Take Me Around The World: Bangkok Day 1

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June 8, 2015

Ahh, hot and dusty Bangkok. What better way to escape the stifling routine? My friend and I arrived at Don Mueang International Airport at half-past twelve after a short flight from Singapore. Give or take 4 hours (can’t escape the traffic) and we’re at Khao San Road, the backpacker’s haven in Bangkok. Rows of shops line the street sides, vending (mostly) elephant print items. As we’re traveling with a 7 kg luggage restriction, we decided to get a smaller bag for our romps around the city. As of now, I own an elephant sling bag, a pair of elephant shorts and a pair of elephant pants. Just can’t get enough of them elephants. Bangkok is a pop of colours, though admittedly, it feels like yet another Southeast Asian city after awhile. The relatively low prices around make up for this though. The streets are bursting with tourists after the best bargains. The magic of third-world cities is, however, their street food. I haven’t had the opportunity to try some, but they’re definitely on my to-eat list. Hell, I even bought tons of diarrhea pills just in case.

After traipsing down the cluttered streets and discovering a supermarket/departmental store-ish place to get our toiletries, we headed back up Khao San Road for dinner. I always love a good green curry, but the one I tried at one of those cafes didn’t taste so good, unfortunately. I think they were probably catering to Western tastes with the peas and cauliflower, but the spiciness mixed with those vegetables really threw me off. I’d recommend the more rugged-looking stalls and vendors for a more authentic taste.

Bangkok in June, if you didn’t know, is really, really hot. I’ve never experienced that sort of heat in all my years living right on top of the Equator. If you’re as fair-skinned as me (and I’m pretty much bleached for a Southeast Asian), do remember your sunblock or your mustache (that part above your upper lip) will be the first to burn. I’m not kidding.

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Les Changements

That Weirdo has been through multiple costume changes the last few months. I wouldn’t say it didn’t enjoy them, but it had quite a difficult time trying to decide on which attire to stick to. For the time being, I’m loving this theme which was so aptly named Hemingway Rewritten. My posts are still going to be pretty wordy, but there are some photographs taken on my travels that I’d prefer to take a greater precedence over those tiring texts. Hence, the header.

I will also be trying to reorganize the entire blog and divvy up the posts into different pages to make for more easy reading and searching. You see, this is still pretty much a personal blog where I sometimes rant about things or indulge in occasional self-pity, but I do talk about stuff that make the ends of my mouth defy gravity (I still don’t understand why frowning uses more effort). I want to make it easier for you to access those when you’re not out to dampen your mood.

As I enter this new phase of life, I’m pretty sure that I’ll have a lot more to talk about other than how horrible I felt that day. This little renovation might take a few weeks to complete, but I’m quite optimistic about the outcome, given how beautifully this template was already designed.

A little teaser of what I will be talking about this coming year:

  • Books and reading
  • Writing
  • School (Upcoming: August 2014)
  • Work (TBA)
  • Movies
  • TV shows
  • Mental health (musings & some advice)
  • Travel

These ideas are still in their infancy. I’ll keep working on them and hopefully we’ll see how it turns out. Meanwhile, enjoy your Easter weekend.

À bientôt!

Getting Stepped On My Head

…and I don’t mean this literally, no.

News has been circulating around the workplace that we think our living conditions are terrible.

BUT…

We were given explicit instructions to “NEVER COMPLAIN” no matter what happens because we were given this rare opportunity to go overseas for our internship and some people are stuck in Singapore. I’m wedged between two fences now:

  1. Suck it all up and keep showing plastic smiles at work. Say “Everything’s fine!” in a bright cheery voice when it’s obviously not.
  2. Dish out the truth.

Here’s the truth:

  • We are being charged 300 euros EACH per month for a twin room.
  • No, they are not ensuite.
  • The communal toilets have a mean temperature of 14 degrees Celcius on a warm night; when it’s cold, we shiver while doing our businesses.
  • The shower drains are clogged up by something deep down under and we have to turn it off multiple times and slosh around wet and naked while waiting for water to drain off before recommencing our cleaning rituals.
  • The showers have recently started flooding; we’re showering at work now.
  • We’re also basically living at the staff kitchen because there are tables and chairs for us to write or use our laptops on (there’s only one table in our room which we use to keep our more precious food and various necessities).
  • We have to pay 1.50 euros to use the washing machine every time (oh and wash it before usage or soap powder will clump up and we’ll have to hand wash our jeans after that).
  • It’s another 1.50 euros to use the dryer.
  • The laundry room has a radiator, a non-functioning radiator.
  • The kitchen is pretty dirty at times.
  • PEOPLE STOLE OUR FOOD.

