Welcome to the Baht Life- Day Three/Four/Five

Day Three

I started my morning off the way I do almost everyday, with a peanut butter sandwich and some fruit. I had all of the above, so I didn’t need to spend any money on breakfast. On the way to work I stopped and grabbed two Redbulls (20 baht/ $.67), to prepare for the energy drain that tiny children are. Also, please note that Redbull is $.33 in Thailand. I do not know how it is possible that it is actually cheaper than a bottle of water.

Work on Tuesday was really easy because my three hour-long preschool class was cancelled. That left me with two teaching hours with kindergarten, in a seven-hour work day (turns out I didn’t need to drink both energy drinks). I used some of the free time to lesson plan, but mostly messed around on the internet and skyped with friends and family. Unfortunately, lunch was fried rice with eggs and another dish I didn’t like, so I went and picked up lunch from a curry woman down the street from my school. The lunch I picked up ended up not being so great either and so a lot of it got wasted (40 baht/ $1.34). The biggest difference between meat dishes in Thailand and meat dishes in America is that in Thailand, everything gets thrown in the pot. After I saw what seemed to be like some large vein or vessel in my curry I was pretty turned off. It was a friend’s birthday at work, so I left during my break and picked her up a birthday cake from Nick and I (80 baht/ $2.68).

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After work at the elementary school, I went to meet up with a friend that I study with a couple days a week until evening hours. On the days I meet with her, I dont return home for eleven hours, and I’m pretty burned out by the time I do. After stopping to pick up dinner for Boobay and Kao-Home, my rabbits (60 baht/$2), I came home exhausted. I was debating what to do for dinner for myself, when Kay invited me out with her friends. I told her it wasn’t in my budget but she insisted on paying for me, so I ended up going to mookata with Nick, Kay and another couple.

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A mookata style dinner involves a hot bucket of coals in the middle of the table, that burn under a pot and griddle. There is a giant buffet line where you choose the vegetables, meats, noodles, spices and herbs that will go into the pot. The dinner I cooked consisted of pork, chicken, baby corn, noodles, morning glory, cabbage, and various types of mushrooms, all in a delicious broth that I poured over a bed of green noodles. We also had a beer tower, which is exactly what it sounds like. It stands at about 2 1/2 feet tall and the core is an ice cube surrounded by beer. We had an amazing dinner, which I could not have afforded to attend, were it not for Kay’s generosity.  A dinner style meal like this normally runs about 140 baht ($4.70), beer not included. It’s a good deal if you are looking for a wide arrangement of food, and more importantly want to eat dinner in a way that is different from the normal routine.

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After dinner we went back to the house to drink some more, and finish my preschool project, and I picked up a small bottle of whisky to share. The whisky I find myself most commonly drinking is Hong Tong, which runs 110 baht ($3.68) for a fifth sized bottle. It’s not too bad, but I don’t know if I will ever drink whisky again after my year in Thailand. It’s all I have had since leaving America.

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(Using peanut butter jars for drinking cups, and alcohol bottles for water painting glasses.)

Total- 310 baht ($10.37)

Day Four

On Wednesday morning as Nick and I were pulling out the garage, I challenged him to a race. We took separate courses to work and raced one another through the back streets and alleyways of Surat Thani. Although I lost and probably wasted gas, it woke me up with a little adrenaline rush, and got me ready to start my day.  I arrived at work and went through the regular motions of the day. Preschool-kindergarten-kindergarten-and more preschool after the lunch break. I brought in my cat piano that I finished, and introduced it to the preschoolers, who seemed to like it.

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When work got out I went to study with my friend and was with her until almost seven. Afterwards, I went to meet a girlfriend for dinner at a restaurant she wanted to take me to, and I had a nice dinner with a beer. I should have explained my budget to her, because I realized once I saw the menu, that most of the dishes were not within my price range. Even with a beer and appetizer, the meal itself was under $10, but hardly. On my way home I stopped for a bit of gas, which would last me until the weekend (50 baht/$1.67), and then arrived home at an empty house. Hanging on my doorknob was a dinner that Nick and Kay brought home for me from the market, and so I put it in the fridge for breakfast the next day. I worked on some student plans and then slipped away into a much needed sleep.

