Teaching in Thailand

Well, I wanted to do some work, but my internet isn’t working at the moment (what a surprise!), so I decided to blog instead.

So in case you missed the last Instagram post…I now teach in Thailand! That’s right, I’m teaching about 200 kids in a school in Northeastern Thailand wooohooo!

How mad is that. I don’t even like kids haha (: These kids can be kinda annoying (as can most kids), but they’re definitely a far cry from the entitled, pompous little brats in Singapore, so that’s good. And the Thai teachers who follow them around from class to class are more than happy to act as big mother hens and keep them (somewhat) in line. Besides, this gig is only for the next 18 weeks, so I’m quite confident I’ll survive.

Well, anyway. Friends in the region, please feel free to come and visit! Bangkok would probably be a better place to meet though – where I’m at has 500 people, 4 restaurants, 2 7-11s and a Tesco supermarket. No more, no less. Lots of people selling meat on a stick though, so that keeps me happy (and fat).

 

What else is new. Absolutely nothing. I vacillate between thinking I have a lot of free time (there’s absolutely nothing to do in Nam Phong), and no time at all (there seems to be an insane amount of lesson planning and prep and marking to do, all while on spotty internet, so that keeps things interesting). The other teachers here are nice, which is the saving grace of being here, in the middle of nowhere. I can’t imagine how I’d be dealing with things if I had gone to the other school with only two other ESL teachers.

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At lunch with the other teachers, on a very sweaty day at school.

Y, que mas? Perhaps I will finally find some motivation to get blogging about the rest of what’s happened in the last 3.5 years of travelling the world. Perhaps, but don’t hold your breath.

In any case, because you’re all my ardent fans, you’ll stay tuned for the next installation coming your way pronto. Till next time, peace and love patience and self-control!

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Another month goes by, and I finally muster the energy to write another blog post. Obviously, I’m not too good at keeping to my new year resolutions, but to be honest, who is?

Where am I now? Thailand. I got here almost three weeks ago but haven’t yet mustered any energy to write anything about it. Not because Thailand has been awful – on the contrary, it’s been quite lovely and I’m enjoying how easy everything is in this country. No, I think I’ve pretty much just been recovering from India, which was an absolute…I don’t even know how to describe it.

Anyway. I’ve fallen sick, I think, so I’m not very motivated to gush about how wonderful Thailand is, or whine about how awful India was (broad generalizations). I just got back to Chiang Mai after spending five wonderful days in Pai, a small little town in the middle of a valley, surrounded by mountains. It was absolutely incredible place, and I spent most of my time there not doing much apart from wandering around the town, and eating all the delicious street food (of which there are no pictures because I ate everything before I remembered to take pictures). And obviously, because I gave my body time to relax and decompress, it kinda just went kaput. Hopefully, that will blow over in a few days because interesting times await. You’ll have to stay tuned for the next blog post to find out what’s cooking in crunch-land because I have work to do, and I also want to take a nap before dinner, and everything.

And to make it worth your while for coming here, some random pics from the last….forever long (to be honest, the last proper travel/destination related post was…Kalpetta, and that was some time in February, so). Enjoy!

 

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A kid peering out of the stained glass windows at Udaipur Palace.

 

 

 

So, that’s that. There are tonnes of places I have stopped at along the way since I left Kalpetta, but that’s gonna have to be saved for another day. In the meanwhile, I’m going to sleep off this cold. Toodles!

Goodbyes Are Hard.

I started writing this when I said goodbye to you. And when you left. And when I left you. And we both went our separate ways. I started writing this in my head, after every goodbye I’ve ever said that’s broken my heart, and left me wishing goodbye wasn’t even a word that existed. I started writing this years ago, but I’ve only just put it into words.

Recently, my friend and I were speaking of goodbyes, of farewells, of separating and going our own ways.

“Surely, for someone like you, who’s been travelling for over 3 years, saying goodbye must be easy.”

The truth is, saying goodbye is never easy. And I think it’s only gotten harder and harder.

Of course, I’m not talking about saying goodbye to casual acquaintances – random people you meet in hostels and chat with over a coffee, or even people you might spend a whole day with sightseeing and talking about this and that. Those goodbyes are perhaps, not easy, but you accept them as a part of your reality. No, no. The goodbyes that I’m talking about are the ones you still think about days, weeks, months after they happen.

