Archive

Being Abroad

Obviously one of the very best parts about living in Hong Kong is the food. When I stop and think about it, I’m a bit surprised I’m not tired of Asian food but considering I basically have access to any type of cuisine from the Pacific Rim, it would be presumptuous to say I’ve come close to exhausting my options.

With family members visiting, ¬†local friends showing me to places I’ve never tried and striking out on my own, I’ve come across enough noteworthy places that I felt I needed some place to keep record of them so that I can return to them again and again.

Back at home, apps and social networks like Yelp could help with organizing these types of things. But I have a strong feeling even if Yelp did exist here to the extent it does in places like the Bay Area, it wouldn’t really matter. Eateries are changing all the time in Hong Kong. Due to high rent costs, restaurants and dai pai dongs (those little street stands you don’t take picky eaters to) close down or relocate rather frequently and without warning.

Add to that the challenge of recognizing a lot of places based off their Chinese name — and sadly, I could not read Chinese if I was thrown into a tank of Chinese-girl-eating sharks — and the fact that so many of these streets and storefronts look alike, it becomes even more imperative that if I really want to remember where these places are, storing their physical location in my head is not always going to work.

Enter Google Maps! It’s really brilliant that Google has so many handy products like this. I’ve pinned all the places I’ve enjoyed on my “Favorite HK Food Spots” Google Map and will be adding more as I go along. You can follow my map should you ever find yourself in Asia’s world city. ūüėČ

I think it should be made known that I’m no foodie. I don’t know p√Ęt√©¬†from… something less fancy. But I’m adventurous (last weekend I ate pig skin with the follicles in sight!!!), I appreciate good value and if the food¬†tastes like it was made with some amount of care, it’s usually fine by me. I don’t need a twelve course meal at the top of the Ritz (though I will take it) — I just want to know where I enjoyed that really hearty bowl of noodles the other day.

Let’s EAT!

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These pictures are instances that made me laugh or become more curious about things as they are here. AKA I have inside jokes with myself.

Necessary disclaimers:
First and ¬†foremost: I am a horrible person. Don’t worry, I know.¬†Secondly, all photos in this post were taken without anyone’s permission. Should the subject(s) of any of these photos find this blog, my name is Caroline Park and I live in Buttonwillow, California, USA.

I saw this Siberian Fur Store from across the street one day. I will be back with updates once I actually go in.

Camille and the desperate Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, teaching me Chinese. In addition to the subtitles, it’s really dubbed into Chinese. How fantastic is that?

I was just wondering who Baby might be. I think this makes the first coffee store I’ve ever seen.

Okay. Did they truly mean being on drugs while driving will lead to death or did they mean to write, “Drunk driving may be your journey to death”? Because they couldn’t have meant that driving drugs will lead to death. And also, wouldn’t it be more effective if this were written in Chinese as well? More questions with no answers.

Frogs this big are really freaking gross.

People take naps everywhere with no regard for… anything. (She had carry on luggage standing about five feet away from her, completely unattended) They nap in subway stops, while the subway trains come and go. On random benches. In parks. Truly my people.

The library in Central is huge and it literally has everything.

I really did feel bad for taking this but his shirt said “Rastafarian MARIJUANA COUNTRY” and that makes him the best accidental hipster I have seen up to this point. (His shorts were cutoffs!) How much do you want to bet someone at Coachella this year was wearing that exact same outfit? He’s a fashionista and he really doesn’t even know it! (His belt was by Diesel!)

Where I will be getting everyone’s wedding presents from now on. This shop specializes in making 3D shadow boxes with hand drawn cutout pictures of the couple. This was a “Pirates of the Caribbean” themed box but trust me, any theme you want, I’m sure they’ve got it.

Again, I felt bad for taking this picture (I’m not kidding, I really try not to take pictures of real life people because it feels wrong) but his shirt had a basket of cats. And it seemed like he matched his shirt with his¬†shoes. So this means he knew there was a basket cats on his shirt.

A close up of the cats on his shirt. Not that there is anything wrong with this at all, it’s just a very accidental hipster choice.

I laughed to myself not only because her bag says, “BOB MARLEY, Jamaican singer who popularized reggae” but also because this is probably the only black person I have seen in Hong Kong thus far. The diversity situation here is rather dire.

