Dee Dee’s Top Ten Travel Essentials

I pride myself on being a good packer. I don’t want to boast, but I think I am pretty darn good at traveling light and packing right. I’m not sure if any of you actually care about what or how I pack, but here are my top-ten travel essentials (minus the obvious things like deodorant, etc.).

  1. Ziploc Bags. I am nothing without my ziploc bags. If you look in my backpack and even my massive duffel bag that I left in Thailand, you will find everything organized into ziploc bags. They ensure that your belongings stay dry, and keep everything organized and easy to find. I keep one bag reserved for dirty clothes so they stay contained, making sure that the rest of my bag doesn’t smell like a piece of used hockey padding.
  2. A dry bag. Those outdoorsy folks know what I’m talking about, but for those of you that don’t, a dry bag is what you would typically use rafting to make sure everything stays dry…it’s pretty self explanatory. They come in all different sizes, but since we’ve already decided that clothes go in ziploc bags, I’d say get a smallish one for your camera, iPod, and wallet. You never know when a little rain or a monsoon is going to catch up with you and it’s always nice to have a reliable dry bag with you.
  3. Quick-dry underwear. This follows the whole wet theme I’ve got going on here. If you get caught in the rain or pushed in a lake, you don’t want to be stuck with wet undies all day, so wear quick-dry ones. I only brought four pairs of underwear with me, three of which are quick-dry, because I can wash them at night and they’ll be dry the next morning. Not only does less underwear save space in your bag, but I like to think of it as a travel badge of honor.
  4. Baby wipes. These are always in my bag. You never know what yucky thing you’ll touch or have spilled on you (today it was yak curd for me). Plus, if you don’t have time to take a shower or don’t want to take a freezing cold shower, then a baby wipe bath is your best bet.
  5. Hand sanitizer. This doesn’t even need an explanation.
  6. Duct tape. What can’t you do with duct tape?! If your shoe is giving you blisters, put some duct tape on your foot and boom! you’re better. Tear your pants? Duct tape them back together! Backpack break? Duct tape it! Screaming baby in the seat behind you? Duct tape it! Just kidding, but you all know the thought has crossed your mind.
  7. Swiss army knife. I was given one of these for my 16th birthday and I think I’ve used it at least once a day since then. You never know when you’ll need to cut, peel, file, or tweeze something. Just remember not to take it through airport security with you.
  8. Headlamp. They may look dorky, but that coal-miner look will leave you feeling like the belle of the ball when you rescue someone who is trying to unlock their hotel door in the dark or when the power goes out at dinner. This is definitely an essential if you are traveling to Nepal. India controls the power in Kathmandu, making electricity reliably unreliable. Don’t bother coming to Nepal if you aren’t bringing a headlamp or at least a flashlight.
  9. Burt’s Bees Wax Lip Balm. I’m addicted. You can leave this out of your bag, but it is more than essential for me. I brought five sticks to Thailand with me just in case I lost one or two or three of them.
  10. A ziploc bag containing:
  • Pepto: Take one before or after suspicious meals.
  • Immodium: If the Pepto doesn’t work, then this is your next step. One day you’ll thank your lucky stars for having this with you. I had three emergency bathroom runs at the end of one of the days on my last trek, popped two of these bad boys and was set for more trekking.
  • Ciprofloxacin: This is the serious stuff when it comes to stomach problems abroad. If Pepto and Immodium don’t work, then you might have a bacterial infection and you probably need this.
  • Alieve: Will cure joint pain, headaches, hangovers, etc. The panacea.
  • Bandaids: I always seem to be in need of one and you’ll be someone-in-needs’ new best friend when you give them one.

My last travel tip is this: They will have some variation of everything you need where you are going. So pack half as much as you were originally planning. Happy Travels!

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can…

Why a person who has had rotten knees since birth would look at a map and decide that they would buy a ticket to Nepal and go trekking is beyond me, but that’s what I did for some reason. It didn’t really occur to me until a few days into my first trek that it was an odd decision. As I slowly descended down some massive granite steps on the side of a very steep hillside, I paused for a moment to analyze the situation. I was bracing myself with my two bamboo hiking sticks, deciding whether it felt like someone was hammering a four inch nail into my knees every time I bent them or whether it was more like my cartilage had been replaced with barbed wire, and I started to question how the hell I ended up there.

