I’m not dead; the internet in Siem Reap is so slow that I could build a temple faster than write a blog post. Sorry! I am hoping to write more when I get to Phnom Penh tonight (if not, when Isaure and Khalid leave me (sniff!) tomorrow night).
Otherwise, things continue to be pretty terrific.
We decided to take it easy on our last day in Chiang Mai. We had brunch at the Blue Diamond (one of the restaurants recommended by Isaure’s guide), which was lovely—tables in a small courtyard with a little river with amazingly expressive koi, and an onsite bakery. (We did have to listen to a very New Age American woman tell her friends about the city’s best health food stores and show off pictures of her most recent retreat. “That’s the cave I lived in. And that’s the ladder to the place where I meditated.”)
Then we went back to Monk Chat, where we met a very friendly guy named Jade. He became a monk because his family was very poor subsistence farmers (part of one of the local tribes, the Karen, which I told him was my mother’s name) and monks get a free education. He said that someday he would like to be a tour guide, so I told him all my ideas for Chiang Mai tours. Hopefully he will remember me when he gets rich and famous from my suggestions. He should—we’re now Facebook friends. (His request.) He and Khalid also had a nice chat about the relative price of iPhones. (Apparently an iPhone 5 is $900 in Thailand! Yikes!)
After that we decided to finally go for a swim in our hotel pool, since it was our last day and it seemed a shame not to use it. Then we had dinner at a canteen where our waiter asked us to help him locate an old friend of his who had lived in Sacramento 20 years ago. We told him we would do our best. Then we took a tuktuk to the night bazaar, which involved several buildings full of stands, as well as many lining the sidewalks. I bought myself a dress (I hadn’t brought any to Thailand because I couldn’t find anything that met all my qualifications (comfortable in tropical heat, would not get too wrinkled, and modest (I had read that though they would never say anything, Southeast Asians find the sight of women’s shoulders offensive, and I really didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable))). So of course the dress I ended up buying leaves the shoulders completely bare. But hey—it’s knee-length and otherwise quite demure. I also got a scarf and bracelet to dress up my (also modest and boring) other clothes. I negotiated for everything (but not very seriously—I have no interest in making anyone suffer over a couple of dollars).
Then we went back to the hotel and packed for our trip to Koh Chang. At 5:15 a.m. we took a cab to the airport. Two flights and several hours later, we landed in Trat at the most beautiful airport I have ever seen—thatched roof buildings, topiaries shaped like elephants. We arranged to take a minibus to our hotel (which included a ferry ride to the island). The views were gorgeous—turquoise water, and a coastline straight out of Bali Hai. The island itself was surprisingly large and very hilly. We drove through several villages (if that’s what you call them—they are basically collections of restaurants, stands selling beach toys, and 7-Elevens. Yes, those 7-Elevens.)
Our resort turned out to be a collection of small cabins facing a lawn—which bordered an elephant park. It was both delightful and disconcerting to find ourselves staring at elephants, who stared back. Khalid wasn’t feeling well so he lay down to rest, but Isaure and I immediately put on our swimsuits and got directions to the beach (“just go straight.”) Less than five minutes later, we were standing at the water’s edge, surveying a spectacular panorama of palm trees, sand, and the bluest water I had ever seen in person. Hoping that we weren’t breaking some sort of rule, we walked into the seaside resort (which was significantly more glamorous-looking than ours) and found a spot in the shade to leave our things before heading into the surf (if you can call it that if there are no waves…) It was probably 70 degrees; cooler than the Mediterranean I swam in last summer near Monaco, but a hell of a lot warmer than anywhere else I’ve ever been.
By this point we were hungry so we went to a little restaurant at the end of the road from our hotel which had a view of the sea. While we ate we watched a baby elephant (one of our new neighbors) walk down the street with a man who held him gently by the earlobe. The baby then gave rides in the ocean.
I fell asleep at 6:00pm due to the early wake-up call, but when I woke up at 9:00 I realized that I hadn’t taken my malaria pill yet, and since I knew from experience that taking it on an empty stomach is a very bad idea, I had to go get something to eat. Isaure was already in her pajamas, so I had to make my first solo excursion since arriving in Thailand. Alas, all the elephants were already asleep (or maybe they had the night off?) so there was no one to witness my newfound independence. I ended up just going to a street vendor selling banana pancakes on the corner near our hotel (right next to the 7-Eleven!) They were delicious, and I remain, as far as I know, malaria-free.
(All photos by the lovely Isaure, who is a much much better photographer than I am. I am using her to fool you into thinking I’m really good at this, so by the time she leaves you will already be hooked and unable to stop reading. Carry on.)
