Most times I dedicate this blog to all the fun things in life. But sometimes life gets in the way. My grandfather died. Normal day in a suburb of Long Island. Watering plants in the living room. Falling to the floor, still clutching the water can, he never woke up.
One day someone is here, and the next they are in another place, unreachable.
Every time I spoke to my grandpa on the phone, the conversation would go like this:
Me: Hi Grandpa. Its Lei Lei.
GP: Oh Lei Lei! Hello. How are you? I miss you
Me: I miss you too grandpa. Merry Christmas (or insert any holiday here)
GP: Merry Christmas! I love you, I miss you.
Me: Me too grandpa
GP: I love you, miss you, take care of yourself ok. Ok good bye. Bye. Bye.
Yes- each conversation would last no more than 3 minutes. My grandpa was from an era of MCI long distance phone bills. Being ever so efficient, he used few words as possible to get his message across.
I don’t remember having long conversations with Grandpa. He kept things simple. Instead, I remember Ralph Lauren Polo shirts. Brooks Brothers suits. A garage full of his favorite things. That forever clean Lincoln town car.
A side effect from divorce, we only spent two weeks out of year with our grandparents in New York. Short summer trips. We all made the most out of the time we spent together.
Niagara Falls. Toronto. Clamming. Shopping. Disney and more.
Here’s an old photo of us crabbing- Me in junior high, Wendy in high school, and Grandpa enjoying retirement.
My grandpa was stylish even at the pier. I was in my frizzy hair phase… don’t laugh.
Thinking about these things make me smile and cry. I miss those simple happy moments. I’ve been MIA the recent years, but I hope he knew that I loved him unconditionally.
After the funeral
After things settle down, we transition to logistics. I Go into my grandpa’s room and clear out his things. I find at least 20+ new shirts. Countless boxes of unworn shoes. I don’t know what I should keep and what I should donate. I fight the urge to hoard everything. Its best to let go.
Emotions running high
I bet my grandpa tried yelling from the spirit world to “Stop! Don’t fuss over me.”
We didn’t hear him.
Arguments. Crying. Anxiety. Headaches.
I don’t deserve to complain. My grandma and grandpa have been married for 65 years. When I leave for the airport tomorrow, she will be alone in the house for the first time ever. Sometimes she is ok, and other times she isn’t. You can tell when she forgets momentarily that he is gone. As if he stepped out to pick up something from the grocery store. I wish we could keep pretending that he is going to be back any minute.
William Chow’s life ended on February 4, 2017. Rest In Peace Grandpa. You were the balance to our madness and we will miss you forever.
If I could phone my grandpa one last time, I would simply say “Hi Grandpa. Its Lei Lei. I miss you and love you. Don’t worry….I’ll take care of myself. Good bye.”
At peace. That’s how I feel when I am underwater. Fishes swimming. Plants swaying to the swell of the ocean. Weightless. With only my air bubbles to tell me which way is up.
Outside of the water, I’m awkward. I don’t know what I want in life. I forgot something. Where am I going? Its too much to think about. Diving is much easier.
My parents phoned me with hesitations in their voice. I imagine they think I’m venturing into Somalian pirated waters or something. Danger lurking over each wave. Is it safe? Where will you be? Is there cell service?
Yes, its safe. In the middle of nowhere. No connections to civilization whatsoever. No need to worry.
The Dive Group for Trip 3 – Hosted by the Smiling Seahorse
The Smiling Seahorse
MV Thai Sea – my home for the next 5 days. The owner, Frank, works as the dive instructor on the boat, and his wife does the business side. It’s a nice and small independent diving operation. The boat has room for 12 guests, with a ratio of 4 divers to one divemaster/instructor.
At first, I have my hesitations. I get on the boat and its French. Like Tres Tres Tres French. All the other divers minus one other diver- Choy, are French. Queue La Vie en Rose please.
Le Bienvenue speech. The Suisse dive instructor (Julien) translates. I’m somewhat irritated. My spoiled Americanness kicks in. Why can’t everyone just speak English. Then I think about Trump and realize I’m being stupid. Relax.
The first night I’m a little cranky and shy, so I take some seasickness pills and go to sleep.
The next morning I wake up to the sound of “630! Dive briefing!”
I put on my swim suit and a shirt dress and head to the back of the boat. We form our groups and prepare for diving. Each day will follow this schedule -Dive. Eat Breakfast. Sleep. Dive. Eat Lunch. Sleep. Dive. Eat a snack. Relax. Dive. Eat Dinner. Drink.
