Behind the Smile

Thailand: the land of smiles. It’s great.

But the longer I spend here, the more I realize the depths that are hidden behind the smile; the unwritten social code, the saving face mentality, the expectations and cultural nuances that visiting farang fail to notice. It’s exhausting trying to figure it all out! To give yourself even more of a headache, Thai’s usually won’t tell you when you are doing something wrong because they want you to save face. Rest assured that even though you think you are doing everything just right, if your not your neighbors are discussing you in Thai as you listen in and wonder what it is they are talking about. As an American this whole avoiding correcting people thing makes absolutely no sense to me. If someone is doing something wrong, you tell them so they don’t look like an idiot.  Fortunately I work with a bunch of 13 year olds who couldn’t care less about saving my face and tell me straight up if I am crossing any lines. At least I have them.

I know it hasn’t been long, but Thailand still doesn’t feel quite as homey and I would have thought. New Zealand has become a second home for me, more a part of me than I ever expected, and there are people I would consider my best friends in both America and New Zealand. When I was in New Zealand I would be missing things back in the States but it was ok, because while I was far away from the action I was nestled into another comfort zone, another home. I didn’t feel totally estranged from everything I know and love because I was also surrounded by it. I recently read this article that my friend sent me about living abroad and a lot of it struck a chord in me. Now that I find myself on the wrong side of a language barrier and in a country and culture where I feel as though I can live in but not become a part of, I realize just how much this little life dichotomy has changed me. I would spend time in America dreaming about New Zealand and vice versa, but now I am away from all of it I realize just how much of both places I have melted into.

More often than not these days I feel even more torn away from everything than before. People are getting married left and right (seriously you guys need to just slow it down, I didn’t even know half of you were dating and all of the sudden the facebooks is telling me you got married. Say whaaaaaaat?), babies are being born, careers are being launched, friendships are being solidified and experiences are being shared without me. Just recently a friend of mine died in a climbing accident in New Zealand. It is heart wrenching not only to hear the news but also to know that I cant be there for my friends who are grieving. It’s  hard to be away from those who share your sadness and even harder knowing that I am not readily available. I cant even talk about it with anyone because I just met my fellow American co-workers and everyone else doesn’t know enough English to have a conversation past the basics.

Despite this though I can’t complain…since leaving New Zealand I have worked at a black pearl farm, jumped off waterfalls, rode elephants, pet tigers, swam with rays and sharks in some of the bluest water I have ever seen, partied on Haad Rin for the full moon, and am now teaching. I’ve certainly run the gamut of experiences lately, but I am also realizing the value of being there with the ones you care about most. My relationships with friends and family are limited to coordinating Skype dates somewhere between varied schedules and time zones. I want to write about the things I have been doing (and more has happened lately so I will), but I have been busy mulling over why it is I have felt so weird lately. I cant help but think that by the time I leave I will have meshed more into Bung Kan and will end up leaving a tiny part of me here as well. I am living the dream like I have always wanted but at the moment Thailand, for all it’s smiles and laughter, can be a lonely place.

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Turning the Page

Well well, it has been a while hasn’t it?

Since my last post I have been busy gallivanting about on some last-minute adventures before shooting off to explore new lands.

That’s right, I am leaving New Zealand. (… 😦  )

At this point in time, I don’t necessarily WANT to leave this wonderful country. I don’t even want to leave Christchurch, I have become quite attached to the place and I have grown to love the people I’ve met. It is going to be a rough goodbye. But I have a feeling it isn’t going to be a permanent goodbye.

While thinking of leaving this country and all the wonderful people I have integrated into my life in 12 DAYS makes me just a little bit depressed, I am comforted by the fact that I will soon my soaking up the sun in Tahiti and farming for black pearls with my long lost Little Raptor and best bud Erin!! That’s right, I am reuniting with Erin yet again for a 3 week Tahitian exploration. I am meeting Erin and her sister in Papeete and together we will fly out to Ahe before taking a 40 minute speedboat ride out to a small atoll in an endeavor to farm black pearls. We will be wwoofing with Kamoka Pearls, and from what I’ve read up about them, they sound pretty wicked. To be perfectly honest I kind of have no idea what exactly we will be doing, but I do know we start at 630am. Ouch. Despite the fact that I will probably smell like an oyster and look like some washed up seaweed, I’m pretty excited about this! If it’s awful, it’s only 3 weeks. And if it’s awesome, then I have the opportunity to spend 3 weeks in paradise!! Can’t complain about that 🙂

After Tahiti I am flying out to Bangkok! And that is where my story is currently stalled. I have no idea what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go upon arrival at this point in time, but I am looking forward to finally spending a few months touring Southeast Asia. I have sacrificed many a party night in order to save enough money for this and dang it I am going to make it count! I want to ride elephants and play with tigers and all that fun  stuff.

