Day 244-246: City Living

Miley, my Airbnb host, gave me a ride to the Sky Train which would take me to the Siam Center, a mall in Bangkok. Miley was tall, had red circular glasses, and a confident stature. She appeared to be in her late 20s and was in charge of the Airbnbs in her family home. I got in the front seat of her car and turned around to meet her family.

Miley’s mother and grandmother were in the back, so we said hello to each other. Then they said something in Thai, which I couldn’t understand. I looked at Miley for help and she said, “They think you’re very brave to be traveling alone. They think it’s great.” I smiled, “Oh, well tell them I said thank you!”

Miley dropped me off at the Sky Train station and gave me instructions for how to use it. I climbed a few flights of stairs, bought a ticket at the ticket booth, and followed the ticket booth operator’s instructions on where to stand to get the correct train to the mall.

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The Sky Train is an elevated metro system and provides some amazing views of the city. I wanted to ride it and I read online that the malls in Bangkok are something special to see. It made sense to take the train to the mall. It wasn’t very crowded, it was new and clean, and it reminded me of England. In Thailand, they drive on the left, say “mind the gap” when getting on and off the train, and “mind your hands.” In Chiang Mai, a local told me they had a strong presence from England decades ago, so they have replicated a lot of the Brittish culture.

The Siam Center was huge! I first started to look around the outside covered area and found a small shop selling a “pancake cup,” which is a cup of mini-pancakes, strawberries, and cream. I ate a cup while enjoying the small air conditioned section. I continued walking and noticed shops had very narrow stores with glass doors. The doors allowed for air conditioning and they only had to cool off a very small section. What it created, however, were small store booths that looked like little jail cells.

I continued walking around, but the heat and humidity were making me uncomfortable. I found a restaurant with air conditioning and ordered a chicken with egg. After that, I went to the main indoor section, Siam Paragon. The multilevel glass windows made it look regal and expensive.

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I used the toilet and it included a container of disinfectant that you could use to wipe your seat. Bathrooms (or toilets as they say) are very inconsistent in Thailand. Most are run down, or only have squat toilets, don’t have toilet paper and instead have a spray nozzle attached for you to use to wash yourself, and no soap. But there are also high-end places like this mall where the toilets are fancy – they included toilet paper and the spray nozzle, soap, and were incredibly clean. This bathroom was cleaner and nicer than most bathrooms in the U.S.

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I continued walking around and couldn’t believe how amazing this mall was! The floors shined from the marble, sculptures hung from the ceiling, and I could look up and see seven stories! Most stores were priced similar to an average store in the mall in the U.S. There were also high-end stores like Chanel, Bvlgari, Cartier, and Rolex.

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This mall had everything you needed: furniture stores, hair salons, investments banks, a bowling alley, a boxing gym, a movie theater, a food court, lounges, and car dealerships with actual cars inside! I watched as children in school uniforms worked on homework in the food court and it appeared people spent many hours there.

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I was exhausted from walking around so much and even though there was air conditioning, I was still a little warm. I read online that the movie theater there is a “must see,” so I headed to the very top floor and found it. I talked with the girl at the counter because I was confused about the theatre options. She talked me into the higher-end theater that came with a small ice cream, a latte, a small bottle of water, and a lounge recliner seat. It cost $32 USD, which I thought was a lot, but I wanted some down time.

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I walked into the VIP lounge and was treated like royalty. While they got my ice cream, latte, water, and the popcorn that I ordered for $5 USD, I went to use the toilet. It was the most fancy toilet I’ve ever seen! I had my own little room that was covered in marble. The toilet lid opened itself when I approached. The seat was heated, it washed me, and then flushed itself. As soon as I left my little room, which included a personal sink and cloth washcloth, a housekeeping woman immediately went in to make sure it was perfect for the next guest.

I got to my theater and it was dark, so a man walked me to my seat using a flashlight. My seat was a large double seater for couples. There were only two other people in the theatre and they were a few rows up from me.

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I watched the movie, The Favourite, about Queen Anne. The movie was in English, but it had Thai subtitles. I enjoyed the movie and the pampering was nice.

