Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Koh Phangan Revisited

Earlier on this blog, I shared my experience at The Sanctuary in Koh Phangan. I also spent some time on the north side of the island in the town of Chaloklum earlier during that same holiday. Chaloklum is a one street town. When I first arrived, I was a bit nervous that I wouldn't be able to meet anyone, but that turned out to be very wrong. One of my first nights there I wandered into a house/bar where a couple of Italians were sitting around drinking beers and watching old Pink Panther cartoons, and was invited to join the party. Next thing I know, I am being whisked away on the back of a moped to catch the sunset on someone's roof, with a whole group of new friends. The place was called Chalok Bar, and there was a cute used bookshop next door that provided me with plenty of entertainment.

The pristine Chaloklum beach

The main reason I was in Chaloklum was to go diving, and I decided on The Dive Inn, which was a very good decision as it turns out. I had a one to one diving experience with an instructor named Woody who was too much fun. We played games underwater with our weights, bobbing around and snapping photos of naughty divers who bumped into the man made reef. The dive site, Sail Rock, was full of never ending surprises and underwater critters. I also met many cool divers on the boat, and at the The World's End cafe next door where they hang out.

Me with scuba diving friends on The Dive Inn's boat

My bungalow in Chaloklum was ridiculously scenic. I ended up staying at a place called Malibu Bungalows. It was a sandy strip of land with water flowing in between tiki huts, patches of jungle, and a lush garden and swimming pool area.

The Malibu Bungalows are rustic but lovely

My jungle enclosed swimming pool

Thai islands can be overrun with tourists- it's like the Peruvian gringo trail of Asia. Koh Tao certifies 100,000 scuba divers a year, Koh Samui has rows of massive resorts, and Koh Phangan hosts the trashy Full Moon Party that destroys Haad Rin Beach. To find that peace and serenity, or a more local experience, you really have to do your research. After a bit of digging, I'm glad I found Chaloklum because it was just what I was looking for: low-key, chilled out, beach vibes with a Thai flair.

The entrance to Malibu Bungalow's restaurant

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Bookworm Believer

After the 2016 election results were announced, I started writing and found I couldn't stop. Bookworm Vagabond is mostly an expat/travel blog. It gets personal sometimes, but for the most part, it's a documentation of my journey around the world. This blog didn't feel like the place to post political rants, so I made myself a new space to share my thoughts on humanity, teaching, and social justice.

Bookworm Vagabond is still an exciting project for me, and it's not going anywhere soon. But if you'd like to check out what I've been working on regarding its new sister site, here is the link:

https://bookwormbeliever.blogspot.com/

I'm just getting started with Bookworm Believer, and I have so many other essays and articles planned that I am working on as well. I'm hoping to document the Trump administration in real time, and keep a record of my thoughts on what's occurring politically and socially in the United States. Please check it out, and let me know what you think!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Winter is Coming

It has been a full year since I have been back to the States! This is the longest I have gone away from home. Can't believe I haven't seen my brothers, my parents, my old ladies, or my friends in that amount of time. I also haven't driven a car in a year. Yikes! Winter break in Florida is always special- where else can you find pink flamingos wearing Santa hats?

Sibling stockings for a Florida Christmas

Nick and I and our matching hedgehog sweaters

Besides the people, there are some things I really miss that mostly revolve around food. I want to go to World of Beer with my dad, and cook healthy meals with my mom, and have my Aunt Edith's Italian peppers and sausage. I'm sure my brothers and I will go see some blockbuster movie together (last year was Star Wars), and my friends and I will have at least one beach day. I want time on a patio listening to palm trees rustling, and the salty smell of the coast.

Will my people even recognize me? My hair has grown a lot since the last time I was home, as well as my ukulele skills. Here's my latest progress on that front:

Anyways, can't wait to be back home. I told my mom I'm walking straight off the plane and into a deli.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Appreciating the Present

I am eternally nostalgic. In each stage of my life, I’ve longed for the past. When I went to university, I missed my friends from home something fierce. I missed our philosophical conversations, our adventures, and our deep connection. Then I moved to Ecuador, and spent my two years there missing my friends from university. No one would be able to fill the hole in my heart from missing the people who were there for me in my first years of independence. Then I moved to Hong Kong, and quickly realized how much I missed my expat family in Ecuador. Wow, had I taken them for granted. Some of those connections ran much deeper than I had ever acknowledged.

