Thursday, April 30, 2009

More than One Night in Bangkok

I was tired, but may as well get used to the time rather than give in to jet lag! After the Weekend Market, we went down to the Grand Palace complex – Marilee had done all of this with other visitors but hadn’t been in a while (or maybe she hadn’t been since she was a visitor herself ten years ago; at any rate, we didn’t do things she hadn’t done until towards the end of my trip). Wat Phra Keo, on the grounds, is the holiest site in the country. It is home to the Emerald Buddha – a little statue made of jadeite. He wears different outfits – one for summer, one for winter, one for the rainy season – that the King changes. The Palace itself is off limits, even though the King doesn’t live there, but the grounds have some spectacular decoration. We also went to the museum (Marilee had not done that!) – it contains the Emerald Buddha’s other outfits and some building chunks pre-restoration.

I should talk about the King. He is beloved! As in Morocco, his picture is everywhere – maybe even more than in Morocco. His birthday – which was the day before I got there – is a national holiday. He is a photographer so is often shown with his camera. The Queen was a beauty in her time and is often in the pictures with him. He’s 86, I think, and his health is deteriorating, and people are worried about succession – there’s a Crown Princess in addition to a Crown Prince (Thailand has never had a ruling queen so this is something of an admission that the Crown Prince may not be up to the job). Again, I feel I got to Thailand at a good time – not sure I’d want to be there without this King! He’s been ruling for about 60 years. People in Thailand wear different shirts each day of the week (although now yellow and red are being used by the opposing political factions, so sometimes people don’t wear them when it’s their turn in the rotation), often a polo shirt with the royal crest. One day the King wore pink (later he said it was just because he liked the color) and the next day pink shirts were available everywhere and everyone bought one! Every morning and evening at 6:00, public places play the King’s anthem, and everyone stops and stands at attention. I was never up to hear it in the morning (I hear it’s fun to watch the tai chi groups) but I was in the Skytrain a couple of times for it – a catchy yet imperial tune.

After the Palace we went back on the river boat to the Oriental Hotel, which might be the finest hotel in the world, for their High Tea. The Oriental is where Anna Leonowens stayed when she first got to Siam. The usual room where tea is held, the Author’s Lounge (authors who have stayed there include Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene), was being used for a wedding, so we went upstairs to the Normadie Room restaurant and had a view of the river, with its many varied boats and barges going by. You could have traditional English tea (that is, the goodies) or Thai tea – we had one of each and split everything in half! The photo in the April 24 entry is from that tea. It was everything it should have been – we stayed for hours! We then went to a night market (a bunch of vendors lined up along a street) – but I was more attracted to a nearby Bookazine. I had been told that English bookstores were all over the place in Bangkok; that was one of the things I missed in Morocco. I love bookstores!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Welcome to Bangkok

Back to the trip narrative – Marilee met me at the airport after my overnight flight from Dusseldorf and we took a taxi back to her house – there’s a highway that goes almost door-to-door and while I was there, there was never a lot of traffic. I was really lucky during my time in Thailand – the protests and airport closure had caused a lot of tourists to cancel their trips, so there was not a lot of traffic and no crowds. I was also told I was lucky with the weather – it was hot, but not unbearable. I don’t know if I can ever go back to Thailand now since I was there under such ideal conditions!

We went back to her apartment (big, and comfortable, as advertised), where I showered, and we had breakfast (seven-hour time difference from Morocco – six hours from Spain – so I don’t know what meal it was) – omelettes and tropical fruits. I tried the ones I hadn’t ever had but found myself more interested in pineapple and watermelon. Then we took the Skytrain (it’s what it sounds like) and river boat

to Wat Pho, Bangkok’s largest and oldest temple complex

and site of the famous Reclining Buddha (I did find myself singing, “One Night in Bangkok” continuously). It is huge! Forty-five meters long, with a smile five meters wide. Its feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl showing the 108 lakshanas, or auspicious signs, that distinguish the true Buddha.

