Another Day on the Mekong

Cruising along the Mekong Delta gives you a whole new look at Vietnam. In the city, there are obviously poor people, children ask for money when tourists walk by, but it is peppered throughout a city with 5-star hotels, fancy restaurants, and beautiful public parks. Once you’re out of the city and into rural Vietnam the lifestyle changes. The landscape is filled with rice fields and small hammock-coffee shops along the road.
As we were driving to the Mekong we noticed that in the middle of the rice fields there were grave stones and tombs. How it works…families bury their dead in the middle of the rice field to stake their claim on the land. If there is any dispute over whose land it is, the tombs tell what family has been on the land and who it belongs to. I of course thought, couldn’t I just put a tomb on some land, make it look old and dingy and claim my family has used this land for a hundred years? I wonder if they actually check inside the tomb if there is a dispute? I’ll keep that plan on the back burner, just in case I need it.
The standard of living along the Mekong is very different than in the city. It’s a little difficult as a tourist to drive by, float by, and walk by houses and families knowing that I spent more on my 3-day tour ($70) than that family makes in an entire month. However, I also know that my tourist dollars help the community. It’s difficult to not let the guilty feeling seep into you. But, I have found that generally in the rural areas people are grateful for the tourists and the money they bring. I still occasionally feel like a rich, white, asshole though.

Houses along the Mekong

Houses along the Mekong

Day two on the Mekong was another jam-packed day of fun: the floating market, making rice noodles, a BBQ, and the day ended with a paddle boat through the flooded jungle.

The floating market on the Mekong is a daily event. Our guide kept saying we can’t be late, because even 15 minutes later and they might be gone. I think this was a bit of an exaggeration to get some of the folks off their ass in the morning. At exactly 6:30am we headed from our hotel down to the river and jumped in our boat. For the next 30 minutes we cruised by houses on stilts and small children playing in the water off of their porches. We also cruised by a lot of floating garbage. The river itself looks brown. Our guide kept insisting that the river wasn’t dirty, but was just full of silt because it was the end of the line. That might partially be true, but there was also styrofoam, plastic bags, dead fish, and several people using the banks of the river as their own personal bathroom.

Once we arrived at the market small boats would approach us, attach themselves to a hook or bar on our boat and try to sell us all a fresh coconut, coffee, or soda. Our boat would just pull them along until they detached and another boat would quickly take their place. As we floated through the market we could see several small boats that were entire grocery stores. I mean, entire freaking stores. You could buy your fruits and veggies, meat, spices, everything you would need for cooking that day. It was pretty cool, but not nearly as cool as the lady in the floating pho boat. Pho is a traditional street food here in Vietnam. It’s a soup with broth, noodles, veggies, and meat. And the pho lady had her boat all set up to cook and serve people on the river their breakfast. She even had a working burner right in the middle of her boat. She also had a line of two boats waiting to get to her, so she was definitely doing something right. Although there were small boats around the market, the majority of the floating market is for bulk buying. I saw several boats filled to the brim with bags of sweet potatoes and several other boats overflowing with pumpkins. I had no idea that pumpkins were so popular in Vietnam, but they are. I also did not know that pumpkin flower fritters were delicious. FYI, they are!

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After the market we continued down (or up, not really sure) the Mekong to a place where they make rice noodles. When we arrived people were well into their work day of making noodles, and just like the coconut candy everything was done outside in the open air. Sure, there’s a roof, but no walls or doors. Seeing food being made does help explain the abundance of ‘Saigon belly’ that occurs. Making rice noodles is a long and painstaking process. Once the liquid is cooked and made into a giant flat tortilla type thing, it has to dry, outside, for at least 24 hours and sometimes as long as 72. I took several pictures of the process, but my favorite pic is when the dog wandered through. No one cares that a dog is walking through where food is being made, it’s just normal.

Making rice noodles

Making rice noodles

Dog just walking through the noodle factory

Dog just walking through the noodle factory

I’ve actually been asked by multiple people if I’ve eaten dog on my trip, and my answer is ‘I don’t think so’. The more I think about it, the more I’m sure I haven’t eaten dog. Here’s my reasoning. I’ve seen hundreds of dogs on my trip. Dogs with collars, dogs without collars. Dogs just running around, and dogs that obviously belong to the vendor near by. I think if they were cooking up dogs, there wouldn’t be so many roaming the street. However, I haven’t seen many cats, so it’s entirely possible that I ate one of those. But, everything I’ve eaten so far has been pretty tasty, so I’m not complaining.

Eventually we made our way to a BBQ, no cats and dogs were not on the menu, however pretty much everything else was. The family run farm/BBQ offered fish, snake, frog, field mice, and snail. We were warned ahead of time that the animals would be alive and we could pick out which one we wanted to eat. I had planned on trying everything, but my plans changed once I saw them actually cooking. The frogs were already dead and marinating, same with the field mice. Everything else though was still alive and in true Vietnamese fashion the death was neither quick nor painless. When the first guy in our group ordered a snake I thought they would kill it and then cook it. Boy, was I wrong! The ‘cook’ grabbed a snake out of the bag of snakes and swung it against the cement BBQ. This did not kill the snake. Next, he threw the snake onto the fire and as it tried to squirm away he would use his tongs to move it back to the middle. The process went on for about a minute. After I saw this, snake was off my menu. I have no problem eating meat, it’s delicious! But, there’s no need for the meat to die slowly. I’m more of a ‘chop it’s head off’ type of girl.

