Saturday, May 30, 2009

Almost French

Thanks again to my literary patroness B for the next book on my reading list... Almost French by Sarah Turnbull

Aussie girl meets Parisian boy, they fall in love, settle down and live happily ever after.... you know, eventually. ;)

C'est la vie.

I've read a fair few travel memoirs since coming to Thailand. I have a common complaint against all of them, and it is admittedly unreasonably. They are all written by ... writers. Not just writers, but worse, *journalists*. I don't know, it gives all the books the same flavor. Yes, they still experience the highs and lows, the adventures of travel. And they, in general, express themselves well. But I get tired of reading about how they go to point A to interview so & so, and they go to point B to interview so & so. It ends up being as much of a behind the scenes look at being a writer as it is about the places they actually go to. I'd really like to read about the adventures of an average Joe/Jane who travels for a change. If you know of such a book - tell me!

That petty complaint out of the way.... let's move on to the real criticisms. Do you know, I think what I enjoy most about reading travel memoirs is picking on the author/adventurer. I'm so bad. Actually, my one complaint is that she spends a fair amount of time in the beginning of the book moaning about how she's stuck in her apartment all day and I just wanted to scream at her "SO GO OUTSIDE!" Yeah, she's far from the center of town, yeah, she doesn't have anyone to go with. I guess I just have no tolerance for people who can't solve a basic problem like "I"m bored because I'm stuck inside all day." Rayong is about as far from Paris as you can get and still... if I walk out my front door, I'm 10 times more likely to have some kind of interaction, some kind of excitement or adventure as I would be if I just stayed in my room all day. OK - seriously... all complaints over now!

While she's nowhere near as funny as Bill Bryson, I did smile as she went through the trials and tribulations of adjusting to a new culture. She mortifies her boyfriend by wearing sweatpants to the bakery "It's not nice for the baker!" he exclaims. While interviewing a top military officer she uses the informal 'tu' form (noting that his own wife probably uses the 'vous' form with him) and bids him a very casual "bye bye". She goes through the typical stages of culture shock, initial fascination, then struggle & resentment, and eventually acceptance. Gradually she begins to understand more about French culture and French people. She adapts in some ways, learning to stand up for herself against rude service people, beginning to dress better, and of course, buying a dog. But in important ways she learns to accept herself as she is, coming to terms with the fact that she will never be fully French nor will she ever again be fully Australian. Overall it's a sweet read with a few interesting insights into life in Paris.

It's hardly a life-changing book, but it's a good light read. And well, I guess it would be mandatory reading for anyone involved in any kind of long-term relationship with a Frenchman (cough cough B cough cough =P ). Recommended for Francophiles!

TAG: Code Watermelon

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Not my farang

Remember when all I would ever write about were my adventures in trying to feed myself? Well I seem to have mastered that skill, and have a few extra kilos on my frame to show for it. Apparently my dramatic weight loss was not meant to last. Mai bpen lai!

The Dive - it looks nasty, but the food is delicious.

My most recent favorite dish here has been moo tot kratiem - pork fried with garlic. OMG - yum! There's just a ton of crunchy garlic in each plateful, but it's not excessively strong. I think the frying helps mellow out the flavor. I'm not sure what else they use to cook the pork, but it is mighty tasty. Before I leave here, I'm going to have to work up the courage to ask them how they make it because I cannot go home without being able to make this dish.

No Thai table is complete without a roll of toilet paper and a jar of toothpicks. Classy!

However, after eating moo tot kratiem day after day after day after day, it began to occur to me that I might want to eat a few veggies once in a while. Thus far the only veggie-rich dish I've been able to order has been pad pak loom (stir fried veggies with...pork, chicken, whatever). It's pretty tasty and the kind of thing most food shops can make. But it's often pretty heavy on the tomatoes and baby corn. I'm just not a fan of cooked tomatoes or baby corn. Not eating half the veggies in my 'stir fried veggies' kinda defeated the purpose of me ordering it, so lately I've been ordering fried rice and hoping for a lot of cabbage and carrots.

