The other morning around 5am I was sitting out on my 7th floor balcony admiring the view of the mountains directly behind my apartment. In the mornings I can see the sunrise glowing bright gold as it reflects off of Doi Suthep’s shining pagoda. I couldn’t sleep so was having a cup of tea to begrudgingly start the day early. My apartment is surrounded on one side by the mountains and on the others by sparse apartment buildings and thick dense jungle breaking them up from their nearly identical multi-level plaster white twins.
Just as my mind started to wander towards the work that awaited me at the office I looked up to see the most idyllic and picturesque, in a kind of movie scene way, sunrise over the hills. Just then a white dove flew by and flew lazy loops between me and the doi. I started to laugh at the surreal feeling of being trapped in some director’s fantasy of absolute visual perfection.
I have very little time for reflection these days, hence the sporadic but novel-like blog entries. Despite my efforts to maintain a work-personal life balance I’m afraid that the scales tip biased far too much to create any kind of regular time out. In spite of this, however, I get really good balcony time each morning, regular invites for dinner and outings with friends, and apparently frequent travel opportunities for work or with visitors.
The last few months have been hectic, to say the least. I’ll briefly touch on some of the highlights in order of appearance.
Rockin’ out at the Reggae Festival, Pai
I went with a few friends, some local and some farang (expats/foreigners), to Pai, a town about 4 hours by bus from Chiang Mai for an annual reggae festival. The mood was fantastic – great people with big smiles and warm hugs. One friend joked that these were indeed Buddha’s messengers when we arrived to a path leading to the stage dotted with smiling people waving and saying hello/saa-wat-dii! It was a nice welcome to a frenzy of all-night dancing to reggae and hip-hop from Thailand, Korea, Japan, and other mixed international bands. Earlier in the weekend my good friend Oh, who is truly the best hostess and trip coordinator
I’ve met (and a beautiful fantastic woman), introduced us all (many friends joined us off and on throughout the weekend) to the myriad of her friends who either lived in Pai or who had come for the festival. We ended up one night at a lovely campground owned by a friend of hers where we sat around a fire after wandering around and photographing the stunning pond with a bamboo footbridge to a covered platform complete with pillows for lounging. The landscaping was incredible for a campground and we had a great time at the fire laughing and telling stories in English and Thai (despite me being sniffly from a cold that had been building all week prior).
The funniest bit was getting back home. On the bus heading into town a colleague who’d joined me and I were talking about how we should definitely maintain this great feeling inspired by the fun and relaxing weekend away. I was determined not to let the stress of work overcome the full mellow happiness I’d found for the first time since arriving and settling into my new life in Thailand. Within two hours of being at the office on Monday I went into his office to ask him for something. After speaking a mile a minute to explain what I needed and why he looked me straight in the face and said, “Babe, don’t lose that reggae feeling.” I laughed at how easy it was to slip into PowerSuit Mode despite my best intentions to avoid getting there.
Training Asia; Packing up, moving on
The PowerSuit was fully donned for the lead up and the climax of my first ever training for the organisation. We had over 15 citizen journalists from across Asia join us in Chiang Mai for an issue-focused journalism 2-day training. It went well and I was told by my boss that I was a really great facilitator. I felt great about my contribution, especially in light of the fact that I was completely physically, emotionally, and logistically exhausted from trying to move house at the same time.
A friend I’d met in Pai offered to sublet his absolutely stunning bachelor pad to me for the same price I was paying at my first apartment. I didn’t initially want to move as I was fine in the first place, however after returning from seeing the new place – complete with the incredible view and great location in the heart of the city’s Thai university crowd (read: great restaurants and trendy shops) – to my dingy dark and depressing place in the middle of Backpacker Central (not its real name), the choice was obvious to me despite the inconvenience of having to move and the short sublet time (5 months, with possibility to stay longer depending on his situation).
I’ve heard many comments from numerous people that my entire outlook has changed since I moved. With the view, a pool, a gym, the great shops and restaurants, and all-around great setup, how can my perspective not change? I hope I can stay here as long as humanly possible.
Bangkok mayhem with an ex Mar 15-16, Chiang Mai reunion
While the apartment is a decent size, it’s really not made for more than one person to live. I found this out when I got a great visit from my ex-boss from the DRC. I met him in Bangkok and we had a fantastic time. Busy, but fantastic. It was my first time in Bangkok and I found it insanely overwhelming after the quiet, quaint and slow-moving small town of Chiang Mai. On discussing the weekend as I was leaving to head back to CM (he stayed in BKK for a few days to run errands) I realised that after visiting numerous malls, textile and tailor shops, museums, massage parlours, nightclubs and the red light district, restaurants and hot spots, I really did need a weekend to recover from my weekend. An all-night bus from BKK to CM gave me little opportunity to sleep (no, for some reason I can’t sleep when my knees are around my chin!) and I arrived incredibly groggy for work on Monday.