Snake on the grill, with a couple of frogs

Snake on the grill, with a couple of frogs

After the snake grilling, I decided to go with frog. After all, it was already dead, cleaned, and soaking in what turned out to be a mouth-watering marinade. I ordered 1 frog, and a water. My frog was served with a little pile of chili salt and a kumquat. Turns out, frogs are super juicy and tastes a whole hell of a lot like chicken. But, you’d probably have to eat 20 to actually fill up.

My BBQ frog

My BBQ frog

The day ended with a peaceful paddle boat through the flooded forrest. Again, the paddle boats are a little shaky and I was fairly nervous the whole ride. The water itself wasn’t very deep, maybe 3 feet, so I knew I could definitely keep my bag dry if we tipped over.
We continued on to our hotel and called it an early night. The next day we had to leave by 6:30am again to finish our journey into Cambodia.

Overall, the tour from HCMC to Phnom Penh was amazing. I had no idea what exactly was in store, but it turned out great. Like I said in a previous post, my only regret was not doing the homestay. Holding a snake, super cool. Eating a frog, delicious. Playing with puppies and missing a bunch of information, totally worth it!

Floating Down the Mekong

I spent my first week in Vietnam in a homestay with a local family. Most of my days were filled with exploring HCMC, using public transit, and eating at local restaurants. My second week I stayed with an American expat and spent my days writing at coffee shops and my nights drinking in a German pub. I met some great people that took me under their wing and I got to see what life as an expat in HCMC is really like. From what I remember of that week, it was a lot of fun. I spent a few nights down in Vung Tau, living the resort life (drinking poolside and walking the beach) then headed back to HCMC for one more weekend of fun.

But, after over three weeks in Vietnam it was time to move on, so I booked a 3-day Mekong Delta tour that would take me from HCMC, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I will be quite honest and say that I didn’t really read the brochure and so I had no idea what was on the itinerary each day. But, at the end of my three day trip, I can say it was absolutely awesome and my only regret is not paying extra for the homestay the first night. Apparently there was a lot of rice wine to be had at the homestay and I’m a little bummed I missed out on that. But, even without the rice wine, the trip was awesome.
The first day started with a bus ride to the Big Happy Buddha. I have to admit, it is a little strange to me when religious places are tourist attractions, especially when people are actively using said religious place. I’m not really sure what the rules are: Can you take a photo of someone praying? Should you ask first? But, you shouldn’t interrupt their praying… It’s all a little much for my brain to process. So, I walked around, and respectfully kept everyone praying out of my photos (I didn’t want to anger the Big Buddha).

BIg Buddha

Big Buddha

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I did take a pic of these two, though, because they are my kind of people. I love people that sleep wherever they want and don’t give a shit about who might see them. It’s a talent, and I like to recognize my fellow sleepers that represent our breed so well. So, well done Sleeping Strangers!

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After the Big Buddha we took a boat ride to lunch and then another boat ride to Coconut Island. As I’m sure you guessed, Coconut Island is full of…coconuts! With the abundance of coconuts the people make everything from coconut wood spoons to coconut candy. I would explain the process of how to make the coconut candy, but there was a puppy and I got fairly distracted during the presentation. I think there was a pressing machine to squeeze the coconuts, and I know there was a fire to cook stuff, but the details are a little foggy. We were given free samples and the coconut candy is sweet, with the consistency of caramel, and obviously it tastes a lot like coconut.

All I kept thinking was, "That's not a knife, this is a knife!"

All I kept thinking was, “That’s not a knife, this is a knife!”

Before we headed back to the boat our guide brought us over to a box and surprised us all with a 5 foot python. He seemed friendly enough, but I think by the time the tenth person held him he was ready to go back to his box, or eat a puppy. It’s hard to read what’s on a snake’s mind.

Personally, I think I was the snake's favorite.

Personally, I think I was the snake’s favorite.

After I manhandled the snake we set out on tiny paddle boats through the canals of the Mekong. The boats were a little wobbly and there were several moments when I thought we would tip over. I kept my bag in my hand, so if we did tip, I could save the really important stuff from getting soaked, like my phone and my gum. Luckily, we made it safely to our destination… a bee farm. Is it called a farm? I’m not sure, but that’s what our guide called it, so I’m going with bee farm. They showed us some bees, let us take pics if we wanted. I liked the old guy. He was smoking a cigarette and did not even seem to know that bees were swarming all around him. He definitely doesn’t have any fucks left to give.

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We were treated to some tea with honey and kumquat. It’s delicious, in case you were wondering. It’s nice to see the kumquat finally getting some recognition. I personally love them, and not just because we had trees at my church growing up, and used to pick them and throw them at each other. They are also yummy!
Overall day 1 of the tour was above and beyond my expectations, and day 2 only got better!

Solo Travel = Amaze-balls! (or Test-tacular)

I know I make more than a few people nervous when I proclaim I’m going on a trip, alone. When I was planning my 6-week road trip across the US my mother would occasionally bring up that I might get raped and/or murdered. She would then ask if there was a friend I would want to go with me. My response was, “You want me to choose which of my friends gets raped and/or murdered with me?” It would usually end the conversation.

