Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the talking speedometer...not really! ;)

driving to the airport, having woken at an ungodly 5 am (ok, things could have been much worse, I'll admit), I stepped into the car reserved to take me to the airport. interestingly, all private cars that I came across were toyotas; taxis were pink - a fun contrast to the new York yellow. anyhow, my tired eyes closed as I planned to rest on the drive, though I was torn between satisfying my body's desire and taking in my last views of Bankgkok; this time they'd be remarkingly different than upon arriving, as the night sky hampered that which I was able to see. with the sunrise upon Bangkok, I was lured to keep my eyes open and take in the sights before me.

while so doing through slumber-filled eyes, I kept hearing this beeping sound, a rather jarring and distracting noise. faintly familiar, I remember hearing it once from my brother's car when he'd maxed out the speed limit and the car decided to inform him he was going much too fast. my driver was definitely pedal happy. the more frequently he heard the car's participatory noises, the brighter he shone with pride in some competition he was having, comparing this morning's drive with last, or so it seemed. we were like a bullet firing down the highway, making taking in the sights a mission to do at warp speed; they blurred past me through the window like a movie,our he sped up even more they'd become so out of focus they'd resemble graffiti. I didn't notice how fast we were going until the car's incessant interrupting became closer and closer together distracting my focus from the images outside the window shifting it to the traffic ahead. I started becoming slightly anxious, hoping to make it out alive.

upon arriving at the airport, I made a joke to the driver, a clear reflection of my anxiety, and curiosity if he was a race track driver in his spare time. "you like to drive fast!". "he he he��"

with that, I grabbed my bags and took off, happy to be on solid ground again, realizing it wouldn't be for long. I was in an airport, after all, headed for Hawaii, via Taipei, Tokyo, Honolulu, and then I'd finally be in Kona.

I don't mind fast drivers, in fact I prefer them, but I've learned there's a line I don't like crossing. as a non-driver it's kinda tough to put my finger on what it is about styles of driving or the exact something I don't like because I don't know how to operate a car. I now know, I don't want to hear, don't wanna hear it, hear me?! ever again! ����

Sunday, November 13, 2011

the night market

relaxed and ready to take on Bangkok, I decide to venture to what is supposed to be a tourist must see, the night market at Patpong. darkness has fallen, marking the time I spent having my massage. the night sky is clear, the moon is the sliver of a crescent.

heading down the small alleyway away from Chiva Chiva, I hit a busy road where I come upon a local woman preparing pad Thai. I'm not hungry, given the hour I lunched, but am drawn to her huge skillet. the skillet must be at least 14-16" wide, in it she cracks 7 eggs, breaking the yolks, stirring and seasoning them. she then throws in bamboo shoots, two packages of rice noodles, tofu, scallions, all on different axes of the skillet, seasoning sauces, stirs them around until everything is cooked and distributes the huge amount into several to go portions on paper, taped up, in a plastic bag. those "for here" are put on a plate and eat street side.  over the course of the cooking, a few people has become a crowd, putting in orders.  i count how many portions she dishes out, the skillet serves 16.  she then resumes where she started, cleaning the pan, oiling it and cracks the eggs for her next round of customers.

I watch this process in awe. it reminds me of "wok with yan", an 80's cooking show, but is much more exciting for several reasons. first, I'm the only "audience" member who's got to be this mesmerized - i count myself as an audience member because i'm not eating. :)  second, yes, this woman is awake, but it's almost like she's in a meditative state she's done this so many times. I wonder how heavy her skillet is and how hot it is. does she make enough money to survive selling her pad Thai, after all, that's the reason she does this. a lot of questions fly through my head, but she must be selling tasty pad Thai if locals are eating it.

I eventually pull my eyes away from her skillet and walk towards terminal 21.  terminal 21 is another department store; it's brand new and all the rage, everyone is talking about it. from here I take the AirTrain to the night market. but first, I run into a snag. I need Thai currency to pay for my ticket. will my ATM card work?  i tend to have issues with my ATM card.  to my pleasant surprise, I'm given Thai Baht on the first go. smooth sailing. sweet.

upon arriving at the market, I have to go to the bathroom. uh-oh!!! why do I do this to myself? why didn't I go at terminal 21? there were plenty of clean, INdoor bathrooms available! needless to say, I'm not impressed with myself. I stop at one of the first booths selling knock off bags. l head to the rear of the booth, a) looking for a bathroom, b) looking for someone to help me. it turns out, when I get there, someone is trying to purchase a bag, she's being charged more because it's a more authentic look of a knock off. In any case, I come by a woman and ask if there's a washroom.  she looks at me and itches her nose a few times, pausing at me with a question mark look on her face. astonished, I say "no!", "I'm not into that stuff! I was just looking for a bathroom!" and started running away. I didn't need to go after that. I was scared to death.  the last thing I need is to get myself in a situation like Clare Danes does in "Brokedown Palace", having someone try to sell me drugs!  eich!!  I'd rather wet my pants than end up in a Thai jail just for looking for a bathroom.

