Traveling Abroad: Fear & Failure

Traveling and living abroad are not always walks in the park– you will have to confront fear!

I recall the weeks before my trip, where I’d stay up nights just imagining what it would be like. I watched the movie, Into the Wild, whose protagonist embarks on an epic journey only to die as a result several years later. My mind, trying to compute all of the unknowns rattling in my head, fixed on the idea.

A part of me thought that I’d die abroad during my trip.

The reality is such that had I not confronted fear, I wouldn’t have made it to Hanoi. In fact, I would never have purchased a one-way ticket in the first place.

All cities have their unique set of challenges.

In Hanoi, the road and traffic were causes for concern, the pollution, who’s Air Quality Index (AQI) was higher than Beijing at times, the uncertainty of finding a job and be taken seriously as an expat teacher, learning Vietnamese–and using it while knowing that you fucked up your tones!

Many of you have likely experienced situations in which you sabotage yourself.

I’ve noticed that I sabotage myself when I am not confident about what I’m doing. Depending on the situation, the sabotage can come in a variety of forms. The simplest of them is the one where I constantly make excuses to not do something, or not be somewhere. I saw this a lot with interviews in which I didn’t feel qualified. More often than not, if I had just shown up, I’d probably walk away with a job. Simply put, I was afraid to fail.

Still, my biggest act of self-sabotage came during my last year at UCLA, during a graduate-level course examining Contemporary Russian Literature.

For an undergraduate student, the amount of intellect and knowledge about Russia in that room was staggering. Think of 10 people who literally specialize on Russia literature and sit in a room with them to dialogue about your opinions, views, and thoughts on Russia. Personally, I knew nothing about current events, relying on contexts provided by Russian classics that I’d read previously. In lieu of a final exam, we were asked to pick some writings examined during the class, break them down, form a coherent analysis based on factual information as well as personal opinions, and present to the class.

For hours, days, and eventually weeks, I worked to select the appropriate texts, do research, and develop a strong presentation.

I’d practice my presentation in my room, anxious about my golden moment which, in reality, felt more like I was being led to the slaughter, the dreaded guillotine. When the time came, I was shaking just walking to class. I knew, when I walked in that room, that he would ask me if I was ready and my response was supposed to be yes.

But, something happened. I lied.

I told my professor that I had accidentally left my flash-drive at home despite sitting with a fully finished and polished presentation with me in the very moment that I lied to his face. Since class met only once per week, I had another week to perfect it.

I walked into class a week later, shaking again. I did something I’d never forgive myself for: I told the truth.

My confidence was severely shaken as I admitted defeat that day and explained myself. I don’t know if he sympathized or was just caught off-guard, baffled, but I was offered the option of writing a fifteen-page research paper instead. I accepted. Besides wasting time laboring over something I never presented, I then had to buck up and write the paper. Thankfully, I got an A on the paper, which was the only graded assignment in the class, and walked away happy yet unsettled. I felt like a cheater, like I had failed.

Months later, I’d come to find that this experience served a purpose and that perhaps it’s best to have learned my lesson on self-sabotage and fear early on as opposed to later in life, when it would likely be less forgiving and more problematic. 

If you are thinking of traveling alone, I invite you to embrace fear. Do something that scares you, something wrapped in uncertainty. Chances are, you will overcome it and be a better person for it.

Thailand ⇒ Mekong ⇒ Laos

Everybody’s worried about time / But I just keep that shit off my mind / People living on twenty four hour clocks / But we’re on a ride that never stops.

For two days we went by boat along the Mekong River.

On the 29th of January, I crossed over into Laos. The route that began in Chiang Khong, Thailand, near Chiang Rai, stopped at Pak Chong, continued to Pak Beng, then finally let us off in LuaLP-to-Chiang-Mai-sm.jpgng Prabang, Laos. I realized I knew nothing about the country. The Dutch group with which I travelled was quick to point out that “kip,” the currency used in Laos, is the Dutch word for chicken. Amused, we referred to money as chicken during our time there.

