On the road again

I am still in Bangkok. Honestly, it’s amazing how quickly adventures can morph into mundane daily life when you’re not looking. One minutes you’re all goggle-eyed gazing around like a newborn and taking every opportunity to expose your miserable, cave-dweller skin to the sunlight, and the next it’s just another Monday morning and you’re grizzling over the 14.54 minutes you have to spend outside sans aircon. And you don’t even notice that the moon is the wrong way around any more. Welcome to Taking Things For Granted 101.

BUT! Guess what! After many months – too many months – of being stationary, Enid’s Adventure Blog is going back on the road again. This time we’re off to that most recent of Zealands, The New Zealand (famously explored in gripping 3-part documentary series, The Lord Of The Rings). We’ll hang out with The Beard’s friends and family, hit up the north and south islands for beaches and shit, skate with NZ roller derby teams and checkout NZ skateparks, have goodfuntimes with adored lifepals and fellow adventurers, NicandRob, eat “fush und chups”, head out for long walks and generally be Going Around. It’s going to be good, people.

Yes, it will mean leaving beloved cat-bastard Mr Miaowgi with a friend for 2 months, but I count it as payback for all the times he’s bitten me in the face in the past. Little angel.

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So! Help a sister out, gang. What should we see, do, eat, stay or avoid? Any and all pro-tips welcome!

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bangkok, in real life

The weather’s changing. It’s January and it’s already heating up. There were a few weeks of comparative cool. There were a couple of nights when it was cool enough to use a thin blanket without melting into a sweatpuddle. But all that’s over now – the Mercury’s rising and all is getting sweatsome again.

The nature in my flat is also changing. The ants haven’t been biting for a while – I sorted them out by spraying a fairy ring of insect repellent around my bed (no really, I’m not kidding). The roaches come out now and then – often a baby with a teenager for protection – but I just swear repeatedly and murder them and it’s all OK again. They’ve started following me to work – the other day I made a coffee without checking the mug beforehand. When I went to take a drink there were 5 roach corpses bobbing about. They’re obsessed with me, I think, because I possess a certain cockroachy allure that they’ve never seen in a human before and don’t fully understand.

The new bits of nature that live in my flat are spiders. They stick to the corners so I don’t really mind them. They make webs and hang out and collect red ants and idon’tknowwhatelse. Maybe they eat baby cockroaches? I’m not sure. Either way, I’m unwilling to get rid of them as yet. As long as they’re not jumping out at me from ledges in the bathroom like the bastard roaches, or trying to snuggle me in bed with their teeth like the ants then they can stay. But this leaves me with a problem: if I want them to stay, what do I do about the cobwebs? If I leave them then eventually my room’s going to start looking like that scene in the second Hobbit movie, but if I brush them away then maybe they’ll move out and the rest of nature will move back in? But if they stay, maybe it’ll encourage the geckos to come back, but then the geckos will eat them all which’ll leave it free for the ants and the roaches to take over again. Fucking nature – why is it so complicated? And INSIDE MY APARTMENT?

When not obsessing over my little insect guests I mostly live a slightly dull normal life over here in the Big Kok. I get my water from the water machines outside my building because you can’t drink the tapwater (you can’t drink the tapwater but you CAN go to a high-so shopping mall with a cinema and an ice rink and buy a Louie Vuitton bag. OBVS. Life doesn’t make sense) and I wash my clothes using the 30 baht laundry machines. On weekends I often sit about wasting time on the internet, or go skating at the park, or read books, or go for a horrible jog, eat dinner with people, sometimes go for drinks, or see films because the cinema here is cheap and they are everywhere. At the moment the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra puts on a concert in the park every Sunday, and I like to go when I’m not skating – the evenings are warm and it’s nice to listen to classical music as the sun goes down, especially on the grass and especially with people you like to hang out with. One bad thing is that I’m often not skating right now because my foot – which isn’t broken, I’ve just ripped the tendonligament thingy – still hasn’t fully healed. I’ve done a lot of sitting on my balcony (from which there’s a captivating view of the wall of the building next door, who’d want to live anywhere else?) and reading books (Dracula is hilairmazin) and internetting (thank you, Pinterest).

On work days my morning routine is shit hot. Alarm goes off at 6.30. I surface from sleep hating my life, hating the world, lamenting the fast-passing weekend days and resenting the selfish intrusion of WORK into my social life. Then I pause my alarm and promptly go back to sleep. It goes off again 5 minutes later, at which point all curses are repeated but with slightly less venom. I pause my alarm again. The third time my alarm goes off, I get up. Resentfully. Agonisingly. I shower. Dress. All in a state of semi-consciousness. I get the BTS to work – it’s only 2 stops so no real need to change from autopilot to manual. Get to the office at about 7.50am, turn the computer on, the hot water machine, the printer. I clock in. Breakfast can be rice soup picked up from my BTS stop, or unsweetened yoghurt and banana and sunflower seeds, or KFC, or banana or taro in sweet sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, or any of a bunch of other options from the street. I have my morning coffee, and that’s me for hours. Clocked in and working. I plan my lessons, then teach, then plan and teach some more. Teaching is sometimes depressing, sometimes hilarious, sometimes exhausting and sometimes it hypes me up. It depends on the lesson, how it goes, on the students… all kinds of things. I love role plays, teaching intonation, functional language, imaginative drama-style stuff, and even just chatting, if the student’s interesting and talkative.

