Erin Virginia

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Coins in the Closet

When I was a little girl, maybe five, my aunt and uncle offered a giant bucket of coins to my three brothers and me as a Christmas present. The coins were almost exclusively pennies, but that didn't matter, especially to a child who loved coins. (I remember when I was seven, I converted my $25 of birthday money into change and carried it around for the summer in my purple, plastic purse that had fourteen pockets.) Anyway, my brothers and I spent hours stacking the pennies by tens to count them. In the end, we wound up with somewhere between $150 - $200, which was then split four ways. Ultimately, Jamie and Michael (my two oldest brothers) convinced Sean and me to hand over most of the money to buy a Sega video game console.

Perhaps collecting change is some genetic quirk because although my parents might not admit it, I know they have more than one carboy in their closet filled with pennies. In my closet, I have a stout, little jar that I have been throwing change into for years. If Chris empties his pockets onto the dresser, the coins are confiscated. But I often forget to throw my own money into it, and a couple months may go by before anything is added. Chris not only makes fun of the jar, but I have caught him stealing quarters for the meters, a semi-blasphemous act. He is, however, on board with reserving a few foreign coins from our trips, and we have another little pottery pot for those.

Yesterday, with Chris' support (i.e., pointed remarks), I decided the day had come to take the jar to the supermarket coin-counter. I salvaged a sacagawea, a couple Kennedy half dollars, as well as the train-pressed coin I put on the tracks in Prague on a college trip and then jumped into the well to collect after the train passed over it. The result of the coin counter's calculations was over $50 in hoarding. While I washed the tarnish from my hands in the restroom, Chris took the receipt to the cashier and got all the money back in $1 bills. My gosh, how impractical.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Chris and I had an amazing trip to Thailand and Hong Kong at the beginning of March. We spent most of our time in Thailand and then stopped for two days on the way home in Hong Kong. We had a little fiasco checking in for our flight leaving Boston. Neither Chris nor I were aware that entering Thailand requires a passport with at least six months of validity left (neither of our travel books mentioned it), and unfortunately, Chris' passport expired five and a half months from our flight date. So we spent a day at the passport office in Boston where Chris was luckily issued a renewed same-day passport. We left a day late, but it could have been much worse. The combination of flights through JFK and Hong Kong to Bangkok took almost 24 hours - we watched a ton of movies...

We spent a quick night in Bangkok before flying onward to Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand. We loved our hotel, which was within walking distance of the markets, where we spent a lot of time, and the wat's (temples). The requisite scooter was also rented, which Chris and I took out for a few hours. The food was wonderful - Pad Thai for US$1? No problem. We also wandered across a Thai boxing match set up in the middle of a square where Chris cheered on his randomly chosen favorite, while the adorable street children extracted dollars from us in exchange for strings of jasmine blossoms. Our first full day in Chiang Mai, we visited Tiger Kingdom, a sanctuary about a half hour away. Chris and I paid the fee to see the 3 month old tiger cubs and the largest tigers. We saw one of the cubs first and were able to pet its face and practically hold it. With the big tigers, we could only approach them from behind, not near their faces where the handlers stayed. It was amazing to get so close - we could rub their stomachs, touch their paws and feel the weight of the tail in our hands. At one point, I felt one of the tiger's stomach gurgling under my hands as it digested one of its many chicken meals. We also visited an elephant conservation center tucked into the nearby hills. Elephants are brought here for rehabilitation/rest after working to clear land or doing tricks in circuses. We spent the day acting as "mahouts," or elephant handlers. We first fed the elephants sugarcane, either directly into their mouths or by letting them grab the stalks from our hands with their trunks. Next, we learned commands to steer them and then took a little treck by riding them bareback - Chris and I shared an elephant and took turns sitting on its neck and back. The elephant's skin feels like sandpaper and is covered in coarse, prickly hairs - a little uncomfortable skin on skin. The guides warned us to watch our legs while riding the elephants because they like to sideswipe trees to itch themselves, which can be to the detriment of dangling legs. Our last activity was to bathe the elephants in a muddy pond. Chris made friends with a baby elephant who would spray water from its trunk at him. Chris finally had to grab its trunk and turn the spray elsewhere, mostly on a nearby French guy, but sometimes on me. After Chiang Mai, we flew south to Phuket and the surrounding islands. We had just one quick overnight stay in Patong, which felt like the worse of Sodom or Gomorrah. We were glad to leave Patong and the "lady boys" behind.
The next day we took a ferry to Phi Phi, a set of two islands about an hour off the coast. The beaches are incredible, probably the most beautiful I've ever seen. Our first night, we met up with an expendition that took about 20 travelers to the smaller island, which is also a national park with few structures - only rudimentary toilets and huts for park workers. Except for the park workers (who stay on a different part of the island), we were alone on the island with the other travelers - lots of Australians and Brits. We ate freshly cooked panang chicken curry and hung out around a campfire while the guides put on a fire show. On the beach, just the stars and phosphorescent plankton in the water lit the darkness. Any movement in the water was followed by bands of light, and the water washing ashore glittered, as though filled with miniature stars. It was one of the most magical experiences I've ever encountered. Chris and I slept on the beach in thin sleeping bags, which seems romantic, but was actually rather uncomfortable.

We spent the next day and night on the main island in Phi Phi, which also boasts a beautiful harbor. Chris spent lots of time in the water, while I stayed under an umbrella nursing a fruit smoothie. After hearing rave reviews, we hiked up and down the hills on Phi Phi just before sundown, encountering monkies along the way. (Also, lots of cats and dogs in Thailand - people are very animal friendly.)
Our next leg of the trip was in Bangkok, where we stayed for almost two days. We shopped and ate dinner on Khao San Road, took a boat tour on the choppy water and visited the glittering Palace in the extreme heat. The palace "police" forced Chris to rent ugly pants to wear over his shorts - it is forbidden for men to show their knees in the palace.

After Bangkok, we flew to Hong Kong and stayed in a hotel along the pristine bay. The city felt very reserved after coming from Thailand, i.e. "the land of smiles." We took the trolley up to Victoria's Peak our first day to look down onto the city and mainland China. The most interesting parts of the city were the incredible skyscrapers and the strips of markets filled with cooked geese, raw meat and even shark fins. Our second day, we took the ferry across to Kowloon (mainland China), walked around for a couple hours and then stopped for dim sum (small Chinese dishes) for lunch.
After a long flight back, we are happy to be home and to see our own little "tiger" (aka Greta).