The incident quickly revealed some differences between American and Taiwanese culture. I didn’t love the photo used in the story. When I showed the story and photo to friends/family back at home, their response went something like, “Oh it’s not that bad!” When I showed Taiwanese people the story and photo, the responses were, “Why do you look fatter and older?” and “That is a very bad photo, why do you look like that?”
Varying angles aside, my time here in Taiwan has been interesting. My Taipei neighborhood had some sort of hawk store, or medicinal hawk facility, I’m honestly not sure what the place actually was but there were hawks involved. It was a bizarre sight to pass every day for about two weeks.
I piggybacked on my friendship with Bangkok-living Taiwanese cool girl Etty (check out her blog) and stayed with her family in a few different cities to get a taste of real life in Taiwan. My first stop was Taichung to meet her parents, Judy and Pi-Jay Liu.
The Liu family takes hospitality to another level. I was welcomed beyond belief, not only given a place to stay but treated to feast after feast, whisked away to sightseeing destinations, introduced to new friends. I couldn’t have been more taken care of (or full).
After a few days of being fed to maximum capacity (and then some), I took the train to Taiwan’s east coast, first to do research for a story in Yilan, and next to Hualien where I was shepherded by Etty’s cousin, Eric.
It was so nice to be shown around different places by locals who are obviously much better at navigating Taiwan than I ever will be. I can now say I’ve eaten chicken feet, worn a Taiwanese aboriginal outfit, visited a Taiwanese elementary school. None of that would have been possible without the generosity of Etty and her kind, friendly family.
Taiwan’s high-speed train situation has made it really easy to hunt down Etty’s family all over the country. One day sweating your way through a night market in the southwest, and the next morning you’re sweating in the mountains clear across the island nation (see also: it’s humid AF here).
On a less cheerful note, somewhere in the whirlwind of my first weeks here I got sick and still haven’t recovered. This happened the last time my Asia trip was coming to a close; maybe my body is just rejecting the idea of going back to America.
I decided to cut my east coast exploration short and return to Taipei early to heal. Fresh air is great, but I’m a city person and feel more relaxed in a bustling metropolis. The end of the trip is closing in on me quickly. With less than a week until I fly to California, I’ll cram in some more work while I’m here and try to reflect on the three months abroad (conveniently glossing over the shortcomings, of course).
tl;dr – (ﾉ◕ヮ◕)ﾉ*:･ﾟ✧ I LOVED SEOUL!!! Now I’m in Taiwan for 3 weeks.
I did not want to leave Seoul this morning.
It was raining and I had this feeling of dread as I walked through the terminal to my gate. The kimchi withdrawals were already beginning to kick in.
The overwhelming sadness was not helped by the fact that I had just spent the night sleeping in the airport on a bench for just 4 hours.
While I had intended on rounding out my Korea trip the same way it began (lounging in the Incheon Airport spa), things did not pan out the way I’d hoped.
I got to the spa at midnight and the place was fully booked. The train back to the city had already stopped running for the night, so I trudged through the airport until I found a decently cushioned row of chairs to curl up on.
At 5 am, I woke up to the shrieking sound of packaging tape being wrapped around luggage. A huge group travelers chatted loudly about whatever there is to chat about at 5 am. I heaved my backpack on and checked into my Taipei flight.
I hadn’t expected to love Korea, and I definitely didn’t expect that I was going to LoOooOooooOooooOooOoove Seoul. It actually hurt to pass through immigration.
It didn’t matter whether I was eating tteokbokki alone at a restaurant or drinking soju with new friends, I loved nearly every moment of my time in Korea.
The city is so livable and interesting. The food is weird and incredible. The public transportation is thorough and convenient — even if I did manage to mess up every time I took it.
Speaking of getting lost, I botched the one big sightseeing adventure I attempted in Korea. Getting to the DMZ, the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea, was a true nightmare.
For those headed wanting to visit the DMZ themselves, here’s a step by step guide to doing it wrong:
Step one– Get lost at Seoul’s main train station. Literally run around the massive station trying to catch a 9:20 am train. Ask for help. Get conflicting information from every employee. Do this for one hour.
Step two – On the verge of crying, finally get on the right train to Munsan Station. After about an hour of travel, get off the train at Munsan and walk to the bus stop. Twenty minutes later, get on a bus to Imjingang Station.
Step three – Get off the bus at the wrong stop. Note: The key to this step is to not know you are at the wrong stop.
Step four – Walk around the ghost town of a stop and feel like giving up. Try to find a ticket booth you saw on some travel blog. Stare at the buildings and notice that nothing is written in English. Feel like a failure.
Step five – Open up Google maps, tell yourself that you won’t wasted 4 hours of your life only to give up on your DMZ dreams now. Start walking along the highway toward Imjingang Station. Don’t cry.
