Category Archives: Special Challenge

Megan vs. Herself: History’s Most Boring Smackdown Ever

**So, I tried to make this short, but…you may have to take some time to read it!

I’m sure you’ve all been dying to know more about my meditation retreat, so I have answered some of your (imagined) questions. Calm down, people, here you go.

Q. Um, what was this?

A. Dipabhavan Meditation Center offers silent meditation retreats from the 20th to the 27th of every month. It’s all free, but you can make a donation at the end if you want.

Q. Oh, right. So, the real question here is: Have you lost your mind?

A. Not that I am aware of, although at times during the week it did, in fact, feel like I was slowly going crazy. I wanted a shorter retreat, but they’re hard to find in Thailand, for some reason. Most are 10 days, and I thought I was signing up for a 10-day retreat until a few weeks ago when I woke up in the middle of the night and realized—wait, the 20th to the 27th is not 10 days. Funny how time works.

Q.  But silence? For one week? Why? As your mother said, “That’s weird.”

A. I thought so, too, at first. I thought it was going to be horrible. I was terrified—not speaking for a week seemed like a superhuman feat, and a really stupid superhuman, at that. (When I told my friend Jonathan I was doing this, he said, “I could never do that. I’m like a shark—I talk or I die.” Ha!) But before 7:30 on the first morning, I knew why we weren’t talking. All I had to say was boring, thoughtless drivel or gossip: “It’s hot. Did you see how much she fidgets? She’s not following the rules like I am. Ugh, why is she so perky in the morning? I’m tired. This is hard. My legs hurt. Has it been 30 minutes yet? I hate you all. I’m hungry.”

Not speaking allowed me to focus on what was actually important enough to say, and allowed me to turn inside and focus on my meditation more. It also meant that groups weren’t formed and nobody felt excluded or judged (even if we were actually judging everybody, silently and harshly, in our heads—or at least I was).

Turned out that not speaking was my favorite part of the whole retreat. Seriously. I loved it, and it really wasn’t at all difficult not to speak, despite what I’d thought. I said a few things to the staff when I needed something, and that was fine, but now I think we should all keep our mouths shut more often. *cue self-righteous look*

I loved this kitty because she whined as much as I wanted to.

Q. What about waking up at 4:30? That’s, like, really early. That’s, like, before the sun comes up.

A. Yeah, I was also really, really worried about this. I love to sleep. It is one of my favorite hobbies, along with eating and sitting around doing nothing. In the end, it was my other favorite aspect of the retreat. Go figure, right? The two things I was most scared of turned out to be my favorite parts. I’m not saying I was happy to get up at 4:30 or that I’m going to do it on a regular basis (OR AT ALL, EVER), but I really loved being awake that early in the morning. Plus, when you’re sleeping on a board, waking up at 4:30 isn’t that hard.

Q. WTF do you mean, sleeping on a board?

A.  I slept on a board. Here is a picture:

It was a board. I am, for once, not exaggerating, although Thai beds are almost as hard as boards, anyway (no joke, what is UP with Thai beds?!). We had a “straw” (plastic) mat and a blanket, which I folded in fourths, then put my other blanket and even my towel down to try to get more comfortable. For a pillow, I stuffed some clothes in a cloth bag and that approximated most Thai pillows I’ve used, anyway. (Thailand, let me introduce you to these things called pillow-top mattresses and non-lumpy pillows. They’ll change your life.)

By the end of the week, I almost didn’t mind it. And I figured out why we were sleeping on boards: One of the chants talked about not sleeping or sitting on luxurious things. No worries there.

IT WAS A BOARD!

Q. What was the hardest part?

A.  Not speaking was fine, waking up at 4:30 was fine…so that’s it, right? The rest was easy!

Yeah…not really. For me, being physically uncomfortable was the most straining. I never felt clean, I was sweaty and smelly all the time (no a/c, of course, and not even fans in the dorms), I was hungry all the time, and I didn’t even have a mirror to see what I looked like (which I’m sure was terrible). This was not me.

To bathe: Take a bowl of cold water, dump over head and body. Curse violently (and silently). Feel bad about that. Vow to do better. Soap up. Say hi to the toad living in the drain. Ponder whether or not toads care about naked women. Decide probably not. Repeat.

At the same time, I realize all of that probably taught me the most valuable lesson I learned there. I don’t like to be physically uncomfortable. I do not go camping because I prize indoor plumbing and decent bedding above most other things in life. But…but…I began to appreciate the fact that I could do things that make me uncomfortable and actually be happy about it. I could be a different me and still feel like me.

I might even try camping at some point.

Also: No Internet about drove me to the point of insanity. I didn’t miss my cell phone at all, but no Google? SOMETIMES I HAVE QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE GOOGLED. SOMETIMES I NEED TO KNOW THOMAS EDISON’S BIRTHDAY, LIKE, NOW. I also missed my laptop beyond the point of reason, which made me feel kind of pathetic.

I love you forever, MacBook.

Q. Ok, but you went to do meditation. How was the meditation?

A. I was lucky that I found a meditation posture that worked for me on Day 2, so my knees didn’t hurt at all and back pain was kept to a minimum, but otherwise, it was rough! We were practicing concentration meditation, which is where you are supposed to focus on your in-breath and out-breath and let all other thoughts go. Try doing that for several hours a day. Try doing it for 10 minutes, even. You’ll find that your mind doesn’t want to let all other thoughts go, that it clings to those other thoughts like you will never have another one in your life, like you’re falling off a cliff and must hold tight to that thought about your childhood best friend who you haven’t thought about in 10 years or you will literally die.