I’ve always been the weird mix of extrovert and introvert. I’m always game for a good time, I’ll slam beers with the best of them, I’ll stay up all night playing a never ending game of Risk, I’ll go camping, I’ll go to the show, the bar, I’ll drive around for two hours looking for the store that sells shoes for $9.89/pair, I’m up for whatever. However, I’m not scared to be alone, because lets face it, I’m fucking hilarious, and I love my own company. The day I turned 16 and got my driver’s license was the day I started to venture out in the the world solo. It started with simple things, lunch at Taco Bell, a movie at Camelview 5, or just a drive to Flagstaff for a late Saturday breakfast and a hike.
The only time wanting to be alone ever bit me in the ass was the summer after 8th grade when my family was in Cancun. I went up to spend some time on the balcony of my room, listen to a little Alanis and sketch in my book. I was a brooding, teenage girl, after all. After about an hour I was ready to go meet up with people, except the humidity made the wooden door swell and I was locked on my balcony…no one came to find me because, “Camie likes her alone time.” Other than that few hour mishap, alone time has treated me well.

I’ve traveled around the states, several times on my own. Each night I would find a new bar or restaurant and hang out. Inevitably, I’d meet new people, swap stories, and get tips on where to go in town. Two years ago I did a Mediterranean cruise on my own. A week traveling around Greece and Turkey, absolutely wonderful. On that trip I even got to spend a short 24 hours in Belgrade and did a walking tour of the city. Right now, I’m 3 weeks into a 10 week solo trip around Southeast Asia.

Sure, I’m always asked if I’m traveling alone, and it’s usually followed with, why? Inevitably, some people pity me, thinking I’m alone because I’ve been dumped or I’m trying to ‘find myself’, but after a few minutes when I explain the perks of solo travel to the other person, pity fades and envy takes over.

Here are just a few of the great things about traveling solo.

1. Do Whatever The Hell You Want
Solo travel means you are in complete control of everything. You don’t have to compromise, “Okay, we can go to the temple today, but that means we spend 2 days at the beach next week.” When you’re traveling solo you can go to the beach every damn day and not have to hear crap from anyone.
I personally don’t like to plan too far in advance, and by advance I mean a couple of hours. I hate planning. However, it means that I can just hop on a bus to go see a new site whenever I want. I can sleep in late and spend the day relaxing and writing. Or, I can wander around downtown over and over again just because I want to. Not having a plan and being solo meant I could get PADI certified, not too bad for a week in the Philippines.

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2. Eat On Your Schedule
I know this may sound silly, but I’ve been on trips with groups of people and planning a meal time is like a fucking nuclear negotiation.
“If we meet at 6 in the lobby, we can all walk together and plan on being in the restaurant around 6:30.”
Then some idiots pipes up. “But I won’t be hungry until 8.”
And still someone else. “Can’t we eat earlier, maybe 4:30?”
It shouldn’t be that difficult, but for some reason, it’s always a hassle…and don’t get me started on the WHERE….
“I want seafood.”
“I’m allergic to seafood.”
The other day I had 4 smoothies, 4! I was just walking around and whenever I got the hankering for another delicious mango marvel, I found a restaurant and enjoyed. I wan’t holding anyone up and I wasn’t spoiling my dinner.

Mango-awesomeness!

Mango-awesomeness!

3. 4-Star Comfort Or Renting A Room In A House
I’m definitely not picky when it comes to where I stay. I prefer a bed and AC, and hopefully a working toilet. Sure, occasionally a nice 4-star resort is nice, but it’s also freaking expensive! I’m okay with renting a room on AirBnB for $12/night. I know it’s not going to be glamorous, but I also know I don’t plan on spending all day in the room. I’m going to sleep there, and possibly, maybe write something. I don’t need 4-stars for that, I need a damn light.
I’m also not opposed to camping and/or sleeping in my car (if I have one). You can meet some great people at campsites!

4. Make New Friends
When you travel with someone or a group, you have a built in safety net. Something funny pops in your head, well you have someone right there to tell. But, when you’re traveling solo you get to tell that funny joke to a random stranger, and a new friendship is born or they ignore you. Usually it’s a new friendship.
During my time in Vietnam I spent a day at the Cu Chi Tunnels. One of the first stops on the tour is a chance for you to squish yourself down into one of the secret hiding holes (it’s the size of a hamster, not a hamster cage, an actual hamster).

Guide at Cu Chi Tunnels showing us how to hide.

Guide at Cu Chi Tunnels showing us how to hide.

A couple of people in our group tried, when the tour guide bumps me and asks, “Your turn?”
I laugh and turn to the girl next to me, “Yeah, that’s just what I need, a youtube video of my ass stuck in a Cu Chi Tunnel.”
That girl I joked with, her name is Norma. She’s a Kiwi and she was on her first solo trip. We spent the rest of the tour together and afterwards had dinner. I now count her among my friends, I have a standing invitation to New Zealand (and she has one for Arizona) and I know I never would have met her if I was traveling with someone.

5. Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone
You’re stronger than you think you are. Whenever you try something new, whether it’s a new food, new exercise, new route to work, a little piece of you lights up when you’ve accomplished it. Imagine that feeling for an entire day, or a week. I could try to put how awesome it feels into words, but I’m not that articulate. So, I’ll just say it’s amaze-balls or it’s test-tacular!

I challenge everyone to plan a solo outing in the near future. Start simple, maybe spend the afternoon on your own. Look at a map and drive to a small town near you and enjoy whatever it has to offer. Feeling more adventurous? Plan a weekend away. Trust me, there’s something magical about seeing the world on your own.

The Hierarchy of Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City

Remember that sweet arcade game Frogger? Well, every day in HCMC, you can play the real-life version: dodging traffic, going back and forth, uncertainity of whether or not you’ll make it across the road is just part of the fun!

There are many different ways to describe the traffic of HCMC, but I think ‘organized chaos’ comes the closest. There are street lights, stop signs, roundabouts, crosswalks, medians, lanes, all the pieces to make for safe travel on the road. Yet, somehow it still seems to just be a free-for-all when it comes to road travel.

I’ll start with the scooters. Imagine the apocalypse, and a giant swarm of insects taking over the earth, enveloping all that they come in contact with. Now, times that image by a hundred and replace the insects with scooters. You now have a vague idea of what the streets of HCMC look like. There are always silly memes and pics online of scooters in HCMC. Maybe it’s an entire family hanging on for dear life or a guy with a chest of drawers strapped on the back of his scooter. You see these images and you giggle and think that it rarely happens. It must just be an exaggeration of traffic in Vietnam. Well, let me tell you, what you’ve seen online is a fraction of the crazy you see in real life here.

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My first introduction to traffic was a drive from the airport, through district 1 and into district 8. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We would get to an intersection and the cabbie would just toot his horn a few times and start to turn into a flock of oncoming traffic. Beep, beep and he would go. The oncoming traffic (scooters, taxis) would slow and weave their way around us, honking back. Need to change lanes? Just lay on your horn and start moving, everyone already occupying that space will move. Want to turn right, but you’re in the left lane? No problem, just stop driving and wave your hand for everyone else to stop so you can turn. It truly is a sight to see.

The pedestrian aspect is the most terrifying, though. Yes, there are crosswalks. No, it is not encouraged to use them. You need to get to the other side of the road? Just start walking! Seriously. Just step off the curb and slowly make your way across, the scooters will go around you, and the taxi’s will usually slow down. Bus is coming? Watch the fuck out, they don’t slow down for anyone! Just inch by inch, make your way across the street. But, remember to always look both ways! You would think on a one-way street you could dedicate your focus in one direction, but not here. Scooters don’t necessarily go with the flow of traffic, they go wherever the fuck they want: sidewalk, sure, on-coming traffic, no big deal. So, just remember to keep a look out for the rogue scooter flying the other direction. Eventually you’ll make it to the middle, where you can rest for a minute or two, say your Hail Marys and collect the courage to finish the journey across.

My suggestion for crossing streets in HCMC, try to find a little old vietnamese woman and follow her. I’ve watched many little old women cross the streets here, and they seem to have it down! Maybe it’s because they just don’t give a fuck, maybe it’s because elders are respected here, maybe they have a forcefield around them…I don’t know. But, if you’re nervous or scared, just follow close to a little old lady, and you’ll be fine.

Are You For Scuba?

It’s inevitable that when someone talks about scuba diving two things come into my head. The first is Adam Sandler dressed up like Scuba Sam (Scuba Steve’s dad) in Big Daddy and the second is the scene in Along Came Polly…you know the one I’m talking about. If you don’t, here it is…

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MoSUbXspkIQ

With these two images floating through my brain during my first day in Manila I drastically changed my plans and decided to get Scuba certified here in the Philippines, instead of waiting until I got to Thailand. I figured I have about a week, what better way to use my time then to learn something new? I researched and read a ton of reviews in a short amount of time and finally settled on ABWonderdive by Alice and Bjorn, and let me say, THEY.ARE.AWESOME! If you happen to be in the Philippines, headed to Puerto Galera, look them up. I have felt so incredibly welcomed and supported, it’s been a fantastic experience, so far, and I haven’t even jumped into the ocean yet.

ABWonderdive Dive Resort, Small Lalaguna Beach, Puerto Galera, Mindoro, Philippines

ABWonderdive Dive Resort, Small Lalaguna Beach, Puerto Galera, Mindoro, Philippines

http://www.abwonderdive.net

Learning to scuba can be a bit overwhelming. There is a lot to learn and understand, and the thought of dying a horrible, slow death lingers in the back alleys of your mind with every breath you take…at least it does for me (I guess that fear is not specific to scuba, just my everyday fear of death). But, it’s something that I’ve wanted to try for a long time and I figure the chances of me dying are fairly slim. After all, I’ll have a dive master with me because I don’t have my own ‘buddy’ to dive with yet. Thank you scuba for the constant reminder that I am perpetually ‘buddy-less’.