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When the movie finished it was dark outside. I walked through the mall some more and eventually left. I walked towards a rooftop bar,  checking out the shops and nightlife around me. It reminded me of New York City because of its size and high-rise buildings, but the walkways, stairs, and bridges reminded me of Las Vegas.

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There didn’t seem to be any trash cans around on the street corner like I’m used to. When I had trash from a water bottle or snack wrapper, I just put it in my purse until I could find a trash can. The strange thing is that they don’t have a lot of litter around. I also noticed another big difference than the U.S. Maybe it was just where I was walking (near a high-end mall), but I didn’t see any homeless people. I saw only one disabled man laying on the street asking for money. In the U.S., homelessness has become an epidemic for many cities.

I walked just over two miles and arrived at a rooftop bar that I found online. It provided incredible views of the majority of the city. I paid for the view in the price of the drinks ($12 USD each). I enjoyed some appetizers and cocktails while enjoying the evening. I didn’t run into many tourists, especially Americans, during most of my time in Thailand. But in touristy places like the rooftop bar, I could hear American accents.

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I took a Grab to my Airbnb and slept in the next morning. I was feeling extremely tired. I lounged around, updating my blog and creating a video. It takes much longer than you’d expect to do all of this.

I needed to eat more than a protein shake, so I wandered around my local neighborhood. On the way out, I met Miley’s mom. She didn’t speak much English, but she was really welcoming. Miley’s family always had a smile on their faces.

I ate Americanized chicken for dinner, but it was not good. As I walked around, I saw a nail salon behind the glass windows, so I stopped in. They didn’t speak English, but a customer translated and told me to come back in 20 minutes. I enjoyed some ice cream and made my way back.

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The manicure wasn’t done very well because the girl didn’t do much cuticle work. They had gel polish though, which I couldn’t find in Chiang Mai. The girl then worked on my feet while another girl and a guy just hung out talking in Thai. She saw that my big toe on my left foot was bruised under the nail and she kept asking me something in Thai. I kept telling her I don’t speak Thai.

Then the girl who was just hanging out used her phone and Google Translate. It said, “nail figure” and I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know what that meant. Then she typed “are you hurt?” I shrugged again, “I guess so.” I didn’t know where I got that bruise, but it hurt, especially when she dug under it.

As I sat there getting my nails done, I played on Facebook and saw that the girl, Tsui, who I met in Chiang Mai at the Art Museum posted a sweet message to her account about the time we spent together. Tears came to my eyes as I read it. Seeing her post made me smile and I was grateful that I had this opportunity, even though it was tiring at times.

The next morning, I took Miley’s advice and took a Grab to Nonthaburi Pier. When I arrived, I searched for the long tail boats. I read online that the boats were a really fun way to get to the island that I was going to. There were a few different men with long tail boats and one approached me. He told me it would cost $400 Baht ($13 USD) for a round trip.

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The driver’s name was Pet and he helped me get  into the small boat without tipping over. I sat on two wooden boards in the middle, just in front of Pet. The boat was so close to the water that when we took off, water was splashing up on the sides. I didn’t get wet though and it was a really fun ride! The wind was a nice reprieve from the heat and humidity.

Pet stopped a couple of times for me to take pictures. We rode up the river, passing under a huge modern bridge, small houses that were right off the river on stilts, and statues.

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I climbed off the boat when we arrived to Ko Kret, a man-made island. Pet told me to be back there in two hours and he would pick me up. The island is still in the craziness of Bangkok and they offer a weekend market. I perused the stalls of interesting foods, occasionally buying some to try. I resisted the temptation to buy anything else. It was over 100 °F outside and walking around in the humidity made me sweat like crazy.

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After two hours, I returned to the spot Pet had dropped me off and thankfully he was there waiting. The boat ride was just as fun getting back. Once I got back, I took a Grab to another weekend market that is well known in Bangkok, the Chatuchak Weekend Market.  

The market had so many stalls that it felt a little overwhelming. Some stalls were in the sun, while others were under a shared roof. With no air conditioning, it made it difficult to spend much time there. The vendors sold everything from clothes, food, and household items to essential oils. I mostly purchased cold beverages.

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In the maze of shops, I found a tiny room with sliding glass doors with air conditioning and just enough space for five people to sit down for a massage. I paid $6.50 USD for a 45-minute foot, neck, and back massage.