Note – when entering a Buddhist temple, cover your shoulders and legs (in other words, my Peace Corps modesty wardrobe was perfect - if you don't have that they give you something to wear to cover yourself), remove your hat and shoes, and never show the bottoms of your feet to the Buddha (actually, that goes for entering a Thai home as well). We gave coin offerings at the big temple

and bought incense, candles and lotus blossoms at one of the smaller temples on the complex (Marilee is a Buddhist – I thought it couldn’t hurt) and then got one-hour Thai massages (for about $10) at the renowned Wat Pho massage school. We then walked to a neighborhood restaurant that had been written up in The New York Times – she introduced me to what she called the equivalent of the basic tagine in Morocco, chicken with green curry. Spicy! I don’t know if I got used to it quickly or if that place was particularly spicy – but I got used to it quickly. I faded pretty quickly after that but it was still a pretty full first day.

The next day we went to a local park where Marilee takes exercise walks on the weekends – we saw bunches of people doing tai chi. And then we went to the Chatuchak Weekend Market – basically, a big souk, but with permanent stands and stalls. It was huge – we didn’t get to all of it – but we saw the pet area, clothes, household goods. I wasn’t quite ready to buy, but I did get a silk blouse – you never know when you will see something again. We ate boiled chicken and rice at a food stall – the chickens are hanging up and you order what you want (we pointed) and they cut it up for you – you eat with a spoon, using the fork to shove the good towards your spoon. You don’t need a knife, since everything is cut into bite-sized pieces, and you would never use the fork to spear food and eat it – that’s not what it’s for! Even the Thais drink bottled water – nobody drinks from the tap.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Balance of Being Back

When I was in Morocco I kept saying that I wanted to keep my life simple when I got back. I don’t want to do things because I feel I have to do them or just because they sound interesting – I want to restrict myself to things that I really want to do. I want to try to limit my obligations – the Princeton stuff took a lot of time before I left; of course, that’s in part because I had the time and also because I did things that needed to be done (25th Reunion book, Chicago Club by-laws). But I don’t want to spend that much time on it now. Sure, I’ll still be Class Co-Secretary (I can commit to doing columns this year because I know I will have internet!) and work on the 30th Reunion, but I don’t want to do that much more – all right, I’ll make Annual Giving calls and do interviews too, but I don’t want to do that much more…. And wherever I live there will be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer group to join, with social and service opportunities. But there are all sorts of other things to do or not do, many of which I will want to do - I just hope not to clutter my life by having too many of them.
I said that I wanted to read more and write more and cook more. I haven’t been cooking much here because I’m being low-impact in the kitchen and because I’m enjoying my yogurt – eggs - salad routine, but I haven’t bought a whole lot of prepared or packaged food and I have been eating more fruits and vegetables, so I feel I’m keeping to that. I did have lunch with a couple of friends here, but since I don’t have many friends out here it’s easy not to be tempted to go out – but I did go out a lot on my Drive Across America. I think I am being more mindful though either way. I'm doing yoga and exercise, especially now that it's getting warmer - walking and biking and taking walks on the beach. And I’m starting to write more now, which feels good, but when I got here I had pent-up reading demand.

My first month or so here I was absorbed with Annals of the Former World, the Pulitzer-Prize winner by John McPhee. In it, he traces the geology and geologic history of the country by traveling along I-80. It’s a compilation of four previously-published books, many of which were excerpted in The New Yorker, plus an addition for this edition. It’s what I first read of his – for years I thought he was a geology professor who wrote well and then I realized he’s a writing professor who likes geology. The books are Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains and Assembling California, and the new addition is Crossing the Craton, which basically covers the middle of the country, the part that wasn’t interesting enough when he started the series because the rock is so buried, but in the 20-plus years since he started, there were enough advances in science that it became more interesting to write about. When I realized that I had a lot of friends clustered near I-80 who I wanted to see, the Drive Across America trip idea was born, and I had my sister send the book to me in California so I could read it as I went. I did start it – in fact, I wrote a fan letter to John McPhee when I was about to hit Basin and Range (and I got a handwritten response! What a thrill!) – but I didn’t have much time to read! So I read the bulk of it when I got to Part III. Now I want to drive across all over again and take a closer look at the roadcuts! Though I don’t know how much I’d get out of it without having a geologist with me, as he did. I loved that book! I’ve read some fun mysteries as well and some New Yorkers and a couple of other books – and still think I want to leave more time for reading in my life than I used to allow for it.

