Sunday, February 28, 2010

What I Talk About When I Talk About Death

I knew from Lonely Planet and chatting with other travelers that it would be all but impossible to escape South East Asia without putting my life in the hands of a motorscooter. The vehicles are ubiquitous on city streets, country roads, and even the 6 foot wide sidewalk that served as the main drag in Koh Tao. Tuktuks and expensive rides in the back of pickup truck taxis can only get one so far. So when the easiest option for visiting some of Koh Phangan's waterfalls was to rent a scooter and tool around on your own, I was apprehensive and disappointed but not surprised.

Let's be honest, all motorized vehicles are deathtraps and motorscooters are the deathi-est and trapi-est of the lot. But the Thai people are daredevils. We spotted at least one 85 year-old woman scooting around at top speed and more than one closely knit family of 5 ready to die together on the road. The car to motorscooter ratio in the country is something like 1:70. I don't know what the life expectancy rate is in Thailand, but I am near positive that the main cause of death is complications from acute scooter crashing.

Despite serving primarily as transportation for the first leg of the journey across the River Styx there is one positive thing to say about scooters: they are cheap. The shop we rented our green monster from had 2 signs outside -- one offering a snorkel and fins for 150 Baht (~$5) and another offering daily scooter rentals for 200 Baht. We rented just one scooter so Geoff could drive and I could devote all of my attention to alternately freaking out and really freaking out.

Riding on the scooter was less scary than I expected. The roads on Koh Phangan outside of the main town of Thong Sala were wide, evenly paved and mostly empty. We didn't go much faster than 40km/hour because I'm not sure the scooter could go any faster than 40km/hour. I also insisted on wearing the matching purple helmets because I like my head, and because I wanted to warn everyone on the road that people with absolutely no experience at all we're driving around town trying to kill themselves and anyone in their immediate vicinity. Also, they had a sort of mod British vibe that I enjoyed.

Our first stop was the Phaeng Falls which was actually a series of four waterfalls each higher up a sweltering mountain than the last. We found each waterfall by picking our way through tree roots grown into makeshift stairs on trails that could only be called such because of the occasional signage surprising you over and over again with the news that actually this was the trail! Though I should say that we found the remains of what once were four waterfalls because on our visit, during the begining of the dry season after at least a couple of weeks without rain, all that we really saw were piles of rocks. And at least four different types of tropical drink colored butterflies and a really stunning view of the island from the top of the mountain; even sans actual falling water it was a worthwhile trip.

After lunch we took off down the road to the other famous waterfall on the island, Noom Tok Than Sadet, which we expect will also have no actual water but which has been visited by the last 5 Thai kings all of whom have carved their initials into the rocks. Feeling the calling of greatness, I figure I too should make a visit. The road to this waterfall is much less well traveled and shoots up, up, up over and over again at daunting grades that our little scooter can barely manage. I'm reduced to hyperventilating on the back of the scooter whispering in Geoff's ear that if we don't die in the next few minutes we will most certainly perish on the return trip when we burn out the scooter's breaks trying to go back down the hill at something slower than the speed of light. Surely this whimpering inspires confidence and safe driving not just a desire to chuck me into a ravine.

The going is slow enough that my main fear was that the scooter would cease to balance on two wheels and we'd roll to a stop and then begin rolling backwards right before the whole contraption toppled over landing on my right leg. This would, of course, break my tibia in 3 places as the still spinning wheel of the scooter nicked my face permanently removing my nose, right before a truck full of tourists, still drunk from the Half Moon party the night before, came barreling over the rise of that last hill and ran over me. Squash. This is pretty much exactly what happened minus a few minor details.

We're on hill number 800 at what must now be an elevation of 400,000 feet -- I think I spot a couple of satellites cruising by -- when the road suddenly turns from sad cracked pavement to loose red sand broken open in places where water obviously flash floods over everything in the wet season. We manage to make it up and down the first few dirt hills and start down the third which is much steeper. Geoff grips the breaks to save us from the light speed decent mentioned earlier. I guess his mistake was breaking with the front brake instead of the rear. Down we went --me, then Geoff, then scooter. Thank god for the helmets, for the slow speed, for the Thai man who came out of his house to help us push the bike back up the hill when our white person arms and legs proved too weak/shaky.