Recently I talked to a student about my dilemma (I love having pre-intermediate / intermediate students for a change!). She gave me the name of another vegetable to order - pak boon (morning glory in English), but my pronunciation was so bad that she recommended another one - broccoli. Amazingly the word is the same in Thai and English, even more amazingly I really really really like broccoli, next to carrots and snap peas it's one of my favorite veggies. She also passed on some even more useful information. I'd been told to ask for my food "mai pet"/"not spicy" but she explained that in Thailand "mai pet" means only put one or two chilies in, not six or seven (which explained why my food was still too spicy for me), but that if I really wanted it not to be spicy I needed to say "mai sai prik" "don't put chilies in it."

So the next night I went to the market - found a booth with some broccoli out front and ordered chicken and broccoli, without chili peppers. Ordering new dishes is always a bit of a gamble, so I was *delighted* when that is exactly what I got. YUM. Buoyed by my success, the next day I noticed some asparagus in a basket at The Dive and decided to try ordering it. I asked what the word for it was in Thai, "nor mai falang" which sounds a lot like "not my farang (foreigner)" which makes it blessedly easy to remember. I then ordered asparagus with chicken, without chilies. Success! Delicious success!

Remember - eat with your spoon, the fork is just for moving the food onto the spoon.

Last night I went out to dinner and attempted yet another coup. I decided to try Som Tam (papaya salad - practically the national dish of Thailand) using my new & startlingly effective phrase "mai sai prik". It was awesome! Because they use a giant wooden mortar and pestle to make it (and why would they ever wash it out between batches?) there was plenty of spice left over from the previous 7 chili version to give it some kick. It was tangy and refreshing and while my mouth was tingling, it was not burning. You have no idea how relieved I am. Every time I had to tell my students that I didn't like Som Tam it was like I'd insulted their Mom's apple pie. Now I can tell them that I love it and hopefully regain a little face. A very little since, you know... without the 7 chillies, it's not exactly the real thing.

Som Tam mai sai prik

Finally... it's fruit season here! In fact last Sunday was the famous Rayong Fruit Festival... so famous that my students neglected to tell me about it until *after* it was over. Another drawback to not speaking Thai is not being able to understand any of the signs or news stories about exciting events around town. Fortunately I have not completely missed out on fruit season. I've already had two near-durian experiences (this afternoon I was at an open air cafe and some people in the street were snacking... again I smelled it far before I saw it). They call durian the king of fruits, and to every Yin there must be a Yang. Mangosteens are the Queen. I've been given two free bags full of mangosteens, first by the lady at the coffee shop, and then by my laundry lady. And the other day, my driver gave me a lapful of mangosteens as we drove to my off-campus class (and I had fun practicing my Thai "I have mangosteen, 7 pieces." nom nom nom "I have mangosteen, 6 pieces." nom nom nom). They are so yummy. Very sweet and slightly tangy.

The fruit is in sections sort of like an orange. One or two of the sections will have a big seed (and the flesh clings to it like a mango) but most of the sections will have only tiny soft seeds you can eat. The texture of the flesh is somewhat peach-like, but the flavor is almost like a grape... a very sweet, very ripe grape with a touch of citrus or perfume to it. (btw - have you guys ever tried describing the flavor of a fruit to someone who probably hasn't tried it before? It's nearly impossible! I mean, honestly how would you describe 'banana'?)

Finally I got the nerve up to try a custard apple (no idea what the Thai name is). It's ugly but it's really good.

The black seeds are really heavy & hard (and there are a lot of them) but they're easy to separate from the fruit. They make quite a clunk when you spit them out onto the plate. The flesh is, well, custardy, soft, not too stringy not too grainy. And the flavor... this one I can peg exactly! It tastes like honey-suckle nectar. Delicious!

