Jay-Z

The difference four years can make

 
No matter where you go, you are what you are player
And you can try to change but that’s just the top layer
Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here
— Jay-Z, Public Service Announcement
Atlas, holding up the universe. Not exactly subtle.

Atlas, holding up the universe. Not exactly subtle.

I got this tattoo four years ago today: it was my third, and opened up the gate for the more than one dozen that would follow. Tattoos for me are often cathartic, helping me get out of my heart and mind things that trouble me. The pain is penance. The marks are forever reminders.

When I got that one I was going through a lot. My marriage was crumbling. I'd just pushed my entanglement with Girl past the Rubicon--there would be no going back. I was crushing under the weight of expectations, mine and others. I was stretched by stresses I couldn't endure and was crying out. I was scared shitless of judgment, of breaking promises, of leaving people behind. I wanted to know what it all meant and spent countless hours trying to understand and getting no closer.

Changes had to come.

And in the days and years that followed I made significant changes. I divorced. I fell harder for a woman than I ever had before. I got high. I wrote. I spent time reviewing what I'd done, where I'd gone wrong, and what I needed to do to be where I was supposed to be. To be me, someone I liked.

I made more changes. I walked away from Girl. I left my high-paying job. I traded my house and stuff for a backpack and saw (at least some of) the world. I met new people and found a relationship that actually worked. I turned 40, and I was happier than I ever could have imagined being at 36. Then I made more changes because there was more I needed to see. And that was very hard. But people touched my heart, and I got some things published. And I learned the meaning of life, which is pretty great no matter what you have to go through to do it. 

I came back home to see the people I loved and missed. Then one of them died before I could, which shook me to the core and made me question a lot of things. I'm still dealing with it.

Four years gone since that tattoo. And in that time I've often thought of Jigga's lyrics, is he wrong or right? After all, haven't I changed tremendously in the last four years? Or was I, before that time, trying to be something I wasn't--just trying to change the top layer, and thus, in the time since, realized who I was and am and shaped my life and behavior in ways that truly reflect that?

I don't know--and I'm okay with that.

Malaysia: worst, but still okay

In any list, something must come last: it's just the nature of the way things work. As my time in Malaysia winds down, I think of the countries I've spent meaningful time in on this One Way Ticket and conclude that Malaysia is my least favorite.

Yeah, that's not what it's been for me

And since I'm an introspective sort I've sought to sort out why. Is it due to the crappy rooms? No, I've had those everywhere--I'm cheap, you know. Is it due to my getting sick from something I ate? Nope, had that in Vietnam and Thailand. And Malaysia has lovely scenery and architecture--it's not a bad place, really. In fact, of all the Asia I've seen it's the most like home. America.

Fun size?

Fun size?

And that's part of the problem. People here love their cars. They rush around, always in a hurry. They're not likely to smile at a rando--if they do chat it will be polite, but there will be boundaries. Walls.

It's not like that in Thailand or Cambodia, where smiles lead to conversations lead to invitations to dinner.

Malaysia is also (from what I've seen) a fully developed country. Thus, in addition to being the most expensive SE Asian country I've stayed in, it lacks the "quirks" of Cambodia or the undiscovered wild of Laos. Indeed it's the differences from back home--the unexpected and exotic--that make travel exhilarating. It's the different people with unusual ways that totally work that draw me in and create memories.

I just don't connect with Malaysia that way. Maybe I'm too jaded now, I don't know.

So enough of the negativity. Here are four favorite pics from the four cities I've visited and a little about each:  


KUALA LUMPUR

IMG_3112.JPG

My first morning in KL I jumped into the train system for the Batu Caves, a highly-rated Hindu Temple (because these are the things that should be judged, of course). But getting there wasn't so straightforward, and I wandered outside a KTM and/or LRT station getting frustrated as I am wont to do.

But after a breakfast that made me less hangry, I walked on and found the Colonial Walk and River of Life. I spent the next couple of hours admiring KL's old government buildings, mosques, and important historical sites and remembered that this is an essential element of my travels--getting lost and seeing what I can see.


MELAKA

IMG_3496.JPG

Chinese New Year began halfway through my stay in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fireworks every night, tourists everywhere. The second night of CNY I visited Jonker Street, where all those tourists converged to shuffle slow, chest to back.

Fun!

Also there, of course, were vendors--food and tours. But while Bangkok and other cities crowd with motorized tuktuks, Melaka deploys bicycle rickshaws decked out in Hello Kitty, Minions, Doraemon, and other "Oooh Oooh! Mommy Mommy can we?!" characters. They also play ice cream cart-annoying soundtracks. And on this night, the rickshaws looped and snaked and corkscrewed in paths beyond my ability to stay out of (maybe if I'd put my cameraphone down). This image captures that chaos.


