Joy Doesn’t Have a Pricetag

Thailand’s idea of success and self-worth seems to be primarily, if not completely, all based on physical appearance. Are you skinny enough? White enough? Is your nose straight enough? If there is one thing I have learned while traveling, it’s (and I know this is a generalization) that nobody seems to be happy with what they were born with.

Think about it…people in America and Europe will willingly place themselves in a radiated heat box just buzzing with skin cancer potential simply to achieve what advertisers spoon feed us is the epitome of beauty- that “perfect tan”. While we westerners pack ourselves snugly into tanning beds and expose ourselves to harmful UV rays in the name of vanity, Thai’s are doing the polar opposite to avoid darker skin. There are countless skin products here with whitening agents, as well as whitening injections, and you will see Thai people wearing sweatshirts or sleeves in the middle of the blazing summer heat just to avoid the sun. I can’t help but laugh as my Thai friends throw their jackets over their heads and run for the shade as if they are Dracula and the sun will literally kill them. 🙂

It’s no laughing matter though, how deeply engrained in their culture it is to hate black skin. This is the start of a very popular story here in Issan:

Once upon a time, there was a boy named ‘Kam’. It means dark. He was very ugly and had very rough and dark skin. His appearance looked like a monkey. No one was interested in him because of his ugliness.”

If your jaw just hit the floor, don’t worry; mine did too when I first read it. This isn’t even a left-field story, it is a very. popular. story. Talk about the sickening effects of successful marketing; this story reflects the mindset of the people. Nearly every ad, every show, every movie has mixed race Thai’s, most if not all with paler skin. White is in. Having darker skin, the skin Asians are born with that we pale people such as myself are quite literally killing ourselves for, is not mildly unattractive but seemingly repulsive. And they are becoming unraveled over the fact they don’t have that same white skin we are scowling at in our mirrors every day.

My nose is apparently something to be revered in this country. I was shocked when the first person admired my nose, said it was so big, and asked if it was real or not. My hand shot up to my face as I thought oh my gosh is my nose really that big? Wait why wouldn’t it be real?  I apparently have a long, very straight nose, which is considered  beautiful here. So beautiful, in fact, that it is quite common for people to go and buy themselves a new nose. I was shocked by the amount of facial reconstructive surgery that happens in Thailand.

I was talking with a fellow Thai teacher at school and we took a picture together. He pointed out my wrinkles on my forehead and I asked if he could make them too, he replied with, “Not anymore.” I probed a bit and he said he had most of his face worked on. He showed me a picture of himself before all the surgery and said, “So ugly, na?” I looked from the picture to him and back again. “You weren’t ugly,” I exclaimed, “but you aren’t even the same person!” He told me he started surgeries when he was 14 years old. Shocked, I questioned him about legality and parental consent and he told me that yes, his parents allowed it and went with him to get work done. He pointed to the crowd of students and told me that some of them have probably already started.

Aghast, I looked at my students’ sweet, tiny little not yet even fully developed faces. I think a lot of people don’t get work done until they are probably eighteen or older but fourteen years old..that puts these kids in about 9th grade back in the States. Not even out of junior high yet and getting facial reconstruction surgery done. I wanted to cry. I wanted to slap their parents for promoting such a devastating self-image, for letting their child think that they were somehow damaged. I wanted to hug them and tell them they are perfect just the way they are.

I used to -and still do, we all do- look at pictures of myself and occasionally think UGH. Someone manages to capture a side profile shot and I’ll cringe because for some reason I just hate everything about it, every time. I’ll see how small my eyes get when I smile. I look at my appaling tan lines or shockingly stark white skin and think how much better I would look if I were just a little bit less ghost-like. I’ll inspect my face in the mirror and curse my mother for giving me those baggy eyes.

But then I’ll look again and realize just that; I see my mom staring back at me. I smile and my dad smiles back.

I can’t even imagine looking in the mirror and not seeing them, not seeing me. I don’t know how I would feel if I ran into family friends and they no longer proclaimed at first glance, “Yep, you are definitely a Hughes.” Your face is part of a beautifully crafted novel of who you are, where you come from, and where you’ve been. Every curve has meaning, every scar tells a story, and every wrinkle holds memories I never want to forget.

