anthropology 100: Bangkok’s Songkran festival

This year we hit the streets to see what the Songkran festival is all about. We called up some friends to hang out and teach us how to celebrate properly. Actually, our introduction came hours before we dared to venture outdoors when a techno version of Flo Rida’s song “Whistle” started blaring through our house and down the alleys at 8am.

The first day of Songkran we weren’t planning to go into the chaos except we realized that we didn’t have any food. We walked to end of the block, rounded the corner, and took only a couple steps before our faces were smeared with white clay and our bodies drenched with super soakers!

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As we quickly found out, Thais take having fun on Songkran seriously! If you are anywhere near a main street in the three days of water wars, you are guaranteed to be a continually dripping wet mess for the duration of your stay.

People are set up on the sidewalks with large trash cans full of water every ten feet, which are continually filled by hoses running from every tap within the vicinity. They fill and empty their water buckets and water guns as fast as they can and come back for more. If you’re roving the sidewalks, like we were, you can refill your weapon of choice at anyone’s cistern, and after an initial water fight you end up on the same “team” until you leave to seek out another spot.

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Large mobs troll the streets in the beds of trucks, looking for a group of people they can pull alongside and douse before making a quick getaway.

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In retaliation against the street-goers, the sidewalk warmongers grab buckets of water and fling their contents into the faces of oncoming motorbike drivers and into the back carriages of songthaews.

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Vendors all along the street sell plastic bags full of white clay pellets. You take a pellet in your hand, mix in some water and voila!, you have a fistful of dirty sticky muck that you can slab onto your adversaries’ faces. At first I was giving people innocent streaks on their cheeks, like the eye black that baseball and football players wear. But after having clay shoved deeply into my ear and mouth several times, I fought back by smearing globs of the stuff right up people’s noses!

Nothing escapes the white clay – nothing!

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There’s lots of dancing, singing, and cheering.

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The water war doesn’t let up. From 10am ’til 9pm there’s a constant spray of water in the air and the roads and walkways resemble what they’ll look like several months later in the height of monsoon season.

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Now, it’s very hot in Bangkok at this time of year – most days approach or are over 100°F (38°C) – and cool off to a sweaty 80°F (27°C) overnight. So, you’d imagine that playing with water all day would be a great way to cool off and that you’d actually want to be splashed all day long. And this is true, until you get the surprise bucket.

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The Thais have an ingenious answer to making sure you don’t just stand there and sigh with relief every time you’re splashed, but that you run away screaming bloody murder to the delight of the assailant – putting giant slabs of ice into their water buckets. Even when its so hot outside that you feel like your skin is literally melting off, getting hit by a wall of icy cold water induces a bodily reaction similar to brain freeze. Your back and fingers involuntarily stiffen and your shoulders hunch up around your ears.

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It goes on and on and on for three days straight. They never seem to get tired of it. I enjoyed being in the midst of it and experiencing it, but after a few hours of celebration I was pooped.

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I’ve heard many other foreigners say that they refuse to leave their apartments during this time. And while I had a lot of fun at water play, I can see how it could get old quickly when every time you step outside for a minute means that you’ll have to track mucky water back through your house.

How do the Thais keep it up this long?

It’s evident that they really love this holiday. There are continual smiles on their faces, shouts of joy and shrieks of excitement, loud music and laughter. Both young and old look like they’re up to the highest form of mischief at all times. In the end, I think the reason why they stretch this holiday out as long as possible is because they have permission to abandon social norms.

In the three months I’ve lived in Bangkok, I’ve noticed that Thais go out of their way in order to not violate another person’s personal space. Sit down next to someone on a bench and they’ll scoot equidistant from you and the person on their other side. Rather than scrunch together to make room for one more, most times someone will jump up and offer their seat. It’s not much of a touchy-feely culture; sometimes you get a handshake with a greeting, but hugs are completely out of the question. I don’t blame them… it’s so hot all the time! I sleep in my boxers with a fan pointed directly on me all night long, and still, if Jessie rolls over and her leg inadvertantly touches mine I recoil away from it as if it were a branding iron!

