So sometimes you end up on an accidental scavenger hunt

So, I have this bad habit of having accidental adventures. They seek me out and I am suddenly in the middle of one before I even knew adventure was a possibility.

When I was 19 my parents had moved from Singapore to Bangkok and I went home to visit for the summer. It was pretty lonely, I’m not going to lie. I loved seeing my family, but my friends were in Singapore and I didn’t have a whole lot to do to kill time. I went to the gym, I took tennis lessons, I watched a lot of TV. It wasn’t the best way to spend a summer, but I guess it could have been worse.

But given how boring it was, you can understand how, when I found out my friend Nat was going to be in Thailand for a bit, I got excited. Very excited. Slightly unreasonably excited. And when I get that excited, the little voice in my head that says, “Hey, maybe plan things?” goes away. It goes very, very far away.

So Nat and his mom invited me to come hang out with them for a night and I agreed before really figuring things out. My friend was in town and I was bored and I was going to hang out with my friend. Period. I was not going to let teeny, tiny, insignificant problems like the fact that I don’t speak Thai and that my dad would have the car and I was completely unfamiliar with the city stop me. No. I was going to have a night with my friend!

It is at times like this that I wish I was a slightly more practical person. Maybe I could have written down the address of their hotel? Maybe I could have gotten a phone number? I don’t know. Maybe I could have done something is all I’m saying. But I didn’t. The day came and I called a taxi and I got ready. I vaguely knew where I was going in that I knew I would have to take a taxi to the Skytrain and the Skytrain to another taxi to the hotel. Probably.

Well, problem number one was that I did not speak Thai and my taxi driver, for reasons as crazy and complicated as he lived in his own country and spoke his own language did not speak English. Unphased, I said “I need to go to x Skytrain station,” in my barely-rehearsed Thai. He heard “Skytrain” out of my babble, nodded, and away we went! And away and away and away. If Thailand had corn fields, we would have been driving through them. It looked like no road I’d ever been on, but we kept going and, 500 baht later, we ended up at the Skytrain station.

Then and only then did I realise I didn’t know where I was going.

I’m going to let that sit there for as second. I didn’t know where I was going. I. Am. Brilliant.

But I saw two tourists standing on the platform with a map, so I approached. “Hey, sorry to ask, but could I borrow your map for a second?”

“No problem!” they said. “Actually, we have a spare. Here, take it.”

They handed me the map and I unfolded it. It is at this point that I should admit to one of my biggest failings as an adult: I can’t read a map. I mean, I kind of can if you give me two hours and I can spin it around a few times, but otherwise? Nope. No can do. Especially not under a time crunch.

And especially, it turns out, not when the map is in German. Because yeah. It was in German. Because wouldn’t you end up with a map with places names in two languages you don’t read? Doesn’t that happen to everybody? (Tell me yes. Please?)

So I the train comes and I get on the one I assume is going into the city and I sit down and unfold my map and generally look like a completely lost little moron because that’s exactly what I am. The woman next to me takes a look at it and says, “Where are you going?” in a surprisingly American accent given that she is Thai.

I told her the name of the hotel, and she said, “Oh, no wonder you’re having trouble! It’s fairly new so it’s not on that map. I use to work there, though. Do you have a pen? I’ll write down the address in Thai. Get off the train at Sukhumvit and grab a taxi.” She tore a piece of paper out of a notebook, wrote something down, and handed it back to me.

“Thank you so much!”

“No problem! Have fun.”

So I folded the map up put it in my bag, and clutched the piece of paper she gave me for dear life. I got off the train at Sukhumvit station, got in a taxi, and handed the piece of paper to the driver. He read it, passed it back, and away we went!

And away and away and away.

There is a kind of terror I did not know existed until we lost sight of the city. When a city as large and well-lit as Bangkok disappears, that is when your confidence evaporates and you start to think that possibly you are not embarking on an adventures so much as you’re doing something dangerously stupid and you will wind up being a cautionary tale passed from expat mother to expat mother.

And then, out of nowhere, the hotel appeared. We pulled in, I paid the driver, and I walked up to the concierge desk.

“I’m looking for [redacted]. Can I get their room number?”

“Miss Gundle?” he said.

“Yes?” (I know my own name, but when other people know it and pronounce it correctly, I get very confused.)

“They’ve gone to dinner already, but they’ve left you a note.”

