Friday, January 29, 2010

World Traveler Part 10: An island in Thailand

Bangkok is amazing and wonderful and beautiful and interesting and full of history and food and shopping and lovely people.

It is.

I can't say it enough.

HOWEVER, despite being totally in love with this city, and having a great time, we still wanted to see more.

Something different. Just for a few days.

Which is how we ended up in a taxi barreling down the highway at 8am, headed for another airport, once again with absolutely 0 advance planning. At least when we left for the airport to go to Thailand, we actually HAD TICKETS. This time, notsomuch. We were going to an airport that mostly provides service for flights within Thailand. We didn't have tickets but we had big plans and I was pretty sure we had enough room on the credit card.

So we were going.

To Phuket, specifically.

I should pause and back up, and say that the reason we did not plan this portion of our trip ahead of time is that we were not 100% sure if we were going to go. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go. And the root of my hesitation was an old nagging worry - 5 years old, to be precise. The last time we had started to plan a trip to Thailand over the holidays, and discussed visiting a beach resort, we had ended up cancelling the entire trip. And that was 2004/2005 Holiday season. 5 years ago.

The year of the tsunami.

I remember settling into bed one night that December of 2005, pissed off that I was at home and not in Thailand, and turning on CNN, and overhearing someone on the TV say something about.......Thailand. That was odd. My ears perked up, because of course we were supposed to be there, and our friends were there, and I was bummed to have missed our chance to be with them, celebrating the holidays.

And then as I put down my magazine and turned up the volume, I caught a glimpse of......something......on the screen.

"Tsunami" crawled across the bottom of the screen.

But really, what were the chances that my friends were affected by the tsunami. Thailand is a big country, They could be ANYWHERE. They were probably in Bangkok, right?

I was awake for hours, on the verge of panic. This was post 9-11, and I felt, eerily, as though I had already been through something like this. On 9-11, I spent hours desperately calling and emailing everyone I knew in NYC, making sure they were all accounted for. And they were. And I was sure this was going to be the same sort of deal - me worrying myself sick, for no reason. Except, I just couldn't let it go.

And the silence from Thailand was deafening.

I emailed. I waited. I called. I waited. And waited. And waited. I found an old picture in an album of my friend and I, and while I waited to hear from her I put it by my bed. I brought it to work. I waited for her to respond, to tell me that of course she was fine. I emailed her husband. I waited.

And then he emailed me back.

She was alive. She was fine. The resort she was staying at was gone.


It's not my story to tell, but suffice to say that it was enough to put me off visiting small islands in Thailand. I sure wasn't interested in sitting on the beach. Which is why I just wasn't sure about this trip to Phuket.

Now, looking back, I am so glad that we struck out, explored another part of Thailand. But we had to do it this way - last minute, no real thought or consideration. I refused to think about the tsunami. Which allowed me to just experience the area as it is today - without considering how it was 5 years ago.

It's beautiful.
It's sad.
A lot of it is newly rebuilt.
A lot of people are survivors.

It was a wonderful time, and I will write more about it later, but suffice to say: If you go to Thailand, and you do not head south to the islands, you are missing out on something really important. Go. Live a little - don't waste a moment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

World Traveler Part 9: The Nefarious Trots - What to do when monkeys are actually flying out of your butt

First off - The Nefarious Trots. Best Band Name Ever.

Now back to business: A show of hands - who here plans vacations around meals? I know I am not the only one who makes reservations for lunch while eating breakfast, and has a snack somewhere between times and then goes to two or three different restaurants in the evening - one for drinks, one for dinner, one for dessert - in order to fully experience the cuisine of the region (also, conveniently, my excuse for eating various forms of sweets and fried foods between meals).

When we are traveling, there are a few things that we are constantly concerned with.

-Is it time for a snack?
-Where are we eating next?
-How long do we have to wait to go there?

Our travels in Mexico and now Thailand have taught me one important thing. When traveling abroad, it is completely unecessary to have a reservation in order to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime meal.

Rule One: Fear Not the Roadside Stand
You may think it is the most risky place to eat, but a busy roadside stand will probably have the freshest food around, so don't hesitate ! LIVE A LITTLE ! Thought I really question whether my plate will be cleaner if I wipe it with the toilet paper they provide, I still did not get sick from eating at random carts and shacks on the side of the road.

I did, however, get incredibly, deathly ill following a pretty mediocre meal at a celebrated, much-awarded, highly regarded, uber-expensive restaurant. Which leads me to........
Rule Two: Fancier is Not Necessarily Better
I had this rule verified by another traveling friend, who got deathly ill after eating at a 6 star, internationally reknowned hotel, at the end of a three week trip where she had eaten happily for 3 solid weeks in decidedly questionable culinary locales. But on her last day, she splurged, and ate a high-falutin' meal in some posh restaurant with, you know, running water and refrigeration. Which she will remember forever only because of the horrific flight home that was spent in the airplane lavatory.