Thais also tend to be very passive and understanding of other’s mistakes. The phrase mai bpen rai (nevermind) is constantly used to dismiss all actions that could be deemed offensive. I’m sure that I’ve done many things that are considered to be culturally appalling here (like stepping over a seated person’s legs or stopping a rolling coin I’ve just dropped by stepping on it), but it’s always forgiven by a sincere mai bpen rai. So when a whole nation whose normal focus is on personal space and non-retaliation is sanctioned to fudge these rules for a couple days, they take it and run with it.

In America we don’t really have any holidays that give us license to break social norms in this way. Halloween and April Fool’s Day are the closest because they encourage trick playing and sneakiness. But I wonder how Americans would react if we were given a government-approved Songkran? Would we have the energy to spend long days playing war with our neighbors? Would we relish torturing innocent by-standers with ice-cold water down their backs and mud facials? Could we pull it off without destroying the fabric of our society?

Songkran was fun and it gave me deeper insight into Thai culture. If you’re ever in Thailand in April you should absolutely make a point to “play water.” And if you can think of a good way to get a 5-day weekend holiday in America, let’s get on that. I think as a society we could do with a few days of mandated fun.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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On Saturdays and Sundays, this thing barely gets a break!
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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.
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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.
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Boils water in 90 seconds… Cup Ramen anyone?

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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.

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language arts 100: tackling Thai tones

Sà-wàt-dii-khráb!

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.

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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?

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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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home economics 101: domesticating Bangkok

I’m staring at one of my passport visa pages. It’s been over a month since we moved to Bangkok.

We’ve been busy. Literally 14 hours after our plane touched down at Suvarnabhumi Airport we signed a one-year lease and put money down on a townhouse in the area of the city where Jessie will be working. The house came with no furnishings. And in Thailand ‘no furnishings’ means exactly what it says.

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We started with walls, floors, sinks, toilets and a water pump. You can rent furnished apartments here, but they’re generally 2~3 times the cost so we thought we might as well just buy our own stuff. For weeks I sat on cold tile, writing code for my new website pictureperker.com. I’ve put in many 12-hour, no-time-to-stop-to-eat days. I’m pretty sure I’ve done long term damage to my already ridiculously poor posture.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m coming to see that the house sort of fits us. What I mean is that Jessie and I have been living a minimal, nomadic lifestyle for the past six years. We’ve lived happily (for the most part) on what we could fit into our backpacks and what we could scrounge together of castoffs on the street or from friends. We’ve enjoyed reusing this stuff and not feeling attached to it. We’ve loved the mental ease of having “ownership” for a brief time and then passing it on freely to the next person. We want to own and have around us only what is necessary and what gives us bliss. Part of living minimally is using our things for multiple purposes. I found that the most versatile things we owned for the first month were our sarongs. They quadrupled as shower towels, beach towels, bed sheets and curtains. I’m really starting to think that the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy could be a legitimate travel companion based on this experience alone. (If you didn’t understand the last sentence click here.)

Settling into Bangkok has been different. We’re intending to live here for awhile, and renting this barren townhouse has been a new experience. We’ve had some things graciously given or lent to us, but the simple fact is that dumpster diving in Bangkok is just not the same as in Seoul. Any couch you find on the street in Bangkok is most definitely not something you want to have in your home. Thus, the atmosphere in our place was, well, downright depressing. And then I bought a chair. Everyone, meet my new best friend: “Easy Chair Nice Orange.”

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Easy Chair was the first step in making this house feel human. I could sit with my feet up. I could put my laptop where it’s meant to go: on my lap. Together with the aid of an 80-cent pillow from the flea market down the road, Easy began to dissipate my routine neck stiffness. Both psychologically and physically, Easy Chair repaired me.