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Total- 270 baht ($9.04)

Day Five

Upon arrival at work on Thursday, I learned that it was Sports Day. It was a day where most classes were cancelled, so that students could watch sports competitions taking place on the fields outside. Often I arrive at work to discover I will not be teaching or classes will be cancelled, due to some event that the foreign teachers were unaware of.

The first half of my morning consisted of taking my nursery class for a half hour walk around the school to practice standing in a line and walking with your hands on someone’s shoulders. This was a total disaster. After the nursery I went to my next class, which is grade 4 in the government school. My school is divided into two parts, the private English program and the government side. The EP is for students who pay an extremely high tuition to be in a setting where native English speakers teach the majority of your teachers. They have nice facilities, newer resources, and get a better education because they’re paying a high price for it. The government side is a normal Thai school. The class size is twice as big, and the classrooms are filled with only desks and notebooks that are stacked along the wall on the floor. Often the air conditioner is not working and the classrooms are in pretty bad shape. I have three government classes, second grade, fourth grade and sixth grade, and I see them each for an hour every week. Their English level is very low and some of them are at a similar level as my kindergarten students in the English program.

When I arrived at my P4 class, only a few students were in the room, and the rest were out at Sports Day. I figured since this was their only hour of English each week I would hang around and spend some time with them. I let them teach me the card game they were playing, Circus, which turned out to be exactly like Uno. I was still like an English lesson, because they had to explain the game and rules to me, which required them to speak as we played. It was perfect because I got to know a few students more than I normally would, and since it was a relaxed atmosphere, they weren’t as nervous as they normally are about speaking with me. After spending the hour with those students, I returned to my office, and had the rest of the day free.

That evening we had a couch surfer from Russia come to stay with us, and we took her out to Koh Lampoh to watch the sunset and then to the night market. She was only in Thailand for a few days, and wanted to try a lot of different Thai foods, so we took turns buying and trying different things (50 baht/$1.67). After that we went for dinner and drinks with a group of friends at the pier, and had a really nice night (140 baht/$4.69). The whole town is decorated for Chinese New Year, and we walked around checking out all of the lanterns and food stalls with Chinese treats (30 baht/$1).

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Total- 210 Baht ($7.03)

Welcome to the Baht Life: Day One/Two

Day One

Sunday was the first day of my eight day, ten dollar budget. I enjoyed having the house to myself, as Nick was out of town teaching an English camp. Yes, the kids here spend their weekends at camps where the goal is to learn English outside of their English classes and English private tutoring. I spent Sunday doing the things I always need to do but manage to put off. I cleaned my room, organized my ever-growing pile of student work, and took care of my laundry before that pile got any larger. My parents sent me an envelope full of newspaper articles from San Diego, so stretched out on my bed and caught up with some of the current events at home. I found the selection they chose to send me interesting, as much of it focused on ridiculous stories, such as “Man leaves infant with Pit-bull as babysitter.” Also included was a picture of them in the newspaper, from a dress-your-dog-up Christmas parade. And last but not least, the papers for my student loan; a reminder that although I am on the other side of the world, I have not be able to shake free of my responsibilities back home.

I finished the articles and attempted to continue reading a book I have been struggling to get through for the past two months. The book is “100 Years Of Solitude,” which has amazing reviews and won a Noble Peace Prize. I pick it up at least three nights a week, but somehow only manage to make it through maybe ten pages before falling asleep. This was the case for Sunday as well. I was only a half chapter in when I passed out, and spent the next two hours of my Sunday afternoon napping in my warm bedroom. When I awoke, the weather had cooled down and I figured I should try and get outside and enjoy the rest of my day. I rode my bike down to Koh Lampuh, a big park in Surat Thani. The park is located on a small island, surrounded by the river. It is a beautiful place to work out, take a walk, play music, read, enjoy the sunset or people watch. I have used it for all aforementioned reasons, except that rather than playing music I was entertained by Nick and some friends, when they decided to have a jam session one Friday evening.

