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.

Woodland Critter Christmas

After having such a great time with the haunted house, my friends and I decided that we wanted to keep the Halloween spirit  alive going into Christmas!

We thought it would be a great idea to build the Woodland Christmas Critters from South Park Season Eight, Episode Fourteen.

We used leftover wood and paint from the haunted house. And dumpster dived a few extra pieces of plywood.

The first thing we build was the manger. It took about two hours. Later we added a roof and some walls.

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To make the critters I printed them at work on my blueprint printer. It was pretty easy.

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We cut them out, traced them on to the wood, and used a jig saw to cut them out. We then painted them all white. When the paint dried we used a blade to cut the detail lines throw the paper onto the wood so we knew where to paint.

My buddy Ted and I did all the construction and almost all of the critter cutting. But we had a painting party where a bunch of people came to help paint. It was truly an international project. We had a representative from Japan, Iran, Norway, and even a friend from the distant land of New Jersey.

I was able to barrow some paint. But I also purchased some cheap messed up colors from Home Depot. I spent $16 on paint. We are super proud of the deer because we mixed paints together to make all the colors.

I am really enjoying the time that I spend working on projects and problem-solving anything that comes up. These projects are making me happy and giving me something positive to think about.

We put the critters out in the front yard, but it was missing something. So we made a Santa too!

And here is the final product in the front yard:

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Why I Signed Up For Chase Sapphire Reserve

I just took a big step in maximizing my saving and money earning for travel. Tuesday, November 29th, I went into a Chase Bank and demanded they sign me up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve! Well that’s technically not how it went down. I asked nicely. 🙂

And, I was approved on the spot.

I was hesitant to sign up for this credit card because it has a $450 annual fee! That’s a big chunk of change. I’m a cautious spender when it comes to my money. So the Sapphire Preferred card with the waved first annual fee and only a price tag of $99 seemed more appealing.

But, after calculating all the benefits of the Reserve Card and talking with my brother to confirm this was wise, I got Reserve. And here is why:

Signup Bonus

The sign up bonus for this card is the largest in the market right now and the largest in travel credit card history (I believe).

This card has a signup bonus of 100,000 points! If you redeem these through Chase Ultimate Rewards it’s worth $1500. Essentially I am getting $1500 for free, just for signing up. All I have to do is spend four grand in three months.

 

$300 Travel Credit

Every year the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR), gives you a $300 credit. Yes that’s right $300 for FREE. This credit is good for travel purchases.

Now you may be wondering what counts as travel credits. I know I was. I found this pretty well maintained list of purchases that count. Click HERE.

I plan to buy $300 in airBNB credits because I know I will use them to rent a place to stay in Taiwan for a month or more in March.

 

Global Entry/TSA PreCheck

Chase will reimburse you $100 for the purchase of a Global Entry or a TSA PreCheck. Global Entry is $100, TSA PreCheck is $85. Global Entry comes with PreCheck. Both last for five years! Hell yes!

Sign me up for free shorter line!

To learn more about Global Entry and PreCheck click HERE.

 

3X Points on Travel & Restaurants

Even though I am not going to be spending much at restaurants since I am trying to save money. It is great to know that I will be earning 3 points for every dollar.

Travel on the other hand I am really excited about. I will be buying a handful of plane tickets that should help me get some really good points! I’m also going to be taking the Greyhound from Arcata to San Fran at the end of February.

If you’re going to be spending the money anyways you might as well get paid to do it!

 

No Foreign Transaction Fees

This is pretty standard with travel rewards cards. But it’s great to have.

What this means is that if you use the card in a foreign country and charge it with a foreign currency Chase is not charging you for that transaction. Other than whatever you are spending of course.

 

Movable Points

I have the Chase Freedom Card. The Chase Freedom card offers 5% cash back on certain types of shopping throughout the year. They have four separate quarters.

January-March is gas stations and local commuter transport. April-June is grocery stores and wholesale clubs. July-September is restaurants and wholesale clubs. And, October-December is department stores, drug stores, and wholesale clubs.

The 5% cash back is great if you are shopping at these places. But the rewards points are worth less with the Freedom Card. However, you can move these points over to the CSR Ultimate Rewards increasing their value.

The trick here is to use the Freedom Card to score 5% when the CSR would only give you 1% (3% for the restaurants).

The Chase Freedom Card has no annual fee and they have a signup bonus of $150 dollars when you spend only $500 in the first three months. Cake!

Knowing that I was going to be getting a better rewards card from Chase soon I started to only use my Freedom card to get as many points in my Chase account as I can.

 

Do The Math

Okay let’s do the math here now. For the first year you pay the $450 annual fee but with the travel credit, global entry rebate, and signup bonus ($1900) you profit $1450. This can be more though!

At The Points Guy there is a post about transfer the Chase Ultimate Rewards points to their partners to increase their value. They claim it is possible to make the sign up bonus worth $2100. Read the post here.

So that’s a lot of free money and I am more than happy to get it.

 

P.S.

“Do the math” reminds me of Chris D’Elia’s drunk girls skit. I think it’s hilarious! Here it is for you to enjoy.

What I Learned From Making a Haunted House

Halloween 2016

A few weeks before Halloween I was having dinner with my friend Arron. Arron works at a center for developmentally disabled young adults. He teaches them about plants and maintains the center’s nursery.

Arron was telling me that he was building a haunted house for their Halloween party the Friday before Halloween; which fell on a Monday this year. For obvious reasons he wouldn’t have anyone jumping at people, but he was going to be working with them to design and build creepy decorations.

