You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
I’ve been hinting at some blog changes recently, and it is finally getting close to time to put them into place. With my move back Stateside for the next year or two (actual length of the DC stay should be determined by early November), the travel part of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk will be a bit quieter. There will still be occasional posts (hopefully one soon about my trip today to the new Smithsonian African-American History and Culture museum and definitely one next week about my first-ever trip to New York City), but it is hard to maintain a SE Asia travel itinerary out of Washington DC. (No Air Asia hub? How can I fly to Singapore for a $23?) So, while travel posts will still come as I am able to indulge, I don’t want this blog to wither away, meaning that much of its focus for the next bit is going to focus on my other love: books and literature. I already have regular book postings, and these will continue. I plan to see out my 2016 Book Challenge (although, I must admit it is getting more challenging as the calendar progresses) and will still repost my regular book review that I submit to The Caldwell Perspective once it is published by the paper each month.
Status quo then, you are thinking? So far, nothing here is new or exciting. (Well, other than then awesome new format!)
You see, here is the brain-struggle I’ve been having lately. I read. A lot. And I would like to include more of those book on In Search of the End of the Sidewalk, but the reality is that when I read two to three books a week, I am just not going to write one to two page reviews detailing each one. Laziness? Maybe. But more than that, I am always too excited to get on to the next book in my queue!
Solution: Card Catalog Reviews!
This idea came about after hours of brainstorming and then a few short minutes of inspiration with a fellow blogger and friend. It has taken a bit of time to pull together, as I needed some new low-tech equipment to make it happen, but soon you’ll be privy to several new book reviews each week!
Short. Sweet. To the point.
A card catalog card gives me space for about 125 words. It will be a flash review of what I’m reading and whether I say “run to the library now!” or “eh, maybe wait for the next review.”
I’m excited to get these new reviews up and running on the blog. My adorable new-to-me typewriter is settled on the table and ready to roll, my pile of library-grade cards stacked in a neat pile next to it and now it is time to forge ahead with a new chapter at In Search of the End of the Sidewalk. Look for the first Card Catalog Review to hit the site in the next few days. (They will commence just as soon as I finish with the visual updates on the blog. No need for an introduction there, as if you are reading this, you’ve seen the huge change from a vertical feed to a horizontal one. I’m loving the new “bookshelf” look, but I know it will take us all a bit of time to get used to navigating the new format. Stick with me. I promise you will soon love it as much as I do!)
Until then, thanks for coming along for the ride, and hopefully you will find a great book to read, or maybe one to avoid, but always continue searching sidewalks.
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Home leave is always an interesting time. Not to be scoffed at, it gives Foreign Service Officers who have been serving abroad twenty-five days of paid time off between tours, provided they spend the time in the United States.
Yes. Please. Thank you.
With that said, it is often referred to as “homeless leave” by those who have been in the service and experienced it a time or two (or seven or eight). Home leave is paid leave for the officer, but for a trailing spouse, it is just more time of unemployment and a month of a credit card on fire. We are lucky enough to stay with family (displacing a poor seven-year-old into her brother’s room for a month, one that just happened to span the first week of school), but even with a roof over our heads, purchases like a rental car for the entire time, many, many meals out each week and of course just the lure of American stores makes the numbers on my billing statement raise at a rate that feels commiserate with the national debt. (Have you seen that digital board that constantly rolls through the numbers? That is my credit card right now!)
Nearly five weeks in Idaho, (which included a day trip for me to the Shoshone Ice Caves- a kitschy roadside tourist attraction straight out of 1950s, a shiny new motorcycle license for Thad and lots of time with friends and family for both of us) weren’t the end of our time living out of suitcases through. From the Gem State, we flew to Washington DC (yet again, not a great experience with United, but I’ve chronicled those pains many times on this blog and have given up on public griping) where we took up residence in a hotel.
Hotel living seems like a glamorous proposition: a front desk that greets you by name, maids to make your bed each day, room service any time of the day or night, and a paper delivered to your doorstep each morning. These are all great perks that we’ve gotten over the last few weeks, and yet not enticing enough to make me want to stay longer. Because, although we have access to all of the above, I’d rather have the front desk concierge for the rather expensive apartment I am leasing do the daily greeting, I’ll make my own bed if it means I have a washer and dryer to do laundry on a regular basis, the room service food is terrible and I’ve eaten way too many meals sourced from the nearby CVS and let’s be honest, everything in that early morning Washington Post newspaper I read online the night before.
I am ready to give up my not-so-glamorous hotel living to move into my apartment. It might be small. It might be one bedroom. But it is mine.
I’m ready now.
Heck, I was ready yesterday.