The Dive Group: Me, Luc, Julien, Choy
A day later, I start warming up to my new French family. We exchange stories about all our travels and drink Richard, the drink of the Bordeaux French men. It’s Licorice tasting madness. The 4 divers in their mid 50’s traveling sans wives brought a huge bottle of Richard for all to drink. The perfect recipe for laughter and fun. After some shots of Rum, a dance party with flashing lights forms on the top deck.
By the third day, all my stupid American prejudice about the French boat are gone. We exchange stories of the fish we see underwater while eating all the delicious treats the Thai team cooks for us. One day banana fritters and ice cream. Next Day, crepes with fruit.
Night falls and we jump in for another night dive. I float around flashing my light at fishes. A lonely barracuda passes by. I name him Mr.B. Mr.B is rather curious and swims towards me. Maybe a little too close. At first it feels fun, but now its makes me uneasy. Circling me, I can feel his irritation.
My heart rate is up. I’m afraid to shine my light into the darkness. I’m unsure if I want to see Mr.B staring back at me. I swim over to my guide and hope that Mr.B disappears.
Moments later, Choy swims up next to me and Julian. He’s rubbing his shoulder. Forming a fist into a palm, Choy signals to me that a barracuda shoulder checked him. Or at least that’s what I interpret. It must be Mr.B. Like 2 young kids afraid to cross the street, we stay close to Julien and look both ways before swimming ahead.
Not seeing Mr.B anywhere, I start doing my own thing again. Rock here. Fish there. Mr.B. … WHAT? I quickly flash my light somewhere else. Swimming away, scared.
A minute passes. I see a distant light shaking frantically. I swim over and Choy signals to me that he sees Mr.B again. We stay close together and search the seas. No sign of an imminent attack.
The dive ends and we pop up to the surface. Instantly we are two kids chatting to Julien about this barracuda. Julien laughs.
I have to laugh at myself. Like what is this fish going to do to me? I have a knife for Christ sake. A big knife. One slice and its sashimi time.
The rest of the dives, we kept an eye out for Mr. B, but he must have found someone else to punk. Instead we saw more seahorses, octopus, puffer fish, and angel fish. Each time we circle reefs the song of the little mermaid pops into my head. The schools of fish seem to freeze at times. Every clown fish is named Nemo. Every blue angel fish is named Dory.
Unable to explain the vastness of the sea, I’ll use my video to show my the rest of my trip experiences from under the sea:
Special Thanks to Luc for his photos and video. Thanks to Smiling Seahorse for providing such a great experience!
A short $100 hop away from Bangkok. Reason to go? Coffee.
No really, I’ve been drinking this powered candy in Thailand that tastes like what coffee companies would make for kids if they wanted to get them interested early. Like those packs of gum that look like cigarettes. The complete look of a frothy cappuccino without the real punch. A piece of me dies each time I drink it.
Arriving to Hanoi airport around 9am, I order an uber and go to Old Town. The driver drops me off in the center of the city. Chaos. Frogger on Crack.
Crossing myself, I take a deep breath and go for it. I’m sure if I crossed a busy street like this in America without a cross walk someone would run me over. Over here, all the drivers seem to be on alert and slow down. After this crossing, everything else seems rather easy.
Its behind Here!
Like a speakeasy, the coffee shop is hidden in an alleyway behind some tailor. Once inside, the space opens up and you feel like you are inside, but outside at the same time. There’s a garden in the center of the house and the rooftop is open. A woman greets me and I already know what to order- “Ca phe sua da”. I walk up three or four flights of winding stairs to reach a beautiful roof top deck with a view of the lake. The first sip of caffeine gives me a new life.
Shortly after my relaxing coffee, I go to meet up with my couchsurfing host- Quynh. Vietnam is very affordable, so I didn’t need to really crash on someone’s couch, it was a means for me to make friends with locals. Sometimes traveling solo can be a bit lonely. Quynh recently got married and quit her job to start her own private tour company. Funny weekend. She told me she has to file a lot of paperwork to get the government to give her approval for her business. So for now she’s practicing with couchsurfing.
She takes me on her motorbike to Dai Kim and we eat Bun Cha. The meal was $1. Next, we go to Old Town. I walk about 6 miles wondering the streets in a mix of fake north face bags, nike gear, Hanoi shirts and souvenirs. Half way between my walk I decide to book at tour to Halong Bay for $30. My negotiation skills are pretty bad. Quynh stated that she pays 500,000 dong as a local, but I should expect to pay 700,000 dong. Later on the boat, I find out that everyone else paid 600,00 dong. Not that big of difference but still. American fail. A
After Old town, we go to another coffee and get the famed” egg coffee” fantastic.
Halong Bay Tour for $30 – Is it worth it?
