Sunday, January 29, 2012

January 28, 2012: Cairo

Just finished a good end to my holiday in Cairo. It was nice to meet up with old friends, although my stay was too short. I wasn't able to see everyone I wanted. It was also a good transition back to DC—I was feeling pretty desolate about the possibility of living in DC after graduation. Being back in Cairo gave me hope I’ll get out.

I was so happy to see my friend Marwa and her mother, who is like my mother. Marwa is a really smart and friendly girl; I can’t remember what her job is exactly but it’s really good and she goes on business trips all the time for work. Every Friday they would cook me plates and plates of food and if I ever needed anything, they would take care of it. We regularly went out to dinner over the summer; they loved going to this yacht club on the Nile (they don’t have a boat, though). They rented me the apartment in which I stayed over the summer. I hope if I come back here after graduation to live with them again. It’s nice to have a family away from home.

We went out to lunch and caught up on what we’ve been up to since the summer. I asked them if anything had changed since the summer, and they said no, which was my interpretation of the ‘revolution.’ People keep on coming to Tahrir, but there will be no real change. The activists don’t have any organization or real political platform. Additionally, they don’t really have a lot of popular support. I’ve heard a lot of people say The way to change the system is from within, not protesting without. Without really getting involved, they make it easy for SCAF to maintain the status quo while carrying the banner of the revolution.

After lunch, we walked around a mall for a bit and the girls went shoe shopping and then bought me medicine for my lip, which got busted (the story: tear gas in Tahrir). I thanked them profusely, and told them I was a little embarrassed because I didn’t have money so I initially didn’t want to go to the pharmacy and have to ask them for anything. Mom said I was silly and she would not have let me pay even if I had money.

We then met up with my friend Waleed for gelato, which I thought was good but I know my Italian friends sometimes have a pickier palate. He was a good sport—Marwa and her mom were teasing him a lot (bottom line: men everywhere don’t ask for directions).

I’m not entirely optimistic about the situation in Egypt. I can’t see it changing much. isA I am wrong.

I’m now flying back to DC. Feeling happy, thinking back on my trip: new friends, old friends, good friends, good experiences (everything in Vietnam, Chinese New Year in Asia), bad experiences (old white men in Bangkok). But a bit sad, too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January 24: Back in Bangkok

Sadly, the Vietnamese part of my trip came to an end. I met up with Sulaine, Rob, and Carlos for a few hours before I flew out at 5p—they are leaving early tomorrow morning. I felt strangely sad when I left. Okay, maybe I know why. We had such a great time, relaxing, teasing each other, acting like 15 year olds. Dong jokes never got old (Yes, I am bring Michael Burns back the biggest dong I can find). The last night we even attempted a (PG) sleepover and instead stayed up until 2 hours before wakeup.

We rang in the Chinese New Year sitting on the pier of the beach in the dark, listening to the waves crashing and looking at the stars (DIRECTLY!!) above us. We were even, eh, treated, to a full moon.

I hope we keep in touch. I like Bangkok even less now that I had such a great time with them and they’re all going back to Macau. This trip also made me even less convinced I could stand working in DC post-SAIS.

January 22: Vietnamese beach bliss contained, continued

Phu Quoc Sunset

My excitement with the Vietnamese beach bliss has been somewhat dampered by the facebook connectivity issue. Not everyone is lucky as I am to have a university that provides us with a secure US-sign on to enable us to go around such firewalls. If you have to block sites like facebook, you’re fighting a losing battle. You can’t stop people from talking, you can’t stop change, you can’t stop your young people from exploring. You also can’t go after international investment and tourism with this crap.

Our hotel is very much beach bliss. We have a private villa with a private pool—only yards away from an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. The water is clean and sand white.

I was on the plane with a guy staying at our hotel who intrigues me. Not in an “I think he’s cute way,” but this guy is here alone. Our resort is not in the town area—why would you come here solo? I’d be bored out of my mind. Anyway, he’s sitting across from me at breakfast. I guess I should be one to speak—I’m here alone now, only because my friends are wakeboarding. Were I to wait another hour for coffee, we’d have problems.

Like I mentioned, I’m here with my friend Sulaine, a Canadian expat living in Macau, and her friends (my new friends) Rob and Carlos. Rob is a genial British bloke—love the accent and good sense of humor, since I tease him a lot about having no idea what he’s saying. Carlos is hilarious, a Mexican from the great state of Texas—big sense of humor and heart. They appreciate that I have the sense of humor of a 15 year old boy. We’re getting along swimmingly.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Good morning, Vietnam!


