Helping Wild Animals in Africa

By: BornWild
Original article: Working with Animals in Africa

“We are passionate about helping the conservation of wild animals and if you are reading this, then you probably are too. Within the past five years we have researched foundations, charities and conservation projects Africa – whom are legitimate and whom we consider some of the best places to donate to, volunteer at and really help wild animals in the best way possible. We’ve hand picked our favourite places from putting in maximum effort and volunteering for a year in Africa to putting in minimum effort and coming on a trip for a day that donates to wild animals and everything in between.”


You can read BornWild’s full article here, or click on the pictures below to find out more about getting involved with the animal conservation projects that come highly recommended.

The Painted Dogs Conservation

Lilongwe Wildlife Trust

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust



Don’t Free Willy

(On Manners, Cultural Sensitivity and Rules)

By Kimberly Kosta

We all make mistakes. Even after diligently looking up norms and conventions of a destination we are all probably guilty of screwing up and being rude some how. There can be so many rules, after all. (Don’t stick your chopsticks vertically in your rice in Japan, don’t show the sole of your shoe in Middle Eastern countries, DO touch your arm as you hand money to someone in South Korea) …You have to be mindful of the laws of the land, the rules of basic etiquette, and try not to tread all over someone’s culture while you’re at it. Usually (in my experience) the locals are pretty forgiving of minor transgressions, which is a good thing because we are human and therefore prone to error. They understand that it is unintentional.

Then there are times when people are not just crossing a line, but long jumping over it in full body glitter, holding sparklers and using an air horn. While in the Philippines (I believe this story occurred in Boracay), my friend returned to our hotel and told me she’d seen two people completely naked hanging out at the beach. Was it a nude beach, you ask? Ah-nope.

As the Philippines is 83% Catholic, I would expect people to show more cultural sensitivity and modesty. And, really, if it’s not your home country where such a thing might be normal (send details) and if it isn’t a designated place to get nekkid, why would you run around like that, all free-willy-nilly? I bet if we’d all had judge’s score cards to hold up that noise would have been shut down REAL QUICK. Luckily, they weren’t MY travel companions, though I’ve certainly had my share of friends whose behavior was stress-inducing.

I once travelled four hours from Jeonju to Seoul on a bus in Korea with a guy who was SO FREAKING LOUD that he could sell it to the back row of the Apollo at a whisper. I mean his normal volume was much higher than most people’s to begin with but of course, being on a cell where the person on the other end was shouting made him dial it up even more. THANK GAWD I wasn’t actually sitting right next to him but I mean… I thought I was going to implode in on myself from embarrassment. Busses in Korea are like libraries. You shouldn’t eat smelly, noisy foods, and you should keep conversations to a dull roar.

During this particular trip I could see the Koreans getting agitated and frustrated and giving us looks. To ME this was all super obvious. Guy-in-Question was two rows back, BLAH BLAH BLAH-ing on the phone, while I was quietly sitting next to a different friend, BURNING with shame because some of those looks were thrown my way. Shut up shut up shut up I telepathically implored, rubbing my temples, while vowing never to set foot on a bus with him again. For me, the guilt-by association was a form of torture. And not that I’m perfect, but I know, for example, not to get freaky in the mud pit at the Boryeong’s Mudfest, which is generally a family event. (Yeah, I’ve heard rumors of that actually happening. Ugh. Like I said, people: Body glitter and sparklers).

(Update: As I opened my computer today to edit this post, I saw an article about two American men who dropped trou in a Thai temple and are now facing charges).

Now this is a fairly straight-forward, easy example of a “don’t”, but sometimes the rules are more subtle and aren’t always immediately available with signs and pamphlets, in which case being aware of people around you and monitoring their behavior can tell you a lot about expectations. And if someone politely TELLS you you’re breaking with social convention, just humbly admit the faux pas and for god’s sake QUIT IT.