Friends at my talent show birthday party

With neighborhood buddies at the Second Draft Bar in Tai Hang

Friends taking turns with the silly red bucket hat 
from my frock swap last year

So I reflect and I learn and I grow. I am surrounded by way too many wonderful people here, more so than I probably deserve. These are people who accept me, who hop on a plane with me, and who support me when I’m at my worst and encourage me when I’m at my best. I have been so lucky to find my tribe in Hong Kong. I love our Sunday dinners, our trips abroad, our game nights at home. The goofiness that came out at the talent show I held for my birthday, the passion we share for teaching, and the day long boozy brunches we indulge in from time to time. Yessiree, I’m a lucky lady. 

Halloween as...

Food market feast with friends in North Point

Matching Halloween costumes with my awesome work team

Hong Kong is a big city, and that can feel lonesome at times. There are nights when everyone I know is otherwise engaged, but that’s because we are adults with full lives. Largely because of work, but also because of some happenstance encounters around Asia, I’ve been able to build a network of people I really care about here. I’m grateful for that, and even at my most homesick, I know I have friends I can turn to and feel right at home.

Da Slayin' Club at our usual haunt- Posto Pubblico

Girls night out in Wan Chai

Ladies at the Causeway Bay Wine Walk

**Holy Moly gotta mention- this is my 300th post!! Been going 7 years and strong on this blog, and I still love sharing my stories.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

My Flat Was Burgled.

On the last day of school before summer let out, I went out for a celebratory meal with friends. So, yeah, this was awhile ago, back in June. I decided to be well behaved and was home by 9:30 to get a good night's rest and start packing for summer vacation. When I arrived back at my flat, something felt off as soon as I opened the door. I could hear wind, and my curtains rustling. A window was open; my heart quickly dropped.

Last day of school celebration

I knew immediately what this was- there was bamboo scaffolding around my building and I had seen a burglar climbing down bamboo scaffolding in another neighborhood of Hong Kong before. So I cautiously flipped on the lights and yelled into the darkness, 'HELLO?!'

Imagine my surprise when I heard footsteps. I hadn't been robbed, I was being robbed. That burgling bumbletwit was still in my flat! At this point my lizard brain took over and I darted into the living room, effectively chasing the robber straight out of my window. What fortuitous timing! He must have entered shortly before I did, because whoever it was didn't manage to pocket anything before I scared them off. My electronics and valuables were safe, but I still wasn't sure if I was in the clear.

The window through which the burglar forced their way in

My next course of action? Call a friend/neighbor while simultaneously crying hysterically and stomping around my flat holding out a steak knife like a crazy person in case any accomplices were still around. I felt sick as I threw back the shower curtain, checked inside the wardrobe and under the tables to make sure no one else was still around. My friend called the police, who quickly arrived with 14 police officers, forensics specialists, and detectives.

That footprint was still there when this chair 
was returned to me 3 months later

Ironically, it was the police who ended up destroying my flat and taking my property in the end. They took a chair of mine for a footprint, and left black fingerprinting dust and muddy trails everywhere. I had to stay at the police station until 2 AM giving a witness statement, after which they promptly kicked me out the back door into the red light district on the street below with no ride home.

The police even brought dogs in case 
the burglar could be sniffed out nearby

I received a letter in the mail a few months later that the case was closed, the burglar had not been caught, and my chair was ready to be picked up. The experience wasn't so terrible overall, and could have been much worse. The burglar was skittish and nonviolent, the police responded quickly, and nothing was stolen. But if you live in Hong Kong or are visiting, and your building is covered in bamboo scaffolding, be careful and lock your windows! I was relying on the seal from the window latch before, and this was popped open very easily. My windows are now very secure with massive padlocks, but I still get an eery feeling every once in awhile in my flat that I'm never really as safe as I think I am. The police told me this was the third burglary that week in my neighborhood of that type, so thieves were actively looking for buildings that were under construction. You have been warned!

Bamboo going up on a building near my house

Thursday, November 10, 2016

My Privilege

When you are in a position of privilege, it’s your responsibility to protect those who don’t benefit from the same privilege. Maybe your religious holidays are recognized by the government, or you don’t need ramps to enter a building, you can walk down the street without being harassed, or role models of your same race are in the media. Not benefiting from one of these can cause harm, whether it's being passed over for a promotion or having your morale slowly chipped away over time. This is why it is so important to use your position of power and privilege to create opportunities for people who have been left behind. Or create a space for them to have their voice heard!

