3/19/2014

After 10 months spent in Asia, I’ve identified 10 major adjustments I foresee encountering upon my return to the states and the working world. I am both nervous and excited for what is to come. Through every challenge and new experience I have learned new things about myself and I know my next adventures will be no different. This list is an ongoing work in progress and a testament to the various opportunities for growth I have and will continue to encounter.

1. Not all of my meals will not cost <$2 and be made with fresh ingredients on the spot. In fact they will probably cost 10 times as much not including tax and tip.

2. Public transportation will not drop me off wherever and whenever I so desire even if it is not a designated stop; and a taxi ride will never again cost me $2 for a 90 minute ride.

3. It's polite and actually possible for all people dining to receive and eat our meals at the same time…so yes I have to wait. No longer will the one chef one meal at a time excuse work when I'm really hungry.

4. Most people around me will now not only understand what I am saying but also not be so enthusiastic to practice their English that they will come up with any excuse to talk to me…and doctors will most likely speak a language I understand aka no more use for newly practiced charade skills.

5. Everyone will not call me Mam and children on the streets will not run out of their houses to say hello–in fact they would probably get in trouble for talking to strangers.

6. If you did something stupid the night before and embarrassed yourself, the likelihood you'll see the person the next day is much higher than when you are backpacking. This can also mean though that crazy dance parties can and will be repeated with willing participants on various occasions.

7. I no longer have to scour for shady at best wifi connections, and hence bad wifi is no longer an excuse for putting off work. Therefore, Skype as a means of commutation will most likely fall to the wayside in exchange for old school forms of communication such as texting and calling…once I finally suck it up and buy a phone.

8. I am no longer the only thing I have to be responsible for (thanks Max for the much needed ego check ;)) back to the responsible and less egocentric way of life.

9. My pale white complexion will no longer be the envy of passerby's and my celebrity status and the frequency with which I pose in random pictures upon request will likely diminish. This also means though that I no longer have to check carefully that any beauty product I buy may have whitening gel in it.

10. The pace of the world around me will likely speed up at least 10 times so I better be ready for it. Schedules and fixed times should be adhered to and working on SE Asia time will be a thing of the past. This means that we am more likely to actually arrive somewhere when a timetable says I will, but if we don't you can bet more people will be actively complaining and yelling about it.

And off my flight goes…Wish me luck!

3/9/14:

It took 50 hours, numerous translators, and every test they had available in the hospital to be done for them to finally discharge me on their terms. Diagnosis: acute bronchitis, which according to my mom means they still had no idea but there was not much more that could be done. Rest, antibiotics, and more rest were the only things on the horizon for me and after 3 more days at hotel Galaxy in Lao Cai we finally attempted a true escape.

We caught a day train to Hanoi and began to settle in for the 10 hour ride on the most uncomfortable bench seats we’d encountered yet. Just when we thought we had finally bid adieu to Lao Cai for good and we began to drift off to sleep, I awoke to a startling discovery that I had forgotten to pick up my passport from reception upon check out. In my semi conscious haze I had gone through the motions, paid my bill, and walked out the front door without a care in the world. All of my energy had been focused on propelling myself towards the train station and our next destination. I couldn’t wait to get out, however, Lao Cai seemed to have other plans and we were forced to disembark at the second stop and hire a taxi to take the one hour drive right back to where we started, home sweet Lao Cai Galaxy Hotel.

Needless to say I was embarrassed, truly upset that I had messed up on something so simple yet essential. Max saved the day once again, speaking German to a Vietnamese-German family to make all of the necessary arrangements. At two in the afternoon we found ourselves back exactly where we had started that morning, in the hotel lobby making plans yet again to make a break from Lao Cai city.

It wasn’t until 6 am the next day we finally arrived in Hanoi. While I’m still not 100% we are finally starting a new chapter of our travels, hopefully one much less eventful and stressful than the past week has been. It was an experience I could have missed in Asia but one that has taught us a lot. Lao Cai will forever be a memory that will make us equally laugh and cringe. And for me, it serves as an important reminder of the lenghts good friends will go to take care of each other. I owe you one Schneider…let’s just try not to cash it in right away…a little bit of peace and quiet will do us both some good!

