Baby’s First Visa Run

With a six month, multiple entry visa I have to leave the country every 60 days. Yesterday was 60 days so off to Burma I went!

*Note: Officially it’s Myanmar, but locally the country is referred to as Burma.

Side rant before starting my story: Dear hippie, dreadlocked backpackers, you are in a city at a bus station. PUT ON YOUR SHOES. The whole of Thailand is not the beach. You take your shoes off out of respect when entering a person’s home or a temple because your shoes are dirty. If you were never wearing shoes in the first place then your feet are dirty and it defeats the purpose.

My morning started with a 5am trip to the bus station for my 6am bus to the border. Transportation in other countries is always exciting for me. Sadly Chiang Mai does not have a subway system for me to learn, so buses will have to do. After about 5 hours on the bus I got to the border town of Mae Sai. The scenery is beautiful along the way. I am terrible at describing the beauty of nature with better words than pretty and lovely. So the scenery was very, very green and lovely. Lots of mountains and rice fields.

The bus got stopped by the police several times along the way. They checked people’s IDs. I think non-tourist immigrants are not granted freedom of movement within Thailand. So the police check long-haul buses to make sure people are not going places where they do not belong. No one really cares about the only westerner on the bus though, so all good for me. They make it pretty easy. When you get off the bus in Mae Sai the taxi takes you as far as possible. There is a big blue building in the middle of the road where the border crossing is.

I have no idea what I am doing. I guess this isn’t my first border though. I went through a slightly scary checkpoint at night in the rain upon re-entering Israel from the West Bank. Then I walked across the border from Israel to Jordan when I went to Petra. I also had lunch in Tijuana when visiting San Diego.

Just like when I went to Jordan, there is a “no man’s land” in between the two borders. Between Israel and Jordan is just a big stretch of desert. Between Thailand and Burma there is a river, and I think a hotel. I guess the hotel isn’t just in the middle. It must belong to one of the countries, but it looks like it’s just in between countries.

It was mildly terrifying when the Burmese official took my passport. He stuck it in his desk and gave me a piece of paper that said Myanmar entry permit as a place holder. Apparently I can stay for 14 days. Does that mean they keep my passport for that long? Not sure I like that. I wonder if it would be the same if I flew in instead of walking across.

The little market on the Burmese side reminded me of the little bit of Tijuana I saw, minus the margaritas and mariachi band.

I’m thinking I make a trip out of my next visa run. Cambodia. Angkor Wat! 60 days will be up at the end of September.

Also I cannot believe I have been here for 60 days! Two months. My 10 weeks as a trip leader are almost up. That means that the part of my life that I had planned out is almost up. From here on out it’s vague ideas and “meh I guess we’ll see.” Don’t worry mom, it’ll all work out and I promise I am staying safe.

This is definitely the part where I start making it up as I go…

A Thai Massage

Ok, so this wasn’t my first massage. It wasn’t even my first Thai massage.

For my 20th birthday my mom and I got massages at Elizabeth Arden. I don’t remember specifics, but I don’t remember being overly impressed either. Content though.

When I was in Casablanca I went to a hammam. That experience is a story in and of itself. The massage though, was…..unpleasant. A very large woman with very corse hands rubbed me all over. I mean ALL over. And there was oil. I left feeling icky.

Everyone raves about the Thai massage. Apparently amazing. You can get a Thai massage at Elephant Nature Park. After a long day of shoveling elephant poop and running around with dogs, a massage sounds nice.

A Thai massage consists of a woman strategically poking you with thumbs of steel. She could probably kill you with her thumbs. On some level it feels good to have your muscles and joints poked/rubbed/massaged intensely for an hour. But it also hurts. I’m not sure I feel relaxed afterwards. It’s also only 150 baht, which is roughly $5 USD. So it’s hard to say no.

On my day off in Chiang Mai I went to a nice spa for a massage. After spending a week at Elephant Nature Park sick, this was going to be great. No students. Not ziplining for the fourth, yes 4th, time. I had the biggest latte in history and was ready to relax. I know it doesn’t sound like those go together, but it made me happy.

