Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pattaya, plah!

It was really hard for me to leave my little cottage in Karon Beach, and I would not have picked my stay in Pattaya to be my last stop in Thailand, but that’s how it worked out. I went there for a special event, and luckily it was only for a few days. The upside was I got to see a lot of old friends who came from Maui and all over; and I got to meet some new friends. The downside was the hotel. I can only quote the wife of W.C. Fields when they pull up to the orange grove he acquired in a drunken poker game, after a long dusty trip across the U.S. trip in an old jalopy. She puts her hands on her hips, gives him the you drunken fool look, and says, “it’s a dump!”  My husband loved W.C. and, whenever I complained about our house, he would put his hands on his hips and mimic that scene. It always made me laugh. Anyway, that’s what most of us were saying about the hotel, although everyone said I got the best room. I could have moved, but I was sick one day and only there for a few days. Plus, I’m pretty jaded now and a few nights in a bad hotel with hot water and a bathtub is not a big deal.

I was on the 16th floor, and the first night I heard a horrible cat in the wall howling. I was by myself, and I swear I thought I had been transported into an Edgar Allen Poe story. It was the freakiest sound I’ve ever heard. I sat up in the bed while this cat moaned and howled behind with the sound echoing throughout the room and me trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. I went out on the balcony, sixteen floors up, looking for a stray cat. I went out in the hallway looking for someone to tell me if I had gone mad. I called the front desk several times, but no one understood me because they barely spoke English. Over the next few days the cat howled every night. I finally had one friend who verified that he heard it too, or I really would have been worried about sanity. I never did find out where or what it was. Once night, I didn’t hear anything and it was even creepier because I thought maybe it died in the wall and it would haunt me forever. The cat in the wall hotel was my impression of all of Pattaya. It was just another big, grimy city howling from the minds of all those men looking for sex. It didn’t help that the weather was completely overcast, and I got violently sick for about 24 hours. I only saw the beachfront the last night I was there when I went to dinner with friends. As I’ve said before, travel experience is completely personal, and one man or woman’s paradise can be another’s home across the road or hell across the road.

The only upside, besides seeing friends, was the walk down the street in front of our hotel which was filled with interesting shops and a great soup lady. There was a guitar shop, a Harley Davidson bike place with tons of old bike parts, and a great Chinese goods store where the lady sold everything from headache powder to beautiful leather bags. I also had a fun ride on the back of a scooter taxi to and from our last dinner together. I can’t believe how brave I am to ride around on the back of scooters in the middle of Asia traffic with some crazy young driver who doesn’t speak a word of English. Well, crazy or brave, take your pick. I also had some great visits with friends, and a funny weird goodbye dinner. 

Seeing long-time friends from Maui really reminded me of all my history in Hawaii, and it was the first time I felt homesick. I think home is not about where your house is, but where your friends are. I have friends on Maui and in Hawaii that have known me for over twenty years. And as much as I love my family, they just don’t know me or appreciate me in the same way my friends do. My family and I have spent a lot of time of apart, and although they know some of my life story, they have different versions and opinions. My friends are (mostly) people who I have similar experiences with, who not only know my story, but understand it. I love spending time with my family, but when I’m with them I’m mostly just this old (hippie) who can’t play Wii right, doesn’t know how to shop or fix herself up, and makes the wrong moves in backgammon. My friends, at least some of them, know what incredible things I’ve done and how much I have to share. They appreciate the miracle I am. And, with my friends I can really be myself, whoever that is in the moment. Nothing beats that. That is home, wherever you are. 

I had some moments, sick in the hotel, where I was thinking about ending my trip in Fiji. I told myself I could do New Zealand some other time. Then, once I felt better, I checked my flights and realized I only have another month or so and I’ll be home. I hate to crap out that close to the finish line, really! There were also some issues about what I wanted to do in Australia. My friend from Sydney and I had planned to go to Tasmania for a week, but I decided I really wanted to see the Barrier Reef this trip instead. I’d like to go to an exclusive resort or a cruise, but it would be cheaper just to go to Cairns or Brisbane. I’m checking it all out. Then I’ll spend a few weeks in New Zealand, see Hobbitland, and ride around looking at potential places to stay long term in the future.  I’ll spend the last week in Sydney, and then head home early April right on schedule. That’s the plan for now.

