Saturday, January 25, 2014

Calibrating to the City of Angels

Bangkok, Thailand

After checking out of CitiChic, we headed to our host's condo, which had us hunting through a long meandering soi and crossing a bridge. The change in scenery gave us perspective on where we'd just come from. Our hotel had been in the middle of a clump of fancy resorts, profoundly congested with thousands of tourists of the grumpy-wealthy-sedentary-American ilk, and particular locals who hung out there putting on acts expressly in hope of ripping off ignorant honeymooners. [It was later mentioned to us that Nana is one of the most debaucherous/loud/tourist-heavy/hooker-heavy areas in Bangkok.]

This new neighborhood, while far from remote, felt more like real life: less flashy, less fantasy-oriented. People went about their own business, indifferent to us for the most part.

Apparently we've been adjusting, too, without consciously trying to do so. Each time we walked down the same route from our hotel to the Nana BTS station, fewer scammers and drivers took notice of us, and the ones that did seemed less convicted and persistent. By the time we headed out for good yesterday morning, maybe one person half-heartedly tried to beckon us for a ride. We took this as a sign that we're looking less overwhelmed and disoriented by the outside observer. [Also, we've gotten far better at crossing the busier streets that look like drunken-NASCAR-rush-hour all the time, which have no traffic lights or stop signs to quell the congested flow of insane drivers.]

Siam Protests

We arrived at Terrance's place, a sixth-floor condo in a nice complex with two large swimming pools. He wasn't at home, but his roommate Jones was--a dude from San Francisco staying in Bangkok for a month during a year-long traveling stint.

Arbitrarily, Alex and I decided to head to the water taxi and see where it took us. We had to transfer at the Siam station, and had heard there were a couple large malls at which we could buy a few things we [a prepaid SIM card, a map, a money belt, a pair of long pants so Alex could visit the temples without causing offense...].

After wandering disoriented around the malls [just when we thought we'd adjusted to the chaos of Bangkok, here we were completely unable to figure out what direction we'd just come from again], we decided to head down to the street, where a huge marketplace was set up that seemed to stretch on for miles--looking down from an overpass, we couldn't see either end of the it.

Walking around in it, buying more strange and amazing street food [my favorite was a dessert thing that looked like a blob of green jello stuck to a pancake, but was probably made of mung bean], and started noticing a lot of the protest activity ramping up. Hundreds of stalls were selling cheap accessories like whistles and headbands garnished with red, white, and blue [colors of the Thai flag], as well as T-shirts all emblazoned with some variation of, "Shutdown Bangkok, Restart Thailand." Uniformed officials directed people through gateways set up throughout the marketplace, and as we sat down to eat a thing of rice-and-so-on, a parade began to stomp through the street. The apocalyptic drums were soon drowned out by whistling--it seemed everyone there had bought cheap whistles and were huffing into them gleefully.

Having read about it in the news, we'd asked Andrew about it over breakfast the other day.

"Oh, they're protesting against having elected officials running Thailand."

"...What? Are you sure that's what they're protesting? Or that's the whole story? That seems pretty counterintuitive."

"As far as I know, yeah."

"Has there been any violence?"

"Only from the terrorists," his son chipped in.


"I don't know, but apparently there's terrorist involvement of some kind."

This didn't satisfy me.

Question one: Figure out what the protests are actually about.

Later, as Alex and I sat watching the parade in Siam, one thing struck us. "Things seem so much more civil. If this happened in the States there'd already be cops and teargas; protestors over there aren't even allowed to use mics to amplify their voices."

"I have a hard time believing these are crazy radicals protesting for an oligarchy. They just seem like college kids and middle-class whoevers."

Kind of put things our own country in perspective.

Water Taxi and Wat Arun

We took a water taxi down the river. Essentially like a subway, but on a very fast boat in the water, with open sides that let in the view and the breeze. At each stop, the boat would slam violently into the dock, which was cushioned by the impact by a row of old tires. On the way we passed dilapidated neighborhoods with trees growing through the buildings, being taken back by nature; extremely swanky resorts on the waterfront; and several magnificent temples.

We got out at the Wat Arun stop, which we'd been told that morning was worth a visit, and took another small boat to get to the other side of the river.

Architecturally, it was stunning--and much larger than I expected it to be. However, I was disappointed in a sense. Upon entering, we walked past several cutouts for tourists to take photos behind and stalls selling kitschy Buddhist trinkets. A few extremely loud European bros skipped gaily by.

" so touristy."

"Well, of course it is. We're tourists, too."

"I know that, but...I don't know. What about the actual Thais who regard their temples as sacred spaces rather than spectacles for the amusement of foreigners? Do they even bother going to these temples--they charge admission at the door. That can't apply to actual Thais...?"

Here we were, having read up on all the proper temple etiquette in advance, all our limbs covered, really concerned about being respectful the company of loud whooping-dancing-yelling Eurobros, and girls in tiny tank tops and short shorts. Maybe it was an off-day, but we saw virtually no Thais other than the monks.

Question two: How relevant are the temples to modern life in Bangkok? How do the Thais here feel about their temples [indifferent, proud, annoyed]?

"Well, I guess we didn't have to worry so much about buying you those pants..." Which was good, because amidst a sea of thousands of clothes vendors, we hadn't found any that were suitable.

We decided to wander off into the side streets, and wound up in a quieter part of the city.

There were ten squillion cats in the place. I hadn't noticed cats before, and wondered if it was a temple thing [later realizing that, no, there are just thirty trillion stray cats on every block of the city--stray cats wandering into shops and sitting on tables while people are eating, indifferent to them].

I took some photos on the way. A few little girls were dancing to some poppy music. They started giggling and waving at me so I took a picture. A grown man noticed this, and asked me if I wanted to pose for a picture with them and I declined, a bit weirded out [especially since I had no idea what relation, if any, this man had to the little girls]. A few minutes later I passed by them again--the girls had relocated to a more visible area, and there was a hat in front of them that the man had placed there--probably an opportunistic move inspired by my own picture-taking a few moments ago. The girls were about five or six, and a couple of them seemed really enthusiastic about dancing for a crowd, but one stood in the middle a bit awkwardly, clearly dancing because she'd been told to.

Not quite sure how to feel about that.

Also. I've been getting eaten alive.

Before heading out on my trip, I was bombarded with advice on how to prevent mosquitoes, and people kept stressing the importance of doing so. Wear Deet, sleep in a net, wear a net, wear long sleeves, don't go out after dark, burn mosquito coils, etc. Blah, blah, blah.

Truth be told, I'm not paranoid about such things back in the states, and I didn't come here in order to become paranoid.

Anyway, no one here seems to be getting bitten, and bug spray doesn't seem to be widely sold at the corner marts and so on; I haven't met anyone who bothered with it, nor with a lot of the other bits of advice [like wearing long sleeves and pants]. Granted, in Bangkok, malaria's not really an issue--but in more remote areas I might start to get a little more worried if I'm still getting bitten as often as I am now [oddly, Alex has been bite-free...and usually mosquitoes never bother me]. And there's Dengue everywhere, Bangkok and otherwise.

Question three: What do people here [or in rural areas, more so] actually do about mosquitoes?

Afterwards, we ran into Jones on our way home, and as we all stood dazedly watching a street vendor make us these strange omelette-crepe-doughy-somethings with condensed milk, he told us about an awesome cheap massage place he'd discovered, and mentioned he'd grabbed a couple business cards, so Alex and I decided to go get worked on. The massage was far better than the one we'd gotten the previous day [and about the same price], but the experience was strange, for several reasons I won't go into...though I found it pretty hilarious when the woman working on me decided to take a phone call during our session, and sat there on the phone for five minutes with her hand on my knee.

