Mongolia!

My mild obsession with Mongolia began 16 years ago. I spent a semester studying in Moscow, Russia and visited Lake Baikal in the east with a friend from Sweden. The southern part of the lake is not far from the Mongolian border and we wanted to visit, but we didn’t have enough time. Later that year, when I returned to the states, I visited a museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There was a life sized yurt set up, complete with furniture and decorations, and I was intrigued. I’d wanted to visit ever since and the more I’ve learned, the longer I’ve wanted to stay.

The excitement of visiting a new place never fades. I couldn’t wait to leave Beijing, but the torrential downpours really put a damper on my last day there and I was afraid my flight would be delayed. I checked and checked my flight status all day: On Time. So, around 8:30 pm I left the apartment for my 2:00 am flight. I wanted to be sure I made the last airport express train and I simply didn’t mind being early. I had a cup of coffee and prepared myself for the all nighter I was about to pull. I was honestly giddy with excitement! When we took off, I smiled and let out a sight of relief- my next adventure was beginning. And I couldn’t help but wonder, “Who goes to Mongolia?” I looked around at the people on my flight. Mostly Asians, but I can’t tell who’s who or from where they may be. Chinese and Mongolian, the languages I could decipher, and there were a few westerners. I wanted to ask everyone what they were doing and why, but I didn’t. The flight takes two hours, but we arrived at 5:00 am as Ulan Bator is one hour ahead of Beijing. (China apparently does its own thing with time because Seoul is in the same time zone as Ulan Bator). I was drained, but the adrenaline was flowing. I exchanged my last American dollars, and had another cup of coffee. I didn’t want to go find my host at 6:00 am and I met a young American student, so we took a taxi to her hostel (all the people at the airport said there were no busses. I didn’t buy it, but didn’t know the way and was able to split the cost, so it was $5.00). We saw horses on the side of the road. Rolling hills all around, covered in what looks like a big green carpet. “This is going to be awesome!” I said to myself.

I made my way into the unknown and set out to find my host. His detailed directions worked and the door was open! Two of his daughters and two other travelers were there. I was exhausted but excited to see and learn but we didn’t know what to do. Yuri, a 24 year old Korean, and I, walked to a small, local restaurant attached to a grocery store and played charades while I tried to decipher the Mongolian menu to order food. Not too long after, we hiked up one of the green hills behind the ger with Kadma, the 11 year old daughter. The afternoon was thankfully uneventful as I was going on nearly 32 hours without sleep, but we stayed up late. Darkness at this latitude does not set in until past 10:00 pm and by the time we finished making dinner, getting ready for bed, and making up the sleeping area, it was well past 11:00.

Life in the Ger.

I recently became interested in the tiny home movement and am fairly certain I want one whenever I return to the United States. I feel like I’m learning to live with less and never used all the space in my house, so something small seems ideal. I feel now, however, that this ger experience is definitely helping me whittle down what “amenities” are most important! Life in the ger is tough. There is no running water, no washing machine, dryer, or dishwasher, they heat by fire, so if you light one, you’ll always smell like smoke, no showers, no toilets, no TVs or major appliances that we are accustomed to in our Western ways, and kitchen/cooking supplies are basic. Doing simple things are time consuming. Do you need to go to the bathroom? Put your boots/shoes on, walk down the hill a bit, and go outside in the wooden box. Come back and wash your hands, but if there isn’t any water left in the wash basin, take another 15 steps to the ger to get water to fill it. Walk back to put the buck down so it doesn’t get dirty by the wash basin, then go back. Getting ready for bed takes me about twenty minutes and that’s doing minimal! And, if I heat up water in the kettle to put in the wash basin, it really feels like a treat to have hot water! The ger is small and open, so there is minimal space for storage, so you better make sure that whatever you do have is very useful and versatile! I’m 100% sure that I want some small washer/dryer combo in my tiny home. I don’t need a dishwasher! Hand washing clothes is one thing, but depending on the weather, they may take forever to dry.

Home sweet home.
Home sweet home.

The girls in my Mongolian host family are smart, kind, welcoming, and beautiful. Their English is perfect and at 9, 11, and 14 years old, they are so incredibly responsible! The oldest daughter volunteers at the education center and teaches English. The 11 year old makes bread every evening for breakfast the next day, and they all help out with chores, wash their own laundry, and can travel into town and back on their own! They live without TV and all of the toys, electronics, and games that many western children are spoiled with. They are a joy to be around. I want Kadma to know that she can visit me any time in my tiny home once I return to the states and be my part time Mongolian daughter!