Sports though – well, I did miss them but I also knew that sports can be a time-eater, so I decided that I would de-emphasize them when I got back. I got an subscription while I was in Morocco and had a friend send me printouts of Tuesday Morning Quarterback, a fun column on (I’m not that much of a football fan but I am a fan of the column! While I was gone I wrote a letter to the writer and he mentioned my name in it – another thrill). But I had decided that when I get back I’d scale back. So when I got to Southampton in March and realized that I would be in Virginia and Chicago for the first two weekends of the NCAA tournament, I tried to keep up with the scores but didn’t lament what I wasn’t able to watch; I was back here for the Final Four and national championship and I was happy to see them live (though after all this time in Central Time, it was late to stay up to watch them in Eastern Time!). I went to Yankee Stadium the day after it opened, and this past weekend I went to new Citi Field (my niece had chosen to go to a game there for her birthday celebration – I’ve had some influence after all!). I do want to note that when you buy something at the shop (say, a foam finger for the unbirthday girl) you get one of those eco-friendly bags (do they have a name?). The use of those has definitely increased since 2006!

On the way there I saw the National Tennis Center and thought it would be fun to go to the U.S. Open now that I’m back – oh, maybe next year (I did go just before I left in 2006, for the first time since – could it be 1978?). I also realized this past week that the Stanley Cup Playoffs were starting – in other words, I finished Annals of the Former World just in time! I do other things while hockey and baseball games are on, but, just like the good old days, I like having sports on in the background. I was watching the Rangers game yesterday afternoon and it dawned on me that Madison Square Garden was within my reach! Not that I’ll have a chance to go (I was thinking more that maybe the Blackhawks will still be playing when I get to Chicago in a couple of weeks, but again, not that I’ll have a chance to go – glad I went in February to see an exciting team and full house there again). Will the playoffs be over before I leave? I can’t think that far ahead but it is nice to see some hockey. I’ve already thought about the time difference and listening to baseball games – might be easier there than it was in Morocco. So – am I de-emphasizing sports? Doesn’t seem like it, though I am not getting back in the habit of watching Sportscenter every morning, and I don’t see myself going to games as much as I did. I guess it will depend on where I live next. All of it will. For now, though, I’m happy to be here at a good sports time of year! And happy with the balance of eating, writing, reading and doing – of course, the big question is how will I be able to balance everything when I get a real job again?

And that's not to mention friends! I feel I saw most of them just once (there are some I haven't even seen once yet) and thought I'd see again soon - maybe it would have been another six months anyway but I feel I was just settling in there too. I haven't made a lot of phone calls - after two years of texting, it feels strange to talk on the phone. Friends and keeping up with them are important - but that too can take a lot of time. And in addition to the extracurricular things mentioned above, I'd want to integrate wherever I move next, getting to know a place and getting involved. What about arts and culture? Again, I wonder how I will balance it all and still keep it simple - especially with work!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sayonara to Asia

Since I just heard from one of my new friends on the other side of the world, I think I’ll talk about my last day in Asia. In Thailand I met friends of friends who were Peace Corps connections. After that I met Princeton connections – two people from the Princeton-writing e-list who I had been in touch with for years but had never met, one in Indonesia and one in Hawaii, and one in Japan. I mentioned to the friend in Indonesia that I was stopping in Osaka on the way back for a twelve-hour layover and that I had been told to go to Kyoto, and he introduced me to a classmate in Kyoto, who offered to show me around for a day! It’s true, when alums of Princeton gather anywhere, there’s a place they think of, longing to be there…or not, but there is a bond and an opening for an interesting conversation.

