I can’t believe 2016 is over, and how all over the place it was. I spent time in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico, and rediscovered my love for California and the United States. I survived missed flights and parking tickets, and put out some work I’m proud of. Here’s a look at some of my favorite stories from the year:
[Los Angeles Magazine] How to Drink Scotch Like Anthony Bourdain – The most terrifying interview I’ve ever conducted. I was in a sheer panic the week leading up to meeting and interviewing my idol. I ended up only using 9 of the 15 minutes I was allotted with him. Not my best interview, not even close, but a priceless learning experience.
[Food Network] The Best Things to Eat In California – It was fun driving up and down California in my Jeep to research this story for FoodNetwork.com. After spending time in Asia, I loved taking time to explore my home state and its culinary treasures.
[VICE Munchies] Singapore’s Cocktail Scene is on Fire – I only had a handful of days to spend in Singapore staying with a friend’s parents, so researching this story was frenzied. Running around town finding speakeasies and meeting the city’s most influential bar industry players was a great way to take in the Singapore sights without feeling like a tourist.
[VICE Munchies] Why Chef José Andrés Wants You to Eat Old Meat – It was surreal to be in Vegas sandwiched in a booth with José Andrés for nearly two hours of wine drinking, meat tasting, and industry talking for this story on eating mature livestock.
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).
So a recap of what’s happened in this past month here in Southeast Asia:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – After 6 months in the USA, I’m back in Asia (Not for very long)
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.
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.
Before that new chapter of full-time LA life begins, I’ll revel in this Asia Rumspringa and file as many stories as possible—and 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.
It’s been exactly one week of officially being a “digital nomad” (also, I wish there was a less tech bro term I could use for the new life. e-Hobo maybe?). It was sad to leave the great job and fun team, but I was so so so happy to leave the desk.
Goodbye desk – I hated you with great disproportion, sorry for being weird!
After my last day at the magazine, I made my way to Chiang Mai via overnight bus and woke up in the north. I think because I know I’m parting ways with Bangkok, I was much quicker to miss it even though I had only been gone less than 24 hours. Possible red flag that I’m leaving the city too soon?
Haley and I headed to Chiang Dao where we just could not get over how beautiful and green the area was. We just kept shouting “WOW” and laughing in disbelief. We stayed in a very natural and honeymoon-y place, complete with goats used to keep the grass in check and hammocks.
We spent one of the afternoons literally crawling around the Chiang Dao caves with an old Thai woman and a lantern. The caves are a must visit unless you hate bats and are claustrophobic. Fortunately, Haley and I were a-ok with nocturnal vermin and small spaces, so the tour was a win.
The Chiang Dao weekend was also spent exploring temples, soaking up incredible views, and hitting up a local karaoke bar thanks to a kind invitation from a Thai bar owner. She was nice enough to bring us farangs along with her for the night, not just Haley and me but three Canadians as well.
Unfortunately despite the woman’s generosity, two of the Canadians turned out to be total d-bags who slurred misogynistic obscenities, made racist jokes, and had terrible taste in music. Note to self: never trust a Canadian. Just kidding, but it was a bummer.
On Wednesday, I hopped on a plane to Cambodia. The place is so ridiculously close to Thailand, but I hadn’t been yet and needed to check it out while it was still easy. Most people don’t recommend staying more than a day or two in Phnom Penh, but I decided to stay four days in Cambodia’s capital.
Working from a cafe in Phnom Penh looked a lot like working from any other coffee shop in the world, except that my view was of carriage-like Khmer tuk tuks weaving through traffic. Like in Thailand, it was insanely hot in Cambodia and it was overall very unpleasant to walk around. Dripping in sweat, I strolled around the Grand Palace slowly and explored the chaotic streets of the city. In the scorching haze, I tried to make sense of Phnom Penh, its many donut shops and napping taxi drivers.
My second night in the city, I got straight HUSTLED. It was such a classic scam that it’s actually super embarassing to even talk about. I was waiting to meet up with a friend and decided to pass the time at a bar called Howie’s.
I liked the bar immediately. It was divey, playing Grouplove one minute and the Beatles the next. The bar staff was very friendly and we played games like Connect Four and a Thai dice game, and it was fun! So fun that I didn’t get the vibe that I was being taken for a damn FOOL.
