Monday in a Picture – An RPCV Goes Grocery Shopping

One of the things that we were warned about before finishing service in eSwatini was the overwhelming-ness of the grocery store. American grocery stores are filled with stuff. Some stuff is slightly different from other stuff. Sometimes, the differences are so slight that it’s difficult to tell why all of the stuff exists. With an abundance of options, it can be difficult to make a decision.

Then, there are the prices. Shortly after arriving in eSwatini, I walked through Swazi grocery stores converting everything into US dollars. Now that I’m back in DC, my mind readily converts everything into emalangeni. I’m sure I’ll break the habit eventually, but initially, the sticker shock is real.

Recently, I was walking through a local grocery store and thought, “why are there so many kinds of Oreos?” Cold brew coffee is a big thing now. As a less than occasional coffee drinker, I was perplexed by all of the bottled cold brew coffee on offer in the store. The above picture is of most of the yogurt options. So much choice!

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – I felt like Andy Rooney, on his closing 60 Minutes segment, as I walked through the grocery store. Many times, just wondering, “why?”.

P.P.S. – Walking through the grocery store pales in comparison to walking through Wal-Mart.

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Monday in a Picture – November Project

I’ve been back in the states for just over a week now. It’s been a week catching up with family and friends, coordinating events and schedules, and other stuff related to readjustment. As I’ve moved around the city, it’s familiar in a different way. Businesses I used to frequent have moved. Luxury and boutique apartment buildings dot the city’s streets. Electric scooters and electric-assist bikes help to move Washingtonians around the city.

One of the things that I looked forward to most when I was coming back was November Project. For those who don’t know, November Project is a free fitness movement that started in Boston in November of 2011. Tribes in cities all over the world meet every Wednesday morning between 6 and 6:30 am, no matter what. I knew that in a city full of transients and constant change, November Project DC would be there. At the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday morning. The only requirement: just show up. I knew that I’d be greeted by cheery faces, high fives and hugs. I was late getting to the workout on Wednesday morning and it was much colder than SE Asia. But the tribe always makes it worth the early rising.

I was reminded of how out of shape I am. I was also reminded of how encouraging a group of people can be. It’s good to be back. The above photo was taken by Matt at the start of Friday morning’s workout.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Steps Stateside

In August, I started on a route heading back to DC. I chose the scenic route. After starting in Mumbai, my only plan was to journey eastward. And to eat good food. After three months of experiencing the food, sights, and sounds of south and southeast Asia, I finished the journey east. On this past Saturday, I landed stateside. After two and half years, I’m back!

It was strange getting on the flight from Beijing to DC. A sort of “this is it” feeling. No more living out of my backpack. Back to familiar settings that don’t seem super familiar. I am excited to be home for Thanksgiving for the first time in two years. We’ll see what the future has in store.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – I’d recommend the Mobile Passport app for free, expedited entry through US Customs at several approved sea and airports. It’s a cool alternative to Global Entry.

Monday in a Picture – Fish Foot Massage

Last week as I was riding around the island of Siquijor, I saw one of the suggested tourist sites. There was a massive tree that was more than 100 years old. At the base of the tree was a small pond. The pond was home to several fish of varying size. All of the fish were very eager to chomp on some dead human skin. Luckily for them, I had some to contribute. I had heard of such fish foot spas around Asia, and I had been intending on going. But intentions fall victim to the immediacy of life. Alas, here I was.

The initial rush of fish on my feet was part startling, part tickling, part strange. A few seconds in, followed by many more seconds out. After several cycles of this, I was comfortable enough to relax and enjoy the fish nibbling. Even the larger ones. The above video was recorded once I actually relaxed.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Dutch Pancake Party

I know. I know. You may have seen the title and thought, “I didn’t know that Kirby was going to the Netherlands”. I didn’t. I arrived in Philippines after a wonderful time in Vietnam. As I do when I get to most new cities, I checked out what was going on in the local Couchsurfing community. Manila was no exception. Some locals and travelers were getting together to walk around and explore Manila a day after I arrived. Perfect!

