Tag Archives: international travel

Being Back is Weird

Everything looks familiar, but I feel like an alien. Like I’ve been turned inside out, so my lungs and nerves and liver and intestines are on the outside, and my skin on the inside is rendered a useless organ–sheltering nothing and sweating and goosebumping all over itself.

I sit in a cafe in the health food store in my hometown, that I have been frequenting with my mother since I was three years old. Before I could read, I used to walk around and smell the whole grains and fresh produce and no-sugar-added juices and spritzers. My favorite treats of all time with carob-covered rice cakes, because I didn’t even know chocolate existed. Then came honey sticks– little straw-like tubes full of flavored honey, and black and red “Panda” brand licorice. Later when I discovered chocolate, there were Tiger’s Milk Bars: a light chocolate coating over a nutritious, protein-filled peanut butter interior.

Now I sit at a booth, a recent addition to the cafe of 5 to 10 years ago, with a cup of coffee and a carob-covered rice cake. I used to have Proustian flashbacks of nostalgic childhood memories when I bit into these; today, it tastes slightly stale and waxy. The coffee is lukewarm.

Why does nothing measure up to my memory of it? The menu is in English, not Chinese, Japanese, Malay, or Vietnamese, but I don’t comprehend it. How is a small cup of soup $8.25 USD??

On the left side of the wall, even the First Aid for Choking sign has been re-vamped, refurbished. Now the people choking and saving one another are rendered in full color, and the instructions for how to save lives are more detailed. But it is illegible from more than 10 feet away, whereas the old CPR signs that were required in restaurants in the 1990s were full of huge line drawings of the intricacies of the Heimlich maneuver. I used to study them as a child, preparing myself for the inevitable moment when I would be called upon to save a life. As a 10-year-old. Of course this was perfectly logical to me back then.

Being back in America, from a year living in Asia, is weird. But being back in my small and beautiful but cloyingly intimate seaside resort hometown is unimaginably stifling. I had no idea it would be like this. I feel smothered by the 25 years of memories tucked into every crevice of this place, by the heartache and resentment and despair and fear and desperation I used to feel here as a teenager. My mantra from ages 13-18 was “Get Me Out of Here.” So to be back, with only sketchy plans to go to NYC, only flimsy job leads, little to no savings to speak of and no immediate employment prospects (in the middle of a recession) is TERRIFYING.

But then I think: it was all worth it for the amazing year I’ve just had. Continue reading

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I Left My Heart in Japan

Temple aglow at night at Asakusa

Can you imagine why?  Below, some views from along the winding and often surprising journey through this beautiful place…

This was my first gong spotted in a Japanese temple, but by no means my last. Temples abound! This one in Ueno Park in Tokyo.

Did I mention that there are lots of temples? This one in Kamakura overlooks the ocean.

Big Buddha.... (Kamakura)

.... little Buddhas! (Kamakura)

Kanji: Chinese characters imported into Japanese language, usually with different pronunciation and often with different character pairings or even some different strokes. Result: I can almost read.... sometimes. This is something something flavor room, I think....

Tokyo sunset...

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I Saw the Sign: Best Street Signs Spotted Recently in Asia


Oh you did, did you?

Throughout my travels, through Southeast Asia and in Singapore in particular, I kept seeing signs that made me laugh. I thought this was particularly ironic in a place where English is the official language, but you figure it has to be translated into so many other languages, maybe there’s less care taken.  OR, and I prefer this possibility, Singaporean signmakers have a fantastic sense of humor.

I think there are a few from Taiwan and Vietnam as well– at the Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, Eva and I had some, ahem, trouble, following their commands.

Have you seen any terrific (or terrifically bad) signs lately?  Please share! Continue reading

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Eating My Way Through Singapore

So before the New Year’s revelry and subsequent non-resolutions (see previous post), I went traveling for my American holiday of Christmas!  These travels took me to Singapore and Vietnam, which I will introduce through my photos, and primarily, through the totally amazing food that can be found in each.

YUM.

There are other cool things in Singapore besides food, but don’t ask a Singaporean resident! They’ll just shrug and say, “Eh, the food, the shopping, that’s about it.”  But don’t believe it!  Singapore is a city-state teeming with an incredibly rich array of diverse cultures, which mix and meld together in fascinating ways.  The food may one way into seeing the different cultural angles of Singapore, but it certainly doesn’t end there.

Check out neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little India (and its Muslim Middle-Eastern section with the beautiful Sultan Mosque and the amazing Café El Caire), Joo Chiat, and places like the Peranaken Museum, Hawker Centres for local street food (I went to the Newton Centre and one by City Hall but the Esplanade Centre looks like an amazing night spot), and Orchard Street– famous for its shopping– for a taste of the many different characteristics of such a small place.

And don’t forget to take a walk around the Marina Bay and Esplanade, for beautiful views of the city skyline.  I was amazed at the night view as well from the freeway at night!   I haven’t seen such a gorgeous– as well as varied and whimsical– skyline since Las Vegas. Say what you like about the nature of the Strip in LV, but the lights are amazing. Same with Singapore at night– it’s really quite breathtaking.

The funny thing is that I am critical of all photos of Singapore at night, because LITERALLY the best view of the skyline is as you drive through it on the highway, past the "flyer" (ferris wheel) and almost up to the Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino (the boat thing). This photo gets the wow factor I think! Photo by coolinsights, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons license.

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Catching The Travel Bug

Photo by camilo, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons License

Apropos international showers I have taken and beginning to feel at home in Taiwan, it’s time to go traveling!  Over the last week I have officially caught the travel bug.  And when I look back on experiences moving to new places, returning “home” to that place after a trip really made me feel like I belonged there.  It’s the difference between vacationing and living somewhere, and nothing draws that contrast better than returning.

When I was living in Paris for 4 months as a college exchange student, my first return was a lovely evening when my friend and I got off the train (from Amsterdam) at Gare du Nord.  I took the Métro back to Ternes, and watched the sunset from over the elevated section of the blue #2 line at Barbes Rouchechart, with a feeling of deep peace in my heart and mind.  Paris was my city, and I was coming back to it with a sense of ownership and tired relief.

So in the coming months, I have some exciting trips in the planning stages!  But where to go, what to see, eat, do? Continue reading

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An International Shower Review

If only all showers could look like this! Photo by Auswandern Malaysia, courtesy of Flickr creative commons license.

So I’m finally over culture shock, I think. At least the really soul-wrenching, “Why isn’t everything the same as it was back at home????” kind of thing.  And this seems like the perfect opportunity to reflect objectively and charitably on the plumbing situation here in Taiwan.  As in, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with my shower.

But while three or four weeks ago I was dreaming of my old Boston bathtub, now I think my Shower and I have come to a nice peaceful equilibrium.  And Taipei certainly has better showers than many other international locales.  In loosely chronological order, I give you Kim’s International Shower Review: a review of all of my showering experiences abroad. Continue reading

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