"The world is a book, & those who do not travel read only one page" St. Augustine

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page" St. Augustine

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Random Thoughts

This post is not the activities I've been doing; although, they might be mentioned. I promise I will update when we return from our camping trip in a few days. I just wanted to reflect on my experience thus far.

I feel blessed. This whole opportunity is opening my eyes and invoking my senses. I knew coming into this I would make new friends, but I did not anticipate it happening so fast. The group dynamic is phenomenal. Our group leader, Hillary, has really become a mentor and an older sister. I feel so close to many of the people in this group. It's so nice to feel so comfortable in such different settings. Sometimes I forget that I am traveling in Southeast Asia. Then there are times, like on the elephant ride, when I think,"I'm on an elephant in the jungles of Umphang. What are you doing today?" It's remarkable.
The time difference between here and home is funny. When it's Sunday morning, my family is saying good night on Saturday. I know that although my sun is rising and their sun is setting, we both sleep under the same moon. That brings more comfort to me than I can express.
Tonight I went to such a beautiful market in Chiang Mai just outside the city walls. It was the largest I have seen. There were street performers, food vendors, clothing, jewelry and artwork. I love conversing with the locals. Despite the language barrier, there is a level of understanding. I love the people here. I love everything. I know I've said that before, but I feel very inspired.
Despite being on the other side of the world, I have been thinking about my plans back home too. I am really contemplating renting a place in the city for the summer. Sometimes I forget to enjoy the simple pleasures of my own backyard. It's so easy to find excuses not to enjoy them, but being away I remember how great of a city Chicago is. I talk about it with such passion; therefore, I think I will spend as much time as I can in the city. One last summer (so I think).
Anyways, just wanted to take a moment and reflect. I'm happy. I'm eager to get my hands dirty and keep exploring. I feel like everything I worked so hard for is paying off. I don't mean that as in physically going to work or spending money either. I asked the guys if it was overwhelming being with so many girls, and one of them responded, "Isn't being in Southeast Asia overwhelming?"I simply said, "No." To me everyday life is overwhelming. Work, school (now done finally!), family, friends, cleaning, laundry (when I do my own), errands and all those other details of every day life... those are overwhelming. For me Southeast Asia is anything but that. My mind is at rest, and I feel free. I'm not stressed about what we are doing tomorrow. I'm just enjoying the moment and living in today. After all that is what Buddhism preaches. I think it's a good philosophy. Here are some videos for you to enjoy. They're from different parts of Bangkok some of which I have yet to write about...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Jungle Thrills

(Thursday) I didn't sleep at all lat night at our camp site in the jungle. I was so uncomfortable because I had to pee, but I didn't want to in the middle of the night. Squat pots are scary enough in the daylight! This whole trip I've been waking up, and it's beginning to annoy me. I was nice and warm with my thermals last night, but I woke up with my throat killing me. Thankfully our guides made us cups from fresh bamboo cups to drink hot tea from :)

