Intrepid Girl Reporter

Wednesday, 1/30: notes from Chiang Mai
January 30, 2008, 3:13 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The computer in the airport only accepts 10 baht coins, and will only allow Internet usage in ten minute increments, and (most irritatingly) does NOT have a displayed USB port, which means I cannot charge my poor, ailing iPod. But I still have forty-five minutes before my flight leaves, thanks to a delay that I’m starting to learn is a pattern for AirAsia. That, and people shoving each other to get onto the plane.

I spent a ridiculous amount on myself in Thailand. And other people, too, but a lot on me – not really by the standards of the people with whom I live, but certainly by the standards of the people with whom I was living. Being here has caused me to seriously consider my choice of career field; I had a long talk with Hallim last night in which she posited the exact argument that I’ve always given – i.e. that development issues aren’t unique to the developing world, that “help” often equals “ideological imposition,” that no one necessarily knows what the consequences of our actions will be, and I found myself in the unique position of having to explain my chosen field of study and work in a way that wouldn’t contradict that framework. Because I agree with her. And yet this is still what I want to do, especially after being here, realizing that I spend more on myself in six months than most of the people I’ve met in the past five days spend on themselves in a year.

This is what I tell myself: There is problem after problem, everywhere in the world. I don’t want to tell anyone what to do, and I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do. But I do want to be offered as many options as possible, and I think everyone has the right to know about all of the choices available to them. I want to create options: maybe in education, maybe in economic development, maybe in public health, maybe for press freedom, maybe in all of them. I know that there are issues in my own country, and I want those to be fixed too, but personally, I want to work with the so-called “developing world,” not because I feel pity, not because I think that we’re all necessarily so much better off, but simply because that is what I want to do and I’ll do something better if I want to do it.

We met elephants who were fed only soda and sweets until they were sent to the two charity elephant hospitals in Chiang Mai. We also met people from the hospitals who explained how the two hospitals are feuding, and how each one believes that it’s better than the other. Since I was little, I’ve always been made so easily sad. I want to stop being sad. So here we are. Thank you, Thailand.

Saturday, 1/26: the best pad thai in town
January 26, 2008, 1:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Questions/comments about me in Singapore and Thailand, to date:

“Malay face, see, she have Malay face”

“Indian girl?”

“Parlez-vous chinoise?”

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Yo, our guide, learned all of her English from Da Ali G Show. Also, her actual name bears no resemblance to the word Yo. She did, however, guide us to Sukhothai through a combination of train and songthaew, or “truck with some benches in the back.”

HALLIM What’s a songthaew?

IGR You sit in the back of a pickup truck. Like Kentucky.

HALLIM Oh, that’s not even special.

Then she took us to a place where some masseuses on off duty from hospital gave us hour and a half long Thai massages for approx. $6 USD. Dinner – apparently pad thai is a Sukhothai specialty – was 25 baht, which is less than a dollar. Tomorrow: bike riding around temples, more deciphering of guide speak.

Friday, 1/25: Singapore fling
January 25, 2008, 1:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

My pen-and-paper journal is in the hotel down the street, which makes recalling everything we did a little difficult, simply because we happened to do so much.


Saw the Merlion, Singapore’s own mythical creature (half lion, half fish, invented in the 1960s), in person; Merlion appeared to be spitting. Got Hallim lost trying to find Lau Pa Sat hawker stand, but am/was not repentant, because I had the best char kway teow and fried carrot cake. (Neither carrot nor cake. Discuss?) Then her friend took us over to Little India, where they happened to be celebrating Thaipusam, a southern Hindu festival that involves piercing of the skin with hooks and rods. Like, lots of them. The men who did this supposedly were doing it to obtain the fulfillment of some sort of wish or desire, and they had to parade down the street with these three-foot-tall headdresses bedecked with feathers and, in at least one case, flashing lights. We got mehndi on our hands (8 SGD) and ate papri chaat and pani puri and gulab jamun and Slurpees and got shoved into this crowd of people so dense it seemed that we should all introduce ourselves, since we were sharing sweat, etc. After we made it back we got locked out of her friend’s apartment, so we ended up sitting in the living room of his neighbors, who were adorable and young and who want to visit Jeju. Then he came back and we bought bottles of Tiger and drank them on the playground outside the building.