It’s good times.

Here is a physical representation of my thoughts during meditation time:

You can see that I devoted approximately 2% of my time to meditation and breathing and that I devoted approximately 35% of my time to what I’m just generally calling Lustful Thoughts. I also ruminated obsessively about two people for very different reasons, until I was so bored with them that I didn’t want to think about them ever again.

That took almost five full days.

Right. Five full days of thinking the same things over and over and over. And over. Oh–and over.

And over.

By the evening of Day 5, I had burned out on most things I’d been thinking about, so I could focus on actually meditating. The evening of Day 5 and most of Day 6 were great days, meditation-wise. Hooray!

Q. What was it like in your brain?

A. Like this:

Me: Dooodooo…clearing my mind…breathe in…breathe out…breathe in…

Mind: Hey, remember that time you were really mean to your sister when you were 7? You’re a terrible person.

Me: Um. What.

Mind: Ooooohhh, never mind…I want to have an elaborate fantasy involving that one person.

Me: Oh, okay!

Mind: Wait, remember that time you were really awful to your ex-boyfriend? You’re such a bitch. And you’re really gross and smelly right now. No wonder you’re single.

Me: Wow. Where did that come from? That’s not very ni—

Mind: Do you think it’s been 30 minutes?

Me: Yes. Over 30 minutes. It’s been, like, an hour. They must have forgotten to ring the bell.

Mind: It’s totally been over 30 minutes. Why haven’t they rung the bell? You should peek at the clock.

Me: Bad idea. But it’s definitely been more than 30 minutes. I bet they’ll ring the bell right now…

Mind: No bell. It’s been about an hour and a half now. Peek!

Me: Fine. 15 MINUTES? ARE YOU SERIOUS? Crap. BREATHE IN, DAMN IT. BREATHE OUT.

Mind: Now I’m going to sing the chorus of that one song on repeat. Just the chorus, because that’s all I can remember. It’s my favorite!

Me: I hate you.

Conclusion: You do not want to be in my brain.

Sorry, Sis!

Q. Did you have any big revelations or epiphanies?

A. My biggest, most disturbing revelation came on Day 4. From my notes, word for word:

WTF WHY DO I SWALLOW SO LOUDLY? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

Epiphany, indeed.

I am pleased to announce that I believe my swallowing has returned to normal volume, but at one point I was convinced that my deglutition (I looked that up!) was going to be abnormal for the rest of my life, and I would never get a date, ever again (or I could just stay in Asia forever—oh, snap!), and nobody would ever want to have dinner or drinks with me because I was a MONSTER. Every time I swallowed, it would actually disturb my meditation and I would be all annoyed, like, ‘WTF, BODY?!’ And then I’d feel bad because I was sure the people around me hated me and my ridiculously loud swallowing.

The mind does weird things, what can I say?

Q. Did you break any rules?

A. Yeah, I read every time we had a break, and rarely anything about Buddhism or meditation. I wasn’t the only one…Not that that matters, but it was my choice to take the silence pretty seriously and have some give on reading.

Q. What day was the hardest? Easiest?

A. Easiest was Day 1, by far. It was so easy that I had a false sense of security. Day 2 was awful. In the afternoon, I was actually in tears while walking around the garden. At one point I thought, “Maybe I’ll get stung by a bee! I have terrible reactions and I bet I couldn’t meditate after that. Or maybe a scorpion will sting me! They’d have to send me home!” Then I laughed at myself for being ridiculous and felt a smidgen better.

Also, somebody got stung by a scorpion and she got shot up with morphine at the hospital and was back the next morning, so my plan wouldn’t have worked, anyway. Curses!

Q. Are you different now?

A. No, I’m not different. I’m not enlightened. I have lots of opinions and always will. I still prefer creamy peanut butter to chunky, and I will tell you that if you ask (and, clearly, even if you don’t ask). I have strong beliefs about cheese (stinky), pizza (chewy crust, good cheese), sparkling wine (dry dry dry), public transportation etiquette (let people get OFF THE TRAIN FIRST before you try to get on!), and pretty much everything else (just ask!).

However, I do think I’ve been able to roll with the punches more since I started meditating a few months back, and I’ve felt more flexible and willing to take things as they come. I’ve been able to go through stressful situations and come out calm, and I’m not even panicked about what I’m going to be doing in the future. All of that is pretty unlike me.

Still, for the most part, over here it’s all Megan, all the time. 

Thankfully.

I don’t want to be somebody else. I like me. I’m good company.

Even with the incessant droning in my head.

AHAHAHAHA! My friend Greg said this reminded him of me. I would be offended if it weren't so spot on!

Final Score: 

Megan: 1  Herself: 1

Can’t really get away from yourself, no matter how much you want to…

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Filed under Awesome, Special Challenge, Thailand, Trips

Challenge: Dipabhavan Meditation Retreat

Oh, hi. It’s Megan. You may remember me from a blawg I like to call “Bangkok Reality Smackdown” because…that…is its name. (If you get the reference in that last bit, you win Megan’s Gold Star.)