Of course, then we had to make it back down the mountain. I quickly changed my mantra from "oh god we're going to die" to "you are doing such a good job! We are going to be JUST FINE." You can tell when I'm really positive that death is about to tip me over the side of a cliff because that's when I start lying.

But we made it down and we're mostly ok. When we crashed I'd caught myself with my right calf and the palm of my hand and both we're scraped up and bleeding but hardly gushing blood in the way I'd imagined. Reality never lives up to your fantasy -- remember that next time you act out your own death wish.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Things I Should Not Have Eaten in Thailand

Friday was to be a night in. A home cooked meal (I've been craving Nicoise Salad), a bottle of wine, a little cuddling on the couch while watching Mad Men on DVD. Except, of course, we don't own a kitchen, or a couch, or a DVD player, really awful wine costs $10/glass and the last olive I saw was decorating a salad in LAX (and it was the awful canned variety that are better suited for finger puppets then snacks). I suppose we were, after 13 days on the road, feeling just the smallest amount of travelers fatigue and needed a break from menus and polite conversation and wearing pants while at the dinner table. So we'd planned to pick up food from a couple of street vendors and play cards on the deck of our little bungalow in Koh Tao.

First stop was the really cheap fruit shake stand where for less than $2 we ordered a large mango shake and a large banana shake. And, while waiting for them to be blended, I picked up an unknown fruit from the vendor next door. It was the size and color of an apricot but more tapered on the ends, like a gigantic eyeball. The fruit salesman insisted that this was a mangosteen but mangosteens are purple and round and the size of apples (there are "lemon mangosteens" but my googling has confirmed that these are bright yellow and bumpy all over). The fruit had a slightly tough edible rind and fibrous pulp and a seed in the middle the size of large blackberry. It tasted a bit like a mango crossed with a peach. It was ok, but not particularly memorable, I give it a 6. I never did figure out the name of the fruit but I'm almost positive it was not called The Berry of Doom or Beelzebub's Nipple, which is odd as either of those would have been perfect.

After picking up our shakes we wondered around looking for someone to sell us a bowl of noodle soup but we were out of luck and by the time we realized it we were back in front of our hotel where a guy named Bimbo fries up hamburgers on a griddle attached to the side of his scooter. We ordered one hamburger with chili, one chicken burger with chili and a cob of grilled sweet corn from the cart next door.

It was while waiting for my burger to cook that I thought, "hmm, it feels like I have something caught in the back of my throat." I clicked my tongue and wiggled my jaw and swallowed hard trying to dislodge what felt like a bit of lettuce sticking to my windpipe. Then I noticed that I had a bump on the top of my mouth sitting inside of the left-side pocket formed by my soft pallet. It was at this point that I remembered my allergy.

I have had issues with some fruits and nuts since early high school. Melons and pecans and occasionally a peach or berry will leave my mouth and throat itchy. The reaction to melons is bad enough that I avoid eating them because I always feel like my throat is swelling -- I'm fairly certain it isn't (I've never really had trouble breathing) but it seems smart to steer clear anyway. Which is too bad because I like melon, especially watermelon, especially at summer BBQs cut into fat wedges or here in Thailand blended into icy pink shakes. But as far as allergies go I know I'm getting off easy and can hardly justify complaining about something that is avoidable and won't actually kill me.

I stopped drinking my shake. The burgers were just getting a final coat of chili paste and suddenly I felt something stuck in my left eye. Or maybe not something stuck in it... I couldn't quite put a finger on the feeling, my eye just felt weird.

We got our hamburgers and headed home where I announced to Geoff, "I think there's something wrong with my eye." One look at him and I knew I was more fucked up than I'd thought. And the mirror was not kind. The top of my left cheek and the bridge of my nose had filled up with fluid to the point of squeezing the corner of my eye into the tiniest top of an ocular figure eight. And the right side was quickly catching up. Begin trying not to freak out now.

