Hermiton

A few weeks ago, I posted how much I wanted to go to Hobbiton. I didn’t realize I’d be joining a new town called Hermiton. Hermitville? Hermburgh?

Since I’ve come back from Chiang Mai, I’ve become a full-fledged, card-carrying hermit. It started out so innocently, allowing myself time to recovery from the magical land of cheese and farangs. Who wouldn’t need a few days to settle back in the moo-bahn after that? Then a week hit. I forgot what day of the week it was. I realized I hadn’t passed out of the front door for forty-eight hours. I scrounged out whatever sustenance I could come by. I wallowed in my dark bedroom wanting to go to family weddings. I ate cold spaghettios. My main social interactions were yelling at my computer screen/the TV shows I’ve engorged myself with as I laid directly in front of the fan on the tile floor. It hasn’t been pretty.

I keep thinking to myself, what’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you being productive at all? Why can’t you get out of the house? Why are you being so anti-social? Why are you talking to yourself so much?

Last April, I was such a conqueror. So fragile, but so willing to go out and give it my all. I even wrote a blog post about it. Now I kind of suck. The past two weeks I’m having a hard time motivating myself to respond to emails and do simple paperwork. I think it’s safe to say, I’ve fallen into a rut.

Back when I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and willing to bike around in April heat.

At this point in a Volunteer’s service, about 13-15 months, it’s sort of expected. You don’t quite have the enthusiasm as when you first arrived to site, but the finish line is still so far off in the distance that final spurt of energy hasn’t quite sparked yet. Essentially, I feel like their retarded little games aren’t funny anymore, but I’m not nostalgic enough yet to keep humoring them.

I think the cure is coming this weekend. With the turn of the new (birthday!) month, school starting in less than two weeks, and a visit from Jeff this weekend will hopefully set me on the straight and Peace Corps narrow. I’ve been out of the house yesterday, today, and will be on the move tomorrow too. For this hermit, that feels positively social butterflyish.

Friday Five

Five Reasons being a Peace Corps Volunteer is the best job ever

Location
Does this really need explanation? I mean, I know I live in a rural village, but all kinds of beautiful landscapes are available to me on a daily (or easy vacation) basis. Peace Corps Volunteers can say, why yes, that country you’ve only heard of in geography class, I lived there, worked there, spoke the language, made friends, and I kick ass. Or maybe I’m the only one that says that last part.

Schedule
Village life can be slowwwwwww. It drives me crazy a lot of the time, but it’s definitely changed how I react to unexpected things. If someone stops by to chat or Thainap me, I don’t mind much, I can just do what ever they interrupted later because let’s face it, post-PST, I’ve never had so much free time in my life (at night).

Unlimited Sick Days
And we need them. There are times that I’ve had a minor cough I didn’t think was a big deal. It turned out to be a month-long respiratory infection that at times, knocked me off my feet. Volunteers are encouraged to take it easy when feeling a little under the weather as  encounter some pretty nasty illnesses here and most have their ‘really sick’ story. Jeff just got over his double pneumonia and infection in the lungs. One guy in my group literally cannot remember three days of his life due to Dengue. Luckily we have phenomenal health care as PCVs and the option of internationally known hospitals in Bangkok. And we can take a day off whenever it’s needed.

Outlook
The very basis of Peace Corps is to make the world a better place. Who isn’t going to wake up sunny and bright when that’s a main tenet of their job description? There are many days I’m not quite little Miss Sunshine, but at the end of the day, I know my work might bring some rays down on someone.

Coworkers
It takes a certain kind of person to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.  And that type is usually pretty awesome. My fellow Volunteers range from late sixties to early twenties and it’s like one big extended family. The people in your group are your lifesavers when things aren’t going well and your biggest cheerleaders when things are. I’m so glad to have had this experience to have the pleasure of working with such wonderful people.

‘It’s like we’re vacationing in Baghdad.’

I was just in Chiang Mai for ten days. I really wish I was still there.

One of the most famous and most visited temples in Chiang Mai

The plan: go to Chiang Mai and have as much fun as possible exploring the city with this man.

Jeff Jackson: Jenuine Jentlemen. With a sparkler.

Mission Accomplished.

