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Getting lost in Yangon

Despite the common belief that Burma had little to no internet connection, we were able to find guest houses that supplied us with our regular doses of Facebook and email. However, I decided to keep a notebook that I regularly updated as I was experiencing the country. Despite having been in Burma at the beginning of April, most of my Burmese blogs will be written in present tense, copied directly from my notebook.

Just a few years ago Myanmar wasn’t even on my radar of places I dreamed of going to. I had heard of its beauty, but after all the protests and unrest it just never seemed like a place I’d even be able to go to. But here I am, sitting in Bogyoke park resting my aching legs and trying to dry out my sweat soaked clothing. To my left is Kandawgi  lake, to my right are some young lovebirds hiding from the sun and kissing behind umbrellas. Strangely enough, Michael Jackson is blasting from the garden centre we just walked through.

Despite it only being 2 in the afternoon, I feel like we’ve done enough in a day to give us a really good feel about what Myanmar is really about.
On the way to the Aung Sun museum, a woman in the street stopped us and gave us each a beautiful lotus flower for donating at Shwedegon Pagoda. “No money, gift for you,” she said asking only for chocolate (In this heat? Are you kidding me??!!) or pens. Pens we could part with and gladly handed them over.

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Love note to my passport

Because of complications with obtaining a work visa (I couldn’t) I was forced to do Visa runs if I wanted to stay in the country and work for my school. Along the way, I completely filled my 25-page passport and was worried about having the space to get home. So literally as soon as I rang in 2013, I headed to the Canadian Embassy to get a new passport.

Despite having the forms printed off the internet, and filling everything out thoroughly, plus extra, I was asked to fill out a new form. I handed in the new form, my two pictures, and my fee and that was it. “The new one will be sent to you.”

Seriously easy. Despite worry that I didn’t have a guarantor that could sign my photo or the documents, despite fear that I would have to spend the entire day running around Bangkok finding a lawyer to act as a guarantor for me, sign everything and follow-up with my four references and previous addresses of the past 5 years, it was the most simple process. To be honest, I think it was easier even than in Toronto.

I am excited to have 48 brand new pages to start stamping and plastering with visas. My passport hasn’t seen me through a million countries; it hasn’t been all around the world with me. But it does clearly define the last 5 years of my travel life: Amsterdam, South Africa, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and of course those random stamps through American customs despite not ever leaving the airport. WHY do they do that?

Looking through a passport is always one of those things that you reserve to do while you’re waiting in line at the border, when you’re terrified that you’ve overstayed, when you’re trying to plan the next few months of your life and wonder how in hell a visa run is going to fit into it, or simply when you’re feeling nostalgic. I love the pages in my passport. I love looking at all the stamps and all the visas and remembering the exact moments that I crossed the border and with who. I’m glad that they returned my passport in pristine condition so that I can continue to be nostalgic.

Maybe if I’m feeling crafty, I’ll make sure to save my passport in a scrapbook of the past year so that I can accurately remember dates when I look back.

I do have a favourite page, simply because I love the variety of stamps that share these two pages.

South Africa, Amsterdam, Laos, Thailand and America all on two pages..

South Africa, Amsterdam, Laos, Thailand and America all on two pages..

Do you have a favourite page in your passport? Do you sit and look back through it in the same way that I do?

The last hoorah

I’m back in Lopburi. Although in approximately 24 hours, I start my journey home in a bus that will take me and my accumulated mementos to the airport.

I thought that I would have time to write and relax and catch up on everything that I haven’t been keeping up with while I was travelling. I have not. Instead, I’ve been catching up on the gossip, drinking until the sun comes up and sleeping until I have to peel my melting skin off the blankets. Then repeat.

Instead of writing about the monks in Yangon, the feet steering fisherman in Inle Lake, the art and architecture in Penang, or love notes to this crazy little town I’m leaving, I’ve been lazy.

Being in this unemployed transition is quite depressing, and I’ve had no shortage of craving to stay. Most people that are here at the moment are no longer in this transition. They’ve moved into houses, moved into new jobs, started their regular routine again. It’s making me wish that I had decided to stay on for another term, another year, for life.

While I do have to be home for some of the best moments of my best friends’ lives, things that I wouldn’t miss for the world, I really only have a 6 month obligation to Toronto. I love my city, and it will be where I eventually settle down. But, unless I find the job of my dreams, meet the man of my dreams or am simply too happy to get the itchy travellers foot (how likely is that, really?) Than it’s quite likely that I could pack my bags and leave again once those 6 months are up. Now that I know just how easy it is, and just how happy it can make me, I’m ready to take on the world.

We’ll see just how much of the world I can afford in 6 months’ time though…

Recently I’ve been staring at the sky…

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More often than not a camera simply cannot capture the beauty of a moment. Half the time I don’t even bother reaching for my camera, but this time I was lucky. Floating down the Irrawaddy river as we approached Mandalay, the setting sun peaked through the clouds. After a day of reading and writing on the bow of a boat, the perfect breathtaking finale to a peaceful day.

