Monthly Archives: December 2013

Hello, World (again)

This was the year.

In 2013, I quit my job, ended my lease, drove all of my worldly possessions across the country for storage at my parents’ house, and traveled the world.

Except, that was really just the beginning.

It’s funny to think back to the first half of this year, when I was drenched in anxiety and sadness, clutching desperately to the people and the place and the love that kept me grounded in the familiar. I don’t know if I would recognize that girl anymore.

Because then I let go…

I gave up my ensuite bathroom and my car and my cell phone service. I gave up routine and convenience and privacy. I gave up Family Dinners and financial security and crispy bacon (seriously, this is quite possibly the only food I miss).

Instead, I learned how to hand wash clothes, how to curse in German, how strong my body is, and how far a positive attitude can take you. I learned how to spot an American accent, how I’m not cut out for small town life (though I kind of love it), how to bypass language barriers, and how hard you can really miss someone. I learned that it’s better to leave people behind and have my own adventures than to become a footnote in someone else’s story.

And I hiked over the Pyrenees, sledded down the Alps, rode a camel in the Sahara, watched sunrises and sunsets on three different continents, swam in the Atlantic and Pacific and Mediterranean. I walked 500 miles, danced on the beach, kissed under the full moon, took too many shots of Spanish lemon liqueur, got scrubbed clean by a Moroccan lady, sang for an entire Thai high school, slept in 50 person dorm rooms, cohabited with lizards and massive spiders, and fell in love with cities and strangers and so many foods.

I lost every pair of long pants I had, two headbands, two and a half hairbrushes, and the tread on my trail runners. I lost my self-consciousness, my need to impress people, my habit of shampooing my hair daily, and my desire for anything I can’t carry on my back. I lost being home for the holidays, easy phone calls that don’t cross the international dateline, and the spare key that allowed me unlimited and unscheduled quality time with my closest friends. And I lost the boy who I thought knew me better than anyone else.

But I found independence and courage and trust and patience. I found time and kindness and breathtaking views and beautiful people. I found history and street food and all-night parties and international heart-to-hearts. I found excitement and joy and new possibilities.

And for all the heartbreak that I went through before I left—and even my more recent occasional bouts of loneliness—I don’t think I’ve cried once since I got on that first plane.

———-

Jevhon told me that her trip has made the world feel smaller, like it’s all only a plane ride away and she can go anywhere.

I think this trip has made me feel the opposite: that the world is so incredibly massive that someone is always mentioning another amazing destination, that I could travel for the rest of my life and still not make it to every place I’m dying to experience. But at the same time, it also makes me question why I have put a plane ride between myself and all the people I love.

I’m not exactly sure what this means for my 2014 yet. This trip is more than I ever imagined, but it’s also shown me that I’m not one of those people who can do this forever. I do want to settle down and have a home and maybe actually get a real job again, but not yet. Not even close.

So I guess for now, all I’ve got is this: In 2014, I will continue following my heart… and I can’t wait to see where it takes me this year.

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creativity

“I see the creative process as a necessarily thievish undertaking. Dig beneath a beautiful piece of writing… and you will find all manner of dishonor. Creating means vandalizing the lives of other people, turning them into unwilling and unwitting participants. You steal their desires, their dreams, pocket their flaws, their suffering. You take what does not belong to you. You do this knowingly.”

Back to school

This week I taught my Thai students the word wish. I think. (You try explaining the meaning of wish in the most basic English possible.)

We sang our wishes for you to have a Merry Christmas (in a mostly Buddhist country), and wrote our wishes for the upcoming New Year (the year 2557) in the form of resolutions.

Then I taught feel, and I realized that perhaps, left to my own devices, my teaching just becomes a projection of my overemotional and overambitious brain.

As a whole, the Thai school system seems to run on wasted time and constant disruption, with little supplies and even less discipline.

Talking with another teacher, it seems like a lot of it was adapted from America: all students must pass a country-wide standardized test (though the vast majority at this rural school don’t), and still no failing child actually gets left back. There’s an excessive amount of paperwork for teachers, and arbitrary celebrations and assemblies take precedence over classroom learning.

But Thai schools also come with a whole other mess of cultural contradictions: students respectfully bow greetings to every teacher, but chat freely during class. The bell rings several times every day, but this doesn’t actually mark the beginning or ending of any class. And at all times during the school day, there are dozens of mismatch-uniformed children just hanging out in the school courtyard (and teachers hanging out in the workroom).

It’s bizarre and frustrating and almost cringeworthy; it makes me feel the need to immediately go back to my placement school in Houston, but it equally makes me want to swear never to step foot in another classroom.

What maybe my students can say—but definitely not comprehend—after being taught by me for a week: I feel sad and confused and tired and angry. I wish for a solution. I wish for change.

