Tag Archives: friends

Status Update: Wake Up From Reality, Your Dream Awaits

This morning I woke up from a dream within a dream. The steady hammering of nearby construction—a familiar alarm from the past two weeks that I stayed here in Chiang Mai—lifts me from slumber at exactly 8:45am. What a lovely dream think I, wistfully reminiscing on the week-long lovefest that was Shambhala In Your Heart festival, a music and art gathering at the Doi Luang Youth Camp in Chiang Dao, Thailand. But Chiang Mai is still a dream, and one that will continue for the moment.

Prior to the festival I had been in Chiang Mai for two weeks, staying in a palatial apartment in the posh Nimmanhaemin neighborhood. After a week and a half of blitzed travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a taste of [temporary] home was much needed and much appreciated. I had ideal roommates, a regular sleep schedule (strictly enforced by the time-clocked start of morning construction, albeit), local friends and climbing partners, an exotically bohemian city to explore at leisure, and a dreamscape climbing crag within forty minutes motorbike ride.

I have put down soft roots here, right down to my routine:

  • Wake up early, read a bit, then eat a breakfast of coffee and duck eggs fried with garlic and fire hot chilies.
  • Engage in caffeinated waxing with Taylor about politics, culture, and whatever else comes to mind (women, mostly).
  • Pick a few songs and jams on Alice, occasionally to cheers and clapping from the nearby construction workers.
  • Read a bit more.
  • Walk a few blocks to my favorite organic Thai restaurant, where a smiling Thai woman serves me a vibrant plate of pad kee mao gai.
  • Walk a few more blocks to Play Cafe, where I write my blog on Miranda and converse with the Korean couple that owns the place.
  • Take a Song Tao to No Gravity climbing gym, and project a few routes and shoot the shit with Simon (the Swiss owner), Marco (a Swiss friend of Simon’s), Muat (a Thai champion climber), and Duan (a Thai boy that works and sleeps at No Gravity and plays a mean game of street badminton)
  • Eat dinner, and move on to the rest of the night’s activities.

On the note of writing, I have finished Bangkok Pt 1 here in Chiang Mai and am awaiting the precious moment when I will have time to compose Pt 2. My journals take me ages, even when I’m furiously typing for hours straight to the driving cocktail of espresso and German trance. I will perhaps need to shorten my future journal entries, and include more status updates such as this one. We’ll see.

Pure honesty: I am trying my absolute darndest not to bliss the hell out right now. Life in Chiang Mai has been nearly perfect in that commercially renowned 99.99% sort of way. But Chiang Mai doesn’t even compare to my beautiful dream within a dream at Shambhala. In the shadow of the Doi Luang Chiang Dao mountains, the youth camp sits in a broad meadow near a murmuring stream. At this blissful site, I passed seven days under the inflamed sun—dancing, singing, grooving, jamming, crafting, and connecting with wilderlings born of earth and fire from across the globe. I am working on a longer journal on Shambhala, but it will have to wait for now.

Though the festival dream is over, Chiang Mai is still quite blissful. I have climbed in otherworldly limestone caves, scaling moonscape toufas of melted rock. I have eaten a mountainous spread of halal Pakistani curries while watching a nearby group of tourists sit with their legs submerged in a tank of cleaner fish. I have ridden a bicycle through twisting traffic that knows no painted lines, and a motorbike down a pothole scarred highway through rice paddies and bamboo jungle. I have dined with Thai villagers, who gigglingly pass you fried unknowns and pop the tops off glass beer bottles with their teeth without blinking. I have rapped on the microphone with a Thai jam band (admittedly to a forgiving audience of three friends) at an art studio/bar, and played guitar with a gorgeous massage therapist in her bungalow studio. I have sustained several slaps and punches from a Thai biker gang who mistook me for a local Thai. I have seen that the world can be quite small, and that home can be anywhere you decide to lay down roots. My two short weeks in Chiang Mai have taught me a lot, in an experiential sense. I would live here, definitely, but I will continue my travels so I can be doubly sure.

I have met an incredible cast of characters in Chiang Mai. I will describe the major characters with unjust brevity, and hope to not insult the minor characters with their absence from the list (y’all are wonderful and you know it):

The Roommates
Taylor: an intellectual adventurer and fellow DePauw alumnus. He’s thoughtful and kind and has a comical tendency to laugh at pretty much everything, from my ribald stories to his whimsical purchase of a $6000 mountain bike. His mind cuts to the core, yet that critical gaze and ready retort that I recall from college has been tempered by a dream life working a dream job in the dreamy city of Chiang Mai (though he would still intimidate the typical bread-and-butter graduate student). Humble—will happily state that he hasn’t climbed much but then powers his way up a 6c+ grind—and talkative—will willingly discuss anything from the Paleo diet to American hip hop.

