Happy birthday to me and my twin, Abha Gupta!
And a happy birthday and proud salute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (15th.) Sharing a birthday with him genuinely makes me stand up taller and want to be bold.
Today I want to share with you where I was last year on my birthday – a gem I’ve never shared. It’s a letter I wrote to my family after I got to Thailand, where I took myself to heal for two months after a hellatious end to 2015.
I barely spoke English for 2 months – such good medicine – and now I’m ready to put it all into words. This post won’t be instructive like usual; I like teachable moments, but I like stories more. Right now I just want to tell you stories.
Within them you’ll see what I learned about myself, how I healed & what helped me be open to life again. Your time is important so when you to step into my world for a few minutes, I’m grateful. Thanks for being here.
Today’s post and Thursday’s is the letter to my family. How everything shifted, how it applies to me now and what I learned will come after. It’s long so I broke it up into two parts. When my dad read it the first time he said, “I had to take breaks because my eyes hurt.”
Subj: Thailand Travel Update 1: Jan 18th, 2016
*Thailand is 13 hours ahead of USA EST
It’s my 1 week anniversary in Thailand tomorrow so here’s my travel update so far. Let’s celebrate shall we.
Firstly, I’m here. It feels good. 2015 felt like an earthquake in which very foundational things shifted, to put it mildly. So I consider it a blessing & a huge leap of faith to be here. It feels healing to have the sun warm me, roosters wake me up, and have adventures each day. It’s true that it doesn’t matter where I am, but being with myself, the journey I take with ME (mighty fine traveling companion) is important. It can, and often has, changed everything for me. I’ve experienced this every time I’ve chosen to leap despite my fears. I had many this time.
The journey to Chiang Mai was hectic, but lovely. I took the night flight from JFK to Hong Kong, a 15-hour trek. I can’t believe I sat for that long. It’s a ridiculously long time. Crap movies on the plane so I’m glad I bought Shonda Rhimes new book “Year of Yes” and Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking.” Shonda’s voice is not my favorite, but the book itself was full of fantastic stories. Sometimes you need someone to tell a good story, but sometimes the story itself carries you. I loved that someone that successful (she created Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder) struggled to set boundaries and how she had to learn to say NO in order to say YES. One year changed a lot – she found her life partner, found massive success, lost 100 lbs. I totally recommend it if you’re leaning into new edges of yourself and need some courage. Or a good story. Glad I overcame the prose.
For 15 hours I sat next to an old Chinese grandma (she was not friendly) and a MASSIVE Chinese baby. I mean massive. She rivals this baby. If you’ve been around me for 5 minutes recently you know all I want are babies, old people, animals, people with no opinions. The universe has a sense of humor. The old lady was gruff (she saw the 1st class food cart through the curtain and grunted (not kidding) at the air hostess to give her a meal even before first class was served. I saw the air hostess visibly do controlled breathing. Grandma was cranky as hell but oddly enough, just my speed. I love oldies and can’t help myself around them. She didn’t know how to put on her seat belt, adjust her seat, or do anything, so it felt like my 15 hrs were spent trying to help her have a smooth flight. At one point her tray table broke so she literally ate her roll off of mine, basically in my lap. What’re you gonna do :)
One very sweet thing was that every time the massive baby’s dad went to the bathroom, he let me hold the thing. I am not joking, I had to lean on my tray table for support. She was so heavy. I know I keep going on about it, but I don’t know how this dad’s arms didn’t fall off or he didn’t collapse in the aisle! If I were him I’d be in that bathroom every 10 minutes with a different stranger holding her each time. Holy shit was he devoted. But his arms. Omg. I don’t think I’d ever be as good/selfless of a mom as he is a dad. If my baby is fat, I am SO screwed.
So I read, wrote, and “bonded” with my neighbors.
My short layover in Hong Kong was great, but short. I ate Mcdonald’s and so did everyone else at the airport. I could’ve EASILY missed my connecting flight if I wanted more nuggets. Gotta say, hash-browns hit the spot even a million miles away; I bet I get fat as a house.