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Facts, four months in

Almost four months ago I landed in Barcelona at 8PM wearing $80 travel pants I agonized over buying, haphazardly navigated the train, and spent the one kilometer walk to my hostel struggling with my 12 kilogram backpack and feeling so paranoid that I kept looking over my aching shoulders into the empty shadows to make sure no one was following me. Then I ate dinner alone—ordering the only thing on the menu that I could read and tipping over 20% to a very confused waiter—and went straight back to my hostel bed to find WiFi and anxiously text friends from home. I don’t think I spoke to one person all day.

Yesterday I skipped a potential Skype session to dance wildly on the beach until 3AM, found a dance partner for the night in a blonde British boy, woke up at 7AM to say goodbye to the two friends left in my hostel dorm (both of whom I hope to meet again in the upcoming months), and changed into ~$6 Thai baggy pants gifted to me by one of said friends. Then I hopped in the back of a converted pickup truck/taxi where I chatted with two guys studying in Hong Kong, barely survived a nightmare ferry ride with Jehvon and Dan, talked seasickness with a few other travelers, trusted a complete stranger to watch over my backpack while I went to the toilet, and ordered a bowl of dumplings of an unknown flavor for lunch.

This trip has given me so much already.

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wake me up

I spent the last four nights staying out until (at least) 5AM and the last four days lazing about until (at least) 2PM and I have to wonder if maybe I’ve been doing this travel thing wrong up until now.

Koh Pha Ngan is this weird community—possibly the most touristy place in Southeast Asia, but also possibly the coolest for its parties and beaches and the type of people it attracts.

Necessary cliche: I haven’t felt this alive, or this bonded to other travelers since the Camino.

Last night was the Full Moon Party and I geared up with my new friends in neon and flowers and body paint like I was 18, and felt free, literally dancing circles along the beach.

But I also met up with old friends from Houston for the first time since I left, and the easy depth of our conversations threw me off in a way I wasn’t expecting. I spend hours and days with strangers, really, and these friendships follow the same path of discussing travels and hometowns and old jobs—scratching the surface but never going too far. So actually talking to someone about the nuances that have been monopolizing my brain for so long was therapeutic, and a bit jarring.

I don’t know. As I’ve just been discovering and rediscovering, travel is a weird mix. There are things I love, and things I miss, but I suppose that’s the way it always is, no matter where you are or what you’re doing (and I’d much rather be here).

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On money and kindness while traveling

This is my favorite piece of travel advice:

“I often get stressed out spending small amounts of money. Overall, this isn’t always bad—it’s led to a healthy paranoia about debt and a lifelong adherence to frugality. However, it has its downsides too, in that I can spend hours walking around trying to decide what to eat, or hours trying to figure out the public transit system somewhere instead of just flagging down a taxi.

It only took me about 100 countries—I’m a slow learner—but I finally created a $10 rule for myself that has been rocking my world. The $10 rule is that when I’m traveling, I deliberately avoid worrying about most things that cost $10 or less. As I said, this makes a big difference. I actually eat three meals a day now. If I can’t find free WiFi, I’ll walk into a hotel and pay for the connection. SO MUCH LESS STRESS.”

I’m still not entirely good at following it, especially because $10 is SO MUCH in Asia, but I think it’s a generally good frame of mind to be in.

I no longer book flights with two connections (I know, this was always ridiculous and I’m not sure why I’ve done this THREE times in my life and regretted each one), or overnight busses if a direct flight isn’t too much more. I sometimes eat in tourist traps, because the reason it’s a tourist trap is probably because it’s in a beautiful location, and I love beautiful locations (even if it comes with mediocre food). And I’m coming to terms with always being ripped off because I am terrible at bargaining.

I think you can walk around this world constantly angry, mistrusting, and complaining… or you can learn to let things go.

And even better, it’s made me more generous. I paid for a man’s juice at the airport because he didn’t have any Thai baht.

———-

Another thought on kindness while traveling: nine out of ten people would ban reclining seats on airplanes.

“It’s partly because there are two general personality types while travelling…. There’s the ‘altruistic soul’, who is considerate of others, and the ‘selfish ego’, who will look to increase their own comfort at the expense of others.”

I remember reading somewhere about a travel expert who never reclines because he considers it bad karma, but now I can’t find it.

Either way, I tried to exercise positive thinking as I kept my seat upright during my entire 11 hour flight from Germany to Thailand, while I witnessed the man in front of me stay reclined during meals and even when he wasn’t sitting in it.

I hope he has a terrible vacation. (No, not really.)

———-

I know I can’t come home yet—home being some magical undefined place where I feel safe and loved—and the major reason why is because there are times when I desperately want to.

But each place I go to feels a little less lonely and a little more full of opportunity. I’m figuring it out.

On German transportation

German public transportation networks put the New York subway system TO SHAME… once you actually figure out how to use the ticket machine, read the map, and decode the system of zones.

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Thank god for clear hostel signs and patient workers. (But seriously, how would YOU pronounce Zuffenhausen!?)

The only thing NYC does better is actually check fares… for all the incorrect trips I purchased, there’s no turnstile and no one ever asked to see my ticket.