I made my mom, our guide, and our porter walk ahead in hopes that if nobody saw my struggle, then maybe it wouldn’t feel as difficult. I felt weak and pissed off at myself. Who the hell did I think I was? I should know better than this. I know my knees and I should therefore know my limits, shouldn’t I??

My knees have always been fickle and I know that, yet there I was, halfway down a massive hill somewhere between two small mountain towns and the only option was to keep going down. I felt so stupid for thinking that I could do a six day trek. Tears were starting to well up in my eyes, which made me even more frustrated with myself. We all should know what we can and can’t handle. But although I may know my limits, I seem to like to push them, I guess because if I don’t then I’ll never know what I’m really capable of, which I suppose is how I ended up on the side of a steep hill in Nepal.

Obviously I survived that trek and believe it or not, I sent myself on a second one!

The first trek I went on was the Naya Pul and Ghorapani loop in the Annapurna region. Unfortunately, it’s getting close to the monsoon season so the views were pretty terrible, but we did get to see a few of the magnificent mountains one evening. I did the trek with my Mom, our guide Tika, and our 15 year old porter, who we nicknamed Ironman because he could carry our massive backpack with no problem at all.

Ironman (our porter), myself, Tika (our guide), and my Mom.

My second trek was in the Langtang Region bordering Tibet, which was absolutely stunning. The monsoon starts later there, so the views weren’t obstructed with clouds and haze. The hike was easier than the previous trek, but because I’d already spent six days torturing my knees the week before, I had a pretty hard time going downhill for two days out of the seven day trek. I also decided that I would buck up and carry my own bag, which my doctor would probably smack me upside the head for doing. Luckily once my knees started to fail me Tika (my wonderful guide) carried my backpack for me.

We had planned for one rest day in the middle of our trek where we would visit the local temple and yak cheese factory, but the Type A side of my personality kicked in again and I found myself climbing up to 4,700 meters for a better view of the mountains and glaciers. I was happy to find that I had no problems acclimating to the altitude, but my knees complained the whole way down.

The view from 4,700 meters.

When we returned to the teahouse after our little hike, we decided to go in search of some tumba (pronounced toomba). Tumba is made by boiling millet, adding a goats hoof, and storing the mixture in a plastic bag under your house for at least fifteen days, the good stuff is stored for about three months. Once you are ready to drink it, you scoop out the millet, scrape of the mold, and put it in a massive cup. To drink it, you pour hot water over the millet and sip up the alcoholic liquid. It’s fantastic for cold weather.

We had found some tumba the day before, so we knew we could find it again. It’s pretty difficult stuff to get this time of year because it is too warm outside to make it. We didn’t have anything else to do that day since the temple and yak cheese factory turned out to be closed, so we decided to take the rest of the day off and get drunk. Tika and I went to a tiny little teashop and each ordered our own tumba. The shop owner and her two friends were in the shop gossiping and eating dry flour and salt in between sips of salty Tibetan yak butter tea. After a few hours, it went from just being Tika and I drinking, to at least fifteen other guides, porters, and foreigners drinking tumba and roxy, eating dried then fried yak meat with timor (the most delicious peppercorn on earth), and singing all the songs we could think of. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Some guides and me drinking tumba.

The trekking was fantastic, despite the pain. Now I know that I am in fact capable of walking long distances,as long as I”m going up not down though, which makes all of the pain I experienced worth it. If any of you are planning on coming to Nepal to go trekking I have a few recommendations and guide book corrections.

The guide books are wrong about prices for almost everything. A good wage for a guide is around 15USD a day and for a porter it’s about 12USD per day. You can do treks on your own, but you’ll learn a lot more about culture and see a lot more wildlife if you hire a guide. I expected to do most of the trekking without a guide, but quickly came to realize that almost everyone here hires a guide and does so through a tour company. If you hire a porter, make sure that the company has a limit for how many bags one porter carries. More than two massive backpacks or duffel bags for someone around my size is cruel, so make sure to ask the tour company what their policy is before you book a tour with them. And lastly, if you need a good guide, my guide and new friend Tika is absolutely wonderful. He comes with my highest recommendations. He’s by far one of the most fantastic people I’ve met in the past six months and I feel like he is part of my family now. So please, please, please ask me for his information if you are planning on coming to Nepal.

