Bangkok: Puppets, Bicycles, Spirit Shrines, and Front Flips

leavingaotearoa

Just over a week ago, Charlotte and I left Aotearoa New Zealand for Thailand. After four months of trying every possible boat option we could think of (as a passenger on a cargo ship, working on a cruise ship, working on a yacht, etc.), nothing was working.

The plane ticket to Bangkok was cheap. I packed my bicycle in a cardboard box. We flew.

airportpoetry

Airports are for poetry.

(Here’s the final stanzas of one of my favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye: “Gate A-4”)

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 5.33.33 PM

It was a strange feeling, being on a plane after having avoided air travel for so long. My feet hurt. The air was so dry. Cargo ships are loud, but airplanes are louder.

bangkoksunrise

Two flights, an 8-hour delay in Melbourne Airport, & a taxi ride later, we caught the sunrise in our open arms… and then promptly fell asleep.

bangkoklight

A friend from my hometown is kindly letting us stay at her flat in Sukhumvit. We’re way up on the 16th floor, witness to power lines // roofs and trees.

Out of frame: taller buildings // bright bright lights // loud loud traffic // rain // thunder // every building has its spirit shrine.

IMG_1789.JPG

Judging from observations, the spirits like to drink red Fanta.

IMG_1727.JPG

People bow at the spirit shrines as they pass. I have so much more to learn about the place of religion in Thai life, but I love what little I have picked up so far.

IMG_1587.JPG

Spirit trees, like this one in Chinatown, are protected from being cut down.

16thfloor

I’m starting to get in the habit of drawing things to give my writing brain a break. You can see more sketches at drawingsbydevi.tumblr.com.

dragonfruit

Up on the balcony, Charlotte and I ate our first dragon fruit. It tasted like a beetroot walked into a kiwi fruit––savory and delicious.

Then we started the quest to find Charlotte a touring bicycle. I’ll be writing more about this in the future; the saga is ongoing. After a few false starts, we’re nearly there!

testbikebangkok.jpg

Vrrroooooooom. Look out, world, there’s a singer on wheels soon to join the ranks of touring cyclists doing cool shit. Rumor has it that Charlotte has started a theater blog, too…

Speaking of which, if anyone knows of venues in SE Asia / beyond that would like to host Charlotte to sing, do be in touch 🙂 Best bet is if there’s a pianist or other instrumentalist to accompany her.

IMG_1614

Three things to know about Bangkok:

ONE: It’s hot. Well yes duh, Devi, it’s hot.

This is not Boston heat, folks. It’s not Fiji heat, either. It’s hotter, even, than most days in Tuvalu (plus more traffic, more population, and greater distances between places, so moving in Bangkok means reckoning with CARS, MOTORCYCLES, TUK TUKS, TAXIS, PURELY DECORATIVE CROSSWALKS, NONEXISTENT SIDEWALKS, EVERYTHING). Step outside in the middle of the day in Bangkok and you’ll be dripping with sweat within minutes.

Bangkok heat is the kind of heat that is exhausting to walk in.

IMG_1433

TWO: Crossing the street is an adventure. When I say “an adventure”,  I mean: it’s stressful: a full-body kind of stress. Pedestrians don’t have right of way: cars and motorcycles do. There are a few pedestrian overpasses, thankfully.

IMG_1765

THREE: The only drinking water is bottled water. More on this later, too. Having access to safe drinking  water that flows from a tap (or from the ground) is a huge privilege. I wish it didn’t have to be that way.

FOUR: Everything is wrapped in plastic. I’m doing my best to refuse as much plastic as possible, but the stuff is everywhere. Drinks come with straws. Bananas in the 7-11 come wrapped in plastic, and then the cashier puts that bundle inside another plastic bag for you to carry out of the store.

IMG_1764.JPG

The saddest bit, as we all know, Is that all that plastic goes to the water, and then into the sea. We’re on track to have more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.

IMG_1758.JPG

I met up with Madeleine Recknagel, an activist working to change the culture of plastic use in Bangkok. She’s a cool cat. You can learn more about her work on her blog.

IMG_1611 (1).JPG

Thanks for showing us around some of the temples, canalas, and back alleys, Madeleine!

SPEAKING OF MEETING UP WITH COOL FOLKS:

IMG_1698 (1)

That’s Li Murphy at left, and Awais Hussain at right, both Harvard Class of 2015. Li co-founded Harvard Undergraduate Beekeepers. Awais was head of Harvard’s spoken word poetry group Speak Out Loud, and also does awesome things in physics and philosophy.

We went trampolining and had a yummy dinner at a night market. Awais did his first front flip. Li told me a story about water buffalo.

IMG_1699.JPG

collecting stories at the night market — the cardboard sign lives!!!

AND OH MY GOODNESS, so much has been happening that I almost forgot:

Charlotte and I visited Sema Thai Marionette, a puppetry company dedicated to working with underprivileged children and doing research into Thai puppetry traditions.

