Baltimore. Bikes. Bananas.

I like bikes. Riding them. Looking at them. Talking about them. Wrenching on them. Contemplating which one I’ll buy next. Some years back, I thought about the possibility of completing a century. For the uninitiated, that’s one hundred miles. On a bike. I put it off using every excuse I could think of. I’m not fit enough. I’ll never be fit enough. One hundred miles is so far. Too far. Thankfully, some friends held me accountable and asked repeatedly how training was going. It worked. I completed my first century in 2014.

This got me thinking. What else can I do? I set my sights on long day trips. I set goals to ride from DC to Annapolis, and from DC to Baltimore. While I made the roundtrip journey to Annapolis on a summer day in 2015, I still put off Baltimore. I used much of the same logic I had used prior. It’s too far. I’m not in the best shape. There’s no good route. The route isn’t safe. And it continued.

A co-worker told me about creating routes on Strava, a social fitness tracking site. The creating routes feature allows you to pick two or more points and get the most popular route between them. There are also options to minimize the route’s elevation and to plan the route manually. I looked into it. After exploring different routes to Charm City, I decided that I’d go all in. Baltimore or bust.

Last weekend, I made the trip. There were a few times during the 60+ miles that I questioned my decision making. But none of that was present as I saw the Baltimore skyline in the distance. My route was a nice mixture of trails, back roads, quiet residential streets, and slightly busier streets with wide shoulders. It took around five hours in total (just over four hours of actual moving time). After a delicious Baltimore lunch, I made my way to Penn Station to take the MARC train back to DC. My life and legs weren’t quite ready to ride 60+ miles back. It’s a nice day trip that I’d recommend to anyone considering the opportunity.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Kirby Kaptures: Catharsis on the Mall

*I have a camera. I like taking pictures. Here are some of photographs from my recent life stuff.

Fire spinning
The fire conclave
Painting a collective mural
The Temple’s centerpiece burns
Free Love
Participants gathered in the Temple
Some people choose to write messages in the Temple.
Ichiro, the Sacred Beings
Flow

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Oh Yeah. I Can Do That: An RPCV’s Job Search

When I was finishing my service in the kingdom of eSwatini, I was applying for jobs. I applied for jobs all over the US and a few abroad. I knew that I would need to eventually work (or do something) to support whatever life I’d have post-Peace Corps. I started a spreadsheet to track all of the jobs I would apply to. I color coded the document to know (at a quick glance) who had replied to me, passed on my skill set, and/or requested an interview.

Throughout my COS trip, I applied to several jobs knowing that I wasn’t planning on returning to the US for a few months. Before I left eSwatini, I had been invited to two interviews. Thankfully, many hiring managers and interviewing staff were extremely gracious and accommodating as I interviewed via telephone or video conference. I am also thankful for fellow travelers I met throughout my COS trip who let me use their laptops and/or Wi-Fi to do these interviews.

Upon returning to DC, I had a few more interviews. This time, in person. It was the first time in more than seven years that I had sat in an interview room as an interviewee. Although I was (and still am) confident in my skill set, the once-again newness of the job search brought on a certain nervousness and uncertainty. Thankfully, DC is home to many RPCVs and a supportive community of friends and family. After connecting with friends of friends and friends to be, there were suggestions and leads to sort through. In hindsight, I’m glad that I met with everyone I did. Not everyone has a job or opportunity to offer; some can connect you to others and grow your network. Not everyone has connections, but maybe they can offer advice on the things they wish they had known when they were in your shoes. There is also value in having an attentive listening ear to give audience to the load of things floating around one’s mind. I found it very helpful to be able to talk through what I wanted and why I wanted it. It was equally as helpful to be asked questions about things that I may not have previously considered. I think that this made for a more refined presentation in job interviews and similar situations.