Definitely research the countries and cultures you intend to visit. You don’t need to know EVERYTHING, but get familiar with manners for greetings and goodbyes, appropriate dress, table manners and which gestures are okay. In the USA the ‘thumbs up’ gesture shows an affirmative or approval, and good happy fuzzy feelings, but in other countries (like Italy or Greece) it communicates where you can shove any good, happy, fuzzy feelings if you use it.

And for the love of all things holy shmoley guacamole, pleaaaaaase save Mr. Bojangles and Mrs. Vagoofor designated exhibitory places. Or risk seeing people scoring your physique using a specific finger.

I’ll let you guess which one.

It’s OK to Feel Like Crap on Vacation

By Kimberly Kosta

Feeling bleh can happen anytime, anywhere. It’s part of the human experience. IF ONLY your golems and wraiths of sadness and stress exceeded the baggage limit so you could leave them behind while travelling! But you are who you are and your problems are your problems, so while you’re toasting your arrival in Faraway, expect those phantoms to be right there beside you, whispering in your ear….This marriage isn’t working; I’m scared I’ll be an untalented loser forever; Why doesn’t my cat like me…?

I’ve been miserable in countless places. But did it make the vacations a waste of time? Mais, non! Good times were still had, stories were still collected, and perspective was sometimes gained. Besides, you can be miserable at home doing what you always do, or you can go somewhere new and at least have something to take away from it.

Once on Jeju Island (South Korea) I was swimming in the ocean and although I was there with my ex I never felt so alone. We had been together forever at that point (about 13 years) and yet when I looked at him on the beach he seemed no different than any of the other strangers gathered there. This isn’t normal, is it? I mean, people talk about how marriages change, but…Is it supposed to be like this? Our relationship was not defined by compliments, or acts of service, or any of the 5 Love Languages for that matter. I was rarely told I was loved (unsolicited), though I must have said it a thousand times to him that he was. It was defined by a need for security and history that would be hard to walk away from.

Six months later we were in Florence sitting in one of those Italian restaurants with the red and white checkered tablecloths still recovering from me having my stuff stolen and he looks at me and says (for the first time…ever?) “I’m so in love with you.”

That’s when I knew it was over.

It was the STRANGEST sensation I’ve ever experienced, because the revelation was immediately blanketed by my insecurities like a white blood cell attacking a Staph bacterium. True, if asked, he would have told me he loved me back, but he’d never said “in love.” Looking back on it I knew he was just saying he was proud of me for dealing with the theft really well, but hearing those words for the first time and realizing it wasn’t what he meant or even true…When I didn’t feel like one is supposed to feel when told such a beautiful thing…It wasn’t until eight months later we finally confronted the fact that we were no longer a good fit. But I remember swimming on that beach and enjoying that meal in Italy, and I have positive feelings about those memories now. The negative feelings are no longer part of the equation when I evaluate the worth of those times spent together travelling. When I think about that beach the first thing my mind picks out is the beautiful aqua shoreline and the way the water felt like silk as I tread in it – not the loneliness. I remember the delicious lasagna and wine at the restaurant in Italy and how it felt so good to get out of the bitter winter. The theft was EPIC, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I finally had my: Wow, I’m in ITALY! moment there.I know at the time the wraiths were hovering…but I no longer feel their presence when I go back in time to reminisce.

As I write this I look forward to many new adventures, hopefully spent under better circumstances, however I also know that if something IS on my mind (because, you know…life) it’ll still be worth the trouble to get out into the big, wide, world. I still haven’t had the chance to travel with my new hubby yet (we’ve been together nearly 5 years now), but I know that when I do that feeling of loneliness won’t be there. He just makes life so fun and breezy.

(The cat and I might still have issues, though).

*I lied. There is no cat. The cat is figurative. But if I HAD a cat I’m sure it would be passive-aggressive and try to plant seeds of doubt into my subconscious, make me question my self-esteem and basic sense of reality by gaslighting me at every turn, pretending it wasn’t trying to trip me, tell me lies as it purrs one minute before swatting me the next, evaporating the last vestiges of my confidence and just what do I have to do to please, you, Figurative Cat?!!

