Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.

Archive for October 2009

When in BKK

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Day 1 in Bangkok:

Arrived yesterday afternoon and realized, wow, my pack is fairly heavy. I thought I had packed light, but when it was weighed at SFO, it was well over 50 lbs. Not a good idea to carry a 50 lb. pack on your back for three months, knowing that I will accumulate additional items along the way. I just may have to send some things back. (My mom was pretty funny at the airport. She said, “Oh no! Maybe you should buy a rolling duffel bag or a backpack with wheels so it’s not so hard on you.” Can you imagine?! A backpacker lugging around something with wheels? Wouldn’t that be ironic? Wouldn’t I be ridiculed by the backpacking community for rolling something on wheels for three months? I do not plan on sacrificing my pride, but thanks for the suggestion, Mom.)

I had checked the weather before departing and the forecast called for rainy days this first week. It’s been a humid 86 degrees and sunny with no signs of wet. You won’t hear complaints from me, but I know now that I probably didn’t need to pack an extra jacket. I’ve been hearing that this is the best time to be in Thailand, since November is usually dry and cool in most regions.

Last night, I got in touch with my friend Tan, a young lady whom I worked with at a sushi restaurant during my last year at UCSB. Tan moved back to Bangkok six months ago to begin the Sasin MBA program at Chulalongkorn University and was kind enough to invite me to her school fundraiser down by Siam Square. After getting lost with my non-English speaking taxi driver for 30 minutes, I arrived in front of Tan’s campus and had to laugh at how under-dressed I was compared to everyone at this party. I had decided to bring only my Nike Plus’ and Rainbows on this trip, thus was not prepared to greet an enormous number of local Thais dressed in these stylish fashion forward gowns and all made up for this event. I wore my Rainbows, a long tunic, and black tights. If you know me well, you most likely know that I rarely leave my apartment looking underdressed for anything…this was a great moment indeed.

I shrugged off feeling like bum and decided this was a perfect opportunity to get to know some of the locals and hear what they had to say about living in this city. Tan was the most gracious hostess and introduced me to some of her friends and classmates as the girl from the US who is traveling ALL BY HERSELF FOR THREE MONTHS (*not completely true as my sister and a friend or two are meeting me later throughout the trip). I capitalize those words because that is the only way I can communicate the tone in her voice when she said this and the reactions she got from her peers. “Are you sure you want to do that?” “Why all by yourself?” people kept asking me. Umm, yeah, it’s too late to change that and all by myself because have you ever tried asking your friends whether they can take three full months off to explore southeast asia with you? I doubt most people are in the situation where they can say yes. Even though it’s going to be a little lonely at times, and I know there are going to be moments where words aren’t necessary and I want to turn to someone and share an experience with, I am happy to be doing this.

Anyway, back to the fundraiser. Tan’s planning committee hired a local Thai band called ETC to perform. They were incredibly talented and even I was able to enjoy the catchy tunes. There was a moment during an especially moving song when Tan turned to me and asked, ” Can you appreciate the music even if you don’t understand what they are saying?” I thought about this for a second, and I’m not sure if I conveyed this to her, but I felt like I was appreciating it even more so because I was trying to grasp every single lyric, trying to recognize a familiar word, even trying to listen for words that might be similar in Cantonese. You know when you’re listening to a great song, and you don’t know the words, but you sing along to it anyway? That’s exactly what I was doing. Just yelling along with the rest of the audience, although if you really listened, none of the lyrics I made up even made sense.

Outside of the main hall where ETC was performing was a giant swimming pool and bar/food stations set up to accomodate the thirsty/hungry crowd. We looked over to Tan’s friend, and Tan realized she was talking to a Thai movie star (and/or singer) who is also part of the program but completing the Executive MBA on nights and weekends. It’s funny, I always seem to run into celebrities while in Asia. Guess they hang out with the locals and are a little more low key in terms of needing a posse or security guards all around them. We chatted with them. He asked me the same questions the others asked.

All in all, I had a wonderful time catching up with Tan and talking to her friends about how frustrating and complex Thai politics is (thank you Lonely Planet for briefing me on the history of Thaksin and the differing views of the Reds/Yellows), their dating experiences, and lifestyle changes since going back to school. Tan, if you’re reading this, thank you so much for a great first night in Bangkok. If you ever need a place to stay in SF, my apartment is always open.

