Wednesday, August 31, 2016

SOLO BACKPACKING SERIES: LAOS Pt.2

This is a recollection of my solo backpacking trip to Laos in July 2014.


You can read about my first and second day here (http://cherished-me.blogspot.my/2016/08/solo-backpacking-series-laos-pt1.html)

*** 
Vang Vieng is notoriously known for it's river tubing scene, so I decided to get with it. When in Rome, right?

On my second day in VV, I went tubing with Charles and Maddy, a Canadian couple I'd met the day before.


Sign stating the prices and tubing etiquette. It's fine to have swimwear (bikinis / swim bottoms) on the river, but not in town.

You pay 55,000kp (MYR27) together with a 60,000kp deposit (refundable upon tube return), making it 115,000kp in total for your very own giant rubber tube. You then climb into a trundling truck bound for out of town, jump into the river with your tube, and float back to town carried by the lazy current. On the way, riverside bars ply the route, with enthusiastic bar boys flinging ropes out to pull you in hopes of you buying a drink or two. 

Magic mushroom shakes and Happy pizza are common options on the menu, EDM music blares from the speakers, partyers don rainbow paint, and games such as volleyball, bowling, and basketball are played on crude courts and lanes.



(Image taken from Internet)


(Image taken from Internet)

***
There are many stories of people dying while tubing, and looking at the bar menu I can clearly see why. However, this is something that can be easily avoided - know your alcohol tolerance and don't do drugs on the river! 

After the first couple of bar visits, I observed some people barely even able to stand up straight. I really wonder what happens to them.

***
I picked a bad day to go tubing - the sky had been looking gloomy and there had been rumblings of thunder throughout the day. True enough, midway through it started pouring with rain.

I got separated from Charles and Maddy due to the strong current and they drifted out of sight. I knew I'd run into them again along the way, but it was a bit worrying to be all alone on the river during a storm.

I noticed something black and round bobbing near me. Was it a coconut? A ball?
It came nearer and nearer, causing me to be slightly alarmed.

Suddenly, the head of a local guy popped up!
He clung onto my tube, and we stared at each other. 

" Sabaidee! " He said to me (which means 'hello' in Lao) and continued trying to speak to me in Lao, of which a word I did not understand (obviously).

I wondered what on earth was going on. I had a big stick with me which I had been using to paddle, and I decided that if he tried anything funny I'd wack him, kick, bite, and scratch all I could.

Carried by the current, we drifted on for a distance in silence. 

A village came into sight. He gestured towards the riverbank, swimming towards and tugging me together.

" No, no, no! " I protested, strongly paddling my legs in the opposite direction back to the middle of the river.

" Ahhh, kapchai! " he wished me (meaning 'thank you' in Lao) and pushed off, swimming the short distance towards the village and getting out of the river, turning back to wave at me before heading into the village. 

Looking back after the incident, I've come to the conclusion that he probably was swimming in the river when it started raining, got tired, and then conveniently decided to hitch a ride back to village.

***
After an eventful day, I wound down watching Friends and Family Guy at my usual riverside bar before going back to my guesthouse to sleep.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

SOLO BACKPACKING SERIES: LAOS Pt.1

I've been solo backpacking for 3 years now. From my travels, I've encountered many others travelling by themselves. It is the norm for westerners to take a gap year and explore more of the world - even lone females. 

When I recount my experiences to my friends here at home, I am often met with a plethora of responses ; surprise, intrigue, criticism, curiosity, etc. 

Maybe it's just not an Asian (or Malaysian) thing to travel alone, especially as a girl. That being said, many who are considering doing the same have implored me to write about my numerous experiences so they will have a guideline of some sorts of what to expect. I'll be writing about my travels in parts.

***
This is a recollection of my solo backpacking journey to Laos in July 2014. 

I've previously written about my solo backpacking experience in Padang, Sumatra. You can read it here:
http://cherished-me.blogspot.my/search/label/Padang

***
I didn't know where Laos was, what language they spoke, what the topography of the country was like (mountains? coast? desert? forests?), or what currency they used, but one day I saw that AirAsia was having a promo for Laos. 

I immediately went
   " Yup, I'm going to Laos! "

I promptly booked my tickets before even looking it up on the map. (note: my return tickets for KL - Vientiane cost Rm250).

