Showing posts with label asia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label asia. Show all posts

Monday, August 25, 2014

Seeking alone time and getting much more in Indonesia

A month ago, I awoke on my last day on the largest of the Gili Islands, tucked between Bali and Lombok islands in Indonesia. I awoke to birds chirping, leaves lightly blowing, plates clinking, oceans waving; I awoke to the sounds of paradise. I also awoke to a deep sadness to be leaving not only a tiny beautiful place, but the unexpected group of friends I had made there as well.

Going to Gili Trawangan was my getaway. To rinse myself from the noise and pollution of Beijing, to take advantage of being in Asia again, to see a new place, and strap on my backpack again. It was mainly a scuba diving trip, as diving is a huge hobby of mine, and I don't have a chance to do it when I am in Toronto. I had heard from Brenna that there were lots of turtles in the water, and that the island was a good place to chill out and enjoy beautiful beaches.

I was going to be by myself.

Early to sleep, I'd wake with the sun for my dives. I'd stretch and meditate, and try my best to breathe slowly underwater to conserve my air. I'd look carefully under rocks and in coral for creatures of the sea, and move myself with subtle movements of my flippers. I'd be cautious and calm, and take every moment of the dive in. Once finished the dive, I'd go through the fish identification book with the other divers to determine what we saw. I'd learn the names of everything we saw and research them.

After my dives, I'd write in my journal on the beach with a cocktail or seashell in hand, and sand on my skin. I'd reflect on my time in Beijing and try to determine what it was that made living there so hard for me. I'd write about my life of late, and reflect on what it means to be almost thirty. I'd make a list of all the people I love, and write postcards to them. I'd spend these ten days quietly nurturing myself. I wouldn't meet many people, and I'd keep to myself.

It didn't quite turn out that way.

When boarding the boat for the 2 hour journey from Bali to Lombok, I met a traveller named Martin who enthralled me with stories of med school and hiking Mount Bromo. We rode the boat next to each other and exchanged ideas about travelling and realized we both share a need to travel that many of our friends at home do not understand about us. When we arrived on the island, we decided to share a room because it was cheaper than bunk beds at the popular backpackers. With that, I was inducted into the established travel-friend group of Martin. He had stayed at In Da Lodge hostel in Ubud a few weeks earlier, and had met a group of solo travellers there who were all travelling to Gili in the coming weeks. As soon as Martin and I arrived to the island, he kept an eye out for his posse.

Within a day, serendipitous reuniting hugs abound, the In Da Lodge crew was together again. There is something very sweet about meeting a friend at one time on your trip, and then seeing them again in another place. It feels extra special to see them again, and upon reuniting, those new friends feel instantly like old friends from the road. They shared inside jokes from Ubud and teased each other in a way that good friends do. Instead of being an outsider who wasn't among the original group, I was adopted in like I'd been there the whole time. I was greeted with hugs and smiles and curiosity and  warmth. I was on the receiving end of the openness of the travelling spirit.

We ate dinner together at the night market on the island, and more friends showed up. We gorged ourselves on pretty cakes and desserts and stories from our various adventures. Afterward, someone mentioned a silent disco, and we danced together in silence with earphones on until 3 am.

The next morning, I rushed to the scuba shop and was kindly teased for showing up 15 minutes late. I had to throw together my gear and barely had time to squeeze in a cup of tea before heading to the boat.

Once under water, though, the quietness came. The sound of my own breath and the entire ocean surrounding me, entirely wrapped up in the underwater world around me. Slow motion bubbles and an anemonefish with two tiny babies, barely visible in the swaying coral. An octopus curled under a shelf, camouflaged black, with only a large white winking eye to give itself away. A strong current pulling us along, leaving us expending almost no effort to move across the dive site. That precious dreamy sense of weightlessness that I can only know when I dive. The only sound is a distant tap of metal on tank as our instructor points out a family of sharks cozy between large boulders. I see three, and find out when we surface that there were six. The dream comes to an end as our tanks run light and we slowly surface. During our three minute safety stop, a massive hawksbill turtle comes up for air nearby, and I realize we are both going up for air in this moment, the turtle and I.