It’s OK to Feel Like Crap on Vacation

On Assembling Your Fellowship for Travel


By Kimberly Kosta

The Vatican is BIG. I mean, you think you’re prepared for it, and then you walk in and one of your travel companions announces at the top of her lungs: “OH MY [EXPLETIVE] GOD!!! And the sound of it seems to ECHO! ECHO! Off every painting, and relief through the vast empty space and you wish you’d worn your “I’m SOOOO not with stupid shirt” and you make yourself as small as possible and pretend to be with the tour group to the left.

But what is a single faux pas among friends? (ECHO)! We didn’t get escorted out, and tried explaining that cussing in a church – particularly the Vatican (not to mention taking the Lord’s name in vain!), was like wearing one’s filthy shoes into a Buddhist temple. It didn’t seem to translate, but whatever. It was over and done with pretty quickly. No harm, no foul. Happy ending, right?


The little things quickly become the big things. You want to sit inside and enjoy a nice meal with some wine to avoid the sub-zero temperatures, and they want to forgo eating until the group has returned to the hostel, preferring to spend eight solid hours in the cold site-seeing or window-shopping without break. You want to fit in and look inconspicuous, they want to bring outside food into the establishment you’ve chosen, getting warm on your dime (which ordinarily, you’d be only too happy to do, if it hadn’t been for everything else). And you suddenly recall the day you decided to travel with said people and the knight from the Last Crusade springs to mind. You chose poorly, he whispers. Indeed.

We had a lot of bad luck on this trip, which began before we even left. Boyfriend bought Girlfriend’s ticket, but didn’t realize her name was spelled differently on her passport. Tickets had to be cancelled and repurchased at the new, higher price with the correct spelling. Plus, I think there was a cancellation fee. He didn’t think she’d be able to go as a result, (and therefore neither would he) so my common law husband and I helped him pay for the new ticket, covering a third of the price each. It was Christmas so it was quite a bit, but it made for a nice present at the time. She wouldn’t even have to know anything had gone wrong.

We thought we were going to have an exciting and harmonious vacation with friends we generally got along with. Instead we got to see how travel can bring out the worst in people. All Girlfriend did was complain and whine the entire trip. She complained it was cold. She complained about the line ups. She complained about the locals right in front of them, assuming they couldn’t understand English. We stayed at her friend’s apartment in Paris and she wouldn’t lift a finger to help clean up. She didn’t want to contribute to the money we left in an envelope as a ‘thank you’ for a week’s free stay and free tours. She wouldn’t hustle when we needed to SERIOUSLY make a run for a train, instead choosing to pout and dawdle on purpose to make Boyfriend suffer from whatever accidental drama he’d started THAT day.

He bought her a rose once, just to be romantic, and she complained he didn’t buy something ‘more expensive’ and we had to endure the awkward silent treatment that ensued between brow-beatings.  We paid for every taxi and covered a few meals indoors so she wouldn’t feel left out. Hey – everybody has a different spending limit and it WAS cold outside. Yet the complaining continued unabated. This was the vacation I had my bag with over USD3,000 worth of stuff stolen on Day 1, and I had refused to ruin everybody else’s time because of it. I’m the idiot who put her bag down after all. Putting up with Princess Pain-in the-Ass made smiling through the shock, embarrassment and hurt that much harder, though. Boy, life sure is treating you, rough Buttercup, I thought behind gritted teeth, thinking of everything I’d lost. Oh yeah – she smart-mouthed the cops when we had to wait to make our police report, too, against our urging.

But I’d known.

In the end, the signs were there before we left, before we even bought the tickets, nice and big and pulsating in red: This couple would be some kind of karmic punishment for things I did in another life. Maybe even this one.

I could tell you if confronted by a similar situation to trust your gut, but you won’t. Because you’re too nice and still have faith it will work out. And the good news is, sometimes it will. Sometimes you’ll have such a good time with the people you’re with you’ll wish it would never end. Other times you’ll fantasize about what it would be like to spend a day in a room full of puppies on crack with a thousand latex balloons floating around just to get to a peaceful, relaxing place. (ECHO)!

