bunch of Thai people in a traditional Thai style. Had an absolute blast. Watched my two western co-workers sing “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing” and “My Heart Will Go On” while a constant flow of Thai teachers went to the front stage and created an impromptu performance. Two Thai male teachers started reenacting the Jack and Rose scene from the front of the boat, their arms wrapped around one another, with roses being put in their mouth and behind their ears. My roommate won a vacuum cleaner at a raffle, while everyone else won towels. The night was beyond anything I had expected and I left with a giant smile on my face.
Friday- New Years celebration in the nursery. A buffet of cookies and junk food. Kids went nuts. Gangnam style on repeat. Balloons being used for kickball, soccer and any other game that involves hitting or kicking. Total madness for hours. Got of work early, dropped Boobay and Kao-Hom off at a friend’s house, and got on the first ferry to Koh Pan ghan.
A boat that was packed to capacity. We sat out on the open deck and cracked open our various bottles of alcohol. At one point we joined a giant group of at least twenty people playing kings cup. Before we arrive I take a moment to lay back and relax. Collect myself before I am hit with what is coming. I lay my head back on my frayed shoulder bag. The moon has consumed the sky and it has an orange glow to its giant smiling face. We arrive to an island where everyone has come to party. We drop our stuff off at a friend’s hotel and make our way to the full moon party.
Total madness begins.
Reality was burning down as the strangest new wonderland was growing with the progression of the night. As I walked down the streets it was as if I was running from anything I knew as normal. I am at the biggest beach party in the world. Hula hoops. Water slides. Sparklers. Fire crackers. People breaking open glow sticks and shaking them all over those who surrounded them, showering glowing neon rain on their friends. Blinking giant plastic bows on top of heads. Indian headdresses. Running shorts and matching neon sweat bands. Millions of shirts with some arrangement of “Full Moon/ New Years” printed on them. Buckets of alcohol. Minimal to no clothing. More alcohol. Stages covered in dancing bodies. People swarming all over the beach. Every street in town leading to the sand. A constant flow of bodies. Movement in every direction. Different music entering each ear. Music competing to be louder than the next. Mushroom mountain. Dubstep pulsing through my body. Bumping into every person you pass. Shoulders brushing strangers bodies. People grabbing you. Hugging you. Love everywhere. So many half clothed bodies. Fire signs. Fire jump ropes. Fire works tearing through the sky. Glow sticks. Strobe lights and green lasers cutting through clouds of smoke. Fog machines allowing bodies to hide in the rolling blanket. Painted bodies. A representative for every country all in one place. Anything you wanted could be found. Anything you dreamed of somehow became possible. It was like I entered another dimension and all signs of reality blew away in the warm December breeze. Sprinkles of light falling from the sky. The fireworks left strains against the purple night. They kept coming and coming. A never-ending storm of glittering color lighting up everyone’s faces and making the crowd’s eyes shine.
Squeezed neon paint into my palm and rubbed my hands together so that the entire inside of my hands were glowing as I danced. Letting them leave trails through the air. For my entertainment as much as anyone around me.
A stranger comes up to me as I dance in my own world, he places a giant ring of glow sticks around my neck and tells me, “I can tell you are not like other full moon girls, you are different. You are beautiful. Please keep dancing.” I am stuck in slow motion, watching from outside as my body keeps twirling, and everything around me is spinning so fast all focus is lost.
Dance. Dance. Dance. Bass. Bass. Glow. Spin around. Lose yourself in the color. The blur. Turn around again and again and again. Body was elevated. Music lifted me off the ground. Floating in a daze of bliss. The sun is already here. How did that happen? Where did the night just go?
A sunrise revealing the damage of the night. A beach destroyed. The beauty of what just took place fading, as reality of daylight takes over. I leave my sunglasses on.
A boat ride back to Had Yuan, the beach where we have reservations. Before our boat can dock I jump into the water. Good morning Saturday. Thank you Friday night. You have left me with memories I will never forget.
I swim to the sand, stumble to a lounge chair and pass out under the sun until lunchtime.
This is my recovery from my first night of celebration.