This is my 'don't judge me I need my smoothie face'

Chiang Mai has all the possible farang delights a PCV could ever hope for: lasagna, smoothies, quesadillas (with cheese), air-conditioned bedrooms, pizza, good shopping with clothes that actually fit, English breakfast tea, and best of all, blendability (ie, tons of other farangs and Thais that don’t get jazzed up about them). I enjoyed some of the best food in my life and I’m fairly certain I added onto the ‘Mid-Service five’ from two weeks ago. I don’t care. Part of our mission was for Jeff to gain back his weight from the freak case of pneumonia and bronchitis. It was a wild success.

This is a picture of a dead rat. We found it right next to the sidewalk. I still love Chiang Mai.

The city definitely has shades of Western influence with what seemed to me a far more significant population of (especially long-term) foreigners than anywhere else I’ve been in Thailand. As what only seems possible in a places like Thailand, the mesh of Thai and farang places blended nicely giving the city a feel that wasn’t quite west, but distinctly different from ‘village Thailand’ that I’ve spent the past yearish in.

Our typical day went like this: wake-up late, eat at ‘the breakfast place’ (worthy of its own post if I had more pictures of it/our food), hate ourselves for the amount of food consumed, start the activity of the day, sweat, sit in an air-conditioned smoothie place for two hours while deciding what to have for dinner, finish activity of the day, take hot shower, eat more copious amounts of food, sleep in air-conditioned room. Buddha, it was glorious.

Some of said ‘activities of the day’ included:

Touristy Templing
We went to the two temples mentioned in the guidebook that were closest to our guest house. Us and about fifty other farangs. These were actually kind of cool because some had foundations from ancient times and held cultural significance to northern Thailand, rather than the ten-year old ones (that are weirdly run down and usually empty) you’ll find in our villages.

The only thing that bothered me were other farang women running around in spaghetti strap tank tops and short-shorts despite signs distinctly pointing out not to dress as such. You (usually) won’t be refused entrance (there are a few strict places in Bangkok) because Thais don’t want to confront you, but try to slave off the heat for a few hours, show a little cultural respect, and protect your shoulders from the sun at the same time!

Obligatory photo with the temple's sign... my Thai peeps have taught me well.

This is me trying to pretend I'm afraid of it... did I fool you?

So, I guess I shouldn't sit there?

More photos of the temples in the previous post dedicated to just pictures.

Shopping
I came to Chiang Mai knowing that I was going to drop some serious change at the markets. I had a good time doing it. Both the ‘walking street’ market and daily night market were close to our guest house and there was a special market during Song Kran that happened daily as well. I acquired lots of jewelry, t-shirts (including one that reads ‘Owl be loving you forever’ complete with an owl wearing green aviators and a rainbow behind him, swoon), and food, of course. This is on top of the fantastic export shops in the mall. I was in my glory.

One of the night markets

I was thinking of getting this shirt to be ironic... and then I realized Thai people wouldn't get it even if they could read English.

Zip-lining
I had heard from other PCVs that the ‘Flight of the Gibbon’ zip-lining experience was awesome, but was a little wary at the price of 3,000 baht (about $100 USD). As residents of Thailand, we ended up getting about 1000 baht off the cost. Coupled with that and the word of PCV mouth, we decided to go for it and loved it! It was one of the coolest things I’ve done in Thailand and thinking of ways to convince my Mom to go so I can enjoy it again. I felt totally safe with the guides and they give you no time to get nervous as you step up to the platform and away you go. The best of the lines was a ‘Superman’ jump attaching to your back. Jeff was the guinea pig and they didn’t really explain it to him, so after watching him, I had to take the enormous, dramatic jump for the both of us. I think it’s the closest I’ll ever feel to flying.

Half of the day was spent zipping down lines from lengths of thirty to three hundred meters before you’re provided with lunch and then take a mini-hike to a multi-level waterfall. I definitely felt like it was worth the cost, especially if your money is coming from the west and you’re willing to make a small splurge. The package also included direct transportation to and from our guesthouse and free tickets to the zoo which I probably wouldn’t have bothered with if I hadn’t gone on the tour.

This van swept us off into the mountains... we blended in well.

Jeff ready to launch

I mean why not?

I was sliding off that rock and had to hold on to Jeff for dear (dry) life

A clip video is in the works!