The girls!
The girls!

Ulan Bator is the capital city of Mongolia. There are about three million people who live in this wide open area comparable to the size of Alaska, and nearly half live in the city. Mongolia is known as the Blue Sky country, but the air quality is poor and there is often a haze that hangs over the city. Temperatures between day and night can be extreme, with a 40 degree difference sometimes. Many people only light fires to heat, and the main fuel source otherwise is coal, which is quite a pollutant. Seeing as I’m not big into cities and we didn’t have any real work to do at the ger, I had to get out of UB for a bit.

Walking into the unknown without a plan: Terelj National Park

The girl at the Tourist Information Center in the State Department Store in UB said to catch bus 4 at 4:00 to go to Terelj. It’s the 3rd largest national park in Mongolia and it’s just outside of UB and is a popular destination for tourists as it’s fairly close to the city. I threw a few things in my small bag, grabbed my sleeping bag, bought a few simple groceries like canned tuna, almonds, and some German “muesli biscuits,” and looked for the bus stop. Yup, there were some westerners waiting and I met a traveler from Belgium. We chatted for a while and were approached on the bus by a couple exploring from France. None of us had accommodations but had heard we may find a ger. Prices are set for the whole ger per night, so the more people you have, the cheaper it is. And there I was, walking down some dirt road through a small valley, amongst emerald green rolling hills dotted with horses and cattle, listening to people speak French, and simply gazing in awe at the scenery around me. Eventually, we found an open ger. 10,000 tugrik/person/night. With food, another 4,000. None of us had dinner and the Mongolian host was willing to whip us up some grub. It was almost 8:00 pm and I had a small meal at 2:30. I was ravenous. We’ll take it! For the equivalent of $7.00 per night, we had a place to stay with a bed (we don’t have beds in the ger in UB), and a meal. By 9:00, dinner was served, a hearty mutton soup with potatoes, carrots, glass noodles, and a typical thin fried bread. I devoured it. Finally, some food! We all chatted for a while and told our stories of why we are traveling. My new companions are from France, Belgium, and Boliva/Britian, and all speak English perfectly. The great thing is, they understand whatever French/Spanish jibberish that comes out of my mouth and I’m keeping my brain busy with all of the different languages around me. I try a few words in Mongolian with the lady here, but she speaks Russian as well. As I settle in to sleep, I can hear the horses not far from the ger, “neighing” in the night. I hope I can go riding!

My new friends!
My new friends!

My full day at the park was great and full of activity. We went up to the little mini mart to get water for our day in the hills and set off shortly after. We had plans to go horseback riding around 5:00 and in addition, I hiked around a little more to see some more scenery (sometimes I can’t get enough). Our host served us some type of noodle dish with a few veggies and lamb. We were all pretty beat so we just relaxed in the ger. I’ve been reading a lot lately and don’t really miss TV or Netflix. In fact, hadn’t thought about it until now!
There’s nothing like a full shower! That was the greatest gift to myself for my birthday! When the bus arrived from Terelj, I did stop into Wendy Cafe. I had coffee and a pastry- that was actually my gift to myself!

China- Final Thoughts

I liked China, but I like every place, so not sure if that says much!! I feel like I’ve never had much of a “pull” to come to the Far East, but China was worth visiting, albeit briefly. There were things I liked, and things I didn’t, and in some ways, I feel like I’m leaving with the same sentiments as I did when I left Korea. That’s interesting because I had hoped my visit there wasn’t jaded by certain events that took place, so maybe not. If it were easy, I’d have no problem visiting China again, maybe do something different, and with different company. Or- it would be awesome to visit Xie in the south, maybe go hiking, eat food, and see some pandas!

China is the most populated country on earth. There are people everywhere and they don’t have the same sense of personal space that I’m accustomed to being from the states. I don’t get it though, being in a one child only country- you’d think people would be used of having some personal space…? People crowd and push and shove, even where there is no more space to cram into or reason to, for that matter. I was in line the other day to get on a boat in an underground cave. Only so many people could get onto one boat at one time, and we were all going to the same spot. People were crammed into the line like sardines. For a moment, one man was touching my body at three points- I felt like I was in a cattle car, but there was no reason for it- this isn’t basic training all over again. Sometimes, I keep a wide stance, or my feet spaced far enough apart so as to create a mini barrier of space, but it doesn’t always work.