I spend all of Saturday and Sunday on the beach. I have nothing else that is required of me. I laugh and lounge the days away. I drink whiskey as I read American Psycho. When I tire of this I put my ipod in and melt back into another world.
Sunday night I slip away from the bar we are at, Peace and Love, and let my body sink into a damp hammock. I want a moment of solitude to think about this past year. Who I have been. Who I could have been. But more importantly, who I want to be in the coming year. The New Year isn’t about making outrageous resolutions that will fade with the winter weather, but rather about consciously thinking about who you want to be as life evolves. I didn’t make a resolution, but rather a commitment to be more involved in the communities I live in, and to give back to the places and people that are providing me with all that I have.
Monday is the last day of the year and it is storming when I awake. Waves are crashing against the rocks that our bungalow is propped up on. The rickety stick bridge we have to take is being smashed and sprayed by the angry ocean. The palm trees on the sand dance with such force that I am convinced they share the same souls as people I met Friday night. The storm is ready to shake the last moments of the year with its relentless power. This presents a small hurdle, since we must take a boat ride again to get back to Haad Rin, for the New Years Eve full moon extravaganza. The storm gets more and more wild until the girls and I are starting to debate if it’s worth leaving our location for a destination that could end up being a disaster. I stand strongly in favor of going. This is an event that people travel to Thailand to attend. I will not miss it.
The sun has just set and we have the last moments of daylight as we jump on a small boat, packed to capacity with foreigners. It takes an entire group of men to push the motorboat into the ocean, where we then charge against waves much too large for this boat to handle. It jumps out of the water, every time leaping over the waves, in danger of tipping over or sinking. This is total and utter madness. My friends are terrified. I am laughing hysterically. Salt water sprays my face, drenches my body, and I am a child again. This is the wildest ride of Splash Mountain I have ever been on. People are screaming. Gripping anything they can. My friend’s hand has a death grip on my thigh. I don’t know if she is aware of this. The boat driver stands on a seat as he steers the boat from a giant metal rod coming out of the engine. The ride is so rough and wild I cannot believe I did not fly out of the boat. The fact he is standing makes him a hero.
We arrive to a scene even more insane than the full moon party. We find a bar and I cover my body as well as my two friends’ bodies with neon paint. I am glowing with a pattern of multicolored triangles that start on my foot and spread over one half of my lower body and then twist their way onto the opposite arm and the side of my face. Electric green dots glow under my eyes. I am a creature of the night. My friends are wrapped in vines and flowers and twists and twirls and hearts and “love” written in cursive dances over their skin. This is my calling. This is what I want to be doing. A body paint artist with a bag full of neon glowing jars of paint, who decorates people for the wildest nights of their lives. The energy was pulsing through the town. Fire works could be heard blasting over the music. My friend said it best, this is the partier’s pilgrimage. The biggest party in South East Asia. The colors. The noise. The taste. The feel. And most of all, the smell of the ocean and fire and 50,000 bodies. The sensory overload left me numb. How do you explain taking in so much that you no longer feel anything anymore? Everything is not enough. Excess. Impulse. Wheres the good in being good? I may have well spent the weekend eating diamonds. It was insanity and in it I found all the clarity I needed to get my new year started. I kiss you goodbye 2012. Thank you.
The location where you buy your ferry tickets and wait for your ride to leave was packed with people trying to make their way off the island from the night before. Bodies were strewn all across the floor and I quickly searched out an empty spot and went and passed out on the ground against a wall. The concrete was hard, cold and filthy, and I couldn’t have been happier to just stop. Just for a second. To close my eyes. To let my mind go blank behind my eye lids that were glowing from the firework patterns. The never ending party. It takes its toll. Youth is incredible and I thank my body for allowing me to put it through the things that I do.
Traveling home on the first day of the year gives me hours to think about the events that just took place. What was real and what wasn’t? How many amazing beautiful people did I just meet, who I will never cross paths with again? How many times was reality lost as music took a hold of my world? How many times was I hugged and squeezed as someone shouted “Happy New Year” in my face. I am still covered in body paint, although I have ditched any glowing jewelry. I have a headband of yellow daisies wrapped around my forehead, holding down hair that is full of sand, and glitter and gold that fell from the sky. I look down at my feet. Neither of the shoes on them are mine. Neither match.
