Chiang Mai – Thai Foot Reflexology

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I took a massage class in Chiang Mai at ITM, the International Training Massage School. While I’m please to be certified in Thai Foot Reflexology massage, I don’t know how ready I am to have any clients. I still had to use the book to take the exam, so I’ll just practice on my friends and do trades for other services for now.

ITM is one of the bigger, well known massage schools in Chiang Mai. There were 4 of us in my class, 2 woman from Brazil and 1 from Spain, it was a nice way to meet people and learn massage.
The two teachers were nice but we never got to have them work on us. They were both from Pai, a small town 3 hours north of Chiang Mai, which I went to next. One of them is part of the family who started the Old Medicine Hospital, one of the oldest and most established massage schools in Chiang Mai. He said he had been doing massage since the womb. His nickname was “Gift”, which I hoped was for his massage skills. Gift would tease us at the end of class by telling us to go back to our hotels, knock on the door of someone across the hall and ask them if they wanted a foot massage.

We all passed the exam, but we all had to use the book to go through the steps because in 4 evenings there wasn’t enough time to practice and really learn all the steps. Unless, of course, you were practicing on the people in your hotel.

Now when family and friends are shocked to see me after being away for so long…I can relax with them with a good foot massage.

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Street Food – Thai Style

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Who doesn’t love street food in Thailand? If not to eat at least to photograph…

If you don’t love it, I want to hear from you!
If you do love it, leave a comment about your fav and what you still think about to this day…

This post is just to show off a few of the photos I took…aroi mak!

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Get Your Shoes On in Bangkok

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For a culture that has you take your shoes off before entering a home, foot fashion is alive and well in Bangkok. I explored the Siam Paragon Mall (one of Asia’s biggest shopping centers) and started shooting away at some of the latest and most popular styles.

This post is dedicated to my childhood and lifelong friend Amy Denebeim Dean, who taught me about the fine art of shoe art!

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A Day in Bangkok : The Asian City of Angels [iPhone]

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Hot, sweaty, sultry, sticky,
Wats and wats and then the Grand Palace,
A King who became a monk and he sat on the floor when he talked to the poor,
Canals, waterways, shopping, bargaining….am I getting ripped off?

Art on rice paper,
Sorry just looking…opps, betters start booking,
Sultry, salivating, sweating, searching for shade,
Did I say the King became a monk and he sat on the floor when he talked to the poor?

Rice, chicken, noodles, pad thai, mai thai,
Coconuts, thirsty, tired, searching for shade,
Taxis, tuk-tuks,
How much to go across town? No, no stopping for shopping.
Bumpy, rough, rocking this way and that, weaving through traffiic, dripping, sweating,
Man I need a shower

Skyline has something old, something new, something battered and something true.
Golden Buddhas, reclining Buddhas, Monday through Sunday Buddhas,
All the while the current King became a monk and he sat on the floor when talked to the poor

Crowded, hot, rich, poor, humid and sublime,
Siam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, cultures all intertwined,
Diverse shrines combined,
Smiling, cagey, eager to please and eager to leave

Wats everywhere, orange robes galore, so much folklore,
Monks praying, tourists straying,
One more satay, another pad thai and a coconut on the street