This is something that, until quite recently actually, I was never able to really comprehend. Even if someone had told me this at twenty I wouldn’t have been able to fully appreciate it. I think this is the sort of wisdom that only comes with age. Rather than beat ourselves up over someone else’s definition of “beauty” I think we need to change the status quo- we need to find joy in who we are, in embracing our “flaws” instead of trying to abolish them. You can try to buy happiness, but true joy in life comes from accepting and appreciating who you ARE and not who you want to be. The more I’ve experienced, the more this becomes a reality for me, and I know no amount of money could pay for the joy you find in life once you stop believing happiness stems from physical perfection.

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Fish Spa AKA Kayla’s Personal Hell

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I was in Bangkok with Emilie (my friend and old university roommate who came to visit me) and Jillian for Songkran this year, and once I steal some pictures from my friends I will write a post about all the good-natured water fighting but for now I want to focus on my nightmare come to life. I don’t know why such tiny creatures seem to terrify me so much, but they do.

Growing up, and even now, I have a select few irrational fears. I won’t divulge all of them in case an enemy may be reading, but I will admit to this one, and only because I somewhat conquered it.  Ever since I was little I have had a weird fear of fish. Fish in lakes, to be particular. Ocean fish are totally fine, but murky lake water and it’s inhabitants freak me out. I don’t know if it’s the fish themselves or really just a general disgustedness of not being able to see below me and not knowing what’s around me. I’ve had this fear that a fish is going to swim at me or bite me or something worse (literally anything you can imagine it doesn’t even have to be a real thing) is going to float up from the depths and drag me back down with it.

Fish in tanks are fine, fishing is fine, seeing fish while fishing is fine, seeing all the fish feeding on whatever you throw in the water as you stand on the dock is not fine….and you couldn’t pay me enough money to jump in even though my mind knows they will -probably- all swim away and not attack me. Again, oceans are fine, I’m not afraid of sharks (which could actually inflict some real damage) or any other dangerous sea creatures; lakes and their black waters…eh. Not my cup of tea. This is strange since I grew up in a land locked state with a nearby lake which most people enjoyed. To be perfectly honest this fear hampered my ability to learn how to water ski as a child. I was so afraid of something biting me that after two failed attempts to pull my body out of the water I called it quits and gave up, waiting anxiously for the boat to come around and pull me out of the watery death trap. I don’t exactly know what my fear is rooted in, but I call it a fish fear even though it isn’t always exactly the fish themselves.

Anyway, I wanted to provide you with some background so you could further understand why the following act was such a feat for me. While in Bangkok Jillian, Emilie and I decided to do the fish spa pedicure. You know what that is? It’s a tank, full of little cannibal monsters, that want to eat your skin. It was on Jillian’s bucket list and, to be honest, mine too (labeled as “overcome your fish fear.” Close enough).

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This picture is very misleading…none of us were enjoying this experience

We found a suitable looking nail salon with a tank of doom just outside its doors and agreed to shell out 100 baht for 15 minutes of pure torture. The three of us washed our feet, sat on the benches…and took at least 3 minutes to actually work up the nerve to take the plunge. Yes, it was just deep enough for our feet and half of our shins, but that was definitely more than enough. Jillian gave up and just sat there with her feet up, Emilie tried but kept squealing and kicking her legs whenever they came near her, and I actually managed to do it. I did not enjoy a single second of it but damn it I was not about to let 100 baht go to waste (for the record, that’s about $3USD….I am 14711_10152860699677810_3764117006343118815_nincredibly stingy when I want to be). I twitched a lot at first, pulled my feet out a bit, but after 5 minutes I steeled myself for the assault of countless evil little gilled zombies having a feeding frenzy on my flesh. I sat there, grimacing, quivering, every muscle tensed up. I wanted to cry, and I did allow myself some pathetic little whiney sounds, but I stayed strong!

This is me trying to smile. Like, legitimately trying to smile. I just can't.

This is me trying to smile. Like, legitimately trying to smile. I just can’t.

I looked at the advertisement and couldn’t help but hate the smiling people in the picture with their feet surrounded by these fish. It had to be photo shopped there is no way anyone could possibly enjoy this experience. I had to start taking deep breaths and made Jillian quote some of our favorite lines from “Fresh Off the Boat” whenever I started focusing too much on the feeling of my flesh getting ripped off. My worst fear was happening. For reals.

Jillian was so impressed with the whole thing (or she just felt that bad for me) she ended up paying for my torture session! I was very grateful, and pretty glad she didn’t tell me this until the end because I probably would have bailed early if I had known. As it was, I did it!! I lived the worst 15 minutes of my life and made it through.

