It’s twelve o’clock noon, December 31, 2019. I don’t make resolutions for the new year. I try every day to live my best life. I do, however, like to take time to reflect on the past year and how blessed I have been, to focus on the beautiful people who have crossed my path, the adventures I have had, the places I have visited and really be thankful for all of these things.
2019 was a great year for me! In January, I travelled to Surin Beach, Phuket Thailand. I was fortunate to find a wonderful family to stay with at Muchshima House. They welcomed me to their homestay and in the short time, I was there, became part of the family. They drove me to the beach in the morning, taught me to make traditional Thai dishes, my favorite being green Thai curry. They took me to the local night market to sample more traditional foods. It was the perfect start to 2019 and to leave my broken back of 2018 behind me.
February I celebrated my last Chinese New Year in the country I had called home for 4 years. Celebrating CNY in China is an experience I won’t soon forget. I loved the 4 years I lived in China. I am fortunate to have travelled more of the country than most people who live there. Although, I never really mastered the language. A language based on tones I couldn’t hear. I learned to speak the basics, numbers, directions and food but found learning to read the 汉字 (han zi) or Chinese characters a bit easier. I knew this would be my last Chinese New Year in the Middle Kingdom as I had begun the process of obtaining a work visa for Poland. Yes, I am going back to Europe to live for a while. I had always planned to stay somewhere in SE Asia, most likely Vietnam, when I left China, but Poland just fell into my lap and I decided why not?!
Not many people who say they will come visit you in a foreign land actually do. Well, in March and for the second time, my friend Debbie, who in 2017 came to meet me and we travelled to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, came to see me in China. We hung out in Beijing and where believe it or not practically had the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China all to ourselves. After a couple of days in Beijing, we flew to Seoul, South Korea for a whirlwind tour including the DMZ. Back in China, we headed to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors before returning to Dong’e, the town in which I was living.
April was a quiet month and life in Dong’e consisted of tutoring my kids in English, eating noodles, aka Lanzhou LaMian and getting my $5 per hour massages. I needed some downtime because after a broken back caused me to cancel a trip to Paris in September of 2018, May was the month I would meet my cousins and my friend Teri in Paris. We did most of the typical Paris tourist stuff since it was Bob and Sally’s first time, but then we took a couple days for some mad fun in Amsterdam, a first for the cousins and also Teri. Then it was back to Paris for a few more days. This trip also let me add country number 37 to my list as I scheduled my flight for a long layover in Qatar so I could take some time in the capital city of Doha. My second time in the Middle East and for the second time I arrived during Ramadan. It was still a most amazing experience as a friend from the states had a friend who’s daughter was living in Doha, so she was my tour guide.
June…time to wrap up life in China. It was a bittersweet month filled with dinner invites and farewell parties. I had spent two and a half years living in Dong’e whereas I only spent 6 months in the other cities I had lived in. My China life had been good to me, but it was time to move on. You don’t realize how much you accumulate in that amount of time. Decisions, decisions, decisions…what to keep, what to leave behind. My plan was to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam on my way to 4 months in Bali. I can only travel with what I can carry so that meant I shipped 6 boxes of “stuff” including all my “winter” clothes back to the USA and 1 box of school supplies, books, etc. to Bali. Microwave, toaster oven, air fryer, more clothes and shoes, all had to stay behind in China. Luckily for me, when Chinese people get together for a meal/party, it is always a feast, so I didn’t have to worry about making sure I got to eat all my favorite foods before I left. Saying goodbye to my students and their families was difficult and lots of tears were shed. They had become my family. After all the goodbyes had been said and the tears wiped dry, it was time to move full steam ahead to Vietnam.
I started off in Saigon, which it is still called by the locals, although its official name is Ho Chi Minh City. I stayed in the guesthouse I have stayed several times. It is right around the corner from my favorite pho shop. Yes, I ate pho, every.single.day! It is my crack. Then, I wanted to travel to HoiAn. I’m not sure why I thought taking a 24 hour bus would be fun, but I bought my tickets and off I went. The bus had sleeper seats, but being old, chubby and having had a broken back it wasn’t the most comfortable ride. Not to mention the only restroom breaks were whenever the bus decided to stop. No matter, I arrived in HoiAn around 6 am. I messaged my host at my homestay who met me at the bus stop. Since my room wouldn’t be available until around noon, he took me to his sister’s home so I could shower and rest until my room was ready. I loved HoiAn and decided to cancel my return bus ticket, stay a few more days and then fly back to Saigon. I planned to visit a friend I had met in 2016 but she had moved to Singapore. My time in Vietnam was winding down…next stop Bali, Indonesia.
There is nothing like stepping off the plane in Denpasar, Bali. I’ve always described it as a feast for the senses. My driver met me at the airport and off we went to Kenari House and my Balinese Family. Remember my friend Debbie who came to visit me in China in March? Well, she and her husband and another couple travelled to Bali in mid-August to spend 10 days with me at Kenari House. It was an amazing time.
Come September, it was time for me to move to another homestay as I was going to spend 6 weeks volunteering at a school for special needs children. I worked with so many amazing people and met the beautiful children and their families at Yayasan Widya Guna School in Bedulu, Bali, an experience that touched my heart and soul.
I also took a long weekend mid-September and flew to Singapore I was happy I was able to visit my friend from Vietnam. After 6 weeks at the school, I returned to my Balinese family at Kenari House. Bali has stolen my soul and my Kenari House family is my family. I will return as soon as I can. Loving my Bali life, I still hadn’t purchased a ticket back to the USA. Finally, at the beginning of November, I made a plan…..
After 53 hours, missed flights, Visa problems, cancelled flights and long layovers, my Peliatan, Bali, Indonesia home 9964.3 miles behind me, I arrived home in Warren, Ohio, USA. For the first time in 7 years, I would be returning to my hometown for the holidays and more importantly for the Grand Re-Opening of my brother’s historical theatre. I have gotten comfortable spending Christmas abroad including 4 years in a communist country, predominantly Buddhist and therefore does not celebrate Christmas….China. My first Christmas abroad, I spent in Paris, France. The next year I was also in Paris, but on Christmas Eve I decided to catch a train and spend it in Amsterdam. My Christmas’ in China brought me some of my most memorable experiences, but there is something about coming home and spending time with family and friends. Not that I didn’t have friends abroad, but those are friends for a season and most I will probably never see again. When you come back to your roots, the ties that bind are tight. The most beautiful thing is being able to pick up right where you left off as if not a day has passed.
So what’s it really like coming home for the holidays? It’s complicated, it’s hard, it’s chaotic and it’s wonderful!
Goodbye, 2019, you have been good to me! Hello, 2020! I can’t wait to experience whatever you have in store for me! From a flag, I saw in Bali and my mantra for 2020, “Free your spirit and dance with life!”