The end…of this story 😉

3/7/14:

It seems that somehow I managed to discharge myself against the advice of the doctors today. Im thinking it may have been when I refused to allow a third round of injections by the stern no nonsense and definitely no English doctor this morning that did me in. “Your causing too much trouble and we are ready to get rid of you” is what I imagine was written across the top of the Vietnamese document now tucked into the front pocket of my backpack. Truth is, which we only later learned through a 4 way Skype translating session with my mom’s Vietnamese speaking colleague, the doctor, an English teacher patient from our hospital wing, and my spokesman Max, that due to one of many miscommunications we had signed something saying I was leaving and refusing service. So why am I still lying here receiving IV fluids all afternoon you may ask? Turns out they thought I was dealing with transportation issues and were letting me crash here and get meds on the house. I am essentially a hobo with a free IV…let the ridiculousness continue!

Most of the afternoon was dedicated to maneuvering the red tape necessary to readmit myself for care. While I wanted nothing less than to hightail it out of there, I was still struggling to breathe and one more night of monitoring would do me good. At an exorbitant price of $40 a night, it was decided that we could afford a bit of big of extravagance in hopes of finally clearing this all up. In any case, it seemed that Max still had many nooks and crannies left of Lao Cai to explore and much to learn from the Vietnamese following he had amassed over our time spent here.

The “crazy aunt,” of room 410 taught him the difference between single and married in Vietnamese, some hospital security guards gave him a assorted tasting of the local liquor, and it was a joint effort between hospital staff and our hotel owner Tong for him to master numbers 1-10. While I got to know the ins and outs of bed 361 in wing B2 of Lao Cai General, Max learned the inner workings of a foreign medical system, a Chinese border town, and a language and managed to do it all off of very little sleep. His support as well as comedic relief and optimistic outlook is the only reason I made it through this experience with some sanity intact. It seems that everyone the hospital could sense how much I needed him, and when it came time for him to make the trek back to his hotel in Lao Cai and leave me for my 2nd full overnight, they put up quite a stink about him leaving. “Here is your spare bed brother. We really think you should stay with her brother (PS: we convinced everyone we were brother and sister because it made things easier and surprisingly no one challenged us or even asked that many questions = the one time the language barrier worked in our favor)” I know they all love him, but I also got the feeling they did not want to be left alone again with the uncommunicative foreign girl in case anything went down and I really couldn’t blame them.

That night was rough. For many hours I couldn’t sleep, and once sleep began to rack my body it seemed frightfully uncontrollable, as if it was pulling me under into something I might not wake up from. I found myself in the cold dark hallway alone, having my first ever panic attack. Skyping with my dad finally brought me back to reality while concurrently really worrying my parents as to my well being. It took much of the next morning to convince them there was no need to airlift me out of there or to take drastic measures like getting on a plane to Vietnam; once Max was back all order was restored and we were finally ready to start making our way out of here…or at least so we thought.

To be continued…again.

3/6/2014:

As my 2 inmates snores reverberate off the cold white tile walls I lay unable to encounter sleep. An IV of unknown liquid hangs above, mocking me with slow controlled drips that seem to mark a painstakingly slow passage of time. When will I be allowed to leave? Get any indication of what is wrong with me? Be able to explain myself without the aid of google translate or the health section of Lonely Planet’s Vietnamese pocket dictionary? The hospital by night has transformed into a prison, shackling me to the bed by the constraints of 4 feet of flimsy transparent tube and two pairs of guarding eyes. This is my life at the General Hospital in Lao Cai Province, Vietnam; but before I get too ahead of myself, explaining how ended up here requires a bit of backstory…a story that begins with the long awaited arrival of a dear friend.

Max happened upon Hanoi during an unfortunate bout of gloomy weather on the last day of February. I was waiting in the lobby, determined to create a scene sure to embarrass us both at his first appearance. When hours later I heard the fateful taxi doors slam I didn’t disappoint and the next few hours became a bit of a blur: running and screaming in the middle of the street, hugging, gift giving, more hugs, Max’s first Pho, dancing…ish, and finally collapsing asleep in a swanky 3 star hotel.

The journey to Ha Long Bay awaited us early the next morning and we dragged ourselves into the overflowing van of Singaporean families and hungover backpackers begrudgingly, wishing to be back in our comfy beds for just a few more hours. I should have known when I barely could stomach half of my omelette from the free hotel buffet that something was up; yet it wasn’t until 2 hours later when I found myself and a new found rasta styling Canadian friend begging the Vietnamese driver to pull over for an emergency bathroom break that things started to spiral down quick. That rice farmer off the side of the interstate enjoyed quite a show that morning as I popped a squat in plain view. It wasn’t my ideal location, considering that we had just passed at least 5 gas stations with bathrooms attached, but I was already receiving evil looks from our so called hospitable tour guide so I took what I could get.