Halong Bay is about 3-4 hours bus ride away. As soon as I get on the bus, I’ve realized I booked the wrong tour. I sit in the back by the backpacking Brazilians. One of them has their flip flop off and their black dirty food dangling off his knee. Its constantly in the corner of my eye.
On the tour boat, I meet 2 Polish gay guys, 2 Koreans, and a Bosnian. We eat lunch together. We form a bond together when the guide tells me that my tour didn’t include a kayak tour because I didn’t pay extra. Everyone starts complaining for me. I simply tell him, I paid 100,000 dong extra than everyone else. So why doesn’t it include it? He finally gives up and throws me a coupon for kayaking. Saying- oh fine. Then take it. I would have skipped it, but I’m thankful that my new friends were sticking up for me.
We sail around the bay and take a trip into these beautiful caves. Since I’m on this crappy tour- my guide says nothing. So really I have no idea why there are caves at Halong Bay. I can’t tell you anything about it. James Bond movie. Thats about it.
A few hours later we finish the trip and start the long journey back.
Free City Tour Guide in Hanoi
The next day I have a private free tour around the city. Khanh Nguyen Phuong, or “Katie” for short, picks me up at 9am. We zip over to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and watch the changing of the guards. She tells me about the greatness of Ho Chi Minh and how he liberated Vietnam. I’m scared to ask her questions about communism and the conflict between the people that left versus people that stayed. Nowadays, I’m sure the dynamics have changed. You can see capitalism everywhere. I mean, just look at my Halong Bay Tour.
Next, we go the house where Obama stayed during his visit. This giant yellow French Mansion was supposed to be the “White House” but Ho Chi Minh dubbed it too fancy and stayed at the house down the way. The “Uncle Ho” house. The house he lived in is traditional Northern Vietnam style. Reminds me of some of the houses in Thailand. One thing Katie points out: All the clocks in his home are set to 9:47; the exact time he passed away.
At one point, Katie asks my age and gives the most shocked face response to me. I can’t tell whether she thinks I am younger, or if she is concerned to be so old traveling alone. I too would look in horror as an old maid traveling solo. I find out she’s only 22. She’s lived in the Hanoi area all her life and has never traveled abroad. She hasn’t even been to Halong Bay.
We go to a few more sites around the city: Temple of Literature and the Hoa Lo Prison. In the prison, there’s a section on USA POWs. The image and impression I got was that the time in these prison camps was filled with Christmas celebrations and men playing ping pong. All the the photos show Vietnamese helping John McCain and treating his broken bones. Katie called it the “Hanoi Hilton Prison.” Really. Her tour included a 5 minute talk about how well Americans were treated in prison. Despite the fact the next room showed men in shackles and solitary confinement rooms. Can someone say propaganda much?
Even though I didn’t agree with the politics, the tour itself was really informative and I enjoyed Katie’s young and dedicated spirit. She is a college graduate in Interpretation and told me about the lengthy process on getting the job as a free tour guide, Lots of tests and interviews. She’s a little shy- but at the same time- is quick to yell at solicitors to get out here. Just hanging out with her makes me wish I was 22 again.
Sweet Dessert of some Kind
Mocha Egg Coffee
Best Ice Cream Ever
Egg Pancake Dish Thing
Fresh Beef Spring Roll
Bun Rieu Cua
Sort Sort of a Papaya Like Salad
Cold Dishes – Vinegar Dipping Sauce
Clear Glutenous Dumpling Filled with Meat and Mushrooms
Jungle Juice Dessert
I didn’t really go into depth about the food. But really. Its insane on how good the food is here. Most of the time I spent about $1 a meal. For lunch alone, I ordered 4 dishes and began stuffing myself like a little Fois Gras Duck. Must eat everything. Full of carbs, I felt accomplished and flew back to Bangkok.
Christmas day and I’m feeling good from the Christmas lunch celebration. In the evening I catch a flight to Siem Reap. Looking for a pen to fill out the immigration form, I started up a short chat with my neighbor, US foreign affairs employee in Myanmar. We exchanged travel stories and our thoughts about Thailand. Krabi Good, Phuket, Bad. Tourist sites, local sites. Stuff Like that.
The plane lands and I do the Asian Hustle. Meaning, I jump into the aisle and scramble to the front. No standing and waiting for anyone to get their bag from the overhead compartment. Normally I would be courteous, but really, this is the norm. Don’t expect anyone to give you space while you get your stuff.
In the immigration line. Passport- check. Photo- check. Money… uh where’s all my money? PANIC.
I really shouldn’t be allowed to travel anywhere. Between checking in and getting into this immigration line, I lose all my $20 bills. I mentally start retracing my steps… hmmm.
