Blog Archives

Bali’ing on a Budget (with Queen Mom!!)

My mom and I went to Bali!!!

…Last September.

And I’m going to stop you right there! I know what you’re thinking: “literally, actually, truly, what is the point of writing a blog about it at this point? You’ve come home for Christmas and made the rounds talking about your travels, we KNOW.”

But this blog–my dearly dormant intrepidandintransit–is meant to be a chronological memento for myself and anyone else out there who’s still paying attention. And, most importantly, I really want to commemorate the trip my mom and I shared. The details to come are literally only possible because that precious woman sent me a nearly minute-by-minute itinerary that she updated as our vacation chugged along.

I love her. And every opportunity I have to see her is like a big, warm hug. Which, frankly, I would love one of right now.

We were only in Bali together for about 5 days. That’s WAY too short, I agree, but I was working with the little off-time I had. We met at the airport. During my layover on the way there, I realized I had lost my laptop charger (and I work online, so a laptop on holiday is non-negotiable). Our very kind shuttle bus driver went out of his way to help us buy me a new one on the way to our hotel. And thus, we became acquainted with Balinese hospitality–as warm and welcoming as the island’s weather.

The days blur together for me now. Here’s the highlights reel:

  1. Our hotel had an awesome pool that we utilized every night right as it was about to close. That pool holds a special place in our hearts. Unlike Queen Jen, the only note I have in my phone about the trip says “Mom looked so happy floating around in the pool last night… 10/10 would recreate.”
  2. I got 3 different pedicures in the span of 5 days. And a massage. And we had fish nibble at our feet. 
  3. Every meal we had was SO COOL. The food was great, but it was like each time we sat down in a new place, it was an experience in and of itself. From the hotel room service (watching Stranger Things for the first time, woah), to the rice paddies of Ubud sipping fresh pineapple juice, to a beachfront restaurant during a rainstorm eating the freshest seafood I have ever encountered. Love.
  4. The sun is a powerful goddess of whom I respect and fear. What I wanted more than anything was a lazy afternoon “tanning” on the beach during this vacation. So mom and I set out to do that. 4 beers and a cocktail deep, two lobsters scurried off the beach and back to the hotel to bathe in aloe. Oops!
  5. Sunsets in Bali are as out of this world as everyone brags about. Truly. The two most notable were a) at the Uluwatu temple as we watched a traditional Indonesian dance ritual, and b) on a dinner cruise, accompanied by fancy cocktails and a drag show.
  6. We hired a car for one of the days (super cheap, makes you feel cool without actually breaking the bank) and drove through Ubud. We nixed the idea of the Sacred Monkey Forest (who needs tiny monkeys pouncing at them and stealing their purse on vacation?! Joking, kinda, if you’re interested in that more power to ya). Instead, we opted for a tour of a coffee plantation. And Bali is known for it’s Luwak coffee (aka coffee literally eaten, digested, and shat out by a type of cat). We came, we tried, mom liked it.

Bali was amazing. Touristy, definitely, but it is a destination for a reason. It felt like paradise. And apart from a minor meltdown thanks to my laptop being a piece of trash, I was on a high the entire time I was there.

What more could a girl want than spending a week in a tropical dream with their queen?

Love you mom!!

Also, more blogs to come now. Actually. Really. Believe it when you see it… And you’ll see it soon!

Advertisements

HK In a Day!

Sam and I went on an overnight “business” trip to Hong Kong earlier this week. And I feel compelled to share our adventure because of how much of a mess it truly was for everyone involved. Buckle up!

We had to go on this trip to sort some visa stuff out for Taiwan. The process is immediate, so we could have come back to Taiwan same-day, but decided to stay overnight to see some of our friends that live in HK.

We get up hours before our flight, and make our way to the bus station. There’s a thunder/lightning/torrential rain storm happening in Taipei as we are getting onto the bus. And it’s rush hour. Double traffic whammy. The bus is inching through the city at a pace so slow I honestly thought about getting out and running part of the way to make up for time lost (a fleeting thought, obviously.). Collectively, I think everyone on the bus started to realize how late the bus was running at about the same moment. People started to get up and mill about and chat on the phone trying to sort out their situations. Still, Sam and I held on to a fleeting hope that since we had chosen to go to HK without any luggage, they’d just let us sprint through the airport with 2 minutes to spare and a closing gate and a wing and a prayer. But alas.

We get to the airport at about 9:30, flight scheduled for 10. The airline counter tells us we are ten minutes to late to get on to the flight. We beg and plead, and they politely tell us to shove off. We ask to be out onto the next flight, and they tell us to call the travel agency our friend book the flight through. So begins the longest, most pricey 30 minutes of our life. Calls are being placed back and forth—to us, to Jojo, to the travel agent—and we finally get put onto the next flight. Which, again, leaves in about 30 minutes. We scramble through lines, get ushered to customer service, get thrown back into the general line. Get our ticket printed and sprint though the airport to security. Our sweat pools as our purses slowly roll through the machine. We sprint again between security and our gate.

