Malaysia/Singapore/Thailand/Laos

TL;DR – After hopping around, I’m back in Bangkok and running out of money. 

Well my hair seems to be falling out. Maybe it’s because I spent the past few days in Laos washing my hair with bar soap (thanks, shampoo-less guesthouse!) or maybe it’s because I’m stressing out about my financial situation. The money’s low, my dudes!

No shock there, although it’s still somehow a shock. In my last post, I talked about hemorrhaging money. Instead of turning that around, I decided to not do that and keep on balling out of control. Going to Malaysia and Singapore did not help, and it didn’t help to go on a spontaneous trip to Laos either. Still happy to have those experiences, I guess?

Allegedly I get paid on the 20th, so all should be well (for a while).

One of many delicious street eats in Penang, Malaysia: Char kway teow.
One of many delicious street eats in Penang, Malaysia: Char kway teow.

So a recap of what’s happened in this past month here in Southeast Asia:

Malaysia

Seeing Tame Impala in Kuala Lumpur was AMAZING. I’ve never been to a concert where so many people were diehard fans before. Everyone was screaming all of the lyrics, jumping and dancing like maniacs. Unreal. After a week in KL, I took the train to Penang where the joys of street food eating were only slightly lessened by the painful, painful heat.

Cutie doorways of Penang.
Cutie doorways of Penang.

Singapore

Singapore was a completely different ballgame. I loved how clean and modern it was, but it was way too expensive for a person of my means. Fortunately, a friend’s family opened up their home to me, even going so far as to cook me delicious Indian meals daily. I will be forever grateful for their kindness! I worked on some stories for Munchies and got the F out of the city as fast as possible.

Big old modern Singapore.
Big ol’ modern Singapore.

Bangkok 

I moved into a little apartment in Bangkok for the month of May and love it. I seem to be an oddity in my new neighborhood. Not many foreigners, in these parts, so when I walk down the road, I’ll hear people say “Farang! Farang!”(foreigner) then turn to stare at me. At first it was a little off-putting, but now we have a neighborhood camaraderie going on. Everyone says hello, people ask me where I’m going, try to speak Thai with me. I wish I was staying here longer, it’s a fun community.

The happenings of my temporary Bangkok neighborhood.
The happenings of my temporary Bangkok neighborhood.

I got back from Singapore just in time for RATATAT TO PLAY IN BANGKOK. Even though Ratatat is one of my favorite bands, I didn’t realize how excited I was for the show until we arrived at RCA Live.

We waltzed up to the front row, no one put up a fight. In fact, there was a huge space in the front, so huge that we wondered if people were allowed to stand there. It turns out, we WERE allowed to stand there, and we did! Ratatat warmed up in front of us, and I started losing my mind. RATATAT IS STANDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, WARMING UP FOR A SHOW. 

Then the show started, and I lost whatever part of my mind was left.

Pregaming for Ratatat with Korean fried chicken, pizza, and Thai beers.

I’ve never had such a weird reaction to a concert. Because Ratatat doesn’t have any lyrics to their songs, and because I was SO SO SO SO SO SO EXCITED, I just started screaming. Lunatic fan screaming. “What is wrong with this person?” screaming. The rest of the crowd seemed to be pretty calm, perhaps wondering what the actual F was happening to the farang in the front row.

WELL HI, MIKE STROUD. YOU'RE JUST STANDING RIGHT THERE, HUH???
WELL HI, MIKE STROUD. YOU’RE JUST STANDING RIGHT THERE, HUH???

After the show, as though it was the most normal thing in the world, I MET RATATAT AND DIED. Just had a normal conversation like no big deal. I don’t even remember most of what we talked about because of the adrenaline. I do remember Evan Mast mentioning going to a friend’s wedding in Sicily.

I lost my voice from all of the wild screaming and could barely speak for the next four days.

