Thursday, January 30, 2014

Rock the vote, but no votes on the rocks

This is an interesting time to be in Thailand. If you have been reading any news stories about things other than Justin Bieber and the polar vortex, you might have heard something about the protests in Bangkok. They have been going on for a while; I started reading about them well before we left China. But, they are basically confined to Bangkok, and here in Phuket, an especially oblivious foreigner might not know that they were even going on. Especially if one flew directly into Phuket and didn't even have to think about Bangkok along the way.

I've kept up with the news a bit, but of late it seems to have been mostly a low-level agitation. A few people, tragically, have died during the unrest. My understanding is that for the most part, you can avoid the protests. Friends in Bangkok report that they are going about their lives. Now, however, there will be something for us to notice here in Phuket town. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has called for elections, trying to end the protests. Unfortunately, the protesters, who think the PM's government is hopelessly corrupt, aren't jumping on board the election idea, and are encouraging others to boycott. The elections are going to happen, despite the threat of more disturbances as the elections are protested.

Will there be increased unrest and violence? I can't say. What I can say is that here in Thailand, just like in Mexico when we were there, the bars will be closed on election day. And these elections are going to last for TWO days!  Can you believe it?  This Saturday and Sunday, no happy hour for us! I haven't heard if alcohol sales in stores are also suspended. Good times, reminiscing about our last minute dash into the convenience store Oxxo in Queretaro to buy a 12-pack before the 6 p.m. cut-off; they had already draped coverings over the beer coolers and everything!  But we convinced them that it was only 5:58p.m.  It was a close call, though.

Definitely have to plan ahead for our beer drinking for this weekend here in Thailand!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Just another day in paradise

Would it be weird if I said I like Phuket more than Bali?

It kind of makes me gasp to type it, or even think it, but I'm pretty sure it's true. Now, there are obviously caveats here, chiefly: I've spent much more time in Phuket (four weeks in 2012, and now we're here for another month-long stint, as opposed to a week in Bali) and I've been much more relaxed both times I've been in Phuket (in fact, both times leaving behind Guangzhou to come here, whereas in Bali I had to face the prospect of returning to Guangzhou*). But as I walked down the street in Phuket town today, I definitely had paradisiacal thoughts. It was just another wonderful, sunshiney, palm-tree swaying, glorious day here. In the morning I sangthaewed to Patong, enjoyed Thai iced coffee and a cinnamon scone (from two separate places), went to my second day of Thai class, had a banana pancake with honey for lunch, walked over to gaze at the sea, read some of my book, basked in the sun's rays, swam in the pool, etc. It was a freaking great Wednesday and I highly recommend that if at all possible you also have a Wednesday like this at some point in your life.

All right then. Back to my (creative) work, now. Back to my projects, which my brain has been given free rein to swirl around here in Thailand. Back to catching up on things and plotting the future. A future that includes quiz night at the local bar, more glorious days, and lots of secret plans that I hope come to fruition.

Oh, what's that I hear as evening falls?  The frog and insect chorus begins to swell while the glow of sunset is just starting to be matched by the lights on the clock tower that pokes above the trees in the park next door. You couldn't make this shit up, seriously.

Don't get me wrong:  I liked Bali. I particularly liked Ubud, which was explicitly paradise, but with motos. I will return to Bali if possible, and I want to see more of it. I'm just saying that right here and now.... Phuket is a wonder to behold. Maybe I should get my act together and post some pictures so you can behold it, too.

*for those who haven't been paying attention and still don't get why I throw around cynical comments about Guangzhou, I reiterate the two most terrible things about it:  1.there are regularly children urinating and defecating in the street/sidewalk/gutter, induced and encouraged by their adult guardians to do so  2.Guangdong people eat cats (and dogs), and even a lot of people who don't eat those animals treat them in a spectacularly shitty fashion, such as TYING "pet" cats  on short rope/string/leashes for hours or days or maybe forever, who the fuck knows how long, but it's so horrible to see them tied up all the time, and/or imprisoning them in tiny cages. It's all horrible and unforgivable shit, and until those things are eliminated I'm not sure all the good things from a hundred dynasties could outweigh those giant, sickening demerits the place has earned

Friday, January 24, 2014

For the seafood lover in me

You know what I hate? Food snobbery. I was going to say "food snobs," but then that would be saying that I hate the people, which isn't really true, because I don't actually hate any particular people (except Dubya), rather, I just sometimes hate all people, like, in a disgusted-by-humanity way that occasionally makes me want to go live in anti-social seclusion, but with unfettered access to iced coffee (that I don't have to make) and cheese enchiladas (that I don't have to cook).

