Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.
– James Joyce, Ulysses
This quote (from a book I’ve never read, I confess) floated to the top of my mind when I opened this blank page. At any given point on this trip, I am busy trying to experience everything that is going on, synthesize it, and be thoughtful and retrospective at the same time, especially for the blog. You know, I just want to catch up on the latest for all the folks following along at home. The last time we saw our heroes, they were catching an early flight to Kuala Lumpur…
Simply being in the moment and enjoying it is a luxury that has been hard to take advantage of. So instead of a retrospective, here is an attempt at the now, however mundane.
The now is a dusty but surprisingly serviceable inn off the Main Bazaar drag in Paharganj, India’s backpacking district. We have soft beds, I’m listening to a TV which is broadcasting Al Jazeera News, and there is exactly one outlet that I am monopolizing to power my computer. We had vegetarian thalis with butter naan an hour ago on the crowded, dirty street, listening to the cars and scooters and tuk-tuks continuously honking at each other, and later found an optician’s office where we filled up on contact lens solution.
Tomorrow, Steve and I are leaving Bangkok for Kuala Lumpur. I’m almost too tired to be excited about Malaysia, but I’ll get there after we have one last bowl of spicy and sour amazing soup. I got some good comments on that last video we shared (someone who shall stay unnamed requested “the director’s cut” of Steve on the swings), so we thought we’d put up some more. Click on the embedded videos, or open them from the title links. These are a few interesting moments from our past week in Bangkok, and hopefully, you’ll feel like you were there with us too.
One of the things we were not anticipating walking into were the protests in Bangkok, which we’ve been hearing about for weeks and weeks. The situation is really pretty sticky and complicated, so if you’re curious, I suggest you get a quick update from one of these summaries: BBC or Wikipedia. We were heading to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, a free museum down the street, and didn’t realize we’d be walking straight into one of the protest camps. When we came out of the museum, we had a good gawk around — tons of tents that reminded me of Occupy scenes from a few years ago, families and friends sitting cross-legged on the ground, and watching someone make a speech, and long dinner lines. It didn’t seem dangerous at all, and instead, there were quite a few foreigners who were checking out the numerous t-shirt stalls, food vendors, and even impromptu massage chairs, which all made for a very festive atmosphere. In Bangkok, the National Anthem of Thailand plays every morning and every evening, and we happened to be there at 6 pm.
We’ve been in Bangkok for three days, and it is dizzying here. During our first evening, wading through alleyways and streets of food stalls with Steve, I kept repeating, “I feel overwhelmed.” It’s been a while since we were in a Big City, and Bangkok is definitely that. It has soaring tall Sky Train subway systems, skyscrapers and giant, shiny square malls home to stores like Hermès and Miu Miu, and countless tiny streets and alleys through which people, cats, scooters, tuk-tuks, and cars race at every hour of day. And we kind of love it.
Connie and I went snorkeling last week. It was the first time for me. Leading up to it, I felt two ways about snorkeling: I was both looking forward to it and dreading it. On the one hand, it’s snorkeling in a tropical sea—it should be totally manageable, and totally full of wonders. On the other hand, the thought of being in deep water without support (no boat, no life jacket, no swimmies) is sometimes terrifying. And the ocean is dark and full of terrors, like this one.
This morning, the next-to-last morning in Koh Samui, we woke up and by mutual unspoken agreement, we brushed our teeth, put on contacts, and trotted out with our e-readers to the restaurant by the beach, which is just a hundred feet away, for our breakfast (Steve’s opinion) or lunch (my opinion).
It is gorgeous every morning, in a delicate way. The sun has not yet warmed to its peak, and so the air is light and breezy. The tide is high so that each crashing wave (the water is far more turbulent here than on Koh Phangan) swirls around the bottom of the stone steps that lead up to the restaurant. The long swing that is tied to the tallest palm tree swings over the sea as well as the sand, and yesterday, we spent a while jumping at the apex of the swing into the sea. It was only about three feet deep at that point, and Steve teasingly told me that I looked ungraceful crashing into the water, and then diving forward.
