Friday, October 26, 2012

Don't Judge Until You Walk a Mile in Your Bartender's Shoe's

My second week of massage school is over. I learned about sen sib, the energy pathways in the body that often get blocked, and how to access them by digging my elbow into someone's back and stepping on their hamstrings with my feet (I promise it feels good!). I also gave my first 1.5 and 2 hour massages. It was very physically demanding but rewarding to accomplish.

After the long week, I decided to join of few of my classmates at the Chiang Mai Saloon. This place is like a little slice of Uh-merica...straight out of Texas to be precise.
I found the baskets of condiments and beer coozies charming
I liked that there was a bottomless popcorn machine
I didn't even mind that the loaded potato skins had mozzarella cheese instead of colby jack, fried onions instead of chives and was not actually a carved out potato skin but a full half of a tiny potato.
I was just happy not to be eating noodles and hang out with some people from school.

After our night in "Texas," we decided to migrate to "Jamaica" at the Rooftop Bar. It's a reggae spot on a rooftop across the street from Tapae Gate. The atmosphere is chill. So chill in fact that they ask you to take off your shoes before entering the roof. This is Asia so I'm certainly not unaccustomed to taking off my shoes before I enter someplace. In fact, majority of the day I'm barefoot here. But a little voice in my head thought that maybe in the middle of a touristy area of Chiang Mai my sparkly flipflops weren't safe. I listened to my instincts...then ignored them.
The bar was pretty cool but the drinks were a bit overpriced. I paid $2.27 for my gin and tonic (highway robbery). I still enjoyed hanging out on the roof with friends and breathing in the cool night air, but eventually the music shifted from reggae to drone-y house and a bunch of us had plans to go trekking in the morning so we decided to go.
When I walked down from the roof to where all the shoes were stored, my flipflops were no where to be found. I'm willing to try a lot of new things this year but walking barefoot in Chiang Mai isn't one of them, so I went back to the roof and told the bartender that someone stole my sandals. She looked at me blankly then said, "Sorry, no shoes," as if I was ordering a pair of shoes with my next beverage. I asked her if the bar had any extra shoes lying around because clearly this couldn't have been an isolated occurence, but she just stared at me with a mixture of annoyance and apathy. Her boss (at least I'm assuming it was her boss) said something to her in Thai and before I knew it, the bartender handed me her sandals and said, "take these."
I was not really okay with this. 1.) I didn't want to literally take the sandals straight from her feet to accomodate my inconvenience 2.) these sandals were kind of gross. But 3.) I also didn't want to be barefoot on the streets of Chiang Mai, so I took her sandals anyway.

The longer I stood in someone else's dirty flipflops, the skeevier I began feeling. Visions of athlete's foot, leprosy and ebola overtaking the space between my first two toes became too much to bear, so I asked my friend Lauren to walk with me to the night bazarre which was close by and definitely had new and possibly clean sandals to buy. I had taken a mini motorcycle tour of Chiang Mai the night before with my new pal Andy, a Muay Thai fighting Swedish sailor that I met over a plate of rice in my neighborhood, so I felt pretty confident navigating the short distance to the bazaar.
Sadly, my navigation skills are still being honed, and I led Lauren and myself into a dark part of the main street that was full of hookers. They seemed like nice enough people but I didn't want to be around them, so we backtracked, walked through a better-lit hooker street and found the bazarre. I was able to haggle myself a decent pair of pink flipflops and promptly ditched the gross ones in a pile of trash on the side of the road.

Overall the night was pretty fun. And I did get to see a table of hookers chowing down on a bag of larvae so you know, I guess I can cross that off my bucket list of life.
Tomorrow, trekking! W00t!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Speak Softly and Chase Lizards with a Big Stick

The mind is capable of incredible things. In just a little over one week, I've been able to navigate my way through a new city without speaking the language, be taught an entire sequence to give an hour and a half Thai massage and deduce whether or not I just ate a piece of fruit or an alien.

However, sometimes the logical mind can get so completely overwhelmed that it plays tricks on you. That was the case for me the other afternoon. After a relaxing morning hanging out in the garden at my guest house, I went to freshen up before getting a mani/pedi with some of my girlfriends. When I walked into my bathroom I noticed something on the window in my shower.

Naturally I thought, "who put half a lizard sticker on my window?"

I waited a few seconds to observe if this new sticker was breathing (and by observe I mean, I closed my eyes, held my breath and chanted "itsjustastickeritsjustasticker") then went on my way to enjoy the rest of my ladies afternoon.