I should have noticed something was off when the girls kept wanting to take shots and asking me if it was ok. Of course it’s ok! You’re an adult, drink away! I didn’t get the hint that this meant I was the financial backer of these shots. I took a few myself, but encouraged them to keep going on without me. When my friend showed up, I asked for the bill.
My dinners in Phnom Penh had been no more than $5, taxis cost $2, beers are about $2, I was staying in a place for $6 a night. So when I saw that my merriment came with a price tag of $51, you could say I was shocked. IDIOT!!!!!! Perhaps the best part of the whole thing was that I tweeted “A friendly staff is dangerous. Howie’s #PhnomPenh#Cambodia“ thinking that I would drink too much because of their kindness. Poetic.
As though I wasn’t taken advantage of enough, one of the bar girls pulled me aside after I paid my bill and said “let me go ask my boss if I can come with you!” As a fan of making new friends, I saw nothing wrong with having the girl come along. She linked arms with me after her boss gave her the go ahead, and we walk outside with another girl who wanted to come too.
My friend Ethan and his coworker looked at me in horror/confusion. What is going on? They asked. They want to come with us, I said. As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized how ridiculous the situation was – me standing there with two girls in bar uniforms hanging on me. They informed me that these girls were expecting me to pay for them to drink, that they were still on the clock, and that I was going to have to tell them to go back to Howie’s.
As a person who avoids conflict at all costs, I just couldn’t tell the girls to leave. One ducked out of the scenario before we got to our destination, but the other stayed with us and drank one beer that I bought her. It was weird, and I learned my lesson.
Now I’m spending my last full day in Phnom Penh reeling from the tequila and working from yet another cafe – and by working I mean writing this blog post in an act of procrastination. I’m trying to tell myself that the macrobiotic rice bowl will help my hangover. I had intended to go to the Killing Fields today, but slept in until 12 and will just have to go get my dose of depressing history tomorrow before I fly back to Bangkok.
In just a few days, I’ll be officially homeless and hopefully happy in Bali, living with the decision to leave Thailand. Only time will tell.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
TL;DR – I’m starting a new career, things are good
Ambition is downloading the Thai keyboard for your iPhone before moving to Thailand. Reality is the guilt that stems from switching to the English keyboard every time you open up your phone.
I thought I’d be texting and Googling in Thai by now, but that is 0% the case. Nearly six months in Bangkok and I can get around in a cab, order some food (incorrectly) and count. I definitely dropped the ball on the whole fluency thing. When I first moved here, I talked a lot of shit on farang who didn’t learn Thai. I preached about how rude it was to waltz into a country and not attempt to speak the local language. Lo and behold, here I am doing exactly what I openly chastised. In English, that’s what we call a hypocrite. Who knows what they call it in Thai.
Big changes for me over here in Bangkok. In March, I’m getting out of public relations and joining the Burda International‘s Prestige magazine as as a full-time writer. Backstory: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but never thought it was a viable career option. I listened to people foreshadow the death of journalism for years and figured that even if it did survive, I didn’t have a chance in the industry. When I finished school, I got into public relations because it was safe, not because I particularly loved sending out press releases. See also – sell out.
I moved to Bangkok and did more of the same. My job at HotelQuickly was a blend of PR and copywriting, but at the end of the day I was still doing public relations instead of journalism.
Suddenly I found the motivation to change things. DON’T SQUANDER THIS FLEETING, PRECIOUS LIFEwas my main takeaway from the accident. I could only blame myself for not going after the life I wanted, so I actively pursued paid and unpaid writing gigs in my spare time.
I’d been freelancing for Vice Munchies, Coconuts Bangkok, and Lifestyle Asia for a while when Prestige came to me with a dream job offer. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to grow as a writer and finally pursue a lifelong passion.
Don’t get me wrong, being a publicist was a great learning experience, and so working for HotelQuickly. Being a part of the Southeast Asian startup scene was exciting and the job was challenging. The team treated me like family, made me feel welcome here, held my bleeding skull together, etc. I can’t thank everyone at the company enough.
So now things are really falling into place. I have a new visa, new work permit, and a lot to look forward to in the coming months. Tonight, I’ll take an overnight train to Chiang Mai to see Haley and drink a lot of coffee. Next week I’ll be heading to Myanmar to spend time in Yangon and write some things for Vice. Time permitting, I’ll make a trip to Mawlamyine and check out an old, old distillery there. If anyone has any Myanmar tips, please shoot them my way.