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The massage was good, but the woman was really digging into my foot. Two minutes after walking away, the top of my right foot was hurting so bad that I started to limp. I forgot that a bad massage is worse than no massage.

The Sky Train was nearby, so I bought a ticket and stood in line for the Siam Center. It was taking a while for the train to arrive and then a man came by and said it was broken, but should be up soon. After 20 minutes, the station was packed. I squeezed my way inside and made it the Siam Center.

I had a coupon for a 15 minute massage that was part of the movie theater package I purchased days before. I sat in the cool, comfortable plush chair while the woman painfully massaged my neck and shoulders.

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After the massage, I walked a few blocks to the Hard Rock Cafe to buy a shot glass (I collect them). My limp was more pronounced now, making me look funny. When I arrived hot, sweaty, and limping, the woman told me that they had a happy hour special – two for one drinks. That sounded appealing, so I sat down and enjoyed mojitos and a salad. Nothing makes you look more pathetic eating alone at a restaurant than enjoying two drinks at the same time.

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After Hard Rock, I walked around for what seemed like an eternity, trying to find a Boots pharmacy. I finally found it at the bottom level of the food court of the huge mall. I asked a pharmacist for help with my toe nail. I told him that maybe it wasn’t a bruise under the nail, maybe it was a fungus. I also needed an antihistamine cream for some bug bites. The pharmacist was helpful, but it turned out it was just a huge bruise under my toenail and the antifungal cream didn’t help any.

To get back to my Airbnb, I was going to order a Grab, but there was nowhere for them to pull up. The Tuk Tuk drivers offered a ride for $20 USD and didn’t know where I was going. A Grab would cost me around $4 USD, so I kept walking.

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The busy streets were insane. At one point, I needed to cross a large intersection, but they don’t use crosswalks. I waited for five minutes with a large group of people. The cars didn’t stop. Multiple lanes of motorbikes, cars, Tuk Tuks, and busses raced by. Eventually, some people started to cross. I took advantage of their numbers and joined them. It was wild! We formed a group and slowly crossed while vehicles passed in front and behind us. The stop lights have a digital display that counts down how long until it changes colors, mostly starting from 40 seconds. That helped to know when the light was going to change.

I continued walking while attempting to find a place where a driver could pick me up. It was like the Las Vegas Strip – multiple lanes with a divider in the middle of the street. I passed “love massage” places and lots of tourists. Finally, after a mile of walking, I ordered a Grab. When the driver pulled up, it was on the opposite side of the street.

I had waited 15 minutes for him to arrive in the traffic and I knew there was no way that he could get to me. I took a deep breath and ran across the multiple lanes as fast as I could. I got to the divider and once it was clear, I ran across those lanes to my driver.

Bangkok is an exhausting city. I am glad I was able to see and experience it, but the crowds, heat, humidity, traffic, and overall insanity made me want to get out. I was headed to Phuket the next day, and I decided I needed to spend some time relaxing on the islands for the next few days.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 103-104: Feeling Strange

Tracey was in the middle of remodeling her kitchen and the construction guys showed up in the morning. Since she did not have a working kitchen, Tracey and I went to town to eat a delicious breakfast. Hood River is a cute town in a gorge about 45 minutes east of Portland. We took our time enjoying breakfast and then I loaded my car and hit the road.

The first part of the drive was scenic as it climbed up and down the mountains in Oregon. However, once I was past the mountains, the drive was flat and boring. I was trying to make it to Redding, California because my friend who I was staying with in Long Beach asked that I make it there by the following day. It was seven hours of drive time to make it to Redding and I didn’t arrive until late evening.

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I had a hard time not falling asleep during the long drive. It was strange considering I had just driven thousands of miles and didn’t get tired more than once or twice. But driving to Alaska was exciting and new things were in store everyday. Now, I was going back to what was familiar.

I pulled into my Motel 6 in the dark and when I jerked my hard, plastic suitcase out of the trunk, one of the wheels broke off. The suitcase had been irritating me for months because I had to completely open both sides to get into my suitcase (the zipper was split right in the middle of the case). That made it difficult or impossible to fully open it when I was in small rooms.