Of course, somewhere in the midst of all this culinary exploration I picked up my latest digestive bug... so you know, I'm back to Ritz crackers, Pepsi & now that I have an appetite again - a double cheeseburger at McDonalds. DON'T JUDGE ME! Industrial food has it's merits you know.

TAG: Code Mango (you know, up until I woke up puking ;) )

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I'm siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick


I had a plan.

I looked at my schedule and the easiest day I had was Tuesday, a class from 3-5pm and another from 5:30-7:30pm. I thought - this will be a good day to spend the morning at the coffee shop and update my blog, do a little more work on my exit strategy, and basically be productive in a non-work kind of way. Well, the best laid plans...

I got up at around 6am (sunrise, roosters crowing, dogs barking -sleeping in rarely happens). And after hanging out on line for a little while I started to feel sick. That's odd I thought - I really feel like I'm going to puke.

You know, it always feels a little unreal. Like - I'm not really going to puke am I? But sure enough... I spent the better part of the day running in and out of the bathroom. For a while I pulled a pillow in with me and just passed out on the floor. I hate hate hate that feeling when you're sick and you don't even know which end to point towards the toilet. Gah!

By about 11am I realized I wasn't going to be feeling better any time soon so I called in sick. That's one of the lousy things about my job. If I call in sick, it matters. Either my class gets postponed or another teacher has to cover my class at the last minute. It sucks. But I've done enough covering of other people's classes that I don't feel too guilty. And having tried to teach while sick before I knew I just wouldn't be able to handle it.

So I spent the day moaning and groaning and spending quality time in my bathroom... you know, wishing I'd cleaned more recently and all. In the afternoon things were quieting down, so I just went to sleep. Unfortunately when I woke it was nearly 11pm and after finish the water bottle I'd brought to bed with me, I realized I didn't have any more bottled water in my apt. Gah!

I got up, got dressed, and headed out in search of water. There's a little restaurant and a couple mom & pop shops near my apartment but I was worried they'd be closed and I'd have to walk all the way to 7-11. Fortunately the restaurant nearest my building was still open. I bought 4 bottles of water and I must have looked pretty pathetic because she threw an extra one in for free.

I managed to sleep all night but I'm still feeling pretty crummy this morning. And the worst part is, I honestly don't know what made me sick this time. You know, if I could figure it out, I'd have half a chance at avoiding it in the future. I know I didn't eat any raw seafood this time. But I did try a new fruit (custard apple), I've been eating a lot of fruit actually. But I've been gorging myself on mangosteen for at least a week or two and they hadn't made me sick before. I've been eating more veggies though... so this is added evidence against the Dive and their sketchy cleaning practices. ugh. Ok... no more veggies at the Dive, and we'll see how it goes.

Next time you think "I'd love to live abroad!" just remember - it's only glamorous in retrospect!

TAG: Code Fish Sauce

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Notes from one small island to another...

Notes from a Small Island is a book I was meant to read. Days after I'd picked up a copy at a used bookstore in Pattaya, another copy appeared in a care package from a friend (thanks B!). I figured the most appropriate way to start this book was by taking it to my own small island - Ko Samet. Let me tell you, the islands could not be more different!

For his last hurrah after spending 8 odd years living in Britain, Bryson decides to take one last trip around the island. Relying heavily on public transportation, he visits big cities and obscure towns.

Ooooh lovely.

Bill Bryson is one of the most hilarious writers I've read... he is simultaneously one of the most boring travelers I could possibly imagine. I alternated between arguing with his outlook on travel & life in general, waiting in vain for the book to get 'interesting', and laughing out loud at his observations of mundane British life. "When the program finished.... Mrs. Smegma came in with a tray of tea things and a plate of biscuits... and everyone stirred friskily to life, rubbing their hands keenly and saying 'ooh, lovely.' To this day, I remain impressed by the ability of Britons of all ages and social backgrounds to get genuinely excited by the prospect of a hot beverage."