January 21, 2012: Two Hours to Vietnamese Beach Bliss

Almost wheels up to Phu Quoc, Vietnam! I’m meeting up with my friend Sulaine, who I met in India, there. We’lI be there for Lunar New Year… yay! I was supposed to be on an earlier flight, but I’d have to wake up at 4am to catch that flight. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, so I got a seat on an Air Mekong flight.

To be honest, I really don’t like Bangkok. It is probably thanks in no small part to the plethora of old, white creepers and their much younger Thai girlfriends/mistresses/ladyboys. Wherever these men came from, they would stand no chance with a comparable beautiful woman. But they come there and prey on these girls and their poor economic situation, their willingness to do whatever they can for a way out. Some may argue it’s a mutually-beneficial agreement—guys get sex, girls get a measure of financial security. But I more than once saw these pale-faced Rico Suaves verbally abuse these girls. I can only imagine what happens behind closed doors.

My first reaction to Bangkok—a reaction of which I am not proud—was how can Thai men allow these girls to do this? I’m not proud of this reaction because it’s obviously the girl’s choice and no man should be able to impose his will on a woman. But I mean, all of these girls have fathers/brothers/other family. Maybe I’ve spent too much time in the Arab world where there is a lot of emphasis placed on a woman’s honor. But even in America, I’d like to think my father would rather die than have me sell myself off to an old, ugly man.

But I loved Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. Some lady at the airport told me horror stories of earrings being ripped out of ears and taxi cab drivers refusing to let their passengers go. She told a tough-looking Aussie man he was brave for doing HCMC alone, so I was a bit apprehensive about being a solo American chick. But I never felt unsafe, never had any problems. People either let me be or were friendly and talked with me. I even got asked to be in photos waving the ubiquitous Asian V sign. Everyone was cheerful and getting ready for the Lunar New Year. Decorations were up everywhere, families were out, young couples were taking photos. HCMC was easily walkable, which I liked as well. Too many interactions with taxi cab drivers usually turn me off from a city (see: Kuala Lumpur. Taxi cab drivers would either not stop, or if they did, tell you they wouldn’t take you to that place. Made no sense to me—after they drove off, they were without my fare and I was without a ride).

People out for Tet.

Also, Bill Clinton stayed at the hotel I stayed in while he was POTUS. If I paid big bucks, I could have spend the night in the Presidential Suite.

Happy Year of the Dragon!

I visited the War Remnants Museum in HCMC. I thought it would be something educational and relatively propaganda-free, but I think I had too high of expectations. I know Americans committed atrocities in Vietnam, but I can’t imagine atrocities were committed only on the side of the Americans and South Vietnamese. It was just photo after photo of scared villagers—which happened, yes, but not exactly balanced? I don’t know, I wish I knew the history better to be able to judge. There was also an exhibit on the ground floor showing all the “support” the anti-war people had, mostly from commies and leftists. No, I’m not a repub. But I hate all the troop-bashing, in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan. Some may have been assholes, but the majority are good men and women.

A US soldier holds a Vietnamese grenade victim. AQ's wet dream.

January 22, 2012—Vietnamese beach bliss, contained

Last night I tried signing on to facebook to update my status, perhaps upload some photos, and to my surprise, it was blocked. Why the surprise? In hindsight, I remember reading the government blocked such sites. But it worked in HCMC, for me but not my friends. Not sure why yet…

Monday, January 16, 2012

Yes, I'm starting this again.

After two years, I decided it's time to blog again. The past two years have taken me to amazing places, from Ghana to India to Colombia to Oman to so many places I can't believe it. I've met so many people, always willing to help a crazy single female traveler. I'd always be too tired to write down my experiences at night. But these interactions should be shared.

Throughout my travels, I've been amazed about how similar people are everywhere. Yes, we wear different clothes and yes, we worship different gods (okay, actually--many of us worship the same god). But whether you're Muslim or Hindu or Christian or Buddhist or white, Arab, African, Latin American, European-- I see the same people over and over again. I see the teenage girls giggling in their clique, the boys acting rambunctious, the moms nagging their children, the fathers leading their children by the hand. In the United States we have this idea that everyone else is different, but it's really not so. I wish everyone were able to travel as I am and see that no matter where you're from, everyone is like you.

Thank you to my old high school acquiescence/friend Maddy for sparking the re-blogging. It is my hope that the upcoming years are filled with as much travel as the last few, and that readers of this blog will see themselves in the people I meet.