This involved walking through more protests--a big camp-out in the street, where people were blowing excitedly into whistles as they listened to speeches made by a man on a huge screen. The whole thing seemed really organized, even mellow, and people seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Conversation with Terrance

In the evening we met our host, Terrance, and had a brief conversation. He was a tough character to read, but clearly intelligent and inquisitive. Originally from Florida, he's been living here for about a year and a half, teaching music and other things to kids in the area and working as a route-setter at the nearby climbing gym.

I asked him about the protests and he gave me a full spiel on all he'd found out by talking to the local Thais. It was actually really fascinating [and also convinced Alex and I that we might want to get the hell out of Bangkok soon, as cool as it is].

Here's a condensed summary, because I found it extremely interesting:

Basically, there's this guy, Taksin, who used to be the Prime Minister. He was pretty popular for a while, but is currently in exile on charges of corruption and so on. So his sister was elected in his place [Thailand's first female PM], but everyone knows she's basically a puppet that he's acting through from afar--almost a "remote dictator".

Taksin's also been losing more and more favor [since some more rural/conservative people in the North still like him] for other reasons: none of Thailand's rice farmers have been paid in over a year, since he had this idea of hoarding all the country's rice in order to create a global scarcity, and then bring rice back in five years and charge a lot more for it [thinking, mistakenly, that Thailand had a monopoly on the world's rice supply], and now the government is bankrupt and there's just a ton of rice in silos, and a lot of rice farmers who once supported him are on their way to Bangkok to join in the protests.

He also created an incentive program where anyone who purchased a car would be given a 100,000 baht rebate [which also expedited the government's bankruptcy]--as if Bangkok didn't have enough cars already--and this has increased pollution in the city. Even the people who went and bought cars feel that the government really should've been focusing on public transportation--the current BTS is so expensive that only rich people, expats, and tourists use it ["Yeah, just so you guys know--if there's two of you, it's pretty much always a lot cheaper to take a cab, unless you get a day pass and are using the train six or more times that day"].

The protesters, mainly educated middle-class liberals, are against an upcoming election because they know the election's going to be rigged, and won't really be a democratic process. The election's coming up in February, and people are trying to push it back and stop it from happening.

The protests themselves are really peaceful [there are even events coordinators and companies that have been hired out to provide TV screens and sound systems--it's almost like a festival], but recently there've been some third-party terrorist attacks on the protests, the most recent of which killed a street vendor who was just an innocent bystander. The interesting thing is that no one knows who's staging these attacks. Some believe it's the government; some believe it's coming from the protesters themselves in an attempt to garner more public sympathy, and there are other theories as well. In any case, these attacks are suspected to increase as the election approaches.

In addition, Taksin has been trying to convince some of his supporters that the king, genuinely liked by people in general, is a bad guy. Taksin supporters have been wearing red ["Because they don't like the king--except 'everyone likes the king', because that's the law..."], whereas supporters of the king have been wearing yellow [the color of the monarchy].

"Wait, but I thought it was illegal to say anything against the king." Even stepping on or damaging Thai currency [all of which bears a portrait of the king] is considered extremely offensive and can result in jail time.

"It is, but Taksin's rich and powerful enough to get away with it. The crappy thing is that in general the protesters are good people, but their leader is awful. He's just as corrupt; he's buying votes too. A lot of the protesters know this, but they're still for the greater cause and are just glad that there is a leader."

"How do I find out more about this? Can I read about it?"

"Well...the American media is all pro-Taksin, so they paint a one-sided picture; anything you've seen on CNN is pretty biased. On the other hand, the media in Bangkok, both Thai and English, is all written by the protesters, the educated and wealthier urban Thais, so it's also biased. The people here who are against the protests have a good case as well, but they generally aren't communicating through writing--they'll do heated radio broadcasts, in Thai of course."

Our conversation went on to a discussion of tourism in Thailand, and what Alex and I were hoping to do next.

"A lot of people think tourism's been destroying Thailand, and that it won't be a viable tourist destination for much longer. We're falling really far behind in terms of public transit--Vietnam's ahead of us, and Malaysia's way ahead. Our transit really just takes tourists in mind, rather than locals. Burma's behind--but the US is investing a ton of money in Burma."


Alex chipped in merrily, "More poor people to exploit."

Terrance added, "Well, think about it. The US put a bunch of factories in China. China's been growing in power, and so they've been moving the factories to Vietnam. Now Vietnam's coming up, and so they're going to stick the factories in Burma."

"Ew. But that makes sense."

"Well, a lot of things make sense monetarily, at least."

"It seems like a lot of the islands are being overtaken as well. People have been recommending islands for us to go visit, and they'll say things like, 'This island is like what Ko Samui used to be before it got overrun by tourist resorts and got all crowded and polluted--go visit it now, while it's still pristine, because it won't last.' There's this transference of the 'remote island experience' as each one gets over-developed in turn, like they're all catching some contagious disease."

Alex said, "I really want to head down south and see some of the islands, though I guess they're pretty touristy."

"Alex. We're tourists, too. Even if we try and pretend we're not--you've said that yourself."

"I know, but there are different kinds of tourists."

Terrance said, "Well, think of it this way. You can go down south to look at all the tourists, like going to the zoo; or you can go north and be a tourist. The sort of tourists you'll meet up north are probably all going to be backpackers."

Alex laughed, "Like the zoo...sort of 'meta-tourism'."

I asked him about the Full Moon Parties on Ko Pha Ngan, which we'd been hearing a lot of mention of. "They sound like beach raves. And they happen every month?"

"Yeah, pretty much. DJs and drugs. And they happen virtually every night, now--there are Half Moon Parties, Quarter Moon Parties, Three Quarter Moon Parties..."

"So what were they, originally?" I'd assumed there was some rich cultural background behind them, and that their current incarnation was just the result of them being modernized.

"Uh, no...they're basically just big parties where tourists can go do drugs without worrying as much about getting in trouble as they would elsewhere in the country." In Thailand, drug punishments are severe--in general, for many Southeast Asian countries the penalty for possession of certain quantities is mandatory execution, and even being found with drugs in your system [even if you can prove you consumed the drugs outside the country's borders] can land you in jail for a long, long time.

He added, "It's not really my thing. And it's not so much the party atmosphere that alienates me--it's that everyone there seems completely disinterested in the place they're in. There are parts of Bangkok where a lot of the people are just there to get wasted, but it has nothing to do with being in Thailand. They're doing the same stuff they'd be doing in Vegas. There's just a disconnect."

"I hear you. All that being said...we're probably going to go check it out."

"Well, of course. If only to say you did it. It's just one of those things."

The Tourist Drag

Alex and I have been having a lot of conversations we weren't expecting to have--about what it means to be a tourist, and whether we can really differentiate ourselves from the caricatures of "dumb, entitled, fat Western invaders," or not. Perhaps we couldn't, despite efforts to be conscientious, to support small businesses, to respect cultural norms, to learn the language.

On New Years Eve in a Capitola beach house, our friend Hana had told us [and I'm paraphrasing pretty hard because I was extremely intoxicated at the time], "When I went to Southeast Asia the hardest thing to come to terms with was that I was really just another one of the millions of white backpackers--and there was no way to really separate from them. A lot of them were all trying to separate and count themselves as different, but we were all there as visitors, we weren't really ever going to assimilate to the culture, we were there on different pretenses to begin with--because we're privileged first-worlders who can afford to go travel for fun with our nice backpacks that the locals could never afford."

Those words have been on my mind quite a bit, and I keep going back and forth with what's possible, what we should and shouldn't care about. Is it just delusional to think we need to differentiate ourselves from the other tourists who are propagating cultural degeneration? Is it inevitable that we're contributing to it, too? Or do we have a responsibility, as tourists, to be conscientious of things other tourists ignore? Is there any way to tap in and really be participants, rather than spectators? Or is it self-righteous and ignorant to even try?

In any case, for the next two days we decided to bite the bullet and embrace our tourist-ness.

