Almost Christmas!

Update: After 3 months, I have finally received my refund from JetStar. I still can’t recommend that anyone ever give them any of his/her hard-earned money, though. #worstcompanyever

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here.

Our last post left off with us in Chiang Mai, Thailand, about to complete our one-month stay in our apartment. Since then, Brittany and went all the way through Malaysia to Singapore via train from Chiang Mai. It was a long, multi-stop journey. We first went from CM to Bangkok, which took about a day (24 hours. We took a sleeper). Trains in Thailand aren’t that great, and stop a lot. For apparently no reason. For hours at a time. After a night’s rest in Bangkok, we took another train to Penang, Malaysia, also on a sleeper.

We found an awesome boutique hostel in Penang called Ryokan. So we decided to stay 4 nights there in total. The food was good. Penang is famous for it’s food. Then we took a train to Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia, and has everything anyone could want (if you know where to look). Chinatown is nice. There are malls with high-end designer stores (Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc), as well as inexpensive (almost slummy) open markets with character (look up Chow Kit).

Overall, Malaysia was a big surprise for us. It was wonderful. The people speak English (Malaysia is the former British territory called British Malaya). It’s like a big melange of Muslim, Chinese, Indian and Malay culture. Who almost all speak English, at varying levels. The Malaysian infrastructure is great (especially compared to Thailand).

Anyway, after seeing 4 days of KL, we took the last leg of our train trip to Singapore.

Singapore is a huge city-state (‘state’ in this sense meaning ‘sovereign nation’). It has a lot of nice parks, flora, and almost the same mix of culture as Malaysia. Almost everyone speaks English (even better than in Malaysia). There’s a lot of Chinese influence/culture in Singapore. We found a few tea houses and some nice inexpensive Chinese vegetarian restaurants in Chinatown, which was clearly our favorite place in Singapore. Chinese vegetarian restaurants are almost 100% vegan, actually. We bought some delicious jasmine green tea in a tea shop before we left. Then we took a place to New Zealand.

Oh, and I strongly suggest, no matter who you are, or how much money you’re trying to save, don’t ever fly JetStar. No matter if they’re the only direct flight to your destination or not. Just don’t. We had the most horrible experience with them ever, and almost 2 months later, I’m still trying to get my $1419 NZD (New Zealand Dollars) back from them. From a fully-refundable ticket that I purchased with my own money, for a flight that I will never use. Which I was forced to purchase, or else they wouldn’t let me board my plane to New Zealand.

The only contact numbers you will ever receive from JetStar go to a call center in Manila, where the people there have little power to help you get anything done. I will repeat: Do Not Ever Fly with JetStar, ever.

New Zealand is beautiful. We loved everything about it, except the prices. And the tourism. Everything is so damn expensive there (hostels, food… tours to anything, which are mostly a waste of time and money anyway…).

We saw the movie set where they filmed for Hobbiton/The Shire for LOTR and The Hobbit. It was beautiful. Too bad it’s all just a movie set. They have real vegetable gardens, flowers, roses, trees, a lake, and a fake metal tree on top of Bag-End.

The farmer’s markets were the best we’ve been to. We went to the Saturday market in Tauranga and the Sunday market in Hastings. Hastings was probably my favorite. I think the combination of landscape/climate is what makes the markets so great. And the food. And coffee. Coffee is a big deal in New Zealand. Every small town in NZ has at least one espresso shop. The farmer’s markets even have at least one, sometimes more, espresso stands. Since they can grow just about anything, they have it all. Local lemons/limes/oranges. Local avocados. All types of green vegetables, swiss chard (which they call silverbeet), beets (which they call beetroot), bell peppers (capsicums), zucchini (courgettes), onions.

People in New Zealand have a very pro-NZ, anti-everything-else mentality, so if a farm or business is “100% NZ owner/operated”, then it’s seen as superior, or something. I think they call it pride. I call it nationalism.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the south island. (Again. I swear I’ll see it some day.)

Now we’re home. It feels great to be home again. To be able to wear more than just one pair of pants all day, every day. To be able to drive to the store. Or to drive anywhere. It’s nice.

We started eating a lot of winter squash, because it’s now in season. And delicious. I’ve been saving seeds from the organic fruits of heirloom varieties we’ve been eating. We’ve tried several, and we now have our own seed packets made up. The great thing is that most winter squash have about 200 – 250+ seeds in their seed cavities.