As soon as we get to the gate, we are told that there will be a minor delay because, duh, look outside. You can’t even see the runways it is raining so hard. Nice. This definitely means that that flight we “missed” hadn’t left either. But OKAY, whatever, fine. We’ll just get a bottle of water and chill in the gate. So we do that. And after about 10 minutes we hear an announcement that the plane we were anticipating getting on had been struck by lightning upon its descent into Taipei, so it would be about an hour of routine maintenance before we could leave. OKAY! That’s fine. An hour. Lightning. Okay. Manageable.

But then, an hour passes. They hand out meal vouchers for inside the airport. Another hour passes. We find out the flight has moved gates. Another hour passes. Finally, we get on the flight. And smooth air-sailing from there. No lightning strikes on our flight! Score.

Hong Kong was fun. We saw all of our friends from the past few summers at camp. We all met Emily and her mom for dim sum. We did a little hike up Garden Hill and got some really beautiful panoramic views of HK at night. The hostel we stayed at was trash, and tried to kick me out of my bed in the middle of the night, so I’m going to refrain from including its name! But overall, very fun time in the city.

The next day, we got to the airport 6 hours early. And got drunk. Just in case chaos ensued for the second day in a row. But luckily, everything went smooth on our way back. And now we’re back in Taiwan right in the nick of time—my brother and a few friends are going to be camp counselors here with us this summer! A busy 10 weeks ahead. But I will be taking my peeps to do some of the token touristy stuff in the city throughout the summer, so I’ll try and blog about that stuff!

Hope everyone is well. There is so much shitty shit going on in the States right now. And I really hope everyone is doing okay. Stay strong. And vigilant. And proud of who you are. Love you guys!

Taiwan, Paris and Spain: Getting Around with Crutches and a Limp

Hello again!

I’ve been all over the place for the last couple weeks, so I’ve tried to do day-to-day logging as best I can.

Taiwan:

Monday, August 31, 2015: Hindsight is 20-20, right? We probably shouldn’t have gone to bed drunk at 2 in the morning knowing good and well we had to be at the airport this morning at 5. But oh well, that drag show in Kota Kinabalu gave me life! We slept the whole flight back to Taiwan and arrived before 10am even rolled around. It needed to be a laxed day. I got a pedicure and met 10 of the gems in my life for a belated birthday dinner for me. I tried cider ale for the first time without hating it. We had fancy cocktails and Ciaran, a very Irish Irishman, tried an Irish car bomb for the first time. It was a great day!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015: Ciaran, Theresa and I woke up late and eventually made our way to the train station. We took a three hour train down to the southern Taiwan city of Taitung with the intention of catching the next ferry out to either Green or Orchid island. Instead, we were greeted with ferry tickets with much higher prices than we had found online, and no tickets until tomorrow morning. We got on a bus to a tiny little town called Dulan and showed up at a hostel that we’d found on hostel world. This hostel is SO COOL. It is called the Wa Ga Li Gong Yoga studio—we slept on thin mattresses on the floor of said yoga studio—and the people that work here are awesome. Two doors down is a little restaurant with a retired man from India who has quite literally been everywhere and done everything running it. It’s run home style—only one dish served at each meal with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options—and has organic fresh pressed apple juice. Sometimes, like in the moment that we were eating this meal while the owner chatted with us about why San Francisco is his favorite “white world” city and how Ciaran may quite literally die from the heat in India, we will lock eyes and give each other the look. The look says “how did we get here? What are we doing?” and we chuckle and revel in the spontaneity of our choices and take another sip of Taiwanese organic apple juice. After dinner we were intent on walking to the beach. We followed the directions given to us exactly, and were very surprised when we finally got to the ocean and it was a rock beach instead of sand. We sat on huge rocks, spied on an old couple next to us who MacGyver’ed it with a small fire and food, and drank the smuggled, tiny flask of Fireball that Theresa had brought from the states. And then Ciaran was attacked by large rocks when he tried to dip in the ocean and we had to leave due to emotional scarring.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015: We hopped on a bus to the harbor nearby. The bus driver didn’t really understand where we were asking to go, and he ended up letting us off pretty far away. We flagged down a van and hitchhiked the rest of the way to the harbor! We were bound and determined to get to Green Island no matter what it took. When we finally got there, we haggled with several different scooter rental companies to no avail, and ended up just renting the 2 cheapest ones available. We circled the island, saw some truly breathtaking sites (even a temple in an underground cave!) and had dinner at a restaurant called Good Mr. Hot Dogs. Yes. We ended up at the island’s tourism center, stripped down to our bathing suits and got into the ocean right as the sun was setting. It was very majestic. After dinner we had the intentions of sneaking onto a camp site and sleeping there with nothing but our hammocks and a speaker, but then I got into a minor scooter accident and had to be whisked away to the island’s tiny hospital in the back of an ambulance. Before anyone freaks out, I’m fine! Really. And it is truly all thanks to the great people on Green Island, and ESPECIALLY thanks to Ciaran and Theresa. Baes for life. Thank you so much. So, so much.

Thursday, September 3, 2015: Though I am doing pretty well, it is very hard for me to walk. So I couldn’t do much else on the island today! But my great friends brought me food and carried my bags and held my hands and just rocked in general. We left Green Island this afternoon and ended up back at the hostel we stayed at a couple nights ago. I’ve spent the evening in the common area, French music playing quietly, just chilling. Granted, that’s really all I can do right now, this feels nice.

