Meanwhile in Thailand..

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was five years old I wanted to become a professional dishwasher on an island. I could clearly see the advantages: being close to the sea always, wearing summer clothes and doing something that I loved to do, the dishes. I had just discovered that many people hated washing dishes, and I liked it, so I figured that if I would do it for all the people who hated it I could live near the sea and just go around houses. It seemed perfect to me.

As I grew up, my dreams became a bit bigger: flight attendant, lawyer, doctor, it all crossed my mind. Years passed and I still couldn’t really decide, I think I have never been able to make a permanent decision. I just want to be happy and do something I like doing. One day that can be writing, the next day it can be drawing,helping people,or simply daydreaming.  I just like my freedom.

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I tried social studies and eventually got a degree. Then I got addicted to the world. Travelling changed my world and my perspective. I realized how fortunate I am: that I come from a country were human rights are important, where we grow up in safety, where we are allowed to give our opinions and where I, as a woman have the right to be treated equally to a man. As I child I had enough clothes and toys and freedom to fantasize about what I wanted to be, and later I had the freedom to say no to the things I did not like or believe in.

Travelling made me appreciate what I had, but also made it hard for me to return to what I had, without a deep yearning to see what’s out there. I wanted to fill my pockets, not with money, but with wisdom. So I did what I had to do and packed my bags again: this time to Thailand, to do a teaching training and to become an English teacher.

I ended up working online in a big office, teaching English to Chinese students of all ages. I realized how hard some of my students work, the pressure that they have to deal with from when they are very young, and again how lucky I have been to grow up in an environment where stability and chances were already given to me. I never had to leave my family in order to get the right education and I always learned that happiness is more important than school results.

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However, after hours of talking to students I got to see the other side: Education is a way to increase happiness for the next generations. It can be the difference between living in a house or sharing a bed with four others, while the rats are crawling around and you can smell the open toilet in the corner.

Education leads to development, to emancipation. Even while living in poverty, being able to read and understand your rights can truly make a difference.

But not only education leads to happiness. And education doesn’t just bring magically happy people. Happiness is also about freedom: Freedom to choose, to speak without fear, to be who you are, and to become who you want to be.

During my first year in Thailand I realized again how fortunate I am with my passport, my possibilities to live and work in a foreign country and to make a salary that is much higher than that of my Asian colleagues. It’s a strange thought how the place where you happen to be born can be of such importance.

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Then one day, immigration came into the office of the company I worked for. They inspected the company’s paperwork and asked for our work permits, and took us to the immigration office. By that time, I had a work permit, but that didn’t save us from spending a night in jail. My work permit was registered on a different school, and some of my colleagues worked under tourist visas. Not because they wanted to, but because they were told that the work permit would only be provided after probation, and that this was a normal procedure in Thailand because the paperwork to get a work permit is very hard to get done.

I spent the whole night thinking how I could turn this experience into something positive, something that would make it worth suffering for a night. The next morning, we were bailed out. The company paid a large sum of money, but all wasn’t over yet.

Many of us had to wait for Court. The first hearing was last month and most of my colleagues who worked under tourist visas were sent back to their home countries. A sad ending to their Thailand stories that I wish would have been different for them.

I happened to have a work permit, just because I worked there longer than some of my colleagues, but that was the only difference. It could just have been me.

I am still waiting for my Court Date and I am not allowed to leave Thailand. It’s ironic how I ended up not able to leave my favorite country for a while. Still I consider myself one of the lucky few, as I am not ready to go home yet.

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At the same time I know that if I have to go home, that I will be fine and that I will have many loved ones waiting. I am very thankful for that.

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Notes from a Mountain

Flims, Switzerland.

A woman with her well-groomed dog that is dressed in a fancy coat, is walking past. Her hair sticks up in the air.

I am sitting in the sun on the terrace of my guesthouse trying to sort out Amsterdam, Kentucky, Southeast Asia, and finally Switzerland. A journey through my notebook, while the snowman in the garden is melting. As his shape changes his posture becomes more human like.

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Amsterdam to Florida to Kentucky to Thailand to Laos to Thailand to the Netherlands to Thailand to the Philippines to the Netherlands to Switzerland. A mouthful.

I look at one of the many half blank pages. The page is filled with just one sentence, taken from “The Darjeeling Express” soundtrack:

“Where do you go to my lovely, when you’re alone in your bed?”

I am back on Long Beach in Koh Lanta. Continue reading

Flavors of Khao San Road, Bangkok

New spices fill the air. Hints of sweetness, humidity, garbage, food, and perfumes. People are talking in different languages. The sounds and flavors of the unknown.I am surrounded by  street-vendors, 7-Elevens, brightly colored signboards, street- performances and loud music blasting out of many speakers.

