Goodbye, Prius

She sits in the lot at CarMax, her dark gray exterior even darker against the overcast winter sky in Maryland.

I blink back tears, then head inside to sign her away.

“Well, this is really easy,” the sales clerk says to me across his desk in the fluorescent lit office. “Just sign here and here, and then we will pay off your loan and give you a check for the difference.”

My mom sits next to me. I turn to her, my brown eyes watery.

“D, this is what you want,” she says, rubbing my leg.

Yes … but …

I take the pen and sign.

Deal. Done.

We walk back out into the nippy air and she’s gone. Gone. Whisked away before I could even let my fingers linger over her smooth body one last time.

I grab for my keys, out of habit, and sign when I realize the key FOB for her is no longer in my possession.

Mom and I pile into her car and sit there for a second.

“You OK?” she asks.

It’s not like I’ve lost something huge. But, my car … she’s gone.

My Toyota Prius

The first day with my car, July 4, 2007.

“Yeah,” I breathe. “I guess … well … now it is final. I’m really an expat when I sell my car.”

Yes, my sweet little Prius that I have loved for five years … gone. Taken into the depths of CarMax, hopefully to reemerge loved by someone who loved her as much as I did, even though I never gave her a name. But, rest assured, the Prius was most definitely a “her.”

For five years, she was my partner in crime. My friend. I’d sit in her comfortable seat, drive along on a soundless ride, challenge myself to use battery power versus the engine. She’s been my faithful companion on two major road trips. But more importantly, she’s seen me on the best and worst days in my life.

As we drive away from the dealer on my last night in Maryland, memories of my car run through my head. Sitting and toying with the little bubble in the steering wheel when the car was parked and I would just sit on my phone, talking through my bluetooth. Singing at the top of my lungs to whatever song would cheer me up. Hauling my life from Las Vegas to Maryland. Driving down Las Vegas Blvd. with travelers packed into my car listening to Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights.” In fact, most songs I hear involve a memory of driving in that car.

Toyota Prius road trip

Road trippin’ in comfort!

I’m not a very materialistic person. I don’t get attached to things easily. But, Prius (OK, we’ll name her that), she was mine. She was the first thing I had ever invested in. The first thing, other than my cats, I was truly responsible for. In a way, she was my real passage into adulthood. Not moving to Vegas, not getting a job, but owning a car.

Drive Toyota Prius

More than 3,000 miles crossing America … thanks to my friend, Prius.

But, at the end of the day, she was expensive. Really, really expensive. And, living in Thailand with no expected return date to the States? Well, there’s is no reason to continue to pay off a loan when I don’t even get to enjoy driving her.

There are times now in Chiang Mai when I will see a Prius drive by, silent in its passing, and I will smile to myself and think of the memories I have of my girl. Then, I look around at where I am and know I made the right decision. Hopefully, little Prius is making someone else as happy as she made me.

Americas Blog Expat Life Maryland Nevada

Daily Wanderlust: Snow in the Mid-Atlantic

Today is Christmas … and I’m knee-deep in sunshine. The complete opposite of what I am used to having grown up in the sometimes blustery and freezing Maryland. In fact, even when I was living in Las Vegas, there were times during the winter when a thick coat was necessary.

Well, that is most definitely not the case in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The sun is shining. Flowers are blooming. The skies are bright blue. Yeah … it’s pretty amazing … and it feels nothing like winter.

Today’s Daily Wanderlust is a reminder of what I could be having … if I lived in a place where winter existed.

Remember the epic winter storm that shut down the Mid-Atlantic region back in 2010 and dumped feet and feet of snow? I do! It looked like this.

And … HAPPY HOLIDAYS! If you celebrate Christmas, I hope it is a white one!

Snow in Maryland

Destinations

Giving thanks

Maryland

I’m sitting in the kitchen of the house where I grew up. Around me, I can hear the happy chatter of my mom, dad and brother. I hear the jingle of metal from the tag on Barkley, our old and gorgeous springer spaniel’s collar. I look outside at the naked trees against the bright blue sky.

I’m home. And so grateful to be here, in this beautiful moment.

Only, this isn’t my home anymore. In fact, my home is thousands and thousands of miles away. On the other side of the world, actually.