Despite all the pishing and shoving, I got a front row seat on the boat!
Despite all the pishing and shoving, I got a front row seat on the boat!

China is dirty, and people are dirty. Not all, but you see it, you smell it. It’s such a consumer society with no apparent regard for the environment, there are piles of trash and plastic bottles EVERYWHERE. I know I’m now contributing, but being a foreigner, I’m afraid to drink the tap water like I do at home. I always have my water bottle with me. I do my best to minimize waste, but here, you can buy any and everything. Everything is made in China, right? You can buy every kind of food individually wrapped. Turkey necks, pickled eggs, chicken feet, pieces of tofu, different kinds of sweets and jellies, the list goes on. And while not as common as its portrayed to us in the states, the Chinese eat some foods that we definitely don’t… I saw scorpions on a stick, starfish, sea horses, locusts, pigeon, there was a restaurant that specialized in dog meat, you can buy Peking style duck in a bag, all kinds of eggs, and when I was in Zhangjiajie, I even saw a place that sold giant salamander to eat. The smell of “stinky tofu” makes my skin crawl, and the questionable meat in sausage shaped wrappings doesn’t look at all appealing.

Scorpions anyone? And how do you even eat starfish?!
Scorpions anyone? And how do you even eat starfish?!

People definitely have a different way here… They throw their trash wherever, drop stuff and don’t pick it up. People in the train threw their trash on the floor, peanut shells and sunflower seeds everywhere… They don’t seem to wash their hands and they cough, blow their noses, and spit everywhere. They pop each other’s pimples-in public! ? Also, people smoke everywhere. It’s stifling, especially in the heat. I’ve grown so unaccustomed to the smell of smoke (thankfully), I forgot how awful it is to be around.

It’s tough being in a country where life is so different and you don’t speak the language, but many people were friendly and helpful, even when I didn’t need it. There’s a rich history and culture, paired with language, it would take a lifetime to learn and understand. Some of the food is really good and I for one, appreciate the variety of fruits and vegetables used in cooking. There’s so much to do and see. I was in awe at some of the beauty I saw and I was only here for 13 days, and 5, ultimately, were travel days.

Veggie-ful soup with a variety of meat and a dash of noodles.
Veggie-ful soup with a variety of meat and a dash of noodles.

I mentioned I was reading a book about a Female Nomad. She’s an anthropologist and sometimes comments that when living amongst others, in order to be like them, you accept their ways of life, leaving out your own set of values. I think about this often as I’m about to live my life with others, in their homes and environments. I’m sure some days I won’t be a good anthropologist. I won’t eat certain foods, I won’t try to cough up a lung and spit it onto the sidewalk, but I’ll do my best to fit in, because it’s there, amongst the locals, that true learning and understanding takes place. I know I’m so set in my ways, but I’ve been mentally preparing for some aspects of this journey for a long time. I’m curious to see how I adapt. I already miss my dog, my ice cold water in my Wonder Woman water bottle, flavored with my Grape Pureline BCAAs, and I lament the day I run out of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Quest Bars. I have two left. I’m saving them for my 16 hour + bus rides in Mongolia. It’s been a good experience, but part of me can’t wait to leave! ✈️?

Down Time

I’m always on the go, the energizer bunny… Before I left my life behind, I did cardio every morning, went to work, lifted weights on my way home, and walked my dog every evening. Weekends were filled with errands, cooking, cleaning, and sometimes, an outing, hike, or adventure of some sort. I rarely schedule down time for myself. I cancelled cable TV and hardly watched movies on Netflix. Every now and then, I’d start reading a book, sometimes, it would take months to finish, and my blog, well, I let this go for quite a while as well.

I recently met a girl from France who was at the tail end of traveling abroad for a year. She and her boyfriend bought a camper and traveled mostly along the west coast of Australia. We met the day I went to the Great Wall. She was so disappointed to be going back to the “real world” soon. She said she savored every moment and saw everything possible while on their trip. It made me happy to hear. I wonder if I’ll get bored or tired on this road but I feel like there’s so much I want to see and do, so how could I?

