Friday, October 28, 2016

First day of fall

The leaves have begun turning here in Portland, and to kick off my favorite season, I wore this plaid skirt from my Spring 2016 Collection.

Top: H&M
Shoes: vintage
Bag: Louis Vuitton
Pearl necklace: wedding jewelry from my mother-in-law
Pearl pin: from grandma

Monday, October 24, 2016

Packing for 6 months in Asia: The results

Packing was one of the aspects of my trip with which I was most concerned.
What if what I brought wasn't enough?
What if I bought a bunch of stuff and couldn’t fit it into my suitcase?
What is I get sick of wearing the same clothes for six months?

Well, now that my trip is complete, I have answered to all these questions, and more!

I am proud to say that, thanks to my meticulous research, my packing list was damn near perfect. I had everything I needed for the entire trip. That being said, I absolutely did get sick of wearing the same clothes everyday for 6 months. I was thrilled to be able to throw my ratty tanks tops and shirts into a trash can when departing from Chiang Mai with only the clothes on my body, and return to my home in Portland where a treasure trove of clothing awaited me.

I am also proud to say that I did not buy that much. I mean…compared to hauling an extra suitcase home from Dubai, what’s a couple magazines and fisherman pants? I sent one box of stuff home, and carried the rest with me. I do wish I had been able to buy more, but in retrospect, I didn’t really need anything. Having to travel light kept me from making unnecessary purchases.
Although I had everything I needed, there were a few things I did not use, and therefore would not bring on my next trip:
  • contact lenses (wore glasses every day)
  • goggles (didn’t swim much)
  • money wallet (not needed)
  • business cards (gave out, like, 2)
  • sun visor (used twice)
  • portable charger (everywhere had outlets)
  • Sseko sandals (wore tennis shoes the whole time)
  • Rain jacket (didn’t rain much)

There were also some things I am really, really glad I brought:
  • an entire roll of hair ties (because I wore my long hair up every day, and I lose hair ties all the time)
  • acne cream (because sure enough, my skin broke out all the freakin' time)
  • twist ties for my electronics cords (they really kept cords from getting tangled)
  • advil (for period cramps)
  • tampons (they are really hard to find in Asia!)
  • my small black pouch (used almost everyday)
  • long sleeve shirt and hoodie (it got cold!)

If I could do it all over again, these are the things I wish I brought:
  • cold and cough medicine (I got sick twice)
  • more T-shirts and less tank tops (for modesty and sun protection)
  • more socks (three pairs was the bare minimum)

There were a few things I got along the way, but I would bring them next time:
  • plastic bags (for shoes and dirty laundry)
  • a tote bag from freshness in Myanmar (used as a gym bag)
  • face wash (my sensitive skin broke out a lot on this trip)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Lessons Learned: Post-Travel Reflections

After spending 6 months in SE Asia, I learned a lot about myself as a traveler and as a person. Some things I anticipated, others were a surprise. I have a few regrets, but I don’t dwell on them. There are many things I would have done differently, but the only way I would have known to do them differently is to possess the information I have now. Overall, I did a lot of things right, and a few things wrong, but here is what I learned the way I travel.

I need to be in a city. And not just any city. The city must have these three elements:

1. Options
If a place is too small or limiting, I get nervous. In smaller towns in Vietnam, I could find no place to buy a latte – only Vietnamese coffee. That bothered me. There were many places in Myanmar where food options where limited to basically local cafes or expensive Western restaurants, and that bothered me.

2. A solid middle class
Any place with only extreme poverty and wealth is not a comfortable place for me to be. I grew up poor in America, but that doesn’t compare to the poverty in Asia. I am not able to live like a poor local  in Asia or even a thrifty backpacker.  At the same time, I am uncomfortable being served and catered to. I don’t want doors held open for me, I don’t want to be called ma’am, I don’t want to be treated as superior simply because I have money. In these societies, I occupy an ambiguous space being that I am neither poor like the local people, but not rich like the wealthy elite.

3. Jobs that don't revolve around the tourism industry
In Luang Prabang, I felt like just about every Lao person in that town was there to make money from me. Their livelihood depended upon me buying souvenirs from them, getting rides from them, paying them to see their temples and use their bathrooms. I hate feeling like a walking wallet. Contrast this to the capital of Vientiane, where a number of local people make their living from trade, banking, real estate, business ventures, etc. They don’t care how I chose to spend my money on a daily basis, and I like this. 

Overall, I don’t like tourist towns  such as Luang Prabang,  Laos; Hoi An, Vietnam; Ubud, Bali; Hua Hin, Thailand; and Bagan, Myanmar. These places feel like recreations of something that was once authentically beautiful, like the beauty of these places has been preserved in plastic and wrapped into  something pocketable. There is no authentic way to experience it, because the place itself is not authentic.

I am not staying in hotels anymore. Only apartments. If I am to stay anywhere longer than two nights, it’s worth it to find a good apartment. I need my own space. I need privacy. I dread the knock of the hotel maid in the morning, and having to leave my key at the reception desk. Having the hotel staff try to sell me day tours and ask where I'm going. No more!

I never want to hop from city to city again. I want to stay in one place for a least a few weeks before moving on. This makes shorts trips more difficult, but it’s worth it. I never get much from being in a place only a few days. 5-6 is my new minimum.