I almost kept this for myself, for a private memory of a lovely reminder how magical the sky can be.

Reflection: March 11, 2012

I wrote this one week and one year ago in a private note on Facebook. Something that I needed to get out of my system, and one of those rants where I can only collect all my thoughts when I’ve properly written everything down. It’s funny to think that I’m in almost exactly the same position as last year, but in reverse.

As people start leaving and goodbyes continue, I’m lonely again, but in a very different way. I feel confident that I have made friends from all around the globe that I can literally pop in on any time and be welcomed with open arms and tears of joy. This time I’m just sad that everyone’s moved on, and the implication that I may never see some of them again.

I’m doing the whole full-time  job search, but for positions in Toronto this time. Related to anything that I find remotely interesting – mostly travel agency related.

I’m questioning my future, what direction it should take and what coming home is going to be like. But I wanted to share this, because I think it’s what everyone goes through when they’ve packed their bags and moved to the other side of the world.

I have to be honest. I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to prove or learn about myself by being here. I thought my life had direction; I’m a published writer with a degree willing to start at the bottom and work my way up. But instead I’m here. Throwing my life on an entirely new path, not because I had no idea what to do with myself, but because I felt like I was given a chance, a sign and I ran with it.

But now that I’m here and I’m going through the motions of job interviews and planning and researching what town I want to live in, I’m asking myself, “is this what I really want?” I should have done the soul search before I said goodbye to everyone, before I applied for the course, before I had even researched all my options.

I was happy at home. I realize that now. As unfulfilled as I might have felt, I finally had a group of friends, three even after new years, which consider me an integral part of their crew. I may have been losing my job, but I hadn’t really tried that hard to find another one.

My biggest challenge in the past two weeks has been spending so much time on my own. I’m not one to be that much in my head. I don’t over think a situation unless I have a strange gut feeling, and I try to take the world at face value, rarely expecting more or less than what I’m given. As much as I love my personal time doing absolutely nothing, quiet walks and my “me dates,” I’ve also realized that I’m mostly a social person, I need to get me out of my own head. I’m a Leo for crying out loud. I’ve learned that for me, home is where friends are. They could be friends for a month, a year or for life, but I need the built in support that people that love and admire you provide. Not having that built in support has been emotionally draining these past two weeks. I fear that something will happen to me and no one would know. The question still hangs in the air: would anybody here even care?

It would be so easy to give up now. To pack my bags, get rid of any excess and charge the next plane ride home to my credit card. However, I do know myself well enough to know that as soon as I got on that plane, I would beat myself up for not sticking it out, for not taking the jobs that are being thrown at me and for caving in to my emotional wreckage. I don’t want to have to live with that regret.

I want to be stronger. I want to be that woman who does things without needing approval, who can go to a movie alone and not feel awkward eating alone and doesn’t need to run her decisions by anyone.

I want to make the right decision, I want to pick the right job, and I want to do what I originally came here for.

Just as I wrote the above self-doubting rant, “Let Go” by Frou Frou came up on my ipod. It’s been randomly showing up recently on shuffle, but the lyrics have this perfect soul-calming quality. It’s like the voice of a friend telling me not to stand on the sidelines waiting for life to happen and that it’s sometimes okay to be an emotional wreck.

“So let go. Jump in. Well whatcha waiting for?
It’s alright ‘cuz there’s beauty in the breakdown.
So let go, just get in, it’s so amazing here.
It’s alright, ‘cuz there’s beauty in the breakdown.”

It reminds me that I’m doing this because I’ve always thought about it, because I didn’t want to have the itchy traveller’s foot for the rest of my life without doing something serious about it now.

The choices I make in the next week are going to shape the next year of my life, yes that’s true. But I don’t have to make the drama out of it that I have been in my head.

I am extremely glad that I’ve taken the last year to do the things I’ve done, to meet the people I have, to teach the most wonderful children in Thailand and that I didn’t cave into fear and pack my bags for the next flight home.

My flight home is now booked and I’ve seriously started the job search / interview process and can only cross my fingers that when I get home I’m not going to feel the same about leaving Thailand as I did when I was trying to get settled. I’m sure that the support of friends that I’ve so dearly missed, and a comfortable atmosphere will mean the difference between despair and irritation, but you never know when that black wave of self doubt can rear it’s ugly head.

Koh Samet: Still my favourite Thai island

SaiKeaw Beach on a weekday

SaiKeaw Beach on a weekday

Despite how many places I’ve been in Thailand, and despite anyone else’s interpretation of favourite, I think that my favourite island will always be Koh Samet. Not only was it my first island away from any of my friends from home, it’s basically where I did my TEFL course. I have so many amazing memories of the island; of what I used to think where the worst bungalows in Thailand at Naga, of the all-night dance parties, of late-night swimming, of partying with Thai’s for the first time, and of course of all the amazing people that I was there with at different times throughout the past year.