I have recently returned from Opposite World, where I did the following things:

  1. Woke up at 4:30 a.m. every day for a week.
  2. Did not eat between noon and 7:30 a.m. the next morning.
  3. Remained silent for 6 days.
  4. Bathed out of a bucket.
  5. Slept on a board.

Opposite World has another name, as well: Dipabhavan Meditation Center. It’s located on a mountain, in the jungle, on Samui Island, in the south of Thailand (and it was Colonel Mustard in the study!), and I voluntarily went there so I could spend a week living like a hippie, boring myself to death and sweating a lot. I mean, I originally went there intending to learn more about meditation, which I did, but really I ended up mainly boring myself and sweating a lot.

I was not here until *later*.

The schedule of the day went like this:

4:30 – Wake up to the bells in the pitch black, blearily brush teeth and sometimes wash face, then stumble up the path of about 150 stairs to meditation hall.

5:00 – Listen to morning reading, usually about Buddhism or meditation practice.

5:15-5:45 – Seated meditation. This turned out to be my favorite time to meditate—and that was a huge shock to me. The world is so still at this time of day (if you’re not in Bangkok, in which case this is the time of day when all the bar girls are going home). It’s cool and quiet, and the candles flickering in the meditation hall lent this mysterious, magical quality to the morning.  Yes, sometimes I fell asleep during this time, too, but that’s normal! Shut up!

5:45-6:45 – Yoga. Gentle, gentle yoga. The leader of the group, a layperson German-speaker, has this hilarious monotone voice and at the end of every yoga practice, when we were doing the relaxation part, he would say, “ REEEE-LAAAAAAAX. REEEEEEEEE-LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAX.” And, yes, I fell asleep every single morning during the relaxation. You would, too!

7:00-7:30 – Seated meditation. Yes, I often fell asleep during this, too. Don’t judge me!

7:30-9:30 – Breakfast, chores, break. I would usually take about 30 minutes for my breakfast, do my chores (cleaning shower area), and then read until it was time to walk up the stairs to the meditation hall again.

Oh yeah, there were 9 showers and 4 sinks. Cleaned ALL of it!

9:30-10:30 – Dhamma talk. This is when we would hear more about Buddhist ideas about suffering or the elimination of suffering, basically. Suffering is a big deal in Buddhism. You both want to suffer, but want to avoid suffering. I don’t really get it yet. My friend Jess sent me this quote, which I think is a good representation of the confusion:

To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then, one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. – from Woody Allen’s “Love and Death”

10:30-11 – Walking meditation. Walk anywhere on the grounds or in the hall, slowly and mindfully. You could also do a swinging-arms meditation, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—you stand up, swing your arms, and meditate.

11-11:30 – Seated meditation. Right before lunch…getting hungry…actually, I’ve already been starving for about two hours at this point.

11:30-2 – Lunch/break. Because I ate mindfully, I would take 30-45 minutes for lunch, then head back to the dorm, sweat, and read.

My home for a week.

2-3 – Seated meditation and talk by Ajarn Poh, the abbot of Suan Mokh, which is one of the most famous monasteries in Thailand. They have 10-day retreats there, which are apparently great. Ajarn Poh had a lot of great things to say, but he also has a very heavy Thai accent and I know that a good number of the non-native speakers had no idea what he was saying. The only reason I had a clue is because I’ve been here long enough to realize that with a heavy Thai accent, “people” is “peepun”, for example. And, I’m not going to lie here, peepun, I fell asleep during every single talk, and every afternoon, this is when I would start to lose it. This is the hottest time of day, and I was bloody miserable.

3-3:30 – Walking meditation. More miserable. Seriously hating everything and everybody.

3:30-4 – Seated meditation. ARE YOU KIDDING? Almost every afternoon, I hated this so much I was practically in tears. The sun is beating down on the roof, the breeze has disappeared—every afternoon this happened!—and I can’t even feel the fans. Awful. Not, like, being waterboarded-awful, but awful in its own way.

4-4:30 – Walking meditation. At this point, it feels like the afternoon is never going to end, like I’m going to be meditating for the rest of my life in a hellish cycle of sweat, hunger, tears, boredom, self-hatred, anxiety, depression, and more sweat. And more self-hatred. Mostly self-hatred, if I’m being honest.

4:30-5 – Chanting. It’s starting to cool down, and the chanting is my favorite part of the day. It’s like Buddhist karaoke! We chanted in Pali, Buddha’s original language, and English, my original language. I loved it.  It woke me up and made me glad to be alive again. If you want to hear what chanting sounds like, go here. We did not sound quite so professional.

5-5:30—Loving Kindness meditation. This is one of the hippiest things about meditating, I think, but also one of the nicest: You send out positive vibes to people you know and don’t know. Yes, I sent them out to you, whoever you are, since I sent them out to the entire universe. No, I am not joking. You’re welcome!

The meditation hall. GET ME OUT OF HERE, STAT.

5:30-7:30—Tea time and break. I usually scarfed (mindfully!) a couple of Thai mini bananas and a cup of hot chocolate, then bathed and read.

7:30-8—Seated meditation. Pitch black in the meditation hall, cool and quiet with candlelight flickering like in the morning. Lovely.

8-8:30 – Group walking meditation in the garden. We just walked around the garden veeeerrrryyy sloooooooowly as a group. Standing out beneath the stars, looking up at that vast sky while surrounded by silence was surreal. Until somebody got stung by a scorpion, that is.