Friday, September 4, 2015: We woke up very very early, spent most of the day traveling back to Taipei, and then Theresa and I parted ways. I relaxed most of the day after going to the hospital for a final check to make sure nothing was broken or dislocated or torn. Ciaran came back to Taipei and then left Taiwan that night. The queen of my LIFE, Doreen, delivered dinner to me in the hostel I was staying in, went and bought me more medicine so that I wouldn’t run out before even leaving Asia, and booked a trip to Europe this winter!!! It’s people like this that fill my life with such gratitude. Absolute queen.

Saturday, September 5, 2015: Saturday was all traveling. Literally all travel. The silver lining to being on crutches and walking like a strolling snail is that I get a wheelchair and special treatment in airports. Upon booking these flights, I anticipated the biggest inconvenience I was going to face was the possibility I was going to be sucked into a worm hole—I flew Malaysia Airlines. But lo and behold, sitting in an overbooked transcontinental flight for 13 hours with a swollen leg and contused chest is what I got. By hour 8 I was really hoping for that wormhole. But I made it! And every single person along the way—every flight attendant, airport staff member, random person who offered to carry my bags, shuttle driver, everyone!—made my trip as smooth as it could have possibly gone. And I didn’t have to wait in a single line.

France:

Sunday, September 6, 2015: I arrived in Paris at 6am local time. It is SIGNIFICANTLY colder than Asia. I arrived in shorts and a tank top. I could see my breath as I waited for my shuttle. What a change! The hostel I am staying at is pretty much the only part of Paris I have seen yet, but it is great! St. Christopher’s Gare Du Nord Hostel. It’s huge and full of life and drink discount coupons and fast wifi. Welcome to Europe, right? I miss Taiwan. But I am happy to be here! I spent most of the day around the hostel, found a great Kebaberie and cheese and baguettes. What more could I need? This stopover is not going to consist of much, because I am slightly immobile and need rest. But I did go to see the Eiffel Tower tonight! Last year, my mom and I were unable to see it light up, so that was my goal for this time around. We got a bottle of wine and sat shivering as the clock struck midnight and the Tower sparkled.

Monday, September 7, 2015: Again, did not do much of anything today. But, I did get Chipotle to-go (surprise! I do miss something from America) for dinner, and went to the Louvre Pyramid to picnic. Upon arrival I realized I did not have a spoon and fashioned one from the aluminum lid of my takeaway container. It is in this moment I realized I will never have enough class to live in Paris. C’est la vie.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015: We checked out of the hostel late, and I took a bus to Beauvais—a town right outside of Paris where one of the airports is. My lovely, lovely mother helped me book a hotel in the area so that getting to my 9am flight the next morning would not be too much of a hassle. Hotel Balladins was affordable and totally accommodating!! They switched me to a ground-floor room and explained where everything was in the area. I took a (long) leisurely stroll to the grocery store and bought myself dinner and breakfast. I came back to my room and passed out. I don’t think it was even 8pm? Grandpa Harlee was really feeling it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 – Saturday September 12, 2015: I made it to Spain! YAY. My new host father picked me up from the airport and drove me to the house that I will now be living in. I’ve spent the last couple days really letting myself adjust to the time zone and catching up on all the sleep I’ve been lacking in the last few weeks. I have finished more than one book, started Game of Thrones, and had better wifi than anywhere else I have been since leaving America! I have left the house a couple times—I went and explored the little town that I live in a bit—but mostly I have been preparing for my job to start on Monday.

So I’m going to end this clusterf*ck of a blog here, because I am going into Madrid for the first time this afternoon and I want to have a separate blog about this big, beautiful city. I am doing great! This job is going to be so fun and getting to know a city that I never really expected to live in is going to be very cool. I hope you all are doing great too. Talk soon!

Malaysian Borneo + Brunei Darussalam: A Birthday for the Books

I’m going to write this post a little different than my usual posts, because I am not going to have time to write a long winded, reflective post about my time in Malaysian Borneo before I head off on my next adventure. So instead, I am going to document everything as I go!

Monday, August 24, 2015: Ciaran and I left Taipei really early in the morning and landed in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo. We had had disillusioned ideas of somehow getting into town to rent a car from an obscure dealer, but ended up haggling with the rental car place in the airport and drove off with a nearly new, gas-efficient-as-hell, tiny car that we will be using for a week, each having paid less than $50USD. Score. Straight out of the gates, we left Kota Kinabau in the dust and headed for the Tip of Borneo. Along the way, we stopped for gas ($10 to fill her up, wtf?), stocked up on road trip snacks and drove drove drove. We stopped at a tiny fruit stand at which we could identify maybe 2 of the 10 fruits and confused the bejesus out of the venders when I asked for a single banana in exchange for a photograph of their shop. Most of the afternoon was spent racing the sunset, trying to get to the northernmost tip of Borneo before the sun made her exit. Kudos to Ciaran, because we made it to the Tip in perfect time. A petite old Malaysian woman with perfect English spoke to us for a good twenty minutes about how we should spend the rest of the week, what those mystery fruits were, and how important it was to visit the Tea Plantation (mental note for later!) And here we are! We just so happened to pull up to a little restaurant/eco-hostel called Tampat Do Aman (meaning “a place of peace” in Rungus, the local language) at just the right time. The owner of the place, Howard, took us on a tour of his AWESOME property—we are staying in a longhouse tonight, there’s an indigenous museum and a rice patty and compost toilets and outdoor showers—and we ate amazing Malaysian food for dirt cheap. As I am writing this Ciaran and I are both sitting, writing in the common area of this remote haven, surrounded by a thunder/lightning/rain storm, headed to bed. A place of peace it is.

