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.”

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What’s my name again??

So I’ve run into a bit of a dilemma over here in SE Asia.
Who knew?! A dilemma!
Actually, a dilemma implies that there is a solution somewhere in the problem. I’m not sure this has one—aside from moving away and starting over. Again.

I have a massive pet peeve against being called Candy. It’s unavoidable here. I’ve begun offering it up as a name variant in an “I’m sorry, I know my name is ridiculous, here, just think of chocolate.” sort of way.

“Oh! KA! KA! CANDY!!! I LOVE CANDY!”
Yes. Yes, okay. Cringe.

Unfortunately, “Can-dis” proves to be surprisingly difficult. Don’t ask me how. I’ve gotten Candy, Candeece, Caaandi, Condi, Conny, Cannnndeeeeece. Caneeee. Cadee, Cassie, Cali, Katie, and Catrine.  Or “Girl in Number Four!”  and the simplest:  “Hey, California!”

Just “dis”, actually. It’s just dis.

In a fit one night, after leaving China and getting on the plane, and getting off the plane, and being Candy for a few days, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“What’s your name?”
“Jo.”

And so the problem was born, unknowingly.
Because I did not realize three things:
1. I now lived in a very small town.
2. I was going to start spending a lot of time with this handsome stranger.
3. He knew everyone. And made all the introductions.

Mix vodka and stir.
Fast forward three months.

I am now, depending on whom you speak to: Jo, Josie, Candis, Candy, Andi, Angi, Jean—there’s no end. It’s a headache and a half trying to remember who I am to what people, and introductions get a bit hazy along the way.

I think my personality is splitting.
Don’t even ask about the confusion when new friendships get to the point of “Add me on Facebook!”

Condo Hunting, Day One…

This afternoon, I headed out of my guest house to stretch my legs and grab a smoothie, and to see who was out and about on the soi. Turns out, today was a break in the intense heat*, so the answer to “who is around today?” was: everyone and their favorite lady-boy.

I say that last part with love and affection—I’d say instead, “everyone and their mother”, but you know what? Our mothers are not here. The lady-boys are.

I made the terrible mistake of telling my friends that “today I swear I am going condo hunting. And to the pharmacy. And looking into getting a motorbike. And writing 10 articles. And… and… and….and look what I did to my foot last night, never let me drive again.”

Unfortunately, much to the loathing of my laziness, I have recently made a friend who is more of a “stop talking about it and just get things done” kind of person. Which meant my day quickly went from idealistic dreaming to “oh, really? You’re going to do all these things? Get on the bike. Let’s go.”

Four hours, a sushi break and cramped leg muscles later, I have seven or eight condo business cards in my wallet and have a better idea of what I’m looking for. I also looked at motorbikes which was fun.

And you know what? I was not grateful enough to my ex for handling all of the apartment living issues in China, and finding us such a beautiful home. I should’ve been kissing his feet and going “Oh, you glorious man, I never again will doubt you, you goddamn golden god, you.” Instead I was more like… “Really? Is it REALLY necessary to kick your shoes off IN the bed? We’re going to trip, fall down the stairs and break our necks.” Yes, everything about me had become a worried housewife. 

Luckily for me, my new friend also speaks Thai… and Mandarin… Lao… English… Taiwanese… French… Probably three or four more languages I don’t know about. Some days, I think he might be a secret agent. But regardless, he vroom vroomed me around the city and introduced me to one building after another, all well within my price range. And I loved… none of them.

There was one, but the building was called Hillcrest, and as a San Diegan, that one had a special place in my heart. As well as a desk, armoire, huge shower, and two balconies. But at 4700 Baht a month, it wasn’t love.

So in the end, I am back in my guesthouse trying to make a decision, and not coming up with any easy answers. To move out of the old city, I have to have a motorbike. To have a motorbike, I have to pay 13,000 Baht. To pay 13,000 Baht, I have to cringe at my summer slow season budget and find a local job. And to do all of that, I have to put off my dream of moving to Cambodia for just a bit longer.

So today I accomplished a lot, and nothing at all.

*when I say “break in the intense heat”, I mean it was one degree cooler than yesterday, and there were three drops less of sweat lost all afternoon in comparison to usual. It’s a measurable thing, I swear. 

Back in Bangkok, Round Three; Day One

So I’m safely back from Cambodia; had a lovely time.

