Letting Go at Loi Krathong and Yi Peng

By happy coincidence - though Buddhists will tell you that there's no much thing as coincidence - I ended up in Chiang Mai during the Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals (the latter overlaps with the former). I released a small float ornamented with orchids, incense, and a candle, into the Ping river in the spirit of Loi Krathong. Then, watched hundreds of floating lanterns be released into the sky. 

It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. 

Lost in Chiang Mai

Last month, on impulse – or what can be vaguely considered impulse given the forethought involved – I booked a ticket to Chiang Mai, Thailand. A Buddhist mountain mecca and an infamous vegetarian haven, the second largest city in Thailand always seems to get more Internet love than the first. Travel bloggers, digital nomads, and Solo Female Travelers compile multiple lists devoted to the cheap food, affordable massages, and plethora of cafes offering both outlets and free wi-fi. The abundance and availability of information on life in Chiang Mai fueled romantic ideas of escape. Of recharging mentally, meeting interesting people, and relaxing shamelessly. At the same time, I dreamed, it would harden me; that becoming a Solo Female Traveler – however briefly – would make me more resilient.

Instead, within 72 hours of arriving, I had a meltdown.

Had I been less optimistic last month, I would have booked myself a flight to somewhere busy, cold, and miserable, like New York City. The primary reason being that, when I am in my right mind, I am well aware that I don’t do relaxation well. It is seemingly always coupled with guilt, only occurs when asleep, or, in the best case scenario, lasts a mere day. Presented with the opportunity to do nothing for the better part of three weeks, alone, I panicked. I had no portrait to obsess and worry over, and any new ideas I came up with were inevitably shelved until December, exacerbating the helplessness. I couldn’t work. Worse, I couldn’t write. The vacation that I was convinced would be empowering was, instead, sapping my sanity.

It wouldn’t have been so bad, maybe, if perpetual indigestion hadn’t followed. For the carnivore, omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan, Chiang Mai is a gastronomic heaven. Cheap, delicious food is available everywhere, from food markets to proper restaurants. There is pad thai that comes wrapped in an omelette, addictive, green papaya salads, and cheap, enormous smoothies. If it weren’t for my roiling stomach, I would have probably gained 20 kgs by now. Somewhat fortunately, my digestive system has put a near moratorium on eating. A difficult task when surrounded by the smells of sizzling, smoking, street food.

When I realized that this unhappy set of circumstances had solidified in my mind into the opinion that I wasn’t really enjoying Chiang Mai as I should, as I was supposed to, the experience became worse. I hate this place, I thought, alone in my air conditioned Airbnb, while simultaneously committing myself to at least go through the motions.

And so I dragged myself, stomach acid lurching, to Tha Pae gate – the main, and easternmost, gate to the Old City of Chiang Mai – and down to the Sunday Walking Street. From just outside the iconic red brick gate, down Rajdamnoen Road, vendors set up stalls offering soap carved into flowers, silver jewelry, tribal handicrafts, and silk scarves. Food stalls cluster into temple courtyards selling both snacks and bigger meals. Between the waves of tourists and Thai couples, I snapped a picture of a man selling omelettes cooked in small banana boats, and made my first friend in Thailand.

“Take a picture,” the omelette vendor demanded, then, “show me!” I laughed, for what seemed to be the first time that week.

“You come here alone?” He asked.

And breaking that rule of the Solo Female Traveler to lie when asked, to make up a phantom husband or boyfriend, I said yes, I did come here alone.

The questions continued, and when I bought a 10 baht omelette from him, hot off the grill, he also dusted burnt shards of banana leaf off the plastic chair next to him. “Sit, sit here,” he said. And suddenly I was behind a Thai food stall, chatting to its middle-aged proprietor while he served customers. Spooning the custardy egg into my mouth, I learned that Ernie – the man steaming the egg boats – was from Bangkok and his favorite city is Phuket. He dumped shards of imitation crab onto my egg boat, and motioned for me to eat up. “Let’s take a picture,” he demanded, and unable to find anyone else, we had a friendly customer take the following slightly ridiculous photo.