I continued on and found a shirt for my nephew, saw Levi's shorts and jeans for sale for $6 or $12 everything was ridiculously inexpensive. I could have bought a lot more than I did, but held myself back for two reasons:  I packed my bags without an extra inch of room to add any gifts.  ooops!  I guess I'm a selfish girl.  :(  I felt that however tempting it would be to buy inexpensive "X", I should only buy that which I was truly drawn to because it had meaning, or I tried to stick to this line of reasoning.  I don't need anything, really.  I bought a watch, which turned out to be a good purchase given I'd opted to not travel with my iPhone or computer - I had no idea what time it was; it actually still works. Thai keepsakes, mementoes, Muay Thai boxing shorts and memorabilia, postcards, meditative trinkets are the types of things that lined the market and repeated over and over.

the market was nothing particularly special, to me, however, it was very eye opening. the above-listed was inside the perimeter of the market. what was on the perimeter were bars, playing very good music, I might add, which is what made me turn my head more than once, to see the startling interiors. inside each of them were 60-80 women (who I could see from outside, how many we're inside??) wearing string bikinis. there were poles, I've heard of ping-pong competitions these women perform and know I wouldn't care to see one with my own eyes, there are cabaret acts and am sure many other soft core events for Westerners.

many of these "women" are men. in Thailand it is illegal to be gay, so men sell themselves or are sold as women, growing their hair long to blend in relatively easily, differentiated solely by their strong jaw bones and Adams apples. often, these men also have procedures performed to become women.  I say sell themselves, because it is unknown whether men choose this lifestyle or it is chosen for them. in my view, no one would choose such a lifestyle, however, these boys and men may feel they have no other choice in a culture where their sexual identity is not recognized. alternatively, abuse or torture may have occurred in childhood shaping their sexual identities making these men feel their options were limited.

I witnessed several men (long haired men in dresses posing as women) solicit men.  I was solicited by a man (in a dress), while in line at the pad Thai skillet woman, he/she was waiting for his order.  Also extremely common is for Western (both North American and European) men to marry or partner with younger Thai women.  On my flight from New York to Vancouver there was a man from Calgary who was 20 years older than his wife who started talking to me and he mentioned he stays in Thailand 1/3 of the year, spending the rest of the year in Calgary.  On my next flight from Vancouver to Tokyo, the man in front of me was telling me his wife was Thai and they spent most of the year in California, but had to go see her family for a couple of weeks out of the year.  He was easily 40 years older than his wife.  Many homes in Thailand are small huts, but the larger ones you see are owned by Westerners who come in and build a larger house, feeling they need more space, as this is what they are used to, this is what they know; they have more money and can afford larger properties and to make a larger statement, yet it really makes little sense if they're not going to be living there for very long.  It's one thing if they're going to be there 365 days of the year, but that is not the case for many Westerners who own houses in Thailand.

The Thai economy does not need Westerners coming into their country building large homes, marrying a local, and leaving.  What the Thai economy could benefit from would be seeing some of the major issues of the country, such as human trafficking, and contributing to the resolve of the issue.  With a corrupt system of a third world country, there is no way there is an overnight solution to the problem, however, Westerners taking advantage of poverty of third world nations is not helping in the least.

What is certain is that Thailand has nationals trafficked within its own borders, as well as in several countries across the globe, not only Asian neighbors, including (but not limited to) China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Timor-Leste, Vietnam, Bahrain, Israel, Kuwait, Libya, Quatar, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Canada, Germany, Russia, South Africa, the U.K., U.S., South Africa.  Many Laosian, Burmese and Cambodian women are trafficked through Thailand, adding complications to the trafficking horrors within Thailand. In these countries, mothers often send their daughters into prostitution knowing it will be profitable.  What they may not know is the exploitative nature of the sex trade business, nor the torture and danger that lies ahead for their girls.  Disease, danger and survival is on the decks.

