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.

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.

Welcome to Nerdville: Population One

Most Peace Corps Volunteers are afforded with a decent amount of free time, especially in the evenings. Depending on the person’s interests, activities generally lean towards watching movies or TV shows acquired from other Volunteers, taking up new hobbies (we have quite a few crafters and knitters), writing emails to loved ones, and reading. I’ve mentioned in a few posts how I started to learn how to braid my hair far more awesomely than ever before. That was before I got the call. The call from Nerdville.

This is me.

Now I mentioned I’m a big Harry Potter fan. Yes, I have reread them since coming to Thailand. I’m not sure what came over me last week, but I got a hankering to watch the Lord of the Rings (LOTR). Just a normal yearning, I usually watch these movies at least once this time of year on a cozy, wintry Sunday with my brother and my Mom looking on (she has the secret hots for Aragorn). Given that I missed that all of 2011, it didn’t surprise me that I got the urge.

In case you haven’t seen these in a while

Something else did though. So there I was, plunkered down for some good fantasy-world fun. And amusement I had. Until my computer died and I lost my preloaded movie. ‘Curse you computer worms’ I cried out, much to my host sister’s consternation. I explained, she giggled, I grumbled. I went to school the next day with determination to reload it. But those worms had taken hold and it wasn’t working. But then I started to get heated (and not because of the weather, yet anyway). Why isn’t this working?! I resolved to download the entire movie just in spite of those electronic maggots.

Once I started that process though, little schemes started whispering in my brain. ‘Well, after the first one, you’re going to want to watch the second. And the third.’ ‘Yes, you’ve got a point there…’  ‘And while you’re at it, why not just get the super-duper extended versions that Tyler always wanted you to sit down and watch?’ ‘I have some time with school ending, maybe…’ ‘Well it’s only 5GB, what are you waiting for?’ ‘What am I waiting for, you cotton-headed ninny-mongins?’ ‘That’s the spirit.’

And off I went. I’m embarrassed to admit what happened next, but I went into full-on nerd mode. The battle scenes were too bad-ass. I had to reenact them. While singing the theme song to Harry Potter (I know, that makes no sense). I rewatched scenes with Elvish spoken parts to memorize bits of the language. I studied hairstyles and redid them on myself while watching the movie. And then pretended to be Legolas, only the coolest character ever. Homedog tosses a shield down a set of stairs, surfs down it, AND takes out orcs at the same time. (I feel like I could dedicate an entire blog post to the epicness that is Legolas… maybe I will).

These antics were not confined to my bedroom. I’m hopping around school, the living room, and pretending to slay orcs (ie waterbuffalos) on my bike ride to school. Luckily, only my coteacher understands English or people would be really confused by my fake old English accent and saying things like ‘son of Sauron, I slay thee in the name of all that is holy’ when slapping at mosquitoes. I don’t think anyone has caught on yet and luckily, I’ve found a way to keep my nerd (slightly) in check.

Quietly and unsuspectingly, I sit with my Ipod touch in my host family’s living room. My sister is doing homework. Our Yai is doing all kinds of nonsense with meat and vegetables. Little do they know the imaginings going on around me as I finally, FINALLY read the novels. They sat for years on my shelf, but I never could find the time to sit down and explore them fully (when in reality, I just had to wait until I was in a rural village in Thailand and get the nerd call). Funnily enough, my host family is far more suspicious of me telling them that I am in fact reading a book on the small piece of machinery that I still haven’t been able to convince them is NOT a telephone (everyone knows Iphone and Ipad, but can’t gather the reason for an Itouch).

We all need a place to ‘go’ and escape certain circumstances (mine happens to be the beginning of hot season). Somewhere your brain can do whatever it wants and relax. Mine happened to be in Middle Earth in the green vastness of the Shire, wanting my own hobbit-hole to cozy up into with a fire and tea. Or Rivendall with the Elves. It’s opened up a whole new world to me and inspires me to pursue other books (and their universes) of similar topics. So if you’re wondering where I’m off to and/or a lack of posts, that’s where my brain has swept me off to. Now if you’ll excuse me, Nerdville is missing its chief resident. And I have LOTR books to devour.