Step six – Hail the taxi that comes along, as though by magic. Show him your Google Map and understand exactly zero of his Korean. Sit back and revel in the air conditioning.
Step seven – Get dropped off at the wrong place. (In lieu of steps 6 & 7, maybe just light your money on fire instead. Same result.)
Step eight – Seek out help from a kind Korean man working at a kiosk. Sort of understand him and start walking down the highway again.
Step nine –MAKE IT TO THE DMZ PARKING LOT!!!! Be weirded out by the amusement park blasting Justin Bieber music. Find the ticket booth and pay for a tour of the DMZ.
Step ten – Get on a tour bus. Realize you’ve just committed to a 3 hour tour. Feel overwhelmed.
Step eleven – Look with your very own eyes at the southernmost part of North Korea. Walk through tunnels that the North Koreans built to try to infiltrate after the Korean war. Feel lucky to be there, but feel exhausted.
Step twelve – Take one bus and two trains back to Seoul. Mess up twice.
So visiting Korea wasn’t a piece of cake, but it was a dream – a dream I am sad to wake up from. I could honestly see myself living in Seoul, getting lost on the subway every day and consoling myself with Korean desserts.
But that chapter of this trip is over. It’s time to enjoy Taiwan, even if it has a hard act to follow.
tl;dr – My mom came to Asia and we went to Vietnam. Now I’m alone in Korea.
Last week in Hoi An, a 52-year-old woman named Tina playfully slapped my cheeks and called me a baby.
She had wrangled my mom and I into her shop to remove our unwanted peach fuzz (lady facial hair), and now she was using the threading technique to rip the fine follicles out of my jowls. I was wincing and maybe almost crying. It hurt, a lot.
When she finished torturing me, she slathered on some face cream said to make the hair “never come back again.”
She had quoted us 100,000 Vietnamese Dong (the currency in Vietnam, about $4.50 US) for the painful service, and in the end demanded 800,000 for me, 600,000 for my mom. The only thing I hate more than peach fuzz is getting hustled.
I saw it coming but didn’t think we’d get charged 8x more (I didn’t think I had so much facial hair either). It wasn’t the first time I’ve been hustled, and it sure as hell won’t be the last! We paid Tina and took our waxy, smooth faces back into the insane Hoi An heat.
The face cream she applied ended up giving a bad red, raised, rash that lasted nearly a week. Also, the hair is coming back already.
Scams aside, my mom and I had a great trip in Vietnam for about a week and a half, splitting our time between Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and Hoi An. The country is rich with history, good food, addictive coffee.
My mom fought jet lag well and was always more energetic than me to go out and see the sights, even though it was almost 100 degrees every day with 80% humidity.
We were up every morning to go jog around Hoàn Kiếm Lake, out and about every afternoon trying not to get hit by scooters in the crazy traffic.
One of the best parts of the trip was our overnight boat excursion to Ha Long Bay. It’s just as beautiful as the Google Images make it out to be.
We swam, hiked, sweat, and took 40,000 pictures over the two-day experience. The views were alone were worth the 8 hours (round trip) in a bus to get there.
I also got very lucky in Vietnam, not once, but three times. On our first night there, we’re sitting in a randomly chosen restaurant when who walks in the door? OH I DON’T KNOW, JUST RATATAT!!!!
If you read the last blog post, you may remember that I lost my voice for four days screaming at their show in Bangkok recently. And here are Mike Stroud and Evan Mast in the same restaurant in Hanoi. Stars, they’re just like us!
I had a fangirl panic moment and couldn’t decide whether or not to play it cool, or ask for a photo, or get up and run into their arms. I ended up blurting out some words to them as they walked by our table, saying that I had seen them in Bangkok and now here we all are, or something mediocre.
The real MPV of the conversation was my mom, who made them laugh. They walked upstairs and ate dinner and I was in shock for another few hours.
Lucky situation number two. Still in shock after the whole Ratatat thing, I tell my mom that Bourdain is also in Hanoi that night (so is President Obama, nbd), so we go to his hotel to do some light stalking at the bar. While getting out of the taxi, I thought I slipped my phone into my purse, but it fell instead to the floor, under the seat.
I realized this later, of course. Once we get to the Hotel Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, I go to pull out my phone a few minutes after we’ve been dropped off and realize it is missing. The panic! I run outside of the hotel to see if the taxi driver is still there, maybe waiting for another customer, but he’s gone.
The hotel staff see how distressed I am and ask what’s wrong. I tell them I left my phone in the taxi, and three of them take off running in different directions. I’ve accepted the fact that it’s gone at this point, because Hanoi traffic is insane and there’s no way they’re going to find him.