But, there will be no grand move or end to suitcase living until our shipments arrive. While we have a cute apartment down in Chinatown, it is unfurnished and as much as I’d like to move in today and settle in, we are without a bed, without kitchen supplies of any kind and missing most of the essentials of daily living. (Although, in a brilliant end-of-tour-my-mind-is-mush decision, we did include our TV and PS4 in the air shipment, so that is here and will be delivered Friday. I have nothing to sleep on or cook with, but I can run over some innocent bystanders in Grand Theft Auto, I can score a touchdown or two in Madden NFL, and I can boogie and bop the afternoon away with Just Dance. Decisions were made. I must stand by them.)
Back to that poor seven-year-old I displaced for five weeks: I am feeling her pain. While we were home, both she and her little brother went back to school (second grade and kindergarten, respectively.) The transition was not easy. The school day itself went fine, but once they got home, it was as if all their crazy energy they corralled during the school day was released, a bit Exorcist-style. At the time I was amused by it (mostly because I was not their mom or dad, trying to find a way to channel the changes into positivity), but now I feel a bit more empathy for the disruption they felt in their little minds.
Change is tough on the brain.
We’ve been in Washington DC, hotel-living, for going on three weeks now and in all that time I’ve yet to come up with a regular schedule/rhythm. I find myself watching hours of cable TV (something I’ve not had the luxury of doing in years, but also something that has made me love commercial-less Netflix with a newfound passion). In the last few weeks I’ve read a mere three books (less than half of what I normally do), but I have said yes to 492 dresses, I’ve learned that being naked in the jungle makes one afraid, and that it takes about $50,000 in renovations to flip a house. All quality pieces of information. I’ve been to the hotel gym zero times and this is my first blog update in well over a month. (The first one is laziness and a ridiculous notion that I will wait for “my” gym at the new apartment and the second I partially blame on the fact that our hotel internet only works in the entryway to the room, so all web-related tasks have to be done sitting on the floor in what amounts to a small cubby, laptop plugged in around the corner and pillow under the butt for a bit of cushion. (My once-broken tailbone is hollering at me right now, as a matter of fact.)
That air shipment that is scheduled to arrive on Friday marks the beginning of the end to our summer of suitcases. It isn’t enough to get us fully situated in the new place, but enough to hopefully get my mind wrapped around the next year of DC-living and start to settle my boggled brain into routines that will soon be comfortable norms. (And hopefully get this floundering blog back on track!)
Pencils skirts and heels: those are my comfort zones. Give me a light cardigan, a chunky necklace and some brightly painted nails and I am right at home. My toes can be smashed into heels for hours at a time; I’ll jingle around the office in a pile of bangles with a cute pen or two clipped to my lanyard and I am ready to go.
Sports bras and tennis shoes: not my comfort zone. As I’ve discussed many, many a-time on this blog, Sporty Spice I am not. Occasionally I try and at times I overestimate my abilities/desires, and usually I end up with a tinge of regret for my choices during the actual event, but also thrilled to have seen the top of that mountain, to have swum with tropical fishes (and poisonous sea snakes) or to have that tiny “M” marking my driver’s license as both automobile and motorcycle classed.
It was in just such a situation that I found myself last weekend.
To be fair, the overestimating was not totally my own fault. I lay a good deal of blame on the park literature that *way* understated the day’s activity levels.
But, to be fair to the awesome park, even if the literature had been honest, I probably would have gone anyway. Peer pressure. I wasn’t backing out when everyone else was signing up.
Signing up for what, you may ask? Just a trek to Eden and back.
Who could say no to that?
The tiniest of summaries accompanied beautiful photos at Mulu Park’s headquarters, mentioning that hikers might have to climb over a few rocks and might get wet, but would be rewarded with tea or coffee at the end of the day. Seems like a deal to me!
I should have taken those “mights” a bit more seriously.
Our hike to Eden was a full-day adventure; one we felt comfortable embarking on after the previous day’s four-hour trek into Morlock-land with just some snazzy yellow hardhats and blinking headlamps.
The first part of the day was simple enough- just a couple kilometer hike on maintained boardwalks to the main bat exodus viewing area. Everyone was upbeat and excited for the day’s adventure, getting to know each other and chatting, stopping to look at a snoozing pit viper and to admire a giant walking stick insect, who didn’t enjoy our company as much as we did his. (Our guide picked the walking stick up to give us a closer view since we all had a hard time spotting him through his awesome camouflage, but the little critter instantly went in self-defense mode, regurgitating some kind of viscous, yellow liquid all over the guide’s hand. I was impressed that his seemingly tiny body could hold so much fluid! Gross and fascinating, all at the same time.)