IPOH

IMG_3646.JPG

While Chinese New Year was ongoing during my three nights in this little highland town the vibe was decidedly more sedate. Everything just seems chill in Ipoh--despite being the birthplace of white coffee,  a perky beverage enjoyed throughout the country.

Ipoh also boasts strong street art. I snapped a shot of this mural when the woman standing in front noticed. Then she turned to see what the fuss was about. I get it, too--locals don't always appreciate what their town offers. 


PENANG

IMG_3789.JPG

Malaysia, while a predominantly Muslim country, has been known for pluralism and tolerance--at least until recently (another similarity to the U.S.). In one day in George Town, Penang, I visited a Mosque, a Hindu temple, a Jewish cemetery, an Anglican church, and a Catholic museum--all while a holiday heavily influenced by Buddhism went on around me. Rightly proud of this diversity, they refer to one stretch of worship sites as the Street of Harmony.

And in case you were wondering, the swastikas in the left background are the good kind, not the evil murdering kind.


And so, as I write this with one final day in Penang, my time in Malaysia is almost done: not the best, but largely not bad. As I move on, hopefully it will remain my least favorite country as well.

And where am I off to next? Hmm. Cliffhanger.

Ayutthaya in words (and a few pictures)

Yesterday I rendered Ayutthaya mostly in pics because the words wouldn't have been so lovely. Truth told I wasn't feeling the town.

It started on arrival. I tumbled out of the minivan, big bag that'd been riding on my lap now following behind me, and was approached seconds after, still foggy a.f.

 "Where you going?" The man asks through a multi-missing-tooth gap.

"Uhh... Tamarind Guesthouse."

"You need tuktuk?"

I'm fumbling through mind and phone for bearings. "How much?"

"Hundred baht."

bandit

bandit

Brain clicks and grinds, a hard drive paging. "We can do that." Dammit, I should've negotiated!

But I'm rolling in the back of an Ayutthaya tuktuk with the funky front end I read about in Lonely Planet. There's a sweet little girl, 5 or 6 maybe, sitting across. I smile. She smiles.

The too short drive takes me to the Good Morning Tamarind. I flail out. I tell him I only have 1000 baht and need change.

Stride to the reception desk and stand, behind which a boy is video gaming. I wait and watch, cranky. Soon the driver comes.

"Money," he says.

"I'm working on it."

Driver yells up the balcony at woman cleaning. He looks at the booking on my phone. I glean from context there is no guest who booked on agoda staying there today--check the other Tamarind. Guess this is the Doubletree and I'm at the Hilton or something. 

Clamber back in the tuktuk. The sweet girl helps with my bag, says "we'll take you." Her, I like.

Now at the original Tamarind Guesthouse. "Mo-ney." He says and now I'm getting annoyed. Is this all our relationship is? Besides, he's charged me at least double what the trip is worth so he can deal with farang bullshit. Consider it a service charge.

"I have to get you change," I say, holding up a thousand baht bill (30ish bucks, recall). "Unless you can break a thousand?" I then realize my idioms won't make sense but it doesn't matter anyway because no taxi or tuktuk driver in Bangkok has been able to change a thousand so I know this guy can't.

Then he pulls out a wad of bills to make Freeway Ricky Ross proud. Counts out a 500 and twenty twenties.

Fine. Fair enough. And the Tamarind room and staff are lovely. The ruins are breathtaking. The heat defies adjectives. 

But every time I walk the streets I get harassed.

"You want tuktuk?"

"Where you going?"

"Want tour?"

C'mon guys, I don't want to knock the hustle, but if I need a ride I'll ask for it. I know how to walk and enjoy it. Although, one three separate occasions I do nearly take a header, my steps stopped by uneven sidewalk unmaintained since the capital fell it seems. Now I see why the guide book recommends renting a bike.

And some of the restaurants where I want to dine and privately owned sites (sorry to my friends and fam--I'd hoped to get pics from the Million Toy Museum) are closed on Mondays, I realize too late. My fault--days and times are in the LP but damn if I don't overlook some info in all the abbrvs.

A hot, semi-restless night (the AC sure tries but it's fighting a losing battle) gives way to morning. My legs are heavy as I venture into the warming day and my eyes overlook the broken balustrade walkway.

guess you saw this coming...

guess you saw this coming...

...wish I had

...wish I had

Now cranky and bleeding but wide awake I walk back. I'm pretty much done here. Take off my flip flops and turn my big toe up so I am respectful of the house's rules while not bleeding on it's floor I get back upstairs, shower, and pack. I'll hide there until it's departure time.

Soon, pack on my back, sweating soon as I hit the door, I plug earphones (Offspring's Americana, because I have Feelings), and make the 1.2 km walk in my own world.