Travelling as much as I do, I’ve come to realize that real connections are hard to come by. People you really click with, people you feel like you’ve known for years after just a brief interaction, people you get you. When I meet these people, as rarely as it happens, it’s so easy to just be with them that I always end up being around them longer than I would ever have planned. I mean, it’s not like I have anywhere else to be, right? But inevitably, the longer I spend with them, the harder the goodbye becomes. And when we finally do part, the goodbye is always a heart-wrenching moment, as I leave with my eyes full of tears, always, fighting the urge to turn around and go right back to them.

But as with all things, the feeling fades, and eventually, I remember the wise words of A.A. Milne,

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

How lucky I am indeed. ❤

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Forgotten Family

Rediscovering Family in India

I admit, I’ve gotten lazy about updating this blog. Inertia is real, guys. Also, it’s easy to get sucked into the daily nothingness of wandering aimlessly around places, work, and meeting new people. But this…well, meeting family you haven’t met or talked to in 20 years is something worth writing about, I think.

The story begins in Madurai, where I had just decided that my next destination would be Trichy, famous for a huge temple complex called Srirangam. As is my usual practice, I Whatsapped my family chat group to announce my plan to head to Trichy the next day, and curiously, my dad responded saying “Your aunt lives in Trichy. This is her number. Give her a call if you can.” He then followed that up with my aunt’s daughter’s (my cousin’s) contact information, saying that she lived in Thanjavur, where I had planned to go after visiting Trichy.

Now, this may not seem particularly strange to you, but family ties between my dad and his siblings are tenuous at best. Of his ten (!) siblings, I believe my dad only speaks regularly to two of them. For whatever reasons, my dad doesn’t speak to, and of, the others. I had assumed this aunt was the same.

Now, I had met her before. 20 years ago, my family visited India to perform some customary rites for my deceased grandfather. As a child of merely seven, I have a vague memory of her in my grandmother’s house, and of her making some delicious chutney for us to take on the overnight train with us. That’s the last time I remember seeing her, or speaking to her. Apart from that, I had no other recollection of her, nor any other information about her or her family other than that she had two daughters.

Anyway. Back to the story. Suddenly, my trip to Trichy had taken on an interesting dimension I had not expected. Despite having her number, I did not contact my aunt immediately. I mean, after 20 years of not talking to her, I had no idea what to expect. I instead headed to Trichy, and spent a couple of days there before I finally worked up enough courage to try to call the number my dad had given me.

After all that anticipation, it was a huge letdown. The number was not valid. -_- I tried my cousin’s number instead, and surprise of surprises, she answered! She even knew who I was when I introduced myself! She had no way of contacting her mother either, but instead gave me her address, telling me to go visit my aunt when I could.

Armed with just an address, I set off the next morning in an Ola cab that took me right to her doorstep. I had no idea what to expect, and felt strangely nervous about the whole situation. She had last seen me when I was seven. What would she think of me turning up unannounced at her doorstep after twenty years of silence? I was about to find out.

The door was shut, and there didn’t appear to be a doorbell, so I stood awkwardly at the gate, wondering what to do. Thankfully, at that moment, the milkman rode up and tooted his horn. The door opened, and out came a man I presumed was my uncle – I had no memory of ever having met him, nor seen his photograph. I let the men conduct their transaction, and then spoke up.

“Is my aunt at home? I’m here from Singapore, her youngest brother’s second daughter.”

He gaped at me, confused, for a second, before inviting me into his home and telling me that my aunt had gone to the temple and would be back shortly. I sat awkwardly in the living room, and waited for my aunt while making small talk with this stranger I was apparently related to.

Eventually, my aunt arrived in a flurry of activity. She was just as I remembered her – a bit heavier, a bit slower, a few more lines etched in her face, but still the same in essence. She greeted me with such joy as I had not expected, and I found that she bore no grudge against me for my absence from her life for the last 20 years.

 

She immediately started making preparations for lunch, and questioned me about all my favourite foods, promising to cook everything my heart desired for me. In my family, we’re not big on hugs or saying things like “I love you” – we show love through food, and I guess she felt like she needed to shower me with 20 years of affection in the short time that I had with her. When I arrived at her house that day, I had planned to stay for a few hours just to see her and her family, because, if nothing else, they are part of my family. I ended up spending most of that day and the next, at her house, chatting with her and her elder daughter, Sasi, about things that had happened in their lives in the last 20 years that I had not been a part of. I also got to meet my nephew, Prem, who seems like a cool guy but whom I didn’t get to hang out with much since he was heading back to Chennai that night. And all while stuffing my face with the incredibly delicious food she made. Mutton, chicken, fish, kurma, rasam, chutney, dosai, chappati, idiyappam, murukku, tea, coffee. Just thinking about the food is making me drool all over again.

