Living Abroad: Daniel & Reed II

This week, I’ll have them talk about their lowest and highest points during their experience, and what the implications were, if any.

Thanks for joining us for another week as we learn a little bit more about Daniel and Reed’s experiences abroad.

This week, I’ll have them talk about their lowest and highest points during their experience, and what the implications were, if any. If you didn’t see part one of this exchange, go take a look first: Living Abroad: Daniel & Reed I


As you know, I had my own experiences living abroad. My first month in Hanoi was pretty much consumed with finding a job.

It wasn’t enough to pay the bills, so to speak. I was doing that back home. I wanted to do something different. However, it can be a tough balance holding off on what is offered in preference for what you want. What you want may not be there after all…

Thus, I was interested to find that both Reed and Daniel cited their career paths as a major contributing factor leading to the lowest and highest points during their travel. I wanted to explore this more.

When thinking back on his career abroad, Daniel expresses a lucid, clear understanding of his successes and failures abroad.

I spent nine years working for United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education, as an Instructional Leadership Coordinator. It was my greatest success. [My family and I] got to know what it is like to be rich and live an enchanted life […] It is also my greatest failure because I let materialism control my life and I did not save any money from that time. I was making 120,000$ a year in Dubai. I saved enough to buy our farm in Isaan, but I could have been retired by now if I didn’t live in a Villa next to the Arabian Gulf and drive a tricked-out Hummer for nine years.

 

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The Hummer

While he concedes that he doesn’t “regret the Hummer” because it was the “best vehicle” he ever owned, he is also quick to point out why his greatest success was his biggest failure. Perhaps owing to the humility he learned from at one point having it all, he admits that nobody “cares if you wear a Rolex and drive a Hummer.

 

These days, Daniel opts out of caring what other people think, preferring, he says, to “take care of [himself] and [his] family.” To him, the whole thing was “a learning experience.

When asked about his successes and failures, Reed admits that he was motivated by his fear of failure abroad.

Failure to me would be having to go back because of lack of money or with nothing to show. This drove me to make sure that I succeeded and gave everything my all. There was a time that I was working 4 jobs 7 days a week so that I could afford to live here and still pay bills from back home. But I didn’t want to go back home.

He continues, owing his greatest success to a position offered to him by an Export company in Hanoi, as Marketing Manager. Having a stable job wherein he could make connections “paved the way for many of [his] successes” abroad.

For Reed, however, his job at the Export company, would eventually lead him to a period of intense worry as he left to pursue the possibility of starting his own company.

[…] I freaked out and was questioning everything. Is this a smart move, should I just go back to the US and make more money there, how can I get my girlfriend a visa there… I was so freaked out I even emailed an old client in the US about job opportunities. I mulled it all over and realized that I would regret more not taking a chance with starting a company here than if I just went home for quick money.

 

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Reed’s girlfriend, Ly

Like Daniel, motivated by the need and desire to support his family, Reed had other motivations. “I had met the girl of my dreams.” Together, they created @HanoiHandbook, a resource for travel in Vietnam, which they still run.

 

Reed closes by admitting he is “sacrificing things like financial security” by living abroad, but his desire to “shift [his] career” into a new direction motivates him beyond that.

One of the last questions I asked Daniel and Reed has to do with hindsight. I asked them to think back on their first weeks abroad and think about what advice they’d give their eager, uninitiated selves.

Reminding us of the very real phenomenon of Culture Shock, Daniel’s advice is to go out and “make friends with the locals as soon as possible.”

I don’t think its day 1 that you have to worry about, it’s more like day 29 when home-sickness and culture chock set in. Culture shock is very real and like any form of shock you don’t realise that you are in it. It can and will lead to depression, especially if you are prone to depression. Don’t worry it will go away.

As you will see when I explore Culture Shock in another entry, some get it early on, others, like myself, get it over a year into their travels. For Daniel, “six to eight months” is all he needed for “the chaos and oddities” to “become normal,” and allow him to “concentrate on living life.”

Reed highlights “keeping an open mind” during your time abroad.

