He Said/She Said: Daily Struggles

He Said/She Said: Daily Struggles

Ten months into the trip, we’ve had our share of amazing moments, but not without the daily struggles.  We try not to dwell on the difficult, but travel is not always easy or glamorous.  Below we outline, or rant about, some of the day-to-day challenges that we face.

HE SAID…

Riding a magic carpet we transport ourselves from place to place, cross borders and break language barriers.  Looking at our daily journal we gracefully navigated Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Taipei in 48 hours.  We will write about a few things along the way, but what gets lost is the blood, sweat and tears of travel.  We do not have a magic carpet, we aren’t gifted at picking up foreign languages, and we don’t get special treatment.  In order to travel like we have, we inevitably fight daily battles, overcome bumps in the road, and pay life tolls along the way.  Here are some of my struggle highlights.

“If you don’t reside or work in Hong Kong permanently, you are required to apply for a Chinese visa from the Embassy or Consulate-General of Peoples’ Republic of China in your resident country,” reads the Chinese embassy in Hong Kong.  This was an “oh shit” moment, we had our flight to Hong Kong booked, in order to get a Chinese visa and travel China.  We went to three Chinese embassies to find out we could not get the visa we wanted if we applied outside the USA.  We figured out we would also need an Indian Visa from the USA, specifically Chicago.  Looking into visa services, it was clear they would require a lot of time and $200 per person to get the visas for us.  I called in a favor to my only friend in Chicago, Sharad, and asked if he could go to the embassies for us.  He said, “no problem.”  We flew to Japan, where we wouldn’t need a passport, and FedEX’d them to him.  Within a week our passports, visas included, were in the mail back to us.  Sharad wins the “trip assist” award for our first year of travel, we couldn’t have traveled to the places we have without his help.

Getting around Asia on a budget, requires flying discount airlines.  The largest, AirAsia, has some absurdly inexpensive fares, but does not accept American credit cards.  There are countless stories of this on the internet and our credit card company has said they are not even seeing the charges, “its being declined by the vendor.”  Due to the price differential between AirAsia and traditional airlines, it’s infuriating.  To give you an idea of the difference, from Christchurch, New Zealand, to New Dehli, India, a route we are flying in March, costs $420 on AirAsia.  According to Kayak.com, there are no “SkyTeam” (Delta) airlines serving this route, on “OneWorld” (American Airlines) it costs $2709, and “Star Alliance” (United) it costs $3124.  Knowing we needed to fly AirAsia I had to come up with a solution, then it hit me: they would accept a Singaporean credit card.  I called my cousin, Brian, and asked for his assistance, thankfully he said “sure.” It may seem easy for him, but for us, it is a lifesaver.

Another struggle we have had is making it to airports.  In Asia the airports tend to be far from cities, we often joke that we are driving half the distance to the destination, instead of flying.  We have had way, way too many close calls, but Tokyo was our first near miss.  We took the wrong train, heading to Narita, instead of Narita Airport.  When we realized our mistake we ran out of the train station and hailed a cab.  Using charades and a pen we asked how much to go to the airport: $200 USD.  We later learned he wasn’t fleecing us, it really was that far away.  I realized the one thing we could do was get checked in online, then we would only have to haggle our baggage onto the plane.  To do this I would need an iPhone, as even in Japanese I knew how to operate it.  Spotting a college-age person, I asked him, “do you have an iPhone?”  He responded, “yes,” then handed it to me.  I was a little startled, this stranger had just handed me a phone, no questions asked.  We got on the train together and I checked in.  We explained the situation and he said, “I’m going to the airport too, I’ll show you the way.”  He ran along with us to change trains, and get to the Narita check-in counter.  We begged our way on, only 30 minutes prior to takeoff.  When we landed in Busan we noticed they had put “stand-by” tags on our luggage, apparently the Delta staff didn’t think we would actually make it on the plane…

It was help like this, from family, friends and strangers, that help us through daily struggles and make this trip possible.  There are few “easy” days on the road, but the struggles are worth it.  We may burn as many calories gesturing for lunch as we take in.  We have become more flexible and adaptable.  We have also become much more willing to ask for help.  We will definitely work to “pay it forward” and help strangers and travelers as they have helped us.

SHE SAID…

Language barriers, heavy bags, unidentifiable food and getting lost were to be expected as part of our travel woes, but who knew that airports would be our arch nemesis?  Being on the road for ten months has provided us with a whole new set of coping skills and our outside the box thinking is honed to the point that sometimes the obvious answer alludes us.  Just in case you think by reading our blog all of our travels seem to be a breeze, these next few anecdotes will prove that travel takes a lot of stamina to get through the daily struggles even with help from strangers.

