Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

Surely this is heaven.

Cradled in a wooden boat,

We cross over, our cares and Patrick’s phone behind us.

You really want me to get out now?

We slip from boat to ocean, shoeless, laughing.

Ask him to bring out bags to the villa.




That feeling comes up again,

Some call it disbelief.

Pinch yourself, this is real. 

Warm sand, tide pools,

Blue and pink whorls, shiny black stones,

Sea glass, broken coral.

Driftwood, stray dogs.

The jungle barely held at bay.

The water laps gently,

I can’t picture a killer wave to save my life.

Our beach is perfect.



Things go wrong in paradise.

You can snorkel, honey,


Rung by rung, I am submerged.

I bob on the surface, paw through a milky web,

pull something that looks like rice noodles from my shirt. 

Needles of fire in this aqua splendor,

My collarbone burns, welts up.

I pay a price for laughing with the fish.

Urine is the only thing that helps, the boys swear.

But I’ll be damned if they can pee on my neck.





Hot water chases off the ocean.

in the ubiquitous outdoor shower.

I look for mosquitoes.

Soap, lather, swish, swipe,

dash, wrap, light, spray.

Spray again, spray more.

Goddamn you little horrors. 

Damp hair for seven days,

nothing dries around here.

Where is the fan?

My dress is tight, body swelled in the heat,

Skin sticky, salty, resists clothing.

But I squeeze in anyway,

leaving the glamour for the girls in the movies.

A girl at odds with nature,

dressed for another night of pad thai.


Meeting Sue,

friendship sparks in an instant.

Have you tried this lipgloss?

No, but my favorite is Chanel. 

Funny, mine too.

We love dogs, kids, books.

We only take green or blue ski runs. 

Collecting shells and fashion tips,

Whiling away the tropical hours.

A comrade in arms against the jungle,

She sees it my way.

Sue, I like everything about you,

Especially the way you ride a bike.



Games of skill, feats of strength,

Boys will be boys they say.

Even grown men succumb.

Screw you, with your tight rash guard.

Hey, I make more money.

I’ll race you to the platform.

We’ll climb that mountain without a machete or a guide.

A fistful of thorns later,

Angry, puffy skin.

Maybe antibiotics will help?

Nah, just suck it up.



Boys dream things up,

Fueled by testosterone and lack of work emails.

We’ll pedal to lunch.

No, we’ll paddle.

The best seafood is always around the way,

the hot, sweaty way.

Don’t make me ride over potholes!

Don’t go too far from the shore!

Our pleas useless,

our lunches delicious









You like spicy?

Sure, why not.

Bragging, puffed up, the boys claim they can cook.

Coconut milk, peppers, curry paste, no problem.

Aprons on, wine glasses full.

Soak the noodles, seer the shrimp.

Is that how you use the egg?

Thank God for Mei,

Someone with skill around here. 

We gobble it all down,

Geckos eat too, dashing from light to light.

The sun sets orange, glowing.

Dinner in our villa feeds everyone.







Shrouded in nets, lulled by fans,

We sleep like babies.

Mostly, until I hear something buzz.



Goodbye, ankle deep in water,

A kiss on each cheek

And a promise to return.

Going back is as easy as closing our eyes.


Thanks again, Po, for the photos!

To stay at Koh Jum Beach Villas, click on














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As the pilot circles above Canberra, I think he’s tricked us and flown instead to Boise.  I see round, brownish foothills, big blue skies, endless roads, wide-open space.  I step off the plane and it hits me – warm, dry air.  My throat fills with tears, and for a split second, I think I’m home.  But I’m in Australia, and just minutes away from a beloved friend.  I look up to see Tobie, holding Asha, waiting for me at the gate.  I step into their embrace, feel Asha’s hand on my hair.  It’s been a year, a really long year, since we’ve seen each other.  Asha pulls a stuffed rabbit from my backpack and cuddles it.  Aaron grabs my bag and we head out.  I’m leaving the airport in a car, with friends.  No taxis, no queues, no crowds.  This feels like home.           OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I delight nonstop in the ordinary bits of a day in Australia.  I am staying in a house!  The houseflies are huge!  It’s so quiet – no trains, buses, cars, honking, screeching!  It’s so dark – I can’t even see my hand in front of my face when the lights are out!  The birds – they’re huge!  The people – they’re huge too!  I get to drive a car!  It’s cool at night – I can sleep with the window open!  I get to drive a car!   They have a dishwasher!  A stove! They have real sausage here! I get to drive a car!  I get to see a kangaroo!