The main issue I take with Bryson is his travel philosophy. He has a tendency to pick his travel destinations somewhat whimsically and then gets annoyed when there is limited transportation to these out of the way little towns and villages. He rarely spends more than a day or two in a given place; falling into the bus-backpack-beer-bed trap. He doesn't make much of an effort to interact with the locals. He doesn't eat local specialties, opting for Chinese food more often than not.

He also seems to have a very set idea of what and importantly when a city should look like. He's nostalgic for a charming, cobblestone, Dickensian Britain... one that probably never existed in the first place. He decries the encroachment of chain stores like Boots and Marks & Spencer into old market squares...and turns his nose up at 'tourist' attractions. But then he gets irritated when certain towns close up shop in the evening and he's left without a decent place to get dinner. He never seems to grasp that most cities can not be judged by their value as day trip destinations alone. Some cities are just places for normal people to live and work and have families and watch TV and do their everyday not-all that-charming activities. Most workplaces are not built to be shown off on the pages of Architectural Digest.

As far as his explorations go... he's more than a little ambitious. I couldn't keep track of the number of cities he visited, let alone absorb any meaningful details about any of them. I think to enjoy this book you must have lived or at least traveled extensively in Britain. Then it all becomes one long inside joke. But as an outsider looking in, nothing he says really inspires me to visit any of these places. Which is odd because England and Scotland are on the top of my 'must visit' list.

Despite my issues with Bryson, I nevertheless found myself bursting into laughter almost every time I picked up the book... so clearly, he's doing something right. I think it's his whole understated manner, his amusement at the mundane, and well, his writing style that I like so much. So very much, in fact, that when I went to Ban Phe to trade it in at the secondhand bookstore I picked up Down Under - his book about Australia. But first, perhaps, I should read something a little more exciting. ;)

TAG: Code Watermelon

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It had to happen sooner or later...

I may have mentioned how much I hate Saturdays. Well, today was something special. I went up to my class and some of the kids in the classroom across the hall were SCREAMING. I mean, there's the usual level of ruckus you'd expect from a hundred kids tromping up and down stairs going in and out of classes, but these girls were putting out hypersonic squeels that nearly made my eardrums bleed. I looked in the door to see if a teacher was there but didn't see anyone, so I poked my head in and shushed them good. Of course then I turned around and noticed that the teacher *was* in there, just sitting at her desk preparing for the class. D'oh! I said a quick 'sorry' and left. But ooooh, not okay to go in and discipline another teacher's kids... but honestly - I couldn't believe she could sit there and even attempt to look at her book with the kids screeching like that.

Have I mentioned that I don't like kids?

Anyway, with that pleasant little encounter, and three hours of class behind me I came downstairs to get ready for round two. There's a computer set up in the hallway near the teacher's room for the kids to play on before & after class. No problem except when the kids all pull up chairs and make it impossible for teachers to actually *get* to the teacher's room.

This particular day I was attempting to maneuver around the kids when the most horrid smell I've ever encountered wafted over to me. At first it smelled like some unholy combination of body odor and garbage. But a second later there was a wave of eau d'industrial cleaner. When I opened the door into the teachers lounge it was almost unbearable.

"Oh you missed your opportunity to try Durian!" said Jim, an older teacher from England.
"Is *that* what that was?!" I replied stifling my gag reflex to the best of my abilities.

Despite the fact that the durian had been consumed and disposed of before I got there I could still smell it - FROM THE HALLWAY! That's some powerful stank! I'd had no particular desire to try durian in the first place... but this just solidified it in my mind. No way, no how. If I never see or smell it again, I'll be just fine!

I left the teacher's room as soon as I could, but still had to make a couple trips back in there for one thing or another. Gah! Horrid. Jim stated, quite placidly that while he liked the fruit he was slightly bothered by the disinfectant they use on it (the second layer I smelled). Good LORD it was nasty! It's like the smell of every bodily function left to simmer in the sun by the side of the road absorbing a day or two's worth of pollution. The idea of someone eating it - it just boggles my mind. I really wonder if it's a genetic thing or not - your ability to tolerate the smell/taste of durian.