Day 2:

Got up this morning and decided to get out on the town for more sensory overload. One of the girls at the front desk has been so helpful and friendly and recommended that I check out the weekend market called Chatachuk. Although I have become somewhat hesitant to frequent these markets as they are usually overflowing with tourists, as well as pick-pocketers, I decide why not. I know I can’t do any of the good stuff since Wendy would be offended if I didn’t wait for her so we could do those things together once she gets here. (Also, note to self and others: when in doubt and lost, try to seek out a teenager in school uniform. 90% of the time, they are capable of speaking some English and are willing to help you – that is if they are not in a hurry to get somewhere themselves.) I wait at the bus stop and am surprised when a lady starts speaking Thai to me and asks me to help her open up a bag. Before I left the states, someone asked me whether I thought I would have an advantage being an Asian traveler here. Initially, I said I wasn’t sure. I’ve always felt that I stuck out like a sore thumb every time I’ve visited Hong Kong since moving to CA. Maybe it’s because of my clothes, or because my skin has a darker tint than the creamy white most Asian girls try to achieve in these countries, but yes, always felt different – sort of torn in-between, neither feeling completely American nor completely Chinese (or Hong Kong-nese in this case). Anyway, to answer his question: Yes, I do feel like I’ve been able to get by without too much trouble or unwanted attention because of what I look like. So far, most of the vendors in Bangkok have mistaken me for Thai, Filipina, and Japanese. All so different, I know, but those are the few ethnicities that they have labeled me in the last two days. When I politely correct them by saying that I’m originally from Hong Kong, they say “Oh yes, that was my next guess.”

Today is Halloween. Think I’m going to accept an invitation from the front desk receptionist whom invited me to check out Ko San Rd. with her and her friends. Hopefully, no costumes are necessary as I have not created one nor do I have any ideas just yet. Ko San, a block consisting of restaurants and pubs, is supposed to be crawling with backpackers, but also very popular for the locals once the sun sets. Not really expecting anything, but should be a fun night getting to know more people and hopefully hearing more live music. Oh, and Aaron, if you are reading this, the music I keep hearing all over town is Lady Gaga. Paparrazi to be specific. Bangkok kids these days…

Happy Halloween everyone. (Will also put up some pictures to go with this post soon. To my blog Followers, sorry if this goes to your inbox twice b/c of the pics…)

Written by winniewongsf

October 31, 2009 at 8:40 am

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If all else fails, try the Eye Strike

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Sometimes you must take things into your own hands, or at least try. Last night before heading out to meet some friends in *gasp* the Marina, I convinced who was supposed to be my original RARE instructor to provide me with a one-on-one session of Personal Safety skills today in the east bay or live with the conscience of sending me off to Asia unequipped and unprepared to defend myself if attacked. She buckled. And gave me a discount.

I invited my mom to take the course with me, and I must say, I do not regret paying the steep $100/hr fee. Erica, the instructor, first briefed us on the background of the organization and gave us an account of how she came to be an instructor. She was knowledgeable, straightforward, humorous, patient, and very accommodating. We first practiced setting boundaries (strong verbal and physical tactics used to fend off unwanted attention) and then went into role-playing using moves such as the eye strike, groin slap, thrust-kick, wrist snap-back, heel palm, among others. From the examples Erica brought forth throughout the workshop, it became obvious to me that she had experienced the full gamut of sexual assaults through the many women who have attended BA Impact classes and shared their incredibly moving stories with each other. Some of the experiences were so gruesome and cruel, I had to look over to my mom to make sure she wasn’t going to have a heart attack and decide to stop me from leaving next week. In some ways, I think she has really changed over the last few years, and I am so proud of her. She is much more understanding, calm, and open-minded about her children facing challenges and confronting problems on our own. For that, I am really grateful.

Anyway, I do recommend this class to any female reading this and would encourage considering the Basic Essentials class I had originally signed up for that was canceled. That workshop is much longer and covers other tactics outside of the ones I learned today. I’m also considering the 24 hr workshop they cover over the course of a weekend when I come back from Asia. If anyone is interested in doing this with me during spring of next year, let me know.

Written by winniewongsf

October 25, 2009 at 2:32 am

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Good thing I have friends who are brighter than I am.

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Last night, a handsome gentleman (to remain anonymous) hosted a farewell gathering for me at a cool North Beach tapas bar. It was the perfect chance for me to say goodbye to my San Francisco friends. Thank you to those who are reading this and showed up yesterday. I’m going to miss seeing you around town over the course of the next few months. I really appreciated you taking the time to come stop by and hang out for a bit. Hope you all had a good of time as I did. $2 Sangria happy hour. Enough said.