We went for a hike to see Thailand's largest waterfall. Along the way, the green jungle was complimented by the harmony of smaller falls. The water was a brilliant shade of turquoise. The large water fall was beautiful. I can't help but use that word. I have found that it has become a lost word in the English dictionary. Often times things are described as pretty, hot or even sexy when referring to a woman. But the word beautiful holds so much power and truth. I won't apologize for abusing the descriptive term on this trip because everything about Thailand (people, food, music, smells, sites, etc) is incredible and deserves the best adjective. Off that tangent, Anna had a waterproof camera, and we took some pictures in the water and jumping off the rocks. She was behind the waterfall and I was in front so she tossed me her camera. However, her throw was very short and the pressure of the falls took the camera down fast. I feel a bit guilty, but there was nothing I could do. Hopefully she isn't too upset! The water is freezing. It's hard to breathe while swimming in it, and my body was covered in goose bumps.
On our hike back, there was a waterfall that's about 30 feet high. Those who wanted could jump off into the water. At first I didn't want to even though I've cliff jumped before. The water is so cold, and having a heart murmur it's not exactly ideal to have your heart stop after jumping in. I nearly gave my dad a heart attack last time I did it. I voted against it, but after watching the first few jumpers I was more than ready. Anastasia and I were going to go together, but when I was ready to jump she was not. I kept reaching out for her hand, but then she decided not to jump. After that, all I could think about was hitting each rock on the way down. I stood up there for too long and lost all my momentum. They gave me a 5 second countdown: on 3 I got in my position, on 2 I did my cross, and on 1 my legs could not move. All my adrenaline was lost :( I didn't jump. Instead I shamefully walked back. I felt like such a coward. I've done this before!!! Thankfully there will  be more opportunities to jump throughout this trip, and I'll be damned if I'm a chicken again.
Blair Jumping
It's amazing how comfortable I feel. I've hardly known these people a week yet I can be around them without my makeup and my hair piled on top of my head. It's starting to look a bit like dreads when it's down from not showering properly. At least it's getting healthier from the lack of products and heat!
As I was writing this journal entry, the only sounds I could hear were the falling leaves dancing in the breeze. It's lovely. Perfect time for a siesta, but we have another three hour trek to the village....
(Later) We arrived at Kho Tha village in just under two hours. We were trekking at a fast pace again. This trek was through the jungle and very scenic. We walked along the river and when I could no longer hear the water, I put in my head phones and walked alone. I wanted some time to think and reflect not only of this trip but of life back home. My mind is in constant conflict. Although I've been able to put it to rest most days here, I cannot ignore it.
Kho Tha village is so quant and prett. The mountains are in the near distance, the huts are made of bamboo, and the roofs are made of black tea leaves. The village is home to 200 Karens and two 7-11s. We're not allowed to walk through the village with our shoulders showing. This is pretty common in Southeast Asia once one is outside the city limits. My nails are filthy. There's dirt underneath them and mud climbing up my leg. It's awkwardly comfortably just like having no technological access.
We took another bath in a river today. I feel refreshed but not clean. This river had many small waterfalls. It's not as cold as the first one we went to today. Brent dislocated his shoulder! OUCH!

Welcome to the Jungle

(Wednesday) Our guest house in Umphang is in the jungle. There are four of us to a room, and I am with Anna, Anastasia and Isabel. Our shower has hot water but just a couple drips flow out to bathe. The toilet and the shower are both in one room. We have a western toilet. Yay! We all froze throughout the night. Although the temperature normally drops at night in Thailand, we will need thermals for camping because the difference is a bit extreme in the jungle.
In the morning we woke up to the sounds of the monkeys and then Karen music playing throughout. I was hoping to catch a sunrise, but it was so foggy you couldn't even see the silhouette of the mountains. Hillary bought ridiculous short to trek in. She told us which store sold them and encouraged all of us to purchase some. The four of us decided to follow her footsteps.
Our ridiculous trekking outfits
Hilllary also suggested we see who gets the stinkiest after our trekking, but I'm pretty sure we all tied!
(Later) Wow! What a day!!! I'm absolutely exhausted and hardly have the energy to write. We all had breakfast together on the porch. Afterwards we headed to the river to raft to our trekking site.
Waiting for our rafts
Super Fab Outfit!!
The river flows through the jungle. The water levels are very low right now since it is dry season. It took us nearly five hours to get to the trekking site.I didn't mind the leisurely ride though. It was, as you guessed, beautiful. (These flies will be the end of my sanity)!! On the river we floated across this one cave where we saw a dozen rainbows. It was such a neat experience.
A fraction of the rainbows
 Simple joys create large impacts. The sun was shining, and we relaxed and played word games on our float. I feel so good right now, I don't even want to write, but I will. The river was home to many animals. Along the ride we saw cows, turtles, birds, snakes and gibbons! What a sight to enjoy.
Some of the group

The lush green jungle was so beautiful and relaxing on the river. I almost didn't want to get off the raft. I could have floated until sunset. When we arrived at our trekking site, we switched our shoes and began upwards, literally!!!
The beginning
The first hour stretch was extremely rough. It was uphill the entire time. They don't believe in switchbacks either. That would have made the trek a bit easier. The sun was raising our temperature as the incline was accelerating our heart rate. The day packs didn't help either. Where was my strong lacrosse player to help me carry it to camp? JUST KIDDING! Of course that is all part of the experience. I loved every minute of it, and so did my butt :) I could definitely feel the burn. Chiara and I hiked together. We were each other's cheerleaders.
The trek took us about three hours which is shorter than expected. It was hard to start trekking after a relaxing float. On the trek we took a few short breaks to regroup, drink and go to the bathroom if needed. At our first stop, I was swarmed by bees. I'm not talking your ordinary bees; these bees were sweat bees. Sweat bees?!?! Really? I've just sweat and worked really hard and wanted a small break and drink of water, and instead I'm surrounded by bees. I tried to go around a rock to go to the bathroom and just as I pulled my trousers down there was another bee! This is not supposed to be a game of hide and seek. Fortunately no stings. I've only been stung once when I was in Cyprus, and my Yiayia poured vinegar on it. Ouch!
We arrived at camp and everyone was overwhelmed with excitement. WE grabbed our sarrongs and headed for the river to bathe! It's been an intense day. My body is tired and my mind is exhausted. Chiara and I also decided to room together tonight. Every night we are to switch roommates in order to break barriers and create friendships with everyone in the group. We had seven tents to sleep in tonight.
We took the 2nd on the left
Our Bamboo cups our guides made