Lunch at the Queenstown MRT station: prata (Indian fried bread), duck rice, rojak (fruit salad with some sort of peanut-chili-fish sauce dressing and fried crullers – it tasted much better than it sounds). Then we went to Haw Par Villa, which compares favorably with the weirdest things I’ve seen in Jeju – I can hear Soccer now saying, “That’s not possible,” but oh, friends, it is. The backstory behind Haw Par, for those of you who didn’t grow up reading your family’s travel magazines, is that the Burmese brothers who made Tiger Balm decided to use their wealth to create a theme park that would educate the public about Chinese mythology. To that end, there are sections like “The Ten Stages of Hell,” which details in vivid diorama form the various punishments for specific crimes, and various outdoor sculptures showing things like marauding monkeys and a man being rescued by a giant turtle. Total price: free, except for the Hell exhibit, which cost 1 SGD, maybe 80 cents American. Then we went to Chinatown for the night market and ate dim sum, came back, went out to some swank hotel bar with Hallim’s friend and some of his friends, came back, and drunk ate more roti prata.


Phuket is phenomenal. Enough to merit such alliteration, anyway. Thanks to the good graces of Hallim’s momma, who had accrued a number of Marriott points, we managed to stay in a hotel that was probably the nicest on the island, and, judging from the rest of the clientele, one I won’t be able to afford until I somehow become half of a middle-aged Australian couple. We swam in the warm, clear water. We slept on the sand. We ate Italian food – and yes, I know we are in Thailand, but I plan on eating nothing but Thai for the next week, and anyway we can’t get good Italian in Jeju. This morning we went out to the beach early and then ate banana pancakes.


So here we are in Bangkok – we met our Intrepid tour guide, who goes by Yo (?), a couple of hours ago, and she took us to a Thai restaurant that was the best Thai food I have ever had, so I guess that bodes well. We spent most of the day in transit. AirAsia is cheap, but it is not efficient. Where we are now is a slightly dingy hotel in what Hallim describes as the Itaewon of Bangkok – but we leave for Sukhothai tomorrow, which should be a good deal nicer.

So that, loyal chingu, is all for now. More from the road.

Monday, 1/21: Singapore, without a soundtrack
January 21, 2008, 12:38 pm
Filed under: Apple, host brother, looks like, travel

hi (IGR)! you are really go singapore… but I’m never lonely!!! because you are not here I can’t hear your noise and you are not disturb me. so now Iam very happy …… hope you are having a good day~~

(Host Brother).

(. .)

If I could review Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport as a place to sleep, it would compare favorably with (God forbid) Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson. Actually, I believe I will review it.

SLEEPING IN AIRPORTS: Bangkok Suvarnabhumi

The first thing to note about Suvarnabhumi is that it’s brand new. The second is that it’s full of backpackers who have the same idea you do, unlike certain other airports we could mention, which are full of homeless people who accuse you of nonexistent offenses. This means that there can be fierce competition for the cushioned benches – unsurprising considering the facts that the airport is also quiet and free of ugly carpet (are you listening, Atlanta?), has restaurants and Starbucks open 24 hours, and doesn’t smell. Aside from the absence of free Internet access and a few issues with climate control, Suvarnabhumi makes a fine place to nurse a 4AM Tazo Shaken Black Lemon Tea (Iced) before eventually passing out on a chair while you wait for your budget flight.

