backpacking, expat, Southeast Asia, travel, Uncategorized

Teaching English Online: The Pros and Cons

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“You get to work while you travel, meet other digital nomads and work comfortably from home when you don’t feel like going anywhere”

There’s a new way to make money while traveling (or from home) and it’s taking the world of learning English by storm: online English classes.

I first heard about teaching English online from a fellow traveler while backpacking through Cambodia in 2014. I was already making money as a freelance writer, but was curious about other means of income so I could continue to trek the big bad world and never ever EVER go back home.

There are loads of opportunities to work abroad, from volunteering to teaching at a school, manual labor and freelance work. Teaching English online was one avenue I had yet to encounter, and by golly did it strike my fancy. I completed my TEFL certification in a jiffy and dove into the online job hunt.

For the past six months I have been teaching for two online English programs and can say that it has been a rewarding and at times, a frustrating journey. Here are my pros and cons of teaching English online.

Pro: You can work from ANYWHERE

…..that has a stable internet connection. I have been working for two Asian based companies while living in Thailand and jet setting around Southeast Asia. I have worked from home, friends homes, internet cafes, hostels and co working spaces. You get to work while you travel, meet other digital nomads and work comfortably from home when you don’t feel like going anywhere.

Con: Tech issues

This is probably the biggest frustration of online teaching. Depending on your location, the company’s location, the student’s location, the internet speed and even the weather, you never know what tech problems can pop up. This can cause cancelled classes, which in turn means you don’t get paid.

Each company has their own set of policies when it comes to tech issues, I mean, it can’t be helped and s*** happens. But, it can still be mentally draining when you complete a heartfelt grammar sermon, then find out your students heard absolutely none of it…or you can’t hear them. Then, the student complaints ensue.

Pro: Make your own schedule

With the two companies I work for, the teachers get to make their own schedule each week by filling in their availability on a registration calendar. This is superb! I can choose when I want off and whether I want to teach eight classes one day or just two the next…or none if I so desire.

Con: TIME ZONES and unpredictable classes

You can find yourself working late at night or early in the morning depending on time zone differences and usually there are peak times of the day when you are more guaranteed to get classes filled. Also, students cancel or don’t show up. This happens from time to time and can affect the number of classes you get paid for (generally you are paid per class). That is why I recommend not relying solely on online teaching for income. Use it to supplement!

Pro: You get to interact with people from all over the world & exchange culture via the interwebs

This one is my favorite. Besides the moola part. Once again, depending on the company, you will be teaching a broad range of demographics. I lead English conversation with Vietnamese adults that, for the most part, have a basis of English knowledge. I talk with housewives, engineers, doctors and students. I hear about their lives, traditions, customs and perspectives on issues such as sexism, marriage/divorce, family, travel and school. As a westerner, the discussions can be passionate, eye-opening and emotional. Not only do you teach them, but they teach you.

Con: Timed Classes

This is just one of those unavoidable thangs. The classes I teach are both under an hour long, and it is imperative that teachers stick to the time limit. If you have back-to-back classes scheduled, timed classes can get stressful depending on a) the student’s level of English knowledge (you may have to work longer on a lesson with lower level students) b) sometimes students (adults in particular) can be quite the chatterbugs c) those lovely tech issues I mentioned earlier. You may find yourself having no breaks and rushing through lessons.

Pro: The Money is Real

You will find a plethora of online teaching companies spouting benefits that sound too good to be true. Well, be careful and research the company beforehand, because I have heard of some online teaching opportunities that aren’t legitimate. With that being said, there are the one’s that really, truly are legitimate. With online teaching you may not make as much as you would teaching at a physical school, and they are generally contract jobs, so don’t expect health benefits. But, if you are looking to continue your travels, make your own schedule and despise cubicles, then this is a wonderful way to supplement your income. Overall, I approve and recommend it.

Some more tidbits from my own personal experience:

  • There can be bonuses offered
  • I was hired with a TEFL certificate and zero teaching experience. You may or may not need one (once again, depends on the company)
  • I don’t make any lesson plans
  • They train you

Read about How I Started Teaching English Online With Zero Experience

 

SEE TEFL in Chiang Mai, Thailand

adventure, backpacker, backpacking, Southeast Asia, Thailand, travel, travel memoir, Uncategorized

Chasing the Sun in Phu Chi Fa

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There is a quaint, quiet corner of northeast Thailand where the mountains rejoice at the awakening of the sun. They stretch with glistening green peaks past a creamy sea of clouds in sleepy greeting each and every morning.

