Humiliation!

CLICHÉ ALERT: Part of the motivation to move abroad was to have an experience that could make me a better person (key word could, because who knows). I thought I’d be faced with challenges, work through them, be forced to operate outside of my comfort zone, and then one day BOOM, you’re changed for the better. So I knew that it would be hard coming into this, but I didn’t know exactly how that difficulty would take shape. Turns out, a good chunk of my experience living abroad is spent feeling humliated. Sometimes it feels like a constant onslaught of humliation, just one cringe worthy dose of awkard terribleness after another.

Thonglor

I’ll give you an example – Living in Thailand seems to be just about the worst thing possible for my skin. I am putting my skin through hell in this tropical sun. The UV rays are one thing, but the real issue is the heat. I’m constantly pouring sweat from all of my pores — really, all of them. I mean it’s almost impressive — and I feel like I’m back in high school with all of the breaking out going on. Every day, I put on makeup to cover up the breakouts, then I sweat off said makeup, put on more makeup (to continue pore clogging!), sweat that makeup off, put more on, and repeat this depressing cycle until I get home.

Even the breakouts aside, the sweating is enough to embarass the F out of me. I get to events for work where elegant Thai ladies in slacks and blazers are functioning gracefully and I am straight up soaking, my wet hair clinging to my face. It’s a delight. They look at me sympathetically as beads of sweat roll down my forehead and I try to escape small talk to run to the bathroom and dry off.

Boatin

Ok so the good thing about feeling constantly humliated is that it really breaks down your ego. If I lost sleep over all of the cringeworthy moments, I would really not be sleeping ever. I’ve gotten to the point where I just have to tell myself, “well, this is happening so you better just roll with it” (or I guess it’s more of a “wow, just kill me. How is this real life?”). I have to accept the awful reality and keep on keeping on.

Ultimately, I survive! I’ve learned that even when I do something and feel completely terrible (like almost die at a company retreat HAHAHA), I make it through the situation and the consequences are usually not as bad as I predict they’ll be. Counterintuitively, my self esteem is getting better the worse that things get. I’m learning how to deal with my body, my personality, my strenghts/weaknesses and it’s all very uncomfortable and very real. The byproduct of this learning is making me a better journalist. I’m less embarassed during interviews I conduct because I’ve let go of hangups I can’t control. I used to think that I wasn’t qualified or worthy of talking to people as a writer and that obviously threw me off before the interview even started. Now that I no longer feel capable of impressing people based on social graces or appearance, I can just focus on being better at a job I love to do.

Hopefully, this is all part of the “becoming a better person” scheme.

Changes in Bangkok

TL;DR – I’m starting a new career, things are good

Ambition is downloading the Thai keyboard for your iPhone before moving to Thailand. Reality is the guilt that stems from switching to the English keyboard every time you open up your phone.

I thought I’d be texting and Googling in Thai by now, but that is 0% the case. Nearly six months in Bangkok and I can get around in a cab, order some food (incorrectly) and count. I definitely dropped the ball on the whole fluency thing. When I first moved here, I talked a lot of shit on farang who didn’t learn Thai. I preached about how rude it was to waltz into a country and not attempt to speak the local language. Lo and behold, here I am doing exactly what I openly chastised. In English, that’s what we call a hypocrite. Who knows what they call it in Thai.

Anyway…

Big changes for me over here in Bangkok. In March, I’m getting out of public relations and joining the Burda International‘s Prestige magazine as as a full-time writer. Backstory: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but never thought it was a viable career option. I listened to people foreshadow the death of journalism for years and figured that even if it did survive, I didn’t have a chance in the industry. When I finished school, I got into public relations because it was safe, not because I particularly loved sending out press releases. See also – sell out. 

Prestige Worldwide

I moved to Bangkok and did more of the same. My job at HotelQuickly was a blend of PR and copywriting, but at the end of the day I was still doing public relations instead of journalism.

Then the fun head trauma happened.

Suddenly I found the motivation to change things. DON’T SQUANDER THIS FLEETING, PRECIOUS LIFE was my main takeaway from the accident. I could only blame myself for not going after the life I wanted, so I actively pursued paid and unpaid writing gigs in my spare time.

I’d been freelancing for Vice Munchies, Coconuts Bangkok, and Lifestyle Asia for a while when Prestige came to me with a dream job offer. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to grow as a writer and finally pursue a lifelong passion.