August 25, 2015: Following the advice of Howard the eco-hostel owner, we got up at the crack of dawn to see the sunrise over a mile-long rice paddy on the property. Keep in mind we are literally a couple degrees from the equator, and the air is quite literally dripping with humidity. AND it had rained the night before. Those ten minutes we were awake were a blur. A beautiful, moist blur. Obviously right back to bed for a few hours. After breakfast, we booked it out of Kudat with the intent of making it to Sandakan as soon as possible. We did make it… It just happened to end up taking most of the day driving across the entire country of Malaysian Borneo. Here are my two main insights about the whole of this country, formulated after many, many hours of being the copilot in a tiny, tiny car: 1) The world hates the idea of palm oil, and yet, a massive, massive amount of deforestation is happening in this country to make way for palm trees that will later be harvested for said oil. Why? It isn’t good for humans or our planet… so, why? And 2) KFC and Pizza Hut really stuck their claim to this country. We have seen an unfathomable amount of those establishments on our road trip, and only one McDonald’s. Is that insightful? Maybe a substitute #2 could be that outside of major cities, the people of this country are fascinated to see Ciaran and I. The people we have come across have all been exceptionally nice and (seem to be) genuinely excited to meet us. After countless hours in the car, we finally arrived in Sandakan a couple hours ago. We are staying in a Habourside Backpacker’s Hostel, and all we have done is wander two doors down for Indian food for dinner. Naan a thing hits the spot like naan! …That is a sign I need sleep.

August 26, 2015: After sleeping quite a lot, we woke up and had a tiny breakfast with a very helpful Malaysian woman who really wanted us to eat her papaya (papaya is always gross, I ate one piece and smiled uncomfortably). We drove to the Sepliok Orangutan Sanctuary, only to found out that we had missed the feeding time for the day, so we sat in the cafeteria for about an hour and waited for the shuttle to our river cruise to pick us up. We’ve come to agree that Malaysian fried noodles are a godsend. We have them whenever possible, literally. The shuttle ride to the Kinabatangan River took 2 hours, after stopping along the way for snacks and alcohol (sorry mom, this is my 21st birthday vacation!). The river cruise was absolutely incredible. The only reason we initially wanted to go on this cruise was to see orangutans in their natural habitat, but being in a tiny little boat, barreling down a river in the middle of the jungle and seeing a bunch of other monkeys and birds and snakes and cool trees, made everything worth it. We had dinner right off the river and were driven back to the beautiful (and cheap!) hostel we are staying at tonight.

August 27, 2015:

TODAY’S THE DAY THAT MADE THIS WHOLE TRIP WORTH IT. We woke up, had an awesome breakfast at this hostel (seriously, if you stay in Sepilok, Sabah, I recommend Forest Edge Resort. They have hostel-style accommodations and it was only $12 a night!!!) and set out for the sanctuary. We were not about to miss the orangutan feeding time again! We got there in perfect time. Watched all of the rescued apes eat bananas and drink milk. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any cooler, one of the monkeys came very, very close and started to walk alongside us. And then he started to chase us. And then he started to reach out to try and grab the plaid shirt that was tied around my waist. And that’s when we ran. We were being chased by a critically endangered species through the jungle of Borneo. The only possible way to follow that up was to come back to the hostel, charge our phones, and drive across the country. Along the way we found an extremely questionable hanging bridge going across a fast moving river on the side of the road. It was made of chain link fence and had two 2×4 pieces of plywood going all the way across. We, of course, decided to walk all the way across the river via this death bridge in order to pick a few pieces of fruit from a tree on the other side. I think I may have had a minor aneurism. Not only did I survive, I thrived. We made it to Kota Kinabalu once more, went out to a great dinner, and to sleep we go.

August 28, 2015:

We woke up and wandered around the neighborhood we were staying in (the street is famously known as Gaya strip). As soon as we ate and got gas, we started our trip towards Brunei. We drove all day (thaaaaaaanks Ciaran 🙂 ) and got lost in the same city along the way three times. We were so desperate for food and directions that we stumbled into a gaming cyber café, the only light provided by the hundred LED computer screens. The countless drooling young men behind those screens barely even noticed two foreigners stumbling into the establishment, but thankfully there was a free computer and we were able to find the directions we needed. I think it was around nine hours we spent in the car today… But now we are in a new country, and my birthday starts in about 2 hours. I’m already feeling 21, if you know what I mean. I must go. I need to concentrate on celebrating my incredible life. Pip piP!