I’m back in Kathmandu, which is where I’ll be for the next week. I’m booking a ticket today to go to South Korea on the 8th to see my friends Bobby and Will who are teaching English there. Words can’t even describe the high I get from being able to make a decision to jet over to another country a week before I want to leave. I feel so free! There will be at least one more post coming this week, so keep checking the blog. I’d also like to give a big thanks to my dad for publishing and editing my last blog post for me since the internet at my hotel is too slow.

Road Queen

I have a love-hate relationship with buses in foreign countries. They can be infuriating, smelly, crowded, broken, too slow, too fast, and the list goes on. Despite all of the negative aspects, there is something highly entertaining about them, although half the time it’s only entertaining after you’ve recovered from the journey.

After teaching English in Northeastern Thailand for five months, I was starting to get a little stir crazy and decided that the solution was to mix things up a bit by venturing to Nepal. My Mom joined me for the first two weeks of travel which included several interesting bus rides much to her dismay. We didn’t quite see eye to eye on the concept that buses can be wonderful modes of transport. She wanted to go by plane between destinations because of the speed and ease, but in the end I convinced her to give buses a shot.

Our first bus experience in Nepal, from Kathmandu to Pokhara, was supposed to last six hours but turned into a 13-hour journey due to a truck accident which spurred a village strike. After leaving our original tourists-only minivan and hiking to a taxi that offered a reasonable price, we ended up in what turned out to be a Nepali clown car. In a vehicle that fits 15 people sort of comfortably, we squeezed four Frenchmen, one Canadian, two Americans, six Israelis, one Japanese, and 12 Nepalis. That’s 26 for those of you who don’t feel like doing the math. This number slowly increased as we got closer to Pokhara. Four people were on the roof, which looks comfortable because you get to sit/lie on the giant mound of backpacks and could be fun and scenic as long as you don’t mind the dust and holding on for dear life. Good luck to your poor broken body if the taxi or bus gets into an accident though.

Being in tight quarters with a skipping Aqua CD on repeat made this adventure feel like it would never end. The first time you hear Barbie Girl in a foreign country it’s exciting, but by the eighteenth time you are ready to kick the stereo in. By the time the Israeli on the roof started hurling and the taxi driver kept stopping to tighten the bolts on the wheel, I was over it. I only wanted a bed and if I was so lucky some BBC World News before the power went out (a frequent occurrence). I had been gone long enough that even hearing sports news, something that would typically bore me into a catatonic state, made me happy.

Our next bus ride was from Pokhara to Chitwan, and although it wasn’t nearly as long as the previous experience, it was equally annoying. The seats on the bus felt as though they were held in place by a few pieces of used chewing gum, making for the bumpiest five hours of my life. I think I can confidently say that I’ve been on better roads in Burma, which says a lot. The roads make you feel every gram of fat on your body jiggle and if you’ve ever wanted to test the quality of your bra, this is the most thorough way to do it.

It didn’t quite matter whether or not you wanted your seat to recline because they all do the moment you lean back in them, leaving very minimal personal space for the person behind you. My mom and I are lucky to have short legs in these situations.

This ride made me reminisce about that Disneyland ride the Matterhorn. The road winds close to cliffs and makes those sharp zig-zaggy moves along the road, only unlike Disneyland, the sharp wheel turns aren’t made to scare you but to make sure you aren’t run off the road by the trucks, buses, and cars that you are playing chicken with.

On our third bus ride, my Mom and I found ourselves with great front-seat views of the road ahead of us. We were aware of every near miss and the fact that the only things preventing us from flying off the road were a few stacks of bricks here and there. I came to the realization that I seem to have an almost unnerving lack of fear in these situations. My mom can’t even look at the oncoming traffic, let alone the cliffs, whereas I can’t even get my pulse to race the slightest bit. I would like to say that it’s some kind of weird adrenaline junkie thing, but I don’t get any kind of rush out of watching us nearly slam head on into a massive truck carrying a huge load of gravel.

