It being the new year and all (happy 2011, by the way!), I decided I would try something new… something different… something totally revolutionary.
It’s called (wait for it): being concise!
I’ve even made a New Year’s resolution to be more concise with my blog post writing this year. Yes, I have blog resolutions. In fact, the only resolutions I made this year are regarding my blog. And, yes, I realize that makes me a huge dork. (Maybe I should have made a resolution to pick up a new hobby that isn’t nearly as nerdy? You know, one that I could talk about with people at a bar without having them fall asleep. I’m not exactly an athletic person or the musical instrument type, but I’ve always wanted to try knitting… or maybe sudoku. Those are sexier than blogging… right?!)
Of course, like most people, I’m not particularly good at keeping resolutions. So I imagine I will be back to long blathery posts about my pants in no time. But, until then, you can enjoy my attempt at being concise. (Or, more aptly, concise-ish.)
And, look, I even added pictures!
1. It’s possible to miss a home that you never knew was your home.At the end of last February, I left Japan after living and working there for three years. I liked a lot of things about Japan — the food, the culture, the arts, my paycheck.
But, I never felt like I really fit in in Japan.
I didn’t speak much Japanese. I weigh twice as much as the average Japanese person and could never buy a pair of pants. I didn’t have a Japanese partner or spouse, like most long-term foreigners in Japan. I had a handful of Japanese friends, but most of my friends were other expats. In short, it never felt like my home.
Until I left it.
I don’t miss the stress of my job (or even my paycheck… okay, maybe I miss my paycheck). But I do miss my friends, my sunny little apartment and my neighborhood running path. I miss the traditional hot spring baths. I miss my neighborhood sushi shop. Heck, I even miss weird things like the smell of the tatami mats in my living room and the beer vending machine on my corner. (Okay, that’s not weird, right? I mean who wouldn’t miss a vending machine that sells beer? Hello?)
2. You won’t know if you like something until you try it (or “Stinky tofu isn’t as bad as it sounds”).En route to Thailand from Japan, I stopped in Taiwan for a week where I gorged on night market food including stinky tofu. And I liked it. You know what is as bad as it sounds? A bitter gourd smoothie. Trust me on this one. Blech.
As a professed homebody and a seriously slow traveler (like glacially slow), I really didn’t know if I’d like traveling long-term. I like shoes and closet space and personal space and my couch. I don’t particularly like twelve-hour bus rides or dirty guesthouses or dealing with other people before noon. But I have kind of liked this. I even have plans to keep up the long-term travel thing next year (except with more shoes… and, potentially, a couch).
3. Not knowing what you’re getting yourself into is often for the best. Especially if what you’re getting yourself into involves cobras.When I moved to Thailand to house-sit in the middle of a jungle for two months, many of my friends and family members asked me if I knew what I was getting myself into.
“Sure,” I said.
The couple who I was house-sitting for had told me that I would be living in a house near a small village, about ten miles away from the nearest town. They informed me of my duties: taking care of the cats, watering the gardens, putting out the trash, picking up the mail, killing ants with magic ant-killing chalk… that kind of thing.
They didn’t mention the cobras until the day before they left town. (After seeing the stricken look on my face, they assured me there weren’t many cobras. Phew.) They also didn’t mention the spiders the size of small elephants. Or the fact that the market only sold chicken in two varieties: with the head on or with both the head and feet on. They didn’t tell me that some ants don’t die no matter how many times you brandish your magic chalk. They also didn’t tell me about the neighborhood pack of wild dogs that liked to run after white girls on bikes.
I got to find out all those things on my own.
If I had known these things prior to moving to Thailand, I probably would have never gone. In fact, if I had known most of outcomes of this past year, I probably wouldn’t have ever left Japan. If I had known that in ten months time I’d work my way through twice as much money as I planned, half as many countries as I had hoped and way too many plates of pad thai (rendering me incapable of fitting into the few pants that I own), I would have never signed up. Instead, I’d still be sitting in my apartment in Japan (most likely sniffing at the tatami mat or something weird like that).
While it wasn’t a year I would have expected, it’s a year I’m glad that happened. I’ve learned a lot. (I mean, magic ant killing chalk, people! I never would have learned about that if I hadn’t left Japan). I’ve grown a lot. (And not just horizontally! I swear!) And I think I’ve gotten a little bit closer to the person I want to be. (Although, I do kind of wish that person could fit into her pants… just saying.)