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Scuba Diva

photo by Cameron @ Dive & Relax
It was only last week, just before I came to Malaysia that I was in Southern Thailand. It’s already starting to feel like so long ago. After Phuket I jumped on a boat to Koh Lanta because I wanted to dive two sites that are local favorites, Hin Daeng (Red Rock) and Hin Meuang (Purple Rock). It was tough to find a boat going out there because it’s the end of the dive season (April 30th is when most boats stop going to the sites farther out because of the weather) and these two are at least an hour boat ride from Koh Lanta by speedboat. As it was the end of the season, I was lucky to get on any boat going out there, it took us 3 1/2 hours on a slow boat with Lanta Divers and I was just happy to find a boat that was going. Once we were out there I only saw one other dive boat the whole day. It was great.
Hin Daeng & Hin Meuang are two huge, deep water rocks that are well-known for sighting manta rays, whale sharks and leopard sharks.  Hin Muang is Thailand’s highest vertical wall, submerged below sea level. It’s covered with vibrant, purple, soft corals. The marine life, both big and small is beautiful and impressive. What surprised me the most was the size of the fish out there. I recognized many of the same fish I’ve seen at Koh Bida and the Similans, but they were 2-3 times bigger. Apparently, this too far out for fisherman, so the fish can obviously grow bigger when they are not being hunted. We saw great barracuda’s, bearded scorpion fishes,  coronet fishes, at least 8 moray eels, longfin batfishes, blue triggerfish, yellow tail triggerfish and a silver wall of travelly swimming past. On that particular day we didn’t spot any manta rays, whale sharks or leopard sharks, and I wasn’t able to get any photos of our diving from the others I was with.
Fortunately, the next day I had arranged to join Dive & Relax to try Koh Bida (again) and Hin Bida. Cameron from Dive & Relax was really helpful when I was trying to find a boat going out to Hin Daeng and Hin Meuang and suggested that I could experience some great things at Hin Bida. Dive & Relax is a great  company that has speedboats and offers dive trips, snorkeling, private trips and PADI courses on Koh Lanta. They’ll organize a nice day with lunch, experienced and professional dive guides and a small group of people to go with.  You can check them out at www.diveandrelax.com.
We had a great day diving, the conditions were really good and we experienced some fantastic sightings. As soon as we descended Hin Bida there was a big leopard/ zebra shark (photo above) just lying at the bottom of the sea, staring at us while Cameron took pictures until it swam off. It is a truly beautiful animal. At Koh Bida Nok, there was a big red octopus that we watched for at least 5 minutes. It was on the rocks and kept expanding and contracting and changing colors, camouflaging itself with the rocks. Then it swam in front of us from one rock to another, it was amazing. Usually when I’ve seen them they are hiding between rocks and you can only see a tiny little part of them.
Lastly, there’s a beautiful photo below of a cuttlefish. It’s the last photo at the bottom. This is the first time I’ve seen one and Cameron got a great shot of it. It was so nice to dive Koh Bida again and have better experience. Enjoy these fantastic photos courtesy Cameron at Dive & Relax.
photo by Cameron @ Dive & Relaxphoto by Cameron @ Dive & Relax
photo by Cameron @ Dive & Relax

Wandering to Malaysia

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My 30 day tourist visa for Thailand expired… so now I’m sitting on the beach in Langkawi, Malaysia. I had no intention of visiting Malaysia originally, but at some point last week it felt like a different adventure. Spending a day on a boat on the Andaman Sea sounded infinitely more interesting than taking a boat to Krabi Town and paying immigration to extend my visa another 15 days. So I booked a ticket with Tigerline Ferries…and they brought me here in true Thai style with that classic Thai smile.

The ferry brought us close to Koh Lippe, but instead of docking at the pier and driving us to the immigration point, we were shuffled off the ferry and jumped into a peeling wooden longtail boat and driven to shore. Our luggage was left on the beach, our passports were stamped at the immigration point on the beach and we were told we could hang out at a closed and somewhat deserted bar on the beach called the Monkey Bar. (it made for interesting pictures) Our speedboat arrived in 30 minutes to take us to Langkawi, only an hour away. We collected our luggage on the beach and jumped into another longtail boat which drove us out to the speedboat taking us to Langkawi.

I made it to my hotel in Langkawi, Malaysia just in time to catch the end of the sunset with a glass of wine.

I think this one is more interesting in pictures…and I was inspired this week by someone called the Blissful Adventurer ~ Adventures in Eating, Living & Photography, as he has been taking photos with the Hipstamatic app on the iPhone for his blog lately. I decided to make that my media of choice for this journey…

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Relaxing on Koh Lanta & the Long Beach Chalet

Pra Ae Beach (Long Beach)

This morning I met another solo traveler from New York  named Daniel. During breakfast we started talking about life, work, stress and ended up having one of those conversations, when you open up about your life to a total stranger, simply because you’re in a foreign country and the conversations flows. It might also have had something to do with the fact he had climbed a tree and picked his own coconut for breakfast, having just arrived the day before from New York. This alone amused and intrigued me.  So Daniel was telling me about how he works for a high powered architecture firm in New York and how he does 3D modeling and works with the architects to render buildings as physical models and virtual models to pitch to clients. As I listened to him I realized that what he does as an artist is use his imagination and intention to create something solid that is simply a thought. He models buildings by collaborating his thoughts with others. He uses his hands, his mind and his tools to bring them into a solid form. Sometimes, they don’t get the business, so the building stays a thought, outside of the modeling he’s rendered. When I said this to him he admitted that he had just been thinking about this yesterday. He was thinking about how he believes most of what we create comes from a place of potential energy and thought, then someone gives it form and shape,  that makes it a “reality”, as we call it.