I felt nothing throughout what should have been frightening bus rides. Which is interesting because while we were on our canoe trip in the Chitwan National Park I had a mini panic attack as our canoe hovered above a massive crocodile and my mom remained completely relaxed. I think that’s slightly justifiable, though. Our guide was a stoner who was perpetually baked out of his mind. As we got close to the first crocodile in our canoe made out of a single hollowed out log, he nonchalantly told us about his last close-call crocodile attack two days earlier. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell don’t want the man in charge of my life to be high as a kite and chuckling when a crocodile comes out of the water to rip my arm off. I want Crocodile Dundee, someone with a spear or a gun. At least someone with a safari shirt, not a dirty t-shirt that says “Hello my name is _____. If I’m too drunk to know my way home, please send me to this address:_______.”

While my mom was trying to calm herself down in her front row seat of horror, I would admire and read the phrases on the back of the trucks we passed. Road King. No time for love. See You. Horn Please. Catch me if you can. I thought the trucks in Thailand were pretty, but Nepal really takes the cake. They are brightly decorated inside and out and painted with elaborate designs and scenes. And the horns! The horns are the best in Nepal. The drivers make little songs with their horns. It could be a quick warning single beep or it could be a fun little tune depending on their reason for honking.

As I dozed off, I dreamt of my imaginary life as a Nepali trucker. My truck was neon pink and on the sides there were paintings of birds flying above a Buddha in a field of lotus flowers. The back read Eat My Sneeze Inducing Nepali Dust Suckers! and the front proudly declared Road Queen. I was perched above the steering wheel in my turquoise and lime green sari honking tweedly dee da dee until I was jolted awake by a near head on collision.

At first my mom was annoyed with me for not agreeing to fly between Kathmandu and Pokhara, and although she didn’t fully come around to love bus travel like I do, she at least understood where I was coming from. First of all, I’m cheap. When I’m traveling and I see a large sum of money being spent in a way that I know I could do for ten times cheaper it kills me. An unnecessary flight between Kathmandu and Pokhara was seen in my eyes as several days worth of food. Secondly, there is no better way to actually see a country than by bus.

Slow travel is severely underrated these days. We are always rushing around and in doing so end up missing so much. Why fly over a country when you can drive through it? Every rest stop or break down gives you the chance to peer into the way things operate. Planes are usually uneventful modes of travel, but buses will almost always give you a story to walk away with in the end, even if it means you have to suffer a little in the process.

My mom may not have relished the quirks of bus travel while in Nepal, but she sure does have a lot of fun reminiscing about it now. She swears that it made her less uptight and nervous because now she just accepts that sometimes you have no control over a situation. You just have to sit back and enjoy the view.

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Singing for Our Supper

I thought I would share a few pictures of my Mom and I together in Thailand before we leave for Nepal in a couple days.

Last night we cooked a big Thai birthday feast at my friend’s house for one of the family members. During the preparations for dinner, they had a masseuse come over and give us massages, which was really great for my Mom because her back was sore from the plane ride. It was her first massage ever and she loved it.

After dinner we sang karaoke together. It was really entertaining for everyone because it’s not everyday that they have two tone deaf foreigners attempting to sing English songs at their house. I’ve been trying to find a way to repay the family we are staying with for all of the hospitality that they’ve shown me over the past three months, and I think I finally found the perfect way. Even though our singing voices are terrible, I think it was a big treat to hear their favorite foreign songs sung by native speakers.

Here are some pictures from the very first part of our adventures together!

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From Beach Bunny to Mountain Goat

Yesterday I got back from a week on a beautiful island called Koh Chang. If you are coming to Thailand and want a low key non-touristy island, I highly suggest heading there. It was gorgeous and was much less touristy than the Southern islands of Thailand. I spent seven days and nine nights on the island swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. It was wonderful!

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As most of you already know, my mom came to Thailand today. We are spending three days in Thailand and then we are heading to Nepal to do some trekking. My mom and I will be traveling together for two weeks, after which she will go back home and I will spend another two weeks in Nepal. I’m not entirely positive what my plan will be after Nepal, but as of right now, I think I will go to Northern Vietnam and then take the train or bus into Southern China. I will continue to post to the blog while I am traveling, although it might be a little more infrequent. That’s all for now! My next post will be coming from Nepal!

