Monday, September 23, 2013

Things Learned or How to travel fat (I'm not fat, I'm just big-boned)

I'd like to say that I had some profound, life-changing experience traveling over the summer, however, I can't quite pin it down into one lesson learned. There was no specific turning point, just a series of observations that I will now relate to you, in no particular order (numbered only for your convenience).

1. Americans have so much stuff. Too much stuff. We are surrounded by piles and piles more stuff than we will even need or use. We have so much stuff we spend millions of dollars every year to rent a storage place for stuff we probably won't ever seek to find again. Compared to the basic poverty (you see it as poverty, I see it as freedom) of most of SE Asia, I feel guilty by association. How can I possibly buy into a system where our constant need for more things has led to us essentially enslave entire populations? Although, on the other hand, if we were not there to pay their wages, they would most likely be subsistence farmers, which they had been for centuries before. Either way, It inspired me to get rid of unnecessary things. When I visited home in July, I looked at the pile of storage I had in my parents attic and contemplated if I would ever need those things again. Probably not. Although, I would love to have my hope chest sent wherever I live, with my photo album, an afghan my great grandma crocheted* for me, the quilt that my grandmother made from cut up old corduroy pants, the teddy bear I made at the age of 16 at Build A Bear, and my mother (if I could just fit her in my hope chest, I would take her everywhere with me).

I found that I had almost no need for more clothes, despite only having 3 outfits (3 shirts, a pair of khakis, a pair of shorts, and my yoga pants), 2 dresses, 3 t-shirts (one was an undershirt), a swimsuit, and 5 sets of underwears. In fact, at several times over the summer I debated getting rid of a couple of the shirts I never wore. I had my toiletries bag (face-wash, soap, shampoo, conditioner, razor, Nair), my makeup bag (tinted moisturizer, lash curler, mascara, blush, brush), Chacos (which I hardly ever wore), Birkenstocks, various electronic attachments, and travel food. I was nervous about traveling and not having something to eat on long train rides.

2. E-book readers are the future, not because we don't love reading books, but because we can do so much more with a virtual library in our hands. I read 9 books over the summer. 7 of which were on my kindle. I have a cover with a light built in, (this is an older Kindle, I'm hoping to get a Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday, hint hint**) so I could read anywhere. The charge on the Kindle lasts a dang long time (I think I charged it twice the whole time I was out and about) and you can even get the internet on it, although I only used that if absolutely necessary. It was nice to finish a book and immediately be able to start another one. Imagine if we could get Kindles to rural areas, stocked with libraries of information, how awesome would that be? I'm sure someone is doing it somewhere, but our international copyright laws definitely need to be cleared up a bit before it can be ubiquitous.

3. Food is food is food. Don't get me wrong, Vietnamese food was amazing, but all the countries I visited had essentially the same food, just a bit different flavors. In fact, every culture I visited had a flat bread, a starch (rice!) with sauce, veggies wrapped in something, and a hot pot soup with noodles. The only minor thing is that SE Asia also had French Cuisine mixed in (I will always take a pain au chocolat for breakfast, always).

4. Being white makes things hard, being blonde, even more so, and being overweight, even more so. No, I'm not in the best of shape, but I'm getting better, I love walking around a city (I walked so, so much this summer), exploring new places, hiking (within reason), kayaking, and other sweat inducing activities. The thing I noticed was that locals acted as though I were incapable of doing anything and needed tons of help. Any time I stepped onto a boat in Vietnam, they grabbed my arm as if I was unable to support my own weight. My reaction was always to just do what I felt comfortable with. Jumping onto a boat 3 feet from the pier, not on the ankle I sprained in 8th grade. Hiking up a mountainside in pouring rain, nope. Hiking on flat-ish ground through a cave, okay. Climbing up 120 stairs to get to a really cool temple, as long as we take small breaks. Wandering around Hanoi for an afternoon when I have no idea where I want to go, sure thing.The key is knowing your limit, and also knowing when you've reached your limit  and need to stop. More important, it's about doing a little bit more than you think you can do, because growth requires taking chances.

5. Women rule SE Asia and they get hardly any respect for it. Every hotel I stayed at, with one exception, was run by women. Restaurants, you better believe that the hawk-eyed woman behind the counter is in charge. Travel Agencies, yep, always a woman who came to straighten things out.  That being said, who's in charge of everything and gets the biggest cut? Men. I had a tour guide in Vietnam tell me that all people are equal in Vietnam and they must serve time in the military. I asked if that meant women served too, he said everyone served. Well, does that include women? No, of course not he said. So it doesn't really include everyone, does it. At least Soviet Russia knew how to do communism the right way, women died just as much as men in World War II and they were honored with statues of women waving AK-47's at half the metro stops. Point being, it sure made me feel lucky to be born in America, even though we have serious issues, we're at least on the right path and realize we have these issues. And at least women in America feel like they can stand up for themselves without fearing for their lives.

Life is busy right now, an average day looks like this: school, school, school, stare blankly at a wall so my head doesn't explode, more school, after-school activities, watching Dr. Who and eating microwave Nutella*** cake.

Oh, and my stupid cat is in heat. Don't worry, she's getting fixed this weekend!



*For some reason, this word looks so bizarre to me. I keep reading it as CROTCH-ED.
**I'm turning 30 next year guys, I demand condolences.
***Finally, Google realizes this is a word!

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