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Living away from mom
Asia China Vietnam

Fourteen Thousand Miles Away Isn’t So Far: Keeping Close with My Mom from Vietnam — Friend For The Ride

When I was in Vietnam this summer, I had an extremely difficult decision. My relationship was falling apart, I was self-sufficient freelancing but feeling a bit directionless, and suddenly I was offered a job in China. (Spoiler: I take the job and move to Beijing) But during this difficult time, my friend Barbara asked me to write a blog post about what it is like living far from my mom. The original blog from Vietnam is below.

This is a reblog from her award-winning blog, “Friend for the Ride,” which explores a variety of topics including women’s issues, menopause, cancer, and relationships. She’s a writer and an artist and I highly encourage everyone to check it out.

via Fourteen Thousand Miles Away Isn’t So Far: Keeping Close with My Mom from Vietnam — Friend For The Ride

Living away from mom
Hanoi, Vietnam (July 2018)

You’ll be fine,” my mom says over the phone. Or maybe it was on Skype, or Facechat, or in person during one of my visits to the United States. I can’t remember because she’s said it to me so many times over the last few years.

I don’t live in the same country as my mom, nor do we talk every day, so sometimes I feel guilty dominating our conversations with self-doubt or rambles about boys. She never seems to mind being used as an emotional crutch. In fact, I believe our relationship has grown stronger in the last years, maybe not despite the distance, but because of it.

Having lived abroad (or at least in another time zone) for six years now, I’ve navigated the majority of my twenties with a lot of physical distance from my mother. My current location is Vietnam.

Last year I lived in South America, and before that, India. As a “digital nomad,” someone who makes a living by working online, I can literally be anywhere as long as I have access to a computer and the internet. It’s a brave new working world, one my mom still doesn’t understand, but at least she stopped calling me unemployed. I haven’t lived at home for ten years now, and for the majority of that time, I was not within driving distance (or even the same continent).

So what does that mean for my relationship with my mom?

Well, there are definitely times the distance bothers me. Sometimes this is due to nostalgia. I teared up in public last month when a friend left me a voice recording and I could hear the overwhelming chirp of cicadas in the background. It made me think of my unexpected visited North Carolina a year ago in the thick humidity of July, the last time I saw my grandmother. Sometimes I crave banana pudding and BBQ sandwiches and going to the gym with my mom.

Living Abroad
(Left to Right) My dad, Rachel, My mom, and me and Rachel’s Wedding (Oct 2016)

Other times I miss my mom taking care of me. Once, I got brutal food poisoning in India and spent a week moaning on my hard mattress, in so much pain I couldn’t even watch TV, and running to the bathroom to expel liquids so vile I’m ashamed (and shocked) my body was able to produce them. I was miserable. There was nothing I wanted more than to have my mom dote on me.

Often I miss her emotional support. As I have transitioned from my early 20s to my late 20s, the decisions I need to make have become bigger and weightier. Part of that is just having more options and needing to think more seriously about the future. In college, my “big” decisions were if I would live in the dorms or in an apartment and where to go for spring break. Now I need to decide if I should give up my freelance writing career for a lucrative position in China. “Big decisions” involve moving in with boys and career paths.

Mothers have invaluable life experience, are devoted to your best interest, and know you better than anyone. They can slip into roles of life coaches or therapists but are better because they don’t charge by the hour.

It’s times like these I miss my mom most of all, if nothing else, just to have her tell me, “you’ll be fine.”

And yet, the independence of living abroad has made me a much stronger adult. While I usually call to talk out difficult decisions with my mom, the consequences of my choices are ones I must bear alone. While a good Skype cry once or twice when I first moved to India were great cathartic releases, ultimately I was the one who took on those challenges without much handholding. When things got hard, I couldn’t retreat home for a weekend. I had to get resourceful.

elephant
My mom and dad enjoying their visit to India (Jaipur, India 2016)

Likewise, family time has become something sacred. There isn’t much of it, so it means really taking advantage of it while I have it. My parents have an excuse to travel to odd places. They’ve visited me in Chicago, Budapest, Prague, India, and Buenos Aires. These trips mean being able to share something a little outside the usual with my family and show them different sides of myself. In Argentina, I served as the translator. In India, I became a traffic controller to get them across the crazy streets. In every country, I have to find the best bakery for my mom.