Then I flew to Chiang Mai – a short 3 hour flight – and totally saw how complain-y I used to be in the US for 3-5 hour flights. I’d think “Oof. How long and annoying.” When I hopped on the Chiang Mai flight, I was ELATED. 3 hrs, let’s do this! I started Amanda Palmer’s book and really liked both her voice and storytelling.
My one bedroom apartment is lovely. I secretly hoped it would feel like a sanctuary, and I’m delighted to say it does. Even roosters in the morning (all day actually) don’t phase me and I LOVE hearing village life around me. It feels like a movie: dogs bark, people wash pots & pans, tv’s crackle, bells ding. At night it’s quiet (don’t need earplugs like I do in NYC) and super quiet in the mornings when I write. I LOVE having a little outdoor balcony to sit and chill and dry my clothes outside. The thing I most love about a non-western world (or maybe it’s anywhere warmer than NYC) is the relationship to space outdoors. There are large parts of homes outside with no walls, completely uncovered, without windows or doors. I love this so much I can hardly say. Personally, connecting to nature doesn’t mean just going to a park, but living within nature – a balcony, a terrace, an entire downstairs that’s both inside and outside – is more my style. It feels very natural for me to live like this.
Sounds are simpler. Life feels simpler. I can’t get enough.
There’s a more developed and city-like part of Chiang Mai as well. I go to a plaza called Suon Dok Park to work and write each morning – there’s lots of modern coffee shops and restaurants. Thai people LOVE love their coffee. I’m writing this from QQcafe, a hip little coffee shop with big wooden tables, lots of outlets, and most importantly my new favorite drink: Milk Tea. MILK TEA, PEOPLE. Meaning tea with loads of milk, which is my favorite drink since I was five and probably will be until I’m 85. I have many cups of this a day. I’m on my 4th right now. You know how milky I make your tea and you can’t stand it? Well, I’ve found my people. ;)
Asian coffee houses are also what coffee houses are meant to be; quiet, calm places to enjoy your drink and work or mildly socialize. What happens in New York is a CIRCUS. Loud music, people acting like they’re in their living room, and shrieking “Ben, tall mocha latte!” everywhere, like Madison Square Garden. I am DELIGHTED to step into QQ cafe in the morning.
First few days I was cautious about food and ate McDonald’s for lunch & dinner. Never doing that again. Ugh. You can’t pay me to fill up on that stuff. I’m slowly integrating real Thai food into my meals. I go to a restaurant each night where I kid you not – a woman who looks 14 named “Sugar” makes me custom dinner. I tell her what I want – veggies, spice, and she makes it. Sugar was sweet enough to do it the first time I walked in so she should know not to give a mouse a cookie! The first night she hit the mark amazingly well with spicy spaghetti and baked tofu with carrots, shallots, garlic, and green peas. Spice was on POINT. I showed my allergy card, which people take seriously (especially when I signal my finger to my neck and draw a line straight across) they get the picture pretty fast. Sugar makes my dinner every night and I’m friends with the kitchen staff – Bank is my favorite waiter. Yep, his name is Bank. I tip her extra each time and it only ends up $8 total.
I’m adjusting to life here and think I’ll stay a while. The roads are like India but more civilized. I’ll probably rent a bicycle this week and start moving around that way. I need to, my apartment is an 8-min tuk tuk or 20 minute walk into the old city. The evolution: walk around and get a feel for the city, then bike it. I’ve had a strong urge to rent a Vespa or scooter – barefoot grandmothers and 13-year old girls ride scooters, NOT joking – so that eased my fears. If she has a Hello Kitty lunchbox but drives a a scooter, I think I can handle it, right?!
It only took me two days to overcome the initial travel weariness, and you better believe in the 6 days I’ve been here I’ve already had TWO FULL TWO HOUR body massages and one 60-minute leg massage. I cannot say enough good things about my massage ladies. I’m loyal to one place – Sense Massage and Spa. Patty, the receptionist, drove me to a jazz club on my birthday because I couldn’t hail a cab – how sweet is that! The girls there know me – Min and Patty and Lee – and when I finish a massage they laugh and say, “What time tomorrow?” I enjoy that. Partly because I damn well may see them again tomorrow!
Allrighty. That’s part 1 of my Thailand update – if you’re still reading I applaud your endurance! Check out the blog for Part 2 on Thursday.