What’s up lovers and friends–
It’s been a hot minute…or five months.
If you’re trying to read this letter during your TV commercial break, press that On Demand button and pause the show. Were you watching Black Mirror by chance?
Actually, go make a bowl popcorn (Orville Kettle Corn if you need a suggestion), grab a beverage and get comfy because you’re gonna need some time to read this post.
After returning to Laos in January, I went through the worst mental slump since moving to Asia. I probably sound dramatic now and my sister will probably roll her eyes when she reads this but I really couldn’t shake off the bad vibes. I felt confused, sad, and hopeless all the time. It was worse than “Cat-Last-Semester-Of-College” sad. I spent a lot of time by myself. It got to a point where I started looking up plane tickets to move back home at the end of April when our term was up.
I realized a big part of that was the pressure I felt from many individuals at home about my plans for the future. It was worse than the showers of questions graduating seniors receive at Thanksgiving and Christmas. So many times I’ve received the phrase “your life in Asia isn’t real.”
But wait. Why isn’t it real?
I pay rent, grocery bills, gas for my transportation, clock forty hours a week and travel just like “everyone else.” Because I recieve more holiday (and I am grateful for that opportunity) than other people does not mean that I work any less. But one’s definition of“working” is all relative, isn’t it? I feel as if there’s this taboo that stressing yourself out and sacrificing your mental stability is synonymous to being hardworking.
It makes me scared to move back to the States where the “two weeks holiday” per year is a real belief and I am consumed into the corporate wheel where one measures their worth by the hours on their timesheet, or working a salary job. I don’t want to go back to that life.
I feel that because I vocalized over ten years ago my aspirations to pursue medicine, I was supposed to see that goal through right after undergrad. I feel as if I am not allowed to have other passions. I mean, even if you asked me five years ago if I was going to end up being a teacher for some part of my life I would have laughed and then tweeted about it. I have finally accepted that I will be the untraditional applicant but I don’t think some people from home do. I believe that medicine is still my vocation for one of the major parts of my life, but I am exploring other passions that will help strengthen that time when I get there.
When I am ready.
Last year, my friend said something that stuck by me to this day. He said that our life isn’t just one linear line that stops at that top. It’s a serious of various scatter plots on a page and the curves of the ups and downs are what makes our life meaningful. I think that’s what he said. I just made it sound more poetic.
I won’t get into the rest of it- but many of you from home and the several support systems I have here helped me get through those two months.
CAKE, CAKE, CAKE, CAKE
I’ve never been completely surprised in my life until this year. The times where I did have ‘surprises,’ I found out beforehand mistakingly and would save my friends the disappointment when the time came and put on my best “OMG” emoji face. Thank goodness because I actually am terrible at reacting to surprises. I’m a planner- I like when things run smoothly. I want the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed. I get embarrassed and run will cover my face while it turns red- the same shade as the asian glow I reflect after 3.5 drinks. This 26th birthday (day, week, month? It was stretched out) will surely be one I will treasure forever. I’ll even dedicate four scrapbook pages to it when I make the next one.
The week before, my coworkers, Lochi, and Jake surprised me with a mid-day birthday lunch. I’ve been following the ketogenic diet so everything we ate followed my food restrictions to a T. Except the Prosecco. But that was so worth it. Even their thought and consideration that was put into my lunch was so meaningful. They also decorated my desk with streamers and Anou gave me a birthday cake he didn’t want from his students. I was mortified. I think that staring at a blazoned cake while people scream and sing at you is hands down one of the most awkward moments in life. Later that week, my favourite class of the term surprised me again. There’s only eleven of them in my intermediate class and they are in University so we grew particularly close. One student brought her guitar and they sang to me. They also know that gnocchi is my favourite pasta, so another student painted my go-to dish onto a wooden keychain as a gift. How adorable is that?
That weekend, Jake and I flew to Bangkok. We were going to take our GRE. What a way to start our holiday, right? I anticipated the down time during those few days. I was even planning to workout, go to the mall and watch Friends on my actual birthday. Jake had other tricks up his sleeve.
The night before, he convinced me to go to a rooftop bar. I went because Jessica was also in Bangkok for work and I reluctantly agreed to go even though I was perfectly content on the couch eating cheese cubes. I got really sleep around ten o’clock and got concerned when it reached eleven and Jake still didn’t want to go back to my friend’s apartment.
