Friday, November 27, 2009


Tonight I am thankful for many things, among them;

  • The existence of my niece (even if she's techincally still in her mother's tummy)
  • My loud, beautiful, big extended family who fill a room with energy and warmth. It has been far too long since I've been in their presence.
  • The freak November thunderstorm outside. I fell asleep so many nights in Thailand to the sound of thunder. Lightning lit up the sky and rain lashed against the windows for hours and hours. Without realizing it these noises became a comfort to me, something I expected, something that made me feel safe and secure a million miles from home. Hearing them tonight brings a tiny piece of Thailand to me, back across those million miles.
  • Turducken. No explanation needed.
  • Lee Brothers Mac n' Cheese-basically some elbow macaroni and 5 tons of cheese, including just the right amount of funky aged gruyere to keep it from baring any resemblance to the macaroni you get out of the box.
  • Live tennis on television. And not just any old live tennis but the top 8 players in the world competing. Oh how i missed watching this, the most beautiful and wonderful of sports, when I was gone.
  • Reading three books simultaneously including David Sedaris, Elizabeth Gilbert, and the new Agassi autobiography
  • Pictures of my beautiful Charleston on my wall, and knowing that in about two weeks I will return to this place I miss with every fiber of my being.
  • Scarves and tall leather boots and other cold weather items.
  • Sparkly cardigans.
  • Flats.
  • Mashed potatoes.
  • Fresh, practically right off the boat seared tuna on the Thanksgiving table (tuna you ask? yup that's how my family rolls)
  • The scar on my knee from nightswimming in Ko Samet. I rammed my knee into an underwater rock. My purse was stolen with all of my important belongings. But I'm fairly positive I wouldn't change a thing if it meant I'd have to give up the memory of that warm water, how good that ill advised swim felt. My scar will always remind me of it. I wouldn't want it any other way.
  • New oppurtunities.
  • Not knowing where I'll be in a year.
  • Reuniting with friends, both old and new.
  • The dozens of handmade cards from my Thai students, all incorrectly spelled and poorly punctuated and absolutely, unassailably beautiful.

I am thankful for these and a million other reasons. I am thankful that over and over again during the last six months, I found myself overwhelmed by gratitutde, bathed in it, smothered with it. I lost count of the number of times I found myself too grateful to even speak, forced to close my eyes and simply breathe an unspoken, fervent, even desperate prayer of thanks. I should feel that way every day. Every day we have so many reasons to be overhwelmed by our gratitude.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

the perfect ending

So this probably came on television a really long time ago, but I was out of the country and I missed it. It's the series (or at least Zach Braff version) finale of Scrubs and I watched it tonight on hulu and it's pretty much the perfect ending to a show. I loved this show, and even though I haven't been as loyal a watcher in recent years this made me bawl like a baby. Yes I'm still in kind of a sentimental place after leaving Thailand, and the absolutely gorgeous Peter Gabriel song playing doesn't help, but well, just watch.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Traveler Tales: Part One

I filled out a lot of guest book ledgers in the five weeks I spent traveling through South-East Asia. Always I filled in my name, my passport number, my nationality, etc.. When I reach the vacant spot for "occupation," I would hesitate, but only for a moment. Then in one swift motion I would fill the blank in with the only possible word to describe myself at that moment, "traveler." I wrote this down as my occupation so many times that I started to convince myself it was an occupation, that a life could subsist on hotel rooms and passport stamps and one gorgeous, soul altering location after another. Of course this isn't true. There are several minor details such as money, overstays on visas, those kind of trivial things. But for five beautiful weeks I was a full time traveler. That was my place in this world, my mission, my agenda, my raison d'etre.

 I retired as a traveler two weeks ago. I hung up (literally and figuratively) my backpack. I stopped carrying around half of my possesions in plastic bags. My sun burns faded. My bug bites stopped itching and begun the inexorable process of turning into scars. I stopped wearing my weathered, dirty, travel battered watch and started relying on a cell phone to tell the time. I've spent entire days in doors, where for weeks the only time I was consistently indoors was at night (and even then I was often nearly still in nature, with lizards crawling over the walls or the sound of waves crashing in from only yards away). I don't even have a Lonely Planet in my possesion, something no self respecting backpacker would ever not have at his or her side. I have gone two weeks without seeing something new, after five weeks where every day brought something so strange and different and wonderful that the word "new" couldn't even do it justice.

It's been two weeks, but sometimes when I close my eyes, I can swear it's not over. I can almost make myself believe that I'm dirty and sweaty and exhausted, sun burnt and covered in insect bites. I can almost feel the soreness from lugging my heavy backpack down the streets of some new town, looking for a tiny guest house whose name I can't pronounce.

And it was exhausting and sweaty and full of bites and bruises and burns. But can't you understand how perfect that makes it? In my opinion if you travel luxuriously or as a true adult, your experience runs the dangerous risk of being smooth and pain-free. And that's great of course. You'll probably come back home relaxed and calm and not covered in the aforesaid burn/bite/bruise combination. But a smooth, pain free trip will never be perfect, because the only kind of perfect I understand in this world is the kind that's haphazardly created from the imperfections we experience. It's the perfect that comes together at the end of something, when you look back, and despite losing things or having things stolen or getting lost or getting sick, you understand that there's not a damn thing you would change about it. I wouldn't change a single thing about my travels in SE Asia. Because in my memory every single second of it is beautiful. Every single second of it was beautiful.

And it all started with Railay...

Stay tuned.