Knowledge of multiple nationalities being trafficked through independent nations raises a red flag of awareness and responsibility for those who make such topics a part of their daily lives to bring governments to justice, by protecting their people, in strengthening laws. Furthermore, tightening the global support of awareness systems to rally in unison behind victims and survivors alike.  Shining the light on trafficking and sexual exploitation, the onus lies on those with voices strong to educate the unaware.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

the massage

many of you know that I LOVE massage! prior to leaving for my trip, my body was extra hungry for a set of strong hands to work their magic. I purposely waited until I was away, saving my pennies for the relatively inexpensive luxury abroad. having never tried Thai massage before, I thought to myself where better? for those of you unfamiliar with the technique, it combines gentle stretching and deep pressure massage. honestly, I knew little of it before having it done but was eager to undergo the experience.

upon arriving at my hotel the night before, I asked if they provided massage services. alas, no. however, there was a place just behind the hotel they highly recommended, but they had just closed for the night. I could go tomorrow beginning at 10, they were open until 11.  when, would I choose?  oooo...  so exciting!!!  little did I know what awaited me.

after my delicious lunch, I decided a massage would be the best kind of dessert.  walking back to the gentleman behind the desk who'd suggested I try Robinson's for lunch, indicating the small pamphlet for the massage place recommended the evening before, I kindly asked where they were located.  a smile crossed his face as he walked me out to the smoker's section, (thankfully located outside the hotel), down a path, where I picked up a plumeria-type flower, placing it behind my left ear, suddenly we hit a gate.  he showed me how the hotel key worked in the gate like in my hotel room door, landing us on a small sidestreet.  no more than about 12 steps to the left and we had arrived!  a cloth, rust-colored sign reading "Chiva Chiva" hung, about 2 feet by 2 feet, he opened the door for me and turned back to the hotel.

dark, rich mahogany wood filled the feng-shuied room.  the energy was clean, light, and thinking about it now i am forced to take deeper breaths.  the garments the women wore were beautiful!  again, dark brown silk with gold trim around the waist on the pants, repeated three times.  i was told by my neurologist, i think, if i wanted to have any garments made, the Thai are excellent seamstresses; I'd forgotten this until I saw these uniforms.  I'd be thrilled if I had to wear something like that to work everyday.  Flattering, comfortable, and well made.

By now, in case it's not clear, I've entered the building.  I approach the desk to two women seated, passing two women at the door standing, and another who is at another entryway to the rest of this magical massage kingdom.  Presented with a binder of my options, I'm also given a paper of what is on sale for today and a cup of tea.  Having already looked over the options in my trusty pamphlet given me the night before, I think I already know what treatment I'm going to get, however, no.  I'm lured by one of the specials.  I've already learned to convert to $U.S. I have to divide by 30, however I've been here less than a day, so I'm quite rusty.  Had I gone with my initial treatment option, I'd already done the math, but now I have to start from scratch.  Oh dear.  So I do my thing and I sort it out.  I'm gobsmacked by how inexpensive this country is.  Sign me up for the special!!!!

I am asked to remove my shoes and given slippers, at which point I'm introduced to Sukjai and she introduces me to what I will always remember fondly as the magical massage kingdom.  She leads me into the hallway, up a flight of rich mahogany stairs and into a room where she asks me to undress and get in the shower for 15 minutes, pointing out the shower cap, underwear on the bed and fantastic mahogany furniture where I can place my clothes, and flower.  I think ok, she's asking me to take a shower.  So I do.  Upon getting in the shower, hot hot steam raises from the floor.  I wonder, ooooh, maybe this is why she gave me 15 minutes?  Nevertheless, it's way to hot for me to just stand there.  I wash and eventually get out, dry myself and put on what I feared would be a string pair of underwear, but turns out to be a wonderfully comfortable, mesh pair.  I want to keep them, but can't.

She returns, sees me standing there in a towel, feels my skin, cold, and in broken english somehow I understand that the steam was meant to open my pores. (I suppose because instinctively I knew I was supposed to be hot), so I undress, from the little I'm wearing, and in the 10 minutes she's given me to steam, I steam.  I am not a steamer.  Oooph!  It's hard to breathe in there!  I do it though, somehow.  It certainly isn't my hobby, but if it's what the skin needs pre-massage, it's what I'll do!

When Sukjai and I meet again, she asks me to lie down and she gives me an hour-long full body ginger scrub.  Ohmigod.  Divine.  I can't say I've had a full body scrub before, but I'll definitely have another some time.  After this, she asks me to shower again - to rinse off - during which, she runs me a bath!  I couldn't believe it.  When I got out of the shower and she asked me to get in the bath, jets running, nice and hot, oh, I melted.  Talk about being pampered!  I hadn't even had my massage yet!  What was I doing?  Is this reality?  I must have been in the tub for at least 15 minutes.

