catching up round 2

“To travel is to take a journey inside oneself.”–Danny Kaye

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Well, I’m about ready to wrap it up and head to my last year of uni, so I wanted to write out a longer reflection of my travels.

I’m slightly at a loss of words here, writing beginnings of things always really sucks.  (Conclusions too, but slightly less so.)  So forgive me, let’s just start with an obvious statement and work from there:

It was great.

(It? What is It ? You must be specific.  Write for an audience who has absolutely no idea who you are or about the subject matter.  Also, use a more powerful adjective than great.)

My summer 2017 trip through various countries in East and Southeast Asia was fantastic.

(There, that’s better.)

(Why was it fantastic?)

Because I turned a bunch of scattered daydreams and vague ideas about these places into a real memory. Because I got to meet a bunch of friends that I haven’t seen in three or four years.  And whoever Danny Kaye might be, he was right.  To travel is to take a journey inside oneself.  This trip has been deeply beautiful and re-calibrating, and I’ve really learned a lot about Eleanor Xiafei Chin.

(Tell me more…..)

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Firstly, there was Thailand.

I told you before that I was really excited about Thailand. Another reason other than the research project and the fact I’ve had a mini-crush on the idea of that country since I first went abroad was because Thailand was just for me.  Maybe that sounds a bit weird.  Here’s an explanation.  Before I went to Korea, I had intended to go to Thailand by myself.  While I was in Korea, I met several other like-minded individuals who were interested in other Southeast Asian countries as well.  I had hoped to make a complete travelling itinerary with them, and we talked a few times.  We were looking at going to India together, but due to the fact that India is its own universe, they decided they would rather see some other places.  And at that time I was still pretty preoccupied with computer science and daily life in South Korea.  So there was a period that I wasn’t really sure about where I was going at all, or if I was going to travel with anyone, or if maybe I just want to go home to California and travel another time…(it did cross my mind a couple times.)  To be honest, I was really kind of hoping someone else would make an itinerary and tell me, “hey, let’s go here.” But that didn’t happen, so I had to make my own. I solicited a lot of input from a lot of other friends who had done a better job at planning than me.  But most of them were planning a hyper-intense highlights tour of almost every single country in Asia except India.  I really didn’t find that to be an appealing idea, so in the end, I thought, “screw this. I’m going to Thailand. By myself. Because want to go there.”  And I went.  It was a very satisfying feeling.

It was slightly less satisfying when I got there.  I realized that I had a lot of semi-outdated academic knowledge about industries contributing to the GDP and the linguistic roots of the Thai language.  And absolutely zero knowledge of the things to do as a tourist, the currency conversion, cultural nuances, the history of the kingdom of Siam, or even any useful phrases in Thai.  It was quite humbling to realize exactly how much I didn’t know about a country I thought I had loved.  And the longer I stayed in Thailand, the more I realized that I had loved Thailand as an idea, rather than the place it was. I had loved Thailand because it was exotic.  Because Thailand was located in Southeast Asia. Because Thai traditional costumes were so spectacular. Because Thai writing was and is strange and unfathomable.  Because Thai has five tones, and I thought tonal languages were at the zenith of difficulty in second language acquisition.  (And if it’s the zenith of difficulty in language acquisition, I shouldn’t have any problem picking it up, right?)

But I did. Not only did I not learn any Thai, I came to really dislike hearing it. Really, really dislike it. The once-captivating tones began to drive me absolutely insane.  A lot of things about Thailand ended up driving me insane.  Being a “ripoff-target”.  Having to be extremely wary of my stuff at all times.  The hideously confusing public transportation. The heat.  I realized in Thailand that I am a true Coastal Southern California Wimp. (Sorry).  I do think this condition can be fixed by finding a place that I can really, truly love enough to put up with “temperamental” weather (hahaha).  I don’t think Thailand is that place.  I got ripped off a couple times–(Partly my fault because I still have a hard time to forcefully say no. But still.  It feels terrible.)  I didn’t always feel really safe because people kept telling me to be careful. (I also wonder if they told me that because they knew I’m prone to be a little absent-minded sometimes)  So I got kind of paranoid.  Praise God I didn’t have anything get stolen or lose anything important or get abducted and raped, but having to be “on guard” all the time really wore me out as well.  No daydreaming while walking.  Putting a lock on my bag when I went out and having to carry it in front.  (I did both.) Having to make sure my cell phone never ran out of battery so that I could always get back to my hostel with google maps.  A place where the culture of having to be that extremely careful is normal–I actually wonder how it attracts so many tourists.   I don’t want to live somewhere that unsafe.  I’m really glad I went to Thailand.  It’s really beautiful, and the food is good.  I do not have the desire to go back anytime in the near future.