 

While one or two were made nauseous, others were just as easily coaxed into a deep sleep by the soothing sound of the boat as it loudly tugged along the Mekong._dsc1932

Most people played drinking games, took pictures along the riverside as the boat passed through, or chatted with the others. You can see the view from the boat along this path by visiting my other site, Mr. Chido.

As we stopped in Pak Chong, night was beginning to fall. As the boats unloaded, ranks of people quickly started their way up the ten-minute trek uphill, towards the hostels and guest-houses. The locals knew the drill, of course. The tourism from the boats provided them a steady supply of eager consumers. Consequently, we knew the drill, too– be at the front and get the better rooms. Delaying the search for accommodation can sometimes lead to interesting situations based on what’s left over.

I broke off from the Dutch and British I was with on the boat and found my way with another group.

We were coaxed into sharing a room after the owner of a hostel approached us, offering us some rice wine while advertising his private rooms. We accepted the drinks and took a look at the rooms. Satisfied, we gave him the money and laid in our beds for a while, drinking and chatting. After dinner everybody who still had some energy left converged at the one bar in town, which I forget the name of. It had a jungle/island atmosphere, L.E.D. lights and locals selling weed, opium, and offering both for the curious tourist. Although I would later try opium in Vang Vieng, Laos, I wasn’t up for the task yet.

At the bar, the two British lads and I were invited to some girl’s, where we would later get locked in by a barbed-wire fence. 

When one of the girls pretended to cook traditional Laoatioan food in the kitchen, waking up the owner, I realized things were getting sloppy. The owner was becoming increasingly present, often appearing to do a visual check on us or the girls, or her property. I later learned this was probably because pre-marital sex is extremely taboo here. After sometime the owner went back to bed and dissapeared. Three hours before our boats loaded up and left, we decided to leave; the girls were already asleep. We were chatting outside, feeling the breeze. As we left the building, it locked us out. To our surprise, the barbed-wire fence that once had a gap to let us in, was now locked. After forty-five minutes scanning the perimiter, we found a weak spot in the soil  where we could lift the gate up enough to shimmy out.

By 7am, everybody was already up to check out and make our ways to the boats and continue the last leg of our ride to Laos.  

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The Boats

Continue to Luang Prabang! Or, see how I spent my time in Thailand

All Things Arise, Exist, and Expire

Perhaps that look inwards is another goal in travelling to the more remote parts of the world.

Catching me off-guard, a stranger I’ve only known for two days noticed a sadness in me that goes unnoticed back home.

I was straddling a ledge on the roof of our hostel, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. The main street created a corridor that framed the sunset along the town’s main street. 16707386_10207937500506329_5323739127012508184_oI think it’s normal to feel highs and lows in life. I just get like this sometimes, I told her, throwing in a dumb joke about how I wouldn’t jump. She laughed and admitted that even if I jumped, the wires would brace my fall and I’d probably be alright. She left and I finished my beer. Strangely, I felt like crying.

 

 

 

Despite having so much time to myself while backpacking, I still experience many of the same negative emotions that I did back home.

Realistically, I feel these negative emotions are arising pricesely because I have so much time to myself. There is no distration to make me forget, to weed to numb the uncomfortable feelings I feel sometimes. 

In an environment without television, internet, or other distractions, one really has nowhere else to look and starts to look inward.

Perhaps that look inwards is a subconscious goal of travelling to remote parts of the world. With that increased inward gaze, one starts to be aware of things that was previously suppressed with distractions. Traveling in Asia has no shortage of distractions to the foreigner should they welcome it but can be equally distraction-free if you design your trip that way (no portable movie players, ipods, etc). This isn’t a 12-hour trip to distract yourself during, it’s something you need to interact with as much as possible and in as many ways as possible. In doing so, your interactions with travel will, in reality, be interactions with the self; the decisions you make, the people you seek out, and the way you hold yourself.

If at any time things get tough or heavy, realize a fundamental truth: All things arise, exist, and expire. Nothing is permanent. Things come in and go out. The thing that is liked just appears for a moment, exists, and expires.