That evening, while applying fresh maruthani from her garden to my hands, she told me that I was always welcome in her home. That no matter what, if I were ever in or around Trichy, that I should always come back to her house and spend a few days there. That even though she hadn’t really been a part of my life in the last 20 years, there’s no reason why it should be like that in the future.

 

The next morning, it was off to catch the train to Thanjavur, where my grandmother had spent a portion of her life, where the temple of my family’s deity (kuladeivam temple) was, and where my cousin, Priya, and her family lived. My cousin’s husband, Ramesh, was there to receive me at the Thanjavur train station, and we headed to his house where I met my cousin for the first time that I could remember. She looked exactly like my aunt did, 20 years ago, but I had no memory of her. It wasn’t the time for catching up on long forgotten stories though, because it was almost 11, and she suggested that I head to the kuladeivam temple first before they closed for the afternoon, if they were even open in the first place.

I hopped on the back of Ramesh’s motorbike and we headed to Arasapattu, a farming village. As we rode, he told me about the the area, and the villages that we were passing – things that were part of my heritage, but that I knew nothing about at all. We eventually arrived at the temple, but not before stopping a few times along the way to introduce me to random villagers as my father’s daughter, all of whom knew my grandmother, and had heard of my father but never met him (and probably had no idea that my siblings and I even existed). My presence was a source of some sort of excitement in the village, not least because I apparently “look exactly like my grandmother, just a foot taller and not as hunched”.

 

 

 

Anyway, by a stroke of luck, the temple was open and there was even a priest there, so that worked out quite well. Ramesh told me that I was quite fortunate, because for some reason, when my other uncles had visited the temple, they hadn’t managed to perform the pujas they’d wanted to – apparently only the women in my family have had the blessings to come to the temple and perform the necessary pujas.

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Kuladeivam temple

 

On the way back from the temple, we stopped to visit my my grandfather’s brother’s son, an elderly man by the name of Dhanushkodi, and his wife. I think he had been helping out with looking after my grandfather’s assets in the village since my grandfather left for Singapore, but I had no idea he even existed until that day. He and his wife were extremely surprised and pleased to see me – his wife was extremely affectionate towards me in the brief time I spent there, and even teared up when the time came for me to leave.

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Dhanushkodi uncle and his wife

 

After that, it was back home where Priya had cooked up quite a feast. I met Thiyagesh, my nephew, a cheerful 13-year-old who was quite convinced that I could help him hack into various gaming sites (he was quite disappointed when I told him I lacked such prowess, but I think he got over it quite quickly). Over lunch, and the rest of the time that I spent with her, Priya told me stories about my family that I had never known, and probably would never have gotten to know otherwise. I felt somewhat like a sponge, absorbing all the information about this part of my family that I never even knew existed.

 

The next day, we went to visit the house my grandmother used to live in before she moved to Singapore to live with my family. I remembered there being a small house in an expansive garden full of trees and plants, with a few chickens and turkeys wandering around. The place we pulled up to looked nothing like that, and my surprise must have registered on my face because Priya confirmed that this was indeed my grandmother’s house. It was in a sad state. It was much smaller than I remembered, probably in part because of all the taller, newer houses that had been errected around that plot of land. The garden was dead, with only one guava tree left standing, and the house looked worse for wear. None of it looked familiar at all, until I stepped into the house. Nothing much inside had changed, except that the fan that caused electric shocks was no longer there. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that, and it made me quite sad.

 

We left after a short while – there was nothing more to be done there. The rest of the day passed quite pleasantly, as we visited some of Thanjavur’s main sights – the Big Temple and the Palace – and then hung out chatting with Priya, Ramesh and Thiyagesh. The next morning, I left to catch the 430am train to Pondicherry, and just like that, this episode of my India trip came to an end.

