Monday, January 31, 2011

Gym-bunny? Or Gym-hippo?

Alright, I'll just come forward and admit it. I'm one of those people. Just like thousands out there, I'm celebrating a new year with a new gym membership. And just like so many others I'm planning to get in shape and hopefully lose some weight. I'm trying to set realistic goals. I try hard not to kid myself and maybe that's why I haven't had a gym membership since 2004. But now I feel ready!

I joined a huge gym because they had the best classes. If my reality was "Dodgeball" (movie from 2004), I signed up at Globo Gym but I would definitely feel more comfortable at Average Joe's. Or so I thought. I was pleasantly surprised that most people at the gym were regular folks with regular bodies. Of course there were gym-bunnies, but I was by no means the only gym-hippo.

Anyways, I did my initiation workout today. It wasn't that bad. I did the elliptical for about 40 min, while being distracted by "The Price is Right". I love how most of the cardio-machines have their own tv! Especially now when I no longer have cable at home. Hm... maybe I should schedule a workout during the Academy Awards...

After 40 min on the elliptical, I tried a machine I've never tried before. A step machine. Not the one with pedals, but a step machine with actual steps. OMG! It was so much harder than it looked! I did 10 min on it and I wasn't sweating as much as I was melting away. But if it's painful it has to be good, right?
Tomorrow, it's time for Zumba! I've never tried it before but it looks like fun. I'm actually looking forward to it. I'll keep you updated on my work-out progress. Hopefully I will not only be one of those people who made a promise, but one of those people who actually finds a healthier way of living. Only time will tell...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jante's Curse

WARNING! Cultural generalizations ahead!

Traditionally, all Scandinavian cultures have been governed by a sense of mediocracy, or a strive to fit in and not stand out. This is best described and known as "The Jante Law". The Law has 10 rules:

1. Don't think you're anything special
2. Don't think you're as much as us
3. Don't think you're wiser than us
4. Don't convince yourself that you're better than us
5. Don't think you know more than us
6. Don't think you are more than us
7. Don't think you are good at anything
8. Don't laugh at us
9. Don't think anyone cares about you
10. Don't think you can teach us anything

These laws are a part of our cultural heritage and have molded Scandinavians into very modest people, where the collective has been preferred over the individual. We are taught to reinforce this trait throughout our lives, in kindergarten, at school, in our professional lives and as seniors. Throughout life, you never need to worry about being left behind, however, it comes at the expense of never having the room to excel.

Don't get me wrong, I'm damn proud of being Swedish. I'm also damn proud of being myself. In the same way as I've come to realize my own strengths and weaknesses, I will not pretend that Swedes are the perfect people. I used to believe that Swedes were humble and modest people, but the recent years have made me revise some of my initial ideas.

Coming from a country governed by Jante, being brought up in the Chinese sentiment of "if you work really, really hard, you can be the greatest at what you set your mind to" and now living in a culture where everybody is the best at whatever, has made me think. Having just returned from Sweden and Taiwan it has all became quite clear.

Let me give you an example. During the trip to Sweden and Taiwan I got asked one particular question on more than one occasion: "What are you doing in the US?" My answer: "My husband got a job at Google so we moved to Silicon Valley and now I'm a homemaker/housewife." The most common response to my answer:

US: That sounds great! You're so lucky! Do you like it here?
Taiwan: Your husband must have worked very hard and be very clever.
Sweden: Oh, you're not working? It must be hard. What do you do with all your time? I would go crazy if I didn't work!

Also, during the past few years, I've noticed more and more "friendly competitions". It could be about who's kid started to walk the youngest, who's last vacation was the greatest or who's conference was the most boring or who's had the most problems etc. Every time I encounter a "friendly competition" I'm reminded of Monty Python's sketch: "Four Yorkshiremen".

I know this phenomenon is not limited to Swedes, but how does this rhyme with "The Jante Law"? Either "The Jante Law" is only a myth or it's actually a curse. Maybe it has turned Scandinavians into spiteful and jealous people who can only feel good as long as others don't feel better. So, the next time I hear a "friendly competition" it might be a sign that Scandinavians have changed and feel free to be more boastful or it's a reminder of "The Jante Law". It's not important if you're happy or if you're proud, as long as you understand that you're not happier or prouder than the people around you.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hi and Good-bye

Yawn... it's 4:16 am and I'm jet-lagged. I came back to the US yesterday and jet-lag has never really been my friend. This time I flew over the dateline and I have no idea how it will affect my sleep pattern. Curiously I lived the 20th of Jauary, 2011 twice. I started my journey on Thursday morning at 5:45 am and landed the same morning at 9:30 am in San Francisco. I have to say that it was more fun the other time around. The first time I had to say good-bye to my parents and the second time I got to say hi to my husband.