Come on Jake, you’ve been my roommate for almost a year now. We both like to be in bed by ten thirty and it’s pushing twelve- my carriage is about to turn into a pumpkin!
Here we were at this posh rooftop bar and I was falling asleep on Jess’ shoulders.
When it turned midnight, Jake presented me with a small container of blueberry yogurt and one of the lit candles from the tables and started to sing happy birthday. Mortified Cat resurrected once again. Jake, the sweet angel that he was, knew that I wouldn’t eat the cake because of my diet.
Disclaimer: I ate all the cakes people gave me during these times. I am a weak girl.
Then, Jess bought me one of those fancy plates with a dessert and candle in it.
The next day, Jake took me for birthday drinks at my favourite rooftop bar in Bangkok, Above 11. Mallory, Nick, Jeff and Anna Maria also joined. We had delicious shawarma afterwards, which costed about ⅛ of the drinks.
Jake is single people. I will accept applications for his next suitor. I only want the absolute best for my Jakey poo. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The best part of this story was before we even entered the restaurant. Jake was wearing flip flops because we both did not pack dressy shoes. We were both traveling to Nepal afterwards — who needs stilettos and dress shoes in the Himalayas? The Kardashians would probably pull something like that. Anyways, Mr. Confident was sure that he would be allowed in.
“I made the reservation, who are they to deny me?”
Sure enough, sweet little baby angel wasn’t even allowed across the threshold. The security guard escorted him to the side and opened a closet of casual canvas shoes and Jake was forced to buy a pair to make our reservation. That moment was pure gold– it’s right up there with my surprises from him.
LUANG PRABANG, LAOS
Pi Mai, which literally translates to New Year, is a celebration which celebrates Lao New Year in the middle of April. I was traveling during last year’s celebration and Jess convinced me to come to Luang Prabang this year since it would be her last time. It is my favourite place in Laos, so I agreed to come. Then Steph said she’d come. Then James. Soon, we had a group of thirteen people who agreed to meet in LP for New Year’s. I was so excited. I just finished taking the torturous GRE and some of best humans I know in Asia would be in the same city with me for a few days. I had just seen Jess in Bangkok and we took a moment to be grateful for our lives this year. We just had dinner in Thailand and the following evening I would be at her house in Laos.
During the first night Jess’ roommates, Camille and Sam made us a delicious pumpkin gnocchi dinner with a coconut tomato sauce. Afterwards, Sam surprised me with a marvelous, mouth watering chocolate cake with nutella icing.
“I’ll have a slice,” I said.
I ended up eating a quarter of that darn delicious chocolate cake.
That Friday morning, I woke up at 5:30 am because Sam and I agreed to go to a bootcamp workout with her roommates. I immediately regretted that decision when the alarm went off because I had a stomach bug. I went back to Jess’ room to tell her that I didn’t want to go when she sprung up from her bed to give me a note.
THEY PLANNED A SURPRISE SCAVENGER HUNT FOR ME THAT DAY!
I was melting on the inside- this was the kindness gift I’ve ever received, and I didn’t even know how the day was going to unfold yet.
On the outside, all I could muster to say was “nooooo….why? This is obnoxious.”
The following is a description of that day, thanks to the notes I jogged onto my iPhone so that I wouldn’t forget every moment:
Stop One: Bootcamp Workout with Sam
We had a jogged to a temple. It was still early, so the streets weren’t flooded with tourists yet. The workout was a bit brutal. I still have PTSD from those days we had to do stair workouts at the pool when our rugby practices were rained out. The chlorine would burn my nose and I would hack up all sorts of disgusting loogies. It was nice to have that time with Sam– we never really get alone time together and she took me to the morning market– another first I have yet to accomplish in Luang Prabang.
Stop Two: Breakfast at the House
Everything started to make sense when I got back to the house. Everyone from Vientiane had arrived from their night bus. Jess didn’t come workout because she, James, Casey stayed back to cook breakfast. It was all keto friendly too– bacon, eggs, avocado, saffron black coffee and bread for those perfect humans who were patient with my dietary restrictions. We all sat around their big dining table with the river as our background and the morning breeze swifting in and out the window.
