Category Archives: journeys

Minimalist Backpacking with a Toddler in SE Asia: the Extras

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Blogging from Thailand proved to be outside of my range of abilities (this time!).  Honestly, I was too busy walking around Krabi town, spending time with new friends, meeting Deaf Thais, getting sick in Bali, getting tattoos, and amusing my 2-year-old with subsequent treks to an intersection of stone elephants, a park filled with animal sculptures, and long tail boat rides to some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.

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In the coming weeks, I plan to write more posts about the experiences we have had, but first I’d like to write a much belated continuation of my previous post about budgeting a trip to SE Asia with a toddler.  And the good thing about me writing this after our trip is that I can speak from everything we experienced throughout the entire 10-week-long journey.  


With any trip to the other side of the world, there are always extra expenses you do not foresee ahead of time when planning.  The easiest way to deal with this is to either have a lot of extra cash or credit cards with a few thousand dollars on them for emergencies.  I cannot stress this enough.  

When I traveled to India in my twenties, twice I changed my return flights and instead of being able to just change the flights, I had to buy new tickets and throw away my old ones.  That taught me to be prepared for something similar happening during any trip I take.  Traveling as a trio when you have a toddler old enough for his own plane ticket definitely adds to the necessity of enough funds at your disposal to fly straight home if something horrible happens.  Thankfully, we only had to throw away a couple hundred dollars worth of Air Asia flights, and purchase about $500 worth of new Air Asia flights during our trip.  

That wasn’t the only “extra” we faced though.  


So many extra expenses pop up while traveling, from boat rides you don’t plan but don’t wish to miss out on, to a lucky week at a gorgeous resort because you made a new friend, to a safer ride in a car with a child seat verses a public bus with no seat belts, to a suitcase you decide to buy at the end to hold the beautiful brass wok you found in Krabi town and all the wonderful fabrics and clothes you couldn’t resist buying from the markets.  

We completely went over budget with this trip, but I don’t regret anything.  And I know better now to plan for the “extras” as carefully as I planned for the essentials.  


One thing I learned from our fiasco with the Air Asia flights is: don’t buy them too far ahead of time (I mean before you arrive in SE Asia), especially if you have a toddler.  Anything can happen to change your plans, from volcanoes erupting to just feeling too tired and sick to venture to a new and unfamiliar country.  You might miss out on a random $10 USD ticket from Malaysia to Cambodia, but if you wait and buy the flights exactly when you are sure you want to take them, you’ll get to do exactly what you want and you’ll get that extra spontaneity that is so essential to traveling like this.  


For those of you who love numbers, I’d recommend an extra $1,000 USD for every 4 weeks you spend in SE Asia – just for those precious extras that you might never find nor get the chance to experience again.  Of course, you can decide to be content with the shells and corals you find on the beaches, but sometimes, taking that one extra long tail boat ride to a beach with caves and burning your bare feet on the docks because you forgot you might need shoes is worth every extra baht. 

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Minimalist Backpacking with a Toddler in SE Asia: the Budget

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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.

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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:

 

THE ESSENTIALS

 

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)!  

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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.  

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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.

magic, deafness, being divided, and dogs

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(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.

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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:

Positivity.  Gentleness.  Awareness.  Friendliness.  Kindness.  Hopefulness.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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?!”

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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.”

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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?!)

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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?

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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.

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To those caught in the middle, however you might be divided: good luck to you.

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Balancing Between, an Introduction

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This was the Introduction of my still-in-process poetry collection currently titled: Balancing Between: Deafness, Death, and Other Journeys.  I’ve cut it from the manuscript itself, but it’s a fitting first blog post to introduce you to me, Kristen Ringman:

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As a younger writer, I wrote in the context of dreamed philosophies yearning towards the natural world I felt humans were losing more each day.  Like a proper teenager, I wrote about things I often couldn’t even touch.

Now, as my ears have spent many years deafening, my writing has found its way back to my own body.  I’ve explored sweltering countries like India and Kenya, fallen in love with their red soil, their roads that cut through fields like a scar, and the way I suddenly felt at peace beneath their banana palms or banyan branches.  I’m always more at home in foreign places.  I’ve watched loved ones die of one cancer or another, and whether it was in India or America, the cancer reared its wild head like a lion that knew it would never be tamed.  Humans still stood by, powerless to such bodily invasion, holding words or scraps of tissue in their palms.

These experiences I have swallowed, along with the taste of lovers, mangoes, and hot chai, have all shaped my writing as a form of navigation through the margins of the world.  I’m always caught between cultures, between words read on lips or hands, between my desire to please myself and my desire to please someone else.

Writing is my way of drawing the right lines between myself and other bodies, lines that are as red as the roads in India or Africa, and just as deaf.  Writing the things I have touched.

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