We bonded over tales of stomach cramps and hours spent running to the bathroom. The only thing worse then getting one of these food-borne stomach ailments is getting struck down when you are traveling. And being struck down on a plane, or on the back of a truck driving to a small boat with no bathroom (which was my spectacular experience).

I was the kind of sick where I just didn't care anymore. I had no modesty. It was much like giving birth. Horrific cramps, a complete loss of control, sweating, sucking on ice, wishing it was over.

It wasn't just my stomach - my skin ached. The pores on my skin burned as my body tried to flush out whatever the hell I had ingested. We had left town and headed to a very remote island, where we were camping out in a beachfront bungalow, with a view that I enjoyed while I lay quietly, waiting to die. There was a very predictable cycle. I would be horribly sick, make full use of the hose attached to the toilet - which I finally understood and fully appreciated). Then I would shower and stagger out of the bathroom, dizzy and doubled over, to lie in the middle of the bed covered by a mosquito net, whimpering, until I had to run back to the bathroom. Sami gently suggested that we go to the hospital - an idea I shot down because honestly, I couldn't imagine being more then a few feet from a bathroom. A car ride was just not an option. For 36 hours, I was absolutely and completely miserable.

And then, I had a strong cup of black tea, ate some chicken, got on a boat and headed back to civilization. Because for goodness sake, we had dinner reservations.

Monday, January 25, 2010

World Traveler Part 8: The Tuk Tuk - if you don't pay much attention to what's going on, you'll be fine

One of the things that I had heard about - but wasn't sure if I would experience personally - was the Tuk Tuk.

Oh who the hell am I kidding. Of course I was going to try it. But first I had to get the pronounciation right. Based on my 2 days in Thailand, I was pretty sure I was slaughtering the Thai language and offending everyone I tried to speak to. So I listened to people on the street, who were CONSTANTLY asking us if we needed a tuk tuk, and  took note. It's pronounced with a long "u" sound (like in the word clue).

Aha. Alrighty then.

Then I had to figure out what the benefit was - why take a tuk tuk if the taxis are cheap, plentiful, and air conditioned? There really isn't a lot going for the lowly tuk tuk on first glance. And the tuk tuk is, in a word, dangerous.

In essence, it is a glorified moped with a vinyl roof and backseat. No sides, no seatbelts, no nothin' to protect you from the hundreds of cars and trucks that are DRIVING RIGHT TOWARDS YOU OH HOLY FUCK WATCH OUT. Turns out, those tuk tuks are a great way to get through the impenetrable gridlock of Bangkok. Just don't watch what's going on around you - because if you do, you will see (in addition to the looming city bus over there) your entire life flash before your eyes.

Seriously. It is probably one of the scariest experiences ever. You are in a backseat, with no control over the vehicle, and no protection from what is obviously an imminent head-on collision. You can't see anything because the roof is completely obstructing your view, until the oncoming traffic is literally inches from you. Inches. The driver is not paying any attention to those silly lines painted on the road, and floats across every lane of traffic with a wonton, devil-may-care approach.

Well, I cared. I cared a LOT.

I also cared about the suitcase full of dresses that was strapped precariously on the back of the tuk tuk. Precious cargo indeed.

But in the end, the tuk tuk was the best way to get from point A to point B, as hard as it was to believe. So we braved the traffic and the exhaust fumes know...... DEATH, to take to the streets on a moped built for 3 (or 4 plus an enormous hard sided wheeled suitcase). Because these tuk tuks are nothing if not versatile.

Friday, January 22, 2010

World Traveler Part 7: In which we go shopping (which could also be part 8, 9, 11, 13-16 and 18).

Here's the thing.

Thailand can be visited on the cheap. The really cheap. Cheap enough that you are almost embarrassed to not pay extra JUST BECAUSE. For example:

Taxi ride all the way across town that takes about 30 minutes? $2.75. Including the tip.

Lunch and drinks for 8 ravenous people - with leftovers? $30. Maybe.

One hour massage? $10.

Beachfront bungalow with private bath? $30.

Which is how I ended up going to a mall called Platinum, and buying a suitcase, and then filling it with dresses to bring home. It's called "importing" people, and I am doing this for the good of my fellow (wo)man - I'm planning a big party, where everyone can buy their very own super-cheap, you gotta be kidding, no really it's how much, well then I'll take 3 of them dresses from Thailand. All the fun with none of the jetlag.

Because like potato chips - no one can get just one. I tried. I had the best of intentions. And then, well......whoopsie. I bought a lot of dresses. And voila: I'm an importer. Because Sami says I absolutely cannot keep all of them. He is such a grouch.


After the adventure in Platinum - a retail experience that is unrivaled in my extensive annals of retail experiences - we got in a tuk-tuk (more on that later) and went purse shopping.

