Monthly Archives: October 2014

Are We Having Fun, Yet?

Several days ago, I wrote a blog filled with the “hardships” of living together while cycle touring that was really meant to be factual but obviously elicited sympathy. This was really not my intent, and when a friend wrote“OK…but are you having fun?”, I knew I needed to work on my voice and tone.

Her question gave me pause. “Am I having fun?” I asked myself.

I immediately thought about the term “fun.” I’ve asked many students similar questions:

“Are you having fun?”
“What is fun for you?”
“Did you have a fun time at the ______?”
“Do you have fun doing ______?”

Those types of questions are often met with blank stares, especially in the two countries where I’ve taught ESL, Malaysia and Turkey. I think fun can be idiomatic.

I get much better response with questions like:

“How do you spend your free time?”
“What are your hobbies?”

I think our American culture understands the concept of fun, likes to have fun, and can make fun. There may be several reasons for this but I’m guessing that we have weekends and leisure time and we have the economic resources that allow us the time “have” fun. In many cultures getting an education to earn a living that might afford time for leisure are full time jobs. Many of the students I’ve taught attend school six days a week and take extra classes for their free time. Many of their parents works 6 or 7 days a week to make ends meet. Fun might be defined by watching television or playing on their cellphone.

But back to the question about cycle touring and fun. I can give a definitive “yes!” I am having fun. Here are some things that are fun:

Riding early in the morning before the traffic and the heat of the day detract from the peacefulness and scenery.
Stopping for interesting snacks like fried bananas and fried purple sweet potatoes and meeting interesting people like the two cycling couples from Holland that we met tonight.
Feeling like a “win” when the downhill is longer than the up.
Meeting a cute 10 year old boy who taught me some Thai words while Eric changed my flat tire.
Hearing many, many children yell “Hallo” from dark palm groves, shady porches, or their parent’s roadside restaurant while we pedal by.
Finding inexpensive bungalows with sea views and ac and hot water for our lodging.
Reading interesting road signs with spelling or grammar errors like today’s favorite: CITY AHEAD – PRODUCE SPEED
Reading a book in a shady place in the middle of the day while Eric takes a nap.
Writing this blog.
Drinking beer with ice cubes.
Thank goodness for Eric’s retirement so we can have fun!!

Survived the First Two Weeks of Retirement

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Kayaking from our hotel room in Koh Samui

Eric has been retired for 177,120 minutes. That’s exactly 14 days or the equivalence of a typical two week vacation. We’ve been together for all of those minutes minus the 124 minutes yesterday when he “needed a nap”, and I “needed to see another temple and smiling Buddah.” I think what we really needed was a little space..a break from each other. Don’t get me wrong. Being together 24-7 has been good. We are learning to share space, compromise on priorities, be flexible with time, and respect each other’s need or lack of need for organization. Learning to be together more of the day would happen whether we were cycling or not. The difference is that at home Eric can banish to the garage and I can hide in the sewing room.

The realities of our personalty differences are magnified with the close quarters and lack of a definitive schedule. This lack of a schedule is hard for me. I like lists, punctuality, and goals. Eric, on the other hand, is in love with the lack of structure. He thrives in flexibility, fluidity, and freedom. We’re both learning to compromise. Luckily, we spent day 14 in Koh Samui, an idyllic island paradise with inexpensive wine, whiskey, and Italian food which is conducive to intimate conversations with which to  communicate our differences. Eric is in the “honeymoon” stage of retirement (seriously…I read on ask.com that there are 10 stages of retirement). I, however, have skipped right past the optimism and joy and focused too much togetherness and not enough structure.

Unfortunately, current studies are not supporting my pessimism. The October 14, 2014, Wall Street Journal Article called “The Case for Quitting Your Job – Even if You Love it, Walking Away Might Leave You Healthier and Happier” by Anne Tergesen supports and encourages Eric’s decision. This article presents some compelling evidence by early retirees who examine both external and internal reasons for retirement. Eric, I’m proud to say, had made his decision thoughtfully and methodically. He especially wanted to retire while his health permitted the physical exertion of a cycling tour such as this. Even though I am enjoying the cycling, the people, the new experiences and the food, I miss the daily energy of students and teaching. Of course, as Eric reminds me, I’m looking at the past through rose-colored glasses and remembering only the good.

Moving from full-time work to full-time cycling, according to Tergesen is a logical transition. For example, we starting “lay{ing} the groundwork for a move without really knowing {we} were doing it” by buying bicycles in Malaysia, becoming Warmshowers hosts, and taking small weekend tours. We’ve traded the 60 hour work weeks for 48-60 hour bike weeks. In addition to riding between 45 and 100 miles per day, a good portion of our free time is spent finding food, housing, and planning upcoming routes. In other words, until we get a little more organized and practiced, cycling touring is like a 12 hour per day job. Especially when you add in laundry…

The best part of this retirement flexibly is that it allowed us to stay an extra day in Samui which gave us extra time for an extra long four hour dinner – wine, three courses, dessert and whiskey.