(I believe this was an efficient use of both my time and $9)
When I returned home for the day, I did what any normal girl would do and began blogging in bed. When I finished my post, I noticed something small run across my wall. It was one of the tiny geckos that is commonly seen around here. Now don't get me wrong, I love animals. 15 years of turning down my mom's brisket can attest to that statement. However, I do not like them when they're uninvited in my bedroom (that goes for boys as well).
I ran outside to try and find one of the groundskeepers at the guest house to remove my new roommate, but ran into my friend Lauren instead. Ignoring her protests, I ushered her into my room to have her confirm through shrieking that there was a lizard on my wall. She asked to leave, but I grabbed her by the arm and asked her to just confirm that there was a sticker on the window in my shower as well. When we walked into the bathroom, the sticker had moved.
(One of the Frenchman at my guest house told me a lizard in your room means you're in a sane house. I hope my therapist is reading this...)
We were able to enlist the help of the Thai couple that manages the grounds at the house. I felt much less wimpy when I heard them screaming like little American girls everytime the lizard moved as well. Our strategy to remove the unwanted visitor was to use two extremely large sticks and try to scare it away. After about 15 minutes, lots of shrieking and pouring the sweat of terror from my brow, our lizard friend left presumably the same way he came in.
I begged the couple to put up a mosquito net over my bed since I still had to contend with the other rogue gecko in my room. But they didn't quite understand me, and moved me upstairs to a much nicer room with a double bed, mosquito net and no lizards. Lesson of the day: When life hands you a lizard, make lizardade (I think my 7 year old niece will like that joke).
And just in case you were wondering, we caught it on camera. (Please don't show this to PETA)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Vom: The Less Appealing Foods of Thailand

Chiang Mai is one of the culinary centers of Thailand. It boasts the best gourmet restaurants and international cuisines you can find in the region. What's more impressive is you never have to set foot inside a fine dining establishment to experience some of the phenomenal flavors and textures that Thailand has to offer. Just walk outside and you can run into any number of food vendors, stalls or outdoor markets and come away with some extremely tasty and interesting discoveries. Yesterday I tried jackfruit for the first time. It"s what I imagine eating an alien fetus would feel like...but with a yummy fruit flavor.
Of course, along with the delicious discoveries comes some of the more questionable cuisines that this Westerner just can't quite get behind.
These trays may look like some chili and basil spiced deep fried goodness at first glance, but upon closer investigation one discovers...
Jiminy Cricket! What would Geppetto think?!
Lauren finally found a bag of pork rinds worthy enough to be brought back to her home state of Texas. I think we can all agree who's hosting the next football tailgate!
Yves loves his fried fish head for lunch.
Sadly, I don't think the feelings are mutual.
Nothing says "I love you" quite like a gutted fish heart. I know what I'm buying my next Valentine!
So, yes, Thailand does have some food that just the sight of makes the back of my knees tickle, but to make up for it, you can buy a 40oz of beer for $1.30. Chang Beer for the win! Happy weekend!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

School Daze and a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts

I'm officially a student again! I would say my day is pretty typical for anyone in academia except I've traded desks for massage mats, pencils for pillows, and professors for little Thai women.
My school bus, which is really a songthaew, pulls up to my guest house at 8:15am and I join my European classmates on our ride to school.
We drive for 15 minutes to Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai on the Mae Khao Canal. The canal would be pretty if it didn't look like a green mote, however, the actual facility of our school is quite lovely.
We're greeted with a cacophony of wais and "sawat dii cas" by our teachers at the entrance, then are herded inside where we have our temperature taken (you're not allowed to practice massage if you're running a fever...imagine that!) and then given a change of clothes for the day's lessons.
(It may or may not be debatable that we look like escaped mental patients in these outfits.)
Throughout the morning we learn different techniques in Thai massage. This week we are focusing on the level one basics which include massaging the head, neck, face, shoulders, arms, hands, palms, legs, feet, abdomen, and total body stretching. I'm not sure what else there is on the human body to work on that is legal, but I imagine there's a lot more to learn because I have 4.5 more weeks of lessons.
After all of the morning work, our brains are full but our stomachs are empty, so school breaks and we're sent across the street to an enormous market to find lunch. This week is the Vegetarian Festival in Thailand where Chinese devotees of Buddhism become vegetarian for 9 days then parade through town performing acts of self-mortification. I have not seen any acts of that sort but as a full fledged vegetarian, I have taken advantage of the vegetarian stalls at the market which offer tasty delights such as red chili fried ginger and mango on sticky rice.
After lunch we continue learning and reviewing Thai massage techniques by practicing and being practiced on by our classmates. After attending massage school, I fully believe that school and work would be a more pleasant experience for all if you could count on at least one of your contemporaries massaging your ears with scented oil before the end of the day.
By 4pm, school ends and we change back into our normal clothes. Post school activities include going swimming, practicing yoga and grabbing dinner with classmates. All in all, massage school in Thailand is off to a good start!
On a totally unrelated note, My friends and I recently discovered we can buy fresh baby coconuts on the street and drink their delicious, electrolyte-filled water for a whopping 15 Thai Baht (American dollars conversion $0.49). Going back to Vitacoco is going to be a struggle for me...