The good news was that I could still see and nothing hurt or itched, I just looked like someone in the middle of turning into a vampire on Buffy the Vampire Slayer or like the kid from Mask.


Things to do while not freaking out about your facial swelling

  • Try to make scary deamon faces and capture the look on film. Fail.
  • Stare in the mirror and contemplate whether or not you look like a recent botox recipient.
  • Wonder if lack of success with the deamon face was due to an inability to show emotion on your botox-like visage
  • Make jokes about how maybe if this look is permanent you can get some plumb acting jobs portraying seriously mentally challenged individuals since you'd look like someone with such a condition but have the superior mental skills of yourself.
  • Use the sympathy card to get boyfriend to go buy you a Magnum ice cream bar.

I also took a Zyrtec allergy pill and lied on the bed with a cold wash cloth on my face listening to the Savage Love Podcast and willing the swelling to go down. And when it didn't, I went to bed. The next morning I woke up at 6:30 am partially because I couldn't wait to see if over night my entire head had turned into a pumpkin and partially because we were scheduled to go scuba diving at 7. Good timing, right?

My face was still Stay Puff Marshmallows from the tip of my nose to the fore of my head but was, perhaps, slightly less freakish than it had been the night before. And still no pain or itching so.... well, why not go scuba diving? Even though Geoff claimed that a stranger wouldn't know that anything was wrong with my face (besides being born ugly!) I decided to consult with our dive instructor anyway just in case there was a secret diving rule called "if your face is swelled up it will for sure explode when under 18 meters of water." But, unsurprisingly, he was non-pulsed -- it's like the entire dive industry is constantly too stoned to be bothered by anything. It's exactly like that.

On the boat ride out to Chumpon Pinnacle I wondered if maybe the pressure of the dive would force my swelling down. Nope.

But things were noticeably better by the time we went to lunch. I was still swollen but more in a bee stung way than a punched in the face by a longshoreman way. By dinner time things were almost back to normal and 20 year old German girls had ceased sneaking glances at me from across the restaurant. With no more staring in the mirror contemplating what kind of ugly I'd morphed into this hour I only had contemplating the source of this allergic reaction to keep me busy. Mystery fruit is the obvious culprit but one should not discount the mangoes. After all, these were weird yellow Thai mangoes and I had experienced some very minor and easily ignorable throat itching during previous encounters with the fruit.

It's sad that fruit would turn on me this way because sampling exotic berries, citrus and drupes has been on my must do list for South East Asian experiences and now I view fruit stands with just a little more caution.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Diving 101

Before heading off on this journey Geoff and I agreed that there was one pricey experience that we were willing to go out of budget for: Scuba certification. We knew we'd be on the island of Koh Tao, which has notoriously good diving, early in our trip and we knew that getting certified here was (despite being a bit out of our budget) crazy cheap. We decided to eat the ~$280 fee (which came with a free room!) and splurge on the 4 day class.

Signing up for Scuba class, I mentioned that as a child I'd had a number of ear infections and that, as a result, I often had a difficult time getting my ears to stay open when I was congested or changing elevation. The first guy I told this to said I'd need to go by the clinic and have a doc look at my ears before beginning the class, but when I mentioned the ears again to our actual instructor, Draco Malfoy (who was actually named Frankie but looks so much like a stoned version of the kid from Harry Potter that there's really no use pretending to call him anything else. As soon as a week from now we will only remember him as Draco) he seemed unconcerned. Also not a concern: the hacking and wheezing that soon took over Geoff's body, no problemo mate. So we plunge into the class which consists almost entirely of cheesy videos promises things like "divers have more fun than anyone else on earth!" and "diver's will take over the world by 2015 -- either join us now or choke to death when we flood the entire planet with water." After a day and half of this we're finally cleared to do our first underwater breathing exercises in the pool.

The whole breathing underwater bit proves surprisingly easy though I do have to think about it more than your standard breathing on land. Mostly I kneel happily at the bottom with 10 feet of water rolling overhead and act out inane tasks that appear to be part of some PADI frat hazing event. Some, like losing and locating your breathing device, seem like reasonable ways to ensure that I stay alive while diving. Others, like lying down flat and trying to make my body bob up and down in time with only my inhalations, are clearly invented by Draco for his own amusement.