He joined me again in CM a few days later where he got a good taste of my new life – meeting friends and colleagues, going to some good restaurants, and enjoying some good chats on the balcony. We had a bit of a struggle as we both tried to adapt to these new roles of friends rather than employee-boss, and all this while living in a small bachelor pad together for the first time ever. I felt bad that I couldn’t really take him to some of the outlying areas due to absolute fatigue, but we had a lovely day at the lake (reservoir) just 40 minutes from the centre of town. There you can cruise around the lake, have something to eat, swim from little platforms attached to shore by bamboo footbridge (yes, I really like this part of Thailand water landscaping!) and get massages under the platform’s covered thatch roof. I made a mental note to return alone some day with a book and a journal for some intense zen-soaking up.
Cambodia’s sobering history and a highly successful training
Mar 29-Apr 1
I found another kind of meditative mood when I went to Cambodia. I took an extra day on the weekend to go before the week’s training in order to see some of the sights of Phnom Penh. The Tuol Sleng genocide museum is an abandoned school in which victims of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge rounded up thousands of innocent Cambodians for torture, most often to death. The rows of photographs not only showed the meticulousness of documentation of the regime (scarily impressive for a Communications Manager who struggles just to keep the organisation’s documents and photos organised in a single location!), but the terrified and defiant eyes of the victims. Photos in each room of the old school complex, as well as the instruments of torture (including leg/arm chains and batteries hooked to bedframes), were displayed in their original locations, complete with impossible-to-remove blood stains from the vinyl tiled floors.
The Killing Fields were slightly less hair-raising as the whole site is basically a large field with trees and giant pits from which the bodies were excavated. Particular trees carried signs explaining how this one was used to tie up adolescent boys for beatings. The main monument in the centre of the fields is a giant glass and concrete monolith where you can see the thousands of sculls and bones of the victims piled on top of each other due to the impossibility of actually identifying those killed.
While this was a very sobering introduction to the country, the training I was there to do that week went quite well. Despite some language barriers, my colleague and I were able to achieve what we set out to do with these citizen journalists in training. The Cambodian people absolutely blew me away with their genuine smiles and easy-going nature, despite such a terrible history. The interesting part of the whole experience for me was noticing the age gap where there seemed to be so few people on the street who weren’t either under 30 or over 50.
Bless my computer, PLEASE! Apr 11; All wet in Chiang Mai
All ages assembled on the streets of Chiang Mai the weekend after I returned for the annual Songkran festival. I can’t even begin to explain the mayhem that comes with this giant country-wide Thai New Years water fight.
The festivities kicked off with an office celebration in which monks chanted in our cleared-out board room. The monks went on to bless each room of the office with sprinkles of consecrated flower water (I asked a Thai colleague if he’d please request extra sprinkles for my computer – to bring me additional editing and coordination skills – but he just smiled and walked away for some reason!). A huge lunch was prepared and we had a great time just hanging out and chatting while dressed in traditional Lanna (northern Thai) dress. While I would’ve liked to have had more traditional garb, I had to settle on a business skirt and patterned blouse, which no one seemed to notice or mind in any case!
The next day was a day off since it was the first official day of Songkran. Three days of being absolutely soaked resulted not only in fantastic fun, but general chapping of every possible bit of skin on my body. I’m sure lotion sales skyrocket around this time of year! I bought the huge SuperSoaker of my dreams and walked the streets soaking wet, despite my threatening Rambo-like stance, as Thais and Farang alike doused me and each other with buckets, guns, and hoses full of ice-cold water. My first reaction to the whole thing was relief – the heat of Thailand can be overwhelmingly intense. However after the third day, and a near-miss of having my laptop destroyed since I thought that the celebrations had to be over by now, I was more than ready to be dry.
Pool party – more opportunities to see your colleagues and friends semi-naked
More water fun ensued the weekend after when I had my official housewarming party. I had the event catered and bought some pool toys for the friends and colleagues who popped in to see my new digs. The party moved from the pool to my balcony later on in the evening where everyone seemed to have a stellar time. I was simply impressed that I had no less than 7 friends on the balcony (and about 7 more in my apartment) at the same time! I seriously didn’t think it possible!