Then he said to me, “That’s exactly what I do. I’ve never admitted that I think about it this way to anyone. If I said that to someone in New York they’d put me in the looney bin.”

I replied, “Now, if you said that to someone in Bali, they’d invite you to a ceremony. That’s the thing about Bali. It’s overdeveloped, it’s touristy in places, but the Balinese believe in magic. They still practice magic all over the island.”

I’m appreciating these lessons about potential energy in our bodies, in our minds and how we either let it lie dormant or we understand how to access it. Our talk this morning just reflected what I’ve been asking myself as I’ve been traveling around, which is, when do I let my own thoughts lead me astray by not recognizing the magic, the potential energy, around me? I know it sounds esoteric, but I’m beginning to recognize it’s more powerful than going back to school to get another degree…I just have to wake up to it.

I’m sure you’re curious to know what happened next with Daniel. (if you’re Becky you’re wondering about the Island debate) We ended our breakfast conversation and I let him know I had to change hotels because the Long Beach Chalet was fully booked for the next few nights. I told him where I was going and we said we might see each other on the beach…

Following the diving is what lead me to Koh Lanta and it’s been a peaceful stay from the developed and touristy Phuket that I left 5 days ago. Koh Lanta is an island further South past Phi Phi and closer to Krabi. The whole island is about 30 kilometers and you can easily ride around on a motor bike in a day, simply exploring different beaches. It’s a nice mix of restaurants, bars, B&B’s, resorts and the lush tropical Thai island lifestyle.

The first few days I stayed on Pra Ae Beach in a place called Papillion Bungalows.  It’s not right on the beach but it’s a 3 minute walk to the beach. The bungalows are about $30 a night and are basic with air conditioning and a bathroom. I was diving for two days straight so I only needed a place to sleep. The beach itself is lined with restaurants and beach bars to hang out and eat.

The restaurants on the island are good but the best part for me has been my luck in staying at the Long Beach Chalet. On trip advisor it’s one of their top B&B choices and it was booked solid for the dates I wanted, as it turned out, Papillion Bungalows is right next door. I realized that when I arrived.

I managed to get a room at the Chalet for 2 nights because they had a last minute cancellation. The Chalet also has one of the best restaurants I’ve been to here called the Three Mums…and they know how to cook. It’s amazing.  I basically ate at the Long Beach Chalet until it was time to move in for a few nights and it’s been really lovely. The rooms cost a whopping $33 a night. I can’t imagine next season the prices will stay that low. They are booked solid and it’s one of the warmest, friendliest places I’ve stayed in Thailand, with by far the best home cooked food. Every morning one of the Mum’s comes to talk to me to make sure I’m happy with breakfast and always sends something extra over for me to taste. Everyone is really helpful, lovely and the food is delicious. Check them out http://www.longbeachchalet.com. It’s a gem.

I highly recommend visiting Koh Lanta if you want to get away from the beach crowds and have a relaxing vacation. It also has some of Thailand’s best dive sites, which is a big bonus. I’ll post something on diving Hin Daeng (Red Rock) and Hin Meuang (Purple Rock) in the next few days…

Long Beach Chalet

Long Beach Chalet

Pra Ae Beach (Long Beach)

The Wandering Jen

The Downside of Diving Phi Phi

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

No matter how many times I walk into situations staying open to experience whatever happens, when I least expect it, I step into a situation where I wasn’t paying any attention to how high my expectations were…and experience the crash…I know it’s common, we all do it.

This time I felt the let down on the second day of my recent dive trip to Phi Phi Island. After such a solid and positive experience on the Similan Islands live aboard I was excited to sign up for a two day trip to Phi Phi to dive the infamous sites there, Shark Point, Bida Nik & Bida Nai. It was a short two day boat trip that included four dives on your way to Phi Phi, a nice stay overnight at a hotel so you can explore the bars for an evening and then three dives the next day on the way back. It was a no brainer, sounded perfect.