Stop Three: Coffee with Galen at my favourite cafe, Saffron.
We sat by the Mekong river, dissected and reflected on our year while sipping on cold brew, latte, and devouring a gluten free brownie with espresso butter. Yes, espresso butter. If Heaven had a flavour, that would be it. While Galen was driving me to my next destination, he abruptly blurted out “IF– I forgot to take a picture.” He immediately whipped out his phone and snapped a selfie mid driving. Galen should never be permitted to teach a Driver’s Ed course.
Stop Four: Exploration with Steph around the City
Since I’ve never visited any of the famous tourist spots in Luang Prabang (all I do when I visit is lay in Jess’ bed and go out to eat), Steph was my personal guide. First, we drove to an abandoned lily pond. It was beautiful in it’s own broken, deconstructed way. There were broken down huts surrounded by a fresh lush of greenery. Then, she drove me to the outskirts of the city and upon our return she told a story about random spots we passed that held memories in her life. It was one of the more special moments in our friendship. By the way, I was told that Steph and Galen were the masterminds of this scavenger hunt. I owe it to these two fantastic beings for an absolutely amazing day.
Stop Five: Lunch at Ock Pok Top with Sophie’s Family
I have always wanted to visit the Ock Pok Top Creative Arts Center. If you don’t know what it is, google it. You know Sophie from my older posts– I got to meet her parents!! They had just flew in from London the day before and we had a wonderful lunch on the river. The place settings were beautiful– it sported all of my favourite color shades. I would describe it as the Asian inspiration of Lily Pullitzer and Kate Spade. I enjoyed getting to know Sophie’s family and sharing a wonderful lunch with them. Afterwards, we took a tour around the workshop and since Sophie is already a textile genius she gave us the tour herself as we explored the various art pieces on the looms. We took a pink tuk tuk back into town for my next stop and we were splashed by stand byers with water hoses and screaming children. New Year’s was here.
Stop Six: Tipsy Island with Becca, James, Neng and Sebastian
My next stop was at a rice wine bar on the river. I was immediately greeted with splashes of water from four water guns and it wouldn’t stop until I finished my shots.
“We were supposed to get her tipsy, not drunk,” Becca reminds the group.
James didn’t bother to listen.
On our way to the next stop, James and I were soaked by heavily-beer influenced crowds who mercilessly aimed their water hoses at our motorbike. I was one hundred percent saturated by the time I arrived at my next stop.
Stop Seven: Lao Lao Garden with Soqui’s Family
My roommate, Soqui, her brother and her dad were at the next place. Lao lao is my least favorite drink in Laos– it’s the equivalent of the cheapest liquor. It burns as it flows down your esophagus and churns at it settles in your stomach. Soqui could tell that I was done, or “turnt” as she’d described it- so she didn’t make me take another shot. My girl. Everyone else met us shortly afterwards and we all huddled into a big tuk tuk to go back to Jess’ house.
Stop Eight: Sunset Boat Cruise on the Mekong
A boat picked us up at the bottom of the hill at Jess’ house. I also haven’t been on the sunset boat yet and was so excited! Jess started it off with by playing my Spotify workout playlist. Why does she know the songs? Because she lets me use her Spotify. What a doll I know. I have five playlists on her account. I haven’t added country music onto it Jess. I won’t. I promise. It was such a good time- between the drinks, food, laughter and pictures- I had a minute to catch some of the sun set and take a moment to thank God for the day, for my life and for my family and friends.
Stop Nine: The Beer Olympics that Never Happened.
The title is self explanatory.
We did muster up some energy to play some games. And I got some…let’s call it…dance performances from some of my friends. It was all in good fun. I’m just grateful that were not recorded because my facial expression was even worse that surprised, horrified Cat.
Some of them chipped in to buy me a gym bag from Passa Pa- my favorite, favorite, store in Laos.
I didn’t cry all day but that nearly pushed me over the edge. I started to tear up when I laid in bed with Jess later that night and we recapped the day.
My last surprise was in Nepal. I haven’t seen Mai Yer for a week and after our three day trek, we went to a Vegan restaurant for the night. Okay guys, I know what you’re thinking– but we had pumpkin pierogies with chocolate sauce, pesto momo’s (Nepali dumplings) and cauliflower steak. If you go there one day and do not enjoy your meal you can venmo charge me your check.