Once we got to Deer Cave, we followed the normal boardwalk pathway used by visitors on the “show cave” tours, but soon I literally found where the sidewalk ends! We scrambled over the railing and went off-road, for the rest of the day. Once we’d left the trail behind, the next few hours were spent bouldering, up and over and through, anyway one could find to get to the other side. I must admit, the whole thing was a lot of fun, until my arms started to run out of strength. (See the last blog post about how my army crawl became an unsightly barrel roll in the previous day’s cave.) At one point, I got myself into a rather sticky situation, not able to go up or down, perched on a log and needing to somehow heft myself another four feet up. After trying numerous options and finding none that didn’t feel like imminent death, the massive Dutch man behind me just said, “Want a boost?” in his lovely European accent, to which I nodded and before I knew what was happening, he basically pushed my rear up and over my head, rolling me onto the top of the boulder, a move I was grateful for, but that left me covered in bat guano from head to toe. (Interesting side note: bat guano is not as disgusting as one would think. It has a distinct and heavy odor, but not a gag inducing one. It is dry and grainy, like a black sand, only covered in cave cockroaches and other spindly-legged creatures. These guys are grosser than the poo. On a poop scale, I would say bat guano comes in as as some of the least rank crap around, and thank goodness, since I spent most of the day enjoying a free exfoliate from Mother Nature.)
Exhausted, but proud to have survived the bouldering, I was buoyed to see a beautiful river. I thought we must have arrived at Eden, where we could rest, have lunch and enjoy the sunshine far from humanity.
Boy, was I wrong.
We were only halfway there.
The river was a turning point, in that we went from the “might have to climb a few rocks” to the “might get wet” part. The river, mostly ankle deep, did drop off as it exited the cave, hitting me at the top of my chest and making the shorter folks in our group full-on swim. We followed the river upstream (followed= waded) for about another kilometer, before veering off into the rain forest, where our guide promptly announced “This is where the leeches start.” Hmmm…I definitely do not remember anything about leeches in the literature.
Leeches were the least of my concerns. This third leg of the trek was the toughest for me, basically an uphill climb through dense rain forest, where the temperature and humidity were at levels that an Idaho-girl should never experience. My body was raised on dry heat, the kind that a bit of sweat cools. It does not know what to do with instant flush and dripping pores. At one point, bringing up the end of our line of trekkers (7 of us in total), I realized I was stumble/walking across a ridge between two parts of the mountain, with verdant and foliage-hidden drops just a few feet on either side. That’ll help you regain your focus quickly!
Just when I thought I could go no farther, the beginnings of heat exhaustion starting to manifest, I heard the waterfall that indicated Eden was just over the next ridge. I may have almost died (okay, a bit of hyperbole, but let’s be honest, I was in the middle of nowhere with walking out the only way back and running on energy reserves; it didn’t feel like hyperbole at the time) but the view from Eden was spectacular.
Its name was not hyperbole.
The gorgeous waterfall, huge boulders to rest on and sun shining through the trees were only part of the draw. My favorite thing about this spot was its remoteness. Although I know they take small groups of hikers there a couple of times a week, this place felt like we were the first ones to ever see it. Nothing man-made, nothing electronic, nothing that didn’t come in with us and go back out with us.
Pristine. Untouched. Unspoiled.
Worth the effort.
At times, I questioned my choice to sign up for this trek, but in the end, I would do it all again. I’d roll through the bat guano, hoist myself up rock ledges, ford a river, hike/stumble through a forest filled with biting critters, all for a view that so few get to witness. (Thad paid for the view with a more personal form of currency- his blood. He picked up not one, but two leeches along the way. One he was able to pull off before it got a good latch, but the second make a full meal out of his upper thigh. For the record, leech bites leave huge, target-shaped wounds, with an open sore in the middle, ringed by concentric layers of bruising. Not a pretty sight and probably not so fun to sit on! Also, itchy. Very itchy.)
As promised, our day ended with a mug of hot tea as we curled our filthy bodies onto benches to watch the bat exodus right before sunset. I can’t think of a better ending to a day where Mother Nature tested my mettle than with her gift of wonder, as three million bats went hunting, as if on cue.
As a child, Borneo held a place in my mind right alongside the mystical lands of fairy tales and mythology. It seemed just as likely that I would encounter the last unicorn or lose a glass slipper as I was to wander the lands of sultans and pit vipers.
You just never know where life is going to take you. I’ve yet to save a race of mythological creature or fit my foot comfortably into any shoe in Asia, but after last weekend’s adventures in Sarawak, I do feel like I have partially conquered Borneo.
Mulu Caves, located in basically the middle of nowhere Borneo, came highly recommended as a long weekend getaway. Famous (relatively, as many of my local colleagues were either unware of its existence or utterly uninterested) for the nightly bat exodus from Deer Cave, Mulu also has a variety of hikes and caves to be explored and not wanting to let our last month in Malaysia slip away without another weekend-quest, I bought plane tickets, reserved hotel rooms, packed clothes that I didn’t mind destroying and headed out to see what the magical land of Borneo had to offer this time around
Getting to Mulu is no easy task, in and of itself. When I say it is in the middle of nowhere, that is in no way an understatement. The fastest way is to fly, which means landing in Miri and then taking a thirty-minute flight on a prop plane over the mountains to the one-desk airport that is the transportation hub of Mulu. I’ve flown on countless flights over the years, some a bit bumpier than others, but rarely have I been on one that made my nerves wiggle like this one did. My only mental saving grace was the fact that the one flight attendant was strapped into his jump seat, looking bored, like a kid who has ridden the same roller coaster too many times. Unless I spotted a tinge of panic in his eyes, I figured I had nothing to worry about. And there was no tinge. Just boredom by an amazing view that had become commonplace for him. (And possibly the thought that the rest of his day included handing out boxed Milo to disembarking passengers and then the daily return flight back over those mountains to Miri.) If the flight, short as it is, doesn’t appeal, travelers can always opt for the river-route, but that is a painful seven hours, that while I am sure is stunningly beautiful, is not meant for foreigners, but rather a way of life for those transporting goods up and down the river. There are no roads, a fact that becomes quite obvious flying over the rainforest that is just a carpet of green broken only by the brown serpentine river making its lazy way through a land from another era.