I’d missed them by about 10 minutes. They’d gone ahead to the restaurant, the note said, (Cabbages and Condoms, my favourite place in Bangkok), but they hoped I’d join them there.

Well, I mean, duh. I hadn’t come all this way and risked being sold into sex slavery or killed in a ritual sacrifice, or, I don’t know, ROBBED to not have dinner. Ever helpful, the concierge wrote down the address of the restaurant in Thai and handed it to me so I could give it to the taxi driver.

I went outside and got into the first taxi in the queue which happened to be the same taxi I’d taken to the hotel. Of course. I got in, said a quick, “Sawasdee ka,” and gave him the new address. He laughed. He laughed at me and I had no idea why but I laughed a little bit, too, and we started driving.

About ten minutes later, I understood why he laughed, and I started to laugh, too. The restaurant, it turns out, was a mere two blocks from the Skytrain station where he’d picked me up the first time. Because of course it was.

So at this point, I had a German map, two notes in Thai, and one note in English. And if that’s all I’d collected that night, it would have been fine. But the night kept going.

At dinner over prawn crackers and great curry Nat’s mom asked what we had planned.

“I think we said we were going to stop by Pat Pong,” Nat said. His mom’s eyebrows shot up, and no wonder. Infamous for strip clubs and pirated goods, it was not exactly where well-raised teenage boys should be hanging out. (Did I mention Nat was only 15? 16? Something like that? Because he was.)

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of them. My mom banned me from taking them anyplace seedy.”

“Okay, good. Well, we’re headed to Chatuchak tomorrow, so don’t let them buy anything, okay?”

“No problem!”

Now, it was true that my mother had banned me from taking the boys (Nat and his 20-year-old cousin, Seth) to a strip club. But it is also true that banning me from doing something is the fastest way to make me want to do that particular thing more than I’ve ever wanted to do anything in my life. I had absolutely no desire to go to a Thai strip club, especially one famous for a Ping Pong Show, but being told I absolutely could not under any circumstances take my friend to one meant that my whole evening was planned around doing exactly that.

His family left us after dinner and we decided to have the full tourist-in-Bangkok experience. We took a tuk-tuk to Pat Pong and were horribly overcharged. The first guy that said, “Ping Pong Show?” got a firm nod and we followed him like oversized ducklings. We got to the door of the club and they told us the cover charge. 500 baht.

“I’m not paying 500 baht,” Nat said. “No way. I don’t want to see it that much.”

At this point, I thought we were lost for sure. We weren’t going to go and I was going to keep my promise to my mother and I could pretend to be a good daughter for another day.

I should have had more faith in Nat. I should have known that a teenage boy mere inches from a strip club could be trusted to find a way in.

Dude started to bargain like a champ. In the end we agreed to pay 200 baht but pay full price inside if we ordered anything to drink. We passed our money over and walked in the door to the seediest, most disgusting strip club I could have imagined. Bored girls with numbers attached to their bikini bottoms were swaying onstage, lightly holding the poles in front of them and rolling their eyes when they thought they could get away with it.

Honestly, I’m not even going to describe the show except to say that about halfway through it, Nat leaned over to us and stage-whispered, “Um…am I supposed to be turned on right now?”

“NO!” we both said. “No, trust me, this is NOT what sex is.”

“Oh. Okay. Good.”

The instant the show finished, we bailed and went to an Irish bar (because isn’t there always an Irish bar?). Before we left, though, I nabbed a coaster just to add to my collection of random stuff I’d accumulated over the course of my accidental scavenger hunt.

A few drinks later, we grabbed a taxi and went back to the hotel. The next morning at breakfast the boys were at the buffet and Nat’s mom and I were sipping coffee.

“Did you kids have a good time last night?” she asked.

“Yeah, it was a lot of fun!”

“Oh, good! You didn’t let them buy anything, did you?”

I flashed back to the girls dancing and all the different things you could pay them to do and shook my head.

“No, ma’am. I convinced them that anything they could buy last night they could find cheaper someplace else.”


Relationship Insanity; or, Getting Tired of Making the Same Mistakes

The funny thing about being single in your late twenties is that people suddenly feel like they can – and should – give you advice. As if being single is some horrible disease and with the right combination of positive thinking and flat-out refusal to accept the diagnosis, you’ll be cured. It is so ridiculously fucked up that I’m not even really going to address it, except to say this: Back off. I mean it.

