First Week In NZ

I  arrive in New Zealand after 20 hours of travel from Taiwan on a Sunday. I have no idea what time it is there now. I have no idea what time it is here. I only know I’m  tired.

 

I wasn’t ready to leave Taiwan. I have a pretty great girl there and we were having a great time together. In fact, the night before my flight, we were out until after 3 AM dancing. Even after spending two and half months together for 24 hours a day neither of us had had enough of the other yet. We both wanted more.

 

We spent April traveling in Southeast Asia. Cuddling on overnight buses, making love in the hostel dorm rooms, getting bored in museums, and playing “Plants vs Zombies 2” in Vietnamese Cafes. The best part about the trip was spending time with her.

 

Sitting in a crowded hostel on a wobbly bunk bed, top bunk. The room is full. No one says hi to me and I’m too shy to say hi to them. It feels so unwelcoming. I keep beating myself up inside for not breaking out of my shell. My mind is rambling. Negative thoughts are flooding my consciousness. I can’t seem to organize them. Blocking them out is not working much either. My mind is full of self doubt and my soul feels so empty.

 

It finally hits me like the weight of an overhead wave crash down: I am totally alone. I’ve found myself clear across the world, far away, from my home in San Diego and I don’t know a single person. Depression sets in. Even in this crowded room I have never felt more alone in my life. Words are flowing at a 1000 miles per hour inside yet I can’t seem to open my mouth to let even the simplest one out.

 

Attempting to control my mind, I start making a list of all the things to do tomorrow to get ready for the working holiday: open a bank account, get an IRD number, get a SIM card.

 

I’m concentrating on my breath to relax while I try falling asleep. I am transported back to a my bunk. A tiny three high bunk in a narrow hostel room in HCMC. The room has 5 stacks of bunks, each three high. There is a three foot gap down the middle, it’s filled with everyone’s backpacks. All the beds are taken buy only about six of us are present.

 

My girl climbs up from the middle bunk to visit me. I had passed out. She reaches out sticking her warm, soft hands on my stomach under my shirt. As she pet me, I awoke with a calm feeling. There is something about being around her that just makes me a feel tranquil. All of my anxiety is washed away. The rest of the world and it’s problems mean nothing.

 

Being in this mental space allows me to peaceful fall asleep.

 

It’s Monday morning, no it’s Monday afternoon. The traveling, the poor sleep, the time change create a force that makes waking up a slow, tiring process. I need to go to start my day. I have to force myself to get up and climb down the bed.

 

I walk 40 minutes to the closet KiwiBank. While opening an account and applying for an IRD number, I begin to small talk with the banker. I’m trying to be social this will be good practice. Turns out he is Taiwanese. Bragging about my Taiwanese girl, I start sharing my experiences in Taiwan with him. He points me in the direction in some cheap Chinese markets for groceries. After the bank, I get my phone set up.

 

Three hours after I start my day I am out of things to do and I am feeling totally lost once again. I starting thinking, “what should I do, what should I do. I can’t waste time here. It has to be used effectively.” It makes relaxing impossible. No matter what I do, my mind tells I should be doing something else.

 

I’m spending the week waiting day after day for an interview that is continually postponed. I’ve been in contact with a company trying to get a job for about a month before I got here. I call them to set up an interview.

 

I try to relax and get comfortable in the hostel. I talk to my Taiwanese girl, I talk to my parents, I talk to my friends. It wasn’t until after socializing at a weekly couchsurfing event that I finally start talking to people in the hostel.

A week later, it’s Monday morning again. I’ve leaving to work in Hamilton. I created a mini family in the hostel after a few depressed days and now I must leave. But I will be back for the weekend.

Hspiaw

Bettlenut spit stains the ground like blood from a grusome murder or perhaps the junta violently shut down another protest. What little sidewalk there is is badly broken. Cracks as large as a foot wide are not uncommon. The gutter smells like sewer and pollution. The air smells like diesel.