Prestige Worldwidewidewide

Don’t get me wrong, being a publicist was a great learning experience, and so working for HotelQuickly. Being a part of the Southeast Asian startup scene was exciting and the job was challenging. The team treated me like family, made me feel welcome here, held my bleeding skull together, etc. I can’t thank everyone at the company enough.

So now things are really falling into place. I have a new visa, new work permit, and a lot to look forward to in the coming months. Tonight, I’ll take an overnight train to Chiang Mai to see Haley and drink a lot of coffee. Next week I’ll be heading to Myanmar to spend time in Yangon and write some things for Vice. Time permitting, I’ll make a trip to Mawlamyine and check out an old, old distillery there. If anyone has any Myanmar tips, please shoot them my way.

When I get back, life will be completely different which is scary and exciting. New career, new coworkers, new routines. (Insert relevant Bowie reference here)

Bangkok Neon

Farang-ed Five Months

My experience in Bangkok has been a lot like my dinner the other night at Sun Moon Dumplings. It was a place I’d hyped up, a place completely out of my element where there would be abrasive servers, fluorescent lighting, and hopefully the food would live up to its reputation.

Sun Moon Dumplings

We got there and it was as harsh as predicted. Shortly after we sat down, the place filled up and a line began to form outside adding to the restaurant’s lore. We ordered some Singha beers and a handful of dishes to share.

The permanently annoyed server brought the plate of steaming shrimp dumplings to the table first. As a pescetarian, these shrimp dumplings were the only dumplings I could order on the menu. I bit into the soft doughy ball to find out it was 10% shrimp and 90% pork. Nothing like a mouth full of pork when your M.O. is avoiding pork. Chris, Etty, and Abhi continued on happily with those and the other pork-filled dumplings while I cleansed my palate with Thai lager.

We ordered some other food to fill my dumpling void. Eggplant Fries, Tomato Egg, and Sesame Balls sounded like good vegetarian options, but the place was out of Tomato Egg so we ordered another eggplant dish. The Eggplant Fries were coated in a sticky glaze and tasted like savory caramel sweet potato fries. They were good but you felt weird after eating a lot of them. A plate of pigs feet was put on our table by mistake before the second eggplant dish arrived. Hooray! More Eggplant Fries! I hadn’t looked at the photo in the menu closely enough and accidentally ordered the same thing twice. Also combining sweet and savory were the Sesame Balls that turned out to be fried balls of mashed taro.

I had envisioned being knee-deep in dumplings that night but ended up having a meal of weird dessert vegetables instead.

Eggplant Fries

When I was moving to Bangkok, I expected it to be jarring, confusing, and overflowing with delicious food — and it is, but the experience is different than I thought. Now nearly five months of expat life under my belt, I have a completely new view of this city.

Everything is still so foreign that I find myself making stupid mistakes (like ordering the same Eggplant Fries twice) all the time. That being said, other glossy first impressions continue to get exposed, revealing less romantic realities. At Sun Moon Dumplings, a Chinese silk painting of eight horses had something written beautifully in the corner. I asked Etty what the text meant and it turned out to mundanely say “Eight horse picture.”

Every minute living in Thailand adjusts my image of the exotic Far East. Bangkok is a city with an Ikea and an Outback Steakhouse, a city where the locals’ go-to dumpling restaurant has a menu translated into English for Farang like me who feel like they’re the only foreigners to eat at the place. The real Bangkok is a mix of insane and unsexy normalcy.

IMG_5052

Five months here has been a test of my willpower. Sometimes a warm memory will pop up in my head or I’ll scroll through Instagram and see something so homesickening that it feels like someone hit me in the chest. Those heart pangs are the real deal, and when that hurt/nostalgia wells up I tend to lose focus of what I’m doing here. Suddenly it’ll occur to me again how bizarre it is to be Bangkok.

I’m far away from so many things I love (Market Street, my family, burritos) and surrounded by a lot of things I don’t love (heavy pollution, bad pizza, monitor lizards). In the wake of a pang, I’ll open up Kayak.com and frantically look for an escape. Copenhagen, Los Angeles, Paris, Lithuania – I panic travel plan until I feel like I’m in control again. This wave of comfort washes over me when I remember I can buy a plane ticket out of this hot, tropical life at any time.

But things are good here, weird good like the Eggplant Fries. Every care and stress melts away when I hover over a plate of $1 Som Tam, which is excellent minus the rats in the gutter next to the table. It feels right to drink wine on the balcony at Small’s, even though the wine’s just mediocre and I’m sweating into the glass.