Visa. It's accepted everywhere you want to be. I'll figure out how to pay for it LATER, for the love of god people, have some tolerance. Some understanding. Some COMPASSION. I did this for YOU. So that I would be able to experience Thailand in all of it's beautiful, eclectic, exciting, maybe not entirely authentic and/or legal glory.

Mmmmmm. I just love it. The shopping was just.......ridiculous. And here's the thing - bargaining is not just accepted - it's encouraged. It's a sport. Everyone takes part, everybody wins, and we all go home happy. Or at least, I go home happy.

And isn't that all that really matters?
Yes. Yes it is. This vacation was kick-ass in every way. And by that I mean both figuratively, as in: it was awesome, and literally, as in: I was struck with the most horrific case of the trots on record.
True story. We'll get to that later on too.

World Traveler Part 6: In which we learn the true meaning of toilet paper.

Our  friends arrived from Australia in the middle of the night. One by one, we wandered out of the bedroom, sweaty, disheveled, wrinkled and puffy, eyes squinting in the lamp light.

I am sure we made quite the entrance, our little clan, half dressed and suddenly shy in our PJs.

With a few hugs and hours of conversation, we fell back into the familiar rhythm of old friends, taking turns smoking on the lanai, mixing cocktails in the kitchen, and pouring bowls of cereal for the kids. By 6am most of the group were headed off to bed for a few hours, but the kids and I decided to grab breakfast first in the restaurant downstairs. We marched into the restaurant half dressed, pajamas tucked into shoes, sweaters pulled on to keep us warm in the frosty early-morning air conditioning. The server offered bowls of hot chocolate to Max and Lucy, who accepted them with glee. Not to be outdone, Max also made a beeline for the toaster, where he began to smear Nutella on every carbohydrate on the buffet. Lucy helped herself to a heaping plate of watermelon, and steadily worked her way through the entire plateful, seeds and all.

I clutched a cup of coffee, and nibbled on a piece of bacon. I definitely needed a few more hours of sleep before I would be up for anything.

By noon we were all ready to go. We walked to the subway, took a train into the center of Bangkok, and headed down one of the countless tiny side streets in this city, to the most unassuming restaurant I have ever had the pleasure of eating at. It was open air - our table appeared to be set up on one side of an alley. The tables were covered in oilcloth, and every few feet down the table was a roll of toilet paper.

I didn't know if that was a good sign (yay ! They have a toilet !) or a very, very bad sign indeed (there is no bathroom, but grab some paper and find a corner !)

It turns out, it had nothing to do with bathrooms at all. Apparently, in addition to being an acceptable substitute for a napkin (those stupid americans and their frivolous paper napkins ! FOR SHAME!) you also use the toilet paper provided to wipe off your plate and silverware before using them.

Because man, whenever I eat, the first thing I want to do is wipe my eating utensils with tp that has been torn off a roll that has been touched by a large number of people with hands that are most likely NOT CLEAN. But I did not utter one peep. Not a one. If my friends had told me to wrap the paper around my head and make a big fucking bow I would have done it. And you know what, I don't know how it came to be accepted, but chances are it caught on for a damn good reason. After traveling around the country I can assure you that it was not an isolated incident. Toilet Paper is KING around here, and they don't want any of that soft stuff that sheds and leaves a fine layer of fuzz all over everything,

Oh No.

Toilet paper is to Thais as Baby Wipes are to me. Which is to say, multipurpose.

Wipe your dishes, wipe your nose, wipe your mouth, wipe your ass. It's ALL GOOD.

So note to self, when traveling, always ALWAYS have a roll of toilet paper in your bag.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

World Traveler Part 5: In which we deign to leave the plush confines of our tower and descend into the street alone and unsupervised

We just jumped right in. Bleary and jetlagged, without so much as a map of the area, we staggered down to the front desk and said "point us in the direction of Silom Market".

"Like taxi ?" the sweet girl at the desk asked - to which I frantically tapped my blackberry and scrolled down for reference. "I thought we could walk. Hm. Silom Market - we need a taxi???"

"Yes, taxi." she replied, nodding enthusiastically. I looked at Sami, he shrugged, and we smiled and nodded. "Uh, sure. taxi."

At this point, did it really matter? We had no idea where we were going, or how far it actually was.....the person who said it was walking distance didn't have kids...maybe he didn't realize how far it was? So, alright. Taxi it is, then.

We went out the door, where a cab had been hailed for us and was waiting at the stairs.

"Silom." we said as the kids crawled in.

"Silom?" the cabby replied.

And welcome to yet another experience of trying to communicate and being made to feel like a total idiot. Jesus H. I should have taken one of those damn Berlitz CDs after all. This was just not going to work.

We made it the whole 3 blocks to Silom without any trouble - the cabby drove around the block a few times, just to make us feel like we got our money's worth. He may have thought I wouldn't notice, that I was too much of an "oh gosh golly gee aw shucks" asshole american to realize that we had driven past the same train station 4 times.