But I'm really not willing to investigate the matter.

TAG: Code Durian (Get me the hell out of the teacher's room!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chatuchak Market

As I see more and more of Thailand, I'm really coming to appreciate the advantages of living in Rayong. One of the strongest advantages is that there's just nothin' going on here. The people are generally normal work-a-day family types. As an American, I'm enough of a novelty that I get some degree of special treatment, but not so exotic as to be stared at every time I leave the house. Rayong has no tourist appeal whatsoever, so the prices are not inflated. With rent at 3,000 baht/month and food as low as 150 baht/day (although I often splurge on cha yen & trips to Starbucks, in theory...) I could easily save about $300 US a month.

Of course I'm *not* saving up that much, but that's largely because of advantage #2. Location, location, location! Rayong is, as I'm sure I've mentioned, just a 45 minute songthaew ride from the beach - add in another hour for the ferry, and you're on a tropical resort island. Not too shabby. Bangkok is just a two hour minivan ride away. With the rainy season approaching, and glorious sunny days retreating, I've been making more trips to Bangkok and fewer to the beach.

I like approaching Bangkok as a day-trip destination. I can generally do one or two things at a leisurely pace and then be home before bedtime. It's not nearly as stressful as trying to fit in a whole day of sightseeing. Although I generally end up spending an obscene amount of time in the malls, it's nice to know that I *could* come back next week and do something different.

Last Sunday I came with an agenda. I was going to go shopping at Chatuchak market. Back in the day, in my cozy little apartment in Portland, I would watch Globe Trekker and dream of going abroad. One episode had a bit about shopping in Bangkok - both at the big mall and at Chatuchak... I saw the episode a couple of times and I'm not ashamed to say that it did factor into my decision to come to Thailand. So it's very exciting for me to be able to go someplace that I saw on TV. It is quite literally like a dream come true.

I had visited Chatuchak briefly with Bunny and Bobby, but this time I was going on my own, and I was going with a plan: "Spend hours getting lost among the trinkets, acquire an indecent amount of silk at even more indecent prices, and take a ton of pictures so I have something to blog about other than the trials and tribulations of my bowels." And with that:

Chatuchak (or Jatujak as the locals call it) is HUGE. There are a couple of wide 'main streets' through the market, but mostly it's a maze of hot, dark, crowded, little alleyways. I had (and used) two different maps to keep my bearings, and still ended up getting lost & wandering around in circles. There were stalls of art - paintings, carvings and sculpture, kitchen ware, fake flowers, clothing, clothing, clothing, clothing, jewelry, garden supplies, animals, knives & other weapons, and of course silk. Unfortunately, a lot of the more interesting stalls (live bunnies in froo froo dresses, ethnic folk art eg: blue jeans & American Country Music) had signs prohibiting photography... and when I got to the silk, I got a bit distracted (oooh pretty!!!) and completely forgot to take pictures. Trust me... there's a ton and it's all gorgeous.

The number one rule is - if you see something you like, buy it. Yeah, you think you'll be able look around for a minute then come back to it, but don't count on it. There's just too much to see. Last time I saw a beautiful black lacquer box with abalone inlays and try as I might I couldn't find it anywhere this time. I did find several stalls of used books, and a bling-o-riffic stall of accessories.

bling & books

The number two rule of the market is - stay hydrated! So after shopping for a good long time I stopped and had a sandwich & an iced tea. Now I want you to fully appreciate the irony of that statement. Back in Portland I would regularly go down to the Saturday Market and order a plate of Pad Thai from the woman in the purple food-cart (good stuff btw - you should check her out, it's just a few cockroaches shy of authentic ;) ). And now I've come all this way to Thailand, and further spent two hours in a minivan to come to Bangkok the very heart of Thailand... and what did I do? I ate a ham and cheese sandwich on white bread. Ironic yes. But I am not ashamed!

