Here's To Our Six Months, World


I was originally going to make this a facebook status post. But then it got too wordy. So here y'all go.

I left Canada in May; shaken up but still a little sure of myself. Here's what I've done so far:

New York for a day. Central Park, Koreatown, tacos in the Lower East Side. Slept in Queens and said goodbye to friends at the Times Square subway station. Hopped on a bus to Washington D.C. Spent the days in museums and the evenings talking about our heartbreaks over cornbread and cheap American beer. I also had the privilege of shopping at Trader Joes. Twice.

hashtagForestGump.

The hat Joel Grey wore in the movie "Cabaret", one of my most favourite movies.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's old typewriter. This is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in a museum.

Then it was back to New York on the night bus. I didn't wake up for our scheduled stop in Baltimore. Standing on the corner of 42nd and 8th on a New York Friday morning, I boarded the shuttle to JFK Airport. On the way I realized I didn't know what terminal I was supposed to get off at. How many terminals does JFK have? 4? 5? I thought. I'm flying international, so maybe Terminal 3? That's usually a safe bet. I got off at Terminal 3. I was right. I headed towards the Japan Airlines check-in counter. I was on my way.

I had to buy a new camera (a Nikon, locally-made, produced and tax-free) at the Narita Tokyo Airport. I was testing it out while I waited to board my flight to Bangkok.

A few days in Bangkok. Not even a day and a half into it and I was wearing baggy pants, a tank top, and sunglasses complete with the traveler's side-braid in my hair. It was 35 degrees. I had to get pictures taken for my visa to Myanmar. I paid 10 baht for a pack of four photos just outside the embassy. I still have one photo left. When I noticed it the other day I realized that my eyes in the photo are filled with hope for the future. It was too early for regrets, too soon in the game to second-guess. For the rest of my time I wandered around temples in the middle of the day, got lost on the Skytrain, and made new friends.

A visa to enter the Republic of Myanmar. Triumphant.

In Chiang Rai I found a piece of paradise. Arrived by midnight and when I woke up in the morning, in my new room on a floor that I shared with Nim, my new and almost only friend in Thailand, I walked out to the deck to look at the view. All I could see was blue and green. I could see Burma. I heard roosters crow. I could see tiny huts and the smoke coming from the roofs as the village people who burned their garbage. At that moment I thought anything was possible. 
*I know this is what everyone says after they come back from a volunteer project, but I really mean it. I might have gone there and entered their world to help but of course, they helped me much more. I will go back and visit the kids again, and I just hope they remember the songs I taught them.

The first picture I took in Mae Salong Nai, Chiang Rai, Thailand. From my balcony.

We sang Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes at church. We sang the Hokey-Pokey when the kids were on a break from school during the  Bangkok protests. 
I wasn't excited to travel alone in Myanmar. I didn't want to leave the village. Then one quick flight from Chiang Rai to Yangon (via Bangkok) and I had no choice but to adore it. I spent sixteen days traveling around that fantastic country, and it was some of the best memories that any traveler could hope for. Myanmar is captivating, Myanmar is still exotic, Myanmar is beautiful. People there have a passion; that is probably one of my most favourite things about it.

A lovely, vintage cinema house in downtown Yangon. It was one of the home's for the annual Human Rights and Dignity Film Festival, and became one of my favourite places in the world. 

The lady speaking has a disability. Her foot is twisted and she can't walk properly. She is from the countryside in Myanmar and she has been refused work as a teacher (she majored in Education at University). A few filmmakers collaborated and made a movie of her life and her struggle, as well as her triumphs. There was an entire evening at the film festival dedicated to movies about people with disabilities in Myanmar, and how they fight for their rights. This lady is a spokesperson for people with special needs in her country. Her boyfriend was so proud and photographing the entire event. Lots of people applauded at many points during the night. I've never witnessed so many people applaud in the middle of a movie, again and again. 

Aung San Suu Kyi's childhood home. If you travel through Myanmar, or if you live in Myanmar, and don't develop a crush on this marvelous woman, then there's something wrong with you. 

A Burmese taxi driver took me across the border and back into Thailand for another 30 days. My passport stamped and 5000 chets later, I was off on the bus to Sukothai. Then it was Pai, then it was Chiang Mai. I drank fresh juice and coconut everyday and walked in the sunshine, exploring different Buddha ruins and meeting friendly people from Thailand and around the world. And I didn't even get to the touristy southern Thailand, with all the beaches and parties!

Still in Myanmar. With Thailand in the midst. 