Know thy enemy, they say. And know thy ‘friends’ even better. Especially as your finger hovers over that “enter” key and you make your ticket purchase. Ain’t no refunds for time wasted with people who are not on your wavelength, and if you’re being totally honest, never were. So: Ye be warned, fair excursioner. Travelling ANYWHERE with some people is like travelling off the edge of the map where it says: ‘here there be monsters’.

Choose wisely.

Going Under the Knife Abroad

(Or How I Spent My Summer Vacation)

By Kimberly Kosta

Back in 2012, I was rocking in the ROK (Republic of Korea) and having a marvellous go of it until my two besties at the time decided they needed to move on to other pastures. Knowing I was losing two good friends naturally meant I needed to go to Bangkok and buy two new friends, um…unnaturally. I’d like to introduce you to My Rack. It’s like Iraq, but instead of being stony and sandy it’s hilly and soft.

Okay pause. I know what you’re thinking: Did I really get on a plane and go get a boob job out of nowhere just because my girlfriends left town? Yes and no.

I wanted to be spontaneous and wild, yes, but I’d not only looked into the surgery years before, but the particular hospital I had in mind, too. I’m speaking of Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, and it exceeded my expectations. Besides being internationally known for its very cheap yet high quality care, I had a family member inform me of her experiences first hand years before. I had just kind of dropped the idea until I suddenly had two weeks of free time, money to burn and a youth to misspend. I booked my surgery three days from the initial email. They were efficient to say the least.

Picture it: A modern hospital staffed with the friendliest of Thai people. Picture your private room being nicer than your hotel room, furnished with a cloud-like bed, a kitchenette, a flat screen TV and a living room. Picture two nurses per shift checking on you and making sure you’re getting enough morphine. Picture this for only three or four thousand dollars (at the time) for major surgery. I woke up and stayed for about 48 hours before heading back down the street to my hotel. I was almost sad to leave. The work they did was so good I was already going on tours a couple of days later.

It was probably one of the best vacations I’ve ever had, and I got two new “girlfriends” out of the deal.

Medical tourism is the big thing right now and if you know the risks and inform yourself properly you can benefit greatly from this booming industry. Read up on the pit falls (know the horror stories!) but look into the success stories also. And KNOW YOURSELF. I know so many friends who go can’t go one shade lighter or darker than their normal hair color at the salon without having a breakdown over what the stylist ‘did to them’. Half the time I can’t even see a real difference. If that’s familiar, then surgery isn’t for you. You’re going to change, and have scars and be different (which is the point), so you have to picture yourself adjusting to that. On the other hand, whether you’re ‘fixing’ something that bothered you, or if you’re just changing something for fun like I did, remember it’s just cosmetic frippery. It’s like veneers or a tattoo: you’re stuck with it but it doesn’t change who you actually are. I’d never suggest surgery as a solution for low self-esteem for example.

Would I use Bumrungrad again? Ha! Trick question, I already did! I got double eyelid surgery in 2013, and not only was it also a success, but when I found out my Grandpa (who was staying in the southern region of Thailand) was in medical distress, I asked the doctor’s if we could have the follow up appointment sooner. The doctor said “absolutely!” and came in on a SATURDAY. Just for me and one other guy in his own pickle. My eyes turned out fine, and bonus: My Grandpa made a full recovery. (Wait…Maybe I should have written that the other way around…The bonus was the eyes – the eyes!)

The doctors were professional and friendly and did a great job, and I feel totally healthy/normal/fine years later. (I think I just celebrated my 5 year booby-versary). I’ve had dental work this past year that was harder to deal with, suffer through and recover from. I can’t say I traded UP ‘friendship-wise’ but I certainly traded OUT decently well. (Heh). And I did it alone. The best part was being able to go on tours, eat at the restaurants and take in Bangkok afterwards. I didn’t have a lot of luggage to worry about hauling around either (something to consider if you want major surgery), and I made sure to book myself into a hotel that was a five-minute walk away. The hardest part was crossing the street.