Living abroad isn’t for everyone. I think the best thing is to be prepared but not over prepared. Living in a new country has a learning curve that can’t come from reading books or blogs you kind of just have to do it. So before you even get to day 1 make sure this is something you truly want to do and if it is just go after it, make it work […] enjoy the adventure. For me, I have enjoyed every second of it here and would say my quality of life [has] increased greatly […] but can come at a cost.


I wrap this up by confessing that I hope my readers benefited from these short exchanges in some way.

I feel that by comparing Reed and Daniel’s account, we can get a more holistic picture of what sort of adversities are faced living abroad. Moreover, we can see the motivations behind relocating one’s life entirely– and what keeps them there.


Next week, I will introduce two other individuals living abroad and explore their experiences. Additionally, I will continue to add to my Experiences in Thailand.

Engine Trouble

I must have been there at least an hour drinking tea and trying thuoc lao as we laughed. They had a fire going to ward off the cold and ash rained on us the whole time as if it were snowing. Were it not for the Vietnamese faces around me, I could’ve sworn I was in Kieslowski film, in Poland or Russia. Meanwhile, the two shackled dogs barked and fought each other amidst the ash, smoke, and smog.

via Daily Prompt: Quicken

Today was supposed to be the day that I made magic happen: apply for (more) jobs, run some errands for the house to pick up things like a blanket so I don’t freeze again tonight, write, and begin learning the Vietnamese alphabet.

However, my efforts to quicken the pace were halted. My newly rented (think dirt cheap monthly lease) had other plans for the day, which consisted entirely in fucking with me. The Universe wanted to play games with me, apparently.

At first I thought it was just my inexperience with carburetors– “should the choke be up or should it be down? I don’t know but it’s freezing. Let’s try both.” Neither my Yamaha R6 nor the Honda CRF 250 had carbs. After fiddling with the choke in different settings, I at least got the bike to turn on, stay on, and not die when in idle. “Eureka!” Or so I thought. “Nope!” I leave the cafe in Tây Hồ and head towards my apartment in Ba Đình. Out of nowhere the bike simply turns off despite being in fourth-gear, cruising. Confused, I try giving it gas to no avail. Still coasting, I try to start the thing while in motion using the electric starter. I pull over, thinking I simply ran out of gas. The bike felt as if it wasn’t getting enough of something. Eight hours later I still don’t know what that something was because it wasn’t gas; I digress. I pulled over to the side, checked the gas levels since I have no fuel gauge. “It’s got gas,” I thought to myself as I jiggled the bike and had gasoline splash around the floor, lightly, leaving a urine-colored blotch on the pavement. For the next twenty minutes I fiddled around with the choke again just to try and get the damn thing to start. However, the things I did before did nothing.

After trying unsuccessfully a little longer I felt silly. I was stopped right in front of  a car-wash and the people kept looking over, exchanging glances with one another, and speaking in Vietnamese, laughing.

I don’t speak Vietnamese. I bet they were commenting on how I had probably never ridden a motorbike before; “silly tourist”. I played with the petcock again, looking busy and telling myself their bikes probably break down as well. One of the workers comes over and I presume he asked if I needed help. However: language barrier. Also: masculinity. So, I politely declined and hopped on the bike. I pushed it a friend’s house about 2-km away, arriving sweaty and gross, simultaneously freezing and over-heated from pushing the bike. He wasn’t home but his roommate let me in. Waiting, I fall asleep on another friend’s bed. When I wake up an hour and half later he still does’t seem to be home. Nobody is. Feeling like I should give it another go, I fiddle again with the stupid nobs: what I believe was the fuel ratio knob, the choke, and engine idle RPM speed. At that point, I don’t even know what I did but it worked. I left the house, eager to get home and begin my day.

The plot thickens. I pass the round-about, wait at the same light, and take the same turn to the main road to my house as the bike stutters again, stalling and slowing.

