Saturday, August 6, 2016

Flying Solo

I think if you asked most people if they would prefer to fly alone or fly with friends or relatives most people would say they prefer to fly with other people rather than flying alone. I feel like this is yet again another instance where I am not the average person. I'm somewhat undecided on this one. Although I can clearly see the advantages of having travel companions, I love having my independence. I often find it very freeing to be by myself.


As I'm currently sitting in London's Heathrow airport all by myself, I'm realizing that out of all my air travel over the last year or so, which consists of about a half dozen trips, all but one of them I flew to my destination by myself. This is mainly because with my family in Philadelphia, if I am traveling with them, I generally meet them at our final destination. It's just easier and more efficient than going to philly to fly with them. I've also now travelled a couple times for work and so far that has been solo as well. I guess you could say that I inadvertently became very accustomed to being by myself in airports.

There are clearly advantages to having travel companions.  For example, if you have to go to the bathroom, you can leave your bags with those you're traveling with. Although I've gotten pretty good at taking my stuff with me in the bathroom and traveling light. 

I kind of like my independence in airports. I find them to be very surreal places with all these people coming in and out from all these different destinations around the world. I like to take that time to think and to reflect. It beats having to listen to someone complain about the uncomfortable seats and the over priced food. And with the growing number of airports that offer free wifi, staying entertained by yourself keeps getting easier (case and point, me at this very moment taking the time to blog while waiting for my next flight).

In the end, I think there are many people out there that are simply afraid to fly alone or to travel alone in general. This is something that I respect, but I don't think I'll ever understand. Traveling with friends and family can be fun, but sometimes you just need to get out there on your own. You can't truly stand on your own two feet until you can sustain for a couple nights in a foreign city by yourself. In fact, I think those are the trips where you really find yourself.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Aung San Suu Kyi

Lately, I've taken quite an interest in Aung San Suu Kyi.  Many people may not even know who I'm talking about and that's okay.  Up until several months ago, I didn't know who she was either.  It all started when I audited an Asia comparative studies class at my most recent alma mater, American University.  As I took this course and I became more and more familiar with many of the countries in Southeast Asia, I started paying more attention to this part of the world when it showed up in the news.  This is when I was first introduced to Aung San Suu Kyi.

For those who are unfamiliar, Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar (or you may know it as Burma).  The NLD is a political party that has been fighting for many years against military rule in Myanmar.  Myanmar has (up until recently) been under military rule since it gained independence in 1948.  Aung San Suu Kyi has been in the news a lot lately, because her party won the most recent presidential election, which is monumental.  It would make sense that as leader of the party, Aung San Suu Kyi would become president, however she is barred from the presidency by the constitution.  Her sons are British (as was her late husband) and according to the constitution that was written by the military regime, Suu Kyi cannot become president.  Many believe that the constitution was written that way with Suu Kyi in mind.

So as I read more and more about Aung San Suu Kyi in the news, I found myself wanting to know even more.  As many of you may have realized, I am a huge advocate for women's empowerment.  Considering the fact that Asia is not necessarily a part of the world where you normally see female leaders, I began to wonder what led Suu Kyi to where she is now.  I wanted to know what her story was.  This led me back to American University, where I found myself in the library.

I started by taking out two books, Letters from Burma and The Burma Spring.  Letters from Burma is a book that was written by Aung San Suu Kyi herself.  She wrote one letter each week for a year from November 1995 to December 1996.  This was a somewhat transitional time in Aung San Suu Kyi's movement.  She had recently been released from house arrest, but that didn't mean that everything was all well and good.  Suu Kyi wrote not just about politics and the dissonance that was occurring in her country at that time.  She also wrote a great deal about Burmese culture and society.  This book seemed very much like a blog before the time of blogging.  Each letter was only a couple pages long and each one discussed a different topic.  I really enjoyed the way Aung San Suu Kyi wrote this book.  It was very matter of fact, but she does not come off as bitter or spiteful.  She reminds me a lot of Nelson Mandela.  She just wants the best for her country and its people.