Hello 2013. May you be as sweet, kind, exciting and as full of adventure as 2012 and life in general, has been to me.
It’s Christmas Eve, yet I’m having a hard time feeling like the holiday has finally arrived.
I spent the first three hours of my day practicing for a Christmas performance tomorrow, where my kindergarten class will sing and dance to “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”
After lunch I will lead my nursery class in Jingle Bells, until the school day is over.
For weeks I have been doing Christmas themed activities, art, and games with my students, but it just doesn’t feel like Christmas here.
This is my second Christmas away from my family, and I am finding that although I am not homesick, there are some things that I am really missing. I miss the way our Christmas tree glows in the center of the living room that we are only allowed to use during this time of the year. Our “fancy” room. I miss my Mom’s Christmas decorations and candles all over the house, the same that she has been using since my childhood. I miss hearing the bickering over who is going to hang the lights outside and whether or not we should do it differently than the year before. I miss putting on Christmas music, and hearing someone else complain about how they don’t want to listen to it, that it is tacky or annoying. I miss baking Christmas cookies, decorating cookies, burning cookies and most of all eating cookies. I miss my Mom and Dad pretending to be Santa, even though I stopped believing in him over a decade and a half ago. I miss looking under the Christmas tree and seeing all of the gifts wrapped in the exact same paper, and my mom not writing any names on them, therefor making the opening process a complete surprise.
I’m not homesick, but I miss my family.
The holidays are meant to be spent with the people you love most, and if you are with family and friends during this time of the year, tell them you love them and don’t take their company for granted.
You could be on the other side of the world.
Have a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday.
In every town, in every city, there are buildings that are being reclaimed by nature. The trees, the roots, are eating what man has made. The fingers reach out and grab a hold of the bricks, of the wood, and they wiggle their way into every little crack. The roots push through the foundation and pull on the ceiling, until floors rise and roofs collapse. Vines have wrapped their arms around window frames and have snaked around shattered glass. Years of rain have left tear marks running down the faces of these ghosts. The earth is taking back the space that man attempted to claim. This is nature’s territory and we are just visitors. Other buildings go up around those that crumble to their death, a never-ending story of birth and decay.
With the exception of completely wrecking my body, these past few weeks have been incredible and filled with little adventures beyond my city’s limits. The last time I had left Surat, I spent a long weekend in Malaysia, and only four days after returning home, I was on a ferryboat to Koh Phangan. I have heard about this island from everyone I work with, and from stories of the infamous full moon parties, but I had never been there before. We took a coworkers advice and booked a room on a secluded part of the island, where you had to take a smaller boat from the ferry dock, just to reach this particular beach. My friend booked us a room at a bungalow style hotel, called Ocean Rocks, which was appropriately named, and we took off to spend a long weekend under the sun and on the sand.
We excitedly left Surat at 5 am by minivan, were on a ferry before 7 am, and on the island before lunch. Arriving at the ferry early in the morning meant that we were just catching the sun rise. As the sun started to climb from above the waters horizon and up into the sky, from the boats balcony we watched the rings of fog burn off that surrounded the rock formations sticking out of the water. The air temperature was perfect and the wind felt good against my face, as I greeted the day. When the sun finally found its place in the sky, it looked as if it had dropped gold all over the surface of the water. It was a magical morning, and it set the mood for the rest of the weekend.
We got our own little bungalow on the rocks, over looking the most beautiful beach. The beach was free of any large hotels or anything too touristy, and so everything had a somewhat authentic feeling to it. Our bungalow was juts a giant room with a double bed and a bathroom. We shared the bed and over the weekend filled it with a fair amount of sand, but it was all we needed. It had a large patio out front and chairs to sit in, and we had a view that I will never forget.
The water was the color of the oceans you see in pictures, and all the scenery was breathtaking. The bungalow that we split for the weekend only ended up costing us each $6 a night, and as I stood there and took in my surroundings, I wondered how that was even possible. In the States I pay more for a drink at a bar, than I do for a night in Koh Phagnan. When you put it into perspective, it makes not traveling abroad to places like this, in South East Asia, inexcusable. People don’t understand what they are missing out on.