Elizabeth is a professor in Kyoto, teaching religion – she listened to my impressions of Buddhism and I am sure could have told me a lot that I didn’t know – and has been there for decades. It was great to see Kyoto with someone who knew the language and knew her way around. I took a red-eye that left Bali at 1 am and arrived in Osaka around 9:00 in the morning. There was a bullet train that left right from the airport for a 90-minute ride to Kyoto. Elizabeth met me at the station with a hat and gloves (and her son’s coat, but I decided that with the hat and gloves, I would be okay) – first time I had been cold since Madrid (December 5 – January 15).

We went to a Starbucks – which didn’t seem at all out of place - for coffee and a snack; I was wowed by the heated toilet seat. I came out of the restroom and said I would just spend the day back in there on the seat! But there was more to see. Elizabeth wanted to show me a temple that was kind of off the beaten track, but it was closed. It was still pretty, with a nice Japanese garden. She then gave up (I don’t mind the beaten track; usually must-sees are must-sees for a reason) and took me to the Golden Pavilion. It was beautiful. I had to say, though, that it didn’t seem all that exotic – maybe I have seen so many Japanese gardens and temples in the United States that they didn’t seem exotic. I had to remind myself that I was seeing a Japanese temple in Japan! There were some neat aspects to it though – watching a group pray and buying a good luck token. You can buy items for all sorts of good luck, including test-taking. We also experienced a traditional tea ceremony - as I said, I don't mind the beaten track.

We then went for some local food and I had something I had never had in a Japanese restaurant elsewhere – kind of a giant pancake, one with cheese and one with meat. I don’t remember its name, because Elizabeth took care of everything, but I think this food could stand up to export! We also stopped at a shop and she talked me into buying some clogs with a painted traditional pattern. I am not one to buy shoes on impulse but somehow I did!

She had to get going, so I thought I too would get going; it was already getting dark and it was just as well I got back to the airport, even though I did have some time before my 9:00 flight. Two overnight flights in a row (yes, in coach). Got to Japan on January 15, spent the day there and got to Hawaii on January 15! My first time across the international date line.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Marilee I Rolled Along

The Administrative Officer of Peace Corps Morocco is a friend of the Programming and Training Officer in Peace Corps Thailand. After her service, Megan (the AO) worked with Marilee (the PTO) in Chicago; when Marilee retired she was then inspired to join Peace Corps. She went to Morocco in Small Business Development before the 2003 evacuation and worked as a staff member on PST when the program restarted. She had already decided to buy a retirement apartment in Paris; she added one in Agadir and had reason to stay in touch with Morocco. She decided she had more to give before retirement and became a Peace Corps Country Director, working in (I may not have them all) Micronesia, the Philippines (!), Moldova and Benin, and was in charge of the Peace Corps Response (!) program in Sri Lanka for a while. Before I left for Thailand, Megan introduced us, with Morocco and Chicago in common, and mentioned that Marilee had a big apartment. Marilee invited me to stay for as long as I wanted; I told her I would love to stay for a couple of days while I got my bearings. She’s the one who told me it was safe to come despite the alarmist news about protests.

Well, a couple of days turned out to be the entire time I was in Thailand – I liked Marilee right away, her apartment was indeed big, and when I told her I had a fantasy that I could leave my big suitcase there while I did road trips and then come back to Bangkok every week or so to do laundry, regroup and repack, she readily agreed (I should mention that even though she had one of those machines that magically washes your clothes, I had brought enough Woolite to do hand wash through Southeast Asia, so I did, except for the time in Yogyakarta when the inn where I stayed had laundry service so inexpensive it was silly not to take advantage of it).