I think it must have been when I was pulling my passport out for all the different checks between the check in gate, the immigration line, the ticket boarding process, the visa application forms on the plane… the possibilities are endless.
I’m really starting to panic now. How am I going to get into this darn country? Why am I always like this? AHHHHHH.
By chance, my middle seat neighbor comes along -“what’s wrong?”.
I lost all my money. My face is flushed between sweat and redness. He pulls out a $50 bill and hands it to me.
“Here’s some money. You can pay me back later.” WHAT. How are people so nice and trusting? If there’s anything that I’ve learned from travelling, its that there are more nice people in the world than scam artists. Let yourself trust people. This guy doesn’t know if I’m a serial killer or a drug smuggler, yet he had the trust to give me money without knowing if I would ever see him again.
Saved by $50, I pay for my visa and then wait in another queue.
Here’s my email address, my google voice number, my thai phone number, and whatever other promises I can think of so that he can believe that I will return the money.
Cleared from the airport, I find my name on a hotel sign and a nice man waiting to take me to my hotel. The middle seat guy meets his friends and we part ways.
Tourist Itinerary Angkor Wat and more
The next morning- Nina’s friend, Andy arrives from Singapore. He’s in full blown cold mode. Determined to “power through” it, we go to a pharmacy and get some drugs to hide his misery. The first day itinerary in Cambodia is this:
Angkor National Museum
Old City Market
Lunch somewhere tripadvisor recommends
Walk around some more
Relax at hotel – swimming
Getting our Angkor Wat tickets
Sunset tour at a Temple
Dinner at Khmer Kitchen
Tuk tuk back to the hotel
Andy “Powering Through” it – Tuk Tuk Ride
I have to give Andy credit. For his American vacation, he squeezed 5 cities into 2 weeks. I forget that Americans only get a few weeks for vacation, so they have to pack everything into a short period. I hate that abour corporate America. Why can’t we relax more? Even our holidays are stressful.
Next day, 430am: Pitch black and quiet. Our hotel gives us our breakfast goody bags and off we go.
I use my powerbank’s flashlight so we don’t eat shit on the stone walkway to the temple. By 530am, all of us tourists are huddled around the reflection ponds. I huddle in my Asian squat and curse the world as bugs continue to bite my legs.
Snap. Snap. Snap. I take about 100 photos. One of them has to be ok.
Sun is up – Let the temple extravaganza begin. Most people do the “small tour” which includes the top four temples. Not being shy from a challenge- I arrange a big and small tour that hits up 10 temples. Essentially all of the temples close to Angkor Wat. To say that there are some Chinese tourists is an understatement. There are about 20 tour buses sitting in the parking lots across from the temples. People posing in front of all the faces. The Hot sun beating down on us. The mixture of sweat and dust creating an icky sticky mess.
11 hours later, we did it. All the damn temples.
Back at the hotel, I run, jump and plunge into the pool. Ahhhh. The soot of the dirty temple dust washes off. Andy passes out sitting upright in the hotel lobby.
Siem Reap. Out.
Note- I was able to see my $50 guardian angel in the airport on my way out and return the money. Cheers to friendly strangers.
Ten days later and I’m still waking up each day in disbelief that I’m in Thailand now. At least I’ve mastered crossing the street, hailing/riding scooters, and using my BTS rabbit card for everything.
Suan Phlu – the Local Market
I’m living in the suburb area between the Sala Daeng and Chong Nonsi BTS stop. The local market, within a 10 minute walking distance, is called Suan Phlu. Suan Phlu is like America’s farmers market but available everyday. First visit: I walk around starving. My stomach decided I should eat everything. There was a line for some stand where the woman was mixing something in a large wooden bowl. It must be Som Tum (papaya salad). I didn’t want to wait in line, so I left and did my grocery shopping making a mental note to come back later.
I pick out an assortment of fresh veggies and pay $3. Feeling quite accomplished, I head over to the woman with the wooden bowl and ordered whatever it was that she was making. I also did the “cross -arms” no spicy sign language. She responded with lots of Thai and kept pointing at a pickled pepper, so I said OK. Then she started making “it.” She pulled out a FISH about 4 inches in length and began to smash the fish into a paste with the pickled pepper. Then, lots of fish sauce.
Utter horror. What is going on? Where’s the papaya? I start looking around the stand and notice there are no papayas. Yes, green beans, but not much else. Standing there, I tried to hide that dumb look on my face. Waiting for her to finish smashing. She shoveled the paste into a plastic baggy. 20 baht. (75 cents). I placed the smushed fish into my grocery bag and walked away. So much for Som Tum. I guess I still am quite the tourist.