At one point about 60 minutes into our 90 minutes underwater I was suddenly struck with overwhelming urge to pee which presented a number of problems. Firstly, I don't know if there is a PADI signal for "must evacuate bladder" but I certainly didn't know it (though doing the "not ok" signal and then pointing at my crotch seemed the obvious improv I suspect that is actually the sign for "look ahead, crabs!"). Even if I had been able to communicate my need I'm not sure what Draco would have done -- was I really going to take off a tank, a weight belt, a BCD vest, and a wet suit, then skip over to the (obviously sub-par) loo all while the class waited on me? Of course not, clearly this was a time for peeing in the pool. So I wait for a moment in class when everyone is focused on something else just in case all of the water around me suddenly turns yellow and get ready to pee... but nothing happens. Odd. I try again, this time really focusing on relaxing my muscles and letting go.... and whoops too much focus on peeing, not enough focus on breathing, almost passed out. Ok.... Pee.... Now! Nothing. So I went the remainder of the class with an achingly full bladder and no way to empty it -- apparently while walking and chewing gum has been mastered breathing and releasing urine is beyond me.

Ok, enough about peeing, out of the pool and into the ocean! After one more round of lectures, this time about the math used to avoid getting the bends. I'm practically giddy with math enthusiasm. This makes my natural tendency to brown nose it up even more acute which is not helped by Geoff, nor our German classmate Stephan who both refuse to answer questions no matter how easy. I don't know how other people have the heart to stare at an instructor while he flaps around in the breeze leading the class ever closer to an answer they've all known since beginning. I always cave after 5 seconds and blurt out the answer to save everyone from discomfort. I'm practically a classroom hero. And yet I would not have been at all surprised if Draco had started ending his questions with "anyone but Brianna," somehow held back.

Our first dive was mostly part of a a dive school bet called "Hey Draco, I bet you can't catch each of your students by the fin before they bob up to the top of the ocean and have their lungs explode!" Score one for the house of Slytherin cause somehow we all survived. We went down to 12 meters and didn't see much more in terms of sea life then what I was able to spot snorkeling on the surface but it was nice to go face to face with a sea cucumber the size of my thigh and live to tell the tale.

Dive 2 required an encore performance of Dive Skillz the musical. While kneeling on the bottom of the bay with a life sized statue of some sort of headless quadro-ped just behind us (apparently someone is creating a "underwater diving Disneyland" which seems... really weird and unnecessary.) we begin to repeat the same skills that were drilled into us at the bottom of the pool the day before. Again we have to fill our masks with water putting the delicate truce I've managed to negotiate with my contact lens in grave jeopardy, again I have to grab Geoff and shake the bejesus out of him in a dramatic one act called "Bitch give me some of your air!"

I was surprisingly fine during both dives, no rebellious contact lenses, no panicky need to rise to the surface. Geoff was not so lucky -- whatever virus that had taken over his sinuses was none to happy to be dunked underwater and he had to obsessively clear his ears over an over again as he slowly descended. When practicing clearing his mask of water, which requires one to exhale through their nose, a huge green wad of boogers was released into the freedom of the ocean -- some fish is eating well tonight.

It was after the second dive that problems began to surface for me. And by problems I mean an acute sense that I had ruptured an ear drum and/or had a guppy living in my ear canal -- could be either one. Basically my left ear hurt like fucking hell and all sound on that half of the world resembled the language spoken only by teacher's in Peanuts cartoons. Geoff was in the same boat and after exiting the literal boat we returned to our room to lie in front of the fan and moan at each other for 2 hours. This was a big problem because the next day we were due at 7am for more fun with diving (the most fun you'll ever have!).

We didn't make it. I was mostly ok (if a bit apprehensive) but Geoff was too busy hacking up all of the phlegm in hell to even consider challenging his ears to another battle to the death. Luckily, Draco and the dive school owner (a man with a tattoo covering the entire back of his calf that looked exactly like the picture at left and thus did not inspire confidence in the realm of great decision making) agreed that we could take a day or two off and complete our last 2 dives when Geoff was well.