I finish coasting and realize I am in front of the same place– again! At this point I could do nothing but laugh as I make eye contact with the same individuals from a few hours earlier. This time I don’t even pretend to know what I was doing. They invite me into their little outside waiting area; it was made of bamboo and covered with tarps, featuring a bong for thuoc lao, a table and a tea-set. They invite me to sit, where they give me seemingly endless cups of tea. One guy in particular seemed to understand English quite well although he either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak English. However, he understood that I needed to call my rental guy.  I show him my phone, which is at 2% as it always seems to be when I need to make calls. He lets me use his. After I hang up with the rental people he texts them the address. We wait.

I must have been there at least an hour drinking tea and smoking thuoc lao as we laughed.

They had a fire going to ward off the cold and ash rained on us the whole time as if it were snowing. Were it not for the Vietnamese faces around me, I could’ve sworn I was in Kieslowski film, in Poland or Russia. Meanwhile, the two shackled dogs barked and fought each other amidst the ash, smoke, and smog. The guy sent over by the rental company finally arrives, smiling. He fiddles with the same damn knobs I fiddled with it. However, maybe he actually knew what he was doing. It’s possible. Although the bike still didn’t feel 100% as it had a few days before, it got me home. I hadn’t eaten so I parked my bike at home and left the maze of alleys to treat myself a little; today was a little stressful.

Perhaps tomorrow I will have more luck.

Land Crossing: Vietnamese Border

When getting to Hue, they yelled at me to wake up, shouting”Hue! Hue!” while poking my shoulder. The other passengers laughed and in a sing-song manner, semi mocking the Vietnamese music they played throughout the entire ride, I reiterated “Hue! “Hue!” as I got out of my seat and grabbed my bag. They dropped me off at a gas station, opened the compartment and put my bag on my ground as I struggled to put my boots on. Before I even accomplished this, the guy ran back to the bus, which had already started moving and hopped inside. I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was in Hue and had no battery on my phone…

This is a continuation of the following post: Pakse ⇒ Hue

 

As we all began to rise with the sun, I stiffled a laugh at the absurdity of the bus ride thus far.

Perhaps I should’ve saved my laughter for later though because as we approached the border via bus, I piece together the driver’s broken English infused with exagerrated gestures. It seems that he wants me to leave the bus, leaving all my stuff stored in his compartment space, to go get stamped in. He points somewhere in the distance, maybe a kilometer away: “Walk there, I pick up.” I was cautious yet hopefull that they weren’t about to run off with all my stuff. All in all, I’ve proven to be a good judge of character and this time was no exception. Still, I took a small bag with me (laptop, camera, expensive stuff) and left the big bag.

The border was easy, taking me ten minutes. In line, I was entertained by four UK travelers who showed up drunk on motorbikes just before I did. They didn’t have the right paperwork and it was barely 7:30 in the morning. Oh, and they were driving motorbikes. The guy in charge let me go ahead of them and ushered me into Vietnam as he stamped my passport.

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Guy on left was struggling the most

The driver was waiting where he said he would be, standing outside with my bag.

He communicated that I would now change buses and get on the sleeper bus. We said our goodbyes. I made it a point to shake his hand and wave to the ladies. Overall, I left that bus feeling quite alright, tired physically but invigorated mentally.

 

The sleeper bus was nice and I thought to myself, “here’s the VIP I had expected.” 

Realizing the situation, I couldn’t help but laugh again: out of the twenty-odd hours I’d travelled, my last hour and a half would be spent in comfort. I knocked out, wondering if I had been scammed after all or not? I still don’t really know! In Hue, they yelled at me to wake up, shouting”Hue! Hue!” while poking my shoulder. The other passengers laughed and in a sing-song manner, semi mocking the Vietnamese music they played throughout the entire ride, I reiterated “Hue! “Hue!” as I got out of my seat and grabbed my bag. They dropped me off at a gas station, opened the compartment and put my bag on my ground as I struggled to put my boots on.

Before I had the laces on one boot tied, the bus had already raced away.