Friday, January 28, 2011


(Monday) I can't quite find the words to explain how I feel. Right now I don't have a single worry. This is unfamiliar to me. I worry about everything, but I'm in such harmony. We just visited an UNESCO site. The Sukhothai Historic Park houses many ruins. They're breathtaking. We rode our bikes through the many ruins; in the backdrop were mountains dense with greens. The ponds carry lily pads, and the bridges lead towards remarkable Buddha statues. We rode our bikes for several hours enjoying each piece and the serenity of the area.
Chains used to date
After a long van ride, we have arrived at a cute guest house in Mae Sot. I have a single room this time. I don't like it. The room is nice, but it's a bit lonely. The group dynamic is already having an influence on me. We went to a "museum" for AAPP just a short walk from our guest house. It's more of an exhibit, and it was extremely moving. I will write a whole blog about AAPP because it deserves a lot of recognition. The exhibit is for political prisoners in Burma. The military has captured more than 2,000 prisoners throughout the years for unjust reasons. Now ex prisoners share their stories as they fight to release the rest of the prisoners including monks, students, women and politicians. They are detained in harsh prison conditions and suffer from disease, abuse and malnutrition. The strength they acquire is unbelievable. I fought back tears as I listen to their stories and see the photos in the exhibit. It's horrific and almost medieval in approach. After being released, they are living in exile. They have fled Burma to avoid being imprisoned again; this leaves them without communication to their families because doing so would put their families at risk of being arrested. One man told us he was captured while studying at the university. When he was released after six years he was denied an education, his documents and his family.
sample prison cell
These stories have left a different tone on the evening. As I sit in my room, I can't help but pray for them. They have endured great losses, but their strength and courage enlightens me.
When I asked what we can do to help they simply told us to help raise awareness. There was no donation box, and their website does not have a "Donate Now" option. They do not want to ask for money and act like beggars. They want their stories told and their voices heard to help free these prisoners. Get inspired at http://www.aappb.org/

(Tuesday) I didn't sleep at all last night. Perhaps it was because I was in a room by myself. My mind would not leave itself alone. Overdrive!!!! Thankfully today is a slower paced day. Isabel and I ate dinner alone last night. It was really nice but happened by accident. We thought we were supposed to meet the group downstairs at 6:30, but we missed the second announcement that said 6:20 or 6:30 at the restaurant. Of course neither of us heard the name of the restaurant either. We wandered for some time and settled on a recommended Burmese restaurant called Aiya. It was delicious and happened to be across the street from where our group ate. OOPS! We both tried the Thai Iced Tea and was it delicious!!! It was orange with black seeds and a bit thicker than normal ice tea. The two of us had a nice, long dinner partially because the food took forever, and the conversation was good :)
Today we were supposed to cross the border and go into Burma. However, the border is closed, and if you tried to cross at another point you risk the chance of being shot. Plan B turned out to be an enjoyable experience. In the very early morning we walked through my favorite market. It's so colorful and vibrant. There were freshly butchered meats and swimming fish. Everything you could imagine was being sold at one tent or another. We were greeted with wandering eyes and curious smiles. The little kids grinned from ear to ear when they saw all of us. It's funny, the streets are covered with motorbikes in which 4 people will ride. Only the driver wears a helmet but not the kids or other passengers. I think I saw a 12 year old driving one with his little brothers. After walking the market, we arrived at Peace Cafe. We sat down and had breakfast with the monk who owns it. He is also fighting for human rights in Burma. He has dedicated his life to helping the Burmese. His story was also very interesting. His views on politics and human rights are inspiring. Isabel has a video of the breakfast that hopefully I can borrow and upload. He is truly a man of character and at such a young age has endured a lot of difficulties. He cannot see his family in Burma either. A short while ago a woman helped arrange a secret flight for his mother to visit him only to be later arrested for assisting this process. He fights for the Burmese through peace walks and advocacy. He was so kind to allow us into his cafe and share stories with us.

