F: What was the ‘aha-moment’ or trigger that made you buy your flight tickets out of the US?
Jason: We always knew we wanted to travel and we had a well-thought out plan of how we were going to achieve it. I was going to finish my MBA, work a few more months and then October 2010, we’d be off. Then the economy exploded.
My company was paying most of the tuition for the private school I was attending. When the economy hit a rough patch, they cut our salaries and our tuition reimbursement benefit. I remember I was looking at a $10,000 bill for taking a few classes in the summer. And I thought, how long could we live in Thailand with that money? Sharon and I discussed what we were going to do. I quit school, saved the money for our trip instead, and a week later we bought our tickets to Hong Kong. After that, we spent the next 5 months in “ultimate saving mode”.
F: Do you miss anything about working in a cube?
Sharon: I miss having a constant internet connection! When you’re on the road or even when you’re in a country where internet is pretty much only found at Internet Cafés, you come to view WiFi as a rare commodity. To be honest, other than that, nothing really.
F: A lot of people seem to apply a common generalization across all of Asia. How would you differentiate all the countries you’ve been to?
Sharon: As a tourist, the most important cultural trait that I notice is the way people from a certain country treat us as foreigners. In general, I can say that every Asian country that we have visited so far has been the same; the people are curious and extremely happy that we are in their country. However, the main thing that differentiates cultures from one another, in this sense, is who smiles first; you or the local.
For instance, in China I thought that the locals despised us because it was our first encounter with hardcore staring and spitting. We soon realized, however, that once we threw them a friendly smile, almost all of them would return the gesture with another genuine smile. Similarly, in Korea, people stared much less than in China but were still very curious about us and said “hello” quite a bit. In Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia, Jason and I could not walk five feet in public without hearing children and adults alike shouting “HELLO!!! How are you? Where are you from?”. I have come to my own conclusion that while you can generalize that Asian countries are all interested in foreigners, each country approaches them a bit differently.
F: What are some cool phrases or words that you’ve learned along your trip? What do they mean?
Jason: You’d be surprised how much English is spoken and understood everywhere (at least, I’ve been surprised). So, we didn’t pick up as much language as I would have initially expected. With that, I’ll give you the 3 of the more memorable phrases we’ve learned along the way.
1. “Tai Gui La” – China. (Too expensive!). We met a couple in Sanya, China within the first week of us traveling through mainland China (who ended up becoming our good friends). The girl, McKenna is tall with blonde hair, so to say she sticks out in China is an understatement. She taught us how to bargain in Chinese by using this phrase. The key, she taught us, is to give the most shocked face you can when you say it, as if you’ve been absolutely offended by the price they’ve just told you. It was quite a sight watching her negotiate with the much shorter Chinese men. We enjoyed practicing this ourselves during the rest of our travels through China.
2. “Mot, Hai, Ba, Yoooooo” – Vietnam (Cheers!). Mot, hai, ba literally means 1, 2, 3. But this is how you cheers in Vietnam. Each number is said progressing louder and then you’re supposed to practically yell “yooo” before chugging your drink. Locals absolutely loved drinking with us, and we did this cheers more times than we could count. It brings back mostly good, but also some bad memories as well .
3. “Sawadee kaaaa. You want a massaaaage?” – Thailand. The last part isn’t Thai obviously. “Sawadee ka” means hello (if you’re female) in Thai. What makes this memorable is how nasally and “sing-songy” the women sound as they say this to every foreigner passing them by. Whenever Sharon and I want to make each other laugh, we just say this to one another in our best Thai impression.
F: What are some of the major surprises you’ve encountered along your trip (culture, food, etc)?
Sharon: I am a Korean, born and raised in California and speak only English. Before visiting Korea (for the first time in my life) I was told by multiple people that Koreans would not be friendly towards me because I do not speak Korean. To be honest, I was terrified that my experience in my parents’ home country would be a bad one because of this. To my pleasant surprise, the opposite was true. Like every other country we have been to on this trip, the locals were not only happy to meet me but never once did they treat me differently for my lack of Korean skills. If anything, when they found out I was Korean, they were happier and more interested in me than before. Thankfully, my experience living in Korea for over 5 months was amazing.
F: Being a mobile nomad seems to require being ‘light’. What ‘things’ do you own and take around with you?
Sharon: Back in America, it took me about 10 tries to get my backpack to a decent size. I am a major overpacker by nature, and backpacking has taught me many lessons. The most difficult part is having appropriate clothing for all of the climates you travel through. For instance, I recently ditched one of two pairs of jeans, so now I travel with one pair as we pass through the hot and humid countries of SE Asia. I always have a good amount of tank tops and t-shirts because you sweat through them quickly here (maybe around 8 total) and also keep one trusty North Face pullover. In addition, we travel with little Netbook laptops, airplane pillows, a blindfold, and earplugs at ALL TIMES. A true traveler should always have earplugs.
F: If you could measure your happiness on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being highest, how would your happiness measure for your entire journey? How does it compare to working in a cube?
Sharon: Compared to working in a cube, my happiness would be a 11. Working in a cube is not for everyone. That being said, I also do not consider myself very suited for long-term travel. While I have come to love being abroad and experiencing new things, I love our hometown back in California too, and I live for being around friends and family, so I quickly get homesick. While traveling, I’ve enjoyed “settling” in a city for a few months at a time, rather than constantly being on the go.
F: What are some of the most fun activities you’ve done in these different countries?
Sharon: In Vietnam we actually attended 2 different weddings, which included a country wedding and a city wedding. Needless to say, we had a great time at both although the locals at the country wedding were a bit too enthusiastic having us there, causing a little too much rice wine to be partaken.
Also in Vietnam (I guess we really enjoyed it here), we had a crazy New Year’s Eve celebration which started out with a group of locals befriending us. Somehow, the night ended with Jason and I dancing on top of chairs with other locals while crowds gathered around us to cheer us on and watch.
F: What’s in store for you both for the rest of the year?
J and S: We will stay in Indonesia for the next few weeks, then a quick few days in Singapore before we begin our journey through the United States to get back to the Bay Area. In September we head to Guam, which is technically a part of the U.S. but we will still feel like we’re traveling. Then we’ll head to Seattle for Sharon’s cousin’s wedding. After the wedding, we’ll do some traveling down the west coast for a couple weeks before heading back to the Bay Area in mid to late October. We actually have three weddings to attend within 6 weeks of our arrival. In December we’re also planning a 2-week east coast trip to see some of Jason’s family. It’ll be a busy “vacation” back home.