Happy Valentine’s Day (or as we call it, Stella‘s birthday) from Thailand! Due to overwhelming popular request (from five different people including Steve’s mom), I’m posting a photo-illustrated recipe for pad thai from the Smart Cook Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai, where I took a day-long class and learned to make a few different Thai dishes! If you haven’t prepared a thoughtful gift for your significant other or loved one, a homemade dish of pad thai just may save the day. If you’re celebrating the single life, this’ll be lunch for tomorrow.
Ingredients (in grams, but approximations provided wherever possible)
100 g narrow rice noodles (a good handful)
100 g (1 cup) your preferred protein (tofu, chicken,whatever, or substitute for another egg)
40 g (1/2 cup) firm (preferable) or soft tofu, small diced
20 g Chinese chives or spring onions (2-3 stalks)
40 g soybean sprouts (a handful)
1 tbsp minced garlic (2 cloves)
3 tbsp cooking oil (anything but olive oil)
3 tbsp oyster sauce (vegetarians substitute mushroom sauce)
1 tbsp fish sauce (vegetarians substitute soy sauce)
1 egg (or 2 in place of other proteins)
2 tsp white sugar)
1/2 cup water
Miscellaneous Travel Tips for the Circumnavacator to Make Your Life More Comfortable and to Reduce the Number of Times You Yell at Your Travel Partner
Tip #247:When circumnavacating, it is a good idea to eat out cheaply, until it’s not. Fast local food, like fried rice or a bowl of noodles containing whatever-you-want-to-guess for less than 1 USD, is only novel and tolerable for a few days when you first arrive in the country. In order to ensure good nutrition, pony up for at least one tasty, fresh, possibly Western-style, and usually more expensive meal a day, and you can eat street food for the other one (or two, if you get up that early). Give your body some of what it’s used to eating; otherwise, you may end up with iron deficiency or other bodily complaints.
Let’s be honest. You may have been waiting for me to talk about Thai food. You may not have been. Well, the (hypothetical) wait is over, because I love food, as many people know, and being able to taste different cuisines was a huge part of wanting to travel, so some thoughts, now that we’ve been here for almost two weeks. Call for take-out now because you’re going to be hungry by the time I’m done, or at the very least, don’t read this at work, because drooling in public can be a real embarrassment!!
First of all, the food has been EXCELLENT, by and large. Some restaurants I won’t be revisiting, but the dishes themselves are wonderful, bright and flavorful creations which have really captured my imagination and taste buds. Years from now, I will still be dreaming about our first bowl of noodles when we got to Chiang Mai: tom yum seafood noodles. (I’m not crazy about the seafood part, but it worked.) I ordered really wide rice noodles, and it came all in a hot, steamy, tart broth that smelled like lime and lemongrass, and there were a few crunchy fried prawns and ground peanuts scattered on top. THE BEST. For 35 baht (~1 USD).
Today, near sunset, Steve and I stepped off the ferry at Haad Rin Harbor onto Koh Phangan, an island in southern Thailand, widely known as a backpacker haven and the home of the infamous Full Moon Party. We boarded a dusty blue truck (songthaew) with a few other travelers, and rode the dipping, screeching truck for almost half an hour over the hilly island before spilling onto Haad Yao in the northwest corner of the island where we were staying. Upon first impressions, Koh Phangan is gorgeous. Our songthaew took us over a dozen hills and valleys at breakneck pace, and at times, we could catch a glimpse of the sun setting over a glittering ocean. When we got into our room, the first thing we did was change into bathing suits and run down the road for the beach.
And it was endlessly gorgeous. Haad Yao is a long sandy beach that curves to face west, and we walked the length of it in the ankle-length water, savoring the sunset. The sun had just disappeared behind the low cloud cover on the horizon, but it lit up everything else. We kept looking up as we walked, as the sunset changed by the minute, tinting the delicate, thin clouds at first a dusty pink and lavender and then changing to saffron, orange, and red. I couldn’t get over how incredibly wide that sky was above us. I didn’t bring my camera because I deliberately wanted to absorb that first sunset, but even if I did, I wouldn’t have known where to begin taking pictures. I wished that I had a large enough lens to capture the entire horizon of the sunset, because you have to see the full spectrum of that sky, from the silhouette of tall palms against that muted blue all the way to the fiery red that underlined the horizon, to appreciate what an amazing view it was.