VIPs in town mean that Naphiri is UN’s bitch for the week
Things got considerably more serious as the entire office prepared for a high level UNAIDS meeting the week after my housewarming. As the Communications Facility for this event (we won the bid! Yay team!!), our entire office was thrown into a giant schmooze fest while we prepared the displays, the work we would do at the event, and all the communications products to support our “we are the best” claims to potential funders and diplomats.
I was mostly busy during the event being the serf of one of the key women organising the NGO part of the meeting. I ran my legs off photocopying documents, taking notes of inanely dull UN-speak plenaries, designing the communiqué for the members, and getting office equipment and information packs to those who needed them. It was completely exhausting, but the woman warmly thanked me, congratulated me for a job exquisitely done, and presented me with a lovely grey/blue silk scarf (apparently to match my gorgeous eyes, she said ).
And then a couple of cool chicks land on my doorstep and hijack me to the beach
Apr 25-May 13
In the midst of the insanity I got a visit from my ex’s sister and her friend. It was great to see her, yet so strange to have her with me outside of the context of her entire family (and my ex, obviously!). I flew to meet the two in Bangkok literally one hour after I’d tied up remaining loose ends from the high-level meeting. We partied hard, stayed in the grottiest of guesthouses, and shopped till we dropped. The girls were great to hang with as they’d been traveling around India and Nepal for the last month or so – they were in full “anything goes and it’s all good” mode so we had a fantastic and somewhat relaxing time (despite the all-night dring and dance-a-thon at the clubs!), all told.
I brought them both back to Chiang Mai where they did some chilling out at home and sightseeing in town while I worked. Evenings we went out with friends, had great food, and caught up on life in general.
I got a week and a half off of work, and after a quick business trip to Myanmar/Burma, we headed to Bangkok once again. It was a short stopover before then bussing, boating, and more bussing to get to the beach of Koh Samui. It was nice enough, but my luck proved bad on the island. I almost lost my phone (mental note: don’t charge cels when waiting for a bus for which you’ll have to rush!), got into a minor scrape with another motorbike on the streets (I’m perfectly fine and I practiced my St. Johns Ambulance training when bandaging the small cut on her foot), and then had to pay for the damages despite the boss of the girl stating that she’d pay (couldn’t, for some strange reason, get through on the phone number she gave me… what a shocker!).
My good friend Ben came through from Koh Phangan to Koh Samui on his way to Chiang Mai to wrap up some business. He easily convinced me to head to Bottle Beach, a fantastic semi-private beach with cozy bungalows right on the shore. He handed over his bright orange hammock as a welcome gift and my friend Linda, who’d joined us in Bangkok, and I headed off on yet another boat to get to the beach. The two girls remained on Koh Samui due to simply not wanting to travel anymore
(understandable after all the stories they told of sickness and crazy adventures in Asia thus pre-Thailand!). We said our goodbyes and packed our stuff for the next beach to come.
We arrived to the classical paradise tired but happy to find a haven where we could park for a while of relaxation and sun-soaking. White soft sand beach with shells of every colour, palm trees swaying in the gentle wind and turquoise blue water lapping the shore – it was phenomenal. I spent most of my time there napping in the hammock, sipping fresh lemon/lime sodas and cold coconut milk from the shell, eating pad thai with prawns caught that morning, and snorkelling with Linda and the new friends I met there. I marvelled to realise that I opened my laptop only once, but to watch a movie one evening as opposed to doing work! We had a great time, but I was quite happy to head off at the end of the week or so there to get back to my home where I didn’t have to constantly wipe sand out of various orifices and clean comfy and dry clothes awaited my return.
I just want to wear something that doesn’t smell like fish! Homecoming to “normalcy” (??!!)
Returning was nice but I definitely came back to a fair amount of work, as to be expected. Many of my friends are currently on business trips and/or have left the country now. So while it’s a bit lonely I’m actually quite happy for the quiet and the opportunity to dig my heels a little further into my work. We recently hired a new staff member for me to manage (making that a current personal management responsibility count of 3 Thai staff, 1 “monitored” Thai staff member, 1 “monitored” African staff member, and 1 North American volunteer!) and this new employee has been making a great contribution to the team. Thankfully with her in control of many responsibilities my work load seems to be decreasing exponentially by the day.
I love management. I’m not sure if I’ve ever publicly acknowledged this, but I really really do.
Oh, and as part of a nice little “gift” from one Thai staff member I was officially given a Thai name. You can call me “Doi”. Translated, it means “the Peak or Pinnacle (of a mountain)”
Yes, I’m definitely at the pinnacle. It suits where I’m sitting emotionally and literally these days, I think. I love my life a lot.
… and maybe in the next post I’ll tell you about my current love interest that’s becoming a bit more interesting and serious…