Author Archives: Michelle Ross

Never Say Never

Never say never.

Three words that are good to live by, and yet so often are ignored, usually by me.

Even though I love to travel and am up for strange experiences, trying new things and always on the lookout for the quirky, there is another side of me that is weirdly neurotic about things having to be a certain way. For example, I have these four pink bowls that have cute little cartoon owls on their inside bottoms. I bought these bowls almost five years ago when we were living in Oakwood Crystal City and Thad was going through training in preparation for his tour in Chengdu. The Oakwood-provided bowls just didn’t cut it for my daily breakfast cereal consumption, so one day early on, I schlepped myself to the nearest Target on the public bus and bought a few household items, including new bowls. These were not only adorable, but the perfect size for breakfast. I bought four. These are my cereal bowls and have been for nearly five years; I eat Rice Crispies or cornflakes or Marshmallow Maties out of them every morning that I am home. Four bowls mean I must do my dishes at least every four days. (Without kids, you don’t generate nearly as many dishes as a big family, so have a whole lot more wiggle room on the dishwashing front!) A few weeks ago, three days into the cycle, Thad said he was going to make some soup. (He was having wisdom teeth issues, which have since been relieved by pulling two of the offending chompers.) I knew he was going to grab the first bowl he saw, so I purposely moved my adorable cereal bowl out of line-of-sight so he would have to go with one of the boring blue plastic bowls (which were part of a wedding gift we received nearly 18 years ago!) or the black ceramic ones (which were his before we were even married). And yet, half an hour later, when he came into the living room, guess what he was holding in his hand?! My cereal bowl! Needless to say, I gave him a terrible time about it, telling him I was going to starve in the morning now that I didn’t have my go-to breakfast dish. He did kindly wash it out and return it to the cupboard (probably a little annoyed at my reaction) so I would not waste away the next morning, but the point here isn’t that he ate soup out of the wrong bowl, but that my brain can be weirdly rigid about certain things, usually ones of little importance.

Why does this all matter? And what does it have to do with “never say never”?

You see, we’ve been going to Thailand for vacations for almost a decade now. (We went with friends when we were in Peace Corps, a couple of times for blue skies and sunshine when we were in Chengdu and now that it is just a hop, jump and skip away, a few times for long weekends.) On each of these trips, I’ve giggled and possibly made remarks about all of the backpackers dressed in what I call “elephant pants.” They are not designated as such because they make the wearer look large, but rather because a good percentage of them are decorated in a variety of elephant patterns. These pants are lightweight cotton, usually have elastic/drawstring tops and elastic ankles. They look extremely comfortable, but also look like pants for hobos. It is ridiculous how many tourist women (and a few men!) you see wearing these things in SE Asia, but especially in Thailand.

I’ve always mocked elephant pants.

Until two weeks ago.

When we went to Chiang Mai for my birthday weekend (click here to see a post about our awesome elephant trek), we wandered the night markets three different evenings. Of course, they were filled with the usual souvenir items: t-shirts, knock-off handbags, some artwork, strange leather good, etc. But nothing was more prevalent than elephant pants.

I held firm for two nights, but on our last night in town, I did the thing I said I would never do. I bought elephant pants.

They were only $3.

I couldn’t resist the bargain.

And they did look awfully comfortable.

(To be perfectly honest, I bought three pair. But only one pair had elephants on it.)

When I got back to our boutique hotel in the old town, I immediately changed into my new pants. It was nirvana. They were amazing! So lightweight. So comfortable. And a good length for my long legs.

I swore I would never own elephant pants. Now, these are my go-to outfit when I get home from the embassy each day. As long as we are not headed out for drinks or dinner after work, I go from my dress and heels right to elephant pants and a tank top. They are more comfortable than any pair of shorts or capris and nothing says a night of happiness with a good book than comfy pants adorned with pachyderms.

Lesson learned: Don’t knock the elephant pants until you’ve lounged a minute or two in their heavenliness.

(Disclaimer: I do not have a single picture of me in these glorious pants, as they are pretty much just lazy-day wear for me, but I did find these on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Premium-Elephant-Trousers-Bohemian-Buddhist/dp/B00O7RG2UE. Apparently you can buy them for $20. At least I got a good deal as I ate crow.)

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Wordless Wednesday: Chiang Mai Temple Elephants

It’s still Wednesday in America. I’m not *really* late this week!