It was so weird when I saw this man (before he turned around): he looked Latino. And yet he was wearing that hat. It was almost like a joke was being played on me. But I got excited for a moment because I’m not kidding, diversity here sucks.

I know, I’m sorry.

While this might look like a portico off the coast of Lisbon (or maybe I’m just wishing it was), it’s actually a house in a small neighborhood about 45 minutes from me and walking distance from the largest financial district in Hong Kong.

If you’re going to visit Sheung Wan, you might as well bring your camera because you’ll want to take pictures of everything. It seems the HK Tourist Bureau is aware of this as that would explain the large number of tour buses that trammel through the tiny streets every hour, releasing curious tourists to scale hilly stairways in search of all the character Sheung Wan has to offer.

Stairs and humidity. My faves.

But it’s not just the historical sites that make this part of Hong Kong such an iconic staple amongst tourists.¬†From a small altar at the end of a doorway to a “front yard” of Astro Turf, all contemporary details and traditional remnants in this neighborhood seem perfectly placed, as if part of some larger, more deliberate portrait. The funny thing is they’re not — everything is where it lays because it serves a larger purpose than being placed on someone’s photo blog. And yet, that’s what everybody seems to love about this hood.

Coming from the Central MTR stop, it’s next to impossible not to ingest some amount of car exhaust or completely avoid any physical contact with one of the 93 million people who walk past you on your way there. But it would be inaccurate to say all of Hong Kong is like this. No sooner than you were starting to feel a bit suffocated do you find yourself in the bucolic solace of this quirky, quiet area.

Unfortunately this particular WordPress template isn’t very conducive for displaying photos but I’ve included a good number here anyway and will eventually post the rest on my photo blog (link will be up soon!). All photos were taken on an iPhone so any shakiness can be directly attributed to the amount of walking and stair climbing that took place that day.

Man Mo Temple

Probably the most political piece in all of HK.

“Today is your last now what?”

My favorite!

650!!! I miss you.

It’s always fascinating to see what you can tell about a place by the buildings that occupy it. Sheung Wan is a good mix of old and new Hong Kong. It offers a representation of how varied Hong Kong’s architecture is, contrasting other areas like the Westernized federal edifices in Central, which hosts¬†large European-columned and corniced buildings.

In some senses, there is a bric-a-brac feel to Hong Kong architecture. Not counting the ominously massive malls built in the past ten years, other neighborhoods look completely different than Sheung Wan while still managing to offer a layer of this SAR’s history: the Opium Wars, Japanese occupation, British colonization, more wars and post-modernism, and now, resuming its identity as China’s first “special administrative region”.

My interest in re-visiting the area came about after watching¬†a short report¬†Monocle¬†had produced on Sheung Wan that highlighted a shop called Fungus Workshop.¬†As it turned out, finding the workshop became way more difficult than I could have imagined — like trying to locate the 9-3/4 platform at King’s Cross Station as a muggle. For those unversed in Harry Potter speak, it’s virtually impossible.

The directions I had scribbled down along with my super crude hand-drawn map and¬†the screenshot of Google Maps’ directions all had failed me (I have no wifi on my phone, just like the old days). So before the novelty of this little adventure completely wore off, I relented and started searching for a place to ask for directions. I passed this place twice before deciding, “Oh alright, I deserve a San Miguel.”

208 Ducuento Otto (Photo courtesy of LifestyleAsia)

If you come visit me, I will take you here (without getting lost). I had read that Sheung Wan is an emerging magnet for trendy restauranteers and shop owners (just around the corner is a Lomography Gallery Store — so essentially this entire neighborhood is hipster paradise too) and true to life, 208 is one of many chic eateries on Gough Street.

Being fully quenched, I set out again walking up about 500 more streets/hills/stairs and back down until finally — F I N A L L Y — I found it, wedged in between two other tiny streets that were smashed in between two medium sized streets that were no where near the main roads. It made me feel not so bad about getting lost and now I know Sheung Wan well enough to be a tour guide on one of those buses, or at the very least a tour guide on how to get to Fungus Workshop.

