In grade 5, I was only allowed to watch 2 hours of TV a day so I had to strategically plan every show I watched. Between The Fresh Prince and Saved by the Bell (90s sitcom GOLD), little time was left for MuchMusic. One day in class, an opinionated classmate shouted "Smashing Pumpkins suck!" I've never had much tolerance for complainers and the solution seemed painfully simple to me so I responded “Then stop smashing them…"
Instead of graciously thanking me for the life-changing advice, I was laughed out of class. That day after school I kicked off my pop culture education by pondering the mystery of why girls my age were going wild for the androgynous Taylor Hanson. To this day, I'm horrible with band/artist names and song titles despite working in the Entertainment industry. I guess I didn't learn much from the experience except to let loudmouthed jerks solve their own problems.
Since that incident (and long before it) I have been similarly embarrassing myself, usually publicly.
In a study of happiness by Stefan Sagmeister one of the findings was that after a period of 6 months we don’t derive any further happiness from feelings, situations, relationships, etc… because we’ve become accustomed to it. This is how I explain my shamelessness. I’ve humiliated myself so often that I’ve adapted to the sensation.
Sometimes the things I say mortify more prudent souls and it’s not due to insensitivity, I just don’t view it as something to be ashamed of. People mistake my shamelessness for confidence or indication that I’m missing a social filter. I don’t know how true that is. All I know is that alternative to not doing and saying what I want is to be a prisoner to other people; to submit to the will others. I'm no Anastasia Steele, no sir, Mr. Grey, sir.
I can’t control what happens to me but I can control how I react to it. Shit is going to happen so I might as well reappropriate my embarrassment for the entertainment of others!
So what does this have to do with Thailand?
The stars aligned one November and I was able to take the arduous 25-hour flight to the other side of the world with my friend Laura. We arrived in the infamous Bangkok, explored numerous temples on the way north to the culturally rich and mountainous Chiang Mai then flew back down to bask in the revelry of the southern Thai islands. It was my first time visiting Asia so it was quite the culture shock in terms of customs, language barriers, the banning of the stinky durian fruit in hotels (I’d never been to a hotel that had a fruit ban). Something that would always be familiar to me though was the many ways I would inevitably humiliate myself, no matter what part of the world I would find myself in.
No doubt there will be future opportunities to describe my more magical and sophisticated memories of Thailand but for now, here are my 5 Thai-flavoured cringeworthy moments. Taste the mortification:
[x] FEED A BANANA TO AN ELEPHANT
In which an elephant plays it cool (Chiang Mai)
There are a number of excursions out of Chiang Mai involving elephants but the one Laura and I chose taught us how to be a Mahout, or elephant trainer. Before getting the ride the majestic animals, we were taught how to care for them, bribe them for kisses with bananas, wash them, and signals that would help us to communicate with them. There was one movement while you’re on their back where you move your bum backwards and forwards, not unlike twerking which is where I suspect the move originated from.
It was very hot the day we were there, despite being under the shade of the jungle trees. I can only imagine the majestic 2,700 kg animal I was riding was getting even more overheated so I wasn’t surprised when she booked it towards a nearby stream towards the end of the ride. Nearby, her brethren were sucking up the water in their trunks and spraying it on their backs to cool off. The problem was that I was ON her back which only I realized just as I got a face full of mud (and elephant trunk snot)!
Did I mention that my mouth had been open because I was in the middle of laughing. Well, it was.
[x] GET A THAI MASSAGE
In which I have an unexpected romantic encounter (Chiang Mai)
One of the things that absolutely has to be on your bucket list for Thailand is getting a massage. Other than the convenience (massage parlours were everywhere) and affordability (got a 3 hour body scrub, hot oil massage, and royal facial for $80!), the Thai make massages an art. It’s such an indulgent experience that it'll transform your idea of what relaxation means.
Laura and I ended up choosing one that came highly recommended locally, Oasis Spa in Chiang Mai. The only experience I’ve had with massages was in Toronto by a perfectly capable and friendly masseuse in a clean, all white room that at the time, I thought was exactly what a massage space should look like. Let me just say, Oasis Spa has ruined me for life.
We were dropped off at nightfall to a path of flat stone steps set in water and lit by tea candles that led to their entrance. After being welcomed with some fragrant tea, we were ushered out to an enclosed area, wooden villas with the moonlight shining through palm trees. We expected to be get massaged in separate villas but they ended up showing us into the same room, covered in flower petals and glowing with candles. Very couple-y. From their broken English, we gathered that they had assumed that we were a lesbians and desired a couples massage. Our tables were placed very near in case we wanted to hold hands (we didn’t).