The Nerdiest Photo I could find of myself

Total Count:
Movies: Fellowship of the Ring- Three times
Two Towers- Once
Return of the King- Twice
Books: The Hobbit- Finished
Fellowship of the Ring- 1/3 through!

The Thai Alarm Clock

On a typical day, I wake up around six, either on my own or from external sources, and start the process to get ready for school. This is normal. Shower, braid, make-up, thinking in English, listening to English (music or podcast), and feeling ‘normal.’ And then, ‘ELLLLLLLLIN!!!!,’ my second alarm clock comes ringing, the Thai one.

Wouldn't this face remind you you're on a different planet?

This used to happen to me when I opened the door to my room and something would hit me: the smell of my old host mother frying fish into oblivion or my sister singing opera and finishing off with a voluminous belch or any kind of holiday music/village announcements. If you live alone in your own house, you can ‘sleep in’ a bit longer until you get into the workplace or elsewhere. Not that this is a morning only designated phenomenon. When I find myself surrounded by Thais and I can’t manage to keep my brain up to speed on the back and forth going on around me, I tend to zone out back into English-speaking world. Then Thailand comes a-callin’.

Thailand is comparable to an alarm clock in that when you resurface from the mind ponderings you’re keeping yourself entertained with (mine often include memories of Europe, cheese, cold weather, and easy transportation), you’re not just rerealizing you’re in Thailand (whether good or bad depending on the distraction you were internalizing), but your ‘face’ goes back up too. It’s kind of like instead of your mom gently shaking you awake fresh as a daisy, there’s a bucket of cold water thrown on you and you’re left sitting in what was once your little comfort zone, but is now a puddle of ice water. Your filter for language, facial expressions, and body language/positioning is called from ‘at ease’ to ‘attenhut.’

He's making a speech. Hold it, hold itttttt.

And then you have to hold it. And hold it. And hold it. At least until you can make a bit of an escape to be either alone or with your Thai people who you can actually be yourself around. It’s exhausting. For Volunteers that live by themselves and not quite ready for Thailand, sometimes just don’t leave their house for a day (usually on the weekend) as a way to rejuvenate. This means going whole days without talking to anyone but yourself (I don’t know about other Volunteers, but I do a lot of this mumbling in half-English/half-Thai sometimes bursting out at myself and sometimes laughing out loud maniacally… yeah, maybe that’s just me).

Jeff lives alone... I'm jealous.

Not that the Thai alarm clock is always a bad thing. Sometimes it provides for a grand chuckle. You could be grouching against the world sitting alone in your house and then someone comes home from a trip to the city with a pizza (yes, this happened to me). For some reason, after biking home from school the other day (through all kinds of rural areas so I don’t know how I got so easily lost in my head) and seeing a water buffalo grazing outside of the post office made me double take. Or in my friend Jeff’s case, he went outside to settle what he thought was a scuffle between two students as the rest of the kids were out there shouting… it was an elephant walking by. Just another day in the moo-bahn.

'What? Did you forget you are still in Thailand?'

Friday Five

Top Albums of 2011

Cee Lo Green– The Lady Killer
Holy Buddha this man can sing and I can just feel his heartbreak in the songs. He knows how to do I hate you songs, I miss you songs, and I’m going to get you back songs. It took me a little longer to really appreciate this album, so don’t give up on it after a listen or two. It just gets better the more you listen and discover little quirks of lyrics and vocals. Cee Lo makes me want to be ‘Old fashioned,’ know that ‘It’s ok’ and I’m definitely a ‘Fool for you.’
Favorite TrackNo One’s Gonna Love You 

No, that's not Kanye

Ray LaMontagne– Gossip in the Grain
One of the best things about making new friends is picking their music loving brain. Jeff introduced me to Ray and I am forever grateful. It’s hard to believe a voice so sweet could come out of such a bearded man. But it does, and so are the words. The man has such a way with them that I had to download all his available albums, but this one is my favorite. The entire thing is extremely listenable for any mood, though I lean towards ‘I still care for you,’ ‘Meg White,’ and ‘Let it be me.’
Favorite TrackYou are the Best Thing 