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Photo credit: Thad Ross

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2016 Book Challenge- A Book that Was Banned at Some Point

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A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

January has flown by, filled with all sorts of fun. In the first month of the year, I spent time in the United States, Malaysia (of course!) and Thailand, and have booked a trip to Australia for next week. My passport definitely loves that start to the year, but it isn’t the only book that’s gotten a bit of wear and tear in the last thirty-one days. Kicking off In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Book Challenge, I hit the ground running, finishing eleven books, including A Clockwork Orange, this month’s challenge book. A Clockwork Orange could have checked off several of the boxes on this year’s list, including “a book you can finish in a day” as it is only 150 pages long, and “a book you’ve been meaning to read” as I’ve been obsessed with it for a while now, and yet never seemed to get to it. “A book you should have read in school” would also have been a fitting category, as I somehow made it through high school without being assigned it in class (not surprising, as we didn’t read much that would be considered controversial), through an undergraduate degree in literature (at BYU, so also not surprising) and a graduate degree in literature (focused mainly on travelogues, so I guess, again not out of the realm of likelihood). How have books been such a part of my life for so long and this one didn’t pop up on the radar though?

Nevertheless, this year’s reading challenge finally pushed me into buying a copy and burying myself it in over the course of a day or two. I was hooked instantly, intrigued both by the slang and the narrative itself. Mostly, I was amazed at how Burgess was able to cloak such ultra-violence in language less recognizable to readers. Had he used common English to describe the brutal scenes that make up a good deal of the narrative, his book wouldn’t have been banned in some libraries, but all of them. It is startlingly violent, and yet the viciousness is softened by argot that dampens the blows of such brutality. I found this aspect of the novel fascinating, how word choice makes all the difference.

The other fascinating part about this novella was the final chapter. When the book was first published in the US, the American publishers made Burgess drop the last chapter, believing it ended better for the American audience after the twentieth chapter. When the book was republished later on, this final chapter was once again included, as it had always been in British copies. Once I realized this, there was nothing to do but go back and read the final few chapters, stopping before that last one, giving a new “ending” to the book. The last chapter does incredibly change the whole feel of the narrative. Without it, the book ends with Alex still living a life fueled by ultra-violence and without many thoughts beyond his own entertainment, whereas the ending, as intended by Burgess, puts Alex in a different place in his life. (No spoilers!) I’m not sure which I prefer, but suppose deferring to the author and his vision is the best call, even though it radically changes Alex as a character.

A Clockwork Orange is definitely not for everyone and won’t be one of the books I widely gift at birthdays throughout the year, but I enjoyed it and loved the idea of language and how it impacts a reader. (I tend to find a favorite and send it to multiple people each year. Last year lots of folks got Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and the year before was The Martian by Andy Weir- pre-movie, of course.) This was a great start to In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Book Challenge!

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge

_____ A book published this year

_____A book you can finish in a day

_____A book you’ve been meaning to read

_____ A book recommended to you by a librarian

_____ A book you should have read in school

_____ A book chosen for you by your spouse/partner, best friend, child or sibling

_____ A book published before you were born

_____ A book that was banned at some point

_____ A book you abandoned previously

_____ A book you own but have never read

_____ A book that intimidates you

_____ A book you’ve read at least once

 

 

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Wordless Wednesday: Hot KL Nights

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January 27, 2016 · 6:20 AM

Mahout for a Day

Picture this: Me, in over-sized, heavy cotton pajamas (jean blue), hair in two braids, sunglasses perched on the top of my head, barefoot and dirtier than I’ve been since I was probably eight years old. My face is caked in dried mud; my shirt has streaks of dirt running from collar to hem and my pants look like I’ve spent the afternoon riding a large mud-covered animal. But wait. One more detail. Beneath that dried on muck covering my face is a smile that goes from muddy ear to muddy ear. Why so happy about looking like Peanuts’ Pig-Pen? Because I just spent the entire day riding and tending to TJ, a lovely 35-year old elephant who became my pal for the day.

My day started with a 6:30AM alarm, which is normally much too early on a vacation, but it was no problem, as I’d been up for an hour already, lying in bed quietly, trying not to squirm too much as I looked forward to my day as a mahout. As soon as it was not ridiculous to be up and dressed, I hopped down to the restaurant of our adorable boutique hotel, settled nicely within the old city walls, and had some cornflakes, partially because I can’t start my day without breakfast and partially because I needed something to do until our 8AM excursion pickup arrived.

Thai Elephant Home, our destination for the day, is about an hour outside of Chiang Mai. The trip out was fascinating. I always love just driving through new places and I had to giggle to myself as I watched people bundled up in winter coats, beanies and scarves to brave the early morning 55 degree weather that cools the city in January and February. (We loved the weather! It was a perfect break from the constant heat and humidity of Kuala Lumpur.) Upon reaching TEH, we were handled bundles of clothes to change into, knapsacks to take along on the trip and bottles of water to keep us hydrated as we headed into the mountains.