We finally got him to pull over, and he parked in front of the one establishment he knew in his heart I would recognize.

So there we were, in the middle of Bangkok, at a fucking Dunkin Donuts. Disgusting. We fly halfway around the damn world, to experience something new and exotic, something magical, something uniquely Thai.

Hell yeah we went in. Did you see that sign? There's THAI writing on that sign, and so it clearly qualifies.

Plus, their donuts look weird.

So after setting ourselves up with iced coffees and funky donuts, we headed back out, into the Bangkok morning. We went straight to Boots - the British pharmacy - to get some supplies. Then we stopped in 7-11 to get a phone card.

I wish I was kidding. At least we didn't pick up any KFC. Because we COULD HAVE.

I was sensing that perhaps we needed to get out of our comfort zone in baby steps. So I hung a hard left and disappeared down an alley packed with stalls, people, and some very weird smells. That turned out to be the fishmonger - but we weren't looking for fish. exactly the opposite, actually. We needed shoes for Lucy. Because as we discovered about 20 minutes into our first flight.....Lucy's shoes smelled like that alley.

We rushed past "the really stinky smells" that Lucy was complaining about loudly, while dramatically pinching her nose shut, and headed deeper into the chaos. And then, we came upon the most beautiful thing a four year old girl with a serious Disney Princess problem could possibly imagine. An entire display of Princess Jelly Shoes.

Be still my heart.

The choices were considered carefully. Options weighed. Pros and Cons calculated. And then the bargaining commenced, because the Thais like a good bargaining session as long as everyone plays by the rules and the salesperson gets to behave as though I have asked for their firstborn rather then a 20 cent discount.

And so, we left that alley with not one but TWO pairs of shoes that just really defy explaination. Even photos do not do them justice. Suri Cruise would be green with envy. We walked out with a stunning pair of black and gold slingbacks with diamond clips on the toes, AND we have pink shiny sandals with enormous heart shaped GEMS on the top for formal affairs.

Hoe-Lee Shit.

With our little Imelda floating in a cloud of smug satisfaction, stopping every few steps to admire her new kicks, we headed off to the grocery store, where I proceeded to spend the equivalent of all of the rest of our meals for the entire vacation COMBINED, on one basket of overpriced groceries from an american-style grocery store that clearly no one else ever shopped at.

Dude, the PASTA was moldy.

Clutching our spoils, we trooped back to the apartment on foot, and headed directly for the rooftop pool for some R&R. Until the jetlag kicked in. We barely made it back to the the room. The kids faded so quickly, we had to talk to them throughout their showers so that they wouldn't fall asleep standing up. I ordered room service, which cost more then the groceries (hard to believe) and soon we were sound asleep scattered throughout the apartment. Max fell asleep lying across two armchairs in the middle of the living room, and almost flipped them both over when he awoke with a start and tried to get up, but found himself stuck under the armrests. We were all a bit out of sorts, and bedtime came very early - which was a good thing.

7 hours later our hosts arrived from Australia, and the party began in earnest.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

World Traveler takes a break to vent

I know jetlag is a bitch. It leaves me tired and cranky and disoriented. I did not know HOW disoriented, until I woke up this morning and discovered that the State of Massachusetts now has a Republican senator.

Good Lord. I have woken up in 1952. No wonder I'm so exhausted.

In other news from the homefront, we are settling in nicely, thank you. Yes, we are still sleeping at all hours, and awake in all the other hours. If only those hours were consecutive and concurrent. But no. we sleep a bit, we're up for a bit, we doze off just as someone else is waking up. The dogs are thrilled. Me? Notsomuch.

Max and I still have funky tummies, maybe from the creepy food on China Air. That is some crazy looking airplane cuisine, let me tell ya. If you ever fly that airline (and everything else about it was awesome, so please do try it out if they have a good deal on airfare) do yourself a favor and either bring your own food, or request a special meal (a kids meal or a vagitarian meal or whatever). I am all about being a carnivore, and I don't know how you veggies do it (or vegans - good lord, what do you EAT?!) but when the chips are down and you are faced with glutinous rice porridge topped with dried pork and served with a salted hardboiled egg, well, chances are you will welcome the opportunity to eat something else. Anything else.

But it seems petty to complain about the disgusting airplane food on the way home from The Best Vacation Ever, when Haiti just got hit with a 6.8 aftershock.

Dude. I think they've had just about enough. Unless god is trying to smite that entire country (a possiblity that seems increasingly likely) in which case everyone should just get the hell out of there ASAP.

My thoughts are with everyone affected by this catastrophe, those who survived the earthquake and aftershock(s), those who went down there to help, those that are working from a distance trying to arrange deliveries and support services, those that were evacuated, those who chose to stay and assist in the recovery efforts, and of course....those who perished. All of those who perished. What  terrible, terrible tragedy. It certainly puts my complaints about the Massachusetts election in perspective.

