In a city that hosts so many expats, digital nomads, and world-roamer drop-outs, I’m curious to know, what makes a person successful? Is it the amount of money they make? The number of friends they have? Their ability to bring creative ideas to life? An honest sticking-to-their-truth at all costs? Fulfilling a dream?
Obviously there’s no one definition. Success means different things to all of us. But if there’s one constant to my curious eye in all versions of success it’s that it isn’t about reaching a goal. It’s not about arriving at all. Success is a dynamic thing that rolls in and out of our field of vision, kind of like a ball.
Every year I roll in and out of Chiang Mai (one of those said world-roamer drop-outs). I always come back to this city because there’s something to discover around every corner. Dotted along the city’s meandering sois. Tucked into the nooks and crannies of every market. Nestled inside a cozy coffee perch. Sometimes it’s just an ordinary door captured by the perfect slice of sunlight and audibly adorned by rapturous bird song. I’m always looking for something . On a quest for that simple new experience that is always there, waiting to be had. And I’m habitually rewarded. I never have to look very long because it usually finds me first. It’s a token of Chiang Mai’s giving spirit, if stone ruins and mountains and ancient temples can offer such things.
But there’s another even greater treasure I always find during each annual stay. People. Some of my dearest friends are people I’ve met in Chiang Mai during past travels. I met the man I love at a place called Angel’s Secrets (true story), which is located on the same street I met two of my dearest friends––at separate times and five years apart even!
Every once in a handful of years, I’ll get really lucky. I’ll meet a special someone and discover something new in the city all rolled up into one encounter. Thus begins the story about a tiny woman with a big appetite for really good food. I call her a foodie, but she claims it’s an inaccurate term, and she’s a straight shooter––the gentle kind. She’ll call herself picky, but only in private. Her name is Zippy, and she’s a veritable gift to a friendship.
With a name like Zippy, it’s easy to conjure up an image of a character akin to Looney Tunes’ beloved Road Runner––a fast-running ground bird that narrowly escapes trouble and trickery. But she’s not an escapist at all. Zippy fits her name well, and quite willingly, for her ability to be wherever she is with a present mind—such a move only happens in a zippy kind of way and engages a very rewarding feedback loop. The name Zippy has proverbial origins. It arose from a hobby she had back in college: making clothes for her dog, a task that, incidentally, resulted in a lot of leftover zippers. So, she whipped up and sold handy little zippered pouches on campus, which became so popular people that coined her Zip . Zippy is a rather natural and fitting inverted diminutive, and it perfectly describes her energy. (By the way, if your name feels bland to you, that’s normal. By comparison, it probably is).
I met Zippy through a friend of a friend of a friend in that classic six-degrees-of-separation style typical of Chiang Mai social meet ups. My first impression was that a lot of life can be packed into a pint-sized person! She’s slight, a small door frame to a big wide world. Her eyes hold untold treasures and make you believe that anything could spring to life in just a snap. She’s punchy, fierce, and darling.
And she makes these really good snacks, which is perhaps not the most remarkable qualifier for a person, but you haven’t tried these snacks. They’re superballs . She smashes a bunch of yummy stuff together and rolls them into balls for her boyfriend to eat during his workout (nice girlfriend, right?). It’s possible she eats her own stash in the evenings with a glass of red wine and her little dog Gin next to her, how would I know? She makes lip-smacking nothing-to-hide nut butters too, which in my opinion, are too good to be wasted on toast, so I work my way through a jar, one spoonful at a time.
Her kitchen is a biohacker’s candy store bedecked with nut butters and variations of those snack balls arranged in glass jars adorning her countertop––an affectionate hobby-meets-heart display. Standing there amid her stash, she looks like a proud 8-year-old in her kitchen playhouse. I lovingly remark at her collection and am rewarded with a ball (I know the tricks). I may also gush something fierce over her almond butter, hoping for a bone, but I don’t want to take advantage of what surely must be hard work. (Truth be told I’m wondering if I’ll ever get one of her namesake pouches). Her ball-based, nut-butter hobby, aptly named Zippilicious , is a mere pleasure-seeking enterprise––she still has a day job.
As she rolls these two-bite balls up each day, ideas begin to breed. (By the way, you might be wondering what’s in them––a modest cluster of wholefoods from nature, like dates and cocoa and almonds). Rolling food is quite an intimate, meditative task, and it connects you to the life-giving energy contained within. So, as Zippy connects with these balls, she thinks up new combinations and weeds through business ideas, filing some away, chucking others out. Her shy ideas begin to sprout life: there are so many different types of seeds I could use! she thinks. Less is more , she knows, so she opts for fewer better ingredients and a higher caliber ball.
In her spare time, Zippy mixes and mashes and rolls and experiments with something she loves. She makes a commitment to something simple yet deeply satisfying. A something-from-nothing that shows up for her every day because she knows how to feed it. Yet another rewarding feedback loop.
Isn’t that really the secret of success, if we could agree on one momentarily? Putting our energy into something we love, nurturing it with reverence, and watching it grow. A deliberate rolling stone (or date-and-nut-butter ball) toward something magnificent. Balls don’t have sharp edges and corners, and they don’t get stuck in one place for too long. They’re usually on the move, checking out what’s around the bend or down the little soi where the music’s coming from, picking up surprises along the way. As I watch Zippy rollin’ all the day, I wonder, maybe success requires nothing more from us than just being a rolling ball, which is a reward in itself.
Originally from Loei, Zippy came to Chiang Mai after seven years of flip-flop island life. She’s still adjusting to city life while simultaneously flipping through the most recent Citylife edition to keep up with what’s happening. Like one of her energy balls, Zippy rolls around the city, checking things out and falling in love with the place, which Chiang Mai lets you do and asks for nothing in return. And in her meanderings, she has discovered that there are many clean-food conscious folks out there that need nicer snacks (see, isn’t that something a foodie does––cares about what other people eat?). By nicer I mean tidier and more nutritious, and tastier because of it.
Now, Zippy makes balls for pretty much anyone who asks. She says, “I’m just making them for Phil and me so he doesn’t have to eat that mystery foil-wrapped goo anymore. I can make some for you too, for anybody.” She has strong opinions about commercial protein bars, and for her, taste and presentation go hand-in-hand.
She shares those delicious snack balls wherever she can––CFCNX (trainers love them because of their precise macro count), and some local cafes and healthy-food haunts. All this happens in her spare time between the hours she spends focused on her more conventional job in hotel management, the one that pays the bills and gives her the freedom to experiment with a more playful side of life. Zippy’s a planner, though. A sharp-shooter as much as a straight one. She believes that life should contain three hobbies you love: one to make you money, one to keep you in shape, and one to be creative. All her rolling seems to have picked up all three in one happy hobby with loads of potential. I have no doubt her ball-based hobby will continue to be a rolling success.
I’ll leave you with this Zippy-inspired maxim for life: Don’t just get the ball rolling into what you love. Be the ball. Want to taste the ball or nut butter? You can find Zippilicious on Facebook and Instagram.