Monday, March 17, 2014

I'm baaaaaaaack!

Hello, old friends! Have you missed me? That's right, I'm back! This time, I'm in Thailand, looking for a job teaching English...or any job for that matter. So, let me catch you up...
When last we spoke, I was living with Norm hoping to save money to get back to Thailand to earn my TESOL certification to teach English as a second language. Norm and I were planning to work out a situation where I could be gone for a few months each year, and he was planning on getting a passport.
Then, real life set in. I went through a series of crappy minimum wage jobs, making it impossible to save money, and the lack of money gave way to my dependency on Norm, which in turn gave way to us being at each other's throats. We fought constantly, and I felt stuck. I suppose he did to, because over a year later, I still lived there even though I really didn't want to and he was still letting me, even though he clearly didn't want to. The hate in that house was overwhelming, and all the shiny happiness and optimism I'd brought home with me had been replaced with depression and anxiety. At least, I had managed to get my TESOL certificate early in the year, but it was just wasting away in an envelope in the corner of our room. Ironically, on the last day of the course, Kathy the instructor went around the room, asking us each a personal question, and the question she asked me was, "Sandi, what will you do if things don't work out the way you'd planned?"
Thankfully, as I may have mentioned before, I have the two best grandmothers a girl could ever ask for. The grandmas took pity on me and for Christmas/birthday, they decided to give me just enough money to purchase a plane ticket and sustain me for at least a couple of months while I look for work in Thailand. I can't thank them enough...but I will keep trying!
So here I am, back in Thailand, for nearly a month now. It's definitely not as easy as I'd hoped it would be. I think I can hear that damn question from Kathy in my head every night as I try to sleep. Frankly, nothing ever works out as planned, but it still always seems to work out.
I am currently sending out resumes at least twice a week, and I've gotten a few responses to set up an interview, but no actual interviews yet. I have also decided to send my resume out to China...just in case. China is my backup plan, as there is no money or home to go home to, so giving up is NOT an option. See, China offers more than Thailand anyway: reimbursement of flight cost, free apartment, and about $2000 a month. Also, I can Skype interview for positions in China, something Thailand doesn't really do, so I could have a job and an apartment all set up before getting there. I can hear all my lovely little fans wondering, "Well, why the heck didn't she just go to China in the first place?" American life took a toll on my confidence and also, added a bit of fear. I am super nervous about being a teacher. 120 hours doesn't really feel like enough training, especially when you consider that you'd need at least 4 years of college to do the same thing in America. I wanted to learn to teach somewhere that I at least didn't also need to acclimate to a new country and culture, as well. But now, being here and remembering how this all started and how new it was then and realizing how much I love it all now, somehow makes China seem more "do-able." The goal was never to travel to teach, the goal was to teach to travel. I had planned to go to China next year anyway (and somewhere new each year after), so there shouldn't be anything holding me back from doing it now.
So stay tuned, fans, there is definitely more to come! I will keep you updated, and I promise to post pictures of my adventures as well. Send me happy thoughts and job vibes until then.
P.S. I missed you, too.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Until we meet again...