The Burma Spring, written by a U.S. journalist, detailed not only Aung San Suu Kyi's life, but also the history of the democracy movement in Myanmar.  Since taking out these initial two books, I've continued to read several other books about Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi.  I still can't seem to get enough.

I mentioned this new interest to my best friend and he, although not nearly as familiar, knew a little bit about the democracy movement in Myanmar.  That's when he told me that there was a movie that had come out a few years ago about Aung San Suu Kyi.  I was amazed that I didn't know this, but he suggested that we watch the move together some time.  It took us a couple months to find the time to watch The Lady, but eventually we sat down and watched it.

The Lady tells the story of Aung San Suu Kyi from 1988 when she went to Myanmar to be with her sick mother until 1999 when her British husband died.  To me, it seemed like an incomplete story to just tell the story of those 11 years, but now that I think more about it, I think it would be too long for one movie to tell Suu Kyi's whole story.  I can't even imagine how much strength it took for her to continue the fight for democracy while her husband was dying in a far off land.

I thought this movie was an incredibly good recreation of Aung San Suu Kyi's story, but I also think I enjoyed it so much because I already knew the story.  As I watched the movie with my best friend, he kept telling me how glad he was to be watching it with me because I was explaining more than the movie could.  I wish Suu Kyi's story was easier to detail in a movie, but it is just too long and too complicated.

Aung San Suu Kyi is an amazing person and I continue to learn more and more every day.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"Must-Go" List

Any one who has read any bit of my blog has probably quickly realized that I love to travel.  It is one of the things I enjoy the most and I like to think it is one of the things I do best.  I'm also always coming up with new places that top my "must-go" list.  I have an infinite amount of places that I would love to go.  As time goes on, I start to realize the wonders of places I didn't know existed or didn't know much about.  Before I know it, places I've newly discovered are topping my "must-go" list.

Bagan, Myanmar (AKA Burma)
After noticing this happening more and more, I began to think a little more philosophically.  In theory, there are places out there that you don't know you want to go to, because you don't yet know they exist.  But does that mean you don't want to go?  Maybe you just don't know that you want to go yet.

As an avid traveler, I'm constantly discovering new marvels that this world has to offer and this continues to cause my "must-go" list to expand.  However, I'm starting to think that what I'm discovering along the way is the list itself.  I want to go to these places, so they must already be on the list.  I just don't know that they are there.  I can't see them.

It's kind of like that question: "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?"  My question is: "If there are places I don't know exist, does that mean I don't want to go?"  I already know the answer: Of course, not!
Milford Sound, New Zealand


As most people who know me well could tell you, I would love to go anywhere.  It doesn't take much convincing.  So odds are that if there is a place that I don't know exists, I probably want to go.  I always want to discover the unknown.  The places that I know well are the ones I want to visit the least.

I think my reality is that I will spend my life discovering the places that were on my "must-go" list all along.  I just have to keep searching to make them visible to me.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Blogging For Myself

Blogging is a fantastic tool for people of various writing skill levels to express themselves and be heard.  It is also an opportunity for anyone with an internet connection to hear the written opinions of other people from around the world whether they are professional journalists or not.  I've seen blogs take many different forms.  Some people blog because they want to voice their opinions on certain topics that are important to them.  Others blog to make the world more aware of them despite what they have to say.  They enjoy the exposure they receive from blogging.  Some blog just to stay in touch with people they know.  And yet others do it as a stepping stone on the way to becoming a professional writer.

