5 countries. 7 flights. 11 new stamps in my passport. a million more reasons to be thankful.
Another Chin.ese Spring Festival has come and gone, leaving me yet again with the feeling that I have "beat the system." A 7 week paid vacation just seems unnatural. Living in a place where travel is incredibly cheap, teachers all over Asia just like me hit the road to experience something new, something different, something life changing. I am no exception (flashback to He's Just Not That Into You. Anyone?)
I am not sure if I will ever attempt solo travel again. I flew to Malaysia where I met up with some old friends, but was basically alone, then traveled by bus to Singapore and stayed there alone, and then met with my usual traveling crew for a week in Thailand.
Malaysia and Singapore were an awesome combined experience as a solo female traveler, but it is something I wouldn't readily sign up for again. Traveling alone, without a phone, and really no clue what was going on was exhilarating, horrifying, and wonderful. I kept the mantra "it's me, G0.d, and the open road" in my head the whole time. I enjoyed moving at my own pace, being completely random with my time, and spending as long as I needed having diarrhea without feeling guilty for hogging the bathroom. But by day 5 I was singing to myself in the Singapore subways, talking to myself on the bus, and narrating my every move as if being watched by a third party. "Jessica is now sitting on a bus alone in Malaysia chatting with a man from Bangladesh. Should she give him her real name? Time will tell..." running through my head all day.
(fyi my name was "Merry" to everyone sketchy that I met and I was always "on the way to meet people" when men asked where I was going. Gotta be smart.)
The solo part of the travel was wonderful though in that it really was the contemplative, self-friend making journey that I had hoped for. I think I became my own friend, learned more about G0d's faithfulness to me, and basically just enjoyed my own company.
When traveling alone you meet a lot of really random, cool people. A few of my most memorable encounters include a businessman from Bangladesh on a bus to the Batu Caves who was earnest in telling me I was going the wrong way (I wasn't) but was precious in his desire to help me find my way (I knew where I was going), my deaf foot massager in Kuala Lumpur who was chastised for writing me notes while she was massaging me asking me questions. I started spelling things to her in sign language and she taught me the alphabet in asian sign language, it's different than ASL! crazy, the Canadian girls in my KL hostel who are only 3 weeks into their year around the world and are still worried about how they look in pictures (precious souls), and the Swedish boys who drunkenly woke me up in my Singapore hostel and scared the crap out of me, only to find they were in the wrong room. I wonder about these people. What brought us all to that corner of the world. I hope they are happy. I hope they are content. Wherever they are now. Without several people helping me along the way who knows where I would be at this point - when traveling alone you depend so much on the honesty and kindness of others for directions, security, and general merriment. It was a good experience.
Once I got to Thailand I was ready for some laughter with people other than myself. And I was meeting the perfect 2 people to provide that entertainment. I cannot say adequately how much I love traveling with those two. This was our 4th big trip together and we just have it down to a rhythm. We joked about how comfortable we had gotten with each other. Waaaay too comfortable to be considered normal or sane. So much so that the 3 of us shared a double bed for 5 nights until we reached Bangkok in order to save money on a hotel room. We had to pretend only 2 people were staying in our hotel, so one of us had to wait while two of us went/ to/left the room and the third person (usually Nick) had to follow a few minutes later. haha. When we boarded a 12 hour overnight bus and had to sleep in seats it felt weird to be away from them. hahaha. Personal space, what does that mean?
Thailand was as picturesque and fascinating as I expected it to be. Despite all that is in the news of instability, I felt safe the entire time. (I actually felt much less safe in Malaysia - weird). Nick has multitudes of extended family in Thailand so we were able to stay with some of his relatives outside Bangkok. It was an interesting experience. After weeks of being independent, it was hard though to adjust to people telling us when to shower and go to bed. We were able to visit a few key points in Bangkok (lovingly called "the Banger" by members of our traveling crew). Everything from the waterways to the temples just sparkled in the sunlight. At one point Jennie told me, "let's take pictures of shiny things!" and that is how I will remember Thailand, by her colors, juicy fresh fruits and blue water. Thailand is hogging up so much of G0.d's artistic ability. It's unbelievably beautiful.
I had a hell-ish return home after flying into Guangzhou rather than Shanghai, getting a fever and missing my bus because of my clock still being on Thailand time. I got another bus, this one being 24 hours, but it was overbooked and I didn't have a bed, I slept in the aisle. Then I got diarrhea and the bus potty was full and so I was squirting onto a full squatty. That was fun. It's those moments when I wonder what I am doing here. Why I put myself through this. Then I remember that I am so blessed to be here, doing what I love and growing in these crazy experiences. It's nice to know what you are capable of - not by your own strength. People really are limitless in their ability to withstand hardship. We only place limits on ourselves, that is what I think.
This trip was fun. I am so glad that it was able to happen so suddenly. Three weeks ago I was in America. Now I am journaling about my travels in Southeast Asia. This is the life I always dreamed of.
I kept wondering if I would want my daughter to do this one day, to pack up a backpack and head off around the world alone with only some plans drawn out on computer paper with a sharpie pen. At first I was like, no way, I would never want my daughter doing the things I do..it would scare the crap out of me. Then I decided, on a bus in Singapore looking for the Lau Pa Sat market, that as soon as my children are in their 20's, they will be free as birds.
And I'll be telling them about that time I was 23 and in Thailand with my awesome travel friends, snorkling with the bright yellow fishies, climbing temples to overlook the Bangkok skyline, and buying boat tickets to anywhere.
I cleaned out my purse the other day and found 5 currencies in it and just smiled. It's cool when the world feels so small.
Now it's back to work for 17 teaching weeks. I've missed my little lovies, and even after all this adventure, it is nice to think of having a routine again.
PTL for another grand adventure. Where next? I'm thinking...Japan.