Stuffing my face, mostly.

Still in the Big Kok. Still not dead. Not only am I not dead, I’m actually almost officially a teacher now. Got my certificate, got a job. Just waiting for the visa and the all-important first pay check.

I’m 3 weeks in and on the hunt for somewhere to live. Staying with my cousins is luxurious and free, but it’s miles from anywhere and I’m keen to have my own place again. Saw a place yesterday – bedsit, small, clean, has a balcony that faces onto another building. The mattress is covered in plastic faux leather and the windows don’t open. S’cheap though. Might move in, just for shits and giggs. Yeah, that’s right, giggs. I’m a teacher now, I don’t have time for two-syllable words (except for all the two-syllable words I have time for, obvs).

Living in Bangkok isn’t quite what I had in mind when I left, and I’m reserving judgement for now. The thing with big cities is that one is as the other is as the other. Same-same, as they say out here, only different. All buildings an’ that. Tall. Ugly. Impressive. It’s coming into rainy season and the storms are frequent, impressive. Pass me my thesaurus. Rain comes down like it’s the final judgement. Thunder cracks and sounds like you’re standing too close to someone shooting a gun – so bloody loud you can feel the air jolt. Lightening forks from the sky and it’s all National Geographic, up-close and personal, widescreen, HD. The heat is slimy and intense, and the smells too: filthy smog, sweet, charred meat, simmering broths, exhaust fumes that cling to the skin, piss, rot, coffee. Sometimes I pop into a 7/11 just to cool down and get a breath of fresh air before diving back into the furnace outside.

It takes me an hour and two separate modes of transport to get to work on a morning. All my most terrifying and lots of my most wonderful moments in Bangkok have been on the back of motorcycle taxis – crazy, dangerous, infinitely exciting. I work weekends and get Mondays and Tuesdays off.  I wear DRESSES now, like it’s normal. It’s not because I’ve suddenly developed fashion sense, it’s because I have to be smart and it’s too hot for trousers. I’ve walked for miles around the city in my free time, not going anywhere in particular, just following the roads, and yet I’ve hardly been anywhere – the Big Kok is enormous and there’s lots to pack in. The thing I did most when I first started wandering was exploring the shopping malls. I apologise for the Americanism but the British version, shopping centre, does nothing to convey the sheer scale of these things. I’m not a huge one for shopping but they’re IMPRESSIVE(that fucking word again), almost comical in their exaggeration, like upper-class caricatures of themselves. One has a massive multiplex cinema at the top and a bloody aquarium at the bottom.There’s MBK, a multi-story indoor market with food court and bowling, an entire floor devoted to mobile phone things, and, and, and. There’s a bowling “league” at work and I’m trying to bowl away my hatred of bowling in order to socialise. I even have bowling socks. Yeah, bowling socks, that’s right. Who wants to fucking touch me.

On work days, I’m up early and back late. I often bring work home. At least I don’t have to cook: I usually eat on the street or bring street food here to eat in the air-con. The street food is incredible. My favourites are ALL OF THE ONES. I don’t eat Pad Thai as often as you’d expect. I go for chicken noodle broth when I can get it (sometimes with a claw, sometimes with mystery objects that don’t taste like fish but are), or for Hainanese chicken and rice, or mystery curry, or simmered pork (<3), or Som Tam – Papaya salad – when it’s not so stuffed with chilli that it makes me feel like my tongue’s going to burn right out of my face. I often use the power of The Point, often go for things I couldn’t name in English let alone Thai, and I have yet to taste something I didn’t like. The other day I ate what I think were patties of deep-fried cornstarch with spinach inside. Sounds gross but it came with a mouthwatering sauce. They have corn on the cob for sale from vendors on the street and they dip it in salted sugar-water to cool it so you can eat it straight away. Meat or fish skewers are being grilled on every other street corner, and you can get a bag of sticky rice on the side for only 5 baht. They sell fried chicken everywhere, with chilli sauce if you want it, and whole salted fish, freshly grilled. I’ve not eaten one yet but it’s high on my list. I’m not keen on mango and sticky rice – the texture of the mango makes me squirm a bit – but BANANA and sticky rice is the food of the gods. I’ve only had it once, from a street food fair, but I’ve always half an eye open for it when I’m walking.

Ah, the food. Between that and the lack of elite roller derby madness, I’m twice the woman I used to be.

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Day 45: Songkran in Chiang Mai

I am in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, and somehow I’m still not dead even though in Bangkok I ate at a rat-infested streetfood place at the train station.

I’m flying solo again. Callie and Hartley left Cat Ba to be swindled in Laos (but also to have many funz). My dear son Keegan left for a 40-hour bus journey to Ho Chi Minh City. Tom and I left for a couple of days in BRILLIANT Hanoi before my flight back to Bangkok and his trip north to Sapa.