Anyway, at the end of the night, my friend Andrea asks me when I depart from SFO. I say “I have a 1 am flight out on Thursday.” She rolls her eyes up and says, “Wait, 1 am Wednesday night or Thursday night.” This really made me think. A little too hard. Crap. This entire time, I have it in my head that the flight is 1 am Thursday night. It’s not. It’s really 1 am Thursday morning, meaning I have lost an entire day….oookay, so I need to pick up the pace on packing up my room and backpack. It might also be a good idea to let Mom and Dad know to take me to the airport on Wednesday night, not Thursday. Done and done. And Andrea, if you are reading this now – You are a lifesaver. Thank you.

On another note, in a previous post, I mentioned the women’s self-defense workshop I was signed up to attend tomorrow in San Jose. Last night, I received an email from the organization stating, “Unfortunately due to low enrollment and cancellations, we’ve had to cancel the RARE workshop this weekend. We’ve finalized arrangements for a new workshop on the date of Saturday, Dec 19th from 10am – 2:30pm at the River Community Church on 1st Street (same location).” Hmm. This isn’t going to work out for me. Good thing I ordered the Triple Action Mace, and my friend Corso bought me a sweet knife for dicey situations. I also have my rape whistle. Maybe one more Capoiera class at the JCC this Sunday would be a good idea before taking off next Wednesday. If anyone has survivor skills they want to teach me over the next 5 days, please contact me immediately. Thank you.

Written by winniewongsf

October 23, 2009 at 7:36 pm

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Idle hands are the devil’s workshop…

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There are now exactly two weeks left before I hop on a Boeing 747 to head to the first stop on my somewhat flexible itinerary, Bangkok. I almost regret booking the flight to be scheduled two day prior to Halloween, as my friends keep talking about their plans and costume ideas for this year’s big event…even though the big event venue has yet to be determined. Halloween is always that holiday that creeps up on people. Too many times have I ended up scrounging for a costume last minute, paying way too much for plastic, durable for one night and one night only material that only covers up 30% of my body. As I have gotten older, I have decided that I no longer want to dress up as a sexy pirate, nor do I want to be something I bought at a pop-up store that makes more money on this one holiday than I probably have made all year. I guess I will be forced to come up with something more original when on my own in Bangkok those first two nights.

The title of this post reflects how I have been feeling over the last two weeks. My last day at work was Oct. 2nd, and since then, I have woken up around 8, 9, or 10 every morning. This is so different from the 6am time slot I have been programmed to wake up during every weekday for the last three years. With just a month to pack up my room (to prepare for my sub-leaser), research and secure accommodations for different pit stops in Thailand, read several travel books, purchase gear needed for the trip, get vaccinated for every mosquito-borne disease imaginable, among taking care of other logistics, I still feel uncomfortable with all the free time in between. I guess it’s been a really long time since I have had a gap between working, going to school, and striving to complete something. I must admit it’s been great not having any real responsibilities this month. I was out at dinner last night with my roommate and another friend, and it hit me that I wouldn’t have to worry about going into work the next day. That meant I could have another glass of soju! I just felt a bit of freedom that’s different from what you usually feel on a Friday or Saturday night. It was kind of nice. Not that I want to be unemployed or without a specific plan for a long time, but I guess I need to remind myself to enjoy this break for what it is and take advantage of the time I have to do the things I haven’t been able to when I was a contributor to the corporate world.

I originally created this blog as a vehicle to share pictures, stories, traumas from traveling, but I find myself coming back to it more frequently to express my fears, anxieties, and excitement for what the future holds. What I’m saying is – I’m starting to understand why so many people blog.

Written by winniewongsf

October 16, 2009 at 5:43 am

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Calling all couch surfers…

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This site (http://www.couchsurfing.org/) was recommended to me by my roommate’s friend who was crashing on our couch for a few days this month. Just signed up for an account and am editing my profile. Seems like it might be worthwhile to try and get in touch with fellow travelers, as well as potential hosts in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indo before leaving SF. I do think it would be wise to be cautious and not rely on meeting strangers, but from what friends have told me about their experiences, it’s a fairly safe community and holds some accountability. Let the surfing begin!

Written by winniewongsf

October 7, 2009 at 8:58 pm

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