Elephant assignments followed. Thad was given one of the largest, which frankly I was glad went to him. Even my “average” sized critter was enormous once I was mounted. The world looks different from atop an elephant head! I was assigned TJ, who brought up the rear of the line (we were a group of five, so awesomely small!) , which meant she wore a bell that tinkled all the way up the mountain and back down the other side, reminding me a bit of a horse-trek we took in Songpan, China, where the horse bell about drove us all nuts! Luckily, TJ’s bell was quieter and more soothing, plus I liked that it meant someone always knew where we were at!

With TEH, guests don’t ride elephants in baskets or with a trainer. Each visitor gets their own elephant for the day- solo. Of course, there are trainers who go along for safety (we learned command words, but TJ did whatever the heck she wanted and who was I to tell the elephant which way to go?! She knew the route better than I did!) TJ obediently bent down, allowing me to step on her front leg, at which point she stood, shooting me onto her back, and off we went. There was a rope behind me that I could hold onto going down hills, but otherwise, it was bareback all the way.

I have to say, there is no sensation in the world like having your bare feet pushed up against the skin of an elephant. To sit up there and just imagine how much muscle and power is beneath you, knowing that in the end, you have no control, is a few parts terrifying and a few parts exhilarating.

At the top of the mountain, we dismounted and had some lunch (banana leaf for the humans, grass/trees for the elephants) and then it was time to hit the spa. In the US, you’d excpect to pay $100 for a mud-mask and massage day at the spa, but we enjoyed it right out of the mountain with our elephants. TJ loved her mud-bath, getting coated from trunk to tail in a gooey mess, which made remounting her a bit petrifying. I was getting well-versed in her boosting me onto her back, but with both of us packed in slippery slime, I hit her back and kept going! Thank goodness for that one rope, which I clung to with all my might!

At the bottom of the mountain we forded a stream, dropping all sunglasses, cameras and phones on the far bank, and then headed back into the middle of the idle flow for bath time, much needed my animals and humans alike! Rolling off TJ into the river, I had my work cut out for me, trying to clean mud off an elephant! Luckily, she helped by provided extra rinse water from her trunk! It felt like something out of a cartoon, where the elephant serves as a shower.

As we headed back to camp, it had been a long day, which I loved, but I was honestly ready to be off TJ’s back. Horse saddle—soreness is one thing, but imagine that times about three, to factor in the width of an elephant. I was sore- everywhere! We did swing by an elephant drive-thru on the way back to buy sugar cane as a treat for the last kilometer of the journey. I held the bundles on my lap and TJ would lift her trunk up to get one each time she ran out. I only wish I had had more! An elephant can go through a bundle of sugar cane like a fat kid with a bag of Cheetos.

Animal-travel. Fauna-frolicking. Creature-trips.

I don’t know what the best clever name for my favorite kind of travel is, but whenever we are looking at new places to visit, one of the first things I do is figure out what animals are native to there and how I might possibly hold, cuddle, ride or basically fondle (in a good way!) whatever adorableness the country has to offer. Thailand, and specifically Chiang Mai, has a corner on the elephant business, so while we did visit our share of beautiful, gold-leafed temples and wandered night markets until we could no longer see straight, the highlight of my latest trip to Thailand was Thai Elephant Home, the small elephant camp (the camp is small, not the elephants) that allows visitors to be a mahout for a day- riding and tending to their own creature from sun-up until saddle-soreness makes one ready to call it a day.

“The very things that held you down are gonna carry you up and up and up.”
― Timothy Mouse, Dumbo

 

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Wordless Wednesday: Chiang Mai

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Photo credit: Thad Ross

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In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge

Book challenges are not normally my thing, not because I don’t read enough or because I don’t like the variety they provide, but rather it is an issue of self-control. Several times a week I spend a few hours perusing critical reviews of new releases, scrolling through best seller lists in an array of categories and jumping around to a few book blogs. In these virtual travels, I always end up with a list of “must read” books and because I have no will power to resist buying them as soon as they are published or as soon as they pop up on my radar, whatever “challenge” list I had flies right out the window.

But, a few weeks ago, a reading challenge list started circulating and ended up on my Facebook wall at least three separate times. (I am not sure where it originated for credit to be given.) I figured I ought to give it a look. What I instantly liked about it is that it is twelve books long- a perfect fit for 2016. As I continue to expand the literary parts of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk , I’ve decided to use this book challenge as a guide for at least one “Book Musings” post each month. Between now and December, I will read through the book challenge, writing a few thoughts/review on each one as I go. I’ll not be going down the list in order, but will hit all twelve by the end of the year. (They will count towards my other goal of reading 100 books this year, so it’s a double win!)

I’d love for you to join me in along the way!

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s 2016 Reading Challenge

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