In my defense, I did go and do my research after I'd booked my flight.


Facts about Laos
  • It is bordered by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China, and Myanmar.
  • Most of their population's livelihood revolves around the Mekong ; most if not all of the major towns / cities are located alongside this mighty river.
  • Currency used in Laos is the kip. (When I went mid-2014, MYR:LAK was 1:2500, however it has now dropped to MYR: LAK roughly 1:2000). 
  • The capital of Laos is Vientiane.
  • The old capital / ancient royal dwellings is Luang Prabang.
  • Vang Vieng, a small sleepy town between the former two is a popular stop for backpackers.
  • The south of Laos receives sparse attention from the government with regards to civil infrastructure and support, resulting in lower exposure and interest from the public. Not many backpackers go down this route, preferring instead to head north to Vang Vieng / Luang Prabang.
  • If you ever get out there, try to avoid the months between May-September as this is the rainy season - days are gloomy with the ever imminent threat of a pouring rainstorm happening at any  time. 
***

Day 1: 

I flew in to Vientiane and immediately jumped on a double decker bus to Vang Vieng. The trip from Vientiane to Vang Vieng took 4 hours. The bus stops at a station out of town, then everyone gets onto a truck which takes you into the centre of VV.


Along the way.

First thing I did when I got into town was look for accommodation. I find it's always better to show up and book rather than advance booking for two reasons - 

1) You almost always get cheaper rates.
2) You get to check out the rooms first (internet photos can be so deceptive) before confirming and putting down your money. 

I walked round town a bit and came across this guesthouse. One of the boys hanging round the compound informed me it was LAK35,000 (about RM17) per night for a single room with queen bed and private bathroom.


Souksomboun Guesthouse, owned and run by a Korean couple. I asked to see the room and bathroom first.



Pretty satisfactory, so I agreed and unloaded my stuff.

They had WiFi, free drinking water, hot shower, and the room + bathroom was clean and comfortable. No air conditioning, but I was there during the rainy season anyway and the weather was cool all the while.

Next agenda was to get something to eat as I hadn't eaten that day (not even before my flight out from KL) and it was already early evening.


Lemon chicken chop and rice.

After I'd gotten some sustenance, it was time to walk around and explore Vang Vieng.


Only dirt roads in VV.


Random temple I wandered into.


Serpentine dragonish figurine at the temple entrance.

***
As I was walking around town, I crossed paths with a couple. The girl was a little way ahead and the guy was strumming a ukelele, singing out loud. He gave me a wide friendly smile when our gaze met.

I couldn't help but smile back and enquire where they were from.

They introduced themselves as Charles & Madelyn from Alberta, Canada, and told me they were heading to the Blue Lagoon - would I like to join?


Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng.
(Image grabbed off the internet, it did not look like this at all when I was there.)

We jumped into a tuktuk, and were off. It was late in the evening and the weather was gloomy when we got there so I didn't get good pictures of the lagoon. Thanks to the rain earlier, the lagoon was more brown than blue.


Sign nearby the lagoon.

After taking a swim in the lagoon, we proceeded to hang out nearby with some other Italian backpackers while waiting to dry off before heading back to town.

A weird local guy came with free alcohol for everyone and tried to get us to drink with him. When we didn't really oblige, he proceeded to drink  himself happy then attempted to get friendly with the girls, but the guys quickly set him straight on that.

Day 2:

Woke up late and had brunch at one of the riverside restaurants. FYI, one thing very interesting about VV is that all the tvs in the bars and restaurants are continuously running episodes of 'Friends' and 'Family Guy'. Apparently they started doing it a number of years ago to cater to all the mostly western backpackers.


Riverside restaurant I ended up frequenting most of the time in VV.


Most restaurants have a river-facing section, which was where I sat most of the time. Ahh the view!

My breakfast, yum yum! Oats, coffee, and poached eggs.


Poached egg looks so good it's almost obscene.


Baguette section of the menu, found number 6 amusing.

Walked round and explored town some more after brunch.


One of the numerous bus services about town.


Flowers.


Friendly little dog crossing the bridge.


 Steps leading down into the river.


Street food.

Oh by the way, one thing I loved dearly about Vang Vieng was their baguettes! Really good, really tasty, and cheap. Every few hundred metres there's a baguette / pancake stand and they are pretty damn yummy.




