Phuket, Pt. III

Following the Koh Yao Noi adventure/fiasco, we eventually stumbled back to the hotel and agreed to take a bit of a break to rest. Immediately I hop in the shower, which was probably one of the top 10 showers I’ve ever had (top ones being: after returning from the Three Peaks Challenge and Bonnaroo). I flopped down on the bed and meditated on the afternoon for a bit. It would make a great story, wouldn’t it?

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Once recouped, we emerged into the world once again. The normally quiet street was all of a sudden bustling with tables, lights, and wandering people. The night market had arrived. We walked around, admiring the trinkets and food being sold. Needing an energy boost, we decided to make a stop at Bookhemian, a nearby cafe, for some coffee. True to its playful name, it had several books for sale on the wall. It reminded me of The Book Cellar, a favorite cafe of mine in Chicago. Upstairs there was a photography gallery, which we would have totally missed if we hadn’t wandered up the stairs.

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Phuket Town is a bit of an enigma. As I said in my first post, it is suspiciously picturesque, with colorful colonial buildings and more quaint shops than you can count. The wealthy white tourist would likely get quite a kick out of this area. However, Phuket Town maintains just enough grittiness on the edges to keep it grounded, and for those willing to find it. The market wasn’t trying to “be” anything to anyone, unlike many markets in Bangkok that are Western-friendly exaggerations of Thai culture (tiny wooden Buddhas, elephant pants, woven bracelets, etc.). Phuket Town seems to have nestled into a comfortable middle ground. Not sure how long that will last, but for now, it’s enough and it’s lovely.

Sunday morning arrived, and after another breakfast of roti, we were northward bound to the Soi Dog Foundation. I’d read about SDF online and it became one of the few “must-visits” on my list for Phuket. It’s no secret that I adore dogs. Since moving to Bangkok and witnessing soi dogs, it’s been both a blessing and a struggle. I have a local soi dog that I see/pet almost every morning in the same spot.  She makes my early mornings a little brighter. I wonder what she sees in her day. I constantly am worried if she’s okay, if she’s being fed, if she’s dehydrated. That’s for ONE dog. There are thousands in this city. It’s safe to say that I needed to visit the foundation partly to put my soul at ease; to know that there are lucky animals who are in good care and people who are working on ensuring a better life for them.

Upon arrival, a volunteer promptly and apologetically told us that the staff was on lunch and wouldn’t be taking visitors until the next tour in an hour and a half. She suggested that we head to nearby Nai Yang Beach to relax for a bit while we waited. We popped back in the cab. “Nearby” is a relative term, as it took 20 minutes to get there. By the time we arrived, we had about 15 minutes to wander around before turning around to head back to the foundation. Regardless, it was a nice little teaser trailer of sorts, enticing us enough to return again later.

Tour time. We walked around the various “runs” on campus, or enclosed spaces that were separated by animal personality and status. We started out with some of the more recent arrivals and the sensitive pups. Some of them got quite anxious when we started walking around, but they eventually calmed down. At first the noises were jarring and I wondered how the staff dealt with the constant barking, but they quickly turned into normal background noise. We encountered a nice little man-made pond with a path circling it, with several volunteers walking dogs around. It was hard not to resist squatting down and giving each of them a proper greeting – but you can trust that I did so at least once!

Next came the puppies, the medical unit, the cat run, and the elderly dogs. As we walked, our tour guide told us about how the foundation works and what their goals are. In my mind, a shelter would make it a goal to take all of the dogs off of the streets and put them into homes. That’s the way it works at home, not here. Many of these dogs are truly born and raised on the streets, and to snatch them out of their environment like that may be too traumatic for them, especially depending on their age and health. So, SDF makes it a point to vaccinate, treat, and neuter/spay the dogs. 80% of the animals will be “fixed”, so that the population can still grow but not out of control. They will then decide if they are suitable for adoption or if it is best to let them back on the streets. Proudly they have made Phuket the only rabies-free region in the country. It’s great to see an organization not only doing good, but also doing so in a way that suits the culture and the animals’ best interests.

The tour finished and we were free to visit some of the open runs. I got my fill of pets. What shocked me the most were the elderly dogs. There was one pup that had no eyes, but was still venturing out onto ledges. He could sense my being near and was barking for my attention. He was just about the sweetest creature I’ve ever encountered in my life, but also one of the bravest. I hope he finds a home.