For now…I am off to work. I will try my best to keep you all updated and entertained. Maybe something awesome will go down in the bar tonight. Monday, sooo, probably not. But we can dream big.

In the meantime, if any of you have helpful tips or hints for anywhere in SE Asia (like…where to stay, which beaches to check out, what hidden gems of the jungle to seek out, or any other cheap awesomeness) I would LOVE to hear it! Seriously. Give this girl some guidance!

Assembly Required

I’ve been meaning to do this shameless plug type post for a while, I just haven’t quite gotten around to doing it (you know how it is). Anyway, I discovered a few months ago that a couple of my Christchurch friends happen to be some badass musicians! I met Sam while working at the bar one night during open mic, and the second he started singing Maia and I developed an instant bar crush. His voice….is the most amazing thing I have ever heard. He is our Lion Man and I would pay him to sing me to sleep. He and his friend Simon fused to form a wicked band called Assembly Required and I have to say, I can’t get enough of them! They have done a lot of covers, most recently  “Home” by Phillip Phillips, and have been working on some originals as well.

If you are amongst the bajillions that waste hours of your day perusing facebook, take a few minutes to check out their page. If you have successfully evaded the social media black hole that is fb, they also have a youtube channel that’s worth looking into. Just to make it more convenient I will even hand you one of their videos on a silver platter…

……wait for it…..

waaaaait for it…….

……Ok maybe I won’t. I’ve actually spent the last 2o minutes cursing at the screen while trying to figure it out. Obviously I’m not as tech savvy as I thought I was. Once I find myself a computer geek to help me out I will hopefully be able to update this post with the video in it instead of just a stupid link.

In the meantime, check out the other links I provided, enjoy the music and spread happiness by sharing the vocal magic!

Home

(This post may seem very juxtaposed after just reading about how I almost shat myself, but such is the way life goes. It’s never very predictable, is it?)

Once upon a time, I decidedly turned my back on America as my home and stepped on a plane to fly halfway across the world to somewhat settle in a country I have come to consider my home just as much as (if not sometimes more than) America. New Zealand has stolen my heart and returning to the States last summer for what I considered a vacation has made me realize that the best things I have from there are now just a part of my past. My house feels more like my parent’s house (but not entirely, my room is still my room and the memories from the years spent growing up there tie me to it in a way that is unique to any other place I will go) and Spokane is a graveyard of mementos from yesteryear. Some of the best times of my life so far were spent in Spokane for uni, but they remain buried in the past and can never be re-lived.

Now I’m not one for politics. In fact, I feel like a down-right idiot when people try to talk American politics with me and I have no clue what they are even referencing. Apart from finding as many America patterned clothing I can hold in my arms and wearing ALL of them at a clothing store in the mall, I am not overly patriotic. *I’m proud to be an American, but I’m not usually one to flaunt it. There is nothing worse than an arrogant, overly nationalistic idiot from any country (hence…stereotypes!). In fact, I hardly feel any deep ties to any country, America included. {*I ended up buying those sunglasses. I just had to…}

I have lived in Christchurch for about seven months now, in my flat for maybe five of them, and I have passed this sculpture almost daily.SAM_1425

To be honest, I hardly gave it a second glance. I’ve always assumed it was just another piece of rubble from the earthquakes displayed as some sort of memorial art by the river in remembrance. It is in remembrance, but not of the Christchurch quakes. I was alerted to its real origins by a friend of mine as we were walking past one morning. No, it’s not a part of any Christchurch building; it’s not even a part of any structure in New Zealand.

This warped mass of steel is 100% American.
From New York, to be exact.
It’s a part of the World Trade Center after September 11, 2001.
102nd floor, Tower Two.

We crossed the street to the Firefighters Reserve and examined both that sculpture as well as another part of the second Twin Tower that was over the bridge. It was a brief visit but I went back the next day by myself to have a closer look; I felt the need to be alone as I remembered such a heartbreaking day in our recent history.