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chiang Mai, My Oh My!

This will be a short entry because tonight is a school night! I arrived in Chiang Mai last night and as I breathed in the fresh mountain air, I breathed out a sigh of relief that I was 1.) alive, 2.) had all my belongings with me, and 3.) was finally out of Babylon/Bangkok. 

I checked into my guest house, dropped my backpack in my new room and did what I considered the most important orientation to my new city...
find my local pad thai noodle shop.

I met some of the people in my guest house who are also attending TMC Massage School with me. They are a lovely group of Europeans, a French Canadian (who may as well be European) and girl from Texas. As much as I love spending time with people from different cultures, it's nice to have another Yankee over here.

I've fully embraced what my friend Charlotte calls the "honeymoon phase of culture shock." It has mainly consisted of my new friends and me swimming all afternoon in a millennium pool with a somewhat obstructed view of the mountain range,

going to the Sunday Market to buy a pair of pants that I didn't need and eat from the food stalls 

watch a woman practice her audition for what I imagine to be the live action musical of Up

And just in case I end up in Bangkok again, practice my sharp shooting skills

My new Thai friend, Kit, has my back too.

Tomorrow massage school starts. I can't wait!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

One Night in Bangkok and the world's my sketchy oyster

In an attempt to avoid feeling completely overwhelmed with the life choice I just thrust myself into, I decided my best course of action was to take things one step at a time. Step 1, deplane at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. Step 2, go through immigration and grab my backpack. Step 3, change over my American dollars to Baht. Step 4, get a cab and go to the hotel my sister booked me through The hotel received good reviews, only cost $16/night and had a free shuttle to the airport I was flying out of the next day. I figured I was golden.

Things had gone smoothly up till this point. I'd made all my connections and flights. I even had my own row from Tokyo to Bangkok and was able to lay out completely to sleep.
(In case you were wondering, YES, I did remember to wear my Hello Kitty socks to Japan)

Despite the haze that accompanied 30 hours of travel, I was feeling pretty confident about all the steps I needed to complete. In fact, I was completing them with ease. It wasn't until step 4, when I showed the taxi driver the address of my hotel that things started to get a little hairy.

Amongst a bunch of Thai chatter between different cab drivers questioning where I was going, I started to get a small pit in my stomach. They not only seemed unfamiliar with the area, but they almost sounded concerned. I convinced myself that was probably just Thai inflection that I didn't understand yet. Eventually we started driving and I asked my lovely cab driver, Mr. Nakorn, how long this ride would be.

"40-50 minutes, Miss."

Oh crap. Where was I going? Suvarnabhumi Airport is close to many hotels. It's not far from the city center of Bangkok either. I was overshooting these Western friendly areas by at least 25 minutes and it was already 12:45am.

After several failed attempts at dialing the phone number the hotel gave me in my confirmation email and some very unsuccessful communication with Mr. Nakorn, I found us driving in circles around some seedy looking areas. Ok, you may be thinking "isn't Bangkok supposed to be seedy?" Well, my friends, double that seediness that you're imagining and you will begin to comprehend just where on earth I'd found myself.

What was supposed to be a 40-50 minute ride suddenly turned into over an hour of driving lost in dark, industrial looking Bangkok. Mr. Nakorn finally pulled over to ask for directions under a train track. I heard a woman screaming and when I looked across the street, I saw her sitting on a trash can half-dressed, barefoot and bleeding from the neck and elbow. There were a lot of people around but no one really seemed to pay her much mind. Many questions began brewing within me. Is this a normal sight for this part of town? Is my hotel really close to this scene? Am I going to find myself sitting on a trash can crying and bleeding in the next 12 hours I have to spend here?

My heart began palpitating. I heard my father's disapproving voice echoing in my head that this year abroad was a foolish idea. I'd be lying if I said that at that particular moment I didn't completely agree with him.

30 minutes and two detours later, Mr. Nakorn finally pulled up to the red neon lights of my hotel. There were a lot of scantily clad women hanging out in front of the lobby and the men they were with eyed me and my big periwinkle backpack. I paid Mr. Nakorn and asked him if I was safe there. He giggled then gave me a wai, the traditional salutation goodbye, before driving off.