I really want to see a kangaroo.  Tobie promises me they’re everywhere.  She and Aaron chat about the best place to find them.  We sneak out at dusk, drive around, get out and stalk through neighborhoods.  But for the first five days, nothing.  Not a hint of a kangaroo, unless you count the dead one we pass on the highway.  We make a plan that if we haven’t seen one by the last day, we’ll go to the zoo.  A captive kangaroo is better than no kangaroo.

On the sixth day, we drive out to the bush.


Geared up to hike, we pile out of the car and apply sunscreen.  Then Aaron points to something on the hill.  Sure enough, kangaroos!  They DO live here!


We see heaps of them that day, hiding in the bush, sitting out on the open, hopping about where they please.



We even see a koala bear and a platypus, and we’re not at the zoo.  We troop about for hours.





Satisfied and hungry, we pack up.  As we drive away, we pause to see just one more mob.  And just like that, two of them bounce down the hill and head straight for our car.  They stop just short of us, lick their arms, stare for a minute, and then bound back up.  It is a perfect Aussie goodbye.



I know then that it will be really hard to say goodbye.  And not just because of the kangaroos.

To my sweet friends Down Under,

Aaron – thank you for teaching me to drive on the wrong side of the car and the wrong side of the road.  I know I hit the wipers more than the turn signal, and occasionally went into the wrong lane, but you stayed cool.  I felt so alive, driving around with your hand-drawn map and no idea where I was going.  Thanks for my morning coffee deliveries, for everything, and most of all for letting me steal Tobie for two days all to myself.


Asha – I had a wonderful time with you, little friend.  You’ve grown so big.  I can still hear you outside my bedroom door, asking if you could just take a peek at me.  I loved watching Dora and playing Swiper in the bush.  I’m glad we tried out all the stuff in my makeup bag, plus my shaving cream, hairspray, and mousse. You were great with your training chopsticks!  I remember you bravely carrying your little schoolbag on your shoulder, walking into your classroom.  Thanks for showing me your school.  And for sharing your books and hiking snacks.  I can still feel your hug as we stood at the window, waiting for the taxi to come.  You were still warm from sleep, wearing your jammies.  You kissed me and said that maybe I could come back tomorrow.  I wish I could, little one.  But we’ll see each other again soon, and until then, check behind all the trees, just in case Swiper is hiding….



Tobie – thank you for the loveliest week in forever. It was amazing to be in your home, to know that you were just on the other side of my bedroom wall.  I’ve missed you terribly.  Our trip to Sydney!  We talked for almost 48 hours straight, only taking time off to sleep.  It was so luxurious, wandering the streets, trying on shoes and jewelry, eating those gingersnap-butterscotch whoopee pie things, stretching out in bed and talking the night away.  I can still feel the salty air on my skin, the Sydney sunshine all around us. And you – all dressed up in your lace top and heels.  Thanks for talking me into a nightcap at Palmer and Co, because without that drink, we might never have started dialing up the USA!  I loved every minute of it, even the bus ride home to Canberra in the dark, munching the last of our cookies.  It was great to be at the National Library, to see where you work.  To go all the places you go and imagine your life.  To ride bikes and play with Asha at the park.  Thanks for taking those days off work to spend with me, for relentlessly searching for kangaroos, for clearly explaining what a singlet is, for keeping my secrets.  I continue to be amazed by you, your ability to move all the way around the world, to make a new life, to flourish, to get more job offers than I ever have, and to still be your humble, brilliant self.  I picture you that last morning, climbing onto your bike for your commute to work. One more hug.  I’ll keep our memories safe in my heart and think them when I’m missing you.  You’re one in a million, Tobie.