The last point really ticked me off and started me on this mad rampage with an axe to hack down anyone who’s trying to get the better of us. Really? 600 euros per month for a twin room in a creepy as hell hostel with no shower facilities and terrible thieves as fellow inmates. Should I really keep my mouth shut? Older Asians always pride themselves as people who quietly suffer hardships (that’s why our lecturer told us to shut up), but we’re paying to live here to work for the hospital. Isn’t it basic courtesy to provide us with a habitable environment to live in? I guess it doesn’t apply here. I’m very sorry to say this because I love this country so much and people are very nice to us at work.

The colleague who suggested that we live there paid only 100 euros for a single room six years ago and everything was fine then. He mentioned that there were many people living there too. Now the place has fallen into disrepair and it’s practically a ghost town at night, with only 3 regular inhabitants including us. And they hiked up the rent almost 4 times. Is this fair treatment? I wouldn’t have minded if we were staying for free or paying 100 euros per month, but this… it’s just too much. All our emails regarding insufficient heating went unanswered (the person-in-charge went on a nice 2-week holiday) and people are talking behind our backs and making us out to be annoying Asians coming to cause trouble. What about our food now? We’re barely able to keep our stomachs from growling every night and now our food starts disappearing.

I withstood everything for almost 2 months, telling myself that it’s alright, but with two more months to go, the bulbs might just burn out and the pipes might burst and there would be nothing we can do about it except keep paying for the person-in-charge’s holidays.

Oh, I’m Grand!

I know it’s been awhile. I’ve been busy with a truckload of chores the past few days and with the upcoming report submission, my mind is as cluttered as the room I’m living in now.

Being lazy, I’ll just ramble on about what happened on Sunday. Don’t worry, my hand didn’t get bitten off by Irish bears (if they even exist…). Check out those pictures below for an idea (though you probably know what I’m driving at already). Continue reading

Spring’s Here…?

I had a chat with a colleague at work today. Feeling sick of layering sloppy T-shirts under my “work” shirts, I asked him when spring would arrive.

“It’s spring now,” he said, laughing at the look on my face.

I showered this morning before work, but that was a really bad idea. I don’t know about you, but once I’m covered in running warm water, I never want to get out of the shower. The second the water goes off, the cold rushes in and you wish you hadn’t made the stupid decision to get yourself cleaned. I tried my best, but I was still late for work by 10 minutes. Holy potatoes. No one said anything though, so I’m guessing flexi work time applies to interns too… At least I hope so…

This Sunday, I woke up around noon to find the room abnormally bright. Without first brushing my teeth, I turned on my computer and started up Skype. Within minutes, I was eagerly pulling the latch open and flashing my laptop out the window. People downstairs must have thought I was crazy. I was so excited by the amount of sunlight bathing the ground below that I had to show everyone what it’s like here. I think it sort of glorified the weather because that was honestly the first ray of sun I saw since I arrive in the cold city. My family and friend were so jealous of me, but then again they didn’t have to stand wet and naked in the 0°C air.

My friend and I, we decided that we were going jogging since it was so beautiful outside. Ah, what a painful lesson learnt; sunny is sunny, cold is still cold. I was nearly dying around 5 minutes to the supermarket we were heading to. The ears and the respiratory passage were screaming at me to stop. It was hours before I felt well enough again. As soon as we got out of the supermarket, it was gloomy again. Worse, the wind was blowing right at us. It never stopped once the 15 minutes we walked home. When we returned to the room, all I could do was lie on my bed and stare into space. Looks like whatever happened to my body happened to my brain as well.

However, the trip proved worthwhile because the meal we had later was the best we had since we got here (yeah, we had the exact same sandwich for lunch all weekday). The picture below shows the transformation of our dinners.

I feel like Jamie Oliver now.

I had to hand-cook instant noodles on the first day because we didn’t want to use the filthy pots. On day 8, we had washed most of the utensils with boiling water, so we could finally eat something decent (restaurant-grade carbonara pasta). If there’s anything you have to get, those of you living abroad (and not vegetarian), it’s bacon. I’m a firm believer in the wonders of bacon. Bacon makes everything better. Vote for bacon.

We’re back to eating wraps for lunch this week (yes, the same thing everyday until they finish), but I’m looking forward to the weekends when we could maybe try our hand at something new. Here’s to hope that I lose less than 5 kg these four months.

*Okay, maybe you can drop me some advice on how to save money (bearing in mind this is Expensive Europe) yet eat properly at the same time because I really don’t need to lose anymore weight.*

I Went To Winter

Just 12 hours after I left not-so-sunny Singapore, I had my first brush with snow.

We arrived in Paris at around 5 a.m., and the pilot told us that the temperature would be -3°C and there would be snow. I swear I don’t know who screamed in the cabin.

Once off the huge metal canister, the cold hit. It bit through every layer of clothing I had on (hold on, I only had one), but I was too excited to think anything negative of it. Toddlers were fishing winter hats out of their parents’ bags and I was bumbling around the airport in a T-shirt and the thinnest jacket I own, chuckling to myself (oh how that would change in two days).

