HONEY WE’RE GOING DOWN SWINGING
It’s been six months. Six months without soft pretzels, Rita’s and sour patch watermelon candy. Whenever I had a gruesome workday back at Penn, I would walk to the pretzel factory, buy a roll of doughy goodness and proceed to devour five fresh, perfectly salted pretzels in less than ten minutes…with chocolate and cinnamon sugar dip on the side, of course. You know, I have never thought to enter a food eating contest, but my appetite gives me reason to believe that I would perform very well. On the contrary, my adventures in Asia thus far have been insurmountable and worth missing all my favorite philly snacks by tenfold.
Month four was rough. I was so people-sick. There wasn’t a burning desire to return home; rather, I was yearning for my friendships back home. I miss the real-ness of East coast USA. I appreciate knowing where I stand with everyone: the straightforward demeanor and down-to-earth people. Nonetheless, living in a developing country has taught me to adopt more patience. Processes that seemed so pragmatic and simple at home take three times as long to complete here: installing wifi for the house, getting approved for a project, or even just dealing with difficult people. It brings me back to those days where I would struggle to hold a pose during yoga class. As my body quivered and struggled to breathe my instructor would calmly repeat, “Cat, this is hard but like life, all tough things shall pass. Just breathe.” That mantra has done wonders for me.
I’m a planner. It’s in my type-A DNA. You all know that. Mai Yer, one of the fellows I have grown particularly close to has recited on numerous occasions, “weakness is your strength overdone.” This line helped me reevaluate my past decisions. In college, I couldn’t say no. As a matter of fact, this is my whole life. I am scared of disappointing others, especially my family –I am a “yes” girl. I still struggle to find balance in making my parents happy while trying to keep myself sane. In hindsight, I was way too involved in college. I do not and will never regret my decisions because the experiences and people I met have blessed me greatly during those four year. However, I am jealous of those who got to just chill. My idea of “chill” was trying to squeeze in an hour nap after a sleepless night crying from stress before my next meeting or rugby practice and trying to look like I was keeping it together.
The second semester of senior year was difficult. I felt as if I had to live up to an invisible, unattainable label. Don’t worry Cat, you’ll be okay… you’re going to do great things. How do you know? Are you sure? Because my mind is currently freaking out. Am I allowed to not be okay? I went through these weird moods and went out a lot and cried all the time. I was so relieved when I graduated college. All the pressure was finally off. Or so I thought. I felt as if I had to keep living up to these expectations from everyone around me. Why aren’t you in Med School yet? Why are you paying off your student loans now? Just go to school. What grad school are you applying to? You don’t have to worry, you’ll figure it out. You make things look so easy. Am I allowed to not have it figured it? It wasn’t until then that I actually practiced self care. Pat Moore, if you’re reading this, you are an angel. Pat would drive thirty minutes three times a week to help jump start my lifting regiment. Through lifting, I learned confidence. I learned patience. I learned how to overcome my insecurities. I learned how to say no.
Accepting this fellowship to Laos was a big step. I received so much backlash from relatives who claimed that I was “selfish” for leaving my parents and moving overseas. While this year has been a time of “yes” for most people in my fellowship, I chose the opposite. I take the time to discern and process my thoughts. I don’t go out all the time anymore and some days I just want to lay there and just chill. It may seem a bit anti-social to those that do not know me but key word… they don’t know me. It’s weird putting yourself first- being selfish is still new to me. But I’m worn out. The energizer bunny is going through a battery recharge and the bear is in hibernation. Or, you can say, “I’m doing me.” Sometimes I wish I would have developed this attitude in college, but I appreciate the journey it has carried me on.
And this journey has been wonderful with the many people who have been intertwined in my life. For example, in a few short weeks, a bunch of rugby girls are flying to Asia. (You guys are reading this right now…heeeeeey) We’re going to spend a week in Thailand. I’m so excited to show them this part of the world! These girls are also part of the reason why I am so strong together. I think about the word “beautiful” a lot while living here. Beautiful to me is what Coach Ali said when I finally perfected my spin on the throw, when Teleah delivered a death defying stiff arm, when Lexi tackled someone to the ground, or when a rookie impressed us by bonging a beer in five seconds. Beautiful to me is inner strength. But beauty is always about physical appearances in Asia. I feel like I am in a petri dish being observed by the world under a microscope whenever I leave my house. I hate it. To combat that uncontrollable factor, I stopped wearing makeup everyday. They’re going to judge me anyway so here I am, raw and vulnerable. Yes I have sun spots on my face but it is from exploring all of the beautiful sights throughout this new region of the world. My legs are adorned with dark blotches from bug bites but they are still fast and strong from running to catch flights to new cities. My waist is not a size 0 because I am enjoying all of the delicious cuisines and trying new delicacies. What you consider imperfections have taught me to count as my blessing.