I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was in Hue with no phone and no indication of where the train station was.  I asked the guy at the gas station where the train station was and he motioned behind the shop. Confused, I walked to the back and found nothing but a filthy toilet. Continuing my walk in search of the trains, I fended off a constant stream of motorbike taxis trying to give me a ride, telling me the train station was far, etc. I embraced what I was doing and took my chances. Within 15 minutes of walking I sighted the train station, bought a ticket to Hanoi (another 13 hours), and proceeded to find a way to spend the next four hours until departure time.

I killed time by taking  a moto-taxi to Ho Thuy Tien, an water park project that was abandoned due to being grossly over budget.

The size of the place, which was pretty much empty of any other people, game me a slight chill– the same I experienced in the city-wide blackouts in Brazil– a sureal, unnerving feeling. The park’s center-piece was a dragon that stood towering over the park as if keeping guard; a spiral staircase granted one passage through his throat, to his mouth, which served as a viewpoint.  Checking my watch, I realized I should probably get going to the train station.

For the next 14 hours, I shared a room with three young, female monks.

They were an absolute joy and we laughed and interacted despite the language barrier. After waking up from a few hours nap, they were inviting me to do something but I couldn’t figure out what. Then they showed me a packet of Ramen Noodles, beckoning me to go with them. Finally, one of them just takes my hand and we all go to the employee area to heat up the noodles. As we ate, we showed each other pictures of our lives.

At five in the morning, I arrived to a rainy Hanoi clueless yet again as to where I’d go next.

I stopped at a a Circle K to use Wifi and see if there were any hostels nearby. There were three and, eager to rest, I walked to all three of them only to find them locked and unnattended. So, I went back to the Circle K and had a strong coffee as I postponed finding accomodation until the sun was up and the rain gone.

As morning came about, it hit me: I made it to Vietnam!

 

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The dragon’s mouth.

 

 

 

 

Pakse ⇒ Hue

My legs were cramped. I really needed to stretch! Thanks to the rice bags, my own bag, the women’s bags, and bus driver who was sleeping on the floor along the walkway, stretching was literally impossible. So, I ended up falling asleep with my legs on the top of the headrests of my own seat, upside down. To anybody who saw, specifically the lady to my left, I looked insane…

On my way to Vietnam from Central Laos, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it or expire on the way.

So far, this trip was most difficult. However, I had already preppared myself based on the information given to me by an expat and long-time resident of Pakse. He owned a motorcycle-rental shop and sold bus tickets to tourists. I asked him how much to get to Hue, Vietnam, and he laughed a cynical laugh practically right in my face. He told me that the trip from Pakse to Hue was notorious for being absolute shit in every way imaginable. The only thing worse than the buses and drivers going on 14+ hours on the road, he told me, were the roads themselves.

After handing him 220,000 Chickens (Kip) for the ticket, he bluntly told me this is probably going to be the “worst ride” of my life.

Holding my gaze, he went on to say that he’d rather not even sell tickets for this route but that if he didn’t somebody else would. I told him it’s fine and thanked him for the words. In my head it didn’t matter much as long as I made it alive. After all, it would just add to the experience.

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Distance to the border; from there lies Hue some few hundred kilometers away

Having spent the past week on an island showering with Mekong Riverwater and swimming in it daily, I eagerly took to finding a shower in a hostel where I’d stayed previously.

After eating, I played with his little daughter before hopping on a tuk-tuk to the bus station. As I approached my “VIP Bus,” two phrases came to me. First, the famous Thai mai pen rai, the Thai equivalent to “it’s OK” in English; in Laoatian, the corresponding phrase is bor pen yang . As I approached the the bus, those two phrases reverberated in my head like a bird flitting about in a box. I was the only person on the bus and four hours later, hanging in a hammok I put up in the back of the bus, I would find out why.

As I hopped on, he motioned to me, implying that I should eat as he told me the bus leaves at eight– it was five.  