A few moments later, one of the hotel employees is walking down the street toward me, and he’s not alone. He’s with the taxi driver! He said that he had remembered the license plate number from when we were dropped off, “it’s my job.” The cab driver had gone around the corner where taxis wait for customers.
I was totally stunned for the second time in one night. Also so happy that I could have kissed the guy. I said thank you about 80 times and then 30 more times.
Lucky moment number three: We flew from Danang to Hanoi and then took a cab into the city (it’s a 45 minute ride.) Once we’re checking into the Hotel de L’Opera Hanoi, I realize that I left a small bag that I keep in my larger bag on the plane. Inside that small bag? My wallet with my credit cards, cash, debit card, driver’s license, etc.
I wanted to die. HOW AM I ALLOWED TO BE AN ADULT.
I told the concierge at our hotel and asked if he could call the airlines, the numbers I had tried weren’t working and most of the information was in Vietnamese. He took over for me, and after about 7 calls he told me that they had FOUND THE BAG!!!
The hotel arranged a taxi driver to take us back to the airport and call the right people once we arrived. He did, and we got the bag back fully intact. I gave the concierge a gift and a letter thanking him in addition to the barrage of verbal thank yous.
The moral of the story: everyone in Vietnam is my hero and I (per usual) need to be more mindful.
My mom and I left Vietnam on the same day, but many hours apart. Her flight took off at 11, and mine at 1:45 AM (technically the next day, but you get it).
I said goodbye to her (knowing that I’ll see her again in about a month, which is nice) and spent the day doing some work, killing time at the hotel until it was time to head to the airport.
I left Vietnam humbled, tired, and bloated (there had been a LOT of eating in the past week). Once my flight landed at Incheon International Airport, I didn’t have the energy to take the train into the city. Instead, I paid $12 to use the airport’s Korean spa.
Best spent $12 of my life! I soaked in hot tubs, cold pools, sweat out the exhaustion in the sauna and steam room, then slept for 4 hours on a thin cushion in the napping room.
I finally left the airport and made it to the heart of Seoul. I put my stuff down at the traditional Korean guesthouse I’m staying at, and started walking around the city. I have been here once before, but only for a 10 hour layover.
This place is nuts and reminds me a lot of Tokyo. I think I’m going to like it here, despite feeling very lost already.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
I’ve experienced a wildly swinging pendulum of emotions these past four days. India has been so much more intense than I predicted.
All of the pre-trip reading I did made me pretty anxious about spending time in New Delhi alone before my friends joined me a few days later. Nothing sold the country as a dream destination for women, especially women traveling solo. I arrived to New Delhi on Wednesday night on high alert and got a taxi to my hostel. It was pouring rain when the cab driver started to slow down in one of the sketchiest neighborhoods I’ve ever been in.
I thought to myself, “This has to be a mistake.“
Stops Hostel, said TripAdvisor reviews, was “great,” an “Oasis in Delhi” with “excellent staff” and I found it to be none of those things. The hostel was located in a bleak part of Darya Ganj, and even in the dark of night, I could tell that this was not a neighborhood I should be in alone.
In the morning, I was able to confirm that yes, yes this wasn’t a choice pick of locations for a solo lady. Darya Ganj was a clusterf*** of haphazard construction where I saw the sadness of abject poverty in full light. I also saw a fully nude man casually strolling in the street. I didn’t arrive in Delhi expecting to find San Francisco, but I had booked this particular hostel expecting to be in a safe location.
Although the hostel itself seemed safe with security guards, I wasn’t loving the place. The front desk staff turned out to be cold and inhospitable. I had booked an all-girls dorm, yet on my second night my roommate was a 30+ year old man lounging around the room in nothing but a bath towel for way too long. I couldn’t handle the dodgy area, the front desk staff’s demeanor, or the unreliable WiFi, so I ended up booking a private room at Moustache Hostel in the GK-1 neighborhood.
I spent the next few nights in a little 2nd floor studio apartment reached by a quaint spiral staircase. The place was perfect, and free of semi or fully nude men.
So things were off to an interesting start from the get go with the accommodation issues. Day one I spent shopping for India-appropriate garb, adjusting to the culture, and meeting with locals who could help me with some Delhi-focused stories for Munchies.
For one such story, I needed to find a place in Old Delhi’s Chawri Bazar called Jain Coffee House. On day two, I set out to try Jain’s mango and paneer sandwiches. One metro trip, three failed rickshaw rides, and two and a half hours walking in the rain later, I finally found Jain hiding in an alley.
I approached the counter and asked about the sandwiches, to which the staff simply replied “no.” I was confused. No sandwiches now? No sandwiches ever? The language barrier made it impossible to find out what the actual f happened to the sandwiches. I was obviously killing it my first 24 hours in Delhi.
I spent the next 15 minutes simmering in my failure over a cup of their excellent chai tea.