August 29, 2015: We stayed up until midnight last night and ushered in my birthday by synchronized dancing to Shake It Off and Birthday by Selena Gomez and then walking around the neighborhood that our hotel is in. It is then that we met Jin and Tim. Our two new friends from Korea. The next morning we drove into the city, Bandar Seri Begawan, with our two new friends. (We have had a great track record for getting lost every single time we get into a car this week, so we thought it wise to let our new friends guide us.) We ended up at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. It was beautiful! It was comforting hearing the familiar sound of the Islamic call to prayer, despite the fact that meant we could not go inside. We wandered until we found lunch, and then wandered once more until we ended up at the loading dock for visiting the Water Village. Without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we paid a few bucks to get on a boat and be transported across the river to this floating neighborhood of small houses and apartments. Yes, floating. I guess the more accurate word would be stilted? Either way, it was great! We (naturally) skipped the tourist museum and went straight for the houses themselves. They were quaint, colorful, and full of interesting and friendly people. One man in particular, the owner of the Malay Modern House, brought us into his home. He’s turned the living room space of his house into a place where visitors can come and take funny pictures and laugh and add their name to the long list of friends that this man has made. Jin is an incredible illustrator, and the way she makes friends (and some money, too) is by drawing a caricature of all the people that she meets on her travels. She drew this man. She drew a quiet, beautiful old woman who was kind enough to let us into her home for a few minutes. She drew Ciaran and I, too. Right before we hit the road bound for Kota Kinabalu once again. Tim and Jin were the greatest companions we could have had for our day trip to Brunei!! We miss them already. We spent the rest of the day in the car, listening to Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and fantasizing about our last long road trip of the week being over. On the plus side, we hardly got lost at all on this drive! I saw the perfect sunset out of the passenger window, witnessed a pretty mighty lightning storm, and acquired 16 stamps in my passport in the course of 24 hours. Win win win. When we FINALLY arrived in Kota Kinabalu, we were both hangry and in need of a drink (or six) (sorry mom, it’s my birthday). We returned to the same restaurant as we had eaten dinner in a few days earlier, got really drunk, came back to the hostel and passed out. Would have never, ever guessed half of my 21st birthday was going to be spent like it was, but it was perf. #ThanksCiaran

August 30, 2015: Today is our last full day in Malaysian Borneo. We woke up way too early and walked down the road to Jesselton Point, a docking point for all the boats en route to the snorkel- and scuba-friendly islands off the coast. We walked into the incredibly busy ticket station, chose the very first kiosk we saw, and bought a cheap package to get us out to the island of Mamutik. We spent the morning snorkeling on an island that was dangerously close to a paradise. We drank our fifty thousandth glass of freshly squeezed pineapple juice, ate our fifty-thousandth plate of fried noodles, took some really cool pictures, and just CHILLED. Been a while. We hopped on a boat back to the mainland, wandered back to the hostel and immediately fell into a deep, deep nap. We made our way to the mall near our hostel, because we had a reservation at a place called Lockdown. I had very little context as to what exactly Lockdown was going to be—all Ciaran had been able to tell me is that we were going to be locked in a room and had to figure out how to get out. Okay. Right. So we show up, we get told the back story about the lockdown sequence that we are going to be trying to escape from (we chose the storyline called Seven). And then we are left to our own devices in a series of rooms with a series of clues and very little background of the 7 circles of hell to bank on. I think it goes without saying that between the two of us, we won. We solved all of the puzzles and, when given the choice to either save the entire human race or detonate a bomb in every major city in the world, we chose to detonate. Wonder why we chose that option?! Go visit Lockdown in Kota KInabalu. Needless to say, we were both on a bit of an ego trip after that. Our plan was to go back to the hostel and watch a movie and chill. But after half of the movie, we got bored and decided to walk around the neighborhood our hostel was in. Not even half a mile away lives the Q Bar. We heard music and saw synth lights and slowed our walking to a crawl to get a peak inside. A very nice man told us we should come in and see the show! It was a contest! For just a few dollars you could come and watch and get a free beer! It was a blast! You could hardly tell the women performing were shemales! …Shemales? IS THIS A DRAG SHOW? IS THIS A GAY BAR? I immediately agreed to spend every Malaysian Ringgit I had left to get into this tiny bar for the night. Plus we were hammered and “gay bar” are red-alert trigger words for me no matter where in the world I am. So in we went. We literally spent all of our money and sat at a tiny table in a smoke-filled room and watched the second half of a drag contest. And it was marvelous. We learned that since Malaysia is a Muslim country, probably all of the men in that bar were completely closeted, might even have a wife and children at home, and come to a place like this on Sunday nights to find solace in their true identity. It made us sad but also made us cheer that much louder for each beautiful queen that got up on that stage. Who knows who the real winner was because we screamed as loud as possible for all 7 of them equally. After the contest was over, the bar shifted back to its more normal Sunday night routine—maybe 12 men remained and the karaoke microphones were whipped out. The hostess gave us free beer. We owned all of the English songs and hummed along to all of the Malay songs. No one knows how to work a small crowd of gay, Malaysian men while singing Let It Go and Chandelier quite like Ciaran and I. I am confidently saying no one in that bar will forget that night any time soon. That’s the last memory of Malaysian Borneo that I am going to have and I am perfectly content with that.

Next, I have five days back in Taiwan. Be back soon to tell you about that! I hope everyone is doing great!

A Taiwan Summer

It baffles me that already my summer in Taiwan is coming to a close. I feel like I have only been here such a brief amount of time, and yet this week our last set of campers comes and goes. My goal this summer was to do different things than I did last summer and to not limit myself to spending all my weekends exclusively in Taipei. (For those of you who don’t know, I work in northern Taiwan, about an hour’s car ride outside of the capital.)

