Then & Now

thailand1It was almost on a whim that I decided to go on vacation to Thailand – an ‘ahhhh fuck it, I need a holiday!’ moment. A ‘I need to get the hell outta of Korea for a bit’ moment. So I pulled out my credit card and a few weeks later, found myself lying on a quiet beach on an island, Koh Pha Ngan in the south of the country. Even the weeks leading up to the trip made the whole thing worth it. It gave me something to look forward to and something other than my usual monotonous day-to-day life to think about.

I had been to Thailand before. Six years ago I was there for almost a month. It was a great trip – the first such trip I had taken alone in Asia and it was a desperately needed time of healing as I came out of a horrible year – my first in Korea and one that I always try to erase from my memory.

That trip was one of those rare times when the stars seem to align and things become serendipitous. I arrived with no set plans and just traveled around alone. I felt happy and present for the first time in god knows how long. I made my way down to beautiful Ko Phi Phi island for a few days. One day, in between snorkeling and attending random muslim weddings, as I was escaping from the heat in my swanky hotel room with turbo air conditioning, I began to channel surf. A documentary on one of the national channels caught my eye. I became intrigued – it was about a German expat and his Thai wife who started an organisation (Baan Gerda), similar to an orphanage, for children and adults that have been abandoned and stigmatized because of being infected with HIV/AIDS. I was moved by what I saw, so in an uncharacteristic moment of boldness, I contacted the founder, Karl, and soon enough, I was at their beautiful house in a quiet suburb of Bangkok and then we were on the road in their SUV and drove for three hours deep into the rice fields of the Thai countryside. I spent two days and one night there just hanging out, playing with the children and talking with Karl who explained to me all the complexities of the situation of the children, of the community, of the government. It was an extremely interesting and eye-opening experience.

Also, while I was there, an Australian woman showed up with a representative from her Thai publishing house to also learn about the work that was being done there. Just a week before, I had been looking at her memoir in a bookstore near one of the big temples in central Bangkok, wondering about who this crazy woman was – who dedicates their life to working for free in the ‘Bangkok Hilton’, one of the world’s most notorious prisons? Who does that?! And here she was, in the flesh. We spoke for a while and of course, promptly upon my return to Bangkok, I bought and read her story which was crazy, involving a criminal husband, smuggling people out of Burma and nearly bleeding to death.

And then, after riding elephants and hanging out with a tribe in the jungle, I came back to civilization, checked my email and found out I had been given an amazing opportunity to travel around the world as a reporter for Peace Boat. Those were exciting times.

Alas, this is now and my trip to Thailand this time was so different. This time, I had more of an agenda – I just want to chill out and be healthy. And with that in mind, I went to The Sanctuary, a really laid back kind of yoga resort/spa/camping ground/hippie-hipster playground for people on a budget. It’s hard to describe, but I first stumbled upon it online two or three years ago and thought, ‘Wow, that looks interesting! I want to go there!’ but then promptly talked myself out of it because that sabotaging voice in my head, which gets more say than it should, told me that it was too hard to get to, too expensive, and that it was morally bankrupt because how could I justify going somewhere like that where people pay to fast and cleanse when there are so many starving people in the world?

But this time, I decided to, in the spirit of Nike, ‘Just do it.’ And it was lovely. Although, knowing what I know now, I wish I had stayed longer (everybody says that). But I got what I needed and I know that it was important to take that time for myself because I’m about to get bat-shit busy with a six day work week and trying to keep up with everything else – I’ve never been good at juggling more than a few balls, so hopefully I can keep a piece of the Sanctuary within me to have a sense of balance and equanimity.

Thank god for antibiotics!

Thank god for antibiotics!

Ironically, however, as soon as I got back to Bangkok where I had planned to spend a few says doing girly things (sightseeing, shopping, spa etc), I was struck down with food poisoning. The universe certainly has a sense of humour – I was so healthy and relaxed and then boom! A day later I am writhing around on the bathroom floor of my hotel room, sweating, shivering, vomiting, trying to endure the incessant stabbing pains in my stomach, having no clue how to get to a doctor or hospital. Luckily, after some frantic searching, I found a pharmacy with a pharmacist that spoke English and that sold antibiotics. I had three days in the city, two were spent trying not to die alone in a hotel room and on the third day, finally I was able to get out and about a little bit.

