Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Tiny high fives and smiles riddles with missing teeth. Stray cats that just want to cuddle. Random butterflies drifting past. Sun through banana leaves. The sweet serenade of a thousand frogs as they settle in for the night. Courage. Making silly faces. Deep breaths. Cricket concertos.

A world full of challenges, both physical and mental. Failures that teach. The endless possibilities evident in a map. Creativity. Bare feet. Hot showers. Handstands. A life full of risks and uncertainty. Stray dogs in sweaters. Sunsets and thunderstorms. Starry nights. Street food vendors. Quiet cups of tea. Balance.

The world is full of things worth being thankful for. It is in these small glimmerings of beauty that I find bliss spontaneously.

It is important to be grateful for life’s blessings, no matter how small, how seemingly insignificant. Gratitude can be life-altering, mind-changing.  Taking time to remember that each day offered us something wonderful can wash away the negativity.

It is easy to focus only on what goes wrong, simple to get swept away by a bad mood. Life is full of mishaps, insults, disagreements, challenges, and shitty days. The good things, the positive, can sometimes get lost in all that muck; they tend to be smaller, more commonplace, less abrupt and abrasive.

Much like meditation, painting, football, yoga, running a marathon, or any of the myriad practices to which we dedicate our time, practicing gratitude every now and then probably isn’t going to get the results you’d like. Stopping to acknowledge life’s splendor and blessings should be something we do on a regular basis.

Like eating well or going to the gym, we need to commit to being grateful. Not once a month or week. Not once a year. Be thankful every day. Because somewhere in all that muck, beneath the bad moods, we all have something to be grateful for. Daily.

So, here’s to a happy, bliss-filled Thursday.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


The Thai holiday of Loy Kratong is easily one of the more beautiful festivals I have had the blessing to attend. It is simple, graceful, and surreal. While I haven’t had the opportunity to be present for the bigger, mass ascension-style celebrations that take place elsewhere in Thailand, I am overjoyed to have had the chance to be back in the country for a second go at Chiang Rai’s festivities.

As I have mentioned before, Loy Kratong is an amalgamation of exquisite traditions for cleansing oneself, spiritually and mentally, for the upcoming year. Beneath a heavy moon, banana leaf and bread kratongs are sent floating downriver, as kohm lanterns lift away from fingers into a sky thick with false constellations. If it weren’t for the fireworks going off left and right, it would be serene, as though time were suspended, slowed.

This year, through a series of small-world occurrences involving five hot air balloon pilots, a common interest in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and my willingness to give out my phone number to strangers, our Loy Kratong weekend festivities were taken up a notch on the beauty scale.

Neither Win nor I had been in a hot air balloon before, despite our hometown being annual host to the largest balloon festival on Earth. But, thanks to some glorious strangers and the Thai propensity for ridiculous fairs, all that changed. 

The heat of the burner glows hot against your skin, contrasting sharply with the comparatively crisp night air. Beneath the balloon, so much larger than and hotter than anticipated, with the world drifting away from the soles of your shoes, one feels an experience of ethereal lightness. It is lightness abrupt, overwhelming. It is almost as though, if not for the tethers anchoring the basket to the ground, one might float off entirely.  

It was an experience augmenting an already magical holiday weekend. Fitting perfectly in among the floating, drifting, lifting, it was as though life chose, for this one brief moment, to have a theme, to lace a common thread into various events. Perfect, ephemeral, light; I didn’t think I could enjoy Loy Kratong more than I had in past years.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Weight Ain't Nothin' but a Number

Dear Thailand Committee on Self Esteem and Body Image,

I was recently in a yoga studio where I was asked to step on a scale. The reaction of the other people (all Thai) implied that I should be embarrassed about the number the scale displayed. Other days at this same studio, it is measuring and comparing waist, hip, and bust sizes. 

I do not feel the need to apologize for weighing 60 kilos. Nor am I in the least bit embarrassed by that number or by the fact that I have a solid 10-15 kilos on every Thai lady in my yoga class. I do not expect that as a woman in my late twenties I would have a 22 inch waist. 

Yes, I am bigger than many Thai women. I probably always will be. 

There was a time when I thought that weight, that magic number on the scale, meant something. At one point in my life, I gave it so much value that it controlled nearly everything I ate and did. From the age of 12 until about 20, I couldn’t imagine weighing more than 100 pounds; 110 felt like the end of the world. At one point during freshman year of college, I hit a low of 85 pounds. At that time, in that pound-oriented mindset, I felt like that was a glorious number.

But it didn’t feel healthy. I was frail and tired. I was sick and weak. I was skinny, sure, but I was in no way healthy.

