Xtreme Travel!




One of the issues that I think a lot of people don’t like about travel is that it can be hard to go to a place where people haven’t already amassed, and when you get there, people tell you that another place is better.

As Talia and I continue inland in Vietnam, we were thinking and discussing how in every place you go there are people who have been to another place which surpasses the place you are in in every way, which can get a little frustrating.

Everywhere there are other travelers who have seen bigger, better, faster, older, purer renditions of what you are currently looking at. For Talia and me this doesn’t take away from the uniqueness of whatever we are looking at, as I suppose is the intention of the naysayers, but we take it all at face value, a lesson we have learned from our travels.

Hardly a day goes by when we don’t overhear a traveler, for example on a bus, saying how their souvenir is more authentic and unique because an old lady made it in her hut or whatever.

Understandably everyone takes away from an experience whatever they put into it and if something is special to you for one reason or another then good for you. But the necessity to always work in superlatives is adolescent at best. I have come to learn that I have not explored a fraction of the world and its wonders nor met enough people to really know what the ultimate experience is, so the search goes on.

We met one young French guy in Laos who was intent on being the “real” traveler, while everyone else (as he told them to their faces, including ours) was merely a tourist with a big Nikon.

But ask yourself, how many superlatives can you REALLY adhere to? I mean, there are factual superlatives and opinionated superlatives and learning the difference can matter! Just earlier today we heard a girl proclaim how the guys who drive Cruiser motorbikes and do one-on-one tours are so incredibly nicer and, I quote, “better” than the usual motorbike taxi drivers who shout at you as they drive past (though just today I would say we got more “HEY YOU”s from the cruiser riding riders).

Granted she was only speaking in the comparative, but the notion remains the same. How can one be any different to another when the only difference, the ONLY difference is one drives a smaller bike than the other?!

I’m sure we all do it from time to time (I was known as “The Topper” in my job in China) but this is my public service announcement to the people of the 2feetoutthedoor world, as a person who speaks from experience, and annoyance:


1.
Better and best are only comparative terms based on contextual personal preference, therefore making them in themselves null and void outside of the realm of your opinion until proven otherwise by fact.

2.
Even if yours is bigger, just shut your loud mouth about it.

Growing Old on the Road


A lot of changes have been happening lately. We mentioned a few posts ago that the time has come to wrap up the traveling—for now. We obviously don’t intend on ever leaving traveling behind for good. So stay tuned for the next 60 years as we take on the world!

We’ve recently accepted a job in Beijing teaching English. We’re a little nervous about it, living in such a big, crowded, and potentially expensive city. I’ve also applied to a Master’s program that I’m waiting to hear back from (send good feelings this way so I can get in!)

All these changes and the prospect of actually settling down a bit has got Ricky and me to thinking about the past 7-ish months we’ve spent traveling.  The consensus is that we’ve really “grown up” on this trip.  Obviously, we were already adults who had done adult-y things. We’d both lived away from home, had jobs (though I’d say that Ricky’s job as an assistant manager at a hotel was probably more adult than my custodian gig at college), paid rent, all that. But this kind of long term travel has aged us in ways we didn’t expect.

As a lot of you know, we were affected greatly by tragedies that have happened in so many places. Seeing the remnants of war has given us new views on what we’d only vaguely heard about before. We came to see that what we only sort of hear about on the news has much more far reaching effects on people worlds away. 

This kind of thing ages you. Seeing what war does to people—how it tears apart civilians who didn’t ask for that sort of thing to happen, how they try to adapt and survive, how a city will never be the same—that kind of thing makes you old. That kind of thing makes you think about things that the average 20-something might not be inclined to ponder. It gives you whole new ideas on right and wrong, the value of life, morality, ethics, and loss.

War isn’t the only thing to have changed us. No, every aspect of life in the countries we’ve visited has changed us. The poverty, food and lack of it, community, tribal life, the moments of kindness that have been given to us, and the ones we attempt to give back—there is no way that being in the midst of these things can leave you emotionally or mentally static.