The trip started out on a high note when I sat next to a really nice Australian couple about my age on the ride to the boat. Then, Tom, one of the handsome dive guides from the Similan trip jumped in the car. Things were feeling good. My expectations were high…the usual signal to relax… The boat was nice, the trip was really well organized and the rental equipment was good. There was really nothing about the crew, or the dive company or anything that could be controlled that made this a “less than average” experience. Tom was my guide again and he had his camera and we goofed around and got silly sometimes. That was all a plus.

Our first two dives at Shark Point and Koh Bida Nik the visibility was ok, not great. No one can control that, it’s simply Mother Nature so you make the best of it. We saw a few sting rays’, snapper and clown fish. It seemed amazing; unfortunately, I couldn’t see too far in front of me. Koh Bida Nik was the same, shaded batfish, scorpion fish, lion fish, puffer fish with juveniles, coronet fish and titan trigger fish. I still couldn’t see too far in front of me but there was so much life around me it was amazing. The highlight of the day was when we were on the boat during a rest period and a huge school of dolphins came right near the boat for about 20 minutes jumping in and out of the water. It was great to watch.

I digress, because I was talking about getting caught up in my expectations. By the third dive there was no visibility and the current was strong. It was a workout. I put on a smile, did the dive, and saw a moorish idol and various parrot fish but I couldn’t see them unless they swam right into me. I thought about this as I was resting after. I’m still a beginner and thought about passing on the last dive, it was going to be a night dive, and I knew there was no visibility. I’m listening to that inner voice more and more, while keeping a beginners mind. I didn’t want to miss out on anything; even though I knew when I got out of the water I could barely see anything. Why do we do that? Why is that fear of missing out so strong at the most obvious moments?

I did the night dive at Palong Bay with Tom and he was safe and very cautious. He knows the site really well. When we finished our decent we could barely see. We had our flash lights; I could see Tom if he was 2 -3 feet in front of me and that was it. Everyone else looked the same to me in wet suits. Tom was wearing bright shorts and a shirt and that’s the only way I could follow him and only if I was shining my light right on him. I had gotten into the habit of staying close to him (and kicking him in the head regularly) and this time I was so close that when he spotted a couple of sea horses I could see them immediately from his flashlight.  He knew where to find them and took our group to them as soon as we descended. I saw them right away knew the others would want to see them. For some reason people get really excited about seeing seahorses, I don’t really, and we had just seen some earlier in the day and taken pictures. So I backed off and floated above letting others in my group come in closer because the visibility was so bad. Suddenly we were descended on by a whole different group of divers. Because we couldn’t see anything it felt like they came from out of nowhere. One minute I’m floating quietly, the next these two women are treading water on top of me, kicking me and having absolutely no control over their buoyancy or anything else. Everyone in my group was backing off to get away from them and they were following Tom’s light to the see the seahorse. It was a total cluster fuck. Once I backed off I lost Tom’s light, there were what felt like hundreds of other divers all around me, everyone looked the same and I had no idea what direction I was facing because I couldn’t see anything. Not everyone was trying to see what we were looking at; it was just way too crowded down there. Suddenly it felt like there were tons of dive groups. It was chaos. Long story short, one of these girls stepped on a sea horse and crushed it trying to see the other one. Once we came up for air Tom told us she saw her smash it with her fin and he didn’t know what happened after that because he was too busy shoving people away with his hands so they couldn’t get any closer. He was pissed off when we got out of the water and the rest of us were just confused. It was so crowded down there and we couldn’t see 2 feet in front of us; total diver chaos. I didn’t know about the seahorse smashing until we got back on the boat. It turns out these girls were on our boat with their own dive guide. It sort of killed the day for me. I learned about the down side of diving, especially in crowed areas at night.