My boyfriend, Joram, and I decided to rent motorbikes and head to Phu Chi Fa mountain and forest park located at the east edge of the Thoeng District, Chiang Rai Province, just bordering Laos. We embarked on the trip for one sole purpose: to witness Phu Chi Fa’s famed sunrise.

My phone blinks 5am and the clammy cold stings my skin, goosebumps prickling along the nape of my neck. It is still dark as we shiver together under a thick blanket and wait. When you are on top of the world, plans no longer matter, time stands still and you are simply humble. Engulfed in the freshest air of the land, where the poisonous creeping fingers of pollution fail to reach, and where giant black masses rise silently on all sides and the city lights of Laos are faint specks of stardust sucked into the loins of the earth below, you realize something. You realize just how small we as humans are on this fantastic planet, and that to think we have control of everything is pointless and unnecessary.

Despite the early morning chill, I suck in as much of the pure oxygen as I can muster. Up here, my allergies from the burning haze of Thailand have vanished. I feel cleansed as the sun begins its ascent, cutting gold and pink straits across the eastern heavens. I let the breath out steadily, and I am a child dancing in a candyland of strawberry milk streams, golden caramel coins and overflowing puffs and curls of lavender cotton candy.

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Witnessing the Phu Chi Fa sunrise is a travel delight that is out of the way for most backpackers, and it is a treat that is earned. She makes you work for it, but it is well worth the effort. By motorbike, the roads are for the most part smooth and free of potholes, until you start the final steep ascent to the actual park. If you are a lover of curves and flying down hillsides, then this ride is a dream come true. Let go of your inhibitions and soar as the crisp mountain air awakens and exhilarates your senses. Extraordinary views await you at every beck and bend.

It is all coffee plantations and rice terraces, green corn and cabbage fields and small mountain villages that will take you away from crowded, dirty cities. The people here live the simple life of a Thailand stuck in a past time. Naked children splash in giant buckets of cool water. Lazy mountain dogs with gleaming coats wallow in the road, lying just out of reach of dangerous wheels. The stares are shy and curious. The toothless smiles are friendly and genuine. For me, this is what Thailand is all about.

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Getting started

The best time to visit is during the high season starting around November. One-way, the trip takes about 3-4 hours depending on speed and rest stops. Joram and I rented manual bikes in Chiang Rai. Prices range from 100- 200 baht per day, and I wouldn’t pay anymore than that. Once you start on the highway from Chiang Rai, the route is easy and enjoyable, taking you out of the congestion and into the pristine countryside. From the highway, you begin to climb into the mountains, steadily pushing up and then rolling down the never ending hills. What I liked most about the drive was the lack of traffic. There are no tourist buses careening around curves like madmen. It allows you to soak up everything the drive has to offer without being on edge or getting punched in the face by nasty plumes of exhaust smoke.

Gasoline

Fill up before you go, of course. Once in the mountains, there are no gas stations, but you can find old fashioned petrol pumps at random general stores in the villages. If you run into bike trouble, there are a couple of shops to be found. Joram experienced a flat tire at one point, but luckily the misfortune struck just a few meters from a lonely shack laden with rusted half-built motorbikes, old tires and mysterious scrap parts. The old Thai farmer fixed up the flat in a jiffy while we played with the the farm puppies and waited.

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What to bring

It gets chilly in Phu Chi Fa. Bring a jacket, socks, pants and sturdy shoes for climbing.

Take it easy

If you are expecting reggae bars and late night backpacker parties, then you will be disappointed. It’s peaceful up here, in fact, we only saw one other small group of foreigners. The majority of visitors are Thai. The small stretch of shops next to the park consist of a handful of guesthouses, camping spots, a couple of restaurants, general stores and souvenir shops.

Joram and I arrived in the evening time and secured a camping spot nestled amongst coffee bushes brimming with pale red berries on a hillside terrace overlooking the mountains and valleys. It is easy to find camping spots since the village is so small. All equipment, bedding and individual fire pits are offered for 500 baht a night. There are showers and toilets available to campers as well. Eat cheap Thai food in town and warm up with some hot Jasmine tea, then sit by the fire and become hypnotized by millions of shimmering stars. It’s so dark and clear on top of Phu Chi Fa, that you can glimpse the wondrous Milky Way spilling over the edges of an indigo sky. To not speak, to not think and to instead just watch; you become part of the mountain and helpless to her wild whims. All of a sudden, a white fire comet streaks across a soundless horizon, illuminating the sky for a brief second, then leaving you to stare in awe while massive rust brown Hercules moths flit on paper wings, playing in their star-dappled darkness.