Singapore is humid, but thanks to the kindness of Hallim’s friend from college, we have a very comfortable place to stay, one in which Hallim is passed out right now. This is probably due to the fact that our flight left at 10:15 yesterday morning. We had some time to kill in Seoul, so we met Soccer, Quagmire, and another Program friend of ours I’ll call Earthy Fellow in Itaewon, a district in which I have no desire to ever, ever set foot again – it reminded me of Bourbon Street with a dash of colonialism, except much larger. At any rate we went to some place called Foreign Restaurant, which, as one might guess, was not any good, really. But the company was excellent. We tried to go see a movie, ended up browsing in some weird supermall, and took the metro back to Incheon, which was not, I discovered too late, the same as Incheon Terminal. Incheon Terminal is actually 40 minutes away from Incheon. We had to get on a bus, and then we had to tell the bus driver to hurry, and we ran through customs, etc., and then we discovered that the boarding time had been delayed. (Note: this was my fault. I should not attempt to navigate anywhere.) So we made it to Bangkok around 1:20, got our stuff, had some SB and crashed. Our AirAsia flight left around 7:30, and we were at Hallim’s friend’s apartment by 12.

We spent the afternoon in the Arab Quarter, which was lots of fun, aside from the fact that we ended up eating Malay/Indonesian food, which was good, but now I’m fiending for some baba ghanouj. At first I was being a bit too guidebooky, dragging Hallim to this street of hipster stores, before she pointed out that while they all differ, such boutiques can be found anywhere, and the kitsch was sort of what made the area unique. So we ate some baklava and found this place that sold telephone-shaped oil lamps and bags of old photographs of Singapore “ago,” as Host Fam would say. They bear a pretty strong resemblance to the photos we have of my father’s family in Saigon, and on vacation, and in Cali. So I picked up a few of those and wrote letters on the back, and then I found a Slurpee (!!! – yes, I am aware that these are not native to Singapore, but they are both hard to find and delicious), and then we went home.

The only downers so far: Rain jacket came out of outside of Scooter’s loaned backpack, i.e. is lost forever in AirAsia’s luggage claim, was rather expensive and more importantly a gift from Miguk Oma, and iPod seems to have stopped working. I’m going to try a few things with it, but I don’t think it’s under warranty, which means purchasing a new one, eventually. I had downloaded some Dengue Fever and White Shoes & The Couples Company, which I thought would be suitable travel accompaniments, but now I am forced to sing in my head.

Saturday, 1/19: twas the night before
January 19, 2008, 5:11 pm
Filed under: skool, students, teaching

I left the house twice today, once to teach and once to eat guksu (noodle soup) with Host Fam. The rest of the time was spent sleeping, coughing, trying to convince HB that I really, really had to finish this job application before I played any games, and jamming my stuff into Scooter’s loaned backpack, on which he left some sort of lucky charm made of red cord. That’s the sort of luck we’ll need – not the kind that charms bring, but the kind that happens when people do nice things like give you charms for no reason.

I have serious tendencies towards overpacking, and that state of affairs isn’t helped by my camera and its bag, which (bless its heart) is really big. I don’t want to carry a 40 liter bag through the markets of Bangkok, and I’m debating bringing a really dirty number of outfits (4) for the next eleven days, with the reasoning that Hallim will like me regardless of how I smell. This would also allow me to shove my empty regular backpack in there, which I could then carry around instead of a purse. All of this is probably a really bad idea.

We watched “Matilda” today to celebrate the last day of class; it was okay, but it pales in comparison to the book, especially because the movie plays up the whole superhero aspect and subdues the whole sort of desperate-times idea that Roald Dahl had going on. Also, it’s just not as funny if it’s not British. I’m sorry. Then I got a gift and a letter from one of my students that says, in part, that I am the best teacher she has had in seven years of schooling, which is surely not true and makes me feel bad for slacking off. She gave me some sort of handkerchief shaped like some animal, a necklace, and some candy. Again. This kind of luck. More like karma, I suppose.

I may or may not post from abroad. Anyway, take care of yourselves.

1/17: in which Superboy dies
January 17, 2008, 2:10 pm
Filed under: actual transcripts, students, teaching, travel
  • tickets to Bangkok: check
  • tickets to Singapore: check
  • tickets to Phuket: check
  • tickets back to Bangkok: check
  • voice: not check, since I chose now to get sick

I suspect it was the sip of my coffee I gave Arkansas the other day. Whatever it was, I now have one cold and no vocal capacity, which is rather inconvenient, as we’re scheduled to leave on Sunday. Oops. Oma just gave me a ludicrous amount of pocket money for the trip, money I’m not even sure my family can afford, which means that I should probably humor her and get some sort of medicine tomorrow.

