Mixed Media of Thai Cooking + Thoughts on Food Scarcity~

Compulsory Splurge: Thai Cooking Class at the World Renown Blue Elephant

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Oh my goodness, where to begin…once again, although I’ve “hand journalled” in my blogging absence, it seems somewhat futile to try and recount experiences so many days after they took place and now that I’m back home. Much of the below was transcribed in real time. It’s not entirely that I was being lazy in sharing via blog (maybe a little), but every time it seemed I sat down to write, my mini keyboard that I recently bought to travel with me and the new inherited iPad decided that it didn’t want to work! And typing extensively on the iPad just isn’t worth it.

So, back to the Blue Elephant. This cooking class was my splurge, and it was SO worth it. The Blue Elephant started as a restaurant 33 years ago when a Thai woman married a Belgian man and wanted to share the phenomenal cuisine of her culture with the rest of the civilized world. Thank goodness she did! They now boast cooking schools in both Bangkok and Phuket as well as restaurants all over the world. Unfortunately, they’ve yet to open one in the U.S. I think Seattle would be an ideal first. I’ll see what can be done about that…

I decided to join the morning cooking class as it included a market tour (oh heck yea!). I’d had so many questions roaming the Kathu market, not only about so many of the fruits and veggies and meats I’ve never seen before, but also about the industry and trade of the market vendors. Surely there are stories lingering in every stall.

Upon entering the beautiful restored governor’s mansion where the new Blue Elephant Phuket has recently opened, I was greeted by Charles, Tony, Kim, and Chantelle.  Tony offered me a drink (coffee please!), and I sat down to chat with him, Kim, and Chantelle. Kim says he is pleased to hear I’m from Seattle and that he is proud of us for voting to legalize gay marriage and marijuana. “Our pleasure!”, I offered. Kim, Chantelle, and I chatted about global politics and cuisine for a bit and started brainstorming whether or not we had access to Thai ingredients in our respective countries. Chantelle is a beautiful, middle-age French chef who owned a restaurant in rural France (not sure which town), but she’s now retired and living on the coast of Spain. Kim, I later found out, is the general manager and also the son of the Blue Elephant founders and (I assume the son of chef Mrs. Nooror Somany Steppe). Kim was pleased to hear about Uwajimaya Market and the fact that we have access to such a broad array of Asian ingredients in Seattle. He also seemed amused with my (completely lacking) attempt at speaking some French. Chantelle’s English was exquisite, but we sometimes met in the middle with the French & English, occasionally repeating words in both our languages.

The head chef Charles then left us with Tony to take our tour of the Phuket Market. Oh my gosh. I was in heaven. Really, I was having this surreal sort of daydream that I was a chef for a day, off with my colleagues to pick the best ingredients to inspire our evening menu. Tony is half Thai, half American, and guess what?! He was born in Texas, too. He also went to NYU for film school before returning to Thailand and attending the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok. With film and culinary degrees, Tony said he feels he now has the flexibility to explore and travel and pursue his primary passion- photography. He’s a witty, well-rounded and talented guy, and I was excited to have a peer (and Thai culinary expert) who could handle my incessant questions- and random sense of humor.

Rather than talk through all the ingredients we learned about at the market, here’s a general overview of the ones we discussed:

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Chilis- there are many varieties. I love the Bird’s eye chili. Often when you sit down to eat, the table will have an assortment of “condiments” including chopped Bird’s Eye Chili, vinegar, sugar, and a shrimp paste or fish sauce.

Coriander- we call it cilantro. TomAtoes Tomatoes.

Curry powder- So I didn’t realize this, but Thai curries are usually always made with fresh pastes rather than curry powder! There’s red, yellow, and green. Green is the hottest and also usually the sweetest since more sugar is used to cut the heat.

Durian fruit- it stinks to high heaven, but if you can get past that, tastes quite delicious. That is, if you can also get past the fact that the consistency is a mix between hard-boiled egg yolk and an artichoke heart.

