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Hope For the Guest

If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive, do you think ghosts will do it after?

Month

November 2015

A Frame For A Day

I woke up to laughter and conversations across the room.
My watch read 4:30am and I considered asking them to be quiet but my tendency to avoid conflict at personal cost prevailed. They kept their conversation until it became loud and raucous. I found my headphones to drown out their high pitched laughter with something I could fall asleep to.

A few hours later I woke up again, it was later than I had wanted but I lose rest when I’m woken up unexpectedly. Music is one of the easiest ways for me to redirect my moods and this morning I needed a few songs to help my feet hit the floor. I woke disgruntled from waking up too late and the uncomfortable dreams I almost always have.  At 8am I grabbed my camera and put my valuables in my locker before walking onto the already busy street. Walking helps me wake up and erase the cricks in my skeleton so I usually try to get walking as soon as I can get from my bed to the street. I was looking for somewhere to eat and after a couple months of traveling I have some criteria to meet. 1-a view of people 2-a nicer chair 3-not right in the heavily touristed area and 4-normal people eat there.

After passing many decent options that didn’t meet the not being in the touristy area criteria I crossed a busy road, walked under a bridge and found a bunch of tables and a few carts topped with stir fryers and various greens and meats ready to be cooked. It had a nice smell and I could watch the people walk by, the chair wasn’t great. I have sat on so many hard wooden, plastic and metal seats since I’ve been in Asia. My body type makes it very uncomfortable. But anyways, I endure for a decent view.

A routine is an interesting thing, it can grow a person like adding water and nutrient rich soil to a plant or it can deplete a persons energy over time. Having a good routine means forward motion and a way to measure that the direction of travel is indeed towards my goal.

Right now my main goals for each day are 1-write 2- give thanks 3- take pictures 4-do one good thing for someone else and 5- walk. I have been good about following these goals in a human way, I want a system that works so I remember that it has to adapt to my needs. I don’t write every day, I don’t always do something very good for another person and sometimes I’m negative most of the day. I’m not strict, I hold these goals in my mind throughout my day so when the opportunity to write or be thankful arrives I will readily take it. I usually do all 5 things every day, and sometimes I’m excessive so it makes up for the days I forget.

My goals might seem very general but they have set the tone for a meaningful and progressive journey, I have learned more because of these goals than I would without any goals. On the days when I want to stay comfortable I still have to step outside and take a picture or help a stranger.

The fried rice I had sitting on the very uncomfortable stool was amazing, fried rice is usually just fried rice. Its not bad but it is hard to make an exceptional fried rice. Starting my day with a good meal and a walk has helped many groggy mornings into productive days. I had no real plan as I walked away from breakfast, I figured I would walk around until I was somewhat lost and than I would ask around until I figured out how to get back to my hostel. Little did I know that this brilliant plan would be shattered 10 minutes later by the kindness of a stranger.

He explained to me that the building he was bowing towards gave him good luck. I hadn’t asked and I only barely slowed down to pass him but his words stopped me, he spoke well and sounded friendly. It was a change from a lot of the aggressive questions I’ve become used to in Thailand. He kept talking, he told me about his favorite temples and than got some paper to write down their names for me, he told me I could get a tuk tuk for no more than 80B to take me to three of the best temples in Bangkok. Since I had no plan, this became my plan.
But before I could act he had called over a tuk tuk and haggled him down to 80B, I had only to step into the back and say goodbye to Pon Chai as I sped away on the rickety, three wheeled machine.

I don’t need to see most temples, its alright but it doesn’t hold my interest for very long. I like the journey to the temple better than I like seeing a giant golden Buddha for the 30th time. After the temples my driver asked me if he could take me to a suit shop because they would give him a coupon for gasoline if I just looked. I hadn’t done anything particularly nice to someone that day so I agreed. 15 minutes later I walked out of the suit shop with a very bad taste in my mouth from the mean words the employee had directed at me after I said I would think about it, he lost all shadow of friendliness the instant he suspected I wouldn’t buy something. I knew his anger wasn’t really towards me but at some larger force in his life but it still stung to be in the way of it.

I still agreed to go to one more suit store for my drivers sake. I went in feeling like some kind of spy, it went smoother the second time and walking out was a relief. I had done my good deed even if the deed was questionably good for all parties involved.

My evening routine is less solid, I may go out with friends if I’ve found a group or I might stay in for some writing. Sometimes if I have my own hotel room I go out for a variety of street food and than come back to watch a movie while I taste the different treats I’ve bought.

Some days are busy and some are slow, I rarely have a plan but rarely does nothing happen. I develop my inner thought with my writing, I appreciate the present moment by giving thanks, I push myself to interact with at least one person by my one good deed, I practice a skill with photography and I always get a bit of exercise by walking. Its a plan enough to work with the diversity of travel. My routine adds substance to traveling, it makes what could be an easy life of eating out and going for walks a bit more pointed.

