That time in Malaysia/Thailand

Welllllll all good things must come to an end–I’m back in China after a long absence. Actually, this absence is probably the longest number of consecutive days I’ve ever spent on vacation. I wouldn’t exactly say I’m vacationed out, nor would I say I’m glad to be back, but I’m not thaaaaat upset to be off the road, either. I figured out that I’ve slept in 13 different places in the last few weeks. That’s a lot of places.

I’ll do some more travel-bloggy postings about specific places I went and things I saw later, I think, but for now let’s just do a bit of a general overview. I started out the break with a little China travel. I know there are lots of places in China that tourists go and that are cool in theory, but I haven’t had a lot of enthusiasm for travel in China to date. Part of that has been general China ennui and the belief that Chinese annoyances like pushing and crowds and disorganization get even worse when traveling. This is true, but I also forgot that when one visits actually touristy places in China the game changes, to some extent. There can be English speakers and English signs! There are lines instead of masses! There are fewer stares and catcalls (“laowai!”)! So yes, probably more China travel is on my radar. I can think of about five places I would like to go before I leave, which will probably occur in some combination with various people who deign to visit me in the next 18 months or so.

Arriving in Malaysia was bizarre. We had forgotten that there could be places in Asia that actually feature diversity,  legitimate Western food and goods, and appealing, clean, quiet atmospheres (relatively speaking). Kuala Lumpur seemed like a paradise, right off the heels of China, and there we began our trip-long pattern of eating and drinking our weight in Non-China. (Once, I might have looked down on tourists who travel abroad and eat boring food from their home countries–but if you’re living in China, being able to find Western food while traveling is a luxury to be enjoyed in some form nearly every day). It was also interesting how well everyone in Malaysia spoke English, compared to China. Even a possibly-homeless man we talked to briefly at a bus stop used compound-complex sentences flawlessly. A cab driver told us it’s because of the influence of the old British education system. Take that, China.

We spent a solid week-and-a-half on the beaches in Malaysia and Thailand, and although in the past I’ve been known for my cultivation of milky paleness, six months of not seeing the sun meant that I was happy to soak up however much of it I could get. Greeting a friend this afternoon upon my return, the first comment he made was something like, “Look at you, all non-pale.” And damn proud of it. However, this vacation also taught me that all-beach vacations aren’t really my favorite thing. Good for a few days, or good if spliced with something else–but by the end of our beach time I was getting a little island fever, wishing for some daytime activity other than just reading by the water. But trips with little-to-no daily agenda have their perks too–if there’s nothing in particular that one has to do, then there’s no impediment to operating on a 11am-4am waking schedule.

We met a lot of people, and a lot of bizarre people, especially on the beach parts of the vacation. Another lesson learned: longterm travelers, the kinds who quit their jobs and spend a year winging it through Southeast Asia often tend to be…odd. It’s hard to do justice to any of the characters we met or any of the strange, strange nights we enjoyed, but they’ll forever be remembered in our minds and on a chart I’m making (yes).

In the last week of my travels, my three original travel companions (Lindsay, Amy, and Gareth, for those of you keeping score at home) headed back to China and I took a ridiculous route to the north of Thailand to spend a few days in Chiang Mai with a different group of PCVs. It was nice to see a different side of Thailand, and a different side of traveling. Early to bed and early to rise for a very active week of biking, zip-lining, hiking, elephant riding, cooking school, etc. Whew.

No trip is perfect, but I’m glad things worked out as well as they did this vacation. I fulfilled one of my goals of getting to hang out with a lot of different people (planned travels with those two different PCV groups, plus surprise run-ins with two other, separate traveling volunteers, plus reconnecting with two good friends from college and high school in Malaysia and Thailand, respectively). Another of my goals had been to do some independent travel and see what I thought about it–well, I ended up only being independent for about two days, but it did show me that although it’s not the worst thing in the world, it’s not something I’d particularly seek out, either.

I got to see a lot of different stuff–city, beach, jungles, temples, etc. And I did a lot spontaneously. Yes, yes, “Marissa” and “Play it by ear” don’t go that comfortably together. But partially due to logistical circumstances and partially as a test, I decided to leave a lot of the plans for this trip up in the air until the last minute. In fact, I decided to fly to Chiang Mai only the night before I actually left, and began my travels without an actual return ticket to China in hand whatsoever. In the end, this didn’t turn out to be so smart financially or stress-level-wise, but I did enjoy the freedom I had to choose my own adventure.

The next few days in China should be a combination of reconnecting and partying with people, doing China stuff (the most important holiday, Spring Festival (aka Chinese New Year) happens this week), and holing up in my apartment to prepare for next semester. I’ll be back in Chengdu for Peace Corps In-Service Training from Feb 7th-19th, and then classes begin again on the 21st. Let’s just make it through.

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