Category Archives: Travels

5 Ways You Can Help Save the Orangutans

5 Ways You Can Help Save the Orangutans

Palm oil and its connection to the endangerment of diversity is a subject of increasing significance and one that long been important to me. I was exuberant when this article about Halloween candy and its link to orangutans popped up on my Facebook news feed a week and a half ago. Since then I have sporadically seen articles breach the subject of palm oil. While I don’t pretend to be an expert on the topic, I have witnessed the devastation first hand. It’s about time mainstream media begins to discuss palm oil and its tragic effects on some of the most diverse areas in the world.

The History

Since the 1990’s production of palm oil has skyrocketed. It is now used in nearly 50 per cent of all packaged products. In the last 10 years, import of palm oil has increased tenfold in the United States alone. The origin of the oil is mostly in rainforest rich nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

You might wonder why it has become so popular. Palm oil is trans-fat free. Trans-fat is required to be labeled on products sold in the US and many other countries. Soon trans-fat may even be banned in the United States. So, companies have sought out palm oil as a substitute for other oils containing trans-fat. Palm oil makes their product appear healthier.

To make matters worse, many experts have called palm oil the solution to the American health crisis. Dr. Oz even lauded the oil as having the ability to stop the signs of aging.

The Downside (a pretty mild title for what you are about to read)

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Photo courtesy of Elliot Pelling

• Production of palm oil has expanded too rapidly to be sustainable. Palm oil plantations have caused the terrifyingly expansive destruction of rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia, where 90% of palm oil is produced. According the Rainforest Action Network’s Fact Sheet, palm oil plantations currently cover a total of 16 million acres. This is comparable to the size of West Virginia. By 2020, the Indonesia government plans to add an additional 44 million more acres (the size of Missouri).

IMG_3800• The destruction of rainforests is synonymous with the destruction of habitat for many endangered species. At present, the Sumatran rhinoceros, tigers, orangutans, and the Asian elephant are seeing the effects of deforestation. In fact, 80% of orangutan habitat has been lost due to growing demand for palm oil. (Note that while these are the most critically endangered species that have been affected, a wide range of animals have suffered a population decrease.)

IMG_4561• Animals are not the only group to rely on pre-palm oil plantation land. Indonesia and Malaysia are full of indigenous groups that need natural forests for their livelihoods. As if stripping people of their livelihoods isn’t bad enough, conflicts between these indigenous groups and palm oil corporations are common. In far too many cases, corporations resort to violence and murder in order to gain control of land.

• Tragically, many palm oil plantations rely on children to produce their product. Child labor by itself is reprehensible, but too often, these are cases of forced labor. Modern day slavery has been documented frequently in palm oil plantations across Malaysia.

• Palm oil production has also caused the rapid destruction of peatlands, a natural sequester of carbon, in Indonesia. As a result of the carbon released by the damage to this massive area, Indonesia has become the third largest creator of greenhouse gases in the world, behind only the United States and China.

• Finally, closer to home, the health benefits of palm oil may be exaggerated. While palm oil is trans-fat free, it contains a significant amount of saturated fat and has been shown to lead to higher cholesterol than other oils. To read more about this, check out this informative article from the SFGate.

The destruction of animal habitat, the violations of human rights, and the negative effect on global warming caused by palm oil production add up to a losing formula. In no way is palm oil worth the tragedies it causes.

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However, ending our dependence on palm oil may be harder than we think. Palm oil is used in a large number of packaged foods and is confusingly labeled on many of those products making it hard to avoid. So how can you help?

5 Ways to Make a Difference

1. Buy palm oil free candy
For your next get together or that inevitable sweet tooth, be sure to purchase candy made without palm oil. At the very least, buy candy made using certified sustainable palm oil (although whether this is as destructive or not remains to be seen). To help in this endeavor, El Paso Zoo has created this useful list documenting which candies are safe to buy and which are not.

2. Download an app
Palm oil can morph into more than 12 different names on ingredient labels. Even for the best memories, avoiding palm oil containing products is near impossible. To make our lives easier, El Paso Zoo has done it again with an app called the Palm Oil Guide & Scanner. It allows consumers to determine if a product includes palm oil by scanning the product’s bar code. The app is free for download on Android and Apple iOS.