SO DAMN GOOD.

In case you're wondering why baguettes are so commonly rampant in this under developed Asian country, it is because Laos used to be ruled by the French, which in turn influenced them in this culinary aspect.

***

Alright, here's where I stop. Will continue blogging about VV in another post, bye!



Monday, August 22, 2016

BOOK REVIEW - THE TRANSLATOR: A TRIBESMAN'S MEMOIR OF DARFUR

I came across this dog-eared copy at one of those Rm5 book fairs I love so dearly. 

Since then, it has become of my favourite books.


The author, Daoud Hari, was born into a respected and revered family in the plains of Darfur in Sudan. His family was considered immensely wealthy - they lived in sturdy comfortable tents and owned several herds of cattle as well as substantial stretches of land which they farmed and made a living. His father was a highly respected figure within the tribe, with conflicts and arguments being brought before him to resolve.

Daoud had the privilege of attending school and went to University in Eygpt - his first time away from his country and family - where he was first exposed to western culture by way of movies, newspapers, television. It is also where he started learning English. 

Throughout his time at university, his family kept imploring him to return. However, he was hesitant - hungering for more of the world and what lay beyond the plains of Sudan, a life beyond being tending to cattle, beyond claiming a wife, beyond fathering children and raising a family.

***

After he completed university, a war broke out in Sudan. The UN was looking for translators and guides to navigate the warzone so they could broadcast the happenings to the world. Daoud heard of their plight and volunteered himself to go. Together with UN journalist Paul Salopek and driver Ali, they traverse the crossfire in a trusty battered 4WD - often going into fierce battlezones to collect stories and accounts of the war.

Throughout his journey, Daoud took on the alias of Suleyman Abakar Moussa from Chad to protect himself as the war was hostile to Sudan and its people.

Written with dry humour and refreshing candour in simple yet impactful manner, the book tells of his experiences as a child and then of his role as a UN guide and translator.

Of the many words, chapters, and pages within the entire book ; it is these brief sentences which resound with me the most. 

   " My family wanted me to return home, to tend our cattle, inherit our land, and marry a girl they would choose for me - and a part of me thought I would like for that as well. "

   " However, a bigger part of me wanted to see the world, to forge my own fate, and choose my own bride - and hopefully have her choose me too. "





Tuesday, August 9, 2016

THE DIPLOMAT'S DAUGHTER

I met her at a Crossfit box where both of us were open day drop-ins. There were lots of people there as well so I didn't really talk to her before nor during the session.

We had a good WOD which consisted of box jumps, dumb bell clusters, tyre flips, and lunges. After that when we were lying on the floor sweaty and catching our breath, I learnt that she was Korean by nationality and here in KL on a work exchange programme.

She was in her late twenties and worked for a large international company. She had been the only participant in her company's annual work exchange programme for that year and would be staying in KL for 3 months.

I offered to show her around and along the way we struck up a friendship. 

We'd go for dinner and conversations would be

Me: Why are all Koreans so fair-skinned and thin and pretty and stylish?
Her: How do you imagine that all Koreans are fair-skinned and thin and pretty and stylish?
Me: Because all the Korean dramas / K-pop bands / seem that way.
Her: That's just what you see on the media. Trust me we have fat and ugly people in Korea just like every other country.

***
We'd go for night time walks and I showed her the lake I visited sometimes.

She told me that growing up, her father worked with the Korean embassy and was given a new placement every 2-4 years. She'd spent her childhood jetting about Taiwan, the Netherlands, Singapore, the States, and more. 

   " That's so cool " I breathed in envy.
   " Cool? I guess maybe it seems that way. " As she unenthusiastically shrugged her shoulders.

   " Isn't it? " I queried
   " When I was younger maybe I thought that too, but the truth is it's really not that great. " She answered. 

   " Now that I've matured and developed, I want something more stable and secure. I want familiar faces and places I can return to and call home. "
   " I've moved around too often and too far to have formed meaningful relationships and lasting friendships. Moving back to Korea in my mid-twenties after an international upbringing, I felt so foreign and out of place. Besides, it's also so difficult to meet and keep people when most of them have formed such familiar tight-knit circles. "

When I asked her what she wanted to do on her last night in KL, she told me she had yet to try bak kut teh - and how could I have let her leave without downing a bowl of soupy porky deliciousness?