In addition to her being willing to host my bag, she was fun to be with, and she used her visitors as an excuse to get out and do things. She’s retiring for real in June, so I suggested we do things she wanted to do before leaving Thailand. She met me at the airport, and that first weekend we did the Bangkok musts – and then I talked her into a day trip to Sukhothai, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites – and we went to one of the places she really wanted to see before leaving - Luang Prabang, Laos (I had never heard of it before, and it might have been my favorite place on the trip!); we did more things in Bangkok after I came back from up north (I plan to detail all of these!) and we’re still in touch. Leaving the big bag at her apartment made the travel so much easier – if I had it to do over again, I might have packed differently, but I was, after all, on my way back from two years in Morocco, and I had jettisoned as much in Rabat as I could at the time. Even though I had been told Thailand was great for women traveling alone, I never felt alone, because I had a friend.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An Interesting Turn of Events

I didn’t feel settled my first week in Southampton – I unpacked, but I didn’t really relax. Maybe that’s because I knew I was about to go away, and maybe it’s because I had a lot that I wanted to get done. I wanted to fill out my on-line profiles for Peace Corps, usajobs and USAID, and I thought each of those would take at least day to do. I’d been waiting until I got a block of time. Well, I did the Peace Corps one but it took until after my Virginia/Chicago trip to get into usajobs, and I am still not done with USAID – more forms to fill out, including some that have to be faxed in!

I envisioned myself settling into a rhythm of sending out resumes, reading, writing, exercise, healthy eating and catching up with friends and I was almost getting there when I had an interview that led to a job! I took a week to think, not think, overthink, feel, etc. and then accepted the offer – I’ll be going away again, with Peace Corps Response. I’ve set up for that but am mentioning it here as it relates to Part III, being back. All of a sudden I’m a short-termer. If I didn’t feel there were enough hours in the day before, I certainly feel that way now! I don’t have to send out resumes, but I have wanted to streamline my resume, so now I can take time to do that. I joined Linked In at the urging of some friends who are ahead of me with new technology, and I have yet to fill out a complete profile, so now I can work on that. I have another non-profit class in Chicago in May, and since my attempts to take another class in March and then again in April were foiled by cancellations, I designed an independent study to complete my certificate, and now I will work on that. Plus I want to write more here, and continue to read, write, exercise, eat healthy and catch up with friends. Lots to do! I would like to turn 27 Months Without Baseball into a book; a friend is editing it but in the meantime I can contact agents and publishers. And I signed up for Bike the Drive - something to train for!

When I got here I wrestled with how much to integrate into the community. If I were going to live here, or even stay for any length of time, I would want to participate in things, attend interesting events and try to meet people and make friends. In my walks or rides to town I’ve tried to get a sense of the demographics – seems that the year-round population is people working on other people’s houses or retirees. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I went to a Blood Drive last week (you never know where you might meet people) and I was turned down due to my trip to Cambodia. I had heard from Peace Corps that they wanted to interview me and felt good about that, only to feel really dejected after the Blood Drive rejection. I think I had steeled myself for job rejection but not for that – my first attempt at community integration resulting in failure!

I expect to come back here after I am back from the Philippines – I’ll get to experience Southampton mid-winter next time, not late winter (and now I know spring comes late here) so I’ll have another chance to go through the same debate of how involved to get vs. keeping to myself to concentrate on the job hunt and my other solitary pursuits. Maybe I will have different reactions then, and maybe I will continue to write about it.

Before I end I must talk about Chet Yastrzemski – he’s a local gardener here; the caretaker introduced me one day. The Yastrzemskis were potato farmers and used to throw potatoes around. They all say that Carl wasn’t the best baseball player in the family. A cool bit of East End history!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I did Madrid

I should back up and talk about the week between Morocco and Thailand. I walked across the border to Spain and spent my last evening on the African continent in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta with my friend Rose. The next morning, she took a taxi back to Morocco and I took one to the ferry landing. Morocco receded and Europe beckoned. I always had in mind post-service travel (I knew back in 2006 that I would have a big birthday in January 2009) and early on I thought I would go to Europe – Spain and then maybe up to Holland to see my family. Then Thailand chose me, but first I had a few days in Spain.

