Sunday, December 4, 2016

What Makes a Trip of a Lifetime?

So many people throw around the phrase "trip of a lifetime" that is has made me really think about what makes a trip worthy of that title.  Is it that it is a favorite trip, an unforgettable trip, or maybe just a trip that you will never take again?  I'm not really sure, but here I'm gonna ponder a little on my thoughts.

Can a single country trip be a trip of a lifetime?  I think it can, but I don't think I've ever been on a trip like that.  For example, if you spent a month or more traveling all over China, that could easily top the list.  But I don't think spending four days in the UK would count.  It's just not quite monumental enough.

Then again, I guess you could spend an extended amount of time in one place and that could be a trip of a lifetime, depending on what you did while you were there.  For example, spending two and a half weeks on a remote private beach in the Maldives might make a trip of a lifetime, mostly because you probably won't ever do that again and it's amazingly beautiful.

Sometimes you might qualify something as a trip of a lifetime based on what you did.  For instance, if you went somewhere and did an intense amount of hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and cliff jumping, that might be a trip of a lifetime.  I think often times beautiful places with exciting activities make quite memorable, unable-to-be-replicated trips.

As anyone who reads this blog would know, I have done a lot of traveling, but I'm not sure that I've yet found my "trip of a lifetime".  I guess I'm just too hesitant to label one trip like that and then change it later when I go somewhere and do something better.  But then that begs the questions: Can you have more than one trip of a lifetime? and, Can my trip of a lifetime change over time?  I think the answers are yes and yes.  I think a person could have several trips of a lifetime, but if someone tells me they have ten or more, I would probably question their standards.  I also think that your trip or trips of a lifetime should be changing over time as you go to new places and experience new things.

For me, I feel like I'm just too young and have too much more traveling to do to tell you what my "trip of a lifetime" is yet.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Under Duress or Trying to Impress

I started going to yoga classes about 8 months ago and I completely love it.  I find it so relaxing, but also strengthening.  Not only do I get in the stretching that I desperately need sometimes, but I also get to build up to fun poses that I never thought I could possibly do.  I can no longer think of a better way to start off my weekdays.

Based on the classes I've been to, it seems pretty obvious to me that yoga is quite female dominated.  That's not to stay you don't see guys in class from time to time, but I would say majority of the time my classes are made up of only women.  I'm still trying to fully understand why this is.  I feel like many of the poses would be easier for men because they have much more natural upper body strength than women do.  However, I suppose women are more graceful, in general.  Needless to say, I would argue that most men are not as taken by yoga as I was.

Despite this fact, I, all too often, see men who are clearly dragged to a yoga class by their significant other.  This is something I will never understand.  I feel like yoga is an incredibly personal thing for me.  I don't even know if I would enjoy yoga as much if I went to classes with friends that also enjoy yoga.  It's a rather solitary time for me.  I could never get someone to love yoga the way I do, by dragging them there kicking and screaming.  Most of these type of men that attend under duress do actually try to enjoy it, but it's still distracting to me, because they are clearly trying to impress their girlfriends and the girlfriends themselves are trying to prove that yoga is amazing.  Sometimes I wish they could have separate classes for such couples so the rest of us didn't have to experience this, but I'm sure this will never happen.

Even though I hate seeing such a misuse of yoga class, I still love going to yoga.  I think that I will continue to love yoga for as long as there are girlfriends coercing their boyfriends into going with them to yoga class, which is to say that I don't see this as a phase for me.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Myanmar, or Should I Say Burma?

Myanmar is a country most people don't know unless you refer to it by its previous name of Burma. This has to be one of the most incredible countries I've ever been to. I hate how so many people have such negative feelings about places they don't know anything about. When I told people where I was going I often got quite dramatic responses. Just like you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge a country by its name or its history.

Aung San Suu Kyi's Childhood Home

Myanmar has a turbulent history with 50 years of military rule, but that doesn't in any way make it unsafe to travel to. In fact, I found Myanmar to be one of the safest, friendliest places I've ever been. The people were so accommodating and helpful.