Next, I decide that I should stick with what I know. Fried Chicken. Yup. That’s easy. I follow the smell and find fried chicken pieces on a stand. I point – she chops and boom. Food served. 2 pieces of Fried Chicken ( 2 pieces of thighs and drumsticks connected) for $2. Can’t complain there.
Starting to gain my confidence back after the smashed fish incident, I order some more coconut desserts and wind up at a noodle restaurant. Its filled with people, so I figure it must be good. I point to the wall- and boom they know what I want. Noodles and tea for 55 baht ( $1.50).
Content with my Suan Phlu grocery day, I decide to grab a scooter back instead of walking in the hot sun.
Tourist Time – Grand Palace and Wat Pho
Nina’s friend from Chicago came into town and had 2 days to tour Bangkok. He had many “must see” items on his list. I grew tired from just listening. But trying not to be a grinch, I decide to tag along the first day. First, we went to Wat Pho. The temple with the Giant Golden Buddha is laying on her side. Last time my cousin and I got some really great massages from the students at the temple.
This time around I skip the massage and just walk around.
Her friend spent ages taking photos on top of photos. I tried to take photos, but the hot sun got the best of me. Making me lazy. My new thai name- “the laziest tourist in thailand.”
Next – the Golden Palace
Thousands of people are standing in line to pay respects to the King. Only Thai people are allowed to visit the King; one must dress appropriately (ie. all Black). In the weeks after the King’s death, all department stores had sold out of black clothes. You see it all around. All government works are wearing black for the next year. There are white and black ribbon lacing street fences. Images of the King memorialized in front of every business. His death and his memory are all around.
The line to pay respects for the king wraps all around the palace. At dawn, the line to see the king forms and the waiting time quickly grows from 4 hours and even longer throughout the day. People from the country side are coming to Bangkok to pay respect to this Great King. It’s incredible to see their love and dedication.
On the tourist side- its a different story. The heat reminds me of death valley. There is no breeze and the marble floors seem to reflect the light in such a way that you just feel heat from all angles.
The temple within the Golden Palace houses the famous emerald buddha. No photos are allowed in the temple. The legend goes that long ago the King of Russia visited the King of Thailand. The Thai King offered the Russian king anything in his kingdom. The foreign king requested the Emerald Buddha. Without hesitation the Thai King gifted the emerald buddha. Taken back by his generosity, the Russian King would like anything in return, and the Thai King responded ” the Emerald Buddha.” Check Mate. Win.
I found the temple within the golden palace and the emerald buddha beautiful and peaceful. Once I came back out outside, I was reminded of the tourist attraction. Cameras and selfie sticks everywhere. Hot and sticky. Sweaty and stinky.
Gaggan “World’s Best Restaurant in Asia”
According to some website, Gaggan is the best restaurant in Asia. Nina’s friend made reservations 2 months in advance. Tasting Menu for 22 courses for $150. The chef came from El Bulli. That super famous restaurant. I decided to join in the bougieness,”Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday to Me.” This meal was my year end treat to myself.
The usual Bangkok traffic. We sit waiting for that one light that only changes once every 15 minutes. This place gives LA traffic. Nina calls the restaurant to tell them we are stuck in traffic, the hostess responds ” Try your best to get here on time.” Ok lady. Now that you mention it, we weren’t trying that hard. ha.
The Green Light gods shine down on us, We arrive on time. Randomly, we got selected to be seated at a new chef’s table. My phone is out and on the table. I’m not one to be ashamed of my food porn. Embrace it.
All 22 courses were innovative and exciting. While I didn’t fall in love with some of them, I appreciated the thought and new tastes. Uni in a wasabi cone with some fruit: Love it. Gold covered Chocolate gusher ball with spicy sauce: Not so much. Each dish had its own interpretation of Japanese and Indian cuisine fusion.
The bad side. I only have 2 complaints.
A fly landed on a piece of sushi during preparation and none of the chefs noticed. Or at least they didn’t react to me pointing and saying “Hey! There a fly on that!” Nina was mortified. Like those card games on new york streets, I kept my eyes on the prize and made sure that I followed the sushi as the chefs served each of us. The dish was served to someone else, I dont think they saw the fly. So all is well.
Using the same spoon to stir and taste. Whatever happened to that one spoon in a chef’s apron.
All in all, I enjoyed dinner. It reminded me of happier and richer times. Definitely innovative eats. I loved the lips starter, sushi, the uni cone, the crab curry, and the tomato soup.
About 10 days in Thailand and 4 massages later… I finally visited a Temple. Since its my third time here, I haven’t been really motivated to do all the touristy things. I mean, yes, I have eaten a lot of papaya salads and gotten massages, but I haven’t rode an elephant or gone to aw cooking class. I haven’t been adventuring out and trying to find new things.