Korean BBQ in Thailand

One of my favorite types of restaurants to go to in Thailand are the ones that serve Moo Kaowlee AKA Korean Pork. I’m not entirely sure if this is really a Korean dish or a Thai invention attributed to the Koreans. It seems as though I’m constantly being told that the dish I am eating isn’t Thai, but Vietnamese or Chinese or Korean. I’m sure that Thai food is influenced by all of these countries, but I don’t think Thailand is giving itself enough credit, it can’t all be from other countries.

Moo Kaowlee is kind of like the Korean or Thai version of fondue. There is a hole in the center of every table in the restaurant so that a heavy bucket of coals can be set inside (I got burned for the first time by a little coal falling between my toes last week). While you are waiting for the coals to heat up, you select your vegetables, meat, and noodles from the buffet bar in the back of the restaurant. The buffet of raw meat would make any health inspector have a coronary. Trays upon trays of raw pork, chicken, beef, and seafood are on ice for everyone to take from with tongs. The noodles are at the next station over, along with some fried appetizers such as french fries. The dessert station is disconcertingly found only two feet away from the raw meat station. You are free to take what ever you like and it is assumed that you understand that the meat shouldn’t end up in your dessert bowl.

Moo Kaowlee restaurants would be shut down by the Health Department in a heartbeat if they were to try and open in the States. If you have ever been to a fondue restaurant in America, you probably experienced the five to ten minute schpiel about how long to cook the meat for before you can eat it. They have to make sure that you have some sort of timing device, and even suggest having multiple ones since seafood and meat have different cook times. On top of all of that they have to make sure to remind you that it is hot….duh! The amount of idiotic lawsuits that would arise from this wonderful meal being served in the US is too scary and depressing to think about.

Once the coals are hot enough, a bundt-like pan is placed on top of the bucket and you are ready to start cooking. A couple of pieces of pig fat are placed in the middle of the pan and water or broth is poured around the island. Noodles, seafood, and vegetables are cooked in the water and the meat is cooked on the pork fat oiled island. The fat and juices from the meat drip down into the surrounding water creating the most delicious broth.

My only problem with the whole process is the fact that you use the same utensils to pick up the raw meat with as you do your cooked meat. Like any good over cautious American, I try to keep utensils for raw and cooked meat separated, but after a while it becomes exhausting and I usually give in to not caring.

One of my many Moo Kaowlee outings.
One of my many Moo Kaowlee outings.

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This past week I was introduced to the takeaway option of Moo Kaowlee. Someone brings the pot of coals, the pan, the meat, vegetables, and sauces to your house. The delivery boy lights the coals for you and the whole thing is set up inside your living room, with plenty of fans running of course. Once dinner is over you don’t even have to clean anything, the delivery boy will pick it up in the morning and do all of that for you! It’s fantastic, except for the smoke inhalation…

One of the best parts of eating Moo Kaowlee in a restaurant, is dessert at the end. There is fruit, coconut ice cream, and Nam Khang Sai to choose from. Nam Khang Sai is my absolute favorite Thai dessert. It’s like the Thai snow cone, only in a bowl with jelly toppings and coconut milk…okay maybe it’s not exactly a snow cone. You put shaved ice in a bowl, spoon a coconut milk and sugar water over it, add your choice of syrup flavors (I like mine without the syrups), and put all sorts of different Chinese jellies on top. It is a light dessert that goes down well in hot weather and I plan on sharing it with all of you when I get back home!

Jelly squares, jelly noodles, water chestnuts, red beans, basil seeds, and bread squares to add to your Nam Khang Sai.
Jelly squares, jelly noodles, water chestnuts, red beans, basil seeds, and bread squares to add to your Nam Khang Sai.
Making my Nam Khang Sai at the Moo Kaowlee restaurant after a delicious dinner.
Making my Nam Khang Sai at the Moo Kaowlee restaurant after a delicious dinner.
Dow operating the ice shaving machine for the Nam Khang Sai that she sells outside her boyfriends internet cafe.
Dow operating the ice shaving machine for the Nam Khang Sai that she sells outside her boyfriend's internet cafe.