 

 

I didn’t quite know what to make of it all, and in some ways, I still don’t. I mean, I had only a vague idea of the existence of some of these people, and no idea others even existed, and it rather blew me away that they were all so affectionate and welcoming toward me, just by virtue of the fact that I am my father’s daughter. I learnt so much about my family history that I had never known, and I suddenly find that I now have family where none previously existed. It was a rather strange experience, simply put.

 

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Thiyagesh, who looks quite displeased here, but was actually quite happy irl.

 

Perhaps I shall visit them again before this trip comes to an end – my family, no longer forgotten.

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Thanjavur doll at the Palace.

Thoughts on India

What are my thoughts on India so far? Well, I’ve been here for more than two months, so it seems like I would have a lot of thoughts, and I think I do.

First off, I can’t decide if I like it or not. I was talking to my friend about this and when I told her that I couldn’t decide if I like India or not, the first question she asked was if it was because of the food. Quite an apt summary of my ambivalence toward India, I think. The food is amazing and delicious, I admit. Almost all the food I’ve had here so far as been incredible, from the fancy(ish) restaurants to the street vendors. My problem is not the taste of the food…it’s the food itself. Ask my mother, and she’ll tell you that I don’t like Indian food. While that is strictly not true, I will admit that it’s not my favourite. I love rice, and rice dishes, but the ubiquitous dosa and idly are faaaaaar down on my lists of favourite foods. Idly doesn’t even make the cut on my list of favourite foods, actually. Puri and parotta are somewhat more acceptable but my stomach can only deal with that much oil on a daily basis. Vadais and samosas are wonderful, and I would eat them all the time, but my stomach has sent me a strict memo against it, again on account of the amount of oil contained within each of these bite-sized savories. Given that my name is crunch, it seems obvious that food features quite prominently in my life…and yeah, I admit, I’m kinda over Indian food.

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Yes, I take lots of food pictures.

 

Food woes aside, I think my experience in India has been rather different from the typical tourist or backpacker. Sure, everyone wants to feel like they’re special, but hear me out. I’m in India, and I’m Indian, but…I’m not. Bit of background so this makes a a little more sense. I’m Singaporean, born and bred. But my grand parents (great grand parents?) were from India. They migrated a loooong time ago to Singapore, and built their lives there. Their children, my parents were born in Singapore and have lived all their lives in Singapore, and so have I and my siblings. We look Indian, we are of Indian heritage. My family is Hindu, we practice Indian / Hindu traditions, customs and rites. We are Indian, except we have no ties with the country itself. I’m Indian, but I’m not.

2017-02-20 10.49.41 This complicates things somewhat for me. I blend in with the locals, because of the way I look, but they can tell that I’m a foreigner. And the travellers, well, I blend in so well that they don’t think of me as a fellow traveller. It has made for somewhat of a lonely experience so far, and it’s always been up to me to approach other people to strike up a conversation, something that can get tiring real quick. It’s a strange space to be in, where you are a foreigner, but not really. You don’t get afforded the allowances given to “silly / ignorant” foreigners who don’t know any better, but you also get hassled by street vendors looking to rip off a “rich” tourist.

 

Add this to the fact that I’ve mostly been travelling alone save one or two occassions when I’ve met up with other travellers for a short stretch of my journey, and well…let me explain. Travelling solo in India is not uncommon. In fact, of all the places I’ve been so far, India seems to be the country that attracts the most solo travellers. Perhaps it is because India is such a polarizing country – people either really want to visit India, or they never want to set foot here ever in their lives. It’s not exactly a “neutral” country that people “don’t mind” visiting, just to see what it’s like, not like Latin American countries or other Asian countries. It’s also not a small country, and doesn’t lend itself to short week-long getaways like European countries – coming to India is almost always an undertaking of (more) epic proportions, with trips lasting at least a month to even years. So yes, solo travellers are not uncommon. But, solo Indian female travellers are. So while everyone else is enjoying India without a care in the world, I’m often plagued by questions like Are you alone? Where is your husband? Why aren’t you married? Why don’t you have kids? How did your parents let you go by yourself?, always asked with an air of judgement and suspicion. Safe to say, the other solo female travellers don’t get asked these questions quite as often (if at all), and probably not with the judginess that I encounter. Inevitably, almost all of these brief (but incredibly trying) interactions end with a dire warning “It’s not good for a girl like you to be alone.”