"Did you ever finish your blog?" My grandma asked me this a couple of weeks ago when she was out here visiting, and the sound of her voice sounded like teenaged me had forgotten to take the garbage out...again. I guess, I did leave all of you--my lovely fans--just kind of hanging, so here it is...the big finish.
When we last heard from our super heroine, she was full of big plans for the future...has she followed through? Well, no, not exactly. But I'm working on it! What is the plan now? As the Thais would say, "Same, same. But different."
The original plan was to get my old job back and save up enough money to drive across country so I could take care of Grandma while she heals from the knee surgery she needs. Once in Florida with her, I planned to work on saving enough money to get back to Thailand ASAP to obtain my English teaching certificate. I wanted to make it back to the States afterwards in time for my high school reunion, and then immediately apply for jobs in South East Asia.
Well, first, my old job had replaced me. No biggie. I hadn't asked them to hold it, and I was not-so-secretly relieved to be forced to go elsewhere. Second, while talking to my other grandma, she let slip the big question, "What if Grandma doesn't have the surgery? I really don't think she's going to have the surgery." Since she had such a hard time healing from the first knee surgery, I knew my grandma had been putting off the second knee, but I didn't know she might not actually go through with it. So I called her up, and asked her, "Grandma, are you going to have the second surgery or not?" She said, "Well, I'll tell you what I told my doctor: I'll have the second surgery...when hell freezes over." With that being said, my grandma is a feisty old lady...uh, sorry Grandma...feisty young lady, and she sticks to her guns. So we talked it over and realized there was no point in me saving money in California to go to Florida to save money to go to Thailand. The jobs are even scarcer in her town than mine, so it would make the most sense to simply stay in California and save money for Thailand.
I am currently back together and living with Norm. It is definitely a big adjustment for both of us, but we are doing our best to figure it out. He has very generously been supporting me since I got back to America, while I ease my way back into the real world. I recently got hired at Macy's, and I still plan on saving enough money to get back to Thailand ASAP (my goal is February) to earn my English teaching certification.
I love travel, and I love Norm, and now we have to figure out a way for me to love both. We have tentatively agreed that if things continue to work out for us, that I will travel for about 3 months a year. It may be hard to find work overseas without at least a 6 month commitment, but there are definite possibilities, and I am also considering Mexico as a possible place for future employment, which would make occasional weekend visits to and from Norm, more of a possibility. And the biggest news for anyone who knows Norm...he has agreed to apply for a passport! I so want to share my new world with him, and although long term travel is not a possibility for him for at least the next 5 years (when his son graduates high school), I am more excited than even he knows at the thought of a tiny blue book with his name and photo in it.
So I'm home for now, and let me tell you, it's not easy. At the beginning of this adventure, I remember reading all of the travel guides and noticing that each one made sure to include a chapter about coming home. They spoke of reverse culture shock. They spoke about the lack of enthusiasm your friends may have about your tales. They spoke of "ways to cope." I laughed. But it's true, it's all true. You come back a different person--a person you love, a person you are proud of, a shiny, sparkly, happy person. But everything is as you left it, and as soon as you get settled it, you remember why you left it, and your glitter dulls. Responsibility comes rushing back, and the world starts revolving around money again. What's a girl to do? So what do I do? Hmm...well, I obsessively stalk my fellow travelers' facebook pages, especially the ones still out on the road. I arrange and rearrange all of my trip photos into collages. I take cold showers with my eyes closed and pretend I'm in a hostel (I really do). I pinterest like crazy hoping to find a hobby to make the time go by faster. And more than anything, I keep reminding myself that everything I do now will pay off later. This all started with "The world begins at the end of your comfort zone." Well, I'm as uncomfortable as hell, so bring it.

Thank you to everyone who has followed me on this incredible journey. Thank you to God for bringing me home in one piece. Thank you to everyone I met. A special thank you to my awesome Grandmas for all of their support and help through my trip and my life. Thank you to Jenessa for the occasional password reset when my email got hacked on the road (3 times) and the wi-fi wasn't good enough for me to change my own password. Thank you to Aunt Sandy for the occasional bank run. Thank you to Little Bird Hostel in Chiang Mai for attracting the biggest bestest group of friends I'll ever meet in one place...twice. Thank you to Asia Dave for all your pre-trip advice and inspiration (especially and most obviously, the tip about Little Bird). Thank you to the Vietnamese nurse and the flight attendants on the very first flight. Thank you to the guy at the airport in Bali for the five bucks.

Slowboat to Laos
Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) Thailand
Cambodian border
Chiang Mai
Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Best Laid Plans