Long story short, we spent too much time sitting about and got half lost in the huge multi-terminal airport, so by 7 a.m., I was half in tears over a missed flight. Most of the French officers were helpful, but they didn’t really know how to handle a panicking 18-year-old who missed her first “adultless” flight. I was directed to help counters with no personnel behind them and all I could do was wait and see my flight leave. Some of them were bloody unhelpful and rude, to make matters worse. There was this guy whom I approached when I realized that I was queuing up at the wrong gate and all he said was “gate closed” and strolled away as if I didn’t even exist. The other lady was an airport staff. She told us she couldn’t help us at all, which was fine, but the way she put it, she made us seem like children asking for more candies when trick-o-treating.

We did manage to get another flight out after a 4-hour plus wait, with the help of a very nice ticketing counter staff who didn’t charge us a cent for the new boarding pass. May she be blessed with good luck all her life.

This flight was a whole new experience. We had to take a shuttle bus out in the snow to a far-flung place that didn’t even look like it belonged to the airport (even more so with the snow-covered landscape). After that, we had to get out of that bus, into the snow and board the aircraft like President Obama does, up the stairs. Yes, I still only had my T-shirt and thinnest jacket on and one of my looser pairs of jeans. Even though I threw on another jacket earlier on, the cold still took me by surprise. I was laughing like a mad tropical Asian when I first set foot on French ground, but within the next 30 seconds, I was cursing and shaking and begging to enter the aircraft. The French guy behind chuckled. I had a weird feeling it was directed at me.

One hour and a really nice salmon sandwich (plus a really nice air steward) later, We clambered out of the jet plane and onto Irish ground. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to finally touch down. There was just too much drama for one day.

And so began my Irish journey. The first few days were a blur, really, because we were trying to settle in. All I remembered was the cold. I was just shivering violently every single time I stepped out of the car, and Irish colleagues told us that the weekend we arrived was the coldest day of the year. That explained a lot. The simple business of peeing proves much agony for my butt. Strangely, all the toilets here have windows behind the bowl, so your butt just bears the brunt of the chill. I avoid showering when I can, but sometimes, my hair just clumps up and I know it’s time to go shivering in the bathroom again. I did make some progress, however. I’m quite proud to say that my butt doesn’t shiver that much when I plop down on the toilet anymore.

I'm frozen too...

I’m frozen too…

The quarters that we live in now have less than perfect living conditions. Man, I’ll take my hats off to the staff here who could bear with using dirty pots and pans and cutlery. Someone should include dishwashing liquid in the budget before anyone dies of food poisoning here. Within 3 days, I’ve learnt to be more appreciative of what we have back home. I can’t say I won’t eat as much when I get back, but I definitely won’t ever complain anymore.

The part I can’t get used to the most is supermarket shopping. I’ve never had any issues with that back home, but here, they don’t give you plastic bags, so either you pay for them or you go home with your food under your armpits. If you happened to be walking down the street in Ireland a few days ago and you see this Asian girl with a knitted hat and mismatched clothes eating a baguette (€1.90 from Dunnes; I recommend the spicy potato wedges flavour, it’s just perfect for a frigid day), with stuff under her armpits, it was probably me.

I haven’t taken many photos of Ireland yet because my hands get numb the second I take them out of my gloves or pocket and the camera apparently can’t withstand low temperatures. I do have some cow portraits (yes, I know how weird that sounds), but my laptop can’t read the SD card, so I can’t show them to you too. It’s a pity, really. Ireland is so beautiful.

I can’t begin to say how much I love the Irish people too, especially the taxi drivers and some bus drivers. They’re really awesome people, with a really great sense of humour. We ran after a bus today, and when we tried to look for enough change, the driver shook his head and waved us in. “Walk in! Walk in!” he said. I was so grateful after the previous buses we took charged us the full adult fare.

When we were returning, the bus took a winding route through housing estates. After what seemed like ages and after we couldn’t recognize anymore landmarks (sorry, I still think all Irish houses look the same in the dark), we decided to ask the driver how to get to the hospital. He looked at us a bit wearily, then said, “What bus d’ye think yer on?” “Err… 123?” I replied. “Naw, 125.” he said, shrugging and driving on. Now, my friend and I were shocked out of our wits. I took a glance behind and noticed that another bus, a 123 was behind. If only we could get down and catch the next bus…… Then Mr. Bus Driver laughed. He looked genuinely amused. “The hospital, yeah?” He stopped the bus. “We’re behind the hospital. Ye just take a turn around the corner and you’ll see the entrance.” Mr. Bus Driver, I salute you for fine acting skills. You might just appear in the next blockbuster film.

