Gravity

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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No Reservations

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.