3. Sign a petition
Be a part of the Rainforest Action Network’s petition to end our dependence on palm oil by uploading a picture of your palm to their website. The organization wants to collect 60,600 photos of palms, one for every orangutan left in the wild. They plan to forward these photos as an anti-palm oil protest to the Snack Food 20 (the most popular snack food corporations).

4. Educate yourself
Read a book or watch a film about the palm oil crisis and its effects on orangutans. Many of the profits from these sources of information go directly to the protection of orangutans or orangutan rehabilitation centers. Say No To Palm Oil has put together a fantastic list of materials with which you can learn more about this catastrophic issue.

5. Write a letter
Let those in power know about your concern. You can write letters to companies in order to discourage use of palm oil. You can also write to your local politicians to encourage mandatory labeling of palm oil. On a more positive note, you can even write to those companies not using palm oil in order to thank them. The Orangutan Project has put together a great letter writing kit complete with sample letters. Some of the material is specific to Australia, but can be easily adapted to other countries or legislatures. The kit is available for download on The Orangutan Project’s website.

Let’s do the right thing and protect our world for those generations yet to come.

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November 9, 2013 · 7:37 am

A Different Kind of Life

AngkorIt’s quite strange how travel takes you to the most unexpected places.  As I write tonight, I’m sitting on a rooftop balcony in the middle of Hanoi, Vietnam drinking free beer.  A place I never dreamt I would see.  The room is abuzz with backpacker chatter.  “Where are you from?” “Where have you been?” “How long are you away?” and “Where are you going?”  It amazes me the number of people here who can all sit together, drink beer, eat BBQ, and play pool.  We all come from different backgrounds, different countries, yet we find a common ground in that we are all restless souls.   More afraid of not living than dying.  Ready to take on a new adventure around every corner.  Fearless out of necessity, brave by sheer will.  That’s the world I live in.  It’s full of uncertainty, yet empty of concern.  And it is a wonderful life.  It can take you to beautiful places, allow you to meet beautiful people, and enable you to find the beauty within yourself.  As Martin Buber said, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”  While I never expected to be in Vietnam, I don’t think that’s what he was referring to.  Rather, the destination is within oneself.  It’s a new confidence, a new outlook, and a new self-awareness that was previously unknown.

Anyways, enough of me expounding on the philosophy of backpacking.  I know I’ve been really terrible at keeping you all updated via this blog.  My life is sweet right now and finding time to write is difficult.  There is always someone new to talk to and travel with.  But for tonight, I’m an observer and a writer.  Tomorrow is another adventure with new friends.  So, how to describe the last two weeks?  Amazing would be the place to start I suppose.

Laos is pure paradise.  It’s relaxed.  It’s French.  It’s massive fun.  I spent four days in Luang Prabang seeing the purest blue waterfalls of Kuang Si, exploring caves filled with old Buddha statues, and riding bikes from temple to temple.  It’s a relatively small city.  10% of the population is monks, making it one of the most religious cities I’ve ever visited.  In particular, the alms ceremony is delightful, although overly touristy.  Every morning, the monks collect food from the villagers.  They must live on this food for the day.  Recently, the tourists have ruined the ceremony by making it about a photo opportunity and less about local custom.  The tourists definitely do not know how to respect local culture and tradition.  I must admit, though, I did snap a few photos while I tried to obey Buddhist tradition.

Vang Vieng has a completely different feel.  We didn’t get caught up in the backpacker party culture there too much during the day.  We spent some time biking to the Blue Lagoon, which wasn’t really blue because of all the rain, and motorbiking around the country side, discovering caves too dangerous to explore because of the rain.  At the end of the second day, we did go tubeless tubing.  This may be the worst idea ever.  If you are imagining tubing in Indiana on a slow creek, you’ve got the wrong idea.  It’s a mighty and fast river.  And you float from bar to bar on it.  Or rather, you are dragged in to different bars by employees who throw you a line and haul you upstream.  There are also waterslides and mud pits to enjoy.  Needless to say it’s dangerous with a couple drinks in you, but also massive fun.  I ended up with some form of pink eye that is incredibly common in Vang Vieng and spent the next two days recovering.