On the boat as we ride back toward the beach, I realize that diving was what I really needed. The dive was my meditation, it was all the contemplation I sought for this adventure. I didn't need the afternoon alone to write about it in my journal over a coffee. The notes in my logbook would remind me of the life we saw underwater. What I really wanted after those dives was the company of my new friends.

After a long chat with the friendly scuba staff, I felt so lucky to return to the room for a shower and then meet up with Martin, to ride bikes along the beach and find the rest of the gang for sunset watching over Bintangs on the beach, for storytelling and photo-taking and those momentary blips in time when you really feel like this is it, this is the sum of all of my life. This is where the choices I have made have taken me, and this is where I am now. These people are my friends now, and all of us have been brought here by different forces in our lives. Though we might not meet again, right now, we are watching this sunset together.

It gets me every time. Heading off for solo adventures, seeking time alone to contemplate the depths of my soul, but instead finding new friends and new places to bring you into the moment and realizing that "it wasn't being alone that I needed, but travel".

Flying home is always emotional, but this time I felt so full of life I could hardly contain it. Those mad feelings came out in tears and laughs and deep sighs during the days that followed my return. I glued the log book pages into my dive log just yesterday, and a seashell from Gili T sits on my bathroom shelf to remind me that the sea is never really that far out of reach.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reunions and plane tickets

I'm now writing from the airport in Manila as I wait to get my flight to Boracay. The wifi connection I'm using is called "morefuninthephilippines". I hope that's a prediction about the time I'm going to have here!

Yesterday in Seoul I had a relaxing morning after a twelve hour sleep. I bought some sleeping pills for a pharmacy to help me get the rest I needed, and luckily they helped a lot. I got 8 pills for $2.00 (can't beat that price)!

For lunch, I met my good friend Hyunwoo Sun, CEO of Talk To Me In Korean. He and I became friends several years ago, and it's always a great and interesting time with him. I visited the TTMIK office and we all went out for lunch together. I really enjoy their company, and it felt kind of like a reunion! Actually, this whole visit is like a reunion of friendships. 

After parting with that group, I went to Insadong to meet another old friend who I met in Jinju. She is also visiting Korea now, and we just happened to overlap our visits here. Seeing her was great, and we made some travel plans together! I'll probably go to visit her in Washington DC sometime this year, and we might go visit a mutual friend in France who we met in Jinju. 

Then, it was the airport railroad. A familiar sight for me... but always a welcome one. 

Travelling makes me happier than pretty much anything else in my life. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Photo Essay from Angkor Wat: How to take unique and cool travel photos

"Have you been to Angkor Wat yet?" she asked me, as I pulled up a chair with my breakfast.

"I biked around it yesterday..." I answered, proudly. Keeping to myself the part where I ran out of water, took a wrong turn which took me 6km out of the way (a path I later had to retrace), and also the part where I rode back to the hostel without a map, in the dark. And the part where I almost cried when I made it back to the hostel, grateful to somehow have navigated the dark streets back to my home for the night. I hope she didn't notice my abnormally generous breakfast portions - I didn't even eat dinner the night before, as I was so tired.

"Wow, I didn't know you could do that! Some French guys and I are just going to hire a tuk tuk driver to take us around today. I guess you don't want to go again, do you?"

I'd bought a 3-day pass when I entered the grounds, and only visited for the one day, so it would be free for me to go again today. I'd also have a chance to take some more photos since I spent most of the first day biking.

"Sure I'd love to go again."

With that simple exchange, minutes later I was in a tuk tuk introducing myself in French to two Parisians and a woman from Switzerland. This was my chance, I thought, to take all the crazy creative photos I had wanted to take yesterday. We arranged to have our driver take us around the grounds for the day for twenty bucks. 5 bucks each.

When you visit somewhere as famous as Angkor Wat, it can be a challenge to make your photos stand out among the crowd. I hope you enjoy the shots I have collected below, and get inspired to take less than ordinary photos on your next trip. Enjoy!