It didn't take long for me to break the number one rule. I had done a quick survey of various silk stalls (there are several scattered here and there, but one section with a fairly high concentration of them) but didn't buy anything on the first round. So then I had to do some wandering to find them again. In the process I passed a quaint bar / cafe positively hidden in the labyrinth of stalls. I thought briefly about stopping for a bite to eat, but I wasn't hungry and was determined to pick up some silk while I was in the proper area... so I violated the number one rule again (it's really more of a guideline anyway).

After employing an aisle by aisle criss-cross search pattern, I found the shop I'd perused earlier and treated myself to three very nice scarves. They were cheap compared to what you would pay in the states... but I'm not making dollars anymore so it was a calculated splurge. You know, I'm almost afraid I'll wish I'd bought more when I get home!

mmmmmm.... silk!

Then once more into the fray... I sought out some souvenirs for friends back home, restocked my supply of postcards, and admired some jewelry. In one of the main roads through the market there were street musicians. This kid was one of the better ones.

Eventually I found the hidden bar/cafe again, ordered a cha yen and spent a good long time reading, writing postcards and generally soaking up the ambiance.

As much as I may complain about the cockroaches and my schedule and my crappy little apartment, I want you to know that I never for a minute take for granted that I'm living the dream. I know (or at least I hope) that one day I'll be back in Portland spending my nights sitting on the couch watching Globe Trekker again. And when I do, I'll know that I lived as fully as I could while here and took the juiciest bite I could out of the big mango!

TAG: Code Mango

Monday, May 18, 2009

Prawns by a nose!

Well... do prawns even have noses? Yeah, it probably was the raw prawn. My antibiotics helped, sort of. I've still got some digestive issues, but I think those are diet related. Of course what am I doing? Sitting here eating candy, I'm sure that's not helping the situation.


I'm teaching a ton, I was at work from 9am to 9pm today, and thought I'd have all tomorrow morning to write long post, but found out that I'll have a 9am class tomorrow... and on Wednesday I'll be working another 9am - 9pm day.


TAG: Code Fish Sauce

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Again?!? Really?!?

I've managed to pick up yet another intestinal bug. YUMMY! Gah! It's not as bad as the first two, but I'm definitely not happy about the constant tummy ache. I'm not entirely sure how I got it this time either. What do you think:

1. For the past few weeks I'd been seeing all these tables set up outside... literally everywhere. They'd be covered in plastic and have all these brown circles on them - about maybe 5 inches in diameter, a thin layer of who knows what. They were just out there in the sun, out with the flies and the motorbike exhaust etc. Well, my laundry lady has been giving me mangoes from her tree. Apparently they're in season, and it's like zucchinis here. Everyone's giving them away. One day, as she was handing me mangoes she also handed me one a rolled up brown thing - one of the circles I'd seen. Homemade mango fruit leather! It was really yummy. But now that I'm sick... I wonder.

Free mangoes... most assuredly *not* the culprit

2. As part of Bunny & Bobby's farewell bash the teachers and even some of the school staff all went out to dinner together. It was more or less family style, and the Thai gals did a lot of the ordering. Someone handed me a plate of Som Tam (spicy papaya salad) with seafood in it. I took a bit with a prawn in it and had it in my mouth before I realized the prawn was raw. I, foolishly, ate it anyway thinking what the heck - I eat sushi! But my last intestinal battle was brought on by eating Som Tam with raw crab. So... I wonder.

3. I usually eat at the Dive... the dingy nasty fly-infested restaurant near the school. It's a nasty nasty place I promise you. But the food is awesome, seriously tasty! And cheap! It's 35 baht ($1)for a plate of fried rice, or my favorite, the garlic fried pork. These dishes would go for easily $7 - $10 in the states, and probably not taste as good. So it's where we all eat. And usually I'm fine, but lately I've been trying to eat more vegetables. And my eating vegetables has coincided with this recent digestive unpleasantness. Ordinarily I wouldn't blame nice wholesome veggies... but I've recently learned that they wash the veggies in what passes for the 'toilet' (bathroom) here. I've yet to venture into the looks something not unlike a porta-potty off on the corner of a building. One hopes that they are merely using the sink to get water and washing the veggies in a nice clean area using soap and all. But now my stomach cramps started right after a nice big plate of stir fried veggies & noodles, so I wonder....