I always had fond memories of the metropolis – I thought it’s shabbiness was charming. I thrived on its chaos and crowds. I loved the contrasts of the old temples and houses next to the giant modern malls. Now, however, I think Bangkok is too big, too dirty, too hot and too ugly. I was surprised that for such a tourist mecca, how few people spoke English, and how rude some people could be. Actually, I would probably be that way too if I was constantly dealing with snotty, privileged, high 22 year old European backpackers who demanded a fifty percent discount on everything. But anyway, Thailand you rule, Bangkok you suck!

Domestic Goddessery vs. Keepin’ it Real

cupcake-azulOver the past couple of months, I have noticed myself becoming increasingly domesticated (and increasingly uncool) – spending more time, energy and money on cooking and cleaning. I’m also spending more time at home, living like an old woman, minus the cats. For dinner tonight, I made a salad with green leaves, vegetables and seeds I don’t even know the names of followed by a raw, dairy- and gluten-free dessert. But wait, it gets more exciting. Soon I will start reading a book about World War II, and probably by 10pm I will have fallen asleep with the book on my face.

My own foray into domestic goddessery has seen me start to cook more and more in an effort to be healthier and save money. My cleaning and tidying habits are bordering on OCD. I have spent substantial amounts of money ordering exotic hippy food over the Internet. The only thing that is not organic in my fridge is the fridge itself. I even purchased a blender to make green smoothies.

What is fueling this obsession? I think part of it may have to do with reading the Mommy blogs. That’s right, sometimes I indulge in reading blogs written by Type A mothers who are on a mission to portray their lives in the most flattering light possible – in a sense, creating a fantasy that the reader/consumer is drawn into…and it totally works.

These blogs are easy to find. Usually, they are written by attractive white American or Canadian women who are married to a tall white husband who wears coke bottle glasses with one, two or sometimes three young children. Their lives exude a kind of bourgeois hipsterness in which each day is a new opportunity for exploring (and consuming) expensive food, fashion, furniture, art, Apple products and all natural, environmentally-friendly cleaning things. Home renovation projects feature frequently and prominently.

And maybe I sound a little snarky. But truth be told, I love these blogs. They provide me with some escapism. Sometimes when I need a break at work, I will spent five minutes reading a post or two and feel rejuvenated after doing so. I feel like some of these women are my friends, like I know their children. Which sounds creepy. Anyway, I also get lots of ideas about my own life from their vast troves of information – about chemical-free cosmetics, or easy-yet-delicious pasta dishes, about new, interesting books and music. And it’s all frreeeeee.

However.

In their construction and portrayal of their lives as seemingly perfect – one amazing domestic adventure after another – I think they do their audience a disservice. I mean, for sure, there’s always the danger of TMI or over-sharing, and there are some things most people would agree are just too banal or gross to mention. However, a dose of reality would go a long way to helping readers identify with the characters, their trials and tribulations. Holding up such a picture of idyllic domestic bliss, which very few people can live up to, perhaps sends a message that your (the readers’) life sucks and you are a bad parent because your kid vomited after eating too much candy.

One writer, in the FAQ section of her blog responds to the question: Is life really that perfect?

i never said my life was perfect. it’s not. no one has a perfect life.  but i choose to look at what i am blessed with rather than what i do not have. i work hard to find the joy in my day-to-day.  regardless, i have terrible days just like anyone. while i try to be honest about the entire picture, i like to keep this blog on the positive side.  please do not ever look at my blog (or anyone’s blog) and compare your life to it. a saying i love, “comparison is the thief of joy,”  has never rung truer than in the blogging world.  i can’t choose what you’ll take away from my blog, but i hope you’ll take away a message of finding the joy in what is around you, in your family and friends, and in your surroundings over anything else.

