One Year in Asia

TL;DR – I’m in Japan and celebrating a year of living abroad

Twelve months ago, I left foggy San Francisco and moved to Asia. I guess it’s fitting that I’m ringing in the milestone in overcast Tokyo.

When I got to Thailand last September, I had one main goal of making it abroad for at least a year. I had this fear that I would crumble financially or emotionally at three months and have to crawl home. I also had this reoccurring nightmare that I’d be on an airplane for a visit to the States and realize “oh my god, I don’t have enough money to get back to Asia” and that would be it, I’d fail the goal.

It’s a little surreal that I made it, especially surreal considering two girls dressed up in Sailor Moon costumes just walk by. You’ll see a lot in Japan.

This post could very easily turn into a mega cliché with me reflecting on this year abroad. I rolled my eyes every time I heard a backpacker talk about his “spiritual journey” and I’ve always been the first person to joke about coming here to “find myself” like the rest of the spoiled western foreigners.

That being said, it turns out there’s a reason that’s such a well-known cliché. It’s not like you set off a floating lantern at a full moon party and suddenly you’re reinvented, but spending a year out of your element challenges you in ways you’d never predict. I’m not even saying I’ve changed in a good way, but I’ve definitely changed. For example:

-I have a backpack full of clothes – and that’s it.

I started this journey (barfs in own mouth)  with just a suitcase and a carry-on bag, then accumulated some things while I spent 9 months in Bangkok. When I decided to hop around freelancing, I gave away everything that didn’t fit into my traveler’s backpack and purse. So wearing the same four things has been new. [Full disclosure – I have some cold weather clothes and apartment furniture stored at my parent’s house. So by “that’s it” that’s not totally it.]

Said backpack in my luxurious Tokyo Airbnb rental
Said backpack in my luxurious Tokyo Airbnb rental

-I’m much more comfortable being alone.

Moving to a city where I didn’t know anyone was a good introduction to solo life, but backpacking around bolstered my confidence operating as a one man wolfpack. Meals alone, movies alone, sightseeing alone, sometimes it’s great and sometimes it is totally depressing. I have to remind myself that there’s nothing wrong with traveling alone. Emile Hirsch looked badass doing it in Into The Wild, so why do I feel like a total loser every now and then? It’s nice to fall back on the security blanket of saying “I’m traveling for work” when I don’t feel like being brave.

-I’ve learned a lot of helpful and useless new things.

For example: During my first week of working at HotelQuickly, my coworker said “and he didn’t even know that Singapore was a country.” I laughed out loud with the rest of the people in the conversation, but in my head frantically noted “OK SINGAPORE IS A COUNTRY AND A CITY, JESUS HOW DID I NOT KNOW THAT WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME.” So that was an important thing to learn. Less important are things like if you don’t take off your shoes in the Gap dressing room in Japan, people are going to yell at you. Or that teens sling their backpacks really low in India.

I could go on, and I’d probably disgust anyone reading this in the process. So I’ll leave it at this – and bear with me while I’m shamelessly gross for like two more sentences – it’s been the best year of my life, even despite the head wound, the loneliness, and the excessive sweating. For anyone debating whether or not to take the plunge and live somewhere new (out of the country or otherwise), do it. Life is short.

Reflecting aside, after a year of being gone, I’m finally going home for a while. Some of the best and worst things to happen to our family happened in August, and I’ll be making my way back to California to spend time with loved ones. At this point, I don’t have a plane ticket out of the States yet. I’m still figuring out what to do next. Until then, I’ll just keep wandering around Tokyo.

Bali Bagus, Again

TL;DR – Bali is still dreamy. My mom came to visit. We went to Lombok. 

After nearly a month in India, returning to Bali felt like being enveloped in a tropical, familiar hug. Everything was sunny and bright. A familiar – or rather familial – face came to join me in Indonesia, my mom, for her fourth time visiting me in Asia this year! I can’t think of many people who would fly almost 70,000 miles in a single year to see me (or maybe it’s just for the cheap massages).

Mom at Green Bowl Beach
Mom at Green Bowl Beach

We spent the first few days relaxing in Seminyak, adjusting to the time zone and working on our licenses to chill. We hired a car to check out a few of South Bali’s best beaches: Green Bowl and Dreamland. Green Bowl was an undeveloped pocket of clear water and white sand, whereas Dreamland was more tourist-friendly with sunny orange beach umbrellas, great surfing, and a restaurant or two.

