these lyrics haven’t left my head for months.

Sometimes I wish I lived in an Airstream
Homemade curtains, lived just like a gypsy
Break a heart, roll out of town
‘Cause gypsies never get tied down

Sometimes I wish I lived on a mountain
Drank from a stream instead of a fountain
I’d stay there, top of the world
But I was born a red dirt girl

Unbridled or tethered and tied
The safety of the fence or the danger of the ride
I’ll always be unsatisfied

Sometimes I wish I lived by a pier
In a lighthouse with a chandelier
I’d watch everybody’s ships come in
And then I’d sail away with them

Unanchored in the storm
Or safely on the shore
If this is all I need, why do I want more

Sometimes I wish I lived in an airstream
Homemade curtains, lived just like a gypsy

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an exotic illusion.

this is a piece i’ve been meaning to write for awhile, but i couldn’t find the words, or didn’t feel intelligible enough on the topic to put it out there quite yet. as much as i love thailand and all it has to offer, it also has a dark side. an illusion if you will. what brings most people to thailand is often the downfall of the same person, or the breaking up of everything they’ve known. from a western perspective thailand has the illusion of everything we look for- from a cheap lifestyle, great beaches, beautiful women and sex tourism. most of the reasons people come here are for the sex tourism and that’s what i intend to shed some light on while it’s fuming so vividly in my head. 

as a women’s studies major, i’ve been enlightened to how the system works and always learned to look at it through Western eyes. by that i mean, anything oppressive in a 3rd world country looks to us as completely and utterly degrading, barbaric almost. take Chinese footbinding, genital mutilation, arranged marriage, the wearing of the Burka in Muslim countries, or sex trafficking and sex tourism in SE Asia (specifically Thailand) for example. now, i am not one to speak for a group of which i’m not a member, i don’t understand, i wasn’t born there, and who am i to tell someone their traditions or imminent culture is far from progressive, insulting, and wrong? i’m not. it’s not my place. 

with that being said, here comes the pivotal question i’ve been asking myself for a long time- cultural relativism OR the believe that everyone, every culture, every person has inalienable human rights. cultural relativism being that i can’t speak because i don’t understand and inalienable human rights being the belief that no matter what religion, culture, ethnicity, gender or race- we all have the right to a basic standard of living. where i stand, i still don’t know. i’ve been trying to answer this question for years, and whenever i think i find an answer i only get more frustrated and feel powerless. 

while staying in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia i’ve finished 2 books since departing on my plane from Phuket. and there was a purpose to me reading them. one called Private Dancer, about a Lonely Planet writer that shows up in Bangkok to revamp the current Thailand edition and falls in love with a bargirl, the other called Welcome to Hell, My Life Inside the Bangkok Hilton. you think you understand, you feel bad for the women and the sex trafficking in Thailand, but when you get here, especially Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket you have it thrown in your face. but i was approaching it as a Western. i was pitying them, when in fact the reality is quite different. 

a farang is a Westerner, and to a bar girl, a farang is only a source of money. now the typical story goes as follows- middle aged man, probably divorced or low on luck, comes to Thailand. more than likely the illusion of continuous sex, a bar scene, and an exotic Thai girl are enough to bring them there. you can swear up and down it’s different with you, but the bottom line is that it’s not. they are all the same, and they see dollar signs. you think they don’t like working in the bar, but that’s also not true- they love it. the thai husband/boyfriend, potential child and family are all in on it. the money you send them monthly is probably paying for their husband’s pick up and their family back in a village in Northern Thailand. they say they love you and have all the right gestures to show you that. the other bar girls know too, the joke is always on you. you convince yourself that they don’t like working in the bar, and when you go back to your country and send them money every month so they don’t have to work, you believe they aren’t. the reality is there’s probably a few farangs that are sending them money already. you are replaceable. you are an ATM. 

now the shame factor comes in. from a Western perspective, as a women, this is degrading. and how would a thai husband allow his wife, if he really loved her, to be hooking in a bar? but there is no shame in what they do, they send money back to their families and their villages. the villages who are proud to send their own to Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket. once a girl is old enough they’re knocking on the families door and asking to be taught how. they train them, prune them, prep them and send them off. a lot of them aren’t even legal. but here is the problem: Western ideals of love, sex and relationships do not apply in Thai culture. especially not in the bars. we started it during Vietnam, and the entire culture knows what it is. even the government is the same, they have many rules and restrictions but are ultimately lazy. they will harass you until you bribe them or pay them off. the justice system doesn’t work here and it never will. 