There are more days when I’m generally happy and not freaking out. My weeks are filled with rewarding challenges and fun times with people I like. I’m doing my best to live in the moment and stop seeing the months spent here as Girl Scout badges, something to collect for bragging rights. Each day here in Bangkok brings exciting opportunities to learn new things or find out non exciting things (like there are three Sizzlers here).  Even when I head out and things don’t turn out the way I’d hoped, it’s still a pretty great feeling to know that I tried.

Twenty Four!

I’ve been listening to the Yeasayer song 2080 on repeat. The chorus hits home:

It’s a new year, I’m glad to be here
It’s a fresh spring, so let’s sing
In 2080 I’ll surely be dead
So don’t look ahead, never look ahead

It fits how I’m feeling at the end of 2014, not that I’m against looking ahead. I wildly alter my five year plan daily.

What resonates is the idea of simmering in the present, appreciating what’s happening now. I’m trying to savor the fact that it’s nearly 2015, that I’m 24 years old, and that I’m fortunate to be chasing my dreams (however awkwardly).

Yesterday, an AirAsia plane went missing en route to Singapore hours before I boarded a flight of my own. I keep getting reminded that EVERY MOMENT is a gift. It could have been my budget aircraft that went down. I could have easily died in the Petchaburi pool accident. I could get hit by a Toyota Camry in Fresno the next time I visit home. I’m lucky to be lazily typing this. With 2014 coming to a close, I wrote this blog post to reflect on that luck.

The year was a blur filled with epic experiences and way too many Negronis. I worked with incredible people, saw beautiful things. So much happened before Bangkok that most of the year feels like a lifetime ago. Here’s a snapshot recount:

January  – European blitz with Ariel through Dublin, London, and Paris; Made a lot of people mad at Le Comptoir Du Relais Saint-GermainMarchMy grandpa turned 90; Officially left my side gig at Café des Amis. MayOne year anniversary in San Francisco; Family visits the city. July – Staged a bit at Alta CA.

(San Francisco Apartment) 

August – Temporarily moved to Oakland; Outside Lands. September – Left Wagstaff; Last trips to Fresno and LA to see my family; Said goodbye to San Francisco with Leah, AJ, Clayton and Jacob; Got on a plane to Bangkok with Haley and Amber. Started at HotelQuickly. October – Weird solo adventures to Manila and Hua HinNovemberNearly killed myself in that pool; Family and friends came to my rescue; Started freelance writing. December – Turned 24.

Beyond the snapshot, I reminisced about the year gone by as I stood in line at a Thai bank the other day.

I thought back on my time at Wagstaff, where I cut my teeth in the professional world and made so many mistakes. It was where I learned more than I could have imagined from Kiaran, Keelin, and the rest of the team. Where I picked up the phone and dialed my cross-country, invaluable mentor, Jeff. Where I lunched with Nicole, Meg, and Katherine. Where I fell in love with A16, TBD, and Farallon.

It was more than a job, it was a life, and a good one.

I wouldn’t have been at Wagstaff, or standing in line at a Bangkok bank, if it wasn’t for the boundless support from my family. My parents have consistently swooped in and saved the day with their love, resources, and manpower this year (and of course all the ones before that). My brother and sister in law took me into their Oakland home so I could save money before my move. My sister and her fiancé continue to keep me grounded, and feed me encouraging advice regularly. My extended family sends love through mail and social media. Whether bound to me by blood or law or whatever, these people helped build the foundation of my life. I’d be an idiot not to remind them how grateful I am for that help.

While I’m barrelling down this tunnel of thankfulness, I obviously can’t leave out my friends and coworkers at HotelQuickly. I arrived in Bangkok with the comfort of a job, complete with welcoming colleagues who turned out to be literal life savers.

Through the insanity of the year, friends new and old played vital roles in sustaining my happiness and sanity. To all of you, thank you.

This post can hardly scratch the surface of the joy, pain, and weirdness of 2014. If anything, I hope it can convey how happy I am to be watching another sunset hit the towering Bangkok skyscrapers.

I’ll leave you with some visuals of the year:

 (Ariel does Paris) 

(Dinner at Saison) 

10151241_827352617279250_971254774_n(Papa turns 90)

IMG_6245

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Two Good Things

In an effort to appreciate as much as possible post-accident, I thought I’d share a few good things I came across this weekend. The first, Red Bean Mochi Green Tea Ice Cream from Marlin Café in Ari. The second, Vesper’s upcoming Christmas cocktail, the Yuletide Sour complete with North Pole Fog.

 

Bangkok, you are delicious.