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Our time at SDF came to an end, and it was off to Nai Yang again to grab some grub and relax on the beach for a little while. The beach was practically glowing at that time of day, and the skies were dotted with kite surfers. I waded into the water for a refresher and floated idly, watching as the kite surfers zipped past at what was probably a dangerously close range. I’m still here, though. That will likely become a theme for this entire adventure. 

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Phuket, Pt. II

Day two, Saturday, is the entire reason that I had to break this blog post up into different parts. It’s quite the story. Here we go!

After another happy helping of roti and eggs, we trekked to the pier to hop on a ferry over to Koh Yao Noi, one of the lesser populated islands surrounding Phuket. After sitting down on the back of the boat, a man turned around to say, “I hear North American accents.” He introduced himself as Dan, an American. Funnily enough, he is from the same suburban Chicago area that I am (Glen Ellyn)! Small world. He and his wife, Nook (who was with him) had been living in Las Vegas for the past couple of years with their children. They also have a house on Koh Yao Noi, and was their first trip back to in some time. I have to say that he did fit the “Western man in Thailand” trope, in that he was socially clumsy and had an air of entitlement about him (“check it out, I’m married to a pretty Thai woman”). Despite this, he was conversational and kind, so there was really no harm there.

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30 minutes of slightly awkward small talk later (of which Andre bore the brunt, bless him), we stepped off onto the barren island pier without much of a plan, to be honest. That’s when Dan and Nook invited us to their home on the coast, where they had two kayaks that they would lend us. Of course, we jumped at the offer and hopped in a taxi (a.k.a the back of a truck). Can’t deny that good ol’ Midwestern hospitality, even in Thailand!

Unrelated insertion: I use parenthetical statements too often, I KNOW, I’m working on it. Okay, back to the story.

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Dan and Nook’s home is nestled in greenery, a small bungalow-like property complete with three dogs that greeted us with gusto. We chatted with the couple for a little bit before borrowing their two single-person kayaks to go around the island. Dan let us know which direction to go in for the best views, and apparently warned Andre saying that we should come back sooner rather than later because of low tide. He didn’t think that’d be a problem, as we needed to return before too long anyway in order to catch the last ferry off of the island at 4:30 p.m. Off we went!

Alas, I did not bring my phone or camera with me, so I don’t have any photos. Words will have to do. To my left, there were the foggy grey shadows of islands in the distance, at varying heights. They seemed clustered, though I’m sure that was an optical illusion in some sense. To my right, massive faces of rock towered over. Eons of erosion created half-caves where the water met the land, perfect for gliding through on a kayak. When you got close enough to the rock you could let yourself float through this pseudo canal, gently leaning back and forth to avoid being brushed in the face by hanging vines. It was eerily quiet, save the sound of the waves and wildlife chanting in the distance. A few wild beaches dotted the coast, a mix of rocky and smooth. Eventually we wanted to settle on one of the beaches to relax and swim for a bit.

We attempted to go for the most prolific-looking wild beach, but of course a speedboat containing a very touristy couple pulled up to said beach just as we were arriving. It must be a place where a local will bring you for peace & quiet, if you pay the right amount. So we turned around and chose another, slightly more rocky beach. I was actually quite pleased with the choice anyhow. There was a good deal of shade thanks to a giant rock, a welcome respite for my sun-singed thighs and shoulders. I didn’t even need a towel, I just laid on the sand and rested. It was lovely.

On the other side of this beach boulder was a much sunnier chunk of beach, with a very welcoming shoreline. A downside of wild beaches? The sea bottom is a textural nightmare. I kept tripping over rocks and dead coral, followed by stepping into what felt like sand diarrhea. Luckily the scenery and the warm water made up for it.

45 minutes later we decided it was probably wise to head back and give ourselves some time to get to the pier for the last boat. As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed these strange formations of tiny balls of sand on the beach behind the rock. I crouched down to investigate and discovered dozens of small, sand-colored crabs. They would scurry about on the beach, paddling their claws back and forth to form these balls, leave them there and then move onto the next. Together they formed a constellation. It was weirdly beautiful, like I was witnessing an episode of Planet Earth.