Anyway, about food snobbery. True or false: food snobs are the judgiest snobs of all. I say true. Let's examine the evidence.

You have your literary snobs, of which I am often accused of being one. I have previously blog-wrestled with the questions of "what is a literary snob?" and "am I one?" but here I would just like to point out that even literary snobs check out what's on the bestseller list. Then there are music snobs, and I think the arrest of Justin Bieber this week and ensuing commentary clearly demonstrate that even people who aren't music snobs are totally snobby about guilty pleasure musicians, so while it's fun to make fun of hipsters who think they know about cooler indie music than you do, it's also commonly accepted that you'd rather be thought of as "too hip for the room" than "a boy band fan."  (I say this, by the way, as someone who unapologetically sings along with Taylor Swift and the song "Beer With Jesus.") Film snobs? They don't really get all that much press, because so many people have never heard of half the movies they praise that the conversation just kind of fizzles out and then everyone goes back to the theater to see the latest blockbuster. Because popcorn. Also, Quentin Tarantino has basically irrevocably proven that you can like really, truly obscure films and talk about them with a deep, mad passion yet still just be more wacky about it than snobby. As for snob-snobs, you know, like the high-school kind? They turn out to secretly have some good inside, as evidenced by the plot of every sitcom and teen movie ever, and your 20-year high school reunion.

But food snobs are so judgetacularly judgy!

What brought this on?  Well, I'll tell you. Today Brian and I enjoyed seafood at Karon Beach here in Phuket, at a place with today's fresh catch displayed on ice, a fresh catch, I might add, that came from the Andaman Sea, which is across the street. Somehow in that conversation we got to talking about seafood and Red Lobster -- I really don't recall how/why -- and how of late Red Lobster has been criticized on the interwebs because the company is losing money and the food snobs have come out of the woodwork to be all like, "Ewww, their food is bad." To which I say: no.

No, their food isn't "bad."  Here's an example of bad food: it never, ever decomposes, despite Morgan Spurlock waiting around for weeks for it to do so. Here's another example: it makes you gag. Here's another: it has no nutritional value.

But the food snobs, you see, are so afraid that Anthony Bourdain or some other lover of foie gras (a food that may not be bad, but instead is just plain evil) will spot them eating at a Red Lobster, which they have all done, that they have to come out in the comments sections of various food snobbery-inducing pieces and protest too much for all the world to see that they understand how "bad" that food is and won't be caught dead eating it. Even though they have totally eaten it before.

Remember 2010?  One of the cool, indie-ish-but-with-big-name-actors, got-loads-of-critical-acclaim movies in 2010 was The Kids Are All Right. Now, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by that flick, but one part of it will stay in my cherished memory forever, and that is when the character played by Annette Bening (who 100% should have won the Oscar over Black Swan Natalie Portman) is getting fed up with her partner, the really annoying character played by Julianne Moore, and in some restaurant the Bening character reaches the end of her rope at the mention of heirloom tomatoes and says, basically, what the hell is up with all these people suddenly sounding so proud of themselves jabbering about heirloom tomatoes all the bloody time? (I paraphrase.)  I loved that moment. I so relate.

I mean: I like farmers' markets, too (at least in theory -- I don't really like shopping at all), but I also like the grocery store. It's like, why would you waste time ragging on grocery stores when you could be aiming those precious insults at Walmart, which really deserves them? But some people are just so PROUD of themselves for shopping at the farmers' market for heirloom tomatoes, and here's the crucial part:  somehow it's socially acceptable for them to get up on that high horse and actually straight up criticize someone whose food doesn't meet their exacting standards. This is not accepted in other snobberies. When I mention that I haven't read the Harry Potter series and don't really plan to, ever, it launches a debate, guaranteed, not about the merits of Harry Potter but about whether I'm entitled to criticize those books. I have actually lost friends -- well, at least friendly acquaintances -- not even for slamming Stephenie Twilight Meyer but for defending Stephen King's right to slam Stephenie Meyer. Stephen King! A writer for decades who has experienced both the bestseller list and writing about the supernatural, but he's supposed to refrain from criticizing a bestselling supernatural-laden book/series he thinks is shit? Why??!