We ended up on Phi Phi Island and went to a bar for a beer. Phi Phi felt like a tourist trap to me after that. A bunch of bars, restaurants, hotels and the usual tourist hawkers. I’m sure on a different day with my peeps it would be fun. The next day the visibility was ok, not great, but we had fun. I had experienced my first lesson in overcrowded dive sites and how important it is to pay attention to everything around you when you are 15 meters underwater and not destroy the life down there. It’s a reminder about keeping my expectations in check and paying attention to everything around me. At the end of the trip, once again, Tom had some awesome photos. The photos below are courtesy of Tom Booth.

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Photo courtesy of Tom Booth

Feeling Free during Songkran

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I had a moment the other night where I felt in my bones how I have never felt as much freedom as I’m feeling right now. It’s not just the freedom to go wherever I want or do whatever my heart feels. That’s true and that’s amazing. It’s the internal freedom I’m uncovering that makes what’s happening now so powerful. It’s the emotional freedom that is unfolding that compels me to say what I’m feeling, when I’m feeling it. Not wait until after so it’ll have less of an impact on someone.I’m caring less and less about what people think about me and caring more and more about whether or not I’m speaking my truth. How often am I saying what I mean and meaning what I say? Each day I’m aligning with that more and more.

I was standing on a boat when I first had that moment. We were going back to Phuket from Phang Nga Bay and the sky was full of stars, lightening was flashing every 5 minutes or so and there was a warm, soft, tropical wind blowing. It was one of those breathtakingly beautiful moments that I shared with a few other people on the boat as we all soaked up the beauty of the night. I recognized that internally there’s an emotional tsunami happening inside me. My dreams are sometimes hard to describe the next day, filled with symbols and signs I can’t understand yet I’m waking up with a deep feeling of things being churned over like the ocean.

The next day was Songkran, the Thai New Year. The Thai celebrate the New Year with a massive water fight throughout Thailand. Spiritually, it symbolizes a cleansing for the year to come. They call it a “Water Festival”. What I experienced was thousands of big kids of all ages lining the streets, people on motor bikes with big water guns, loads of people driving in pick up trucks filled with people in the back throwing water buckets at everyone and anyone. Scantily clad tourists with massive water guns (see below) and waterproof cameras. The whole area had the childlike freedom of being one big water fight. You couldn’t walk five minutes without getting a bucket thrown at you and being fired at by someone’s water pistol. I realized halfway through the day I was only using my water gun in self-defense. ..and that putting my hand up didn’t actually do any good to stop the ice cold water in the bucket that was being thrown at me. After 4 hours of walking through the mayhem, I treated myself to some serious gelato, being the big kid I am.

That morning just before the craziness started, once again, I was having breakfast at Uncle Nai’s joint near my guesthouse.

As I sat there having breakfast, I read over what I had written the night before and simultaeousIy I had a moment with Ratdech at Uncle Nai’s that warmed my heart. It made me aware of when I don’t really speak the truth and when I’m not living in the moment. I arrived at my table hungry, with my laptop in tow and knowing the madness that is Songkran had already started. I really had to eat and felt completely compelled to do some writing before the day got away from me. I’ve become so engrossed in the blogosphere I was up late the night before catching up on the whole “Texts from Hilary” story (how brilliant was that??). Ratech, Uncle Nai’s wife came to greet me and offered me her special Vietnamese breakfast to which I happily said yes, (it looked good and I can tell her what I can & can’t eat) so she prepared a mini feast for me. In the course of serving me breakfast we had the typical conversation about where we are from and she was so excited I was from America. Next thing I knew, she brought out 4 mini family photo albums of the family holiday in 2000 to Washington DC, Boston and I think the Cape. She excitedly starting showing me pictures of her daughters and all the places they went.

I was so hungry and could hear the mayhem of Songkran building around us. (In fact as I wrote this I was surrounded by 8 Russians with massive waterguns…barely missing me in the line of fire)
Ratech wanted to go through the albums with me, she was so proud and so enthusiastic that I sat there starving and having the running commentary in my head of the next thing I wanted to do, which was eat and write (running commentary is the signal I’m not in the moment).
I realized I couldn’t say to her,” These are lovely, really, but I have to eat right now and do some writing, could we take a look tomorrow?”