So, I'm back. I've been gone about a month and a half. I started off by a few weeks in Sweden, then a bonus day in China, a few days in Taiwan and finally a few weeks in Thailand. The trip has been absolutely amazing! The sights, foods, cultures and experiences have been great but what turned this trip into pure magic was the people I got to share it with. For the past 90 days I've been surrounded by people I hold dear. We've shared meals, drinks, hotels, laughs, feelings and memories.

If you have read my previous posts you will have read about delicious foods, gorgeous hotels and relaxing spas. I've written about the fabulous days I've had. When amazing things happen I feel no sense of entitlement, au contraire, I feel very humble and fortunate. The most humbling experience I've ever had was at my wedding. I couldn't believe the love and care our friends showered us with. I've carried the same feeling for the past weeks and my plan is to continue to do so.

Now I'm back. Now I can't wait to meet my wonderful friends here at home. To show them photos and tell them about the amazing trip I just did, but more importantly to catch up on what's happened in their lives since we saw each other last. A good-bye is always hard, but it's easier when you can follow every good-bye with a hi.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bag-crazies, show yourself!

Every single time! Without exceptions! Why do people need to stand right up against the conveyor belt at the airport baggage claim?!? You have all seen it, all these people, with their baggage carts waiting for their luggage. They are stressed and pushy and it's like they believe their bag will arrive sooner if they just stare a little harder at the conveyor belt. I like to call these people bag-crazies.

I've complained about this in my own mind a million times but also to pretty much every single person I've travelled with. I've also over-heard other people complaining about the same thing. The fact is, I haven't met a single person who has defended or explained the behavior. So, if everybody agrees that people are insane at the baggage claim, who are the insane people. Is it only a coincidence that everyone I've talked to and heard are like-minded or are they closeted bag-crazies? Is it in fact a dogma that you shouldn't crowd the conveyor belt so the people who do it do it behind the society's back?

Monday, January 17, 2011

A 28 year old child

Is it true that your brain will rot if you don't use it? I'm wondering because I'm pretty sure I'm reeking at the moment.

A few days ago I said good-bye to my BFF. She returned to Sweden. I, on the other hand, had a week left in Thailand. My parents usually escapes the Swedish winters by travelling to Thailand and now I'm spending a week with them before I return to the US.

The Thailand trip with my BFF was absolutely amazing! Even though we have cherished every moment of it, we have had a few incidents along the way that was somewhat challenging. It almost always involved people trying to cheat us off our money. Fortunately, our heads are screwed on straight but it was still exhausting and frustrating. However, everything changed when we met up with my parents.

They met us at the bus-stop with their taxi. They had already checked us in at the hotel, they had prepared breakfast and transportation for Theres and her early departure the next morning, they had arranged for us to have a drink by the pool and my mum had prepared a wonderful dinner. Once they went into "parent-mode" they were impossible to stop. And trust me, I'm not complaining! They've ushered me around, doted on me and made sure I'm not hungry, thirsty, tired, too hot, too cold or bored. I literally don't need my brain when I'm with my parents!

Since I and my husband moved to the US, I don't get to see my parents as often. So we take the opportunity to really enjoy each others company and take care of each other when ever we can. It might not be very independent of me to enjoy their care as much as I do, but I would be lying if I said that I'm not loving it! I'm a married 28 year old woman. I'm my husbands wife. But I'm also my parents daughter. I'm their 28 year old child.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tears in the sun

Today is a sad day. The sun is shining and the easy life of Thailand continues, but it's still a sad day. Today I said good-bye to my BFF, Theres. She left for Sweden today and our journey together came to an end.

The fact that we only get to meet each other about twice a year makes every good-bye equally heart-wrenching. I cried like a child when we hugged each other good-bye.

The last few days in Thailand were great. We lived like queens on Koh Phangan and we made sure to use all the hotel's facilities to the best of our ability. We left Koh Phangan yesterday and took a boat ride and a bus ride to Hua-Hin, where my parents met us with open arms. After being properly chaperoned by my parents and installed in our hotel room, we had a quick swim, a drink and a delicious dinner together. After I and Theres returned to our room it was time for her to pack and for us to go to bed.