8:30-9 – Seated meditation. Usually my “best” meditation of the day, as I was cool and refreshed from the walking meditation, and had bored myself to tears with the rest of my inner drivel, so I could concentrate on my breath, as I was supposed to. Yes, 30 minutes of decent meditation was the absolute best I could hope for (and out of 30 minutes, let’s be honest, I probably actually only “really” meditated for, what, 10 minutes? IT’S NOT EASY, PEOPLE).

9-9:30 Get ready for bed and read.

9:30-4:30 Sleep. Or try to sleep. Or sleep a little, then wake up when I have to turn over because my bones grind into the board I’m sleeping on. Or don’t sleep at all, as there was somebody snoring in the bed across from mine. I literally did not know that women could snore that loudly; it was like somebody dragging a table across a tile floor ALL. NIGHT. LONG. As a matter of fact, I was shocked that she didn’t wake herself up. I tried to wake her up—I shook her bed and stuff, but to no effect. Eventually I moved to the other side of the dorm and slept great. Ish. Besides the bones-grinding-into-board thing, of course.

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto.

**Ok, this is Part 1 because I am very verbose (funny, isn’t it, considering I’m writing about a silent retreat). Part 2 will be on Monday, with answers to your questions (like, “What THE?!”).

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The Capital City Smackdown: BKK vs D.C. (Part 2)

Here we go, Part 2 of the Ultimate Fighting Smackdown Capital City Challenge! I realize Part 2 was supposed to be last week, but I was too busy watching True Blood and Being Erica. Sorry!

Our score stood at Bangkok:  5  DC:  2

Let’s see how they fare today.

Round 8

Shopping

Bangkok: 2 DC: 1

DC gets a point just for Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and H&M. And Target. And Politics and Prose Bookstore. Oh, and Lush.

But Bangkok…oh my god, it’s a shopper’s dream here. You can go to super high-end malls or just a little stall on the street. I’ve paid $6 on the street for some of the absolute cutest and most flattering dresses I’ve ever owned, but I could also go spend hundreds on a dress at the fancy-schmancy malls. There are markets and malls just filled with—well, with anything you want, really (unless you want an iPod case with a clip for walking, in which case, Thailand does not know what you are talking about).

Round 9

Dating Scene (for single non-Thai ladies)

Bangkok: -1,000 DC: 1

Bwahahahahahaha! I’m not even going to count this category in the final scoring because it’s so obviously stacked against Bangkok—or any Asian city, for that matter.

Look, the fact is that I actually got dates when I was living in the DC area. I’m not going into a rant about the dating scene in Bangkok, but it’s either nonexistent or sucks. I’m not bitter about it, I’m just stating facts. Done.

I understand that if you’re a single non-Thai male, the score is pretty much exactly reversed, but guess what? I’m not a single non-Thai male. I’m a single non-Thai lady and THIS IS MY BLOG. I’m sure some guy’s going to be like, ‘Nuh-uh, you got it all wrong,’ (and please imagine me saying that in a completely doofusy guy voice), but to this guy I would say: ‘WordPress has free sites. Go get one of your own and leave me alone.’

This drink is called the Sexy Lady. Sarah and I had them in Mae Sots. The drinks, that is. We had the drinks in Mae Sot.

Round 10

Bars and Clubs

Bangkok: 1 DC: 1

I think many people would disagree with me here that these two cities tie in this category, but those people are also not writing this, so…

I have to say, I actually really like many bars in DC. I like being able to get cider and martinis and play skeeball or pool or just chat with my friends. I like being away from mosquitoes and being able to wear jeans (I know this has nothing to do with the bars, but my primary thoughts of being in bars in Bangkok involve mosquitoes and trying not to sweat to death). I love sipping dirty martinis and hanging out with my friends.

But I like Bangkok bars, too. We have a great rooftop bar on Soi Rangnam, and another bar that has a tree house across the Victory Monument, and lots of other great places. Bar food is pretty decent and cheapish. The sheer number of places means that you can go to a sleek club or a down-and-dirty sidewalk bar. Frankly, I’ve had more crazy and fun nights out in my time living in BKK than in…wow–it’s been years since I’ve had this much fun. But it’s really not always that cheap to go out in Bangkok, as cocktails are often almost as much as back home, and in many places are not very good at all (if you know where to find a good dirty martini, my friend Sarah and I will be eternally grateful).

Anyway, it’s my scoring, and I say they tie. And, Jonathan, if you want to tell me how wrong I am, feel free…but I’m also free to ignore you. :)

Josh and I got to meet some Thai pop stars the other night at the Bangkok Podcast party. It was kind of awesome.

Round 11

Brunch

Bangkok: 0 DC: 1

DC is a brunch city. Bangkok is not so much a brunch city. One of the things I miss most about DC is going to this total hipster bar with my friend JB on Sunday mornings, where we would order delicious egg sandwiches with piping hot, crispy tater tots, drink $2 mimosas, and make fun of the hipsters drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. Can’t beat that.

Soymilk and fried dough. This was my brunch in Chiang Mai. (Yes, I'm exaggerating--you can find brunch in Thailand.)