The first few weekends were mostly spent at night markets and Din Tai Fung. Night markets were a frequent past-time last summer for us as well—you can eat and drink and shop and socialize all in one place all while experiencing the hustle and bustle of Taiwan’s streets. Din Tai Fung is the country’s most popular restaurant; their specialty is the soup dumpling, and boy let me tell you, it really is special… 10/10 would recommend.

One of the coolest places I was able to visit in Taipei (and one of the only photo-ops I have shared so far) was Elephant Mountain. It was really easy to get to the neighborhood where you start the hike—it’s one of the central MRT stops in the city—and the hike starts right next to a really beautiful park that reminded me a lot of Buenos Aires (…I don’t really know why, but the whole neighborhood was giving me BA déjà vu). The start of the hike is walking through a beautiful temple, and then it is just a straight ascent up a million flights of stairs. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the summit, and it is worth every bead of sweat that rolls off your forehead or down your back, I promise. It is a stunning view of the Taipei skyline, a breath of fresh air in the city, and a great place to meet fellow travelers.

One of the weekends, I chose to work overtime and take care of 4 stayover campers. It was actually one of my favorite experiences this summer. We took the kids to a night market in Jinshan, a town relatively close to the one that I work outside of. It was interesting to see the contrast between the bustling night market atmosphere in the big city and the less-densely populated crowd in Jinshan. The kids played carnival games and we got ice cream. After the night market we went to a tiny little restaurant that ended up seriously being one of the best meals I have had in Asia??? The entire Sunday of that weekend was spent at Jin Yong Quan Spa Hotspring, also in Jinshan. It was SO COOL. You pay to get in and then can experience everything that the spa has to offer. We sat in several different aromatherapy baths (like banana, mango, lavender, rose, etc) and and the dead skin of our feet eaten by little tiny fish! It didn’t even feel like work, because the four kids we were taking care of were having just as much fun as we were.

The next weekend a group of us went to a gay bar in the Ximen neighborhood of Taipei. We sat at tables outside and had a blast. That weekend we also visited a part of Taipei near Taipei Main Station called the “Old Streets.” It was a group of five girls, and we all visited a temple whose god was the God of Matchmaking. So we prayed to him to find our perfect man (after describing in detail what that man would be like), burned incense sticks, and ate cookies in solidarity. I am currently anticipating my perfect specimen finding me in the Taiwanese jungle…

My last weekend in Taipei so far was elongated because of what was expected to be a super-typhoon. (Don’t you fret, it ended up being a whole lot less daunting than expected.) We spent the first night at our boss’s house right outside of camp. We went to Costco with her (my second time visiting that establishment while in this country), and stocked up on pizza and snacks and alcohol for the night. She drove us in to Taipei the next morning, and Sam and I got our hair done! I got mine trimmed pretty short and got a beach wave perm, Sam dyed hers back to its spirit color of auburn. We IMMEDIATELY went and watched Inside Out after that, because I had been waiting for SEVERAL weeks for it to come out in Taiwan. It was so worth the wait. I am in love with that movie. A good portion of the rest of that weekend is a blur, mostly spent inside our hostel surrounded by dumplings, assorted other snacks, and good company.  I did wander out with my good friend/coworker in the middle of the night just as the typhoon was hitting Taipei and walked around in torrential rain and blustering winds… It was quite fun. And it looked like I had showered in my pj’s once I got back to the hostel. Surveying the damage that the typhoon had done the next morning was quite interesting; nothing catastrophic had happened in the city, but there were some uprooted trees and fallen business signs.

The next time I am going to be in Taipei is the weekend that camp is over. I cannot believe that???? Summers here pass so quickly. But I am happy to be on to my next adventure. The day our contract ends, a friend and I are headed to Malaysian Borneo to celebrate my 21st birthday. I AM SO EXCITED. After that him and I come back to Taiwan for a few days, and then I am off to Madrid!! I will be working as an au pair for a family there and I could not be more excited. A lot of good karma in the air right now and I am so happy about it. I am so fortunate to be able to do the things I do.

I promise to send postcards before I leave this country, and in all of the places I am going to be after here. So if you want one, send me your address!! I hope everyone who is reading this is having a great week. I’ll be updating more frequently now, as I am visiting a lot more places in a short amount of time. Check back soon!

A Hong Kong Minute

Between Hawaii and Taiwan, we did a 2 day stopover in Hong Kong to visit friends who were also counselors at CT last summer. We flew Philippine Airlines (pretty nice airline overall!!), and had a 15 hour layover in Manila. We really wanted to go out and explore Manila, but it was an overnight layover with a really early takeoff the next morning, we were already exhausted, and the re-entry policy for the Manila airport was confusing and inconvenient. So we slept on cots in a strange lounge in a corner of the airport, with no money to our names and heavy eyes. It passed by quick enough, and the flight to Hong Kong was short and sweet.