Suck on that, fishes.

The Ghost Upstairs

Dear Mom,

One time, many years ago, you came home to a mini mystery: the small, outdoor wooden cabinet that held the Tupperware of dog food on the bottom shelf and all the pool towels neatly folded on top of each other above had mysteriously relocated itself. Instead of being where it should be, it was now directly under the roof, the towels haphazardly tossed aside and the rather sizeable container of dog food in their place instead. You asked me about it and I can’t remember what I told you. Maybe I told you the truth, the partial truth, or anything but the truth.

The truth is I moved the cabinet and re-organized its contents because I couldn’t find a ladder and that was the next best option.

Let me start from the beginning. Everyone was gone that evening, and Tiffannie and I were busy scanning the internet for the best scary movie to go to. The internet, of course, is a magical place that diverted our attentions to the supernatural wonders and “true” stories of ghosts and spirits and hauntings for us to absorb and ruminate on. We were right in the middle of a particularly chilling story when we heard it. Thump…thump…thumpthump.  Eyes wide with terror Tiffannie and I stared at each other. Footsteps. We both agreed it was undeniably the sound of footfall upstairs. With bated breath we listened, eyes cast upwards, waiting, waiting for another sound…. nothing but the heavy silence of an otherwise empty home roared in our ears. But in our minds there was definitely someone…or something…up there.

In hushed whispers we conferred about our next move. What if it was a ghost, or worse, an intruder? A real human being who we caught heavy footed trying to hide away and bid his time until the two girls traipsed upstairs, unawares of the dangers lurking? Nevermind the fact that the doors were all locked and we hadn’t left the house literally all day, there was most certainly an intruder. And, in our minds, the most logical conclusion was to…

…scare him out with out with our incredibly masculine voices?

We stood at the bottom the stairs and, lowering our teenage girl voices as deep as we could, we yelled out in our best tough man impressions, “Hey! Who’s there? We know you’re up there! And you should just….get out now! Go away!” (If I were the intruder I’m sure I would have been truly terrified). Poised to run we waited for a sound. Nothing. Pretty sure if someone really did show up at the top of the stairs I would have straight up cried.

Our next best plan was to go out back and look into the windows from across the yard for signs of life. We spent a good 10 minutes at least squinting at our upstairs windows and saw nothing. But we still had to know for sure that the house was empty. That’s when we decided I should go on the roof and look into each window. Mom, we couldn’t just walk upstairs and risk running into whatever was up there face to face. The roof was the next logical step to take, you have to understand that. With my safety insured by a glass pane standing between me and whatever may be in our house, I clambered up the cabinet, then the dog food container, and eventually hoisted myself onto the roof.

It didn’t occur to me how truly terrifying it might be to look into our windows and see someone in one of our rooms. I realized as soon as I was up there that I had made a huge mistake, but bravely pressed on anyway. What’s important to remember here is that I was that ready to fall off the roof in fear to defend our home. I crept across the shingles to the front of the house as twilight crept across the sky. Mom, I was so brave! You are probably shaking your head right now but really you should be welling with pride. Despite my trembling hands and inability to breathe because of the fear gripping my very soul, I peered oh so slowly into your room. It took me about 5 minutes to gather my wits and work up the courage to actually look into that window and thankfully it was all clear. This process was repeated two more times as I checked both the office room and Kenny’s room. Each time was thankfully all clear. To be honest I was legitimately petrified that I would look into that window and find myself face to face with someone staring back at me. My own reflection would have frightened me at that point. Tiffannie stood on the ground below me, anxiously watching and definitely ready to catch me should I fall. After those rooms were deemed all clear, I jumped down onto the grassy hill in our front yard and we went back inside.

Now we were ready for the final step: going upstairs. We finally decided there was no human in the house and we would do one final sweep before heading out to our movie. Just as a safety precaution Tiffannie grabbed a fire poker (you can never be too safe) and we inched up the stairs. Do you remember that scene in Clue when Mr. Green and Yvette climb the stairs together to check the attic? That was us. Once at the top I hesitantly crept down the hall to my bedroom and Tiffannie started near the stairs by your bedroom. We both walked slowly backwards down the hall, every sense on high alert, until we inevitably bumped into each other back to back and scared the living daylights out of each other before breaking into relieved laughter. And that’s when we heard it. Mom I swear we heard some sort of supernatural growl come from the darkened bathroom. I don’t think either of us touched more than two steps on the way down those stairs and out the door. In our blind panic Tiffannie discarded the poker by flinging it into the living room on our way out, leaving it to rest haphazardly on the floor.

