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.


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. 

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.