Living Abroad: Daniel & Reed I

This week I exchanged words with two individuals living abroad, Daniel and Reed.

 

This week I exchanged words with two individuals living abroad, Daniel and Reed.

Daniel, originally from Canada, has lived in six countries over the span of seventeen years. Married and with two beautiful daughters, Daniel now divides his time between a farm he owns in Buriram Province, Thailand, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Reed, a Texas native, has spent over two years residing in Hanoi after falling in love during a visa run. He currently works as a marketing manager for an export company and runs @HanoiHandbook, a resource for inspiration and knowledge regarding travel in Vietnam.

Continue below to see what they had to say.

Continue reading “Living Abroad: Daniel & Reed I”

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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

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.