Long story short (too late) I sent quick text to Paul saying something like, ‘Poker is on the floor when you get home. Don’t worry that was us. See you later.’ He must have taken care of the poker since you never asked me about that, but clearly the cabinet turned ladder was forgotten. The mysterious growl has yet to be explained, but at least the mystery of the outdoor cabinet has been solved for you.

Love,
your (older and I’d like to think wiser) daughter

Renewed Vows

Woah its been a while. Lets just jump right in with the good and the bad shall we?

The GOOD:
* I have a new computer (finally)! With a fully functioning keyboard! No more futile attempts at blogging on my phone that end in head banging frustration! Hooray!
* My December schedule is amazing here in Buengkan…I don’t think I have a full week of teaching for the whole month.
* I spent a few days in Cambodia over one of our breaks which was really fun! Met some new people, accidentally ended up on a date with an old French ladyboy, and feasted on some rather unusual cuisine.
* It’s finally “winter” here so it’s cooled down to the point where I no longer sweat when I am at work. Amaaazing! However, last night it did get down to 16 degrees Celsius and I was absolutely freezing. And then I felt a little embarrassed for myself when realized that 16 C is really 60 F which is cold….but not as cold as I felt. I’m going to struggle next time I find myself in real winter.

The BAD:
*There is really only one bad, to be honest, and that would be my recent haircut. I know I can be quite vain about my hair but I guess I didn’t really realize how deep that vanity runs. My hair used to go almost halfway down my back. I didn’t want to cut it, but I realized that it hadn’t been cut in the last year and a half or so and, well, it needed a trim to say the least.

With that in mind I set out grimly to find a suitable hair salon. Emma had gone to one near our house that is owned by a woman whose son she tutors and she had done a good job, so I went there. The woman wasn’t there but this man was working instead.

Now, I have only ever let one man before this one touch my hair with scissors and it. was. a. disaster. To be fair my hair itself wasn’t a disaster, just….me and my apparently delicate psyche. I was maybe 15 years old and, believe it or not, much more vain about my luscious locks than I am now. He cut my hair maybe an inch and a half shorter than my specific demands and I lost it. I’m sure my trembling scowl gave away my displeasure but at least I managed to hold back the floodgates until my mother and I were down the stairs and out the salon door. I couldn’t help it, hot tears leaked from my eyes as threw my hair back into a ponytail and stomped towards the car, my poor mother trailing behind. “It’s so short! I hate it!” were I think the first words out of my mouth, and I refused to listen to my mom’s words of consolation as we drove home. Once home, I immediately ran to the computer and began googling what to eat and how else to naturally make my hair grow faster. I’m pretty sure I even made my mom a grocery list. I was absolutely miserable and vowed then and there to never let another man touch my hair again.

So you can imagine my trepidation, nearly 10 years later, as I lowered myself into that cushioned chopping block before the mirror, squinting suspiciously at the flamboyant little Thai man’s reflection while he surveyed my hair his canvas. I explained to him as best I could in broken Thai and English that I knew the ends were bad but I only wanted a little bit cut off. “nid noy” I must have repeated about 10 times, all while showing him with my fingers grasping my hair exactly how much I wanted gone. He nodded in understanding and repeated the gesture, holding up a slightly longer bit of hair to sacrifice but I said ok because my hair probably needed it anyway. Besides, I am an adult now and I will not succumb to fits if my hair is a little bit shorter than my exceedingly exact desires.

Oh my Lord it took all my best efforts not to scream. I felt akin to Sampson finding out his strength was gone as my Delilah, that asshole hairdresser, lopped of SEVEN INCHES. I mouth fell open for half a second before I snapped it shut again into a grim little line of determination. If I had kept it open I am pretty sure I would have screamed, “My hair!!! My long, beautiful hair! What the f%!# have you done!!!” His cut was nowhere near his estimation just seconds before. In fact, even as his ran his fingers down and stopped at the cut line I considered saying something but decided against it, and that’s when he cut well ABOVE where his fingers stopped. Who does that?! By now it was too late to do anything other than try to keep my face as neutral as possible and think to myself, “It’s only hair. It’s only hair. It’s only hair.” My attempt at calming myself with this thought turned into a desperate mantra as I watched him snip gleefully away at the source of my beauty. (Ok, maybe that was a teensy bit of an exaggeration, but I used to get a lot of compliments about my long hair and to be honest I think I became quite proud of it.)