At this point, already aware of scams in the area, I knew I was in it and had to find a way to dismantle the situation, figure out what’s what. . The guy who sold me the ticket from downtown Pakse said the bus left at 5:30. As the scam goes, you pay for a VIP bus and instead you get…what I got. An old, broken down bus outfitted to be stuffed with cargo. I walked around, asking the ticket booths and other bus drivers which bus was going to Hue. They all pointed to the scrap heap. I asked everybody I could and did everything short of calling a spade a spade to their face. I sucked it up, wondering what kind of experience I was about to have. I walked back, drank a beer and had some soup to regroup.

Getting on the bus, I perked up, realizing I could make better use of the seats by avoiding them altogether and stringing up my hammock in the back area of the bus.

The driver laughed at me with a snort when he boarded and saw me suspended in a bright-orange hammock at the back of his bus. Crazy foreigner.While the hammock was great, swinging back and forth with the sway of the bus, it was short-lived. Photo Feb 21, 6 32 26 PM.jpgOur first stop was just forty minutes from the bus stop, whereupon the driver and few guys filled up the entire back of the bus with goods. I was asked to move to one of the six empty seats. For an hour they loaded hand-woven baskets, red bags, blue bags, and green bags– oh, and bags filled with charcoal, which left a dark mist in the air after a bang would land on the floor. Within the next six hours we made five more stops, each to pick up more goods. I had no idea a bus could be packed so tightly. The bags contained flour, sugar, and rice. Mind you that each time they stopped to load the bus, I was asked leave and wait outside. For a lack of better English, the driver would wake me up, loudly exclaiming “You! You!” Yes, that was my signal to get up so they could load. Mai pen rai, I told myself.

 

By the end of that last stop, I was practically in a permanent squatting position.

There were bags in between every seat and under every seat, in every compartment including the roof, and my seat no longer had space to recline–or space for my feet below.We slept for a few hours on the bus just outside the border, waiting for it to open.

Follow me as I cross the border into Vietnam and kill some time in the abandoned water park in Hue as I await a train to Hanoi.

**Below is the little girl from the ticket office in Pakse, who reminded me of my little sister, Isabella.

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Cutie!

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

Bangkok ⇒ Khao Yai National Park

I would never have guessed that I’d be convincing myself about rock
ergonomics, embracing my newly-acquired backpacker lifestyle while knowing that–whatever the challenge– I could do it. Three hours later I wake up as damp as the grass around me, freezing.

My travels continue. To see how my first two days went, see previous post

While staying at Some Rest Hostel in Bangkok,  I connected quite well with a Chilean brother and sister. I met the brother in the morning. I laughed to myself while I sat on the top bunk as he kept getting up to go to the bathroom; I remember wondering whether he had made a poor choice in the food he ate the previous night, like I had on my first day in BKK. As we exchanged words and made light conversation, I learned that he was still filled with beer from the evening. We laughed and spoke in Spanish, waiting for his sister to wake up. A few minutes later she hobbles down the stairs, clearly having a hard time putting weight on her feet. Working in a fish factory in New Zealand, where the pair had spent the previous three months, the shifts were long– standing. Her feet were still swollen.

The fact that I spoke decent Spanish allowed us all to connect quickly. In fact, I don’t think anybody else in the hostel spoke or understood Spanish. Being sick the entire day before– alone– I welcomed their company. Speaking Spanish after having just been in Mexico (pictures here) allowed things to flow easily. The dynamic between the two of them, so characteristic of the Latin-America siblings, was one of familial love. They worked well together. 21765740_1867251349981682_4377369394548890645_oThey reminded me of my own siblings who were going about their lives in Brazil at that point in time. I must say though, Chilean Spanish tested me; everything was called something else. It was almost like a different language. Growing up in Los Angeles and San FranciscoSpanish was the second most spoken language but it was the largely Mexican or Guatemalan. We made due and truth be told, it made for some pretty funny moments. They mentioned going up North to Khao Yai National Park and invited me. The South was hit by deadly floods. I feigned hesitation but, having nothing planned and relief from the food poisoning, I accepted, eager to explore.