We didn't talked about it, but I'm sure we were both thinking about it. We were about to say good-bye. At one point I think we tried to turn it into a joke but it's no joke. It's just as hard as the first time we said good-bye when I moved to England about 8,5 years ago. You see, we've had a long-distance relationship for quite some time. But you never get use to it. On the contrary, you quickly get use to having each other around, even if you're "only" travelling together for 10 days.

I'm about to cry again. I better go brush my teeth and put myself to bed. Today the countdown begins. I will miss Theres everyday until we see each other again.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

From island, to island, to island

Greetings from Koh Phangan!

Yesterday we left the busy streets of Patong beach for our final island destination, Koh Phangan. Our stay in Phuket was as crazy as we anticipated. We lived just a block away from Bangla road and we now know what it has to offer!

We were lucky enough to have our own guide, an old Swedish friend we haven't seen for over 7 years. He has managed restaurants in Phuket for the past 5 years. He really gave us the grand tour. Given that we only had two nights we saw alot! We drank drinks, had a "fish pedicure", where you let fish eat the dead skin off your feet (it was quite the experience),visited bars, saw Swedish people, ate Swedish "Lovbiff" at Mamma Mia and observed tons of "working women". We also experienced things I'm not really going to write about... :)

After two insane nights at Patong beach, we were more than ready to head to our next destination, a five star spa resort on Koh Phangan. A crazy taxi ride, a short flight, a short taxi ride, a wonderful boat ride, an absolutely insane minibuss ride, a four-wheel drive pickup truck and a golf-cart ride later, we arrived at our hotel. The minibus transfer was among the craziest rides I've ever had in my entire life. You know how you can ride jeeps on rough terrain for kicks, imagine doing that in a rusty minibus! The fact that our hotel is so remote than the minibus couldn't make it up the mountain just added to the insanity.

About 10 hours later (the flight from island to island only took 55 min) we had the keys to our suite. We have enjoyed everyting we have done this far, but we had really looked forward to this hotel. It was our luxury splurge. The room is amazing!!! We have a nice patio overlooking lush mountains, a big livingroom, huuuge bathroom with an outdoor shower and a bedroom with amazing views and morning sun. Add a private infinity pool and ocean views from every room, including the bathroom, and that's our suite. It's a little piece of heaven!

The hotel itself is gorgeous. The hotel grounds are vast and covers one face of a mountain. We live as far on top as you possibly can. They have a wooden tuk-tuk that drives the guests around the grounds and it takes us about 5 min to get from our room to the reception.

Today I started the day by taking a swin in our private pool. After a long nice shower I and Theres took the tuk-tuk to the breakfast buffee and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast. My meassure for a great breakfast buffe is if they have a omelette station or not. They did. And a million other things.

With a stomach full of goodies, we are now down at the beach next to our hotel. We are about to have a mani-pedi and some massage before returning to our suite. There is no question that we are living the easy life, and my goodness is it easy to live!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Phuket, Patong and Bangla Road

It's surprising how much fine sand and salt fells alike. I'm not quite sure what I'm all covered in, but I definitely brought some souvenirs from Koh Phi Phi.

Today we left the quiet island life of Phi Phi and arrived in the far more busy island life of Phuket. Phuket has been and is a favorite tourist destination for many Swedes and party people. We figures we should, at least, experience some of that while we're here. And if you're going to do something you should do it right! So, here we are, at our hotel on Patong Beach, just one block of Bangla Road. If you don't know what this entails, let me sum it up for you. Our guidebook has a page about Patong Beach. "It's the most exploited beach on Phuket". Another article about Thailand called Bangla road "the craziest party road in Thailand". I'll do some field research and get back to you regarding these statements.

But one must prepare for field research of this kind. One can not just jump in, head first. After battling language difficulties, difficult people and being herded like cattle, we arrived at our hotel. After some more language difficulties, difficult people and being treated like cattle, we finally arrived in our room. There is only one cure (or so they say) for such exhaustion. Spa-treatments! So we pampered ourselves with a 120 min spa-package which included a body scrub (I will be finding coffee grains EVERYWHERE for a while), Thai & Aroma massage (not as painful this time), a facial (at least 5 creams and a mask) and sauna (I never thought I would find myself in a sauna in Thailand).

