The Secret to Happiness

13 Jan
fun friends
massages
flowy pants
elephants
tropical climate
falling
I found these in Thailand. Let’s start with the last one: When you fall down, get up and try again, and as long as you don’t die, you may find that you are happier… or maybe not, but at least you’re not a quitter.
It starts with my friend Freddie. I won’t go into how I know him. But let’s just say he’s the most gregarious and craziest of my friends. Some other people come close, but they just can’t quite beat Freddie. I doubt they ever will because Freddie’s been at it longer and will stay at it the longest. Just pray that you end up in the same nursing home as him because that’s your only chance at not being bored there. Anyway, we just happened to have plans to be in the same city at the same time, so we planned to meet up. The timing was perfect. I had just met Duncan at the airport, and as we drove up to my hostel, there was Freddie taking off  his helmet.  We made plans to visit a famous mountain near Chiang Mai. Before we set off, though, he needed to drop off his scooter in a village 45 minutes away.
“Huh? You rented a scooter that far out?”
“No, I borrowed it from a Thai lady.”
“A random Thai let you borrow her scooter without some kind of collateral!?”  But I really wasn’t that surprised because I know Freddie just enough to know these kinds of things happen to him all the time. But that wasn’t all. He also needed to pick up his rooster feathers. The previous day he had attended the Buffalo Market with his boss, and purchased twenty roosters so that he could take the feathers back to Texas for his girlfriend to use in people’s hair. It’s hugely popular in the Austin area. First it was my coworkers, then my students, and now apparently every other Texas girl (and Freddie) has thin purple, red, and blue feathers semi-permanently imbedded in their hair.  Any other states experiencing this hair enhancement fad? Anyway, he said it took a long time to explain to the chicken owners that he didn’t want the meat. He needed someone to skin them and dry the carcasses. “They were really angry at me because they thought I wasn’t taking their roosters seriously”, Freddie explained to us. In his photos you can see at least ten locals in a circle around him as he makes wild hand gestures in his attempt to act out which part of the bird he needs.  Finally a lady who spoke English came to his aid.
Anyway, before he could go up the mountain with us, he needed to run these errands, and wouldn’t it be really convenient if both Duncan and I rented a scooter and went with him so that he can have a ride back instead of trying to find a taxi out in rural Thailand? That sounds great except for the part about how I’ve never ridden a scooter before, and they drive on the left side of the road in Thailand, and I’d be getting up to highway speeds, and neither of them were actually going to teach me, just sorta encourage me…
I agreed of course.
On my scooter
Freddie took off to find gas, and Duncan and I rode around the block. Some ladies who were going about their daily business started screaming at me because I guess it was obvious that I lacked control as I made the 90 degree turns in their tiny alley ways. Then, it happened. I don’t really know why I fell.  I was making a right turn (crossing the opposing lane) onto a medium sized street, and when I realized I was swinging too wide, I turned the bike so that I didn’t hit the parked cars. Either because I turned it too sharply or because I was going to slow or because I didn’t know what I was doing, the scooter and I made a dive. It skidded along the road, and people hanging out in nearby shops and homes yelled out sounds like, “Woahaaahhhh!!” My first thought was, “This is really happening?”, and my second thought was, “Did my sunglasses break?” and my third thought was, “This is going to be a waste of money”. I had just finished telling the guy who rented the scooter to me that, “Yes, I’ve driven a one before”.  After I paid, he just stood there to watch me ride off on it, but I didn’t even know how to start it, so I just pretended to have lots of things to do, like open and close the seat compartment, and rearrange my backpack until he finally got bored and walked back to his store.
“Woe is me,” I thought as I picked the scooter up and wheeled it over to the side of the street. Duncan was next to me by this time, and his grimace just as difficult to stomach as was my damaged scooter. “I don’t think this was a good idea” I lamented. Looking at my knees, I expecting to see big holes in my thin, black jeans, but they looked the same even though I could feel my skin burning underneath them. My bottom lip burned slightly, and my palms had scrapes. Nothing was very visible though. It was mostly my confidence that was shaken. Well, and the scooter. It had a huge scrape on the side and on the handle bar, and a piece of plastic was broken off of a part towards the back, making an obvious hole in what looked like an important area. But Duncan said it’s just a covering for the actual goods inside of it. After five minutes I had a fair amount of pain when I bent over. My lower back had been jolted when I landed on my knees. I started to worry that I damaged my body and bank account just for chicken feathers.
Duncan wisely said we should just chill here for a bit so my nerves could return to their usual amounts of worry and agitation. I was torn as to what I should do with the scooter because I didn’t want to ride it, nor did I want to take it back to the place twenty minutes after renting it, which is the same as saying, “I’m a huge moron who owes you money”.
Luckily (I guess) Freddie showed up and coaxed me into trying again. Repeatedly ignoring their requests that I should increase my speed and stay close behind Freddie, I rode at a comfortable pace and began to get the hang of it. It’s really quite easy. The rush of the wind and overcoming my fear was amazing. It was surprisingly easy to get the hang of driving on the other side of the road and alongside many other scooters, passing the slow ones by going to their right, yet staying to the left of the cars. The hardest part was making turns because it took me a long time to think about what lane I am aiming for, which lane is the turning lane, and where the heck we even are.  Luckily, I didn’t have to make too many turns. Towards the end of our journey I was even keeping up with Freddie except when he wanted to pass huge garbage truck type vehicles by driving on the weird brick shoulder with only inches between his scooter and about a million potential death objects. For my first time on a scooter, I was going plenty fast enough, 60 mph, and weaving around plenty of things, like that girl who darted out on foot in front of me.
Following Freddie. Don’t worry, Mom, this was on the way back when Duncan was driving me. But it gives you an idea of what the roads look like.