Did I mention that we had to strip down completely bare for the massage? It was definitely a bonding experience.
[x] TAKE IN THE EPIC VIEWS AT TIGER CAVE TEMPLE
In which I get chased by monkeys (Krabi Town)
For reasons now lost to me, my friends and I thought it’d be fun to climb 1,237 steps(!!!) to take in the view from the top of Tiger Cave Temple. The name is really misleading because there are no tigers OR caves to be found. While there is a conspicuous lack of tigers, there is no short supply of monkeys!
You’re probably like “Oh, so cute! Monkeys!” That was my reaction too until one brazen monkey daintily grasped a banana chip from my outstretched hand, ate it, then just as daintily scratched his….nether region. Suddenly not so interested in feeding them and desperately interested in finding sanitizer.
We ascended the steep and shallow steps up the crumbling staircase with much wheezing, cursing, and regret. About half way up we encountered a roadblock of twenty of so monkeys. They approached us curiously, tugging at our clothes and hair. When no snacks were forthcoming they appeared to be seized by an attack of hanger and chased us, flinging their feces at our retreating figures. The real question is not whether the view at the top was worth it (it was…kind of. It was foggy that day) but where the monkeys were keeping their reserves of shit. Was it for the sole purpose of punishing tourists who fail to pay the food fee that was apparently required to cross unsullied.
Did I mention that I used “monkey feces flinging” in a pick-up line to get a date when I got back home? Smooth (and successful).
[x] DRINK BOOZE OUT OF A BUCKET
In which I get a bruised backside (Koh Phi Phi)
Koh Phi Phi is covered in every bar you can possibly imagine. They have bars on the beach with wild fire shows, boxing bars where you can watch (or participate in) muay thai fights, bars you climb up rickety wooden winding staircases to reveal plush pillow and rug covered areas complete with hookahs that are situated near beer pong stations. And of course, the have an Irish pub. In Thailand.
The most cultural thing you can do on Koh Phi Phi is buy a $3 bucket of booze at 11am. If you know me, I’m all about the authentic experience so two (literal) buckets into a rainy night at one of the many bars, I was walking downstairs, paying more attention to my bucket than my wellbeing and slipped. Luckily (if you consider falling at all lucky) I fell backwards and slid the entire way down on my butt, spilling half the contents of the bucket all over myself.
The souvenir I got to bring back home was a very impressive and colourful bruise that spanned black and blue evenly from one cheek to the other. Tax-free! It was evident that I had fallen hard on the first step so it looked like some Fifty Shades of Crappy Writing shit; like someone had spanked me with a two by four.
Did I mention that I had been wearing a dress when I fell? Ever the lady.
[x] DO SOMETHING THAT SCARES YOU
In which I dramatically throw myself off a cliff (Koh Phi Phi)
After a single day on Koh Phi Phi, your liver will need a break (trust me) so you can sign up for excursions that will take you around to the neighbouring islands. Clearly our judgement was impaired from the previous night because we signed up for a trip that would take us to Ao Ling (also known as Monkey Bay) in two long boats and end with bioluminescent plankton snorkelling AFTER we jump off of a 35-foot cliff. In our addled state that seemed like a good idea on a stormy day.
As the sun started to set we made our way over to the cliff and were informed that we wouldn’t be merely leaping off the top but we had to scale the jagged edge from the bottom equipped with only our bathing suits, ill-fitting rubber shoes, and abject terror. Somehow we managed to crawl to the top without severely maiming ourselves despite the violent, stormy winds pulling at us. From there we saw that the cliff jutted out part of the way down which posed a problem. To avoid bashing our brains in on the way down, we would have to project ourselves out pretty far on the jump.
As much as I wanted to throw up the white flag (and my lunch) and retreat from the edge with my tail between my legs, the prospect of climbing back down in only my bikini was more intimidating. It would be in front of an audience of the forty of the group of fifty people who were NOT stupid enough to want to play Russian Roulette with their lives. Instead I burned the moment into my mind– the shaking knees, the intense weather, how scared I felt…and I jumped. If you ever choose to cliff jump, clench your bum on the way down. Just trust.
Did I mention that one of my fellow jumpers told me that I was his hero?
P.S. bioluminescent plankton snorkelling is like being in an underwater Ke$ha music video.