Oh, and Bumrungrad also has a McDonald’s in it, which I thought was weird, being a facility dedicated to health and all, but in the end it was kind of a nice convenience when my stomach was recovering from the procedure and I needed something bland and familiar to eat. So, there you have it. You can make the experience a true ‘happy meal’ (ha, ha).


Did I really Just Eat That…?

(On Gastronomical Thrill-Seeking)

By Kimberly Kosta

If a picture is worth a thousand words than a bite is worth a thousand WORLDS. I still haven’t found a cuisine I don’t like, and the great thing is every time I eat a dish from somewhere I’ve been, memories bloom with every mouthful, taking me back to far away places. Pad Thai from Thailand, bibimbap from South Korea, bangers and mash from the UK…

But sometimes I need to get a little adventurous. Those are the times where once is enough a la: I-swallowed-the-shot, got-the-picture, won-the-t-shirt variety. Let’s start with live octopus in Korea. This is usually served with makkoli  a Korean rice spirit, and if the name upsets you don’t worry – the octopus is definitely dead. The hard part isn’t eating the spasming little bits with the suckers still pulsating, nor is it chewing and swallowing (cautiously! – apparently the suckers can latch on to your throat)! The hard part is actually watching the server kill it. The first time I saw it I was in shock – she started from the bottom of the tentacles and slowly moved her way up, snip-snip-snip, tapping it on the head to keep it conscious, (presumably to get the bits to squirm more)? I don’t know. But I didn’t order it, it was happening before I knew it, and I didn’t feel comfortable making a protest about how things are done elsewhere. And yes, it still haunts me. But there it was, a dozen little squirming octo-parts in front of me, and I decided to rise to the occasion. I had to count to three.

One, two…two-and-a-half…Oh WOW. I felt like I was eating salty bubble gum. Bubble gum that was trying to chew me back. I chomp and nosh and chew, and down it goes without a problem. I gave thanks to the little guy and vowed to commemorate him somehow. Octo-Petey, I salute you! (Seriously though, I wouldn’t order it on purpose. It just tended to show up at multiple course meals amid the chaos that is makkoli. Usually the kill was a clean snip to the neck).

Other foods weren’t as easy to get down. Once, after returning to the table my dinner companions encouraged me to try a roasted nut. Hmm, I thought right as I put it in my mouth. Why does this nut have legs? OH DEAR GOD! I had unwittingly just eaten beondegi! But I refused to spit it out. Beondegi is Korean silk worm larvae, and is often found stewing in the pots of street vendors and at festivals and announces its presence to your olfactory senses loooong before you see it. But before you turn into Judgey McJudger Pants, know that this little silk worm baby packs a lot of protein in it, and during times of scarcity it was probably a godsend. To my credit, I kept it down.

Another ‘food’ that tried to come back up was the fish eye shot. We were all enjoying some Jam-ji – raw tuna, at this bangin’ local place when my friend recommended we try a fish eye shot. “Say what?” Was just about everyone’s reaction. She explained it was where the uneaten eye of the tuna they serve is plopped into a shot of soju (Korean vodka). Fish eye shot. Duh. We got the shot, but instead of the eye we got its fluid instead. Probably a good thing since it meant we wouldn’t have to pop it in our mouths ourselves. The first shot went down fine. The second, which was pinker and stronger (and FISHIER) got spit right back into the glass before I even swallowed. Well, MINE ended up there. My third friend, however, managed to actually swallow it down, and…well you remember that volcano experiment where you mix the baking soda and vinegar? Imagine a reaction of those proportions in her stomach and, BLARGGG! All over the floor it went. The room was so busy making merry that no one even noticed and she cleaned it up without much fuss. We teased her about it forever, though.

