I’m currently in Thailand with my 2-year-old and partner, Rob. We came here half for me to do more extensive research for the YA science fiction trilogy I am currently writing that is set in this area, and half for Rob to research Thai cooking and woodworking. I also want to expose my child to as many other cultures as possible throughout his life, so that his understanding of the world is built upon his experiences rather than from words on paper that he reads from the inside of a classroom. Books are amazing, but seeing things firsthand is something you just can’t replicate on the page.
This first post from Thailand is more of a logistical one than one of reflection because I’ve decided to keep track of our expenses for other people out there who are like me. Before going somewhere, I always wonder things like – how much does it really cost if you only eat street food or if you try and find the cheapest guesthouses? How much is a good budget for extra stuff, like fisherman pants or a brass wok?
Today is day 8 for us in Thailand, and from spending a few days each in Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, I’m ready to give a small breakdown of costs:
Food and water – if you stick to street food (which, honestly, is the most authentic experience, the food is fresher, and it tastes amazing), two people and a toddler can eat three meals a day and spend only about $10 USD. Water depends on where/if you buy it. We planned to buy it from stores until we came here and found a bunch of water booths on the side of the roads (see below) that boast fresh water through reverse osmosis and you can fill up a 1 gallon bottle at one of these for only 3-5 Bhats (10-15 US cents)!
Otherwise water runs at a cost of about 50 US cents per litre when bought by the litre (or $1 USD for a gallon).
Guesthouses – again, this is all a matter of preference, but we are fine with shared bathrooms and the possibility of only cold showers, which you can find for around $10 USD per night here (in Bangkok, however, a room with just a double bed that you share with your toddler can set you back between $12-15 USD per night).
So, without moving between cities much or doing tours or filling your hiker backpack with scarves and jewelry and small elephant statues, this comes down to about $20-25 a day. (I’ll write more about the stuff you can buy here in another post.)
We commuted between the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai by train. The second class sleeper trains (non A/C means you have open windows and can take photos or just enjoy the breeze) cost roughtly 500 Bhat ($15-16 USD) from Bangkok to Chiang Mai per person (toddlers are free), and you sleep in what resembles a bunk bed with one person on the upper narrower berth and the other on the lower berth with your toddler. Bringing a lot of snacks, even on the overnight trains, is recommended because sitting for so long made us just want to eat stuff!
I recommend spending 1-2 weeks (or more if you can!) at a time in one place in Thailand, especially if you have a toddler. It gives you time to get to know a place and time to get your child used to a new country. And, most importantly, time to make a few friends, both local and foreign, that you can visit on your next trip!
In comparison to other countries I have spent time in during my solo travels, Thailand is easier and feels safer in a lot of ways than India, Kenya, and Morocco. I’m glad we didn’t try one of those countries on our first trip abroad with our son, but I still want to go back to them within the next few years.
I’ll post more soon, but I just want to get this out there in cyberpsace, because I think a lot of Americans are afraid to backpack in SE Asia alone, and likely more afraid to do it with a toddler.
But honestly? You shouldn’t be.
It’s amazing and children under age 7 will be able to take in so much more than anyone else from these kinds of experiences – especially when it comes to language skills. I may not be able to hear my son try and speak Thai words, but I love that he’s doing it as well as picking up on the gestures and body language of the local people more so than a hearing child who isn’t already bilingual with ASL and English. And despite my own deafness, I love trying to speak Thai. It’s a challenging language, but when you speak even a few words of Thai to a local person, their faces light up and they open themselves to you. It’s beautiful.
I successfully made it through all of November without a single blog post!
Was I busy writing a novel in a month, like many other writer friends of mine?
No. I was actually taking a break from my usual writing-like-crazy to let other people do the writing-like-crazy. I submitted my latest book to a literary agency that prefers exclusive reading time and have been just—waiting.
The waiting has been good, though, as you saw in my last post about making blocks for my toddler. I made blocks, then I sewed the entire inside and outside of a handbag, painted stars on a new Ergo baby carrier, sewed a tank top for myself, sewed patches onto pants, sewed some other things. You get the picture. I’ve been crafty this November, and waiting ever patiently to hear from the agents (which is probably the only time I am able to be patient).
