Remember when you were a kid and you’d look up at all the things that adults did and you’d go – WHY? Well, I don’t wonder anymore.
As a Taurus, I’m told I don’t like change. Yet, my life-line so far has been a series of interruptions and situations that have forced me to adapt. After college the longest I’ve ever lived in the same town was for about three years, and that’s not counting the times I moved within the town.
Now, I won’t go so far as to say I love it. I certainly don’t enjoy the inconvenience of moving often. But Life has a way of tossing monkey wrenches and kitchen sinks our way, and well, we do the best we can, don’t we?
Upon learning that I am half-Thai, folks want to know, “Can you cook Thai food?” When I was younger, the answer was no. As in why on God’s green and blue earth would I want to? My mom can cook wonderfully though, thank you.
As I got older, I became annoyed by my mom’s badgering.
Cambodian traffic is something to behold. (Is behold the right word?) This is because you pretty much can drive in any direction you please. Now, in Thailand, I thought it was crazy when you saw a renegade motorbike going against traffic, hugging the shoulder and occasionally I did it, too. Sometimes it makes sense, especially if you are going a short distance or if it’s a bigger hassle to go down the right way and turn back.
But here? There isn’t just a driver or two going the wrong way, everybody is driving against traffic. It’s a fucking free for all. Two lanes might as well be four. It’s normal to be cycling down the correct direction and have a swarm of motorbikes, bicyclists and even cars moving towards you. And to add insult to very possible injury, I’m often the one who has to move blindly out into traffic to avoid being hit. I hate bicycling here. I hate being bullied on the road.
The only redeeming factor, it feels like, is traffic is forced to go slow. But there are also SUVs speeding up out of frustration and Khmers driving faster louder motorbikes. It’s a future problem, ripening and developing as I type. I fear I can never complain about the way people drive in America ever again…
Overall, I’m a fairly easy going personality. I’m polite, funny, courteous, yeah, in general, and I feel many of my friends would agree.
But driving has been my nemesis whenever I have quested for calm and peace of mind. It was a challenge in the States and it sure as hell has been a challenge in SE Asia. I don’t know what fucking happens. Now, it’s not like I floor the gas, weave in and out of traffic and try to hit anyone. Occasionally, I take safe risks. I have a good driving record. I’m a good driver. It’s just. I don’t know. Driving brings out the American in me.
Of course, you might be like, “What? A female driver! An Asian female driver!?!” And I’d still nod and say, yes. “But, I don’t understand. What’s going on here? Women can’t drive. Asians can’t drive.” Blah, blah, blah.
I was taught by a Caucasian male.
So, it’s not like my dear mother taught me (which would have gone badly for the island of Oahu). She has the most speeding tickets of anyone I know. My mother’s first husband was a police officer so maybe she feels some sort of affinity for the law. Although, my dad taught her and he was sure to be careful. In fact, she didn’t even want to learn in the first place. And now look at her – she’s a Thai Speedy Gonzales.
But my step-father (mom’s boyfriend technically) taught me in the California desert when I was 13. I learned in a little blue and white Toyota truck. It was a stick-shift, and I remember how frustrated I would get and how patient he was with me. It was god-like, really. I’m surprised he didn’t snap at me or give up. I was such a whiny mess.
Somehow I persevered though. I even had to take a Driver’s ED class in high school. But perhaps I took away more than I realized from my parental figures because I remember two instances where my mom and my step-father – how can I say this – “lost their shit”.
Let’s start with mom. I was working at Little Caesars Pizza during my community college days and she didn’t like me walking home at night after my shift was done. Even though Mililani is a safe town, she insisted on picking me up. Well, one night, my step-dad shows up at the back door of Little Caesars Pizza to whisper, “Your mom’s been in an accident. She’s at the Kuahelani intersection. You better walk over there.”
“What? Is she okay?”
“Yeah, but she’s pissed. She won’t stop attacking the Korean who hit her.”
“What! Why can’t you take me home?”
“Cause you need to go see your mother.”
“Wait. Where are you going?”
He laughed, “I’m going home.”