Initially, I started blogging to keep in touch.  When I lived in Uganda, blogging was an easy way for me to disseminate information about my life to all my friends and family at one time through one single outlet.  Over time my reasons for blogging evolved.  Once I returned to the U.S. and stopped blogging so much about my daily life, I stopped making it so well known that I was still blogging.  I don't like forcing my opinions and thoughts on my friends and family.  So I blogged just for those who sought out such reading.  Nowadays, I see my blog more as my own personal journal.  It is an outlet for me to organize and reflect on my thoughts on various topics.  I like the idea that there are people out there that may care or be interested in reading such things.  I often find myself reading over my old blog posts and rethinking the way I may feel about certain topics.  My blog is no longer about other people reading, but about me writing it and what I gain from the experience.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book Review: First They Killed My Father

Lately I've been reading a lot about South East Asia.  I'm not exacting sure what spurred my interest there.  Maybe it's because my aunt, who I am very close with, is from Cambodia and I hope to go there some day.  Maybe it's because of the class I audited in the Fall, which discussed the political situations in many of these countries, and I want to learn more.  Or maybe it's because this is the region I focus on at work.  Nonetheless, I've found myself reading quite extensively specifically about Cambodia and Myanmar (aka Burma).

In looking for my next book to seek out at the library, I was looking for more information on the Cambodian genocide that occurred between 1975 and 1979.  I had read a couple other books about Cambodia, but nothing specifically detailing the genocide, which seems to have had quite the impact on modern day Cambodia, which is among the poorest countries in South East Asia.  First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung found its way to the top of many lists of books on this subject, so I figured if I wanted to know more that this was the book to read.


This book was written by a woman who, along with the rest of her family suffered through the four years of terror inflicted by the Khmer Rouge.  Loung was only five years old when her family had to leave their happy life in Phnom Penh to go live out in the countryside.  She describes in great detail the horrors that they suffered.  Throughout the four years her family moved and separated several times.  There were parts of this ordeal where it was safer for Loung to pretend to be an orphan and live in an orphan work camp, but she eventually made her way back to her family and in the end to the United States.

It amazes me how she managed to bring herself to write this book about such an experience that a child of that age (or anyone, for that matter) should never have to go through.  I appreciated that she went back to describe things that, at the time, I'm sure, she didn't understand.  This book was very well written and it brings together facts, Loung's story, and the genuine perspective of a little girl.

Stories like this make you wonder how people survived the horrible conditions they were subjected to in places like Cambodia, but from this book you can truly tell the fire and persistence that Loung had and probably still has inside herself.  This is what saved her.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Taxi Cabs

I'm the kind of person who avoids taking taxis.  I feel like every time I'm taking a taxi its like I'm cheating.  Not that there is anything wrong with this mode of transportation, but there is usually a cheaper way to get where I'm going and with a somewhat tight budget, cheaper is typically better.

But there is something about taking taxis that I find fascinating.  It's what the taxi driver tries to talk to you about while he or she is taking you where you need to go.  Many taxi rides are somewhat short, so when you end up in a very deep somewhat specific conversation with a taxi driver, it's probably no coincidence.  Taxi drivers want to preach about what is important to them just as anyone else would.  So when they have an audience for a limited amount of time, they have to get right to the point.  Most of the time I don't really want to talk to my taxi driver, but when I do engage with them, I often find it truly fascinating.

These are people whom we don't think of as intellectuals, but they can hold a conversation about politics or society like anyone else I know.  Many of them are also foreigners.  So you can almost always ask your taxi driver where they are from.  This often spurs some interesting conversations, especially if you are an avid traveler like me.  One time I found myself telling my Ethiopian taxi driver about when I traveled to Ethiopia.

I guess what I'm ultimately trying to say is that you shouldn't take taxi drivers for granted.  They may be the most interesting person you interact with all day or even all week.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Entitlement

I recently came across a statistic that said that 38% of Americans have a valid passport.  38%.  When I heard this I started bringing it up in conversation with various people in my life.  Some of them thought that it sounded somewhat high and were surprised that it was so many.  Others thought it was low and should've been more.  I lean toward the latter.  I think it's kind of sad that not more Americans want to travel internationally.  Obviously 38% is not the percentage of Americans who have ever left the U.S., because many people may have had a passport in the past, but do not have a valid one at the moment.  I don't blame them if they have no further intent to travel abroad.  At least they have in the past.  For me, I like to always have a valid passport.  I never know when I may want to take a spontaneous trip.