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The sunrise

Set your alarm for 5:00 am the next morning for sunrise. When the time comes, hop on your bike and head up the park entrance road. It is steep and dark, so use every precaution. Don’t fret about navigation, you will see the signs and parking lot to leave your bike. Then, it’s another steep trek by foot up to the tippy top of Phu Chi Fa mountain. Grab a spot and wait for the sunrise to transform the land and your life.

The best way to begin your day….

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backpacking, Buddhism, Ruins, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, travel

Sri Lanka: The Tale of Sigiriya Rock

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Once upon a time, a powerful Sinhalese king felt a sudden pang of anxiety. He couldn’t understand why, because he had everything any man could desire. With his fervent will to survive and insatiable thirst for power, he had single handedly assassinated his father, King Dhatusena, chased off his brother, Mogallan- the rightful heir to the throne, and he had taken the island country of Sri Lanka as his own.

But, his acts were shrouded in evil, and when you are evil- you become anxious and you become paranoid. It is a curse, because though you succeed, you are haunted by your black acts and they gnaw at your brain like toxic parasites until you lose your beautiful mind. He knew his brother was still alive; he knew Mogallan would be back for revenge.

King Kassapa I took a quiet moment out of his royal life in the traditional Sri Lankan capital, Anuradhapura, and he thought about his exotic land, the pearl of the Indian Ocean.

Kings come and kings go on this chameleon island, leaving behind a fantastic history, with colors as deep and ever-changing as a mood ring. But, this king, he was determined. He was intelligent and imaginative. He did not believe his rule would end, as if he would ever let such a ridiculous fate come to be.

And so, he gathered his most trusted advisers, engineers and mathematicians, and he began to plan. He would move the capital city to the jungles of central Sri Lanka, to a sturdy rock. Brown, calloused hands lifting and sifting, pulling and pushing, climbing and hammering  and painting under the hot Ceylon sun. Sigiriya Rock would became a sacred haven, a dazzling pleasure palace and intrepid fortress unlike any the world had ever seen.

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My friend Pazi from Hiking Sri Lanka and I had just hopped off the local bus on our way to climb Sigiriya, or Lion Rock. It was a sweltering November day as we embarked through the central Matale District near the town of Dambulla to explore this World UNESCO Heritage site. What a mind boggling place. We stopped for a coconut and I peeped above the thick foliage to where the great rock painted the sky. You can see the damn thing from miles around- a trapped beast dominating the relentless jungle from North, East, South and West. Its skin is flushed copper and milk, its granite spine protruding into pristine blue.

But, what really sets Sigiriya Rock apart from any place in the world, is the tale of its legacy: the horrors and grandeur events it witnessed centuries ago. There is a certain eeriness here; deep rooted, dark wisps of betrayal and murder, the stench of greed and the lingering remnants of arrogance and unspeakable wealth.

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Towering, steep sides and a long, flat top allow for the perfect fortified chamber, and Kassapa I knew this. He moved the Sri Lankan capital from Anuradhapura in 477 CE and turned the monstrous plateau into a seemingly impenetrable kingdom. It was meticulously planned and laid out. When you arrive, you notice the long, rectangular pools, filled with white and purple lotus. Green mossy steps and gardens welcome visitors, with the Lion Rock looming ahead. Walk the path through the West side of the capital city, past crumbling columns, temples and withered water gardens; where bustling markets and shops once stood in another time.

Then, you begin to climb the rock, step by step, and you run your fingers along the cool granite surface and imagine what it was like to call this stunning place home.

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“Here, I will feel infinite peace,” the nervous king reassured himself. And he focused his deep seeded anxiety into creating an architectural masterpiece. Day in and day out, this lonely rock in the middle of the jungle was turned into a bustling metropolis, a marvel that would stand the test of time. Artists clung to the rock’s sides, illuminating the drab walls with bright frescoes of wanton feminine faces, supple breasts and soft stares meant only for you. Painted hands extend, cradling tropical flowers and fruits, beckoning visitors through rock corridors to the mirror wall. It is slathered in thick coats of polished white plaster that shimmer so brightly, the king can see his reflection as he navigates the deep cut paths and steps of his spectacular abode.