This place was really nice. Clean. Classy. I soaked my feet in lemongrass water to start. I got my own little room and laid down on a cushy mat on the floor. Still a lot of strategic and hard poking. But this time she also leaned. So a lot of poking and pressing and massaging and leaning. Like with her whole body. She leaned on my spine and my arms and my legs with her whole body. There was some stretching too which was much needed. Some of it was painful. A lot of it was painful. I think what made it relaxing was lying in the dark with my eyes closed for two hours. TWO HOURS. I went in thinking I was getting an hour long massage and when I came out two hours had passed. My massage ended with a braid. That seems to be a thing. When your massage is over they braid your hair. I also got mango sticky rice!

Overall a good experience.

Downside 1: This massage experience has ruined me for future massages at Elephant Nature Park. This one was so so clean. Not sure I could do it now at Elephant Nature Park where everything is a little dirty all the time. Those mats you lay on, I hate putting my face there on the dirty, slightly damp (because everything here is slightly damp) mat.

Downside 2: I am now really sore. Is a massage supposed to make you sore? I feel like I hiked a mountain. I’m doing that in 2 days (again). I was really hoping to feel refreshed.

My hair looks nice though.

some thoughts on time

You know how people say there is no such thing as a stupid question. That is false. There absolutely is such a thing as a stupid question. First of all, if we already talked about it and you weren’t listening, then your question is stupid. Just pay attention. Second, people (specifically students) need to learn how to think for themselves and figure stuff out. Life isn’t just going to hand you things. You are not always going to have a trip leader who’s primary purpose is making sure you don’t get lost or hit by a car or eat something you are allergic to. LEARN HOW TO FIGURE SHIT OUT. Please and thank you. Sometimes, your question is stupid and if you keep it in and wait a few minutes, it will be answered anyway. Sometimes the things you wonder in your head should not be said aloud.

I went on a mini-rant at my students the other day. I get a lot of questions about time. What time is it? How long will it take to get there? My answer is always that I do not know. Every single time, but they still ask. So I shared my feelings about time. I do not care. I do not care what time it is or how long it will take to get there. Why do you care? Do you have somewhere else you need to be? You are in Thailand. Everything is planned for you. Whether it takes 10 minutes to get there or an hour, you’re still going to sit in the van/truck/taxi until we get there.

Do you have a solution to our running late? I do, walk faster! The New Yorker in me has trouble walking this slowly. I thought saying walk faster was harsh, so I have been saying walk with purpose or intention. I sometimes want to hit me. Also, I don’t think it works. If you are so concerned with how long things will take, maybe you should make an effort to move faster than a sloth. You are not cute enough to move that slowly.

Am I being mean? I wonder if I am mean every few days. However, everyone seems to be having fun and all my students say they like me. Stay tuned…

Losing my cool

This is the excerpt for a placeholder post.

As the “grownup” of these groups, the Trip Leader, I feel the need to be cool. Not cool as in I hope they like me (I do really hope they like me), but cool as in I’ve got it together. Maybe I should get a tattoo that says “Fake it ‘til you make it.” That tends to be my game plan. Amazingly, they take for granted that I know things and am the authority. It’s great, except for the stupid questions.

It’s basically my job to count them as they get on the bus. I also get to be always excited/enthusiastic. And willing to try everything…except durian. I haven’t built up the courage to try durian yet. A side note: durian is a fruit grown here that smells like feet. Many hotels do not allow it in the door because it stinks so much. Why do we have such a food? That is one of those what the fuck evolution things.

So I do things that I don’t necessarily want to do out of fear. Like zip lining. I am not afraid of heights, just a lot of things that go along with heights. Like ladders and stupid, wobbly bridges.

With the first group I felt the need to play it cool. Don’t let them see you squirm. “It’ll be fun! Don’t worry about being afraid, just go for it!” Then it was my turn. I started to crack. A little squeal when I jumped off. Every time someone said o my god, a Thai guide said o my Buddha. Haha. I laugh when I’m scared. I laughed a lot.

Then we crossed that stupid, wobbly ladder bridge. Not cool. My plan was to just stand on the bridge until it stopped bouncing. I could stand there all day. It’s fine.

Then we got to a platform (there were 49 in total) without a zip line. Like you don’t go across you go down. That’s it. That’s where leader Jodi (who’s gotten really good at faking it) loses her cool. You jump off a platform and just go down. Some Thai dude clips you to a rope that doesn’t look like it’ll hold all of you and you jump, or wiggle your butt towards the end edge, and fall/scream. No. This is where Jodi loses her cool. Leave me here in the trees. I’ll become a tree person.