When I left Beijing for Zhangjiajie on the train, a part of me dreaded the 26 hour trip, but a part of me looked forward to it. It was forced “down time,” and I needed it. My body was sore and tired from the 40 miles I’d done in my first three days in Beijing, and I knew it would give me time to finish reading a book about Nepal I had started back in April! Additionally, before I left (and still had an Internet connection), I downloaded another book onto my iPad: Tales of a Female Nomad. I came across that book one day at Half Price Books while selling back a trunk load of a library I had collected over the years. I couldn’t buy one more book…

I enjoyed the train ride. I slept more than I expected, I read, I listened to music, I updated my blog posts, I did some budget projections. I did nothing. When is that last time I did that? I think it was the Sunday before I left San Antonio- May 29th. I was supposed to go hiking, but there were torrential downpours that morning. Instead, my friend and I went to brunch and spent the early part of the day watching the Departures episodes from Mongolia on Netflix. I have fond memories of that day! Doing “nothing” is good sometimes.

The day we left Zhangjiajie, it poured. It was the “extra” day because as mentioned, I had to stay one more day in order to get a soft sleeper on the train back to Beijing. It rained so hard and the clouds were so thick you wouldn’t have known the city had a backdrop of beautiful mountains. It made me super grateful for the few days of sun we did have. I was restless in the morning, feeling the effects of not working out now in nearly two weeks. I did a makeshift session in my little room. 400 squats, push ups, dips, leg raises… I went out for a jog. Somehow, I made it out just in time. The rained lightened and I ran along the path on the river then made the non-stop hike up to the temple for an extra session for my legs. I got back around 10:00 am – still 7 more hours before we had to leave for the train station. I slowly cleaned up, showered, packed, cleaned the apartment a bit, got some food and snacks for the ride back, got some money… Then, I watched Netflix. Again, I sat and did nothing. It was nice. I began a series called “Frankie and Grace,” as recommended by one of the Americans I met the day I went to the Forbidden City. I downloaded a “Learn Nepali- Alphabet and Numbers” book onto my iPad. I contacted all of my hosts in Mongolia and was quietly excited for the next leg, I was ready to get to the train station and head back to Beijing.

Rainy day jog along the river in Zhangjiajie.
Rainy day jog along the river in Zhangjiajie.

I’m a super regimented person, but now that I’ve been on the road, all of that has gone out the window. I’ll keep myself busy day in and day out, I’m sure, but I’ll schedule down time- it’s nice to have sometimes. I’m looking forward to my home stays with my hosts. I think a schedule of some sort will be good for me and I need to partake in regular life activities, like daily tasks, grocery shopping, cooking food, and whatever else I may be doing as a volunteer. I also need to get back to my love of learning language- something I haven’t done in a long time. I’m constantly looking at Chinese characters and comparing them with the transliterated sounds below, when available. I’ve learned to recognize a few symbols, but it doesn’t compare to formal learning, and of course, I still don’t understand a word of Chinese. At least numbers are the same, so I can understand the cost of things and sorta decipher a food label. (Nearly everything is calculated for a 100 g serving and calories are noted in kilojoules. Grocery shopping takes me forever as I’m doing multiple calculations simply to determine calorie content of these unfamiliar foods). In Mongolia, Cyrillic is used, so at least I’ll be literate, but the language is nothing like Russian. I can only hope that most people do speak some Russian though! Nepal is going to be tough. Not only do they use a new alphabet, they use a different script for numbers. Learning them is first on my list. Learning Nepali and reading the articles that the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics sends daily are going to be important to me. I need my brain to be engaged beyond activities of daily living and I cannot let my own nutrition education slide.

While I plan to see and do as much as possible, I think it will be important to have down time. Sometimes, it will be forced, sometimes, I may schedule it. I think the last 48 hours will suffice for some time, but I do have that 2:00 am flight Thursday morning, so I’ll be doing nothing for a while then. Also, my host in northern Mongolia is about 500 miles from the capital. It’s a 1.5 hour plane ride, but the 16 hour bus ride is $108 cheaper. Looks like I’ll be seeing a lot of Mongolia, after all!

Rookie Mistake or Life Lessons?