A cold was no excuse to miss the final exam, though; so we arrived at the testing center (aka the bar behind the dive school) at 12:30 for a little old time test taking. I was, of course, giddy. Would there be Scan trons? #2 pencils? Cheaters for me to shake my head at in a superior way? WHO KNEW! So test, test, test, feeling pretty good about it, though not super confident that I was completely kicking multiple choice ass so I went back and double checked everything like a good little Jesse Spano/Andrea Zuckerman. You can imagine my shock when I received only 92%. I was, thankfully, able to stave off a full on melt down but my eyes stung with tears as I dealt with my serious brown noser student issues. I noted to myself that I needed only 75% to pass but felt not at all comforted. How did I miss 4 questions? Ok, review time, actually I only missed 3 because one of those questions was based on a picture and my test copy was seriously not readable. But STILL -- 94%!! How do I justify my self worth now? AT LEAST I did better than Geoff (90%) and didn't miss any of the math questions (naturally). Maybe I do need to go back into therapy.

[insert 2 days of lying on the beach sipping fruit shakes and complaining about heat]

On to dives 3 and 4! Sadly Draco didn't join us -- I suspect mostly because the dives were at 7am and he is obviously not willing to get up early just to do pansy ass diving with Americans. Fair enough. Our substitute instructor is named either Calen or Calum but due to his ridiculously thick English accent it is impossible to tell which. Unfortunately, he doesn't look like a Harry Potter character.

For our third dive we took the boat out about an hour to Chumpon Pinnacle where you are supposed to see tons of sharks. We saw none, but that was fine. Instead we saw sea anemones like mauve shag carpeting that hadn't seen a steam cleaner since 1972. We saw a grouper the size of a toaster oven which doesn't sound that big but when you're defenseless in 18 meters of water is certainly big enough. We saw schools of teeny tiny fish at least 1000 strong that bobbed and weaved in perfect sync with one another. We saw a forest of bubbles all around us from the dozens of other divers descending the same rope. I could hardly be bothered by the crowds as I was much too busy reaching out and popping the gigantic half moon bubbles as the floated up past me. I saw Geoff hanging out on the buoy line waiting to ascend with what looked like a slimy half dollar sized piece of seaweed hanging on to the bottom of his mask. And then I realized that what looked like underwater plant life was actually more boogers and I tried again to invent my own PADI signal -- this time for, "You are Disgusting, I May Never Kiss You Again," once more to no avail. The 45 minutes went by way too fast.

Dive 4 was again all about skill tests, again kneeling on the sandy bottom of a dive site known as The Twins. We took our masks off underwater and performed a hilarious navigation task that required us to pretend to need a compass to swim 10 feet in one direction and then turn around and swim back to the dive instructor. We also saw a couple of clown fish (is anyone else annoyed that the name "clown fish" is quickly being replaced by "Nemo"? Fuck you, Disney), and swam through a very very short underwater cave without bashing the coral with my tank.

And then back into the world. With totally pain free ears! Thank you Poseidon! With luck we'll find a few more worthwhile dive spots on our travels -- Geoff would like to see a wreck because he loves rotting old things and I would like to see more fish because... I like fish.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What I'm Eating in Thailand

Thai food (especially basil chicken) has been my go to takeout choice for years, so I've been looking forward to plates full of fried noodles and coconut curries and crispy spring rolls since this adventure was a twinkle in my eye. I had heard that what we Americans think of as Thai food is really only available in fancy restaurants in Thailand and that true Thai cuisine was much different -- spicier, with more questionable organs and a greater appreciation for anything on a stick.This has so far not really proved true -- while Bangkok was heavily dotted with food stands serving a million unidentifiable delicacies the rest of our trip has been a big bowl full of pad thai.

The prevalence of westernized Thai food is almost certainly due to our location -- lolling around in the south eastern islands we are ensconced on the tourist trail. We are almost always within strolling distance of a burger, though I'm happy to say that so far we've ordered only one (and this was mostly as payment for a perch at the local sports bar, the only place broadcasting the Winter Olympics).