Round 12

Cost of Living

Bangkok: 1 DC: 0

This one isn’t even fair. DC is bloody expensive. You can get a room in a house that you share with 5 other people in DC for $700 a month. Sometimes more! Just for the privilege of living in a “fun” neighborhood where people vomit on your doorstep and you can’t ever find parking! But you do have cheap pizza down the street! And they say people in DC are smart…

$700 in Bangkok can get you a really nice place, with no sharing. You can also find a place for just a couple of hundred bucks that will at least not be in a neighborhood you aren’t scared to go outside in. In DC, a couple of hundred bucks for an apartment would get you, if you were lucky, a room in a slumlord-owned house in a neighborhood where you would need an armored car to get to and from work.

My super cute place in Maryland in the not-so-super-cute snow.

Round 13

Standard of Living

Bangkok: 1 DC: 1

At first, I thought that Bangkok won hands down, no contest, but upon further reflection, I’m not so sure. Yes, in Bangkok I can get my hair done for $3, a massage for $5, and eat dinner for $1. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

But Thailand is still a developing nation in many ways. You can barely walk down the sidewalks, it’s loud as hell and dirty, the sewage system doesn’t work, the water is very questionably okay to drink, and there are mosquitoes everywhere.

There are trade-offs and I think they often balance each other out. But that’s just me.

I mean, seriously?

Round 14

Weather

Bangkok: 0 DC: 1

I’m kind of bitter because we are in the Thai summer and I feel like I’m going to spontaneously burst into flames and die every time I turn off the air conditioner and/or step out of my apartment. I like the change of seasons, and IT’S ALWAYS HOT HERE, except for the two weeks of beautiful weather in March, where everybody thought the world was ending. If that’s what Armageddon is going to be like, I say bring it on!

That's an actual picture of the sun I took yesterday. Or at least that's what it felt like in my imagination.

Round 15

Sewage System

Bangkok: 0 DC: 1

You can flush your toilet paper in DC. WINNER.

You also don't need a tutorial to use most American toilets. Just saying.

Round 16

Capital City Feel

Bangkok: 0 DC: 1

Good lord, DC was built solely to be the capital city of the country. It’s just a capital city, floating out there in space; it doesn’t even belong to a state. Politics permeates the air in DC, for better and worse. Bangkok just can’t compete in that way. No place can, in my opinion. I know some people think that’s what makes DC terrible, but it’s part of what draws people to it and part of what makes it great.

The US Capitol.*

*Photo credit to my ex-boyfriend.

Scoring

Today: Bangkok: 5   DC: 7  (I didn’t include the Dating Scene.)

Overall: Bangkok: 10  DC: 9

Congratulations to Bangkok for winning the Capital City Smackdown Challenge! Your prize is…uh…I’ll get back to you! Call me, Bangkok!

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Challenge: Sarah and Megan vs. Jackass Tuk Tuk Driver

The tuk tuk is like the Rodney Dangerfield of Thai transportation: They can’t get no respect.

(Other comparisons considered and rejected were–Donald Trump: tacky and annoying; Simon Cowell: obnoxious; and Piers Morgan: ridiculous.)

There’s a reason for this, though. Tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok are known for scamming and seriously overcharging people. I very rarely take tuk tuks here because I don’t want to deal with it. Consequently, I’ve also never been ripped off by a tuk tuk driver.

Until. (Cue ominous music.)

My friend Sarah lives in Mae Sot, up near the Burmese border. We had gone together to Chiang Mai and then took a bus to Mae Sot.

In Mae Sot, there are no taxis, so Sarah and I grabbed a tuk tuk at the bus station.

They're different from tuk tuks in Bangkok.

Here was our fatal mistake: We didn’t ask how much the ride was going to be. I don’t ask the motorcycle guys at my apartment any more how much it’s going to be to the BTS; similarly, Sarah always gets charged the same amount for a ride to her apartment (100 baht), so we didn’t bother asking.

At this point, I see long-termers in Thailand slowly shaking their heads and judging us. Go ahead, people, judge away. It’s almost impossible to out-judge me, so HA!

Hindsight is 20/20, right? Yeah.

One thing you need to know about driving in Thailand is that it’s insane chaos at all times. Motorcycles zip around cars, bicycles mingle on the streets with food carts pushed by vendors, buses zoom by them at top speed, taxis drive in the oncoming lane to get around traffic, and pedestrians are dodging across the street in a high-stakes game of Frogger, yet somehow almost nobody honks or gets upset. You put the average Washington, DC-area driver down in that mix for 5 seconds and you’ve got yourself 12 dead taxi drivers and 15 motorcycles crushed beyond recognition (many DC-area people are extreme overachievers, and that includes when they experience road rage).

I usually begin to suspect I’ve got a loony driver if they get aggressive because of the chaos, and the tuk tuk driver we had in Mae Sot did just that. A bicycle safely merged into traffic way up ahead of us, as far as I could tell, yet our driver honked, yelled some stuff, and then muttered under his breath for awhile.

Foreshadowing, people. If this were a movie, there would be some close-up shots that showed Sarah and Megan smiling and laughing, being completely oblivious, while the entire audience shouted, ‘HE’S CRAZY, YOU BIMBOS! GET OUT NOW!’

Yeah, yeah. Feel better about yourself if you’re positive you wouldn’t make the same mistake.

When we got to Sarah’s apartment, I asked, in Thai, how much it was going to be. Again, hindsight. We probably should have just handed him 100 baht and walked away, but every now and then I think that humanity has decency.