Andre and I kayaked back and began to approach what we *thought* was the area where we needed to turn and go into shore to find the house. As we started to go in, it became curiously more and more difficult to paddle. The water was only a few inches deep. That’s when we discovered that low tide had already set in – one kilometer out from the shore. We could no longer kayak; we would have to drag both of them out to shore. Cue the overly dramatic orchestra music.

Let me say that I had brought nothing with me except a bottle of water and my swimsuit, which I was wearing. Imagine looking at an expanse of mud, sand, dead coral, and rock – the same stuff you just cut your feet on swimming casually – with no shoes on. I’m trying to stay calm and optimistic.

Luckily, Nook had been watching for us from a distance and began walking out in our direction when she saw the realization sink in. She brought me flip flops, the absolute angel. At first, we  analyzed the situation. Realistically there was no way we were going to make this last ferry.  We only had half an hour until the boat left. According to Nook, we could either A. Pay for a private boat to take us back to Phuket for the hefty cost of 7,000 Baht (almost equivalent to my monthly rent), or we can find a place to stay on the island for the night and forego our original hotel. The money simply wasn’t there for a private boat, so it was decided for us: we’d have to stay on the island. But that was a situation to deal with later – for now, we needed to get these kayaks out of here.

We tried tying the kayaks together so we could bring them out simultaneously, but that wasn’t working. We were only going to be able to get them in one at a time, so all three of us picked one up and started for the shore. We kept having to stop because, well, it’s tiring work carrying a kayak across a sticky, rocky mess! My flip flops kept getting stuck in the mud and coming off. I’m actually lucky I didn’t fall. How unusual for me.

After about the third time we had to stop and take a break, Nook seemed fed up with the situation. I felt about 1 centimeter tall at this point for putting her through this. She told us to stay put while she goes to ask two men on the beach if they’d be willing to help. Feeling terrible, Andre and I try to tackle at least the one kayak we’ve got and keep moving without Nook. The two men seemed to have agreed to the deal and have started walking out towards us. When they reach us, they say, “Don’t worry. Leave it there. Go to the beach.” At first it seemed like they were trying to be polite, and we said that it was no problem for us to help. But they were insistent on us dropping the kayak and walking out. So we did, reluctantly.

A tiny Nook is in the distance on her motorbike, which is on the road just behind the beach. The closer we get to the shore, the better we can see her. She’s waving her hands and saying something. Eventually we can make it out: “Hurry! Run!!”

“Get on,” she said once we reached the bike. “I called a taxi. We will meet them at the house. They will drive you to the pier. They called the pier and asked the last ferry to wait for you. I don’t know how long they will wait, but you can try.” A mixture of adrenaline, guilt, and appreciation soars through me as we pile on to the back of her motorbike before ripping down the road.

Eventually we meet a taxi (again, a truck) and quickly dismount. Nook had all of my things in her front basket. I returned her hopelessly dirty flip flops to her. Before getting on the taxi, I begged her to let us pay her for the trouble. She wouldn’t have it and wished us luck. Every moral fiber of my being is resisting the end of this story but we had no time to waste. The boat was waiting for us. We thanked her profusely for everything and were on our way. The pier was not nearly as far from Dan and Nook’s house as we thought, and we actually arrived 3 minutes early, thanks in part to the taxi driver’s speed.

Sitting on that boat on our way back to Phuket, splattered with sand and mud, salty hair, makeup running, I felt jaded. What just happened? This picturesque afternoon exploring some of Thailand’s best natural beauty was all of a sudden turned into an intense, intrepid quest against time. I wish we would have at least gotten Dan and Nook’s surnames so we could connect with them on social media, to thank them properly. I’m compelled to go back to the island to find them. Maybe one day.

At this point in the story it is only about 5:00 p.m., but I think a 1719-word story is quite enough for one post. More in the next one!

I am not brave

It’s been two days since I’ve arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, and it’s been an interesting ride. I’ve already had a two-hour massage, a mini-bout of food poisoning, nasty blisters on the bottoms of my feet, and a cold Chang beer.

I knew that coming here was a risk, a leap of faith, and “brave”, by the words of many (lovely) people. However, I don’t think I truly realized the gravity of this change until, well, now. Maybe I could never really grasp it until I got here. Still, it’s a bit shocking. I’m in a country where I don’t speak the language nor do I have a place to live. Alone.