The first two days I spent time reading the PADI book, doing the little quizzes, watching the video, and doing pool dives to practice my sweet scuba techniques. Turns out, having the regulator (the thing you breathe through) out of my mouth, not so scary. Having no air, having to signal ‘out of air’, and using another person’s reserve regulator…not so scary. However, taking my mask off under water = absolutely fucking terrifying! Strange, right? I still have the regulator in, I can still breathe, but for some reason I freaked the fuck out. I started motioning (thumbs up) to go up to the surface. Full disclosure, I was in a pool that was about 3 feet deep, so going to the surface just meant standing up. I was never in any danger, I knew I was completely safe, but without a mask over my eyes and nose I felt my life slowly slipping away.

With Bjorn from ABWonderdive...such an amazing teacher!

With Bjorn from ABWonderdive…such an amazing teacher!

By day three I had completed my confined pool dives and had moved on to the ‘big pool’.

I’m not going to lie, it was terrifying. My first dive in the ocean was about 20 minutes and we only went down 4.4 meters. The first time is very strange. I’m breathing and swimming under water, but my mind keeps telling me to PANIC! It’s not natural, and the sensation of water all around, yet not being in danger is truly indescribable. I had to constantly tell myself, “You’re fine, just breathe.” And then I’d say, “See, there’s air in the tube thing. Just keep breathing.” Even in the big, scary ocean I had no problem doing the regulator exercises (taking it out, clearing it of water, breathing through it again). However, the mask exercises were even more gut-wrenchingly terrifying out there. It’s just not natural to purposely fill your mask with water to then have to clear it by blowing air out your nose. I understand the need to practice it, I do, but I’m not going to like it! In fact, it’s entirely possible that I will actaully shit myself if I ever have to do it for real…(more on shitting during scuba later)

After my first ocean dive we swam back to shore, and in waist deep water I took my fins off. I was feeling a little iffy. My left ear had been giving me trouble with equalizing and now I felt nauseas. I turned to Bjorn, “I think I’m going to puke.” As soon as the sentence came out of my mouth, so did the vomit. Luckily the ocean is one giant toilet, right? Maybe it was my ear, maybe it was my nerves, maybe it was the beer from the night before. Whatever it was, at least I got my first scuba puking experience out of the way. That night, while reading and studying my PADI book, I learned all about puking underwater, because sometimes it happens. Apparently, the fish love it! Now, I have to see if there’s a section in the book for the occasional urinating during scuba or the dreaded explosive diarrhea. Come on, it has to happen occasionally. I wander what hand signal is used for that?

The next day I completed two dives, one from shore and one from a boat. It’s strange, I still get very nervous and scared thinking about going scuba diving. However, once I’m under the water I’m not worried. Which of course is strange, because I am still frightened of sharks attacking me when I’m in a swimming pool, thank you very much Steven Spielberg. However, out in the ocean, you know where sharks actually live, not scared at all.

That's just me, hanging out, under water.

That’s just me, hanging out, under water.

Today I took my PADI final exam, 94%, not too shabby! Now, I have one more dive to complete and I get a fancy little card that says ‘I’m for scuba!’

This entire process has given me some time to reflect. I realized it’s been a while since I have truly learned a new skill. Sure, I learn new things practically every day, but actually learning to do something that I’ve never done before, that’s been ages. The whole process has reminded me how much of a nerd I really am. I loved school as a kid, I loved to learn, I loved trying new things. As an adult, I think people (me included) tend to get stuck in the comfortable. We’re happy, so we continue to do what we know. Or, we’re unhappy and we continue to do what we know because we don’t know a better way. Either way, we stay stagnant.

I don’t know if I’ll become one of those divers that plans every vacation around diving, or embrace diving so much that I move to a dive location and spend every day in the water. But, I know that the Philippines and Alice and Bjorn will always hold a special place in my heart for sharing this amazing experience. Scuba has helped remind me just how exciting new things can be and that even if I’m scared, it’s worth trying. Who knows, maybe next I’ll conquer some flying lessons!?!

What is something that you’ve always wanted to try? What’s holding you back?

One Night In Manila

Flying into Manila, during the day, let me see the city from above. Tin roofs upon tin roofs, building after building, right next to each other. It was hard to imagine there were even streets or alleys, or anywhere to move around.

Manila from above

Manila from above

Driving from the airport into the heart of Makati (center of Metro Manila) I saw everything you’d expect to see: homeless men, women, and children, stray animals, naked children, 40 passengers crammed into a 20 passenger Jeepney, and a lot of garbage. I don’t know if it’s ever possible to truly prepare yourself for what you will possibly see when traveling to a third world country. When I told some of my Filipino friends in Abu Dhabi I would be traveling to their home country, many asked why. They told me not to go, and they especially warned against spending any time in Manila. All of this just made me more curious.

Jeepney

The taxi dropped me near my accommodation and my first experience with an ‘international guest house’ began. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I am old. When I checked in there was a gaggle of young things strewn about the floor, flirting and trying to figure out how to get rum. They all were wearing an obscene amount of hemp jewelry and no one looked as if they had showered within the last three days. All of them were in some stage of dreads. I was lead through a maze to my itty-bitty room, there was no AC, just a fan. However, I found that if I stripped down to my skivies and played starfish on the bed, it wasn’t too bad. Thank you Jesus for my crazy ability to sleep anywhere. It was at this moment, though, mostly naked and dripping sweat that reality smacked me in the face. I’m 33 fucking years old. I have the money to not have to travel this way. And most importantly, I don’t need to have hour long conversations anymore about how or where to get alcohol. I can buy my own damn rum.