Flying into Hong Kong and going through customs took no time at all and getting onto the high speed rail to the actual island was seamless and relatively cheap. The train took us most of the way and then we took a taxi to the hostel we had arbitrarily chosen via Air BNB. Our random choosing was lucky, because it was a tiny little hostel with private rooms and a really sweet old lady running the front desk. It was right in the middle of everything, too. We got to the hostel before lunch and our good friend Thomas came and met us early in the afternoon. He took us to the Star Ferry Pier at Tsim Sha Tsui. We just so happened to be there on the one day a year there is a dragon boat festival in the bay there, and we must have caught the tail end of it because we saw a few really interesting sail boats on the water that afternoon!! From there we met Polly and caught a bus to The Peak. The Peak is the highest-most point in Hong Kong, and from the top of the mountain you are able to see the entire skyline and the water. I’m a real sucker for sunsets, so being able to have such a view was quite the privilege. We made our way to dinner and headed back to the hostel for the night.

The next day we walked around a lot, though it was raining that hot, humid rain that I was SO looking forward to in Southeast Asia. We bounced around cafes, an outdoor market and got ice cream. The Hong Kong tourism circuit is known for their t-shirts that bear a close resemblance to the I ♥ NY shirts that are a must in the Big Apple. Hong Kong shirts obviously say “I ♥ HK”, and one can only guess why I would buy 5 of them to force the people I love to wear them… (If I had more room in my suitcase, I would have bought hundreds. I know you all love me.)

That night we went to Din Tai Fung—a Taiwanese dumpling restaurant that EVERYONE IN THE WORLD NEEDS TO TRY. We just couldn’t wait another 24 hours to get to Taiwan and have Din Tai Fung in the country it comes from. Halfway back to the hostel, I realized that our room key had fallen out of my back pocket. And then it started to rain. So we went on a quest for the key in the pouring rain and got soaking wet and a little lost BUT we found it. Score. It was sitting on the side of the road right outside of the restaurant. We were exhausted that night so we showered (watched Scandal) and went to bed.

We may have only spent 2 days in Hong Kong, but it is one of the best countries I have been to so far. Really accessible for non-Chinese speakers, a lot of stuff to do and see, and really good shopping if that’s what you’re into. And if you’re ever in that area, pick up and I ♥ HK shirt. You know you want to.

I love you, Taiwan

It’s been quite some time since I have written a post for this blog. I’m sorry! Part of that has to do with how busy I was, working at camp in Wanli and exploring the streets of Taipei. Another reason is that articulating my experiences here is nearly impossible. I’m really going to try, though.

When Sam and I first arrived in Taiwan 9 weeks ago, we were delusional and exhausted. We stepped off the plane and my glasses fogged up from the humidity. We were immediately sweaty, and have been since. We slept in a backpackers hotel and marveled at the communal showers. The next morning we convened with the rest of the camp’s summer staff in the MRT station and headed to camp. After a week of staff training, we dove in to the unknown (except for the returning counselors, without which we would have been lost and confused for much longer).The first two weeks were amazing, I talked a lot about them in my last blog post. But the deeper we got in to the summer, the more magical the experience became. We got better at the job, became closer to our team and learned how to navigate Taipei on the weekends with ease. We even experienced a (very mild and non-dangerous) typhoon. We were evacuated to a local elementary school and spent our time crafting and watching movies. And by the way! Most of my time this summer was spent leading arts and crafts! Hundreds of pirate ships, bracelets, Lego beanbags and Lego shaped soaps were made. Even the most unruly of campers transform into focused artists in the craft room!! I loved every minute of it.

There are a million things to do in Taipei. I had the chance to do a bunch! Some of it was typical tourist attraction type-of-stuff, but some of the best experiences we had occurred when we tagged along with locals to hang out in their favorite spots. We spent some time at a board-game bar called Diagon Alley, found an ice cream parlor where the cones are shaped like half a heart and you’re supposed to buy one with your partner to pledge eternal love (Sam and I obviously did), visited a handful of night markets, went on a huge neon Ferris wheel on Chinese Lovers’ Day, hung out at a bar called Tickle My Fantasy, and ate at Barbie and Lego themed cafés. I’ll shamelessly plug my Instagram and Twitter now, because pictures of all those experiences reside there… *cough* @harleemai *cough*

Beyond the things I have done and seen in the past 9 weeks, this summer has done something for me that transcends even the best night at karaoke. The people I have met and befriended for life, the interactions with children and adults alike who do not think in the same language as me, the small, tacit experiences that not even my journal can capture… These moments have made me a better version of myself. I have a better understanding of the world around me. More so than I have ever felt, I believe in the good in people. I know how to rely on modes of communication beyond words. And in less than 24 hours I will be on the other side of the communication line. Instead of helping my peers work on their English, I’ll be trying my hardest to immerse myself into the French and Wolof language cultures. All of my trips flow together perfectly in that way. I know what both sides of a communicative relationship feels like now. I will be patient, I will be appreciative, and I will be as hardworking as those who surrounded me this summer.

I leave Taiwan inspired and unafraid. I leave Taiwan knowing that someday I will see these people again, which makes my heart less heavy. I leave Taiwan to meet my mom in Paris for my birthday. La vie est belle.

Housekeeping:  I am pretty sure I will have more wifi access from now on! And I have a new address once again so if you’d like it, let me know. I am good at sending postcards and letters!

Talk soon! Love you guys.miss you already!!