Regrets: What I would have done differently:

  • I would have stayed 6 days in Seim Reap and 3 in Phnom Penh (6 days in Phnom Penh was far too long and 3 days in Siem Reap was far too short). I will probably have to go back to Siem Reap one day. I loved Angkor Park so much and there was still a lot I didn’t get to explore. I want to go during the rainy season, when there are less tourists and everything is lush and green. I won’t mind the rain. I'm from Portland.
  • No days in Mandalay, Kuala Lumpur, Kuta, Hua Hin, or Hue. I hated those places.
  • I could have done Bagan, Myanmar better. I slept in late everyday but the last day. I should have rented a horse carriage to take me to the major temples. I should have explored the old town more thoroughly.
  • I wish I learned that the beach isn’t all about swimming. I didn’t figure out how fun it was to simply lounge on the beach and read a book, or walk down the shore at night, until I was in Nha Trang, Vietnam. If I had known this sooner, I would have enjoyed my time in Hua Hin, Thailand or Kuta, Bali more

Reliefs: What I would do exactly the same:

  • Keeping a narrative diary and forcing myself to journal every day. The memories are all too fleeting. There is so much to experience and absorb each day and you will lose it quickly if you don't write it down. Most people these days rely on photographs to do the preserving, but a photograph cannot preserve your thoughts or feelings. Now a year post-travel, I have found myself turning to my SE Asia journal many times to relive my experiences. 
  •  Advance planning and research. I am so glad I planned all of the major logistics before leaving. Wifi cannot be trusted and I saved a lot of time and stress knowing where I would stay and how I would get there well in advance. However, in terms of day-to-day planning, that’s not worth doing too far in advance, and I need to schedule in time to do research before each new city or country.
  • Hauling my partner along. Not to diss the solo travelers - I also love traveling on my own, but now that I am happily coupled I think I would miss my significant other too much to go long without him. It was wonderful to have an extra set of eyes and ears to interpret our surroundings and debrief them. It was such a relief to have someone to talk to all the time, which is one thing I was so desperately missing in Japan.
  • Packing lite. It really does make all the difference. I managed to refrain from buying so many things, and you know what - I don't regret it. My house is just as full without those objects collecting dust on the shelf. Because I had to carry my belongings for six months, I was so careful about what I bought. 

Overall this trip was an amazing learning experience. I'm not sure how I could have gained this insight without experience and let this be a lesson to myself in all future trips. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Last day of summer

I returned to Portland from Europe just in time to experience one last warm sunny weekend. I wore the dress and tote I bought in Athens to bid farewell to summer....

Dress: Zara from Athens
Tote: from the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens
Shoes: Target

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Tunes from Southeast Asia's Cafes

VRC Cafe in Kuala Lumpur, where I first began chronicling the music of cafes

I was sitting in VCR in Kuala Lumpur when I first heard Birdy’s voice sing Skinny Love. I'm sure the song was playing all over the U.S., but I wouldn’t have heard it if I had not been in VCR at that moment. Years ago, I would have asked a staff member at the café what song they were playing, or I would have walked away never knowing it. But it’s 2015 and thanks to the wonderful apps, Kazaa and Shazam, I was able to learn the name of the song without having to ask anyone. Since then, I began to take note of all the beautiful songs I heard in cafes throughout Asia. Here are 27 of my favorite songs. I picked the number 27 because of my age, and each song was selected because it represented a certain mood and feeling in each place I visited.
  1. Birdy – Skinny Love: VCR,  Kuala  Lumpur, Malaysia
  2. Sophia Zelmani – Free Now: Comma Coffee, Vientiane
  3. Jasmine Thompson – When I was Your Man: Piccolo Café, Kuching, Malaysia
  4. A Fine Frenzy – Borrowed Time: V Café, Mandalay, Myanmar
  5. Nina Simone – Love Me, Leave Me: Naked Espresso, Vientiane, Laos
  6. Sultan Khan – Tarana: Hanoi Social Club, Hanoi, Vietnam
  7. Emily Wells – Symphony 1 in the Barrel of A Gun: Cong Caphe, Hanoi, Vietnam
  8. Slackwax – Dying Day: Saffron Café, Luang Prabang, Laos
  9. Air – All I need: L’Usine, Saigon, Vietnam
  10. Devotchka – Lunnaya Pogonka, Boon Bar, Yangon, Myanmar
  11. Radiohead – Reckoner, Java Café, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  12. Bruce Brubaker – Metamorphosis: Metamorphosis Four, Quest, Bangkok, Thailand
  13. Cinnamon Chasers – Sabalia, Dolcetto Café, Chiang Mai, Thailand
  14. Michael Nyman – The Heart Asks Pleasure First, Marble Arch, Chiang Mai
  15. Feist – Honey, Honey: Full Stop, Bangkok, Thailand
  16. Kimbra – Settle Down, Starbucks, Saigon, Vietnam
  17. Elizabeth Ziman – Mistake, Toby’s Estate, Singapore
  18. Wax Tailor – Say Yes, Café Genius, Yangon, Myanmar
  19.  Nouvelle Vague – In A Manner of Speaking, Brown Café, Phone Penh, Cambodia
  20. Boy Tedson – Killing Time, New Leaf Book Café, Siem Reap, Cambodia
  21. State of Bengal - Chittagong Chill, Kafe Roubaix, Chiang Mai
  22. London Grammer – Wasting my Young Years, The Bar, Chiang Mai, Thailand
  23. Dillon - Thirteen Thirtyfive, LoCal Café, Chiang Mai, Thailand
  24. Princess Chelsea – The Cigarette Duet, Doma Café, Luang Prabang, Laos
  25. Yuna – Stay, Three Little Birds, Seniman’s, Ubud, Bali
  26. Ingrid Michaelson – You and I, ChanNueng Café, Chiang Mai, Thailand
  27. B. Fleischmann - A Letter from Home, Artisan, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...