We went with Jones to Ko San Road [which we'd originally been keen to avoid because we figured it'd be "full of tourists"], to meet up with some of his native Thai friends. It was a lot of fun--it actually reminded me a lot of the French Quarter in New Orleans [particularly Bourbon Street].

We started off with a bucket of rum and coke that had three straws in it so we could suck it down family-style [though I was pretty sure there was not really any rum in it]. A guy was playing the guitar and singing covers [Jack Johnson, the Eagles, standard American fare] who was fantastic; at first we thought he was lip-syncing until we were able to pick out his accent. Vendors came by our table, pointing lasers at us, playing wooden frogs, trying silently to entice us into buying trinkets. Eventually we caved when a lady bearing scorpions came by. None of us were genuinely interested in scorpions ourselves so much as we were trying to convince each other to eat them. Of course, being a bit tipsy already, this led to us each buying one. Pretty sure that's how it always happens.

They weren't as gross as I thought they'd be. Kind of like crunchy dirt. Later when we met up with Ning and Toffee, who are actually from Thailand, they informed me that the silkworms were better [I tried some, and they were--sort of like french fries].

We all got a tower of Chang beer--holy shit those things are huge, and so cheap--the girls laughed at how surprised I was; I suppose that's a standard newcomer reaction. Nearby, a troupe of seven-year old boys were breakdancing before an enthusiastic cell-phone-camera-equipped crowd ["I can't even tell if those kids are good or not, but they sure have enthusiasm"].

Ning mentioned she'd be heading to Chiang Mai on Sunday--Alex and I had been trying to work out the logistics of how best to get there--and offered to pick up tickets for us so we could all go. Perfect.

Afterwards we headed to a wine bar in Nana [the area Alex and I had spent our first couple nights in--decidedly way more obnoxious than Ko San], and I bought an elderflower cocktail that cost more than I'd spent on food in the last two days. We wandered around the ritzy street, past several bar vans, and witnessed two six-year-old girls running by and stealing an absent-minded farang's drinks he'd left on a table, chugging them as they sprinted away. The guy, clearly a scrooge, did not find this hilarious. On a whim, we waited in line to get into a fancy night club that presumably didn't have a cover, in a long line of people who looked like they'd been plucked straight out of L.A., and the guy at the door berated Alex for his cut-off pants and wouldn't let us in ["Sir, we have a strict dress code shorts, especially not shorts that are torn like rags!" Don't get a hernia, bro]. Ha.

The next day we headed to JJ [Chatuchak weekend market] with Jones and April, an awesome Chinese girl who'd settled on Bangkok after extensive traveling and was working as a freelance Mandarin teacher. [Back at Terrance's place, we met another Chinese girl with near-perfect English named Papaya who had traveled extensively and worked as a translator.] I'd wandered away from the group to find ice cream while they were waiting on some paella from a large dancing chef, and had gotten completely lost on my way back to find them. The place is huge and completely disorienting--I don't think any description would do it justice. Permanent shopfronts like stores at the mall, but sliced in half, opened onto dense hallways bursting with goods for sale like at the Platinum Fashion Mall, only this place had everything. We walked through aisles of puppies ["They're so cute, it hurts...but this all seems kind of suspicious; they're only selling puppies...what happens when no one buys them?"] and then wound up in what we called the "incense section", and continues roaming for a few hours. I bought a tiny sewing machine [that I'd originally mistaken for a small stapler] for 60 baht [under $2].

Afterwards, we headed to the nearby park and took turns playing Jones' guitar by the pond. A little later, the national anthem came on [which I hadn't witnessed yet]. Everyone in the park stood up and froze. We followed suit, and I tried not to laugh as I looked across the pond at a hundred statues. Ah, nationalism.

Last night, Terrance sent us out to a tucked-away local restaurant that we never would've found on our own--he'd told us in advance what to order [and had written down the names in Thai so that there'd be no confusion]. It was incredible, and the first legitimately spicy meal we've had here [we've since been told that Bangkok food really isn't all that spicy and that we'll have to head north to get our asses blasted off].

So, today is our last day in Bangkok. Heading to Chiang Mai on the 10p.m. bus. A photographer from Israel was going to hire me for a shoot in Bangkok if we could stay another week or so--but even though this place has caught us under its spell and there's definitely much more we could see and do here, we just want to move on. We've gotten comfortable here and would rather get out prematurely, and look forward to coming back in the future, than overstay our enthusiasm.

Besides, it's hard to practice our Thai in a place where most everyone understands some English.

Random closing thoughts

Newest addiction: chrysanthemum drinks. Holy shit.

Way too much plastic everywhere. If we buy a bottle of water from 7-eleven [which we often have to do since the tap water isn't potable], they try and send us away with a bag and a straw.

The only people I've seen wearing stereotypical "Thai clothes"--the long flowing skirts and genie pants and embroidered sandals--are foreign white tourists [myself included]. Everyone who lives in Bangkok, on the other hand, dresses in the same jeans and button-downs and sweaters you'd see in New York or wherever else. Ha. I suppose this might change once I get out of the city?

Beer on ice really isn't bad, as blasphemous as that may sound.

Stray dogs here seem a lot smarter than American dogs. They look both ways before crossing the street and compose themselves with a quiet vigilance, never chasing after shit or barking. I always thought dogs were kind of dopey and stupid [in the best way], but maybe they're just coddled into incompetency, like people can be. Nature vs. nurture.

Oh, fun fact: Bangkok has the longest name of any city [for those who didn't know]. It more-or-less translates to: "The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city [unlike Ayutthaya] of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn". Also, Bangkok is only "Bangkok" to English-speakers. The Thai name for it sounds more like grung tep.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Confronting my Naivete [First day in Bangkok]

Bangkok, Thailand

Life is full--yesterday morning felt like five days ago. I've learned a lot so far. Mainly, that I'm far less worldly than I thought, but also far more resourceful.

Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport

So, I know the airport in Taipei probably doesn't seem like the first thing I should start extolling the virtues of, but I'm going to anyway [revealing straightaway my conspicuous lack of worldliness].

We had a layover there and I almost sad to leave. That airport is a veritable fucking theme park; I was laughing my entire time there. When we showed up to our gate, it was decorated with Chinese brush painting on the walls, overhanging lamps masquerading as paper lanterns, am expensive-looking fake frog pond made of glass. The gate had a name, even. Underneath the facade of a traditional wooden roof a sign read, "Taiwan Image." I thought this was cute.

Then I wandered down the corridor. Next door was the gate "Postal Waiting Room", guarded by a fat penguin-looking postal worker that reeked Sanrio, a flock of airmail-envelope-paper-planes taking flight over wavy upholstered blue benches. Another was book themed, stocked with several shelves of free books. Another was Hello Kitty themed, complete with a playplace and rainbow amphitheater. Another looked like a room in a museum, full of Taiwanese ceremonial artifacts sitting pretty behind glass and plaques.

Amidst the shops were eerie fake living room displays: a mantle, lamp, mid-game pool table, upholstered furniture, and picture-framed screen looping the same commercial over and over promoted Glenlivet in a display of charming overkill. Random aesthetic sanctuaries dotted the corridor: a room full of flower arrangements in which one could unwind from any in-transit anxiety. Amidst the icons for "Restroom" and "Smoking lounge" was a kneeling figure, which directed one to the prayer room. All the airport staff looked like dolls that had just come out of their shrink wrap--many were in silly costumes [especially those working near the Hello Kitty gate], standing as still as members of the Queen's Guard, and their hair and makeup was done up to a degree of perfection I rarely see in the states [on the men, as well as the women].

The "Green Relaxing Room" cracked me up the most--in it were several life-sized dioramas of the jungle or beach, complete with backdrops, fake rocks and trees, and sand. I forced Alex to indulge me in taking fake tourist photos in front of these, much to the amusement of other foreigners passing by.


Upon our 3:00a.m. arrival, everything we'd been told to expect was acted out for us in real-time, which made me feel like we were navigating through a video game after reading how to beat it. I'd been given instructions on exactly what to do, which was lucky because I was far too tired to think for myself.