I am reaching that point where I feel like I’m sitting on my hands all the time to stop myself from writing, though,—because—the only thing I wish to write is the second installment of my YA science fiction trilogy. But I’ve learned my lesson from literary agents and the “Big 6” publishing houses already. Never write the second book in a trilogy unless you’re pretty confident the first is going to get published NOW.
Only last year at this time, I was in the throes of editing the first volume of a YA Urban Fantasy trilogy. I wrote the first draft of that book during Nanowrimo 2010, while sailing south from Block Island, Rhode Island, to Key West, Florida. It was a mess of a story about a wolf girl journeying from New Hampshire to New York and then passing in and out of stories. I put it down when I discovered I was pregnant in January of 2011, and didn’t start editing it until November of that year.
The single volume turned into a complex trilogy about fairy tales, myths, and the doors between reality and stories. Werewolves escape their stories and a wolf girl named Blue has to put them back. I sent the 6th draft of that book out and it wasn’t finished—I needed much more world building, I needed to know what all the action of this book was leading to, I needed to know my characters better. So I did 9 more drafts of it and resubmitted it in April of 2013.
By this time, however, the “Big 6” publishers (who I sometimes imagine as six mythological gods sitting around a round table discussing what would be popular next year and what would absolutely not) had decided that werewolves were out and so were shapeshifters that turned into wolves. I knew that my story was great, but if the “Big 6” said it wasn’t the right time for it, then I knew that only smaller presses would even consider publishing it. It made me sad to put that trilogy aside, but I feel pretty confident in the fact that wolves will resurface someday—and in 5 or 10 years, I would probably rip up that story and write something vastly different, but it’s okay. Sometimes that’s what happens. As writers, we can’t stop growing and changing and making decisions based on what is important to us.
I feel in my heart that my current project is going to get published. But I don’t have the heart to start writing the second book right now—not because I am uncertain the first will get published—but because I realize the whole agent and publishing process will change this first book into something else…which will change what happens in the second.
So—what do I do with my time now?
Lately, I’ve been devouring the brilliant science fiction Ender Series and reading some more contemporary paranormal YA like Everlost, the first book of the Skinjacker Trilogy.
I’ve been dreaming of the second book of my science fiction trilogy and adding little notes about it to my Index Cards iPad app that allows me to just throw a bunch of scenes and pieces of storyline together—so that I can sit like Dumbledore staring into the pensive as the details rearrange themselves into what they are supposed to become. I often feel like my characters are telling me their story, not the other way around.
Aside from the writing, I am going through some inner cultural conflicts.
I am back to thinking about not wanting to voice again.
I go through this every few months or so. I am Deaf, but I went deaf in my teens, and I still have enough hearing to hear some voices and sounds and to be able to speak clearer English than most hearing people (because I grew up with a deaf mother who lip reads, so I needed to annunciate my words very carefully from a young age). I love voicing, too, because I love using the English language, my first language.
My deafness, however, makes it so that any social interactions with other people are hard if they are not in ASL. When I voice, I am not just meeting hearing people half-way and asking them to meet me half-way in our communication. I am bending over backwards for them, making it so that it’s easy for them to know what I am saying.
The problem is—that doesn’t make it any easier for me to hear them. And it makes them want me to lip read, which is exhausting and it gives me headaches. But they hear me talking and they automatically want to talk back. It’s a natural response, so I don’t blame them for it.
But if I start the whole conversation with writing on a notepad, or typing on our cell phones, then we’re on the same page from the start. We’re BOTH typing to each other, we’re both communicating in written English. The communication is balanced—it is equal.
I know these things, but when I go home to my parent’s house and I see my family, I am pulled back into hearing culture and voicing. Most of the women in my family, even the other deaf ones, speak loudly and tell stories. Dramatic, repetitive storytelling is a huge part of American Italian culture and I’m not outside of its compelling influence. When I want to tell a story, even to my partner (who is hearing but knows ASL), my first instinct is to tell it the way my grandmother does—in English with wild gestures (though now, my hands move with ASL signs instead).
When I am especially excited, I probably sound like other bilinguals (who might yell something in English and then yell more in Spanish or Russian), but I’m even more confusing because sometimes I yell in English and ASL at the same time, ripping something away from each language by mashing them together, but illustrating how divided I am at the same time.
I can speak volumes faster than I can sign, which is what I am hoping to change as my toddlers becomes an older child. I want him to be as fluent in ASL and I wish I could be and I want to never feel like I need to voice with him.