And all in all, it was completely worth it. The shop was beautiful, owned by two couples who craft their own leather goods and offer classes to anyone who wants to learn how to work with leather and make their own goods. Participants learn hand-stitch, lining, fastening and leather finishing, ending up with several small products like a small camera bag, handbag, coin purse, an organizer.

I hope if I end up staying here long enough, I can try my hand at a handmade leather class at Fungus. It makes me happy knowing that people make a living off their passions and those passions include returning to bespoke crafts. And that people seek out these places and keep them alive is a really wonderful thing as well. The class was packed for the size of the room with everyone thoroughly engrossed in their individual projects.

I get tired just thinking about all the walking and climbing stairs entailed with this trek but the amount of mobility you have to have to live here is slowly becoming a reality for me. And anyways, I’ve always thought the best way to get to know a place is by foot.¬†That was a peek into one area of Hong Kong. More on the way! ūüôā

I read this at least once a week, if not everyday. It’s like getting my five servings of fruits and veggies for the day. Fiber for my self-esteem. And someone once told me fiber is good for you.

“The Adventures of Unemployment: A Series of Hope and Ambition”

By Josephine Park, a talented artist and filmmaker who also happens to be my very good friend

I hope she doesn’t kill me for posting this. But I’m far away and I think she likes me too much to do that.

I still can’t go shopping (read: still unemployed :() but like Carrie Bradshaw once said, “When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy¬†Vogue¬†instead of dinner. I just felt it¬†fed me more.” I feel you, CareBear, even though I’m too frugal to dish out HK$70 on a mag. So instead, I window shop and people watch.

I’ve always had an affinity for menswear because it’s so simple and so universal — there’s almost a greater responsibility on a man to sufficiently express his style with two, maybe three, pieces of clothing than a woman with the infinite tops, bottoms and accessories she could choose from. After all, fashion is more about how you wear something than what you’re actually wearing. A lot of times I’ll see a guy wearing something that I give a silent nod of approval to because secretly, I wish I was a guy and only had to deal with shirts, pants and cool shoes too.

This is basically a mix of stuff every guy should own or at least, “Stuff I’d Wear If I Were A Boy”.

A.) I wish everyone could look good in a bomber jacket with a huge shearling collar or a super distressed jean jacket but they can’t. A well-fitted wool coat¬†is another story. If the shoulders, sleeve and waistline fit, then there’s very little room for error with this article of outerwear and it will never look annoyingly trendy. Plus it looks good on your girl if she gets cold.¬†(A.P.C¬†Knitted Wool Blend Jersey Coat)

B.) Men underestimate the power of a good flannel shirt. I could do a survey of 100-200 girls on their opinion of flannel shirts and I’m almost positive that 80-90% of them would say they like flannel on a guy (and I can’t vouch for them but I’m inclined to think gay men feel the same way). 80% ain’t bad so why wouldn’t you own one? People should just trust me on this. (J Crew Secret Wash in Vintage Jade Check)

C.) Kind of like wool coats, a guy can’t go wrong with New Balances.¬†Whether you’re a nice-guy or not-mom’s-favorite-look kind of dude, New Balances are a no-fail option. Unless they have gigantic rubber soles, which tend to make everyone look like a 53 year-old engineer at Boeing (or¬†Steve Jobs, which I guess is never a bad thing). But if you still think they’re too Silicon Valley chic, then you might be happier with these. (Which I’d also happily own)

D.)¬†I’m such a sucker for guys who wear patterned socks well.¬†It’s no surprise to me that this has become such a huge wedding party trend.¬†I actually put “being able to pull off patterned socks” in the same category as “being able to hold an intelligent conversation” because I think they say that much about a person. (Etiquette Clothiers Sailor Stripes Socks, Brooklyn Circus)

E.) I don’t know about $200 denim that requires no washing for one year but I always think it’s worth investing in something you know you can wear at least 100 times, rather than throwaway clothing that lasts two washes. And jeans¬†of all things should really be considered an investment when you think of how much abuse they take. Not too wide, not too baggy and absolutely no flare, please.¬†(Lee for J Crew 101 Slim Rider Jean in Rinse Wash)

F.) I love when guys wear plain sweatshirts (the one pictured is actually a James Perse cotton-cashmere waffle knit). They serve to flatter the shoulders and the arms, no matter what type of body you were blessed with. Clean lines and good for color blocking too. You can bet if I were a guy, I would own one in every color of the rainbow except any shade of pink or red. And probably not brown either.