Arriving in Mulu is another piece of the adventure pie, as the airport really does have a single desk. The one runway is just long enough for a small plane to touchdown and get the brakes on, make a U-turn and pull up in front of an open-air building. (On our way out of the area a few days later, a Hungarian guy we were sitting with decided to go ask when the flight would depart, as we were told it would be at least a half an hour late; it had not yet left Miri. He came back to our table with a smile, saying the desk attendant told him that when he heard the plane, it was here. That really was the way the airport worked. When you’ve only got two flights a day, it isn’t hard to keep track of them. They arrive when they do. Or, they don’t arrive at all and you go back to your hotel for another night. Nothing to get worked up about.)
Once we checked into our hotel (a very nice Marriott that is about as malapropos as possible in the rustic setting), we embarked on what would be a weekend of adventure.
A weekend of more adventure than I bargained for.
With midday upon us, we decided upon a four-hour afternoon “adventure caving” trek that would put us back at the main park in time to witness the famous bat exodus. (Who can pass up the chance to see three million bats leave a cave at the same time? Not I!) The write-up on our little outing said that we might get a bit dirty and since we would be off the trail in the cave, might have to crawl through a few tight spots. Getting a bit dirty sounded like a fun way to spend the afternoon, as an embassy job rarely offers the opportunity for more than a minor papercut and claustrophobia has never been an issue, so I readily agreed to whatever was in store.
In pouring rain, we set off on our cave expedition. It’s Malaysia; you can’t let a spot of rain stop you. The first leg was in a longboat, headed up river to where a path leads into the jungle and to the entrance to the cave. Soaking wet before we even reached the rainforest, but yellow hardhat adorned with a headlamp perched on my noggin, I was ready for the afternoon. For the first half an hour or so in the cave, I was skeptical about the hardhat that really just made us all look like giant minions. Yes, we were deep underground and there was rock everywhere, but anything that came crashing down was going to be instantly lethal. The hardhat seemed to be mere decoration. (There were no US-style waivers of rights and responsibilities signed. This was definitely an “each for herself” type operation.) Not long after my musings on death-by-boulder though, those hats started to earn their keep. We quickly left the main path and headed into utter darkness, the ceiling lowering with each step we took. At first, it was merely a matter of crouching below a stalactite or two (thank you Mrs. Ketterling for the awesome 8th grade earth science lessons that taught me the difference between stalactites and stalagmites -no need to fact check that one!), but the crouching soon became huddling, which became crawling and then before I knew it, the “might have to crawl a bit” disclaimer on the adventure outing information went out the window and I was doing an army crawl, shoving my trusty Jansport backpack in front of me, foot by foot. At one point, pretty exhausted (my upper body strength leaves much to be desired and I may be contemplating a 2017 New Year’s resolution to successfully complete a single pullup), I called out to Thad who was maybe ten meters behind me, saying that I was leaving the backpack. He could pick it up as he came by or it would be forever lost to the gods of Borneo, but it wasn’t going with me for another foot. (This was about the same time that I began to think the army crawling was never going to end and with quivering arms, gave up all attempts at grace and just went with a barrel roll for several rotations. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job!)
Eventually we reached a cavern that opened up to normal human height again (some of the shorter folks in our grouped skittered through Hobbit holes that left the taller of us questioning the height advantages we garnered throughout our lives.) The cave floor was made of solid rock covered in a light layer of dusty clay, which when mixed with our rain and sweat drenched bodies, became a lovely paste, head to toe. Never was I so grateful for my cheap shopping habits that had me outfitted in $15 Target yoga pants rather than their $40 (but beautiful!) Lululemon counterparts.
While we were inside the cave, the rain had let up and the sun came out, making our reemergence from Morlock-land quite spectacular. The hike back to the river was an easy one, with no crouching, crawling or rolling required, just a couple of kilometers of verdant green vegetation, a stop to look at a pit viper and a huge walking stick insect and a comfort from the rhythmic banging of my hardhat against my thigh. (Needless to say, that goofy yellow hardhat saved me several stalactite-induced concussions after all.)