Customs was so quick and easy that we didn't realize we'd already passed through it.

Immediately, "discount" taxi drivers tried to chivvy us into their cars--I'd been told this would happen, and that I should ignore them. We headed down to the lower level and got a cab. The driver asked to see my taxi receipt, which in addition to the location information is also the only way I can keep track of the driver and send in a complaint if he tries to rip us off, and tried to pocket it--as I'd been told he might. As soon as we were in the car, he tried to haggle a fixed fare with me--I'd been told not to oblige, no matter how good the offer sounded [he started at 500 baht for a 37 km ride--about $15 for 23 miles].

"No. Meter, please." After a bit of insisting that a flat fare would actually be cheaper for me, he reluctantly turned on the meter. Once we arrived, the cab fare--after the airport tax and two tolls--was about $9.

Andrew, a photographer I'd worked with back in Reno had comped us a hotel for our first two nights in Bangkok, since we were planning to shoot in Pattaya. When we stumbled into the lobby, it took me several minutes to realize that he was standing right there next to the concierge, and had been waiting.

"About time you got here!"

"Yeah...what is it, 4 a.m.? My brain's pretty fried. So when are you heading to Pattaya?"

"Well. I'm leaving town today."

"Today? Change of plans? I thought you'd be here until at least the 22nd."

"Today is the 22nd."

I laughed deliriously at this, but his face didn't change.

"...Wait, what?"

"I booked your room from the 20th-22nd, since you said your flight got in early morning of the 21st. That was yesterday."

"...Wait." My jet lag-addled brain exploded. "...Fuck...ah. Fuck...? Shit. Wait..."

Lesson one: Don't blindly trust the flight itinerary at the expense of common sense. [Or, more generally, double-check things.] Apparently...just because the arrival's time has been adjusted, doesn't mean the date has.


Luckily for us, Andrew was extremely generous [despite his obvious and completely justified annoyance] and had already bought us an extra night. He showed us to our room--it was exceedingly trendy. All the fixtures and furniture seemed to scream, "Look how excessively fucking modern we are!" There were two different showerheads, and a sliding pervert-door in case someone in the bedroom wanted to look into the bathroom. We had robes and our own backyard patio, canopied in tropical trees I'd never seen before, with fruits that looked like strings of anal beads.

My guilt was overshadowed only by my exhaustion. Andrew told us to get an hour or two of sleep and to meet him for breakfast at the Radisson at 6:30--and that I shouldn't be too overwrought with guilt, because the room [which would easily be several hundred dollars a night in America] was about $40/night.

We did, and when I mentioned making it up to him and heading to Pattaya, he seemed undecided and gave no clear answers. However, he was quite cheerful, and told us all about the most recent local scams and political unrest, and what tourist traps to avoid. As we left, he told us to have a good time and vaguely inferred that I should keep abreast-ish of my emails.

Incidentally, I'm writing all of this from one of the computers at CitiChic; it's a gorgeous morning and we're about to check out and head to a Couchsurfing host's place and I don't know when I'll next have a keyboard at my disposal. Alex is running around, making sure we have potable water and looking into taking a water taxi.

First-Day Acclimation

In the morning we opted to run around, rather than crash out and exacerbate our jet lag. Arbitrarily we chose Lomphini Park as a more-or-less destination, since it'd give us a direction to go in, which can be a tough thing to settle on when there's really nowhere at all one needs to be.

No American city I've been to is as densely overstimulating as Bangkok--so full of color and noise and fast-moving activity. On the streets were countless vendors constantly either selling food or getting ready for the next rush; motorcycle taxis zipped around with well-to-do clients sitting sidesaddle behind them. Several times, I nearly stepped on someone or crossed a busy street without realizing. New York might as well be a desolate expanse. Las Vegas, Oakland, San Francisco, New Orleans--all quiet and sparse.

The instant we set out the door, the cacophonous bustle grabbed us in a chokehold: stampedes of motorcyclists cutting corners as if they were already shitfaced at 9a.m.; cars driving all over the wrong lanes and crooked sidewalks; a stray dog sleeping in a bed of tied-off trash bags; a horde of about twelve rats clearly having a momentous shindig behind a vacant food stall; massive clumps of telephone wires sagging overhead, tied together spaghetti-esque with no seeming rhyme or reason. From these clumps of wires I heard a loud buzzing: the sound of something arcing.

"That's not really a sound we're supposed to hear," Alex said mildly. Nonetheless, the buzzing exerted its recurring presence in our day, which we found amusing. Granted, we were in a bit of a stupor and found everything amusing; for several minutes we stood and anthropomorphized a group of pigeons, dubbing over their pigeon-talk. We walked by several construction workers in bandana-balaclavas who were using metal grinders and saws right in the middle of the sidewalk, which inspired us to make a string of OSHA jokes that wouldn't have been funny to anyone else.

Lesson two: In Bangkok, the first phrase one should learn isn't "Hello," "Thank you," "You're welcome,"
"Discount?" or "No problem," all of which I'd gone ahead and committed to memory.

In fact, it's "No, thank you," the one no-brainer phrase that hadn't occurred to me to learn.

Within five minutes, we'd been approached by every type of would-be scanner that we'd been warned about: congenial and well-dressed men pretending to recognize us from somewhere, women with clipboards trying to get us in on a contest, taxi and tuk-tuk drivers trying to coax us into their vehicles, calling after us in ceaseless succession that we looked lost and that they could help us.

Again, it felt like a video game: they all fit their character roles so perfectly, and my responses were such to-the-letter reenactments of advice I'd been given. Sensory overload notwithstanding, it was pretty fun, and while my perma-smile was borne of insomniac delirium and cultural pressure [in Thailand one's expected to smile, even--and especially--during less comfortable interactions], it was sincere.

Third lesson: learning the Thai alphabet [or printing it out and carrying it around] would've been a lot more helpful than learning basic phrases and numbers, since Thai people all know how to say those things in English, anyway. But several street and station signs aren't spelled out in English--it's tough to know how to ask for directions when you don't even know where it is you're trying to get to [and Google maps gave us all street names in the Thai alphabet].

Still, after not too long, I'd figured out how to read some of the Thai signs by context, and we made it to Skytrain, which was extremely navigable and thankfully devoid of tourist-predating scammers and taxi drivers.

Street Food

Once off BTS, we wandered down a main road and were pulled into several detours by our noses over the next couple hours. Down extremely narrow alleys would be large markets full of street vendors that were completely hidden from the main roads.

The marketplaces were bustling, sometimes with seemingly hundreds of people, yet we were the only non-locals at any of them. We took this as a good sign. Several of the stalls had pre-established local prices and we'd watch what they charged the locals; no one tried to overcharge or up-sell us. In fact, for the first time since we'd been outdoors in Bangkok, the locals treated us with courteous indifference; no one batted an eye or tried to coax us into buying anything.

I grew up on traditional Asian food a la my mother and grandma, and been to several Thai restaurants in America--but the majority of food being sold on the street was completely new to us. We couldn't even discern most of the ingredients.

Case in point: the first thing we ate. I can best describe it as "deep-fried seaweed-and-or-shallot jello cubes" that we supposed might have been derived from beans. Or dough. Or something else.

Throughout the day, we also ate some sweet taro-blob-fried-corn things; a rice dish with egg yolks, peanuts, mushrooms, taro paste, and some yellow legume-like things; sweet-and-savory corn-taro-and-maybe-some-type-of-squash blobs; lotus root juice [YES]; spicy fish balls; some amazing "milk pudding" with kidney beans, pudding jelly, and some firm jelloid cubes with one of the most interesting textures of anything I've eaten; an ice cream slushie thing with coconut milk, peanuts, rice, and some gooey white things that I thought at first might have been some kind of fruit, but weren't; squid kebabs; real pad thai [which I didn't even recognize as pad thai at first]...