Have I become a lazy tourist?
Probably, its almost been one year since I’ve been “working” as an engineer. I set my own schedule, and when someone asks if I want to do something, I look at my schedule and do it. Anything that I had planned, I push it to the side and figure it can wait.
My Top 5 thoughts about Thailand right now:
I still hate mosquitos. They still love me. Its a love/hate relationship.
Wintertime in Thailand = Awesome California like conditions around high 70’s to low 80’s with low humidity. Love it
Food Game is Strong. Bonus- Food is extremely cheap. Lunch for three people – $10. My biggest splurge so far was a burger with fries and a drink for $8.20 (converted from Thai Baht).
Massages cost less than $10/hr. Being American- I always tip at least $3. I constantly fight my American urge to tip. Anytime someone hands me change, I want them to keep it.
Thai People and Ex-Pat vibe is generally positive. I don’t get that Venice Hipster “Im so much more fabulous than everyone else” vibe here. I could be wrong, but people seem generally happy. Not as much “I hate my life” vibe going on.
My Airbnb accommodation in Chiang Mai has been out of this world. A modern condo building with a nice lap pool (that no one is ever in) and a OK gym. My apartment is a one bedroom (almost like a studio with moveable walls), large flat panel TV, washing machine, AC in both rooms, patio only costs $32 a night. I thought I snagged an amazing deal. Then I found out one of the locals pays about $350 a month for her apartment.
Odd Thought of the day:
I chatted with my local friend here about wages. I wondered if our tourism was taking advantage of the massage therapists and if they were “slave” labor. Then he told me about his favorite massage therapist. She works everyday from the time the place opens till midnight. She takes one lunch break a day. After a few months he goes to get a massage and sees a bandage on her face. Did she get abused? In a fight? No. She proudly states that she saved up enough money to get a nose job. She wanted to higher nose bridge. What does that even mean??? Well, look at an Asian face and you find that its flat at the nose right between the eyes. Now look at my European descent friends.. its like a mountain between the eyes. I’m digressing.
But the moral of the story is that she couldn’t possibly hating her life and slaving away at some sweatshop massage place if she was able to save up money for plastic surgery. Right?
I felt better knowing they like what they do, and I like paying them and tipping them. Speaking of which- I think I will go get a massage now.
Here are some photos of my one Temple I visited while in Chiang Mai- Wat Suan Dok. ( I went to Doi Suthep last time…)
I left San Jose and flew to Seattle with Jade early morning on Tuesday. Jade for the most part was a pretty good kitty. The flight attendants weren’t as cool as the last flight and told me that Jade needed to stay under the seat the entire flight. Meow. Meow. Meow…. then she gave up. Every 10 minutes she would give me a short meow just to let me know she was still there. “Flight attendants prepare for landing.” Jade could sense the change in presure. M E O W. In that frantic high-pitched meow… THAT meow… it means I just pissed myself and I’m really upset. Once we landed I hopped into the little bathroom in the back of the plane and cleaned her up. Thank god for pee pads. I got my luggage and then hopped in my rental car. From there, Jade got upgraded to my lap. Nice Kitty.
The stay at Seattle was pretty short and shorter than I anticipated. For the most part, I stayed at Christina’s place making sure that Jade got all her stuff organized and settled into her temporary home.
First DOH! moment
Brushing my teeth the night before my departure, i get that gut wrenching feeling. CRAP! I forgot my scuba weight in the back of my rental car when I returned it the other day. Lazily, I had left it in the car because i didn’t feel like lugging it into the house with all the other luggage. Then I had a brain fart while returning the car and didn’t check the back seat. For the next hour, I stormed around like a mad woman trying every which way to contact Alamo. Calling their Lost and Found, filing a claim on-line and doing that call/repeat dial every line I could think of trying to reach a human being at midnight. No luck.
In the morning, I went back to the rental car company at 5am, only to be told the lost and found wouldn’t open till 6am and that the car had already been rented out. I checked into my flight, and then took the shuttle bus back over to lost and found and waited till 6am when they opened. No luck, no weight. By now I’m just kicking myself for being such an airhead and forgetting my weight. I’m more disappointed in myself for being an idiot.
Second Doh! moment
But wait- thats not all! I fly to Los Angeles and get a text from Christina that I forgot my medication at her place. I probably could order it in Thailand, but I don’t want to leave that up to chance. I hop off the plane and call an uber to take me to the nearest Rite Aid. From there, I get my prescription transferred (only a month’s supply for a refill) and then uber my ass back to the airport to get back into the airport. Thank god for Uber.
