Hey hey from Hanoi oi where the time is 5:19pm. I'm staying at a little hostel called Cocoon, in a 10 person dorm room. I had forgotten how smelly backpackers are. I did not forget how awesome they are and it's already been a blast meeting all these new peeps. Spent the day roaming around Hanoi. Crazy, hectic city. Motorbikes driving in every direction everywhere. People everywhere at all hours of the day and night. Beeping and shouting and selling and eating and drinking all around. I ate lunch at a super local joint... we're talking like, lady sitting on the sidewalk grilling on an open barbecue. No door, open to the street like a garage, and people are sitting on plastic step stools, eating off of individual plastic tables which are also actually step stools but taller step stools. I had fried tofu with soy sauce and a side of cucumber and it was BOMB.
(Everything after this point was written on the 10 hour plane ride from Sydney to Hanoi.)
Rewind to Saturday, June 30th, 2018. I landed in Sydney, where I reconnected with Mike (we met in India in 2015). Mike lives with an engaged couple, Nick and Priya. They are awesome. Priya is Fijian Indian, so we had lots to talk about there. Together the three of them live in Manly Beach and their pad is sweet. As a New York City resident it is not lost on me what a luxury it is to have a place like this to stay for free while traveling.
On my second day in Sydney, we took a trip up to Bondi Beach which is about an hour from Manly. This would be like going from the Upper West Side to Park Slope, in New York terms. Mike, Nick and Priya had a baby shower to go to while I met up with my old colleague, Renee. Renee is from Australia, moved to NYC for a few years (we worked together at co:) and then moved back to Sydney. It was so great to see her (hi Renee!). We sat on the beach and chatted over coffee. Then I shopped around Bondi, but didn’t buy anything. I was in the mood to cop some hippie beach swag but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend. When I packed for this trip, I knew I’d have to ship some stuff back to NYC before moving on from Australia. It’s winter in AUS right now, so I needed warm clothing, but everywhere else I could imagine going is HOT. Like, 80-100 degrees hot. I was less impulsive about buying stuff because I had strict criteria. It had to be 1) light enough / small enough to travel with me after AUS, or 2) amazing enough that I was willing to pay for both the item itself and the cost of the additional weight it would add to my ship-back-to-NYC total.
After a few days in Sydney, Mike and I flew to Melbourne. Melbourne is the shit. Tall buildings, gritty neighborhoods. Urgency and hustle, but with an air of Australian chill. The city is very much a canvas, like New York. Graffiti and posters everywhere. Restaurant and café culture that could easily rival NYC. Dare I say BETTER?! One night, Mike had a work event so I took myself to dinner at a restaurant called Lucy Liu.
I sat alone at the bar overlooking an open kitchen which was mesmerizing. I realized that while traveling I frequently eat alone and enjoy it, but when I’m in NY I never do this. Why?
Other things that happened in Australia:
- Mike and I walked from Manly Beach to Freshwater Beach one day (Sydney). We saw an enormous camera/drone in the sky. Turns out they were filming a commercial for Samsung Asia. We asked some questions and found out that the camera costs $100k USD. It is the most expensive camera in Asia and they were using the only drone strong enough to lift and fly it. This drone contraption was like, four feet wide and four feet tall. They needed a permit to land this thing back on the ground! And by law they were required to have air-to-ground-control headsets for communication. It was pretty awesome to see it in action… but as we walked back along beach as the sun set, watching the drove hover against the backdrop of the rainbow sky, I couldn’t help but wonder: am I a wannabe Carrie Bradshaw? JK, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we are coming to the end of an era: the era of the drone-less sky. I’m an emerging technology fanatic but I hope our view of the sky doesn’t become polluted with ceaseless drone traffic.
- Climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge! Touristy AF, but it was meaningful to me for a special reason. Many of you know my mom had a heart transplant two years ago. About six months ago my parents went to Sydney with their friends Mitch and Cindy (hi Boxers!!) and they all four climbed the bridge. Huge accomplishment for my mom who is also afraid of heights and I love that we now share that experience. Plus, when I told her I was thinking of just walking the bridge instead of climbing it, she said, “Oh Allie ya HAVE ta climb the bridge! I mean, ya can’t go to Sydney and not do it. I know it’s touristy but it’s the EX-PIH-REE-INCE! It’s just something ya have ta do.” Done.
- Went to the Melbourne Storm game with Mike and some of his friends! They’re a Rugby team. They’re like the Patriots of Australia. (LOL, I know literally nothing about the Patriots. This is the analogy that was used to describe the Melbourne Storm to me, so I’m passing it along to you, okay?!) They won. Was a blast.
- Got my nails done at the mall in Melbourne. Guys, it turns out the rule applies everywhere in the world. Don’t get your nails done at a mall.
- Went to the only Zara in Melbourne (one Zara for the whole city!). Once again the rule applies everywhere: Don’t go to Zara at 5pm.