Nope, that truth was not coming from my mouth. She was so excited and so sweet. So I did what any self-respecting tourist would do and I nibbled at my breakfast, smiled and shifted my attitude to, “how adorable is this woman?”. It was funny. I sat there looking at family holiday photo albums and eating breakfast. Not to mention whenever I put them down to write this I felt compelled to pick them up again when she walked by my table. I was able to tell her some of the foods I simply won’t eat as she kept bringing me plate after plate of food. I am getting real about speaking the truth about food, my friend Rony would be proud.

By the end of breakfast the craziness had begun in Kata. Uncle Nai had the sound system set up on the sidewalk and Ratdech was covering people’s faces in baby powder and dancing with the crazy Russian crowd. Joan Jett’s “I love Rock n Roll” was blasting from the sound system and the Russians were shooting everyone that went by on a motorbike or anyone who came in their line of fire. I resigned myself to the fact I couldn’t possibly bring a camera out with me and if I was lucky I’d get a few pictures on my phone. I laughed at myself and felt how lucky I was to discover my own freedom and be in a big old Thai style water fight at the same time…

Happy Songkran and Happy Passover!

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Tsunami Scare

Donald Duck Bay, Similan Islands, Thailand

I’m sitting at Uncle Yai’s Thai and Vietnamese joint and laundry service on the Patak Road near Kata beach. I’m surrounded by some local Thai’s and a group of Russian’s. We’re all sitting around, half paying attention the BBC news listening for something about the Tsunami and half making conversation amongst ourselves. Other than glancing at the news, people are eating, surfing the internet on their lap tops, on their cells phones and Uncle Yai’s family is serving food and talking to people. Everything in the area is closed except for the local food stalls, like Uncle Yai’s. My guesthouse is just around the corner and halfway up the hill. In the hotel next door locals are gathered sitting around the pool area where they are waiting out the warning period.  The word we got was to stay in a high, safe place from 6:30pm on,  but I still see people out on their motorbikes and in cars. The traffic isn’t bumper to bumper like it was at 4:30. In this area, tourists are still walking down the street and people are starting to wander out and look for something to eat. The air is thick and hot and there’s a tension around me as people glace to the news and glance back to their conversation. Ratdech, who does most of the cooking and the laundry at Uncle Yai’s (this is also where I dropped off my laundry today) is sitting across from me doing her bookkeeping in between cooking meals. She and I look at each other nervously when the wind picks up and lightly blows things off the tables.

I have to write about the episode I had earlier this afternoon as I learned Phuket was issuing a  Tsunami high alert. I was in a small spa in the middle of a massage. The young Thai woman from the spa who picked me up from my hotel came into the room during the massage and tried to tell me there had been an earthquake earlier and in her broken English tried to ask if I wanted to go back to my hotel. Since I can’t even communicate in broken Thai, I was completely confused.  First, I hadn’t felt the quake and second, I’m from San Francisco. The idea that the building didn’t even rattle and someone’s coming to tell me there has been an earthquake made no sense to me, really. I knew in that moment I was having a very real cultural communication failure but I couldn’t ask too many questions lying on a table butt naked covered in coconut oil with a Thai woman straddled on top of me. I think I tried to say something like, “Is it serious? Do we need to leave?” to which, I think she answered, “well, don’t know. So sorry, don’t know, so sorry.” And she left the room. I thought to myself, ” I come from the land of earthquakes, I know people who don’t live with them get scared.” My other thought was , “I am completely clueless about what this woman is trying to tell me.” Five minutes later she comes back, and says,” They say we need to close building… get you to your hotel. You don’t pay for massage. You come back tomorrow. OK?”  At this point the woman on top of me is giggling nervously. Any relaxation is gone and I realize there’s something going on. I try to tell them, “yes, yes, we end massage, I go now, I go now…” and I we all agree to leave. By this point I am really confused and I haven’t eaten since breakfast so I’m also feeling more lightheaded than usual.

I head downstairs and ask if it would be ok to pick up take away across the road before I go to my hotel. “Is that ok? I haven’t eaten all day…” and she very politely says “yes”. I ask again, “what is going on? Where was the earthquake?” Then she’s able to give me a small amount of information about how there was a big earthquake in Indonesia just now and then an aftershock here. “That’s just what happened before last time; she manages to tell me, “Security is saying maybe another Tsunami…must get to a high place.” I hate to admit it, but in that moment my ignorance was palpable and as I looked outside everything was calm and people where going about their business. I was hungry and the idea of being in a disaster on an empty stomach started to panic me a little. “Are you sure it’s ok to get something to eat.” “Yes, Yes”, she said. I walked across the road to a small place called, “Southern Fried Chicken” there were a few people standing around a TV and I asked for a takeout menu. The news was on the TV, there was nothing about an earthquake and no one was talking about it. I ordered something quick to take out and went online to see what I could find out.