After I cooled down slightly, and chugged about a gallon of water, I ventured out into the neighborhood. One step outside and homeless children are at my side, hands out, asking “peso?” I don’t know if my soul is an empty shell or if I’m just skeptical, but it’s hard for me to give money when asked. At one point in the evening I went into 7-Eleven where a young lady was given an entire bag of bagels and rolls, and then she purchased several other food items. About thirty seconds after I walked outside, there she was by my side asking for pesos. Maybe she gave the food to other people, maybe she just set it down, I don’t know. Eventually, I made my way to a local restaurant on the side of the road. It was filled with mostly locals and there was very little room left to sit. I figured, the food must be good, so I grabbed an empty chair and looked over the menu. I decided on a local dish, chicken adoba. Essentially, it’s chicken in soy sauce with rice. It was tasty, but way too much food. I gave a few scraps to an adorable kitten that was hanging around and then had the rest wrapped up to be given to the kids out on the street. So maybe my soul isn’t entirely dead, yet.

First dinner in the Philippines. San Miguel beer=delicious!

First dinner in the Philippines. San Miguel beer=delicious!

I did see something in Manila that I thought was absolutely awesome, a Children’s Road Safety Park. That’s right, an entire park dedicated to teaching children road safety. There was a fully functioning intersection, complete with light signals and crosswalks. There was a pedestrian bridge for the children to practice walking over the traffic. It was just a miniture road for the little ones to practice on. I thought it was a clever idea.

The original plan was to spend an entire week in the heart of Manila. You know, really experience what life was like. Explore the neighborhoods, eat the food, meet locals and other travelers. But, as it turns out, one night in Manila is all you need.

Top Five Things I Won’t Miss About Living in Abu Dhabi

I’ve recently made the decision to move on from Abu Dhabi after four years of living and working here. I do not know if this is a forever departure or a temporary hiatus. I do know, however, that I’m pretty freaked out and I tend to break out into tears when I realize, once again, I’m selling all my crap and moving to the other side of the world. Once I made the decision, I was overwhelmed with all the things I was going to miss about living in the UAE. Because let’s face it, it can be pretty awesome living here. Besides the obvious perk of making twice as much money as I did at home, I also don’t have to pay taxes. It’s a pretty sweet deal! Other great aspects include cheap travel, lots of adventure, and experiencing new and exciting cultures. Of course, there are also a ton of everyday perks like cheap pedicures and waxes, Friday brunching with friends, meeting international travelers, and free drinks any night of the week at one of the many Ladies Nights.

It is overwhelming when I think about all the things I’m leaving behind, so to help myself better cope with the inevitable move I’ve decided to focus, for a short time, on the things I’m NOT going to miss about living here. You know, the things that drive me absolutely bat-shit crazy, pretty much on a regular basis!

  1. Paying for Water

I lived in the desert heat of Arizona for 29 years. I grew up drinking delicious Phoenix tap water and in the summer the most refreshing water always came out of the garden hose. Many restaurants would automatically bring you water as soon as you sat down at the table, and you could drink as much as you wanted. It’s even against the law to deny a person a cup of water, even if they’re not purchasing anything else. Anyway, after years of free, unlimited water it is hard to get used to paying for bottles of water at restaurants, hotels, and even at work. Sure, I can fill up my empty water bottles from my giant 5-gallon jug at home and put them in my purse. But, water is heavy, very heavy. I’ve actually snapped the straps of two purses here due to carrying heavy loads of water. It’ll definitely be nice to enjoy endless amounts of water when I’m out and about.

  1. No Refills

I know this is an American thing; I get it! However, after a lifetime of getting free refills of iced tea and Diet Pepsi my whole life it was a difficult transition. Especially since I can drink about 10 iced teas in one sitting. Sure, there are chain restaurants that will refill, but you have to beg for ice. However, if you’re at a small café or a big hotel you will be paying for each and every drink. I wouldn’t mind it so much, but my can of Diet Pepsi that cost 1.50 AED in the store costs 18 AED at a restaurant. I can buy two 12 packs for that price…that’s crazy!

  1. Driving and Parking

Obviously, almost everyone thinks they are a good driver. However, that is far from the truth and it’s even further in this country. There are millions of people, from a hundred different countries, all trying to drive in the same location. However, we have not all undergone the same training by any stretch of the imagination. The tail-gaiting might be the most frustrating part. When I look in my rearview mirror and I cannot see the car’s headlights, or half of your hood…YOU ARE TOO DAMN CLOSE! And, when you then flash your lights at me repeatedly, trying to tell me to move out of your way because you want to go 160km in an 80km, I want to slam my breaks on. The exiting the freeway from four lanes over, the driving in reverse on the freeway because you missed your exit (this happens more than you can imagine), the slamming on your breaks because there’s a speed camera, and the incessant honking; oh God, the fucking honking…I have never in my life been so vocal in my road rage than I have living here. Essentially, every single day I slightly stroke out as I scream obscenities at the top of my lungs, as I try navigating to and from work.

