Tag Archives: wisconsin

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.

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Freezing and (f)unemployed

I’ve been back in the States for over a month now and many of the initial shocks and surprises of this “Western” environment have dissipated; I am getting much better at walking on the right side of aisles in stores and guiding right whenever I’m entering or exiting buildings, which allows for much better mobility than I was experiencing in Los Angeles. I took my time getting back to Wisconsin, spending several days in Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago with good friends. Much of my re-entry process those first few weeks was getting through the long,  drawn-out battle with jet-lag (the return to the U.S. was WAY worse than what I remembered about my arrival to Thailand last year), the re-introduction of foods, and the climate. I’ve long since set my internal clock back to Central Standard Time but those first few days of waking up wide-eyed at 3:00am were not fun. As for the foods, I’m satisfying my Thai cravings with lots of rice and vegetable stir-fries, though these dishes are just not the same as found in Isaan. The climate, however, is something I will need much more time to accept. I’ve never been a fan of winters in the Midwest but as a native, my frustrations with the sub-zero temperatures and arctic wind chills usually don’t set in until mid-February, when winter feels as if it may very well just never end. This season, however, temperatures that would have me exercising in a long-sleeve t-shirt and shorts a year ago are sending me to the depths of my closet for the warmest wool jacket and knitted accessories. And it hasn’t even hit freezing yet. This will quite possibly be the longest winter of my life.

Every day it’s different. One day I really miss my favorite Thai dish and the next I’m so grateful for toasters, huge refrigerators and sandwiches. I’ve stopped turning the serving bowl into the community bowl and dipping my spoon into it at the dinner table (much to my mom’s relief) but I also really miss eating outside, in hot weather. I really miss working so hard to express one idea or opinion in Thai and actually be understood. I miss biking down the street and hearing neighbors inquire “Where are you going?” or “Have you eaten yet?” Yesterday I walked to our local library and not one person asked me anything, or even said hello. I’m pretty sure one woman with a stroller even crossed the street when she saw me and I’m not sure why. Well, I did have one lengthy conversation with an individual but ironically he’s not even a U.S. citizen; he’s from Zimbabwe. There is a definite lack of community here. And the silence is deafening. So I also miss the crickets.

That said, it is still good to be back. It was time to be back. However I am so very restless during this transitional period; I don’t yet have a job so there are certain things I should do to get one, like seek job postings and write those ever-so-stimulating cover letters. And then there’s this other part of me that wants to do all of these things I enjoy doing to fill up this time I’d like to refer to as funemployment. So I’m crocheting scarves, reorganizing my photographs and cooking new lentil soup recipes, during which a little part of my more responsible, pre-Thailand self, is tapping her foot and saying “This is all grand, but you really need to get a job.” Okay, as if I didn’t know that already, self. But maybe a little part of me doesn’t want to at all. I still have dreams about teaching in Thailand. I wake up remembering a few of my students’ faces and then go about my day. When I first came back to the States I would try and recall some of my students’ names in my head, as if me remembering them would cement my experience and ensure that it was in fact something concrete and not just a dream. But this is not a dream, it’s reality…and it’s time to get a job.


Thailand Tribute #12: Weather

Thunderstorms on the horizon

Of the three seasons in Thailand (cold, hot and rainy), the rainy season is my favorite. Humidity levels are exceptionally high during this time of year, especially right before a big storm. Clothes can take days to dry, everything in the house seems to mold, and even the most minor cuts and scrapes take forever to heal. Despite this oppressive humidity (averaging 95% at night) and the inconveniences that come with living in it, there’s nothing better than experiencing a huge thunderstorm rolling in from the west on a sticky afternoon.

Today I taught at Wang Yang Elementary School and after lunch the sky went from clear blue to dark gray in about half an hour. Thunder and strong gusts of wind soon followed, and as I was about to start teaching my third grade class, a solid wall of rain swept across the football field and quickly overtook us; within seconds the entire school was being pummeled by the downpour, which only lasted about 20 minutes. My students, who were just complaining about how hot it was (and that says a lot, coming from Thai kids!), were begging me to turn off the ceiling fan because of the temperature drop. I, on the other hand, was rejoicing in the cool winds that were finally providing relief from the suffocating humidity. By the time class was dismissed the skies had cleared and the only trace that a storm had even passed was the water dripping off tree leaves and a few gathering pools below them.

One thing I am absolutely dreading when I move back to the Midwest is the drastic temperature change. After living in a tropical climate for a year, the thought of returning to a Wisconsin winter is enough to make me cry. I will quite possibly hibernate for three or fourth months until the ground has thawed and my body has once again acclimated to my environment.


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