While it may not be a daily struggle, thank goodness, getting to and from the airport has caused us the most difficulty and stress thus far.  Every time that we head out to catch a flight we are armed with maps, several back up plans and enough money to insure we get there, but somehow we cut it too close for comfort every time.  In Tokyo it was taking the wrong train, and in South Korea it was a taking “the fastest way”, a bus, that arrived 90 minutes late.

Our most recent day of struggle was getting to Taiwan from Hong Kong.  It is the Chinese National Day Golden Week, when 580 million people are expected to travel, so we gave ourselves ample time to cross from Shenzhen to Hong Kong, where our flight to Taipei was leaving from.  We stayed in Shenzhen because hotels in Hong Kong were booked and we were assured the border crossing is fast and easy.  At Hong Kong immigration though, we were surprised to find ourselves in a 10,000 person line. With time dwindling, we made it through the crowd to find lanes for foreigners and spotted two non-Asian men at the front of the line.  Squeezing my way through the queue I got to them, explained our situation, and they let us go ahead of them.

After crossing the border we needed to buy MTR train tickets from machines with lines that were more than a dozen people deep.  I remembered that we had the MTR “Octopus” cards in our bags and there was no line at the “recharge” station.  This was a stroke of luck.  thinkCHUA ran to an ATM, got some Hong Kong dollars, purchased overpriced Mentos to break the bills, and put money on our cards.  We pushed a few people out of the way, got on the train and sprinted to the airport baggage check-in at Central Station.  At Central we were told that check-in was closed and we would have to race to the airport…immediately.  Arriving at the check-in desk, sweating and gasping for air we had not a second to spare for our flight to Taipei. By the time we made it to the gate they were announcing last call, luckily we could rest on the flight.

A more regular struggle we have is communicating.  We don’t expect people to understand English, but in China, Japan and Korea, with their different characters, being an illiterate mute, is difficult.  I’ve never been a champion at charades and when my dinner is on the line, it’s not such a fun game.  Whenever we wanted to buy a train ticket, ask a question or are doing anything that required more than pointing we had to have it written down in Chinese, Japanese or Korean characters.  One night at a “point and eat” style street stall we unknowingly ordered pig knuckles, beef liver and some part of a lamb (still not sure what part) for dinner.  It filled us up, but wasn’t exactly what we were seeking.

Chief among our my daily struggles is navigation, I’m fine if I’m with thinkCHUA, whom can read maps, which I still find to be an amazing skill.  However, getting where you want to go and in a timely manner is much easier said than done no matter how clear and straight forward the directions seem.  While sometimes our (more accurately my) mis-direction leads us to some interesting sights, more often than not it’s just frustrating.  One particular “lost” story comes to mind when we found ourselves in total darkness on a desert road outside of Dalat, Vietnam.  It had seemed that moments earlier we were in the city center on the street headed to our hotel, but we had gotten our landmarks confused and it took us a good hour, which seemed like several, to make our way back to civilization.  By the time we found our hotel it was so late that we had to pound on the door and wake up the night staff to come outside and unlock the gate.

I am sure our daily struggles provide endless entertainment for the locals and once we have recovered they often provide us with some laughs too.  But, let me assure you budget travel is not all fun and games rather it is a constant education.

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Comments

» cindy :
Oct 5, 2011

Your creativity, flexibility, quick thinking and imagination combined with your experience has served you well. Can’t wait to hear what other adventures lie ahead.

» Bka :
Oct 10, 2011

I clarify often to friends and family that your not on vacation…….your on a world working tour of defining what your purpose in life might be……that is a challenge we all face and some approach it from there “cubes” and some from a hands on experiential/perspective…….I trust many would not exchanget there current path for a 28 hour hard seated train ride, week after week…….I get it…..keep up the “good work”……love you dad

» Suzanne Kramer :
Oct 14, 2011

Dear LOCAVORists and think CHUA
You are my breathe of fresh air, my chance to dance away from life. The one word that rings in my mind, as I
delight in your adventures, is “resilience”. I spend my days listening to angst and despair and our cultural theme,
which seems to be an “addiction to being a victim”. I try to teach letting go, detachment and acceptance. All three
of these hallmarks of life seem to elude the majority, and yet, it is surely one of the most profound ways to focus in life and gain peace.
You are the epitome of those three concepts. I hope you come back and construct a “get out of yourself” trip for people who need to stop being in control ….. I have a tons of people I would buy a backpack for and to send to you :)
Love your journey….. Suzy

LOCAVORista Reply:

Suze, so glad to hear that you enjoy our stories. Travel has taught us so much in the past 11 months and continues to be an incredible teacher. I believe deeply in the power of travel to transform your perspective and give you that “I can do anything” feeling. I would love to see more people take advantage of the opportunity to travel even if it is out of their comfort zone rather than out of their country.

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.
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