We had heard many rumors about the craziness of tours in Ha Long Bay and our two-day two-night adventure did not disappoint. It was a huge confusing mess–copious hours of waiting, jumping between boats, overflowing buses, dirty shady hotels, tour guides that never showed up, and worst of all incredibly rude staff yelling at customers over ridiculous unwarranted service charges. By the end of the first day the insanity had bred a certain comrodery amongst a core group of 10 backpackers and it wouldn’t take long for them to essentially usurp the boat. I watched most of this from the outside, through the lens of uncommunicative sick girl who essentially slept her entire tour away. Much of Max’s drama centered around attempting to supply me with a place to sleep and a steady supply of water–a task made much more difficult by a huge language barrier and disgruntled employees–but once the fog cleared and I finally emerged from hibernation, we were able to enjoy a few hours of the breathtaking views and an interesting crowd. By the final meal where our international group of Americans, Canadians, Spanish, Swiss, and Australian friends rehashed the weekend, I rolodexed away these experiences as further examples of the craziness and disorganization I’ve encountered along my travels. Max’s first few days had been quite a crazy adventure and with an overnight train north and me still feeling under the weather, we had no idea the bigger mess we were about to get ourselves into. Well Max, here is the local experience you were asking for…

Good morning General Hospital, Vietnam! Wait, it’s only 5:45am, why in the world are you bustling with life and your patients projecting as if they are delivering a speech to 100 passerbys. I’m right here roommates, freed from the needle jutting into my arm yet with nowhere to go as I await test results so will you please quit yelling! Geez I wish I could understand anything they are saying especially since this man in striped hospital administered pajamas (Max was so kind to get me a matching pair) is standing at my bedside smiling and attempting to have a conversation. I have just spent my first night in a hospital bed. I’m on edge enough about catching airborne diseases or being slammed with an outrageous bill without the zoo animal treat hours starting so early. You’d think I was some rare panda at the San Diego zoo the way patients walk by my barred window and tap on the glass gawking at the white foreigner. They mean well, but it is very clear that I am the talk of the ward these days and it’s hard not to feel a bit uncomfortable.

Since I arrived at this place some 20 hours ago, I have been under the meticulous review of over 40 doctors and nurses. I’ve been poked and prodded with needles, fingers, and curious eyes, attached to strange machines that looked like they were made to administer shock to jump start a car battery, had my heart examined thrice, sonogrammed and x-rayed, and had my complete chest exposed to over 10 medical professionals without warning. I’ve been wheeled around on a gurney, balanced an IV bag above my head while attempting to use the restroom, eaten a 3 course meal while attached to a hospital bed, and been used as a human barricade to keep the pesky hospital thieves as well as disgruntled doctors from entering our room past 9pm.

I live with 2 Vietnamese grandmas and room 411 seems to be the watering hole for gossip and socializing. Let’s quickly introduce the “boss” and the “crazy aunt”–two of the leading characters in this hospital soap. The “boss” in bed 363 is 67 and has 9 kids. I believe I’ve seen at least three bring her home cooked meals so far and between that and her water boiler, hair dryer, 3 blankets and pillows, and reusable cups, bowls, and straws for drinking coffee, she’s made herself a pretty homey setup. “Boss” is the one that tells us all what to do as her title suggests and has taken it upon herself to monitor my IV progress and give me a smack if I am not being a good patient and laying down all of the time in a the certain position she thinks is best–essentially mama administering some tough love and even the doctors don’t try and mess with her. “Crazy aunt” a 70 year old mother of 6 is a fit of giggles. She passes her time lazing the day away, waving at me and smiling, chatting at all hours with the “boss” while at the same time attempting not to be on the wrong end of a smack to the leg. It seems they have developed a routine that works for them, and a friendship that only gives further indication that this is not their first day at the rodeo–they are downright celebrities here. These two have brought laughter, joy, comfort, fear, and scandal to my day stay here and needless to say it will be an experience impossible to forget. They even tried to pull an extra cot and convince Max to stay overnight with us…they really seem to love the extra attention.