Each day I take a step, that step could be backwards or forwards but if I take one picture walk down one street, help one person, appreciate one thing and write one word I think that step is forward.

Bangkok

Arriving in Bangkok felt how I would imagine jumping off a sinking ship into shark infested waters would feel. “Welcome to Thailand!, Welcome to Thailand”. My mind was not sharp straight from the sleep I had forced on the long ride. I wondered why they thought I had just arrived to Thailand and needed welcoming. I wanted to be in Bangkok, saying I’m in Thailand was not nearly enough information. They said to hurry so I grabbed my bag and walked out onto the street.

I was one of the lucky ones that could shut off my senses enough to sleep through the changes in temperature and the bumps in the road. Even with a few hours of sleep I wasn’t feeling ready to deal with Bangkok. On the stairs from the second floor of the bus I tried to clear my eyes of sleep and get my wits about me. My first step on the side walk was all hands grabbing, voices asking, and faces either confused or predatory.

I needed to know where I was, I tried to get my bearings. I saw a 4 lane road, a giant picture of the queen of Thailand, and nothing that helped me understand where I was. I looked around at the other backpackers to see if any of them had a flicker of a plan, a few showed more confidence than I felt. I knew it would be better to walk with a group than to wander off on my own at 4am. Especially when all my senses were still tuned down from the bus ride, I have to ignore so much in order to sleep in the bus and the rest is important. It just isn’t easy to go from 0 to 100 in 60 seconds.

The taxi drivers were persistent, they grabbed my arms and asked “taxi, taxi’ again and again. I had to shake them off, I knew I may end up needing them. I also knew that more information was needed. To hire a taxi when you don’t know where you are is usually a great way to get ripped off. They could ask for a ridiculous sum of money and I wouldn’t be able to bargain, to haggle over the unknown is foolish. I’ve done it many times while traveling and its usually not productive.

After a few minutes of confusion I found a group with some confidence and we were walking, it feels so good to walk away from the taxi drivers. Even when I’m not totally sure where I’m going it is a relief to not have to rely on someone that is very clearly trying to take advantage of my weakened mental state and lack of knowledge.

In five minutes my group of Spanish speakers found the road with all the hostels and bars, It broke apart when the few from Spain found a restaurant for breakfast. I continued walking with a guy from Argentina. I don’t speak Spanish well but it surprises me how comforting it is to hear Spanish after so many languages that I understand essentially zero of. I hear a lot of German, French and Thai. I can usually grasp a bit of the conversation in Spanish.

We found a Burger King to wait for the light in. They had a breakfast sandwich called The Enormous, it was not enormous but that and a cup of coffee helped the light come a little faster. With the light some of the harshness faded from the streets, light makes a world of difference. Bangkok seems lovely, not unlike a menu in a language you can’t read.
You might end up with a delicious meal or a disaster on a plate.

Things That Happened Part 1

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I’ve been needing to practice telling a story of events, things that actually happened and aren’t completely in my head, These might be mostly in my head but its my attempt at remembering three things that happened and telling them as a miniature story. I hope its enjoyable to read.

“Soup?” She asked after I stared a little long at her cart. It was built on a motorbike so she could take it anywhere. This morning she had it stationed so all the party-all-nighters still drunk after the excessive push for morning and the few early risers that missed the nightlife could enjoy a cheaper breakfast from the monopolies that raise their prices depending on the time of year. I smiled and asked for pork soup, she started gathering the pieces but it became apparent that she didn’t understand what I wanted. She only understood that I wanted something to eat and since she only had two choices (chicken or pork soup) she just pointed and I shook my head for yes. I could tell that she wasn’t excited about my white skin and I didn’t blame her for Patong beach was full of people that looked just like me. Most of them used the town and people in it like it was only useful if they could use it. This soup lady probably had a hundred westerners a day ask for food  like she was the uneducated one for not understanding their language. Its part of being on the other end of that kind of tourism but it must become very stale for the men and women that must make a living somehow and the town their were born in makes one option easier than most other ways.
I used the few words of Thai I’ve gathered in the last two weeks, I can’t communicate well but I wanted her to know I’m trying. She smiled when I was able to say a few words other than thank you in Thai, that was all I hoped for.
As I ate the bowl of soup, I wondered how she could make something so delicious day after day for people who couldn’t even thank her in her own language. I decided she must have a special kind of endurance.