Shwedagon Pagoda Lit Up At Night (as seen from my hotel window)
I started my trip in Rangoon (aka Yangon). This city is not the capital, but it is the largest city and it used to be the capital. Coming from India, I found it quite incredible for several reasons. First of all, you could actually walk places because there were sidewalks and traffic lights. There also wasn't nearly as much honking of car horns as in India. The city almost seemed calm and quiet to me. In the first two days I was in Myanmar, I explored Rangoon. I felt like the tour I gave myself was surrounded around Aung San Suu Kyi and her life. I started off at the house she was born in which was a tribute to her father, General Aung San, Myanmar's national hero. Then I made my way to the Shwedagon Pagoda where I wondered how one would make a speech to a large crowd from the top as Aung San Suu Kyi did in 1988. The second day I was there, I started by walking from my hotel to Inya Lake where Aung San Suu Kyi's house is. This is the house she spent the better part of 15 years in prison in. I knew it wasn't open to the public, but unfortunately you couldn't even see the house itself. I only knew I was there because of the NLD signs and flags outside the compound, but I couldn't see much more than the walls. I also made my way to the Aung San Market where you can buy all kinds of souvenirs. This is where I realized that they really don't refer to her by name very much. They call her "the lady". People also found it comical when I would call her Daw Suu. I don't think most foreigners know enough about Suu Kyi and Myanmar in general to know that terminology that is often used by locals.

Sunset Over the World's Longest Teak Wood Bridge
After Rangoon, I left on the train to Mandalay. I was told that these trains can be incredibly delayed and very bumpy. Luckily for me, only half of that was accurate for my train. We were right on time, but the trip was so bumpy that I could still feel myself swaying even hours after I got off the train. I met a British girl on the train and we toured around Mandalay together. We saw everything. We started by going to the Royal Palace, which on the way I realized was just a replica of the original. Then we had lunch at a road side stand and went in search of the world's largest book. I eventually realized that this wasn't a book in the traditional sense and we had already seen it. We didn't even know it. Then we traveled to the top of Mandalay hill for some spectacular views before making our way to the world's longest teak wood bridge to watch the sunset. This day was so busy, but I'm so glad we saw everything that we did.

The View From My Balcony
My next and final stop was Bagan. I was told that you can't go to Myanmar and not visit Bagan. To get there I took an eight hour boat ride down the Irrawaddy (or as the locals call it the Ayeyarwaddy). This ride was really calm and relaxing. It totally beat taking the bus or train, which probably both would've taken just as long. Once I got there I enjoyed the sunset from my private balcony on the river and made a plan for the next day.

I had heard that the best way to get around Bagan was on bicycle, but after getting there I realized they also had e-bikes, which were basically electric scooters. Riding these on the roads might have seemed dangerous, but considering almost no local people live in the town, there is very little traffic. I really enjoyed this option. Plus it was so hot even though I wasn't biking or walking that it was totally worth any risk.

My Viewing Spot For Sunset
I started off my day by trying to see the sunrise at one the "best" temples for seeing the sunrise. This seemed like a good idea, but there were so.many.tourists. There was even one that had a drone. It was like trying to watch the sunrise with a helicopter flying overhead. Even so, it was a little bit too cloudy for a good sunrise. So after going back and having breakfast at my hotel I set out again. I feel like I saw so many temples that day and only in a matter of about 4 hours.  Despite the recent earthquake most of the temples were still accessible. Considering all I did and how early I had gotten up, I went back to my hotel to relax by the pool and take a nap before setting out to see the sunset. This time I wanted to find a more unique spot. I started by going to this bigger temple not too far from my hotel where I came across this young girl who insisted that I see the smaller temple next door. She showed me the secret staircase to get to the first terrace. Then she helped me physically climb to the next level and climb some more stairs to the top level. From there you could see all the big temples in Bagan as well as the sunset over the river. We must have sat up there for 30 minutes until after the sun went down. This was just another example of the overly helpful people of Myanmar. Turns out that this girl was selling post cards but she wasn't pushy about it at all. In the end, I bought a set of postcards from her to pay her back for helping me find the most amazing sunset spot I could've imagined. She was much appreciative as she was trying to make enough money for her schooling. On my last day, I spent most of the day laying by the pool, relaxing, and packing up. I tried to find a local monastery to see the monks receive alms, but I couldn't find it. I also went to the local archaeological museum where they have a lot of relics from the temples. There were so many Buddhas. Bagan really was the highlight of my trip.

