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Published: April 9th 2009
Even though I have been traveling on my round-the-world trip now for nearly 29 1/2 months with no real end in sight, it feels as if I have just started up once again. The Hands On deployments tend to do this to me. I settle in one place for 4-5 months, working in the community six days a week and getting to know the locals as well as my fellow international volunteers. It's a nice change from constantly having to locate and flag down buses and trains, dealing with the haggling and harassing of vendors trying to sell their wares, and constantly on the look out for the cheapest accommodation and the least expensive street food. Whoever says they "envy this life" of mine has got to be as demented as I am! it's not always fun and games. For now, though, it is still all newly fresh and exciting as I embark on the next leg of my trip, a special country I hold dear in my heart, a place I have been twice before, the country of Indonesia.
Before I go into detail of my upcoming adventures, let me tell you a bit about the past few weeks:
After 4 1/2 months in Gonaives, Haiti, mucking out mud from people's homes (often 2-3 feet high), leading a 2-month project mudding out and finally repainting a school (watching the kids finally go back after months with no class was such a magical moment for me, a tearjerker, really ) and then running the house (we were actually living in a defunct hotel!) and taking care of all the daily logistics of getting the volunteers to and from the job sites, I finally had say goodbye to my fellow vols as well as the dysfunctional country of Haiti.
I spent just under two weeks catching up with my folks in Northern California, a joyous time full of stories, memories, laughter and quality wine. I spent a good majority of my time at "home" visiting my two storage units, which have been a constant source of stress for me the last few years. I have been paying for both of them, which has been adding up fast, especially when the money I could save by having only ONE is of tremendous value to me. It means I could stay "out" that much longer! :-) I managed - somehow - to condense all my crap into one unit, have a three-day garage sale the weekend before flying out early Monday morning and make some good traveling money because of it. I was elated! What a good start for the next leg of this journey.
A friend of mine had an extra buddy pass on Delta and helped me get from the states to Seoul, South Korea on a stand by ticket, at a significant reduction in the full-fare price. The only catch was I had to fly out of Atlanta, which meant I had to fly east having just come from Haiti (a bit farther east and south) a few weeks before. No problem. I stayed with my friend Michelle (a fellow volunteer whom I had met in Haiti) in San Francisco the night before I left Cali, took a crazy expensive taxi to the airport the next day (at $40, which is about a four day's worth of traveling for me in this part of the world), managed to get on the flight (yeah!) and got to Atlanta without incident. I stayed a couple nights with a friend of mine, Sarah, whom I met during the fall of 2005 during the days when we were volunteering in Biloxi after Hurricane Katrina. It was wonderful to catch up once again and see a teeny tiny bit of the city.
I managed to not only get on the scheduled flight to South Korea, but because there was plenty of room in the business elite class in the front of the plane I was seated there. There were only seven people in the 24 seats in that section of the plane, and no one sitting next to me the entire time. Luxury. Fabulous. Smiles all around. The 15 hour flight could have lasted twice as long; I didn't want it to end. Champagne was offered before I sat down in my plush leather seat, a duvet covered my legs when it got a bit chilly (forget the standard wimpy "airline blanket" -- phhhssshht) and how could I forget the linen napkin placed over my tray table before my delicious meals arrived? I must have had five dinners ( a few of the "courses" felt like full meals to me!) and two or three desserts. Snacks of Pepperidge Farms cookies, granola bars and BBQ Kettle chips were always available. Quality wines were served with each meal. The seat in front of me was easily three feet away. I couldn't reach the seat pocket in front of me without getting up. The lavatories with their wooden floors and ample room to move were filled with wonderfully scented lotions and soaps, and my favorite traveling companion, moist towelettes. Six movies and a few travel shows later and we touched the ground. I was bummed I had to get up. A big shout out to Loretta for the ticket and for Erna and Jan for constantly keeping an eye out to see if I would make the flight.
I stayed with another friend, Sean, from the Hands On project in Haiti during my few-day stopover in Seoul. It had been a long time since I was in extreme cold weather (though I did experience temps in the 40s in the early mornings at my parent's house in Cali. Yes, to me, that's cold) and the 30 degree days were hard to take, but I muddled through and managed, thankfully, not to get sick. We visited temples, local markets and sat on a heated restaurant floor for a hearty customary Korean BBQ dinner. I hiked up the steep staircases to the Seoul Tower and reveled in a traditional 4-story Korean bathhouse. I treated myself to an afternoon at the bathhouse, where I soaked in green tea as well as regular Jacuzzis, sweated out impurities in impossibly hot saunas and endured a strong sports massage. After the massage, I found myself in a common area, complete with large screen TV showing Korean soap operas and a few locals sitting Indian-style on the parameter of the room enjoying various bowls of delicious-looking noodles. I lay down on a soft mat and rested my head on a wooden brick, which I thought was going to be uncomfortable, but I actually enjoyed it and think I may have fallen asleep for a bit. Heading out into the late afternoon frigid air wasn't as bad as it could have been since my insides were all toasty warm and I was perfectly relaxed!
I then spent a few days staying and visiting with Malay friends in Kuala Lumpur. I have been there numerous times before (and have long since been toying with the idea of living and working there one day) so I took the opportunity to catch up on some personal things, clearing laptop space and getting out some important yet neglected emails. I got to know and hang out with my friend's 10-year old daughter and if it hadn't rained I was going to join his mother in an early morning outdoor Tai Chi class! Thank you, Mano, "mom" and family for taking me in and shuttling me to and from the train station!
I made friends on the flight from KL to Yogyakarta, Indonesia with a Malay family visiting for only four days. We suffered together in the all-too familiar heat and humidity while standing on the tarmac just outside the immigration building. There didn't appear to be enough room inside for all the passengers so we had no choice but to stand shoved together outside near to our plane. Once through, we collected our bags from the smallest luggage carousel I have ever seen (it was only about 10 feet long and all the remaining bags lay on the floor next to it) and shared a taxi the 15-20 minutes into town (I was originally going to take a local bus, which isn't very fun when having to negotiate bags when first arriving in a town, etc). The taxi ride ended up costing everyone the equivalent of 80 cents. Ok, no complaints here! I walked the two blocks to one of my favorite guest houses I have ever stayed in in all my travels. Unfortunately a lovely French couple had arrived less than 20 minutes before and snagged the last room. They were sitting at a small bistro table in the lush garden pouring over maps and brochures on the area around Yogya. The proprietor of this small 8-room wooden-lined guesthouse immediately recognized me and ran up and gave me a hug hello. I couldn't believe she remembered who I was -- I was last at her losmen (guesthouse) in early September, 2007, just before flying out to the HODR project in Pisco, Peru! We caught up briefly (we had shared many wonderful conversations the last time I had stayed there), and then I was grilled by the French couple on "what to do and where to go and what to see" in Indonesia. They were excited by my recommendations and sad they only had 30 days to "do" Java and all of Nusa Tenggara. Not enough time!
I had to find a room before it got dark and my friend Rannie offered that I leave my bags with her while I check out other places. I came back about 15 minutes later, and we sat in her garden and talked again. One of the first questions she asked was how life in catering had been going with me. I couldn't believe she remembered I was in the catering field! To me, that seems like such an insignificant thing to remember about a passing traveler. I had to ask -- do you remember my name? "Su-san Lee" she said, without hesitating. Unbelievable! She said she remembered because "Lee isn't an American name. It's more Asian, you know? And Su-san is such a pretty name." Wow. I'm going to be careful what I say in future conversations with people -- some people don't forget a thing. :-)
I had my favorite Indonesian street stall food for dinner, a hearty bowl of bakso. Noodle soup with greens, meatballs, and a brown spicy sweet sauce. Yum. It cost me 42 cents. I tried desperately to find a place to fill up my blue Nalgene bottle ("Bob," as some of you from the Haiti project know it affectionately to be called). A house right down the alley from my losman advertised that they refill bottles but apparently they were out of water so I had to beg and plead from a local restaurant. I ended up paying them about 13 cents for 1 liter of boiled water and all the free ice cubes I could get inside the opening of the bottle. Well, it's better than spending a quarter on 1.5 liters and wasting the plastic bottle. At least the city here is making an honest effort at recycling and reusing. Things have come a long way in a year and half.
Tomorrow I visit with some local friends I made last time I was here and have since been keeping in touch with. I look forward to the reunion.
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