It was a short walk, but I could see the police lights. Everyone was still at the intersection. Our champagne colored Honda Accord looked okay, it wasn’t totaled or anything.
After assessing the situation, which was indeed my mom hurling pontificated profanities at the poor Korean woman, I went to sit in the car. The Korean had hit my mom when she was turning to get on the road which led to the shopping center, and my mom was letting the woman know exactly what she did wrong.
Usually it’s funny to hear my mom swear because English is not her first language, but I was tired, smelled like a dirty kitchen, after all, I was still wearing my green and white Little Caesar’s uniform (sans visor) and wanted to get home. As I stared out into the night, I felt bad for the Korean woman who had no chance of defending herself against my mom. My cheeks blushed over how nasty she was being. I wondered how long they were going to fight – or in this case, how long my mom was going to yell.
Then the police officer came to my window. He was a typical local, tanned, Asian and in cop-fashion, a little donut heavy.
“You da daughter?”
“You’re mom’s crazy.”
“Yeah, I know.”
We talked logistics, then basically he said we could go home. I was relieved. But before he walked away he said something I’ll never forgot, “You’re cute.”
The other instance was when I was still in high school. I worked with my step-father for a construction company. No, I didn’t do any construction. I just followed him around counting nuts and bolts and doing data entry next to obscene amounts of boxes of Twix candy bars, which I ate in sickening quantities.
He always drove a white work truck. One in particular I remember having to slide all the way down the seat to try to reach the clutch because that truck needed to have the clutched pressed all the way down in order to attempt to start it. It wasn’t an easy truck to start. I certainly couldn’t see out the window while I was trying to will my self to floor the clutch and turn the ignition.
In any case, the automotive incident that I’m about to refer to might have happened in this truck.
I was too busy eating my French fries from McDonalds to see what happened, but I was unfortunately seated between my step-father and the other driver so I got to experience the full blown force of my SF’s ferocity as he uncharacteristically shouted at the driver. (You have to understand that this was the only time I had ever seen my SF get angry. He’s a quiet man. He’s never yelled at anyone in my family.)
The other driver was an old man, his features frozen in horror and shock as my step-father told him just what a bleepin’ idiot he was. I don’t think he was aware of what he did wrong. I felt kind of bad for him because he looked so surprised. It was probably the worst tongue-lashing he ever received in his life.
I sat there was calmly as I could. After the light changed, I reached down between my legs for the bag of fries and popped one in my mouth.
So, I don’t know. Maybe I inherited these fits of freeway fury from my family. Monkey see, monkey do. I remember when my friend Maile and I were headed to Pearlridge Mall. I was driving my mom’s brand new Honda, as opposed to my exhausted and overused Isuzu Impulse, so I felt confident, perhaps a little cocky with the horsepower I was working with.
As I was merging, the asshole in his 80s sports car wouldn’t let me in and there was hardly anyone around, so, I stuck my arm out the window and raised my middle finger high above the roof in full glory.
This was a bad idea.
He wouldn’t let me pass when I swung over to the diamond (aka fast) lane. In fact, we began to play a high speed game of he drives in front of me and slams on his breaks while I try to get away from him and slam on my breaks so I don’t crash into him.
I gripped the wheel and gritted my teeth, determined not to let this jerk fuck with me.
Maile sunk into the seat and kept saying, “Pull over. Lani, pull over. Take the next exit.”
It was dangerous because: 1) I was afraid someone would slam into me since I had to break so hard in the fast lane and the road is not straight. 2) He was with his girlfriend or what appeared to be a female figure that he was probably trying to show off to. And 3) This was my mom’s new car and I was with my best friend.
And oh, yeah, people’s lives were at stake.
Eventually, thankfully, he took the Waipahu exit, his passenger probably telling him to stop it and our hearts returned to their normal pace.
Look, I’m not proud or trying to show off, dear readers. I’m just trying to figure out where this anger on the road comes from. For years I worked on being a calmer, less reactionary driver and it worked! Then I moved to Thailand…
When I lived in Chiang Mai, where I drove a moto, I felt like I couldn’t possess the sabai sabai good natured disposition that most Thais have. Thais (and Cambodians) don’t get road rage. If you hear someone honking like crazy or acting like a fool, chances are, its a foreigner.