Our guide from the trip also met up with us and picked up a birthday cake that read “Happy Birthday Pumpkin.” Food pet names are endearing– I’m glad everyone is finally catching on.
That is the end of my birthday surprises– I will always remember it, treasure it and be grateful.
If anything, the flight from Bangkok to Nepal served as an indication of what my first few days in would look like. It was without question, the worst flight I have ever flown– and I had a stomach virus so I was feeling subpar. The foreshadowing continued as I arrived at the immigration desk. The officer asked me some protocol questions. However, he continued to look at me and then my passport. “Are you sure you’re not Chinese or Filipino? Where are your parents from? Why are you working in Laos?”
Dude, are you serious? I was five seconds away from puking all over the counter. I was patient but my stomach was not playing any games. After a few minutes, he finally let me go.
I finally got to Pass Go and Collect $200.
I did not feel welcomed.
During the next few days, Steph, Kim, Mai Yer, Zach and I trekked from Sundarijal to Chisapani to Nagarkot. The first day was an 18 kilometer uphill trek- WITH STAIRS. The sun was unforgiving and the dust was relentless. I thought that I was fit and in shape but I was humbled that day. Nonetheless, it was filled with laughter, heart to hearts, new card games, and lots of momo’s. Momo’s are Nepal’s version of dumplings. They remind me more of potstickers. The best kinds I had that week were fried buffalo momo’s. I survived on momo’s, nuts and masala and ginger tea during those three days. When I was walking alone during the trek, I would make it a point to take in all of the scenery around me. It was beautiful. We would arrive at our accomodations in the late afternoons and that provided us time to unwind and relax before dinner and the 9pm bedtimes.
I love sleeping early.
On our way back to Kathmandu, we stopped at Bhaktapur and visited a palace. It was destroyed by the earthquake but many of the structures still stand. We saw the tallest temple in Nepal and goat sacrifices (I realized how desensitized I am as people walked by with bloody goat heads on platters and I didn’t even flinch.
Steph, Zach and I stayed at a place called Cosy Nepal in Kathmandu. We had two separate living areas: one that included a kitchen and living room with a piano and another with a living area and a bed in the upstairs loft with a balcony overlooking our garden patio. I 100% recommend anyone who is visiting Nepal to stay there.
Tip: Do not make my mistake and book on AirBnB– it is way, way, way, cheaper to book through the company directly.
The best meal I had that week was at a Newari restaurant with another PiA fellow, Patrick, who is working at an NGO in Kathmandu. Newari is an indigenous tribe in Nepal, and the restaurant, Honacho, was recommended to me by more than two people- so I knew we had to go!
The whole experience was awesome. It was located behind a shrine in the middle of Durbar Square (Squares are places that were filled with shrines and temples). We couldn’t find it and Google Maps didn’t help. It was literally in between a tiny alleyway of two shops. When you walked in, there was a floorless room with wooden tables and blue tarps in place of ceilings. Two women were cooking on two flat stone surfaces and multiple silver pots filled with savory soups.
Patrick spoke Nepali so we were told to go upstairs. We sat on the terrace of the building by sever large, blue containers and the trusty blue tarp over our heads. While we waited for our food, three monkeys literally ten inches from me jumped over our tarp and onto the edge of the shrine fifteen feet away. I was half terrified and half amazed, but it also felt so normal.
The meal consisted of shareable plates of flattened rice, spicy buffalo, lentil egg pancakes, chickpeas and their beer. I only had one glass and I was feeling it. It’s five o’ clock somewhere right?
Nepal is a country that I would like to revisit without hesitation. Next time, I’d like to tackle a more difficult trek like the Annapurna Circuit and maybe in the later future… Everest base camp?
I really did not have any expectations for India. The only thing people would tell me is, “you’re going to get sick.”
I guess I carried all my lucky charms to India because my stomach was loads better than it was in Nepal.
I was so excited to see Maura– I only got to see her twice when I was home this Christmas.
“I’ve been waiting for this hug,” she said when we embraced at the hotel.
Nicole flew in from London the next day and the gang was complete: Catherine, Maura, Nicole, Zach and I. We drew attention everywhere we went whether it was because of our actions, what we said or just the appearance of our motley crew.