The plaque reads:

“This sculpture in the Firefighters Reserve stands as a silent tribute to firefighters worldwide who risk their lives daily in the pursuit of their duty.
Firefighters are always on the front line and never more so than on September 11, 2001, when international terrorists hijacked four domestic SAM_1422American jet airliners and flew them, along with their passengers, into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center….
In May 2002, five steel girders weighing 5.5 tons were salvaged from the site of the World Trade Center and gifted to the City of Christchurch by the City of New York for use in a public art work to honour all firefighters worldwide[…] The sculpture stands […] near the *historic site of the former Tautahi Pa. There were important Maori cultural and spiritual issues to be considered in placing a sculpture from a site of death near a significant life-giving site[…]”

Wow. Across the river was another part of the World Trade Centers. I stood there in a moment of silence and, without even realizing it, reached out my hand until my fingers SAM_1412were centimeters from touching the metal. I hesitated before gently brushing my fingers down the side. If there were such a thing as an emotional current between people and inanimate objects I would say I felt it pulse from the tips of my fingers straight to my heart. With one fleSAM_1415eing touch I felt more connected to America than ever before and my heart ached for the lives lost and families broken from 13 years ago in a way my twelve year old self wasn’t able to comprehend. Tears sprung into my eyes and I was honestly shocked by the physical reaction that I felt towards something that I previously felt so removed from. How can I be here, in New Zealand, touching a piece of the twin towers? I never saw the World Trade Center, never entered through the doors, never touched the walls or met anyone who worked there. I just assumed that after the attacks it was the end of a story that hadn’t even begun between me and those buildings. The towers were gone, all that was left was to rebuild from ground zero.

What amazes me the most is here I am, halfway across the world, physically touching one on the few remaining bits of a building I saw crumble on tv from across the US 13 years ago. Suddenly I am hit with a wave of respect, admiration, and pride for the country I come from, as well as deep sadness and empathy for what happened on September 11th. I am in awe of how global an impact that day actually had, and what an impact a twisted mass of steel had on me.

*The closest thing I could find to explain what the historic site was that they were referencing was this. You need to understand Maori culture a bit before really getting it, but you can get the gist. It’s pretty incredible how items or spots that represent life and death can sit almost side by side to each other…but that would be a whole other post.

Beauty is a Curse

God, why do you curse me with this face that only drunks and old men find pretty?

Last night Maia and I went to the Fitz to see some of our friends play for open mic night. We wandered in a little after midnight to a nearly empty bar. Come to find out we had just missed a crazy fight..bar stools thrown, people beaten with said bar stools, etc. It had kinda cleared the place out. Anyway, we grab our drinks and sit down to listen to our friends. It wasnt until about halfway through the first song I notice that we are literally the only two girls in the bar. The boys finished playing and we were all hanging out having our last drinks when I encounter….Elmer.

Elmer has got to be the creepiest old man I have ever met. (WHY do they keep finding me??) He’s probably at least 80 years old, seedy as f***, and has been kicked out of the Irishman on multiple occasions for grinding on young girls on the dance floor. And he chose me as his new interest. Great. He hobbles right up to me, puts his wrinkly old hand on my shoulder and says, “So you gonna take me home tonight and make me breakfast in the morning?”

Excuse me??

I’m sure my face was classic…surprise and disgust and maybe mild amusement. “HA!…. No.”  This, unfortunately, did not deter him. He made his proposal EVEN BETTER by saying he would take me to McDonalds in the morning to buy me a hot breakfast.

Well if that doesn’t scream ‘dream come true’ for me I don’t know what does. Consider me wooed. I shrugged my shoulder out of his grasp and walked away laughing. You would think that would be the end of it, right? No. I tell Ezra, who is supposed to be my friend, “If he comes back around and tries to pull more moves on me, you are my boyfriend. You got that? Save me.”

Does he? Noooooo of course not. I loop around creepy mccreepster for a while and then I hear him yell, “Darling! I wanna talk to ya!” I shoot a look at Ezra and he nods. Old Elmer approaches once again and as he begins to speak Ezra walks my way, says “hello my darling girlfriend!”….and proceeds to walk right past me to Maia. She plays along and I despise them both for it. Elmer, meanwhile, begins telling me about how he had prostate cancer back in ’99 and had to have an operation to remove it. He was going on and on about how the doctors don’t ask to take things out when they go in for surgery they just do. I remarked how lovely it was that they got rid of the cancer and he responds with, “Yeah, but from here (points to groin area) to here (points to somewhere else in groin area) down through here (by now he has covered his entire wrinkly package) is all gone. Theres nothing there.” What an unexpected turn; I was rendered nearly speechless.