Mostly.

A hopeful tuktuk driver, not understanding or caring to heed international body language yells "Where you going?"

"I've got it," I say and pound my chest. Temper tantrum, act of defiance, general rudeness in a country where I'm a guest, or just crazy from the heat I don't know. 

I arrive at the minibus terminal (a bank parking lot). I see the sharks circling. Uncertain as always, I cross the street a few times.

"Where you going?"

"Bangkok."

He points. "It's over there. 20 minutes." 

"Thanks."

I stand in the sun and pace. In another kind act, a woman in a pink and purple screen printed cat shirt offers me a spot to cop on a concrete planter.

"Kawp kuhn khrap."

I sit and wipe prodigious sweat from my brow.

Then a driver leers out from behind cat shirt lady. 

"Where you going?"

Sigh. "Bangkok."

"Where you staying?"

"Silom."

"You need taxi?"

"No. Taking the minivan. Minibus. Whatever."

"You should take taxi. Is cheaper."

Bullshit. "I already paid."

Then another tuktuker. "Where you going?"

"Bangkok."

"Bus here 25 minutes. You see Ayutthaya? Want tour?"

Then I recognize the missing teeth. You got enough from me already.

"I did. I'm good. I'm leaving."

Bles$ed and Fortunate

Some nice cooked food, some nice clean draws.

I am blessed and fortunate for all that I have. For free lunch mocking in the school cafeteria and 19 cent pot pies with half a crust but not going to bed hungry. For middle class in high school, eating name brand mac n cheese. For moving out to prove a point and one pack of ramen per day. For going to bed hungry. For splurging on a cheese slice or can of tomato sauce and going to bed a little less hungry until I'd forgotten what point I was proving.

I am blessed and fortunate for second chances.

I am blessed and fortunate for a bit of college and ambition that revealed success' outlines. For the fall that followed when I couldn't get past the fear. For getting my electricity shut off. For sleeping in or under two pair of pants three shirts two hats four blankets. For anger caused by ice showers in darkness.

I felt neither not blessed nor fortunate while line-standing to pay reconnect fees when I could've earned $3.37.

Approximately $3.00 rounded down

I am blessed and fortunate for third chances.

For Henry Coffer who befriended and mentored me. Who, when my car got repo'ed sold me--for $10--his van with AAA coverage. Then, when its battery died, came to where I sat because AAA isn't a thing that conveys--when he should've been resting since his latest chemo was the day prior. I am blessed and fortunate that was the last time he, the finest man I've ever known, had to fix something I screwed up. 

For Aljon Go, because it was his show on 103.3 or 102.9 that I called into, and he was amused enough to play it over the air. Days later I did it again and he did it again and I thought maybe I could do that.

For WVCP and Mr. E., who let me learn. For Lokey who showed me how fun it could be. For Eastern European tennis players who made me enunciate. For whoever posted the Help Wanted at SuperTalk 99.7 flyer, and for everyone who saw it before me and didn't see opportunity in a weekend board-op shift.

For small radio clusters with blowtorch transmitters. For Doug Kellett who gave a smart punk more than one chance and was punished with listener complaints for it. For Richard Bachschmidt who showed me excellence. For Steve Gill, who showed me how to get paid. For everyone else who made $8.75/hr so fun I earned it 60-70 times each week. For the coworker who picked me up from the roadside after my car's next thing broke.

I am blessed and fortunate for penance, as pride greed and sloth are sins with built-in retribution. For the lows since they made me sacrifice to reach the highs. For getting the damned degree. 

For the terrible company that led to the crazy company that led to the inept company. For the brother I met there. For Deanna Flannick, the great manager I met at the great company--sorry our timing sucked. 

baller

baller

For the 1991 Toyota Camry with shot clutch rusted wheelwells and steering cover that flapped each time I accelerated or broke, and did it for 7 years with few complaints.

I am blessed and fortunate for the brass ring, and less of both for grad school loan interest rates. For a corporate job that showed me what money does, and what it can't. For a coworker who passed the happiness it can buy. That the voice inside me saying "no more" found my mouth.

All are blessed and fortunate it did before the peestick changed colors. We were for mediation and being reasonable.

I am blessed and fortunate to have found my golden chains

For a higher power should it exist.

For more chances than I can count.

For people who helped and hurt me, including me. All of us got me here, which is exactly where I should be.

And when I realized all of this to be true, all regret lost its hold and slipped away like Dawn kicking even the toughest grease's ass.

Damn you Proctor & Gamble for all this dust in my eyes.

So how could I be angry at anyone? How could I stay angry at myself?

I couldn't. So in that moment I forgave everyone for everything.

And my chains are breaking.