Beauty in the Unexpected

CROWDED Ferry
Selfie on CROWDED Ferry Taxi. Photo bombs are not optional!!
A Relative asked Rick if we were having fun, here in Thailand.  His response to this friendly inquiry was, “Well, I’m not sure “fun” is the word I would choose.”
This experience may be the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life.  Someone said, “it will be more and less of what you expect.”  Bingo.
I could say everything is amazing and that would be true.  In both the positive and negative sense.  When you come, be prepared to be unprepared.  It’s hotter than I’ve ever experienced and so humid.  I am drenched by the time I get to work.  I can’t put my sports bra on by myself because it’s the “over the head” style and sticks to my body and won’t move.  My feet are slightly swollen so certain shoes will never be worn here.  You need number 50 sunscreen for WATER SPORTS, or you will sweat it off in 30 seconds.
The beach is NOT close by.  The beach is a weekend endeavor.  Downtown Bangkok is not close by.  Basically, our philosophy is work during the week and take mini vacations on the weekend  And that is because whatever you do takes a lot of time and rarely goes according to plan.  The Thai phrase, Mai Pen Rai, roughly translates to “no worries” or “what will happen will happen.”  This Karmic attitude is spot on.  Best laid plans are almost laughable.  Who knows what will happen.  Really. 
Monsoon rain?  Check.  
Fender Bender?  Check.
No credits cards taken here.  Run around until you find an ATM.  Check.  
Taxi takes you to the wrong place?  Check.  
Nobody available to weight your fruit?  No fruit today.  Check.
If you are a germ phone, let that go now!  No dishwashers so even at restaurants everything is hand-washed in a huge, murky vat.  Barefoot inside the Wats, no exceptions.  Mystery street food wrapped in waxed bags passed out by venders that wander among the stopped cars in a traffic jam.  Food handling without gloves.  Community combs at the gym; shared flip flops for the steam room and a little basket next to the squat toilet for your used t.p.
Safety is your own responsibility.  We wear seat belts in the cabs….when they are available…and put life jackets in a boat…when available.  No helmet?  No problem.  Baby on the handlebars of your scooter?  No problem.  Cram 15 people in the back of a pickup?  I think we can fit one more, don’t you?  Wanna be a fire dancer?  OK, you’re 10 and look to be able to use a lighter.  Hired.  Either that or you can be a “tour guide” on a rickety long boat.
That said, I really like it here.  So much beauty tucked inside daily encounters.  Scary soi (street) dogs lounging in the sun;  an incredible Buddhist temple next to a Soviet block style skyscraper; perfectly arranged fruit on a dilapidated card table; chanting monks in tattered saffron robes;  Muslim call to prayer over a crackling loud-speaker; the old man in a worn uniform that salutes me each morning on my ride to work.  
Everything is raw and real.  No boneless, skinless chicken breasts here!  Just whole chickens with head, feet and innards, hanging at the market in a surprisingly appealing way.
Please visit.  If you come with an open mind, and more importantly an open heart, you will have the experience of a life-time.
Plus, we’ll take you to the beach.
carview:pickup

We’ve still got room on this thing…

Silly Farang!

So, I’m done crying and am now just trying to figure things out. It’s really pretty funny. At least for the Thais. Basically, I’m living an extended episode of Idiot Abroad. They say you learn the most from your mistakes, so maybe I’m actually a genius!

Saying hello. Sounds simple, right? Well let’s think about how a toddler learns to say hello. First, someone shows them how to wave. Then, the kid realizes, “hey, this is so cool! When I wave to someone they wave back! I’m going to try it out with….. Everyone! And hold on, words go with the hand motion!! Let me try that out too…with Everyone!” It’s super cute and everyone loves waving at the toddler!

Now, replace the toddler with a middle aged woman. Replace the wave with the “Wei” (hands together as in prayer with a bow) and replace the “hello” with “Sawadi ka” and rather than cute it’s just plain silly! So, I am still in the toddler stage frantically bowing to everyone, trying to figure out a simple greeting. So far, I get a big grin and a returned “Wei.”  Maybe I AM super cute.

Never, and I mean NEVER go anywhere without your umbrella. So, being from the Pacific Northwest, I scoff at umbrellas. What? It’s my Northface jacket or nothing. Here, you need to bring your umbrella everywhere. I learned this after a lovely afternoon at the open market. Boat ride. Shopping. Street food. Strolling. And what happened? I got the worst sunburn of my life! Umbrella? Yes. For the sun. You sweat off every drop of sunscreen in about 3 minutes. I got this special umbrella with a silver lining just to deflect heat. I think I’ll get a real parasol when I go to Chiang Mai in November.

 

Never, and I mean NEVER go anywhere without a rain poncho. I learned this on Monday.   We joined a gym that is about ⅛ of a mile from our house. It usually rains in the late afternoon here and the warning is a very sudden and heavy wind. The rain is often short lived. Maybe an hour. So, I think, “ I’ll ride my bike to the gym right before it rains and then work out during the rain, and then ride home after the rain.” Good plan. So, I’m on the treadmill and it starts raining. Right on schedule. But this is different. Think 2-3 inches of rain in an hour. This is serious stuff. Thunder and lightening and sooooooo much water. I’m stuck. Plus, it doesn’t stop after an hour. Damn Mother Nature! I extend my workout. I eat a salad at the little restaurant. I wait in the lobby. Two hours go by and I have to get home. So, I walk out the front door and the nice valet says, “car?” I smile and say, “no, bicycle” and make a pedaling motion with my hands. He just busts out laughing as I head into the downpour and ride home through that 3 inches of standing water…..without a poncho. Didn’t need a shower after that workout!

Take your picture??  Doesn’t mean, “Will you please take a picture of my family so we can all be in it.” It means, “Will you pose with me, a perfect stranger, so I can have a photo of a farang?” (Farang means foreigner.) Talk about feeling like a rock star! (Or maybe the bearded lady.). Interesting. I did it a couple of times. What the hell.

One of the real joys I have here is riding my bicycle to and from work. Some of you know that cycling has become a big part of my life. Rick and I have done some extended trips and are very comfortable “in the saddle.” So, I got myself an inexpensive geared bike to ride to work. My route goes through our gated Western-style neighborhood, through a traditional Thai market row, and then down a long, country road to school. We drive/ride on the left side of the road here. (Like the UK.)

So, my first morning riding to work, I am in heaven! I’m finally comfortable. So familiar! I jet past the guard at the gate of our neighborhood as he salutes me and yells “Ka!” in traditional Thai form. I nod with confidence. All is good. I turn into the market area. I’m weaving between pedestrians, food carts, motorcycles, street dogs. The farang is amazing! So talented on her bike! And then, a very old woman, also on a bike, is heading toward me. She’s going 2 miles an hour on her ancient bike fitted with grocery baskets on both front and back. We make eye contact. It’s clear we are on a collision course….,so my instincts kick in and I move……Right. Yep. Exactly opposite of what I needed to do. Haven’t crashed a bike since I was about 10. Got a nice road rash. Thank God she didn’t hit the ground too. All she did was cover her mouth and laugh hysterically.  (Thai body language for extreme embarrassment.)  Nice work.

Now, I walk my bike through the market. And, the market folks seem to know me. I wonder why. Silly farang.