I’ve officially been in the United States for almost three weeks now and in that time I basically jumped right back into everything. In some ways it feels like I never left; I’m back to work, getting into shenanigans with friends and annoying my cat with all the pent up love and affection I stashed away just for her. Don’t worry, she loves it. Claws are signs of affection, right? Just kidding, she still sort of likes me. Emphasis on the “sort of.”
In other ways it feels incredibly strange and perplexing to be back; men have beards, there are 30 bags of salad to choose from at the grocery store (and grocery stores exist…), people are pushing strollers and 97% of my town’s population is in a flannel. It’s a little crazy to be where phone service is fast, the showers instantly become hot and the beer is strong and hoppy (and blessed for that). Even driving is weird in the way that it is such a calm and docile task here. I mean, people just stay in their lanes, remain in the forward direction and even throw on a blinker every now and then. Essentially I’ve returned to all the comforts and spoils of everyday living in America.
Let it be known that my travels in Southeast Asia were phenomenal and I enjoyed my time immensely, yet for an introvert such as myself I definitely find solace in this small time-out from the Asian grind. Seriously, it is one bustling corner of the world over there. Plus, I can breathe. Metaphorically, yes, but really, I can actually breathe clean air again. As much as I love to travel, there really is no place quite like home and it is nice to come back to a place that I love, even if only for a little bit.
All in all, my four months in Asia were especially eye-opening and I am grateful for all the moments I was privy to while adventuring about. I’m talking the good, the not-so-great and the downright ugly, and I had my fair share of them all. Since my return I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on my travels and made a list (duh) of the things I loved about Asia as well as the things I won’t exactly be crying over and having mass nostalgic about. But first…
MY TRIP IN NUMBERS
Days abroad: 114
Days volunteering: 30
Countries Visited: 6
Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam
UNESCO Sites Visited: 3
Ancient Town, Hoi An, Vietnam
Angkor Wat, Siem Real, Cambodia
Cultural Landscape of Bali Province, Indonesia
Jars of Nutella Eaten: Shockingly only 5
Books Read: 22
Little Bee, Chris Cleave
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Watership Down, Richard Adams
The Gate, François Bizot
The Kiss: A Memoir, Kathryn Harrison
I Am Malala, Malala Yousafaiz
Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson
Euphoria, Lily King
The Ledge, Jim Davidson & Kevin Vaughn
The Piano Tuner, Daniel Mason
Nelson Mandela: No Easy Walk To Freedom, Bryan Dengenre
The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama
The Assault On Reason, Al Gore
The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto “Che” Guervara
Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redsfield Jamison
The Light Between Oceans, M. L. Stedman
The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
Mosquito bites: 1000 more than necessary and enough for me to be a proud advocate for the extinction of mosquitoes.
Countries of People Met: 31
Australia, Belarus, Bhutan, Cambodia, Canada, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, USA (or, ca, wa, mo, ut, nh), Vietnam, Wales
Cats I made friends with: Enough for 9 lifetimes
THINGS I MISS ABOUT ASIA
The Food. Delicious and filling meals for $1, fresh juices, curry from scratch… Oh, parting ways is such sweet sorrow.
Animal Friends. There is absolutely no shortage of dog and cat friends in SE Asia and it is wonderful. Okay, admittedly it’s not that wonderful because it’s kind of a problem, but they are all so adorable and amusing and I just wanted to claim them all as my own.
Markets. Back home we have farmer’s markets once a week or so, but Asia really has the whole market thing down and there’s nothing quite like the hustle and bustle of people, produce and snacks to start your day. Or end it. Or both.
THINGS I HAVE NOT MISSED AT ALL
Asian-Style Bathrooms. Can’t say I’ve been reminiscing about showering within inches of a toilet, squatting to pee, a lack of toilet paper or cold bucket showers. Nope, I’m good.
Sanitation. It’s nice to not have to question how long the food was sitting out or if those ice cubes were made with tap water. Otherwise…
The Word “Lady”. I can go my whole life without hearing that word again, especially paired with the phrases “special discount for you!” and “so beautiful, where from?” or “taxi!”
Mosquitoes. The. Absolute. Worst. I take pride in my uncanny ability to kill mosquitoes and would be okay if they just ceased to exist altogether.
Honking. Incessant honking at everyone and everything and really at nothing in particular. Maybe they just like to toot their own horn?
Thieving Monkeys. Cute they are not, mischievous they are.
Constant Selling. Massages, coconuts, taxis, their first born, their right arm… Anything and everything is up for grabs. One particular encounter in Vietnam ended up being equal parts annoying and amusing. While laying at the beach with my eyes closed I heard vendors pass asking if I wanted a massage or to buy ice cream. You see, if you don’t react they usually move right along, but this time I encountered a man that put persistent American car salesmen to shame. He spent, at minimum, three minutes uttering a continuous slew of words. “Excuse me. Lady. Hello. Miss. Miss. Hi, hello? Excuse me. Hello lady. Miss…” (repeat 18 more times). Finally, thinking maybe there was a problem, I opened my eyes and found a guy about a foot to my left staring intently at me. “Yes?” I asked. “You want to buy something?” He asked. NO. No, no, no, no. NOOOOO.
THINGS I’M UNDECIDED ON
Appearance Upkeep. I’ll be real, I’m essentially a peasant when traveling, which is great and also not; it’s nice to look nice at home, but it’s also nice to be completely unconcerned while abroad. While traveling (especially along the equator) it is all sorts of hot and sweaty and I just can’t be bothered to take the time to look moderately decent. Sure, while on the go I may closely resemble a lost child with a massive backpack, but really, I can’t say I care too much what I look like to a country full of strangers. I also don’t care if my outfit looks funny or if its day 208 of my hair being thrown up in an uber unsexy bun. Whatever.
Being a spectacle. Being of the lighter skinned variety basically made me a celebrity, which was mildly weird to say the least, but being treated like a rockstar for really no reason at all wasn’t all that bad. If you’re looking for an ego boost just get yourself to Southeast Asia, I promise they deliver. While the shy people would awkwardly stare and giggle, the more confident ones would ask to take pictures with me or, better yet, attempted to sneak a selfie (and these covert missions are not their strong suit). Strange? Yes. Awesome? Also, yes.
“Excuse me miss, can I have a picture?” in pictures: