Transitions.

Sixty-Four. That’s how many days I’ve been back in the US of A. It feels like 2013 has been such a whirlwind of a year so far and it’s only just starting to slow down, bit by bit. It’s so weird to think how much time I spent counting down my time in Peace Corps, but when it came to actually packing and saying goodbye to my people, it seemed like the rug was pulled out from under me.

Before I left Thailand, life was jam-packed with goodbye dinners and activities (like lots and lots of shopping). After getting over a moderate amount of jet lag (it was the opposite of the last time I came back from Asia when all I did was sleep, I had trouble staying asleep for more than a few hours at a time), playing tourist with my family and eating, eating, and more eating crammed my days. Ten pounds worth. When I was in the airport in Bangkok, I didn’t want to leave, leaping into the unknown of America. Looking over the past two months though, I feel mostly an intense joy/happiness to be in the world, to be where I am, with the people I’m with and as most Peace Corps Volunteers can tell you, that’s kind of a rare feeling in your service.

Not that it’s all bad. I keep telling people when they ask about being a PCV, I’m glad I did it, but I’m glad I’m done. I’m proud to be in this small group of people known as RPCVs and grateful for meeting and making my Thai friends. But damn, life is freaking amazing here. All food tastes better. Flowers seem brighter. Hot showers any time of the day! (I cannot possibly over-exaggerate how incredibly happy this fact still makes me) Seeing the occasional motorcycle go by makes me giggle. So many clothes options to try on and outfit myself with. Real grocery stores with aisle upon aisle of so many different kinds of foods! That one was a real mindblower. And that shadow on the floor isn’t a mouse, scorpion, or cockroach… it’s a piece of fuzz!

The best and worst thing about coming back to the US is working. Ready to relieve the pressure of an entire village watching my every move and judging me for it, I decided to apply at a restaurant near my house for a server position as a low-key part-time job. Much to my surprise, I was  actually hired a lot faster than I anticipated and started before my brother’s one month home leave was done. I truly like most of the people I work with and enjoy the variety that comes with each day of serving. It’s forcing me to get out and interact with people and making me see ways I’ve changed that I never realized. Thailand really taught me the value of IRBing (how do you like that old school vocab?) and showing some heart juice worthy kindness to people.

There are two main things I do not like about being back in the American workforce. One is the amount of time you have to devote to making money. I would get pissed when teachers blew off school to sit around and chat or do ‘important paperwork,’ but  a lot of ‘work time’ didn’t actually feel like work after two years in the system. Now it’s mostly work and a few flashes of play. I’m not driving myself to the brink of craziness like I was doing to myself before Peace Corps with 12 hour work days, but this five-day a week with mostly nonstop working stuff is getting tiring. Doesn’t anyone want to stop for a kanome break? Where are the tea shops on motorcycles? Between work and working out (see runner life), I’m having trouble keeping up with this blog and enjoying things outside of work. Like having a social life. Compared to life in PC, I feel like I have almost no time in my day to sit around, stare at ceilings, think for hours at a time, start insane craft projects, and read a book in a day. It got incredibly lonely at times, but I miss the large amounts of me-time I was afforded on a daily basis.

The other thing is being confronted, sometimes on a daily basis, with the bad parts about America and its people. Why don’t we smile more? How can we waste so much obscenely delicious food? (It would make so many PCVs so very, very happy to even take leftovers). Why aren’t we kinder to people? Why do we get mad at people/things that had nothing to do with the reason we’re mad? And most importantly, why don’t we tip better? : )

I suppose that’s the biggest transition of coming back to the US, learning how to deal with it as a real place with good and bad parts. During PC service, there were sometimes only a glimmer of good times and we would use America as this mirage and chant the mantra of x more months, x more months. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is pretty grand during this transitionary time.

Runner Life.