Once it was all over I grudgingly paid for my torture session and trudged out the door. I didn’t say a word on the way home and it took a lot of willpower not to actually cry. Sound pathetic? Maybe, but I told you earlier that vanity vein runs deep. As soon as I got back home I knocked on Nabila’s door. Fortunately she knew I was going to get my hair cut, because she opened the door and the first words to spill out of my mouth were, “It’s so SHORT! I HATE IT!!”

So you see, history repeats itself.

To be completely fair, he did a great job of layering it and styling it. If I didn’t currently hate him so much I would let him style it every day! As it is, if I see him again I might punch him. My hair hasn’t ben this short since I was 12..I know this because my brother recently posted an old yearbook photo of me on facebook and my hair is the same length then as it is now. So I look like a freaking 12 year old. Sigh.

I do have one small consolation, even if it is at another person’s expense. I went to work and asked my friend if he had gotten his hair cut. He snapped back with, “No, Kayla, my head got run over by a lawn mower” and after a moment’s pause he continued with, “I told him what I wanted and showed him a picture and….it’s too short.” I couldn’t even feel all that bad because misery loves its company and I was happy that someone else was just as displeased with their hair as I was with mine. Plus, his hair looked fine.

Summary of this long rant, I have renewed my vows to not let another man cut my hair ever again.

*For the record, it’s been well over a week and I still hate my hair.

**Especially when its curly, oh my gosh it’s hideous.

Memory Monday

Today I decided to scroll trough my photos and take a little walk down memory lane to 2008 when I worked on Snake River Ranch in Wyoming….beautiful place, beautiful memories!!

WY pt 2 008WY pt 2 052Home on the ranch….

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No complaints on the view!

My backyard..

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lovely 🙂

Just 5 minutes away, Grand Teton National Park was my playground.

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Grand Teton National Park 046Grand Teton National Park 025

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Grand Teton National Park 100Man oh man, I miss this!

What’s Left to Say?

Blog challenge: Things You Want to Say to an Ex.

Hum.

I dont have many exes in my life. I generally dont allow others to get close enough to me to become an ex. So I only have two.

To the first one….I have nothing left to say. I don’t even want anything to do with him. But I guess if I HAD to say anything to him it would sound something like, “I wish magic were real, and there was a potion I could take that would cause me to remember the lessons I learned from our relationship but completely forget the person behind them.”

And to my other more recent(ish) ex, “You were a great friend and I’m sorry I turned you into my rebound. I also apologize for turning three shades of crazy during my emotional trainwreck of a life, like that one time when I sat under the table, red wine drunk, and cried for seemingly no reason at all. I remember that now and I find it hilarious, but I can only imagine what must have been going through your head. Definite low point, haha my bad.”

…..I dont think I like this prompt.

“I Love You”

I cannot stress the importance of showing love.

And no, I’m not talking about the Valentinesy, cutesy, couply gag-worthy PDA drenched shows of affection. I’m not even talking about romantic love.

Last Tuesday was my birthday. That night I was surrounded by friends, enjoying life together in an environment that radiated love and happiness. It absolutely tears me apart to know that sitting in his home that same night, one of my students felt so unloved and desperately alone that he concluded it was better to die than go on living.

I struggled to bite back tears as I was told Wednesday morning that he hung himself the night before. I have many students, and I admittedly do not know the names of most of them, but he stood out in my memory from day one. He was one of my favorite students; the sweetest, most sincere, intelligent, wonderful 17-year-old boy I have had the pleasure of meeting. You teach these kids each week and despite the language barrier you develop relationships with them, and his death shakes me to the core and it breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart that he felt like his own father didn’t love him, it breaks my heart that from an outsiders perspective it was obvious he was surrounded by people that loved him to the end of the earth yet he couldn’t see it. I have struggled with this news the past couple of days, I can’t even imagine what his close friends and family are going through.

So stop. Stop reading this post, stop doing whatever you are doing, and close your eyes for a second. Who do you see? Tell them you love them. Look your kids in the eye and say, “I love you. No matter what, I will always love you.” Call up your best friend and let them know how much they mean to you. Don’t let those moments where you have the opportunity to tell someone how truly important they are to you fly past.

Tell them. Show them.

Because you never know how much they may need to know it.