In other news, I am done with my job in Khon Kaen and am staying at Dow’s house in Rangsit, which is about an hour outside of Bangkok. Tomorrow I plan on heading to Koh Chang for a week to soak up a little sunshine on the beach and do a little hiking through the jungle. I’ll be back here at the end of next week which is when my mom arrives! For those of you that haven’t heard, my mom is coming to Thailand on April 5th and then we will be off to Nepal on the 8th. Words cannot describe how excited I am to see her!

For those of you that are on Twitter, I would like you to know I just signed up. I’m not totally sold on it yet, so we’ll see how long I keep it up for, but for now you can find me on Twitter as wakeupanddance.

Thank you all for keeping up with my blog for the past five months! I can’t believe it’s been so long already. I anticipate some grand adventures in the upcoming months, so please keep reading!

Two Yummy and Easy Thai Recipes

Alright, here’s a post for all you foodies out there. One of the teachers invited me over for a little cooking lesson after aerobic dance yesterday. Megh Tiew and her sister taught me how to make Gang Jewt Kai Nam (Lightly Flavored Soup with Egg) and Pad Taow Oo (Fried Tofu). Both of these are easy to make and aren’t spicy. I’ve written down the recipes, but since they don’t use teaspoons and tablespoons to measure things out, I am guessing on the amounts, so don’t trust them one hundred percent. Here are the rough recipes and a video of my cooking lesson. Bon appetit!

Megh Tiew 1

Gang Jewt Kai Nam

  • vegetable oil
  • 6-8 small cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1 cucumber, sliced
  • handful sliced onions
  • handful torn lettuce leaves
  • about one teaspoon powdered chicken flavor
  • about one tablespoon (maybe more?) mushroom sauce
  • about 1 cup seasoned ground pork (optional)
  1. Heat oil on high. When hot, add garlic. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Once fried, remove garlic from  oil. Set aside.
  2. Fry two eggs in remaining oil. Once cooked, remove from wok. Set aside.
  3. Add water and cucumber to the wok. Cover and let cook for a couple of minutes.
  4. Place spoonfuls of meat in water with cucumbers. Cook for a couple of minutes while stirring.
  5. Add remaining vegetables, powdered chicken flavor, and mushroom sauce. Stir. Cook for a few minutes.
  6. Add fried garlic and eggs from earlier. Cook for a few more minutes.
  7. Serve with rice.

Pad Taow Oo

  • vegetable oil
  • 8-10 small garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 package of tofu, cut into 1 inch squares
  • about 1 or 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • about 1 tablespoon mushroom sauce
  • 1/3 cup water
  • about 1 teaspoon sugar
  • about 8 green onions chopped into 2 inch long pieces
  • white pepper
  1. Heat oil on high. When hot, add garlic and tofu. Fry for a couple of minutes on med-high heat.
  2. Add oyster sauce, mushroom sauce, sugar and water. Stir. Cook for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add green onions. Cook for a few minutes.
  4. Transfer to plate and sprinkle with white pepper.
  5. Serve with rice.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh2JE1KvSq4]

A Trip to the Dentist

My dental history is not what I would call ideal. Before I started using toothpaste with a prescription level of fluoride in it, every dental check up ended with me making an appointment to take care of at least one cavity that was found during my cleaning. As a result, I have become the paranoid patient. I am a rabid flosser and can be found flossing even in a semi-unconscious state because otherwise guilt and anxiety will haunt me. So, being the diligent dental patient that I am, I decided that I needed to get a check-up before I begin traveling to countries that might not have as reliable dental care as Thailand.

Upon arriving at the clinic, my first task was to make sure that I was in fact at the dental clinic. There was a big sign outside to the right of the building that said Dental Clinic, but it wasn’t very specific as to which building the clinic might be, and I’ve found that every time I feel confident in my ability to determine where or what something might be, I’m proved wrong. There was no need for me to start demanding to see a dentist if I was not actually in a dental clinic after all.

After establishing that I was in the correct building, I then had to figure out why they wouldn’t let me see a dentist. They were trying to convey some kind of problem to me and I was doing my best to understand their Thai. The office is closed. It is Wednesday. The office is closed. No dentists. Come back at five in the evening. Go over there. It seemed odd to me that a clinic wouldn’t open until five, and since my Thai is still a little untrustworthy, I decided to double check with somebody else who hopefully spoke English.