G.) For a while, maybe still now, a big percentage of the US male population was donning v-neck tee’s like it was the only mancard needed to stay socially acceptable. (Most are totally wrong and don’t have the right to wear a shirt like that with their physique) I’ve never been a fan of them and while I think they are slimming and a better alternative to say, any shirt you should only wear to 24 Hour Fitness, I’d rather people stick to good ol’¬†crewnecks. Imagine wearing a plain crewneck with those printed socks? Uh, yum.¬†(Textured Cotton T-Shirt,¬†Levis Vintage Clothing)

H.) Down vests, nylon or otherwise, are always nice to see on guys, especially because I think more guys are capable of pulling them off than they are aware. That is unless you think you can pull it off without wearing a shirt underneath. To that I would say, “Hell freaking no.” Of course, no one does down vests better than Uniqlo.¬†(Mens Premium Down Ultra, Uniqlo)

The hardest part is starting.

I think that to myself a lot. Like right now, when I was just about to publish the first post on my recent move to Hong Kong but instead, lost it to the spotty Internet connection…

l;afwaoi;egouw4go (Me, slamming my face on my keyboard)

This also comes after about a week and a half of deliberating over where to post (“Make another WordPress blog? Or another Tumblr? But I already have, like, four Tumblrs going… and what would I call this blog?”) and then of course, what to post (I can’t be sure why people find the minute details of other people’s lives interesting but they we do. So what I have to offer are loads of pictures of really cute dogs I’ve seen and food I ate). And before I knew it, I was here for a week and a half.

Anywho. If you weren’t yet aware, I’ve uprooted myself to Hong Kong in search of a job. And a few other pretty significant things, I suppose.

The backstory is basically this: my father’s family is from Hong Kong. My aunt, the eldest sister in my dad’s family, immigrated to the States first, building the foundation for her sister and brothers to follow. It was through her ability to find a secure job and create a life for herself abroad that enabled the rest of her family to do the same.

My grandparents; my grandfather with my dad.

Growing up with a lot of Cantonese-speaking relatives, I observed a number of cultural practices (everything from Chinese New Year to baby parties with red eggs and ginger), and was naturally intrigued by the Chinese language (after my mom officially stopped making me go to Saturday morning Chinese school, of course) (sorry, Ma). But everything about being interested in “being Chinese” was just that — an interest.

My mom (rockin’ the hair) with my grandma and aunt in SF’s Chinatown

Then, in some not-so-weird-twist-of-fate, I visited Hong Kong in high school for the first time and liked it so much, I told myself I would try to live here one day. That was almost ten years ago.

The Choi Family Invades Hong Kong (c. 2002, I think?)

During that visit, it was as if those interests finally made sense and my instinctual desire to learn more about being “Chinese Chinese” (as opposed to being Chinese American) turned into this hope that one day I’d get to live here. There was also something really satisfying about being in a place where everyone — from the children in PSA campaigns to the pop icons to the politicians —¬†looked like me.

Great job photoshopping.

And ironically, that same aunt who immigrated to SF first, has become my entry point to living here, along with her awesome husband, my uncle. I still can’t really believe I followed through with it and I haven’t been able to convince myself that I actually “live” here but I am — I’m here!!! And so far I can say Hong Kong has been very kind to me.

With my cute parents, who think I’m completely nuts.

As to what my goals are here, it’s fairly simple:

  • Learn Cantonese and Mandarin (the latter, conversationally)
  • Score a job!

Additionally, in the future I’d really love to pursue an MBA or possibly an MA in something media-related. Plus I figured having some work experience abroad would diversify not only my resume but my general outlook on the world (plus being able to speak any language in addition to English never hurt anyone).

I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity to pursue this¬†kind¬†of dream. It really has been a dream and not a day passes that I don’t acknowledge how extremely fortunate I am. know I couldn’t have gotten here without the support of my family and relatives, the encouragement of my friends and the community of people I have rooting for me in general. My aunt and uncle in particular have been an¬†enormous¬†help to me in ensuring that this transition go as smoothly as possible. To them and to many other people, I’m tremendously indebted.