Almost one full day has passed and I am still no closer to finding out what has had me essentially on bed rest for the past 5 days. Doctors enter and exit, sans introduction or explanation of what they are injecting into my body or what they are testing for. While asking for clarification has proved essentially futile, I will admit that the concoction of 10+ liquids coursing through my veins have made me feel stronger. It’s either that or I’m so ready to escape this drama that I’ve willed myself to heal faster; either way I intend to leave today while I’m only $100 dollars poorer and whatever is left of my sanity remains intact. I’m still in disbelief at everything that has taken place. This will be one of those stories and true local experiences that Max and I will talk about for sometime–our 24 hours of fame in General Hospital, Vietnam edition.

To be continued…unfortunately

2/22/14:

The thought stirs up feelings of both excitement and apprehension. I find myself desiring certain comforts: the comfort of a home cooked meal, the nuances of a city I have made my home, and close friends who have known me outside of the realm of the traveler lifestyle. Yet I know there are things I know I will miss: never knowing or caring what day or time it is, constantly meeting new people, and complete independence from anything tying me down. But this month will be different. It will be a blend of home and abroad with Max coming to explore along with me. I know it will be a challenge to remain entirely the moment, with all of the big life changes right around the corner. That’s what I have my best buddy for. Let’s take this last month to appreciate the wonderful adventures and challenges living in Asia brings. Then we will just have to begin planning for the next journey and part of the world in which we will meet.

Right before I left Delaware 7 months ago I underwent some big changes, simplifying my life down to 5 boxes stored in my friends attic and the 18 kilo backpack that would be my companion for the next year or so. I sold my car, my furniture, and gave away a large majority of my wardrobe to friends and charities. In exchange I asked for donations for children I knew I would be volunteering with throughout my travels. This is an account of how these generous donations have been put into action across Asia. Thank you to everyone who donated their hard earned money. You can see through these pictures the impact that every bit has on the lives of those in need:

Children’s Orphanage (ages 6 months-8 years)- Nha Trang, Vietnam: $20 used to buy treats for their Christmas meal

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Local Village Elementary School (ages 2-11 years)- Koh Rong Samleom, Cambodia: $20 used purchase building supplies for their new classroom

Pictures to be posted soon

British Non-Profit – Phnom Penh, Cambodia: $20 used to used to purchase handwriting notebooks for kindergarten students in poor villages. This organization provides medical services, English classes, and fresh drinking water to squatter communities that are extremely poor.

Pictures to be posted soon

SEALAO nonprofit organization- Vang Vieng, Laos: $30 used to help support English classes given to local kids as well as sustainability and green education programs in the community. I volunteered as they set up a celebration at the local school for 200 villagers and students as a thank you for their ongoing kindness and support of the programs. The celebration included games for children and food from around the world. As a thank you the local elders blessed us in a cultural ceremony tying white string around our wrists for luck and gifting us snacks.

Pictures to be posted soon

To be continued…The intention is to find valuable organizations, volunteer with them to ensure the money is going directly to the cause intended, and then donate as appropriate. There is still more money I was entrusted with and will continue to update this post as I continue volunteering across Asia. Thank you again!

1/13/14: Sunrise poetry

Rising awareness

Often I wake before the sun
Starting my day even before it has even begun
Running around left, rushing around right
Getting up early is always a fight
I know once I’m there I won’t care any more
But somehow I struggle reaching the door

The sun my friend, it rises slow
Taking its time with no where to go
Rarely do I stop and reflect
Upon all the colors it does reflect
And if I did, I think I would find
A certain peace envelop my mind

Slow as it goes it has something to say
About life and it’s journey throughout every day
Beauty is there if you take time to look
Simplicity and joy behind every crook
So here I am watching it rise
Inspired to try and and let go of ties
And lead a new life where awareness rules all
Me and this beautiful bright orange ball

1/13/14: Sunrise Poetry

A tides tale

The waves they tell a tumultuous tale
Of mermaids and seamen and the navy regale
Sometimes they crash and sometimes they flow
Stirring up sand wherever they go

Just like a mother they’ll coo you to sleep
Waking you up like a lover in heat
These waves they can be both enemy and friend
Without ever knowing where the ocean will end

The endless expanse gives some reprieve
From all of the things we aim to achieve
Because this we can’t control everything we see
The only thing I can I’ve realized is me

1/13/14:

Last night I learned a new acronym – DMC. Now since TFA I’ve harbored a strong aversion to shortening words, seeing as deciphering them was like learning another language, but this one has endeared me. DMC: deep meaningful conversation. I’ve noticed that I’ve begun to identify phases in my travels: going out phases, solitary phases, hyper active phases, slowed down phases, reading phases, and writing phases. The transitions happen quite naturally when I listen to what my body and my mind are suggesting to me at that time. Yet, there is one phase whose pull is often stronger than the rest; it induces both a physical and emotional sense of need. This is the need to have DMC.