During the first two hours in India I tripped and fell on my face in the middle of a crowded, public square. While my friends tried to breathe during their fits of laughter, two strangers were actually concerned for my safety and made sure I was okay.
After muttering a quick, “okay,” I screamed into Nando’s and prayed that everyone would be gone by the time we finished supper.
I certainly made an entrance.
We rented a driver for four days and visited sites around Delhi the next morning. It helped to alleviate any stress we might have encountered with transportation– it made the trip smoother because we didn’t have to arrange getting from sight to sight. The first stop was a mosque. I learned quickly that we were going to be ripped off everywhere during my time here. We had to pay an entrance fee to get in, but I learned a few days after that we only had to pay if we had an actual camera. After leaving, a man told us that we had to pay him for “watching our shoes.” Catherine and I immediately turned on our sass and refused. That’s absurd. We had to take off our shoes and there was absolutely no “shoe guard” in site. He did hassle money out of poor Maura and she reluctantly handed over 100 rupees. I made it my mission to watch over Maura the rest of the trip. I hate getting scammed.
Later on in the day, Maura really had to use the bathroom, but our driver didn’t want to take us to a rest stop while we waited for Zach and Catherine at one of the landmark sites. He suggested that Maura pee behind a bush. Are you serious? There were thousands of people at this historical site and there was a person surrounding any bush that was present. Maura really had to go so I held her scarf in front of her (which barely did anything) while four elderly men sat by a fifty feet away. Our friendship reached a new level that afternoon.
There were a lot of people who wanted to take pictures with my friends– they would say that they never met foreigners before and I think the selfies they took with strangers exceeded the amount of pictures they took of themselves that week.
Agra –This is where things get juicier
The beginning of our road trip began with Catherine realizing that she left her jeans at the hotel. When she called the reception, they informed her that the jeans were not there. Catherine was livid. An angry Catherine is scary. I was worried for the man on the other end of the call. I was praying that they’d find her pants when we returned at the end of the week. This was the begining of India playing cruel jokes on her.
Agra is a four hour drive from Delhi- it’s where the Taj Mahal is located. We stopped at a tourist-trap restaurant for lunch and by that I mean one of those cushy places with AC where they feed tourists “local cuisines” but actually water it down and cook the food to appease the western palate. Zach kept raving about how good the food was but I didn’t want to break his heart. I had butter chicken and while it was tasty, I knew that this wasn’t the real deal. All of a sudden, some of the kitchen staff bolted for the door (Catherine thought they were going to break up a fight) but do you know what? The kitchen was ON FIRE! We were in the middle of paying our bill. The manager was telling the diners to remain seated and stay calm while the rest of the waiters were congregating around the front door and the restaurant started to become filled with smoke as the bright blames continued to dance behind the kitchen door. Our driver rushed us out of there– traffic started to pile up as everyone stopped to watch the disaster unfold. It was a chaotic mess!
Later in the day, we went to the Taj Mahal. Catherine has literally been waiting her whole life for this moment- it was so exciting to watch her dreams come true. Many people have Paris or New York as their #1- but Catherine’s was the Taj Mahal, so it was a special day for her. Now, even though it’s a special moment it doesn’t mean that we escaped the little mishaps that follow us. We had to pay more money for our ticket (as for all the places we visited) because we’re foreigners. Right after we purchased the ticket, a man (who seemed legit) told us that we were allowed to receive a free government guide and got to skip the lines. What a steal, right? WE WERE SCAMMED AGAIN. Sure, we got to skip some lines and see some demonstrations, but they wanted tip money from us and we were led to another gift shop where they sold them fake marble souvenirs. While leaving, Nicole and Catherine got asked to take a picture with a baby. The parents placed the young one into their arms and the child proceeded to burst into tears.
“It’s okay– It’s your auntie.” The dad cooed to the little boy.
A mere two hours later, Zach and Catherine walked across the street to treat themselves to McDonalds. Maura, Nicole and I chose to lay horizontal and eat peanut butter and jerky. Catherine returned half an hour later and bursted into a fit of laughter. Where is Zach? We were curious. She had to take a couple of deep breaths before recapping their adventure moments earlier.
There weren’t any street lamps, so the only source of light emanated from the store fronts. Zach stepped into a pile of animal feces that was scooped into a neat pile. His Birkenstocks? Not so neat. They still walked into the McDonald’s and the staff and Zach was given a hairnet. They took him to the back of the kitchen and had him wash his sandals.
