"I know that I will never understand the world I live in or fully know the places I've been. I've learned for sure only what I don't know — and how much I have to learn."
Anthony Bourdain — No Reservations
When I set out to travel abroad I never really thought about the significance of counting the days I have been traveling. Another traveler I follow “Biff Narlee” who I find to be a comedic genius in front of the camera will occasionally write down and display the number of days he has been on the road. I never made a commitment to doing something like this or really keeping track of the day count at all. But after passing a year it was easy to figure out when day 400 was approaching. I don’t know why this number made me reflect so much once I knew it was approaching. I don’t know why exactly, but like many things in my life I can’t explain it. It was feeling inside and prefer to follow my feelings. The feeling that arose when I realized 400 was approaching is that it was time to book a trip back to Ohio.
Three more of Adeesha’s friends met us at the park and immediately welcomed me like I was one their longtime friends too. Adeesha and his friends go on several safaris each year and have been doing this for more than a decade. The last several trips for them were not very fruitful as they struggled to see much wildlife. They were hoping I would be the lucky charm. After 10 minutes of riding into the park I proved to be the lucky charm. We saw our first leopard walking down the road.
All of my teenage years were during the height of Steve Irwin’s reign among the top tv shows in America with his show The Crocodile Hunter. Okay, maybe it wasn’t one of the top tv shows in the USA during that time, but it was definitely one of my favorite shows growing up. I was always fascinated by travel, nature and animals. Throw in a wildly energetic zookeeper, who had a goofy accent and the balls to jump on the back of hungry crocodiles and I was hooked. One of my favorite episodes was a trip he made to Indonesia. It introduced me to a living dinosaur or more commonly known as the Komodo Dragon. Ever since that episode it has been a bucket list item to see these creatures in their natural environment.
Today officially marks the one-year anniversary of leaving my career job and deciding to follow my dreams of traveling. It’s definitely quite the personal milestone for myself and one I’m very proud of to say I’ve been able to accomplish. In a year’s time my plans and path have changed a multitude of times. I’ve never strayed from the overall idea of getting to experience life somewhere in the world that was completely different than where I grew up and lived the first 33 years of my life.
During our Christmas Day brunch bonanza a couple of us Tehila House residents decided that we should take a little adventure before the new year came rolling in. We committed to waking up at 2:00 in the morning to go hike to the top of the Mount Batur volcano to watch the sun rise over Bali. We all know anytime you plan for a 2:00am wake-up call there is almost zero chance of falling asleep early and getting a few good hours of shuteye. It was inevitable I was going to sleep like crap and wake up feeling unrested.
What does this blog have to do with my traveling? Well I wanted to take a moment to expose the other side of long-term travel to everyone. The photos and blogs will make a life appear glamorous and full of adventure all of the time. Every day is a vacation of sorts, but there are times when life’s less than pleasant feelings or thoughts come about even as I spend time in some of the world’s most beautiful destinations. I felt it would be nice to share with you the raw and less desirable side of traveling not talked about by most other travel blogs.
It was time to find an AirBnB apartment with a good WiFi connection to teach some English online with VIPKID. After realizing I wasn’t going to get the hours I wanted teaching at an English center in Vietnam, I decided to find other ways to supplement my income while still leaving time to explore the world. So far, my experience with VIPKID has been phenomenal
Today officially marks the six-month mark from the day my flight took off from LAX and headed towards China on my way to Vietnam. It is kind of weird to look back at these past six months when compared to any other six months in my life. Before this when I looked at any other six-month period I just saw that time had passed. Sure, I had small changes like a work promotion, moving to new cities or making new friends, but my life always felt like I was just chasing a made up “American Dream.” It was a nice lifestyle and one to be proud of, but I love the un-comfortability that comes with change, new challenges and the unknown.
The feelings settle and I begin to feel at peace about selling Who Dey. I started thinking about how fortunate I was to seek out one of my dreams of riding a motorcycle through an entire country in which I didn't know the native language. It was an adventure most of the world will never be able to set out upon and I can say I did it. The whole reason I set my career aside to retire early was to gain and grow from experiences like this one. And that I know I have done.
We were pulled over for no other reason than the color of our skin. The cops pulled us over because based on the color of our skin the odds were stacked in their favor that we didn’t have proper identification to drive a motorcycle in Vietnam. In some areas of the world people would scream that this is a form of racism. I think a better term would be “capitalistic cultural selection.” Without the proper identification, it meant we would be subject to a fine. The cops were not wrong, neither one of us had a valid International motorcycle license.
Our last 30km were spent in the pitch black with pouring rain, heavy winds, lightning, and thunder. The road was sketchy, but the consensus was we had to go on because there was no shelter for us to stop at. “Slow and steady” wins the race became our motto. If we hit a pothole we couldn’t see then the only choice was to hold on and hope we didn’t end up face planting into the road. Or worse go flying off a cliff to a movie worthy death.