Once my day’s teaching is done, I generally stay a few hours and plan for the next day. Afterwards I go home, or for food with friends, or for cake/ice cream, or to the cinema, or for a wander around the city or the malls or just hang out. I buy fruit from the fruit guys along my road. 3 green mangos for a quid, cut papaya or pineapple or watermelon for 40p. Not bad. Rambutan don’t seem to be in season at the moment but surely it won’t be long now – I miss those crazy, hairy little guys. If I’m not eating with friends then I often get food off the street. Not scraping it off the pavement, OBVS, but eating at a little streetside place: soups or spicy meat with rice, an omlette, occasionally some pad thai. If not, I can cook at home. Kinda. I can make Mama noodles and popcorn, and what more could a girl possibly want in life? Not much, let me tell ya. And that’s it, really. Except that it’s not it at all, it’s just that it’s getting dark and I’m getting peckish so I’m off to scout out something to eat, and maybe get a haircut or a tattoo while I’m at it.

How long will it last is a question people ask me, like I’m some kind of grown-up who plans for the future or who has any clue what I want out of life or how I should go about getting it. All the fives. Here is a truth: Bangkok Roller Derby is here. I made it. It is my child. Here is another truth: my contract at IH is up in June. And one more: I will be trekking in Nepal the day I turn 31. In between those things, some decisions need to be made.

Any takers?!

Not Alan Anymore

I’m blogging from my mobile phone because I’m a busy, 21st century woman for whom time is most definitely money, but really because one of the cockroach teens broke the screen on my laptop so I can’t use it at the moment.

It (the cockroach teen) ran out at me as I was sitting on the floor with my laptop on my on my knees. I yelped, of course, simultaneously jumping half out of my skin, as any sane person would in that situation. The momentum of my out-of-skin jump sent my laptop soaring in a graceful arc from my lap to the floor. And now the screen is broken. Because of the cocks. The roaches. The croaches.

The croaches continue to taunt me in other ways. A few days ago I killed three of the fuckers. BOOM! Dead. Done.

Well. Almost. That’s leaving out the part where I got in the shower only to notice one staring at me from the ledge at the top of the tiles. Little pervert, I thought. Luckily there was a bottle of bleach nearby so I grabbed it and COATED the bastard. It froze, shuddered. A split-second passed in which I fully expected it to melt into non-existence like the Wicked Witch of the West, Oh what a world, what a worrrrrld!

NO. It (the cockroach) – and I swear this is almost entirely without embellishment – LAUNCHED itself at me! It (the cockroach) had bleach bubbling through its skin, and instead of just having a bit of dignity and DYING, it SPRUNG TOWARDS me in what I can only presume was a final attempt to take me down with it. I almost laid an egg in my pants. For realz. I was so taken aback, so revolted, so bloody SCARED that I’d have croachy legs scuttling all over my shoulders, that I let out a WHINNY OF FEAR. A WHINNY! I didn’t even know humans could make that kind of a noise. Who knows what the guy next door thinks – as soon as I processed the noise I’d just made, I errupted into hysterical-yet-horrified laughter. The croach was on the floor at this point, prone. I nudged it with the end of my broom (*shudder*). It was dead. Thank hell.

Later that night I used Michael Swan’s irreplacable ELT tome, Practical English Usage, to kill the shit out of two croaches hanging out on my walls. I wonder if the great man knew when he was writing it that he was in the process of creating one of the most efficient weapons in the perpetual war against roaches? Probably did, right?

Aside from Nature, loads has been happening in the old Kok. Attendance at roller derby sessions has fallen to an all-time low but we’ve got a visit from a BKK-based magazine next week which I HOPE will boost numbers. As a favour, and because I’m a fookin’ idiot, I’ve allowed myself to be entered into a speed slalom tournament in a couple of weeks. I am dreading it – TOTAL humiliation awaits. I genuinely cannot do slalom, let alone do it quickly. I die inside every time I think about it. However, I DO get to go to Vietnam. This will balance out the shame. PROBABLY

Finally, here’s a dull image of the anti Amnesty Bill protests outside where I work. It fails magnificantly to capture the energy and power of the moment, but this is only a 5mpx camera, yeah, and I’m totes using that as my excuse.

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Well, that’s all from me. I’ve been some dullard who continually goes on about insects instead of all the NORMAL stuff you’re supposed to write when you’ve moved to a new continent to start a new life as an ELT teacher and set up the first roller derby team in your new country of residence and there’s a backdrop of absorbing political unrest, and you’ve been my very tenacious, patient, probably brain-dead by now audience.

Thank you and goodnight ♥

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: http://www.theguardian.com/books/audio/2012/dec/31/jon-mcgregor-lucy-wood-house. I hope you don’t despise it with every fibre of your being.

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.