Exactly two weeks from today, I will be on a plane going home to California. Oh, it hurts my heart just to think about it! But don't worry your pretty little heads, oh lovely little fans of mine, this story is not over yet! I promise all of you, this is only the beginning of my journey, and I'd love it if you would continue to come along.
So here's the plan (well, tentatively)...
I fly home June 20. Once there, fingers crossed, I can get my old job back. Yes, I remember how happy I was to "retire," but it's only for a couple of months. In August, Disco Kitty and I will be road-tripping from California to my grandma and Ethan in Milton, Florida (just outside of Pensacola). On the way we will see the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Austin, New Orleans, and anything else that piques my interest along the way. Hopefully, Disco will not hate me for making him ride in a car of some sort (hopefully mini-van or even better, camper) for 2 to 3 weeks, but I can't stand the thought of drugging him through an airplane flight.
Once in Florida, I plan to live with Grandma and Ethan, get some sort of job (hopefully, office work), take a class or two at the college, and most importantly, convince Grandma to get her second knee surgery out of the way and support her through recovery.
In the meantime, I will be saving up for my next trip. "And what will that be?" you must be asking. Geez, you're always so nosey. Haha, well my pretties, I hope it doesn't bore you that I am not planning to go into uncharted territory just yet, but instead, I am planning to redo parts of this trip...only better.
Next March, I want to give India another try (yes, India) by attending their Holi Festival. Also known as the Festival of Colors, Holi is celebrated through most of India to mark the beginning of spring with a giant colored powder fight. If you don't come home to your hostel looking like a walking rainbow, then you haven't left the house.
After Holi, it's back to my home away from home, Chiang Mai, Thailand, to get washed off at Songkran. Thai's celebrate their new year with a giant nation-wide water fight, and I missed it this year by only two days by going to India.
I plan to stay in Chiang Mai after Songkran long enough to get certified to teach English as a second's cheaper to do it here than at home. I'll then fly home to hit my 20 year high school reunion (oh god, 20 years??), then apply for jobs teaching in Laos or Cambodia. I don't think I'll have to pay for that flight back to South East Asia, because many programs pay for your flight and an apartment as long as you commit to teach for 6 months to a year.
After all that, who knows? The world is my oyster and all that jazz, right? And like I said, these plans are tentative. Anything could change and quite possibly will. I have definitely learned to let fate tell me where to go, and I have no doubt that it will. So keep following me, because we still have a long way to go!
Now here's a couple pictures of Angkor Wat to hold you over until the next blog post. Sorry I don't have more pictures of Cambodia yet, but I've spent most of the first week sitting on my butt in the hostel, thanks to a clumsy (maybe slightly intoxicated) roll of the ankle...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chillaxing in Chiang Mai

So this time, I'm writing to you from my bed on a sleeper train in Thailand...a MUCH better ride than the sleeper bus of India. It's been a while since we last talked, almost a whole month. I do apologize, sweet fans of mine, but I have been taking a holiday from my holiday, chilling in Chiang Mai this entire time and well, I just didn't know quite how to stretch the days of lying by the pool and the nights of drinking at my favorite reggae bar into an entire blog entry. But here goes...
I went directly from the chaos of India to the comfort of Little Bird hostel, hoping to find some more of the magic that I had experienced there two months before. I knew I could never recreate the family of friends I had made there the first time, but when in less than an hour of me dropping my bags and picking my bunk, Natalie, a welsh friend from my first round at Little Bird came into my room, I knew things were off to a good start. Like me, she was also escaping to her safety zone. Her boyfriend/traveling partner had gone to a meditation retreat at a monastery up north and instead of biding her time in Bangkok, she'd opted for a second dose of good old Chiang Mai. It was so good to hear her adorable little welsh accent as we caught up on the time we'd been away and reminisced about the times we'd had together.
As if one old friend wasn't treat enough, I also had Charlotte from England and Jason from Australia to meet up with. Charlotte and Jason had been here on my first trip, staying at Little Bird while searching for English teaching jobs. Now roommates in their very own adorable and insanely inexpensive apartment, I spent most of this month hanging out with them. Charlotte and I especially, became very close, as it's been a while since either of us has been in one place long enough to have a "bestie." I had forgotten how much I love girl talk and gossip, and I miss her already. let's see...I must have done something more than work on my tan and swap secrets with Charlotte. Well yes, every now and then.
I went to a Muay Thai fight. I did that last time, though this one was a bit different. The first 4 fights were between children, for one thing. Young boys, some couldn't have been more than 10 years old. It was interesting I guess, but you do feel a little weird just chilling with a beer while watching a couple kids beat the crap out of each other. Thankfully, the last two fights were adult matches and one of the fighters was even an American guy from Alaska...he won, too!
I also spent a day with a new friend, Chris, filling in for his friend Robbie, who was much to hungover to move. Chris and I went to see a crocodile show where he actually got his picture taken sitting (and even standing) on one of the croc's back! Wanting to keep all of my fingers and toes in place, I refused to go into the pool area, but I did get to reach over the fence to hold one by its tail...which didn't last long (slippery sucker). I was quite happy to be separated by the fence as he slithered away. We saw a monkey show that day, too. A bit humiliating for the poor furry little guys, they rode tricycles and played basketball and did all sorts of other silly tricks.
My favorite thing I did was by far the ladyboy cabaret that Charlotte and I went to see. A proper drag show, those ladies do put on a great show! One even did a number to Frank Sinatra's "My Way" where he started out dressed like Marilyn Monroe, then as the song progressed, removed his falsies, his makeup, his wig, and his dress so that by the time he sang the last big "I did it myyyyyyy wayyyyyy," he was wearing a suit and looking like the man he starts out as every morning. It was pretty amazing to watch the transformation in reverse.
I also spent an evening at Charlotte and Jason's place where their friend Ah cooked up a feast of traditional Thai food (and yes, I even liked some of it), saw a couple of movies (The Avengers and American Pie Reunion) both of which rocked, caught a traditional thai holiday parade (completely by luck), pet a baby elephant while visiting the Chiang Mai zoo, and spent a weekend giving the town of Pai another shot (it is truly way more fun when not suffering from the horrible head cold I had last time) where I swam in a waterfall, saw some canyons, and got covered in day-glo paint at the Spicy Pai full moon party.
All in all, I loved my decision to do Chiang Mai, round 2. I got to see old friends, met new ones, and had some of the best times I've had on this whole trip. Now I'm heading off to Cambodia, and let's just say it's got a lot to live up to.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Famous, Frantic, and Furious, part two