For example, I just rinsed and laid out 233 seeds from our most recent squash, the Kabocha (like a little green pumpkin). These 233 were the viable seeds. I threw away the runts and the not-quite-formed seeds. I can’t think of any profession other than farming/gardening (aka agriculture) in which you can get a 233% return in a year.

The end. Ok, bye.

Traveling vs. Living

Hobbiton
Hobbiton

I got back from a trip to south Texas at 4:20 am this morning. A trip in which I realized that I really don’t like traveling — at least not the “traveling” part. It was a lot of driving, and a lot of my car falling apart {it now has 227,000 miles on it and makes some awful scraping noises}.

I love seeing new cultures & spending time getting to know an area, a culture and a people, but hate the actual transport part of it. I arrive to my destination tired and dirty. I don’t like being tired. Or dirty. I also usually arrive hungry, which I also don’t like being.

New Zealand-bound

I don’t think I’ve written about it here yet, but I got approved for a New Zealand working holiday visa. Which means I can enter NZ and stay for a year. I can take up work, as long as it’s not considered permanent employment. My apartment lease here in Arkansas is up at the end of October. I’ve already given them my leave notice and paid rent through the end of October. So I’m here until then, after which I leave.

Before I’d thought about applying for an NZ WHV, my intentions were to go to Santiago, Chile and stay for a few months, then go to either NZ or Australia on a tourist visa.

However, after getting approved for the NZ visa, I had a new idea. I decided it would be cool to take buses {and a boat!} through Mexico, Central America and South America to finally arrive at Santiago. I could revisit some countries {Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil} as well as see some new ones {Venezuela, Chile}.

I was really looking forward to Venezuela and Brazil. But now that I realize {remember?} how much I don’t like the actual transit aspect of travel, I’m reconsidering. I never made those plans public, so it’s not really a big deal either way.

I Can’t Do Everything… and that’s OK

I’m realizing once again that I can’t do everything. I’d probably spend all my money in South America anyway, and have run out before I realized it, and before they let me in to New Zealand. The NZ visa comes with a stipulation — I have to have proof of sufficient funds to purchase an onward ticket. Usually the immigration officials don’t ask for proof of funds/income if someone is from an affluent country like the USA, but if the particular official is in a bad mood or just feels like being a jerk… it can happen.

Once I admitted to myself this afternoon that I can’t do everything, I felt a lot more at peace about leaving. About the future in general. I’ll probably just fly to NZ from somewhere in the US. And I’ll probably start the journey to that place from XNA airport here in NWArk. And that’s ok.

I’ve got my whole life to do everything I want. I can take it easy, enjoy New Zealand. Really get into the culture. Get to know some people. Make some friends. Life is good. No rush, no hurry {no reason to!}. Just enjoy it. Already feeling about 110% less stressed than I was before.

Living the Culture

On the other hand, I love living in a culture. It allows you to get to know it better than any traveler just passing through. Getting to know the people. The language. And do all the stuff I said in the previous paragraph. Discover all the local hole-in-the-wall places. I think it really fits my personality well too. I’m more of an introverted person until I really get to know a person or group of people. Until that happens, I don’t really let go and start being myself. It’s just how I am {which is also ok}.

Settling down in a place allows me to really get to know people and be myself like constant traveling never will. For some this is still considered “traveling” but I’m going to spend a year of my life in a new country. At what point does it become more than just a “trip” to New Zealand? Not sure, but it’s not likely I’ll ever go back to living in the midwest/southern United States. I’m really looking for a home more than anything. One that’s more conducive to my lifestyle & values. So although I’m traveling to New Zealand, I can’t keep calling it “travel”. It’s more like “life”. Just in a new place.

I think I broke my car

This is really not related, but…

In other news, I’m considering purchasing a bicycle and just using it in place of an automobile. Cars are a lot of work with maintenance, insurance, gas money, etc. and I don’t really think they’re worth it if you don’t absolutely need one. If I lived in a city like San Francisco, I’d have gone the bike route long ago, but it’s more difficult in a place like Arkansas. Still, that’s an excuse. I guess the estimate on labor required to fix my car will help determine where I go with the bicycle idea.

photo credit