Google Hangingout with my closest friends. To prove I’m not hiding in San Mateo.

There have already been ups and downs in this transition as moving abroad — or anywhere — alone means times of loneliness, doubt, contemplation and even disappointment. But I think I’ll make it, eventually. I think. I hope… ūüėČ

I hope you’ll check back for updates on what I’m doing here and feel free to drop a line. Or better yet, just come visit!! Bon voyage~!

Thai massages. Lady boys. Pad Thai. The Hangover 2. Thai tea. Full Moon Festival.

It’s likely your typical American knows that much about Thailand. I wasn’t much different, even though I generally do some research on places I’m about to visit. All I knew about Thailand aside from the aforementioned is the fact that it has never been colonized (unlike its neighboring countries, Vietnam or Laos) and its government is a monarchy.

For some strange and totally foolish reason, I was pretty sure I would feel indifferent to Thailand (how easy is it to feel indifferent about an entire country??) but I attributed my reasons to the fact that so many people had warned me against visiting due to flood damage and that once we had finally touched down in Hong Kong, I just wanted to spend time there.

It’s a good thing we didn’t. My trip to Thailand, or Bangkok more specifically, was legitimately amazing. And more amazing than when the word is used to describe homemade cookies or something relatively weak in comparison to a trip to Thailand. Upon arriving, I was greeted by warm and friendly people at immigration which is generally unheard of in those parts of the airport. I would soon come to learn that Thai people are largely very amicable and laidback, unlike the Hong Kong-nese people I’d soon be surrounded by in a few days. (HK people are nice but they have a hard time relaxing or doing anything at a leisurely pace)

Between visiting enough Buddhist temples to last me a lifetime, eating burgers out of a plastic bag and verbally exchanging nuptials with a Thai guy (yes, I now have a Thai husband who lives in Phuket and is in marketing), it was an incredible trip that left me realizing more than ever how microscopic my view of the world is and how little I know about Southeast Asia. While the world quickly becomes a much smaller place when traveling to and from relatively close countries, it also becomes vastly apparent that you are one of many, many, many people in this world.

Though I only explored pockets of Bangkok and outlying areas, I feel like I got a fairly good grasp of the city and wanted to leave you with some highlights, should you ever find yourself in this land flowing with sweet rice and mangoes (which are SO stinkin’ delicious together).

Ten Things To Try When In Bangkok, in no particular order:

10. Corn pie from McDonalds. It’s rather lame that I’d include anything McDonald’s-oriented in this list but I find it endearing that Thai people love corn. Creamed corn, kernels of corn, corn in any fashion: that is their flavor. They even put kernals of corn in their rice. Americans have McDonald’s apple pie, Chinese have taro pie and Thai have corn pie.

09. Minced pork with basil, lime, egg and rice. I’ve been told Thai people don’t even know what Pad Thai or Pad See Ew is. It’s likely a Western translation of an Asian dish, like “chop suey”. I’m a fan of the fact that the “minced-pork-over-rice combination” pervades every Asian culture out there but I think my favorite variation comes from Thailand. The combination of basil with lime juice or actual lime peel gives any meat, much less any dish, an unconventional burst of citrus-infused flavor. This particular dish is a very homestyle meal that will leave you quite satiated. Don’t be too afraid of the small tents with portable stoves and flies buzzing amok — they often make this dish the best. I also highly recommend sweet rice with mango. Good LORD it is so deliciously wonderful and on par with the pork dish.

08. Water markets. Like most traditional landmarks, the idea of traveling on a boat through a floating marketplace is instant tourist fodder. But if you can find a boat that will take you through the neighborhoods outside of the marketplace, I’d say take the opportunity! The homes and irrigation systems the local Thai fashion for themselves are impressive and the landscape is without a doubt, beautifully serene. I can’t even begin imaging living on an elevated house over the Chao Praya.