Apparently this is Stage Two of culture shock. Where was Stage One? The stage where I am blissfully enamored with my home and unencumbered by its downfalls and difficulties? Not that I don’t like Bangkok. It is colorful, a sensory adventure, and there is a lot to explore. However, much like the beginnings of a relationship – PUMP THE BRAKES, WE JUST MET. Give a girl a second. I’ve also never lived outside of the U.S. before, and I chose a completely different atmosphere across the world.

I suppose I just want people to know that I’m scared and feeling vulnerable. I appreciate being thought of as brave, and I suppose by virtue of my being here, I am in a way. But, I didn’t take one look at Bangkok and say “Ha HA! This will be easy!” All I knew was that I wasn’t happy where I was in my life 6 months ago (and the year proceeding in a very sad and confusing stage in my life), and I needed to do something about it. Bangkok has always been in the back of my mind. I’ve literally been dreaming about this for a long time. And so, here I am. I know that humans are complex creatures, but to anyone I know who has or who is thinking about doing this – you don’t have to be “strong” to do this. You can be, but you can be scared shitless and still do it, too. Life is fleeting and I’d rather die knowing that I did something that I really wanted to do for me.

Sometimes you have to just do these things and hope that it works out. I’m hoping that mindset will allow for the struggles to roll off of me like beaded water (or my sweat).

Home Office Inspriation

I’ve been in desperate need of writing and creativity lately, and this poor little blog keeps getting abandoned. I want to spend more time with it, and with you – if you’re out there. So I’ve decided that I should try making a writing space that is more inviting and stylish.

I resigned my lease for another year in charming Lincoln Square, and couldn’t be happier. I love my studio. But there is a definite lack of space, and I do not have the luxury of an extra room, or even a corner, to designate as my office. So I’ve been using my kitchen table for a year. Not very inspiring right? “In her early years, Maureen would sit at her wobbly kitchen table and churned out her beautiful first novel.”

No.

But, with the lack of space, this will have to do. And thus I have decided to work with what I’ve got, and use my creativity to turn this room into an office / eating area hybrid. I’ll be posting inspirational pieces on here as I go, and I’ll do a before-and-after once it’s finished!

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This post on The Everygirl (a favorite of mine) about Juley Le (her blog is also a favorite of mine) and her life/career/office really kicked off this idea for me. I love a clean, fresh look with lots of natural light and metallic accents. Got any ideas? Send them my way!

Grey Saturday

It’s looking like the clouds are here to stay today. Normally I prefer sunshine, but there’s something calming about the grey today.

What I’m listening to.

What I’m reading.

And you can take a wild guess as to what I’m sipping on!

Just for kicks, a hilariously manly letter from Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Oh Ernest, how you simultaneously annoy me and fascinate me.

Here’s to calm Saturday mornings with coffee, a cozy blanket and your favorite magazine.

Fowl With Pearls

I just saw this article on Buzzfeed about living like Amelie. Like many other ladies before me, I am a fan of this movie. Once I saw that the artwork in number three was available, I immediately ordered the “Fowl With Pearls” print online for my new apartment. What better stylistic motivation than a whimsical, dreamy French girl and her quaint Parisian apartment? Although I don’t think I could ever bring myself to cut my hair like hers. I’m not twee enough.

Check out Michael Sowa’s collection for more inspiration! (Fun fact: the art print is on sale!)

Begin

I claim to be a writer, therefore I should write more often. I feel as though I’ve lost touch with this. I need to be held accountable for my shortcomings—and the internet is an unforgiving, vast terrain, is it not?—so I’ve started this little site. Hopefully it will jolt me back into the routine I so desperately need in my life. I plan to post things that I write, eat, see, and generally enjoy. I don’t expect a huge audience, but I do hope that whoever reads this will find it to their liking!

The title of my blog is inspired by one of my favorite quotes (lyrics, really): “In time we may walk the straight line, but with memories of a grapevine.” When I’m old and tired, I want to be able to look back on my life as a weaving, green, fruitful adventure. I hope that, in some small way, that’s reflected here. I found it necessary to start this off with the song itself.