There were a few reasons I wanted to go to China. One is simply that it’s a large country I’ve never visited, but I wanted to see the Great Wall and take the train to Mongolia from Beijing. Additionally, I wanted to visit a National Park, Zhangjiajie, in Hunan, a province in South Central China. I stumbled upon this park while scrolling through Instagram well before I planned this adventure and filed it away in my memory, simply noting that it was somewhere in this big country. When making plans to visit China, I googled “Chinese Rock Structures,” and found out more about the park. I knew it was a must see. I had been part of a group on Facebook for people in Beijing. I posted about my upcoming travels to Zhangjiajie and wanted to see if anybody was interested in joining me. A few people bit, but only one seemed serious. We stayed in touch, but I had my reservations as he was a young 21 year old student studying in Canada, but home in Beijing for the summer. “We’ll split costs,” and “He does speak Chinese,” I told myself, but I was hesitant… We met in Beijing once I arrived. We bought train tickets first thing in the morning (through his dad’s recommendations instead of flying), which saved me about $280 but cost nearly 4 days of travel. It’s hot and humid in Beijing, and he was sweating profusely, coughing, and moving slowly. All red flags to my extremely active self, but I felt like I couldn’t back out. We made the 26 turned into 31 hour train ride and were greeted by our Air BnB host at the train station. The two bedroom apartment was great- spacious, cool, and with a kitchen, full bathroom, and a washing machine!

In total, we would be together for 8 days on this trip. That was a tough notion for my independent personality. There are few people I can spend 8 days with, never mind a young 21 year old who didn’t like to be alone. We did not purchase round trip tickets from Beijing as I wanted to possibly make it out to Xi’an, where the terra cotta warriors are. The train schedule didn’t work out well for that and I wanted to get back to Beijing to catch the twice weekly train ride to Ulan Bator. I hadn’t bought tickets yet as I’d been redirected to a few different places and simply decided I would reserve them on line. My first workaway host has had me in his calendar for two months- I couldn’t be late. Xi’an was a no go, and furthermore, the soft sleepers back to Beijing were sold out for Sunday, the day we planned to return. I was not sitting in a seat for 30 hours, especially not next to someone with whom I had just spent 7 days. No. I would fly back, it was more expensive but worth it for my sanity. But then, my 21 year old travel companion, who I later dubbed my Chinese child, did not want to travel alone. I was stuck… An extra day in Zhangjiajie- until there were soft sleepers available back to Beijing. Not only did I lose a day in the city because of this, I felt I was cutting it too close to take the train to Ulan Bator, one of my main reasons for visiting Beijing. The Monday night train back to Beijing leaves at 6:16 pm, arriving at 8:00 pm the next night, if there are not any delays. We were 5 hours late to Zhangjiajie. I did not have my ticket to Mongolia in hand, and it would leave at 11:22 am the next day (Wednesday). What if I didn’t get my tickets in time, what if I got more run around? What if we were late to Beijing and I had even less time to prepare for this next leg of my journey? It felt too risky. I bought a plane ticket for the only flight on July 21st, the day I’d planned on arriving for quite some time. 2:00 am departure, 5:30 am arrival. I outta be in good shape by the time I find my host’s ger somewhere outside of Ulan Bator. ?

Even though I don’t speak Chinese, I think I could have figured things out eventually on my own. It’s easier though with a translator, right? Except my travel companion was kind of aloof, or maybe absent minded. He didn’t pay attention to stuff and often times he’d translate or point out the obvious. “The bus station is this way,” when I could clearly read the sign in English for myself. The first day was spent on Tianmen Mountain. It’s home to the longest cable car ride in the world, which we took to get to the top. There was an east and west path and I wanted to take both. He said we couldn’t. I didn’t buy it, but gave him the benefit of the doubt. Later, I saw where the two paths connected and I think he simply didn’t want to do the extra activity. I lost out of seeing the “East Side.” Shortly after, I appointed myself as the guide, Chinese speaking or not, I could navigate to where I wanted to go. I can read a map. The mountain was beautiful, but foggy. Maybe I’d go again if the sun came out.

View of Tianmen Mountain from the cable car.