trucks piled even higher than this are common
Riding in between cars/lanes like this is pretty common in Thailand and Taiwan. I do it on my bicycle in Taipei pretty frequently actually, mostly at red lights.
We returned the scooter Freddie borrowed from the very trusting lady and then went to a different house where his feathers were drying on a clothes line. I felt lucky to be able to see a normal house in Thailand. I’ve heard that on some treks (hiking tours to waterfalls and such), the guide will sometimes do things like pay a local woman to go to the river wearing traditional Thai clothing and pretend to wash her clothes in the river so tourists feel like they’ve seen a civilization truly different than their own.  I was seeing the real deal though: bunnies hopping around, tons of frogs swimming in vats of dark water, and roosters scurrying about. A grinning man made it a point to show me around the property while the other people smiled at us. None of us could communicate except to the girl that Freddie had originally happened upon at the Buffalo Market

One of the houses
Free roaming chickens and rabbits
My tour guide
The frogs
A lady was kind enough to hand her adorable son over to Duncan.
Freddie inspects his feathers
Duncan and Freddie
Yep
As you can see, the rooster feathers were nice and ready. Freddie haggled with the guy who wanted 500 Baht (about 16 USD). Figuring he just gave the guy free meat to feed the entire village for a day or two, he got him down to 300 (10 USD) for his services.
This part of my trip was priceless. Next story, the elephant camp, where I learned that Toy’s name means “backwards”. Toy is the owner of the Thai Kitchen restaurants in Austin.  We used this word to command the elephants.
Oh, and I almost forgot. I had my fingers crossed all day that they’d somehow overlook the scooter damage and return my passport to me as if my little accident was all a dream. And that’s exactly what happened. To everyone who gets Tierney to put feathers in your hair, I almost died for you. You’re welcome.
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4 Responses to “The Secret to Happiness”

  1. Jeanne January 13, 2012 at 1:35 am #

    Hilarious! (Since I know the happy ending that you are still alive!) What a great adventure. I really doubt Freddie will get those chicken feathers through customs, though. The photos of Duncan with the baby is so sweet. Did you find out why they keep frogs in green slimy water? Is it for food? I’m looking forward to seeing the photos of the elephant adventure.

  2. Ed January 13, 2012 at 10:18 pm #

    Your story about the scooter seemed quite familiar to me. The first time that I operated my Honda motorcycle, I dumped it and scraped myself up. You learn quickly because those falls hurt.

    I’m glad you had a good trip and lived to tell about it.

  3. Olivia January 14, 2012 at 1:28 am #

    I love this story Emily and am glad you are okay. I have to give you a little background on the feathers so you are “in the know”. Last year Steven Tyler, the main singer from Aerosmith, joined the panel of judges on American Idol. Aerosmith was the first rock concert I attended and Aunt Kathie brought me for my 8th grade graduation. I thought I was so cool. This was 1976 just to give you a time frame. Steven Tyler is known for his crazy style and dress. He was a huge partier during the band’s prime but since has been clean and sober. As part of his persona he wore roach clips in his hair and the clips had feathers. So, keeping with his true style, he wore feathers in his hair during American Idol as an accessory to his many wild outfits. Because so many young girls, including some old girls like me, watch the show, it became the new coolest thing. Last fall, my hair stylist tried to convince Alyssa and Haley to get some feathers but they quickly said no way – I guess they are more for pre-teens in our area. They feathers are dyed purple, pink, blue, etc. and are woven in a small section of hair. I guess they last for a month or so.

    I am glad I could provide some back story to add to your great story. I think you have found the secret to happiness and it couldn’t make me any happier to see you having fun and welcoming adventure and new experiences. Dream On!!
    Love your Aunt O.

  4. Freddie Gonzalez January 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    It was really great to read this Emily, and I am happy that your memories of the event seem rather fond. I didn’t exactly intend to put your life at risk, but I am happy that you were a willing participant and an awesome partner in my off-the-beaten-path tour of Thailand! It was a wild ride.. literally!

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