4. You can make friends anywhere… even on a rice farm.I’ve met a lot of awesome people on this trip — other travelers, fellow volunteers, people I originally met on Twitter, the students at the school where I’m currently volunteering. But, Mr. Choi, my supervisor at the organic rice farm in Malaysia, where I worked for two months this past spring, was definitely the best.
I mean, the man bought me sickles.
Really, there’s no competition.
5. Some things sound like a lot more fun than they actually are. And just because it sounds like fun doesn’t mean it’s your kind of fun.
After living on a rice farm for two months, I thought I was up for anything. Live on a boat for month? No problem! So in July, I signed up to help with a boat-building project in Eastern Malaysia. Living on a boat sounded so much cooler than living on a muddy rice farm. Besides, how difficult could it be — this boat-building thing?
In one short month, I almost capsized a dinghy, sanded off all of my fingernails (and the majority of my fingertips) and made more varnish mistakes than I care to remember. I learned I really prefer life on land… especially life that doesn’t involve varnish.
The following month, I signed up to volunteer and live at a hostel in Laos. That sounded like fun, too.
Yep. That lasted one night.
6. Group tours aren’t all bad. Especially when there’s a possibility you might blow off a leg.Despite swearing off group tours early on in my trip, I signed up for a group tour when I was in Phonsavan, Laos, to see the Plain of Jars sites.
I enjoyed my tour so much and the group that I was with that we signed up for another group tour for the following day. It turned out to be a group tour of a UXO field. As our tour guide gleefully pointed out unexploded cluster bombs and the like, I was glad to have a few friends around. It was encouraging to know that if I did blow off a leg or two, there would be someone around to drag my bloody body from the field.
That’s what friends are for, right?
7. Plans change. Even when you didn’t have a plan to begin with.After leaving Laos in October, I returned to Thailand. Having already spent a month in Thailand three years ago and two months house-sitting here earlier in the year, I didn’t have any plans to return. But that’s just how things worked out.
And I’m glad they did. I’ve met lots of awesome people, done lots of awesome things and experienced a lot of the culture that I wasn’t able to while I was living on my own.
I also did a lot of nothing.
It’s been pretty awesome.
In January, I’m heading home to visit my family in Buffalo, NY, before I move on to China. This was another one of those “never in the plan” kind of thing. Originally the idea was that I would travel for as long as I could until I hit all the countries I needed to see in Asia, and then head home. Besides, who in their right mind schedules a trip to Buffalo in the middle of winter? Really.
Even though I didn’t start off with a strict plan to begin with, I’ve learned to be a lot more flexible with the few plans that I have. It seemed right to move back to Thailand. It seems right to go home for a bit. (It may not seem so right when I get hypothermia after battling twenty feet of snow in the only pair of pants that still fit me — a flimsy pair of linen capris with a drawstring waist, of course. But we’ll deal with that when the time comes.)
8. Travel may change your life. But it won’t fix your life. Or you.When I left Japan, I was burnt out and depressed. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I needed a change. I set off to “find myself” (whatever that means). And I sincerely hoped that the person I found was a lot better than the person I was.
I’ve learned a whole bunch of wondrous things on this trip (magic ant-killing chalk!), but I’ve also learned a few things about myself. And they’re not all necessarily good things.
I still suffer from chronic bouts of depression.
I am so independent that I border on becoming a hermit. I can easily hole myself up in my apartment or guesthouse for days without talking to a single soul.
I will never be a morning person.
I’m not very good at that whole self-restraint thing.
But, maybe I have changed a little. It took me three months of bicycle riding in Chiang Mai, but I’m finally brave enough to use the turning lane for my bike. (Before I would just stop on the side of the road and scamper across during the red light). After ten months of living out of one bag, I’ve become a lot more conscious about my belongings and better at not buying things I don’t need. I’ve even cut down on my cookie consumption (true story!).
Heck, I even managed to be more concise than usual. I didn’t get to numbers 9 and 10 on my list, and I’m already finished. Look at me being all short-winded with my bad self!
Maybe I am a changed person. I might even be better at keeping resolutions than I thought. Now to work on that resolution about being able to fit back into my pants…Editor’s Note: I was quite proud of myself last night. My blogging resolution was to be more concise and spend less time laboring over each post (as this has seriously cut down on the number of posts I manage to produce). I managed to finish this post in less than a day. (Usually it takes me two or three days. Seriously.) And I got my word count to under 2,000 words.
This morning, I came back to this post and revised the heck out of it. And added a lot more words.
Old habits die hard, people.