I’m fully convinced that I will grow old and become a cat lady – eccentric and elderly, knitting and crocheting trendy gifts for my grandnephews and grandnieces because I won’t have any children of my own. I will wear clothes from the 1990s which will be extremely vintage by the time it hits the 2040s. Hopefully the world will be a better place than the one I experience today, and I will continue to do the work to change the systemic structures of oppression around me.
This is me in the future, and this is me today.
On Thursday, we had a free day and this was my opportunity to explore Bangkok on my own (Sorry Sandy, if you are reading this, I went against your advice to stay in groups). When I studied abroad in Hong Kong, the structure of the program was much different. Because everyone had their own individual internships we did a lot of traveling by ourselves and in smaller groups. On this program there is a huge group that not only lives together, but eats together, goes to company visits together, and spends free time together. It is too restricting and confining for me because I identify strongly as an introvert and become overwhelmed in large crowds of people that expect me to socialize. Not only that, but I don’t share interests with the majority of the group. I have a strong interest in diving deep into a new culture, learning about history, politics, and the effects of globalization. And also yarn. And so given the chance, I travel alone.
On Traveling Alone
The first time I spent a day alone exploring an area of Asia unknown to me, I explored the Ping Shan Heritage Trail stopping along the way at a handful of yarn shops in New Territories, Hong Kong. It was literally one of the best days I spent in Hong Kong, even though I spent a while lost and confused, and even though I was by myself, it was everything I wanted to do and only what I wanted to do. When traveling in a group, or even with one or two more people, it is impossible to please everyone unless each person is exactly like the other. And in life, there are times when it is okay to be selfish and not be wiling to compromise, especially when it is invested in self-exploration and personal development.
By traveling alone, I’ve learned to become independent and more aware of my surroundings. Traveling alone requires preparation to be sure that you will be safe. Researching points of interest and how to get there. Making sure you know multiple routes and also having alternative plans in case something does not work out. I also like to explore using public transportation which allows you to understand how locals travel and and live. It helps you understand the geography of the city by having to study a map rather than spacing out in a taxi or being thrown on a tour bus. It helps you blend in. My race helps in this case. As opposed to traveling with a huge group of white Americans drawing attention to ourselves as foreigners, I can blend into my surroundings and dissolve into my environment. It gives me a feeling of living like a local, even though I may be visiting sites that are popular to tourists.
So on Thursday while the rest of the group made other plans, I planned my solo excursion to a couple yarn stores outside the center of Bangkok. I wanted to visit Big Knit Cafe and Zawa Knitting which are located right by each other around the Phrom Pong and Thong Lo stops on the Skytrain (I won’t rave about how much I love pubic transport like I did the MTR system in Hong Kong on this blog, but it’s pretty great.) And if I had time I was to stop by the stores located in the mall by my hotel room. As I was using Google Maps to look up directions and plan my route, I saw this little symbol marking something called Purr Cat Club Cafe a couple blocks away. A cat cafe?!? I’ve always wanted to go to one! Cat cafes originated in East Asian countries like Japan and Korea where lifestyles do not allow for one to keep pets in apartments, developing a need for places where people who like furry animals can visit and play with them. I looked it up and it was a cat cafe, with free admission. It was also located in an area of Bangkok with a lot of Korean and Japanese expats which made a lot of sense. Logically, I had to make the stop there as well.
The Skytrain took about 10 minutes and from there it was to be a 10-15 minute walk to Purr Cat Cafe Club. Around the area, I noticed it was more like a suburb. There seemed to be a lot of foreign expats from both Western and East Asian countries. I saw a couple European families walking around and Korean young adults talking on phones. There were a lot of Japanese and Korean restaurants around. Getting to Purr Cat Cafe Club was relatively easy.
When you get there, they ask you to take off your shoes, put on slippers, and wash your hands. Then you can enter the room that is filled with around a dozen cats. You can have a seat on the ground or at a table and order cafe drinks, pastries, desserts, or a small meal. I just ordered a Thai iced tea and enjoyed the kitties, which you can tempt with little toys and even pay to feed milk. I took way too many pictures.