Upon further thinking on this topic, I realized that probably only about half of all Americans have ever left the country.  That means that the other half have never been outside the U.S. to experience what else this world has to offer and many of these people never will.  In light of the upcoming presidential election, I don't think this is very fair.  These people who have never left the country get to vote for those who ultimately decide the fate of this planet.  Many people, even if they have traveled abroad, are often uninformed or misinformed.  There are so many Americans that just don't understand what happens in this world and why it should matter to them.

When I was living in Uganda, one day in the staff room at school Obama came on the TV.  I honestly don't even remember what he was talking about that day but it was the only part of that news broadcast where the entire room fell silent.  President Museveni, Uganda's president, could have come on the news and no one would have cared, but when Obama talks people around the world listen.  After that news segment was over, one of the other teachers looked at me and said "Our president.  Obama decides so much of what happens in this world, so he is not just your president, but our president too."  He wasn't saying this is a bitter way at all.  He was very proud.  Most Ugandans love Obama.  But it really struck me that that is how he felt.  He realized that Obama's impact is felt worldwide.

This all leads me to ask: Why do we as Americans get to vote for those who decide the fate of the world and others don't?  What makes us so special?

Honestly the answer is that we were privileged enough to be born here.  We hit the genetic lottery.  So when Americans act entitled because of their status as U.S. citizens, they need to be reminded that they didn't do anything special to get here.  They just happened to be lucky.  Maybe someday all will be fair in the world with some greater form of global governance.  As for now, appreciate your rights as citizens of the most powerful country in the world.  None of us should take that lightly.





Note: I should add the caveat that most people I know and associate with on a regular basis have valid U.S. passports and/or have traveled abroad.  Because of this my perception may be a little skewed or bias, so take this post as you will.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year's Resolution: Making Ourselves Feel Bad About Ourselves in March?

Starting a new year is an interesting thing.  It is a time when people seem to focus on making changes in their lives and vowing to be better than they were in the previous year.  But really, what made things so different?  Are we really that much farther away from the previous year on January 1st than we were on December 31st?

I've always taken a little bit of issue with the idea of celebrating New Year's Eve.  It is one of those holidays where everyone tries to make you feel lame when you don't have plans or you don't stay up until midnight.  As time goes on, I've started to care less and less about what others think.  Due to this lack of caring, I had a pretty great New Year's this year.  I reorganized the furniture in my bedroom, I watched a movie, and I went to bed at 10:30.  This was also the first year I managed to not feel guilty about my choose of plans.  In the past, I usually tried to make plans and sometimes I would succeed.  But then I would be tired or the idea of having a good time would be too forced and my night would end up being disappointing.  I'm thinking next year it might be nice to spend the evening with a few close friends as a time to enjoy those that you love (with no pressure to make it to midnight), but maybe this will change over the course of the year.

As for changing ourselves in the new year, I often wonder where this comes from.  When did people decide that January 1st was a time to celebrate and a time to vow to better?  I guess this question can go along with others like: why is the Spring a time for major cleaning? or, why is Thanksgiving and Christmas a time to be with family?  Over the years, I've started to notice the insignificance of many of our commonly celebrated holiday.  Honestly, there were some holidays that I never understood; queue Groundhogs Day?!

Sometimes I think the idea of New Year's resolutions and being better people is a matter of getting swept up with the crowd.  As others do it, you feel the need to follow along.  It seems like a good idea so we all try it.  Personally, the timing was just right for me to call my diet a New Year's resolution.  I was waiting until after all the eating of the holidays before I got back on the band wagon.  Although the problem with most people is that they don't keep their resolutions all year.  Maybe they work out for a couple months and then quit.  How does this make us better people?  If you ask me, New Year's resolutions typically make us eventually feel worse about ourselves because we prove to be quitters.  I guess this is partly why I can't consider my diet a New Year's resolution, because it will probably only take me a couple months to reach my goal weight.  Instead, it is just a diet where the beginning of it happened to coincide with New Year's (in fact, I actually started dieting on December 29th).

