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.”

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.”

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. 

Woke up this morning and discovered this on my facebook:

“Travel log day 155(ish), 3:26am: I just spent ten minutes discussing my day with a large cockroach in my bathroom, as though it was my cat. Spent my evening with friends debating (mostly) about the western education system. Wound up driving a motorbike through the (thank god) dead streets of Chiang Mai. Was surprised to come home with a foot gushing blood, and realized that my friend should have spent ten minutes screaming in fear, but did not. Brakes and feet are not the same thing. Nearly hit three parked cars. Do not want to admit this out loud. Motorbikes: not a Jet Ski or Jeep. All in all, today went well, though I should be both committed (HELLLLOOOO, Mr Cockroach!!!) and never allowed to drive on the wrong side of the road in Thailand, ever again. Would post photo, but cannot properly get all the blood and large cockroach antennas into the same frame.
Xoxx.”

Well. That did, in fact, happen. Let’s just ignore the obvious things like the time stamp, the fact that I mentioned debates with friends about the education system, that I was talking to cockroaches by the time I got home, and that (unmentioned) I was at a place called “Freedom Bar”, listening to good music and laughing all night with my favorite local bartender. Who happens to be a female and happens to be really good at girl talk and pouring while she does it. There was, in theory, no motorbike to be later involved. In fact, I fully intended on walking and/or being driven home.
When in Chiang Mai…

A few things I would like to note: sometimes, no matter what country you are in, things get dicey and a bit awkward, and you wonder exactly what you were thinking when your friend says “can you drive a motorcycle?”

I know what I was thinking:: I was thinking “Challenge. Accepted.”
At least there were not fireworks, rockets, or a large jump into the pitch black Caribbean involved.
Shame on me.