Bunny at the Dive

4. Then of course, there is the Swine Flu, which you know, hasn't actually been transmitted from swine to humans and turns out to be only about as dangerous as the average flu. Which... you know... still kills a lot of people every year. But hardly the apocalyptic pandemic the media would love to be reporting on at the moment. Nevertheless, I have been eating a lot of pork fried with garlic lately, so I wonder....

5. Finally, not that this is a blatant cry of self pity or anything... but perhaps my recent bout of malaise is due to a serious lack of correspondence. One can never be too sure about these things.

What do you think? Cast your vote in the nifty little poll thingy on the side ------>
In any case I started a course of anti-biotics this morning and will hopefully have this bug kicked by the end of the week. Aren't you glad you tuned in today?

TAG: Code Fish Sauce

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Kuhn Deeo again

Bunny and Bobby are off to Vietnam for three weeks. After that they'll spin back through Thailand for a few days, then they're off to Russia and across through Europe before flying back to the States. I'm only a little bit jealous. All of that back-packing would be a bit much for me. But they're a couple of crazy kids... so more power to them.

And I'm back to being kuhn deeo (person alone). It started immediately. I stopped in at this new restaurant next to my apartment to grab some bottled water. Literally the moment I stepped into the place, this man sitting there started the "Hello, where you come from?" conversation and asked if I wanted to eat something. I said I'd eaten already, and he made the "oh, kuhn deeo?" comment. This is one of those cultural things I just can't adjust to. Thai people simply don't do things alone. I'm an anomaly.

One of my (intermediate) students mentioned visiting his girlfriend in Chiang Mai over the last holiday and I asked what he did.
Student: "Stayed at home."
Me: "What? Why?"
Student: "No car."
Me: "Um.... they have songthaews there... and tuk tuks... and taxis."
Student: "Maybe with my girlfriend, but she was working - no day off."
Me: "So, you didn't go to Doi Su Thep?"
Student: "No."
Me: "You didn't go to the zoo?"
Student: "No."
Me: "Did you go to the old city?"
Student: "No."
Me: "Are you fucking kidding me?"
Ok... I didn't say it like that. But I did tell him I'd spent a month in Chiang Mai and explored as much as I could within my budget and communication abilities. He just seemed to think it was normal that you would travel 900 miles to a whole different city just to stay at home watching TV for a week if you didn't have anyone to go places with.

The thing is, I understand, I *totally* get it. Going all over the place is not nearly as much fun as going with friends. But I guess I got to a point in my life where there just weren't many other people around who wanted to do the same things I did. I had to decide that I could just sit around moping, or I could get off my ass and do the things I wanted to do anyway. I think it's obvious which choice I made. Honestly, doing things on my own is probably only about 60% as much fun as doing them with someone else. But still... that's 60% more fun than sitting at home just wishing I were out and about.

There were supposed to be two or three new teachers to replace the ones that are leaving in May... but so far each one has cut & run at the last minute. This not only will I be friendless for a bit while they try to hire new teachers (fingers crossed for some cool 30 something Aussies), I'll also be insanely busy this month, covering all the extra classes. I guess that's okay though. Keeping busy will distract me from my lack of social life, and my (hopefully temporary) lack of a social life will let me save up some money.

So that's my thrilling & exotic life for the moment... eating fried rice alone and teaching, teaching, teaching.

TAG: Code Watermelon

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Feats of Strength...

Ok, it's not's something better: Michael5000 Decathlon 2009 . I probably should have sent you all over there in time for Event 1... but there's still actually time to get in on some of the fun. This week's event is "Physical Prowess" to which I submit my entry...