I had to carry my suitcase up a flight of stairs and then drag it across the floor to my room. I showered and went to bed. I figured I would get a new bag when I went to Long Beach.

The next morning, I left early because I needed to make it to Long Beach and it would be just over eight hours of drive time. The drive was occasionally beautiful during the first hour or so. But then I hit central California – flat, dry farmland. I saw a lot of billboards displaying information about the water crisis. Most of the signs talked about how the farmers need the water to grow the food, food the entire U.S. eats. According to the OC Register, “California produces 13% of the total cash agricultural receipts for the U.S., it is the sole producer (99% or more) for the following crops: Almonds, Figs, Olives, Peaches, Artichokes, Kiwifruit, Dates, Pomegranates, Raisins, Sweet Rice, Pistachios, Plums, and Walnuts.”

California produces a lot of food. There are a lot of problems with the California water supply. Like laws that go back to the 1800s when things were very different. I remember seeing a documentary about the water rights years ago and they talked with a farmer. He said if he chooses to plant a more drought tolerant food and doesn’t use that much water, the state will limit his water usage going forward, preventing him from growing different crops that might require more water. Because of this, farmers waste water so they won’t be restricted in the future.

There is a great article describing the problems with the California water crisis and the debate over the use for farmers (who use 80% of the water) and environmentalists who want to save the salmon.

In the article, the author, Jeff Pawlak states, “The river diversion debate symbolizes the coastal-rural tension of California politics; highly represented urban liberals versus disenfranchised inland conservatives (I’m generalizing, but it is mostly accurate). This is largely visible when you drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles down Route 5. Once you leave the progressive bubble of San Francisco — dotted by rainbow LBGT flags and Bernie or Hillary bumper stickers — the entire highway is filled with billboards protesting the state government’s “water grabs” or warning of an artificially created dust bowl (or during the 2016 election — Trump-Pence campaign signs). Reduced water diversions may in fact damage their livelihoods, and they are angry about it.”

I appreciate the article because he talks about other ways to help solve the problem: “Unacceptable levels of treated water leak out of California pipes every year (known as non-revenue water) — as much as 10–25% annually. While the farmers and the environmentalists fight about the river water use, this is a problem that is rarely discussed. If we addressed our leak issues, there would be considerably more freshwater available for all uses.”

He concludes the article with, “We cannot simply regulate our way out of a water crisis. California’s water situation demands technological innovation that makes life possible for both the farmers and the fish.”

As I continued driving through the flat, windy central part of the state, I thought about going back to Long Beach. I planned to be there for just over two weeks to take care of doctor appointments and see some friends. Going back made me think about my ex-husband.

Aaron was in denial that our marriage was falling apart, even when we were separated for six months. When I told him I was going to file for divorce, he finally realized the severity of the situation. He cried for the first time in all of the separation. It wasn’t until he was leaving the house, knowing the next time he’d be back would be to sort out who got what, that he broke down. We hugged and I felt so much pain and cried with him. I worried that he wouldn’t be okay and that it was all my fault because I was ending it.

The guilt plagued me. I tried hard to remind myself that the marriage ended because of his lies and ambivalence. Over the next few months, we met over dinners to discuss how things would be divided, how we would file taxes, etc. We were still getting along and in April 2017, I asked him if he planned on dating. The papers were signed and we were just waiting for it to be legal (it takes six months in California). He adamantly told me he had no desire to date – he’d have a puppy before he had a girlfriend. I asked if he planned on going on dating apps and he said no, but he was happy we could talk openly about it.

A month later, Aaron joined Tinder and started dating the first girl he matched with. He lied to me about it, reminding me that it was a good decision to end the marriage. Within two months of dating (three weeks after our divorce was final), he moved in with her. On their one year anniversary, he proposed to her in Spain. It was a strange feeling knowing that he could be so good at convincing me that I was destroying him, making me feel so guilty that he’d never be okay without me, only to be perfectly fine within a few short weeks.

I learned how cruel and deceptive people can be. Everyone told me, “Men just move on quicker.” I disagree with that statement and I hate when people normalize it. It’s not healthy to leave a 12-year relationship, one that you say you don’t want to lose because that person is the love of your life, and within such a short amount of time, fall in love with someone else. To me, that means he doesn’t understand what love is. I know people move on at different speeds, but every expert would agree that you need to heal and grieve when a long-term relationship ends.