Kaffir lime leaves- used in all sorts of Thai soups and curries. Either cooked whole or finely chopped. These are something like $14/lb where I’ve seen them sold in the States! I was mesmerized to watch Tony chop these things into oblivion.

Morning glory- this is the Thai equivalent of spinach. Generally served raw and often in soups.

Lemongrass- oh divine! This herb is chopped finely and used extensively in many Thai dishes- curries, spicy soups, and salads. The owner of the yoga studio Kwan makes lemongrass candles for mass export, and they phenomenal!

Banana flowers- eaten often in chip form. They’re very good for breastfeeding mothers.

Shrimp & fish pastes- These are made by fermenting ground shrimp & salt. The smell is intense! Think: fish bait. These are added to several dishes for taste & consistency. I encountered it first when I was eating dinner at a street vendor’s my first night. It’s often packaged in a small container that resembles play dough. The pink plastic lid had me pretty perplexed. I’m glad I didn’t dump it on my chicken stir-fry.

Tamarind- sweet & sour. This comes pickled, dehydrated, in seasoning form. The Thai love their Tamarind.

Thai sweet basil- I love this stuff. It’s used in curries and stir-fry, etc. I’ve made a Thai pesto out of it in Seattle, delish.

Tumeric- yellow colored root originally brought over by the Muslim settlers in Thailand. Used in “Northern style” curries such as Mussaman. They also often use the whole root to flavor while cooking then remove before serving, similar to bay leaves. Tumeric has phenomenal health properties.

Galangal/Thai ginger- I think this is slightly sweeter than the ginger I usually buy. Either way either one, I love it! Candied, minced, pureed in juice- get out your mortar & pestle, I dig ginger.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)- Tony says the Chinese first introduced this addictive substance to Thai cuisine, and it’s his least favorite table at the market. There’s hoards of it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monosodium_glutamate

Spearmint/cucumber/long beans- these are often served as dish accompaniments and used as palette cleansers.

Palm & Coconut Oils- palm oil is the predominate cooking oil used, similar to our olive oil. It is quite high in saturated fat (81%), as is coconut oil (86%). My mom and I recently had a conversation on why coconut oil is being touted as such a great health food lately. It turns out that many of the health benefits stem from presence of lauric and capric acid, which have antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, AND antibacterial properites! Plus, coconuts are rich in Vitamins E and K as well as iron and potassium. Tony mentioned that drinking coconut milk can lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. Apparently these properties and the pH of coconut water (they call it juice) made it a successful alternative to saline solution during war times! Wowsers. I haven’t checked his facts- yet. J Tony seemed entertained when I told him that coconut water has become such a popularized sport drink in the U.S. It seriously quenches after hot yoga! But I suppose the Thai knew that a long time ago. But then again, they also never had to put Mangosteen in a pill form to make it attractive. It’s always been a staple Thai fruit.

Palm/Betel (Areca) Nut- slices may be wrapped in betel leaf with lime, clove, cardamom, and/or other spices and eaten. It has a fresh, peppery taste. The betel nut is also chewed on as a form of tobacco, and it causes the teeth to turn pink. As I learned when visiting the Sea Gypsy village, the Thai people used to think those with white teeth (when foreigners first arrived) were unattractive. They don’t have pink, rotting teeth, therefore they must not be able to afford their chew! It’s all just a differential…

Tony bought us tastes of various foods as we toured the market and we shared them as we walked and chatted. Once we returned to the restaurant, he left us in the capable hands of Charles, head chef of Blue Elephant. Might I just say that Charles is pretty hysterical and quite impressive. We found out through the course of talking that he not only manages much of the business at their Bangkok restaurant and school, but Charles oversees almost every element of the new restaurant in Phuket- helping hire and staff employees, menu planning, budgets & purchasing, décor, everything. Chantelle had many more technical questions in this arena as she has a background in the business. I was thoroughly impressed that a) Charles knows of (and was excited about!) Tacoma and b) He has the most impeccable manicure with bubble gum pink polish I’ve ever seen. And he cooks 12 hours a day! I must know his secret.