After I cured my eye infection, I set off on a 36 hour bus ride to Cambodia.  I rode eight different buses and crossed a border by foot during this journey.  Cambodia is the most corrupt country I have ever visited, and it is clearly visible.  At the border, I had to pay four different people to be allowed to enter the country.  The local people will also tell you about how they have to pay off the police to let them stay in business.  However, while a lot of the people want money from you, most of them are good at heart.  We spoke to many rather optimistic Cambodians with heartbreaking stories of genocide and war.  It is incredible the joy these people have after everything they have survived.

Siem Reap was unbelievable.  The temples of Angkor are unforgettable and an experience everyone should have before they die.  It’s truly like being on the set of an Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider film.  These ruins survive in a jungle that is very much alive with monkeys, threes, and other wildlife.  I spent two days taking nearly 500 photos of these temples and I could never quite capture their majesty.  There’s no better way to say it than just go and see for yourself!

Phnom Penh, on the other hand, is utterly depressing.  In recent history, the Pol Pot regime committed a mass genocide against its own people with the goal of eradicating all the educated from their society.  Just talking to the people shows you how recent it was.  Most can remember family members disappearing or being forced to work in the fields, eating very little each day.  It was terrible and for me, the worst part was that the United States did nothing about it.  Cambodia didn’t like Vietnam, so why would it want to prevent Pol Pot from taking power?  As if I didn’t feel guilty enough about being American, it was around this point that I decided to come to Vietnam.

Like I said before, it really is funny where life takes you.  I left feeling uncertain about travelling on my own, only to find that while travelling you are never truly alone.  Not only are there always loads of people around, you always have yourself and the people who love you to support you.  Although I’m sure they would rather have me home (or at least I’d like to think that J), I am thankful to my friends and family who support me whilst I travel.  You all have kept me going when I doubted myself and constantly remind me that I’m making the right decision.  You know how indecisive I am!  I am also thankful for the new friends I’ve made in SE Asia.  You all are my family here, my support system.  I wouldn’t have stayed without you and I definitely wouldn’t have experienced so much if I’d never met you.  Some of you have been good fun during a night on the town, some of you have helped me look inward and realize that there’s something beautiful in there, some have taught me how to truly feel again, and yet others have hugged me while I cried over something silly and listened as I waffled over a decision that now seems meaningless.  I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.  I am a better person because of you.

This is surely not the last time you will hear from me, but if I can leave you with one piece of advice, it is this – “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~Mark Twain.