I agree with her wise words. Ironically, there is nothing but smiling faces plastered all over her posts. So maybe it’s OK to let the guard down sometimes and write, ‘this is hard,’ or ‘I feel overwhelmed.’ Maybe it won’t “sell” as well, but it will be real.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Wars

My poor legs...

My poor legs…

It’s like my mother used to say, I have been in the wars these past few days. Meaning that physically, everything is going wrong.

It’s not surprising, really, since I have come from a frigid developed country to a sweltering undeveloped one. It would be weird if my body didn’t freak out a little bit at its new environment.

I have been attacked by mosquitoes, probably from my trip to the beach where I lay on the sand. The good thing about mosquitoes (as if there is ever anything good about these malicious creatures) in Korea, is that they are industrial size – you can see them. You can also hear them when they go in for the kill, as if a warplane was buzzing overhead, ready to attack. Here, they are much more subtle – silent but violent – as my red, swollen bites can attest. I have at least 20 bites on each leg and even some on my butt. They itch like crazy and last night, I woke up several times to scratch them as furiously as a stressed chef grates carrots for a salad. I scratched them until they were raw and bleeding, then slathered them in hydrocortisone, which is supposed to be used up to four times a day. I have used it at least eight.

I developed a sinus infection, which means that smelling, tasting, breathing and talking clearly have become difficult, as if someone pushed the off button on my sense of smell and taste and then placed my nostrils in a vice.

As a natural born klutz, I was in a dehydration-induced daydream and tripped down some stairs, hitting the floor hard and badly bruising my right knee. It looks like someone painted an uneven puddle with grey paint over the bony flesh.

As if that wasn’t enough, I went to a Capoiera training session which was held on a concrete basketball court. I should’ve known better but I got carried away and the thick layer of skin on the sole of my right foot tore apart, not bleeding, but making it very difficult to walk. I won’t be able to train again until it heals.

My ever-present enemy in hot weather, Heat Rash, has decided to torment me again. I’m all scratched-out after the mosquito bites, so I hope the spotty pink rash stays very calm and localised. It is being upstaged by the sunburn that has covered my arms in a pink glow (although that is my own fault, I was too lazy to coverup).

An old friend once remarked that I should be wrapped up in cottonwool – which is true, considering how sensitive my body is. My nose once rejected a piercing. I am allergic to most sunscreens and the contraceptive pill. I get motion sick by sitting in a rocking chair and get rashes from shaving and waxing. I hate loud noises and my eardrums hurt after listening to my iPod.

Still, as physically crappy as I feel, I must remember to keep it in perspective as I have not yet become afflicted with three of my most feared physical ailments: malaria, food poisoning and head lice. I hope that my body recovers soon. In the meantime, I am in the market for an industrial strength insect repellent.

The. Best. News. Ever. (or Why I Love Chocolate)

I was so happy when I stumDarkChocolateHeartbled upon an interview with ethnobotanist (I don’t know what that is either) Chris Kilham who talks about the amazingness of chocolate in his new book Psyche Delicacies.

As a long-time, hardcore, incorrigible, chocolate addict, this is excellent news. I am only half-joking when I say I want to die by drowning in pool of melted chocolate. I hung onto his every word as he espoused the heath virtues of my drug of choice.

If what he says is true, then chocolate is good for our hearts – it lowers cholesterol and reduces platelet aggregation (say what?). The greatest concentration of beneficial substances in chocolate is pure cocoa, so we should eat chocolate that is dark and bitter.

I also learned from Chris that it is a soft drug and is psycho-active. It is loaded with compounds that affect brain chemistry and mood. For example, women eat more chocolate just before or during menstruation because at this time serotonin levels go down but chocolate helps to build them back up, resulting in an enhanced mood. Hmmm I always wondered why I craved chocolate during this time.

Of course, chocolate is also a love potion. It contains phenylamine which we naturally produce during orgasm or when we are in love, so eating chocolate mimics the brain chemistry of being in love. I guess the creators of Valentine’s Day already knew this.

Bottom line: don’t feel bad after your next chocolate binge. It is healthier and less addictive than crack. And a lot cheaper too. Bring on Easter!