Summarily, we ate a lot. With everything costing between 10-40 baht [$0.30-1.20], another street stall every two feet, and an incentive to support smaller businesses off the main tourist drag, the only limiting factor was the capacities of our stomachs.

Also, fun fact: Red Bull originally came from Thailand [with a similar logo]. However, the Thai version is sort of syrupy [less fruity], uncarbonated, and even more caffeinated.

Of course, we got one of those [for about $0.20].

Lumphini Park

Eventually we reached Lumphini. It wasn't what I expected--full of streams and bridges and grass and a smattering of pretty old traditional buildings and monuments, but with roads still cutting through it every now and again as a constant reminder that, yes, we're still in the city. I sort of liked this frenetic aspect, personally--it felt more juxtaposed to be hanging out by a pretty pond while, right over yonder, chaos was still ensuing without me. Several people in casual business attire were taking naps under trees and in the grass.

Throughout the day, we opted not to take photos ["What would we photograph? I could take a picture of just about anything we've seen today; I'd rather just live it than attempt to capture it all."] but I caved when I saw a huge monitor lizard eating some large crow-or-other-corvid like it was a large insect [unfortunately, none of these turned out--I couldn't get close enough].

Alex, having seen several monitor lizards himself in Australia, laughed at me. "Those things are everywhere--they're like squirrels." Squirrels, except the size of dogs and with necrosis-inducing venom. Over the next hour, we probably saw over ten of them--and minus one small boy who was throwing a stick at one, the locals seemed indifferent to their presence.

Still, even he was impressed when we saw one about six feet long that appeared to be morbidly obese. We guessed it probably weighed about ninety pounds at the very least.

Along with the lizards, we saw several bird species and plants we'd never seen before. Several beautiful stray dogs ran around ["Well, when they're surviving on their own, the useless traits get weeded out pretty quick--you're not going to see stray pugs, or purebreds at all, really."] and the ponds were full of nearly human-sized catfish that were mostly hidden under the murky surface. I coined several dumb new portmanteaus [dalmigeon, bushlephants, hearchways...].

We also came across several protester campgrounds--tent villages blasting heated speeches in Thai. I resisted the urge to go ask them questions.

At one point, I thought I saw a long blue-gray tongue flicker out of one of the holes in a manhole cover. Alex laughed at me and said I was being ridiculous.

Five minutes later, we saw a giant monitor lizard--maybe a five-footer--squeeze clumsily out of a crack in the street that looked like it was about two inches wide. [So there!]

Ack, it's almost check-out time, so I'll skip a few things and wrap this up.

Platinum Fashion Mall

When giving us recommendations, Andrew had insisted that we visit the Platinum Fashion Mall. Neither of us are much for shopping--or clothes, period--but he insisted.

That mall was easily one of the most surreal [and claustraphobia-inducing] places I'd been in my life--an endless labyrinth with aisles four feet wide, with walls made up of tiny shopfronts. We took an escalator from the street to get inside its fifth floor, and then got lost several times, I finally reached a directory and discovered that there were four floors of just women's clothing. It seemed impossible. The place was so big and dizzying--and had so much of every conceivable garment in the Universe--that I figured it'd be completely impossible to ever actually find any particular item you might go looking for. A good percentage of the patrons were dolled-up ladyboys, another sizeable portion were foreigners. Also, shit was cheap--having packed virtually no clothes for my trip [just the T-shirt and pants I'd worn on the plane], I bought a couple things, all priced between $1-6 after haggling [and $6 was for items arguably crossing into "high-end" territory].

It felt like a really weird dream, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who doesn't become exceedingly anxious in small crowded spaces.

Southern Style Thai Massage

So, I'm trained in Thai massage myself, having completed programs in both Northern Style and Nerve Touch Style in the states.

I'd asked my instructor about Southern Style, and she'd said, "It's similar to Northern Style, but a lot faster and harder and more aggressive--but not necessarily beneficial or therapeutic, like Nerve Touch. Pretty much any time you hear someone had a scary experience getting Thai massage, or an injury, it was a Southern Style massage."

"'re saying Southern Style is basically a shitty version of the same thing, rather than a style on its own?"

"Well, I suppose so."

I thought she was just biased. So we got massages in Bangkok.

I enjoyed it--it's tough for me to not enjoy a massage--but it was still easily the worst Thai massage I'd ever gotten. The therapist's sense of safe alignment was egregious, and a few times I was scared she was legitimately going to mis-align my back or tweak my knees. hour-long massage for $5?...I really can't complain. However, I'll probably wait until we head up closer to Chiang Mai before trying another one.

Checking out

Phew. I woke up this morning [first legitimate night of sleep in days]. Wanted to clear my head this morning by writing all this shit down while I've got a free computer at my disposal. Also, I'm nostalgic, but forget everything if I don't eke out enough discipline to transcribe it.

There was a lot of other cool stuff that I don't have time to go into--on our walk back to the hotel, in addition to the night markets, we passed by several old VW hippie vans along the street that had been converted to portable bars, with built-in counters and sidewalk bar stools, pimped out with squillions of lasers and blinky Christmas lights and blasting electronic music. They looked like something out of Burning Man.

But it's time to get off my ass and go--we're going to stay with an American ex-pat we found via Couchsurfing.

Next after that...Alex wants to head south to the islands and then Malaysia, and I want to go north and on to Indochina. So we're going to flip a coin.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Channeling My Inner Chickenshit

For weeks now I've repeated, like a broken record, the same phrase to whomever's asked me how I'm doing: "About to fly to Bangkok with a one-way ticket." Each time, the words emerged automatically; meanwhile, I was catatonic, not registering the words that were fast becoming my own personal fucking catchphrase.

Really, that's not an answer to the question How are you doing? but everyone I've said it to has accepted it as such.

This is the last time I'm stating it, but this time I'm at least half-conscious of my words: I'm flying to Bangkok in a little over twelve hours...and that's basically the extent of my itinerary thus far.

As my departure's been arriving, a lot of people I've caught up with or run into--mainly acquaintances or bygone friends from a past life I no longer relate to--keep saying things to me like, "I wish I could just get up and go like you, by the seat of your pants, caution to the wind, [insert cliche after cliche here]--you're so fearless/free-spirited/bohemian." Or whatever.

They couldn't be farther from the truth.

I'd like to officially come out: By default, I'm actually pretty fucking neurotic. I overthink, overanalyze, overspeculate on worst-case scenarios. My natural tendency is to swing between being a control freak, and being opportunistically lazy. I am aeons away from being inherently free from fear and anxiety.

A very select few close friends of mine know this all too well; on the other hand, my acquaintances tend to invent a persona for me that I generally haven't bothered to disillusion them from because--I'll admit--the persona is pretty flattering. However, it's a fucking facade, and after a long-ass while of being adulated [and even iconized] on false pretenses got me feeling pretty worn-down. It's that whole it's worse to be loved for what you're not than hated for what you are platitude-majigg, incarnate. This incongruence was a large factor behind my compulsively deactivating my Facebook a while ago [which I've just now reactivated, after the persuasive barrages of a couple friends--given that I'm traveling without a phone, and with a camera].

Now, presenting the reason I'm writing all of this:

By birth, I'm chickenshit. That's not meant to be self-deprecating; rather, the thing I've just realized is that that's kind of the whole fucking point.

Listen. On my first solo road trip, I scraped together $900 and left my credit/debit cards behind. I packed my car with a sleeping bag, climbing shoes, and a couple cans of soup left over from my winter supply. That was to last me through three months of driving a vague loop from Tahoe down to San Diego, up to Vancouver, then back down to Tahoe.

It should be obvious to anyone with the faintest grasp of American gas prices, cost of living, and geography that $900 was not even remotely in the vicinity of being almost enough for such a trip. I had no jobs lined up, and no firm plans of where I'd stay along the way.

