awkwardly, and with cockroaches

[Another entry in which I go on for fuckin’ ages about something that was supposed to be just a short aside]

Meditation is a thing I do now (thrice  update: fourice). On a Thursday after work I go to a beautiful boutique hotel at the end of a long soi off Sukhumvit. The beautiful boutique hotel has a shrine room above the library. It also has subtle outdoor lighting and contemplative gardens furnished with many tree-shaped natures to really set the mind at ease. At reception they seem to approve of yoga pants as long as they are ethically woven from organic fibres to produce a comfortable-yet-fashionable recreational clothing item suitable for the average, usually vegetarian, middle-class bohemian. It’s a really peaceful, luxurious location and a wonderful shrine room – an attic with a tastefully decorated alter and Buddha image, wooden floors, meditation cushions and blankets. They provide us with sandwiches and drinks before the session to help us achieve maximum Zen, and they do it all completely free of charge, though contributions are encouraged.

I go to meditation for peace and quietfulness and to get some stillness inside, but also just to sit in a room ignoring a group of strangers who are also ignoring me. It’s a wonderful feeling of community without the awkwardness of actually having to make small talk with people (despite coffee and sandwiches being on offer, I tend to show up at 5-minutes-to-meditation time to avoid feeling awkward when I have to try and make conversation with people and realise that I don’t have anything even remotely interesting to say to them).

My new hobby of relaxing meditation is one of the most stressful hobbies I’ve ever had. It’s almost as stressful as playing jenga in a bar full of people, which is pretty freakin’ stressful lemmie tell ya. First of all, the sitting. Second of all, ALL THE OTHER THINGS. Sounds easy but have you ever tried sitting in one position for an extended period of time? Snakes on a mantra-freakin’ PLANE – it is HARD. Harder than double-hard plural math. First you get a bit twitchy, bits of you start to hurt, your feet go to sleep, your brain starts to go haywire. Etc. For example:

20 seconds in and your body’s all,  ok, all this resting is fine but it’s been, like, at least an hour now and we’re not on the BTS or going to sleep or internetting so I’m getting a bit freaked out by all this sitting, what’s going on, is something wrong, ARE WE ALIVE, OMIFUCKINGSHITMAYBEWE’REDEA- [twitches foot just to check] oh. ok. we’re fine. good. just sitting. sitting around. arouuuuund. arouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuund. wow. words really start to sound strange when you think about them for too long. aaaaaarooooooouuuuuund. WHAT WAS THAT? oh wait. nope. nothing happened. ok. just checking. checkiiiiiiing. checkiiiiiiiii-

hey, i’m getting this. i’m really getting it. look at me, just meditating the shit out of everyone in the room. yeah bitches. check my posture. i’m so zen right now. I AM MOTHERFUCKING ZEEEEEEEEN. AH FUCK WHAT’S HAPPENED TO MY FOOT WHY CAN’T I FEEL MY FOOT? Is it still there? It’s still there. Fuck. Fuck, that is NUMB. (surreptitiously pokes foot) Nothing. Fuck. OK, stay focused. Don’t panic. Fuck, what if it starts to go blue? How long can a foot survive without blood? Or is it trapped nerves that makes it go numb? Will I get pins and needles? If it’s numb how come it HURTS? Will it need amputating? Can I move without disturbing the woman next to me? If I move it’s like I’ve lost, isn’t it? Fuck. Don’t move. Don’t move. FUCK I’VE GOT TO MOVE! (moves). Shit, I think I just ruined everyone’s zen. Who knew cushions could be so loud. Ok. Back to it. Zenning ou-


Do people get amputations because of pins and needles? Is this what having a ghost limb feels like? If I got stuck in a cliff could I cut off my arm? What happened to the arm afterwards? Would you become a vegetarian? Are Buddhists vegetarian? How… [ad infinitum].

Anyway. Whatevs. t’s a process YO.

The monk who leads our meditation sessions is called Pandit. Or maybe Dave. He looks like a Dave but I don’t know whether or not you give up your previous identity when you ordain as a Buddhist monk. He is British but totes legit: orange-robed and bald and exuding Zen and humour. The humour catches me off guard, like monks aren’t supposed to have fun because they’re on a spiritual path DAGNAMMIT and they need to be SIRRIUS about this shit. WHAT’S FUNNY ABOUT ENLIGHTENMENT, EY?

Sometimes he talks about having friends in Real Life  and about HTML coding and about playing the guitar. When he talks about these things it seems a bit off-kilter.He also talks about spiritual paths and achieving enlightenment which always strikes me as a bit fruitloopsome, but he also sometimes asks us to think about what our state of mind will be when we’re dying, and I really like that he talks about dying as if it’s normal and not weird, and it seems like a practical consideration and a sensible application of meditation skills. Come now, nobody talks about dying in a real way even though it happens all the time, to everyone, and we especially don’t talk about preparing for it,because it sounds morbid [Note to dad: DON’T WORRY. I AM ABSOLUTELY FINE. SIT DOWN. HAVE A BISCUIT].