“The trip was totally worth it!” A friend said later when I related the story to him. Even if I didn’t make another friend here, it was so true. 

Rowdy Fights

Because I still think she's the Greatest of All Time...and because I'll be spending the next month in the land of MMA camps and Muay Thai gyms. 

Subject: Mixed martial artist and judoka Ronda Rousey

Materials used: almonds

[I won't be posting more food art until I get back to Tokyo, but I'll be posting pictures of this new adventure on my personal Instagram account @kaiko.shimura ]

Tears in Rain

I've been thinking about this monologue (and this movie) a lot, lately.

Roy Batty: I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

Film: Blade Runner (1982)

Subject: Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty

Materials used: stroopwafels and jam

Searching for Action Heroes

“I like to go to this small theatre,” he said, “where they show all these foreign art films. I don’t think my girlfriend enjoys it that much, though.”

In hindsight, I was probably expected to gush about my own love for confusing art films shot only in natural light with no clear resolutions. But when your automatic reaction to a challenge are the words, “well, yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker,” loneliness is expressed by “talk to me, Goose,” and ultimate affection by the phrase “you make every day feel like kindergarten,” you’ve relinquished any right to take yourself seriously.

I laughed awkwardly instead, hoping to gloss over my sudden discomfort that there’s very little I love more than a good action movie. To do so usually involves owning up to the scarlet letter of being less than intelligent, which I’ve more than come to terms with. To do so as a woman, however, seems to open the door to questions about a broken moral compass and mental instability. The presumption being that women are somehow expected to skirt away from violence, and to prefer romantic comedies, indie films that require thought, and/or tear-jerker dramas. Anything but bloodshed, gunfire, and revenge.  

To make matters worse, no one is impressed when you’re impressed by violence. For all the obligatory honesty and lack of self-consciousness in admitting that you’ve seen all – yes, all – the Transporter series, and that you communicate with your best friend in quotes from across the entire Fast and Furious series, such admissions are, more often than not, met with derision and suspicion. At best, some suspect it’s a move to gain points with the guys, as if scripted quotes could magically get someone to go home with me (I wish). At worst, I’m a closet psychopath preparing to go Postal (and though I’d almost prefer it, not in the way that involves a mini fridge full of blood bags).

 “But, why action movies?” Most people say.

When pressed to make any definitive statement on the matter, I am often reduced – like a Playboy aficionado – to offering, “but the story was really good in that one.” Action movies are really dramas wrapped in rampage, I like to claim, as if their appeal isn’t largely confined to their innate brutality. I’ll concede that there is no denying the catharsis of hand-to-hand combat, car chases, gunfights and improbable escapes from equally unrealistic situations…but really, I’m captivated by the inner conflict of the protagonist. Really.

It’s not complete bullshit. Aside from the thrill of violence, any action movie plot involves turmoil of the nonviolent kind, which usually requires a brief suspension of belief and reality. And it is this plunge into the fantastic that I love as much as the explosions and kung fu contortions. As the lights dim in theatres, action movie addicts take a leap of faith that there is a world where good will eventually overcome, the hero gets the girl or guy, and revenge – sweet, cold, justifiable revenge – can be ours. Like watching Lance win all those Tours “clean,” it’s the shared experience of optimism on EPO that keeps me coming back for more.

That’s probably why, when anxiety attacks hit after passing scenes that remind me too much of New York, Paris, happier times, when sad or frustrating thoughts start creeping in, I’ve found that a good action movie works better than medication. When the typical remedies – pharmaceuticals, pictures of Heinrich Haussler – can’t stem the flow of tears and snot, I turn to Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis, and Sylvester Stallone. I suppose it’s a good thing you can’t drug out heartbreak yet; I still have a lot of movies to catch up on.

The other day, searching for something I haven’t seen before, something with reasonable acting but lots and lots of action, I felt momentary guilt being so comfortable with being so mindless. A scene tugged at the corner of my guilt, then, and I finally had the perfect response to that statement made months ago about art films.

"Why...so...serious?" I should have hissed. Not that he would have gotten it.