When I was in Thailand, I wanted to check out some sustainable tourism initiatives for the purpose of getting some ideas on where to work.  I was probably most excited about that. But after looking at a couple places online and downloading a very thorough report about tourism fluxes over ten years in Phuket which I started and couldn’t make myself finish, I realized I’m no longer really so interested in this.  I thought it might  be because my brain is too worn out from everything I went through in the semester–(by the way, I passed everything.  I really wasn’t sure that was going to happen.)

But even though I ended up not being able to visit any offices or have any interviews, I made sure to pay attention to all the businesses that cater to tourists. It’s one thing to know that tourism contributes only slightly less than 20% to the GDP of a country.  It’s quite another to see how many different transportation companies, travel agencies, and tour package sales offices there are in a 50 meter walk outside your hostel on backpacker street.  It’s shocking.  I find it a bit scary. 

Anyway, I was beginning to have doubts about going into tourism development.

Then I went to Vietnam.

 

Vietnam was a lot like Thailand.  The tones, traffic, temperature, and of course, tourism.

I went to a lot of places in Vietnam.  I hit up Hue and Ninh Binh and Sapa, some of the “must-dos”. I was planning (ish.) to hit da nang and hoi an, which are also in central Vietnam, but the heat was killing me, and I needed to get my visa in Hanoi.  Plus, to go from Hue to Da Nang and then Hoi An, you go south.  And since I took an 18 hr and 23 minute bus ride to get from HCMC to Hue, I was not too keen on even considering going in reverse.  Anyway.

In Vietnam, I met a lot of my friends that studied abroad in Taiwan with me. They’ve all moved on to the mythical world of “postgrad life”.  One even got married and had a baby!!

By far, meeting up with these girls was the best part.  But it also makes me a little envious, because the endless job searching and internship applications are over for them.  (Internship apps…*cries)

I liked Vietnam because I met my friends, saw some beautiful scenery, and ate some AMAZING food.  But Vietnam was really a stressful place to travel.  There was a time that I bought two bus tickets for the same trip because I got error messages from the webpage saying that they payment didn’t go through, so I asked my hostel staff to help me buy one, then I later got an email saying the first payment went through. Then, of course, cancelling tickets is a hassle…and the hostel staff didn’t speak very good English, so I wasn’t sure….After that, I would never buy tickets until pretty much the day I left one place to move to another.  I felt lost all the time, and thanks to being ripped off in Thailand, the danger paranoia hit an all-time high. Vietnamese people can also be kind of aggressive if you commit some faux pas or don’t buy their stuff, and then start yelling at you in Vietnamese, which I found quite frightening. Furthermore, I didn’t like how strangers would tell me that I look Vietnamese, and then wonder out loud, either directly or subtly, why I don’t speak Vietnamese. Then they’d ask me about my family background. It’s a conversation that once it starts just can’t stop.  (For the record, this happened a lot in Thailand and Korea, too.)  Where are you from, what about your parents, you look same-same as (insert country), why can’t you speak (insert language).  I know this is bad, but I’ve lied more than a couple times to try to get out of this conversation.  Sometimes I wished I were non-Asian so no one would ask me these stupid things.  I’m really quite looking forward to living in Beijing.  I’m going to speak Chinese with a slight accent but other than that blend right in. 