So as you make your New Year's resolutions this year, seriously think about what you're vowing to do.  Is it doable?  Will it make you feel better about yourself?  Are you doing it for you?  If you answered no to any of these questions, I'd suggest rethinking whether or not you really need a New Year's resolution this year at all.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Wanderlust

Wanderlust.  Most people would define this term as the strong desire to travel.  Me, on the other hand; I like to think of it as the will power it takes to stay grounded.  There is a big difference between people who like to travel and those who find it as something that is completely ingrained in who they are.  I think only those who have the strongest sense of wanderlust can understand the difference.

I always find there to be moments where you feel like you could just take off.  Sometimes it's an email about a specific opportunity to work or volunteer abroad.  Other times it's just a certain aspect of American culture that you find seriously troubling.  For me, many times it's a yearning for the simplicity of another time and place.  In the U.S. we get so caught up in our 9 to 5 lifestyle that we forget how simple life can and often should be.  I keep telling myself that I'm going to be in DC forever.  I focus on work and I've built a certain social life for myself here.  But I can't help but wonder if there will eventually be a moment of weakness that will lead me somewhere else.

The funny thing about wanderlust is that often once you get to where it is you think you're going, you suddenly feel the desire to go somewhere else.  It's a feeling that never seems to be fulfilled.  For people with true wanderlust, the feeling is never really satiated.  I often find that once I get to where I think I want to be, I have the desire to go home.  Once I get home, I have the desire to go somewhere else.  I think you can only really enjoy your travels if you relieve yourself from them at some point.  This usually means going home.  You don't want traveling to become your norm because then it can take away from how special and moving it can be.

Most people who have a serious sense of wanderlust appreciate the experiences that they have, not the things they see.  I've traveled with many different kinds of people, the ones I've found the most disconcerting are the ones that want to go somewhere or see something so that they can go home and tell others that they did.  I often wonder if these people enjoy traveling at all.  When I travel, what I do is never reliant on being able to tell others about it.  I go and I do so that I can experience things for myself.  More and more lately I've even been taking less and less pictures.  I read somewhere that you remember things better if you don't take pictures.  And even the pictures I do take, I often don't show people most of them.  Traveling is such a personal thing for me that I often like to keep it that way.  That's not to say I won't give you advice on places I've been if you are planning a trip, but sometimes when people ask me about a trip I just got back from, I give very general answers.  Unless you have specific questions, you might not get much information out of me.  I don't do this on purpose.  I'm not holding back just for the sake of it, but I think I don't know how to sum up experiences that are so unique.  This is also why it often takes me a while to blog about a trip.  I never know what to say to properly capture the experience I had.

The interesting thing about wanderlust is that the more you travel, the stronger your sense of wanderlust becomes.  Sometimes I think if I could just stay here long enough my desire or need to travel will disappear, but I think the reality is that it won't.  You can't deny who you are.  Wanderlusters are always hungry for more.



Monday, November 23, 2015

The Land of Fire and Ice

People who get the travel bug never seem to stop traveling.  And when they do, it's usually only temporary.  2014 was a bad year for my wanderlust.  Outside of a brief one night trip to Canada to see a baseball game, I was fairly grounded in the U.S.  This was mostly due to my beyond busy schedule and my lack of funds.  However, I feel that 2015 has since made up for my temporary lull in traveling.  So far this year, I've been to Israel, China...and now Iceland.

A friend of mine turned 30 last November and she decided that one way to celebrate her 30th year would be to go see the Northern Lights in Iceland.  Initially I loved this idea, but with work and school last November, I would not have been able to go.  Luckily for me, none of my friends managed to get it together to go last year.  So now, a year later, we made the trip.