Ditto for the film and music and snob-snobs. It's acknowledged that they are just not supposed to do that because it's mean/unbecoming/whatever. But the food snobs are allowed to go off whenever they see fit, as if any one meal is responsible for obesity, cancer, and the end of civilization as we know it. And I don't buy the health argument for food snobbery anyway, really, because then why isn't it socially acceptable for those people to walk up to smokers and knock the cigarettes out of their hands? Or better yet, to walk up to people who drive to a place two minutes down the road and say, "Have you ever walked on a single errand in your life?"

The food snobs are, essentially, allowed to be snobs. No, not just allowed; they are downright encouraged. They are the judgiest. Their rampant judging is everywhere. And then, companies who happen to have more than one branch location have to bend over backwards with marketing campaigns to try to remind everyone that their food is not, in fact, bad, but that the food snobs are just zeroing in on them this month for whatever reason. Instead of just fighting about preferences, like New York and Chicago do about pizza, the food snobs are matter-of-fact about the fact that your food choice is not good enough, and no one is bothered by this. Whether it's Red Lobster, or frozen dinners, or Burger King, or bottled salad dressing, or Papa John's, or hot dogs, food snobbery is welcomed with open arms.

But not my arms. I dined on seafood today in Thailand while staring at the sea, and when I return to the Phoenix desert, I will happily go to Red Lobster in broad daylight, with no attempt to hide from the Food Network, and enjoy some fried shrimp there. I do not for the life of me find anything wrong with my dining experience at Red Lobster, and I do not hate chain restaurants just because they are chains (see also: Red Robin, Outback Steakhouse, Chili's, Starbucks, Chipotle, etc. etc.)  I do not get food snobbery, and I do not welcome it. What about you?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Shala (la la la lala lala)
A few glorious days in Phuket

We're back!

That is to say, Brian and I have returned to Phuket, Thailand, the scene of our January 2012 post-teaching-in-Korea straight-outta-Guangzhou CELTA-course month long stint for yet another post-teaching-in-Asia straight-outta-Guangzhou (this time having lived there, not just visited) personal improvement month long stint. Because if something works, you should totally do it again two years later; isn't that what they say?

And is Phuket just as we left it?  Are all our favorite restaurants still open? Is the Thai iced coffee as delightsome? Do the birds sing, the pool waters glisten, the smells of curry entice, and the rays of sunshine warm both our faces and our hearts?  No, no, but yes and YES!

We hatched the you-can-go-back-to-Phuket-again plan a few months ago and we have made it happen. I just sat there one day during the Guangzhou rainy season (which lasts about eight months) and thought: when we leave this place, we should totally live in Phuket for a month again. I'm really happy that Brian was on board with this plan, because I pretty much would have done it anyway...but of course he was! Because this place is magical and lovely and perfect and nothing could make it better except maybe if we could have brought Quincy with us...but that's another story.

So far, I have successfully plunged into my swimming/writing/eating/reading/coffee/relaxing/strolling the streets of Old Town regimen, Brian has acquired a bicycle monthly rental for what I believe is properly referred to as his "bike-the-!@#*-out-of-this-island" conquest, and I have even found a pretty nice yoga place. It's down the road a piece, toward Chalong, near the zoo (gross), so it is a bit of an adventure to get there, or rather, to get back after the songthaews have stopped running (hello, bargaining for a moto taxi ride! thanks for the spare helmet!), but it was in such a pleasant location!  Up some wooden steps to an open air shala. What a lovely setting for an hour-and-a-half yoga session, although maybe doing it at dusk is not such a great idea for the mosquito-prone, such as me. Don't feel bad if you don't know what a shala is, because I didn't either, really, before today. You can tell that my ten+ years (I'm so OLD!) of yoga practice have been in gyms and on my own, eh? Because: huh. Shala. What do you know?