07. Ride the water taxi and tuk tuks. So much of Thailand, at least in Bangkok, operates around water. Try taking a water taxi from place to place, as both locals and tourists do. It’s a very rigorous mode of transportation as you have to hustle your way on and off the boat or else be left behind (I saw it happen at least twice in my short travels). But it’s an extremely satisfying way to see the city and my favorite part was watching the fare collector do her work. She remembers who boards the boat and who needs to pay and has a very strategic way of tearing off tickets. Equally enlightening is the way the boat motor works. It’s operated by a navigator that lifts the entire motor in and out of the water. I loved how basically constructed the boats are, down to the maneuvering of the motor.

The other mode of transportation you need to try is a tuk tuk. With the Sky Rail (the Bangkok railway service) and water taxis available, we almost forgot to ride them. As in many countries, Thais are very crafty with welding their own modes of transportation. This is one prime example. Tuk tuks are essentially small pick up trucks that have a converted cab area built to transport four to six passengers in the back (Did you know Thailand is the largest consumer of pick up trucks in the world??). And similar to other heavily populated cities, the driving is plain crazy so a ride in one of these babies is exhilarating.

 

06. Feed some fish or some turtles. Buddhism is heavily entwined in Thai culture. Many activities Thai people engage in are for the purpose of accruing merit in their next life, including feeding stray dogs and buying gift baskets for monks. It’s actually pretty fascinating how embedded Buddhism is in everyday life. Couples and high schoolers alike are often seen, taking time out of their day to feed fish or stray dogs. There are countless areas where small ports have been built for people to feed fish for a few baht per bag, as an act of gaining merit. Watching enormous schools of fish clamor over the food, over and over again, is enthralling for what it is. And watching one of the world’s slowest moving creatures slow-fight over some bananas is just bananas.

 

05. Eat on the street. I love street culture, everything about it, from the pace to the people to the food to the lights. I think eating on the street in any country is a must. Once you’re certain you can handle a certain amount of foreign food, you can probably stomach street food. We visited Bangkok’s Chinatown and joined hundreds of people eating out on a warm December night. Our culinary spot of choice was a dessert cart serving up bowls of black sesame balls, lychee and nuts in a mildly sweet, syrup. It was almost more satisfying to sit so close to the traffic whizzing by our ears than it was to eat the dessert being served.

 

04. Visit the Bang Pa In and the Vimanek Mansion. If you want to get a sense of what it is like to live in a monarch system, try visiting the Vimanek Mansion and the Bang Pa In (or Summer Palace). When you drive up to the mansion, there is no denying just how grand it is. This is truly a place royalty would associate themselves with. Pictures were not allowed inside, but like many other temples we visited, women wearing pants had to wear skirts (which we had to buy from their “skirt store”) and any men wearing shorts that didn’t go below their knee cap had to get a wrap as well. Inside the Vimanek is an absolutely gorgeous display of Thai art, ranging from teak wood panels that tell the story of a Buddha getting lost in a forest to gilded carriages, clocks, tapestries and paintings, all done completely by hand. The intricacy and skill put into each piece of art is a complete feast for the eyes. Many of the pieces were done by 30 or more artists, each who had taken a class on their particular line of work, whether it be tapestry, carpentry or pottery. The works of art were commissioned by the queen who wanted to create jobs for the rural poor. Then she had a big fete where she invited a lot of A-listers (mostly rulers and royalty from other countries) to view the artwork done by the poor people. That was a bit disappointing. I was warned when I first arrived that saying anything negative about the king is taken very seriously and can easily get you in jail. That being said, I’m not in Thailand anymore and I wasn’t a huge fan of queen’s project — I mean, the least she could have done was invite those “poor people” to her party or list their first and last names on the display case.

The grounds of the Bang Pa are just as elaborate though it’s mostly the acreage of the palace that will leave you breathless. Plus it’s fun drive the golf cart around from landmark to landmark.

 

03. Visit Ayutthaya. Known in the past several months for its flooding, Ayutthaya is home to some of Bangkok’s most impressive ruins. These stone temples scrape the sky, spanning three to four stories (at least), and are well worth the hour and half travel out of Bangkok. Ayutthaya was previously the capital of Thailand and at one point, the strongest kingdom in Southeast Asia. If you do a little further reading on Ayutthaya as an ancient kingdom, you’ll learn interesting things about the old city being a great intersection point for different Asian and Southeast Asian cultures, including Chinese, Burmese and Indian.