When he mentioned it the first time I was really struck by the realisation that the act of dying will be the very last thing we ever do, and when we get around to it – hopefully not for a bloody long time – we’ll probably be spending those last moments – OUR LAST EVER LIFEMENTS – lamenting the things we haven’t done, the time we haven’t had, the people we’ll leave behind, feeling angry or guilty or – oh crap, it just dawned on me what my last moment will be like… bloody hell, you can just imagine it can’t you?: I’ll be laying there with that twisty awkward feeling in my stomach, thinking to myself ohmigodwhyamisoawkwar… [DEAD] . FFS!  My gravestone will read: she died as she lived: awkwardly, and with cockroaches.




Undead and anxious: the ohs and lows of Bangkok life.

Still in Kok city. Remain undead.

I have done Tourism. I went with friends to see the world’s largest golden teak house. It had everything you would expect from the world’s largest golden teak house, for example it was large and it was also teaky, and it exuded a definite aura of housiness that one could not quite ignore. It lacked an over-abundance of goldenness but, nevertheless, there were obvious and serious security concerns in play. We had to buy curtainskirts to cover our legskins so as not to offend the security guards and decorative torn-out elephant teeth, and I had to buy a t-shirt to cover my shoulderskins for the same reason, and we had to be sensuously frisked by bored ladies in uniforms to ensure that our mobile phones and assorted picture-taking technology had been left behind in lockers built specifically for the purpose. Yes, taking photographs, ownership, cultural appropriation; but also human rights, the internet, cat pictures.

My curtainskirt is sprawled dejectedly on my bed like a discarded cloth that isn’t quite a curtain and isn’t quite a skirt. It reminds me of the mattress from Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, and Yossarian’s liver pains, except that it is blue.

Because teaching is so easy and not at all stressful, and because I am definitely excellent at managing my time, and because my reaction to stressful situations definitely isn’t to tuck myself away into a smalldark and womblike corner and get a bit drunk on the floor in the shower and indulge in melodramatic catastrophic imaginings, I have decided that I will try to organise a roller derby team. There are many reasons why this is a terrible idea but, as with all the good ideas worth having, I’ve so far been successful in managing NOT to think about the situation too much, and am just forging ahead unthinkingly without any real idea of what it takes to set up a sports team. No pressure or anything, but it MUST SUCCEED or it will, naturally, be a reflection of all my deepest failings as a human being.

When I get around to lamenting all my deepest failings as a human being (which I like to do fairly often, being a pro-active sort of woman who likes to keep on top of things to ensure that they remain manageable), I usually meditate on such earth-shattering situations as feeling too awkward to make conversation with my landlady because I still don’t speak Thai and she doesn’t speak any English. Or, for example, fully intending on going to do A Social Thing but talking myself out of it at the last moment when I’m so close to the venue that I could reach out and slap the door and it’d be entirely stupid for me to do anything else other than go inside and meet everyone. Or, for example, when I’m trying to make friendly conversation with a colleague by commenting on their bust lip, only to have them retort, you bloody well know it’s a coldsore. Except that I don’t have my glasses on and I can’t see his lips properly or understand what the fuck he’s saying to me, or why he looks so pissed off, or why the atmosphere is suddenly hitting a hot 36 AWKS, and, because of Life and Failure, I have to make him repeat it THREE TIMES, each time looking at him with an awkward smile and confused pause while my brain ticks over trying to gather the shards of words he’s said and tetris them together to form something comprehensible. And, of course, it has to be in an office of people so that it seems as if I’m purposely making him explain his situation repeatedly and in public as if to shame him. And, perhaps worst of all, IT’S JUST A FUCKING COLD SORE, WHAT’S THE PROBLEM? It’s irritating, yes, but it’s a COLD SORE, so I can’t even empathize and can only be embarrassed at my failure to hear, failure to anticipate what’s being said, failure to understand why it’s awkward and failure to halt my role in the escalation of the awkwardness of the situation. Or additionally and just for lolls, breaking off in the middle of telling a man that he looks like a young Bruce Willis to add Oh, I have no idea why I’m telling you this, I just thought it and now I’m saying it, this is awkward, well I’ve started now… and going on to finish the sentiment in the same breath. I had to excuse myself immediately afterwards, OBVIOUSLY, as the flush crept up my cheeks and I willed myself to die a thousand silent deaths staring intently at the drinks menu at the bar and hoping nobody would notice my presence. Mein Gott. Get a grip. It was OK really, it was the night of the Vodkrimes and we were all friends at the end and because it was the night before the Hangover day that ought to have been FAR worse than it was, and it was especially good because I made two friends and one of them came to the BRD social and seemed dead keen and was hilarious and is definitely someone I want to befriend if my personality decides to allow it.