Day two would be spent in the National park, about an hour ride from the city. I told my travel companion he did not have to do the same things I did. I wanted a three day pass, more expensive, but worth it to me. I would see as much of the park as possible. He insisted on getting the same, although I knew he wouldn’t want to do it physically. He was definitely not as into nature as me, and I later learned he wanted to take the trip to get away from his parents in Beijing. I bought a map and directed us to where I wanted to go. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a say, but he didn’t make many decisions and furthermore, he made me feel he couldn’t be alone, nor did he want to. At one point, he even said he was afraid to be. Yikes, that’s tough for me because now I don’t have a travel companion, I have a responsibility. Later that day, he lost his cell phone. We didn’t find it and when we got back to the city, he didn’t remember the short way back to the apartment. Paying attention in a new environment is key- he was not doing this. Again, I now had a responsibility on my hands. By the time I was 21, I had traveled alone to Europe 6 times and spent a semester studying there. Having lived in Canada for the last 5 years, I thought he’d be a little more independent than he was showing to be. That evening, I needed a break. I rarely spend that much time with anyone. I told him he’d need to do something on his own for the next two days. I wanted some solitude.

First day in the park- in the area where Avatar was filmed.
First day in the park- in the area where Avatar was filmed.

Day three we headed out together. I had a plan for myself, but he did not. I don’t think he realized I was serious when I said I needed a break. The park entrance I wanted to start at was apparently closed or inaccessible due to a landslide. We had to start where we left off the day before, the same spot where the cell phone was lost. But, it was a $10.50 cable car ride to the top or a hike up endless steps. I was frustrated as I wanted to do my own thing, but feared he wouldn’t make it physically. He was running out of money, so the cable car ride was not an option. He asked for the apartment key. I was disappointed, but couldn’t expect someone to want what I do, so we parted ways. I found a bite to eat and prepared myself for the hike up. It was hot and humid and I was already sweating. A few minutes in, I see my travel companion, my Chinese child… I told him I was proud of him for pushing forward and staying at the park. I finished the hike up and waited for him at the top. Based on where we were in the park, we had limited options. I told him he could hang with me for the rest of the day. Because a lot of the day consisted of stairs, I was able to hike ahead and wait. That way, I was able to be alone. All in all, I had a good day, but he was running out of money. Shortly after, he realized he left his ATM card somewhere. He also lost his water bottle. The guilt sank in. I took a kid who was not ready to be out in the world this way. He lost his phone, his water bottle, his ATM card. I felt horrible for the decisions I made. “Never again,” I thought… I’d need a vetting process from here on out for any potential future travel buddies.

We went up so many stairs that day!
We went up so many stairs that day!

We had a lot of talks. I had to shift my mindset and assume my mentor role at some point. It’s not what I’d planned on, but I had to get through the next few days. I told him he needed to learn to be more independent and less afraid, to push through and challenge himself, and to also learn to budget!! I have a “No bull shit” attitude sometimes and told him when things get tough, sometimes you just have to suck it up and put one foot in front of the other. He felt accomplished when he made it to the top of the mountain and later said he’d gained a lot from this trip- stuff he’d file away in his memory bank likely for the rest of his life. Perseverance, and pushing himself, even when it was uncomfortable… Yes, those ARE lessons that last a lifetime, so that is a good thing, but it came at my expense in some ways. BUT- we both learned. Different things and in some ways, some of the same things. He learned to push himself and that he can accomplish more than he realizes, have faith in yourself and you can achieve a lot, this is something I know well, yet did not apply it in this situation. I felt like I’d be better off with a travel companion, especially a Chinese speaking one. But the reality is, I could have done this trip on my own. Everything happens for a reason though, right? So, at the end of the day (or in this case, the end of this trip), I saved money, taught somebody some life lessons, and in a lot of ways, taught myself to navigate through some parts of China. I shouldn’t have doubted myself. I know from prior experiences that I can get to where I need to go. I did it in Korea, and I did it in Thailand, so I will keep that in MY memory bank. So, rookie mistake or life lesson? Maybe a little bit of both. I didn’t get to do all I wanted in China, but I saw some beautiful places and for that, I’m grateful. Everyday is a new adventure and decisions must be made along the way. As long as you learn from them, mistakes aren’t always a bad thing.

The views from the top were worth every single step.
The views from the top were worth every single step.

Letting Go – Part Two

I feel like I’m still having a hard time determining the direction I take with this blog. Do I want to chronicle my adventures? Do I want to share some insight as to the things that go on in my mind? Do I get personal…? Although I don’t work and I haven’t done any of my planned Workaway opportunities yet, I’m busy, and traveling is exhausting! I haven’t had time to sit and update my blog, and in China, the Internet is fairly spotty. Simply writing a post on Facebook is time consuming.