We made a total of four dishes:

  • Kai Phad Prik Tua Fak Yao- a delicious red curry (“You like the spice more than the Thai!” GUILTY.)
  • Yum Ma- Muang Plaa Krob- a spicy green mango salad with crispy fish
  • Tom Kha Sai Mapraow Orn- Coconut milk soup with chicken and young coconut flesh- Holy Yum!
  • Chor Muang- crispy golden bag stuffed with prawn and crab

I felt like I was on some episode of Top Chef (I wish) getting to cook alongside such accomplished chefs! My ineptitude became apparent in some of the cutting. Charles would name a type of cutting technique, and they would go to town. I was slowing following suit, but it was great fun all the same. It was most entertaining to see how three dishes could turn out completely different even though we all had the same ingredients in front of us! Charles’s dishes were impeccable, of course. Chantelle’s were always beautiful. Mine were acceptable- I think. I kept hesitating to add all the fish sauce because it’s seriously so salty. At the end Charles would taste mine, and tell me to add more sauce. Hehe. Apparently I did have some “technique” when folding the dough into flower shapes to make “beautiful golden bags.” Folding I can do well. No inherent risk of battle wounds. ;)

There is so much to love and respect about Thai cuisine, and I dare say it also reflects my desired cooking style. First of all, they are often unorthodox in strictly adhering to specific measurements for each ingredient. I also only follow recipes to the “t” when I have to, i.e. when baking. Secondly, the superfluous use delightful and colorful herbs and vegetables is so much fun! Yet, it’s not out of control; there’s a yin and yang to each dish (rather than the occasional anarchy of mine): if you add excess peppers, you temper with a little sugar or sweet basil. Too much bird’s eye chilli? Add more coconut milk. I also love that the Thai tend to have a “zero waste” policy when it comes to food usage. Dehydrated shrimp shells and even fish scales are used in dishes, particularly salads, to create a crunchy consistency! They creatively incorporate the roots, seeds, greens, and oddball animal pieces into some part of their dishes, hence respecting the living creatures that provide for their nourishment in the process. This is also the Buddhist way.

A few days later Tony and I were watching the National Geographic channel (aka Nat Geo) with some of his friends when the topic of food scarcity somehow came up. I’m not sure his source, but Tony said that we currently produce enough food in the world to feed 36 BILLION PEOPLE. There are currently over 7 billion living on this planet, and yet an estimated 925 million are hungry at this very moment (http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm).

It seems ironic- or not- that so much of what I’ve been reading (Ishmael, Thich Nhat Hanh, & A New Earth) and thinking about on this trip seem to converge on the theme of over-consumption and under “nourishment”. By consumption I mean not just food but anything the greedy ego wants to want more than it wants to have, anything driven by the blind aim of profit, and anything that will, at least in the short-term, fill some sense of longing or incompleteness the ego may have. By nourishment, I also mean the enlightenment and freedom of giving and receiving that which you truly need- no more, no less, not in the name of greedy abandon- and being truly fulfilled. Recognizing the “habit energy” of our consumption-driven society and stepping away to realize, this is enough. My ego is hardwired like ever other human’s to play into this pursuit of compulsive, competitive gathering, yet as Tolle says, “The ego is destined to dissolve.”

The food industry is the number one producer of waste in the United States. After that is health care. Our ever growing and warming planet is one in serious turmoil, yet our systemic global evolution continues to propel this momentous proliferation. If we do not eventually have a shift in the global consciousness of this market of over-consumption and undernourishment (the food industry being a huge culprit), we may no longer have access to the abundant resources we do today. As a side note, this also brings me back to the Mayan Prophesy of December 21, 2012, which I’ve been peripherally contemplating for a while now. I don’t believe it will be the end of the world by the way (a Mayan in Belize personally confirmed this), but I do believe it may herald a global shift, and hopefully a positive one. Their calendar suggests it will be the beginning of a spiritual enlightenment. Couldn’t be a bad thing, right? Also apparently the Spanish invaders in Central America burned the calendars that came afterwards, so we should be in the clear. :)

