Hello! I'm Renee Garland. I've been traveling to Asia for the last 13 years in order to escape snowy Maine winters, hoping to live sunny adventures. My company began 11 years ago with $250 worth of chopsticks. I started selling them at craft fairs and festivals all over coastal Maine. Unfortunately, many people didn't know much about chopsticks! (or Asia for that matter.) Nonetheless, I trudged through the festival scene for several years expanding my inventory to clothing, accessories, gifts, and art. The mission has always been the same; to work with individuals, women's coops, and small home-based businesses to help support and encourage small enterprises. I opened my first store in Portland, in 2006 called "Waterlily." It's filled with Waterlily brand handmade gifts produced both from my travels abroad, and by local artists. I still go on buying adventures, 'cause that's what it's all about. . .

Sunday, September 30, 2012


It was scary! I was awakened from a beautifully tranquil nap in my grass bungalow on the beach by a blaring cell phone ring. I jolted up, answered, and listened...
Oh whoa, Renee Renee!!! Renee!!  My friend screams across the line from Bangkok that there was a major earthquake in Sumatra a few hours before, and a tsunami warning to evacuate immediately! Is this a joke? Still groggy from the nap, I proceed to giggle and not take him seriously.
He tells me hurriedly that there is a one hour warning. We must evacuate the beach before the tsunami (estimated to be as devastating as 2004) hits. One hour. I get serious.

Leaving the island is not possible. We are a four hour ferry boat ride from the mainland of Thailand. I look outside our simple digs, and see fellow travelers departing on foot with their backpacks as fast as they can. All we can do is head for the hills. The stats on Koh Payam Island; It's very tiny, pretty flat, and roads are only wide enough for motorbike traffic. It's main source of income is cashew farming. Mostly, the only problem you are likely to face on Koh Payam is being hit on the head with falling cashew fruits. Today not the case.

Our bags were already packed, thankfully, as we had just arrived from Bangkok that morning.
(Hence the mid-day nap) Luckily, we are out the door in minutes. My friend Sara traveled with me this year to Asia, her first time. She is shaking next to me and (rightfully so) panicked. I must keep it together for us! I'm the seasoned SE Asia traveler, this is my responsibility to keep her safe. Because of this, I find myself strangely calm. I grab her arm, and we walk together toward the road. The man of the guesthouse has decided to stay. I suppose he might be thinking that he can protect his investment somehow and weather the wave coming. Crazy! But he provides Sara and I among others, a motorbike side car taxi situation for as many as can fit at once. Maybe 4?

We jump into the sidecar, and zoom as fast as we can up to the middle of the island which has the most promise for a hill. Our destination should be to the designated evacuation center, (which was set up after the devastating 2004 tsunami) which is a school. On the way over, I spot a rather large crowd at the top of a hill hanging out at the "Chicken BBQ Bar." I insist that the driver stop for us there. It seems jolly actually, a better idea over the converted school/evacuation center. Yes, if it is our time, I should think that we should spend our last hours at a party, rather than a cry-fest.

We climb the hill, and enter. It started pouring just then. There are at least 100 Thai's and foreigners. The place was super simple and open to the outdoors completely, but we had a roof, and electricity. We all sat around watching the rain, while people played guitar or their iphone radios. ( I remember someone was playing Prince) There were introductions and card games, while we all sat and waited. Many have gathered by the TV. The news report is bleak. We try to remain hopeful for each other, and the children. To be completely honest, I am hopeful. I didn't have a bad feeling. But who knows. I can't claim to know how it feels before you die. And Partly I had Sara to protect, so I wasn't allowed the luxery of being scared. I am definitely not a big drinker, and kinda vegetarian, but found myself enjoying a shot of whiskey and some chicken bbq, in this situation. Geesh, live a little if it's gonna be your last few moments!

As time passed, the reporters kept moving the arrival time back. We waited for at least four hours in the storm together. Then suddenly the news changed. We held our breath as reports came in. The first waves had hit the coast and were definitely less severe than had previously estimated. A mere two feet or something was reported. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief, and waited it out for another hour or two just to be sure. In that time the food ran out, as did the beer, and people started feeling brave enough to go back home.

People were in total shock, but so happy to leave our staged relief center.
The next day we were all recounting the event and walking around in a PTSD stupor.

Stunned, yet glad to be alive, we went on living. Swimming, eating banana pancakes, yoga on the beach. Totally surreal experience.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dug out the suitcases...