But the problem is, if you’re single and don’t really necessarily want to stay that way forever, you have to do something. Dating is up there with flat hunting and applying to new jobs in my Top 3 Most Demoralising Experiences on Earth, so that’s out. I’m bad at it anyways. I just want to get past the bullshit and be able to talk, and dating just seems to be rehashing the same boring bullshit small talk over and over and over. I’ve been on one good date in my life, and I’m 99% certain the reason it was good was because we both knew I was leaving.

However, clearly the way I’m doing things isn’t working, so I got on the phone with my best friend to try to sort this issue out/ask for her help. You see, she is the person who can consistently tell me why a relationship is going to end – but doesn’t. She knows me well enough to know I’m basically not going to do shit just because somebody else says I should, so she keeps her mouth shut. Which means she both knows me well enough to know what I need and she knows that it’s very different from what I want. So when it came time to try to figure this out, she was a natural person to talk to. And what she said was that kind of lightbulb moment that you see in cartoons when suddenly everything is illuminated.

“Sarah, the thing is, I think every girl is raised on the dream that a guy will change for them. But the thing with you is, they always change for you, at least for a little while. They try, and you see that and that’s the image of them you keep in your head. I know a lot of girls who will date douchebags because they’re smart and driven, and you at least know how to pick nice guys, so you’ve got the hard part down.”

She said that and it was like – yes. Yes, that’s exactly how it goes. I feel like I’m constantly dating guys who have to try – try to be what I want, try to keep up, try try try. They try past their natural inclination, and then orders of magnitude past that. And then they’re exhausted, but I’ve seen what they seem capable of and I keep pushing. And when they go back to who they naturally are, I get confused. And I push. And each time it doesn’t work, I get more frustrated until it all falls apart.

And I’m tired. I am. I’m so tired of feeling like I need to help somebody become. I’ve got my own work to do, my own set of things to work towards. I no longer have the emotional energy to put towards their becoming. I want to see proof now. I want to see that they have laid the groundwork.

But let’s be honest: I’m a sucker for the chrysalis stage. Becoming is fascinating, and if you add in a cute smile and good banter, I’m done. So I’m not doing this on my own anymore. A few trusted friends have been notified (in writing, because there’s nothing I love so much as a legally unenforceable contract) and we’ll see where things go from here. Maybe it’ll be a failed experiment, but the next time something sparks, I want to see if it’ll catch without me constantly fanning the flames.

“I’m 27 years old, I’ve no money and no prospects.”

So, as is usually the case when I have writer’s block or otherwise feel like procrastinating, I’m watching the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. It’s funny, this movie is one of my favourites – it’s beautiful, it’s fun, it’s sweet (even if Mr. Darcy should be voted the Romantic Lead Most Likely To Make Me Want To Strangle Him with his creepy staring and inability to actually interact like a normal human being).

Well, I actually had to pause the movie after watching the scene where Charlotte announces her engagement. Lizzie protests (“But he’s ridiculous!”) and Charlotte shuts her down with the line above.

Well, can we all just pause and say a brief prayer of thanks that this isn’t a concern anymore? I mean, I’m 27. I have no job, no money, no boyfriend…pretty much nothing but cats and student loan debt. But there is nothing in the world that could pressure me into marrying somebody as atrocious as some of the men in this movie. (Bingley is silly but sweet, Darcy…well, if he’d stop being such a creep, he’d be okay. The rest of them? Pah!)

I was talking to a friend about this last night. I feel a little too old for some of the stuff I had patience for the last time I was single. Internet dating? No thanks. Putting up with weird conversation just to give somebody a chance? Nope, not for me. Letting myself fall for somebody who doesn’t actually want a similar life to the one I want? Sorry, thanks for playing. Next! 

I’m not old. I turn 28 this month, and it feels good. Like turning 27, turning 28 feels like it’s exactly right. My late 20s fit me in a way the rest of my 20s didn’t, and I’m so so thankful for that. I’m thankful for a family that was supportive when I quit my job to go back to school. I’m thankful for friends – single, dating, and married – who give me great examples of how great life can be at any stage. I’m thankful for everybody in my life who taught me the world is a large, exciting place and I can explore it if I want to. Because the thing is, I want to. I want to explore every corner of the Earth and I want to experience everything it has to offer, and I want that excitement now.