- Rummaged through at least 20 vintage stores in the Fitzroy neighborhood of Melbourne. Funny to see t-shirts with the logos of random US towns and events. I really wanted to discover a Camp Summit shirt on the racks. We had so many Aussie counselors that could have migrated back to AUS with the goods!!! Didn’t happen. Also, vintage shops smell the same everywhere.
- Spent a day with Mike and his friend Lauren going in and out of every single shop on Chapel street in Melbourne, once again bought nothing.
In the end, I bought nothing in Australia. Not a single thing. I shipped back a pair of combat boots and a bunch of sweaters/long sleeves/jeans, weighing a total of 7.6 Kilos [[covert to pounds]] and costing $80 USD. This will end up being one of the bigger ticket items of my journey, but it had to be done and I budgeted for it in advance. My backpack is now ridiculously light. Upon checking it for Hanoi it weighed in at 14.3 Kilos [[convert to pounds]]! While moving through India and Nepal I was always picking up lightweight clothing along the way. It makes sense to roll this way because the clothing you find locally is perfectly designed for the local climate and culture in terms of materials, colors, styles, et cetera. In India I started to require a “one in, one out” policy in my backpack, so this time I packed almost nothing for the post-Australia part of the trip with the intention of picking up in Vietnam and beyond. This approach also gives me good reason to spend lots of time in the local markets. Boy do I love a market. I just absolutely love to see what people make with their hands and offer to their cities and villages. Wherever I go, I spend hours at the markets. I inspect every material, every texture, every style of needlework and beadwork and detail of the local craftsmanship. And it brings me a huge amount of joy when back in NY to have a closet curated from markets around the world.
Some more pics from Australia:
At the Melbourne Storm game in Melbourne
Street Art in Melbourne
Sunset over Manly Beach in Sydney
Bridge Climb in Sydney. Cheesin!
And an important part of my time in Melbourne happened at a little café called The Quarter on Flinders Lane when I met up with Sarah Moh for the first time since we met in 2015.
This is Sarah:
Sarah Moh and I at the Mexican restaurant in Melbourne where she's been working for the past year and a half
Sarah and I met in Hampi, India.
Just before Hampi, I had been staying in Jungle Hostel in Goa, India for roughly three weeks. Quick detour: It was at Jungle Hostel that I met Callum and Henry, two wonderful fucking humans both from the UK. We had many, many delightful times together in Goa but one day stands out as just epic. You know how you have those days – like, full days – that just stand out in your memory as one of the very best days of your life? Callum and Henry and I had one of those in Goa. Earlier this year (December 2017), I needed to get out of New York and I messaged the two of them. I was like, I’m coming to live with you for five days. I flew to Callum in London and Henry drove in from an hour outside London to meet us. The three of us stayed in Callum’s tiny room together for five days straight. Fuck, we laughed so hard. And Callum made us listen to Rapper's Delight at least 49 times. There was no other music, only Rapper's Delight. JK, we had a dance party in Callum’s kitchen every single night, but it always started with Rapper's Delight.
Okay, back to Sarah! So we’re back in November 2015 now. Both Callum and Henry had left from Jungle, and a few other people who I’d been hanging with at the hostel were headed to Hampi (about 10 hours from Goa by bus) so I made the journey with that crew. When we got to the bus stop to catch the bus, we started figuring out who would be rooming with who in each hut. Sarah appeared. She had come from somewhere else in India, I can’t remember where. I didn’t have a hut-mate yet, and she wanted to stay at the same guest house, so we discussed rooming together. I remember at the time thinking, like, “ugh, she might not be as cool and fun as the other people I’ve been hanging with. She’s kinda the new girl. Do I wanna live with her?” Hilarious, because I am the least clique-y person and I was dolphinately not down for any cliqueyness while backpacking! Cliqueyness is the opposite of the backpackers’ manifesto! But I’m being honest. Well, we ended up sharing a hut, and guess what. Sarah was cooler than all those other mofo’s. (JK, love you all). She’s French, worked in sports psychology and had taken a year off to travel around Asia. We met during the first three weeks of her trip. She is a Slackline extraordinaire, had and carried her Slackline gear with her everywhere she went. This shit weighed like 7 kilos and she had it rigged to her backpack. And she traveled with a hula hoop. I called her the traveling circus. I remember distinctly one day in Hampi we hiked up a boulder mountain to watch sunset and talked for a long, long time about many things. I also remember another day on which we rode our scooters to the lake and, while sunbathing, got into a deep conversation about religion. Sarah is Muslim, but not practicing. I am Jewish. We talked at length about the extreme sects of religion and how they are the source of many conflicts on small and large scales. Then, she asked whether it was important to me that I marry a Jew and I said that it was. She asked why, and I remember finding it really difficult to make sense of myself, let alone explain. She listened, challenged me, and ultimately accepted my rationale even though it’s unlikely it made any sense to her.