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Ice Cream for Breakfast

The best part of traveling alone is that you can do whatever the heck you want. For example, I’ve come to enjoy eating dessert first and Thai iced tea every chance I get. It allows a freedom otherwise unknown, and judging by the sheer number of solo travellers I’ve met, that freedom is addictive. With that said, you do fall into a lull with a few people you see daily. You eat together, sightsee together, and drink together. It’s comfortable and easy. However, eventually these people go one way and you go the other. Then the process starts all over again. Eventually, this will happen to me. I’m told it never gets any easier to strike out on your own again, but that I will meet people and the pattern will continue. For now, I’m in the company of great travellers. (Thank you Rich and Robert – and yes, I used your real names!) Tomorrow I will cross into Laos. Let’s hope my fellow travelers are as friendly in Laos as they have been in Thailand.
Now to the part I suppose all of you want to hear about – what I’ve been doing. The last four days in Chiang Mai have been simply amazing! I can see why people get stuck here. It’s so easy to do. On Saturday, I met some people in the Little Bird Guesthouse to rent scooters with. It seems that this is the transportation of choice for those residing in Chiang Mai. The locals ride around the moated city on their automatic bikes, sometimes with two or more riders on the back. Having a scooter of my own allowed a freedom I haven’t yet known while backpacking. My first ride on it, though, was terrifying. I couldn’t drive it at all! Also, they drive on the left side of the road here, meaning my instincts were completely opposite. My solution was to find a guy to drive it for me while I rode on the back. So my three new Canadian friends and I set off into the mountains to find the revered temple at Doi Suthep.
Legend has it that a white elephant carrying an important Buddhist relic lied down here to die. The Buddhists saw this and believed the elephant had chosen the mountain for a new temple. Today, tourists and locals enjoy the views from the complex. Additionally, many young men learn to become monks for a short period at the temple. Overall, it was a nice escape from the city and the hot weather.
Saturday night was spent eating in a restaurant off a sparsely populated Soi with a brilliantly nice Thai woman, drinking Thai whiskey mixed with Sprite from the glass bottle, and hanging out in a rooftop bar.
Sunday was a great day as well. We began the day on motorbike, heading north of town toward Mae Rim. We spent about an hour at the Tiger Kingdom where we had the opportunity to play with five month old tigers and full grown tigers. It was an exhilarating experience. They are such massive and graceful cats. Then we found ourselves back on the motorbikes looking for the butterfly farm. We failed in that quest, but did succeed in finding a national park. This was full of waterfalls – ten to be exact. In the heat of the day, it was nice to hike from waterfall to waterfall, swimming in the calm ones. The lunch we had of stir-fried chicken and egg outside the park was among the best food I’ve eaten on this trip. On our way back into town, we stopped by the Sunday Walking Markets, where I bought a new dress and almost got pickpocketed. Luckily enough, my friend was walking behind me and saw it all unfold. He stopped it before anything could happen. That night, we ate at the restaurant in the hostel and had a drink at the truck bar. This bar is set up in the bed of a pick-up truck like contraption. It sells cocktails out the back that you can drink while walking to the other bars across town. We took some mojitos while we walked down to the other reggae bar in town. Overall, it was a fairly early night.
On Monday, Rich and I woke up early to visit the elephant camp called Baan Chang. It was a most excellent experience. The day began at the camp, about an hour away from Chiang Mai, where we learned the various commands the elephants respond to. We also learned how to get on the back of the elephant without the use of a ladder, etc. The elephants were very well looked after and seemed very content in their homes. After practicing commanding the elephants and eating lunch, we set off on a bit of a hike up the hill. I “drove” the elephant for the first leg. We stopped at a shack where we fed the elephants some sugar cane and switched drivers. From there, we meandered down to the river. This was the best part as we then had the chance to bathe the elephants. This quickly progressed into a water fight between human and animal. The day ended with a long, rainy ride back to Chiang Mai. As it was Rich’s last night in Chiang Mai, he, Robert, and I spent the evening eating and talking at a restaurant where you cook your own food on the table and then at a shack of a bar down a random soi. The owner of the bar was very personable and chatted with us about living in Thailand and owning a bar. We were literally sitting on the side of a street drinking some of the most delicious cocktails I’ve ever had.
Today, Tuesday, I took an all-day Thai cooking course. It was brilliant as it was just cooking and eating all day. I successfully made my own Penang curry paste, Penang curry, basil chicken stir-fry, Pad See Ew, Tom Kha with chicken, papaya salad, and mango with sweet sticky rice. It was all delicious. This evening, I will begin my journey into Laos by slowboat. I have to take a bus to the boarder where I will stay overnight at a cheap hostel before arranging the border crossing in the morning. Then I will spend two days on a boat floating down the river. I hope that I don’t get too bored! See you all in Laos!

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An American in Thailand

As you all know, this is my first time travelling solo.  I suppose I never realized this before, because I was always travelling with another American, but being such leaves me in an awkward position.  All of my new friends here are anything but American.  In fact, they stretch the globe from New Zealand to Ireland.  But it is really different being the only one from America.  I now realize just how sheltered and ignorant we are.  Even though they are from different sides of the world, they can discuss the same TV shows and politics in virtually any country.  I have absolutely nothing to add to these conversations because I don’t really know anything outside of the US.  In the future, I promise myself that I will do a better job paying attention to the rest of the world rather than getting caught up in home.  I no longer want to be the ignorant American.