Before I finish the story, let me just tell you all, without any regrets, I gave up on India and left a week early. It is simply not meant to be traveled alone by a female. I'm not saying no girl could do it, I'm not even saying I won't go back, I'm just saying its hard as hell and I met one other girl who gave up early and another who's about to, because it's that's how hard it is! Now back to the story...
So by the time Andrew and I had made it to our fourth city in a week, I had completely shut down and barely spoken a word in two and a half days. But our fourth town, Udaipur, was much more welcoming than any other we'd been to (or any other I'd go to, for that matter). The men rarely leered and the four month old guesthouse we'd found was beautiful, clean, and ever so friendly. The first day there, I ran some errands and let Andrew go sight seeing alone. When we met up, he asked if I wanted to go to dinner. I
said sure, and he said, "Ok, but first we're going to talk." Not asking or even suggesting, just telling. Whatever. He asked what my problem was and I told him. I was tired of being so rushed, I was tired of him complaining about the parts of India we couldn't change, I was tired of him, and I was just plain tired. He said he refused to keep traveling with someone who wasn't talking to him, and I said, "That's fine but there's not much we can do since you've already booked the next four trains." He said he'd give me my money back and I said, "Sounds good." So he left the next morning and after 7 frantic and tearful calls to Grandma (I use wi-fi for calls and the Internet kept dropping), I decided to spend the next 5 days in Udaipur and then fly down to Pune to visit my friend Mickey (a young gay Indian I'd met in Bangkok). From there I'd go to the beaches of Goa and then on to Kochi, where my flight back to Bangkok was scheduled.
The first 4 days with Mickey were great fun, even if he was a little anal retentive..."Wipe off the bathroom sink when your done, I don't like to see water on the counter," is just one of many examples. But Mickey hung out in a group of wealthy young partiers. He took me to grand parties at fancy hotels, he had a servant, and his friends took us out to eat at restaurants nicer than I'd ever stepped foot in. On the fifth night, Mickey made it clear that partying was much more important than my happiness or my safety, and when he said, "These are my friends forever, you're just a visitor," we'll, that pretty much summed it up, and I hit the road the next morning at the crack of dawn. I decided to skip Goa and Kochi and just hightail it out of india. Four rickshaws, two cabs, one hired car, one flight to Bangkok, two subway rides, one 12 hour bus, and one tuk-tuk ride later, I have safely made it back to Chiang Mai, Thailand, my favorite town on my trip so far and back to A Little Bird hostel, my home away from home, where I might just sit out my entire 30 day Thai visa. I just arrived a couple hours ago and have already met up with old friends, Charlotte and Jason and had one of Tip's famous smoothies. I am in my happy place and it feels so good. Here are a few more pretty pics of my own private hell (India).