I love you.  And I’ll see you soon too.











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I wait nervously with Po in our Singapore apartment, scanning the airline websites.  Our friends from the US are landing in the middle of the night.  I wash a few stray dishes, fiddle around with the guest room sheets.  I reluctantly head to bed, sleep with one eye open.  And then I hear it, the soft click of our condo door.  I rush out to get my first hug from home.  World’s collide.  Singapore mixes with Boise as Mark, CS, Liz, and Aaron arrive.  We are six giddy schoolkids, heading to Vietnam together, where the Tiger beer is cold and the pho is hot.

Ho Chi Minh City is vibrant, buzzing.  We eat pho and prawn pancakes, run between motorbikes, buy tourist t-shirts, visit the War Memorial, and laugh at the water puppets.                      IMGP2653




Next we float the Mekong River, adrift on a wooden boat with painted eyes.  We alight and explore the surrounding villages, rice paddies, schools, and floating markets.  Some of us take a turn on the longboat oars as we paddle down a side creek, ducking under thick foliage and waving to the village kids. The sun sets deep pink and orange over the palm trees.









At dinner, one of the boat guides explains the reason for the ice-cold aircon in our cabins and we strain to capture the details.  He instructs us to keep our windows shut to freeze the flying monkey toes.  Puzzled, we stop listening entirely and ask each other – monkey toes?  Oh, mosquitoes!  And I groan.  If there is one thing I detest, and endlessly complain about, it’s mosquitoes.  I grimly wipe my nose for the hundredth time with a swatch of toilet paper and hope that either my newly acquired cold improves or that the aircon really does keep the monkey toes at bay.

We fly to Phu Quoc Island, eager for sun and sand, and find our jungle huts with mosquito nets over the bed.  The bathroom is also open to the sky and God, and we have no hot water.  As I see it, this resort called Freedomland should be called the House of Flying Monkey Toes.  How cold can a cold shower be, I muse nervously. I cough, sneeze, blow, and coat myself with DEET.  My cold hasn’t improved and I can’t find a Kleenex for sale on this island.  I wonder if I shouldn’t have taken malaria medicine after all.  But it’s time for bathing suits, another Tiger beer, and a swim in the Gulf of Thailand.  I wad up more toilet paper and jam it under the strap of my bathing suit.  Looking grandmotherly, I soldier off to the beach.






The water is divine.  Warm, baby waves lap against the shore.  We walk out forever on soft sand, the water only reaches our waists.  We swim with abandon.  Even I forget my terror of the ocean for a few minutes, and I help to judge the handstand, flip, and floating competitions between Mark, CS, and Po.  We romp up to the beach, stretch out in hammocks, eat crispy spring rolls, and guzzle coconuts.  Dinner is served every night under the trees.  White lights sparkle, music plays, and we dress up and sip cocktails until it’s time to eat.  Our green, wooden table seats at least thirty, and we cozy up to new friends from all over the world.  When dinner is served, the food is beyond delicious.  On our last night, the hosts build a roaring bonfire.  I stretch out next to it, feeling dry for the first time in over a week.









But I’m irritable and sick.  And beyond having a cold, I am homesick.  Our friends remind me of the life I’m no longer living, and I feel unreachable.  I can’t relax because the time might go too fast and our vacation will be over.  I want to be the old Jillian they know but I’ve changed, and not necessarily in a good way.  My crazy, grumpy bits still cling to me like sweaty clothes.  Iwon’t snorkel with broken gear and a head cold.  I can’t even will myself to drink a Tiger beer.  I am my worst self, complaining about city living in Singapore, the humidity, and the jungle insects. Then I worry that maybe my friends will move on, that my home in Boise won’t feel the way I remember, that everything has changed.  I tuck the mosquito net around me and bawl in bed.  They say home is where the heart is, but where is that?  And can I ever go back?