As much as I miss the “routine” of going to the gym or lunch with my mom, or chatting in the living room, I still think the distance has helped, rather than hindered, our relationship. We value the time we have, and we make our conversations and communication count. She’s given me the emotional (and physical) distance to experiment with adulthood and find the best path for myself. It’s nice though, that technology has given me the possibility to always pick up the phone, and have someone at the other end tell me I’ll be fine.

Everest Base Camp
Asia Nepal

When You Flee India via Mount Everest



I was completely blown away with the response I got from my last blog. I’ve never had so many shares, comments, and views. In three days I had over 600 people from 25 different countries read my blog. Yes! This is the most exciting thing to happen to me in months. Seriously, I check my blog stats like a crazy person and get really excited when anyone comments. I then wondered how I would ever top that, especially since yesterday my Indian visa expired so I had to flee the country.

No, I’m not back in the US. Despite how much I complain about India (sorry, Indian friends), I’m not ready to leave. Since I can’t convert my employment visa to a tourist visa while still in India, I’m currently sitting in Kathmandu, Nepal! I’m going to apply for the 30-day e-tourist visa which usually takes about 4 days to process. I considered just waiting a few days while my tourist visa processes and returning to Chandigarh to write full time. But then I thought, “why not make it a memorable visa run?”

So I’m climbing Mount Everest.

Ok, so not for real. But sort of. More or less, I am “climbing around Mount Everest.” A friend jokingly quoted this to me a few months ago (its from a movie, I have no idea which one). But now, reflecting, that’s basically what I am doing. To actually climb Mountain Everest (to the summit) you need about $100,000 USD, months of acclimatizing, and years of experience. Let’s be honest, I don’t want to spend $100,000 that way (if I had it). Also, I’m just not that in shape and I’m 100% fine with not being in “Climbing Mt. Everest shape.” I also don’t love heights. And I hate cold. So I don’t think it’s right for me.

But I am trekking to Everest Base Camp, so technically I’ll be at the base of Everest, which is (5,380 meters or 17,6000 feet). I’m pretty excited about the trek, though also questioning my own sanity. I did a trek to 3,600 meters last summer and thought I was dying. I’m extremely sensitive to altitude. Honestly, it’s probably going to be horrible. I’m expecting to complain most of the way.

But like I said in my last post, I spend a lot of time obsessed with my own mortality and in a month I could be 6-feet-under from a freak disease (I’ve had one), a gun/terrorist attack (see last blog post), or, let’s be honest, just crossing a street in Delhi (that many cars should not be in one place at one time going that fast). So I should take the opportunity now. And I tend to enjoy these things even when I hate these things (like scuba diving). Plus, it looks absolutely stunning and I love the idea of actually getting to stand on Everest, even if just a little bit.

The best part of EBC is that there are tea houses (little lodges) all the way up since people actually live in the area, which means I don’t have to camp. It also means I don’t have to hire a porter or a guide. This sounds riskier than it actually is. I visited Nepal in April and everyone I spoke to told me the same thing: there is no point in hiring a guide, there are so many people on the trek that you won’t get lost. Also, my colleague from Jaipur, April, put me in touch with a guy she met traveling in Northern India from the Netherlands. We met up yesterday and are going to go together (for at least some of the trek). So I won’t even be alone as I originally thought.

Most people fly to Lukla from Kathmandu. Instead, we are waking up and leaving at 4:30am in order to take a shared van to Salleri and we will walk a few extra days than required in order to better acclimatize. I found an itinerary from a travel company and we basically decided to just follow what they do (except not pay them or have a guide and just rough it on our own). It looks a bit like this:

