Archive | October, 2012

Diplomacy in Singapore, Lucie-style

23 Oct

I got into Singapore the day before yesterday and was walking down the street with all of my stuff.  I didn’t think I looked particularly lost, but I did have a map over my head because it was raining.  When I meet the nicest people I’ve ever come across in my whole life.  They are 4 women, of 4 different nationalities, who stop and ask if they can help me.  They then look up the location of my hostel on their phones, take me to the bus stop and show me which bus to get on, and then one of them gives me her bus/metro/public transit card.

Can we take you out to dinner, they ask?  Can I show you around the city tomorrow, says one?  I get their numbers, and I get on the bus.  I flash the bus/metro/public transit card: it has $20 of credit on it.  What the banana leaf.  Who is that nice?

So last night, I meet up with 2 of the women: Cheryl (Malay-born) and Rachel (Australian-born).  We eat cheap hawker food and then go for drinks at 1-Altitude, the swankiest rooftop bar in the city (indeed, the highest al fresco bar in the world…).

Cheryl and I wait for Rachel.

Then we get hawker satays.

And then to the rooftop!

Rachel, me, and Cheryl on the rooftop.

Me on the rooftop — you can see the view better in this one.

Inevitably, I soon come across Graham, a London-born foreign exchange banker who is tall, almost-30, and good-looking (though a bit boyish for my taste).  He’s wearing fancy jeans, a patterned dress shirt with the sleeves casually rolled up, and expensive Italian (?) crocodile (?) shoes.  And drinking a mojito with half a mint bush in it.  [I really wish I had a picture for y’all.  I won’t let you down next time, I swear!]

Meanwhile I’m wearing hiking pants that haven’t been washed for 2 weeks and a t-shirt that has a hole over the boob so I have to wear my black bra so the hole’s not conspicuous.  I also have on a pink running watch stained brown by sweat and a backpack full of, among other things: jungle-grade bug spray, Percocet, a headlamp, a SteriPEN, and a giant orange safety whistle.  Let’s also not forget my ankle brace from when I fell off the curb and flip flops with a broken strap.

Here’s how the conversation went:

Graham:  “Where are you from?”  [Note snooty British accent.]

Me:  “Amer’ca!”

Graham:  “Obviously.”  [Rolls eyes.]

Me:  “Have you been…  to ‘Merica?”

Graham:  “Yeah.”  [Note indignant tone.]

Me:  “Did you love it?”

Graham:  [Hesitation.]

Me:  [Reassuring smile.]

Graham:  “I liked America.  I didn’t like the people.”

Me:  “Well, cut us some slack.  You know, it can be tough being the shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”

Graham:  “I don’t even know what to say to that.”

Me:  “How about… God Bless America?”  [Breaking slightly into song.]

Graham:  [Silent smirking.]

Me:  Lord Graham Cracker?  [In mock-snooty British accent.]

Graham:  “Why are you calling me a graham cracker?”

Me:  “I’m just making reference to the fact that you may need roasted marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate melted onto you to make you palatable.”

So that went well.  I will not be Lady Graham Cracker anytime soon, but at least I got three $16 beers out of it.

And motivation to finally vote.

Outside a restaurant in Singapore.  Hmm… the Obama Burger or the Romney Meatloaf?  I guess the vegetarians are out of luck.

So I woke up today and live streamed the end of the final presidential debate.  And then I printed my absentee ballot (yes, I finally got it) and took it to the Embassy:

Go ahead, make fun of me. We all know I sweat a lot and in huge beads.

Wild Thoughts

21 Oct

After the disaster that was Fifty Shades, I rushed to the bookstore and prayed to the gods of the bargain shelf.  They gave me Cheryl Strayed’s gutty memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  It is powerful.  It’s sad.  It’s haunting.  And I don’t know exactly how I feel about it.  Or how I feel about her.  But it’s touched me.

Cheryl is 26 when she begins her 1,100-mile hike through California and Oregon.  She says she’s at a “low and mixed up” point in her life; she’s better described as majorly f***ed up.  The death of her beloved mother – “the love of her life” – 4 years prior has destroyed her.  Having abandoned her bedside promise to finish college, she is waitressing… and shooting heroin into her ankles and having lots of indiscriminate sex (including with all 5 of the line cooks in the course of 1 month), which, coincidentally, leads to the end of her 7-year marriage and an abortion.  On top of it all, as if to prove the point, in the wake of her divorce she’s changed her name to “Strayed” in a cliched stab at self reinvention.

Cheryl starting on the Pacific Crest Trail at age 26.

To say the least, it’s gritty, and it feels real and it feels raw in a way that makes Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love seem downright silly.  This is not an indulgent book-advance-funded quest for enlightenment.  The ethos is pragmatic self-reliance.  God, she says, is “a ruthless bitch.”