Call it poor planning, but I did that on purpose. It forced me to have a better time than I ever could have had if I'd taken the precautions of responsible planning and budgeting, if I'd been able to buffer myself in creature comforts, if I'd been able to maintain all the same habits.

Why? Because doing so was the only way to finally quell the unfounded fear, anxiety, and paranoia that had been plaguing me all winter.

To use an excerpt from an email I wrote an old friend the other night, featuring the exact moment this realization of my own behavior and motivations suddenly hit me:


My winter's similarly been a succession of catalyzing shaker-uppers. Lots of out-of-nowhere encounters [with people, but also other things--books, experiences, coincidences] that have propelled me to be introspective in a productive way, rather than "introspective" in that punishing, paralyzing, depressed way...which I don't think is true introspection to begin with. I think true introspection might lead you down dark passageways, but eventually comes full circle back out into the light--a brighter, cleaner light than whatever you'd been basking in before.

Blah, blah, figurative language. Metaphors and shit.

Anyway, you're welcome? Not really, though--I mean, not that you're not welcome, but it was a symbiotic exchange. I've been learning about myself from all my interactions this winter, too--in gauging how I react to different questions or situations, in gauging what feelings emerge or linger when I'm alone again after the interaction is over. It's interesting. I've dug up a lot of old ghosts from the past [ranging from casual closet-skeletons].

This winter's been existential boot camp for me. Asking myself a lot of unhealthy questions, dealing with unwarranted anxiety and depression. [Granted, who's to say when those things are and are not warranted? Are they ever warranted? Are they ever not? What does anything mean? AHHHH!] 

Then I climbed out. The boy went away, so that I'd be left alone to make sure I was standing on two feet and empowering myself [rather than turning to the comforts of a partner to use as a crutch and distract me from myself--knowing him makes me wiser]. I pulled out my fucking IUD, which had never even occurred to me as a culprit. I started tackling one important task at a time, instead of overwhelming myself with several and being reduced to arresting procrastination. I went outside. I woke up earlier. Then I started meeting up with people I hadn't seen in a long, long time--and seeing myself reflected in ways that I denied at first, resentful ["they're just projecting some idealized archetype onto me, rather than simply seeing me"], and then later accepted as facets of truth. Just because a perspective is dissimilar--and incomplete--doesn't mean it's ALL wrong. I mean, it's limited, embellished, but so is everything--we limit things so they'll be simple, and embellish them so they'll be memorable. And even if the projection seems too lofty, the answer isn't resentment--or big-headedness--it's comparative self-evaluation to the other person's projection of me...and then converting it into a challenge, or an inspiration.

Anyway, that's what my own internal process for this winter looks like. Letting go of arbitrary fear.

In all honesty: as much practice I've had in chasing uncertainty [and I've had a lot of fucking practice in the last few years], it still scares the steaming shit out of me every time I walk up to the precipice.

However, I know from experience that--once I jump--the fear becomes obsolete, and all that's left is adrenaline and a sense of infinity. 

[This is literal, too: One of my best ways of getting myself out of a depressive funk is to go jump into a cold body of water--ideally an ocean, lake, or river, at night, in winter. And when I get out of the water, I feel so alive and not at all cold. The initial apprehension is there every single time, and never even really diminishes--but as I keep logging mileage this same pointless thing countless times, I become more and more assured of how I'm going to feel, once I get it over with, by a deeper knowledge that beats off my instincts to back down. It's my own version of practicing/cultivating something like faith.]

So, a month ago I worried about mosquito prevention, worst-case scenarios, theft, issues at the border, being targeted by the police, running out of money...I even thought about all the things I could put my money towards, or all the work I could get, or things I could do, if only I chose to cancel the trip and stay in the States.

The closer it gets--the more of an inevitability it becomes--the more relaxed I feel. I get this sort of zen-like resignation. I'm packing next to nothing, and I know once I get through airport security, I'm going to feel like I've finally returned home. That warm narcotic-orgasmic-bracing relief of tension I didn't even know I'd been carrying.

It never, ever feels like that's going to happen before the fact, but I know from experience to have faith because that's always what happens.

Incidentally, this is why I only buy non-refundable plane tickets: because I know myself well enough to know that, if I allow myself an easy way out, I'll end up taking it. I have to trick myself, all the time--not only with traveling, but with more mundane things [like studying, exercising, working, errands, hygiene--anything requiring discipline, which is something I decidedly do not have a natural-occuring supply of.

Tricks...I have to leave myself no easy way out, or make things into a game, or make it so that I'd have someone to answer to should I back out--where I'd lose face or let someone down by doing so. 

Some people seem to be easily self-motivated, or truly fearless. Lately people keep making the mistake of thinking I'm one of those people. Not even close. In truth, I am as lazy and cowardly as the next person. I just don't let my laziness and cowardice get the best of me--I corner myself until I have no choice but to act constructively.


Tonight, I sat on the roof of my old house with Alex. We were silent for a while.

"I'm nervous."

"I'm nervous."

"That's why we're going, though."


It's not just about questing for adventure because it's fun [though that's obviously a big part of it]. If I was actually fearless, and living exactly the way that I do, it'd be gratuitous. I'd just be wanking my ego, over and over, resulting in weak thrills, at best. There'd be no rush, no challenge, and most importantly, no growth. 

I have no use for a stagnant life--even if that life appears on the outside to be rife with extreme sports and strange encounters. Nothing disturbs me more than meeting someone with a life that appears full and rich and surreal, only to find that they've become desensitized and adopt a too-cool-for-school attitude towards everything in the entire world--that is, towards their own existence. It disgusts me, even. They do all this cool shit, meet all these people, but have nothing to live for: philosophical zombies in glamorous packaging.

A couple days ago a girl asked me, "Why Thailand?"

"Well, not just Thailand. Not sure where else I might be going from there."

"Yeah, but why Thailand, in particular? As your first stop."

"Because it was cheaper than New Zealand, and more of a departure from what I know."

"That doesn't answer my question, though."

"...Doesn't it?"

Thailand's got nothing to do with this trip, really.

The ultimate reason I'm going is unknown to me, of course: if I already knew my reason for going on this trip, then I wouldn't need to bother going.

More generally, the reason I do what I do is because I'm not a philosophical zombie yet, and this trip is just one of succession self-vaccinations against becoming one.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Elephant Journal Debut

So, my most popular published article by a long shot has undergone a makeover [i.e., I've made improving edits] and is now on elephant journal: Stripping the Emotional Condom.

Of course, I want you to click that link. But, if you need me to sell it to you, it's the piece of mine that's had the most dramatic reception. In its original incarnation on Rebelle Society, I received a flock of flattering reader emails, it was added to RS's classics sidebar, and it was selected to be anthologized in their best-of collection.

End of pitch.

In other news, I just had a lovely few days in Sacramento.

Yeah, you read that correctly.

Sacramento is decidedly a shithole. However, I have one very good reason to visit; namely, my friend Jason Fassnacht, who is easily one of the most inspiring and generous people I know. Also, I'd be hard-pressed to find a more skilled or dedicated artist anywhere--and I've been around altogether too many artists.

His company defies the bounds of what we can gain through company with another human being: a natural anti-depressant, a treatment for writer's block, a catalyst for intrinsic confidence. I meant to spend one night there and wound up staying for three. This is a common phenomenon with his many visitors who'll often stay longer than planned--not upon his request, but theirs.

I could gush about him more, but since I'm working on an interview/narrative about him anyway, I figure I might as well save the goods.


I've got five days to get my shit together before my flight. It hasn't really sunk in yet. I haven't thought about packing.

This is what happens every time I embark on any kind of trip. I probably won't realize I'm going to Thailand until I board my plane.

So far I know I'm bringing a ukelele [courtesy of Alex's mom--she got one for each of us and told us we can sell them abroad should we go broke, though we're hoping it doesn't come to that], a GoPro, a small microphone. Was going to leave my laptop at home in case my shit got stolen or damaged...but I guess that begs the question of why I feel such a need to bring a GoPro and microphone.