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Climbing still, Pazi and I are halfway up to the palace. We stop in front of a crooked grand staircase, flanked by two massive feline paws. It is the entrance to the top, where the royals lived and played with all of Sri Lanka spread for miles around them. This is an infamous gateway. This side of the rock had been carved into the shape of an enormous lion. Visitors climbed up the stairs into the gaping jaws, and through the cat’s throat to reach the magnificent plateau. Now, only the paws remain.

Finally, we reach the top. Pulling myself onto the rock’s flat shelf, I stand and gaze about. You can see clear across the country for 360 degrees.

“From here, I can see any advancing attack,” thought the King, a smug smile on his arrogant face. He turned and surveyed his new palace. Deep, long baths filled with clean water and elaborate rooms and gardens covered the flat plateau. The city below was an ant hill overshadowed by large, deadly boulders teetering on cliff edges. They were strategically placed and held up by thick logs, ready to be released upon the enemy at any moment. Despite the tropical heat, a light breeze calmed the king, and he was a god on top of the world.

One boulder still remains in place, perched and waiting
One boulder still remains in place, perched and waiting

Pazi and I spent some time on top of Sigiriya. The baths are still there, filled with green water. A band of monkeys scampered amongst the palace ruins. A few of the babies dove in and out of the biggest pool while protective mothers watched from the water’s edge. I had no idea that monkeys could swim so well. They were jungle mermaids, diving deep and disappearing beneath the emerald murk before resurfacing seconds later in a different spot.

“You know, they haven’t figured out the source of the water, or how it gets up here,” said Pazi. “In fact, only part of the ruins have been dug up. There is still a lot of land that needs to be dug and ruins that need to be discovered.”

I shook my head as I gazed out past the plains and wild jungle into distant cities, my imagination bursting at the seams. How can such a small island be packed with so much history, ancient tales, sacred hideaways and mysterious secrets?

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A scream so shrill it could turn blood to dust and shrivel veins erupted deep from the throat of King Kassapa’s battle elephant. It was 495 CE, and Mogallan had indeed returned with a vengeance. Amidst the throes of a bloody battle for the throne, King Kassapa made a decision that would change his fate. Taking matters into his own hands, he urged his elephant in a much different charge than his army had anticipated. Confused and perceiving the impulsive move as a retreat, the King’s army abandoned him, and Sigiriya was in the clutches of his brother, the rightful King of Sri Lanka. Kassapa would never admit defeat, his pride was too great. Unsheathing his pointed dagger, he held the glinting blade up to the sun, and in one fluid movement, slashed his own throat.

*This historical information in this post is taken from the Chulavamsa, a Sri Lankan historical account compiled by Buddhist monks, which covers the 4th century to 1815.

Uncategorized

How I Backpacked the Maldives on a Budget

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The small motorboat rocked gently on the morning waves. No time for breakfast or coffee, my 19-year-old Maldivian guide had ushered me out of bed, to the boat, where his teenage companion was waiting. He saw us, and immediately began to coax the salty engine to life.

“We must beat the tourist dive boats,” my guide explained. All I had was my mask and GoPro camera. All he had was a never-ending cigarette, hash oil eyes and an impressive pinky fingernail.

“Why is your pinky nail so long?”

I had been staring, wondering, and had finally worked up the courage to ask.

“My buddy and I are in a contest. Whoever cuts it first, loses. Then, they must get the other a treat.”

“How long has this contest been going on for?” I asked.

“Since 10-years-old.”

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It was my second day on Maafushi Island in the Maldives and the three of us were off on an oceanic adventure to free dive the surrounding coral reefs. Since I was way far off from being able to afford the luxurious dive trips most other Maldives visitors book, I had discovered a much cheaper and one-of-a-kind option: hanging with the young locals.

Maafushi slowly disappeared and we became engulfed by turquoise and sapphire. Now, I’ve grown up on the Atlantic Ocean, lived on a beach my entire life- but there’s something different about the Indian Ocean. Something wild and savage, yet too beautiful to be frightened of it. A true siren luring salt lovers into the abyss.

And then, I spotted them- there had to be around a hundred. Wild dolphins splicing through the gentle chop, one twisting gracefully in the morning air, another spluttering a stream of foamy liquid from its blowhole. I had seen wild dolphins before, but never like this. Never this many.