 Later in the afternoon we went to a school for orphans. We traveled the Thai way. We were mostly piled in the back of a truck :) The schoolmates were enthusiastic and welcoming. Many of them speak three to four languages including English so we were able to interact with them. The little ones were so fascinated by our digital cameras, and they posed hoping we would keep taking pictures of them. They all love to do the Peace sign. Of course we snapped away trying to capture every moment. We even let them be the photographers and take a few photos.
It was such a wonderful interaction. There was one girl in particular who was absolutely adorable and had the tiniest puppy with her. She loved the camera and posed whenever she saw one pointed at her. They made a good pair.
The orphanage has Burmese children who have either lost their parents or have been sent there because living conditions were so oppressed. I loved the organic garden that was there; the children are the ones who help garden and grow food! We donated the money that we would have spent crossing the border to the school. It was a lovely afternoon. We were all smiling from ear to ear.
In the afternoon we packed in the back of three trucks and rode through the mountains for nearly five hours before reaching Umphang. The drive was breathtaking. Everyone knows my obsession with the mountains so I sat back, breathed the fresh air and enjoyed the winding ride.
Our ride to Umphang
Drive through mountains
Mountains :)
We also stopped at a Gibbon Sanctuary on our way to Umphang. The gibbons were all rescued or given to the sanctuary so they can have a better life. Some of them have very troubled pasts. At the sanctuary they are given three meals a day including the best fruits and vegetables. They look cute and welcoming, but gibbons are aggressive animals. They will often grab hold of people and tear articles of clothing off them.  They will put their hand out for you to shake like reaching out and trying to give a kid candy. Natural reaction would allow you to extend your arm and shake the gibbon's hand or take the piece of candy. Bad idea. When we walked around some of the gibbons were showing off and were very interested in us. Some were a little less welcoming. They would bang on their cages and make loud noises as if 20 different sirens were going off simultaneously.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Moving on Up

As we continue or train ride, I see something in which I thought was native to Miami. In the middle of the field, under the blazing sun, workout equipment is lined up. I saw this a few times on our 4.5 hour journey north.
So many laughs have been shared already. It has only been a few days, but our group is transforming into a family. After our train ride, we took an hour van ride to Lotus Village guest house in Sukhotai. It's absolutely stunning. There are wooden bungalows and ponds. It has a lush garden and a cute cafe. Hillary took some of us to the public pool to cool off and relax after a long day of travels. We played some water Frisbee. After showering and relaxing, we all headed to a street restaurant for dinner. Hillary, Isabel, Anastasia and I all decided to order a few things and share. They were delicious!! We had Sea Spinach with garlic, Pork Ribs and of course Curry. Each dish was incredible. Hillary dared us to eat a spoonful of hot chillies, and my sinuses were cleared!!! Hot but good :) We enjoyed a leisurely dinner before heading over to a local bar. We all enjoyed a cocktail and many stories were shared. We sat on the rooftop patio enjoying drinks and laughing constantly. Perfect evening. We fell asleep with our doors and windows open with the sounds of crickets to put us to sleep.
This morning was perhaps the most enjoyable breakfast I have ever had. We sat at the cafe just after dawn. The birds were chirping and the sun was hardly breaking through. We had tea and coffee. All were placed in handmade china. We went with Western breakfast options today. I personally had hot tea, eggs and toast. The marmalades were homemade. It was so calm and peaceful. We sat for over an hour just soaking it all in. I can't describe the feeling that overcame me. I was just enjoying every sip, every bite, and every bit of conversation. What can be greater than this? MORE TO COME


What  beautiful country. On Friday, I woke up and walked around the streets and markets. I tried these amazing coconut pudding wafers. Outside they were crispy, but the inside was warm and gooey. They were filled with sweet corn and green onions. They were so rich, I could only finish a handful. 