I’ve realized that I had some huge misconceptions about Bangkok, though, especially in the notion that everything is cheap here. It’s not. You have to figure out what is and what isn’t. Still, I’m continually dumbfounded by the range of costs. Why is it that we can take a taxi from one side of the city to the other  for $6, about a 45-minute drive in normal traffic conditions (which by the way only happens from about 1 until 4 in the morning), but to buy a fan that looks like it might even have a chance of holding up a year it runs at least $30? Why can we jump onto a songthaew (a truck with benches and an overhead cover added onto the bed) and take it to the mall or the supermarket 15 minutes away for 20 cents, but if we were to buy the most basic, flimsy, tacky drapes and window curtains to cover three windows and a sliding door it would cost us over $90? Why can we walk 50 paces to the market directly behind our house, choose several handfuls from the mounds of fresh vegetables that line the tables, and walk away with a giant bag full of produce for under $2, but a tiny refrigerator puts us out $150? We bought a queen-size mattress for only $70 but a 1/2-inch thick, no-frills mattress pad costs $65. We can sit at any restaurant around our house and get full for $1, but a cheap little plastic unit where we can store a couple articles of clothing would run us $30. I just find the disparity in pricing weird!

After several meltdowns (on both of our accounts), we found ourselves waist deep in the sickie, clean cut ornaments of cheap-Swedish renown. That’s right; Bangkok has an IKEA. We felt Tyler Durden‘s disdain as we followed the winding path through the labyrinth of office, bedroom, kitchen, dining room, bathroom, patio, electrical, wall covering and storage furnishings. Jessie kept musing over why so many people seem to revel in a stroll around IKEA while for us we were filled with anxiety. Still, after a month of living like squatters we weren’t leaving without some creature comforts. We aren’t crazy about having a home full of particle-board-manufactured-to-look-pretty chairs, but the reality is that $250 has really started to make this place into a home.

So if you’re wondering how I’m doing these days, let me tell you: I’m content as a Swede with a tube of caviar as I sit here on my ‘SOLSTA Ransta dark grey two-person sofa that readily converts into a bed’ with my feet propped up on our ‘LACK white 90x55cm easy to assemble light weight coffee table’ looking out the window past the ‘POÄNG rocking-chair frame birch effect veneer with Alme black armchair cushion’ and ‘Easy Chair Nice Orange.’

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seminar: facing the fear

Hello again! It’s been a while, I know. The last six months of our lives have been nonstop. Since the day we left Korea in late July we’ve traveled in Thailand, India, Nepal, England, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Germany. Then we arrived in Michigan (our home state) the day before Thanksgiving and were flung straight into the holiday season. I promise that I’ll write more about those travels soon. I’ve tried writing several times at home but each time I just stare at the screen without any words coming to me. My mind’s been going crazy trying to figure out and accomplish everything we need to do while we’re still in the states.

It’s been such a wonderful half-year, and whenever I stop to think about our life I’m astonished at what we’ve done. Jessie recently read a message she’d sent a friend five years ago, before we had started any traveling. In it she’d conveyed the apprehension and fear we felt as we were preparing ourselves to live in another country for one whole year! How would we communicate with the people? Would we be able to make friends? Would we make enough money to support ourselves? Would we be devastatingly homesick?

It seems silly to us now. Korea is like a second home to us and I feel just about as comfortable there as here. Moving to Korea was the tipping point that led to so many good things like backpacking around the world, learning how to live a minimalist lifestyle and making global friendships. In fact, last weekend we group-Skyped with friends in England, Poland, China and New Zealand. How crazy is that! Moving to Korea was absolutely the best decision for us.

And yet, we now find ourselves in an oddly similar situation. We’ve been running around at home, holding on to the precious last weeks we have with friends and family while waiting on our VISAs. In no time at all we’ll again watch as our plane leaves contact with Detroit soil only to touch ground in Bangkok a day later. Immediately we’ll get to work apartment hunting, learning the language and carving out a life there. Jessie’s volunteering full time; I’m starting my own online business and sorting out how I’ll be able to support us. I’ve never done anything remotely close to this before. I have no idea how it’ll go. It’s been a huge learning curve just building the website! I’m scared of being self-employed, of not knowing there’s a steady paycheck rolling in each week. I’m scared of starting over again and having to make new friends. I’m scared of failure.