I don’t mean to end such a lively post with Debbie Downer jargon, but I can’t help but think of these things when visiting a country that was pure in its natural state probably 30 years ago, and now has construction cranes lining every 50 meters of the Phuket coastline. It is still a country of regal beauty and abundant resources, don’t get me wrong. Even so, I’d like to try and be a “Leaver” tourist, appreciating yet not depleting the bounty Thailand has to offer, here and now. And so with a thankful heart and a happy belly, I leave you with “food for thought” via the wise words of Daniel Quinn:

Man’s destiny was to conquer and rule the world, and this is what he’s done–almost. He hasn’t quite made it, and it looks as though this may be his undoing. The problem is that man’s conquest of the world has itself devastated the world. And in spite of all the mastery we’ve attained, we don’t have enough mastery to stop devastating the world–or to repair the devastation we’ve already wrought. We’ve poured our poisons into the world as though it were a bottomless pit–and we go on gobbling them up. It’s hard to imaging how the world could survive another century of this abuse, but nobody’s really doing anything about it. It’s a problem our children will have to solve, or their children…. Increasing food production to feed an increased population results in yet another increase in population.

I have amazing news for you. Man is not alone on this planet. He is part of a community, upon which he depends absolutely. Trial and error isn’t a bad way to learn how to build an aircraft, but it can be a disastrous way to learn how to build a civilization.

Namaste, fellow Earthlings.

Trailing Tony & Chantelle into the Phuket Market

Curry pastes, yummy!

The pink “1000 Year Old Eggs” are salted & preserved. Yikes.

A coconut press for separating into the exterior meat scraps for dessert shreds & interior liquid for coconut milk/juice.

Thai basil

Mangosteens

Rambutan fruit. I found a tiny one in Ballard when running. Wondered if I should taste it but never did.

Tofu, soy, more tofu. Take it easy if you’re male; could cause gynecomastia!

Buddhist Spirit House. Because they believe all land/buildings are haunted, they chose to create a house for the spirits, feeding & watering regularly to keep any potential unrest at bay.

How would you like to chop 5,000 chicken legs a day?

Galanga & Tumeric, oh my!

My curry dish, a little oily but delicious all the same.

Durian fruit

Coconut lime soup. I will be repeating this one.

Charles preparing his station.

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Bikram’s Torture Chamber in a Tropical Locale- Grab Your Hand Towel!

Whew! I’m actually quite thankful that it rained for about three days and cooled the air a bit because the combination of daily Bikram yoga, sultry tropical air, and eating spicy food as much as possible has me feeling positively… well wet! As I was coming back from a short run around the Bang Wad Reservior and Phuket Country Club Golf Course, I stopped by the Bikram office to say hello to Sono for a chat. “Are you wet from sweating or the rain?” Sono asked. It had just finished pouring, but I’d also just been on my first real run since arriving. “Both!” I exclaimed. It seems as though I’ve been dewey or soaking ever since arriving, whether it be in a Bikram class, in the sweltering heat with a bike helmet on, or in one of the daily (albeit brief) monsoon rain showers. I must’ve quit noticing. Glad I remembered to wear this waterproof Seattle skin!

http://jamie-monk.blogspot.com/2008/06/evening-at-bang-wad-reservoir-and-dam.html

For those unfamiliar with the Bikram style of hot yoga, it is a beautiful, disciplined, and highly addictive practice. The 90 minute sequence of 26 hathas or poses performed in a-105 degree studio began to change the way Americans exercise when Chourdhury Bikram was granted a U.S. visa in 1972. Bikram prescribed his “torture chamber” yoga to President Nixon who was battling years of ineffective treatment for a painful battle with phlebitis. In return Nixon granted Bikram American citizenship, gifted him with taxpayer funds to open his first three studios, and the rest is history.