We spent the entire weekend at dance parties with DJs that literally never stopped, and in the water or lying out. I spent hours upon hours jumping off of rocks into the ocean, convincing everyone I could to go swimming with me before night fell. When night finally did arrive the day dance party grew bigger, and everyone was a beautiful blur of color and emotion. Everything was glowing, everyone was enjoying themselves, and the whole night was the most beautiful one I have had since arriving in Thailand. I remember sitting on one of the floor mats, and just watching people dance, and noticing that everyone was smiling. The entire weekend I was surrounded by beautiful, interesting people, who all got along perfectly, and it instantly felt like we had all known each other much longer than a day or two.
After the first night a little group formed of people who had all met the night before at Eden, and we spent the rest of the weekend together. We laid under the sun, swam in the sea, played on rope swings, had amazing meals and drank rum fruit smoothies. At one point there was a giant group of us lying about on the beach, and everyone was from a different country, with a different mother language, yet English was what allowed us to all connect. I listened to people switch into their native language when they would meet someone else from their own country, and had the privilege of speaking in the language that comes most naturally to them. As an American, we often take for granted that everyone else speaks our language, and we are never asked to communicate in a second language. At one point I closed my eyes and listened to two people speak to each other in Dutch, and their conversation floated through the air like music. The ease with which they switched from one language into the next, and the beauty with which they spoke both, made me realize how badly I want to be fluent in a second language. Now that I am more involved in the global village, and I am meeting more citizens of other countries, I am finding that rarely is anyone NOT bilingual. Many people can more fluidly from one language to another, and there is no excuse for why I should only know English.
Three days were over before I knew it, and I did everything in my power to postpone leaving. Because the island had some type of Yoga/meditation/Thai boxing retreat, many of the people we spent the weekend with were there for extended stays of time, most for about a month. As much as I love my job and living where I do, a part of me was desperately trying to figure out how I could stay as well. I was cursing myself for not having money saved, so that I could be in areas like this for more than just a weekend. Traveling while living abroad is tricky, because most people you meet are on vacation, while you are living in their paradise, except with responsibilities. It is a bitter sweet existence that I am stuck in.
I returned home from the island on Monday night and within two days I had two handsome visitors from America. The boys who came to visit me have always somewhat been friends through a mutual friend, but they have been traveling Southeast Asia for the past few months and before we all left for this part of the world from San Diego, I extended an invitation to them to stay with me if they found themselves in my area. With a week to go before they departed for Australia, I was leaving work on my lunch break to pick them up from the corner and take them back to my house.
I have only been living in Thailand for about four months, give or take, but I cannot explain the feeling that rushed through my body when I saw a familiar face. I immediately had a tiny hole of the homesickness I had been feeling, filled.
The next few days with them were mellow, but wonderful. We went out to dinner on the river with some of my friends and were seated under twinkling lights as riverboats passed us by. It was a much nicer dinner than I normally go to, and being able to sufficiently order in Thai for multiple people, made me feel like I have at least learned something during my time spent here.
We mostly spent the next few days just hanging about, doing a bit of exploring, a bit of drinking, a bit more drinking, and just catching up and trading stories.
So I started this post with the statement that I have wrecked my body. It sounds a bit drastic, but after what I have gone through in less than seven days, I think it’s pretty accurate. It started in Koh Phangan, when I fell down a giant hole between rocks on the first night. I was walking home around 2 am and couldn’t see a thing, and my foot slipped between two giant boulders, and my left leg went straight down, shredding up the skin from my foot to my hip. My foot then hit the rocks below so hard that the bottom got bruised and split open. Then, not even fifteen minutes later, I was walking along the beach, in the shallowest of water, when a rope that was tied to a boat wrapped around my feet like a lasso and pulled me straight down into the water. I woke up the next morning, my leg aching, my foot cut open, and scratches on my ankle from rope burn. That next day I somehow managed to step on glass and further cut open my other foot. Both bottoms of my feet were covered in deep cuts, which then filled with sand over the weekend, as I spent the three days mostly barefoot.