Day 1: Drive to Salleri (9-10 hours)
Day 2: Salleri to Taksindo (5-6 hours)
Day 3: Taksindo to Kharikhola (5-6 hours)
Day 4: Kharikhola to Paiya (5-6 hours)
Day 5: Paiya to Phakding (5-6 hours)
Day 6: Phakding to Namache Bazaar (5-6 hours)
Day 7: Acclimatization Day
Day 8: Namache Bazaar to Tengbuche, 3870m (5-6 hours)
Day 9: Tengbuche to Dingbuche, 4350m (5-6 hours)
Day 10: Dingbuche to Loboche, 4950m (4-5 hours)
Day 11: Loboche to Gorakshep and to Everest Base Camp, 5365m (8-9 hours)
Day 12: Kalapatthar, 5545m to Pheriche, 4200m (6-7 hours)
Day 13: Pheriche to Namache Bazaar (5-6 hours)
Day 14: Namache Bazaar to Lukla (5-6 hours)
Day 15: Fly from Lukla to Kathmandu
Day 16: Return to India

You can see the actually itinerary here. Also, I booked a flight back to Lukla for September 17th instead of September 15th just to work in a few extra rest days/exploration day. I think my trekking partner wants to spent more time in the mountains than I do, so at some point we may split off. Let’s see.

People are living in all of these places, except for Everest Base Camp. But even there, the Everest mountaineers are essentially living there for a few months as they slowly ascend and descend Everest in order to get used to the altitude. Altitude is the biggest danger. I even bought travel insurance (which I NEVER do) just because one blog I read said that they saw 12 people airlifted off the mountain in 15 days from altitude sickness. Essentially, I paid $90 so that if this happens I won’t owe $25,000 to the Nepalese rescue services. Also, I read that the next biggest danger is yaks. People have been herded off the mountain by yaks passing on narrow paths. That sounds absolutely terrifying so I’ll try not to die by yak or altitude. Both sound like pretty obnoxiously strange and preventable ways to go out.

So, how does one prepare for trekking to EBC?

I spent a large chunk of the day buying supplies from a nice lady who gave us pretty decent discounts on everything in the store. I’m going to put the costs of everything for the trip so people can get a good sense of how much a trip would cost:

Kathmandu:
Hotel stay in Kathmandu for 2 nights: 800 rupees ($7.50)
Taxi from the airport: 1000 rupees ($9.30)
3 (nice) meals in Kathmandu: 1400 ($13)

Supplies:
Trekking Boots: 3800 rupees ($35.45)
Sleeping Bag rental: 65 rupees/day + 2000 rupee deposit ($18.65, which I will get back)
Coat +rain jacket with hood: 2500 rupees ($23)
Socks: 150 rupees ($1.40)
Sunglasses: 250 rupees ($2.33)
2 boxes of water purifying tablets (50 tablets/box): 400 rupees ($3.73)
Snacks (including medicinal lip ointment): 1900 rupees ($17.72)
Walking sticks: 750 rupees ($7)
Transportation:
Jeep from Kathmandu to Salleri: 2500 rupees ($23.32)
Permit: 3390 rupees ($31.62)

Total so far: 20,840 rupees ($194)

 

Everest Base Camp
New Equipment

 

Everest Camp Camp
More Important Equipment
Everest Base Camp
Apparently I’m assuming there will be no food for the next 15 days

Then we will be paying for places to stay, food, charging our phones, showers, etc… I’m planning to bring about 50,000 rupees with me (though I’ve read that people get by with much less). Since I’m not sure I will have internet for the next 12-20 days, keep a look out for my future stories which will (hopefully) be entertaining and not disastrous.

*Featured Photo from Kasol, India. It is NOT of Everest. But I’ll have plenty of those soon 😀

Asia India

Full Circle: One Year in India



One year and one week ago today, I stumbled sleep-deprived out of my plane and navigated my first 24 hours in India. It consisted of walking out of the Delhi airport into a cloud of polluted heat and finding out from my IIC-sponsored taxi at 2:30 in the morning that I did not, in fact, have my own hotel room for the first two weeks of training in Delhi, but I actually would have a roommate. Something IIC failed to notify me about. I then met said roommate (Priya) when I entered the hotel at 3am (luckily she was awake and we had a nice chat), slept for literally two hours, and then woke up for training. I remember really enjoying the two first weeks (mostly because I liked the hotel and my colleagues and India thus far). I also remember sitting in my room thinking about what things would be like a year from now.