Barry: an expat Welshman and Crossfit coach. Regimented and driven (partly by his signature “bulletproof coffee:” an epileptic (by which I mean, it would render me inoperable) blend of coconut oil, raw butter, and jet black coffee. Barry has a smile and friendly demeanor that disarms your wary thoughts about whether the guy could crumple a steel barrel. Also thoughtful and smart as hell, though he never flaunts it. Definitely a dude I’d like to count among my friends..particularly at a dinner party and in a dive bar brawl.

Pui Pui: a dazzling Thai femme fatale, ex-climber goddess and current Olympic weightlifter. She is gorgeous, sweet, and fun–she got that diva style and none of the priss, you know? She’s the kind of beautiful woman that I’m genuinely glad is dating a rockstar like Barry; otherwise, I fear that I would be hopelessly fresh with her. In all seriousness, I find the pair incredible and their relationship inspirational [someday I’ll be mature enough to stop there] and I think Pui Pui would nonchalantly send me to the hospital if she was single and I was acting a fool [end joke].

The Friends
Karim: a world citizen climber with conversational language skills from his many past homes. A bit of a professional bullshitter—during the introductory exchange of asking where he was from, he replied “I’m from the moon” and I had to roll with it (“Ah! Heard it’s cold there. Light side or dark side?”). Easily one of the best climbing partners that I’ve had in a long while; the guy is damn charismatic and can persuade you to climb harder than you ever thought possible and without grievance. In all fairness, that charisma is a double-edged sword occasionally, particularly when paired with that damn bottle of Myanmar rum that he manages to produce in the decisive moment when you’re splitting the fence between reasonably going home to bed and joining him on his escapades.

Jennifer: a true Chicagoan and long-term traveler. She describes herself as Type A, but I think that does her a bit of injustice. She’s definitely driven, but in traveling with her I found her genuinely happy to wander and explore without definitive plans. Woman definitely knows her way around a schedule though, and was likely a hellofa school administrator back home. I enjoyed her company as a fellow US traveler—it was nice to remember a taste of my own culture and furthermore not be repulsed by it. I will fondly remember her company at our apartment’s Great Gatsby themed birthday party for Pui; Jennifer and I had a comically difficult time finding ingredients for Manhattans. The end product was pretty good and a colossal favorite, but really only resembled the true cocktail in the Kentucky bourbon and orange slice.

Stefan: an Austrian climber and yoga enthusiast from Vienna. His personality matches the circular Hari Krishna knot of hair on the back of his shaved head: calm, positive, and energy-aware. His activities represent the range of possible pursuits in bohemian Chiang Mai: acro yoga lessons, massage therapy school, and shamanic breathing sessions to name a few. I joined him and a dynamic band of merry backpackers when I moved back into the transient hub of Old City. Together, we floated to Chiang Dao for Shambhala, which I hope to describe in full detail when I have the time.

Jan: a[nother] South African with dynamic personality. He has been teaching English in Korea and Vietnam for the past few years, along with generally enjoying life in Asia. Jan has the same metabolic blitz as Julian, the other South African with whom I traveled with from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I met Jan whilst sampling the succulent array of food carts near Mun Mueang Soi 6, and indeed his exuberant attitude toward life can be best described in accordance with his signature exclamation about the food: “The food here is incredible! And so cheap! I f*cking love it! Is that pad Thai? It looks amazing, I must have some..no wait, better make it three! Here, you must try some, please you must!” Jan was also a merry participant at Shambhala, and I plan to see him again in Vietnam for continued adventures.

That is all for now. Bangkok Pt 2 will be coming along shortly, and many other thoughtful ramblings besides. Cheers and love!

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The On-ramp is Long and Fraught with Peril

Update: Sick and Sleepless in Seattle
[ill and reflective, told by backpacker battling stomach flu at airport]

If the universe were your friend, (s)he’d drop advice on you without warning and without your consent, and (s)he’d introduce it to you with a solid slap in the face. Maybe dump a bucket of cold water on you for the grins.

I’m writing this on January 14, 2014—two days after I was supposed to leave. Flight reschedulings and stomach flu brought the exodus train to a shivering, aching halt three days ago. Now, I sit weak but comfortable in one of Sea-Tac airport’s massage chairs; I didn’t put money into the thing, but the chair has leather cushions and glancing at the cruelly minimal black vinyl benches fascistly lined up across the hall, well, I made the better choice. Oof. Smirking makes my stomach churn.

So, a typical inauspicious start to a highly anticipated trip. Backlogging like a physician, I’d say the sickness started the day before departure, on the train ride up to Seattle from Portland. My backpack felt a bit too heavy, and not in a metaphorical way. I slept uneasily that night. The next day at the airport, I found out that EVA Air had switched my flight, routing me through two extra stops with potential for frantically sprinted layovers. I opted to wait a few days for the safe flight. By the time I got back to the place I was staying, I had a fever over 100 degrees and I was shivering like a polar plunge participant. Things were looking grim.