A while back, I wrote a post about letting go. It was in regards to leaving my physical belongings behind. For some reason, as the time neared for me to leave, it was easy to do- for the most part. But, it’s been some of the emotional stuff that I’ve chosen to hold onto. I use the word chosen because I really feel it was a choice. The catalyst for this big, life changing decision was because of someone I met last year. I knew he’d be stationed in Korea and I asked myself why we kept in touch to the extent that we did. Instead of letting things fade away, I woke up one morning driven to find a way to make things work and to get to know him better. I thought and thought and this idea was born. Initially, I’d considered heading out for 6-8 months, traveling from Korea to other countries in Southeast Asia, but things took a turn on my visit to Seoul in February. After using every hour I’d saved up from work and flying halfway across the globe, he said the “fireworks just aren’t there anymore.” It was a punch to the gut and I’m not going to lie, I was pretty disappointed. My first instinct was to go home, but that’s not really what I wanted. I wanted to travel. I knew the risk I was taking when I went in the first place and I was already there, so why not? I decided to go to Thailand, and after a few more days in Seoul, that’s what I did. And I loved it. Although it was just a week, it gave me a taste of what I’d been planning on doing. It confirmed my decision to quit my job, but now, it would just be me, nobody in the middle, no reason to go back. Plans changed, the possibilities became endless, but on the inside, I was hurt, and I wouldn’t let it go.

While I grew accustomed to the idea of being alone again, I still held on to that person I met last year, my catalyst for change. I couldn’t, and didn’t want to open up to anybody else. In time, I realized I kept him close as a reminder to not put myself out there anymore. I didn’t want to be in a position to get hurt again. Additionally, I didn’t want anyone getting in the way of my epic plans! But something inside of me wasn’t right. I knew from past experiences I had to let go but this time, it was different and I felt like I didn’t know how.

When I left Seoul, I left behind an emerald ring that I’d grown to love so much. It was such a beautiful gem and the color, to me, was perfect. Nobody had ever given me anything so nice, but I felt like I didn’t need the reminder of where it came from. I missed it though. I contemplated asking for it back but I hesitated. Eventually, I did, in the hopes that if I had it back, I could have it serve as a reminder for the positive, my new journey. I told myself when I got it, I had to make a conscious decision to let go of the emotional baggage I was carrying. Wake up and say, “Ok, I’m over it!” Coincidentally, or as fate my have it, my ring arrived in the mail on the day I let go of the biggest thing I ever owned- my house. I opened the package, read the letter, and said “It’s time.”

I wear it everyday now, besides, I have nowhere else to keep it but on my finger. And I wear a pearl, because the world is my oyster. And just like that, I let go. Everyday is a new day, and every day brings a new adventure. Without that serendipitous meeting last year, this crazy Asian adventure of mine may never have started, not for a while anyway. So, like they say, when one door closes, another one opens!

 

First leg- Beijing, China.

China, really?!

I made it to Beijing unscathed and hit the ground running on just a few hours of sleep. I feel determined to keep on some sort of budget and I don’t want to spend money on things like taxis and what not, so I bought a metro card and made my way in the sweltering heat. Thank goodness for my recent trip to Seoul because the subway system is exactly the same so it made navigating through it with 40 pounds on my back a little easier. I had booked a room (well, a couch, actually) on Air BnB and when I arrived, there was a Chinese girl heading out later that evening. It turned out to be a fortuitous meeting as she was very helpful, showed me some places in the area, ordered food for me, and invited me to join her and her friend on a few excursions.

I was lucky to be able to spend my first three days in Beijing with others. I know the road gets lonely sometimes and it feels more rewarding to experience new things in good company. I met some Americans at the Forbidden City and did some serious trekking along the Great Wall with my new Chinese friend. In my first three days, I put in nearly 40 miles on foot. I saw so many sights, tried new foods, and did it all in the relentless heat! Even though I’m here and I can see it with my own eyes, I still ask myself if I really did this. “Am I really in China?” Yes I am, and damn, I don’t understand a word or even a syllable, of Chinese for that matter!

Checking out this huge complex.
Checking out the Forbidden City.
My new Chinese friends and I getting in some steps!
My new Chinese friends and I getting in some steps along the Great Wall of China at Mutinyu.
The beautiful Lama Temple.
You have to try the most famous local foods, right?!
You have to try the most famous local foods, right?! Peking duck in Peking!