All in all, Myanmar was amazing! It was a shame I only had one week there. I could've easily spent 3 weeks exploring the country. I definitely see myself going back there at some point as it not only fascinates me, but it is such a welcoming place. I can't wait until that day comes!

Friday, October 21, 2016

"Must-Go" List: Top 3

As I've discussed in a previous post, I always have a "Must-go" list full of places that I want to go.  Of course, for me there will always be an endless list of places that I want to go, some of which I've never even heard of.  Below are the top three places on my "must-go" list and why they top the list at the moment.

New Zealand
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to go to New Zealand.  I was inspired by my grandfather.  He always had a list of places he wanted to see in his life.  It wasn't until later in life that he had the means to travel the world.  Despite how old he got, he never let that stop him from seeing all the places on his list.  So when he and my grandmom were in their 60s they decided to go to New Zealand to hike the Milford Track.  He loved it so much, he went back and hiked it again with a friend of his a few years later.  That is what inspires me, because even as he got older he loved New Zealand so much that he felt the need to go again.  I always wanted to go and see for myself what made this place so special.

My aunt is from Cambodia and we've talked about going.  I think she wants to show us where she came from and the many wonders it has to offer.  Cambodia is one of those places that I want to go to, but I don't feel like I could ever go without my aunt.  I would love to see where she came from.  Someday we'll go.  It's just a matter of time.

Now that relations between the U.S. and Cuba have eased, I'm just waiting for Congress to lift the travel ban.  I think it would be amazing to travel just 1000 miles South and 50 years back in time.  As most Americans, I'm fascinated to see what this forbidden land has to offer.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Sights, the Sounds, the Colors of India

India. This country contains nearly one-fifth of the world's population. Made up of over two-thousand different ethnic groups. The eighth largest country in the world. I recently traveled to this amazing country for work and I stayed for 5 weeks.

I was told by coworkers who had been there that it would blow my mind. I also got many warning before and after arriving to be careful traveling alone. Additionally, I was told many times how brave I was for doing so. In many ways, I just didn't get what the big deal was. How was India going to be so different than all the other places I've been? The fact of the matter was, it wasn't. At this point I've seen so many incredible places, India wasn't much different. That's kind of a good and bad thing.

It's bad in the sense that I've seen so much, that new places struggle to amaze me. This is nothing negative about India. It's just that I'm hard to impress these days. To me, India seemed much like Uganda, except wealthier. It had that same post-British colonial feel to it. Plus with the massive income gap in India, you saw much of the same poverty that you did in Uganda. The feeling of being somewhere so similar to Uganda was familiar. It made me feel at home.

There were some things that were different that I found quite interesting. First is the honking of car horns. You will have trouble feeling like you're in India unless you hear car horns. It's interesting to me how the honking is not always aggressive in India. There are different kinds of honks. Some make it seem like a language the cars use to talk to each other. A driver might honk as he passes to make the other driver aware of his movements or he might honk to ask another vehicle to move over. And then, of course, there are aggressive, get-out-of-the-way honks. All these honks are different. I imagine it taking years to learn the subtleties of each one.

Another thing I noticed here is the harassment, or should I say lack thereof. We've all heard the stories in recent years about the harassment and assaults of women, especially foreigners, in India. However, it seems as though the Indian government is doing what they can to curb that. I've seen signs on trains and at major tourist attractions outlining specific activities that are forbidden. Some of these signs specify that they are in regards to women and others seem more pointed at how foreigners should be treated. It is against the law in India to give women unwanted attention. This includes teasing, yelling at, and singing to them. Individuals are also not allowed to take photos of others without their consent. This might seem odd, but it is way more common than you may think for someone to approach a foreigner and ask for a selfie. White people are novelties and Indians want photos with them. But the law prohibits this unless the foreigner consents. All of this has led to me receive (at least what I consider) very little attention (outside of the occasional selfie requests). I think this is great; however, it may lead to a false sense of security. It could be that there are attacks and assaults here and you just don't see the actions that typically lead up to them. But then again, maybe not...

All in all, I enjoyed my time in India and I would like to share with you one particular side trip that I found particularly amazing.