I’d planned to stay in BKK for a few days before coming north to Chiang Mai – I was going to chill, upload photos, catch up on life admin and studying. I went to the train station on Tuesday afternoon to pre-book my ticket and discovered that all the trains were full because of Songkran, except for one leaving that night. Booked it. Done. An emergency 14-hour journey in a 4-berth sleeper coach. Utter joy (YOU KNOW HOW I LOVE TRAIN TRAVEL OUT HERE!). The beds were comfortably firm. I woke a few times in the night only to be rocked back to sleep by the movement of the train, the clacking of the tracks. In the morning I had breakfast of glutinous rice soup – like rice pudding only different, salty, peppery, and with “pork” balls floating around, and watched the sun rise over mountains.

Right now I’m staying in a dorm room with 5 others for 100 baht (£2.50) a night, no towels, no hot water, no in-room wifi, no toilet paper, no air-con. It’s everything you need. The hostel has a huge covered balcony area on the second floor with bamboo mats, benches, cushions. I’m there right now, at almost 11am, trying to memorise English verb tenses and thinking about getting some breakfast, and about heading out into the streets to cool down. It’s too hot for life here. People are melting in the streets, leaving nothing behind but fanny packs and globules of person-melt. Like candle wax or glutinous rice soup. Bit gross. People who haven’t melted yet are in the process: features sliding down their faces, dripping off their chins. Everything is sticky. Luckily it’s Songkran, Thai New Year, and the city is engaged in a gigantic water fight that takes over the daylight hours. Everyone has water guns or buckets – often both – and nobody is shy about using them. Families are on the streets outside their houses or shops with water butts and hoses, soaking anyone that comes within range; they travel around the city in trucks sloshing water over everyone they drive past; tourists form gangs outside their favourite bars and wage war  in the sun with the music up loud and the beer flowing. It’s all friendly. Everyone’s grinning, thrilled to bits to have a stranger run up behind them and dump buckets of ice water over their heads. It’s nearing 40 degrees so it’s exactly what you want to cool down. The whole thing’ s crazy-fun, frantic, phallic and an excuse to make masses of goodbad puns and act like a kid for extended periods of time.

At nights people gather on the balcony to dry off and drink, chat, chill. Sometimes people play guitar, uke, sing. And they’re not all the shit, pretentious types either. Makes me want to buy a uke and learn how to play it – if there’s one thing that travelling has taught me it’s that I don’t have enough life skills to bring to the table. You go for food en mass. My favourite places are these ace little street food areas by the main road, a collection of stalls run by different people and each serving different dishes, plastic chairs and tables all set up, mystery water ready to drink if you dare. It’s where the Thais go to eat, and though sometimes you get food different to what you thought you’d ordered, and the hygiene standards are lax as fuck, it’s the best kind of experience. And the food is DELICIOUS and cheap. Last night I had crispy noodle soup – really thick, glutinous broth with huge slices of pork and the crispy noodles that exist in all your best food-related dreams. It cost 30 baht, less than a pound.

I’m bloody loving it out here. Different places and cultures and FOODS and people all the bloody time. The more you travel the more you discover that you want to do. I HAVE to go to Myanmar. I have to see Laos, especially the underground city. I’d love to go back to Vietnam and check out the off-the-beaten-track places and the stuff I missed first time around. I want to go to the Cambodian island that Hartley and Callie worked on because it looks like paradise, and I guess I could cope with seeing some pristine Thai islands as well. And that’s just the places right next door. China is a must now – it sounds like a fucking hard slog but hard is GOOD, right? It pushes your boundaries, tests you. Also Japan, South Korea, Nepal. Indonesia. I want to see (my old school chum) Penny in Malaysia. But I want to go to stranger places, too; places not everybody would go to: what’s in Turkmenistan? Can you go through Central Asia then the middle East and down through the African continent overland? Without facing death, rape or torture? That’d be pretty fuckin’ ace, right?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about travelling and studying and not as much tourism as you’d hope in Chiang Mai. Gotta prioritise, though. Can’t fuck up this course. I did go to a Wat having a celebration, and played out during Songkran, and had some damn good nights out with some good human beings. Tonight we’ll go see some Muy Thai fights and I’ll do a cookery course in the next few days, and me and a girl in my dorm are going to trek it up to a hill temple just outside of town even though I haven’t exercised in a month and a half and I’ll probably die. I met someone who went out with a girl who played roller derby and was thrilled to be able to chat derby for a while to someone who already had an interest. I mostly want to meet another roller girl and see if I can set up a team, or at the very least get some kind of roller skating back in my life. I can’t cope with all this non-skating that’s going on. Never thought I’d miss being forced to do more push-ups than my body can take, but apparently I do. Maybe I’ll take up Muy Thai instead and learn how to become aggressive – grrrrrrrrr! – and add that to my roller derby repertoire when I eventually find some people to play with/for.

I’m rambling. Excuse me. Blame the OBNOXIOUS heat, and the fact that I’m procrastinating. OK. Back to it. A couple of hours of study and then back out into Songkranland for the final day of the celebration. Get in.