“Lovely” is not the right word.
I both admired and was appropriately terrified of China. It helped that I was all ridiculously in love and happy and each time we looked out the window, we’d ask each other “WHY ARE WE IN CHINA?!! WHERE IS MEXICO!?!” we’d just shut the curtains and hide.

As for Thailand… I like Thailand just fine. Enough to have settled down in Chiang Mai, make a handful of good friends, and absolutely adore my landlady and my neighbors.

But Cambodia?? Holy Jesus. I want to get spiritually bound to the country and jump off a cliff with it. Have its love children and explore temples and write for the next few years. I want to move to Phnom Penh and work as a journalist, laugh with tuk tuk drivers in the street, and probably settle down and never leave again. Adopt a kid and a cat and maybe a handful of really ugly chickens (seriously, I ‘ve never seen such ugly chickens). And I don’t even LIKE chickens.

THAT’S how I feel about Cambodia.
Maybe I shouldn’t move there. I might never come back to the states.

XoXx,
C.

A few basics and a geography lesson

When I tell my friends I live in Thailand now, they go “Oh! The beaches! The islands! Perfect white sand and clear blue waters! You must be on the beach every day!”

My response is… “Uh, no, actually…” There is always a lot of confusion afterwards. Like; uh, C, you live in Thailand, and you chose a city in the mountains? Why on earth would you do that??
I haven’t been to a beach since I left California.

So I live in the mountains, about three hours south of the Burmese border. Which is great for visa runs, but on the spectrum of beaches, there are none. There are mountains. And jungle. And temples. Lots of temples, there are more temples in Thailand than there are Starbucks at home. That little red star on the map? That’s where I live.

southeast_asia_map2

I can walk down my street and pay 100 baht to swim in their pool for the afternoon. Or jump on the back of a motorbike and head up to the waterfalls and go hiking. There’s a quarry outside of town with a three story jump into a lake that I’ve been dying to go dive off of, but each time we get ambitious and say “tomorrow morning! Nine am!”… It doesn’t happen. No surprise there.

What I love most about this city are the long walks and the night markets. Stall after stall of colorful lights and happy people and crammed farang bargaining with the sellers. I love getting kebabs from one of the sellers, buying gelato and wandering around with nowhere to be.

My neighbors and friends are great, but I am not overly impressed with where I live. It’s beautiful, there are no problems or worries—and a distinct lack of drama, mostly because it’s so hot no one can be bothered. We sit around and say “there is no edge here.” And yet, most everyone finds themselves back in the city again after a month or two, because the ease of living is unparalleled.

My life here is much the same as it was in San Diego. I have an Irish pub down the road to watch football in (soccer, not American), a market a block away to get watermelon shakes and fresh fruit. I see friends every day, go to a French café each morning for scrambled eggs and toast. It was pointed out to me one evening, “So basically, you could be at home and doing the exact same thing.”

…Yup. I have to get out of here. But this city is so pleasant, it sucks you in.

The Vanity Post

I’m not big on spending time getting ready. Last night though, I ended up running late for dinner because I couldn’t stop staring at myself in the mirror. Something just seemed horribly wrong with my face.
[Yes, friends– especially Dave and Aaron– I hear your hilarious comments on that one in my head as I’m writing this. I’ve opened it up for you to have a field day. Enjoy.]

As for what was wrong with my face, I’m still not quite sure.
But I have the sneaking suspicion it’s that I’m not Asian.

Someone asked me this morning “what has been the biggest culture shock since you’ve arrived?”
I answered with “oh, the… traffic…”
Nope—not it. That was straight up avoiding honesty.

The “biggest culture shock” snuck in without me noticing.

It started as a small voice, the one in my head that looked at another woman’s boots and went “god… I love those.” It escalated with trips to the mall, looking at all the things I can’t afford, or looking at the gorgeous Chinese women leaving the apartment building with their little dogs, wearing the latest fashion trends.
Over the past two and a half weeks, it’s gone from coveting footwear, to looking in the mirror and thinking “God, I’m a fat, ugly, American heifer.”
[Again, friends, though you’re thousands of miles away, I can still hear you.]

And to give a point of reference (and make myself feel better)—I’m 5’7, and on my bad days, I weigh in at 120 pounds. I usually fit into a size 0 to 2, so by American standards, I’m doing okay. Not here. Here, I’m taller than most men, and the women are so petite I can fit them in my purse.

