Category Archives: Post-Volunteering Life

Tracks across the Midwest

Ever since I started looking for work in Detroit, I’ve alternated my means of travel to and from the city between the train and the bus. Whether I book my tickets with Amtrak or Megabus depends on several factors, including ticket prices, the weather, the length of layovers in Chicago (because unfortunately neither company offers nonstop service between Milwaukee and Detroit), and scheduled arrivals and departures, which must coincide with the availability of those taking me to and from the stations. If I didn’t have to take into account all of these factors in my decision to ride the train or bus to Detroit, it would be the locomotive every time. Hands down.

I was first introduced to trains when I was studying abroad in Spain and since then I’ve been a rail enthusiast. It all started with an overnight train from Madrid to Paris. Pulling into the Gare du Nord in the early morning hours—bleary-eyed and achy from a second-class good night sleep—I was hooked. Since then I’ve relied on trains to tour Scandinavia, reach postcard-worthy beaches along Thailand’s peninsula, and cross the great geographical expanse of the United States between Los Angeles and Milwaukee. For me there is no better way to see countryside, enter a metropolis, or most accurately experience the local vibe of a region. Trains also afford a more comfortable ride than buses with bigger seats, ample space for luggage, and a snack car! One trade-off? Time. As it turns out, riding from Milwaukee to Detroit by train or bus should be about the same time, and in practice, I have found that the Megabus more often makes its arrival times than the train. Another trade-off to a more comfortable ride is cost. However, when demand for the Megabus is high, prices for the train and bus are about equal.

As you may imagine, I was thoroughly disheartened at the loss of federal funding for a new train route in Wisconsin between Milwaukee and Madison. This line was a step towards an eventual link between Chicago and Minneapolis, and a step in the right direction to provide Midwesterners with more public transportation options. Opponents of the federal rail funds argued that it was a bad deal for taxpayers, that it wouldn’t be sustainable, and that the current Badger Bus already provides such a public transportation service. Now I’m not above riding buses; anyone who knows me also knows I’ve spent my fair share of time on buses (and after traveling Southeast Asia primarily by bus, a seven and a half hour trip between Milwaukee and Detroit, with a comfortable layover, is a breeze—trust me). But given the option, I will always opt for the train. I don’t think there is anything wrong with providing public transportation-goers with options. In fact, I think it is a state’s responsibility to provide its citizens with a variety of choice when it comes to transportation. The Midwest is a long way from an environment in which living car-light or car-free is a viable option, but beginning to build up the railways infrastructure is a necessary step in creating such an environment.

Yesterday’s train ride east across Southern Michigan was beautiful. For the first five and a half hours at least. It had been snowing steadily since I boarded in Chicago and there was a light dusting across the landscape. It wasn’t until a combination of inspections, traffic interferences, and poor weather conditions, putting us nearly two hours behind our scheduled arrival, did I consider re-evaluating my love affair with trains.

So will I be booking my next trip by train? You bet.


Positive thoughts for the New Year

I woke up yesterday with a surprising email in my inbox. It was from Non, a 6th grader from Wang Yang Elementary School. She wrote in Thai one of the only phrases I can still easily read, that she misses me. I wrote back that I miss her too. I also tried to tie in a few vocabulary words we used every day during our warm-ups, signing off with perhaps the most favorite nickname I will ever own, Bai-Khao.

This email is a nice reminder of connections that remain between me and Thailand. Right now, especially, these little reminders are so helpful. I was never fully prepared (nor could have been) for the ups and downs of life after a year abroad. Returning at a time of high unemployment, particularly among recent graduates, adds to the uncertainty and frustration. About two months ago I decided to start a “Positive Thoughts” log, in which every time a discouraging thought about my floundering, unemployed self danced across my mind I would write something positive about myself to stay upbeat throughout the job-seeking process. Since then the log has been buried (both literally and figuratively) beneath resumes, bills, and the holidays. Well, I think it’s time to dig it out again and pick up where I left off.

I’m happy to announce that I signed up for the 21 day yoga challenge with Yoga Journal, which starts on January 10. It’s my hope that by documenting my commitment here, I will be more apt to actually following through with the challenge! Since I can’t yet afford classes, I think this will also help expand my current home practice and keep me focused for everything else in my life off the mat. Building up my yoga practice is one of my New Year resolutions, in addition to picking up Spanish again and returning to a writing regiment for this blog.

How are you doing on your New Year resolutions? If you are employed, are you happy where you find yourself at the beginning of 2011? If you are a fellow employment-seeker, how are you taking care of yourself during this time?

Wherever you find yourself, best of luck as we step into the New Year.

New space, same idea

There was a lot about my daily life in Thailand that left me healthier and more balanced than when I arrived. Teaching and living in Thailand for a year afforded me the opportunity to unplug from the chaotic life I knew in the States, most recently as a graduate student, and really build a life I always wanted. I began practicing yoga on a regular basis, I ate mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, and I read lots of books. Changes, physical and other, were slow and went largely unnoticed by myself; it wasn’t until I shared company with loved ones again in the States (or when I was lucky enough to have visitors) did these changes really become apparent. I had shed the extra weight that crept on during graduate school as a result of papers, projects, and an absurdly constructed schedule that was always bursting at the seams. My hair and nails were stronger. I spoke slower. And I began to regard elders with more respect. Now I view interactions with my grandmother in an entirely new light.

Two notable, personal discoveries also occurred during my year abroad. Though they are independent of Thailand, they are very much in harmony with the Thai life I was living: 1) Through a New York Times article on consumerism I discovered Tammy Strobel and the minimal living mindset, and 2) I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Both minimalism and the consumption of real food are things Thailand does quite well and I was excited to be a part of it. I arrived with two suitcases (which in retrospect was too much!) and a computer, living with essentially an armful of clothing for a year. I was also consuming fruits, vegetables, and animals that were raised in the fields and farms I passed by every day going to school. The big question I kept asking myself: could I do this after my year in Thailand was over, back in the States? Back in the Midwest?

So here my next chapter begins. I’m moving/returning to Detroit in search of community-based work. Beyond that I have no idea what’s next, and that’s both exhilarating and terrifying. Maybe I’ll get involved in the urban agriculture movement, take a class at Wayne State, or tutor English language learners. I will continue my yoga practice and keep working on my holiday knitting projects, in between the job search, of course. I think I’ll also explore minimalist life in a post-industrial city. What does that look like, and is it compatible with what Detroit has to offer?

Thanks for joining. I’m looking forward to this project and am happy you’re here for it!

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