Now we're ready to take on the city. And if the city wins, we can always return to the spa tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Phi Phi posting

Greetings from Koh Phi Phi!

After a loooong night at the airport, Theres and I found each other and after a few hours of sleep, we found our way to Bangkok. The bustling city in combination with sheer exhaustion made the Bangkok visit a sweaty and somewhat foggy experience. But we're happy we got the chance to absorb some of what the city had to offer.

Yesterday we made our way to Koh Phi Phi. We took our backbacks and boarded a plane to Phuket. From there took a boat ride, another boat ride and finally we arrived our paradise beach. We arrived in vacation heaven! With the white sand, the blue water and the beach bungalows, we knew we would fit right in.

Today we have done nothing. The whole day has felt lika a lazy Sunday morning. We did have a Thai massage, or more correctly, we survived a Thai massage. It was PAINFUL!!! Tomorrow we are waking up early to visit four other beaches, among them the beach from "The Beach". We are also exploring the possibility to relax from our relaxation...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year & New Destination

Bye-bye Taiwan, hello Thailand!

I just arrived Thailand. I'm currently sitting at an internet cafe at Bangkok airport. I'm patiently waiting for my BFF to arrive from Sri Lanka. She will be here in about 7 hours. I have a feeling this will be a very long night. But it will be sooo worth the wait!

So, I have about an hour of internet. I feel I should blog, but there are a million things to blog about. Let's take one things at the time and see how far it takes us.

I've just spent five days with my grandma, uncle and my cousins in Taiwan. Luckily I saw my cousins last year, at my wedding, but I hadn't seen my grandma and uncle for three years. But it doesn't matter! If you're family, you're family, especially in Asia. To sum things up, I've spent the past few days eating, eating, sight-seeing and eating. There have been so many highlights, but just to mention a few, our New Year's Eve was spectacular, re-discovering my roots was amazing and I really enjoyed a 2,5 hour bike excursion (even though I couldn't sit comfortably for a while). Oh, did I mention the food?

We celebrated New Year's Eve at Taipei 101, on the 73rd floor. If you don't know, Taipei 101 was until recently the tallest building in the world. This New Year's celebration was extra special because Republic of China (Taiwan) is celebating 100 years. The fireworks was concentrated around the building itself and now I know how it feels to be inside fireworks!

Re-discovering my roots was very important to me. I know my roots very well, but this time I got to share and show my husband. We visited my birthplace, my mother's birthplace and where we all grew up. We visited my grandpa's temple and paid our respect. But the most precious moment of all was sitting on the porch of our family home, with my grandma, grandpa's best friend, my uncle and my husband, enjoying the sun with a cup of coffee and newly boiled peanuts.

On December 31st my cousins took me and and my husband out for a bike ride. It took us about 2,5 hours to bike from their home to the coast. The bike path was great and the views were amazing! However, I can't even remember when I biked 2,5 hours straight last and I definately felt the consequences for quite a while! My behind is not built for biking!

Food! I ate, ate, ate and then ate some more. I've been stuffed since the minute I arrived Taiwan. It's insane the amount I've eaten! I'm amazed I still fit into my cloths. Favorites? Taiwanese beef noodle soup! I wish I could swim in it! I also LOVE the night market foods, especially stinky tofu. And then there are all the desserts! I don't even like desserts, but then I don't get to eat desserts like these! I have a feeling I will show exactly how much I've eaten when I parade around the Thailand beaches in the very near future...

Thailand... this will be my location for the coming few weeks. As I just mentioned I'm currently waiting for my BFF. She's done an amazing trip in Sri Lanka for the past few weeks and now we are spending the next 10 days travelling around Thailand. I can't wait to hear how she's been! We celebrated New Year's last year in Vegas. We did an amazing road-trip last winter and this winter we are back-packing in Thailand. It is somewhat questionable if this is proper back-packing, we are flying between destinations and we've already booked all our hotels, but at least all our stuff is packed in back-packs.

There are actually lots more to write about, considering everything that has happened the past few days, but you know how it is (or is it just me?). When there is a lot to write about there is no time to write. When you finally get time to write, it has happened too much to capture all the details.

I will try to up-date my blog along the trip in Thailand. But don't be surprised if I'm distracted by the sun, the beaches and the general relaxation.