“….oh…..”

“But!” He holds up his hand as he says this and points to me for emphasis,  “That doesn’t mean I don’t know how to please a woman.”

Peals of laughter erupt from Sam, who is standing next to him and only heard the last half of that conversation as I stand there in disbelief that this old man was seriously being this pervy.  Sometimes I really hate my friends, they aren’t helpful at all. We all wander outside as the bar is closing and Elmer tries one more time to get me to meet him outside the bar at 5am so we can go to our oh so classy McDonalds hot breakfast. I can even have all the hashbrowns I want! I tell him sure I’ll be there at 5 and walk off. I kinda hope he showed up at the bar at 5am this morning.

I’m chillin in the parking lot with the boys thinking it’s all over and we’re all sweet but oooohhh no…it’s not yet over. One of the boys who was also there, who I had just met and who’s name I still don’t even know, comes up to me and says, “You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh…well, uh..thanks?”

“I’m just gonna go for it. ”    Waitwhat??

With that, he leans in and tries to kiss me. “I…wait…no….wha-ok, (I turn to the right and he kisses my cheek)  cool. ..nope…nooo…(turn to the left and he kisses my other cheek) no no no…oh-ok. Ooook.”

Oh, you think he got the hint here? No, he hasn’t clicked on just yet that I’m not exactly keen for a parking lot pash. He goes on to kiss both cheeks at least twice, trying to move in closer each time until I finally manage to push him off of me. Ezra, meanwhile, is nearly pissing his pants he’s laughing so hard. Again…useless. Kudos to this guy for trying I guess but oh my gosh.

Hopeless.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Yesterday I opened my bedroom door to find a small, inconspicuous package resting against the wall. I curiously picked it up only to discover my name on it! Delighted at the prospect of a mystery gift, (and honestly, who doesn’t love getting packages in the mail? Unless it’s textbooks…such a letdown) I attempted to identify the sender. The only name I saw was William Kingston from Rochester, NY. Who the heck is William Kingston? Further inspection yielded only the company name “Crazy Dog T-Shirts”. Strange. I eagerly tore at the packaging and pulled out…THE MOST AMAZING T-SHIRT I HAVE EVER SEEN!! Ever.TPhoto_00007

You all know how much I love raptors. I even raptored through downtown Dunedin after the England v Georgia match in the Rugby World Cup with my friend Paddy. It’s kind of my thing. Anyway, I rip open this package to find the above raptor shirt. This elicited unusually girly squeals of delight from the depths of my soul accompanied with joyful leaps and jumps with childlike abandon.

I was alone in my room.

I could only speculate on which friends know me well enough to send me this knowing it would make my day. week. year.  life complete. My first assumption, which I still believe to be correct, was that it must have been either Paddy or Erin who sent it to me. I’ve settled on Paddy merely due to the fact that he has recently asked what my address is. And said he was getting me the best birthday present ever. He has also been present for much of my raptoring career. I sent him a message yesterday but still no response.

About half a minute after seeing the shirt I noticed, much to my dismay, that it looked a little small. My heart nearly dropped. Noooooo!!!!  I threw on the shirt and ran to the mirror. Mother of all that is good and holy, it fit! It fit perfectly!!! What a magical shirt! I lovingly smoothed the precious garment down on my bed and marveled at its awesomeness before carefully hanging it up. I have been wearing it all day today, I even took a picture of it and put it up on facebook. It wasnt until after going onto the Crazy Dog T-shirt website (and after wearing the shirt for hours) that I stumbled across a secret message on the shirts interior. Just when I thought this shirt could not get more awesome, a day and a half later it proves me wrong.

TPhoto_00014

Hoooly crap there is a raptor face on the inside of the t-shirt!!! And when someone asks you about your velociraptor you flash them while giving yourself a raptor face!! Or just flash them your stomach, as I have done above. Knowing me, I will just do the raptor run. Unless I happen to be feeling particularly shy at the time, in which I’ll just flash them to become a real raptor hide my face.

The question still remains, however, of who sent me this glorious treasure. I can only hope this mystery will be solved soon.

Get Wild!