I took the ferry to Algeciras, put my bags in a hotel room, and went to Gibraltar for a day – I had been there for a day in March, but it was too windy for the cable car then and I really wanted to get up the Rock. From Algeciras you take a city bus and then walk across the border (this time I convinced an official to stamp my passport, even though he did it reluctantly – it’s customarily only for people who need visas). First stop, the cable car! Most of Gibraltar is a park; it was nice to walk around a that a little. The main attraction is the Barbary Macaque population there – very entertaining. Of course, I saw many a Barbary Macaque in Azrou, so it wasn’t as novel, but it was fun to watch the other people ooh and ahh over them. I also had a Magnum bar, not knowing when the next one would be. I walked along the main street, strolled around Trafalgar Cemetery - what history! - and had a nice European dinner.

The next day I took the train to Madrid – it seemed a luxury compared to the trains in Morocco. Very comfortable ride! I had low expectations for Madrid – I had heard it’s just another big city – but I am from just another big city too. I loved it! Would love to go back. I think those who pooh-poohed it were there in the summer, which is supposed to be hot. It was not hot in December – in fact, I was slightly underdressed, which kept me from doing a lot of exploration on foot. But I did explore! The Royal Palace, the Prado, the Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum –I just drank up the art as if I hadn’t had much for 27 months. I think I saw every single painting in the Prado and almost every one in the other two. And even though I didn’t do a lot of walking around, I liked what I did see – a beautiful European capital.

The Palace...

The Prado...

Reina Sofia...

Plaza Mayor...

On the way to the airport, I remembered that I had heard about Terminal 4, part of the new wave of airport architecture, by Richard Rogers. I decided I had just enough time to go from the terminal where I checked in (I had a layover in Germany for most of the day - time to start reading the Thailand books) to see it and come back. I really did have barely enough time - but it was worth it!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More on Southampton

Southampton was the first English colony in the state of New York, founded in 1640. I’ve always said that if I didn’t live in a big city I’d want to live in a college town or a resort town, because they have more going on than other small towns. Well, this is my chance to experience what a resort town is like in the off-season. Maybe resort town isn’t quite the right term – there aren’t resorts per se – but the population quadruples in the summer, with second-home owners and renters. I wonder what that will be like. Then again, the population of Azrou supposedly quadrupled in the summer and it didn’t feel that crowded – it was hard to tell though, because people were inside in the winter and outside in the summer regardless of how many people there actually were. And here there are weekend people too. Anyway, so far I have felt like being inside in the late winter/early spring. In fact, I’m amazed at my capacity to stay inside. In Azrou no matter how cold it was I always went outside. Then again, it was usually warmer outside and colder inside in the winter. Here, there’s heat. I also think the picture window has something to do with it – I look at the ocean all day and feel as though I’m outside. That first week that I was here, I thought that by the time I got away from being here for a week and a half it would be spring. That was a little too optimistic. Anyway, I did leave the house more days than I stayed in.

My first day here, it was rainy, windy and cold. Stayed in. The next day, I just walked around the property. Turned out that wasn’t really a walk, but I had a bad headache that day, so that was enough. That was just getting fresh air. It’s a big house here but not THAT big (though to get to the main street from the private lane shared by this house and two others, it does become a walk). Another day, I rode my sister’s bicycle into town. I’ve never cared for cold-weather biking and this confirmed it – I thought my ears and face would fall off. But it was good to get into town and replenish groceries. Another day, the caretaker stopped by and he drove me into town. I walked all of the retail streets, checking out the store and restaurant options, and walked back – it’s about an hour’s walk; fine for a nice day, but on a nice day, if I’m going in both directions, it would be a lot quicker to ride the bike! I also did a short beach walk one day. Short because it was so windy that sand was blowing in my face and getting in my shoes and I enjoyed it not at all. So that wasn’t really a walk either. I don’t have access to a car here, though I was thinking it would be nice to rent a car sometime and drive around the East End – I’ve been around a bit on visits of the past but there is more to explore; I especially want to see Montauk and Shelter Island. There is a taxi service too and I have used it when the caretaker wasn’t available – so between that and the caretaker I don’t feel isolated, and I feel that there is someone there if I need them.

