What other people refer to as writer’s block, I call writer’s constipation. I have hundreds of stories in my head. They just don’t come out when I want them to.
The other day, my brain was so bloated I headed for the beach. I was hoping the change of scenery would stimulate the words that needed to flow out of me. After swimming, I went straight to a shaded public courtyard where I sat down on a plastic wicker chair under an umbrella stained with pigeon poop and cigarette smoke. As I’d predicted, the words began to work their way out. I wrote for two straight hours. In my bikini. I felt like one of those irritating digital nomads who posts a pic of their laptop next to a pool on Instagram. #TodaysOffice.
When I stood to leave, I grimaced. The tingling sensations told me my ass had fallen asleep. It was also sporting a new look. For the next hour, I walked around with a Pipe Cleaner-esque woven pattern imprinted across my cheeks. It looked painful, and it prompted me to take inventory of the rest of my body. Here is the toll 30+ days in Thailand and Malaysia has taken on me.
The Eyes Have Bags It’s not an allergic reaction to makeup. I can’t wear it here. It’s so hot and humid—often up to 97 percent—that makeup melts faster than you can apply it. It’s not pink eye. I had that when I came back from Hawaii (tip: don’t assume the snorkel mask rental places disinfect their fleet). Somehow I made it through the airport although I clearly belonged in quarantine. My 70-ish-year-old eye doctor said I had the worst case of pink eyes (the infection spread) he’d ever seen.
If I had to guess, I’d say the puffy, swollen eyes—occasionally leaking tears or a yellow snot-like substance—is from the pollution. I adore Chiang Mai, but I complain about its AQI. The Air Quality Index has gotten up to 130 in the past few weeks. For perspective, Los Angeles, the place where smog is a four-letter word, was recently up to 63. Yeah, I think it’s the air that’s bothering my eyes. The worst part is I have three bags under my right eye and one bag under my left. They could at least be symmetrical!
The Legs Have Bites It’s not an exaggeration to say I have more mosquito bites than an entire troop of boy scouts camping on a lake in Minnesota. While my friends here coat themselves with bug spray, and I used to too, I pride myself on my newly adopted DEET detox. My friends think I’m nuts. But the mosquitos couldn’t be happier. Or fatter. They flock to me like some Southerners flock to the Golden Corral.
While I take no prisoners, I can’t kill them all. The stealthy ones sure know how to dine and ditch. My friend tells me it’s the Asian tiger mosquitos who are slipping through the swats. According to the Washington Post, “these are not your garden variety of blood suckers.” On the bright side, that same friend says my incredibly inflamed red sores are a good sign. It means my immune system is working. Yay me.
The Skin Has Lines The three tan lines on my shoulders and back tell conflicting stories. One set of lines hints at a girl in a quarter-sleeved cycling jersey. Another alludes to a girl wearing a racerback that once belonged to someone who did a triathlon in China. But the real conversation starter is evidence of a crisscross halter top bikini held together by one thin string.
The lines on my legs are more straightforward. THIS GIRL SPENDS HOURS ON A BIKE. From the middle of my thighs to my knees, I’m the color of a golden graham cracker. The top of my thighs, on the other hand, could easily be mistaken for marshmallows that are about a year past their “best by” date. The bottoms of my legs are so covered in bites that they’re starting to look like the surface of Mars. Until they reach my pale, knobby ankles. Yes, some of us wear socks in the tropics.
My Skull is Branded My worst nightmare was now a reality. The man hovering over me kept
drilling into my head. It was 2017. Hadn’t lobotomies been outlawed decades ago? “I take photos,” said the man’s assistant, reaching for my iPhone. Later, I watched the video he’d taken of his boss painstakingly ramming the foot-long narrow bamboo needle into the tender part of my skull behind my left ear. It hurt to watch. This morning, I put salve on the same spot. It’s my first tattoo. Although I don’t think of it as a tattoo. I think of it as a brand. The sideways J with a K on top is my family’s cattle brand: Lazy JK. It’s also my initials. Since it’s on the back of my head, I can’t tell if it’s infected. So every day I put pink salve on it and hope for the best.
My Hair is Gone and Long In the past month, I’ve spent about $25 on my hair. That includes a big bottle of apres-shampoo from the pharmacy, one bikini wax and about 6 blowouts. The last time I got a bikini wax for less than $10 was in Indonesia. I think I was that 14-year-old girl’s first (and probably last) client. It hurt worse than my tattoo. But clearly not bad enough that I wouldn’t try another cheap one in Southeast Asia. This one, however, was definitely worth it. I highly recommend, as long as you don’t mind being in one main room with three old dudes getting massages. There was a sheet between us, but they heard everything. And I heard everything. The hair on my head is shot. The woman who blow dries it for me twice a week was disgusted when I first came in. She kept holding up my hair, saying “New. New. New!” In her humble opinion my split ends are about two inches too long and my brown hair is a blank canvas screaming for color. In my humble opinion, she should shut up and be grateful that despite the harassment, I still tip her at least 20%.
My Pants Fall Down When was the last time you bought a bag of chips or a peanut butter KitKat only to immediately step onto a scale? I think I did it four times last week. Scales are outside the front door of almost every 7-Eleven in Chiang Mai, and when you’re handed your change, what else are you going to do with that worthless 1 baht coin? I won’t go so far as to say Thais are obsessed with their weight. But, they do love their scales. They’re also outside of TESCOs (near the ATMS) and there’s even a bathroom scale in the lobby/cafe of my hotel. It’s not for your luggage.
According to my calculations I’ve lost about seven lbs. in the last month. I haven’t cut out chocolate (those KitKats!) but I’m eating more wholesome foods—including at least three whole 14-inch pizzas per week, washed down with two glasses of outrageously overpriced watery white wine. IN ONE SITTING. I’m also sitting on my bum most days. I ride between 25-50 miles a day, sometimes with a few thousand feet of elevation gain. I think some of the weight loss can also be attributed to the GI issues I had for a couple days. Find me someone in Thailand who has NOT gotten some form of food poisoning, and I will break them off a piece of my KitKat bar.
No Crack Whore Here We were in the red light district a couple weeks ago and I was pushing up against the wall of a bar, twisting and stretching to crack my spine. “Stop it!” the white guys I was with said. “The working girls are going to think you’re trying to steal their jobs.” The sound of my vertebrate popping is far from sexy. But the former female inmates who give me massages every other day seem to get pleasure from it. They’re like kids playing with bubble wrap. Every massage starts out with the fingers and toes. All 20 (or however many you have) of them. When my appendages are being stubborn and don’t want to crack, one of the masseuses twists them clockwise and then pulls. CRACK! My neck and back, on the other hand, are more than happy to produce audible cracks. All. Day. Long. Yes, I’ve gotten so good at cracking on command that I find myself now doing it in public when I’m bored. Oh the Wifi cut out? CRACK. Waiting in line to top up my phone? CRACK. Listening to a friend go on and on about politics. CRACK. CRACK. Watching much older white men try to convince themselves their Thai girlfriends truly love them? CRACK.