Covered in sweat and dirt, I felt pretty proud of my adventure caving prowess as I headed back to the hotel that evening looking forward to a hot shower and a hearty meal. If only, if only, I knew what was headed my way day two of Mulu adventuring, when we signed up for the eight-hour trek to Eden and back. (After the “a bit muddy and a bit of crawling” disclaimer, I should have known that “a bit of bouldering and a bit wet” meant more than it said. But, that is an adventure for another blog. Stay tuned…)
Foreign Service moves are a way of life and there are certain aspects that go get easier each time. Our very first pack out, the one that took us from Idaho to Washington DC was basically a blind-leading-the-blind situation. We had no idea what we were doing and the acronyms were coming fast and furious. (Much like the movie franchise, they seem endless.) UAB? HHE? PCS? I had no idea what any of it meant, but luckily I had a handy-dandy million and a half page “help manual” sent by State to read through time and time again. By the time the movers came (who also knew nothing about State Department regulations when it comes to moving, as Idaho has a very small representation in the Foreign Service) I had highlighted and dog-eared so many sections of that tome that I felt like I was back to square one. (Somehow we ended up with most of the things we wanted in Chengdu and Kuala Lumpur, but I must admit to some low-level terror coursing through my veins and I contemplate what exactly I put in those boxes that went to permanent storage. Did I really keep my lawn rakes and shovels? What exactly will I do with those in downtown Washington DC? How many sweaters/shoes/shorts did I put into storage that I am 100% sure I have no intention of ever wearing again? Why didn’t I just send them directly to the DI from our place in Nampa? Do I have seventy mugs in storage? Fifty dishtowels? And let’s not even contemplate the number of boxes of books that will be headed my way soon…)
With a few moves under our belt, I’ve gotten pretty good at sorting both the acronyms and the UAB from the HHE. I know what is going to go in my 450 pounds of air shipment (more like 400 pounds of stuff and then 50 of crazy packing material!), leaving just a few larger items to go by ship. The physical packing up and moving part has become doable (although not totally stress-free), but the packing up of friendships and saying goodbye to a place is always a bit tougher.
Two years goes by in the blink of an eye. Maybe a really slow blink, like when you are sitting in your 8AM freshman year physical science 101 course, trying desperately to keep your eyes open while the professor lectures about Occam’s Razor, but a blink nonetheless. Over the last 100+ weeks, we’ve put a lot of miles on our baggage and added some pretty, shiny new stamps in our passports. We’ve been to New Zealand, Australia (twice), Thailand (too many to count…maybe five in the last two years??), Vietnam, Singapore (again, a ridiculous number), and all over both peninsular and island Malaysia. And yet, I still feel a bit of anxiety about where we haven’t been. Next weekend we’re heading to Mulu (Malaysia) to do some caving and hopefully see a spectacular bat exodus and then weekend following we are headed to Langkawi for one last resort-y type stay before heading back to the States for at least the next year.
It’s always amazing how when we touch down somewhere new, the calendar seems wide-open and sidewalks are endless, but soon that calendar is filled with dates and outings and sidewalks get shorter and shorter. We have zero full weekends left in Kuala Lumpur. With just three weeks left (we head to the airport three weeks from today), I am not entirely sure how we are going to fit in all of our goodbyes, but in the end, it always seems to work out fine.
Our last three weeks in Kuala Lumpur are going to fly by (the fact that two of them will be short work weeks will make that time go even faster- by my count, I have nine days left in the office) and then our five weeks in Idaho will push right into the middle of August when we both start new jobs in Washington DC. (Thad will be on the INR Watch and I will be working in FLO- both at Main State.) Apartment hunting will commence and before we know it, bidding season will be upon us (so much to think about- a new travel radius!) and then another move will pencil itself onto the calendar.
A rolling stone may gather no moss, but it does gather friends and experiences and memories that go with it wherever it heads. We’ve been lucky to have an abundance of all of these in Malaysia and while our stone is nowhere near coming to a halt, we’re thankful for our time here and are excited to see what lies ahead!
(Photo overload alert: the slideshow is 100+ photos of friends/adventures from the last two years.)
I’m not sure when the plucky little insect had its first nibble of my pasty flesh, but as long as I can remember, travel has been a part of who I am. As the kid of two public school teachers, my travel wasn’t as far-flung as it is now, but even without a passport, it seems like we were always on the go when we had a chance; the travel bug claimed another sweet victim. Summers were spent loaded up in a camper, touring the Northwest with a booth at many of the big arts and crafts shows that were abundant in the 1980s, my parents selling beautifully handcrafted woodwork under their Shadowtree label. (Totally not legal or considered “good parenting today,” but I have to say that we had some good times riding in that camper shell and we are definitely no worse the wear for those hours. We played games, read novels, colored in coloring books, completed workbook pages from the ones we carefully picked out from the teacher stores the weekend before…oh yes, and spent a decent chunk of the time writing notes on paper, bashing our fists against the window to gain parental-attention and tattling on each other via notebook paper and crayons. I seem to remember there being written complains about bathroom needs and hunger pains as well.)