It’s raining again today. I’ve seen a lot of license plates with “Southampton Storms” on them and thought, well, sure, if the sports teams are named Storms that says something right there! I looked it up just to make sure and it turns out the sports teams here are the Mariners – Storms is the name of a car dealer here. I realized there probably are no more storms here than there are in general on the east coast in late winter/early spring – it’s just been so long since I lived here, and Morocco was so dry (though they had the stormiest winter in sixty years after I left) that I think I just forgot!

A One-Way Ticket to Bangkok

I’ll alternate with a story from the trip now. Those last few months in Morocco I worked on my resume and started to send it out but then realized that I couldn’t focus on the future – all I could handle was finishing things up in Morocco. And similarly, though I love to research and plan my travel, I couldn’t do it. I had bought a book on Southeast Asia (all of it! The Rough Guide) when I was in New York in June, and I had decided on Thailand because my friend Edie’s brother had said it was a good place for women traveling alone and on Indonesia because my father used to live there and when my aunt died I promised myself that the money I got from her (which I really used to pay bills, since I was unemployment) would go towards a trip to Indonesia – so I had my sister send me Lonely Planet Thailand and Lonely Planet Indonesia. A fellow volunteer lived in Thailand and traveled in Indonesia and she drew a rough map for me, showing where to go in both countries. And then I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok. That’s all the planning I did. I kept referring to the map, but I didn’t start reading the books until I was on the way to Thailand. Plan-as-you-go turned out to be a lot of fun, though once I realized that Christmas and New Year’s were coming, I did start planning a week or so out, and that worked out well. Not that I’ll ever travel that way again!

Flexibility was required, too, because about a week before I was scheduled to leave, protestors closed the airport in Bangkok. A contact there (more on her later) said that Bangkok was safe other than where the protestors were and not to worry about that (though the State Department did issue a warning and I did register with them). I watched for news every day and got a hotel in Madrid with internet in the room specifically in case I had to make other plans, but I didn’t make any other plans – I just hoped the airport would open in time. And it did – just in time. My flight was one of the first to get there (I was on Air Berlin; the U.S. carriers weren’t recertified yet when my flight was cleared). An interesting beginning to the trip!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring in Southampton

I spend a good part of each day in the dining room, on the computer (with frequent breaks so I’m not in one position all day; need to rest my back, shoulders and eyes) looking out the window. It doesn’t feel weird to be inside for most of the day when I have a big picture window and a view of the ocean. Most days at dusk some deer come by – occasionally they bound by, which is a sight to see. One day I saw a bird walk by, wondered what it might be, googled “pheasant” and that’s what it was! A variety of birds also fly by – mostly gulls but it seems as though there are several others of interest. And I can watch the plants grow! Last week some shoots started and now they are stems – a flower is on the way. Daffodils? And now the bushes are starting to bud – there are so many bare bushes and hedges here that I can only imagine how green it gets in the summer. Right now it’s fun to pass houses and see them through the branches – they must be much more hidden by the leaves in the summer. The flowering trees are just starting to bloom here too. When I was in Virginia a month ago many of the trees were in full flower and it was stunning. As I take the Jitney into the city I see flowering trees – I haven’t been in New York in the spring in so many years that I didn’t realize how many flowering trees there are. All the way down Lexington Avenue there are flowering trees! It’s amazing how much later everything is here on the East End. But it’s nice to see everything come alive.

Today, though, it’s raining.