Afterwards, I went for a walk and settled at the park near the river. I had my book, Little Bee. It was the perfect setting for reading. The sun was hot, but there was a warm breeze. There was a calmness despite the number of people at the park. After reading for some time, I went to eat at this little street cart in the alley by our guesthouse. Anastasia was passing by just before I ordered so she joined me. I have been talking to Anastasia for months via Facebook. Although I know she's from England, I was very surprised when we met. She has such a thick accent! Isabel on the other hand is from Nashville, and she does not have an accent. In my mind I had created them differently, but they are equally pleasant. The evening was good; we ate at the same street cart :)
Even Ronald does the Y

Anastasia and Isabel getting a fish pedi
It reads. "Superman sleeps. The Super Police hasn't yet. Never did and never will."

Here's a bit from my journal I began writing on Sunday...I'm sitting on a train heading north to Phitsanulok. From there we are taking an hour van ride to Sukhothai. The rest of our evening will be mellow. Yesterday we whizzed around Bangkok. First we took a river ferry to one of the oldest wats. The ferry was quite interesting. They hardly pull up to the dock to allow passengers to enter and exit. They're completely overcrowded, but they were nice. I enjoyed cruising up and down the river. The wat we visited was breathtaking. It was large and elaborate. Each part of the wat was ornate and glistening in the sun. This was is also home to one of the largest Buddhas. He is laying down in a position of death towards enlightenment. I did not expect it to be quite as large as it actually was. (I promise there will be pictures soon). The beauty of the Buddha is not to go unmentioned. It was gold and lengthy. Although the structure was simple, the details were not. The Buddha had fingernails and henna like designs on the feet.
The Buddhists believe in karma and doing good deeds. In this temple we were able to place coins in buckets that lined one of the walls. After leaving the wat, we continued downtown. We passed many slums along the river, but they were characteristically beautiful. Slowly the slums turned into lush gardens and luxury hotels. Probably foreign owned and operated. On our trip, we stay at locally owned guesthouses and support the local community as much as possible. When we arrived downtown, we took the sky train to the mall. It was the most beautiful mall I have ever seen. Even the decor outside was artistic. The inside was modern and sleek. I felt as if I was at one of the 5-star hotels. Here we grabbed a quick bite to eat before walking over to Jim Thompson's house. Mr Thompson was famous for bringing Thai silk to the global market. We toured his house which had Thai architecture with a Western flair. This too was beautiful. He was born in the year of the Dragon; those born this year are believed to live to 61, and he mysteriously disappeared in Malaysia at the age of 61. Food for thought.
We continued our day by taking the canal boat to another wat. The canal boat was jam packed and uses a simple pulley system to raise and lower a tarp. The tarp is used to keep water from splashing onto passengers. Another experience! At this wat, we climbed to the top where there was a perfect view of Bangkok. Although it was pretty, it did not compare to the beauty of the actual streets. There were people praying and tourists banging on the gong, myself included. (I have a video which will also be posted). We packed into Tuk Tuks and headed back to the guest house. They drive like crazy and lines in the road are suggestive.
Later in the afternoon we got Thai Massages. I was a bit fearful for the positions they might force my body into, but it was amazing. Every time I was on the verge of falling asleep the lady would ask me to roll over. Probably for the better because I would have started snoring. After our massages, a few of us walked around Khao San Rd and purchased a few last minute extras. Not shopping has been extremely painful. Everything is so beautiful and cheap!!! I love the streets of Bangkok. They're full of life and beauty. There's a scent of fresh food being cut and prepared, incense and the occasional rotting fish which I don't mind in small doses. The people are beautiful, and I've absolutely fallen in love with them. They have so much energy, and their eyes have many stories to share. The litter and graffiti in the city are masked by the beauty of the people and the food. We just saw monkeys!! Sorry, a bit side tracked:)
Anyways, our whole group went out to dinner on Saturday night. It wasn't organized; we just wanted to be together. A few of us grabbed a drink at Gypsy's Lips afterwards (see pictures below). The concept is absolutely brilliant. The truck is permanently parked, and the sides unfold to be a bar. Inside the vehicle are an assortment of alcoholic beverages. The speaker system is great, and the decor is savvy. There are plastic stools to sit on and wooden stools to put your drinks on. The "tables" are decorated with dead flowers and unlit candles. I love it! It's simplistic yet rustically charming. This is a great place to enjoy a beer. Next door, or the next cart over if I may, is a rave bar. There are literally black light pictures filling the walls and black lights lighting up words and pictures. The house music spills over to the other street vendors.
In Thailand, the streets are lined with Barbie like dollhouses. They look like shrines, but they are spirit houses. They are miniature houses for dead spirits. If the spirits do not have a place of their own, they will haunt buildings. It's a resting place for ancestors.  I have to get going. Here are a few pictures. 
Typical Street Cafe


Bridge on the River

Anastasia and I enjoying a Leo

This bar is literally a truck. It's absolutely brilliant

They decorate with dead flowers and unlit candles. Cost efficient and low maintenance!