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After spending a few hours in the park, I went to the Sunday night market to pick up dinner. For dinner I grabbed pad thai and chicken skewers (60 baht/$2).

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After the market I went back home and started a project for my preschool class. One of the biggest differences about my preschool classroom, and American classrooms I have worked in, is the lack of visual learning aids on the wall. I decided to make a giant counting chart for the kids, so that they could touch the numbers as I said them. After hanging out with Nick and his girlfriend Kay, I called it a day and went to sleep.

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Total- 60 baht ($2)

Day Two

The arrival of Monday meant the beginning of the workweek. I have to be at work by 8 am, I get an hour lunch break and an hour break to plan, and by 3:30 I am riding my bike home. It’s a quick workday that is over before you know it.  My school also provides me with free lunch, which helps with budgeting, as long as the meal doesn’t include eggs. Anyone who knows me, knows that the one thing I hate more than anything in the world is egg. The smell, the taste, the sight, and the fact that it is a liquid animal within a shell. I do not understand why I am one of the only people I have ever known that thinks there is something wrong with that.

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(Normal school lunch- Noodles with meat and veggies on a giant prison tray.)

Planning for classes this week was easy, because I decided to structure my lessons around “Red Fish, Blue Fish, One Fish, Two Fish,” by Dr. Seuss.  I read the book to my kinder class, and had them point at different pictures and explain to me why they were silly. I left work early because I had to go to the immigration office and get my passport stamped, for a thirty-day extension. (I will not be including this cost in my budget, as it is not a normal expense of my daily life). The immigration office is an official Thai government building, and I don’t know why, but I was surprised by the condition of it. From the outside the building is part of this giant complex in traditional Thai architecture, but the inside was old, worn out, with years of dirt on the walls, and damage to the ground and doors.

 

Of course, I was the only Westerner in the entire building, and all the other immigrants stared at me like I was from another planet. The immigration office was packed to capacity with Burmese and myself, all waiting to have our passports stamped. There was a service window, and rather than a single file line, there was a cluster of people all shoving one another to get access to it. As I waited at the back of the mob, I wondered if when I got to the front if people would shove up against me as well and crush me in the sea of bodies.

 

After about twenty minutes of standing there, debating if I should move up, I realized there were another room and a sign that said “one stop visa renewal.” I wiggled my way through the crowd and walked into the next office. There I sat at a desk and waited for the woman to simply stamp my passport. I watched the clock pass over an hour, as she continued to tell me, “just one moment please.” I was patient because by the looks of the leaning towers of paper and folders on her desk, she had a lot of other work she had to do, and was probably having a long day. I sat quietly and looked around the office. Seated next to me was a mother with a baby that was naked. I wondered why she would take a naked baby, especially with no diaper, to a government office to do immigration paperwork? There are things you see here, that you just wouldn’t in the States.

 

After immigration, I went to a coffee shop and had a smoothie (50 baht/ $1.67) and worked on some lesson plans. I stopped by my neighborhood night market and picked up dinner and some more fresh fruit (80 baht/ $2.68), and some candy as rewards for my students (100 baht/$3.35).

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That evening Nick had company over, and we had a few drinks as we talked and swapped music videos from America and Thailand. I had a half bottle of whisky in the freezer, and Nick picked me up mixers, so I didn’t need to spend any money on that.

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Total- 270 Baht ($9.04)

Welcome to the Baht Life

Last night, I was inspired by a friend’s blog post, in which he declared he was going to live for ten days in Washington DC on one hundred dollars. It may sound like a good chunk of money, but after living in the city last fall, I know that a hundred dollars hardly gets you half way through the week.