It got slightly less terrifying the second time around. However, there may or may not be video of me grimacing as I walk across that stupid, wobbly bridge at a glacial pace.

 

 

 

 

One down, four to go

This is the excerpt for a placeholder post.

I’m doing this 5 times. The same thing five times. I have said “I don’t know” more in the last two weeks than in my entire almost 28 years of existence.

Flying to Chiang Mai with the group was a piece of cake. Travel for large groups of students is what I do. Take 24 from JFK to Hong Kong to Chiang Mai, with another staff person, and they are all over 18? Piece of cake! I was in my element. Sprinting through Hong Kong airport with said group was a little less fun, but successful.

We were met us in the airport with necklaces of jasmine flowers. It was like getting lei when arriving in Hawaii (I think). They smelled lovely! Was it a really nice way to be greeted in Thailand or is it because we have been traveling forever and we smell?

Now that we are here, the real fun starts. My group was 7 people. 1 boy. Why don’t more guys do things like this? Dear boys, go traveling, go exploring. Do things. Where are you?

I’m a little worried that I am going to compare every group that follows to this group. It all went so smooth, beginner’s luck? I hope not. What if my next groups don’t get along as well as this group? What if I don’t like them?

Here is what I think contributes to a great trip:

  1. drink a lot of water
  2. be open to learning new things
  3. try everything

Success. Giant bugs, cold showers, and facing our fears. Despite screams and cringes and food spit out and almost crying over dizzying heights, everyone was willing to try. And we all had an amazing time! We spent a week chilling with elephants and dogs and water buffalo and bugs. We saw some incredible temples, went zip lining, learned Thai cooking, rode in questionably safe transportation, and laughed a ton.

How do I feel? I fee great. I’ve got about a dozen bug bites and a few scrapes, but I feel good. I’m not stressed about anything…yet. I have a feeling as I inch towards August that stress free, carefree feeling will start to disappear. My current attitude is I have no life plans past August and that is ok. Soon I will have to start thinking about jobs and supporting myself. But those are concerns for maybe July. I’ve only been here for 2 weeks. 2 weeks! I cannot believe I have only been here for 2 weeks. We sure did cram a lot into those 2 weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

Where do I start?

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

But really, where do I start? I guess at the beginning-ish.

I’ve wanted to take the leap, go abroad, for a long time. I daydream about the places I would go, the things I would discover, and the people I would meet. I keep daydreaming but not acting. I keep seeing job postings for overseas positions and hesitating. I keep saying I cannot afford to take a temporary position abroad, and that if I am going to leave New York and my job it has to be for a permanent position. Not anymore. A temporary position could turn into a permanent one, or maybe just a series of temporary positions. Every opportunity leads to new ones. I have nothing to lose.

“If you want to come to Thailand for the summer you can have this job.” Ok, yes! I’m spending 10 weeks as a Trip Leader for an org that runs two-week programs for young adults in and around Chiang Mai, Thailand. Many of their programs have a veterinary medicine focus. Obviously that is not what I was hired for. All of the groups vet and not, spend a week at the Elephant Nature Park (more on that later). Then we spend a week in Chiang Mai. My groups spend the week adventuring in and around the city.

It seems that student travel is my thing for now.

This seems like the perfect thing to jumpstart my adventure. I am spending 10 weeks working for awesome people, doing awesome things. Then, I’ll find something else to do (more on that later too).

So I bought a fancy backpacking backpack, gave notice at work (which felt so good), moved out of my Brooklyn apartment and back into my parents’ house, and took off!

I don’t have a post-job plan, but I am not stressed about it at all. I am sure some stress will creep in as August gets closer. For now I am riding this adventure high.

The best possible outcome would be finding a super awesome job for a great international NGO in Europe. I would go home to New York to say hi and change out my wardrobe before moving to Europe. Worst-case scenario, I go home and live with my parents until I find a new job. Not ideal, but not a disaster either.

**Shout out to my parents, Caryn and Stu. How many parents do you know who’s response to “I’m quitting my job and going to Thailand with little to no solid plan,” would be awesome, have fun. And they are willing to take me back if this doesn’t work and I have to come back to New York, probably broke.

So I am leading 5 two-week trips. That means I am doing the same thing five times. Should be interesting.