Aaron and his new fiancé lived one mile away from me in Lakewood and days before I left, I ran into them at the grocery store. There was hardly anybody there, but Aaron quickly walked away and pretended not to see me. I was in shock and kept walking. We hadn’t talked in a year. It’s such a weird feeling knowing that I spent more than a decade with this person who now pretends not to see me. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but it makes it very hard to trust people or to believe things are more than just temporary.

I worried about how I’d feel staying only a few miles away from where I used to live. I had been traveling for more than three and a half months. I felt different and things in my life were different. I no longer had a place to live or a job. Staying with a friend made me feel like I was still on the road, but going to familiar doctor appointments and seeing friends made things feel like old times.

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Once I hit the northern part of Los Angeles, the insane traffic began. It reminded me of one of the reasons I never wanted to live there again. I sat in stop-and-go traffic for two hours to get to Long Beach. I missed my open roads. It was bizarre to be excited to be “home,” but also sad to be back.

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider
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Day 25: Driving to Whidbey Island, Washington

The drive from Portland, Oregon to Whidbey Island, Washington was full of bridges. The route took me through Seattle, during rush hour traffic. I gotta say, Seattle traffic is almost as bad as Los Angeles traffic. I hit traffic just south of the city in Tacoma, then again near the downtown Seattle area, and again just north of the city.

After being stuck in traffic for an eternity, I desperately needed to find a restroom and somewhere to eat. I was thankful to find a nearby Target, but panicked when I thought my car wouldn’t fit in the garage, so I eventually parked across the street in the bank parking lot. Praying I wouldn’t get a ticket or pee my pants, I raced through the structure until I finally arrived at Target.

Feeling much better after using the restroom, I got a sandwich to-go, and a few items I needed. My car was safe and sound, so I was relieved. I hit the road and ate on my drive. The GPS directed me to take the route that first went to Fidalgo Island and then crossed over to Whidbey Island. Once I left highway 5, the terrain turned to farmland. Then all of a sudden, I came across a huge bridge so I stopped just before it, took some pictures and started walking on it.

It turns out the bridge is called Deception Pass, a very popular tourist site that is on the National Register of Historic Places. I walked a little bit across the bridge on the narrow path. To my right was an insanely high drop to the swirling ocean below. To my left, cars raced on the other side of the wire handrail. Looking down at the swirling waters made me dizzy so I turned back to my car.

I continued on to Whidbey Island and arrived at my Airbnb in Oak Harbor around 8:30 pm. The Airbnb was a house in a residential neighborhood and I had a room with a shared bathroom, shared kitchen, and shared living space. Barry, the owner, met me and showed me around. Barry was in his late 50s, had gray hair with a gray mustache, and was around 5’9”.

Barry asked that I take my shoes off upon entering. We walked around the kitchen as he showed me where I could put food in the pantry and refrigerator. He rents out three of the five bedrooms on the second floor. Each room has a name assigned to it – my room was called “Sage”. He had designated space in the pantry and refrigerator for each room.

It wasn’t clear if Barry was married, divorced, or widowed. There was evidence of a wife, but he didn’t mention her and said “It’s just me here” and I wasn’t sure if he meant for good, or just at the moment. Barry said one of the other rooms was also rented out to a lady who was there for a family reunion but “she doesn’t sleep on the ground.” Apparently, they were all camping and she didn’t want to so she spent time with them all day and slept at Barry’s at night. Barry explained that she wouldn’t be home until around 11:00 pm.

Barry showed me the laundry area and one of the rooms upstairs that was not being rented out because he wants to repaint it and fix it up a little. For the time being, he placed an ironing board and a desk for shared use. Barry’s room was also upstairs but he had his own bathroom.

It was late so I decided I’d just do laundry, which was down stairs. It was a little awkward because Barry was at the computer down stairs so I kept passing him as I went to the laundry area. My bedroom door didn’t have a lock on it, so I had to trust  that he and nobody else would take my stuff.

Click here to see a 2 minute video of the drive from Portland to Whidbey Island.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek