Here’s the full show that aired this weekend in Thailand –– it’s in Thai, but the interview is in English with subtitles! Hope you enjoy:
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.
Airports are for poetry.
(Here’s the final stanzas of one of my favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye: “Gate A-4”)
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.
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.
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.
Judging from observations, the spirits like to drink red Fanta.
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.
Spirit trees, like this one in Chinatown, are protected from being cut down.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for showing us around some of the temples, canalas, and back alleys, Madeleine!
SPEAKING OF MEETING UP WITH COOL FOLKS:
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.
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.
The team of puppeteers helped me translate my cardboard sign into Thai…
…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.
Charlotte and I loved the bicycling marionettes––
… the pedals even moved! 🙂
More soon, lovely people of the internet. For now, I’ll leave you with some street art from the neighborhood. Wheels on wheels.
Over and out,
Devi in Bangkok
I love it here.
… I wrote a piece for the Guardian that went live a week ago:
A big THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me and continues to support me up to this point, esp. to Peppe and Jeanie, who let me stay up late for three nights in their kitchen in Mackay writing this thing, and to Caitlin Kelly, who coached me through it.
I love writing in kitchens.
Balancing three time zones (east coast USA friends to help edit, editors in London, and myself here in Queensland, Australia) was no easy task but I’m happy to say that I’m alive and kickin.
I couldn’t do this without all your help.
This trip is magic. Really. Last night I pulled into a tiny town called Mt. Larcum just before dark, unsure of where I would pitch my tent for the night. About 15 minutes earlier I was on a road that felt like it would never end, complete with unhoppable fences on either side that made stopping to camp impossible.
I chased the pink sunset and asked the clouds to please let there be a good surprise around the next corner.
And there most definitely was! My surprise was sitting with a loaded bicycle at a picnic table: Nico. Nico is Italian and 29 and just finished a coast-to-coast ride through the center of Australia, and is now cycling south in search of work to replenish his funds. Every 20km he stops to smoke a cigarette. On one forearm he has a tattoo that says “Viva la vida.”
Nico doesn’t have bags on his bicycle and instead tows everything in a trailer made to carry a child. We quickly realized that switching to Spanish was easier than English & spent the night telling stories from the road, cooking spaghetti, and stealth camping in a rugby field next to the school. We bonded over the simple fact that meeting people on the road gives us energy. So many spoken and unspoken truths. A light rain fell. A whole family of kangaroos grazed and hopped. The little joeys were adorable.
This morning Nico & I went our different ways, though there’s a chance we’ll be in Southeast Asia around the same time early next year. It was so much fun to meet a new friend!
I scribbled this brief meditation on why I do what I do halfway up a mountain pass during a 100km ride from Agnes Water to the Boyne Valley. I love hills. They reset my legs and my head and my heart.
I see cycle touring as a form of active listening––listening to myself and the world around me.
Do I feel safe? If not, I move on. When I am hungry, I stop and eat. When I am thirsty, I take a sip of water. I’ve grown to know when my period is coming based on the phase of the moon.
And collecting stories––where do I even begin?
The bicycle is a tool for connection. A conversation starter. A form of movement I love that can take me across borders of nation and gender and class and age.
(I am me. I can never be anyone else but me. I am a white middle class almost 23-year-old cis woman from America. There’s no taking that away. But in listening I give the whole of myself––my ears, my heart––to a storyteller.)
On the bike, I become fluid.
I am in my element. I am free.
Last night around dusk I went to the grocery store in a coastal town to buy supplies. I pulled up with my (unloaded) bicycle and was about to swing my leg over the top tube when a blonde woman with a Canadian accent smiled and said: “Hey, you must be one a big bike tour!” She could tell from the racks alone.
We got to talking and five minutes later I was riding to her house to stay the night. I planned to leave in the morning, but we stayed up late sharing stories and woke up to tend the garden, mounding dirt over the potato sprouts. By midmorning we were having too much fun sharing stories about water births and floods and gratitude and decided it was too late for me to leave. Then we rode our bikes to the beach.
On the way, Peg & I stopped at a path that goes through the edge of a national park / wildlife reserve. Holy goodness was it gorgeous out there. The walk winds through a swamp and a paperbark forest, alternating between wooden planks and stepping stones––tall cylinders of concrete––that are almost submerged in the wet season.
Right now the ground is dry, dry. There’s less than a foot of rainwater in the tank. We take short showers. The trees held me as we walked. Butterflies flew over our shoulders. It was a scene straight out of a storybook.
Some twenty years ago, Peggy traveled from Canada to Osaka to work as a ski instructor and an English teacher. She lived on the 13th floor of an apartment building in the city. One day she opened her door and stared straight into “the most gorgeous blue eyes attached to the most gorgeous man I have ever seen.”
That guy was Pete, who later said that when he saw Peg, his tongue rolled out across the floor and he had to roll it back up again before he could talk to her. Pete had a dream two years before this chance meeting on the 13th floor. In his dream a woman was walking down the beach with a child in each hand. When he saw Peg, he knew that she was that woman.
Talk about a love story, eh?
My favorite question to ask couples is “how did you meet”?
Peg relocated to Australia to be with Pete and raise their family. They have two teenage kids and live ten minutes from the beach. Pete is a woodworker and Peg works for a company that makes shampoo and dishsoap and vitamins, etc. for a safe (toxic free) home. This morning she gave me a purple pendant to wear as a necklace that gets rid of bad energy. I’m into it.
Peg introduced me to a new word: “furking.”
“It’s a combination of fun and work,” she explains, “which is more or less your life collecting stories on the bicycle, yes?”
I couldn’t help but nod. I learn so much from the people I meet along the way. May the work and the fun in our lives always be joyfully intertwined.
While it’s lovely to unexpectedly stay in one place for a while, I hope to sleep outside again soon. I miss my five billion star hotel.
And as much as I enjoy being transient, I’m looking forward to growing a vegetable garden somewhere down the line. I will pour my heart into that veggie garden. It will be delicious. When I mound potatoes, I will think of Peg.
It’s 5:55pm and almost completely dark, but the days are getting longer down under. Minute by minute. Heat-wise it already feels like summer to little New England me. Chances are I’m going to bake and sweat and bake some more for the next few months. Not that I’m complaining. It just requires carrying more water.
And this is my bliss.
During my time in Agnes Water I had my last surf for the foreseeable future with a handful of neighborhood kids. I can’t stop smiling. From here on up it’s reef reef reef (and no surf beaches).
A few nights ago I dreamt that I was swimming with turtles in the most glorious blue waters — hopefully that dream can become a reality!
I love water.
I wonder if I’ll ever live in a place with a surfable beach. I would be out there almost everyday.
My sock tan game is on point.
Great Barrier Reef, here I come!