I could sit on the terrace gazing at the palm treetops, the clock tower, and the shimmering swimming pool forever, but I must interrupt that a few times a week to go to the beach, of course.

Phuket. Yes, please.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Giddy-up! A big fat welcome
to 2014 and the year of the horse

Let's have a recap of 2013, shall we?

I'm aware that 2013 could rightfully be summed up as "the year my blog withered and nearly died, or maybe kind of actually did die, but with potential of being resurrected" but that's not very specific, now is it?? Also, this is sort of a combination recap of the past calendar year (2013), the past year of the snake (which lasts another week yet before turning into the year of the horse), and the past year of working as a foreign trainer at Wall Street English in Guangzhou (Jan 14, 2013 - Jan 13, 2014).

1. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?Besides "live in China," which is so obvious? I actually learned to speak a teeny, tiny bit of (Mandarin) Chinese, which was both terribly exciting, as it is something I have sworn for 30 years I was going to do, and terribly disappointing, in that I really can still not make it through a conversation beyond, say, "Me want beer. Give one. Thank you. Turn right."
2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?Hmmm, what did I resolve for 2013? If I resolved to blog regularly, I certainly failed miserably at that. Of course, pre-VPN that wasn't entirely my fault, but who are we kidding: I failed. But I can't remember what else I resolved. To learn Chinese? (see #1) Am I going to make more resolutions? Is the Pope a (surprisingly fun and socially just) Catholic? I've already made them. And I totally wrote them down this time. 
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?My sister! I now have a fifth nephiece. I totally and irrevocably have a free pass on the provide-me-a-grandchild front. We are good to go in that department. 
4. Did anyone close to you die?
Brian's grandfather and my sister's mother-in-law passed away, so I was really close to people who had people close to them die. And this is the second time someone close to Brian has died while we were living in Asia, which is kind of strange. 
5. Did you visit anywhere exciting?
We added five countries to our tally: the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. I was pretty delighted about traveling to Hanoi and Bali, among other places. And within China, we had Hong Kong and Macau right down the street railroad, so we went to each place multiple times. Plus, we squeezed in trips to Guilin-Yangshuo and Shanghai. So, yes to this one.
6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?As ever, and as the beloved Ms. Woolf put it, "a room of one's own." 
7. What date from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Probably January 8, the day we left the U.S. to move to China for the year. It was a great Manhattan Beach happy hour layover farewell.  
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Huh. I'm really not sure. I'll go with working for a magazine as an assistant editor and writer. I'm all kinds of excited that I've been able to do that. 
9. What was your biggest mistake?
I think not switching from the Wednesday to the Tuesday Chinese class sooner--it's just a schedule thing, but I would have checked off a lot more of my Guangzhou list if I had done that, plus I would have had more happiness and sanity. 
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A little virus here and there. Managed to avoid the H7N9 and whatever other global pandemic is originating in China next...knock on wood.  
11. What was the best thing you bought?
New-to-me used laptop! Because I really needed one, you see. 
12. Whose behavior merited celebration?Quincy, our beloved adopted kitten, who is so charming and was such a good-hearted kitten that we were devastated to have to send him to live in Foshan with our friends, we but did that so he could live with a feline friend, and we think he appreciates it. And we are still involved in Quincy's life. 
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
A few co-workers, specifically the ones who have lied to the company and/or looked the other way about bogus credentials, timekeeping/punching in and out, or calling in "sick"/hungover, and the two (TWO!) managers of mine who got fired for cooking the books and fudging numbers and cheating on targets instead of doing everything right. Please, people: behave in the workplace. Be adults. It's not that hard.

14. Where did most of your money go in 2013?
This is so easily plane tickets. To, from, and within China and SE Asia.  
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?Plane tickets, to, from, and within China and SE Asia. 
16. What song will always remind you of 2013?
I suppose the Mileys: "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball."  Because Miley.
Um, God, hellllllooooooo!
17. Compared to this time last year, you are:
Fatter. I lost weight in Mexico and gained weight in China. Take that, all you foolish bean-and-cheese-and-tortilla-hatin' folk. Mexican food is delicious and fresh and perfect. 