Cooling down at a public pool playing some Frisbee

Some of the girls kicking back

Our bikes we were about to ride at the World Heritage Site. Many ruins to be enjoyed :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Today (now yesterday as I finish this post) was officially my first day in Bankok. When I woke up all I could think about was a hot shower. In the bathroom is a sign to use water sparingly because every drop counts. THere's even a request to turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Water is something so many of us, including myself, take for granted. This sign put the scarceness into perspective.
After gettign ready my roommate Blair and I headed to the streets. We wandered a bit just absorbing the sights and smells. Wow! Were they delicious!! We settled at a small cafe furnished with simple plastic tables and stools. We both ordered fried rice with fried eggs. To add some extra flavor and a lot of spice, we mixed in a fish oil with fresh chillies. Talk about heat!! My mouth was on fire, but it was delicious!
After breakfast we came back and were able to call home. It was so nice to talk to my parents :) I already miss them! We rested for a bit because we are both a bit jet legged still. I also did some reading. I'm currently reading Little Bee and am finally getting some answer 100 pages into the book! My roommate has already read it and recommends it.
Natalie arrived just before lunch time. When she was washed up and ready the three of us headed to the markets. We went to Khao San Road or the Street of Stories. It was truly an experience. The street is lined with local vendors. It's a shoppers paradise! Thankfully I only have a backpack otherwise I would have bought a whole suitcase full of goodies! Khao San Rd is also a foodie's haven. It's lined with street carts and local restaurants. Don't be fooled though; there is a Burger King that sits at the end of the road. These stores sell anything and everything. The best part is none of the vendors are pushy. They are not annoying. They all greet you with a smile :) They offer fresh fruits, meats fish and pastries. There also cook fresh meals to order. I wonder how Chicago would feel about this concept ;)  For lunch we decided on Pad Thai with chicken. The lady was so sweet, and the food was delicious. For only 40 Baht (Just over $1) we enjoyed hefty plates of food. We continued walking on the strip which was full of energy and life. Khao San Rd is bustlig with backpackers and local merchants. There's a massive crowd yet there's a calmness amongst the chaos. No one is aggressive or pushy or shovey. Every shade of skin is walking the streets, speaking different languages but they all have something in common. Everyone's enjoying themselves. No one's rushing around, everyone is dressed comfortably and leisurely enjoying the day.
Time has no relevance here. It's an odd concept for me. I don't wear a watch, I have no phone glued to my hand, and our room does not have a clock. The concept of time is non existent for the next four months. Usually time is so important to me. I have to be at work at a certain time; I have to make time to run errands; I have to figure out times to see family and friends; I try to have a good time. Timing, is never quite on my side. I say that last one with a bit of hesitation because I've had many blessings in my life., but there's always difficulty with meeting someone (especially a guy) at the right time. I have a tendency to keep my walls up because I don't have time for someone. However, shortly before my trip, I met someone great, someone who gave me butterflies. Our time together was short but fun. Most of that time was spent laughing and dancing. How easy it is to enjoy such time spent with someone. We met just in time for me to leave. Perfect timing! That word has so much power and meaning. It's my goal to lessen its power on this journey.
Fried Bugs Anyone?

That's how the rest of the afternoon went. We ate, we sat, and we walked some more. i had the most amazing hand squeezed orange juice for less that $1. I literally thought I picked the ripest orange from the tree and bit into it. I could get used to this.
I went to the airport with my group leader, Hillary. She has already become more of a mentor. We picked up Isabel whom I was in contact with via Facebook for several months. We walked around Khao San Rd which held a different energy at night. The neon signs lit up the street as the vendors turned their carts into little bars. There was music from every angle. It was fabulous. Today I will finally meet Anastasia. We have been modern pen pals for over six months now. There will be 16 of us on this trip none of whom I know, but I have a feeling we will all become more than just friends.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Tubulence helps remind me that when I'm flying 30,000 I'm still human.