As we got older and the summers of woodworking sales gave way to volleyball camps and piano lessons and G/T summer school classes, the suitcases gathered no dust. Road trips to the Redwoods, wanderings through Yellowstone National Park, spying bison and the first kind of hotpot I knew (China would introduce me to a whole new world of wonder with the same name) and a family trip to the nation’s capital marked our spring breaks.
Shiny new blue passport in hand and bags packed, next came studying abroad in the Dominican Republic, a trip to Haiti, semana santa in Puerto Rico and a scuttled (and often lamented still today) trip to Cuba.
A decade later Peace Corps would scratch the itch left behind by the travel bug, in no way lessening it. Rather, that little bug bite became a life-long infection that has seen us returning to Chengdu with the Foreign Service, spending a couple of years in Kuala Lumpur and now eagerly awaiting this summer’s bidding season when we will see where our next pushpin will land on the map.
All of this to say, for me the love of travel started young and I am excited to see it continuing in my niblings. Last weekend, one of my nieces had the chance to go to Portland with her family for a short road trip. They just spent a few days in the awesome Oregon town, but I think she still managed to hit most of the main tourist attractions. Upon her return to Idaho, as an avid reader of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk (okay, I am not sure she ever reads it, but I do think she checks out the pictures sometimes) she decided to sit down and do a bit of travel writing herself, putting together a blog post of her own.
So, without further ado dear readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Miss Keira, a budding traveler (we’ll have to get that passport in the works ASAP) and burgeoning writer.
Party in Portland
To begin, this is what my family did this weekend. First, we drove to our hotel. It was a six-hour drive. Can you believe that? On our way, we saw a huge waterfall. At the hotel, my brother Keegan and I had to share a bed but that was OK. He ended up sleeping on the floor one night anyway.
The next morning, we woke up and got dressed. Did I mention that my mom was in a parade? The parade was awesome! My favorite float was a jaguar made out of all different kinds of flowers. All around his float were dancers who had wooden bells on their boots.
After the parade, we went to Voodoo Donuts. Those donuts were amazing! I got a VooDoo doll donut. It was shaped like a doll and had raspberry filling that was supposed to look like blood. There was even a pretzel stick stabbed in the heart.
Also, I got to go to Powell’s. Powell’s is a huge bookstore that was one city block. There were different rooms for different kinds of books. My favorite was the pink room with all of the kids’ books. I got a book called The Lunch Witch and I read it in one and a half days. The girl in the book turned into a frog.
Finally, it was the day that we went home. Portland was awesome but we had to go home. We packed up our things and left the hotel but before we went home, we got to go to OMSI. This is a museum about science. We went with my mom’s friend Heather and her son Logan. We got to see a 3-D printer and there was a tsunami machine where I got to build a house that would not get run over by the waves on the shoreline. We got to levitate foam balls on air pressure machines in a big room full of balls tubes.
All in all, Portland was amazing. I like to travel and go on vacations because I get to see new things. Someday, I would like to go visit Wisconsin because I hear that they have cheese.
Apparently, late May is a big time for anniversaries in my life, although until about two weeks ago, I hadn’t realized it. (I meant to write this blog last weekend so that it was much more timely, but after finally getting back on the blogging wagon, I had several even older posts that needed written, and am just now getting almost caught up. Well, unless you count that one about our awesome trip to Perth in February that I still haven’t managed to get put together. Chinese New Year, quokkas, nearly dying on an island bike ride. How has it not found a spot on the blog yet? Eeek!)
While May doesn’t contain a wedding anniversary or birthday (for me, at least, although I am guessing there are *many* wedding anniversaries that do fall in the spring-to-summer month), it does have several other significant dates that have recently popped up in my Facebook feed, reminding me that it seems to be a month of transition for our family of two. (What would I do without Facebook reminders? Those memory photos that it puts up? Sometimes I am not even sure where they come from. There is a great possibility that Facebook has hacked my life, now having a far more comprehensive idea of who I am than I do some days. Also, thank you to Facebook for reminding me to wish a happy birthday to people who are absolutely certain that the only reason I know it is their birthday is because my electronics reminded me. Sincerity might take a bit of a hit there.)
But back to anniversaries.
Twenty years ago, in late May, I graduated from high school. It I hard to think about where the last two decades have gone, but pretty easy to look in my passport and see where I have gone over those ensuing years. When I walked across that stage twenty years ago in my hideous yellow graduation gown I knew I was headed to college a few short months. I knew I would be rooming with my best friend and I was certain I was going to major in Spanish and I knew I wanted to study abroad while in college. Even at that early point, I knew I wanted to “go,” but little did I know just how much “going” there would be! (Yes, I know we voted to go boys in blue/girls in yellow because the contrast of the school colors would look nice, but why didn’t we push for blue, ladies? Did the boys really care if they looked washed-out and half dead in all of their graduation photos? Probably not! Keep this in mind future graduates of CHS. Two colors do look awesome marching down the aisle, but think long and hard about who must don the “gold.” Kelsey, I’m looking at you!)