Also, in Chiang Mai one morning I sat in a cafe for breakfast, so quiet and cute and decorated with old tea sets. I had what was probably the best coffee and pancakes in my ENTIRE LIFE! So fluffy (pancakes), so rich (coffee), and so Chiang Mai.

A view of the little town of Pai, in northern Thailnd. Like what I read in a magazine at breakfast that morning, over coffee and a mushroom omelette; "You can't just go to Pai. You are Pai."
I spent a week working at a dog shelter in the countryside, part of the Elephant Nature Park (ENP). When in Thailand please don't ride an elephant. When they say “sanctuary”, it's really not. When they say “eco-tourism” it's really not good for anybody. One of the only places in the entire country of Thailand, and all the elephant riding and all the eco-travel companies that come along with it, ENP seems to be one of the only places which take the animal to heart. It's a place started by people who literally walk the streets and take in animals who are being abused. Dogs are rescued from floods, elephants are rescued from begging in the streets and training camps (and yes, some unethical “sanctuaries”), and they get to live in a place with people who care for them. People at ENP care about animals over profit. People are activists. I learned so much from the amazing people who work there. And when I think about all the terribleness in this world (and we all think about that a lot of the time, don't we) I know that if places like ENP exist, we aren't doomed just yet.

The most gentle, beautiful creatures in the world.


Her name is Lek Chailert. She is an ethnic minority from northern Thailand, and she's dedicated her life to saving elephants. She's basically Thailand's Jane Goodall. She founded ENP, by rescuing elephants and with some help via donation, she runs one of the best places in the world. The government doesn't like her very much because of all the stuff she does which opposes all the money-making elephant "sanctuaries" in Thailand. And she's married to a Canadian! This little wooden bench behind us is her "office", where animal specialists from the U.S and Europe come to help her in her pursuit to save the elephant. You gotta be there when she comes home; all of the dogs go crazy for her. 

This is Steel, paralyzed with only one back leg, but is the pride and joy of the dog shelter at ENP.  
If you are ever having a bad day, just think of this cutie, "Uno", the one-eyed dog.

I was eager to move on, I don't know why, I just was. I guess I'm used to moving. A big part of me wanted to hang around. I could have figured it out. I could have found a part-time job and sorted out the details. If only I'd taken that extra breath and asked myself what I really wanted. That's how places like Thailand work. If you allow them, they will move you and change all the plans you had for a fabulous life. Sometimes you just gotta take it in and celebrate the beauty around. But instead I left Thailand (on the exact last minute which my passport stamp allowed me) for Hong Kong, with hopes of getting to China, to the booming capital of Beijing to work, eat, play and be merry. More on Hong Kong in my next post. It's just too much love for this post.

After three months on the road, I found myself (and my luggage) on the corner of Tian'nanmen Square and Qianmen hutong. In Beijing I ate (some questionable things), I definitely worked, I played a little, but the experience wasn't all that merry. China plays hard to get. China makes you work for their affection. It's all a game, and I was in no shape to play it. I've been all around China. I've lived in small town China. A big part of me adores the feisty Mainland. Sometimes there isn't anything in the world better than Chinese hospitality. And a bigger part of me knows that I'll be back someday. Just not today.

So I took refuge in another republic; the Republic of Korea. In the care of old friends, familiar smells and breathtaking hikes (even if it's just to the top of the Seoul Tower) I have found some contentment again. I don't have any exact plans, but with Americanos in the morning, walks around the crowded streets and lots of kimchi along the way, I know I'll be fine.

Now, it's been six months on the road. In the afternoon today I walked up to Namsan Park. Along the way I noticed a little shop selling candles and diffusers. Everything looked handmade and it looked warm inside, so I went in. The shop owner spoke a little English (and I speak a little Korean) and was pleasantly surprised to see a foreigner browse his shop. After looking and smelling a lot of his organic soy wax candles I noticed a few beautiful stone necklaces. There were big turquoise ones, with a straw-like chain. So organic and so cute. I noticed the smallest necklace of the bunch, with a glowing quartz wrapped in the straw. As I picked it up the shopkeeper pointed to it and said to me “for happiness”. So I bought myself an anniversary present. And of course, he gave me a little tea-light as an extra gift with my purchase. Wherever I am, I will be happy. I walked the afternoon away up to Namsan hill, then down to the city center of Seoul, eating kimchi-jigae for dinner and finishing the last of my Christmas shopping. I put on my new necklace right away, for happiness.

Here's to happy anniversaries, in whatever form they may take.  

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