I know that most people throughout their lifetimes experience certain things that help them learn what we have learned, but our process was a sort of high-speed evolution to a certain maturity, a certain understanding of how places outside of our homes really are.  Living it is more than what a documentary on National Geographic can prepare you for.

But it’s not all war and local life that’s given us that adult feeling. We’ve grown in other ways that otherwise would have taken us ages. For example, Ricky, who I like to refer to as Map Brain at certain times, does indeed have a brain like a map. He can navigate us through an unknown city to the section where most of the low-priced hostels are, or find our way back after roaming the town looking for some decent food. I’ve never been so good, but my skills in navigation and recognition of landmarks and directions has definitely improved.

We’ve both gotten better at negotiating prices and being unashamed at doing so. This was a talent I had hoped to work on upon my arrival in China, and I did ok, but I feel like I have mastered the skill as we have haggled for everything from hotel rooms to bottled water. We usually are pretty confident that we get the best price (at least the best prices white faces like ours are allowed). This skill has come in handy as we have interviewed for jobs and negotiated prices and benefits to our advantage.

I’ve never really been good at talking to people. Making chit-chat is my idea of one of the outer rings of Hell.  I often feel I have nothing to say and small talk with strangers is strained and awkward. Well, after being on the road with someone, being with him 24/7 for this long, no matter how much I love him, I (both of us, actually) have craved conversation with other people. Ricky often makes the first move, but I usually have no problem joining in with the conversation any more. I have things to say, newfound opinions, experiences to share, and advice to give. I can contribute. And what’s more adult than having a heated conversation about gun laws where actual facts and statistics are used, as opposed to simply shouting your political preference?

Now, armed with all of our new knowledge, experience, and skills, Ricky and I are ready to begin the next phase of true adulthood. We’re getting ready to sign contracts, rent an apartment, and pay some bills.

Wait..how do I push rewind? I don’t know if I’m ready for this! 

Chasing the Dragon




I heard somewhere, I think it was when I was in College, that when a person takes heroin for the first time, they get a certain kind of high. What makes this specific high unique, apart from it being the first time, is that it is the greatest most amazing feeling and can only be felt exactly like that once.

Once the user becomes an addict and starts to abuse the drug on a regular basis, the high that the user felt the first time seems to go further and further out of grasp. That first high was an amazing feeling and becomes impossible to match no matter how much the user tries.

This, in drug terms, is called "chasing the dragon".

I tell you this because Talia and I have been chasing a different type of proverbial dragon since we were young. This is one of the main things that we have in common and brings us together.

When we started in China and we saw some of the most amazing things like the giant Buddha at LeShan and the last bastion for giant pandas in the panda reserve in Chengdu, we got a little sliver of flavor for what we wanted to experience. We had a taste test for travel in Asia. When our time in China came to an end and we entered Laos in August last year our expectations were almost non- existent and we were fresh and open to new experiences.

As it turned out, we loved Laos. We loved the hell out of Laos. In fact, we loved it so much that if I had a million dollars I would open a small noodle shop, only open when I felt like it and live my days away in what we thought was the most amazing, beautiful, bountiful country in the world that we have seen.

The people of Laos are very happy, despite having very few material goods. They don’t know much about the outside world and they don’t feel the need to learn much about it. Life in Laos is slow and simple and can be therapeutic and relaxing to the extreme. Children play beside the road, followed by dogs and chickens while huge buffalo laze in shallow pools of muddy water. Places like the Monkey Forest show off the astounding fertility of the land as new mothers carry their infants through the trees in a small forest surrounded by bright green rice fields. There is a life and vitality in Laos that we hadn’t experienced elsewhere.

This was our dragon.