I laughed to myself as I stepped onto the boat I had booked that morning, I could see why it would take twice as long as the boat that took me to the island. It was packed with people, all of them fitted into their places such that it took me a few minutes to realize there was order. Numbers above each small bed 30,31, 32. I found my two by six place in the herd, I had very luckily been placed right next to the wall. Most people were trying to read or curl up for some sleep. The electrical system made both these difficult since the lights would only light up when the engine revved. It gave me a sense of adventure to realize I would be on this boat for eight hours with all these fellow travelers, there are some journeys that are too easy to feel like an adventure and there are some journeys that form bonds between strangers faster than few things in life. This wasn’t kind either, but it was enough for me to know the short story of the people next to me in the first few minutes. I would guess that there were few other backpackers as excited as I was to be able to see the stars out the open windows or feel the slow swaying of the boat as it moved into open water. I live for the journey that validates itself, this for me made the destination irrelevant. I was moving forward on the merit of it being a new experience, even if I had already been to my destination a few days earlier.
I tried to keep awake so I could watch the stars become brighter as the light pollution waned with more distance from shore. Some time later I fell asleep curled with my face against the wall as to keep my eyes away from the lights that were still changing brightness from the engines output. It was easy to fall asleep thankful on a night where I could see the stars better than I had seen them in months.

I take in a deep breath, looking right and than left one last time, I step out into the middle of the street as I exhale slowly. A car and four motorbikes zip past me, I see the next gap and step forward again as I finish exhaling. once my feet are on the other side I resume breathing normally.
I’m afraid of crossing the street. I’ve always been afraid of cars but since I was hit by one nearly two years ago that fear became more real to me. I could feel how easily my life could have slipped through my fingers. When I was very young I adopted the practice of accepting that I would die every time I was afraid while riding in a car, somehow my 7 year old self could hold the idea of his own death. He not only was able to think about it but it gave comfort to him to be less attached to being alive, it actually made life better to be less attached to how life went. It is logical to know that none of us have complete control over our lives or deaths but so many people seem to push that idea of death away in favor of a more carefree existence. Sometimes I wonder how any 7 year old could be so weirdly rational.
I wish I knew how my 7 year old self would have handled it but for my 22 year old self crossing the street in Thailand takes a bit of courage and a couple deep breathes. Sometimes it takes more than a couple.

Things I’ve Learned While Traveling Part 1

_DSC1460How to say hello to a stranger: say “Hello” out loud and remember to face in their direction.(This will probably make more sense to other introverts.)

How to say no: I have been asked many, many things in the last two months. I’ve been asked if I need a taxi hundreds of times, I’ve been asked if I want a cold soda, a massage, a free shot, drugs, a lady boy, and many other sometimes bizarre things. I’ve had people come up to me to try to get me to buy sunglasses at night, or a glow in the dark slingshot, stretchy toy. Sometimes the logic of why I would ever want to buy what they offer eludes me. But whatever the case most of the time I say no. No can be said in a lot of ways and depending on the situation it has to be said differently. I have said “no” but made eye contact with the person and they ignore the word because eye contact showed too much interest. Sometimes No is ignoring the question, sometimes its waving my hand and looking away. Its important to say it like you mean it, half ignoring doesn’t work, and saying “no” as you stare at whatever they are selling looks more like a yes.

How to pick where to eat dinner: look for a place that appears more like you’re walking into someones garage or living room. The best food seems to be cooked by somebodies mother. I’ve had some good food at fancy looking restaurants but on average it feels like the bigger eateries care less about the taste of their food. When the chief cooks for a group of friends and neighbors everyday they seem to get pretty good at the ten things they make.

How to order food: if there is a menu point at what you want, if there is no menu look around to see what other people are eating. If something looks good point at that. If there is no menu and no one eating say a word like “soup” or “noodles”. If they don’t know those words put your fingers to your mouth as if eating. Most of the time they will understand that you would like some food, although at times I have ordered (or thought I did) and waited an hour before finding out that no one was making me food.

How to find where you’re going in a town: ask someone where it is, they will probably point their arm in a swooping direction indicating that you must make one or more turns on your path to the location you seek. There is often no way of knowing how many turns or how far it is. Ask again each time until either you find it or they start pointing the opposite direction.

How to pronounce words in new languages: say it wrong until someone repeats it back to you the right way and than say it that way.

How to  enjoy every meal: have no standards.

How to not feel like an idiot: do everything perfectly the first time without any help from strangers or friends (I prefer feeling like an idiot most of the time).

How to cross the street: imagine you are playing frogger. If you don’t know what that is make the realization that life is precious and despite that you really do need to get across that road.

How to sleep in a hostel: develop a love for dance music such that it lulls you off to sleep even when your bones are the only thing that hears it. Also it helps to not try to sleep at night.

How to feel like you know what you’re doing: Remember that “Hey, I got this far, I must be doing something right.” and realize that your ability to figure out what you’re doing is more important than knowing how to do everything before you try.

How to think of yourself as Marco Polo: don’t talk to that French couple that has been traveling for 2 years and talk about it like its a decent start to a trip.

How to keep your sense of wonder: I don’t know yet but here is what I’m trying so far. 1- walk slowly so I have time to see the little things 2- wonder what a strangers story is before you ask 3- try to remember who you were when you left home, and what that person would have thought of this view. 4- remember that everything is changing and nothing happens twice.

How to stay inspired: ask that person what their story is.

I might have learned a few more things but I’m going to leave it at this before I have too much fun. I’ll add more down the road.

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