I came back home exhausted and sore, but with a nice tan, and was hoping to have the week to recuperate. Only four days later I was in my first motorbike accident, which was not my fault. I need to state that because I told myself that I wasn’t going to get in one, and if I did it wouldn’t be me who caused it. And I was right, except that still doesn’t change the fact that late Friday night I was laying on the pavement, trying to gather together what had just happened. The bike smashed down on its right side, and my body broke my fall with my rib cage, but somehow both of my knees lost a good amount of skin as well as other parts of my leg and ankle. As I stood up and assessed the damage, blood ran down my legs and kept going and going. I went home, my skin burning, not wanting to put water on it, for fear of how badly it would hurt. Because I was too much of a baby to clean it out, I had an infection in both legs within days.
After a few days of watching the skin around the wounds grow more and more red, and my knees and certain parts of my legs grow swollen, I made the choice to go to the hospital. It was probably a good call, since the sores had been open and blood and puss had literally been running down my legs non stop. To add to the damage from the crash, the cuts that I got when I fell down the rock became infected as well, and my skin started to tighten in certain spots, got really red, and I felt the pressure building with liquid under my skin. I spent the last week limping around school, and I can only imagine what the Thai staff thinks I do in my personal time.
Two of my kindergarten teachers pulled me to the back of the class one morning, made me sit down, and had me put my leg up on a chair. They pulled out their medical supplies and completely cleaned out my knees and tried to help me. I’ve never taken care of cuts like these, and because the weather here is so humid it makes it impossible for a scab to form. They could probably tell how clueless I was, and took it upon themselves to play doctor for me. It was by far the nicest, sweetest and most caring I have been treated by a staff member since living in Thailand. I am currently brainstorming for a way to say thank you, or something that I could do for them.
When I went to the hospital after school I was seen in the emergency room, where I was awkwardly stared at by most of the patients. I’m positive that they were all looking at me, thinking that I am a dumb foreigner who can’t ride a motor bike. The nurses peeled off the dirty scabs I had, popped all the swollen puss bubbles that had developed on my leg and foot, and cleaned out everything and wrapped me up and slapped bandages on everything. I walked out of the emergency room a step away from being a mummy, but they told me I had bad infections and that I needed to keep my skin covered from bacteria or moisture. They also told me to return everyday for the next five days, which seems excessive, but I also am terrified of the infection getting worse.
Oh yeah, and did I mention I fell down a flight of wet stairs the night after the motorbike accident? Yeah.
My body hates me, but after all my tumbles and falls, I have walked away more or less fine. I have all my limbs, my head and face are ok, and what I am dealing with will heal eventually.
I am really fortunate to have good friends and a great family, who have been there for me as soon as I’ve needed to ask for help. You guys are the best.
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.
It’s official. If I move anywhere in South East Asia it will be to Georgetown, Penang, in Malaysia. I have only seen a tiny part of the world in my twenty-five years of life, but from what I have seen and where I have been, Georgetown was my favorite place. It is truly a global city, and I am still glowing from the weekend I spent there. I met really interesting people, I ate some of the best food I have ever had, I spent half the weekend at the beach, and the other half exploring a gorgeous city.
I followed Anthony Bourdain’s advice and tried a few different dishes that were featured on “No Reservations.” Of everything he recommended, my favorite was Wan Tan Mee, an amazing meal that cost less than two dollars. It was a noodle dish that I bought on the side of the road and was made within minutes right before me. The contents of my bowl included ramen, pork dumplings, thinly sliced barbequed pork, a mix of vegetables and wan tans, all swimming together in a delicious broth. As much as I wanted to try all the different foods that Penang had to offer, I have to admit that I had this multiple times.
The second dish that I tried was Penang Laksa, which ranked 7th in a 2011 list of the world’s 50 most delicious foods. I had been at the beach all day, and was walking back to the bus stop to catch a ride back to my hostel, when I saw a sign for Penang’s world famous Laksa. It said the food stand/outdoor restaurant was rated number one in the city, and I remembered that Bourdain had eaten it and loved it, so I followed the arrows, found the place, ordered a bowl and had a seat. While I am glad I gave it a try and broadened my horizons, I can say with certainty that it was the first and last time I will eat Laksa. I wasn’t too sure of what to expect, but what arrived was a soup in a clay pot, that was a combination of noodles, onions, cucumbers, mint, ginger and lettuce.