I just arrived to Bangkok a short hour ago. It is just short of 1am in the morning here. I finally made it. After 12 months of talking and planning, it is a reality. It hasn't quite hit me yet, but in the morning I will notice a slight difference in atmosphere. The weather is hot and humid, but it beats the cold and gloomy weather of the Midwest. A sigh of relief. The flight situation was rather ironic. Here I was trying to run away from everything I know and who is sitting next to me but my ex. God must know I have a sense of humor because that has to be a practical joke. Of course the company was good and we are still friends, but when you're flying to the otherside of the world to remove yourself from all familiarity how does that work out?
We almost didn't make our flight. The weather was crazy and the traffic was ridiculous. I should have been in the city by 8:30am in the morning to loop back around to O'hare. However, we didn't get to the city until after 9:00am and then checked into our flight just 45 minutes short of departure. Luckily the agents were friendly and helpful. Our bags did make our flight! You think I would be completely prepared before boarding my flight, but I hadn't even called my bank to let them know that I was going to be leaving the country for a few months. I was doing this while waiting to board, but I had to finish my conversation before entering the aircraft due to Japanese regulations. Our flight to Tokyo was about 15 hours. It was a nice easy flight. The staff was so friendly and accommodating. I really enjoyed flying with All Nippon. Even their movie selection was supreme. We had a short 2.5 hour layover in Tokyo and another 5 hour flight to Bankgok. My group leader was waiting for me when I arrived. After a 30 minute cab ride we arrived at our guesthouse. I am the 2nd of the group to arrive. More people will filter in tomorrow and into Friday morning. The weather is hot and humid, but I am already enjoying all the smiling faces of the people. The taxi drove past a few temples and monuments, and I am so eager to start exploring and dig my hands into something new. I'll post pictures soon!

Monday, January 17, 2011


Normally I love packing because it means I'm going on another vacation. This particular trip presents a few challenges because I will be gone for four months, and it's a backpacking trip. So a lot of people have been asking me what's in the pack? Here's a short rundown:

  • Trail Running Shoes
  • Hiking Sandals
  • Convertible Trousers
  • Shorts
  • Cotton Shirts
  • Medium Fleece
  • Raincoat
  • Socks
  • Thermals
  • Sarong
  • Sleeping Sheet
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunhat
  • Pocket Knife
  • Headlamp
  • Cameras
  • Eye Shade
  • Clothesline
  • Books
  • MP3 Player
  • Journal
  • Toiletries 
  • First Aid Kit
There's a very rough picture of the clothes I will be traveling with for four months. My collection mostly includes cheap, plain, cotton t-shirts! I have all of this in my backpack and daypack. Of course there are small things that will be packed in as well. I treated all of my clothes with a permethrin spray to help repel mosquitoes, flies, ticks and other insects. I'm looking forward to enjoying some simplicity these next four months. I usually have a separate luggage for my shoes when I travel. It's almost impossible for me to pack light even though I can pack efficiently. Therefore, this trip will not include any high heels, purses (I purchased a chic money pack which of course chic money packs are non existent), makeup, hair products, etc. I'm loving Dr. Bronners18-1 soaps which can be used for laundry, bathing, brushing your teeth, etc. This makes packing a bit easier. I also got new contacts that can be worn for 30 days. I love being able to sleep with my contacts in because I can fall asleep while reading, and when I wake up I can read my alarm clock! These Air Optix Night and Day contacts are the next best thing to Lasik eye surgery! Now it's time to finish packing :) My year of planning is about to unravel itself :) 