The road may not always be smooth, but having the time to talk and think and plan, can make this retirement thing pretty nice.

No Reservations

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Our home for the night

This afternoon was our first solo attempt at biking into town with no pre-arranged lodging. It’s a bit of a gamble, but we needed to practice before an actual emergency forces us to pitch a tent at a temple or a police station. (Yes, those are both camping possibilities that I’m hoping to NEVER use.)

Today’s destination, Sichon, appeared to be an easy 60 km ride from Nakon Si Thammarat. Yes, the roads were flat. Yes, there was a great, wide bicycle/motorcycle lane. Yes, we started with a good breakfast of chicken porridge, a cute egg poached in the shape of a heart, and a cup of Starbucks instant coffee. (I admit that Via Italian Roast has been one treat I’ve been giving myself. I don’t expect hot running water in hotels. I know there won’t be toilet paper. I know the bed will feel like sheets stretched over a piece of plywood. So a girl needs to pamper herself a little. Therefore,each morning, rather than choke down the hotel-provided “3 in 1”- instant coffee, creamer, and lots of sugar in one pack – I sneak out my foil pouch, pour it into hot water when I hope nobody’s looking, and carry the empty pouch to my room so I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.)

But, back to “yesses”. The biggest “yes” of today was that we had sunshine. Lots of it. Baking hot, fry-an-egg-on-the-pavement hot, mirage- making hot, cook-your-brain- in-your-helmut hot. By 11:00 Eric wanted to stop and take a nap in the shade. By 12:00 we’d consumed 4 liters of water, 2 iced coffees, 1 iced green tea, an iced lemon tea, and a hot espresso, but that was consumed in a air-conditioned coffee shop at a gas station so that doesn’t count.

Pushing on to about 10 km from Sichon we left the main road and took the more scenic, cooler coastal route. We hoped to find a cute guest house, hotel, resort, or B & B along the scenic Gulf of Thailand. We’d already talked about going for a swim, cooling our burning thighs and brains, reading a book with gentle waves lapping at our feet.

What we hadn’t taken into account was the Thailand school holiday. Sure enough, we cycled up and down hot little beach lanes only to find everything was full: a Chinese wedding, a school camp with students grouped by matching t-shirts: red, blue, yellow, pink, and families enjoying the more relaxing pace while their children splash in the pool or sea.

Cycling another painful 5 km along the coast and up a steep hill (even 50 meters of incline can zap any remaining energy, just ask Eric…) and into Sichon. We still had no room for the night.

Thank goodness Eric said he couldn’t go any longer and needed an ice cream. It was our good fortune that just at that moment we found a mini market . Better yet,  the mini market owner spoke a little English. His daughter is studying to be a doctor in Australia. After striking up a conversation, we inquired about hotels.

He said what sounded to me like Silom and pointed straight and then  left. I even found Sai Lom on Google Maps. Great, I thought.

Then he mentioned that he had a home stay and would I like to look. Sure, I replied, and followed him to a row of houses behind the store.

He opened the door to a lonely little vacant house. When I mean vacant I mean no furniture, plenty of cob webs, and a pool of large dead bugs on the floor.

I politely said thank you very much but I need a bed. But, if I can’t find a bed, I’ll be back. I smiled and thanked him profusely.

Off we cycled to find the Silom. Google Maps pointed me to a marker. We road past the marker. I looked. I didn’t see anything that resembled a hotel. I re-entered the destination. Eric and I stopped again on the dusty, baking hot shoulder of the road with cars whizzing past, and consulted the map again.

Just then a grinning, toothless Thai man wearing the traditional long, plaid skirt (a sorong maybe?) and riding on a small white motor scooter starting pointed behind us and talked rapidly in Thai. I was pretty sure he was explaining where the hotel was located.

We followed him as he led to the exact dot on Google Maps and then down a small dirt motorcycle path. We pulled up to a row of bungalows hidden by overgrown palm trees, grass covered cobblestones, and an empty reception area. Of course, I wouldn’t know if it’s a reception area because I can’t read Thai but it had some words on the door.

Our friendly, toothless leader hollered a string of words and starting walking down the path. Then an tiny older woman carrying a laundry basket and wearing a wide-brimmed wide hat walked slowly towards us. At first I thought she might be the housekeeper but after watching scooter man and her talk in Thai, it became apparent that she is the owner.

I put my hands over my eyebrows with the universal sign of “Can I see the room?” (I just made that part up about an hand over the eyes being universal, but it did convey the message.)