There was a nice woman passenger who directed us to the entrance too. She was so patient and kind. I felt so warm despite the wind blowing sharply at me. The other lady deserving a commendable mention is the lady I bought the baguette at Dunnes from. I was looking horribly like a lost child that day, being my first ever solo outing to a mall. She made me a nice baguette then got out of her counter and led me to the cashier. She was really motherly and I knew she understood how I felt that day. I’m really thankful to all these nice people. Being a foreigner is difficult and if the locals don’t like people of your ethnicity (I’m looking at you, Lady-Sitting-Behind-Us-In-The-Bus), life can be quite tough.

Thankfully, I’ve had more good experiences than bad ones this first week, so I hope the subsequent weeks will prove enjoyable too. I’ll be back soon.

Preparing For That BIG Goodbye

So we’re still in the midst of our examinations (one last paper, yay!), but I’ve been having sleepless nights worrying about something else.

No matter how well I manage to feed and clothe myself whenever my entire family is away on weekend trips, I’m not at all ready to go sustain myself in a totally foreign place for 4 months. Nevertheless, I’ll keep telling myself otherwise to soothe those butterflies fluttering about in my poor stomach and to reassure myself that I won’t die of Salmonella or any other undercooked-food related diseases when I’m there. Horse meat also doesn’t seem to be drawing me away from Europe. In fact, I’m curious. Does it taste even remotely like beef?

I’m, as usual, staying up past the witching hour while my family’s asleep. The whole house is quiet save for those random scary noises. I’ve always liked the quietness of the night. I even wished for more nights like this. My wish is going to come true, it seems. I will have approximately a hundred nights to go tap-tap on my laptop without anyone to bother me. I can sing at the top of my lungs and dance without my pants on (bad idea, it’ll probably freeze my butt off). Be careful what you wish for, they say. I will have my free time, but I will be lonely as hell.

I’ve been trying to spend more time with Mummy beloved and be on good terms with my father. I’m still picking fights with the kids because they will miss calling me various forms of private parts after I’m gone. As much as I hate saying this, I’ll miss every rude gesture they have ever given me too.

Just last week, I was helping my mother pluck out her white hair (apparently my grandma had this habit of removing them from her head too) and I realized just how much of them she had. “A few more years and you’ll be bald,” I joked. She laughed, but I know we both know that she’s more than halfway through her life and the mere thought of that broke my heart so much they could have turned into powder. It’s one thing to grow up. It’s another thing watching your parents age. I was so stupid. I was so excited to leave, but I hadn’t noticed that my parents were growing old. Four months without them, how would it turn out? Would Mum have more white hair? Would Dad have more wrinkles on his forehead? Suddenly, I’m reluctant to leave.

I can’t back out now, not that the tickets are already confirmed. Both my parents felt that this would be a great experience for me too. “…learning to live on your own,” they said. I guess leaving will make me love and appreciate them so much more. It’s a lesson, and a great big one that goes right through to your very soul that it hurts physically.

It’s made me think too. I think I shouldn’t have children in the future. I wouldn’t want to bring someone into the world and have them feel that much pain in life. My genes wouldn’t bring them good health anyway.

Anyway, I think I’ve tucked my emotions under that little fleece blanket in the depths of my heart. Let’s just hope I secured them there tightly enough so I wouldn’t turn up looking like an emotional wreck in front of my supervisor.

On to more technical issues. What to do with my mobile phone? What to bring over? Credit card or cash? A whole bottle of shampoo for Asian hair? These are all valid worries. I have only 23 kg of baggage space and I’ve got to stuff 4 months of my life into the not-so-big-anymore black bag. We’re working things out one by one until D-day (D for departure) comes, but we’re running short of time. With one more exam to get through, this is not going to be easy.

Between all these, there’s the informing-your-friends part. “Please don’t call me at this number.”, “Please take note of my new number. But DON’T call/text unless you want a huge phone bill.” Turns out there are more loose ends to wrap up than I expected.

Goodbye everyone, see you in Ireland.

(Well at least it’s beautiful there.)

The Skies Are Blue On The Other Side Of The World (Part I)

I dreamed a dream.

In the dream, the skies are blue, the clouds look like buses and the Sun pierces my eyes.

Dream skies

In the dream, I walk through the grounds of a very old university on a bright, sunny day.

The grass tempts me

No, it’s not a palace.

In the dream, I go to a burger place and get myself a cheeseburger that drips oil when I hold it up.

Oh oil, drip unto me.

In the dream, I walk into a building labelled “MIT Museum”. In the building, tiny gears spin and tiny ball chains are being made.

Looks like something from a movie with old clockwork

The thing is moving indeed

In the dream, houses look like they came out of an old English movie.

Is that my finger…?

In my dream, everything is beautiful…

And then, I travel away from the beautiful place.