I have incredible friends that have chosen to settle down young, to get married and have kids and get a mortgage and do the things that adults do. This is the exciting part of life for them, this is what they want, and I’m thrilled for them. And when I disappear to yet another country, when I make yet another decision purely on the basis that it felt right and I’m responsible for nobody but myself and my cats, so why not? They’re excited for me.

And so I’m eternally grateful that I don’t live in a time where this is a weird thing, or a looked-down-upon thing. Because I’m in love with the life I am building, and it’s the kind of life that could only happen now.

I Am Not A Poet, Except For Maybe Sometimes?

About a month ago, I went to an open mic night I’d heard about. I like open mic nights. I like the combination of experience and knock-kneed newbies, the featured poets and the new storytellers. You’ve got five minutes and a mic, and whatever happens, happens.

The whole time I was there, I was kind of in awe. Poetry is not my forte. I like prose. I like the way I can go on and on and on or keep things short and simple. I like the look of a paragraph, the indentations on the page, the way thought after thought can string together. Poems intimidate me. They’re so visual, every line break adding meaning, enjambment giving emphasis or double meaning or….well, yeah. Poetry is hard and scary and beautiful and wonderful and I rarely try to write it. Mostly out of respect for the form, but also because I hate failing at things, and I think I would fail as a poet.

But something about that open mic made me say, “Hey. I’m gonna give this a shot.” So for the last month I’ve been working on a poem. Yes, you read that right. One poem. Sometimes people get confused and think that poetry should just flow out, that it’s all emotional and not about storytelling at all, that poetry is some kind of lazy form that just gets spouted out and left alone.


I have stared at some of these stanzas far, far longer than I’ve ever worked on a paragraph. I sat for two hours one night and changed three words. And then I changed two of them back to what they’d been originally.

So last night I let people read them for the first time. I went on a killing spree yesterday, you see, I killed all my darlings, every line I loved from the very first draft of this poem is gone. And I needed to see if it worked. I was completely terrified, I’ll admit it. You see, I’ve gotten to know a lot of really talented poets over the past few months, and I’ve seen incredible performers. What makes me think that I can do that? What makes me think I deserve to be a part of that world? Aside from arrogance, that is. Aside from some part of me saying, “You’re talented, too.” I mean, it’s just 5 minutes and a mic. It won’t kill me.

I sent my scary little poem off to two trusted friends, caring people and talented poets, and I waited. I’m in the middle of submitting stories to contests and sending out job applications and waiting for grades, and this terrified me more than any of those things. And the crazy thing is, they liked it. They liked my poem. My poem with its month of revision after revision, the poem that I have recorded myself reading over and over, that I have painstakingly read out loud and listened to over and over and over again, looking for a faulty rhythm or a repeated word…they think it works. They like it.

Now I just need to figure out how to read it in public without dying of stage fright.

The peculiarities of TCK friendships

I’m what’s known as a Third Culture Kid. I spent my childhood in the US, Thailand, and Singapore, creating a bizarre cultural blend never seen before or since. If we’re all products of our environments, my environment was a product of my dad’s job, and my dad’s job took us all over the place. As such, I am more than a little culturally confused. When I’m really tired, it’s frighteningly common for me to mix up my languages, so I might respond to “Hablas Español?” with “Nit noy!” or to suddenly lose the word for “chicken” in English but be able to remember it in Danish (despite not speaking Danish).

But one of the oddest things about TCKs compared to our more localized counterparts is how we conduct our friendships. My friend Hannah is getting married in October and I’m a bridesmaid, despite not having seen her in about six years. Maybe seven. Actually, I think it’s seven. Her friends in Oregon think this is completely bizarre. It’s totally normal to us. We’re still close, even when we don’t talk, even when we don’t see each other. Hannah is an important part of my life.

As is my friend, Gregg. Gregg (affectionately known as either “My Gregg” or “Kilt Guy”) and I have known each other for ten years, but I could count on one finger the number of times I’ve seen him since my parents left Singapore. We happened to be in Dublin at the same time a few years ago, so we spent our days with our families and our nights drinking beer all over the city. Gregg knows his beer. We keep in touch, we chat every now and then, and when we’re near each other’s current country, we visit.

So now I find myself planning a trip to Barcelona (a city I love, but have already been to twice) to go hang out on the couch of a guy I’ve seen once in the last ten years. The nice thing is, though, there is no stress. We both have a ton of time to kill, I want to see the sun, and it’ll be good to catch up. I mean, let’s be honest – who knows when I’m going to see him again?