We had been in living in China for so long that when we began to travel, some of the novelty had already worn off. But when we left and entered Laos we felt a rush, an exhilaration of sorts. This was new and different and unfamiliar, almost like a dream.  We were experiencing it together and we both fell into a sort of trance; we were mesmerized by the land and people. I think somehow, deep down, we knew that nothing could be better than this.


After Laos we visited Cambodia, which I was excited about. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to expectations (I know it’s hard to generalize an entire country but any urban centre in Cambodia just seemed to be filled with corruption and greed, though once we found a secluded beach we were happy enough!)

After Cambodia, we went to Thailand, then Laos again and now Vietnam. Though we haven’t really given Thailand a good run (we were only there for two weeks), we still haven’t felt that “buzz” Laos gave us.

In Laos, there aren’t that many huge sights to see like the Great Wall of China. It’s landlocked so there are no beaches like Cambodia or Thailand, the food is pretty average and unexciting, most people don’t even have electricity. But there’s just something about that place. Something inexplicable, something supernatural like our own Bali’ Hai.

I know after I settle down for another year in China, and I start to travel once more thereafter in other continents and other parts of Asia, I will find a new dragon to chase. I know if I buy a minivan and drive around Europe for a few months I will find a new Bali’ Hai which I will love unconditionally for reasons I can’t explain, but for now, Laos is where my heart lies.

Laos is my south-east Asian oriental Dragon which many places will have difficulty living up to.

Here Comes the Sun: Happiness in Hoi An

Well, first of all, we'd like to apologize for slacking on the blog. The next phase of our journey together is drawing near, and we have been busy looking for teaching jobs in China. We had an interview yesterday and are ready for another one tomorrow.

But the more exciting thing is that we finally made it to warmth! Remember how we were in the north of Vietnam so long, freezing our butts off on the motorbikes? Well a few days ago we reached Hoi An and we couldn't be happier. It has been sunshiney and warm, something we desperately needed. The other day we rented bicycles and went to the beach. The water was a bit cold, but lying there on the sand in the warm sun was heavenly. Also, this happened.

I was relaxing and Ricky gets bored easily.




Also, Hoi An is known for a couple things: food, and tailored clothes/shoes. Let me address the former.

Ah the food! It's been so long since I've eaten pho, and I couldn't be happier! Now, I quite enjoy a good bowl of pho, but after eating it twice a day for over a month...well, it gets tiresome. Instead, we've feasted on a few of the local specialties like fried won-tons covered with sauteed veggies (definitely not like won-tons you're used to, but incredibly delicious!), rice paper pancakes, and especially cao lau. I'm going to take a cooking class in a couple of days to learn how to make a couple of these dishes.

Aside from the local food, there are quite a few Western options. However, as we've seen in other towns, the portions are pitiful and expensive. We've all but given up trying to get a hamburger or pasta to satisfy cravings, because by the time we've finished, we're still hungry, and broke.  So now, we eat a couple bowls of cheap cao lau (as low as a dollar a bowl) and then treat ourselves to a nice ice cream.

Now, the other thing Hoi An is famous for--custom tailored clothes. It seems as if every other shop on every street in town is a tailor shop. But not only do they do clothes, they also make custom shoes. On our first night here, Ricky decided to take full advantage of the opportunity. He has a hard time finding shoes that fit, especially in Asia, so we sat in a shop, looking at different shoes and materials, finding just the right combination.

Behold the glory!

Sunglasses not included.

Represent.


A perfect fit, and a splash of personality!

I'm looking at having a dress and maybe a pair of shorts made here, but it's Tet time (Vietnamese New Year) so prices have gone up. In a couple of days when things settle down, I'll give it another go. $20 for a dress is pretty good, but no way am I paying $30 for a pair of shorts! I'm sure once the holidays are over, prices will go back down, and haggling will be easier.

So that's what we've been up to lately, and I promise we'll try to make future posts a little more philosophical and/or interesting. Until then, take another look at how great Ricky's shoes are.

The 3 BEST Shoes for Travel

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