The road is half paved and half  mud. Traffic runs both ways on both sides. Honking. There is lots of honking. Large trucks move slow with cars honking as they pass on the left. Scooters pass both cars and trucks on both the right and left. They lay on the horn as they go.

The town is surrounded by farms. It’s green here. The greenery on the roadside is mulched with liter.

Despite all of these negative points the people here smile. They wave and say “minglaba” as you pass. They may not know much English, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to help.

In the coming years this town will be filled with nicer hotels and more backpackers. Trekking is the thing to do here. But, for now it’s pre development. It’s cheap. And, I like it.

April 23, 2017
Hspiaw, Myanmar

Bored in Bagan

The plan was to wake up early and buy last minute tickets on the only daily bus to Sittwe. It leaves Yangon at 8AM.

As my alarm starts to go off early in the morning, I reach over and shit it off. Back to sleep.
It’s a and hour and half later. “It’s 7:30,” says Cindy. At this point we have no way to make the 8AM bus. She climbs into my bed and I cuddle her.
We begin to pack up slowly and eat the free hostel breakfast. I’m pissed we missed the bus. I can only blame myself so I keep it inside and try to forget about it.
It’s a 30 min walk to the bus ticketing area or a 5000 kyat taxi ride. So we start to walk. The area is nothing but small shops who buy their tickets from someone else. No one is particularly helpful.
We decide to leave and just go the people they are calling. While waiting for a public transit bus we caught a shared taxing or 1000 kyat each.
We are sick Yangon. We’ve been here for, I don’t know, three days. Most of which have been spent stuck inside a hostel without power because of rain. To venture outside means going to their New Year celebration. Essentially a free pass to dump ice cold water on anyone.
We take the first ticket on the next bus out of Yangon. That’s how we ended up in Bagon at 4am.
We’ve been dropped off way outside the town stuck at the mercy of Taxi drivers with inflated prices. We split a cab with some American girls visiting from Thailand. We found a home and began the trek to the pagodas. As we walk the sun rises over the horizon.
We walk to the first pagoda to take a rest. Some children walking through the bush come over to join. They’re friendly. They ask us where we are from and then pull out their collection.
They collect foreign currency.  They asked me if I had any from the US. I did, but I told them no. They flipped through all the bills listing the countries as they went. Then they were fishing through various coins they had. A few they didn’t know so they asked us. I didn’t know either.
I wanted to give them something. They actually seem like legit currency collectors, minus that part about wanting US dollars. So Cindy and I give them a Taiwanese dollar. They unimpressed. We leave.
After walking to the next pagoda another child approaches. “Hello, where are you from? I collect foreign currency.” And then he begins to start listing off the countries just like the last kid. I can’t help but start laughing. I tell him I don’t have any US money before he even asks. Then I tell him to go away.
It’s been a few hours since we started walking. We’ve made it to the old city. There is a sign that says river view. We decide to walk to the river instead of go inside.
The road to the river is dusty and long in the heat. As we reach it’s terminus we discover a bench in the shade of tree over looking the river. I lay down on the bench with Cindy on top of me.
A few hours later we wake up from the nap. We take our time actually leaving the bench to start the walk back to the old city. As we entered we realize it’s too hot to continue. Cindy sticks her thumb out to hitch a ride back to the city.
After five minutes a car pulls over and offers us a ride back to to town. We learn that the woman is from Burma but lives in Singapore. She accompanied by two male family members. They took pity on us for walking in the heat.
It was 3 P.M. when we got back to the hotel. As we walk in we practically fall onto the beds. Passed out.
It’s 6AM now I’ve just woke up. We decide to get a bus out of here. All the buses to Inle Lake are sold out. SO we pick one up for Mandalay. Neither of us wanted to be in Bagan anymore. The bus is another overnight bus. We are to stay in Bagan for the day again.
Today we rent a scooter and ride it from pagoda to pagoda. It’s the ideal way to see them. Walking was a horrible idea. I have to say my favorite part is riding on the small dirt tracts between them. You see one pagoda you’ve seen them all. The real view of the place is from the top of the few you can still climb on.
From Mandalay we take an early morning train straight to Hsipaw.