While I’m not a statistician, I do believe that numbers can be helpful. During this job searching period, I formally applied to 49 jobs including government, private sector, and NGO positions. This does not include various conversations that I may have had that informally discussed an open position and the like. Out of those 49 application submissions, 10 hiring managers let me know that they were passing on the opportunity to work with me. Eight of those 49 hiring managers invited me to an interview. One of those interviews resulted in the interviewing panel passing on my skill set, but they referred me to another team that was possibly interested. That led to another interview. After almost five months of post-service job hunting, I had received two offers. Last month, I started a new position just outside of Washington, DC in a field that I have extremely limited knowledge in. It’s a learning curve and an adjustment, and I’m enjoying it. Every day presents new challenges and new opportunities. For that, I’m thankful.

For those who may be wondering, being an RPCV helped. Having non-competitive eligibility (NCE) helped. Having a resume that shows adaptability, transferable skills, and a decent work history helped. I recognize that everyone has a different journey and experience. Many different things came together for me. It was magical that they came together at the right time. If this process and experience has taught me anything, it’s this: don’t be afraid to ask for help AND don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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.

The World’s Greatest Airport

Yesterday, I had a long layover in what some consider to be the world’s greatest airport, Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN). As I’ve previously written on this blog, I’m a huge fan of long layovers especially when the country offers visa free entry and decent food. Singapore ticks the necessary boxes. While I was looking at various things to do on a 16 hour layover, I found the usual recommendations for tourist sites and good eating around the city. However, another recommendation kept resurfacing: the airport itself. I never thought of an airport as an attraction.

The kiosk

After landing, I was headed towards immigration to head into the city when I noticed a kiosk advertising free Singapore tours. I stopped by. During the day, there are free heritage tours to the city. In the late afternoon and evening, there are free city lights tours. My flight arrived just in time for one of the late afternoon city lights tours. The tour was led by a local tour guide named Daryl. About 20 folks from all over the world joined Daryl’s group and boarded an air-conditioned tour bus to the city. Daryl taught us about some of the history of Singapore while pointing out some of the famous sites. One of the stops was Gardens by the Bay. The massive garden features super trees, which are concrete and metal structures in the form of trees that are home to various plant life. At night, they are brilliantly lit. Not too far away is Satay by the Bay, a food centre with various types of tasty local cuisine. After 2.5 hour jaunt around the city, we were headed back to the airport.

One of the super trees at dusk
Satay on satay on satay!
Part of the Singapore skyline.
More of the super trees. After dark.

When we returned to the airport, some of us decided to check an art installation in the airport called Kinetic Rain. The installation features several copper-coated droplets moving artfully in sync.

The art installation.

The airport is home to different gardens including a cactus garden and a butterfly garden. For the tired feet, there is a plethora of foot massagers. There are several lounge spaces with comfy chairs to relax. In Terminal 2, there’s what they call the Entertainment Deck. Several video game stations are set up for the traveler’s leisure. The selection of games is pretty good, as well. Around the corner, there was a room with computer gaming and an arcade-style setup for various (mostly fighting) games. In Terminals 2 and 3, there are small movie theatres. Each has a daily rotation of 5-6 movies. There are also several computer terminals set up for internet browsing in addition to free WiFi.

All of the above mentioned stuff is free. There are paid options as well. For example, there’s a gym, a few spas, and several paid lounges. For those that need to rest in more traditional settings, there are hotels in the airport. One of the hotels has a swimming pool available to their guests, and outsiders (for a fee).

After my short stay in Changi, I can definitely see why it’s considered the world’s greatest airport. It seems to be an airport designed by someone who spent too much time in airports twiddling thumbs thinking, “there has to be a better way”. It absolutely challenged what I thought an airport was, and could be. Of the airports that I’ve been to, Changi just might be the best. It’s definitely the most engaging. It’s also the place that I’d most want a long layover, or a flight delay.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

From the @whatisKirbydoing Instagram: November 09, 2018 at 07:43AM

This is probably one of my favorite pictures (of myself) over the past three months. It was taking after kayaking in Halong Bay. Soon, I’ll be finishing up the scenic route back to the US. The #COSTrip has been wonderful. A learning experience. A teaching experience. A cultural exchange experience. An existential experience. And more. #RPCV #Vietnam #HalongBay #Fun #BlackMan #BodyPositivity #Travel #EdgeOfTheComfortZone

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!