This Thanksgiving is the last one at my childhood home. It is the last Thanksgiving in Maryland. Next year, my house will be in Delaware. In rooms with no history. No ghosts of my former self to wrap their arms around my memories. This Thanksgiving is also the last with Barkley. He’s been around since 1998. Truthfully, I never expected him to last this long. He’s a good boy, and I know his next life will be even more awesome than this one.

It’s all so hard to comprehend. At times it feels as if the life I have in Chiang Mai is this sweet, sweet dream and any moment I will be awakened and back in America, going through the mundane motions of my previous life. I have two very different realities — my American and my Thai — and sometimes they are hard to separate.

I miss my family when I’m not around them. But, I don’t miss my old life. At all.

My life has changed so much in the past year. From working as the director of communications for a Las Vegas restaurant group to coping with major depression to quitting said job, to uprooting my life and heading to the jungle in Thailand to be an expat. It’s been a wild ride and I am so thankful for every single moment.

Chiang Mai apartment

Not every moment has been easy. There were times when I doubted myself. Times when I missed home and realized that being an expat wasn’t what I thought it would be. But, for the most part, life has been a dream.

So, this Thanksgiving, I want to give thanks to the people in my life. The readers of d travels ’round. You’ve been on quite the journey with me this past year. And, I want to give thanks to the people who have supported me: my family, my friends, the amazing Lek Chailert and the entire staff at Save Elephant Foundation.

I want to give thanks to that damn rooster that caws every morning just before sunrise. And to the tuk tuks that putter down the street in the middle of the night and tell me my baht isn’t enough for the quick ride to my apartment. And to my amazing friends in Chiang Mai who keep me company on those humid nights at old wooden picnic tables and make me laugh. I want to give thanks to the animals — especially Mr. Lucky and my favorite elephants, Medo and Navann. Life is even more fulfilling when there are animals to love, who love you back (even if Mr. Lucky likes to clench my nose between his sharp little teeth).

Finally, I’d like to give thanks to my parents. I know my decision to live abroad isn’t easy. And, Thailand is not close. But, they have always loved me and supported me and encouraged me to follow my dreams.

At the end of the day, I know this one truth above all else: I am incredibly lucky. And, I wake up every morning and go to sleep every night knowing this truth.

So. Thankful.

Asia Blog Expat Life Thailand

When travel sucks

Flight One: Chatty Seatmate Suck

“We’ve just had two days from hell,” an older woman says, hovering over my seat in the bulkhead as I fumble (too late) to get my headphones in my ears. “You just wouldn’t believe what happened to us. First, our flight has issues, then we get stuck on the tarmac, then we get out and have to wait in line, then we get to a hotel, then we have to wake up early and get back to the airport and now …”

Damnit. Damnit. Damnit. I clearly pulled the short straw in seat assignments.

I smile feebly and silently curse the woman standing over me.

“So now, we are on this plane and we don’t even get to sit together. I mean, really!”

Don’t look at me lady. I paid good money for this Economy Plus seat.

“My husband? He has had a hell of a time the past month. See, we thought he had a problem with his testes …”

Whoa. Chatty Seatmate crosses over into TMI Seatmate in a matter of seconds. 

“Oh goodness,” I feign interest as I struggle to hear the announcement from the pilot about our plans to take off from Dulles and head to San Francisco. But Annoying Seatmate continues her diarrhea of the mouth, sparing me no detail of her husband’s examinations (“thank goodness it wasn’t anything terrible”), family troubles (“my annoying bitch of cousin”) and travel complaints (“I hate United”).

By the grace of god, her daughter comes and sits in between us, giving me the perfect chance to put my headphones in my ears and turn my head to look out the window, letting me enjoy my last sunrise on American soil (or above American soil).

Thankfully, she continues her bitchfest to her daughter instead and I tune out, watching out the cabin window as the plane picks up speed and eventually is airborne, flying over America.

I take it all in, trying to imagine what we are flying over and reliving my road trip adventure from two weeks earlier that brought me from west to east.

Funny I am going backwards to go forward.

Sleep grabs me, but I wake up in time to see the brown of the desert below. I’ve flown to Las Vegas enough times to recognize what is below, and I know it’s not the Vegas desert I am looking at, but it is Nevada. Then, we’re over the mountains, then we are descending into San Francisco.

“Glad you made it home safe,” I mutter to the woman in my aisle as we exit the aircraft, then I head to my next gate.