Chourhury Bikram

http://www.bikramyoga.com/BikramYoga/about_bikram_yoga.php

I’ve personally been a hot yoga addict since 2003. I began practicing shortly after my father died, at a time when my aching heart and racing mind were unable to find stillness in the prayer and running rituals that had always sufficiently quelled. I found that the controlled pranayama breathing, focus required to execute the poses, and rush of peacefuly relaxation afterwards were an ideal antidote to the inner unrest. I would incorporate silent prayer into my practice, using the space to grow keenly aware and honest with myself about information my body was trying to tell me and to silence the inner dialogue and free itself for the universe to act on me. This may all sound hokey to those who do not practice yoga or even to those who do, but I assure you many other yogis will agree- when the practice becomes your norm, nothing else will quite compare.

The yoga studio in Phuket is pure to the Bikram specifications. They even have Bikram brand towels! I appreciate that everyone agrees to and subscribes to the same terminology, particularly when teaching. I had a funny experience when after class the other day, Sono came into the locker room when I was changing. She mentioned that they do not allow the color green in the studio because Bikram does not like the color green. I’d been wearing my teal green Lucy tank top, and it was the second time in a week! Oops. I hadn’t even read the memo on the studio door which included this request. Of course I had to fact check and read something about green being an unlucky color…I don’t want to repeat the story because I’m not sure of the source.

First of all, I will say it is so wonderful to be able to come to class not thinking about my next meeting or an email I need to write…This lesson should be adopted all the time once back in the real world in Seattle. If you’re going to go to class, go, and don’t let your mind drift to anything else. I’ve also reinforced on vacation how time-consuming (and worth it) this addiction is! A 90-minute class that requires a shower afterwards. It’s bet to practice early in the morning or last thing in the afternoon.

As I entered my first class here, I suddenly thought to myself- “Wait a second, is this going to be in English?” Haha, yes! Of course. Bikram has scripted almost every word and position of the practice for the yoga teachers. His very specific instruction has been revised over the years, but it is taught the same all world. Which brings me to a few comical components of the instructions I’ve begun to contemplate over the last few days:

“Lift up and stretch your body right and left, right and left, until you cannot stretch any more.” -This is never really the case :).

“Touch your head to your knees like a Japanese ham sandwich.” -What in the world is a Japanese ham sandwich?? And why is it any tighter than say a Portuguese ham sandwich?

“Open your chest like a flower petal blooming.” -Are there any men offended by this? Nevermind; any male practicing regularly probably has a healthy and unbiased ego.

“Lift your chest up and your head back; your back is supposed to hurt.” -For several reasons, I don’t always agree with this statement.

“Lift your heel and place it as high as possible on your costume.” -Do other languages translate “costume” to mean body?? Je ne sais quoi.

I did a “double” the other day- 2 classes in a row- I felt so stretchy during camel round 2, it was tempting to try this. Yea right!

In conclusion, I am so very thankful to have the time and space to be praciting (almost!) daily and with such a wonderfully kind and skilled community of Bikram-purist teachers and students. And yes, my Excretory System has been turbo charging its engines! ;P

Read more for yourself:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1451641427

http://ies.albeniz.leganes.educa.madrid.org/3_Dep/BioGeo/3ESOM_Chapter6ExcretorySystem.pdf

Namaste.

“If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there’d be a shortage of fishing poles.” -Doug Larson

Salubrious, Salacious, Spicy: Slip into the sensations of (former) Siam.

It’s always a bit daunting to write an adequate update when it feels so much has happened. So let’s cut to the chase: I am entirely enamoured with Thailand. And its misquitos are completely enamoured with me! Obviously.