Not exceedingly practical, but packing has never been my strong suit.

When I broke up with my last boyfriend I decided to adjust to the change by stomping into Yosemite's backcountry with a mason jar of whisky, a machete, a sleeping bag, a bigass garbage bag in case it rained [I rarely backpack with a tent], and nothing else. Oh, my stuffed white tiger. I brought him. I wore a wifebeater and boxer shorts, and Vibram five fingers [which aggravated my tendons after a while, so I opted to finish the loop barefoot].

It made for a description-defyingly incredible two weeks.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Call me dramatic, but deleting my Facebook feels like getting clean

There are a lot of people out there who don't use Facebook; yet, I've deigned to soapbox about why I decided to delete mine today, as if that's some unique course of action.

I'm not saying anyone else should delete their account—I wouldn't delete mine simply because I was told to, although I do highly recommend this article, which helped enforce my own decision. Also, it's much shorter than this ensuing blog post that I've written. [I've made a couple more recommendations at the bottom of this post.]

I'm asking if we can create an attitude towards social media and socialization in general that is less universally alienating. [Granted, to do so would take a lot more than reforming our use of Facebook, although I think it's a significant perpetrator in recent years.] But really, what is dumber than a society of people who feel simultaneously crowded and alone?

[As an obvious disclaimer, I don't use Facebook as a marketing platform—there are other pockets of the Internet that work better for me in that regard—so I'm not considering it in that context. If Facebook was simply what got me paid through its exposure, you can bet your ass I'd milk that cow.]

I. Why Facebook makes us interpersonally impotent

We all know the phenomenon.

You meet someone, you think they’re cool, you’re getting to know each other, you add each other on Facebook.

Then you not only never talk again, but the mere idea of contacting them seems irredeemably awkward. You may be interested, but you can't get it up.

Think I’m full of shit? Go look at your Facebook friends—not on your News Feed, but on your friends list.

How many of those are people you could contact right now, for no good “reason”, without either of you finding it weird? Hell, how many of them do you even remember?

And yet, every individual on that list is someone that you personally either deigned to add or accept as a friend. Granted, some people accept everyone who adds them—arguably, that begs even more questions about how we perceive others and how we seek validation.

Prematurely adding one another on Facebook, before you're actually friends, is a pretty good way to turn the odds against your ever becoming friends.

So why does this happen? I think I know.

In real life, if you meet someone you think is really awesome, you might deign to get to know them better, to talk to them, to hang out with them. You might push yourself a bit to be friendly or outgoing, you might initiate contact or be opportunistic in social settings. If you want to befriend someone there's an impetus to put yourself out there so it can happen.

But if you talk to someone and jump the gun with, "Hey, you on Facebook?" then you've just taken the pressure off. You can be complacent. They're on your friends list now—you can get in touch with them any time you like. Social procrastination. Time passes.

And before you know it, the idea of getting in touch with them seems really awkward because, after all, you weren’t really friends with them to begin with, and it's been so long that you can't use a recent interaction as context. There is no context [except, "Hey, I think you're cool and I want to spend time with you," but let's be honest—most people are not willing to be so forthcoming, and it's on the borderline of socially acceptable behavior for adults].

I suppressed my grievances with Facebook the company and kept my account for years because I thought it was necessary for someone with my lifestyle; that is, nomadic and sporadic. For me, there's no externally mandated environment or routine that allows for casually getting to know people over time: no regular school, workplace, organization, or neighborhood. Sometimes I break into a social circle and make friends, but those friendships tend not to have any longevity, since I don't stick around for long. If I enjoy someone's presence in my life and want it to continue, I have to be proactive about it, rather than just assuming I'll see them around.

As a result, I have a lot of single-serving friends, and I’ve been a single-serving friend countless times. It's awesome, but it gets old. The people I really connect with tend to be as impossible to get a hold of as I am; the people who are easy to get a hold of may be lovely, but usually aren’t people I can relate to much [due to differences in our current experiences and values]. Catch-22. Hence, Facebook.

Except...on my friends list are a lot of people I used to be very close to, people I'm almost-but-not-quite actually truly friends with, people with whom I deeply connected for a short while, people with whom things were left off awkwardly or without closure...and people with whom I've never been close, but who like my photos and status updates and insist we "catch up sometime". As if there were some past relationship of value for us TO catch up to. As if we’d fallen behind.

Constantly, I'm sent hypothetical pleas to give someone a call, to make a return visit to their town, to crash at their new apartment. If I jot them down on my list of people to contact when I do return to their town, they act like I've crossed a social boundary somehow just for sending a Facebook message asking if they want to grab a drink. Hey, you told me to get in touch the next time I headed to Boston/Seattle/wherever, so I did. I'm not stalking you or trying to fuck you; the fact that I'm in your town at all means I had other reasons to come here.

Here's the clincher, for me: I probably get a hell of a lot less of this than others do. I'm a self-sufficient twenty-three year old female; people aren't so quick to deem me creepy. What if I were a bit older? Or male?

How much of this are other people getting—and is that why people do this kind of insincere-reach-out crap? Because they've gotten jaded and given up?

Meanwhile, online dating become increasingly mainstream.

Generally, when people sign up for those sites, they damn well intend to meet someone in person eventually. It's to be expected that you may contact or be contacted by a total stranger, talk a bit, and agree to meet up with hopes of getting laid, falling in love, killing time, or whatever.

Why is that widely acceptable, whereas trying to get to know someone you don’t really know already—but apparently know well enough to be “friends” with—and asking them to hang out is considered borderline creepy, invasive, or desperate? 

Moreover, it’s not being the one to suggest meeting up who gets deemed the creepy one—it’s the person who deigns to follow up. 

What I think is creepy is people who respond to one of your new photos out of the blue and insist that you need to hang out, and then find it weird when you say, “Sure, next week?”

I’m all for spur-of-the-moment reunions or self-imposed half-blind dates. But in many cases, being Facebook friends is not a sufficient springboard to actually interacting, even via Facebook chat or Wall post, let alone in person. 

Then why is it not weird that you can see each other’s updates and personal information—where you went to school, where they live, where you work, what their baby looks like, what your boyfriend looks like, how their new dye job looks? How is that less creepy?

We’re teaching ourselves that socializing is an ebb and flow of exhibitionism and voyeurism.

II. An army of self-inducing obscure celebrities

Maybe you don’t chew on that rock or that leaf. Maybe you don’t skip or laugh loudly in public. Maybe you suck in your tummy when you walk. Maybe you don’t pick your nose or bite your nails.

We’re all dictated by conditioned societal and self-inflicted pressures that we aren’t constantly aware of, though they may surface from our subconscious from time to time.

Today, in the form of a rather unflattering revelation, one of my own surfaced:

At times, I gauge the quality of my own life less by my own happiness and closeness to those I love and more by how appealing I can make it sound on Facebook. The moments that have made me the happiest tend to be ones I can't or won't share on Facebook, yet in retrospect I've come to dismiss those moments because they had no third-party audience.

I put my life on the Internet to be used as porn by the bored and unfulfilled who want to look at the greener grass on the other side.

I put my life on the Internet, and then what? I accrue meaningless likes and comments from people who aren’t taking part in it, rather than focusing on the people who are. If anything, the validation of strangers recorded on a public platform almost starts to seem more important. I don’t remember who’s “liked” what, and neither do they, but if the number is low then it almost feels as if some sort of judgment has been passed—like I lost the daily interestingness pageant.

The thing is, I don't consider myself to be someone who really cares what other people think. At least, I don't think I used to be.

And the crazier thing is, as far as seeking validation goes, I'm focusing more attention on how many people made fleeting, meaningless, instantly-forgotten acknowledgments of some post of mine [probably forgetting them the instant after clicking "Like"—do you remember what posts you've liked this week?] than on earnest validation from people that are actually in my life.