There was always something that happened wherever we went. We’re like the traveling circus.
Speaking of circuses, we travelled to Jaipur the next day. It was my favourite place in India. Catherine’s friends, who visited India a month prior, suggested that we visit a carnival. Nicole and I decided to stay back at the hotel to finish up work and the three amigos embarked on their next adventure. When they weren’t back at 11 pm, we grew a bit concerned. When I saw them the next morning, my level of surprised was suppressed because– of course these things are bound to happen to us.
They took an Uber to the carnival- which ended up being forty five minutes away from our hotel. Once they arrived, they discovered that the entrance ticket was 700 rupees (more than our museum ticket entrances). It turned out to be a total tourist trap. They received subpar henna art and they just wanted ice cream. Being the only tourists there, they were center of attention, especially with Maura’s beautiful blonde locks. They were seated in the center of a dining area while locals sat around seats encircling them on the outer space. The people were staring and laughing. Nicole and I were mortified for them.
“They kept putting bread (naan) and butter (ghee) on our plates and telling us to eat.”
“It was the most awkward moment in my life,” recalls Zach.
Later on, our driver took us to a workshop. The textiles and fabrics there are sold to Anthropologie, but the man brought us to a showcase room on the upper floor to sell us blankets, scarves and other cashmere and pashmina blankets. I made a comment about the prices and he asked if I was Latina, because “they’re clever,” he explained, but it sounded derogatory.
Because I inquired about the ridiculous prices he set? Okay.
So anyways, we got scammed into buying these scarves that were supposed to be real baby pashmina. There was a throw blanket that I completely regretted not purchasing until I found out a few days later that it was fake. They wanted $107 for it. I talked them down to $75 after telling Zach, “We can just find this on seasonal clearance at LL Bean.”
Later, Zach told me that the shopkeepers called me “a cheap girlfriend who wants to use your money for drinks later.” Haha, okay.
We were climbing a very steep hill one day to visit Amber Fort. In the midst elephant poo splattered on the ground and the blistering sun, there were three or four people at a time trying to sell us souvenirs. Polite declines are only invitations for them to sell harder. There was one British guy who replied, “Do you know the word: hungover?”
We all squished into an Uber one day– four of us in the back and Catherine in the front. Well, we got pulled over and ticketed by the police… because Catherine wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Nope, not because of the four uncomfortably squished humans in the backseat.
“You have to pay a fine. 200 rupees.” barks the policeman.
“Can I see a piece of paper? How much is the fine?” Catherine demands.
“Okay fine, 100 rupees.”
We didn’t even question his statement.
Traffic in India is nuts. The drivers are not afraid to hit pedestrians. I think I am down to four Cat lives by now.
Regardless of the mishaps we went through, I can’t help but laugh at them now. It made our trip more unique and I miss those guys.
India is a beautiful country built upon layers of history, even more beautiful people who carry wonderful souls and are born with grit and resilience. I appreciate their hussle.
The food was a melody of delicious flavours and spices. I could never get bored of Indian food.
Myanmar was… a memorable adventure.
When I landed, Siyu (a PiA fellow I kept in touch with after orientation) picked me up from the airport. We only had five hours until I had to leave for the night bus to Bagan, a province to the North of Burma. I was touched by her kind gesture– it was her last week in Myanmar (she’s going to be a Schwartzman scholar in Beijing next year and has another fellowship in Finland this summer..what a BAMF!) and I know she had other things to do than to wait at the airport Arrivals gate for me. We had lunch at a Burmese restaurant and had tea leaf salad, shan noodles, beef curry, and chickpea tofu. We caught up over tea and food for three hours and then I met up with my coworker, Molly, for our night bus to Bagan.
We travelled with a company called JJ Express– I highly recommend it! The seats reclined, you got a blanket and snacks and there was even a little TV on the back of everyone’s seats. If you’ve ever had to endure a night bus in Asia, know that JJ Express is top of the line for this mode of travel.
Molly and I stayed at a resort called Myanmar Han– and we only paid twenty five dollars a night because it was low season. Although it was outside of town, it was so perfect, relaxing and quaint.