 

My personal gripes aside, India is not an easy country to travel in. Tourism is apparently faaaaaar down on the list of priorities, and infrastructure is severely lacking. India is an incredible place – their slogan is right on the mark – but it can be incredibly difficult too. Perhaps it’s a fun Indian pastime to come up with a list of things to make life difficult for the foreign tourist. Ha, I kid. But seriously. – Trains need to be booked way in advance to reserve a decent seat, something that complicates things if you’re like me and travel without a plan. – The website to book trains is ridiculously complicated to navigate, and requires that you have a local mobile number to do anything. Alternatively, go in person to the train station, where you may or may not be allowed to reserve a seat, depending on who you ask. – Getting a local mobile number can be a nightmare, because you need to have proof of residence in India / a local ID card. – Booking buses online is also impossible without local help, because the website does not accept international credit cards. – India has a ton of really cool places, but everything is inaccessible, expensive, or illegal to get to or explore, often for really silly reasons. I could go on, but why. This post is already full of too much negativity. I shall stop here, for now. Perhaps the next post will be “All the things I absolutely love about India!” but…don’t hold your breath for that.

 

 

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Fab India indeed.

 

No Phone, No Photos :(

My phones have died. Yes, you read that right. Phones, as in more than one. More specifically, two. They have died. Well, one really has, and the other is almost at the grave, so just as good as dead.

To be fair, they are both crappy phones. One is a 50$ phone I got in Costa Rica that has served me well for the last 10 months, but now can only survive for about 2 hours after being unplugged before it gives up the ghost. It also has a 2mp camera (who even makes phones like that any more?) which makes for terrible photos. The other is my mum’s HTC something, but it’s over 2 years old and has just suddenly died and refuses to turn on unless plugged into a power source. It was the primary source of all the pictures I’ve taken in India so far.

But anyway, now that both my phones are dead, I do not have any way of taking amazing pictures! Woe is me. And you, if you like reading my blog for the amazing (yarright) pictures and videos I put up. I’m going to try to buy myself a new phone, so any recommendations on what I should get for cheap with a decent enough camera would be recommended! Leave your comments! Also, if you’d like to contribute my phone-buying fund (or my next meal or my flight to the next cool destination, I’m not fussy), you can do so HERE and have my eternal and undying gratitude.

Well, till I get my new phone, lots of love everyone!

3 years and 3 months.

39 months ago, I left Singapore, with not even a thought that I would still be doing this “travel thing” for as long as I have.

I am truly blessed.

I started this post with dreams of writing something wonderful and amazing, heartfelt and touching. But words fail me, and I find that the memories of the beautiful places I’ve been, the incredible experiences I’ve had and the simply amazing people I’ve met far surpass my abilities to adequately describe them.

People tell me they don’t know how I do what I do, that they cannot imagine living day to day with no plan, no plan B, not even an inkling of where I will be tomorrow. The reality is that their lives are just as hard for me to imagine. The reality is that I have been very lucky to have been given the opportunity that I have. I have no debts, I have no partner, no kids, nothing to tie me down anywhere. The reality, also, is that my life is a choice that I’ve made for myself, without letting my family, or friends, or society decide for me what is best for me.

When I was living in Costa Rica, I had a crappy job as an English teacher. I earned less than 600USD a month, and had barely enough to pay my rent and make ends meet. I lived in a crappy windowless room, barely 4m2 in size, and hung out with cockroaches in the day time, and mice at night. I was not happy, no. I was quite possibly miserable. Yet, I was fine…because it was my choice to be miserable.

Travelling for this long has not always been sunshine and rainbows. It’s easy to gloss over the awful bits in Facebook updates, Instagram pictures and blogposts, but some days were absolutely awful. The time I almost slid to my death off the side of a volcano. The time I got robbed. The time I fell overboard and ruined all my electronics. The time I was down to my last $200 and had another month before payday. The time they closed the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border and made me sleep at the border. Travelling can be really hard. But travelling is what I choose to do,and to be honest, I can’t imagine my life any other way.

Because while it’s absolutely shit at some points, and all you want is to go home to mummy and have her say it’s all going to be okay, when you do get yourself out of those awful situations, you can’t help but grin and walk a little straighter knowing that you’re going to be alright. That no matter what life throws at you, you’re going to get through it some how, and then keep right on going.

So here’s to another 39 months of travelling. Another 39 years, why not? Here’s to another lifetime of travel. Everything is super duper.

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It really is.