I feel like I'm in some removed position of mini-celebrity, with far more fans than friends. And while my heart/soul/better judgment despise the idea of dwelling on fans, my ego's been eating it up.

You know what's nice about not being a celebrity? Privacy, intimacy, and being seen for who you are rather than a glamorized persona. Keeping your toes dipped in real life. 

You know what's [er, arguably] nice about being a real celebrity? Fame and fortune.

Thanks to social networking, we subject ourselves to a manufactured notoriety that doesn't actually grant us any of the "glamour" that actual celebrities get in exchange for having their personal lives made into a public spectacle. Yet so many of us choose to do this to ourselves, more or less.

Right now, it's easy. I'm a reasonably attractive and articulate young girl from a first-world country living a charmed life and with energy to burn; the world is my oyster and right now I could afford to be shallow and frivolous if I so chose.

Right now, if I was lonely or bored and wanted attention, I could Instagram my cleavage. BOOM. False adulation.

If all that won’t teach a kid to feel both entitled and self-conscious and to devalue the meaningful relationships in her life, I don’t know what will.

And while my sense still has my ego reined in, I don't want to push it. I want to spend my time on things--and people--that cause me to look back and feel glad that they're what I chose to spend it on.

III. Generating social retardation, ambiguity, and expectations that wouldn't naturally exist

As I said earlier, I have a lot of single-serving friends. People who switch up their location [and hobbies, interests, and lifestyle] all the time tend to.

This used to be more than fine with me—in fact, it was a huge perk. I could meet people for a day, appreciate our time together, and then move on, knowing it had run its course and appreciating it as a beautiful moment. I got to experience such a variety of people!

Facebook's turned me into something of a people-hoarder, at least in theory, leaving me less sure of how to categorize the different interactions in my life.

Now I'll become friends with someone on Facebook, and they become a source of discomfort. In seeing their updates it may be hard to maintain my former illustrious opinion of them, or I may feel compelled to get to know them better and I may write them, to be met with an awkward response back, as if they’re saying, “Uh, yeah, that one time was cool, but uh—that was then?”

Which is fine. But then why the fuck are we friends on Facebook, if not to leave the door open for being in touch? If there's no possibility we're ever going to interact again, why the hell would I want to keep abreast of your whereabouts?

It's left me with an eerie sense of social ineptitude, of having no inherent knowledge of where boundaries lie. I've always been a bit awkward and bad at picking up on social cues [I could almost never identify sarcasm before about age sixteen, and the first time a boy asked me out I threw it in his face because I somehow interpreted it as him making fun of me...mwop, mwop], hence the high value I place on candor.

In real life? I'm groovy; no one intimidates me. I'll meet a person. The progression feels natural. There comes a time where it's obvious whether we want to keep hanging outor wish each other well and move on along, regardless of how much we connected. Sometime it's all about the shared moment, no follow-up needed.

Facebook turns everyone into a big What if? and prevents me from either fully letting go of or progressing within a given relationship. I wind up sitting in limbo in a virtual stew of others' masturbatory exhibitionism. I'm nostalgic enough already without it being artificially perpetuated. [And for that matter, I get annoyed enough with people in real life without seeing the shit some of them post on Facebook as if they're personally trying to induce misanthropy.]

Here's how I'd see it: If you were on my friends list? You could contact me.

Even if things got weird with us, or it'd been a long time, or we didn't know each other well, I'd be receptive.

If I couldn't be receptive, you'd be off my friends list. Easy. Over the years, I've deleted hundreds of people. Anyone remaining could assume that I'd welcome correspondence, even if I hadn't recently been considering it myself. 

IV. In an actual friendship, Facebook is redundant

As I've said, Facebook houses my fan base and couchsurfing shortcuts. People I’ve collected in hopes that they may be of future use. People I met and liked and added, vaguely receptive to the idea that we may become friends, by chance, without being willing to put any actual effort into it, or initiate anything lasting. People who've added me for whatever reason, who sift through the details of my life and like every single one of my photos or updates, but are conspicuously absent if I respond to one of their comments. 

To quote the fox in The Little Prince:

“One only understands the things that one tames….Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready-made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more.”

Facebook is not the means to a friendship. Rather, if a true friendship is preexisting, Facebook can be a potential supplement—like emails and phone calls. In the context of a true friendship, Facebook is never necessary.

Through my transient lifestyle, in an age of social media, I've had to re-learn what a friend is. 

They're people you get to know over repeated shared experiences—laughing, crying, exploring, getting scared, and getting fucked up in real time—not over a couple grand one-shot adventures and subsequent conversations that feel like an uphill attempt at connection. They’re people who become valuable to you, in part, because of the time you’ve lost to them. [That's my second reference to The Little Prince in this post—can you tell I just discovered that book today?]

A relationship is a process, it flows, fluctuates, evolves—probably not forever, but for a while. 

It’s not a solitary magical week in Portland, it’s not a single night of great conversation in the desert. It’s those things—plus a next time. 

I've had a thousand phantasmagorical, explosive adventures with new faces. That's how I met the boy I'm in love with, and a couple of my best friends. The difference is simply that all those other people were ones with whom I decided the connection could or should die with the adventure; we were supporting characters that had no place in one another's lives after the bells and whistles were taken away. However, amidst that tide of people were a few I knew I wanted to know—in the daylight, in our hometowns, while sober. I met him at my first month-long Burning Man stint, a land of lights and drugs and serendipity [and many other boys], and then we parted ways, thinking it might've just been the magic of where we were. Two months later, we met back up—in the context of suburbs and restaurants—and the magic hadn't diminished. We laughed raucously through the grocery store.

And it’s not just the exciting parts—it’s the kids you want to hang out with the morning after, while you’re all hungover.

These are subtle things that you can't evaluate from a distance, from an artificial platform like Facebook, where a person can show you whatever sides of themselves they want to. To know what a person doesn't [or does] mean to you, you've got to observe them in real time, and see how you respond to one another. [Hence my increasing confusion about what I think of different people since Facebook became a common denominator in my interactions—some people look really cool through my News Feed, and then I meet up with them and can't fucking stand them; others may be fantastic people, but not in a way that shines through their Facebook presence.] 

Besides, I don’t want to “catch up” or “go out”. Much less talk about doing those things, never to do them. I want to talk, and I want to play.


This is all just me. Perhaps I'm just a bit more neurotic than everyone else, but I have a hunch that some of you out there can relate. 

And again, I'm not calling for the end of social mediait's not going anywhere, and it's got a lot of good points [after all, I've been a loyal user for about seven years]. Maybe I'm trying to vouch for a shift in collective consciousness when it comes to how we approach it. It's a cliche now to mention that globalization has led to increased alienation and loneliness for the individual—but how sad that that's become a cliche observation. Let's do something about it. Remember how nervous people used to get when calling someone they liked for the first time? Remember taking the time to write someone an email—or a letter? To personally invite someone to something? Grow a pair; fucking reach out.

And hey, if that shift happens...who knows? I might find myself crawling right back. 8P

PS. Recommended things that are all shorter than this post [in order]

This video has won several awards; it's simple and poignant. It's less than five minutes long. Watch it, asshole. Then share it on Facebook. Nyak. 8P

So...this isn't really relevant to my post [and also isn't shorter than my post], but it's relevant to me, since I just read it. If you haven't, you probably should [it's the length of, say, three normal children's story books, easy to squeeze in at bedtime, during breakfast, or on a lunch break]. I much prefer Richard Howard's translation to this one, but couldn't find it online.

In case you didn't click my link up top, this article's great. Generally I find e.j.'s content click-friendly but ultimately disappointing, mainly designed to tempt page views through recycled wisdom and topical kitschrather than content that's actually sustainably valuable [just calling it as I see it]—this may be their first article I've ever been pleasantly surprised by in that regard.

Frivolous. 8]