I drove a little Honda Wave, just 125ccs and I kept it away from 4th gear as it forced me to drive slower. Driving in Thailand took some getting used to, it looks like there are no rules, but there are rules (rules Cambodia could use) and there was a time when I drove quite a bit.
So here is what happens. Whenever a bike, car, tuk tuk, gets too close to me, I swear. Whenever someone doesn’t let me into the lane or does something I perceive as wrong, I curse! Of course, I swear under my breath, behind the safety of my helmet shield. Then I feel immediately bad, like an idiot, for letting external forces bring the bitch out of me. I apologize, laugh, shake my head and keep going. I like to think I have more control, but swearing at other drivers is my knee-jerk reaction.
Thankfully, I never gave anyone the bird. Well…
Ever drove in a foreign country? What’s your driving record?
Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye. – Bill Hicks
Television is chewing gum for the eyes. – Frank Lloyd Wright
All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching? – Nicholas Johnson
I knew 3 siblings in high school who were not allowed to watch TV. They might have declared they used an outhouse, or a washing board to scrub their clothes because it seemed that outrageous not to have a TV in the house. But because they never had one, they didn’t know what they were missing and claimed that they were absolutely fine without it. I cannot imagine being excluded from such a huge part of American culture. I wonder how it affected their adult lives, if at all…
Like most households, we had more than one. There was the living room TV and this weird kitchen television that was also a radio and a cassette player. It was heavy, but meant to be portable. In California, I used it in my mom’s bedroom to watch the Dodgers play baseball. In Hawaii, it seemed to live on the kitchen table. Later, when we got the living room TV upgrade, we moved the old one into the enclosed lanai (or patio), so then we had three.
Rarely as a family did we all sit down and gather around the tube. If we did it was for the Miss Universe contest or the occasional football match, but normally I was reading in my room or my mom was watching her own things like Tom and Jerry cartoons or her Thai soap operas copied onto VHS tapes smuggled from the motherland.
My step-dad, brother and I were much more likely to be together: step-dad in his armchair and Larry or I on the couch with the other sitting on the carpet front and center of the TV. We bonded over American football, standup comedies, movies and shows like The Simpsons and Married with Children.
When we were on our own in front of the TV set, my step-dad dozed off after a long day of construction sometimes still in his work boots with a cigarette dangling from his fingers and a beer in his other hand.
I became obsessed with MTV.
My brother watched PBS like he was studying it, which he probably was, as he became well-versed in the habits and habitats of all creatures great and small.
Expats, I’ve noticed, really love their TV shows from their home country. Of course, right? It’s our way to stay current and be part of a culture that we don’t have to work hard to understand. It’s escapism, too.
There was a teacher I knew back in Thailand, who Netflix binged like he was an invalid. He claimed he was much more active in the US, but when he came to SE Asia, all he wanted to do was draw the curtains of his tiny studio apartment and watch movies + TV shows and read books. He looked unhealthy and had poor sleeping habits as well. I wondered why living abroad made him want to just watch TV all night and day.
To be fair, we all go through phases and perhaps this was just a phase. I don’t know. It’s funny though, whenever I pass the apartment next door I can hear their English entertainment being played. I suppose this is also an example of how, we are who we are, and despite being in a different country, we are going to most likely bring our habits along.
Since I was never a big TV watcher, I don’t watch a lot of TV. Sure, I’ve gone on my BBC romance marathons and I love Game of Thrones. But generally though, I can’t watch TV all day. I don’t have it in me. I also feel like it’s a waste of time. But if I’m too knackered from work, don’t feel well or hell, just want to goof off, I’ll watch a little YouTube or catch up on a series.
So, I view TV and movies as a treat, not something to indulge in because I don’t have something else I’d rather be doing. Maybe if I was still living in the US, I’d watch more. After all, talking about TV shows is one of our big ways of socializing.