During the month of December, I went on a whirlwind of an adventure to four countries. These are some quick, collective thoughts throughout the month of December-January. Pictures are complemented through my facebook, which you have already stalked.
NEW YEAR SAME ME
On the second day of New Years, my true love (me) gave to me… a $13 ice cream cone. Ya girl was sitting at Emack & Bolio’s in Hong Kong eating a rice crispy waffle cone, double stuffed scooped ice cream (cookie monster) complemented with toasted marshmallow. My stomach was happy but bank account was wailing. Nevertheless, the sweet goodness was worth every single penny.
IT’S THAI-ME TO EAT: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailand was a whirlwind of a time. I took the bus from Vientiane to Khon Kaen for my first stop to pick up Julian, a laid back, west coast, Seattle proud guy who interestingly enough compliments my Philly sass. Khon Kaen reminded me of a busy, suburban town in the US: maybe like Alexandria, Virginia? Everytime I cross the border to Thailand it’s a new world, one that I will never be bored of.
Julian and his friends had a BBQ at his house that night and I was very glad we didn’t go out because I subconsciously walk upstairs into my room for the night and immediately passed out. I mean, what else do you expect from me? I can fall asleep anytime and anywhere.
The next morning, I thought it was a good idea to go running with him in the blistering sun around the college campus. Why I thought it was a good idea after a 12K the day before still baffles my mind so I opted for a walking tour around the university. We gorged ourselves with a fabulous Thai meal before jetting off to the airport. Destination: Chiang Mai.
We were staying with Clayton, another PiA fellow who teaches at Payap University. Backstory: Julian and Clayton were one of the first fellows I befriended last April when I was at Princeton for my TEFL certification. Julian and I bonded because we have both been out of college for two years, in which I proclaimed, “hey you’re old too!” I’m so good at first impressions.
My favorite place we visited was Sticky Waterfalls. The name was given because you can literally climb up the waterfall without falling off, cracking your skull and have your blood splattered among the rocks. I felt a little bit like Spiderman scurrying up the rocks and feeling a little proud for defying death a little bit. My adrenaline rush for the day was satisfied.
We went out one night but I was falling asleep on the bar during our pre game. Julian suggested that we walk to 7/11 and buy espresso shots. After I downed the coffee, Julian bought me a beer to shotgun… outside the 7/11.. In an alley. My own personalized Four Loko.
Later in the evening we went to a club and at one point it was packed with obnoxious, extremely drunk tourists who jumped on stage and disrupted the performers. After living here for a few months I can’t help but cringe when I see a tourist wearing elephant pants and a bright neon tank top and a bucket hat.
Chiang Mai was so wonderful. We went to night markets, hiked to mountaintops, ate too much pad thai, danced like we knew everyone was watching, drank unpalatable local liquor and shared stories for hours. Thailand never disappoints and it was fabulous time. I can’t wait to go back in April because La Salle Women’s Rugby is taking over Bangkok! (please inquire if you would like to join the old fossil ruggers)
MALAYSIA TRULY ASIA: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The beginning of my plane’s descent in Kuala, Lumpur, Malaysia was interesting, to say the least.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, as per health regulations with the Malaysian government, we will not fumigate the plane. Please keep your head down if you have any sensitivities to the process. We apologize for any inconvenience.’ Um, excuse me what?! Imagine waking up from a nap hearing that. Ten seconds later, the plane, I heard fizzing from the aerosol cans being sprayed by up and down the plane. Besides that tid bit, I was so excited to be there and most importantly to try the food: a hybrid of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures melted into many delicious dishes. My appetite was ready.
You know what’s crazy? In the capital city alone, I went to five malls (three unintentionally) during that weekend. Five. And there’s about ten more, I’m not even joking. Can you imagine being in walking distance to some of the world’s best shopping malls?
When Joe and I were on the train to the Batu Caves (a mountainside cave with temples that were built into the stone) we almost went into the Women’s only train. At first, I thought all the cars were separated into male/female so I panicked a bit but quickly realized it was only the first three. In the car, there was a big sign emblazoned with pictionary of actions that were deemed indecent. Surely enough, the fourth cartoon depicted a couple kissing. Malaysia doesn’t like PDA guys. Duly noted.
Another amazing thing about Malaysia? I got my eyebrows threaded for $1.25! Go ahead, judge me, but I am never going to look at the aesthetician the same ever again when she charges me $11 back in the states. My brows were very happy that I finally had them tamed after three months.