“Man, do runners love running. They love everything about running. They especially like talking about running. After running, talking about running is the #1 thing runners seem to like. Also, is it just me or are runners crazily cultish about their running? Like, if they find out you’re a fellow runner, there is nothing you could do to sever the relationship. You could murder an elderly man and the only reaction would be, “See you at Red Coyote this weekend!” In summary: though very clearly insane, runners are sort of adorable and infectious in how enthusiastic they are.”

via JustRun via The Lost Ogle

Remember a little blog post called The Road? This is your update. I was concerned being only on week 2 of Couch to 5k when I took off to Bangkok to pick up my Mom. Turns out, running while traveling can be pretty freaking awesome. The constant change of scenery and overzealous enthusiasm for life led to a constant renewed energy for my hobby. I never got bored because there was always a new route to explore and things to take my attention away from the fact that my mind and body were still getting re-used to the idea of running again.

First of all, the Couch to 5K program. In a word, impressively-doable. The short intervals were easy to keep me in gear, but enough of a challenge that I felt the improvement (ie pain) each week. There was only one week that I needed to scale back and do a repeat of a run, but it was my own fault (running in Thai heat late morning without breakfast and being properly hydrated, not a good idea) not the program’s. It helped that you only run three days a week and are encouraged to take off days/rests when you feel is necessary.

And a side note to myself/any other PCVs thinking about how weird the locals will find you for running… they already think you’re crazy. It might as well be for something that’s good for you. My Thais were surprisingly chill about my running. Mostly a lot of encouraging thumbs up and ‘strong, strong’ comments as they passed me on their motorbikes. I’m pretty convinced the people on The Road were a different species of Thai as no one, not once, called me farang or gawked annoyingly. Which only made me wish I had discovered Road and the people occupying it earlier in my service.

A side note from the side note is how amazing it was to run before the rest of the tourists come out from their hotels and to see a city come to life like a regular citizen of such a place. Even if you’re not running, I would definitely encourage travelers to get up at least once at the crack of dawn to experience a new place this way, like the locals do. One of the most memorable parts of my visit in Chiang Rai was running by a little old Thai granny doing aerobics in her front yard and her telling me how ‘strong’ I was. I invited her along for the rest of my run and her booming laughter had me smiling until well after I finished exercising.

Ok, one more side note and I’ll get back on track. The blog track that is. Running while traveling has to be one of the coolest things. Ever. Over a two-week period, I was running in the fields of Isaan, the streets of Chiang Rai, the mountains in Ban Rai, and the beach in Cha Am. Each time it felt like there was a completely different personality to the run. It was almost like getting to know a fascinating new person at various parties. You might run a little slower getting to know one another at first, but the renewed vigor you feel at the end makes it seem well worth the effort.

I was so amazed and proud of myself for actually finishing C25K in Thailand that I decided to jump into the next step of a 10k with Suz’s 5K to 10K. I liked my C25K electronic/club music, but Suz keeps you motivated with 90s hip-hop/R&B classics like Big Poppa, Baby Got Back, and Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It. There were times this program felt a little inconsistent in the jumps of intervals you were supposed to run week to week, but it did help me get to running a full hour. At this point, I was starting to get a little obsessive, running every other day, and like most new converts to running, took things a little harder than I probably should have. It started with my first bad cold in nearly two years time, then after pulling a hip muscle slipping on some wet concrete and the following severe lower back pain, I fell out of shape a bit as my time in Thailand was coming to a close.

With so much to do before I left and the subsequent transition time in America with family and friends and things to do almost every day, it wasn’t hard to lose my lungs. Well, the cold weather didn’t help either. I was struggling with a puny fifteen minute limp along session on the treadmill and was not happy about it.

Luckily the weather has steadily improved and so have my running times. And there are also these wonderful things called apps and real roads that help me figure out how far I’ve been running and what my mile pace, things I couldn’t quite take advantage of when I was on the dirt roads cutting through rice fields. I’ve been nerding out a bit over it. Enough so to dedicate an entire post to talking about how much I’m enjoying running again.

I don’t know how or why, but running has become a constant in my life as I make my way through segueing myself back to life in America. It’s become a time of meditative reflection that I never look forward to until I’m knee-deep in things and realize how necessary it is for my sanity. Maybe it’s an addiction to the endorphins, but I totally understand and nod enthusiastically at the above quote. It’s amazing the people you connect with when you’re out and about exercising in the world. Maybe even yourself?

