A year and a half and 14 countries later...
06.01.2013 - 06.01.2013
So I'm back in the United States having been away for about a year and a half. I must say it feels weird to be back. Having buffalo wings, good ribs, and Chick-fil-A though, isn't half bad and seeing my family again has been great. I must say, though, there are things that I miss about life abroad, and there are some readjustments which have jarred me a bit.
The thing I miss the most, surprisingly, is the foreign sense of humor, particularly of Australians and Brits. In the United States, things are taken a lot more seriously, where people take offense to statements instead of just throwing a sarcastic statement right back to you (as a Brit or an Aussie would). I feel like my sarcasm sometimes goes over people's heads these days. Every now and again, you just gotta take the piss out of your mates. At the very least, it makes for very fun banter (and less dramatic conversation).
The other thing that is a real adjustment to get used to is the staunch supporters of gun rights in the United States. I've gotten numb to all of the shootings in this country these days. There's just too many of them. Other countries like some of the ones I traveled to don't have these issues because they have stricter gun laws and better mental health policies. It's so frustrating to see my country, the "leader of the free world," mind you, struggle with these challenges while others sail through with better policies. This whole gun control debate is a discussion for a different time but having just been abroad and seeing how the rest of the world is looking at us is really kind of pathetic. They're impression is "What is wrong with your country? Get your shit together and stop killing each other with those automatic weapons." It's pretty embarrassing as an American, because in my opinion there is no excuse. Call me crazy, but I do not believe the Founding Fathers created the Second Amendment right to bear arms to this degree where it endangers the life of a child going to school. While we're on the subject, I'll tell you one other thing that surprised me when I came back. I was in the New York City subway and I noticed something was different from the subways I had just been on in other countries. I had just been on the London Underground the week before and I couldn't put my finger on it until a few minutes passed. Then it came to me: there were crazy people on the NYC subway. No. Seriously, that was the difference. Other countries such as England, have such better mental health care that there aren't people with extreme mental health problems left to the street or subway to fend for themselves, many of whom become homeless because of their illness. People with extreme cases of mental health illness are simply not in those public areas.
There have been adjustments to coming home, especially coming back to Virginia, but there have also been great stories to share. People always ask me about the things that I enjoyed most about my travels. Obviously getting to see new places, try new foods, make new friends--the cliche things that traveling is all about. Of all the countries I traveled to, I would absolutely say that New Zealand, India, Myanmar, Vietnam, and living in Sydney were extraordinary highlights from my trip. All of the places I visited were fantastic in their own way, but those were such unique experiences that will always jut out in my mind. I could not have started off the journey with a better experience than New Zealand and with the Kiwi Experience. I made some incredible friends initially there on the Kiwi Experience that affected my journey along with way, as I lived and hung out with many of them in Sydney and remain close with them today.
To me, India is such a country of contrasts. From the bright colors to the stark contrasts between poverty and luxury to the differences between each state culturally, linguistically, food-wise, etc, everything is a contrast. In a matter of 10 minutes, I went from passing a cow eating trash on the street to dining in one of the most luxurious palaces in the world. Rajasthan is an absolute highlight--that trip with Jardin was extraordinary. Rajasthan is such an easier transition to India as well, because the affordable luxury caters to a Western clientele, and the 5-star resorts are everywhere.
In Thailand, I got to experience a few things that were absolutely wicked. First, the food. Thai food is one of my favorites to begin with, so eating delicious pad thai or chicken with cashew nuts for literally US$1 per meal was no challenge. How many people can say they've cuddled with tigers as well? That was so unreal. And let's face it: the Full Moon Party is just something I will never be able to forget.
Vietnam took me by surprise with how much I liked it there. Granted I did have a great group of girls to see the country with, but reliving a "Kiwi"-like experience with the Halong Bay tour was awesome, even if I did slam my back into a rock wall midway through. The hill towns of North Vietnam will always be a highlight for me with how unique a world that was, from the rice paddies carved into the mountains to the pigs and water buffalo on sale at the market.
And Myanmar....Myanmar was every bit worth going to for Bagan, the "Angkor Wat" of Myanmar. Boy, did the fairytale-land of temples blow Angkor Wat out of the water! It was absolutely extraordinary to spend multiple days biking around those temples and watching the sun rise and set from atop a temple. Plus, I had great times with monks. It was really fun chatting with the monk who walked me to the top of Mandalay Hill and taking pictures with my baby monks at the temples.
I have to say, each place presents me with a different set of memories that I treasure. I loved living in Sydney and having a life with friends there for 7 months, from the wine-tasting to the nights out in King's Cross and at Darling Harbour to Taco Night with my housemates to eating Vegemite every morning for breakfast at work. I loved sharing my Americanness with my colleagues by cooking them Virginia barbecue or making them a flag cake for the Fourth of July or teaching them to use the expression, "Y'all." In turn, I loved the "How ya going, mate?"s and the challenge of using the terms "arvo," "brekky" and "going out for a paddle" in an everyday sentence. I loved being able to run to Tamarama and Bondi beaches and have everything be opposite like a Beach BBQ for New Year's or a Christmas dinner in July. It was an extraordinary time in my life for which I will always be grateful.
The place I didn't get to that I had originally intended to go to was Everest Base Camp in Nepal as well as parts of East Africa and South Africa. Those will be my next trips at some point. One thing I learned about myself this past year living in Sydney is that I need a big city. I thrive in big cities. Virginia no more! There's just not as much going on as in a large metropolitan area. Sydney was a great place to live (I think it's better to live in than visit by the way in case you were wondering). The only problem with it is that it's so far removed from the rest of the world, making Skype dates a real feat. I like Sydney a lot, but I just want to stay friends. On the other hand, I love New York, London and Paris, and would live in any of those 3 cities at the drop of a hat. Speaking of which, I need to get to applying for jobs, so that I can live in one of those cities and start the next adventure of my life. So this is me signing off. Thanks for tuning in! Until next time...