The last weekend that I was in India happened to be Labor Day weekend.  In India, that doesn't really mean anything, but to me it meant that I got a three day weekend to travel to one last place before leaving the country.  So I decided to take that weekend and make a trip to Kerala in the South of India.  Kerala is a place known for houseboats, good food, and a relaxing way of life.

Instead of doing my usual figure-it-out-on-my-own thing, I decided to just splurge and book a tour.  I wanted to experience these houseboats I had been hearing so much about.  The tour I booked included one night at a "resort" and almost an entire 24 hours on a houseboat.

My houseboat for the day
So I flew into one of the largest towns in Kerala, Cochin.  From there I was picked up by a driver and taken to my hotel, which was about an hour and a half ride.  When I got there I realized that their idea of a resort was a mediocre hotel with a nice pool.  Considering I was still suffering from a cold I had caught the week before, I was mildly okay with that.  I spent most of my time in my room sleeping and watching TV or laying by the pool and swimming.  At first I thought no one else was staying there, because all day the place was deserted, but by dinner a few more people showed up.

MMMMMM Prawns!
The next morning my driver came back for me to take me to my houseboat.  By noon that day we were cruising away.  Turns out I had the whole boat to myself.  It was a one bedroom boat with a three man crew who were just waiting on me hand and foot.  When I originally booked this trip, I thought there was a chance that cruising around on a boat all day could get boring, so I brought a book.  Turns out, I didn't read it at all.  It couldn't have been more fascinating watching daily life on the canals and seeing all the other houseboats pass us by!  It seemed as though no two houseboats were the same.  At one point we stopped at a fish market, where I bought two of the biggest prawns I had ever seen and later that day my cook prepared them for me for dinner.  Let's just say that the food I had on that boat was probably the best I had in all of India.

By 9 AM the next morning it was time to leave, but I could've spent days on that boat.  In the moment, nothing could've made me happier than cruising around the backwaters of Kerala.  I may not have been the biggest fan of India in general, but I absolutely adored Kerala.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Emotions Run High

Traveling is one of the things I love most in life. But even the things you love most can be tense and stressful sometimes. I recently had a harrowing trip home that I think tops all my other travel stories. It is probably the most epic plane trip I've ever had. Despite the fact that I love to travel, I found myself at one of my lowest points during this trip, but it hasn't suppressed my wanderlust.

I had been in Mumbai for work for 5 weeks and upon finishing this stint I decided to travel to Myanmar for a week for vacation before heading home. Despite my long journey home, this was an amazing trip that I will detail later. My trip home started in Bagan, Myanmar. From there I took a night bus to Yangon where I got a hotel room for a few hours before flying to Bangkok. From Bangkok, I flew to Mumbai then to London, then to Washington DC. I knew this was the plan when I booked this trip and it was the route I ended up taking, but things ended up going differently than planned.

My journey started in Bagan on a Thursday night and I was supposed to arrive in Washington DC on Saturday afternoon. Up until when I got to Bangkok, things were on track. I knew I was going to have a tight connection in Mumbai, but it was looking like I would be able to make that flight and get all the way home. My flight from Bangkok even left on time, but unfortunately during take off my plane hit a bird. Right from the moment we took off I could tell something wasn't right. The crew were moving about the cabin quite a bit and then they were all looking out one of the windows on the left side of the plane. I later found out that they could see blood on the wing of the plane. Because of this mishap, the pilot decided to turn around and go back to Bangkok. I understood the precaution and at that point did not even really mind the delay this was going to cause me.

After sleeping in the Bangkok airport Friday night, they got my flight out at 6 AM Saturday morning. At that point, I had already missed my connection in Mumbai. My flights from Mumbai to London to Washington were supposed to be American Airlines flights operated by British airways and it was a fully refundable fully flexible fare, so I was convinced that if I could just talk to BA in Mumbai that they would help me rebook my flights. But first I had to get through immigration.

When I originally flew to Mumbai for work 6 weeks prior I was traveling on my diplomatic passport and had an Indian diplomatic visa. But at this point, I was traveling on my personal passport and I had an e-tourist visa. As I went through customs, the immigration officer didn't seem to understand why I left my local address blank. He just couldn't seem to understand why I would have a 30 day tourist visa and only stay for 3 hours, but he did eventually let me through. Once getting through immigration, I tried to follow the signs for departures. I was starting to get anxious because time until the next BA flight was closing in. Even though I was following the well labeled signs, I was constantly getting told I couldn't go that way. In Mumbai you need to have your flight itinerary just to enter the airport and I had a bit of trouble getting in because my itinerary was now old.