Sigh.

The driver said, “200 baht.”

Sarah had already gotten out of the tuk tuk with her bag and when she heard that, she said, “No way!”

So the driver said, “How much you want?”

Sarah replied, reasonably, “100,” at which point the driver picked her bag up from the ground and threw it back into the tuk tuk with me.

Erm?

I placed the bag back out on the ground and the driver threw it back into the tuk tuk.

I am consciously choosing to say that I “placed” the bag outside while the driver “threw” it back, by the way. I had gone into middle-school-teacher survival mode, so while I was seething on the inside, I remained kind of preternaturally calm on the outside.  Thanks be to teenagers for teaching me that, at least. The driver clearly had not had such training, and was raising his voice and yelling at us.

Sarah went to get a staff member from her apartment to help us out. I was still sitting in the tuk tuk with my backpack in my lap, and the driver started to push my backpack to indicate that I should stay where I was.

Again: Erm?

Still, I have those three years as a middle school teacher under my belt, and I actually dealt with children who were far, far, far crazier and scarier than this guy. Students have pushed me, threatened me, got up in my face, and cussed at me.

So I just said, simply and without visible anger, but also very, very seriously, “Don’t.”

He looked at me and pushed the backpack again, so I said it again: “Don’t.”

Luckily, he stopped, because my patience was wearing thin.

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

Anyway, after arguing with the guy for awhile, Sarah and I eventually (the apartment staff was NO help) realized we had some choices here.

  1. We could throw 100 baht at him and then run like the wind. Tricky. We had all our bags and weren’t sure we’d make it up to her place before he caught us. Plus, I hate running. So, no.
  2. We could continue to argue with him and he could continue to get crazier and angrier and then we would lose it and…hmmm…perhaps not a good choice.
  3. We could just pay the 150 baht he had finally settled on as acceptable and realize that it was his karmic debt for being a giant jackass he had to worry about. Sigh. Fine.

So we paid him the rip-off price of 150 baht and he trumpeted, “Bad farang! You farang bad!”

Good. Grief.

Final Score:

Jackass Tuk Tuk Driver: 0     Megan and Sarah: 1

We never once raised our voices and I think we didn’t lose face at all. The driver may have gotten 50 baht extra from us, but he looked like a serious ass in front of everybody in the neighborhood. I’d call that a win.

Just for the record, this is the first time somebody has been aggressive with me in Thailand, and I don’t want it to seem that I think every tuk tuk driver loves jackassery and wants to rip you off. It just happened that we got a driver who loves jackassery. As a matter of fact, the next day we had a very good experience with a very sweet tuk tuk driver, so don’t take my bad experience as a blanket statement about tuk tuk drivers. Take it as a blanket statement that that particular guy was a total jerk face.

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Songkran: You’ll Never Be Dry Again!

My mother is a wonderful human being. She is the kind of mom you hope you have and the kind of mom you hope you will be. She is kind, generous, loving, intelligent, responsible, and thoughtful.

Except for on the 4th of July.

Every year for the 4th of July, my mother is the leader on the path that takes my extended family straight to insanity.

She starts water fights, mainly with the kids.

She throws firecrackers at people, including her own mother, who is in her 80s.

She leads a bottle rocket and Roman candle fight, where two teams stand on either side of the lawn and just shoot things that are on fire at each other.

She instigated a “game” wherein my uncle rode his riding lawn mower across the yard and everybody shot bottle rockets at him.

She encouraged the same uncle last year to put a big ol’ firecracker of some kind in a watermelon and set it off. (That was actually pretty cool, and my uncle truly didn’t need much encouragement.)

She routinely gets body slammed or thrown into kiddie pools by a family member who has just had too much.

What I’m saying is, my mother would fit in perfectly with the Thai new year, Songkran.

Yup.

The Thais grab onto any excuse to have a party. Western new year party? Check! Chinese new year party? Check! Thai new year 5-day-entire-country-on-holiday-crazy-ass-party? Double check!

Since everybody in Bangkok had the week off for Songkran and had left for their provincial homes, being in the city for the last week was amazing. The traffic was light, the streets were empty, and the BTS wasn’t packed. You could actually get across town in less than 12 hours and walk down the sidewalks without tripping over people and things. There were no ladies pressuring me to get a massage on my walk to the train station (“Massaaaaage, lady?”), and only the most dedicated street vendors were out. Even the stray dogs and cats were taking it easy. It was great.

For ease of explaining it, I’ll just say that the Songkran festivities are divided up into two parts:

1. Lovely religious activities at the wats (temples), including bathing Buddha statues, building sand castles, and being blessed by monks.

Sarah and Megan making sand stupas. Originally the idea was that you would bring the dirt back into the wat that you'd brought out during the year. For me, the idea was, 'SWEET! Sand castle!'

Thai dancing. And Thais dancing. Thais dancing Thai dance!

Sarah bathing a Buddha statue to make merit and bring good luck.

Buddha, nice and clean.

2. Crazy insane water party fight ridiculousness. Including buckets of ice cold water and ginormous water guns. And booze.

Part of Silom Road in Bangkok at Songkran.*

Songkran on Patpong. Still full of lady bars and creepy white men, only now they were all armed with water guns.*

*Photo by Melanie.

This guy REALLY wanted me to take his picture. Seriously, he stepped in front of my camera like this and wouldn't move. So I took his picture. I am nothing if not generous!

