Teaching English in Thailand, Traveling, Bone-Dry Humor, Other Stuff Too

Losing My Voice, Or, Infection and Reflection

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If there is one thing I’ve discovered whilst living abroad and travelling, it’s bacteria.

I remember walking around the hospital in Lopburi last year, approaching different people and croaking “sore throat,” and “Do you speak English?” in Thai. Those were the only relevant things I knew how to say. I tried to smile a lot and be patient during the long translation process and waiting that ensued; inside my throat was on fire, I’d been unable to eat for a day, and the infection had caused a rash all over my chest and stomach. They diagnosed me with pharyngitis, gave me antibiotics, and I hopped onto the back of an idling red truck headed back to my side of town, just like the one I came on.

Now I’m in Logroño contemplating a box of some of the biggest blue pills I’ve ever seen, wondering if they’re so different from those black and yellow ones from Thailand. This time around I had the luxury of going to a private doctor’s office (not to be found in Lopburi) instead of a general hospital. The closest one is in the fourth floor of an apartment building converted into a small business park, with cleared out apartments used as little offices, mostly medicine related. I walked in through the front door, took the elevator up and rang the door, in all appearances a regular apartment door—save the plaque with the doctor’s name and extremely Spanish operating hours (11 a.m.-12 p.m. and 5 p.m.-7 p.m.). It buzzed horribly, and I walked into a tiny waiting room. I didn’t get an official diagnosis for this particular throat infection, but the doctor felt my swollen lymph nodes, took one look into my mouth and said, “Yes, you have an infection. I’ll get the antibiotics.”

Snow at my school in Nalda

Snow at my school in Nalda

As I waited out the delirium of the infection, the vivid dreams, the soreness, I was amused by the strange parallelism of my throat infections and the nostalgia it’s caused. The difference in these two experiences in so many ways sums up the differences between life in these two cities.

Compared to the bizarre glory of Thailand and the rugged stupidity with which I trudged through New Zealand, living in Spain is like traveling 10 years into the future. And though Logroño is small (roughly 160,000), it’s the biggest and most developed city I’ve stayed in for more than a week at once in the last year. And because my life here is so much more comfortable and normal, part of me felt for a time that there was less to report on in Spain.

 

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I no longer ride a janky turquoise bicycle against traffic every morning on a six lane highway, taking rocks from the basket to lob over my shoulder at the mangy dogs coming out of the gutter and snapping at my ankles. “We could have been friends!” I would yell. Old women with hunched backs would stop shaking their bamboo sticks at thieving monkeys and take a moment to watch the white guy amble through on his little girl bike, a pack of gross dogs trailing behind. The men constantly repairing motorcycles on the roadside would alert one another and their soot-covered heads would swivel out one by one like a fan of cards from under the greasy bikes to chuckle as I fought off the dogs and weaved through the rogue motorbikes and other oncoming traffic in front of me. Sometimes the mechanics would give me a thumbs-up, which I always returned, no matter the peril. When my tires were low on air, I brought the bike to them and pointed to the flat while blowing air out of my cheeks, and they would fill them up for free.

 

Back road to thai apartment

Back road to thai apartment

 

Now I carpool to one school, get a ride from my roommate to the other (in exchange for guitar lessons), and walk or bus to my private classes.

I don’t have to explain things to my students with charades and cartoon panels drawn with chalk. There’s no cackling Thai woman sitting five yards to my left, yelling “Lake!” and throwing limes at me, or cutting off parts of my sideburns with the damn green scissors we always fought over. I no longer discover tiny exotic bugs crawling through my arm hair and biting me while I gesture at chalk boards and goad 50 ten-year-olds into talking about what sports they like to play.

 

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Casa Batllo (Gaudi) Barcelona

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I’m not eating meatball soup and playing guitar with drunk guys at a bus stop in Indonesia waiting for a bus that may or may not be the right one.

I’m not hitchhiking in the rain with all my possessions somehow attached to my body and a belly exclusively filled with pb and j’s and eggs. And so far in Europe I haven’t even fallen into a thermal pool contaminated with bacteria known to cause fatal amoebic meningitis, like I did in NZ. I don’t have to dig departed guests’ WiFi cards with an hour of access left out of hostel trashcans to get internet, or walk a mile or two to the public library.

To have encountered and thrived in such meager work conditions in Thailand; to have survived a reckless, meandering trip down the gulf and into Malaysia and Indonesia, mentally converting up to four currencies at a time, getting tangled with different characters and crazy hippy travelers lost on a permanent escape, exploring foggy labyrinths of food carts, rats, and no shortage of unsavory characters, all the while wondering but never knowing what was going to come next—where I would live and what I would do; then in NZ to have winged every spontaneous decision, to have chopped wood, belt-sanded old furniture, painted, and repeatedly cleaned more toilets than I’m proud to admit (exactly 37) just to earn the right to sleep in a little bunk in a crowded room for free; to have walked distances of up to thirty miles in a day to see beautiful nature; to have sacrificed food, money, my body, and many times the comfort of companionship just to bring myself further, to the incredible landscapes I had the pleasure, the honor, to experience; to have done all of this last year and to be where I am now, in such a little European gem of a city with a relatively professional work environment, in a culture where I can speak the language and where I am paid much better for what I do—it’s been an interesting transition for me. It’s a good one.

 

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La Pedrera, Barcelona (next 2 pictures too)

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When I think about the scenes I experienced or witnessed last year and the writing they inspired, I have a hard time writing about my life in Spain. Maybe I thought all the weird things and crappy adventures were “part of the gig” of teaching abroad. Now I feel like a dude living in a place, instead of an explorer in an exotic place, a bold drifter in a shit-storm of rude dogs and lawless traffic. This perspective is where I found my voice in all my writing from last year, so I wrote more. It would sound like I’m complaining, or unhappy, but it’s more that I have a new appreciation now for the rareness and breadth of experience I condensed into year one of travel, and I find myself coming back to it often, turning over things here and there I’d forgotten about, that seem ridiculous now, and far away, even while beautiful refined European cities sit at my fingertips. Spain is too nice for me, and the living’s too good for all the bad habits and reckless pastimes of last year.

 

 

These are all completely unrelated random photos from Indonesia I found

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