It looked amazing until I took my first bite, and was instantly taken back by how fishy it was. The thick broth was a murky brown and got its flavor from mackerel that had been stewed with lemon grass and chilies. Aside from the fish taste, I enjoyed the blend of spices, but not enough to eat it again.
Another must was Indian food. My first night in Penanag I had the banana leaf Indian dinner, and over the weekend I went for Indian again with a friend that I met. I had tandoori chicken that was roasted from a street vendor and served with garlic nan and multiple dipping sauces, my favorite being the mint cilantro chutney that had a spicier kick to it than I expected. For breakfast one morning I also went to Little India and ordered roti canai, an Indian-Muslim style flatbread that you dip in sauce or curry. I watched the man at the food cart knead the dough, toss it around in the air, and then throw it on a hot flat skillet where it was brushed with butter before being flipped over, folded up and wrapped up in paper for me to take away.
And last but not least, I had a bagel for breakfast; A sesame seed, fresh bagel, stuffed with cucumber and bacon in the middle. Bagels were part of my every day diet during college, and I haven’t even seen one since arriving in Thailand. The bagel was quite possibly the most expense meal I ate while in Georgetown, but I cannot convey the bliss it brought to my morning, when paired with a coffee and a side of fresh fruit from a street vendor.
World renown cuisine may be what Georgetown is well known for, but I did more than just eat while I was there. I spent the first day on my own, exploring the city by foot, and didn’t return to my hostel for six hours. It was never intended to be such a long adventure, but apparently my ability to read a map isn’t as good as I thought it was. I started on Love Lane, the area my hostel was located, and headed to the waterfront, which was about a ten-minute walk.
Once I got to the water front I just followed it all around the edge of the city. After six hours of weaving though side streets, turning the map around again and again trying to figure out where I was, cutting down little alley ways with unmarked signs, I had completely circled the city and found myself right where I had left from that late morning.
(The side of the city where I started)
(When I got to the very end of it and looked back and how far I’d walked)
Although I was exhausted and had considered taking a taxi multiple times, I am pleased that I didn’t, because the only way to truly get to know a place is to explore it on foot. My Tom’s were a little more worn down, my skin flushed from the sun, but during my afternoon adventure I had randomly stumbled across creative street art by a famous Malaysia artist, as well as passed some of the best architecture I have ever seen.
Georgetown first began as a British colony, so much of the architecture that still remains is left from the colonial era. Giant white mansions rest on street corners, with wrap around gardens bursting with tropical plants and towering palms.
These colonial buildings sit across the street from Buddhist temples, with sloping Asian style roofs, on properties that boast statues of dragons with multiple heads. The streets are lined with row houses that the British built, but are now occupied by Chinese, who hang red lanterns and birdcages outside their front doors and over their patios. If you turn the corner you will enter Little India, where you are instantly transported to an entirely different world. The smell of Indian spices and incense drifts through the streets, Indian music blares from open shops, mannequins dressed in traditional Indian fashion stand guard outside of clothing stores, and jewelry shops filled with sparkling brackets beckon you inside. There is also the modernization of Georgetown, and all the new architecture that wealth has brought with it. But there is no such thing as wealth, without poverty to compare it to.
Beautiful high rises framed in glass raced toward the sky and were surrounded by manicured lawns and modern art sculptures that sometimes served as fountains and sometimes simply as art. Each street that I walked down became a representation of a different part of the world, and I saw more flags blowing in the warm winter air, than I was able to identify. My favorite part of the day was when I found the Chinese jetties. These jetties were first established over a hundred years ago, when Chinese families settled in Georgetown. Each jetty was built to act as a mini neighborhood for a family or clan of people. Over the years they have become homes to generations of Chinese families, and the inhabitants all live in wooden houses built over the water. The reason for building their neighbors over the water was to originally evade paying land property taxes. I wandered down the jetties, and stumbled across more art by the same famous artist.