When I got out, there was a beigey-tan pair of raw silk Thai PJs ready for me to put on.  Once dressed, another cup of tea.  I mean really.  I'm starting to feel guilty, kind of.  I had a reflexology and calf massage for an hour.  Never does it take long before I'm putty and passed out.  She carried my clothes down the hall to the Thai massage room.  I went to the washroom, almost breaking my toe, not seeing the lip (the floor wasn't flat), breaking my calm for a moment only, then lying on the floor-positioned mat.

Let me tell you, where this tiny woman stored here strength is beyond me.  How she used her body to ease my tension was remarkable.  I kept thinking, maybe it's the technique, a new technique that's more beneficial than anything I've had done before.  After all, she was bending me into pretzel-like shapes and then applying significant pressure.  Fact is, nothing could deny her ability; how she used one finger was more effective than how some individuals use their entire beings.  Hands down this woman had a gift.  I started feeling intense heat towards the end and had no idea where it was coming from.  Eventually I clued in that I'd also signed up for hot stone massage.  Geez!  Some people swear by hot stones, but they're really hot.  Personally, not my thing.

I then got dressed, slowly, of course remembering to put my flower in my hair.  I loved the PJs I'd been given to wear and was curious if they would let me buy them.  Uber comfortable, they would be a special memento to remind me of what would surely be my longest, and likely best massage ever.  I figured I had nothing to lose.

All in all, my magical massage lasted 4 hours.  I kind of bow my head in shame knowing that I was pampered for that long, at once.  There's treating yourself and then there's this.  It was AMAZING.  Sukjai made it amazing.  Chiva Chiva made it amazing.  The feel of their space, high ceilings, the peaceful atmosphere, tea upon arriving, after my bath, and once downstairs, prior to paying the bill.  Finding my final cup of tea and my shoes, I sadly removed my slippers, and sipped my tea while soaking in the atmosphere of the lobby from a relaxed perspective.  PJs in hand, I approached the desk and bravely yet with slight embarrassment ask if the PJs are for sale.  I hear a yes, and smile, replying they will be a special reminder of today.  I choose to keep my explanation simple for the purposes of confusion.  I'm given the price and am most pleased.  My curiosity then delves to explore if anyone as ever purchased them before, to which the answer is no.  I cannot say I am surprised to be the first.  I smile.  :)  Quirkiness is part of who I am.

I pay my bill and do the most important math of the day, appropriate tip amount for Sukjai.  I won't soon be forgetting my new friend.  Any great masseur is a fast friend in my book.  May she be well and may her gift take her places.  Kokumpai Sukjai! 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Robinson's

after my lazy 13 hour sleep, I slowly shower, and head to the lobby where I enjoy my meal in the hotel, consisting of shrimp pad Thai.  you may be wondering why in all of Bangkok I eat in the hotel - I do so after asking for a good place to eat in the area. Robinson's was suggested, a food court where locals go for an authentic, inexpensive Thai lunch. great!  following directions given, I leave the hotel turning left into the blazing midday sun and heat of Bangkok until I hit a "t", then making another left. finding myself on a two-way street, streetside I pass several stands selling tshirts, knock-off bags, watches, repeat . to my left are hotels, delis, American stores, an Ethan Allen, Burger King, 7-11. I'm struck by how Americanized Bangkok is. one certainty: I can see a lot more clearly with daylight.   :)


finally, I stumble upon Robinson's.

Robinson's is a department store.  anything I seek to find I can get here, good to know.  I find my way to the food court, located in the basement, and, well, I'm not in Kansas anymore! I'm not someone who has a strong sense of smell, but my sense of smell kicks in to high gear the minute I land in the 80s-designed, yellowey-lit, all-Thai food court. I want to leave instantly, but tell myself to give it a chance. I look around at the various options; looking is the thing to do because reading is out. as I move around the odor doesn't seem to dissipate at all, unfortunately, nor does anything catch my eye. Looking for a simple lunch, along the lines of pad Thai, or a soup I might recognize, sadly I come up empty. not the most adventurous eater to begin with and slightly turned off by the odor, I decide to head back to territory familiar and eat there.