First of all, I have to start with scooter riding- it’s completely amazing! Yes, I’m still alive somehow. Thinking back to the accident I had on a bike in 2003, the moped was twice as heavy, and my feet definitely did not touch the ground. Not a great way to start considering you’re riding with an experienced group of adrenaline junkies through a winding hilly island. Plus, I wasn’t practicing yoga then, so balance gave way to clumsy MM most of the time. Yes, that was doomed to fail. But Peppermint Patty-my lovely Thai crotch rocket- and I have been getting along just swimmingly (so far!). She’s named for her “Scoopy”-not-to-be-confused-with-Snoopy helmet, white color, and indolent yet athletic thrust.

As Dylan was driving me to get the bike in Chalong, I was picking his brain for safety and handling tips and tricks. Dylan: “You ride a bike in Seattle, right?” Me: “Yes, but it doesn’t have a motor!” Totally different ballgame. He said when he went to get his license, they made him drive approx. 20 m on a concrete beam slightly wider than the median road paint. If you fell off, you automatically failed. Ha! I totally would have failed. It’s funny they were so strict about the exam, yet an “anything goes” spirit seems to dominate every rider I’ve seen- and yet not a single cop- this entire past week. If I start to get nervous, all I have to do is glance around to see a family of 4 all huddled on a bike the same size and maybe one with a helmet, toddler riding shotgun, and relax: “We’re all on this circus highway together! Keep your cool, MM.”

Anyhow, other than the fact that the corners of the hexagon lock essentially melted into a circle, I’ve had a blast whizzing around various nooks and crannies of Phuket, which absolutely would’ve taken ten times longer on a “bicycle.”I’m thankful that 1) Each time I ascend the winding steep pass to drive the 15 minutes from Kathu where I’m staying to the Western beaches (Hat Kalim, Hat Kamala, Hat Surin, Hat Karon, or Hat Kata, NOT Patong- think Girls Gone Wild juxtaposed w/ Bourbon Street) I always seem to be driving behind a sanely paced female; 2) I randomly packed my riding gloves; 3) I confirmed that the roadside carts everywhere selling liter-sized glass bottles with urine-looking liquids are indeed the gas stations. I shan’t walk far if I find myself on “E.”

I did have a small incident when leaving Central Festival today…let’s just say it involved knocking over a plastic gate on a sharp corner. All left unscathed except my soft ego. Pretty hysterical.[/caption

[caption id="attachment_478" align="alignright" width="300"]Scorching sun almost everyday, monsoon-like rains almost every night. This *might* never get old! This may never get old. Scorching sun almost everyday. Monsooning rains almost every night. Ahhh…

I am staying in the town of Kathu, on the island of Phuket, Thailand. Phuket is surrounded by the Andaman Sea on the east, west, and south, and borders the Phang-Nga province in the north. Kathu is centrally located on Phuket and predominately inhabited by native Thai people. The only tourists I’ve really met here are others doing the Bikram yoga holiday (many more long-term) and several girls around my age involved in a program called SHE (self-help and empowerment) which aims to guide women in Thailand out of sex trafficing. It is truly admirable and challenging work these women are doing. http://www.shethailand.org/. Thailand is a global hub for sex trade and exploitation, with migrants, minorities, and transients regularly falling victim. Needless to say, my evening activities don’t fit the pimp criteria, but i do wish I’d brought more pants. http://www.humantrafficking.org/countries/thailand

I’m looking forward to meeting up with some of the women involved in the SHE program at on Thursday to celebrate Loi Krathong. Loi Krathong is one of Thailand’s most beloved festivals, taking place on the first full moon of the 12th lunar month. People gather on nearby waterways and release origami boats made of banana leaves and decorated with flowers or candles onto the water. The guesture is to thank the river goddess for providing fields and forests and to ask forgiveness for the pollution of humans. How appropriate…I look forward to sharing photos as I’m sure it will be a beautiful event.

