Memorable moments while traveling

1. One sometimes carries a lot of useless baggage when traveling. I have been fortunate to use everything I carry. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in the most inexpensive guest house I have ever stayed at in Asia, I met a woman from Ghana who was visiting for one or two weeks and she brought two ceramic dinner plates in her suitcase. I wondered when she might use them and how often. Why didn’t she bring plastic plates?

2. The worst overnight bus I traveled on was in Vietnam from Hanoi to Hue. The constant bumps and turns on the road made it feel like a terrible roller coaster for 12+ hours, multiplied with the odd lying down arrangement and the toilet with the broken light made it the worst public transit experience.

3. I have slept and showered in many undesirable places with large bugs, very cold water, water held in buckets and rubber trash bins, or no running water, but the worst, most vile experience was seeing an open condom wrapper on the floor in the common shower. The hostel, “friendly’s” in Manilla, just might have been too friendly.

4. My favorite sunset and sunrise were standing on top of a temple in Bagan, Myanmar. Exquisite to see the early dawn light with hot air balloons and 3000+ temples.

5. Riding an elephant in Thailand has been one of the coolest experiences in life.

6. The Himalayan mountains are true majestic mountains, not accessible by cars. To reach Mt. everest base camp, you walk yourself in and out for 14 days. I am so happy to have the opportunity to have witnessed it.

7. A cash only economy in Burma/Myanmar is still indescribable to me.

8. I never thought a massage class and a meditation course would be so challenging.

9. My favorite meal was eggplant salad in Inle Lake, Myanmar or shan sticky noodles in Yangon, Myanmar.

10. Being in the right time and the right place, random occurrence, seeing all employees in choreographed routines dancing in the supermarket in Puerta Princessa, Philippines was awesome.

All the 12 countries I have traveled to in the last 6 months have been amazing. I loved experiencing each culture and learning their history. One might argue HK and Macau are Chinese but I count it because it requires a stamp in your passport and waiting on a line through customs. (Nepal, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia). If I had more time, I would like to revisit Cambodia and spend another week traveling the countryside. I only will have enough time to see one-two islands in Indonesia and there are so many left to explore. I left a piece of my heart in Thailand and will return one day.

A few pictures from Malaysia and Myanmar

Pictures from my camera: me at National Mosque, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Subsidized housing in Singapore (colorful buildings).
Ellen and I at Teak Bridge, near Mandalay, Myanmar, ox taxi near Mandalay, me in Bagan, girl chasing dogs with stick in Bagan, fisherman in Inle Lake, Myanmar, children at play in Inle Lake, Myanmar, paddling in Inle Lake, Myanmar, pig in Inle Lake, Myanmar.

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Inle Lake, simply living

To travel responsibly one should support local people and limit contributions to the government regime. I am surprised at how outspoken locals are about their resentment to the government. What changed that allowed them to feel safe in expressing their anger and dissatisfaction with the regime publicly?

For example, when I arrived in Yangon, I asked a hotel manager what was the best way to get to Mandalay, by bus or train? He said adamantly not by train, only foreigners take the train. It is slow and all proceeds go to the government. The other day, I bought postcards and the sales person asked if I wanted stamps. I asked how much they cost and she said 500 kyet, which is about 50 cents. I said that was expensive and she said, the stamp price is governmental. She does not profit. I then said I will not buy any stamps.

In my short time here, I have done my best to support local people, spreading my tourist dollars around the country, traveling only by local means and trying my very best to not allocate monies to the government. Even with my best efforts, out of $400 spent, $100 went to the government, mostly by mandated entrance fees to main tourist sites. For example, at Inle lake, a person bordered the bus and said a mandatory $5 fee is required from all foreigners. The government allocates a majority of their funds to the military and people receive a minimal amount, even less goes toward health and education.

Most of the travelers I met were well traveled people, a surprising amount from the Netherlands and Germany. Many mainland Chinese were on tour groups. Sadly there were a significant amount of ignorant people visiting from every country.
The ignorant people either don’t care or don’t know, either of which I find unacceptable. These people are the ones taking trains and planes.

I spent the last two days at Inle Lake. As a New Yorker, I have a hard time imagining living in New Jersey, a state where you can’t walk to the grocery store and must drive everywhere. Imagine instead living in a lake, your house is made of wood, stands on stilts and you are literally surrounded by water. The only way to your friend’s house, school or anywhere outside of your home requires paddling in a canoe. There is no electricity unless you use a hand crank generator. The house does not have any insulation. In the morning, I could see my breath. Despite these conditions, people have cell phones and TV’s with satellites in their homes. I don’t even own a TV.

One day, I spent touring around the lake on a motorized canoe. The next day I went to the northern part of the lake, visiting a remote village and made an attempt paddling under supervision, Inle Lake style, using an oar standing and sitting. I am sure I was a great source of amusement to the locals. Hey, look at that girl, she can’t balance and looks like she is going to fall in. Fortunately I did not fall.

This afternoon I booked a flight leaving to Malaysia. Oddly, in this country, the Air Asia website only accepted mastercard and not visa, similarly to the ATM. Thankfully, I can now leave the country. I was slightly worried I would have to show up at the airport and hope to buy a same day ticket in cash. This is not the country to be that person, the one showing up without a ticket.

After an overnight bus, taxi to airport, flight, bus, train – I am in Malaysia.

Happy holidays from Myanmar

I actually have no idea who is reading my blog so if I have your mailing address, I hope to send the note below in the mail, along with a card from Myanmar. If I don’t have your mailing address, below is my holiday greeting. Enjoy.

