Loi Krathong & Yi Peng: Chiang Mai, Thailand 2013.

About two months ago, I was convinced that packing up, moving home and settling back down into a 9-5 American routine was probably the way to go for me (small personal meltdown met societal pressures, met “screw it, I’m going home”). Except my Canadian roommate convinced me that if I left Thailand before the lantern festival in November, I’d never forgive myself (though if I’d gone home, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing). It’s a good thing I didn’t pack up and leave.

Especially since I got to experience one of the most remarkable festivals in the world (seriously, it’s voted in the top ten worldwide, just Google it.)
I do admit that I spent most of the weekend good and drunk, as one should.

I have yet to figure out how to search for “How many people died in CM during Loi Krathong this year?” Numbers aren’t there yet, I guess. Mixing Thai whiskey, fire, fireworks, flaming lanterns plummeting down from the sky, mob-mentality and getting drunk next to a river while trying to send off little flower/incense rafts has to result in at least one death. At least—though no one seemed overly concerned.

The festival was supposed to last for three days, but I distinctly remember at least five, because I went out Friday night for “one quick drink”, and didn’t actually return home until late Wednesday afternoon (I’d been home. But by the state of my bedroom Wednesday afternoon? I wasn’t home for long, and it was mostly to shower, find clean clothes without singe-marks from torches, lanterns, or fireworks, and then to head back out to do it all over again).

Later I’ll try to sit and write about each day of insanity, but for now, I’ll just post a few iPhone captured photos and call it a night.

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Work Related

Recently, I watched this Ashton Kutcher interview—bear with me, readers—where he said that “Working at Starbucks or McDonald’s is not ‘below you’—not having a job is ‘below you’.” I actually needed to hear this, since the next day I was waking up at 3am to take some work I swore I’d never resort to. Because I’m a vain, lack-of-work actress with a superiority complex, probably.

So I took a job as an extra on a Hollywood film being shot here in Thailand, where I signed a waver that said I wouldn’t talk about it. And the problem was that years ago, I’d said “No, I’m not going to ever take extra work.” Beggars/Choosers—I haven’t been on a set or a stage since January 13th, and it was starting to physically hurt. A set with lights, cameras, and all the wonderful shiny happy “get things done we have X amount of takes to get through in not a lot of time” was pretty okay by me. When I saw a script at the casting agency, I nearly grabbed it off the table and ran, that’s how excited I was.

What wasn’t on the waver, which I can talk about, was the difference between being a Western expat in Thailand, and being Thai. There were about 200 Thai extras that morning, we all showed up for a 6am call time. There were 5 Westerners. The Westerners got to sit in the shade for two hours, while the Thai extras had to stand in lines facing us. For two hours. While we sat there, comfortably in the shade and were asked if we needed anything.

For breakfast and lunch, the Westerners were given their own table filled with food—for five people—while the Thai extras were given two tables of the same amounts… for 200 people.

Westerners got paid four times more than the Thai extras. We got paid first, after 12 hours of standing around and off and on being on set. Not one of the Thai extras complained… while the Western expats… complained a lot.

The woman I was on set with kept changing her clothes mid-scene, sweater on, sweater off, we’re probably going to get cut from all footage. She started fights with the production staff, she complained loudly that they were taking too long to set up a scene/dismantle everything/shoot it again. I kept nudging her and trying to explain, and she kept rolling her eyes at me and saying how pointless it all was and how it was the stupidest thing she’d ever done, and how the film industry was just so incredibly lame compared to the glamour she associated with it.

There is nothing glamorous about a film set. Not one I’ve ever been on, at least. It’s sweaty and uncomfortable, and you have to run up a flight of stairs ten times, from five different angles, just to make sure the footage is there. It’s even sweatier in SE Asia.

And when I got home, 12 hours later, I sat down at my computer and started going over all of my writing deadlines for the night. My roommate came in, another Westerner married to a Thai woman, and he asked how it went. When I explained the differences between Thai extra treatment and Western extra treatment with some small disgust, he asked “And why didn’t you stand up and say anything about it? Why did you just sit there and allow this to happen?”

Because I’m a horrible human being, I replied with, “…I would have lost the job”.
“That’s the problem with the world, right there.”

Hello, Blog.

I’ve been completely horrible about updating.

It’s not because there isn’t anything going on over here in SE Asia… it’s more because I’m a neurotic writer trying to juggle on one blog the things I’d tell my grandfather, vs. the things I would tell my closest friends. Grandpa’s opinion generally wins out. But somewhere in the middle, I’m sure I can find a balance.

A balance that doesn’t start with, “Last night for the hell of it…” or, “So there I am, resetting a broken nose in my living room…”, or… “So I get taken to this room that looks like it came off the set of Saw, and…”

Those are generally where my stories start. And it seems that no matter how many countries you’ve managed to fly your way into, every expat here has the ability to one-up the last story told with, “Well that’s cool, but this one time I nearly died, I…”

I’m left with the feeling of accomplishing very little. I frequently am told, “Yes you live here, but you’re really not taking advantage of living in Asia at all, now are you?” Or, “Oh, you’ve only been to 15 countries? You know you’re supposed to have seen as many countries as your age, right?”

It gets a bit overwhelming, trying to juggle American living and the “who are you/what have you done/what can you do for me” vs. what I now realize is a lot of “You’re American/Don’t You Know How Messed Up Your Country Is/ What Are You Doing Here / I Almost Died Better”.
Note: Not every expat is like this. They really aren’t. But there are an awful lot who are.