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Today’s laundry drinking outside our bungalow

She led me back down the lane, me pushing my bike, my Shimano pedal cleats clicking and scratching the sandy pebbles with each step. Approaching the first bungalow, she gingerly removed her shoes and stepped onto the granite porch. At this point I’d already decided we’d take it as long as there were no snakes or giant spiders hanging from the ceiling.

I clumsily stepped out of my smell-worse-than-well-used-soccer-cleats-after-a-rain biking shoes to inspect the room.

I was immediately charmed: a teak door, antique teak bed, air-conditioning (a big plus), hot water for the shower (a really big plus) and a granite stool and vanity counter for applying make-up  or, in our case, charging our electronics.

An added bonus is the clothes line outside for drying our sink-laundered clothes as well as two-day-wet, hotel laundered clothes.

And the best part….$16 for the night!

So, I guess we built our confidence today by successfully finding a bed for the night.

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Writing this blog

 

N.B. It took me a while to realize why I couldn’t find the hotel. The name may sound like Silom when pronounced and read Sia Lom on Google Maps, but the name on the outside of the hotel is written in Thai which look more like curlicues and Christian fishes so I can’t read a thing.

Cock-a-Doodle-Doo

 

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Prize rooster

I know this post will get some feathers ruffled because it’s about cock fighting.  PETA and others who don’t like to watch animals fight find this sport appalling. And I, too, would probably find the sport very hard to watch if I actually went, but Eric and I didn’t actually go to a fight. We just listened to roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing all night long. It didn’t matter that their cages were covered with blankets to trick these feisty birds into thinking it was sleepy time. They have been bred to earn their owners some prize money, so cock-a-doodle they did.

In addition to hearing the roosters crow all night, Garmin led us to tiny, curvy one-lane, village motorcycle path that led us right up to a rooster fighting pen. When we stopped to take pictures, shy Thai neighbors walked slowly out to see what we were doing. Two girls peeked out their bedroom window. A teenage girl swearing a 100% fake Chelsea soccer jersey stood behind a tree and watched.

Several young men, maybe teenagers but I can’t tell – these Thai age beautifully – proudly brought their prize roosters to show us and even let us snap some photos with the champion fighters. I’m making the part up about the roosters being champions. I have no idea what a champion rooster looks like, but the owner was proud.

The rink (is that what you call it?) was covered to keep out the rain. The was a single halogen lightbulb strung across the circular pen so fights can be conducted at night. There were also wooden slats hanging from the ceiling showing the odds for each of the roosters. Chairs were scattered around the outside.

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The roosters are covered at night but they still crowed almost all night.

I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of cock fighting. But, from what we saw during our ride today, aside from an occasional television and children glued to smart phones, there is not much in the way of village entertainment. I’m sure the bird’s sporting venue may be the hottest game in town.

A Modern Day Tinker

Rickee Lee, The Tinker, Me after a delicious breakfast of dim sum in Hat Yai
Rickee Lee, The Tinker, Me after a delicious breakfast of dim sum in Hat Yai

For those who think Eric and I are crazy for taking this nomadic, loosely planned cycle tour with no set itinerary or end date, we are chump change compared to the cyclist we met today. Today’s cyclist friend who calls himself a “modern day tinker” with, as he says, “gypsy” in his blood. The tinker would be a great guest at a party with some interesting stories to tell.

But, I digress. When he said he had gypsy blood, I thought he was speaking metaphorically. But when I laughed, and he didn’t crack a smile, I realized he was serious. So, here’s his story.

The tinker started traveling 24 years ago after high school (or when he dropped out, I”m not clear about that). He worked various laborer jobs: landscape, carpentry, cook, nanny, etc. to save enough money to support himself cycling. He didn’t plan a trip around the world or anything. He just found jobs on different continents : Africa, India, Latin America, Asia, Europe, etc. and cycled in between.

The reason he calls himself a modern day tinker is that during the Depression in Europe (which happened to be at the same time as our depression and, to be honest, I never really thought about any other countries having a depression) his father was a vagabond and traveled around from village to village as a tinker. In those days, the “tinkers” and vagabonds lived near and mixed with the Roma, (gypsies). So, when he said he has gypsy blood, he is being serious.

Fast forward to today, the first thing I noticed is that he’s a bit unsure about settling down. He recently married. He and his wife are expecting their first child. But, he doesn’t have permanent residency status here in Thailand and said he probably won’t apply for it even though he could being married to a Thai woman. In the meantime, he is content to make visa runs (leaving the country and reentering to get a new 90 day visa stamp) to feed his 24 year plus gypsy spirit.

The plus for us was the guided tour through Hat Yai, the delicious dim sum at the “best place in town” and the interesting conversation about places and bikes. I hope this “modern day tinker” is able to find his place in Thailand.