Leaving in about a week for Bangkok! This year my best friend Sara is coming too! We are going to take 3+ months to travel to Thailand, Bali, and The Philippines! yay! Keep you posted...haven't started packing yet. I have some great new ideas for Waterlily though...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In airplane world, is assertion necessary? -Or, is it an American thing? Part 1

The difference between flying foreign and domestic carriers is like night and day. Last week I used frequent flyer miles to fly from Portland Maine to San Diego Cali, I flew on Delta. (Need I say more?) Anyway, my title for that blog I was going to write was "In airplane world, assertion is key." So this is in a nutshell how it went down;
The flight coming out of Portland was delayed once we were on the tarmac due to mechanical issues. (not what you wanna hear before take-off) Because they waited until we had already boarded, they then had legally 3 hours to fix the problem before passengers could deplane and make other arrangements. If they had told us at the gate then passengers would have already been trying to make other arrangements- resulting in chaos, and no one probably would have gotten on the plane. So, there we sat for at least an hour and a half in the cold with no snacks waiting to hear if the plane was fixed so we could fly on to Detroit. Finally the problem checked out- and off we went without another snag until we landed in Detroit.
Nearly every person who was connecting was to miss or nearly miss their connecting flights. My flight to San Diego was due to take off at the exact time we were deplaning. I found out that it was too delayed for 20 minutes, so I had about 5 minutes from the time I got off the plane to run from concourse C to concourse A. I overheard a passenger talking about me somewhere from behind saying, "depends on whether she's a glass is half full, or empty person I guess. . . "

I ran outta the gate, and tried to ask the first attendant I saw to which gate I was supposed to head in order to catch the flight.  I didn't want to be too rude just to jump in and ask where is my gate? but the person behind me just belted out at the nice man "Phoenix!!" so, I knew that is what I had to do too. "San Diego!!" at the top of my lungs breaking up any conversation the gate attendant was having with polite customers. (This insistence felt weird to me, but I was taking cues from the older lady before me, and it worked. In this situation I guess that is what you are supposed to do. So then I RAN RAN RAN. Got to the gate. . . and . . . everyone was just standing around waiting to board. still. This flight too had been delayed due to snow. (wouldda been nice to know)
While I stood waiting I realized that I had a middle seat, which is a nightmare to a person with a bad neck, so I weighted my options. . . just let it go and don't cause any waves for the gate attendants who were already pulling their hair out to accommodate the long queue,  OR be firm and just ask. I didn't want to I really didn't. The part of my personality I inherited from my mom woullda just suffered in my seat. But, my new assertion worked a few minutes ago, and I was jacked on adrenaline from all the running, so I busted into the commotion, decisively asked, and the gate attendant was quick to upgrade my seat! Lucky duck! Wow, assertion did pay off in this case.
So, that was going to be it. My blog about how you just have to weasel in with these things sometimes to get what you want. Seems kinda American. Don't take a back seat. Stand up for yourself. You are important. Yada, yada.
A few days after, I was taking a flight from LAX to Bangkok on one of my favorite airlines, Korean Air when my latest realization was challenged. . . to be continued. . .

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Emerging from the dust and chai-

I love to sit in the shops and watch all of the buyers from around the world. France, Spain, Italy, England- all of the accents. Everyday I'm meeting new kindred spirits working in the same fashion as I do. Some smaller businesses, some- heh, most actually,  much bigger. All interesting. Every person with their different samples, color choices, swatches. This is grassroots level, this is where all the product comes from that you see everyday. Any market, shop, department store, chain, festival, anywhere. It starts here. It starts with a rickswaw ride, and a shot of chai. It starts with the dust, sweet lassis, touts, cowshit, and factory visits. Cutting swatches, visiting cloth markets, and creating designs based on this. This all. The journey, the people, the hindi, all of the accents from all over the world, and the fresh designs - we start here. The inspiration comes out of the dust and incense, and fills your nostrils. The chai fills your throat. Conversations about color, and cut arise, and are cut off by a beggar just checking in for some bakshish. Not today, "Kuuch Neyyeh". The French women is overpowering the meeting, "I dont want same like las yea. Make me good quality Gopal." I'm sitting and waiting for my turn. Just taking it all in. I have time today. Only a few more days left in India, I want to enjoy each of these moments.
I'm observing and letting my senses take over, crosslegged on the pile of cushions made from patchwork cloths, and the heaps of samples and material. Op! The power has cut! -Incredible India, as they say.