Tokyo in 20

Airports are incredible. They emanate familiarity no matter where in the world you are. Every terminal has its place, every gate has its few precious outlets that you scramble to plug into before they are hoarded by someone else (which is where I am blogging from at this very moment, thank you), and also, airports are thresholds. For everyone. A point of departure. Airports are a culture in and of themselves—one which I find fascinating and completely enlightening. Observe my creepy photo:

The two on the left are old Japanese men, the two on the right young Russian men. Their seats were not facing each other when the train started moving. Neither parties knew each other before they boarded. And yet, they spent the 45 minutes we were on board exchanging headphones and sharing themselves openly and happily, chuckling about what was lost in translation (thank you, punny movie reference) and sharing simple stories in the language they all brokenly spoke.

This is the lesson I take from my 20 hour layover in Tokyo, Japan:  never be afraid to communicate. Those men on the shuttle, along with the incredibly helpful police officer and hotel concierges that help guide Sam and I through the bustling streets of a business sector in Tokyo last night, these people are guiding lights. Thank you for welcoming us during our short stay here! We’re on the way, Taipei!!!

Omnigenous in Oahu

Resfeber (n.)

Origin: Swedish

The restless race of the traveler’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together

blogcollage1

 

Greetings from Oahu, Hawaii! I have officially began my six-month escapade around the world. It is such a strange feeling to finally embark after months and months of planning, preparation and anticipation.

I’m in Hawaii with Sam (who will be guest-appearing on this blog within the next couple weeks), and we are so, so pumped to start this trip! One thing we have not been able to stop talking about is an idea that one of our inspirations, Dan Eldon, once said: the journey is the destination. Every step is critical. It’s not just about the end result, it’s about everything in between. Every stop-over, every person we meet, every fleeting emotion. It’s about never becoming desensitized to the beauty that’s all around us. It’s about always being ready to experience something life changing and never turning down an opportunity to get your feet wet. The journey is being constantly in love with where you are, who you are with and what you are doing. It is missing those you’ve left behind, but knowing that they’re always with you. It is finding home in every place you rest your head. It is constantly being out of your element. It is difficult. It is worth it. And it has begun.

P.S. If you’d like to contact me, try a Facebook message or download the texting/calling app called Viber.

For those of you who know who I am (95% of you), hi there. Thanks for stopping by! These next several months are going to be an adventure for all of us, so hold on tight.

For those of you who do not know me directly (or need a refresher), here are the basics:
Name: Harlee
Age: 19 and three quarters and retaining my youth brilliantly
Schooling: my home school is Humboldt State University, this fall I will be at Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (in Senegal)
Major: International Studies with a concentration in Global Cultural Studies

What in the world are you going to do with a degree like that, Har?: Great question. Literally, anything. Everything. It’s a very versatile and self-driven degree. I’ve had career goals in mind since before I started college, they are extremely hard to articulate. Something regarding social justice, education, or book publishing in developing countries. But how am I to know, really? I have seen so little of the world. I have no idea how I can contribute best. Not yet.  


 

Imagine sitting down with a box full of puzzle pieces, but the box has no image of what you’re supposed to be creating. You open the box and turn it upside down. All the pieces land in a pile that has no rhyme or reason to it. With no guide, the first logical step would be to find all of the corner and edge pieces—together these give dimension to the image you are creating. Even with extra definition, these pieces take time to fit together. And we haven’t even got to the meat of the puzzle yet—the pieces that need to be linked on all four sides! As the puzzle begins to take shape you start to realize that the image is something unfamiliar to you. Not a celebrity or a landscape. It is a barrage of colors—every tint and hue of every color on your spectrum is represented. At some point, the inevitable moment of panic that always accompanies a puzzle arises. It looks as though you only have a few pieces left to configure, but there is only one piece left in your hand. WHAT PIECES ARE YOU MISSING? WHERE HAVE THEY GONE? THERE IS NOTHING ON THE FLOOR AROUND YOU. SERIOUSLY, WHAT HAPPENED? After a brief moment of sheer panic, it’s time to focus. Maybe this is what the puzzle maker had in mind! Maybe this is a test of innovation. Sure, you can put together a puzzle of pieces that were given to you. But what do you do when that’s not enough? Close your eyes. Think about the journey this has been. How close you are to the end. What the very beginning of your journey felt like. Literally. THAT’S IT. You run to the kitchen to grab a pen and scissors. The blank box this puzzle came in is now an empty vessel just waiting to be utilized. Trace the missing pieces from the puzzle onto the cardboard, cut them out, and push them into place. An electrifying display of color has been revealed. This puzzle makes you feel complete. It forces your eyes to move around it constantly; it evokes sadness and happiness and confusion; it is unpredictable but has dimension; and though it is finished, will it ever be complete?


What component of that metaphor am I?  A corner piece? An edge? A middle piece? A Missing piece? An innovative piece? Am I the person solving the puzzle? I have no idea. This trip is going to help me start figuring it out. About a year ago I attended Invisible Children’s Fourth Estate Leadership Summit at UCLA. The mantra of the entire experience was delivered by Jason Russel when he said: “Your life is bigger than your best dream for it.” Now’s my time to start living my dream.

This blog is going to be a window into what I’ve got going on. I’ll be posting as many pictures as I can, as well as text updates like this one! Beyond that, this site is still open for interpretation. Stay with me. Thank you so much for all of the love and support I’ve received so far.

 Image