Today, at the age of 26, I apparently weigh around 135. I might not be perfectly in shape – things might be bouncier or squishier than “ideal” – but I am strong and healthy. I am certainly not stick-thin, but by most standards, especially my own, I am not overweight.

Being healthy does not require washboard abs, sculpted arms, or cellulite-free thighs.  I would rather be the version of healthy that I embody right now than be super-skinny, have those perfect body parts, and constantly criticize everything I do and every morsel I consume. I no longer have the desire for my hipbones or collarbones to protrude, for my thighs not to touch, or for my arms to be 100% jiggle-free. 

Now, I do not necessarily agree wholeheartedly with the American adage about accepting yourself just the way you are; too often it becomes an excuse for apathy, laziness, and inertia. I accept myself, and this means accepting that in many ways I can be better. I can be nicer, kinder, more understanding; I can work harder, learn more, and find ways to step out of my comfort zone. I can be stronger, eat better, push myself to try things toward which I am not naturally inclined or gifted. But these days, I push myself to be better without criticizing that which needs to be changed.

Hear me: not only am I not ashamed of my 60 kilos. I’m damn proud of them. They took fortitude to acquire, perseverance to develop. They come from strength and confidence, rather than self-denial and insecurity.  I am proud that I sometimes allow myself to overindulge, proud of my 3-second handstand, proud of almost being able to run a half mile. I am proud to know that, with work and a positive attitude, I can push three seconds to four and half a mile to a whole mile. And if in the process my thighs or arms get bigger, so be it. I am proud, most of all, that a number doesn’t define whether or not I think I am beautiful.

So, Thailand, stop patting my belly and pinching my arm fat. Stop asking if I am pregnant. Stop covering the scale readout. This is me, all 135 glorious, healthy pounds of me. And, I will not let you make me feel bad about who I am or how I look.


disgruntled but ever-loving foreigner

*While I realize how many of these same arguments can be applied to American culture’s standards of beauty, Thailand is particularly blunt and graceless when it comes to social treatment of body size and standards of beauty. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sweet Treats

Between Kuala Lumpur and the Malaysian border with Thailand lies the mildly-alpine cluster of towns known collectively as the Cameron Highlands. With its cool, crisp air, its land a patchwork of green blanketing rolling hills, and its charming colonial-inspired, mock-Switzerland architecture, the Highlands are a popular getaway for tourists and Malaysians alike.

Overrun with tea plantations, butterfly gardens, and organic farms of every variety -- vegetable, mushroom, honey, strawberries, and even a handful of cactus farms -- this part of Malaysia offered a calm pit stop after the rest of our jungle-trekking, mosquito-swatting travels.

Few foreigners were to be seen in the sea of weekend day-tripping Malaysians --- Muslim, Chinese, and Indians all accounted for. The weekend prices skyrocketed. The mountain roads were heavy with traffic, restaurants packed in the evening.

It wasn’t all as advertised. More than anything, we waded through an endless sea of souvenirs, trinkets, and junk. Most of the so-called farms were poor imitations, designed to lure visitors into unnecessary purchases. The butterfly and insect gardens had seen better days, sad and trampled as they were.

Despite the gimmicky atmosphere and over-saturated market, we got what we asked for. The honey was sweet, the butterflies big and beautiful, the insects and reptiles bizarre and intriguing, the strawberries ripe and luscious. And, equally important,  the Indian food plentiful and cheap.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Big is Beautiful

With no stems, leaves, or roots, the world’s largest flower is a bit of an oddball in the botanical world. Native to Borneo and Sumatra, the Rafflesia Arnoldi is actually a parasite living off the nutrients found in jungle vines, rather than through the traditional soil-and-sun routine.

The Rafflesia is also unique in its pollination tactics; rather than producing the sweet smells that attract bees, butterflies, and the like, this flower smells of rotting flesh and meat, thus earning it the name “corpse flower” among locals. The pungent odor attracts flies and other scavenger insects, which transfer the pollen.

Since the flowers take six to nine months to bloom and begin to decompose after two or three days, the opportunity to spot them can be rare. We were lucky enough to get just such an opportunity, even luckier that it didn’t cost us an arm and a leg (unless your limbs cost under $3 apiece) and only took about 30 minutes of jungle walking.  

Technically, we had missed the typical blooming time by only a matter of weeks, but our final stop in Sumatra allowed us easy access to a village where, by some fluke, the flowers bloom sporadically throughout the year, almost guaranteeing visitors the chance to see one.

Bizarre and bizarrely lovely, the rafflesia was a bucket list item I didn’t know I had until I saw it. A highlight among a trip chockfull of highlights, the flower was certainly worth the short, but slippery, mini-trek on our final day in Sumatra.