The Arrival in Southampton

On the afternoon of Tuesday, March 10, I stood outside the Victoria’s Secret at 86th and Lex to begin my new life – starting with the Hampton Jitney. It’s a bus, decorated in a rich, dark shade of green. There’s a glossy magazine called, “On the Jitney,” there’s a host or hostess who comes down the aisle offering snack mix or chips and water or orange juice. Better service than you get from some airlines these days! The 1:30 Jitney gets to Southampton at 3:30 but the 2:30 Jitney gets there at 5:20 – that’s all right, I wasn’t in a rush.

The caretaker (I’m not sure what his real title is but he watches a bunch of houses in Southampton – there is no end to the maintenance required and he manages all of the comings and goings) picked me up (he keeps saying he doesn’t mind) and brought me to the house. He showed me all the thermostats, light switches and television remotes, and then he offered to take me to and from the grocery store; I had been prepared to go without food until the next day and then go into town myself, but I took him up on that. I felt like I was in “Supermarket Sweep,” going through the store as fast as I can. My mainstay meals – after months of eating out or at friends’ houses – are yogurt with fruit, ground flaxseed, wheat germ and granola (I took this from Debbie, who told me it’s her friend Joanne’s breakfast, modified), salad (yes, I’ll admit it, I am happy to be back in a land with packaged pre-washed salads, though I wash them – baby greens, baby arugula and now baby spinach, with goji berries, cashews and now pine nuts, feta cheese and ranch dressing), and scrambled eggs. That’s about all I’ve had so far, and so far I’m not tired of any of it! When I have more time to shop I might get things that require chopping and cooking, but I’ve been to the grocery store since, both with the caretaker and on my own, and I keep replenishing rather than branching out.

That first night, I unpacked my bags. Unpacked them for the first time since the end of November! I had rearranged and reorganized (especially when I got to California and caught up with my winter clothes) but never unpacked. The guest room where I’m staying has plenty of drawers (though I’ve since reorganized myself there too) and it was a treat to put everything away. I then went right to bed – somehow the feeling of turning the page to the next chapter left me exhausted.

I had a solid week before going on to the next place – so even though the travel had ended, I knew I had another trip coming up. My plan was to get my profiles and resumes into the job databases I thought would be most appealing to me – the Peace Corps, usajobs, and USAID. I knew it would take at least a day to get everything in to each one. What I didn’t realize was that even this was too ambitious – it may not sound that way but it was. First of all, there is only so much time I can spend on the computer at once without taking breaks. Second of all, I also had to work on the term paper (if a course is three days long can it be called a term paper?) for the class I had taken in February. And third of all, I had to prepare for the interview in Washington. But most of all, I had to adjust.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

After 27 Months Without Baseball...

I went to the new Yankee Stadium yesterday, for its second (regular season) home game and the first win in the new stadium. Regular readers of the last blog know that I didn’t really spend 27 months without baseball – I saw a game each year when I came back to the States for a weekend, and I had an subscription that allowed me to hear the radio feed of any game. But there was the excitement of the new stadium and the new season yesterday and therefore I wasn’t the only one being welcomed back to the ballpark, filled with excitement about the season ahead. I’m filled with excitement not only about the season but also about the next chapter of life ahead – for me, Opening Day isn’t just a metaphor but what amounts to (at this point) coincidental timing.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. Mark DeRosa, the second batter of the game, sent a home run into the stands that hit the seat next to me before it caromed out of reach (I saw it coming, realized it would land near me, but didn’t realize it would land next to me – I can’t catch anyway – you can see me at - about six rows up, behind the man in the open jersey). Yankees countered with five solo homers. A Jeter home run in the eighth broke the tie and Rivera saved it in the ninth – in other words, a prototype Yankee win and a great way to start the season.

This was the first time I had gone into Manhattan and back in the same day, and it wasn’t draining. The Hampton Jitney is comfortable and the time goes quickly! On to Citi Field next.

(c) 2009 the author