But don't worry, I'll be back to regaling you with tales of our travels, from the nefarious trots to bargaining 101, in just a few short hours. Right after I finish emailing all of my friends and family in Massachusetts to make sure they are still Democrats. The mind, it boggles.

Monday, January 18, 2010

World Traveler Part 4:In which we arrive relatively unscathed

We landed in Bangkok in the middle of the night. The airport is new - gorgeous, sleek, definitely more modern then the city it services - but I wouldn't discover that until the next day. In the meantime, I just wanted to find a hot shower and a bed....and both were waiting for us, somewhere......

The signage in the airport was a mixed bag - some signs were in multiple languages that included english, some with pictures to tell you what was going on, some in Thai - a beautiful and completely unintelliglble script for someone who cannot read the Thai language, never mind speak it. I had tried to cram in a few important phrases on the plane, but between the fatigue and the multiple food and beverage services, I hadn't really absorbed much - but what I HAD absorbed was that I certainly wasn't going to be reading any Thai literature any time soon. I had a few phonetic niceties like "please" and "thank you" and "how do you flush the toilet"...but other then that, I was screwed. And tired. And bewildered.

So we waited in a few lines we didn't need to wait in, and we found the limo desk to catch our ride into the city, and that is when we learned something very important.

Many (most?) Thai cannot read English, either. Or Thai, for that matter.

It became clear that the address of our apartment, which I had carefully printed out before we left, was of no use to me. They weren't able to read it. I read the address out loud, slowly. Once. Twice, Three times. The driver still seemed confused. He repeated it back to me just as slowly, as though, perhaps, I was a moron, or supposed to be in a different city. As though the road I was talking about did not exist, although I had been assured by friends and the Lonely Planet guidebook that it was, indeed, a major thoroughfare In Bangkok. Maybe I was pronouncing it wrong. Whatever the reason, we were not getting anywhere.

Oh dear. This was not going as I had planned.

Eventually the driver seemed to satisfy his need to hear me slaughter the Thai language, and he settled into his seat and pointed the car away from the airport, into the cool night air. My hero.

We flew along a desolate highway, with just a random truck or taxi coming along every so often. We were traveling at a speed that seemed much faster then everyone else, but I was too tired to care. Good. Great. Whatever. Just get me where I need to go. Every so often, I would catch a glimpse out the window - usually when one of the kids shouted "Look at THAT!" It was the architecture, mostly, that roused their excitement. Out of nowhere, ornate buildings would pop up on the side of the highway, amid warehouses and exit ramps you would see spired, peaked rooftops, with curlique trims and gold leaf sparkling in the moonlight...temples perhaps, it was hard to know for sure. And on the other side of the highway, just on the other side of the chainlink, were tiny houses pressed together, next to shanties and lean-tos that also seemed to be homes, and these were scattered between warehouses in a most unpredictable way. Then we came to a tollboth, and in the glare of the flickering flourescent lights, I saw a building - perhaps the toll office or a highway mantenance facility. It was a square, squat, nondescript nothing of a building, except for this amazing garden blooming all around it, surrounded as it was by concrete and dirt and grime and traffic and trucks belching clouds of smoke into the murky sky. There were thick green vines climbing up to the roof, brilliant purple orchids gleaming and white flowers (night jasmine?) perfuming the air. It was wild and unruly, climbing and spreading and completely disregarding the inhospitable environment. As we paid the toll and roared off, I had a feeling that this trip, and in fact Thailand in general, was going to be unpredictable and full of surprises.

Eventually, miraculously, we found ourselves on the right road, and started looking for addresses and signs. The driver blew right by the apartment building at his usual breakneck pace - thank god we were both looking out the windows and saw the name of the complex on the wall, that was, blessedly, written in English. He screeched to a halt in the middle of a 3 or 4 lane road, did a 3 point turn and drove back - driving against some very irate traffic - and pulled into the foyer. We climbed out, grabbed our bags, said a quick prayer of thanks for surviving the trip, and went to the front desk where a key was waiting. Boarding the mirrored elevator that showed a pretty ragged bunch, we headed up, up, the 29th floor. Hello vertigo, my old friend.

Hot showers, 2 loads of laundry and a stiff drink later we fell into the deep, dreamless sleep that only comes after 24 hours of solid travel. All curled up in one big bedroom, with the city lights glowing outside and the washing machine whirring in the kitchen, we slept and we slept and we slept some more.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The world traveler returns.....weary

We will soon return to our regularly scheduled programming, aka "the World Traveler" series.....but for now, sleep. Tomorrow, I will reunite with high speed internet and my beloved laptop that has been resting these  past two weeks.I will translate garbled notes I hammered into my blackberry memo pad as we bumped along roads, bobbed along rivers, and soared through the skies.