Back to the ‘Bei

[The title is like “Back to the Bay” the Bay Area but I was going back to Taipei which is pronounced more like Tai “Bei.” I was trying to be punning. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense hahaha.]

 

After two weeks more than two years  I’m flying back to Taiwan. Never could I have thought this would happen when I left in June 2015. But this trip is totally different in purpose. My friend, Justin, from exchange is coming here with his brother and we plan to hike Yushan. After that, my dad is coming out with a good friend of his as tourist.

In 2015, I arrived in Taipei at midnight and had to figure out how to get to my school in the middle of the city. Alone. The biggest difference for me is that someone will be waiting for me at the airport. This time, there is a bright shiny face waiting for me when I walk outside the arrival gate.

–     –    –

When I got back to San Diego from Taiwan I signed up to be a buddy for an exchange student.  I was assigned Cindy. Since her exchange I have kept in touch with her. She even came back after her exchange and the two of us traveled together in the states (San Diego, Chicago, and a road trip to camp in Sequoia National Park).

We maintained contact, almost everyday since she left the states. Our relationship had grown to be more than friendly. And, now, I’m here and she’s waiting for me at the airport.

We spend the next few days hanging out in the city eating at all my favorite restaurants from when I was on exchange. The sights and the smells of the city bring back so many memories. Memories of feeling that can never be recreated.

It’s odd to go back to somewhere that meant so much to me. It had a certain energy about it while I was on exchange. I had a certain energy about me. What was once a magical newness is now the familiar. The familiar has also slightly changed. Cities change, but at the same time they don’t.

–    –    –

We  are late to the airport to meet my friend and his brother. It is my fault. I finally found a used bookstore that sold English books. To my, surprise I found The Monkeywrench Gang on the shelf. Being that it is the book I have already reread the most, I decide not to buy it. It’s important for someone else to read it.

–    –    –

Getting to Yushan was a little tricky. We are taking a bus from Taipei to Sun Moon Lake. From Sun Moon Lake the bus to the base camp of Yushan leaves at 8AM. So we have to stay overnight.

We try to leave earlier than plan, hopping on a different bus. The bus arrives at it’s terminus. We haven’t arrived where we need to be. We are in a small village in the mountains with no way out. After a failed attempt to hitchhike we call a private car to pick us up.

Staying in the base camp is cold. We were the only westerners. The Taiwanese preparing for the hike were practicing with their ice picks and crampons. I  watching them, realizing I have none of that. We might have underestimated the hike.

My American friends develop a different attitude. They begin to make fun of the Taiwanese for being over prepared. They didn’t even have rain jackets. Their arrogance is annoying to me, but my Taiwanese girl was on the verge of tears.

The ascent up the mountain is pretty miserable. It rains all damn day. I have two rain jackets on, both fail. I have a rain cover on my backpack, it fails. Everything I have with me was soaking wet and freezing cold. I try to keep how pissed off and uncomfortable I am at the weather inside. I shiver all night.

In the morning, I go get my rain jacket from the area where they hang to dry. It’s frozen solid. We were not allowed to ascend the last bit of the mountain to the peak because of snow and ice conditions.

Cindy and I walk down together. My friend and his brother run down leaving us behind. I don’t say anything, but this is horrible hiking etiquette you never leave your group behind. The two of us were carrying everything. What if one of us fell on the ice and couldn’t walk. That would leave the other to carry two backpacks and a friend. Meanwhile they’re well ahead of us carrying nothing. No good.

I think what’s bothering me the most is I am here to hang out with Cindy and my friends are really just unknowingly cockblocks at this point. If that wasn’t the case this wouldn’t have gotten on my nerves so much, maybe. They’re cool dudes!

Then my dad came.