The sky is thick with dark clouds. People start covering their goods.Tension builds up in the air. Something is bound to happen soon. Continue reading

Planes, a train and running engines

Zapp. In time and transportation. It all began in America. Many vehicles have crossed my path since Kentucky.

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Part I: Planes

A : June 18th, 7.00 am. Bluegrass Airport, Lexington, Kentucky. On the way to Charlotte. I feel groggy and it feels weird to leave. Lexington is getting smaller and smaller and soon I find myself inside a cloud.

B: Charlotte, North Carolina to New York City. Now I just want to get it over with. I try to sleep and chew on emergency snacks. In a real case of emergency, we probably won’t have time to eat them anyway. Continue reading

Big bird’s adventures

Last Sunday. Early in the morning, Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok. Very sleepy. Take off. All goes well. I fall asleep and hope to not wake up before my big bird has landed. Then a loud voice brutally disturbs my dream:

“We are approaching Kuala Lumpur airport, please fasten your seatbelt…”

“No, ladies and gentlemen I am just kidding. I know you are all experienced travelers so it is okay to  joke. I would like to play a game with you guys!  Who of you can tell me the age of this lovely flight attendant here? Any volunteers? The one that gives me the right answer will win a tv!”

Noisy songs blast out of the speakers now. Two girls stand up to guess the age of the flight attendant. They have to do a catwalk pose.  The girls guess wrong and get some Air Asia pencils for their efforts.

I  hope all of this will be over soon. Fantasize about writing spitting like a lama when I walk out of the plane, or hurrying to their desk to tell them this is the most ridiculous thing that ever happened to me. Being the grumpy and angry consumer. Tell them I will never book a flight with them again.

Then a new round starts.

“Ladies and Gentleman, this time I am looking for three volunteers. As you have seen in our demonstration flight safety is one of the most important things of being on a plane. I would actually like to do a test with you: how much of my instructions do you still remember? Please, three volunteers here”.

I try to make eye contact with mr. Game-master and give him my filthiest look. Not that it has any effect.

Another loud song is played and the three volunteers stand up. Put on oxygen masks, show the emergency exits. I try to close my eyes again and hope to catch up on my dream.

From Keyboardcat to Bangkok

A friendly atmosphere in a small town. After a couple of days I get to recognize some eccentric characters and start giving imaginary names to them: “Face, mysterious smile, instrument airheads, paint dog, tortured soul, the mushroom lady and keyboard-cat ”.

Bars, healthy food and a shot of Spirulina in the morning. Just as I am beginning to REALLY like the place a painful realization pulls me out of my Disney dream. My Thailand Visa will expire within 6 days. Boom.

Something needs to be organized. A list. Malaysia. India. Visa.  Transport. Packing. Chiang Mai. Bangkok. Flights. Seasons. Embassies. Money. Dreams. Priorities. Write it down. Internet. Book. Take a bus.

Chiang Mai. I am on an India guidebook quest. Used. Finished everywhere. Last burrito. Strangely enough I got addicted to them. I Pack my bag.Take a night bus to Bangkok. Time seems endless until we run out.

Bangkok. Seven in the morning on a small street in Sukhumvit. Four hours to go before I can jump on my new big bed. A morning walk through the streets:  markets, an empty stomach. Waiting for the mall and my room to open. I stay in a nice hostel. Creative decorations and a unique atmosphere. Many rules. Maybe the manager once got burned out on selfish backpackers destroying the place. Ants. I leave a message to the universe on the wall. 2012. India. Love. Make it last. Every day is a bonus.

Tuna, ants, and the hairy dog

Thursday afternoon. I am settled in a bar and watch a colony of ants carry a big chunk of tuna.

The circle of life. Once a big tuna got unlucky and found himself in a net. Then made his way through “civilization”,  into a can. Ended up in a store and eventually got used for my salad. Found the leftovers of himself to be surrounded by slices of cucumber, tomato, lettuce, and lots of salad dressing. By accident I drop a piece of him on the floor.

Almost immediately the ants become aware, team up, and move the tuna considerably quick. I notice, because some of their scouts are exploring my foot as well. I start calculating how fast they are. A meter in five minutes would make twelve meters in an hour. If they continue working this hard.

Then something happens- it puzzles me. The ants turn around. Take the tuna back in the exact same direction as where they were just carrying it away from. I wonder about their motive. Lack of strategy? Being inefficient?  Or is there a practical reason?

A small hairy dog walks around the restaurant too. A couple of meters away from me, the tuna, and the ants. I wonder what will happen if she smells the tuna. Would she decide to eat it, including the ants?  Or is she still  satisfied from her kitchen leftovers earlier?

I get distracted for a moment. A couple walks in and asks if they can storage luggage.

Again I look down in search of the ants and their transportation project. They have disappeared. The dog has disappeared as well. I wonder what has happened, if something has happened. It is a curious world we live in.