I have so much to tell you. For most of the past two weeks, I have been almost completely disconnected from internet, which was not the plan but the reality of traveling - really traveling - and experiencing - REALLY experiencing - another culture. The thought of taking a break from LIVING so that I could sit down and write was.....distasteful. Not an option. Wrong place, wrong time. The grammar to communicate properly escapes me right now, but I will wrestle with my words and return.
I have been composing posts in my dreams.......or maybe it wasn't a dream, but actually happening. Hard to believe that golden palaces and emerald buddahs and restaurants bobbing in the middle of the sea and half naked ladyboys and baby elephants and dizzy tut tuts could all really exist, co-exist, even......but they did and the do and they shall continue to be so. Oh Thailand, I already miss you.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

World Traveler Part Three. Did you just F*&^%$ SPIT on me ?

Yeah, so the coughing was bad. It was. But it was not half as bad as the sounds the old man started making as we approached our final descent into Taipei. It progressed from a full body coughing to some sort of hideous projectile situation, that triggered my gag reflex. Sami and I traded looks of alarm and started anxiously looking for signs that the plane had reached the gate. All we wanted was some fresh air....and maybe a drink. We had just wrapped up our 13th hour of flight, and things were getting dicey. One more plane ride was between us and a three bedroom luxury apartment in Bangkok. I could almost feel the hot shower on my shoulders. Oh wait, no, that was the old man coughing on me again.


So we gathered up sleeping children and carry-on luggage, and made a quick exit from the plane. It was freezing in the airport, which just lended to the already militant, cold-war vibe this place had going on. As we descended the stairs to the gate for our next flight, a huge sign read "Drug Smuggling Punishable by Prison or Death by Firing Squad in the ROC". I hoped to god they weren't talking about my Tylenol PM. Because really, I need that shit to get by.

We found seats close to the toilet - where I discovered the polar opposite of The Tokyo Problem. Here I was greeted with a squat toilet. And it is just as lovely as it sounds. A hole in the gound with outlines of a foot on each side, to help you better negotiate this most indelicate of situations. Please picture me in 4 inch heels and a black minidress, hunkered over this hole in the floor trying to keep my balance while using some sort of hideous spray apparatus in lieu of the toilet paper that apparently is some sort of decadent western phenomenon.


I came back to my seat so completely traumatized that I vowed not to use another public bathroom for the next two weeks. I sat down and settled our toddler on my lap with a coat covering her feet because it was so stupidly cold - I thought we were on the equator? Whatever, we'll be in Bangkok soon - it's warm there. As I stared off into space, trying to erase the visions of holes in the floor and flying phlegm, my attention was captured by another curious sign. "Escape Hatch"

This place is SO FUCKED UP.

After an hour or so, I went off in search of an internet connection....turns out that in Communist China, internet is free - the better to steal your identity or monitor your bank account? Surely not - but if Daffodil Campbell gets hacked, blame the ROC.

Monday, January 11, 2010

World Traveler, part two - why I may get over my distaste for surgical masks

"Where do you want to sit?" Byrnesy asked as he booked our flights to Bangkok.
"In first class" Max answered, without even a touch of sarcasm.
Byrnesy raised an eyebrow, and I glared at him. "Very funny, little man. I just want us to sit together. If we are sitting together, everything else will be fine."
I should have known. I should have known that my OCD paranoid little self should have kept my big mouth shut. No one likes a jinx.

It started going sour before they even closed the cabin doors.

This little old man - impossibly old, really - wandered down the aisle of the plane, peering through watery eyes at the aisle numbers overhead. And just as he brushed past me, he let loose this cough that sounded like something out of a Dickens novel. And I began, at that very moment, to panic.

Oh dear GOD that man totally has H1N1, I thought. Or worse. Typhoid. Consumption. Something terribly awful that causes a slow and painful death as your lungs fill and your breathing weakens and then, finally, you die in an awful coughing fit, gasping and choking for your last breath.

I ripped open a bag of emergen-c and poured it directly into my mouth, bypassing the water completely. Because what if it was tainted, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE WHERE ARE MY BABY WIPES.

In that one terrible moment, I suddenly understood Michael Jackson's entire wacky approach to public outings. Face masks, sunglasses and veils were what I needed - at a minimum - to survive the next 5 hours. Alas, I was stuck in seat 30F, with no face mask. And at that point, what I really wanted was some Lysol - the face mask was probably not going to protect me against whatever the hell that guy was spraying all over the coach cabin.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

World Traveler, part one B - in which I realize during 4 hours in the Tokyo airport that I will never be a slave to fashion again

After we dried ourselves off as best we could, Lucy and I staggered out of the bathroom, where several Japanese women were giggling and hiding their smiles behind cupped hands. I shot them a look that would kill, had they been willing to maintain eye contact, instead of nodding their heads like a row of bobble head dolls. As I turned on my (very high stiletto) heel and stomped off, I realized that I was AT LEAST a foot taller then almost everyone else in the airport. So it was kind of hard to make a discrete exit stage left. There was that, and then also the fact that I was not wearing Buddy Holly glasses and a surgical mask. Because APPARENTLY I didn't get that memo.