But I don’t see reading as a waste of time and I’m not entirely sure if that’s fair. I can spend plenty of time reading online, good stuff, too, like your blog, poetry or thoughtful articles. I can devour a book and read all day. I know reading helps me be a better writer, but c’mon, I’m escaping, I’m consuming, I’m retreating into my own world.
What’s your relationship with TV?
Swimming is a confusing sport, because sometimes you do it for fun, and other times you do it to not die. And when I’m swimming, sometimes I’m not sure which one it is. – Demetri Martin
Can you swim? It’s an interesting question in an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) classroom and one that I took for granted as an American. It seems that all American kids learn how to swim and looking back I can’t remember anyone (although I’m sure there was someone) who didn’t know how to swim. Of course, I grew up in Hawaii and we had to take a water safety and ocean survival course in grade school.
We went to the nearest recreation center and had to tread water in the middle of the pool for some horribly long time, but most of us cheated by touching the side of the pool for a brief relief. Then there was learning how to float properly (who knew, eh?) so if by some crazy chance we got stuck out in the middle of the ocean, we knew how to conserve energy and survive.
While I didn’t grow up far from the beach, it wasn’t part of my family’s regular routine. We enjoyed the beach, many times, but we didn’t live for the beach. My mom never learned how to swim, something that I found outrageous, but she’s from a different generation and world, even today there are still a fair amount of non-swimmers in Thailand.
I have my father to thank for teaching me how to swim, for signing me up for swim classes at our local rec center. I’m not sure what kind of swimmer he was, how much the US Air Force required of him, his passion was golf, but I certainly did not get the feeling that he was uncomfortable in the water. After all, he had the peculiar habit of sinking to the bottom of the pool, cross-legged and timing himself. But don’t ask me what his time was, I always got nervous when he stayed underwater for a long time. I’d yell, “Dad! Dad!” at his watery form, until he came back up.
As a child, I was a strong swimmer because I loved it. One of my main childhood homes was in a townhouse complex with a pool, so I swam often. I used to carry my younger brother to the deep end on my back and then drop him off, watch him flounder, laughing, because every time I carried him, I lied to him, I told him I wouldn’t drop him off and every time he fell for it. Yes, yes, yes. I’d rescue him, too. I wasn’t going to let my baby brother drown. I’d like to think I helped him learn how to swim…in my own cruel sisterly way.
After we moved away from the pool, I stopped swimming regularly. The middle of the Mojave Desert didn’t provide much inspiration, although, it could have, I suppose if I wanted it badly enough. Becoming a teenager and then a twenty-something girl transformed me into a body-conscious ninny who was more concerned about how I looked in a bathing suit rather than simply enjoying the water.
But these days, I’m swimming again. Even though we lived next to the pool at two different places in Chiang Rai, Thailand, I hardly swam. In Siem Reap, Cambodia though, I can’t get enough of the pool. Probably because it’s HOT and dusty here and swimming has cool lasting benefits long after I’ve left the salt water pool.
It all began when, on a lark, a coworker asked if I wanted to join him at the gym because he wanted to get in shape. And on a lark, I said yes because I, too, had been thinking of the same thing. So, we two larks ended up going. I’m grateful. It surprisingly doesn’t take that long for your body to adjust. Now, I’ve got the b/f joining me and it feels like a treat as well because it’s at a fancy hotel.
I can’t say that I swim correctly or that I do laps. I like to play around and do what feels good. I know the regulars, but I can’t guess the tourists schedules so sometimes I’m around loud Australians and other times loud Chinese. I like it when I have the pool to myself, but I’m never really alone. Red dragonflies hover in clouds and land long enough for me to discover that they actually have purple bodies. Shiny skinks deceptively look like leaves twirling and sliding on the ground, and birds dive and swirl around because the pool is surrounded by greenery.
On cloudy days, I like floating on my back and luxuriating in a life with small-big moments of play and freedom.
What about you? Can you swim?
There are writers who write within a genre and those who write outside of them, too. But what about the readers? How do you read? What do you read? Why do you read?