During the day on any given weekend the beach can get quite crowded. However, during the week, the place is almost a ghost town. Considering how close it is to Bangkok, many Thai’s and teachers come down for the weekend to let off some steam and get in some beach.

The fire shows are simply amazing, and the bodies on the guys doing the crazy acrobatics and fire throwing make it even more entertaining. I would have to say the fire show at Ploy Bar is, by far, the best I’ve ever seen.

Jep's Restaurant, waiting for our speedboat

Jep’s Restaurant, waiting for our speedboat

The sand is only slightly whiter than I was when I arrived in Thailand, and the waters are almost always calm. Jep’s restaurant and bungalows is always my first choice of places to stay and eat. Their ridiculously extensive menu has very little in the way of disappointment, and I’ve eaten pretty much every meal there every time I’ve been there. It’s also this part of Ao Phai beach, just around the mermaid from SaiKaew, that is my favourite spot to lay out and chill out. It’s significantly less crowded than its neighbour and the chances of seeing Russians in Speedo’s decreases the farther from SaiKaew you get. But you will always see the one we call “leather woman,” who has been on Samet for at least 2 years walking her severely anorexic, brown old self up and down the beach.

UV Paint on the wall in Naga Bar

UV Paint on the wall in Naga Bar

The Lopburi crew went back as a final group trip of the year. It was a chance for us to cram ourselves into a mini-van together and leave our dusty town for some sun, relaxation and crazy nights on the beach. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. While the sun didn’t come out until the day we left, we were all able to get a little too much sun (damn you clouds for making us forget sunscreen!) and a lot of fun in the sea tossing a (Canadian!) football in a circle for hours on end, or lazily floating on the surface of the calm waters.

But by nightfall, we all had our game faces on. Naga Bar ended up being our base and we stayed until the wee hours, when the bar staff

Drinking games turned photo shoot

Drinking games turned photo shoot

shut off the lights and the music and left us to our own devices in the dark. It was at that point that a couple people decided to get into the Muay Thai ring and have a go, having a seriously scary girl-on-girl fight that ended in bruised and damaged faces. Another night, we planted ourselves on the beach in front of Naga Bar to participate in what I could only call a teachers circle of seriously dangerous drinking games. (“Mango, mango, banana, banana,” “I’m commencing a yee-haw to my right,”) As well as card games made up on the spot left us entertained until weirdoes came and stood around us and dogs needed to be buried in the sand. The only thing left was to cover ourselves in UV body paint and dance like idiots until the early hours.

Acting the fool

Acting the fool

Despite my current plans to travel around the South of Thailand, I feel like my teaching career has come full circle in the past year. I started my TEFL on the shores of Ban Phe, and we had our last Lopburi hoorah on the shores of Koh Samet. Considering that it’s my favourite island, I couldn’t be happier.

Random Myanmar (Burma), from the road

Despite keeping a constant paperback journal, keeping the world up to date has been just as hard as I imagined it would be.

Internet is spotty in places, electricity randomly cuts out and rooms are double what I budgeted for. Money panic attacks are starting to set in. What that really means is less beer and souveniers.

The people are the smiliest i’ve met and simply walking around on Mandalay Hill this afternoon, I had my picture taken with 3 monks and 4 seperate random people. Also, at least half a dozen women giggled and told me I’m beautiful. This country is good for my ego. I think Myanmar is going to give Thailand a run for its money on who actually deserves the title, “land of smiles.”

Wrong Train

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I wrote this a little while ago about a two-day span of incredible bad luck that left me feeling unsafe and terrified during a stay that was relatively unmarred by anything remotely dangerous.

Re-reading this now, I sound like I was terrified of poverty. Keep in mind that I had spent the month and a half previous to the incident working at a newspaper based on stories from the townships and was repeatedly told by other journalists that I should never, EVER, for any reason take an unknown train, be out late at night or head into townships without one of them for whatever reason.

This was from people who grew up and lived in Cape Town, South Africa.

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I didn’t realize immediately where we went wrong. I was still in a state of shock from the night before. Those tiny, grubby faces surrounding me, the band-aid on the face of the oldest and the crazed look in the eye of the youngest haunted my recent memories of the train station. [“Give me your cell phone.”]

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March is Phoneography Month: A day in the life

While these aren’t from today, or yesterday, or even one day in general, I thought it only right to compile photos from my (now outdated, but still awesome) Samsung Galaxy 2 Android that best describe a day in the life of an English teacher in Thailand.

Hugs make this job worth it

Hugs make this job worth it

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March is Phoneograhy Month: Weird and Random

As part of Phoneography Month I’m focusing on some of the strangest things I’ve captured with my phone in Thailand. What else is having a good cameraphone for than to instantly take shots of things that make you raise your eyebrows and giggle out loud?

There are definitely a lot of random things I’ve captured throughout the year. Things that I can’t even believe I’m seeing. Here are a select few that make the cut as being ridiculously random.

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Found in a sticker book at the market… sold for kids…

6 more after the jump!

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