In between story writing and Ratatat fawning, I’ve been loving my newly-minted GuavaPass subscription. It’s like ClassPass in the US, but for Asia and Dubai. It’s allowed me to get into Muay Thai, get back into yoga, kill myself at kettle bell classes. The app is a life saver. There’s no way I’m working out outside in this heat, and I rarely walk anywhere. Without GuavaPass, I’d be a sweaty, sedentary blob.

Yoga with a view, thanks GuavaPass!
Yoga with a view, thanks GuavaPass!

Laos

I’m still not sure if Laos was real. What I saw in Luang Prabang was unbelievable. It’s an hour flight from Bangkok, but you feel like you’re stepping back decades. No skyscrapers, just lush scenery and a slower pace of life. The Kuang Si Falls are stunning. No complaints when it came to Laotian food either.

Is this real? Laos, are you a dream?
Is this real? Laos, are you a dream?

I would have loved to stay in Luang Prabang for weeks (despite the struggling WiFi situation). But Bangkok was calling, and, as mentioned before, the money was/is running low. I needed to get back to a more productive routine.

Back in Bangkok

Only one week left here in Bangkok. I happen to be leaving the week that the “hot season” is finally breaking. The heat wave is over, and rainy season is kicking off. It’s been HISTORICALLY SCORCHING since I got here, every day in April hit at least 100 degrees. But I lived to tell the tale!

Anyway, now it’s time (but really…) to be productive and get some more invoices going. Freelance writing is like a marathon, and I keep taking excessive water breaks.

Spicy AF Thai street food, bountifully available in my neighborhood.

On Monday, I’ll be meeting my traveler extraordinaire mother in Vietnam for a week of fun in the sun (protected by layers and layers of sunscreen). Once we part ways, I’ll be headed to Korea and Taiwan.

I booked a flight back to the United States, and I booked it on the Fourth of July. If that isn’t patriotism, I don’t know what is.

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Latest Stories:

Sleepless in Malaysia

TL;DR – I’m in Malaysia feeling productive and sometimes lost. 

Moving slowly on this first morning in Malaysia after a night of tossing and turning. Poor sleeping aside, it’s fun and challenging to be in a new city again.

I flew from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur yesterday to come see Tame Impala play on Saturday. Walked around KL’s Chinatown and found a popular street food spot for dinner. Ate durian ice cream. All very standard tourist stuff for day one, nothing groundbreaking. Just trying to figure out what KL is all about. 

Jalan Alor happenings in Kuala Lumpur.
Jalan Alor night happenings in Kuala Lumpur.

I’ve been back in Asia for a little more than two weeks, but it feels like WAY LONGER. My time spent in Bangkok was pretty productive for arriving right before the Songkran holiday (four days of nonstop water fighting to celebrate the Thai new year). Happy to be churning out more stories lately.

Bangkok mang's.
Bangkok mang’s.

Writing a second blog post has been a challenge. I’ve started different drafts with wildly different tones depending on the day. I’m striking while the iron is hot – or rather, while I’m feeling more positive about the whole situation. My last draft was filled with a lot of WHAT AM I DOING HERE in both the immediate and the broad sense.

Well, what am I doing here? The plan had been to come over here, write, travel around, see old friends, etc. Then TAXES HAPPENED. This was my first year paying my taxes as a freelancer and the amount I owed was way higher than I imagined it would be. A chunk of my savings has now vanished, so instead of floating around Asia as I had hoped, I’m going to spend more time lying low in Bangkok.

I need to stop hemorrhaging money on things like massages, too.

Wut. #Bangkok.
Wut. #Bangkok.

OK, the cry baby is going to stop crying (and apparently start writing in the third person??) and go back out into the Kuala Lumpur torrential downpour and eat some roti.

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Latest Stories:

Backpacking – Part Two

TL;DR – After 6 months in the USA, I’m back in Asia (Not for very long)

mapppp

Yesterday I stood in line at the skytrain station and tried to tell myself to calm down. I wasn’t going to die from being this hot, but HOLY F IT WAS SO HOT. The combination of oppressive heat, dense humidity, and the slight burn of bug spray on my neck was coming together in a near panic-inducing way.