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In Thailand, I had begun to question whether or not I should still go into tourism development.  In Vietnam, I became fairly certain that I need to be looking at other industries.  By the time I got my visa for China, everything in Vietnam was driving me ridiculously insane. Everything. The Vietnamese language grated on my ears.  Traffic, which I first found quirky and entertaining, became a nightmare. I could keep going, but you get the idea. I really don’t see myself working there, either.  I don’t want to learn Vietnamese, and I don’t want to learn Thai. In fact, other than improving upon my Chinese and Korean, I think I’m calling it quits on any more foreign language acquisition for now. (But that’s another story.)

My development professor in the USA told me about how completely draining it is to work in a developing country, and that most people only work in that kind of position for a few years in their twenties.  Which is really terrible because like most other things, the longer you work in it, the better you get.  Even though we as millennials are supposed to change jobs every 1 to 3 years, development work is demanding enough that you probably should stick around a bit longer to really get good. (It’s a bit of an intra-industry point of contention: how to attract the talent needed to really be able to make a difference in the projects.)  By the time you’re good enough to be really useful, you’ve used up all your reserves of mental and emotional energy.  I’m staying with someone who did Peace Corps Philippines, and she agreed that yes, at the end of your 2 year assignment, you are truly SPENT. 

So if I almost went insane on a 2.5 month vacation because of things like the language barrier, the cultural idiosyncrasies, and the temperamental weather, am I really someone who can make serious contributions to a volatile industry responsible for approximately 20% of a developing country’s GDP??? Maybe it’s something I can come back to, but for now, I don’t know if I’m strong enough to do that. I find that realization very depressing, but my high school friend told me that it’s probably better to know that now and not accept a job and fail miserably later.

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You know what I found myself doing in Bangkok? Attempting to read a Korean book and watching a Korean drama.  I highlighted words and used an internet dictionary and tried writing some journal entries in Korean as well.  I realized that I really missed  doing this.  I got really stuck at a certain passage so I stopped there.  I don’t like being frustrated on the same page forever.  (Or maybe I’m just lazy.) I’m on my vacation before my senior year of uni, I kind of think I should have had enough of this process by now. I feel this too, like I desperately want to move on to some other area, but I come back, again and again and again to this process of internalizing vocabulary and nothing else that I’ve accomplished has ever matched the joy I have when I express myself in a foreign tongue. I also wonder if I’m clinging to that because it’s a habit, a habit that I’ve cultivated for so long that I’d be completely unhinged without it.  

Oh well.  Only time will tell for that.

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In conclusion, there’s more.  There’s always more.  There are a lot of other tiny stories that I didn’t write here and don’t intend to.  There are other thoughts I have that aren’t completely formed yet. Other emotions that I’m still processing. (Like hangover stress from the visa….) There are more pictures of more places.  But let’s conclude here. The daydreamed version of this trip was significantly less harrowing and less exhausting, but the memory of this trip, with all the ups and downs, is a million times better. I’m still in awe and incredibly grateful that I got to meet old friends again. Even though we aren’t as close as we were before, it was and is still an amazing feeling. And that I came to know so many things about myself and about the world, even though they might have been unpleasant to discover, is something that I’ll treasure for life.

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….but for life not to escape us…

Well, I hope you enjoyed the last set of pictures I put up.

I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out.  I have no intentions of getting into photography, and I will not be buying a dslr which I have to buy another case for and worry about dropping or having stolen.  But it’s just nice when you look at photos later and then go, “wow that would be a good screen background sometime”.

Anyway, I’ve had an eventful couple of days.

I was playing around in HCMC and I took a guided tour of the infamous Cu Chi tunnels, it was really so fascinating! And the guide was an animated storyteller who liked singing.  He did an impromptu singing performance for us.  It was fun.  And then I went to mui ne.  That wasn’t actually a planned stop, but I saw some pictures from someone else that went and they looked very nice, so I thought I’d go.  It was kind of a waste of money.  There’s nothing there other than sand dunes and more sand dunes and incredibly thin cows walking around on the sand dunes. (There’s the beach, if you’re into that…) Plus I wanted to see the famous sunrise, so I paid for a sunrise tour (which wasn’t too bad) but the weather was terrible and the driver got started late and had to pick up eight more people.  By the time he finished getting everyone, the sun (if you can call it that) had risen in the clouds.  And then it rained. :/

Then I went to Nha Trang.  I had hoped to meet my ex roommate but she was on a business trip.  Bad timing, haha.  It’s okay.  I had fun.  The pictures in the last post are from Nha trang.  The Sinitic-style temple is the Long Son Pagoda.  The one made out of bricks is the Po Nagar temple.