I told the four ladies that I understood and subtly moved to the next window, out of their view, to try again. I began my line of questioning in the same broken Thai, and instead of trying to explain the situation in Thai to me, the woman behind the glass decided to just call an English speaker. I greatly appreciated this, and found that I had understood the first four ladies correctly.

I came back to the clinic at five holding a section of my Thai notes on doctors, hoping that I would be able to effectively convey in Thai what I wanted. Unfortunately, the word for cleaning wasn’t on my vocabulary list, and I realized while I was waiting for them to call my name, that all I could say was want dentist, do I have a cavity? and my tooth hurts.

It occurred to me that if the dentist spoke as much English as the people at the front desk, then I was going to have to find a different way to communicate that I wanted a cleaning, some x-rays, and a check-up. I started thinking of how I would pantomime the word cleaning, and imagined the look on the face of the dentist as he wondered why I wanted to sweep the floor. I decided that if need be, my best bet was to phone a friend.

I made sure to sit front and center in the waiting room, and after a short wait, a dentist came into the room looked directly at me and tried to pronounce my name. I was very relieved to find that my dentist spoke English and explained to him what I wanted. He looked at my teeth for a few moments, told me they looked good and to wait in the waiting room for x-rays to be taken.

Once my x-rays were done, I went back to the waiting room for about thirty minutes, during which I examined the posters on throat ulcers, braces, cavities, and mouth cancer caused by cigarettes. The pictures gave me the heebie jeebies, so I decided to sit and watch the television, which was playing some kind of news report done by a man in drag (aka ladyboy). I was thinking about how wonderfully liberal Thailand is regarding sexuality, when a woman came out and used the staring technique to indicate that it was my turn again.

It was time for the verdict and a cleaning. I sat down and they reclined my seat so far back that my feet were a little bit higher than my head. A towel was laid on my chest, and I was surprised when the assistant unfolded the towel and pulled it up to cover my face. There was a circular hole in the towel leaving only my mouth and nose exposed.

I had to hold back the giggles when the dentist moved the towel a little to expose one of my eyes, so that she could tell me that my x-rays were fine, I had clean teeth, and zero cavities. I was happy to hear that, but wondered how they could tell all of that with just a few molar x-rays and less than a minute of tooth inspection. What about poking my gums with that sharp pokey tool? After complimenting my good dental hygiene, she covered my eye with the towel again and started cleaning.

The trip was successful, although, I don’t necessarily feel that it was thorough enough. I was very happy to find that my silly charades act wasn’t necessary because the dentists spoke great English. And to top it off, it only cost me twenty-six bucks! If you ever find yourself in need of dental care in Thailand, I think you’ll find yourself in good hands. I recommend not looking at the graphic mouth cancer pictures in the waiting rooms though.

It’s More Than Wanderlust

I just found the perfect description of my wanderlust in the book I’m reading right now called A Fortune Teller Told Me (which I highly recommend, so far it’s fantastic). Terzani, the author, writes how his need for travel comes not from his body but “from another source, that brought with it a baggage of old yearnings and homesickness for latitudes known to me in some life before this one.” I’m not one to believe in reincarnation, but there is something true about this statement none the less.

I seem to be searching for places that have remained untouched and am continuously disappointed when I find time after time that a place has been infiltrated by the West and the tourism industry. I don’t want modern hotels or Pizza Hut. I don’t want to see a 7-11 on every street corner and I would much rather swim in the ocean than a hotel pool. Yet I also find myself enjoying the comforts and conveniences that come with modernity. I couldn’t have internet access if it weren’t for foreign influence for example. And I quite like air conditioning every now and then. It’s a matter of finding a middle ground that is difficult.

I am writing this as I sit on the river bank of the Mekong in Thailand looking across at Laos. I managed to find a wonderfully laid back guesthouse in a Lonely Planet and am so happy not to be in one of the concrete block hotels mentioned beside it in the guide book. But it almost isn’t enough for me. I miss the time when I wouldn’t see the headlights of cars on the opposite river bank. You might be thinking that this was way before my time and I have never been here before so how could I miss it? But it’s more that I know how it was at one time and know I would have liked that better. Then again, how can I say that as I sit under an electric fan and electric lights wearing REI 99% Deet and drinking a cold beer. I suppose I could do without the cold beer, but I am so spoiled that I’m not sure how long I would really last in Thailand without these creature comforts.