People keep asking me how I feel. “Are you nervous or excited?”
I used to be excited. Now I just feel… weird. I don’t know how else to describe it—something is off. Things aren’t normal. Everything is weird, weird, weird.
Which is better than a lot of people around me feel. Because they feel sad.
Of course, I should have expected this. Especially since I have been on the left behind end of people going far away. A few years ago a very close friend of mine got married and moved to Seattle. We were the sort of friends who had keys to each other’s apartments, made each other dinner at least once a week, and took trips halfway around the world together. On one such trip, to South Africa, she told me that if she married her boyfriend, she wanted to get married on the beach. I joked that she should have her bridesmaids dress as lobsters. At her rehearsal dinner, three days before she was leaving for the other side of the country, she presented me with a lobster hat. I put it on and promptly burst into tears—while all around me, people snapped my photo.
So why does it surprise me when people react that way to me going away? There’s no logical explanation. It just does.
Making people sad of course has made me somewhat sad. Which is not the way I want to feel right now.
I know that once I am on the plane I will be excited again. I know it.
Now let’s say a collective prayer that the megastorm that’s hitting western Massachusetts does not affect flights from Logan, my electronic devices don’t run out of batteries, and there are no screaming babies on any of my flights. Amen.
I don’t think I have ever been the guest of honor at so many parties. In addition to the surprise gingerbread/tea party, my friends threw me one of the alcohol-serving variety this weekend. It had a joint holiday/Asia theme (one of my friends wore a tiny Mrs. Claus dress under a jacket with a Mao collar; she looked like someone in a 1950s musical about to break into a racist tap dance). As if that weren’t enough, tomorrow is my goodbye party at work.
An unexpected perk of saying goodbye to everything in your life is that everything in your life says goodbye back. I have never felt so popular! People I haven’t seen in ages keep getting in touch, saying the nicest things. I feel a bit like Tom Sawyer sneaking into his own funeral (without all the, you know, death).
I told this to one of my friends (the racist tap dancer, actually), and she said, “I hope you don’t really mean our party felt like a funeral!”
That’s the problem with email. It’s so easily misinterpreted. You tell people that the party they threw for you felt like your own funeral, and they think you meant it in a bad way.
What I have been doing, in no particular order:
1. Not sleeping
I should start by saying that I am so grateful to the friends who have let me crash at their apartments instead of forcing me to make the long trek back to the ‘burbs.
I have now spent the night on three couches (and one unfortunate love seat), shared a bed with one friend and two cats (twice), and another bed with a friend who was suffering all night with symptoms that we both thought might be appendicitis.
While it has been awesome to spend so much time with my friends, I am pretty beat.
Especially since when I do manage to sleep in my own bed, I usually get home shortly before bedtime and have to wake up at 6:30ish to beat the traffic.
It has gotten to the point where I am actually looking forward to 33 hours of sitting in air planes.
2. Not checking things off my to-do list
I have a long list of things I need to do before I go stored in Google Docs, so I can stare ineffectually at it from wherever I happen to be.
Every time I try to check something off I always end up adding more things instead. A simple call to the guy who manages my Roth IRA to let him know I’ll be out of the country resulted in him telling me to give my mother power-of-attorney. Which needs to be done in front of a notary. A visit to one doctor results in referrals to others. And there are always more places that I need to alert to my change of address. Tearing. Hair. Out.
3. Getting shots
Just try to give me typhoid. You can’t. I am IMMUNE!
I am also now, thanks to the doctor at the travel clinic’s boundless enthusiasm on the subject, something of an expert on diarrhea. (If you can’t imagine ever sharing his enthusiasm, you should probably stop reading now.) Did you know that there are two kinds, bacterial and parasitical? Bacterial is like an alarm clock going off in your stomach. It wakes you up every two hours makes you run to the bathroom. Parasitical is much more subtle—it might take you a while to notice that you have it. (The doctor got a special twinkle in his eye as he drew me a graph of how long you will have bacterial diarrhea depending on how you treat it. It was kind of adorable.)
4. Buying ever more expensive travel gear
I keep thinking of more things I need to buy. I finally broke down and bought a netbook so I can blog without endangering my Macbook Pro. And I got a new backpack because the frame one my mother offered me was so heavy that I couldn’t comfortably lift it one-handed when it was empty. I still need DEET-heavy bug stuff, quick-drying socks, some type of security for my backpack, a safety whistle, and way too many other things to list. Imagine how expensive these items could possibly be—then multiply by five.
Ok, whine over. I’m 90% super excited to go, 10% frustrated with all the hoops I have to jump through to get there.
Less than two weeks to go!