The most astonishing thing about Georgetown was how many people call it home. I have never been in a city that was comprised of people with every skin color, from every country, dressed in all different styles of traditional clothing, heard so many different languages around me, and tasted such a wide variety of foods. It was a collision of culture, yet all the pieces seemed to fit seamlessly together. There was harmony and cohesion and everyone was friendly and it seemed that people were accepting of all the differences around them. It seemed natural for such a global community to exist as it was doing in Georgetown, and it made it seem odd that in many places of the world we live in areas that are segregated into one type of culture or people. I left Penang hopeful that this is what the future will be like. Cultures will all learn to coexist in the same space, and rather than feeling like our neighbors are stepping on our toes with their differences, they are actually teaching and inviting us to dance.
The second day on my own I decided to explore one of the beaches I had over heard other travelers talking about. I jumped on a bus out front my hostel, which cost me around eighty cents, and took a half-hour ride along the edge of the city. From my window seat I watched as the winding snake-like coastline changed, and I finally buzzed the button that signaled the bus to stop when I saw a beach that looked like a good place to spend the day. The sun beat down on my shoulders that early December afternoon, as I threw my towel down in the sand. The weather was hotter than most San Diego summer days, and sunscreen was a must. The fact that I hadn’t brought a bathing suit with me on my trip did not stop me from swimming. The beach was almost deserted except for a few people, so when a family was near by I swam in a tank top, and when there was no one else in sign I swam in shorts and a bra. About twenty feet to my right were giant boulders that started at the sand and were scattered throughout the water, I climbed on some and swam out to others, and spent the afternoon jumping off of them, into the salty sea.
The most surprising thing about the coastline in Georgetown was how similar it looked to certain parts of Lake Tahoe. As I rode the bus, a flood of memories washed over me as I looked at scenery that was too familiar. I was reminded of the time I spent with him, and the afternoons we spent climbing on giant rocks and admiring the frigid lake water, surrounded by a ring of snowy mountains. Its been a year since we lived together in Tahoe, and it was depressing to realize that he should have been here by my side, spending this weekend with me. At the same time, I found beauty in the fact that I was alone, comfort in my own company, and the security of knowing that I had come so far in a year, and I had taken a giant step to completely change my life, and I was doing it on my own. In Tahoe there were days that I was truly unhappy and wanted to change my situation, but couldn’t bring myself to leave his side, despite how badly I had wanted to. Now a year later, there was nothing that could make me sacrifice my own happiness for another person, and riding on the bus, I realized how much stronger I have become in taking control of my life.
I had an unforgettable weekend away, and the entire time I was in the city I was dreading the Monday afternoon when I would be forced back onto a minivan to return to Thailand. But as I rode back to the country I am temporarily calling home, I watched the city behind me growing smaller as Caribou pulsed through my head from the headphones wedged in my ears, and I knew even though I was leaving, I was so fortunate to have spent the last four days there. Georgetown was like a cup of perfectly brewed tea that included spices that had been traded all over the world and shared between many people. After generations and generations of trying different blends, the perfect cup was produced, and everyone was enjoying and sharing it. And all I wanted was a sip, a taste of something my own country has never been able to offer me.
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.
Yesterday morning I awoke at the exact time that a motorcycle taxi was supposed to arrive at the hotel I live at. It was a few minutes past 6:30 am, and I rushed to put on a T-shirt, leggings, and throw the rest of my clothes into my duffle bag. At 6:40 I rushed down stairs, only to find that he hadn’t arrived. My first thought was that he had grown impatient, waiting on a late foreigner, but I it occurred to me that at the cost I was being paid to be picked up and taken to the Malaysia border, he would most likely wait.
My reason for going to Malaysia is that I need to get my visa stamped so that I can remain in Thailand. This is the second time this month I have been on a “visa run” and each trip in transportation costs me 1,500 baht. It sounds like alot, but in USD it’s really only about $45. My last visa run turned out to be unsuccessful, when I arrived at the border after a seven hour minivan ride, only to have my visa extended for fifteen days. When I pushed my passport back through the immigration window, shaking my head as I said, “No, no, no, thirty days.” It was pushed back at me with the reply, “No, fifteen,” followed by a nice smile.
This time I am going to the embassy in Malaysia, which requires at least a two day trip. Somehow for me it has turned into a four day getaway, and I am in Georgetown until late Monday.
