I’m not even sure where to begin with this month’s recap. It’s the first month that my life has changed in a ginormous way, in quite some time. As you all know by now, I left NYC and the corporate world at the end of July, to try something new. I’m still in the midst of my first big adventure in Southeast Asia.
New Jersey, USA
I settled back in at home in South Jersey quite easily. I wasn’t sure what it would be like to effectively “live at home” again as an adult, even if just for short periods of time between trips. It certainly helped that we are 10 minutes from the beach, that my parents are ridiculously awesome, and that our pup, Darcy, is the absolute best.
For the first ten days of August, I lived a pretty sweet life of leisure. I caught up on sleep after a wild amount of stress the last few months, worked on my tan at the beach and my neighbors’ pool, woke up early for NJ Beach Yoga, finished some books I’d been in the middle of for months, joined the local gym, watched the Olympics, drank lots of beer from Cape May Brewery, and trained the dog to sleep on the couch with me until we’d hear my mom’s car in the driveway, since she’s not allowed on the couch. The dog, not my mom. I spent time unpacking, organizing, writing, and planning for this first trip.
I got tons of family time in before I left, which was important to me. We had a retirement party for my uncle in Long Beach Island which my whole family made it to, aside from two who were gallivanting in Iceland at the time. My grandmother told me I was courageous and compassionate. My little cousins asked me not to leave because I was “so fun”. People said they were excited for me and proud of me. And I took all of that with me on my trip.
On August 11, I started my journey. I took the 3-hour bus from Atlantic City to Port Authority, and then a bus from there to JFK. I had a 15-hour flight to Shanghai, a 6-hour flight to Singapore, and an hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, before I could finally shower. It was definitely a long trip, but somehow it didn’t feel that bad. The only real annoyance I ran into was when I couldn’t find my hotel in KL (it had changed names), but merci to the kindness of French ex-pats, I made it there eventually.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
In KL, I got over my jet lag, visited the incredible Batu Caves, took an amazing food tour with Food Tour Malaysia, visited the National Mosque, the Islamic Arts Museum, the Bird Park, and enjoyed the view from KL Tower.
Then I was off to Myanmar.
The main reason I’m in this beautiful country is that I am doing some volunteer work with the incredible organization Sundara, which takes soap donated by hotels and recycles it into new bars of soap for those who need it. I’ve been meeting with hotels and hotel associations, visiting schools and orphanages who receive the donated soap, and working on some special projects. I’ll be able to reflect on my experience in a full entry when I get back home, but until then, please check out their website and also this post I wrote for Sundara about my first impressions of this country.
I spent a little over a week in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. I met my new friends from Sundara, a new friend from Australia, and a new friend of a cousin of a cousin’s wife and one of her friends – when you are halfway around the world by yourself, even a connection that far away is important. I stuffed my face with Burmese food, which I knew I liked thanks to a visit to NYC’s only Burmese restaurant last month, but I’ve still been wildly impressed with almost every meal. I explored the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Botataung Pagoda, the Maha Wizaya Pagoda, the Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, and the Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda (are you sensing a theme here?). I learned that based on the Burmese zodiac signs, since I was born on a Tuesday, I am a lion, with the planet of Mars, a lucky number of 8, and that my head should be pointing either south or east when I sleep.
I took a ferry ride across the river to Dalah. I took a walking tour of the British architecture of the downtown area. I took the famous Circle Line train to the town of Insein. I lusted over the stray dogs running around everywhere but don’t worry, I didn’t touch any of them. I ran from two rats. I wore a longyi, a long skirt with ties on the sides, and thanaka, a yellow tree bark used as sunscreen and makeup, on my cheeks. I got an hour-long massage for 5,000 kyat, or around $5.
I then flew to Mandalay for five days where I had an absolute blast. For the first two days, I was a little lost as I found myself walking for hours in 95-degree heat in a city where no one walks – where you can go from busy city with motorbikes and cell phone stores to cows and plains in just a few minutes. But then the weekend came, along with some buds. My Aussie friend was traveling there at the same time, as was the friend of one of my travel buds (Marie of One Carry On) and her boyfriend.
We went to Mandalay Palace, surrounded by a real-life moat and huge walls. We took a taxi out to Amarapura to watch the sunset from U Bein bridge, a teak bridge (thought to be the world’s oldest) about 3/4 of a mile long. After asking tons of people, we finally found the rumored Nat Festival in town. We were the only four westerners in a local street fair with unique ceremonies being held in the pagodas – it was an incredible experience that I might never be able to fully explain. We went up to Mandalay Hill and saw pagoda after pagoda of amazing sights.
We attended the “comedy show” known as the Mustache Brothers, famous for their comedians being sent to prison for their humor. I rode on the back of a motorbike and was able to tell the driver how to get to where I needed to go at each turn since he didn’t know the way. I rode a wobbly bicycle down crowded market roads to get to yet another pagoda. I rode in the back of a few trucks. I ate so much delicious local food that I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get back to New Jersey. How could I possibly go back to Life cereal and Wawa hoagies?
On the last day in August, I hopped on a ten-hour ferry ride down the Ayeyarwady River to Bagan that I walked onto via planks of wood, next to people washing up in the water. Just like my journey to Asia to begin with, it somehow did not feel that long. I only read one NY magazine from early July and had three naps, and boom, the shoreline was scattered with thousands of thousand-year-old temples, just like that. But the visiting of these temples and my subpar motorbike driving skills are a story for September’s recap.
I can’t believe this trip is more than halfway over already. This is the longest time I’ve been out of the states since my study abroad program in South America in college. And you know what? I think I could keep doing it for a while…
Posts I’ve Written This Month:
- NYC | 50 Best of the Big Apple
- Dominican Republic | More Than Words
- Global Bites without the Flights | Burmese Food at Cafe Mingala
- Malaysia | Monkeying Around at the Batu Caves
- First Impressions of Myanmar (a Guest Post for Sundara, the organization I’m working with in Myanmar!)