In addition to the SHE women and a brilliant Irish doctor on sabbatical, all of the native Thai people I’ve met are so amazingly kind and happy! I don’t know if it is the warm-hearted nature of the Buddhist culture (it’s considered rude to frown; I’d be walking around with a goofy grin here even if I didn’t know this tidbit!) or that I constantly look like I need help, but I feel very welcome and at peace with the local folk- from the phenomenal hospitality of Bikram friends Dylan, Mon, Koy, & Sono, to the woman in the yoga locker room who helped tie my scarf into a halter top, to the adorable couple at a cafe who insisted I hold their baby and take photos, even to these cute neighborhood dogs who wanted to hang and cuddle at my feet while I did some laundry! We may all have something to learn from this Buddhist way of living in “loving presence.”

Koy, Mon, & Dylan shared a Thanksgiving meal!

I made “Thai Tarot & Sweet Potatoes”

Baby Sanya is one month old. :)

“Life is what we are alive to…Be alive to…goodness, kindness, purity, love, history, poetry, music, flowers, stars, God, and eternal hope.” -Maltbie Babock

Coming soon: SPICY, tittilating (&/ terrifying) tastes of Thailand!

Critters: it’s what’s for dinner.

Everything you can’t bring with you…plus some obligatory baggage.

In my lovely apartment at Latika Mansion!

Today is my third in Thailand and just like any international trip, it’s been full of fun surprises I couldn’t possibly have anticipated (and has yet to offer any of the challenges I was banking on encountering!) Technical challenges are always my weakness- like how I’m typing at a snail’s pace from an iPad as the bluetooth keyboard is “iffy” (mom may text faster!) and the cheap camera connection adaptor i got on Amazon is apparently a lemon? So I’m taking pictures of camera photos from the iPad! Plenty of folks I know may be flabbergasted at these adaptations, but I’m just trying to go with the flow for now.

This morning is the first time I felt I’m recovering from the sleep deprivation/confusion of having traveled for over 24 hours and being in a foreign place where the dialect (spoken & written) doesn’t resonate with any familiar part of my brain. The smells are different, most foods 80% unrecognizable (what is bottled collagen really & does it work?!), yet the novelty of it all and kind funny people I keep meeting are glorious!!

Happy self-portrait

This rule is going to take some getting used to.

It’s raining right now, around 7am, and in an hour, one of the yoga instructors Dylan is going to give me a ride to his 8:30 class. Dylan is from Canada and has been super helpful in giving me the lowdown en englais, s’il vous plais! I’m hoping to join him and his wife Mon so we can exchange some Thai & American (fusion?) cooking lessons- Yea!!!

How and why did I get here you might ask? Well…at the end of the summer I ran across an add for Bikram holiday in Phuket and said jokingly to my man: “Hey, why don’t we just ¥uck it in Phuket?!” I was serious; we’d been casually talking about planning an international trip together, but our joint schedules couldn’t realistically weave the whim into reality at that point. Since then, he and I have parted ways, yet stars began to align my life for this adventure: a hot yoga teacher training I was supposed to be doing in Seattle right now was cancelled, I had penciled in a couple vacation weeks from work before 2013, and Seattle’s rainy overcast season began- and has yet to cede- its ambitious deluge. So YES! It dawned on me quickly that I was indeed going to “Phuckit” in Phuket (pronounced Pooket). Two weeks Unlimited Bikram yoga + room & board near some of the most beautiful places in the world for $400? Might be my best decision ever. :-)

The trip began as many do- with the lists and the planning and the conjuring up images and expectations in my mind (all the while trying and almost convincing 3 people to join…;) And then I was so proud when my clothing for 3 weeks successfully fit into this lovely compression sack!
WHERE are your shoes?” my mom declared when I sent her the photo. Anyone who knows my mom (“Gigi Dolly” to my brother) knows she has a knack for overpacking. Try as I might, I’m often guilty of following in her footsteps- with toiletries at least. But I have learned that packing can be an art- and backpack packing an obligatory art: enough functional & fun clothing options so that unnecessary shopping isn’t tempting; the essential hygiene/personal care/emergency items when traveling to an unfamiliar country, appropriate & minimal # shoes, and finally- DON’T bring so much that you kick yourself for having a sore back and tired feet and annoyed that you only wore half the shirts you thought you needed. I always fail when it comes to books…that’s what vacation is about, right?! Catching up on everything you’ve been wanting to read? The whole “electronic” book concept is slowing growing more attractive. But the leathery, musty stench of old books will always be one of my favorites. So “Kindle” is going to remain in the periphery vocabulary, thank you. And it’s always fun to find a book exchange on vacation or just give them away before flying home; don’t have Shades of Grey in Thailand? Enjoy!