Then, after miraculously making my way home through the death maze I have to deal with trying to park. Cars parking on the road, cars double parking, cars taking up two, sometimes three parking spaces, it is all very frustrating. Every day I tell myself, ‘It’s no big deal. Breathe.’ But, it’s very frustrating when I can’t even get to the parking garage because cars have parked and blocked the entrance.

  1. The Complete Lack of Knowledge on How Elevators Work

I understand that elevators can be difficult, the first time you use one. But, almost every single building has an elevator. I would venture to say that everyone in this country uses an elevator every single day. Yet, on a regular basis (and I mean almost daily) I’ll be in the elevator, going down to the basement, and it will stop on the way. The door will open and there will be someone standing there. “Up?” They’ll ask. And, I want to freak out. If you want to go up, press the damn up arrow! I know some people still think they should push both arrows because then an elevator will arrive quicker, but it might not be going in the direction you want to go! I know it seems ridiculously petty, but when it happens repeatedly you start to think it’s a weird social experiment designed to see how many times it takes before you flip out on a random stranger.

  1. Needing a Doctor’s Note

There is nothing worse than having explosive diarrhea, missing work, and then not getting paid because you don’t have a doctor’s note. It’s infuriating. No matter if you’re out for 1 day or 10, you need a note for each day (or 1 note that covers each day). It’s just so frustrating when you know what’s wrong, you just want to curl up in a ball and take your meds and sleep until you’re better. But you can’t, if you want to be paid. So, after hours of vomiting, pooping, crying…whatever it may be, you gather the strength to go wait at a clinic for several hours just to get a note. The time spent not resting usually makes you feel worse and then the next day you’re back to the same situation…stay home and get better or go to the doctor to get a note and get paid? Have you ever had to sit in a brightly lit waiting room filled with crying children while you had a migraine? It sucks! Have you ever tried to drive to the doctor with diarrhea? It’s a terrifying drive. I’m not saying you should never need a note, but it would be nice to be given the benefit of the doubt for at least 1 day of sickness.

I know that these things might seem minor, and in the grand scheme of things, they are. But, I’m leaving and I’m sad to be leaving. I’m trying to remind myself that no situation is perfect. Maybe I’m just trying to delude myself, but I do feel a little bit better about my decision.

So, does anything drive you crazy about where you live?

Becoming An Adult, With Mushrooms!

It’s funny what milestone in our life marks our leap into adulthood. It seems to be different for everyone. As a teenager we mark adulthood with things like sex or having a job, even if it is at McDonald’s (sex at McDonald’s is still sex, after all). Some people consider having their first apartment and paying their first bill to be their bridge into adulthood. Others say it takes a mortgage and real responsibility to be considered an adult. And, I’ve had friends tell me you’re not truly an adult until you have had a child, and are responsible for another human being.

All that is bullshit! You know what makes you an adult? Mushrooms!

As a kid I was very adamant about what I didn’t like. I refused to eat asparagus, mushrooms, cottage cheese, seafood, olives, the list goes on and on. Pretty much all those gross things that old people love to shove in their face-holes, or drop in their drinks, I wouldn’t touch. Well, to be fair, I would touch the olives. I liked to put them on the ends of my fingers and pretend they were my nails. Every Christmas and Thanksgiving my sister and I would chase each other around the house with our black olive nails. When we were finished playing with them, she would eat hers and I would put mine back into the relish dish. Sorry to all my relatives that ended up eating my finger olives!

For the most part, I would just refuse to eat certain food items. If my mom decided to cook seafood for dinner, I would contort my face, showing her my disapproval. Usually, as long as I took “just one bite”, my parents would let me slide. My mother would watch as I choked down the slimy morsel of asparagus, or try to swallow the itsy-bitsy piece of salmon without gagging. The most important part of this ritual though, was my utter revulsion at just the sight of that ghastly food.

It was my job, as the kid, to make sure my parents knew how horrible they were by forcing me to eat nutritious food. I would chew, letting my mouth fall open, dry-heaving my way through a meal. Letting them witness the half masticated glob in my mouth, that would occasionally fall back to the plate, and be hidden under the napkin. No matter what, I couldn’t show any sign that I might possibly, even if just a little bit, liked the food being shoved down my gullet.

But, as you grow older, you no longer have the energy, or the desire to waste time retching over your meal. You realize, it’s not worth it, and no one really gives a damn if you eat a bowl full of cottage cheese or just a hunk of Colby-jack cheese for dinner. Well, your doctor might care, but you’re keeping them in business! You’re weird roommate, who’s labeled the cheese as their own, might also care, but overall it’s a safe bet.

I entered into adulthood on April 30, 2015, sometime between the hours of 8pm and midnight. I joined some friends at Benihana in Abu Dhabi to celebrate a birthday. First of all, I paid $200 for a meal, and not one of those all-you-can-eat, never-ending buffet meals. Nope! Just a regular meal that started with soup and ended with ice-cream. That alone points pretty squarely towards grown-up territory. However, the evidence doesn’t stop there. I ordered a steak and scallops! Yep, I purposely ordered a dish that came with seafood, because I wanted to try it. Plus, the appetizer was shrimp, without cocktail sauce or butter to smother the taste away. Just shrimp, and I ate them all!