Nothing at all extraordinary happens to Cheryl on her long hike.  She meets some interesting people and has some scary moments, which she conveys sharply and vividly; but in the end, they barely matter.  It’s the whole of it that’s compelling.

Her story is both deeply sad and strangely beautiful.  I guess that’s life.

Yesterday, I arrived in Singapore, and I bought a mini-bottle of Cab Sauv from 7-Eleven, and I snuck it into a movie theater to watch Taken 2.  And the thought invaded my head yet again: “what the dragonfruit am I doing here?”  I should be at home – taking hot showers – practicing law – building a life – going on dates — paying my student loans! – decorating an apartment.  Not halfway around the world, at the movies, alone, drinking bad wine from the bottle.

But Wild helped.

If Cheryl’s trip is about about piecing together a life that has come apart, then mine is about coming to terms with a life that has never really been put together.  It is about allowing myself, finally, to acknowledge my own brokenness.  To pick up the pieces and to feel, for once, the sharp edges.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that at the end of it all, when I find my way back to my Dad’s couch, the ending of my story is going to be the same as hers:

Nothing has changed, but everything has changed.

Cheryl completed her big hike in 1995; she published Wild earlier this year.  17 years later.  And that’s how it will be with my story.  Changed forever in ways that only time will reveal.

Fifty Shades of Horseradish

19 Oct

Leave your genital clamps at home, weirdo.

So far my reading list on the road has been dismal.

In Nepal, I read Michael Crichton’s 1969 (yes, 1969The Andromeda Strain, a science fiction book where the major plot device is that someone doesn’t get a typewriter message.

In Thailand, I read Patricia Cornwell’s first book Postmortem (1990), which turns on a new invention (the computer!) and a new discovery (DNA!).  Revolutionary stuff to read about.

So here in Malaysia, I was stoked when a fellow traveler passed along E.L. James’ much-talked-about and wildly successful Fifty Shades of Grey.  Yes!, I figured, at least this brings me into the decade.

Or so I thought.  It actually single-handedly sets the female species back eighteen decades.

I’m not even going to address the horrible writing or the shiteous sex scenes.

Let’s focus on the toilet-paper-thin plot.  It’s the same as Twilight but worse: a seemingly bright (but actually idiotic) virginious young woman falls into an electric, all-consuming love/lust/infatuation with an impossibly wealthy, incredibly powerful, ridiculously handsome, controlling, possessive, condescending, cruel, stalking, emotionally bereft, quasi-rapist PYSCHO (with, incidentally — shocker!– a giant schlong) who is constantly described as “serious,” “brooding,” and “threatening.”  Their relationship is emotionally abusive (not to mention physical dangerous because, after all, he does beat her). And ultimately our heroine (?) is drawn into a sinister, isolating world (called BDSM!) in which she quickly abandons her entire life and every dream she every had for him — an Adonis-like doucher with the emotional maturity level of a crusty piece of dental floss.

[For the record, the above is a word-for-word recitation of the review of Fifty Shades that I publicly delivered on a local Malaysian bus today when I (un?)ceremoniously delivered the book back to the girl who gave it to me.]

But on some level, I get it.  It speaks to a deep desire within us to be found insanely attractive, to be enigmatically wanted, to be loved completely, inexplicably for who we are – despite our pasty bodies, despite our clumsiness, despite our obvious and utter inadequacy.  We ache for something – and sure, love will do – that gives us reason to get out of bed in the morning (or, in this case, to stay in…), something that gives us purpose, meaning, confidence, a reason to live (or die?!).  PASSION, damn it!

Sigh.

Mastering the Art of Nonconformity

16 Oct

Weary of solo travel and curious about the green-ness of the grass on the other side, I joined an two-week overland tour from Bangkok to Singapore.  The tour is bare bones, providing only budget accommodation and transportation.  It’s me and 12 others — 6 Brits, 3 Dutch, 2 Italians, and 1 German.

I’m on the purple route.

It took about 1 minute for the nonconformity sequence to initiate in my head.  Feeling sillily principled, I refused to be leashed around and shown the sights, dang it!  After all, I high-mindedly reasoned, I’m not here to see things anyway; I’m here to feel things.  And so I quickly lived up to my billing as “the American.”

On Ko Pha Ngan, when the rest of the group went snorkeling and elephant riding, I paid a boatman 100 baht to deliver me a couple beaches over.

Boatman.

Thank you, Mr. Boatman!

On Ko Samui, when the rest of the group went on some jungle jeep tour, I met Jamie from Denver in a strip joint and went cruising around the island on his motorbike.