I stared at the cashier’s computer as she processed my ticket, occasionally pulling out a spare sock I brought along to wipe the sweat out of my eyes. By the time she handed me my new pass, sweat was rolling down my legs too and I just wanted to get the F on the train.

Bangers

Dealing with the heat in Southeast Asia is a Catch-22. Power walk to get to the intensely air-conditioned train, and you’re going to warm your body up. Walk slowly to the train and you’ll endure the wrath of the tropical climate longer. You can’t win.

So I’m back in Bangkok.

After floating around in a lazy limbo for the past six months in America, I wanted to come back to Asia and do some freelance writing and exploring again. Because this trip will only last a few months, coming here hasn’t felt as momentous as it did when I left for Thailand in 2014. This isn’t a move, this is a trip.

Maybe that’s the reason my emotions feel stunted on this return, or maybe it’s jet lag. I got to the Bangkok airport and thought “yep, this is it.” I barely looked out the window during my taxi ride into the city. I’d like to let go of the stresses of the motherland (i.e. what the f am I going to do with the rest of my life?) and focus on enjoying every moment of being over here. I think some Thai street food will help with that.

After hopping between Thailand, Malaysia, and some other nearby countries, my ultimate plan is to go back to California by July and post up permanently (or semi-permanently) in Los Angeles. I loved being so close to my sister and new brother-in-law (who just married each other last month, mazel tov!) and I miss having roots somewhere. It was fun being an expat once upon a time, but I’d rather be a regular pat right now.

Photo by Sarah Falugo (@sarahfalugophotography)
#CCMB4EVA – Photo by Sarah Falugo (@sarahfalugophotography)

Before that new chapter of full-time LA life begins, I’ll revel in this Asia Rumspringa and file as many stories as possibleand by file as many stories as possible, I mean spend 97% of the time looking for air-conditioning.

Some people have asked me how I have been able to do this, just pick up and travel. It seems so glamorous! But I’d like to throw out a disclaimer: I am in no way a financially stable adult. I do not have any money saved for retirement, I do not have a steady income (freelancing pays poorly and slowly). I’m still on my parents’ insurance! (#ThanksObama)

I was lucky enough to live rent-free with family in America, and saved some money with freelance jobs. I’m not over here balling out of control; that’s not possible on the ~3k that I have to my name. I stay in a mixture of hostels and hotels (only if I find epic deals), I fly on suspiciously low-budget airlines, and I only own like four outfits. It’s not glamorous, it’s a little risky, but it works for now.

These next few months will be a challenge to work as hard as I can,  build up an arsenal of invoices that can help me get an apartment once I’m back in LA, and experience this beautiful part of the world. Will this be possible? Maybe not. I’m happy to find out.

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Latest stories:

Goodbye, Bangkok!

TL:DR – I quit my job and am leaving Bangkok to be a nomadic freelance writer around Southeast Asia. 

In something of a manic act of spontaneity, I decided to drop the nice little life I’ve built up here in Thailand. In June, I’ll officially swap stability for the great unknown. First stops in this new life as a roving freelancer: North Thailand, Cambodia, Bali, then India.

“Wait, what about your luxury perk-filled job?” “Wait, what about Thai food?” “Wait, what about your friends?”  “Wait, what about money?” “Wait, what the actual F are you doing?”

These may be some of the valid questions you have. This is the second time that I’ve made a snap decision to completely change my life in every way, throwing caution to the wind in one impulsive swoop.

Smart? Maybe not.

Big ol’ Bangkok

This step comes some 8 months after I moved to Bangkok, another relocation that required leaving behind a good thing I had going in San Francisco. The way I’ve been operating these past few years makes me feel like a crazy person. I go through quite a bit to get to a certain point in a career, then have an immediate change of heart. I set a bomb to detonate. I wipe the slate clean. I choose to fall to the bottom of the totem pole, to pass go and not collect $200.