The rest of days two and three I filled trying to research a story on a popular snack beloved by Delhi residents. The momo is a dumpling that originated from the Tibetan Plateau, so I went to different Tibetan colonies and Nepalese restaurants stuffing my face with the doughy spheres, Delhi Belly be damned! A highlight of the trip so far was being welcomed into the kitchen of Big Apple restaurant in Majnu-Ka-Tilla Tibetan refugee camp to photograph the pre-cooked momos.
When I’m wasn’t thinking about dumplings, I kept finding myself wondering, “where are all the women?” On the streets, there are so few women out and about. There are very few on the metro (compared to the number of men), even in the women-only cars. Most of the vendors I come across are guys. I guess I get it; being in public as a lady isn’t very comfortable when you have men shamelessly stone-cold staring at you. I feel it myself and watch the way other local women get thoroughly stared at from every angle.
There’s also a clear reason for those all-women metro trains. During rush hour I was waiting in line (with other women) to board a co-ed train when a man placed his forearm on me like he was trying to get in between my butt cheeks. When I tried to move away, he moved with me, readjusting to make sure he got his arm right back in there. I pivoted and he pivoted. Finally I just power walked to a wall and put my back to it, forcing him to choose between continuing to harass me or miss the train. He left me alone.
Despite the unfortunate issues related to the country’s patriarchal culture, not everyone is the aggressive metro offender or the leering pedestrian. I have met really great Indian men (and women) who have been more than welcoming and helpful. In a city of 9.8 million people, you are bound to find bad apples in with the good.
Ending on a good note, I’ve had the pleasure of eating some damn good Indian delights even though I’m worried about getting Delhi Belly. I have this very unscientific theory that I’m less likely to get sick from Indian sweets, so I’ve had my fair share of gulab jamun, laddu, and the sweet mother of all street desserts, jalebi. Thus far, my theory seems to be working out although I am on a sure path to diabetes, obesity, and toothache ( #WorthIt ).
Tomorrow is a new day, and we’re are headed to Agra to see the ol’ Taj Mahal before trekking north to Shimla, Kasol, and Manali. Outside of Delhi, I’m sure India will continue to surprise, shock, and delight, and I can’t wait to find out.
Getting sidelined with a cold pulled me out of my dreamy Bali tunnel vision. For the past two plus weeks, I’ve done almost the same thing every day and it’s been a great fortnight – possibly the best I’ve ever had. It doesn’t feel like real life at this point. My Groundhog Day existence looks like this (but subsitute a frustrated Bill Murray for a happy Bill Murray):
Early Morning – Wake up with the sunrise, go jogging (or change my mind and sleep in), eat breakfast at my hostel, slather my body with multiple coats of 110 SPF sunscreen
Morning – Walk down to the beach, go surfing (see also: attempt to surf), hang out, drink coffee, go surfing again (continue wiping out), drink a fresh coconut
Late Afternoon – Head home, shower, maybe nap, go to a cafe/restaurant to eat and write
Evening – Go out for drinks or go to bed early – like 9 pm early – maybe eat yogurt and granola on my bed
Then I got sick, and suddenly I couldn’t do the things I’ve been doing for like 16 days straight. Stopping the routine made me realize that holy f, almost three weeks has passed and I have done WAY LESS than I planned on doing. I feel like I just got here. How did time fly by that fast? What happened!? I wanted to file way more stories, see way more places, try way more restaurants.
Even though my days aren’t filled with the sort of variety I predicted, one perk is that they have been filled with damn good meals. Indonesian food is a dream; it’s so good that I haven’t missed Thai food yet. One of the dishes I’ve eaten is so incredible, I wrote about it for Vice.
Ok, so more reflecting on life after leaving Bangkok.
It has been interesting adjusting to backpack life. I thought that by packing 95% black clothing, it would be easier to wear the same thing all the time. Instead, I feel more like a gothic outfit repeater in a sea of Bali’s well-dressed beach goddesses.
All I want to do is surf or sit on the beach (go figure), so it’s harder than predicted to be proactive with my freelance work. By the time I do get to a cafe to write I’m exhausted from an active day in the sun.
Once I got sick, I had the chance to take a step back and reexamine my productivity game plan (aaaand see that something needs to change). As I recover from the cold, I’m trying out new routines to coax myself into working more while still soaking up ample beach time. (Insert quote here about life lessons or progress or something, idk)
So what next? I have about two weeks left in Bali until I fly to India where I’ll spend nearly three weeks stuffing my face with naan while simultaneously trying to avoid Delhi belly. Once I’m healthy, I imagine I’ll fall back into the surf-eat-surf-repeat routine until I wake up one morning and have to catch my flight. I booked a ticket back to Bali after India so I can come back and do more of the same, this time with my mom who will be visiting me again.