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?Drinking.
20. How did you spend Christmas?
In Macau! So fabulous. We loved Macau from the first minute we visited in early April, and knew we'd go back. And it was the perfect place to have a Christmas holiday; we splurged (as a Christmas present to ourselves) on a nice hotel and enjoyed a Christmas dinner feast, ice skating at the Venetian casino, wintry decorations, and so forth. 
21. Did you fall in love in 2013?
With Quincy!
22. What was your favorite TV program?
Although this was the year that Brian and I  hopped aboard the Game of Thrones bandwagon and I finally plunged into The Wire, the winner is, as it has been for the past five years, Breaking Bad
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Hmmm...hate being such a strong word...but I certainly hate the actions of several people that I didn't know about at this time last year. 
24. What was the best book you read?
The Grapes of Wrath
25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Caitlin Rose (thanks, Ann!)
Plus, I actually listened to the lyrics of "Ho Hey"--he's singing about the Chinatown bus!! I never realized!
26. What did you want and get?
Trips to the Philippines and Vietnam. 
27. What did you want and not get?
To pay off one of my credit cards. I sort of had a plan for that, but then I failed. 
28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Oh my, this birthday is best forgotten, truly. I was going without beer during the month of May, which meant that at the work-sponsored karaoke night on May 12 (the night before my day), I drank wine instead. One should not drink wine during an event of such unabashed drunken revelry, when one's glass is constantly refilled. One could kill oneself, or at least eat away the inside of one's esophagus, methinks. One should never have such copious amounts of wine. One wonders how Plato, Dionysus, did it? Needless to say, I was hungover (gross) on my birthday, and spent much of it lying on the floor of our apartment. Brian, who was suffering an unrelated ailment, went out to get me crackers after I pleaded with him to do so.  (Such a kind boyfriend. Happy birthday, eh?) I had to go to work to teach three classes from 6:00-9:30 p.m.  I made it, after a hangover meal at KFC. Argh. They had a nice cake for me at work, though!
29. What’s one thing that would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
In a schadenfreude way, I suppose that Peter, a manager who got fired for doing things we all knew he  wasn't supposed to do, some of which I refused to do, could have been fired in front of me instead of just being disappeared, and perhaps forced to retract his negative assessment of me as a non-team player who is "below average" on willingness to take on extra work, like the extra things he wasn't supposed to be pressuring us to do. 

Or, being able to take Quincy home to the U.S. 

Or, finishing more  books. Like, I really meant to also read Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and The Water Margin while living in China, not just A Dream of Red Mansions/Chamber, which p.s. took me for freaking ever. 
30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
I wore skirts, button-down shirts, dresses, blouses, and sweaters to work. I wore the same three or four shirts and jeans on my days off. That's about it. 

31. What kept you sane?
Contenders: Goodreads. The DVD man on the corner. The VPN. Trivia night at the Tavern.
Maybe nothing, actually. 
32. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Um - no-one?  But I did get a not-so-little thrill every time Frank played a Jon Stewart clip from The Daily Show at trivia night, rather than the "funny" laugh-at-people-falling-flailing-failing /animal antics/weird signs/dirty innuendo videos.
33. What political issue stirred you the most?
Atrocious treatment of animals, to wit: cages (including in pet shops---tiny cages for cats -- no no no), the cat-and-dog-meat industries in China, with all their shady-side-of-the-law torture, underfeeding, inhumane treatment, housing, and transport, let alone slaughter, etc. 
34. Who do you miss the most?
I'm not sure that I really miss people, just in general. Is that bad? I definitely can't single one out.   
35. Who was the best new person you met?
Also ??  I mean, I don't have, like, a ranked order or something. 
36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013?
English is a skill for my students, and I am their trainer, facilitating their practice of that skill, just as a coach would help student to do a back handspring or hit down-and-away pitches. It's very helpful to conceive of language classes that way instead of as a "teacher" of information. 
37. What are your new year's resolutions for 2014?
Some of them are secret, but one of them is to work on having better posture. That one I can share.
Also, this lapsed vegetarian is gradually rediscovering her faith.