Day one: How many faces can you find? (I see five)

Photos of signs break up the monotony of photos, and sometimes offer humour and insight into the culture you are visiting. I love that rust has peeled most of the important letters right off of this sign.

"Get out of my photo!" is what you want to yell. Either that, or stand there and wait 10 minutes for everyone to clear out, then you get your postcard photo... but to me, people are fascinating. Visiting Angkor Wat is a shared experience, so I like to involve strangers in my photos. All of these people are looking at something, seeing something, experiencing something, just like me.

I was initially very surprised when I heard Korean spoken in Angkor Wat. I wanted to introduce myself to the group I saw, but then after a moment it became clear that I would be hearing a lot more Korean that day. There were tour group upon tour group of Koreans making their way through the ruins, (with me tagging along to try to get some history without anyone knowing I could understand them). I wanted to take a photo of the Korean tour buses to remind myself of that moment. (Fun fact! I was hired by Hana Tour in 2011 to make videos of a luxury tour they offer in the Southern regions of South Korea. Click here to watch that video).

Including this lone biker in my shot here gives scale to the photo.

Giant crumbs.

Selfie at the top of Pre Rup temple, awaiting the sunset. If only I could have told myself that I had 10 more hours of biking ahead of me.

Sunlit temple guests, all hungry for a glimpse at the sunset.

Silhouetted sunset. I remember feeling really happy about this photo.

Day two: Our tuk tuk driver took us to a conveniently located "shopping area" that I hadn't found on my own the day before.

A welcome break from the sun.

Small souvenirs that may or may not be made in China.

Peeking out in between the rungs. The straight angles give a nice perspective. After I took this photo, a few other tourists took the same one.

Getting off the path and onto the grass lets you get closer to the ruins. Also, crouching down a bit gives a more intimate perspective.

Just pretending this is my kitchen window.

Dried up desert grass with paths for tourists. Again, I like to include people in my photos.

I wanted my photo with all these strangers in it. It adds so much colour and life to the photo, and also gives a sense of how crowded Angkor Wat really is.

Tuk tuk riding. Photos of the interesting vehicles we ride in when travelling are always interesting to show family and friends.

Monks in saffron robes.

Pretending to see a far-off land.

Backs and faces. Note the almost invisible woman in the right corner.

Another sign photo - I like this one because of the different languages, and the very easily climbable barricade.

This is classic Expatkerri. I love tree photos, and I love looking up photos, so why not look up from the base of a tree?

Okay - so this is not that original. But it's fun nonetheless!

I spy someone snoozing.

Tree vs. temple (I think the tree is winning)

So many details, everywhere. I wonder if there are more carved people than tourists?

A surprising moment of calm in Ta Prohm.

Shadowy sandy crumbs.

Seeing through lines at the end of the day.

I always seem to meet the sweetest Koreans when I am on the road!

I will end with a failed jumping photo. If you've ever tried to take a jumping photo, you probably have a lot of photos that look just like this one.

What do you to create memorable photos? Leave a comment below.

All of these photos were taken using the Toy Camera setting on the Canon ELPH 300HS

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

turning tokyo ( going to 東京)

7 months ago I visited Tokyo for the first time with my good friend. We got lost, ate ramyun, and were often confused by Japanese signs. We even rode the subway all the way to the airport by accident on our second day. We also took lots of photos like this:

Tomorrow, I leave for my second visit to Tokyo. This time, I'm going with someone I love. That someone also speaks Japanese. I can't wait!!!

I am so glad that even though this is only a 3-day trip, I can still feel the rush of travel whirring though me as I start to pack. Lots of cherry blossom videos coming up, just for you.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Languages of Angkor

It's my last day in Siem Reap, the last day of my 3-week journey through Northern Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

The Pre Rup temple of Angkor Wat was a magnet for tourists to sit and enjoy the sunset over the other temples. I loved hearing so many languages around me all at once... Japanese, German, French, Korean, Spanish... it was like a little section of the world had all come together to watch the sunset over Cambodia for just one evening together.