And I want to remember to STOP VOICING with him NOW.
I am Deaf, but I used to be hearing. When I go to sleep, sometime I dream in ASL, and sometimes I can hear and I dream in spoken English.
I’m writing these struggles out there for all the other people who I am sure are also straddling cultures, whether it is French and American cultures, or Eastern and Western cultures, or hearing and Deaf cultures.
We’re all different. And we’re all beautiful and ugly in our own unique ways. I don’t think any of us should ever stop learning about other cultures, but sometimes it’s good to remember and honor (all) the cultures we belong to, however they may conflict inside of us.
If you are at all curious about the Deaf community, I urge you to pick this up. It had great range, from fiction to poetry to non-fiction, and features some very talented writers.
From the introduction by John Lee Clark:
“…this book represents the latest blow to the audist vision of deafness as a calamity, as something that must be fixed at all costs.”
The cover of the book, a dandelion, is a tribute to Clayton Valli, a ASL poet and linguist. His famous ASL poem “A Dandelion”, which is about the persistence of ASL despite oralists attempts to weed it out, is transcribed in the book, though I love the ASL version below:
[A note from Wikipedia:
“Audism is the notion that one is superior based upon one’s ability to hear, or that life without hearing is futile and miserable, or an attitude based on pathological thinking which results in a negative stigma toward anyone who does not hear.”]
[A note from me:
Many hearing people are audists without even realizing it.
They are audists when they feel bad for someone who is deaf—because of their deafness.
(Though when they just feel bad about a deaf person being left out, or when they wish to learn ASL to communicate better with a deaf person, that’s not audism.)
They are audists when they see a deaf person as disabled, or hearing impaired, or suffering from hearing loss.
They are audists when they think that person should have hearing aides or cochlear implants, or speak with their voice rather than their hands.
When you are part of the Deaf community or use ASL, hearing loss is not something that is “suffered.” Hearing loss then becomes deafness. It doesn’t include words like “impaired” or “loss” or “disabled.”
I do feel disabled when I am surrounded by hearing people who cannot sign. Or when someone turns on a movie that doesn’t have captions or subtitles. But that doesn’t really make me disabled. It just means I can’t hear English, despite the fact that I speak and write in English.
English was my first language, and Hearing culture was my first culture. Gradually, I’ve become a part of Deaf culture, too, and I’ve realized, it’s okay to be both. It’s okay to feel a part of two different cultures—the same way I feel at home in India or Ireland, but I was not born of those cultures, either.
I love ASL, but I’m not a master of it. I need it, but I cannot sign nearly as well as I can speak or write. This is why—this is exactly why—I’ve chosen to read my writing aloud, in English, because it was written in English. But if Deaf individuals attend my readings, I will always deeply want to sign for them.
I wish to take hold of my own voice with my hands as well as with my mouth. But I don’t feel adept enough to translate my English into ASL. And for a true ASL performance, I would need to read my work aloud, and then sign it in ASL. Not every venue would be open to that (being that it would take twice as long to do a reading), but that is something I might later wish to attempt in the performing of my own work.
Until then, I’m proud to be a part of anthologies like this—where my words can exist alongside other deaf writers speaking about the Deaf experience from their minds and from their hearts.]
(what else happens in my life, besides the intersection of these things?)
I was speaking with a close friend and cousin today about magic: Not the witchcraft kind (not exactly), nor the sorcerer either. How sometimes, things just all come together magically. It’s not just the big things that do this, but the little things, too. Like when I get just enough writing done to go for a run and then cook dinner, and the baby sleeps for just long enough for me to get everything done that I want to get done. Days occasionally go perfectly. And there’s so many beautiful accidents that happen in the world.
I believe this happens when we are feeling particularly positive, flexible, and open.
When we have nothing against the Universe, and the Universe doesn’t seem to have anything against us.
I think this happens for everyone, though I’m sure there are exceptions. But THIS—this exact feeling of:
THIS is a GOAL for me. This is something I try and wake up every day to feel, but of course, I might start days like this sometimes, and other times, I’ll feel an entire aversion to everything having to do with the morning (having to get up, make coffee, walk the puppy, feed the toddler, start working) from the first second I open my eyes (and those days usually go badly, from those first seconds). Life happens in between these two opposite situations: the positive and negative things that revolve around us throughout our days. And I think it’s hardest in the middle, divided between opposing reactions, opposing feelings, essentially stuck with a love/hate feeling for the whole world.