The boat engine died and we came to an abrupt stop. Waves pulled and pushed the briny hull in a hypnotizing tug-of-war. And the pod surrounded us, passing us, fins rising and falling smoothly with the moving currents.

Before I knew what I was doing, my mask was on and I felt my body slipping into the open sea. I held my breath and dove and the Indian Ocean swallowed me whole.

The world underneath the waves was intoxicating, a subliminal trip. Plummeting depths with no sand in sight, I floated deep, suspended in hazy green and blue. Streams of sunlight shot here and there, illuminating plankton, and the underwater world was filled with the loud clicks and clacks of dolphin echolocation. For a brief moment, I became a part of the pod.The dolphins swam about me, at a distance, flipping easily onto their sides for a curious glance of this alien creature. They were cautious, but not afraid, toothy, playful grins as they took me in, laughed at me, then continued on their journey.

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Welcome to the Maldives

A magical, mystical tropical paradise exists. It is called: The Maldives.

This clustered island nation dotting the Indian Ocean like a string of jewels are a well known honeymoon destination, sprinkled with a myriad of luxury resorts. It most certainly doesn’t hold the budget backpacker reputation, but that is beginning to change.

Despite the illusion that traveling to this tropical playground is only for the flashy,  it is possible to travel on a budget. Yes, you heard correctly- IT IS POSSIBLE.  Read my tips on backpacking the Maldives on a budget, and get ready to book your ticket and dive right into a melting pot of culture, untouched salty bliss and unique island living that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Deciding where to go

The Maldives isn’t as budget friendly as other countries in Southeast Asia, but if you have the chance to go- take it. Cut down on costs by limiting your time here, and brainstorm what exactly you would like to do. The Maldives offer excellent diving and snorkel opportunities. If you just want to veg out on a peaceful,  powder white beach, you can find it anywhere. Research the islands, as each is unique in its own way, some more deserted than others. Also, get a geographic idea of how far each island is from the capital, Male. This is important because the main ferry port is located here- the heart of your Maldives transportation.

My recommendation….

For location and money, I would recommend checking out Maafushi as a strategic home base. It is the second largest island in the Maldives, has more guesthouse options than the other islands and is a short ferry ride from Male. Maafushi is an easy island to get lost on, and when you stay in a guesthouse, you get to experience the day to day life of the Maldivian people, an experience that gets shut out by staying at a resort.

From Maafushi, it’s easy to book dive trips to nearby coral reefs or hang out at the pristine beaches. Though Maafushi is the second largest island, there are no paved roads or cars here, just pure white sand, palm trees and warm crystal water.

Maafushi Tip:

Because the Maldives are strictly Muslim, be considerate about bathing in the sea. On Maafushi, there are two beaches: a local beach and a foreigner beach. It is expected that ladies do not romp around the island or hang at the local beach in a bikini. At the foreigner beach, this is ok.

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Ditch Resort Life

Hidden in the shadows of those wealthy beach resorts are guesthouses that are much cheaper and offer a one-on-one cultural experience. As budget travelers take the leap and head to the Maldives, more and more guesthouses are springing up out of the sand like coconut palms. Check out Airbnb for various guesthouses in the Maldives, and you will be pleasantly surprised by the numerous options- way cheaper than those pocket draining resorts.

My recommendation:

I stayed at the Silver Sea Inn on Maafushi in Nov. 2014, with low rates starting around $20. Prices can vary depending on when/where you go. It was quiet, clean and the staff were incredibly hospitable. The owner invited me to enjoy a traditional Maldivian dinner of savory fish stew and rice with him and his wife on my final night. It was the perfect end to my Maldivian journey, plopping chunks of thick fish caught just offshore into my mouth using my hands.

Transportation

To keep spending to a minimum, embrace the public ferry and walking about the islands. Male, though busy and filled with cabs, is small enough to navigate by foot, and you get to experience much more of the bustling city life. If you plan on staying in the capital for a day or two, it’s easy to find cheap lodging- but don’t expect 5 Star accommodations or beach paradise.

All travelers are brought to Male from the airport, because that is where the main ferry port is located. The ferry is the cheapest mode of transport to the islands. You travel with the local people, so the experience is not one to be missed. Speed boats are also available, but are expensive- easily over $100 for a ride. If you have a group, then the price can be split and you can maximize your time with a quick trip, but you won’t get the same cultural experience as riding the ferry.