Monday, November 16, 2009

back to the routine of commenting on life's inconsequential things

So I know it might be a little jarring to go from a travel all the time blog to a post about the movie, Pirate Radio. But as I've been home more than a week now, it's time to get back to the business of dissecting life's pleasant little things. It is after all one of the purposes for which this blog was started more than two years ago. I fully plan on posting in detail, probably way too great detail, about my travels, but until then, let's chat about life's minutia shall we?

So last night I saw the film Pirate Radio (also called The Boat that Rocked). Which to sum up was a lot of fun and had perhaps one of the best soundtracks of any movie ever (the whole movie is a loveletter to the rock music of the 60s, so how could it not?) The cast was utterly fabulous, lots of very rakish, charming, very talented British actors plus Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who could read the phone book and still make it compelling). And depite being set primarily on a junky old ship, the whole thing was kind of eye candy.

One reason,

Tom Sturridge who plays the lead role of Carl, and who is in a word, delectable.

But other than young Mr. Sturridge, the whole movie is a feast for the eyes, full of vibrant, bold late 60s outfits that fill the screen with texture and color.

And top it all off the movie features Rhys Darby (also known as Murray from Flight of the Concords) And he is one of my favorite people ever. I mean how could you not love a man in blue, striped pants?

Friday, November 13, 2009

"As though to breathe were life"

Konchanaburi, Thailand

I have officially been home for a week. I have eaten all of, or most of, the foods that I so missed while I was abroad. I have made trips to my beloved Ukrops and Target. I have seen my lovely friends and family. I have done and eaten and seen so many of the things I missed so dearly when I was in Thailand. I have "come home".

But as anyone who has traveled for long amounts of time knows, "coming home" is not necessarily the same thing as coming home. I'm still working on the latter. I wish I could write more. I wish I could write about all of the things I saw and did in the last month. I wish I could write about those unreal waters, so blue they almost hurt to look at or the night the entire ocean glowed with the phosphorescense from plankton, the gray hulk of a volcanoe rising over the impossibly green lands of Bali, the 10 minutes of utter quiet in the middle of bustling Little India in Kuala Lumpur, when ordinary men and women knelt down in the middle of a market, in the middle of their work day, and prayed to their God. I will write about all of these things in much greater detail. For now I just needed to write something, to try and explain why seven days later, I'm still working out what it means to be back, still trying to reconcile the great joy in my heart at seeing all of these people I love with the deep sadness that comes from leaving behind an experience that was life changing in every possible way.

You see I was cursed from birth. I had the great fortune to be born a Southerner. And this means, will always mean, that a tie to land and place are a part of my blood. Southerners don't just live places. We become a part of the places we call home. The moment our feet hit the ground we start putting down roots. We will always be moved to tears by coastlines and mountain ranges and endless golden fields. We're like barnacles. We just don't know how to live somewhere and not grow fiercely, stubbornly attached.

But I was also born with wanderlust running through my veins. To travel has always been one of my deepest and most abiding loves. I love new places. I love going to a country that is 100%, competely foreign. I love strange foods and lanscapes and experiences. I love standing in the middle of a bustling, foreign city and not really having any idea where I am. I love the process of getting to know a place, the same way you get to know a person, layer by layer, bit by beautiful , weird bit.

But these two traits don't mesh. You see, every time I travel somehwere and stay for, well, let's see, more than a week, I start to grow attached. I get attached to hotel rooms which are designed to be places you don't get attached to. And when I travel to a place for a long term, for several months or longer, whether it's Paris or Thailand or my dear, gorgeous Charleston, I do put down roots. I am a creature of habit. I went to the same Pad Thai vendor at least twice a week in my town in Thailand. Every time I went to Bangkok for the weekend I stayed in the same guest house (the last time I stayed there, the week before I left, I walked in and was greeted by warm and familiar hellos from the staff and questions of where I'd been). I can't help myself. I am pathologically incapable of keeping a place at a distance, of just living somewhere. I can't help but let these places become a part of me. I let them embed themselves firmly and permanently in my heart. And so after 6 months in Thailand, it was a done deal. A piece of my heart was completely and totally lost in this land of elephants and traffic and monsoons and endless green for miles and miles and miles.

And so leaving that place did what leaving always does to me. It broke my heart. I cried a lot on the way to Thailand. And coming home, when I looked up and saw that the little GPS airplane on the screen was back in the U.S., well I cried then too. And I felt incredibly guilty. I was home, back in America. I had missed it so much. And I was back. But more than any other emotion running through my head, the most abiding one was grief for what I was leaving behind.

A week later the grief part of the whole process is starting to lessen. I'm getting more and more used to the idea that I've come back to this side of the planet. I'm looking forward to what's next. But something tells me that grief will never completely go away. It hasn't for Paris. And Charleston, well I miss Charleston every single day. And because I still can't wrap my head around all this, I'll let another writer do it for me. This is one out of about three poems that I actually like. I remember getting a little misty the first time I read it, in a English class in college. But I wasn't sure why. Now I know. This poem speaks to the person I am, a Southerner who is always in the process of creating a home, and a traveler who is always looking ahead to the next adventure. It is an impossible situtation to be in. It is the only kind of person I would ever want to be.

From Tennyson's "Ulysses". It all applies except for the whole "drunk battle with my peers" part. But you get the general idea.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vexed the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

Tanah Lot, the sea temple in Bali

Volcanic Mount Batur in Bali

Sunrise in Lovina, Bali

Overlooking the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia

Ko Phi Leh
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