The surgical mask thing was more then just ridiculous - it creeped me out.

A lot.

I mean, WHY were they wearing the masks? These were obviously a permanent part of their wardrobe, some were even decorated with smiles. They were made of various materials, in an array of colors. So what in god's name was in the air that they were protecting themselves from? Or were THEY contagious? Maybe I should be avoiding them, and whatever they came in contact with? And what was up with those stupid looking glasses with the clear lenses? Were they even prescription? Somehow, I doubted it. So why, then?

It was all too strange. Too many questions. Too many possibilities. Too many things wrong with the entire scene. So I did the onyl thing I could think of to do in Japan.....I went shopping for electronics.

The only other person nearby who was even close to my height was a black guy who had just gotten off a plane and was also in the market for some cutting edge technology. He and I stood, shoulder to shoulder, muttering about how fucking weird everything was, and trying to calculate the prices in dollars. It was a complete and utter waste of time - neither one of us could figure out the exchange rate, despite carefully studying the digital signs at the currency exchange booth a few stores down. Eventually we gave up and parted ways - he was going to go try to find some food that looked even vaguely appetizing and didn't smell like a dead body (fish sauce + crowded airport = CSI Tokyo).

As the kids stood mesmerized by the life-like erasers in the shape of various foods, and Sami leaned against the luggage cart wishing he were somewhere (anywhere) else, I went looking for a bathroom that Lucy would agree to use, because she had started muttering that her tummy hurt and even 3 hours after "the incident we shall never speak of again" she refused to go anywhere near a toilet, in case it shot her square in the face with toilet water.

When our flight started boarding, we were more then ready to get the hell out of there. We couldn't understand a thing the gate agent was saying over the PA, but it didn't matter - no matter where that plane was headed, we were going to be on board.

Friday, January 8, 2010

World Traveler, part one - in which I flood a bathroom in the Tokyo airport.

I have a confession to make.

I have never had any interest in going to Asia. Hawaii is very heavily influenced by the Japanese culture, because of the influx of Japanese immigrants who arrived as migrant workers, and stayed to raise families and become integral parts of our community. In fact, some areas of Hawaii - especially on Maui and Oahu, seem more Japanese then Hawaiian. I love the aesthetic, the food, the people....but there is nothing that draws me to travel in Asia. Nothing on my bucket list that I particularly want to see or do or experience or learn, that I cannot conquer from the comfort of home. That may be because the idea of being in a country where I cannot read a street sign or communicate with the people around me (unless I am lucky enough to find someone who speaks English) makes me very uncomfortable. I am not a person who expects everyone else to adjust to my needs. I do not expect to travel abroad and have signs or conversations be in english....and that makes me nervous.

I speak "sesame street spanish" and I studied french for years.....with those two classical languages under my belt I can usually get my point across. Throw in a year or two of Latin and I can dicipher street signs and directions......but not in Asia. Nothing is familiar. Not even the alphabet. I cannot even guess at what is being spoken, or written.

So our whole reason for traveling to Thailand Right This Minute is that we were meeting a Thai friend and his wife. A very worldly couple, who can communicate and make their way through literally ANY situation with grace and aplomb.

Thank God.

And so, the fears and concerns and reservations I had about traveling to Asia sort of evaporated. The stumbling block had been removed. I would have someone with me to help navigate, to order food and ask for directions and read signs. So we packed our bags and off we went. Unfortunately, we had two layovers and a few days on our own before they would arrive in Bangkok. But really, it was just two days. What could go wrong......

In the first ten minutes in the Tokyo airport, I managed to complete flood a bathroom stall, due to an unfortunate mix-up involving a WAY TOO TECHNICALLY ADVANCED TOILET.

Lucy had to go to the bathroom - after sitting on a plane for about 11 hours, I had to also. So I threw down our bags, Sami set up camp next to the water fountain with Max, and I took Lucy to the ladies room.  After waiting in line for several minutes, our turn came, and conveniently the larger handicap stall came open. This toilet had a little panel on the side, with a series of buttons. I studied them carefully trying to figure out which one was the flushing option.

One button was to make a flushing sound.
Just the sound.

One button was for heat.
One was for fan.
One was for bidet.
One actually flushed the toilet. Or so I thought.

I pushed the button, and started to lift Lucy off the toilet seat. And then it happened.

Slowly, like some kind of slo-mo scene in a movie, this little metal arm came sliding out. It looked, for all the world, like the business end of a machine gun. Lucy opened her mouth to scream, just as water began furiously spraying everywhere. In seconds, we were soaked. Lucy was shouting "EWWWWW. DEE-GUSTING!" I was frantically pounding on buttons trying to get this awful feature to retract, while simultaneously trying to block the spray with Lucy's ass - a tactic she found very upsetting.

