wanderingsonearth

Wandering around the globe

Month: December, 2013

SiaGon

Ho Chi Minh City, the former Siagon. A city that was the center of the Vietnam War. American men went there to fight off the “Communist forces of Ho Chi Minh”. They went to defend “democracy” and ward off evil. It is a city that was decimated from the self-righteous entity that we call our government. As I arrived I imagined a posh, cute Southeast Asian City due the history that surrounds this economic hub, only to find out that Siagon is a ugly, flattened, concrete jungle. It literally looks as though the war ended yesterday and they are still trying to rebuild. There are so many slabs of concrete on every street that it is difficult to take a beautiful photograph of this historic city. It appears there are a few sites that have withstood time and a violent war, but even these buildings are limited. 

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(a younger version of myself @ 19 in HoChiMinh)

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(Another surviving piece of Vietnamese/French history)

However, the worst daunting legacy of the Vietnam War is the defects caused from Agent Orange. To this day 5 our of 100 children in Vietnam are born with defects caused by the chemicals dropped by American forces. Aside from these deformities, there are several others who lost limbs due to unexploded bombs in the country.  So as an American as I walked through the streets of Saigon or Ho Chi Minh and saw someone with a physical disability, I knew it was sadly a repercussion of the war my country waged upon theirs. 

If you’re brave enough to visit the War Memorial Museum, you can see the horrible atrocities committed by our troops in the region. As I walked through the museum and saw photos, artifacts, and other horrific reminders of our governments work, I began to feel emotional and small. I was visiting a country that my own government destroyed and did very little to rebuild. As I thought of all the things we should have done after the Vietnam War, I began to think of current day Afghanistan or Iraq. 

Our argument for going to Viet-Nam was to defend American freedom and make the world safe from “communist”. Our goal for Afghanistan and Iraq is quite similar. Today in Vietnam the ruling party is the one that defeated American troops. Is it a dangerous country? No. Is the world less safe because Vietnam is a communist country? Hell no. Is Iraq going to be safer after Saddam? Probably not. Will another dictator come into power? Probably. Is Afghanistan going to be safer now that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are gone? Yes. Will these rebel groups run to another country? Yes. Will we fight them there? That is a question yet unanswered. 

The whole moral is we should not be so self-righteous as to think that by waging war on another country we are making the world “safe”. We are only destroying the world and causing pain in another land for generations to come. The Vietnam War lives on for so many Vietnamese because they are still suffering the side effects of the American invasion into their sovereign country. 

SO think before you elect an official who wants to wage war. If you have money to visit a country where American fought a war, then GO! See for yourself what a war torn country looks like!

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(Graphic and horrible quality, im sorry)

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The people you meet

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An artist. A programmer. An x-marketing executive. A piano player for the Ritz in Bangkok. We all were running.

Phillipo was running from the rich Italian family that expected him to keep a conventional job. Max was running from the cold weather and people of Moscow. Florenso was running was the society that kept her enslaved for the past ten years. Henry has been running since he was 18. And I was running from fears, love, and life. 

When you meet people on the road, you have no strings attached. You don’t have a past and definitely don’t have a future together, but usually our similarities allow us to form a in the moment friendship.  In most circumstances, the bond formed between fellow travelers is one that is stronger than ties with people  you have known your whole life. Since you have no pretense or connections with them you can open up about life, history, and problems. You discuss your fears, what you’re running from, and whats waiting back home. 

The two weeks in Langkawi we spent together were stagnant and rather mundane, but every night at dusk we had an unspoken ritual to eat dinner together. Max worked through the day. Phillipo drew. Henry made music. While Flo and I sat and walked to find our souls somewhere in the clouds. The days were long, while the nights were short. 

We always began with a meal on the beach. Spirits flowed and conversation flourished. Phillip always asked bizarre questions like “What does your home look like?” As you’d say the routine “Two story, cabin, on the lake” He’d interrupt and say “No, no, no what is the inside what colors, what smells, what are the small character details that make it YOUR HOME.”  Through these small conversations we slowly began to piece together the lives of our new friend. I knew that Max lived in a small Moscow apartment that was filled with Marxist books, because his parents were the poster couple for the former USSR. I knew that Henry had his own organic heating system in the hills of France that filled his lush home. These small details brought my new friends to life. It gave them a background story.

On other nights, we would sit and look at the stars for hours. It appeared that Max knew every star in the orbit and was happy to tell us all about the space system. Phillipo was always trying to find the milky way. Flo was usually already half asleep and I just sat listening. At moments like this it seemed surreal that I was a world away from my family, laying on a beach, with friends from all over the world. At that  moment, they were my family, my friends, and my partners. For people who dont travel frequently it is hard to imagine such a deep connection with strangers, but a connection with a stranger is usually the deepest one.Image

“Obama, Obama, Obama”

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Obama at home and abroad are two different people. I believe at the moment Obama’s domestic approval rating is as low as 23% on some polls. However, I am almost positive it would be double that if there were a survey to be conducted abroad. While walking through the streets of Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, or China as an American you’ll frequently hear “Ohh, America, Obama”. Does this matter? Of course it does because they are smiling as they say these three basic English words they know. Eight years ago the American name was tarnished after two wars in the Middle East, harsh economic sanctions around the globe, and the notorious “Axis of Evil”. Now people abroad are beginning to see that America is not as backward as George W. Bush portrayed us to be. We have an ethnically diverse President, who attempts to speak a second language (Indonesian), and who is relaxing economic sanctions around the globe. On his several diplomatic visits Obama has been a promoter of peace and encouraged stability throughout the world, rather than war and chaos. This all matters because at the moment (In Asia) people are not unhappy with America. They are loving “Obama”! 