But we’re doing it. And that is the point. Because we know that we could carve out a career in ESL education and do that the rest of our lives, but we wouldn’t feel fulfilled. Because I could continue my schooling and become a professor and settle down, but I wouldn’t be happy doing that; at least not yet. Because we have to keep learning how to trust ourselves. Because Jessie and I made a promise to each other six years ago that we wouldn’t make decisions based on fear.

In my experience, life rarely rewards decisions based on fear.

So here goes nothing! Bangkok, here we come! No matter what it holds for us I truly believe that years from now I’ll chance upon this post and smile as I read it, thinking how silly I ever was to be afraid.

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psychology 202: the path to Everest Base Camp

Well, we did it! On October 8 we woke up at 4 A.M. and climbed up 500 meters (that’s about 5 football fields lined up end-to-end, vertically) to the top of Kala Patthar, where we had great sunrise views of Mt. Everest and the Everest Himalayan Range.

Everest and Nuptse sunrise

After a few hours up there, we headed down for breakfast and then took off for Everest Base Camp. The camp is situated atop the Khumbu Glacier at the bottom of the Western Cwm snow fall, which is fed by Everest and Nuptse, so for the last 200 meters to the camp we walked on the glacier. It wasn’t slippery because the glacier is covered with rocks and boulders that the ice ripped from the mountains decades ago as it made its slow descent down the valley.

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You wouldn’t even know you were standing on a glacier except that in random places giant lakes had been melted out of the surface by the afternoon sun. Jessie said that they looked like the lake where the narwhal lives in the Christmas claymation special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Narwal Lake

As we neared the camp I was reflecting on all the events leading up to this day. I thought of how we’d crossed from India to Nepal by land and sat on a 10-hour long patience-testing bus ride. During those ten hours the bus stopped three times: two times for “toilet breaks” on the side of the highway where you had to duck behind skinny bushes to do any business; and once for “dinner,” which meant that the bus stopped in the middle of a busy intersection and allowed three teenage boys with enormous wicker baskets to climb aboard and shove people standing in the aisle aside to sell their snacks. You could purchase a giant cucumber the size of your forearm which was sliced in half lengthwise or you could buy a cob of corn that had been blackened on an open kerosene fire. We decided we’d tap into the baguettes we’d purchased before leaving Varanasi the previous day. As night fell and the scenery outside the windows blackened, we closed our eyes to sleep but the giant gaudy lights on the bus ceiling blared blue and red and orange through our eyelids while the speakers pumped ridiculously synthesized Indian music through the speakers at ear-splitting decibels. Seriously, it’s a much easier and attainable goal to trek to Everest Base Camp than to sleep on a Nepali bus.

After acquiring all our gear over the next several days (a big thanks to Shona’s Trekking Company near Thamel…we highly recommend them) we set out for the airport. Most people doing the Everest trek fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, which has the distinction of being the scariest airport to fly into in the world because it’s tiny runway sits at the edge of a cliff that gives no room for second chances.

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The domestic terminal was somewhat empty when we arrived, but after the clerks put up a handwritten sign that said “Flights delayed due to Lukla weather” the small space slowly became a disaster area. Guides and porters kept dragging in more people and their bags and trying to deposit them in front of the lines where people had been waiting for 2+ hours.

KTM domestic airport

Tensions were high. Every time a clerk approached one of the check-in counters, lines half the length of the terminal immediately formed, only to have the clerk tell everyone INDIVIDUALLY that it wasn’t time for them to check in yet. The whole system is just completely insufficient and it seems the problem could be solved with a simple white board and dry/erase marker displaying which flight was currently being checked in. After we’d sat there for about four hours we finally were issued a boarding pass, and with giant smiles on our faces approached the boarding gate. However, our excitement was premature. Only ten minutes before boarding time they announced that all flights to Lukla were canceled for the day. So we had to go back out, reacquire our flight itinerary and get our ticket changed for the next day.