Other thoughts on packing…I had a lovely conversation with a new friend the other day who is an engineer for a company that makes outdoor clothing & gear- climbing, hiking, camping, etc. He mentioned how watching the industry grow into a lusty, competitive, consumption-driven whirlwind has changed his personal perspective when hiking; less is more. Staying within safety’s realm, don’t let the obsessive race of having the latest or greatest gear taint the beauty or purpose of what it is you’re aiming to do- keep it simple and just get away! One item I opted to leave at the last minute- my favorite camera. I brought a cheap waterproof Vivitar to avoid worrying about damaging or losing the other one. Some items I did bring at the last minute: a harmonica (no self-proclaimed talent just fun) and a foot buff “shower multi-tool”. Considering the fact that Thai/Buddhists consider feet to be profane plus my feet will probably take a serious toll from walking and beaching, this little pleasure should come in handy. Devil’s in the details!

Ok, so I really must get going soon, but first a few lessons learned from my previous (amazing) partner, past travels, and pearls to be ingrained while in Thailand (this is the obligatory baggage part :):

1. Be a “yes” woman (or man). “Never underestimate the absolutes importance-and difficulty- of starting each encounter with a primal ‘yes.’ ” -Richard Rohr
2. Relish in the little pleasures, i.e., juicing w dandelions.
3. Devil’s in the details; try to floss floss.
4. Question, experiment, research, repeat.
5. Organize & prioritize. Do one thing at a time & do it well.
6. Smiling is a universal language. Don’t hide your voracious laughter.
7. And likewise, embrace your inner nerd.
8. Indulge in (and share) what brings you joy- a jaunt in the woods, a taste of fine chocolate, a Thai massage…
9. Be present. Yes you could be in a million places, but wherever you are, be fully there.
10. Mind your nose. Smells can be powerfully honest guides.
11. The smell of fear is contagious; be smart but don’t expect to be a victim.
12. When traveling abroad, always make time & space to learn from the locals and embrace their culture.
13. Get out of your own way. Within safety’s limits (not running outside at night for example, ahem…) sky’s the limit when you’re open & ready!

“I have wandered all my life, and I have traveled; the difference between the two is this- we wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” -Hilaire Belloc

*******Fast forward 14 hours********

Whoa, what a day! I finally made it to the beach- three beaches actually. Patong, Hat Kalim, & Hat Kamala which are about 20 minutes away via “motorbike”. THANK my bejesus for Dylan’s generous offer to help me find a one to rent. Originally I thought I could find a bike/bicycle to ride around the island or would walk quite a bit. Dylan must’ve thought I was off my rocker! This really isn’t efficiently possible. I have to admit that I was scared out of my mind to ride at first. Not only am I haunted by a moped crash on my first and only time driving at age 20, but there are seriously minimal driving laws around here, even fewer traffic lights, and tons of traffic-yikes! But today after some guided practice, i think i broke my 9 year-old old fear! Woohoo!

There’s way too much to see and do on Phuket without motored wheels, and taxis or a car rental aren’t in my budget. Plus this is WAY more fun! Tomorrow I’ll try to get a pic of me on my crotch rocket (rented from Happy Days B&B) and of some pics of the delicious street food. I don’t know what I ate for dinner, but it rocked! And my lips were beet red from the spice factor afterwards. “Want more spicey?” “Chai chai!” Tomorrow- more yoga & beaching & cooking with Mon. I told her I’ll try to make them a “Thai” version of a Thanksgiving dish…coconut sweet potato pie, anyone? Lah gorn!