It turns out, this toilet has a bidet feature for the front and the back.

And the flush? A big metal handle on the back of the toilet. Go figure.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Getting my head on straight

I have a million posts in my head right now, I will sort them out and get them up one at a the meanwhile We. Have. Arrived. The whirlwind of preparation left me with little ability to post and update prior to departure, and during our travels I was busy distracting and entertaining and feeding children who were exhausted and disoriented.

Bangkok is a big bustling city, like many other big cities - we haven't gotten to do a lot of touring as we really just got here yesterday and our friends only arrived a few hours ago. Hot and steaming with humidity and humanity. Food and whistles and lights and crowds and stalls with vendors plying their commodity of choice. We are here....but it is still dream-like. This afternoon we begin our real adventure, outside the confines of the apartment and the local market. We will explore, and eat and experience all that we can fit in to the next 10 days. But first, a massage and a manicure and a drink. Don't you agree ?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Anonymity is over-rated - the expanded version because I thought of some other stuff

In light of the new year, I am starting a new comment policy because sometimes (gasp) people leave a comment ! And sometimes, those comments need to be monitored. I allow anonymous comments on this blog, and have for a while now - I was sort of giving it a dry run, to see if it encouraged more commenting. It didn't really. It did, however, allow people to be a bit snarky, which I am not a fan of. It's cool to be anonymous, but not cool to use anonymity to say things you might not otherwise say.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am all about saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. And owning your actions......which is hard to balance with using a pseudonym. But the people in my life know I write this. I link the posts on Facebook. It's not a secret, by any means. Anyone can come here anytime and read what I have to say. They know who they are, they know who I'm talking about, they've already heard me bitch about all of this stuff on the phone or at the bar or over a cup of coffee, and we talk about the things I write here very openly.

Which brings me to my point. I complain about stuff - and people - all the time. And people in my life don't hold back in complaining about my drama, or someone else's drama. I am working on being honest as kindly as possible, while still communicating what I really think. It's hard - I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but sometimes the truth hurts. So when I read a comment that I find obnoxious, especially one written anonymously, I have to stop and think about the point they may be trying to make. See it from another side. Be honest with MYSELF. And last week, when someone asked how my co-workers would feel picking up my slack while I jetted off for a two week vacation, I sat and contemplated the point. I did. And here's what I have to say about it, Anonymous:

I would feel terrible if my co-workers felt that they were picking up my slack. And the comment made me feel like an asshole. A big one. I called my manager, in fact. I had spoken with her several times before booking the tickets, and she had told me to go, not to think about it, and that the shifts would work themselves out. Neither one of us thought anyone would resent getting some extra hours after Christmas. I also made sure that while my husband hadn't spoken directly to his boss, that he HAD comunicated with his co-workers to make sure everyone was cool with him going, and that there were no big projects in the works, or other people out on vacation. I talked to friends and co-workers. And here is what THEY said:

Picking up slack is not covering someone's vacation.
Picking up slack is doing someone else's job while they stand around NOT doing their job. Picking up slack is covering for someone who is sitting in the cooler texting, or sitting at a table chatting, or cruising the internet instead of doing their job. Picking up slack is working because someone blew off a shift. Picking up slack is doing extra work because someone doesn't know how to do their job, or doesn't feel like it.

Picking up slack can definitely lead to resentment. I don't think this is that. Maybe I am wrong. (comments welcome below on this subject)

Listen, it comes down to this: I have happily covered for co-workers many many times in my life, from smoke breaks to sick kids to mental health days to vacations to spending time with visitors who have come to Maui to see them. And so have my co-workers. We are a team. We work together and love each other and I don't think we have much resentment about covering each other - extra shifts means extra tips.

I guess it all comes down to the golden rule - I try to treat others as I would want to be treated, whether as myself live and in person or writing as Daffodil Campbell, so there isn't really any need for me to communicate anonymously. I am sort of attached to the name Daffodil Campbell however, so I think she's gonna stick around.

If for a tranquil mind you seek,
These things observe with care:
Of whom you speak, to whom you speak,
And how, and when and where.
- Anonymous

Hello my lovelies


I am feeling pretty fiesty. Even though the sky is sort of gray and "meh" I think we are going to go to the beach. Because we can. Because no matter how gross it is out, it's 100 times better then New England (and probably most of the mainland, come to think of it).

I am happy to live where I do.
I am excited for the things to come.
I know it is silly that we the people have just chosen an arbitrary day for a group hug and fresh start, but what the hell.

I'll take it.

So, off to sip and laugh and love and relax and think about our life and times, past present and future. Especially the *not-too-distant-future*. Thai me up, honey.