With the Pittsburgh marathon a few weeks ago, I saw many former classmates and friends have been taking the plunge into long distance running. I’m hoping to join a race sometime in the fall, fingers crossed for a half marathon! For now, I’ll keep lacing up and taking in the scenery in this Runner Life.

Some Goodbyes

It’s really hard to believe a month ago I was leaving the village and Thailand. In many ways it feels like a far away dream, but in others it doesn’t seem like I’ve completely left either. This is part of my journey to say goodbye to Thailand.

These little nuggets of cuteness were graduating kindergarten and put on a play.

These little nuggets of cuteness were graduating kindergarten and put on a play.

The start of the blessings bracelets. This is a traditional Thai ceremony reserved for special occasions like graduations and weddings.

The start of the blessings bracelets. This is a traditional Thai ceremony reserved for special occasions like graduations and weddings. It was suiting my last day in the village was the sixth grade graduation celebration.

All of the parents and important village leaders stacked these on my wrist. It's almost mystical in a way when they murmur over you.

All of the parents and important village leaders stacked these on my wrist. It’s almost mystical in a way when they murmur over you.

These are all my bracelets (and banana/rice ball I had to carry around all morning, no idea why) by the time I made it through everyone.

These are all my bracelets (and banana/rice ball I had to carry around all morning, no idea why) by the time I made it through everyone.

I try not to play favorites, but these two are literally my most cherished students in the entire country. When they wanted to add bracelets to my wrist, I couldn't hold it in anymore and broke down sobbing (which you can sort of see in this picture). The amount of love and gratitude I have for these two little girls is unexplainable in words.

I try not to play favorites, but these two are literally my most cherished students in the entire country. When they wanted to add bracelets to my wrist, I couldn’t hold it in anymore and broke down sobbing (which you can sort of see in this picture). The amount of love and gratitude I have for these two little girls is unexplainable in words.

Apparently graduation day also means it's sticker day

Apparently graduation day also means it’s sticker day

One of the gifts I got from a sixth grade girl. It naturally made the trip home with me.

One of the gifts I got from a sixth grade girl. It naturally made the trip home with me.

My real Thai friends that rented a van and brought me to the airport and as a last meal we had... Chinese food

My adult Thai friends that rented a van and brought me to the airport and as a last meal we had… Chinese food. These are the women I could be my true self with and they accepted me, American faults and all. 

My village Thais were a little surprised at the variety of races in their airport... and how cold it was in there. I'm so glad I had some last minute goofing around with one of my best Thai friends. I miss her so much already.

My village Thais were a little surprised at the variety of races in their airport… and how cold it was in there. I’m so glad I had some last-minute goofing around with one of my best Thai friends. I miss her so much already.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My all time favorite coffee shop in Thailand. I really wish I could bring this peaceful place home with me.

The longest ticket combination of my traveling to date. This is my 'see you on the other side of the world' face.

The longest ticket combination of my traveling to date. This is my ‘see you on the other side of the world’ face.

Real Person Status: Achieved.

I’ve been in America for nearly a month now.  I’ve been here, there, everywhere. It feels like a minute and it feels like forever at the same time. It seems like I’m in a projected state of limbo trying to figure out if I belong here or in Thailand, but for now, I’m not complaining. The mornings I wake up and relish the feeling of clean sheets on a more than box spring bed or when I adjust the water temperature in my shower or realizing a shadow is just a shadow, not a mouse, gecko, or scorpion or putting a sweater because I’m cold, I think to myself ‘am I allowed to be this comfortable?’

The past month and a half has seemed to move in hyperdrive. Life is so different and exciting when there are lots of people who want to spend time with you. The biggest difference in village life to the goodbye/hello period is the vast amount of social interaction I’ve been having with other people. And, you know, the über comfort/luxury that is life in America.

I think I’ve settled into something of a routine now after all the hecticness. I have an ATM card, a driver’s license, a ‘telecommunication device’ (aka an ability to call/text people in America, but not a smart phone by any means), a restock of necessities that Thailand wiped out of my possession (like underwear), and a job. It’s almost like I’m a real person again.