And, in Nha Trang, I went cliff jumping.

I went to Ba ho, which is like a nature reserve.

It’s like the place in Jeju.  I like it.

It cost me about $46 to go there and back by taxi because there was no public transportation, and then the impromptu tour guide extorted $18.18 out of me…so it was expensive, but it was really nice.

And then I went back to HCMC to meet my friend again.  I got to meet her baby and other family members. 😀

Now I am in central Vietnam, in Hue, the old capital.

I was originally going to take the plunge and do a couchsurfing arrangement, but that didn’t work out, so I stayed in another hostel.

I went to see the Imperial palace yesterday, it was very nice.

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I saw this eight years ago!! Now it is undergoing renovation. The area around it has become what I imagine as a mini harajuku
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Impressive looking temple/pagoda/shrine

 

District 1

Eleanor’s plan, day 1:

Apply for student visa for next semester (morning)

Taking a long walk, exploring the city, seeing if I recognize anything (afternoon)

Eating dinner with my friend (evening)

I should know by now how this whole visa run thing works, but I forgot an important part.

Visa offices tend to be open shorter hours, and sometimes they are only open in the morning.  And I’m too scared to process this one by mail because I’m not living in one address for a long period of time.  So I made the 45 minute trek to the visa office.

And arrived exactly 13 minutes after they stopped accepting applications.

On Friday.

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Well, I was kind of not too happy, but I continued on with the plan for the day, eating some nice Pho and checking out the Ho Chi Minh City Museum.  The fee for taking photos is more than the entrance ticket price.  So I didn’t take any photos.  It’s an amazing museum though, I wish I had gone eight years ago.  Somewhat of an eccentric collection, this museum contains everything from replicas representing the history of Vietnamese heavy industries and shipping to wedding garments from the minority groups in the region to archaeological treasures.  Then I took a motorbike-taxi back, and later went to meet my friend.

 

Welcome Back

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived to Tan Son Nhat International Airport. Please remain seated with your seat belt fastened until the aircraft comes to a complete stop.  The local time is 3:20 PM.  Thank you for flying with Air Asia.  We hope to see you again soon.”

I’m back.

I’m back in Vietnam.

I’m amazed.  Vietnam was my first destination out of the US, and thus is forever special in my heart.  I came here as a high school student with my family in December 2009 for ten days and I loved every single second.  And I came back! I still can’t believe it.

As soon as the plane stopped moving, I was out of my seat, grabbing my carry-ons and trying not to be squashed by the surging multitude of people behind me doing the exact same thing.

Once I was out of the plane, I ran straight to the passport control, causing people to give me the disapproving “get your act together” look.  They probably thought I was going to miss a flight.  It was just such a great feeling to be returning here, and I couldn’t wait to be out of the airport and into the city.

But even thought I was in a hurry, I did notice a lot of changes to this airport.  It’s significantly more advanced than DMK and not quite to the level of  ICN.  There was a whole rack of immigration officer stations, whereas Bangkok only had four people processing everyone.  In Korea, there were people directing you into clearly marked and defined lines, and there was one of those hi-tech glass gates for each station.

I got an e-visa this time, so I was holding on to my cell phone with the visa screenshot, earnestly hoping there wouldn’t be any problem for not printing it out.  The immigration officer looked at the screen for the longest ten seconds of my life, and then let me through.  Praise God.

But anyway, I went and stood at the top of the escalator, looking down to the luggage area. I remember doing this eight years ago as well.  There are more luggage carousels than last time.  The floors are new, with white, sparkling linoleum as opposed to the grungy floor in my memory.  The luggage carts are new as well.  In addition, multiple SIM card and currency exchange booths provide color and interest to the landscape.  There is now also air conditioning in the airport.