Now, this event didn’t mark my first venture down the pier where food looks the same dead as it did alive. I have, in recent years, eaten crab, shrimp, and lobster. I’m a fan of the bottom feeders. Again though, they always had to be covered with butter or cocktail sauce! This time was different.

The big step for me the other night was mushrooms. I didn’t order any, but I ended up with a giant spatula full on my plate. As a kid, I would have immediately dumped them onto a neighbor’s plate and I would have given the Benihana chef a dirty look. These mushrooms were not deep-freid and slathered with ranch, they were just mushrooms. What the fuck, man? These mushrooms are taking up space that could be filled with delicious meat! Instead of throwing an epic tantrum, I ate them, and they were fucking delicious! So damn tasty, in fact, that the next day at the grocery store I bought my own freakin’ mushrooms. I cooked mine in coconut oil with onions and chicken. The entire time I was cooking and eating, though, I heard my mother’s voice. “See? I told you that you would learn to like mushrooms if you just take a little bite each time.”

I thought about sending her a picture, or calling her up, but I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of being right so many years ago. So, maybe I’m not an adult. A real grown-up would admit defeat and praise the mushroom on the highest rooftop for her own mother to hear. Instead, I cowered on my couch and ate my mushrooms in solitude, not wanting her to be the wiser. However, sitting there on my couch, shoveling mushrooms into my face, I knew I was at least on the right path. Baby steps, right?

What do you think? What events or milestones in your life helped you make the transition into adulthood? Was it something big, or something ridiculously small, like eating fungus that grows on poo?

Surprise, Surprise! You’ve Got Poop On Your Face.

Recently my FB feed has been bombarded with a link to an article about fecal bacteria being found in beards. I’m sure you’ve all seen it by now. So many comments to read through and so many people grossed out and completely surprised by the findings.

Come on, people! Over and over again we are told how much doo-doo is out there in the world. Not to mention, how much we touch, breathe, and ingest on a daily basis. In 2011, scientist conducted a study in London, the study found 1 in 6 cell phones was contaminated with fecal matter. 1 in 6, holy dingleberries! Honestly, that number seems quite low, since every single person I know uses their phone when they are in the bathroom; especially when dropping a deuce, that shit can take some time. Many people attribute our filthy phones and beards, to the fact that people don’t wash their hands enough. But, there is much more to this shit-stained story than just a lack of hand washing.

What about the droppings flying through the air when we flush the toilet? Don’t know what I’m talking about? There have been numerous studies showing that even our toothbrushes are soiled. #MythBusters took on the poop mystery and found that after thirty days not only were the toothbrushes that were in the bathroom tainted, but so too were the ‘control’ brushes that were safely in an office, far away from any flushing toilets. Why? Because our dung is everywhere!

Every single time you flush, a microscopic spray of your waste flies through the air and lands on all exposed services. In other words, we might as well be brushing our teeth with excrement. The hand-soap on the sink; just go ahead and shove that nozzle right up your bum. Of course, don’t forget your towels, hanging innocently, collecting caca to be rubbed all over your wet body after a shower. Not to mention all the times you didn’t shut the bathroom door; that poop can propel itself far beyond the reaches of just the bathroom. So, unless you remove your beard and place it safely in an airtight container before every flush, it’s likely to have a few droppings in it.

Scientists blame our hygiene, saying people do not wash their hands enough. However, even if I’m the cleanest person in the world, eventually I’m going to touch a surface that has been splattered with your muck mist. It’s inevitable. And then, unknowingly, I’ll touch my face, my cell phone, my beard (or your beard), a doorknob, that pen on your desk I borrowed for just a minute, the office computer that we all share, your utensils as I pass them across the table. Truly, the possibilities are endless.

If turd particles really do fly through the air, it’s a miracle we are not covered in more than we are. Think about it. There are 7.3 billion people on this planet; and as we all know ‘Everyone Poops’. This is not taking into account the amount of manure produced by animals throughout the world. So, with all the flushing, and wiping, and butt-spraying out there in the world; are you truly that surprised to find just a little bit of poo in your beard? Really?!? Because I would be surprised not to find any.

Looking Forward, Not Backward

The year 2014 has ended, and I rang in the New Year on a beach, in Dubai, with great friends. And, although it’s important to reflect, look back, reminisce, and all that other shit. I’ve decided to look forward instead!

In just a few days I’ll be turning 33. I know 33 isn’t a milestone of any sort. I don’t even get to change which box I check on application forms; I’m still in the 25-35 range. But, even with that in mind, I’m incredibly excited for the upcoming year.

I feel like I’ve been building up to a great adventure, but haven’t quite packed my bags yet. I’ve been trying to plan exactly how this next year will pan out, but I’m not very good at planning. I tend to have grand ideas, but then I dissect every aspect of the details and all the possible ways in which the plan can go wrong, thus, taking me back to square one.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to only make one plan this year. I’ve decided to do whatever the fuck makes me happy! I know people want me to move home. I know some people at work want me to stay. I know some people think I should settle down and meet someone nice. The truth is, I’m not exactly sure what I want to do, but I know I want change and I know I want an adventure.

What about you? If you could do anything for a year of your life, what would you do? Where would you go?