Appreciating America from afar and putting up a parking lot

“I feel like going back there, but never for long / I sometimes wonder if they know that I’m gone / I’m just drifting, drifting along.” – Eddie Vedder

The brass tacks of this blog comes down to the fact that the last thing I want to do is return to the United States right now.  A return to the states means one of three things – I screwed up and am being sent back, I’m seriously ill or someone in my family is seriously ill.

I do miss my friends and family, but I have no wish to return until my two years are up at the end of March 2013.  Aside from friends and family, there are a number of little things I miss from the states.  They’re simple things I didn’t think twice about when I was back in Eau Claire five months ago.

Endless knowledge at the cost of your proof of address
I lived a mere 20-minute walk from it last December.  I visited it at least twice a week and I took for granted the thousands and thousands of fantastic books I had at my fingertips for no charge at all.  My mind drools at the thought of the Eau Claire public library now.

This is my library. Unfortunately, it's seven hours from me at the Peace Corps office in Bangkok.

Thai people aren’t big readers and those who are, aren’t reading English.  I love books.  I’m always reading a book.  There’s an extra mental bounce to my step when I’m reading a great book.  I’m very jealous of those who can say to themselves, I’ve never read anything by William Faulkner.  I should try.  When I’m running errands tomorrow I’m going to stop by the library and grab a few of his novels.  I’ll read the first chapter of each one and see which one fits me best. 

Enjoy your literature convenience, America.

Once I’ve finished a novel, it is no longer mine
There’s something to be said about a country where you can go into a locally owned book store, give the owner the same amount of money you’d pay for a small latte at Starbucks, and walk out with a copy of No Country For Old Men.  While the Starbucks customer will have a caffeine high for the next four hours, you’ll have one of the greatest novels of the last 20 years in your possession for as long as you own it and the knowledge that comes from it forever.

One of two bookshelves I used to own. I miss the options.

Enjoy Crossroads Books, Eau Claire.

This is my current book "shelf". This will last me a month or two. Luckily, I have a Kindle. It's not a real book, but it's better than nothing.

Fitger’s Big Boat Oatmeal Stout
No, it’s not just that beer I miss, but the many options there are in the states.  In Thailand, there’s a choice between about five different lagers and the differences are like the difference between Budweiser and Miller Genuine Draft – not much.  I do enjoy Thai beer, but I miss walking into Mogie’s in Eau Claire on a hot summer day, sitting down at the bar and spending the next two minutes gazing at the taps and decided what my first beer will be.  Chaang, Singha, Leo and Heineken are about the only options around here.

America, put down the damn Miller Lite and try something new today … for me.

It feels like summer, but it’s just Thailand
As the different seasons go by in the Midwest, my moods and preferences change with them.  When summer arrives I want to grill brats outside and drink cold beer (preferably Rolling Rock).  When I got to Thailand I had this same feeling and I kept having to remind myself it was January.  I’ve been here for a little over four months and I’m wondering if this craving for brats and beer will ever go away since it’s kind of always summer here.

I may not have Garcia burgers, but I can have delicious pad Thai every day.

I also want to play baseball, tennis and ride my bike.  Put me in the hall of fame because I’m batting. 333.

Enjoy that Festival Foods bratwurst that’s been boiled in Leinenkugel’s, wrapped in a fresh all-wheat bun and dipped in Silver Springs Beer & Brat mustard, America (specifically, Wisconsin).

Sipping a Summit while watching a pig deliver baseballs to the umpire
Do I miss my Minnesota Twins?  Yes, but not as much as the simple act of going to a baseball game – preferably a low-key minor-league game.  Preferably, the Saint Paul Saints.  Don’t get me wrong, the Twins will always be the team I root for, but I’m not talking about wins and losses here.  I’m not talking about pennant races and rivalries and Francisco Liriano.  I’m talking about a day at the ballpark.

For my friends who haven’t attended a baseball game with me, I always tell them, “Baseball is a social sport.”  I can watch every pitch while still keeping up a good session of bullshitting with those near me.  In fact, I can crack my friends up with a joke, drink a beer, eat a brat and watch every pitch of the game.  There may not be anything better.

It's always summer in Thailand which means I can always ride my bike.

St. Paul, enjoy your Saints.  Eau Claire, enjoy your Express.  Des Moines, enjoy your Cubs.  Davenport, enjoy your River Bandits.  Toledo, enjoy your Mudhens.

Sipping a hot, well-made Americano (no pun intended) on a cool fall afternoon
I’m going to be blunt – the coffee here sucks.  It’s mostly instant and if I let a Thai person make it, I spend the rest of the day wondering if I have diabetes.  Their “three-in-one” packages contain around 10-15 percent coffee and the rest is creamer and sugar.  The few times I make myself some black instant coffee they look at it like I’m about to drink Fat Bastard’s stool sample (“It’s a bit nutty”).

I drink coffee when it’s cool/cold outside, so I don’t have much of a craving for it here.  However, the mornings can be not hot and I wish I had access to an espresso at Café Amore on Grand Ave. in St. Paul or a Highlander Grogg at The Coffee Grounds in Eau Claire (not to mention the best barista’s in the city: Amanda, Dustin and Drew).

Find your favorite local coffee house and give them your business, America.

Lost dogs
– A single slice of Sara Lee honey wheat bread with JIF peanut butter spread on it.
– A Hershey bar.
– A tall glass of 2% milk.
– A bowl of Corn Chex sprinkled with sugar.
– A Mogie’s Garcia Burger.

I am not complaining.  I can do without these things for a few years.  I have a lot of other cool stuff to keep me occupied.  I like to think of these things as, not something I miss, but that I’m going to appreciate all the more when I get back.

I am a Peace Corps volunteer. That's pretty cool.

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