A group of about ten folks showed up in the park for the day’s activities. What I didn’t know was that the day’s activities would conclude in a Dutch Pancake Party at a local hostel. Robin, a self-described Dutch nomad, started throwing these parties some years ago. It all started with a conversation about food. Someone who was hosting Robin asked him to make some Dutch food. He admitted that he didn’t know how to cook, and made the only thing he knew: a Dutch pancake. Following the excitement of the first, he organized another, and then another. Now, Robin has hosted more than 100 of these events in more than 80 cities.

It was really cool to see all of the people coming together to share in pancakes. There was a very social atmosphere that extended beyond Couchsurfing. Good times were had as many pancakes were devoured. The above picture was taken before the event started as we were making pancake batter.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Halong Bay

A few years ago, I saw pictures of what I would learn is Halong Bay. One of the pictures was so magnificent that I decided to make it the background on my phone. I wanted to get there. To see this beauty in person. To be amazed and in awe. As my time in Vietnam was drawing to a close, I decided to prioritize going to Halong Bay over everything else. The Ha Giang Loop. Sapa. Ninh Binh. Hanoi.

While spending some time on the island of Cat Ba in Lan Ha Bay, I took a day boat trip through that bay to Halong Bay. It was just as beautiful in person as it was in the picture saved as my screensaver a while ago. Activities in the bay included swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. The tour guide also pointed out several of floating communities in the bays. The 1,969 limestone karsts protect the communities from typhoons, tsunamis, and the like. There are some communities that have a small tunnel entrance. One such entrance is only accessible during low tide. Many of the floating communities have fish farms. The above picture was taken just before kayaking around some of Halong Bay. If you look closely, you can see some of the passages we kayak through.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Hai Van Pass

Moving around in Vietnam can be done many different ways. Private cars can be hired. Bus, plane and train tickets can be acquired for travel. Then, there are motorbikes. Scooters. Motorcycles. Mopeds. They are extremely popular around the country. I learned shortly before visiting Hoi An (in central Vietnam) that it was possible to take a motorbike tour from Hoi An to Hue, a city about 100 kilometers north also in central Vietnam. I had also heard that the route was absolutely beautiful.

For the motorbike bike tour, there were two options. Option one would put me on the back of a guide’s motorbike to relax and enjoy the ride with the views. Option two would give me a motorbike to ride on my own with the guide riding another motorbike. I promptly chose option two. Last week, the time had come for me to leave Hoi An and set off for Hue. A tour guide and two motorbikes arrived at my hostel during breakfast. We were on our way.

One of the biggest attraction of the route is the 21 kilometer long Hai Van Pass. The mountain which the pass runs through separated two kingdoms in what is now Vietnam. Other than a few flash rain showers, the sun shone through some clouds throughout the day. The entire route was a visual treat. I remember riding and questioning whether or not what I was seeing was actually real. I was wondering how I’d somehow transitioned into a postcard or painting. It’s just that amazing. The photo above is a view of DaNang Bay from the Hai Van Pass.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – here’s a picture of me on my motorbike for the day. All smiles!

Monday in a Picture – Koh Rong Sanloem

I had never associated Cambodia with islands and beaches. In southeast Asia, I had heard phenomenal things about the island beaches in Thailand and the Philippines. I forget who made the suggestion, but someone offered that I could find a piece of island beach paradise in Cambodia on Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem.

I chose to head to Koh Rong Sanloem, the smaller of the two. I’m not sure how many people live on the island, but there is a village community on the northern tip of the island called M’Pai Bay. The community mostly consists of Khmer families, guesthouses, basic shops, and restaurants. The island doesn’t have any cars, but motorbikes are present. The motorbikes aren’t used nearly as much as they are on mainland Cambodia. Moving around the island is typically done on foot (If it’s close enough and there’s a path) or by boat. The interior of the island is dense jungle. I attempted to walk through the jungle on a path to another beach. While I made it to the other beach, it was a bit more of a hike than I was prepared for. The beach, pictured above, was definitely worth it. Of course, I got lost on the way back. Thankfully I found my way before sunset. For reference (if you ever want to go), I took this picture at Clearwater Bay on Koh Rong Sanloem.