Dear friends,

2012 has been an incredible year. I quit my job in May, looking for a better work-life balance and a new career. I wanted to take the summer off to rethink next steps so I signed up to bike the U.S for a charity, raising funds and awareness for MS. I sold all my furniture, packed up the rest into storage and off I went. I had very little training and those first few weeks were rough, filled with self doubt. Things turned around when I became more fit and enjoyed being outside on my bike. I loved each day and the challenge it brought. It wasn’t the mileage that was difficult but the heat, hills and lack of nutrition. I made it across the country on schedule without too many accidents (a dog bite in Kentucky, heat stroke in Missouri, several falls in Kansas, and one crash in California). I made it each day with your loving support. Thank you.

August 1st, we arrived in San Francisco and I was not ready to start working or living in the city. I spent some time in Yosemite National Park, taking a Wilderness First Responder course. Then traveled the Pacific Northwest looking for a new home. I liked Vancouver, Canada a lot, as I always have, however I couldn’t come up with a solid plan to obtain a working visa. I considered going to Paramedic school but I am not in love with the idea so I decided to continue to travel for the remainder of the year, hoping for an epiphany.

I thought about what trips I could not do if I were employed and the one that first came to my mind was trek to Mt. Everest, Base Camp. So I booked my ticket to Nepal and figured if I was so far away, might as well see all of South East Asia while I am there.

Nepal and the trek to base camp has been one of the most memorable experiences of my life. 14 days on the mountain, witnessing the greatness of the Himalayas is unlike any other experience.

In November, off to Hong Kong to visit my friend and meet her new baby. From there – Macau, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore. Each country is a unique with its own beauty and challenges. I have found the most options for vegetarian food in Myanmar and northern Thailand.

I intended to return to the States in January but all flights were booked so I am returning in March to San Francisco to be reunited with my storage unit.

In January, I signed up for a month long intensive Thai massage course. I will be certified by the end to practice, should I wish.

In February, likely a week in Indonesia then to Hong Kong to take an intensive Cantonese class or to New Zealand to work on a farm.

In April, I will be in Southern California climbing Mt. Whitney for a week, supporting a charity that brings urban youth to the outdoors. Then to New York for my brother’s wedding. I hope to see you on the West Coast or East Coast in April. If I cannot visit with you, at least my cell phone will be reactivated at that time and we can catch up.

I don’t know where life will take me but each day brings renewed joy. I am making decisions following my heart and intuition, doing everything I know is right. I am not waiting until retirement or writing that bucket list. I am doing everything in the moment without regret.

I have some working thoughts on 2013, and I think it might bring me to Patagonia, Chile. I intend to work, but still looking for that life sustaining, affirming work. This year, I rediscovered my twenty year old self, the one who was filled with idealism and desire to change the world. I think it is still possible.

Thank you for reading and supporting me. I continue to have the courage to seek new adventures because of your encouragement. I miss you all but I am confident our paths will cross again.

Sending my love to you and your family from Myanmar (Burma) this holiday season.

Liane

Back in time, the road to Bagan

Sometimes, I am a little surprised I get anywhere in the world. I usually tell someone – an agent or representative where I want to go and hope for the best.

When we arrived at the bus station, we looked for the name of our bus company and then the bus going to Bagan. This bus was so archaic, it really almost made me cry. To envision sitting on a crowded bus for 7 hours without air con, truly is a sad thought.

Oddly, for whatever reason this bus was nearly empty, a handful of locals and only us two, foreigners. The bus had the windows and the door open for several hours. See photo – right side driver, driving on the right side of the road with the door open.

Around hour 3, we had a flat and the bus driver and volunteers fixed it.

We drove into the night, stopping at our first rest stop which was a dirty restaurant on the side of the road. I saw a girl wash dishes in a muddy bin of grey water without soap. I saw a boy roll out dumplings near a wooden fire. There were some girls who were sealing a plastic wrapper of cake using the flame of a candlestick. Some others were eating their meal of rice and curry with their hands. To say I have gone back in time is an understatement. What happened to the nice cushy bus with the English speaking bus attendant? Oh, how I miss her. There are also no street lights on these roads, only the dim moon light shining the way.

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World’s longest teak footbridge

Every day I am grateful to have the freedom and independence to live my life the way I want to live it. I feel a warm glow and I am thankful. I have never lived in a military dictatorship state, or endured like the Burmese people. I have never worked a hard day’s work, as I saw the people in the fields do today. The local people I interacted with likely do not make more than $3 a day. How does one break the cycle of poverty?

Transportation today included: a taxi, a motorized wooden ferry, a paddle boat that I did not row, and a horse drawn cart to see historic sites around Mandalay. Seriously, a horse drawn cart – it was the only means of transportation around the island.

My favorites sites were the world’s longest teak wooden footbridge in Amarapura and the classroom in Bagaya Kyaung (wooden monastery). I looked at their books and one boy was learning composition while another basic Burmese vocabulary for words like chairs, tables, etc. (btw, guest house reservations can be made ahead of time if you speak Burmese).

Yesterday, a visit to the former royal palace and a giant hike up thousands of steps – barefoot to the top of Mandalay Hill for sunset (barefoot not by choice. Every historic site requires no shoes and no socks… Even if you are walking on stone and concrete.)

Pictures: my new travel companions (Holland and Germany), monks at sunset on top of Mandalay Hill, me resting after the 1 hour climb to the top of the hill, a sign at the Royal Palace, wooden teak bridge, famous monastery with historic Burmese architecture from 19th century.

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