Many of my white, middle to upper class relatives/acquaintances have posted on Facebook recently in support of Trump. There’s a common message of confusion about why the Republican party is being accused of racism, bigotry, and sexism. From their perch, of course the Republican party doesn’t look racist, bigoted, or sexist. Why is it then that I have never ONCE seen any evidence of any Republican I know considering the implications of this election on people of color? I see many Democratic friends posting in solidarity, ‘to my LGBT friends, I’m with you,’ ‘to my Muslim friends, I’m with you.’ My Democratic friends are advocates through and through. They use their positions of privilege to make opportunities for people who are less privileged.

Trump, however, is a violator. He has a history of violating women. He will use his position to violate human rights, and violate the planet. And we have just spread the message to a whole generation of children that you can violate the boundaries of the people around you by groping, insulting, and lying, and you will be rewarded with the Presidency. We have reinforced the idea that this behavior is admirable.

I've faced backlash on here before for expressing political views, but I will never be one to stay silent. Every example of social progress in American history that we can be proud of was due to progressives. Loud, pushy, radical progressives demanding justice and equality for all. Ending slavery? Liberals. Women's right to vote? Liberals. Wage equality for men and women? Liberals. Legalization of gay marriage? Liberals. Yes, we'll take credit for all that, thank you very much.

These next four to eight years will be a constant struggle. If you disagree with everything Trump stands for, like I do, please don’t roll over and feel defeated. We faced eight years of Obama being disrespected because of the color of his skin, and now it’s our turn to retaliate. This is an opportunity to rise up, to forge ahead kicking and screaming to defend the values that stand on the right side of history: acceptance, love, empathy, and compassion.

I’m not going down without a fight. That's my privilege.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Diving in Brunei

WOOT WOOT COUNTRY 40! Yep, you read that right, folks. I went to Brunei last week and it was my 40th country. Considering my goal was 30 countries by the age of 30, I think I'm doing pretty well for myself, a couple years ahead of schedule here. My travels are going to be slowing down in the near future though, as I'm Hong Kong based for the next 8 weeks until I go home to Florida for winter break.

On my recent dive trip to my 40th country- Brunei

I didn't see much of Brunei, to be honest. My goal was to complete two more advanced scuba diving specialities, so I wasn't too concerned with what was happening on land. After googling 'diving shipwrecks asia,' Brunei kept coming up as a place to go. Considering there are only two dive shops in the whole country, my choices were limited, and I quickly narrowed it down to Oceanic Quest Dive Shop.

Oceanic Quest Dive Shop

This company uses smaller boats for a more personal experience

The crew at Oceanic Quest goes above and beyond in making sure you are comfortable and having a dive experience to your liking. Every meal at the dive shop was a feast, and when I got sick one day, the shop owner even went to get me medicine while I was out on the boat. I don't have any underwater photos because I can't be bothered to worry about a camera when I am underwater. Trust me, I have a lot of photos in my memory that aren't going anywhere any time soon.

Bruneian food is super yummy

The living room at Oceanic Quest is great 
for lazing around after a long day of diving

Oceanic Quest Dive Shop is in a town called Muara, and it's quite isolated. A 30 minute drive from the main city, Bandar Seri Begawan, Muara feels residential and quiet. The only reason to go there would be to dive, and it is well worth the trip. The coast beyond Brunei has a handful of shipwrecks ranging from World War II to three years ago!

Ukeing it up between dives

Descending upon my first shipwreck rising out of the ocean floor was truly awe inspiring. I spent four days diving a bunch of different wrecks and reefs, and did my specialty certifications for Enriched Air and Wreck diving while I was there, along with many fun dives. Here are some detailed descriptions of the shipwrecks. There are more dive sites and wrecks that aren't listed in that article as well! Each wreck has its own personality, so you want a couple days to dive them all! Brunei isn't a backpacker destination due to its no-alcohol policy and lack of nightlife, but if you are outdoorsy there are also lots of jungle, mangrove, and water sport activities you can do. I found it to be a subtly beautiful, welcoming place to travel, and was pleasantly surprised with the whole experience.