As always, more to come!

Other than Bangkok

I think Chiangmai was my favorite. There were seemingly temples every 100 meters, it was crazy.  Chiangmai was also slightly less hot.  (Right now I’m just dying in this abominable Bangkok heat.)


I didn’t make it to any of the elephant sanctuaries or cooking classes (I’m on a budget, remember?) but I did manage to get out and go running a couple times, and I even made it to a rock climbing gym!

In short, I enjoyed my time here. 🙂

 

classically Thai

Top things to do in Bangkok:

  1. Get lost. (S)
  2. Get hopelessly lost. (S)
  3. Spend a lot of money in taxis because you’re so lost. (S)
  4. Visit temples (S)
  5. Visit more temples (W)
  6. Go on a pre-arranged tour of Ayuttha (a series of comparatively ancient temples) (W)
  7. Get ripped off when purchasing a tour to the floating market (S)
  8. Visit the floating market (S)
  9. Buy tourist junk at the floating market (W)
  10. Buy more tourist junk on Khao San road (S)
  11. Drink Chang and Singha on Khao San road (W)
  12. Go visit the bank (S)
  13. Go visit the visa service center (S)
  14. Ride the BTS, MRT, and Airport Rail line. (S)
  15. Eat street food (S)
  16. Get minor food poisoning from street food (S)
  17. Build up extreme heat tolerance (S)

Some of these things are better done with a friend.  For your reference, I’ve annotated the ones you can do by yourself with (S) and the ones you should do with someone else (W).

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I’m proud to say that with the exceptions of numbers 10 and 11, I have completed every one of these things. (I’m going to buy tourist junk in Chinatown on my last couple days.)

I’m not going to bother telling you about me getting lost, it’s already happened so many times I don’t even remember each incident clearly. (Not that I really care to do so, jajaja) Chances are also, that if you’re reading this, you probably already know who I am and that I have a high propensity of getting lost easily.

Getting ripped off: I was reviewing my last posts and realized I hadn’t told this story here.  Well.  I booked a tour for 550 that should have been 250.  (And then had to pay an extra 150 on top of that.) And I booked it for 3 people because I thought my friends would come with me.  But they had already made plans. 😦 So that was just dumb.  Someone made a really nice commission off me that day.

But I’ve enjoyed the temple-hopping here, both on my own and with others. I met up with my friend from the Dankook exchange program and went on the Ayuttha tour with him. (Ayuttha was one of the old Thai kingdoms and the ruins are a designated UNESCO heritage site.)

Moving on, I had to make the trek out to the Thailand branch of my bank in order to inform the USA branch/call center to let them know I was travelling.  This was very inconvenient, but I feel special now.  Probably not so many tourists say they went all the way to the bank to make a phone call.

The bank is located inside the Central World shopping mall.  I’ve got to say, the shopping malls here and in the Philippines are pretty darn intense–more than 5 floors, with large, spacious interiors, shiny tile floors and most importantly out here, STRONG AIR CONDITIONING.

I also had to visit the China Visa Service center…but I didn’t finish applying because I was missing a document.

I rode all three modes of train here in Bangkok. It was fine.  I think that’s just going to be one of my travel idiosyncrasies–that I make it a point to ride the metro system in every place I visit.  Like how I try to visit a library or a bookstore in every place I visit, despite not being able to read anything.

The beer was okay.  It tasted like fermented wheat juice with alcohol.  😛 I wouldn’t call myself an alcohol connoisseur,  but I was super curious to try the Chang and Singha, purely because there are a lot of tourist t-shirts with Chang logos, and I like the word “Singha”.  It sounds good. Strong and powerful. Plus the logo is even better than the Chang logo.

I’ve enjoyed the street food, but the portion sizes are pretty small, so I get hungry again later.  And last night I think I had mild food poisoning, because my stomach was hurting. (Don’t worry, I’m fine. I’ll just be a little more careful from now.)

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