I just crossed 14th Street

I just crossed 14th Street, heading up 1st Ave and home. As climbed the stairs out of the L train station I had to hurry around a pregnant Hispanic woman and her husband, who was carrying their sleepy son, so I wouldn’t miss the light. (There was a Mr. Softee in the parking lane along Stuyvesant Town, and a cool but perceptibly summer breeze blowing down 1st Ave. Ahhh, summer.) I jaywalked west across 1st Ave and as I passed my local CVS I saw a young African-American employee standing outside, cheerfully singing out out to her middle-aged Indian colleague, “Take out the gaarrrbage! Take out the gaaarbage!” The Indian man smiled broadly and did a silly little dance in response. On the next block I passed the crappy local Chinese take-out place, where the distinctive yarmulke’d head of the man who owns the tasty but rather expensive falafel & grill place next door stood out among the people standing in line. I hurried past the two Korean delis but did stop to buy a pound of cherries from the Middle Eastern guy at the fruit stand outside Beth Israel.

In just three New York City blocks, I was reminded of the things that attracted and kept me here for so long. First, New York is where every kind of person from every country on earth lives and works in extremely close proximity….even along the fairly gentrified blocks of 1st Ave between 14th and 17th Streets. You can travel the world to meet people from every country, or you can walk down 1st Ave.

Second, after a few months living here you come to expect the incongruity of what you see on its streets. And realize that you’ve missed it, if you’ve been away.

Oops gotta run – the sushi I ordered for dinner is here. Gotta pay the inevitably Central American delivery dude at my door.

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En Why See?

So yeah, I’m back in New York. It’s so strange and familiar – my apartment, my local deli, baseball on tv, junk mail. Not sure how I feel about it all yet.

I’m just about finished uploading the giant backlog of photos from my trip.

Not sure what else to say. I’m trying to get over jet lag (stayed up til 7 last night, woke up at 3:30 am. not bad for the first day), sorting through a big pile of mail, and still deciding whether to unpack my bag.

Back in Bangkok, on my way home

Greetings from Bangkok, my 24-hour stopover on my way home. I’ve decided to spend the day in the cool confines of the various shopping centers and internet cafes near my hotel, in Siam Square, rather than brave the ridiculous heat and dirt of normal Bangkok. On this, my third time in Bangkok during this trip, this city is starting to grow on me. But the noise! The heat! The pollution! The crowds! It’s too much to bear before a 23-hour trip home. (Environmental note: The proprietor of the internet cafe is eating his lunch, smacking his lips remarkably loudly and sort of glaring at me. Thailand: The Land of Smiles!)

Since I’m on my way home, naturally I’m sort of reviewing my trip in my mind. It’s only been two months, but my days in Chiang Mai during the watery Songkran festival now seems like a lifetime ago. Yes, I’ve seen many things, had some crazy and fun experiences, met hundreds of people, and generally had the normal travel experience. But my mindset has changed dramatically as well. When I left New York I was feeling oppressed by the fairly basic life choices that I face: Where should I live? What should I do? But two months later I feel like I’ve gained some clarity – or at least some much-needed perspective, outside of the four narrow walls of Manhattan.  In a day or so, when I’m sitting comfortably in a yellow cab heading towards the city…it’s going to be strange to see the Manhattan skyline again. Either I’ll feel nostalgia and that I’m coming home, or I’ll feel oncoming oppression of being back in my “old life.” We’ll see!

But enough navel-gazing. It occurs to me that I haven’t written much about my time on Gili Trawangan. There isn’t a tremendous amount to write about my activities there: Basically it was wake up, dive, eat lunch, dive, watch the sunset, shower, eat/drink, sleep, repeat. It’s the people I met who made it great.

As I said, I dove with Blue Marlin, a fairly well-run dive shop/guest house/restaurant owned by Simon, a Brit with a Napoleon complex. The place was managed by a middle-aged couple: Peter, a blandly cheerful American, and his wife (can’t recall her name), a loud Dutch woman with the thick athleticism of a Bulgarian Olympic gymnast.  My fellow Rescue Diver student was Ginni Golden, an American from DC. Ginni works for an internet advertising agency, of all things. We bonded over stupid clients, internet egos, and neurotic/psychotic people we’ve had to manage (Hi Mark! Heh heh just kiddin’). She’s on a 3-month leave of absence, the lucky thing. She stayed on and is doing her Divemaster training right now.

I’ve already written a bit about Luis, our instructor. He’s been on Gili T for 8 months and plans to stay for the season – until around October. For the like 2 of you who know who I’m talking about: he reminds me a lot of Brian Thistle. He’s quietly smart in that he almost tries to hide his intelligence> As a teacher he’s calm, serious and thoughtful. When he’s done with Gili T he’s going to travel a bit and hopes to end up in Brazil, where he plans to open a guest house/restaurant.