The bellboy didn't really speak English but he showed me to my room which was clean and simple. Aside from the shower being over the toilet, it wasn't bad at all. I locked and bolted the door, checked the closets for bodies (there weren't any), then took a lukewarm toilet shower.

I slept with the light on and my fanny pack tied underneath my tank top. All things considered, I slept rather soundly. I didn't hear a peep from anyone the whole night. It became clear to me in the morning that was because I was the only tenant in the entire hotel. Next time I'm springing for a better part of Bangkok...

(My hotel in daylight is still no gem, but far less scary.)

(This shadowy man was my cab driver to the airport for my flight to Chiang Mai. *Remember how my hotel promised a free shuttle? Yeah...didn't happen.* His name is Toyporn. Although I was less than a 5 minute drive to Don Meung Airport and probably could have hit it with a (crack)rock from my hotel's front door, Toyporn managed to drive past it three times making the ride close to 20 minutes. He deserves his birth name.)

(Then I met this chair. We are in love.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

15 Year Intervals/my many lil backpacks

Well, I can happily say that I made it through my Saturn return. In the 29.4 years it took for Saturn to fully orbit the sun and return to the exact point in the sky that it occupied at the moment of my birth, I've seen a few major life events. Sure, I could talk ad nauseam about my travels, my short lived acting career and the ever popular subject of my divorce, but let's just focus on the life events that fell within 15 year intervals of each other...

Here I am on my first day of preschool. Equipped with my yellow Snoopy backpack and approaching the world from ballet fourth position, I'm ready to tackle both the Hebrew and English alphabets. 

On my first day of high school, I've ditched the yellow Snoopy backpack (too cool for any sort of backpack at that time...obvi) but my skunk stripe and Birkenstocks let those seniors know that I'm a force to be reckoned with. And by "force to be reckoned with," I mean I'm going to ditch the Homecoming dance to watch Prince of Egypt in my friend's basement.

Here I am 15 years later rocking a slightly bigger backpack and some better placed highlights. I'm heading to my 30+ hours of travel time (Lincoln-->Omaha-->Salt Lake-->San Fran-->Tokyo-->Bangkok (overnight...Correction, I meant to say One Night in Bangkok)-->Chiang Mai). I'm pretty sure that by the time I land in Chiang Mai I won't know my foot from my head but that's nothing a $.06 plate of rice noodles can't fix. I'll be sending you some transatlantic love very soon!  

แล้วพบกันเร็ว ๆ นี้

Friday, October 5, 2012

Have you read Eat, Pray, Love?

The most frequently asked question about my impending journey: "Have you read Eat, Pray, Love?"

Yes, I've read it. And no, it's not why I'm going...

It's not unique what I'm about to do. In fact, a lot of women do it. Two and a half years ago, I spent a month living in an ashram in India and what surprised me was the number of divorced young women there who had gone out on their own to travel the world. Although I was married at the time (actually my marriage felt more like a technicality at that point as my husband and I were hardly on speaking terms while I was abroad), I felt as though I'd found likeminded women- kindred spirits if you will. I respected that they were their own people. Calling their own shots. Creating their life in the vision they imagined. I was working hard at the time to do just that. I'd even brought in the professionals to help me. Twice a week with my therapist, once a week with my life coach, pop psychology books about creating the "best year of my life"...hey, crisis can get expensive for a newly neurotic New Yorker. Even with all the professional big guns and massively supportive friends, I'd never felt so lost or confused in my life. I was a smart girl, wasn't I? Why couldn't I figure out a way to get out of a toxic relationship?

I was working like crazy. I was waking up 5 days a week before sunrise to teach and train people to be the best versions of themselves, yet I had no money to show for it and I was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. I knew I wanted something different, but I couldn't define it. I knew I wanted to travel, but I couldn't tell you why. The only thing I strongly desired without question or confusion was finding peace...and maybe if I was lucky enough, a little bit of happiness.

Jump ahead to the present...

I was gifted a divorce. I started my own business that I'm taking on the road with me. I detached from my crisis and allowed it to be a motivation for change instead of a prison for sadness and anger. I worked hard to earn the finances for this journey, but I worked even harder to make sure I was in a mentally stable place to embark on it. I'm not completely healed by any means, and I still have a lot of things I plan to work on over the next year but I'm ready for the challenge. And I'm excited to be amongst those women I admired in India by creating my life in the vision I imagined.

So, yes, my tale probably does sound familiar. In fact, you're probably still thinking, "sounds like Eat, Pray, Love." No worries. It's cool if you think that. Maybe it will prompt you to continue following me on my journey.

And in case you were wondering the second most frequently asked question: "Do you speak Thai?"