Finally I got to the British Airways check in counter where I had to stand in a long line just to talk to someone. At that point they made a slight attempt to help me before giving up. They told me that they didn't have a ticket counter in Mumbai so they had to call BA ticketing and then let me talk to them. After doing this they realized that my flight was booked through American Airlines and BA couldn't rebook it for me. So they offered to call American Airlines for me. This sounded just fine until they actually tried to call American Airlines and the number didn't work. That was the extent that BA tried to help me get home. They told me the only way I was getting on the flight leaving for Heathrow in two hours was to rebook it myself with a travel agent in the airport and hope that I would get reimbursed by American Airlines later. After speaking with the travel agent was when I really started to lose it. The travel agent told me that the flight just to Heathrow would cost me $1000 and deep down I knew I was never going to get reimbursed. BA was also not willing to even help me figure out my flight back to Washington. They said I could figure that out when I got to Heathrow. This was one of my lowest points. I had no idea how to get home.

After losing it a little, I put on my thinking hat. Think, think. How can I get my ticket changed without paying for it? My ticket was flexible; this had to be possible. I had to do one of two things. I either had to get a hold of the government travel agent to change the flight or I had to get a hold of American Airlines. Luckily, the Mumbai airport has free wifi, so I got online. I couldn't find a phone number for the travel agent, but I did find an 800 number for American Airlines. Considering I was in India, I was able to call this number, but I had to pay $1.79 per minute. I didn't want to have to pay this, but considering I really wanted to go home, it was worth it. I was also doubting if anyone was going to answer, because it was the middle of the night in the US. Nonetheless, I had to try, otherwise I was going to completely fall apart right there in the terminal of the Mumbai airport. Sure enough, I did get through to a live person who was willing and able to help me!

They got me on the 1 PM flight out of Mumbai, but they couldn't get me out of London until the next day. I was so happy to have a plan for getting home, I almost didn't even care that I might have to pay for my hotel in London out of my own pocket. So I got checked in and headed for security. Security in India takes forever for women because they have to take every single woman behind a curtain to scan them with a metal detector wand. I don't understand why it is necessary to go behind the curtain, but this is the way it is all over India. After making it through security I got in line for immigration. My time was running out, but the line wasn't too bad. I finally made it to the front of the line and again I was hassled by the immigration officer because I didn't want to stay in India on my tourist visa. I just couldn't understand why this was a problem! I paid my $60, which gives me the right to stay for 30 days, but that doesn't force me to stay for that long. I really didn't understand why it mattered. Then the officer started asking where my previous visa was, so I pulled out my diplomatic passport. This was mostly a problem because the officer was just not as familiar with diplomatic passport holders or those with two passports. For these reasons he took me to secondary. After the primary and the secondary immigration officers discussed this for a few minutes in their local language, the secondary officer asked me if I was allowed to have two passports. After explaining that I was, he agreed with me that this was completely fine and I proceeded to my gate where my flight was already boarding.

Upon arriving in London, I got in line at immigration. Heathrow has to have one of the worst immigration controls of anywhere. I waited two hours to get through this line. Once I finally got through the line, I went through to baggage claim. I usually don't check my bag, but seeing as I was on my way home and I was too tired to carry it around the airport anymore, I had checked it. Once I got to baggage claim I found out that because my flight had gotten in two hours prior they were no longer announcing the belt that the bags were on. Again, I was told to stand in line to find out what they had done with my bag. This seemed ridiculous, but I did as I was told. Eventually I was pointed to the belt that my bag was rolling around on. From there I got an uber and got to my hotel.

After that point, my trip was mostly uneventful. I ended up getting in exactly one day later than I was supposed to, which wasn't too bad. The big problem was what I was put through in the process of trying to get there. Before this trip, I thought highly of British airways, but now I really don't know anymore. This trip proved that even the most seasoned traveler can come across problems that can completely break your spirits. This doesn't stop me from doing what I love. Instead I like to think it makes me a better, more resilient traveler and for that I am grateful. I guess they always say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

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


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.