Well my permanent time in Vietnam is coming to an end shortly, but before I go into more about that I thought I would share with you a story about my friend Trang. Which in Vietnamese is sort of pronounced “Cjhang.” Yes, the “Cjh” noise is on purpose, it is like a blend of Ch and J. I am a person who gives everyone a nickname and gave Trang close to 5 nicknames these past 5 months, but the one that seemed to stick the most was, “Chang Gang!” Chang Gang had no particular meaning other than the fact that it rhymed.
I assume a lot of people will immediately assume this was a romantic relationship. To be clear, Chang and I never had a romantic fling of any sorts. Our friendship was strictly platonic.
There were plenty of Vietnamese people who thought that we were a couple. Being in Vietnam it is very odd to see people of the opposite sex out together by themselves who are just friends. Let alone a foreign man with a Vietnamese woman. Everywhere we went other Vietnamese would ask her if we were together and mention to her that I was a handsome gentleman. Although I can’t understand Vietnamese because I’m tone deaf I always knew what they were saying by the look on her face.
For those of you who know me, of course I couldn’t just let this moment pass without comment. I always had to tease Chang Gang a little and remind her how lucky she was to be out with a strappingly attractive man like myself. Modesty is another one of those virtues like patience I’m not very good at, but in all fairness in the USA people hardly ever comment on the handsomeness a man-stranger. Except amongst close guy friends who are not embarrassed to tell their buddies they look “fresh.” Typically, it is the women in the USA who get this attention so it felt nice to have that turned around for a change. Vietnamese strangers (men and women) have no problem complementing a man for being attractive. It is an admirable quality of the culture here.
But that fact is I was the lucky one to meet and have gotten to know Chang Gang so well. She helped me translate my way through Vietnam, was always there to take my calls or texts when I had questions and helped me to understand the Vietnamese lifestyle better. Because of her I was able to engrain myself into the culture much faster than most people could in 5 months. I am nowhere near an expert on everything that goes on in this country, but in the time I’ve been here I feel like I’ve been able to learn more about the Vietnamese way of life because of Trang than had gotten to know her.
What I most admired about Trang is her risk taker attitude. It is of my opinion she should be a role model to other individuals in Vietnam and around the world who want to experience more than the societal norm. She took a leap of faith, quit her job and moved away from home for two months to grow as a person and study English to prepare for a literacy exam. At some point, she hopes to apply for a scholarship and study at a University outside of Vietnam. This isn’t uncommon for someone in their late teens or very early twenties in Vietnam, but because Chang Gang is a woman and 27 years old there is a lot of pressure on her to give up on this goal by society. The “normal people” think she is getting too old to find a respectable husband. Society here thinks she should concentrate on finding a husband more than a goal to better her English skills and gain more life experiences.
Our loved ones and community genuinely want the best for us, but sometimes what they think is the best for us is what is the best for them. This is something I experienced within my own family several years ago when I almost made a decision to take the trip I’m on now. Eventually, I folded under the pressure of potentially disappointing certain family members and chose to stay in America. Later, I decided I had to do what made me happy and not only make others happy who love and care for me. This time around most of my entire family is very supportive of what I’m doing, but I still have a couple people who can’t quite understand what I am doing. I can't seem to find the right words to explain my feelings to them in a way that makes sense. However, I know they still love me and that's what matters!
Before I left the USA, my mom gifted me a necklace from The Giving Keys organization to take with me on my trip. The Giving Keys organization is a "pay it forward" community "that helps support job creation for people transitioning out of homelessness." The key my mom chose to give me had “FEARLESS” stamped on it. She told me about The Giving Keys organization and told me to pass it along if there was ever someone I met who I felt could use the key in their life journey. Earlier this week, Chang Gang and I had to say goodbye for some time as I’m packing up and headed to Bali for my next adventure. Trang was the person who I decided to pass my key onto.
Trang, you are the perfect candidate for this key as you showed your fearless qualities when you went against the societal norm in Vietnam and left home for two months to study English and improve yourself. I hope this key reassures you that you’re on the right path in life with your fearless attitude. Even if you change your mind about studying abroad I hope you continue to live a life that makes you happy. As they say here in Vietnam, “see you again!”
I almost lost my balance and ditched the motorcycle pulling out of the creek I had to drive through to get back on the road. One of the villagers saw the look on my face and helped me push the bike back on the road. She pointed down the road where she saw three other guys with the same looks on their faces.
The next morning, I got in contact with Mama Ti who lives in one of the villages just outside of Sa Pa. She had room for me to come stay with her and her family. She is 56 years old and the grandmother to 16 children. She had room for me to come stay with her and her family. It was a 60+ minute drive in the pouring rain down terrible bumpy and rocky roads that are falling apart. The other option is to hike about 4-5 hours with one of Mama Ti's daughters to the village if you don't have a motorcycle. Mama Ti is the unassigned matriarch Queen of the village by my opinion. She learned English by selling jewelry and textiles to tourists visiting Sa Pa.
I pulled up www.skyscanner.com to find a flight. This is my favorite website to find cheap flights as they have a great feature for weirdos like me in which I can select “Everywhere” as my destination city. With only two days to leave left on my visa the cheapest options were Bangkok, Thailand and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for $100 roundtrip.