Living in Thailand

No, technically it's not "athletic" but I believe I have encountered and overcome a number of physical challenges in a manner that approaches 'prowess'. Including, but not limited to:

- outrunning rabid dogs
- crossing 8 lanes of crazy Thai traffic, on foot
- riding side-saddle on the back of a speeding motorbike while carrying a load of groceries.
- attempting to scuba-dive
- successfully snorkeling
- doing unbloggable things to a local boy, using only a couple dozen words of shared vocabulary.
- eating street food without a clue what it was
- eating food so spicy it's made me cry
- consuming my body weight in fried rice
- consuming my body weight in alcohol
- battling two intestinal viruses
- riding in ferries of questionable sea-worthiness
- vanquishing cockroaches from my apartment
- losing and sustaining the loss of about 10 kg.
- kayaking in the Anadaman Sea
- despite my still rather substantial & flabby gut, frolicking on the beach and even smiling while allowing people to take my picture (a tremendous act of body confidence that no Thai girl, and few American girls I've met can match!)
- being hit by a car and keeping my feet
- playing badminton for the first time

I feel that this list of activities I have done, and am continuing to do are spectacular given my previous hobbies of knitting and quilting, which in all but the most extreme forms (ie: Hat Wars) are generally performed in the butt-on-couch position. But I fear that most will be rejected on the basis of that pesky "between now and the deadline" requirement. So therefore I will submit my most recent attempt at physical prowess.

Last night I went skinny dipping in the moonlight, with a co-ed group of friends & fellow teachers. And while this transpired on a tropical island... it was by no means deserted! This was the first time I've ever swum nekkid in the ocean (oh and there was a substantial amount of actual swimming!), and I have to say - I highly recommend it, although probably not anywhere north of 20 degrees latitude. =P I hope this brave departure from my usual level of self consciousness and inhibition alone will push me to the top of the rankings in physical prowess. If not.... well, I'll try to wrestle an elephant on the way home. ;)

TAG: Code Mango

Friday, May 1, 2009

Worlds Apart

I just finished reading two books that probably couldn't be more different if they'd tried.

First I'm finally getting around to reading all the Jane Austen books that I've seen as movies, most recently Pride and Prejudice. Set in a country neighborhood in regency England, it focuses on the romantic lives of the five Bennet daughters. Major crises involve a scandalous elopement, rejected proposals and misjudgements of characters. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Naturally I followed that up with Enders Game by Orson Scott Card. Set, largely, in outerspace in some unstated time in the future, it focuses on the highly traumatic childhood of one Ender Wiggen, potential savior of mankind. Major crises involve a sadistic older brother bent on ruling the world, interpersonal combat between Ender and other children, and interstellar battles - the outcome of which will determine the future of humanity. A good bit of death & destruction in the final couple chapters.

I have to say... I love both of these books. It's nice to get lost in Jane Austen's world of manners and small town dramas. While I'm glad I didn't actually have to live through that particular time period... it's a fun and romantic place to visit. And as for Ender... the psychological thrill ride is engaging even though this is my third or fourth time reading it.

On my own psychological thrill ride through Thailand, I'm feeling about as far from my life back in the States as I could possibly feel. I miss it, and I feel homesick. But I know that I don't really have a home there anymore. Wherever I go, whatever I do when I'm done here in Thailand... I'll have to start over from scratch. Yeah, I know people in Portland, and obviously I know the city and the language. But I'll need to find a job, a place to live and spend some time and energy rebuilding friendships. I've changed a lot. I'm not going to fit back into the same slot I was in when I left. It's unsettling. I know I shouldn't worry about things like that... cross that bridge when I come to it and all. I can't help it though... worrying about the future is one of those traits that doesn't seem to be changing much. ;)

So I have a question for those of you who have lived abroad... how did you know when it was time to come 'home'... and what were the biggest adjustments you had to make?

TAG: Code Sticky Rice