There’s something sickly riveting to me about being dropped back at square one. I have always loved the challenge of finding a job, of overcoming the obstacles of starting fresh. With freelance writing, I get to do just that over and over again. There’s always someplace new to pitch, always a new goal to accomplish. I have to constantly impress editors to make sure they keep paying me to write.

With freelancing, I also don’t have to be a total asshole and quit a job when I get that extreme desire to bounce.

So the latest decision. Here’s what happened:

We (my mom and I) arrived in Bali on a Friday morning after I had just a few hours of sleep (thanks to staying up late freelancing and an early flight time). Even through my grogginess, I could tell that we had landed somewhere special.

LUSH BALI! 

I had been to plenty of Thai beach towns, but something about Bali just mesmerized me. I loved every part of it, even the part when it started to pour rain during a bike ride through Ubud. The island was so green and enchanting, so much more relaxing than the Bangkok grit. The food was great. The beach was great. The jungle was great. The people were great. The climate was great. The music was great. You get the idea.

The thought of leaving was unsettling.

Indonesian goodness

I decided that I needed to come back, and not for a weekend trip. Since vacation time in the real world is so limited, I realized that I’d need to leave my job to spend any real time in Bali. Over the next few days, I slowly made the choice to return to Bangkok, quit my job the following day, and fly back to the Indonesian island a month later.

The move means abandoning a truly fantastic job that I just started (a very f-ed up act on my part, and for doing that to my generous employer I feel horrible), but the idea of not moving feels worse.

Leaving the sweltering chaos of Bangkok a few weeks ago made me realize how exhausted I was. For nearly five months, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends. I’d head to my day job (first at HotelQuickly, then Prestige Magazine), work all day, then go home to do freelance work most nights. On the weekends, I’d chase down stories, edit photos, and write more. Obviously there were many fun nights and weekends that weren’t straight work, but I was getting burnt out.

Nighttime in Bangkok 

Thanks to those months of hustling, I have a nice little chunk of change saved up to afford such a risky move (for a short amount of time at least). So that’s it. I’m taking that risk and saying goodbye to my safe life of routine. I’m pretty confident that I can support myself on my freelance salary (again, at least for a while).

To be honest, a huge motivator for the move is the idea of breaking free from a desk job. I know I must sound like a spoiled Millennial, but I cannot stand being at a desk all day. I feel like a dog on a leash, but more importantly I feel incredibly unhealthy. Rotting away at a desk stresses me out, my body gets rigid and I leave at the end of the day feeling like I need to cry or sprint down the street – and I would too, if it wasn’t so damn hot outside.

Typical Bangkok commute

The thought of leaving a desk job is so exciting to me that I can hardly contain myself. I keep picturing myself jogging down the beach in the morning, going surfing after, posting up at a cafe to write in the afternoon. It sounds like a dream, and one that isn’t too farfetched to make happen.

See also: AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Even though the decision feels good and right, it’s also totally f-ing scary. It’s very possible that things won’t pan out, that I won’t be able to sustain the life financially, that it will be too exhausting to not have a permanent home base. I could fail and have to go crawling back to the United States. I could have my laptop stolen. I could come down with dengue fever. Who knows! The great unknown is terrifying.

Despite the fear, I’m taking the leap and doing it. I’m sad to leave Bangkok, a place that has been so good to me for so long. I can’t really call it the end of an era because it’s only been 8 months. That hardly counts as an era.

On May 29, I’ll finish up my last day of work and make my way north for what may be one last Haley-filled hurrah in Thailand. We’re going to go explore Mae Hong Son where I can hopefully find something to write about and kick off this freelance career I’m betting all of my chips on.

After that, it’s down to Cambodia to finally see Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap. A quick trip back to Bangkok and I’ll make my final preparations to leave the Kingdom. I need to figure out a way to make my life mobile like a backpacker without actually looking like one. If anyone has any advice on being a professional-appearing nomad, please send those tips my way.