This was right after four guys surrounded me and dumped huge buckets of ice water on my head and wouldn't let me leave until the buckets were empty. Also, yes, turns out that shirt is transparent when wet. Valuable information I wish I had known before. All the important parts were covered, though, don't worry!

*Photo by Melanie.

Melanie, Eric, and me. Good times.

That paste on our faces is clay or chalk or something. It’s all part of the good times. You’d get a big “Sorry!” and then somebody would plaster your face, back, or neck with that stuff.

By the time I got home from the water fight, my clothes were still dripping water and the clay was drying on my face, so I looked beyond ridiculous. Thai people were literally stopping in the streets, pointing, and laughing at me. WHATEVER. I fully participated in your holiday, Thai people!

Overall, I have to say this week of Songkran was one of the best I’ve had in Bangkok in a really long time. I did some crazy water fighting and I did some cultural things, but most importantly, I got to hang out with some amazing friends (cue vomiting because of the cheesiness).

Now if everybody would only stay out of Bangkok…

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Eating ALL the Chips: Part 5

For this session of Eating ALL the Chips, I enlisted some help because I had some seriously scary chips to try and I didn’t think I could do it on my own. I’m a wimp, what can I say?

For the first chip-tasting session, I brought along two bags when I visited the Bangkok Podcast guys with my sister and brother-in-law.

The first kind we tried was Black Pepper Crab. I didn’t get a picture of them and I couldn’t find them at the store after, of course, so you just have to imagine a picture of a crab on the front of a bag of chips. They were kind of okay. I don’t think I’d go out of my way to buy them, but I wouldn’t avoid them, either.

The second kind was Lay’s grilled squid and dipping sauce. I was really nervous about these because of a scarring incident a few months ago with hot chili squid oil chips (I don’t know what I was thinking, either!). I opened the bag of the grilled squid chips and hesitantly took a sniff. They smelled like grilled squid, which means they smelled like dirty gym socks, and I started to whimper. Luckily, we all agreed that they tasted better than they smelled. Whew! Crises averted!

For the second adventure, I held a Potato Chip Degustation. Get your tickets for the next one, folks, they go early!

Actually, I had to bribe my friends with the promise of burritos and a movie in exchange for what promised to be some truly terrible potato chip eating.

Our tasting crew:

Guy and Josh. So innocent.

We're excited about one and not so much about the other.

Brock, on the right up there, has a blog, too, and is hilarious. You should also pay him money to show you around Thailand, because he’s really good at knowing things. Seriously.

Fearless leader for the evening (it was MY apartment and MY potato chips) and burrito maker extraordinaire. (Photo by Brock)

Puffin likes potato chips, too! (Photo by Brock)

We had four kinds of chips to try. In order from best to worst, here they are…

Number 1:

My friend Jay brought me these all the way from the Great Land of Canadia. Did you know they speak English there in some parts? It’s true!

 

Old Dutch Salt and Vinegar

My notes for the Salt ‘n Vinegar chips are just a smiley face. :) I believe that means we liked them!

Number 2:

 

Old Dutch Ketchup

Before I tell you what we thought of these, here is a picture of me smelling them first:

Ketchup chips do not smell good. (Photo by Brock)

Jay also brought these from the Great Land of Canadia. Did you know they have their own money in Canada? I KNOW! I was shocked, too!

So, the ketchup chips don’t smell so good and they are bright red, and we all got a little nervous. I’d had ketchup chips before and had liked them, but seriously, the smell this time? Total grossness.

In the end, we all liked them a lot, but Brock realized they tasted a lot like bread and butter pickles, which I hate, but some people love. In any case, I liked the ketchup chips.

Number 3:

Calbee Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is a delicious Japanese food–and Japan happens to be where I met Brock and Josh, lo these many years (lo, almost 8 years, as a matter of fact). The chips tasted mostly of nori (seaweed) and the brown sauce they put on top of the okonomiyaki.

Now, who can tell me where to get some Osaka-style okonomiyaki in Bangkok? Internetverse, get busy!

Number 4:

Calbee Mocha Cocoa

My friend Aaron, who runs a website where he reviews super fancy schmancy hotels in Thailand, brought me some fabulous salt and vinegar chips from Australia the last time he came through Bangkok. This time he brought me mocha cocoa chips from Japan.

You’ve read that right.

When Aaron sent me an email asking if I wanted these chips, of course I said yes.

“They sound disgusting,” he warned.

“I know!” I replied, insulted. “They sound truly horrible, but I’m a professional, Aaron, and I don’t shy away from something just because it sounds like it might be bad.”

Well. I’m sorry about that now. And you know what? I’m not even a professional. I don’t get paid to do this crap. I just do it because I’m a Lady of Leisure Who Lunches and I have nothing better to do with my time.

And now, without further ado, the result of the tasting:

Brock is pretty sure his life has been ruined by these chips.

Trying not to spit them back up. I was successful! (Photo by Brock)

We all agreed that these just tasted like burnt. Burnt what? Just burnt. The bag advertises that they are bitter and sweet, but trust us, they were just bitter.

I thought they were better than the blueberry and hazelnut Pringles, but Brock disagreed. He thought the mocha cocoa chips were much worse. We agreed to disagree, which we have to do a lot or else we would never get through a conversation (we both have a LOT of opinions).