A few years ago, Arron and I had some mutual friends. It’s actually how we met. And for Halloween, three years in a row, we would set stuff up around there house, hide and scare people. We were all poor, some of us dead broke, we did that for free.

But Arron’s new project excited me. I said, “Hey man you should bring all that decoration over to my dad’s house on Halloween. He gets like 100 trick-or-treaters.” And, that’s how the idea was born.

I hit up another friend of ours who helped out at our friends house two years ago, Ted. “Hey man we’re gonna build a haunted house. You in?” Ted and I showed up at my dad’s house and walked around the front yard brainstorming ideas.

Where would people scare? What we build? How would we build it? What path will they take? It was exhilarating to be bouncing ideas back and forth getting more and more excited.

We decided we would use pallets and cardboard to build our structure. We went dumpster diving and found a ton of really great wood other than the pallets we took. We also hit up Costco for large pallet-sized pieces of cardboard used to separate the products. They let you take it. We filled three shopping carts worth.

Arron was able to borrow a bunch of pipes and joints that used to be used to build a carport structure at his work. This would be our main hallway. We made the roof out of cardboard that we painted random ridiculous things on. I painted a ghost and a vagina.

We also needed to build a giant wall on the front of the yard to close in the area. We decided to make the base of the wall from pallets then put some tall thin strips of wood we rescued from a dumpster. On the tall pieces of wood we stapled the cardboard to them.

On the inside we wanted the wall to look like the kind of wall you would see in a abandoned house where you might find used heroin needs. I think we hit the mark of what we wanted to do exactly. Ted, my other buddy Neil, and I painted whatever popped into our minds and then we would paint over each others paint.

On the outside, street side, of the wall, we had bigger plans!

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Arron came over Sunday night before Halloween to set up all the decorations from his work. He was actually able to use them at another neighborhood event too. It’s fantastic that they were used four times.

We hung sheets from the tunnel structure to make it closed in. The sheets had been painted by consumers at Arron’s work! Then Arron, who is a wizard at design [check out his Instagram] started to create the interior environment.

Ted and I finished setting up pallets and walls in the yard area to make it more maze-like. We were concerned that the exit was a wide opening people could see in. Then they would be able to see where we were hiding. We ended up making a doorway with a caution-tape door. One of the crowds favorite pieces.

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On Halloween we had about 300 people come through. We put up signs at big nearby intersections to bring more people in. Everyone loved it! We had people screaming, people crying, people laughing, one girl in dropped to the floor in the fetal position. Out front people were constantly posing for pictures with our wall.

We even got in some of the pictures with them.

So that’s the story of the haunted house.  But when I was thinking about the entire experience of creating this project I realized that I learned a surprising amount. I’m totally putting this on my resume. Here’s what I learned:

  1. If you believe in something you will find a way to get it done
    My friends and I truly believe in making Halloween great again. That is why we spent so much of our free time working on this project. Every time we hit any little snag we would just push through and keep moving forward.
  2. You don’t need money to create
    One thing I wish I could have explained to everyone that came through was that the entire haunted house was built for free. (I think I spent $16 on burlap, but then I actually found some in our backyard! We only used about a quarter of what I bought and I gave the rest to Arron for him to create art with).

    The haunted house was built for free! We borrowed lights, fog machines, and got all the building supplies out of the dumpster. People were impressed with our work even before they knew that.

    I just wish that could have been explained to them so that they think about what they could build for free if they wanted.

  3. Time spent working with friends is not working
    When i first told my dad we were commandeering his front yard for a haunted house he said, “that’s gonna be a lot of work.” And maybe it was. But, I don’t know. Because every time I went dumpster diving with Ted, was building with Arron, or painting with Neil I was having fun! I was working on a project with my friends. We were building off of each other creativity. We built something together that not one of us could have done alone.
  4. The path to happiness is doing what you love
    I felt so happy while working on this project. Every time we had an idea and then completed it I was thrilled. I was working on something that I wanted to do and it made me very happy.

    Maybe we can’t always do this in our jobs but that’s no excuse not to create something or do something you enjoy after work. We all work and we did this nights and weekends.

  5. You can accomplish more by working together
    I mentioned earlier my excitement that came from us brainstorming together. A lot of our ideas were collective. One person would say one thing then another person would be say we could do that if we did it like this. That’s how things got accomplished.
    When building the metal carport structure, Arron and I just started putting pieces together. We had a problem though because we need crossbeam structural support to hold up cardboard. Ted came up with the idea to use a hole saw to drill into wood and make it the size of the pipe then connect the pipe to that. Genius!
  6. The only way to fail is to not start
    Sometimes you just need to dive into something and figure it out as you go.
    For example, with the caution tape door. I had an idea of how to attach it on side and so I just started. While, Ted was holding up the other side he asked, “How are you going to attach this end?” “I don’t know yet, but we’ll figure it out.” And we did.
    I think that if I waited to start working until I had it figured out it either would have taken a lot longer or maybe it would have never happened at all.

 

P.S.

I just want to add that when it came time to clean up the haunted house we recycled all the cardboard, we sent the wood to be turned into mulch, and even random scraps of plastic were recycled at local facility that has a collection place for “mixed plastics.”

I believe it’s important to try our hardest to reduce waste regardless of what we are doing. But you can clearly see that it did not hinder our fun!

Use Earth911.com to find recycle collection for any item near you.