Friday, September 30, 2016

What Did I buy in SE Asia?


In 2013 I carried two empty suitcases to Pakistan and left with them full of clothing and accessories. At their airport, they were overweight.

In the two years that have passed since then, I’ve become a lot less materialistic. I have also grown to hate buying things I don’t need, and to despise – even more – the art of haggling for a price. This contributed to my not buying much in Asia.  Besides, I had almost no room to add anything to my backpack, and I didn’t want to carry anything around for months, nor did I want to pay to ship it home. However, I did not walk away empty handed. Here is a list of the things I bought, what I paid for them, and how I managed them. I sent one big box home halfway through the trip, then carried the rest with me.

-       2 pairs of Thai fisherman pants, Thailand,  $4 each, shipped home
-       Northface Jacket, Vietnam, $40, stuffed in my backpack for 2 months
-       2 Longyis, Myanmar, $4 each, shipped home
-       Elephant charm, Thailand, $2, shipped home
-       Lao Bear charm, Laos, $3, stuffed in my backpack for 3 months
-       Sunglasses, Thailand, $5, stuffed in my backpack for 2 weeks
-       Bamboo Fan, Mynamar, $0.20, shipped home
- Book marks, Vietnam, $1, kept in backpack for 2 months
-       Magazines, Malaysia and Thailand, stuffed in my backpack for 4 months


Monday, September 26, 2016

Reading List: 6 Months in SE Asia


Reading at Graph Cafe in Chiang Mai, Thailand

When I look at this list, I feel disappointed. 11 books in 6 months? I used to read 3 books a month when I lived in Portland. But then again, I rode public transportation to work and spent many long rainy afternoons at home reading.
Travel is a time for exploring, not spending all day with a book. But sometimes the best kind of exploration is internal. Sometimes I don’t want to be caught up in my own adventure, and I want to indulge in someone else’s. 


Reading on the beach in Nha Trang, Vietnam

Half of these books are on gender and sexuality, which is part of the homework I'm doing for a website I created on queer literature. The other half are fiction of interest, from some of my favorite writers like Toni Morrison and Jeanette Winterson. 


Reading on the slow boat to Luang Prabang, Laos

In chronological order:
  1. How Poetry Saved My Life, by Amber Dawn – on a dark, rainy plane from San Francisco to Hong Kong
  2. Trans/Love, edited by Morty Diamond – on the bed of my guest house in Bali
  3. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison – on the Mekong in Laos
  4. Written on the Body, by Jeantte Winterson – from a hammock at Mike’s house in Vientiane
  5. Home, by Toni Morrison – on the beach in Nha Trang
  6. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac – on the train from Hanoi to Hue, and Hue to Da Nang
  7. Gender Outlaws: The next Generation, by Kate Bornstein – from the bed of my loft in Phnom Penh
  8. Redefining Realness, by Janet Mock – from my living room in Chiang Mai
  9. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison – from my apartment rooftop in Chiang Mai
  10. Gender Failure, by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon- from my apartment balcony in Chiang Mai
  11. The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch - from my apartment balcony in Chiang Mai
Reading in the hammock at Mike's place in Vientiane, Laos



Thursday, September 22, 2016

What Do I Eat in Seattle?

Despite living in one of the food capitals of the nation, Portland is seriously lacking in one regional cuisine: Taiwanese food. For years I have been driving three hours north to Seattle just to get my fill of Taiwanese food – and this is even before Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fund opened location in Bellevue and University District.

Meesum and always been my first and my favorite Taiwanese restaurant in Seattle. For one, it’s the best place to get Pork Chop Rice, a delicious meal of fried pork chop, rice, minced pork, and pickled vegetables. It’s also cheap and usually empty for lunch.



Rocking Wok also bring back great memories from my early trip to Seattle when all my friends were still in college.  This is the place to go to get Taiwanese specialties such as Oyster Pancake and Meatball.





Northwest Tofu is a divvy breakfast joint that has wonderful salty soymilk soup. I first became addicted to this soup when I was living in Orange Country, and now I can’t find it anywhere. I always order Salty soymilk soup with a side of friend bread.




I saved the best for last. Din Tai Fung first opened in Bellevue some years ago, and more recently opened a branch near the University of Washington, my stomping ground. Expect to wait an hour or more during a weekend night, though service is fast and efficient once you are inside. Although DTF USA does not have the variety of DTF Taiwan, there traditional options are still there and taste basically the same. My default orders are Pork Xiao Long Bao, Potstickers, Shrimp Shao Mai, Shredded Pork Fried Rice, Sautéed Spinach, and Shrimp and Pork Spicy Wontons. If you can’t tell, I don’t go to DTF alone.



Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Room with a View: my hotel windows in SE Asia

Throughout my trip in SE Asia, in almost every place I stayed I took a photo of the view from my apartment or hotel window. Alone, these images may not be worth showcasing. Indeed they are just rooftops in unrecognizable parts of a city, but together in this collection, they seem to each capture a certain essence, like the nose or eye of a person's face. By putting them all together in this one post, it is easy to spot the differences in each city, and in to get a sense of the identity and lifestyle of that place. 

Bangkok, Thailand


Chiang Mai, Thailand


Hanoi, Vietnam


Hue, Vietnam


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Kuching Malaysia


Mandalay, Myanmar


Nha Trang, Vietnam
Ubud, Bali


Yangon, Myanmar


Hua Hin, Thailand

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Repatriation: Life back in Portland

Bag: from Seoul, magazine and agenda: from Tokyo, pen case: from Stockholm

My last memory of Chiang Mai is boarding a midnight flight in the airport. There is only one terminal with one large waiting room that was crowded with people and birds were roosting in the rafters above. I could not wait to get home.

Three months earlier from my hot mosquito tent of an apartment in Saigon, I skyped with an American friend who had gone on a multi-month sabbatical through South America. At the time we Skyped, he was 6 months home from his journey and already wanted to step out again on another adventure. He told me that he missed walking through corn fields in Nicaragua looking for a bus stop. He was already bored with his day job in  Brooklyn, he wanted to go back to South America so desperately. He told me to cherish every moment I was away, and that once I was back to the grind I would be missing my time in SE Asia and longing to get away again.

I took his words seriously. I had three months left in my trip and I enjoyed them fully. But by the time I had purchased my ticket home I was so ready to be home. Ready to wear more than three outfits. Ready to communicate fluently in my native language. Ready to not be dependent on buses and rickshaws and my own feet for transportation. Mostly, I was ready to work again.

At that point, I had spent two months unemployed, followed by a year in an gratifying job, followed by two more months of unemployment, followed by six months of travel. It sounds incredulous, but I was dying to get back to working. Not only is it satisfying to make money, but having a job is part of my identity. I need to feel tethered to the place I am living. I need to feel a sense of purpose and having a job helps me achieve that. 

I didn’t go to SE Asia with any idealistic hopes of “finding myself” – though I fully acknowledge that a journey anymore is mostly an internal one – but I did hope to return with a solid game plan. By my last month there, I knew more or less what I wanted to do and where I wanted to work, so I set about applying for jobs on my last two weeks in Thailand.

Looking back, I regret having begun my job search so early. I wish I had waited until I returned to the US to begin working on my resume and taking interview (I even work up at 4:00am to do a Skype interview) from Chiang Mai. I should have spent those precious last weeks doing what I was doing the whole trip: reading, writing, and hanging out. But ultimately it worked out and I ended up at a job I love, that is challenging and fulfilling in different ways.

One of the things I missed most about being away was having an anchor, a stable place to call my own. I missed being surrounded by my stuff and being comfortable in my dwelling. When I departed on my 6 month journey, I didn’t really have a home. Physically, I was living half in my dad’s apartment, and half with my partner. Emotionally, I knew I loved Portland as a city but didn’t know if it was my forever place. By the time I returned I knew I wanted to be there. My partner and I bought a house just two months later and moved all of our things into it. Now it’s hard to image life without such a dwelling. And I’ve gotten to love Portland as a city more and more, though it continues to change before my very eyes.

The lifestyle I had in SE Asia was also not a lifestyle that suited me. I like to be busy. I like to have plans and definite things to do. I don’t like waking up each day and wondering how it will pass. I like having lots of different friends and meeting with each of them from time to time. I like doing things alone and coming home and telling my partner about it. It was hard being each other’s only friends for six months. It was hard not being alone as often as I would have liked. We enjoyed our brief experiment with this lifestyle, but it would not have been sustainable for either of us.

It felt good coming back.

The repatriation process looks a lot like culture shock. The first stage is bliss, then aguish, then a gradual move towards adaptation and acculturation. My first six months back in Portland were glorious. I loved being unemployed for two months, volunteering and job hunting. I loved working and forming a new identity from my job. I loved taking small vacations and weekend trips. But after six months my mood took a dip and I started missing my life overseas again. Work got stressful and I was again fantasizing about being someone else, somewhere else. It look a year for me to accept my new identity fully.


Accepting doesn't mean settling. I know I won’t be this exact person forever. But I like who I am now, and I like how I'm living now. My six months in SE Asia is within me now.

Photo Diary: a day in Pingxi

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