Tales of the Wanderlust Daughter: South Dakota

I started this series last year.. and forgot about it for a while. It was born from sharing some stories with my mother to show how I encounter so much kindness and care, especially as a lone female traveller.

I have seemed to rid of my writer’s block and wanted to revisit the memory lane with these stories. Furthermore, having recently experienced some bad, I needed to reassure myself and many travellers out there, that I had experienced the goodness of humanity and those far outnumber the evil.

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On a cross country vacation I took back in the USA between my moves from Asia to Europe, I stopped through South Dakota. I got off the train in North Dakota, and drove to South Dakota. I wanted to see the parks in the area- Badlands National, Mouth Rushmore, Wind Cave, Custer State…

I found a charming bed and breakfast run by a sweet couple who still maintain the working ranch it sits on. I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that it was SD’s busiest two weeks of the year- the Sturgis rally. As a last minute booking, they worked to accommodate me, asking me to move from their main B&B building to a separated coach house usually rented to families for one night in the middle of my stay. No problem.

I completely underestimated the distances I had to drive to get to all the sites I cared about. As a native New Englander, I completely lost perspective of how large some of these states are. So I found myself driving longer and later than anticipated.

One morning, the day I stayed at the coach house, I slept in. I had a particularly late return, the night before, barely awake enough to grab my pajamas out of my packed bag to change into before collapsing on the closest bed to the entrance. So I took my time getting up the following morning, rummaging around my new surroundings to find the kitchen and prepare a breakfast. I also took advantage of my access to laundry machines to do a couple loads.

I heard car tires rumbling up the dirt road and looked up to see the owner pulling up. He popped his head in, apologized for intruding, saying his wife asked him to check on me. They hadn’t seen my rental car turn in before they went to bed last night and wanted to make sure I was OK before they call the cavalry.

I was surprised, but pleasantly so. Even I knew I had returned at an extremely late hour. But, as B&B owners, they didn’t have any responsibility over my coming and going, as long as I paid for the lodging I booked. Knowing that they were concerned on my behalf was both embarrassing and comforting. The fact that they were willing to notify someone if I wasn’t present after one night alone, gave me the assurance that despite the vast and seemingly desertedness of the state, I wouldn’t have been stranded unknown for long, were I to encounter any troubles.

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Other posts in this series:
Italy

American Culture Shock # 334587: Smart Phones

I’m going to be popping out a series of these post, as an expat returning to America for the first time in a long time. It’s been 15 months since I stepped on America soil. And it’s been far too long.

Observation: Smart Phones are the rage now.

No, I’m not surprised. Logically, I knew the release of the iPhone was going to open up the market. But considering that the US lagged way behind many industrialised and even many developing nations in mobile phone markets because the sorry dinosaurs of cell providers came with so many restrictions.

The reality hit me hard, though, when I find myself trying schedule dinners with friends. It’s like the good ol’ phone tag and SMS-ing is obsolete. No one calls or texts to follow up or to confirm with plans. They just email. They got so used to people having smart phones that they assume I had email access on the go.

And here I am, dragging my ol’ (not really old, FYI) laptop from hot spot to hot spot, trying squeeze time between work, meetings, and errands to sit down at a wifi access spot to log on and check my email. I have a cheap pre-paid cell plan that charges for web browsing and a strangely rare sighting of a flip phone.

Yes, I can get Internet at the hotel. I refuse to out of principle- Internet access should not be charged at the exorbitant rates in large hotels like mine. Yes, I can pay for the data plan, even if it’s on a day-by-day charge. Why spend the money just to look for email?

So people who used to limit their Internet access to the office when they decided not to expend on a home DSL line now have 24/7 access to email. The metro is now surprisingly devoid of loud talkers as everyone silently checks their email on their phones.

I knew I was living a different life overseas. Yet, to completely miss out a trend, especially as an engineer, is somewhat disconcerting. So, friends, just pick up the damn phone and hit the dial button when coordinating with me, please!

postscript: This is post # 300 in this blog!!!

Organised Chaos does Not Exist

You know in large crowds on sidewalks in major cities, generally, there’s one side for each direction of pedestrian traffic. We stick to the right, like the roads. And within the single direction of traffic, not as cleanly, there may be a side that is also used by faster walkers, dodging in and out of slower clumps of pedestrians.

Not in Bangkok. There’s no trend whatsoever. Even escalators are switched around. The up elevator sometimes is on the left, sometimes on the right. No wonder why the Thais are confused. It’s so bad they had to mark the sidewalks.



The only strategy to being able to walk while minimising- but never ever eliminating- dodging around and avoid crashing into oncoming people no looking where they are walking is to never make eye contact. The minute you do, they assume that you are giving way. Especially if you’re a farang.

You are invited to dress in black


Official mourning period was 14-16 November, when the public was “invited” to dress in mourning colours and somberly. Colours are black and white, with request to lean more on the black (why they just don’t say wear only black, I don’t know). I am finding, though, a handful of the female population have determined that “somberly” doesn’t necessarily mean “modestly.” I’ve found myself staring at one woman for a bit until I told myself “well, it’s all in black.”

As any royal request goes, an invitation is pretty much obeyed. The reverence of the royal family is something most of the rest of the world would not understand. To give you a shapshot of the sea of black, I’ve taken a video of a crowd coming off a train platform.

Pirated DVDs

It’s no secret Southeast Asia offers a huge hub of pirated DVDs.

I’ve been asking some travelers about how much the different areas offer a single DVD for. Approximate prices, factoring in fluctuation of the current exchange.

Cambodia: US$1.50
Indonesia: US$0.70
Malaysia: US$2.50
Taiwan: US$2.50
Thailand: US $3

Some tidbits I found out in my highly unscientific research:
– Buyers should always ask about quality, usually expressed in percentages.
– Sellers are generally very honest about the quality.
– Prices are hard to negotiate because competition amongst vendors have been fierce enough to reach a stalemate. But it doesn’t mean don’t try.
– Most vendors will pop the DVD in a tv to demonstrate if asked.
– Captioning/Subtitles are a hit or miss.
– HD is a hit or miss.
– For an entire city, there can be as little as two or three original pirated DVD providers. The rest are just copies from the same sources.
– Price is per DVD, regardless of movie or TV show. TV show DVDs are extremely popular since many shows aren’t offered here on tv (see post about available tv channels).

Trends

Someone explain to me this sudden trend that popped up this afternoon:




In all fairness: I haven’t seen it outside the JJ Market, where I took these photos.

Also, I missed two great photo shoots for this collection. 1. A Thai guy wearing a cowboy hat, white tank top and aviator sun glasses. To add to it, he sported a well trimmed goatee. Man, do you have any idea how hard it is to run through a thronging crowd of Thais on a hot afternoon in the middle of the most densely populated market chasing after a guy? I stopped after I tripped the fifth person. 2. A group of high school kids, in their uniforms of white button shirts with navy skirts (girls) and burmuda slacks (guys), all donning some assortment of cowboy hats.

And, for full disclosure, this is what is on the wall behind my TV: