In the last 7 months, I have gotten to know Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia. In the last 7 months, I have experienced some of the best times, hardest times, and most inspirational times of my life.
In the last 7 months, I have been in one minor motorbike accident, one major car accident, eaten various organs from various animals, posed for countless selfies with Asians (I can’t imagine how many Asian Facebooks display my face), produced body odors that resemble nasi goreng and chicken curry, acquired and conquered staff infection from an infected rope burn, been transported to a hospital in a wheel barrow/cart, watched a little girl get hit by a car (I was a passenger in the car), watched a kangaroo get hit by a car (again, I was a passenger), endured Bali belly once and Lombok belly twice, and found myself completely broke of money for the first time in my life.
(just a few selfies)
In the last 7 months, I have surfed waves in Bali, Lombok, and Australia, skiied on Australian snow, learned to ride a motorbike, learned (and still learning) to play ukelele, played piano in an Aussie airport, hula hooped in countless bars and beaches, fire hooped in a few bars and beaches, taught tourists and local children hula hoop tricks, driven on terrifying 4WD tracks in the Australian outback, worked as a mathematics tutor, full-time nanny, olive farm laborer, and farm animal care-taker, visited and meditated in Hindu and Buddhist temples, learned to cook Slovakian food, scuba dove, swam, snorkeled, and surfed on the most beautiful ocean landscapes I have ever layed eyes upon, seen kangaroo, monkeys, elephants, manta rays, wombats, komodo dragons, octopus, sharks, reindeer, wallaby, wild boar, and hundreds of exotic birds and fish, cuddled and kissed baby wombats, hiked through countless forests, mountains, and rice fields, sang “Hotel California” nearly 50 times, received a healthy number of beach massages, and learned to speak a few basic words in Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Aussie.
In the last 7 months, I have met people from countries that I didn’t realize existed, learned about global issues that are not covered in the news, made friendships with stray Asian dogs, cats, monkeys, and cows, made friendships with humans from around the world (some of which may last my lifetime), fallen in love with an Aussie-Slovak, and, as cliche as it sounds, learned a whole lot about my self.
Ready for the best part?
My journey is not over.
Southeast Asia has become my home; my comfort zone. I will admit that I have experienced my fair share of hiccups in Asia, but that is what makes me feel like I am truly living. In the last 7 months, I have found that life can be too easy in the western world, and the easiness is what sometimes makes me feel unhappy. In the western world, I am kept “safe” through excessive organization and regulation, which in-turn can prevent me from facing real life problems, acquiring common sense, and understanding life’s true values. In Southest Asian countries, the majority of residents must face real life problems on a daily basis. People in Southeast Asia do not stress about unnecessary issues that most westerners worry about, such as road traffic or maintinaing material items, but rather address vital life issues, such as having food, water, and shelter. Southeast Asians value only what is necessary for life, which allows them to live simply, peacefully, carefree, and happy. As a long-term Western tourist in Southeast Asia, I eventually rid my brain of first-world stressors, and I became happy too. Southeast Asians prove that a simple life is a happy life.
I did not realize how happy Southeast Asians are (and how happy I was in Southeast Asia) until I visited Australia. After three months in Asia, my best friend Kelly and I decided that we were too broke to continue our travels in Asia, and needed to go to Australia for work (we soon found that Australia is not the easiest place to make money, but rather an easy place to spend money). The day Kelly and I arrived in Australia, I experienced culture shock for my first time. The simplest way I can explain how I felt is by imagining silence. Complete, utter silence. In Asia, I was accustomed to constant sensory stimulation from the amalgam of sounds, visuals, tastes, smells, and humidity. In Australia, my system was shocked by the lack of colour, music, smiles, warmth, choice, and freedom. For instance, I remember two weeks into my Australia journey, some friends and I tried walking barefoot into a live music bar, canteen water bottles in hand, only to be stopped by a “security” guard. The man demanded that we wear shoes and toss our canteen water bottles. I was in fury by this seemingly ridiculous demand, and started to argue with the security guard. My french friend, Alex, turned to me and said, “Deanna, this is not Indonesia. You cannot do whatever you want. We are in Australia now, and you have to abide by their cultural rules.” I knew his insight was the mature way to approach the situation, but I didn’t want to agree with him. Now, I realize that any western bar/restaurant would prevent a shoe-less hippy from entering their business. However, at the time, I wanted to be in Asia.
After nearly two months of trying to become accustomed to Australia’s silence and over-regulation, I was nowhere near accustomed. Why in the hell did I stay in Australia for two months? Well, as the story goes, I fell in love with an Aussie, and love directs everything. I abhorred Australia’s culture, but I was in love with an Aussie, so I was caught between a desire to stay and a desire to leave. I wanted to understand why I couldn’t get along with Australia, but I couldn’t find answers while I was there. By two months, I knew I needed to get back to Asia to clear my mind and regain my happiness, so I booked a flight to Indonesia.
Going back to Indonesia was the best thing I could have done for my self. The moment I landed in Bali, I became ecstatic by the familiar smells, heat, sounds, smiling people, and colourful imagery. Although Bali is typically not my favourite place, I was overjoyed to be there. On this Indonesian adventure, I ended up traveling to Flores, and fell in love with Indonesia even more than I thought was possible. My love for human beings rose back from my heart. I was smiling like an Indonesian again.
As much as I wanted to spend the rest of my life traveling Indonesia, I was completely broke by 30-days, and I made a commitment to work as a nanny for a month in Australia. Yes, I made a commitment to return to Australia. Although this may have been a bad decision for my sanity, I was desperate for work, and I wanted to try to see Australia with a refreshed perspective. This time, I was prepared for the cultural differences between Australia and Southeast Asia, and I hoped that my mental preparation would help me make peace with Australia.
I have been in Australia for about four weeks now. I wish I could say that I was wrong about Australia. I wish I could say that Australia is my favorite place on earth. However, the truth is that I long to go back to Southeast Asia, and I’m already planning my next move. With that said, I have found a deeper purpose and altered perspective in the last four weeks, which makes me realize that returning to Australia was worth the ride. First off, I feel extremely fortunate to have experienced two drastically different cultures in such a short period of time. Although I often focus on Australia’s over-regulation, the reality is that Australia and Southeast Asia offer different types of freedoms. In Asia, I can walk around barefoot, ride a motorbike, drink a beer on the street, and travel anywhere my heart desires. In Australia, I am given the opportunity to make money, expose my skin, camp in the bush, and tell people I am from America without hesitation. Each culture provides what the other culture lacks, and I am blessed to have learned about both ways of life. Second off, as I mentioned before, I am spending my time as an olive farm labourer and a full-time nanny for a three-year-old adopted child named Leah. Not only do I enjoy my jobs, but they keep me goal-oriented and focused, which I now realize is key to a healthy mind. Furthermore, my jobs make me feel like my existence in Australia is important because I am making a positive difference to people’s lives.
Now that I have made a difference to people in Australia, I would like to make a difference to people’s lives in Asia. I have a ticket back to Thailand in 9 days, where I will meet with Kelly in northern Thailand for a week or two, then head to Laos or Myanmar. In addition to having some solo travel time (I have traveled with various partners for the last 7 months; I am in need of alone time), I hope to find an opportunity to thank and give back to Southeast Asia. To my family, please don’t worry; I will be back in California by Christmas. Until then, I must embrace my last months on this side of the world. After all, this is the biggest adventure of my life.