Island transport is by foot or bike. Once the ferry unloads, you will be surprised to look clear across to the other side of the island, no paved roads to be seen. Get lost and explore on your own two feet! This is the best way to observe the unique Islamic island life mixed with cultures from the Middle East, India and Sri Lanka.

Tip:

Check out the ferry schedule to get an idea of routes and prices. Keep in mind that the ferry does not operate on Friday for prayers.

Uncategorized

An Ode to the Bum Gun

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I would like to take a brief moment to pay homage to one of mankind’s most extraordinary inventions: the butt blaster, the bum gun, the incredible bidet.

We westerners sit daintily upon our porcelain thrones amidst the spicy aroma of potpourri bowls and lavish lemony sprays, quietly going about our most intricate business of the day. Each and every trip to the loo ends the same way- reaching for that thick, fluffy roll of toilet paper, swiping and wiping to no avail, and hopefully doing so from front to back.

In America, toilet paper is life. There is no other way to clean one’s tootie, and if there is another way….just, no.

Meanwhile, in Asia and Europe, the bum blaster stands tall and confident over its WC kingdom…a rather simple tool that reigns with an iron grasp and deftly conquers any booty no matter how big or how small. You find these nozzled hoses faithfully  positioned and ready for battle beside almost every squat and sitting toilet throughout Asia; a lethal cobra ready to nip at the dingiest behind with a most powerful and unrelenting water pressure.

You never forget your first time

My first experience with one of these mysterious contraptions was a mental challenge peppered with nerves and buts and what ifs. I eyed the leery pistol. It sat there, a beckoning metal mouth filled with multitudes of minuscule anticipating holes. I gulped. Coming from a country where toilet paper is seemingly the only way to deal with dirty matters down there, I was perplexed, my mind boggled.

“Nope, ain’t using it.” I thought, and reached instead, for toilet paper. Only problem is, 90% of the time you aren’t gonna find that powdery soft goodness at any restroom in Thailand. And when you have food poisoning from feasting on that suspicious street meat on a stick, things can get, well…shitty.

I eyed the butt blaster nervously. It looked like it would wrap it’s cold, plastic coils  around my neck and strangle me at any moment. This sitting squat position was starting to kill my legs. I needed to make a decision immediately.

Quickly, I glanced around, first right, then left, as if onlookers were hiding, watching, waiting for me to grab hold of the hose so they could jump out, point and laugh at me in my vulnerable state. This isn’t the norm, I don’t do this back home…no one does wtf.

But alas, I had no choice. After successfully avoiding every bum gun in the beginning of my travels through Asia, we finally met for the first time. Gingerly, I extended my hand in greeting, and took hold.

It was like two pimple-faced 16-year-olds sharing a first kiss on a first date. I pushed down on the nozzle and instantly lost control as an overwhelming jet of cool water coated the bathroom walls, my legs, and fuck…my pants.

“Easy girl…easssy,” I coaxed the bucking bronco, a single bead of sweat trickling down the side of my face. Now what. Do I stand? Do I lift one leg? If I do it this way, I soak my pants. If I do it that way…I soak my pants.

I won’t go into the nitty gritty details, but damn, was it awkward. After what seemed like ages, I flung open the tattered stall door in victory, gasping for breath. I had survived! I had succeeded in using the bum gun! The old Thai woman collecting baht at the restroom entrance just stared at me indifferently with pursed lips. Somehow, I had managed to soak my entire outfit.

But, it didn’t matter. I was reborn- a changed woman. A luminous beam of light descended down from the heavens upon my weary derriere and I threw up my hands in infinite glory. Like a caterpillar, I had shed the soft toilet paper skin I knew and loved to rise from the messy tissue scraps  a clean- a squeaky clean butterfly.

Where it all began…

The bum gun had revolutionized my life, changed my toilet escapades forever. Why the fuck don’t we have these in America? It’s a question I ask myself every time I experience the joyful cleansing of a butt blaster.

The original bidet was invented by the French in the 1700s. By the early 1900s, it had evolved from a crude hand pump and chamber pot to a tidy ceramic bowl with knobs and hoses. One simply straddled the thing like riding a pony, and washed away all of the day’s worries.

The Japanese further enhanced the bidet after WWII when they began importing sitting toilets from America. Modern plumbing brought the party into the bathroom, a hose attached to a nozzle.