After frolicking around Seminyak for a while, we hopped on a plane and headed to the Indonesian island of Lombok, Bali’s less developed neighbor. The short flight and drive to Kuta Lombok seemed to transport us back in time. Horse drawn carriages were more plentiful than taxis, there were no street lights.

Slanty hut literally throwing us shade in Kuta Lombok
Slanty hut literally throwing us shade in Kuta Lombok

In Bali, foreigners are no big deal; you can get lost in a sea of white people sporting flip-flops and sunburns. In Lombok, there are markedly less foreigners, and the locals got a kick out of us – particularly when my mom and I went on our morning jogs. On our daily run, we were met with cheers, laughs, waves, and scowls from the locals. The people of Lombok were not exactly outwardly friendly, but after dropping a few Bahasa Indonesia phrases, they instantly broke into smiles.

Lombok is a magnet for surfers, and most of the limited number of tourists were hella gnarly bros. While far from gnarly, I still took the opportunity to surf there as well. Instead of paddling out from the beach, you have to hire a boat to take you out to sea to get to the waves. The session was well worth the effort, it was fun taking the boat ride alone.

En route to Inside Gerupuk (aka Bumbang Bay) to surf
En route to Inside Gerupuk (aka Bumbang Bay) to surf

After our Lombok days were up, we set off back to Bali. Since Mount Raung wouldn’t stop spewing volcanic ash, my mom and I had to take a ferry. We were told the trip would take four hours, but it ended up being an all-day affair.

The hassle began when our “fast boat” was late in a very ambiguous way. After a two-hour car ride to the port, no one could tell us when the boat would arrive. We were ushered from one spot on the jetty to another to wait. It felt pretty stupid to complain about our inconvenience when we were surrounded by twinkling water and a coastline of palm trees. But complain we did, all dozen foreigners stranded on the sun-drenched dock.

A pretty hassle
A tropical pain

An hour and a half past our boat’s departure time and we learned that our ferry had yet to leave its dock on another island. We continued to freckle, burn, and rot on the jetty, clamoring together in limited slivers of shade. As other boats came and went, we all kept squinting into the brilliant blue horizon, straining to see a boat that wasn’t on its way.

At this point, Bali seemed to exist only in our minds like some unobtainable oasis, so close and yet so far. After two hours of sweaty frustration, my mom and I bought new tickets for the next boat we saw. The ferry took us to a town three hours from where we were staying in Bali, but we were just happy to get the F out of Lombok.

At dusk we arrived in the rice field-ed beach town of Canggu, Bali and checked in to The Kirana Bali hotel. This place had the most comfortable bed I’d slept on in weeks and it was just a 10 minute walk to Batu Bolong Beach. We were in close proximity to top-notch eateries like Betelnut Cafe, Le Petit Prince, and Deus Cafe.

Smoked salmon delights at Avocado Cafe in Canggu
Smoked salmon delights at Avocado Cafe in Canggu

So things were good back in Bali. My mom and I spent the rest of her time in town at the beach, massage spots, and bangin’ restaurants. It was fun having a travel buddy for two weeks, and it was sad to say goodbye to my mom when her trip was over.

I’m now entering my third month of the whole e-hobo thing, still adjusting to being semi-nomadic. One outcome of the lifestyle change is that I’m outside much more, which is great for my disposition but maybe not so great for my skin. I know one day a dermatologist will grimace at my weathered face and curse this time in the sun. Wrinkles be damned, I’m having a hell of a time!

Canggu, all rice fields and street art. Also, cows.
Canggu, all rice fields and street art. Also, cows.

Next up, I’ll spend a few days in Jakarta followed by a week in Bangkok before heading to Tokyo. Getting ready for Japan, I’m anxious as F about how expensive it’s going to be. I have been able to manage supporting myself in Southeast Asia, but Japan is a whole different ball game. The cheapest accommodations aren’t even cheap, and allegedly food is also pricey. The trip may be good for my waistline (still bloated from the parantha-filled India adventure), as I may have to starve to make it through the experience (jk that’s unlikely). 

Goodbye again, Bali.