I went quite a while without doing anything gastronomically daring, but then fast-forward to the Philippines, where a guy was selling balut (fertilized, boiled, chicken eggs) and thought: I got this. One of my friends at the time had to walk away, although the truth is I was lucky: The one I bought wasn’t very developed. I bit into it and there was an outline of a beak, a wing, and a foot. But mostly it was just like a hard-boiled egg. If you look it up on the internet, you’ll see why I got lucky that day.

If there’s one thing I know about having been abroad is that it’s the perfect time to step outside oneself and shake things up. To put another way: You can always watch your favorite rom-coms , but sometimes you just want to see an action-adventure movie, or try a convoluted thriller. It’s the same with food: Sometimes I want the Spielberg culinary experience where my seafood fights back, and sometimes I want the David Lynch experience, where I don’t know WHAT is going on.

Eating the same food abroad as you would at home is fine and dandy for some folks, but for me it would be like living Dorothy’s meat and potatoes Kansas as opposed to experiencing OZ’s technicolor candy store. Even if it means occasionally trying not to yak on the yellow brick road.

Culture Shock… Or Not

By Kimberly Kosta

I’ve never really liked the term “culture shock.” It always seemed overly dramatic. It never seemed appropriate to the situations it was being used in, like the emotion behind it was a child trying to dress up in mom’s oversized shoes and pearls. No, that isn’t right either…It’s like your little nephew trying to scare you by wearing his older brother’s Freddy claws and yelling: RAAAAWR! Then asking: We’re you scared? You were SO SURPRISED, right?!

Nah, not usually. But of course, to be polite you’ll always nod emphatically to be supportive. And so it often is with people’s expressive outpourings of how they’re adjusting to their new environment while abroad. Like they’ll say: “There’s so little personal space here…I guess I’ve got culture shock.”

Shock to me suggests a sense of alarm over the discrepancy between what you’re seeing and what you know. A term to use when your brain can’t reconcile the new information with the old and you’re literally dumbfounded. An example of when I thought it was used appropriately would be that time my friend was offered a little girl for companionship in a certain South East Asian country, and when he refused, a boy. (which he also turned down of course).

Seeing abject poverty, drugs or crime…hearing people’s stories of hardship and realizing it’s just their routine life…That, in my mind, can justify the term “shock,” especially if it has affected you directly. Mostly, though, I hear it being used to describe the inconveniences of a new place, the frustrations of expectations that were not met, or differences in social interactions.

When I first got to South Korea in 2007, a lot of the men wore pink. It was a surprise (actually kind of a pleasant one – no one owns a color after all), but it wasn’t “shock”. Getting used to less personal space was something new, but not “shock”. Crazy taxi drivers…okay that one I might give you since if you’ve ever experienced it, you’ve undoubtedly sprung a few grey hairs after your first few rides. I guess what I’m saying is: the word shock often doesn’t seem proportionate to the event being described by it.

I propose instead: Culture Daze. Or maybe Culture Daunt.

It’s got to be catchy, or no one will use it.

Example: “Wow, I have to look both ways before I cross the sidewalk here! (Ha, ha). I think I’m experiencing culture daunt!” Or: “My elementary students use actual blades to sharpen their pencils! Talk about culture daze!”

What do you think? Is it time to tell the emotions behind the word “shock” to put down the Freddy claws and use their indoor voice? Do we need to reign in our tendencies towards the dramatic?


Bangkok Bliss and Escaping the McWorld

By Kimberly Kosta

Travel is a time for self-reflection. For meditation and taking a giant step back from your life to examine it. It’s also a time to push your boundaries, to drink the shot, take the jump, kiss the stranger, swallow the worm. I wrote an article on being safe and what precautions to take travelling as a woman. I have broken almost every one of those tips at some point. Fortunately, Lady Luck was always smiling down on me and nothing bad happened as a result.

