Christiana Lang, 126
The word super, and the word hero are separately my least favorite – when spoken with the Thai accent English uptick…likesuchas “Supuhhhhhh” and “Hee-rooohhh”. I can’t deal.
Since we are all clear on that, let’s move on. This post is dedicated to you and your health as always. If you already feel like you are legit at life, please read on for more party favors in your badass bag. Or if you are feeling a bit sassy, sarcastic and in need of some satire, scroll down to the bottom for a slightly different version of this superhero theme.
There are times when Bangkok reminds me of Gotham city – especially when I am on the roof (aka: THE roof). Perhaps it is the Skytrain that gives this feel, or maybe the sense of ‘anything is possible’ on a level of disbelief more so than inspiration. Like Gotham city, there are villains – the sneaky Bangkok smell that permeates your nostrils without warning; there are the good guys – the fruit man who shows up with his cart just in time for you to buy some pineapple before the bus/van leaves; and of course, there are hoards of weirdos. Travel to Bangkok is never boring.
Often, I hear comments like, “Bangkok drains me” or “I gotta get out of this city” or “I hate Bangkok” or “This bagel though”.
Whether you are a site-rat or on a mission to spend as much time as possible somewhere where English and cheese are readily available, below are some tips meant for you to draw from in finding balance while away from your site.
Of course our styles of living are varied…some of our houses (or host family houses) are spotless, others a hoarders paradise. Either way, whether one room or tique mansion, we all have the capability to arrange our space the way we want it. Before you leave on a trip, self-host a mini cleaning spree. If you normally don’t make your bed, do it. Think about dusting. Throw all your trash away including that stash of q-tips piling up in the bathroom. If you have access to any sort of herbal based oils, put a few drops in your sinks and buckets. If you have any incense, burn it while you finish your packing. Throw away vegetables that will mold and close the toilet lid. Set yourself up for a welcoming homecoming.
Make A Plan.
Before you travel into Bangkok (or any city really), write out the dates that you will be there. Pencil or type in the plans and appointments that you have and get clear on what time is not yet accounted for. If you’re not already on MeetUp, set up an account for kicks and see what happenings might take place during your stay. There are quite a few websites that detail fun events, shows and learning opportunities (see below for said links). Instead of reaching out to the Group Facebook page to see who will be in town, create an intention to find an interesting soul that is new. Decide to speak to the guy with the man bun and elephant pants or the gal with the dreads who is thumbing through The Gift, or the Tuk Tuk driver that doesn’t smell like alcohol. Once you have found or thought of some activity possibilities, place the events to a specific date. This way, if you wake up with a feeling of grey that comes from staying alone at the Sara Inn, you are prepared with ammo for a perfect day.
Whether hotel or guesthouse, one helpful thing to do upon arrival is to scope out all the amenities offered. You might need a quiet space to reflect, drink coffee or Skype, so ask the staff about what it is that you are looking for then explore on your own. Hostels can be tricky for things like space, time and energy. I always hope there is some sort of non-creaky storage cabinet or shelf that I can place my clothes in. If there is, try taking all of your clothes and contents out of the bag and place them in piles. This way, you won’t have to quietly bob for apples at 2am with your flashlight app or become confused about which pair of socks is where . Getting a bit of clarity with what stuff is where will alleviate the bag throw-up.. (*Pro tip: Safety-pin money to the inside of a clothing item if you are staying in a shared room.)
Incorporate and/or Deviate.
Many of your site routines may still be available to you during your travels away. Or if you prefer, get as wonky as possible with your minutes and hours-stay up all night, sleep all day. To keep routine, set your wake-up time as it would be in your village. If you are a morning workout person, keep that routine. If you are a morning showerer or movie watcher, or if you normally sleep in until 10am, do that. Gorge yourself on farang food as much as you want; though keep in mind what health aspects you do still need to tend to. Incorporate and invite others to be apart of your plans rather than abandoning them for a separate diversion. You may find that from doing this you are weirdly the host of an impromptu strange and amazing international family style dinner. Be intentional with which aspects of your life you want to hold on to and which you are okay with letting flow.
Since we have all been here for enough time to have developed routines, we may have forgotten the unexpected surprises that can come from newness. Instead of taking the same van back to site from the same terminal or pop up station, take the train, take a plane or try a different terminal. Or perhaps something more simple is an easy way to shake things up, like picking out a new snack to get every time at 7 or actually dabble in all four of the mystery spice/vinegar/sugar/chili jars that decorate street food tables. Routine can be glorious and a net that we all need to reset. Perhaps though, within routine, we can remember that surprises don’t have to be unexpected- they can be cultivated.
The Rules and Regulations on Becoming a Super-hero During Your Service
It is very important that you realize how much you must put on your proverbial plate. Peace Corps is all about numbers and results – about making sure you are documenting every single camp and every right answer. Each time your host sister says “Good morning” with a more native sounding tone, you’d better be writing that shit down. Whenever another volunteer asks you for help at their site for a project, you’d better say yes, every time…unless you have been away from site already that year. In that case, you must refuse with vehemence and scold the other volunteer for even asking you.
As volunteers, much of our integration and cultural acceptance comes from what we are putting into our mouths. So, of course, if you cannot eat spicy food yet you should be practicing daily with the small green chili peppers…not the long red ones. The long red ones are child’s play. Eat as much rice as you physically can. Do not EVER refuse more rice in your plate-bowl hybrid when it is offered. That’s offensive and rude. You should be drinking alcohol with your meal most nights for a variety of reasons, if nothing else because the taste of Spy and Chang is in the literal sense of the word, incredible.
It’s like Ghandi said, “Be the change”. We are all here because we wanted to make something change in one way or another. If you truly want to be a super-hero during your service, it is necessary for YOU to change first. Upon arrival, if you have not already, you must receive a bamboo traditional Thai lettered Buddhist monk tattoo. Then, like you read in all the pre-departure travel books and Lonely planet guides, make sure you are “Why-ing” every single person in your line of vision. If you are a woman speak soft enough to barely be heard and do not laugh with vigor. If you are a man, break out your Herff Jones class ring or ask Grandma to send you a few of her costume jewelry gold ones. (If no rings are available, 4×4 belt buckles are an acceptable form of adornment).
Village life can be lonely…if you are a dufus and don’t own a telephone. Thankfully, all of us own one and have access to staff office AND their cellphone numbers. If you’re not already, you should be calling staff for support on things like spiders in your bathroom and too much rain this year. Similarly, our PCMOs, you know with the transitions and all, could benefit immensely from a three hour long history of your mother’s arthritis. Another unique idea for maintaining human connection while in the village would be to take up dog whispering. There is certainly no lack of subjects to test out your skills.
If you can manage to implement these rules on becoming a super-hero or Super-volunteer (TM), you will realize you are expanding yourself at a rapid rate. Your pants will no longer fit and your counterparts will comment on the enormity of your enlargement as a person. At this stage, it is advisable to write down what you are feeling, seeing and learning. The best way to document this would be of course through your Facebook status. Imessage or FB-chat your friends back in America with sentences that start with things like…”You can’t relate to me” or “If only you could take a dtun len in my shoes”. Your friends will be inspired by this inability to understand and want to join the Peace Corps as well. #howiseepc #howyoucantseepc #yourewelcome