It was decided that we would go for four nights (flying out on a Friday night and returning on Wednesday).  To me, this just wasn't long enough.  Seeing how I had the vacation time and the flight was the same price whether I came back on Wednesday or Thursday, I decided to stay that extra day by myself.  But first things first, my first four days in Iceland were spent with seven of my closest friends from Philly.

After not sleeping all night on the flight, of course we would spend all day seeing the town of Reykjavik.  And yes, I mean town.  There are only 300,000 people that live in the entire country of Iceland and 200,000 of them live in the Reykjavik area.  This makes the Reykjavik metro area only about a third of the size of DC (just the city, not the DC metro area).  To me, that is nothing more than a town.  But Reykjavik was a cute town at that.  I particularly loved the multi-colored roofs on the houses.



After spending most of the day in Reykjavik seeing the sites, we returned to where we were staying (a nice little flat we got on Airbnb) to shower, nap, and relax for a while.  But after a couple hours of cat napping, we hit the town again.  This time for dinner and drinks.  To me this was our most epic meal of the trip.  Four of us ordered the "Icelandic Feast" which included such delicacies as whale, puffin, reindeer, and lamb topped off with some Icelandic skyr for dessert.  I have to say, there wasn't anything I didn't like.

Grilled Char, Puffin, and Whale

Our second day was full of adventure and relaxing.  We started off by going ATVing.  Our ATV tour took us all the way to the coast and back.  Despite the fact that it was freezing, ATVing is always loads of fun.  After the two hour ATV tour, we made our way to the Blue Lagoon, which is one of Iceland's most popular hot springs.  Now I was skeptical about putting on my bathing suit and going out into the frigid weather, especially when I always seemed to be freezing with all my layers on, but there was something about the Blue Lagoon.  It seemed to warm you up from your core.  When we left the Blue Lagoon, I was not at all cold, even though now my hair was wet.  At that moment, there was nothing about Iceland that was cold.

The next day was when we really started touring around.  We drove the entire Golden Circle that day, seeing many of the main sites in Thingvellir National Park.  This trip had a lot of pretty scenery, but I have to admit that this was my least favorite day of my trip.



On Tuesday, we set out driving again.  This time we headed south.  Along our journey we saw many waterfalls and even one of the black sand beaches, but the real gem was at the very end of the day when we saw the glacier lagoon.  The ice was so blue and it just seemed like one of those moments in time where everything was standing still.  It was totally worth the 5 hour drive it took to get there (and another 5 hours back).  This was my last day to spend with all my friends before they left to go home.  I think the glacier lagoon was a good way for them to end their trip.  Unfortunately, not due to lack of trying, we did not see the Northern Lights while they were there.  We really tried to find them, but there was usually too much cloud cover to see any of the pretty colors in the sky.


Black Sand Beach in the town of Vik


Glacier Lagoon

The next morning I set off on my own little journey.  Now I was flying solo and I was ready to experience a little more of Iceland.  I had arranged a tour that left at 8 o'clock Wednesday morning and it took me to Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Honestly I wasn't even exactly sure what I was gonna see on the tour, but I was excited.  All I knew was that I would get to see the Snaefellsnes Volcano, which is the setting for the beginning of Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth.  This day just seemed to be filled with pit stops to see pretty scenery of snow capped mountains.  Some added bonuses included seeing seals and some amazing rock formations on the coast.  To top it all off, on the way back to Reykjavik, we managed to see the Northern Lights.  I didn't see much, but what I did see was out of this world!

Snaefellsnes Volcano






Overall, my adventures in Iceland were quite amazing despite the freezing cold weather and the bitter winds.  I know it is called the land of fire and ice, but all I really saw was ice most of the time.  However, I think the true testament to how amazing Iceland really is lies in the fact that I hate the cold weather, but I still liked Iceland.  That says a lot.



Fun Facts:
No one lives in the center of Iceland; everyone lives on the coast.
Beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989.
Iceland was the 40th country I've been to.