I’ve had cocktails with strangers, trusting the next round of drinks that came to me were ‘clean’ and free of anything more insidious than the cheap alcohol within (which believe me was insidious enough). I had travelled alone to Bangkok (which in and of itself was a great experience), but one night I decided I wanted some other humans to hang out with. So I looked up the nearest expat bar – What luck! Cheap Charlie’s was right in my neighborhood! I wandered over to introduce myself to some random German couple (take THAT, Introverted Self)! After a few (*cough: dozen) rounds, we decided to check out one of Thailand’s famous, um…shows. I’m not going to tell you what that entailed but when I woke up with a snowflake that had “Welcome to Thailand, ****” written on it I promptly washed everything and showered. I WILL say the shots I bought for that nice performer lady I talked to were probably just water. Expensive, expensive water. I laughed at myself. Oh, get off your high horse, internet. I still see them as people, you know? And anyways it was impressive no matter how righteous you are. I mean… I couldn’t do any of THAT with my…you know. Flower.

Talk about escaping the McWORLD!

At the time, I lived in South Korea, which is very pristine in its way. You see young people rocking out pop or punk styles, but they are all showered and well-cared for with freshly washed clothes, starched and ironed, and their looks are all carefully curated. Behind every rebellious bad-ass was a mother who cared. I loved living there.

In contrast, Bangkok was a grab bag of diversity. Was that a man or a woman you were just talking to? One moment you’re walking by someone hardly clothed to avoid the heat (or possibly to sell themselves) and the next you’re walking by someone in a full burqa. (At least you might in Soi Sukhumvit, also known as Little Arabia). There were fat people, thin people and everything in between people. There were stray dogs, but none of them menacing. The air was spicy. There were so many different skin colors. Crossing the road was terrifying, not to mention taking one of the motorcycle taxis. Hey, did you know in other countries the space between two cars is a “lane”? Yeah, I didn’t either, but I’ve got the gray hairs to prove it. It was awesome.

There was a lot to do, too. You can explore traditional markets (which I preferred), or try Terminal 21 for a really cool (literally cool) air conditioned shopping experience with each floor themed after a different famous city in the world. You can see lots of traditional temples and the Grand Palace or hit up the floating market (just beware of the boa guy – I paid to hold a BIGGUN which was all good, but then he tried to get the snake to “kiss” me. How many other tourists had that snake’s lips pressed against? STD!! STD!!! Luckily, I have the cat-like reflexes of, well, a cat). Buddha (my MAN) is everywhere. There’s Muay Thai fights, fabulous food and great shows (like Siam Niramit) to take in. The sky train is DUMB easy to use.

If you want to try haggling, there’s tons of opportunities. Just don’t be douchy about it. I haggled a little with a lady once, and when I got a really fair price on something (without gouging her) she was so grateful. She thanked me after because so many tourists use their over-sized, over-privileged, performance- enhanced economic status to overpower the locals a lot. I believed her. They have kids, too, you know.

There’s some off-the-beaten path stuff to find, too. Like the bar jammed into the space between two buildings and covered with a back curtain to make it difficult to find called the Iron Faerie. It was steam punk meets Bogart. The space was covered in old, beautiful junk, rusted and hailing from the early 20th century (at least in appearance). There was a spiral staircase right behind the bar of all places, twining up to the second floor. I remember sitting there on the only seat available: a metal bucket or something makeshift, getting into the jazz singer performing behind the bar, the only space actually available. She was crooning “I Love You Baby” and we were all singing along (BAH duh, BAH duh, Bah Dah DAH Dah Dah)…! I think I was drinking a white Russian, sitting next to my new American friend. The whole thing was brilliantly weird.

I miss Thailand and would whole-heartedly return. The locals were sweet and helpful, and the atmosphere was an exotic mix of seasonings both pure and wild. The perfect place to go if you’re bored of your Styrofoam-packaged, predictable, McLife.

And Not Even A Tushy Squeeze

(My Disappointing Italian Adventure)

By Kimberly Kosta

It was the market crash of 2008 and one of the coldest winters parts of Europe had seen in 40 years, so naturally my ex and I decided it was the perfect time to go on a UK/Euro Trip. (And have been endlessly self-flagellating myself for ever since). A solid week of this trip would be spent in Italy, and like all young romantics it was the one place I was most excited to see.