A delayed flight from San Francisco to Beijing

Flight Two: Delayed Flight Suck and Plane Suck

I look at the departures board, squinting to see my Air China flight from SFO to Beijing. Delayed. By an hour. I do a quick calculation in my head: that leaves me (maybe) one hour catch my connection to Bangkok in China. If I miss that flight, I can’t get to Bangkok until the next day, which leaves me missing my other flight on Air Asia getting me into Chiang Mai.

Shit.

So, I go into Fix This Mode. I message Air Asia. I get on the phone with Air China. I call my parents and bitch, bitch, bitch.

“This is such a pain in the ass … I am going to have to rebook tickets if I can’t connect.”

“Then, that’s what will happen,” my mom says into the phone.

“Got to love travel,” my dad jokes.

Air Asia tells me if I miss my flight, even with a certificate saying it was Air China’s fault, I still have to pay to book a new flight. And, Air China tells me they can’t do anything to get me to Chiang Mai should I miss my connection.

As a last resort, I approach the gate agent to ask what they can do since my connection will now be cutting it very close.

“Guess you will just have to run,” the woman shrugs.

Thanks.

Almost two hours late, we finally board the plane.

I sink into the seat. Or attempt to sink into the seat. It’s hard as a rock.

At least there is entertainment on long-haul flights.

Then, I look at the seatback in front of me.

Something is missing on this Air China flight!

There is nothing there. A tray to pull down. No cute little television. Nothing.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Instead of getting pissed I forked out more than a grand for the flight — because that isn’t going to solve anything at the moment — I pull out some little blue Tylenol PMs and pop them. Goodbye, AmericaTwelve hours later (and with 45 minutes to catch my connection), we land.

The man next to me sits and waits as people from behind us go.

“Sorry,” I say, tapping him lightly on the shoulder and fighting the racing heart pounding in my ears. “I have to catch a flight.”

Flight Three: Security Suck and the Should-Have-Bought-Two-Seats Suck 

Groggy, but awake, I bolt off the plane and am greeted by a shuttle to take us through immigration.

Oh please. Please. Drive. Drive. Drive.

I glance at my phone nervously. 30 minutes. 30 minutes. 30 minutes.

When the doors open, I race through the halls, rounding corners with astonishing speed for someone weighted down not only with a carry on, but also a completely full Pac Safe tote.

I race through an arch that takes my temperature, head to immigration where I am directed to another immigration. When I am finally allowed to pass, I am the first one to get to security.

20 minutes.

I’ve traveled a lot. I know what can stay in my bag and what needs to be taken out. I start to pull out my laptops.

“You have camera?” The security agent asks.

“Yeah,” I say, getting antsy.

“You take it out.”

OK. Fine.

I remove my camera and put it into a bin, along with my laptops, then wait for everything on the other side of security.

The bags move through the belt and stop. Then move a little. Then stop. Then, they come out. Along with a security agent.

“You have chords in here?”

“Yeah,” I say, heat rising in my face.

“No chords.”

What the hell?

I go to open up my bag to take them out, but the agent reaches for it, too. He opens my bag and dumps out my charger for my laptop and my phone. Then, he opens my carry-on and begins to rummage through that. Then, its back through the X-Ray machine.

Anxiety sweeps over my body.

15 minutes.

The bags come out again.

“You have battery?”

“Yeah.”

Again, the agent goes into my carry-on, this time basically dumping the entirety of its contents into bins. Business cards. Make up bag. Journal.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

“Please, please,” I beg. “My flight. I have 10 minutes.”

Four bins go back through the X-Ray machine. I break into a sweat as I watch them examine the screens, looking for who-knows-what. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, four bins come out. My four bins.

“OK,” security tells me as I fight tears, looking at both of my bags, entirely unpacked, sitting in front of me.

I toss everything into them without caring what is where, and run to my gate.

With two minutes to spare, I get onto the plane and sink into my seat. My aisle seat because, even though I had spoken on the phone with Air China and was insured I would have a window, the ticket said otherwise. This time my seatmate takes up nearly my seat and hers.

I pop another Tylenol PM, blow up my neck pillow, arrange myself to fit into a corner of my seat and pray the carts don’t run over my toes, and close my eyes.

The Intermission Suck

I stand, scanning the luggage on the belt once we arrive in Bangkok.