Fortunately, I had some incredible luck going for me. Mostly, I was lucky enough to meet Maddy, perhaps one of the nicest and most enjoyable Seattlans I should ever hope to meet. I met Maddy through my friend Ruby; they met while studying abroad in Tanzania. What was supposed to be one brief night on Maddy’s Africa-themed couch turned into three nights and two days of fighting demons—I’ll spare you the details. Maddy was a complete sweetheart throughout; hell, she had the grace to mention that I was improving her day with my conversation and company. She even chauffeured me to the urgent care clinic in some very accentuating yoga pants. OK, maybe the pants weren’t for me.

Of course, nothing to do but appreciate the good fortune of meeting a friendly girl and accept the obvious: plans change, roll with the changes.

Fitting Beginnings: “Oh the Dashboard Melted But We Still Had the Radio”
[nostalgically recounting, told by an ex-resident of Eugene]

Even with the sickness, my pre-trip in the Pacific Northwest was pretty special. My plan (yeah yeah plans change) was to fly back to Oregon on New Year’s Eve 2013 and bum around Eugene as a backpacker, staying with friends and acquaintances and tying up some loose ends. In my mind, it was going to be pretty chill, a low key—and low budget—affair.

The first day back in Eugene betrayed that image. Upon arrival I learned that my neighbors were having a black tie champagne and oysters party. Nothing else to do but make an already dirty backpacker’s t-shirt look like a tuxedo and head to the party with my debonair ex-roommate and now-host Brandon and his mountaineering outdoor ruffian friend Dorian.

The party was a joyous affair; I think there was much schmoozing, but I’m not entirely sure what schmoozing means. I enjoyed my outlook–a college grad starting the New Year as a backpacker, spending his transience at a party with close friends celebrating another spin around the wheel. I felt close to them, but also distinct; against their backdrop, I could focus the excited travel spirit. I found that spirit to be highly contagious, and I threw myself into spreading it effusively—those that were there can testify that the electronica bass hit a bit harder that night.

The pre-trip adventures continued to escalate in earnest. I bounced around between my old house, coffee shops, and the HARD house–an eclectic, fun-loving group of Eugene Whiteakerites who beat the Winter grey basking in the warm light of their friendly wood stove and friendlier faces. HARD—members Hallie, Alex, Ruby, and Dan (gone on a bike tour across the US)—and some friends and I took a climbing trip to Smith Rock State Park for the first weekend of January, basking in the Central Oregon sun and scaling the auburn tuft like deluded monkeys.

[Smith Rockin’–Hallie takes good photos]

[Brief heartwarming eulogy to a glorious past]
Ah, to be climbing at Smith with good friends! It is blissful. I draw power from the rocks, then take it prowling around the base and hailing the entire colorful range of climbers like we were old friends. When we leave the place, I glance back and remember my first trip to Smith two years prior. Back then I was a kid—my long hair was still too short to tie back, I wore tie dye shirts, and my high energy blurted out of me uncontrollably to exhaustion. I matured at Smith—met incredible friends and learned to channel my energy into a smooth, confident flow (well, much of the time). As I stare across the Crooked River gorge at the iconic Smith Rock Group radiating tungsten light into the darkening sky, with the snow-peaked Cascades steadily engulfing the red sun behind, I feel whole and raw and confident. [End eulogy]

Takeoff: “And Everything Starts Today”
[summarily thoughtful, told by backpacker about to board a plane]

Pre-trip continued to ramp up—I’m sure that has something to do with getting sick. The human body can only take so much abuse, and I sent it through a tailspin in my final days in the US. The night I left Eugene, friends and I went on a birthday party-esque bar crawl through the Whiteaker neighborhood. The following day, I took the train up to Portland and poured libations with Getty and Joe, close friends from graduate school. The next evening, an album release party to a late night affair atop the hills in SW Portland, drinks on an outdoor balcony overlooking the cityscape. The following morning, a hungover climb at Portland’s Circuit Bouldering Gym, to a train ride up to Seattle. It probably would have been weirder if I didn’t get sick.

Lesson learned, yada yada. Also learned: close friends are irreplaceable, and worth their weight in platinum. And, the wanderer’s spirit is a contagion, sweeping up the comfortable bystanders and carrying them into the maelstrom for as long as they care to hold on. Some will not let go—they will join me on my travels this year. Others will loose their grasp reluctantly, yet hopefully carry the spirit onward to vicarious living at home.

*BEEP* “EVA Airlines flight 0075 now boarding all passenger from zone 1, zone 1 all passenger.” *BEEP*

Time to board, and leave the States for the indeterminable future. I would be a buzzing mass of joy and excitement at this point, if that same buzzing didn’t also send my stomach into a whirlpool of cramps. But hey, whatever. I’m leaving..no, I’m going! So as my stomach echoes the cadence of my footfalls to a crescendo of grimaces, I step through the gate and enter a new world….

[Thanks again, Maddy—you’re wonderful]
[Stay tuned for adventures from Bangkok, aka “..Stays On Khaosan Road”!]