A year after leaving DC, I have relocated to Southern Thailand, where money goes a lot further (which is great, since you make a lot less). With a week until pay day, and less than a hundred dollars to my name, I decided to copy his idea.

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I am starting with 2,365 baht, which is the equivalent to 79.38 USD. I will track my week, from Sunday to Monday (eight days), and document the ways that I spend money and live my life on less than eighty dollars. I chose eight days because his goal is to show how you can live on ten dollars a day, and I would like to offer the same, except from the life of someone living abroad.

To be fair, my fridge has a loaf of bread, some sandwich meat, and a drawer full of fresh fruit and a few vegetables. My motorbike has a half tank of gas, and my water jug is empty. Living in a country where the water is not safe to drink means that I must constantly be either filling up water containers or buying water bottles. While water is still cheap, it adds up quickly when you’re doing it daily, and consume as much as I do.

Rent is the only expense that will not be included in this week’s budget. Just to give you an estimate of what life costs here, I rent the master in a two bedroom/ two bathroom/ fully furnished house, and pay 4,500 baht ($151) a month.

This week I will find productive and creative ways to spend my time, that allow me to avoid spending as much money as I normally would. I will avoid nicer restaurants, going out for drinks, and buying items I don’t need. To save gas I will also be making a conscious effort to walk to places I would normally use my bike to get to.

The house that I have been living in was under construction since late November, and it was only just completed in the last few days. Now that it is finished, Nick, who is wonderful  housemate, and I can make it our home. Decorating with the limited supplies we have, will provide me with a way to fill time. I will also post pictures of before and after, so you can see my Thailand home.

There is an Olympic sized pool up the street from me that I can swim in for a little more than a dollar a day, and a park down by the river, where I can lay out and spend my day reading and writing.

I am also taking inspiration from my friend’s idea to track his progress on a painting he is working on. In order to save money, he will fill some of his free time with the canvas, and hopefully complete it by the end of the week. I too will start some type of picture, whether it is a drawing or painting, and dedicate my evenings to it. I will also share the activities I plan for my students and any art projects I prepare for them.

As life so often has a funny way of working, living on a budget this week comes at an ideal time. I recently found out that the school I work for is closed the second week of February. However, my agency has mandatory on call office hours, and if we choose to be unavailable, we will be penalized a day of pay for each time. I was planning on using this week to meet up with a friend who is in Thailand, and spend the week in the islands with her. A normal weekly budget for me is around $100-$150, depending on how often I go out, or what unexpected costs arise. Saving money this week, so that I will be able to afford to take a few days off, will work out perfectly. As I mentioned earlier, I also don’t have much of a choice, since this is what I have until the 9th.

I hope you enjoy the photos of my daily life, and more so, that this inspires some of you to leave your jobs at home, and come live a life style where you can afford to live on such a small amount of money, while not living without any of the normal comforts of life as you know it.

Feel free to check out The Dandygram, and see how Trevor does this week!

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http://thedandygram.blogspot.com/2013/02/living-on-100-for-10-days.html

It will also offer an insight to how one lives in one of America’s most expensive cities, compared to life in an emerging country.

When Life Started Looking Different

This morning I was playing on the playground in the sandbox, with my preschool class, and I noticed something floating in the air. The sun was shining in a way that created a beam of light in front of me, and in it I saw millions of illuminated little flicks of glitter floating in the air. I looked down and realized that the kids playing in the sand had stirred it from its resting place, sent it flying freely into the air.  My hands, as well as the children’s’, were coated in the same gold flakes. What a beautiful (preschool) life this is.
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caught in the moment

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snack time with with cookies and cake

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dirty finger nails

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out
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There are days when I really don’t want to wake them.


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Living History

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.

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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.

Release Me

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(The side of the city where I started)

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.