We slurp up our last bowl of pho together in the airport.  Then it’s time to say goodbye to Mark and CS and I come undone.  I curl up against them, wail out loud that I want to go to Boise with them. I say I’m sorry for spraying bug repellent in the van, sorry for being so whiny. They rub my back and say they love me.  A day later, when I say goodbye to Liz and Aaron, I cry again.  Liz and I kiss on both cheeks and blink hard.  I watch their taxi roll away into the dark, toward Changi airport.  They are going home, and for now, I’m staying here.


But the sweetness of our time in Vietnam stays with me for weeks, long after my bug bites stop itching.  My heart is just a little lighter.  Mark, CS, Liz, and Aaron – thank you for coming to visit.  Your friendship is home to me.

Thanks, Number 4, for the pictures.  And for rowing the boat like a local.


Antonia, if you’re reading this, it was great to meet you!

For a fantastic, local homestay, try Freedomland on Phu Quoc Island.  The hosts are so friendly and the food is incredible.


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If you thought the Sherpas were amazing, meet my trekking teammates.

They can go so fast that we rarely hike together.  Besides trekking, they have energy left over to shop for beads, email their loved ones, build snowmen, visit cute puppies, and play cards.  They wait for me at lunch.  They cheer for me when I finally arrive in the afternoon.

Kevin is on his first Himalayan trek and he’s totally excited.  He carries a GPS device and measures every step of the way.

Kevin tells me that hunching over while hiking makes it harder to breathe and I should stand up tall.  We share Pringles and popcorn and whatever other treat we can find.  He is one of Po’s best friends.

Kevin says one of the funniest things on the trip.  We are walking and trying to remember the name of our next lunch stop.  Is is Dingboche?  Pangboche?  Kevin says I-Don’t-Know-Boche.  I bend over my poles and howl.

Jill braids my hair and zips my rain shell firmly under my chin.  She is a beautiful mother hen and a tough bird too.  She once broke her leg on a hike in the Sawtooth Mountains and walked home anyway.  She is also a fellow dog lover.

Chad and I walk together and he says to breathe deeply. He shows me the mountain climber step, how to lock my knee and relax my back leg on the uphill stairs.  I wear his big gloves when my hands are frozen.

Katie is the energizer bunny.  She doesn’t just wear the ears.  She can shop for days and she’s darling enough to get cinnamon dusted over everything she orders. She’ll give it to you straight, whether it’s a handful of pills or the facts about infirm people on the trail.  He’s dead, Jillian, she says about the man we pass in a body bag.

Michele is small but mighty in every way that I can’t be. She assures me that I can do anything I want.   No, really, you can, she insists.  If you want to run a marathon, you can.  She’s proud of me.  I can’t believe my ears.  Climb Kala Patthar for the people who can’t walk, she says.

Pat is solid as a rock.  She can hike uphill and have diarrhea at the same time without complaining.  Pat says what is arguably the most important thing to me on the trek.  I grimly recount my weaknesses and she stops me right there. This isn’t a contest.  You don’t have to be something you aren’t.  You just have to be you. 

Rob is our leader, hiking with damn near thirty pounds of camera gear clanging around him.  He knows where we’re going and pretty much the name of every peak we pass.  He’s early for every group rendezvous.  He organizes our trip down to the smallest detail.  Without him, we’d have a tough time getting it together.  He only falls over once, and thank God I am not there to see it.

Po is my husband and my hero.  He agrees to do this trek for a second time just so that I can see Everest.  I’m here to set the record straight:  I was the one begging for this torture and he was incredible enough to say OK.  Not the other way around.  I’m already twisting his arm for a trip to Tibet.  Thanks, baby, for being around every corner with my water bottle.

I am reminded of an old saying:  If you want to go fast, go alone, and if you want to go far, go together.  In the end, we go together all the way to Everest.  And then out for ice cream.  I love you guys.

Thank you to Kevin Friend and Po Huang for the photos in this post!


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