We went to their morning performance of a show about the Rambutan Prince at a school in town, and then hung out at their puppetry workshop for the rest of the day.

IMG_1703.JPG

The team of puppeteers helped me translate my cardboard sign into Thai…

cardboardsigninthai.jpg

…so now I’m ready to collect stories on the street. Thank you so much, Sema Thai Marionette! It was so wonderful to get to know the whole troop, and to spend some time with the puppets, too.

IMG_1495.jpg

Charlotte and I loved the bicycling marionettes––

bicyclepuppets

… the pedals even moved! 🙂

IMG_1701.JPG

More soon, lovely people of the internet. For now, I’ll leave you with some street art from the neighborhood. Wheels on wheels.

IMG_1847.JPG

Over and out,

Devi in Bangkok

Advertisements

Burritos, Chaos, and Round Windows

Christina and I sit across from one another in chairs affixed to concrete above the Bay, cradling warmish halves of a burrito between our hands. The night is calm and alight, buzzing with an energy that makes me never want to leave this city. If I didn’t have a flight in four days to Fiji, I probably wouldn’t go. Programmed light bulbs on the spires of the Bay Bridge dance in waves from left to right, whispering in my ear: Stay. Just stay.

baybridge“YEAH, GIANTS!!!!!!!!” someone screams from the moon roof of a passing car, their orange foam finger waving in the air.

We laugh. A drunk San Franciscan stumbles by and sees my sign perched on the edge of the chair: tell me a story about water. He mumbles with a mouth full of spittle: “Is that for the Giants?”

“Yes. Unequivocally yes.”

“World series, here we come!” Christina chimes.

I take a bite and let rice and red beans and avocado meld in my mouth. This burrito has ruined all future burritos for me (thanks, burrito). The flavor is chaotic and free. I feel so alive.

A grease stain from the bag of tortilla chips that came with the burritos marks my “tell me a story about water” sign, oblong and unapologetic just below the letter T.

~

Christina picks me up in her Prius outside of the UCSF library where I had hunkered down for an afternoon of writing. Though I love the act of meeting new people and listening, just listening, I get exhausted from constant conversation. Writing without interruption is a refuge.

I was an endurance athlete in college, and apparently that side of my character permeated the design of this trip. Just. Keep. Going (but remember to rest and recharge).

I have lost track of the number of times I introduce myself in a day.

“What is that sign all about?” it begins. I have a short version, medium version, and long version of my life story to share with anyone who asks.

The medical books in the library lend me their quiet. I open one on brain aneurism surgery and quietly close it, nauseated. Another book shows me the diagram of the inside of a human ear. There exists a membrane called the round window that vibrates with opposite phase to vibrations entering the inner ear. The round window allows fluid in the snail-shaped tube (the cochlea) to move. This movement generates pressure waves in the fluid, ensuring that hair cells of the basilar membrane are stimulated. The hair cells connect to a neuron that translates the bending motion into a signal that enters the brain. Brilliant.

eardiagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silence can be self-care.

~

Christina opens the car door from the inside and welcomes me into her life with the whole of her smile and a big hug. Though we are both part of an online community of women writers that started back in July, we have yet to meet in person. Christina saw on Facebook that I was passing through San Francisco and offered to get dinner and chat. I am so glad that I said yes.

Her voice is a duvet cover. Soft. Present. A balm to my fatigue.

“So where do you want to go eat?” she asks.

“I’ve heard that the burritos here are something else.”

“Then we’ll get burritos. There are two great taquerías in the Mission,” she explains, “and they’re just around the corner from each other. What do you say we do a taste test?”

The Prius is eerily quiet at stoplights. The car could be dead but for our voices. I can see how many miles per gallon we earn on the dash. Thirty-four on the straightaway. Ninety-nine on the downhill. We speed through the city, crisp and efficient.

Minutes in to our conversation, it is a relief not to censor myself: “I don’t know if this is TMI, but…” I begin.

Christina butts in: “There is no such thing as TMI here.”

That’s when I know I have found a friend.

Our conversation spreads from the car’s interior to the sidewalk as we catch up on each other’s lives––the small stories that have brought us to this precise moment. Our families. Our earliest memories. The things we love.

“So you were a dancer, right?” she says.

“How did you know?”

She cites Facebook pictures in which I have my hands up in a particularly dancer-like pose.

 

sfbridge

timessq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok—I guess it’s pretty obvious.

We both grew up dancing. We rowed in college. We are fascinated with the idea of flow in movement. We reject settling down and settling for less than the best in relationships. We are 25 years apart in age but none of that matters. We remember the freedom of learning to ride a bike. We love the feeling of San Francisco’s hills in our legs.

Errant, elated cars honk and bleat as they pass behind us.

The bay water laps itself free.