Monday, February 23, 2015

Take a Little Trip

"It's so important to travel and visit new cultures. Every time you visit a new place, you come away learning something new about the world and the people in it." My taxi driver home from JFK was a wise man. 

A week ago I got back from an amazing vacation to Singapore and Indonesia. And while the main purpose of my visit was to see a good friend and relax in a beautiful, warm place, it's true that I came away learning new things about the people and places I saw. 

This was the longest vacation I've had since becoming a working professional, and it was very much needed. In fact halfway through I had an actual nightmare that I had missed a work crisis, but upon checking my email in the morning and seeing that life was still functioning without me, I was able to shelve my anxiety and fully enjoy the rest of my time away. I'm really sad to be back actually. This may or may not be a feeling reinforced by the snowstorms and 5 degree weather I came back to...

From this to this...

Singapore was like a more modern, clean, shinier version of Manhattan. A $500 fine for littering may seem excessive, but after coming from the pristine MRT of Singapore back to the rat-and-trash infested subways of New York, there's something to be said for it. One major similarity Singapore shares with NYC is its diversity of races and ethnic groups. Some are more accepted than others and some are put into their own enclaves, much like here. Hearing Katrina's friend and awesome tour guide Mariana talk about how the Filipino workers are treated with disdain just reinforced how inequality and oppression is a world-wide problem. We all need to treat each other better, everywhere.

In Indonesia I relearned how much of a privilege I have by being a native English speaker. Yes, I was so thankful to have Kat around to translate and haggle for me, but most people, especially in the tourist-heavy areas, have to learn English (along with several other languages) to earn their living. It made me feel bad about giving up on Spanish, and reinforced my desire to get back into it. That and Mandarin. Duolingo app, you have been downloaded. 

The Indonesian people are so extremely friendly and a smile goes a long way here. They are so proud of how gorgeous their island is. "How do you like Bali?" they'd ask. I'd assure them it was crazy beautiful and they would grin and say of course, there is no other place like it. They're not wrong. 

Jakarta was a really fascinating city to me. It's a city that's grown exponentially fast, faster than it could keep up with, and needed a subway system built yesterday. Traffic jams are the name of the game in Jakarta, and while it's annoying to the citizens it gave me more time to look out the car window and soak in the views around me. While we were taking a shortcut through a slum area to get to our nice restaurant for dinner (in a fancy mall -- Jakarta is full of these fancy megamalls), Kat's dad jokingly said to me, "No need to look here. This is the ugly part of Jakarta." But the ugly part is still important to be seen, I think. It's a sign that improvements still need to be made, that a city is only as a beautiful as it's lowliest neighborhood. 

Other things I learned: Don't travel during peak tourist season and you may just end up with a three-seat row all to yourself on your 14-hour flight (#blessed). Asian food is always delicious but it's 1000 times more delicious in Asia. When you desire a monkey on your shoulder just be sure what you're really asking for. Katrina's parents are the nicest human beings. Chinese New Year is a big freaking deal and all the hype and decorations made me more excited about living in Chinatown Brooklyn during the season. Durians are smelly and rambutans are delicious. Eddie Redmayne's performance in Jupiter Ascending is universally hilarious. 

More pictures can be found in my Google+ album here. Or also on Facebook if we're friends there. Hope you all get a chance to visit Singapore and Indonesia if you have not yet been; these are really two amazing places. 

It was a four-year gap between international travel for me, and I have to say that finally going did nothing to cure my wanderlust. Would that my bank account were as full as my desires. 

Terima kasih,