When I had my fill of cats I headed out to Big Knit Cafe, which is basically a yarn shop where you can order food and hang around with fellow crafters. Along the way there was a strange lack of sidewalks in the area. I felt extremely susceptible to a pedestrian-traffic accident, but women were walking on the side of the road carrying infants so I did the same and put my faith in these super reflexive Thai drivers not to hit me. Although there were big commercial centers, it was definitely more tame than Siam Square.
So here’s the thing, once I got to the road where Big Knit Cafe was located, I must have gone back and forth and walked past it three times before I realized where it was. I forgot that I downloaded the directions from their website on my phone which specifically says that it is between the Natural Park buildings. The inside was nice and cozy and there was a decent group of people, probably a knitting group. They have a nice selection of yarns but I didn’t notice if they had the prices marked on the items so I picked out two yarns I liked and went to the counter to find out how much they were to make my choice. They had a handful of yarns that seemed to be made specifically for the cafe so I had to get something from those brands to make the most of visiting.
As I was checking out and looking to order something to eat, a woman with an American accent of English walked in asking for knitting needles. She asked to sit near by me and it ended up being a very interesting encounter and I asked if I could write about her on my blog.
This is Sally. Sally is 63 years old and was in Thailand visiting some friends who live in Bangkok. When I asked her where she was from she told me that she currently lives in Seattle, Washington, but she grew up on the East Coast, born in Pennsylvania to Quaker parents, and studied at University of Pennsylvania. I asked her how she ended up on the other side of the country and what an amazing answer I received. She hitchhiked across the country during the 1970s and when she got there she went back to school to obtain another degree. And after a degree in nursing and political science, she decided she didn’t like suits and became a labor union organizer. She is married but has no children, but a lot of amazing perspectives and experiences. We talked about knitting, school, higher education, my goals, and my interests in social justice and Asian American issues. The moment she said that she said that she understood that Asian American experiences were completely different than Asian ones, I knew she was someone I could trust with my conversation. I felt like I had met me in the future. (Refer to the first paragraph of this post.)
I told Sally about how hard it was for me to find this shop and that I was planning to go to Zawa Knitting as well. She told me she took a motorcycle taxi here. How brave! I saw a lot of people on them around here and a lot of people offering rides because in Thailand it’s definitely the fastest way to get around anywhere. If I took one, I was worried about how I would stay on. There were no seat belts, no helmets, I could just fall off into Thai traffic, and SPLAT! But as I thought about it, I was risking it by being a pedestrian on sidewalk-less streets.
Sally convinced me to be braver and take risks while I was abroad. Here was a woman with an abundance of experiences, full of life, and enjoying every second of it. I was pretty brave to venture out on my own. What more would it take to hop on the back of a motorcycle taxi and eat more street food? Twenty-two years old could not have been the peak of my risk-taking development.
After I left Big Knit Cafe I tried to find Zawa Knitting, but I had already walked up and down the road at least four times and it was no where in sight. I had somehow neglected to write down the exact address because I thought it was going to be in plain sight. I gave up and decided that it was time to head back to the BTS Station. I was completely over navigating the traffic on foot and saw two tourist-looking fellows hop onto motorcycle taxis and decided this was my moment. It would only take 20 baht (less than $1) to get from my location to the BTS Station and it would save me 20 minutes of wandering on foot.
I got onto the back of the seat terrified, hands gripping with all my might on the seat and the bar at the back. But after a couple minutes of rough start through traffic my taxi driver was cruising and I was exhilarated. The driver was also very friendly and was singing in Thai. The trip was quick and I almost didn’t want it to end. I hopped onto the Skytrain and headed off to find a yarn store in Siam Paragon.
This one was located in an interesting location and not something I had ever seen in America. To find Zawa Knitting at Siam Paragon mall (Zawa Knitting has multiple locations and I couldn’t find the first) you go to a sort of upscale department store called Thai Exotique. On floor four is where you can find the yarn and needlecraft section. The yarns here are nothing special and there are some brands that you can get at a Michael’s or Joann’s in America like Lion Brand. I ended up buying this neon orange yarn from Germany because I figure it would be more difficult to buy in America and I was very drawn to the color and feel. I was very happy with my purchases and my adventures that day playing with cats, exploring pretty yarns, and meeting new people. I hope the trip can continue to be positive experiences like this.