2008: The Conclusion

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It’s just about three years to the date I quit my job and trotted off round the region for some major travelling. I’ve come back, snagged a new job, started dating the guy who would be my husband and finally, finally finished blogging about each trip. It’s been a big project: first taking a year and a good chunk of my savings to go travelling, then documenting all of it – some of it before I started work again and most of it while juggling a new and challenging job.

Friends asked if I’d write a book and I seriously considered it for a month or so. After writing a few drafts on gmail, I realised that I had neither the vision nor the perseverance to turn it into a book. I already have another personal blog and figured why not just blog it. After all, I wasn’t out to make money with publishing a book. (Neither did it help that I didn’t want to spend even more of my savings on what I feel is a vanity project – I simply didn’t know what to say, aside from “look at me, look what I did!”) So I started this blog and plonked in the first gmail drafts as a start.

The biggest thing I learned from this project was that I could make things happen. I had the resources and capacity to step right out and do what had been pent up within me for a while. I came from the point of being burnt out and exhausted from my previous job, full of resentment at the system. I needed a time of calm, of being by myself and of doing what I wanted whenever I wanted for a few good months. I needed this break, and I made it happen.

I eased into gradually. Don’t ask me how things came together, but they did. I started off in Laos with the really chill and laidback Siamesecat for two weeks. We sat in neverending bus rides, stumbled into bus stations at ungodly hours in the morning and swung like monkeys from tree to tree. We explored various food options, flirted with other travellers and got really comfortable being on the road together. She was the calm to my uptightness, she stayed awake while I passed out and slept at the Ungodly Hour bus station at 4am. All I needed to do was navigate (running joke between us that she’d never get anywhere without me) and occasionally communicate with sign language, grunts and shy smiles with the locals.

Then I went to the Philippines. I strung several trips into one, starting out diving with a bunch from my usual dive group and going snorkelling with the whalesharks with them, followed by a visit to a community that my church had been sponsoring, some time travelling independently, then more diving with another friend. The stretches of independent travel interspersed with fully planned activities helped me ease further into independent travel.

The next jaunt was to Thailand. I was fortunate to have the lovely and ever hospitable Dee open her home to me as a (very swanky) base in Bangkok. From there, I went to Kanchanaburi and suddenly found myself, for once, truly on my own with no particular aim nor date to return by. Again, the stars aligned and I fell in with Tom. We travelled the rest of my Thailand trip together and again he was the laidback foil to my go-getterness and pretty much went with the flow of whatever caught my fancy.

Vietnam was the rude shock to my system. I was well and truly alone, not having any long-term travel companion. It was there that I toughened up, practised being super assertive and learning to protect myself. I think I matured as a traveller then, doing all sorts out risky things like stand up for myself to an exortionist bully in a dark street at midnight, fend for myself in all sorts of odd situations, and learn to deal with the crap travelling threw at me (like being knocked over – ever so gently – by a motorbike while crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh City and jumping right back up cussing at the hapless, wide-eyed rider).

And that was pretty much the learning curve for me. Following that, China was incredibly, unbelievably smooth sailing and eye-opening. It exceeded my expectations tremendously and delivered none of the negative stuff I thought might come following my Vietnam experience. Then it was Bali and Komodo for some of the best diving I’ve ever done and experiences with incredibly warm people.

All in all, I think I did pretty well: getting through it all in one piece. I watched out for myself and also learned when to let go, relax and trust people. I soaked up little tricks like keeping exact change in hand beforehand so that I could close negotiations quickly, and counting the number of bags I had whenever I left a bus or train or plane. I learned how to assess situations and get out of them, like how I avoided the prophylactic-wielding tour guide orĀ  knowing that having several very strong drinks with a bunch of friendly Canadians on Canada Day is cool, but going to their room to smoke pot for the first time while high on said strong drinks isn’t.

After 200 days of travelling in 8 countries and 3 years of documenting it here, I’ve achieved the goal I set out in the travel section of this blog.

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Burps at the Beer Fest

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I was late to attend Beerfest Asia 2009 mainly because I was out diving for most of the time. (Will update on that in a while.) Finally made it on the last day, on a Sunday afternoon when all the fun was pretty much over. No matter, we made up for the lack of good music (and Vertical Horizon) by downing more beers.

We limbered up on the Turkish Efes which was surprisingly light for a 5% and tasted of… nothing at all really. This was swiftly chased down by our very own local Archipelago Travellers Wheat that had a very unique taste. I couldn’t place it until I looked it up on the website. It was tamarind and ginger together, so it was spicy and warming yet with a very pleasant tang.

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I’d originally planned to stop at a couple of beers, but I’d already paid $27 for entry only to pay more money to get my hands on some beer. So I wasn’t a particularly happy camper and proceeded to instigate my drinking companion to buy more beers.

The American Doggie Style Pale Ale (5.5%) was more packaging than good beer. We were not impressed. Another friend joined us with a Dog Schwarz (7.8%) and was similarly underwhelmed. No matter, onwards to better things! DC liked the Chimay Tripel (8%) from Belgium, proclaiming that it was complex, dark and… like a stew. I thought it was bitter and moved swiftly on to my favourite of the session. The Silly Saison (5%) was also from Belgium and was redolent of thick , buttery and almost salty caramel. It was smooth and amazingly good.

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Then came a silly in-joke as we drank to a friend called Calvin. Unfortunately the Calvinus Blonde (5%) from Switzerland lived up more to the second part of its name. Despite the pretty label, it was another one of those bland forgettables in the ocean of beer. John Calvin must’ve been rolling in his grave, more because it was such a bad beer, methinks.

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Next up came a short and rather ill-fated interlude with some cider. Magner’s Irish Cider (4.5%) from (you guessed it!) Ireland was, according to DC, metallic and tasted like rotten 500-year old cheese. I thought it was OK, but not worth the carbs and burps, so we moved swiftly on.

I don’t remember trying the Pompey Royal (4.5%) from the UK but DC said that it was malty and full-bodied with lots of hops. It was well-balanced and smooth, worth the $10 price tag. I remember scribbling some notes, but ended up losing them, so fat lot of good that did me and this blog post.

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And last of all, we dreg up the Swiss Schwarzer Kristall (6.3%) from the depths of my memory and all I remember is that it was a terrible letdown that tasted like the insipid Flying Dog stuff from the US.

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The conclusion really was that there are good beers and there are expensive beers and the two are not necessary the same. Oh and there are bad beers too. And beer makes me tipsy. And gives me a headache. So no more beer for a while.