We packed up two years of our lives spent in South Korea to go back home to Canada in under a week (the last 48 hours being a DOUZY). The plan was to hit up Europe and Great Britain on the way, thinking all the pieces would fall into place beautifully. We managed to dismantle our lives more or less successfully in the time that we had except for the fact that we weren’t able to make one final shipment at the post office. As a result, we had extra things to carry, but planned to find a post office in Europe where we’d unburden ourselves later. Another result of our rushed exit was that I couldn’t relax or sleep (even on the long flight) so by the time we landed in Rome, I’d been awake for some 40 hours and counting as we slogged through unfamiliar territory in the cold and dark. I had one bag of clothes on my back, and one bag in my arms which was heavy – and I desperately wanted to put it down.

Quiz time: Which bag do you think had USD3,000 worth of stuff in it? Which one had the DSL Camera with the new lens, the passport, cellphone and wallet? Which one had half a manuscript and thousands of pictures stored in a brand new netbook (which in Korea cost nearly USD1,000 alone)? Hint: It wasn’t the bag resting comfortably around my shoulders. I can’t even be mad at the thief. I almost felt bad that I hadn’t bothered gift-wrapping everything while I was practically handing it over to him (or her). At least they had a merry Christmas. (Is there an opposite to Mensa? If so, I should be their president for life. NEVER PUT YOUR BAG DOWN IN ITALY).

I heard once that theft is such a “thing” in Italy, that there’s actually a tour company that will rob their clients (they always return their stuff of course), just to give people the ultimate Italian experience. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is it’s a perfect way to sum up what you can expect there. Seriously. Lock up your very soul if you want to keep it. Even the taxi driver on the way to the police station tried to pull a fast one. Let that sink in for a minute.

As for what happened to me, I didn’t cry (though I wanted to, believe me). But not only was I now exhausted, ashamed, scared, confused, embarrassed and with a good heaping of hurt feelings on the side, but I wasn’t able to go sleep it off right away. I had to file a police report (only way to get an emergency passport). So, nerves shattered I went to the station to fill out the paper work where we were asked to wait for an hour while the police played cards. That’s after waiting around for them to acknowledge us in the first place which I got the feeling they really weren’t in the mood to do. But I still didn’t cry. No sense ruining everyone else’s vacation even more than I felt like I already had.

Once I was processed and had the necessary paperwork for the embassy, we were finally able to go to the hostel. No WIFI as promised. Owner was an ex cop himself who just shrugged when we asked about it. Welcome to Italy, I thought.

Rome was…inspiring in pockets, I guess? It does have beautiful architecture and artefacts, but did any of it touch my soul? Not really. What I remember is the graffiti. I remember the trash and litter in the streets. I remember the way the older ladies all looked like they’d just stepped out of the eighties: wearing fur, tanned so much they looked like raisins wearing bright red lipstick and sporting long red nails with clouds of perfume following them. The men were hot as reputed. I laughed that not a single one grabbed my tushy after all I’d been through (I kid, I kid). The young women were super pretty too. But no one was friendly.

I remember it was 2 pm one day and I walked into an unlocked store with all the lights on and a guy on a cell phone just held up his hand to me and snapped “WE’RE CLOSED.” I tried to apologize and explain the sign said ‘open’ and he cut me off to repeat the declaration. Fine, screw you I thought. I remember the taxi’s being crooked and everyone was sour. I remember trying to get out of Italy by Venice and the clerk looking suicidal (or maybe homicidal). He hated us. He hated having to HELP us. I mean, nearly ten years later and I still feel the effects of his glare on my soul: Much like chemo on the remains of my naïve assumptions that people were basically good. (Don’t worry, it grew back).

In sum, I remember Italy being unfriendly, uninteresting, and DIFFICULT with a side of USD10 table water and a fee to use the toilet should you have the need to heave up your discontent in a public place somewhere. Or just cry your eyes out privately so you don’t ruin other people’s good time. Which I never did.

I swear.