communications 200: Skype the world

Last night we were talking with a good friend from England on Skype, and I was on my iPhone scrolling through the “World Clock” feature in the clock app. Suddenly it hit me how odd my life has become. It was Sunday night and, like many other weekend nights, Jessie and I were cycling through the time differences for cities all over the world to determine who might be available to Skype chat.

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Not that this was a novel revelation. Jessie and I frequently look at each other, shake our heads and remark about how our life has played out: “Who are we? How did we end up living exactly on the opposite side of the world with neighbors whom we cannot understand because of a language barrier? Renting a townhouse though we’re still not entirely sure who owns it? Going nuts over finding an avocado for $2? Not blinking an eye when a motorbike packed with five people makes you jump to the edge of the sidewalk? Melting in temperatures that only fall below 85 degrees in the dead of night?”

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Is Nadia or Rochelle awake in New Zealand? Sarah, in Hawaii, must be getting up by now! How about Frances or Kat or Jordan in South Korea? Maybe Evan or Ian or Kristen are online in China. How about Heather in Singapore? No? Well then, is Dave or Natasja around in Poland? Anyone else in England? Are our families and friends awake in Michigan? Would Kate be close to her computer in California? Who else can jump into this conversation?

Part of being a traveler is meeting other people who are, in many respects, just like you. For indeed, traveling is what makes the traveler. I cannot count the times we’ve sat down in a restaurant in a backpackers area and come away several hours later with a complete life story, Facebook and email information and future plans to see a person we never knew existed prior to the occasion.

I fully and unabashedly admit, it’s exciting to talk with someone and after just two minutes know that you would be best friends if you could somehow stay in the same place together. This is a common occurrence among wanderlusts. But we can’t stay in the same place. By definition we move. Whether its two days, two months or two years; migration. We are in some sense nomads, people who must eventually continue on. But in our case the cause for mobility is not the scarcity of resources. So what is the scarcity?

Khao San

I’m not ashamed to classify myself as a traveler. There’s something in my marrow that cries out for adventure and new experiences, something that wants to take a big bite out of the world, then keep going back for more. Ever since my childhood family trips, I’ve had the drive to explore. Maybe it’s genetics. Maybe it’s curiosity. Maybe it’s discontentedness. Maybe it’s spiritual. Maybe it’s a present-day manifestation of the independent, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, Marlboro man mentality that has defined American mentality since it’s inception. Maybe it’s a tame form of insanity.

For better or worse, we have become people of movement. Better in that we have learned to live minimally, carrying our lives on our back, which has allowed us to focus ourselves more so on people than on ‘things.’ Better in that our eyes have been opened and drawn to the concerns of a global community. Better in that we have been stretched and shoved in ways that have made us stronger and more knowledgeable. Yet worse in that we continually find ourselves starting over. Worse in that travel becomes an addiction that desires to be continually fed. Worse in that we have no tangible, permanent community to which we belong.


Then we moved to Bangkok, and we’re encountering culture shock, but not in the normal way it’s talked about. Our culture shock comes from having to pay rent and stock an apartment with furniture and appliances. It comes from having to follow a daily routine. It comes from seeing the same people doing the same things in the same place day after day, and knowing that we are now also those people.

Lest you think I’m prejudiced, though, I see real benefits to residing. When I walk down the street people know me and they greet me. I have a sense that in some small way I am contributing to their lives without any guilt that I’m just sucking whatever experiences I can get out of them and their country. We can spread out our belongings without the worry of how we’ll have to pack them all back up in a few days. We’ve made a habit of doing yoga several nights a week on our own yoga mats, and on weekends we indulge ourselves with cappuccinos from our espresso maker. Here’s the clincher: I even have a soup lady now. She sees me coming and starts making my order before I’ve even crossed the street.

Soup Lady

So what’s the point of all this? Only that every coin has two sides; every choice made denies another option. In the end, whether you are moving or staying, or like us, trying to figure out how to do both, take comfort in the fact that there is no perfect way to do life.