So go “Obama” ! He might not be doing well at home, but he is helping us some in SE Asia! (Maybe not China, but thats a completely different matter to discuss) 

 

Ubud- Where to stay ;p

Ubud is basically the place where middle aged yogi housewives go to feel as though they are exploring the world. (Sorry its harsh, but true) It is over run with insane fit women in their Lululemon yoga pants, eating organic food, and practicing with some self proclaimed guru. After you accept this Ubud is nice. You will not feel as though you are in Asia, but it is a charming city. It is filled with art stores, organic body products, chic restaurants, and stores selling yogi clothing lines. (Cute, but so obviously catered towards the Western tourist)

However, if you are lucky you will find the hidden gems of Ubud. You wont stay at a corporate hotel or resort, you’ll find yourself an adorable family run guest house. Emma and I found guest house that was restored family temples, surrounding a small garden and pond. 

ImageOur 11 USD a night hotel room ;p It included a full bath, kitchen, and two beds! 

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The full view of our little room with the surrounding gardens

 

 

Kuta Beach let down

Bali. What to say? I thought as I arrived that I was going to experience some sort of Eat, Pray, Love holiday, then I arrived at Kuta Beach….. As I heard drunken Aussies scream “ay ay ay” and run the streets without shirts it set in that it might not be such an enchanting island. On the day we arrived, I walked to the beach to see it covered with overweight European women in thongs and surfer dudes waiting for the next wave and instantly my image of this untouched Balinese beach diminished. After I realized that I was not going to have the romantic, secluded holiday I anticipated I shifted my mind to prepare for an adventure packed week. 

After day one my friend and I signed up for a two day surf lesson. On the first day I honestly imagined I would be a Roxy pro surfer. I thought I would look similar to Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush, to my sad regret I only caught one wave that day. The only reason I managed to get up was because my instructed pushed my board. I did not even possess the upper body strength to paddle quick enough to ride a wave. After day one of my two hour surf lesson, I rewarded myself with a one dollar cone from the golden arches of McDonalds. As I sat there and looked around I realized that Bali is to Australians what Cancun is to American spring breakers. However, after living in the rural jungles of Malaysia I was happy to be surrounded by burgers, poached eggs, Starbucks, and good coffee. (I cannot complain) 

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Sunset from one of the shopping complexes in Kuta Beach

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My dear travel buddy after surf lessons 😀

Overall, Kuta Beach was not what I expected, but it was a fun break! i learned to surf, ate amazing food, and enjoyed my three days at the beach! 

 

The one with the sex hotel

You might ask, “How do you know you are staying at a sex hotel?” Well there are several signs. Sometimes they are more discrete, but on other occasions they are quite overt.  On the lovely evening I was lost in Kunming (refer to the story below), I ended up checking into an obvious sex hotel. After paying, getting my room key, showering, and laying down I noticed a few things. The most obvious was the condom bar on my night stand. There were more condom selections that I had ever seen in a super market. Then as I looked beside the condom bar, I noticed that there was a little booklet of photographs with whores you could buy for the night. Literally, no joke, a whole book with probably a hundred photos of different girls you could buy. It was quite the experience. As it settled in that I was sleeping in a bed where men slept with hookers, I began to feel that I needed another shower and that I should probably put my dresser in front of my door. 

As I laid there in silence, I could hear heals clicking the floor and men talking. Then my stomach kind of flopped. At that moment, I sent a text message to a close friend and said “if you dont hear from me in the morning, assume I am dead and raped somewhere in China.” Of course this was a joke, but nervousness once again filled my body. I tried to sooth myself and sleep, but a deep sleep was the last thing my timid body was going to allow me to accomplish. 

As I laid awake most of the night, I knew the morning would bring new adventures and surely be better than the day I had. 

 

Lost in Kunming

Arriving at Kunming International Airport, I was highly optimistic to travel alone for the first time in over a year. On the flight to China, I kept talking to myself. Reminding myself to be self-confident, overly friendly, etc. I wanted to make some friends and not be alone for a month. I thought it would be the ideal get away and help make me feel more “independent”

After the flight I got on a bus to the city center, then I looked at my hostel directions and thought “I cant get there by bus, no problem”. The second local bus was filled with smoke and dust. There was another woman with me and she was smoking her handmade cigar. As we headed out of the town it was dusk and I was thinking to myself how it was strange that the bus was starting to wind around a mountain. I asked the lady sitting in front of me if this was the right bus and she assured me that it indeed was the right bus for my hostel’s address. As I climb up the mountain my mind began to race a bit about the direction we were headed. It seemed odd that an international hostel was on the side of a mountain, but I kept going.