Khao Yai was as beautiful as any national park. There was lots of wildlife, including alligators and elephants, although we only saw monkeys and the occasional bird. We did hear a lot more animals than we saw. Several parts of Danny Boyle’s film The Beach, which featured a young Dicaprio, were shot here. We stopped a taxi driver outside to ask if he could give us a lift to bus station. Admitting it was a slow day and he needed some money, he offered to drive us all the way to the park for practically the same cost of the bus fare for the three of us. With the sister’s feet still swollen, the brother hungover, and my stomach churning in the heat, none of us argued. Thanking him, we hopped in.

About two hours later, just after entering the entrance to the park, it began raining. The roads were quite steep and slick. While swerving around monkeys in the road, his car started to have increasing difficulties making it up the stretches of pavement as the rain continued to pour. Removing our weight and giving the car a push, the brother and I continually hopped out to ease the car up. After the fourth time doing that, his car started smoking and he pulled over, clearly distraught. I don’t know much about cars and the language barrier prevented me from understanding what was actually wrong with it. It’s possible even he didn’t know. Despite being at a loss, far from his Bangkok, he was apologetic. After insisting on taking us and tempting his engine one more time however, he conceded and flagged down a passing car, explaining the situation and sending us off towards the camp-sites.

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The Duo

Stuffing ourselves and our large packs among camping equipment and boxes, we sat on the rainy floor of the pickup and began our two-day hitch-hiking excursion in and out of Khao Yai National Park through refreshing fits of tropical rain durin the day.

As we got closer to the camping areas, we realized that it was quite full. Still hitch-hiking in the pickup truck that intially picked us up, the first two sites were at capacity. It was the weekend. We had no tents and relied on rentals. Of course, the rental people spoke absolutely no English and were clearly unsympathetic to the fact that we spoke no Thai. It was unclear whether they had no more rental tents or what. A kind Thai man in front of us, who spoke English well, told us that if we waited there items would likely be returned by campers who were leavin. HE was right. But, only one tent surfaced before it was getting dark. One, two-person tent.

As you can imagine, the night was rough– more for me than the siblings, who had each other to lay on. The brother and sister slept like rocks, quickly and easily. I was amazed. My siblings fall asleep just as fast. Living with them in Brazil, I would listen to their breath, jealous of them and anxious for sleep. There I was, crammed against the side of the tent with a rock poking me in the back. It was hot and none of us had showered. But most of all, I just didn’t have space and the brother was in the middle, between us. Knowing there weren’t many mosquitoes out, I gave up and decided I’d rather sleep outside.

As I walk outside, looking for a spot, I realized tha the dew has made every outside surface damp and wet. As I walked around weighing my options my stubborness got the best of me. I masked the stubborn attitude by telling myself it was under the banner of self-reliance and adventure. I ended up sleeping a flat, cement  bench whose surface molded quite well with my body, ever so slightly. Three hours later I wake up as damp as the grass around me, freezing. With no choice, I squeeze back into the tent and nudge myself in the corner. As usual, I was the last to sleep and the first to wake.

During the day, the brother and I trekked for some hours, moving through the jungle-like terrain running parallel to a river. The trekking was nice.DSC_0572.jpg By that time, my ability to understand and respond in Chilean Spanish was compromised and my travel partner noticed. Whenever we talked, to practice, I spoke in Spanish and he in English. We laughed about it and admitted how exhausting different languages can be when we are not wholly proficient in them– his English was worse than my Spanish. We spent the rest of the day hitch-hiking from different trekking and view points while his sister rested her foot at the camp. By three, we packed up camp, returned everything, and flagged a car to get us out of Khao Yai towards Pak Chong, where we planned on taking the train. DSC_0561.jpgA group of older female teachers from Northern Thailand picked us up. We stopped, ate lunch together, and continued on our way. It was raining again, which made the ride in the pickup more of an experience and, somehow, more enjoyable. We arrived in Pak Chong and waited a few hours until the train left, drinking beers and playing cards.

We purchased tickets for the commuter train, a local train. We had no idea what to expect. The train journey, however, will be left for a future post.

Please, subscribe and stay tuned for the next part of my trip!

“Golden Key”

I will dedicate a separate section in my blog to the stories that should remain untold were they not some of the best memories I have…

Living in Brazil for several months during 2010, I was constantly introduced to new expressions and curious slang.

One of the phrases really resonated with me. In Portuguese, fechar com chave de ouro” means to wrap up an experience in an epic way. You can think of it as the English equivalent to “the cherry on the cake.” Brazil’s language is the richest that I have experienced and I attribute this a lot to different pockets in which language evolved within Brazil, often times with different cultural influences from the next. An MC from Brazil’s famous conscious rap group, Racionais MC’s, puts it this way: “Slang? No– dialect.” In this, he references the extremely fluid and rich linguistic culture. Much of these develop in a very niche-specific way yet can be found by many to be as accessible as it is exclusive.

That month, the 372,000 inhabitants of São José do Rio Preto experienced rolling, city-wide blackouts.

Being caught in one while out and about was  a very surreal and unsettling experience. It felt apocalyptic; an entire population in absolute darkness. During the day, due to it being the state’s 2nd safest city, thing were pretty uneventful. Sometime I’d pass the time staring out the verando, onto a busy intersection, waiting for car accidents that happened there almost daily. The banal yet peculiar details come to mind, like how the sound always seemed to precede any physical impact.

That year I spent a good amount of time with a friend nicknamed Jell-O on account of the blue hair he used to sport. Jell-O came from what some might call a broken home. He lived with his father in a modest apartment in the same complex as my fathers.  In Brazil, marijuana is still taboo. On more than one occasion he blasted reggae music while lighting up a joint on the balcony as we smoked while I hid from view, paranoid somebody who knew me would see, which wasn’t uncommon in a gated apartment complex where your dad is the manager. On another occasion, I gave him some LSD I brought from America. More than anything, however, we’d chat about our experiences over a beer or two. One of the most memorable experiences, and also the one in which I first heard that Brazilian phrase that sticks with me to this day.

Facilitated by the city-wide blackouts as Brazil’s grid couldn’t supply enough energy for the city, Jell-O and I took that opportunity to “borrow” bikes from the complex’s underground garage.

Maneauvering the pitch black garage two floors underground, it took us a while to find the right bikes and we constantly felt like something or someone would jump out at us. The tires were flat and the bikes hadn’t been ridden in a while and we had every intention of returning them after a few hours. If anything, we did the owners a service. Myself, the bike owners, and security guards who caught us on the return trip, didn’t quite view it that way. Naturally, after filling up the tires, we rode to a small, local damn. We smoked joints and watched the large capybaras run around. I tried to approach one only to be chased away in a surprising display of speed.  After, we continued our way across town.

No novice to the bike scene, Jell-O would lift his seat with one hand while the other floated in the air like an American cowbow.

Like magic, he’d go minutes with one wheel in the air regardless of the traffic situation around him. Meanwhile, I was exhibiting extremely normal human biking behavior. At a red light, he tells me we’re going to a favela to pick up some weed. A few kilometers later, we show up at a brick house on the outskirts of town as a guy stands outside in shorts and no shirt. They greet each other. I noticed the iconic drug-dealer black Nike dri-fit cap as the guy takes the weed it out of his pockets, gives it to us, and walks away. He didn’t want any money. Go figure– a dealer not wanting the money. There’s a reason for this. If you are curious, do some research on drug culture in the favelas of Brazil. I could tell there was a relationship of respect between the two. 

Satisfied, we roll our bikes over to a nearby outside square encircled by trees, near a small bar and as we roll a joint, the monkeys come out, curious.

I wonder who was more curious, them or us. Thirsty, we walk over to the bar and ask for two cokes. Minding our own, just talking and going over the day, and how great it was, someone who must have been the bar owner walks up to us and asks us if we do cocaine. “No,” replied Jell-O, which was probably the more appropriate answer to a stranger we didn’t know in a sketchy part of town. His street smarts outweighed mine but in the instant, my reply was louder. I was curious. The guys invites us to the bathroom, where he had what I presume to be his kid’s elementary school workbook on the top of the ceramic toilet cover. On the notebook, he had a line about as thick as my finger. For about five minutes we struggled to finish it, the three of us chatting in this crappy bathroom on the outskirts of town.