The rest of my experience in Bangkok was rather quiet.  On Thursday, I went to the Floating Market with a friend from the hostel.  It was an interesting experience, but it was also really touristy.  Apparently the real floating market for the locals takes place earlier in the day.  Then the souvenir boats come out for the tourists.  It is just a bunch of stalls and boats on a river.  As the tourist, you take a row boat around the river and shop from stall to stall.  I found that everything was rather overpriced and only bought a decoration for my new apartment and some bracelets.

The rest of Thursday was spent wandering around the backpackers’ ghetto of Khao San Road in Bangkok before eating dinner and getting the overnight train to Chiang Mai, which is in Northern Thailand.  The train was quite an experience in itself.  It left an hour late and was hotter than hell.  Two of my friends from the hostel and I were in the sleeper car which was cooled by fan and open window.  The bathrooms consisted of squat toilets that smelt terrible half way through the ride.  In the morning, I woke up to screaming Thai women at 6 am.  Needless to say I didn’t sleep well because I kept having nightmares of being robbed.  The train also arrived nearly two hours late, making it a 14 hour train ride.  There was some gorgeous scenery to be seen as Northern Thailand is mountainous and most of the population between Chiang Mai and Bangkok lives through subsistence farming.  It was definitely a train ride I soon won’t forget.

My first afternoon in Chiang Mai was spent exploring the many activities that are possible here.  It is known as the base camp for treks as well as home to many elephant camps.  Last evening, we spent at a reggae bar just down the street from the guesthouse.  Chiang Mai is such a lovely place.  I can see why people fall in love with it and never leave.

Much love from Thailand!  I hope to have many more adventures to tell you about in a few days.

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One Night in Bangkok…

So where did I leave off? Hong Kong was utterly disappointing.  Everything was not as exciting as it sounded at first.  On Sunday, we began the day with a couple delicious pastries (I had a Japanese cheese stick) before setting off for Lantau island.  For those of you unfamiliar with Hong Kong, it is made up of three separate islands – Hong Kong, Kowloon, and Lantau.  I stayed in the dodgy Chungking Mansion on Kowloon.  However, Lantau is home to the giant Buddha.  To arrive there, normally one would take a cable car to the top of the island.  But, the cable car was closed, so we had to take a bus.  It was a spectacular drive with views of the sea up to the top.  The Buddha sits at the top of 250 stairs, which you must climb to get up to him.  They do reward you with ice cream and water at the top though!  I promise to post pictures soon so that you can see the massiveness of the figure.

Following our Lantau adventure, we headed for the Peak which supposedly offers astounding views of Hong Kong.  When we got to the tram that takes you to the top, there was a two hour wait.  Needless to say, we didn’t wait.  Instead we took the ferry back to Kowloon.  On the way, we noticed hundreds of women sitting on the streets just chitchatting.  I’m not sure what they were doing (maybe some Dragon Boat Festival or Sunday tradition), but it was an interesting spectacle.  That night was spent socializing and drinking on the boardwalk near the hostel.  I do greatly enjoy being near the water, and Hong Kong offers a vibrant cityscape across the harbor.

On Monday, we got a late start.  I enjoyed pastries in the park during the morning.  This morning it was red bean paste filled and green tea covered – delicious!  I also enjoyed one of my favorite travel pastimes, browsing the supermarket.  It’s amazing the mix of foreign foods and foods one would find in a US supermarket that one finds abroad.  Anywho, we ended up heading for Ocean Park later that afternoon.  This was a most excellent decision as I love reliving childhood.  Ocean Park is a kind of mix between zoo and theme park with great views of the sea.  The roller coasters sore above the bay and the red pandas are so adorable that you want to take them home.  It was a lovely, but dreadfully hot afternoon.  The giant pandas definitely made my foray into Hong Kong a little sweeter.  At the end of the day, I headed to the airport, leaving Hong Kong behind and heading for the great unknown of Bangkok.