Then there’s Nicola, or Nico (“NOT Nick or Nicolas!” Did I mention he’s very French?). Nico is a heavily tattooed, charming character who defies categorization. He’s approachable yet reserved, social yet secretive, carefree yet serious. He’s been on Gili T about the same amount of time as Luis. He’s trying to save up enough money to move on to Australia: If he gets enough by the end of the season, he’ll leave. If not, he’ll stay another year. But he’s anxious to move on. “I’m a traveler who dives,” he says, “not a diver who travels.” I have to admit, when I left I had a tiny crush on him. (On a Frenchman, can you believe it?) The last thing he said to me (after hugging me goodbye) was, “You smell very nice.” 

Yipes gotta run to check out of my hotel (noon checkout!). Probably more later. After all, I have nothing much else to do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baaaalllii

I can’t bear to think that the reason I’m back in Bali is that I’m slowly making my way back up to Bangkok and then home.

Also, the internet connection on Gili T was so unbearable I haven’t even checked my mail in like 5 days.

In any event, I’m in Sanur (nicknamed “snore” ), Bali, diving with Crystal Divers. I left Gili Trawangan because I had done all the interesting dives at least twice. Time for something new! But the lovely people I met there were sure to send me off with a hangover and no sleep for my two last days. The first hangover started with a “snorkel test” – a Blue Marlin tradition. A newly certified divemaster is dressed in some absurd costume (in this case, a guy in pink panties and a green cloth mask and cape) and made to drink half a liter of whatever booze, etc., the instructors feel like mixing together through a (you guessed it) snorkel. Then everyone goes to a bar and gets drunk. I joined in, got to sleep around 5, then was up at 8 to go on the 9 am dive.

The second hangover started with a lovely dinner with Ginny (my buddy during my rescue diver course), Luis (my instructor), Lauren (a divemaster tranee that I bonded with during some ridiculous dives we did together), Lauren’s boyfriend and fellow diver Simon (who is in charge of diving & sailing safety at the University of Tasmania – how cool). After two bottles of wine with dinner we moved to Sama Sama, a great bar with love reggae music every night. We met up with Nico, a delightfully French dive instructor who I also got to know very well (he’s good friends with Luis). Nico is hilarious when he’s had a few Bintang: He and Luis were talking about how instructors aren’t allowed to hook up with their students…at least until *after* the course is over. “No penetration without certification!” cried Nico. Heh heh. Which turned into the diving version of the casting couch: “It should be, ‘No certification without penetration!'” I tried to get him to dance on the bar, but he wasn’t drunk enough.

The following morning (after 8 hours of sleep in 2 days of diving and drinking) at 8 am I began the epic 12-hour journey (boat, mini-van, ferry, mini-van) to make the 100 or so km from Gili T to Sanur. Thank goodness I managed a nap on the ferry, or I would have been wrecked. Today my alarm went off at 6:15 am, and I was on the bus to the dive spot by 7. We did two lovely dives near the village of Candidasa. Tomorrow we go to Manta Point (where I’m 85% assured to see at least one manta) and then a dive off the nearby island of Nusa Pendia. And then that’s it! Sniff. Tuesday it’s off to Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur, one night in BKK, and the <gasp> back to NYC. Christ amighty.

And then…who knows? I know many of you don’t want to hear this, but after this trip I think it’s pretty unlikely that I’m staying in New York. There’s this whole other world and life beyond the myopic, ego-driven worlds of New York and the “internet industry.” I find this other world a lot more interesting, and I think *it* likes *me* better, too.

But let’s not think too hard about that until at least Friday, shall we?

A strange sight indeed…

Yesterday evening I witnessed the strangest sight of my trip so far: Pat Guiney drinking beer and eating steak at Scallywag’s restaurant here on Gili T.

OK, so maybe it wasn’t him. But all the signs were there: blinding white skin, heavily thinning, buzz-cut red hair, greenish khaki t-shirt, dark shorts, and (this was the kicker) dark socks and dark leather shoes. On an 85-degree evening in a place where the few people who *are* wearing shoes don aged flip-flops. The guy stuck out like…well, like Pat Guiney at the beach. I was very tempted to say hello and ask him if he was a long lost Guiney, but I decided not to disturb him. I’ll just wait a few weeks and say hello to the real PG.

(You probably have to know PG to think any of this is at all amusing. And even then…)

Anyway, I’m sitting in the internet cafe trying to catch up on my photo-uploading. I’m barely through the first few days of Myanmar – two countries and about a month ago! I’m hoping to get caught up in the next few days….

The Rescue Diver course is a lot of work but tons of fun. There’s a lot of silly role-playing for my classmate and me. For instance, I play “distressed diver” and she saves me, and then she plays “unresponsive/nonbreathing diver” and I save her. I drowned her a few times in the pool yesterday (oops), and all our shouting (“help! help!” or “diver diver! inflate your BCD! grab on to the buoy!” etc.) provided entertainment for the divemaster trainees and other Blue Marlin customers nearby. I can now assure you that it is extremely hard to give rescue breaths (think CPR) in deep water with all your gear on, while towing the diver to safety *and* trying to remove her and your gear so you can exit the water when you get to the boat/shore. All while making sure you give a rescue breath every 5 seconds. We’ll see how I do tomorrow, when we do it “live” in the open water for my final exam.

Yipes gotta run meet Ginni (my classmate) for dinner. L8r.