Today, the modern bum gun is used throughout Asia and Europe, but hasn’t yet become a thing in the good ol US of A. Many Americans have never even seen one. The thought of a bum gun brings smirks and giggles- an alien idea. But, this is ignorance, because that damn water hose is a gift of the gods.

Besides the obvious sanitation benefits, the bum gun reduces the use of paper waste, saving money and the environment in the long run. It’s also handy for those with less mobility, such as senior individuals and young children.

It may take some getting used to, but once you embrace this foreign phenomenon you’ll never go back to toilet paper ever again. There’s nothing more exhilarating than walking out of the restroom with a bottom as fresh as spring daisies.

I’ve counseled a handful of westerners on my travels that confided their anxiety when it came to butt blasters, and I continue to offer advice to anyone that seeks it. Here are some of my personal tips for using the legendary bum gun. photo2

How to Become a Bum Gun Wizard

  1. If you’re sitting on a toilet seat, spread your legs. If you are using a squat toilet….hold that squat a while longer and work them glutes.
  2. Grab hold of the bum gun, right hand or left, depending on what feels most comfortable.
  3. Take a deep breath and get over the fact that you are spraying down your privates. There’s no need to be bashful.
  4. Hold the nozzle downwards from the front and position accordingly.
  5. Squeeze that nozzle like your life depends on it.
  6. Spray thoroughly. Get every nook and cranny. Take your time, pace yourself…slow and steady wins the race.
  7. Finished? Breathe easy, my friend. The hard part is over.
  8. Actually, now you have a new dilemma. I like to call this: Wet Butt Syndrome.
  9. Don’t fret! If you are one of those individuals that is prepared for any situation in life, you probably have some tissues handy. If you don’t give a fuck, you might use your socks. Or, you can just give your bottom a swift little shake to rid yourself of excess water droplets. Everyone has their own unique drying method- get creative and have fun with it.
  10. Rejoice! Your tush is sparkling like a fresh martini after a hard day’s work. Say goodbye to toilet paper fragments, and, well, pesky poop particles.

Now, you’re ready to conquer the world, one well-directed blast at a time!

backpacking, chicken, cooking, eating, expat, food, Southeast Asia, Thai food, Thailand, travel

The Chicken Place

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A plate clatters to the floor, clanging, banging, startling….everyone stops their work to glance at the mild ruckus. The older Thai woman behind the counter with kind eyes and a warm smile makes eye contact with me, and we both burst into a fit of giggles.

I’ve been living in Chiang Rai, Thailand for over a week now, and eating at- what I call- the chicken place has become part of my daily routine. Here, no one speaks English, except for me and my farang friends. But the language barrier doesn’t matter. The family that runs the restaurant- Mr. Art’s- know us, chattering away in Thai. I nod in agreement, pretending to understand, wanting so badly to understand.

Every morning, I savor the 15 minute walk from my tiny studio apartment to have breakfast and coffee. The heat is starting to creep as I pass the highway, and beads of sweat cluster on my forehead and lip. On the bridge, I stop, as usual, to enjoy the spectacular view.

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The Kok River is all amber glass and sheen, draped with a lush backdrop studded with never-ending rows of slumping limestone mountains. An enormous white Buddha statue sits peacefully above the peaks, the stone giants bow down respectively from North, East, South and West.

This is home.

Upon arrival at Mr. Art’s, they know my usual order of chicken, rice and hot espresso, and no longer serve my chicken with the skin on it. They’ve noticed that I always peel off the tender strips before digging in.

Service is quick. I sip ice cold water after my hot walk as a plastic plate is laid gently before me. My eyes, nose and mouth are met with a mound of steaming white rice, topped with thick strips of white-meat chicken, encompassed with neat cucumber crisps. A pink bowl of fresh chicken broth accompanies the dish.

But, I eye the brown ceramic bowl before me. There is one on each table. The lid comes off and the rich aroma overwhelms my nostrils. A homemade sauce consisting of chunky ginger, diced chilli peppers and a sweet and spicy medley of flavors creates the most addicting condiment my taste buds have ever savored.

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“Always fresh. Cook with no MSG,” chef and owner, the one and only, Mr. Art explains enthusiastically to me in broken English.

I’ve never seen such passion for food, and Art’s dedication and love for his restaurant is obvious. The little chicken place on the dusty outskirts of Chiang Rai is constantly busy. Helped by his wife, aunts, mother, father, brother and  daughter- it is one big happy family affair.

