Halfway Around the World: Part 1

Week 1 – Old City, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Man, it’s been a weird week. It’s almost too hard to start this blog post so I’ve been putting it off- which is stupid. There are so many wonderful things to share. Which is why I separated this post into 2 parts. It’s a lot. So, let’s get right into it.

May 24 – May 26

gang

My trip started at 1pm on Tuesday. I landed in JFK and had a wonderful layover dinner with my friends. It was a very special meet-up in a random sports bar in Queens, especially because a buddy I haven’t seen in ages showed up and my brother Patrick was able to meet my friends. I was also able to give him a birthday present in person–something I haven’t been able to do in about 10 years. At 2am Wednesday morning my China Eastern plane shot into the air for a 15-hour flight to Shanghai.

After a sleeping pill, several bathroom breaks, 2 microwaved plane meals and countless annoying neck pillow adjustments, I awoke to find it was Thursday. It’s weird to skip an entire day. I’m still catching up. I don’t have jet leg, but something worse, my body somehow refuses to believe it’s 12-hours ahead of my real life.

So anyways, Shanghai to Chiang Mai was seamless and before I knew it I was checking into 99 The Gallery Hotel. I felt great, it was some time in the afternoon, the sun was high and hot, and I’d made a friend on my flight. Scott. We taxi’d to our respective hotels together and exchanged phone numbers on Whatsapp.

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Old City, CM. Top green box – Great Chaingmai Hostel. More central green box, 99 Gallery Hotel

 

99hotelbedThe hotel was beautiful and located in an amazing location. I didn’t wander around right off the bat. Scott and I had plans to meet up for dinner and explore together so I showered, sat in my room and just digested everything. It was like walking around in a dream. I wanted to lie down but the bed was rock hard. For example, when you lay down on your yoga mat at the start of class… that hard.Apparently this is just the Thai way, and I’ll have to get used to it. I decided I needed a walk.

 

The moment I realized I was in Thailand was the first turn I took out of my hotel. There, in front of me, was a big, beautiful temple. Wat Pha Bong, constucted around 1345, stood there in the crowds of workers, amongst pharmacies and buses and students in uniforms. Gold and shimmering and absolutely stunning. I couldn’t read any signage around it and I suddenly became unbelievably aware that I had no idea how to navigate this journey.

wat1

Sight-seeing, Friend-making

Scott is a 28-year-old on vacation from Los Angeles, California, in town for an Egress gaming convention (no I’ve never heard of it either. It’s like the Amazing Race I think). We walked around town and went to the big street food market for dinner on our first night and tried our hands at Chang and Pad Se Ew. It helped that we were both so confused and new. It made it easier to assimilate into the new culture.Scott

For the next few days Scott and I did pretty much everything together. We explored Old City, ate meals, tried to learn Thai pleasantries and with the help of Scott’s rented motorbike we scouted hostels. Motorbikes are scary AF. Driving in Old City is scary AF. Crossing the street safely is a Hail Mary. All my years in Manhattan traffic paid off. There are pretty much no rules when it comes to driving in CM. For a 2,000 Baht (฿) deposit (we’ll get to money later), any idiot can rent a motorbike and scoot around the world.

Anyways, in our travels we discovered a pristine park with the world’s most complicated bathrooms, a back-alley bar that I’m pretty sure is just someone’s garage and a rad blues club, Boy Blues Bar, on top of the Sunday Night Bazaar next door to Ladyboy central. It’s because of his friendship I assimilated so quickly and easily into traveling solo. But then he had to go play with his other friends…

Things To Do

After moving into my new home at Great ChiangMai Hostel  and sort of understanding the layout of the city better, I started a bit of a routine. Still unable to figure out what

GreatCMShostel
Bed and Locker. Pretty nice and has privacy curtain!

day or time it was, I’d get up at like 7am and just go do stuff. There are things no blogs tell you about Chiang Mai and hopefully Thailand in general; the iced coffee is a drink from the Gods and smoothies (made with just fruit and ice) are A-MAZ-ING. Like indescribable. For 60฿ and 30฿ respectively you can enjoy the freshest most flavorful drink combo in the world. The fruit here is outstanding. It’s rich and filling and I’d be skinny if it tasted like this in the states.

 

 

 

Next, I figure out where to take my beverages. One of my favorite things to do so far was a self-guided walking tour of the Wats around Old City. I followed this awesome, downloadable map from Big Boy Travel. I put in my earbuds, turned on some happy jams and let Google tell me where to turn, what to look for. Technology is amazing. Old City is small enough to walk around, so stopping into shops, or getting a bite to eat is super easy.