While things didn’t quite turn out the way I just “knew” they would, life’s twists and turns did lead to two other, more recent anniversaries that come up in the same final week of May.
Five years ago it was that exact week that we finished packing up or selling everything we owned as we got ready for a career change for Thad, an unknown professional future for me and a new home/adventure for us both. With bigger items like the cars and lawn mower sold, the house rented out and everything but two suitcases each packed into a storage unit in Hagerstown, Maryland, to the nation’s capital we went. A new apartment, new friends and more new acronyms that I ever thought possible awaited us on the other side of the country. (I’m an EFM in the FS who worked as CLO and then PCSed to KL, another EAP post, with my ELO husband who is headed to INR for his next job. That’s barely the tip of the foreign service acronym iceberg. Madness reigns.)
Initial training, an assignment to Chengdu and months of language training later, it was again that final week of May that saw us making another huge change- our move to western China to take up a first posting with the Foreign Service. We’d spent a decent amount of time in Chengdu when we were Peace Corps volunteers (that’s another anniversary, coming up the end of June- 10 years since we left on that epic outing), so it was less overwhelming than many first tours, but the excitement to finally be on our way was palpable.
It’s crazy to think that Caldwell High School’s class of 1996 will be reunion-ing it up this summer, but even more so to ponder how different life has turned out from what my seventeen-year-old self had imagined. Somewhere in my boxes and boxes of stuff (probably storage boxes) I’ve got a senior year yearbook filled with notes of excitement and relief that high school was coming to an end, but little did I know just how far my wanderings would take me. Just a year after that, I’d have my first passport, headed to the Dominican Republic and Haiti (Cuba got nixed at the last minute), opening doors to the promise of adventures far beyond the edges of Idaho.
So, happy anniversary 17 year old self, 33 year old self and 34 year old self. Blow out the candles and keep skipping down the sidewalk, looking for endings and new beginnings.
Two weeks ago, I had to go to Singapore for some meetings. It turned out to be four meetings over the course of two days, which left me a bit of time here and there to do my thing. With morning and afternoon meetings each day, I was left with weird slots of my day to fill. Time was not sufficient for midday trips to my favorite merlion or to visit the Gardens by the Bay and with a big move headed my way next month, shopping on Orchard Street sounded like a bad idea. (Both in terms of space taken up and credit card balance!)
So, what does a girl do with herself and a bit of free time in the middle of a work day? It’s a pretty easy equation (at least in my world):
Coffee shop + Book = Hours whiled away
Over the course of two days, I found myself at four different cafes, enjoying a wide range of beverages (everything from hot chocolate in the morning to Snapple after lunch). I curled up in a huge over-stuffed love seat, relaxed in a wicker basket-like seat and wiggled until I found a comfortable spot on a metal chair with great people-watching. Knowing that I would probably have these odd bits of downtime between meetings, I planned ahead and brought along an Orson Scott Card book that weighed in at nearly 600 pages, enough to keep me entertained for a few hours. (Sadly, I finished that book as soon as I got to the airport and had to make due with a People magazine until I made it back home to Kuala Lumpur. At least now I am updated on the ever-so-current Kardashian drama, what’s happening on The Bachelor, a show I’ve never seen, and what Princess Kate wore on her last visit with the commoners.)
Overall, I can’t complain about my two-day mini-vacation. (Half a vacation? Between meetings, it really was relaxing and a nice getaway!) Looking towards Washington DC in the fall, I am going to miss year-round open air restaurants and patios. Informal apartment hunting is underway and I am thinking I am going to have to add a walkable coffee shop to the list of “must haves.” Maybe a bit of cold weather will add just a bit of cozy to that hot chocolate and new release on a Saturday morning.
This poor blog has been sorely neglected over the last handful of weeks. As I look back, I don’t have a great excuse, other than a bit of laziness, but I think I am going to blame it on my recent laptop conversion. Late last year, my trusty pink Vaio laptop began to fail. I would be working away on a project and suddenly I would hear a small popping sound and then everything would go black. Nothing. No power. No charge. Everything not saved, gone. (This was right as I was working on my graduate thesis, so I quickly became an obsessive saver, as little is more painful than having pages upon pages of ideas disappear. Yes, they were still rattling around in my head, but sometimes it is nearly impossible to recreate that perfect sentence that you cobble together, reconstruct and then rework one more time.)
With my faithful laptop looking at an imminent demise, back in late February I finally broke down and bought a new one. I was really hoping to make the current machine last until summer when I would be home in the US to do some in-person shopping, but once it started to blink out three or four times a day, I knew the end was near. A DNR had been issued.