I predicted that our project would run seamlessly. I envisioned myself succeeding brilliantly in the work, hopefully getting a job with MDSF or BCG, and being in the works of moving somewhere new. Everything would line up just right. I’d go to Rachel’s wedding, get a new visa, and be off somewhere exotic like South Africa. The only thing I was nervous about was living in Chandigarh. It sounded boring.

Needless to say literally none of that happened. Yesterday I finished my final presentation for my year-long project in India. The project was okay. I can’t stress how much I do not want to work with MSDF or BCG. Not that I am harboring negative feelings for the organizations, I just simply don’t want to pursue that line of work anymore. And to top off how bad I am at playing Ms. Cleo, I’m also staying in India. In Chandigarh, for that matter. Who would have thought?

I originally wrote a post attempting to articulate the top 5 things I’ve learned from living here. It was vomit-worthy. Entirely too sentimental. Not the type of writing I pride myself on. I’m not really a big fan of blogs where people talk about how much they have grown through traveling. Honestly, I generally sort of roll my eyes because I don’t like publicly talking about my feelings and it seems a bit self-indulgent. Like, really, a sunset in Spain made you feel like a more complete person? But I shouldn’t judge. Sunsets in Spain are pretty spectacular (so I assume). I’ll summarize the warm-fuzzies blog by saying that it’s made me rethink work culture, sex & dating, friendship, family, the meaning of “innovation,” and why/how people travel. But I’m not going to elaborate on those things on a blog. Instead, I’m going to share some anecdotes and some “very Indian” photos from the last year:

 

  • I recently return from Croatia and I am showing Rohit the three dresses I bought:
    Me: “So, I went in Mango in this nice mall in Zagreb and saw this beautiful red dress but they didn’t have it in my size. So I went to another mall and found it but then I liked it in green and purple too so I bought all of them. And, guess what? I got all three for the price of one!”
    Rohit: “How? By Bargaining?”
  • Priya is in the kitchen with her maid and a monkey jumps on her balcony, runs into the kitchen, opens the refrigerator door, takes out a package, and runs out again.
    Priya’s Maid: Did, what do you do about monkeys in America?
  • In a fancy hotel in Delhi the phone rings in the room. Kathy answers it.
    Kathy: “yes?”
    Pause
    Kathy: “What?”
    Pause
    Kathy: “….They are….very good?” *hangs up*
    Us: What was that about?
    Kathy: I think they called asking me for feedback on the hotel slippers….
  • After a conversation about the power of the dollar versus the rupee, I was trying to explain that there is begging in the US but not as much as in India. I was telling my friend here (who is a doctor) that you never see children begging and adults are begging primarily in the urban centers.
    Her: “Oh….Do they pay in dollars?”
  • It’s monsoon season. It literally has rained everyday for the entire summer. Today, Rohit looked out my window and said, “Oh! It’s raining!” and then ran screaming “bluhblahlalalala” through my house and out the door.
  • On the train from Chandigarh to Delhi, after getting our snacks and waiting for our ice cream, a man walked down the aisle handing out instant oatmeal. No hot water, no bowls, just the oatmeal packages.
  • Me: “I went tanning this morning.”
    Rohit: “How? The sun wasn’t working today.”

Now, some photos for your amusement:

The most efficient sink

 

cycle-bike-funny-india
(2) Vroom
Shimla
Monkeys everywhere stealing your stuff

 

bathroms India
Entering a creepy underground public toilet with a snoozing bathroom attendant

 

India Photos
Tourists flocked for photos

 

Indian School Bus
School bus walla (3)

 

Indian Innovation
This is just smart (4)
Child Labor India
Outside of KFC in Chandigarh

 

India Streets
This is pretty common (1)

 

Photo References:
1) http://www.bajiroo.com/
2) http://fun2video.in/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/cycle-bike-funny-india.jpg
3) http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-rZ9dFzNRRa4/Vac9SCfbI2I/AAAAAAAAA0w/TZlXuI3jRSg/s1600/1_1435984786.jpg
4) http://www.oddee.com/item_96471.aspx