The wats are outstanding. (I’m putting together a photo gallery, but it’s WIP) They’re meticulously taken care of and the respect shown around them is admirable. I found myself alone, wandering the grounds at times, removing my shoes, covering my shoulders and going in to stare in awe at the statues and Buddha. Although the wats all have similar qualities, they are each different. I’d kneel on the floor and just wait. I’m not necessarily a religious person, but it’s easy to feel moved and spiritual in a place of worship that has sheltered centuries of believers.

It’s possible to make donations and pray to the Buddha. But I don’t know how to pray or what to say. I’d just sit and wait. Sometimes I guess it’s ok to feel small and insignificant. It’s honestly a great representation of my current position in life-small and insignificant but knowing there’s more, a bigger plan is in motion. Whoa, heavy stuff!

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Less heavy stuff in Part 2, coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 42 – The Lawyers, The Sitch and The Walk-in Wardrobe

Bring on the tunes
Bring on the tunes

It’s been a week since I’ve written. It’s not because I’m lazy, I promise. So much to say, and this three-hour plane ride from Houston to Newark is the perfect time to get it all down. Especially since Captain Hilarity, the funniest flight attendant in the skies comically inspires me. He started with something about those in the exit rows who just don’t give a function and ended with calling attention to a woman standing holding up 145 other passengers. Ah, the little laughs get me every time.

This guy gives a function
This guy gives a function

TUESDAY: OK let’s start from the beginning. Got on a plane in Newark and headed to Austin, Texas, for my final interviewing stage. The agency I have been speaking with for almost two months booked me a hotel, got me a car and I believed were ready to SHOW ME THE MONEY! But first, I did what all people do in a new city. I went on a date 🙂

His name is tree hugging, Earth-loving, environmental lawyer and I met him in an airport in New York a couple months ago. I really love airports apparently. Really nice, Austin-born gentleman found me on LinkedIn and we’ve exchanged a few emails. Basically, if you ever make it to Austin, let’s grab a drink. So, he picked me up at my hotel and in the warm dusk of night we had a drink (outside!) and some wonderful dinner and then we shared a gigantic piece of red velvet cake. I’m in love. Seriously. It was the best cake I’ve ever had (and you thought I was going to say something else). With early agency meetings, it was an early night and with a quick kiss on the cheek I bid my cowboy adieu.

Cake and Champagne
Cake and Champagne

WEDNESDAY: The agency lies in the Hill Country part of town and as I drove (like a grandma) up the multi-lane highway I saw monstrous mansions aligning the tops of the cliffs overlooking the city of Austin. Maybe one day I’ll get to see the view from up there. I bet it is stunning, you know being God’s country and all.

Walking into a new potential job is a little like walking into high school for the first time. You’re the no-named new guy. I did feel like that. Until I actually made it down the hall and immediately saw the chalk board wall full of song requests, a couple of turn tables, a shelving unit full or DJ equipment and records and music festival and band posters lining every inch of space. As a music lover, nothing makes me feel more at ease than a real life soundtrack. From there, it just got better.

After a couple of meetings with directors, CMOs, fellow writers and persons of all advertising walks of life, I was done. Part 2 of my day consisted of meeting with my agency-appointed broker, Steve. Steve is awesome and his apartment locating services are free. Remember, I don’t have an offer, so telling Steve my budget is a little like a guessing game. I have ZERO idea what a salary offer would be, so I gave him a range.

Me: $850 – $1300.

Steve: Are you serious? That’s everything in Austin. I have 11,000 listings.

Me: I’m leaving Thursday, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Steve: OK, what are you looking for? What’s a deal breaker.

Me: Washer, Dryer, Pool, Gym, Updated kitchen, Dishwasher, Hardwood Floors, Carpeted Bedroom, Walk-in-Closet, Hot Single Neighbors.

Steve: Oh, dear Lord.

Believe it or not, this man found me an apartment with EVERYTHING I asked for in all ranges of budget. A 1980s gem for $850, a brand spanking new resort NEXT DOOR to “my office” for $1050 and the well-known, cosmopolitan apartments known as The Domain for $1225. Every single one of them could have fit my full-sized bed I kept in my tiny one-room apartment in the wardrobe. I’m in renter’s heaven—700-800 square foot bachelorette pads just waiting for me.

