Sunday, October 14, 2018

Paradise Has Bugs

We are living in a penthouse in Penang, Malaysia, overlooking the sea. The living room's sliding glass wall opens up to the sky. 

living room view
We can see birds floating by below us.

Oh, and it's possible to get attacked by an acid-spewing insect called a rove beetle that scorches human skin. 

"I got burned on my testicles," casually said Ralph, the homeowner, from the paradise of his balcony. We were spending a day together getting oriented before he and his wife Junnie left on vacation. 

"And my armpit," he continued. "The burn transferred to my inner arm. Lasted for weeks. So painful. If one lands on you, don't swat it. Blow on it so it will float away."
I hope this glimpse from Google is the only siting I'll have.
Okay, that wasn't in the Trusted Housesitters description. Junnie taught Dave how to spray the balcony plants to discourage the pests. And we were instructed to keep the windows closed at night, since these menaces are drawn to light.

A week later we have yet to see one. We hope to keep it that way. This morning, Oscie the dog woke us up by barfing next to the bed.
Who me?
Such is the glamour of housesitting. 

Then there's the fact that this condo is on the 28th floor. Thus the view. And the elevator. Not my favorite mode of transportation. Funny how I can travel the world virtually fear-free but I step into an elevator and it's hard to breathe.

I used to have paralyzing claustrophobia. And it seemed to be getting worse. Hypnotherapy helped a lot. So did a variety of other visualization practices. I learned that escaping uncomfortable situations makes it worse. So I've continually put myself in the backs of cars, crowded vans, middle airplane seats and the like, acclimating and calming myself with various techniques--to the point that I rarely feel claustrophobia's clench anymore. 

Except on elevators. Over the years, my avoidance method has been to take the stairs. However, 28 floors is a bit much. So being here for a month is giving me the opportunity to dust off any lingering particles of enclosure anxiety. 

This must be the wisdom of no escape these Buddhists keep talking about. 

Before Malaysia, we spent a month in Thailand, by way of a one-day stop-over in Singapore.

A bit of the Singapore we saw.
Returning to S.E. Asia hadn't been in our thoughts until we were invited to our friend Mark's 60th birthday party on Koh Phangan, an island in Thailand. We love Mark and we love that island, so we put a pin in it and other plans unfolded. 

Our first stop was Koh Samui, a Thai island a short ferry ride from Koh Phangan. We stayed on south Lamai Beach, far enough away from the throngs for privacy but close enough for easy access to cool stuff. Most days I walked down the beach then up hilly streets--past a golden temple where people prayed and a muay thai studio where people beat the shit out of each other--to an open-air yoga class. 

Lamai Beach
After yoga, I'd eat a delectable smoothie bowl, write in my journal, and read. Then I'd walk back, dipping in the ocean along the way.


Dave spent much of his time doing his advanced diving certification. He did well choosing Koh Samui. It's not a big diving destination, which meant his dives were uncrowded.

Renting a motorbike and getting around was easy. We fell in love with green coconut curry and Thai massage, especially the massage on the beach near our bungalow, overlooking Grandmother and Grandfather rocks.
Pooch near Grandmother/Grandfather rocks.
Something we saw on a bike ride.
We had guessed that after leaving Mexico, packing up in California, and flying internationally it would be a good move to rest up before Mark's party. How right we were. Mark's event had morphed into a week-long Burning Man, a 24/7 extravaganza of art, workshops, ecstatic dance, yoga, live music jam camp, thump-thump-thump electronica, and people from all over the world. 


It was the kind of you place you let your hair down and did things like posing nude with a panda head on. Four of Dave's fraternity buddies were there, so it was also a reunion of sorts.
Mark, Craig, Wade, Bill, Dave
I was lucky to be able to teach yoga in the mornings--amazed that people who danced and partied all night showed up.

It was epic. And exhausting. I ended up with an ear infection. Over-the-counter antibiotics (that cost $15) quickly fixed me up.

flying to Phuket
Next we hopped over to Phuket, on the other side of Thailand, with Dave's college buddy Craig. We'd been there before and spent a few days showing our favorite things to Craig: a sweet resort with an herbal steam room and killer breakfast, the Big Buddha, Nai Harn and Karon beaches, temples...and this view reached on motorbikes.

Kata Noi in the background
Another draw of the area was that a family we'd met in Mexico had recently moved to Phuket. So after Craig left, we headed north and spent a few days at Nadia and Rob's home. Rob, who does international peace-relations work, was on assignment in Kenya. But Nadia (who trains humanitarian workers) welcomed us with open arms, even though we'd met her only once before. 

Phuket
We also got to spend time with their daugthers: a 14-year-old who just returned from teaching art therapy to children and HIV+ women in prison in Africa, and a 17-year old who recently developed and implemented a school project to build roads for a poor community in northern Thailand. I just had to put that out there because, yes, they are incredible people.  

Nadia took us shopping at the local market:

...took us to a gibbon rehab center and on a waterfall hike:
With Nadia and her friend Peggy
...and introduced us to amazing Thai food.


Dave and I also bicycled through the National Park along Nai Yang beach.


All of this was great--but the best part was talking with Nadia. We conversed intimately about our pasts, our travels, our inner explorations. We all inspired each other.

And now after that month in Thailand, we are in Malaysia, rooted 28 floors up. Our days are filled with everything from editing books (me), to photography (Dave). And we do yoga, swim, walk the dog, read--cook, clean, shop, you know, the usual stuff. This improvisational life is not quite vacation and not quite your conventional existence. We are creating it as we go, bugs and all.


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