I saw nothing as I googled, “earthquake in Indonesia 2012” or even “Tsunami warning Thailand 2012”. Everything that came up was from January, nothing about today.  As I was searching, my Thai friend was across the street yelling at me to get in the car. I was no longer confused. At that point I realized she was panicking. A man standing next to me started asking questions about the aftershock, he didn’t feel it. The next thing I know she’s in the car starting it up and I’m packing up my stuff and the people in the area start to panic too. She started to drive the car, I headed over to it and people started closing their shops and running around. Once I got in the car I could feel her panic and I felt so bad. I tried to ask her again, “how do you know this? What did you hear?” All she could communicate to me was that she felt the aftershock, that’s what happened last time in 2004 and she had to drive to Phuket Town to get her son. There would be much traffic now. Immediately, I understood and felt ignorant about being so slow to understand what she wasn’t able to say to me until this moment. She felt the same things in 2004 and she wanted to get to her son. The security in the area had advised to get to higher ground. It was about a 5 minute drive to my hotel, where I could easily pick up something to eat and ask around to find out what was going on. I realized in that moment the word Tsunami is just not a part of my vocabulary. Really. It’s one of those catastrophes that I watch on the news and has no emotional or mental impact on me. I’m ashamed to admit it  but to me,  “earthquake” means the building is shaking and you are hiding under something big or in the middle of the street. Otherwise, it ain’t really a quake. I certainly don’t think of those two things together, my life experience hasn’t engrained it in mind like it has for the lady at the spa that couldn’t communicate to me what she needed to do.

Once we hit the main road the traffic started to swell. It was moving quickly in the direction we were going but it was starting to slow bumper to bumper in the opposite direction, which was away from the beaches. I told her to just pull over on the side of the road across from my guesthouse and I’d walk, it was a short distance. She did, gratefully, and I got out of the car and headed back to the hotel up the hill, safe from any potential danger.  The owners of my guesthouse weren’t back and their car was gone. I had to go around to the local shops asking questions and watching the news.

For the next 4 hours or so the people in my guesthouse gathered around the halls talking about the news. The shops in our area all closed and the manager of our guesthouse got stuck in the panic in Rawai and had to leave his car on the street and get a on someone’s motor bike to get to higher ground before he made it back to Kata Beach around 7:30pm. I heard there were a lot of people panicking from memories and experiences of 2004. We heard on the news the Phuket airport closed. I heard Rawai was crazy. I heard this from the safety of my table at Uncle Yai’s place watching the BBC news and checking online. I became very aware that the word “Tsunami” has no emotional impact on me, because I have no life experience to relate to.  I kept thinking about the Thai woman who couldn’t communicate to me she needed to go get her son, and the panic she was feeling that there was going to be another Tsunami. An experience I can’t possibly relate to, thank god. By the time we all made it to bed, the scare was over.

This morning, I’m back at Uncle Nais having breakfast and I sat next to a young Swiss woman and her small son. She and I briefly talked of yesterday as she described to me how she was at the beach when they started to evacuate people, she didn’t go back to her beachfront hotel, instead she came to this area and got a hotel room for the night with her son. She said the situation at Kata beach was like you see on TV. They started to evacuate people from the beaches and people started to panic and the traffic jammed, people everywhere trying to get to higher ground and she had to ask people for a ride on a motorbike with her son. She had to figure out where to go just by asking locals what do and what was going on. Luckily, there was much advance warning so she realized that she had about an hour to an hour and a half to get to higher ground. The Thai system is similar to Indonesia…there is no system that works  everywhere. Just a lot of chaos and somehow you manage to figure out what’s going on.  I feel lucky that I was in a safe, low stress place and that I didn’t have anything to really worry about. I’m sitting at the same table, at the same place I was yesterday.