We stayed in Hampi for a couple of weeks and then it was time for me to travel south to Kerala, a state in South India. At that point, I was heading south alone. Sarah said she would eventually get to Kerala but had a couple stops to make first. We said we’d meet up in Alleppy, the backwaters of south India. You can imagine I was pretty psyched when I arrived in Alleppy and Sarah messaged me to say she was on her way. We explored the backwaters together and then took an overnight bus to Munnar, a tea plantation village in south India. On the bus, we met Alice. I’ll get back to Alice in a second.
Fast forward to July 3, 2018. Just landed in Melbourne. I know Sarah’s been living there. She traveled for a year after India and then posted up in Australia to work at a Mexican restaurant and earn money to travel again. I hit her up, she comes to the cafe where I’m hanging, and we have an epic reunion. This fucking girl!!! It was so incredible to see her again. She looked exactly the same, except sans hula hoop and with mascara and blowdried hair. We hung out for a couple of hours catching up. I saw her again the next day, and the next day. It was like no time had passed. And her English was even more on point, even though it was kinda Australian English. My little Frenchie!
Guess who also now lives in Melbourne? Alice, from the bus. Saw her too for lunch at a place called Lentils As Everything. It’s a co-op that offers pay-what-you-wish meals for those in need and the general population of Melbourne as well. Wonderful little spot.
But the run-ins don’t stop there. One night, Mike and I go to this restaurant called Hawker Hall in the South Yarra neighborhood of Melbourne. It’s one of those trendy restaurants where you put your name down and wait forever for a table. We got seated pretty immediately, but as we were walking in I saw a guy waiting with his crew outside and in my head I’m like, I know that guy. I’m pretty sure it’s Myles, a guy I met in a hostel in Cuzco, Peru in 2013. We kept in touch lightly for a little while after that, and when he visited NYC a few years ago we met for beers at the Standard for like an hour. I remember I dragged a friend with me… Lisa was that you? Anyway, I’m like, no way that was Myles. All Australian guys are tall with blonde hair and amazing jaw lines. But the next day I just had to be sure, so I messaged him. Yup, it was him. We didn’t end up meeting up, but like… WHAT!?
In Nepal in September 2015, I met a French girl named Laeti:
Laeti and I riding on top of a bus in Nepal in 2015.
Laeti’s English was good, but not awesome. And yet somehow we managed to communicate and laugh our asses off all day every day. She was one of the most significant friends I made on that trip. We lived in the same guest house for almost a month. We traveled from Nepal back to India together – to Varanasi, where she was actually living and working as a volunteer nurse. We hung out every day in Varanasi. I even met her mom when she came to visit. In 2017, Laeti moved back to the South of France. She bought a caravan and parked it in the woods in between two vineyards twenty minutes outside Saint Tropez. Girl works as an emergency room nurse at Saint Tropez hospital, in perhaps the fanciest town on earth, 3 days a week. She is a complete hippie the other four days. About a year ago in August 2017, I decide to take a short vaca to France before starting a new job. I stay with Laeti in the caravan. I will most likely visit her again on this journey before I head back to NY (Laeti if you ever connect to WiFi you will see that I am coming for you).
Other friendbnb bookings:
- A visit to my dear friend Chantal (former coworker at co: in NY) and her husband Nico, who are now living in Lyon, France. Chantal has already given me the virtual video tour of their new home and I am very pleased with my upcoming accommodations. I’m coming for you two some time after Portugal!
- Tina is from Germany, but she lives in Switzerland. With her cute little accent she pronounces it “Sweeeezaland!” We met in Bali in 2014. She visited NYC and stayed with me for about a week.
- Katie Australia, aka Katie McKay, moved to NYC and we’ve been hanging out for the past year. Katie and I met in Nepal. She’s originally from Perth. We got lost on top of a mountain together. We lived. Katie plays the viola professionally. About six months after I got back from India she told me she was coming to New York to look into the music program at Manhattan School of Music. She stayed with me for a week. We went to a Phish show in Hartford, CT. Shortly after, Katie came back to NY for an audition. She stayed again. Last summer Katie got into MSM and moved to the Upper West Side. She just completed her program at MSM. I went to her recital. It was on April 1. She put whoopy cushions on all the seats.
The world is big. The world is small.
There is a Maya Angelou quote that I love:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
It is for that exact reason that we can make friends with people all over the world, spend only a few hours or days with them, and then crash on their couches or invite them to crash on ours as if no time has passed. As if they are not strangers. It is because of they way they made us feel. They made us feel safe. Accepted. Understood. Appreciated. Loved. If we make it a priority in our relationships to make each other feel this way – whether we meet each other in passing through hostels or we know each other for years – we will have open arms into which to run wherever in the world we are.
Huggin ya from Hanoi,