Puffin’s Degustation

Brock and Josh’s puppy, 6-month-old Puffin, also took part in her own degustation.

Puffin likes potato chips! (Photo by Brock)

Puffin's seal of approval for the ketchup chips! (Photo by Brock)

p.s. The burritos were delicious and we watched Sixteen Candles. I can still recite a lot of the movie, and the final scene were Sam (Molly Ringwald) gets together with Jake (That One Actor Guy) still made me feel all squishy inside. The date rape and the racism made me feel not so squishy, however.

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Challenge: Having Guests

I’ve lived in Thailand for about 7 months now, since August 2010, but the first time I visited Thailand was in August 2004 with my younger sister, Marlee. We went to Koh Phagnan for a few days, hit Bangkok for 1 day, then went back to Japan, where I was living. It was a whirlwind trip.

This was us in 2004. So young!

This time, my sister came with her husband and we all stayed together in my small one-bedroom apartment. I was worried that this would cut into my sitting-around-in-my-underwear-in-front-of-the-fan time–which it did–but that’s okay.

I like having guests. I always thought I would be a good tour guide because I have lots of opinions about things and I like to show off information I have about a place. Plus, if you have guests, they don’t know anything and they’re at your mercy. They’re like kids; you can mold their minds into whatever you want. Best restaurant? BOOM! Best bar? THERE IT IS! Worst food? Don’t even tell them about it and they won’t eat it! Problem solved! It’s all kinds of awesome.

Of course, the downside to having guests, especially in a foreign country, is that they rely on you for everything. Fair enough; I relied on my friends for a long time when I first got here. If my Thai were super fantastic and wonderful, this wouldn’t be as much of a problem. As it is, my Thai is pretty crap. I can usually get a taxi driver to understand where I want to go and I can usually order food and make myself understand. That’s about the extent of my Thai ability, but it’s generally enough for me to get by.

As everybody knows, though, when you have people looking at you expectantly, no cab drivers will understand you and all things you order will come to you with problems, which you are then powerless to resolve. And you look like an idiot, and you have to protest, I swear that I have never had this problem! And they’re like, It’s okay. It happens to everybody sometimes. And then everybody is slightly annoyed and embarrassed for the other person, but can’t say anything about it because that’s rude.

Anyway, I love having visitors, and if you want to visit, I will probably give you my bed and sleep on the couch. Because that’s the kind of host I am. Just saying.

The rest of the trip in photos:

Day 1: Street noodles, Chatuchak Market, and a recording of Bangkok Podcast, which I’m pretty sure my mother still has not figured out how to listen to. Also, Chatuchak Market on the weekend makes me a nervous wreck. It’s about 10 billion degrees, half of Thailand is there, and it’s a total maze.

Matt eating some pad see eu from the street. 30 baht (~$1).

Day 2: Wat Po, Wat Arun, walking around until we have sweat off 20 pounds, and then introducing my sister to mango sticky rice. You’re welcome, by the way, Marlee!

I'm not going to say it was hot, because it's Bangkok, and of course it was hot.

Days 3-5: Sitting on the beach in a lovely resort in Phuket. I read, like, 6 trashy beach reads and took naps. And we ate some food. Good times.

The sisters in Phuket. Yeah, she's 2 years younger and several inches taller. And somehow she has smaller feet, which doesn't seem fair.

Day 6: Thai cooking class!

Marlee and Matt, getting ready to cook some Thailandian food.

Gonna chop some stuff up.

Day 7 (Saturday): We send Matt off to the airport by himself because he had to leave at 6 a.m. and we were both lazy. I was like, Thanks for traveling 24 hours to come see me! Later, sucker! Marlee and I spend the entire day staring off into space, with me occasionally asking if she wants to do something and Marlee assuring me that she is too tired. We leave the apartment for about 10 minutes to get some noodles.

We decide Saturday afternoon that we should go to Chiang Mai the following morning, so I book tickets on Air Asia. Only I book the complete wrong times and Air Asia are total jerks to me and I hate them forever although I will have to fly them again because they are so cheap. Bastards. I put Marlee in charge of the hotel because I’ve already screwed up the flights.

SO Day 8 rolls around: We’re at the airport, trying to figure out our hotel reservations and it turns out that instead of one room with two beds for two nights, Marlee has booked two rooms with two beds for two nights, and we can’t get our money back. After we laugh hysterically, we start to wonder if maybe this trip was not meant to be.

Well, Day 8 and Day 9: Are awesome. We see some of my friends and walk until our feet are about ready to fall off. Also, we eat khao soi (curry noodle soup) about 15 times in two days because IT’S SO AMAZING.

 

See, Mom, we were thinking about you!

Day 10: I’m getting tired of writing all this now, and I’m sure the only person left reading is my mother. We eat at a raw food cafe in BKK, which was surprisingly good, although I generally like my food pretty cooked.

Day 11: Fabulous spa day, where we spend 3 hours getting massaged and facialed. For my sister’s last meal in Thailand, we go to 7-11.

I'm the best host ever!

Final Score

Having Guests: 0   Megan: 1

It’s always hard to show people everything you want to in a city and country you love when you just have a limited amount of time. Still, I think I did a decent job of showing them around and forcing them to eat lots of food they’d never tried and all that.

If anybody else wants to visit, let me know! I really do love having visitors…

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