(Image intentionally blurred for privacy purposes)

***

I hope life is being kind to her.

Friday, August 5, 2016

SYDNEY HARBOURSIDE HANGIN'

It was a beautiful, crisp, and clear Sydney winter morning.

I got the train from Jannali, alighted at Town Hall, and started walking towards Darling Harbour. It was quite a distance to the harbour, not to mention I didn't have much of an idea of my direction but I was keen to wander and explore anyway.

I walked and walked and walked and kept getting lost, but came across many interesting sights and places. Chinatown, Powerhouse museum, a performing theatre, street art, etc. 






I walked so much for hours that my feet hurt. I lost count of how many breaks I took to just sit and ease my aching feet.

I came across lots of open lawns with neatly manicured grass where people had folable chairs spread open enjoying the sun. Some were napping with faint smiles on their faces even in sleep, some were reading newspapers with their dogs at their feet. I saw three little kids playing with a bubble gun chasing the bubbles and laughing in excitement.

(I later learnt that these green open spaces were for public recreation and were called 'ovals')

I came across a winter funfair too, with a kids skating rink and carousel.



***

Finally, I found myself at the harbour. I wandered round by the waterfront, watching people in posh cafes, little kids chasing after seagulls, tourists posing for photos. 

I decided to take a posed touristy photo myself as well.



I visited the Australian Maritime museum. Museums are pretty pricey in Australia ($25-35), but most of them have a section called an 'open gallery' where you are allowed to visit for free.

Days in winter tend to be short, and by 4pm sunlight was starting to fade. Sitting on the steps by the waterfront after a long day of walking and exploring, I concluded that it was time to head back.

***
I felt a tap on my shoulder.

It was a boy my age. What did he want?

   " Excuse me, but do you have some change to spare? "
I frowned while giving him a scathing glare (which he probably couldn't see because I was wearing sunglasses). Was this going to be a scam?

   " I've been out all day trying to find a job, and it's so cold, and I haven't eaten at all the whole day. "
   " Please, do you have two dollars so I can have something to eat? "
With an expression which was not short of desperation. 
I sensed genuine sincerity in his voice.

My thoughts flashed to when I was begging in Indonesia for money.

And also that time when I got screwed over by a woman who told me she wanted money for her kid's baby powder but then bought a bottle of whiskey.

I decided to respond the best way I could think of.

   " Come on, I'll buy you a meal. " 
I responded.

   " Oh thank you! Thank you thank you so much! "
Immediately his face lit up with a big smile.

There was a Maccas right next to us, so I went in with him and bought him a burger.
It was crowded inside and there were no seats, so we went back out to the steps by the waterfront to sit and eat.

Unwrapping the burger, he kept gushing about how much he appreciated this and how thankful he was to me.

   " Where are you from? Can I have your address or email? I'll promise I'll pay you back. "

I laughed, touched at his gratitude from something so simple.

   " Hey, you don't have to pay me back. Just tell me you'll pay it forward. "
   " Keep it up with the job hunt and all the best. "
I smiled as I got up.

And then I caught the train back from Central Station. 



UNREQUITED LOVE

Unrequited love is an alluringly destructive thing.

Songs, novels, and movies champion and glorify it.
It is depicted as passionate, strong, noble, and brave.

But it is not.

Telling someone that they have and will always hold your heart, no matter how disinterested they are, how they treat you, or how little they care about you,


Is dangerous, irresponsible, foolish, and tragic. 

***
No matter how strongly you feel about someone or how much you do for them, they do not owe it to you to return the same.

It does no good to shrivel up at someone's feet and plead

   " I won't let go of you. "
   " I still have faith in us. "
   " I can't let you leave me. "

When they did not ask you to make your emotional well-being, happiness, and priorities dependent on them.
They are not obliged to reciprocate their affection, presence, time, resources.

Them not returning your love does not make them a bad person, selfish, or heartless. 

Maybe you have forgotten that they are as human any other - maybe a bit unsure, uncertain, needing time and space to focus on finding their own footing and self-assurance before they are capable of being with anyone else.

Sometimes the most compassionately loving thing you can do for yourself and for them is to let go, sincerely wish them well, then set out to live your life - and never look back.