*Okay, clarification on how I ended up in a Thai strip joint: I walked all over looking for a cafe with wireless internet.  Finally I see a decent-looking place with a French sign so I stop in and ask if they have wifi.  The dude says yes so I sit down, order a drink, and crank up my computer. Then I see the wireless network name: “Tams Naughty Girls.”  And then I turn around.*

For the record, Jamie ended up in the strip joint for the same reason as me.

I was supposed to meet our bus at 4:30, but we got lost (shocker!) so I called our Thai tour guide and told him I was on a motorbike and was lost and could he please pick me up at the nearest landmark… the Bangkok Samui Hospital. Things got lost in translation: he thought I crashed a motorbike and was in the hospital.  He almost rang my neck.  Oops.

And today in Tanah Rata, Malaysia, when the rest of the group went to see some aboriginal rainforest village, I signed up for the “countryside excursion” that took me to a tea plantation, strawberry field, rose garden, bee farm, butterfly and reptile farm, and a Chinese temple (groan on the temple front).

Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands.

Workers pluck the tea bushes about every 3 weeks when new shoots grow.

Two Malaysian women on the excursion were nice to me.  In the market square, I noticed them shopping for glass bead bracelets.  So back in the van, when one of the women saw my own glass bead bracelet and interestedly asked how much I had paid for it, I said it was from home and happily slid it from my wrist onto hers.  They were tickled, and so was I.

They are sisters.

On the last stop of the day, the women returned with sheepish grins on their faces and presented me with a bracelet they had bought for me in return:

What’s right with the world.

A Tumble in Thailand

14 Oct

Long time, no post!  All the catching up I have to do is overwhelming me.  So let’s just start with today.

This morning, at 6:30 a.m., I decided to go for a run down the streets of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand with a 23-year-old Dutch girl named Anita.  Thai people were out in droves setting up for some street festival (with giant floats of fresh flowers and golden Buddhas!), and they were all staring at us in amazement because (1) we were white and (2) we were running (the developing world does not seem to understand the concept of running for any purpose other than you need to get somewhere fast).

Then I fell off a 2-foot curb, twisted my ankle, and did three barrel rolls down the street.  Let me tell you, the Thai people really didn’t know what to think then.  Festival preparation came to a screeching halt as I became the street spectacle.  People took pictures of me writhing on the pavement in pain/shock/befuddlement.  Another guy started blessing my knee (which he obviously thought was the source of the injury).  Yet another guy pulled up a Unabomber van, at which point there was a crowd effort to try to get me to go in the van to the hospital.

Amidst all the Thai squawking, tough-as-nails Anita declared me healthy enough to walk the 30 minutes home.  We stopped at a pharmacy, where the pharmacist spoke zero English and clearly thought we were idiots.  Nevertheless, Anita managed to procure some sort of anesthetic gel and an ankle wrap.

I limped back to our hotel and then spent the next 10 hours in a van en route to Malaysia.

So now I’m in Penang, Malaysia, where I’m spending the night at a place on par with the Bates Motel from Psycho.  I would classify the state of my twisted [c]ankle as very good:

And hopefully even better in the morning because I’m currently enjoying some ice and elevation:

I am more concerned at the moment about the sign posted on the door of my lovely sketchy hotel.

Life’s a Trek

8 Oct

Timmy and I went trekking for three days in the Annapurna region of Nepal.  I loved it.  It stirred something deep inside of me, and I couldn’t help but think of my good friend’s dad Steve, who is headed off on the Appalachian Trail by himself for a few months.

The more I walked, the more it struck me: trekking is a great metaphor for life.

You get to the top of one hill… and realize there’s just another hill on top of that one to climb.

You step on a rock with invisible moss and fall on your butt… and then you get up and step on a thousand more rocks, any one of which could be covered with invisible moss.

The emotional vulnerability that you feel in life — the fear of rejection, the haunt of loneliness, the ethereal sense of isolation — becomes tangible, as if it may as well be strapped on your back.  For you have a very real appreciation for the fact that you are hours upon hours, by foot, from a doctor or any other modern convenience.

I figure that most of life, like most of trekking, is just plain hard.  You’ve gotta find your rhythm in the march and live for the small moments of joy in life — when the mountain silhouettes peak through through the clouds and expose their splendor.  Or when a little Nepalese kid pokes your chub and calls you fat in Nepali (I think that’s a compliment ’cause it means you’ve got food to eat?!).

Okay, I’ll shut my trap now and let the photos speak for themselves:

A candid shot of Timmy and I getting ready for the start of our trek.

Lots of little bridges.

Hmmm, it’s a marijuana plant.

Annapurna South (7,219 meters).

Amidst the world’s highest mountains: the Himalayas.

Rice paddies are a photographer’s dream.

The Morning News in Nepal

4 Oct

Presumably because half of Nepalis are illiterate, the morning news in Nepal consists of a guy just reading the newspaper, article by article.  See:

Then sometimes the cameraman, shakily, zooms in on the page: