I hate to feel like I have to write on here. I hate doing something and thinking, “Oh that’s one for the ol’ blog.”
I haven’t written much from my ‘round the world trip I started in June because I try to make it a point to write only when inspiration strikes.
That being said, I think it will be a disservice to my future self to not remember the good, the bad and the weird of this backpacking trip (cuz there’s a lot of the three!)
So here it is, the start of my #tbt of all the months I’ve completed of this RTW adventure.
The trip started off in all its glorious symbolism on my Birthday. I finished my last day of work at my school, bade the necessary farewells to coworkers and then hightailed it to Hong Kong to celebrate my 26 years on this planet.
My friends that attended will find it hard to believe, but this was one of my best adult birthdays yet despite not being much more than dinner, drinks and dancing. In previous years major events have fallen on my big day and spoiled some of the fun. I’ve had a whole cap and gown graduation ceremony on two different birthdays. In Brazil my Birthday fell on the opening game for the World Cup AND Valentine’s Day. Not that I’m such an attention seeker, but you could say that on that birthday I was feeling pretty neglected. The guy I was dating at the time got a double strike for that one of course.
But Hong Kong was different. I was with my favourite people. I was eating yummy food. I was dancing in my favourite bar. I was in a city I loved.
From Hong Kong I moved on to Japan and South Korea. Tokyo was an exciting and pleasantly clean city despite having a metro system that confused the crap out of me. One day I arranged to meet with a local from couchsurfing. His name, and I kid you not, was Atsushi. We hit up the museum of technology and got to get freaked out by technology’s advances. After the museum we visited a few other nice areas of the city and then finished the night with a cold beer and some delicious hot plate. It was a great day and proof to me that couchsurfing can be used for platonic intercultural relationships.
In Seoul I stayed with my friend and former Madrid flatmate, Bobby. Bobby was the most perfect host and showed me the reason why so many ESL teachers flock to Korea. I had a fantastic time touring around the city with him and his friends and he even did a little dance for me in Gangnam. Gracias, Bobby!
Now this is where things get random. From Seoul I flew to LAX to catch a flight to Tel Aviv. Yeah. So in my first month of RTW backpacking I went, literally, around the world. And I did have my feet on American soil, the first time in nearly two years, be it for only a day.
This was my last eligible year to go on my birthright trip to Israel. I wanted to go with other Californians and the only way I could do this was by taking the FREE (!) flight from LAX to TLV. Granted I did have to pay for my Seoul to LAX tix, but those were reimbursed by my Chinese school and I reasoned with myself that the *experience* was worth it all.
I met some cool JAPs (jk!) on my super active and whirlwind tour of the country. It was fun to be in a big group of Californians after such a long, long time. But what was really most special to me was gaining a new sense of cultural identity. I never thought of myself as a “real jew” with my mishmashed upbringing and off and on celebrating of different commercial holidays. In Israel I felt a strong sense of belonging.
Another highlight of the trip was sharing some days of it with a group of Israeli soldiers/former soldiers. I didn’t follow the Middle Eastern conflict closely before my trip to Israel, but after meeting these soldiers and humanizing the IDF with all their laughs and stories, I’ve begun to research the situation at detail and can say that I fully support Israel’s existence and right to defend itself. A lot of people are quick to say “I’m Pro-this or that” but they forget a situation so complex could never have such a one sided answer. You can both support the existence of Israel and be deeply critical of its treatment of the Palestinians at the same time.
Tokyo and Kyoto were both my first and second time ever couchsurfing and they did little to encourage me to ever do it again. My first host got creepy and flirty just before bed on my last night. My second host had a house piled high with junk and garbage bags that had been forgotten to be taken out. In the months since these experiences I’ve learned that couchsurfing can be a great way to meet friendly (and tidy) locals, but even now after all these experiences I prefer to attend meet ups or organise a day like I did with Atsushi rather than stay in their homes.
Tokyo’s maze of a transport system had me galloping from the station to baggage drop counter FIVE MINUTES LATE for my flight. Five minutes they would not forgive which forced me to buy another ticket to Kyoto. The ticket was dirt cheap, but the whole day spent in the subway labyrinth, my track-star dash and fail to reach the counter on time overwhelmed me and brought down some frustrated tears.
Although I did enjoy my birthright trip with Israel Outdoors and I met some really nice people, I wish I had been a bit more selective about the trip. On my trip there were several boys fresh from college graduation that had been friends before the trip. They occupied the cool kids back of the bus zone and just brought an exclusive frat like feel to the group. They were also disrespectful during guided tours and I think something like 3/4 of our group didn’t show up for a lecture on the Middle East conflict. Hearing this lecture straight from an Israeli scholar while in Jerusalem, a holy land of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, I felt was a once in a lifetime opportunity. When spoken to individually, most of these guys were sweethearts, but when I think back on being on the bus and hearing them chant at unseemly times I regret not having looked for a special interest birthright trip.
Another sour note to our Taglit trip was how strict our leader was with us about going out and free time. On our 10 day tour we were only allowed to go out once with an early curfew. I understand that she was trying to protect us, but at the end of the day we are all adults and capable of deciding our own bedtimes. Of course mischief found it’s way to me in the form of an armed guard and we had our teen romance moment of giving the leader the slip and hitting the town 😉
Health note: the heat of the dessert and dehydration must’ve brought it out because I started to feel pain again in my kidneys. In December of the year before I had lithotripsy done in China on one of my kidneys to break apart stones that had formed. I’d prayed that this condition had ended, but in Israel I realised that my suffering had not come to an end.
After a lot of thought, I decided that this was the year I would start going by my middle name, Nicole. I’ve tired of the Britney Spears jokes, the misspellings and the mispronunciations that are all too often abroad. I tried sticking to my nickname, Britt, the last few years, but people don’t hear it the first time and often get back to the Spears references once they realize my full name. Nicole is an international name. I say it once and people don’t ask me to repeat myself. I accidentally introduced myself as Brittany a total of two painfully awkward times on my trip. People looked at me oddly and I had to lie and say that I’d been using my middle name for years, but that all the paperwork for the trip got me confused. It was a terrible lie and I probably looked like a huge weirdo. I once even paused and said, “Ummmm…..Nicole” while introducing myself. Months and months later I instinctively introduce myself as Nicole and I think I wouldn’t even flinch if I heard the name Brittany being called. Weird how quickly one can create a new identity, huh?
I met Hideaki Kobayashi , a famous older man who cross-dresses as a schoolgirl in Harajuku.
Having some Irobot moments in Tokyo.
Floating in the dead sea wasn’t all fun. The water was hot and oily feeling, like being in a big pot of soup. And worst of all, every single scratch and knick burned with the flames of 1,000 fires. TMI: Even my buttonhole burned.
June Map of Travels:
Cost of flights:
All my flights this month were either reimbursed by my Chinese school (return airfare was included in my contract) or they were a gift from the Israeli government 😀
Hong Kong to Tokyo: $110 (reimbursed by my Chinese school)
Tokyo to Osaka: $50 (reimbursed by my Chinese school)
Osaka to Seoul: $60 (reimbursed by my Chinese school)
Seoul to LAX: $445 (reimbursed by my Chinese school)
LAX to Tel Aviv: FREE!!!!