Despite the facial hair, I still think he's pretty

Tom Petty– Wildflowers
I realize that this album isn’t exactly new to the world, but it was to me as of this year. Another Jeff Jackson introduction, this is the nickname he has dubbed me with and there’s no Tom Petty album I can listen to without thinking of Jeff. I like listening to Tom when I’m feeling guitar-y and a little hippie.
Favorite TrackWildflowers

Hours have passed imaging myself in a sundress walking through a field of wildflowers

Nicki Minaj– Pink Friday
I love Nicki Minaj for being a strong female role model. She thrives in the overwhelmingly male dominated rap/hip-hop community often with some of the best lines of a collaboration. Say what you want about the Lil’ Kim beef she has had going, Minaj is tearing up the trails that Kim and others before her first blazed. When I need a confidence booster, I’ll try ‘I’m the best,’ ‘Fly’ featuring Rihanna, or ‘Last Chance’ featuring Natasha Bedingfield or ‘Right through me’ for a smile about the manfriend. The best thing about Pink Friday? Knowing there’s going to be another album following.
Favorite TrackSuperbass doesn’t have 233 listens on my Itunes in six months without reason.

I'm surprised she doesn't have something showing off her very famous derrière

Lady Gaga- Born This Way
There’s a reason Lady Gaga is my favorite artist. She just keeps getting better. There’s something about the universe that had the Mother Monster release an album titled ‘Born This Way’ when I’m in a country that constantly questions my looks, my attitudes, and sometimes my very existence here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve plugged in the earbuds to release some kind pressure of living as a Peace Corps Volunteer with ‘Born this way,’ ‘You and I,’ ‘Bad kids,’ ‘Edge of glory,’ or ‘Americano’. I can’t say enough about her Ladyship, just do yourself a favor and listen to this album.
Favorite TrackHair

I haven't always 'gotten' her album art, but the music speaks volumes

Honorable Mentions: Rolling Stone’s Sticky Fingers, Sky Blue Sky by Wilco, and Sweeter from Gavin Degraw

How Erin Got Her Groove Back

And it all started with a dress. I’m stretching out the blogging fingers because you’re about to get a load of sunshine your way. Deal with it.

Ups, downs, you’ve heard about them. It’s what Peace Corps life is all about. Your lens as a Volunteer, and how you deal with your host country’s culture, is often colored depending on whether you have your rose-colored ‘up’ on or your matador-cape red down. September was a real ratfink and I thought it would end once I got on vacation. Turns out, it’s a long process lifting yourself out of the abscess that becomes your brain like September did to mine.

Like I said, it started with a dress. My favorite coffee shop (it’s the best decorated place in my town- by best decorated I mean it’s Thailand at its finest, which isn’t too typical in the moo-bahn) started selling vintage dresses from Japan. I’m not sure how this works, but I’m far past the stage of asking these kinds of questions or ever expecting to understand the logic behind the answers. I saw my coteacher buy a few, but didn’t buy any for myself until one day I decided to try one on.

A sidebar here: I’ve got one of those bodies that pretty much everything looks good on. I can’t help it, I’m 6’2 and moderately thin. I’m not trying to brag, just stating a fact of life. Another one is once I try something on, that’s really all the motivation I need to buy it because as long as it’s in my size, it’s going to look good. Case closed. It doesn’t help that my whiteness is encouraged here so I longer restrict myself on colors that I once thought ‘washed me out.’ Why bother, the Thais are only going to think I’m more beautiful.

So I bought two dresses that day. Priced at less than ten American dollars, I couldn’t resist. This was right before I left for vacation. Kailyn and I checked out Phi-Phi’s offering of the shopping persuasion. Then she reminded me I’m a girl while we were at a beautiful handmade leather purse store. Cha-ching. Hey Rai Ley, what’s that you say? You have a crafty gal that makes beautiful jewelry AND gives discounts to farangs that can speak Thai? Why yes, I think I’ll oblige you with a necklace and three bracelets for myself and two for my Thai peeps. Now, what shall I pair to go with this…

I justified these things as vacation purchases, something to go along with my beautiful memories. I had been a good little Volunteer and this was my reward to myself. I’ve been here for ten months and throughout that time, I hadn’t really gone shopping and was letting myself float by with baggy polos and long flowy skirts because it was the easiest thing to wear that was Thai appropriate and I could deal with in the heat. I let myself go. I’m 23 years old. This is not acceptable.