Saturday, January 15, 2011


This week flew by. I accomplished half of what I should have. I'm still trying to figure out when I'm going to pack because my schedule has been on crack. Work has been chaotic. We have been really busy and have just started using a new POS system. It's much more efficient than the last system, but we are still working out a few glitches. I love this restaurant though. As crazy as it may make me some days, it's my second home. This restaurant has introduced me to so many amazing people. For instance, I have adopted grandparents Ken and Eta. They are regulars here and are a huge part of my life. It's so nice to sit down with them and catch up. Ken is 92 and always fills our days with stories. Today he made me smile when he wished me safe travels. He also mentioned that he would personally kick anybody who messed with me while I'm out traveling. Precious :) I got a beautiful gift from another customer who has become a dear friend. Johanna gave me a harmony stone bracelet. The turquoise beads represent protection against negative energy. I'll wear it everyday in Southeast Asia :)! Most importantly it is Izzy's birthday today!!! He came in to the restaurant, and we got to sing to him, but he did not get on the table and dance like I requested. It's so nice to have people celebrate with us. I will miss them all when I'm gone. Of course there are dozens of others that have given me their blessings, and I am so grateful for all their support.
My dad left today. He went to Palm Springs for another golf trip. For anyone who doesn't know the obvious, I am a huge Daddy's girl. When I found out he wouldn't be dropping me off at the airport on Tuesday, I burst into tears. He deserves a vacation though. I thought I would be able to take him to the airport this afternoon and squeeze in an extra hour of alone time with him on the drive. This did not happen. Instead I got a quick hug and a phone call from the plane. This was hardly the way I planned on leaving my father for the next four months. I was overwhelmed with tears when we said, "Goodbye." He did, finally, give me his blessing. The past year, he has given me a hard time about this trip. I believe it's because he was concerned for his daughter. Today he told me that he's actually jealous!!! I never thought I'd hear him say that!
So the countdown is two days and a wake up call (Thanks Orville!).

Happy Saturday!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Food Trucks

I feel like I'm a chicken running around with its head cut off! So much to do, so many people to see and so little time left. On a different subject, I am such a foodie. I read this article in the Chicago Sun Times yesterday 
http://www.suntimes.com/news/cityhall/3244560-418/trucks-mobile-chicago-chikow-michigan.html. I am so disappointed with the attitude Chicago has towards food trucks. I think the concept is innovative and convenient. This article targets the food trucks as problematic. The reasons are quite petty. The author claims that the food trucks are putting the public at risk. However, he fails to claim how they put the public at risk. There are mentions of folly cab drivers and restricted parking areas, but when did Chicago have tamed cab drivers? I have my doubts that food trucks have caused an increase in the already chaotic driving habits of cab drivers. If loading zones are not being used by other vehicles, what is the harm for a food truck to occupy that space for the allowed time? Meters in the city are expensive, but is $1.25/hour a great loss? What if food trucks pay the meter while they occupy the space? Would the city be more acceptable to the concept? The truth behind the problem is the money. Restaurants that pay rent argue that food trucks will steal business while they still pay high rent in prime locations. The city also requires that the food trucks only sell pre-packaged foods. I think this takes away from the art of the food truck. Other great cities have opened their streets to vendors and food trucks. There are no 10pm curfews and food can be prepared on the truck. With so many talented chef's in Chicago, the opportunities for creative foods on the go are endless. According to Cary Taylor of the Southern, "There're a zillion other things that you could do, and it could bring a new culinary identity to Chicago." I happen to agree!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Most people make resolutions at the beginning of the year to eat  healthier. They consume the gym for a few weeks and try to cut out carbohydrates, calories, alcohol, etc. This year my resolution was to eat whatever I want. Since I am getting ready to leave, I've decided to overindulge in everything delicious. That means waffle fries with my sandwich, a side of ranch and creamy soups. Today's menu: Egg whites with spinach (my usual favorite), a side of Cheesecake French Toast, Creamy Tomato Basil Soup and Chicken Fingers all courtesy of our restaurant The Red Apple. No feelings of guilt just pleasure as I enjoy whatever I want whenever I want. It's been nice not to worry about what I'm eating for once. I'm loading up on all my favorites that I know I won't be able to find easily in Southeast Asia. I've had endless amounts of goat cheese and peanut butter.

Dinner is going to be even better. I'm going to Ju Rin with some ladies. It's a Japanese Hibachi style restaurant. I've almost dreamed about the garlic shrimp, fried rice, miso soup, ginger salad and sake! So bring on the calories, carbohydrates, sodium and lots of butter. I'm more than ready for a delicious meal :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Accidental Day Off

I was supposed to work this morning, but when my alarm went off at 6:04am, I simply turned it off and fell asleep. Around 8:30 I woke to the sun blinding me through my window which still has no curtain on it. Who can complain about the warm sun on their face in the middle of winter though? It's a peaceful way to wake up. I decided to take the day off at that point and get things done for my trip. For instance, I have yet to unpack from Toronto completely. The dog peed my bed the other morning and all my sheets need to be washed and my bed remade. Thank goodness for the mattress cover that was able to absorb most of Chandler's mishap. Also, creating this blog was on my list of things to do. I only have 8 days until my journey through Southeast Asia begins.