I seem to find myself in a predicament then, I want the best of both worlds and not only that, I want it all to myself. I know, it’s very selfish of me.

When I start this line of thikning, I’m always drawn back to the idea that it’s people like me, the ones who want to go to the untouched places of the world, who end up ruining those very places. If I found it, then so will other people, and before you know it, a little piece of adventure becomes a tourist attraction and the magic is lost. The people in that area will change with the landscape and that place I loved so much is gone, it’s spirit buried beneath asphalt and hotels.

Every time I visit a well known destination it makes my heart ache a little; I miss the way it used to be. I don’t think I have baggage from a different life like Terzani, but a yearning to have lived in a different time period. To have been one of the first set of foreign eyes to see a forest. Knowing that my going somewhere will have a slight, I guess it’s more like extremely small, impact on an area is a huge draw back to travel, but I also feel that if I don’t go to these places then my life would feel like it was lacking something.

After I graduated from CU I couldn’t convince myself to get a real job, a solid post-graduate job, because I knew I needed to travel. I knew I would feel a kind of homesickness for places I had never been except perhaps in someother lifetime. So here I am experiencing those places I yearn for, only to find myself lusting for a different time period.

Scout Camp at Namphong National Park

Last week I went to Scout Camp with the fifth and sixth grade at Nonthun School. All of the teachers involved with the fifth and sixth grade went, along with teachers and administrators who wanted an excuse to ditch school for two days. The camp was at Namphong National Park next to Ubolrat Dam. We had had nice weather all week until the day we went to Scout Camp and the temperature shot up. Children were fainting during the opening ceremony and I was surprised they didn’t have any casualties during their two hour hiking adventure. I hiked with them for the first hour but then got a terrible headache, which I thought was due to dehydration, but turned out to be a sinus headache because I came down with a sore throat and runny nose later that night.

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The hike was hot, but fun. They had different obstacles for the kids, like climbing up the side of the hill with a rope and going through a small rock cave where they smack you in the face with baby powder. When you are sweating profusely, having baby powder poured all over you is not desirable…at all. (Baby powder is a topic I will have to cover next. It is an obsession out here. People wear so much it makes their skin look ghostly. I’ve been told they do this purely because they like the smell of it, why has someone not invented baby powder scented perfume out here yet?)

At night we had a four hour camp fire. It went on FOREVER. It just wouldn’t end. At first I thought it was fun, but then it just dragged on and on and on. While the kids were doing skits and singing, the male teachers managed to get plastered. The Assistant Director, who was in charge of leading the camp fire, got so drunk that an hour into the festivities had to be removed and replaced with a teacher who hadn’t been drinking. It was a disgusting sight. The worst part was that they were drinking at breakfast when I woke up in the morning. I could barely understand when whiskey and beer were consumed at tailgating parties at 6 in the morning at university, but at Scout Camp? seriously???? There were kids around! What is wrong with these people?? The worst part was that they were going to drive themselves (not the kids) home! What a wonderful example we set for the children. Here is a video of the lighting of the camp fire. I was a little worried towards the end…sparks were flying pretty far.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPPyco55KAI]

The kids surprised me in how self sufficient they were. I think that if all of the adults disappeared from Thailand the kids would be able to carry on just fine. The meals they made outside their tents looked much more delicious than what the teachers ended up with. American kids could learn a lot from these kids about survival. I was very impressed.

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I chose to sleep outside in a tent that a teacher at my other school lent me because of my previous experience with sharing rooms with teachers. The snores that comes out of these women sounds like t-rex with a sinus infection. It’s terrifying and does not make for a good nights sleep.

One of the teachers favorite things to do, that I rarely take advantage of, is the ability to have the kids do whatever it is you desire for you. The teachers use the kids for everything. I want oranges; go get a kilo. I need water. Wash these dishes. Pick the lice out of my hair. Pluck my gray hairs. So when I looked at my tent, I chose to hand it to the closest student. I promise you I don’t use the children like my personal servants, but in this instance I figured that the student and his friends would do it much faster than me and I’m sure I saved myself from being laughed at.

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My tent and my students.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BmzItqe6zI] [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRX7fiFw7Ww]
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Only the sword is real.

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