Shortly after arriving at BKK, I learned the bus I was supposed to take to the hostel had been discontinued on June 1.  So I hopped in a cab.  The driver didn’t know exactly where the hostel was, so he dropped me off at one end of Khao San Road in the pouring rain.  Of course, I had no clue where I was going except that it was near a 7-11.  Luckily, I found it about ten minutes later.  The hostel itself turned out to be a little piece of paradise.  Definitely stay in NapPark Hostel if you are ever in Bangkok.  Each nap space has its own light/outlets/mirror, etc.  The bathrooms are clean and spacious, and the common area makes it easy to meet people.  I just wanted to jump for joy after my horrible Hong Kong hostel where the shower was above the toilet and I had to sleep with creepy Egyptian men staring at me.

The next morning, I set off on my own after getting oriented with Khao San Road.  The street food here is great.  You can get anything at any time of the day or night.  The grilled bananas are an especially good way to start the morning.  I headed first to the Snake Farm.  Getting there was an adventure as I couldn’t really explain to the taxi driver where I wanted to go.  Anyways, eventually I made it to see the hundreds of species of snakes kept at the compound.  They use the snakes to produce anti-venom and to teach about the dangers of poisonous animals.  Next stop was Jim Thompson’s House.  He was an American expat living in Thailand after his years in the service.  Credited with reviving the native silk industry, Jim Thompson’s name is still attached to many silk products leaving Thailand.  He mysteriously disappeared in 1967 after going for a walk in Malaysia.  His house is an example of traditional Thai architecture and is surrounded by beautiful gardens.  Inside, one finds gorgeous Thai artifacts which are explained by knowledgeable English guides.  My day of sightseeing ended with a walk through Chinatown and Little India before heading back to the hostel.

For dinner, some Canadian girls invited me to join them at a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms.  While expensive by Bangkok standards, all the proceeds from the scrumptious food goes to HIV prevention and sex education in Thailand.  The restaurant itself was quite the sight.  The outside seating was underneath a huge weeping willow-type tree surrounded by lamps and figures made of condoms.  To eat, we had some papaya salad, penang curry, shrimp lettuce wraps, sweet sticky rice with mango, and banana fritters with ice cream.  After dinner, we headed back to Khao San Road where I hung out with others in the hostel for the night.

Today, I got up early to see Wat Pho, Wat Arun, and the Grand Palace with a friend I met last night in the hostel.  We spent most of the walk fending off the scamming tuk-tuk drivers who insisted that the attractions would be closed until 1:00 pm.  However, we had been warned about the scam and continued on.  The reclining Buddha in Wat Pho is simply amazing.  It has to be the biggest statue I have ever seen!  And it is completely covered in gold.  Wat Arun, on the opposite side of the river, offered amazing views of the city as you can climb to the top of it’s spire.  The Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha in the same compound were also something to see.  All of these buildings are super colorful and are build in a style not often seen in the states.  This makes them particularly amazing to me.

Finally, this afternoon was spent making plans for my onward travel tomorrow night.  A few friends from the hostel in Bangkok and I will be taking the overnight train to Chiang Mai.  Everyone has raved about this city so I have some very high expectations.  Also this afternoon, I enjoyed my first ever massage, and a Thai massage at that.  It was not as violent as others had said, but there was a lot of squeezing and pulling.  I don’t think I’ve ever cracked so many joints in my life!  The feeling afterward was wonderful!  (I might go back tomorrow – I mean it was only $6) In the end,I spent the evening enjoying dinner with new friends down the street where for $3 I ate a three course meal.  Everyone here is amazing and most people travel alone making it easy to make friends.

I’ll leave you with one thing I love about Thailand – you get to take off your shoes.  Whenever you enter the hostel, shoes stay outside.  This rule also applies to most temples.  I love the feeling of the cold tile on my hot feet.  It really makes the heat seem much more bearable.  Anyways, I’m off to bed as I have a tour planned for early in the morning.  Hope everything is well in your neck of the woods!

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Hello from Hong Kong

It’s hot in Hong Kong.  Yes, this is newsworthy hot.  And I’m sure Thailand/Cambodia/Laos are going to be much worse.  It’s the kind of hot you can’t escape.  It leaves sweat rolling down uncomfortable places and clothes that won’t stop sticking.  Thank god for air conditioning!