So it was goodbye, Thailand and hello Hong Kong, coming down the last stretch of the tour. It’s so hard to believe that all this time and all these places have passed by so quickly. In the beginning it seemed like such an enormous block of time and locations, and now it seems like I could go another year or two to fit in all the places I could have gone. It is a big wide world, and there is so much to see and do. As long as I am fit, I can’t see any reason to stay in one place for very long, except to spend time with friends and family. Home can be anywhere my heart is for a while.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Notes from the light side (notes from the dark side will not be posted)

Thinking about writing is not writing, but I’ve doing a lot of that lately; writing, and thinking about writing. About every two years, on the dot, I get into a writing frenzy and write and write and write. And then it stops, like a frozen pipe. Usually the more I write the more I want to write and sometimes you have to prime the pump. My last big really unfulfilled goal, dream, idea, place in my life that I have yet to visit is to be an actual published writer. I have put efforts into this before, several times but have always got distracted or given up, perhaps too soon before the miracle. Or perhaps there is no miracle. Or perhaps someone in my family will “discover” my journals fifty years from now. Or perhaps I will be one of those many writers who write and write, and are only read by a few friends and family. Despite all these maybes, I have enough material now for about three books, and all I need to decide is how much energy/time I want to put into putting them together. No decision on this yet.

Smiling…for a very long time I did not have a lot to make me smile, and I lost the use of my smile. In the past few years, I have had to relearn the art of smiling. I have, I have been told and I can see myself in the mirror, a wonderful smile. It transforms my entire face when I smile, and I become a nice old lady, someone you probably would even like to know or help out. I have practiced this smiling throughout my trip, and have seen what a difference a smile can make in the oddest, most difficult situations. Smiling at a very tired, very irritated immigration official, at a hotel clerk who doesn’t understand a word I am saying, at a harried taxi driver who doesn’t want to admit he is lost, at Thai hookers who are afraid to look at foreign women and see only judgment in their eyes, at the massage workers having a Christmas party when I asked to take a picture of all their laughing faces. A smile is a gold coin dropped in the toll booth on the bridge of life (oh god I can’t believe I wrote that—but I’ll keep it for now because it has a Tom Waits meets Nicholas Sparks ring to it). When I smile I feel all the smiles around me, which is not to say I’m always in a smiley-face state of being; the little duel-faced being that I am, I can frown as well as Robert DeNiro, but I like to believe I am slowly riding the bus that might take me there.

This is when you know you are in some kind of groove. I went to my Wifi place this morning after breakfast. A guy comes into the tour/motorcycle rental/laundry/computer place and asks about extending his visa for a few days. I could tell he was just trying to see if he could get these ladies to do it for him, so they acted like they didn’t know anything. When he left I followed him out and told him I had the same question as my visa expires the 15th and I don’t fly out until the 20th. I was told I could just pay a fine at airport on my way to Hong Kong, but he told me if you get a mean officer, they can make life miserable. He said I could go into Phuket to Immigration and get visa extended. My first thought was to put it off because it was already after noon, and I had no idea how long it would take and that is not what I had planned for the day, but I had some feeling that I should just go. So I went back to my cottage and dressed up a bit, real shoes and all. When I asked the ladies at the shop where Immigration Office was they told me any taxi could take me there. When I walked out on the street there was a guy I’d met at Casa Brazil who drove cab and he was willing to take me there and back (for a price of course). We had a lovely ride talking about music and Hawaii and his children and life in Phuket. I got to Immigration and the place was packed with people, but when I walked in a nice German lady in line told me to go to the Information Desk, where this nice older Australian man explained exactly what I needed to do. Fill out a form, go downstairs and take a picture, get copies of my passport, then come back and voila! A five day extension until my plane leaves. Of course, the lady told me I didn’t need copies of my passport when I did, so I had to make two trips up and down the offices and it took about 2 ½ hours because it was so crowded, but everyone in the office was really friendly and even laughing. How many civil service offices have you been to lately where the people were laughing? It cost 1900 baht (about $60.00), and the cab was another 1000 baht, which I knew was expensive but was worth it getting there and back so easily. Plus he said he’ll give me a deal on the ride to the airport. So, visa extended, and I don’t have to worry about it all the way to my flight on the 20th while I in Pattaya. I’m sure there are better, more economical ways to do things here, but I am learning on my own and that’s how I like to roll.

Krabi, where angels fly

I took a boat trip yesterday to Karabi. I only bought a ticket for a one way van pickup and ferry, pickup at 7am. I was lucky to find somewhere open early enough to get a real cup of coffee. After a long ride to Phuket we got to the ferry station where masses of people were waiting to board the huge old tuggers to Phi Phi, Krabi, and points beyond. Boat boys were lugging luggage on their heads over these rickety plank boards you have to walk over from boat to boat, because all the boats are parked four deep against the pier. I was on the last boat, and walked across four boats over slippery planks to my boat. I had put on a ton of sunscreen, so I climbed up two narrow boat stairs to the top seating, which was all done in twos. I sat in my space feeling kind of weird because there was an empty unused seat next to me. Then this lady sat down who I didn’t realize until much later was my guardian angel, if you believe in such things. At this time in my life I am living the Lennon song, and don’t believe in nothing because to believe in anything means to surrender to the idea that my husband and I met and fell in love and then he died; and that there was some kind of purpose or reason or means to that end, and I can’t believe that in my heart or my head. So for now, I believe in nothing and explore everything.