The open road- I mean sky!

My friend's son' Flat Jesus and I ready to go.
My friend’s son’s Flat Jesus and I ready to go.

It has been a while since I’ve updated my blog. I was more busy than I expected I’d be once I left San Antonio and half the time, I figure nobody reads my posts anyway. Additionally, I’ve posted quite a bit on FB and I think the only people who read this are my friends from Facebook!

Anyway, here’s a brief update. I left San Antonio 5 weeks ago after packing up my house, putting what few belongings I have left into storage, and saying goodbye to friends and Basil. It took me 9 days to make it to my family in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I made a lot of stops along the way and got to see some peeps I hadn’t seen in a long time. A part of me dreaded the long journey, but looking back, it was kind of fun!

I spent 4 weeks in New England and kept myself plenty busy. As soon as I got home, I got a gym membership because I knew I needed a schedule of some sort. I spent most mornings at Planet Fitness and my days were filled with friends, family, and various excursions. I had to take a few trips to see some of my favorite places, like the New England Aquarium, Quincy Marketplace, and Fenway Park in Boston. I spent some time hiking in the mountains and even went to Niagara Falls, Canada, and Watkins Glen, New York.

I packed and repacked my bag. I constantly reevaluated the items I planned on bringing and I was eager to head out on my adventure as the time neared. People have been so fascinated by my plans and sometimes it’s just interesting to watch peoples’ reactions when I tell them I quit my job, sold my home, and bought a one way ticket to Asia. I wonder how many people actually do that…

I planned on bringing my Kelty pack as a carry on. I took it to Portland in April for a trial run and it fit in the overhead bin. I got everything packed into it like a meticulously layered lasagna and took a small back pack to easily separate my toiletries, some snacks, and to have easy access to my iPad and other in flight necessities. When I got to the airport, however, United had other plans for my pack. They said it was too big (I even tried to sneak past one of the ticket checkers), but I was caught red handed by a grumpy old lady who yelled at me. I reorganized a bit and made my way through security after checking my backpack. I fear losing it as it’s all I have left, all my belongings for an indefinite period of time!

I’m flying on a 747, but much to my dismay, we do not have individual seat back TVs or phone chargers, so I can’t catch up on random movies for 12 hours. I made sure to only get a few hours of sleep last night in hopes of getting some on the way, but I never sleep, so I likely won’t today, either. I employed the same tactic when I went to Korea and my plan backfired. I was jet lagged and sleep deprived for days when I got there.

Our flight was delayed 50 minutes. It’s not a big deal, but it seems like a lot when you still have 13 hours ahead of you. The United app would not download onto my iPad (but it’s on my phone), and without it, I would not be able to use it for the free “Personal Device Entertainment.” Shortly after we took off, the captain informed us they had to restart the computer system so the TVs in the cabin were shut down. Just moments after, an alarm of some sort went off. Different airline personnel were walking about the cabin, but it didn’t stop. I thought maybe I was going crazy and just hearing things because it didn’t seem anybody was doing anything about it. Finally, I asked a flight attendant and she said it was a smoke detector. She said it was driving her nuts. Phew, I’m not hearing things! We then hit a patch of turbulence. I don’t get scared on planes (I even jumped out of one a few weeks ago), but this was rough. I braced myself and the man next to me, whose breath I can smell from my seat, spilled his coffee. Within a few minutes, the turbulence subsided then the alarm stopped beeping. Shortly after, the movie came back on, from the beginning, “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, Part Two.” Dinner (late lunch?) is served. It’s 4:00 pm. 11 more hours to go.

Jumpin out of a plane is exhilarating, turbulence and smoke alarms are not!
Jumpin out of a plane is exhilarating, turbulence and smoke alarms are not!

As suspected, I cannot sleep. We are over eastern Russia now and we flew north of Alaska. I think that may have been the northernmost point I’ve seen yet! Dinner was mundane at best and mostly full of carbs. My keen eye for portion sizes had me guesstimating we got approximately 3 ounces of chicken at mealtime and barely any vegetables. Needless to say, I was hungry 2 hours later. Thank goodness for Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Quest Bars. I have 12 more, I’ll ration them out accordingly over the next few weeks.

Five and a half more hours. I should stop, at this point, I’ll just continue to ramble, out of boredom and eventual exhaustion!