And now breathe…

So here I am. Kok city. Nighttime. On my bed, under the slow whirr of the fan whose stirring of the air almost persuades motes of dust to change their wafting course. The glass door to the balcony is open and from outside there are Assorted Sounds. I think of Bear vs Shark, about the noises against which we understand the very idea of silence, of lino – you fooled me, where’s the seam? – of sexy chocolate cake advertising and of electric pillows that throb and murmur into the ear of a main character who still hasn’t gotten up off the sofa yet even though we’re three chapters in.

In the Chinese graveyard across the way, the huge centipedes I have only ever seen as carcasses ripple through the undergrowth and the strange fish haul themselves across slick, wet, tangled grasses from one flooded depression to the next, as if they weren’t fish at all but slimy air-breathing mermaids, or appalling similes. Frogs bark, old men with rum-reddened cheeks shouting Opinions-with-a-capital-O across the gentlemen’s club. Rats skitter across the street. Newts scamper up and down my walls like nervous tourists at a zoo. The weird worm larvae I discovered in the cracks on my bathroom floor burble into nothingness in the comforting bleach-bath I poured just for them. THE FREAKIN’ MOSQUITOS GNAW AWAY AT MY FLESH LIKE A BUNCH OF CHAVS ON THEIR FIRST MACCY Ds OF THE DAY. Oh Nature!

You wouldn’t believe it but life is good, I think. I order from all different kinds of food stalls these days. I watch movies and arrange roller derby things and hang out with my colleagues. I say numbers and basic pleasantries in Thai. I go into the occasional class and feel as though I can teach competently, and occasionally I even come out thinking the same thing. I understand how my attitude affects the outcome of the classes I teach and remembered that sometimes worrying doesn’t get you anywhere and that, even in the face of failure, it’s better just to say FUCK IT and try to have fun. You can’t win ’em all, and I am reminded of the huge position of privilege I have as someone who had a job good enough to be able to earn herself the money to pack up her life and move to Bangkok almost on a whim but not quite, and mostly because the flight tickets were cheap at the time of booking, and try to teach even though it may not come naturally and after all that come to the conclusion that, even if I fuck it all up and have to leave  then it wouldn’t, actually, be the end of the world, not really; it wouldn’t matter in any serious way, I can afford my plane fare home and as long as that’s the case I may as well enjoy this experience while it lasts. As a human once said, you didn’t come to Bangkok to work a high-powered job and earn a shitload of money. Hell no. No I did not. So more fun. More massages and more all-nighters. More skating in the park and falling asleep on the grass. More exploring unknown BTS stops and more bus rides and more wandering in the Bangkok smog. More culture. More notculture. More exploring and less worry, less pressure. (But still a bit of worry, and still a bit of pressure. What’s life without it?).

Anyway. Enough. It’s time for presents.

Here’s something I really liked that I hope you’ll like too. I listened to some short stories during the Day of Death, and this is one. It seemed to me to be a perfect creation, all images and snippets, the way I remember things in life, confused and unsure, detached, close-up, profound; on the outside looking in, reaching, close but never touching. Notes from the house spirits by Lucy Wood. It’s here if you’d like to listen: I hope you don’t despise it with every fibre of your being.

Fruits of hilarious failures

This entry is from a few weeks ago. Apparently I typed it all up then pressed ‘save’ instead of ‘publish’. GOOD ONE.

It starts like this:

Did I tell you about the time I got chewing gum in my hair? About the time I fell over the ground and landed on my chin? About ALL the times I’ve spent wobbling on one leg in uncomfortable proximity to a moto driver because I can only dismount moto taxis with extreme clumsiness? What about the time I didn’t eat a proper dinner because I’m too awkward?

My experiences of the world – particularly of human interaction – are DRENCHED in awkwardness. Not just that cutesy, oh-isn’t-that-adorable kind of awkwardness. It’s more of an OMIGOD-SOMETHING-COMPLETELY-MINOR-JUST-HAPPENED-AND-NOW-I-WILL-HAVE-TO-CHANGE-MY-IDENTITY-AND-MOVE-TO-AN-UNINHABITED-MOUNTAINOUS-REIGON-SOMEWHERE-IN-ORDER-TO-ESCAPE-MY-SHAME kind of awkwardness. If it takes more than 7 seconds to find my purse at the checkout, I’m hitting an uneasy 3 on the awkwometer. If I’m at the front of a queue, it’s a face–warming 6. SPEAKING WITH WORDS FROM MY FACE (never recommended) usually registers around 7 awks as a general background level of awkwardness, with additional awks for the horrible pauses, misspeaks, musunderstandings and general tripe registering additional awk levels on top. Much of my life is lived on these secret and imaginary upper plains of awkwardness. It’s catastrophizing. It’s ridiculous.

