up until a few weeks ago, i worked in a bank in New York City. so it's a little hard to believe that right now, i am on the other side of the world on a train in the middle of vietnam, typing on my palm portable keyboard and listening to some light brazilian samba, on my way to Hanoi from Hue. but here i am -- the rattling cars full of vietnamese nationals, the lush landscape dotted with hut clusters flying vietnamese flags (and television antennae), and the unique scents emanating from the adjoining dining car affirm my reality.
in October of last year (2000), the firm i worked for was bought by a large european owned bank (where i had ironically first started working right out of college nine years ago). at the time, many of us had joked that it would be great to get laid off so that we could take a break from our imposed 24/7 schedules, and go on vacation with our severance. however, the following spring, when i was called in by the head of my group, it was still quite a shock.
being without a job, and a bit of severance and savings, however, was also an opportunity that i had never really had. in school, i had worked through most of my vacations (mostly engaged in brain research), and since i started work after school i had yet to really take an extended break. part of me felt like i needed a break. and though i had always wished that i could pause my life for a little while to do things i had dreamed of, i was also too circumspect to break stride and actually do it.
partly from a shanghainese ex-girlfriend and mostly from a long suppressed interest in my roots, i had wanted for a few years now to travel to china and through asia. i had also wanted to spend a lot more time on my favorite love -- photography. this was a great opportunity to do both, as well as an opportunity to really re-evaluate the priorities of my life and my place in my own life cycle, in contrast to the lives of those i would meet along my way.
however, orienting myself, preparing for my journey, and planning to leave NYC for several months, in itself seemed a pretty considerable task. and before i left, i vacillated between both excitement and some healthy apprehension at being away for so long. but when getting on that plane for my first leg to Hong Kong, my apprehensions were quickly overcome with the relief of leaving NYC (no more checking voicemail!) and the adventures that lay ahead.
i had first thought that i would travel for three months. but after i laid out the places i wanted to visit, i realized that i would need at least four months. and i would have to trim down my list as well. china was definitely on my list, followed closely by vietnam and cambodia. i also wanted to see japan, korea, nepal, tibet, thailand, and bali. i decided to leave myanmar, laos, the phillipines, fiji, and bora bora for another trip.
in planning the content of my journey, i wanted to cover as much ground as i could, physically and mentally, without exhausting myself. having to determine and arrange travel, lodging, and the worthwhile sites to visit at each of dozens of locales, seemed more than a little daunting -- especially, not speaking any languages other than 'american' and bits of french. [in traveling, i am beginning to have the sense that american english is its own distinct dialect, and not just an accent, so i've been just calling it 'american'.] having seasoned guides that would be able to take care of travel, lodging, and the sights was important to me. i wanted one company that covered all of my destinations, that took small groups to relatively less tourist-ed areas, and that wasn't too expensive. after a few weeks of searching, i found that in a company out of australia called peregrine (www.peregrine.net.au). from their website and brochures, they seemed a little more upmarket than some of the other backpacker style trips, and they had trips in each of the places i wanted to visit.
selecting and arranging my tours and getting flights might not seem too hard, but it took some time and stress to juggle my destinations to fit tour and flight availability and anticipated weather. i also arranged to fly most of my legs on a Cathay Pacific All-Asia pass, where for about $1300 you can fly once to most of their destinations for 3 months! [which all was expertly coordinated thanks to Nick at Turon Travel on Wooster Street in Soho.] because of all the shooting i was planning to do, and since i was flying Cathay Pacific anyway, i planned to leave the bulk of my four month film supply at a friend's place in Hong Kong and cycle through every two weeks or so to restock.
the last thing i had to do was to try and wrap up all my travel and new york issues -- travelling visas, health insurance, my apartment, monthly bills, phone and cable lines, jury duty notice, parking tickets, car insurance and registration, income taxes, and last minute ebay purchases! i got most of the rest taken care of, but ended up finishing my taxes and sending them in from Hong Kong.
the day before i left, i was up all night with last minute packing and list checking. in the morning, i took a shower and put on the clothes i had laid out the night before. yet it was only as i loaded my bags into the car and sat back for the drive out to JFK, that the realization that i was really leaving New York, finally began to dawn on me. There would be no turning back now.
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