The one and only saving glory that day was that I still had platinum status on American so I strolled into the one lounge and took advantage of all the free stuff. I looked over at the bartender. He looked bored as ever- wiping glasses dry with a rag. I get his attention and order a bloody mary. He excitedly decided to make my bloody mary from scratch. OH the sweet taste of alcohol never felt so good.
Things started to look like they were turning around. On the plane, I got more legroom than I could use. Bulk head seat score. My legs stretched out so much I could have been lounging at the pool. JAL also hooked it up with the food and I ate everything on my plate. Each meal was a cute bento box. I chuckled as the flight attendants tried to speak english over the intercom. Very endearing, yest struggling to get the words out. Always with a happy face, the flight attendants kept coming around with the best snacks. Three twins ice cream, hot green tea, cold barley tea, rice snacks…. I barely had time to sleep.
Once I got to Tokyo, things started to change. The flight was delayed and my seat was in normal economy where my knees barely fit, scraping the front seat. I dont know how anyone about 5.5ft tall flies. Another 7 hours to go.
I should just staple everything on myself
I get off the plane and jump into the priority immigration line. I figured the worst they can do is tell me to go in the normal line. I manage to get out of immigration in less than 5 minutes. I reach into my bag to check my phone because I forgot where to meet Nina’s driver. Thats when it hit me. Crap. My phone. Its gone. NOOOOOO!
I’m out so early that no one is even in baggage claim. I walk over to the Thai Airways baggage counter and they call JAL. I tell them, its a Cat Case IPhone. So embarrassing. They found it. Praise Jesus. They describe to other person that I’m wearing a grey shirt with Cat on it, and they will meet me at the baggage carousel. God I can’t believe I’m that CAT LADY.
My bags come out really fast, but then I wait there another 30 mins while everyone leaves. Finally a lost and found lady comes out with her bright orange vest. I flag her down and she talks to another woman. Then an AH-HA moment look comes across her face. She’s been there the entire time waiting for me to come to her and I’ve been doing the same. This marks my first Thai miscommunication.
I get out of customs and find the driver and all is great.
Where has time gone? It doesn’t feel that long since I was living in Iceland. Yet, I’ve been back in the states with family for over 3 months. What have I accomplished? Not sure. I’ve been spending most of my time catching up with my cat and family. I started swimming a few times a week at my old stomping grounds. The weather has turned cold up here- some nights I can’t find the motivation to step outside and jump into a pool.
I’ve been working hard at getting better at scuba diving by helping out with the courses at Any Water Sports. The weather and storms have been holding me back. Each weekend there seems to be another storm surge that makes it impossible to have fun. In the meantime I have started to try to figure out what to do next.
I briefly debated about going to South America. Its always been on my list and one of the last two continents I haven’t visited. Antartica is the other one. But that’s going to cost me a good $10k. So maybe that will have to wait until I find a buried treasure.
Why Thailand? Well, I definitely have not been planning to go to Thailand. I went 2 years ago for 7 weeks and thought I had a good time and could visit other new places. My nomadic lifestyle has been a bit taxing. I haven’t bought anything that I couldn’t take with me to the next trip. The last real purchase I made on myself was a pair of shorts in August. Sometimes I look at a pretty purse at the mall and yearn to just buy something frivolous. But alas, what would be the point? I don’t need a fancy purse.
Anyways, a friend offered me a free room until May 2017. I don’t know how I am so fortunate to have such great friends. Seeing that winter is coming and I didn’t have anything else going on, I chose to accept her offer and book a free ticket to Thailand and stay for 2 months.
It’s not an “Eat.Pray.Love.” thing. God, if I could just curse Julia Roberts from doing that movie I would. Just because I’m a middle aged single woman doesn’t mean that i took time off to replicate the book. Don’t get me wrong- I would love to go to Italy and eat a truckload of pasta and pizza and have James Franco fall in love with me. But thats not realistic. I took the time off so that I wouldn’t have to be an engineer anymore. I’m going to Thailand to live and figure out what the next step in my life should be. I’m looking forward to alone time and being able to be independent again. I need to figure out what’s the point of working and living again. Bangkok isn’t exactly the best city for scuba diving, but maybe I will be able to figure out a way to jump into the water while I’m there.
Teaching in Monterey and living in San Jose can be inconvenient when I’m assisting both open water and advanced water courses. I used to drive back and forth but recently I started to stay at hotels for convenience.
Priceline and Hotwire
This is where Priceline and Hotwire come into play. Oftentimes I can book on these sites and save about $20-30 a night. The risk is that there is no cancellation.
I always have trip insurance (currently world nomads) so I’m covered for natural disasters and what not.