I started acting when I was five years old. I somehow survived teenage hormones and auditions without developing an eating disorder. I spent my early twenties learning how to tune out the negatives, and *trying* to listen only long enough to find the constructive criticism and move on. It was not easy. Most nights, I’d get home from a five or six hour rehearsal, throw my character shoes in the corner, and head straight to the bar to get very drunk. Because for every compliment you get in the theatre, there are at least ten insults to dull the happiness back down. And it’s all about hanging onto that one good thing, and throwing the rest away.

China, though, is very quickly destroying the last seven years of inner work. It’s just small things here, accumulating—cab drivers who won’t pick me up because I’m a Westerner. The feeling of being invisible when I’m in public, with no eye contact from anyone except the occasional older woman sitting alone in a restaurant, staring at me. In general though, there is no acknowledgement of my existence at all.

I still regret not introducing myself to the American girl that I exchanged small smiles with over oranges one day, as we both got shoved out of the way of the locals getting their produce. I’m used to having a handful of close friends I talk to and see every day. Grab drinks with, have dinner, text ridiculous things to. Send very long bantering emails all day while I’m at work, generally about the ridiculousness that is America… and nerd culture… and ridiculous life events.

One of my roommates warned me about being a Western woman in Shanghai before I left, and I just laughed at him and said “yeah, I’m pretty sure my sense of self can survive.”
Oh, to be so incredibly wrong.

So that is the biggest culture shock, random guy from class who asked me. It isn’t the traffic, the pollution, the lack of graffiti street art—it’s the inside of my head, flipping itself over and realizing how much I miss American diversity. And how I’m going to have to be very careful with monitoring my sense of self over the next few months–because I think I will become absolutely starved for attention.

China: A few observations so far.

If you’d asked me six months ago “what is the ONE country you will never step foot in?”—I would not have hesitated before answering with China. Something about the country terrified me. Maybe it was because one of my favorite writers spent three months over here a couple of years back, and wrote a very swaying argument as to why I should never come. [Lost on Planet China, by Martin Troost] Whether he meant the book to be taken that way or not, I simply decided China was the only no stamp destination for my passport.

Uh-huh… about that.

Shanghai is awesome. I like it a lot. The neighborhood we’re in reminds me of the Mission in San Francisco. Other than the skyscrapers, it’s pretty much the same. You know, if everyone blew cigarette smoke in your face when you walked by, and the amount of near death accidents you got in per hour were well into the double digits. The sky is the same off-color mixture of smog and blocked sunlight, and you can’t go outside without a warm coat.

I kept hearing how crazy the metro was, how everyone jams in and you get stuck, immobilized in a sea of people. In my head, it became a dirty experience, a Brooklyn-during-rush-hour nightmare. In actuality, it isn’t so bad. Everyone is super polite— they just edge out of the way to make room. It’s like a careful game of live action Tetris. I had a much harder time navigating the New York subway than I’ve had with Shanghai. And it’s so clean—good lord, I’m not saying I’d lick the floor of the metro station or anything, because I see how often people spit on it, but everything is so shiny here.

I saw one argument outside the building this morning. I didn’t understand a word that was being said, but it got a bit intense. Turns out, they were arguing because the customer gave the bike messenger a tip, by hiding it in the gloves on his handlebars, and he didn’t feel it was necessary. So the guy was screaming and shoving the money back in the woman’s hands. And she was screaming what I can only assume was “TAKE IT, YOU HAVE TO TAKE IT” in Mandarin. It wasn’t that much money, literally the equivalent of $2.00. The customer ended up losing, and putting the money back in her pocket.

Whenever a brave, younger generation Chinese kid opens a conversation with me, they generally want to know if I teach English, or where I’m from. It doesn’t happen often, and it’s almost shocking when it does. Kind of like “wait, I’m not invisible?? You can SEE me?”

The other day, I said “California” and got back an “Oh… I don’t know where that is.” So I answered with “Hollywood?” “OH!! HOLLYWOOD!!!! Los Angeles!! Movie stars!!” I cringed. I am San Diegan enough to cringe.

Last night, while waiting for Mike so we could go to dinner, I was asked “hello, sorry, what do you do? Do you teach English? I’m looking to hire new English teachers.” “No, I don’t, but my boyfriend does. He already has a job though.”—“Oh, your husband already has a job? Okay, thank you. Goodbye.”

Here, the term boyfriend seems to immediately be translated to “husband.” I’ve picked that one up, too.

So now I’m married and from Los Angeles. Two things no one saw coming. Three, if you count living in China.