All work together doing whatever it takes to keep customers satisfied and the business running smoothly. But, at the same time, smiling and joking with each other, cherishing each day they share together and with their customers.

Belly full of chicken, rice and ginger, I enjoy a pot of jasmine tea and observe the family in the light of a busy new day. I watch with a smile as Art takes a minute from putting together delivery meals to kiss his small son or the women chuckle together as they prepare meals. Art’s young daughter always runs up to us with menus, eager to practice her English with my friend Ale and I.

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“Special menu… red curry,” Art whispers shyly, sliding over a small sampling of pork marinated in a delectable blend of coconut milk and bright, red spices. Every day there’s something new he lets us try, free of charge. He simply loves cooking and wants others to enjoy it as much as he does.

Not only is the food delicious, but it’s the heart-warming atmosphere Art and his family have created that keeps me coming back. Their positive attitude and genuine kindness is the perfect start to my day, and I always look forward to it. They don’t treat you like a customer- they make you feel as if you’re part of the family.

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Mr. Art’s is open early each morning from 7am to 3pm, with fresh, tasty Thai food and impeccable service that has made it a popular dining choice for locals.

A small sized dish of chicken and rice- their specialty, costs a mere 30 baht. Other chicken and pork dishes are offered, changing daily. They also serve yummy bubble teas and fresh, strong coffee. This is a must try spot when visiting Chiang Rai if you want to get away from the typical tourist joints. I’ll see you there 🙂

Bon Apetit!

Uncategorized

Bangkok in a Nutshell

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Need some super lightning fast budget travel-knowledge on Bangkok?

Overview

1) It’s expensive

2) Traffic is the pits- Plan accordingly (I always estimate at least one hour to get from point A to point B and I plan around rush hour)

3) It’s fucking hot (Tip: 711 convenience stores are everywhere. It’s the cheapest place I’ve found big water bottles for 13 baht; also good to stop in for an air con shower)

4) Bangkok is HUGE

Transportation

5) Never take a taxi without a meter. If the driver claims it’s broken or they don’t use one, get out immediately and flag down another one.

6) Travel along the Chao Phraya River by ferry- it’s a cheap and fast way to get around Bangkok, especially for sightseeing

7) The BTS SkyTrain> It shows up on Google Maps and is extremely helpful for locating checkpoints; this is also a cost effective way to travel

Where to Stay- Khao San Road

8) I’m a big fan of Khao San Road. I know travelers gripe about how seedy it is, but it has everything you need right there without having to spend money traveling around the city. If you need to book buses, flights or the ferry- there are travel agents everywhere. Most of the time the buses will pick you up from your guesthouse without you having to take a taxi to the bus station. Pharmacies and convenience stores are also everywhere.

10) I like to stay at Green House BKK. It offers affordable rooms starting at around 300 baht, with fan and air con options. The rooms are basic and clean with the option of private bathrooms or shared. They give you towels, soap and there is a restaurant and bar.

Where to eat- Khao San Road

11) There is a small Khao man gai stand at the beginning of Rambuttri street where you can get a yummy meal of savory chicken and rice for around 40 baht.

12) Any of the food stalls are cheap and filling

Airports

13) Cheap Air-Asia flights can be booked out of Don Muang Airport. There is an airport express van from Khao San Road that costs around 180 baht. Taxis will try to charge 400 baht to take you to the airport.

14) If you land in Suvarnabhumi Airport and have a connecting flight in Don Muang, there is a free bus shuttle between the two airports. Just make sure you have your ticket handy to get the free ride.

My favorite places

15) The Ghost Tower: A giant skyscraper that was abandoned years ago. It’s shrouded in mystery and ghost stories, but the climb to the top reveals some pretty epic panoramic views of Bangkok. Check out my post on Travelog to learn more.

16) The Grand Palace and Wat Prakaew for some dazzling Thai architecture

17) Damnoen Saduak floating market for an authentic experience: think boats filled with fruits, vegetables and flowers along Bangkok’s infamous canals

18) Soi Cowboy: The red light district named after the cowboy hat-wearin’ expat that opened the first bar here in the 1970s

19) Forensic Museum: Delve into the weird, and by weird I mean corpses of mass murderers, deformed fetus’ in jars and other preserved body parts.

20) Chinatown: Go at night time on an empty stomach for a smorgasbord of tasty street vendor treats