The problem for me with angels is that often I don’t recognize them, or they don’t look or act the way I think they should; they are too big or too small or talk to loud or are too bossy or I’m looking the other way at something I think is more interesting. I also have a very bad habit of, when I meet an angel, trying to clip their wings. I don’t know where that comes from (the devil in me?), but it is a definite pattern that I meet an angel and behave badly with them.

The day was perfectly beautiful, blue sky, little wind, not blistering hot like it usually is here, and the ocean was, as the ocean always is for me, home. Let me get the travelogue part of this over. Krabi is another of those places I don’t want to tell anyone about. It is isolated about 25 miles off the coast of Phuket with long sandy beaches, and clear lagoons. There are some very exclusive places to stay, including one that was 30,000 baht per night ($1000.00). I think when-if I come back here I will book a place in Krabi for a week or two. It’s a whole different scene than Karon to Patong. There are tons of islands you can ride Chinese looking boat tuktuks back and forth to visit. I didn’t go into Krabi Town, because I decided to take the four island boat tour with my new friend, so I have somewhere to explore another time. We went to Krabi Beach, Chicken Island-which does look like a big chicken, and several other spots. The swimming was great, better than Karon Beach, because the sand was softer and there were big shallow lagoons to swim in with no shore break. We talked and swam and had a lovely luncheon buffet at a sweet little resort I might come back to someday. It was one of those perfect trips on a perfect day.

We had switched from the ferry to Krabi to a speedboat, and now were with a smaller crowd of French, English, Thai, Australian and other tourists. I had never really thought about the differences between a boat trip on Maui which I’ve taken plenty of, and out in the world. Americans may take a bit to warm up, but they are friendly, curious people as a whole, and if you are on a boat full of Americans, it will probably be noisy and interactive within a short time. That could be because of the common language, but I think it’s more than that. When you are on a tour with tourists out in the world, generally, the Germans have no interest in the French, the French have no interest in, well, and anyone not French, and the Russians are not friendly to anyone, even other Russians. These are, of course, vast generalizations and I can only write my trip and my experience. Iit is possible you may have a different trip and a different experience, but I can’t write about that. So on this small speedboat where people were not really interacting with each other,  a companion made it much nicer even though I did a bit of wing-clipping and over-reacted to what felt a bit like having an instant Jewish mother. “Don’t forget your towel, dear”, and “here’s a toothpick, because you’ll have rice stuck in your teeth” being a couple of examples.  The kind of mothering that brings out the worst bad little “fuck off” teenager in me.

But I am much older and wiser and know myself pretty well, so I was able to catch myself in the act, and go off on my own so I could put on my friendly face. The wonderfulness of this meeting is how easily we talked about music, and Europe, and traveling, and family, and adventures, and playing mag yong, and politics, and the silliness of religions. That was the wonder of it all, and I was able to not ruin that with my bad self.

We went out in the boat to a snorkeling spot in a really isolated cove. I had every intention of snorkeling on this trip and had my mask ready, but then when we stopped I became, as my granny would have said, “afeared”. I just couldn’t get in the water. We were out in a lonely bay  with a bunch of strangers, granted, but I had my guardian angel and I knew she wouldn’t have let anything happen to me, no way. The guide had mentioned sharks and sea urchins, but that stuff never stops me at home. My angel was urging me to go (although she was not going), but I just couldn’t make myself get in the water. Maybe for good reason, I’ll never know. Later, I explained to her that it was because the stairs on the back of the boat were very hard to climb up and down, slippery, and I had broken my foot climbing out of a pool on stairs like that, but that wasn’t really all of it. I just got afeared. I’ve had that happen with other things on this trip, like riding scooter in Goa, and usually once I recognize the fear, I’m ready to go on the second or third try. Now I’m riding scooter all over this place. So, I’m pretty sure the next boat I go out on, I will jump off the back and snorkel on my own. I also think it’s that thing of always feeling so safe in the water with my husband, because he could basically swim to Tahiti from Maui, and now not feeling so safe in the ocean without him. But as we all know, being afeared is never about just one thing. Sometimes those feelings are warnings at the time and place, and sometimes they are just yellow lights to go slow, and sometimes they are stop signs we’d do better to ignore.

The last island we went to was a perfect white sand lagoon of clear water and fish swimming in the bay where we swam in water the temperature of cool bath water, swimming under the wide sky surrounded by green green island rocks jutting up out of the ocean like the most scenic painting you’ve ever seen of the wild, wide exotic places of the world. And it was just another day in paradise with angels, and fish, and freedom, and me as always occasionally snapping at my tail.