Deafness does this.
Though more specifically, the kind of deafness I mean is, having spent the first decade or so of life hearing mostly-everything, and then within a decade, hearing a lot of noise, but no words, not anymore.
I hear a lot, but it’s a lot of “nothing”—groaning, yelling, car engines, boat engines, toilet flushes, crying, rushing wind, and my own voice.
I wonder if that’s why I still do LOVE the sound of my own voice, and I love to give public readings or tell stories to my child in spoken English, even though I also sign stories to him in ASL. I love the poetry slams and cafe poetry readings, even though, unless the poet gives me a copy of their reading beforehand, I can’t hear them.
I love all these things, but I hate them, too. I hate them because of the words I can’t hear anymore, and I hate them because they make me feel selfish, they make me feel disabled, and they make me feel divided (between hearing and deaf cultures, two vastly different entities that I didn’t even realize existed before I crossed from one of them to the other, and back, and forth, and back).
So what do I do here in this middle ground—this place between the positive and the negative, the two cultures, the love and hate? I’m not calling hearing positive or better, I’m calling it different than deaf, equally positive and negative on its own. Just like Deafness. There’s no path that is better, but being deaf in a group of hearing people feels exactly lovely and awful at the same time.
Lovely, because they are my friends or my family, and awful because they are speaking a language I can’t hear anymore—so it’s not like the English I can speak myself, it’s like they’re speaking Arabic or Mandarin.
I love all the new things I notice because I can’t hear anymore: like new outfits, the look of guilt or sorrow someone’s trying desperately to hide, new hairstyles or the way someone’s standing and what it might be showing of their deeper feelings, or the way the wind is moving over the water or through the leaves.
Some people might think it’s romantic and dreamy to be deaf, and sometimes on t.v., we are shown as this: a dreaming angel, eyes noticing everything and mind constantly thinking about “romantic” things.
And some people think its the most horrible thing in the world: “Oh, my God, you can’t HEAR ANYTHING? I don’t know what I’d DO without my HEARING! Oh my, can you actually drive a CAR?! How do you go to a RESTAURANT?!”
But really, my deafness often feels like, every day, I wake up and people have decided to speak a new language, and everyone knows it except ME, and by the end of every day, I think, “Maybe by tomorrow, I’ll understand more of it,” but then tomorrow comes, and it’s a whole NEW language all over again.
And honestly, some days I’m too tired to even TRY lip reading. Or being in a group of people speaking this “new language.”
And through all my changes, I’ve learned the language of deafness, which in this country is called ASL or American Sign Language, and I’ve learned that I feel closer to dogs than humans. The language of dogs, their whining, their barks and groans, the way they roll on the floor or wag their tails, has not changed! Dogs have always spoke this way to me, and they always will. It’s the sort of “constant” that’s a blessing in my life, something that helps me on the path towards being more positive (which is one reason I have Hearing Dogs).
I’ve also learned that some humans have a strong sense of community and generosity, and some do not. (Or in another words: Not all humans are as sweet as dogs.)
The language of the wind has remained the same, too, though that dialect is the most exciting when you live on a sailboat.
And humans are the most interesting to me when I wake up in an “actually different country,” not America, and have difficulty hearing Hindi or Thai or Tibetan. (I feel less disabled in India or Kenya, than I feel in my hometown. Could this be WHY I’d rather be in India?!)
It’s strange, what the body can remember of our history. (Read: Body, Remember, a fantastic memoir by Kenny Fries)
Or is it, when something dramatic happens that changes how everyone must relate to us and causes us to be a little more difficult to communicate with, it’s then that we see who our true friends and family are, and what they each will do to meet us in the middle ground, in this divided, blessed space?
This blog post is partly inspired by my dear friend and previous advisor: Bhanu Kapil (read her blog), who I will see in two short weeks, on Ghost Ranch, in New Mexico for AROHO’s 2013 Women’s Writing Retreat! If I am ever out of ideas for a blog post, I will read her blog. It’s filled with “Prose Incubation. Social Theory. Dogs.” and so much more, from the everyday to the sublime.
To those caught in the middle, however you might be divided: good luck to you.