Where’s my bag?

Fortunately, I’m with a few other girls I met in San Francisco who are headed to Elephant Nature Park, too. And, there bags aren’t here.

We survey the carousel a few more times, then look to find a representative from Air China to help us. Of course, there aren’t any. Instead, we are directed to Thai Airlines customer service.

“Try Carousel 7.”

We head there. Nothing.

“Try Carousel 9.”

Again, nothing.

Finally, we are brought into a room where they track our bags.

“Your bag is still in Beijing,” the rep explains to me. “It said it got on an earlier flight, but it did not.”

“How would it get on an earlier flight? Did it get scanned when I landed in San Francisco?”

“Yes.”

“And it was scanned again when I got to China?”

“Yes.”

“Then, how did it get on an earlier flight to Bangkok or how did it say it got on an earlier flight to Bangkok when I arrived with 30 minutes to board my connection?”

“It will be here in a few days.”

“I need it here sooner than that,” I sigh.

I fill out the paperwork and head into the airport to get some food, some wifi and some rest.

As I lay down, at 2 a.m., people begin to crowd around me, talking loudly.

Finally, I decide sleep isn’t going to happen and, when I can, I head over to Air Asia to check in to my final flight.

The final flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Flight Four: The No Refund Suck

I stand at the Air Asia counter, trying to explain Air China has misplaced my bag, trying to explain I wanted on refund on the $100 I spent to check a phantom bag.

“Sorry,” the ticketing agent says. “You need to cancel at least four hours before to get a refund.”

“But, you just opened and this only happened five hours ago.”

“Sorry.”

It’s just not worth the fight.

I head to my gate and board the plane.

As we fly over the emerald green mountains of Thailand and begin to descend into Chiang Mai, all of the Suck from the past 30-something hours of traveling dissipates.

I look out onto the land and feel warm. Glowing. Thrilled.

This … this is my new home.

Then, the smile doesn’t leave my face.

When has travel sucked for you?

 

Asia Blog Thailand Travel

Goodbye, America

I’m quiet on the drive to Dulles from my house.

I’ve already cried saying goodbye to the pups, and now, staring out the window as the suns rays just begin to kiss the tops of the trees, I hold back tears.

I’m leaving America. I am leaving the life I know.

I don’t take my eyes off of my surroundings as we drive, but my mind wanders back through the past few months. Through my Las Vegas life, my road trip, coming home to spend time with my friends and family in Maryland, my last night in America … moments flash before me as I tuck the memories, the images, into the back of my mind to pull up when I feel my heart ache.

Packing for life as an expat

The original plan is to drop me off at Departures. But now, after an entire day spent sorting and packing and unpacking and sorting and then vacuum packing (and tears), I’ve managed to convince my parents to park the car and head into ticketing with me.

I’m just not ready to say goodbye.

We head to United’s international ticketing counter, hidden on the other side of the ticketing row and I check my 70-pound bag (yes, it’s heavy … I’ve packed everything I could ever want for a year into it), and then slowly, slowly, my mom, dad and I walk to the security check point.

I feel the sobs bubble in my chest, my vision gets blurred with tears.

Just come with me. Just move to Thailand with me.

And, then, I just let go. I don’t care who sees me. I cry. Hard. In the middle of Dulles. Early in the morning. My parents hug me, wrapping their arms around me and squeezing, squeezing, squeezing.

“We’re so proud of you,” they both whisper into my ears. “We love you so much. Go and cherish every moment you have.”

We pull away, exchange looks and laugh/sigh at our state: watery eyes, smiles on our faces.

Celebration and sad at the same time. Bittersweet.

And then, I head through security and begin my exit from America.

Asia Blog Expat Life Maryland Thailand

The failure of PEPCO

It’s the perfect summer night to be lulled to sleep by nature.

Outside my window, I can hear light rain drops plunk gently off plump green leaves. Frogs whirring their mating calls.

Except, it’s not a perfect summer night.

It’s the worst night the DC Metro area has had in … as long as anyone can remember.

Mixed with that calm and peace of the summer orchestra is the ear-splitting buzz of a chainsaw, the hum of generators. The fresh smell of rain is replaced by gasoline that hangs thick in the humid June night.