One of the biggest attractions of the island, aside from its clear water and beautiful beaches, is the bio-luminescent plankton that can be seen just off the shore at night. In waist deep water, I could briefly see the shimmering light of plankton. As I walked in deeper and disturbed the water even more, I saw more plankton. Moving my hands underwater provided quite a show. It felt like I had figured out to do magic. It felt like I was a deity showing off my powers. This easily kept me entertained for the better part of 40 minutes. For those who may be wondering, it wasn’t possible for me to take pictures of this happening. It is truly something that you must experience in person.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Mondulkiri Project

Shortly after arriving in Cambodia, I was in a hostel in Phnom Penh talking with PCV who is currently serving here. We talked about our experiences in Peace Corps and life. I asked the Cambodia PCV for recommendations on things to do while here. He spoke very highly of the Mondulkiri Project in northeast Cambodia. The project has an elephant sanctuary for rescued elephants, and offers jungle trekking in addition to visits to the sanctuary to feed and bathe the elephants.

My interest was piqued. I read more about the project, and knew that I wanted to go. The project is home to five elephants. At least one was formerly used for elephant rides in Angkor Wat. Another was used for hauling logs from the jungle. Another was abused by her caretaker. The project also employs Bunong people, who live in the local community where the jungles and forests are.

The 18 kilometer trek started at the tour guide’s homestead just before 9 am. The views from the trek were quite awesome. Apparently, it’s the end of rainy season so the mosquitoes were minimal, but jungle floor was very slippery. This was especially true on inclines and declines. I lost my footing a few times and was invited to promptly sit down on the jungle floor. The trek included swimming in a river at a waterfall right before lunch. During the after lunch trekking, the rain started. Although it started as a light drizzle, it progressed into heavier rain. The jungle floor became even more slippery. We finally reached our destination: the Jungle Lodge. They had hammocks with blankets set up for us. They also served dinner, which included bamboo soup (made in real bamboo), breakfast, and lunch the next day.

The second day was all about the elephants in the sanctuary. We went down to the sanctuary with many bananas. We were able to feed the elephants in the jungle sanctuary. Once the elephants saw that we had the bananas, the gentle giants approached and took the fruit from our respective hands. Some elephants allowed us to remain close while others walked away to munch on some young bamboo. In the afternoon, we were able to swim with and bathe the elephants in the river. After a full two days of activity, I was tired and sore. I’m super thankful for the hot shower and delicious food I had back in town. The above picture is of me admiring the view at the beginning of the trek, when I was still dirt-free.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – Here go two more really cool pictures. The first is of a leaf that apparently ran out of chlorophyll. The second is of an elephant munching

Monday in a Picture – Pasar Malam

Some weeks ago, I started looking for my next destination. After lots of internal dialogue and price checking, I settled on Cambodia. Phnom Penh, to be exact. One of the things that I’ve grown fond of is extended layovers. Especially in places where visas are free. On the way to Cambodia, I was so fortunate.

Flying from Chennai, I had to connect in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). When I booked the flight, I started looking for things to do in the city to take advantage of my fifteen hour layover. I found that Malaysia was known for having really good food. I also learned that Kuala Lumpur has a plethora of pasar malams, or night markets, filled with the aforementioned really good food. I had to go.

This blog post helped me figure things out. After landing, I went to the city centre to check out the Petronas Twin Towers and walk around. By early evening, I was ready to let my tastebuds explore. I made my way over to the Taman Connaught night market. It’s massive. Like seriously massive. Like “go with friends and pace yourself with a bite of this and a taste of that because you’ll be overwhelmed with deliciousness” massive. There was a lot of pork, with a smattering of poultry. There were all different kinds of fruit (available whole, in pieces, juiced, and sometimes smoothied). With some dishes, noodles or rice played a prominent role. In many dishes, eggs featured generously. While most stalls had menu boards or signs in English, some did not. It’s an excellent opportunity to see if your eyes can figure out what your tastebuds desire. There were also stalls selling clothing, cell phone accessories, and other things.

After two hours of walking through the stalls, I decided to call it quits. I had been gluttonous enough. I had eaten to my heart’s content. I was ready for a corner and a nap. If you ever have the opportunity to visit (and eat) at any of the night markets in Kuala Lumpur, do it! But pace yourself. For the market is mighty, and the stomach is small. The picture above is of one of the stalls serving salted egg things.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – here’s a picture of me about to dig into something called salted egg chicken. It was pretty delicious.