Once my mototrcycle taxi did arrive to pick me up, it was almost 7:00, and he took me straight to the minivan station. I was loaded on a minivan, that to my surprise, was filled with foreigners. This NEVER happens. The last few times I have been on a minivan, which is one of Thailand’s main forms of public transportation, I have been the only “farang,” a word coined for foriegners. I have ridden for fourteen hours without speaking or hearing a single word of English. While the minivan was packed to capacity, with overstuffed traveler’s backpacks falling over on passnegers, and legs cramped against seats to small for western bodies, I was happy to know that I would have conversation on this trip. When you spend ten plus hours in a van cramped next to other people, you underestimate how imporatnt conversation is to passing the time.
Along the way we stopped multiple times, sometimes for gas, food, or bathroom breaks, but mostly we stopped to switch transportation into another minivan or for immigration/border issues. Our seating arrangement changed a few times, and I was able to have different conversations with other travelers. From what I gathered, some people were at the end of their journeys, having traveled for the past eight months, while others were just beginning what would be a half year of traveling. I spent the most time talking to a gentleman from Germany, who had won his traveling funds from a recent win on a German television game show. We talked about travel, literature, and the secrets to finding happiness in life.
This being my first time traveling with a group of other foreigners, I also quickly realized the behavior in a farang that I don’t want to model. Yes, the trip is long, and the van is uncomfortable, but no one wants to hear about how miserable you are, or how hungry, hot, or tired you are. Yes, traveling can be frustrating and there are often unexpected hurdles along the way, but making generalizations about a country’s people, based on a few negative experiences is ignorant. Discussing how ineffective a country’s education system is and the relationship between farang teacher and Thai teacher is uncalled for, especially when you are only a tourist, and have not taught in the Thai school systems. If I have my criticisms of Thai education, it is because I work in a school everyday and I see first hand the pros and cons of their educational practices. I also try not to make judgements or jump to conclusions about their education system, because I am not a certified teacher, nor have I been here long enough to even begin to think I understand Thailand or its culture.
At around 5 pm our minivan finally arrived in Georgetown, Malaysia, which is the capital of the island state Penang. The city is the second largest metropolitan area of Malaysia, and is more modern than anything I have seen since arriving in Thailand. Crossing a giant bridge to reach Penang, I gazed out my window at a city skyline with high-rise after high-rise. This is my first time traveling by myself and I was excited to get into the city and see what it had to offer.
The first hostel the group from the minivan went to only had a few empty beds, so I split ways with the rest of the group and joined my german friend and his best friend in finding another hostel. We ended up getting a room at the nicest place we found, a guesthouse by the name of Banana. We all split a room to keep costs down, and found one with a double bed and a single. They insisted they didn’t mind sharing a bed, so they gave me the single bed, we threw our luggage down, and went out to find a much needed dinner.
In the minivan the German and I had shared our love of Indian food, after he told me about his travels in India earlier this Fall, so we made our way to Little India in Georgetown. We stopped in the first restaurant we got to, and when we asked for a menu they replied that they did not have any. Instead they placed giant banana leafs in front of us, and came around with different pots of curries, rice, and meats, and spooned helpings of it onto our leaves. I looked around and saw everyone eating with their hands, and realized no one was using silverware. I felt silly eating with my hands, in front of two people I had just met, but we all dug in and had a great dinner. They were super friendly, really funny, and we all swapped stories of home as well as from abroad. They shared their stories of adventures in San Diego; how they’re never had a better hamburger and how they surfed in Ocean Beach.
After dinner we went back to Banana, where we sat in the common area, chatted some more, and I had a Guinness. My Guinness was the equivalent of $3 USD, and was the most expensive beer in 711, but I decided to indulge, this being my vacation as well as the first time I have had a western beer since leaving the states.
The boys both left early this morning to catch a boat to their next destination, so once again I am on my own to explore and hangout with myself. Before coming here I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” so I have a slight idea of where I want to go, what I want to see, and what I want to try eating. There are farang everywhere, so maybe I will be lucky enough to meet more people tonight, who were as genuinely nice as the Germans from last night.
I am a newly turned 25 year old, living in Thailand, visiting Malaysia, with a whole weekend to myself, and two days off of work.
Yep, life is good.