We rented electronic motorbikes to zip through the temples. Once upon a time, there used to be ten thousand temples around Bagan. Now, there are a little over two thousand. It was like driving through an actual Temple Run game. There were temples to our left and right. I was excited about and zipped through a sandy pathway to snap a good picture. My E-bike got stuck in the sand. Oh no.. I was hot, sweaty and getting impatient. All I could do was laugh. Molly and I tugged at my bike for ten minutes until I was set free. I avoided sand roads the rest of my time there.
We hiked up a mountain to visit a Pagoda later on in the day and there were monks and local men pounding away at the concrete to repatch the path. The views were incredible: the valleys were magistically placed and it was surrounded by a plethora of temples in different sizes, shapes and designs. On our way back down, the monks offered us a questionable red drink. They were slightly inebriated, no doubt. Molly responded with a resounding “no way!” The men laughed as we scurried down the mountain.
The next day, Molly and I drove around the Old and New Bagan. We were looking for the riverfront to watch sunset but found a deadzone. There was a group of boys playing pickup soccer and we joined their game. The boys wanted Molly and I to play one on one against each other. They were thoroughly entertained that Messi (me) was getting by butt kicked.
One of the most beautiful scenes of Bagan is when we went to watch sunrise. Although it was too cloudy, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. It was one of those views where a picture could never do it justice. I tried and miserably failed. There were temples, big, small, brown and white sprinkled along the land and it stretched for what seemed like miles. Do you know when you’re laying on the beach and the ocean seems endless? That’s what it was like but with decorative temples.
Also– one of the more scarier nights of my time in Asia occurred while I was in Bagan. It started to downpour which quickly turned into a flash flood. My hotel was twenty five minutes outside of town and the electric bike didn’t surpass 35 kilometers per hour. At first, I was laughing and thought, “Okay, this is just going to be another one of those adventures.” Soon after, I was stuck in two feet of water and my bike started to get pulled by the force of the water flooding the street. Some men sitting at a restaurant shouted, “go, go!” There was only street lights a quarter of the way home and then it was pitch dark. Guys, it was so scary. It was cold, wet, dark, and completely terrifying. I could already imagine my Missing Persons sign tacked up on a tree somewhere. When I got back to the hotel, I discovered that my phone got surged by the power outage so I was out of touch.
The next evening, I took a night bus back to Yangon. I wrote the address of my hotel into the book I was reading and scribbled Siyu’s number at the bottom of the page. That’s how I got around in Yangon for the next two days: a map and writing down addresses on a piece of paper to show taxi drivers. It was actually fun and helped me to be really present and rely on my intuition rather than my electronic device.
I got to hang out with Zach, my roommate from last year. He’s completing his second year fellowship in Yangon and it was cool to see him thriving in a new city. I met some of his coworkers and friends and we went to a sushi restaurant for lunch and this chill craft beer brewery near his apartment.
Myanmar was fun but I was so excited to go back to Laos.
KHON KAEN, THAILAND
I was in Laos for approximately sixteen hours before I took a five hour bus to Khon Kaen to visit Julian. He decided to move back to Seattle after his post finishes in May and I definitely wanted to see the goober before he headed back Stateside. My friendship with Julian is one of those low maintenance bonds where we do not have to speak everyday to nurture our relationship. Also, he gets me.
When I got off the bus, we went to the mall to eat Japanese food. Immediately after that, I bought a bubble tea with frozen yogurt doused on top. Following that we went to a local shop in his neighborhood to buy Durian. If you find a friend that willingly eats Durian with you, keep them around forever. His roommates and their girlfriends were so worried because we drank beer with the pungent fruit. Apparently you can die after eating that combination. Well, I’m still alive folks. Then, we went to have drinks at one of my favourite bars in Khon Kaen– it’s surrounded by rice fields and cows. I’m totally serious. We ate noodles afterwards and hit up 7/11 to buy snacks after a night out at a reggae bar. Yes, I went to Khon Kaen for a food feast with Julian.
My friendship with Julian is similar to many of the other relationships I’ve built through PiA. I have met such incredible humans who have helped me to grow and to pull me up. I’ve learned to be proud of all of me through all the individuals and interactions in my journeys the past two years.
It’s hard to believe that my second year is almost ending– I know that this upcoming last year will only fly by twice as fast.