I moved house this weekend (reminder: this is an old post!). Everything resets. Remember all those walk-bys I did when I first started living in BKK? Well, by the time I left Bang Na, I was positively NORMAL in my food ordering. I’d just wander up to a stall and just GET something, as if it was EASY. I said stuff in Thai and they gave me food. Sometimes we extended the conversation: they let me taste it and I told them AROY MAAAAAK! (very delicious). Well, I’m in a new neighbourhood. The food places here are less numerous and different – I don’t know them and I don’t recognise their wares. There is no yam nam. No stewed pork. No chicken-foot soup. I am bereft. The process starts again.

On the day in question, I’d had an annoying afternoon that meant I missed a Cultural Tuesday day trip. I was feeling tired and disheartened. Despite the sticky heat, I fancied a hot meal to warm my cockles (I don’t have a kettle yet, therefore NO TEA), so I went for a food search, my first proper exploration of the area. I employed the age-old technique of the walk-by, of course, for that is my way. One of the stalls I saw had a sign written in Thai and English: sliced grilled beef salad, among other things. Clearly my best bet, I thought. I’ll go there. It was decided.I was committed.

I carried on walking.

I went to the 7-11 to look for an iced tea and some courage. When I came out of the 7-11, I started to wander off towards the BTS for reasons that aren’t exactly clear to me, but managed to remember the plan and turned around. I approached the salad man’s stall. Yes, the sign is in English. Yes, the prices are displayed. This is the one.

I almost walked past for a second time.

My body was turning towards the guy but my legs hadn’t seen the memo and continued marching resolutely forwards. Clearly I hadn’t fully committed to this venture. Memo to Legs, Your cooperation is appreciated. Best, Brain. I probably would’ve carried right on walking had the guy not looked up at me just before I drew level with him. BUSTED! I had to stop after that. He’d spied my interest so walking on at this point would’ve been even MORE awkward, and I did actually want to eat there so what’s the problem? LEGS, WE’RE STOPPING OK?

I stopped. I said hello. In Thai. Awkwardly. The man nodded at me, waiting. I asked for a grilled beef salad. In English. Because it was written on the sign in English and I don’t know how to ask for it in Thai. I only know the words for rice (khao), chicken (gai), spicy papaya salad (som tam), that other salad I like (yam nam), soup (nam sup), pork (moo) and others equally as useless in the situation I’m describing. Ignorant bloody farang.

So anyway. I asked. And – and here’s where it got problematic – the man responded. With WORDS. Uhoh. Not only that, he responded with words in Thai, as if I’m living in THAILAND and that’s the LANGUAGE or something. An immediate 20 awks because I KNOW I should be able to understand what’s going on here, and I’m paralysed at the side of the road, gaping at this poor guy because I don’t speak the language and my brain’s sidled off somewhere and left me to deal with the situation alone. Cheers brain, nice to have you on board.

I mumbled. Looked quizzical. He spoke. I nodded a bit, tried to pick out a word I might know. I think I said ‘yesno’ at one point. Pointed. He tried again. I smiled apologetically. Shrugged. Made vague, meaningless gestures. He came around the front of the stall and jabbed his finger at the item I’d ordered, speaking in what was clearly the most basic Thai he had at his disposal. Still, ignorance reigned. What techniques do normal people have to deal with these situations? NOTHING bad has happened, yet I’m looking around for a hole to jump into. WHY CAN’T I COMMUNICATE WITH THIS MAN? WHY IS IT ALL SO HORRIBLE? Probably a normal person would shrug this off, find some alternative method of communication, or maybe they just wouldn’t care? There was a long moment in which he looked at me in frustrated irritation.

I stood there, umming and aaahing.

Kept standing there.

It was a REALLY long moment. That probably lasted about 3 seconds.

In the end some kid I hadn’t noticed at the other end of the stall (Jesus, I thought, there are WITNESSES) explained: he didn’t have any beef left. Simplez. I smiled, grateful, guilty, waved, apologised profusely – and uselessly – in English, walked away quickly with my cheeks prickling, face down, determined to learn Thai or never step outside my room again.

After that, there didn’t seem to be any other food anywhere in the world. There were other stalls, obvs, though not many, but I felt too awkward to try again. I managed to purchase two oranges and some rambutan from a woman a few stalls up and returned to my room in disgrace. I ate the oranges. The rambutan had beetles on them, but I ate them anyway. Minus the beetles.

There’s always tomorrow, right?

PS/ I did eventually go back and get a spicy beef salad… TWO WEEKS LATER after having walked past the stall at LEAST 4 times every day. It was spicy, beefy, salady and delicious.