One of Joe’s college friends from Edinburgh lives in Malaysia so we got a personal tour of the city and went to the Islamic Arts Museum and the National Mosque (women had to wear hijabs and I’ve never worn one before and it was really cool). My favorite part of having a local guide was the food. He fed us local, delicious, cheap meals and my stomach was overjoyed with happiness. We went to a night market on our last evening and I think that’s where Joe witnessed first hand how much I could really eat. People underestimate me when I say I can eat. I’m pretty sure it’s borderline gluttony.
Because I was missing Christmas at home, it was beautiful walking through the city center at night. There was a big christmas tree, adorned with lights and decorations. There was also a colorful light show on the lake and I enjoyed this view while eating a green tea kit kat ice cream cone. Yes, they’re a thing. I could’ve died happy that night.
VIETNOMS: Saigon, Vietnam
Twelve year old Cat did not appreciate Vietnam. To date, it was the best family vacation in 2004 and I did not fully appreciate the experience until growing up. I stayed with my Uncle’s girlfriend- she owns a travel agency and her daughter is a fashion designer. Saigon is the complete opposite of Vientiane: it’s energy was undying, horns were honked in every direction and it has become an international economic hub. They had Uber!! One interesting fact: you can request a motorbike Uber to bypass traffic and swerve in between the cars. My motorbike driver was so impressed with my Vietnamese that he didn’t even kill me when I got us lost and doubled our commute time home.
I was walking through a market before meeting with Peggy and Molly, two PiA fellows, for dinner one evening. The merchant loudly exclaims, “man, these westerners are so big now!” I really wanted to turn around and say something to shut her up but I refrained. Matter of fact, that happened a lot in Vietnam. Everyone thought I was Indian or Spanish so they would openly talk about me and then become super embarrassed when I responded in the native tongue. It felt so good.
It was so nice to explore the city on my own terms. Growing up, I feel as if I learned about Vietnam’s relationship from two biased points of view: my parents and the textbooks provided in school. It was nice go to the museums on my own and formulate my own thoughts and opinions.
I gorged myself on many hot, steaming bowls of pho and refreshing ice coffees the next few days before heading to Hanoi.
PLEASE DON’T HANOI ME, VIETNAM
I remember I hated Hanoi when I was twelve. People were so straight-laced, boring, and my Gameboy Advance was fifty times more interesting. At least that’s what puberty-prime Cat thought.
Old lady Cat loves Hanoi. I met up with some Princeton fellows who live with me in Vientiane and we explored Hanoi together. We even took a day trip to Ninh Binh, a beautiful UNESCO world heritage site. In Ninh Binh, Kathy and I rented a motorbike and drove through literal mountains. We rented a boat to go through eight caves in one of the most serene places I have ever been. Earth, you never cease to amaze me.
One day, Kathy and I met up with Johnny, a Scottish lad I met back in Vientiane who has been living in Hanoi for three years. He works for Pass it Back Rugby and his language skills are impeccable. As much as I am impressed by his ability to speak my native tongue, I am shamefully embarrassed. How can I only speak, write, and read sixty percent of my language and this guy was passing me with flying colors? It brought me back to a saying my dad always repeated when I was younger, “As long as Vietnamese is spoken there is Vietnam.”
Spending Christmas away from home was really tough. Christmas Eve is a big celebration in the Ta Family. While Kat spent the evening with her family, Kathy and I treated ourselves to a fancy western asian fusion dinner completed with egg nog. Then we went to happy hour and had drinks with Michael, another PiA fellow who was visiting with his mom. Michael brought us gingerbread cookies from his hotel. I was in Heaven. It may have been the most unconventional Christmas ever but I was so grateful to have inspiring, wholesome and wonderful humans around me.
KING KONG IN HONG KONG
Hong Kong is the best kept secret life has kept from me thus far. I was meeting up with twenty other PiA fellows there for New Years. After having the flu for the past two NYE celebrations I was excited to even be walking and breathing on that day. I stayed with Forrest’s family. I wanted to drop dead when I got to his house. He lived fifty feet away from the Beach in one of Hong Kong’s most expensive and beautiful neighborhoods. His family invited me to have a lunch with their family friends the next day. This “casual lunch” included taking a private yacht to an island to hike to our restaurant. Somebody pinch me please. The next week was filled with Michelin Star (yes, you read right) meals, the most beautiful scenes and…GOING TO DISNEYLAND! Julian and AJ are such beautiful souls who came along with me to the happiest place in Hong Kong. You would have thought I was 2.4 instead of 24 during that day. I also got to check another box off my bucket list and go to a horse race. I never wanted to leave Hong Kong. It has been my most favorite place to visit thus far in Asia. If you ever have the opportunity, do not hesitate to book your flight!