Considering I am spending the majority of time around strangers or recently acquired friends, you might see this as a difficult possibility. However, I have found myself engaging in more deep meaningful conversations and sharing more intimate details of my life and thoughts I have with people I’ve just met than I should probably admit. It’s as if I’m striving to test the boundaries of trust and challenge societal notions of closeness. In conversation with one travel companion the other night we discussed politics, our life and career aspirations, and our fears. The amount of raw honesty and vulnerability was extremely refreshing.

But I wonder why DMC has become so important to me lately that I will shy away from groups and open myself up in a much deeper way with people I don’t really know. I think that is the point–I don’t know them and they don’t know me, yet we are already inherently connected by the nature of the experience of traveling. Our viewpoints may be different, and believe me I have encountered a mixed bag of those, but our intentions are aligned in ways you don’t often find in every day conversation. So many people are out here trying to find themselves and they have many experiences on that journey to share; because it’s through sharing and listening that we are also learning about ourselves. In reflection over the past half year I did not come with the intention of a sole searching journey. I was pretty confident I knew who I was and what I wanted and I was just aiming to challenge myself and fulfill the pull of wanderlust. Yet the DMCs I have experienced have allowed me to realize and develop aspects of myself I didn’t know I needed to.

So here I am waiting anxiously for the person who knows me best in the world to come visit in a matter of weeks. I’m excited to share with my best friend everything I have learned and engage in countless hours of DMC. I’m curious to see if he recognizes me, not physically but emotionally and spiritually. This will mark the end of my time in South East Asia and the start of a new journey to Central And South America. Bring it on Max, let’s create some more amazing memories and ridiculous stories!

1/3/14:

I have a few messages for all of the people in this side of the world who marvel over my long legs. These also go out to all the passerby’s who have commented on how beautiful my super white legs are. Firstly, thanks. It may be a little strange that you keep starring and pointing at me, but you have in the past 6 months managed to give me a bit of an ego. This has begun to fade the impact of years of hearing tan is hot and watching all the short girls nab the tall guys.

However, there is something you guys don’t realize from a distance. Something that has been happening to my body while abroad that I will carry with me forever that has nothing to do with your compliments–the accumulation of an insane amount of travel scars. Now I’d like to call these battle scars, that makes me sound way more badass, but these long, white legs, are now showing signs of abuse from even the most mundane of occurrences. Bug bites, a shaving cut, scooter accident, hazardous dancing, walking down the street, it has all left its mark–a dark purple jagged reminder of the life I’ve lived and loved. There are now so many I’ve lost count. These travel scars are staring to claim land that was once populated by freckles and the landscape of my legs is starting to look like a battlefield.

I used to break bones (knock on wood) now I just cut myself all the time even when I don’t realize–I cut the top of my foot on glass dancing…I don’t even know how I accomplished that one. I’m not sure if it’s the air here, the bugs I co-inhabit with in these guesthouses, or just the traveler lifestyle, but everyone I have met has had a minor cut turn infected quicker than you can find one of the million pharmacies on every corner. Not even my 3 kg medical kit can help me now, it’s just a something you learn to accept as a strong probability. However, my legs are longer and whiter. This means more space to injure myself and more pronounced travel scars creating a mess of shades of pink and purple all over. This is just further exacerbated by the fact that I am what some might call “clumsy.”

So back to my original message to all my leg and skin color admirers. You don’t want what I have. Unless you manage to live in a bubble (which believe me people has been proposed to me a few times before) or want to look like are constantly on the wrong end of a Muay Thai fight, then embrace your tan shorter legs. And I guess if the Internet ceases to exist and my words are lost in the abyss one day, I can come up with some way cooler stories to tell you for why I look this way. Maybe I’ll put it out there as a new writing assignment to my 6 year old students and see what they come up with. Once upon a time, Ms. Gluckman gashed her leg open as she was being chased by a motorcycle gang of angry chickens….to be continued.