This is what Korean medicine entails: You go to the doctor and they give you a set of like five pills that you’re supposed to take three times a day. The pills are usually different colors. If you’re me, and you ask people five or six times what you’re taking, they’ll tell you which one is which, for the most part. Also, you should only drink hot water, and according to Hallim’s host mom, being sick is not an excuse to not eat your pork shabu shabu, as pork is good for colds. This sounds suspect to me.

Anyway, assuming I make it out of bed and to the airport on Sunday, our itinerary is as follows:

SUNDAY Fly to Bangkok

SUNDAY PM/MONDAY AM Fly to Singapore (this was the cheapest way)


THURSDAY PM Phuket (maybe trashy, but all we really want is the beach, although not The Beach)

FRIDAY NOON Fly to Bangkok, meet up with Intrepid tour

FRIDAY – WEDNESDAY super awesome Thailand

WEDNESDAY PM fly from Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Planning this trip has taught me a valuable career lesson, namely that I have neither the inclination nor the patience to ever be a travel agent. Nonetheless: Thailand. (And Singapore, too.) Because we booked the Intrepid tour pretty late, we managed to get 20% off, which means we have 8 days for $444. My natural suspicion of package tours was tempered by the fact that a) we will be hanging out with hill tribes, b) we will be bicycling around ancient temples, c) Intrepid claims to promote “responsible travel,” and d) I don’t speak Thai. Someday I will speak every language and navigate among many cultures with ease. Presumably on that day I will also, somehow, have become Indiana Jones.

Camp is going along – I should have assigned essays, should have quizzed them over the reading, but really, aside from the fact that I didn’t think of it, these kids do enough work. They’re already slogging through Matilda, and while I know they like it, I also know that a chapter takes them hours. They’re also finishing their comic books, polishing the stories of JoKo and Hacker Genius and HighBred. The one I’m most excited to read involves Jupiter, whose story appears to somewhat parallel that of the Crow. All I know so far is that John Mike was borned in Korea, died because traffic accident, and then a meteorite hit the Earth and somehow he was reborn in a costume that looks very much like some sort of Kabuki outfit.

The stories of the girls are also surprisingly engaging and touching – well, I shouldn’t say surprisingly, as I ought to expect no less at this point. But “American Monster,” the story of the monster who ate people only to be sliced open by Help Woman, is pretty stellar, as is Super Angel, who constantly fights the Devil until he one day gets a cold and she nurses him back to health. Superboy, however, vanquishes his monsters…and then dies. Is this a statement on our ultimate vulnerability? This girl, after all, when doing her metaphor quiz, wrote, “Superboy is as important as water.” Or, like the teddy bear museum and the wedding, does it make no sense I’ll ever understand?

Monday, 1/14: doctor, heal thyself
January 14, 2008, 8:29 am
Filed under: host fam, life on Jeju, students, teaching, travel

Sitting here waiting for Hallim to call me back – this is my fault for having waited so long to figure out the travel plans, for delaying things when it feels like I can’t deal with anything – to see if we’ll make it to Hong Kong for the Lunar New Year, which I can’t help but imagine would be anything but transcendent. Transcendence being something I could use a little of – I’m not sure why things have been hit-or-miss since I got back here, but I find myself more easily irritated and unsettled, more frustrated, more apathetic. The following exchange should illustrate both my triggers and my failings in this regard.

HB: Can you help me read?

IGR: I can. But I’m waiting for Hallim to call me back to talk about travel. I’ll help you as soon as I’m done.

(five minutes later, HB comes in IGR’s room)

HB: (stands there)

IGR: I’ll help you as soon as I can.

HB: Okay. (touches lamp) Why you leave on? So hot! (turns it off)

IGR: Because I need it to see. Can you turn it back on?

HB: But will explode!