I couldn't stop thinking about the shared experience of sunset, among all our different grammars and lifestyles. What brought us all to this temple, on this day?

As sure as the sun dipping into the west for another night, we all scattered back to the different places we call home to share our memories of Angkor in our own words.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How I Pay For Travels

One of my subscribers recently asked me a question:

"How do you get the money for all your trips???"

The simple answer is that I save my money.

But there is a more complex answer which involves the way I have chosen to live my life. I want to live a life full of travel, full of experience, full of exploration.

My mother has a small Mary Engelbreit drawing in the kitchen which reads "Bloom where you're planted". Even as a little kid I thought it was weird. Why would I want to stay in my hometown when the whole world is waiting?

In high school, I decided to work a part time job and save all my money in order to "backpack Europe" after university. I actually ended up working 3 part time jobs, (at Dairy Queen, a local stationery store, and a local hotel), and I saved almost all the money that I earned. By the time I graduated high school, I had saved quite a bit.

I also had part time jobs throughout university as well in order to keep saving for my proverbial Europe trip. Lucky enough to have parents who graciously paid for my tuition, the money I earned during university paid for my rent, textbooks, food, and the occasional flight home. I was still completely set on saving for my trip though, so I rarely went shopping, and went out for dinner only as a treat.

As graduation came closer and closer, so did the trip. I got scared, wondering if I could really backpack alone in Europe for a few months. I hesitated to book my ticket.

One fateful night, with graduation only weeks away, my first-year roommate came over for a celebratory dinner. We laughed, we remembered, we ate, and we drank. After a bottle of red wine and too much cheese to mention, she leaned in close and asked me "Kerri, what do you want?" I answered straight back: "I want to go to Europe." I booked a one-way flight to London England that night, under the influence of wine and my own desire.

Once I booked my ticket, everything started aligning. I became friends with Brenna, who was also planning a solo trip around Europe. We sat in coffee shops together with maps and guidebooks, trying to navigate a new world of train rides and dorm beds.

Those four months I spent traveling Europe alone will always be some of my most precious travel memories. I did it. And I did it all by myself - with my own money, at my own pace, with my own will.

In my final year of university, I had dreamed of living and working in South Korea, and made it a reality when I moved there in September 2006. I saved most of the money I earned there and spent it on trips through China and Vietnam.

After that job, I realized living in Asia and working as an English teacher would be the best way to make enough money to continuously explore the world. And that's truthfully what I've been doing ever since. 2012 marks my fourth year living and working in South Korea.

So, to answer the original question, it's not just trying to get money for trips. Rather, the need for travel is so deep within me, I can't help but put the money I earn towards plane tickets to new destinations. Where else would my money be as well spent?

You don't have to have the money to travel, you just need the will.

Friday, February 17, 2012

That Canadian Girl Who Had Her Ear Ripped Off By an Elephant

After an amazing morning feeding sugarcane and bananas to elephants at Baan Chang Elephant Sanctuary, I was getting to feel like a bit of an elephant whisperer. If I could tell myself then that only minutes later I'd be dealing with an injury which would fester for the next 3 weeks of my travels, I think I might have done things a little differently.

In the morning training we learned how to control the elephants with commands, preparing us for an afternoon walk through the jungle. Can't you see what an elephant whisperer I was?

At lunch time, the elephants ate huge piles of bamboo as we feasted on rice and vegetables. After lunch, sitting in a hammock observing the elephants wasn't enough for me, so I approached them get a closer look and take some photos.

I took a few photos of a baby elephant from a distance, and then took a few steps closer to one of the fully grown adults. To my surprise, the adult elephant stuck its trunk out towards me. With my guide's words in mind "don't touch elephants without a mahout", I considered the outstretched trunk a friendly gesture from the elephant, and reached out my open hand in return.

One of the last photos before the incident. Someone get this woman away from the elephants.