With an extra week off from school, I decided I might give the shops in my town a legitimate shot at shopping. I was caught, three different times, by my various Thai peeps who decided to give me a ride into town. Those times did turn out to be good community and IRBing days, but it wasn’t what I wanted or needed shopping wise. Note, shopping with Thai people is generally not fun. I’ve found one Thai person that I like to go with, the rest rush me obscenely. This is not a process to be handled hastily. Humming the Mission Impossible theme song in my head and I snuck off into town to go where the wind blew me. It was lovely.

Hello Pandora, that’s a nice box you have there, mind if I crack it open? I awoke a snoozing monster. I tried things on. I picked things up, put them down, and picked them back up again. I turned around when I missed a clothes shop. I was spreading my wings and I wasn’t going to leave one rock left unturned. And I hit pay dirt. The thing about going to Thai shops is that about 3/4 of it is going to be crazy nonsense that looks like it either belongs in the 80s or is cartooned in some way. The monster was not impressed. Luckily though, there are many diamonds in the rough if you look and this was the day I had the time and the freedom to do so.

I don’t want to sound like buying clothes was the secret out of my depression (for this reason I’m not posting photos of my loot- though it does make me grin manically just looking at it), but it was the freedom I associated with it that made me feel like butterflies were flittering around in my stomach. For once I didn’t have to consider the people I was with for their time, giving me a ride, their opinion on the clothes I looked at, the money I was spending, or keep up a Thai conversation. Nothing. I will say though, I’m starting to believe in that old adage ‘if you look good, you’ll feel good.’

I don’t know if this is an Erin-is-a-nerd-thing, but something Gail Coop and I always engage in after a spree is a mini-fashion show of course. I tried this with my Pi-Chaai and she was pretty confused with the new arrivals. After all, I have been dressing like a man for the past seven months, she was probably wondering what drugs I was on. Is there a Thai phrase for ‘I’m high on life’? So I went home and did it myself. That’s right, I opened up the wardrobe doors (which is now home to a spider about the size of my hand, but that’s a story for another time) and mixed this with that and found outfits for myself along with long-lost jewelry that I forgot that I brought to Thailand. Pi-Chaai had one thing right, I’m not sure if my students are going to recognize me when school finally starts back up tomorrow. Dress wise or attitude wise because my little blogettes, the rose-colored shades are back on.

One of the most intense things about emerging from a down is remembering what it’s like to feel like yourself again. To laugh at nothing again without feeling a smirk behind it. To plug-in your Ipod when you wake up in the morning and dancing around to tunes you’d be horribly embarrassed if anyone else saw them on your playlist.  To feel your brain swinging from topic to topic instead of wallowing. To be glad to be going back to school. To be happy to wave and smile to everyone in your village. To use your mind like a Jedi and slowing down speech patterns so that you no longer just understand them, but you respond and make a joke at the same time. To look in the mirror and find yourself smiling back at your reflection. To not snap or roll your eyes at your host sister. To wave at the kids that shout your name when you bike by. To be glad to be in your village and never imagine leaving it in another year-plus. To look around and think to yourself ‘I’m going to miss this place.’ And the best of all, to know you survived another down and will be able to get through the next one with an eventual smile on your face.

Tuesday Travel Photo

Holy Moly!! I forgot it’s Tuesday! That’s what I get for not going to school yet this week. Or, you know, do something productive outside of IRB the shit out of bpit term. That’s right, I said it. I nearly left my computer’s side without posting your travel photo. And I’ve never blogged more than once in one day before. I feel like I’ve entered the Twilight zone and not the kind with glittering vampires and Robert Pattycakes running around. Though that might not be too bad. I think this is a clear sign that vacation is still with me and in honor of that, I give you a little piece of Southern Thailand.

Photo Credit: Tammy Kane, awesome shot if I do say so myself