Only a few hours earlier, my parents had warned me we were getting a major storm from Chicago. A derecho (basically a tidal wave of wind and storms that are rare).

A radar look at the derecho storm that hit Maryland

Then, as the sun set and the crickets took over, the wind picked up. Rushing across the landscape at 90 mph, the powerful wind carved a path of destruction. Transformers blew. Thick, old trees were uprooted. Trampolines (yes, trampolines) were tossed into the middle of the street. Like a tornado, but without the quickness.

And, the night sky glowed almost a continuous pale blue from electricity cutting into it.

I was inside for most of it, looking out the window as the lightning splashed across the sky. From my safe confines, I didn’t hear the wind whip outside. I didn’t hear the cracking of branches and the bangs when they hit the ground.

As I drove home after the storm, a graveyard of trees littered the streets. Barely noticeable until on them, oncoming cars would flash their lights in warning.

When I pulled into my neighborhood, I couldn’t even get to my house because a huge portion of tree was splayed across the road.

This storm … it’s serious.

The aftermath of the storm damage in Maryland

The spot my car would have been parked …

Trees broken from the derecho storm damage in Maryland

An old tree, that was one full and towering, is splintered from the extreme wind gusts.

More storm damage from the derecho in Maryland

Nearly an entire tree rests on the ground after the storm.

PEPCO, our power supplier, only manages to supply power back to half of our neighborhood. Within 48 hours after the storm. Us? We aren’t nearly as lucky.

For six days, there is no power. My parents suffer more than I do. I hightail it to friends houses to stay cool and panic about the projects I have to do and the lack of power. There’s little cell service. Internet is down. Cable is down. It’s hot. It’s humid. People are cranky and mean.

The line at McDonald's after the derecho

The only place open for food in a 10-mile radius? McDonald’s. This line took about 45 minutes.

A wine tasting during the power outage at Safeway

A day after the storm, powered by backup generators, Safeway taps into our boredom and a distributor comes in to do a wine sampling.

My neighborhood is one of the last to have power restored.

When it comes on, I feel relieved. Stressed at the amount of work I have to do before I leave America … in five days. But happy to have my house back and time with my family. Home.

Americas Blog Maryland

Coming home

Pulling in to my neighborhood, I can feel my chest tighten.

The trees. When did they get so big? The homes. When did they get so old?

The woods in a Maryland backyard

“Welcome to my house,” I say to Erica as I turn the car off.

Home. We. Are. Home.

I open the bright red door, the same bright red door we’ve had since my childhood and am greeted by my parent’s two dogs.

Then, Mom comes out and wraps her arms around me.

I can feel myself loosen. The  excitement to come back to Maryland, the sad over the end of the road trip, the anticipation of my closeness to being an expat … they all flood through my veins.

I whisper in my mom’s ear that I love her. That it is good to be home.

Tired hits. We drove for more than eight hours today, from Louisville to Maryland with a stop for lunch in Frostburg to see my brother, an artist specializing in metal work.

Coming home, that tired just takes over and I quickly crawl into my bed as Erica gets herself situated in her room.

“Can you come and sit with me?” I ask my mom.

“Really? You’re going to sleep.”

But she knows this game well. Whenever I need to talk, to soak up my mom, I always ask her to come and crawl into bed with me. Even at 32, just having her next to me makes me feel at ease.

That’s when it hits me.

The magnitude of what I’ve just done.

Flashbacks roll through my mind:

I’m sitting at Putter’s across from my apartment in Las Vegas, drinking beer and shots with Dave on my last night in the city that has been my home for the better part of seven years.

I’m tucking my cats into their carrying cases, tears rolling down my face as they meow their protests. As I drive them to their new home, I sob. And, when I get to the house, it’s even worse.

I’m standing in my empty apartment, imaging where everything was. Seeing myself in my room. Playing fetch with the cats. Sipping wine on my balcony. Those memories seem so unfair as I stand there. The ghosts of the life I lived.

I lay with my mom and let tears roll down my face as I let the moments from the past month of my life sweep through my mind.

“It’s OK, D,” she says as I sit there, silently crying. “You’ve just done something major. And you are going to do something else major. You are allowed to feel like this. It isn’t easy.”

I know she’s right.

For now, I have two weeks to soak up my family and my friends in Maryland. And then, it’s on to Thailand.

30 Life Crisis Americas Blog Maryland