Last weekend B and I joined Francis and his cousins at Wild Foods Festival in Hokitika; a festival of wild and crazy foods from around the world ranging from wild venison to goat testicles and shots of horse semen (true story, gross, I refused to try it). Everyone dresses up for this event in various costumes and crams into one of the few available campsites in Hokitika for a weekend of drinking and making your friends eat gross foods. All good fun 🙂

Being as prepared as I am, I forgot our tickets for the festival…and our sleeping bSAM_1181ags and tent…so we had to turn around and get them. Oh and I also didn’t book the campsite in time so we just had to hope for the best when we showed up at the gate to book a campsite last minute. Fortunately everything turned out ok and they granted us a camping spot. Good thing too, that place was packed! There were tents as far as the eye could see all the way down to the beach. Our tiny little tent was made for maybe 2 people, which was fine since it was going to be just B and I. Plans changed, however, when Francis unfolds his tent only to find that he has no poles. And here he was dishing out jabs at me for not being prepared earlier. Huh, whaddya know. cough*karmasabitch*cough

After setting up caSAM_1171mp, settling in, and a few rather strong vodka cranberries, we all decided to wander down to the beach and check out some of the bonfires we had seen earlier. All was well until B and I reached the rocks that you need to climb down to get to the beach and here…tragedy struck.

*Let me preface this story with a quick little anecdote from our Valentines Day camping trip (which I will tell in full detail whenever I get around to it). Maia and I were making our way up the hill to grab something from the car and we fell into a moment of fear and paranoia which prompted Maia, who was holding my hand, to yell, “Run!” and take off up the hill. We only got about 2 steps before Maia tripped and fell face first into the ground, scraping her knee. I couldn’t stop laughing and she dissolved into a drunken, childlike whiney state of self-pity. I have mocked her ever since.

This, my dear readers, is yet another example of karma. Only this time it was aimed my way. Halfway down the rocks I took a tumble. I slipped, took flight, and landed on my bum only to slide the rest of the way down the rock and jam my foot into yet another rock. What did I do? You guessed it…I dissolved into a drunken, childlike whiney state of self-pity. I sat there huddled into a wee little ball, holding my toe and sniveling while rocking back and forth.

“B! ..B…mehmehmehmehehe..my toooeee…and my ass. Oh my- B….look at it. Just, is it bad? Does it look bad?”

I proceeded to somewhat stand, still bent over holding my toe, and make B look at the damage that had been done to my butt in the dim, flickering flame’s light cast over by the nearby fire; all while pathetically whimpering the whole time.

Silence. And then, finally, “…nope. No…it…it’s not that bad?”

Well it certainly felt bad, and upon waking up the next morning and checking it out, I could see that my poor booty was quite a bit scraped up. B later apologized for lying to me but I was so upset already she didn’t want to make it worse. Her and I also both woke up fairly wet..turns out our tent is so far from waterproof it feels like it rained on the inside even if it was a crystal clear night, and we slept pressed up against the sides because Francis took the middle and slept on his back which left us with next to no room. Oh, and the next day we discovered that someone in our group slept alone…in his massive tent…on a mattress.SAM_1167

After going to grab coffee and breakfast we all got ready for the festival. Our group went as cavemen and cavewomen but we met Batman, Spiderman, TMNT, Duff girls, bananas in pajamas (so cool!), the mad hatter, and various other cave people along the way-just to name a few. We spent the day hanging out with new friends from the campground and taking pictures with everyone in their cool costumes.

Despite trying our very best, as a group we spent a decent amount of time together about 2 minutes togethSAM_1189er before getting separated at the festival, but so it goes when you try to herd around a rather sizeable party of cave people. Fortunately we were all able to reunite on the beach at our campsite later that afternoon in time for dinner and drinks. It was fun to swap stories, photos and videos later anyway. 🙂

Since I underestimated how pricey everything would be once we actually got inSAM_1217to the festival I ended up spending my money on moonshine and beer. While I myself didn’t eat anything nasty (which I almost kind of regret..I might have been able to stomach a snail or two. Maybe), B and I forced Francis to eat a live huhu grub. He shoveled it into his mouth and swallowed it down before we even had a chance to get a photo or even have a proper gloat over it. Shame.

There were more bonfires and drunken adventures that night. B passed out early and I disappeared from everyone to go for a wander where I made friends with a dog and met some fire jugglers. It was pretty epic, actually, and I was in bed by about midnight haha. I awoke a few hours later to go get more water and, much to my amusement, I found Francis passed out on the concrete, next to the tent, cocooned in his blanket. I foolishly told him he could sleep in our tent and, once again, woke up the next morning pressed against a dripping tent wall. To make matters even worse…I left my one and only jacket outside on the grass, so it was also soaked in morning dew and unwearable.

Overall, it was an excellent weekend adventure away from Christchurch and on the West Coast! 🙂