Pork Noodle Soup


home economics 100: relocation essentials

What to take when you’re moving to a new country and all you can take is two checked bags, two carry-ons and two personal items:


On Saturdays and Sundays, this thing barely gets a break!

We’ve already used our Ninja to make bruschetta, kimchi paste and papaya smoothies. And I’ve got so many more recipes I’m getting ready to try.

Mean green smoothies for weekday breakfast: half a pineapple, 1 large bunch of kale, 1 large cucumber, 1 lime, and about half a thumb measure of ginger.

Boils water in 90 seconds… Cup Ramen anyone?


And something to plug them all into so they don’t burn out the first time you use them.


We decided for this move to bring the stuff that we thought was going to make us happy. We find that life is so much more bearable when you can have those little indulgences.


language arts 100: tackling Thai tones


We’re learning Thai! It’s fun, but also demanding. With all the language learning in my background, I’ve found that I’m able to fairly easily navigate through this 44 consonant, 28 vowel, 5 tone language. But Jessie frequently looks as if she’s ready to bash her head against the wall. Poor girl!

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Part of the problem is we just don’t have enough time to study. Our course meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, three hours each day. During those lessons we get a huge vat of vocabulary, grammar and idioms dumped upon us, desperately hoping that some of the words and nuances will seep into us while the great bulk of the deluge runs off our backs, down our pant legs and pools somewhere in the next room in a cacaphonous heap of accent markers. Then we go home, open our homework books along with our overflowing class notebooks and search for the necessary words and phrases to complete the lessons. We know the words are there; we remember writing them at some point during one of our classes, but somehow they manage to jump around and never land on the first or second or third page we scour.


I think the tones are the most infuriating part of the language. I don’t mean making the tones; that’s come easy enough. No, the problem is that one word can mean so many different things depending on how you say it. Take the word mai, which “usually” sounds like the English word my. Here are it’s meanings:

  • mai [neutral tone] – silk
  • mài [low tone] – new
  • mǎi [rising tone] – burn
  • mái [high tone] – used to make a statement into a question; also, it means wood
  • mâi [falling tone] – no, not (used together with a verb)

So imagine my confusion when I go to the mall to buy a new (mài) shirt and twenty minutes later walk out looking like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (mai). Okay, I’m joking. But it really does make the language 50% harder to speak. The tones also make it hard to take the language seriously. No, honestly. Try speaking a few sentences in English but raise and lower your vocal tone every other word. See what I mean?


Okay, I’m nit-picking. Actually we’re really enjoying Thai when we get the chance to use it! I love the fact that when the landlady calls me over to talk to me at a rate of 200 words-per-minute I can now at least get the general subject and a ‘feeling’ of what she may be talking about. One of the easier things about Thai is that you don’t have to change any verbs to create past tense; instead they just have a few words that indicate the tense has switched. For example, we say “I eat rice” [phǒm gìn khâaw] but to make it a past action “I ate rice” you just add the word already to the end [phǒm gìn khâaw lέεw]. (Are you taking notes? There will be a quiz on this later!)

Also, we have a good teacher who goes by the mysterious name ‘A’ (pronounced like it’s a question…A?). He always talks about his friend Anna from Canada and how he continually makes her angry by accidentally saying the wrong things in English, like asking her “Are you boring?” instead of “Are you bored?” Every time I ask him in Thai how he’s doing, which is every class because that was the second thing we ever learned to say, he replies, “My heart is broken.” This is inevitably followed by some story of how yesterday he was walking down the street and saw someone he used to go out with and she was walking with another man. Yes. Every time. And he swears up and down that he never watches Thai dramas! I’m not convinced.

So we keep plugging away and unconfidently look ahead to days when we can hold our own in a Thai conversation. But until then, you have my permission to think about me sitting in a restaurant and sounding as awkward as a Russian trying to order quesadillas.

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