Chiang Mai Zoo
We took the zoo at a leisurely pace since we had free tickets. When traveling, I usually never make a real effort to go to zoos because as awesome as animals are, they’re just that. Animals, in an enclosure.

'Sorry guys, I farted.'

Hill tribe garden area

We fooled them into thinking we had food. Then I took a photo.

Tons of monk kids at the zoo. We think they're all two weekers so they can get a free trip.

This is what I look like in hot season except I have no 'eucalyptus leaf' excuse

What cracked us up about the sign was the blue 'ice' lettering. What, did they think it would fool us into thinking it was cold in there?

The new aquarium... our tickets didn't get us entry, so we stood outside and took photos, you know, the Thai way

One small thing to give special status to though. Thailand, being so close to China and having a pretty good zoo, has one animal that I’ve always longed to see in real life. Black and white. Cute and cuddly. Chiang Mai zoo had two pandas out for the public to see. I was so excited, I had a Kristen Bell-esque breakdown.

I made up a panda song, set the bears up with my own ideas for names, and read all the information placards. I seriously considered lobbying Jeff for the volunteer with the pandas day for a cool 5,000 baht, but something told me he didn’t share my enthusiasm. These are a select few of the many pictures I took.

Num-num-num.

'If I can't see you, you can't see me.'

'Who me?'

Song Kran
We didn’t really have a choice in this. Song Kran used to be my favorite Thai holiday as it’s about renewal, giving blessings/luck to others, and splashing water on people. In Chiang Mai, it was taken over by drunken frat boy types and their female counterparts crowding the streets making it nearly impossible to walk ten meters without getting soaked by their waterguns. Dumbasses. We were Song Kran scrooges for the most part terrorizing Thai kids that didn’t listen to our warnings and/or tipping over buckets on their unsuspecting owners. We hid out in the mall one day and just blasted through the parade the next.

The funny thing about the parade though is while we were trying our best to get through, mostly ignoring what was happening there, the Prime Minister of Thailand was within ten feet of us as we strolled through her security escort around the truck. I didn’t even realize it was her until we were talking about it at the best cake place on planet earth (Volcano chocolate cake… ’nuff said).

The discussion of defensive movements and tactics to effectively disarm a combatant Song Kraner stirred up the quote in the title.

Yeah yeah, Happy Song Kran to you too.

A few shots of what Song Kran looks like. Note, these were taken in some random town from the safety of our bus. Chiang Mai was a freaking nightmare to someone who wanted to stay dry.

People piled in the back of trucks to throw water on each other

Close up of the typical truck.

You can see how wet the street is. No, it hadn't rained that day.

Hanging Out
As I’ve mentioned before, half of going on vacation as a Peace Corps Volunteer is just being with friends. People that you can bitch and moan about Thailand/Peace Corps and know how much you love it despite its craziness. Just talking and spilling your random thoughts that tend to fill up when you’re at site is a big relief. Meeting up with Jeff and some other Volunteers made me a little less homesick, giving me some Volunteer family time. Jeff and I bonded so much, I decided to paint my toes to match his. Yes, you read that right.

Jeff named it 'Monk orange'

Chiang Mai fulfilled all my expectations in a city and is in the running for post-PC occupation. I wouldn’t suggest Chiang Mai to those that want to see the ‘real Thailand’ because you won’t really find it there. Chiang Mai has its own blended vibe that makes it a vibrant, realistic, and unique place to live and travel.

Because it’s too hot to do anything more than a photo post…

Blue skies, hot sun, beautiful temples

Little hike to the waterfall

Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair

Zip-lining shot

The kid in the background...thanks.

Little bit of a mountain view.

Jeff's teaching me how to master the macro.

Panda panda panda!!!

New Christmas card photo maybe?

Reclining Buddha

One of my favorites.

Whatchoo lookin' at?

Another macro lesson

Lighting

Zip-lining was so much fun!!

Look familiar Pirates fans?

There's a 7/11 at the zoo... it smelled like the zoo inside as well.

See anything?

Another Jeff shot

America's King and Thailand's King

Obligatory baby elephant shot

A little piece of the jungle in the middle of the city

Monkey see, monkey do

One of the few temples we went to

And then I had this to come home to…

As soon as I can find him, he's a goner