But even from our place on the very edge of true Thai culture we have been able to get our beaks wet with plenty of yummy sauces and soups.

Thai food in Thailand is much more focused on condiments than its American incarnation. Any order of stir fry or fried rice comes with half a lime and a lazy susan full of dried chilies, fish sauce, and chilies preserved in vinegar most of which seem to be homemade. Doctoring your food with these accoutrement's is often half the battle to delicious. One popular breakfast item is a somewhat bland noodle or rice soup that on it's own hardly seems worth the 80 baht (~$2.30) but once your bowl is decked out in condiments a new breakfast of champions emerges from the steam.

Yes, we have been eating soup for breakfast. Also fried rice and the occasional green papaya salad. They're not much for breakfast food in this part of the world. I was at first able to embrace this and down spicy plates of stir fry at 8am but lately I've been opting for rice porridge with bananas and a shake.

Oh, the shakes. Mango, banana, coffee, coconut, lime -- big glasses of fruit and ice (and probably the occasional splash of sweetened condensed milk which I'm hoping does not make each one a caloric disaster). The Thais really seem to know what to do with fruit and a hot sweaty day. For about $1 you can order up these homemade slurpies on any beach or porch; I'm averaging 3 per day.

On the subject of cooling concoctions I must mention that the Thais are doing some amazing things with cucumbers. Almost every dish comes adorned with thick slices that are the perfect antidote to whatever spicy dish you've ordered. In the case of the laab salad I had for lunch a couple of days ago I'm certain that my tongue would have disintegrated into a pile of ash had it not been for the side plate full of cucumber slices (and holy basil leaves!) on crushed ice. Cucumbers are also featured as the main green in dozens of salads, doused in chilies and lime and holding up a few fat shrimp they're a welcome hot and cool reprieve from the scorching sun. Come August in New York I need to experiment with my own spicy cucumber dishes.

While it is not exactly difficult to survive on the slightly less than truly authentic meals available here on the islands, my tongue is looking forward to our travels further north. So far all of our favorite bites were purchased (mostly from stands on the side of the road) in Bangkok. On our first night in town we bought a more than delicious bowl of dark broth full of pork dumplings and greens for $1. Geoff ordered a huge plate of Thai beef salad in a restaurant across the street from the National Palace that had just the right ratio of grilled meat, chilies, vinegar and vegetables. The plate of "red pork" on the right was purchased for $1 in the Bangkok train station while waiting for our south bound night train (where we somehow got talked into a second, much more expensive ($30!), dinner that we would regret if it weren't for irresistible romance of dining while watching the Bangkok suburbs turn slowly into countryside.).

I am also starting my list of food I miss. For days now I've been craving sushi, I blame the heat. In NYC a spicy tuna roll and a bowl of edamame is my summer staple. I've also more than once wished for a margarita and a huge serving of chips and guacamole. For this I blame my California upbringing, I was raised to believe that there is no such thing as a beach without Mexican food. But give me time, next summer sitting on Water Taxi Beach or Coney Island I expect to be un-shut-up-able about my cravings for green mango salad and fried morning glory greens.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Zen and the Art of Breathing Under Water

I'm currently reading (and highly recommending) Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It has me fantasizing just a bit about returning to running when I return to real life in May (or maybe sooner if we're ever faced with a day of less than 90% humidity and a stretch of beach longer than 100 yards). He writes so eloquently about running marathons while thinking of nothing for almost four hours at a time. Running for him is meditative. The only mantra I ever sang during my months of pounding pavement was the refrain "Keep running," which I had to focus all of my energy on in order to drown out my body's deafening chants of "THIS HURTS." Hardly zen.

I am, even more currently (as in right now, as I write this line), staring at the sunrise over the island of Koh Tao in southern Thailand. There is a small elderly Japanese man curled up in the lotus to my left; he looks at peace. I was, moments ago, sitting to his right doing a little stretching, admiring the gorgeous view and obsessively thinking about how to finish up my writing on meditation. Oh mind, will you never learn?