On our way home, as we pulled up to the security gate– and, just moments before getting in trouble with security– Jell-O uttered the phrase that sticks with me to this day. In all honesty, we truly did wrap up that night with a golden key. Getting in trouble at the end was just a further point of laughter between everybody, including my dad and the security guards after. 

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. 

Discomforts of Travel

Today I leave by bus, heading to Pakze from Van Vieng.

This will be another sixteen hours of travel-time. During these times of discomfort and long bus rides, it’s enough to just remind yourself that you are not here for comfort. In fact, part of us seeks the right kinds of discomfort during these journeys. For the time being, local buses and vans are welcome discomforts. Trying unfamiliar and visually appealing food, getting lost and getting directions amidst language barriers, taking chances– these are also welcome discomforts. The difficulties caused by this require one to problem solve, in turn leading to physical and mental growth. 

Every day I see backpackers getting upset about insignificant things. 

Their food wasn’t what they expected, or it took too long. Perhaps their accomodation wasn’t all that it was said to be. There are times when I could let myself get upset but most of the time it’s easy to take a step back and realize, everything is fine.

Most situations resolve themselves when we have flexible, fluid expectations– or perhaps, none at all. 

 

Khao San Road, Bangkok

It’s January 24th, 2017. I arrived in Bangkok twenty-two days ago. The twenty-hour flight was my longest to date and was facilitated by a mind-numbing number of movies watched. The fifteen-hour time difference was a curious string of thoughts I kept having. The act of moving through time lead reminded me of Interstellar, a movie in which time travel causes hours in one place to be equivalent to years in another, much farther off place. I’d imagined myself in that situation as my plane was being escorted. Imagine coming back home and everybody was twenty years older. Then I remember it’s Thailand, not another galaxy. The time difference is just fifteen hours.

That same night I questioned my first few decisions since arriving in Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Immediately, the scorpions I ate come to mind. khao-san-roadThat could’ve done it. Perhaps it was one of the dishes that I never even got a name for. My fun-half denies that it was the beer, while my rational-half isn’t buying it; the ice-cold towers of Chang were tall, after all. It was none of those things. After fifteen hours of puking and sitting on the toilet, I had plenty of time to contemplate. By the time I was good enough to get of the hostel’s top-bunk and walk into the furnace that was Bangkok during the day, I had pinpointed the culprit: a casual pad thai stand. There, I had my first meal: chicken pad thai. It was over-priced, I would later find. However, for me, the financial cost of the meal was the least of my troubles. Until then, I believed that my time spent in Brazil had granted me some sort of immunity, making me at least less prone to illnesses. I opted out on any shots, medications, etc.

Those first forty-eight hours in Bangkok were as tiring as they were exciting.

Between my dorm at Some Rest Hostel and the dirty alleyway to Khao San Road was a house filled with ladyboys. I don’t know if it was just a living situation, a brothel, both, or something altogether. imagesOne of them helped me find the hostel but beyond that our interactions weren’t many. It was in that hostel, bordered by a ladyboy house and Khao Son, that I met several people with whom I connected. I I was surprisingly tired from the food poisoning, time difference, and heat. I spent an odd amount of time in the hostel, in the AC, determining what my next move was, where I’d go, how I’d get there, what to bring and what to leave, etc. I ended up connecting with the owner of the hostel and going out with her friends that night.
While out and about, I realized two things that didn’t affect my future travel decisions as much as I expected them to. First, drinking in Thailand will drain your money faster than anything else. A large, 500ml beer is double the price of a delicious, mouth-watering Pad Thai. Second, I was not here for this. It got me thinking about the question many of you asked me. “What am I actually doing here?” I thought. Was this a sort of spiritual quest or just a fun travel adventure? All I knew is that there were many paths to explore here, whether spiritual, social, or otherwise. Perhaps I just wanted to see the world a bit.