Some important spots in Ayutthaya include¬†Wat Phanan Choeng, home to a 19 meter (or 62 feet, for Americans — it was HUGE) golden Buddha where Buddhists will go to the temple to purchase cloth to dress the large Buddha. This cloth is blessed by the men who dress the Buddha and the cloth is thrown back down on to the Buddhists as they pray to the statue. If you can stick around to watch the process of blessing the Buddha, you should. In this temple, like many other temples, you can also have your fortune read and pray to a wall full of miniature Buddha statues,¬†Wat Mahatat, where a Buddha head from ancient times lies in the trunk of an overgrown fig tree, is also another iconic area as is Wat Phra Si Sanphet, where the three pagodas lie.

It’s quite sad to see how badly Ayutthaya has flooded — flood lines are still visible on signs and buildings — but luckily I think many Thai have taken great care of those affected by the flooding.

 

02. Go to a dance club. (Sorry guys, no photo but hey doesn’t that Santa look Asian..?) Am I being for real? Well, yes and no. Honestly I think there are a few elements about nightlife that really aid in one’s understanding of a particular culture — like I said, this is where I met my Thai husband. (I wish more of you could understand this great inside joke but I guess you had to be there) My good friend, El, who has been living in Thailand for the past two years, took me to a club where we slinked our way around tourists and locals alike. It was a nice break from the mall culture that so deeply consumes the time and resources of many young Thai people (cus clubs are like way better than malls, duh). I liked hearing what type of music is “hot” and observing how guys and girls interact with one another in these types of settings. This part I’m serious about — it’s really interesting to watch how gender dynamics play out in other countries, especially in settings like this. Nah, I’m not as serious as I think I am. Thai guys are very hands off — they do not touch women and generally keep a considerable distance as opposed to other dudes I have observed in the US. Gender, in general, is an interesting subject in Thailand where the concept has become very fluid amidst the rise in homosexuality and increased recognition of what it means to be transgender.

01. Talk with some Thai people. From a cafe owner to a college student, meeting people in another country is just as fun as meeting people at home. While in Thailand I met several Chinese Thai and was able to communicate with them in incredibly broken Mandarin (my command of the Chinese language is no doubt, broke as a joke) but I think it was mutually fun for both of us to meet someone that shared the same culture, within another culture, though our respective cultures are vastly different. I know that you know that I know that you know what I mean. My siblings and I also talked with a student who talked about his holiday schedule and what it’s like to go to university in Thailand. It’s always intriguing to learn about another culture from those who live within it.

00. Travel with a good, or even better, a GREAT friend.

Honorable Mentions:

— Try a Thai massage. Most depictions of massages in Asian countries bother me. I actually think this is why I’ve never been attracted to the spa culture that exists in the US. This was my first “professional” massage and I was hesitant to try it after hearing that Thai massages involve a lot of stretching and moving of limbs — I’m pretty ticklish so the idea of someone rolling me around like a piece of dough was a bit unsettling. But I have to say, this is a huge industry and the portion that exists legitimately within Thailand is for good reason. The masseuses in this country know what they are doing (again, I am not talking about the seedy ones). I don’t think I’ll ever feel this limber again. Until I go back.

— Stock up on snaxx from 7-11. I bow down to the 7-11 franchise as it exists in Asia. Talk about selection. Have you ever wondered what seaweed potato chips would taste like? Or taro oreos? Uh, come here and wonder no more. I see why the older generation wonders about the younger; they never had bagged rice burgers in their day! What are rice burgers? I had the great privilege of sampling these 7-11 rice burgers which are an ingenious invention, consisting of a patty of meat between two patties of rice. As a connoisseur of self-contained food items — other such items include The Burritos, The Sandwiches and sushi — I definitely placed this guy in the one food category I covet so dearly. The meats were available in a range, from Spicy Pork to Original Grilled Pork to Northern Spicy Pork. Culturally inclusive, naturally ingenious, total win.

— Thai taxis. If you can’t get to a club, try the inside of a taxi. This was the inside of a cab we rode and I am pretty dang sure you cannot get that kind of interior design here in the States.