I have never been able to master meditation. Not to say that I've worked very hard at it but in the occasional yoga class when asked to empty my head of thoughts, to relax and let go of the troubles or pesterings that rattle around, I am never successful. Usually the best I can hope for is to reduce all brain chatter to "stop thinking, stop thinking, ooooh that girl has a cute yellow tank top! STOP. THINKING." Clearing my head is something I have always struggled with (so much so that even the promise of sleep often must be introduced via some mind numbing memory game meant to distract my brain just enough to allow the Sandman in).

But, luckily, this island is good for more than just beautiful sunrises. The water houses damsel fish and giant clams and coral like fields of deer horns and clumps of brain matter. Mere feet from the shoreline where I squatted on the sand, life stretched seemingly forever into the abyss. And somehow I find my mind easily drifting away from me while snorkeling. The weightlessness of being suspended in the water allows me to forget about my body. There is no nagging from my right hip urging me to move, there is no concern about sitting up straighter so my belly flattens out. The rhythmic shuck-shook of my own breathing and the rock of the waves and the slow motion tableaux of fish and sea cucumbers and anemones seems to calm me in a way that closed eyes and deep breaths and the occasional "om" never can.

It says much of my weakness for distraction that it is only when physically removed from chatting, from wiggling, from googling am I able to just be. When there is only water and fish and the all encompassing woosh of breath and tide then there is finally nothing.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wee In Thailand...

We have arrived in Thailand and I know that my readers have long been dreaming of living vicariously through my tales of ocean breezes, exotic tropical beverages and pictures of 8000 golden Buddhas. I can already tell stories on all of these themes, and perhaps I will get to them in time, but this post is about toilets. Don't turn away just yet -- for it is also about the secret to thinner thighs in 90 days.

In Thailand peeing is the not the sport that it is back in the USA. There are no padded toilet seat covers, no triple-ply Quilted Northern, no organic orange oil air freshener. Unless you are in some Western friendly tourist locale, toilets are located on the floor. They are more than a hole in ground and yet much much less then a thrown. One is not to sit but to squat and hoover like you never have in even the most dingy AM/PM restroom. This is a deep hover requiring one to engage their quads and pray they don't land keister in the drain. The position harkens me back to my 4-H days when lamb showmanship required one to crouch precariously to the side of her sheep holding the beast with only one hand under the neck while desperately trying to keep the ridiculous white shirt uniform free of animal feces.

Not wanting to seem like a fancy ass American I have spent my days squatting with the best of them sometimes even when taller western toilets are available and I expect to return to NYC with Keri Strug-like rock hard quads.

The Thais are also not fans of toilet paper. They often keep it around but their real ass cleaning method of choice is the spray. Hanging next to each and every toilet is a long hose capped with the type of spray gun device reserved in The States for removing baked on cheese from casserole dishes without having to touch the greasy mess and ruin your manicure.. Signs in bathrooms all over Bangkok urge you to try the spray in a tone that implies that all of South East Asia disgusted by our dirty bits-- toilet paper can only wipe away so much. Cleanliness aside I can see the appeal of the spray -- out of respect for "Snow-pocolypse 2: Frosty's Revenge" which most of my readers are cowering under as I write I won't taunt you with the details but it is fucking hot here ("Sun-pocolpse: The Wrath of Helios") -- but I assure you a splash of water on the nether regions could not sound more appealing. However, as in almost all foreign countries, the sewage system in Thailand is apparently incapable of handling more then a square or two of toilet paper at a time. Signage is constantly screaming at you to conserve least the plumbing explode. Having a healthy fear of backed up toilets I try to follow these direction but it's difficult when you're squatting dripping wet over a hole in the ground. I have to assume that all of Thailand is walking around in 90% humidity with soaking wet undercarriages and, while I want to blend, want to avoid the eye rolling and giggles that must greet those white girls who seek out only the most comfortable perch to poop on I also want quads of steal and to avoid wet patches on my shorts that must certainly leave my hosts convinced that incontinence is hitting at an ever earlier age through out America.

A dilemma for the ages which I will soon be pondering from a beach front bungalow while sipping a tropical slushy (make that "slowly sipping" there's no need to rush the next trip to the Squat Center 3000.).