The elephant quickly wrapped its trunk around my wrist and pulled me down to the ground in one swift motion. At the mercy of this giant creature, all I could think was I'm being squished by an elephant right now, nothing feels broken, keep breathing. Mahouts were yelling, sounds around me were forming, and after about 10 seconds of my face in the dirt, the elephant let go and I ran away.

The mahouts asked me if I was okay, and I said I was. I felt so lucky that I hadn't broken any bones or gotten any injuries. Then I look down and realized I was bleeding.

Somehow between the elephant pulling me down and pushing on me with its trunk, I managed to nearly rip my ear off from behind. I had to leave the camp right then and go to the hospital to get stitches. Disappointing, really, since we were going to ride the elephants through the jungle and give them baths in the lake.

Arriving at the hospital covered in dust, dirt, and mud with a bleeding ear, the first question was "what happened?" followed by giggles when I started explaining, "I was with an elephant...". The staff at the hospital see lots of foreigners coming in with motorbike accidents, but maybe accidents with elephants are a little more rare.

I was told my wound was "too dirty" to be stitched right away in emergency, and that I would have to stay in hospital. While I was sitting there trying to digest it all, an employee of the sanctuary had a talk with me.

He told me "Elephants are just like people. They have personalities and fears. That elephant doesn't know you, doesn't know your smell. Please don't think you did something wrong. It's just a miscommunication. You can have a great time with elephants again after you heal. Don't think negatively about elephants, because it isn't your fault or the elephant's fault. You just misunderstood each other."

And he's right: the mahouts who train the elephants spend 1-2 years working with one elephant in order to develop the rapport and trust that is necessary for them to be comfortable around strangers.
I thanked him for his words. They almost made me cry in that little hospital bed.

After a long afternoon of waiting and bed swapping, I was taken into the operating room, and my wound was cleaned and sewn up with 13 stitches.

Post-surgery and simply feeling awfully confused about the whole day.

Spending a long night in the Thai hospital was hard with the icy cool sting of the antibiotic IV in the back of my hand.

In the morning, my doctor told me I could "maybe go" if the stitches were holding well. He deemed everything okay and told me to return every day for the next week before having the stitches removed.

"I'm not going to be here..."

"Where are you going? Bangkok?"


Over the next week, I had my ear checked in so many hospitals by so many doctors I can't even name them. The first memorable hospital visit was in Luang Prabang, where the nurse took out my stitches and proceded to pull a stone out of my ear, and calling the wound "very dirty". She told me I needed to go to a different hospital to check my ear. And so comes the hospital visit in the famous tubing city of Vang Vieng. When the nurse took off the bandage, she gasped, and asked me where I had this done. She deemed the Chiang Mai hospital "very bad", and told me my ear needed to be re-stitched right there and then. My heart sank, as I thought I was getting near the end of this travel nightmare.
With a re-stitched ear and a new sense of frustration, I was close to calling an end to my travels and simply flying home to Korea to get my ear checked out by a hospital there.

However, the traveler in me decided to stick it out, and I spent the next week traveling in Cambodia. I kept my ear dry and clean, and I was very cautious not to get it wet.

When I did finally get back to Korea, ten days after my second round of stitches, I went to the first clinic I came across to have the stitches removed. I went to a random clinic in the middle of Seoul, of which I knew nothing. When I came out of the elevator and went to open the door of the clinic, I found the most full circle crazy trick of the universe; just to top off the absolute madness that had been my elephant ear:

Their logo was a flippin elephant. I just had to laugh.

The Korean doctor was the first one not to gasp when he saw my ear. He asked me where I had had the stitches done and why they were so uneven, and then he took them out without much fuss. "Don't I need to keep it dry? Don't you need to bandage it?" He nonchalantly told me the new skin was forming underneath, and that I just needed to take it easy.

If only I could have told the elephant that.

Three weeks later, my sister called to tell me that 2 of her friends who had just returned from a trip to an elephant park in Thailand had heard a story of a Canadian girl who had gotten her ear ripped off by an elephant.

I guess all legends have their origins.


Watch the video I made from my Thai hospital bed.
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