Failing the eating with locals test, I don't grade myself too harshly. when it comes to food, I'm not about to eat just about anything.  I'll take criticism until the cows come home and am curious about what the oder was, real or imagined.

what I can say to those of you with sentitive senses of smells, is that Bangkok, though fabulous, does have some funky wafts here and there. as aforementioned, they didn't much bother me, but could really get to some, and I may not have been aware of all I crossed.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bangkok by night...

luckily i was able to sleep all the way, practically, after not sleeping the night before leaving, and getting 2 seats to myself for the Vancouver-Tokyo leg.  I then won a deck of cards on the Tokyo-Bangkok flight!  they must have known!!!  :)

to my amazement, both my babies (or suitcases) arrived successfully after leaving my apartment, traveling Vancouver, Tokyo and arriving in Bangkok 26 or 29 hours later.

after clearing customs, i walked into the airport, and the car i asked to pick me up from the airport the night before leaving was dead in front of me with my name.  what more could i have asked for???


ooooooooo


butterflies in my tummy!!!  haven't had these since I fell in love with New York back in February in 2000.  back then mum and I were coming to find me a place to live.  wooowie, that was a long time ago now!  i remember it as though it was yesterday, but a lot has happened between now and then, and yes, it has been 11 years.  alas, i am definitely, a New Yorker!!!

boy, oh, boy!  Thailand and Bangkok, more to the point, by night is beautiful and alive!!!  it's about 11:30 at night.  street markets are still blazing, traffic is heavy, tuk-tuks (essentially cars with no doors) fill the streets, scooters weave through traffic like stitching on garments, pedestrians fill the sidewalks and line the streets for food, returning from shopping, drinking, bars or other evening activities.  meanwhile, i have my choice of entertainment to follow on my way to the hotel.  i thought new york was busy, but this is competition.  there is no spare room on the street or sidewalk; everything is chock-a-block.

i could certainly live here.  the energy is frenetic and present.  i'm tempted to go wandering, but think better of it and will wait until daylight breaks.  i am tired, and don't have a clue where i'm headed.  then again, my thinking sways, i could just go straight, my sense of direction isn't bad, i've taken my medication, i won't get lost, just turn around if things look creepy.  hmmm....  i err on the side of safety.  booorrrrring!

i check in to the hotel.  room 207.  a cute room.  but my luggage sits by the doorway.  they say they'll bring it up right away.  i sit in my room and wait....nothing.  i didn't like the idea of waiting.  this is thailand.  what if they put drugs into my luggage?  this is a reputable hotel, but i saw that movie, "brokedown palace" with claire danes.  i'm not risking that shit!  i immediately grab my key and bolt for the elevator.  once down in the lobby i make a b-line for my luggage, sitting calmly and crookedly just as i put it down by the door.  it hasn't been touched, much less blown on.  of course...

i grab my bags - the guys offer to bring it up, but i tell them i've got it.  i take my luggage up to my room, feeling like a complete untrusting north american idiot; who i am, call a spade a spade.  i heave a sigh of relief.  now, email.  head back downstairs and bother them again!  these guys see a lot of my face in the next two days.  : /  check email for the next hour or so, before realizing i can actually call mum and let her know i'm alive.  time-wise i'm confused, thinking home is ahead, not behind, or vice-versa.  until i get an email from a friend verifying what time it is at home, i have no clue how the time change is working.  good thing i didn't go wandering.  i may be a little more out of it than i initially thought!

head upstairs, call mum from the room - OOOPS!  $30 later.  not a smart move.  she finally suggests skype.  well, i did think of that at the computer.  back to the confusion part of me, but didn't think i could do that...ugh - fatigue is definitely setting in!   don't you love how i'm not really with it??  it takes me about half an hour to DOWNLOAD skype onto the hotel computer.  me crafty!  **hee hee**  skype now works.  conversation successful!

SLEEPY TIME!

i slept again!  this time for about 13 hours, until 1pm the next day.  i told myself it was better to just sleep practically through my first day than to deal with jet lag for the next few days.  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!!!  the bed was UBER comfortable!

significance of blog title

it was suggested to me that i write a blog while traveling in asia.  well, given that it's november 7th, well, now the 8th, (some of you are probably chuckling right about now...), i'm back in my NYC apartment.  clearly, that didn't happen.  what did happen, was i made mental notes each day of things to write about for my blog to be, "lotus and the wheelbarrow", now in existence.

sitting in meditation lecture one afternoon on a blazing hot day in the shala in samui, miles was lecturing about the grooves a wheelbarrow makes, paralleling the circuitry our brain develops for long-term habits over time.  the lotus is a common symbol in buddhism for freedom.  later that night or a few days later i was discussing with my roommate the idea of getting a tattoo with a lotus rising out of a wheelbarrow, the wheelbarrow being drawn with groove marks of mud, symbolizing the habitual time the wheel had been spinning.  while in hawaii, my final week away, i wound up getting a henna tattoo of the design i envisioned.  it's really neat!  i think i'll just keep getting this over and over again, instead of getting an actual tattoo.  who knows, i may cave in the end.  time will tell.  :)

last winter, january to april, i took a class through the nalanda institute of contemplative science on the plasticity of the mind.  through meditation, we have the ability to undo our habits.  fascinating, truly.