On that second day we held our breath and our expectations back until we were airborne. The short flight took us past miles of rolling hills entirely covered by farming terraces and steep footpaths between villages before depositing us 2800 meters above sea level (9,200 ft) in Lukla. And so we began our trek to Everest. The trek generally takes at least 12 days, but we’d given ourselves 16 days so that we would have plenty of time to acclimatize and to enjoy the scenery. We had great weather the first two days as we climbed our way up to Namche Bazaar at 3440m (11,300ft). Jessie had the camera and kept pausing to take pictures of hills and waterfalls and other beautiful landscapes. But I told her, “Make sure you take plenty pictures of the path.

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The path is so important. As in all other aspects of life, following a path leads you from where you are to the desired destination. So I wanted to make sure that we had a lot of images that would remind us of all the places we’d gone through, some easy and fun, others hard and demanding, that pointed us toward our final goal. I also realized that this path had started long before our feet touched the ground at Tensing-Hillary Airport. It had been discovered, cultivated and encouraged over the past three years, from the moment I marveled at the mountaineers in Jon Krakauer’s classic Everest summit account in “Into Thin Air,” to the auspicious meeting of another traveler in Korea who’d just done the trek himself, to the moment on my 30th birthday when Jessie set the background image on our laptop to a picture of Everest and then told me she was giving it to me for my birthday.

Path 2

After the first two gorgeous days, we had five days of constant fog. It was infuriating and dispiriting. We knew that if the clouds would just roll away we’d be able to look up and see a stadium of white-capped mountains encircling us. But instead we could barely see more than 10 feet around us. Day after day, one foot in front of the other, our hearts sank deeper and deeper. After we’d done so much to get here, were we going to miss seeing the very things we’d come for? We kept overhearing people say their guides had checked and the weather should clear up the next day. We’d get our hopes up, only to have them dashed down when we woke up and looked out the window to see another cold grey day.

Fog Path 3

At one point we were walking through a valley. The fog had retreated for a few hours and we were enjoying finally being able to see some of the mountains. We looked back toward the valley’s entrance and we saw the clouds scrambling up the valley like a schoolyard bully coming to steal the little joy we’d found from the momentary sunshine. It came on so thick and so fast that we lost the path and were concerned that if we didn’t find it soon we’d also lose what little sunlight was left of the day and be caught outdoors without shelter. I never knew that weather could influence moods so harshly. I was so angry but had no one to be angry with. We grew increasingly bitter. We even started making up sarcastic jokes about the Everest Base Camp trek, like how it’s harder to see than a polar bear in a snow storm.

Fog Path 4

The weather cleared up a day before we reached our highest elevation at 5500 meters (18,044 feet). We knew we were really lucky. We got to see Everest and the Himalayan range with hardly a cloud in the sky! And we sincerely appreciated the fact that we were seeing it.

Himalayan Range

The sky continued to be clear as we walked the path all the way back to Lukla over the next four days. So in the end, we got to see almost everything we’d missed on the way up while heading back down.

Despite the fog-induced emotional rollercoaster we faced on our journey, it was an amazing trip. Several times we found ourselves choking back tears. About halfway through the trip we hiked 800 meters up a hill. It took a lot of time and hard breathing, and as we turtled our way up the path the clouds kept billowing around us, obscuring the wonderful views we sensed were all about. We considered turning back several times. After all, what was the point of reaching the top just to see the same old wall of white we’d been walking through? But I decided that I wouldn’t stop, that it was going to clear up for us. I reached the peak several minutes before Jessie and looked out to see a handful of snow covered mountains unveiled atop the mist. And tears just flowed from my eyes.

Chukkung Ri

I’m still trying to digest all the emotional and physical mountains we climbed on this trip. If they’re like everything else in my life, the meanings will continue to unravel and reveal themselves over time and future sleepless nights. But we did it! We conquered Everest Base Camp!

Ryan at Everest Base Camp