Trip insurance covers the following:
trip cancellation due to weather (flights only)
stolen / list items
medical coverage for unexpected events
My scuba course was recently canceled due to high waves/ swell in the area. I called world nomads and they said it wasn’t covered. So much for trip insurance.
I googled ways to get a hot rates Hotwire refund and found that some people were able to plead with the customer service representative for mercy. I tried my best and called customer service. Pleaded my case. Nope. The response was “my hands are tied with hot rates hotel reservations. We have a contract with he hotel that can not be broken.”
I waited a few days and called the hotel and explained to them that I was teaching a scuba course that got canceled at the last minute. I could reschedule when the class is sorted out. The woman was really nice and said to call her reservations department to cancel. So then another phone call and same explain to the reservations department. The woman was understanding and said she would cancel if she could, but the reservation is paid to Hotwire. I thought I was stuck but then she said something new….
I could call Hotwire back and explain that I talked with her and that the hotel approved of my cancellation and would allow me to get a refund. She gave me her name and contact info for reference.
The Solution: How to get a Refund
Next step- call Hotwire. I get another customer service agent. Instead of giving a sob story, I go staring into the information.
I understand it’s hot rates and no cancellation, but I spoke with the hotel and they agreed to cancel my reservation and that Hotwire can call them back for confirmation.
Instead of the usual “my hands are tied” he asks for the name of he representative I spoke with at the hotel and to wait a moment. He then puts me on hold while he calls the hotel.
Five minutes later he says they are going to refund me. Yay! So – in essence the hotrates hotel reservations can be canceled in the event that the hotel agrees to the cancellation and hasn’t received payment from Hotwire.
I was so relieved. I haven’t tried this again, but I’m hoping I don’t have to. In some cases, I bet the customer service at other hotels might not be so accommodating.
Hmm. The water looks like God spilled his coffee in it and is now shaking it to get it to dissipate. Its horrible. I talk to my Instructor and he says he’s never seen it “this bad.” Monterey usually sits at mid 60’s during October. Two weeks before leading up to our course, its been high 60’s to mid 70’s. The warm weather has allowed a growth of algae to grow at many of the Monterey Bay Dive sites. To make matters worse, some how there is a swell.
The first time I prepared to dive Monterey Bay, I asked my buddy about tides, currents, and wind. He laughed and told me that Monterey Bay is flat and you can dive it any time. Well, not this weekend.
The plan for the Advanced Open Water course is 5 dives: 3 shore dives with one at night, and 2 boat dives. I even book an AirBnB to stay over night.
I get to Lover’s Point #3 and it looks like surf’s up. Its definitely upsetting to look out at the beautiful ocean and not be able to get in the water. Scuba rule to follow- If conditions are bad, cancel the dive. Don’t risk it.
Instead we (the instructor and divemasters) talk to the students and explain to them the situation. The shore dives are pushed to a different week in November. Boat dives are still on because they are planned for an estimated 80 feet depth.
The rest of the day we spend taking the students to some of nearby dive sites. While I won’t go into specific dive sites (private message me if you would like more information). Here’s the general information.
Monterey Bay Dive Sites
This beach is for advanced divers only. So much so the city even put out a warning sign:
If you dive Monastery, its either going to be on the North or South side. There’s nothing to see in the middle. The break is very steep. One minute you are on the beach, the next step you are neck deep in water. If there is any swell, like 1ft, then the dive should be called off. Why? Well, getting out of the water can be extremely difficult if you are trying to climb out as the waves break on you. The image shows a diver tumbling down- imagine a washing machine full of sand and ocean. Thats Monastery. The last note gave me the chills “At least 30 people have died at this beach.”
Looks nice and flat… but underneath its a washing machine waiting to grab you.
Carmel River State Beach
Carmel River State Beach includes a wetlands area. Over here there is a small free parking lot. This is close to Monastery Beach, but not as difficult.
Lover’s Cove / Lover’s Point
There’s three places to dive here. 1. Lover’s Cove 2. Lover’s Point 3. Lover’s Point #3. The third one is on the other side opposite of Lover’s cove and has a stairway down to a beach.
If you go down Ocean View Blvd towards Naiad St, you can dive Otters Beach.
The downside of lover’s cove is that it is very shallow 15-20ft for 200-300 yards. You have to surface swim quite far if you want to dive deep. Another disadvantage is that you can only park here for a max of 2 hours before having to move your car.
Right on Cannery Row, this beach is great if you already have a hotel room nearby. We parked at the El Torrito to check out conditions. This dive site is also close to Breakwater Cover, so one could do a dive at breakwater first then drive over during a surface interval and dive again.
Of course there are many other dive sites, but if you want to know something specific, send me a message and I will give you details.