To everyone who has made my time in Bangkok so special, thank you.

Five Things

There are certain things I knew I’d love about living in Thailand.

Before I moved here about seven months ago, I knew I would definitely love Thai tea, the beaches, cheap street food, etc., but there are a few wildcards that I couldn’t have predicted.

Along the same lines, there were things that I knew I’d miss about living in San Francisco. I’d obviously miss my loved ones, burritos, and a San Francisco paycheck. Beyond that though, sometimes I get hit with a homesick feeling for the most specific and unexpected things.

Just to vent, below are five examples of each.

Match Kick

Five things I’m surprised to love about life in Thailand

1.Watching muay Thai

2. Using my tiny little broom to sweep my apartment (for reference)

3. Eating street food whole fish

4. Taking classes at the gym taught exclusively in Thai (I’ve never been more motivated to work hard in a class than when an instructor is yelling at me in Thai)

5. Primarily eating with spoons

Five things I didn’t expect to miss about living in SF

1. Riding my bike to work and the pleasure of walking around comfortably (aka not being hot as F any time I move)

2.Getting paid every two weeks

3.Wearing jeans, coats, and scarves

4. Taking the Muni train to Ocean Beach

5. The ability to use a credit card nearly everywhere

Wait, was this real life?
A memory on a San Francisco stoop. Wait, was this even real life?

Humiliation!

CLICHÉ ALERT: Part of the motivation to move abroad was to have an experience that could make me a better person (key word could, because who knows). I thought I’d be faced with challenges, work through them, be forced to operate outside of my comfort zone, and then one day BOOM, you’re changed for the better. So I knew that it would be hard coming into this, but I didn’t know exactly how that difficulty would take shape. Turns out, a good chunk of my experience living abroad is spent feeling humliated. Sometimes it feels like a constant onslaught of humliation, just one cringe worthy dose of awkard terribleness after another.

Thonglor

I’ll give you an example – Living in Thailand seems to be just about the worst thing possible for my skin. I am putting my skin through hell in this tropical sun. The UV rays are one thing, but the real issue is the heat. I’m constantly pouring sweat from all of my pores — really, all of them. I mean it’s almost impressive — and I feel like I’m back in high school with all of the breaking out going on. Every day, I put on makeup to cover up the breakouts, then I sweat off said makeup, put on more makeup (to continue pore clogging!), sweat that makeup off, put more on, and repeat this depressing cycle until I get home.

Even the breakouts aside, the sweating is enough to embarass the F out of me. I get to events for work where elegant Thai ladies in slacks and blazers are functioning gracefully and I am straight up soaking, my wet hair clinging to my face. It’s a delight. They look at me sympathetically as beads of sweat roll down my forehead and I try to escape small talk to run to the bathroom and dry off.

Boatin

Ok so the good thing about feeling constantly humliated is that it really breaks down your ego. If I lost sleep over all of the cringeworthy moments, I would really not be sleeping ever. I’ve gotten to the point where I just have to tell myself, “well, this is happening so you better just roll with it” (or I guess it’s more of a “wow, just kill me. How is this real life?”). I have to accept the awful reality and keep on keeping on.

Ultimately, I survive! I’ve learned that even when I do something and feel completely terrible (like almost die at a company retreat HAHAHA), I make it through the situation and the consequences are usually not as bad as I predict they’ll be. Counterintuitively, my self esteem is getting better the worse that things get. I’m learning how to deal with my body, my personality, my strenghts/weaknesses and it’s all very uncomfortable and very real. The byproduct of this learning is making me a better journalist. I’m less embarassed during interviews I conduct because I’ve let go of hangups I can’t control. I used to think that I wasn’t qualified or worthy of talking to people as a writer and that obviously threw me off before the interview even started. Now that I no longer feel capable of impressing people based on social graces or appearance, I can just focus on being better at a job I love to do.

Hopefully, this is all part of the “becoming a better person” scheme.