IGR: But it has to be used sometime. I think it will explode if you leave it on for a really long time, but that’s all.

HB: Use this light. (motions towards switch)

IGR: …Okay. Can you turn it on?

(Slowly, HB goes to turn it on.)

(five minutes later, from the other room)

HB: Do you know “Make Me A Supermodel”?

IGR: Yes.

HB: It’s on TV!

IGR: Okay, I’ll be there in a minute.

HB: No.

IGR: But I want to watch it. I’m coming.

HB: No.

IGR: But –

HB: No.

So you see. It’s a bit ludicrous to be driven to distraction by a twelve-year-old, especially when you’re twenty-two (maybe twenty-three, Korean), but at the same time: he’s absolutely maddening. Nonetheless. He shouldn’t be bothering me this much – and he’s not the only one. At this point, I’m positively twitchy. And frustrated with myself for a multitude of reasons and –

I just had the following conversation with HB.

HB: We will read from this book.

IGR: What happened to Ender?

(HB starts reading from book)

IGR: I mean, we don’t have to read Ender, but tell me so I stop asking you. Do you not want to read it?

HB: No.

IGR: You don’t?

HB: (hyperventilating) NO! (gets up and puts book away)

IGR: Okay, we can read that book instead.

(HB turns on television)

IGR: Do you want me to help you?

HB: (watches television)

IGR: HB. You are hurting my feelings when you don’t talk to me.

(HB ignores IGR)

IGR: I want to help you read, but I can’t help you if you won’t even talk to me.

HB: I am sorry.

IGR: Okay. Let’s read, then.

(HB gets up and goes to room)

IGR: Do you still want me to help you?

(HB ignores IGR)

IGR: HB? Do you still want me to help you?

HB: Ago. You said you could not help. So I will work with my father.

IGR: I said I couldn’t help you because you wouldn’t talk to me.

HB: No. You said could not help. So.

IGR: If you change your mind, let me know.

Naturally, five minutes later he comes in and says he wants me to help him – but at this point I’m too frustrated, and I have to write this down so I don’t forget it and think my latent frustration is just craziness, and here we are. He also told me that he did, in fact, want to read Ender, but that the other story was his homework – I forgot that “no” in that context is the equivalent of the American “yes” (really), but he didn’t bother to explain, what with the standing over me and breathing like a rabid bull and all. I asked him why he does this and he didn’t answer. We just struck a deal where he will talk to me when I talk to him, even if it’s to say he doesn’t know or doesn’t want to answer, for a week. This deal was brought about in part because I threatened to have ACT talk to Oma.

So, despite the fact that I am not failing in any quantifiable sense, I feel like a failure in so many small ways sometimes. Winter camp is only okay; my kids are showing hardly any enthusiasm, even the kids I was really excited about having, even though ACT keeps telling me I’m doing fine. Actually, I take that back; they’re showing enthusiasm in their work, but not in their demeanor, which is to say that they’re putting a lot of effort into crafting their own superheroes, but not into answering questions, looking more than 25% awake, or coming to class anywhere NEAR on time. So I’m glad they at least like the content, but I can’t help but feel demoralized. We probably could have gone to Hong Kong if I’d bothered to try to break into Asiana’s website myself, instead of relying on a stupid travel agent; before, you couldn’t get in without being a registered user and I’d lost my user number, but now apparently you can, which I would have known had I checked. But now (update from earlier in this entry) we cannot, because Hallim can’t do the early flight and neither can I. And friends…I love my friends, I really do. But most of them aren’t around – it’s just Scooter and me on this side of the island right now, and Aewol sometimes. And I can’t shake this trigger-happy temperament, this tendency to have no patience for anything or anyone, least of all myself.

So I can feel myself tempted to do what I always do – push people away and make them ask me to come back, so I can know exactly how much they love me. Which is not only one of my worst tendencies but also one of my dumbest, that I can’t just trust anyone. I keep telling myself that it’s only because I’ve just gotten back, because I’m still spinning inside, looking for a place to settle, but I don’t know how much of it is true.