Okay, I suppose that’s enough complaining for one post.  Now to introduce the characters of this post…Scene one includes a Vietnam veteran suffering from Alzheimer’s, scene two has an Egyptian on the run from Muslim persecution, and scene three, the hordes of people in Hong Kong.

Fifteen hours is a long time to sit in on a plane.  For those of you who have done it more than once, let me just say wow!  That should be an illegal form of torture.  That fifteen hours gets even longer when you sit next to a very nice gentleman who happens to be suffering of short-term memory loss due to Alzheimer’s.  However, this man had many interesting stories.  I just happened to hear each of them three times.  He was returning to Vietnam for the first time after the war during which he worked as a civilian contractor.  So for ten hours of the flight I was regaled with stories about communicating with the Soviets and the cheap cabs between Thailand and Vietnam in the 70’s.

Now here is something I didn’t expect to discuss here, but will.  On my way through the airport, I was stopped four times to discuss the shirt I was wearing.  This happened to be my Indiana University sweatshirt.  Everyone wanted to know if I was a banker coming to work in Hong Kong.  So Kelly graduates, be proud!  Your reputation precedes you.

Arriving in Hong Kong, I was surprised by how little I noticed.  It took me around twelve hours to even realize that they drive on the opposite side of the street.  I attribute this to the mix of West and East here in Hong Kong.  It’s like a tiny box wrapped in Western wrapping paper but tied with Asian ribbons.  My new Egyptian friend/roommate helped me to explore this mix this morning.  Joe/Ahmed confided that he left Egypt because of the Muslim persecution of Christians that has recently broken out.  A suicide bomber blew up his church and killed many of his friends.  So now he travels.  We spent the morning getting lost in the northern part of Hong Kong Island.  There we got to take a double-decker tram and ride on a couple ferries.

This evening, among hundreds of the tourists and citizens in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of watching the Symphony of Lights across Victoria Harbor.  This was extremely anti-climactic.  I just kept wondering when the real show was going to start.  But I guess I expected too much.  Finally, I sat across a Berkley graduate from Hong Kong for dinner.  Our conversation began with my complete inability to use chop sticks.  I guess I won’t be eating a whole lot in the next month!

Now today is but a memory.  Tomorrow is another adventure.

P.S. Sorry I am really tired writing this, so if you want to know something else or if you don’t understand something, just ask!

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The Beginning

Everyone survives for the rush. For some people, it’s walking into the court room or the OR. For others, it’s third down on the first yard line or three balls and two strikes with three runners on. This is the reason people keep going. They just need to feel that fire, that excitement. Without it, there is nothing to live for, nothing for which to endure. For me, the thing I keep waking up for, keep enduring for – my rush – is travelling.

Edward Dahlburg once commented, “When one realizes that his life is worthless, he either commits suicide or travels.” I would have to agree with him. I’m not saying that I believe my life to be worthless or that I would even think of committing suicide, but I am saying that at a certain point, I realized travelling and experiencing other cultures is more worthwhile than the everyday monotony of life in small town Indiana.

This brings me to the present. I need that rush. I need a purpose. I need to get the heck out of Indiana. So, a week or so ago, I took matters into my own hands and booked round trip tickets to Southeast Asia. I’m now merely 24 hours from embarking on the trip of a lifetime. And let me tell you, I’m a bit terrified. While I’ve backpacked Europe, Turkey, Egypt, and Peru, this will be my first solo trip. (Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for her, my travel mate has grown up and gotten a real job.) I’m not sure what to expect, but having met dozens of fiercely independent women blazing the backpackers’ trails of the world, I have confidence that I am capable.

So this is my experiment. As someone once said, this is my time to leave the past in the past. After all those decisions don’t mean anything half way around the world. I am what I am today. There’s no going back. It’s also my time to let the future write itself. I have no plans for the next month. I will go wherever the wind might blow. It’s time to discover who I am and what I am capable of. Yes, I’m a little scared and a little excited. But no, Dad, I’m not going to stay home. This is my adventure, and in the end, I don’t know where I may find myself. I also don’t know who I will meet along the way or who I will be in the end. One thing’s for sure, though, I’m certainly about to find out.

See you all in Asia!

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