Ordering food and not dying is not enough. Simply living here is not enough in some of the circles I’ve met. I’m left wondering how many times one can “nearly die” over here before earning their expat street cred.

Answer: At least one more time since that last time you almost died yesterday. Rinse. Repeat. Go almost die in three other countries. Rinse repeat. Nope. Not good enough, because that guy sitting next to you almost died and his story is better, go try again. Oh, hey, you’re not dead yet? Fail.

I just filled my first passport. I know nothing. It gets very difficult to sit down and write things, when I know that guy sitting next to me at the coffee shop probably almost died three times yesterday alone.

So this is that whole  blog of, “Yes, I’m a writer, and I have this space on the internet and it’s mine, and it’s about time I own it, despite the fact that my country apparently is all kinds of messed up (believe me, we’re American, we know, please stop telling us), and that I have not died nearly enough in nearly enough countries to write anything with any kind of authority”. Because really, all I can do is write anyway.

How I Learned to Drive a Motorbike, and Also: Don’t Do What I Did. Except That You Totally Should..

“Can you drive a motorbike?”
Oh, yeah, totally. No problem. Just give me the damn keys, thanks (I was already running late for work, so I’m sure I could’ve been more polite).

It turns out I did not know how to drive a motorbike. Nothing like driving a jetski or a dirtbike or my Jeep—you know what, it’s a freaking scooter, and it turned out I was incapable for the first two minutes and just threw myself into traffic at 7am because I had to get to work that morning and had no choice.

This is what happens when there’s an attractive man with a motorbike. It’s much more enjoyable to jump on the back of his and take off through the mountains than it is to drive yourself to work.

At least that’s what I thought.
Let there never again be a day in my life where I don’t have a motorbike.
It’s the most spectacular thing. Better than my Jeep or my Mustang, and I can’t believe I just admitted that.

Three days after I got my little Honda Click, I decided I hadn’t risked enough death, and “oh, yeah, I’ve got this”—and I jumped on and drove my way to Burma for a visa run just because I could.
I was later informed, “Yeah, we started taking bets on whether or not you’d make it back alive.”

If you’ve never thought about driving a motorbike across Northern Thailand, add this to your Bucket List. It’s the most rewarding drive I’ve ever taken.

And obviously, I crashed.
Not my fault.

The back brake literally snapped in half, and the front brake threw me straight into rush hour traffic over my handlebars between two lumber trucks that cut me off. My mechanic sheepishly apologized and showed me the pieces later and offered me a better bike to make up for it, no additional charge.

Coolest. Accident. Ever. My scars aren’t so bad either.
Luckily, I was wearing my leather jacket and my helmet, but the rest of me? Didn’t do so well.
Ended up having to ride back 10 hours with only one brake through the mountains, in the middle of the night, and (crashed a second time)—it was by far the most fun I’ve ever had on a road trip. Without my cell phone because I left it at home again.

But seriously. Drive through Northern Thailand on a motorbike.
Just, you know, check your brakes first.

Postponing Phnom Penh.

I fully intended to get home from Cambodia, pack up my bags, turn around and take a job as a journalist in Phnom Penh and live out my dream of working as a reporter in a third world country with shitty infrastructure.

Except that I didn’t. A couple nights after I got back, I went out to visit some friends and I was asked, “Hey, do you want a job?”
Uh… Yes? Yes. It’s summer, and my work is going to take hiatus, whatcha got?
And the next day, I just so happened to become employed.

Cambodia was already starting to feel a long ways away, and also… it was monsoon season. And I did nearly die by crocodile*, so maybe I could just put that move off for a bit… And really, postponing lifelong dreams? Nothing new to me.

So I’ve been lulled back into Chiang Mai. Something I was very intent on not doing.
But it’s not so bad, good friends, great weather, pretty scenery—and I live up the road from the best Caesar salad in the city. An important thing, I assure you.

Not so horrible.
*And the death by crocodile? It was stuffed.
Torrential downpour, laptop, dirt road that instantly turned into a mudslide, and there was me, stupidly running for cover when I slipped and slide my way straight into the jaws of.. yeah… stuffed crocodile. Smooth, I know. Because my middle name should be Grace, and I’m all kinds of awkward.

Another Buddhist Holiday and a Visa Run.

Taking a visa run to the Burmese border tomorrow. Again.
Ask me how excited I am. I dare you.
There’s a joke somewhere about how much visa runs are loathed by expats.
Every 15 days like clockwork, if you’re not smart enough, or just too lazy to be bothered to go to Laos, you have to get yourself on a bus and sit for ten or twelve hours to the border and back just to get your updated stamps so you don’t get thrown in jail/deported or have to pay a 20,000 Baht fine (which is the cap out here in Thailand on overstays, but it’s nothing to look forward to).

I recommend, if you’re coming to Thailand, to go for the work visa. Or a business visa. Or maybe just be Thai to begin with, because this country, while it loves its tourists, doesn’t really want you to stay so long. And most people who settle down here just want to stay, because Thailand? It’s an extremely pleasant place to live.

So there’s the visa runs. Twice a month. Rain or shine or Dengue Fever be damned.
They come up just as frequently as all the surprise Buddhist holidays—of which there’s another one happening today, though I couldn’t tell you for what.

The upside on visas over Buddhist holidays though? You know when you have to get yourself to the border. The holidays? They always come as a nasty surprise. “Oh, hello! Sorry, it’s a  holiday.. No alcohol is sold and most restaurants will be closed, good luck eating anything other than 7-11 food.”