Even the pools are shaped like Texas
Even the pools are shaped like Texas

Oh, and did I mention the security deposits in Austin are around $150. I’m not kidding. You don’t need first and last month + 1 month security. I had to fork over almost 4 grand for my UES joint. I can get one of these for a $45 application fee and a smile. Alas, no job, no apartment. I left Steve. Feeling confused, longing for an offer and went back to the hotel.

Exhausted, I put myself to bed early… until my other lawyer friend called and told me if I came downtown around 9:30 to see a band called The Spazmatics I wouldn’t be disappointed. Hell, if this guy, Mr. All Business is making such promising claims I had to take his word for it. I got there before him and he showed up with two beautiful ladies. It sorta crossed my mind, who wouldn’t be disappointed tonight? It turned out to be a fun night and I’m glad to got to hang out outside, see the nerdy 80s cover band and Mr. All Business and I had at least 3 things we agreed on. RECORD! (I can get into our friendship later)

The Spazmatics nerd out on Wednesday's
The Spazmatics nerd out on Wednesday’s

Thursday: Lunch date with a couple of the folks over at the agency. We had a great time, talked, and got to know each other. But, what was it all for? Where was the offer? Would there be an offer? With a trip to LA approaching in less than 48 hours I was determined to know what was next.

I got my answers in the Austin airport an hour later. My contact and future boss called me to offer me the job! With a brief discussion about the logistics we both agreed that after two months we were happily committing to employee/employer.

Thumbs up to exciting news
Thumbs up to exciting news

So, here I am, 42 days after being let go from a special hell, solo celebrating with a G&T on my flight back to the northeast for the last time until TBD. Unemployed no longer starting TBD. I feel great. I feel more than great. I’m elated. I’m going to say goodbye to my spectacularly supportive parents and head out into the great (un)known. Maybe I’ll even stop in Tennessee, but that’s another story.

Day 1 – Transitional Transcendence

Coffee, pj's, starting my blog
Coffee, pj’s, starting my blog

Ah, the sweet smell of severance. It’s sort of like the smell of success if you’re ready for it. While many do not have the opportunity to prepare for the moment HR calls your desk and asks you to, stop in for a quick chat, I was one of the lucky ones. Perhaps I should start from the beginning…

I’ve been a professional Copywriter since 2007. My first job was in Morristown, New Jersey, and all I wanted to do was get into New York City. The big time. Bright lights, late nights, Mr. Right. Clearly, I was raised on episodes of Sex and the City.

In 2008, I got my big break. I packed up my belongings and got my first job and first apartment in the Upper West Side. I did what most young, broke kids do and found two roommates on Craigslist. We lived in that small, dirty, three-room apartment for two years.

Jump to 2014. Today, January 10, to be exact. I live alone in the Upper East Side, and while it’s relaxing and awesome to have a one-bedroom all to myself, it’s expensive and the building is far from public transportation. Not to mention the lack of HOT water and a loud, old heating system. My living situation is mediocre at best. And until yesterday, I worked in a failing, mediocre ad agency. Overall, at 29-years-old, my life felt mediocre.

So why am I so happy? In December 2013, right before I left for Christmas in San Diego and New Year’s in Maui, I didn’t renew my lease. I put my costly trip on my Citibank Thank You Card, my last months rent in the mail, and took off. I had made the ultimate, life-changing decision to end my affair with New York City.

I have no idea where my life is going to take me. Right now I have 20 days until I need to vacate my apartment. That’s 20 days to paint over the accent walls, sell or box up my belongings, find another place to live and say goodbye to the 250 square feet I have called home for two years.

So, where to next? Here are my current options:

  • Stay in NYC and look for a new job (insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result)
  • Move to Maui and live in my cousin’s spare room, working odd jobs and learning to surf. Not to mention possibly meeting up with the beautiful man I shared a New Year’s Eve kiss with
  • Move to San Diego and live at my brother’s house, looking for full time work, helping my sister-in-law with my cutie-wootie niece and enjoying the spring-like weather
  • Move to Austin, Texas. During a recent trip to Austin, I feel in love with the city. The casual, open community, the laid-back but smart locals, it all just seemed to fit.
  • Lastly, I can move back to New Jersey with my parents a-la The Lifeguard and “find myself.” This is NOT an actual option in their minds. Although the in-ground pool in the summer would make for some fantastic lunch breaks

So, here I go. Into the great wide open, as Tom Petty would say. Follow me on my journey, armed only with my wit, guts and the desire to sever my ties to the city. I am looking for a better way to live, and 29 feels like the perfect age to stop being mediocre, doing mediocre and feeling mediocre, and to start living.

Where do you think I should go?