-See that jacket on the rack? It smells of these things. It's alive with the energy of this place.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Let go and trust

A few hours before my departure from the US last week, my mother left me with a bit of advice; "Renee, have a good time, but don't trust anyone."
huh, I thought.
"Mom, thats terrible advice." I said. " Why would you say that?" I got defensive toward that remark."I know what Im doing and who to trust." I say.  "I've been coming to Asia for 10 years mom!" After we said our goodbyes, I continued to mull over her parting advice.
 This seems to be prevailing thought currently in the U.S.. Yes, I hear it time and time again from many when I'm about to travel. "Why would you wanna go over there?"
 It's really sad. Not only is it sad when you think about where I'm about to travel, Thailand, "The Land of Smiles" but also because should you really be thinking that about anywhere? (Ok, perhaps countries who are in war but. . .)
I have an understanding of why she thought to say it. . .Mainly the problem is, I think most Americans are now so glued to the terrible things going on on their TV sets, that the world outside of their home seems to be a VERY scary place. If you spend all of your time watching the news, and various murder and medical programs,  your fear would seem to most definitely rise! Especially, if, like my mom, you don't travel and get out often enough to witness for yourself that the world is quite wonderful! And another one; that people are generally good. C'mon folks, this isn't rocket science! I do belong to the school of thught that states that like attracts like- or what ever you put out is what your gonna get back. And I honestly believe that. But not only is Thailand one of the most friendly and safe places that Ive ever been, I trust this place, and I trust my instincts. -And if we dont have our instinct, and a sense of love and trust out there, whether it be backpacking across the world, or going to get the mail in your own backyard, god help us!
The universe is one and we are one with it.  
I am soooo happy to be back in Thailand where the hearts and minds of the people are not over-run by fear of your neighbor. Rak Muang Thai. I love you mom.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This is what I do. . . in Thailand (part 1, logistics/bangkok)

Hello out there in blogland-
I've been getting a lot of emails about travel advice for Thailand- so I'm thinking this blog might help a few people who are going, or thinking about going.

My style of traveling;
I travel basically pretty cheaply. I'm gone for about 4 months a year, so I need to make the money stretch. My avg. favorite guest houses are probably 12.00 usd/night. I might spend about $30-35 usd/day total for food, guest house, taxis, massage, clothes, etc. You can spend less, and you can def. spend more! But thinking back on the last ten years, I'd say I always personally budget for spending about $1000/month. One way to save though, is www.couchsurfing.org and other great internet sites to stay at people's homes, and really get to know the thai's. Great way to see the country, meet the people, and stay cheaply!

Lets start in Bangkok. From the airport, I either take the airport bus for 150 Baht, (4.50 usd) or a meter taxi. This will hugely depend upon where you are staying. The taxi is best (more convenient), but a bit more pricey, I prob. pay around 400-500 (14.00usd) Baht. One thing you could do is just ask others at the airport to share in your taxi. I do that a lot. Especially if I see backpackers, I assume that they will be staying in Banglamphu district (khaosan area), so you can share pretty easily for that.
Once you're in Bangkok, I recommend always to take a meter taxi. But this can be tricky for the green traveler. Taxi drivers like anywhere can be sharks! They can sense fresh prey! So, the best thing to do, is to be cool- look like you know what you're doing, hop in and tell them where you are going. Go into it assuming that they will do meter. But, if they quote you a price of any amount or don't put their meter on RIGHT AWAY, then politely, assertively say "meter." Then, if they say no, hop out and grab another. They are a dine a dozen in Bangkok. Always someone will give a meter rate. (not if you are on Khaosan rd., but that is another story, -just walk onto any other street and they will)
The public bus system in Bangkok is good and cheap! I do travel this way when I have time, or don't mind the heat. (but some have AC, and can be quicker) They are much cheaper than a taxi usually, to get around. - and can be so fun! But it's a matter of knowing where you are going and what number. I can never keep the numbers straight. Adventurers would find this a nice way to explore the city! -and every time I find I'm on the wrong bus, heading in the wrong direction- they let me go for free. Awww, the Thai's! They are soooo kind to visitors.

GET A LONELY PLANET or www.lonelyplanet.com
A great link to this website is, www.lonelyplanet/thorntree.com That's the lonely planet's online travel forum. Ton's of Q&A's. Which leads me to lonely planet. My favorite guidebook. Hands down. I would never buy another! Get one for every country that you are going to.

To be continued. . .