As we reached my destination, my heart began to race. My body was filled with fear. I did not want to get off the bus, but to my dismay it was the last destination and I had to. I reluctantly stepped off the bus and looked around to see pitch black nothingness. I was petrified. I walked up the street to where I could see lights and began asking around for my hostel. It appeared there were NO hotels in this village. I scrambled the streets looking for the road my hostel described and after an hour declared that it was non existent. 

After admitting defeat, I asked around about how to get back to Kunming. Seeing as the last bus left and that there were no taxis in this small village, I began to ask locals for a ride back downtown. However, I realized most of the people who occupied this small town were males and I was not about to get in a car for an hour with a strange man. I rushed around asking other females for a ride only to be told “bu yao” or “no”. Finally a middle aged woman agreed. 

She had a hardened face, probably from years of work, but her smile gave me assurance that it was going to be okay. We headed for her home, got her husband, and their van and descended off the mountain. The couple could both sense the tenseness and fear in my little body, so they kept chatting to ease my nerves. The lady even offered me a dozen apples, as she was a local apple picker. As I ate my three apples in replacement for my missed dinner, I began to feel safe again. 

We finally were back downtown and the hotel search began. We finally arrived at a safe hotel and said our goodbyes. On that very night my faith in humanity was reaffirmed. I have always traveled with the mindset that there are more good people than bad in the world and this lovely Chinese couple from the mountains of Kunming reaffirmed that!

Coming home

The vast majority of my friends are financially well off. They drive Mercedes, BMWs, 2013 Jeeps. They feel they need to buy the newest iPhone 5s despite the fact that their iPhone 5 is perfectly functional. They feel the need to instagram the newest photos of themselves in New York, London, or Paris with Prada or LV bags. They go to the top salons to get their highlights. The list can go on, but I cannot relate to them anymore. I feel so disconnected from this life. On top of that, I do not want to fit in with these people anymore. I dont want to place such emphasis on material objects that mean NOTHING in the grand scheme of things.

One of my guy friends once said “it is sad if you dont have a pair of Prada or Tod loafers in your closet.” This statement is pitiful for a multitude of reasons. How can I connect with someone who spends 700 USD on shoes, when the majority of the people I have been around the past two years could NEVER afford such wasteful luxuries. How can I respect people who place such a high value on name brands that less than 5% of the world can afford? The simple answer is, I cannot.

As I settle back home, I face the reality that I need new friends. I cannot get sucked into a society that places so much value on brands and financial well-being over compassion and empathy. I want to live a life of simplicity and place emphasis on the needs of others and what I can do the make the world a better place. 

The day at the ashram

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Being a spiritual being I decided to check into an asharm in Ubud, Bali. I expected to find some sort of enlightenment or spiritual awakening that you read about in yogi books or watch Julia Roberts experience on “Eat Pray Love”; I didnt. I checked in and was pisssed that they told me I could not eat in my room. I brought Oroes…. Hello, how is a woman supposed to survive without snacking on a few oreos. Second, I missed the 5AM meditation.. (Strike two for me right?) After waking up at 9AM, I thought I would take a dip in the “healing pool” that the website advertised. As I made my way down to the pool I noticed all of the glares from other devotees, probably from missing the morning meditation. Then I saw the pool….. Clearly healing pools do not use chlorine so that means that there is extra bacteria growth…. Maybe that is what “heals” others, but I was not letting my little toe touch that infested water. Then the bell for lunch went off. I made my way to the dining hall only to find out I was excluded from lunch because I did not place my order twenty four hours in advance… Then I left…

 

I was not cut out for ashram life. I stayed in an ashram for 24 hours. As embarrassing as it is I believe it makes a great tale ;p So whats the take away, if you are going to an ashram wake up for meditation, order meals, and dont take oreos as snacks ! 

Cat Mountain, Taipei

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Cat Mountain or Mao Kong Mountain outside of Taipei is a fantastic day trip. It is one of the hipster cafe, art, and outdoor activities that is tucked away that many locals enjoy. Previously many tea houses were located here, since it is close to the tea growing fields of Taipei; but as costumers stopped coming, cafe owners abandoned shop, and left their domesticated cats. Luckily for us, some people have taken in the cats, feed the strays, and have art galleries and cafes surrounded around the cats. (If you dont like cats sitting by you as you eat waffles this might not be the place for you)

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Our destination for the day was the 217 Cafe. This cafe houses a famous Taiwanese tabby cat, who has been featured in local magazine and has a best selling book. On that particular day they were featuring the artist Pepe Shimada. Pepe is a local artist who’s oil paintings are of cats doing funky things. He also sells cat accessories and screen prints. 

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After having brunch and viewing the collection, we enjoyed the surreal surroundings. The cafes are tucked away on the side of a mountain, so you can view a panoramic 360 view of mountains, gardens, and tea plantations. 

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