Not wanting to buy local, but also not wanting to buy online without seeing the product, it was time to do a little KL recon. (I am a stickler for a good keyboard. I want something with a bit of a click to it. I adore the sound of typing and want just the right background noise as I write away for this blog and other projects.) Looking at computers in Kuala Lumpur means a trip to Low Yat, possibly my least favorite shopping area in town. It very much reminds me of the computer city buildings in Chengdu- large edifices crammed full of legitimate brand name stores, flanked by less than reputable kiosks and shops selling anything with a battery or electrical connection. The whole place makes me both claustrophobic (something I am not) and uneasy. Am I going to get ripped off? Pickpocketed? Shived? All seem like possibilities.
One quiet Sunday afternoon, Thad and I made the trip to Low Yat where the main test of the day was keyboard clickiness. Once I determined that Hewlett-Packard machines, as whole, had the best sound, it was time to go home and narrow down my options. In the stores (“stores”?) I did see a few other brands of a 360-degree style that I really liked and the internet quickly told me that HP not only has this style, but it was highly ranked among its peers. I love the laptop/tablet combo idea.
Horrified by the price of laptops in general (I really thought they had gone down more than they had over the last five years), I finally settled on the HP Spectre, realized it was pretty much a set price at all stores, so made my purchase. Knowing that it had to be shipped to Kuala Lumpur through the diplomatic pouch, the fact that the Spectre had a built in battery was a huge selling point, as that fits within the regulations of pouch mail. Before buying, I even checked with the embassy mail room staff, who assured me that shipping with an installed lithium battery should be no problem.
Apparently, it was a problem.
As I excitedly watched the shipping progress from Best Buy to the pouch facility, I was horrified one morning to see that the box had been rejected by the pouch and returned to the warehouse. Best Buy refunded my credit card, but what I really wanted was my new computer. Ol’ Trusty was on life support and the prognosis wasn’t good.
Back to the internet I went, reordering the exact same item, but this time shipping it to my brother in Idaho, who then had to rebox it and ship it again (there’s an extra $30) with a customs label indicating that the battery had been removed. Ugh. (The second round of shipping did mean that when it finally came, treats from home and drawings from the niece and nephew were bonus gifts.) Two weeks estimated shipping time on the original purchase ended up being over six weeks, with the new laptop arriving just days after I left KL for a three-week stint at Consulate Ho Chi Minh City.
Now, I’m in the painful process of converting from the dying, cracked, pink laptop to the shiny, new, black and bronze beauty. But, the changeover is fraught. All of my life is on that other machine. It knows my links. It knows my passwords. It has Word. It has everything.
Plus, I feel a strange loyalty to it. (I tend to be loyal to a fault. I remember as a kid feeling guilty when I switched from regularly listening to my parents’ favorite oldies radio station to the current pop station. Strange loyalties, I tell you.)
Last night, I finally downloaded Word onto this new machine, so the replacement process is nearly complete. I am not sure what will become of the old machine as we face packing out in just a few short weeks, but I’m hoping by July to be fully dependent on this fancy new table/laptop, as it is much small and much lighter, a huge benefit as a summer of travel is headed our way. It is time to say goodbye to my old pal, my trusty buddy who has traveled all over Asia and back to American multiple times. It served me well, adding years of postings to my blog, sticking out a graduate degree in literature and giving me hours of wasted time on internet pic-dump sites.
The transition means it is time to get back to regular blogging; no more excuses. Blogs and Wordless Wednesdays are headed your way. Be prepared.
As my three weeks of TDY (temporary duty, meaning I am still working for State, but at a different post/different country) come to a close in Ho Chi Minh City, I’ve discovered something about myself as a solo-traveler. Yes, I want to see all of the main sights and yes, I will pay to go to the top of a tall building to look out over the city. Yes, I will wander around the museum and try to make sense of awkwardly worded plaques and yes, I will get a little lost in my wanderings as long as I have a card for the hotel to hop in a cab in case I get really lost. I enjoy all of these things and have spent several afternoons and weekends doing all of it in and around HCMC, but one of my favorite pastimes here, on my own, has been finding a great spot to pull out my book and waste away an hour or two reading/people watching. (Is it really wasting? ? Probably not.)
When Thad and I travel together, we are on the move constantly, exploring new places and enjoying the trip together. With your favorite travel-buddy along, there is always something to chat about- whether it is what you saw earlier in the day or what is in the plans for tomorrow’s seeing. Solo though, those conversations all stay in my head (well, mostly- I have been known to talk to myself occasionally, but it is usually while I am on the move, sorting out directions or plans). Instead, I used my downtime from touring to relax in the shade with a book and a cool drink, sometimes on a park bench and others at a café. (On the same theme, I also sent out spades of postcards as I enjoyed my strawberry smoothies, and sunshine, so for those in the loop, be on the lookout in about a month! I’m guessing that with the local post, that timeline isn’t too much of stretch.)
It was not a bad way to spend a few weeks.
Of course, I still prefer to travel as a couple. We’ve got almost eighteen years of co-traveling under our belts, so we’re pretty good at the divide and conquer aspects of adventure, but when that isn’t in the cards, I apparently do quite well just me, a book and a view.