the illusion of this place is exactly that, an illusion. it’s beautiful and the people are great. as much as i question my own governments intentions, a smile can either be genuine or the latter. there is no in between. travel a bit and i can tell you, you look at your government differently. if you take anything to the Tourist Police they won’t help you unless you pay them, and if it’s between you and a Thai National, they will always put you away because you’re the one with the money. right and wrong doesn’t exist here, currency does. 

the more i observe the more attentive i become. if something goes wrong, i make sure i have enough money to pay my way out. i have to. because my word doesn’t exist here. the prison system is one of the most corrupt in the world. regardless, i love the people and the culture. it’s not their fault, it’s the governments, the mafias, the people that look the other way. but speaking out isn’t an option either. you pay if you have to, and i would if it came down to it. these are just examples of the things that expats can end up struggling with. and they are more real than i’ve ever thought.

now i’m not involved in any of it. but knowing the fate of a few expats is enough to make you realize where you’re line is. at the end of the day, this is a 3rd world country. a 3rd world country with beautiful beaches, smiling people, an interesting culture but a history that speaks louder than you know.

if you’ve never traveled to Thailand and intend to, read some books first. and be smart. because you ultimately will never be a local, no matter how long you stay. and i’ve seen it suck the life out of people. i’ve seen it jade people, and the more i read and experience it the more i begin to see through it all. but it’s a beautiful place if you work it right- something i fully intend on doing. my life is underwater anyways, the rest i keep close and separate.

just another day at the office.

it’s surreal ya’ll. i can’t even tell you. leaving monday for my visa run to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. staying at the Reggae Mansion Hostel until Friday while i secure my work permit. when i get back i meet with my lawyer to get my own company going, then this girl will officially be in teaching status. bam! i can barely breathe. so many opportunities coming my way i can’t even decide. never had this happen in my life. i must be doing something right. 

here’s my life lately. welcome to my office… 🙂

my bliss.

here’s 2 of my open water students today on their first open water dive! good job divers, .5 current and you made it! 🙂

here’s me asking my students about the 5 point ascent as we’re doing our safety stop. 

and here’s my bliss. the end of the day, on the boat, with nothing but the horizon. where the ocean meets the sky…

look dad! Nita loves this cup so much @ the Rick N’ Roll Hostel that i ended up leaving one there for her. she has even written her name on it and uses it every day. thought you’d get a kick out of this!

new new new.

The past couple weeks have been different. It’s weird not having plans every day, I’ve been struggling with how to spend my time until I get my work permit. Signed up for a month of unlimited hot yoga, which has kept me busy and been making me feel great. I forgot how much I missed it. I’ve also been slowly getting my new place in order, little things like dishes, a broom, and cleaning supplies. Also enjoyed cooking meals for myself again, and having a fridge full of yummy snacks. Been trying to explore more areas in Phuket that I haven’t been to yet. Planning a trip to Sipadan, Malaysia in a few weeks to get my work permit figured out. I mind as well do some diving while I’m there too! Something to look forward to. Went to Burma a few days ago. About a 12 hour trip just to get another stamp for 15 more days on my visa. Mine ran out on the 6th of August so I had to leave the country. I took a bus to the border then took a boat down the river to Myanmar from Ranong, Thailand. They stamp you out, then into Myanmar, then back into Thailand. A silly process really but a cheap way to get an extension if need be. 

Unfortunately I got into my first motorbike accident yesterday around 6 pm. I was leaving my house to go meet up with some friends for dinner. The road I live on is pretty busy and has lots of sharp turns headed towards Chalong. As I came around the corner, I noticed a guy about to pull out but then saw us and slammed his breaks back on, then at the last minute he pulled out in front of me. I tried to swerve around him but my bike went out from under me and flew into the other lane. I smashed my head on the pavement (thank God for my really nice helmet!) which shattered the left side of my helmet. I walked away scratch free, but have a huge bruise under my hip on the left side of my thigh, a bruised rib, and whiplash that’s killing me. I could feel it all today when I woke up. It really shook me, but I’m very glad to be alright. As my Dad said, “10 dollar helmet, 10 dollar head”. I’m glad I bought myself a good one. And I’m about to go buy another one. I was finally starting to get confident on my motorbike too! At least it’s still drive-able. Just broke the mirror off and some body damage but at least it’s not my body. Just a reminder to be careful. I’m driving much slower now. They say if you make it 2 years in Phuket without a motorbike accident, you are probably in the clear. Well, I made it 2 months. Everyone I know here has had at least one. But fortunately, I don’t have the “Phuket tattoo” as they call it. 

Other than that, I’m just looking forward to the future and am excited to start working. Getting a little stir crazy now that I’m all settled in and can’t work yet. So while I have the time, I will relax and try to learn more about my surroundings. I can’t wait to see my family and show them everything I love about this place. 

Namaste,

Lauryn